Monday, 9 October 2017

Sticks n' Stones 25K

I'm usually a bit leery of inaugural races - they can end up being a hot mess - but I had no qualms about signing up for Sticks n' Stones 25K. The race directors, Jeff and Heather, are very experienced ultrarunners and I knew they would have thought of every detail to make sure everything went smoothly. In addition, this was a local race and I knew I'd see lots of familiar faces.

Bogdan, Katie, Cody, me, Neil.

Race day was humid and waaaaay too warm for Thanksgiving weekend, thankfully it was overcast, as sun would have made the weather far worse.  This was my first taper long run leading up to The Bad Thing 50K so no goals other than to have fun!  Turned out to be Agnes' birthday as well, so extra fun!

I have always run the Christie Lake loop going counterclockwise, in order to avoid one particular big hill.  At the race preview run, to my surprise, going clockwise, the loop is almost entirely flat or downhill, with the exception of the aforementioned hill, plus one other, so it was very fast.  It seemed like no time at all before returning to the start/finish area, where Rhonda and Clay were volunteering.  Agnes and I yelled to Grace after she wandered off course when she was in a zone.  We walked a bit with #partywiththevarty.  On the final loop, I heard giant stomping footsteps and it was Robin "I knew you'd turn around to see who was that asshole stomping."  Finally, Steve F showed up in the final kilometre to run us in.  It was not my fastest 25K, as I thought at the time, but 2nd fastest, by far.

Bogdan, Agnes, me, Steve F.
I was resting and relaxing when Jeff started the awards, and to my absolute and total shock, I heard my name being called as the winner of the 30-39 age group!  I ran up to the podium, shouting, "HOLY SHIT! HOLY SHIT!!" and I think everyone present who knows my sloth speed history was amazed as well.
My FIRST AG win!!! Maybe my new Burly trucker hat
has magical speed powers?!

My runs during this training cycle have been much faster compared to last year, as I used the same training plan in the summer/fall of 2016, and heading into my A race of the fall season in the glow of happiness.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Ragnar Trail Cottage Country

photo credit: Diana.

To me, running has never been a team sport.  In fact, I have never been on any sort of sports team in my entire life.  So it was definitely a new experience to be on a team for Ragnar Trail Cottage Country.  My team was sponsored and I didn't know any of the other team members, except for Jessica.  So to say I was a bit anxious was an understatement.
I arrived at the venue and found the team campsite. The campsites were decorated to match the team name/theme.  Ours was outdoors/Canadiana.
Home base for the next 24+ hours.

I loved this team's Barkley theme,
 complete with license plates and the infamous yellow gate.

Our team start time was 10 am, but I was runner 3 and my first leg wasn't scheduled until noon, so I walked around the "village" a bit.  The start/finish area was there, the swag booth, a bonfire, and a cafe.

couldn't resist buying a mint green Ragnar visor.
I fueled up (grilled veggie wrap, fries: $10) for my first run leg, and met Skinny the Cat, who was very purry and friendly.
Skinny totally reminded me of Sheriff Mama.
Time to run! Unlike road Ragnars, which are point to point, Ragnar Trail has 3 loops of varying difficulty, that all start from the village.  My first leg was the red (difficult) loop, then yellow (intermediate) and finally, green.

"drunken donkey" MTB trail.
I was so glad to have the difficult loop done first, in the daylight.  It was definitely a bit technical in spots, but there were also lots of very runnable sections.  I did not see a single person on this loop and I loved it.

repping the Burlies on leg 1.
Then I had 8+ hours to kill before my second leg.  I used the free wifi in the cafe, tried to nap a bit, and had dinner (included for all runners).

The Fatboy Lamzac definitely isn't
 as comfy as their youtube video makes it look.
dinner: quite edible.

The yellow loop was completely in the dark.  I had my headlamp, but because the trail was unfamiliar, I took it easy.  I loved how the beam of the headlamp kept me focused on the couple metres in front, which helped me run up hills strongly. There were a few bridges, but very little in the way of climbing. It was very peaceful, and my trail zen was disturbed a few times by runners passing.  I realized it was my first time actually running in the dark and solo.  Usually, my headlamp runs are in the morning, and finish with increasing daylight, and the two night runs (Sulphur 2016 & 2017), I was pretty much walking, not running.

