I ran an ultra marathon.

The title of this says it all really…a couple of weeks ago, I ran my first ever ultra marathon – the Chuckanut 50k. Put the kettle on folks, it’s a long one.

Running an ultra (anything longer than a marathon distance) has been on my radar for pretty much as long as I’ve lived in Canada, which is not much longer than I’ve known of their existence. Although we all know by now that I don’t ‘race’ in the way some people do, ultras were sold to me as something you could do without any concern over pace or finish time – something a lot of people seem very keen to ask you when you complete marathon, whether or not they really know/care anything about marathon times. Eating was another appeal of running an ultra – lots of long distance running means lots of eating. I did not struggle with this aspect of the training.

I signed up for Chuckanut mostly because I knew a load of other people who were doing it too – nothing like a bit of FOMO to force you into doing something a bit stupid. Hollie agreed to do it with me so I knew I’d have someone to keep me accountable for training, so before I knew it I was planning several runs of 30km+ in for January and February.

Race day rolled around with alarming speed, and while my training had gone pretty well I was a little worried about not having done as much running on trails as I would’ve liked, given that Chuckanut is a trail race. I needn’t have worried too much as it is well known that the trails on Vancouver’s North Shore are about as technical as you can get pretty much anywhere in North America, so Chuckanut was pretty tame in comparison.

Anywho, back to race morning. Somehow, against all the odds, we woke up to a beautifully sunny and crisp morning, and not the torrential downpour I had assumed it would be when I signed up. I had been peer pressured into wearing shorts (mostly so four of us could show off our calf height matching socks) so there was quite a bit of jumping around to keep warm as we waited for the shuttle to the start line. We hadn’t waited too long for the shuttle, but three buses came at once meaning everyone arrived at the start line together, and of course then there was a huge queue for the loos. I was literally watching the minutes tick by on my watch, but we managed to drop our bags at 7.57, which although was quite stressful, meant minimal standing around worrying about the impending distance ahead.

Weirdly, I wasn’t actually that worried about the distance I was tackling, it was the sheer amount of time the race would last that was a bit concerning. Both marathons I’ve run I have completed in around 4hrs, which is a long time to be running, but I knew this would probably take me around 7hrs – a REALLY long time to be running, and most importantly, it would mean missing lunch.

Due to the slightly rushed arrival, we were right at the back of the pack as the gun went off, and while we certainly didn’t want to go out too fast, we did spend the first kilometre or so weaving our way through people. The map below shows the course – the first and last 10km of the race are on the same stretch of fairly flat, gravel trail, making it a fairly quick race in the grand scheme of ultras (to give you an idea, this years winner crossed the line in 3hrs 36mins – if I could run a flat marathon that fast I’d be a very happy runner). As we eased into that first 10km and found our rhythm, as much as I tried not to, I couldn’t help but think about the fact that we were going to have to come back along that trail again (much) later on…

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One of the main reasons people really seem to like running trail races is because of the community of people that surrounds them, and the atmosphere at most of the aid stations certainly did a good job of showcasing this. We’d been able to hear the aid station long before we could see it, and were greeted with people cheering and a veritable buffet of food and drink options (reason number 2 people like trail races). At this point I still had plenty of food and drink on me, so we just stopped briefly to say hi to some friends who’d come down to cheer us on, and off we went.

The second part of the race went off the gravel trail, and up into the forest – more like a ‘proper’ trail than the previous section – and Hollie and I chatted away as we climbed up some hills, and ran down some others. We ran along the side of a lake for a while, up a couple more hills and then down down down to the next aid station. Somehow, we’d already run 15km and we were having a great time.

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Some of the trails in the first part of the race

Up to this point I’d been running with Hollie, and our friend Steph had also been with us off and on too. The next section of the course was 5km of almost continuous uphill on a pretty boring access road, so the three of us stuck together – I personally was extremely glad for the company. It actually went by pretty quickly, as we adopted a ‘fun’ game of running (more like jogging) the flats and gradual ups, and forcing ourselves to keep running to a landmark up ahead – ‘that tree!’ – before we were allowed to walk again. The walking also gave us a good opportunity to stuff our faces with snacks – another crucial part of ultra running.

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Relentless uphill running
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Quite a terrible selfie of me, Hollie and Steph

We rounded the corner into the next aid station, to find not only the usual buffet affair, but also makeshift Irish themed ‘bar’ offering shots of several different types of whiskey in honour of St Patricks Day. Not being a whiskey person myself, I declined the mid-race shot in favour of some orange segments, but I did see a guy talking quite seriously to the volunteer (bartender?) about what they had on offer.

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Irish bars are everywhere (Photo by Hollie)

At this point we also bumped into three friends who were out and about running and cheering their way around part of the course, so we enjoyed a little chat with them before thinking about moving on. With all this stopping to chat and eat, it was very tempting at times to just carry on with that instead of continuing with the running part. The next section of the course was the most technical underfoot, along the top of a ridge, but the views were a pleasant distraction from the more difficult terrain. It being such a clear day, when the trees opened up to the right of us, we caught glimpses of Mount Baker in the distance, and miles and miles of beautiful forest in between.

