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Running in Canada, Heading for Home

Generally, I don’t miss the traffic-dodging adrenaline or the lung-scrubbing atmospheric particulates that are involved in getting out for a run in my eastern hometown of Dalian, to say nothing of Beijing. Still, running was sometimes good for me in China. Running is like writing is like prayer, for that matter: frequently, it doesn’t feel like something I want to do until I’m already in the act. (And hey, don’t you assume that, after arrival in today’s Dedicated Writing Niche, I just spent the first 95 minutes hunting Web distractions and brainstorming vision statements for non-existent basketball clubs! Sheesh. You people get so personal sometimes.) So here I am, talking about what I think about when I think about running, especially back home in a Canadian summer.

There’s lots to ponder about running, and about what happens between the ears when we do. I think about all kinds of things when I run. (I also play stale pop tunes in the jukebox of my brain.) I think about the differences between China and Canada. (I rehearse what I should have said in decades-old conversations.) I think. (I think I think.)

I think: I never went for runs like these in China.

We’ve been back in Ontario for nearly two months, and sleeping in our own home again for a few weeks, after five years in a province called Liaoning in the northeast of the Middle Kingdom. We were city dwellers there, urban if not urbane. Though Dalian wouldn’t be among the top 25 cities in China in importance or population, it’s still bigger than anything we’ve got; at over six million residents, it makes Canada’s capital look like a green, sleepy provincial town. (But with libraries – I’m writing in one now — arts, good basketball, clean air, trees upon trees, composting and my favourite movie house.) Goodness: China has 160 cities of over a million people, and Ottawa is in little danger of hitting that seven figures anytime soon.

Here in our tiny, not-quite-perfect capital, our first jet-lag recovery haven was B&W’s basement. We’ve rambled around this province and the next, visiting family in fuel-efficient and cheap ways thanks to a friend’s Prius, and the willingness of family members to put up two or all three of us. One week we hung near Haliburton, where we cluttered up my hermit mother-in-law’s life and storage. The week before that, Son 4 and I bussed to Montreal, where First and Third have remained once they’d had enough of McGill University. We hit Toronto for a conference in August, and the mixed delights of Vanier, our home neighbourhood, filled some of the spaces in between. It appears that we’re really back, that we really live here now.

A runner (not me) in Mount Royal park in another season. Bliss.

A runner (not me) in Mount Royal park in another season. Bliss.

So what does that have to do with running?

Running. Running is like running! but generally without the hurry and anxiety of checklists and arrivals, to-dos and shortfalls and over-responsibility and comparison and keeping-up-withs and what did I miss? but also with more breathing, more trees, more views of water and skylines and timeless horizons. We’ve done a lot of running! to get caught up with renewing our lives Canuck-side, to get ahead of several games I’m trying to remember how to play, but my running — no italics, no exclamation, no haste, no worries, mate — has been a tonic I should talk myself into more often.

Still feeling the jet-lag from our July 8 flight, Dalian to Ottawa (via Beijing and Toronto), I nevertheless got out with B during our first week back. He’s a mid-life dude rather like me (aside from his patience and all those tools and practical skills — thanks for cutting the key-less lock off my bike, buddy!). We’re  a little softer in the mid-section than we’d like, but we’re still eager and able to move. We biked for about five minutes to get to the usual spot. I’ve run it many times, with B and by myself. Except for a few hundred metres, our usual 30 minutes are spent on quiet bike trails flanking the Rideau River, and on two bridges. We end where we start. Mr. Li, my only extra-marital running mate in Dalian, wouldn’t have believed the beauty, the peace, the quiet and ease of this run.

Or how tranquil and clean the streets of Toronto were on a Saturday morning toot.

Or how I could plod along curbless roads near my Mum-in-law’s retreat – or, for that matter, in the country lanes near my big sister’s small-town hideaway — to to be met or passed by only a half-dozen cars, most of whom gave a wave or a honk that had nothing to do with a warning or a curse. (No encounters with deer this summer, but a guy shouldn’t complain. I did have to cross the road to avoid a threshing machine near Cayuga, though, and the same pair of farm dogs from last summer made me nervous again, even though they likely just wanted to say hey.)

Or how some favoured streets in Montreal are only a middle-aged warm-up away from leafy trails that climb le mont réal towards a view of the city that briefly grabbed what little breath I had left.

I like to run wherever I go. I love to ramble about in places that are new to me, and I feel that I see them better and faster on my runners than any other way. This summer, it was a consoling way to see, with fresh and appreciative eyes, some of the locales that I have already loved.

Comments (4)

  1. J.P. Mayer

    Enjoyed the read.
    Makes me miss home some, with lakes and the smell of forest and farms and…

  2. Yuan Li

    Really wish to have an opportunity to go jogging with you while enjoying the natural beauty of Canada. I believe it is a perfect time for me to take up running again since it is getting warmer in Launceston [Australia]. No excuses anymore! Thanks for the little push, sir, and of course your beautiful writing.

  3. Ignas V

    Great read, James. Made me remember the contrast between home and Dalian (Lithuania is about 40% covered by forest, so similar views to the picture above are common). I guess you won’t miss jogging on a crowded sidewalk next to a busy road. Glad everything is going well for you.

  4. Carol E.

    Really like this one, James. It lets me know what I’m missing. Even though this old heart won’t allow me to run, I love to live vicariously. Thanks.

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