Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Against the Raging River

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.
Albert Einstein

This time of year the salmon are spawning on the Pacific west coast.  It is late in the season and the strongest of all the mother salmon are fighting their way up rivers and streams, miles from the ocean, where only the toughest are able to swim.  The rainy season has come and the water rages towards the ocean with a force that would wash even the toughest swimmer downstream.

The higher upstream they swim, the harder it gets.  Their numbers dwindle in proportion to their strength.  They jump from calm pools to surging rapids, often getting washed back downstream before gathering the energy to try again.  Many times they try to ascend the ladders in the wrong direction, losing momentum as they are washed back into the unforgiving river.

By the time these salmon reach the place where they will spawn, releasing the eggs that they have been carrying for many weeks and many many miles, they will be nearing the end of their lives.  Their bodies will already be decomposing.  They will have given all that they have, all that they are, to ensure the survival of their species.

These valiant fish don't question their purpose.  They are guided by a primal instinct that is stronger that the current with a sense of purpose that comes from outside themselves.  They don't look for the easy way, searching for a comfortable pool in which to float contentedly until next season.  Next season will be too late.  They swim upstream because that is what they were created to do.  The very survival of their species depends on these mommy fish doing exactly what they were created to do.

Do you ever feel like a spawning salmon? Swimming upstream, gathering all your strength to make the next leap, and then finding it wasn't quite right or you just weren't strong enough, getting washed back downstream only to reassess...and try again.  Sometimes you need to gather more strength, sometimes you need to chose a new path upstream.  Don't question your purpose.  Gather your strength and do what your heart tells you you need to do.  The surging stream doesn't stop.  It will keep coming season after season, year after year.

You were created for this.

You were designed to swim further up that river than you ever thought possible.

Just keep swimming...

Saturday, 27 October 2018

After 3 weeks of trying to find answers to my exercise-induced anaphylaxis, I took a deep breath and said enough is enough.  A few days ago, I was able to write this:

Today I ran wild. I ran with blatant disregard for the history of the past and the expectations of the future. I ran in the wake of the full moon light, blindly feeling the ground beneath my feet and letting my feet skim faster and faster across the earth. I refused to let fear tether me and choke me.
In my mind I was skipping across the ripples of the pond of probabilities that is only the NOW.
I am promise.
I am passion.
I am purpose. 

Thank you to my many friends from far and wide who have offered support and suggestions for my little problem.  I am having some testing done, and am implementing some strategies to minimize my risk while running.  When I gain some clarity around this all, I'll post some details.

Bounce Strong.

Friday, 12 October 2018

Please tell me I'm not allergic to running...

What do you do when the one thing that give you peace, the one thing that give you sanity, the only thing that gives you the ability to cope with stress...starts to threaten your life?

Am I being a little melodramatic here?  Maybe.

Have I been faulted with wearing my heart on my sleeve?  Often.

I am seriously needing to find some answers to a little problem I'm having?  Definitely.

I'm hoping someone out there, somewhere, can help me.  I think I'm developing an allergy to running and it's terrifying me.

Here's my history:

Oct 2014
Situation: Running 3 hours in a torrential rain storm along the forested river in the Comox Valley, BC when there was an inversion with thick woodsmoke in the air
Reaction: a few hives on my torso after the run, resolved quickly
Stress Level: don't remember
Rationale: pores dilated and absorbed the smoke - slight reaction.  Nothing to worry about.

Nov 2015
Situation: Running 1 hour in light snow in the city of Winnipeg when there was an inversion and heavy exhaust in the air
Reaction: hives on my torso and a swollen inner lip, resolved within 90 min
Stress Level: moderate, had just moved to new city, new job
Rationale: I didn't think anything of it and thought I'd frozen my lip as I was new to winter running

June 2018
Situation: Running 90 min early in the morning in Winnipeg in heavy humidity and totally dead air (inversion) after a thunderstorm the night before
Reaction: anaphylactic; barely made it home before airway was closing, swollen lip, hives all over body, ended up in ER for epi shot
Stress Level: high
Rationale: Inversion and crop spraying in the region caused concentrated chemicals in the air which absorbed through my skin; MD referred to specialist (1 year wait) and I now have 3 epi pens

Oct 2018
Situation: 2 days ago I ran for 35 min in the same park I always run in after work and had ran in the day before. Light wind with lots of dust, light snow, temps around freezing.
Reaction: throat closing first, sneezing, itchy armpits and swollen lymph nodes, massive hives everywhere, intense itchiness, lastly swollen lip; took loads of Benadryl and was able to avoid epi pen (barely)
Stress Level: very high
Rationale: no idea - no inversion, no chemicals in the air that I could think of, maybe stress?

This week has been tough.  I've been more than a little stressed and what helps me more than anything is a good cathartic run.  So when I burst into the house on Wed night and ran for the medicine cabinet, shaking, gasping and looking like a leper so much that my kids asked if they could safely touch me as I repeated over and over "I can talk, I can breathe, I can talk, I can breathe" to make sure I had an open airway...I totally broke down.  What the HELL was going on?  Why was this happening to me?  Don't take this away from me too God, I sobbed.

After spending the next 12 hours completely knocked out on Benadryl, I dragged myself to work yesterday and put on the best show I could.  However, last night I wrestled with God in the night like Jacob.  I was genuinely tormented...begging Him not take my running away from me.  I was now terrified of running, at least in the city where I lived, and that was NOT COOL with me.

