Monday, 30 December 2013

Christmas Wishes and a few Reflections

As we come to the end of another year, I can safely say that in running terms, I've had one of my best for a long time. Whether it's been due to reaching a milestone birthday or simply setting myself new challenges, I really don't know, but one thing's for sure - I've finished every race I've done this year with a smile on my face. Looking back on what I've achieved, I certainly can't complain; 1st lady at the Frozen Ass 50km, 1st lady at the Fast Trax 100km, 2nd lady at the Lost Soul 100km and 2nd lady at the Edmonton Marathon, as well as several race victories over the shorter distances along the way. The major thing for me though was running and winning my first ever 100 mile race in a shade over 21 hours.Even now I still can't believe I did it, especially considering how well I coped both physically and mentally with the distance, and I'm pretty certain that another 100 miler is on the cards in the not too distant future - it's just deciding where and when.

The final month of 2013 has been awesome, and hopefully the buzz I'm feeling now will continue into 2014 and beyond. I've managed to fit in some good quality training runs over the past few weeks as well as some races, all of which has helped to end the year on a high.

A couple of weeks ago it was the 5th race in the local cross country series. Having missed the previous race due to being out of sorts, I was raring to go at Silver Springs despite feeling a little cautious and not really having high expectations. Thankfully the weather had turned much warmer although there was still plenty of energy sapping deep snow to deal with which made things heavy going in places, and with the numerous ups and downs, the course certainly felt much tougher than what I remembered.

Good Friends at the Start of the Silver Springs XC
There seemed to be a few more new faces at this one, and I had a good tussle with another lady for the best part of the race. Fortunately my endurance won in the end, and as I sensed her tiring towards the end, I managed to pull away in the last 2km, finishing a very surprised 2nd lady behind the ever improving Kim. The good news is that although the legs felt heavy and tired from a hard week of running, I could feel some of the strength and fitness returning, giving me some confidence as I start to knuckle down and focus on my goals for 2014.

The following week was another good one, and with the build up to Christmas, it seemed apt to do a couple of festive runs to get me into the holiday spirit. Although considered "races", they were in reality fun runs with nothing particularly fancy about them except for the sheer joy of taking part and the fact that the entry fees went to a local charity.

I was really looking forward to running without the pressure of racing, but there was something that I needed to do if I was going to get the most satisfaction from both events.

People that know me well will know that my 2 dogs, Wilson and Brandy, mean the world to me - they always make me laugh and smile, and they're always there for me through thick and thin, no matter how good or bad things get. They've also been my best running buddies throughout the year, particularly Wilson who is a true lead dog and an absolute dream to run with.

I desperately wanted to do my last 2 races of the year with each of them and my one Christmas wish was that the organisers would allow Wilson to do the 10k with me, and Brandy the 6k. I wasn't to be disappointed and was so happy when I was given the go ahead for some 4-legged company at both events.

The Calgary Run Santa Run 10km started downtown outside the Eau Claire Market, a popular venue for a lot of races held in the city. It was pretty chilly outside but it was good to know that dogs were allowed indoors, and with the indoor market hall being awash with Santas drinking hot chocolate whilst the local choir were singing Christmas carols, it really was a festive affair. The presence of a couple of other dogs caused a bit of a commotion, but thankfully, as soon as Wilson was suited and booted in his new harness and collar, he sensed that we were off for a run and the other dogs were soon forgotten.

The start of the Calgary Run Santa Run 10km
Around 100 folks lined up for the 10k run and as requested, Wilson and I stood at the back of the field to avoid any trips or falls over stray dog leads. As the countdown to the start began, and the anticipation was building, Wilson  started his usual barking and howling, getting extremely excited and impatient to get going. Before we knew it, we were hurtling forward as Wilson started his frantic pulling and I tried desperately to keep up with him. It wasn't long before we'd made our way to the front of the field, Wilson looking up and almost smiling in joy as he passed each runner as he surged forward along the pathway.

