Friday, 31 May 2013

Two awesome 10k races (your chance to experience pain!)

I am not sure exactly who reads my blog regularly (besides Craig, who wants to make sure I haven't made any inappropriate tri-geek jokes about him where the internet can see). But for my three or so other regular readers, I am going to shamelessly promote two awesome races happening in July!

Summerfast 10k, Saturday July 20, 8:00am in Ceperly Park (across from 2nd beach pool).

Why do this race?
- flat, fast course with little chance of getting lost, as it is the seawall.
- Saturday morning race means you can still drink / go away for Saturday night (or, for those keeners, do a 4+hr trail run Sunday)
- Home baked goods! It is VFAC's mission to bake as much and as well as possible. There will be everything from gluten-free, healthy treats to brownies made with 2x the recommended amount of chocolate. All of this baking is presided over by stern yet fair Rebecca Reid, to prevent the male portion of VFAC from eating it ahead of time.

MEC Vancouver 5k/10k - Saturday, July 27th at 9am in Seymour Valley.
- easy non-technical trails (your legs will be happy, your ankles will not be rolled)
- $15 registration and free massages at the end! basically, a $15 massage with a warm-up.
- see above for the awesome benefits of Saturday races.

To get started, a quick Q&A:
Q: these races are happening approximately two months away. I don't even know what I am doing two hours from now...why are you so plan-y?
A: I am a redheaded virgo auditor - I can't help myself. Also, summer fills up quickly. It's helpful to have some goal races planned ahead of time to give an excuse to have weekends in town.

Q: I am a hardcore trail runner and do not believe in roads or any race where I am not risking imminent death or injury. How will this help me?
A: You might not believe in speedwork, but it believes in you! Fast, flat stuff where I want to die for a short period of time helps me to feel like I want to die less over longer distances. Plus, this is the only way I can beat any of my trail friends in any sort of run, ever. It feels amazing, and is payback for all the times they drop me when we go uphill.

Q: will there be enough baking / massages at the finish line for me?
A: Yes! They will be held especially for you!

Q: why should I support these races?
A: Both are community events that help support local clubs. The Summerfast 10k is also part of the timex running series - which means some fast runners (for those chasing PBs).

Please please sign up! Looking forwards to cheering everyone on out there!

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

After the Goldrush

I finished the Vancouver Marathon almost four weeks ago. I weaved through four blocks of packed sidewalks on the way back to my apartment, cringing down stairs and sighing up any inclines. I didn't stretch. I didn't ice bath. I took a long, long shower, and then lay on the patio, watching the wind turbines up Grouse.

My life had been divided into two parts: Before Marathon and After Marathon. The past four months, I started to see my life in blocks: race to race, workout to workout. The marathon coincided with moving apartments and the end of busy season. I should know better, but still, I told myself - once the marathon was done, life would be easy. There is no easy. Life goes on and on. It's like climbing a hill - to see the top of the mountain, now visible, from the crest.

In about a three week span, I moved apartments, ran a marathon, got engaged, and ran the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim. I was elated and exhausted - going off fumes. I told myself that after the marathon was over, life would return to normal, to easy, to eight hours sleep.

Workouts still showed up for me (even if the "workout" was 6k easy). Pictures were lying on the floor and things were still unpacked and disorganized. There were new adventures, new races. And I did what I was good at - I pushed on. I worried through recovery. I scheduled and I planned and I looked at new projects.

I saw a good friend last week. We walked along the seawall in the warm evening light.   The week after R2R2R had been a struggle for me - my body and head were both still wiped out. She asked me: "Are you having fun? Reading your blog it doesn't sound like you are. It sounds hard. Why do you run trails when you are constantly anxious about getting lost or injured?"

