The start of the journey…

My running journey really only began a few years ago… I haven’t always been a runner although I sincerely wish that I had been a runner all my life! My running journey was initially motivated by weight loss, a desire to improve my health and wellness, stress relief, and eventually transitioned into just a love of running and a desire to do more, see more, and push my body to greater things!

As a child, my siblings and I were very active outdoors with great imaginations and heaps of energy and we ran around as kids do, but I never ran track or cross country or anything fantastic like that in school. I think I remember enjoying races in elementary school, and also loving sprinting short distances in high school, but when I had to run 1600m on track day in 12th grade I hated every second of it and probably vomited at the finish line! Long distance was definitely not my thing then!

When I went into nursing school and spent large portions of the day sitting in classes, drinking away the stress, travelling, etc, I gained a bit of weight (maybe 20lbs total spread over my 5’11” frame). I was never was largely overweight or anything so this really isn’t a weight loss journey but I started purposefully running near the end of nursing school with the idea of losing that extra weight, although it never amounted to much. I never ran regularly enough or hard enough and ultimately diet plays a vital role as well as regular running! And if it was too cold, or too warm, or too wet/snowy, there was no chance I was running!! I was a fair weather runner for sure.

For a couple years I also suffered from suspected trigeminal neuralgia which caused severe facial nerve pain, making me irritable, sleep deprived, stressed out, and running was nearly impossible on most days.

There were occasionally days here and there where I had a really good run… whether it was a day where it was finally sunny and beautiful outside… or I actually pushed myself and got to feel that glowy gorgeous runners high… whatever the reason, it was enough to keep me running every now and then and actually enjoy it on occasion!

However, I spent the those 5ish years running very sporadically.

3 years ago I ended up in the Middle East where I joined a group of girls from work who I ran with occasionally during the week, usually 10ish km loops on the dusty trail along the edges of the diplomatic quarters.  I also joined the Riyadh Road Runners that first year in Riyadh. It was all road running though, inside walled & gated compounds due to security/gender segregation issues, and there wasn’t a whole lot of beautiful scenery to distract me on those runs! However, I was having far too much of a good time being the life of the party, and so often, on Friday mornings when I should have been going to an 8AM race, I was still wobbling & severely hungover. I only made it to a few of the races that first season I was there, still enough to win the 10k series in my age category though!

 

https://annemarie-in-arabia.com/2014/12/12/racing-with-the-riyadh-road-runners/

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Year 2, I was sick of the partying and the superficial and terribly unhealthy lifestyle. I just wanted to run and be healthy – physically and emotionally. The initial jet lag on my return sucked and so since I was up at 4AM anyways, I started running at least 10k most mornings before work at the gym. I ran my 1st half marathon shortly after my return to Riyadh for my 2nd year, with really quite minimal training and did decently.

 

https://annemarie-in-arabia.com/2015/12/04/riyadh-half-marathon/

I started running regularly in the evenings after work in the Diplomatic Quarters again… Sometimes with my friends the “running lemons” and sometimes I’d just go on my own because it really was quite safe and I loved running in the dark, in the dry warmth that fall/winter. There were quite a few beautiful, fresh Friday mornings when I got up early and ran again in the Diplomatic Quarters through the wadi and on longer runs through and around the DQ with my friends. Running was usually followed by a stop at Pancake House to refuel. Those were good days and good memories!

 

https://annemarie-in-arabia.com/2015/11/20/running-in-riyadh/

I met my beautiful friend Nelly who is one of the most energetic and fittest humans I know shortly after my return to Riyadh for year 2 and we started running together occasionally. She was training for the Paris marathon and convinced me to run it with her in April of 2016. My training for Paris did not fit a typical marathon training plan! I ran a lot of 10ish km runs, without a whole lot of thought to what my pace was… And other than that 1 half marathon, when a marathon wasn’t even a dream for me yet, my only other long distance prior to Paris was a day several weeks before the race when Nelly asked me to join her for at least part of her 34k training run on Saturday morning in the DQ. I ended up running the whole thing with her through a dust storm, with not nearly enough water or fuel… but we did it! And that all the convincing I needed to sign up for Paris, knowing that I’d be fine to run 42.2km a couple weeks later.

During training runs/Riyadh Road Runner races, we frequently crossed paths with Majeed and Sylvain, two amazing runners & triathletes and I am so grateful to know those 2 as well as they are incredibly inspiring humans and beautiful people. (Later on my return to Canada, I watched Majeed kick ass at Ironman Whistler – despite having had to train in Saudi during Ramadan and not being accustomed to the mountains in BC!!!)

