Monday, May 2, 2016

Race Report: The North Face Dirty Feet 50k (or "What the hell happened out there?!")

Was it just a bad race or is it time to accept that my days of "fast" running are behind me? That's what I'm asking myself today after a horrendous 5 hour and 40 minute sufferfest at the Dirty Feet 50km in Vernon yesterday.

Let me be very clear that my bad day is in no way a reflection on the event, which is extremely well organized by a couple of race directing pros (and my friends) Grace and Phil Hiom, who go out of their way to create fun races in beautiful places with lots of local support, and this race is no exception. (My 2013 race report sums up the highlights nicely.)

The fact that it's probably one of my all-time favourite 50km races is one of the reasons I gutted it out to finish when all I really wanted to do was drop out after the first 25km lap.

I knew from the word go that my body didn't feel quite right but I blamed it on a chilly start and the fact that the first 4k or so were all uphill. I figured once the day and I warmed up, my body would loosen up but that never happened. Instead, my back and hips went from feeling tight to seizing right up making running both uncomfortable and awkward.

I'm still not entirely sure why this happened. My training has been consistent and I've had some solid workouts with lots of good quality miles - but not so many that I should be over-trained. I have 2, or possibly 3, theories to explain my implosion...

#1. I'd been fighting a bug for several days leading up to the race so had been doing a lot of lying on the couch and not much else. A couple of midweek runs were aborted due to intense feelings of crappiness. Being an occasional optimist, my hope was that this enhanced taper would leave me well-rested and ready to go hard by the weekend. Perhaps, that was unrealistic.

#2. I had a hard fall last weekend. Not running, but doing trail maintenance. True story. I was lunging uphill with my pruners towards a wayward branch, tripped over a root and fell on a large jagged rock bruising my right thigh and forearm. Also possibly jarring my hips/back and precipitating my lower torso stiffening on race day??

#3. Sh*t happens. Just like everyone has good days and bad days, runners have good races and bad races. I guess I've been lucky in the past that when I've felt lousy before a race, I've still generally been able to pull out at least a decent effort on the day. So maybe my luck has run out; think what I'll save on lotto tickets knowing this.

On the upside, I'm glad I made myself finish even though I was fairly miserable. I'm quite certain that if I had quit the blow to my confidence for future races would have been shattered to the extent that there may not have been future races. That sounds melodramatic, I know, but I'm not exaggerating.

I also think I did a pretty good job of masking my mental and physical struggles out on the course. I made an effort to smile and say hello when I passed other park users and tried to be cheerful when I came through the aid stations. It might not sound like much but I think it helped offset the inner negativity I was experiencing. In short: No one likes a self-pitying ass so don't be one! ;)

Okay, moving on to the technical details of this "report"...

With longer races coming up, I thought this would be a good opportunity to try out some gear and fuelling options. I chose to wear The North Face Ultra Endurance shoes even though I had only done one 2 hour run in them previously. Fortunately, they were great - comfortable, grippy and supportive. I stuck with my standard race kit of a short sleeve technical tee and The North Face Better Than Naked split shorts. My Ultimate Direction Jenny race vest was a good choice since I knew it would be a warm day and I didn't want to be low on fluids.

I'd give myself a solid B+ in the hydration department. I maintained a consistent intake of water (in the bladder) and electrolytes (in my small flasks which I refilled at aid stations along the way) supplemented with a few salt tabs as needed.

Unfortunately, I earned a big fat F for food so I'm definitely going to have to focus on that before my next race. I knew I was going to be fighting my stomach when I could barely choke down my pre race breakfast of oatmeal and a banana. During the race, all I was able to take in was: 8 dates, 2 gels and a small handful of chips. About 500 calories total when I should have been consuming 200 or more an hour. Ugh - I must do better!

Well, that about sums it up. I'm going to take a few recovery days now and then I've got a 100km race coming up in a few weeks. Hopefully, this back problem settles down with some rest and massage. 

Congrats to everyone who participated in the 8/25/50km races - there were so many amazing runners on the trails this weekend (including my husband who placed 3rd in the 25km!). And it was nice to see lots of familiar faces from the local running scene as well as reconnect with old friends from the Canadian Mountain Running team and TransRockies, and even my home town. Huge thanks to Phil and Grace at Dirty Feet Trail Racing and their super volunteers for a memorable day! ;)

   




  

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Racey Stacey

Expect nothing. Appreciate Everything.

Four simple words that sum up who I want to be and how I want to live. Some days it comes easily. At other times, it's a struggle. More often than not, it's a struggle, especially in terms of managing expectations.

