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.

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!

Northover Ridge to Emergency Room

Warning: this story starts out nice and ends a little gruesome. Brace yourself.

Nothing about this trip seemed to be going as planned from the start. Hell, nothing about this year has gone as planned though has it?! Originally we wanted to tackle the Canmore Quad to celebrate Tania’s birthday (run up four mountains in one day) but one of the trails had been shut down the day before so we scrapped that idea. Some Strava creeping and intel gathering led us to Northover Ridge figure eight trail in Kananaskis instead, a place both Tania and I were eager to spend more time exploring. We hit the highway just as the sun cracked orange over the horizon, promising beautiful Mountain View’s on the drive. We parked at Upper Kananaskis Lake and did a quick cruise-y 12k circumnavigation of the lake before turning into the backcountry to head up to Three Isle lake. There we were met with peaceful mountain lake views and a meandering trail through an alpine meadow before we began the grueling ascent up a very steep and sketchy shale slope that took us to the infamous ridge. The forecasted storm had started to blow in earlier than we expected and the wind was gusting pretty fierce up there. But these are the moments that make it worth it. There is something wildly exhilarating about being so high up, taking in such incredible views, in a place your own strong body could get you to and feeling the full force of nature. It leaves you feeling simultaneously incredibly small in a vast and powerful earth, and incredibly powerful and alive. At 2800m we were pretty much on top of the world with snow capped mountains as far as the eye could see in every direction. Even the strong wind couldn’t wipe the smiles off our faces as we carefully made our way across the incredibly long ridge traverse with steep drops and snow fields/glaciers on either side.

By the time we started our descent, I admit I was ready to get down. Mountain top experiences are great, but those are not the places we were meant to stay. It would keep our adrenal systems in overload if we did. Time in the literal and figurative meadow and tree lined trails bring a different aspect of safety and peace we need for balance. By this time the wind had brought with it cold rain that soaked us through as we made our way down the steep shale and snow fields on the other side.

This was where I discovered my first mistake of the day. My shoes. I opted to wear my new favourites, my Nike Wildhorse instead of my typical preference, Altra Lone Peaks. I had set those aside lately after an injury that may have been linked to problems in my chronically weak right ankle, made worse by Altra’s zero drop and minimal design with not a lot of ankle stability. Yet while Wildhorses offer great ankle stability, they have pathetic tread for a trail shoe. As soon as I stepped onto the first snow field I realized those shoes weren’t going to allow me to stay upright and run down like Tania was able to in her Solomon’s with better grip. I quickly adapted a strategy I’ve perfected after a lifetime of skiing, a childhood of figure skating lessons and years winter running… I drop down low to the snow with one foot out front with the heel dug in acting as a brake (think pistol squat or ‘shoot the duck’ in figure skating!) and the other foot tucked under my bum acting as the ski, and both hands out for balance. It works great to get down snowy slippery hills with max control and decent speed without the risk of falling from standing height. Here’s the thing though. It only works on downhill snow, not a snow traverse. But we’re getting to that.

After a rain soaked hour or so of carefully picking our way down the mountain we were happy to be back to the protection of the tree line as we skirted Aster Lake and continued dropping down though easier forest trails.

The trail spit us out onto another steep, rocky mountainside we had to traverse to get down to Hidden Lake and back to Upper Kananaskis Lake where we were parked. Only 9km and 500m descent to go. I was mindful of the time because I had told my husband Kirk to call Search and Rescue if he didn’t hear from us by 6pm and it was almost 4 already. We stopped to admire the view, snapped a gorgeous photo of the lakes in all their turquoise glory with a hint of a rainbow showing in the sun and kept picking out way carefully over the rocks.

I wish this story ended with us cruising out of there, laughing and celebrating another successful mountain run. I wish Tania never had to witness what happened next and I wish I didn’t have this wicked scar to remember my next error. But life doesn’t always work out that way does it? Accidents can happen in the blink of an eye and no matter how many times we go back to question the what if’s and the how’s, it won’t change anything. I simply have to accept what happened and move forward. Just like running. One step at a time.

So what happened next?