Then from somewhere deep inside me I heard a voice that, echoing Lauren Diagle's tune, said,

"Look Up Child.

I've got you.

Let me do what I do best.

Just chill out.

For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

I woke up this morning with a renewed peace that whatever will be will be.  This evening after work I ran.  I was so scared.  I ran close to home and in circles around Grace Hospital, but I was ok, and my legs flew with an ease that came from a source outside of me. I felt amazing.

If anyone has any ideas on what could be triggering my allergic reactions, please comment below. I can't wait for the allergist on this one.

I don't know what is going on or why I'm having increasingly frequent and severe allergic reactions from simply running, but I know that I'm not going to put God to the ultimate test as I've been known to do in the past.  Despite what I thought was my best efforts, I've let it get to the place where He needed to threaten my running to get my attention.  So I'm going to stop, listen, and let Him do what He does best.  Because the alternative just isn't worth it.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Canadian Death Race Report - 2018

The best thing you could do is MASTER the chaos in you.
You are not thrown into the fire.
~Mama Indigo

The Canadian Death Race was the first ultra marathon I had ever heard of. I thought that it was simply CRAZY and I couldn’t believe that any human could run 125K, especially in the mountains with 17,000’ in elevation gain.  When it first came across my radar, CDR was only 4 years old and I was running trail races that maxed out at 10K.  Fast forward 15 years, a few thousand miles and many races later, and I decided that this was the year that I would visit Grande Cache to check this iconic Canadian race out for myself.
Short Version:  This race was TOUGH, but I wouldn’t have expected anything less.  I ran very clean and finished feeling strong in 22:19:07; 23/91 females; 111/325 overall; 95 DNF’s.
Long Version: Those that read my race reports know that what follows here will be my attempt to process and record the whole event as well as a detailed account of the legs of the race for anyone wanting such info as they plan their own race in coming years.

I have been having a very good year.  It took me most of last year to recover mentally and physically from Zion 100, but I came back this year feeling like my old running self and have remained injury free all season.  I hired a coach and trained with purpose and a plan, but also with intuition and grace, listening to my body as I often flirted with that delicate line between overreaching and overtraining.  In an attempt to train for a mountain ultra in the flattest place in Canada, I added more power moves to my strength routine, more mileage and hill repeats to my runs, and went to Canmore and Banff for a self designed running camp to get my legs and lungs as ready as I could in my peak week. I arrived in Grande Cache feeling completely ready and very positive, stronger than ever.  I knew that I had trained as well as I could, and I was excited to experience the infamous “Death Race.”  The day before the race I sat on my bed with acupuncture needles in my legs doing my breathing exercises.  My Qi was flowing strongly and as I visualized my perfect race, I further contemplated my WHY.

I strongly believe in consciously defining and redefining my WHY.  One must arrive at any start line with a crystalline sense of purpose and reason for being there.  Coming into CDR I knew I could do the distance.  I knew I could suffer and keep going.  I knew I could slug it out up and down mountains.  I knew that this time was about something more, but I couldn’t define it.  Then I got a text from a friend that said, “By the time you cross the finish, you will have learned more about yourself than most dare to imagine!”  A seemingly innocuous message until I thought about it more.

…than most dare to imagine…

Yes, that was it. I wanted to discover parts of myself that I hadn’t dared to uncover, or even contemplated.  I wanted to run this race with discipline and strategy, while staying completely in tune with my body and in control of my mind.  I had chosen to do CDR without a crew because I really wanted to see what I could do out there when I had only me to rely on.  This time it was about execution - orchestrating the day well and staying in control right through to the finish line.

Race Morning - 8:00am Start

Forest fires in the area had blanketed the mountains in a dense haze in the days before the race, however I woke up to clear cloudless skies and perfect running temperatures. Yay!  As I rolled out of bed my first conscious thought was, ‘you haven’t looked at the cut offs.’  I am a solid mid pack runner. I’ll never win, but I’ve never had to worry about cut offs before.  I had done my race plan and split chart, but hadn’t included the cutoffs for each leg.   I felt strongly impressed to write them down, and as I scribbled them on the back of my chart I hoped that I wouldn’t need to worry about them. (note blatant foreshadowing here with a hint of divine intervention)

At the start line I met my friend Todd and we hung around as the marshalling area started to fill up.  I was pleasantly surprised to bump into an old military friend from Comox (Chris M) whom I haven’t seen in years!  It’s crazy how people’s paths can cross in the most unexpected places.  He was racing the relay, doing Legs 1,2 and 5.  I wished him well and then off we went!

Leg 1 - Downtown Jaunt
Distance: 19K  Gain: +430m / -538m  NO POLES
Leg Time: 2:15  Elapsed Time: 2:15
TOD: 10:15am  Cut off: 1:00pm
Time in TA 1/2: 5 min

The race started with a loop around town that took all of 9 min and then a gentle stretch of road running before we filed into the trees to start dancing around large mud puddles on quad trails.  I was solidly committed to following the Rule of Thirds, and kept it super easy all throughout this stretch.  Grande Cache had had a week of rain prior to the race, and I knew my feet would get wet during this section…and they did.  Once out of the forest, we ran gradually uphill on gravel road and before I knew it we were at the Leg 1/2 transition area (TA). My coach Sarah had warned me to change my socks after this leg.  I quickly filled up all 2.5L of my water carrying capacity in preparation for a long Leg 2, ate some watermelon and oranges, and pulled off my shoes.  My feet were already white, wrinkly and starting to macerate from the water.  I doused them in baby powder, put a blister pad on one toe, pulled on fresh socks, and my damp but essentially clean shoes.  This turned out to be the EXACT right thing to do.  I’ve learned taking a few minutes for foot care pays off HUGE in the long run.  No pun intended!

