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This year on Valentine’s Day, I am looking forward to feeling my pulse quicken and becoming a little flushed as I head out on a date with my guy. But this is no romantic date with red roses and whispered sweet-nothings. This is a full-on forest chase!

Pulling away on the flats

Pulling away on the flats

Since moving to our peaceful island valley, my FM and I have made a pact to take advantage of the multiple trail systems which surround us, offering fast and flowy trail runs as well as steep and nasty climbs. Twice a week, we meet up at a trailhead for date night (more of a play-date, if you ask me). Sometimes our dates are orgies, including many other like-minded trail lovers, and sometimes our dates are intimate one-on-one affairs. In either case, we drink in the beauty around us in the fading light of day before igniting our headlamps for some subtle light. Often we are so caught up in the moment that no words can be spoken. Instead, we huff and pant in unison.

Pulling away in the dark

Pulling away in the dark

There is truly nothing better than flying along forested trails in pursuit of my husband. Being a far superior athlete than me, he is able to adjust his pace to keep me company or to leave me in his dust. We stick together as we start off, maybe debriefing about our work days or discussing which trails we would like to hit. But soon conversation ends and the narrowing trails force me to fall into single file. I keep right with him, step-for-step, thinking that I am feeling fresh and I’ll be able to maintain this pace.

Pulling away in the snow

Pulling away in the snow

But soon we hit a short, sharp descent and, like a light switch being flicked on, he pulls away. I see it happening and try to match his sure-footed steps. For a while, I hold on and feel myself at the edge of control. It feels amazing to fly like this with him. We are a streak of ribbon winding through the woods.

Pulling away on the ridgeline

Pulling away on the ridgeline

Although I feel like I am holding my own at this blistering pace, I notice with each twist of the trail that he is gaining distance. Soon enough, I catch sight of him only when the trail undulates a certain way. I focus my concentration on keeping him in sight. This time, I promise myself, I will stay with him.

Pulling away on the mountains

Pulling away on the mountains

When he has finally accelerated enough to be out of sight, my mind darkens with defeatist feelings and I begin to lose my determination. My pace slows to something more manageable and I try to gain control of my breathing. This is the hardest part. I am frustrated at my performance and disappointed that my goal will not be reached. It would be easy to give up and walk.

Don't do it. Keep going. Positive Mental Attitude. PMA PMA PMA PMA PMA

Don’t do it. Keep going. Positive Mental Attitude.
PMA PMA PMA PMA PMA

But then, I spy the dim glow of his headlamp and the chase is back on. Calculating how much longer our loop is, I weigh the speed against my leg strength and stamina. I can do this. I’m not that far behind. From nowhere, I push away the dark thoughts and my determination returns.

Trying to keep up

Trying to keep up

As I reach the parking lot at full speed, he greets me warmly, looking like he barely broke a sweat, and I believe him when he comments about how fast we were today. I am realizing that this running game is not about speed and physical stamina. It is about mental strength and the ability to focus on the moment. I am thrilled to have overcome my demons once again. I can’t wait for him to put the hurt on me again next week.

And I'm spent! Let's do it again, lover!

And I’m spent! Let’s do it again, lover!

There is only one week left before we leave for our Tor Des Geants 338 km run in Northwestern Italy. The race itself begins in two weeks. As my training days wind down and the race looms ever closer on the horizon, I endlessly wonder if my preparations have been enough. How do you prepare or train for an event that is bigger than your imagination?

When received my acceptance into the event, I made myself one promise:

If anyone asks me to go for a run, I must say yes.

It seem like a pretty simple guideline and I have followed it. I think I have accepted every offer, except one when I was out of town (at a race!). With a dedicated group of trail running friends who have all had their own racing goals this summer, I have managed to run with a buddy for almost half of my runs. Most of those shared runs were the long, mountainous loops that took up a good chunk of the day. Many more of those runs followed a day of solo training, where I had worked alone on speed or hills. I have become used to running on tired legs and luckily my trail buddies are patient and haven’t minded waiting for me to catch up along the way.

