Friday, June 24, 2022

Glory Days

Glory days, well they'll pass you by
Glory days, in the wink of a young girl's eye

Glory days, glory days

Bruce Springsteen

Gone are my running glory days. I still manage to hack out a dozen or so kilometers a week, mostly on a tread mill, occasionally on a cheeky forest trail, or sometimes even on a low track river trail.

I run because it makes me feel good. Not the meaningless “good” we echo when someone robotically inquires after our welfare. No, I’m talking about body, mind, spirit good

The good that soothes jagged thoughts, calms the brain, lightens the step, and cheers the heart. The good that comes from a comfortable place deep within our soul. The good that promotes positive mental health and brings out the best our DNA has to offer. That other kind of good… that’s fake news. Make mental health great again!

I run to enhance my mental health. How do you enhance yours?

Speaking of mental health, thank you Rachel Munday and the whole Manitoba Marathon crew and volunteers for all you do to promote positive mental health in our community. You are much loved.

It’s a good day to be alive.


Thursday, January 23, 2020

It's time to end this old blog.

My my, hey hey
Rock and roll is here to stay
It's better to burn out
Than to fade away
My my, hey hey.

Neil Young, Out of the Blue

It's time to end this old blog.

It's been a good old blog and has served me well, but it's time to take a bow and exit stage left. It was borne from a place of excited innocence in 2008, slowly evolved into a respected voice for all things running, and ends today in a whimper of irrefutable irrelevance.

Truth is, no one reads blogs anymore; at best they're skimmed and scanned. The faster action is found on Twitter, and Instagram of which I have no clue and zero interest.

I mean really, 280 characters, how is that communication?

Yup, told you so, I'm way old school.

I can't run despite the best efforts of Stephanie and her Little Shop of Pain. I use a bionic brace, and meds strong enough to down a herd of rhinos but I still can't run. So, why write about a community in which my membership has lapsed? I could write from the sideline, start a new blog, Mike The Voyeuristic Runner, and watch as the world runs by or I can gracefully bow out and move on.

I choose to move on. I have made peace with myself. I have licked the wounds clean. The scabs are gone and the fading scars are mere momentos of time past. I am letting go of a beautiful time of life which showered me with love and immeasurable happiness. I am forever grateful for this time. I bid a fond adieu to all of you who made it possible.

Unfortunately my words, honest as they are, at times offended some and I have suffered deeply the hurt of lost friendships.

This I regret.

I move forward.

Please, if you will, indulge me in a few memories.

  • With tears we remember our friend Jo here, here, and here.  
  • With pride we remember Ted Swain here and here.
  • I am proud of myself here
  • We were horrified with The Boston Bombing here
  • We supported Jamie McDonald here.
  • We contributed to medical research here
  • We talked openly about mental health here

.... and on and on...

It's a good day to be alive.


Saturday, May 25, 2019

Kudos to Manitoba Runners' Association

Kudos to Manitoba Runners' Association for their fine leadership in our effort to reduce the carbon footprint of running events in our province.  MRA is the sport governing body for Road Running in Manitoba.  The board is composed of nine volunteers who work year round to ensure road racing and trail events meet the highest standards in terms of safety, fairness, and amenities for participants. An MRA sanctioned event means the course is accurately measured and meets all rules and regulations of the MRA.

What does this mean to the average runner?

It means the best payback for your hard earned dollars.  It means you are supporting a grass roots organization that improves the quality of life for all Manitobans, young, old, and differently abled. It means there will be toilets on the course (and we know that's really important!) and water stations. Now, in 2019,  it means the event you run is working towards a carbon neutral status.

How are they doing this? Good question!

In brief:

MRA has purchased thousands of compostable cups which they will sell to all sanctioned event at cost.  They also collect and store the cups at their facility to be professionally composted in bulk at the end of the season.  The cups are made from Polyactic Acid, a bio-plastic made from natural sources. The cups must be professionally composted; they will not break down in a backyard composter or in a landfill.  This action would be cost prohibitive for a single event, but together, we can make a huge difference.

Kids like bibs!  MRA is collecting non-recyclable bibs at the end of each event to be reused at youth running events such as the famous Ice Cream Run. The single use bibs typically end up in the landfill so even if they are used twice it helps.  (ed note... I have about a thousand that I'm willing to donate:)

Many event will hand out ribbons for children runners.  Let's face it, ribbons don't hold much appeal even for kids. Typically they were tossed or not even accepted.  MRA has replaced ribbons with 'wooden nickels'. A wooden nickel is a reusable token that all child runners receive in place of the standard ribbon.  Children turn in the wooden nickel at the MRA tent for a chance to win a prize to be awarded at the Manitoba Marathon Expo. The nickels are reused or the children have the option of keeping the nickel.

