Wednesday, 12 October 2016

The Art of the Dance

Sharing again...because this pic says everything I'm about to write here, and more....PC: Sarah Seads
You can take a girl out of the mountains, but you can't take the mountains out of the girl. As the days get shorter and colder here in central Canada, I again struggle to find my running mojo while running in a very flat and soon to be cold place. There are many advantages to running here.  Leg speed.  Temperature fluctuations. Wind resistance.  Great people.  However, I find myself revisiting memories of great runs past even as I already start to plan for 2017 ~ plan for runs in the mountains.  Why do I continually feel pull back to the mountains?

Trail running.  Mountain running. Dancing.

When I first moved off the roads and started running mountain trails on Vancouver Island, I simply couldn't believe that people actually RAN up the trails my friends were taking me on.  Every run burst my lungs, left me with burning quads, and a deep sense of inferiority as the mountain won battle after battle.  I entered trail races with names like "GutBuster" and "Perseverance Trail Run," continually pushing to succeed at running gnarly mountain terrain.  It was work, it was hard.  I was young, tough, and determined.  I grew to tolerate it.  Even got good at it, earning a few podium finishes. But I still didn't really like mountain running.

But it wasn't until I stopped pushing, and started working WITH the mountain that I fell in love with it.  When I read back over things I've written about my best days running, dance metaphor keeps popping up over and over.  From a woman's perspective, a great dance partner leads you confidently.  You can relax and flow with the dance as you match your partner step for step, perfectly in sync.  When you and your partner apply just the right pressure against each other, you move as one to create a beautiful picture of human movement (which is much easier said than done.)

I'd like to suggest that trail and/or mountain running well executed is the exact same thing.  The mountain is your partner, and you need to work together.  As I talk with my running friends and the athletes that I coach, often hill training is met with dread, and races with lots of elevation create anxiety.
Learning to climb in Squamish, BC:
A perfect example of needing to work with the mountain rather than against it
I have watched so many people attack a climb as if they have to beat it into submission, or lean way too far back on their heels on a descent, fighting the pull of gravity down the mountain.  If you push too hard against that climb, it will push back.  If you resist the pull too much as you descend, it will pull harder. If you commit too heavily to a step that isn't quite right on a gnarly trail, it will drag you down.  You need to match your partner step for step, reacting quickly to stay in sync as the path leads you along.  If you don't start dancing the dance the ground wants you to, you'll either blow up on a climb, trash your quads on a descent, or trip and fall.  Not enjoyable.  Not pretty.  Definitely not art.

One of my favourite joy runs of the year - Cumberland Community Forest
But when you fall into step with the mountain trail and let it lead you, the dance becomes easy and the thing becomes a part of you. Kilian Jornet, arguably one of the world's greatest mountain runners, recently posted this video as a perfect example of what I'm talking about.  It wasn't until I grasped this delicate piece of the equation that I started to truly enjoy and eventually fall in love with mountain trail running.  Mountains, hills, trails - these are things not to be conquered, or attacked.  They are to be flirted with, and they are continually inviting you to dance.  And if you accept, I challenge you to join together with nature to make each run an artful masterpiece of fluid motion.  Not a painful picture of warriors clashing as they battle to the death.  Then that summit will be shared and appreciated as much as it was earned. And it'll have you coming back for more.

Now go out and find somewhere to dance.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Fat Dog 70, 2016 - Race Report

The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights. Habakkuk 3:19
The more I run ultras, the more I love it.  Starting along this path has been a slippery slope.  I ran the Fat Dog 70 six days ago and I'm still smiling as I process the whole event.  Because it really was an event. An experience.  Not a race.  Not a run.  An experience.

I started the 2016 Fat Dog 70 event at 7:00 am on Aug 13 with the goal of simply finishing the distance, ideally in 24 hours.  I surpassed my goal by more than 3 hours and finished as strong as I could have ever hoped for.  But this run was about more than just me.  It was about more than 1 day.  It was about 8 months of training and developing friendships with a couple special people that culminated in a the most perfect day of my summer.

Shortly after moving to Manitoba last summer from Vancouver Island, BC, I went on a run with Scott. Then a few weeks later I met Todd.  Little did I know where these chance meetings would lead me.  Before I knew it, Todd and I had joined Scott in his plan to pursue his dream of doing the Fat Dog 120.  In December we registered, booked our hotel, and named ourselves the Manitoba Dawgs. Over the next 8 months, we ran together when we could and supported each other virtually when we couldn't.

On Aug 9 we loaded up the truck and started a 23 hour drive from Manitoba to Manning Park, BC.  Todd and Scott where entered in the 120 mile event, and one can predictably assume that the focus of all conversations was the 120 miler.  There was talk of 49 hour cut offs, running through 2 nights, 3 major summits and a general suffer fest.  I frequently heard myself saying, "I'm ONLY doing 70 miles."  When I quietly put my run into context with theirs, it seemed relatively easy.  Not quite as daunting.  After all, I was only going to have to run through one night, not two.  It's all how you frame it.

I desperately wanted my friends to have the race of their dreams.  I spent the first 2 days in BC going to the 120 mile start line, going to the 120 mile race brief, doing acupuncture on the guys, taping them up, making sure they ate well and slept well.  I drove them to the race start, wished them luck, and put my race completely out of my mind until they started theirs. But as soon as they headed up the trail, I allowed myself to start thinking about my race, content to be in my own headspace.

As I headed back into Princeton for my traditional pre-race meal of sushi, I felt calm.  I looked up at the mountains and felt peaceful.  Although I had spent the last year running in the prairies of Manitoba, I still felt prepared.  The only thing missing was Sarah Seads. This would be my first ultra without her. She's the one who got me started, trained with me, coached and mentored me for years. We had a good chat on the phone and after she gave me last minute tips on a course she had rocked the year before (2nd female - 50 miler),  I hung up totally centered and reassured. I had gone for a short run the day before, feeling like I had wrapped myself in an old comfy blanket.  The smell of the forest, the sound of the creeks running, the shady cool of the old growth forest.  This is where I was meant to be.

Back at Manning Park Lodge I finalized my drop bags and my race plan, had dinner with BC friends Rob and Kim, who were also racing, attended the 70 miler pre-race brief, and was sound asleep by 9:00pm, feeling the most relaxed that I had before an ultra to date.  That is, until the phone rang at 9:30.

