Sunday, 23 December 2012

Trail Running in Maui (or - how I learned to stop worrying and love my offseason)

coming up the Halemaluu trail on the Haleakala crater hike

After the North Face 50 mile race, Coach John Hill assigned me 5 weeks of active rest. Active rest pretty much means: no Garmin, no pace, and no set workouts. No new injuries, no stressful running, and no new bad decisions. It means a physical rest and a mental rest to recover from my dubious run choices in 2012, and to to rest up for my even more questionable run plans for 2013. I am supposed to do all the things that I put off or didn't have time to do when I was running and training a lot. So far, my success at offseason has been mixed.

week 1 - drinking
It turns out, when I'm not running, I have a decent amount of time on my hands. I could have devoted this time to catching up on reading. I could have cleaned out my closet, or re-organized my apartment, or devoted myself to my work. Instead, I decided to focus on two semi-neglected things: my socializing, and my drinking. Instead of Thursday night intervals, in the dark, on the Stanley Park roads, me and some other running girlfriends dressed up (even wore heels) and went out for drinks. I got to catch up with my non-running-friends (both of them!) over...yes...more drinks. So this is what normal people do? I think normal people have better alcohol tolerance than me.

week 2 - trying new things
I don't like trying new activities, and I really don't like change. I do road running AND trail running - this gives me more than enough variety (in both workouts and injuries). However, I am (relatively) easily talked into things.Learning to do yoga was enough of a learning curve that I can confidently say that I am not ready to try a new thing, ever. But - I do have a one year unlimited yoga pass to yyoga. And yyoga does offer a spin class. My triathlete / runner friend has been trying to get me to attend this class with him for about a month. Before the race, I had valid reasons (excuses) to not go: I needed to run for several hours on trails in the rain, I needed to recover from runs in rain, I needed taper...after the race, my excuses wore thin:

Exasperated friend ("EF"): spin class?
Me: Can't face spin - uterus isn't prepared.
EF: Oh come on, it's a new excuse each week. Or a last minute bail.
Me: I'd rather run. Or stick a sharp object into my eye.
EF: Spin bikes don't hurt.
Me: I am not not physically or emotionally ready. My freak uterus can't do it.
EF: Not buying it.

Obviously, I made it to the 6:15am spin class. I wore two pairs of underwear, and my mom's hand-me-down bike shorts. I met my friend, who had already claimed bikes. The class was dimly lit, with a candle in the centre. My friend was wearing a visor, a heart rate monitor, and started his Garmin as soon as the instructor walked into the room. So for the longest 45min ever, I was on a stationary bike to dance music, trying desperately to figure out when to stand up, when to sit down, and when I could discreetly recover (cheat / take a break). By the end, my body was tired, but my joints weren't trashed. I might even be back....

week 3 - the weather sucks
On the third Saturday of my offseason, I ran with Lucy, in snow, up to the Cleveland Dam. Despite the great company, the run was cold and bleak. It was time for a change.

On the Sunday, I decided to combine my offseason drinking with my attempts to sort of try new things - by heading to Maui with Donovan. This was supposed to be a relaxing vacation. The plan was to eat tropical things (papayas, pineapples, avocados) while lounging on the beach, being relaxed, not being freezing cold all the time, looking at pretty fish and admiring the tropical-ness.

This was a good plan, but it failed to address the following things: I am type-A as fuck. I can lounge for all of 30 minutes before getting antsy. I burn really easily. I like to drink wine along with consumption of tropical food items....and Maui has some pretty awesome trails.

Initially, I was a bit more keen to run trails than Donovan was. I am used to running trails: walking uphills, negotiating (falling) downhill,  wearing a pack, and judging runs based more of elevation gain / trail condition than distance. Donovan does triathlons. As far as I am concerned, this means that he is used to structured workouts, running at a pace faster than 7min/km uphill, using a heart rate monitor, not getting lost, not fearing for his life going downhills. After our Grand Canyon rim-to-rim adventure (and nighttime snowy BCMC trail adventure) he has also become somewhat skeptical of my trail plans and route descriptions (pretty much: "It's XYZ distance and ABC'll be fine. Totally fine."). I had picked out some routes I wanted to run...and he had questioned if I wanted to kill him (not really). Five days,  80.7kms and almost 3600m of elevation later, things were a bit different.

I get very excited at the prospect of doing runs of new trails. Add to this my natural tendency to get up early, and my love of coffee in the mornings...and you have the equivalent in terms of energy (and potentially obnoxiousness) of a three year old who has eaten a family-sized bag of candy and then been given a drum set. To try to make things a bit more even, I was delegated all week to carrying the running backpack, with a 2L water bag, snacks, and extra gear. Donovan carried a small handheld.

Day 1 - Poli Poli forest
Distance: 20k
Run time: 2:30 (note that run times include all breaks, especially lots of photo breaks)
elevation: less than 700m?
trail condition: easy - well marked, rolling, not very technical.
lunch break: don't mind if I do!

the mist in the forest made it look more like something out of "the Hobbit" and less like a tropical destination

These trails were on the backside of Haleakala. We could see the ridge from where we were staying in Wailea. It was tempting to try to just run up the mountain to intercept the park. My navigation issues and the heat prevented us from doing this. Instead, we had a really fun jeep ride along windy dirt roads on the side of the mountain to the park entrance and the trail head. For a place that felt like it was out in the middle of nowhere, the trails were surprisingly well-marked. We went out and back along the Boundary trail.

Day 2 - Haleakala crater (Sliding Sands trail)
In 2008, post-UFE, me and the awesome Mel Best went to Maui. We hiked this trail. Although the weather wasn't ideal, I remembered the trail being a stand-out on the hike. Donovan wasn't initially convinced. Something about the point to point aspect gave him flashback to the Grand Canyon? After an hour or so on Garmin connect, and another hour checking out other trail descriptions on the internet, he was committed, if not necessarily as enthusiastic as me.

wake up time: 3:30am
arrival time at summit: 5:50am
parking spaces remaining at summit before 6am: very very few
clothes worn while watching a fabulous but fucking cold sunrise: all of them, plus a beach towel.
distance: 19k
elevation: 500-ishm
time: 2:40
photo breaks: so so many
trail difficulty: medium - runnable, well marked, the volcanic sand makes it slow in places, and the winds for the 1st 1km down are a bit nutty.

So excited for sunrise! and so cold.

hell yes!

The trail is point-to-point. We parked at the Halemaluu trailhead, at approx. 8000ft (the top is 10,000 ft). We were lucky enough to see another couple parked in the trailhead lot, and snag a ride with them back to the top of Haleakala to start the run. The road up to the summit has a dedicated hiker pick-up area, and it is very easy to park at the end of the run, then get a ride up to the top of the volcano to start the run. The trails are easy and very well marked. The views, the stillness in the crater, watching the sun light the far edges of the crater - all amazing.

Also amazing was the last uphill section, where I was feeling tired. I was powerhiking (okay, walking) the uphills...and Donovan was running them with suspicious ease. By the end, I was running - and hanging onto his heels to keep going, while wheezing heavily.

Day 3 - Wailea - Makena run
distance: 12km
elevation: it's road run.
ability to run without my trail backpack / safety blanket: I felt so much lighter!
heat: it is fucking hot running on concrete at noon.

Ending any run with a parking lot full change into a bikini, then swimming amongst brightly coloured fish is a pretty damn nice change from a freezing ice bath in Burrard inlet.

