I Run Algoma

How a diabetes scare ignited a fire deep within this dormant wolf. From fat to fit, one man’s unlikely journey to a “back of the pack” international, ultra marathon runner. How? By training in the Hills of Algoma of course.



I am not a fast runner. I am no elite athlete. I will never finish first in any race, and I am not particularly blessed with natural talents for this sport. I’m still pretty chunky. Really only started doing this three years ago to essentially “run” from a potential diabetes problem. Up until then, the majority of my running consisted of this groomsmen picture, as my boys and I had to hightail it outta there pretty quick.

people running from a t rex

I was at 260 pounds three years ago. The Doc said shape up or go right ahead and secure your residence in Diabetes-ville for the rest of your life. At that point, I made a decision to live. It was time to get healthy. I quit smoking and drastically changed my eating habits. Actually won a gym membership at the YMCA! Now that’s luck! Or coincidence?

The largest part of the equation for me being diabetes-free today is falling in love with trail running when I moved from Kingston to the Algoma Region for work shortly after that fateful doctor’s appointment.

A lot of people hate running. I get it. I hated it too. So hard, right?

So hard physically, but often it's the mental game that will derail any successful bonding with running.

Two years ago, my in-town city running routine was getting boring. Running at lunch. Queen Street to Algoma University and back three times a week. Pavement and cars all the way.

I had bought a house out in Goulais River but for some reason I never ran out here. So, so many hills. Much easier to run on flat ground in town, right? I had never even considered running the Stokely Trails, which are filled with some of the top peaks in Ontario. I would not be touching those. Way too hard. Not for me. #imafatguy

I never pushed myself with my running. I was running, yes. Diligently. However, I always found a way to do the minimum and call it a day. I still did it though, right? I ran 10 km. Not hard, or the best I could, but I ran it three or four times a week. I was doing more than I had before. That’s still pretty good! I saw progress and was very happy with my weight loss results in that manner. I kept running from the diabetes.

A musical inspiration

Then, a collective gasp as a country when we get the news that Gordie has cancer. Miracles can happen, and I know we have to believe in them, but things did not look good for our Gord Downie. As "The Hip" are one of my favourite bands, this took me a few days to process. I never thought they could ever not possibly making music and touring around our great nation? How old am I? Where has the time gone? (Almost 38 at the time.)

They’ve been at this for so many years. The time has passed so quickly for me as I’m sure it did for the band as well. Now here we are. It was real. This would be the end of their era.

I reloaded my iPod with the Hip to once again pay homage to one of Canada's finest bands ever produced and began to reclaim my youth, 20s, and now late 30s as I reviewed their entire catalogue on my iPod while running in town. The last thing I ever expected to hear was they were going to tour one last time. How was that even possible? The man just had surgery on his brain. Chemotherapy and radiation sessions ongoing. I was witness to what this disease can do as I lost my mother to cancer when I was 23. This man will be in no shape to tour, I thought, let alone rock.

Here’s the thing that got me. Here is a man who is very aware of his illness and his chances to survive being slim to none. 

If you were given his diagnosis, how would you react? Fight? Flee? Would you choose to live?

His choice was to tour one last time. For us. For him. For the band. 

This was his gift to us across this country. He went out doing what he loves, which was nothing short of epic. I had tears in my eyes the day of the final show, throughout that unbelievable performance, and then again tears when learning of his recent passing as well. Uncontrollable sobbing as I watched a live Facebook feed of a late night vigil to Gord in my hometown. Someone picked up an acoustic guitar and the whole crowd began to sing "Ahead by a Century.” What a legacy to leave behind.

You will be missed, Gordie.

I try not to lose track that I’m living a life too. 

This situation with Gord really made me take stock of what I would do. What’s my epic? What’s my “L-I-V-I-N”. I’m almost 40. This ride I am on is not going to last another 50 years. How do I want to spend my very finite amount of time on this beautiful planet?

What do I want to accomplish before it’s too late?

Fire and ice

I knew I always wanted to run a marathon. That would be kinda cool to check off the bucket list. I always wanted to travel outside North America. If I did, the first place would be Iceland. I’m not sure why. I’ve always been drawn to this land of Fire and Ice. Essentially a giant volcano.

Why not run this marathon in Iceland? Yes. I’m doing this.

I did some research and found something called an Ultra Marathon. In this “treat” of an event, you get the pleasure of running through the Icelandic Highlands in the middle of nowhere. Amidst the most beautiful backdrops you could ever imagine, this place will haunt your dreams.