I was devastated to hear that it was Scott telling me his race was over. He was so upset, but the first sentence out of his mouth was, "I'm so sorry to mess up your pre-race sleep." What a guy.  By the time he made it into the hotel suite and I managed to get back to sleep it was around 11:00.  I felt bad for him, and said a silent prayer for Todd, still out there on the trail.  I was roused out of a second deep sleep around 1:30am by Todd.  I blinked furiously, scarcely believing he was there.  My pre-race calm was shattered by the appearance of both my teammates in the middle of the night.  I started to panic, thinking that maybe this race was more than I was prepared for after all.  I slept fitfully until I woke just before my alarm went off at 5:00 am.

Scott saw me off as I caught a ride to the start with Rob and Kim.  It was bittersweet.  It meant a LOT to me that he was there to wish me well, but at the same time he wasn't supposed to be there. I was now feeling more than a little unnerved about coming from the prairies with no mountain running this year except the Grand Canyon 50, until we arrived at the start to find a little pocket of cell service in an area of total blackout.  A text found it's way to my phone from my dear friend Sarah, "You're still a BC girl in your legs and your heart. You so have this!!! Enjoy!!"  It's like she read my mind and send me just what I needed to hear at that exact moment.  I put the blinders on and my vision narrowed until nothing else existed except the spectacular sunrise and the trail stretching out ahead of me. I was going to have an epic day and I was going to bring it home to Manitoba.  I now had not a single doubt.
Race Start
Myself, Kim, Rob
Race Breakdown

Blackwell Peak to Heather Aid (2.3 miles - 26:56)
It was a slow but steady start headed down off the top of Blackwell Peak, elevation ~6558'. They had to move the Heather Aid station down off the plateau this year.  I didn't stop, but blew on by shouting my bib number to the volunteers, letting them focus on the 120 milers who would need the aid station more.
70 Mile Course

Heather Trail

Heather to Nicomen Lake ( 11 miles - 2:45)
My favourite leg of the whole race.  Heather Trail is stunning.  Wild flowers, jaw dropping views of the Cascade Mountains and Mt. Baker across the border.  And the last part of this section was down hill.  Oh but it was HARD not to let loose and fly.  Over 10K of perfectly graded flowing single track, but I repeated my first third mantra, "When in doubt go slower," and reminded myself that I was only 3 hours into a 20+ hour run.

I chose a pace that was easy, that perfect balance between no braking on the downhills, but not trashing my quads either.  I was amazed how quickly we dropped down to Nicomen Lake, to find volunteers deep in the back country manning an aid station with crisp cool water that they had just pumped out of the lake.  I fill up all 3L of my carrying capacity, thanked them, and headed out.
We ran along this ridge before dropping down to Nicomen Lake on the left.

Nicomen Lake
Nicomen Lake to Cayuse Flats (11 miles - 2:25)
More downhill single track, gently curving in a counter clockwise circle around the mountain.  It totally reminded me of one long Transmission Hill (for my Comox peeps).  It was very shady in this section, but the cloud cover of the early morning had burned off and around noon it started to get really hot.  I pulled out my new Zoot Icefil arm sleeves, got them wet in a creek, and kept them wet as much as I could after that.  I had never run with them before and couldn't believe how well they worked to keep me cool.  As long as they were wet that is.  A nice little bonus for a little experiment on race day. I was very dry and hot coming into Cayuse.  There were 120 milers laid out all over cots and chairs, looking very peaked.  I quickly restocked my fuel from my first drop bag (DB) and continued on.
View from the ridge.  Stunning.  Could have stood there forever.

Cayuse Flats to Cascade (5 miles - 1:10)
The fellows at Nicomen had warned me that this section was...uninspiring.  They were right.  After coming off Heather trail and the epic views afforded by the ridgeline leading down to Nicomen, the relentless up and down in dense single track was suffocating.  It was HOT.  I stopped at each creek and river I could to splash water on my face and drench my sleeves in water.  Seeing as the guys were available, they had said they would crew for me, and I hoped that Scott and Todd would be at Cascade.  Shaun, a retired military search and rescue technician and paramedic was also crewing for Rob and Kim.  He had offered his services for first aid care if needed, and I needed.  I had been suffering from my first blisters in a race ever since Heather trail. Considering the hot forecast, I had chosen lighter socks than usual - big mistake.  My smart wool socks where in my Shawatam drop bag several miles away and my feet were macerating.  I pushed forward, looking forward to some watermelon, cold water and foot TLC.

Cascade Aid
Wow.  I have never felt so important during a race.  I came trotting into Cascade feeling very hot, but strong.  This picture shows me looking not quite as good as I'd like. Scott was waiting for me on the trail.  He briskly told me that the tables were to the left a few meters ahead, and that they had a chair set up for me on the right.  I cruised in to Todd taking pictures, Shaun hustling to take care of my feet, and Todd shoving watermelon into my hands.

Scott filled my hydration pack while Shaun ended up using duct tape to bandage my big toe.  It worked perfectly. I had already dealt with my heel blister...which ended up not doing so well, but I didn't know that until after the race.  My first time with a real crew...and I must say I quite liked having them there.  Before I knew it I was putting on a rather hot high vis vest for the 2 mile stretch along the road to Sumallo Grove, telling the volunteer that #761 was heading out, and off I went!

My awesome crew in action.
Cascase to Sumallo Grove (2 miles [2.6 on my Garmin and every inch mattered] - 31:52)
I look at the time it took me to go 2.6 miles now and I'm floored.  I was moving slowly.  And it was on the ROAD! Granted I took 2 minutes at Sumallo to put ice into my arm sleeves, but still. This was the only road section, it was hot, and it couldn't be over soon enough.