Day 4 - Lahaina - Pali trail (bait and switch)
My inspiration for wanting to do this run was from my girlfriend Chessa. She was in Maui a couple weeks before me. I saw pictures of this on her facebook page. She looked happy, while her husband Matt looked hot and tired. The online trail descriptions of this bordered on the ridiculous: one way (5 miles!) would take 3 hours, you would need "legs of steel" to get up, you would run out of water, the trail was rocky, etc etc. Initially, Donovan was not thrilled with these descriptions, and didn't seem interested in a steep, exposed trail that promised potential dehydration and certain sweaty climbs.

We set out with the intention of doing the Waihee ridge trail in west Maui...until we saw the huge rain clouds. The Lahaina-Pali trail, in contrast, was mostly clear. I should have clued in with all the windmills that this run would be....breezier...than most. Although the wind did make forward momentum difficult, it kept us from getting too hot as we ran the steep uphill.

Distance: 16km
Elevation: 1000m
Windy up top? Hell yes.
Pace on some downhills: 8min/kms (it's a bit rocky)
time: 2:30 or so? including chat breaks with other hikers

This run also signalled a bit of a mental switch for Donovan. We met a couple hiking on the trail, who discussed doing the Kaupo Gap route. This route goes from the Hana highway up to the top of Haleakala, and back down. According to the internet, the route is 56-60k round trip, 10,000 ft climbing. Most people only go one way. A normal person's reaction: this is a stupid, likely dangerous idea - let's go to the beach. Our reaction: this would be really cool to do. I guess I need to come back next year (with a headlamp, good travel insurance, bug spray, water treatment drops, and my ridiculously huge running pack).

sweaty running pics. no beach pics available (I am too white)

Day 5 - Waihee Ridge and Makawao Forest
West Maui finally got some sun, and my navigation skills worked enough to find the Waihee ridge trailhead.

Distance: 8k
Elevation: 500m
Time: 1hr
cheesy running pics taken at my request: many

The trail was awesome, and had the most hikers we'd seen out of any of the trails. After the mini-run, we stopped by Paia for some and beer / ginger ale and a quart of ice cream split two ways. Feeling full (and somewhat guilty), we went over to the Hana side of Haleakala to run in Makawao forest. This was the easiest run of the trip. By this point, I was a bit tired. The run didn't have big views of blow-your-socks off scenery. Instead, there was the late afternoon light through the trees, the scent of eucalyptus, and the faint trail winding its way through leaves.

Distance: 11k
Elevation: 300m?
Time: 1hr
wipeout on the least technical surface you can imagine, going uphill: 1. Ugh.

It was a great way to finish the run portion of the trip. Sunset found us pulled over on the side of the road, top down, drinking wine out of red plastic cups (me still in muddy compression calf sleeves), watching the sunset.

Things I actually heard:
"My legs feel pretty good."
"It would be fun to run the Kneeknacker."
"It would be fun to do the North Face 50."
"It would be fun to do the Miwok 100."
"We could totally do 60k on trails up and down the volcano."
"I should get a bigger running backpack."

Then this morning, I woke up in the dark to rain against my window, and knew I was back in Vancouver. Brooke and I did about 18k on concrete under low clouds, using girl talk to help us on the uphills and through the headwinds.

I want to go back to Maui, and run the damn 60k trail.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Roads vs Trails

This past year of running was a bit schizophrenic. The first five months, I was out on the seawall (or close to it), week in and week out, clocking off time with a Garmin. At no point did I ever fear for my life. The next five months (minus one off for injury - 'bad trail behaviour") I was also on the seawall, running fast - during the week. On weekends, I was tripping over roots on the trails.

"A" Race choice
The Vancouver marathon was the "A" race for spring season. It took me a over a month to finally commit. When I saw the results from the VFAC members who raced Sacramento in December 2011, it lit up something inside me that had been quiet for three years. I signed up for the BMO Vancouver 1/2 marathon. It didn't give me what I needed - I'd still wake up at night, and I could feel inside me how badly I wanted to do another marathon.
 I analyzed every different way: How would I train through audit busy season? Would I get injured? Could I hit my goal time? Who would I run with? Finally, I could sense my friends' patience wearing thin, and I signed up - then sent coach John several e-mails immediately after. The finish line of the race was 10mins from my place, and it was an easy transit trip to the start line.

30 mile
I signed up for the Kneeknacker 30mile race in February, less than two weeks after a break-up, possibly after a couple drinks. I did not know the course specifics (except that it was hilly and would be painful), elevation, or training plan. This course was on the North Shore - but still at least close to Vancouver. I tried to avoid telling coach John about this race as long as possible...then finally succumbed after several drinks post-marathon.

50 mile
I signed up for the North Face 50 mile on the day it sold out in July. I signed up less than a week after running (and injuring myself badly) the Kneeknacker. I was sober and not going through significant relationship flux. This was possibly the first time it occurred to me that I am capable of making very impulsive, truly questionable decisions. One "proceed to checkout" click, and I had just chosen my fall "A" race. I originally planned to just sort of omit telling this to John....until the guilt got too much, and I blurted out my race plan one day before practice.

I followed coach John's amazing running plans. Every two weeks, we would have workouts assigned to us, complete with distances and paces. I did what he said, and I got fast.

30 mile
For the kneeknacker, I attended most of the Sunday training runs. These were open to entrants and non-entrants alike. The routes were shown far in advance on the kneeknacker website, and meeting times were organized and strictly enforced. For the rest of the training, I sort of...winged it. I went to VFAC Thursdays, did tempos on Tuesday, did yoga to make my hips hurt less (this involved a lot of yoga). I used back-to-back weekend runs as an excuse to stop going to the track Saturday.

50 mile
San Francisco is pretty far to go for training runs. Coach John gave me a program, which combined week-day marathon training (think 21k tempos and 9-10k interval workouts) with weekend longer trail runs. Realistically, my weekend long runs were determined by: who had a car, what mountain looked fun to run up, and who wants to come with me. It is pretty crazy when running the Grand Canyon is actually a completely legit part of a training week, in terms of elevation and distance (actually, I took the rest of that week a bit light as I didn't even do back-to-back workouts that weekend).

Training, in the end, was doing as much as my body could handle, as fast as it could handle. And accepting the inevitable breakdowns (physical and mental) that would result.

Distances are unpredictable (but overall longer)
Whe I did marathon training, time and distance were easy and had some logical relation to each other. 25k? About two hours. 35k? About 3 hours.

I remember doing the 38k long run for marathon 3hrs15mins, it was the longest run I had done in almost three years.

Less than two months later, and a three hour kneeknacker training run was considered short. In another five months, three hours WAS my "shorter" of two weekend runs.

I do judge trail runs by time, as 25k on trails has taken me anywhere from 2.40 (All Hallows course) to 4hrs (Comfortably Numb trail, minor ankle sprain). The elevation, terrain, my navigational issues, and even the weather conditions matter way more than the distance.

Running hungover
For marathon training, Sundays were long run days. The runs would be on concrete or very, very easy trails (when I was still able to convince people to run up to the Cleveland Dam with me). Occasionally, I would go out Saturday night for a few drinks, forgetting my inability to hold any amount of liquor. This would result in some rough Sunday mornings. However, a bunch of water and some coffee later, I was completely able to run 30-some odd kms with no more lasting damage than an eventual hangover.

