Brian’s Blog

Brian’s New Year’s Annual Review


If 2015 was all about embracing the lessons learned through hardship and loss, 2016 has been a year of putting those lessons into action and moving forward.  While this past year has had it’s own share of ups and downs, I can’t help but feel like I am approaching the ups with greater presence and gratitude, and the downs with perspective and humility.  As I proceed with my annual tradition of looking back over the year, which serves as a great method of self-reflection, I hope it also provides a little inspiration for those reading to explore their greatest potential.  Life continues to throw some curve balls, but every obstacle is an opportunity to learn and grow. 

The new year was welcomed with feelings of both anticipation and fear of how I would handle one of the most challenging goals I had set to date, the Winter version of the Beast of Burden 100mile run.  I had successfully run the summer version of the event in 2014 and also had a great experience completing the Burning River 100 in 2015, but the sub-zero temperatures I would face kept me very humble. 

As chance would have it, I managed to convince a girl that I had matched with on Tinder (one of my strategies for getting back into the dating game) to come along to the race and be my support crew.  Only later would I find out that the tipping point for her to decide to even meet me in the first place was when she read my 2015 Year in review which I had published online. 

We had been messaging back and forth for a month or two and the prospect of being my support crew for the race forced her hand and led to us finally meeting for the first time at a Starbucks in mid-January.  A couple days later after her employer approved the time off (much to her surprise), she confirmed that she would join me at Beast of Burden.  We met up once or twice more before the race to discuss my strategy and her duties as well as any other logistics or concerns either one of us had thought of.  I was primarily focused on the race, since it would require an incredible amount of mental focus and physical endurance, but the potential of a future romance was definitely on the backburner in my mind.  Doing a 100mile race in the middle of winter for our first real date would either ensure that we were a match made in heaven or that we’d never see each other ever again. 

Early into the weekend, I could tell that things were leaning more towards the match-made-in-heaven end of the spectrum of possible outcomes.  To check out a more in depth account of how the whole weekend/race went, follow the link below:

Beast of Burden Video

The week after Beast of Burden (where I ran a personal best for 100miles of 17hours, 39minutes, and came in 2nd place overall), Christie and I made our relationship official.  As a 30 year old, I found that romance moves a lot faster than it did when I was younger.  It wasn’t long before I was spending every spare moment with Christie.  It is hard to imagine that it has been less that a year that we have been together and we have already experienced so much together.  We both did the final edition of the Dirty Girls 12hour Trail Run in Mansfield, ON in July.  Where Christie and I both place first in our age groups.

A little more than a month after getting a new apartment and moving in together, we both did the 25k Vulture Bait Run at Fanshawe Lake in London, which is where we got engaged.  To see the videos we made of both of those events, follow the links below:

Dirty Girls Video

Vulture Bait Engagement Video

Obviously, there was a lot that happened between Beast of Burden and becoming engaged, but I won’t fill up this reflection with all the long walks, honest conversations, and all the other wonderful moments we shared.  Christie is, by far, the most exciting mention in this entire write-up, but there are a few other things that are also worth sharing to round out the year.  Mainly, my trip to Africa, as well as some mysterious health issues I have faced which remain unsolved. 

I had signed up to run the Comrades Marathon back in September 2015, with only a 50/50 chance that I would actually follow through with the trip.  By March, as the race came closer and my financial situation was looking like it might be able to weather the burden, I decided to book my flights.  I planned to spend 5 weeks in South Africa followed by a week in Victoria Falls before returning home. 

It wasn’t premeditated, but within the first few days of arriving in Durban, South Africa, I established a daily vlog of my travels.  All the videos can be accessed on my YouTube channel linked here: 

Africa Vlog Link

Participating in the Comrades Marathon was easily one of the highlights of the trip, although it was one of the most difficult things I have ever done.  I had some severe digestive issues, which prevented me from competing to my fullest potential, but I finished nonetheless.  I recommend checking out my vlog post from that day (Comrades Marathon).  I could not do it justice to explain the meaning of Comrades in just a few words, so if you’re curious about it, please ask me and I’ll be happy to share about it in more detail.  It is one of those races that calls people back to complete it again and again, somewhat similar to Around the Bay in Hamilton, only it is a much tougher, and much larger field (approximately 20,000 athletes do the 89km run each year).  Both before and after the race, I stayed with my new friend, Thrivin, whom I met through my friends Kelly and Marcel Boer.  I felt so welcomed in his home just outside Durban, and made quick friends with his dad Steve, as well.  It was great to form such great connections and felt like I was at home when I was in such a foreign land.  They taught me a lot, and I look forward to seeing them in 2017 when I return to run Comrades again.

Other highlights of my trip include hiking at Table Mountain and Lion’s Head in Cape Town, exploring Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, renting a car with three other strangers for a week long road trip, going on the world’s fastest zip line, seeing wild animals in Kruger National Reserve, and hiking through the Blyde River Canyon. 

