If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me “you’re not 29 anymore”, I would be rich. Not exaggerating. Those voices ...  they get in my head, especially when things are not going well.

Last weekend, I ran a 42 km hilly, steep race in the trails around Kelowna. Not an accomplishment in the ultrarunning world, but a major exploit for me because I spent the last two years injured or ill  and  unable to seriously train. During that time, I also wavered in my commitment to running. But the call of the trails and the feeling of running was strong, elemental and I kept pulling myself out of bed or off the couch and into the forest.

Little kids run everywhere and I suppose I did too. But my first memory of running for training was when I was about 8. My Mom went on a diet. She was determined to lose weight and jogging was the way to meet that goal in the late 1960s. I was the oldest kid and designated jogging companion. Our goal was a mile. Oh, it hurt so much. I kept walking fast to stop the pain while my Mom valiantly jogged on. If a memory could be in audio, mine was a howl of complaint.

Not a runner
I just did not have that runner look at age 8

Five years went by and I don't remember running much. In Junior High, where I was one of the bad kids, our gym teacher made us all run a mile. He explained that some people can run a mile as if you or I were walking slowly. They do not have an accelerated heart rate or heavy breathing. Well I ran that mile and it was hard. I was not one of those people but a tiny voice in my head said that I could be a person who can run many miles without breathing hard.

The next year I was in boarding school because my parents had moved to Northern Norway to make films about the Sami Herders (you cannot make my life up). Fall was cross country season and I heard the call again. Most girls just ran on the appointed day but I started training, running city blocks and on the school campus everyday. I won the race for my age group and stopped running. One night maybe a month later, I went to a film with other girls from school. There was something in the movie that moved me. I felt stirred up and when everyone else went to a local bar to try and pass as18 year olds, I ran back to school in my Roots negative heel shoes (period piece; don't ask). It felt so good to just run and run.

Around age 16 with the whole family

I ran a bit over the next two years but the summer before I turned 17, I started running twice a day. My parents had a house on 100 acres and I would run about 2 km in the morning and again before dinner. In rubber boots. I kid you not. That fall, I attended high school in Ottawa and ran cross country. My Dad bought me the first Nike waffle trainers and I ran along the canals of Ottawa obsessed with mileage. I was an average cross country runner but I was a runner.

There were too many ups and downs in my running career to keep track of after that last  year of high school running.  I did make the MUN varsity cross country team one year where I was again very mediocre.

I wish I could say that I stuck with running resolutely ever since  but life buffeted me around and there were breaks from running. Sometimes the breaks were from injury or grief and other times because I decided to cycle competitively or swim for a team. I can say that after the age of 16, I was for the most part an endurance athlete. There is something about going long that captivates my imagination and feeds my spirit.

Fast forward to February 2020 when I ran the
Tarawera 100 km in New Zealand. That was my last ultra, partly because of the pandemic but also because my body just said no. It started not long after we got back from New Zealand. Lynne had dispersed to Singapore and then LA while I went to Nova Scotia. She got sick first and then I caught it. Just a  flu with chills and a fever. Was it Covid? There is a high likelihood but no way to be certain. After Tarawera, I had recovered really well and was easily running 25 km long runs. But after that flu, I didn't feel well for almost 2 years.

At first, every run just felt hard. I struggled to manage 10 easy km on a long run day. I experimented with taking 2 weeks completely off. Nothing worked; I was just fatigued.
Then we moved to Powell River (
long story here) and I had a reason to be tired. Gradually, my drive to run returned but I would still hit that wall of fatigue faster than ever before. The voice that said I am too old for this, that I am not 29 anymore lived in my head.

At the end of 2021, I had finally worked my way back to regular 50 km weeks when I fell on ice while taking out the garbage and broke my arm (screams old). 10 days later I found out that I needed surgery to repair my arm. Two weeks later, my Dad died.
It felt like 2022 had bad juju. Despite the set backs, I managed to train for a steep mountain race in Squamish at the end of May.

Running Survival of the Fittest 35 km felt like  a true comeback. I was jubilant and excited to run 50 km in Whistler at the end of June and then cap the summer off by running the Squamish 50 miler.

