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.

space


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.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Winter Wonderland



Somewhere in the last two weeks, we skipped fall and went right into winter. This would have been less problematic if I hadn't made weekend plans to go up to Whistler. On the Saturday, I planned to race part of the Whistler 50 relay with the VFAC open women's team. On the Sunday, I planned to get in a 4 hour trail run. The weather network planned for snow, flurries, and rain. As the week progressed, my weather forecast checks became more and more frequent. Unfortunately, my efforts to mentally will two days of bluebird skies and sunshine failed miserably. Thursday night, to a backdrop of torrential rain, I found myself packing gumboots and every layer of merino wool clothing I owned.

dinner discussion
Amanda grabbed me from downtown after work on Friday. We picked up Meghan, our teammate from the sunshine coast, in Horseshoe Bay, then headed up to Whistler. I know Meghan from running trails, where she regularly leaves me wheezing on the uphills. This would be one of her few road races of the year. She was a little nervous.

We met up with Steve and Barry for dinner in Whistler. Naturally, the discussion turned to VFAC workouts. Naturally, it then turned to injuries. I don't think that was quite the impression we wanted to make.

Type A...A means awesome...right?
I was really excited to organize a team for the relay this year. All of the team members were keen, fast, and fun. They were also tolerant of the many e-mails, text messages, and phone calls in the past week. We might not have been the only team with a made-up (by me) cancellation policy. But I think we were the only team with an excel spreadsheet with estimated leg times, start/finish times, and a phone tree.

Due to this, when I woke up on Saturday at 6am, in the dark, to see snow outside, my first action was to naturally send out a mass text to the rest of my teammates, telling them about the snow (in case they decided to not check the weather or...y'know...look out the window). It turns out, as not all my teammates had early legs, the text woke a couple of them up.

However, in my defense, when I receive phone calls from Tara that start with: "...don't panic BUT..." or text messages like: "Do you have a watch I can borrow?" the Type A does start to kick in. Still - resolution for next year - no frantic texting until at least...6:30am!


I have no idea where I am
Brooke, being the awesome 1st leg runner that she is, arrived in the Olympic Plaza 20mins ahead of our planned meeting time. I was supposed to run over, give her her bib number (she needed this to pick up the timing chip), grab her warm clothes, and cheer like hell as she started the leg. This would have all been very simple if I had any sense of direction. Instead, what should have been a 5 min jog turned into a frantic 25min adventure. I somehow confused the Olympic Plaza with the Conference Centre - where I arrived, late and dishevelled, to find exactly nobody. Brooke was not allowed to be given a timing chip until she had her bib number. As a compromise, the race officials let me text her a picture of her bib number (once I think she convinced them that someone with my navigation skills was never going to make it on time). I did, eventually, arrive about 15 mins before the start - enough time to strip off Brooke's ridiculously warm down jacket and put it on (for the good of the team, of course).


Brooke's bib number...yes those are two maps underneath. Yes, I was still lost.

like a tempo, but lonelier
The relay alternated 13k and 7k legs. I did the 13k leg...it was a little odd, running hard but mostly on my own. The snow of the first two legs stopped enough that I got some great views of the mountains...at least I think there was, I was more focused on managing my nausea and getting passed on the uphill by a guy in a rowing unisuit.

with a little help from my friends
I finished my relay leg a bit dazed and very run-stupid. My friend found me wandering at the finish, gave me some water, and helped send me off in the direction of the hotel. I walked into the room that Amanda and I shared to hear Amanda talking on the phone - my phone. While I had been running, she had been organizing: Allison was on her way to the hotel to pick up her bib, and we were meeting Tara and Vicky at the second exchange to drop off theirs. I rinsed off quickly, put on about six layers (plus my "soccer mom" awesome and very warm coat), and headed back out into the wet snow.

Each team who does the relay is required to have at least one volunteer. Brooke generously offered to be our team's. She stood on the trails, for four hours in the snow, directing runners. On our way out of the condo, I got a text from her asking to have a couple things dropped off. Ramsey and I headed off, along the lost lake trails, to find her.



woohoo!
5hours and 47mins later, Vicky crossed the finish line, securing our spot as second female team, and 6th team overall. No one got lost, no one got injured, and there were no bear encounters this year, so the relay was a huge success! Thanks to an awesome team!



