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 elevation...it'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 food...pizza 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.



aftermath
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
Marathon
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.

Training
Marathon
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 training...at 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.

Technique
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 race...my 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.

choice
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: http://one--step--at--a--time.blogspot.ca/2012/12/california-streamin.html?spref=fb,

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 (www.runningoverdose.com). 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.

daytime
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.

after
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

results
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)
 http://www.irunfar.com/2012/11/2012-the-north-face-50-mile-championships-womens-preview.html

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.