The White Mouse of the Klondike

Reporting back to you after completing the Klondike Road Relay last weekend, I have to say it was an amazing experience, an awesome race, and a great trip to the great white north.

Camino Klondike Relay team, with the Yukon River behind usMy leg of the race (leg 4 of 10) began at the Canada Customs border between Alaska and BC. Just as Gordon finished leg 3 and handed off to me, a camper drove up blasting music. Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” started me off in the right spirit! As I passed the parking lot and entered the darkness, I saw a White Mouse cross the road in front of me. This was a very good omen.

In World War II, Nancy Wake was an allied spy known as the White Mouse. She performed all kinds of heroic feats, including riding a bicycle for 500 KM over a three day period to re-establish a coded wireless communication network which was essential for the allied cause. What an inspiring beginning to my run! If only I had such an important role to play in life.

But for this journey, the goal was to run the distance for my team, and not let them down. This was my first relay race since I was a teenager, and I found that the motivation of meeting the time I had set so that I didn’t let down my team mates was a strong motivation indeed. Plus, the support vehicle following a few dozen metres behind me made me feel like a superstar sports athlete. Any time I needed water, they’d pull up beside me and hand it to me, and ask if there was anything else I needed. What star treatment!

I had a great run, running really hard, pushing myself at about 95% capacity the whole time. There were no kilometre markers, so I didn’t know whether I was keeping the pace I had promised. But 8 KM into the leg I crossed a railroad track. My time was 46:45, well under 48:00 minutes or the 6 minute/KM pace I had predicted. Once I knew I was on track, I relaxed a little, and really got into the rhythm of the running.

There were a few moments of bliss on the run, in the dark, on a mysterious high mountain pass in the north of the world. I could see radiant light in the darkness, and knew that this was a place I could leave behind a burden I was carrying. I let it slide off my shoulders, up there on that mountain pass, and I swear I returned home without that burden.

So the race was terrific, and so was the entire trip to Whitehorse. I met an artist named Joyce Majiski, and purchased one of her amazing paintings of caribou, called Blue Bou. I met a Juno-nominated singer-songwriter, Anne Louise Genest (of the band Annie Lou), and found out we have friends and acquaintances in common. She told me about a book her sister, another Whitehorse resident, had just published (The Boreal Gourmet: Adventures in Northern Cooking, by Michele Genest). I bought two copies at Mac’s Fireweed Books. By the way, there was a field of spiky magenta fireweed beside the road where my leg ended!

The area around Whitehorse was in glorious fall colour. After a super-fun dance party Saturday night, some of my team went for an 8:00 AM run along the Yukon River Sunday morning. I swear I’ve never run that soon after a race before, but it felt amazing.

The final wonderful gift of the trip was learning about a writer’s residential retreat at Berton House in Dawson City, 500 KM further north than Whitehorse. I know the north is calling to me. I harken to the call. I spent the better part of today putting together my application for a 3-month stay at the Berton House. Wish me luck!

Klondike here I come!

The time has come! I leave for the airport in an hour, to fly up to the beautifulThe post-swim ChiRunners Whitehorse, YT, for the Klondike Road Relay! I told you before about my aggressive 10-week training schedule. As you might expect, I stuck to the schedule like glue for the first five weeks, culminating with a 2-hour run on August 8. Then I was at Monkey Valley for a week and the training fell apart. But I feel good to go, and well rested.

I’m so excited about seeing Whitehorse again. I was there 10 years ago, and also 20 years ago. I’ve got a hankering for the wild open spaces of the north, and would love to be graced with a vision of the aurora borealis. Plus, my friend Gordon put together a great team and lots of fun activities for us, including a helicopter tour and a visit to the local hotsprings! To be continued…

Here, for those of you who are interested, is an accounting of my endorphin rush experiment, from July 4 to August 8!

Endorphin rush experiment

July 4, 93: In a good mood before. Ran from 6:21 PM on. 3 choc bar day. At end of run felt like I can do anything, can definitely do the half, equanimous, euphoric. It’s okay if MV sells, or if it doesn’t sell. Maybe offer VF for free or lower price? It seems everything that might happen in life I can handle, and enjoy. Felt the green trees a lot, sensed a clean freshness in my chest. Quite a lot of energy (even though ran > 1 hr previous 2 days). When tired, used ChiRunning to feel a lightness (eyes ahead, back long, below waist loose, legs kicking up behind).

July 6, 68: At 21 minutes felt like I’d had a great day, even though I’d been irritated a lot of the day. At 27 minutes felt like I need to do this every day. Saw a wolf, I think. Had a half-dip in the river. Didn’t feel so cheerful when I had a bug in each eye and had probably swallowed more than I’d spit out. But ended feeling great, hill no problem, felt strong and alive. Thought some about work. Wondered about VF and if the guy will cancel & does that mean I should forget this type of work?

