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!

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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!!

Climbing Mountains

Sometime in September 2015

Hiking… seriously the most significantly challenging workout out there! Well… maybe an exaggeration. But nothing tests your heart strength and health and your endurance like a proper hike!

I’d done a couple little hikes with my little brother and my sisters… but they don’t really count as a proper hike. Get’s your heart rate up no doubt, but we were hiking Teapot hill… which is definitely uphill but there’s only one significantly steep hill that gets your heart freaking out. It’s a lovely 45minute walk/hike that gets out you outdoors in nature and in the forest though. And it’s a nice start to a weekend morning.. followed by breakfast somewhere.. like Cookie’s grill! My sisters and I did that one morning and it was great!!

After nearly 2.5 months of vacationing with not nearly as much intensely physical activity as I’d hoped… my heart and the rest of me, was a little out of shape.

I learned this when I hiked Elk Mountain with my aunt and uncle one day. For the first time in a very long time, I nearly felt like vomiting while doing physical exercise!!! I was short of breath and huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf (accept I’m not so big and bad although I sure had the huffing and puffing down pat) after only a few minutes into the hike. By the time we’d been hiking at a pretty decent pace and up a rather significant incline for about 20-30 minutes I was just praying we were nearly at the top because my vision was starting to blur and I thought my chest was going to explode my heart was beating so fast… and then the nausea started… and I seriously regretted the weeks of slothing on the couch at my moms house or my sisters house!!

Of course, this is slightly dramatized… but it was pretty miserable for a bit. Worse for that fact that my aunt and uncle were kicking my butt… and they’ve got a couple years on me… we won’t say how many cuz it doesn’t matter cuz they’re probably one of the fittest couples I know!

Anyways… as miserable as hiking can be when you’re not in particularly good shape… I know why people love it. The views. The views are absolutely worth the pain and suffering you go through to get the view. And obviously if one stays fit enough and hikes more regularly… it’s not so painful and the payoff is just incredible!!! Not just physical health like heart health, increased endurance and strength, but also better mental and emotional health because the mountains and forests are absolutely so serene and peaceful and calming… and who doesn’t love a good endorphin rush??!!!

So now lets talk about the view… actually let me just show you some pictures!

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The hike to the first major lookout point took about 45minutes to an hour… it was intense but the view from that lookout was breathtaking! (literally I was breathless. hahahaha).

It was a bit of a cool and misty start that day… but it warmed up quickly when we were out of the tree cover and out in the open sunlight… it was early fall and leaves were starting to change colours…especially the berry bushes on the side of the tree whose leaves turned the most beautiful burgundy red colour! The sky was so blue with just a little haze in the distance. We could see the rivers running through the valley below and layers and mountains shielding the valley…

We decided to carry on though through a little meadow and then over the ridge-line that led to another mountain peak and lookout. That ridge-line was amazing as it was so much more open and the view was gorgeous the whole way! As much as I love the serenity of walking through the trees… it’s amazing to be out in the open with a view too!

It was such a beautiful day…. I wish I had time to repeat it… but my time at home was coming to an end and within a week or two I’d be headed back to the desert. My one major regret: not spending more time hiking while I was home! Oh well.. something to look forward to when I get back home I guess!!! And I love spending the time with my aunt and uncle… they’re amazing people and what better way to spend a day with family?!!

 

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…

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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…

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

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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.”

Kayaking & Wine Tasting

Sometime in early September 2015, as leaves were beginning to change colours and the air was slightly crisper than usual…

Kayaking & Wine Tasting. Two complete opposites. But two completely awesome things to do on a sunny Monday in Vancouver!

Kayaking in Deep Cove. One of the best ways to spend a sunny morning/afternoon in the city! A friend and I rented kayaks and spent a blissful two hours paddling around the cove and along the shoreline around a few small little islands. Trying to avoid waves from boats that threatened to capsize us. It’s gorgeous here but I am not ok at all with how deep and dark the water is!!! There could be orcas aka killer whales in there for all I know and I am not at all keen to go swimming with them!!!!

IMG_1216Anyways. The sky was so blue, with small white fluffy clouds. And the coastline… steep cliffs lined with gorgeous oceanfront homes… covered with lush green foliage… a few trees with colorful leaves as it was nearly fall… found a couple brillinatly red maple leaves floating in the water as I paddled along.

Relaxing. Blissfully relaxing. Although kayaking uses some muscles I definitely haven’t used in ages!!!! And my hands are pretty delicate now and they weren’t so good with the constant rubbing motion of the paddles! But… absolutely worth it!!!

