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! 

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! ;)

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Going through my emails a few days after the race, I came across one from Competitor.com 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.

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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!