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.

Hot Days, Trail Run Nights

Sunday Runday and technically I finished my weekly long, slow distance very early this morning, even before I went to bed last night.

The arrival of what the weather forecasters have called “a mass of hot air” over the western half of North America has provided us with a second great excuse to mix up the running training plan.

The first excuse is that a large contingent of our running crew is off to an overnight mountain race in less than two weeks thanks to the lifting of pandemic restrictions and the resumption of in person racing. They need some serious mileage to help with their training.

Two great excuses collided into an impromptu plan to start our run just as the sun was setting last night, providing a bit of reprieve from the heat and some local training for trail running by headlamp.

The first five or six kilometers wedged neatly into a golden hour dusk even after most of the sunlight had faded beyond the horizon. We trod through a more open section of gravel trail still able to mostly see without artificial lights and stumbling through the terrain without much difficulty.

The next three klicks took us into a winding, twisting, rolling bit of the river valley that swtiched back on itself and sometime between entering and leaving the disorienting maze of trees and roots and flitting insects, the night fully collapsed into darkness and my seven companions and I were little more than spots of light and echo-location-like shouts from the distance.

Yet, it is remarkable how the dark plays with all your senses on a run like this. Confusing them. Blurring them. At one point, stumbling down a narrow tree-lined path in the dark, I caught myself checking to see if I was maybe dreaming and mentally pinching myself as I felt my mind drift past it’s bedtime fuzziness.

Our full path crossed with late-night picnickers, a porcupine, a creepy man rollerblading through the trails in pitch black, and the eerie silence once abruptly broken by the echoing boom of a distant blast of noise. For one long stretch of about fifteen minutes where we had nothing but smooth asphalt ahead of us we turned off our headlamps and ran in the pitch blackness under the starry sky and soft glow of the surrounding suburbs.

It was all at once crazy, serene, painful, and intimidating.

I crawled into bed shortly after one-thirty am, having crept back into my sleeping house and quietly showered the dust from my calves and sweat from my back, my Sunday run done, and my mind a blur from the mash up of heat and experiences.

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.