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Heading onto Ridge Trail with Mount Baker in the background

As we came down off the ridge, we were about 28km into the race, and while I was extremely glad to be over half way through, I was also becoming quite aware that there was still a LONG way to go. It also didn’t help that we headed into a part of the course that felt quite lonely and remote, and my feet had really started to hurt. The trail was also an annoying mix of pretty flat and runnable for a bit, then it would start to slope up again, so just when I’d get into a rhythm of running, I’d have to stop and walk. Hollie is a much stronger runner than me, so she had pulled ahead of me a bit at this stage, and Steph was a bit behind me so I was without the friendly chatter that I’d enjoyed for the rest of the run. All in all, this bit of the race was not my favourite.

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Lost Lake trail

I eventually got to the top of the Lost Lake trail, and there was a lovely, downhill section with views out to the ocean on my left, which restored my good mood and gave me a bit of faith that I could probably get through the distance. We came to the next aid station and I stalled a bit as I knew what was coming next – a rather steep climb, aptly named Chinscraper. It was about 3km in total from the aid station to the very top, and while in normal circumstances I wouldn’t be too bothered by it, I had at this point already run about 35km so I wasn’t overjoyed at the prospect of such a steep incline.

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Delaying the inevitable before heading up Chinscraper
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Really happy to be heading up at 35km (Photo by Hollie)

I knew there would be a photographer on this part of the course (I had seen photos from previous years) but I wrongly assumed he was at the very top of the climb, so I wasn’t too pleased to see the hill continuing on ahead after we passed him (see main photo for the not so terrible climbing shot). I was back with Hollie again at this point though, so we chatted (complained) our way up the rest of the climb and finally found ourselves at the highest point of the course, randomly in a car park with a viewpoint and a bathroom. Hollie made me do a jumping photo as a memento, and at this point I was just extremely happy to know that it was (literally) all downhill from there on.

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Reluctant jump shot at the top (Photo by Hollie)

Despite the initial joy of the upcoming downhill section, once I started running again I discovered it wasn’t as joyous as I hoped. I thought I must be running a pretty decent clip as my pace felt like an effort, and it was downhill, but when I looked at my watch I wanted to cry when I saw what would be a relatively slow pace on a flat road, let alone on a decent downhill. I had also thought this section would be on nice, flowing trails, but it we were back on the access road we had climbed earlier, so while the views into the forest either side were nice, I was trudging down a gravel road. Hollie and Steph were ahead of me at this point and I had to have a little word with myself – I definitely could’ve sat down on the side of the road and had a mope, but I at least had enough brain power left to know that if I kept moving forward I would reach the finish eventually.

After what seemed like a decade, I got to the final aid station (the same as the first one), and while the party we had witnessed earlier was a bit more subdued than before, there was still plenty of food to choose from and we stocked up for the last time before heading out for the final 10km of the race.

Steph told us to go ahead at this point, so it was just Hollie and I for the final part of the race – all I can say is poor Hollie. I knew this part would be awful, and I also knew that the Chuckanut course is a ‘little’ longer than 50km, but that last hour of running was not the most fun I’ve ever had. You might recall from previous blogs about races that I tend to get a little impatient towards the end, and I will often pick up the pace if I can, to just get it over with. I really wanted to do that in this case, but it’s harder than you think to run fast when you’ve already been on your feet for more than 5 hours.

The saving grace of the last part of the race was that thanks to my extensive road running training, we overtook a LOT of people over the last 10km. We stopped to walk a couple of times, but I was pretty proud of myself for the amount we did run, and the pace at which we were running. A small low point came about 3km from the end when a course marshall started cheering us along, and as I passed him, he said to me with a look of concern on his face ‘are you OK?’ – I lost it with delirious laughter at that stage, at the thought that I did in fact look like I’d been running all bloody day.

As my watch ticked over to 50km I have never been so ready to stop running in my life. Based on the route Hollie downloaded to her watch beforehand, we knew the course was about 51.5km, so we kept trucking along, me intermittently cursing (both out loud and in my head) about this stupid thing I’d agreed to do. 51km came and went, and we came across a few supporters shouting ‘you’re SO nearly there!’, but I didn’t trust them as all I could see in front of my was a long straight path that seemingly never ended.

Finally, just as I was losing the will to live, and poor Hollie probably wanted to kill me, we crossed a road and saw a sign that said ‘Fairhaven Park Apartments’, and given that the race started and finished in Fairhaven Park, we knew we must be almost there. We passed guy who asked us desperately if we were nearly there (he looked like he might cry, bless him), and we shouted ‘YES’ before rounding a corner and hearing the noise of supporters at the finish line. FINALLY, almost 7hrs, and 52km after we started, we finished and I had run an ultramarathon.

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Just a bit excited to be at the finish (Photo by Linda Wong)

My immediate concern went to my feet, which were in agony. After a couple of hugs from other friends who had finished before us, I could think of nothing else but getting my shoes off. We shuffled over to get our bags, watched and cheered as Steph finished a few minutes later, and went to get changed and have a wet wipe shower – the most underrated post-race luxury around. Racers got a voucher for food from one of the food trucks at the finish (there was only one option left by the time I finished – I was definitely ‘slow’ in Chuckanut terms) so I inhaled a random hot dog and some crisps from a grumpy food truck man, and after a few more celebratory hugs with those who’d come down to cheer, and we were making our way back to the shuttle bus to find the car.