We came up to a smallish patch of snow, maybe 20 feet wide and 30 feet long that we had to traverse. It was clear that was where the trail went and there were several fresh footprints there already. Above us, to the right, was a small waterfall that went under the snow and I assume rocks beneath it. To our left, below the snow, was a drop of maybe 8 ft into a rocky creek bed fed by the waterfall above us. Tania fearlessly made her way across the snow and I was not far behind, moving cautiously, knowing my shoes were more slippery then hers. But only a few steps in and I lost control. I slid slowly at first and quickly dropped low to hug the snow and tried to dig my feet and hands into the icy crystals to stop myself. But it wasn’t enough. The slope was quite steep and I started to slide faster and faster. I said something to Tania and our eyes locked for a terrifying second. I hope to god she looked away after that. I looked down to assess where I was going to fall and brace for impact. It was clear I was dropping off that 8ft snow ledge into the creek below.

The next several seconds are erased from my memory.

The next thing I remember is staring down at the water I was standing in, looking at the shiny silver trigger pen from my bear banger. I could hear music, sort of like chimes and wondered where it was coming from. I reached down to fish for the trigger pen but lost sight of it when my vision blurred. I tried to wipe what I thought was water from my eyes but quickly realized it was blood. I tried to brush some of the loose hair from my face but it came out in a handful. I pushed back what I thought was hair…

I don’t think it was my hair.

By that time Tania made it down to find me. She told me later she was screaming, yelling f-bombs and feeling panicky but all I remember is her calm face as she assessed the situation. I don’t really remember climbing out of the creek, I just remember her holding my hands and looking at my head while whipping the Buff off her own head. She guided me to steady footing and worked quickly to gently stretch the Buff below my chin and over my head to secure the wound. She then pulled off her arm sleeves and tied them around my head the other direction.

I asked: “Did I scalp myself?” Half joking.

Straight faced she replied. “yes”

So we started walking. She checked to make sure I could still move ok and we both agreed our only focus was to get off the mountain ASAP. We were moving after the incident within minutes. The bleeding slowed considerably and the ringing in my ears stopped and I honestly felt fine to hike out. All these things led me to believe it wasn’t a very serious injury. In fact, I sort of thought Tania was over reacting when she said I would definitely need stitches and immediate medical attention.

She never told me how bad it was. I had no idea until I saw the shock and heard the comments in the trauma unit of the emergency room later that night that I learned a significant chunk of my skull was exposed, my scalp was peeled back, and I had lost a fair bit of blood. And I am eternally thankful for that. I’ve never done well with blood… had I known what was going on I don’t think I could’ve hiked out like I did. She stayed totally calm and kept us both focused on the moment.

“Look at the grass!” “Cute purple flower!” “Ok here’s a step up” “Careful on these rocks” “Oh look at the colour of the lake! So pretty”

It was almost childish… the way you would coax a preschooler to keep moving along. But damn did it ever work. Once or twice I let my worry bubble to the surface and asked questions or got thinking about what had happened or what could have happened. But she immediately brought me back to the next step forward and kept marching me out. 9.2km to be exact. Tania is a ninja level master at being calm in the chaos. Her own life experience, including the sudden and traumatic death of her husband 3.5 years ago has forged her into an absolute rock in times of crisis. Tania, you have no idea how much I appreciated your calm that day…

As we headed towards the last campground and were on the final stretch to the Jeep, we started to see more people on the trail. Some stopped and gasped. Most offered help but there was really nothing they could do. Tania masterfully blocked any kids from seeing me… no one needed to see that. There was a few sections of climbing that at times felt impossibly difficult but for the most part, we got out of there pretty quickly. I kept watching the time, hoping Kirk hadn’t called Search and Rescue. Back at the Jeep, I caught a glimpse of myself in the window reflection. My face was completely caked with blood as was the buff and sleeves tied on my head. My hair was a red mess of tangles but I couldn’t see anything else.

Tania calmly drove me to the nearest campground where she found a landline to call an ambulance and call Kirk to let him know what happened. The ambulance arrived incredibly quickly and that was when I started to unravel. I got cold. Faint feeling. Nauseous and weak. Tania filled them in on details while they tended to me in the parking lot, praising her for her excellent work with wrapping me up on the mountain. Her quick thinking saved me from a lot of blood loss that could have easily prevented me from getting out of there.

We made it to the Foothills hospital in Calgary by 9 or so, 5 hours after the fall. I was ushered straight into the trauma unit where they started to clean me up and talk about next steps. Kirk arrived shortly after and that was when I learned how serious the gash was. They sent me for a CT scan, which thankfully showed everything inside seemed ok. No brain injury. The Emergency room doctor decided it was beyond his scope of practice to fix a wound that severe so he got someone else to staple me back together while I waited for surgery the next day.