Sumallo Grove to Shawatam (10 miles - 2:48)
Something happened during this section that I felt was the turning point of the race for me.  I had been so hot to this point, still managing my nutrition well, but definitely not peeing like I should be even though I was drinking LOTS.  Around the 30 mile or 50K mark (similar to what happened in the Grand Canyon at GC50), I started to feel great.  This was the point that I would either start to decompensate or improve, and I was so happy that I started to feel better and better.  My middle third rule of running effort that feels "just right" was easy.  The running here was relatively flat and slightly technical, and I cruised along feeling very strong.  I met up with another runner, Richard, from North Van, and we chatted easily along most of this stretch.  The ice in my sleeves was cooling my veins, and I stopped at several creeks to keep the sleeves cool.  I honestly believe this was a key element in my success in this race.  Thanks to Jen Ruland for giving my the idea to use the sleeves.  A life saver.  I wasn't sure if my crew was going to be meeting me at Shawatam as the drive to these aid stations was not exactly easy.  I arrived there feeling awesome.  I already had my hydration pack refilled, had used the sponge bucket to cool my head and neck, had changed my socks, and was eating a little when they arrived.  They were surprised to see me already there.  I asked them to have my poles ready at Skyline when I got there, and took off with words of caution to slow down a little and take it easy.

Shawatum to Skyline (8 miles - 2:14)
Richard and I had been playing cat and mouse, and reminding each other to save it for Skyline.  We all knew that the race really starts at Skyline.  At this point I had gained 5,171' of elevation and lost 9,715'.  The course total was 13,303' of gain and 15,748' of loss.  I still had a lot of mountain to cross, and heeded Todd's advice to pull it back a little.  It was cooling off, evening was falling, and the mosquitos were coming out.  There were not nearly as bad as everyone had made us out to believe they would be, but I did pull out my bug spray and spray my neck and ears.  The arm sleeves came off and I enjoyed the peace of quiet of the course as runners spread out further and further.

Skyline Aid
When I arrived at Skyline Aid, I knew I had this race in the bag.  I knew I was going to finish, and I was going to finish under 24 hours.  I had been following splits of a girl from 2014 who finished in 21:30 and although I had a slower start than she did, I was starting to match her splits over the last few aid stations.  Scott and Todd were waiting for me at Skyline with my poles prepped and ready to go.  They had my drop box out with my battery chargers and grabbed my watch to charge it up for the last leg.  I prepped my head lamps, loaded my pack with a full 3L of water and enough fuel to last me 9+ hours, my estimated time left on course, which left me with a very heavy pack on a back that was getting tired. The last 2 aid stations were VERY remote, and we were told not to expect to get much there other than water.  I took my time at this aid station, knowing that I was about to head into a LONG night.  I ate some pizza, packed a quesadilla for the road.  Someone sprayed my back with bug spray and I screamed, asking if my back was chaffed.  As I lifted up my shirt the look on their faces said it all.  I guess it looked bad.  I gave my crew hugs of thanks, and told them to expect me at 5:00am at the finish based on the splits that I had been following (give or take a few hours).  I looked Scott in the eyes and told him , "I've got this," then headed up the trail into the dusky evening.
Todd, Myself, Scott - their presence gave me such a boost!

Skyline Aid to Camp Mowich (8 miles - 3:39)
If there was a part of this race I was worried about, it was this part.  Not the climbing.  I am an experienced hiker and mountain climber and I know I can get myself up a mountain efficiently.  But I was worried about going through the night.  I was already past my longest time on feet by over an hour.  I left Skyline at 12:47 elapsed time and still have 9 hours to go.  My split told me to expect 4 hours for this 8 mile leg - that should tell you something.  Two miles/hour.  Lots of climbing and hiking.  I turned on my iPod and downshifted into a steady climbing gear.  As I climbed, night quickly fell and my chances for any more epic views vanished.  But the temperature didn't seem to drop that much, likely cause I was working so hard to climb that mountain.  I could see headlamps spread out along the mountainside few and far between, mostly in pairs.  I didn't have a pacer and I was ok with that.  I actually relished the alone time.   Coming into Camp Mowich, I heard that awesome cow bell sound.  The ringing of the cow bell has come to signal a sense of accomplishment to me.  Another leg completed.  This was a very remote camp where volunteers had to hike in 14K to get there.  They topped me up with water, gave me some chicken broth, and warned me that they were out of water at the last aid station.  I was stuck carrying another full 3L of water across all those false summits so infamously talked about.  My loaded pack is over 10 lb with food, and I have never carried such weight for so long on my back without a break.  Even back country camping we would take longer breaks.  It was starting to take it's toll. I honestly didn't need all that water, as I was super well hydrated at this point, but I've learned to never underestimate water needs.

Camp Mowich to Sky Junction (5 miles - 2:04)
Not much to say here except it was nighttime and the stars were out.  I was starting to see things - people's faces which were creepy.  A wolf (which turned out to be a log).  Fleeting shadows that looked like people running.  Nothing too bad.  I turned off my headlamp a few times to look for meteors (there was supposed to be a shower) but no dice.  I just felt dizzy looking up.  There was a LOT of up and down and up and down.  I was happy to make it to Sky Junction for the sole reason that it meant another segment done.  I was solidly in the mindset to get it done. I had an inkling that I might be done earlier than planned at this point, but still didn't know what lay ahead of me.

Sky Junction to Lightning Lake/Finish (8 miles - 2:21)
False summits.  They weren't kidding.  OMG.  I was counting and each time I was SURE I had climbed the last peak, down and up I went again.  I actually swore out loud at one point, just as Heather (the RD) said I would.  My legs were turning to jello, and if it hadn't been for my poles, I'm sure I would have slipped off the edge of a cliff, or went tumbling down a descent.  I'm serious.   My poles were my second lifesaver.  When I finally reached the burned out forest and knew I was descending down for the last time, I was relieved, only to find that there were some very technical sections that still precluded me from truly running.  I just didn't trust my legs to hold me up and hiked on until I felt comfortable to start running again.  My GPS watch was dead at this point and I had no idea how far I had still to go.  I only encountered 2 other people during this section and both gave me wildly different distance estimates. My stomach was cramping and I wasn't handling my nutrition well at this point either.  The last hour I gave up eating and just gagged on the side of the trail when it got too bad.  I was almost done and just simply didn't care. I started to think that I might be done before 5:00 am

Suddenly I came upon a sign that told me there was 700m until Rainbow Bridge, which I knew was 1 mile from the finish.  Whoo hoo!!  I picked up speed and ran it in to the finish line in 20:51 arriving at 3:51 am - over an hour ahead of schedule.  I knew there was no way my crew was going to be there and sure enough they weren't.  So I crossed the line, accepted my medal, and stood there wondering what to do.  As soon as I stopped I immediately got cold, so I pulled out the jackets that I had carried for 70 miles and put them on.  I sat down in a chair in the dark and felt the emotion welling up.  I had just run 70 miles, 114K.  The farthest I had ever gone by 20 miles and 34K.  Longer in time on feet by 9.5 hours.  But first and foremost, I had FINISHED.  I sat there and had a good cry.  Then wiping my tears I headed to the campfire to wait for Todd and Scott.  They showed up about 15 min later, still thinking they were an hour early for me.

