Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Kneeknacker 2012 (the original poor life choice)

I signed up for the Kneeknacker lottery two weeks after a breakup and in the midst of several glasses of wine. At that point, I hadn't run a marathon for over three years, and had done exactly one trail race.

The Kneeknacker course route is 30miles long and about 5,000m of elevation gain and loss. The course is a series of technical ups and downs: up over Black Mountain and Cypress Mountain, down the Hollyburn chute, continuing along the Baden-Powell trail in front of Grouse Mountain, down to Lynne Canyon, up the Seymour Grind, and a final descent to Deep Cove.

After many early mornings with Brooke doing the Kneeknacker training runs, spent wiping out, or narrowly avoiding wiping out, on the North Shore trails, I was as ready as I would ever be.

get up
I slept over at Brooke's the night before the race. The day started at 3:45am. When my alarm went off, it felt like there was water in my veins - that unsteady lightness.

I wriggled into compression socks, put on bodyglide, and tried to force down oatmeal and coffee.

Brooke's boyfriend, Sean, picked us up just before 5am. We drove out to Horseshoe bay, the start of the race, in the pre-sunrise glow. They sky was a cool clear blue and it was going to be a hot day. It was unnerving to be staring down something that would be twice as long, time-wise, as my longest race. After several rounds in the porta-potty line up and even more mosquito bites, it was almost a relief as the 6am start time drew closer.

first quarter - let's do this
We started as the sky turned pale orange on the horizon. It felt a bit anti-climactic: I had barely taken a breath and already we were walking uphill. The first climb up Black Mountain was more hike than race: I  pulled myself uphill using gnarled routes and inched across eroded rocks, with nothing but cliff underneath. The views got better as the climb got tougher: across a steep boulder field, then along an even steeper cliff face. I managed to grab an exhale going across the bluffs and see the ocean spread out far below before ducking into the forest.

The first aid station came and went - I gulped down cold water and attempted to high-five Karyn, my VFAC teammate, who had come out to cheer us on.

second quarter - oh shit
I found a couple people to run with, and could feel my legs warming up into a trail rhythm  Just over two hours into the run, I hit the start of the Hollyburn Chute: the first long, technical downhill section with slippery roots and steep rock drops. My legs didn't feel too trashed, my shoes had great grip, and the trail was dry - everything was solid. Until I took a jump down from a log that was just a little too high, and landed just a little too unevenly on the side of a rock. I could hear my right ankle crack. I swore and came to a dead stop. I had rolled my ankle before, but it had never hurt like this.

Luckily, at the time, I was running with Matt, a massage therapist.  I was as far from an aid station as I could have been. We weren't close to any neighbourhood. My only option was to get down the mountain, somehow. I started walking, slowly. The pain didn't fade, but my ankle could bear weight. Eventually  I started to run. I could tell my balance was off, but my ankle still held up. Grabbing onto as many trees as I could for support, I made my way down to the Cleveland Damn and the half-way point aid station.

When I got to the Cleveland Dam aid station and half-way point, I was running. My ankle didn't feel any better. It also didn't feel any worse.

I dumped water on myself at the aid station, drank some flat coke, and refilled my water. Matt was attempting to re-fuel and have a moment with his girlfriend. I interrupted him, waved my ankle in his face, and tried to get a quick diagnosis. As I could still stand on my leg, he figured the ankle wasn't broken, and I hadn't ruptured a tendon. I checked my time: 3hours, 10minutes. This wasn't the race I wanted, but it was the race I was going to finish..

third quarter
I grabbed Matt from the aid station and we started to powerhike up the steep road from the aid station to the foot of Grouse Mountain, where we would re-join the trail. It felt surreal to have come from being alone on a mountain, surrounded by fallen logs and the light coming through the trees, to being in a residential neighbourhood, on our way to a major tourist attraction, on a busy summer day.

As we headed back into the forest, Matt's calves started to cramp, and he waved at me to go ahead. For the next hour or so, I ran on my own. For the first half hour, the trail almost fell off the cliffside: it as duty, eroded, and held together by rocks and roots. My ankle felt spongy and sore. I took everything just that bit slower, afraid what would happened if I rolled it again. It felt like I had to apply brakes every downhill. The aid stations every half hour or so were lifesavers: I'd grab coke, candy, encouragement, and head back into the trees.

