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.

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.

Interesting Places

Depending on how the rest of my holiday-countdown week shapes up, how the holiday break happens (or not), and a couple of pandemic-related decisions that have yet to be made get sorted, going out on the winter trails last night for a six klick run in the falling snow may have marked my last run with the crew of this year.

Describe your 2021 in terms of fitness, health, mind and body.

In fact just about a week ago a new bridge opened up crossing the mighty North Saskatchewan river.

About five years ago the old and well-loved foot bridge at the same location was closed (amidst protest) as construction of a new leg of our rapid rail transit system was officially started. The Tawatinâ Bridge which opened last week now stands in its place and is an LRT rail bridge with a wide pedestrian foot bridge suspended below it. The view from that footbridge is of the city, the river, and a huge collection of indigenous art embedded into the concrete.

We parked near that bridge last night even as the snow started to fall and then we ran a loop through the river valley trails near downtown, a run that concluded with crossing the bridge (on foot) for the first time.

It was dark, snowy, and the bridge was spectacularly lit and illuminated brilliantly even by the frozen precipitation all around and in the air.

If it was my last crew run of 2021, it was a fitting one.

We call it another year of lockdowns and uncertainty, but to be sure for much of the world it marks the first full calendar year, January through December, of what is turned out to be the embodiment of that famous curse “may you live in interesting times.”

Who knew interesting times would be so repetitive and boring.

Admittedly in the last two years I’ve lost a measurable amount of my fitness.

I entered 2020 with the plan of training for and running the Chicago marathon, while two years later (not having ever stepped a single foot in Chicago after all) I plod out ten klick runs on the regular, but can’t barely conceive of training for a full marathon distance lately.

Running has kept me healthy though… mentally, physically and soulfully.

That likely has as much to do with a core group of six or seven people as anything involving sneakers or trails.

That said, a run like the one we did last night would have been an unusual adventure two years ago. Meeting somewhere other than the running store. Meeting at a time off the regular schedule. Running a course that was as much exploration and discovery as it was an exercise in fitness and training.

The pandemic, in blocking off the regular pattern of things, has disrupted so much in negative ways, but in adapting to those disruptions it has created interesting changes.

May you run in interesting places isn’t so much a curse as it is a cure for the mind and body.

And we certainly spent 2021 running through interesting places.

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.