After kayaking… we needed food. And wine. Or a beer or two. And a cup of coffee probably. We might have stopped at 49th Parallel for Luckys Donuts… and the guise of a coffee stop 🙊 good excuse?!! Good enough for me! They didn’t have their fabulous maple bacon apple fritter this time which was crushingly disappointing… but the lemon/basil something or the other donut that I had was incredible!!!
Then, next stop… food and wine… Vancouver Urban Winery is a brilliant choice for both! Kari and I had both been raving about how much we loved our first time there… so we decided to hit it up again. But when we arrived, it was full! No problem…we added our names to the wait list and headed up the street to the Alibi Room for a pre-dinner beer… great selection on tap. Really cool place just right along the train tracks in Railtown.

Honestly, I love this so much about the city. The cool pubs/bars and restaurants. Just being able to walk up to whichever one I want to go to without worrying about if it has a family section… actually just being able to walk to a restaurant is amazing! And if it’s full… no need to worry… theres another one just down the street we can hang out until we can get into the place we really want to go to! And the freedom to order a drink! Any drink! With as little or as much blissfully delicious alcohol in it as I want… Small freedoms. Coming from the gal who is talking about moving back to Saudi Arabia where she doesn’t get to do any of that?!!! 

Lastly… just have to say. If you’re in Vancouver, check out Vancouver Urban Winery. Really great spot! Old building that’s been beautifully redone to still have the downtown city winery kind of vibe… fabulous food… and the wine selection is really great! Especially the wine flights! And I love that its pretty much all local stuff! And the environment is just really chill and mellow… I’m a huge fan!


Anyways. Super fab day. I missed girls days out like this!!!! (As I write this i’m currently trying to catch up before I start posting about my life back in Saudi… and seriously, I could use one of those wine flights!!!!! Can’t wait to get back and do it again!!!)

To Illustrate why I love Vancouver and Whistler…

August 2015

Obviously I’m biased, but I believe I live in one of the most gorgeous places in the world. Every place has it’s own beauty in it’s own way… but Vancouver and Whistler are especially gorgeous…

So, this post is just going to be a whole lot of pictures to help you visualize it all…

Quick note… this was at the beginning of August, just days after my brothers wedding when I took a cousin and my youngest brother to the city and up to Whistler to experience a little of our gorgeous home… the parts we don’t always have time to stop and appreciate!

First up… a day in Whistler, a resort town, Whistler Blackcomb being North America’s #1 Ski Resort… 2 gorgeous mountains with a beautiful village nestled between the two mountains. Walking around the village… taking a gondola up to the top of one mountain… and the Peak 2 Peak gondola ride between Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains… a little hike at the top when we finished the peak 2 peak experience… It was absolutely amazing up there! I love Whistler village… so much to see and do even in the summertime… lots of bars and pubs and restaurants… and plenty of shopping too. Mountain biking for the brave hearts… hiking for all the nature/fitness lovers… and the Peak 2 Peak for those of us who just want the view with minimal effort.

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…and then Summit chair to the highest point reachable by ski lift… (and it was COLD up there!!!!!)

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End beautiful day #1.

Day 2… a day in Vancouver… wandering around Gastown, Vancouver’s historic heart, to see the steamclock and do a bit of window shopping…

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we did the Fly Over Canada experience at Canada Place, (the cruise ship terminal, and an events center that looks a lot like a giant sailboat) which you should definitely do if you’re a first timer in Vancouver. It shows just a few of the highlights of Canada’s absolutely gorgeous natural and cultural beauty… Highly recommend.

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Vancouver Convention Center… building with a green roof!!

lunch in Coal Harbor by the Olympic cauldron… Vancouver was the host city for the 2010 Winter Olympics and throughout the city and through Whistler also are things to remember the Olympics… our Olympic legacy.

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…and finally, a bike ride around the Stanley Park seawall in the glorious sunshine and fresh ocean air! The Stanley Park seawall was voted #1 park in the world according to TripAdvisor… even over Central Park in New York!! It is definitely my favorite thing to do when in Vancouver in the summertime… or actually almost any time of year! You can easily rent bikes in the park or at one of the many bike shops in the downtown area just before entering the park… and leisurely or speedily make your way around the 10ish km of seawall biking path.

And freedom… The boats in the harbor… bobbing gently on deep blue water… the smell of pine and berry bushes… and the salty sea air… puffy white clouds in a bright blue sky… zipping around the park on a bike… (There’s just something about being active outdoors that especially emphasizes the feeling of freedom for a girl who just spent the last year in Saudi Arabia, generally not feeling particularly restricted… until I come back to North America and really recognize how restricted I actually was!)

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And that… is the end of a couple gorgeous days on the very South West coast of Canada… in our gorgeous mountains and along the water…