Monday, July 10, 2017

Dragon Slaying

For my first race of the year, I decided to do a new 50k at Silver Star Resort called "Slay the Dragon" which includes the nearly completed Beowulf trail that has been four years in the making and was built by bikers for bikers. And it felt like that. I don't necessarily mean that in a bad way, but there are trail features for mountain biking that just aren't as much fun for running, like berms and tight switchbacks...

Part of a 10k descent, followed by a 10k climb

It was still a fun course, though, even if some sections lacked flow, and I'm pretty sure my mountain biking friends will love it.

Random internet guy, not an actual friend

Mostly, I just wanted to get in a low-key training race before the Waldo 100k in August and this was the perfect event for that. I got to test my gut and hamstring on a hot, tough course and both held up well (sorta...keep reading). Hopefully, that means those concerns are mostly fixed, or at least good enough to run hard and get a few more miles on this body.

Since February, I've been working with David Roche at Some Work, All Play and his guidance has been incredibly helpful. I credit his cautious and conservative approach for my successful return to running with a torn hammy. He's also hilarious and makes training a lot of fun!

As for my stomach, well, it got me through the race just fine. I ate and drank throughout and didn't have any problems...until the car rode home and then things went south. Dave was forced to pull off the highway with little warning so I could fall out the car door and do some retching into the gravel. I thought that was as bad as it could get until we got stuck in a traffic jam near Peachland and couldn't pull over so I had to do my barfing into a plastic bag which I later learned had a hole in the bottom. I think the resale value of our Subaru went down that weekend.

Random internet dog, not my actual dog

Anyway, we finally made it home (longest drive from Vernon EVER) and after a couple hours of moaning miserably on various flat surfaces (i.e. the floor and couch), I was totally fine and able to take down every edible in the kitchen like a professional eater.

The working theory for my post-race bout of pukiness is the evil Ibuprofen I popped mid-race to counter an increasingly throbbing headache. I probably won't do that again. But headaches suck too so I might have to.

As for the race itself, I was able to run the first mini loop of about 13k with a few friends doing Grendels' Mother  - the 25k distance - so that was fun and helped passed the time. After that, I was pretty much on my own for long stretches. It was not a large race so the field was quite spread out.

I was happy with my pacing and on track for a 5:20 or so finish which I thought was pretty good, especially considering the course was looking to run a bit long and had a decent amount of vertical. Unfortunately, an unmarked (sabotaged?) intersection at around 44k earned me a few bonus kms as I tried to figure out where to go. I finally found my way back on the course and dragged my ass over the finish line (or finish area since there didn't actually appear to be any kind of line or chute) in 5:46 for 54k. That was good enough for 1st woman and 5th overall. Results here.

For a first-time event, I thought the organizers did a great job. There were a few minor hiccups along the way, but I'm sure they'll have them sorted out for next year.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Winter Hibernation

I definitely tend towards introversion on the social scale at the best of times, but come winter, my hermit-like tendencies kick it into high gear. And this winter - with its prolonged periods of cold, snowy weather - was no exception.

Not that I'm complaining, I've read some excellent books (I highly recommend anything by Chimamanada Ngozi Adichie), made enough soup to fill a swimming pool, filled every available inch of freezer space with baking and did a lot of nothing.

Well, almost nothing...

There were some fun family snowshoe adventures.
Ski touring on the KVR.
And unusual yoga classes.
After The North Face San Francisco Endurance Challenge in December, I took two entire months off from running. I needed the time off to complete a series of prolotherapy treatments on my torn hamstring. I'm happy to report that I have a much happier hammy now. Not entirely pain-free, but at least improved enough to start thinking about some races.

Since I've been off for so long and gotten terribly out-of-shape, I've decided not to plan any early season races so that I can gradually build up my mileage and, hopefully, avoid more injuries and burnout. 

