Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Let Go

what freedom looks like

One of my favourite movies is "A Christmas Story". The movie is about Ralph, who wants a BB gun for Christmas. At every turn - a school essay, pleading to his mother - Ralph is told no: "You'll shoot your eye out." Finally, for Christmas, he gets the BB gun. While he doesn't end up shooting himself in the eye, the result of mis-firing the gun, indirectly, results in his family's Christmas dinner getting eaten by the neighbours' dogs. This disaster doesn't faze Ralphie in the least. The movie ends with him going to bed, BB gun next to his pillow. The final voice over: despite all of the misfortunes, the BB gun was the best present ever.

Learning to trail run over the past year has been my own ongoing BB-gun story - I had big, crazy, stupid dreams that didn't exactly go as planned. And it was the best year ever.

"You'll get injured"
I ran my first ultra (and second trail race, ever) in July 2012. The race is called the Kneeknacker, which covers 30 very technical miles and 3,500m of North Shore logs, rocks, snow, and creeks. My parents were not impressed: the pounding on my knees, my weak ankles, my ability to get lost on even the Vancouver seawall (a flat concrete path along the ocean).

getting dropped by Brooke around Cypress
ice bath, post-wipe-out

My explanations, even to me, were weak. It wasn't about trails being lower impact, or the health benefits of training. The idea of the race made me feel alive -  terrified and excited in about equal measure.

Two hours into the 6.5 hour race and I jumped down from a log and didn't quite land right. I could hear my ankle crack. I finished the race on a badly sprained ankle, loosening my shoelaces every half-hour as the swelling grew.

My ankle ended up taking a month to heal. In the days that followed, my throbbing ankle woke me up at night. I hobbled to and from work in a brace. And all I could think about was getting back on the trail: the views over Howe sound from the top of the Black Mountain, how to take the drops going downhill, the smell of baking pine needles. I wanted to be gasping for breath going uphill and shaky and uncertain downhill. A week after getting injured, I signed up for a 50mile race. Three weeks later, I was back on the trails, running up mountains - with some new friends I had met from the race.

"You'll get heatstroke"

climbing up to the North Rim

In September 2012, I ran the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim with Donovan,  a guy I had known just over two weeks. I think it was our third date. Some of my friends were worried that I was about to undertake a 40k, 2,000m trail run adventure with a guy I barely knew (and, more importantly, whose athlinks profile showed that he hadn't done a trail race since 2010). The bigger worry was the heat - Early September is still very hot in the Grand Canyon, especially on the Canyon floor. And Vancouver isn't exactly a heat-training location.

The day before the Rim-to-Rim, the guy raced at 70.3 World Championships in temperatures over 38C. He got heatstroke during the race. Despite this, he still was intent on going ahead with the run (possibly because I under-sold him on both the distance and difficulty: "it's 30-something kms, a bit of climbing, might be hot on the canyon floor"). The weather forecast predicted low weather in the low 20Cs, with scattered showers - perfect running weather.

I knew the timing on the run would be a bit tight: we had exactly six hours to get from the South Rim to the North Rim.One bus left the North Rim once a day, and we had to be on it. Our flight back to Vancouver left late that night from Las Vegas.

The run started promisingly: a fun downhill as the sun warmed the canyon walls. The clouds that lingered in the distance never came, and once we hit the canyon floor, the temperature kept rising. Our pace kept slowing as we hit a gradual uphill before the big climb out of the canyon up to the north rim. Time ticked along, and we got worried that we would miss the shuttle. Then, seeing the shape that Donovan was in, I started to get worried about getting us both out of the canyon. With less than an hour to go before our bus was supposed to leave, we made a plan: I would race up to try and catch the bus, and then delay it to wait for Donovan. I have never gone uphill so damn fast - I made it to the North Rim, and then hitchhiked with some hikers back to the bus meet-up spot. I was two minutes late, and the shuttle was thankfully waiting for us.

