Slip Sliding Along

It has taken me three years to finally run the ever so popular Chuckanut 50k.  In 2013 I was whisked off to Kenya during the Chuckanut race weekend (tough choice, but Kenya won in the end).  In 2014 a tough physical and mental battle was occurring in my body as I tried to heal from multiple hip issues/injuries.  This year, well there was nothing holding me back other than the worry I wouldn’t be properly prepared for a very competitive trail ultra race.

In general, I mix my running time between road and trail. As much as I would love to visit the local trail terrain on a daily basis, it just isn’t always feasible. And to be honest, keeping some road leg speed, can be an advantage in endurance races, whether on trail or road.

Chuckanut was to be my first trail race of the year, and certainly not my last.  I did my research in regards to the race. Asking fellow Ultra runners Jeremy Clegg and Ellie Greenwood what I should expect out there that day. Both of these incredible runners had raced this event (Ellie being last years winner) and knew the in’s and out’s, and ups and downs, of the race.  It was obviously a poplar course with both friends, as they had given me a play by play of the race, and it couldn’t have been better.  It gave me some confidence while I moved through the trails, knowing (ever so slightly) what was coming up ahead.

Friday night after work found me heading down South, over the boarder to where the Canadian dollar gets you nothing currently, in the passenger seat of Anne-Marie Madden’s truck.  It was the perfect time to catch up, unwind, and hedge our bets on what the weather would do the next morning. It wasn’t looking like the sun would poke through, so a soggy run was expected.

The threat of rain and wind, and the assurance of mud and puddles had me undecided as to what to wear (like the runners version of what to wear on a first date I suppose!). Jacket on or jacket off? Arm warmers? Water bladder full or half empty?The gusts were strong as we readied ourselves just minutes before the race was to begin, so I opted for a hat that wouldn’t fly off, and threw on a long sleeve over my pack (kind of looking like I was wearing a fashionable shrug…), thinking I would rather have the option to take it off after the start if things warmed up, rather than being caught cold on a higher peak later on, wishing I had something to protect me from the wet conditions. In the end, it was a somewhat useless piece of clothing as it spent the majority of the race around my waist.

The beauty of this race is that is can appeal to both a climber and a not so skilled climber.  Although I am not horrible at moving up hill, I still have some work to do.  Having 10k at the start and the end of the race of rolling, easy terrain, allows people like me to stay in the race a little easier.  For many, the last 10k of flatter, rolling trails (much like what you see on the Goose or Elk lake for you Victoria folk), is not a welcoming aspect of the event.  From approximately 35km to 40k, there is a significant drop in elevation. It’s a perfect place to bomb down the switchbacks amongst beautiful trees, but it can also do some damage to the quads if one isn’t careful.   For me, it was a feeling of freedom going down that last slope, and I kept in mind that in a short amount of time, I would be able to utilize some road speed on the flats, hoping it would give me a gap between myself and the next female runner who was on my heels.

What’s the earlier part of the race like you may ask?  Well, after the first 10k of easier terrain, you begin the first climb. There is some great flowing single track, and due to the rain, a lot of slippery mud, puddles and slick rocks to be weary of. Around the 18km mark is a good long slog of a climb on a logging road, followed by more muddy ups and downs.  The final climb, called “Chinscraper”, said to be the nastiest climb (although it was my favourite for some odd reason), begins around 33km’s, and after that, the downhill slope begins. Overall, the race has some technical aspects, and of course some open and speedy sections. With the rain, wind and mud, I would hazard to say it was a slower run for most people out there. However, it didn’t disappoint. What’s trail running without some dirt and close calls along the way?  I am sure there is a health benefit to mud baths.

One trail race down for 2015 and I am extremely content with the 2nd place finish behind one of the USA’s strongest runners, Magdalena Boulet.  I didn’t expect to place so high up, but I won’t complain about the result.  I know I still have a lot to learn from these trails I am running on.  My confidence has increased in the last couple of years, but there is so much more to gain out there.  This change from road to trail and Ultra running only feeds the fire within.  Running through the woods, weaving over uneven terrain, listening to what nature has to say and hearing my own breathing as I make my way up a mountain, couldn’t be more inviting. Every turn and each new climb offers something different.  The challenges are numerous, but so rewarding. Bring on more dirt and longer runs. Happy running my friends. Enjoy the mud!

IMG_20150321_133906A view from above. Compressport compressed legs in a puddle!

IMG_20150321_172342Care Nelson and I post race, She was one of many Nelson runners that day! A family of strong runners indeed.

IMG_20150322_182410 Taking in some post race treats. Trail butter, oh yes!