 

Despite my first marathon concerns, I was totally fine. My Paris marathon time wasn’t fabulous but still pretty great considering the significant lack of training and I had planned on enjoying my first ever marathon without worrying about what my time would be… there’d be plenty of time to stress about pacing and personal bests and all that later in my running life!

It was hard! I didn’t know much about pacing or what to eat and when and all that. I had no proper nutrition with me other than a few dates and I definitely barely hydrated through the race. And those last 7km of the race were ridiculously mentally challenging! I was so sick of running by that point, and many people around me were walking/blocking the path so that I had to try dodge the walkers, and all I wanted to do was walk too!! But… I made it to the finish line, with tears streaming down my face… it felt like such a huge accomplishment. And really it was! Our first marathons are major moments in our running lives and one to be hugely celebrated!! (also… 4 hrs later I got on a plane and flew overnight back to Riyadh to work the next morning. Ridiculous. Don’t recommend anyone do that. :S)

 

A couple months later, I returned back to Canada and launched myself into regular running, running all through the summer (even when it was hot cuz lucky for me I was finally used to the heat and running in 28degrees felt like a dream after running in 45 degree heat!) I was struggling with readjusting to life in Canada, in a small town, and the running was a great stress reliever for me!

 

While living in the Middle East, Run Like a Girl popped up on my instagram explore page and intrigued, I creeped their page wondering what this awesome trail running business was all about! I told myself then that when I got back to Canada, I was going to do that! So back home, I looked for a trail running club to join, and before even joining the club, started thinking about booking big trail races for the next year that really I knew nothing about and ohhh how innocent and naive I was!

In November of 2016, I ran my first run with the Abbotsford Trail Running Club and it changed my life. But really. For starters, it was one of the wettest days I’ve ever run… I was soaked from head to toe!!!! But everything was lush and green and fresh and drippy… and the trail was flowy and beautiful… I got to chit chat with wonderful people on the run and it was just glorious!!!! I fell in love with trail running instantly. Running and jumping over streams and logs and rocks… I felt like a kid again!!

The best part though… the club is filled with incredibly inspiring trail runners and human beings and I am so blessed to be part of the group. As I worked on resettling into life back in a smallish town in Canada, these wonderful people became my trail family and they helped me adapt and learn to love life back at home again and feel completely content and happy in my life here.

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Eventually I started running more frequently with the group, talking about races, and signed myself up for my first trail races and my very first ultramarathon. I had heard about the Squamish 50 while away in Riyadh and wanted it to be my first ultramarathon. I’d hoped to run the 50k but had no idea that it sells out so quickly, so when I went to register, all that was left was the 50mile race or the 50/50 (50miles one day, 50k the next!). I figured 50k is a lot already, whats 30km more?? Little did I realize that that meant crazy amounts of elevation and I still really didn’t know much about running up mountains yet! I was so naive.

In January, I participated in the January battle with 9 other members of the ATRC, and really ramped up my mileage even though a sinus infection had me vegetative for nearly 2 weeks and huge amounts of snowfall made running super challenging. I ran double days, long runs, and trail runs even in all that and it was an incredible way to build my base for the season!

 

In February I ran my first trail race, Run Ridge Run, the first race of the Coast Mountain Trail Series which happens to be one of the hardest race series around, and it was INCREDIBLE! I loved almost everything about it!! (I’ll talk about it in my next post though).

 

And now as I write this, I’ve officially run 3 trail races and another road marathon and am well on my way to running that 50mile race! I’ve learned a ton about nutrition and hydration and pacing and even the science and body mechanics behind running and it’s been a huge advantage to my training! Also, since I ran my road marathon in May, I’ve been able to fully devote my time to trail running instead of splitting between road and trail, and it’s been amazing.

 

I have a long way to go and SO much to learn yet. And I need to learn to embrace the uphill and how to power through it and to run as much as possible up those runnable hills. I’m also terrified of running solo on the trails – my highly overactive imagination sees bears and cougars behind every tree in the forest, which is not the case. Safety is super important and I need to be bear aware and all that, but I shouldn’t be letting it stop me from getting out there and ever running on my own as the odds are definitely in my favor and I there are ways to stay safe.

It’s an amazing adventure. Totally crazy and terrifying some days. But always wonderful above all! And I can’t wait to share with you all my road to ultra… Inspired by some pretty incredible people and some glorious mountainous beauty!!

 

 

 

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