Not Kilimanjaro, but another volcano. This was at the top of the Sierra Negra volcano in the Galapagos Islands

Not Kilimanjaro, but another volcano. This was at the top of the Sierra Negra volcano in the Galapagos Islands

Yes, that is the age-old question, isn’t it? <insert cricket sounds>

OK, so maybe this isn’t a question that the average person finds themselves asking, but this is something I’ve been pondering quite a bit lately. In June, my husband and I will head to Tanzania to tackle the highest mountain in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world: Mount Kilimanjaro.

This challenging climb reaches 19,341 feet and will take a total of 7 days to reach the top. A team of hardy porters carry all our gear, food, water and shelter for the ascent and our group will hike 10-20km a day eventually reaching the summit on Day 7 after an 8 hour hike in the middle of the night. Each day gets increasingly more challenging with the altitude, which can sometimes have intense side effects. What’s more, altitude effects everyone differently, and there’s really no way to tell in advance if you’ll be one of the unlucky ones that gets altitude sickness and has to abandon the climb.

In total, if we make it to the top, we will climb approximately 90km. Overall, it seems pretty intense. I’m scared and excited and hopeful and terrified all at once.

The itinerary that we received when we signed up includes encouraging phrases such as:

Totally exposed to the ever-present gales, the tents are pitched on a narrow, stony, and dangerous ridge. Make sure that you familiarize yourself with the terrain before dark to avoid any accidents.

Remind me why we’re doing this again?

Right. I remember. We love challenges! And this is a BIG bucket-list item that we’ll get to check off this year. The accomplishment will be well worth it.

The hike is being hosted by my husband’s company, Acacia Mining, so we’ll be joined by an entourage of his coworkers and their families. We’ll also be climbing for a good cause, raising money for CanEducate, a charity that provides support, education and learning tools to under privileged children in Africa. I’ll update this post as soon as the donation page is live (read: hit you all up for donations!)

So far, I’m noticing a lot of similarities between marathon training and mountain climbing training.

We bought our hiking boots – the most essential piece of equipment – and we’re working on breaking them in. Like running, it would be a massive mistake to trial your shoes for the first time on race day, so it’s important that we get some miles in on the new shoes before we arrive in Africa. To do this, we’ve planned some hikes, we wear them to walk to work and I even wear mine around the flat while I make dinner.

The other similarity between marathon running and mountain climbing is the endurance and determination needed to finish it. We’ll do the training and we’ll be in good shape, but advice from people who have climbed Kili before is that the final ascent requires just as much mental stamina as it does physical. Kind of like the last couple kilometres of a marathon. I feel like that part might seem strangely familiar.

But will the actual climb itself be tougher than a running a marathon? I hope that will be a subject of a blog post set to publish around July 2015. Stay tuned!

If any former Kili climbers out there want to give us some advice, we’re all ears!

Fire jump - Spartan Sprint

It’s fun. Trust me.

Nothing makes you feel more like a warrior than jumping through fire. I like doing things like this. In a world of order and schedules, it’s fun to do something completely primitive. That’s why, two years ago, I signed up for and completed the Spartan Sprint in Toronto. This challenging 5K trail run has about 20 obstacles peppered throughout. Obstacles include crawling through a long tunnel made of hay, wading through mud under barbed wire, and the infamous fire leap (as seen above). On the Spartan Race website, the event is described as “pure primitive craziness” and there is no course map or list of obstacles available in advance. In fact, the FAQ section says “if you need a road map for each stop of the way, maybe this race isn’t for you.”

After I published my race recap, I received a few incredulous comments from readers. Some even used colorful words like “masochism” and “insanity” to describe the event.

So naturally, I can understand if you want to stop reading now, but if this kind of thing piques your interest, read on! I’m giving away free entry for one of the 2015 Eastern Canada races! This includes any distance: Sprint, Super and Beast.

HOW TO ENTER

It’s easy, I promise. No complicated entry mechanism. No forcing you to follow me on Twitter (though I always graciously accept new followers).

Just leave me a comment on this blog post about why you’d like to participate in the Spartan Race this year. Done. You’re entered. I’ll pick a winner at random and email you a code to redeem your prize. You pick the date, location and distance when you register.

Not sure if this is up your alley? Check out the photos here. If they give you heart palpitations and a pit in your stomach, this might not be for you. But if you’re smiling and intrigued, you should probably give this a shot. And don’t let videos like this scare you too much. The Sprint distance is totally attainable for someone of average fitness.

For more details on the events, check out their website: http://spartanracemedia.com/ca

Looking forward to your comments! Contest closes on May 14!

