Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Encountering Wildlife

Two weekends ago I went to Whistler. It was a last-minute decision: Donovan was having his stag, with a bunch of people over on the Saturday night. The Whistler 50 relay was on the Saturday, and my TRR teammates Chessa and Shannon, plus my FITS teammate Barry, plus the awesome VFAC teams, were all staying over. So when given the choice between my somewhat drunk friends, and Donovan's likely much more drunk (but very very nice!) friends...the choice was easy. I was very quickly convinced to crash in Chessa and Shannon's hotel room, mainly so we could go out dancing with Shannon on the Saturday.

Nic Browne organized a team for VFAC. We were one girl shy ofthe required 4 girls, so we raced as open men. Nic was an amazing team mom - not only did he have a phone tree going, but he even took the volunteer shift...and was definitely the most stylishly dressed on our team. Nic also generously offered me the fold-out couch in the VFAC hotel room (with Jono, somewhat naturally, taking the floor).

Barry kicks ass
A huge mention has to go to Barry Young, who rocked the 50-miler. He won first overall, and set a new course record in a balls-out 6:11. His time for the 42.2km split was 3:02, just to put in perspective how fast he was. I was racing a much shorter 7k leg. Barry was close behind me for his final lap. My one and only goal was not to get passed by Barry - which I achieved - barely.

Thanks to our very fast guys, the VFAC "open mens" team came 3rd! (Thanks Nic!)

Run Time
The rest of Saturday was fun, but Sunday was the real adventure. Despite not bringing a) trail shoes b) a backpack c) any type of water bottle, Shannon wanted to run up to Russet Lake from Whistler Village. This "run" is over 30k with 1600m+ of elevation game and loss - a 3-4hr endeavour.

Joining us for the run was Chessa, new friend Care, and Richard (a guy Shannon knows - she asked him, at the afterparty, after several drinks, to join us - he said yes. I hope he did not regret his drunken decision!). We started the run - five people and two backpacks, plus several water bottles. We made Chessa carry one of the packs, weighted down with 2L of water and filled to the brim with snacks and gear. Richard, wearing shorts even shorter than Barry's, gamely carried the other very full backpack.

For the first five minutes, it felt amazing to run without a backpack. I should do this more often! Then I realized that, yes, we were going to run up the whole damn thing right to the top. Shannon and I had done this trail in the summer with other trail friends. We had gel breaks. We powerhiked hills. We took pictures. Breathing was a lot more difficult this time around, with a markedly fewer gel breaks.

Chessa dropping us all

view towards singing pass

Despite a backpack full of extra weight, Chessa promptly dropped us after about 10minutes...and then stopped. A black bear was blocking her path. We yelled, and the bear shambled off. Nothing too scary. We climbed, then climbed some more. The trail was strewn with leaves, and offered glimpses of mountains through the trees. We hit snow, then more snow, then wide alpine views. We continued on towards Russet Lake, through deeper snow. Based pretty much on my bitching (and Chessa's dislike of running on sand, which is similar to running on snow apparently), we turned back just before the top of the pass to get to Russet Lake. To give background, the 15km uphill had me pretty wiped - I was looking forwards to an easy downhill.

Downhill and Coyotes
We spread out on the downhill. Not shockingly, Chessa took off ahead. Care and I wove down the mountain at an easier pace, and Shannon and Richard were a couple minutes behind. This is important - that we were all spread out.

It was beautiful - the afternoon shadows and low light, the occasional scrambling over a tree trunk, the loosening of my legs.

And then Chessa came running back up the trail towards Care and myself. "I saw a really big coyote - and it's following me!" With that, the three of us took off back uphill. A look behind us confirmed that, yes, there was a coyote following. Actually - there were two coyotes. Big ones. We kept running uphill. I grabbed a rock. Somebody yelled: "I don't want to die!". That might've been me.

There is a Far Side comic showing two guys and a bear. The gist of it is..."Bob realized that he didn't have to outrun the bear, he only had to outrun his overweight hiking partner." As my legs burned on the uphill, I realized: I was that overweight running partner. Of course, real life isn't like the comics. Although much faster, Chessa and Care waited for me. We ran, we yelled, and we eventually met back up with Shannon and Richard. Then there was five of us. We yelled, we carried rocks...and we all made it downhill safely. Oh yeah - we saw another black bear a couple km from Whistler Village.

