Sunday, December 19, 2010


Are there places you would gladly go back to? Places that left indelible impressions – for any number of reasons? They may not have been the most scenic, the most historic, the most exotic or even the best bargain – but visits there were charmed – and the locations beckon back.

There are many locations I would gladly go back to – and one of those got a return trip in early October as Karen and I ran the Royal Victoria Half-Marathon on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

As races go, this wasn’t the most scenic – although certainly pretty with a start in the stately, English heart of the city and with a route that traversed Victoria’s harbor, the island’s coastline with the imposing Olympic Range across the Strait of Juan de Fuca and that passed through the Beacon Hill Park with its gorgeous flowers and gardens – even in October. It certainly wasn’t the biggest – although with nearly 6,000 runners in the Half – it was a large race. Nor was it the race with the best logistical support throughout (to wit, a lack of porta-potties for Karen and hydration stops that were a bit far apart initially) – although it received passable grades. And it wasn’t even my fastest race – although my time was among the top five in the “Karen Era”. But the combination of everything it had to offer and the charm of BC’s Provincial Capitol were not lost upon us – and our return trip was an excellent one – indeed one that would beckon us yet again.

The ferry crossing from Tsawassen BC to the island set the stage, with the beautiful and green mountainous islands charting our course. Once on Vancouver Island, our visit extended to no more than its southernmost 15-20 miles, with pastoral landscapes of forested hills, verdant fields – including some that were totally orange with an immense harvest of pumpkins still afield – charming coastal villages, and old English charm in the center of Victoria. We enjoyed visits to Provincial Parks, regional parks atop mountains overlooking the island, the Royal BC Museum – which was most impressive with its collection of natural history and native peoples exhibits, an old English residence most resembling a castle, parks and gardens, a seaside fishing village with a renowned collection of independent booksellers, and unspoiled coastline with an charming Inn whose culinary offerings were exclusively those of the Island.

Despite the British aura of the area, even the food was good! And we were able to share part of the visit with Karen’s best friend, Teresa, who joined us with her husband and boys the day before the race and made sure Rachel was in good hands during the race. All in all, a most satisfying trip – to a destination we would highly recommend.

A trip such as this serves as a good reminder that any race is much more than a start and a finish. The route and everything along the way – indeed the journey – is what makes a race memorable. I know there have been races where I have been so focused that I have missed much of what a course had to offer.
There have also been races where what has been offered along the route was what made the race what it was – and in some cases most successful – even when viewed from the finish time. No doubt, the analogy with life is most appropriate. It is more than a quest to reach the destination – it is all about the Journey.
Victoria helped us appreciate that again. Take time to smell the roses and, while you are at it, notice the color. You may be surprised.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


With 43 States and the District of Columbia checked off – and looking at a fairly light race schedule next year – it appeared there might be a need to add a new dimension to our running goal. The Continents appeared overly ambitious (though not out of the question) – but our northern neighbor looked not only quite possible, but downright inviting. So after some deliberation, but little fanfare, Canada’s ten Provinces were added to the goal – with its major metropolitan area being the first target.

Toronto proved to be a wonderful – and surprising destination. I had always known that it was a big city, but hadn’t realized it was a HUGE city with over two-and-a-half million residents and well over 5 million in the metro area – constituting the 5th largest metro area in North America. As such, it had everything a big city offers – to include traffic! We enjoyed a Major League baseball game in the Rogers Center with the Blue Jays hosting the Orioles;

we drove through many distinct neighborhoods with personalities of their own; we visited one of the largest Chinatowns in North America and enjoyed Chinese cuisine; we spent time on a beautiful waterfront (Lake Ontario) and the ferry to a delightful island in the Lake; we traversed two VERY “high-rent” neighborhoods and were duly impressed;

we visit the St. Lawrence market – where you could buy just about anything and everything; and we strolled through the city enjoying shops, stately government buildings – to include the Provincial Capitol, and the trappings of a very cosmopolitan and international city. Oh….and by the way – we also ran a half-marathon!

As races go, it was a big one and a good one. There were over 20,000 runners in the various races, including about 8,000 in the half. Race logistics were good, the course was flat and fast, and featured both waterfront and the city center. I had my best time since my hamstring issues in South Dakota – so was grateful to be able to really run again. The post race food wasn’t the greatest, but the finisher’s medal was nice and, overall, it was a great start to Canada’s Provinces.

Part of the trip also included a morning in Buffalo and a night-time visit to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. Buffalo’s downtown had some impressive buildings and views and a similarly pretty waterfront along Lake Erie.

