I decided to not to think to hard about it and just let the thoughts roll and see where they take me, so here we go:
I have come to the realization that I am most happy when I am running without distractions such as time and distance goals, music, etc. I look back at some of my earlier posts and I see a trend that I really don't like, there was a lot of mentioning of speed and pace, times over a certain distance and even a couple of mentions of time goals that I wanted to achieve. I am not sure why these were important to me at the time, but I can certainly say they are not now. I was reminded of this while my family and I went on our vacation to Alberta. I was lucky enough to get in some good runs in different locations including one special run which I will give a recap on later on in this post.
Now don't get me wrong, it is still nice to get Personal Bests, achieve a new top speed, push myself a little harder to run a little farther faster than the last time or beat the runner in front of me just because they are wearing shoes and I am not (its still fun to see the looks on some people's faces as I run by them with my bare feet). But it took my running adventures during my vacation for me to remember how much I enjoy just running for the sake of running. I do so enjoy running, connecting with nature and my surroundings, feeling the different surfaces and textures under my toes (it's good for the soles don't you know) and just being in the moment. It's hard to explain in words, but running allows me to break away from the stresses of life for a little while and I have no concerns except where I am going to put my foot down next.
I find it funny, I used to take my Ipod with me, turn it on so people would leave me alone while I ran, then I was forced to run without it on my trip, because it was accidentally lost somewhere in SE Calgary (if anyone finds a 8 GB Ipod Touch in Calgary let me know it might be mine or if you have the generous itch to provide me with one I will not say no) along the running trails adjacent Ogden. I would like to get it back as it has some really good music on it and I still haven't completed all the Angry Birds levels yet (damn game is addictive). I forgot how much I enjoyed talking to people while I run, it brings a smile to my face when people comment or ask me questions about the way I run.
I personally believe barefoot or with the use of minimalistic shoes is the natural way to run and shod runners don't know what they are missing. Overall fitness includes every part of the body and in my personal opinion, the use of these over cushioned boat anchors called running shoes is weakening the multitude of muscles in the foot and put multitudes of stresses on areas of the body that were not designed to move that way including the knees, hips, Achilles tendons, etc. (I shall now get off my soap box and return to the regularly scheduled programing).
As I noted above, myself, Nicole and the kids went on a little whirlwind family vacation to Alberta including stops in picturesque Cold Lake, Morinville, St. Albert, Edmonton, Pincher Creek, Crowsnest Pass (Frank's Slide), Calgary and Drumheller. We were able to jam this all in two weeks, which also included one half marathon and a whole lot of visiting. Unfortunately we were not able to see everybody we intended to on this trip but considering the extent I think we did pretty good.
It was interesting to go running in some of the places that we stopped, for instance in Cold Lake we got to go run along the lake shore and around the expanding residential areas (still amazes me the amount of development that has happened, some good and some bad but that is another story). Tackling some of the hills were good preparation as well for later runs and of course some of the looks I was getting were interesting as well. Morinville has a decent running path that travels the length of the town which ends with a nice pathway around a pond. They also have some workout equipment along the path as well for the ambitious souls that want to do some presses along the way. Calgary of course has some of the best running/biking trails in the country, you can pretty much get anywhere in the city via this trail system. I utilized the pathways in the southeast along the Bow River a couple times and quite enjoyed them. Hitting the hills were also a treat, I learned to embrace my fear of running downhill, and just let myself go and it was actually quite fun (note to self must remember to keep mouth closed though, picking bugs out of your teeth is not fun and they really do not have that much protein). Once again the looks I was getting were priceless, I was figuring with a bigger city there would be less of this because I do assume there are a few more barefoot and a whole lot more minimalistic runners around. I will log all my mileage at the end of this post as per previous.
Other than the visiting of family etc, one of the purposes of this trip was the participation in a little run that we (as a group) ran last year. Everybody had such a great time last year that I wanted to ensure that we (which ended up being only me) ran the event again this year. The run was called the Buffalo Runners Half Marathon from Pincher Creek to the Piikani First Nations located in Brocket, travelling through some of the traditional buffalo hunting grounds. This run is put on by the
and is in its 7th year of running (I hope I got that right). It is a small and intimate run, and more of a experience than a race. The run is timed but to me and many others that means very little, I have run it twice and both times my time has been substantially longer than what I can finish a half in and I really do not care. Even though I am not aboriginal (I have a Scottish heritage), for me it is about the spiritual connection to the earth and my surroundings, thinking about what it would of been like to run this area hundreds of years ago on a Buffalo Hunt. It may seem silly, but when you run this event, that thought creeps into your head numerous times, at least it did for me. This is a run that gives you time to reflect on what is important in life, for me it was about realizing how fragile the circle of life really is and how quickly things can change when that circle is broken or adjusted in anyway. In this, I mean the Blackfoot of this area hunted the buffalo for thousands of years, taking only what they needed to survive and finding a use for every part so nothing was wasted. This was until things changed and the white man (sorry if this offends anyone but there is no other way to say it and I am as white as you can get) came and changed a way of life for these proud people by basically wiping out the buffalo herds in a matter of decades. This is kind of a touchy area for me, I am a firm believer that you cannot force someone to change their way of life nor their beliefs, that is something that is personal to that party and should not be tampered with. I look back in history at some of the atrocities that have happened and I just shake my head and hope that we have learned something from it and make sure it will never happen again.