Back to the Races 2015

It felt like I had been away from racing for much too long.  Getting these legs to move quickly again seemed like it may be a struggle.  I had been logging on some decent miles over the winter months, being cautious not to over do things.  A great balance of trail and road to keep my body familiar with both. I am not ready to completely disengage from road races, and I don’t feel like I am 100% trail material, especially the more technical and elevated mountain running, however, I love both, so why choose just one?

The races I want to do this season are vast, the trouble I have is choosing a select few, and making sure they all fit nicely on paper can be challenging.  It’s a bit overwhelming to see the choices that are out there to be quite honest. And if I was super human, I may just race every weekend in order to experience all that goodness.  However, thinking back to my injury, I realize that I can’t  subject my body to such craziness if I want to maintain what I have. Falling back into an injured state isn’t an option, both physically and more so, mentally.  Running brings me peace of mind, and it has connected me with amazing people across this globe. It’s a community I am proud to be a part of.  So, keeping this in mind will only help me in my race planning (or so I hope!)

In  a ‘normal’ year, I would have raced one or two of the more local road races by February. However, with a chest/sinus infection in December, and the fear of trying to run at a pace my legs are unfamiliar with these days, I chose to skip those events and wait things out until the First Half.  Perhaps I should have forced myself into an 8 or 10Km race to wake my legs up, but I chose to wait instead. And besides, 21.1 km’s seemed short enough for someone who starts to feel warmed up at about 18km’s.

That First Half was nothing to write about in regards to my time or placing, but I was satisfied with the end result, and it gave me some confidence for the longer events that will come this season (and some catching up with lovely running pals). In the back of my head, that race felt like it would prepare me for my first marathon of the year. A marathon which I wasn’t exactly doing as a focus race, or resting for fully, but simply a race that I kind of threw into the picture on a whim (truly, it was a great excuse to spend time with my lovely friend Stacey Cleveland!)

So, on the 26th of February, I jumped on a plane and headed to Arizona for the Phoenix marathon.  I was a scatter-brain leading up to that weekend.  Flipping back and forth between places to stay and how the logistics may work out. It seemed like a bit of a disaster in some ways, but the ticket had been bought, work was booked off, so off to the sunny South I went.

It’s true that I have traveled a lot in my 35 years, but not so extensively in the States.  Generally I am good at finding deals and keeping costs down, but sometimes, as I learned this weekend, it’s best to choose hotels that get really good ratings, not mediocre ones….

The first stop in my 2.5 day whirlwind tour was a hotel close the ASU campus. It was dark when I arrived, but at a reasonable hour.  As I peered out of the taxi window I could clearly see that the exterior of the hotel wasn’t pretty, and once I entered the room I realized it wasn’t any better on the inside.  Sure the staff were friendly and accommodating, but damn, they need to do some work.  Doors locked, and fan on to mask the street noise, I got in a broken 6.5 hours of sleep, woke to some sunshine and warmth, moved my legs on an easy run, and packed up to meet friends (good riddance to the less than average/somewhat sketchy hotel….)

I was delighted to see Stacey (Fantastic Ultra runner) at package pick-up, and knowing that I had another hotel to stay at that night, put me at ease, however, I was wondering if this next hotel may be just as bad as the first.  The host hotel was full (disorganized me didn’t get a room booked in time when I decided to go down for the race), so my only option was to find another home for the night, close enough to the shuttles that would drive us to the start (point to point race). I was convincing myself that the next couldn’t could be as bad as the first, could it? Well, the answer to that, is yes, yes it really can be. In fact, it was worse.

After a relaxing lunch and great conversation with my friends, we drove to the hotel where I would book in, put my legs up, and relax until I hopped in a taxi the next am at 4:15 (3:15 BC time). I believe I was there for a total of 12 minutes after checking in before I turned around, said no thanks to that room, called the Hyatt (they luckily had a couple of cancellations for the night!) asked for a taxi, and left the premises tout de suite! The sketchy cleaning lady, the drug deal, and the ‘cleanliness’ of that room, got me moving quickly.  And, to be honest, I am not very picky when it comes to these things. As I said to my husband, I was a tree-planter for 8 years, I have stayed in some fairly rough hotels in my time, but this, this just wasn’t going to happen.

So, long story short, my body and mind only began to settle once I entered my new hotel room (where the cleaners did not look like addicts, and no drug deals were going down). It would be another short night of sleep, but I really didn’t care.  I felt safe, happy, and truly had no idea how this run would go.

3:30 came quickly on the 28th (2:30 am BC time). I shot out of bed, fixed up some coffee and oats, got my gear on, and off I went with the crowds to board our 4:45am shuttle to the desert start line.  It was dark, but beautiful nonetheless. Bats flew above our heads, and the sunrise in the distance began as we approached the start line. It was a lot of pavement to pound for the day, but in the end, it was worth every step.