MRA has stopped using plastic bags for race kit pick-ups and encourage other events to do the same.  Kit bags are often stuffed with coupons from sponsors which events want to honour as sponsorship is very important. MRA encourages events to have coupons available at kit pick-up for registrants to select if they choose, but not impose by stuffing the kit-bag.

MRA does not distribute paper copies of their minutes, agendas, or reports.  They have gone completely electronic.

We thank MRA for their leadership.  They have started the conversation.

Race Directors...what will you do to reduce your event's carbon footprint?

It's a good day to be alive.


Monday, February 18, 2019

See Mike Nordic Walk

Nordic Walking is like driving a Smart Car. You know it's good for you, but you can't help feeling a little silly while engaged.

A case in point.

While Nordic Walking through Omand's Creek this afternoon I was stopped by a man. I was listening to some groovy tunes so I couldn't make out what he was saying.

I stopped, removed my gloves, toque, and ear buds, smiled patiently, thinking this better be worth it, and said "Pardon me."

He said something about skis. Bewildered, I replied "Huh."

"Your skis man! I found them, they're on top of the hill" to which he emphasized with a raised hand, pointing towards the hilltop.

Even more bewildered I replied "What....skis?".

"In case you're looking for your skis, I found them, they're up there" he replied with a mischievous grin.

Hoodwinked and it's not even April Fools!

Dude, funny!


Not to confuse the issue, but Nordic Walking is also know as Urban Poling (correct) or Urban Trekking (incorrect, trekking is more of a long arduous journey similar to Ultra-marathons).

Think of cross country ski-ing minus the skis. That's Nordic Walking in a nutshell. The poles help create a rhythmic, flowing movement of the entire body with an emphasis on arms, legs, and core. Nordic Walking is vigorous but, unlike running, there is little impact on the knees and hips. If used correctly the poles will alleviate some weight from the knees and hips. Some poles have built in shocks which help cushion the force on the arms as one plants the pole repeatedly with each step.

Urban Poling is a real workout, make no mistake. You will work up a sweat and your heart rate will raise to a sustained 70 - 80% intensity. Your upper arms will ache and you'll sleep well.  It pairs very well with my personal favourite exercise regime, Good Life Body Pump.

I don't want to get into the 'how' of Nordic Walking because I'm not an instructor. The best online resource I can find is Urban Poling.   There is also a small Urban Poling community in Winnipeg which one can track down online, but it's slim to non-existent. I'm more interested in the 'why' of Poling.

I'm an injured runner. I have a torn meniscus, torn ACL, and arthritis in my right knee, and I suspect my left knee is not far behind.  I've been fitted for a brace which will arrive in a couple of weeks. I'm hurtin' and I miss my running routine, especially my Sunday forest runs. Most of all I miss the socail aspect of running. Let's face it folks, not running bites.

Does Nordic Walking help fill the void?

The short answer is yes. Nordic Walking satisfies my innate need to be physically active outdoors. Nordic walking allows me to enter the mystic zone, and I feel mentally satisfied after a one hour intense walk.   Physically I am drained but not to the same level as running.  My knees still hurt  (think low grade head ache in the knees), but nowhere near to the pain I have while running. I suggest all you injured runners give it a try.

The longer, much more complicated answer, is no. Nordic Walking is excellent and I am enjoying it immensely, but it is not running.

Running allows me to enter a world of altered states; an amalgam of pain, ecstasy, sweat, joy, and tears. Running gives me inner peace and knowledge that I am all that I can be, all that I have become.  Running forges friendships where talk and laughs runs freely and earnestly. Running allows for a world where age, sexual identity, profession, background, culture become meaningless.  Running is a world of perfection where our heart, muscle, bone, and mind combine to make perfection.

That's all.

Yo, good day to be alive.


Saturday, February 2, 2019

Knee Deep In A Rut

I'm in a rut; a Winnipeg in February kind of rut.  You know; wheels spinning, gears grinding, hoping for a boost, need a push kind-of-a-rut.

The good doctor made a diagnosis today. Not the one I was hoping for but, oddly I feel better knowing exactly what's happening to my body. I thought at one point it was all in my head.

Turns out it's all in my knee; my right knee to be precise (but I suspect the left one is a little wonky and on borrowed time).

The good doc interpreted my MRI today. It seems I have a hat trick of ailments.  I have a torn meniscus, a torn ACL, and ...  sh*t ... degenerative arthritis.

The torn ACL stems from a prior tear from nasty trip on a forest gnome in April 2015 (see DNS).

I have given up the large goals of marathon and ultras. I asked my doc if she thought a slow half-marathons was possible in time.  Her averted eyes told me no.  She then suggested working up to running for an hour at a time.  Apparently running for an hour won't cause more damage. In fact, she says it will probably strengthen the knee.  On the down side I have to wear one of those ugly bionic braces. On the plus side I have some pain management meds that seem to work well.

