Saturday, June 22, 2013

Settling in to life in Cow Town...Friendly folks, altitude training, floods and more...

Well here I am, in Cow Town! I can't believe it's already been nearly three weeks. And while I miss the ocean, I must confess - Calgary has been a pleasant surprise so far.

Before arriving here, I didn't remember much about Calgary apart from the biggies - Lake Louise and Banff and the Calgary Tower - which I'd explored with my parents as a teenager. So when we decided to move to Calgary so hubby could pursue a new job, neither of us knew quite what to expect, except that we were heading out on a new adventure together.

The day after our arrival, we took a taxi in from the airport. We could see the downtown core from where we were, and the mountains beyond it, looking majestic, mystical and somewhat imposing. From afar, Calgary seemed only slightly bigger than Halifax - a small cluster of skyscrapers surrounded by a spiderweb of highways.

But then the taxi drove into the downtown core, and it felt like the city swallowed us whole. We were used to being in a city where the tallest buildings were only a few stories high, you could always see the sky and the ocean was never farther away than a few kilometres at most. But as the taxi kept on going, and going, and going, and all we could see were buildings towering above us. We had no idea where we were, or where the horizon was, for that matter.

Stepping out of the taxi when we arrived at our rental apartment, hubby and I looked at each other, and took a deep breath. "Well, that wasn't at all overwhelming," he said. I could tell both of us thinking the same thing: what had we just done? Had we made the right decision to move all of our belongings to a city where we knew not a soul, and which felt 20 times larger than the one we'd just left after six years there?

"Let's just drop our stuff off upstairs, and then take a walk and find a local pub," I suggested, thinking that a beer might just take the edge off.

It turned out that walking through our new neighbourhood - rather than driving through it - was probably one of the best decisions we could have made. There's something to be said for exploring a new city on foot, whether running or walking. In fact, one of the first things I did when I arrived in Halifax close to six years ago was to join a running clinic. When running or walking, you're at your own pace. You can take your time to smell the flowers (Calgary has such lovely lilacs at this time of year) or stare at a new bird (everywhere we kept on seeing black and white birds with long tails, which I later discovered are magpies) or look at menus and do some window shopping.

Coincidentally, it also happened to be hubby's birthday, so we felt no guilt in spending the day hopping to and from a few of Calgary's brew pubs. By the end of the day, we felt quite a bit more relaxed and were enjoying the city's energy and youthful vibe. People here are also super friendly - we're feeling quite at home (our realtor suggested that some of the Maritime hospitality has bled into the city from all of the come-from-aways who've moved here from the east coast).

The following day, I woke up a little earlier and decided to head out for my first run in my new city, wearing my shiny new sneakers (which I'd bought at the Spring Garden Rd RR just days before our departure). I'd been warned by my Halifax running buddies that the altitude would take some getting used to, since the city is 3,500 feet above sea level. I decided it was probably best not to take my Garmin with me, to avoid getting discouraged.

I took it nice and easy and ran down 17th Avenue, which is one of Calgary's most bustling areas, with numerous restaurants and boutiques along it (for sports fans, I'm told it's also known as the Red Mile). I knew I couldn't get lost, because of the city's grid system  - the streets are numbered consecutively, so east-west streets are xth Avenue, and north-south streets are xth Street. That means that you can easily count how many blocks there are to your destination, and also that there's almost no way you can get lost. This makes running in a new city a whole lot more comfortable.

Not really having any sense of distance or pace, I kept on running till I saw the top of the Saddle Dome, then turned around and came back home to report to hubby on what I'd seen in our new neighbourhood. I felt like I'd maintained a comfortable pace, and hadn't really felt too wheezy, so maybe the whole altitude thing was overplayed, I told myself.

The next day, I decided to try and find the CORE shopping centre downtown, and opted to take my Garmin with me. That's when I realized just how deceiving the previous day's run had been. Although I felt like I was maintaining a steady pace, I was really running at about 6:45min/km even though I felt like I was running between a 5:55 and 6:05. My legs felt sluggish and my breathing laboured, and after about a kilometre and a half I felt like I was running at about 95% effort after speed work on what should really have been a very slow long distance pace. I managed a walk-run-walk 4-kilometre run and came back home exhausted.

The following day, I ran to the Eau Claire Market and found the Running Room, which is also conveniently located in the same building as the downtown GoodLife. Introducing myself to the manager on duty, I explained that I'd just moved from Halifax. "You crazy woman!" she exclaimed.

I hoped she was just being friendly and not actually commenting on my decision to move to Calgary from Halifax, or alternately on my decision to run in Calgary (I had as of yet encountered very few runners since arriving, so I was starting to wonder what the deal was and whether it did actually have something to do with the altitude).

I mentioned that I was debating joining the marathon clinic, but that I was feeling the altitude might make it tough for me to maintain a 5:30 pace for Week One's 10-kilometre tempo, given that I hadn't even broken 6:30 on my run down to the store. I asked how long it was going to take me to adjust to the altitude difference.

"I can't remember, because I've been living here for close to 20 years," she said, laughing. "But 3-4 weeks, I'd say," she added, suggesting that I might want to try the half marathon clinic instead, which sounded like a pretty good idea, considering how I was feeling. I ran back home slowly, trying not to focus on my pace but secretly feeling discouraged by how tired I was feeling on what should have been an easy run. At around 5.5kilometres I gave my tired legs a break and walked home the rest of the way.

I didn't run at all the following week - not because I was disappointed with how I was coping with the altitude, but because I was in Manitoba for part of the week on training.

