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So there I was – hauling ass down the Puntledge Plunge after a post-work trail climb in Forbidden Plateau. The late afternoon light was fading and I had been motivated to leave work and make the most of it. A grueling climb on these tired, out-of-shape legs was exactly what I needed. As I descended, it was just dark enough in the forest to warrant my waistbelt light but it wasn’t yet dark. Pale purple sky was slowly giving away to starlit night.

Up ahead, a slight movement caught my eye. Was that a deer? No, the shape was all wrong. COUGAR! I froze in place and tried to confirm my suspicions. There was a softness, a roundness to this animal that didn’t quite match my regular forest creature encounters. A swish of the tail was enough to make me snap into fight or flight mode. This big cat had turned its head to look at me. No doubt now.

My mind started churning with the DOs and DON’Ts with cougars.

  • Don’t look in its eyes.
  • Back away slowly.
  • Hold your arms up so you look large.

I realized then that my waistbelt light was on, perhaps having the effect of eye contact. I fumbled to switch it off and began my slow retreat. I was trying to mentally map out the trail system behind me and figure out if there was another way back to the trailhead. I had no extra gear with me – to hold up or to wear – and soon I would be really cold as the sub-zero temperatures took hold.

Image result for cougar retreat

Not my photo. The last thing on my mind was documentation.

As my light extinguished, the cougar started – a slight jump of surprise – and it bolted off the trail. I waited. I listened. I tried to keep my mind from reeling. What to do now? I waited some more.

After three or four minutes, I decided to continue in the direction I had originally been going. The cougar had left in a hurry and there was no other way back to my car. I decided that I may have a short window of opportunity to get past the area while it was still spooked. I remembered that I had my (tiny) vial of dog spray in my waistbelt and gave it a test spray (more of a dribble really), thinking that it would really be no match for claws and jaws in this situation.

This is where I really entered unknown territory. Should I pass by quietly? Should I make a lot of noise as if a bear is around? I decided to yell and call out and sing. I figured that it knew exactly where I was so I may as well vocally expel some of my terror.

I slowly made my way to the point where it had been standing – about 40 meters – and I studied the muck for footprints, wondering how large a beast I had seen. I couldn’t find its tracks and I didn’t want to linger. I sauntered along, making sure that my vocalizations didn’t sound like a wounded animal (so much for my singing skills).

At some point, I decided that I needed to move more quickly as I was getting chilled and starting to shiver. It seems like a bad idea now but I began to run. I had about 4 km left to get back to the parking lot and darkness was rolling in now. You can only imagine how often I did a shoulder check as I made my way back. I do wonder what the longer term impact of this cougar sighting will be on my solo running pursuits.

This is my second cougar sighting, both having happened when I was alone on forest trails. In both encounters, I have come up behind the cougar, seeing it before it saw me. I know that cougars are all around these forests and there are often sightings. I am certain that I have been seen and have spooked cougars and bears countless times, unbeknownst to me. I hope that others realize that cougars will retreat if they can and if they are well-fed. I count myself privileged, not just because I am alive to tell the tale, but also because I got to witness the majesty of our own King of the Forest up close in its own territory.

In 1998, I ran my first marathon and since then I have been consistently running longer and longer distances, taking very few breaks from running over those 20 years.

Where will this lead me?

This year has been no different. My running schedule includes all six races in the Vancouver Island Trail Series, the Marathon Shuffle, The Cumby, Kusam Klimb, Cedar 24 hour and The Mighty Quail. But it suddenly looks like none of those plans will be realized.

About two months ago, a series of unfortunate incidents began and have hobbled me. It started with an off-leash dog attack from behind, which tore up my hand, rattled my confidence in running alone and made me suspicious of all other trail users.

Next (and most significantly) I strained my Achilles tendon during a trail run. While crossing a bike bridge, my heel strike was in-between two boards which were fairly far apart. Although my toes landed on the bridge and took some of the weight, my heel dropped into the empty space and hyper-extended the tendon.

And then, while working around the yard, attempting to attach the flat-bed trailer onto the car, I missed the hitch and dropped the trailer onto my foot – the same foot, of course. My middle toe took the brunt of the impact, swelled up and turned blue. For a few days, I could not fit my foot into my running shoes. I don’t think I broke it but it is still swollen many weeks later.

WTF indeed! Why is this happening to me?!

I started seeking therapies. Chinese acupuncture helped me with a tight Achilles about 15 years ago so I sought out a local acupuncturist. I also found a physiotherapist who treated me with ultrasound and IMS and gave me a series of stretches and strengthening exercises to do. Between treatments, I still ran but I throttled back both in time and in distance and I stuck to less technical trails.

The final blow was during a warm-up run for The Cumby race. I stubbed the toe of my good leg against a root and landed with my full weight on my tender leg. Instantly, my calf exploded in pain, in the exact place where an IMS needle had been inserted the day before. Numbness took over my foot and my calf became immobile, rigid in full spasm. I was in tears from shock, pain and a deep understanding that I was now officially injured. It took over 45 minutes to drag myself back to town.

After more ice, more stretching, more therapies and even another gentle plod or two, I have finally come to the conclusion that I have to allow myself time to heal. Continual pursuit of my running goals is hampering the healing process.

But, as I sit here typing on a gorgeous Victoria Day long weekend, my mind subconsciously flits to the trails I might like to hit this afternoon. I have to keep reminding myself that I won’t be running today or for the foreseeable future.

Running takes me to some beautiful places.

Running lets me see some amazing things.

Running is a habit that I don’t want to break. Twenty solid years of training for long distances has had a positive impact on my work schedule, my leisure time, our marriage, our diet, our holidays and every other aspect of daily life. It will be a big adjustment that I am so reluctant to make.

Surely there is a silver lining somewhere out there.

So …. anyone wants to go riding?

This will heal me (as soon as I learn how!)

And so will they.

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!

The Happy Wanderer

My Paths on Strava

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