It was a modest but energetic gathering of runners who came together on a chilly evening at the Forks in Winnipeg last month. Their mission was to run a footrace, beginning as soon as the fireworks were ignited that signaled the conclusion of Winnipeg’s Santa Claus parade.
The event, hosted by members of Manitoba Trail Runners, looked like fun and the prospect of meeting some new people who enjoyed being outside was a bonus.
I always wanted to try a run in the dark, and this was my chance. I was grateful that I had the day off, and that I had the courage to try something new.
The Fat Ass Full Frosty Beaver Moon Half Marathon was created by a local sportsman, Rheal Poirier, and was advertised through Facebook. The event was to be a free, unsupported gathering of runners; it appeared in one of my Facebook news feeds, so I checked it out.
Online registration through Evenbrite.ca was swift and painless; this particular page included links to maps, a roster, and some notes like start time and an invite to attend Finn’s pub at the Forks for some post-race discussions.
Close to forty of us appeared on the evening of the race. It was quite dark outside as I met some friendly, and some serious, runners from all ages and backgrounds. I was a little nervous, but I’m sure everyone shared my anxiety, for anything unfamiliar usually stirs a few butterflies in the stomach, and it was the first time this event was held.
The race started with quite the bang, as Poirier noted it would begin as soon as the first fireworks went off marking the end of the Santa Clause parade.
We crossed the spectacular Riel Esplanade bridge, looped around underneath by the river, and continued north through Old St. Boniface.
The fast athletes were gone right from the start: serious runners. I was way at the back, hoping to get some memorable pictures, and I did. The little white headlamps slowly disappeared into the night, looking like a long Christmas light decoration.
As the course wound on, I slowly slipped back, and then I lost touch with the groups I was running with and I just went at my own pace. It didn’t matter, for I was out doing something that I probably wouldn’t be doing if I didn’t sign up. I was happy that I probably had some good photographs, and that I met some great people. I couldn’t ask for much more.
The route continued south down Archibald Street, then west on Fermor, primarily on the recreational paths, then north onto the St. Vital Bridge, toward Osborne Street.
I noticed red and blue lights underneath the bridge, but I assumed it was a routine traffic stop: it was Saturday night after all. However, I could see little white lights searching the banks of the river. They were looking for somebody.
As I crossed the bridge, questions flooded my mind. I wondered, were they looking for a body? Did someone under the influence of drugs try to swim across the river? Is it a criminal escaping?
Then I saw the fire truck, with the unmistakable red and white lights flashing. Now I can assume that the search was for somebody in the water, and with these vehicles being so close to the bridge, a person probably jumped.
I stopped running as I crested the bridge, and I peered into the blackness, lowering my headlamp to illuminate the open water and ice. But I could not find anyone. I could not see.
Empathy came over me. Firstly, I’ve been there. Many of us have, in our lives. A place of sheer desperation, where there is no way out, but death. Death IS an option, just not a very good one. For some reason, I believe I was very close to that point years ago, when my world turned black and went cold. When I thought I was alone.
I felt hollow doing my slow shuffle across the bridge. I was stopped by a firefighter who asked me some questions and I responded by telling him that if I see anyone, 911 is the first number I will call. Heck, I see houses just up the embankment, and I will bang on one of their doors to help this chap if I find him. Why do I assume it’s a ‘he’. I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I can see me.
As I continued on my path back to the Forks to finish my half marathon, I felt gratitude and not elation. I am grateful that I came out tonight and met some great people. I may not know them personally, but from what I’ve seen, I could talk to at least some of them; and that talk may keep me out of the river tonight.
One can’t underestimate the positive impact that a group of people can have on an individual. So, next time you have an opportunity to come together with others in our community, go for it. You never know: it may save a life.
The next night race sponsored by Manitoba Trail Runners will be held on January 11, 2014 at 7:00 p.m.
And if you’re still not convinced about running outside in Winnipeg’s winter, here is a great video from a local sportsman showing how fun it is:
All photos by Gregory McNeill