Hobbling and Hurting

Sunday Runday, and it’s been a couple weeks since I sat down to write a post. It is a summer break for me, after all, and I’ve been out on the road, in the mountains, on the lake, and … as the topic of this post will soon reveal, running through the wilderness.

In fact, a few interesting things have happened in my running career since last I checked in. In particular, I may have spent some money on race registrations. In person race registrations.

The BIG one I’ll save for another post.

The little BIG one ties back to this morning’s Sunday running adventure that was had, all resulting from a spontaneous decision to sign up for a local (quasi) ultramarathon and the opportunity to do some practicing for that.

And again, in fact, I wrote in passing about my intention to do just that a few months back when I wrote about a nature sanctuary we had visited west of the city.

The River’s Edge Ultramarathon is an honest-to-goodness ultra marathon race through challenging terrain hosted on a large chunk of private land at the edge of the North Saskatchewan river. (Adult) distances range from a short 12km sampler run to a full 100km solo looping race of insanity.

Last weekend I signed up for the half marathon “koda” distance, twenty-one klicks through rolling riverside terrain (and even some wet crossing to a small island, I understand).

As the race host prepares the course and readies for the event, he invites some interested locals (ie. us) out to the start line to help clear trails, trial the trails, or just run the course. So, Sunday Runday and seven of my crew found themselves driving thirty minutes west of the city to spend three hours in the wilderness for one of the permitted practice runs on the “homestead” loop.

Across a little more than three hours, we pushed through nineteen klicks of grinding hills, mucky soft peat, cliff-side crags, cow pastures, grassy stretches, ambling over barbed wire fences, and stumbling down rope-supported descents.

On top of the regular running pain, the wasps had taken over the landscape. I didn’t count but I would confidently say there were well over two or three hundred nests along the length of the trail, and I was stung at least twice… which was about average for me and my fellow participants. Ultra-style trail running with a hot, burning, muscle-spasm of wasp-sting pain in your calf is nothing to shrug off.

In about six weeks we’ll be back out there for the real race, trudging through similar loops on a (hopefully) cool September day, and my in person race career will have seemingly resumed with a challenge I wouldn’t have expected to take on again so soon.

Fire/Smoke

The world is on fire.

As much as I love a good campfire, heating a hefty pan over some crackling logs, I love even more that I can always walk away when the smoke wafts into my face, stinging my eyes. I can stand up and step into fresh air, take a deep breath, and reset my lungs.

This past weekend all the air was a smoky haze, everywhere. There was no reset.

Image: https://firesmoke.ca/forecasts/current/

Dozens of forest fires are burning across the country.

One of my colleagues started his career as a forest fire fighter, spending years of summers helping to control burns and protect small communities surrounded by kindling. We had an amazing conversation on Friday as he talked about his knowledge of the history and strategy of forests in Canada and the different approaches taken by different regions of the country, all of which go a long way to explaining why and where those little orange dots appear on the map above.

While people joke on social media about escaping or blowing it back west, the data shows that the culprit is actually intense wildfires to the north east that are clogging our throats and lungs.

The short of it is that fire and smoke and wind and summer air currents mean that my house is not at risk of burning, but my lungs are now haunted daily by the thick, campfire-like smoke that permeates every corner of every breath of outdoor air.

Image: https://weather.gc.ca/airquality/pages/abaq-001_e.html

The effects are no joke.

People call in sick from work due to aching lungs and throbbing heads.

And we skipped our run yesterday, the prevailing opinion that we would be… might be… probably would be taking our health into negative concern by sucking down ten kilometers of smoky air from the “very high risk” and the literally off-the-charts poor air quality.

The world is on fire.

This is not new.

A few years ago we spent five days hiking in the backcountry mountains near Lake Louise. The day we hiked inbound was a clear, beautiful, sunny day, but over the week a thick cloud of forest fire smoke descended over the valley where we were camping shrouding the mountains in what seemed a romantic fog but was actually an acrid, lung-burning, inescapable haze that made the air smell and taste of char.

That same year I also ran a marathon, and due to the smoke the go-no-go call for that race was uncertain even as we stepped up to the start line.

It was not the first time the air was smoky through the summer, by far. But it was among the first of many consecutive summers clouded by a shroud of burning forest smoke. Every summer since, it seems, weeks are lost to hunkering from the attack.

Even today, the few people out and about on the streets are still wearing masks despite the lifting of the health-related bylaw, and I pass by them wondering if they are hoping to avoid a virus or to simply screen out the visible ash from the air.

The world is on fire.

Take a deep breath… if you still can.