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As the sun rose, we made our way down hill (net loss course). The air temperature was perfect and a light wind had begun.  I controlled my decent, so not to hammer my legs early on in the race.  Two women pulled ahead quickly, but I didn’t concern myself with what anyone else was doing.  I was happy to keep my pace where it was, and had to monitor my GI as it was acting up a bit.

At about 7.5km, after finding a small group to run with, we came to the one and only true climb in the race which lasted about 2km. I felt comfortable enough to push a little bit and gained on the 2nd lady.  Once we hit the downhill again however, she sped on her way, but I kept my eye on her in the distance, wondering if she may faulter later on, but it seemed as though she was cruising right along, getting further away.  At this point, the race became mostly flat.  This could have been a great advantage to us. A PB could easily be attained had the winds not become so strong.  I would guess that we had about 6km’s or more of full on head winds throughout the race.  Putting my head down and pushing through was the only choice I had. No tall runner in front of me to block the wind, and no way to avoid it.

As we came into the last 15km, I realized I was quickly gaining on 2nd.  By 28km’s I pulled up and passed her. My body finally felt like I had a steady rhythm. My pace picked up with ease.  I was determined to stay in 2nd after having such a rough experience with hotel craziness in the last 1.5 days. I did not dare look behind me though. If someone was on my heels, I would just have to deal with it later on.

Somewhere around 30km, the unnecessarily large number of Police escorts were beside and in front of me, informing me that I was now the lead lady. They quickly sounded their sirens to get the 10k and 1/2 marathon walk/runners to move over. It seemed like overkill, but I had no choice. I couldn’t really tell the officers to move over and out of my lane!  As I inhaled in the fumes of their motor cycle exhaust, I began  think back to past races where road cyclists have ridden close by me, wishing I could replace those motorized things with the road bikes!  Fingers crossed my lungs wouldn’t suffer for this in the future!

As I took the last turn with about 400m to go, the motor bike gang moved off course (Finally!) and I could see the clock ticking away in front of me. Knowing there was a bonus for running under 2:45 got my legs moving even quicker.  Had the wind not been so strong on the course, I wouldn’t have had to worry, however, here I was, down to the wire.  With only seconds to spare, I zipped through the finishing line in 2:44.54. Phew! That last km, being one of my quickest in the whole 42.2km’s, and  I would guess that the last 200m’s was even faster.

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It wasn’t a PB, it wasn’t an amazing race by any means, but for a whirlwind trip/race, and with little specific marathon training as of late, I was happy with the result and even happier to see Ultra runner and ultra nice friends, Stacey and Dave, at the finish.  Thank goodness the 2.5 day trip ended on a high. Now I can look forward to the first trail race of the season. Hopefully the legs remember how to climb after that race….

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Winter, all its darkness and a side of snow

I can’t say I love the short days of Winter.  There is very little daylight to take advantage of during these months.  Sunshine is so invigorating, and when that sun ceases to shine, it can be a struggle to thrive outdoors, or indoors for that matter.  Despite these dark and rainy days, I still love getting outside, however soggy or cold I may get.  Part of this maintained motivation is the fact that my body is no longer is pain, fighting an injury, as it did this time last year.  Other than fighting a terrible cold and sinus infection as of late, which brought with it, some incredible fatigue for the last few weeks, I have still been able to enjoy some shuffling out in the woods, through some snow, and along the ocean front.  The last year was a struggle, for so many reasons, and I can only hope that 2015 will be a little easier on me both physically and mentally.

The highs and lows of 2014 are numerous. From injury, loss of loved ones, and a poor mental state, to enjoying summertime sunshine, travel to various places on the globe, a few Ultra’s, and the experience of racing at the IAU World Trophy 50k. I have some fond memories of the last 12 months, and others I don’t care to think about too often.  Yet, through all of the ebbs and flows, I always felt fortunate to have good people around me to keep me strong.  I truly believe we thrive on the support of others. We are a social being, no matter how much many people love to be alone, we still require a certain amount of contact to make us stronger and happier.  So, to all the good and amazing people in my life, thank you.  Each one of you keeps me smiling, keeps me strong, and keeps me honest. I may not love these darker Winter days, but I certainly love my extended family (which includes my dear friends).

Happy New Year

A few photos to reflect on the last 12 months

IMG_20140202_113313118_HDRFrom therapeutic walks/hikes

IMG_20140228_113005To cross training while injured

Gwyn Jones, my Dadcu

Gwyn Jones, my Dadcu

Saying good-bye to my lovely grandfather, whom I miss dearly

IMG_6022To seeing my family in Britain.

IMG_9235And reuniting with old friends

IMG_20140819_111720Spending as much time with my boy before we said good-bye

IMG_20140914_052835603~2~2And revisiting our home in La Suisse

IMG_6139to see friends (and drink some Lavaux wine too!)

