Little Lives

Sunday Runday, and my morning run (though short) was a fast, local race.

Too often I discount and downplay the value of lacing up for a cause that isn’t just another tick on the tally of my own personal achievements. Yet a five kilometer fundraiser race, as far removed as it is from the epic half marathons and ultra trail races that seem to consume my training calendar these days, is a heartwarming reminder of my sports more enduring legacy in the modern running landscape.

Some backstory may be relevant here.

I often write and talk about my ”little run club” but the truth is that prior to the pandemic we were a crew that was often forty or fifty members strong. The last two years have whittled us down to less than half that number, and only time will tell if some of the folks who drifted away will return. Two years is a long time.

Between those who remain and those who have gone away, some of have been running together for well over a decade. Also, needless to say, some of our membership are not the young thirty, forty and fifty year olds that we were when we met and started running all those years ago. As years have ticked by many of our crew have transitioned from a running crew to a walking club, still keeping themselves woven in as part of the social fabric of this club. No matter, though, we all meet back at the same parking lot for chats and coffees. A decade or more and people have had rich lives swirled around this little sport, changing jobs, growing their family, moving too and fro, and even passing on.

Fair to report that not everything is good news when years pass and people change and stuff happens.

The story, as best as I know it, goes something like this. About four years ago, one of those aforementioned runners-turned walkers-became a grandmother, and as happy as that occasion should have been, it was shrouded with bad news about a huge complication: that her new grandson had a congenital heart defect and would require a transplant.

Daughter-slash-mother, a runner like grandmother, turned her grief into motivation and started an annual fundraising race. “Fundraiser for free-health-care Canada?” you ask. Well, there are plenty of costs outside of hospital bills that families need to account for, and our health care system has limited funds to contribute to things like research and family supports and outreach.

Those efforts, as announced as we stood at the start line for this morning’s edition of the 5k family fun race, runners bunched in around kids on bikes and tots holding their parents hands, has raised a quarter million dollars for the cause since its inception.

Now my friend’s grandson has spent a lot of time in hospital and will likely never be a kid free to adventure and play without restraint, and certainly may never be seen sprinting to the finish line at the lead of the race that he inspired. Instead, we all put our personal training plans aside and dash through the course for whatever bit of hope for a cure and support for that family that such an effort inspires.

Rich lives and a decade of running with the same small group tangles your lives together in a way that leads you to prioritize your actions and your thoughts.

I’ll be running a much longer race next weekend, a slogging ultramarathon through the rolling lakelands east of the city and for no other reason than to say I can do such things. But something tells me that even years from now I’ll remember little five klick runs for the good of little lives just as fondly as the big races.

The Mystery of Big Island (Part Three)

It’s been nearly a year and a whole long winter of impassable trails through the river valley since I posted an update about the work being done to turn a small bit of land with a big local history into a small provincial park.

The last time we thought about that effort on this site, a small group of us had gone off on a short adventure run to test our prospects of finding a runnable trail between my house and the bit of natural space clinging to the edge of the river.

What we found instead was a dead end. And a furthering of the mystery behind this bit of future park where it seemed our odds of future adventure were good, if not simple to find.

You can read about the first two parts of that adventure here on this blog in The Mystery of Big Island Part One and Part Two.

The mystery seemed as if it would continue to allude us with no more media coverage and limited ability to drop into a snow-filled river valley for our own fact-finding-fun prior to May. My aim was to start up my investigations once again this summer with some alternative entry options and perhaps drag along a friend or five to continue our search for elusive access to Big Island.

And then I was meandering through Twitter this morning only to discover this (politically charged) tweet of how one of our local, bumbling politicians had accidently (really?) posted a confidential planning map with some clear intentions for the ongoing work around Big Island.

(Screenshot of the tweet archived here.)

The little grey blot in the middle of the sea of appropriately-coloured blue land marks the Big Island proper with some surrounding farmlands clearly marked for possible buyout or annexation or something relating to creating a protected public zone around this little natural treasure.

I’ve been studying maps of this exact area, trying to understand if there is a good place to park and find access into the valley .

Clearly if I have a government sticker on my truck (which I do not) parking near to and descending upon this bit of land wouldn’t be a problem. Looking at the tweeted photos it’s clear that if a politician can clamber down into the area in his work clothes, a handful of runners with trail gear must be able to find a way too.

Of course, this accidental leak implies that multiple people are thinking much bigger than I am about this little future park. I’m working on a video about a different river valley park and some time I spent there recently, but seeing this information has made me even more determined to bring some friends and a camera back on another summer adventure, an adventure to uncover the mystery of Big Island… preferably before they plow a road there and everyone figures it out.

Stay tuned for Part Four…

Stewards of the Trails

While volunteering as a course marshal at a local trail race yesterday, I stood in the same spot in the woods for nearly three and a half hours. Much of that time was spent clapping and cheering and directing racers away from a detour where the path had naturally washed out near the river bank. But a lot of the rest of that time was me incidentally and casually investigating the condition of the local trails.

