Across Canada: Ontario

Vannessa awoke in a field of flowers and wild strawberries somewhere near Kenora, in the Canadian Shield off an abandoned quarry road. She had never looked so majestic, fearlessly taking on long stretch of road heading east over Lake Superior and towards Toronto.

I got to run along the road for a few kms before Kirk set out after me to pick me up and continue on our way. It’s a ridiculously long drive across the western part of Ontario, with only the occasional small town amidst miles of lakes and trees. Unlike the prairies, it is not even farmable land. Its just wilderness. Luckily, we had no problem breaking up the trip to take advantage of all that wildness had to offer. Stops were frequent at Kakabeka Falls, digging for Amethysts near Thunder Bay and Agawa Pictographs where we were rewarded with a short, cliff side hike to find ancient drawings of mythical creatures and (equally terrifying) moose.

On another detour to Ouimet Canyon, we found sheer drop-off rock faces in a glacial carved canyon we of course had to scream into to hear the echo. Thankfully the only other people out there were good sports and were happy to be a part of our ridiculous sound experiment.

Of course, we had to pause in Thunder Bay to make my pilgrimage to the Terry Fox monument. Learning about what he did had a huge impact on me, even as a young kid. I just love that he decided to do something no one else was doing back then, and to do it for a good cause. He really paved the way for runners all across Canada to re-think what the human body is capable of, and helped lay the foundation for where the sport of ultra running is today. I admit, I got a little choked up.

Onwards for a night in Neys Provincial Park where we really lucked out and scored a campsite right on the beach of Lake Superior, catching a sunset over the unusually calm waters.

Before the trip, we asked the kids what their top bucket list item was. Levi said he wanted to swim in every Great Lake and I accepted the challenge for myself too. And you probably know that I am not a fan of water, so agreeing to his wish was definitely one of those things you do for your kids and not for yourself! After an early morning run, we did a polar plunge in Lake Superior to kick off the Great Lake Swim challenge, and I must admit, it felt pretty amazing.

The kids searched for egg shaped rocks at Stone Beach in Marathon while Kirk shared his memory of spending a day in the town while his dad fixed their van back in ’95. Kirk has been constantly monitoring Vannessa to make sure she is still doing ok with all these miles, adjusting a vacuum hose on the carburetor is about all that she has needed so far. No reliving that childhood memory, not today.

Not today.

We popped north to hit up Sudbury to relive one of my fond childhood memories of going to the Nickel mine and getting kitchy pictures with the giant nickel. Unfortunately, the tour into the mine only had four spaces left so Kirk and the kids went, but I was quite happy to fill my time with a sunny run along Ramsey Lake, making it back in time for a said picture.

My mom sent me the picture of my brother and I at the Nickel in ’94, and I was struck how memory shifts and changes with time. For some reason, I remember Sudbury, yet I don’t recall going on the boat under Niagara Falls. When Kirk went to Niagara, they did not go on the boat, rather they opted to walk behind the falls instead, an omission that has stuck in his memory for 27 years. Makes me wonder what our kids will remember about Ontario and this trip. Will they recall the expensive trip up the CN Tower at night or will they remember the absurd panorama pictures we took at the lookout near Agawa that had us laughing hysterically? Will their recollections of the drive be about looking out the window alternating between boredom and awe or has Youtube and their devices robbed them of the way we experienced road trips before the Internet?

From Sudbury we re-routed south again on the recommendation from a friend that the ferry to Manitoulin Island was well worth the trip. I concur.

Oddly, with the price of fuel, we likely saved money by choosing ferry fees over driving, and it gave us a nice change of pace to cruise over Lake Huron hanging off the ferry railings to feel the breeze instead of bouncing along in Vannessa and struggling with both hands to crank the window open if you want to feel the breeze.

