BarKaKoo DNF 2021

First DNF: And I’ve never been prouder.

Yesterday I ran a hella hard race called BarKaKoo and scored my first ever DNF*. Well, technically it was probably a DQ*. Either way, we were DFL* out there.

BarKaKoo is a fantastic race full of all the things that make me love trail running so much. Our beautiful run community was out in full force bringing tons of positive energy and reminding us that we are all connected by something so much bigger then running. It was also for a great cause, raising funds for Little Warriors, a charity that brings awareness, support and treatment for child sexual abuse. The course was incredibly beautiful with lots of elevation over winding singletrack through the forest and past snow-covered ponds.

Community. Nature. Movement. The holy trinity of happiness.

The race is modelled after the infamous Barkley Marathon in Tennessee. If you haven’t heard of this race, I encourage you to Google it, or even better, watch one of the many documentaries on it. It’s the kind of sick and twisted event that even the strongest ultra trail athletes fail at and then pray for a chance to find redemption.

Barkakoo is held at Chickakoo Lake Recreation area. The course is 5 loops of an 11km course, for a total of 55km and must be completed within 10 hours. The course is intentionally not well marked, and you must reverse directions on each loop. You also must carry a piece of a log with you, and have it stamped at a check point along the course each time. The race can be done solo, or on a team of either 2 or 5. I was lucky enough to be out there on a two-person team with my run bestie Tania. Between Covid shutdowns and her knee injury, it has been forever since we raced together. In fact, it was my first in-person race since January 2020 which seems like a whole lifetime ago given all that has transpired since. Everything I’ve done since the pandemic has either been virtual (QBU or Survivorfest) or in-person like Run On but I was busy being the Race Director, so it felt really nice to toe the line.  

A small but mighty start line crowd.

Thanks to a hectic morning, Tania and I were both a little frazzled getting there for the 12 o’clock start, but thankfully we made it in time and I was off with the mass start for loop one. I found the first few kms a little frustrating as I should have started closer to the front of the pack to avoid having to try to pass on the narrow trail. However, within a few km I seemed to settle into the right pace and got a little more space to myself to just run. It was also frustrating because it was so ridiculously hard to actually RUN! Normally, 11km on trail could be done in an hour. But the fresh snow and cold temperature meant that every step was like running on quicksand. It was very difficult to get traction and keep your ankles from slopping around too much. It’s a real workout for all those little muscles in your lower legs that don’t get that same practice when you run on smooth surfaces. As a result, the first loop took me just under two hours.

I handed the chunk of wood to Tania and off she went with the warning that she was in for a tough loop. The time spent waiting in between was a game of staying dry and warm, and mustering up the courage to get out there and do it again. Thankfully, the aid station tent was warm and the company fantastic. Tania came back a few minutes quicker then expected, and I was scrambling to pull my ice-cube shoes back on my feet and not lose any time with the transition. My second loop, (loop 3 of the race) was a lot more enjoyable then the first. Because you are going in the reverse direction, you get to see all the people finishing loop 2 which is kinda fun to witness the strange mix of pleasure and pain on their faces. Also got to see our friends Christy and Aia who were tackling the full course as soloists and were giving it their all out there and finished two strong loops before calling it a day.

After a quick log stamp at the cabin check point, I was off into the woods again as the sun was setting and the real magic began. The trail looks different and the temperature drops at night, but instead of making me miserable, it brought incredible peace. All the stress of work, school and family life completely dissipates. Its just me, my icy breath and racing heart, slogging up another hill and sliding down the other side. The moon was bright orange behind a veil of cloud and the air was perfectly still in the trees.

I made it back to the gate (that’s a Barkley reference that plays out beautifully at Barkakoo) to see Tania shivering in the cold, as always more prepared than me, ready to trade me off again for her second loop. Cold sweaty hugs and she was off into the night while I rushed to find dry clothes to stay warm.

By this time, many teams had decided to drop, knowing they were not going to make the cut off and finish the race. Given the tough conditions, it was pretty tempting for most people to call it off even before the final cut off time because they knew they were not on pace to finish in time. Even though I knew we didn’t have much time to spare, I was confident we would make it out for the last loop before the cut off at 8pm. I got myself dressed and ready to run again for Loop 5 then stood out in the cold with my still ice-cube shoes, and waited, wrapped in a blanket, watching the clock and willing a head lamp to come through the trees. 7:50. 7:53. 7:54. Come on Tania…

And there it was. That headlamp bouncing along. And so began our excited hoots and hollers back and forth, celebrating our small victory and the chance to finish the distance. After a flurry of time check in, water refill and me stuffing a potatoe slice into Tania’s mouth while she fumbled with her pack, we were off into the night giggling like lunatics to run Loop 5 together. By this time, we were both moving slower than we were on earlier loops and I knew we would have to dig deep and work hard if we wanted to finish the race before final cut off at 10pm. It still baffles me that conditions could be so tough that it would take us an average of 2 hours per 11kms and still not be able to cover 55km on a team in under 10 hours. That’s one tough race.

We started out with our usual chattiness as we ran, filling each other in on all the excitement of the day. But before long we were out of breath and surprisingly out of words, and that’s the beautiful thing about a good run friend…silence is more then ok. And I think its safe to say we were both in our happy place of working hard and enjoying the moment, grateful to be out there in good health and good spirits. After hitting the check point as the last racers on course, we must’ve been talking again as we came off the single track and up the big hill on the wide trail. In a moment of distraction, we somehow missed a marker to turn onto single track. We kept going to an intersection that didn’t look familiar, taking the most well travelled direction, thinking we would find a reflective marker ahead. We did, and took the turn but it still didn’t feel right. I listened to my gut and insisted we back track to get onto the right trail. It’s a good thing we did, and we were back on course within less then a km of lost distance. Unfortunately, those lost minutes were enough to make finishing in time completely out of reach.

That’s ok. It didn’t dampen our spirits in the least. We kept pushing, knowing that there was a herd of happy volunteers waiting for us at the end and we didn’t want them standing around in the cold for too long. Off the last bit of single track, and onto the final stretch, where you could see the glow of the aid station tent in the distance and the promise of the end to a beautifully challenging day.

Sure enough, there was Trevor, the race director, at the gate, waiting to give us the news we already knew. He congratulated us on finishing and brought out the big red button you push when you DNF, which was surprisingly satisfying (although not as good as ringing the PR bell at a 100 miler!) and made even better by the few hearty souls that stuck around to wrap the event up.

I’ve never had the experience of chasing cut offs and knowing I’ll DNF before. Given that this race started with 68 participants, and only 5 finished, it still pretty satisfying to know we were close by being the last to DNF, and the only DNFers to still finish the whole course. A race like this is about so much more then just the distance. The whole story encapsulates the struggle in every step and the fight against the elements. It’s about the people and the high fives and the simplicity of knowing that your only job is to move a chunk of wood from one place to another before you run out of time.

So many people didn’t finish this race that the race directors ran out of the DNF mementos, so we didn’t even get one of those after all that work (although we have been promised custom finishing tokens!) Our team name was Hope and Joy because those are our middle names, and this event definitely embodied Hope for the good in the world, thanks to the hard working community coming together for a good cause, and we definitely got a whole lotta joy, even if we didn’t get a medal.

I did however, walk away with a loonie, so that’s a win. I found it on the ground in the aid station tent and I think I’m gonna put it towards my race entry for next years BarKaKoo. We’ve got unfinished business out there.

*DNF- Did Not Finish

*DQ- Disqualified

*DFL- Dead F@#$ing Last

The 5 Peaks Great Canadian Crossing: 4800km in a year

I ran the distance across Canada for the 5Peaks Great Canadian Crossing in one year and can barely bring myself to write about it. My Strava feed reads like a well-worn diary to match the handwritten one in my bedside stand. Scrolling through it before writing this post was like peering back at a stranger I no longer recognize, watching her transform through each kilometer covered to complete the challenge a different person.

The quantifiable part of this challenge is easy to sum up; from July 1st, 2020 to June 30th, 2021 I covered over 4800km entirely on foot. It consisted of two 100mile (160km or more) events, and 7 other ultras with distances ranging from 43km to 120km, 8 marathons, 14 mountain summits and over 11 mountain areas hiked in for over 52 000m of elevation gain.  Every single kilometer tracked was outside in every kind of weather and over 90% of those kilometers were at a run pace for a total of nearly 600hrs. Not one single in-person race.

I earned a nice big medal for my accomplishment. But what I’m really interested in is all the other things I have gained and lost in the meantime.

I decided to sign up for this challenge as an antidote to the disappointment I felt when we had to cancel our planned road trip across Canada. It was a trip that both my husband and I had done with our families when we were kids, and we wanted to replicate that with our own children while they were old enough to travel well, and young enough to still want to hang out with us. That’s a small and quickly closing window. But instead of packing up to hit the road, I laced up and hit the trail for a Canada Day run across the city from one side of the Anthony Henday Drive ring road, to the other, and back, for a total of 77km along the North Saskatchewan River. Ten days later I made it to 24 hours in the Quarantine Backyard Ultra for a cruise-y 161 kms in my neighbourhood in a 6.7km lap run on the hour, every hour until I timed out. The rest of July was spent recovering on mountain trails and leisurely runs with friends. Covid numbers were low, the panic attacks I had struggled with in June were resolving and I was off to a great start on the challenge.

August had different plans.

