The summer of 2014 has been extraordinary. I don’t know if I can convey all the reasons—and not all of them will be exposed here—but with the help of many photos I will try!
There were two overriding reasons why this summer was so special for me. First, we Vancouverites experienced an unusual number of very hot sunny days—and, indelibly imprinted with memories of childhood summers in Toronto as I am, this is true summer to me. Secondly, my “bad” knee was relatively cooperative this summer and allowed me to do a couple of races and consistent (though minimal) workouts.
I did my regular workouts this summer: my short Mundy Park runs, sprints on the soccer field, a few steady 5K track runs, long bike rides on the PoCo trail, and triathlon training; but I had some new workout adventures too!
But always in my memories of this summer there will be a prototypical day: the freshness of dawn as I walked to Starbucks early in the morning, the sweaty bike rides and runs and hikes, and the shock and relief of plunging into Sasamat Lake after hours of being overheated by training and working in my hot apartment. My second-favourite time each day (because for me the optimism and promise of early morning can’t be beaten) was the moment when I watched from my balcony as the sun dipped behind the mountains. Instantly the air felt cooler and I knew the oppressive heat in my apartment would start to diminish. This was my time to let peacefulness permeate me as I watched the colours changing in the sky from moment to moment. No evening panorama was exactly the same.
The light I love best—crepuscular light—comes after sunset. Sometimes the sky becomes inflamed with reddened clouds or astonishing multi-coloured bands. On those nights, long after 9 p.m. my apartment glows with an eerie reddish light. It creates a mellow, nostalgic mood. There is relief in the sudden release from the sun’s heat and blinding light.
Longest Day 5K
An arbitrary but logical date to start my summer photo blog is June 13 since that was my birthday; it was also a milestone birthday that coincided with the date of this year’s Longest Day 5K at UBC, so I had to race, right?
A 5K gravel track “time trial” I did a couple weeks before the race gave me a secret goal: to break 20 minutes!
Of course in the “old” days, pre-ACL tear, that would have been easy for me, but I’m much humbler now. My running is limited to around 8K or 10K a week, in two short sessions. However, I was ecstatic to finish the race in a time of 19:39! It was a hard effort—even being able to push hard is something I was grateful for, because my knee won’t let me get away with it very often. I could only attribute my time to my regular soccer field sprints.
The Coquitlam Crunch: a new workout
I like to be adventurous once in a while and throw something new into my workout mix. In April I started walking the newly-completed Coquitlam Crunch, a 2.2K hike that starts very close to my apartment and follows the Hydro right-of-way up a fairly steep slope with a total of 245m of elevation gain. The City of Coquitlam made the hike more accessible by building over 400 steps and adding gravel to other sections of the pre-existing trail. The Grouse Grind it ain’t—the Crunch is dead easy in terms of footing, and you aren’t enclosed in a forest. However, it has become a very popular workout in Coquitlam. It’s long and steep enough to give walkers and runners of all abilities a significant challenge.
My knee recovered fairly well from the Longest Day 5K, but four days after the race I decided a run up the Crunch would be easier on my knee than the rolling terrain of Mundy Park. Downhills are tough on my knee, but I planned to run up the Crunch and walk down—twice. Good plan!—if I had only followed it.
Garmin-armed, I was at the parking lot by 7 a.m. eager to go. I started out at a good clip–hey, this route was too short to waste any distance on a warmup—and in less than a minute I had reached the first flight of stairs. I went up, up, up, bounding a little to keep my running rhythm. I was soon panting and the leg burn began. It was so bad in my left leg (where my circulation is compromised) that I feared I would have to stop, but I tried to mete out my energy carefully and reached the end of the stair section in about six minutes.
After that the slope became more gradual and the gravel path was easier to run on. I pushed as hard as I could to the top, reaching it in just over 15 minutes. That was harder than the race I had just done! I walk/jogged back to the bottom, taking over 18 minutes, then immediately ran back up again. This time I was warmed up and better prepared psychologically for the steps. I made it to the top in 14:40, and feeling nicely sweaty and loosened up, couldn’t resist (slowly) jogging all the way down, getting another 14:40 split. (An uninjured runner could probably run down in 8 to 10 minutes if the steps didn’t induce dizziness.)
Another new workout and a new discovery: Grapefruit Beer!
The Phoenix Running Club started hosting a new workout this summer: we meet every Wednesday evening, 6:30 p.m., at the east parking lot in Mundy Park. This is meant to be a sociable workout consisting of a relaxed 5K run and a few strides on the bike path, followed by refreshments at the nearby Original Joe’s pub. Naturally, the few times I showed up to take part in the 5K, I couldn’t resist “using” the faster club members to force a faster pace out of my rusty legs. Yeah, they left me in their dust a couple of times. Thanks Larry, Tyler, and Mik!
More importantly, I discovered an absolutely ambrosial post-run beverage: a grapefruit beer served at Original Joe’s. (It is The Radler, made by Austria’s Stiegl.) For taste, thirst-quenching properties, and extension of the post-run high, this can’t be beaten.
