2016 in Review: Life, the Universe, and Everything

2016. Much has been written about how this year has been a rough one, in so many ways for so many people. I too have had a year full of turmoil - though, I admit that as I get older I increasingly wonder if life really is just turmoil, and the secret is just to figure out how to find happiness and peace in the midst of all the challenges we inevitably face. I turned 42 this year - which, incidentally, is the "Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything" (if you're a Douglas Adams fan). 42 is also the critical angle at which sunlight refracts when hitting raindrops in order for a rainbow to form, and it is the number of kilometres run in a marathon. So all things considered, I guess I can expect the next year to be a good one - full of rainbows, cosmic answers, and (ultra)marathons. No pressure, 2017.

Why the Gorge 100k experience was so great.
But back to this year. My running started out with a bang, racing the Chuckanut 50k in March and Gorge Waterfalls 100k in April (my longest run to date). Unexpectedly entering the 100k race off the wait list a month before the event meant that I had not trained for that distance and, combined with running it 2 weeks after the 50k, resulted in a nagging hip flexor strain turning into a full-blown injury. I had an amazing experience during that race and would not change my decision to run it, but it did come with the consequence of losing about 3 months of running while I rehabbed the injury. Luckily, despite not being able to run, I was able to hike, so I was spared going completely crazy by still getting onto the local trails most days.

Just as I was starting to inch my way back into running regularly in July, with my sights set on the Squamish 50k race in August, we received the news that my dad was terminally ill. I have written about this already, and will not rehash the experience here. Suffice it to say that the summer was a terribly difficult period, and yet also full of cherished time spent with my family. If there is any silver lining about all of this, it is that I was able to run through this time. If my dad's diagnosis and the subsequent months had coincided with when I was injured, I would have been without my foremost coping mechanism and know I would have felt more at sea than I already did. I ran home from the hospital almost every day while my dad was there, and took to the mountains for long exploratory runs when he left us. For months afterward, the only time I really felt like myself was when I was out running, the longer run the better - as always, it helped me to heal from the inside-out. 

Whistler Alpine Meadows race. Photo courtesy of Brian McCurdy.
Having missed my goal race for the summer, I registered instead for the Whistler Alpine Meadows 50k, an extremely difficult and beautifully rugged race that gains 3350m of elevation. Leading up to that race, I ran the Salomon Valley to Peak 23k as a training run, pushing myself extremely far outside of my comfort zone (read: rolling trails and down hill) to "race" up to the peak of Whistler mountain from the village. I was satisfied with a 12th place finish, especially after having missed so much training over the summer. 3 weeks after Valley to Peak in September and 5 weeks after my dad passed, I took on Whistler Alpine Meadows as my first ultra since running the 100k at the beginning of April. The race was everything I needed and wanted it to be, and in the last 2 hours I spent a large chunk of time running completely by myself through the stunning ... well, alpine meadows of Whistler. I talked out loud to my dad quite a bit, and cried a little, and felt incredibly light, happy, and peaceful despite having already run for over 6 hours. I crossed the line of that race as the 5th place female, which was my best result of this season full of literal and figurative ups and downs.

The fall was chock full of fun running adventures with my girlfriends and Brendan, including running 40k to Opal Cone in Garibaldi Provincial Park (with Brendan on his bike for part of it), 68k around Mount Hood in Oregon,  and squeezing in a traverse of the local favourite 29k Howe Sound Crest Trail on Thanksgiving weekend. We ran in costumes to Elfin Lakes on Halloween, and had my birthday party on a 3.5 hour trail run, also in costumes and fuelled by donuts and beer gels. As a side effect of being injured through the spring and early summer, this fall has been more about ramping my running back up than winding it down as I normally would be doing at the end of the year. Despite the forced down time, I am closing 2016 having run over 2000 km and climbed over 60,000 m of elevation, and have had the opportunity to explore many beautiful places that I had never seen - and as Kilian Jornet puts it, use running as a vehicle to "discover landscapes both inside and outside".

Fall Running Shenanigans
My experiences in 2016 have helped shape my running goals for next year. To try to avoid the somewhat haphazard nature of my running from this year, I'm heading into 2017 with only 2 goal races: Chuckanut 50k again in March, and Squamish 50k in August. I'll do a few other shorter races in between, but want to focus on running faster over the 50k distance rather than running farther. There are definitely some longer races in my future, including a 100k that I actually train for (the novelty!) and a 100 miler eventually, but I am in no real hurry to get there. There are already a number of running adventures in the works for next year as well, which are my favourite (though admittedly unusual) girls' weekends with friends who also happen to think that running all day through the mountains is a fun way to spend their time.

It's amazing how important running continues to be for me, and how my relationship to it is constantly evolving: at different times in my life, I have needed it for different reasons. Every year of running brings new experiences and prompts unique reflections; but the common thread is that it grounds me and gives me clarity, both in happy and sad times. I am looking forward to discovering what 2017 (the year of 42) has in store.

 I like this year's collage because almost all of my favourite running friends are pictured :)


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