A last-minute change of plans from running the Canmore Quad thanks to the closure of the Lady MacDonald trail in Canmore, meant that Tania and I decided to do a 50km day on Mount Northover in Kananaskis instead. A fall while crossing a snow field, left me with a massive scar on my head and a changed perspective as I realized how fragile life is and that coasting on autopilot was no longer ok. I really examined what I wanted out of my life and started to make some changes to shake things up and see how the cards would fall. (Fast forward a few months and I started my master’s degree in counseling psychology and had a whole new relationship with my husband.) The one thing that remained constant?

My determination to keep running.


With the help of some great friends, I was back at the top of a mountain in no time, with a gorgeous day at Landslide Lake in David Thompson country basking in the incredible privilege it is to be alive.

Autumn brought more disappointment as the expected rise in Covid numbers derailed our naïve optimism to host the first ever Run On trail race in support of Amy’s House. However, in true pandemic fashion, Amy’s husband Phil, and I made the most of it and still had a great day on the trail with friends and raised a ton of money for the house.

Shift. Recalibrate. Move on. Anyone else sensing a trend for the year?

Heading into winter, I needed a new challenge to keep me going so I committed to a run streak and diet changes for November. Those dark days refined the clarifying process that started as I lost control on the side of Mount Northover and continued into an even darker December. My Strava feed during that time captures the intensity of those emotions with snippets of poetry, song lyrics and literature woven with stories told by each run. Some runs left without any captions at all. Those were the hardest. Those were where the really painful growth was happening.

The hope we all felt while we watched the dumpster fire of 2020 disappear barely made it past New Years Day as new rounds of restrictions dragged our uncertainty into yet another year. I watched dreams of my goal race move further on the horizon and kept doing the only thing I know how to do well. Put my shoes on. Go for another run.

I poured myself into counselling theories and neuroscience. Textbooks and essays punctuated by workouts and long walks with my family and trips to the mountains as often as we could manage including a sunrise run up Ha Ling I will never forget. Somehow, the lure of collecting kilometers for this challenge kept me clawing forward. In a strange way, I was thankful for the pandemic in how it slowed my world down and gave me the gift of time. Less commuting time, no kids’ activities, no social gatherings or events to fill my weekends. It could well be into my retirement years before I will have that kind of time available ever again. It has been a strange blessing. A gift I did not even know I wanted until I slowed down enough to realize it was what I needed.

 After each workout, I received a quirky email from a site called Challenge Hound that lightheartedly reminded me how I was progressing on the challenge with subject lines like “Funkadelic work on your 10.3km run” and it would let me know if I was on pace to finish on time. By mid-April I realized I had stopped receiving those emails because I had completed the challenge already. I had originally signed up for the Run/Walk/Bike option and my bike kilometers added up quickly. I calculated that I could take out my bike kilometers and finish the challenge entirely on foot if I averaged 100km per week. It was exactly the kind of incentive I needed to make the most of my otherwise uneventful spring. 100km a week is a stretch for me. I can comfortably do 70-80km/week so this would be uncharted territory for me to aim for so much for the last 12 weeks of the challenge.

Another round of lockdowns meant the time needed for that was actually available to me, so I decided to go for it.

The high mileage weeks felt pretty good at first. I did a few marathons and other birthday long runs with friends (a strange tradition in the run community is to run your age in km with your friends on your birthday!) including my own birthday run at Elk Island park. By the beginning of June, I shifted my race plan from running a 100kms at the new Klondike Ultra, to doing my first 24 hr track event with the virtual Survivorfest and knocked a significant chunk off my final total distance for the challenge. Two weeks to go and I still needed about 180km. I was exhausted. I called myself a wagon with the wheels coming off fast. I had plantar fasciitis, tight hips, messed up hormones and fatigue. My whole body was screaming at me to stop. But I felt so close, I just needed to hold on a little while longer. Stubborn. Driven. A little stupid.

I skipped some runs and walked a lot more which helped in my recovery a lot. But mostly I looked forward to the extended break from running I planned to take, starting July 1st.

I managed to complete the challenge by the end of June, thanks to some friends that agreed to help me wrap it up by running the Henday to Henday again, this time only one way for 42km. The whole thing ended rather anticlimactically. Just one last email. I submitted my results. Waited for my medal. All that work, for…well… nothing.

Looking back over the year, summed up in distance, pace and Strava captions, I am reminded of how little life typically changes in a day, but how much it changes in 365 of them. For all the loss that happened over the course of 4800km, there was much to be gained as well. The pandemic ushered in a collective universal grief our generation had never known before, but also showed us how to appreciate what we have in new ways. For me, the other side of the grief of this past year is the bittersweet beauty of what I’ve gained; I have a new career trajectory, improved relationship, more time with my kids and am a stronger runner.  It is sometimes hard to accept, but the ugly and the beautiful parts of life can coexist in tension. A dichotomy we wish we could do without, but it just doesn’t work that way. We wouldn’t recognize the beautiful if we didn’t acknowledge all the other stuff.

My Great Canadian Crossing medal is in a way, the beautiful representation of a whole lot of ugly that it took to get there. And while I sure wish we could go back in time and never experience the shitshow of 2020 that never seems to end, I’m just gonna hang that medal up, cause it’s pretty and I earned it.  

Icefields Parkway- Biking Jasper to Canmore

This isn’t a run story. Running is my first love and favourite way to get out and experience the world, but last weekend I found adventure on my road bike and it was every bit as incredible. My husband Kirk, and our friends Tania and Thomas and I had been dreaming about riding highway 93 from Jasper to Canmore for a while now, and even though the logistics of it felt a bit overwhelming, we decided we needed to go for it.

Guys, biking is a lot more complicated then running. Trail running requires shoes (best if they are filthy), some snacks and an InReach if you’re hitting the backcountry. Your most complicated ‘gear’ is your body and that is constantly being built and maintained through training so that when it’s time to go, you just gotta start running. Biking is so much more complicated. Pannier rack mishaps, a broken derailleur hanger, a loose chain, sticky gears, poorly wrapped handle bars and the wrong wheels on the wrong bike all went wrong before we even got going. Thankfully Kirk and Thomas know a thing or two about bikes and they had them all working just fine by Friday afternoon. So off we went in two vehicles to Canmore where we left one truck, before piling into another to get a preview of Highway 93 on our drive north to Jasper. We were lucky enough to get bluebird skies, followed by a stunning sunset, over the road we would get very familiar with over the next two days.

A quick picture at the ‘Welcome to Jasper’ sign and a minute to switch mine and Tania’s wheels back to their rightful owners, and we were off. Ever since my accident on Mount Northover, both Tania and I have struggled with ‘pre-adventure anxiety’. It manifests through over-planning and over-packing for Tania, and numbing out or intense fear over the ‘what ifs’ for me. I had been struggling with a lot of thoughts of what could go wrong, how a bike malfunction or road imperfection would send you flying with pretty high consequence, and I’ve had to work pretty hard to not dwell on that and just commit to enjoying the experience. Each time, Tania and I talk each other through those feelings and have come to learn that once we get going, everything relaxes and we are reminded of the outrageous beauty that is out there and the incredible gift it is that we get to experience it.

Once we were through town and on the road it took no time at all for me to be feeling great and cruising along. Kirk is by far the strongest rider out of the four of us and he spent the whole time out in front, rolling along at a much slower pace then he normally would. He insists he is more then happy just to be out there with us, but I hope that he gets a chance to do a faster trip with his friends one day so he can test those limits.

The rolling hills are pretty consistent the whole way through the trip. It feels like you are either always working hard up a hill, or cruising down with a big dumb smile on your face. I’m sure some of it was flat, but it didn’t seem like it to me. We weren’t out there to set any records, so we made sure to enjoy all the pretty things along the way with a stop at Athabasca falls and lunch at Poboktan Creek. Shortly before lunch, Tania and I saw the boys stop up ahead, turn and start waving. I thought they were just being friendly…but then Thomas turned around on the highway and rode back to point out a curious cinnamon bear sniffing in our direction about twenty feet off the side of the road. Talk about incentive to keep hustling.

“Heya bear, you don’t worry about us and we wont worry about you. Deal?” Ok. All good. That’s the second bear I’ve seen biking this year and I’m ok if that never happens again.

(To be clear, I was biking. Not the bear. The bear was just doing bear things. A biking bear sounds amazing though and I’d be ok if I saw that).

Then came the grind of a lifetime up to the Icefield Skywalk with a 7km hill that had me in my lowest gear working hard to keep a steady cadence, barely looking up to appreciate Tangle Creek falls as we passed. The descent was worth all the work as we were rewarded with speeds of over 80km/hr (Kirk hit 90km/hr) passing cars on the shoulder and being lasered radared by good-humoured cops who yelled the results to us as we passed.

I admit, that required a new level of courage I haven’t tested much on a road bike. I could feel my body tense as thoughts of losing control pestered the corners of my mind. In such an adrenaline-fueled situation, my attention becomes hyper-focused only on the stimuli that matter. The road in front of me, my hands gripping the bars (ready to brake if needed) and the cars beside me. At the start of the hill, I could sense a coach bus full of tourists heading back to the Columbia Icefields on my tail and hoped they wouldn’t attempt to pass me. But of course, it did. Frighteningly close and alarmingly fast.

The hill ends with a sweeping turn, giving a stunning view of a glacial field and we all paused at the bottom of the hill, grinning and basking in the intensity of feeling incredibly alive.