Over 30cm of stitches ranging in three directions across the top of my head and down my forehead. I lost 20-30% of my blood and have a few other scrapes and bruises but nothing else serious.

It’s nothing short of a miracle I came out of that as well as I did.

I’ve tried not to let myself go down the road of ‘what if’ but it’s hard not to.

“What if i hit harder and cracked my head worse?”

“What if I lost too much blood and couldn’t walk out?”

“What if I broke a bone on the fall?”

So many possibilities. I’m in awe at how fortunate I am it wasn’t worse then it was and that we got out and got help ok.

This has got me thinking about the risks of trail and ultra running. The truth is the mountains are unforgiving and our bodies, even at their strongest, are devastatingly fragile. My soft tissue was nothing against that rock. We break so, so easily. Is it worth the risk? Will I mountain run again?

You bet I will.

Because yes that mountain could kill me, and yes we are often reminded of that risk when we hear of deaths in the backcountry, but when you start to focus on all those risks you can do easily drown in the fear of what’s out there, and life can grind to a halt.

I could have easily left that run unscathed as I have on countless other mountain adventures, only to get in a car accident on the way home. Or get home and start coughing and learn it’s lung cancer as we saw with Amy (In Memory of Amy Alain) and now are seeing again with ultra runner Tommy Rivs fighting for his life #Rage4Rivs Heart disease and infections and immune disorders and natural disasters and now add Covid-19 to the list and it’s absolutely crazy-making. I’m not saying we shouldn’t take precautions. By all means, we need to wear seatbelts and masks and eat healthy and exercise and get regular check ups and wear the right shoes for the terrain you are on. But we also need those mountain top experiences to remind us that instead of being afraid of dying, it is more important to be excited about living.

As I lay in the Emergency room, getting stapled together, there was a man in the bed next to me who came in citing depression. I couldn’t help but overhear his conversation with the social worker. He was unemployed, alcoholic, no family, no social supports, watched tv all day and struggled with suicidal ideation. He came to the hospital that night because his roommates kicked him out and he had no one, and no where to go. My heart hurt for him. I wondered about the choices he had made, the people he loved and lost, the opportunities he missed out on or gave up on because he felt inadequate. I wonder how his life would have been different if he could unlock the secrets of a life well lived; to find nature, to move your body, to surround yourself with people you love, to find those mountain top moments that make you feel alive, and those alpine meadows that bring you peace.

Sure there are lots of things I would change about that day if I could. I wish Tania didn’t have to do what she did. I wish I didn’t burden the health care system with my mistake, I wish I didn’t worry my family and friends like I did and I wish my kids didn’t have to see my scar and shaved parts of my head and have to think about their mom being hurt or worry for one second that it could have been worse.

Mostly though, I’m thankful it wasn’t worse. I’m thankful I walked off that mountain and for the people who are helping me recover.

And of course I’m thankful I can live another day and have another chance to get back out there to run again.

Quarantine Backyard Ultra: Just One More Lap


Running 6.7 kilometers really isn’t that far. No problem. That’s easy, right? Yet it felt increasingly difficult to convince myself of that by the time Sunday morning rolled around last weekend, because by then, 6.7 km felt nearly impossible.

I participated in a virtual event called the Quarantine Backyard Ultra, a race, as the name would suggest, spurred on by Covid and our new and weird physically distanced lives. With every race cancelled this summer, Race Directors got really creative in coming up with new ways to inspire and torture us, and while I haven’t participated in many, I was intrigued by the Backyard Ultra concept and felt that there was no better time to try it out then during a pandemic.

Quick summary of the race concept. You choose a course that is 6.7km long. That could be around your living room, your backyard, your neighbourhood,  a trail, it doesn’t matter. Just make sure its flat and safe enough that you can run it in a mental fog. You sign on to a Zoom meeting where you find hundreds of other runners in their ‘starting corral’ (living room/front entrance/deck/car), wave hi, and then you run that 6.7 km, every hour, on the hour for as long as you can. So you start at 7:00 am, run 6.7km, stop, drink a coffee, wave at the Zoom meeting, chat with your friends, put your shoes back on and then at 8:00 am, run 6.7km again. And again. And again. And again. And…ok you get the idea. There is no finish line, the only way you win is by being the last person still putting their shoes on and running at the top of the hour. Everyone else gets what we call in the run world, a DNF (Did Not Finish). No medal for you.

