Pushing my limits. Stepping out of my comfort zone. Getting comfortable with failure … or maybe just reframing how I view failure. These are things I’ve been working on for a few years now. Last year was characterized by some of my biggest successes and most spectacular failures (or learning experiences as I prefer to call them). It was exciting, and it made me want to test my boundaries in new ways. Maybe I could fail even more spectacularly! Or maybe I would discover that I am stronger than I ever dreamed possible.
This summer Dave Proctor will be exploring the limits of human endurance by running across Canada on foot, setting a world record in the process. His goal is to complete the crossing in 66 days, averaging 108km/day, and raising a million dollars for rare disease. I’ve always been enamoured by the idea of running across Canada (Terry Fox was my childhood hero), so I immediately wanted to be involved in some way with his record attempt. I mentioned to Dave that I would love to join him for a portion of the run and he suggested that I run across Alberta with him. That way I could run with him AND get a record for the fastest (female) crossing of Alberta. At first, I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of running across the flat Prairie from Calgary to the Saskatchewan border, I wanted to join him for a more mountainous leg, but gradually the idea took hold. What better way to challenge myself? This was an opportunity to redefine myself as a runner and learn about myself as a human being. Sure, I can hike up hills all day long, but did I have the mental fortitude to keep my feet moving, one step in front of the other on the endlessly flat prairie? I decided that I wanted to find out.
Running across Alberta with Dave means I will be running 550km in 5 days. This is far beyond anything I have ever attempted. I’m not sure that it is even within my physical capabilities, but there is only one way to find out. I have been training and testing myself to see where my breaking point is. I started out this fall by joining my friend Leo for a circumnavigation of the city bike paths (see Strava). I reasoned that if I finished the run and I wasn’t completely destroyed, then the trans-Alberta attempt may be possible. The run was not entirely smooth, but it wasn’t terrible. Some cold weather moved in during the afternoon, my asthma acted up a bit, and I started to feel sorry for myself. Luckily, I was saved by a couple of angels named Rich and Kristy who fed me hot soup, cheeseburgers and Timbits. The soup soothed my lungs and the calories fueled my legs. I finished that run feeling strong!
My goal for the last several months has been to slowly increase my road miles and decrease my trail time. Unfortunately, Mother Nature has had other plans. This has been one of the snowiest, coldest winters on record. It seems like every time I try to go out for a road run, the paths are snow and ice covered. It makes me wonder why I don’t just go trail running. On top of that, my asthma has been very bad in the cold weather. I can handle low intensity hiking or xc skiing, but running in the cold just destroys me. A couple of months ago I gave up the fight against Mother Nature and decided to just go with the flow. If the weather and conditions weren’t conducive to long road runs, I would simply ski, hike or snowshoe instead. When I made this shift in attitude it was like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I went back to spending lots of time on my feet (not necessarily running) and I felt like my endurance began to build back up.
Over the last few weeks Spring has made a few appearances. The trails are still very snowy, but the city paths are mostly cleared of snow and ice, and the temperature is warm enough to breathe. I have started to introduce some longer adventures and I’ve really enjoyed them. A month ago, we xc skied 50km and followed that up with a couple of laps of Moose Mountain Road. Three weekends ago I did a 10hr snowshoe followed by a 31 km road run. Then, when we were hit by yet another snow storm, I joined Dave and Tristan for a treadmill marathon. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would run a marathon on a treadmill, and yet there I was, running on a treadmill AND enjoying myself! Last weekend I endured 4.5 hours of snowy trails on Saturday, followed by 50km on the road on Sunday, accompanied by my friend Philippe. I was feeling pretty stiff by the end of the road run, but we maintained our pace and my recovery seems to be okay. Having never trained for anything like this in the past, I’m not sure where I will want to cap my volume at, but I plan to listen to my body and back off when I need to. I also plan to continue to incorporate trails/mountains into my training; at least one mountain and one trail run per week will keep me a happy camper 🙂
Hydration and fueling with lots of calories will be key for the trans-Alberta attempt. My focus for the long runs is to drink regularly and eat as much food as possible without getting nauseous. I’m also trying to increase the variety of what I eat. Things that work really well include: Timbits, Reese’s peanut butter cups, Mars bars, peanut butter and banana wraps, peanut butter and jam sandwiches, Honey Stinger waffles, rice noodle wraps with soy sauce, Sour Dinos, Oreos, pudding, and every flavour Jelly Beans. I also think potato pancakes may be a good item to add the mix. What food do you like to eat while you run? I’m interested in easily digested carbs that won’t melt.
That’s it for now. Expect a few posts about some very long runs in the next couple of months.