When the trail runs are over two hours and run at "Brooke" speed, I stay sober the night before - I need all my wits (and some sheer terror) in order to keep my footing. On very sober runs I have still  managed to roll ankles, scrape my hip, and do all other manner of wipe-outs. With my lack of motor skills, if I was hungover I would likely be dead by now. This committment to not drinking was helped by the sleepovers at Brooke's - I think she has bottles of wine there that pre-date the internet.

running scared
The most traumatic things that happen on road runs are typically raccoon sightings, skunk sightings, and bathroom emergencies where no bathrooms are to be found.

Trails have a whole new level of terror. There is running in snow (and being freaked out about post-holing: when you fall through old snow to who knows what sharp pointy thing beneath), getting lost running in snow, slippery roots, slick wet wooden boardwalks, more pointy rocks, and mud. It is basically a "choose-your-own-adventure" of how you wish to injure yourself. Also, apparently, there are also bears.

Gauging the success of a workout
It's easy to figure out if your workout was successful: Did I hit my pace? Did I do the distance I was supposed to? Is (insert body part with nagging overuse injury that is always on the verge of blowing up) feeling ok?

With trails, it's a bit looser - I stopped running with my Garmin because 10/min kms are a bit too embarassing to experience on a daily basis. My only pace goal, ever, was to keep up to Brooke. Some days, I was able to do this while talking. Other days, not so much. To me, a successful trail run is when I have not significantly injured myself, minimized time spent getting lost, and was able to keep up to people going uphill.

Minimal post-trail injury = happy

A really successful trail run also has a "epic" factor - did I finish loving my life a bit more than when I started? There are so many gorgeous places nearby, so many great views, and so many downhills. I would rather feel a bit wrecked, go slow, do some wipeouts, but have amazing views at the end to take away with me.

Road running technique is pretty basic. Run, keep running, don't stop to walk, and for the love of god don't wear one of those water-bottle fanny packs and get mistaken for a Running Room member.

For trail running (and even racing) - walk (or "powerhike" - sounds more hardcore) the hills. Walk early, walk often. Then nail the downhills.

Howe Sound crest called for a lot of powerhiking

Explaining your race results
Road races are fairly easy to explain to others (the results, at least, not why you thought it as a good idea to train for a marathon during your busiest work time, while moving apartments). I can give times: a 1:25.46 half-marathon, a 3:05.40 marathon - I can give rankings: age group, overall. It helps to justify why I train like I do.

VFAC post-Sun Run 10k

It could be my habit of crying at the end of my trail races, or my inability to run without injury or getting lost, but it's a bit harder to justify how happy I am with my trail race results. My 7th kneeknacker female finish - hell, I was just happy to have made it off the trail (sort of) in one piece. My 21st North Face 50 mile finish - I was happy to no longer be eating gu chomps.

Unconventional trail techniques that actually helped me
This has pretty much all been gained from Brooke. She's had podium finishes for all her trail races this year, so I figure she knows what she's talking about:

One of the rare kk training run photo breaks allowed

- do not stop for gels. you have gels while walking the uphills.
- do not stop to go off-trail for bathroom breaks.
- if you are taking more than 30 seconds for a bathroom break, you are doing it wrong.
- do not stop to de-layer - do it while running (this is true for pretty much any time you want to stop)
- when you are done your run, don't wait to change until you are in an enclosed space.
- whatever size your hydration pack is, it's too big.
- if you haven't run into five people you know, you've probably gone off-route.
- your 40 min grouse grind time is too slow.
- pink makes you go faster.
- whatever direction you are thinking of going in is probably the wrong one.

Aside from the performance anxiety I get every time I want to de-layer, these tips have helped me race aggressively on longer runs. The only issue was when I wanted to go to the bathroom on the 50-mile run buddies tried to talk me out of it, but it wasn't until they mentioned the poison oak situation that I was finally persuaded.

Roads: you can run fast, you run with a bunch of other people, it's harder to get lost, your mom understands the distance you are racing, and coach John does not give you the side-eye when you announce your "long run" plans

Trails: it is ok to take 1-2 hours to warm up, walking is encouraged, you get to eat a lot of mini cliff bars, chips are a valid recovery food, and the photos are much better.

Overall, having distance running - whether on roads or trails - as a hobby is sort of ridiculous. But I feel doing both types of running allows me to be twice as ridiculous, and maybe pick up a trophy or two along the way.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

North Face 46.8 mile race weekend

Last weekend I travelled to San Francisco to race my first 50-miler in the Marin Headlands. I travelled with my training buddy and fellow VFAC member, Barry. His side of our trip adventure is here:,

I signed up for this race on impulse, a week after badly spraining my ankle during the Kneeknacker 30 mile race. I based this decision largely on the course video from 2011, showing the top two males dueling it out, on singletrack trails in the rolling hills underneath a bluebird sky. The video should have come with several disclaimers.

packing the bikini was optimistic
After running in the rain for the past month, I was excited to race in sunny, dry conditions. A week before the race, I started to check the weather: a lot of rain, and a lot of wind. By the Wednesday before the race, I would check the forecast on an hourly basis. I was not the only one. A decrease in prepcipation probability from 100% to 80% made me ecstatic. The expected winds of 30-40km/hr made me nervous.

Luckily, the temperatures were still predicted at a relatively warm 14C. I packed arm warmers, a tank top, a run skirt, and kept praying to the weather gods.

I travelled to San Francisco with Barry and Amber. Barry was also running the 50-mile. Amber came down in a team manger role. This entailed: making fun of us for doing such a ridiculous race, drinking, being hilarious, encouraging me to drink, and in general helping us to take this whole thing not too seriously. This worked well for Barry, but less well for someone as highly strung as me.

best team manager (and travel buddy)!

When we arrived in San Francisco on Thursday afternoon, we were greeted by rain and wind. Barry got a t-mobile chip, with (I believe) the express purpose of being able to constantly check the weather.

what we would be running Saturday

runners: 0, weather: +1000
Thursday night, we went out to an event that Barry found on twitter. For something found on twitter, it was surprisingly awesome. A local sports store hosted a documentary about the 2010 Dipsea trail race, which ended up as a fight between a 8-yr-old girl, and a woman in her 60s. The movie was accompanied by pasta, kegs, and appearances by Adamn Campbell and Anna Frost (the 2012 race winner).

Earlier that afternoon, we received e-mails from the North Face telling us to be on standby for course changes, due to the weather forecast for the weekend. I decided this was a good time to invest in a waterproof running jacket.

taper goes out the window
During my spring running season, I tapered well: no gluten, minimal caffeine, no alcohol. This relaxed a bit as the year progressed. Pre-Kneeknacker, I had two cookies and a glass of wine - to knock me out. Before the Victoria half-marathon, I had wine and chocolate cake.

I kept meaning to swear off alcohol and caffeine during the week leading up to the race. In retrospect, travelling with a Brit and an Aussie was probably not the best way to do this. I was doing moderately okay on the no alcohol front...for at least for hours (lunchtime cider).

Then we got another e-mail: the California Parks had revoked the permit for half of the 50-mile course that was on state park land due to the antipated weather, and the damage already done by the rain. As a result, the course would be significantly changed. A new course map was promised to be sent to us sometime on the Friday.

At this point, I took Barry up on his offer to get me some beer. After the documentary ended, we walked back to our hotel in the wind. As we got closer, a heavy rain decided to fall. I was still anxious as hell about the course change, about the weather, about my running and life decisions in general. A stop for a drink ended up in two bottles of wine between the three of us. At least there are carbs in wine?

race eve
I woke up Friday (the day before the race) hungover to the sound of rain pounding against the window. The noon deadline of when we were supposed to see the new course map came and went. All we knew was that the new course was 2 loops, and 46.8 miles. I was cheered by the news of the loop course: I get lost easily, and felt like having two tries on the same route to learn directions would be better than one.