Brooke: used her grouse grind skills to rock the big hill at the end of her leg. Finished her leg, immediately ran into 3 people she knew.
Amanda: rolled up and down the hills, helped organize, and was an amazing car-pool-er and roommate! The nucleous of the team.
Shelley: while I couldn't entirely decipher her irish text messages,  her story about finding the landlord of the house where she stayed on the Friday night emerge naked from the hottube went a long way towards improving team morale.
Meghan: someone who doesn't like running on concrete or short races...and exhibited this by finishing 1st overall on her 13k leg!
Tara: with a borrowed watch, socks for mittens, and coming back from a ridiculously fast 1st-time marathon, Tara rocked the 7k (while being on call for work that weekend!).
Allison: cruised to a very fast 13k leg, despite being away travelling for work the week before, and having to leave earlier to finish a PhD grant proposal - the most super physio I know!
Vicky: first race of the fall season while coming back to VFAC - was our team anchor and kept us at a strong 2nd place finish!

shake it like a polaroid picture
Everyone else on the team, except for Meghan and myself, went back to Vancouver on Saturday night. After walking around both the upper and lower villages and visiting about 4 (closed) sushi places, and one place with a 30-min wait, we finally had some dinner. Against what was likely both of our better judgement, we then headed over to the dance, held in the Whistler convention centre.

I have attended a decent amount of accounting parties: post-UFE parties, pre-UFE results parties, Christmas parties, April 30 parties. So I know awkward. So when I say this dance was more awkward than all the accounting events put together, know that I am serious. (to be fair, I also arrived at the dance dead sober - not a state I have ever been in at an accounting event).

Then...as we stood there, looking at the very far from sober people tearing it up on the dance floor...a pretty good song came on. So we got out there, danced, and had a good time....for about an hour, until my legs got sore from jumping up and down (signature dance move) and we had befriended guys who looked about 15 years...so we decided to call it a night.

you are only coming through in waves / your lips move / but I can't hear what you say
We woke up, again, to snow on Sunday. I realized, in retrospect, that it would have been an excellent idea to buy some sort of run jacket before this weekend. Despite the weather, Barry, Meghan and I stuck with our original plan - to run the Comfortably Numb trail, from the Wedgemont trailhead out to the village.




The trail was gorgeous - the climb was runnable, with occasional views of snowy mountains. The trees in the first part had yellow leaves, covered with snow. On the way up, small trees weighted down with snow fell over the trail and directly in our way. We got a bit more of a core workout than planned trying to either shake the snow off, or run over/under/around them. Meghan, who was in the lead, definitely took one for the team, being the first to get huge chunks of snow all over as the trees got moved.

It was amazing being in the snow covered trees, and looking over the valleys when the clouds cleared. After an initial climbed, the trail rolled up and down along a ridge, with great views and soft quiet of new snowfall.

As we climbed, there was more and more snow on parts of the trail. The sky also started to brighten, and we got occasional glimpses of blue through the trees. In true trail run form, we got (a bit) lost, and I got (a bit) injured. I had a small disagreement with a snow-covered patch of rocks: the rocks won, my left ankle lost. Luckily, at this point, we were pretty close to the end of the run.

I'll just hang out here cradling my hot water
Just under 4 hours later, we arrived in the Whistler Starbucks cold, wet, and exhausted. Barry's friend, Amber, generously drove him back to the trailhead to pick up the car. (originally, we had planned to run the 45mins back to the car on a different trail. However, with my sore ankle and general level of exhaustion, we resorted to a plan B). As we waited,  Mrghan and I both got extra-large cups of hot water. We alternated between sipping these and cradling them against us to keep warm.

Barry came back, with the car (and the heat on full-blast!) and took us over to the house he'd been staying with his PRR friends. The house had a hottub. By this point, I was beyond cold. I was too tired to get into a shower. I was too cold to dig through my stuff to find my bikini.

So I went into the hottub in my full running gear (plus toque). It felt amazing. (thanks to my new PRR friends - you guys are really fun!).

some stats:
temperature waking up Saturday morning: -1C
number of minuature cliff bars taken by me: 20 (approx.)
phone calls / texts to tolerant teammates: too many, likely :)
layers I wore to snowy trails Sunday: 3
number of layers soaked through on Sunday: 3



Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Going Long


I wrote this back in March. Since then, I've heard from a couple running friends how lonely a place the seawall can be, on certain days, in certain conditions. It's true. Some mornings, on early easy runs, it feels like I haven't quite gotten out of bed. The darkness and West Vancouver lights are comforting, a blanket of black and stars and the winding path is home. Other evenings, in early autumn when the light is warm and fading across third beach, but all of the people have packed up and gone home, the rock cliffs and the curves of forest tower over and I feel very small.