As I descended down towards the Lynne 3/4 aid station, the temperature kept rising. It felt like heat was a coming straight off the ground in patches where the sun hit full-on. The easy lower Seymour trails were crammed with day hikers, dogs, and even the occasional stroller, while I tried to weave through in my race bib.

At the 3/4 aid station, I stuffed ice down my bra, drank more coke, and headed back out.

bring it home
It was easier to run on the less technical trails. As my pace increased, my foot throbbed with every step. My ankle had swollen so much that I had to stop and loosen my laces. It was hard to figure out exactly where the pain ended and my leg begin. At one of the aid stations, I got a full sponge bath from a group of volunteers with an inflatable kiddy pool. Amazing. As I approached the last climb up the Seymour grind, I saw a couple other kneeknacker runners in front of me. I did what I had trained to do: picked up the pace, went harder, and passed them.

At the top, I loosened my laces again. My ankle had grown to twice its size. From here, it was less than 45 minutess mostly downhill. I dialed way in, and told myself: "this is not my body, this is not my pain" over and over. And I picked up the pace one last time. I could see the ocean of Deep Cove through the trees. I could hear the finish line announcer. The last part of the trail was a swarm of people. I know the uphills must've been hard, and the roots abrupt, but I was too far inside to notice.

Suddenly I was out of the trees and along the last couple seconds of the race - the ocean spread out in front, the wide green lawn, the finish line.

I finished in just under 6 hours, 35 minutes. I was 7th female overall.

right after
I'd like to say I felt great at the end: the achievement of running my first ultra, surrounded by friends and the trail community, awash in endorphins. Instead, I just felt a lot of pain, and sort of empty. Barry was volunteering at the finish line, and he brought over a makeshift ice pack for my foot.

Alicia, Tara, and Katie came over...WITH A CAT ON A LEASH. In my daze at the end of the race, I had missed them standing and cheering. It was classic Alicia: she knew mine and Brooke's obsession with cats (and ultra-running), and had borrowed a cat from her friend's boss to have to boost morale. A pretty crazy idea, but, being Alicia, she pulled it off. Having my close friends make it all the way out there, accompanied by my favourite animal, made me realize how lucky I was and how much great support I had.

Brooke was 2nd female overall, and was celebrating her victory by having a swim in the ocean. I hobbled over, went waist deep into the water....and started crying. Not really the congratulations I intended. A friend of Brooke's boyfriend, Nathan, had won the race - his first ultra ever. After hanging around the finish line a bit more, we decided that there was no better recovery food than ice cream.

At the awards ceremony, my amazing physio (and new ultrarunner) Allison Ezzat taped up my ankle, even though she was more than a little tired after running a nail-biter finish of 6:59 in the race.

eight months after
It took my sprained ankle a month to heal. My head didn't take as long, but it was still a new experience: I went so far inside myself to finish the race that it took a bit of time to come back.

I was in pain for the next couple weeks, relegated to doing easy 30-min bike rides. All I could think about was getting back on the trails, how the next race would be different, how to take those drops downhill.

As soon as I was able to (potentially somewhat sooner than physio Ramsey told me), I was back on trails: running up mountains in the late summer heat. I did a 50-miler later that year. It hurt, and I cried, and I loved it. This past March, I faced down my technical running demons and came out of the Chuckanut 50k uninjured.

what I got
I have a finisher certificate from this race, somewhere. But what reminds me, every day, of the experience are the amazing friends I have and the feeling like I am part of a bigger community. Brooke and I still run trails, and she still kicks my ass on the uphills. Katie and I are doing Transrockies together this August. Despite being ridiculously fast, Nathan invited us out for runs  and we had amazing trail adventures. He also sends out some great cat pictures / internet links. Barry and I are part of the FITS trail team, and I'm pacing him for his first 100-miler / midlife crisis in June. Allison is currently killing her training for the Boston marathon, and is running the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim with us this May (along with Alicia, Katie, Barry, and Meghan). Matt is training for his first road race ever, and has (somewhat reluctantly) joined me for early weekday speedwork.

Everything heals. My life is so full, and I am beyond grateful to have all these people in it. I love trails, but I really love all of the people I experience them with.We are all a bit quirky, and a bit crazy, and I get so much inspiration about hearing what we all do, and how we support each other.