You can see how this format lends itself well to the cruel craziness that has been 2020 right? So, of course I dove in. What have I got to lose?
I admit I went into the event with my confidence a bit shaken. A solid spring training season was derailed by an injury that left me house bound and stir crazy for most of June. That, paired with a whole pile of other junk happening in life, left me a feeling like a shell of who I normally am (Movement. Nature. People. Even in a Pandemic.). But as my leg started feeling better thanks to an amazing physiotherapist and some potent anti-inflammatories, I got back out there and remembered how much running has always helped me heal, how it grounds me and brings me back to my true self. Maybe this race was exactly what I needed.
I set up my aid station, struggled to figure out the tech, and while my family still slept, I watched the clock on Zoom tick down to start time and stepped out my front door as I hit ‘Record’ on Strava. And imagine my surprise to see my friend David smiling on my front porch, running shoes on. I knew he was considering stopping by, but had no idea it would be for the first laps! Off we went, obviously excited about the day, cause our pace was way too fast as we chatted in the early morning sun. First lap done in 35 minutes with plenty of time to relax on the front deck until the clock ticked down to start the next lap. Those first four laps were truly a gift, they felt easy, conversation and company was

great, the day was just warming up and we had plenty of time between each lap to fuel up, foam roll and have coffee with my husband, Kirk. We even had some other visitors pop by to wish me well, The Allen’s stopped by with a finish line goody bag and homemade signs to cheer me on, and Bossel’s came to say hi.
Laps 5-9 I was joined by friend and run coach Paul who I had shared my last 100 mile adventure with this time last year (Sinister 7: 100 Mile Ultra 2019). We’ve supported each other through all kinds of crazy run endeavours over the years so of course I knew he

He always makes me blurry in pics. Payback time.

would want to be a part of this, but I really knew he was making a sacrifice when he said he would come for the hottest hours of the day. Normally he prefers the early mornings and cooler temperatures yet here he was, running hot pavement in the rising temperatures, which he paid for later with heat stroke symptoms. I was still feeling really good and was taking care to cool down with ice and plenty of liquids (electrolytes, coconut water, Infinite, ice tea) and had started carrying a small handheld of water while I ran as well. The kids were even getting in on the fun and bringing us ice and drinks and enjoying the unlimited screen time they were allowed while mom was busy. I was also visited by Glenda, my energy healer and physio friend who graced me with her love and KT tape to help hold my faltering right leg together. Love her.
The laps together with Paul were a typical mix of easy conversation side by side, followed by Paul running ahead in silence, checking his watch and keeping me hustling. I was a consistent 38 minutes per lap still and very happy with my progress. The heat for the day peaked at about 27’C which felt pretty intense since it was only a few weeks ago we had the last few blustery hints of snow and I really hadn’t had any chance to heat train, but I still managed to stay cool and hydrated the whole time. At some point, getting closer to evening, I even snuck in a shower, brushed my teeth and changed my clothes to help me cool off and feel like a whole new woman. Paul left, encouraging me to just keep taking one lap at a time. Good advice, Coach.
Another lap with Julia on her bike which marked a momentous occasion as I announced it was time for my first ever ‘tarps off’ run and I stripped down to my sports bra. I have always wanted to muster up the courage to run in just a sports bra but the perfect

trifecta of temperature, safe company and body confidence had never aligned until that afternoon. It felt like straight up Girl Power!  That lap was rewarded by my badass mom-run friends Jill and Victoria who descended like angels with frozen lemonade straight from heaven.
I was then joined for the quietest lap of the day by my son Levi on his bike…conversation was impossible as he wasn’t wearing his hearing aids and was way out in front of me the whole time, but he loved a chance to get in on the action and I sure appreciated the company and his sweet curb hopping skills as he cruised ahead.
It started to cool off and cloud over, bringing relief for laps 12-17 when I was joined by the best run partner a girl could ask for, Tania. She somehow managed to juggle feeding and caring for all our collective children, taking care of me between laps and running 40+km with me all with a smile and loads of encouragement. (I’ll never tire of adventures with her!) As we neared the end of each lap we could discuss our transition plan as my time between laps was shrinking to only about 15 minutes by this point and it was a whirlwind of activity to get everything done, wave at the Zoom crew, and head out