You're looking at the 42nd place female finished in the 10K adn the 2nd place female finisher in the 5K!

You’re looking at the 42nd place female finisher in the 10K race and the 2nd place female finisher in the 5K!

Two 10K races just 6 days apart? Why not. Following our amazing race in Corsham, Graham and I decided we’d sign up and run the Richmond Park 10K and see if we could improve on our time from the week before.

It was not to be unfortunately. With the race starting bright and early on Saturday morning, we had big plans to head home after work for a healthy dinner and a quiet night. Wild Friday night plans, I know. However, we were wooed into one glass of wine with colleagues. That glass of wine quickly became two. Then three.

Before we knew it, it was getting close to bedtime, and not only had we drank copious amounts of alcohol, we hadn’t eaten dinner. Whoops.

Needless to say, we managed to eat some food and put ourselves to bed at a decent time. At least we weren’t low on sleep.

We woke up dehydrated to a grey, gross day. It was cool and pouring rain. My motivation was low.

But I was looking forward to checking out Richmond Park. This park was created by Charles I in the 17th century as a deer park, and wild deer still roam freely throughout the 955 hectares. I was told I would very likely encounter a deer on my run and I was looking forward to the sighting.

I’m sad to report that talk of deer sightings were greatly exaggerated. At one point in the race, Graham looked across an open field and said, “Look! A deer!” I squinted at the brownish-red figure in the distance. It set off running and we both immediately realized it was a dog. Albeit, a large, deer-like one. But a dog nonetheless. Other than that, no deer were seen.

The race was tough for both of us. The first 3K seemed to be entirely uphill and my attempt to maintain my 5:20/km pace was a struggle. I knew I couldn’t keep it up. The race consisted of two 5K loops and I sincerely regretted not signing up for the 5K. I was definitely ready to quit after that first loop. We both finished the race but it certainly wasn’t a personal best. I crossed the finish line at 55:41 and Graham was shortly after me at 56:41. All things considered, not a completely terrible race.

We saw our friend Tori near the last 1K and it was a much needed boost. As she chased alongside us trying to take pictures, she encouraged us by yelling out that we’d go for a beer after the race. It was very appreciated because I was fading fast. The sun had come out, I was tired and sweaty and at that point, I realized I wasn’t going to see a deer. Tori had run the 5K, and actually came in 2nd place out of all females in the 5K! She humbly mentioned this fact as Graham and I huffed our way across the finish line.

After the race, we casually made our way through the park to the pub. It was a much nicer walk then run and I could actually enjoy the pretty landscape.

There’s no shortage of races in London. We could honestly run a race every weekend if we wanted, but this is the last official race on the horizon for now. However, inspired by the recent Boston and London marathons, we’ve decided we’re going to put our name in the ballot for entrance into the 2016 London Marathon! It’s a low chance we’ll get in, but worth a shot. I feel like I have one more marathon in me and London is a pretty epic one.

A fine looking group of runners.

A fine looking group of runners.

This past weekend, we joined my uncle-in-law Keith for the Corsham 10K. This friendly, community event is in its 33rd year and expertly organized by the Corsham Running Club. Half of the entry fee goes to local charities like Food Banks and Air Cadets and last year, they donated £5,000. Yay for good deeds.

It was a perfect day for a 10K race, especially a beautiful jaunt through the English countryside. And even though I was sad to miss Sunday’s Yonge Street 10K in Toronto this year, I was happy to still be running a 10K race.

Truthfully, I haven’t run a lot of flat 10K races. Every year for the last three years, I have run both the Sporting Life and the Toronto Yonge Street 10K and consistently clocked PBs. But with a primarily downhill route, my time is not really a great representation of my actual 10K time. The Corsham route was a gradual uphill for the first 3K and then rolling hills after that. Definitely a more challenging route than I was used to. In fact, the only other 10K race I’ve done that even moderately resembled the Corsham route was the Oasis Zoo Run in 2012 where I ran a 54:44.

I didn’t go into Sunday’s race with any expectations at all. I haven’t been running very fast lately and I wasn’t really feeling like pushing myself. Just general Sunday laziness maybe. Even my original goal of keeping up  with the 55 minute pacer seemed like a task of epic proportions. I thought I’d just run and see what happened. And because I wasn’t putting a lot of pressure on myself, I wasn’t nervous at all. No pre-race jitters. No multiple trips to the port-a-potty. No stress. Just a casual warmup in the sunshine.

After the first kilometer, I was surprised to find we were keeping a pretty good pace of 5:30/km despite the hills, and somehow – against all odds – we not only managed to maintain it, but actually get faster as the race went on!