I feel like I am stealing from my cheesy fridge magnets - but seriously - this race was a game-changer. It showed me that things go wrong, sometimes painfully wrong. It showed me that I could hurt, and come back stronger. It showed me the power of saying yes and going after something ridiculous. It showed me that things don't have to be okay, and I'll be okay, anyways.

what about 2013?
I wanted so badly to get into the race this year. There's something about it: the intense climbing, the support of the North Vancouver trail community, the amazing volunteers, the hours with my friends. As far as abilities go, I'm way better at road running, and weakest on technical trails. I didn't want the race for a win, or a PB. I wanted it for the sweat, and the roots, the crazy downhills, the slick board walks, the stream crossings, and the final light of sun on ocean as I finish.

The night of the 2013 lottery, I went to bed early because I couldn't stand the tension. Then I woke up at 2am, to many many texts saying :"sorry" or "next year?". I was really said - it felt like all my friends were going on, without me.

At the same time - there will be other years. And there are a lot of training runs together...and I still do believe that my right ankle will thank me. The trail is still there, everyday, waiting for me.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Chuckanut 50k (pound it out)

Barry, me, Meghan, Sabrina - photo courtesy of Rebecca Reid

can you just cut to the chase? your blog uses a lot of words
time: 4:51.03
place: 2nd female 20-29, 11th female overall
other: squeaked into the top 20 fastest female times ever (and I think #1 fastest time for a runner with a small buddha belly - damnit, taper week!)

the difference one year makes
A year ago, I raced the St. Patty's Day 5k in Stanley Park. I was so reluctant to register for the race that Craig signed me up right before it sold out. I remember the start: all my VFAC friends in the wintry sun, nervous in our jerseys, and the rush downhill through a sea of people. I remember gasping through the first couple kilometers, dealing with the unexpected hurt. Then, I just started going: I saw my teammates up ahead, and I picked up the pace to catch up with them. And I was able to. I crossed the finish line in 19:23, a jangle of nerves and still astonished at the power I had in my body.

It's been a bit of a surreal journey to wind up at my third ultra start line since then -  surrounded with new friends, an amazing sponsor, and a whole different headspace.

I should mention that signing up for a 50k trail race in March went about exactly how you would expect...if you expect a lot of rain. After the North Face 50, I realized nothing weather related could be that bad (this is not a challenge, weather gods), so I wasn't too worried. But yeah, the weather went from just-rained, to rainy like crazy, to just-about to rain. Maybe it is time to look into doing a race somewhere warm? Or I just have a secret love of mud and chafing.

road trip
Meghan picked me up Friday afternoon and we made our way across the border....and into a Trader Joe's store. More specifically, into the chocolate aisle of the store. I left with ideal taper food: two bottles of wine, a bag of chips, and three chocolate bars. Then we headed to REI for gels and gear-ogling...and finally, to the package pickup, to rendezvous with Barry and, most importantly, getting as many miniature Cliff bar samples as possible.

sweet dreams?
Barry managed to find the one cafe that had a happy hour special, which we arrived at the tail end of. (Happy hour time sounds better than senior citizen time, which is also was). We pulled into our hotel's parking lot...to see the lobby crowded full of dancing teenagers. As we were checking in, the teenagers were performing song and dance acts at a high volume. We realized it might be a long night. The first room we were given was right next to the lobby. The next room was further away...but also occupied already by kids. The third room was empty...kind of. Barry promptly left to go across the street to buy wine and earplugs. In the end, we slept as well as three nervous soon-to-be-ultrarunners could. Meghan and I reached an important friendship milestone, in that we finally shared a bed (if there was a couch that she could've slept on, I'm pretty sure she would have taken that option).

get up, lube up
We woke up at 5am, started coffee/tea, and added hot water to our respective bowls of instant oatmeal. I was determined to avoid my weekly chafing (and related very painful showers). Donovan was determined to avoid my weekly whining about chafing, and had loaned me some fancy triathlete anti-chafing lube-spray. (I think Craig has something similar he has used to make his very long bike sessions less painful). It felt like a sex aid in a can, but anything was better than how I had been feeling post-long-runs, so I sprayed it - everywhere. And then passed it to Barry and Meghan. Barry had intended to go "old school" with his signature huge tub of vaseline, but was swayed by the fancy spray can.