My tentative 2017 race schedule looks something like this:

March - Elevator Multi Sport Relay (road biking)
April - Rainshadow Running Yakima 25km
May - Dirty Feet Kal Park 25km
June - Chelan Century Challenge 100-mile (road biking)
July - Slay the Dragon 50km
August - White River 50-mile
August - Waldo 100km

Hmmm, now it kinda looks like a lot!? Well, I'll just have to see how things go and how my body holds up to a bigger training load. I'm no spring chicken anymore after all ;)

I am, however, pretty excited that spring is coming! And I'm not the only one. My hairy little friend is looking forward to hitting the trails again too. 

Bring on spring; we're ready for it!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The North Face Endurance Challenge 50K

My arms and legs are pumping furiously and I keep looking over my shoulder for a glimpse of the girl in the hot pink shirt. I passed her a couple of kilometers back and now I'm certain she's chasing me down. Being more of the slow-and-steady type, a sprint finish is my worst nightmare. I know I'm close, I just need to hang on a bit longer.

I sneak another peak behind me. There are so many runners on this final, slightly uphill road section where four of The North Face Endurance Challenge events -- 50mile, 50km, marathon and marathon relay -- converge that I can't spot her, but I sense she's closing in. And then I hear spectators shouting "Get her, Kelsey!" and "Go, Kelsey, go!"

I'm pretty sure my face looked like this dog's as I sprinted for the finish!?

In my mind, there were thousands of them all cheering for this Kelsey girl. In reality, it was probably only a couple of people, but it lit a fire under me and I was able to pick it up a bit. In my head, I'm thinking "sorry, Kelsey, not today, this is my day." (For the record, I don't know Kelsey nor have anything against her. I chatted with her after the race, and she was very nice.)

This mad dash to the finish seemed more exciting when I thought I was racing for 3rd place and a spot on the podium. It turns out you can't always believe what well-meaning volunteers and spectators tell you as I was actually 4th. Oh well, whatever, it was fun. And painful. But mostly fun.

In fact, the whole day was a blast. I can't remember when I last felt so strong and consistent for an entire race. It makes me very, very happy and relieved. Like I said, it's been awhile since I've experienced such euphoria on the trails with a number pinned on and I thought maybe that part of me was broken. Was it my best race result? Nope, but the races I find most personally satisfying usually aren't.

Amazing views and lots of climbing (over 7,200ft)
Photo credit:
This was my third time at the Endurance Challenge, having run the 50-miler in 2011 (race report) and 2012 (race report), and I continue to be very impressed by how well organized everything is, especially considering how many different events and athletes are involved. The course is scenic and well-marked, and there are plenty of aid stations. Plus, there is a nice selection of beer and hot food at the finish. And for once I wasn't suffering from post-race nausea so I could actually enjoy it!   

I had originally planned on running the 50-mile distance until a random knee injury mid-October set my training back a few weeks, and I decided 50k would be smarter. And since Dave was also signed up for the 50k, I thought a little spousal rivalry would be fun. (Dave had a good day and finished 15th OA and 2nd in his age group; thus, kicking my ass - surprise, surprise. Full results here.)

We arrived in San Francisco late Wednesday and spent the next two days exploring the Bay area on foot. It's such a beautiful city with so much to see and do, and we lucked out with perfect weather for the entire five days we were there. In hindsight, it probably wasn't the best idea to walk that many city miles before a tough run, especially in hilly San Fran, but those are the trade-offs with a race holiday.

Another potential attempt at self-sabotage occurred the day before the race when we made the unwise (yet delicious!) decision to have the extra spicy Thai curry at lunch. I knew it was a bad idea even as Dave was ordering it and yet I said nothing. Miraculously, for a girl with a looooong history of GI probs during races, my stomach was totally fine on Saturday. Whew! Still, I probably won't do that again.

For once, I had absolutely no race drama. Everything went smoothly, which unfortunately means no funny stories for my race report -- sorry. All the things I worried might flare up (and it's a fairly long list these days!), didn't and I was able to focus on simply running, eating and drinking. I couldn't even obsess over the data as my Garmin hadn't charged properly so I went watch-less for the first time in an ultra. Initially, I felt a bit lost without it, but after awhile I didn't miss it at all and may race without it in the future. If I race again that is... ;)

Usually once my last race of the year is over, I can't wait to start making plans for next season. Not so this time. I really don't know what's next for me. For now, I'm going to take a bit of time off from running to deal with a few chronic niggles. I'm also looking forward to getting out on skis and snowshoes, and tackling the tower of books on my nightstand. I suspect before long, I'll be pulling out maps and scheming on spring road trips and adventures, but for now I'm going to enjoy some downtime with no big plans or training programs to follow.

