Friday, 24 August 2012

A Runners the UK and back again......

Following the Stampede Half back in July, I'd been looking forward to my visit to the UK, and  in particular catching up with old running chums and doing a couple of familiar races over there for old time's sake. Ok, my race times had been a little slow since the big move overseas, but I'd put that down to the dry air of Calgary and the higher altitude. The only way to put things to the test was to do races that I'd done before, so that at least I had something to compare to.

Things went a little pear shaped, and a week or so before I was due to fly to the UK I found myself visiting the local doctor in Lake Chaparral, resulting in a referral to the hospital.  I won't go into detail as I don't want to be accused of being a drama queen, but the result certainly gave me a valid reason for my recent poor race performances. I eased off the running and began to alternate running with biking to ensure that I maintained some level of fitness, but I began to doubt whether  I should actually race the Dovedale Dipper or the Staffs Knot 5 as planned. I decided not to make any decisions, and to just take things a day at a time to see how things went.

The following week I landed at Manchester Airport and it was a weird feeling - everything felt so English and so familiar, and yet it felt strange and somewhat alien to me. Even travelling back to Stoke on the National Express Coach, I expected to feel a sense of excitement and anticipation, and yet I was almost dreading the next 2 weeks for reasons I can't explain.

That night, I sat watching the Olympic Opening Ceremony - absolutely exhausted thanks to jet lag, but determined to stay awake and share in the nation's pride at a home Olympics. Every spare moment for the next fortnight was spent watching sports I would never normally have watched any other time, such was the addiction of the Games this year.

That weekend was also the Thunder Run 24 weekend, and having taken part in the event last year along with a fantastic relay team from Trentham Running Club, I had very fond memories. This year, several of my old running friends were taking part, some as solo competitors, others as a pair, and of course, Trentham had a team of 8 heading down to take part in the  relay. I was really looking forward to seeing as many people as possible and offering some support, if only for a couple of hours.

On arrival at the venue, all the happy memories came flooding back, and when  I spotted the Trentham club tent, it was a lovely feeling knowing that I used to be a member of that club, and that that's where I've had most of my running successes over the years when wearing the green vest with pride. It's safe to say that I got somewhat emotional, especially when seeing the Trentham TR24 team for 2012 having their team photo, and I couldn't resist giving those special people a hug on seeing them again after 4 months of being out of the country. I didn't get the chance to speak to everybody, but I hung around for a couple of hours in the sunshine before heading off for a run around the 10km course, shouting words of encouragement to those I knew out on the course.

Old Chums of Trentham RC

I didn't stay for the full 24 hours - I had family commitments to see to - but there were once again some brilliant performances from my friends. Sarah Gardner-Hall won the individual ladies solo event with an amazing distance of 180km in 24 hours, Stephan Walley ran an excellent  160km despite never having done such an event before, whilst Sarah's dad did the 24 hour solo and covered 100km which is an excellent effort for a veteran runner.  Lynne Callaghan and Phil Fortun ran as a mixed pair, covering an incredible 160km between them in the 24 hours, whilst the Trentham team performed just as well, covering 300km between them. Although I didn't get to see any of them finish on the Sunday, I am so proud and honoured to know such a great bunch of people and wish them all well with their running adventures in the months to come.

The next few days, I managed to get out for a couple of runs and bike rides, and towards the end of the week I spent 3 days camping in the Lake District and walking in the mountains. Despite my recent health concerns, I had been feeling pretty well, so when I got back to Stoke after the camping trip, I made the decision to do the Dovedale Dipper after all. 

Beautiful Lake District

Although the Dipper is 27 miles of hilly off-road terrain around the Peak District, I figured that if I walked/ran it I would be ok and actually didn't mind if it took me 6- 8 hours (my best for the run in the past is 3 hours 57 minutes, so 6-8 hours wouldn't take that much out of me!)