Surgery is an option, but I don't want to go that route just yet and neither does the doc.

I don't want to be a Miserable Mikey. I have it good. Hell, I can run for an hour.  Some would give anything for that one privilege.  I'm not complaining but it's my blog, my rut... I can whine if I want to!

Did someone say wine?

The hurt stems mostly from not being able to run.  A large part of my identity is wrapped up in the running community. Not running means the absence of a positive social outlet. Not running means diminished energy. Not running means languishing mental health. Not running means the continual presence of absence. The knee hurts, but the soul does too.

I miss running in the zone where time slows and my mind flows freely.

I miss my Sunday morning trail run with my chatty friend, WD50 ;)

I miss running through the bush of ghosts.

I have discovered Nordic Walking (aka Urban Poling). It's a great upper body workout and it allows me to get out on the trails and build up speed.  I would strongly encourage any hurtin' runner out there to work Urban Poling into their recovery plan.  There's very little stress and way less pounding on the on the knees.  I'll blog a article about Urban Poling soon.

Bionic Mike
I thank Dr. Christa Mason (In Motion Network) for her support.  She tells it straight, but she 'gets it'. She understands the pain is more than  knee deep.

It's a good day to be alive.


Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Running Through the Bush of Ghosts; a guest blog by Tim MacKay

Brother Tim; 

We have travelled many hidden trails through dense bush. We have experienced the beauty of running in extreme conditions and extreme distances. We have shared intimate stories of ghosts past and present. We have bared our souls and exposed our true selves, our true identities. We have cussed and laughed and then cussed some more.  We have have offered a hand up, literally and figuratively, to one another on many occasions.  You have dragged my posterior over several lines in the sand and I have cussed you in gratitude.

Tim, I identify deeply with this piece. Occasionally the ghost conspire and trip us on the path when we least expect their presence. You have shown vulnerability and have taken a risk. This, my friend, shows courage and strength. 

Thanks for this Tim. It's a good day to be alive, despite the ghosts or, perhaps, because of the ghosts?








The snow underneath my feet responds to my pace with a rhythmic crunch, matched by a parallel rhythm in my breathing. There’s great comfort in the rhythm. It’s soothing, healing. It’s important. Maybe essential. The rhythm - the consistent beating - is what keeps me going. It marks the mental space I find the most comfort in, with a steady ‘left, right, in, out’ bringing calm and peace. And when set along a trail in the woods, the forest bathing me in solitude and simplicity, this healing rhythm is as close as I can come to perfection.

There’s no mystery to this. I’m not alone in treasuring the healing power of running’s rhythm and calm. I’m not alone in needing the solitude of a trail to run out my demons. I’m not alone in using running as an antidote to the stressors of life that challenge my mental health. Like many, I run to stay well.

People sometimes ask chronic runners what they might be running from. For some of us, it’s a very simple answer - ghosts! It’s a bit like the experience of the main character in Amos Tutuola’s novel My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. The novel tells a series of stories about a young Nigerian boy who finds himself alone in a haunted forest, where he is completely unprepared for the strange spirits he encounters and the unusual and dreamlike experiences he faces. Life is like that for many of us. We are unprepared for the sometimes nightmarish things that happen to and around us. And we sometimes end up carrying the ghosts of these experiences long after the events have ended.

Yet this oversimplifies it a bit too much, because the kind of running I’m talking about isn’t so much a ‘running from’ as it is a ‘running with’! Many of us run to find peace with the ghosts that we have come across. We run alongside them. The reality is that we may never be rid of the ghosts that haunt us, so running with them instead of away from them, befriending them, becomes the purpose. The bush of ghosts never fully goes away, it rarely gets cut down completely. We may find our way out of it for awhile, but invariably it sits somewhere over our shoulder waiting for an opportunity to swallow us again. The cure isn’t to run away. No, better to acknowledge it, embrace it, and find a rhythm to safely move through it, to befriend the spirits and ghosts and run with them. This is where wellness lives. In this sense, it might be better to ask, what are we running to!

Running’s healing rhythm is no accident. Like an EMDR session for PTSD, the firing of left and right sides of the body, the deep and rhythmic breathing, they all make perfect sense, synchronizing a healthy rhythm across the hemispheres of the brain. Running is a metronome of wellbeing, beating out a steady rhythm of coherence and calm. It’s not meditation - anyone who has spent even a second on a mediation cushion could tell the difference. But the quiet, contemplative rhythm is powerfully therapeutic. It’s a healthy compliment to meditation and other wellness practices. And the resulting fatigue helps too. For those who sometimes struggle, the value of deep, sound sleep is unequalled. The research is solid on this - as part of a comprehensive approach to wellness, running can help to counterbalance many of the symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other challenges to mental wellbeing.

