Friday, December 7, 2018

Mild and Muddy

I have a whole lot to whine about right now, but I'm not going to do that - it does no good to complain.

Instead, let me tell you about a slice of happiness I found last weekend.



I hadn't been out for a trail run since The Beav - apart from lack of time and the early darkness, I was trying to be nice to my still-sore ankle and was keeping it to even, non-technical surfaces.

The puppy inside me wanted to go play and explore, though, so last Sunday I finally went for a romp in a place I'd never been before - Snyder's Flats.

It had rained most of the prior 24hrs so it was a touch wet.

Double track or double stream?

..but it was also unseasonably warm. December the 2nd, and there I was comfortably trotting around in a skirt and light shirt!

WHEEEEEE

Having forgotten my GPS watch (d'oh!), I simply ran around exploring. From the maps I had seen there was enough trail to do about 6k, which was all I really wanted.

Relatively straightfoward.

What I didn't know is that only about half of the bits of singletrack in the former gravel pit are actually laid out on the map - the satellite view gives a bit better impression:

Though I don't think even this shows all of the little bunny paths.

I started out on gravelly doubletrack, but soon found my way to the pond at the northeast and the muddy singletrack that runs between it and the Grand River.

Definitely more interesting than the wide-open gravel field

Shoes were gaining a pound with each step

As I looked over the pond, I saw that the mild air had led to some of the ice melting, and a fascinating cloud of mist hovering just over the surface.


Always such a neat sight

The trails I followed were certainly not frozen, though - I'm glad I wore wool socks, as there was definitely some puddle jumping going on!


SPLURP SPLURP SPLURP

The flat terrain had me thinking that this would be a fabulous place to bring our cross-country skis once there's enough snow to safely cover all the gravel.


Though it's not without a bit of flood-carved contour.

I ran along the river toward the setting sun, delighted by this stolen moment of autumn amid the awful winter weather we'd been having.


Certainly not very December-ish.

As I neared the end of my run, I found myself having to stop more often to gape at the incredible sunset unfolding before me.


This deserves a moment of its own.

I knew from the time that I'd arrived I wouldn't have much time to explore, but I was able to run almost all of the trails in less than three quarters of an hour, even counting the time I spent standing still to absorb the tranquility of the fading light over the water.


I missed a few bits here and there, but not very much.
Full Endomondo data is here


Just what I needed.

I had to return to the world of unpleasant chores, frustration and doubts upon leaving, but for forty three glorious minutes I was just another wild animal frolicking on a beautiful evening.



Happy girl.

I have no idea when I'll be able to get out for another taste of the glorious freedom I felt that evening, but I sincerely wish you all a similarly joyful experience before this year is up. Carve out a bit of time, then go out and play!


Friday, November 30, 2018

Redemption

All of us have something in our past we're not proud of. Sometimes, though, a bit of effort can help you reclaim some dignity.

Warning: this post is only tangentially about running/endurance sport.

On Sunday, July the 29th, I found myself in rather rough condition by evening. I'd been awake since 8:30 Saturday morning with only a 2-hour nap ending at 4:30pm, run 70km through the night at Tally in the Valley, then gone to brunch with dearly loved friends in Guelph (with a quick stop for a shower in between - like I said, they're dearly loved friends) until late afternoon. There may have been some day-drinking at brunch. Ok, there was definitely some day-drinking at brunch. I wasn't drunk, but had been pleasantly giggly.

The only pink of which I am a fan.

As we headed back toward home, I realised I was hungry but far too destroyed to make food for myself. I could barely walk due to the pounding my damaged right ankle took while racing, and hobbled around with a cane. In this condition, I wandered into our local freshii looking for an easy, hot meal with some nutritional value.

I have a standard bowl that I know meets all of my food allergy needs, so I ticked all the appropriate boxes on the custom order form and handed it to the young lady at the cash register. A moment later, she informed me they were out of brown rice - the foundation of my meal.

Having pushed myself far beyond any reasonable point while on course at Tally in the Valley and being far too tired, hungry and sore to cope with any adversity at this point, I came freakin' unglued. Rather than understanding that they were approaching their closing time and might reasonably be expected to have run out of some items, or finding a subsitution (rice noodles should have been acceptable), I hurled some obscenities and threw my order form at the poor girl, snapping at her to dispose of it as I turned and hobbled out of the store.

Pictured: someone who clearly should not have been allowed out in public.


We went to another location and I was able to get my order, but the damage was done - I knew I'd behaved like the absolute worst sort of person, and while I did have excuses there is never a legitimate reason to treat someone the way I did.

I felt terrible about it, and resolved to apologize to the girl the next time I saw her. Since they had closed while we procured food from the other location, I couldn't do so right away, but figured I'd catch her there soon; we stop in at least once a week, as it's just about the only take-out food that I'm able to eat.