After 1.5 hours of sleep and breakfast, we headed back to the finish line for the awards.  I found out I had finished 4th female, about mid pack overall.  It was so awesome to see the last few 120 milers cross the line after almost 49 hours of time on feet.

My entire Fat Dog experience amazing. Thank-you Heather, Peter, and team from Mountain Madness.  I got to fill my cup with hours of time in the mountains of BC.  The weather was perfect.  My body held up.  But most importantly, the people made the race.  Todd and Scott are the most solid gentlemen you will ever meet.  They have been such good friends and training partners.  Even after their race dreams were shattered, they still spent the whole day driving all over the region to crew for me.  I can't tell you guys how much that meant to me. Thank-you.  Rob, Kim, Shaun - thank you for sharing your crewing resources with me.  It was great to hang out again.  We met some PCT hikers, other ultra runners, crew members...  Although ultra running is a very solitary sport, there is a whole tribe of people surrounding you through the process.  Very few people get what we do...but those that do provide a special kind of support that is very special and very valuable.
Our Mascot, Bonk #awesomedawg

What did I learn from this race?

  • How you frame your race is critical.  The fact that I saw 70 miles as relatively easy compared to 120 miles made the task less daunting.
  • Icefil arm sleeves work - when wet with ice in them, wind cools even better.
  • Poles are a necessity for night climbing. So glad I had them.
  • Training in Manitoba may not have prepared me for mountain running, but it did give me heat training.  I ran for weeks above 30 deg and did one hill repeat day at 43 deg with humidex.  I know that helped.
  • Training on the flats helped my leg speed for the flatter sections of the race.  
  • Carrying a 10-11lb pack for 20+ hours causes SERIOUS chafing on your back. Not sure how I'll mitigate this next time, but hopefully won't need carry so much mandatory gear next time.
  • Postural muscle strength is important for carrying a heavier running pack.  Thank goodness for my strength training regime, but my neck and shoulders are still sore.
  • Having a crew of fellow ultra runners is awesome.  I've never had that before and I see the value now. I was very fortunate to have my aunt and uncle support me at Miwok last year and I can't thank them enough for the boost they gave me, but to have some good advice from someone who's been in your shoes is also great.
  • I seem to do better the longer I go.  I guess the 100 miler goal for 2017 isn't that unrealistic!

Garmin powered out (grrr) so I don't have easy stats.

Lost track. Ate every 45 min, 2-3 S-Caps every hour.

Shoes: Salming Elements (brand new pair, 3 miles of break in, did AWESOME)
Pack: Salomon S-Lab 12 set
Watch: Garmin Forerunner 920XT
Headlamp: Black Diamond Icon
Poles: Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ Trekking Poles

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

An Ultra Runners Guide to Appearing Normal

(on that rare occasion when you want to)

Ultra Runners are used to being called crazy.  We are used to smelling like sweaty poly-pro and can spot a fellow ultra runner from miles away from the pack and high socks.  We proudly sport our trucker hats and can talk endlessly about our bucket list races and the features of our watches. However, on occasion the need might present itself to not sound annoying or crazy (or at least tone it down a little).  Like when attending a wedding.  Or on a date night.

So here are some things ultra runners can to do fit in a little better in a crowd. At least for a few hours.

1) Take off your Garmin. As much as you think it looks good, it may not go well with your cocktail dress or suit, and will be the surest sign of your true identity.

2) Replace said Garmin with a wide bangle or a watch not made of plastic to hide the tan line on your wrist.

3) Wear shoes that cover your toes.  Lost toe nails are a badge of honour for ultra runners, but look kinda gross to most other people.

4) Get a hair cut. Ladies, shave below your knees when you take off your high socks. Men, trim that beard.

5) Learn to cough or laugh loudly when your stomach grumbles.  You might need to laugh a lot, so hang around funny people.

6) Learn to hide how much and how often you eat.  There are many ways to do this. Hide food in your bag and sneak to the bathroom.  Eat super fast so that you can have seconds before anyone else finishes or notices. Hide extra roast beef and potatoes under a pile of salad. Better yet, eat before you go out.  Then your stomach won't grumble and you can have a second supper at a relaxed pace.

7) Girls. trade your bikini bottoms for board shorts or a swim skirt to hide your shorts tan lines.  Guys, run shirtless once in a while to avoid the farmers tan.

8) At least once per week, listen to the news and read movie reviews so that you can pretend that you are knowledgeable about something other than running (even though you don't care).

9) Stop talking about running.  And when asked how long you are running tomorrow, learn to either lie, or mean it when you say you are "just doing a short relaxing run" when you are really planning 20 miles.

10) Buy at least one outfit that is not poly-pro or merino wool.  And don't run in it.

An Ultra Runners Guide to Appearing Normal

(on that rare occasion when you want to)

Ultra Runners are used to being called crazy.  We are used to smelling like sweaty poly-pro and can spot a fellow ultra runner from miles away from the pack and high socks.  We proudly sport our trucker hats and can talk endlessly about our bucket list races and the features of our watches. However, on occasion the need might present itself to not sound annoying or crazy (or at least tone it down a little).  Like when attending a wedding.  Or on a date night.

So here are some things ultra runners can to do fit in a little better in a crowd. At least for a few hours.

1) Take off your Garmin. As much as you think it looks good, it may not go well with your cocktail dress or suit, and will be the surest sign of your true identity.

2) Replace said Garmin with a wide bangle or a watch not made of plastic to hide the tan line on your wrist.

3) Wear shoes that cover your toes.  Lost toe nails are a badge of honour for ultra runners, but look kinda gross to most other people.

4) Get a hair cut. Ladies, shave below your knees when you take off your high socks. Men, trim that beard.