Being a spectator
I’d rather be a participant than a spectator at most running events, but there were some pretty special runs to watch this summer.
Canada Day Rocks 5K/10K in White Rock
This low-key, family-focused event put on by TRY Events was just plain fun. It was a perfect summer morning—as the photos show—and everyone was out to celebrate being Canadian and being fit!
The Harry Jerome Track Classic
I go to few track meets anymore, but I was glad I didn’t miss the 2014 edition of Harry Jerome, including the “60th Anniversary Miracle Mile.”
July 10 was a quintessentially perfect summer evening for running at Swangard Stadium. The long legs and long strides of the middle-distance runners were beautiful to watch. There were emotional moments. Diane Cummins, Canada’s 800m record holder, was racing her last 800m at the age of 40. Melissa Bishop won the race with an excellent 2:00.06, but Diane fought valiantly in the close battle for second, finishing scant hundredths of a second behind Jessica Smith and Erica Moore in 2:02.15.
I was only a spectator that night, but but the meet brought back memories of the many evenings I had raced 10,000m on the track. My track racing was almost over by the time I moved to BC in 1990, though. I only raced at Swangard twice. The first time was in 1992, the year after my son Abebe was born, and I was trying to qualify for the Barcelona Olympics in the 10,000m. The standard was still a relatively “soft” 32:45, and I squeezed under that time with a 32:42, my first decent 10,000m since the 1988 Olympics. However, I had to run the standard twice, and when I tried again in Montreal two months later, the undetected (as yet) arterial blockage in my left iliac artery caused my left leg to cramp so badly by the midpoint of the race that I had to drop out.
I didn’t run again at Swangard until I was 40. By then I had had bypasses done on both my iliac arteries, but the right one, constructed with a vein from my ankle, didn’t allow quite enough blood through when I was running at my anaerobic threshold. In that race, I was able to set a Canadian age-group record, but my leg was cramping somewhat and I wasn’t thrilled with my time of 34:50. Marilyn Arsenault, from Victoria, BC, took almost thirty seconds off that time with her record-setting run in 2012. She clocked 34:22.7 as a 44-year-old, and last year, at age 45, set an extremely impressive 45–49 Canadian record of 34:28.11.
The Knee Knackering North Shore Run
Only two days after Harry Jerome, I was a spectator at an altogether different running event, the infamous “knee-knackering” ultra run from Horseshoe Bay to Deep Cove. This run of approximately 50K covers some of the roughest North Shore terrain and includes a huge amount of elevation change.
This year’s race took place on a scorcher of a day. I did my own easy 5K run early in the morning, then drove to Deep Cove to meet my friend Keith who was going to videotape the finish.
The top three ran amazing times, especially considering the temperature. Mike Murphy, the winner, came in at 4:40:49. Second place was Graeme Wilson in 4:56:40, with Oliver Utting not far behind in 5:04:22. All these men are over 40!
After seeing the top three finish, Keith and I decided we would go into the Baden-Powell trail near the north end of Riverside Drive to get some video of the runners in action on a rough part of the trail. Keith set his camera to capture them descending a steep set of stairs onto the bridge that took them across the Seymour River.
Evening swims at Sasamat Lake
The week after the Knee Knacker, the extreme heat continued. I loved it! Instead of going to Sasamat Lake in the late afternoons, I discovered the refreshment of late-evening swims.
I’ll never forget the two nights in a row I went to Sasamat after 7 p.m. Both times it was after getting overheated in shaded trails. The first evening I had just gone for an easy hike in Minnekhada Park. It was deserted and peaceful there on that weekday afternoon, but hot—the heat betrayed by the many insects attracted to my sweaty skin. The next evening I went to run with my Phoenix teammates in Mundy Park. This all-out 5K run was a total sweat-fest that had me in a quandary at the end: Should I go to the pub for a cold grapefruit beer or to Sasamat Lake for total immersion in cold? It was a tough choice, but I was thankful I went to the lake.
After hiking, I drove to the lake. The Beat 94.5 was playing the Top Seven at Seven and the songs gave me a boost of pleasure-energy. The lake was dazzlingly beautiful. I can’t remember ever enjoying a swim more. I was so hot after the hike and the drive, it was pure heaven to get in the water. I stayed in for 12 minutes; oh it was gorgeous being in the middle of the lake with the low sun shining brilliantly over the water and bright orange and yellow floaties piercing through the water vista. It’s another kind of freedom, the body’s weightlessness in water, the relief of coolness after hours of being hot and sticky. I got bursts of energy when I sprint-swam and the power in my arms and shoulders was joyful. I thought about how I love to go all-out, to breathe hard, to sense my body’s capabilities and its limits, to tease that line between pleasure and pain.
I was absolutely glutted with pleasure.
