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!