I love mud
We parked by the largest puddle, then milled around the parking lot / start line as the sky faded to dawn. The course goes like this: easy 10k, a hilly and technical 30k, then back along the same easy 10k. I started out running with Mary and Meghan for the first 10k. The pace didn't feel entirely great to me, but the start of races never does. After the first hour, my legs woke up and I was able to get up the first climb, and then make my way down the first downhill, all ankles intact. After, it was a longer uphill along an old logging road, with switch back after switchback at a grade that was runnable, but barely.

Finally, at the top of this, was the part of the race I actually wanted to do: technical singletrack along a ridge, with views out to the ocean. It was wet and the mist came in and out of the forest. The trails were muddy, rooty, with large wet rocks that I went down in a slick of arms and held breath. My legs didn't feel entirely my own. For the first, ever, I actually passed some people on technical downhill sections (usually my signature move is trying as hard as possible to get out of people's way as they barrel down roots next to me).  By this time, I was feeling the last couple hours of running a bit. I just kept saying: "focus. FOCUS." to myself as I dropped, and dropped some more, down the trail. I emerged from the ridge section, all ankles intact and only a small leg scratch in terms of injuries.

In my head, this was a much more technical trail. photo from Glen Tachiyama.
I love caffeine
I'm not great at nutrition during long runs or races. In long trail runs, I frequently hit spots where I feel angry or sad - this usually means I need to have a gel or some caffeine (this is different to the rest of my life, when these feelings get meditation, talks with friends, or an early bedtime...and occasionally sugar and caffeine). I eat horribly during ultra races: caffeine and sugar. I rely on caffeine a decent amount during ultra races. And here's the thing: once I start caffeine, I can't stop. I just hope the high from each gel or cup of coke lasts until the next time an aid station comes around.

Getting my fix. photo courtesy of Glen Tachiyama.

About three hours in, I was still out high on the ridge, without any aid stations around. The buzz from the last gel had long since worn off. The gradual uphill section, all of a sudden, felt really long. I started to walk. I had one gel - lemon lime. I had some water. And that was how I had my first caffeine pill, ever. Honestly, I was hoping for more perkiness, but the crippling depression and fatigue went away in about five minutes, and I was able to pick it up for the long downhill switchbacks. My body still hurt, but my mind found another gear and I just kept moving.

finish strong
I can't help the road runner side of me that feels compelled to do every race with a Garmin. This is despite a) pace is meaningless and demoralizing when I am powerhiking a steep muddy uphill b) satellite reception in the forest is bad, so I have no idea how far I've gone, anyways c) all technology is bad, anyways. However, when I made it back out of the higher trails and onto the last 10k back, I knew I had to run like hell. With no watch to tell me pace, I did what I do: went inside, and found the edge. I found the hurt, and I just opened into it and pushed faster. I didn't know how many kilometers I had left, I had no idea how much time I had left, but I wanted to make all the miles I had already run in this race count.

Finally, I heard the finish line through the trees, and ran one last mini downhill to cross. Then full stop.

Sadly, the most flattering "after" photo of Barry and I.

clothes are a lot of work
Donovan made the trip down to see me finish - because there is no better way to spend a Saturday then driving to a muddy parking lot to stand in the rain and watch your girlfriend try to string together full sentences after a race (thank you!). Barry and North Van trail legend Nicola Gildersleeve were also at the finish line, looking much too fresh for just racing 50k.

I suddenly wanted to be dry and warm, so very slowly hobbled over to Meghan's car. My run brain was wiped - I leaned against the back of the car, and contemplated my clothes. The act of taking off wet compression sleeves, socks, top and finding new dry stuff to replace it seemed pretty overwhelming. Donovan helped out with the changing special olympics, but I still spent about 15minutes, half-naked, gazing into space in the full parking lot while my shoes were untied for me (this is sort of similar to post-kneeknacker training run behaviour, minus the assisted changing).

Meghan finished her race - and killed it! - in 4:56. I think she gets bonus for the most hard-core runner, as evidenced by her huge wipe-out. ("I just bounced back up and kept running!") By the time she made it back to the car, I was finally in dry gear and sitting in Barry's car with the heat on full-blast. And Donovan got to help with changing the secon time around (this is good practice!) Barry had already started drinking beer - I had to politely decline his offer as I felt already pretty spacey. I was a bit dazed the rest of the day, and twitchy and restless that night.

