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!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Winter Cross-Training

Up until I broke my butt a couple of weeks ago, I was hitting the ski trails often enough that I'm sure my Norwegian ancestors were looking down upon my sloppy, but enthusiastic tracks with pride. All the skiing has been really beneficial for both increasing my strength and endurance and also for improving my mood just by being outdoors.

In case you missed it, the Winter 2015 issue of Trail Running Canada is out now and includes an article I wrote called "Ski Your Way to Better Running" on page 37 (as well as a picture of my handsome husband). And if cross-country skiing just isn't your thing, you should still check out the e-mag - it's full of lots of great content. (Back issues of this fantastic publication are available here.)

Injury update:
I'm happy to report that my sacrum is healing up nicely and it should only be a few more weeks before I'm back to all my usual activities. Until then, I'm keeping busy - and sane - with water running and walking/jogging on the treadmill. Hopefully, I'll be able to add skiing to that list after this weekend. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

2015!? Where did you come from?

It may not be obvious from the lack of blog activity, but I have been keeping busy. I'll try to summarize the past few months as briefly as possible so as not to bore you...

After the Cascade Crest 100 in August, I took a six-week break from training. Physically I probably didn't need it because - other than my GI tract - I didn't tax my body too much and recovered quite quickly, but mentally I like to take some time off at the end of my racing year to reflect, regroup and relax. During this time, I enjoyed some low key adventures with friends and just chilled.

Peak bagging in WA with Dave and Dora.

Dave and I took a little road trip down to Moab, Utah in October for an adventure race that he was doing. I took full advantage of being the support crew (i.e. non racer) and enjoyed spicy foods, extra pints and later than usual bedtimes. So naughty - I could get use to it!? :)

Checking out trails near Park City, Utah en route to Moab.

Mountain biking in the desert.

In November, I did The North Face Dirty Feet Tunnel Run in Naramata. Having only been back running for a couple of weeks prior to the race (literally), I didn't feel very fit, but I really like the Dirty Feet races and the couple who puts them on, Phil and Grace, so I decided to go for it. Costumes are encouraged so I pulled one out of the tickle trunk and had some fun.

Photo credit: Jerry Mitchell

I was pleased and surprised to finish first woman and fourth overall (even though I was two minutes slower than when I'd run it two years ago).

The rest of my winter has been filled with lots of yoga and cross country skiing. I've haven't done a lot of either in the past, but am really enjoying both activities and think they nicely complement all the running. I feel stronger and more balanced for both sport and life in general. It's a good feeling.

I've also been training hard for the Phoenix Marathon in February. Fortunately, it's been a very mild winter so I've been able to do much of my training outdoors. (As opposed to other years when the snow and ice have forced me to log many miles on the treadmill.) My training has been going well and after my last long run, I started to believe that I might actually be able to pull off a sub-3 hour marathon, which has been a goal of mine for some time. 

Look - it's me on a Caution sign! :)
Unfortunately, due to a fall on the ice last week that resulted in a fractured sacrum, I may have to pull out of the marathon in order to allow my body to fully heal. I'm hoping it won't come to that, but I have to be sensible. I have a couple of really big, exciting races planned for 2015 and I don't want to jeopardize them by rushing my recovery. It's not easy, but I'm taking my injury a day at a time and I'll just have to wait and see how I feel over the next few weeks.

One of the races that I'm wildly excited about is the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB). I got in through the lottery and I have no doubt it'll be a highlight of this year. It's a race that I've wanted to do since I knew it existed and I'm looking forward to spending a lot of time in mountains this summer preparing for it.

Last but definitely not least is that I've been invited to join The North Face Canada running team again this year. After a lackluster 2014, I wasn't sure that they'd want me back, but they've been incredibly supportive through my injury highs and lows and I'm grateful to know that they've got my back (and will keep it clothed in sweet, technical gear!). 