This was written on a day when the seawall seemed to stretch forever and all I had was too much time and too many thoughts.

Your heart is a muscle:
you break down to build up.
This is a long run and you are only at the turnaround.
The clear water shows low-tide barnacles and seaweed.
The snowline on the mountains in faded winter sun.
It is later than it seems.

This is not a pain you can exhale into,
it does not round out and grow inside your lungs.
This is not the triumphant burn at the end of a race,
not cured in one gasp for air.
There are no inspirational slogans for too many miles out on your own.

This is a day to break your heart:
the soft slap of shoes on pavement
the unsteady pump of arms
the ache in your body and
a long way back.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Slippery When Wet

Rainy, blurry photo after 25k of awesome!


This past weekend I planned to do a trail run Saturday and a marathon long run Sunday. The weather network planned for a rainfall warning.

I can't feel my face
I could blame the weather. I could blame the steady creep up of mileage. I could blame my office and the three different people who had called in sick that week. Whatever it was, on Friday afternoon I could feel the start of a sore throat. My weekend plans started and ended at doing a lot of running, so I was desperate to stay healthy.

My friend Kim suggested her own remedy: brown Listerine. Every hour. She told me that, whenever she felt a cold coming on, she used it and hadn't been sick in 15 years. I left work, went to the nearest drugstore, and bought the largest bottle that was in stock.

I took a huge first gulp of the stuff, and then immediately spit it into the bathroom sink. My mouth was burning. I took a smaller sip, then tried to rinse for about 5 seconds (it felt like 5 minutes). I tried one last time. Kim was right - the sore throat was gone. I also couldn't feel the lower half of my face, and was sweating profusely. This treatment damn near killed me, so the germs clearly had no chance at survival.

I walked back into the office, nonchalantly holding the huge bottle of mouthwash. I got stopped by one of my co-workers on the way. He pointed out that teengagers used mouthwash to get drunk (it had been a stressful, long week at work). He kept looking at me a bit funny as I made my hourly trip to the washroom to paralyze my face and cull the germ population living in my throat.


Listerine...and wine. Both germ-killers.

deja vu
I woke up Saturday morning at 6:20am, in the dark, to the sound of heavy rain against my window. In other words, just like pretty much every kneeknacker training run until July. Katie and I did our usual weekend morning bus trip across the bridge, got picked up by Lucy, and met up with the rest of our keener trail group at Capilano College. For the five minutes before we started running, the rain stopped. It didn't feel too cold. All of the guys decided that this was a sign of things to come, and ditched their jackets. All of the girls kept ours on.

We did the All Hallows Eve race course, around Seymour, up to Lynne Headwaters, then up to the dreaded Mountain Highway. As an auditor, I know I am supposed to enjoy things that are monotonous and painful - Mountain Highway challenges even that tolerance. Luckily, Brooke found the nice side trail, and it turns out I would rather do a wet, rooty, rocky downhill with high likelihood of injury than an easy, runnable uphill. This part is not a kneeknacker training run deja vu: during kneeknacker runs, I was desperate for any easy stretch, no matter how boring, in order to not feel like my life was in danger from negotiating technical drops.

TMI
Just over an hour into the run, people (well, Katie and I) started to feel a bit warmed up and talkative. We
ran over a boardwalk where Katie had taken a particularly nasty bail a couple months back (when this happened, we yelled back at her to "run if off", kept going, and the figured she'd catch back up in 15mins or so. She did). Naturally, the discussion turned to painful trail wipeouts: Brooke's busted shin up Hanes, Sean's busted knee going down Coliseum. Lucy then played the the trump card of painful experiences - her childbirth experience.