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With our prized magnets (Photo from Hollie’s phone…)

We headed off for a celebratory beer, and it was all a bit surreal. It was now after 4pm, and I realised I’d been running ALL DAY. No wonder my feet were killing me. I felt proud of myself (still do) for finishing, but I didn’t get the same elation that I’ve had for both the marathons I’ve run, and I think that’s partly because I didn’t push myself in the same way, the goal was simply to finish. So that’s a huge reason why, when people have asked me if I’ll do another one, I can’t say for certain that I will. Never say never though I suppose.

I literally couldn’t have even contemplated finishing (or even starting) Chuckanut without Hollie’s absolutely unwavering support and help, so I owe her a heck of a lot. Someone suggested (jokingly, I hope) afterwards that I should pace Hollie at her upcoming 50 mile race – I think I nearly spat my beer out. I’ll have to stick to awkward social media shout outs and a regular stream of baked goods I think – hopefully that’s enough.

I should also mention that most trail races and ultras don’t give out medals (we got a fridge magnet instead, which I guess is more useful) so Hollie, plus two other friends who ran it, Katie and Pargol, presented me with a trophy and my own personal finish line goody bag, which I think you’ll agree, is better than any medal.

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My personalised trophy & finish line goody bag
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So that was Christmas

OK, so I’m pretty sure you all thought I’d given up on the blog it’s been that long. Sorry about that.

So, let’s talk about Christmas! It was a weird one this year (last year) – as many of you know, I have applied for a visa to stay longer term in Canada so from mid-October to December most of my free time was spent doing more life admin than I would wish on my worst enemy, trying to get everything together for my application so I could submit it before Christmas, and relax a little about it. That just about quashed every ounce of festiveness out of me, and also goes someway to explain my lack of Christmas card sending – some of you got some, others didn’t. What can I say, I lost the will to Christmas.

In the lead up to the big event, I did manage to a couple of festive things; a hike (of course) up to the top of Grouse Mountain to see their festive light walk, which we enjoyed whilst drinking hot chocolate, and a few ‘Holiday Parties’ as their known here. Nothing too raucous – Canadians excel at doing things in moderation – but they were fun all the same.

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A terrible photo from the light walk at Grouse Mountain

For actual Christmas, Hollie and Alex invited me to spend it with them on Bowen Island again, this time joined at the last minute by Hollie’s sister, who I don’t think I’d seen in about 15 years – crazy how Vancouver is the place for Frome reunions?! I had 3 days off work, and managed to pack in about as much eating, drinking and time spent in pyjamas playing pictionary as is humanly possible.

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View from the deck of our cabin on Bowen Island

Bowen Island is such a lovely little place – it only takes an hour or so to get there from Vancouver (including the ferry), yet you feel a million miles away, even though you can see the city from the island. We spent Christmas Eve walking around the lake, having lunch at a cute little cafe, and actively preparing our stomachs for the onslaught of the next day by eating a giant ham for dinner.

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Ferry docking at Snug Cove on Bowen Island

We actually got lucky and had a (just about) white Christmas, and it was someone’s bright idea to do a sunrise hike…thankfully sunrise was at about 8am, but we plodded up to the nearby viewpoint in our pyjamas to start the day off.

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Snowy Christmas sunrise 

After the mandatory mimosa (buck’s fizz) fuelled breakfast Hollie and I headed out for a little festive jog, before meeting up with the others to search for the Bowen Island mastodon. Built from driftwood by a local artist, you can find plenty of photos online of the sculpture, but there are no details of how to find it… We knew where the trail began and had some loose instructions, and we genuinely thought we’d find it within 15 minutes or so. After almost an hour of searching we had to give up on account of our stomachs starting to remind us it was time for more eating.

Hollie’s Turkey Wellington reigned supreme for Christmas lunch again, and she also wiped the floor with everyone at Pictionary – that’s what happens when you play with someone who draws for a living. Apparently drawing arrows and stabbing at the paper next to the unidentifiable blob you’ve drawn isn’t a good enough clue.

An evening cheese session may or may not have been the best idea, so we were all ready to blow some cobwebs out on Boxing Day. We headed to the south west of the island for a stroll along the coastal path there, before more eating and drinking – a Christmas well done.

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Festive family photo

New Year’s Eve started off with drinks with friends and ended with me watching a film on the sofa and going to bed at 11.30 – the first time in my adult life I haven’t made it to midnight! A proud moment.

Some friends and I managed to squeeze in a little sunrise hike on the 2nd of Jan – a fun adventure before we got back to the reality of January. As a side note, how is it still January?! This feels like forever ago, the time has slowed to a snail like pace.

Anywho, it was FREEZING and little bit foggy at 6am in the city, and as we drove to Mount Seymour we wondered if we’d made a terrible mistake. Luckily, as we wound our way up the mountain, we came out on top of the clouds and the temperature was several degrees warmer – Vancouver has had some really weird temperature inversions this winter.