This year has had its share of ups and downs but overall I'm satisfied with where I'm at and what I've accomplished. I've tried to listen to my body even if I didn't like what it was saying and that meant taking time off to rest, racing less, healing injuries, building strength and, most importantly, finding joy in running again.

A huge thanks to The North Face Canada for your steadfast support and for making me look way cooler -- and faster -- than I actually am for the past three years. I'll never know why you decided to take a chance on sponsoring me, but I'm sure glad you did! #NeverStopExploring

Happy December my friends!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Summer Solstice 12 Hour Race

A week after the Bryce Canyon 100 fiasco, I spontaneously (and perhaps unwisely) decided to jump into the Summer Solstice 12 hour race. Why waste good training, right? I had mentally and physically prepared for a big race and felt robbed of the opportunity so it was like I was being given a second chance.

Also, as it was a low-key and small (like really, really small) first-time event, I could test the theory that my ongoing stomach problems during races is stress-related. Since no one I knew (except Dave) was aware that I was doing this race, there shouldn't be any pressure. And the idea of doing a "secret race" thrilled me. I'm kinda kooky that way.

Happy to be back on familiar trails @ Sun Mountain
I've also always wanted to do a timed event so this seemed perfect. The fact that it was being held at Sun Mountain where I love the trails and have always run well was just icing on the cake. True, my legs were still feeling the miles I'd put on them at Bryce and the adventures we'd had on the drive home, but I felt fresh enough.

The course consisted of 8km (5mi) laps on mostly single-track with a decent amount of climbing. My plan was to do at least 12 laps and aim for 14-15 if things were going well and my stomach behaved, which it did for the first 8 hours or so.

Then it unravelled. All those precious calories I had consumed, were returned to the earth over the next couple of laps. Nothing in; everything out. Same old story. I won't bore you with the gag-inducing details because if you've read any of my previous blog posts, you know how this ends. I managed two more laps of walking and vomiting before calling it a day.

At least with a timed event, you really only have to leave the starting line to be considered a finisher. I fell short of my goal, but still managed to take first place overall. (Did I mention this was a really small race?)

Beautiful handmade finisher's medals.
Even with my GI issues, I'm glad I did it. It was a fun and well organised event with great people and lots of potential. Hopefully, it will attract a few more runners next year.

Bryce Canyon 100: The Race that Wasn't

Dear Bryce: You seduced me with your beauty and then you broke my heart. I know I’ll get over you eventually, but I’m not there yet. Sincerely, Stacey

Ever have the feeling that today is going to be your day? That’s how I felt heading into the Bryce Canyon 100-miler. Having completed two previous 100s (Cascade Crest and Javelina Jundred) with underwhelming results, I felt I’d learned some important lessons that I would apply at Bryce and I was going to rock it.

Fate – or more specifically, my stomach – had a different plan.

Going into the race, I was confident in my ability to not just finish but to finish well. My training had been solid. Sure, there were a few injury hiccups in the months leading up to Bryce, but they left no lasting damage. Really, I felt in much better shape for this race than any others I’d done in the past two years.

With both previous 100s, I had struggled with horrendous GI issues, resulting in lots of puking and walking in the later stages of those races. I knew outside of an injury, stomach problems would be my biggest obstacle to success at this distance.

Through trial and error in training, I determined that a nutrition plan based on real food and minimal sugar worked best for me. So the night before the race in the “kitchen” of our VW van, I whipped up a feast of boiled potatoes with salt and butter and corn tortillas full of avocado and turkey bacon all stuffed into little baggies for easy consumption on the go.

