VValentine’s Day is coming soon, and we’re celebrating some of Canada’s most enthusiastic running couples. Some prefer the roads and some are all about the trails, but their devotion to their sport, and to each other, are never in question
Jacob and Amy Puzey Invermere, B.C.
Jacob (39) and Amy Puzey (née Golumbia, 39) of Invermere, B.C., met while competing at the TransRockies Run in Colorado in 2015. They’ve been together for six years, and have a blended family of six children, ranging in age from three to 17. Between them, they run three businesses: the very popular 5 Peaks trail race series; Jacob’s coaching company Peak Run Performance; and Amy’s company, Access Nutrients, which in 2019 launched a new enzyme that helps to address micronutrient deficiency in the developing world, as well as in North America, especially among athletes. Both are accomplished runners with podium finishes on the road and/or trail, and both train regularly. How do they fit everything in?
“Both of us race much less than when we first met,” says Jacob, who has won the 50k ultra at the Scotiabank Calgary Marathon four times (he finished third in 2021). “We’re responsible for 25 races a year for other people, and we have our kids. My sponsors require me to race, and I enjoy it, but there are only maybe two goal races a year and some buildup races.”
Amy, who was raised in Canmore, Alta., and has been racing since she was a teenager (she has twice competed for Canada at the World Mountain Running Championships) looks forward to taking on one or two races a year as their children get older. She will turn 40 in 2022, and her goal is to break 2:50 in the marathon (her PB is 3:00:51) – once she is able to consistently get enough sleep. (She points out that “until about a year ago, I was pregnant or breastfeeding for most of the last six years.”)
“I need a good year of training, but I’ll probably do it in three months,” Amy says, to which Jacob replies, “She’ll probably do it in three weeks!” She adds that she ran a 100k last summer without much training, as a fundraiser for Jacob’s younger brother, Tommy Rivers Puzey, of Flagstaff, Ariz. (In 2020, he battled a rare and aggressive form of lung cancer into a precarious remission, and he completed the New York City Marathon on Nov. 7.) She describes that 100k as “hard, but not impossible.”
Jacob says his philosophy on training has changed in recent years: “If I’m putting in the miles and I’m healthy, I can generally perform as well as I need to on race day,” he says, as opposed to feeling pressure to fit in specific workouts and hit weekly mileage goals. “I don’t usually freak out about the data. Our lives have revolved around trying to help other people run, and we often don’t get our own runs in. I have to remind myself not to overbook, so there’s that window during the day.”
In addition to squeezing in runs during the day, the couple take turns running their dog, and on weekends they often combine their runs with socializing with other families. They sometimes turn a business meeting or the need to talk about something family-related into a run. As Jacob says, “Why sit at a table when we could be out in the sunshine, killing two birds with one stone?”
Gary Robbins and Linda Barton Chilliwack, B.C.
With his dramatic dnf at the Barkley Marathons in 2017 and the finish-line hugs he dispenses at the races he directs through Coast Mountain Trail Running, Gary Robbins, 45, is a bona-fide Canadian running celebrity. But if you look at his wife, Linda Barton’s (43) Ultrasignup.com page, her list of ultrarunning finishes is actually far more prolific. It dates back to her late 20s, when she seems to have raced an ultra every month of the year.
The couple met at the Orcas Island 50k in Washington state in 2009 (in which Robbins finished second), but they were both dating other people at the time. Two years later, he travelled to Hawaii for the hurt 100, despite being too injured to race, and inserted himself into Barton’s crew. And their relationship began.
As it commonly does for the wife and mom, even in the most equal of marriages, Barton’s racing has taken a back seat to
parenting, homemaking and part-time work. (They have a son, Reed, who is now six and in school fulltime; Barton is a librarian with the New Westminster Public Library). But she says that, having raced so much in the past, her interests now tend more toward creating adventures with friends. “We need one person to be the grownup at all times,” she says, adding, “We go back and forth – each person gets a chance to train and race, while the other picks up the slack at home. But we’re both always running for fitness and lifestyle.” In 2021, Robbins ran the Cascade Crest 100-miler in Easton, Wash., in August, while Barton raced the Squamish 50-mile (in drenching rain) in October.