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First taste of sunrise

Even as we left the car park we could see the beginnings of an amazing fiery sunrise, which only got better as we climbed further up to the first peak of Mt Seymour. It got a bit blustery at the top as things clouded over, but it definitely cemented my love of sunrise hikes with friends – the coffee with Baileys helped too.

And just like that it’s 2018!

 

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Things escalated quickly…
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View from the top – Happy 2018!

 

How (not) to drive in Vancouver

To be honest, the answer to this is very simple: no one knows how to drive in Vancouver. Before we get into this, I’m going to put out a disclaimer that I have many friends here who are perfectly good drivers, and none of this is aimed at them…

At first glance, driving in Vancouver is relatively simple; the city is all based on blocks that are easy to navigate, the highways are wide and relatively well maintained, and all the cars are automatic, eliminating too much margin for error in the stalling department. Despite all of these seemingly simple driving aides, when people take to the roads in Vancouver, something seems to go very, very wrong out there.

I do think a lot of it has to do with it being a very multicultural city, and with so many people coming from places with very different driving expectations, you’re met with a slightly jumbled situation. This is not helped by the relative ease with which it is to get a BC drivers licence.

Being from the UK and holding an International Drivers Licence already, I simply went to an office in downtown Vancouver, took a numbered ticket and waited my turn to be seen. After a small amount of paperwork, the lady gave me a tattered piece of paper with 3 questions on it and told me to sit down, read through them and be prepared to answer them in a few minutes time.

I’ll be honest here, I didn’t really know the exact answer to any of the questions – it was a while ago now, but I think there was one about what to do if there is a school bus stopped with it’s lights flashing, and what you should do if green traffic lights are flashing. I basically answered both with a slightly apprehensive ‘uuuuhh be aware of children/pedestrians/other cars?!’ to which the lady lady responded with ‘well, yes, but also this…’ and just gave me the answers. Half an hour later and I walked out with a new licence. No instruction whatsoever on speed limits (still no clue to be honest), 4-way stops (more on that in a minute) or turning right on a red light (which is allowed here).

I did look up what the speed limits are here a while ago, but whenever I tried sticking to them after that I’d either get people beeping/flashing their lights, tailgating, or just whizzing past me in any lane they could to get past the ‘slow’ driver. So now I basically just try to stick with the traffic – not the best tactic on city roads, but they don’t seem to bother spending money on speed limit signs (and there are no fixed speed cameras), and driving fast seems to be very popular.

There aren’t many roundabouts in Vancouver, which is a good thing as no one knows how they work. Even though mini ones have a sign indicating which way you should go around them, I have seen on more than one occasion people just turn left at one, completely disregarding the centre of it. And if there’s a pedestrian crossing the road at the same time, this only seems to result in a log jam of cars all waiting in a circle for the person to finish crossing.

This leads me onto the simultaneous confusion of 4-way stops and being a pedestrian in Vancouver. I would always assume that a vehicle always has priority at a junction, and as a pedestrian I would choose to cross at a crossing, or when no cars are coming. So, imagine my surprise when I first set about crossing roads in Canada, and at the end of residential blocks I found drivers waving me across while they waited patiently – I mean, Canadians are polite, but this is next level.

To begin with I thought I’d just happened upon some extremely friendly drivers (non existent in London, where I’d just come from), but as time went on and I often found myself in an exchange of hand waving and mouthing ‘you go! No, you go!’ back and forth with drivers, I realised this was a thing here. It’s actually quite annoying sometimes, as I’m often not confident to step out into the road when someone is driving towards you at speed, but 99% of the time they will screech to a stop and wave you across.

In complete contrast to this, zebra crossings may as well not exist for the fact no driver takes any notice of them ever. Again, on first arriving in Canada I thought I must’ve just got a grumpy/French driver disobeying the rules, but this seems to be quite normal. There is a zebra crossing near my house that people frequently fly over, sometimes looking guiltily at you and doing a little ‘sorry’ wave, but mostly I don’t think they know what they’re for and are perplexed that someone would be trying to cross the road at such a busy spot.

On my first few attempts at a 4-way stop, I treated them a bit like a roundabout, and gave way to the left, but this has only about a 50% success rate. Sometimes the rule seems to be that whoever arrives at the junction first goes first, which I can get on board with, but most of the time it’s just a stand-off until someone buckles and revs up to go – normally at the same time as someone else, so then everyone slams their brakes on again. And if a pedestrian is trying to cross the road as well, then there really isn’t much hope at all.

One of the only improvements to my driving since being here is in my parallel parking. You have to park on the street pretty much everywhere, so after 18 months of doing it a couple of times a week, I’m getting pretty pro at it. It does also help that most of the EVO car share cars have a reverse camera in them.

Car shares are another issue, as most of them charge by the minute or the hour, so it’s often in the interest of your bank balance to get from A to B pretty quickly, never mind the stop signs and speed limits.