Back on the road, brutal head winds and increasing smoke threatened to dampen our spirits as we pushed towards the Columbia Icefield. Another stop to admire the glacier, fill our water bottles and give a few pep talks was enough to encourage us to push through the last 50km with another stop at Parker Ridge cause ya know, outhouse. (Which thankfully there are a ridiculous amount of along this highway!)

A friend of Kirk’s who was familiar with the area gave us some good intel to stop at an unmarked roadside pull out to peer down a canyon that puts Maligne, Johnson and Grotto Canyons all to shame. A river disappears entirely from view down a drop that must be nearly 100 ft. You can barely see the bottom if you lean over the precarious rock overhead, but you can definitely feel the spray and hear the roar from deep below. There is a worn-out bridge stamped 1938 leading to an abandoned road, but other then that the place is left entirely wild.

The best treasures always are.

We rolled into the Saskatchewan Crossing hotel around 8pm, with 7.5 hours of moving time and 160 km done. Opting to stay at the hotel instead of camping was worth the extra cost for the convenience of being able to travel light. I didn’t have panniers on my bike so Kirk carried all our gear (I carried bear spray!) and not having to worry about packing food for dinner was worth it. Also, that burger and beer at the pub tasted amazing. Another perk of riding is that you aren’t plagued with the same stomach issues that can make eating difficult with long runs. No calorie deficiencies on this trip!

We were disappointed to wake to even thicker smoke the next morning. Our eyes, throats and lungs were already feeling the effects from the day before, and now views were completely obscured and breathing felt even harder. The sun was a muted red glow through the haze and temperatures felt cooler then they otherwise would have. Are smoky summers our new way of life? I understand they are part of the cycle of destruction and regrowth, but this last dry season has me wondering if this is our unpleasant new normal. I think its time we all biked more and drove less…

The first few minutes of sore butt on day 2 were quickly forgotten as we started peddling up the never-ending grind and our quads were protesting too loud to notice any other pain. There is about 30 km of slow grind uphill to get to the Bow Valley pass. First, a stop at Mistaya Canyon. Kirk and I had just been there a few weeks prior, so we stayed with the bikes and worked on our Insta-worthy poses while Thomas and Tania hiked down to see the canyon. I’m pretty sure we got the better pictures.

What a relief to get to the top of the Bow Valley and see the elevation profile of nearly all descent towards Lake Louise. The morning had felt a bit demoralizing with such a long grind and thick smoke, and even our steady diet of candy was barely enough to keep us motivated. But things got pretty fun after that as we decided it was time to perfect our drafting skills. I tucked in behind Kirk and we could maintain a much higher pace because he didn’t have to wait for me and I could keep up in his wind tunnel.  We picked up Tania a few times and the three of us made for a pretty great team. Thomas wasn’t too keen on staying on our train and was happy to do his own thing. His loss, cause it made the stretch before lunch an absolute blast. Party train is always worth joining.

Lunch stop at Lake Louis and we were off again for the next stretch, this time on Highway 1A to Banff. It’s the more scenic route with less traffic (the road is closed to vehicles entirely past Johnson Canyon) and nicer road then Highway 1. However, it also has much more elevation. We had ridden 1A from Banff to Louise and back earlier this spring and knew what we were in for, and all agreed it was totally worth the extra work. More drafting made that 60km speed by and the skies even started to clear a bit and give us some nicer views to enjoy.

More candy and a water refill in Banff and we were down to the home stretch. By this time we were all feeling pretty beat up and ready to be done; the heat, smoke and busy Legacy Trail along the noisy highway made the last hour my least favourite of the whole trip. Quick stop for a final photo at the Canmore sign and we rolled back to the truck we had left two days prior.

On the drive back, we commented how different the road looked from a truck. The rise and fall of the road looks less daunting, yet far less exhilarating. Weirdly, I didn’t even feel the same. I don’t mean to sound overly dramatic, but it’s true. I wasn’t the same. An experience like that kicks my beautifully neuroplastic brain into overdrive and changes it. The connections between my fear centre (telling me to stay home because steep mountains and cracks in the pavement are dangerous), and my pre-frontal cortex (that knows that life is short and I want to see beautiful mountains and laugh with friends and ride fast down hills while I’m here) are re-wired ever so slightly. Reinforcing that its worth it to push past the overwhelming logistics and middle of the night anxiety to get out there and try new things.

I feel incredibly fortunate that I was able to take this trip and that there were no injuries or accidents and highly recommend that anyone with a bike and a sense of adventure get out and ride Jasper to Canmore. It’s 327km, 3400m elevation of incredible scenery that makes the sore butt and burning quads totally worth it.

Survivorfest 24-Hour Track Race: Keep Going

Here’s a quick summary of how to run around a 400m track for 24 hours. You start running and you only make left turns. Do that for 6 hours. Stop. Turn around. Start running again, but this time (and here is the exciting part…) YOU GET TO MAKE RIGHT TURNS! Do that for another 6 hours. Stop. Turn around and repeat the whole thing all over again.

OK I bet I lost most of you already. Don’t worry. There’s still good stories that come from running in circles so stay with me here.

Lets start with my Why.

Why the hell would anyone ever want to run around an oval track for 24 hours? Normally, I love to pack all the beauty, nature and adventure I can into my runs by hitting the trails and mountains as much as possible, so signing up for a 24-hour track event at the last minute was a little out of character for me. I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t have a good ‘Why’ for Survivorfest 2021. I wanted to see just how far I could go. After hitting 100 miles in 24 hours last summer at Quarantine Backyard Ultra, I knew I could cover at least a bit more distance in the same amount of time. I also wanted to play around a bit more with my nutrition plan over 16 hours…that didn’t go so well…but more on that later.

Also, when Klondike Ultra had to switch to a virtual format, I just wasn’t as excited about it. I want to do it right, with people, aid stations and a real race on the trails with my friends, so I deferred to next year. Survivorfest also had to switch to a virtual format but since I wasn’t exactly signing up for a track event for the scenery, I was fine with it. The Race Director, Laura is an extraordinary person, and I was more then happy to join what she calls the ‘Survivorfest Family’. Lastly, one of the biggest draws to this event for me was the cause. Survivorfest is a fundraiser for Saffron Centre in Sherwood Park. They provide counseling services for survivors of sexual assault as well as education in schools about consent. Over the last few years, this issue has deeply affected some people I care about and has left most of us feeling pretty helpless. Lucky for me, my best running happens when I feel helpless; turns that feeling into something that feels productive.  

I quickly realized I had no freakin clue what I was doing. I have never done a track event before, and only realized about a week before that there are a lot of rules to the sport. Some friends of mine were doing the ‘virtual event’ in person (that doesn’t make sense but don’t over think it, nothing about Covid rules make sense!) and had rented a timing system to use the event as a qualifier for Team Canada at a World 24-hour track competition. I was invited to join them, but that didn’t feel right.  I needed to be true to me. I knew what I wanted my day to look like, and the pressure of a qualifying distance was not for me.

I admit, I was pretty nervous leading up to race day. I have been struggling with plantar’s fasciitis since November, and while it is slowly improving, it has still been difficult to manage and I was scared the pain would get unbearable after a couple hours. I bought a couple new pairs of shoes and hoped for the best.

 I set my intention for the day with the mantra of “Keep Going”. It felt fitting. After this dumpster fire of a pandemic there has been a lot of uncertainty in everyone’s life, mine included. And there have been plenty of days lately where that is about all I can do; Keep Going. I was determined that no matter what happened, I would keep moving forward for 24 hours. I wasn’t going to worry about pace. I was only going to focus on forward motion.

Simple enough right?

  My husband Kirk helped me load up all my gear and we headed to the track behind the high school a couple blocks from my house. Our friend Blake was waiting for us and had set up balloons along the track to wish me well as I started. Kirk joined me for the first hour and then he shifted his attention to setting up a tent and my aid station while I kept going in circles with a run/walk strategy of 700m run, 100m walk.

 The sun was starting to warm up and I was feeling good. Kirk was keeping me well hydrated and fueled, mostly with Tailwind to start. By about noon, his sister and all four of my nieces and nephews showed up and that was when the party really got started.

Every run has a highlight. Whether it is the summit of Leg 6 at Sinister 7, or the stars at the Grand Canyon, there is always a defining moment on these big runs that you will never forget. The highlight of running around in circles that day? Was my nephew. His name is Noah and he is 14. He’s athletic but doesn’t play sports. His last run was a 5km with me at Parkrun…pre-Covid…so…long time ago.  He started running with me and just didn’t stop. He just kept going, and going, and going. Until we advised him to stop before he got heat stroke. He logged over 25 km and probably could’ve gone a lot further. Seriously, how many 14 year old’s do you know would do that?

It was a steady stream of people for the rest of the day. Some people doing over 20k with me, some doing just a few laps, some brought treats and cheered from the sidelines. Keith brought a whole circus with him including a fencing sword, a bike set up as long as a train and full kitchen kit to make what he called ‘a track snack attack’ station including hotdogs and freshly brewed coffee. The day was shaping up exactly as I had hoped, sun, smiles, kids everywhere and my incredible community out in full force.

My second crew chief, Tania came mid afternoon to help out and trade Kirk off for a bit. I’ve missed her desperately in my run world lately as she’s out with a knee injury, but she showed up in full support and even rode her bike around the track for probably 40km at a painfully slow pace just to keep me company.