Then it was time to try to sleep.  Another first: I have never camped, with the exception of in someone's backyard, and that was almost 30 years ago. 
The night sky was so beautiful, a shame that
phone cameras cannot capture it.
My original plan was to sleep in the car, but after some consideration, decided that I would rather be able to stretch out than be crammed in the backseat.  But the thought of being in a tent with unfamiliar people was not appealing, so I put a blanket down on a tarp and put my sleeping bag on top of that.  It was amazing to see the outline of the trees, the moon, and millions of stars when I opened my eyes.

stupid o'clock and I was toasty warm.
It was kind of terrible to have to extract myself from the warmth of the sleeping bag to run my final leg.  According to the schedule, it was supposed to start at 4 am, but we were about 90 minutes behind at that point.  My phone was out of juice, so I dressed and went to drink coffee while my phone charged.

Pleasant chat with Jess in the phone charging tent.
By the time I got started on my final leg, the sun was rising quickly.  The green loop was non technical singletrack and wide doubletrack and was an absolute pleasure to run.

I left shortly after to beat the traffic home, and so I missed the traditional "We Are Ragnarians" medal photo. Photo by Diana, the team captain. ↓ You can tell I wasn't in that picture, as there are no painted nails visible.

Would I do another Ragnar Trail? Yes, but only with familiar friends as teammates.  I loved the running, but my anxiety was through the roof whenever there was socializing, and I hated the feeling of letting everyone down with my slow running.

Friday, 25 August 2017

A mini trail adventure

I was heading up to Orangeville to pick B up from Grandma Camp and planned to run on ORMT beforehand.  On my way to the trailhead, I saw a stile and a sign.

The Stile of Opportunity
I had to stop for gas, so I googled Humber Valley Heritage Trail to make sure it was long enough for my planned 14K, downloaded the app (free!!!) and set out.  I decided to head north first.  The first couple kilometres were really overgrown with tall plants and grasses, so it was very slow going.  The runnable parts were beautiful, peaceful forest.

Clearly, the map showed a left turn at Duffy's Lane, but I saw blazes to the right.  I went left (north) anyways, and the blazes resumed north of Old Church Road, heading into Albion Hills CA. Having run in Albion Hills recently, I knew it would not be too hilly or technical, although I don't think my route today took me on any of the same trails from the race.  I did find, The Best Trail Name Ever:

I turned around after 5.5K, but took the road back to the car because bushwhacking once through those tall grasses was enough.

Heading south, it was pleasant going for almost a kilometer, when the trail came out to the edge of a large field, and I lost the blazes.  I started running around the perimeter of the field, and I thought I was on that stubby penis outcropping as shown on the map, but my Garmin info shows I was north of there.  It was really hot in the sun and I was close to my distance, so I turned back to the car.

Well worth the adventure!  My favourite thing about this trail was how quiet it was, I'm sure it's not very well known and will be good for long runs because it connects to ORMT.  I will be back soon for an end to end adventure!

post run blueberry pie.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Iroquoia Trail Test, 2017 edition

WHYYYYY do I keep doing this race every year? 4th year now.  I guess it's because it's a good late summer race, and it's nice to have company instead of grinding out long miles solo, and it's close to home.  At least this year the weather was far more comfortable than in 2015 and 2016.

This year's race fell on my cutback week, so I could sign up for the 18K and just add on a few more kilometres, instead of grinding through the 34.  Greg signed up for his usual 7K and we got there early to see the 34K people off.

Grace, Bogdan, Greg, me, looking spiffy in our Burly gear!
It was 7:58 and I thought I had 15 min to do a nice leisurely warmup..Greg said, "that's gonna be a really short warmup." "what?!" "the race starts at 8." "?!?!???!!!!"  There was an email sent out the night before with last minute instructions, including the start time change.  It should have been written in bold, flashing, red font but I just skimmed the email and didn't notice.  

I barely had time to recover from the shock when the race started.  Ran my own pace, got stuck in the bottleneck singletrack down to the canyon and opened up on the gorgeous flat at the bottom.

