Well, winter has come early to Alberta, & it has struck with characteristic intensity. It’s hard to believe that Halloween is still two weeks away, & I’m trying my hardest not to start thinking about Christmas. But every time I look out the window & see the snow, my mind turns to baking & decorating & warm fireplaces & . . . almost anything but running! When I started this run streak at the beginning of October, there was snow at my Mom & Dad’s, but not here, & I was able to enjoy one lovely night run wearing capris. Part of why I wanted to start the streak was to motivate myself to get out into the Provincial Park & enjoy the gorgeous fall colours. While those plans have been thwarted, I have finally been making use of my gym membership again (silver lining!) &, pausing to reflect on day 16, I am pleased with the streak so far. While I haven’t completed any runs of significant length, the obligation to continue the streak has helped me to rid myself of excuses & just get it done.
Last winter, while I was having a really difficult time adjusting to life in a new place, with a new job, & missing my friends & family terribly, going to the gym for a run to train for my second half marathon was such a welcome escape. Its nice to be back in a place that brought me so much comfort, & to settle into that routine again. With 15 days remaining of this October Run Streak Challenge, I hope that my running habit is really solidified, & is something that carries forward.
This month, I’m taking on a different type of running challenge. I have 3 races left to complete my goal of #16racesin2016 (the race re-caps for races 7-13 are coming, I promise), & I need a kick-in-the-behind to get back to running more than just on race day.
The objective: To solidify a running habit, & get moving. I read Canadian Olympian Clara Hughes book Open Heart, Open Mind in January, & have been following her on social media every since. She regularly posts using the hashtag #movementismedicine, & that idea has really resonated with me. So, here’s to a movement filled October!
The rules: (they’re simple!)
Each run must be a minimum of 1 mile in distance or 15 minutes in duration.
Run every single day in October.
They don’t gave to be pretty, & they don’t have to be fast. They just have to be completed & logged. I’ll be spamming my instagram feed with daily updates, (& shelooksforadventure with occasional ones), so head on over & follow along with my progress.
“This is the real power of habit: the insight that your habits are what you choose them to be.”
― Charles Duhig
This is the second year that I’ve ran in the Brian Harms, a memorial event that takes place every Mothers Day in Grande Prairie.
Last year I did the 8 k & had a miserable time. I’d ran my first half marathon in early April, & felt like I was becoming a runner (yay!) . . . except then I stopped running. Why do I do that to myself? I ran once between the half & the 8 k & on race day, a giant hill in Muskosippi Park almost did me in. I finished, but it wasn’t an event I felt very good about.
This year, I had a better plan. I signed up for the 5 k & was in much better running shape. Unfortunately, the starting location of the race was moved from the South Bear Creek Pavilion to behind the Eastlink Centre, which is basically a sad grassy area off a parking lot with a view of backyard fences. South Bear Creek, on the other hand, had beautiful trees & trails & bathrooms! I can’t be the only runner who gets the nervous pees. While we ended up on a similar route to last year, I really hope it gets changed back. It was also so cold & windy that the DJ that was supposed to play music never showed up! The whole thing was pretty disorganized due to the weather . . . the speeches & instructions were given inside the Eastlink (which we had no way of knowing) & then we all headed outside.
I stalled until the very last minute with taking off my sweater, & tossed it to my Mom as the race began. Just like last year, my Mom got up early on Mothers Day to come & cheer me on at the Brian Harms. She must have been freezing standing around for over half an hour, but stuck it out like a champ. After years of watching my hockey, volleyball, & basketball games, it’s nice to know that I haven’t lost my biggest fan.
I ran pretty well, & even enjoyed myself once we turned into the park where the trees provided some protection from the wind. I stopped to walk once, up a large hill near the end, then tried to finish as strong as possible. The wind was blowing completely against me the last kilometre or so, & it even started to rain. There were a couple of little girls who were struggling to make any headway against the wind, & I was honestly scared it might blow them away. I tried to give them some encouragement, but the poor kids looked so dejected. Considering the circumstances, I was happy with my time & very happy to be heading into a warm vehicle.
