I've been trying to write about it for six months. It never feels right. It's not my story. I was just hit by the ripples their waves made.
It happened on a Saturday. We got up, turned on the television to watch the news as we always do, and saw it break on national news. It's a small place and it was unlikely that I knew anyone impacted but... it's a small place. It wasn't inconceivable that I didn't.
The phone rang two hours later. Unconfirmed information. Rumours. But there was enough truth in the information to know it hit our family. We just weren't sure exactly how. We knew at least one of the victims of the fire was Ours.
The phone rang again a few hours later. One boy was seriously injured. Three boys had died. Two of boys who died were family.
I didn't know them. I never met them. They were born after I left.
But their parents... they were the older cousins I chased after when I was kid. I am one of the youngest and now we're all grown up and their children were in their teens. They were young enough that in an alternate universe I could have children their age. I thought of my aunts. No one should lose grandchildren like that.
They were teens. They were learning who they wanted to be. They pushed boundaries. They toed the line. They lived and were loved.
And then they were gone.
The boys died on a Saturday. I started running on the Monday. I thought about the boys. I ran. I cried. That was the first day I tried to outrun the fire.
The fire won.
There are days when my runs are consumed with thoughts of work. Or I listen to an audio book. Or I think about what I'm cooking for dinner.
Now that school is back in session, and there's a chill in the air, I think of the boys as I pass by groups of teens on the trail. I recently ran by a group of three boys and I wanted to stop and shake them by the shoulders and ask them if they knew how lucky they were. How privileged they were. If they knew how much they had just by standing there on that trail, goofing off.
There are days when the boys consume my thoughts as I run. On those days I try to run just a little bit faster. Maybe, just maybe, if I try really hard I can run faster than fire.
It's been six months since that first run.
The fire wins. It always wins.
As I stood in the corral waiting for the 2014 Army Run 5k run to begin, I wondered if it would be my last time at the Army Run. This year there were 13,000 people registered for the 5k and crowds make me anxious. As much as I like this race, I do not love being in large crowds.
Then the cannons went off and six minutes later I got to cross the start line. Too fast, at first. Well, not just at first. I couldn't find my pace. I'd run, overheat, and then walk. Rinse and repeat. My pace times, including walks, show me I was really running too fast. Some of that was trying to find space. Thousands of people running means lots of people trying to find their pace and failing. People going from a run to a dead stop directly in front of you. People jumping off the sidewalk to directly in front of you. People bumping into you. So many people. Everywhere.
I mostly run alone. On my weekday runs I only meet a handful of people on the trail. It's busier on the weekend but except when my run overlapped with the Terry Fox Run, or the odd Sunday I'd bump into a Running Room group, there is always plenty of room on the trail. Lee ran with me a few times this past month, which was nice. But most of my runs are just me and the trail.
I run for the need to move my body. I run for the need to clear my head. I run because I can. I'm not athletic nor have I ever been. I struggle with Imposter Syndrome, feeling like I shouldn't call myself a runner. I don't run fast and I really have no desire at this point to train for a 1/2 marathon or full marathon. Race day compounds that feeling. The pressure to go faster than my usual pace. The pressure to personal best. The feeling that I'm "just" doing a 5k (and you all know how I feel about that word).
I was thinking all of this while I ran. I was feeling like all the people around me and the voices in my head were too much. Then as I ran beneath an overpass cheers started to reverberate off the concrete. At first I thought it was just people enjoying the sound, until I spotted the man in the wheelchair. We were on a slightly incline. He was working way harder than I was and there was still more than a kilometre to go.
In the last kilometre I took my final walking break. The humidity was hurting me and due to my faster than normal pace I was concerned about getting an asthma attack. Then off to my right I saw him -- a runner on two prosthetic limbs and he was down on his knees. I wondered if he was the same runner I saw a two years ago, the one that reminded me I had no excuses. I think of him often when I run. This runner had someone with him and was in the process of getting back up to finish.
He reminded me why the Army Run is my favourite run, despite all the people. There are no ordinary runners. The distance you run doesn't matter. Whether or not you personal best doesn't matter. Walking breaks don't matter. Your pace doesn't matter.
Showing up and doing the work? It's the only thing that matters.