Valentine’s Day used to go unnoticed by this girl. No chocolates, flowers or romantic dinners for me. Once, while on a business trip in St. John’s, I went to have dinner at the hotel restaurant, just to be told there was no free table to be had. “Wow,” I said. “Do you have a big meeting or convention in town?” “No,” replied the host. “It’s all booked because of Valentine’s Day.” Talk about oblivious, as the heart decorations in the restaurant and the fact that all tables were occupied by couples would have surely tipped off the more astute person. But that was then…
Nowadays, I am far more aware that February 14th is approaching and I might even have a dinner reservation at a favourite restaurant. And all because, a couple of years ago, I decided on fairly short notice to run a trail race in the Haliburton Forest.
My friend Isabelle had fallen in love with trail racing and wanted to do an ultra. We bantered about a few ideas, finally settling on the Haliburton Forest Trail Race. It seemed like a good option, as it was just a few hours drive from Ottawa and offered a 50 km, 50 mile and 100 mile event. Looking at the timing, I figured it could be fun to do the 50 km event as a long training run for a 100 km race I was planning to run the following month. So, we signed up, packed our running and camping gear and headed down to Southern Ontario.
Unbeknownst to us, a couple of guys from Gatineau across the Ottawa River were also piling their gear into a vehicle. Eric was going to attempt his first 100 miler while Marc had signed up for his first 50 mile race.
Helen Malmberg and her fantastic crew of volunteers had organized a welcome dinner, which Isa and I attended after setting up our tents. As is the tradition at Haliburton, every person present at the pasta party got up to say a few words, such as where they were from, which race they were planning to run or which aid station they were going to staff.
The ultra running community is pretty small, so when a tall, dark and handsome guy stood up to say he was from Gatineau and was there to run the 50 miler, I was surprised I didn’t know him – and decided to change that. As everyone filtered out of the Cook House after dinner, we struck up a conversation, but were cut short by Eric, who impatiently paced up and down outside. Eric was ready to put his feet up to rest for the 100 miler ahead of him.
The next morning, the races started in darkness. In spite of the early hour, everyone in the campground was awake, as a bag piper had piped us from the pre-race briefing to the start line. Another fine Haliburton tradition.
Headlamps aglow we dashed off into the darkness. Shortly after we were treated to a spectacular sunrise over the lake. I trotted along the trails, chatting with other runners here and there. After a little while I realized I had settled into too comfortable a pace even for a training run while running with a small group of people. I decided to pick it up a little and moved ahead. Marc, who had been trapped on the narrow trail behind our group, saw my move and set off to catch up. We then ran side by side for many kilometers, talking and getting to know each other a bit.
Ultra races are a bit like weekend festivals. Participants often camp in the start/finish area of the race and those who finished their races hang around to cheer those who come in later or who participate in the longer events. So after Marc and I finished, we hang around the camp and learned a bit more about each other. Nice guy, I thought.
The next morning, Isabelle and I took off to head back to Ottawa. Marc was nowhere to be found, as he was on the trail, supporting Eric during his 100 miler. No good-byes, no exchange of email addresses or phone numbers ever took place. In fact, we never even got to last names! Regardless, we managed to connect through the small ultra running community back in Ottawa and arranged to go running together a few times. And the rest, as they say, is history!
We have, of course, gone back to Haliburton. The following year, at the welcome dinner, my speech went something like this: “Last year, I came to Haliburton to run the 50 km and to pick up a t-shirt and a medal. Little did I know I’d also pick up this handsome guy!”
In 2011, both of us were injured, but we went back regardless to volunteer at the aid stations and to support some friends. We have also shared some other fantastic races, such as the Comrades Marathon in South Africa, the Dirty Girls Trail Race in Mansfield, Ontario and many more. And most importantly, we are sharing our lives. While I have always found happiness and joy in running, I never thought that I’d find love on the run. But then again, life is full of surprises!
So these days, I will not be caught off guard by Valentine’s Day. Instead, I will be spoiled. In fact, just today, I received a mysterious invitation for February 14th – details will be…. a surprise!
Happy Valentines Day to all the lovers out there. And if you are single, sign up for a race! Your soul mate may just be out on the trails waiting to meet you!
And since we are talking about love, please don’t forget to spread some Love4Gambia!