Unfortunately, I just missed placing #3 in my age category & receiving a medal. It was some consolation that the fastest time in the whole event was recorded by a girl in the 20-29 year old female group. For the past several years she has ran for the college, & was placed in a special elite category. Last year she graduated, so is no longer sponsored, & can run with the rest of us. Darn! I’m so close to receiving a placement medal for top three. For now, I’m trusting the process & my progress. One of these times I’m going to get it.
There’s two really great parts about running the Brian Harms: I get to spend time with my Mom on Mothers Day & I know there’s a brunch reservation with hot coffee & waffles waiting for us afterwards!
This race came on the last weekend of Spring Break, after my return from Vancouver Island. I stuck to my training schedule for a sub-60 minute 10 k pretty consistently, & even got up early one morning on vacation to run in the hotel’s gym.
On race day, we arrived at Rundle Park in Edmonton, & I faced the conundrum that most runners do on a windy day: do I run in shorts & a T-shirt a freeze at the start line, or run in pants & a windbreaker & be uncomfortably sweaty a few kilometres in? About 5 minutes in, I know that I’d made the right decision to ditch my heavier clothes, but that was the least of my problems . . .
The Suck it Up Buttercup 10 k presented a huge mental challenge for me. My training had went well, but almost as soon as I started running I was absolutely miserable. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was completely out of shape. I felt that I should just give up & walk since my watch wasn’t working & I couldn’t possibly pace myself to complete the race in under my goal time of 60 minutes without the data from my watch. My self talk was so negative I honestly wanted to cry. The trails at Rundle Park were hilly & the cement was uneven. On that day, running felt like complete torture.
Running is such a weird sport. Some days it sucks, & it hurts, & you hate it with every fibre of your being. On other days, it energizes you, makes you feel alive, & lets you feel like you could conquer the world.
Deep, deep down, in my heart & in my head, I think I knew that quitting wasn’t really an option.
You can keep going & your legs might hurt for a week or you can quit & your mind will hurt for a lifetime.
I am not a quitter. I have never been someone to bow out when things get tough, & I never will be. I didn’t let the negative self-talk win. I kept going. I ran 5 k, then stopped for a short walking break. By this point, I’d realized that my watch wasn’t really broken at all, & that I’d finished the first half in about 30 minutes. I was on pace to meet my goal!
The second half I was in a much better place mentally. Physically, I was really pushing myself, & was really hurting. I used to run a 5 k in about 33 minutes. Could I really do a 10 k in under 60? A few years ago, I thought that I was shooting really high when I wrote down my goal of completing an entire 10 k without stopping, but a few months ago I ran an entire half marathon without stopping. I can do hard things. I have completed challenges that seem really difficult. I could do this too . . .
& I did! I crossed the finish line at 58: 40 & placed #3 in my age category (although this changed later, on the results site, I still take that placement as a major win! It shows my huge progress).
Every race is an adventure, & every race has a lesson. I think Oprah sums this one up nicely:
Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it.
Paint Nite events have been popping up everywhere lately, & they’re something that’s right up my alley. Friends, snacks, drinks, & art? Yes, please!
Luckily, my amazing friends put together a surprise Paint Nite for my stagette with Alicia Doerksen from Art of a Country Girl &, without knowing, helped me check something off my 2016 bucket list at the same time. So perfect! Alicia doesn’t advertise, & relies on word-of-mouth. So here’s my word-of-mouth endorsement: she was awesome!
We had a group of twelve ladies, ranging from my former hockey teammates to my future mother-in-law. It was low-key, & exactly what I would have picked if I’d planned the stagette myself.
We started with the background, creating a sunset of layered colours. Next, Alicia taught us a little trick to make the horizon line; wait for the paint to dry, stick a piece of masking tape across to create a straight line, then paint on your ocean. Voila!
I usually find painting really scary & anxiety-inducing because the idea of messing up & “ruining” my piece is floating around in the back of my mind. Luckily, Alicia gave great directions about how to put the paint on the brush, what type of brush strokes to use, & made me so comfortable that I went ahead & painted some palm trees into the foreground that don’t look half bad!
At first, I thought that at a Paint Nite, everyone’s pieces would be pretty much identical, but that’s totally not the case. I love how everyone’s finished painting is unique, & reflect’s their personalities.