Some of us run more than others. Some run distances that others would even consider unwell - ‘crazy’, in fact. Some of us tire and run shorter distances as we age. But run we must. To be clear, not everyone who runs is running with ghosts. Not everyone who runs is using it as a strategy to stay mentally well. But for many, like me, running helps them navigate the bush of ghosts and keep moving through life. We tend to find each other and cluster in small groups of running buddies. We are comrades on the road and trail, despite each of us running through our own private bush of ghosts. Together and alone all at once, the friendships and solidarity providing an additional buffer to the ghosts. We run, sweat, hurt, and laugh together, making our way along untold kilometres of road and trail, step after step through the bush of ghosts.

This January, when Bell encourages us to “talk about it”, some of us will run instead. In this sense, running is a form of communication akin to dance, a single-track ballet many of us perform as we navigate our way to wellness. Running can be our “talk”. It’s dark and cold through the month of January, yet many of us are out there running. And now you know why - the ghosts are fewer, smaller and far more friendly when outside on the run then they would be if we stayed inside and sat.

Tim MacKay

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Blow it Up! Campaign

Carly Peters interviewed by CBC
We blew it up good on Harte Trail this morning. The Blow it Up! campaign had coffee, muffins, treats, tunes, heat, media, and lots and lots of high velocity whistles. Alas, someone forgot to invite the runners.  We had a couple of lone runners and a few more walkers, but not the droves we had anticipated.  Harte Trail, usually teaming with runners and hikers, was ...insert cricket sound...bare today.

Carly Walsh Peters is an active and much appreciated Ted's Run for Literacy board member. In between her duties as a busy mom, wife, professional career women, she has organized the Blow it Up! campaign. The old maxim, if you want to get something done, ask a busy person, applies in spades to Carly.

Unfortunately this campaign was borne from violence. A women was recently sexually assaulted by a man on this idyllic trail ...mere meters from where we set up. Coincidently, today is the United Nations International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women  Out of tragedy grows hope.  Ted's Run for Literacy received over $800 in anonymous donations to purchase whistles. Support was also offered by a Hi-Vis City, a local safety company that provided the whistles at a substantial saving.

The Blow it Up Campaign provides free whistles and a comprehensive information sheet for women's safety on the trail. We believe sound, especially the shriek of a high velocity whistle, may prevent a sexual assault from occurring. As Carly says, "forget politeness, if you feel threatened, blow the whistle".

The tip sheet also offers suggestions for men on how to best support the women and girls in their lives. Upon reading it I immediately reflected on my own past practise and caused me to reflect inward on my attitudes and actions towards women.  I consider myself one of the enlightened men, but even so, I've never run a mile in a woman's shoes. I take my safety for granted while trail running, while women run with heightened awareness of their surrounding.

Stay tuned for our next pop-up.  Grab a whistle for yourself or someone you love.

It's a good day to be alive.


Sunday, November 4, 2018

Male runners have privileges not experienced by women runners.

Give a little whistle
Not just a little squeak, pucker up and blow.
And if your whistle is weak, yell!

Jiminy Cricket

Last week I waxed poetic about running a single track trail along the Assiniboine River. I was in the moment and revelling in the natural beauty of this ancient river. I was approached from behind by a man who slowed to match my steps.  I knew he was there, I could hear his footsteps and his breathing. I knew he wanted to pass but the dense forest and narrow trail made this impossible.  We ran silently in single file for minutes.

I wasn't scared or concerned about my safety. At no time did I feel threatened or nervous.  After several minutes of silence we engaged in a pleasant conversation before he pulled out on a flat section and passed me with a friendly wave.

I have come to realize that, as a man, I am privileged. I run trails solo through dense forest or dimly lit streets, night or day without fear of sexual assault or hurtful, sexualized comments and threats.  Truth is, I don't give my safety a second thought.  I run without a plan. I often don't share my whereabouts with my wife, or my expected return time.  I just run, carefree, lost in bliss searching for perfection.

I expect all men share my relaxed attitude and run freely without a care. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

Women and girl runners do not enjoy the same freedom. They run with a heightened sense of awareness of their surroundings.

And so they should!

Last year 180 women were sexually assaulted in Winnipeg. Manitoba has the highest rate of sexual assault in Canada, almost double the national average. In 2016 about 109 people per 100,000 reported being sexually assaulted to police (the national rate is 58 per 100,000).