IMG_6061Where I happily raced the JungFrau marathon!

IMG_20140418_155508Camping along the Coast which rejuvenated me

IMG_20140803_094223526Finally running up Mt Albert Edward!

IMG_0231And running for Canada at the World Trophy 50k

IMG_9265With an amazing Canadian team!

Through this year I have had continued support from Arc’teryx, Compressport and Frontrunners Victoria, Thank you all once again!

Finishing with a smile.

Finishing with a smile.

Heating up in Doha Qatar

The Middle East hadn’t been on my radar for travel, however, when the opportunity came up to race at the IAU World Trophy 50k in Doha Qatar, I couldn’t resist.

Sometime earlier in the summer  months, while my body was still in the slow comeback phase of my running, I decided to take a chance and apply for a ‘wild card’ position for this race.  I hadn’t run a qualifying road 50k, but the distance itself was not a stranger to me.  The qualifying race was one I had to miss. I had hardly run more than 20 minutes at the time when the Canadian Championships took place in Calgary. However, with a few trail 50k’s already under my belt and over 15 marathons, I figured my body was ready to give a quick paced 50k a go.  Although my year had been a big old mess of injury, frustration and a variety of other stressors, this event, which was to take place months away, was something to look forward to.

I’ll admit right off the bat, after accepting the ‘wild card’, I had to open the computer, type in D-O-H-A, and figure out where exactly I was going. Once that was sorted, it was time to get my body into decent shape post injury….

On the 26th of October, I jumped on a plane and made my way to this unknown, wealthy city of Doha, ready to run and meet my Canadian teammates Justin Kurek (winner of the Canadian Champs 50k), and Beverly Anderson-Abbs (who has one of the most extensive and successful Ultra running careers that I know). It was a lengthy trip, with a great stopover in London, followed by the shocking reality of Qatar’s heat. And to be honest, I was hoping my body would very quickly adapt to the 30 plus degrees! I somehow figured that my week of sauna time would be sufficient enough to get me through this!

Doha, with all its wealth and prestige, has created one of the most incredible and extensive athletic facilities in the world (that I am aware of!).  With countless soccer fields, four 50m pools, running tracks, green space, outdoor workout equipment, loud speakers with bird song bursting from them, a large dome housing more than you can imagine under its roof and an incredible hotel (The Torch), the Aspire Zone felt like a city in itself. Despite the heat and jet lag from all the travel, I was ready to take in Doha and take on this 50k.

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IMG_9241 Aspire Zone and The Torch Hotel

Most of the athletes arrived late on the Tuesday, which allowed for about 2.5 days to adjust to the heat and time differences. It wasn’t much, but each of us was faced with the same challenges, so it was fair game when race day came about. Leading up to race day I managed to run in the morning heat and have one group ‘test run’ at 6pm on the Wednesday.   At the time, the heat didn’t seem like it would cause too much trouble, however, when running 7km versus  50km’s it’s hard to truly gauge how the body will respond.  What I was certain about though was that hydration was going to be key, as well as finding any form of cooling during the race.

As Friday night approached, I felt more or less rested and fairly excited to be amongst some incredible runners, including Emily Harrison (USA) who has run a 2:32 marathon and a 3:15 50k, Commrades/Commonwealth Games runner Joasia Zakrzewski (Scotland), Australia’s Julie Norney, Tina Major and Natasha Fraser and and number of other strong Ultra runners from Russia, Ireland, England, Norway etc. Not only was I  surrounded by some great runners, but in general, some very lovely people, including their support crew members (you know who you are!).

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Team Canada

When Friday evening was upon us, my run kit was on, and the temperatures were  lingering around 33 degrees with some high humidity (66%). I was still convinced that this wouldn’t be an issue.  Perhaps it was naivety, or perhaps it was just my way of focusing on my run rather than things that may hinder my performance, but either way, I didn’t want that heat to get in my way of running a good first 50k road race.  With a short warmup and a quick dousing of water on my head, I found myself at the start line of the World Trophy 50k. It was go time!

Once the race began, there were about 10 ladies running in a pack for the first 5km loop (10 loops in total).  We ran in a fairly tight group at a comfortable pace, one in which I thought I could easily hold for even longer than 50k. It was early in the game, so no need to push.  The race had numerous twists and turns (about 3 hair pin turns). We ran upon tile, brink and pavement and the heat of the night hardly changed.  By the second lap we were perhaps 6 or 7 ladies, and by the third we had spread out a little more.  Once realizing our pace had dropped as a group, I decided to push a little harder  (slightly), knowing very well that a few ladies would follow. In my head, I was still pushing for my goal time, still unaware of how the heat could affect me. For whatever reason though, I was willing to take a chance in this race.