It's a valid question. I pushed my races this year - I wanted to go hard, go fast, and my body and head held up enough to get me what I wanted. But with each workout, logging elevation and distance and pace, I lost track of what allowed me to do all this: my heart. When I rush through trails, I forget what they give me: easy conversation, mist through the trees, all my muscles breathing together. I love running, and racing, and when it hurts. Coming out on the other side of a tough race makes me feel alive like nothing else. But I love running because I love running - the rhythm and the measured breath. I love warm evenings on the seawall and rainy mornings on the Baden Powell. And I really love the friends I made along the way.

This week, I read an article about rats and exercise. When the rats were allowed to run on an activity wheel they did so excessively, until they ran themselves to death. That going and going. The momentum, one step and one hundred steps and that long slow relentless build towards nothing.

It's a balance, for me: between too hard and too easy.

I don't think I'll ever have a goldilocks head: all the of the calm and peaceful optimism, none of the obsessive drive. Completely balanced people - I don't think - run like this. I have a bit of crazy in me, and I like to take it out every now and then.

In all honesty, I don't even want my life to be easy. I worked, for years, to have it be that way. What I really want are problems: interesting, frustrating, amazing ones. Life doesn't stop. I choose when to stop. In the end, either my body or my brain will get tired. The downtime is just as important as the training time.

I know I get stronger on recovery - I just wish it wasn't always so damn hard to actually do it.  With the assistance of an unexpected root on the trail to Norvan falls, I finally had some time. I slept. I braved the stationary bike (the recumbent one, even!) and got passed by two elderly gentlemen on a morning Grouse Grind. I feel rested. More importantly - I am starting to feel hungry, again. I don't look at upcoming runs or races as something to be scared of, something to endure. I'm excited to be outside, to see where my body can go, see where I can travel with just my feet and my lungs - and finish smiling.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Grand Canyon R2R2R

Sometimes, there are no words. We ran the Grand Canyon from the South Rim to the North Rim...and back. We used the Bright Angel trail going down from the South Rim, and climbing back up. It  was just over 79km, about 3000m elevaton gain/loss. It took us 14hrs and 23 minutes. We started at 4:20am, in the dark, with headlamps. We saw the first faint light on the horizon, and saw sunrise over the canyon walls. We finished just before 7pm, as the light faded at sunset.

Thank you so much everyone!

first view of the Colorado River, about 1.5hrs in.

Allison, first break.

early light on the Colorado river

group picture on the brdige

early light

water hole

climbing towards North Rim as the sun starts to hit

way up to North Rim

still climbing

Barry in shorts

North Kaibab trailhead, North Rim

OMG pepsi

newfie pride

"Grandpa Joe" was handing out cold drinks to all R2R-ers (and R2R2R-ers)

back down the North Rim

running along the canyon floor

Indian Gardens campsite

way back up to South Rim


comfy feet - thanks FITS!


Hoover Dam

Poolside in Vegas

the team

Barry, the only guy


Thursday, 9 May 2013

Vancouver Marathon (how to go all-in)

"Find what you love and let it kill you" - Charles Bukowski, courtesy of Neil Gaiman

I raced the BMO Vancouver Marathon this past Sunday. I finished in 3:03:43, 2nd AG, 10th female overall, and 75th out of both genders. I found a lot of edges that race, and I am so grateful for the support of my friends and teammates.

go big or go home (sometimes, I should just go home)
This was my "A" race of the spring season. I unapologetically set a goal back in January - I wanted a sub-3hr marathon. I trained with this time in mind as the snow on the trails slowly disappeared and the grey Vancouver skies gave way to sunshine. I always knew it would be a close races - marathons are 42.2k gambles - and I usually feel pretty lucky. Training was a blast. I got to hit the trails for a lot of longer runs, then do tempos the next day on tired legs. I pushed hard, and with Coach Ian's plan I was able to show up at the start line injury free - a huge, huge blessing.

race choice
For me, doing the Vancouver marathon was always a given. The course isn't always easy (to be fair, I'm not sure if any course is ever easy), but I love everything about it: the 1km hill at Camosun, the descent along South West Marine to the beaches, and the final seawall. Vancouver is my hometown. I was very grateful for the elite entry that the BMO organizers provided me with. More importantly, I wanted to have the support of my VFAC teammates and friends on the course to help pull me along when things got tough. And things really did get tough.