Thanks to a well-timed Slurpee delivery and a couple Electrolyte Freezies, I had survived the hottest part of the day and was looking forward to the temperatures cooling off. I was pretty proud of hitting 50 miles in 9 hours and still going strong.

Now 100k. Sunset. Walk a bit more then usual.

Keep. Going.

Every time a new friend showed up, I got a new burst of energy and managed to keep shuffling but I started to falter around 13 hours in. My friend Jen came around 10pm and excitedly announced I was over half-way, and I looked at her in despair. Half way? That’s it? I couldn’t wrap my head around doing all that again. Not with this foot pain. Not with how raw I felt after a day in the sun. No way. My mental game started to show some cracks. We switched to run a lap, power walk a lap, and that helped, but I still couldn’t stop thinking about how far away 9 am felt.

Jen keeping me moving when I started to get tired.

This was the part of my day that made me thankful I chose to run ‘by myself’ on my own track instead of trying to qualify for Team Canada. In a qualifying event you aren’t allowed company. You can talk to other runners but you aren’t even really supposed to run at the same pace. I am pretty sure if I had been there, by myself, I would’ve sat down around 2 am and never got back up. But the cool part about doing the event my way, is that all through the night, more and more friends kept appearing to…well…make sure I stuck to my mantra. Keep Going. They just kept coming out of the darkness to support. Julia and Paula on their bikes, Curtis at 3 am on his way home from running Klondike, Tania came back to send Kirk home to sleep for a few hours. And Faye. Faye the angel who shuffled over a marathon with me through the night, feeding, encouraging even massaging my cramping feet. Often in silence, talking me down when I accidently stopped my watch and threw a fit, telling me to turn my anger into run energy and just hit start on my watch again. Keep Going. At 2 am, I sat down to wrap in a blanket, change my shoes and have some perogies and coffee. I was cold and my feet were in excruciating pain. I was still irrationally discouraged over stopping my watch and got a little emotional. I allowed myself a couple tears and then threw off that blanket and just kept marching. If I was gonna feel sorry for myself, I was gonna do it while still moving forward.

Thankfully, June races mean short nights and the sunrise brought new energy. It also brought Thomas and his thoughtful offering of a McDonald’s hashbrown which was weirdly the only thing that appealed to me after hours of battling nausea. I would go to on to regret that when the rest of my digestive system was like ‘What is this garbage?’ a few hours later but…maybe those details don’t need to be in my race report. (To answer the oft asked question… if I had to pee I hid in a small patch of trees near the track and a few times I paused my watch and got a ride home to use the bathroom.)

By about 5 am, we got another visit from the Roving Race Director Laura (and Dave!) just after I hit 100 miles (161 km) and reached a distance personal best. With 4 hours left, I was already reduced to mostly walking, and was feeling pretty tired. I knew that my overly ambitious goal of 200km was not even an option, but we calculated that even if I walked the last four hours I could hit my next goal of 180km. It was pretty simple at that point. I just needed to let the clock run out. I wasn’t doing so well with food anymore but was feeling well enough to eat just the bare minimum to fuel a walk pace. I was hoping to have done a better job at forcing down calories after that time but I just couldn’t. (These are problems I will have to solve before taking on multi day runs…)

With the day heating up again, more friends came to join. Bleary eyed kids were dragged from their beds and neighbours walked over with coffee in hand. I sure hope the people in the houses across the streets were watching this dog and pony show unfold as the lunatic on the track turned into the pied piper with a crowd of 15 people following in circles.

The countdown was on. I checked in with the virtual team to connect with the other runners all over the city to see how everyone was managing and was so encouraged to see smiling faces and happy reports of survival through the night. 10 minutes to go. I can run for 10 more minutes right? Those who were dressed to run started shuffling with me, and the walkers dropped off. I have no idea where that kind of energy came from but was so thrilled to have hit over 180 km. Even better to do that with so many of my favourite people there with me.

Patrick, Renee, Thomas, Aia, Christy, Kirk
and I in the final hour.

A minute to go. Kids were cheering while devouring rainbow sprinkle donuts.

I picked up the pace to finish the last 200 meters and hit 181 km exactly. Keith, in his jeans, skate shoes and coffee in hand yelling behind me “You’re dropping pacers!” and I looked at my watch to see I was running a sub 5min/km pace on what I can only describe as pure adrenaline and good vibes.

9am.

And guess what? I still had to keep going to get back to the end. This is the problem with finishing your race at the wrong end of the track!

That’s a good metaphor for life. Sometimes you think you’re done but then you realize you still gotta get home. But that’s ok. Good things happen when you just keep going.

Lets wrap this up with the numbers:

24 hours on a 400-meter track

452.5 laps

181km (enough to qualify for Team Canada…if I had joined the qualifying event!)

$1660 raised for Saffron Centre

47 people and 3 dogs came out to support.

1st place Female in Survivorfest.

Wild Woman Challenge

I did something a little ridiculous last weekend… which I’m sure comes as no surprise to any of you that have ever read my blog before. (Don’t worry, this adventure didn’t end with a sliced open head…missed that story? Read it here)

You may have heard of 4x4x48 challenge put out there by Dave Goggins, the former Navy Seal who makes it his life goal to find new levels of pain in endurance sports. The premise of the challenge is this; run 4 miles, every 4 hours for 48 hours. Sounds awful, right? Yep. So of course, I wanted to try it. I knew it would be easier then running 160 kms all at once at Sinister 7 or 160 kms in 24 hours in a repetitive loop every hour at Quarantine Backyard Ultra, but it certainly is not easy, by any means!

However, I’m not really interested in writing a lot about the run part of the weekend…the quick summary goes like this. Run, eat, sleep a bit, chaffing, sore muscles, irritated plantar fasciitis, mental fatigue blah blah blah. If you’ve ever read anything about endurance sport the story is the same. It’s hard, it hurts, you do it anyway, its awesome in the end, and then I write about it. But what I’m more interested in writing about today is Joy.

Yep. Joy.

Remember that feeling? Remember when we used to do fun things with fun people? Remember parties and concerts and travel and dining out with friends? What do you remember most about those things? Probably that you were really happy in those moments. That you could truly surrender to the good feelings because everyone around you was feeling good too and you got to just enjoy experiencing the same good thing. There is something incredibly powerful about collective experiences as a way to express joy. It’s vulnerable. And it takes a level of courage you simply cannot practice in isolation. We often think of going through difficult emotions as being hard, but experiencing joy is hard too, just in a different way. Our brains are hard wired towards the negative. It’s a protective mechanism we’ve evolved in order to keep us constantly on alert for danger; vigilant for survival. Allowing ourselves to feel truly, uninhibitedly joyful somehow feels like a denial of negativity or hardship, as though we don’t deserve to feel good things if life feels difficult.

It’s been a tough year for everyone, and we can all agree that joy has been really hard to come by. Restrictions mean we have lost the opportunities for collective experiences, and the messaging around interacting with others been ridiculously confusing. We can shop at Walmart or be around people for work, but social gatherings are not allowed. As though Covid is only spread when people smile and socialize, not when they interact for economic gain. I mean, I get it, I’m not arguing the rules…but you have to admit it feels more like orders from the ‘Fun Police’ then Health Authorities.

Anyway, back to the 4x4x48 Challenge. I knew I wanted to do it, but I wanted to make it as fun as possible. For me, that meant it needed to include people, it needed to be interesting, and it needed to be a bit absurd. Thankfully, I have plenty of people in my life ready and willing to join me in such nonsense, and soon enough we had a group of six brilliant and accomplished female ultra runners scheming how to make it an unforgettable weekend. We decided to make the challenge ours, changing the name from the Goggins 4x4x48 Challenge to Wild Women Challenge and we brainstormed all kinds of ways to up the ante. Some of us increased the distance, added elevation or speed goals to increase the difficulty of the running component of the challenge. But we also added other fun elements; like the Random Acts of Kindness run where I handed out coffee cards to people I passed on the trail (and got super embarrassed when I realized the cardboard card holder was soggy with sweat…Random Acts of Grossness…opps), or Support Local run that had a stop at a coffee shop for a cinnamon bun with my son and husband. It wasn’t realistic to do every run together as a group of six, as the drive time cut into precious sleep and recovery time, but we did manage to do a few runs as a group and they definitely were ridiculously fun.

The first night we all dressed up in our best colourful outfits and blasted dance music while we ran through downtown decked out in glow sticks and lights. I carried an 8-foot-long stick with a star on the top the whole way, pointing it like I was charging into battle. You can imagine how absurd a group of 30-40 year old mom’s looked running the streets and racing like lunatics across scatter crosswalks.  

The second night we ran at midnight in our onesies and pyjamas down the middle of residential streets as though it was the most normal thing in the world to do, laughing and shrieking the whole time like a bunch of lunatics. It was absolutely and completely serendipitous. Even though we were all exhausted from being on our second night of sleep deprivation and 80km into the challenge, I wouldn’t have traded those moments for anything.

