Run Forever: In Memory of Amy Alain

I can’t sleep tonight. It’s been a few hours since I received the news that my dear friend Amy Alain has passed after a nine-month long battle with lung cancer, leaving behind a loving husband and two of the sweetest children you’ve ever met. I hadn’t even known Amy for long, only about a year and a half, but she has made a massive, and lasting impact on my life.

It was just after dawn on a Sunday morning in early November and a premature winter storm had blown in a few inches of fresh snow, quieting the river valley with its heavy blanket. I was running on a familiar trail, in the Whitemud Ravine, when I heard a ‘Good morning! Great day for a run!’ in a cheerful voice behind me. She introduced herself and I picked up my pace to match her faster one so we could chat. We traded stories of races we had done, goals for the upcoming season and as our talk turned to more personal details, we discovered our kids go to the same school, they were looking to move into our neighbourhood and we shared several mutual friends. ‘Ah ha’ I thought, ‘a new trail sister’. How little I knew at the time, how this would play out.IMG_8655

Amy loved the river valley and her smile when she was exercising in nature was infectious. She was a personal trainer and hosted year-round bootcamps outdoors, in public spaces that were welcoming to children, leaving no excuse for any of her friends and clients to get out there and get moving. And certainly she inspired everyone she met with her boundless energy and positivity. “No cold weather, only soft people” she loved to say as she would head out onto the snowy trails. I can probably count on one hand the times I saw her in clothing other then run gear, she was always just headed to, or just coming back from a run or a workout outside.

Within a month of first meeting, Amy, myself and another friend Tania, were signed up for a 100-mile relay happening the upcoming summer. We also all signed up to run 25k at Winter River Valley Revenge in January, where she ran a fantastic race and placed 3rd.

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3rd Place Female at Winter River Valley Revenge

Conditions were icy that day, and the micro spikes she wore contributed to a foot injury that sidelined her for a few weeks after the race. She had planned to run a half marathon in Jasper in April, but after a few cautious runs on her healing foot, decided to drop down to the 10k event. In the days leading up to their trip, she mentioned a nagging cough that had developed in recent weeks and was worried that it would affect her performance. She accepted the fact that she wouldn’t be setting a personal best that day and went on to enjoy a beautiful race in the mountains.

After several frustrating attempts at runs, and the insistent mothering by those of us who loved her, Amy relented and went to the doctor to get her cough looked at. What followed was a series of nightmare test results and months of the worst-case scenario unfolding. It was lung cancer and it was moving fast. But Amy was determined to fight and continued to exercise, even running at times, with unshakable positivity, on a mission to enjoy every day to its fullest. She started a social media campaign that went viral, called Lunges for Lung Cancer; challenging others to do 58 lunges, one for each person lung cancer claims each day. Towards the end, even as lunges were incredibly difficult, she would still climb out of her hospital bed to record a few lunges, her movements painful and her muscles atrophied.

In her last days, as I leaned in close to help adjust her to a new position in her bed in palliative care, I told her I loved that she was wearing her Spartan Race t-shirt. She smiled, and through her drug induced fog, told me she planned to run another one one day. Through my tears, I whispered she has inspired so many people to be better versions of themselves and to live healthier lives and before she dozed back asleep she said she didn’t understand why anyone found her inspiring. Oh Amy, if only you could see how you changed us all.

When the run community loses one of its own, it comes with a particularly painful blow to the gut. Amy, like other runners we’ve lost, was young, super fit, and made a million healthy choices every day. She did everything right, yet her death serves as a painful reminder that none of us are immune, that no amount of miles logged or sunny days on the trail can protect us from our own mortality. Somehow, the intensity of running brings with it the exhilarating and terrifying paradox that anything is possible, yet that it can all be taken away from you in an instant. Though we build our bodies to be strong, they are still incredibly and devastatingly fragile.

While Amy’s body grew weak, her mental toughness persisted right until the end. I hope that in the hours she lay sleeping her mind was already drifting to places free from her physical suffering. Places where she could cuddle her children, walk with her husband and run the trails she loved so much. Her suffering is over. She has crossed the finish line of a cruel and horrifying ultramarathon called lung cancer, an ending that leaves us all furious at the unfairness of it all. Soon, I will head out on a run, through the snow on her favourite trail, to grieve her loss and celebrate her life the only way I know how, the only way any of us know how, with one foot in front of the other. IMG_8607

She had big plans to run a 100 mile race this summer. Those plans were prayers for more time that have gone unanswered when she died on Feb 22, 2019. I sincerely hope that now she can run forever and feel no pain. Run on my dear Amy. Run on.

14 thoughts on “Run Forever: In Memory of Amy Alain

  1. A perfect tribute to a beautiful trail runner, Mom, wife, and friend. She was a beautiful soul and I hope when you are the trails on a sunny day, you feel the warmth of her smile in the sun’s rays.

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    1. I have carried her with me in my thoughts on many, many runs, and will continue to do so. I plan to carry something of hers with me when I run 100 miles this summer.

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  2. What a beautiful tribute to your friend. I didn’t know Amy, but I did hear about 58 lunges. I remember thinking “how cool, I’ll do that, tomorrow” and never did do them “tomorrow”. But that changes right now. I’m a cancer survivor and I am grateful for each day I’ve been given. I have friends who are right now “fighting” that dreaded “C” word fight and I have had those I love dearest lose that same battle. Not sure why I got so lucky but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was happy. Cancer doesn’t discriminate on age, sex or gender. I wish I could have known Amy, she sounds like a beautiful person. So, for Amy I will be doing 58 lunges every day… and hopefully one day this horrible disease will be eradicated.

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  3. I just had to tell you how moving your memoriam is and I hope it’s ok that i do so as someone who doesn’t know either you or Amy. A social media post brought me to your blog. Without a doubt, Amy is most definitely inspiring. I cannot even imagine the courage it takes to know you are dying when you have little kids and a husband you are worried for…yet you hold it together and continue to live as fully as possible. And have such an incredible impact on so many. Take care.

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  4. Beautiful just beautiful you have made your friend proud in the pain free place she is now, thank you for this. I never had the pleasure of knowing amy, but I know Phil and the love they shared and his vulnerable daily posts exuded his love for his strong, beautiful, inspiring wife…I did not know amy but she changed me. I quit smoking 7 month ago and she was the inspiration. I endeavour to do better and practice a more healthy life because of her….what an amazing woman.

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    1. Thank you for sharing Tara. I sincerely hope you continue to stay ‘quit’ and move forward in your healthy journey to your best life! I challenge you to take up trail running!

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  5. Very sad for the family and friends. She sounded amazing and inspiring for sure. This was well written. Maybe some people will run in her memory! Sending love

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    1. People run in her memory all the time! In fact, within hours of her passing, a group in the UK ran 45 km dedicated to her. And there are many, many of us who will log some big miles, all for Amy. I challenge you to do the same 🙂

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