5) Learn to cough or laugh loudly when your stomach grumbles.  You might need to laugh a lot, so hang around funny people.

6) Learn to hide how much and how often you eat.  There are many ways to do this. Hide food in your bag and sneak to the bathroom.  Eat super fast so that you can have seconds before anyone else finishes or notices. Hide extra roast beef and potatoes under a pile of salad.

7) Girls. trade your bikini bottoms for board shorts or a swim skirt to hide your shorts tan lines.  Guys, run shirtless once in a while to avoid the farmers tan.

8) At least once per week, listen to the news and read movie reviews so that you can pretend that you are knowledgeable about something other than running (even though you don't care).

9) Stop talking about running.  And when asked how long you are running tomorrow, learn to either lie, or mean it when you say you are "just doing a short relaxing run" when you are really planning 20 miles.

10) Buy at least one outfit that is not poly-pro or merino wool.  And don't run in it.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Fat Dog 120 - The Interlude

I can't believe its been nearly 2 months since I last posted!  Over the last 2 months I've basically been healing and recovering from the Grand Canyon 50 and did a hard training brick that had me peaking for the Fat Dog 70 this weekend.

My time spent on Vancouver Island the week after the Grand Canyon 50 was sublime.  It restored my soul and I was in a high from a race that left me with the endorphin kick of a lifetime.  Unfortunately, I felt so good that I overestimated my body's capacity and succeeded in mildly spraining my ankle during a run that week.  It didn't seem painful at all in the first several days, but obviously my body was stressed and didn't do well with more stress.  A little over and up on a root that I normally don't even think about turned into a painful lateral ankle sprain that took me over 4 weeks to recover from. With advice from my training partner and more patience than I am known to have,  I cut back on my mileage and allowed it to heal.

By the time I felt ready to tackle some big miles again, I had 3 weeks left for a hard block of training before I knew I would need to start tapering again for Fat Dog 70.  I did another napkin plan (see Self Doubt 2015) and got to work.

Riding Mountain - Kinosao Lake
I had booked a campsite at Riding Mountain National Park in January for the Canada Day weekend.  I had been told that if I wanted some elevation and good trails, that was the place to go in Manitoba.  So I told my family that we were going camping.  It was really a running trip disguised as a camping trip, but we didn't focus on that and instead focused on the great beach time, lol. I managed to get 40 (early) miles in that weekend with some nice climbing as well.  Riding Mountain is definitely a place we will be visiting again.

Wolf Print?

Riding Mountain - Whirlpool Lake

Over the past 3 weeks I have watched a LOT of sunrises and ran with my shadow for many miles.  I have glistened in the misty dew of hot humid mornings, and pounded out countless repeats on a short hill that gives me 2500' of gain over 5 miles in 120' increments.  I have slept in until 6:00am, and risen as early as 4:30 am, with 5:30 being average.  So average that I now wake at 4:45 thinking I slept in.

I have lost another few toe nails and made peace with my ugly feet.  And I have been systematically fine tuning my pack with the all the mandatory gear that we are required to carry for Fat Dog.  I'm thinking I'll be carrying a 10 pound pack with all water bottles full.  And I've been training with that and it's been taking it's toll.

So now is the time to start the most important part of the training process.  The recovery.  Letting all that stress on my system turn into strength.  Cell by cell, fiber by fiber, I am now rebuilding.  Stronger connective tissue.  Stronger muscles.  Stronger heart.  Stronger mind.  The work is done.  Time to let the magic happen.

Fat Dog will be my biggest test to date.  It's happening in the mountains that I can't wait to return to.  When I crest that first big climb, my mantra will echo Scott Jurek's, "this is what you came for."

4 weeks and counting!!!

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Shoe Review: Salming Elements 2016

My friend has been of fan of Salming shoes ever since he discovered them several months ago.  The recently became available in Canada so I ordered a pair of the Elements to try them out.  Salming currently offers free shipping and returns for a risk free experience.  And to sweet the deal, use the code baranoski20 when ordering for 20% off!

 The first thing I noticed about these shoes was how light they were.  At 8.2 oz the women's shoe is super light.  It is a "natural" fitting neutral shoe with 4mm drop.  There is no rock plate and the twist test yields a very flexible sole with dense foam that doesn't seem to compress over time.  A very roomy toe box, minimal stack height, sock-like fit, and killer tread combine to produce a very responsive, cushioning shoe that feels like a part of your foot. My wide foot doesn't fit into very many shoes well, but this shoe felt super comfy after just a few runs.

I recently ran the Grand Canyon Ultra 50 Miler and decided to put these shoes to the test.  I had broken them in for  80 miles on dry, muddy, grassy and technical trails.  The shoes performed well, but with the lack of rock plate I was worried that there might not be enough protection for sharp rocks and hard ground later in a run > 5-6 hours.  I was pleased to discover that they held up really well during my run along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  I didn't notice the rocks later in the race, and appreciated the energy savings that came with wearing a super light shoe.

This week I tested them on a longer climb up the mountains of Vancouver Island.  The forefoot is very flexible which allows for great toe off while climbing, however my great toe needs a little more protection in this regard and I'll be adding a small rock plate to the forefoot of the shoe if I am doing a run with longer climbs (as planned for the Fat Dog 70 in August).

My only real complaint with this shoe is the laces.  The upper is super soft and flexible which results in a socklike fit, but also tends to gap around the ankle and rearfoot, especially on steep climbs.  If I use a heel lock lacing technique this all but disappears, however the laces are too short to accomplish this without skipping an islet midfoot.

Bottom line: The Salming Elements are great neutral trail shoes for all trail conditions including hard packed single track and gnarly terrain.  Just be careful transitioning into this shoe if you are used to a motion control or stability shoe as it certainly delivers the "natural running" experience that Salming promises.

In case you haven't noticed, I'm trying to become an Ambassador for Salming and need to win this social media contest in the next 4 days. So if you haven't already voted for me, please do!  And share with your friends. Because I think this post proves that I'm already being a good ambassador and I could use some free shoes :)  Thanks!

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Race Report: Grand Canyon Ultras - 50 Miler (May 21, 2016)

Last weekend I completed the Grand Canyon 50 Miler.  What an amazingly awesome experience.