There was a brief 30 minutes of sunlight that afternoon, which was quickly offset by more rain on the drive over to the Marin Headlands hostel. The Hostel was a great, older building, located crawling distance from the start and finish line. We arrived at the hostel to see all of the previously assembled tents blown over and scattered by the wind.

The hostel knows about Barry's tendency to wipe out on the least technical surfaces

We got our race drop bags ready. We checked the weather. We ate $2.99 safeway sandwiches for dinner. By this time, it was just after 6pm. In 11 hours, we would be running.

Our fellow teammate, Alicia, was also staying in the hostel, fresh off of her win at the Cougar Mountain 50k ( We decided to combine poor nutrition choices with her: Barry and I contributed a screw top bottle of "Lunatic" red wine, and she contributed a dutch apple pie. We drank our wine in oversized juice glasses, and chatted with the other hostel-ers, virtually all of whom were racing either the 50 mile or the 50k.

either the best or the worst taper nutrition ever

go time
I woke up at 3am to rain against the window. I put on run clothes, ate breakfast, and was very quiet.

The race started just after 5am. The start area was a sea of headlamp lights. The starts went off in three waves: the elites were wave 1, Barry and Alicia were wave 2, and I was wave 3. We lined up, and were sent off.

Running in the dark is a dreamlike experience. I could see the lights of hundreds of other runners bobbing up the switchbacks ahead. I had no idea how to pace, or how hard to go. At first, I looked at my watch to see pace. As the fog descended and the uphill grade increased, I changed focus: find people to run with.

It started to rain harder. As we crested one of the hills, the wind picked up. Fog rolled in, and my headlamp barely penetrated. The first downhill was a shock. While the uphill climb was on easy fireroads, the downhill switched to a narrower trail, with huge chunks missing from streams. I found my downhill trail legs along slick wood bridges and sloping stairs. Far below, through the fog, was the ocean - all I could see was white, but I heard the crash of waves.

I didn't have many doubts during the race that I would finish, and finish well: this was one of them. I was cold, with rain in my face, running alone in the dark hoping like hell not to get lost.

20k into the race, the black faded to grey and morning hit. Thankfully, the daylight came in time for the first time down a sketchy downhill to an aid station. On a dry day, the down would've been easy: views of the ocean, big drop, wide trail. The rain had turned everything into a slippery clay. I went down like a shot and prayed I'd keep my footing, as there was nowhere to go to run out. As I ran down, I saw my teammate Barry, already on his way back up, already killing the race.

Despite running on it for over 8 hours, I still can't coherently describe the course. We climbed along winding trails on the headlands hills, then descended along trails eroded by the rain. I ran through eucalyptus trees, with branches littering the trail. I ran through and past some houses, seeing their lights as we descended in the dark. We climbed again, then downhill, then up. Time was different. I kept looking at my garmin for how many kilometers each climb would take, and I can't remember a thing that could describe the course for another person. The uphills all seemed long, and the tops of the climbs always just over the next curve of hill. The downhills were always muddy and far too abrupt. The fog came in and out.

trail friends
About 25k into the race, my legs woke up. It was still raining, but the headland trails were bleak and beautiful. I saw Alicia in her bright pink run dress, and the familiar face helped. I met up with two guys - Julien and Morgan - and ended up running with them for over 30kms. They had both done other 50 and 100-milers, and hearing stories about their experiences made this one seem a bit less crazy. Both of them had come from the east coast and had made it through Hurricane Sandy, only to run in more crazy weather on the opposite side of the country.

When we got mis-directed for a mile or two at one of the aid stations, they helped me to stay positive and keep going. The surprising thing about the race isn't that I got lost - it's that I was able to find my way back onto the correct trail.

I tried to explain about how we ran trails in Vancouver: how it's normal to run in a skirt, make sighs going uphill, and make downhill trail noises. I tried to convince them that the best way to tackle uphills was to talk about relationships - breakups, makeups, TMI, and that downhills are best when you sing.

At about 60k in the race, the sun shone out through the dark grey clouds. We were running along hard blue ocean, about to tackle wet stairs for the second time. Julien pulled away, and I could hear him yelling in the distance on the downhill. I chased him down through mud and rock, and the joy I felt made me remember exactly why I love trails so much.

I have walked off a cliff every day and kept on walking
I always knew, at some point, the race would go to hell. I had been running at a decent pace, moving through the aid stations quickly, and pushing hard.

At 65k into the race, I had left behind the guys and was running on my own. Everything hurt: my legs, my arms, my back. My feet felt bruised. I started my second time climbing up the hill from Muir beach. There were 50k and marathon races also held that day, and the mud was even worse after the additional hundreds of runners. There were a couple spots where I kept slipping on my way uphill and tried to use my hands to pull me up. Luckily, one of the 50k runners ahead of me saw this and gave me a hand up. Trails really bring out the best in people.

As I kept going, I could hear my breathing. I'm used to being loud uphill - this was different. I had started to sob and didn't even realize it.

I exhaled.  I didn't bother telling myself to stop crying, I only told myself to keep going, and keep going hard. Earlier in the race, I asked one of the guys: what do you do when it starts to get hard? He said he thought of what motivates him to run. So I did the same.

I thought about all of the friends I made running. I thought about the joy of being on mountains and looking at far-off glaciers. I thought about the sun burning through mist on early mornings. I thought about the discussions, and the jokes, and the secrets I told going uphill. I thought about my parents, and I thought about the people I loved.

8:15 later...

Then I thought about myself. I felt burnt out and stripped away. I thought about the girl I was a year ago: fearful and sad. I met the part of myself that I try to silence with a faster pace, with singlemindedness, with shutting off the part of my mind that questions. I found the person who is scared, and has come a very long way on very tired legs and isn't quite sure why this was all was needed in the first place. The person who wakes up, in the dark, to rain, and wants to stay under warm covers. The person who wants the earlier run turnaround. This person wants to stop, wants to relax, wants to do something easy. I started to make peace with the fear, and the uncertainty, and the aches, and the tiredness that I have trained with these past 11 months. I embraced the part of myself that wondered, how the hell did I get here, and how the hell will I be able to keep going?

Like a training partner, like an old friend, the ache and worry was like coming home. I had been waiting for months to feel this way. With unsteady legs, I picked my way down the last down hill, past the road, and across the finish line. In the end, all I could say to myself over and over in my head: "thank you". Thank you for not stopping. Thank you for being strong. Thank you for being enough.

Immediately following the race, I could barely move. I ran into Barry, who had finished in 7.37 and had already demolished a plate of food. Amber braved the rain and came out to catch us finishing. I was in rough shape at the finish, so we left pretty much immediately.

Several hours later, we had recovery wine - and lots of it. Several more hours, and it was 2:30am and I still couldn't sleep - wired from caffeine and nerves.

When we did the Juan de Fuca trail months ago, Katie had very bad chafing from being in the rain for hours. I made fun of her a lot for this. All I can say - karma is a bitch. I need to learn to apply bodyglide more thoroughly.
The next couple days, everything settled back. The sun came out Sunday afternoon and I walked for a couple hours through the city. I am working to re-learn stairs. I washed the mud out of my clothes. I booked a physio appointment, and dragged my yoga gear back out. It's time for off-season.