So even when the TDG doles out ascents and descents that are way beyond my level of preparation, I will be able to think back on my training with a smile, thinking of those beautiful trails at home and those dear friends who have made me strong.

Here are some trail pics taken on those fabulous days with those friends (most of these have already been posted on FB in my One Per Run album):

Is that a trail? With Kelsey and Todd on Red Rotor

Is that a trail? With Kelsey and Todd on Red Rotor

Wild flowers on the rockey outcrop of Upper Queso - with Todd and Kelsey

Wild flowers on the rocky outcrop of Upper Queso with Todd and Kelsey

"There's a black bear in that clearing" - Twister trails with CVRR

“There’s a black bear in that clearing” – Twister trails with CVRR

Summiting Albert Edward with Bruce and Todd

Summiting Mount Albert Edward with Bruce and Todd

Caught in the mist of Mt. Becher - with Kelsey and Todd

Caught in the mist of Mt. Becher with Kelsey and Todd

Mtn Bike Trail Art on Crafty Butcher with Kelsey

Discovering new mountain bike trail art on Crafty Butcher with Kelsey

Hot and steep descent on Forbidden Plateau with Kelsey and Todd.

Hot and steep descent on Forbidden Plateau with Kelsey and Todd (photo credit: Todd Gallagher)

Climbing out of the log jam on the Boston Ridge Trail with Jerry, John, Todd and Kelsey (photo credit: Jerry Van)

Climbing out of the log jam on the Boston Ridge Trail with Jerry, John, Todd and Kelsey
(photo credit: Jerry Van)

 

Fabulous sign placement on Upper Puntledge Plunge trail - with Bruce

Fabulous ‘no diving’ sign placement on Upper Puntledge Plunge trail with Bruce

Using the Furtherburger stream to refill water bottles with Todd

Using the Furtherburger stream to refill water bottles with Todd

A casual MOMAR reconnaissance run with Peter on Upper Thirsty Beaver

Finding more art on a casual MOMAR reconnaissance run with Peter on Upper Thirsty Beaver

An brand new trail which gives an odd perspective on Cumberland's downtown

Jerry showed me a brand new trail which gives an odd perspective on Cumberland’s downtown

Our Cumberland Long Loop finishes off on a nasty clear cut with 2-storey-high slash piles that we call "Gateway to Corporate Greed" - with Todd, Kelsey, Steve, Jerry and J.P.

Our Cumberland Long Loop finishes off on a nasty clear cut with 2-storey-high slash piles that we call “Gateway to Corporate Greed” – with Todd, Kelsey, Steve, Jerry and J.P.

Running through a Raven Rookery high above Perseverance Creek on Bear Buns with J.P.

Running through a Raven Rookery high above Perseverance Creek on Bear Buns with J.P.

Mountain Bikers build the best trails! This cantilevered bridge is on Race Rocks trail - with Todd

Mountain Bikers build the best trails! This cantilevered bridge is on Race Rocks trail – with Todd

Running up a beautiful switchback trail called Blue Collar with Jerry, Todd and Steve (photo credit: Todd Gallagher)

Running up a beautiful switchback trail called Blue Collar with Jerry, Todd and Steve (photo credit: Todd Gallagher)

Thanks team! Every step with you has helped!

Kusam Klimb 2014

Having been Comox Valleyians for over 2 years, Bruce and I now have annual traditions to follow. Since doing something twice comprises tradition, the Kusam Klimb event is now one. Each year on the Saturday of the summer solstice, about 450 outdoor enthusiasts gather to enjoy 23 km of trail, climbing from sea level to almost 5000 ft and returning back to sea level. It is as grassroots and community-driven as an event can be.

Don't let those metric numbers fool you!

Don’t let those metric units fool you!