Meghan is hardcore!

normal people life
The next day, the endorphins finally kicked in. Sunday brightened up with fresh snow on the mountain and chilly sunlight. Meghan and I did a seawall walk with tea, taking any uphills very slowly. As it was St. Patty's Day, I learned the joys of mid-day drinking...and then promptly needed a very long nap (advantages of dating an ultra-runner: gets loaded easily). My body is trashed, my head is worn out, and I want to eat all the food, ever - but I know I'll bounce back.

I sort of joke about my goals for ultras being to not get lost or not get injured. But it's sort of serious: taking a month off after kneeknacker to rehab my ankle was tough. It was also tough doing 3k bonus mileage on the NF 50 (as I was already tired any whiny). So it was awesome to get those parts sorted and just be able to focus on racing. It felt a bit daunting to start down this type of distance and commit to racing it - going hard, feeling sore, and running through. Nowhere in the race did I ever feel comfortable. If I did, I pushed harder. That doesn't mean I didn't have a great time. There was joy in the hurt: I loved the views, the rain, the ache in my quads, the hard breath. I don't do this to feel good - I do it to push limits. I stayed positive, and knew I could not have gone any harder, at any point, and I am completely elated that I pulled it off.

thank you, other crazies
Huge thanks to FITS! Despite running in the rain/mud/more mud for almost five hours, I have zero blisters, and no new black toenails. The hiker crew socks were solid, which was good, as all other parts of my body were in a lot of pain.

I am so lucky to have so much support and encouragement from my trail, road, and triathlon friends! Kneeknacker bad-ass Brooke Spence dropped me off the best good-luck present ever Thursday night: an illustrated cat encyclopedia! Craig sent down encouraging texts when I told him about my tri-lube plans, and Katie was pretty much the best text-cheering squad ever. The fact I had to talk my friends out of biking down, in the crazy wind and rain, to watch the race finish shows a lot about the wonderful life I have.

Meghan had been training with me for the past few months. Despite living on the Sunshine coast (in a much bigger, nicer, more ocean-view-y place than me), Meghan came over pretty much every weekend to do training runs. I was getting used to having her sleep on my couch and have bedtime tea drinking, yogourt eating, and life chats every week, and tried to convince her to sign up for the marathon so we could continue this. However, it turns out the us road-runners (okay, maybe just me) with our talk of paces, garmins, and distance tracking stressed her out too much, so she's ready to take a break for mountain biking.

Barry came off of a calf injury, and managed to rehab his ankle and then race on it within about a two week span. Barry also supplied the patience and sense of humour that is much needed in any run group that includes me. He had the most creative taper, which involved leaving with his work to go out for drinks at 4pm...and returning home at 2:30am the next morning. He also has some seriously short-shorts, and makes me motivated to step up my game in that area.

Mary and Sabrina both ran their debut ultras in wet, rainy conditions. They both rocked the race - and, most, importantly, came away happy, with a love of trails, and ready to do more! The determination and sense of humour these ladies have is amazing, and if growing up ever happens for me, I want to grow up to run like them :) VFAC has a group of these women, and the way they train hard, but, more importantly, support each other through good runs, bad runs, injuries, and wins is an inspiration for the type of running I want to do and the friendships I want to have.

Rebecca - one of the fastest masters in Canada, and also owner of the best (sarcastic) sense of humour in Canada - was supposed to run the race. Unfortunately, she had the trail race from hell the weekend before, and emerged alive....barely. However, she still got up at the crack of a very rainy morning to drive Sabrina, Mary and Brian across the border. And was there at the end of a very rainy day in a very muddy parking lot to cheer everyone on. Amazing.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Lost and Bitchy

Hungover and trying to deal with a very cranky redhead.

I am signed up for the Chuckanut 50k in Fairhaven, Washington for March 16. Last Sunday, Meghan, Barry (doing his first long run after rehabbing a semi-busted calf / ankle) and Katie and I took a road trip to run 36k of the race course.

My two trail running goals: don't get lost and don't get injured. This run, I was 0 for 2.