Fisherman's wharf and the sun comes out

It feels weird to try and put numbers and rankings into a race that is a one-off in so many ways. The race will never be run on the same course again. Even from race to race, 50-milers are dramatically different in terms of elevation and course.

I came 21 out of 53 women finishers. 105 women started the race. Of this, at least 25 were elites.
(based on the awesome irunfar preview)

Based on scraping my way into the top half of finishers, I came away elated - not from the result, which really has no context. But through setting a big, crazy goal and going after it with everything I had. From the feeling of coming out on the other side.

In running two laps on a muddy course, in the rain, I felt something bigger and stronger inside me. I felt what it's like to run with joy and be passionate about who I am and what I do.

thank you
Brooke, for keeping me focussed (with swear words) when I wanted to bail on the race.
Katie, for your support and love of trails that you shared with me.
Meghan, for teaching me to be tough downhill.
Barry, for being a great 50k run partner and travel buddy
"A" team runners (Angela, Allison, Amanda) for being tempo buddies and training partners.
Ramsey, the best physio and inspirational speaker out there
Lucy, for taking me up trails to the Cleveland Dam years ago and being my best and first run partner
Craig, for dealing with taper meltdowns all year
my work, for supporting me and giving me the flexibility to train for this crazy distance - and for letting me wear flats to work the past year.
all of my other friends and teammates, for being a blast to train with and for inspiring me with their own kick-ass running every day.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Pain in the Park

Thursday after work, instead of doing my usual yoga class (or changing into pajamas now it gets dark at 4pm), I change into running clothes as soon as I get home. I grab my headlamp, do my hip exercises, and head out to meet up with 20 or so of my closest run friends to hurt a lot in the dark.

I run with VFAC (, coached by John Hill. We run out of Stanley Park and the Point Grey track (or at least, I've heard rumours of track workouts, but haven't attended more than two in a row since early March).

origin story
Four years ago, after writing my UFE exam, I decided that I needed to get a life. Or, due to my low alcohol tolerance and preference for early bedtimes, the closest thing to it - a run club. I took a break from reading celebrity gossip online, and instead thought about potential clubs to join. Several months earlier,
I had gone to a Wednesday John Hill practice with my friend Lucy. We did 2x2miles, and I remembered being both destroyed and happy. So, I figured that VFAC looked promising: Stanley Park was nearby and easy to get to, the evening times worked. The only downside: the fast times posted by the athletes intimidated the hell out of me. I e-mailed coach John. Instead of getting a reply e-mail, I got the hour-long phone call. Afterwards, I was still slightly confused, more than a little nervous, and committed to showing up at practice the next week.

One early October night, I jogged over solo to meet at Brockton at 6:15, as John as said. I was the first person there. Runners trickled in around 6:25. To run with VFAC means you need to have a flexible concept of time. There were people of all ages, and a very intimidating group of fast-looking women wearing kneesocks. Before I was too scared off, I met a couple girls my own age: Emily (who is now in NZ, and a new mother), Chessa (a trail runner / cyclist) and Heather (still running with VFAC!).

We warmed up for what seemed to be a really long time. The workout was announced: 4 miles, then 2x1mile. Holy shit. Before the workout could start, John had to do his rounds: First, to give everyone their times - the pace he estimated that they could run at. Second, to assign everyone to a pace group, and stagger the groups - slowest leaving first, fastest leaving last.

I started the 4 miles, and quickly realized the magic of VFAC: I hurt like hell, and I was still going. Having a group of other people - all with the same ragged breath and sighs - who weren't giving up made me not give up, either. I somehow finished the workout, nauseous and elated. And went back the next week.

off and on
The next couple years, I kept going to VFAC sporadically. I would go for a month, two months, three months during training for the 2009 Vancouver marathon. I did the occasional tempo. I would get a bit faster, then would get injured, or leave on a hike trip, or get busy with work.

What I did gain from the practices I showed up to was a glimpse at another community: people who woke up and ran, without excuses. People who raced hard on Sunday, and then showed up to run intervals the following Thursday. I gained girlfriends who were just as active as me: hike buddies, run buddies, even swim buddies.

I saw people who had joined after me get PB after PB as they followed the training plans John gave them every two weeks. I saw pictures (heavily edited, as I found out), of the Haney to Harrison relay, or post-race and post-workout drinks. I saw how supportive everyone was to those racing.

Finally, this January, I decided I wanted to be one of them. It's been a bit of a learning curve since.

the timing could be better
I started training seriously in January. Training seriously means Tuesday tempos, track workouts, trail intervals, long runs: week in, week out, no excuses. One week into training, I got sick. One month into training, my old live-in boyfriend broke up with me, and I was suddenly living in my friend's basement in West Vancouver. And here was the amazing thing: thanks to my teammates, I kept training for a marathon. I had Allison come drive to where I was staying and run 26k with me before work, in the rain, in the dark. I learned the special Park Royal meeting place to run over to practice. I had Brooke drive out of her way to give me rides home from track. When I moved back to the West End, I had Angela and Jackie to meet for early tempos. Some days, I felt like I could drift away, and VFAC helped to centre me.

But don't get me wrong: the club is full of quirks.

shirtless season starts in April
In April, when the evenings are (marginally) less dark, the workouts are on the Stanley park trails. The extra daylight seems to be some sort of signal to most of the guys, who choose to go shirtless. This would be fine if the weather was warmer. Or sunnier. Or even not mostly raining until well into July. Though the extra skin seems to attract more than an extra share of the Beaver Lake mosquitos, so perhaps I should just be grateful.

patience is a virtue
Or, as I call it, "social time". This is the time between the end of the cooldown and the start of the workout. This can last anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes (a good rule of thumb: the earlier / more important your post-workout plans are, the longer it will take for the workout to start). During this time, John assigns paces and arranges pace groups. He also will tend to any potential injuries or tight muscles of the group members. Pretty much any injury is tended to by John digging his fingers deep into your hip muscles - to a surprisingly high success rate. The longer team members wait for the workout to start, the antsier we get. I think this is a deliberate strategy on John's part: instead of dreading the workout, we actually are desperate to start it. (that, or with the increasing amount of members and injuries, it takes a while to assign times).

When I started VFAC, the waiting around bugged me. Now, as long as there isn't driving rain or a zillion mosquitos, it's a way for me to catch up with my run friends...and occasionally to recover from the warm up.

we fought the law...the law occasionally wins
In October through to January, workouts move from the track / trails to the Stanley park roads. The roads are pretty quiet - except for the tour buses and the Christmas train traffic. These vehicles don't always appreciate it when a group of runners, many of whom are wearing dark clothing and no headlamps, try to play chicken with them in the middle of the road. At the start of the workout, we all listen as coach John tells us: stay on the sdewalks, stay in the parking lane, DO NOT RUN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD.

Then our pace groups start. And, usually, I immediately fall towards the back as everyone opens into a fast pace. I know I need to find a sidewalk, but my run-stupid brain is convinced I will not get dropped, if only I stay exactly in the middle of the road, running just next another girl. Yes, there are cars trying to pass. Yes, some of them are honking. But I am hanging on! And feel like I could make a move to pass. And the only way I can do this is by disrupting all traffic.

As a result, when the group is standing (partially in the middle of the road), in an unlit section, giving John our workout times, we are occasionally visited by a police cruiser. This has happened several times.