We had so much fun, my Mom & I are now organizing a Christmas-themed Paint Nite with ladies from her family. At this rate, I might end up with a whole gallery of Kirsten originals!
Growing up, I took hand building pottery classes at the Cultural Centre in Beaverlodge on several occasions. Our instructor was a lady named Darlene Dautel, & her enthusiasm & patience provided an enjoyable first experience with pottery; when I look back on those classes I have nothing but warm memories. For a kid who was usually busy with sports, these classes were a chance to be creative. Once, Darlene even let us try the pottery wheel, fearing that clay would end up absolutely everywhere . . . & it did!
One of my goals for this year was to take an art class, so when I got an email saying that the Vermilion Pottery Guild was bringing in an instructor from St. Paul, Gladys Fleming, to teach a seven week beginner wheel class, I jumped at the chance. Each class was three hours, & it was wonderful to have such a large chunk of uninterrupted time carved out of my week dedicated to something tactile & calming. Working with clay is, for me, an antidote to stress & the disconnect that I sometimes feel from my body when I become busy. On the wheel, the clay does not lie; if you hold stress in your body, it will show up in the clay. Throwing on the wheel requires patience, letting go of the quest for perfectionism (I’m getting better!), & learning to embrace happy accidents.
I chronicled my progress, week-by-week, by snapping a few pictures. I like that now, after the fact, I can use the pictures to remind me of the skills I learned, from throwing a simple cylinder, to glazing. It’s also a reminder of the investment of time, energy, & care that goes into creating a single piece of pottery. Appreciate those artists people!
I liked Part A of my Open Water Diver course. Breathing under water in the pool was new & fun because it was contained in an environment I’m super comfortable in from my years of lifeguarding & teaching swimming lessons. The SDI Open Water course requires participants to take Part B, the actual open water portion, within six months of completing Part A. I knew this upon registering, so despite our summer being super busy (which is what happens when you decide to make a wedding happen in just four months!), I registered for a weekend of diving at Lac Beauvert in Jasper National Park. Here’s the part where I have to admit something that I’m not proud of; at one point, it occurred to me to just not go. I was scared. The thought of diving in a lake, instead of in the safety of the pool where I’m confident, made me nervous. Really nervous. But, I’d come this far, & couldn’t stomach the thought of seeing my investment of time, money, & effort be for naught either. So, I went.
By the time we picked up my gear in Edmonton, reached Jasper, set up camp at Whistlers, & got a good night’s rest, I’d convinced myself things would be okay. “I can do this” & “I can do hard things” became my mantras. We left the campsite in plenty of time to get to the lake & I was feeling pretty good about the power of my positive thinking . . . until we got lost on the way because I used Google Maps for directions, which took us to the completely wrong side of the lake, & showed up 20 minutes late for the first dive. Even worse was having to admit that I’d used the map provided when I picked up my gear to start our campfire the night before. Things were not off to a great start.
This negativity continued when I struggled to put together my BCD, tank, & regulator & no instructor showed up to introduce themselves or to help. I’d been hoping they’d go over set-up as a refresher, but everyone else in the class had taken their pool portion the weekend before & knew exactly what they were doing. I took mine back in March, so my memory was a bit foggy! Luckily, a really nice girl the next truck over helped my out (& ended up being my dive buddy), & soon a woman showed up to introduce herself as Angie, the instructor.
We met in a circle, introduced ourselves, & did a briefing. Our little group was made up of two couples, myself & my dive-buddy, our instructor Angie, who is one of the owners of The Dive Outfitters, & ~six other guys who were training to be dive masters.
Out first entry into the lake would be a quick snorkel dive, wearing both layers of the 7 mm wetsuits, our hoods, gloves, & boots, masks & snorkels, just to get accustomed to the buoyancy provided by the thick suits & to acclimatize ourselves to the chilly mountain water. One of the most stressful parts of the dives was getting on the ridiculously thick wetsuits (they did keep us toasty warm though). To give some context, a regular wetsuit you might wear wake boarding is 3 mm thick, & these are so large that my elbows hurt from trying to bend in them. The neoprene hood also made me want to gag & forced my vision forward, like a horse with blinders on. “If you can do this, you can dive anywhere,” one of the dive-masters-in-training commented. For a moment, I imagined a tropical beach, wearing my swimsuit, watching sea turtles, & admiring the coral. One can dream. The snorkel dive was easy though, & over in a
flash. We returned to shore to put on our heavy BCDs & weights & to have another briefing.
