“There is something spirit about running. When you are alone with your mind, your fears and thoughts plus the effort of putting one foot in front of the other – something happens.”
Addiction and drugs can snatch almost anyone from the safe, warm normalcy of life into the dark soul-draining life that drugs can create. Some have other factors in their lives that place them closer to the temptation of drugs and possible addiction.
As I wander amongst the Canadian running community, I get the chance to meet many new runners. I find and connect with so many people with amazing stories. One story leads to another, like each footstep leads to another. This is the story of a Canadian runner known as Caribou Legs who managed to tear the claws of addiction from his skin and keep them at bay by finding a love and a soulful connection with running.
Brad “Caribou Legs” Firth
Brad’s face is lean and like many marathoners and ultramaratoners. The miles have whittled away the fat from his frame. Thousands of footsteps have dried away the extra like smoking meat, rendering him to a wiry, muscled runner. But it was not always this way.
Brad spent 20 years on the violent back alleys and dark cold streets of Vancouver, (his words) as a hard core drug addict. The need, the unending itch that needs to be scratched quickly drew Brad into lying cheating and stealing, to feed the need.
“I became more vulnerable, weak, frustrated, desperate, hostile, afraid, hopeless, and extremely paranoid, suspicious, tense, anxious, and nervous from rigorously abusing crack cocaine. Eventually, I found myself in provincial jail, desperate for a change of lifestyle; with no options or solutions of resurrecting my spirit.”
How Brad became Caribou Legs
From online research and sources, the name Caribou seems to come from the Mi’kmaq word “xalibu,” meaning “the one who paws”. The well-know Canadian animal is well adapted to its environment with long legs that help it move through snow. Many Aboriginal peoples have based their culture around the caribou.
Brad did not become “Caribou Legs” overnight. His legs were not ready for any running or ploughing through the snow at first. But there is always a beginning.
One thing led to another and one day Brad found himself in jail and wondering how to begin a new life. This is when Brad (who is of native ancestry) says an elder told him to start running.
So that’s what he did. As many new runners do, Brad started running every day and in his poetically he says he, “(I) …slowly broadened my horizons and stretched my legs into the North Shore mountains. That’s where I reclaimed my spirit! I felt useful, powerful and worthy. Running became my medicine, teacher, and best friend.”
Brad who was soon to become better known as “Caribou Legs” says he was soon running everywhere in Vancouver and surrounding area. Brad’s drawn into the world of ultra running (over the marathon distance) after he met an ultra runner named Benji Chu. Brad soon found he liked running long and soon he found himself running an 11-hour run to Whistler on the Sea to Sky highway. Brad was on his way to earning his future name.
With an appetite now for the big miles and mental challenge of the ultra run Brad was off for a 23-hour run when his running was interrupted by a truck going by. The truck clipped and shattered Brad’s elbow as it veered to close to him on the highway.
Brad said, “I was told by Benji that the hit n run was payback for all my wrongful decisions on the streets and that I had also incurred many karmic debts over the years. My Creator had spared my running because I was to share my running in a good way with society.”
After being released from hospital Caribou Legs was soon nursing himself back to running. Despite his love of running he says it took it took 6 months to get back on the highway.
With more than enough information and the desire to write an article as opposed to a blog, I still ask Caribou Legs a few questions.
What do you feel when running?
“I feel useful, purposeful, calm, relaxed, determined, focused, safe, spiritual, and confident and I feel cared for when I run, I feel that I’m allowed safe passage wherever I run. Running is my purpose, way of life. Running is my medicine. I have an obligation to serve running to my people as my message or testimony to inform them that it’s possible to transform oneself from addiction.”
Why do you keep running?
“I keep running because I love running!”
What would you tell other who have addictions about running?
“I would tell people with any addiction problems to pick up running as a form of dealing with stress and heartache!”
Today Caribou Legs is an ultra runner with a well-earned nick name, off the streets and at 44 years old says he hopes to run for another 40 years. He has run 750 km in a 10-day run, 1200 km 25-day run from Inuvik to Whitehorse, and a 3200 km 78-day run from Vancouver to Whitehorse. One of his proudest moments he says was qualifying for the Boston marathon (3:07 qualifying time) and running a 1:22 half marathon, placing 46th out of 3500 men.
Caribou Legs’ most recent ultra run from Vancouver to Whitehorse was to bring attention to the Peel watershed where he ran through the Rockies and averaged 65-75km a day. He describes himself as an ice road ultra runner one of the strongest long distance ultra runners in Canada
His passion and enthusiasm leaks from every word in his emails to me. He describes running as a vital activity and says it lends itself to therapeutic healing.
“Running each day validates many physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental defects within our culture. Running improves our behaviour and offers healthy fitness solutions. I enjoy passing on stories of past runners leading the way when villages followed the herds. It was the runners who followed the herds and allowed hunters to set traps for caribou and buffalo. Runners carried important inter-tribal messages for important gatherings. Runners were always allowed safe passage in enemy territory as well. Runners in the community are regarded highly amongst chiefs and elders.”
When I run I am in touch with myself. It is my true self that comes out under the stress and sweat of a run. I feel whole and alive on quiet, early morning runs or cutting through the dark on a fall evening. Caribou Legs I am glad you have joined the Canadian running community.
Your story inspires and adds to the collage of stories that abound by those pounding the pavement across the country like you.
Run on my friend.
*You can follow Caribou Legs on his Facebook page. In May 2015 he will running from Vancouver to Ottawa.