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Halves, full’s, knees and straits

The month of June pulled me through on a manic adventure ridden tour, that before I knew it July was settling in to its mid term lazy sun driven days, and August was getting excited for it annual month long tour. And so as I write this on the first trip back for a year to the heat-wave sun-burnt England, I take a deep sigh, relax, and reflect on what has been an amazing variety of fun and frolics in Vancouver and beyond over the past 40 days and 40 nights since the last update.

Early on in June, as the remnants of spring were finally subsiding and summer was shining brightly on the horizon Han had her inaugural Half Ironman race across in the wine region of the Okanagan. Lying between the Coast Mountain Range and the Rocky Mountains, we’ve visited this area twice before to taste and gargle our way through 6 or 7 vineyards a day, but this time as we headed East along the scenic mountain road of the I5 mine and David’s minds were firmly set on crewing Han and ensuring her race went as smoothly as possible, rather than on Elephant Island, Borrowing Owl and the Hidden Chapel vineyards.

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The original Ironman started in 1978 (where the 1st place athlete on the final running leg ran out of water and was given beer instead, only to finish in 2nd), has long been coined the toughest of tests of human endurance, and the Half Ironman is no mean feat clocking in at a 2km swim, followed by a 90km cycle and then finishing with a 21.2km (half marathon) run.

Han set off on a beautiful wind swept morning as highs, lows, grit, determination, helium filled aerial camera failures, and the usual dose of food, beer, and good times with good friends were had, but the small film that David and I made can explain Han’s race more succinctly and emotionally than I could here.

A week later, and in a concerted effort for Han to rebuild the lost muscle and used up calories, fun fuelled Friday found four of us drinking and dancing our way through Vancouver Craft Beer Festival, sampling a host of weird, delightful, crazy, surprising, obnoxious and mind flowingly tasty beers. Although the event finished at the rather subdued 10pm, meaning the next morning was headache free and breakfast ready, we found it pleasantly surprising to be drinking outside in a city that usually outlaws such crazy behaviour, especially as the sun was shining throughout the event.

The next weekend arrived and Han and I took a well earned rest over on Sechelt as we shut down at my aunt and uncles house for 3 days, enjoying the 180 degree panoramas of the Strait of Georgia.

A week passed, Saturday arrived, I looked up from my GPS watch and I took in the heads of 7,000 runners as I stood near the front of the Vancouver Scotia Bank Half Marathon, hoping to improve on my personal best that I had set in February of the year in a time of 1:21 and 20 seconds.

I knew that over the 21.1km course, a 3:45 min/km pace would find me stepping across the line in just under 1:20, so as I ran down the gradual decline before traversing back up the said hill and shooting by the 5km mark, I was happy to see my pace just hitting under the target at around 3:40.

With a 6km downhill section to follow, I knew that I had to stay around that pace, if not slightly quicker, to give myself some leeway on the elevation neutral zone, before the slight uphill, round the coast on Marine Drive, over Burrard Street Bridge, and around to Stanley Park and the finish if I was to stand a chance at breaking the iconic 1:20 barrier. The 10km mark came up and I was just about on pace, having lost sight at 7km of the lead women, but firmly staying in contention with a recognisable blue VFAC vest just in-front of me (VFAC are another Vancouver running club).

The next 5km went, if not smoothly, then grittingly pacey, before BAM, my chest suddenly said “No”.

I had bruised a muscle in my chest a few weeks earlier but thought nothing of it over the past few weeks as it slowly healed; it didn’t seem to overly affect my running and the times it did I could run through with little distress. But now I couldn’t maintain my pace as a shooting pain traversed by chest.

I slowed, it hurt; I slowed some more, it hurt less; I stopped running, and it said

“Better. If you’re going to run, I’m going to hurt. Your choice”.

I smacked it a couple of times in knowingly useless protest, shouted obscenities at the decidedly deaf muscle, and start to trudge on. I wasn’t going to let this injury prevent me from finishing, even as some annoyingly depressed thoughts entered my watch driven mind, and I saw my target time slip by in an uncompromising slew of slow kms.

By 18km I could start to run at a decent pace again, and as I knocked out some 3:30 min/km to the finish, I looked up and saw my time stand at 1:24. The previous few km I had exorcised the momentary PB devil, and I could reflect on a decent time considering the 3km that had me running nearer, if not over, a 5min per km pace.