We tried the following Sunday, around the same time. We've been there most Thursday evenings for months now, but never while that particular person was working. All the while, it gnawed on me that I'd treated someone so shabbily for something that wasn't their fault, though over the weeks it faded to an occasional thought at the back of my mind.

Last night, we stopped in for our usual Thursday evening I-cook-from-scratch-every-other-day-of-the-week, give-me-something-easy dinner. Lo and behold, someone who looked remarkably like the same young lady was at the till - she seemed to be the only one working that evening, and it was once again within an hour of closing. I filled out my custom order form and placed my order, not totally sure I was facing the same person.

Regardless, as she passed our order over the counter and turned to walk back to the cash register, I asked her for a moment. I told her that I thought it was her that had been working all the way back on July 29th when I behaved absolutely reprehensibly, and watched her eyes go wide. She said she had wondered if it was me, and I confirmed and told her I was very sorry. While I had been up for 30+ hours, run a very long way, and was in enough pain I could barely walk, there is no excuse for treating anyone as I had. She kindly said it was no problem, and not to worry about it...but at the same time, she remembered the incident, so clearly it had stuck in her mind as well.

When we got our orders home I noticed that my assortment of veggies on my bowl looked a little light-handed - not enough to complain, but certainly the bare minimum amounts that could pass. I wondered if it had been a jab - conscious or not - at the horrible person who'd snapped and cursed at her 4 months (to the very day) beforehand. If it was subconscious, I hope I was able to put that simmering resentment to rest, as that's a horrible thing to have bestowed on another person.

As we head into a hectic season that will bring most of us in contact with many people who make their living by serving the general public, I invite you to use me as a cautionary example. While you may be feeling the effects of pressure and strain in your life, it costs nothing to show respect and kindness to those around you. When you fail to do so, take ownership of the wrong you have done and put in some effort to make amends. It may be a small incident in the grand scheme of things, but there's no reason you can't try to be better - both for your own peace of mind and for the good of those around you.

It sure feels good to get that monkey off my back.
Now, if I can just work on this one..

Have a wonderful weekend, folks, and be good to each other out there!

Friday, November 23, 2018

Dimensionality



As the sun has now set on a rather spotty season of "racing", my mind turns to all the things that winter and the off season have to offer.

Well, I say off season - I did actually take a full week off running, but was back at it in the dark of our early night on Sunday evening.

Making friends along the way.

My ankles - which took a pounding over 43-odd kilometers at Horror Hill and then another 50 at The Beav in a 2 week period - are still calling the shots on when I run. I did manage to get 4 days in a row from Sunday to Wednesday, but took Thursday off running as the right one is still being a jerk.

The sun angle is so low on my lunch runs these days

That's also why I decided against getting my cross-country skis out when we got the big dump of snow last week: I didn't feel like my ankles were strong or rested enough to strap on the boards for the first time this year when conditions were decent, and despite the bitter cold we've had the ski-able snow didn't really last.

There will be time to ski later, and snowshoe as well. There had better be - I've actually signed up for a snowshoe race in early February, and figure I might as well try training for it a bit...especially since my snowshoes are not really designed with running in mind.


If I had this little monster's enormous back feet, I wouldn't need snowshoes at all!

I'm looking forward to taking some time to do the things that fell by the wayside as I pushed to train and race at the highest level of which my injured arse was capable. I've actually made it back to the pool for the first time since May the 8th (!), putting in 1,700y on Saturday and another 1,300y last night in lieu of a run.

I didn't even need the lifeguard to fish me out!

Just those couple of swims have shown me how much I've been missing by ditching my pool workouts. I've come to realise that some of the issues I've experienced this year are actually due to the lack of swim training in the past 6 months - there is just no replacement for the muscle engagement and movement patterns required to swim the four main strokes (front crawl, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly), and the delicious soreness that has come with the return to the water tells me that I may have made a grave mistake in foregoing the pool in order to try to get more sleep.


I do have a master of the snoozing arts to teach me, if she can find time between naps.

I haven't managed to get on my bike (or my motorcycle) due to the weather, but it's not all about training anyway - it's the damn off season! We're actually going tonight to pick up a pass for one of our favourite local climbing gyms this evening (because SALE PRICING people!), and I can't wait to actually get out and pull on some plastic again. I've kept up with doing some pull-ups on the rock rings in my livingroom weekly in an effort not to lose all of my climbing strength, but we haven't climbed at all (other than a bit of scrambling last month) since the via ferrata route at Parc de la Chute Montmorency back in mid-July.