Happy 2015!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Cascade Crest 100 Race Report

"Everything was going so good, I thought something bad might happen. 
And then it did..." From the song Coffee Stain by Sarah Harmer

That's kind of how my race went, only I didn't think something bad might happen until it did and then things went from really good to really bad faster than I could pop the top off a bottle of TUMS. A conversation with my husband, who started pacing me at the Hyak aid station some 53 miles in, went something like this:

Dave: "I can't believe how well everything is going."
Stacey: "I know - it's great! I feel so good. I'm exactly where I wanted to be at this point in the race. My pacing has been bang on and I haven't had any of my usual troubles with hydration or nutrition. Everything feels easy. It seems too good to be true."
Dave: "Well, just keep it up, you've still got a long way to go."
Stacey: "No worries. I've got this."

Three minutes pass...

Stacey: "Um, can we slow it down a bit. My stomach suddenly doesn't feel so good."
Dave: "Yeah, sure."
Stacey: "I think I'm going to throw up."

Vomiting, dry heaving, retching, belching and yes, even, farting (sorry - ultrarunning is kinda gross) would be the soundtrack to the rest of my race, which can really be neatly divided into two parts: Before Hyak and After Hyak. So before I get ahead of myself and elaborate too much on unpleasant bodily functions, let's reminisce about the good times.

Before Hyak (Miles 0-53)

Any pre-race nerves were the result of several factors. Cascade Crest would be my first 100 miler and I was equal parts excited and terrified about trying something new that would undoubtedly take me to dark places that mentally and physically I spend most of my life trying to avoid. Also, I felt woefully under-trained. A hamstring injury and sciatic nerve issues that started in May and resulted in two DNFs and a forced break from running for most of July had seriously hampered my confidence and ability to put in any big miles. A cortisone injection in my hamstring sheath 3.5 weeks before the race was effective in reducing the pain, but I had no idea if it would last nor how my body would handle twice the distance I'd ever run.

Standing at the starting line beside the Easton Fire Hall, I was uncertain how the next 24-plus hours would play out, but resolved to get through it no matter what. My main objective was to finish under the 32 hour cut-off so I'd have a qualifying race to enter my 4th(!) Western States 100 lottery and enough points for The North Face UTMB lottery. Beyond that, I wanted to finish feeling good  - as good as possible after running 100 miles, that is - and not to get lost or (re)injured. And while, technically, I achieved all of these things so can consider the race a success, I think next time, I'll be more specific in what I'm asking of the race gods.

As I alluded to earlier, the first half of the race was a dream. I power hiked up steep climbs, danced my way along ridge trails and down flowing single track, chatted with friendly fellow runners (mainly about races that we'd done or wanted to do) and when I needed a break from running talk, I distracted myself with a fun new  playlist that I'd put together. Aid station stops were quick and efficient, with my crew and the very capable race volunteers on hand to assist with every whim. Everything was beautiful and effortless. A 30 mile stretch on the Pacific Crest Trail was especially nice.

Cruising along on the PCT.
I wasn't paying close attention, but think I was probably in the top five women for most of the first half with a couple of us frequently changing position on the climbs and descents. Less concerned about placing, than pacing this early in the race, I was happy to be on or slightly ahead of my time targets while still feeling quite relaxed.

Looking back, I think my stomach problems probably started around mile 45 with a long downhill stretch, followed by a technical bit that I was rushing to get through in the fading light, which distracted me from eating and led to a calorie-deficit that upset the balance of my delicate GI tract.

Coming into the Christmas-themed Hyak aid station at around 9 pm, just over 11 hours into the race, I was feeling pretty good but a bit rushed as I wanted to change my shoes, socks, shirt and pack here while also getting in some solid food and be on my way again in under five minutes. With Dave now starting his pacing duties, we've reached the second part of this crazy journey.

After Hyak (Miles 53-100)

Oh, how the mighty fall. After patting ourselves on our backs about how well I'm doing, there I am on the side of the road ridding myself of everything I'd just eaten, followed by dry heaving and retching every few steps as I struggle up the 8 miles to Keechelus Ridge aid station where I try a couple sips of broth that refuse to stay down.

