Side by Side

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by Michelle Gjerde

One day in 2009, my husband Lionel came home from work and announced that he wanted us to participate in the Great Lake Walk, a 56K trek around beautiful Lake Cowichan. I was instantly intrigued but felt uneasy about the long distance. I spent the next few months walking the streets of Campbell River, B.C. to prepare for the event. Together with our 15-year-old son Justin, we achieved our first-ever endurance walk. It was an exhausting day that turned out to be a blast, filled with hours of stories, jokes and complaints about how far away the finish line was.

In 2010, the three of us tackled a 64K endurance walk from Gold River to Thasis, B.C., followed by the annual Lake Cowichan event. We also decided to see if we were tough enough to conquer The Kusam Klimb, a wild 23K loop heading up and over the back of Mount H’Kusam near Sayward, B.C. This was our first experience with a long distance adventure race, and we loved it.

The elevation gain, running through streams, and sliding down snow made it much more challenging than anticipated.

After our son graduated in 2011, we moved back to Victoria where we watched the Victoria GoodLife Marathon. Lionel and I were impressed with the grit and determination of the runners. We both agreed completing a marathon would be a great next goal, and we were up for a new challenge. Little did we know it was the beginning of something life-changing.

When we registered for the Oak Bay 10K, I was fearful that I wouldn’t be able to run that far. In search of structure and guidance, I signed up for a 10K training program at the Running Room. I really enjoyed learning about the biomechanics of running, and the guest speakers provided lots of tips, exercises and inspirational stories. The run leaders were very positive, supportive and encouraging, which gave me a great foundation to start with.

Since then, Lionel and I have completed many half marathons, including several destination runs. Currently, we are in the thick of training for our fourth year at the Victoria GoodLife Marathon. We both like to challenge ourselves and find it rewarding to complete something that is really challenging. I always thought only elite athletes ran the Boston Marathon, but now after finishing three marathons myself, there is a very strong possibility I will qualify for Boston someday. We have met many like-minded friends who share the same lifestyle. We always look forward to our date nights on Wednesdays when we meet at Run Club. My favorite runs are the Long Slow Distance ones on Sundays. I love the fresh air, the scenic routes and the great conversations with my fellow runners. After several years of consistent training, I have learned to embrace being uncomfortable and am finally able to run at my husband’s pace. After trailing behind for many years, it’s gratifying that we can finally run side by side.

I’m pleased to report that our active routine has rubbed off on our three children, and they all lead active lives. I have run three half marathons with our eldest daughter, although for her it was all about the swag bag, shirt and medal. I was thrilled to be a part of her accomplishments, because I see these runs as great life lessons. As with everything in life, you get out of it what you put into it.

Our family holidays always include an outdoor adventure such as bike riding, skiing, water sports, zip lining or crazy long hikes. We always look for a new, memorable experience. I don’t like to think we are obsessed with running—it would be more accurate to say that it’s something we are very passionate about. It doesn’t cost a lot and we can do it whenever and wherever our travels take us. Since moving back to Victoria, Lionel and I have enjoyed getting reacquainted with my hometown, taking in the scenic ocean views, running through all the different neighbourhoods and exploring the lush, natural landscape of the trails. Our fitness is our way to age gracefully and keep up with our family. As 2018 comes to a close, I look forward to breaking out my calendar and planning our races for the year ahead.

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