Mmmm...yummy wraps.
That night I slept well and awoke at 4:30am well rested and ready to run. I felt good, no great, and was psyched for a big day out on the trails. As I got geared up, I nibbled on my PB and banana wrap. After a few small bites, my stomach started to feel queasy and I didn’t think I could eat any more so I offered the rest to Dave.

It bothered me a bit that the day hadn’t even started and already I was falling behind on calories, but I decided it was just excitement and a few pre-race nerves affecting my appetite and that I would relax once I hit the trails.

We drove 10-minutes down the road from our campsite to the starting area. It was a cool, but pleasant morning and people were huddled around small fires chatting and waiting for the race to get underway. At this point, I was still feeling relaxed and full of hope for an inspired day (and night) of fun trails and new friends. I knew there’d be lows – it's 100-miles after all – but I was ready for them too.
Ultra dork! My super sexy pre race combo of sun hat and puffy.
With little ceremony, we were off. The race started on a mostly flat double-track dirt road for several miles, followed by flow-y single-track through a sparsely wooded forest that spit you out into some of the most impressive scenery of the course. These are the views that have made Bryce Canyon famous. Gravity defying rock formations and hoodoos that are both spooky and spectacular. And we were running on, over, up and through them. It was surreal! Obviously I wasn’t the only one who thought so; I have never seen so many camera-toting racers before. Tripods and selfie sticks too. Bizarre.

Even in the first hour of the race, my gut felt unsettled and I feared I'd be revisiting my breakfast. Again, I didn’t think too much of it and decided that I should have woken up earlier so I'd have more time to digest. I told myself to be patient and wait for the nausea to pass and then eat.

When the second hour came and went and my attempts to ingest anything were soundly rejected by my closed throat and grumbling belly, I started to get nervous. This was an all too familiar feeling, yet I thought if it was going to happen, then it would happen after 50-60 miles, not in the first 10! From experience, I knew I could persevere through many hours of throwing up and moving slowly; however, I had never had my stomach go off so early in a race. This was not good. Not good at all.

Then things got a little worse when 30-40 of us went off course and added 2-3 bonus miles to our day. Not a big deal in the grand plan, but not what I needed. Once I was back on track, I further slowed my pace to see if that would make me feel better. It didn’t, and now I was vomiting too and would continue to for another 10 hours or so. As I came through the next aid station, I was happy to see Dave there as I had told him not to bother as I would be fine until at least 60 miles. (I believe my exact words were "the wheels NEVER come off before 100k!" Ha! Never say never…lesson learned.) He was clearly worried about me as my detour and slower than expected pace meant that I was already well off my projected times.

In hindsight, I should have dropped out at this point, but I still hoped that I could bounce back. It was early in the race and my mind refused to accept that it wasn’t going to be my day, even if my body was fully aware. I had come so far and trained so hard for this race. I couldn’t just quit. Not yet.

The next few hours are a bit of a blur. I recall climbing, the heat and many incredible views. But mostly, I remember vomiting. Lots and lots and lots of vomiting. It was quite a long stretch until the next aid station and I had a few very rough patches on the way there. I was obviously looking bad enough that some of the other racers had alerted that aid station crew that I was going to need some assistance when I arrived. And did they deliver!

I must give a huge shout out to the volunteers at the Kanab Creek aid station. They made me feel like a real VIP (very important puker) and did everything humanly possible to keep me in the race. When I eventually dropped out, I actually felt bad for letting them down after all they had done for me. My heartfelt thanks and gratitude goes out to you guys for your concern, support and encouraging words.

By the time I got to Kanab, my brain was scrambled and I had mistakenly thought that this was where Dave would be and that I could end my misery. In fact, that was one of the few thoughts that had gotten me through the last few hours; just knowing that my suffering would soon be over.

Imagine how I felt when I got there and didn’t see Dave or Betty White (our VW). I looked around desperately while a volunteer searched for my drop bag. It was only when he told me my bag wasn’t there and I went over to check for myself and saw all the bags were labelled “Kanab Creek” that I realized this wasn’t the aid station I thought it was and Dave wouldn’t be here as there was no crew access.