Leg 2 - Flood and Grande Mountain Slugfest
Distance: 27K  Gain: +1946m / -1841m  POLES
Leg Time: 5:28  Elapsed Time: 7:43
TOD: 3:43pm. Cut off: 6:00pm
Time in TA 2/3: 9 min

If there was one thing that I had been lectured on, it was “do not trash your legs coming down off Leg 2 if you want to have anything to run with off Hamel.” The climbs up Flood and Grande Mountain weren’t that bad, but the downhills were insane!  They were completely unrunnable, at least for me.  There were people going down all around me, and many runners with very muddy buttocks.
Top of Grande Mountain

Now let’s talk about the mud.  They don’t call it Slugfest for nothing.  Not only was there mud literally flowing down the mountain, but there were huge pits of mud everywhere.  It would have been quite fun as we tromped through the muck spraying mud everywhere, if we weren’t less than 1/3 done a very long race.  There was no avoiding it and before long I was splattered and coated in a thick layer of brown.  I had grossly underestimated the time needed for this leg, and even though I moved as steadily as I could it still took me 5 1/2 hours.

Knowing that Leg 2 had the reputation of being the hardest leg, and expecting a mud bath, I had chosen the words Grace & Gratitude as my theme words for the first third.  I remembered this as I leaned heavily on my poles coming down power line swallowing curses, and then took a moment to wash up in a nice clear stream as we neared town and TA 2/3.  This leg was knee hammering and soul sucking, but it was done and I was grateful.
Pics don't do this justice - it was steep!
Transition Area 2/3 is back at the start/finish line, and I quickly changed shoes and socks that were already full of baby powder.  This is my new secret weapon as my feet did extremely well right to the end!  After another water fill up and race fuel resupply, I headed out on Leg 3!
Coming into TA 2/3 after my creek "bath" totally focused
Leg 3: Old Mine Road
Distance: 19K  Gain: +689m / -952m  NO POLES
Leg Time: 3:20  Elapsed Time: 11:03
TOD: 7:03pm. Cut off: 7:45pm
Time in TA 3/4: 12 min

I had just finished one marathon and had two more to go.  My feet felt amazing in fresh socks and shoes and my legs felt really good as well.  As we started a short climb up out of town past the dump, I heard a few runners around me talking about making the Leg 3/4 cut off.  Until this point I was running my first third easy pace, moving steadily and I thought as efficiently as possible given the conditions, oblivious to the cut offs.  Hmm.  Maybe I’d better check.  I pulled out my split chart, looked at my scribbles on the back, and realized with a jolt that although I was well ahead of cut offs on the previous 2 legs, the one coming up was much tighter.  Although I was still ok, I knew I was going to have to keep moving well, and with my middle third theme words of Focus & Flow going through my mind, I took full advantage of the gentle downhill grade on most of this leg and ran steadily.  While the terrain wasn’t challenging in Leg 3, it was the hottest part of the day and felt very humid and heavy in the dense trees along the Old Mine Road.  I had been consistently eating every 45 min and taking 2 salt pills every hour, along with a ginger gravol tablet every 3 hours.  Other than 200 calories of very dilute Tailwind, I had been drinking only water and I was thrilled that my stomach was staying completely settled with no nausea or GI distress.  But I WAS getting hungry.  I knew I was getting low on calories and couldn’t wait for the yam sushi that I hoped would be waiting for me at the next aid station.

So, remember how I said I was doing this race without a crew?  Well that was the plan, and I left drop bags prepared to be self supported the whole day.  However, my brother Scott had just flown into Calgary from Abu Dhabi, where he works, and he really wanted to come cheer me on.  He convinced his friend Rob to drive out to Grande Cache with him, and I knew they were planning on meeting me at TA 3/4 to provide some moral support and share in my adventure!  Scott sustained a complete spinal cord injury at T3 when he was 13 years old, and to say it was something special to have him at this race is a gross understatement. 

As the minutes ticked away and the sun started to drop in the sky, I started to get anxious.  The aid station should be coming up soon. As my watch hit 19K, I thought I was almost there.  And then we crossed the road and headed up, and up, and up.  They had apparently added another km of very technical terrain that slowed me down considerably and quite frankly pissed me off.  My stomach was growling, I was close to bonking, and I knew I would have to make a very quick transition if I was to stay ahead of cut offs.  If there was a low point in the race, this was it for me.  It is very normal for me to get cranky between 10 and 11 hours of time on feet. I know that, expect it, and take it for what it is.  Nothing lasts forever.  Coming down into the TA, we had to use ropes to lower ourselves down - was that really necessary?!  Well, it was the Death Race after all.  I had chosen not to bring poles on this leg and was so thankful that I didn’t need to worry about hanging onto them during this section.  Full use of my hands was essential and poles really weren’t necessary for this leg.