Robbins, too, finds the juggling act challenging at times: “It’s hard to find a balance between work and training and family,” he says. “My optimal window [for training and racing] often ends up being the winter-into-spring season. With covid, I was able to extend that into summer a bit this year, but historically I try to have my big race goals done by summer, when I’m busy with our fall events. Then Linda can target a fall race.”
The couple lived in North Vancouver for 10 years, but purchased a home in Chilliwack in 2019, and found that the quieter pace of life there suits them. “It’s been much more rewarding for our family than we anticipated,” Gary says. “Life in the city is busy, and for me, after the Barkley in 2017, everything took on a life of its own, and I couldn’t go for a run without having everyone and their dog wanting some of my time. I’m not a social runner; I cherish my time alone on the trail.”
At the time of publication, Linda had not made any firm race plans for 2022; Gary had just filled out an application for the Hardrock 100 lottery. “It’s a long shot,” he says, adding that for years he could not apply, since he didn’t have a qualifying race, though he has paced friends in the race three times, loves the course, and would love to race if his number comes up.
The big question on readers’ minds is, will he go back to the Barkley? “I don’t know. That’s my honest answer today,” Robbins says. “I go back and forth, hour to hour. Last year, knowing I wasn’t going, I had my most fun winter season since I first went there, teaching my son to ski. I missed the opportunity to do the winter activities that make B.C. so special.”
“We need one person to be the grownup at all times.
We go back and forth – each person gets a chance to train and race, while the other picks up the slack at home”
Adriana Espinosa and Valeria Leon Toronto
Adriana Espinosa, 39, and Valeria Leon, 38, were raised in Aguascalientes, Mexico, and married in Mexico City in 2013. They had moved there in 2010 to work at the Canadian embassy, their dream being to move to Canada, which they had visited and fallen in love with. The two women did everything they could to speed the process, including studying French, but working at the embassy didn’t actually help. It took 10 years – but ultimately, their dream came true, and they arrived in Toronto in 2017. Espinosa entered Ryerson University’s master’s program in immigration and settlement studies; she is now a caseworker with Rainbow Railroad, the global not-for-profit that assists members of the lgbtqi+ community who are f leeing violence and persecution in their home countries. Leon eventually found a job with the transit agency Metrolinx, where she is still employed as a commercial management specialist. Leon’s colleague at Metrolinx, Antoine Belaieff, was president of the local Frontrunners chapter (an international club for lgbtqi+ runners), and kept urging her to come out to a run. “We weren’t runners,” says Leon. “I thought running was boring. I am very social, and had always been more interested in team sports. But Antoine was so persistent – he said ‘we need more women in the club, bring your wife.’”
Finally, one April, they went, just to appease him. “It was cold, and
we wore our puffy jackets,” says Leon. “Of course, we had to take them off.”
“We were so sore the next day, after running five kilometres,” says Espinosa. But the two kept showing up to the group runs, and slowly became fitter. Soon, they plan to train for their first marathon. Espinosa gets emotional when she recalls watching the Mexico City marathon from the sidelines, and the messages of inspiration on hand-lettered signs: “Running is like life,” she says. “Sometimes you are really tired, but you work through it. Sometimes you feel like you can’t do it any more, but you keep going. It taught me that I can do whatever I put my mind to.”
Leon says that the two enjoyed the social connections they were making, as well as the health benefits. “We got so excited in 2019 that we started doing all the races,” she says. That year, they ran the Pride and Remembrance Run, the Bay Street Rat Race, the 15-km Midsummer Night’s Run, the 10k Run Crew Relay in Toronto’s Corktown Common and the Rock ’n’ Roll Half Marathon in Montreal. In 2020, they planned to train for their first marathon, back home in Mexico City, but it was cancelled due to the pandemic, and the club could no longer meet for runs. The two women continued to run together, and made do with virtual races, but they missed the excitement and spirit of running events. They were understandably thrilled when pandemic restrictions were eased and they could join their friends again. In October 2021, they ran the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in-person 10k.
Their dream is still to run a marathon, and they would love to do it in Mexico. “It will be so meaningful for me,” says Espinosa. “I never considered myself a sports person, but this is giving me the courage to do other exercises, and to get stronger.” The two hope to become Canadian citizens in 2022.
“Running is like life. Sometimes you are really tired, but you work through it”