In the seven years that I’ve been friends with Natalia I’ve known that she has a certain love for weddings. This girl has firm opinions on what she wants in a man and how she’s going to marry that man.

For your information, Natalia’s future husband is a career-oriented family guy who doesn’t cry very often, if at all. He will know how to dress himself for every occasion. He will be good-looking and emotionally strong enough to manage her severe germophobia. To this end, when they live together in joyful matrimony one of his household duties will be to quietly empty the fridge of any decaying grocery items before she even lays eyes on them.

The couple will be wed in a traditional church ceremony with a guest list that will no doubt approach the two- or three-hundred mark. She can’t imagine getting married without her sister as the maid of honour and keeps a running list bridesmaid candidates.

Natalia has a secret Pinterest board that serves to display her many wedding ideas gleaned from attending dozens and dozens of these events over the years. I know one day the time will come for her to give me access to this secret board so we can begin to plan her nuptials, the Biggest Wedding in History. Until then, she remains a veritable wedding expert – a true treasure trove of wedding wisdom.

I am not like Natalia in this respect, and for years I never planned to consult Natalia regarding my wedding. As a young girl I repeatedly dreamt about getting married, and those dreams were just awful. I would wake up in a cold sweat with my heart beating wildly. The idea of getting up in front of dozens of people – anyone at all, really – in a white dress was terrifying to me. It’s not that I had a fear of commitment; it was more of an acute fear of weddings. The idea made me squirm. Beginning in high school I joked that I would be eloping to Vegas when the time came for me to tie the knot. My wedding cake would be made of hot dogs. I considered a gold sequined dress.

When it came to weddings, I was the anti-Natalia – a wedding dodger.

Three winters ago, I was running a race in Ottawa with my good friend Ian. The event was a triathlon fundraiser wherein competitors (1) skate the length of the Rideau Canal, (2) run to a bar, and (3) drink a beer.

For the run portion of this event, I threw my skates over my shoulder and laced up the hiking boots I’d hoped would protect me from the ice and snow. Shuffling down the canal’s dimly lit pathway, I started uncontrollably huffing and puffing. My winter layering regime clearly needed work. Gosh, I was hot. Uncomfortable. The opposite of cute.

Just as I was wiping a full stream of winter snot off my face my running buddy asked me to go on a date with him. Still panting heavily, I could barely manage a reply. I don’t even remember what I said – only that it wasn’t the most enthusiastic response. Once we’d parted ways for the night I had to confirm with him via text message that I would love to go on a date with him. It was the truth.

Over three years later, we’re still running buddies. We’re also partners, homeowners, and co-parents to a sassy bulldog named Ruby.

This past winter, my love and I began training for the Calgary half marathon, which would be taking place in May 2013. I was aiming to run a personal best time with Ian at my side to push me along. We ran diligently through Calgary’s coldest months, leaving our house and puppy on Sunday mornings for long runs and returning – red-cheeked and sweaty – to drink our protein shakes and get into bed for a nap.

As work obligations and physical stress took a toll on me I explained to Ian that I was going to race a 5k instead of the half marathon. I needed to take it easy. We agreed that he would still sign up for the longer race (which was to be held on the same day) so his intense training wouldn’t go to waste.

When race day came at the end of May, we woke up very early to get downtown for the start of Ian’s half marathon at 7 a.m.

Ian raced so well. He is naturally fast (an understatement) and looked so strong whenever we saw him out on the course.

A few hours later, feeling tired and cranky after waking up so early, I lined up for my race. I put on my headphones and touched my toes, fully ignoring the group stretching demonstration going on in front of me because I’m somewhat of a race snob. As I got into my “race zone” I became jealous of Ian for having already finished. I had left him on the sidelines standing peacefully with his parents.

When the gun went off a hoard of small children immediately boxed me in. Ah yes, apparently this race is called a “Family Fun Run” for a reason. Clearly I was surrounded by families, all of whom were having fun stopping me from getting to the finish line. Kids were all around me, zig zagging with each breath – cutting me off in the process. I had a such a hard time settling into a pace and resigned myself to slowly plodding along if need be. This wasn’t going to be my day to break the tape. I grew irritated.

About five minutes into the race I felt someone brush against my arm. Figuring I had cut someone off I hurled an apology from the side of my mouth, but when I took a closer look at my fellow competitor I realized it was Ian. Ian! Ian?

“What are you doing here?” I asked, removing one earbud and tucking it into my shirt.

“Well, I figured if I had asked you on our first date while we were running a race, I would ask you to marry me while we’re running a race. Will you marry me?”

I proceeded to heave a bunch of breathless “ohmygod, ohmygod”s into the air, excited and completely oblivious to anything going on around me. For poor Ian, this ordeal had to be at least vaguely reminiscent of our time in the canal triathlon.

“Is that a yes?” he asked, remaining calm.

I managed to say yes (somehow) and he presented me with a beautiful emerald-topped gold ring. We kissed quickly… and kept running. Our engagement was important, but so was finishing this race ahead of the army of small children. Ian raced 26.1 kilometres that day.

On the day of our engagement I couldn’t get in touch with Natalia. Her phone was out of service and she wasn’t returning my text messages. I suspected she was visiting her grandparents in Georgia and I cursed these international family ties. When we finally got on the phone a few days later I gave her a full recap of race day and I felt all of my previous wedding-related anxiety melt away. I had known when Ian proposed that saying yes was undoubtedly the right choice, but somehow talking to Natalia about it I felt this wave of peace wash over me. Talking about the day I’d had and how thrilled I was to be heading down this path with Ian, I could understand why she was so in love with weddings. I made plans to start a new Pinterest board.

I guess I’m different now. Somehow in between making plans for a hotdog cake and running a kid-filled 5k race, I fell in love with an amazing person and became the kind of girl that can host a wedding without experiencing heart palpitations and night sweats. But I’m not too different: Early on in our engagement we had the realization that our wedding didn’t have to be anything like the weddings of my childhood dreams. It could be absolutely anything we wanted it to be. So next year Ian and I are hosting a party where there will be cake and a white dress and all our favourite people – but not a lot of other things resembling a traditional wedding.

I knew I was committed to the idea of a wedding when I was walking to the bus stop after work and a favourite song started playing in my headphones. I got this feeling that it was the song I wanted to play at our ceremony, and I was suddenly overcome with emotion. I began tearing up at the bus stop, like a real dope. I don’t know how my transformation happened, but I have a theory. For so long a wedding was this abstract thing – this thing that I had no real idea about. Now a wedding is this fun event I’ll get to experience with my best friend, someone who makes me so happy. And when I close my eyes I can see the whole thing.

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