Each dive during the course had a certain number of skills that had to be performed. Dive #1 was to start with regulator removals, clears, & exchanges, & mask removals & clears. As we each followed the buoy rope, descended & settled onto the bottom to wait for further instructions, we kicked up the sand all around us. My mask was already fogged up, & the combination seriously reduced my visibility & sent me into near panic mode. It took every single fibre of being in my body & the greatest display of will-power I have ever made to make myself stay on the bottom, breathing in-and-out, in-and-out, instead of swimming back up to the top, declaring, “I don’t like this!” & going home. That experience, of conquering my fear, of controlling my body by controlling my breathing, & controlling my mind by choosing courage over fear, is something I will never forget because it’s something I wouldn’t have been capable of doing several years ago.
“To escape fear, you have to go through it, not around.”
― Richie Norton
Dive #2 included several more skills like partner tows, emergency ascents, alternate air-sharing ascents, & a fun swim focusing on improving our buoyancy skills. I was proud of myself for completing all of the skills successfully (we’d already had one member out of our little group of six decide to quit after the first dive), but wasn’t necessarily having much fun. The equipment was so awkward, my mask kept fogging up, & I was having a tough time staying near the bottom during our fun swim.
I was mostly looking forward to hitting up Jasper Pizza Place, having a nap, & enjoying a toasty warm fire back at the campground. The pizza did not disappoint, I got my nap, & then something incredible happened.
Brian said to me, “This isn’t easy for you is it? I’m proud of you.” & he was right. Here I was, doing something really hard, that most people don’t even attempt, & was beating myself up about it. My perspective changed dramatically thanks to that comment, & Brian deserves a giant shout-out for being my shore support & sticking around all weekend, helping me get the heavy gear on-&-off, & generally being his friendly, positive self. He even made us some new friends & possible future dive buddies! I couldn’t do these kind of things without his support.
The next day I returned to Lac Beauvert with a very different frame of mind than on day 1. We were early & had time to marvel at the stillness & beauty of the lake & the mountains. I set up my gear with confidence. I’d done this before & knew what to expect.
Then, the instructors pulled out a compass. Now, I’m an educated, middle-class women, so I know how a compass is supposed to work theoretically, but I’d never actually used one. With some coaching & practice on land, I got the hang of it, & overcome my hangup on anything that has to do with numbers. Dive #3’s first skill was underwater navigation. I definitely didn’t love this portion, & wouldn’t pursue it in a more advanced course, but it was interesting. After this, I’m also pretty certain I’d never go out with just a buddy, something I’d soon be certified to do, in large lake or an area we didn’t know well. My navigation skills aren’t the best & I would’t be comfortable relying on them without instructors nearby. During this fun swim I shot up from near the bottom to the surface unintentionally, & at a fast clip. I tried to go back down but by ears hurt, so I came back to the top in pain. With a lot of equalizing, I was able to go back down & finish the last couple minutes of the dive, but I was very careful to equalize often on the final dive, & ended up at the hospital a few days later just to make sure everything was okay.
The final dive was where the weekend really came together for me. No more practicing skills, just a fun dive like I’d imagined. I had my buoyancy figured out much, much better than on previous dives, I kept track of my dive buddy much, much better than on previous dives, & I was loving every minute! Because Lac Beauvert backs onto the golf course at Jasper Park Lodge, I found three golf balls, tucked them up between the layers of my wetsuits, & was able to bring them back to shore for Brian. Because we weren’t stirring up sand from the bottom, the visibility was great, & I enjoyed the cool feeling of the water as we swam along. I marvelled at the spring-fed water vents on the bottom of the lake, where the sand would rise, then be suspended, in small puffs as new water entered the lake from the earth below. I even felt the thermocline as we descended down to ~40 feet, the deepest I had ventured in my life. I returned to shore grinning from ear-to-ear. I’d done it! I was now a certified Open Water Diver!