I ran into TA 3/4 to see Scott and crew there cheering me on.  Wow did they ever give me a boost!  Scott met me with a huge smile, yam sushi and a nice bottle of cold Coke!  Just what I needed.  The first thing out of his mouth was, “Kim! Are your legs ever HUGE!  When did they get so big?!”  That was NOT just what I needed, but I laughed and told him that’s what happens when you train for crazy races like this.  At least they're functional.
Sushi...cue Cookie Monster voice
He said Todd had left just 10 minutes before me, but had rested for quite a while.  That meant he was making good time and I was glad he was on pace. I would have love to sit and chat, but knew that would come later.  I started barking instructions, filling my bottles with Green Tea Tailwind, and stocking my pack for Leg 4, the longest leg of the race.  I had a list taped to the inside of my drop box, and as Scott read it off, I shoved 2 headlamps, a rain jacket, bear spray, 8 snacks, portable charger, watch charging cord, emergency blanket and arm sleeves into my pack.  I reapplied Body Glide and changed shirts, all the while shoving sushi and cheese sticks into my mouth.  My feet were good - no need for attention.

Loading up my pack
All that gear combined with 2.5 litres of water resulted in a very heavy pack, but I didn’t want to be caught up on Mt. Hamel without it if the weather shifted, as it was known to do.  I grabbed my poles and one more piece of sushi and headed out at 7:15pm, only 30 min ahead of the cut off.  Yikes.

Leg 4: Hamel Assault
Distance: 38K  Gain: +2465m / -2476m. POLES
Leg Time: 7:22  Elapsed Time: 18:25
TOD: 2:25am. Cut off: 4:45pm
Time in TA 3/4: 7 min

I was just over halfway done the race at this point, 65K done and 60K to go.  Immediately after leaving the TA, we started the 10K climb to the top of Mt. Hamel.  Other than 2 very short flattish sections, it was a steady death march up that mountain in the dying light.  The cut off at Hamel Escape was 10:15pm and no one around me seemed to know exactly how far up the mountain that was.  We assumed it was at the top, and so I was doing math the whole way up.  I knew I had to average 4K/hour to make it and I climbed as if my life depended on it.  There was NO WAY I was going to get pulled off that course by anyone.  

I do not consider myself a good climber, even when I lived in the mountains.  Downhill running has always been my strength.  I was quite surprised to find that I was passing a lot of people as we climbed that mountain.  I was fuelled by caffeinated Tailwind (nectar of the gods), a light rain (I love rain) and my brother’s admonition that, “if I come all they way out there, you’d better finish.” I approached  Hamel Escape at the 8K mark, after 1h37min of climbing and had gained 21 places!  Yay!  Still rather close for my liking, but I knew I had made the last tight cut off.  As we headed the last 2K up Mt. Hamel the rain stopped and just as we reached the alpine line the most beautiful double rainbow appeared.  I love the alpine and breathed in the fresh air, took in the view and snapped a picture of that beautiful rainbow.  I was feeling great and it was so magical that I almost expected a unicorn to appear!  I said a silent prayer to God thanking Him for the rainbow and running with me that day.

Around this time I locked in behind Mike, a seasoned Albertan ultra runner who could move with the momentum of a freight train, slow but unstoppable.  Hearing that he had done this race several times, I asked him if we were on target to finish in time.  He said no problem, that it would likely be 22 hours, maybe 22:30.  I vowed not to let him out of my sight.
My trail buddy Mike - the only person I really talked to the whole race. Thanks for the beta Mike!

We topped out on Hamel as the sun was setting.  In the deepening dusky light, we did a short out and back to retrieve a flag, and then headed down off the mountain.  It was windy and cool, but really the weather was perfect.  I couldn’t have asked for better weather up there.  As the light faded, I switched on my headlamp and began the long descent off the mountain, just ahead of Mike.  The grade was very runnable, but the darkness and uneven rocks stopped me from really stretching out.  I didn’t want to risk spraining an ankle way up there.  I reached the Ambler Loop aid station just after midnight.  This aid station was very minimal, but I didn’t need much.  I had left a drop bag with warm clothes there in case the weather was really bad, so I grabbed my hat and gloves just in case it got cold and kept pushing on.

Entering the final third, the Ambler Loop was pretty uninspiring and brought to you by the letter D - Dig Down.  It was frustrating because I wanted to run, but the quad track was again covered in very large puddles or completely flooded out.  I did not want to run through the water with at least 30K still to go and took the time to go around them all, often hanging onto a tree with one hand an placing my pole deep into the swampy puddle with the other hand while slipping and skirting my way around praying I wouldn’t end up face first in the swamp.  At this point I would normally feel the need for music, but I was content with my own thoughts and the sounds of the forest.  After passing several spots where I could smell the distinctive scent of animals, I also kept an ear out for bears, hooting and hollering every so often.
Pictures taken on the Ambler Loop while flagging the day before. Imagine this in the dark. 

After checking in at the Ambler Loop aid station again, I started the last 11K down the road to TA 4/5.  This section was perfectly graded for running and I flew down that road feeing amazing.  Near the bottom I caught up with Mike.  We must have crossed paths in the Ambler Loop.  I ran strongly into the TA with a huge smile on my face to find Scott waiting there for me at 2:30 am.

I may have rather loudly (too loudly, possibly abnoxiously) announced that I was feeling GREAT, quickly gulped down some hot noodles, grabbed 5 snacks, refilled my bottles, and jumped up as soon as I saw Mike headed out. See ya at the finish Scott!