It doesn't take much for me to tap into the deep sense of appreciation I have for the life I have and the people in it. It's an awareness that's innate and rarely shaken. Removing expectations, though, is a challenge that I'm still working through.

I figure that applying the "expect nothing" philosophy to my races this year would be a good place to start. Considering that I'm coming off a year of injuries and age has started to rob me of some of my fast twitch muscle fibres (not that I had many to begin with!), it seems like a pretty reasonable approach.

As the last couple of months of training have gone quite well and my hamstring issues are much improved, I've taken the bold step of registering for six races covering approximately 600km (370mi) of trail. Plus, pacing/crewing duties at two other ultras. It's going to be an incredible year!

2016 Race Plans:
The North Face Dirty Feet 50km
Sun Mountain 100km
Bryce Canyon 100-mile
Sinister 7 (support)
White River 50-mile 
Fat Dog (support)
Ultra Tour Monte Rosa 116km
The North Face Endurance Championships 50-mile

Have you hugged a tree today? It's good for you!
Science says so.


Thursday, February 4, 2016

F is for Fitness

I was trying to think of a title for this post and "let's get physical" came to mind which, of course, prompted me to go to YouTube to watch the video of the song Physical by Olivia Newton-John. I'm pretty sure I've never seen it before and found it rather creepy. And hilarious.

I've included the video for you here in case you're interested. I had to watch the first two seconds a couple of times to determine if the dude is naked or wearing a flesh-coloured Speedo. I'm still not sure. And, honestly, I'm not sure which is worse!


In my own little world, I've designated this month as Get Fit February. After intentionally taking a six-week break from running (and almost all forms of exercise except daily dog walks) after Javelina Jundred in October, I was only two weeks into a new training cycle when I found out that I had a hamstring tear and should take another 4-6 weeks off any activity that causes pain i.e. everything! Then there was some travelling, Christmas, a horrible, lingering cold and weekly butt-zapping sessions at physio. Not exactly conducive to good training.

While I was able to do little bits of weights, skiing, jogging, etc. here and there, I was definitely feeling less fit than usual. But then February arrived, signifying the end of this prolonged period of rest and recovery, and my final shockwave treatment. My physio has officially cleared me to start loading my hamstring again and, fingers crossed, I won't have any problems with it.

Another exciting development is that I'm working with a new coach this year (Andrew at Open Air Fitness). He's got me on the "hamstring protection" program that includes cycling and strength workouts in addition to running while I work on building my base back up. I think it's going to be good to mix things up a bit and get a fresh perspective on my training. Injury prevention is definitely going to be a major priority going forward.

And now I have a good reason to get fit again as I finally have a race on my schedule for 2016! Just this morning, I received notification that I've been selected to participate in the inaugural Ultra Tour Monte Rosa, a 116km race from Italy to Switzerland with an impressive 7,500m of elevation gain that takes place in September. Only 100 applicants were invited so I feel quite fortunate to be among them.

As for other race plans, I have a a few ideas, but I want to see how my body holds up over the next month after some tough workouts. I'm hopeful that I've fully recovered from my injuries, but I just can't quite allow myself to believe it yet.

****

If Get Fit February doesn't do it for you, there are many other interesting and unusual occasions worth celebrating at www.daysoftheyear.com, including some real winners like Ice Cream for Breakfast Day (Feb. 18) and Wave All Your Fingers at Your Neighbours Day (Feb. 7). Yep, that's actually a thing. It's on the internet so it must be real, right? ;)

And please don't forgot about National Cupcake Day on February 29th. It's a wonderful event that raises funds to support local animal shelters, SPCAs and Humane Societies. Yummy cupcakes and helping animals? I'm in!




Saturday, January 16, 2016

2016: New Year, Same Me

Reflecting on 2015 in terms of running goals, training, races, etc. gives me IPA face**. Think furrowed brow, wrinkled nose and pursed lips. Cats are genius at this expression.

What are you looking at? You disgust me human person!
Yep, simply put, it was a frustrating and disappointing year. But I've moped along the pity path too long and now it's time to move on. And, anyway, the year wasn't all bad. I joined up with some fun girls on relay teams for the Challenge Penticton triathlon and the Methow Valley Off-Road duathlon. And I completed my second 100-mile trail race (Javelina Jundred), taking over 4 hours off my previous best time.

I'm still working on getting my body fixed. Who knew it would be such a major project?! I once joked that I wouldn't be satisfied until every healthcare practitioner in town had been consulted on my butt. Well, the more time that goes by, the more that statement becomes true. Not so funny after all.