Any attempts to jog the 8 downhill miles to Lake Kachess aid station are thwarted by an angry stomach that refuses to settle and doesn't tolerate jostling well either so we just keep walking, and getting passed. Sigh. Feeling too miserable to care about much, Dave and I decide that I will have a 20-minute power nap in the van at Lake Kachess and then reassess my ability to carry on. Or not. If I'm still unable to eat, then it's unlikely that I'll be able to continue.

Fortunately, 20 minutes of sleep proved to be exactly what I needed  and I left Lake Kachess with a much happier belly and attitude, which was certainly tested on "the trail from hell" that was next up. Alison had planned to pace me through this section, but because I was so much slower on the last section than we had expected, it didn't work out so Dave stepped up to do the honours. (My husband rocks!)

We did a decent job of power hiking this extremely technical 5-mile trail, but by the end of it, the nausea was back and I was swept up in the oh so pleasant vomit and dry heave cycle. We arrive in Mineral Creek around 5 am and the lovely Stacie was there waiting to pace me through the final 27 miles.

We walked and walked and walked...
We walk about 20 of those miles, my stomach tolerating only the tiniest sips of ginger ale. After a long climb on a dirt road, we spent most of the morning on rolling single track. With the expansive mountain views and brightening sky, it was hard not to be overwhelmed by the pristine beauty of this area.

At around 93 miles, I start feeling good. Really good, in fact, and we start pounding out the last few miles in what I think was a very respectable time considering everything my body had been through in the past 24 hours.

I finished in just over 26 hours and in 8th place for women. Full results here.

It was a long and hard journey, but one that I am ultimately so glad to have taken, even with the lows, because it's from them that I'll learn the most for the next race. And, yes, there will be more 100 milers in my future. (Sorry, Dave!)

At the finish with my very patient, super pacer Stacie who walked 20 miles with me.  
Post-race finish line pic with my other super pacer and most wonderful husband, Dave.
Happy to be done!
Running ultras is an extremely selfish undertaking and I couldn't do it without others selflessly supporting me.

My Crew
The one aspect of the race that I had no concerns about was my amazing crew. I can't thank Dave, Stacie, Magda, Alison, Sam and wee Fiona enough for giving up a gorgeous summer weekend to sleep unusual hours in odd places and put up with me and my BS and bad smells for much longer than anyone should. They kept me going when the going got really bad and I owe my finish in large part to their efforts. They knew that the only acceptable excuse I'd have for not finishing would be an injury - and I'm pretty sure it'd have to be a serious one for them to let me quit. (If I'd known how terrible 40 miles of walking while severely nauseated and vomiting would feel, I might have added it to the list, but I didn't and that's probably a good thing or I might not be the proud owner of a shiny new belt buckle today!)

Coach Ryne for preparing me as best he could while I stubbornly kept injuring myself. Also, my massage therapist Pierre and physio Mark for treating said injuries.

And to my friends and family who sent their love and best wishes from afar, thank you. It really does mean a lot to me to have your support (even if you think what I'm doing is absolutely insane).

The Cascade Crest Race Organizers & Volunteers
Wow - you are amazing! This was one of the best organized races that I have ever had the pleasure of participating in. From the race schwag to the well stocked aid stations, to the course markings and cheerful volunteers. Well done!

The North Face Canada
I am so proud to represent The North Face Canada. Their products have never let me down and, as you can see from my gear list below, without their sponsorship, I'd be practically naked out on the course and no one wants to see that!

While not everything went well for me this race, I did get it right with my gear. Thanks to the following items, I made it through the race without any chaffing whatsoever and my feet stayed blissfully blister-free.