I knew I wasn't last, but there was a guy in front of me, mostly walking, and I thought I really should be in front of him.  I put on a surge on the wide doubletrack section and passed him.  Then came the nasty technical singletrack.  There were 2 girls, whose running pace was definitely faster than mine, but kept stopping (selfies, taking gels).  I guess they didn't know there was a lookout point and an aid station less than 1K ahead, but I'd pass while they stopped and then have to stop and step aside on the narrow singletrack to let them pass.  I don't mind doing this once, but I had to stop at least 3 times for them in the span of about 1K and in that time, walking dude had almost caught up to me.

Fortunately, on the second loop at the bottom of the canyon, I saw Robin and chased after her for about a kilometer, and I never saw walking dude again.

I was feeling pretty tired coming out of the canyon for the final time, there was a guy taking pictures yelling "GO BURLY!" and introduced himself as a fellow member.

Photo by Neil.
Finally, it was nice to see that Greg had stuck around waiting for me..I don't look terribly overjoyed, but I'm sure it's better than how I looked finishing the 34K last year.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Albion Grind HM

Believe it or not, I don't usually sign up for races because of the swag, but when I saw that 5peaks race 3 swag was mint green socks, I signed up for the Enduro (12K) but switched to the Grind HM the next day because I didn't want to drive for longer than the run.

Then I discovered that the Grind participants don't get the socks but a tank - which thankfully is also mint green.  

The only time I've run in Albion Hills Conservation Area was during the horrifying experience that was Mud Hero.  I do remember the running parts as quite pleasant, and not ski hills like other OCRs, but I always remember that places usually live up to their name.

I picked up my race kit and sat down to wait for the start.  I didn't see any of the usual trail running people, except for Robin, and Heather G, whom I chatted with for a bit.  There weren't too many people, which was a relief because I saw that the shorter Saturday races had 700 runners, and in all the pictures I saw, runners were clustered close together, which made me super anxious.  Eric, the RD, was very clear in his prerace briefing that the course was 3 loops of 6.9K, slightly short of a standard half marathon, but the car was a short walk from the start so I thought I'd keep my Garmin on after the race to get 21.1K in. He also mentioned that the hard cutoff was 1:30 pm (3 hours)..this was a late starter for anyone who doesn't like getting up at stupid o'clock! And please remember that the flags are on the left.

The race started with a hill (it seems like a lot of races start this way, except for Sulphur), but nothing like that monster at Thom B, then launched into flowing MTB singletrack.  I actually passed a few people in the first couple of kilometres, which never happens!  Then suddenly I realized I hadn't seen a flag and a runner going in the opposite direction.  It was at a junction and the photographer just happened to be there as well, so she told me to follow that runner, he asked me what distance I had (3K) and he was within a couple hundred metres, so thankfully my diversion off course didn't add or cut the course much at all, however all the people I passed ended up in front of me again.  Sigh.

discombobled from realizing I went off course.
I finished the first loop in 1:03, so I thought I was screwed for making the cutoff. I got really fatigued during the 2nd and 3rd loops, because B had been sick and puking every half hour the night before and I had gotten pretty much zero sleep.  I finished the 2nd loop with just under 45 min to spare, thinking I'd get the mileage in, even if I missed the cutoff, but Eric kept the clock going, so I ended up with an official time.

I was going to make up for the other picture, when this guy chose the exact moment to pass me.
My expression pretty much says it all.
My Garmin showed 20.75K exactly at the finish, but then I had a nice chat with Robin and didn't bother getting 21.1K.  I would like to do this race again next year, and maybe do the 6 hour for more swag.

Afterwards, I finally got to have a beer at the adorable Church Pub in Palgrave.  I've been meaning to go there since last winter, but they only open in the afternoons during the summer.

Monday, 29 May 2017

It takes a village

I planned to leave the house at 5 am, but my digestive system had other ideas and I didn't leave until 5:15.  No problem, I thought, there will be no traffic so I'll drive fast and still get to the race start in time, 6 am.  But then I came across construction on the 403 and moving 30 km/h so I had to park really far from the start, awkwardly drag my drop bin and cooler to the Burly tent, picked up my race kit at 5:54, and was still trying to pin my bib on while standing at the start.