Leg 5: The River Crossing
Distance: 22K  Gain: +838m / -567m  POLES
Leg Time:  3:54 Elapsed Time: 22:19
TOD: 6:19am. Cut off: 8:00am

I was 103K into the Canadian Death Race and I felt like a million bucks.  I was still feeling some time pressure as I knew there was lots of climbing still left on this leg, and I wanted to get to the river crossing with enough time to walk it out if I had to.  The 7K to the boat was pretty tame, but it seemed impossible to really get running.  There was dense foliage and slippery roots that you couldn’t see in the dark, and just when I started to get some momentum I would come upon someone trekking and would have to decide if I wanted to pass or not.  I finally firmly decided I wasn’t going to get sucked into trekking when I didn’t need to and continued to pass people along this stretch.  

When I reached Hell’s Gate and the boat that would take me across the Smokey River, I triumphantly surrendered my CDR coin for passage (no coin, no boat ride, no finish).  I timed out for the crossing and a mere 3 minutes later timed back in on the other side, just after 4:00am.  This time would be subtracted from my race time at the end.  Once across the river, my adrenaline started to ebb. 
In the boat
15K to go.  Climbing.  So much climbing.  20 hours into the race and I was done with climbing.  Dig down. I wanted to move fast, to get this thing done.  Wherever possible I continued to run, even though it wasn’t fast.  It felt much better to run than trek, on both my body and my mind.  I was so grateful my feet and legs felt fine - no excuses not to run other than fatigue.  Dig down. As the pre-dawn light started to turn the sky orange and pink, the birds started chirping.  I popped out of the forest, continued to climb up a gravel road and suddenly I was in town only a few blocks from the finish line.  Yahoo!
A whole lotta "2s" in this picture.  Isn't that the number of prosperity in Chinese?
I crossed the line at 6:19am and as I gave my brother the biggest/smelliest/dirtiest hug, I immediately choked up.  He is and always will be my greatest hero. I admire him beyond measure - for all that he has endured, overcome, and accomplished since his spinal cord injury. He has never made excuses for himself and has pushed through daily chronic pain and innumerable barriers to become highly educated, move up the corporate ladder and travel the world.  I had just completed the Canadian Death Race and he had waited up all night to cheer me on.  I felt simultaneously proud, relieved, humbled, unworthy, grateful and loved.  I have no doubt that if my brother was able-bodied, he’d be running these races with me.  Someday in another place, in another dimension, we will run together.  But for now, we hugged, he took pictures and I just sat still for a while with him by the fire, feeling the magnitude of the day.

Post Race Thoughts

The Canadian Death Race has garnered respect from it’s inception, and not just because of it’s badass name.  It’s hard.  There is an incredible amount of elevation gain that is spread throughout the entire course.  The rough terrain combined with some tight cut offs results in a race that must be taken seriously.  CDR is not an ultra one can hike and finish in the 24 hour cut off.  I finished top 1/3 overall and top 1/4 among the women, and I was cutting it pretty close with some of the cutoffs.  I do not think I could have run it much faster which left little room for error or something going wrong.

That said, I am super happy with my race execution.  I paced perfectly, managing an almost perfectly equal split between the first and last half, thanks in part to how they distributed the climbs.  I only spent 32 minutes at the transition areas and had a total of 41 minutes of non-moving time. Pretty good over 22 hours.  I was able to run right up until the end with no injuries or real pain to speak of. The first nausea that didn’t settle within minutes came at hour 20 - later in a race than I have ever made it and at which point I didn’t care.  No puking, no dry heaving, no GI distress, no hyponatremia, no dehydration, no blisters (ok maybe 2 very small ones I noticed 2 days later).  My mind stayed sharp, I barely listened to music, and I didn’t even really have any super low moments.  For those of you familiar with my Zion 100 experience: basically the polar opposite.  Thank goodness.

“By the time you cross the finish, you will have learned more about yourself than most dare to imagine!”

They say that an ultra can be called “Life in a Day.”  So many events and intense experiences compressed into a single day, it’s living in fast forward.  Every single race changes you and that’s honestly the best part.  For me, it’s really a race against and within my self…and I’m different every time.

So often we fear change, and don’t even dare imagine pushing to the limits that are the catalysts for change.  Or we go through life slowly changing, but refusing to acknowledge that we are different people than we were years ago.  We think we know ourselves, but we don’t.

How many of us truly want to know ourselves?  Dare to?

What did I learn about myself?  What did I dare to uncover?  I am not the same person I was last year or in the last race and I uncover a new me each time.  I am not afraid to acknowledge where I make mistakes and I find the whole process of fine tuning my body and my mind fascinating.  I dare say I like myself.  I am very comfortable spending long hours with my own thoughts now, no longer needing to tune them out with music or audiobooks. I discovered I have developed a resistance to mental fatigue that pleasantly surprised me.

Most significantly, I’ve transitioned from blocking out to accepting, tuning in rather than tuning out.  I used to pride myself on my ability to block out pain, block out emotion, block out fatigue, block out any unpleasantness and just keep going.  This applied to life as well as to running.  This only works for so long, and at some point all that repression has to come out somewhere.  In a race, my gut would explode, or my feet would blow up, or I’d get into such a dark hole mentally it would be hard to come out of it.  I am very good at pushing back pain, but late in a race or after, I would suffer with the best of them.

