Big Canada

Sunday Runday and I waited until today to finally make a big blogging deal about the latest running adventure in which I’ve signed up to participate. I’ve been sitting on it for a couple weeks and have been excited to post about it.

In fact, shortly after I wrote about running inspiration and alluded to my good friend who was just finishing up a virtual cross-Canada race logging nearly five thousand kilometers over twelve months, the same friend sent out a group chat wondering if anyone would be interested in something similar this year, but in relay form. He wasn’t keen on the solo route again.

Eight of us put up our hands, and dropped our cash on the table… and that’s how about three weeks ago I found myself signed up for “leg number two” of The Big Canada Run where the nine of us are going to need to log ten thousand kilometers between July 1st and June 30th of next year.

Ten. Thousand.

10,000 km.

That’s about sixty-two hundred miles for you imperial system folks.

And as I’m writing this on July 4th, you can probably imagine that we’ve already started logging those kilometers… and yes, your imagination would be very correct.

Our team is currently sitting at just barely two percent done having kicked off the meandering virtual trip across the continental map with a group breakfast run on our July 1st Canada Day holiday in the scorching hot weather which ended, as all breakfast runs should, with an eggs and bacon picnic in the grass beside a freeway. Yup, really.

With my share of ten thousand klicks to clock, it could prove to be a very interesting running year for me. Perhaps it might even inspire me to train a little harder and do some races that are a little more based in reality, y’know, sooner than later.

And I’ll drop some further updates when we hit significant milestones. Stay tuned.

June Mountain Travel Runs

It’s the first day of June and as spring officially trickles into its waning days, I couldn’t help but flip through some old local travel photos and recall how June once… sometimes… began for me for a few consecutive years as the week of the most epic travel race I’ve ever run.

for whatever one photo is worth:

For four years in a row a small group of fourteen friends and I formed up a team and ran the epic Banff-Jasper Relay race.

One photo hardly does this endurance relay justice, but it can try,

Picture this instead: a ribbon of twisting, undulating highway follows a course northward through the Rocky Mountains for a distance of two hundred and sixty kilometers. On its way it passes through thick forests, expansive lakeside vistas set at the base of mountains, to the foot of a glacier, cresting at elevations many people will never experience let alone run, dodging wildlife and encountering unpredictable weather from fleeting snow to pounding sunshine. Runners tackle varying distances of as much as twenty kilometers each of asphalt highway shoulder, each section a unique challenge of solitude, terrain, or pacing as support vehicles leapfrog the highway providing water and nutrition and keeping tabs on each participant.

I took this photo in 2016 with a small camera I carried with me that year. I had hoped to document not just the spectacular views but the spirit of the race as hundreds of runners and support crew set up bases at transitions, cheered from the highway, and embodied an experience that would be impossible to replicate outside of sports like this.

We are so lucky to live so close to this.

Yet, I call this a travel photo because as much as these mountains are a mere four hours of by car away from my house, the effort to participate involves days of adventuresome driving.

The day before the race we would spend the day driving nearly five hours from home to the start line headquarters for the race in scenic Lake Louise, just North of Banff, Alberta.

The morning of the run our support vehicle would drop runner one off at the muster point for the very beginning leg of the South portion of the race. The race used to be run as one loooooooong day but due to concerns about running along a highway in the dark was later divided into a North and a South portion. The start line was about thirty kilometers out of town at the proper beginning of the highway.

For the bulk of the morning and early afternoon, each runner would run their leg of the mountain road while the others paced along the shoulder of the highway in the car. This meant driving slowly, parking, supporting, and repeating for upwards of six to eight hours.

As the South portion concluded, the North portion with three additional legs, was still in full swing, so the participants from the South portion would drive a hundred kilometers of long, cellular-service-free mountain road, the same stretch run by members of the team just hours prior, to catch up and try to find the remaining crew.

As those last still-racing runners completed their legs, the whole of the team would drive to the finish line in Jasper to cheer on the runner bringing in the fifteenth leg of the relay, followed by celebrating, food, and toasts all round.

The next day, for those who chose to make but a weekend adventure out of the race, yet another four to five hour drive back to the city awaited, completing a loop of nearly eleven hundred kilometers over about three days.

This year the race is purely virtual, but I’ll be thinking of those mountains as I continue training through the hills near my neighbourhood this June.

Race, Off

Sunday runday, and it was about just a month ago I was lamenting the upcoming lack of race season.

My running partners were all busily signing up for virtual races that seemed to me as little more than paying for a t-shirt and a medal. Meanwhile we would all tell ourselves that the difference between running around the neighbourhood this weekend as opposed to last weekend was that this weekend was a virtual race. Wink wink. And about ninety-dollars in race fees.

I would run. But this year would be a season of no races.

Tho.

Until Friday night there was an exception to all my lamenting.

The long-shot was a local late-May ultramarathon of various distances that we’d all signed up for in the first days of twenty-twenty. Over a year ago. Trained and ready when COVID sprung. In April of last year, we each recieved an email that the race had been deferred for a year in hopes that the pandemic (which surely wouldn’t last more than a couple months, right?) would be a distant memory. We would all race again next year.