I mean early
The day started promisingly: Meghan and I got up at 5am, and were on the road by 5:45 to pick up Barry and Katie. The fading moon and clear sky promised a good day. Katie bounded out of her apartment towards the car when we pulled up outside. Barry was 100% outside on time for his pick-up. He also was speaking....very....slowly and smelled strongly of alcohol. Barry admitted to drinking about 7 glasses of wine the night before, and getting three hours of sleep. In other words, he was completely prepared to help with navigation duties. At certain intervals, some pretty bad smells came from the backseat of the car (I am not naming names here), and we were forced to roll down our windows. Barry: "It's not me - it's because we're going through an agricultural area."

My driving skills, google maps, and Barry's excellent road navigation ensured that we made it through the empty highways, across the border, and to the planned parking lot just before 8am.

Joining us for this adventure were fellow VFAC-ers, and seriously bad-ass fast as hell masters runners Mary, Rebecca, Sabrina and Helen. They had done all or part of the Fat Ass 50k, and decided that they wanted more. (except for Helen, who was being an amazing run-buddy and coming along for the company).

"it'll be totally fine!"
We threw out the idea of running part of the Chuckanut race course to some of our other trail buddies. Donovan thought the run would be sort of a gongshow, and declined in favour of doing a 2hr run (that actually kept to two hours) with Ramsey. When Brooke heard that Barry and I would be navigating, she also refused. And stated (a couple times) that she was worried about us.

When there's a map like this (below), and Barry has uploaded the 2010 course route onto his GPS, what is there to worry about?

I need to learn to read a map.

this is awesome!
We were definitely on the right route for at least the first 14k. And it was gorgeous. The trail was singletrack, but not the usual north shore kind where I constantly feared for my life. The trees loomed over us covered with moss, and the clouds overhead showed signs of burning off to blue sky. As we climbed, we got glimpses of the ocean through the trees. We looped around some small lakes, with hanging branches reflecting off the water. The trail was muddy, but nothing compared to the NF 50. I was (and still remain) a bit freaked out about race day, but the practice had me a bit less scared.

I think all Garmins are cursed
Barry's Garmin has a feature where maps can be uploaded online. The watch screen then would show a small map of any intersections we approached. If we went the wrong way, it would beep at us to turn around. At the first several intersections, this was great: an electronic safety blanket. We ran in one direction, Garmin said no, we went the other way, and got the reassuring "you're on the right course!" signal.

Then we got to one intersection, where the trail got a bit less defined and a bit more fun. Or something like that. We walked over partially submerged logs through a boggy area. Then...the trail sort of disappeared.
Or, there were many "trails" in the spaces between large trees. Meghan followed one smaller one that climbed up onto a small ridge and looked much less travelled. We went along this a bit, but I expressed doubts. Barry's GPS said we were 150m from the right route. So we turned back to the intersection. We couldn't find any other routes, so we trusted GPS and went through the bog a second time, and up onto the ridge. And kept going.

The trail along the ridge was beautiful - pine needles on the ground, running right alongside another small lake. I still didn't know if it was the right way, and wondered if we should back-track. "Guys, do we have the right trail?" Meghan: "well, we have the best trail." - fair point.

uh - oh
The gorgeous trail ended, and we were back on something that looked a bit more definitive. By this point, we had been running for 2.5hrs. We had food, and some water. (Meghan's hydration pack leaked. After updates every 5 minutes or so about how wet her ass was becoming, she dumped out the rest of her water in hopes of eventually drying out her tights). We then came to a 4 way intersection. This was nowhere on the map. Barry's GPS had us several kilometres off-course. I started to get a bit panicked by this point. I wanted to run down one of the logging roads, which I assumed would rendezvous with areal road, then find our way back. The others quite reasonably-pointed out the shortcomings with this plan.

Barry had (mostly) sobered up by this point, so did his best to navigate with his watch and the map, which showed the trails mostly as a series of overlapping squiggles. Barry's Garmin finally located us (sort of) to show we were way off-course. Then we activated the compass feature in Katie's iPhone to navigate us back. The decision was made to backtrack to another intersection. We got there, and still no clue.

getting high
Meghan drew on her four summers' of firefighting experience: we would need to get to a high point to we could get our bearings. And that is how we ended up hiking straight up through a clear-cut to the top of the mountain.