again for another go. Around lap #13 all 6 of the Vignals popped out of the bushes to surprise me as I passed, and Hardstaff’s were waiting on my deck to cheer me on. We passed the 100km mark for the day with an incredible entourage of two other familiesIMG_4856 (Lanes and Kawchuks!) from the neighbourhood on bikes trailing behind, laughing and chatting our way through a couple more laps with my friend Tom wearing a bike jersey with the slogan ‘Chafing the Dream’ on the back. His words were all too painfully accurate by that point in the day.
It felt like the party was winding down as we all laughed and danced with the DJ rapping on the Zoom call and kissed the kids goodnight. A lap with Kirk on his bike and Tania still running, and then Tania left at midnight to catch a few hours of sleep. I was mentally preparing for a few laps on my own in the dark which I had mixed feelings about. On the one hand, running alone in the dark is rather magical… I do plenty of it in the winter on early morning road runs. But I was also a bit nervous about being alone out there on a hot summer night on a predictable route at a predictable time. These are the things female runners think about every time we head out, and certainly I saw plenty of people all through the night who didn’t seem to have anything better to do then hang around. However, as I was trying to force some more calories down and roll my aching feet, I heard the voices of my beautiful mom friends Julia and Paula outside. They rocked up on their bikes to see me through the night. Find your tribe. Hold them dear. And they will show up for you when you need it most.
I’m afraid I wasn’t able to express my gratitude as much as I would’ve liked by this point. My throat was dry, conversation was difficult and my pace was starting to slow even more. But these incredible ladies chatted and giggled the whole way along, encouraging me and entertaining me for two hours with conversations about everything from Fortnite to vagina’s to raising teenagers and wanting to steal lettuce from the community garden since they were out anyway in the dark and it felt like an exhilaratingly naughty

thing to do. At 2 am I was met by Paula’s husband Blake on my front deck, waiting to do a few laps with me too. Interestingly, he also mentioned he would like to steal lettuce and I was simultaneously so happy that Blake and Paula were such a perfectly matched couple, and also a little appalled at my choice in morally destitute friends. Kidding. They are the best kind of people in the universe. Earlier in the day they had side-walk chalked some messages on the pavement for me and I delighted in pointing out the adorable cloud at the end of the rainbow every time I passed. Seriously, they are the best people.

As Blake and I ran up to the house at 3:45am (and past a few meters then back again…each lap needed about a 30 m addition back and forth to get to 6.7!) I got a little teary at the sight. My husband Kirk was sitting there with a smile and his bike ready to go. All through the day he had helped me by managing tech, buying a new armband so I could hold my phone easier, bringing me food and drinks and asking about my caloric intake. He stayed up watching EuroVision while I was out with Blake and was ready to fill in so I didn’t have to go out alone. Yes, this quarantine has been tough on all of us and there have been days that working from home and home ‘unschooling’ and watching all our plans for the future fall apart has taken a huge toll, but as I saw him sitting there, waiting for me, I was again reminded that the lights of my front deck and the people who make that place home, are worth sticking through the hard times with. I couldn’t do what I do without the incredible people that prop me up when life feels tough and love me through it all. He hopped on his bike and away we went off for another lap as the sun came up. Love him.
Kirk headed to bed and I was joined by another run friend Thomas. Thomas and I have also had our share of fun run adventures, but I’m sure that this one couldn’t have been fun for him at all. He showed up in the rain, at 5 am to walk for two hours through my neighbourhood while I struggled to hold conversation and keep food down. But that’s just the kind of guy he is. I was really starting to feel awful by this point. I had managed to keep my jog at a fast-enough shuffle for the last few laps that I still had at least 8-10 minutes between laps to regroup but I could feel the wheels coming off fast once Thomas arrived (not that I blame him!). I was walking as much as running and watching the clock with urgency to make sure I could make it back in time for at least another lap. This time, I only had 4 minutes to spare. Kirk had kindly left me some sugary oatmeal out for when I came back and I tried so hard to swallow some but it came right back up. Ugh.
I checked in on the zoom call and gave my best smile and wave.

Down from 1200 runners to only 42. I headed out to see what I had left in me.