In a good way.

This marathon is about 10 km longer than a standard marathon. Also running in the mountains.

YES.

This will be my bucket list item. Never ran a marathon, so why not run an even longer, harder race than that. Some things had to change, though. I made major cuts with food and drink. Diet became so important. Started at the YMCA three days a week as well. Drank so much water, and still do.

Most importantly, I needed to be running harder than I had been. That would be key to any possible finish line appearance for me. Hmm, where can I find some hard places to run?

#irunalgoma

So, right out my front door is the gateway to 160 km of diverse single and double track trail throughout the Stokely Creek system. You want hills? Come on up. Lots of people use Stokely as hiking or biking trails in the off season from cross-country skiing. I didn’t see many runners back there. Still don’t.

I started running once a week exploring “my backyard.” It started to be the thing I would look forward to all week. That one trail run. Couldn’t wait to see what else I could discover back there.

My lord, it’s hard to run some sections back there. The Algoma Highlands were my prescription for a case of bucket-list-itis. Run the tough hills. Then do it again. And again. Iceland will not be as forgiving.

"It’s only a hill… get over it” repeats in my head every time. Pretty soon all of my runs became trail runs. It’s too nice out here. No offence to town. Hiawatha is magnificent, but out here we got the hills. I could not have stumbled upon a more perfect place to train for this ridiculous attempt to do something epic.

Through the Stokely Creek trail system I was able to somehow whip myself into a shape fitting of someone who could now continuously move for six hours. The term “run,” however, would be debatable at the six-hour mark. Things sure slow down for me after six hours. Again, I am not very good at this sport.

In November of 2016, I ran 60 km of trail in 6:57. I’d never been that far in my life. How did that happen?

It’s these Algoma Highlands. They toughen you up. They make you a better runner. Like Buck, in Call of the Wild. A former house dog turned wolf, I became a runner confident enough to now safely register in the Iceland race, buy flights, book an apartment, and officially commit.

I was going to Iceland. 

The point here is, I would have had no chance to go to Iceland and finish that beast of a course unless I had the tough love from these Algoma Highlands. They kicked my ass for a year and a half to get ready for crossing off a bucket list item. Then Iceland kicked my ass to the tune of six hours and 45 min to complete 55 km through some of the most breathtaking scenery these eyes have ever seen.

iceland race

Over the course of 2017 I ran three more Ultra Marathons, two of which qualified me for a lottery race in Europe Labor Day Weekend.

traverse city race

bromont quebec race

utah race

Wouldn’t you know it. On January 11, my name and some friends I know, got selected to participate in the UTMB’s CCC August 31, 2018, 100 km through Italy, Switzerland and France. We have 26 hrs to complete it.

Is this happening?

As I lead up to this race in August, my plan is to show you some of the paces I run in the Algoma Region to get me ready to attempt a feat like this. If not for Algoma and the sponsorship team behind me, I wouldn’t even stand a chance.

Bet you’ve never seen our beautiful region through the eyes of a trail runner…

Come along, won’t you?

MILE HILL

Mile Hill is an iconic stretch of highway coming in from Goulais River to Sault Ste. Marie. This intimidating Mile long stretch has an ATV / Snowmobile trail on the left-hand side that I’ve only ever really seen used in the winter. For the first video I ever shot with my new camera, I wanted to do it on a trail that I’m certain not many have taken by foot.

Park at the bottom of the hill where there is a truckers' rest stop. This is where I saw my very first moose! Always be careful driving this stretch as they cross the road constantly. If you hit one, it will most likely be killed and quite possibly you as well. Be careful.

As you approach, stay to the left-hand side of the road until you can step over onto trail just as the incline begins. Honestly, this hill is not as bad as it looks when you first look at it. The grade is very gradual. Sometimes muddy at the bottom, the trail dries out a quarter of the way up and you will be on your way to some beautiful views moving up the track. Most drivers are trying to hang on for dear life going up this hill, not many get a chance to truly enjoy how pretty it can be by shoe.

The best part? Going back down. 

Go be a Mile Hill Miler. 

Any questions? Hit me up here:

Race blogs and some other fun stuff can be found here:
https://bearinmindrunning.blogspot.ca

Thank you to all of my sponsors who have so graciously lent support for my journey to France this Labour Day Weekend.

Featured articles