A little background on the Buffalo Runners that I have credited from their website, www.buffalorunner.ca is as follows:
"Buffalo Runners were elite runners of the plains, found among different tribes such as the Blackfoot, Lakota, Assiniboine, and Cree. They existed long before horse and gun appeared on the Plains of North America.
The role of the society was to help in the selection, training and preparation of runners who played a central role in the communal hunt. They were the scouts who would go out to locate herds, and then to maneuver them to kill zones (either pounds or jumps).
Speed, stamina, teamwork and skill were essential athletic qualities of these runners, but courage and spiritual preparedness were also central to the qualities of a Buffalo Runner. They were the Olympic athletes of their day, but their abilities were entirely committed to the survival of their communities. Contemporary elders refer to the role of the runners as 'providers'. The success of their running missions meant people would survive. The complexity and danger of the hunt demanded that individual accomplishment be matched by flawless teamwork and cooperation."
I commend Ken Williams and all his team for putting together this website, to not only tell the story of the Buffalo Runners but also to keep the traditions alive of the Buffalo Runners Society. This story should not be forgotten but told so people understand the impact the loss of the buffalo has made on this great nation and many others like it.
As appears to be the norm with a night before a big run, sleep was little and far between, I would guess a couple of hours at best. I still had many thoughts going through my head for my final preparations:
Will I be able to do the entire run barefoot? How bad is the gravel roads this year?Would I take my newly completed custom made moccasins (thanks honey) to be more traditional or my VFF's for my backup shoes?
Do I take a handheld or just rely on the water stations along the way?
Should I wear my contacts and trust that I will be able to see better than the last time I went out?
These questions and many more circled around and around in my head for most of the night. That was when I decided that I would just trust that I would make the right decision when the time came, and with that I drifted off to sleep.The morning came quick, and unlike last year it was not as cool as I puttered around the camp site getting prepared for the adventure ahead. Running gear on, contacts in, VFF's on for the drive over (not sure why I do this, but I think it has something about protecting my feet before I need them), family in the van and we were off to the start line. Pincher Creek is pretty quiet on a Sunday morning at 7:30 am, I think we saw a couple of cars at best, one person walking down Main Street and a little dog utilizing the crosswalk to get across the street.
We arrived at the start and I headed over to pick up my race kit so I could make final preparations. Just to show you how intimate this event is, I was approached by numerous of the volunteers and the runners to welcome me back again this year. Now I know I ran barefoot last year (and I was the only one) but it is still nice that people remember you when they see you, especially by name. What a great start to the morning, with some quick catching up, I was approached by one of the new participants who happens to also work for Shaw TV out of Lethbridge. She wanted to do a quick interview on what the Buffalo Runner's Half Marathon means to me, I'm guessing this had something to do with this being my 2nd run and travelling over 1400 km to get there to run. This was my second attempt at an interview, I did complete one with a local Shaw TV reporter in the spring, but it did not air, and I'm not sure I fared any better at describing my feelings for this event. I have this habit of starting with something like, "I am not a spiritual type......." and then I usually go onto talk about how this run makes me feel like I become one with Mother Nature, with the sounds of the wind, the birds and the sound of the fields swaying.... which is the best way to describe it. But this time I think I completely goofed it up, I just got nervous in front of the camera. I'm not completely sure what I talked about but it was probably something silly, oh well. I know what this run means to me, and that is all that matters.
