"Help me. I don't know what to do."
I'm standing in the forest on a narrow trail in Squamish, less than 24 hours after my life has imploded. In front of me is a large black bear, lazily eating grass, completely unfazed by my loud and frantic pleas into my phone.
On the other end, my friend sits in a hair salon in Vancouver. She advises (and, I think, stifles laughter) that I have no choice but to speak loudly and bushwhack slowly around the animal if I want to make it back to her place—where I'm temporarily staying—before sundown.
She remains on the line as I follow her instructions.
"Mr. Bear," I shout, hoping the respect will be reciprocated. "I'm having a really bad day. If you could just please leave me alone, that would be really great."
I hustle through thick bushes, scraping my legs in the process, and he doesn't move an inch.
This is just one by-product of a running addiction. Spiral far enough into its grip and you too might have to relieve yourself in a rattlesnake-filled canyon in Death Valley, get cat-called by teens from a car in the Alberta suburbs, or nearly faint from heat while pounding pavement in Rwanda.
I've been a runner now longer than I haven't. Thanks to my parents, who led by example, I started running as a teen with a Shockwave Discman and some extra CDs stuck into my hoodie pocket.
Into adulthood—as I moved from Ottawa to Vancouver to Edmonton to New York to Whistler, through university, grad school, first loves, broken hearts, new jobs, old struggles—running remained the one constant in my life.
Why? Because it's the only activity that makes me feel better 100 per cent of the time, regardless of inclement weather or low energy or dwindling motivation. Truly, if you can manage to lace up your shoes and get out the door, you can trick yourself into a better mood.
Running also gives you a sense of control, particularly useful during life's many (oh so many) transitions. After university—mired in a mild depression from the dawning realization that adult life meant wake up, work, sleep, repeat—I signed up for my first marathon. Running hill repeats in the pouring January rain only deepened my commitment and gave me a much-needed goal.
After crossing the finish line of the Vancouver Marathon in a respectable time, I set my sights on the Boston Marathon—considered the ultimate goal for amateur roadrunners.
Nearly derailed by the death of my grandfather just weeks before race day—which, astonishingly, was 10 years ago this year—I ran that fabled route with his photo tucked behind my race bib, close to my heart.
Moving to Whistler, though, changed everything. After a month of feeling out of place and entirely confused by my mountain-town surroundings, I found myself driving up the bumpy gravel road to Cheakamus Lake, determined to find a trail to run that would convince me the move wasn't a terrible mistake.
Rounding corners surrounded by lush ferns, catching glimpses of the roaring Cheakamus River below then finally reaching the expanse of the stunning lake, I felt a twinge of joy for the first time since arriving.
Trail running—like Whistler itself—hooked me and there's no going back.
Now staring down the start line of my first 50 K in June, I feel a little like I did the day I conversed with that obstinate Squamish bear—overwhelmed, unsure of the best way to proceed, and pretty terrified.
But therein lies the true lesson you learn from running: The only way to get where you're going is to just keep moving forward.