Oddly enough, I'm also really excited that the local ski hills have started to blow snow in an effort to get their base layer built. I was really disappointed that they all closed for the season long before my ankle was ready to try snowboarding again, and I honestly can't wait until I can strap into my bindings and do some very careful shredding. It might seem strange that I'm amped to go do a thing that hurt me so badly 9 months ago - particularly since I'm still dealing with the effects of the injury - but I've been in love with snowboarding since I was 17 years old. I've broken bones while doing so, dislocated a shoulder (long story), and knocked myself silly trying stupid things in terrain parks years before helmets were mandated for such things. It may not be the safest thing for my clumsy arse, but it's also something in which I find a lot of joy, and I'm stoked to get back out there again even if it does cause me some pain.

Reminds me of some other activities I could name..

Let's just hope I don't do something completely foolish that leads to another year like this one.

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Beav 50k Trail Ultra - Saturday, November 10th, 2018

I'm not sure I've ever been this scared before a race. I'm not talking about some pre-race jitters, where you're not sure it's going to go as well as you hope; I mean I was gripped by pure terror and deeply concerned that emergency medical responders might need to be involved.

Yes. Yes there is.

It's not just that my ankles - both the one I've had niggling problems with for a couple of years, and the one I spectacularly wrecked back in February - took a pounding at the muddy, cold, rainy Horror Hill 6-hour two weeks prior. It's not just that I was coming into this with some unshakable fatigue and soreness from having raced Sticks n'Stones and Horror Trail (just over 96km of racing, plus another 107.5km of training: a total of almost 204km) in the 5 weeks prior. It's not even that I tweaked my right ankle in a new and exciting way stepping off a curb (while distracted by wondering if a car was going to hit me) during a fundraising walk/run the week before. None of these was super optimal going into my last race of the season, but I could probably just toddle along slowly on most courses without too much trouble. There were 2 factors that really had me quaking in my boots over this particular event:

1) The course. I've done some running and hiking around Hilton Falls Conservation Area in the past, and I know that the Bruce Side Trail sections - which would be included in the race - are pretty gnarly affairs strewn with ankle-wrecking pocked and broken dolomite. I'd been assured that around 20 of the 25k loop (that I'd be doing twice) was smooth, runnable trail...but that other 5km?

Definitely less runnable.

2) The weather. This was a big concern.

Y...y...yiiiiiiikes.


Oh, there's also the fact this was now a week after the change back to Standard Time, so I'd be racing against the sun.

Confidence.

Nonetheless, I went and picked up my race kit on Friday evening on the way home from work, then rolled out of bed at stupid o'clock in the morning on Saturday. This race was actually on the 10th anniversary of my very first training run, so I figured I'd at least show up and give it a whack. Bless Tanker's sweet heart - he had actually gone down and turned on our space heater when he got up to use the washroom at some absurdly early hour, so at least I wouldn't freeze to death in our drafty kitchen while I ate an extra-large bowl of oatmeal and became 40% kinesio tape by volume.

Don't worry - I won't show you the pics of the other 3 pieces applied to support my hamstrings.
I am aware that noone wants to see my taped-up butt.

We'd been warned that parking could be an issue at Hilton Falls, so wanted to get there as close to 7:30am (when we'd been told the area would be open for us) as possible. I would have offered a carpool for people in KW as we did have extra room in the car, but I didn't figure anyone would want to be there for as long as it would take me to finish. We left the house at 6:50am to hit the T.Ho's for coffee and some breakfast for Tanker, just as it started to snow.

That snow got dramatically worse as we got closer to Milton on the 401.

Umm..

We did make it safely to our destination, almost right at 7:30am. I was really starting to wonder about my sanity, though; I'd really never been so tempted to just go right back to bed. Some people did just that - we heard from friends that the 401 through Halton Hills (just east of the race location) were so icy and treacherous that it was nearly impossible to keep a car on the road, so a number of people turned around and went home rather than risk it.


I chose this instead.

With no heated washrooms available and the howling wind gusting through every vent and crack in the portajohns and vault toilet near the parking lot, I was very pleased that I had already dressed for the day under my down jacket and insulated skirt. I'd gone with a fairly thick synthetic shirt, a warm set of semi-insulated tights, my Happy Trails Racing Hoo-rag for my neck, a merino tubular neck gaiter folded multiple times for my ears/head over a windproof hat, and a light wind jacket over the whole business.

Once the snow stopped it actually looked like it might be a beautiful - if very cold - day.

I had packed a hybrid insulated jacket in a small dry bag that I was going to leave with Tanker at the start/finish aid station so I could grab it when I hit the turn-around, but the wind made me wimp out and put it on for the start instead. I'd rather be too warm than too cold, especially since I'd just managed to fight off an impending throat/sinus infection that tried to take root after Horror Hill.