This year.

So it went that on the last weekend of May 2021, four weeks out from writing this, I was due to tackle the Blackfoot Ultra for another go. Twenty-five kilometers of the “baby ultra” distance through the rolling trails of a nearby natural preserve area.

Friday evening the fateful email came again.

Due to COVID the race organizers, unsurprisingly, were unable to obtain a permit from the local health authority to host a couple hundred racers and support crew for a daylong event. Every registration has been deferred yet again to twenty-twenty-two.

The single, solitary race for which I have been registered now for nearly a year and a half is now officially thirteen months away.

Race, off.

I could grumble here. I could write that all those hills we’ve been running were all for naught. That my push to recover from some joint inflamation over the last couple months so that I could keep up my distances was a waste. Or that somehow my motivation was only sparked by the prospect of that looming twenty-five klick weekend less than a month away.

I could.

I won’t.

We’ve all made so many sacrifices this past fourteen months that I can’t account for this as more than another disappointing blip.

It’s another opportunity to reshape my training plan. A chance to think about what I want to get out of a summer without any races at all. None. What that means to my week-to-week training and how I can use that freedom to explore the city’s trails again this summer.

Perhaps a running streak?

Or some adventure running, looking for trails I’ve never met before.

Maybe just enjoying the time with my cohort without any pressure for pace or distance.

The last of my races may be off, but I’m thinking of it as an opportunity.

Should you take walk breaks while running?

Back in 2012 I ran my first travel-based half marathon.

My wife and I had hopped on a plane and spent a long weekend in Las Vegas where the race had shut down the strip and some tens of thousands of runners ran through the Nevada evening basked in glow of more neon than I’d ever seen in one place.

With a burst of fireworks I pushed out of the start line and headed south and outbound, past the famous Welcome to Las Vegas sign, pacing myself for twenty one klicks amongst the hoards of runners. I was feeling good. I was running strong. Everything was great. The air. The music. The vibe. The colours. The lights.

Then my watch beeped …and I took my first walk break.

Y’know. Just like I’d been training to do.

Ten minutes running followed by one minute of brisk recovery walk, repeated until the end of the run. It’s how I’d practiced. It was my race plan. It was intentional.

It was only after a fellow racer dressed as Elvis Presley pulled up alongside to ask me if I was alright and a couple other concerned folks patted me on the shoulder to encourage me to “stay strong buddy” did I realize that how my Canadian run club had been training me for the previous few years was not the universal approach… even a few hours away just down in the States.

Nearly ten years later, and even this morning on our fourteen kilometer run through the spring river valley, we still tend to take walk breaks on our long and simple training runs.

Ten minutes of on-pace running followed by one minute of brisk recovery walk.

Ten and ones.

I’m sure there is some science that could be found online about the training benefits of walk-run intervals, the value of mid-run recovery, the advantages of training for time-on-feet versus pace, or even how it’s tough to take a water break without choking if you don’t stop and slow down for at least a few steps.

And I have many personal anecdotes about passing fellow racers on the back half of the course, runners who leapfrogged past me on my first couple walk breaks but who faltered in their pace an hour or so on. I’ve even raced both with and without breaks, and invariably I always do better with my regular recovery walks worked into the pace.

Or, I could just tell you how nice it is to enjoy the scenery of a minute-long walk through the woods or across a bridge, maybe snapping a photo or two to remember the moment.

There are reasons.

None of those reasons matters much, of course, other than to say I’ve got my own list of rationalizations for why taking walk breaks on long training runs has worked well for both my crew and I over the years. It was how we were taught by the store-based club we started running out of. It’s become habit. We’ve all had a decade-plus-long running career backed by an interval setting on our watches. I don’t see it changing. Also, I like it.

Walks are not for everyone, of course. Highly competitive racers likely turn their noses at recreational runners like us. (Those folks are not reading this advice anyhow. ) If you’ve found this post because you searched for advice on if it’s okay to take breaks while you run then you’ve come to the crux of my point. Yes. It’s fine. Better than fine, in fact, if it means you can run longer or further than you could without those breaks. Maybe walking is even a good idea, if by walking you even slightly reduce your chance for injury by overstress. Walking is okay.

This is not meant to be advice. Every runner is different. Every training program is unique. Every kilometer run has a purpose and a challenge. Do your own research and learn your body.

That said, I do believe from years of personal experience that walk breaks can find a place somewhere in that mix and interval walk breaks might be the ingredient you need to train longer distances or simply find enjoyment of the sport through the blurry push for always faster and ever harder.

I finished that Las Vegas half marathon strong. I’ll never actually know how Elvis found himself managing his own pace in the second half of that twenty-one kilometer race. Part of me likes to believe that in one of the fifty-or-so white sequined jumpsuits that I passed through that evening’s run was that guy who (as nice as he was for stopping to check) thought I’d buffed it ten minutes into the race.

Cuz I didn’t.

I was just taking a break, enjoying both the race and the neon.