I grabbed some cold water, and went back down the trail to meet up with Donovan. Together, we made it up to the North Rim. Donovan eventually made it out of the fetal position. The bus took us back to Las Vegas in the middle of a windstorm, with a spectacular desert sunset. We're still dating.

Take away my doubt
 I used to worry so much: What if I got lost? What if I got injured? What if I wasn't strong enough? Running makes me feel free, because I have learned what is on the other side of those fears. I have learned that things don't always go as planned. The worst case scenarios happened - and I'm still here. I got more from having things go wrong than if they had gone right.

me vs chafing - a solid win for chafing

I was able to run through the Grand Canyon on my 28th birthday: the rising buzz of cicadas, the murky river, the dusty red canyon walls. My crazy run adventure was enough to inspire my friends (and my sponsor!) to return this May to go Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim with me. (my boyfriend, perhaps wisely, has decided to sit this one out).

I raced over four hours on an injured ankle - and I discovered that I am so much stronger than I believed. I learned that my head is my most important muscle. Even injured, I had no doubt that the only place I wanted to be was back on the trails. I learned gratitude for running with a healthy body, and I became part of an amazing Vancouver trail running community.

2 months after the ankle sprain - back to going up mountains

Running has freed me from the voices in my head that tell me no, that tell me I won't make it, that tell me I'm not enough. Running has taught me that things don't have to be okay, and I'll still be okay. It has taught me to trust in myself and my ability to recover. It has taught me that setbacks can be blessings, and to look for the opportunity in sadness. It took me two tries to actually take an offseason. I got so lost on a training run with friends that we had to hike through clearcut to the top of a mountain to try and find the trail. Things will continue to go wrong. These aren't mistakes and these aren't catastrophes. This is how I learn: bruises, going back three times to check trail markings, and saying yes again and again and again.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Sun Run 10k (hardest track workout ever)

I got to race a seriously tough 38:46 10k this morning with 48,000 of my closest friends. This was good for 10th in my age group and 45th female overall.

The last 10k I had done was the 2012 Sun Run. Thanks to running amnesia, I forgot how balls-out tough the distance is for me, and how much it hurt the last time I did it.

Pacing-wise, I wasn't quite sure how I should go out. None of this taking 10-15km to warm up business. Based on my half-marathon time, the internet told me I could do about a 38:20. However, the internet also has told me I can go up two cup sizes in a week with herbal supplements, and that I can make up to $500 a day working from home (I still have an A-cup and an office job, so the internet is not always true).

taper time
I tapered for this race by getting a cold, and therefore missing out on a hilly fartlek workout in the rain Thursday night in favour of catching up on "the Vampire Diaries" (it's like "True Blood, with less nudity and slightly better music). I also tapered by driving out to Ikea (for the second time in less than one week), and weaving through a fluorescent lit hell of small children, wandering people, and cheap meatballs to make actual furniture purchases. After an Ikea trip, any race distance (even a 10k!) is possible.

warm up
The race start was less than 1k from my apartment. However, I still showed up about 40minutes early. By doing this, I was able to keep an approximate ratio of one porta-potty visit to every two warm-up laps on Georgia Street. It was really cool to get the blue bib ("semi-elite") to start right up at the front. A closed-off West Georgia street is awesome and eerie at the same time: looking down the wide concrete expanse with the noise and energy of 48,000 runners behind me. The highlight of the warm-up was undoubtedly seeing Donovan out in his "running shorts", which are shorter by a good several inches than anything I own. If they didn't have a Nike swish on them it would be hard to convince me that they are not actually underwear. I Right before the start of the race Barry slipped in, having done a nice 67k warm-up the day before ("I didn't run it very fast, so it's ok"), also wearing questionable shorts.

holy shit
The gun went off and I stumbled over the start line. The race began with a downhill on Georgia St. It hurt - but I hurt at anything under a 5/min km these days. Runners streamed past me. I tried to keep the jersey of Helen, an extremely strong VFAC masters' runner, in sight, but she was too fast for me. Finally, around 3k, I looked at my pace (yes, I am allowed to do this in short road races) - 3:40 average - way too fast, and I was hurting. As the runners thinned a bit, I saw my friend Kim on a bike, on the road ( the closed off road? how did this happen?) beside me. I couldn't believe it. I worked to keep her in sight, and to ignore all the men passing me.