The short version: I ran well, had a lot of fun and took loads of pictures.  I finished in 10:58, 21st overall, 6th female, 3rd AG which was my best ultra finish ever.

The long version: Read on should you dare.  This is my diary of the day and it was a LONG day.  I’ve tried to choose the best pictures which was not an easy task! If you ever plan to run this race (and I believe everyone should), this is a detailed account of the course.


I left for the airport at 5:30am on Friday, the day before the race.  A 3 hour flight from Winnipeg, MB brought me to Vancouver, BC where I met up with my dear friend and running partner Sarah (@wildseads).  We had a 3 hour layover at YVR and grabbed a big breakfast too kick off our pre-race day fueling attempt to get as many calories into our bodies as possible before 4pm.

We knew once we landed in Las Vegas, we still would have a 4.5 hour drive out to the race start where we planned to sleep in our car as there were no hotel rooms available in the Grand Canyon for that night when we had registered for the race.  We were not sure what food options we would have once we left Vegas.  I was rather anxious about not having a bed, proper bathroom or hot coffee the morning of the race, not to mention that we had just received an email from the RD that it was VERY cold (2C) with a biting wind at the top of the plateau where the race start was situated.
Monument Point
Our flight was delayed so we were still in the airport when my cell phone rang with the most welcome information that a room had come available at the Kaibab Lodge for that night.  Did we want it?  I excitedly replied that we did and we celebrated that we would not need to use our sleeping bags and thermarests that night.  If our flight had been on time, we would have missed the call.  Thank-you Lord!

Our celebration was short lived however, because once we boarded the flight we sat at the gate for over an hour waiting for a plane from Osaka with 31 passengers connecting to Vegas.  Even if our flight had been on time, we knew that we would be cutting it tight to get to the race start for the 8pm cut off to leave our drop bags.  The course is very remote and they needed time to transport the bags to the appropriate aid stations for the next day,  As the clock ticked and we waited and waited, I began working on a plan B in case we missed the DB cut off.

I had planned to leave a DB at North Timp (21.5mi) and Parisawampits (36.5mi) with extra nutrition, an extra pair of shoes, socks, lighter clothes and a battery charger.  My plan had been to travel as light as possible, leaving gear I didn’t need anymore more in the drop bags and picking up what I needed along the way.  I like to eat pretty much all my own food during a race - I’ve learned that eating what I know works for me is much safer than relying only on food at aid tables.  The DB’s were all packed, labelled and ready.  Faced with the possibly of needing to carry everything I would need for the whole day set my mind to racing.  Then I remembered something my friend and Manitoban training partner Todd had texted me a few hours earlier:

“Be ready to adapt if you need to like I had to. Whatever problem you "might" encounter is not a set back but learning to adapt fast for it. Everything you need will be on a table or you'll be carrying. Take it in stride and go."

Little did he know how truly on-point his words of wisdom would turn out to be the next day.

We finally made it to Vegas, picked up our rental car, looked at the clock and accepted that no drop bags were happening that night.  So we stopped for another meal of burritos and started the 3rd leg of our journey to the land before time - driving from Las Vegas to the Kaibab Lodge.  As we drove, we started seeing elevation signs showing that we were ascending quite high.  I knew that the race was a net loss course, starting at 9000’ and ending at approx 7000’, but I had been so focused on the course profile and net change in elevation that I had failed to register that the whole thing is run at quite a high altitude.  Especially for someone living at 700’ above sea level.  I naively asked Sarah if she thought it would be an issue, and she replied, “Of course it will.  The elevation will affect you.”  I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of that, but it turned out to be good thing because there was nothing I could do about it, and I hadn’t wasted time or energy stressing about it.  At the Lodge we tore apart our drop bags, repacked and crashed.


We got a good 6 hours of sleep that night and woke to a cold wind blowing and a gorgeous sunrise.  I am a person of faith, and that morning was my Sabbath.  As I walked out to the car at 5:00am, I stood looking at the sky and silently said a prayer of thanks and gratitude to God for bringing me to this incredible place, healthy and strong.  I vowed that the day was going to be a day of worship and thanksgiving no matter what happened.  He had brought me so far, and it seemed only fitting that I spend the day with Him.  For the first time, I consciously invited God to run with me that day, and told Him we were going to have a lot of fun.
“I can’t believe I’m really here"

And we were off to the race start.  It was a classically simple ultra running start ceremony of, “here’s your bib, trucker hat and shirt….Ready, GO!”

“Ok Lord, let’s run”

Leg 1: Start - Squaw Canyon
Elapsed: 9.0 miles 1:22

The first 20 miles of the course was a slow gradually downhill stretch along smooth double track, dropping from 9000’ to 7500’ in elevation.  I LOVE running downhill, and I usually go out too fast, and I vowed not to do that this time.  The first 5 miles I averaged a perfect 10:00 pace.  At first it was hard to hold back and I kept pulling myself back. By about 3 miles in I noticed I was breathing way too heavy for my pace.  I couldn’t seem to catch my breath and it started to worry me.  Had I tapered enough?  Was the long day of travel the day before affecting me now?  I shouldn’t be breathing this hard!  I had fallen into step with Brandy, a cool gal from Michigan. As we were getting to know each other I told her I needed to slow down, that I couldn’t get my breath.  “Oh, it’s the elevation”, she said.  Duh.  Of course!  I was so relieved!  It wasn’t me!

As we continued to run, our pace started slowing.  Then I started to notice runners all around me starting to walk.  Before long, all I could manage was about 20 steps of running, followed by short bouts of walking to catch my breath.  My vision started to swim and I felt dizzy.  Then I noticed that I was weaving back and forth on the trail, and my legs started feeling like jello.  No lactic burn like they usually do when fatigued from work, but almost disconnected from my body. I was very lucky that there were no major climbs in this section, because I could barely run downhill.  Even so, we rolled into Squaw Canyon Aid in less than the 1:30 that I had predicted.  They had a whole bar laid out on the table - thanks but no thanks.  I’m already dizzy and it’s only 7:22 am.  Alcohol is not going help right now! LOL  I grabbed a strawberry and continued on, just ahead of Brandy.