End of Season
It's gotten colder, and it looks like the trail running season will move to a lower elevation. I can't wait for more epic days in the mountains next summer, but it'll be nice to have a bit more of an off-season. I got married last weekend - which was its own endurance event, and left me feeling just as exhausted and elated as a 50-miler. The upcoming wildlife in the next couple months will be (oh god I hope) small dogs on the seawall, and bigger dogs on the Baden Powell. It's time to rediscover yoga, re-learn running at a faster than 6min/km pace, and catch up on my sleep...and wine drinking.

However, anyone up for any snowy adventures (cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, yak-trak-running)...all you have to do is ask!

Thursday, 17 October 2013


Life is like running, and running is like life. There are good days – good runs – when I’m not so much moving as flowing along with my breath. Every stride is easy, and I just want to run forever towards the mountains in the horizon. There are bad days – hard runs – where my legs are heavy, my breath is ragged. On those days, on those runs, I just tell myself: just do this run, just do this kilometer, just do this breath. I tell myself, it’s not easy, but it will be easy again. And I tell myself, this is where the strength comes, the keep-going.

The last month was like this, in both running and life. I struggled. I went quiet for a bit. Days and runs were tough. It wasn't about fast, it wasn't about winning, it was all about the keeping-going.  The thing with running – and life – is that I learn more when things go wrong than when things go right. It took me three tries to run an ultra where I didn't get lost or get injured badly enough to take a month off – and when it finally worked, it was wonderful. And felt earned.

Like running (well, at least ultra-running), life isn't done alone, even if it can feel like it at times. When things got hard, I had people along the way cheering, and helping. When things got better, I had people to laugh with and plan adventures.

This past weekend, Thanksgiving, I realized how much I had to be thankful for.

I was thankful for the strength in my bones when I got out and had two lovely trail runs. The weather was hands-numb-at-the-start cold, and warmed to a wan autumn warmth by the end. The uphills were hard, but I found my trail legs on the downhills. I was thankful for my wipe-out Sunday on the upper Lynne loop, where I managed to almost-face-plant, and stop my fall with my left quad (on a tree trunk) and my right knee. I am grateful for getting up, walking it off, and finishing the run.

I am grateful for my friend and FITS teammate Barry’s race at the Sump Jump 50k a couple weekends ago. Barry overcame 35C heat, multiple ankle rolls, vicious stinging insects, and what sounds like some bruised ribs to finish the 50k race from hell. I am also thankful (I hope I’m not giving too much away) that Barry is tough, and positive, and wants to take on the San Diego 100miler next year, and I get the opportunity to pace him and GET IT DONE LIKE WE DO J this time around.

I am thankful for a Thanksgiving potluck with black bean soup, wine, many many animals all very upset we have taken their spot on the couch, and a half-hearted Settlers of Catan game. I am thankful that even when I’m not balls-out running, I am still a member of the running community.

I am grateful for my wonderful, quirky group of friends.  I had a wonderful, wet “stagette’ weekend hosted by Meghan on the sunshine coast. There were no penis necklaces, but we had a rain-soaked run on fallen leaves, through winding trails, then warmed up over Lucy’s homemade chili.

Me and Lucy (thanks for the photo Brooke!)

we were doing thumbs-up on the inside
this is what it looks like when your dog bonks on a long run

I am thankful for getting married in – holyshit – a week. (Despite missing a toenail, having now-bruised legs I am confident in the abilities of concealer and fake nails). I am so excited to celebrate with all my friends – those who are making a car ride, or taking a plane over.

I am thankful for second chances and for getting up when I wipe out. Like life, like running, the bruises fade (hopefully before my wedding...goddamn it...) but the strength remains. I'm not exactly sure what the rest of 2013 will bring for running - right now, I'm grateful for a healthy body and the ability to get muddy on trails, cruise around the seawall to the lights of the north shore, and fall over in crow position during yoga. I might not be as fast as I'd like, or as flexible as I'd like, but I can get up in the morning, every morning, and love what I do.