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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!

So there we were, flying down a sweet, single track trail called Blue Collar, laughing and chattering away as we dipped and dodged around trees.

The sweet single track of Blue Collar with Jerry, Steve, Farley and Todd (photo credit: Todd Gallagher)

The sweet single track of Blue Collar with Jerry, Steve, Farley and Todd (photo credit: Todd Gallagher)

After a 4 km climb, we were soaking up the descent. I always think that my eye muscles will be the most fatigued muscles after a speedy descent as I try to anticipate each footfall and negotiate all those roots and rocks. These shorter, mid-week runs with friends are probably my favourites. There is no pressure to put in long hours; the purpose is simply to enjoy being out after a day of work.

We reached the reservoir and the flat, gravel service road that runs around its perimeter. As usual on the boring flats, my focus waned and I began chattering away to Farley, our group’s loyal trail dog. Next thing you know, I caught my trailing toe on an embedded rock and I was flying through the air, Superman-style. I almost saved myself from the fall, managing to get three or four more quick steps in as an attempt to recover my balance, but alas …

The full impact of my fall went onto the top of my right hand, near my pinky finger. Since I was holding a hand-held water bottle, my fingers wrapped under my hand so the knuckles of my right hand slid and scraped through the rough gravel. I lay on the side of the road with my eyes closed and tried to assess the damage. Still with my eyes closed, I decided it was nothing more than a bad scrape. When Steve and Todd came back to where I lay, I realized that I was holding my injured hand so tightly that they couldn’t see what had happened. As soon as Todd peeled my left hand off of my right, Steve said,

“It looks okay. Just a couple of stitches.”

Before I even had time to take a peek or disagree, Todd had removed his sweaty running shirt and bound up my injured hand with it.  With MacGyver-like finesse, he used my hand-held water bottle strap and cinched his shirt tight against my hand.

Ingenious and resourceful bandaging was in place within moments of my fall.

Ingenious and resourceful bandaging was in place within moments of my fall.

Together we walked the remaining 4 km back to the trailhead and they kept me amused with stories and jokes. Todd followed me as I drove my car (automatic!) and made sure that I went directly to the hospital. Not only did he pay for my parking, but he also escorted me into ER, sat with me in triage and coerced his work colleagues to take extra good care of me. Only after I was settled in, waiting for an examination, did he heed my request to leave.

When the ER doctor gave the okay, I unwrapped my scraped hand and finally saw the extent of the damage. A sharp rock had gouged a flap across that pinky knuckle and filled it with dirt and grit.

Some of that grey is dirt but some is bruising starting to show its colours.

Some of that grey is dirt but some is bruising starting to show its colours.

Gruesome gash filled with grit.

Gruesome gash filled with grit.

I had a few x-rays, which thankfully showed no broken bones, had a good wire-brush scrub (with freezing thankfully) and then was sewn back together with 10 stitches. I didn’t tell the doctor of Steve’s pending bet of 3 stitches until she had finished her work. The pinky knuckle  was the hardest hit, requiring 5 stitches and the next 2 knuckles shared the rest.

This day #2 pic shows the 10 stitches and the nasty swelling.

This day #2 pic shows the 10 stitches and the nasty swelling.

Yesterday, day #2, the rest of my body felt like I had been in a bar fight, with a sore shoulder, knee and elbow. I unwrapped the bandage and found that my hand was unrecognizable with the swelling. My knuckles are blackish purple and the skin of my hand is stretched to its limits. I have very little mobility in those two last fingers and the throbbing forces me to keep it elevated.

Chubby Knuckles!

Chubby Knuckles!

How lucky I am to have friends who don’t hesitate for a moment in this kind of situation? To literally be given the shirt off his sweaty back is a gift I’ll not forget.

It is perfect running weather today so I think I’ll head out onto the trails. I wonder if my running buddies are free.

I am feeling a little philosophical as I write this, so please bear with me.

If you had to put it into words, how would you describe who you are? Do you define yourself in terms of family and career? Is your lifestyle worthy of mention? Would you describe your most recent adventures? Would being a runner even enter into it?

For a social media profile, I had this description of myself:

general lover-of-life, including ultra-running, teaching, enjoying craft brews, being outdoors and living simply

I thought it seemed like a fairly accurate glimpse of where I put my energy these days. But, looking back on it, this little blurb concerns me.

There is no mention of the love of my life or my family. It mentions teaching, but in my current state of limbo that is hardly worth mentioning. And ultra-running is something I do, but does it define who I am? If I didn’t do it any more, would it change who I am?

I think that being a runner and a lover of ‘all things outdoors’ is an important part of being me, but it does not define me. There is more to me than my current pursuits. Living without adventure would truly be a hard pill to swallow but it is important to keep all things in perspective. Love, health and the ability to make choices is probably a better way to describe what is truly important to me.

I think my life would be better described as:

Endlessly pursuing the better life together.

Can you put your values into a sentence 10 words or less?

Endlessly pursuing the better life together

Endlessly pursuing the better life together

The Happy Wanderer

My Paths on Strava

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