Added to all this driving confusion is that a lot of people really don’t like taking public transport in Vancouver, and it’s often overcrowded and slow, putting people off further. More people walk here than in lots of other North American cities, but just consider this your warning – if you drive a car in Vancouver, prepare for the worst and watch out for white SUVs…

*Sorry for the lack of photos in this post – strangely enough I don’t have any photos of cars or traffic to add.

Vancouver Visitors

As well as all the summer adventures, I’ve managed to squeeze in 3 lots of visitors since June, each with relative different requirements for their trips. It’s can be a bit of a balancing act working out what to do with each visitor – there are only so many times I can be persuaded to part with my hard earned money to rent a bike and cycle around the seawall, but apparently 3 times per summer is my limit.

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Cycling seawall selfies

First up to test out the Friheten was my sister Helen, who indulged in two weeks of Canadian vacationing, and was (at her own admission) the bringer of the Eternal Vancouver Summer 2017. I’ve already talked about our visit to Salt Spring Island together, but we also managed to squeeze in some other classic Vancouver days out, including the infamous seawall cycle, a little hike up the Grouse Grind (although I don’t recommend this if you really want to remain friends by the end), and a day doing what I like to call the ‘Tour de North Shore’, visiting Deep Cove and Lynn Valley for some short, touristy hikes.

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Helen hating me half way up the Grouse Grind

We also managed to get in a short but packed trip to Squamish and Whistler, where I made her hike another uphill route on the Sea to Summit trail in Squamish. This time I was redeemed by taking her to Lost Lake in Whistler for what might have been the most perfect afternoon swim (especially as it was about 30 degrees that day), followed by patio drinks and a trip to the spa the next day.

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At the top of the Sea to Summit trail in Squamish

Due to the aforementioned Eternal Summer, when I was working, Helen basically spent her days going to one of Vancouver’s outdoor swimming pools or just sitting at the beach, and sending me pictures of dogs – an excellent holiday activity if you ask me.

When mum and dad came over in September, I thought we might have a more genteel time, but they seemed pretty up for biking, hiking, and of course, drinking beer. In fact, we commented that we were probably more active during this trip than the one 10 years prior when I was a mega fatty, and mum hadn’t discovered Nordic walking.

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Selfie in Deep Cove

In addition to the (now staple) sea wall cycle and Tour de North Shore (although we took the gondola up to the top of Grouse instead of hiking), we also took a little trip over to Victoria on Vancouver Island for a couple of days. To satisfy my green fingered mother, we spent a couple of hours wandering around Buchart Gardens, which to be fair, were quite impressive, but I almost certainly brought the average age of visitors down by quite a number of years. Also, it’s $35 to get in?! That seems slightly outrageous to look at flowers if you ask me.

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Dad eating crisps (no cheese available) on a windy ferry

Upon realising that once you’ve wandered around the harbour in downtown Victoria, you’ve pretty much seen everything, we took advantage of the beautiful September weather to explore the coastline to the west of Victoria a bit, stopping at Whiffen Spit (definitely named by a Brit, surely) and the Sooke Potholes for a look around. Note: take the Tourism Victoria website review of the potholes with a pinch of salt – to say they are ‘unlike anything you have ever seen before’ is possibly true, but I wouldn’t rush back. I will say we didn’t explore extensively, and it had been a really dry summer, so it may be better than what we saw.

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View to the mountains of Olympic NP (WA, USA), from Whiffen Spit

Last up was my good friend Steph, who bravely chose October for her visit, but luckily she came off reasonably well, only having to endure a couple of days worth of true Vancouver rain. We decided to go on a little trip within a trip and head over to the Sunshine Coast for a couple of days. Apparently it isn’t a trip to Vancouver without going somewhere on a ferry.

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View from our cabin

We stayed in a gorgeous cabin on the Sechelt Inlet, about half an hour further along the coast from where I stayed on my last trip, and this time we had a car, which made it so much easier to get around and explore more. Amongst multiple games of Jenga, eating copious amounts of meat and attempting to light the woodburner in our cabin, we had lunch in Gibsons, beach walks in Roberts Creek and Sechelt, went to the Skookumchuk narrows, drank beer at Persephone Brewing, and ate a giant cinnamon bunscone.

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Skookumchuck Narrows

I also enjoyed a rare Saturday off back in Vancouver, and we did normal Saturday things like wandering around shops and markets, eating (more) cake, and drinking beer in the afternoon – pretty much perfect.

We’ll be back to regular scheduled rainy weather soon enough (we had a taster last week, and it was a bit scary), but the trusty sofabed can still accept visitors in the winter – the snow is coming!

Summary of Summer (part 2)

So, continuing on from my last post, I’ll take you on a little journey through some of the other hike/run adventures I had this summer, but this time they’re all in the Squamish area. You might recall me talking about Squamish last summer, and how it’s become the new ‘cool’ place to live if you love the outdoors – it seems like it’s still riding that high, and this summer I did get more of a chance to discover why so many people want to live there.

Garibaldi Lake

An Instagrammers paradise, this 20km out and back route is famed for it’s glacial blue lake, with an incredible backdrop of mountains and alpine vistas…unless you’re caught in the haze of hundreds of nearby wildfires. Sadly, this wasn’t the day for epic views, but it was the day for a lot of fun (too cheesy?).