Loop 1:
This was fairly uneventful.  Due to my familiarity of the course, I ran where I knew I could and walked the hills.  I had set my Garmin on Ultratrac mode and you know what people say about kilometres going by faster than miles, I swear 1K was taking about 15 minutes, the distance was waaaay short.  Met Kendra just starting her 25K and saw a beautiful little Buddha statue on the side of the Three Bitches.

In-person Supermom encouragement from Kendra!
A moment of serenity.

Loop 2:
My feet were drenched and I had only brought 1 pair of extra socks, so I called Greg and asked him to bring me more socks.  I turned off the Garmin because it was showing 25ish kms when I knew we were over 30, it was demotivating and the numbers were useless.  Despite using tons of Trail Toes before the race, I felt some bad things were starting to happen on my feet.  Met Greg at the tent and he was an amazing crew, helping me clean my feet, and Agnes helped tape them up.  I also asked Greg to buy me the 100K car sticker, fearing that they would be sold out later.  Jess was also super helpful, refilling my water bottles.

Kittyloaf ultra spectator.  Absolutely chill among all the dogs.

Loop 3:
I was starting to get lonely, really lonely and questioning "why the fuck did I want to do this?!?!?"  I don't have any problems running 50K without music or running partners, but I really needed to talk for some distraction.  I have to say I was kind of upset to learn upon registering for Sulphur that only 100/200M were allowed pacers.  Then I saw Jen running with Gemma on her final loop, so I asked her to try to find me someone to run with for the next loop.  I also texted Agnes to ask if she would run with me.  I went online to post an update, and saw that Alison had posted an encouragement thread. 

Supermoms are the fucking best!!!

Alison's post about turning off my mind...and remembering the car sticker was my main motivation, funny as it seems.

Loop 4: 
When I got back, Agnes told me she'd head out with me for the last loop and Steve F. would pace for the 4th loop.  Steve had already said a day or two earlier he'd run with me if the timing was right, as he signed up for 50 miles, regretted not signing up for 100K and wanted to make it 100K for the day.  It was 5 pm and quite sunny.  I remembered last year finishing loop four in the fading dusk but still light out enough to see a bit, so I didn't take my headlamp.  It got dark and cold really fast, I was only a little chilled wearing just a tank, but being in the dark with no headlamp was absolutely terrifying. If I hadn't had Steve to keep me company, my race would have ended right there with me curled in a ball in a mud puddle, crying.  We hooked up with a 100 mile runner, who shone his headlamp back at every mud pit so I wouldn't fall and somehow I stayed upright. I could see my breath but I think it was the humidity and fog, not cold.  My Fenix yelled low battery and I couldn't get satellites on the 210, so I just left it on watch mode for the time.  Steve overheard some 100 milers saying "100K people aren't allowed pacers." and I wondered if they would snitch on me to Tim, the RD, and get me disqualified, but I made up my mind I would finish 100K even if officially DQ'd.

With Steve after loop 4. 20K to go.
Loop 5:
Put on my long sleeve shirt and headlamp right away.  Even though my headlamp was fully charged, I put my backup one in my pack, just in case.  It had been a LONG time since I've run with Agnes, she wasn't wearing proper running shoes, so she borrowed some.  We saw Tim and he asked if Agnes was heading out with me.  I whispered, "is that ok?" and he replied, "she's not pacing you, she's a friend keeping you company." THANK YOU TIM!!!!!!!!! This was my first time in the overnight portion of a race.  As a kid, I'd always get disoriented at night even on my own street, (ahem, Halloween) so I was very surprised to still know exactly where on the course I was.  My mind was tired, but I drank a lethal amount of Coke and thought about the 200 mile runners out there on their 3rd night and told myself to suck it up.  Agnes and I counted all the landmarks that I would not have to see again: mud pit on Sulphur Creek, Three Bitches..then counting down the kilometres once I got to 90K.  Past the Martin Rd. aid station for the final time - ONE KILOMETRE TO GO!!! Climbing Martin Rd., Greg jumped out of the dark, as Agnes ran up the hill ahead of us for finish line pictures.

photo credit: Agnes

 Medal presentation by Tim.  photo credit: Greg.