I have been practicing just accepting it all.  Not pushing pain back, but feeling it. Dealing with it.  Using it to fuel the fire inside me.  Letting it make me bigger rather than take from me.  It’s amazing how once accepted and released, pain doesn’t come back at least to the same degree.  I’ve had an amazing recovery this week - yes there was some pain and swelling, but these aren’t bad things.  They mean I did something awesome and my body is already adapting and will be stronger next time, which is extremely empowering.

Thank-you to race director Brian Gallant, Sinister Sports, the town of Grande Cache, all the amazing volunteers, my most inspiring coach Sarah, Salming Canada, all my friends who supported me from afar, my family who support me every day, and to my brother Scott. Finishing CDR and qualifying for Western States was pretty cool, but sharing the experience with you and seeing you at the finish line was something I’ll remember forever.

Scott and I at our post-race breakfast.  Just a tad puffy-eyed.

Addendum: My trial running buddy Todd finished 30 min ahead of me and also met me at the finish line.  He did so awesome, and even more so considering that he had done Sinister 7 just 4 weeks previously.  Way to go Todd!

Sunday, 24 June 2018

How To Not Feel Horrible After Your Long Run

I've been doing this ultra running thing for 5 years now as a full-time working mom and wife.  Over time, I have gotten nonchalant about my pre and post run personal management, especially when it comes to my long and back to back (to back) long runs.  This results in often feeling less than stellar the rest of the day or for a full weekend.  As ultra runners, we train ourselves to just power through.  To ignore the fatigue and pain and keep going. After a long run, I often come home exhausted, rarely eat enough or hydrate enough, and just power through - immediately starting to cook lunch or going for a bike ride with the family, or tackling the weeds in the yard.  Lately I have been feeling decidedly suboptimal, especially on Sunday afternoons, enough that this weekend I decided it was time to make some changes.

There are things I know about pre-run prep and post-run recovery, yet I can fully admit that I often skip steps because I simply do not have or make time for them.  I'm training for the Canadian Death Race, and this weekend I had a B2B2B planned for a total of 100k in 48 hours with at least 1500m of climbing in the last run - which in Manitoba is not convenient.  It has been extremely hot and humid here, and I started my first run on Friday afternoon after work at 2:00pm.  It was 33 degrees with stupid sauna-like humidity.  Within 2 hours I was severely dehydrated despite drinking copious amounts of water, and dragged myself home 3.5 hours later rather useless to my family.  It took 5 hours to properly rehydrate and as I sat there sipping on electrolyte solution feeling like s*$t I decided enough was enough.  If I was going to get through this weekend and come out on the other side a functional human being, I needed to get my act together.

Fast forward to today.  Less than forty-eight hours later I feel GREAT. Great enough that I had to reflect on WTH I did differently this weekend and how I turned it around so well.   Here is what I came up with.

10 Keys to Feeling Great After Your Long Run

1) Pretend you are an elite athlete.  I recently read 'Let Your Mind Run' by Michelle Hamilton and Deena Kastor.  It was Deena's memoir and is a great book.  She was the first female sub-2:20 marathoner in the US, and a multiple Olympian who won the bronze medal in the marathon in Athens in 2004.  She describes her daily routines and as I listened to her book (in audio) the stark contrast of her routine to mine stood out.  #motherrunners such as myself sometimes like to think we are superhero elite athletes, and we hold ourself to impossibly high standards.  Reality check: I am NOT an elite athlete (or I wouldn't take so long to get my miles in), but I can gain some wisdom from them at least for a weekend of high volume training.

2) Nap.  Elite athletes often run twice a day and napping in the middle of the day is essential.  So yesterday I had a 2 hour nap.  It was awesome.

3) Sit down and be still.  I rarely sit down. Ever.  This weekend I forced myself to sit down as much as possible.  When I wasn't running, I was sitting with my feet up - reading, watching the kids in the pool, laying in the pool, watching movies and playing games.  We cleared the schedule and we all just relaxed.  This sounds elementary, but it rarely happens in our family.  Relaxation is an art and I am not a great artist.

4) Go to bed early.  Getting as much sleep as possible when training heavily makes a HUGE difference.  Last night it meant going to bed at 8:30 for a 4am wake-up call, but recovery is part of training and sleep is the most saturated form of recovery you can get.

5) Compression.  It was hot. It wasn't fashionable (unless also wearing a trucker hat).  I embarrassed my kids...but I wore my compression socks all weekend.

6) Do Not Get Dehydrated or Depleted. Rather than just throwing some water and my bag of bars and gels into my car, I took extra time last night to prepare for my longest run today.  I was NOT going to be dehydrated, over-heated or bonk and spend the rest of the day catching up. I froze my bladder and water bottles 1/2 full of water to ensure a cold supply.  I packed a cooler filled with ice, extra water and my Icefil arm sleeves, took a huge bag of running fuel, and stuck to my fueling schedule. Even though it was cloudy, in addition to pre-hydrating I still drank 5 litres of water and electrolyte drink during/after my 6 hour run this morning and used another litre to wash off any potential poison ivy.  Even through I could barely carry my bags to my car this morning, I was prepared and so thankful I had brought enough!

7) Tailwind.  I have been experimenting with different liquid fueling options, and have not been using Tailwind for the past 6 weeks.  I've missed it.  Yesterday I found some left-over product and used it today.  Not sure if this was a key difference, but I felt AWESOME during my run and after.  Back to Tailwind it is for me!

