On October 20th, 2013, I ran the Scotiabank Toronto Half-Marathon. This is a piece reflecting on the culmination of that journey. Other pieces that I wrote leading up to this run can be read here.
Every single day, several times a day, every single one of us calls into question our relationship with our body. Not necessarily in the sense that Descartes meditated upon the connection between mind, body, and soul, though that’s not so unusual in moments of existential grief, but more so regarding our love for our own bodies.
Often, it’s easier to hate than love our bodies. When the alarm clock alerts us of a new day, no matter how much we might try, our body simply doesn’t care to move and is quite happy tethering itself to the bed. Saturated with images of so-called perfection, we lapse immediately into cycles of guilt and dissatisfaction that no matter how hard we try, we will inevitably fail to meet the standards of beauty upheld by our culture. If you were born with the body type not prized among the images we consume every day, that dissatisfaction is damn near perpetual and inescapable.
For those suffering with depression, your body is perfectly willing, often for long stretches, to deny you the energy for tasks so basic as standing upright or making breakfast or communicating with others. You are prone to negativity thanks to this condition, kicking off a violent cycle wherein you hate yourself so vehemently that caring for your mind and body just doesn’t seem worth the effort.
As we age, our body declines in ways that are both subtle and drastic. Wrinkles form, memory dulls, speed declines and illnesses and conditions previously thought to be reserved for those of a certain age can become a harsh reality as you find that suddenly you are of that certain age.
For most of us going through the conventional day to day life, one which involves work, school, commuting to and from both, getting food on the table, managing finances, fulfilling family responsibilities, it’s just so easy to feel that our bodies are in a constant state of decline.
The day I ran the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon was perfection. The weather was cool, summer still lingering behind cool breezes that were pure ecstasy compared to the damning humidity that I fought against during my training throughout the summer. The sun was there, but not overwhelming, and the temperature hovered in the high single digits, removing any difficulty in breathing that you’ll find on the colder fall or winter days.
The course was wide open and despite sharing it with 25,000 others, I was never overly confined. I had all the room to move that I needed and not once did I have to zig-zag like a madman around others to pass or get ahead, a typical amateur mistake that I pledged I wouldn’t and am proud to say I didn’t make throughout the race. In fact, running through what are typically the busiest streets in Toronto with thousands, I had more room to manoeuvre and had an easier time remaining on a straight path than I do when running through my own neighbourhood.
Toronto’s waterfront never looked so damn gorgeous, completely free of vehicular traffic and instead populated by as diverse a group imaginable all pushing themselves to and past their personal limits. Volunteers and spectators were unfailingly positive. Costumed runners were amusing, especially @rundarkknight, who I had the privilege to run alongside for about 800m.
Most importantly, however, my body was as resilient and strong as I could have hoped. After almost a year of training for this day, the results showed themselves. I never once slowed to a halt or stopped to walk. Cramps and side-stitches were entirely absent for the whole run. Not once did I have any sense of regret that I was doing this and not once did any of the signs along the course indicating distance covered so far in the race elicit any frustration that there were still so many kilometres left to cover. My mind wanted to keep going and my body was happy to comply.
I ran with restraint for the first ten kilometres, keeping a leisurely pace before hammering out the second half of the race with absolute ease. Even the slight hills that present themselves in the last two kilometres or so didn’t slow me down. In fact, and this is probably not entirely accurate, I feel that I passed over 100 fellow runners in the final stretch from Bay & Queens Quay up to Bay & Queen. Having trained so hard on the hills that are simply unavoidable where I live, this final incline was perfectly surmountable.
It could have been the adrenaline talking, but as I crossed the finish line, well under the goal time I had set for myself, I felt that at least another ten kilometres would not have been out of the question. Only three days later, I was back to training again, unable to wait any longer in starting the next chapter of my journey as a runner. I want greater distances and improved times, convinced that I have not yet hit my peak. My body has not refused me any of these desires.
I was once asked whether or not I ever felt betrayed by my body, coming back to the opening section of this piece. I could not think of any specific instance at the time that I felt truly constituted bodily betrayal. I suppose I could have said that I was unhappy that I don’t have the sharpest eyesight, or that Napoleon, wrongly ridiculed as being comically short, was in reality taller than I am.
I suppose it was after completing graduate school that I was for the first time truly unhappy with the state of my body. Significant weight gain and relentless depression were my souvenirs from that episode of my life. I felt that though I was only in my twenties, I was in a true state of decline and entirely unhappy with who and what I was.
Running kindled a newfound love for my body, giving way to the realization that it was capable of incredible things provided that I gave it love and did not betray it, even as I felt it was betraying me. I learned to love my body because I used it and could see what it was capable of.
Finding my way out the door in early morning hours and adapting every aspect of my life to my goal of completing this half-marathon, I went from decline to hard-won joy and happiness, both physically and mentally. I saw myself constantly exceeding my own expectations and nothing could inspire love for oneself like doing more than you thought you could. I found myself enjoying my time away from the daily grind, tallying up miles for no other purpose than the joy it gave me. On the day of the run, my body gave back what I gave it over the course of training.
Our bodies should not be loved because they are free of imperfection or admired by others. They should be loved because they are capable of taking us on incredible journeys and revealing to us that we have strength far beyond what we may have imagined. The standard for loving our bodies is not set by others who dictate that a body is only worthy at a certain age and only if it is of a certain shape and then free of any blemish. When we spend time pushing our body to its limit, we see how deserving it is of that love simply because it’s wondrous as it is.
Our relationship with our body does not have to be one of dissatisfaction or self-ridicule. While there are ways in which it will suffer and decline that we simply cannot avoid, it is still worth loving and as I learned when I crossed the finish line, it will love us back if we do so.