Peter (a sore loser from not having the most painful run story), attempted to comment that childbirth - TMI. However, he had also run with Brooke, Katie and I enough to know that topics from relationships,  underwear choices, trail bathroom strategies, and obviously cats, were fair game. Okay, then no TMI until at least 2hrs into the run. We decided this was fair.

punchdrunk
It rained, hard and non-stop, the entire run. The trails were mostly liquid. By the last few kilometers, for people that were all soaking wet and had been running for over two hours, we were all having way too much fun. Peter and Brooke were making frequent "downhill" trail run noises (pretty much a whooping noise, designed to frighten bears and casual hikers). Peter decided to further up the ante by jumping into puddles right next to where Brooke was running to splash her - a sorta brave and sorta really stupid move.

thank you, ikea
I love my apartment - the location, the small sliver of ocean I can see, the sun late afternoon sun streaming in. On weekends like this, I fall a bit out of love when I have to do laundry. Unless I make it up by 6a to do it, I pretty much have to aggressively stake out a dryer for an hour in our building laundry room. Or just turn on the heat, throw everything over my drying rack, mop up puddles periodically, and hope my gear isn't too damp for the next day's run.


Toque weather...now until next July

toque questions and answers:

Q: Some people have called your toque ugly. Do you really need to wear it?
A: Actually, I think they confuse "ugly" with "awesome" - both words involve consonants and vowels, so it's a relatively common mistake. These people also do not know the joys of a warm head a couple of hours into a rainy, long run.

Q: You have worn this toque in several races - why?
A: Both races I wore it in, I got PBs - coincidence?

Q: What is that smell? Is there some sort of wet animal in your apartment?
A: The wool toque takes a while to dry out, okay?

time to do it all again
I woke up Sunday, again to rain and pitch-dark. Allison came over to my place, and we started our rainy 32k - with a couple pick-ups on the way: Katie we got just over Burrard, and we hooked up with Barry at Science World. We splashed along the mostly empty seawall, at what felt to be a shockingly fast pace (faster than a 10min/km, no power-hiking). This was my longest run on concrete since the Vancouver marathon. It felt odd to think in terms of total distance, and not "one huge uphill, then try not to injure yourself too badly on the downhill".

what normal people do
After finishing up the run, Allison and I did a quick change back at my place. We figured showers weren't necessary, as we had effectively been showering for almost 3hrs already. My floor was quickly covered with wet footsteps and puddles. I almost wound up needing another physio appointment trying to wrestle myself out of soaked compression tights. Then we went to brunch on Main St. at 11am, and felt very conventional. I think we even attempted discussion of a non-running topic. After two cups of coffee, I was ready to do a normal people activity! I was going to go to a great used comic store on Main St., attempt to find some of my missing "Sandman" series. Then - maybe I would go to a thrift store!

I felt really positive about this plan, until we finally left the restaurant and I walked about 10 steps. After this, I ran after Allison and Ramsey, mooched a ride (napping in their car while they did an errand), came home, and promptly put pajamas back on.

I think normal people activities...December, right?

some stats
Saturday trail run - 25k
puddles Brooke avoided - 10 (approx.)
amount Brooke was dryer than the rest of us at the end - 0%
liters of mouthwash consumed - 0.5
status of breath during weekend - minty fresh 24/7!
smell of apt from perma-drying wet run clothes - wet cat / wet dog
TMI stories shared - 3
number of brunches Ramsey said he was going to eat - 0
number of brunches Ramsey actually ate - 1 full, 1/2 waffle, some of mine






Monday, 8 October 2012

Work Together, Hurt Together



This past Thanksgiving weekend, a group of us from VFAC went over to Victoria to race the 8k, half-marathon and the marathon. I raced the half-marathon - my first road race since May.

travel buddies
I headed over to Victoria on the 9am ferry with Craig, Shannon and Barry. We somehow managed to fit 2 bikes and 4 people's running gear in Craig's car - good thing all of us (except Craig) are runners and not too big. On the ferry ride over, we were all pre-occupied with different things.

I wanted to talk about the 50 mile trail race I was doing in December, to avoid thinking about the 21k I was racing the next day.

Shannon wanted to (likely) think about her awesome upcoming trip to NZ and Fiji the next week, instead of being distracted with trail talk.

Barry wanted to carbo-load for his marathon the next day (taking a break from beer - his carb-loading of choice).

Craig wanted to get in a 75min workout on his bike trainer.

Shannon and I resolved to find travel partners, next time, who don't make us feel as bad about ourselves. Craig makes me feel as though I should be training more, and Barry makes me feel like I should be drinking more.