8) Eat: 15-30 Min Window. You need to eat a ratio of 4:1 carbs:protein within 15-30 min of finishing your run when your insulin sensitivity is at it's highest.  I know that.  My dietitian has even given me specific suggestions.  Sadly, I often do not do it after my long run because I am far away from civilization and I neglect to pack a good post run meal.  Ya I know - not great. Today on my way home from Birch I stopped at Syl's and stuffed myself.  All that awesome food went straight into my muscles, and I could feel it almost immediately!

9) Eat: Enough.  When endurance training, it's super important to eat enough high quality nutrient dense food.  I never let myself get hungry all weekend and I know it paid off.

10) Handsome Awesome Husband.  Last but certainly not least, it helps to have an amazing partner around.  I'm fortunate it's BBQ season and my husband loves to BBQ, because he cooked a lot this weekend.  I am definitely a lucky girl and have loads of gratitude for my DH - even when he feeds me moose steaks.

I am not sure which of the above things made the most difference, but I can tell you that I felt amazing all day despite logging crazy mileage this week in the heat.  If I had to choose, I'd say it was the sleep and sitting down more that made the most difference.

Despite what we become accustomed to tolerating, endurance training should not leave us "normal people" feeling wrecked every weekend.  This is especially true mid-season when we already have a solid base.  I've recommitted to following some simple rules to ensure that my hobby enhances rather than limits the rest of my life.

If you don't want to be a compression sock wearing zombie on Sunday afternoons, change something.  There is a better way.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Superior 50K Race Report

"The Superior 50 KM Trail Race is an extremely hilly, rugged and technical out-and-back (100% trail) ultramarathon which traverses the Sawtooth Mountain Range on the Superior Hiking Trail in the far reaches of northern Minnesota .  The course parallels Lake Superior, the greatest freshwater lake in the world, climbs to near 2000′ peaks with breath-taking vistas of the lake and inland forests and crosses whitewater rivers and serene streams while meandering through mystic Boreal forests.  The race starts and finishes at Caribou Highlands Resort in Lutsen Minnesota." Superior Spring Trail Race website

With a course description such as this, how could I NOT register for this race?  Ever since moving to Manitoba, I had heard about the iconic Superior Trail Races.  This spring I figured it was time to check the course out.  Note: somehow a large part of my pre-race rambling has disappeared.  This is likely fate saving you from my long diatribe.  So let's just cut to important stuff:

PC: Amy Broadmoore

Start - Oberg: 7.5 miles
The race started on a very short stretch of road before crossing a footbridge and narrowing to a rocky and technical stretch of single track on which I found myself in a congo line heading up Mystery Mountain. Straight off the start you immediately climb the tallest mountain of the race (just over 200m), immediately drop down into a valley, and then climb Moose Mountain (another 200m) before dropping down even lower.  
PC: One of the race photographers

The mutterings on the trail from other runners thus far revealed that the course was likely "in the best condition it had ever been" this year.  Although there were some muddy sections in the valleys, it wasn't as wet as I had prepared for.  This was a relief because it was definitely technical enough to make up for the lack of mud.  Roots, large rocks, small rocks, and slippery mud all made for some spectacular trail dancing and required a very mindful presence with every step.  Although I was making sure to check my pace and run easy off the start, I still ran quite aggressively in this section and made sure to pass people who were not running my natural pace.  I needed to see that trail in front of me to plan 3-4 steps ahead and following too closely in someone else's footsteps was a sure recipe for tripping or spraining an ankle, especially on the downhill sections where I LOVE running wild and free with feet that react without thought.
PC: Fresh Tracks Media

After the beautiful flowing single track off Moose Mountain there is one more shorter climb before reaching Oberg aid station.  I came up 1/2 mile short at this aid station on the way out but with all the turns to force tangents and forest to hide satellites, I knew that GPS tracking could have a large margin for error in terrain such as we were running.  I ran through this aid station feeling strong and still light on my feet.

Oberg - Sawbill - 5.8 miles

This section was more undulating with more mud, some planked boardwalks over low areas, and still lots of roots to keep you on your toes.  The runners had spread out more on the course by now and I was enjoying running my own pace, focusing on short strides, light steps, and easy breathing.  Although the trees were still mostly waiting to bud out in the cool north shore climate, the forest floor was starting to green up and I caught my first glimpse of ferns this season!  One of my process goals for this race was to "savour the forest," and I made sure to breathe deeply, appreciate the delicate nature of the forest floor, listen to the streams rush by, and glance up as the wind made the trees sway.  The forest is my happy place and I felt I could run forever in this place.  Coming into Sawmill I needed to change out my water bottles, restock fuel from my drop bag, and deal with a nasty hot spot under my left big toe from all the prancing and slipping in the mud.  My sock was fine, no dirt in my shoe - oh well - if I blistered it was only 50K right?  Onward and upward!
PC: One of the race photographers

I should also say that is was near the end of this section that I was already seeing the front runners on their return, with our very own Steven Graupner in a solid 3rd place looking very strong.  He ended up holding onto that podium spot - way to go Steven!