July 7, 60: Felt strong & fast. Worked 11 hours, then ran to bank to cash royalty cheque. Contract will be renewed for 6 more months! So felt very happy to begin with, and that lasted the whole run. A few moments of tiredness, but mostly fast & strong. I think running more these past few days increases the overall happiness. Plus sunny days last 2 days. And the blessings of Jupiter flowing as the new moon solar eclipse draws near. So endorphins there by about 12 minutes, and felt great. Still feel great!

July 8, 73: Weird day, didn’t flow exactly smoothly, but pretty good feeling/equanimity. Wanted to run longer (not turn back). No real high moments. Helped a cyclist who had run out of water. Gave water, reassurance, directions. He wanted to know he would be okay. Dip in the river again. I loved the green of the forest, and the cool. I felt glad to be there when someone needed help. Now I feel quiet.

July 10, 1:47: Felt strong in second half of the run. Loved the run, but no real highs on it. Amazing inquiry earlier in the day, and maybe feeling disjoint of regular life after that. Also eclipse looming. Had dip in the river. Loved the green of the trees and plants—felt I was absorbing the green like chlorophyll absorbs light, through my pores and eyes and heart. And running on the earth. It feels so healing, soothing, necessary. The green felt especially soothing. Pretty quiet now. Squirrel chatted with me by top tree.

July 11, 54:00: Somewhat tired and slow muscles this run, but loved being out in the forest, the green, the quiet. Asked for the second time for bugs to be protected from dying on me or flying into my eyes, mouth, nose, and ears. It worked again. Saw a swallow bug-catching along the river: look up swallow and squirrel. Reminded me of the medicine walk day when I saw the swallow. They are providing a fish egg-laying spot by there now; they’ve put branches across the path, gravel in the water, created a by-way with rocks. So no huge endorphin rush, but a definite quiet enjoyment and a feeling of irritation dropping away. After: pleasure, satisfaction at meeting my running goals for the week. Loving running 5 days a week again. It feels right.

July 13, 60:00: Ran at Jericho after private session with Carole. Felt very irritated. Way too many people. The sand wasn’t right so I had to run on the path. I felt tired and heavy a lot of the run. Endorphin rush made head tingle at 42 & 48 minutes. After I was glad I’d done it & kept my commitment to myself. Then wonderful inquiry.

July 14, 63:00: Very hard day, PMS probably, but teary, feeling no one cares about how I feel or what I want. My agent was attacking in a phone conversation. I cried a bit at work today. Also helped search for a missing boy and spoke to the man who works at the Lions building across the street (subsidized housing). So real mixed day, up and down, emotional. The run was so soothing, to be in the green forest and the cool. I cried on the run too. At about 43 min. felt the endorphin high—it felt so good to be running and I was sorry it was going to end soon. Stopped by a huge ancient tree on the path up, and greeted grandmother or grandfather, didn’t ask for anything specific but did ask for help and maybe holding. I could feel the giant presence around me. It was a pale green, the colour of the lichen. So overall I have to say it was a good run, healing. Afterward felt quite energized. Now 10PM and time for dinner.

July 15, 72:00: Had a great day, sorted out parking, on a high at work. Felt tons of energy while running, wanted to keep going. At 53 min. was sorry run was ending. At end still felt lots of energy, and altered state after as I walked it out. Only downside was mind very active much of the time. But felt strong & fast. Had a fun encounter with 2 cyclists. Saw a black vole run across the path!

July 17, 53:00: Great day, felt a lot of energy at first on the run (8:00 to the gate), loved soaking up the green again. Some time-watching, but at around 23 min. got into the groove. No problems with the distance.

July 18, 1:43:00: Felt quite tired in my legs for much of the run, didn’t eat enough good nutrition during the day. Also the hard training schedule catching up. But on the return half, gentle downhill, my energy picked up. No real euphoric moments while running. Did a ritual 12 minutes from the end, at my spot by the river. 10 minutes, greeted the 7 directions, buried the cheque from the faster who cancelled, (torn up) and planted the seed of guidance about how I am to help protect the earth. Thanked the 7 directions, and the run up the hill was quite easy. I was refreshed by the ritual and connecting with the directions. At the top of the hill in the parking lot, I heard a thrashing in the bushes. There was a reddish-brown body, and I thought it must be a dog, but then a beautiful little deer came out of the woods. She was a little timid, but not too afraid, and lifted her legs delicately as she walked across the parking lot. I spoke to her, thanking her, telling her I wouldn’t hurt her, honouring her preciousness. Deer can be a gentle beckoning to new adventure. It seemed this was the message from the spirits in response to my little ceremony. So a beautiful heartful ending to the run. I think it was this run that I thought about going to New York for my birthday.