It was very interesting to me to watch other people’s reactions as we passed them on our night runs. A few people looked up, engaged, smiled. Even fewer people sought connection by sharing a laugh or a comment. Many ignored us completely or watched with no reaction, as though acknowledging someone else’s happiness would steal from their own small supply. I worry that the difficulties of this last year have left us guarded, lost so deep in our own struggles that we have forgotten how to be vulnerable enough to share a moment of carefree happiness with a stranger. It is impossible to experience full growth in isolation from others. The mountains and valleys of the human experience demand to be shared with those around us, and just as important as it is to share your pain and sadness with others in order to heal, it is important to share the beautiful and delightful with others as well. This is what it means to be human. To look up, to smile, to acknowledge someone else’s joy and allow it to infiltrate your barriers to elevate your own mood, even just a little bit.

If all we are promised is this moment, right now. Why not make it a joyful one?

Four hours after the pyjama run, with very little sleep, I struggled through my brain fog and headed out the door for my 10th run of the challenge. For this one I had arranged to meet my friend Blake who lives in the next neighbourhood. As we started down the sidewalk, he asked how I was doing and I laughed and said “I’m pretty tired, but can’t really complain can I? I’m doing this to myself for no reason. I’m not really sure why”.

Without hesitating, he said “To feel alive”.

There it is. That’s it.

There have been many moments of sadness this year. Countless moments of boredom, restlessness and frustration. Of anger and indignation. There has been that gutting loneliness when the Zoom call ends and your phone is too quiet. The quiet resignation of not smiling at strangers at the grocery store because they can’t see it anyway. The helplessness of isolation. All of these experiences are part of what it means to be alive and are necessary for growth into our own fullness and I am not denying the significance of the things we are all going through these days. But it can be so tempting to let that sadness define us, to let anger or loneliness pull us under. When really, joy is just a pendulum swing away and all of it, every last drop of it, is there for us to experience.

“If you ever suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give into it…whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb” -Mary Oliver.

When I set out on the Wild Woman challenge, I held the plans loosely in open palms, much the same way I have held any plans I’ve had this last year, knowing nothing is certain except the moment we have right now. The only expectation I had was that I wanted a memorable weekend and I wanted to share it with others. I am happy to report that happened in abundance. My husband, new to running, did nearly 40 km with me over the weekend. My 13-year-old daughter Katie did 10 km with me, and my 9 year old son Levi did 8 km with me (earning him a giant cookie from a coffee shop for the Support Local theme!) In addition to the five women who also did the challenge, we were joined by several other run friends for various laps at all times of the day and night.

Over the course of the weekend, I ran 120km and completed my biggest non-race distance week ever, and while that is incredibly satisfying, its not really what I care about or what I will remember about the experience. I’ll remember the smiles, the ridiculous moments and times I fully surrendered into feeling uninhibited joy. And if any of you ever want to run down the middle of the street in your pjs, you know I’ll join ya.

I’m. All. IN.

The Waitlist: Watching Moab 240 sell out

My friend summed it up best when she described what it feels like to walk through the trauma induced fog she has been in for two years now; she said the best part of her day is those split seconds after she has woken up, but before she has remembered the battle she has to get up and fight yet again. And here I was, on New Years Day 2021, the day we joked that the hell of 2020 would finally end, lying in my bed and feeling my cells buzzing blissfully, oblivious to what was happening outside the moment. I felt light, my body porous and mingling with the dark morning air of a new day. I wanted to stay like that forever.

Cruelly, as soon as that conscious thought floats to the surface, reality slams you right back down with the reminder of the challenges waiting for you when you open your eyes. I was paralyzed. Telling myself to get out of bed, go for a run, enjoy the day with your kids. But I just couldn’t. I was left wishing those first dreamy moments of oblivious peace could come back and carry me through the day.

December proved to be a far harder month then I ever imagined. After a month of clarity seeking in November (My November Project: No Sugar and Run Streak) I was dealt a blow that has changed things pretty significantly for me. I won’t go into details here, but believe me when I say that in true 2020 form, it was all pretty ugly.

After my accident (Northover Ridge to Emergency Room), a friend reached out and said that she had a similar near death experience and that even though she survived, it shifted absolutely everything for her. At the time, I thought that sounded a little extreme, but I now see how true that is. Facing death wakes you up to wanting to live your whole-hearted best life and so suddenly all the things that used to matter, don’t anymore, and you realize that coasting on autopilot isn’t good enough. The universe has a strange way of filtering out all the shit in life that no longer works for you, the barriers in the way of being your true self. Unfortunately, it also leaves in its wake, a whole lot of uncertainty of how to move forward.

And so there I was, New Years Day and not a clue what the future holds. It also happened to be registration day for Moab 240. Ugh.

I first learned of the race when we spent 4 days in Moab, Utah in 2019 while on our way to run Rim2Rim2Rim: Running the Grand Canyon in a Day. We spent our time mountain biking and exploring with the kids. It is absolutely stunning. Otherworldly landscapes like you’ve never seen before and miles of trails just waiting to be explored, so of course I looked up what races were in the area and Moab 240 not only caught my eye but it set my soul on fire. I knew I needed to run it. 240 miles (386 km) in one giant loop around the town of Moab, through several National Parks, through canyons and over mountains with almost 9000 meters of elevation gain. You have 112 hours to do it, and while the race is incredibly difficult, it has a surprisingly high finishing rate, likely due to the generous cut off time. If you can keep moving forward and keep your head in the game, you have a decent chance of finishing. It’s been my goal race for over two years now and is what has been driving me forward, pushing for increasingly high mileage and even motivates me to do some strength work (although still not enough!) I need to do this race. That is non-negotiable for me.

I briefly considered jumping in to do it in October 2020 after our plans for the year were turned upside down anyway, however the logistics of travel during a pandemic and all our uncertainties and instabilities quickly shut that dream down. That’s ok, the plan was always 2021 anyway right?

Yet there I lay, January 1st, my body buzzing, and my heart an open wound, and I watched race registration fill up in minutes and my dream race sell out. Yet another plan by the wayside.

I know it was the right thing to do. I know that jumping into such a commitment would be irresponsible with so many uncertainties, no idea how to pay for it, who would come with, or how the pandemic would affect events and travel by that time… I knew that despite my best intentions, it was just not something I could responsibly justify or control. At least not for now.

I added my name to the waitlist instead…I’m #93 in line. And while a lot of people get in off the waitlist due to the nature of these sort of massive events and the training and commitment they require, getting in from #93 is pretty unlikely and could be a very last minute offer if it does happen. As sad as it was to admit that the wait list is the best option for me right now, I trust that if it is meant to happen, I’ll be ready (oh yes, I am still going to train as though I’m running a 240 mile race this year!) and if it’s not meant to happen, then there is always the hope that better years ahead will remove those uncertainties and I will be able to go in fully prepared.

Maybe being on the ‘Waitlist’ is a good way to describe where I’m at right now. Sort of cocoon period where I can go to rest and renew before meeting my new self, whatever that will look like. Thankfully, running remains a constant in my life; the quickest and easiest way for me to find my center, to connect, to rejuvenate. Many ultra runners have stories of overcoming incredible adversity, paradoxically using running to deal with those situations, and using those situations to improve their running. On a text exchange with a friend on New Years Eve I shared that I was struggling to see the way forward, and that getting to the other side felt like an incredibly long road. Her reply was perfect:

“You’re good at long roads. And you’re not alone”

So I guess I’ll happily sit on the waitlist, in more ways then one, and just keep moving forward as best I can with what I know for now. Maybe a really long run through the Utah desert will get to be a part of that forward motion. Maybe not. And maybe that’s ok.

My November Project: No Sugar and Run Streak

You all know I love adventure. The thrill of exploring new places and pushing myself to new limits is exciting to me. But thanks to a pandemic, an uncertain start back to school and changes at work, I have been staring down many weeks and months void of adventure. Void of lots of things actually. I’m trying to focus on the positives while navigating this storm, and there is lots to be thankful for. Mostly though? I’m feeling a lot of…well…feelings.

Its not uncommon for me to find myself in an autumn rut, where the thrill of summer is gone and we are bracing for shorter days and a whole lot of cold. And all of that was feeling 1000x harder this year; between the pandemic altering our whole world and my accident this summer (Northover Ridge to Emergency Room) I have been feeling major energy shifts, pushing me to uncomfortable new places where nothing quite makes sense anymore. I couldn’t even put my finger on it, but rather have felt like I was an outsider watching my usual strong, vibrant self evaporate into a fragile shell, riddled with anxiety and intense moments of sadness. I’ve never struggled with my mental health before, so this all felt like uncharted territory. And I’ll be honest, I wasn’t thrilled about how I was coping with it. I knew I could do better. Be better. And that I needed some serious self-parenting to get myself sorted out.

So in the absence of an exciting adventure to keep things interesting, or maybe more accurately, to keep me distracted, I decided to take things to the opposite extreme. What can I learn from the beauty of discipline, of outright boredom even? I’ve given myself challenges for the month of November before and have always found them beneficial, so I decided it was time to explore that again this year. So for the 30 days of November, I committed to running everyday and not eating sugar. My own ‘November Project’.

What? Why the hell would I do that? How does that help keep my mental health in check and help me make sense of my ever-changing world?

Well…it doesn’t really. Not at face value anyway. After all, I eat pretty healthy and run most days anyway so it’s not a major change, but I wanted to explore further growth through those practices to see what else I could learn. I know that I tend to avoid dealing with thoughts or emotions by seeking out distractions or temporary quick fixes. Food, sugary food in particular, being a big one for me. So the purpose of cutting out sugar had nothing to do with weight loss or calorie restriction or even the physical benefits of healthy eating, rather it was an exercise in impulse control. An exercise in actually feeling ALL of my feelings. No distractions, no quick fixes…just moving through the waves of things as they came up.