Sawbill  - Turnaround - Sawbill - 4.4 miles
This section was pretty darn technical with a sweet climb up to the summit of Carleton Peak where we turned around and headed back to the Sawbill Aid Station.  During this section we of course started passing more and more people either coming back or still head up the climb.  I hit the half way point at almost exactly 3 hours and I was very pleased as I still felt really good and that is a good pace for me on this type of terrain!  I paused for a moment to take a selfie at the summit and headed back down with views of Lake Superior to the south.  Before very long I found myself back at Sawbill where my husband and kids were waiting for me!  I felt bad that I didn't need to stop at all and was solidly in race mode.  I kissed them all on the cheek, thanked them for coming and headed on out with their shouts of "see you at the finish!"  Their presence meant a lot to me as this was the first ultra that I've ever done in which my family met me at an aid station.  Special moment that was over all too quickly.
The Turnaround - Halfway There!
Sawbill - Oberg - 5.6 miles
Distances in trail ultras are always qualified as being "approximate."  The distances in the Superior 50k were no different.  I actually had more mileage on the return legs of the race than going out, contrary to published race splits.  This is further evidence that GPS tracking error rate is high in the forest even at 1 sec updates.  This was the toughest section for me. After leaving Sawbill and my family, my stomach started to go bad.  I had been drinking quite a bit and my face was super salty even in the cool weather, so I took a few salt tabs which usually helps.  It didn't really.  I had switched to Tailwind instead of water and even at a dilute concentration the sweet liquid made me feel sick.  Although I felt like I was running just as fast as on the way out, getting to Oberg seemed to take FOREVER.  I did spend a lot of time stepping off the trail for runners still headed out to the turnaround which slowed things down, and the trail was getting pretty chewed up with large mud pits forming that were difficult if not impossible to get around quickly.  I was warned I might lose a shoe somewhere along this course, and it almost happened as I stepped into some mud and heard that sucking sound as my heel came right up out of my shoe.  But I managed to keep my trusted Salming T3's on my feet and keep moving.  Despite my best efforts I was slowing down and I pushed to keep moving as efficiently as possible.

At Oberg I forced myself to stop and take stock.  I had barely paused at the aid stations thus far, but this time I grabbed a ginger pill, ate a pretzel and some potato chips, and switched out one of my bottles from TW to water.  Within minutes of leaving that aid station my stomach settled.  Was it the ginger pill?  Pure water?  Not sure, but I was grateful.

Oberg - Finish - 7.5 miles
Two more mountains to cross and the race would be done!  These climbs were no joke and as my legs got heavier it took all my mental energy to stay focused on lifting up my feet and not catching a toe.  I pulled out my phone to turn on my tunes for the final leg only to find it dead.  Hmm.  Not a big deal - I needed to stay fully present and not tune out.  I stumbled many times, but never badly and I never pulled a muscle!  Yay!  I was terrified of another Iron Legs torn hamstring repeat performance and my mantras through the last part of this race were simply "pick up your feet", "run like a deer, and "DON'T FALL."    
 I was literally saying to the photographer at this point: not fair, you can't take a picture of me here!
PC: Fresh Tracks Media
I was pleasantly surprised how well I was handling the hills given that I had had very limited training on hilly terrain thus far this season and more road running than I've EVER had in an ultra training period.  I can thank my coach Sarah Seads at ELM Health for getting me perfectly ready for this race.  My legs were holding up and another one of my process goals was to save my legs for the downhills in this last stretch. I LOVE downhill running and I wanted to run it in strong.  I happily let go and flew (that's what it felt like at least) down the last long perfectly graded section of Mystery Mountain before hitting the road to the finish line.
PC: Jamison Swift

My kids met me just before the finish and we ran it in together in 6:30.  My husband snapped a photo and when I tried to hug them they all told me I had to take a shower.  I couldn't understand why?!  I had only run 50K and only had a little mud on me lol!

Some post race chili, a soak on the hot tub, a swim in the pool, and a good supper with several friends rounded out the day perfectly.  I went to bed smiling - completely satisfied with a happy heart and a contented soul.  I went into this race exhausted from work, stressed, mentally struggling to focus.  In the last hours before I arrived in Minnesota I managed to get my head in the right place.  I needed this race.  I needed to feel great after.  Thank-you Lord...ask and you shall receive.

Post Race Notes

The race organizers and volunteers at the Superior 50K (Rock Steady Running) were simply awesome.  At Sawbill they had my drop bag ready for me.  I had people filling up my water bottles, offering me a chair, shoving my fuel into my pack and zipping me up.  There were photographers all along the course and I have more race photos than I've ever had in a race!  I felt like a rock star and I thank you all!

We stayed onsite at the Caribou Highland Resort and we were so glad we did.  We may have paid a little more, but if you have a family with you, it's worth it.  To have the race start and finish right outside your door next to the pool and kids playground?  Priceless.  The kids enjoyed the pool, hot tub, ping pong table, and we had an awesome fire for roasting marshmallows one evening.
Lake Superior
Caribou Highlands Resort
I'd like to thank Salming Running for supporting me and providing my shoes and clothing for the race.  I can't say enough good about my shoes - this race I chose to wear the T3s - an older model but a shoe that works really well for me.  I had placed the OT Comps in my drop bag incase it was SUPER muddy, but I didn't feel I needed them as the T3s cleaned off quickly and provided enough protection from the roots and rocks so that my feet didn't blister and weren't sore after!  If you want to try a pair of these awesome Swedish shoes, use my code senechal20 for 20% off!
Caribou Falls
Finally, I already feel amazing and am recovering very well!  Two days after the race I felt completely normal with no muscle soreness or pain.  I'm happy that my training seems to be spot on.  Not much down time needed before the next big push!

Next race report: Canadian Death Race!  Yahoo!!!!