The last time,  by our standards, went pretty well: the policewoman waited to talk to coach John until after we had all finished giving him our workout times. Some of the team members used this pause to try and persuade the policewoman of how fast she would become after a couple months of the VFAC training program. She remain unswayed, but our club now has a firm headlamp and reflective clothing policy (a good change from our old "black on black" dress code).

creative distances
I attempt to explain our workouts to other athletes. A typical discussion might go like this:

Non-VFAC-member ("NVM"): "I did hills - 8x3mins on with 2min rest".
Me: We do hill workouts too! I like the trail one. We do 5 hills.
NVM: How long are the uphills?
Me: We run from the trail intersection, up the hill, and stop just after the stump.
NVM: How much rest do you have?
Me: We jog down in groups. We do another interval downhill, from a different trail intersection to a signpost. Coach John sometimes yells at us if we go too fast.
NVM: ...

We have workouts with descriptions like: 1 mile 5/8th, 2k net downhill, "back half" (one of my favourite workouts). We have ways of orienting ourselves: "When you can see the ocean through the trees, you have 200m left", "At the trail intersection wiht the stump, it's 400m to go."

There is a quote: "Running gives more than it takes." For me, this is very true.

Running has taken my weekends, my early mornings, my ability to wear heels, my toenails, my after 9pm social life. It has given me a community of strong, inspirational, positive people. It has given me friends who think meeting at 5:45am to run a 21k tempo before work is a completely legitimate activity. It has given me teammates who come out to watch us run races and cheer us on. It has given me the chance to celebrate the sucesses of others: from my teammates who win races to those teammates who run marathons for the first time in their 40s. It has given me the thrill of achievement when coach John "likes" one of my trail running status updates on facebook.

A year ago, I never thought I would have girlfriends who would run 38k with me on a Tuesday morning before work as part of marathon training. I never thought that I would look forwards to gutting it out, in the dark, on the roads in Stanley park as part of late season training. Part of it is the endorphins. Part of it is pushing to the point where I want to quit, and still going. But mostly - it's the people. I like the long waits where I get to hear about everyone's week. I like working in a group, all of us going as hard as we can, and finding the energy for a bit more. I like the drinks after practice (ok, I like them less the following morning) and after races.

The great thing, to me, is how much club members support each other. We all have our own goals, and we are all working hard to achieve them. To some, it's winning races. To others, it's a PB. You have to be a little crazy to do the training we do, week in and week out. And I like that we're all a little crazy, together.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Fuck that, yes I can.

Two weeks ago,  I was injured (a bit) and tired (a lot). When my amazing training partner, Katie, got injured badly enough to have to pull out of the North Face 50 mile race - I panicked. A big part of my decision to do the race was based on how much I enjoyed training together: a five hour run is much less daunting if you can chat the whole way. The prospect of running for over 9 hours by myself on race day terrified me. I can't remember the last time I started a run of more than 10k on my own. I haven't done a long run on my own since January. In races, I usually tuck in behind someone, and use their energy and pace to help me.

At the same time - I am not injured. I have the race entry paid for, the plane ticket booked, and a lot of miles run up mountains. So last week, I did a 19k tempo. And then an interval workout. I struggled, mentally. And I finished fast. And I chose - and chose hard - to commit to the race, and commit to training for the last couple weeks as much as I can. The rest of the race will be in my head: to trust myself, trust my strength, trust my body to move through the hurt and keep going.

The good news: I don't have to be on my own yet. This past weekend I did a hell of a lot of running with a hell of a lot of fun people.

I went over to visit Meghan on the Sunshine coast. I left right from work on Friday, and arrived about an hour too early at the ferry, in time for a wintry sunset. Meghan lives in a suite of an old house, right on the ocean. The house has wood floors, huge windows, exposed brick walls...and a china / cutlery / glasses cabinet with leaded glass. It also has Meghan's amazing cooking.

ease in
I slept in Saturday...until almost 7:30am. Instead of rushing into compression tights and heading out the door, we had a pot of tea and watched the sun rise over the mountains. The plan was to powerhike up and run down Mt. Elfinstone, one of the highest mountains on the Sunshine coast.

we have discovered winter
I would have thought living in Ontario for four years would have prepared me for cold temperatures. Even with a toque, gloves, jacket, and one wool sock (almost laundry day) I was freezing when we started the uphill. The trail was steep, windy, virtually deserted, and gorgeous. After about 30mins up, what we thought was frost turned into a light snow. The ground felt bouncy - frozen on top, with give underneath.

There were some fun runnable sections on the way up. Ours were the first shoeprints along the snow. Meghan was out in front, scouting the trail. In one section, I was following her closely behind - a bit too close. I heard her yell - something - but couldn't quite make it out.

Until I went down, hard, on a patch of snow-covered ice. I managed to break my fall with my wrist/knee/chest. It hurt, but neither of my ankles were rolled, so as far as falls go, I was pretty happy.

As we got closer to the top, even though we were going uphill, it got cold. The rocks we scrambled up were covered in ice. We used branches to pull ourselves up across snow-covered roots to the final top of the mountain. The views made it all worthwhile.

dial in
When we started our way downhill, I was scared. The less-than-five minute break had me freezing. The sections where we had struggled uphill looked even more intimidating on the downhill.

This past week, when talking about her training plans, Katie had said to me: I want to put a sign on my wall that says "I can't". And every morning, I'll look at it and think "Fuck that, yes I can."

With that in my head, I started to granny-step my way down. The trail got easier, the temperature climbed, and we chatted as we wound our way down through roots and red pine needles. Meghan once again took one for the team by leading the way downhill and finding the slippery doing some of the most controlled non-wipe-outs I have ever seen.

We ended the day - tired, but not injured - with a lunch in a Gibsons cafe, sunlight streaming in.

this weekend just got real
Sunday's run was a lot less technical...and a hell of a lot longer. Barry ( had come up with a good 50k training route. It had a runnable uphill, was accessible by car, and I wasn't at the risk of seriously injuring myself. The one drawback - the route was known to be boring as hell. After a couple months of views and sunshine, the two long repeats up the dirt access road on the backside of Grouse Mountain didn't exactly hold the same appeal.

like fun, but different
The clear answer was not to find a more enjoyable running route, or somehow change the weather forecast from 1C and rainy to something (anything) better. It was to friends to do the run with. Luckily, between our VFAC friends and trail friends, we knew some people with a somewhat different definition of fun. I asked Lucy, one of my oldest running friends in Vancouver, who taught me how to trail run. Her initial response - no. Then, she changed her mine. She explained to me: "I could do something fun, or pretty, like Norvan falls. Or I could run up and down the road with you." Turns out poor decision making is contagious. She was to come with us for our first repeat. Ben, a fellow VFAC member and marathoner, also said yes (to be fair, I didn't quite fully explain the run to him). He was joining us for the second repeat.

So,  armed with a strong coffee and about 20 gels, I was set to go.

fueling meet-up
Lucy met us at 7:55am - and promptly informed us that her injury wasn't quite rehabbed enough to do the 25k round trip #1. She did, however, drop off some kamut bars to help ensure we were well-fueled. We started jogging. The temperature hovered around freezing. I could feel my legs from yesterday - but honestly, it takes me forever to warm-up anyways. The trail switchbacked up through forest at a runnable grade. To pass the time, we talked. (At first, Barry talked and I sort of wheezed replies). In the first 12k to the the Grouse Mountain Lodge, we had discussed: relationships, work, how short marathons seemed. Nothing was off-topic - except, obviously, food. This could only be discussed in the final 10k.

we might have underestimated
As we neared the top of Grouse, it started to lightly snow. The sky was slate-grey. In several parts, the road was covered in ice. Barry took a bail on one particularly bad patch - our only wipeout of the day. One of our complaints about Mountain Highway: boring. This is due to both the views (or lack of them) and the non-technical nature. After negotiating our way along the first uphill and the ice / thin layer of snow, we agreed this run had become a lot more "interesting".

