Thursday, July 28, 2011

Running oot and aboot in Canada, eh?

In celebration of spending the last four days in Canada, I'd like to invite everyone to join me in a rousing chorus of the Canadian national anthem. It's sung to the tune of "O Christmas Tree" and goes like this:

O Canada, O Canada
How lovely are thy maple leaves!

O Canada, O Canada
How lovely are thy maple leaves!

With moose, poutine and hockey too,

Beer for me, back bacon for you,

O Canada, O Canada

How lovely are thy maple leaves!

jazz hands*

Now some of you (especially those of you who are actually Canadian) may argue that that is not the Canadian national anthem. To that I say "Well, not yet, it's not! Geesh!" I am petitioning the Canadian government to have the anthem changed because mine is (1) easier to remember and (2) far more descriptive than the current anthem, which does not once mention maple leaves, moose, poutine, hockey, beer or bacon. Plus, I'm pretty sure it would be the only national anthem in the world that incorporates a dance move.

Now that I've started this blog post in the proper way (with the singing of a national anthem), allow me to explain what the heck I was doing in Canada. I was visiting my BFF, Shelley. You all may recall that I ran the Flying Pig races with her earlier this year, and last year as well. And we also ran the Niagara Falls International Marathon Relay last fall. It seems every time we get together, it's to run some sort of organized distance event. And while this is fun, and a great way to get motivated to train for an event, it's also kind of stressful because the entire get-together revolves around race preparation. So we decided it was high time to get together, not to run a race, but to simply hang out and do whatever and not have to worry about the pressure of a looming event.

This did not stop us, however, from running. A lot. You see, we're both in the midst of marathon training. I arrived on Saturday afternoon and we immediately began carb-loading for our Sunday morning long run.

Beer is a carb, right?

Carb-loading, Canadian-style.

I mean, come on, you can't go to Canada and not have Canadian beer (Steam Whistle, in this case). I'm pretty sure it's a law there. Anyway, I digress...

Shelley had carefully planned a route for us to run that would take us all over the city of Hamilton. It looked great on the map. If only had known she was secretly plotting my demise, one painfully steep step at a time...

A lovely tour of Hamilton on foot, eh? Just you wait...

So Sunday morning arrived and I got up early to eat some breakfast. Shortly thereafter, we headed out the door into a veritable steam bath. I had checked the weather just before we left and the humidity was 100%. We may as well have been underwater. We struggled to catch our breath for the first several miles, thankful that the skies were cloudy. The route started out as any other run, mostly flat with a few gentle slopes. Then we made our way to the Chedoke Radial Trail, which was a gradual net downhill for a couple of miles. Then we turned left and headed through the city toward the bay (home of the famous Around The Bay Road Race), which was also a gradual downhill.

It was a scenic run, with beautiful views from the trail, and charming old homes along the city streets, and paved trails right along the bay. It was early enough in the morning that there were very few other people or cars out, so the city was peaceful. As we ran, the humidity began to slowly dissipate, and the clouds stayed overhead to provide us much-needed shelter from the sun. We chatted about this and that and were having a grand old time.

A few miles into the run, on the Chedoke Trail, still looking happy. This condition wouldn't last long...

But then we began making our way back through the city from the bay and I quickly came to the realization that Shelley had just been lulling me into a false sense of security with all those gentle downhills and scenic vistas.

Let us all remember the first rule of running a loop route: S/he who runs downhill must eventually run back uphill.

And that's when the fun really started. At first, it was just a gentle climb. No big deal. But then we rounded a corner near the Chedoke golf course, and it became immediately obvious that I was going to die. The road rose up sharply ahead of us, and I could feel my breath becoming short. I struggled to reach the visible top of this mountain. I wished I had a rope so I could just pull myself up.

Then the path leveled off. Whew!

But my relief was short-lived because then we reached the bottom of the Dundurn Stairs: a nearly-vertical ascent of 350 steps up the Niagara escarpment. It wasn't even possible to see the top of the stairs from the bottom; the stairs appeared to vanish into the clouds. It was 13 miles into our run, and I was already feeling pretty beat up from the humidity and the climbing we had already done.

If you listen very carefully, you can hear the sound of my legs crying.

After guzzling approximately 3.4 gallons of water from the fountain at the bottom of the stairs, we began our ascent. At first, it wasn't so bad. Every dozen or so steps, there was a small landing that gave us a few seconds to catch our breath.

But as we continued to climb higher and higher, getting closer to outer space, the air thinned and breathing became more difficult. I could have sworn we had climbed 15,000 feet. When we finally reached the top of the stairs, I died.

But I got better!

And a mile and a half later, we were back at Shelley's house, feeling exhausted but accomplished.

Total climb: 837 feet. Ouch. Ow ow ow. Ouch!

After taking much-needed showers, we refueled with Kraft Dinner and maple syrup, and enjoyed a nice game of hockey while listening to The Barenaked Ladies. I also worked on my mastery of the Canadian language. It's really not that hard and I would be glad to teach you all how to speak Canadian. Repeat after me, kids: I'm going to leave the hoose to go oot and aboot, eh? That translates roughly to "I am going out now, ok?"

Now, you would think that after such a crazy hilly run and so many leg-torturing stairs to climb, that we would choose flatter routes for the rest of our runs together. Well, you would be wrong. Shelley, that evil Canadian wench, made me run the stairs again on Monday and Tuesday too. The runs were much shorter (5 and 7 miles, versus Sunday's nearly-15 miles), but the stairs still hurt and I swear she cackled gleefully the whole time. It is for this reason that I believe Canadians aren't nearly as friendly as they would have us believe. They're all like "Come to our great country and eat some poutine and enjoy some socialized medicine!" and then once they get you there, they torture you with hills and stairs and death.

I'm planning to return to Canada in October for the Niagara Falls International Marathon, but now that my eyes have been opened to the true motives of the Canadian people, I will be much more cautious. I am going to keep working on my Canadian accent, so I can blend in better. And I will wear my bright red maple leaf shirt, because that surely doesn't say "I'm a tourist!". If they think I'm just another Canadian, maybe they won't torture me. Maybe...

Although I might be willing to endure a little torture (in the amount of 26.2 miles) in exchange for a shiny medal, eh?

Peace. Love. Train.

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