Monday, 7 May 2012

There's no Place Like Home.....or is there?

Wednesday next week marks the start of my 7th week here in Canada, and despite a couple of wobbles over the past few weeks, since our things arrived from the UK,
Lake Chaparral is starting to feel a bit more like home! The only drawback is still not finding work. I've applied for an endless list of jobs and have felt reassured by everybody here telling me there is ample employment with companies crying out for staff, and yet I've only had a response from just two of those I've gone for. Thankfully, one of these was an invitation to an interview which I'm pleased to say went exceptionally well and resulted in me having a provisional offer of employment pending a medical examination. I'm hoping by the end of this week, I will have a more concrete job offer and can finally look forward to actually working again and putting something back into the country I have chosen to live in.

I suppose there are pros and cons to not working. Having so much time on my hands has meant too much thinking time, and on some occasions this has led to me missing the familiarity of the UK - the ability to just disappear up the moors when I want to for a run or a walk with Wilson, to visit friends and family when I want to, or to potter around in the garden and do house things. Even now, there are a some people that I miss immensely but thankfully, regular emails and the odd old fashioned hand written letter means that I haven't lost touch with them completely!

On the positive side, I do have lots of time for running and with targeting the Calgary Marathon at the end of May, I've had to get out and do the miles if I want to have a half decent run. With things being up in the air at the beginning of the year, I only made the decision to run the marathon when I flew out here at the beginning of April, giving me just 8 weeks to train which isn't ideal in all honesty. Whilst I had been running regularly when back in the UK, I didn't have a structure and there certainly hadn't been any speed work. Since arriving in Calgary however, although I still aren't following a schedule, I have managed to do a few speed sessions in addition to some longer runs of around 20 miles to help prepare for the onslaught of a marathon.

Another problem since heading over the pond is that my training pace has slowed. At first I was a little concerned as although I'm not at my peak, I had been feeling pretty fit back in the UK. However, having spoken to a few local sporty people since, it seems that my body is still adjusting to the difference in altitude and the dry air. Whilst not high enough to make a significant difference to my overall fitness, at 3,500 feet, Calgary is considerably higher than Stoke and my body is taking its time getting used to it. Add to this the very dry dusty air and low humidity of the City, it's small wonder that I've been struggling with my breathing when trying to run the same steady paced runs I was doing back in the UK. As time has gone on though, although I'm not running much quicker, my breathing does feel better so I guess I am getting used to things and with another 3 weeks until the marathon, maybe by then I'll be ok.

In terms of training routes, I've found the lovely Fish Creek Provincial Park which is just a 10-15 minute run from home. Fish Creek covers X area of Calgary, and has bike tracks and trails going in all directions alongside the Bow River and Fish Creek. With no access to a car during the week, my choice of run is quite limited, so I find myself doing a hell of a lot of training runs around there, and whilst the steep hill back to Chaparral is a bit of chore every day, you can't really get too bored running around Fish Creek - plus it will help if I enter a race with an uphill finish!

I've also been lucky enough to meet up with Alan Lam, and chap that has lived here in Calgary since 1989, member of Calgary Road Runners, and a very keen trail runner. He took me on a lovely trail at South Glenmore Park last week - Jack Rabbit I believe - and it really was nice to get out somewhere different, and whilst not exactly mountainous, it was certainly undulating with some pretty steep, short sharp hills. That same  evening, Alan also arranged a night time walk up in the mountains near to Canmore about an hour's drive from the City, and invited us along. It was supposed to have been the night of the super moon, but the cloud cover prevented any decent views of the moon, although it was attempting to come through. We took the Ha Ling Trail up the mountain side, through forests at turned 10 o'clock at night, and with my amateur take on the Canadian Wilderness, although excited at the thought of walking in the dark, there was also anxiety about bumping into the odd cougar, coyote or bear - especially when we neared the top of the tree line and I spotted at least 2 different types of animal footprints in the snow! I was almost hoping we would see something, but also glad we didn't as I really am naive about how to react around wild animals of this sort - they're not quite the same as encountering the odd fox or badger back in the UK.

To help keep me focused and to enable me feel at home, I've entered a few races, mostly half marathons including the Millarville Race to the Farmers Market and the Stampede Half. I also entered some 10km events - one on the trails in a couple of weeks around the Olympic Park, and the other which took place just two weeks after my arrival.
2012 was the inaugural Bow River Run 10km and at just $10 to enter, I thought I would give it a go. I was hoping to run close to 40 mins, but with no speed in my legs, I knew I was probably being ambitious. The race started in Edworthy Park in Calgary and was an out and back course along the river banks. Not hilly at all, it was an ideal opportunity to have a blow out and see how fast my legs could go.

Race day started on the cool side, and whilst everybody else was dressed in hats and gloves and winter running gear, I stood there feeling somewhat underdressed in my shorts and Staffordshire Moorlands vest - there were even patches of snow that hadn't yet melted alongside the river and although the sun was shining brightly, it really was quite cold in the shade.

Somewhat under-dressed compared to other competitors!
A 5km event was held alongside the 10km, and with a limit of just 300 runners, it was a low key event and just perfect as an introduction the Canadian racing scene.
From the start, I found myself near the front and was aiming for just under 4 mins for each km split, but after the first 1k, it was clear that I was never going to get a sub 40 as I went through bang on 4 mins - usually the first km /mile is the fastest for me in a race. I figured the best thing would be to just try and maintain the pace for as long as possible. After about 2km I overtook the leading lady and knowing I was now leading, the pressure really was on to keep things going despite the burning lungs and legs like lead.

The good thing about this race was the out and back aspect, so at the 5k turnaround, you passed runners going in the other direction. At this point, I was probably just 200m or so ahead of the second placed lady, and having that thirst for victory, I didn't want to ease off. My next km was a shocking 4.26 and it was likely that the gap was starting to close, so with everything I had, I pushed harder and focused on a chap in front of me to just keep me going.

Approaching the finish line, I was delighted to have won my first race over here, even if I was only 43 seconds ahead of the next lady - a win is a win after all! Yes I would have liked to have ran faster, but in all fairness, I probably ran as expected given my limited targeted training of late!

Post race victory cuddle off my most avid supporter!
$100 for my efforts to be spent at the Mountain Equipment Coop was pretty impressive considering such a cheap $10 entry fee, and the atmosphere at the race was great. It was nice to meet other runners and have a chat, and it's certainly true that runners are the same the world over  - they have drive, passion and ambition to do well and go for PBs - regardless of age or ability - but more importantly, they enjoy their chosen sport.

So with the marathon looming, I have been invited onto the local Breakfast TV as well as attend the VIP event on the Friday evening before the marathon. Whilst I've said yes to both, I'm not really sure whether I will add any value to either of them, and am just hoping that I don't let people down. I'm not going to say what my predicted time is for the marathon but I do have an idea as to how I will do now. It will be nowhere near my 2.47 PB, but so long as I give things my best shot, then I'll be happy whatever the outcome.

For now though, I guess it's back to the grindstone - I'm off out for a 5 mile tempo run - wish me luck!

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