Marshalling Report: Five Peaks

Sunday Runday and rather than lacing up to run this morning, I instead bundled up warm and packed my lawn-chair down to the local dog park where I’d signed up to volunteer to help out with the sixteen kilometre-long 5 Peaks Trail Race.

The 5 Peaks series is a race that I’ve tackled myself multiple times in the past, particularly the edition of it that happens to run through the trails of the dog park that is a five minute drive from my house.

This year, with a couple friends opting to run it and a couple others choosing to do their part for the local running scene and volunteer, I sided with the volunteer crew and held down a station about three kilometers into the course (and at the top of a grueling hill) waving runners around a detour and cheering them on by clapping until my hands were numb.

I admit I don’t volunteer often enough… though that frequency is greater than zero.

As simple as it is, even a little race like this one for a few hundred people took (according to the thank you email that came to my inbox this evening) seventy five volunteers, each working about six hours to make the race come to life.

I’ve plodded through many courses myself and waved and thanked hundreds (if not thousands) of volunteers who’ve stood beside intersections or manned water stations or handed out swag or helped me find parking for my vehicle.

It makes me realize that in a year where I’m still a little less than keen to run a heap of actual races, it might make a lot of sense to find ways to participate without sneakers and a bib and to bring that volunteer frequency number up a lot higher in relation to my finisher medal count.

It’s about keeping the sport strong and vibrant.

It’s about giving back to something that has given me a lot over the years.

And it’s a warm and fuzzy feeling all around, too.

Running into Spring

Sunday Runday, the first day of spring, and yet when we stepped out into the last few hours of winter air this morning it was blowing and cold as if winter was reminding us that we all lived on the Canadian prairies and we don’t get to simply up and decide that the chill has left for another year.

It had been nice all week.

Well… nice enough that warm hats became optional and the concrete of the sidewalks made a strong appearance as the layers of ice finally melted into chilly, slushy puddles that slowly drained into the storm sewers.

We’d gone for an eight klick run through a local ravine on Tuesday evening and returned with wet, blistered feet from sloshing through sloppy, water-logged melt still covering the aspalt trails.

This morning, avoiding the wind, we tucked into some suburban walking paths that wend their way along the back fences of a couple neighbourhoods that back onto the thawing creek. Where we’d been snowshoeing just a weekend ago was now a briskly flowing waterway the colour of milk chocolate twisting between the naked trees.

As we burst from the cover of the shelter paths and out onto the streets the wind was just starting to pick up speed and carried with it the hint of more snow.

And as we rounded the last corner towards the parking lot the hint of snow had turned into a very real peppering of icy sleet blasting our bare cheeks for the final push towards our coffee social.

It didn’t go unremarked that annually April is when our training proper usually begins. Longer distances. Hill repeats. Tempo runs. These start to populate our calendars as the snow melts and the sidewalks clear and the evenings offer a bit more daylight.

It didn’t go unremarked that April is only just about a week and a few days away.

I signed up for a short race in April in a nearby bedroom community after a friend suggested she’d like some company for a ten-miler and the first in-person she’ll have run in about three years. It wont be my first even this year, but somehow it feels like starting to be back to normal.

Back to the office in April. Back to local racing in April. Back to hill repeats in April.

Let’s just hope spring cooperates.

Cross Country

Last July, right smack dab in the middle of 2021, one of my running friends suggested that a few of us sign up for a race.

This wasn’t unusual. We sign up for races all the time, and even many virtual races lately.

This race was a big one, though. A year-long virtual team run spanning every province of Canada in an effort to cumulatively run ten thousand kilometers in one year, from the West coast to the North coast and then over to the East coast.

We signed up. We ran. We tackled The Big Canada Run.

And on this past Sunday morning, as a ten klick team run through the fresh weekend snow, we logged our last bit of mileage.

We finished.

In a little more than eight months, nine of us managed to log a remarkable ten thousand kilometers (or about six thousand two hundred miles for you still stuck in imperial measures.)

Day after day, week after week. Competing against over two hundred other teams doing the exact same thing.

One run at a time, a few kilometers here and bunch more over there. Training runs, group runs, solo runs through the snow, epic slogs through the heat, half marathons, ultras and even just jogs with the dog.

I’ve done virtual races before, but this is by far the largest.

I’ve logged my own mileage for over a decade and often recorded high numbers over the course of a year, but never computed my distances with a team to reach such a monumental milestone.

Epic races are just epic goal-setting exercises. They let us see ourselves and our efforts against a backdrop of something so much bigger than ourselves or our individual footsteps. And running across a continent is so much bigger than running the loop around my park … even if I did have the help of eight of my friends.

Race Report: Disney World 2022

Sunday Runday, and just over a week after rolling through the finish line of three Florida Disney World races, I did a (socially distanced) ten klick run back with the crew through the icy streets of Edmonton.

Amazing. Crazy. Chaotic. Nostalgic. Insane.

What other words can one use to describe the first international mega race back after a multi-year break from the same.

Exactly eight years ago I was standing on the same set of start lines getting ready to run (that time) four races. Back then I’d signed up for the inaugural Dopey Challenge, four days of four races starting with a 5k, ending with a full marathon, and tucking a 10k and a half in the blurry middle of it all.

This year, I cautiously signed up to do the first three of that series.

So, on that Thursday about ten days ago, all three of us, my wife, my daughter and I, woke up at 3am, found our way to a shuttle bus stop, trotted through the security mayhem outside Epcot, and queued up to run the five kilometer loop through that parks winding walkways.

My wife and daughter are not runners, but they are not out of shape either. We followed the crowd and dashed along the route and crossed the finish line to applause and medals.

I repeated the next day, but solo. Bus. Security. Race corral. Ten kilometers looping through two parks instead of one, past our first hotel of the trip, and ending with a musical pre-dawn dash under the glowing blue orb of Epcot’s Spaceship Earth as we pushed to the finish line.

I wore a mask the whole run. I wore a mask for all the runs. There were crowds and people and more crowds and on top of it all there were even more crowds. I have not been around that many heavily breathing runners in years and I’m surprised I didn’t bring home a viral souvenir from the experience.

Did I mention crazy and insane?

On the third day I woke up at 3am one last time and made my way to an even bigger starting corral with an even bigger crowd. It would be fair to say that somewhere between ten and fifteen thousand people stood at that start line, and if more than ten or fifteen of them were wearing masks I would have been surprised.

I went out in the second wave, with another dozen or so behind me.

We ran up the dark highway to the sounds of Disney movie soundtracks blasting from speakers. The path brought us under the park gate and through the parking lots and past the Contemporary resort and between the turnstiles of the Magic Kingdom. I held my phone out in front of me recording video as I ran onto and up Main Street:

I paused at a few spots for photos.

I absorbed the moments.

I kept on running.

Did I mention amazing and nostalgic?

In a short kilometer or so we were out the back gates of the park, running past some utility buildings and behind Splash Mountain as we disappeared back onto another Florida highway.

The sun rose as the view of the castle faded into the distance behind me, and I plodded along to finish the race back at Epcot.

My time wasn’t so great. Running 20.5 of the 21.1 kilometers in a surgical mask didn’t do much for my endurance. Stopping for photos and dodging crowds and slowing down to video or record a bit of it here and there left my pace a little dodgy in the end. Neither the pace nor time was the point, anyhow. The point was the experience.

And then it was over, and we flew home, safe and negative, and a few days later I was plodding along once again through icy streets with friends pondering the next year and wondering if maybe it had all been some kind of dream.

Amazing. Crazy. Chaotic. Nostalgic. Insane.