Running Hoi An

On early February morning: 2016

Early misty morning, feeling productive… I laced up my running shoes and took off out the door down the road to the beach. The town was still quiet… basically only the locals were awake already. As I ran past little local shops and restaurants, I could smell the delicious aromas of Pho, the preferred breakfast of the Vietnamese! The locals smiled at me from their little plastic chairs roadside where they sat sipping their breakfast… or as they diligently swept their storefronts… an elderly Vietnamese farmer wearing the traditional non la gave me a big toothless grin as he led his large water buffalo past me along the road. The people here are so friendly and cheerful! It makes my heart so joyful!!

I ran to the outskirts of the town, along a still, winding little river where a fisherman rowed his boat… and a traditional woven round basket boat sat on the side near the waters edge… to the beach where the wind blew through the palm trees and washed white water up onto the sand bags along the beach (clearly struggling to survive erosion)… and then back to the hotel past brilliantly green fields of young rice…

As I returned to the town, I passed a couple other expat runners heading out for their morning constitutional and was greeted by friendly waves. I love the support of the running community around the world!!

I couldn’t help running one more time in Hoi An, on the last day before we left.. still kinda grey and stormy… but it was another fabulous run! Some days, I feel like my life is probably just a dream because this all can’t be real! But it is. And I am so blessed!!

I ran 10 miles through Hoi An and along the beach with my Charity Miles app and raised $2.50 for the World Food Programme.  (all runners should check it out! You can raise money while you run… at no cost to you except extra motivation to run just that wee bit further to raise just a wee bit more!) Link here: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/charity-miles-running-walking/id505253234?mt=8

Oh I should mention that I was planning on potentially running the Paris Marathon early April so it was extra motivation for me to run in Vietnam and stay in shape!

**Update as of October 2016: Follow me on instagram @annemariekathleenvw if you want to keep up with my running adventures! Starting some epic marathon/ultrathon training soon!

Riyadh Half Marathon

December 4, 2015

Since returning back to Riyadh at the end of October, I’d not been overly active, but I had participated in a couple runs with the Riyadh Road Runners. And suddenly, it was time for their annual Half Marathon.

I’d hardly trained at all. Actually, let me clarify. I’d not trained at all for a half marathon. I’m an average runner. I run a couple 8-10kms runs a few times a week during a good running spell. But I’d not been running regularly for months now!

But hey, I’m totally game for a challenge. Plus, I had friends to run with. And how cool is it to run a half marathon out in the desert?!!!

It was a fresh cool morning as we headed out of the city to Dirab Golf Course where the race would be held. I was a bundle of nerves. But so pumped!

The air was fresh and clean and the grass was so green as we walked through the golf course, jittering in anticipation of the start.

 

And then… before I knew it… we were off!! We ran a couple kms through the golf course before turning left down a long road with a gentle incline to the top of a hill, sharp escarpments rising up ahead of us in the near distance… turning back the way we came before turning left again to run out over another not so gentle hill to the end of the course before returning back to the start… to do it all over again as that was just one roughly 10km lap of 21.1km total!

IMG_8513

That last hill was such a challenge. Silly me forgot my energy snacks for along the race so I was just completely out of energy, it was getting pretty warm in the sun at that point… and I don’t know how I kept going through it…

But finally I was on the home stretch… running up those last 500 meters or so… the finish line (and the clock in sight..) it was almost 2hours and 10 minutes and I so badly wanted to be under 2:10… so I dug deep and found some untapped energy source… and busted out a sprint to the finish line… to finish in 2:09:44 !!!!!!

I’ve never felt an endorphin rush quite like the one that comes from finishing a first major race… with a time you’re happy with… out in the desert… it was incredible and I feel so lucky to have been a part of that race!!!

Now… to plan for and train for the next one… definitely stepping it up to a full marathon next!

Running (in) Riyadh

I think I’ve run more in Riyadh than I’ve ever run in my life.

Year 1 was good for me. But not that good. I joined a running club, but missed the majority of the Friday morning races as my Thursday nights were usually busy and a little too entertainment filled for me to get up early on a Friday morning and run. However… Did manage to win the 10km race series in my category as somehow they were the only races I actually made it to!

Year 2 in Saudi… I was determined to run more and party less. And it started off really well. (And I’m proud to say that 5 months later… its better than ever!) I’ve only missed a few Friday morning runs and one was due to Christmas, the other 3 Fridays I missed I was out of the country.