The best part about this race, hands-down, are the crowds. Pretty much every single one of my VFAC teammates who weren't out running came out to cheer. Bands played almost every kilometer. Random people lined the streets and were out yelling, playing noisesmakers, with (I think?) airhorns (is this legal?). The pace hurt like hell, and I was struggling to hang on to a sub-39 time. I just worked to get to each km marker. Then, out of nowhere, my teammates would be there cheering me on. Allison and Ramsey came out,  Shelley and Courtney, Coach John was obviously on the course giving us our 1-mile and 5k splits, Brooke, Sean and Nathan came out from North Van, Amber came out (I didn't see her drinking a beer while cheering, but I was pretty tired by then), Drew biked to cheer us on, Catherine Dilworth was yelling her heart out...I know there was more, but I was focused on not vomiting.

It felt like such a celebration of running in Vancouver and the community we have. At the finish line, it was wonderful to see the sea of blue VFAC jerseys, plus all of the yellow for the Boston colours. Everyone rocked the race! Donovan did 34:39, a huge PB. He tapered for this by doing a four-hour bike ride and a 45minute run the day before. Barry did a 37:43, proving that everyone needs to do an ultramarathon as a warm-up. Helen rocked her race and did 38:00, ready to kill it at BMO marathon.

I want to give special mention to Matt, my running partner, who did 38:44 on his debut road race. I met Matt on the Kneeknacker, when he diagnosed my sprained ankle mid-race during what was supposed to be a romantic moment with his girlfriend. I want to make the point I did beat him on this race.

The past couple months, Matt has joined our morning tempo group and has done some of my random speedwork sessions. Despite me managing to get us lost / misdirected on both the trails and the Stanley Park seawall (apparently not all kilometer markers are created equal), he has kept a positive attitude and has been up for any workout. The only thing with Matt is that, as a dude just learning to run, he has a habit of sitting behind me on EVERY GODDAMN INTERVAL until right at the end, when he blazes past.

On one occasion, we completed an especially bleak 8x1k repeats in the driving wind and rain a couple weeks pre-Chuckanut 50k. On the last one, I was setting the pace, into the wind, and going pretty much balls-out. With about 200m to go, Matt surged past, somehow still with the energy to yell: "Dakota's coming! run faster!" (LIES! Dakota didn't end up doing Chuckanut...perhaps for the better, as Donovan came down to see me finish). Tempos with Matt are okay, for now, as my approach is usually to go out somewhat easy then just go like hell at the end in order to drop him. Anyways, it was this sort of attitude that had me want to beat him on the race. Sadly, it was not meant to be, as he managed to eke out 2 seconds and finish stronger.

bonus mileage
After standing around for a bit in the sorta-sun, I decided to tackle the additional 12k that Coach Ian "suggested" I do. Barry, having only at that point run about 80k over the space of two days, decided to join me for it. Donovan decided to do something much more reasonable - and celebrate his race by going for a 3hr bike ride. On the run, we ran into still-more of our run friends. The bonus workout didn't go quite so well for Donovan: the weather turned, and he found shelter in a Sikh temple in Richmond during a surprise hailstorm. When offered the choice between my driving to pick him up and biking home in the sketch weather, he picked the bike (and, in my defense, traffic was still really backed up!).

almost marathon day
It was good to be able to pound out a hard 10k, even when things didn't exactly go as planned. I am totally in awe of all those bad-ass female runners (ahem, Catherine Watkins, Anne-Marie Madden, Katherine Moore) who can kill this distance. I hope the marathon feels a bit less painful, at least for some of it. However, having tons of crowd support and just the total positive energy made it a race I am happy about. Although, for the record, I am done with this 10k and short race nonsense. I want a race where I can get a decent time and still stop to drink coke, maybe even have time for a bathroom break, and not feel like I am in perma-cardiac-arrest. If running amnesia kicks in and I somehow again think doing this race is a really great idea that will go totally fine, please remind me I need about a 15-20k warm-up these days.