A female friend recently found a woman on Harte Trail who had just been sexually assaulted. Her presence frightened the man and he ran away. The attack took place at about about 6:10 PM in light dusk. There were plenty of people on the trail enjoying the last moments of fall. Harte Trail winds through family friendly Charleswood, perhaps the safest neighbourhood in the city. If women can't feel safe on Harte Trail they .... sheesh, this is depressing.

I invited female runners to comment.  This is a sampling edited for clarity and brevity:
  • I lost my courage to run alone. Maybe one day it will come back. Please be safe.
  • I always run there as it’s a block from my house It is isolated in some spots and as a woman I always am extra careful on trails. I have my phone out and take pictures of everyone on the trail. I can’t keep up with runners at the running room anymore so have to run alone 😕 I’m just careful.
  • I usually run on the seine river trail depending on the day it can be isolated or busy. I most often feel safe but getting more concerned about running alone on trails.
  • I’m afraid to run alone in general. I stay where it is busy and light out. It’s unfortunate, i feel I have to stay away from trails.
  • I won’t run on isolated paths. I usually stick to main roads. I would love to run on trails but I just don’t feel safe.
  • I do not feel safe running alone on isolated paths at any time of day. I will run on trails/bike paths with good visibility during the day alone without ear phones, but not after dark. I am wary of my surrounding and will be extra careful under bridges etc. Realistically this forces me to run indoors during the work week for 6-8 months of the year.
  • I like the trails so one ear bud in and ready to groin kick the heck out of anyone who bugs me.
  • I was attacked just walking home not running but still the incident left me feeling hurt, uneasy, angry, scared, vulnerable and weak. I was fortunate enough to escape the attackers hold and thankfully a car passed by in time for me to do so. That was 10 years ago and I'm still jumpy and get easily startled. 
  • I run with a "personal protection device" and dog spray. Sadly, mace is illegal here so I need other forms of protection when out alone. 
  • If someone is attacking me, I'll use any means to defend myself.
Many woman runners offered safety strategies including: dog spray, running with a buddy,  have a plan, tell your plan, and stick to your plan.  Another common strategy -news to me... again, male privilege talking here- is running with a whistle to alert others when in danger. Three long blasts from a whistle is the international code for distress so use it to your advantage.

In response, Ted's Run for Literacy Race Committee will purchase 100 high quality whistles & lanyard with a top ten list of trail running safety tips for women. We will distribute the whistles and top ten list free of charge to any woman or girl that requests one.  We are partnering with a local company which will remain anonymous until the details are in place. Watch for details on Facebook and this blog.

Please do not view this as opportunistic. Our race committee is mostly woman (about 75%) and we truly do care about our community.

It's a good day to be alive.


Sunday, October 28, 2018

Wolseley, A Runner's Paradise.

Olmands Creek, Wolseley
Photo Credit Brad Cartman
I know you think you live in the best neighbourhood in Winnipeg, but sorry, you're wrong.

Wolseley is the best darn neighbourhood in Winnipeg. Five minutes from the most iconic intersection in Canada - tragically closed to foot traffic by car culture suburbanites who are least invested  in a thriving downtown neighbourhood. Known locally by the moniker The Granola Belt, home of Tall Grass Prairie Bakery, and the mystic jewel of the flatlands, Prairie Sky Bookstore. We love our trees almost as much as we welcome diversity. 

We hold true the values of the 60's hippy counter culture, but we wear better clothes and keep better hair - thank goodness. We drive a Prius or equivalent or we chill with Peg Car or Tapp.

We border The West End, West Broadway, St James, and our rich cousins to the south, old wealth Wellington Crescent.  We identify with exciting West Broadway for it is a neighbourhood in transition, much like the Wolseley of the 1970's.  

Charleswood is a close second. With it's old village charm, young families, and access to Assiniboine Forest makes for an appealing neighbourhood, but, sorry, it ain't Wolseley, not even close.

Throw a stone in any direction in Wolseley and you're on a breathtaking urban trail of self discovery, beauty - such beauty- and inner peace.  

Today I ran an eight mile in Wolseley. I ran a trail hugging the low track of Assiniboine River.  Dozens of Canada Geese comically landing feet first on the calm brown water... insatiably squawking, honking Oh Canada for all who listen.

Today I ran eight miles in Wolseley. I ran along grand old Wellington Crescent lined proudly with ancient Elms and benches. The water fountain, so welcoming, is closed for the winter, but will surely return with the promise of summer. Runners and walkers smile and wave as we pass. I thrive in the loveliness and smile at the perfection.

Today I ran eight miles in Wolseley. A young man approached from behind on a skinny trail.  I knew he wanted to pass but the single track made it all but impossible. Instead this marvellous young man took my old pace, my old breath.  He engaged me in beautifully positive conversation. We were equal in that moment, old and young, running single file. His name is Arden and he knows of me from this old blog.