After a lengthy rest in the medical tent, and a promise to the aid station captain that I would take and finish a bottle of Gatorade before the Straight Canyon aid station in 8 miles (where Dave was, hopefully, waiting for me), I set off at a slow but determined pace. Just one mile at a time, I told myself. And who knows, maybe now, finally, things would turn around.

Nope, after another vicious repeating cycle of sip-jog-barf-walk, I finally made it to Straight Canyon and there was Dave. I collapsed in a heap on a shady patch of grass for awhile considering my options, which all seemed to point to the inevitable: DNF. I calculated that for the 12 hours I’d been out on the course, I’d taken in roughly 600 calories and vomited up at least that. Plus, I’d been unable to keep down any fluids for the past 5 hours and it was a warm day (temps in the mid-20s).

It was a big hole to be in. Too big. Especially with 50+ miles to go at night with freezing temperatures expected. My body had already been through a lot and didn’t deserve more abuse. I had to accept that my finish line had arrived, far sooner than expected and instead of cheers, satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment, I felt sad, sick and empty.

Dejected, I informed a volunteer that I would not be continuing on and handed in my race number. It was over. I was done and just wanted to be as far away from the race as possible. We drove back to our campground mostly in silence. What was there to say?

This DNF hit me hard. It wasn't my first, and probably won't be my last, but it was and continues to be the hardest for me to accept. I don't know where I go from here. All the training in the world won't help me if my stomach decides to revolt on race day.

After a night of sleep and finally being able to eat a bit, I physically felt much better even if emotionally I was wrecked. Needing some distraction from the feelings of disappointment and failure that consumed me, I did what I always do when I need a mental break: run. There was a 8km trail starting from our campground that Dave had checked out earlier and said was beautiful so I laced up my shoes and headed out.

In life and in races, sometimes you get knocked down, but then you pick yourself up and carry on.

Contemplating life at Reflection Point.

Post race recovery leg soak/hike in the Zion Narrows.

Climbing mountains is good for the soul @ Wheeler Peak (Nevada).

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sole Sista Summits

As alluded to in an earlier post, I'm very excited to be reuniting with this fine lady for another running-related adventure that we're calling Sole Sista Summits! Click here to read more.

Me and Mel, my friend and teammate with TNF Canada
(Aren't we cute in our matching outfits!?!)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Sun Mountain 100k Race Report

I saw a funny card lately that said: 99% of getting older is wondering how the hell you hurt your back. That’s certainly been true for me lately.

About a month ago, I woke up with an inexplicably tight lower back. Instead of resting it, I foolishly decided to run a 50k race thinking that might loosen it up. (Being new to back pain, I didn't really know what the protocol was and lacked the foresight and common sense to figure it out.) The race did not go well and my back pain got worse, putting me out of commission for most of the next 2 weeks.

Fortunately, after visiting my coach/RMT, “we” (mostly Andrew – I just chilled on the massage table) were able to work through some issues upsetting my back/hips/pelvis and many of the things connected to them. With a few treatments, the pain started to subside and I felt like we were making progress.

Obviously, that was the goal and I was happy about it, but it was happening only a week out from the Sun Mountain 100k, which was intended to be a trial run for the Bryce 100 – one of my “A” races this year. Having lost a significant chunk of training time in May to deal with this back thing, my confidence to immediately jump into another race wasn't high.

In the week leading up to Sun Mountain, I was really struggling with whether or not to race. I love the Sun Mountain event having done the 50k and 50mi distances there in the past, but knew it might not be the best thing for my body at this point. It took me right up until the day before to decide that I would start the race and drop out if my back started to seize up.

My first ultra - the Sun Mtn 50k (2010)

Back for the Sun Mtn 50mi (2013)

Race Day
My alarm went off at 4am. It was still dark and I could hear rain falling outside. I downed my oats and coffee, made a few last minute gear and clothing decisions based on the weather, and then Dave and I drove to the race start, about 25 minutes away.