The last race of the year for me was finished, a guilt free drinking week appeared, and before I knew it the next Friday approached and David, Julia, Han and I were packed up in a car driving from Victoria on Vancouver Island, past Sooke onto Sombrio Campsite as we pitched up for the night, before starting on the Juan De Fuca trail early the next morning.

Created in 1994 after the Victoria Commonwealth Games to “pay homage to the living legacy of unprecedented natural beauty”, the Juan De Fuca path is a 47km trail that skirts the Southern coast of Vancouver Island, overlooking the Strait of Juan De Fuca and the Pacific Ocean, twisting, winding and grinding up and down creeks, foliage swept paths and mud slide banks. BC Parks refer to the trail as ‘a wilderness hiking trail’, where you have to look up tidal patterns to ensure you can cross all of the 7 beaches without getting stranded on the wrong side waiting for the moons magnetic pull to reverse the tidal flow.

This isn’t a trail to be undertaken lightly as the terrain is often challenging and dangerous; cliff edges loom just metres from the path, knotted ropes aid the intrepid adventurer down steep rock slopes, and the rollercoaster elevation profile tests your quads and calves alike. Bears, coyotes and snakes are a measured threat, food and toiletries need to be hung in trees during the night to stop the bears from sniffing in your tents to find a tasty human dinner.

No human made water sources are available along the route; water needs to be purified from natural springs that trickle and flow down towards the ever thirsty ocean and the only materials available are what you take into the trail with you. The old traveller motto seemed even more important than normal as we were geared to “take only photos, leave only footprints”.

Using the logistical solution of dropping off a tent and supplies midway into the trek, driving to the start the next day, trail running and hiking the first day to the tent, hiking the next to the finish before getting a bus back to the car and picking up the tent from there, the first morning arrived along with the warming rays of a beautiful sun swept morning.

With the sense of getting closer to real back country trekking, I was excited and primed to go as we headed out on day 1 of our 2 day trek to complete the trail. Our original goal was to trail run both days, but it soon became apparent that the predicted 4-5 hour finish time for the first 28km day was highly unrealistic if we were to enjoy the trail and ensure we were staying on route and not wandering down boulder strewn beaches only to miss half hidden turn-off’s and trail signs.

The four of us soon relaxed into a sensible pace, trail running where possible, hiking where not, and ensuring we weren’t rushing past awe-inspiring vista’s that appeared round the twists and turns of the winding path. As we neared 25km, 6-7 hours into the day, Han and I dropped down a step slope after traversing a tree strewn ridge, to be presented with our campsite at Sombrio beach around a achingly beautiful cove and waterfall.

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We were tired, aching, the going had been tough, we were happy to have a visual glimmer of the finish even if it was an optically confusing distance away, but the day had been rewarding, my camera was bursting with photogenic excitement and we had a wonderful campfire sunset to look forward to.

Although I do find great pleasure and excitement in the trails and scenery during a trek or trail run, its often the camping, relaxation, beers, camaraderie and wilderness chat and small talk that I find most enjoyable, and so it was that the warm evening slipped by as we cooked on the beach, listened to the water lapping at the seaweed ridden coast and put the world and friends to rights.

With the previous day still present in our legs but with a renewed sleep forced, pasta driven rejuvenation also in attendance, we unhooked out bear un-touched food, cooked up some energy ridden oats, and set off for the next days adventure. If anything the scenery, mud, and hidden pathways were more in abundance than the previous days outing, and as we neared the final stretch up-to the waterside pub 7 hours and 20km later, although physically happy to have finished, a mental part of me was delighted and awed at how accessible and rustic a wonderful part of the world to discover and explore can be; without mans helping hand thrown at you with tourist touting shops, water pumps and food stops at every turn.

I felt as though we had achieved another small triumph in getting back to some form of primeval roots that helps me understand and appreciate life a little more, without getting bogged down in technology and lazy-driven expectations.

I had loved the trail, had had a wonderful time tying food up trees away from bears, cooking on beaches, not being told where or when or how or why, not being shoved away from cliff edges by safety breaching fences, drinking from natural streams, and using nature instead of displacing it.

The burger, deep fat fried chips and generic mass produced beer at a bar that evening though was heaven on earth!