That is really, really hard.

But guess what? Feelings are meant for feeling.

Read that again.

They demand to be acknowledged. They demand a response. Even if the response is to sit with them as long as needed.

Sugar, social media, alcohol and even running are all such easy ways to distract…avoid. And every now and again it’s a good idea to hit reset and examine how/why I’m using those things to coast through my life instead of truly feeling all the feels that make us human. The good, bad and really ugly ones.

So why the run streak? Particularly if I acknowledge that running is often used as a crutch or another method of distraction for me. I didn’t set myself a target distance goal, or any rules around what each of those runs should look like, instead my goal was to find meaning in every run.

As my friend Glenda said to me: “You already trust your body. Now time to trust your Knowing”

Here’s what happened over the last 30 days.

I leaned into every emotion and examined the thoughts and patterns that were triggering them. And then I acted accordingly. Whenever I found myself pacing the kitchen wanting an indulgence (hello chocolate!) I took a deep breath and took stock of what was actually going on.

-Loneliness (feeling disconnected from people I craved connection with)

-Boredom (Covid cleared my calendar almost entirely and I prefer to thrive on busy-ness)

-Anxiety (watching plans for our future waver with uncertainty)

-Purposelessness (a job I normally love has been reduced to a fraction of its usual meaning)

-Sadness (Really. Fucking. Sad.)

How absurd that we think that any number of distractions or substances can take those feelings away. They demand to be felt. If left unacknowledged they will only come back louder until they are too loud to be quieted by the next quick fix; sugary or otherwise.

At the start of the month, I admit I didn’t think that I would get a lot of value from committing to run everyday. I love learning new things about myself and the world through running, but most of those lessons come from really big adventures or runs that have a lot of significance (like Run On or Recovery runs) The lessons from day-to-day, mundane runs are harder to glean, and frankly, not as much fun. So I simply committed to being open to whatever the month held and whatever lessons were waiting.

So what meaning did I find in 30 days of running?

I said yes to new group runs and made some new friends. I listened to podcasts, and heard such powerful messages that they stopped me in my tracks. I ran during the first big snow storm of the year when every fiber of my being resisted stepping out the door, yet I was surprised to find an intense peace in the winter wonderland. I joined a birthday run for a friend, honoured to be a part of her 50km for 50 years celebration. I organized a team for Warm Hands Warm Hearts virtual run and collected 57 backpacks full of donations for the homeless. I ran my fastest 5k in a time trial early one morning (read it here). I ran a half marathon in support of the Edmonton Food Bank with Turkeys on the Trail. I ran a marathon for a friend’s 42nd birthday. I led Trail Sisters a few times, a group aimed at making trail running more accessible and empowering for women. I was even lucky enough to get in a mountain run with Tania in Jasper. I forced myself out the door to run on days when my body screamed for rest and was reminded, yet again, why rest days are important. I slept through a morning run, regretted it all day, and paid for it by struggling through an evening run, learning, yet again, why discipline is important too. I learned about fermented foods, and grief, and the American electoral system, and about ice flows on the river, and about cloud seeding in Dubai, and about how to process a deer you’ve shot, and how sometimes the hardest thing you’ll ever do is run in the opposite direction of that which no longer serves you. No matter how much you wish it wasn’t so.

Now it is December and I’ve learned that both run streaks and sugar deprivation will come to an end, as do all other things in life that are both beautiful and brutal. Brutiful.

A few friends had heard about my ‘November Project’ and had decided to join me with their own variation of the challenge. Some committed to no sugar, or no alcohol, or no news, or added push ups or other fitness goal. One friend, Curtis, threw out the idea to do a marathon on November 30th to celebrate the run streak. It would be his first and he was pretty excited about it. But since I had already done a marathon that month, I decided to up the ante and suggested we run out the month with a 50k. He was all in.

So Monday night, after full day of work, a few of us met downtown and started following the river in the dark. We finished 50 kilometers just before midnight and celebrated with cookies (chocolate!!) and a home brewed beer under a full moon and clear sky.

These shifting energies and feelings that demand attention are not easy. They are downright painful in fact. But I’m done with avoiding and distracting and am ready to keep on moving forward, trusting that good days and mountain top adventures are still in store for my future when all the dust has settled.

When that day comes, you better believe I’m taking chocolate to celebrate the journey.

Finding the edges of my fast

Fast. Its one of those adjectives we like to throw around like it can be defined; neatly quantified to accurately describe the subject that follows. He is a ‘fast’ runner. She ran a ‘fast’ race.

When really, a word like fast is no different then a word like ‘rich’ or ‘smart’; we all have an idea of what those words mean, but can those concepts actually be quantified? Measured and judged? Not really. In the end, those are very subjective interpretations based on our own experiences. I feel rich when I find $5 in my pocket, but that doesn’t make me rich. I’ve got friends who have a pretty nice house and a couple nice cars. Are they rich? Kinda. Is Daryl Katz rich? Sure, but not when you compare him to Bill Gates. And I’m pretty sure there are some other tech wizards and oil barons that make Bill Gates’ wealth look quaint. My point being, these things are all relative.

Running fast, and our ideas of how to quantify that, are no exception. It’s a pretty subjective thing.

For most of my running life I really haven’t worried too much about how fast I am. Partly because I’ve never considered myself to be competitive, but also because the kind of running that I love to do isn’t quantified by speed, rather it’s by distance, elevation and more importantly by scenery and adventure. I don’t care if it takes me 25 mins to cover a kilometer if that kilometer takes me over a rocky ridge along a mountain top.

I didn’t even have a clue what my personal best times were for shorter distances. It sounds crazy, but I have never run a 5k or 10k race. And my half and full marathon times were so long ago they aren’t even relevant. I sort of skipped over all those goals and went right to ultra distance and have been pretty focused on that ever since.

But this summer I got curious. I heard other people refer to me as ‘fast’ or make comment’s about how I must win races all the time. I find this pretty laughable. Sure I’ve done well in a few small local races in big distance events, but mostly because those events have been a war of attrition and I’m too stubborn to quit. Doesn’t mean I’m fast…it just means I’m dumb enough to be the last one out there! (That’s the beauty of ultras.)

I watched on Strava, as a number of my friends set out to do time trials, which is basically a ‘pretend race’ to see how fast you can do a set distance. Usually the 1 mile, 5km, 10km, half marathon and marathon. And so many people I know nailed down some extraordinary speeds! I was inspired and intrigued… and wanted to know what I could do. So one day, early in September, I hit the track by my house and ran 5k around it, as hard as I could.

Ugh. That sucked.

The pain you feel while running an ultra can get intense, but it’s also manageable because you just sort of get used to it. But the pain of running as fast as you can for that long is a completely different beast. I am really not used to red-lining my system like that and everything in me screamed to make it stop.

I stopped my watch and sighed. It wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t great either.

I committed to six weeks of throwing a few speed workouts in to see what kind of improvements I could make. I know I have the fitness base to pull off some decent times, but first I needed to get my system fired up a bit and used to running in that red-line zone. My legs needed the reminder to turn over fast, way faster then the usual grind I put out while doing big distance training.

Speed work brings a weird mix of dread and exhilaration that I don’t get from other types of runs. They are usually short and intense and give you a runners high that carries you all day, but I have such a hard time getting excited about them and it took me awhile to figure out why.

But then it hit me. It was because speed work is quantifiable. And as soon as you put a number to something, you inevitably compare and are left feeling inadequate. Whether that means you are comparing yourself to others, or comparing yourself to your previous efforts, it affects how you feel about that effort. And it never felt good enough because like I started out by saying, fast should be a subjective term…but now we have quantified our speed…so shouldn’t we be able to identify what fast really is? Remove the subjectivity and give it a definition?

What do you think is a fast 5k time? 25 mins? 22 mins? 20 mins? Some guy just did it in 12:35. Does that mean that every time slower then that doesn’t meet the standard of fast?

This sort of thinking left me feeling pretty defeated. I went to a track workout with some pretty quick people, ended every interval pretty much dead last. I had hundreds of people bet on how long it would take to run 40km for Run On: The Race that Almost Happened, and turned out to be much slower then most people anticipated. Event though it was a difficult trail run and I was pretty social for much of the event, it still was a little hard on my head. I skipped some speed workouts. (Randomly ran an ultra instead to make myself feel better.) I sort of gave up on re-doing my time trial once the temperature dipped below zero. I didn’t want to do it because I was afraid of failure.

But then we got the gift of some pretty mild weather and I felt like maybe it was still worth a shot to see if I improved at all. My friend/coach Paul offered to pace me for it, so really I felt like I couldn’t turn an offer like that down at all. Time to see what I could do.

We met early on a Tuesday morning and oh man was I ever nervous. I hadn’t slept well the night before thanks to that raw energy buzz usually reserved for races. This was more then a race. This was a test that would answer the question I had thus far been able to avoid answering. Just how fast can I run 5k?

I told Paul my goal time, and decided I wasn’t going to check my watch at all while I ran. I would rely on him to determine our pace and turn around point and do my best to keep up. We did a short warm up loop and headed across the Walterdale Bridge and then stopped to stare down the straight paved trail following the river. I consoled myself it would all be over soon.

Watches ready. And GO!