Sea Cavalcade Mile
I thought it would be fun to race a mile since a short distance wouldn’t hurt my knee too much. I hadn’t done the real training for a mile—the hard 300s and 400s on the track that prepare the body for intense anaerobic work—but I figured at least my legs were used to moving fast from my regular short sprints on the soccer field.
Making the beautiful ferry trip from Horseshoe Bay to Gibsons would be another way to celebrate summer—and indeed, it was another perfect summer day!
I was very pleased to place 3rd amongst the women with a 5:39—though admittedly, the course was a net downhill. The last 400m was all down, making the finish of this mile easier than most!
Exploring new trails near the Seymour River
I do most of my cycling in places that I can reach easily by riding from my apartment: the PoCo Trail, the ride up to Sasamat Lake, Colony Farm, and up into Mundy Park. But the toughest ride of the summer was from Keith’s place on the North Shore. We went into the trails at Hyannis and Berkeley and soon descended a narrow steep section of The Bridle Path trail to the Seymour River near Twin Bridges.
From there we rode parallel to the river along Fisherman’s Trail. After that came more bridges and a route we had never taken before, a gravel road called Spur 4. This route was deserted though it was a holiday, and its rolling hills made us wonder if we had chosen an overly ambitious route, especially since I didn’t have much food! However, it turned out that after about 6K on this road, we reached a sign indicating a trail down to the fish hatchery. Now we knew where we were. After a few more kilometres on the small trails around the hatchery, we would reach the 9.5K paved, car-free road leading to the Rice Lake parking lot.
We were pretty beat by the time we made it up and down the rolling hills to the parking lot. After we filled our water bottles at the gazebo fountain, Keith elected to take a shortcut home through the trails. However, I wanted the thrill of flying down 5K of pavement to Mount Seymour Parkway, even though I would have to climb again to get back to Keith’s place. Whoopee! It was a 40K ride, my longest mountain bike trip to date—and by far the hardest.
My Sasamat Lake mini-triathlon: 2014 edition
It seems fitting to wind up this blog post with a description of a “race” that, though modest, is meaningful to me—my Sasamat Lake mini-triathlon—which I described in a post written last summer. I’ve trained a lot on my bike and at the lake during the past two summers, and creating my own short triathlon gave me a defined goal to work towards. I only did the full triathlon once last summer (because of limited running ability).
A few days ago I realized that I still hadn’t completed my triathlon once this summer, despite doing many bike-swim workouts, and the water was only going to get colder from now on. Monday morning weather conditions were perfect—warm and sunny—and since I hadn’t run for several days, my knee felt OK. Not only that, but Keith was with me and would be able to take photos and watch my bike while I was in the lake. Despite having done a long and hilly bike ride on the North Shore the day before, I decided to “seize the day.” This was mini-triathlon day, whether my legs were recovered or not.
I was pleasantly surprised. It’s amazing what having a measurable goal and adrenaline coursing through the body can do. I started my ride conservatively, expecting to feel a lot of leg fatigue, but my muscles felt OK. When I realized I was on record-setting pace for the 8K bike ride up to the lake, I turned my legs to steel and gritted it up the hills. And I set a new PB for that ride, bettering my time from last year by almost a minute!
Quickly I shed my bike helmet, gloves, and t-shirt, and set off on the 3K trail run around the lake. I had only done this run once this summer, without the bike ride, and I had found the many twists and turns and stairs made it tough for my knee. But on triathlon day, I was much better! It seemed the bike ride had warmed me up and made me more agile. I enjoyed my little run tremendously, finishing the last section on the pavement between the two beaches with some good speed to improve my last year’s time by two minutes!
After that I was good and hot for my 10-minute swim. Surprisingly, that turned out to be the hardest part of my triathlon. I wasn’t too cold, but I had done a fairly long swim at the lake the evening before, and my arm fatigue was worse than my leg fatigue. But I came out of the water smiling, and gave myself the treat of a leisurely “transition” as I enjoyed the sun on the beach and put my bike clothing on over my bathing suit.
Heading back on the bike, the hard part was all at the beginning: up from the beach and up to the park gate. After that it was euphoric downhill and then pumping hard on the flats and gently rolling sections as I pushed for another bike PB. I got it! Mission accomplished.
The end of summer
Summer isn’t over yet, but the coming change of season betrays itself. Twilight is earlier and doesn’t linger as long. Sometimes I’m up in the morning before it’s light. There is a nip in the air as I walk to Starbucks and my nostrils pick up the smell of dry dead leaves as I swish them underfoot.
I will celebrate summer until it’s truly over, though. The days are warm and bright, holding still the seductive, lazy atmosphere of holidays.
Surely this has been one of the best summers of my life. Or is it simply that middle age brings a keener appreciation of all the pleasures and activities I can still experience? Sometimes I think of my stage in life as a month of the year, and perhaps now I’m in August. Some people might say at my age I should be a September or an October. No, there is still too much life, light, and playfulness in me for that. Sure, I’ll admit that I’m mellow; that the process of decay and diminishment has already begun; but I’m going to flaunt my summer colours as long as I can.