I briefly lost my husband Graham at about the 7K mark where I slowed a bit to eat a piece of orange handed to me by an enthusiastic spectator. I kept him in my sights though and caught up to him around 9K. We both finished the race together crossing the finish line at 54:42, which we’re both counting as our new flat 10K PB. Yay us!

The other exciting race result is that I somehow came in 63rd in my category which seems ridiculously good. I mean, I’m not standing on the podium, but compared to my usual placement in the 1000s, this seems like something I can brag about!

I loved the community feel of this event. With only 900 runners, it felt big enough to be official but small enough that it wasn’t overwhelming. Roadside entertainment included a local school band and local residents in dressing gowns out on their front lawns to watch the action. The race also had a lot of new or first time runners. At the finish line, I saw one runner hug her friend and proudly declare that she ran the whole 10K without stopping. It’s nice to remember that the chip time, for some, isn’t the only marker of success. It made me reminisce about the first race I ever ran where I completed the whole 10K without stopping – The Brampton Spring Sprint in 2010 – another lovely community race.

Of course, I owe a big shout to uncle-in-law Keith who not only introduced us to this fine race, but finished with a blazing fast time of 47:11 and 27th in his category. Well done you! And I would remiss if I didn’t mention the beautiful, delicious, absolutely perfect lamb roast that my aunt-in-law Debbie prepared for our post-race feast. The perfect meal after a hard run and so very appreciated. I basically went into a food-induced coma on the train ride home.

Overall, it was a really good event. A great route, supportive spectators, well run, beautiful weather and just a really good vibe overall. While I was sad to miss the inaugural Toronto Yonge Street 10K, the Corsham run was a pretty good substitute – and it had a lot better scenery (Sorry Toronto!)

Check out that lamb roast on the right. You know you're jealous. Nomnomnom

Check out that lamb roast on the right. You know you’re jealous. Nomnomnom

Not a bad view.

Not a bad view.

I’ve often said that hill running builds character. If you’re a runner in Scotland, you probably have a lot of character. Hill running is your only option.

This past weekend, I visited my parents in Edinburgh. Naturally, we had to spend an afternoon climbing the infamous Arthur’s Seat, the main peak in Holyrood Park. It’s a good, windy climb to the top but you’re rewarded with some pretty stunning views of the city. It’s a great tourist attraction and fun afternoon activity for local families. Despite the fact that I hate hill training, I was inspired by the number of runners hustling up the steep terrain. So the next day, my husband and I decided we’d give it a try.

The paved loop around Holyrood Park is about 7K. The first bit would be tough: about 3K of non-stop uphill. But the other side would be a long, luxurious downhill. How bad could it be?

Answer: really effing tough. From my parents flat to the beginning of the paved path around the park is only about 700 meters, but we needed a short break after that just to catch our breath. Once we got it together, we powered on for the long stretch of uphill. The steep incline coupled with a brutal headwind made the first 15 minutes of this run pretty harsh. I tried to focus on the beautiful views and the pretty yellow plants covering the hills, but it was a struggle.

But as soon as we rounded the corner, the wind went away and we were on our way to a beautiful stretch of downhill.

By the time we got to the next incline, we were ready. We powered on for about 500 meters, until we realized we’d gone too far and missed our turn back to the flat! But at least the way back was downhill!

I can definitely see the allure of running in this park. Its varied terrain makes the kilometres fly by and you would be a seriously strong and badass runner if you did this regularly. I have huge respect for any regulars who run here, and frankly, anyone that runs hills on a regular basis.

Running hills gives you power which translates into longer, faster running strides. Some studies have also shown that runners who train on hills regularly have higher concentrations of aerobic enzymes in their quad muscles versus runners who do all their running on flat terrain. These enzymes allow your muscles to function at high intensity for longer periods of time without getting tired.  Basically, this translates into increased speed.

I’m hoping our Holyrood Park run gives me power for our first 10K race in the UK, coming up this Sunday in Corsham. There are some hills in this race so I have absolutely no aspirations of a PB – just the hopeful and realistic goal of completing the distance in 55 minutes. And whether or not I succeed in this goal, it will be followed by a glorious and totally deserved Sunday roast. Nomnom.

Race recap to follow…

Smith Haut Lafitte runLast year, I found a race that had everything. I had the great pleasure of participating in the Terroir Run, a fun 11K run in Prince Edward County (PEC) in Ontario that ends with a catered lunch and wine tasting. This run basically combines everything I love in one place: running, wine, great food and fun people. It was one of my happiest races of 2014. I mean, click on this link and check out who is front and centre dressed in yellow in the team photo for the race. Seriously, my happy place.