My first race back was a 10mile race (of which I only ran half) but it was a fundraiser for an awareness project I’d become involved in shortly after arriving back in Riyadh called 10KSA… an organization devoted to promoting health and wellness in Saudi and around the world. Our first event was to be a breast cancer awareness event, and part of that was collaborating with a running group in Riyadh to raise money and gain support for the organization and event.

We ran at a venue I’d never run at before… there were more hills than usual… and steeper… but the view from the top of the hills over the farm was incredible! It was a good distance outside the city with a great mix of date palm forest and hilly/rugged/rocky terrain to run through… making it really great scenery to pass the time!

And… the best part was reconnecting with friends from the running group/making new friends… I love the social aspect of it and talking times/training plans, etc with people who share similar passions and goals when it comes to running and fitness. And although the club has some intensely competitive members, there are people there who are not nearly so fit but yet push themselves to finish even some very challenging runs, not just the short runs! And everyone is so supportive of each other too.

One day… a month or so after I returned to Saudi, there was a significant rainstorm and there was a lot of water hanging around in the low areas… We went for a run one morning to the DQ around the wadi… but found out quite quickly that getting down into the date palm forest on our usual trail would be a challenge as it was all flooded!! We all ended up getting a little muddy… but to be honest… it was pretty cool because it’s rarely damp/muddy in Riyadh, just dry and dusty! And… we found a poor little turtle on a dry spot of the road… so we put him back in the mud to find his way to a little pond…

I forgot how much I love waking up early on a Friday morning to run in the fresh fall/winter air (which in Riyadh is a cool 10ish degrees, maybe slightly more…) to run, and get a good endorphin high first thing in the morning… to feel productive and accomplished and good about myself… and to get outside in nature too rather than being sluggish indoors all day like I would otherwise…

Over the last few months in Riyadh, I’ve had a variety of amazing runs throughout Riyadh… sometimes races at compounds… sometimes in the Diplomatic Quarters (most often actually!). There have been rainy runs… foggy morning runs… a lot of sunny runs (like the time I got sunburnt in November??!!)… trail runs or road runs… and super fresh clean and green runs after recent rainfalls that turn the DQ into a big of a green/flowery paradise actually… a lovely contrast to the drab/dusty brown scene it usually is…

When I think back, I’ve just had so many runs with so many good people! Especially my regular running crew, the running lemons. Unfortunately over the last year or so we’ve lost valuable team members as they moved out of Saudi and on to new adventures… but we’ve also gained some new lemons…. and I gained a new and fabulous training partner/running buddy/amazing friend… and… showed some new friends the great trails through the DQ!

So… I love a good run thats me… solo… thinking life through… but even more… I love the people in my running community and in running communities around the world!!

Mother Natures Glory

British Columbia, my home, is mother natures playground! It’s my happy place. Obviously I’m biased, but it truly is one of the most gorgeous places in the world to live. Being away from it from a year has really taught to me to appreciate the beauty of home so much more than I ever did before.

Every place is beautiful in its own way. But BC is particularly beautiful for its natural beauty. It’s tagline is “beautiful British Columbia” for a reason. The colours everywhere are unbelievably vivid and vibrant… Rich greens, shades of blue, deep Browns of rich earth and millions of trees… The darker purple shadow of the mountains… Puffy white clouds or streaks of white in otherwise clear blue skies…

There are mountains to hike and climb and explore… (upcoming post on some hikes I did at home…)

Lakes… So many lakes… Big and small… Sunny summer lake days spent on the beach, or floating… Or doing water sports like wakeboarding…

IMG_0857

And then there’s the ocean too…

I had planned to do something active outdoors every single day… like a run or a hike… din’t quite pan out that way but I did run down the road 500m to my sisters house on a daily basis 😛

Regardless… I had some incredible outdoorsy days where I just fell in love with my home all over again.

There were many river walks with my sister and nieces. One which resulted in me slipping on a little mud down by the river and ending up with a very wet and muddy behind. My little niece Addison doesn’t easily forget that one! “Ammie walk wiwer? Ammie get wet?!” Too cute!!

I had a few solo river runs also, along my favorite trail along the Vedder river. Those runs are good for the soul. In the sunshine… along the windy trail… through the woods… over the occasional garter snake that decides to scare the pants off me and dart out across the trail just as I’m running by!  