Thomas and I were joined by Victoria who couldn’t sleep and wanted to join in the fun and we started out on what felt straight out of a dark comedy featuring something between a ‘Victory lap’ and ‘Walk of Shame’ (one person in our trio who shall remain nameless was, in fact, hungover!). I shuffled a bit, but quickly realized I was far too nauseous to maintain any sort of run pace so I made the decision to enjoy the lap as best I could and see what happened. IMG_4861

So, what happened? We chatted and power walked and I stopped to throw up a time or two. The best thing about run friends is that stopping to puke doesn’t even mean you pause the conversation or even flinch; I was offered a pat on the back and some water to rinse and we kept our relentless forward progress. An hour passed. I didn’t make it back in time. I was done. I chatted with the Race Director and he informed me that technically I only completed 23 hours and that was my official time. I’m not too worried. I know what I did.
161km in 24 hours.
And quite happy with that.
I had sort of hoped for a bigger personal best. Over 100 miles would have been great. However, I was exhausted and nauseated and pretty drained and the clock won. If this was a regular ultra I would have walked until I felt better and worked on getting my calories up so I could start running again. But this wasn’t a regular ultra. That clock was brutal and like Lazarus Lake (the evil genius behind this race format) says “When its easy, its easy. But when its hard, its really hard”. There is no comparing those first laps with David, done in 35 minutes, to those last laps with Thomas racing the clock. First it felt breezy and sunny, but it ended cold and increasingly impossible. The winner of this race went on to 51 hours (the world record is 68 hours!) and my utmost congratulations to those that stuck it out that long. I’ll never view 6.7km as ‘easy’ again. But I will forever view 6.7 km as best shared with friends. I was totally blown away by how such a ridiculous race concept could bring out so many people to run, bike, cheer and support me.
Tania came back to the house to get her sleeping kids shortly after I stumbled to bed to try to sleep. Her and another friend Denise packed my kids and our camping gear up and then drove me to the mountains for a couple days for some much-needed recovery time. Our last morning at the campsite, I was quite happy to stay at the campsite with the kids so the two of them could run a lap on the trails around the campground. It was kinda nice to watch someone else for a change as they went out for:

Just. One. More. Lap.


Movement. Nature. People. Even in a Pandemic.

Movement. Nature. People. I’ve always believed that is the formula for a life well lived and my favourite way to practice that formula is through trail running. But, like the entire world right now, I have had my share of moments where I find myself questioning how to continue to live well in the midst of a global pandemic that seems to be unravelling everything we have considered safe. So, I remind myself, as many times as needed, that amidst the uncertainty, the answer remains the same. Perhaps the way it plays out will need to shift, but if we are going to make it through this unprecedented time, we need to keep moving, we need to heal alongside the earth that sustains us, and we need to stay connected to those we love, now more then ever.

I swear, I’m not just making this formula up, it’s backed by research around trauma, mental health and building resilience. Our treatments often lean heavily towards talk therapy to get through difficult times, which certainly has value, but on its own is not enough because it does not provide a new framework from which to grow and develop.

Our brains cannot grow and heal if our bodies are not moving. Physical activity, of any kind is the best thing you can do to bring yourself back to your centre and remind you of who you are. It literally benefits every cell in your body, brain included. Of course, I’m totally biased towards running as the best way to do that, but it really doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you’re challenging your muscles out of sedation and find a rhythm. Whether it’s shuffling feet on trail, swinging hips to music, passing a ball between feet, breathing through a yoga pose. It is in the rhythm of those motions that the body can focus on the present and the mind can quiet. Meditate.

So what does that mean now that gyms and recreation centres are closed and our regular routines are pulled out from under us, threatening to push us into even more sedentary lives then normal as we figure out ways to ‘work from home’ with even longer days in front of a screen? Thankfully there are plenty of online options for at home-work outs and basement yoga which should leave us with no excuse to get our endorphins flowing and find ways to make a new exercise ‘normal’. I am lucky enough to have a pretty incredible basement home gym including a rower and a bike trainer, and yet I still find it difficult to get down there and push myself. Music helps, including the kids helps…sort of. IMG_4046If running outside is no longer an option, I am fully prepared to try something crazy like running circles around my basement!

Motivation comes much easier for me when I take my movement outside and thankfully we are still able to get outside although I realize that too could change any day. Again, trail running is my preferred happy place and most of the trails I tend to frequent have been empty enough that I’m quite comfortable being on them and still away from people. (I have definitely noticed that the city greenspaces are busier than usual which is great to see so many getting out to explore as long as we can still keep our distance!) And with all this time with the kids and no place to go, we have been spending hours each day taking long walks through the ravine trail system near our house. It feels so good to just play. They climb trees, we slide down hills, break ice and flop in the snow. It’s so simple, yet the benefits are incredible; rosy cheeks, improved mood, IMG_4017voracious appetite to follow. If the province decides to lock down completely and getting out on the trails is no longer an option, I’m still prepared to find nature in anyway I can; the backyard will become my study and rays of sun through the kitchen window will have to suffice. Maybe this is our chance to give earth a bit of a break so she too can heal, and maybe, just maybe we will learn to shift our ways to use less, consume less so we can help save the forest that was put there to save us. If you think I’m being over-dramatic then I encourage you to find a place in the forest, preferably by water, and sit. Wait. Get lost. Be found.