how many times did I call my physio?
This year I was really lucky in my build-up to the race. I saw the amazing Ramsey several times before Chuckanut 50k, in March. Then, after that, it was pretty smooth sailing until the start of the race. My legs held up and were uninjured. The rest of me wasn't so lucky. The week before the marathon (after finishing off some April 30 deadlines and completing a move), I got sharp pain in my shoulder blade and chest. When I saw Ramsey, he told me that I had BEEN BREATHING WRONG. Yes, it has got to the point where I am high-strung enough that even if I do all my physio exercises, do core every day, and watch my footing on trails, I AM STILL ABLE TO INJURE MYSELF BY JUST EXISTING. (time to hit the yoga mat again)

race day
I woke up at 4:15 to a pale blue sky and the lights of the north shore. The sun started to rise as I walked along the seawall to catch the shuttle to the start of the race. I got to the start area way too early, and met up with Helen (who had arrived even earlier). This was good, as it gave me time to use the bathrooms approximately every five minutes, and compare weird taper "injuries".  We met up with Mary and Ellie, who were also racing, to watch the start of the half-marathon. Barry, Rebecca Reid, and Sabrina came over to find us before the start of the race. We were all some degree of nervous wrecks (me maybe more so than others, this is normal), and it was great to have the support of our teammates. When we got into our starting corral, I looked over to the side - and saw Brooke, Allison and Ramsey, who had all biked over from the North Shore. It was really reassuring to see familiar faces - plus, I knew Allison and Brooke would appreciate the running skirt I was wearing.

km 0 to km 9 - it's alright, I'll catch up
The start went off along an uphill, and I found a rhythm - sort of. The beginnings of races are always hard for me. Helen went right ahead of me, as Ben, another VFAC teammate, and some of the other guys I hoped to pace with. The weather was still cool and a bit breezy, and my legs felt good on the downhill.

km 10 to 19 - no, fuck YOU, Camosun hill
The hill up Camosun is just under 1k long, and decent elevation (for a road race). I figured, hey, I had been running up Nancy Greene, this would be easy. No, it was not. At this point in the race, I was surrounded by all guys. It was getting hot out, and many of the guys in front of me were starting to abruptly slow - some even walked. I had to weave my way around them as I kept chugging uphill. It was nice to run into Josh on this section, and run together for a bit. The best part of this hill was seeing Brooke, Allison, and Ramsey on the way up - I was sure to give an extra-loud pregnancy sigh for Brooke. At the top of the hill were Rebecca and Sabrina (and it looked like team Mom Rebecca was taking pictures of us with her cellphone?). Ryan also was there taking pictures, and this is what it looked like when I tried to smile at him (minus the trying - sorry!).

I passed Helen on an out-and-back section after UBC. She instructed me to give "spirit fingers" for the camera. Awesome! Amber was also around this section, and yelled at me to "Pound it Out!" Actually, quite a few people yelled this. It was sort of amazing to have me and Barry's trail running / life slogan used by so many people as encouragement - and it totally worked. I was back-and-forth passing a couple guys on the UBC section, and it really helped to have people to work off of.

km 20 to km 31 - oh no
The hill down from UBC opened up amazing views: completely blue sky, blue water, the snow-covered mountains. I had a huge Vancouver fangirl moment. At the bottom of the hill was the half-way point and timing mats - and, of course, coach John from VFAC yelling out our splits. I was just over 1:29. I was also starting to hurt - not great in a distance twice that long. The next section was gently rolling hills - fine. The temperature was still rising, and the route was completely exposed. I kept to pace, and drank at every aid station and dumped water on myself. I was seriously thirsty and hot - in all of maybe 20C.

At Jericho beach, I saw Nathan, who was a huge encouragement. I saw Drew Nicholson, and injured teammate, who had biked down all the way from Surrey to cheer us on. There were also a lot of people on Cornwall - and I am so sorry, I hurt a lot there, I have no idea who it was, but you yelled my name and it was amazing! Thank you for cheering.