A shout out and thanks to everyone whom I saw and encouraged me on course: Matt, Mari, Kathy, Jenn, Jeremy, Rhonda E., Clay, Steven P., David V., Javaid, Robin, Sarah, Heather G., Catherine, and ALL the Burlys who paced, crewed and volunteered. I'll also mention Karen, who cheered over the phone when I called Greg. And of course everyone who messaged and posted encouragement on FB and Insta!

And an even bigger thank you from the bottom of my heart to Steve and Agnes for their support during the final 40K! Finally, thank you to Greg for bringing me socks, helping me clean my feet, helping me to the car and getting cleaned up post-race.  I could not have done this truly takes a village to succeed.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Thom B Trail Run 52K

It's been so long since I chose my spring races for this year that I can't really remember why I chose Thom B 52K for my last long run before Sulphur 100K, but it was probably the opportunity to visit Heather in New York again, and try out different races.  Plus, the odd distance made it an automatic PB!

I got up at stupid o'clock and was the first runner to arrive at the race.  I had taken Gravol to help me sleep and I had almost an hour to kill after picking up my bib.  I sat down at a picnic table and put my head down on my arms to nap off the Gravol hangover, I really could have used a nap pillow.  

The forecast called for 15-20 mm of rain a few days out and then changed to showers early in the morning, it was a total downpour when I was napping, but let up at the race start.  There were only a couple scattered showers during the day.

The 52K runners gathered at the start, which was at the bottom of a hill, and five minutes before the start, a U-Haul truck came zooming down the hill, screeched to a halt just short of the pack and the RD, Joel, jumped out.  He said some poetic things about finding peace on the trail, especially in this pine forest about 5K in, one of the runners who had known Thom B told a story about them drinking many beers and then attempting to run a sub 3 marathon, then Joel yelled, "get out of here!" and everyone took off, FAST.

The race started with a little incline, which grew to a huge hill, and the road was in really crappy condition, so I had to jump from side to side for the best spots to run.  A guy absolutely face planted barely 100 m in.

That first hill seemed like it would never end (the next loop I looked to see how long it was - at least 800 m?) and I was already thinking, "shit, how nasty is this course going to be if the first kilometer was like that?"

Top of the first monster hill.  Apparently Boris is some dude from the FLRC
who always manages to get lost, despite being familiar with the trails in the area.
Photo credit: FLRC FB page

And then it was down, down, downhill.  I still held back, remembering, "what goes down, must come up." and waiting for more giant climbs, but it really seemed like 90% of the elevation in the 13K loop was in that first hill. 

There was a time limit of 2 hours per loop, and I finished only the first loop under the limit, around 1:58 or 1:59 so I knew I was in trouble.

The peaceful pine forest at 5K.  I could not capture the beautiful darkness of the trees.
"The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep."

The 2nd loop, I tried to run the downhills more aggressively, but of course I was slowing down already.  Got in a few minutes over 2 hours and they let me continue.
First loop on my Garmin was 12.84K, 2nd loop was just under 26K, third loop was...39.6?!?!! I always feel that the 3rd quarter of every run is the hardest, and it didn't help that it was also the longest!
By the end of the 3rd loop, I was about 10 minutes over the limit and I was going through the possible scenarios when I got back to the start/finish area:

  1. Finish at 39K, DNF.
  2. Official DNF but run a bit of the 4th loop out and back, to get at least a marathon in.
  3. Remove bib and run 4th loop on my own.
  4. Finish 4th loop officially.
There were no volunteers waiting when I finished the third loop, so I drank some Coke and ate an orange slice, when two racers asked if I was done.  When I told them that I wanted to continue, they called Joel over, and I said, "I know I am over the limit, but I am feeling fine, I am just slow."  He looked at his phone and replied, "Your splits are very even, so go ahead and we'll see you in a couple of hours. We'll still be here cleaning up."

I felt really strong the final loop and really pushed it the final couple of kilometres, which were totally downhill.  

"The last horse in the barn had the most fun on the trail." 
Photo credit: my Dad.
Heather and I celebrated with taper cake from Wegmans, of course.
Then Heather sent me out on a 12K recovery run the next morning.  When I saw this on the schedule, I seriously did not think I could do it.  But she hooked me up with a group from STRC, and people ran with me, my legs felt quite decent, I kept up and even ran a bit faster than my usual easy road pace!

Chemung River, Corning NY.

12 days until Sulphur 100K.