An MRI in December revealed a tear at the top of my hamstring at the origin, which likely occurred at a race I did in California back in 2014. I'm now going through a series of shockwave treatments to break up the scar tissue that has formed around the original injury so that muscle can mend. I'm also waiting to see a sports med doctor for consideration for prolotherapy to help expedite the healing process.

That's the water bottle half empty part of this post. Fortunately, my water bottle is half full too.

For example, all this hamstring and glute work has done wonders for my ass. It's true. I was suffering from a very lazy backside before, but not anymore. These days, I'm actually using my butt for more than just holding up my pants. Who knew it would be such a valuable asset - ha, ha! ;)

I've started going to the gym twice a week and I don't actually hate it.

The skiing this winter been phenomenal with the best conditions we've had in a decade. I've been getting into ski touring and spending lots of time exploring around Apex Resort and the Methow with Dave and Dora.

Our own little winter playground near Twisp, WA.
I've made some race plans for the year, including another 100-miler and a mountainous 100km+ race in Europe. Hopefully, if everything goes according to plan (like that ever happens!), I'll return to a few old favourites as well as run some new ones. As I'm technically still injured and coming off a year of virtually no racing, I'm trying to be conservative with my plans, but it's hard not to get caught up in the thrill of registering for events when my rehab seems to be going well.

Also this year, I have plans to reunite with my partner from the 2013 TransRockies stage race Mel Bos, who is also my The North Face Canada teammate, on something pretty cool. I'll post more about it next month once we have the details confirmed.

Cutthroat Pass, WA
May you have a year of chocolate croissants and mountain tops - and lots of both!



**IPA face: This video gives a decent demonstration of the many faces of IPA. Skip ahead to 3:54 for the one that most closely resembles mine.






Thursday, November 5, 2015

Javelina Jundred

I have no idea how to race 100 miles. Seriously. Just when I think I'm doing everything right, something goes wrong. Having finished two - Cascade Crest in 2014 (race report) and now Javelina - I have figured a few things out though. Mostly I've learned what not to do. Here are some of the things that my second go at 100 miles has taught me.
Javelina Jundred is an absolutely fantastic race. I'd highly recommend it!
Photo credit: Cetons Photo Place
Run with a Pacer

If you have the option, always say yes to a pacer. Pacers aren't mandatory at Javelina and with the reverse direction loops there are always others out on the course with you, but in my opinion, it makes the experience so much richer to have someone there by your side for the good times, and the bad. Mostly the bad.

Some of the funniest conversations of my life have happened in the wee hours many miles into a race when I'm somewhat delirious and slightly deranged. Here's an example of one such conversation, a variation of which I had with both my pacers at some point when my stomach was starting to go off.  

Pacer: Fart
Me: I don't have to fart.
Pacer: Well, just try.
Me: No.
Pacer: You'll feel better if you do.
Me: (silent, not wanting to continue with this subject)
Pacer: Come on, you can do it.
Me: buuuuuurp
Pacer: Nice - that's almost as good as a fart! Now give us another. It's good for you.

Ridiculous, right??! And that wasn't even the worst of it. There will be things discussed at mile 80-something of an ultra that can never be brought up ever again anywhere. What happens on the trail, stays on the trail.

I was fortunate to have two amazing pacers, my husband Dave and friend Katie, by my side for the last 40 miles and they really helped get me through my low moments. Sure, I could have done it without them, but it was so much better to have them there.

A final note on pacers, always remember that you're getting a lot more from them, then they're getting from you so show them lots of love. They deserve it! Often, they're sacrificing time, sleep, warmth and food to walk/jog in the cold, dark night with you for many hours. And, in my case, having to watch and listen to me throw up several dozen times! (And burp. For the record, I never did fart.)

I feel particularly bad for Dave who has been stuck with me at the point in both 100 milers when the wheels have come off and the barf fest has started. I can't imagine how hard it must be for him to see me with vomit dribble on my chin and a tear in my eye as I tell him "I feel sooooo sick" and yet because he loves me and knows me better than anyone, he knows I won't quit. So he gives me some water to rinse out my mouth and we carry on 'cause that's the only way to get to the finish line.

Who's happy to be running again after a year of injuries? This girl!
Photo credit: Competitor.com
Beware of Bears

Not the scary, hairy kind we have here in Canada, but the colourful, chewy variety that taste delicious and stick to your teeth. At some point during my third 25km lap, I decided I wanted to have something to nibble on between aid stations. There are pockets on the back of my favourite North Face race shorts that will hold two little handfuls of candy I discovered. Perfect! As much as I love chocolate, it melts and I didn't want a suspicious brown stain down my bum for obvious reasons so I went for the gummi bears. For some reason, I thought it was very amusing to have pocketfuls of smiling bears with me.