On the way down Burrard Street I got a really bad cramp in my side. Like full-stop, searing pain. I like to think I am good with handling pain: that is complete BS. This thing killed me. I stopped. As in, full stop. Luckily, Ellie Greenwood was at this point (she did the race while rehabbing an injury and always planned to drop at the 30k mark). She was wonderful. She was right next to me. And she helped me stretch it out (it was a bit crazy to be doing yoga forward folds in the middle of a bunch of guys gunning for a sub-3 marathon time), I walked a bit, then I got started again. It still felt awful, but less awful.

km 32 to km 42.2 - bring it home
Just before English Bay, I saw Donovan. I was still walk / running at this point. I yelled out that I had a cramp,  that I wanted so badly to drop. The look of horror on his face, it turned out later, was at the prospect of dealing with an exhausted, emotional female 2hrs into a race, and not at the prospect of DNF-ing. Regardless, once I said it aloud, I weirdly felt better - so I kept going.

English Bay was definitely a turning point. Everyone was out, just where I needed cheering the most. Here is who I remember seeing: my running partner and best friend, Lucy, who I high-fived, VFAC teammates Shelley and Courtney, and I think Kevin O'Connor in there?

As soon as the seawall hit, I felt way better. A cool breeze came off the water, and the path was completely in the shade. Based on my stop before, I knew I wouldn't get under 3hrs, but I wanted to finish as strongly as I could. And just as I was feeling okay, it got even better: Allison Tai's Rackets & Runners' run club had organized a cheer stop TO MY FAVOURITE SONG! There were two ladies wearing shiny speedos over spandex blasting "Sexy and I Know It" by LMFAO.

With about 8k to go, trail phenom Nicola Gildersleeve blew past me and shouted some encouragement. After that, I picked up the pace. I saw Allison Tai later on, who yelled that I was just outside of the top 10. So I found whatever it was left to find, and passed two women in the final couple kilometers. By this time, I was back in the sun. It all hurt. All that was left to find a rhythmn, hold it, breathe, and keep going. The final stretch is right near my apartment - I have run this seawall hundreds, thousands of times. I knew each curve, each marker: the lighthouse, the VFAC mile marker,  the boat club, the small incline, the rowing club. The final stretch to the finish was huge: tons and tons of people cheering on either side of the chute. I saw Donovan, Nathan, and Craig at about 200m to go, and just gunned it home to get under 3:04.

At the end of the race, I slowly started walking back towards my apartment. I ran into an incredibly energetic Nicola, who seemed ready to take on another 50k - that very day. Donovan left for a bike ride, and I spaced out on the patio a bit - until fellow marathon Ben got a hold of me and talked me into starting the very slow walk to the Yaletown Brewing Company for VFAC drinks. Miraculously, after 42 very hot and sweaty kilometers, my feet were still blister-free with my FITs ultra-light socks.

I ended the day with Donovan at the restaurant on top of Grouse mountain (I took the tram up!), watching the sunset over the mountains.

The past season, I've been lucky to have my races go well: I hit all PBs, ran mostly negative splits, and everything felt great. So having something go wrong, and still finishing, is an experience I am proud of. I couldn't have made it through without all the help and support of my friends and teammates. I'll learn from this race, and I have no doubt sub-3 will happen, someday, for a marathon. And when it does, it will feel even more awesome after this experience. Now, I am teaching my very trashed quads to learn to go down stairs again. I am so excited to join the rest of my friends on the trails this summer, and to have many more adventures.

I want to thank everyone who came out to cheer and support - it's huge to have to much love and encouragement out on the course, and it made the experience a huge celebration of the fantastic running community we have here.

"So take a lesson from the strangeness that you feel
And know you'll never be the same
and find it in your heart
to kneel down and say
I gave it all, didn't I?
I gave it big, sometimes
And I gave it in my own sweet time
I'm just leaving."

Jane Sidberry / K.D Lang