The route followed the river and having trained and raced a number of times along this stretch, I was extremely familiar with where we were heading. The pathway was still quite snowy despite obvious attempts to clear it, and as we headed down a short sharp incline, I slipped on some ice and took a tumble, bashing my elbow as I fell and feeling it in my back. Thankfully there wasn't any serious injury and I managed to spring back up and keep going.

We'd left the other runners way behind by now and although Wilson had no idea where he was headed, he still led confidently and responded to all my commands, despite a few squirrels and a couple of birds scuttling around in the trees causing distractions. Heading alongside the highway close to the midway point, we got quite a few cheers and peeps from passing motorists - the happiness and pride I was feeling in Wilson was full to bursting point! As we hit the turnaround point and ran along the opposite side of the river, I could sense Wilson speeding up and he really was coming into his own - it was such an exhilarating feeling running a race together as we seemed to speed along.

Team Wilson Bilbo at the Santa Run 10km and heading for home
The race distance was just shy of 10km in the end and after around about 45 minutes of running, we saw the finish line ahead. On the approach, there was lots of cheering and clapping as we finished 2nd (and 3rd!) overall - 1st lady and 1st dog ;o) Wilson was so happy and excited, clearly buzzing on the endorphines and picking up on the atmosphere and my own excitement. We were awarded a medal, and whilst positions didn't really matter, we received a $25 gift card for our efforts despite my reluctance to take it due to having some assistance! Wilson accompanied me on the stage as I received the prize, loving the attention as his celebrity status in the running circles of Calgary grew, and he had his photo taken alongside me.

GOLD for 1st placed dog and 1st Female :o)
A quick change of clothes in to something warmer and drier, and then we were off to Canmore for the second event of the day - this time the Canmore Santa 6km Fun Run. The run started at 5pm and we arrived just as dusk was falling, with the sun casting golden shadows across the mountains overlooking the town which looked splendid in the evening light. The start area felt really Christmassy, and as the temperature started to plummet, we were glad of the fire pits which would later be used for toasting marshmellows after the run. The entry fee this time was a donation of a non-perishable food item for the local Food Bank, and once again, I was very excited that I would be allowed to run with some company, this time in the form of Brandy.

 Canmore Santa 6km Fun run
The route was a 2 x 3km out and back loop along snow covered pathways and I was in my element running amongst the mountains as darkness fell. Brandy did so well considering she didn't have Wilson to follow and I was so pleased with her. A few distractions from other dogs and young children, and her wanting to play with them certainly kept her entertained, and she was fascinated by the flames of the fires and the sparks and embers flying through the air every so often. In general though, she managed to keep moving forward, and every so often would look up at me for a little pat and reassurance.

We eventually finished in 5th position and just as with Wilson earlier in the day, crossing the finish line resulted in lots of tail wagging and big smiles all round.

Days like that are hard to beat and I loved every minute of it - a combination of running, running with my dogs, and being in the mountains and the fresh air. It's unlikely that I will be able to do many races with Wilson and Brandy again over here - CaniX hasn't quite taken off in the same degree as across Europe and not surprisingly, dogs are not allowed in "normal" running races - but I know for sure that if ever it did come to Alberta, I would be first in line to sign up and take part.

For now though, I'm content with walking and running with Wilson and Brandy in a leisurely capacity. Over the past year, I've had some fantastic times with them both and I love the unity and bonding I get when I lace up my shoes, harness them up, and we step out of the door together - a sense of freedom, a sense of abandonment. I can't wait for 2014 - new goals, new challenges, and 2 awesome running pals to share my adventures with at every opportunity - it's going to be a good one I can tell, and there'll be no stopping us.

And so, with a new year once again fast approaching, I'm definitely ending the year on a high, and all that remains is to wish all of my friends and family a very happy new year, and the very best of luck, success, health and happiness for 2014 - may you too achieve your goals and aspirations.

Happy New Year Folks :o)

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