Social Distances

Sunday Runday, and that familiar epic-tired-queezy feeling is settling in for the afternoon, and I don’t remember if it’s a good thing or the part of the long runs that I didn’t like.

I hadn’t run more than a dozen kilometers in the better part of a year, certainly not over the winter, and during the heights of restrictions I was dutifully cranking out a ten klick run to keep up the milage, but last week we topped out at sixteen and this morning someone suggested adding a few more onto that.

Nineteen kilometers of river valley trail later, I’ve showered, eaten lunch, and am sipping at a big glass of ice water, but still: Epic-tired. Queezy. So familiar.

The restrictions opened up a little more this past week and we were able to be even a little more social running these longer distances, gathering in as big of a group of friends as I’ve been around in months, even if it was just ten of us in a parking lot lacing up for a long trot through the trails and trees, across bridges, and down winding, root-tangled dirt paths.

Those kinds of distances evoke post-run feelings that I haven’t felt in almost a year. I have these people back again to urge me further and faster. So we do.

But right now I think I might need a nap.

How to Plan a Local Adventure

So you’re stuck at home during travel restrictions but still need something exciting to do close to home. I don’t know where you live, but adventure lurks nearby if you know how to plan for it.

Choose Your Activity

I needed a good excuse to keep running…

…but, last year as the pandemic restrictions ramped up, the running store (where we’d been meeting and running from) shut it’s doors. It was geographically convenient and had ample parking. Plus everyone knew to meet there on certain days and times so that we could run together.

The simple approach might have been to just keep running as we were, meeting from a parking lot, and for many runs over the past year we did. Yet, I wanted something more, and I suspected a lot of the crew might start to get bored and go off on their own plans if nothing more exciting happened.

Invent a Concept

Instead of panicking or just running solo, I decided it might be interesting to find somewhere new and interesting to run as we no longer had any good reason to keep running from a closed-up retail store. I also decided I’d like to see more of the city trails that I had never bothered to check out because they were not particularly reachable on a short run distance from that store.

I called it adventure runs.

Plan a Goal

A running adventure sounds like a self-evident concept, but in fact it encompasses so much potential… and potential for disappointment.

I was working full time (I still am) and didn’t have time nor motivation to sit down and plot out full miniature courses each week through locations I’d never spent much time traversing.

Instead I set the goal as something simple: if we ran somewhere new, down a new path, in a new neighbourhood, and saw something or somewhere we’d never seen (or hadn’t seen in a long time) then the adventure run was a success.

Pick a Starting Point

The second part of that concept was picking a good starting point.

It had to have access to trails. There needed to be enough parking (since we could not carpool during the restrictions and transit was still not running at full capacity.) Later in the summer a nearby ice cream shop or coffee stop was requested for afterwards. And of course, it had to be somewhere that felt remote-ish or like we were about to embark on some crazy adventure.

Invite Willing Participants

The gimmick then became about the mystery and the invite.

We have a group chat that has been around for years with a tight knit group of runners who have often been up for exactly this kind of adventure.

I would keep the suspense up. Eventually, as the summer progressed, folks would ask in the lead up week “where is the adventure run this week?” or “what are you planning for Wednesday night?”

The rule quickly followed: “The plan would be announced the morning of the adventure run. Keep your calendar open and check your messages.”

Show Up

On our best days we had as many as a dozen or more people show up.

I always did.

Rain or shine.

If I felt like leading a run or not, I was there.

And this morning, the first good spring Wednesday post-restrictions, I just sent out that notice once again.

Season two of the adventure runs, by enthusiastic request, start tonight.

On Detours

Sunday Runday and it felt a little like old times as we plodded through busy spring trails, dodging bikes, dog-walkers, and fellow runners along the river valley trails.

A few of the run crew have found themselves in an urgent training predicament. With the local restrictions lifting quickly and thoroughly, an ultramarathon that most figured on being postponed again seems to be running. A few of the run crew signed up to do signficant distances through mountain paths. A few of the run crew need to get back to their 2020 stamina levels in the next few weeks. A few of the run crew are a bit panicked.

Not me. I’m just enjoying my minimal-race summer agenda, but I promised to train with them all no matter what they need to accomplish.

So we planned on a twelve to fourteen kilometer Sunday run.

Plans don’t always work out.

Busy trails. Improptu plans. Spontaneous pathfinding. These are the ingredients for adventure.

The first ten kilometers went without a hitch. We climbed the aphalt ascent from where we’d met and parked our cars that morning, looped through a local park as we traversed the weaving network of winding paths. We crossed the river on the sidewalk portion of the new bridge stopping for a photo. And we traced the trail to the foot of another long hill…

… where we stopped and contemplated our options.

To the right an asphalt trail cluttered with people led on a long slow ascent out of the river valley to a familiar neighbourhood. To the left a narrow dirt path ducked under a guardrail and dropped along beside the river, showing no signs of human life.

The trail was true for the first few minutes. Then deeper into the route bits of it were washed away from the spring runoff causing us to take careful footsteps along sloping, sanding ledges barely as wide as our shoes. A corner opened up into a mud pit, which we trod through with reluctance (and a few choice curse words) and led to a steep drop gleaming with a gaping outflow of slippery orange mud dropping off of a sharp ledge that fell three meters into the murky river water below.

The six of us stopped and debated our options.

We were now about half a kilometer down what seemed like either a risky or dead-end path, and the choice was to continue on and hope we weren’t further blocked ahead, or turn back and take the alternate route up the people-cluttered asphalt hill.

Detours and tracking back on your path are unfortunate side effects of taking risks in running as in life. Is it better to cut your losses and try a different approach to get somewhere, or stubborningly forge on and hope for the best?

As we traced back, climbed the hill and then found a path back into the valley that would eventually connect back up to the trail we’d lost we wondered how much our detour had cost us. I stopped my watch at sixteen kilometers as I hobbled back to my vehicle at the end of the run. It was a small bit more than I’d planned to run today… but also a whole lot more adventure, too.

Intersecting Lines and Paths

Sunday Runday and on my nine kilometer trek through the asphalt ribbons of my neighbourhood I once again ran solo through the spring sunshine.

Except I didn’t, not really.

I kicked off along the long curved edge of the park near my house and dodged and passed a familiar face walking her puppy on a Sunday morning. We’ve chatted in the past when our dogs greeted each other on walks.

I ducked into the short connecting trail that squeezes between the two rows of houses, and waved to a neighbour I know biking with his kids in the opposite direction.

I turned onto the asphalt trail climbing up to the footbridge over the freeway and paused for half a minute to talk to one of my running crew friends descending the same path and making his way toward the river valley.

I sped along under the power lines then turned back onto the south-bound road, passing the house of one of my old running pals who was sitting on a bench on her porch and waved to me as I ran by.

I crossed at the traffic lights, and started the third long leg of my run down the path leading beside the main road and waved to another runner who was wearing the same race t-shirt as I had on.

I looped around the lake on the final leg of my run and shortcut across the field to catch up with a woman with whom I frequently run, out on her own Sunday runday run, and we walked the last hundred meters to my house as she waved goodbye.

In a week or so I am hopeful that we can start to put the long list of mandatory solo runs behind us, but while I may still be running alone as of this morning I’ve already had to stop claiming I’m lonely. All these intersecting lines and paths have made short work of that.