As you know, I’m training for a half marathon. And really, I can’t imagine a better city to train in – I actually enjoy running in the rain, so my city’s tendency towards rain is not a problem for me, and it’s much milder here than anywhere else in the country, so you can even train throughout the winter. Plus, the city is gorgeous – it’s easy to plan runs along the beach, down cherry blossom-filled roads and through the forest. In fact, I have a particularly favourite 6 km route that I like to run, about half of which is through Pacific Spirit Park, a beautiful 763 hectare forest not far from my house. Or, I should say, a route I liked to run. Past tense. About two and a half weeks ago, Wendy Ladner-Beaudry was found murdered in Pacific Spirit Park. Murdered in this beautiful forest while out for a run in broad daylight. A run through a forest that sees 1.7 million visitors a year, a place that’s always teeming with people whenever I’ve been there. A place that many, many people – myself and a few of my friends included – go to run, to walk, to bike. Or used to go. Because honestly, I’m afraid now.
The logical part of my brain says, “millions of people use this Park and, as far as I know, nothing like this has ever happened before. It should be safe.” The Pacific Spirit Park Society assures us that “in spite of the recent incident, it remains one of the safest places in Vancouver.” But I just can’t bring myself to run through that forest. And I didn’t even run on the trails within the forest, the parts where you could be hidden from view of fellow park goers long enough for something to happen – I tended to stick to the main roads around and through the forest – not because I was concerned for my safety or anything, but rather because with my horrible sense of direction I would (and one time, did) get lost for hours on the winding trails. But I can’t even feel comfortable doing that anymore.
Today was the first time I’d faced this since Wendy Ladner-Beaudry was found murdered in the Park, as for the last couple of weeks my runs have either been very long runs, which I do with my friend and running buddy, Alicia, or I’ve been downtown and so have been able to do my run along the waterfront, which is very busy and very out in the open. But today I needed to do a 6 km run when I got home from work. And so I mapped out a new 6 km run, one that kept me far from the forest. And that makes me sad. I loved my run by the forest. I loved being lost in my own world, feet pounding, music blaring, surrounded by the splendour of the forest – I find it almost meditative. But, no, the safety tips from the RCMP suggest that you shouldn’t even wear headphones while out for a run, because you should be more aware of what’s going on around you. Well, I just couldn’t give up my forest route and my running music. But as I ran along the busy city streets listening to my music this evening, I was looking around far more than I usually do, constantly paying attention to who was around me and what they were doing and generally being on the lookout for where someone could be hiding along the way. I don’t want to be that paranoid. I don’t want to have to be that hypervigilant. I don’t want my runs, which are supposed to be my time for de-stressing, to be a source of stress and paranoia and panic.
My heart goes out to Ms. Ladner-Beaudry’s family and friends. I’ve been reading about her and it seems that she was not only an avid runner and talented athlete, but she was also involved in many projects aimed at breaking down barriers that prevent low income women and children from being involved in sports. Her husband said that she would be the first “to tell people not to be frightened or cowed, not to become prisoners of our own fear.” And while I wish I could say that I’m not frightened and I’m not going to be a prisoner of my own fear – I can’t. For now at least, I’m not going to be running through the forest on my own, I’m going to be a little more on my guard, a little less into my meditative space when I run. And I hope that the police catch a break in their case and find the person who killed her – first and foremost so that the Ladner and Beaudry families can have even a little bit of peace knowing that the person responsible for this senseless tragedy is brought to justice. But also so that those of us who love running and sports like she did can feel safe again in our beautiful city.