All we knew about Bruce Peninsula was that there was some Grotto we needed to find, so after navigating a Parks Canada reservation nightmare that secured us a parking spot in a nearly empty parking lot (seriously, what was that all about?) we hiked down a trail following signs to ‘Grotto’ and hoping the effort paid off. Yep. It did. Turquoise waters, cliff jumping and swimming into caves for a couple hours had us all pretty elated with our choice. Tegan and Levi showed bravery they definitely get from Kirk and not me, by jumping off cliffs into the cold water below. I was happy enough to watch and climb the cliffs above.

Darkness chased us out of the park to a deserted town with no food options and we were starving and low on groceries. We found a vending machine that cooks and serves pizza in under three minutes that was both wildly delicious and entertaining. What a time to be alive.

While on a run the next morning, I found a snake on the road that was strangely still in the cool morning air. I REALLY wanted to poke him to see if he was alive. A quick google search rewarded my pre-frontal cortex override as I realized I had the privilege of stumbling upon the rare Mississauga Rattle snake, Ontario’s only venomous snake.

Look at me, dodging death yet again.

While the kids still slept in the back, we continued on to Sauble Beach to find warmer waters of Lake Huron for our next Great Lakes swim. Katie woke, all bleary eyed in the kind of adorable beach town she has only seen in cheaply made coming-of-age movies and asked if she was in a fever-dream because it was all so perfect. I assured her she was very much in reality and sang Hamilton to her to remind her how lucky she is to be alive right now. Sensing a theme?

Pretty lucky.

Our day ended with the required touristy visit to Niagara falls where we fulfilled Kirk’s missed childhood opportunity and took the boat right into the heart of Horseshoe falls to get soaked by the spray. We spend a lot of time chasing waterfalls on our many travel adventures and Niagara falls is definitely one of the most impressive I’ve seen, and yes the fancy promenades, gaudy Clifton Street and the dramatic light and firework show at night were cool, but we were feeling a little overwhelmed with the crowds. We got some great pictures, and then got ourselves out of there.

The next day, we back tracked to Port Dover to hit up another cute beach town, this time to swim Lake Erie. It was a hot weekend, and the beach had a party vibe going on which was fun while it lasted, but then it was time for boutique thrift store shopping and ice cream which was a page right out of Katie’s beach life fantasy.

We had booked tickets to go up the CN tower that evening and have given ourselves plenty of time to get there, which is a good thing because the 401 into Toronto is exactly as bad as reputation has it. Vannessa was brave, and Kirk is a phenomenal driver and together they navigated us to the heart of Toronto. The next adventure was finding a place to park, and our scheduled ticket time was quickly approaching. Vannessa circled, holding her own against the rude Toronto drivers, bumping high rise scaffolding with her wide mirrors until we found a lot that would take us…for a small fortune. But this was not the time to negotiate rates. The sun was going down and our elevator ride was ready to take us up. Our timing was impeccable, and we caught a gorgeous clear sky sunset and watched the lights of the city come out, staying until nearly everyone else left so we could enjoy the views without the crowds. Sure, the Toronto skyline is cool, but our favourite was when we spotted Vannessa tucked into her downtown lot, waiting patiently for us to return.

Another perfect night. Lucky us.

But we certainly couldn’t stay in the heart of Toronto overnight, so Vannessa (and Kirk) hauled our tired kids out of downtown and to the closest Walmart for a parking lot sleep. We ended up using parking lots instead of finding campgrounds or crown land quite a bit in Southern Ontario which worked out really well, again affirming we made the right choice by going with our darling Vannessa instead of camping. We put up with her furnace cover that falls off when we hit a bump and her fender that disintegrated when Kirk tried to screw it back on. We love her not despite her flaws, but because of them.

One more lake to go on this section of our trip, so we stopped in Kingston to visit the Gord Downie Memorial Pier, swim in Lake Ontario and throw a football around on the beach.

Ontario ended with an iconic visit to Parliament hill in Ottawa on a perfectly warm summer evening. Thankfully, no freedom convoy blocking our way, just some construction. We wandered around the grounds as the sun set and laughed as the kids tried to remember all they had learned in social about the government.

Turns out, not much.