From here, a couple things happened. We were able to see the direction we were supposed to be running in. We did not see a trail there. We saw the lake we had run around. At this point, we had been running well over three hours. My left calf had started with a dull ache, which was becoming something more alarming. I was not quite ready for more route-finding.

So this is where I started to cry. And use swear words (a lot of them) to convince the rest to backtrack. Luckily, it turned out that we would only be another hour or less from the parking lot (awesome)! Meghan suggested we should look for a shortcut back. This was not especially well-received by me. I think it was at this point that Meghan and Katie started to go a bit ahead. Barry, through either coming back for an injury or lack of self-preservation skills, kept running with me.

Coming down the final descent, we ran into Sabrina. It turned out that her group had also gotten lost - even earlier than us. It was great to have company running down the final stretch. And just like that - we were almost back at the car. The clouds cleared and shafts of sunlight came through the trees. Being back in the parking lot with the rest of the group felt a bit surreal.

photo courtesy of May Walsh

In true north-shore running fashion, pretty much everyone (except me) did a full-on parking lot change. After 34k and almost 1300m climbing, we didn't have the energy to change any other way.

photo courtesy of Mary Walsh

recovery food
Barry (without the help of his GPS) navigated us to the pub. While waiting for a table, Katie and Meghan went off in search of coffee. Barry did everything in his power to cheer me up, as my leg was still bugging me.
Barry: do you want a beer?
Me: *mope*
Barry, 1 minute later: "I ordered a beer - do you want wine?"
Me: *moping, and sort of blocking people walking around*
Barry: "I really think you should have wine."

Rebecca, Mary, Helen and Sabrina soon joined us. And...a bit later...Alicia, Tara, and Laurel! They had also decided to come run the course. And they had actually managed to stay on route! In true ultrarunner fashion, they all ordered beers as soon as they arrived.

Even after eating some solid food, I was still cranky. I had uncharacteristically refused to have recovery wine (usually my go-to after any long run). Meghan drove the way back, and I napped / sulked in the backseat. I was frustrated that I couldn't navigate, and worried about getting lost during the race. My leg hurt, and I wondered if I would even be able to race Chuckanut. I'd been training decently hard, and had been feeling tired - if I'd been training to the edge, did I just go over it?

Even after a long shower, I still had dirt in my toenails. I ended up over at Donovan's, attempting to describe the run. Then I saw Barry's post to facebook, and Katie's picture of us lost. The whole thing became pretty funny - after all, we did make it back to the parking lot not too much worse for the wear? I ended the day drinking a beer in a very-nice-smelling bubble bath - after confirming that Katie, Meghan, and Barry would all continue to talk to me and be my friends.

take what your heart can take
I love trails in a special way. I do road races and training runs - they're great, too. It gets my body strong, and clears my mind. But being out, surrounded by trees, going up mountains, out for hours and hours - gets me right straight open inside down to my soul. And the highs from those runs are fantastic. The flipside is the lows from those happen, too, and are difficult. I struggle sometimes with getting anxious - I'm bad at navigating, and I sometimes feel like my body is constantly on the edge as I build up mileage and intensity. Getting lost and worrying if I can hold up enough to make it back is a scary feeling. When I have good runs, I feel almost invincible. I forget that I've only been really training for 6 weeks, and don't have the same base I had last fall. And I fight the inevitable: injuries happen, setbacks happen, and nothing goes as planned.

I work to keep track of what matters: in the end, races will make me feel great - for a few hours. Then, a bit empty. The reason I do what I do is to go to beautiful places with my friends, and share that experience. The quirks that happen along the way (even the clearcut route finding attempts) are the things we talk about, and laugh about later. In the end, yeah, we'll have a race resume, and hopefully we'll be happy with it. But we'll also have pictures of us: muddy shoes, big smiles, and a background of the mountains. And, most of all, our friendship: being there to cheer each other on at races, support each other, and laugh together. The people I have met are the biggest reason why I love running so much.

(postscript: after a Dr. Ramsey visit, my leg is better and I'm ready to take on the Chuckanut race - hopefully on course this time, too! Katie, Barry, Meghan and I are also still running Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim - accompanied by Allison and Alicia - this May. We will not get lost this time!)