2L of warm, flat coke and 1 bag raisins - eating like a champ

just another workout
brainwashing others
There is a horror movie called "The Ring". The movie is about a cursed videotape. Whoever watches the videotape will die, unless they make someone else watch the tape. I have the trail running version of this.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jIeqfKlRKs

 Back in May, I was sent the link to a youtube video of the top 2 men who raced the North Face 50 in 2011. This video is 100% the reason I signed up for the 2012 race a week 6 days after the Kneeknacker (before running amnesia had set it) despite having an ankle twice its normal size. Every person who watches this video - even if they have never done trails in their life, even if they think going upstairs in too much elevation gain, even if their favourite distance is 1500m on the track - ends up watching to do an ultra. (In other words, this is coach John's ultimate running nightmare).

The video inspires me every time I see it. It inspires me enough that my hotel suite-mate hooked up his laptop to the big screen TV in our room to play it (possibly in hopes that I would stop putting it on my iphone and shoving it in the face of every politely interested runner).

wake up time
I shared a suite with Steve and Barry. Steve was also running the half-marathon. Our race started at 7:30. In order to have time to eat some food and wake up, I decided on 4:45am as a reasonable wake up time. By the time Steve came downstairs just after 5, I was on my way to being way too caffeinated. It turns out, Steve is not quite as much of a morning person. By the time our morning showing of the North Face 50 video ended, he did seem a bit more awake.

The last time Barry would successfully climb the hotel room stairs.

I need a less painful hobby
We ran over to the start line of the race in the dark, with the moon still out. The morning was clear and cold. I met up with the rest of the VFAC runners at the start line. The five-minutes-to-race countdown came very quickly. My legs were a bit shaky. Angela said it best: "I just want this to be over with."

My race was like everyone elses' race: I went out, it hurt, I wanted to stop, and I kept going. The pace felt painful, and it wasn't quick enough. I was very lucky to have Shu and Angela to run with from the start. I was able to ignore my watch, ignore my legs, ignore the fact I wanted nothing more to drop out and it was only 8k into the race. All I had to do was watch their blue jerseys and try to keep them in sight. The course was gorgeous: a bluebird sky with the sun just starting to rise from the ocean. I'd been doing tempos with Angela since January, and it was awesome to be with her as she ran the race of the day - getting an over 4min PB in 1:26.16!!

After about 16k, I started to warm up. At that point, I realized a couple things:

1) If I was going to get the time I wanted, I needed to go a hell of a lot faster.
2) There was a man in a shiny green/blue speedo (and ONLY a speedo) in front of me.

Despite everything, the speedo guy made a move in the last 500m and I couldn't catch up with him. However, I was able to find enough speed to end up at 1:25.46 - so 1 for 2 isn't bad :)

fangirl
After the race, I headed back to the hotel for a quick rinse, then got a ride with Amanda to watch Adam Campbell (her brother-in-law) run the marathon in a suit...and cheer on some VFAC friends who thought it might be a good day to run 42.2km.


Adam Campbell on his way to a 2:35 marathon

One of the places we cheered on the marathoners was in front of Simon Whitfield's house. Amanda's sister knows Simon from triathalons. Simon was sitting outside, on a couch he had apparently moved from his living room, with a set of bongo drums. One of his friends, who had played on the men's beach volleyball team in the London Games, was keeping him company. Simon had a tupperware container of muffins he had baked for the marathoners, and was planning to give out.

Being next to two Olympians short-circuited my already tired "race brain." Even worse, I had forgotten my deodorant back in Vancouver, and had to borrow a a very strong, very manly-smelling brand from one of my hotel-mates. But then I remembered how one of my close guy friends has, in his words, a big "man crush" on Simon. So on his behalf I knew I had to say something.

And that's how some of my first words to Simon Whitfield involved apologizing for smelling like a man.

island time
After the cheering, I headed to another, smaller island for Thanksgiving dinner.


Fulford Harbour, Saltspring Island
I had a wonderful dinner with my parents and our close family friends. My mom and Millie met in an island mothers group when my mom was pregnant with me. Ever since, our two families have had Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner together. The menu has stayed the same over the last 27-odd years, but each dinner always seems to taste even better than the last.

recovery run
The weather stayed gorgeous for Monday. I woke up feeling pretty decent (well, the parts of me that weren't hungover, anyways), and met fellow VFAC member Susan for a run up Mt. Maxwell. We ran along a small two-lane road, past farms and fruit stands. The sun streamed through the trees, and everything smelled like baking pine needles.