However, every summer evening there is a light show projected on the Parliament building that does a great job covering some highlights of Canadian history. It was the perfect mix of entertaining and educational and had us all in goosebumps when the anthem played at the end. I was especially impressed with the attention paid to Indigenous groups, and the acknowledgment of genocide against them, with hope for reconciliation moving forward. It was a nice reminder that Canada is certainly not perfect, but there is still so much to love despite the many imperfections.

Kinda like Vannessa. Kinda like our family.

We wandered the locks of the Rideau Canal in the dark while the sounds of Alanis Morisette preforming at the Ottawa Blues Fest drifted through the summer air before setting our sights on La Belle Province ahead.

Pretty lucky to be alive right now, right?

Photo Dump ahead

Across Canada: Manitoba

Our first night in Manitoba, we stopped at some ungodly hour way past my bedtime at a trailhead parking lot off the side of the highway. The best thing about Vannessa is that we are completely self-sufficient when we need to be. Well stocked with food and water, a bathroom, kitchen and comfy beds, she is making this a pretty luxurious trip and so convenient for when we want to stop and sleep yet we find ourselves in the middle of rural Manitoba.

Our first stop was Winnipeg, another city we are pretty familiar with because when Kirk and I were first together we frequently drove there to visit friends. Weirdly, most of those trips were in the dead of winter for New Years Eve parties, so seeing Winnipeg all thawed out and green was a nice surprise. Of course, we played “One Great City” by the Weakerthans on repeat and educated our kids on the political climate of early 2000’s and the influence of the Canadian EMO scene. Katie rolled her eyes and asked if we could switch it back to Taylor Swift. When we ignored her, she put her headphones back in and that was the end of her lesson on Winnipeg.

Our original unplanned ‘plan’ was to head to Grand Beach for the day, and end at the Forks for the evening. However, the pouring rain had us asking friends and the internet for good alternatives. Of course, it was a Monday, and the Human Rights Museum was closed, so that wasn’t an option either, and the Forks is best experienced on a nice day when you can enjoy walking around outside. We snapped a soggy picture of the Legislature grounds but weren’t feeling too inspired by much else in the city.

However, the Canadian Mint sounded pretty cool, so we checked out a tour there and learned all kinds of interesting stories like the time they minted a giant $1 million coin and then one of the security guards stole it with the help of his two thieving brothers and a wheelbarrow. They caught them, but never found the coin, and it is now worth over $8 million in gold value alone. So, everyone keep an eye out for someone trying to make change with an unusually large coin and promptly report them to authorities. Or give them their change and turn around to make $8 million.

I don’t judge.

While impatiently waiting for my kids to buy trinkets in the gift shop (I am not into trinkets), I flipped open Facebook to see that our friends Jeff and Deanna from Vegreville (Vannessa’s hometown!) were hanging out in Winnipeg too and had time to kill before their flight so we arranged to meet at the famous BDI (Bridge Drive In) for some decadent ice cream which in my opinion is a way better way to waste your money then on trinkets. Trinkets get thrown in the garbadge but that much ice cream lives with you in your arteries for the rest of your life, solidifying those memories until you die.
What is it about being in another city that makes seeing someone from close to home more fun and
makes ice cream taste so much better?

With the rain still coming down heavy and the forecast shifting in the wrong direction to make for a beach day, we decided to put a pin in Manitoba and catch all the sights on the way back through.

Heading east out of Winnipeg was the first time this trip that things started to feel a little more unfamiliar. Leaving the prairies is a bit like leaving home, and felt like there was a lot of unknowns ahead of us.

Oh Hello Ontario.

Across Canada: Saskatchewan- Land of the Living Skies

Mountains are my siren song for adventure, but there is something about the big prairie skies of
Saskatchewan that feel like home. They also make me sing that Chicks song “Wide Open Spaces” at the top of my lungs while my kids yell at me to please stop with the country music.

