Sunday, February 22, 2015

The end is in sight, and CTR is just around the corner

The weather's been brutal the past few weeks - with heaps of snow and cold that's made running miserable. I've tried not to complain. After all, we live in Canada and we have winter. It goes with the territory.

However, it's hard to keep from getting a wee bit blue by the time late February rolls around. Post-holiday weight gain, short cold days, and poor conditions make running feel much more difficult than at other times of the year. It's easy to say "winter running makes you stronger" but it's hard to feel genuinely enthused when temperatures dip to -20C, sidewalks and roads are covered with snow and ice, and you'd rather stay warm by the fire.

Fortunately, the end is in sight. Spring is less than a month away and, while that's no guarantee the snow and ice will be gone anytime soon, it shouldn't be long before warm breezes blow often enough to make running outside easier.

Which is a good thing since race season will be upon us in no time. Husband and I have tentatively committed to running a local half marathon (Run Our Shore) in early May and I'm thinking about a fourth Cabot Trail Relay at the end of May. Former teammates David and Crystal stepped up to co-captain this year so I met with them today to share my experiences as last year's captain. I'd really love to run CTR again. It's a fantastic event! However, our our 25th wedding anniversary is the same weekend so I'm still negotiating with Husband. If I am running CTR again, I need to get busy doing hill and speed work. CTR isn't for the faint of heart or for the under-prepared. And, who knows, Husband's training is going so well perhaps he'll feel like running it too.

Speaking of training, I managed a decent 11k long run yesterday, despite challenging conditions and a wicked charley horse Friday night that left my right calf sore and tender. As I limped around the house last evening, I wondered if it has been a mistake to run on a sore leg but it felt much better by this morning so apparently no serious harm was done.

Today's run hasn't happened yet because it's been raining all day, which is a nice change but has resulted in my usual route being covered in ankle-deep slush. I'll head into town shortly to see if I can find a more appealing place to run 5k before we head back to the city.

The rain is good for another reason. A few weeks ago, ice dams formed on the roof of our country house and water began seeping into an exterior wall whenever temperatures got warm enough to melt the snow piled on the roof. Most of the water passed through without damaging anything but, with heavy rain in today's forecast, we were worried the situation might get worse in a hurry. Husband did some research and discovered he could break up the dams by cutting trenches in the ice with an axe and placing nylon stockings filled with de-icer to keep them open so that water would be able to find its way off the roof without detouring into the house. He got the job done but it wasn't easy since it meant manhandling a 28- foot ladder into and out of the thigh-deep snow surrounding the house. By the end of the day, the leaking had stopped, there was far less snow on the roof and the ice dams were considerably smaller so hopefully that's the the end of the problem for this year. (Have I mentioned lately how grateful I am to have a strong, handy and handsome husband who also enjoys running? Well, I am! :-) )

So that's it for this week, friends. I hope you and yours are surviving the last gasps of winter (assuming you have winter where you are). How's your training going? Are you looking forward to any special running or other events this year?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

How'd that happen?

Mid-February already. The year time seems to be rushing by faster than usual. But, then, I've noticed time's been speeding up as I get older. Which is too bad because my "to do" lists are getting longer too.

A quick post today just to say that, no, I haven't died. Or given up blogging. Or given up running. Or abandoned my goals for 2015. It's just that "real life" keeps getting in the way. I'm determined to put "first things first" and family and friends have needed more tending than usual lately.

The weather's been miserable since Christmas but I still managed two or three runs per week through most of January and February - not as much as I hoped but enough to maintain some capacity to run distances. This past Saturday, I completed 9.5k in tough conditions and it felt okay. Husband's decided to join me in training for a half marathon, which should make scheduling workouts easier in the coming months.

We're also making dietary changes bit by bit - eating more veggies and protein, less bread and pasta. We haven't eliminated as many simple carbs as I'd like but I can already feel some difference in the way my legs feels and my clothes fit. More on that when I've further details to report.

On the reading front - check out the book list I posted on the right! I haven't quite managed a book a week but close to it, and, with more bad weather in the forecast, there should be plenty of time for reading in the coming weeks.