July 20, 64:00: Great run, began feeling high at 17 minutes, and this continued throughout. Fell and got scrapes on hand, arm, right knee, but even this was not a downer. Loved the green. Went in the river. Explored a new spot. Felt all is right in the world. This continued after as well. Thought about asking Darch up for Saturday. Turned out he had emailed me earlier in the day about coming up to help!

July 23, 87:00: Ran with Darch at Monkey Valley. Lots of fun running together. Didn’t notice the euphoria but felt great to be out early in the morning running.

Angela teaches ChiRunning in the forestJuly 24, 42:00: Ran with the ChiRunning group. Angela, Darch, Lorinda, two others. It was great to see a group of people out running on these logging roads. Unfortunately I was much slower than them, so worried they would not know where to turn and didn’t like being last like that. Ashley twisted her ankle during the run. But loved the long up hill, the heat, having people to run with.

July 27, 62:00: Tired on run.

July 28, 80:00: Tired on run; began doing heel lifts, and the uphill cross-legged running.

July 29, 55:00: Pretty tired throughout run; did the heel lifts again; brought more lightness into the run.

July 30, 47:35: Very tired throughout run, very slow (morning run); I could feel the head tingling sometime after 40 minutes, but this endorphin release wasn’t strong enough to bring energy into my legs; there was a horrible vomit smell on part of the run, almost unbearable; ran to the bank and then along Wall, mood good in spite of tiredness; a little worry that it’s too much of a strain, I might injure myself, I won’t be able to keep up this training pace – basically, this week I was still exhausted from the ChiRunning & Yoga retreat, I still haven’t caught up on sleep, also hard to function well at work. This retreat took a major toll, though in the grand scheme of things it’s not a big deal.

July 31, 60:00: Wonderful run, spoke to mom on trail, green, energized, went 15 minutes past scheduled run. Very glad to be back on track and to have an energized run. Big challenge now is long run Sunday & 2 intense weeks of training.

4 Week Summary: Have completed first 4 weeks, doing minimum and usually more. First time ever that I’ve kept to the schedule so precisely. Very happy about this.

August 1, 1:52:00: The distance felt like no trouble at all. Found a trail at the end of the side road, and wanted to go farther to see where it went. Very slight twitch in left hip, tiredness at 1:20:00. But really the time was over before I knew it. No huge highs, but pleasant run, followed by dinner with Patricia at my house.

August 3, 67:30: Felt very tired on this run. Worried I won’t be able to complete the training, that I’ll be too tired, maybe get injured. So ran slow. Had a dip in the river. Very hard doing the uphill at the end.

August 4, 90:00: Great day, great run. Very energized internally, though my legs felt tired and slow at first. Wanted to stop thinking and just be, enjoy the beauty of the forest, and did quite a lot. On the uphill return two great grey owls visited with me for about 10 minutes. Silent flight, but noise hopping from a branch to a lower branch, and once or twice noise opening their wings. One time I looked at one and the other one flew away without me hearing a thing. But they seemed interested in me, flew to nearer branches, both looked at me. They also both flew at each other and dislocated the roosting one from a branch. It was such a wonderful gift!

Aug. 5, 67:00: My legs felt very tired during the run. This disappeared at about the half-way point. Dip in the river on the way back. I had a moment on the return of being without ego and feeling afraid, even as I felt excited to see how reality might appear without the ego veils. So it was scary but exhilarating, I wanted to continue this. On the trail up I had another encounter with the two owls. One hit me on the head, very forcefully. It hurt a lot and made me cry, especially because I had been honouring the owls, thanking them for their presence. It felt like a betrayal, and shook my view of reality, esp. of nature being kind and of me having a special relationship with the earth. I wrote about it in my blog. Read Medicine Card and Animal Speak. Deception being revealed? Angela thought new beginnings.

Aug. 7, cycled 55:00: First running equivalent. Went mountain biking with Darch. It’s very hard and scary!

Aug. 8, 2:01:00: Ran with Darch all around Merritt and along the two rivers. Pace a bit fast, beautiful to see new scenery. Fun to run with a friend. It sure helped to keep going the whole distance. Didn’t notice any marked endorphin rush. But after run felt great.

Conclusion about endorphin highs: They are not noticeable during every run, but are often there. They can start as early as 17 minutes, but usually don’t hit until about 40+ minutes. This could be because I have built up a certain level of fitness, so for newer runners, where the effort is strong, the endorphins might kick in sooner. For me I think it has always been that they kick in after a longer amount of activity. Quality of the day and my mood before the run sometimes affects the mood of the run too, but often the run turns around a cranky mood. Anyway, I’m glad I do it, whether its a good run or a bad run! Also noticeable in this experiment is how enriching running in nature is for me. Note this well, couch dwellers!

Photos by Joe Charron. Used with permission.