When I was 14, I left my rural Alberta roots behind to go to a private school in Caronport, Saskatchewan, trading one not so great small-town influence for a healthier one a province away. I spent four years living in a dorm with my friends and going home only on holidays. I was the worst player on our soccer team, but it was where I first figured out that running wasn’t punishment, it was freedom. I distinctly remember the moment I looked down at my legs, somewhere on a flat gravel road without a soul in sight, and thought how good it felt to just run. The prairies were where I figured out so much about who I am, and although a lot of that feels unfamiliar to me now, those were formative years. So when we rolled Van-nessa across the border I knew we were in for the kind of subtle beauty only prairie kids seem to understand.

Our stop in Saskatoon was more practical then touristy, Costco, fuel, laptop chargers with 12Volt adapters (cause it never occurred to me I would need that) and a couple hours at a Starbucks with the Wifi I needed to finish a paper for school. So far, no one else was impressed with this province.
There was some excitement however as we made the first turn out of Costco and our newly purchased Shepherds Pie came flying out the fridge and splayed upside down across the floor. Side note: RV fridges come with locks. We know this now.

By early evening we pulled into Buffalo Pound Provincial park where we were treated to a stunning sunset and an onslaught of ticks that left us all a little rattled until we learned the chances of them giving us Lyme disease was pretty slim. Lucky for me, the park has several km of perfectly flowy single track with surprising amounts of elevation up and down the valley, so I snuck out early for a run and came
back pretty happy, and of course covered in ticks. Erm….gross.

And then things got flat and desolate.

Wide open spaces.

My family indulged my walk down memory lane with a detour to Caronport to wander around, peaking into the windows of the pottery studio that looks exactly as I left it 22 years ago, and wondering why everything suddenly seemed so much smaller then I remembered it. I totally pulled that old person stunt of sharing memories that no one else cares about but that you must tell because they are bursting out of you. The tolerated me only because we bought ice cream before heading back on the road through Moose Jaw where Kirk ran a stop sign and had to slam on the breaks, testing Vannessa to her limits and sending Katie sprawling. She’s a beast that can stop on a dime, its just not very pretty when she does.

Shepherds Pie remained in the fridge that time. Thank you for asking.

More stories of my youth as we went through Moose Jaw and Regina to see the beautiful Legislature Grounds and Wascana Lake.

Back onto Highway 16 where southeastern Saskatchewan stretched out forever in front of us with only some wind turbines and lonely trees to interrupt.

Then two lonely figures appeared on the horizon. The ultra running community is pretty small, so I think it’s safe to call Dave a friend, but really he’s an ultra running icon and one of the reasons I decided to run Sinister 7 100 miler in 2019. My first time going to Sinister in 2015, I watched Dave Proctor finish the 100-miler setting a course record and crushing a beer right after. I was shocked that anyone could do that, much less that anyone could look so calm while doing so. That was when I decided I wanted to do that too.

This summer, Dave is going for the record for the fastest time running across Canada. He runs 107km a day and plans to finish in 67 days. I knew that he would be somewhere in Saskatchewan and that there was a chance we would cross paths, but we definitely didn’t plan for this encounter. As soon as I saw him and his pacer Mike, I threw my run clothes on and begged Kirk to turn around to drop me off to run
with them for a bit. I hopped out on the side of the highway and ran to meet them, trying to keep my fan-girl gushing to a minimum. He shared some stories of the road with me as semi’s roared past uncomfortably close. Thankfully the shoulders there were wide, but he said there were places out east where the shoulders were brutal to run on, and likely caused him to have a broken pinky toe. I know you should never meet your heros, but hanging out with Dave was anything but disappointing. His humility
and strength are inspiring. Still calm like the first time I saw him race, but now with a sort of wisdom you can only find 50 days into a 67 day long run. We came up to Vannessa within 4km and he paused for a quick picture with the kids on the side of the road, before continuing on for his last few kms for the day.

My kids are pretty used to hearing stories of crazy ultrarunners (including ANOTHER friend of mine, also named Dave who got the record for running a half marathon with 70 t-shirts on!) so I’m not sure they understand the significance of that encounter. Maybe one day it will sink in.

We were treated to another perfect prairie sunset as we posed in front of the welcome to Saskatchewan sign where we got to experience the “Land of the Living Skies” in all its glory. Then we continued on the flattest back country roads you have every seen, taking the scenic route into Manitoba as the sky grew dark behind us.