With fewer than 80 participants in the 100k distance, the check-in process was quick and there were no line-ups at the porta potties (hey, you gotta appreciate the small victories in life). The first people I saw when we arrived were Suzanne and Geoff from Vancouver whom I had spent time with in Wales at the World Trail Running Championships in 2013. Suzanne was also racing the 100k and Geoff was there as her crew. It was great to see them again, especially during the race when a familiar face and a few words of encouragement can do wonders to lift your spirits. 

By the time the race started at 5:30am, the rain had nearly stopped and it was actually a very nice temperature for running. I fell into an easy pace to test my body and see if there were any unhappy bits. Surprisingly, everything felt pretty good and I was moving well so I picked it up a bit. Starting the first big climb, I was running alongside a lovely woman from Seattle named Kaytlyn (who would go on to win the women’s race in a phenomenal sub-10 time) and enjoyed having someone to chat with as we plugged along the steady uphill grade.

Knowing that I had to take care of my body and not push too hard early in the race, I encouraged her to go ahead. I would've loved to have tried to stay with her, but when my back started acting up later in the day, I was sure glad that I hadn't!

There were several other runners that I was back and forth with over the next few hours and it was nice to get out of my head and enjoy some bits of conversation here and there. Overall, things were going quite well pace, body and nutrition wise up until about 40k when my lower back started tightening up. 

By 50k (the halfway point and end of lap 1 of this 2 lap course), I had convinced myself that my back was only going to get worse if I continued and that it would be better to drop out now. I was totally at peace with this decision and the knowledge that I was doing the right thing.

Then I got to the aid station and there were lots of people there cheering, telling me that I was doing well and that I was second woman. Before I could tell someone that I was dropping out, a helpful volunteer was refilling my bladder and Dave was handing me my snack bag. Geoff asked me how I was feeling and I whispered back, “not great, I'm thinking of dropping out”. Without missing a beat, both he and Dave basically told me that I was not dropping out. So I didn't, and that’s how I ended up back on the course for my 2nd 50k lap.

I left the aid station a bit bewildered by what had just happened. I’d already made plans for the rest of the day…that did not include reliving the past 5 hours of my life. I quickly came up with a new game plan – drugs! Nothing illicit, just ibuprofen. I try to avoid ibuprofen while racing, but I needed something to settle my back if I was going to continue.

The second part of my plan included walking. Not that I didn't walk parts of the first lap ‘cause I did, but I knew I’d have to back off the pace and walk more if I was going to get through this thing without triggering another injury setback. Being conservative seems to have helped because my back pain did ease up some during the second half of the race. Or maybe that’s just the drugs working. Either way, I was glad that I hadn't dropped out earlier. (Thanks Dave and Geoff!)

At around 6 hours into the race, my stomach went off. Again. Same old story with me. Up until that point, I had managed to take in about 150 calories/hour. Not great, but not terrible either. For the final 5 hours, the best I could do was about 50 calories/hour mostly in the form of Sprite or Ginger Ale at aid stations. It was frustrating because I could feel my energy levels dropping and I actually felt hungry, yet when I tried to eat, my throat closed up and I couldn't swallow. Grrr, what a ridiculous problem! I love food so to be unable to eat when I need to is very upsetting.

It may not have been my strongest finish, but I finished and even managed to hang onto 2nd place (full results here). Mainly I'm just happy that I got to run with some cool people on trails that I love and that I didn't further upset my unpredictable body. Strangely, my back actually feels now than it has in weeks. And no, I don’t know how that’s possible!?

Now I've got a month to focus on getting fit, healthy and strong for Bryce  – the race, not the person.

Thanks James and Rainshadow Running for designing a race that is challenging and beautiful, and for bringing together the kind of people who appreciate that sorta thing! Feeling generally crappy at the finish kept me from enjoying more of the post race fun – pizza, beer and live music – but now that I'm the proud new owner of my very own growler, I'm sure I'll make up for it. ;)

Post-race (second) breakfast!

I’d also like to thank The North Face Canada for the sweet new race kit. I used some of it at Sun Mtn and was very happy with both the fit and comfort of what I wore including: the Better Than Naked rain jacket, shorts and tee, and especially the Ultra Endurance shoes, which kept my feet happy for 100k!