Myself, Emily and Joasia stayed fairly close together, with a few others just behind us. As we bounced back and forth taking the lead and listening to the call of prayer all around us, I started to feel like I was burning up.  The legs were moving just fine, no fatigue, no pain, no problem there, however my deeper core felt like it could not cool down.  I poured water on my head, carried ice, stayed hydrated and fueled well, but it wasn’t enough to keep me going strong. I was fading by 30k, and although this frustrated me greatly, I didn’t let my legs stop moving. If I couldn’t have a perfect race after this rough season, I was at least going to have a decent race. And decent it was.

By 40k I thought I could hold my position. I was fading and the fire pit in my body simply would not fade, but not all was lost. There was no way I could move up to 1st or 2nd, this I was sure of, but I could accept this.  As I moved through those last 5km’s, I managed to pull out a smile, if only briefly between the grimaces, knowing I would place 3rd at this World Event.  It wasn’t a great race, it wasn’t pretty, but it was a success in many ways.

Post race ceremony

Post race ceremony

After the race and ceremony, I spend numerous hours between the doping and medic tent. It was an ugly few hours (not only for me, but others who also suffered heat stroke too) and I will spare you the details of how those played out, however, when I fell into bed at 1am, I felt strangely satisfied with how the evening had gone. It has been a bit of a wild ride for this ‘wild card’ in 2014, but a good learning experience indeed.

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Julie Norney, myself and Beverly A checking out the sights of Doha

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Closing ceremonies with Emily and Joasia

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Perl diver

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Museum of Islamic art in the background

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Souq Waqif

In those 5 days I met some incredible people from across the globe. Instant and wonderful friends indeed.  The athletes were well taken care of by the Aspire team, and this I very much appreciated.  I thank Nadeem Khan for taking a chance on me and giving me a position as a “wildcard”. I thank Paul Astley and Phil Templar for all their hard work before, during and after the event.  My Canadian team members Justin, Beverly and our super star support member Audrey Kurek were all wonderful to get to know during the trip. And to top it all off,  there was a true sense of camaraderie amongst the runners and their partners/crew. It was one of the best World events I have attended to date and hope it isn’t the last.

I have been inspired by Aspire and my 50k (or longer….) goals remain.

A Good Life (marathon)

I have been lucky enough to race in my home town marathon 7 times now.  I wouldn’t say it’s the fastest race out there considering its rolling terrain and winding route, however, it’s still one of my favourites.  Perhaps it’s the fact that it takes place almost outside my back door, perhaps it’s most special because I have the opportunity to run amongst good friends, family and local spectators.  I have run in races across the globe, but Victoria is still one of my top choices.

Yesterday was my 17th marathon (I think I have counted correctly). It was the first of the season as far as road marathons go, and in fact, it was my first road race back this year after that long and troublesome injury which still lingers from time to time. As much as I wanted to perform well yesterday, I was also trying to be realistic about my situation. In a perfect, and somewhat imaginative world, I would have raced for the top position, and found myself running faster than 2013.  However, that’s not how things work in reality.  I couldn’t give a goal time, or even an estimated time. I certainly couldn’t predict how I would feel during those 42 km’s on pavement.  For much of my return-to-running since mid May, I have spent more time on the trails and very little on the road. I have also completed very few true workouts which would help gauge where I would be able to race. My body is still not in tip-top shape for road racing, but it’s getting there, and so long as there is progress, I am content.

Honestly, my emotions are mixed with my results from yesterday.  I ran only 3 minutes slower than last year, and managed to place 3rd with a top BC Championship finish. Not bad for come back marathon I suppose, but it makes me want that PB even more.  And it’s that ‘want’ that will drive me to improve in the years to come.  I am still learning about this sport, and there is so much knowledge out there that I must take it. It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of.  Running can sometimes beat us down, but when it lifts us up, wow, is it ever the most incredible feeling.

Despite a slightly tough go out there on the road yesterday, I was honoured to be amongst some great runners. Many friends achieved incredible goals and I am so proud of them. Whether they won the race overall or found themselves crossing the finish line in their personal bests, it was a successful day for many.  That feeling of reaching a goal is absolutely amazing.

Apart from the race, I was also pleased to be a part of a panel of speakers on the Saturday. With Olympian Hilary Stellingwerff, multiple marathon winner Cindy Rhodes, and the “voice of running” Steve King, we shared some great stories about our love of the sport. It truly does bring a community, both locally and globally.  I thank all of the panel for a great morning of conversation.

I am also ever so grateful to the Marathon organizers (a big thank you to Jonathan who organizes the elites), the volunteers, the official cyclists (including Bob Reid), and my Frontrunners family who helped me find my running passion years ago. To my husband who rode around once again to cheer me on throughout the whole race. To my coach and friend Jim Fin who helped me come back from injury and continues to help me improve. I am so grateful to the friends that came out to support me, you guys were amazing!

