The pitter-patter drones in my ears as I will my arms to pump faster and my legs to stride longer. It sounds like raindrops, but there is not a cloud to be seen, and the wetness sliding down my face, resting in the crevasses under my eyes and balancing on the tip of my nose did not come from the sky. I side step to the right and then dodge onto the sidewalk on the left, manoeuvring my way through the thousands of runners participating in May 2010’s Mississauga Race Weekend. This is my first half-marathon, and I’m delighting in the sound of running shoes hitting pavement, its rhythm, pattern, intensity, between the likes of Beyonce and Timberland blaring from my headphones.
Two weeks later and I’m at the Ottawa Race Weekend, a bystander in flip flops instead of running shoes. My first glimpse into the running community made me feel exactly that – community. Bodies pressed together, finding their space, whether stretching for the race ahead or watching from the stands. Picking up my race kit in Mississauga, traversing through the many stalls of running gear, hydration belts and flavoured gels, I felt like I was welcomed into a new club. I was the newest member of an exclusive society who paid race fees instead of membership dues. There was no central clubhouse and I didn’t know a secret handshake, but nonetheless I felt part of a niche community driven by health and determination. I revelled in the commune comfort.
Whether I was trailing after the 1:50 pace bunny gearing up to the halfway point in Mississauga or cheering on runners keeping stride with a pace bunny in Ottawa, I felt drawn into this community that encourages new comers to take the sport at their pace, and celebrates successes in personal strides.
I will soon be leaving all the good things that grow in Ontario to find my footing in Kenya, and more specifically in Nairobi. Minus a handful of fellow Canadians, I have not met the people who will shortly become part of my reality. But I am not worried. I am already part of a community.
The runners in Nairobi do not know it yet, but another member is about to join their club.