The North Face GTD trail shoes
Injinji trail toesocks x 2
The North Face Better Than Naked Tees x 2
The North Face Better Than Naked Shorts x 2
The North Face Better Than Naked Jacket
The North Face capris
The North Face Stow-N-Go bra
The North Face arm sleeves
Sugoi calf sleeves
The North Face Better Than Naked hat
Buff (borrowed from Alison)
Petzl Tikka headlamp
Nathan HPL hydration pack
Ultimate Direction Jenny ultra vest
Garmin Forerunner 310XT watch
Ironman Timex sports watch
Rudy Project sunglasses

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Recovery for a broken body and spirit

The last few months have been a struggle when it comes to anything running related - even this blog. Since May, I've been sidetracked with sciatica and high hamstring tendinopathy. I've run and raced through it, which has led to a few unsatisfactory finishes - as well as another DNF - and likely prolonged my recovery. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Smile? Grimace? @ Echo Valley 50mi in Chelan, WA.
Photo: Takao Suzuki
I was finally forced to take a couple weeks off of running entirely and filled my time with yoga, swimming, biking, stretching, rolling and lots and lots of physio. (There may also have been some alcohol and self pity.) While cross training is great and has helped maintain my sanity and girlish figure, I'd rather spend my time on the trails. 

Or would I?

Even before I got injured, running was not the source of pleasure that it once was for me. Where there used to be joy in my heart when I laced up my shoes and headed out the door, I was instead tormented by a nagging sense of resentment and frustration that I just couldn't shake, or explain. 

At first, I blamed these feelings on a bad week. Then, two bad weeks. Maybe a virus or low iron? Over training? I visited my family doctor and he ordered some blood work. My iron was low, but it's been lower in the past without consequence. I was both disappointed and relieved that there was no medical reason to explain why I was feeling so blah. 

It's not all bad. I've enjoyed catching up with friends too.
@ Cdn Mtn Running Championships with Catrin Jones.
Part of me thinks that if I'm not enjoying running any more, then I should just give it up. Life is short; hobbies should make us happy. I even "retired" from running for about 5 minutes after my most recent DNF on Day 2 of the TransRockies Kananaskis 3-day race, but I quickly came to my senses and have decided to give myself more time to find my way back to the sport that I've loved for so long. 

Kananaskis Day 1. What's with my posture? Yikes!
I now have the green light to start running again - slowly and with caution - and just over 5 weeks before my first 100-mile trail race, Cascade Crest. Obviously, the lead up has not exactly gone as I had hoped so I'm just going to have to make the most of it and, above all else, try to have fun and finish with a smile.

After that, who knows.

Friday, May 23, 2014

My Big Fat DNF

There aren't a lot of 100k trail races out there so I was pretty excited when I found one in California that just happened to coincide with our spring road trip plans. (At least that's how I remember it. It's possible that the whole road trip came about as a result of this race, but that makes me feel like a selfish jerk so I'm going to pretend that it happened the other way.)
I often find it difficult to find a happy balance between racing and road tripping or any holiday really. Leading up to a race, even when I know that I should be taking it easy and being my most healthful self, I don't want to miss out on any fun. (Fun being new trails to bike or run, beers to drink and yummy, but not always healthy, foods to eat.)
With the Gold Rush 100k being smack dab in the middle of our road trip, I think I did a fairly decent job of taking care of myself without being a total drag to my friends. (Dave and I were travelling with two other couples.)

Dave and Dora somewhere along the northern Cali coast. 

This was primarily a mountain biking trip for the rest of the group so we hit up some sweet trail towns (Bend and Oakridge, OR) on our way to Sacramento. I even did a couple of rides. (My fav was by far Paradise Royale near Shelter Cove, CA although the drive in was ridiculous!) The rest of the time, I did short, easy runs on the trails while everyone else was out riding. It worked out pretty well.

Creek crossing on the Paradise Royale trail.