I would absolutely love to participate this year, but unfortunately, moving to London makes this a pretty tough race to add to the agenda. (But, shout out to last year’s running partners – our friends Tina and Bergen who are doing the race again this year and gunning for a top 3 spot! Good luck to you!)

This year though, I kind of did my own Terroir Run. Over the Easter weekend, my husband and I travelled to France and spent some time in Bordeaux, home of some of the loveliest and most famous wineries in the world. On our first day at our gorgeous hotel, we did a run around the vineyards of Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte. This incredible vineyard boasts 67 hectares which are planted with several grape varieties that produce the most glorious red wine. While we certainly didn’t see all 67 hectares on our little jaunt, the small part we did see was pretty spectacular.

Perfectly rowed vines stretched as far as the eye could see. Grape plants are these stumpy little plants with gnarly branches, but when they are all side-by-side, they look like they are reaching out to hold hands with each other. I have a soft spot for ugly plants. Especially ones that can produce the necessary ingredients for my favourite beverage!

The run took us around a few parts of the vineyard closest to the Chateau, and through a rugged trail around the property. The map showed a 5K loop, but we definitely got lost and ended up doing two sausage shaped loops instead. It was a nice trail run with big shady trees and leaf covered terrain. It was a nice change from my recent road and treadmill running.

The run was much needed. Much like last year’s Terroir Run, our day culminated with a lovely multi-course meal and of course, endless glasses of wine. And one cannot go to France without eating their weight in cheese.

I doubt that run burned off the calories in the single piece of chocolate covered fois gras I ate, but alas, it was better than nothing.

So, while I missed out on the Canadian Terroir Run this year, I think running around a French vineyard was a fair substitute!

Next up: the Corsham St. Georges 10K with my uncle-in-law! Race recap coming soon…

Wine and running. Together at last.

Wine and running. Together at last.

 

Now Hiring SignNow that we are settled in our new flat, I decided it was finally time to find a new gym. Our shipment from Canada arrived, and with it, our scale. I was sad (though not surprised) to see that all our eating and drinking contributed to some extra squishiness. I tried to be balanced in my first 6 weeks in London, but I failed. There are just too many great places to go out here!  But the arrival of the scale was just the motivation I needed to find a local gym and get back into a routine.

Finding a new gym is like conducting job interviews. I first searched for eligible candidates on Google and found that there were three reasonable options within walking distance from our new flat. Next, I set up some interviews to evaluate them in person.

My first candidate didn’t pass the pre-screen. The Gym  was the definition of a no-frills facility, and while totally adequate, and the best monthly price, it really didn’t offer what I needed.  On to the next one.

My first interview was Fitness First. I was toured around by a nice personal trainer who showed me the facility and let me stay for a class to try it out.  The class I did was a tough 30 minute circuit rotating through 5 different exercises. After a bit of hiatus on strength training, I was beat. The instructor was fun and energetic and overall, the gym was decent. The only downside was that the main area of the gym was in the basement and well, it kind of felt like a basement. I realize that space in London is not exactly at a premium, but it did leave a bit to be desired.  The monthly membership also only allowed access to that specific gym which is a bit a bummer, though not a deal breaker. Fitness First was definitely in the running.

My next interview was Virgin Active. At a higher monthly price point, I was pretty convinced when I walked in that I was going with Fitness First.  I don’t need to pay hundreds of pounds more per year for some fancy facilities I’ll never use. I arrived for my appointment only to discover that the person I was set to meet was not there. Bad start. If you’re trying to get the job, you should probably show up to the interview.

After multiple emails, I rescheduled my visit. It was going to take a lot to convince me that they were the right candidate for me especially after our bad start. However, they won me over. After years of settling for a below average gym in Toronto, I was wowed by the lovely facility, the spacious studios, the plentiful cardio equipment, the onsite cafe and of course, the spa area. Seriously, the spa. This area has a giant hot tub with waterfalls and large lounge chairs to relax in. Having access to this as part of my membership was it for me.  The gym also has a great pool. While I am not really into swimming, it is nice to have the option, especially if a triathlon is ever a possibility.

I played hardball for 24 hours and went back the next day to officially become a member. I managed to get myself a bit of a deal too because when it comes to hiring my local gym, I’m a tough negotiator.

Since joining, I’ve tried three different classes and in addition to some new ones, I’m also exceedingly pleased to see they offer the Les Mills classes I was doing in Toronto. The familiarity is nice, especially being new.

So to The Gym and Fitness First, thank you for applying, but I’ve decided to move forward with another candidate. To Virgin Active, congratulations. I look forward to a successful year together.