In the heat of the day, my bears were getting a little sticky but I was still enjoying them and I ate quite a few. This would come back haunt me later when I became violently ill and starting rejecting everything I had ingested over the past 12 hours, including a large family of little bears. When things were at their worst, I was spewing bile out my mouth and nose simultaneously and I'm quite convinced that a partially digested bear got lodged in my sinuses. I don't know if that's even physiologically possible, but post race, sinus pain was the worst discomfort I had so it must be true.

On site camping - nice! Betty White the VW is in there somewhere.
Photo credit: Katie Hicks
The Splatter Factor

Last piece of advice with any mention of bodily fluids, I promise. I learned the hard way that because the desert floor is so dry, it does not readily absorb liquids so anything poured on it from some height or with force will bounce back and splatter you if you're not careful. This is is true of say water or Gatorade, but also of urine or vomit. Enough said.

Ultras are gross but the desert is beautiful.
Photo credit: Sweet M Images
Don't Judge

Another runner was coming towards me singing loudly and poorly to music that only he could hear on his iPod. At the time, I thought to myself, "Man, that must be annoying to the other runners around him. I'm glad I'm not them." And then a few hours later Happy by Pharrell Williams came on my iPod and I was shocked to realize that I was not only singing along - loudly and poorly - but also dancing - badly and in public which I just don't do. Ever. Don't underestimate the effects of sun and fatigue on your ultra addled brain. They can make you do all kinds of things you wouldn't normally do.



Be Cool

Even during the "cooler" years by Arizona standards (think low to mid 20s), this is a hot race with full exposure i.e. no shade for almost 12 daylight hours. Come up with strategies to manage the heat and use them. Also have a good understanding of your fluid and electrolyte needs. I didn't and I think that's one of the reason I ran into problems later in the race.

The crew support zone at Javelina Jeadquarters.
Photo credit: Katie Hicks
So those are just a few of the little nuggets of wisdom that I wanted to share. I finished in 21:48 (my new 100mi PB!) and 9th woman. (Full results here.) Obviously, I still have A LOT to learn about the 100 mile distance if I'm going to do another one, which I probably will. I think. Maybe. Maybe not. Ask me again after the Western States 100 lottery on December 5.

I'm so thankful to the following for helping me get through yet another 100 miles relatively unscathed:

The Coury brothers at Aravaipa Running and all their wonderful volunteers for organizing a super race that I'd definitely recommend for anyone looking for a destination 100km or 100mi race. It has everything I look for in an event: beautiful scenery, fun trails, good schwag, yummy food (yep, even made on site pizzas) and local beers.

The North Face Canada - You've been a great sponsor and so supportive even though I've been injured almost all year and not able to race which makes me feel like a huge dud. As soon as I mentioned that I was thinking of doing this race, your immediate response was: "What can we do for you to help make it happen?" Thank you for having such a super attitude, believing in me and making great products that I'm excited to use and recommend.

Dave and Katie - I couldn't have hoped for any better crew or pacing support. You both claim to be "bad cops", but you took very good care of me on and off the course and I am so lucky to have had you there. When do we get to do it again - ha ha! ;)

Mom and Dad - Thanks for coming out to cheer me on in the blistering heat! I know that you don't always understand why I do what I do, but I'm grateful that you're still willing to get behind me no matter what my latest crazy scheme is - even if it puts Dad on the brink of a heart attack. Love you!

Jesse (RMT), Mark (PT) and Christine (PT) - You've invested so much time trying to put my broken body back together and I know that you probably didn't approve of me doing this race, but thanks for not giving up on me. I wouldn't have made it to the start line - let alone the finish line! - without all your poking, prodding, manipulations, cracking, needling etc.







Saturday, July 18, 2015

Fitness & Funness

It took awhile to fill the running shoe sized void in my life, but I can honestly say that I'm now in a really good place mentally and physically. To keep fit and sane during almost eight weeks off running, I've been swimming, biking and working on my strength and balance.

I also spent a couple weeks in France...

Supporting Team Canada in Annecy at the World Trail Championships

Consuming waaaay too much yummy French breads, cheeses, wines etc.

Relaxing on the Mediterranean coast in Cassis.

Visiting the local markets. Mmmm...olives...

Biking to the top of Mount Ventoux.

And through quaint little villages.
If you ever tear your meniscus and LCL and need a place to go for rest and rehab, I'd highly recommend France! ;) I'm now 10 weeks out from my initial injury and my knee has healed well and is now stable enough to allow me to start running again - yay! Not a lot, and not very quickly, but it's great to be out on the trails.