Start of SOTF in May 2022

A few days after SOTF, Lynne was packing to leave for the UK that afternoon. Our dog Hector was upset by the suitcases. When I took him for a short morning run, he took off with the leash around my waist and pulled me over in the mud at top speed. I knew I was badly hurt and the pain was searing but thought maybe I just sprained my shoulder. I drove myself to the hospital. I had broken my humerous.
That felt like the last straw. For sure I was meant to stop running.

My niece Izzy came to take care of me aftter the second break
My niece Izzy came to take care of me after the second break. I assured Lynne my shoulder was only sprained until she boarded the flight to the UK.

I cancelled my summer races. 16 days later, my Mom broke her femur and I flew to Nova Scotia to help out. The bar for 2022 to get better was so low.

It was Lynne who persuaded me to sign up for Wandering Moose 42 km in Kelowna on Thanksgiving weekend. You need a goal, she told me. I really did. The doctor had told me that I couldn’t find run for 8-9 weeks. I interpreted this as do not run for 4 weeks. So I  had just enough time to recover some fitness. Except I spent the month of August with a hamstring injury. Every step of every run hurt. Maybe it was because I am not 29 anymore.

Screen Shot 2022-07-08 at 11.35.54 AM
I started running again way early.

I don't want to be one of those people who denies they are aging. Besides the evidence is abundant. And it really shows up in running. Every step feels as hard or easy as ten years ago but the steps don’t take me as far. If I didn't have a GPS watch I might not realize how much slower I am - until I raced.

about to start race
At the start of Wandering Moose 42 km. Happy happy.

At my 42 km race, I started out at a good clip but was last for the first kilometres. This was not a clever strategy just a reality. By the end of the nearly 7 hours of racing (there were 1550 meters of vertical gain, quite a lot for a relatively short ultra), I  was 7th from last. Sure it was a very small field but the reality is that I pushed hard and suffered to keep my lowly position. But there was happiness too.

All joy at the end.

If you take away the competition aspect of racing, I experienced all the highs (finishing) and the terrible lows (pushing to run on  cement legs) as all the other racers. Just for longer.
I am proud of this finish. I wasn’t as fit as I would have liked to be and had been fighting the quitting voices.
So what drew me to stay in the game during the last two years - which had felt like a series of biblical tests?

Several things really. My partner Lynne knows how much endurance sport and particularly ultra running means to me. Despite the sacrifices she makes to support my training, she wanted me to keep training. She knew more than me how important it was to stay real about who I am: a runner. 

My coach consultant Eric Carter was a rock.  I was coached by him and Gary Robbins for 5 years until I took a break from the duo in 2019. During those years, I had a lot more contact with Gary than Eric. I could not have imagined that in the future Eric would help me remain an athlete. I do my own run programming now but talk to Eric on the phone regularly.  Throughout the past two years of  tribulations, Eric quietly guided me to keep believing in my ability to run. And he never ever doubted I could come back - even when I did.

There is more of course. Watching big ultra events on tv, I realized that nothing else makes me as excited as ultra running in the mountains. That killer combination of endurance training and learning to suffer. I mean why doesn’t everyone want to be in this sport? 

There is so much hard in ultra running. First there are the long days on your feet, often in rain or, alternatively, sweltering heat when you just want to get home and step in the shower -- off your feet. There is the fatigue of long runs and that shroud of fatigue that hangs over you when you are putting in big mileage weeks. Don't even start about the toe nail losses and other abuses. Your family has to make major adjustments to their schedules to accommodate whole days running.

Lynne and Hector
Lynne and Hector at the start line

But there is a lot that is joyful and wondrous. Sometimes, runs that were hard are suddenly easy and I find myself gliding through the forest, hovering up steep hills and cruising lightly through the clouds (I made that last one up). There are always very low moments in racing when just continuing feels ridiculous, an insult to reason. But there are those enormous highs and that sense of accomplishment - no matter how low your finishing position. Because nobody really care how fast you run,  just that you finished.

For now, I guess I will keep trying to make those cut-offs even if I am not 29 anymore.

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