It’s the last piece of this formula that is feeling so uncomfortable for so many of us. Social connection. We know we need each other to navigate life at the best of times, and of course this pandemic is triggering a wave collective grief where no one is left untouched. It feels so foreign to me to stay away from people when my impulse is to draw towards them, particularly during difficult times. A big key to my run success is that I run with others whenever I can, whether it’s with one other person or a big group, the kilometers pass quickly and easily when you have someone keeping you going, it becomes a form of therapy with benefits that far outweigh the physical ones (See: Running with the Tribe) Along comes ‘social distancing’, a concept we hadn’t even known about one month ago, turns all of that on its head and has dismantled every group run and race for the foreseeable future. It feels so counterintuitive to show love to humanity by closing our doors and staying away.

I hate it. I get it. But I hate it.

For now, I have chosen to run alone or with one other person and keep our distance from each other and others on the trail. Of course, all that could change if there is any hint of sickness or the province goes into further restrictive measures, in which case I will adhere to those guidelines and just have to get even more IMG_4055intentional about remaining connected to others. Social media, a tenuous place at the best of times, has not been my favourite lately. While I certainly appreciate the incredible humour that is coming from this pandemic, and I weirdly love the mundane oversharing of friends from their own self-isolation, I know my own mental health is better when I limit the amount of other information I take in. Right now, getting information on the pandemic feels like trying to take a sip of water from a firehose and I’m not too keen to do that. Instead I have been enjoying the time with my family, watching my kids turn back into their goofy little selves without all the stress from our regular lives has been the best part of all of this, and I have also been intentionally connecting with friends instead of relying on social media for connection. The hardest part is resisting the urge to arrange to get together, but this is only temporary, and may I never take face-to-face interaction for granted when this is all over.

In run training we use the concept of Run, Recover, Repeat, with each of those pieces equally important. Training hard is what breaks down the muscles, so that they can be rebuilt stronger during the recovery phase to adapt, so we get back at hard work of breaking down again. That pattern requires intention and consistency to ensure we are coming out of the training cycle stronger than before.

Think of this crazy self-isolating reality as a strange new training cycle. This is hard, but that’s ok because its only through the hard times that we are broken down to become stronger in the end. The really weird thing is that this simultaneously feels like the ‘run’ phase with the hard work, and the ‘recover’ phase with the rest and lots of snacks. And every single day (I think we are on day 14? I will have to check the prison style tally my daughter is keeping on the wall by her bed!) we wake up to the reminder that this is a pattern on repeat, and we don’t know for how long.

I’ll say it again. It’s hard, but that’s ok. In running ultras, I’ve come to reframe difficult moments by asking myself two questions:

How do I feel?

How do I feel about how I feel?

Running ultras can bring about all kinds of discomfort and the emotions that come with it and it is incredibly important to connect with how you feel, acknowledge what is going on and decide whether or not you can do anything about it. And just as important is the second question. How do you feel about the discomfort you are experiencing? If everything was easy during an ultra there would be no pride in finishing one.

One year ago today, Tania and I were running Rim2Rim2Rim of the Grand Canyon (Rim2Rim2Rim: Running the Grand Canyon in a Day). I will forever remember that day as one of the most incredible of my life, not the easiest that’s for sure, but absolutely incredible. Every moment of suffering out there is now long forgotten and all that remains are the memories of the views and the experiences we had out there. It’s worth it.

We get to choose how to emerge from this bizarre time in history. Stronger, rested, with a renewed appreciation for the beautiful aspects of our lives that remain after everything else has been sifted out.

This won’t be a sprint. This is an ultra. It will be hard, but it will be worth it. And none of us will leave the finish line until the very last of us have crossed safely, no matter how long it takes, because we are all in this together. And you can bet that when that time comes, I’ll be ready with sweaty hugs and high fives for everyone, social distancing be damned.