I'm also finally making progress with the chronic hamstring and glute pain that has plagued me for over a year. In my unofficial quest to have every healthcare professional in town assess my ass at some point, I'm working with a couple of new therapists who are trying different treatments that seem to be helping.

My biggest issue seems to be a curve in my spine (also known as scoliosis) that is pinching the sciatic nerve. The hope is that if the alignment in my hips and spine is improved it will reduce the sciatica and the pain will disappear. Fingers crossed this new approach works!

It's probably completely foolish and premature to even start thinking about races when I've only got two weeks' worth of runs logged on Strava, but I am. Since I had to withdraw from this year's UTMB (due to the injury issues mentioned above), I'm without a Western States qualifier for the 2016 lottery. This would be my fifth consecutive WS lottery and I really don't want to lose those tickets so I'm tentatively eyeing up Javelina 100 as my qualifying race.

There are a couple of other Fall events that I'm considering if the next 6-8 weeks of training goes smoothly and my body stays happy. (As happy as it can when preparing to run 100 miles!?) I've been told it could take up to a year before my knee is 100% so I've adopted a wait and see approach to everything, including racing.

For the rest of the summer, my plan is to enjoy as much activity as I can - in whatever form I feel like. It's actually really fun to train like a triathlete without actually having to do triathlons. :)

I'm also hoping to spend some time in the mountains with this girl.
(And Dave too, of course!)
I wish everyone a happy summer full of adventures!

If you like reading running blogs, you might enjoy Pam Smith's recent post Coming Back from the Dead. I've never met Pam, but she's on my list of random people I'd like to drink beer with.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Butterflies and Unicorns

Disclaimer: This is a running blog and while being a runner is a big part of who I am, it’s not all I am so if I sound like a real downer – or worse yet, a whiner – please believe that I’m generally a pretty happy person and my negativity in this post relates only to the current state of my running life and not the rest of my life (which really kinda rocks in all the ways that matter). 

On a recent run, a friend promised butterflies and unicorns at the end of the trail if we were willing to push on just a bit further. It got me thinking, when was the last time I found anything magical while out running?

Well, it’s been a really long time. In fact, it’s been nearly two years since my last good race. And I don’t necessarily define a good race by time or placing. For me, it’s having a solid run where more things go right than wrong.

For too long, I’ve struggled with a variety of injuries and ailments and my running has suffered. My body has suffered. My spirit has suffered.

Is suffering.

The last four months have been particularly hard as I’ve had to deal with a fractured sacrum, a GI parasite, hamstring tendinopathy, anemia and, most recently, a torn meniscus. Nothing debilitating on its own, but the combination has been rough.

With the 2015 world trail championships coming up at the end this month, I’ve had to make the difficult, but necessary decision not to race. To say I’m disappointed barely touches on how I’m feeling. While I’d love nothing more than to compete for Team Canada, my focus right now has to be on getting healthy and running pain free.

My relationship with my body and its image is complicated at best. Self destructive at worst. In yoga, we’re taught to send love to the places that hurt. Like full lotus or pigeon pose, this is a challenge for me. I prefer the tough love approach to pain management: no pain, no gain, etc.  

I exercise regularly, eat healthy foods, get plenty of rest, take fistfuls of vitamins, stretch and roll daily and go for regular massages and physio treatments. In return, I expect to be fit and strong. When I’m injured, I expect to recover quickly. Only sometimes it doesn’t happen that way. Injuries don’t care if you’re frustrated or exasperated with them. They won’t be bribed, coerced or threatened.

Ah, yes. Patience. The virtue I lack. (Probably not the only one.)

Now if my life was a cheesy made-for-TV movie, this is when the turning point would happen. (Or if you’re an Oprah fan, my “Aha!” moment.) I’d realize that what I’ve been doing isn’t working and that I need to make some changes.

Okay, I can roll with that.

Changes…hmmm…let’s see.

No running until my meniscus mends. (4-6 weeks?)

Get my hamstring pain sorted out. Avoid triggers (sitting, bending, hills) and work on pelvic stability and glute strengthening.

Increase my iron intake. I can’t (won’t) eat steak, but I can remember to take a daily supplement. 

No more racing until these three things are achieved. I’m tired of disappointing results and DNFs! The next time I pin on a race number, I want to feel like I’m floating on a cloud with a powerful tailwind pushing me towards the finish line and at the finish line there will be butterflies and unicorns dammit.

And maybe even a double rainbow. Why not? Dream big!