Saturday, July 16, 2011

Run 1. Sleep 0. I Win.

July 14th, I spent the day in the charming city of Quebec Canada. No, this had nothing to do with Bastille Day nor an attempt to practice my lingua Française [sic]. Bastille Day happens in France, not French Canada, and while I did try some phrases in French, most people responded to me in English.

Quebec at night - phone by Djof

Work required my visit to the only walled city in the Americas north of Mexico. Situated on the western bank of the St. Laurence River, Quebec features an old quarter high on a hill at the edge of the Plains of Abraham and guarding Cap-Diamant (Cape Diamond). The city holds the honor of the first permanent settlement in the non-Spanish Americas having been founded with the purpose of long term occupation as compared to the more short term goals of older towns like Jamestown. This strategic location effectively protected French and British Canada from attack. (The city traded hands a number of times.) Quebec saw a number of battles in the Seven Years War and later Colonial American troops tried to take the city from the British during the American War of Independence. The British won that battle, and Canada remained loyal to London. (Additionally, circumnavigator James Cook made a name for himself mapping the various rivers around the city.) The town survived all of these trials, and in 2008, it celebrated its 400th anniversary. Then as now, work brought me to the city during the celebrations which were quite impressive.

During that 2008 visit, our local development studio head, Dominique, and I ran a half-marathon from the eastern shore of the river (Levis), over the Quebec Bridge and then back down the Quebec riverside into the main part of the city. For Dee, it was his first race at this distance; for me it was the first when I ran with a friend. We both really enjoyed the experience. Dee competed again in 2009 and significantly improved his time.

I remembered how much I liked running along the river, so I packed my Asics for this trip and planned to hit the pavement to run part of the race's course.

But I nearly missed out on a glorious morning and fantastic jaunt. For those of you out there that might think about skipping a run, please know that this occurs more often with me than my reputation might suggest.

Arriving late Wednesday night, I accidentally messed up setting my alarm; I had left it on Taipei time - exactly 12 hours later than Eastern Daylight Time. Oops. At 8:30 AM, plans called for breakfast with my team before we visited our developer. So, to be safe, I really wanted to arise by 5:30 AM. (2:30 AM in California. Yikes.) Even without the alarm, I awoke at 5:50. Not bad for no auditory summons. Still plenty of time to run 13 miles.

But I felt dead tired.

"I can run in California on Friday," I told myself. "I really need my sleep," I intoned in my head. The runner in me countered, "But you laid out your running stuff and schlepped your shoes all the way across the continent. And your GPS watch; don't forget you brought that too and made sure to charge it overnight." So, I did what any sane person would do to shut up this pre-caffeine debate. I negotiated. With myself.

The deal? I got to go back to sleep, but if after 10 minutes snoozing eluded me, then out of bed I would bound. I set my alarm (correctly) for 7:30 so that I wouldn't miss breakfast and closed my eyes.

Ten minutes later, still conscious, I stumbled off the mattress.

Ten minutes after that, and my shoes seemingly laced themselves. (I'm not even sure how I got ready so quickly.)

Ten minutes more and I was bounding down Rue St. Joseph. I already knew I wanted to run along the river, and I recalled that a bike path adorned the road near the Cap-Diamant area. Spotting a bike route near my hotel, I figured that it would lead me in the right direction. I've been to Quebec six times, so I do vaguely know its geography. My hunch proved correct, and I picked up the path I sought along the St. Laurence.

The Quebec Flag

Given my normal weekly plan only involves running three days per week, I want each run of a decent length and quality. Thursday's goal held 13 miles for me - basically a half. I intended to run outbound 6.5 miles and then reverse my steps in returning to the hotel. Probably I could have planned more of a circuit, but that would have taken me away from the river. Yet at the same time, I also recalled that I might have to run some of the course on either a narrow sidewalk or actually abandon my route as I didn't think the bike pavement stretched the entire distance. The key to this workout clearly involved staying flexible.

My runs vary in how much I enjoy them. Mostly, I have fun, but some earn the title of "a slug." At other times, I know early on that the run is a winner. Today, within two miles, my ten minute insomnia deal proved the correct call.

As I came around the Cap, I spied a hot air balloon rising out of the old city. I slammed on the brakes and grabbed my iPhone to snap a picture. What a real treat! And consider the randomness of the event. What if my tired fingers had manipulated my iPod alarm clock correctly? I would have passed the spot I saw the balloon 30 minutes too early. Plus, if I had slept to 7:30, then the magical sight would only have been spotted by the dock workers who I noticed watching while I snapped the image.

Morning over Quebec

Just a scosh further, I passed a berthed Canadian Coast Guard ship. The name was Amundsen, the famous polar explorer who graced some of my Antarctica entries from February. Happy serendipity.
Click for a larger image to read the boat's name
The last bit of good fortune concerned the bike path. I found it now extended all the way along Boulevard Champlain - the major road next to the river and named for the city's founder Samuel de Champlain.

So, I had a smooth trail beneath my feet as I passed through a number of charming river side parks. The 55 (14 Celsius) degree weather mixed with the beautiful blue sky and river inspired me to a 1:50 time for 13.5 miles. (I was so enjoying myself that I turned around later than expected.) I clocked the 2nd half 10 seconds per minute faster than the first half. Not bad for a sleepy body which I learned needed to run more than to sleep.