Schultz’s Cross Canada: B.C., Alberta and getting Van-nessa ready

It was the 90’s. Two awkward teens travelling east with their families. One named Kirk, in a Chevy van with a bed in the back, on a mission to get to Prince Edward Island to see family in 1995. One named Janelle, in a navy-blue Chevy Celebrity with camping gear jammed in every corner, on a mission to find the Atlantic in 1994.

Ok, so you probably really don’t care about our worn-out childhood stories of family vacations, but I share that tidbit to say that both Kirk and I really wanted to take our kids on a similar adventure now that they were at the perfect age for travelling. I remember that trip as one of the last big adventures we went on all together. After that summer, my travels were mostly with friends, or backpacking trips with my dad and brother that my mom opted out of. By 16 I was in Ecuador, then working summer camps, and by 18, I was off travelling Europe which is where I met Kirk. Summer of ’94/’95 Cross Canada was a defining trip for both Kirk and I so it felt symbolic to re-create that with our own family.

This trip was planned for 2020, then 2021, and although we made the most of those summers with local trips and lots of mountain time, we were sickened to watch our window of opportunity quickly narrowing thanks to a pandemic far outside our control. Our babies are growing up too fast. Katie is 15, which means that her subsequent summers will be filled with her own friends, jobs, and travel stories that won’t involve her parents as much. Already she is balking at many of the things we do together. So, with restrictions completely gone and our collective return to happier days, we jumped at the chance to make the Schultz Family Cross Canada Road Trip become a reality.

Our trip sort of started this April when we put our feet in the Pacific Ocean on Kitscoty beach while on a trip to Vancouver for Diez Vista 50k. We drove there in our truck with the bikes on the back and stayed in an Air Bnb.

We knew that hotel stays are outside our budget for the eastern part of our journey, and our preferred option to camp felt like a logistical nightmare, (not to mention the agony of a month of crappy tent sleeping). With a goal departure date of July 1st, that left us with 3 months to come up with a plan for how we were going to get to the Atlantic. We looked into truck rooftop tents, Thule for our Jeep, pulling a trailer, but nothing felt right.  After a few days going down the Kijiji rabbit hole, we found Harry from Vegreville and his 1981 Chevy Class ‘C’ van. For a steal of a price and a lot of vision for her potential, we named our new RV ‘Classy Van-nessa’ and set about making her our new home.

It was a team effort, but who are we kidding it was mostly Kirk. Finding time in our already busy June proved to be difficult but by some miracle we managed to turn her into a stunningly gorgeous home on wheels with fresh paint, new flooring, new hardware, re-upholstered cushions (thanks to my mom), some seat covers and the finishing decorative touches by Katie and Tegan. I really don’t know how we did it, but after a frantic day of packing, we were on the road by about 8pm on July 1st with no plan other then to head east.

We were definitely wondering if we were doing the right thing. Gas prices are astronomical, and Van-Nessa is a thirsty girl, and we don’t even know how reliable she is. Kirk didn’t feel he had enough time to do as much of the maintenance work he would have liked to do to ensure she was running at her potential. And of course the usual anxieties about all the ‘what if’s’ that could go wrong, my biggest concern being that we may never see my sweet puppy Bruno again. He’s getting pretty old and his stress tolerance is low. Although he thought he should come with us, there is no way it would work to take him along. It kills me to know his time with us is limited, but we knew that he would be well cared for by Kirk’s mom. We just have to keep reminding ourselves that there will never be a perfect time. Sometimes you have to create your own opportunities and do it. Do it now, do it now, do it now. We won’t get these days back.

As we drove away that first night, hungry, a little disorganized but so happy to finally be on the road, I settled in to enjoy that sense of wonder to embrace the unknown. We only went as far as Wainwright, AB where we parked in front of Kirk’s sister’s house to surprise her. After finishing up a few of the reno projects like hanging miniblinds at 11 pm so we didn’t put on a show for her neighbours, we grabbed snacks from our well stocked cupboards and went out onto the street in the cool summer night to watch the Canada Day fireworks set off from the base. I knew the kids were tired, God knows I was too, yet there they were, dancing in the street, laughing and antagonizing each other as siblings do. Time to let go of the busy-ness and the demands. Time to dance and laugh.

