Thomas’s recent blog about moving to Finland and his comparison of training in different countries has inspired this blog.
I moved to France because of Nancy. Seven years later, it has turned out to be one of the best decisions in my life both personally, professionally and for training. Like Thomas, moving to a foreign country has had its challenges. Certainly the language was and still is. But being Canadian, moving here meant I merely had to brush up on my French instead of learning a new language that contains words several syllables long with no vowels.
My first impression of Nice on the drive from the airport was of the sea. It was calm and blue, free of man eating sharks and judging from how many people were swimming in it, relatively clean. Almost from day one, I have been swimming in the bay that surrounds Nice on a regular basis. It is an open water swimmer’s paradise. Not just in front of Nice but all along the coast are clean, shark free waters that are beautiful places to swim in the open. It’s long since spoiled me for any pool.
There are definite benefits from pool swimming but once you get used to not having anybody in your lane until Morocco, it’s hard to go back. It’s warm enough here that for about five months out of the year we swim without wetsuits. The coldest it gets is about 12°C in February. There are a few days where its too choppy or the swell is too big to swim but its very rare. The only drawback - jellyfish. There are several different species, none of which is deadly but the stings vary from a static electric shock to a painful whipsnap. The summer is when you encounter most of them. This past summer I was very lucky without getting bit once. Nancy, however, got snagged at least five times.
My body type makes me extremely buoyant in the Mediterranean which means that in most swimruns I swim a little slower on race day due to the fact that most of the swims have a lower salinity than the Med. Nancy and I are still toying with race day strategies. Training, I’m usually faster than her on our home turf but race day, she’s usually faster than me in the water. To compensate we train more with a tow line to get used to it for races and I’m experimenting with techniques and flotation to make me more buoyant.
Since we live in a city, we don’t get a lot of trail running in, in fact almost none so we always have to factor that in for our race times. But even though our training route is heavily populated, I still feel like we’re very fortunate to be able to run and swim in the open water just outside of our door. If we did want to get some trail running in, its not hard to get to. In fact, I often run home from where I work and that run includes about 10km of some easy forest running. A quick bus ride to any of the towns in the area can get you into some more technical and mountainous trail runs.
Heat plays a factor in living in the south of France. The spring, summer and early fall are all hot times of the year and since the long training sessions can be several hours long, we get up before the sun on the weekends to try and beat the heat. Even then, we still can’t avoid the midday temperatures. This summer a few training sessions were cut short because of minor heat stroke.
The summer also means tourists and packed beaches. I’m still learning to deal with the crowds which is another reason why we get up before the sun. I always like seeing the confused faces of drunken tourists in the pre-dawn as Nancy and I run past them on the Prom with swim paddles and buoys in hand. The best is when you get out of the water and they didn’t see where you went in. They just stand there as you run up from the sea with this ‘Where did they come from and where are they going?’ expression.
All things being said, this area is pretty ideal for swimrun training. Last September saw the first swimrun race in the area and I would imagine France is going to get a bunch more, especially since I seem to run in to more and more people from France at these races and the country has more than its fair share of ideal swimrun locations.
Prior to living in France, I lived in Los Angeles and even though swimruns didn’t exist back then, I did do a fair number of open water swims in southern California and started doing ultra-marathons in that area too.
I never trained in the ocean there. All my swim training was either surf related or done in a pool. Why? I was terrified of sharks. Every time I surfed I was sure I would get attacked. I used to visit the Pacific Coast Shark News website almost daily and read with terror the shark sightings, attacks and dead seal reports. Any open water competition I went in, I was sure was going to end with me being t-boned by a Great White. I pictured them rocketing from the ocean depths and smashing right into my belly, jaws first. Swimming in southern California is even more spooky because the water is generally very murky. Most days you can only see up to your elbow, leaving your imagination to run away with what’s below you.
Eventually I did see a shark one day while on my stand up paddle board and it was not as terrifying as I thought it would be. It was a clear morning and one of those rare days where you can see a few feet down in the water. I could see a large object swimming slowly up to my board. Since it was moving slowly I wasn’t freaked out. I don’t know what type of shark it was but it was definitely a shark which was probably about four or five feet long. It swam up close to my board, seemed disinterested and then took off like a shot.
Training for ultra-marathons in Los Angeles, I learned how to run in the heat and run on hills. With the exception of February, almost every day in Los Angeles has the potential to be a 30°C plus day. I used to train up and along Mulholland Drive because it is a very hilly road with little traffic.