Today I ran eight miles in Wolseley. I ran in organic kaleidoscope circles along tinted oblique trails while my mind wandered and my body flowed through time.  

I am all that I can be.

It's a good day to be alive.


Saturday, October 13, 2018

Barkley Fall Classic Ultra Marathon, for Em. The 'Why" of what we do.

I may have met Em while visiting my son at University of Waterloo ON,  but I can't be sure. I was surrounded by young people all in pursuit of higher education, higher understanding of our fragile world.  All were laughing, inviting, and living life to the utmost.  Beer, good cheer, and organic fair abounds... Matt stands out along with James and Joe.  They were there-are there-  for my son Max and daughter Jordana.  These young people are the future.  They stumble together, they laugh together, and - with the passing of dear young Em- they cry together.  Please read this guest blog by Matt Morison who attempts to explains the 'why' of what we do.

It is, my dear friend, a good day to be alive.


For Em ... love of my life, light of my world.
The Barkley Fall Classic, or BFC for short, is a 50ish-km course through some very gnarly terrain in the beautiful Smoky Mountains of Tennessee in Frozen Head State Park. The climbs are known to be outrageous, somewhere in the neighbourhood of 12,000 feet of gain over the 50 km, while the entrants and race directors are known to be eccentric and hilarious. This race is a much easier and shorter version of the infamous Barkley Marathons held each spring in the same location, and recently has been the subject of a few great documentaries – give it a Google if you have a spare 90 mins and haven’t seen them.

As a Winnipegger attempting to train for this race, I am glad to have read the old Garbage Hill post on Mike’s blog detailing some of the different routes around Winnipeg’s main topographic feature - of course, built of trash. At least knowing there were a couple different ways up and down the hill made it slightly more interesting doing the endless hilly mile repeats. I wouldn’t even call it boring as there are often lots of cute dogs, friendly runners, and beautiful sunsets to enjoy while doing runs there. That said, as beautiful as many of the hundreds of garbage repeats were, they were quite often marked with violent sobs and many tears as well. This race report needs a very difficult but important introduction to the why of running this race.

I sat on the fence about how and whether to include some of the details of my personal life and journey leading up to this race in this report. I had initially decided to keep things private - but after hearing from Mike, who was both very understanding and encouraging, suggested that if I felt comfortable sharing, it could be helpful to anybody out their reading going through their own trauma and struggle. With that in mind, and also reading the guest blog by Farahnaz Afaq, which really hit home for me in terms of running through and with grief, I decided to lay it all bare. So the truth is I signed up for this race as part of the catharsis I have found through running, in attempting to find healthy ways to grieve the sudden loss of my partner. In January of 2018, Emily Ruston Mann, the love of my life, and light in the world for so many friends and family members, passed away suddenly, without any warning, from an undetected pulmonary embolism.
Emily and I in Drumheller AB on a cross continental road trip
after she finished her Masters Degree in the fall 2016.

My life was instantly shattered that night. To this day, which feels not at all yet far removed from last winter, it is still very hard for me to accurately describe so many of the feelings that made up (and still make up) my everyday existence so changed by loss. Pure rage, numbness, hopelessness, frustration, confusion, doubt. Fake laughter, real laughter, fake smiles, real smiles. Tears, dry heaving, yelling into my pillow, lying on my floor staring catatonically at the ceiling and ignoring texts from friends and family until I am ready to talk to people again, and then going on to feel nearly normal for a week at a time before it all crumbles again some night. It’s all the new life I am living now, which can be so dominated by grief that everything else is pale. But one thing that I started to focus on was that the end of a life need not be strictly about death. Reflecting on an amazing life (and Emily’s life truly was amazing) can take all sorts of forms. For the incredible way that Emily lived her life so thoughtfully and which such care for others, I could feel her encouragement for me to find something to just keep myself afloat. There were many ways I have tried my damndest to honour Em’s memory, whether it is listening carefully to someone tell their story, gardening in a community plot, saving seeds for friends, trying to find helpful ways to volunteer my time, write mail to friends, enjoy lots of delicious local and healthy food, but also enjoy cheddar-covered popcorn. Not that my (and other peoples) memories of Emily can ever be reduced to just a list of activities, but these things that remind us of the way that she lived and moved in the world. I am not nearly close to Emily at being so good at doing all those things, but I try.