Leg 2: Squaw Canyon - Stina
Elapsed: 14.5 miles 2:15

About a mile out of the aid station the nausea started to hit.  I felt horrid.  My friend had set my watch up to tell me to eat every 45 min and take my salt pills every 60 min.  As the reminders started coming, I continued forcing food and pills into me, gagging the whole time.  As I stood on the side of the trail doubled over trying to keep things down, Brandy passed me asking if I was alright.  I replied,

“Nothing lasts forever.  We’re going down!”

And I repeated this mantra over and over again.  I knew that I had to keep eating and drinking.  Even though I felt like crap, if I didn’t stay on top of my nutrition, it was only going to get worse.  I had made that mistake before and sure as hell I wasn’t going to do it again. I went to check my laminated card with my cut offs, splits and elevation chart and found that I had dropped it sometime before.  Oh well, good thing I had it memorized.  It was at this point that I took stock and surrendered to the reality that this wasn’t going to be the race that I had hoped.  I was going disgustingly slowly.  But I was going to finish and I was going to see the Grand Canyon.  I decided to just let go and let the race unfold as it would.

I had been reading “How Bad Do You Want It?” by Matt Fitzgerald on the flight the day before.  My favourite chapter so far is entitled, ‘The Art of Letting Go.”  In it Matt discusses how being self-conscious and internally focused can sabotage endurance performance.

Pressure induced self-consciousness also harms performance by reducing movement efficiency.  Athletes move more efficiently when their when their attention is focused on key features of their environment rather than their own body.”  He mentioned a 2011 German study that “observed that runners consume more energy at a fixed pace when they thought about their body movements or their breathing than they did when they concentrated on the external environment.”   Simply put, “self consciousness increases perceived effort.”

I remembered this, and consciously chose not to pay attention to my symptoms of hypoxia, but to focus on the amazing scenery around me.  I was running through the forest, with big trees loosely spaced apart. The trail varied from a carpet of ponderosa pine needles, to red ribbon single track.  The colour of the dirt changed from light brown to red and back again. The double track changed to single track, then to no track.  We followed pink flags through grassy meadows and across rocky plateaus where no path existed.  I had yet to see my first glimpse of the Grand Canyon, but it had been so long since I had run in the forest that I simply enjoyed the smell of the pine and the angle of the sun as it filtered through the trees.
At the 20 mile mark we had descended to approx 7600’ which was the average altitude for the majority of the remaining part of the course.
Leg 3: Stina - North Timp
21.5 miles 3:53
I barely remember being at the Stina aid station, but I do remember repeating mantras and slowly moving along with “continuous forward progress.”  My first 3rd mantra is usually, ‘When in doubt, go slower.’  It became, ‘There is no doubt.  I’m going slower.'  And I made peace with that.

And then we reached our first view point (3:09), and after that focusing on the external environment was an easy task.

The Grand Canyon is basically a scar on the earth, but it’s still a breathtakingly majestic feature that makes you realize how small you are and how great our physical world is.  As I ran, I thought about how the earth must have looked at creation, versus how it looks now.  If this imperfect world can take my breath away, I couldn’t help but wonder what heaven will be like.

"All is have seen teaches me to trust the creator for all I have not seen."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

We had finished our long descent and were now flirting up and down between 7600’ and 7700’.  I realized as I continued on that I was running longer periods without needing to walk.  It was getting hotter and I was starting to feel warm in my long sleeved shirt and high socks. I hadn’t been needing much water up until this point, but I was getting dry and mentally starting reviewing what I needed to do when I got to North Timp.

Leg 4: North Timp - Locust (water drop)
Elapsed: 27.5 mi

At North Timp Aid I filled up my water bottles, started using Tailwind, and put 0.5L into my bladder just in case 1L wasn’t enough to get me to the next water drop.  I quickly changed into a short sleeved shirt, changed to ankle socks, grabbed some watermelon and a potato, and made a quick exit.  This was the longest aid station stop I made during the race. The volunteers there were fantastic and I appreciated them directing me to what I needed as I stumbled around in my still slightly hypoxic state.
We started passing more epic views of the canyon and I couldn’t wait to see more.  I stopped for pictures, and tried not to trip as I ran while looking to my left over the canyon.  The water drop came up much faster than I expected.  It was supposed to be at 6 miles, but there it was at 3.5 miles.  I topped up my bottles anyways, thinking that someone might have placed the drop early by mistake and that it could be a LONG stretch to Fence Aid.  I ended up being correct and was really glad I had the extra water.

Leg 5: Locust - Fence
Elapsed: 30.5miles, 6:12

Somewhere during this stretch, something happened.  All of a sudden I felt like I had just started running, like someone had dropped the clutch and shifted my into 5th gear. I found myself smiling and lightly prancing my way along the increasingly technical trail effortlessly.  I had gone from struggling to breathe and feeling dizzy, to feeing strong and light in what seemed like a matter of minutes (but in reality was probably an hour).  I must have descended far enough for long enough to restore my O2 saturation level. The trail had gotten really interesting - lots of rocks and twisty turns, continual ups and downs.  The kind of running I had been craving since leaving BC 9 months ago.  I cruised into Fence Aid 50 km into the race, feeling like a million bucks.  They asked me how I was doing, and I replied exuberantly, “I’m doing GREAT!  Now…”

Little did I know that Sarah had left this aid station just 10-15 minutes before I arrived after walking out after an injury left her unable to run further in her 50K race.  As my run turned for the better, hers was over.  Hers is her own story to tell.

Leg 6: Fence - Parisawampits
Elapsed: 36.5 miles, 7:30

After grabbing more watermelon and water, I ran strongly out of Fence Aid, yelling a, “See ya later guys!” to the awesome volunteers before starting my favorite part of the race.  I simply could not believe that I was now 50K into an 80K race and I felt absolutely spectacular.  I had been running/walking so slowly during the first half while continuing to force food into my body, that now that I had oxygen in my blood, my muscles were super fueled, glycogen loaded, and ready to go!  The best thing that had happened to me had been the altitude sickness.  It forced me to start SLOW, and I was about to have the best last third I had ever had in a race.  I noticed other runners slowing down, but I LOVED the more technical terrain and danced along the trail grinning from ear to ear.

