One week after the September 17 announcement that former Alberta premier and current provincial NDP leader Rachel Notley would run for premier again in 2023, I met up with a small group of runners at the Sandman Hotel in Lethbridge, where Notley was staying. It was 7 a.m. and, tired from a town hall meeting and 18K training run the previous day, she emerged into the foyer with a bright smile.
The run was organized by Dr. Carol Williams, professor of women’s and gender studies at the University of Lethbridge and one of Notley’s biggest fans. Along for the run was Marc Hayward, one of the Lost Soul Ultra’s race directors, and Notley’s event manager. Our ambition was nothing more than to enjoy Notley’s company and show off Lethbridge’s extensive trail system, which features steep-sided valleys referred to as coulees, alongside the Oldman River.
Notley is a serious runner. She’s currently training for the virtual edition of the iconic Melissa’s Half Marathon in Banff, named for Melissa Borden Viallon, whose family has owned the popular Banff restaurant, Melissa’s Missteak, for six decades. The race was the restaurant’s idea to attract new visitors to Banff during the shoulder season back in 1979, and has grown from 50 to 5,000 participants.
Apart from the fact that this run came with an official photographer, it was like being out for a run with any new running partner. Notley was personable, chatty and down-to-earth. In true Lethbridge style, we ran into the warm morning wind, joking that if you were going to run in Lethbridge you would either have to tackle the wind or eat hills. On this particular morning we had the privilege of tackling both. I was so excited to be running with a former Alberta premier that I forgot to start my watch.
In chatting about the previous day’s town hall meeting, Notley noted a question about school safety during COVID-19 that was brought to the microphone by a 10-year-old girl whom Notley deemed a future politician. As we finished our trek up the long, wooden staircase approaching the infamous High Level bridge (the longest and highest trestle bridge in the world), Notley remarked that she had not done stairs in quite a while. But we were just warming her up.
She asked me how much mileage I put on my legs weekly. I told her that my current goal was 30 maintenance miles a week. I returned the question and she responded with 40K a week. She had reached the peak of her training with the previous day’s 18-kilometre run. We joked that we were helping to shake out her legs from the previous day’s battering, but it must have seemed like we were trying to make her legs shaky.
— Rachel Notley (@RachelNotley) September 25, 2020
As we ascended the switchbacks drawing us closer to the bridge, we stopped for another quick photo-op and continued on the singletrack trail until we reached our descent. We encouraged Notley with a few downhill trail running tips as she remarked how much harder it was to stride downhill on a steep descent. At the bottom of the hill, we stopped for another photo-op.
Seeing how serious she was about running, we were secretly trying to convince Notley to gear up for next year’s Lost Soul Ultra event. We talked about run streaks and why ultramarathoners push such crazy distances.
Hayward commented that a lot of ultrarunners are former addicts. It makes sense – replace an unhealthy addiction with a healthier alternative. Notley agreed, sharing her personal journey of quitting smoking and discovering running. She also talked about wanting to help those battling drug addictions, noting the staggering number of addiction-related deaths in our province.
We knew Notley had a busy morning ahead of her, so we opted to skip the last section of trail alongside the river and save the best for last: Haybale Hill, the Lost Soul Ultra’s punishing final hill. As we approached it, we shared the landmark’s Indigenous history and how it got its name. Notley tackled it with ease, and as we headed back toward her hotel, we watched the sun rise over the coulees and the early morning commuters emerge on the Whoop Up bridge to the west.
As we wrapped up our run with sweaty selfies, Notley joked about how sore she would be the next day, and Dr. Carol reminded her to foam roll. We’d like to think we might have persuaded her to try an ultra distance. Regardless of politics, for this morning we were all just runners.