But in amongst all that, I know Emily would want me to find a healthy way through this grief. Somehow, it was clear to me what to do there. I latched on to an old passion for running. I used to run. And I think I actually feel like I used to be pretty fast at one point when I was younger – not fast fast, but I actually felt like I could really leave it on the line in an 800 or 1500 m. Despite many years off from the sport, stumbling upon hearing about this race this past February gave me something to actually look forward to. To be excited about. It was very foreign at the time, in such a dark place, to feel hope. But it is undeniable that it was there. So I started to run. I ran on the river trail for dozens and dozens of kilometers per week. I went out at weird hours of the night with my dog and cried and yelled out loud to nobody in an empty Assiniboine Park, running laps on cold nights over icy patches of road. I trained. I felt like I was healing sometimes, only to be knocked down by strong and overwhelming waves of grief, only to get up again, and train more. I got injured. I got sick. I went to physio. I went to AT/osteopathy - a huge help. I trained more. I got a coach (who was amazing). I got a personal trainer (also amazing). I cried. I hit the gym. I trained more. I trained more than I have ever trained for anything.

And suddenly after many months of a weird time warp of tears and miles – race weekend arrived with a bang. After arriving in Tennessee and checking in to pick up my bib and receive a course map, I tried to make sense of what I had actually signed up for. Did I have a chance to finish it? Was I a failure if I didn’t make it? Would Emily be shaking her head at me for trying to do this? Probably. I had so many questions. I tried to strike up some conversations with a few BFC veterans, desperate for some more information about the route. I had heard all sorts of horror stories from previous years of runners ending up many kilometers off-course, lost in the woods and wondering what went wrong – of course, in this race you are permitted no navigational aids other than a compass and the cloth map you are provided. No GPS, no altimeter, no smart phones. Luckily the overwhelmingly friendly-yet-sarcastic group of runners I sat with were also poring over the map and making course notes the night before which I happily tried to listen in and contribute where I could.

After a fitful sleep and some half-awake packing up and double-checking my gear, I was off to the start line. We gathered in a big open field and traded anxious well wishes to each other. The cutoffs are known to be very tight in this race and most years somewhere around 2/3rds of racers will be counted as DNFs (did-not-finish-ers), for any number of reasons - but getting caught up in the cutoffs being one of them. I couldn’t help but think as I looked around me that 66% of all these athletic looking people wouldn’t make it to the end in time. How could I possibly hope to finish if most of these fit-looking people couldn’t? I shook my head and told myself that I flew all this way and I am going to leave it all out on the course and if I didn’t finish I was going to have no second thoughts about it. There was no way I was missing the cutoffs only to think “man, if only I tried a little little bit harder” – if I was going to fail, I was going to fail in a magnificent way. People would remember that guy who failed as hard as you possibly could. That would be me.

And all of a sudden we were toeing the line and eagerly watching the race director for another strange tradition of the race – it begins with the lighting of his ceremonial “starting gun” cigarette – once the tip glows red, we are free to start – and suddenly - we were off – it was happening. The first mile and a half of this race is on a pretty much flat paved road into a campground – the danger is letting yourself get comfortable and think that it might all be this easy. But within 10 minutes we found ourselves at the base of the Bird Mountain Trail. The dense tree cover makes it hard to tell exactly how far up we are going but I knew from looking at the map we were in for a seemingly-endless set of switchbacks going up a couple thousand feet for the next couple of hours.

The “conga line” tradition people had mentioned the night before came true, where the narrow single track on the sharp edge of switchbacks overlooking several-meter drops prevented any sort of passing, at least safely, for the first hour of the course. This may end up being a blessing is what I had to tell myself, thinking that at least this was preventing me from going out too hard and regretting in halfway through the run. But at the same time, the thought of those tight cutoffs began looming in the background of my mind as we moved along at a slow collective pace. The first cutoff was at 7.6 miles, requiring you to get there in 4 hours. Of course on flat ground this pace would not be a problem for most ultramarathon runners – but this course was it’s own beast and even that first cutoff would surely claim a few victims.

Even great pictures can never do these climbs justice but go try running up the toboggan/sliding 
hill portion of garbage hill a couple of hundred times and scrape yourself with a couple of sharp nails
every repeat. That might approximate these sections well. Here I am at the front of this group
trying to thrash through some sharp vegetation. Photo Credit, Misty Wong.
Luckily I rolled into the first cutoff point at 2 hours 30 minutes, cruising in with plenty of time. I gulped down the remainder of my bladder of water/Skratch drink and stuffed some of the trademark snacks of this race into my stomach – greasy and spicy sausage nibs called Slim Jims. I, in all seriousness, had heard these were popular at this race as fuel and so I had literally trained one night by eating a king-size Slim Jim and then doing a hour easy run just to see how it felt/sat in my stomach. It’s not a pleasant feeling but the high-fat protein feels like it somehow acts as a disgusting jet fuel for runners.