And then there were a few bike rides with the baby brother. One of the best bike rides was actually on a rather grey day where it started to rain as we went along… It hadn’t rained at home in quite a long time (months in fact) and I hadn’t experienced a proper rainfall in many months more than that even!! So it was just so lovely to feel the raindrops on my skin… fresh and cool and cleansing…

IMG_0150

And then… There were misty morning drives home from work… Calm, sunlit, serene views…

IMG_1397

Looking back now several months later over all the pictures, I’m just awed by the beauty that surrounds me every day at home! So much peaceful and serene beauty… I’m a happier person at home not just because I’m with my family… but constantly being surrounded by these vivid but calming colours and naturally gorgeous scenes… it makes one happy and so at peace internally!

I feel like I should be a tourism ad for beautiful British Columbia… but really… I hope you get an opportunity to visit this beautiful place someday and find out why I call it my “happy place.”

Just Normal Everyday Life

January 22-Feb 14, 2015

Continuing on with my trip home…

What I loved most about being home: (not necessarily in this order…)

1. Sleeping in. Every day. For a good week. Between the jet lag and the Saudi hangover (Saudi hangover being the accumulated stress from 6 months in a strange country where nothing is every even remotely close to as easy as it would be at home, working more hours, the stress of not speaking the language, etc) I could sleep 12-14 hours every day for that first week!!!

2. Driving. Still own my car but it was going to cost a good chunk of cash to insure it for 3 weeks, so daddy dear kindly donated a business car for me to drive. A freaking Yaris (ick) but at least it was a set of wheels that I could drive on my own… without worrying about being arrested, unless I broke too many speed limits in my eagerness to really experience driving again (not really a possibility in a Yaris with its teeny tiny little engine).

image

3. Breakfast conversation with my mom.

4. Walks at the river with my sister and my niece. Just sparkles and sunshine and giggles.

imageLook at the eyes on that beautiful little girl!!! Mashallah!

imageimage image imageimage5. Babysitting my niece.. she is just precious. My hearts melts!!!

imageimage

6. Coffee with Grandma. My grandmother is my only living grandparent and she is a wonderful woman. She is warm and friendly, energetic and vivacious, and so caring and compassionate. No verbal filter though. It is hilarious sometimes!!!

7. Visiting work to say hi to all my old colleagues. The familiar nursing environment, filled with colleagues I highly value and respect who raised me from a brand new baby nurse to the nurse I am today…

imageimageimageimageimageimageimage

8. Sushi & Sake. Movie nights. Lunch dates at the harvest cafe. Catching up with good friends from nursing school! Bowling with friends and their kids… Unfortunately, most dinner/lunch dates I was too busy talking to take pictures so there’s not many pictures from those moments… but I absolutely loved having time to catch up with all of the most important people in my life and those moments don’t need pictures… treasuring them in my heart!!  And anyone I missed… it wasn’t because they were less important… but it’s crazy how fast 3 weeks can fill up and then disappear!!!

imageimageimageimage

9. Icecream cake. Pretty impossible to pick up an icecream cake in this country as by the time you get it home its definitely melty!!!

image

10. Tim Horton’s coffee. The famous Canadian coffee company. There’s actually a couple shops in Riyadh, but they’re difficult to get to. And they’re always out of tins of coffee so you can brew your own “Timmies” at home! And it was even Roll-up-the-Rim-to-win time of year!! (Didn’t win a thing… but I’m home with my family so I feel like a winner anyways!)

imageimage

11. River runs!! In the sun (it was gorgeously sunny and dry almost the entire time I was home, unusual for January-February… but very welcome for me… not accustomed to the cold and rain anymore!!).

imageimageimageimageimageimageimage

12. Getting my hair done by my favorite stylist ever!!!!! She always does a fab job!!! And I never have to worry it will turn out badly… (I’ve heard so many horror stories of Western girls who have gotten their hair done in Saudi and it turned out absolutely atrociously… so I had a nightmare one night that I got my hair done in Riyadh and ended up with cornrows!!! Not sure what that was about but it was terrifying!! lol)imageimage

13. A really really good bottle of wine. Proper red. Not homebrew. Specifically British Columbia wines from my favorite wine store… the Sardis VQA wine store. Bottles and bottles of beautiful reds and blends… For a girl living in Saudi Arabia for the last 6 months and not setting foot in a wine store for as long… having options was a bit mind boggling and challenging! But… I picked up a set that is supposed to be just beautiful… going to save it for some special occasion. Like the next time I come visit.