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Hazy lake views

I tackled this one with a group of 6 others, and we power hiked the first 6/7km of switchbacks uphill through the forest, before arriving at the lake. Inspired by some girls who were jumping in (mainly for the social media, but still), we decided to brave it as a group and also aim for an epic Instagram shot. Once we managed to drag Pargol in on the second go, we dried off in the sun for a bit (and warmed up – the lake was FREEZING) before heading back.

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The money shot

We ran back down, which is immensely satisfying as relentlessly hiking down switchbacks isn’t the most exciting thing to do when you’re getting tired and hungry. Sadly, our favourite Squamish eatery, Mags 99, was closed so our post run hunger had to be satisfied with a food truck veggie burger instead.

Elfin Lakes

A couple of weeks later we were back on Highway 99 to Squamish, this time heading to Elfin Lakes. While the car park for Garibaldi is just a kilometre down a paved road from the highway, for Elfin Lakes you drive for closer to 5km down a dusty, pot hole filled track.

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Views of Mount Garibaldi on the way up

Similar to Garibaldi, the first few kilometres of the hike are uphill switchbacks, but at Elfin Lakes you come out into beautiful alpine trails for the second half, making the actual hike itself a lot more scenic, and not just the end point. The views of Mount Garibaldi and Garibaldi National Park surrounding it were stunning.

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The lakes, with Mount Garibaldi in the background

After a few more kilometres of rolling gravel track, you reach Elfin Lakes; two alpine lakes surrounded by mountains. You can camp in what might be the most scenic campground in the world, or just stop for a photo break by the lakes, one of which you can swim in.

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Most scenic campground ever

On the run back down (again, hiking efficiency at it’s best) I did nearly step on a snake, which wasn’t my favourite thing to happen all summer, but I did come to the conclusion that at least when you’re running you can get away from it quicker…

Watersprite Lake

Even though we did this one just this week, I’m still going to put it under the Summer adventures file. Feeling extremely adventurous, Hollie and I braved this one alone, heading out along 20km of logging road from the Squamish highway into what felt very much the backcountry, watching as the temperature dropped…and dropped. It was 0 degrees when we parked the car, I was wearing shorts and t-shirt and had brought suncream. Thankfully I also had a long sleeved top and a jacket which were immediately layered on.

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Looking back down towards Squamish (my legs are so short!)

Another out and back, and again mostly climbing on the way there and lovely downhills on the way back, the views once we reached the top of the treeline back down through the Squamish valley were incredible. The terrain was fairly easy for the first few kilometres, and we naively thought progress would remain fast for the whole hike. About 6km in we were met with a pretty large boulder field to negotiate. That, plus some steep, rocky, rooty trails meant for a pretty slow last slog up to our final destination.

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The second boulder field up to the lake

Watersprite Lake is up in the alpine, and the perfectly clear turquoise water is surrounded by mountain peaks. We were lucky enough to have the lake to ourselves, which made for easy photograph taking and a lovely quiet spot to have a snack.

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Watersprite Lake

Progress was much quicker on the way back down, especially once we had reached the other side of the boulder fields, so we picked up the pace a bit and jogged back down to the car. We were desperate for lunch at this point, and thankfully Mags was open this time, so we wolfed down a massive Mexican lunch before heading back to Vancouver.

 

Some (possibly) interesting facts/more details for you…

  • All of these hikes took us somewhere between 4 and 5 hours including photo stops/snack breaks
  • We mostly hiked (fairly quickly) the ups, and ran the downs. A pace that Hollie likes to call hogging (hike/jogging)
  • I can’t underestimate the importance of taking extra food/water/clothing on these adventures. I haven’t always done it, and I shouldn’t be so blasé about it. The Watersprite Lake hike this week was a stark reminder that the weather can be very different up in the mountains to down at sea level
  • Yes, people do go to work in Vancouver (myself included), but a lot of people have fairly flexible schedules
  • We were lucky to be able to do these hikes mid-week. Garibaldi on a sunny weekend is not really worth the hassle
  • Having a car here is invaluable. I am incredibly lucky to have friends with cars, who will shuttle me around to these places. A HUGE thank you to Hollie for being my personal taxi all summer (all year round really)
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Thanks Hollie! You’re awesome!

Summary of Summer (Part 1)

I don’t really want to do a Summer round-up, because that would be acknowledging that this summer is over…I’m going to keep faith in there being a few more warm, sunny days before the constant rain is no doubt back to keep us company for a while. I’m currently sitting under a blanket writing this, so I’m not holding out too much hope. 

Since the end of June, there have been literally only a handful of dull days in Vancouver – it’s been so nice to make plans a week or so in advance knowing that the weather will be dry and sunny. I wore jeans the other day for the first time in months, when the temperature finally dipped low enough to need some extra warmth on the legs.

Even though I work most weekends and therefore have days off during the week, I’m lucky enough to have several friends here with flexible schedules, plus some teachers who had time off over the summer, making for lots of awesome day trips, hikes and adventures – something that was seriously lacking last year, and these summer trips really do make living in Vancouver (and enduring the endless rain) so worthwhile.