Ah. Yes. This. This is why. This is worth it. We won’t get this back, but we sure hope for a lot more to come.  

The next morning, I snuck out for a run around the army base, had a quick coffee with Sarena, and then we were on the road again, Saskatchewan in our sights. Stay tuned…

Diez Vista 50K: Moving up an age category

Everyday we get to age, is a privilege.

Sit with that thought for awhile.

If you have recently reached a milestone year, or have experienced a health crisis, or have suffered a loss that reminds you that life is fragile then maybe you already know this. More importantly, maybe you already live this. There’s a quote by someone old and wise that I really like, that goes something to the effect of “You get two lives, and the second one starts when you realize you only have one.”

Or wait, was it Mackelmore that said that? Hmmm no he said you die twice.

 Either way, there’s some pretty powerful truth in knowing that we only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, this opportunity comes once in a lifetime.

Ok, that’s Eminem. I’m gonna stop quoting white rappers and move on to tell my own story.

I turned 40 this month. And to celebrate, I ran one helluva trail race called Diez Vista 50K in Port Moody, B.C. I wasn’t really planning on doing this for my milestone birthday, in fact, I had meant to do this in 2020 but, well, you know what happened. Two years later, and I was feeling pretty fortunate that it coincided so nicely with my fortieth birthday weekend. An early spring getaway to find some green trails sounded like the perfectly irresponsible thing to do. So that’s exactly what we did.

Need for Speed: Every Tuesday at 5:30 am

I was hoping that my Tuesday morning speed work all winter with Need for Speed would pay off and I could deliver a super fast 50k. But in truth, I haven’t had the best winter of training and wasn’t feeling overly confident. Some hormone issues, related weight gain and a few concerning incidents with my heart had shaken my confidence a bit. I’m working with a cardiologist and naturopath to sort things out and I’m confident that a few lifestyle changes will help, but it definitely didn’t leave me feeling all that quick for race day.

I decided early on that I wasn’t going to let that deter me from enjoying the day. With such a deep field of B.C. runners used to technical trails and tons of elevation, I certainly didn’t expect to finish near the podium anyway. Afterall, the whole purpose of the trip was to celebrate being alive for forty years, no one cares how fast I am other then me, so ultimately it was up to me to just let that go and choose to enjoy the race.  

I spent my actual birthday (April 8th) with my family, wandering Stanley Park trails, eating donuts at Granville Island, going to the Vancouver Aquarium and eating sushi without thinking about the cute fishes from earlier. It was a fantastic day, but I was eager to get to sleep at a decent time for some pre-race rest. I was tucked into my bed and nearly asleep, while the kids and Kirk watched Brooklyn 99 in the living room of our Air BnB, when I heard some shuffling around outside and the door of my room open.


There was Tania! My best friend and run wife had flown from Edmonton to surprise me for my birthday weekend and to volunteer at the race! I was a little confused, very delighted and not to sure if any of it was real until the next morning when I realized it wasn’t all a dream, she was really there, and it was time to hit the trails.

Other then some small local races like BarKaKoo, it has been a really long time since I’ve toed the line at a big mountain trail race with hundreds of runners. Sinister 100 miler might have even been the last time I felt that stomach churning, ‘bring on the adventure’ pre-race nerves! I reminded myself to start conservatively so that I was doing more passing then getting passed, and to settle into a pace I could sustain for the full 50k. That is easier said then done when you’re engulfed in the energy of 300+ other racers and the sun is shining, but by the time the first few kms were done, we had crossed the peaceful bridge of Sasamat Lake and started the first major climb, I was happy with my place in the pack and was warm and ready to work.

