Community Running with Ghosts

    Running with Ghosts


    It has been analogized marathoners train so hard because we’re either running away from something or running towards something. Well, at least recently by my therapist. 

    My experience with the 42.2km (and the training leading up to it) has been a bit of both. When I commit to the intense training and race experience I know this beast of a distance involves, it is usually because I am “running away” from a place of deep hurt and “running towards” a place of healing. Boston 2021 is no exception.

    The amount of loss and grief brought into our lives during this global pandemic is incomparable. Regardless of what those losses have been, I think that we’re all living with our own individual heartbreaks. Undoubtedly, they will require time to heal as we collectively move forward. 

    Looking outside at the rain falling into the evening streets of my neighbourhood makes me feel punished by Mother Nature for the delay I’ve taken to go for my run. Wet streets or not – I still need to get out there and pound the pavement. I lace up and get dressed for the weather. I grab my keys and, in a rare and impulsive move, my iPod and head out the door. 

    I make my way down Sherwood along my favourite hilly route. The rain mists my face and my thighs begin reddening from the cooler temperature. When training for Boston I incorporate as many hills into my runs as possible to prepare for the various infamous climbs on the race course. After completing a series of hills this evening (eight to be precise) I opt out of running in this residential neighbourhood and make my way onto the commercial streets of Wellington. 

    The combination of yet another provincial lockdown and the rain has left the streets relatively empty. I take in the ghostly scene. Bordered up windows on small businesses that have not been able to stay open. A discarded face mask floating in a puddle. I shake my head sadly in response to a man holding out his hat for change. Heartbreaks.

    I turn onto Parkdale, looping back home, and I change the shuffling track playing on my iPod. As the music starts, I immediately recognize the melody and voice as his vocals flood my ears. The scars around my heart instantly tighten. Lactic acid hits and my quads begin to burn. I blink, fighting back the tears while sudden emotional pain unexpectedly partners the physical.


    Love hit like a wave. Effortless conversations streamed on for hours. Bodies relaxed as we held each other; sighing in relief. A shared unprecedented connection had pulled us out of the deep end of our respective pasts. Safe at last.

    His words overflowed from his heart onto paper as the chapters of our story were written. Scenes of a future together were silently exchanged in knowing glances and flushed cheeks. Then, when the stakes got high, he broke the film reel. He flooded the room where it was stored leaving no trace behind. Tightly sealed windows and doors facilitated the rising water line which did all but drown out his last words.

    You don’t exist.

    You can’t exist. 

    I was abandoned. 

    No life preserver.

    Anchored by a betrayal. 

    Like my father. 

    He left too. 


    Like water.


    Loop completed. Thoroughly drenched, chilled, and exhausted from the run I head into the shower when I get home. As I rinse the mud off my legs I feel the pain in my quads and glutes consolidating as my muscles tighten. 

    I wait. 

    I wait for the physical pain in my lower body to be matched with the arrival of emotional pain in my chest. 

    Unlike on the run – it doesn’t.

    For the first time, in what feels like a long time, I breathe a little easier. 

    Dear reader. Who knows? Maybe the best cure for this broken heart is going to be found in a little cardio. 

    Vanessa de Hoog is a human. Being. She runs, teaches, writes, coaches, and consumes too much espresso. This fan of the Oxford comma lives in Ottawa with her cat Gatsby.


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