The run starts in Pincher Creek at the Horse Shoe Pavilion, which is a symbolic spot in its own right to the Blackfoot Nation and the Buffalo Runners as a traditional hunting ground. It was interesting to see a number of hawks circling around the area looking for breakfast, totally ignoring the happenings going on around them. One hawk even snagged a prairie dog and settled down on a picnic table to have a snack as he watched us mill around, it was quite the sight to see, nature at its best. Kind of a sign of things to come you could say (I mean nature at its best not the eating of a prairie dog, come on). After some brief announcements, including the introduction of the newest Buffalo Runner, Wendy Lumby who was running the 5km, one of the elders came forward to deliver a prayer and blessing of the runners. This was done in the local Blackfoot language and was both beautiful and inspiring. I do not know what it translated into, but I am hoping the race director will one day share that with me. Next Ryan Smith, grandson on Nick Smith (founder of this event) sang and drummed the Buffalo Runners Society song to send us off.
I found this prayer on the Buffalo Runners Website that I thought was quite appropriate:
Written by Ken Williams
Sunday, 24 July 2011
Spirit of Life, come unto me.
Spirit of Life, sing in my heart all the stirrings of compassion.
Spirit of Life, blow in the wind, rise in the sea, shine in the sun, moon and stars; move in the hand, giving life the shape of justice.
Roots hold me close; wings set me free;
Spirit of life, come to me, come through me.
(I like to think of our legs as being both roots that connect us to the earth, AND wings that set us free.
As I sprinted out of the trail at about the 3 km mark all I heard was, "Wooohoo, here comes our Barefoot Runner" from a couple of the volunteers as I headed up the embankment to the road crossing. This put a smile on my face, the amount of support shown for the runners is unbelievable and is part of the reason why I like this run so much. I crossed over to the highway out of town and hit the asphalt which was starting to get warm as the day heated up. Remembering last year, I had to toe the white line to regulate my foot temperature as the day went along, I was figuring I would be doing the same thing this year as it was warming up quite quickly. With the open vista ahead of me, nothing but blue skies and the ability to see for miles and miles, I could see the front runners literally flying up the highway in front of me.
Once I left town and got into the open fields and starting ascending up the road towards Kettles Hill (there is a elevation climb of almost 1000 feet and a descent of almost 1200 ft on this run from start to finish), this is where I started to get my mojo going. I felt like I was floating along running with the buffalo, sometimes I felt I could hear the thundering sound of hundreds of hooves striking the ground as I pushed myself along. I know what you are thinking, he's full of crap, but honestly I just kind of lost myself in the run. I ran with a couple of different people along the way, which was good as well, but there is nothing like the feeling of running by yourself in this type of environment. The different sounds from the whistling of the wind, the swishing of the tall grass, to the noise of the livestock in the fields. From the feel of the wind against my face to the different textures of the ground as my feet glided over them. It all brings me to a state of inner peace, where I believe I can run forever.
After tackling the highway up to Kettles Hill, I hit the next water station at the base of the gravel road which heads up to the wind turbines. After some orange slices and some more water, and a quick joke from one of the volunteers. One of the runners who was as the stop with me asked the following question, "I wonder what the Buffalo Runners before us ate along the way when they ran this type of distance?" This is when the volunteer spoke up with a serious look on his face and said, " I believe it was one of these!" as he held up a used up pouch of GU gel (vanilla bean I believe). We all started laughing, as it was one of those priceless moments.
At this point I had travelled about 7 miles barefoot, but that was going to come to an end fairly quickly. As I looked up the gravel road, I thought I saw some clearer paths that I would be able to traverse up barefoot on, so off I went, I made it up to about the start of the 10km run and my feet were protesting all the way. I guess the asphalt was a little warmer than I originally thought because the soles of my feet were not sore from being poked by the gravel but they felt slightly raw though sort of like when you touch slightly sun burnt skin, very interesting. I had not experienced this before, it was a rather odd sensation. So I decided to put my Vibrams on for the balance of the gravel road and see how they felt at the start of the next section (yes, I decided to go with the Vibrams, I was a little concerned how the moccasins would hold up on the gravel, Nicole just finished them and I didn't want to ruin them that quickly).
After the Vibrams went on, I picked up the pace and was not so worried about finding the clearest route, this also allowed me to look around and take in the sights. It is surreal being on top of Kettles Hill, you can see for miles in all directions and it is overwhelming to think how small you actually are in the grand scheme of things. There are wind turbines all around you as you are running through the middle of a wind generating farm. Seeing these devices from a distance on a hill as you drive by them on a highway, you do not get the whole appreciation of how big they are till you are standing directly under one, they are quite impressive. The gravel road section was about 5 km or so as I reached the end I saw the sweeping prairie grasses spread out in front of me as I entered the fenced area that led to the top of the hill and the single track trail down towards Brocket.
