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! 

Monday, May 2, 2016

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! ;)


Going through my emails a few days after the race, I came across one from that seemed quite timely "Pro Tips for Bouncing Back from a Disappointing Race." Coincidence? Yeah, probably.  

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, 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:
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.