This past week, I managed to run three times:

- once from work to GoodLife for a BodyFlow class and then home (managing a 5:57 pace over six kilometres, which was encouraging);
- once from work to GoodLife for BodyPump at lunch, which felt more like Fartleks than anything because of the start-stopping at red lights, although I did feel like I was maintaining bursts of speed);
- and today I ran an eight-kilometre loop around the SW portion of the city, to explore the after-effects of yesterday's historic flooding (it was also a stop-start run, since I'd brought my camera with me to take photos of the flooding, the swollen river and the evacuated downtown core, which is really quite something to see - I hope to post a slideshow of it here once I find out where my camera cable is packed). My pace felt a lot better, and I even managed to keep it below 6mins/km for a number of stretches, so I'm starting to feel like myself again and am optimistic that I'm acclimatizing.

 Now that I've been running around, what only weeks ago felt gigantic and imposing now feels quite a bit smaller. In fact, today's 8-km run took me just about around the entire SW downtown core. Considering that Halifax is about a 16-kilometre radius, that makes this city start to feel a whole lot more homey.

I'm encouraged that my pace is starting to pick up again, and I'm loving all of the city's trails (although right now a lot of them are closed down due to the flooding). I'm excited to start building up my distances and to continue exploring our new city. There's just so much to see and do. My one question, though, is - where are all the runners?

I've been told that Calgary's a great running community and there are lots of runners, but beyond a few clusters here and there or the occasional lone runner, I haven't seen them yet. I'm sure they're here though - so I'm on a mission to discover them, one kilometre at a time!


Sunday, June 2, 2013

This isn't goodbye..It's till we run together again...

Well Halifax, this is it. In just over 24 hours I will be hopping aboard a plane headed halfway across the country, trading the ocean for the mountains. Hubby has a great job opportunity that we couldn't refuse - and what better way to get to see a new part of the country?

So after 5 1/2 years of running through your streets, I have been struggling to find the words to say not goodbye, but au revoir - till we run together again.

It's tough to put into words what I'm feeling right now. Running has been such a huge part of my life ever since I moved to this city. In fact, one of the first things I did when I arrived was to sign up for a 10km clinic at the Spring Garden Rd Running Room. It proved to be one of the best things I could have done.

I got to make connections and eventually meet new friends. As the distances got longer, I explored virtually every corner of the city. I set new goals and challenges for myself to aspire to. And over time, Halifax started to feel like home, and I decided to set up a little blog called Halifax Runner Girl.

There were many ups and downs - literally, and figuratively, because this is hilly Halifax, after all. There were days I felt I'd run the same 8km loop over and over and over again. Other days, I ran home on a cloud, marvelling at the fact that my route took me by the ocean (and up those incredible hills in Purcells Cove).

There were the days where I ran the farthest I'd ever run before - over the bridge and back. Snowy Sunday morning runs through Point Pleasant Park, the snow soft on branches and ocean glimmering just beyond the edge of the trail. And there were those marvellous Blue Nose race weekends where it seemed the whole city thrummed with the rhythm of thousands of Haligonians of all ages running.

Despite my up and down relationship with running - those days when I didn't want to go out; the mornings when we trudged up the city's icy hills and I wondered what it was all about and why I wasn't in bed. Despite the rainy, slushy, windy, icy, snowy, hot, cold, you-name-it runs...As I look back I realize I have loved every footstep of it.

Running in Halifax hasn't just been about the kilometres marked, although that was one of the major accomplishments I celebrated since being here - moving from being a 5k runner to challenging myself to a 10k, then the Hypo Half, and then the full...After each race I crossed that finish line believing it was the farthest I could ever run - and then I put my shoes back on and pushed myself to run that much farther.

But none of this could have been possible without the support of my coach - aka hubby - and his belief in me. His encouragement when I just wanted to stay home and snuggle up in front of the TV has been priceless.

And then there's the Halifax running community, through which I have made so many friends. You have all been there for me at some point in my running journey - whether it was hanging back when it looked like I was flagging, or listening to me muse about my insecurities with my running after overcoming major surgery, or showing up at the track during speed training prior to my first full with a neon yellow sign that read "Go, Halifax Runner Girl!"...Or just being patient with me when I went quiet and put in my ear buds because all I wanted to go was get the run over after a long day at work and just wasn't in the mood to be social.

To all of you, I say thank you. I'll miss you all. I'll miss Halifax's hills and winds and ocean spray when cutting through Point Pleasant Park. I'll miss Blue Nose weekend - I run in every single Blue Nose single one since being here. It's been a highlight of my running years. I'll miss showing up to a crowded Running Room on Spring Garden Rd on Sunday mornings, perhaps dreading the 32k run that faced me, but feeling buoyed by all of the runners who had decided to show up as well and being motivated and inspired by their energy and enthusiasm.

But no one gets very far by looking backwards while running - in fact that's the surest way to trip. So I'm packing all of my memories into my mental storage bank for those days in Calgary when the going seems tough, or when I long for the salt spray on my face as we run along the Bow River. And I will think of you all.

I've heard that Calgary has many great running trails, but that I'll have to take some time getting adjusted to the difference in altitude. I'm planning to sign up for a marathon clinic when I arrive. I actually do highly recommend it as a great way to settle into any new city.

I also plan to continue blogging in this space, though I haven't quite decided whether to keep the name or change it to Calgary Runner Girl - though so far the votes I've had is to keep the name the same.

And who knows - in a few years, I may be back to run the Blue Nose again, looking to kick some butt at sea level after running at higher altitudes!

Once again, I thank you all for your support. It's been a blast, but this is not the last of it - it's only just the beginning of a new adventure!

Till then, I say not goodbye, Halifax - but till we run together again!

Stay strong, healthy and happy. You'll be in my thoughts.