Ben hates us
We finished our first "repeat" at 10:31 - exactly one minute behind Barry's predicted time (Barry, you seem good with numbers - ever consider a career switch to accounting?). Ben was waiting at our meeting place, much too enthusiastic to understand what the run actually entailed.

At the start of repeat #2 - with blissfully ignorant Ben
 As we slowly jogged up the endless switchbacks a second time, Ben quickly came to realize this was a bit different than the usual long runs along the seawall. To further reinforce this, the light snow from the first repeat turned to heavier, more blowing-in-face snow for the second time up. We felt guilty - sorta - about duping Ben into coming along. The guilt faded about 30min later, as a warmed-up Ben helped to drag us uphill.

at chilly victory
As the top of Mountain Highway was cold and had diagnonal snow, we quickly headed back down after one picture.

Ben has now put his name in the 2013 kneeknacker draw

Ben, pumped from his successful repeat, started to fly downhill. I was definitely going in a downhill direction, but it took my legs a little longer to adjust to the change. 4k longer, to be exact. The final stretch, the guys were out in front, talking. I started to notice all of the aches and strains that happen after running a lot in a short amount of time. I told myself: just focus, keep moving - you can worry about it all later.

scary numbers on the Garmin
As we finished the last couple kms, Barry commented about how, in his ultra training experience, one of the weirdest things is "seeing scary numbers on your Garmin." This was the second time I had ever done close to 50k - and the first time wearing a GPS watch for it. I usually don't bother keeping track of stuff on trail runs, but here are some actual, honest to god numbers: 49.7k (like fuck I was going to run another 300m - I was DONE.), 5:03 (including all stops), about 1500m.

The second scariest number - the amount of bacon consumed by Ben and Barry at brunch afterwards.

The day after the run, my quads were a bit achy, but my body was surprisingly okay. My immune system, however, wasn't quite up for the challenge. I replaced Tuesday's tempo with trips from my couch to my bed to the kitchen to make more tea. Still - so worth it!

cups of tea consumed in 24hrs: 8
times I comtemplated out-loud moving to Sunshine coast: 4
trails that Meghan knew: all of them
gels I brought for Sunday's run: way too many
gels I actually consumed during the run: 3
glasses of wine consumed Saturday night, pre-run: 2
glasses of wine regretted Sunday, mid-run: 0
hours curled up in bed in fetal position Sunday afternoon: 1.5

Monday, 5 November 2012

Juan de Fuca Trail

This past June, Allison and Ramsey (the two fastest physios in Vancouver), myself, and Katie did the Juan de Fuca trail in a day. The Juan de Fuca trail is a 47k trail from China Beach to Port Renfrew with approximately 2000m of net elevation gain.
after-work drinks
We arrived in Port Renfrew on Friday night just as it got dark. The rain had fully committed. As we would be spending most of our time on the trail, we had opted for the most basic accomodation possible: Hiker's Huts. These came with four walls, a light switch, many many coat hooks, and bunk beds. The bathrooms were out in another building. There was no reason to linger in the huts, or on the front porches (watching the rain). Instead, we went to the Coastal Cafe - a restaurant right across the road. This was owned by Hanna's highschool friend and her husband. Inside was wood floors, a big board with the menu written on it, sofas - exactly the kind of cozy place that makes you want to call this whole run idea off and spend a lazy weekend day reading and drinking coffee.

Since it was Friday night, Katie and I immediately grabbed drinks. Ramsey joined us. Allison had a coffee instead. Somehow, between the four of us, one of the huge chocolate chip cookies was purchased and immediately disappeared.

As did the second drink that Katie and I ordered.

base training
I had done several hikes that lasted 8-10 hours. I had done exactly one 5-hr kneeknacker training run the week before. During this run, I managed to wipe out badly enough to take a decent amount of skin off my left hip, and roll my left ankle - twice. I was definitely ready to do a 47k long run on wet, rooty trails.

start strong
Hanna drove us to China Beach early on the Saturday morning. Low grey clouds hugged the coast. We were all very quiet on the car ride. Ramsey brought his camera and Katie brought her iphone to take pictures with. Although the forecast called for heavy rain, Katie decided not to use one of the 10 ziploc bags I brought to put our gear in.

The trail is divided up into sections: moderate, most difficult, difficult and (finally, at the end) moderate.

The first 2k on the trail were great: everything was (relatively) dry, and we took a nice downhill to break into our first ocean views. We had a drink of water. We took a lot of pictures.

Then the rain started, and the climbs started. Juan de Fuca is different than the North Shore trails, or the trails around Whistler - the climbs on Juan de Fuca are a lot shorter, but there are a hell of a lot more of them. It's not about getting into a steady uphill rythmn, but more about powering up to the top of the hill then dodging roots on the next downhill. As the rain increased, the downhill sections got muddier and muddier.

beach break
The trail had sections where we had to go along the beach, following buoys hung from trees along the shore. In warm, sunny weather, I can see these sections being a highlight. In the steady rain, we slipped over large rocks, steadying ourselves on huge logs, always a bit anxious to make sure we didn;t miss the small opening in the trees when the trail climbed back into forest.

moderate section
At some point, the uphills stopped being runnable. They stopped being walk-able, or even hike-able. Instead, we would pull ourselves up using roots and tree stumps that we hoped would hold our weight. The trail had markers every kilometer, and was well-signed (at least compared to the trails I had been running on the north shore). However, there was me and my ability to get lost in pretty much any situation - this must have been a bit contagious.

At one point, we were struggling up a nearly-vertical slope, covered in slick clay mud. We had to pull ourselves up an overhanging cliff using an especially dubious root system. After hauling himself up, Ramsey commented: "this is the moderate portion of the trail."

The comment would have been funnier if, at the top, we once again saw the trail. Instead, we saw trees, and bushes, and glimpes of ocean. No marker, no trails. Back down the clay, hugging the cliffside, and a decent backtrack to find the trail.

chafing break
Hanna arranged to meet us at the Sombrio beach parking lot, about 29k into the trail. The parking lot where we would meet was at the end of a long beach crossing. By the time we reached the crossing, we had been running in the rain for almost 6 hours. Katie's shorts weren't dealing well with being soaking wet, and she was feeling a lot of chafing. To combat this, she had pulled up the shorts as far as they could go. From a couple feet away, she appeared to be running in a slightly baggy, bikini bottom.

While making our way across the beach, Katie met a woman, and was able to chat while holding up her shorts with one hand.

lost (again)
The Sombrio beach section was the busiest part of the trail. Backpackers were hunkered down under tarps, waiting out the rain. Day hikers in slickers were meandering along the beach. A normal person would have easily spotted the signs to the parking lot. However, having 4 run/hike-stupid people meant getting lost several times. We attempted to get directions from some campers, but they were too distracted by Katie's shorts / underwear look that we ended up going in the opposite direction.

Finally, we stumbled out into the parking lot, to find Hanna and her friend waiting with an umbrella, changes of clothing, mocha and a lot of boiled potatoes and trail mix. Between getting lost and being slow, we were well past the planned meeting time. They had started to ask people in the parking lot if anybody had seen four runners - and one woman had! She was worried: "one of tem had really bad chafing, too."

