In June of 2015 my employer offered to send me to the World Congress of Dermatology in Vancouver, the opportunity of a lifetime for this Mohs histotechnologist and single parent of 4 boys. I had to work Friday morning and be back at work the following Monday, with my colleagues arriving Wednesday. 10 days total, 5 solo and 5 with co-workers. Time to maximize opportunities!


I left work Friday at noon with an audiobook, coffee and a 12 hour drive. I arrived around midnight, jacked up on caffeine and knowing that I had to be on-site for the Spartan Sprint to volunteer at 6am before racing with my seasons pass.


I spent most of the morning shouting out instructions on how to apply tattoo race numbers (this apparently stops being intuitive after elementary school). By the time I ran, it was insanely hot for a mountaintop (Vancouver was in a heat wave and had one of its longest periods without precipitation while I was there).The course was full of rocky terrain and typical Spartan elements: mud crawls, rope climbs and burpees galore. After my race I helped to disassemble the staging area and eventually drove out to UBC, exhausted.


The next morning I rose early for a MEC 10k race in Richmond. I was there for the view, and it delivered. The sea level trail was stunning and appreciated after running atop a mountain the day prior. I used the ocean to ice bath my calves after stretching on the beach, changed and came across the massive Steveston farmer’s market a few blocks away. I discovered the famous Pajo’s Fish and Chips on the wharf, bought some organic fruit and perused almost every shop!


Monday morning came quickly. I grabbed a coffee, hopped on a bus from UBC and made it to the convention. I went to sessions on Botox applications, dermatopathology, a Brazilian charitable kids derm camp, allergens and so much more. Between lectures were trips to the exhibit hall: samples, new lasers and demos! My brain was happy. I walked daily to the edge of downtown before hopping on my bus, once accidentally meandering onto the set of the X-Files! As a former X-Phile, this was exciting! I ran nightly from Jericho Beach, and spent my sunsets reading a book in the sand. My body and soul were happy too!


Once my co-workers arrived I moved to a hotel downtown and running was now done in the morning before lectures. A Vancouver visit isn’t complete without running the Stanley Park seawall. I got a little lost, but it allowed the discovery of the interior trails where wild raspberries provided an in-run nutrition boost!


A coworker and I opted for a kayak rental Saturday and paddled False Creek. What luck! It was Boat for Hope day, for the children’s charity Variety! Boatloads of special needs pirate children and their adult buccaneers were armed with water guns that would pass us and take aim. Their giggles melted our hearts! As we perused Granville Island afterwards, we were further surprised by the Naked Bike Ride! Aiming to bring notice to human-powered transportation, safe street and positive body image movements, hundreds of cyclists rode past as we took notice of their bare backsides.


Sunday morning came quickly. My kayaking co-worker and I nervously made our way to Ambleside Park in North Vancouver. Two days prior we had been on a catamaran cruise sipping champagne and looking up at the mountain we were about to conquer with 4100 feet of constant elevation gain. A fellow runner started chatting with us and gasped when we said we’d never done the Grind before. Pre-race jitters increased ten-fold, and rightly so: this run was hard. “16km of bragging rights and a challenge guaranteed to leave you breathless”, the website had honestly proclaimed. Starting on the beach, we wound up along the Capilano Pacific Trail for 10k to the base of the Grouse Grind, up the almost 3000 steps of nature’s stairmaster, then another 3k up to Grouse Mountain’s peak and finish line. The heat was intense, and muscle cramps started after I emerged from the Grind and continued the ascent to the peak. The stunning panoramas and cause (this was a breast cancer research fundraiser for the BC Cancer Foundation) carried me forward. Once finished, I took the gondola down, raced to my hotel for a quick shower and checked out. Then the real craziness began! With another 12 hour drive ahead, I used my tennis ball to work my quads and hamstrings as I drove. It was uncomfortable, but I made it. The real lesson of those 10 days: there is always something to explore and discover. Just look, go out and do it.

By Jaime Gonek