It was a good day out there, in the Goodlife marathon. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a stepping stone. Running is just one part of this Good lIfe that I live with great people. It’s a Good Life indeed.

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Finishing with a smile.

Finishing with a smile.Photo credit to Goodlife Fitness marathon

Running with the Swiss……encore

I began writing this blog while living abroad in Switzerland between 2010 and 2012. It was a means of communicating to friends and family back home in BC. I had no initial intention to continue writing once we returned to Canada, but here I am still writing about various (mostly running related) things from time to time.

It was in the beautiful and practically pristine country of Switzerland that I began to run more seriously. I had the time to run often and recover well. Within the the Lavaux region, I was privileged to have access to some incredible running routes both along Lac Leman, and through, as well as up in the vineyards behind our home. It was a spectacular back drop to my daily runs.

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This past week found me back ‘home’ in this region.  I had also spent some time with family in Britain, which to be honest, feels like home as well.  To feel this sense of comfort in a variety of places across the world is a tell tale sign of my up bringing as a traveler.  Family is therefore, never too far away, no matter where I may be on this planet.

For the past few years, I have wanted to race the infamous JungFrau marathon in Interlaken.  It’s a combination of both road and mountain running. A perfect mix in my opinion.  The event draws up to 4000 runners and what a spectacle they put on for the days leading up to and the day of the race.  With Alpine horn players, Swiss flags waving in the wind, runners from across the globe, and the most amazing vistas one can imagine along the route, It is, in my opinion, a must-do event as far as marathons go.

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Although my year of running has been far from perfect, but certainly eventful with various injuries, frustrations, heath issues and the loss of loved ones, I was still keen to take on this race, no matter how prepared, or unprepared, I may have really been.  I was approaching the event with an open mind and using it as a sort of healing time.  There is nothing quite like the Swiss environment and a good old mountain climb to make you feel whole again!

The race started in downtown Interlaken (not too far from the local Hooters outfit, which is situated closely to the most expensive hotel in the town and surrounded by shops that sell watches for $10,000. Classy!). The weather that day couldn’t have been better; Slightly overcast with minimal winds. I had gone in ranked #10 amongst some very strong runners, most of whom, as my dear friend Monica pointed out, lived in mountain regions, not at sea-level like myself.  There were two American runners whose names I had come across in the past, as well as one of France’s top mountain racers, a strong Italian, a few Swiss ladies who had previous competed in the Jungfrau marathon, and a last minute Ethiopian runner.  I had no idea where I would fall into the mix, but I was focusing on my own race, and to simply enjoy the day, smile a lot, and avoid any kind of injury (including pre-race tumbles or getting lost en route).

The first 10k is flat and fast, but I chose to settle into a comfortable pace, tucking just behind one of the American girls and a Swiss.  I had no desire to test my body this early on in the race, thus allowing me to move smoothly without much effort, and take in the atmosphere of the day. The second 10km’s saw some elevation gain and a few small trail sections, which slowed my pace down, but I was still feeling comfortable, sticking close to those two ladies. At 21 km we came to another flat sectioned loop before the first tough climb began. By that time I had pulled ahead and began to crave the climb that was almost in our grasps.  My legs were looking forward to less pavement and more of a soft surface.

From 26k to 30k, the climb was a lovely switch-back in the forest, en route to Wengan, a beautiful mountain village where we had our first good views of the towering mountains. It was mostly runnable terrain, but there were moments when I wanted to power hike to save my legs for the last and most challenging climb. In Wengen itself, we were welcomed by incredible crowds of people. I even spotted a Canadian flag waving amongst the Swiss ones and heard a “Go Jones, Go Canada” in the mix. The sounds of clanging cow bells could also be heard in the fields around us, which to me, is the epitome of Switzerland.  The hills truly are alive, with the sound of music!

By the time 37km came around, I spotted another female runner up ahead.  While earlier in the race I had told myself that catching another lady would be a good goal to keep in the back of my head, I had also given myself the ‘ok’ if I didn’t advance any further, or place top 10 (of course I wanted to though….)since being in Switzerland was satisfying enough in itself.  As I gained ground on the lady in front of me, I found a new tempo in my step. Although we were gaining elevation quickly, I still felt strong, so on I went.  By 38k, just as the true mountain climb began, I saw the Ethiopian runner just head, so I picked up the pace slightly as she faded with each step.  The views at this point were absolutely stunning.  Despite the burn in my legs as I power hiked up that hill, I smiled as I realized just how fortunate I was to be there.  Finally the 40k came, with just another km to go until this highest point, a bag-piper piped in a kilt and sturdy hiking boots as a wave Swiss flags moved all around us, I was elated to be where I was.