The Inspiration

A few weeks ago I watched a mini-documentary video by Beau Miles called Run the Rock, wherein the filmmaker stepped out his front door in his running kit, loaded his wheelbarrow up with tools, and ran about ten klicks out to a remote trail to dig up a rock. The story is told much more thoroughly by Miles in the video but the short version is simply that after a friend tripped over an obstacle on their running path it only seemed right that someone go remove the obstacle.

He did just that.

The nine minute video runs the viewer through the story and motivation behind what turns out to be a kind of drive towards the moral stewardship of the spaces we share.

Miles ran the equivalent of a half marathon, out and back to where a small boulder was protruding from the path, and on the return trip he not only lugged the same boulder clear of the woods but did so knowing that he had done a bit of work to make the trail a safer place for himself, his friends and anyone who used it.

The Parallel

Standing in the woods for three and a half hours yesterday, minding a curve in the path where the intersection of five distinct trails (one of which had been part of the race course until it was washed out by rain last season) gave me a lot of opportunity to inspect the place thoroughly.

In roughly six square meters of trail intersection there was:

… an official survey brass marker the circumference of a tennis ball protruding nearly ten centimeters from the dirt in the middle of one of the paths

… the shards and remains of at least two broken bottles, crunched to bits the size resembling loose change scattered into the dust

… a pothole at the edge of, but still on, one of the paths large enough to place a car tire inside and clearly awkward enough to trip anyone who wasn’t paying attention as they strolled by

The park itself is a bit of reclaimed semi-industrial land that now lies fairly embedded in the southwest suburbs of the city. Remnants of strip mining that ended at least fifty years ago are shrouded like ancient ruins in young tree cover and meandering paths that sometimes lead past chunks of concrete footings. The area is now an off-leash dog park, boat launch, and recreation area snaked through with bike paths, hiking trails and open spaces (great for hosting trail races.)

It’s also well-used and only lightly serviced.

All of which means that if one stops to stare at one’s feet for any length of time it’s going to become obvious that the trail conditions in some of the highest traffic areas are lagging.

The Solution

The answer, if there actually is one, is probably something to do with personal responsibility.

To be fair to the overall condition of the park, the spot where I was stood for the better part of my morning was not only a convergence of many trails and a highly travelled part of the deep trails of the park, but a particularly nice lookout and vantage point high up on the banks of the river looking north. In other words, a lot of people go this way and stop here for a rest or a photo.

Yet, that seems all the more reason that such a spot should be made safer.

Dogs could cut their paws on the broken glass.

Anyone could stumble in the pothole.

A cyclist who hit the protruding survey marker could easily find themselves ass over tea kettle and tumbling down a steep riverbank.

If only someone could find, say, a Friday afternoon later this week when he had the day off work to wander out there with a pair of gloves, a trash bag and maybe even a shovel.

I may need to check the weather forecast to see if that someone is me.

Adventure Runs Season Two

I may have written earlier this year about how I’ve spent each of the last two summers devising a weekly run outing for my running crew.

Each week over about fourteen weeks of summer we would meet at a location I’d disclosed earlier in the day for a six to eight klick run.

It could be through a neighbourhood. It could start in a bedroom community outside the city. It might wind through the river valley in an interesting place. It just had to be somewhere interesting, new or both.

What adventure from 2021 will be forever etched upon your memory.

for whatever one photo is worth:

In mid-June I summoned the runners to a location on the far east side of the city in a small park area adjacent to a billionaires row of oil refineries.

From here the mighty North Saskatchewan river wends past the last few suburbs of Edmonton and out into the vast prairies, Atlantic-bound (or at least towards the Atlantic via the Hudson’s Bay).

We parked, lathered up in bug spray and trotted off into the valley at a casual running pace.

Along the way we encountered treacherous cliffs, uncertain detours, instagrammable locations to pose with rusted out vehicles, paths lock to construction, bushwacking through low tree branches, a small but wet water crossing, a climb up a grassy summer ski hill, and a slog through an ill-marked trail …or three.

It was a kooky but amazing little evening adventure.

And it was topped off by the fact that as we all went to drive away home from the single exit to the park, there stopped a freight train blocking our path of escape for nearly an hour. We all wandered around outside of our queued up vehicles and lamented the real meaning of an urban evening adventure that ended with a prairie blockade.

Local adventure is what you make of it. It’s finding something new, even if new is just a few minutes drive from where you live, work, or usually play.

I think back on that evening in mid-June and how it defined what could go sideways on a quirky, loosely-planned run, but it also highlighted exactly why we crave such things at all. It is now, even almost six months to the day later, stuck in my brain as one of the weirdest evenings of the summer… in a good way.

Thirty one topics. Thirty one posts. Not exactly a list… but close. In December I like to look back on the year that was. My daily posts in December-ish are themed-ish and may contain spoilers set against the backdrop of some year-end-ish personal exposition.