The weather forecast for the day was heavy showers, but the start in Hartington was covered in warm sunshine and the run threatened to be a warm one. I know the course extremely well and was really looking forward to taking part, and for the first few miles, I was relaxed, happy, and feeling good. Although running/jogging and knocking out 9 - 10 minute mile splits (VERY slow for me!), I found that I was leading the ladies race by a considerable margin, with the second lady some 15 minutes behind me already by the time I reached the 2nd checkpoint.

Having headed out across the fields, things were still going well and I was joined by a chap who clearly didn't have a clue where he was going, and was sticking to me like glue to show him the way. I didn't mind, but after a couple of miles or so, and just before the climb up the checkpoint 3 just before Warslow at 13 miles, I knew that something was wrong. I deliberately started to walk to let the chap move ahead, with the intention of stopping at the next check point to assess how I was truly feeling.

It wasn't good news and I was forced to pull out of the race. I was obviously upset, but a lovely male  runner made sure I was ok and took me safely back to the checkpoint where the organisers and St John's Ambulance saw to my needs. I cannot fault the way in which they dealt with things, and the fact that they were all doing this on a voluntary basis early on a Sunday morning made things all the more commendable. 

There were two other people that I will be eternally grateful to for looking after me and getting me back home safely that day - Rebecca Bostock and Jackie Allen - two friends that I first met when doing the Staffordshire Way Challenge a couple of years ago. Both were doing the Dipper that day, and when I saw their friendly and reassuring faces, it was such a welcome sight and I can't thank them enough for all they did for me on the day. Then there was my brother and his girlfriend Jill who were fantastic, and my very good friend Julia Race - again of Trentham Running Club - all of which knew the right things to say to reassure me and make me feel more positive over the next few days.

And so, having had to drop out of the Dovedale Dipper, there was no way that I was going to be able to run the Staffs Knot 5 on the Wednesday, although I did head down to Cannock Chase to bid farewell to a few of my other running friends that I hadn't seen over the past week. It was great to see them all, but I knew that this would be the last time I would see them for a very long time.

This was also my last opportunity to pay a visit to the resting place of my two old dogs, Sammy and Leo, both who had lived to the ripe old age of 17 years. We lost Leo a couple of years ago, whilst Sammy went to doggy heaven in March this year. To reunite them, we had agreed to sprinkle their ashes at the trig point on the Roaches, a place they had frequented and had many adventures as both young pups and old timers. I headed up there on the Friday before heading back to Canada and left a gerbera amongst the heather as a tribute to two of the best dogs ever. I still miss them, and pretty sure they would have a few stern barks to say to our young dog Wilson!

In memory of Sammy and Leo

Prior to my visit to the UK, I had been saying that flying back would help me determine where I belong and how my future pans out - that was 3 or 4 months ago, when I first arrived in Canada and still had my doubts as to whether I had done the right thing. 

I've now been back in Calgary for 2 weeks and I have finally realised that this IS where I belong. I fell in love with this country 12 years ago and have been back many times since for holidays. I never get bored or tired of the place - the air is clean and fresh, the mountains are only a short drive away and offer that open space and solitude that we sometimes seek, the people are so friendly, and the stresses and strains that I felt when living in the UK just seem to have disappeared. Landing in Calgary a fortnight ago, I once again got emotional - not because I felt homesick or missed people, but because it was a relief to be home.

Running wise, I'm having to put a few things on hold whilst my body sorts itself out. I am managing to run slowly and not particularly far, but I know that given a few months, I'll hopefully have some of that fitness back. I had to miss the Edmonton Marathon last weekend, and I have a half marathon and a 50km trail race coming up that I was so looking forward to, but now may have to just be content with starting but not necessarily finishing.

The weather in Calgary has been fantastic this past couple of weeks, but we are being warned to make the most of it as fall is just around the corner, and the snow and ice will be on our doorstep before we know it. Winter running over here will bring new challenges I'm sure - and although I won't be competitive I'm keen to run some of the cross country races that take place during the winter. Whatever I decide though, I just need to be patient and when the time is right, everything will click into place, and I'll be back to running fit and strong and looking forward to some race victories again.

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