The high points of last week included completing a major project at work, a wonderful "first date" anniversary supper with Hubbie at a favourite restaurants (Edna), a terrific Valentine's Day run under clear blue skies, snuggling by the fireplace as the latest storm raged, a snowshoe to the back of our country property, and a delightful afternoon with good friends, Janet and Ron, who treated us to delicious homemade wine and treats (including fabulous potato, feta and scallop cakes, and home-smoked salmon - yum!)  All in all, a pretty great week, despite the blah February weather! Here's a few pics.

Walking home from our anniversary dinner
Valentine's Day run
After the latest storm
Snowshoeing in our woods
If I had more time, I'd be tempted to rant about 50 Shades of Grey but let me post a link to my favourite critique of the movie instead. Seriously, why are the books so popular? And what on earth does it say about our culture? Nothing good, for sure.

To be clear, I'm no prude. I like sex. A lot. And, I agree that many people could benefit from thinking more about what turns them on and doesn't. I also agree that people have a right to pursue their kinks - within reasonable limits, at least. But the book and movie aren't celebrations of healthy sexuality. Rather, they exploit and glamourize the dangerous myth that an abuser will miraculously heal himself if only his partner puts up with his abuse long enough. In real life, that rarely happens. In real life, far too many victims spend years of their lives being abused or, worse, end up dead.

To be clear, I'm not saying abusers can't be healed or that we shouldn't feel some empathy for them. Most people who genuinely want to change can do so, and we can and should support them when/if they decide to try. Unfortunately, narcissists like "Mr. Grey" rarely want to change because, in their dysfunctional version of reality, there's nothing wrong with them. When something bad  happens, it's always someone else's fault. (e.g."She made me hit her.")

Sigh. I know. I said I wasn't going to rant but I find the 50 Shades phenomenon incredibly depressing. In Canada, police statistics suggest that something like 80,000 women are abused by their partners annually but, of course, that doesn't count the women who never make a call for help. I expect statistics in the US and Australia (where the books' author resides) aren't very different. So why on earth would anyone think it was a good idea to write such awful books and make a movie out of them?

Perhaps, it's not so difficult to understand. We live in a patriarchal society, where many men still think of women as little more than "housekeepers with benefits". Girls are being sexualized at younger and younger ages. Rape culture persists despite decades of struggle to end it. The books and movie are just one more (very lucrative) manifestation of everything that's wrong with the way our culture teaches men and women to think about sex and about one another.


Happy running and writing, friends. Hopefully, there'll be something good to rant about next week.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Memories of Yukon


I was moping around the house thinking I should write a post but not really feeling like it when I remembered that I hadn't got round to writing about the various trips we took last summer. A cold, February day seemed as good a day as any to reminisce about my brief visit to Yukon last June.

I'd been wanting to head up north for years but had never gotten further than northern Ontario so was thrilled when I learned I would be going to Whitehorse on a business trip. Over the years, many friends who lived or traveled in Yukon told wonderful stories of stunning landscape, impressive wildlife and warm, hospitable people. My few days in Whitehorse confirmed all the good things I'd heard and made me wish I had far more time there.

As it happens, one of my oldest friends, Pippa, lives in Whitehorse so I flew in a few days before my meetings to visit her and her husband and do some hiking and sightseeing. After a long day of traveling, I arrived mid-afternoon on Friday and almost immediately headed out for an energetic walk along the Yukon River with Pippa and her beautiful dog Tira.


The first thing that struck me was the colour of the water, a clear, bright blue-green that underscored the relatively pristine condition of the local environment.


The Yukon River - yes it really was that colour!

The second thing that impressed me was how much green space there is in Whitehorse. I knew the city was surrounded by thousands of kilometres of wilderness but, even within city limits, there were huge swaths of forest, criss-crossed by well-used trails.


The other thing I noticed that first day was how little darkness there was that time of year. I took this photo from Pippa's dining room window about 10:00 pm. Pippa assured me it got "sort of dark" around midnight. Needless to say, I was grateful for the blackout curtains that made it possible for me to get some sleep while I was there.

After some exercise, a delicious supper and good night's sleep, I was ready for more ambitious adventures Saturday morning but the weather was unsettled so Pippa suggested we postpone our planned hike and visit the Yukon Wildlife Preserve instead - a terrific idea since it provided excellent opportunities to learn about local flora and fauna and break out my zoom lens to take portraits of some of the preserve's residents.