When we arrived in Folsom, CA to pick up my race package and check into our hotel, I was feeling rested and ready for a good long run. Folsom turned out to be a much cooler town than I had expected and I was happy to have the better part of a day to wander around. There was also a good vibe -- and a whole lot of spandex -- in town for the pro cycling Tour of California second stage TT that would be taking place on Monday.
Since the race started at 5am, I went to bed early and had a fantastic sleep. I was feeling great as Dave, Dora and I walked a block from the hotel to the starting area to get organized. Even with two distances (50k and 100k), there weren't a ton of people there. I made one last trip to the porta potties and then spent a few minutes adjusting my shoes, pack and headlamp. Just before 5am, the runners lined up for our final instructions and then we were off. The first 8-10k of the course traversed paved roads, trails and bike paths. For this reason, I decided to wear my new North Face Ultra Smooth shoes, which were the perfect choice for this race that was approximately 80% smooth singletrack and 20% paved trails.
About 15k in, one of the guys who I caught up to told me that I was the first women running the 100k distance. Being so early in the race, I didn't give it much thought, but then I was surprised to see another woman ahead of me at one of the few out and back sections of the course. I figure she must have passed me when a few of us were misdirected out of an aid station and ran an extra 1k or so before getting back on course. It wasn't long before the situation was reversed and the woman and another runner took a wrong turn and I caught them both as they found their was back on course.
The woman turned out to be Jennifer Pfeifer, a friendly local runner whom I'd actually run with at a previous years' The North Face Endurance Challenge in San Fran. Having won the 100k race last year (I think), I suspect she was the favourite to win again this year (spoiler alert: she did). We ran together for a bit, trading off the lead, but always in sight of each other. It was around this time that I had a funny little stumble that I didn't think much about at the time, but would come back to haunt me later.
Cruising along on a beautiful, rolling stretch of singletrack, my right toe caught on something hidden in the long grasses bordering the trail. My left leg was already in motion and, in attempt to stop myself from crashing to the ground (which, in hindsight, might have been better for me), I landed very awkwardly and suddenly with my left heel bearing the brunt of the impact. I felt a pop in my left butt and my Achilles was throbbing. I did a quick body scan and tried a few tentative steps and then decided that no serious damage had been done so I could carry on. I carried on quite happily for another 20k -- still playing cat and mouse with Jenn -- and then my left calf seized totally and completely. That was at 48k and I assumed the turnaround would be at 50k so I alternately hopped and limped my way towards the halfway point where I hoped a calf massage would fix me and allow me to carry on. Unfortunately for me, the course was either long or my GPS wasn't accurate because it was almost 5k more before I made it to the turnaround.

Where's the turnaround?!? 

Heading back out onto the course...but not for long!
I immediately plopped myself down in the med tent and asked the kind lady to work on my calf. She gave it her best but as I headed back out onto the course stumbling along with an incredibly painful calf that still wasn't firing, I strongly suspected that my day was over. I continued along like this for another km or so before conceding that I was done and then berated myself for being so stubborn and having to gimp back to the turnaround where I hoped Dave was still waiting. He wasn't so I hung out with a few other 100k drop outs and then caught a ride with the super nice RD and his daughter to the next aid station where Dave was expecting me and waited there for him.
Once Dave and Dora showed up, we went down to the river and I soaked my lower body and then we had a bite of lunch in the van and cheered for the returning 100k runners as they passed through the aid station. We eventually ended up back at the hotel where I had a nice, long nap and then we joined our friends for beer and pizza. (A winning combo for either post-race celebrations or drowning one's DNF sorrows!)
On Sunday, we headed to Tahoe where we had a house booked for three nights. When I wasn't sleeping, I had my leg elevated, compressed and on ice with the assumption that I had a calf muscle strain. To pass the time while everyone else was out playing, I read, surfed the web and watched a lot of Law & Order - gotta love TV marathons! By Tuesday, I could walk slowly but normally again.
As soon as we got home, I saw my awesome PT Mark of IronSport Physio and he surmised that I had pinched the nerve in my butt that sends signals to my calf. When my calf stopped getting the signals it needed to function, it seized and quit on me. The goods news is that the nerve impingement is nearly resolved and I'm running again pain-free. If my next few runs go well, then there's a 50-miler down in WA in a couple of weeks that I'm considering.
If anyone is looking for a 100k race to do, please consider the Gold Rush 100k. It was really fun, the organizers are great and the trails are super! And Folsom is definitely worth checking out. We heard a rumour that due to low registration, they may not be holding the race next year and that would be a real shame.
If you want to see the results, please go here. (I have the special honour of being the top drop out!)