Sunday, January 1, 2012

Christmas in Calgary

This year for Christmas my husband and I spent the week with his family in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I've discovered that most people don't have a grasp on Canadian geography so here's a little map. I usually say that Calgary is above Montana and Idaho, but let's face it- no one really knows where they are either.
Calgary is the third city from the top of the map, in the plains just east of the Rocky Mountains. 

Typical December weather in Calgary is just below freezing, or -1 C, but we got really lucky and had cool, crisp days around 4-6C (40 degrees F) and all of the sunshine Calgary can muster at that time of year (which isn't much). When we arrived on the 23rd, I had airplane cabin fever and needed to get outside and run. Luckily we were staying in a downtown hotel located right along the Bow River running path! The temperature was in the 30's F and I simply had no idea what to wear because it had been 60 degrees F at home the day before. I layered up because the wind was blowing and I'd be running along the river, but I think I was a little overdressed in the end. Lesson learned. The sun was shining but it was low in the sky so it felt like it was 5pm and I was all out of whack, it was actually only 1pm and I couldn't figure out why the sun was setting in the SOUTH. Apparently that happens there during the winter. Talk about throwing off my sense of direction! 
I did have a really nice, wandering run along the icy Bow River and around some of its little islands, including the one that contains the Calgary Zoo. I was a little concerned when I realized that the strange bins along the path were trash cans designed to keep bears out, is this a problem in the city? There are tons of little bridges and a beautifully maintained running path along both sides of the river, so I give Calgary two thumbs up as a runner friendly city! 

While Calgary sits at roughly 3,400 ft of elevation, it is still FLAT.

My next run in Calgary was a dark, cold Christmas morning run along the same path but in the opposite direction. We had to leave for my Sister in law's house by 8am, so I got up to run around 6am which might as well be midnight because sunrise isn't until at least 8am. It was cold, definitely below freezing and the air is DRY so I threw my Bula gaiter on around my neck to help me breathe. I felt pretty safe out there in the dark, but for no particular reason. I guess I was just counting on the politeness of the Canadians to keep me safe, but I brought along a phone just in case. I snapped a few dark photos along the way, but the one of the snow hare didn't come out so well. I saw two large, white bunnies while I was running on the very small Prince Island and neither were afraid of me. I guess they're the Canada equivalent of squirrels. 

I took my time on the Christmas run, just wanting to get in a few miles of cardio before sitting inside and eating again all day. I ran 4.06 miles in about 37:00, stopping here and there to snap photos that didn't come out very well. It was still pitch black when I returned to the hotel, but I enjoyed running across the bridge to Prince Island because it was wrapped tightly in red christmas lights with trees decorated in green on either side. During the day there is music playing from speakers mounted on the bridge to entertain the folks ice skating on the river down below, how cute. It ended up being a 4 bridge run! 

I knew it was flat, but damn. 

The day after Christmas in Canada is typically a big shopping day, but we decided to hit the road and head to Banff National Park for some skiing at Lake Louise, a gorgeous ski resort in the Canadian Rockies. The drive was gorgeous with the mountains growing before us as we drove across the plains and into the park. After spending the last 6 months rehabbing my injured ankle and nursing a still-sore knee, I was in no shape to be downhill skiing and I had no desire to re-injure myself, so Erica and I went Cross-country skiing while our husbands hit the slopes for downhill. We thought we'd simply walk over to the trail with our skis and get going, but it turned out that we had to take the gondola UP one side of the mountain and take a chair lift DOWN the other side before we could get to the trail. This provided plenty of entertainment for the folks doing the normal thing- going UP a chair lift. They all giggled at us as we held on for dear life to our skis and gear on the way down. The views were incredible, even if the wind chill was not. When we finally reached the trail, much of the first few Km were uphill which is trickier than I'd imagined on XC skiis. Erica had been concerned that I'd leave her in the dust because I'm a marathon runner, but I'm certain that those fears melted away after my first 3 falls in the first 5 minutes. I spent much of the way cracking up at myself and trying not to fall too far into the 8 ft deep snow around me. I have no idea how far we went, maybe 5K, but it sure was a lot of fun once we stopped climbing uphill and could just glide along. Of course going uphill on the way out meant that we'd be going downhill on the way back.... but not on downhill skis which are wider and secured to your foot, but on XC skis where you have little to no control over your direction and speed, at least that's how it was in my case. I managed to fall backwards off of the path (I was wearing the heavy backpack!) into deep, deep snow several times but I always managed to maneuver my way out and back onto the path. It was highly entertaining for Erica who is a pro on skis. 
Here are a few pictures she took with her cell phone along the way; you can assume that most of them occurred right before or after I face or ass-planted in the snow. 

We turned around as the sun started to set, just in time too. 

That mess in the snow on the right is probably from me falling

Finally on my feet. Gorgeous views behind me. 

Oof. Man down.  

 It was so quiet and peaceful. 
Coming down the final stretch! 

I was wearing my Garmin, though I forgot to turn it on until we headed back and I managed to hit "stop" during one of my falls, but check out the path and the elevation- it is pretty cool! 

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