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The race ends in yet another incredible mountain village called Kleine Scheidegg which hosts a backdrop to the largest of the Swiss Alpine mountains; Jungfrau, Monch and the Eiger.  Winding down for the only downhill section of the race, we were welcomed by loud cheers, fresh mountain air, and a glass of Swiss beer! Now that’s how to finish a race!  The Swiss, in my opinion, always put on a most wonderful event, a spectacle not to be missed from start to finish.  Those 2100m that we climbed were absolutely worth it.

In an ideal world, I would have raced harder and fast, which would have placed me higher up on the podium.  But to be honest, as I ran those last 500m to the finish line, I felt like I had had a huge triumph. With many moments of stumbling in my foot steps this year, I felt as though I had won in my own right. Racing isn’t about coming first, it’s about the journey and satisfaction of being where you want to be and feel strong, content and healthy in the process. It’s simple really. There isn’t much to it. Run, enjoy, smile, repeat.

Thank you Arc’teryx, Compressport, and Frontrunners Victoria for your continued support.  To my husband who supports my love of running and kept me sane through all the injuries (here’s hoping there are no others). To friends and family who continue to cheer me on. To my extended ‘Swiss’ family, the Lande’s and the Baumann-Pauly’s who made my Swiss trip even more memorable, and housed me at ‘base camp’ as Monica called!  It was as if I had never left Cully or Lausanne. It truly is a place I call home and I miss it dearly. I miss Running With The Swiss!

La Suisse et Jungfrau, merci beaucoup!

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Unconditional

I don’t think there is anything quite comparable to that of the love you receive from a dog. It’s pure, it’s full, it comes across honestly with no stings attached. Those eyes that gaze deeply into yours, those gentle nudges under the arm, the quiet but significant barks which are there to simply get you to turn around and look back, even for a moment. It’s unbelievable that I could love something so much, so deeply, and much differently than I had loved a person, place or thing. It’s a unique kind of love that is almost indescribable. It too is a love that I shall feel towards this dog for the rest of my life, despite the fact that he is no longer with us.

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This is a post in the memory of my loving companion. It may be a long one, but much like running, writing too can be therapeutic, and so, here is the story of my life, our life, with Celt, the gentle soul.

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During the summer of 2000, the thought of getting a dog had crossed my mind, but I wasn’t sure just how serious I was about the idea. I was 21, a student, tree planter, and hardly had a long term plan for my life. However, the idea of having a furry companion seemed like a good one. He/she could keep me company on the long 10+ hour days of planting trees in BC’s clear cuts. I looked forward to training a young dog and experiencing what it was like to be a dog owner, but I had no clue that the experience would enrich my life so much.

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On a sunny August day, I happened to stop in at the Duncan pound. I had previously visited a few SPCA”s in towns throughout the province while planting, but no dog had caught my attention. I strolled in, inquired about the dogs, and proceeded to ‘browse’ the kennels but nothing caught my eye (or heart). I was about to leave the building when one of the employees mentioned there was a back room where smaller/younger dogs were kept, so off I went to have a peek. On first glance there was only a large kennel with about 5 fluffy white pups. Sure they were cute, but I had a feeling they would be too small for my likings (I wanted a dog with some substance!). To my left there was a wooden crate, which seemed to look empty. I poked my head over the edge and caught the first sight of the most beautiful dog I had ever seen. Those eyes, those damn eyes took a hold of me, drew me in and have never left my memory. With a quick cuddle I also smelled a sweet scent on the top of his little head. It was a scent that would stay with him until his last day. After that first cuddle and those deep gazing looks, I couldn’t leave that building without that boy. Celti had chosen me, before I could say otherwise.

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My Celtor was a slightly anxious one at times and rarely left my side, but when you are abandoned on a logging road, there’s no doubt that anxiety will play a role in your life. Things like bridges, lightening, fire works, and even the sound of rodents, caused him to shudder and hide. He was far from brave at times (although he had a special bear bark which scared of the furry beasts on tree planting blocks). And once this boy learned how to bark, he came to love the sound of his own voice, often barking/responding at the sound of his own echo in the distance (it was quite hilarious in fact). He walked with a prance, one paw flicking out to the side as he strode down the road or on a cut block. He didn’t fetch sticks or want a ball tossed for endless hours, but on occasion he did like to chase a frisbee if thrown and bounced on it’s side, but most of all, he loved being in contact with his ‘pack’/family.