And wow, was it ever a lot of work. The race has 2000+m elevation gain, most of it on quite technical, rooty, rocky, mossy glorious B.C. trails. The first big climb was pretty grueling, but extremely rewarding with a ‘summit to sea’ view of lower mainland and beyond. No time to stop for a picture though. No way I was gonna lose my place in line after all that hard effort. I was feeling strong and steady on the uphill; young and agile as a twenty-year-old. But once I started the steep descent on those same technical trails, I was feeling like a little old lady picking my way carefully down and choosing my steps wisely. I used to be a lot more confident on the descent, but ever since my accident, I have noticed I’m more cautious, afraid of a fall and its negative consequences. A few people started to pass me, mostly young males full of ego and no fall trauma to contend with. Although, at least one guy definitely earned some trauma that day when his reckless descents cost him a couple bloody knees. Welcome to the traumatized old lady club buddy.

Seeing Tania as course marshal on the trail brought a fresh surge of energy, as did seeing another Edmonton friend Dan at the front of the pack and already returning from the out and back section. I caught up to another Edmonton guy, who I had never met before but he was wearing and Attitude Over Altitude shirt, which is a dead giveaway that we should probably be friends. Throughout the day I had also been playing leapfrog with a girl with a blonde ponytail that I thought looked pretty strong out there, so I made it my goal to keep her in sight. After the out and back, I knew she wasn’t too far ahead but that I had better keep working if I wanted to stick close. I was still feeling great at the 40k mark and was even passing several people who had perhaps gone out too fast and were feeling the toll that distance starts to take. This again reminded me that I may not be the fastest, but I sure like going far.

Last aid station down. One small(ish) climb and a few km to go. I knew the next female was only a few hundred meters behind me but hadn’t seen anyone else on the trail in awhile. Then I caught a glimpse of blonde-ponytail girl (gah, I miss having a long ponytail!) and Ted Lasso’d myself for kickin ass and hitting my goal of ‘don’t lose pony-tail girl’.  I caught up, and we start chatting with usual pleasantries about how the race was going and how we must be close to being done. As the conversation turned to the next stage of ‘where are you from?’  we were both pretty pumped to realize not only were we both from Edmonton, and both leaders of local run groups (Laura leads Wildrose Runners and I lead Trail Sisters), but that we had, in fact, met each other before but just didn’t recognize each other. Our excited chit chat made those last kilometers sail by and we finished the race together. If you are wondering if this makes us bonded for life, the answer is yes. We should probably get matchy Diez Vista tattoos.

Most of the race pictures from the day, show me with a big stupid grin on my face cause that is pretty much how I felt all day. I was just so happy out there in those beautiful, mossy B.C. forests. The icing on my big old metaphorical 40th birthday race cake was finishing with Laura, Tania on course, my family at the finish line, Edmonton friends, a BBQ burger, winning a Solomon run pack and race director Gary Robbins and everyone on White Pine beach singing me Happy Birthday.

What an absolute privilege it is to get to live another day.

What a privilege to level up to a new age category (and finish 3rd in F40-49!).

And what a privilege it is to keep putting one foot in front of the other through the forest.

Kirk is also privileged that he is able to continue aging. Especially because he does ridiculous stunts like this while I’m out running ☺️

Trail Sisters: Best Run of the Week

Sometime in late spring of 2021, I was asked by Tess and Laura to join them in leading Trail Sisters Edmonton. It is a group of female trail runners that meets every Thursday evening to run 5-7km through our incredible river valley. The logical part of me protested loudly with every excuse, most of them quite valid. Working full time, raising three kids, plowing through my Masters degree, race directing, and chauffeuring kids to sports practices most nights is a lot, and taking on another commitment didn’t sound like a good idea.

But, underneath the excuses, was this quiet voice that said:

Do it.

This is good.

Good things are worth the effort.

I had already been attending most of the weekly Trail Sisters runs for nearly a year, and was loving the community. It quickly became a place for me to show up as I was, sometimes feeling tired and broken, sometimes energetic and joyful. Always grateful. Even if the group run wasn’t doing much for my training goals due to the shorter distance and beginner pace, the trail time was doing important work in the parts of me that needed a safe place to simply be a part of something bigger then myself. Also, the philosophy of the group so beautifully aligns with so many of my values, its easy to get behind something when it checks all those boxes.