Thanks to FITS for the ultra-light race socks - my feet (if not my lungs) felt great the whole time!

Monday, 8 April 2013

April Fool's 1/2 marathon (I don't burn out, I shine brighter)

I raced a half-marathon on the Sunshine Coast this past Sunday. The week before the race was a bit crazy. Life happened, work happened, and not the best training happened. Instead of following Coach Ian's schedule, I did that little bit more: pushed the pace on the tempo, threw in some extra yoga classes, slept less and thought more. This had me wind up at VFAC practice on Thursday night, in the pouring rain. The workout was shorter, harder, and my body felt all edges.

On the run home, I was worried. I had the marathon in a month. My work is busy. My life just got a bit crazier. The story in my head started: I wouldn't have the energy, I wouldn't have the time, I wouldn't have the strength. I sent a panicked e-mail to Coach Ian, who told me (as nicely as possible) to back off the extra stuff and chill out and just see how the race would go (advice I took) and to relax (advice I'm not sure if I am capable of taking). 

how to taper (or not)
Friday I woke up, groggy, to rain against my windows. I dragged myself out of bed to do an easy 10k, listening to pink floyd (it seemed to fit the weather). That night, I ate my weight in chocolate covered almonds. Saturday I ran another 10k with Lucy. We were supposed to do some sprints every couple kms, but the timing kept getting messed up - our conversation was too interesting for me to follow my garmin that well. 

After an evening spent watching very bad tv and looking at cat pictures on the internet, I was feeling much more ready to race.

inspirational quote
I was telling myself this story: that I was too tired to race, my muscles weren't rested, my head wasn't there. There's an amazing webcomic that goes: "I have fireflies where my caution should be. Instead of slowing down, I burn brighter." Might as well take the little bit of crazy, the little bit of uncertainty, all that restless energy, and just push as hard as I could. Add to that the classic life coach Ramsey advice: "you don't have to feel good to race well."

getting there
Donovan, Barry and I took the early ferry over to Gibsons. Barry was able to enjoy a sleep-in until 4:30am - a great way to recover after racing the Diez Vista 50k the day before. His plan was to race the half-marathon as a relay with Steve ("rhymes with Stallion") Maylon. It quickly became apparent that the guys were a lot more relaxed about this than I was. While I was twitching on the ferry ride over from too much caffeine, Donovan took a nap, Steve was fighting through a hangover, and Barry was still wearing jeans.

pre-race music
Before races is pretty much the only time I ever go on youtube to watch my two favourite videos: the "inches" speech from "Any Given Sunday", and, of course, the 2011 NF 50 EC video. I also like to listen to Eminem. Or anything, pretty much, that is not "unchained melody". I guess Donovan was feeling low-key after his nap, but he chose this song as his pre-race music, and I think attempted to have some sort of romantic moment. It didn't quite work, and, with an hour to go pre-race, I was still pretty twitchy.

race time
The April Fool's half is one of my favourite half marathons: point-to-point, well-organized, and relatively small. The route starts with a downhill, then a couple rolling hills, one big climb for 3k, then more downhill. It's a net downhill course, but with enough climbs to keep it interesting. At the last minute before the start, I made my way close to the front - the course goes off gun time, and in something this short, my seconds would count.