One thing that stood out to me over the course of the weekend was how friendly, helpful, & passionate the diving community is around Edmonton. It was cold, it was raining, & it was a rare summer weekend in Canada, yet all these people chose to be at Lac Beauvert. Between dives they don’t hide in there vehicles with the heaters on (which I may have done once or twice). Instead, they eat their snacks standing up, in a circle, chatting about their love of diving their equipment, & the sport in general. It was easy to see they really love SCUBA diving, & that it would be a great community to be a part of. I think Brian picked up on this vibe too because by the end of the weekend, despite his ear issues, he was asking me if I thought he’d like it, & was making plans to take the hour-long Discover SCUBA course at the NAIT pool this winter to see if he’d like to take his certification course. For someone who generally chooses to sit on the shore while I swim, that’s powerful stuff!
My biggest takeaway from this experience is the realization that sometimes the challenges that I choose to take on are going to be really hard. It is in the challenge, & in the courage & perseverance that it takes to push myself out of my comfort zone, that I grow into a better, more capable, more confident, person. & that’s a win I’ll take any day!
“I will not die an unlived life. I will not live in fear of falling or catching fire. I choose to inhabit my days, to allow my living to open me, to make me less afraid, more accessible, to loosen my heart until it becomes a wing . . . ”
In the fall of 2013 I completed my first hike in Grande Cache with my friend Darla, several of her amazingly energetic aunties, & their furry friends. Standing at the top of Flood Mountain, knowing I had made it all the way up there under my own power, was an extremely empowering feeling. It gave me confidence & a sense of accomplishment that I hadn’t felt in a long time outside of university coursework. The vibrant fall colours were breathtaking, & made every step up the path worth while. It was also a huge check off my bucket list, as climbing a mountain was on my original list of things to accomplish by the time I turn 30.
But . . . the goal setting for hiking & peak bagging did not end there. Grande Cache is home to a program called Passport to the Peaks, which is split into three levels.
The Bronze level features novice to intermediate half & full day hikes &, of course, I want to be able to say I’ve done them all! Many people carry a passport from the visitor information centre, & stamp their passports from the cairn boxes on the top of each summit, but I’ve decided to track my progress with pictures instead. I am considering picking up a passport in the future though, especially if I take on a higher level.
The Bronze level consists of six mountains:
B1: Grande Mountain: 6520′ Completed June 25, 2016.
B2: Flood Mountain: 6000′ Completed fall 2013.
B3: Mount Louie: 6075′
B4: Mount Stearn: 6625′
B5: Ambler Mountain: 6275′
B6: Mount Hamell: 6986′
Currently, I have completed two of the six hikes. One of my goals for 2016 is to complete two more of the Bronze level peaks, so I need to get down to Grande Cache one more time before the snow flies. I think a scenic fall hike may need to be planned!
On July 2nd, just a little stiff & sore from our 16 km hike at Elk Island the previous day, we headed out to visit Brian’s Mom & Dad who were camping at Ross Lake, part of Whitney Lakes Provincial Park. This was my first visit to the park so, of course, I had to conduct a little bit of research. Whitney Lakes includes Ross, Borden, Laurier, & Whitney lakes & some beautiful back country trails wind around each of them. Once I found there was a glacial esker to go explore, we planned an ~11 km route, parked the truck at the start, & headed out into a beautiful afternoon.
The esker snakes out into the water & is an elevated ridge above the surrounding landscape. We debated whether or not to walk its full length, & I’m so glad that we did. The sun was shining, the wildflowers were blooming, & we were walking on a landform created nearly 100 000 years ago.
Warning: I’m going to slip into my high school English teacher persona for a moment, bear with me.
In my second year of university, I took a class on romanticism where we endlessly studied Blake, Keats, Wordsworth & the gang. There, I was introduced to an idea the romantics were obsessively interested in: the sublime. When something is sublime, it impresses you because of its sense of power & immensity &, as a result, it inspires a feeling of awe. The romantics rejected the rational, scientific lens Enlightenment thinkers used to view nature, & concentrated on experiencing awe in nature by intuition rather than deduction instead. While much of what I studied in that class on romanticism has been forgotten, this concept has always stuck with me because it named & explained, much more eloquently than I could ever hope to, my long-standing belief that a connection to God can be found in nature.
