5 things I learned running off course

June 20, 2015

Last week I vowed to chart new paths in my run routine. It was a decision spurred on by the recognition that I had become a creature of run habit. I really had no other purpose in mind than to refresh my routes and bring new life into the run by changing scenery.

Here are the 5 things I learned while running 5 new routes in 8 days:

1. Zigzagging keeps you on your toes


This run, where I started out one way, then looped back, zipped up a deadend road, then zigged and zagged in and out of each successive street was kind of exciting in that I was almost imagining myself as a go-cart or something cornering each new twist in the track. I didn’t have any plan while running this route other than to zig and zag. It kept the run interesting and fun and it also made the run quick. Like, literally. I had an average pace 20 seconds per kilometer quicker than my norm. Zigzagging kept me on my toes.

2. Unfamiliar and unleashed dogs are my nemesis


There was a stretch of this run route where first a big grey and black angry canine came careening at me at full tilt with fairly obvious intentions. It then proceeded to follow me growling at my heels for a good solid 250 metres. I ran as quick as I could and was about to dash for the nearest tree as an escape route when the beast finally gave up. My heart was almost through my chest and I was definitely alive at that moment. I was in that moment for sure, praying I’d live to see another moment.

Then, as I was cruising downhill on another stretch, these two little yippy brown mophead dogs (who were also unleashed outside their home) made such a ruckus at my presence you’d swear I was stealing their puppy from underneath their little turned up barking noses. They chased me, I swore at them and threatened them, then as quickly as the argument over who had the right of way began, it was over. They went home proud to have shooed me away.

Put yer dogs on a leash people! My ankles were threatened and I like my ankles, I’ll protect them to the death! Stay away from me, mutts!

3. Running off course, can set a new course


I really enjoyed my run on this route. It’s definitely a new favourite and will make its way into my regular run route routine. It has everything: curves, hills, flats, ocean, countryside, quiet spaces and beautiful views. I ran it a little earlier in the evening than my usual schedule as there aren’t any lights on this route…its only drawback. But, on those nice summery afternoons, this will be a go-to route for sure.

4. What seemed too far, isn’t


This route was only partially new. I have run an out and back path of both the seaside section and on other days, the inland section. I had always assumed that linking the two out and back routes into a loop by running the middle adjoining road would be too far or too challenging. I hadn’t mapped out the mileage or even really considered it until this self-imposed route challenge. And it is totally in my comfort zone for distance! I had, for whatever reason, assumed this route would be outside of my wheelhouse. And we all know what happens when we assume…

5. I know my limits


I once hiked a mountain in Canmore, Alberta on a complete whim. I was living there briefly and was out for a walk in town one morning when I decided I would just keep going. I walked without purpose. I was wearing shorts and t-shirt and casual shoes. I had no food, phone (it was pre-cellphone era), water, or anything of need. Somehow, I found my way to the base of Mount Lady MacDonald and on to one of her trails that lead upward. I ended up having one of the most memorable days of my life thus far on the side of that mountain that day.

I followed what I thought was the main trail, but it kept getting narrower until it was only a few inches wide and seemed to meander in a less purposeful manner until it disappeared altogether. It ended in a thicket of shrubs and steep boulders which I tried to navigate through in order to continue on what I thought was a hiking trail. I learned later that what I had followed was a mountain lion’s path and was probably very near her den in that thicket. Perhaps I was even watched by her keen eyes.

Not able to find a path, I simple began to hand over hand crawl up the mountain. It was getting quite steep and trees began to dwindle until I found myself on the edge of a wide and expansive mountain meadow. Continuing to move up the mountain, I hiked fairly easily, though out of breath from the earlier crawling, and in short order came across a flock of big horn mountain sheep. They were quietly grazing and completely unaware of my presence. In order to keep it that way, I headed to my right and towards a ridge where I thought I may catch up with the main trail again.

I did! I found the trail and continued upward, stopping to breathe now and again and take in the panoramic views. During one of these brief pauses in upward progress, a golden eagle circled above only maybe 50 feet from the top of my head. It circled effortlessly on its magnificent wingspan two or three times before catching an updraft and swinging high high up into the wisps of clouds.

I continued on up the trail and came to the last main ridge. The trail faded into a single foot’s width that lead steeply upward to the summit. I took another pause before heading toward the very top. I assessed my situation: tired, blistered feet, scratched up hands and knees from crawling escapades, thirsty, sunburned, hungry, clad in crappy shoes, and alone. I hadn’t seen another soul the entire day (probably because I was closer to cougars and sheep!).

I turned around instead of reaching that final goal. I stopped a mere few hundred feet from the summit of a gorgeous mountain where I most certainly would have enjoyed the vista in solitude.

Later that evening at a friend of a friend’s place for dinner (Steve I think his name was), I told the story of my day and how I regretted turning away so close from top. Steve said this, and I’ll never forget it, he said, “To summit a mountain on a whim takes an adventurous spirit. But, to understand when you are at your limit and to turn your back on your goals takes courage.

And that brings me to today, when I set out to run for 90 minutes, about 18-20 k, and to try to reach a new slice of coastline to run along. I wanted to be able to say that I found a new great piece of the world to run within a short distance of home. But then, during the run, I developed a dull pain in my hip and lower back that ran down to the bottom of my right foot. The foot was tingly like it had fallen asleep. It didn’t feel right. I reluctantly called Jen, my wife, to come and pick me up. I regretted it as I was 14k into the run and it was the perfect, I mean PERFECT day for a run. I was kicking myself in the car on the way back for not finishing what I set out to achieve. I said how disappointed I was that I wasted my time, that the run was a bust, that I was angry I failed.

Then I thought of that day in Canmore and Steve’s words.

I guess it took courage to know my limits today.


Running off course this past week was an adventure that kept things fresh and put my running routine in perspective. The change was good, but I’ll be right back into routine, only with a new bag of routes from which to choose.

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