I started off running behind Helen Ritchie, one of the very strong VFAC masters' women runners. I tried to keep up to her, but as soon as I had caught up, she found another gear and pressed ahead. I fell back, and decided to try to keep her in sight. 

On the ferry ride over, Barry was talking about his 11km relay leg and how he hoped to be finished it in under an hour. This was completely ridiculous - as he was running alongside me and chatting easily. I was really grateful for his company. I'm never good at the starts of races, and this one felt particularly tough. I tried not to look at my watch too much - and I didn't have to, as Barry was giving me splits every kilometer. I was holding the pace I needed to, but it hurt - a lot. I had no idea if I could keep it going for another 15-odd kilometers. So I shut my thoughts off and just tried to make it to the end of each km marker.

At the half-way point, Steve took over the relay. Barry asked him: do you think you'll be able to keep up running with the girls (that is me and Helen)? Steve and his hangover were not entirely sure. Barry, after running 11km, was now reasonably warmed up, so he kept running with us. It was really helpful to have a group to work with, especially as we were fighting a headwind the entire time (the only downside of a point-to-point course). I also run much better when there are people around - on my own, my thoughts can get loud, and I doubt myself. With Helen right next to me, I could hear her breathing and I knew she was working as hard as me, so I had no excuse to drop off the pace.

At 14k, there was one big climb for about 3k. Helen and I went back and forth the entire time, with Barry and Steve pushing us on. By this point, I was feeling quite rough. And possibly a bit irritable. I decided I wanted to run closer to the side of the road - instead of using words to communicate this to Barry, I instead just elbowed him over. I guess Barry is used to cranky females, so he took this in stride. On the final couple kms to the finish, I flew downhill as quickly as I could. Everything hurt, and I trusted my legs and my lungs to just open up and finish. 

It was a really good mental toughness day for me. I realized that my head is a muscle, just as important as the ones in my legs. Staying positive, for me, can be really hard some days. And it doesn't always come easily - I feel like my thoughts can sometimes coil into places that drag me down. It was a good reminder that I can be capable of so much, and that when I quiet my mind, my body will go where it needs to go. The race also showed me, again, how lucky I am to have such amazing running support. Barry was a huge help as a pacer, attempting to wind-block (unfortunately, due to my chocolate-covered-almond eating I was a pretty large person to block for), move walkers out of the way, and provide amazing encouragement in the face of a lot of crankiness. 

I really wanted to go sub 1:25 on the race - and I did! Thanks to Helen, Barry, and Steve, I was able to keep a pace that sort of scared the hell out of me. As an added bonus, I was 2nd overall female. It was really cool to be up on stage (like a "real" runner) and get some money and a gorgeous ceramic mug.

The rest of the VFAC team (and friends!) also had a great day. Nic came 1st, Dave 2nd, and life coach Ramsey came 4th overall in 1:16 (also 1st physio overall)! This means he is totally ready to sign up for the NF 50 miler with us for December. Donovan came 6th and squuezed under 1:18, despite doing training which (to me) seems to consist entirely of runs at 5min/km pace of slower. Helen was 3rd overall, 1st master. Mary was 2nd masters female, and Sabrina raced a 1:41, just weeks after her first trail ultramarathon. In the most hotly-contested race of the day, Barry and Steve won the relay division. 

Allison wasn't racing (Boston in one week!), but she came out to cheer and it was great to have her on the course. She was also the only person who seemed to like being sent cat pictures the night before the race.

We all went for lunch at Molly's reach, then grabbed the ferry back. Nic decided he hadn't eaten enough to celebrate his 1st place victory, and went off in search of ice cream. This also served to inspire Barry, who decided to skip his usual recovery food of cheese.

the non-PG-rated part of recovery food

Now it is 4am, and I have been up since 2:30am, where sleep was abandoned to twitchiness. I think this is what happens when I only have one glass of recovery wine.

My feet are also miraculously blister free, with no new black toenails, thanks to my zippy ultrarunner light socks (thanks FITS!).