On a random weekday evening, nothing was going to stop Celeste Botton, when all she wanted to do was run.
It’s Tuesday, 10pm and I’m in one of those moods where you just want to run. Not just want, but fully crave it and need it. Despite my usual early morning gym and swim, the sticky heat of the city and being cloistered indoors all day has left me restless and irritable. I contemplate going for a few local miles but the thought of pounding the sticky concrete in the neighboring streets remains fairly unappealing.
All I can think about is retreating to the leafy coolness of Mont Royal (for those of you unfamiliar with Montreal, Mont Royal is a small mountain (or a big hill) right in the middle of the city) and cruising freely along it’s dirt trails, appreciating the breeze, clean air and silence of the undergrowth. Naked. Well not naked, but in my shorts and sports bra. So here I am, daydreaming about this run I crave so intensely, yet I can’t shake a sentiment of unease, of reluctance to set off. What is it? Is it too far? No, it’s a mere 3km from my house. Is it too late? Not really, I don’t work til noon on Wednesdays. Am I worried about getting lost? No way, I know those trails like the back of my hand.
As much as I hate to admit it to myself, in my warrior princess state of mind, I’m scared. The loud and proud feminist in me rages and wails at this fact, she pounds her fists on the table in despair, but there is no denying it; I am a woman and I am scared to run alone at night. I don’t want to be, but I am. Even my friends look at me with a concerned look on their faces, “it’s too late for a girl to be running alone in the dark.”Nonetheless, I’m about to climb the walls of my apartment, so I decide to go. To hell with it. As I make my way towards the mountain, winding through bustling throngs of people, dodging briefcases, staggering partygoers and the occasional dog, I assess my possessions; I have my phone and my frontal headlamp. Not so effective in terms of self-defence.
As I reach the dark mound that is Mont Royal, I observe with quiet worry the retreating warmth of the streelamps that previously lit my path. I turn off my music, switch on my lamp and start to quietly make my way up towards the summit. I can feel my heart fluttering in my chest like a small bird, exacerbated by every snap of a branch or rustle of a leaf. My dim headlamp doesn’t offer much comfort, transforming benign tree trunks into ominous silhouettes lurking beyond the realm of my feeble halo of light. My protection. I’m blinking back sweat and can’t seem to get my pace to steady, and I’m somehow hearing voices left right and center. It’s unbelievable what fear can conjure; all I can think is: “Isn’t it always joggers that are found dead in the woods?” But gradually, as I switch from the large gravel road to the trails, my focus shifts from my surroundings to myself. As much as I want to be on the lookout for potential murderers, I need to concentrate on where my feet land. Can’t be spraining any ankles this close to race day, can we!
As time ticks by, my heartbeat settles, my breathing evens out and suddenly I’m flying. All I can see and think about is the small patch of ground three feet ahead, lit up by my lamp. All I see and think about is dirt, now rocks, there go some tree branches, here I have to hop over this tree log. I am no longer afraid or vulnerable. I am no longer even a woman. I am just me, on this trail, doing what I love, nearly naked, and no longer afraid. I savour the moment for as long as I can, taking in the cool air on my hot skin, the sound of the tree canopy rustling in the wind, the sight of the full moon above, before pulling my shirt back on and heading back towards the city. But even as I approach the bright lights and bustling streets, I’m holding my head a little higher, my back a little straighter, and I refuse to cower before the leering faces that stand in my way, an unwelcome and undesired attention that I can’t escape. This is my body, my sport, my passion and I refuse to let anyone take them away from me. I will be damned if I keep quiet, and I will continue to step out at my own risk, unarmed and exposed, any time of day or night. I will continue to be nearly naked, and not so afraid.