The next sections of the course saw runners really spread out a lot more which was welcome after navigating conga lines for several hours. I find myself almost alone at times, worrying if I am still on course before turning a corner or switchback and seeing runners in front or behind me. I still second guess myself (wondering if I should be sure if I’m actually going the right way just because I am following some one else ….. who might be lost themselves) but keep checking the map and it all seems/feels right. The course is officiated by a series of people with small hole punches who punch letter-shaped holes into the bottom of your bib which eventually spell out a message, which proves you actually went and did the whole course in the right order.

The hours go by and the heat starts cranking up. We started the day around 20 degrees Celsuis and humid, and we are up to the low-mid 30s at this point. Which happened to coincide perfectly with some of steepest climbs of the entire course. Everyone’s pace moves from slow to glacial as runners are forced either onto all fours to scramble the uphills, or often on their butts to slide down the downhills, which are just too steep and slippery to head down. Halfway through these gnarly climbs we are treated to a very cool section of the course which goes literally in, over, and under through a big culvert, a decommissioned max-security prison. This jail used to house James Earl Ray, the coward who murdered Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. many years ago, who famously attempted and failed to escape the penitentiary. 

Just after coming over the biggest climb of the course, only about four miles to go
before until the "decision point".  Thanks to Misty Wong for the great photographs.

As the brutal climbs come to an end, I keep checking my $8 Casio stopwatch (remember, no GPS!) to see where I am at with the cutoffs. The two main timings I had to keep in mind were making it to the decision point by 9.5 hours, and the finish line by 13 hours, 20 minutes. The decision point happens at mile 22.6 – if you arrive there in time, you are given the choice to either continue on as normal to finish the race on another 7 miles of treacherous steep trail - or to take a nice easy 0.7 mile flat road back to the starting line and end your race early. With some strong effort on the runnable last 4 miles leading up to it, I hit the decision point in 8 hours 20 minutes, beating the cutoff. The choice was clear – I was finishing this cruel and sadistic race.

The aftermath on my shins on crashing around on the course.

I set onwards, although within 15 or 20 minutes, the heat gave way to the skies opening up and dumping some serious rain on us – the remains of Hurricane Florence. I also realised I hadn’t actually really seen anyone else since I set off on the last leg – was I actually still on course? Was I lost? Almost 9 hours in, exhausted and wet and feeling confused, having not really stopped all day, I sat down on the forest floor to try and rehydrate, stretch, see where I was, having been somewhere on the verge of tears for a few hours from just all of the emotions associated with running this race and the times I had been through while training starting to bubble up. And I truly had no idea where I was at. I checked the map and compass and started wondering about walking backwards where I came from to see if I could retrace my steps. I thought about Emily, I thought about failure, about why I was here. I don’t know how deep the hole of thought could have gotten but it was suddenly interrupted when I hear something behind me… “Hey man! Nice hat!”

I turn around and there is a smiling face – a fellow Canadian who had been wearing a matching Canadian Trail Running Company 5 panel hat to the one I had one now. I joked to friends that this hat saved my race, but it was really this fellow runner. He literally and emotionally picked me up off of that forest floor and put me back onto the trail and reassured me we were still on course. We ran the entire remainder of the race together, picking up the pace all the way to the end. Special thanks to David Varty for running with me to the finish and to Devin Morrow and James Janzen for getting me that hat.

And somehow, at 11 hours and 45 minutes after we had begun, I staggered across the finish line, found the nearest clump of grass and fell into a heap but couldn’t tear the stupid grin off my face. There was a strange mix of emotions – love and loss and life and achievement and grief can work together in mysterious ways. But after that sort of physical challenge, the real forefront of your brain seems to be focused only on one thing – lying down, not moving, and just smiling.

The BFC class of 2018 had a fantastic year, besting the highest finish rate ever for the BFC at a whopping 48%, huge congrats to everyone who ran and gave it their all. I know there were many people who had DNFed in previous years who earned their medal this year, but also people who maybe fell short of their goal this year who will surely be back in the future to conquer this race – I am going to be rooting for them from either near or afar. I know for many of them, the training might have already begun looking ahead to next September. Maybe next year I will be even be back again myself, but in the process of training for this race, the journey itself was just as, or if not more important than, the destination. Finding a way to honour Emily by doing this for myself to get through this pain, was in a way, also, for her. It’s hard for me to describe so I will leave it at that.

I somehow arrived the next evening into the Winnipeg airport, surrounded and surprised by my amazing friends and family who waited (unknownst to me) outside the gate. They had tried to bring me a bottle of my favourite scotch, but perhaps fittingly, it fell out of someone’s arms and smashed on the airport floor about 15 seconds before I came through the international arrivals doors.

I was home.

For anyone still reading, may your next run (or any challenge in your life) be hopefully easier than this one but may it also be rewarding and difficult enough to learn something about yourself also.
A grand welcome at the airport from amazing friends and family.
So much for that Laphroaig though!

Matt Morison