Niagara Falls at night is quite different than in the day – but still quite a sight with colored illumination and the mists. However, we felt like we were driving down the Strip when we entered the Canadian city of Niagara Falls! Lights, glitz and excess – they had it all!

And to make the night complete – after our visit the US Border Control didn’t want to let us back in the US! We were stopped at the border, ordered to place our hands on the dash and steering wheel in plain view, then escorted out of our car – by a squad of armed agents to the “facility” where we were separated and had to wait nearly an hour until they had determined that MY Karen Johnson wasn’t the Canadian criminal being sought. Whew…..what a relief – and just when I was getting worried about those unaccounted for years!

Okay – to the “thoughtful” nature of this post. First – it’s nice to know your wife isn’t a criminal. Beyond that, it became apparent to me during this race – as it has on occasion before – that we are creatures of habit. We grow accustomed to certain routines and when we are taken out of those, it can impact us – often adversely. In a “runner’s world” our habits can dictate our outlook. We prepare for races a certain way; our pre-race night needs to follow a certain pattern; our race-morning must play out according to schedule; our pre-race “eliminations” need to happen; and during the race we expect certain things for pacing, for hydration, for breathing and for who knows how many other things. One of those little things in Toronto was learning that the course didn’t have mile markers, but rather kilometer markings. Suddenly, my world was upside down! As it turns out, it’s an easy system to pace to – once you are expecting it. There has to be a lesson there – and I think it has to do with flexibility and adjustment – and figuring out a way to not get flustered when we think we have “lost control.”

Our foray into Canada was a great one. We are looking forward to the next nine Provinces under the banner of the Maple Leaf – which just happens to be the name of Toronto’s National Hockey League team – the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

RUNNING: A Team Sport? Again??

Let’s start with what should be a very obvious equation: Sleep deprivation + Exhaustion = No Fun, and only if I’m compensated handsomely! So how did the equation, in reality, look like this? Sleep deprivation + Exhaustion + “Been There, Done That” = I will even PAY to do it again! Such was the case three weeks ago as I joined 11 other runners (all young enough to be my kids) with short memories to run the Red Rock Relay again. Neither Karen nor I had planned to run the Red Rock this year – but when I got a call two weeks before the race from a team (The Rabid Squirrels) that included several we ran this with last year – and who had lost a runner due to injury – I wasn’t overly difficult to persuade.

As was the case last year, the relay was a 24-hour, 186-mile long run, starting at Brian Head ski resort. However, much of the course was changed from last year. It stayed in the high country south and east of Brian Head much longer. That is where our van (#2, which included 3 people we ran with last year) started, at nearly 10,000’. We went down Cedar Canyon to Cedar City, west across the desert to Enterprise, south through the Bull Mountains and Snow Canyon (in the dark, unfortunately) to St. George, and then east to Springdale where it ended against the spectacular canyon walls of the entrance to Zion National Park.

By the end of my third leg on Saturday morning, with it getting very warm, and after an unexpected steep trail section and over 17 miles – I was glad to be finished. However, I suspect I could be “persuaded” to do it again. There is something about the camaraderie, the format, and the challenge that breeds excitement and, ultimately satisfaction. I’m not certain my sentiments would have been the same, had you asked me during my second leg at 2:30 Saturday morning, after already running hills for over half an hour – but the adrenaline is real and with only 2-3 hours of intermittent sleep – all of us were ready for the final leg.

Luckily, after a great Mexican meal, I got a nap and then met Karen in St. George, who had agreed to come down with me – spending a day-and-a-half with Emily and the boys while I ran.
We enjoyed a production of Gershwin’s Crazy for You at Tuacahn that night (I even stayed awake). On Sunday we met Emily and the boys at Valley of Fire, where we had lunch and got Rachel back before heading home. Notwithstanding 17 miles and little sleep, it was another great weekend.

Running was always a very individual and personal activity for me. I loved the time to think, to de-tress and to stay active. However, I’ve learned over the past 6-8 years, that it isn’t ALWAYS just an individual thing. Running with Karen (and Rachel, for that matter) has provided a new dimension. It’s breathed new life into a hobby; it’s provided incentive to stick with it, to stay healthy and to find new challenges. I will always enjoy “my time” while running, but am blessed and happy to frequently “share the run”. I’m looking forward to making some form of running my “trademark” with the Grandkids – and I’m looking forward to running with my kids in the not too distant future – but in a relatively distant place! Are you ready, Team Johnson?? There is less than 16 months to post!