The great thing about living in southern California is that if you are into endurance sports there is no shortage of events in the area. The bad part about living in southern California is that you might have to live in Los Angeles. However, once you’re outside of Los Angeles, California is a gorgeous part of the world. I still think the Big Sur Marathon is one of the most beautiful marathons I’ve ever run. The Catalina 50 miler was also a great first ultra-marathon to do. Incredibly scenic and very well organised without being too popular.
Then there is my homeland of Canada. That’s where I learned how to run with discomfort. As stated in the first blog, I grew up on a farm just north of Toronto and started long distance running in the late 1970’s. The area means that you can have hot summer runs in the 30°C range and cold winter runs in the minus 20’s. In fact, there are very few days out of the year that the weather is ideal for running. I love running so much though, that I saw the weather as a challenge. I used to get up at around 5:30 to run a 10km before getting the 30km bus ride to school. In the winter, running seemed stupid. Back then, running was just starting to become a popular past time activity so when people saw me running on the country roads, it wasn’t always clear what I was up to. It was not uncommon for people to pull over and ask me if I was okay when they saw me running at that hour in the winter. People literally thought I was running away from home.
The winter also provided challenges to what you’d wear while running. This was before gore-tex and fabrics that could ‘wick away’ sweat. Usually I’d wear a pair of cotton longjohns as a base. On top I’d then wear a hooded sweat shirt and then one of those adidas track tops and top it all off with a down vest. On the bottom I’d wear track pant bottoms on top of the longjohns and if it was really cold or snowing, another pair of nylon pants so I sounded like a flag blowing in the wind when running. On top I wore a Balaclava that could pull over and cover my entire face if cold enough and ski gloves on my hands. For extra warmth I’d wear these giant 1970’s radio headphones that would intermittently get one radio station.
Running in a cold Canadian winter morning before the sun comes up and hearing nothing but your running shoes creaking under hard packed snow is still my favourite type of run. Canada also has some of my all time favourite places to run. If you’re ever in Toronto, run along the belt line trail. This is an inner city trail built along a failed light rail transit system. It winds through the city for about 10km and manages to make you feel like you’re in the middle of the country instead of a city of close to 3 million. Another favourite run is the Ottawa canal. The Ottawa Canal winds through the city for about 10km in my nation’s capital. There is a running path that follows the entire course of the canal. That running path alone, made going to university in Ottawa worth it. In the winter, the canal turns into the world’s largest skating rink. At night, nobody is on it and its the perfect place for a silent evening run.
If I was independently wealthy and could organise my life around training, here’s what I would do. I would still live here in Nice and train during the winter. It’s still warm here but during the winter, nobody is in the sea and even on sunny days, the Prom is still pretty vacant in the early mornings. Plus that stretch of road from Nice to Monaco has very little traffic in winter and amazing views. Summers, Nancy and I would rent a cottage in the middle of nowhere somewhere in Scandinavia and spend the days training. Who knows? Maybe that will be our retirement plan.
I grew up in a small town north of Toronto. I started running on country roads and fell in love with long distance running when I was twelve years old. I loved (and still do) getting up just before the sun and going for a run in the country. Running in Canada you get everything from 30+°C heat in the summer and minus 20°C cold in the winter. I started challenging myself when I was 13 and would just run for hours on the weekends not really knowing the distances or pace but just seeing if I could run to the next town and back and then set a new challenge. I first heard about an Ironman when I read an article about it in Sports Illustrated when I was about 13 years old. At the time, an Ironman was a disorganized, crazy endurance challenge and I set my sights on doing one. Finally did my first Ironman more than ten years later in Canada out in British Columbia after completing several marathons and several smaller triathlons. I finished. I still remembered how exhausting that first one was. Although I’m not fast, I love the endurance aspect of sports. This led me to the world of ulra-marathons where I’ve done a 50 mile, 100KM and 100 mile race. A few years ago, my wife told me about these swimrun races in Scandanavia. Easily the toughest endurance event I’ve done because you need to not only have endurance but you have to be quick. Then there’s the challenge of nature, the cold and trails. The best thing about it is being a team with my wife and sharing the highs and the lows that a demanding endurance sport brings. One moment you’re telling each other to fuck off and the next you’re kissing at the finish line.something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
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