The new clothing we put on stayed dry for about 3 minutes - the time we needed to return to the trailhead. To keep morale up, we thought about people who were backpacking the trail over several days: at least we had food, beds, and dry clothing at the end of the trail - a mere 18km away. The last section of the trail was supposed to be moderate. I think, in dryer conditions, it would have been. We splashed through ankle deep water - in the good sections. In the final couple kilometers of the trail, we came across two stream crossings. Or what would be streams in the summer. We couldn't see through the milky brown water to the bottom. We decided to risk it - by sending Ramsey to scout the conditions. Once he had a secure footing, and moderate hypothermia, he helped the rest of us across. It was sort of a pre-shower to help get all of the mud and dirt off.

best sister ever
The final 1km of the trail was marked easy. By this time, we had been running well over ten hours. When I saw a woman standing by the 46km marker with an umbrella, I wondered who was crazy enough to voluntarily be out in this weather. It was Hanna, Ramsey's sister and our amazing crew member. She ran the last part with us, in gumboots, while holding an umbrella to shelter us from getting any wetter.

There aren't many pictures on this post. Ramsey's camera had a low battery sign about 15 minutes into the run. Katie's iPhone lasted a bit longer - we think. The waterproof case didn't live up to its name. The screen went dark, although a lone green light on the side was still on. Even after a lot of time in the rice jar, the phone never came back to life. My white compression socks are still several shades darker.

shoes - 47k later

the morning after: run hangover, recovery wine hangover

The next day, we woke up to a light, misty rain. As we drove back to the ferry, the sun came out.

postscript #2
One of my friends did the Juan de Fuca trail in early September. He complained that there was too much dust on the trail, since everything was so dry. That is like complaining to me there is too much delicious in a piece of cheese. To make me feel better, his group also took over ten hours to complete it: not due to rain, or lack of fitness, or poor navigation. They had run into a bear cub. They then ran into the mother of the bear club. Over an hour later, their beach "short-cut" got cliffed out, and they had to scramble to return to the trail (but at least they were dry!).

some stats
total time: 10.5hrs
finger pruny-ness - extreme
gels consumed - 9
cliff bars - 3
times katie complained about having to take the gels / cliff bars out of my bag when I was too lazy to take it off myself - 0
sea shanties sung by Katie - 2
times going "exploring" on "scenic detours" - 4

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Broken Things

I remember coming into the office this past July, one of the first days after I had badly sprained my ankle. On of the partners noticed me hobbling around, and asked how long I would be off running for. I told him about a month - but this was ok, as I could focus on yoga and get a really strong core.

He looked at me: "Or, you could consider focussing on your career." Oh yeah, that.

Running this much gives me tunnel vision: I go workout to workout, meal to meal, sleep to sleep. It makes me fast (sometimes) and also selfish (sometimes). It makes me cancel plans for last-minute physio, or to catch up on sleep or even snag a washer and dryer in our building laundry room.

Running provides structure and definition to my life. It's what gets me up in the morning, and bookends my weekend: the washed out shakiness after 20k Tuesday tempo, Wednesday chatting along False Creek to a late sunrise, Thursday night dodging cars on VFAC intervals, Saturday and Sunday drinking coffee watching the black fade into grey as morning hits outside. This is my routine. It's where I see my friends, and where I feel most myself.

Until I don't.

the semi-busted ankle
I took a drop wrong on the trail run last Sunday, and have had a sore ankle since. I have had worse injuries, and more painful injuries. Usually, when something feels a bit off with my body, my first instinct (before I have a drink, take my running shoes off, or shower) is to frantically text Allison and Ramsey (my super-physios) to get it sorted out.

Not this time. I came home Sunday night, took an advil, and slept. Monday my foot was still sore and stiff - so I took it off. Tuesday I did the same. In an odd way, the injury was a relief - it gave me a break, and excuse to just stop. I finally caved on Tuesday night, and got looked at Wednesday. I remember going to physio with a sore hip or busted ankle: all my questions were about how soon I could get back to training (Ramsey took ages to talk me down from doing Hanes Valley on a foot that still couldn't bear weight). This time, I didn't ask my usual ten times how soon I could get back to running.

there's a razor's edge / I've lost somewhere
I like running fast. I like the part in long tempos - 17k, 18k in - where I feel it all start to fall apart. I tell myself: this is where the workout starts, this is where races come from. I look at my watch - count metres, count breaths, drop the pace. On hard intervals, I try to keep up with the shoes in front of me. I tell myself: just hold on - one more kilometer, ten more breaths, don't think. 

For me, running fast is about playing to the edge: the break between wanting to stop, and not stopping. It's that toughness you find in yourself where you know, if you can just ignore the pain, ignore the discomfort, you will have the run of your life. And when it's over - when you can stop,  breathe, collapse - the rush is in the relief, and the rush is in how alive and powerful the pain made you feel. In marathon training, my life was a textbook of what not to do during high-intensity training: working too many hours, not sleeping, running through injury. My life felt scary and new and not my own. I'd go to work after nailing a hard tempo - I felt like, by doing this one workout well, I could deal with anything that happened that day. And I couldn't wait to do it all over again.

After the Victoria half marathon, I haven't felt the same way in speedwork. The race was hard - I did well, I worked together with awesome teammates, and mentally I was pretty drained. I still love seeing my friends, and I love the energy we bring out in each other as we push each other. I don't feel that drive to push like I used to, though.

I still love the idea of running trails with friends - going to gorgeous places while catching up on each other's lives. I love the idea of getting up to see the snow, and to sorting out the puzzle of roots in front of me. I love views on the uphills and shaky legs on the downhills.

hurts so good

Pretty much all of us in my running pace group and marathon pace group have had some sort of injury this year.

Brooke, Shannon, Allison, Alicia, Katie and Kristen (calf, hamstring, hip, achilles, stress fracture x2) all have had overuse injuries that needed time off. I have had poor motor skill / idiot injuries (sprained ankle, jammed heel). Tara....has had a lot of hangovers.

Injury is part of our landscape. We are used to icing it, taping it up, stretching it out, popping an advil, rolling, heat-pad-ing, rehabbing. We are used to keeping going.

what's left
Sometimes it seems like my life is all running. It's what fills my early mornings, weekends, and plans. It's where my friends are. It's a bit scary to think of stopping - to figure out what, if anything, is left. Let's be honest: I don't like to shop, I haven't seen a movie in threatre since "Bridesmaids", I can't stay up past 10, and teaching myself to knit off of youtube went exactly how you would expect for someone with no motor skills. I know I'm not the only one who has trained on an injury too long, because the prospect of making it worse was less daunting than the prospect of what would happen if I stopped. All of the irrational fears: no friends, gaining ten pounds, getting slow, all that unusued energy.


This past week I took 5 days off running...some sort of record. I chased down a tough filing deadline. I had some good talks with old friends. I slept. I did not google my injury 20 times. I only moderately harassed my physio. I went up the BCMC trail, in the dark, with snow falling, before work. It was slippery, I was tired, and my navigational skills were at an all time low as I ignored the switchbacks and stumbled my way directly up the mountain. Breaking out to the fresh snow at the top in the still-grey light reminded me exactly why I love doing what I do.

So I'll sleep. I'll do my physio exercises. I'll roll out my foot. I'll take the space. And when I come back to training, everyone will still be there - a bit faster, and I'll be a bit slower - and I'll tuck into the back of the group, and feel the speed start to come.