Thank you for your patience. We now return to the regularly scheduled post.
Walking on an esker that is 100 000 years old, watching a meteor shower, paddling across a lake where the water is as smooth as glass, and being in the mountains are all experiences that are, for me, sublime. They inspire a sense of awe that can be challenging to put into words. They make me marvel at the beauty that exists all around us, beauty that we should slow down to appreciate more often.
After exploring the esker, we continued with our hike, passing through wetlands & forests. There were signs posted at the campsite warning about active bears in the area, so when we found this fresh track in the mud, we high-tailed it out of there. After that, I was nervous about encountering one of the animals, & we hadn’t brought the bear bell, so I decided it was a good time to teach Brian every campfire sing-along song I could remember from attending camp as an eight-year-old. I think I scared any nearby bears far away with my voice, so it was an effective tactic.
We found a cute backcountry campsite, complete with its own dock. It’d be neat to access it by canoe, & I almost suggested to Brian that we try it out later this summer, but I quickly changed my mind upon realizing how many mosquitos were near the water!
We picked up the pace & continued along, moving out of the backcountry and along the shore of one of the larger lakes where people were waterskiing & tubing. We passed several children’s camps that were quiet & even a little spooky, & headed for the home stretch. This final push was thwarted when we realized that trail had been flooded by the unusually high water levels, so we found ourselves buskwacking to the highway where we called Brian’s Dad to come pick us up & drive us back to the truck.
We finished my first visit to Whitney Lakes off perfectly with BBQ steaks & well-earned Nestle drumsticks. It was one of those days where I returned home with sore feet, mosquito bitten legs, & a burnt nose, utterly exhausted & completely happy.
If you know me at all, you know I drive A LOT. Last summer I moved 700 kilometres away from where I grew up, & I make it a priority to visit friends & family at home regularly.
If you know me at all, you also know that when I’m training for a half marathon, I run A LOT. Usually I hit the gym after work at least 4 days a week to stick to my training schedule.
Cue my discovery of audiobooks (I also listen to a ton of podcasts, but those are a subject in themselves!). I’ve had a subscription to audible for a while now, where I pay a flat fee & get any audiobook of my choosing each month. They do wonders to help fill the long hours of driving & really help me to control my mind when I’m running; if my mind is busy & entertained, it’s not so worried about trying to convince my body that it should stop.
Recently, I stumbled onto a title by Adharanand Finn called The Way of the the Runner: A Journey into the Obsessive World of Japanese Running, which I voraciously devoured. In the book, Finn chronicles his families six-month adventure in Japan, where he goes to seek the secrets of Japanese long-distance running, especially the secrets of the extremely popular sport of ekiden (long-distance relay) running. What makes this story so fascinating is that Finn himself is an avid runner, & is always game to place himself into the story, making local connections & even running with the professional athletes whenever he has the chance. I also really enjoyed how the author goes beyond running, describing the challenges his daughters face as they attend a Japanese school & the families amusing miscalculations as they muddle, at first, their way through each day in a completely foreign society. One part travelogue, one part inspirational sports narrative, this story is woven together honestly & skillfully, & is the best of everything I enjoy about first-person writing. After reading (errr, I mean listening), I’m determined to visit Japan in the future & would love to take part in a recreational ekiden.
When I realized Adharanand Finn had wrote another book before The Way of the Runner, I downloaded it right away. In Running with the Kenyans: Discovering the Secrets of the Fastest People on Earth, he relates his incredible journey, again with his wife & three young children in tow, to Kenya, where he explores what it is the really makes the Kenyans SO darn fast. If you’re looking for a magic formula, you won’t find it, but the real magic in this book is Finn’s story of training for a marathon in Lewa with a group of Kenyans, & his experience getting to know them & immersing himself in the Kenyan running culture. Again, with his wonderful sense of humour, Finn shares what the trip is like for his family. I have a feeling that this book will give me a much greater appreciation for the long-distance athletes in this summer’s upcoming Olympic Games.
If you love running, travelling, & reading, then I can’t recommend these books enough. Give them a read, or a listen, & let me know what you think!