Saturday, 24 November 2012

It's Beginning to look alot like Christmas!

Winter has well and truly set in now here in Calgary and over the past couple of weeks or so, we've had 2 snow storms moving through the area resulting in significant snowfall of around 10-15cm. Thankfully, although a few bumps are inevitable on the roads, the country hasn't ground to a halt and it is reassuring to see that life just goes on as normal no matter what the weather throws at people over here.

Despite the weather, I've still been getting out running and have finally managed to get my mileage up to something more realistic in preparation for  my next ultra - the Frozen Ass 50km race, to be held on 18th February next year which also happens to be the same day as my 40th birthday. The race was recommended to me by the awesome ultra runner Ellie Greenwood who used to live in Banff but moved to Vancouver a few months ago. I was meant to have done it earlier this year, but whilst Andy moved to Calgary in early January, my move to Canada was delayed due to the logistics of getting our animals over here and making sure they had all the correct vaccinations, so I missed the race despite having entered.

Running has been hard work, not only because of snow and ice, but also because the temperature has been so cold. Sometimes it's struggled to get above -10 in the day time, and with the added wind chill, it's meant several layers of clothing to keep warm even when out running. The cold air also affects breathing, so I've looked like an Eskimo running away from  a bank robbery on several occasions recently with the amount of clothing and balaclava I've been wearing!

A run home from work on a cold winter's night
One of the great things about Calgary is that we get the Chinook winds. A Chinook is a warm dry wind blowing down the eastern slopes of the Rockies -  one minute it can be absolutely freezing cold, and the next, a Chinook will come along and it can feel really warm, even on a winter's night.

I experienced this last weekend when I went out for a run with Wilson. It had been really chilly during the day with temperatures way below freezing, and having already gone dark, I figured that it was going to be even colder outside. I put several layers of clothing on, but after a mile or so, we turned a corner and suddenly felt a warm draft of air - it was really weird experiencing the dramatic change in temperature and I immediately thought that this must be one of the Chinooks I'd heard so much about. It turned out to be a really enjoyable run - quite mild and yet there was still ice and snow underfoot - and Wilson loved it!

By Tuesday however, we had another dump of snow so it was back to trail shoes and thermals when running home from work, along with a biting wind to contend with. I don't really mind the conditions to be fair, and figured that it would help to prepare me for the next cross country race which was due to take place on the following Saturday afternoon .

The fourth race in the cross country series took place in Okotoks about a 15 minute drive south of Calgary. It's in the Foothills region, and driving to the venue you can certainly see the rolling hills lying at the foot of the majestic Rocky Mountains. The weather was absolutely beautiful with clear blue skies and glorious sunshine, and even though temperatures were still only around freezing point, it felt quite warm in comparison to the past few days. There was still plenty of snow lying around and it was such a picturesque vista that it once again took my breath away - I really still haven't got used to having such fantastic scenery on my doorstep and even now, it often feels very surreal .

The race started in the grounds of Strathcona Tweedsmuir School on the outskirts of Okotoks, and  I have to say that the course was extremely well planned out with a mix of single track paths through woodland, up and down plenty of hills, and at one point, treated us to splendid views of the mountains. It was a difficult course, made all the more so by quite deep, soft snow. Running on compact snow is relatively easy, but when it's "fluffy" and soft, it is really difficult to get a grip and it saps the energy trying to do so. Along with trying to keep your balance on bumpy paths and trails, it certainly made the course even more challenging.

Big Rock Runners - Okotoks XC Race
and tough going in the snow
I felt a little tired before the race and didn't expect to run exceptionally well, so just kept my head down and battled away. At around 5.2 miles, the course was a little longer than previous ones but it was 2 laps so we knew exactly what was coming second time round. I found myself isolated shortly after the start - not fast enough to be up there with the leaders, but not too slow as to be amongst the back end of the field - but I thoroughly enjoyed the run despite finding it extremely tiring and difficult today. The interesting thing was that although I started steady, I found myself getting into my stride and speeding up as the race progressed, and figured that that must be the ultra runner in me - the further I go, the better I feel,  but after 50 minutes of running (yes I know, a shocking 50 mins for just over 5 miles!!) I ran out of course!

I finished 57th overall, and in the top 5 ladies so I certainly couldn't grumble. Although feeling a bit listless for racing today, I actually felt like running, so I headed off back onto the course and took Wilson with me for a bit of a cool down. He'd already had a brilliant morning having spent half an hour playing with a husky that happened to be wandering around the school grounds, but with bright eyes and a lovely wet nose, he was still happy to trot alongside me. I let him off his lead so that he could stride out properly and not have his lead hindering either of us, but with all the snow, he got inquisitive at the sounds and smells hidden underneath, and was happily bounding through the deeper parts and burying his head in the snow trying to sniff out his prey. Yet again though, he was so well behaved - even off his lead - and giving him a shout, he came sprinting after me and trotted alongside until the next sound he heard in the bushes where he darted off again in his endless excitement. We only ran for about half an hour, but the little chap loved it and I'm pretty certain that he could have kept going!

A pleasant cool down with Wilson in Okotoks
And so with Christmas fast approaching, there are just 2 more races for me until the end of the year - another cross country race and the Grizzly Canmore Night Run - both of them on the same day again!! I'm looking forward to them immensely and can honestly say that I have absolutely loved racing over here in Canada for the past few months. I'm certainly no record breaker anymore, I'm certainly no champion, but I love my running, I love the great outdoors, and I love living in and experiencing the wonders of this beautiful country.

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