Looking back now, I realized I was experiencing what Matt Fitzgerald calls a state of “flow.” He defines this as a complete immersion in a purposeful activity. “Endurance athletes describe the flow state as one in which they seem to become the thing they are doing. The part of the brain that normally watches the task at hand vanishes, leaving the athlete able to focus externally in a way that feels right and yields better performance.  Brain waves drop down to low frequency beta and theta waves, and neurotransmitter chemicals are released such as norepinephrine and endorphins."

I didn’t need a brain scan to know what was happening.  I just felt good.  This is why ultra runners get addicted.

Leg 7: Parisawampits - Crazy Jug
Elapsed: 42 miles

At Parisawampits, I was nearly out of fuel. I had carried enough solid fuel to last me 9 hours, plus Tailwind to supplement.  I grabbed 2 gels, ate another potato and watermelon, and filled my water bottles.  The next few legs were really short, but it was hot and I was just barely staying hydrated enough.  My lips were still wet, which was a good sign.  

Immediately after leaving Parisawampits, the run got even better.  We descended into a gully and then had to climb out of it.  The course took us up and down repeatedly, often climbing hands over feet.  It was hard, but it was stimulating and I loved it.  It reminded me of the running I had done on Vancouver Island, BC for over a decade, and I had been craving the variety of a super technical, quad blowing run.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that my feet totally remembered what to do, and that the shoes choice I had made earlier that morning still proved to be a good one (Salming Elements, shoe review to come). Other runners later complained after the race that this part was hard, but I strangely found I had the stamina and strength to continue at a steady pace while still have FUN with good form and NO PAIN! Not one bit.  This was unusual for me and I silently thanked my running buddy (God) for giving me wings to fly at that moment. I may have been flying slowly, but I was totally focused and in control almost 42 miles into a 50 mile race.  Amazing.  Mind blowing.

Coming into Crazy Jug there was a short out and back section where we had to punch our bibs, before ascending to the very busy aid station.  Runners had to enter this aid station from one direction, proceed to Monument Point in another direction, return and then head to the finish in a third direction.  Volunteers were busy directing runners and making sure we were taken care of.  THANK YOU volunteers.  You were amazing.

Leg 8: Crazy Jug - Monument Point
Elapsed: 45 miles

If I hadn’t gotten the views or the scenery that I had hoped for during the previous 42 miles, then I was about to get what I came for during the last 8.  The first 1.5 miles of this leg was down a long dirt road to the start of the Monument Point climb.  I ran hard down the road, knowing that with only 8 miles left I could stop being cautious.  Once we started climbing to Monument Point I pulled out the GoPro, put it on time lapse, and again tried not to fall off the edge of the cliffs while gawking at the scenery before me.  We reached the turn around point, I punched my bib again, and stood looking out at the grandeur of creation that stretched before me.  It was with tremendous effort that I tore myself away from the view that was so surreal it looked almost fake.  My trip was almost over.

Leg 9: Monument Point - Crazy Jug
Elapsed: 48 miles, 10:45
Another playful 1.5 miles of technical trail lead to a final 1.5 mile death march up the long road I had just descended.  No one was running now, and we hiked up that road counting the footsteps until we reached Crazy Jug again.  My stomach was going squirrelly again, and I spent a few minutes there drinking chicken broth, taking a gel and using the eco-friendly facilities.  I glanced at my watch and saw that I had 15 minutes to make my 11 hour goal.

Leg 10: Crazy Jug - Finish
Elapsed: 50 miles 10:58

I bid farewell to the volunteers, encouraged a fellow runner who was struggling with the residual effects of altitude sickness, and took off down the last 2 mile descent to the finish.  I ran hard, and finished in 10:58.  

"Thank you Lord.  That was epic."

I was shocked to find out that I had finished 21st overall, 6th female and 3rd in my AG. After a few hours hanging out at the finish line by a campfire, I went in search of Sarah (whom I had expected to see there), only to find out that she hadn’t had the race she had hoped.  I was devastated to hear her news, but so thankful for her company and presence during the weekend.


I am most happy with the fact that I finished the race feeling strong and pain-free with loads of pictures of the canyon. I am also very satisfied to note that the other 5 women who finished ahead of me were all from places like Flagstaff AZ and Moab or Salt Lake City UT.  For a flatlander from Winnipeg (elevation 700’) I felt I did pretty darn well.  This race didn’t have any epic climbs or a crazy amount of elevation gain, but it was a perfect race to give me confidence in my training strategies leading into my next goal.

Thank-you to the Ultra Adventures Team for putting on such a great and logistically complicated race - you gave us all the gift of experiencing the Grand Canyon in the coolest way possible. Thank-you to the volunteers who committed hours of their day to helping weary runners achieve their goals.  Most importantly of all, thank-you to my husband and kids.  For everything.  For allowing me the time to train.  For sacrificing precious weekend time so that mommy could run.  For believing in me and supporting me along my journey.  I would not be able to do this without you guys.

What did I learn from this race?
  • It’s possible to have a better back end than front half when you start slowly and cautiously, even when the last half is supposed to be harder. I know this, but I’ve never truly experienced it.
  • Forcing yourself to eat even when your whole body revolts is super important.  I ate more on this race than I ever had before.  And it worked.
  • Letting go and adapting on the fly is a practiced skill that pays off.
  • And finally, inviting God on my runs will never be optional again.

Next Goal: Fat Dog 70 - Aug 12, 2016

Distance: 50 miles
Time: 10:58:39
Average Moving Pace: 12:36 min/mi
Best Pace: 7:05 min/mi
Elevation: Min 7047’ Max 9178’
Gain: 4304’  Loss: 6411’ (on my Garmin)
Calories Burned: 4631

Approx 3060cal (278/hr)  615 mg caffeine
2 Pro Bars: Meal (750cal)
4 SunRype Fruit Bars (480cal)
9 scoops Tailwind (315mg caffeine 900cal)
3 Clif Shot Blok Pkgs (Black Cherry) (300mg caffeine, 600cal)
2 Hammer Gels (180cal)
1 potato (110cal)
1 strawberry
3 pretzels
1 handful potato chips
3 slices watermelon

Shoes: Salming Elements
Pack: Salomon S-Lab 12set
Watch: Garmin Forerunner 920XT (40% charge remaining in Smart Mode, all wifi and bluetooth functions off)
Salming Elements - See my shoe review here!