I don’t think I have the stamina to write a full recap of every hike I did this summer (and you’ll probably die of boredom reading them) so I’ll share some highlights over a couple of posts, along with some photos.

First up, hikes on the North Shore of Vancouver…

St. Mark’s Summit

We kicked off July with this hike which starts at Cypress Mountain, at the base of the ski slope, and covers the first part of the 30km Howe Sound Crest Trail which goes all the way up to Porteau Cove further north. A 10km round trip, it’s 5km of uphill, then straight back down the same way. It might not sound that exciting, but the views are 100% worth it, and the trail through the forest to get there is gorgeous and easy to follow.

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Hollie & Julie at the summit

This hike was a mini birthday celebration for Julie, and we were under strict instruction that it was hiking only, no running. Fine by me! It took us about 3 hours in total, and we spent a decent amount of time at the top admiring the views, playing with the chipmunks and swatting flies. From the summit you have incredible views to the west, across the Howe Sound to the Sunshine Coast, back to Vancouver, and all the way across to Vancouver Island on a clear day. 

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Cheeky chipmunk stealing snacks

 

It wasn’t a desperately hard hike and the trail is well marked, but we did see quite a few underprepared people on their way up when we were coming down (this was a theme of the summer), and it’s always a worry when someone asks how much further it is to the top when they’re only about 2km in.

Tunnel Bluffs

A little further along the highway from Cypress is this little hike. The biggest challenge here is parking and crossing a 3 lane highway to get to the trail head – fun! Hollie and I managed not to get flattened on either end of the hike which was a positive. We did this one towards the end of August, and after a couple of months with next to no rain, the trail was as dry as old chips, which meant a serious dust tan by the end.

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Hollie at the viewpoint

An 8km round trip, and another classic up to a viewpoint and down again, the first couple of kilometres were almost as steep upwards as the Grouse Grind in places, but as we climbed away from the highway the trail turned into forest and the flattened out somewhat before reaching a series of flat, exposed rocks, several hundred metres (I would guess?!) above the highway, again with stunning views over the Howe Sound to the West of Vancouver.

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Looking back along the Sea to Sky highway towards Vancouver

Mount Seymour

I made two trips to Mt Seymour this year, the first at the start of July with Julie, and we were greeted with a bit more snow than anticipated, which meant actually finding the trail we wanted was a challenge in itself, and we basically slid on our bums most of the way back down. Snow burn on your bum is painful, in case you were wondering.

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From the first peak in July, looking across to Deep Cove and the Indian Arm

The second trip was more successful – my friends John, Candice and I made it to all 3 peaks of Seymour on the Labour Day long weekend in September (Julie and I just made it to the first one). It was a scorching hot day and the wildfire smoke was beginning to roll in again, but the 360 degree views from the top were insane – looking north (away from Vancouver) and seeing nothing but mountains into the distance is just incredible.

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From the third peak, looking north away from Vancouver

The trail is quite steep and technical in parts, and it was busy because of the long weekend so progress wasn’t fast and we were cooked by the end – I’ve never downed a can of ice tea so quickly as when we got to the end of that hike.

Flint & Feather

There’s only so many times you can do the Grouse Grind before it gets a bit tedious (although tell that to my friend Pargol who hiked it 13 times in one day…). Luckily there are a couple of other options to get you to the top of Grouse Mountain (one of which is cable car), including Flint & Feather trail.

Starting off on the Grind, you take a turn off about a quarter of the way up – it’s NOT well marked, so I’ve only been with more experienced friends – and hike up a LOT of switchbacks until you get to a rock face which is (just about) scrambleable. From the top of there, you get the most incredible views of Vancouver, especially as the sun is going down.

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Downtown Vancouver from the F&F lookout

It’s also a perfect spot for a little picnic, especially as it’s a lot quieter than the Grind so you normally only have a few people trampling on your snacks as they try to get past you and 12 friends sharing cake and drinking prosecco on a ledge about a foot wide.

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Celebrating Hollie’s birthday in style

That’s it for one post, plenty more to come!

SeaWheeze Half Marathon 2017

I had a short burst of motivation to write something today, and as that seems to happen less and less frequently these days I thought I’d better get it down on paper (screen) quickly.

Apologies for those expecting to read about summer adventures, travels, food, drinks, etc. but this one is about running. It’s kind of hard not to talk about it seeing as it is a part of pretty much my every day life here. There is more to come about the fun things I’ve been doing this summer though, I promise.

A couple of Saturdays ago I ran the lululemon SeaWheeze half marathon. You may remember I said I hated ‘racing’ races – well I proved that point right, but I did manage to make it through a very tough race with my stomach still in tact (just) and my legs didn’t quite fall off either.

Love them or not, lululemon are a HUGE part of the fitness industry in Vancouver, and they know how to put on a good event. SeaWheeze attracts 10,000 runners from all over the world to Vancouver every summer, and so there’s no denying that’s a great thing for the city. It’s popularity does mean that getting a place in this race is probably harder than the running itself – unless you’ve got 2 laptops, a phone and a very strong internet connection, you may as well not bother even attempting to register.