In order to make the most of the longest day of the year, our little group of runners, Todd, Kelsey, Bruce and I, met up at our house for a 5:00 am departure. It takes about an hour and a half to drive from Courtenay to Sayward, which allowed us just enough time to check into the race and line up for the portapotty before the 7:00 am race start. We easily met up with Steve and Karl near the Heritage Hall starting area, completing our group of local training friends.

Once again this year, the start line scene pleased me to no end. Beside wizened hikers, clothed in expedition wear and laden with heavy cordura backpacks, there were skinny shirtless dudes and dudettes decked out in compression calf sleeves and zero-drop trail shoes. This is an event for everyone – no exceptions.

At the check-in table, we each received our complimentary cotton t-shirt and a nifty thermos lunch bag (or six-pack cooler) along with our chip-enabled race number. After briefly sharing snippets of memories from last year’s event, we ambled to the start line and set off.

Most of our group had done this 23 km run last year so we knew what to expect. After a 2.2 km teaser pavement run to the Bill’s Trail trailhead, the route begins its ascent. For the next 7 km, you climb steeply and steadily for almost 1500 m (just shy of 5000 ft). There are sections where ropes are necessary and very few places where you can manage more than a shuffling pace. GPS gadgets are unable to detect forward movement due to the steepness. Strava decided that I was not moving for much of the time. Unfortunately again this year, the cloud cover was low, preventing us from seeing the 360° views from the H’kusam pass and from Keta View lookout. Instead we were treated to slightly cooler, moist air as we made out way up through the fog.

I have been working hard on my climbing legs this year so I pushed the pace whenever possible. I tried to find my own space, free of other people, so that I could monitor how I was feeling and stay within my comfort level. But comfort is not a word for this course. With sweat dripping steadily off my eyebrows and the sound of shallow panting breaths for the entire climb, I finally crossed the summit in 1 hour 53 min.

My Kusam Klimb efforts, according to Strava

The initial downhill section is incredibly steep and ropes have been put in place to help descend. But this year, there was very little snow on the course, meaning that there was little opportunity to glissade down the hill using the ropes for balance. Instead, there was a fair amount of slightly out-of-control running through recently thawed mud, hoping to avoid trip-wire roots and submerged rocks.

Soon enough, I reached the 2/3 Hut Shelter (10 km) and popped out on an ATV track which descended more gradually. For the next 13 km, the steady grade allowed for my legs to operate like windmills – just spinning freely, touching down gently with each turn.

An easy. wide descent

An easy. wide descent for about 13 km – although here I look like I’m barely holding my balance.

Little did I know that Bruce was hot on my heels. Despite his very recent recovery from Shingles and this initiation back into the world of running, he was the next person photographed at this point.

Bruce approaching Rainbow Bridge

Bruce approaching Rainbow Bridge

As I continued down towards town, I knew that I was far ahead of last year’s time. I crossed the finish line in 3:21, which is a 30 minute improvement over last year. This awarded me 44/458 overall, 13/243 in the women’s race and 3/65 in the women’s 40-49

Yahoo! Hill training really works!

Yahoo! Hill training really works!

But the story of the day belongs to Bruce – he finished just a few minutes after me in 3:24. Although he was 3 minutes speedier last year, this year he decided to run the race only 2 days before, having been flattened by Shingles for the past six weeks.

Take that!

Take that!

And with that, our little group re-assembled at the finish line and began sharing trail stories, filled with lies and embellishments. It was a stellar day of effort and enjoyment. Congrats to Kelsey on her third place finish, to Steve for his longest trail run to date, to Todd for toughing it out and still finishing fast and to Karl for being the most consistent of us all. I’m already looking forward to continuing the tradition next June!

For the story of how the real runners of the Comox Valley did in this event, you have to read the Comox Valley Record sports section of July 11, 2014. Here you will learn about the real ‘who’s who’ when it comes to running tough mountain trails. ;o)

See you on the trails!

The Happy Wanderer

My Paths on Strava

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