In my 50th year I spent a year living at and building a new cottage. It was essentially a race against time as I didn’t start until mid September and had to demolish and rebuild a 600 square foot structure that would keep me safe against the elements and winter’s rage. As in most races I have undertaken, it was a solo effort with long physically demanding days often ending by flood lamps keeping me going until 9 pm or so. Relief from the work was punctuated by walks with my best friend and all around cheerleader, my golden retriever Maddie. The only other pause in my day was running. I took an hour or an hour and half every day to run in the sand dunes of Sandbanks Provincial Park. A glorious and sacred place I have wandered since almost birth and disappear into as much as I can to this day. The sand dunes are massive and I plotted out a course to take me up an down as many as I could find, one after another.
As the fall season deepened and days grew colder and the cottage struggled to take shape, I struggled less and less up the dunes. The intense work was paying off. This non traditional training had no form other than hard work. I felt that this was reason enough to keep plowing through the sand. Hard work would lead me somewhere I felt both with the work on the cottage and in the dunes. I built the new cottage pretty much around the former one and slowly tore the old one out from the inside. Cats, dog and runner started spending some cold nights together, sometimes all snuggled in one bed looking at the stars through missing parts of the roof.
Racing was on hold, though I went to NYC for the marathon but lost that one to Hurricane Sandy, another story. I promised myself that a mostly completed shell of a residence would earn me a vacation in February cross country skiing through Yellowstone and other places. By mid December there was four walls and a proper roof, a vintage Elmira stove and a little Franklin fireplace for heat. No running water, a well had been dug but it would be several years before the water came into the cottage. Everyday I pushed through the dunes, doing repeats of the harder steeper ones. Snow drifted across the sand but the strange mixture felt much as one. The base of home and strength was there. The cross country skiing with full pack all through Yellowstone for a couple weeks and through the Tetons felt strong. I had ample strength wherever and whenever I needed it. These were days of well earned invincibility, winter camping in -30 F was cold but I had the strength.
I came home to the dunes, the best friend and the cats. Around the Bay and then Boston were up soon and a month of skiing rather than running right before the races would be a interesting test of training. 1:54 at the Bay and 2:47 at Boston. Respectable but not defining. Not disappointed at all, rather quite happy. My 40s were ending and those times were satisfying though later I would have my doubts about doing better. The hard work in the dunes wouldn’t blossom until later that year. Summer races went from good to great and then through the next winter even better. I ran less at the dunes and more on the single track in Toronto where I had relocated and returned to work. For the next two or three years I could do no wrong. The Bay became 1:51 and Boston a PB at 2:42 in 2014. Race after race I felt not just strong but I felt I could stalk these races. Come from behind, make my own decisions rather than hang on. 2015 was again strong and true. 1:48 in Hamilton and a Canadian Record for the half in Toronto in 1:13:19 at 51.
The reason I am reflecting on this is I have been spending more time at the cottage and more time in the dunes. A quiet and solo place where hard and true exists for me. As I approach my 60s and I aim squarely at Ultras, most significantly an entry into Western States, I feel that the dunes are the place to find what I will need to get there. A little video below of Barn Swallows keeping the bugs from my eyes and the dunes telling me to work hard.