I did not get a place in the initial registration (I didn’t really try, and have terrible internet), but there are a lot of people who will buy a place purely for the coveted shorts in an exclusive print each year, and closer to the time have the realisation that they don’t want to run a half marathon. Bib transfers can now be done officially, after years of people just selling them on the side for cash, and although my place went through 2 other people first, I found myself about 6 weeks before the race with goal to train for after quite a long time of running somewhat aimlessly.

Fast forward to race day and in the days preceding, the city was cloaked in a rather oppressive blanket of smoke from the devastating wildfires in the BC interior. I went for a short ‘shakeout’ run the day before the race and the smoke and heat meant I had a hard time keeping a relatively easy pace for 5km, which was a little worrying considering the time I hoped to get involved running significantly faster.

Luckily, the next morning, as promised, the smoke had completely cleared, the temperature had dropped and it was near perfect running conditions, save for our somewhat hurried dash to the startline. Relying on buses in Vancouver is risky at the best of times, let alone when you have to be somewhere on time, and early in the morning. We arrived at the bag drop at about 6:35am for a 7:00am race start – eek. There were, of course, HUGE queues to use the loos (oh god, I almost wrote bathrooms) so it was 6:56 when we jogged outside to find our way into the starting pen…the nearest pacer held a 3:15 sign. We kept moving around the edge of the pens, sure that we’d at some point find a gap we could squeeze through, but no luck. Thankfully, a security guard actually told us we should jump the fence, so that’s what we did. We didn’t get too many evil eyes, and only one of us (Devon) nearly ripped their leg open on the fence.

For this race I had employed the services of my friend Devon as my personal pacer. Fresh from a huge marathon PB of 3:21 (whaaaaat) a couple of weeks earlier, and a half marathon PB of 1:34, I knew she’d be able to drag me round to a sub 1:50 – I just had to grit my teeth and keep running. Once the gun went off, we spent the usual first couple of miles/km (I’m going to speak in km here, so you’ll have to do your own conversions if you want) weaving around people, trying to find our pace and generally trying to settle into the groove of running.

Let it be known, Vancouver is NOT a flat city. Yes, the seawall is predominantly flat, but in most instances you have to go up/down a hill to get on/off it. Plus, there are bridges. A lot of bridges. In this race, from about kilometre 6 to 11, you roll up and down more than is particularly comfortable, and when trying to run at a somewhat uncomfortable pace, it shows. To try and distract you from this pain, the SeaWheeze organisers put in place ‘entertainment’ in a number of places – think loud music, people in fancy dress, people on spin bikes, firemen spraying hoses, and people sitting on rocks dressed as mermaids. They do help, but I won’t lie, despite all the distractions, I was not a happy runner when we got to the end of the last bridge climb at about 11km in. I was hot, couldn’t breathe, and my legs didn’t want to move that fast any more. In reality my heart rate just needed to calm down and my legs to stop going uphill so much – as soon as we hit the seawall I felt infinitely better. Maybe we could do this after all?!

There was a moment of panic shortly after I’d taken a gel when I though I might have to dive into the bushes, but for the next few kilometres things ticked along pretty well. Devon wasn’t doing too badly either – she had dutifully given me most of the water in her handheld bottle whenever I demanded it, ran ahead at each water station to fetch me a cup so I didn’t have to contend with the crowds, calculated our pace and regularly let me know how much time I had banked, and held my sunglasses for most of the race because they were annoying me.

At about 17km, we ran underneath the Lions Gate Bridge and straight into a headwind. My favourite! I really was about ready to give up by this point, but Devon kept pushing me on, and a girl who we kept leapfrogging with was really annoying me, and I really didn’t want her to finish before me. Eventually we turned into Stanley Park and up one last hill (actually there were two – I might have yelled at Devon a little bit when I realised there was a second one), and back down onto the seawall to the finish. Seriously, 1km has never seemed so long. The course has 5 or 6 turns before you can see the finish line, and in previous years it’s been a bit long (don’t even talk to me about incorrect distance races) so I was fully expecting for my Garmin to get to about 21.3km before crossing the line, so I was pleasantly surprised to see the finish line approach at approximately the correct corresponding distance on my watch. I gave it a final sprint/shuffle to the line, my legs just ready to stop running, and Devon was most likely sick of my whinging by then so she let me cross a second in front of her in a time of 1:47:58, a new PB by about 2 and a half minutes – woo!

The post-race swag is pretty good at SeaWheeze, so we were coaxed through a funnel of medals, cool scented towels, protein bars, water and a brunch box before I was allowed to sit down and rest my weary legs. The sun came out just at the right time, and my post-race wet wipes and flip flops came out (seriously, you’ll never regret packing wet wipes in your drop bag) and other people we know joined us to revel in the excitement of a new PB. 

I won’t lie, although I’m extremely pleased with the time I got, the experience of ‘racing’ didn’t really make me want to sign up for another one right away – I’m not the sort of runner who wants to keep whittling down their times, especially at the cost of actually enjoying the experience. But I will give another huge shout out to Devon, who was exemplary in her pacing duties, and I would highly recommend her services – it’s a heck of a lot harder to stop running when someone is telling you not to!

Expect more on summer adventures very soon(ish)! Maybe…

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