We started out way too fast but I felt good so I didn’t care. Those are the sweet moments. Leg turnover feels easy and your heart rate hasn’t maxed yet so you literally feel like you’re flying. I will never take for granted the incredible privilege it is to be able to move like that with my own power.

If only that bliss could last longer then a few minutes. It doesn’t take too long before lactic acid starts to build and your heart rate starts to border on frantic. I focused hard on deep breaths and tried to settle into the rhythm but that meant I started to fall a few steps behind Paul. No room for letting up. We weren’t even to the turn around point and my brain started to play those games normally reserved for really long runs…I started to think of ways I could get out of it. I could stop to pee. I could pretend I needed to tie my shoe. I could…well…just stop. Nothing was keeping me there. I didn’t need to experience that pain for one more second if I didn’t want to. I could go home and snuggle between my dog and my husband in my warm bed. I could stop right then, and never run again. The pain could end if I would just listen to the excuses and just give up.

It was pretty tempting.

Turn around point came and Paul pulled even further ahead. Every now and again he would yell something over his shoulder at me. I could never hear what he said, but every time it made me dig a little deeper to see what else I had left. After what felt like an eternity the lights of the High Level bridge came into sight. Pass the LRT. Under the High Level. A slight downhill brought a tiny bit of relief, but the arch of the Walterdale bridge still seemed so far away to my burning lungs.

Photo Cred: Paul Hill -Picture of the Walterdale Bridge taken a different morning…
there’s no time for pictures during a Time Trial!

Finding the edge of your potential is such a strange thing. How do you really know if you’ve given it your all? If you had asked me in that moment if I was running as hard as I could I probably would’ve said yes. But yet, what would I do if I had looked over my shoulder to see I was being chased by a bear? Absolutely I would’ve found a higher gear! These things are all relative. But in that cool, dark morning with Paul as my only witness and cheerleader, I dug as deep as I could to finish those last few meters.

Stopped my watch. YAAAASSSS!

I was pretty pumped to see I hit my goal exactly bang on. It was a pretty decent improvement from my initial effort (considering I didn’t put that much work into getting there) and it was a good indication of how much harder I will have to work to take the next chunk of time off my new personal best.

I am tempted to share what my time was…but I won’t. Not because I’m not proud of it, I am. But rather because I am holding on to that time as my own subjective definition of fast. It’s my fast. Not yours. (Yeah you, whoever has read this far!) You probably have your own idea of ‘fast’ and how you stack up compared to the people around you. There’s not really anything wrong with that…but it’s a tricky balance to know how use that comparison to motivate you, not leave you feeling defeated if you don’t stack up. Mostly I want us all to take the notion of comparison out of the equation when it comes to our personal achievement. Everyone has a different edge of what fast means to them and that’s more then ok. In the end, its all about the journey. And while I don’t think I’m going to turn into a pace-obsessed road runner, it sure was fun to push like that so I can finally answer the question of how ‘fast’ I really am.

Run On: The Race that Almost Happened


Today was supposed to be my debut as a Race Director. We had it all planned out, the course mapped, the permits applied for, the website built and we were contacting sponsors to get the party started. The race is called Run On, and was to be held in Edmonton’s stunning river valley trail system when autumn leaves are at their best. I was nervous, but excited, knowing that it was all for a good cause and would be the start of a beautiful tradition in the Edmonton run community. Run On was to be in support of Amy’s House, a home away from home for out of town cancer patients to stay while they received treatments at one of the big hospitals in the city. Amy’s House has been open for a year already, named after my dear friend Amy Alain, who passed away from lung cancer at age 38, you can read her story here: Run Forever: In Memory of Amy Alain. The house has been full of grateful families this whole time, but we needed a long term fundraising plan to make it sustainable; and Run On was going to be an important piece of that fundraising puzzle.

Little did I know, in those early days while we were dreaming big about the possibilities for the run, that 2020 would turn out to be the absolute worst time to be a Race Director. We were all set to launch the race and have registration go live for March 20, 2020; the same week that we watched as one by one, events and gatherings were banned and full on Covid-19 lockdown sent us all spinning, scratching our heads at the insanity of a world shut down over something we didn’t yet understand the magnitude of. We decided to put registration on hold until April 1st, thinking that surely after Spring Break we could get back to normal life and back to event planning, but instead, over the next few weeks and months we saw every race, every event…well…everything, change. Race Directors all over Canada and the world were scrambling to save their carefully curated empires, coming up with virtual events or attempting to navigate regulations to still hold small in-person events. And while I loved participating in a virtual event (Quarantine Backyard Ultra: Just One More Lap) I knew I didn’t want to host one. So we remained optimistic with Alberta’s Phase 2 re-opening that allowed gatherings of up to 100 people with the possibility of things opening up more by the new school year.

I spent hours pouring over regulations from Alberta Health Services and talking to the City about event permits, hoping for a definitive answer to my question of whether or not we could proceed. The answers were vague. We could, but should we? Does it make sense to proceed with in-person events like we so desperately wanted to when the barriers seemed insurmountable? Was it irresponsible to bring people together during a pandemic even though we knew the risks of outdoor transmission among a physically distant crowd was slim? I knew I could make the event follow all the health guidelines relatively easily and could, in good conscious proceed with the race according to new guidelines, but the real problem was with our numbers and getting the permit approved. The city was firm on the cap on numbers for outdoor events. 100 people. And that had to include racers, volunteers and any one else that showed up that was affiliated with the event. As I thought through the implications of that, attempting to proceed sounded laughable. My family, and Amy’s husband and kids was already 8 people! Add on course marshals, and finish line and aid station volunteers, and timers and someone to hand out medals and our numbers of volunteers needed was getting astronomical. And that was before we had any racers accounted for! We quickly realized that proceeding with all three events (marathon, relay and 5km fun run) was impossible with those number restrictions. So we dropped the marathon and relay events, refunded the money to the racers already signed up, and decided to proceed with the fun run.

If I’m being honest, I never felt good about that either. While I loved the idea of supporting new runners to achieve their goals of completing a 5k, and wanted to put on an event that could bring together supporters of Amy’s House, what I really wanted was to host a challenging event for the run community that highlighted the gorgeous trails of our river valley. I wanted a big event that brought out all the mud and struggle and sweat that I love so much about trail events. I wanted the 5km family friendly fun run to be the teasing side dish to the main event; the trail marathon. So having to drop the marathon took the wind out of my sails. Not to mention the fact that the lower price point of the 5km event meant that even if we sold out at an underwhelming 80 participants, we wouldn’t be making much money for Amy’s House…and at the end of the day, making money was kinda the whole point of putting all this work in.

On top of all this, even at the end of August, Alberta Health Services was yet to get back to me about whether or not our ‘Covid plan’ for safely putting on the event was even approved, and we couldn’t get final event approval from the City until AHS gave us approval. And we were warned that AHS wasn’t getting to permit requests very quickly, some events were only getting their permits looked at a few days prior to the event meaning planners were left scrambling with only a few days to finalize details for their event. That all felt pretty overwhelming to me as a brand new Race Director.

Covid-19 and all the protocol has changed nearly every aspect of our lives. Most of us spend our work days differently now, we shifted to find new ways to educate our children, shopping habits are altered, our social lives have been rocked, our relationships challenged and our mental health put through the ringer. And all these changes have forced us all to re-evaluate…what is working, what doesn’t work and what is worth fighting to maintain in a world that is changing so rapidly? It’s kinda time to question everything isn’t it?

And so we found ourselves questioning Run On.

Nothing about moving forward as planned felt right. But it didn’t feel right to walk away either.

Phil (Amy’s husband and founder of Amy’s House) and I, spent many hours sitting on my front porch trying to figure out what we wanted to do, and honestly, the whole thing was causing me a lot of stress. We thought about what we wanted to accomplish: we wanted to raise money for Amy’s House, we wanted to honour Amy and we wanted a run on the trails.

And then something clicked.

We could do all those things without all the permits, uncertainty and the stress. So we came up with a plan that still allowed us to achieve everything we wanted and let us shelve our dreams of Run On 2020 and hope for better luck next year.

So what was this new plan? That I would run the entire course, invite friends to join me, and have people buy a guess, betting how long it would take me to finish the course.

So on September 27th, the day before what should have been Amy Alain’s 40th birthday, I put myself out there on social media way more then I am ever comfortable doing, and encouraged people to guess how long it would take me to run 40km. $10/guess and the winner got a sweet prize. We watched the money roll in to keep the doors of Amy’s House open.

The day turned out to be absolutely perfect. Our stunning September weather held warm and sunny, the vibrant leaves were on full display and the trails were perfectly dry. Exactly what we had envisioned for race day. I was joined by a dozen run friends for the first 10km loop. We were sent off by Phil and the kids, thanking everyone for coming and supporting our little endeavor. Back to the starting place for Loop 2 where many of the morning runners left and a smaller group of us set off on my favourite part of the course; on the technical bushwhacking fun of Two Truck Trail and Patricia and Wolf Willow Ravines. Loop 3 was down to just my friend Tess which was fitting as she was a good friend of Amy’s for many years, long before I even knew Amy. It felt like a great way to celebrate the impact she had on both our lives.

By the time I got back from Loop 3, a party had assembled at the Alfred Savage Centre, a fire was going and the table was full of snacks and cupcakes. Everyone cheered as we came in, and after a few quick hellos and stuffing my face with a few more snacks for the road, we headed out (joined by Keith this time too!) for the final 10km loop up and down the single track along the Whitemud Ravine. The trails that Amy particularly loved. The ones she ran to get to her cancer treatments at the Cross Cancer Institute. The ones where chickadees would land on her outstretched hand and where Phil, Adey and Christian go for walks when they need to feel close to her.