Our Trail Sisters Edmonton Chapter is a small part of a much bigger group that is all over North America and its mission is simple: To increase womxn’s participation and opportunity in trail running and hiking through inspiration, education and empowerment.

Movement. Nature. Community. See? That’s a good thing worth saying yes to.  

It hasn’t been the easiest time to start a running group. Our friend Keri and Tess first launched Trail Sisters in the summer of 2020, and the group rode the waves of lockdowns and restrictions of the pandemic. In the darkest weeks, when life felt uncertain and restrictions were as tight as ever, our group runs were sometimes as small as three of us. Sometimes we cancelled the group runs entirely, even though running outside in the cold presents minimal risk of transmission and massive payoff for good health in every way possible. As restrictions lifted and the weather warmed, our numbers grew to thirty or forty women each week and we split into two or three groups, off in different directions at different paces to accommodate all abilities. We added Julia, a long-time friend and running enthusiast to the leadership team, giving us lots of options for leaders to handle large groups or to fill in when one of us couldn’t make it.

Every single week, I was reminded about how important our little group runs are. Stories on the trails each week of women overcoming isolation, injury, anxiety and burn out and saying ‘yes’ to taking time for themselves, bravely showing up to meet new people and try something new. Trail conversation oscillates between running goals, to ridiculous laughter and back again to heartfelt conversations about the tough stuff in life. Whispers of struggling marriages and broken hearts, the ache of parenting in a pandemic, stories of grief and loss, rebirth and fresh starts. Tales of quiet bravery with a splash of rage and a whole lotta hope. Cause that’s what us women do best.  Hope for better, and then get out there and build towards better. And when a group of diverse women come together to unconditionally support each other, amazing things happen.

Laura leads our ‘Learn to Run’ group, doing a consistent 5 km loop with a gentle mix of double wide and single track and run/walk breaks. I lead what we call the ‘adventure group’ offering a bit of a faster pace, often longer distance (closer to 7km) and living up to our name of being adventurous. The rules are simple: Show up, introduce yourself, don’t get behind the designated sweep and call out if you think you are lost (you probably aren’t and we are watching out for you!) On weeks we have lots of runners and an extra leaders we even offer a ‘half and half’ group that falls somewhere in between the two groups. We’ve also branched out beyond our Thursday night routine. We put together enough volunteers from our group to course marshal the run course at World Triathlon this summer and we even took a day trip to Nordegg to run/hike Mount Coliseum, providing an opportunity for a few women to reach their first mountain summit. Every week, we feature a “Buddy Bench” where you can post your run plans if you’re looking for other women to run with. This is how community is built. Put yourself out there, show up, give back.

Community is an elusive thing. In our very independent society, you can get away with very little social connection and still survive, and I think a lot of people have gotten used to that during the pandemic. But once you find your place with a group, and realize what it is like to be a part of something, you understand the value of connection and a supportive community. It’s messy, it takes courage, but it’s worth it. I love our Edmonton run community, and Trail Sisters is an integral part of it.

As the temperatures dropped again, so did our numbers. Despite our efforts to educate new winter runners on how to dress and wear the right shoes, cold weather running is intimidating even to seasoned veterans. It took me many years of running to embrace year-round outdoor runs, so I don’t blame people for not showing up on cold nights. These last few weeks we have been just a handful of hearty souls bundling up each week and posting frosty face pictures to show that the trails are still there and still gorgeous, even in the dark winter nights.

After our last Trail Sisters of the year, we went out for nachos and beer to celebrate a successful year on the trails. Our ragtag effort at leadership, spread between four ultra-busy, ultra-running moms, has paid off and our community has grown into a mighty force on the trails.

I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished together and value my relationship with my co-leaders so much. As long as I keep hearing from women that they have been watching us on the Facebook Group and finally mustered the courage to show up and run with us, I am happy to keep showing up, leading the adventure and sharing my love of running.

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.


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.