I think I did a little skip and a hop with a fist pump and a Woohoo!! when I saw the fenced area with the pronounced trail (I thought it was interesting that the organizers took the time to mow or it might of been just beaten down, the long grass to highlight the trail for the runners until they reached the single track trail. I was getting some interesting looks from one of the volunteers who was positioned to ensure everybody went the right way when she noticed me taking my shoes off. I just could not pass up the opportunity to run san shoe, plus I wanted to see how the soles of my feet were after the slight burning on the asphalt. My feet appeared to be doing fine, and they were reacting well, the grass and vegetation felt normal on my feet, so I pressed on. As I zigzagged along, taking a little more care where I was planting my feet, I was sneaking looks around me as I went. When I reached the top of the hill, I stopped for a look, and to just take in my surroundings, I could see the pow wow grounds in the distance to the east with about 5 km to go I assume. It really is a humbling feeling as you look around and see the landscape just unfold before you, it really makes you think how insignificant you really are, just a little fish in a very large pond.
Many years ago, a young Piegan warrior was noted for his bravery. When he grew older and more experienced in war, he became the war-chief for a large band of Piegan warriors.
A little while after he became the war-chief, he fell in love with a girl who was in his tribe, and they got married. He was so in love with her that he took no other wives, and he decided not to go on war parties any more. He and his wife were very happy together; unusually so, and when they had a baby, they were even happier then.
Some moons later, a war party that had left his village was almost destroyed by an enemy. Only four men came back to tell the story.
The war-chief was greatly troubled by this. He saw that if the enemy was not punished, they would raid the Piegan camp. So he gave a big war feast and asked all of the young men of his band to come to it.
After they had all eaten their fill, the war-chief arose and said to them in solemn tones:
"Friends and brothers, you have all heard the story that our four young men have told us. All the others who went out from our camp were killed by the enemy. Only these four have come back to our campfires. Those who were killed were our friends and relatives.
We who live must go out on the warpath to avenge the fallen. If we don't, the enemy will think that we are weak and that they can attack us unhurt. Let us not let them attack us here in the camp.
I will lead a party on the warpath. Who here will go with me against the enemy that has killed our friends and brothers?"
A party of brave warriors gathered around him, willing to follow their leader. His wife also asked to join the party, but he told her to stay at the camp.
"If you go without me," she said, "you will find an empty lodge when you return."
The chief talked to her and calmed her, and finally convinced her to stay with the women and children and old men in the camp at the foot of a high mountain.
Leading a large party of men, the chief rode out from the village.
The Piegans met the enemy and defeated them but their war-chief was killed. Sadly, his followers carried the broken body back to the camp.
His wife was crazed with grief. With vacant eyes she wandered everywhere looking for her husband and calling his name. Her friends took care of her, hoping that eventually her mind would become clear again and that she could return to normal life.
One day, though, they could not find her anywhere in the camp.
Searching for her, they saw her high up on the side of the mountain, the tall one above their camp. She had her baby in her arms.
The head man of the village sent runners after her, but from the top of the mountain she signalled that they should not try to reach her.
All watched in horror as she threw her baby out over the cliff and then herself jumped from the mountain to the rocks far, far below.
Her people buried the woman and baby there among the rocks. They carried the body of the chief to the place and buried him beside them.
From that time on, the mountain that towers above the graves was known as Minnow Stahkoo, "the Mountain of the Chief", or "Chief Mountain".
If you look closely, even today, you can see on the face of the mountain the figure of a woman with a baby inn her arms, the wife and child of the chief.
Chief Mountain is a mountain in Glacier National Park.
- Source : Neshoba "
As I continued on the trail, I was overwhelmed by all the sensations that were assulting me, the sound of the drums in the distance from the pow wow, the smell of the prairie grass (and cow patties), the heat of the sun and the whistle of the wind. This is one of the biggest reasons I like rural runs like this, the sounds of nature are much more appealing to me than the sounds of hustle and bustle that the city offers. My feet were enjoying the feel of the grass and even the occasional rock, thistle, rose bush, etc. (Nicole even had to pull out a couple of rose thorns out of my feet 4 or 5 days later, never even noticed them). The single track down and thru the pasture land to the last bit of gravel road was challenging but fun, with a pretty substantial elevation drop in was interesting finding clear spots to put my bare feet down on that wasn't either a bunch of thistle or rose bushes, and obviously I didn't miss them all.
Wendy Lumby after the run displaying the Olympic Torch she carried at Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump
Receiving my gold medal from one of the elders.
Ken Williams showing off the unique trophies for the men's and women's 5km winners. All the trophies were created by a local artist and all focus around the Buffalo Runner's symboligy.
The awards ceramony gathering.
Barefoot: 99.83 miles
Total: 528.14 miles