With just a few kms left I flipped on a Facebook Live video to talk while I ran. I talked about how life is precious, how Amy and her attitude towards life taught us all about living and loving big, I talked about how we wish she had made it to her 40th birthday and that this should be her birthday run and not a fundraiser for a house in her name. And I talked about how Amy’s House is paying it forward, bringing something pure, something beautiful into a world that doesn’t always make sense.

I was also starting to get tired. I realized the pressure of so many people watching me run, betting on how long it would take, waiting for me to finish, was no small feat. While it was a great way to spend the day, it was also a huge weight on my shoulders. Shoulders that have felt a whole lot of burden and uncertainty these last few months.

Truthfully? I’m tired.

Six months now of our world turned upside down. Of work, home life and relationships disrupted and top that off with an injury that rocked my summer (story here: Northover Ridge to Emergency Room) and it all has left me exhausted.

Thankfully, the secret to surviving, the secret to finishing those last few kilometers and persevering when it feels impossible, is always the same: Move forward, immerse yourself in nature, and surround yourself with people (Movement. Nature. People. Even in a Pandemic.).

The race course is supposed to end with coming down the Grandview stairs. The stairs we have applied to have a memorial bench for Amy installed, and the stairs she loved to do repeats on. However, in true 2020 fashion, they are under construction. Of course. So we came down the hill beside the stairs and ran towards the campfire, to the cheers of 40+ people waiting for our arrival. I had said I wasn’t gonna cry, but I choked up at the sight. All the months of planning, of stressing over Run On and trying to be a race director in a pandemic was over. And while it wasn’t what I had planned; I was supposed to be the one watching runners come in…not the one running the course… it was still a wonderful day.

The best part? We raised nearly $6000. More then the race would have raised had we proceeded as planned.

With a finishing time of 5:57:50 and a fantastic day on some of the best trails this city has to offer, shared with my amazing run community and a backdrop of supporters of Amy’s House, I think we did a pretty good job of making the most of this craziness.

I want this vision for Run On to move forward. I picture the perfect venue, gorgeous weather, completed stairs with Amy’s name on them. I believe we will have a sold out event, with families enjoying the trails on the fun run, new runners reaching their 5km goals and racers pushing for new personal bests on the relay and marathon event. I see myself holding a clipboard (don’t even know what it will have on it…but I’m gonna hold one!) and a megaphone at the finish line, announcing runners as they come in. I see hugs and high fives and a community brought together for a good cause.

We all thought 2020 sounded like a good year to make that all happen. Oh well.

2021 is sounding better and better already

Receive. Recover. Run

After my backcountry accident (Northover Ridge to Emergency Room) I was prepared for all kinds of possible outcomes. Aside from letting my stitched-up scalp heal, I was bracing for weeks, months, or even years of concussion recovery as well as having to process the emotional trauma from such a dramatic incident. But guess what? I was really wrong. Recovery has gone unbelievably well.

When I was still in the hospital, I had been told by a few people to accept help if people offered, that even though I am normally the one who jumps in to support others, that this was the time to receive instead. That sounded hard.

But if I can do hard things like run ultras and hike to safety with an exposed skull and be strong when they removed the drain from my head then surely I could accept help from loved ones right?

I had no idea how hard that would be.

To just receive.

Even while I was in the hospital I had friends and family caring for my children and dog, checking the house and offering to drive to Calgary to pick up my Jeep. And once I was home I was given meals and gifts (run swag and fuel!), garden produce and flowers, chocolate and wine and all kinds of other treats.

The hardest thing to receive though? Gifts of service. I love to do things for other people, but it’s so much harder to have others do things for you. A few close friends kept asking “what do you need?” and I meekly told them my hair was causing me so much stress and I didn’t feel I could deal with it myself. Between the accident and surgery and days laying in bed, my hair had developed a life of its own and formed mats and dreadlocks I simply couldn’t get out. A few friends worked for hours and hours to try to fix it and in the end, a very gracious hair stylist cut them out for me, leaving my hair a mess of shaved bits, short cut out sections and long pieces at the bottom. As if the support I had received wasn’t enough already, my amazing tribe of mom friends rallied together to take me shopping and buy me new hair to cover the spots. I protested there were real problems in the world that deserve their money… and then cried and remembered to simply accept their graciousness.

Another friend insisted on helping in some way and finally asked if she could come clean my house. No way. It was messy before the accident… I can’t accept that. She said she loved to clean and that a clean house would help me stay rested.

I took a deep breath and reminded myself to receive.

“Ok. Come and clean”

The day she came was the worst day during my recovery. I could barely get out of bed my head hurt so much. I struggled to maintain conversation but just couldn’t focus. She graciously told me to stop, to rest, to just let her clean.

One of the lowest, yet strangely beautiful moments of my life happened that afternoon. I fell asleep mid sentence while she was cleaning my toilet. I woke up four hours later and she had cleaned her way out of my house without a word.

Talk about humbling.

Just breathe. Receive.

And I had to remind myself of that all over again when my husband kissed the scar on my forehead and told me he loved me and was glad I was alive.

And again when a long line of run buddies offered to walk, then later run with me to make sure I was ok.

And again when the gifts and messages and acts of service kept coming and coming.

(I have the absolute best people in my life.)

I felt pretty rough for about a week, maybe 10 days. Headache, tired, sometimes dizzy and light headed. I fully expected that would mean I had a concussion and these were just the symptoms I would have to deal with for who knows how long. I was waiting for an appointment at the Glen Sather Concussion Clinic and was told to take it easy until then. Only light activity, no driving and let symptoms be my guide. But here’s the crazy thing, once I stopped taking the prescription pain meds most of my symptoms disappeared too. I started sleeping better and feeling more rested during the day and the occasional headache was manageable and passed quickly.

After one week I started going for walks and felt fine. So I rode a stationary bike and waited for symptoms to hit, but I felt fine. By two weeks out, I was running again. I know it sounds crazy, but such a dramatic injury was really just a scratch in the end. My brain is totally fine. (Ok a big scratch that left a big mark… but still)

Tania came to visit 10 days after the incident. The last time she saw me I was just home from the hospital, exhausted and a total mess. She told me she was still going ahead with the plan we had made earlier in the summer to run the following weekend in David Thompson country, and sort of asked if I was ok with that. I said “oh god yeah of course you should go!” And then followed with “and I think I should come too”

You should’ve seen the look she gave me. She thought I was nuts.

It felt too soon, she felt I wasn’t physically ready. I insisted I was. I felt fine. 90% of the way to normal. And I knew I wanted to get back out there. With September looming and being back to busy weekends and winter around the corner, I was worried that if I didn’t make it on this mountain run it could be a really long time before we got out there again. I knew I didn’t want to wait. I wanted to face those demons; the what if’s and anxiety and bursts of trauma that surfaced as I thought about what happened and what could have happened.

Overall I’ve been doing ok emotionally. I fully admit I had an incident in the hospital where panic got the best of me when it came time to pull the drain out of my head. And again when I woke up several times one night thinking I was falling… as if my body remembered something my mind did not. I also hesitated when I got into the passenger side of the Jeep for the first time since I was a bloody mess and going into shock. But overall, I had mostly been feeling gratitude for the people in my life and the fact I was still around to tell them I loved them.

Tania has done a great job of addressing her own trauma but we both still knew there was some unfinished business above the tree line.

She was hesitant. But I knew I was ready.

We talked it out and came up with a plan and off we went, heading west until our phones lost reception and it was just mountain peaks calling us.

Believe it or not I ran. We covered the Landslide Lake trail, from the Interpretive Trail side to Pinto Lake Staging area. 28km and 1300 m elevation gain, glorious blue skies and great company.

At the top of the pass, Tania and I went in for a hug that started as all smiles and quickly turned to belly deep gasps for breath and tears.

Am I ever thankful for her (and the rest of my loved ones!), for health and for the ability to run those trails another day.

A few kms past the pass, we were back down to the tenacious little trees of the high alpine and we came to a creek. It was peaceful, shallow and required just a few steps to cross it. Tania crossed without a thought, grateful for the cold water on her feet, but something about the sound gave me pause. I looked around for rocks that looked safe to step on…but felt stuck, crossing seemed too hard. Tania turned and saw I was hesitating, watched me pace a few meters up and down the creek looking for good rocks to step on. I was frozen. Couldn’t do it.

She stepped back into the creek, the water half way up her calf, and offered me a hand.

Ugh. Here I am again having to receive something that should be so easy for me to do alone.

I took her hand and stepped into the cold water; laughed at the absurdity of my fear, and crossed without difficulty.

Once again reminded that sometimes, no matter how strong I am, I need to accept help from others.

I truly believe it’s nothing short of a miracle that I walked off Northover Ridge alive on August 6th, and even more of a miracle that my injury turned out to be so minor and that I was back running within 12 days and back in the mountains within 16 days. I absolutely take that privilege seriously and remain grateful for every day I wake up with breath in my lungs and blood in my veins. Bonus that I have strong muscles that let me do what I love and loved ones that support me through it.

Oh… and the best part? I solved my hair crisis… thanks to some fake hair and an amazing stylist I have a cute new look!