En route back from the preserve, we stopped for mouth-watering coffee and snacks at Bean North Cafe. At first glance, the cafe appears to be plunked in the middle of nowhere but in fact it's a popular destination for hikers, cyclists and sightseers travelling through the area.  Bean North roasts a wide selection of organic and fair trade coffees and (as I discovered when I looked it up just now) ships its coffee worldwide. I enjoyed the coffee enough to bring home several packages as a gift for Husband so would certainly recommend it to anyone interested in ordering some.

By Sunday the weather had improved enough that Pippa and I made arrangements to join a couple of friends for what she assured me would be a moderately difficult day hike up Caribou Mountain. Our plan was to hike to the top, and stop for a leisurely lunch before hiking back down. Being an experienced distance runner, it didn't occur to me I wouldn't be able to keep up - at least, until Pippa's friends arrived and began swapping stories about their latest hiking and mountain-biking adventures. Those gals were seriously fit and 10-15 years younger than me.

As it turned out, there was good reason to be nervous. I'm not entirely comfortable with (read "scared to death of") heights and the trail was a steep and rocky, often barely clinging to the side of the mountain with sharp inclines mere feet (occasionally inches) away. As my legs tired, I became increasingly aware that I'd tumble hundreds of meters if I lost my footing and pitched off the trail. Given how tired and shaky my legs felt, I also wondered how on earth I was going to descend the mountain without falling.

600 metres up - around halfway to the summit - I stopped and encouraged Pippa and her friends to go on without me while I ate lunch and regained my strength. Pippa opted to stay with me while the others finished the climb, and we spent a pleasant hour savouring the stunning views, eating lunch and chatting with other hikers out for a Sunday stroll.


Another view from Caribou Mountain


That's when I learned something else about Yukoners. They're a tough, fearless crowd who hike and cycle in the mountains so regularly that even the least fit of them can run circles around southerners like me. I made it down the mountain after lunch but my legs were sore for two days afterwards. Needless to say, I was seriously humbled by the experience.

Given that we'd cut the hike short, we had some time on our hands when we arrived back at the car so decided to drive into Carcross (formerly, Caribou Crossing), a charming and interesting community nestled between two lakes, for coffee and a bit of sightseeing. Carcross is home to the Carcross/Tagish First Nation and has a year round population of about 300. Although its economy is largely based on tourism now, Carcross was an important stopover point en route to Dawson City during the Klondike Gold Rush. In its present incarnation, the community has much to recommend it - stunning views of majestic mountains, a long white sandy beach, some terrific eateries, a few shops selling local crafts, and quaint cottages begging to be photographed.




More funky Carcross buildings

We stopped for coffee, then wandered round the community for a bit and along the beach as Pippa regaled me with tales of hiking the Chilkoot Trail (which begins in Carcross). After a last stop for icecream, we headed back to Whitehorse, stopping briefly at Carcross Desert - a square mile of misplaced sand dunes just up the road. It was strange seeing dunes so far from the ocean but apparently they were deposited there in the last glacial period and have been replenished ever since by sand blowing in from nearby Bennett Lake.


The rest of my time in Whitehorse was consumed with meetings so I wasn't able to do much more sightseeing beyond checking out the myriad of well-stocked shops selling outdoor gear and local arts and crafts (which are wonderful). On my last day, I spent a very pleasant hour or so exploring the MacBride Museum, which offers fascinating glimpses into Yukon's history, together with an impressive collection of stuffed and mounted animals - bears, wolves, you name it - that give a good sense of just how terrifying such creatures would be if one encountered them in their natural habitats. The next time I'm in town, I'll be sure to plan on a longer visit to the MacBride.

Before signing off, I want to add just a few words about the people I met in Yukon. Pippa's husband Lawrence put it this way: Whitehorse is 1/3 redneck, 1/3 First Nations and 1/3 hippy. My own observation was that most of the hippies had become yuppies years ago but otherwise his characterization seemed pretty accurate. It's an odd mixture that seems to work well because the people who live there are passionate about the north - because it's their home, because they make a good living, and/or because they love the scenery and active lifestyle. And, since the city is so relatively small and many of its residents originated someplace else, folks are generally happy to meet new people and share their enthusiasm for life in Yukon.

My friend Pippa and Tira in Carcross

Needless to say, Husband and I will be headed back to Yukon at the first opportunity - preferably in a camper van that allows us to get off the beaten track and take our time savouring the incredible landscape. If you ever have the chance to go, I'd highly recommend it.

For selection of my photos from the trip, follow this link to my Flickr album: