Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Squamish 50K Race Report

It has been 3 months since I ran my first 50K in Winthrop, Washington. Since that time I have managed to maintain my mileage and get a few long runs in, taking advantage of early summer sunrises. Quite honestly, I've struggled to maintain the same focus and commitment that I experienced going into Sun Mountain in May. It would be hard to keep that intensity up though, and I don't think I had been so focused on my running in my entire life. With camping, BBQs, and vacations to distract me, I headed into the Squamish 50 rather fearful that I wasn't ready.  Although I had only run up to 5 hours and hiked up to 9 hours, I wasn't worried about my body.  I knew I could do the distance.  I was more concerned that my mind wasn't ready.  I hadn't visualized, hadn't memorized the course profile or map, hadn't even signed up for the shuttle bus to the race start until 3 days before the race. I was worried about the heat and humidity and the elevation profile.  But really these were only vague concerns because I was too busy with summer family distractions to spend much time dwelling on the race much at all. So the day before I left, I packed my race bag, drop bags and updated my playlists and off I went!

Sat, Aug 16 - Squamish 50M

I am reminded of the movie Traffic, when I think about the race weekend.  Varying perspectives converging on one course. Each of us experienced it in our own way.  A crew of us were going over for the race from the Comox Valley and we arrived just in time to see the first men come in from the 50 mile race. We waited and cheered for friend and coach, Sarah Seads, who crossed the finish line 10th woman overall!  After running 11 hours and 20 minutes, she announced she was NEVER doing another race over 50K, and that she hated Gary Robbins. It was a hard race for her (see her race report here) and after hearing her tell of the suffer fest that she had just endured, I started to get worried.  Really worried. Sarah has done numerous adventure races, and ultras so when she said that SQ50 was harder than the Canadian Death Race, I started to choke.

Her top words of advice:
- carry way more water than you think, it's hot and humid out there
- the race starts after Quest, second half runs harder than the first despite the deceiving race profile
- run slow, and when in doubt, run slower

Ok. After forcing down my pre-race meal I begged off to bed at 9:00, saying my prayers for divine intervention the next day.  Yikes.

Sun, Aug 17 - Squamist 50K

Race day started at 3:40 am. I stayed in an apparently brand new residence at Quest University. Although they had advertised a fully equipped kitchen, there was only a fridge and stove.  No pot or kettle to boil water, no microwave. When you can't make your pre-race breakfast as planned, you push down the panic before the race even starts.  I had brought my own oatmeal, so I hit McDonald's at 4:10 for coffee and hot water. By 4:20 I was parked at the race finish and boarded the 4:30 bus for Alice Lake, the race start. My friend Rob was also racing that day and we chatted briefly on the way. It was his first 50k. I shared Sarah's words of wisdom and wished him luck! By 4:50 we were at Alice Lake. It was pitch dark, but warm and humid.

Second hiccup of the day: the bathrooms were locked. Seriously? 1 hour before an ultra and no bathrooms? We found a pit toilet and I stood in the line for over 30 minutes, not moving a step. Finally with 5 minutes to go before the start, I ran up to listen to the pre-race briefing, started my GPS, said another prayer, and started across the line! 

Leg 1 - 8K
Fuel: 1 Solo Bar
My race plan was simple. Personal management: water every 10 min, salt every hour, food every 45 minutes.  Run easy easy easy until Quest.  It was about 15 minutes in when I remembered I hadn't taken my 1 salt pill before the race as usual.  I gulped it down and managed to maintain a super easy, no heavy breathing pace for this whole leg. The day dawned during this leg, the air was heavy and humid, but it was very comfortable.  I filled up water at Aid 1 and headed right out again feeling great.

Leg 2 - 18K (10K)
Fuel: 1 Lara Bar, 1 Fruit Bar
Shortly out of this aid station we headed up the largest climb of the day.  I kept it super easy, trekking a large part of it, but passing people doing so.  Climbing is not my strength and I wanted to reach the summit feeling great so that I could capitalize on my strength, downhill running.  I was pleasantly surprised at how relatively easy the climb was - steady, not too technical.  We reached the top and headed down before I knew it.  Sarah had been following me on MotionX-GPS and had been texting me cheering me on.  I didn't see these messages for a few hours, but hearing the ding in my pack was uplifting!  This was my favorite section of the race.  My legs were still fresh, I could bounce over roots and logs with ease.  The course was very technical overall, and this was the first section that really reminded me of what I train on at home.  Gnarly roots, wet rocks, logs, twisty paths.  Fun!  The air started to smell like ozone (with that extra molecule of oxygen) and I took long drags of the sweet smelling air to fuel me into Aid 3.  I had a rock in my shoe during the descent that I knew better than to ignore.  I stopped, shook out my shoe, but the darn thing was still there.  I foolishly ran on.  I also noted a slight niggle in my L achilles, but again, ignored it.  Another quick stop at Aid 2 to refill the water (2L completely gone) and I headed for Quest!

Leg 3 - 23 K (5K)
3:30 Elapsed Time
The 5K before Quest was pretty uninspiring if I recall right.  We emerged out of the forest a few times, reminding me that it had gotten sunny and really hot already.  I'd guess 95% of the course was in the shade and for that I was very grateful.  The rock in my shoe was causing me to blister under my L big toe and that worried me.  As soon as I ran up the steps to Aid 3 at Quest I headed for my drop bag, shook out my shoe AND sock, restocked my fuel, refilled my water, etc.  I tried some potatoes, but they didn't seem appetizing.  I was starting to feel pretty dry by this point and all I wanted was wet food.  Watermelon was the choice of the day and I started eating it at every aid station from then on.

Leg 4 - 32 K (9K)
This next section was my low point.  I had completed the only part of the race I really had thought about in advance.  The next section was a series of never ending switch backs and totally uninspiring terrain.  It seemed like we ran and trekked forever without ever really going anywhere.  I was having a lot of conversations on the trail at this point.  I seemed to be in a pack of 50/50 racers who were nursing wounds from the 50 miler the day before.  In their company it didn't seem right to mumble grumpy thoughts in my head so I tried to be grateful for the fact that my legs were "fresh." After cresting what seemed like the top of the next climb, a super cheery volunteer waved to me to turn L and head up AGAIN.  No way.  Up up and up again.  No recovery for these legs!  When we FINALLY started to head down, I actually let out a holler of sweet relief.  I am not a hooting and hollering type of runner and I think that may possibly have been the first time I have ever truly let out a "whooo hoooo!" on a trail. That gratitude was short lived however, when it became immediately clear that my legs were not going to get a break.  Large boulders, steep drops, roots, bridges.  I just couldn't relax and had to stay hyper vigilant.  It was at this point that my legs were starting to feel a little heavy and I feared catching a toe and biting it.  So I kept my step light and just kept chugging.  The achilles pain was gone, the blister under my toe was not an issue, but still by hour 4 I needed something to pick me up. So I pulled out my phone and started the tunes.  I planned to save them for the last hour, but it was looking like this race was going to be LONG.  The Kongos "Come With Me Now" carried my feet into Aid 4.

Around hour 4 I also started feeling the tell-tale signs of low salt.  The low grade nausea start the rumble around 45 min into the hour.  I debated whether to wait until hour 5 to take another pill, but ended up taking the 2 tabs early.  Almost immediate relief, and ability to eat.  Good choice.  Heading into Aid 4 all I wanted besides water was watermelon, potato chips and a sip of Coke.  Another full 2L fill-up and I was off again.

Leg 5 - 40 K (8K)
At this point I wanted to trek way more than I needed to.   I don't remember the exact time I headed out of Aid 4, but I was hot and I was actually bored.  The terrain we were running was very very similar to the terrain where I train at home.  I felt like I was running in Cumberland.  The good side was my legs knew exactly what to do.  My feet managed the technical terrain very well.  The bad side was that my mind was going crazy!  I needed something new to look at. I needed a great view.  I did notice that the few runners around me at that point had really started to smell.  I'm sure I did too.  Funny the things you notice. To distract me I played my running playlist over and over.  On to Imagine Dragons, On Top of the World.  Yes, I'm am on top of the world, I feel great.  Thanks for reminding me guys!  Hmm.  I was seriously sweating at this point and fighting nausea by the 30 min mark each hour.  I ended up taking 1 salt pill on the 30 min mark and 2 on the hour.  Much better.  I couldn't believe how much I was drinking and sweating. Those little pills are my sweet salvation.  I managed to run into Aid 5 looking better than I felt I'm sure.  Another stellar meal of watermelon, potato chips and coke.  More water. A volunteer asked me how I was feeling and I blurted, "Horrible."  She looked taken aback.  I'm sorry whoever you were, I was rather grumpy at that point.

For the record, the volunteers at the aid stations were absolutely incredible - grabbing my bladder to fill it for me, offering food, cheering us on. I did make it a point to thank several volunteers who were all along at various points on the course, making sure we took the right turns and offering a hearty cheer as we came by.  Note to self: volunteer at a race I am not racing in, soon.  These races cannot happen without volunteers.

Leg 6 - 50K (10K)
Time to just bear down and get this done. Although trekking was tempting and I did my fair share, running seemed easier on the mind and it was getting me to the finish sooner.  Coming out of the last aid station and fellow racer who had done the 50 miler the day before commented that he wished he didn't know that there was still another climb coming.  I was prepared for another climb, so when I reached the top and headed down I thought I was almost done and could coast into town!  Then with about 5K to go, the real climb began.  Let me say that the race profile tells you basically nothing about this race.  It tells you that you have a long climb in the first half, but doesn't even come close to representing how unrelenting and unforgiving the course really is.  The elevation is made up of constant up and downs.  With the last 4K leading you down super steep stairs, past the Smoke Bluffs (where I learned to climb many years ago - what memories!) and then a nice flat road stretch into the finish - the race was done!  Fellow ELM racers Murray and Paula were marshalling near the finish line (after completing 50 miles the day before) and their smiles were so great to see.  Marian met me at the finish with a smile and a hug (brave girl!).  It was so great to see all the ELM racers out cheering and having awesome races of their own.

This race was HARD.  It tested me to the max.  Mind body soul.  To the max.  But I felt that I completed it as best as I could have given my level of experience. The RD's did a super great job of organization - thanks for a great day guys!

I didn't keep track of exact fuel consumption timetables, but in addition to aid station super food (note sarcasm here), I managed to eat 1 Solo bar, 3 fruit bars, 1.5 Lara Bars (stayed in my cheeks like a chipmunk for about 30 min), 1.5 packages of Margarita Clif blocks and 1 gel.  Not the whole foods list that I would have liked, but getting anything into my tummy on that hot, humid day seemed to be a monumental undertaking.

I finished the race proclaiming that I didn't care if I ever ran another step again.  Now, 10 days after the fact, my quads have healed, the painful memories have faded, and I've had 2 rather pleasant joy runs.  I've decided that ultra running is like childbirth in that it tends to be a long arduous event completed with lots of sweat, determination, and euphoric pain. Both are planned for well in advance, the decision seriously questioned during, and the horror completely forgotten a short while afterward, enough to make you sign up for more. I thought a lot about childbirth during that run.  Maybe I will do another ultra again, but not for a while.  Who knows what my next post will be about?!

Distance: 50K
Elevation: 8500 ft up, 9000 ft down
Time: 8:20

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Race Report

WOW!  I did it!  I can proudly say that I am an ultra-marathon runner now.  Here is the play by play...forgive the details, but this is my official record of the whole event.

May 17, Saturday
Sarah and I woke early after a day of shopping Friday near Seattle and hit Starbucks before driving 3.5 hours across the North Cascade Highway to Winthrop.  We stopped several times to stretch our legs and arrived at the River Run Inn around noon.  Our cabin was ready so we checked in, dumped our stuff and headed into town for lunch and exploring.  We immediately fell in love with both our cabin at River Run, and the town of Winthrop. We were pleasantly surprised when we stumbled into Winthrop Mountain Sports, where I managed to buy 3 pairs of Merrell minimal running shoes and Marmot jacket for my son and I (combined).  What a jewel of a store, if not a bit chaotic.  Then it was back to the cabin for a 2 hour nap (what a treat!) and then into town for a pre-race Mexican meal that was just perfect.

The night before the race we spent almost an hour prepping our drop bags and getting all endless paraphernalia ready for race day.  It was to bed by 9:00 and I actually slept well that night!
All my stuff, ready to go...
May 19, Sunday - RACE DAY
Sunday morning dawned clear and bright, with a projected high of 19C.  We were up early, had breakfast, starting drinking water to pre-hydrate.  We arrived at the Chickadee Trail Head at about 8:45, giving us ample time to check in and get ready for a 10:00 start.  The 50 milers had started at 7:00, so there weren't that many people there when we arrived.  I must say that right off the bat this race had such a relaxed atmosphere.  I'm not sure if that is characteristic of all ultra-marathons, but the Rainshadow crew created a super mellow, well organized race environment!  Within 2 minutes we had our race numbers and shirts and the spent over an hour mentally prepping and in the potty line up.

Topic of conversation under our breath in the line up: HOKAS!  I have never seen so many marshmallow shoes in one place.  The Hoka One One trend has not really hit Canada yet, and I hope it never does.  I may be blasted by many on this one, but as a physio who heeds the research, I was floored at the number of people standing 3 inches taller on platforms who planned to run on the trails for the rest of the day.  I just don't get it, but I'm obviously in the opposite camp...nearer the guy wearing the Tarahumara sandals further up the line.  We ultra-runners are a diverse lot that's for sure.
Pre-race selfie
Kinda nervous!
The pre-race brief was a simple 2 minute affair telling us that this was not a road race (meaning do not litter) and with less than a 30 second warning before the start we were off!  I barely had time to start my GPS on my phone and stash it away before I was caught up running with the "cattle herd" for the first 30 minutes or so before we spread out more.  Sarah was gone from my sight after 5 seconds which didn't surprise me one bit.
Race start
The one thing that worried me before the race was my ability to stay clear mentally and stay true to my race plan.  To this point in training I had Sarah running with me keeping me on track in all ways - on course, with fueling, hydration, pace, etc.  This time I was ALL ALONE.  I had to stay clear and on plan.  I started a little fast for what I'd like but forced myself to pull back and let people pass me.  Even so it took almost a hour before I really felt like I had found my race pace.

The first 1/3 of the course was a slow gradual climb up to the first peak.  The first aid station was at 13.85K and I didn't leave anything there in a drop bag.  I carried all my race fuel, but I did replenish my water supply there.  It was pretty warm even at 10:00 when we started and my plan was to take 1 Succeed salt cap every hour.  By 1:30 into the race I realized I would need more as I was already feeling the hint of nausea that I now know precedes the need for salt.  Thank goodness for that horrific training experience because at least now I know what the warning signs are.  So I ended up taking 2 salt caps/hour which meant  much more water consumption too.

Out of the aid station there were a few more ups and downs before a loooonnnngggg stretch of downhill single track that felt so good!  The wild flowers were so spectacular along the course in this stretch, but I only pulled my phone out to take 2 pictures before the half way mark.

We reached the second aid station earlier than I expected which was a nice surprise.  It was supposed to be at 27K but came at 24K on my GPS at about 2:50 into the race.  My body had been feeling great up until this point, but my right big toe was feeling pressure.  I thought it was my sock, and took off my shoe to tug the toe of my sock down a bit.  I had my older shoes in the drop bag just in case, but thought that the sock adjustment would fix the situation.  I had only run about 100K on my new shoes and thought they were broken in enough, but I later realized they weren't.  I replenished my snack supply, filled my hydration pack, sucked back 2 orange wedges and continued on.  A few K out of the aid station I realized my toe wasn't better with the sock fix.  It wasn't bad then, but I questioned that maybe I should have changed shoes.

Then we started heading up the second peak which took us up absolutely gorgeous sunflower meadow covered hills to the Sun Mountain Lodge. The lupins were out too, which made for views that a phone pic just can't show properly.  I was carrying my phone at this point so I could keep track of mileage better, and take pictures with ease.  I had had it plugged into a small external battery pack for the first half of the race so that I didn't run out of power. 
This part of the course looped us twice around one section.  The first time around a team of three racer in matching jersey's passed me.  I thought to myself..."hmmm - you're not doing too badly if they are just passing you now!"  Later, when we looped by that same location again, I realized that they were on their second loop when I had seen them...oh well.  I never claimed I would win this thing.  At this point we were all both slowing a little on the climbs and getting bored, so there were some minimal conversations between racers.  I was sandwiched between a few 50 milers who looked pretty depleted.  Apparently I was only 1/2 way into a 50K race running an 80K pace.  I had left my pride at the door months it didn't bother me!

The last aid station came upon me MUCH earlier than I expected.  It was supposed to be at 40.5K and my GPS read 36K when I arrived.  I would much rather have it come earlier than later, that's for sure!  The guys at the aid station said that everyone was commenting about how their GPS's were off that day.  I was pretty dry by this time and for the first time ever I drank Coke during a run.  It was all that looked appealing to me at that point. I again filled up with water and pulled out my head phones preparing for the final 10K with another mountain to climb.  At this point my stomach did NOT want food.  During training the Oskri coconut bars had worked well, but let me tell you - in the heat when they have melted to oil and your mouth is dry - they don't go down very well.  Never again.  I still forced myself to eat but it wasn't easy!

Right out of the aid station we started to climb up above the lake.  As we got higher I gazed longingly at a boat ramp and pictured jumping off it onto the cool lake.  I thought we were almost at the top, and questioned a turn that the flag tape made me take.  I stood there puzzled for quite a while - not wanting to believe that I still had to go up.  And up.  And up.
Starting to climb the final peak.  Race central at the far end lake on the left of the picture.
Still going up.  Can you tell I'm tired here.  Taking a lot of pictures.
We came to this crazy ladder over a barbed wire fence.  My legs were a little wobbly but I made it over without falling on my face!
There was actually quite a bit of forest running but I didn't take any pictures of that. Boring.

My dreamy lake is getting farther and farther away.  Isn't the race supposed to be almost done?
Up and up and up we go.  I'm climbing hands on knees at this point.
At the top of the hill in the picture above we see this sign.  Thank goodness!
By now I've been running over 5 hours.  I took my first gel (loaded with caffeine) to get me back down to the finish.  As soon as I turned about and started heading down I knew my right big toe was in trouble.  A racer passed me on the way up and said something like, "it looks like it's going to be a long way down" as he watched me hobbled along.  My toe nail felt like it was jamming into the end of my shoe.  I was puzzled because I knew my toe nails were short.  I tried activating my foot intrinsic muscles to hold me arch up and keep my toe back but this only succeeded in macerating the area under the ball of my foot in the end.  I tried not caring about the pain and running through it.  That only worked for a short while.  I was mad because I usually excel on the downhills and can really let it go. But I was held back by my big toe.  Grrrr.
The final downhill
I finally made it back down to the lake and realized I was going to finished under 6:30.  I had thought realistically I would finish between 6:30 and 7:30 elasped time.  There was a little road section and I flew along that with my tunes and was at the finish line before I knew it in 6:16.  My first thought was - get these shoes off of me!  But first Sarah managed to snap this picture of me:
and then we took this selfie:
I think we look pretty good post-race!  Then I immediately headed to the car for my flip flops.

I am satisfied that I ran a close-to-perfect first race.  I ran the race in thirds, followed my fueling and hydration plan, didn't bonk or get hyponatremia (4L+ water and 10 salt tabs total) and was still smiling after the race.  My only regret is that my shoes were not broken in enough.  I now know that older, almost trashed shoes are better than shoes that are still too stiff for 50K.
The finish line - so low key!

Sarah ran a stellar race.  She was 2nd in her age class (by 22 sec) and 5th woman overall.  Despite all her "I'm not going to race it," "I'm not sure if I'm serious" chatter, I knew that she wouldn't be able to hold back and proved once again that she really can kick some ass out there.

The post race party was almost the best part of the day.  The band was just right, there was great pizza, it was sunny and warm, and everyone just hung out for hours after.  Probably because none of us could get up out of our lawn chairs! LOL  If this race if indicative of ultra-running culture, then I'm hooked.  If there was an awards ceremony, then we totally missed it.  If there were prizes and draw prizes (which I think there were) again we missed it.  No big announcements.  We didn't know who won until the next day.  People were out there simply for the love of running, to complete the race.  It was so grass roots, so laid back.  I LOVED IT! 

I have heard quite of bit of buzz about prize money and drug testing in some of the bigger races.  I hope that this sport stays small for as long as it can.  I really think I have found my niche.  I will never win any of these races, but I really don't care!  Even the people who finished after the 8 hour cut off still got huge cheers and had the RD there to greet them.  This race reminded me of what the tabloid track meets used to be like as a kid.  You got a pat on the back simply for coming out and that was enough.

I competed against myself and I won.

What's next?  I secretly signed up for the Squamish 50K a month ago when they opened up a few more spots.  So I guess I'm going to do that.  Why not?  I'll probably lose my big toe nail before then and then it won't hurt anymore :)

PS - Sarah and I stayed to volunteer for the clean up, then headed for more Mexican food and margaritas.  That night my legs did not want to be still, which meant for a very restless sleepless night.  The drive home was done tenderly, and I actually used the elevator on the ferry going down 1 floor (shhhh!) but today the only thing really hurting is my toe.  A bike ride and a hose down on my swollen feet felt soooo good after work as did time just spent sitting in the back yard with my family.  A few more days of rest and it's back at 'em!

Elevation gain: 1790m
Time: 6:16
Water: >4L
Salt: 10 S-caps
Fuel: 2.5 Fruitsource Bars, 2 Oskri coconut mango bars, 2 dates, 3 orange wedges, 4 oz Coke, 1 Gu gel, 1/2 cup mashed potatoes
Shoes: Mizuno Wave Ascent 8

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Taking Stock

Four days until race day.  At this point I have done almost all I can do to get ready for the race.  I've barely run this week and although in some ways it's killing me, in other ways it's been so nice to have time to spend with my family and catch up on yard work now that the weather is so amazing here in the valley.

This evening as I was puttering in my yard in 24 degree heat at 7:00 pm with energy to spare, I was intensely grateful that I chose an early season race.  We are not moving now as we had planned, but my choice of race date has worked out perfectly regardless.  I would much prefer to run in the rain and cooler weather than in the heat (although I don't plan to stop running this summer) and these past 2 weeks I've been able to enjoy time on the beach, camping, and a few sleep-in mornings that seem a total luxury.

So here is where I'm at.  I've purchased all the race fuel that I plan to use that won't be available at the aid stations.  I've had a hair cut.  I was getting seriously shaggy and now understand why the Anton-style hairdo's exist in ultrarunning - no one has the time or desire for grooming when running 80+K/week.  New shoes are broken in and ready to go. I've been getting to bed between 9 and 10:30 each night for 2 weeks which is a serious feat for me, especially when DH is away.  My weight is down - the lightest I've been since I was 26 and ran my first marathon.  The running playlist of almost complete short of Thunderstuck which for some reason has mysteriously disappeared from my computer.

Travel plans almost complete.  The North Cascades Highway just opened last Thurs and had 35' of snow to clear in some avalanche shoots, but it will save us some time getting there. My 2 girlfriends that were to come as our "crew" are unfortunately not coming now due to both work and health issues.  I am rather disappointed, but am supremely grateful that Sarah will be coming to keep me company and share the joy (and pain).  I'm sure she'll finish before me and hopefully will be able to get that elusive finish line picture (for free) that I am determined to one day get!

So that means I will be spending some time putting together drop bags tomorrow night for the aid stations and mentally preparing to boost myself through the race and through the checkpoints.  This race needs to happen this weekend.  I am getting too used to these taper weeks and need to MOVE MY BODY!  The best thing about racing any distance for the first time is that you are guaranteed a PR!

Wish us luck!

Sunday, 4 May 2014

You Know You're Ultramarathon Tapering When...

I am now 2 weeks into my 4 week taper until Sun Mountain on May 18.  I ran 20K today and it struck me as totally crazy that I now view 20K as an easy refreshing run, but it was!  I coached the first week of the ELM Off Road Half Marathon Clinic and then continued on my own for a bit to get some elevation into the run.  I finally ran Branch 21 without mishap - no cougar and no hyponatremia!  Three time's the charm.

It's kinda funny that people keep asking me..."it must feel great to be tapering now right?"  Actually, it's been really hard.  Mentally that is.  I'm surprised at how I feel.  I've been so focus on the training, then the climax of training.  Now that that's past and the race is still 2 weeks away I feel lost!  I feel like I don't have any focus.  It's surprisingly hard to stay on top of the mental game with such a long taper.  I'm trying to focus more on total health now - eating right, sleeping enough, drinking water, not getting sick.  I'm still running all my tempo and hill runs - keeping the intensity up, but decreasing the total mileage.  My legs still don't quite feel fresh, but they are recovering slowly from those back-to-back 40K long run weeks.

You Know You're Ultramarathon Tapering When

  • you're constantly hungry but know you can't eat all those things you really really want

  • you're having dreams that you show up to the race start in your underwear or without your running shoes

  • you're cranky from not running - seriously cranky

  • you're reading a lot of motivational quotes about ultramarathons and running on Pinterest

  • your friends and basically anyone you talk to runs in the opposite direction when you mention the word "ultra"

  • you keep flip-flopping between wishing the race was tomorrow and thinking it would be great to have a few more weeks of training

  • you keep looking for more songs for your ultra song playlist and try not to listen to it too much before the race so you don't get sick of it

  • you're convinced you've gained 10 pounds since you started tapering

  • you feel sluggish and like you could run forever...all during the same run

  • you've planned out three possible outfits for the race depending on weather conditions

  • you have random bursts of energy when you want to reorganize your closets or kitchen pantry (I just did my desk drawers)

Here's to taper time!

One of those aforementioned Pinterest quotes I like

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Another Race, ELM's Half Marathon Clinic and Random Thoughts for the Week

Today I switched gears and raced as a downhill skier in the annual Royal LePage Snow to Surf Race.  I was part of a two team Equilibrium Lifestyle Management (ELM) contingent who took home gold and bronze in the Master's Women's category and 2nd and 4th women's teams overall.  We had a SUPER fun day.  My part involved climbing up a part of the ski hill in my ski boots with poles, clipping into my skis and then tucking straight down to the bottom where I handed off to a snowshoer, who handed off to a nordic skier, runner, runner, mountain biker, kayaker, road cyclist, and then 2 canoeists.  The team required 10 women in all, making 20 ELM women on the course all cheering, sweating, smiling and having a grand old time.  It was great to relax and enjoy the day as this is my absolute favorite race day of the year.  Winning a chocolate medal and a spot on the podium at the end of the day didn't hurt.

Last Sunday was supposed to be the start of our 4 week taper.  Because we were racing in the STS today, I needed to get the 30K planned for today in on Friday.  My husband is away for a few weeks and the only way I could make that happen was to do 30K over a 24 hour period Thurs-Friday.  So that meant 10K hill repeats (again on a LONG hill in town breathing horrid exhaust fumes) Thurs night while a girlfriend watched my kids, 10K the next morning on the treadmill while my son's babysitter was the iPad, and then another 13K Friday afternoon while he was in his 2 hour gymnastics class.  That meant that over a 6 day period this week I ran 86 km, 10 hours 27 min and 4 sec, completed 1982m of elevation and burned 5886 calories.  That didn't feel like much a taper to me.

I'm tired.  With my husband away, I've had to make friends with my treadmill again, and have paid more than I'd like in babysitting fees.  My house is a mess, we haven't been eating that well, and I haven't been getting enough sleep.  But I am getting my work done, took the kids to church and camping for 1 night, the laundry is done, and I'm committed to cooking more and restocking the freezer this week.  Something has to give when you are running 10 hours per week as a single working parent.  I've chosen to clean up the day before my DH gets home, and to buy takeout occasionally for supper.  So be it.
Liza Howard and baby

On that note, there a two GREAT URP podcasts that I want to mention right now.  Two moms that have inspired me.  This interview with pathologist Pam Smith was one of the first URP podcasts I listened to.  She is a physician mom who talks about making it work in the real world of motherhood.  I like her style, her attitude.  Another interview that really interested me was just posted this week with Liza Howard.  She’s 42, she just ran a course record 15:07 at Umstead 100, and she did it all while stopping to pump on the floor of an outhouse.  She also did a 40 mile training run on a treadmill.  Wow. The co-hosts sat down with her to talk about running through-and post-pregnancy, adapting to training with kids, wilderness survival, beer, coaching, and running camps.  If you’ve got questions about normal women running after pregnancy, this is not the podcast for you. However it was interesting to see what can be done.  There were a few new moms on my Snow to Surf Team who are kicking ass as they get back into shape and this one is for you ladies!

Finally, the registration deadline for ELM Off Road 1/2 Marathon Clinic is less than a week away.  I will be coaching this awesome clinic (with the help of Sarah Seads and special guest instructors) starting a week from today.  If you are a runner who wants to get off the road with a good group of people with no fear of getting lost, with great coaching, resources and support...then this clinic is for you!  First time endurance runners will build gradually up to their goal distance with a focus on safety and injury prevention. Experienced distance runners will work on fine tuning form, training techniques, building strength and increasing stamina to reach their goal race times.

This is not just a running group! This is a weekly coached training program designed to improve your running performance, skills and knowledge. Learn effective running techniques to increase performance and decrease risk of injury. Learn trail running safety skills. Learn how to train smart, fuel smart and race smart. Get ready to work hard, have fun and improve your endurance this summer in the Valley's beautiful trails!

 Program includes:
14 Weekly on-trail coached training sessions.
Weekly e-coaching.
Files of all maps/routes travelled
Detailed 50+ page ELM Running Clinic training manual (e-version)
Detailed 14 week training program for the Half Marathon goal of your choice.
Free Entry into the ELM River Run Half Marathon Trail Race Challenge in August!
Inspiration, challenge, fun and big smiles :)
A part of our 2013 Off Road Half Marathon Crew!
Time: Sundays 8:00am
Dates: May 4-August 3th
ELM River Run Half Marathon Challenge: August 10th
Deadline: May 1st
Location of classes : Various trail routes in the Comox Valley area.
Instructors: Kim Senechal, Registered Physiotherapist, Sarah Seads Practicing Kinesiologist, and special guest instructors.
Prerequisites:  No speed requirement!
Novice: Ability to run:walk 8kms following a 10:1 schedule.
Intermediate: Ability to run 14km.
Experienced: Ability to run 21km.

Ever wonder if you can run far?  Let me tell you, you CAN.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Controlling the mind - how I'm staying sane!

This week it all came together.  My last long run before the big race.  It was
supposed to be next week, but the Snow to Surf is next week and I will be rather preoccupied
racing this awesome relay with the super ELM crew as a downhill skier no less.

Wildwood Forest Powerline Trail
By this time in my training plan I've spent a LOT of time out on the road and trails.  I've been spending an average of 6-7.5hrs/wk running over the past month.  All but my long Sunday runs have been alone.  Sometimes I don't want to listen to music so my legs can find their own rhythm, and at those times I listen to Eric Schranz (and Scotty) do a stellar job at interviewing the top ultrarunners in the US on a weekly basis.  I discovered them on iTunes, and have their podcasts set to download automatically to my phone for listening while I run.  I enjoy listening to the women and older runners the most as they are the most down to earth (no offense to the elite guys) and offer some great tips that have really helped me.  I also appreciate how the podcasts move along efficiently without a lot of self promotion like some other podcasts I've come across.  URP really focuses on running and the runners...the people, their stories, and what we can all learn from them.  Check them out!

I also am loving the current Top 100 Hits on my Jango Radio app.  It's not often that I like listening to the top hits of the season, but I have a mix of new music made up to use from 40-50K when my mind and legs need a boost that includes:
  • Happy (Pharrell Williams)
  • Radioactive
  • The Walker (Fitz & the Tantrums)
  • Wake Me Up (Avicii)
  • Pompeii (Bastille)
  • Summer (Calvin Harris)
  • Love Me Again (John Newman)
  • Counting Stars (One Republic)
  • Blurred Lines (Alan Thicke)
  • Everything at Once (Lenka)
  • Anything by Linkin Park, Meteora
  • Several ACDC classics
    Broke in my new Mizuno's pretty fast Thurs night in a torrential downpour!
    On the long Sunday runs, Sarah Seads, my training buddy/friend/coach keeps me sane.  It's amazing how she manages to stay clear headed the whole time chatting about everything under the sun, reminding me to pace properly, asking me if I've eaten, asking me how I feel, reminding me to not allow negative thoughts to control me..I often forget to ask her how she feels!  A good friend and one who is an experienced ultrarunner, is such an asset during those long runs into unknown territory. I'd highly recommend teaming up with someone who's been there before you if you ever decide to do something crazy like running an ultra!
Summit 1: Queso Grande

And I can't believe that I haven't mentioned that Sarah has decided to come and race at Sun Mountain with me!  So in addition to having my two besties along for the road trip and crewing for me, Sarah will be there running as well.  I have no illusions that we will be running together as we will need to each run our own race, but it will be so great to share my first time doing 50K with the person who has seen me through it ALL...and another bestie besides.

Summit 2: Nekkei Mountain
This week's run down: We ran for elevation and time rather the mileage this week.  Our goal was 5:45 and replicating the 3 peaks of elevation in the race as closely as possible doing the "Cumby Triple Crown" that normally only mountain bikers do.  We managed to blow past our elevation goal and ended up doing 1500m gain of elevation in 5:40.  I took salt pills every hour, drank Hammer Endurolytes, ate a LOT during the run, and drank 2.25L total which wasn't quite enough but adequate.  I wore my new shoes for the 1st 2 hours and then changed to the old ones to lower the risk of switching to new shoes at high volume.  I have seen a lot of amazing terrain over this training period but today only saw one cat scratched tree with no cat around :)
Summit 3: Upper Thirsty Beaver (or somewhere around there) I was quite tired to say the least. This series of 3 shots shows our progressing state of fatigue but we are still smiling!)
Total Distance: 38K elevation gain 1500m
Time: 5:40
Fuel: 1 Oskri bar, 1 Lara bar, 1 SunRype fruit bar, 1/2 cup mashed potatoes, 1 date, 1 Hammer Gel Blackberry Jet
Notes on Fuel: good on sugars and electrolytes this run!
Post run recovery: Epsom salt bath, compression socks, water, salty snacks, lots of walking and playing baseball with the kids!
Plans for next week: Clean up my diet during taper time, plan our road trip!

Gratitude: The human body's ability to adapt.  Amazing.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Lessons in Hyponatremia

This week I was back in the game for a 40K run.  We ended up doing 41K with 1110m (3640') of elevation gain.  That meant 5 hours and 20 minutes of moving my feet along an often very rocky, rugged trail and not always feeling so great.  We moved out to our summer campsite this weekend, where we spend almost every weekend of the summer camping at the best beach in the area (in my opinion).  I knew there would be sacrifices to be made for this running goal of mine, but going to bed at 9:00 pm on a Sat night and leaving my husband at the campfire by himself seemed just wrong.  However, I got myself to bed with the kids and woke at 6:00am with time for coffee and oatmeal in the camper, and a snap shot of the sunrise as I headed out to pick Sarah up for a 7:00 start at the trail head.

This run was LONG.  I thought I was ready.  I had my fuel, my water (2L), put on sunscreen as it was supposed to be a sunny warmer day.  We started slow and I was doing well until about 26K.  As we headed up our second long climb of the day along Branch 21 (where we saw the cougar 2 weeks ago), I went from feeling great to feeling totally crappy in a matter of minutes.  The sun was hot on our heads at that point, I was sweating, and I totally felt like I was going to be sick.  Really sick.  I didn't want to eat. My head was swimming and pounding, and I just felt like curling up on a ball.  I had been eating on schedule, drinking on schedule, but upon taking stock, determined that I must be suffering from hyponatremia.  Luckily, Sarah had some S-caps in her pack and I took 2 salt pills.  Slowed to a walk up most of the climb and just focused on 1 foot in front of the other.  It took a good 30-45 minutes before I was feeling better again.  Splashing water on my face from a creek helped, as did getting back into the cool of the forest plus eating more salty potatoes.

I haven't been using electrolytes to this point, as it's been so cool and I've managed to get salt, etc from my food.  But today I realized that it's heating up, I sweat a lot, and I need to start using something in my water as well as S-caps.  I can't believe I did another 12K after feeling so crappy, but it really is true that as long as you deal with whatever is making you feel horrid and just keep going, it gets better.  Having Sarah drag me along during that time sure helped too.  I'm glad I had that experience during a training run though and I sure hope I figure out how to keep it from happening again!

After the run we soaked our feet in the river which was sooooo cold!  I don't know which hurt more, my feet in the water or sitting down on that rock.  Today my run was followed by yet another son's birthday party, so there was no rest for this mom when I came home.  My experience running the longest duration I ever have was quickly forgotten in favor of bowling with ten 5-7 year olds, cake, candles and a pinata.  That is, until I sat down.

PS: My hamstring/sciatic nerve has recovered nicely.  I had treatments from 2 stellar therapists this week.  Sue Whitehouse at Cedar Therapeutic Massage worked wonders on me on Tues, and my coworker Kendra Mulligan at Ascent Physiotherapy tuned me up on Wed.  Between the 2 of them I feel amazingly better so THANK-YOU ladies!

Total Distance: 41.0K, elevation gain 1110m
Time: 5:20
Fuel: 1 Oskri bar, 1 Lara bar, 2 SunRype fruit bars, 1 cup potatoes, 1 Power Gel
Notes on Fuel: needed more electrolytes, but the sugar/carbs worked well
Post run recovery: Soaked feet in ice water, contrast shower, epsom salt bath, compression socks, water, salty snacks and iced my knees this evening as they got pretty sore
Plans for next week: Taking it easy for another 40K next Sunday
Gratitude: Sunshine and warmer weather and running buddy with salt pills in her pack!

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Lessons in Injury

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” C.S. Lewis

Forget about cougars, the monster tree almost got me this morning!
This whole ultramarathon training process has been going really well up until now.  Amazingly well actually.  I've had no pain, no injuries, and I've been following good advice for recovery.  That is, until last Tues, 5 days ago.  I said I wanted to gain experience as a physio in the personal pain department.  Well here it is.

I have an old hamstring/sciatic nerve injury from about 2 years ago that occasionally gives me some grief, usually in the first 2-4 weeks of increasing mileage during a periodization period.  Then it disappears with a few physio sessions and when my body adapts to the mileage, but I am left with a chronically stiffer R posterior chain (back, buttock, hamstring).

Last Tues I was running my first time after a significant increase in "time on feet" and mileage.  It was to be an 8K tempo run.  I do these runs in town right after work and was about 3 minutes into my run (not warmed up yet) when I turned to cross the street and caught my left toe on a man hole cover.  Yes, after running hours in gnarly trails, a man hole cover got me.  That sent me flying into a dramatic lunge with my right leg as I tried to avoid plastering my "oh-so-valuable physio hands" and of course, my iPhone, into the pavement.  I felt a searing pain in my R hamstring and buttock.  Nothing popped, but oh did it hurt.  I had had a bad day at work and really needed that run for emotional medicine.  I thought that I had just torn my hamstring and almost burst into tears.  But after walking a few steps, then jogging with very short stride and high cadence, the pain subsided a little and I ran on.  I finished the 8K with a good tempo pace. Maybe not so wise, but it forced to me work on cadence as I couldn't stretch out my R leg at all.

That meds (reminder that current research does not support NSAIDS as a good treatment for running injuries), no stretching as I felt that the muscle had been yanked enough and needed to be left alone.  Went to bed and woke with burning pain from butt to ankle. Darn.

The next day I was worried. Really worried.  I thought it was all over.  I checked for bruising on the back of my leg, but thankfully there was none! I did acupuncture on myself (yes, I'm certified), gently stretched.  After explaining my issues to my coach and saying that I was going to take the day off, she suggested light cycling that day.  I should have thought of that, as it's totally what we learned in our recent running course.  Relative rest.  I had 6K easy on the schedule, so I biked 10K or 30 minutes, which I thought equaled a 6K easy run.  I kept it light, spinning with no pain allowed, and it felt great! I got off that bike totally buoyant with renewed energy.

The next morning I felt ok, a little tight but ok.  I had a long hill climb on the schedule and woke at 5:00 am to do 1km hill repeats on a long hill in town by headlamp.  The benefit of darkness allowed me the luxury of going slow and not freaking out about how long the hill was.  My mantra was "short stride, high cadence, no pain."  And it worked!

I am proud to say I followed the "Quantification of Stress" formula from The Running Clinic:
1) Apply stress not greater than 2-3/10 pain
2) Pain must return to baseline 30-60 min post-exercise.
3) No morning stiffness greater than the previous morning.

And I am happy to say that after a shorter 16K run today with some nice hills on my down week, my hamstring is only a little cranky and I'm going to be ok.  I am convinced that it's not only my hamstring but also my sciatic nerve, so will do some physio magic on that this week.  I feel like I narrowly escaped a show-stopper and that it's not over yet.  I'm going to take it easy this week as well to make sure I'm ready for 40K next Sunday.  Here's to a human body that heals!

Here's a quote from yours truly:  
"The human body will heal if you give it the conditions in which to do so." 
And there-in lies the science and the art of recovery.

Weekly Tally:
Distance: 68.4K
Elevation climb: 2194m
Time spent: 7:17
Pain level: at worst: 7/10  at best: 1/10

Sunday, 30 March 2014


Today a LONG run was on the schedule, and it was my son's 5th birthday party this afternoon.  So Sarah and I start at the crack of dawn at 7:00.  As we trotted along the river and started our climb UP, I was thinking about what I might blog about today, as I seem to be running out of great commentary.  Then, around 8:00 as we were climbing up to our first summit of the day along Branch 21, we saw...our first COUGAR ever!  I saw it first and thought it was a deer.  Then I thought, "Oh, that's some kind of wild dog!", and as I look over Sarah is pumping her first in the air and shouting "YA! It's a cougar!"  Hmm.  Not my first reaction.  It was definitely a small cougar though, with a white belly and a really long tail that looked something like this pic.  Luckily it was scared of us and ran into the forest about 200m ahead of us. Needless to say, Sarah checked her GPS and we had reached our goal for that climb and turned around to scamper out of there.  I'm glad I was with her and the kitty cat was keeping his distance!

Despite the pouring rain of the last 2 days, this morning dawned with dry skies (not dry ground) and a little sun.  We changed socks 2 hours into the run which was like a little slice of heaven.  I've never done that before and I will sure carry an extra pair now.  I also experimented with different food today.  I tried potatoes with olive oil and salt, steamed and then broiled.  Wow.  They hit the spot perfectly, although they took a little while to reach my blood stream. I also tried Oskri bars for the first time...lots of coconut that made my tummy squirrely after 4 hours, but good nonetheless.
Just after cougar siting.

Since I had a time limit due to my son's birthday party and this was the first time we added elevation to the long run, we only did 33K again rather than the 36 planned, but time of feet was a full hour longer than my previous longest run.  So recovery was super important if I was going to be functional as a mom this afternoon.  My epsom salts and compression socks came through again!

Some of the rain run off from the last few days!
Total Distance: 33.14
 Time: 4:21
 Fuel: 2 Oskri bars, 4 Mejool Dates, 1 cup potatoes (895 calories)
Notes on Fuel: worked pretty well, the coconut pineapple Oskri bar is best saved for post-run as it's heavier and hard to get down, the potatoes were a definite repeat item
Post run recovery: I actually gained 1.5 lbs this run but no symptoms of hyponatremia, and felt ok due to better fueling mid run, so the recovery routine worked well but my legs are pretty tired.
Plans for next week: Keep checking those runs off!
Gratitude: Cougars that keep their distance, and dry skies this morning!