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Despite Celti’s dislike of weather that was; too hot, too wet, too windy, too buggy, too unpredictable, too dangerous, he still stayed by my side, day in and day out during my tree planting years. On the cold, wet days, he would rush to the truck each time I got back onto the road to repack my bags with seedlings, in the hopes that it was time to go home, dry off, eat, and cuddle up on a bed. On the overly hot days, his black coat taking in too much heat, he refused to stay in the shaded tent I would make him. His loyalty was too strong. With lagging legs, and panting breath, he climbed those cut blocks behind me, occasionally lying down to rest until I was too far out of sight. A whimpering bark was announced as if to say “Hey ma, I’m tired, come and get me”, he would then reluctantly get up, climb the slash piles and find my side.

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I often likened Celti to an indoor cat. It’s not that he was lazy, but he wasn’t the true ‘athletic’ type either. He preferred the comforts of home, because in his mind, home truly was where the heart was. People often made the assumption that Celti ran with me. I would laugh at this statement though. In reality, that dog, although fit and capable for runs, managed to find a way to cut runs short, he knew all the shortcuts on every route. On a handful of runs (this was way back when I hardly ran much, perhaps 8-10k max), after about 10 minutes, he would start to limp. We would stop, I would check his paws, his legs, his hips (as he looked off into the distance). We would start the run once again, but moments later he would again limp. Same story. Check paws, legs, as he glanced back towards home. One more try and the limping continued. Convinced that he was indeed sore or injured, we would turn around for home. Suddenly, that limp was gone and his speed intensified, pulling me back with force to the ‘den’. Homeward bound, that’s all he cared about as it was where the whole family could be together. It didn’t take long for me to give up on trying to run that dog, but it was hilarious habits like that which only made me love him more. He was a smart cookie, even sneaky at times.

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Lying with his moose, which is still intact today (minus one limb due to another dogs aggression towards toys…)

Did my boy do tricks? I suppose he did so some. I taught him commands in English, French and some Spanish too. Just in case he encountered a non-English speaker in his life time (which he did when we lived in Quebec). He learned quickly, he did the usual: sit, lie down, crawl, speak, smile, shake a paw, shake the other, and learned to take treats gently. So gently in fact that the treat would often hang out of his mouth for a moment before falling to the ground. But, I think one of our favourite talents of his was his ability to sing. His first ‘song’ to sing was SuperTramps “School” which he sang along with his friend Hector. I believe it was the flute that had them howling, and that was only the beginning of his singing career. The most ‘singable’ instrument for this boy was the harmonica, however he liked a good accordion song as well! His head would tilt, lift, and then the song would come out loud and clear (until he grew older and his voice waned, then it was intermittent squeaks and barks, or simply silent with his head in the air). He sang in the car, he sang on his bed, he sang in cut blocks, and he sang lovingly with my grandfather too. When together, which wasn’t often as my grandfather lived in Wales, they bonded tremendously. They walked (short/slow walks), they spoke, Celti received under-the-table treats, but most importantly, they sang in unison. It was beautiful. Two loving beings bonding over song. I truly loved it.

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Living away from Celti was a challenge. We spent 19 months in Switzerland, with two visits home during that time. He was under the care of my parents, and he loved them dearly.  Upon our return to Canada, during our first night of sleep on BC soil, we awoke to Celti staring at us in the dark of the night. He looked slightly perplexed, but joyous. It was as if he was saying “I can’t believe you are hear. I am NEVER taking my eyes off of you again!” I still see those eyes staring at me, and what a beautiful sight that is.

There are so many tales I could write about. So many amazing memories.  Each day I spent with my boy was meaningful.  He was loyal, loving, sensitive and above all, an amazing companion for over 14 years.  There is an absence in our home now, each day that I open the door, expecting to see his soulful eyes, hear the wagging of his tail as it hits the ground, and the whimper of his voice before I stroke his soft fur.  There is nothing comparable to that of the love of a dog. Of this I am sure.  We have been so fortunate, so very lucky to have had this hound in our lives.  He was our boy, a ‘grand-dog’, a friend to others and an incredible aspect of our everyday lives.  Thank you to everyone who loved him and cared for him; To Joe who spent so much time caring for this dog (which included carrying his 65 lbs up and down our stairs at the later months of his life). Joe’s parents who often watched him from time to time when I lived in Vernon. My parents who cared for him while we lived overseas. He enjoyed salmon Sunday and the parmesan sprinkled on his meal (when it wasn’t there, he would bark until it magically appeared!). To Katrina (as well as Don, Sweeper, and lovely Lydia) who took care of Celti when we were away. He loved you dearly.  To my grandfather (who passed this year as well) for singing with Celti, whether face to face, or over Skype. To anyone else who had the chance to be around our Celtor. “Man’s best friend” and much much more. I miss you boy.

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At our Wedding, after the “I do” Celti let out a large bark, as if to say “I do too!”

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With girlfriend Lydia

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