imageimageimageimage

14. Walking through the greenhouse. Smelling that earthy smell of soil and growing things. The warmth and humidity. The feel of a childhood spent growing up in and around a greenhouse. The pride of walking through your fathers life work…Bumping into people who’ve known you since you were a child…

image

15. Family dinners. Family dinners are by far the best part of the whole trip. Made a warm, homey, love filled pot of Morroccan beef stew for the family…and even my brothers who are hesitant to try anything new… loved it!! And anytime my family gathers around the table, there’s bound to be some debate. Over healthcare. Politics. etc. It is so stimulating and I really miss this about being so far away from them all.

image

16. Games and laughs with my siblings. We played Cranium one night and it was a riot! So much fun!! Heartwarming. Belly warming too… hot coffee with Baileys… dad’s specialty coffee…

imageimageimageimage

17. Silly faces with Eric, my little brother.

imageimage

18. Silly Sunday afternoon shenanigans… and just relaxing at home with the family…

imageimageimageimageimage19. SNOWBOARDING!!! I’ve missed this. Unfortunately the snow season was shit at home this year. Too little snow and too much warm and rain… but we still made it out one day. Daddy dear and baby bro and I. The snow wasn’t the best, but it was sunny and clear and the air was fresh and pine scented… And the view from the top of the mountains was unbeatable! (Pictures to come in the next post… )

image

20. A pedicure with my mom and sister. So relaxing. Good mother-daughters time. Followed by a homey lunch at the preserved seed cafe. A cafe that reminds me so much of nursing school lunch dates…

imageimageimageimageimageimage21. Canucks games. Watching them on TV. Especially during the Stanley cup playoffs. But also going to games. The freedom to freely mingle among men and women… carrying a beer in hand… surrounded by thousands of people enjoying our national sport… (Pictures to be posted in the next post… )

image

22. Sunrises and sunsets and gorgeous mountain views. Probably one of the things I miss the most. The green. The mountains. The brilliant blue sky. No dust storms. No sand everywhere. Vibrant shades of azure, emerald and rich browns. Not the dull grey/brown/yellow I usually see in Saudi unless I’m lucky enough to go outside the city into the desert where the sky is bluer and the dustiness turns to reds and golds and browns…

imageimageOn that beautiful sunset, I’m going to end this post… because it is getting far too long. Next up… just a few of the bigger events of my trip home… Snowboarding, a Canucks game… and my final family dinner…

Thanks for reading… if you ever get the chance… please do come and visit British Columbia… Obviously I’m biased, but Vancouver and the Lower Mainland in general are probably some of the most beautiful places on earth!!!

Ok… I’m out now… xoxo

Once a waterfall…

Once a waterfall… now a gorgeous desert experience…

Another hash run… again out in to the desolate desert outside of Riyadh…

Along the outskirts of Riyadh lies a long escarpment, the Tuwaiq escarpment. We went to a part of this where once a waterfall and river flowed down the escarpment and through the valley below.

Now it is just sharp, jutting rocks and flat, sandy riverbed. But it is absolutely gorgeous!!!

This hike reminds me again how incredibly breathtaking the desert is.

So dry, dusty and desolate. Remote and rugged. But quiet and peaceful. Only the sound of the wind and my footsteps crunching on the sand and gravel. Occasionally chatter and laughter from my fellow harriers. And the air is fresh and only slightly dusty…

The hash started with the typical hash traditions… welcoming new harriers to the group… gunging (aka punishing) the ones who misbehaved on the last hash and didn’t follow the rules… They got drenched with water. (Not such a bad punishment in the hot desert!!)

So we started the hash by walking along a bit of a wadi over towards the hills…

imageimage

After crossing the bit of a valley, we entered the climbing phase of the hash… some gentle hills first…

Check out the beautiful striations and markings on the rocks below… incredible!!

image

And then some much more intense hill climbing!! We scrambled over rocks and ledges as we made our way up the former waterfall…

imageimageimage

Above… looking down the waterfall from high above…

Trecking past beautiful rock formations…

imageimageimageWe traced our way along a narrow path winding through a small valley between the escarpment and another hill.

imageimageimageimageAnd then up a narrow path that lead up over the crest of a couple hills…

imageimage

In the distance, just flat, empty desert for miles…

But behind us… steep cliffs and dangerous looking rocks!!

After hiking upwards for some time and maneuvering our way through treacherous looking hills and valleys… we walked back down into the wadi… the valley that once contained a river… and traced our way along the dry riverbed back to the start…

imageimage

It was another absolutely remarkable experience.  One of those beautiful days that make this experience of living in Saudi Arabia such a unique and special experience!

