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.