A lesson I learned from running through the Prairies in Manitoba, Western Canada.
By nature, I am a city girl. I was born in Seoul, South Korea, which as of 2012 had a population of 25.7 million people in the Seoul Capital Area making it the third largest metropolitan area in the world. I then moved to Toronto, the most populous city in Canada, at the age of four and resided in the city except for a few years when I went off to do my undergraduate studies. And now that I call Montréal my home, I remain in the metropolis centres of Canada and love the bustle, riding the métro, and stacked apartment living.
However, I recently had the chance to venture to another part of Canada that I had never had the opportunity to visit until now. I hitched a ride to the southern Manitoba and Winnipeg area, which means that I now only have Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador, and the northern territories to cross off on my Canadian destinations list. I had been to the Prairies before, Calgary and Edmonton to be exact, though Alberta is tempered by the beautiful rocky mountains. Manitoba was a completely different type of the Canadian Prairies, however, as it has not expanded in population nor revelled in the oil boom like its Alberta counterpart. This is really how I always imagined the Prairies to be: flat, sparse, and still. And Manitoba truly delivered.
I brought my running shoes with me as well as my trusty Nike+ GPS watch, and I set out to run the highways, the only main roads in the outskirts of southern Manitoba. My usual runs consist of passing all the landmarks on my way to the mountain — I know exactly all the little boulangeries, cafés, and buanderies on each of my routes in Montréal. But running in Manitoba was not only an exercise of the physical sort but of the mental one as well. I would set off running from my destination point, merge into the highway, and then…I would pass the yellow plains. And some more yellow plains. Maybe a few houses, separated a kilometre apart or so, and a field of horses, perhaps some bison, and even llamas. But I felt like I wasn’t covering any distance as my viewpoint remained steady, unchanged, and mind-boggling. How far have I run? I would have to ask myself. I would usually be able to make a mental calculation of the distance I have covered thus far, but in the Prairies time stood still. For my first run in Manitoba, I clocked my fastest 5 km that I have ever recorded on my GPS watch as I had no idea of the pace that I was maintaining. By my second run, I had started to look out for some landmarks, but it still felt like forever to get to the nearest intersection or the train tracks. I was surrounded by yellow flowers, the same scenery I saw all over southern Manitoba, and I felt lost in this forever hamster wheel that at times felt strangely liberating.
If I had run far enough I would have encountered the dykes set up due to the flooding in the area a few weeks prior (second picture). But closer still was the gas station situated in the middle of nowhere, where the windows of its general store also provided a meeting spot for local flyers (picture below). After passing the Native reserve and the constant swarm of dragonflies that coasted through the air, a twenty minute drive would bring you to the nearest small city. But all drivers would have to tread carefully as wild deer skipped the roads here and there so frequently, I almost ran into one and drove into one in two separate incidents. I felt a tinge of jealousy, however, watching the deer bouncing through the plains with their elongated strides as they seemed to know exactly where they were going. It must be nice to be able to conquer a land so deceivingly simple.
But when I returned to my city of Montréal I got lost on a new route that wound around the base of the mountain. Today I found myself in the neighbourhood of Côte-des-Neiges, at the crossing of Autoroute 15, and far from my usual stomping grounds. Seeing that my street had come to an end at the highway, I was not sure how on earth I got myself to this point; this run, unlike my previous ones, was quite disorganized as I ended up dodging various closed streets due to the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal event. And I felt some of the similar emotions that I had felt running through Manitoba. But here the air was smoggy, nary a dragonfly, and the nearest bison was probably shaped into a patty at a trendy burger joint. I saw the jam of cars in the highway lanes below the bridge, made a u-turn back onto my haphazard route, and felt happily disoriented in my own city. I had no idea where I was going.