This hike was particularly fun as a friend of a friend was visiting Riyadh for the week and we were showing him a bit of Riyadh life… this being a typical Friday afternoon experience. And you can’t really show someone a full Saudi Arabian experience if you don’t get to go out and really see the beauty of the desert! I wish that I could take my family and friends from home through this beautiful desert… the bits n pieces I’ve seen… and show them how stunning it is… Inshallah one day. But for now… here’s just a lot of pictures for you all!

My desert camping experience to come next maybe?! Or soon… anyways!!!

That’s all for now…

xo

Rugged, Rocky, Remote: The Desert

November 14, 2014

On a warm sunny late fall weekend… I got to do my first hash run out in the desert!! I’d heard about these hash clubs before I moved to Saudi Arabia and was excited to try it!

Now, you’re probably wondering what a hash is… and thinking of a substance that is definitely mafi qwayas in Saudi Arabia. Well. It’s nothing like what you’re thinking.
According to Wikipedia (I know… not the world’s most reliable source, but it gives you good info and a basic rundown when you need it.)

Hash House Harries or HHH or H3 or simply referred to as hashing, is an international group of non-competitive running social clubs. An event organized by a club is known as a hash or hash run, with participants calling themselves hashers or hares and hounds.

In other parts of the world, drinking beer or ginger beer at the end of a hash run is a huge component of the event. Some groups describe themselves as a “drinking club with a running problem.” However, here in Saudi Arabia, there is no drinking involved. We do quench the thirst the run has brought on with some cool water and fresh oranges though and just enjoy meeting new people and catching up with old friends, socializing, maybe enjoying a good BBQ or campout at the end of the run…

We drove out of the city and the awful smog that constantly surrounds Riyadh… and way out in to the desert… along a highway… and then down a bumpy gravel road… and then down a little track that was dusty and even bumpier with deep ruts… following the little arrows the hares had laid out for us to follow…

The sky was a beautiful blue… the sun so blissfully warm… the sand and rocks a warm brown… absolutely gorgeous in such a dry dusty desert sort of way. Completely different from the lush green mountainous views I’m accustomed to back home in British Columbia!

image

Before beginning the hash run, we all gathered around in a circle. As the newbies, we had to stand in the center of the circle and all together, shout out our names and where we are from and what we are doing in Riyadh, as loud as we could. Everyone cheered and laughed and welcomed us. Then, one of the hares (leaders) described the different trails for us… either a long walk, a short walk, or a run. We decided to do the long walk. (It’s still a bit too hot out here to go running mid day in the middle of the desert!)

Today we are hiking around Faisal’s finger… a beautiful natural rock structure that looks remarkably like a finger actually… hence the name!

image

We set off on the trail… up some hills… past an absolutely stunning outcropping of rock… a large escarpment that actually runs for miles and miles through the desert…

imageimageimage

Up and around Faisal’s finger…

image

Down and around the backside of Faisal’s finger… bypassing a bit of a wadi or valley… and along the edge of the wadi… watching the sun begin to sink down along the horizon… silhouetting the other hashers further on the trail…

imageimageimageimageimage

Back to our starting point… following the chalk marks the whole way…

Near the start of the hash… was the most beautiful vantage point of Faisal’s finger… you could see the finger, as well as the sharp point of the escarpment where it almost meets the finger, and as some point in history, may have been connected to Faisal’s finger… but time and nature eroded the rock away between the two…

imageimage

Back at the starting point, I climbed up a small ridge that looked out into the valley beyond… beautiful flat and desolate desert for miles with beautiful cliffs jutting up from the desert far in the distance… rock and rugged and absolutely beautiful!! This far out in the desert it is so calm and peaceful. Walking in silence, hearing the gentle whistle of the wind blowing about me… absolute stillness and serenity… I am absolutely in LOVE with this country. It is stunningly beautiful, in a way I’ve never seen before in my life… the culture, the people… the opportunities it has provided me with…

imageimage

These people especially… they’re a wonderful group of friends and I am so blessed to know them and to be having experiences like this one with them!

As the sun was starting to set, we quickly headed out of the desert as we didn’t want to get caught out there after sunset as it would be very difficult to find the path out again!

However, in our rush to get out of the desert and on to a decent road by dark, we hit a very sharp rock which punctured the tire and suddenly we had a flat tire to change.

And so… the sun set on my first hash run… my second desert experience… one of the most beautiful hikes of my life!!!

imageimage

Goodnight and Goodbye… with much love like always… from the desert to you, wherever you may be…

Annemarie