Thanks for the company, Susan!



shout-outs
Thanks to Craig and Shannon for the ride and excellent company on the way over.
Thanks to Steve and Barry for being great hotel-mates.
Thanks Amanda for the ride to cheer the marathoners and for giving me a lift back to the ferry.
Thanks Susan for being my mountain-run buddy.
Thanks to VFAC for all the support, e-cheering, text messages, and great races by everyone this weekend!

Some stats:
number of times the "North Face 50 Endurance Challenge" video was watched - 3
litres of coke consumed by room 219 - 2
Steve's sarcasm / grumpiness level at 5a on a Sunday - high
labour noises made while racing - 500
glasses of wine drank with family Sunday night - 3
glasses of wine I regretted drinking the next day - 2.9
number of times coach John told me not to run up Mt. Maxwell on Monday - 2
runs up Mt. Maxwell on Monday - 1

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Settle





Start strong
At the beginning of every race, no matter how I feel before - tired, shivering and hollowed-out  - the adrenaline always comes. As soon as the start goes, it feels like my veins are filled with water - that unsubstantial lightness.

In the blur of people moving ahead of me, of sharp corners and arms that aren't quite sure how hard to pump, I tell myself: "settle". This a 10k race, or a 21k race, or a 42k race, or a 50k race, and I am only minutes in. This is the part of the race that would be told in a montage, set to "Eye of the Tiger", before the slow-motion shots of the final kilometers. This is the part where it's not hard, where I know it will get hard later. All I can do is find a rythm, breathe evenly, and get ready for the pain at the end.

I don't want to come down
August and September had one long, sunny day after another. I slept too little and planned routes in the mountains during my lunch breaks. I stayed out too late on weeknights, got up with the hazy sunrise on the seawall, and did it again the next day - and got faster. I was on a perma high - the warm, late sunshine, the give in my feet into faster and faster paces, the way everything looks from the top of a mountain. I just wanted to keep on going - I wanted it to be December, then next May. There is a race inside me, itching to come out - and I want it so bad, and I want to be in the final kilometers, gutting it out already.


Dinner before a kneeknacker training run - "settle" means low-key Saturday nights

You break down to build up
I know that this is the part where the training happens, and where the toughness comes. Early morning tempos in the dark on the seawall, running through piles of leaves as the moon sets. Thursdays in the park with headlamps. Settling into a training rythm means I have an apartment that is finally clean, and a bathtub that no longer has a ring of trail dirt and pine needles in it. It means a final few runs in the mountains before the snow comes.


Blisters

It seems like a place in between real life and run life. This is the place where the routine is comforting. Doing the workouts with my 50 mile training partner, and the VFAC girls who are training for Sacramento marathon makes rolling out of bed on dark cold mornings easier. We all hurt, together, and we get up and do it again the next day. We know things are a long way off, and everything is getting longer and tougher, so we break it down: two week program by two week program, workout by workout, kilometer by kilometer.

And when it's over
When I finished my marathon this May I felt happy, but a bit empty. I had the race of my life. But - it was over. What made the race, to me, was having all my friends and teammates out cheering and racing. We had come so far together. What I would miss was the same routine that can start to grate. I missed Sunday long runs with three hours of discussions, I missed working together on trail workouts, I missed the Monday evening plans to set up early morning tempos (I also missed high-fiving fellow early morning tempo people on the seawall, but the feeling isn't always mutual).



I get more from training than I do from the races. Marathons are the races that will break your heart. (50 milers can break your heart, too, I imagine - and probably do a number on the rest of the body).

For me, a bit, racing well is like a drug: the first high is so good, and you can spend the rest of your run career chasing it. Somewhere along the way of all this training, I made amazing friends. I learned to trust my body. I got used to waking up before 5a on Tuesdays (and I also learned quickly who else was up that I could text). I learned to not think too far in advance.

In a couple months, I will have (hopefully) completed my longest race. In one month, I will be closing in on peak mileage. It will hurt then - it's supposed to hurt, and that's the right time. Now, it's time to take a breath, look around me, and ease into a rythm - I still have a long way to go, and the pace will only get quicker.

North Face 50 training team