I followed through with my plan to run the Victoria Falls Marathon and spend a few days on either side of the border during the last week of my trip.  Zambia and Zimbabwe are very unique and opened my eyes to a lot of different issues.  For more on that, check out the Vlog

The last couple of days in Africa were spent managing a severe fever, which in hindsight, was part of the larger health issues that I mentioned earlier.  The first episode of fevers, which I experienced, was in early April.  Initially, I thought it was just a flu-like illness that followed a cold run at Around the Bay (my 8th finish at the oldest road race in North America).  After several days of high fever and a sore throat, it cleared up and didn’t think much of it.  Then, in mid-May, about a week or so after I felt great running the Toronto Marathon (as a 3:15 min pace bunny), the fevers hit again.  I was a lot quicker to get to see a doctor due to the close proximity to my departure to Africa.  They could not find anything wrong with me, but gave me a 7-day course of antibiotics as a prophylactic measure.  I was feeling fantastic again before Comrades.  My diet in Africa was not ideal for supporting my immune system, but I did remain vegetarian for the most part.  I thought the fevers were behind me until the day after Victoria Falls Marathon when they hit stronger than ever.  I could feel my body struggling during the race but I attributed that more to my lack of training after Comrades and poor eating while traveling, but it was really the unknown condition I was experiencing that caused the distress. 

I was feeling better by the time I arrived back in Canada and just a couple weeks later, felt stronger than ever for the Dirty Girls race with Christie.  Shortly after recovering from the 74km I ran, I started feeling some soreness in my right knee.  I took it easy, thinking that I just did something while running, but when it spontaneously jumped over to the other knee one day, it made me think that something else was going on. 

In August, my knees would be swollen one day, and fine the next.  It would move from one side to the other, and sometimes affect both knees at the same time.  Needless to say, there wasn’t much running going on until I figured this out (I did manage to run the annual 5Beer/5K race, put on by Bruce and the Runner’s Choice folks and came in 2nd place during a few days where the swelling wasn’t as bad).  I also had another round of fevers and saw specialists to try and get to the bottom of what was going on.  By the end of the month, I had had countless tests done, no answers, and then my ankles and toes were starting to swell up randomly. 

As September came, I was really excited to start the 2-year Massage Therapy program at D’Arcy Lane Institute in London, something that I had wanted to do for several years.  I was also really nervous that my health issues would affect my ability to do well in school.  Sure enough, I had the 5th round of high fevers over the Labour Day weekend.  I couldn’t contact any of my doctors because of the holiday, so I went into Urgent Care at St. Joseph’s Hospital for more testing, with no atypical results.  I was feeling fine again by the start of school. 

I have not had any severe fevers since starting school, but I’ve had a couple more mild cycles.  My knees, ankles, and toes have continued to take turns immobilizing me, with the exception of a few days here and there.  Due to the intermittent swelling in my right knee, I had developed a Baker’s Cyst (twice), which then ruptured (twice), spilling thick synovial fluid into the muscle compartments of my right leg.  The feeling was similar to what I have experienced in the day or two after a 100mile race, only it was isolated to my right leg, and it took about 10 days to subside each time, rather than the 1-3 days after running.  To say that this was a frustrating experience is an understatement.  I have seen a new rheumatologist and she believes that the swelling and the fevers are not related.  I have one more test to do before doctors go back to the drawing board for the fevers, which has to do with exposure to Lyme’s Disease.  From what I have learned about Lyme’s, I really hope that what I have is something else.  The mystery shall continue into the New Year, I’m sure. 

To round things up on a slightly more positive note, I have really been enjoying being back in school and learning about massage therapy.  I truly believe this is a major shift for me and that massage is something I am meant to do.  I just finished up the first round of exams and am getting excellent marks in all my classes. Perhaps one day, I will also teach massage therapy because I don’t think I’d ever be able to give up teaching as a career.  I have been getting lots of supply work with TVDSB (Thames Valley District School Board) and a few yoga classes each week at Moksha on the days that I am not at D’Arcy Lane, which has kept me in touch with my love of teaching. 

I am finishing off 2016 with a knowledge that there is even more to be grateful for than I even thought possible.  I can’t wait for what’s to come with several big goals still on the horizon.  Once I get back on track with running, I will be returning to Comrades in June, as well as completing my 6th 100mile race in August.  Christie and I will continue to support each other through school before getting married (probably not until 2019, giving us lots of time to plan something really special).  Those are the major things I can foresee, and as always, the gaps in between will be filled with all sorts of other things to be grateful for.  Even the not so good things like swollen knees or fevers, can be something to be grateful for in the humbling lessons they provide. 

In closing, I wish to express the deepest gratitude for taking the time out of your day to read my annual update.  It has been a source of great reflection for me to put it together which clarifies the direction I’m heading in, and I hope it can serve you in some way, whether it can be as inspiration for your own goals, or simply as a way of keeping in touch.  I hope to see most of you in person over the coming year, but for those that I don’t, know that you will not been forgotten.  Anyone that I’ve sent this to has made an impact on my life and has helped me in someway to get where I am standing now, and for that, I am sincerely thankful. 

 

May you all have peace and love in 2017,

 

Brian Groot

© Brian Groot 2016