As I waited in line for the portajohn (which was where the only real socializing of the morning took place - everyone was hiding in their vehicle, trying to stay warm!) I looked down...and everything ground to a halt for a moment as I realised that the glue holding the upper portion of my right shoe to the midsole had given way in the freezing cold air. My shoe was trying to disintegrate before my eyes - and before the race had even begun.

NOT COOL

It was suggested that I try to find someone with some duct tape to hold it together, but the absolute last thing I wanted to do was wrap tape around the ball of my foot and compromise whatever traction the lugs of the outsole might be able to get on the frozen, rocky course. I decided instead that I'd use my slip-on spikes to try to hold my shoe together, while also improving my grip. I'd brought them along anyway, so it was worth a try.

With a few minutes to go before the 9am start, I hit the portajohn for one last pee - there was no way I wanted to have to drop trou in the woods today - then headed over to where Race Director Jeff was making the pre-race announcements. Because I arrived as they were ending, I failed to hear the offer made to the 50k participants: due to the weather, if anyone wished to stop after the first 25k lap they would still be offered a "finish" with an official time and medal.


On balance, it's probably a good thing I missed hearing that.

Ready as I'm going to get, though I still have to ditch my insulated skirt with Tank.

With a smooch and an admonishment to be careful, Tanker sent me on my merry way a few moments later to try my luck one more time in this crapshoot of a race season. I'd taken Friday completely off, not even bothering about my silly step goal or anything but trying to stay off my feet and be as rested as possible. Now I'd just have to see how I fared.

We started off on a bit of fairly wide, flat trail that led us to a bridge over a stream. It was snow-covered and someone had written ICE on it repeatedly, so on the whole I was just fine with having been forced to wear my spikes.

Shot by Sue Sitki before the first racers came through.

Then, well...we went up. Quite a bit.


Everybody conga!

I was more than happy to stay at a walk through the frozen singletrack.

The Philip Gosling Side Trail is part of the Bruce Trail

I'd decided I'd bring my phone along to take photos of the course on the first lap, then ditch it at the halfway point. This meant that if I had some kind of catastrophic fail in the first half I'd at least get some pics from the race, and I'd have a bit less to carry for the second half if I did make it. I do try to stay out of the way when stopping to shoot - I don't want to obstruct anyone - and by and large people are pretty good at whipping past me.

Like these folks, eagerly running up a grassy hill on the main Bruce Trail.
The wind was howling in from the totally exposed left side here, and bitterly cold.

More climbing.
The opening mile represented a significant chunk of the elevation change on the course.

Still climbing, but more gently now

It was around this point that I'd been spit out the back of the pack of runners and caught up by a couple of friends - Bogdan and Patty were trucking along nicely, and were great company for quite a large section of my first loop!


Nice to have friendly faces around on the trail, not to mention someone to call 911 when my clumsy arse breaks my fool neck.

 Around a mile in, you finally reach the wide, groomed trails of Hilton Falls itself. While some of the underlying dolostone does peek through here and there, the surface is mostly crushed gravel and highly runnable.


Turn on the jets!

It's only for a couple of minutes, though, before you turn off to the left onto a jumble of chunky stone beside a stream that spills into the reservoir.

Chilly but pretty

You don't have to tell me twice.

Meandering along the icy stream

Much more nimble runners ahead.

It was here that the course photographer had set up for her first series of shots, as I carefully picked my way along through the snow-covered rocks.


No good dying before I'm even a tenth of the way into the loop

A moment later you can look back and see the only waterfall that's actually on the 25k loop - smaller than the main falls, but still beautiful.

Coating the fallen branches around it in a layer of icy spray

You also get a pretty solid view down the length of the reservoir.

You're now in one of the truly stunning parts of the course, but also one that has the greatest chance of major injury if you fail to approach it with due care. You are basically moving along the edge of the cliff above the reservoir over multiple rocky gullies cutting across the trail.

It's a long way down just a few steps to the left.

Follow the trail of pine needles bared by the passage of feet

The rock at centre does not quite span this deep chimney cave-like crack - you do have to hop over a small gap.

More deep gullies on either side.

It was somewhere in this section that I managed not to notice a large, low-hanging branch on the course and hit my head HARD right at the top of my forehead. I had been trying to tuck my phone away after taking a photo and was watching where I was putting my feet - with the brim of my hat blocking my view, I had no warning and hit it at full (walking) stride. I didn't quite see stars, but I hit hard enough that some pained sound escaped me and both Patty and Bogdan asked if I was ok.

I kept moving, thankful that my multiply-folded wool tubular head/earband had offered a bit of cushioning, but was doubly motivated to finish before dark; I couldn't imagine trying to wear my headlamp over the lump that immediately swelled up on my melon.

Photo from a couple of hours after the race - it was probably about the size of an in-shell almond by this point.

Well, it's not like I use my head for anything anyway - onward!

We were treated to a bit more running on wide-open paths past the 3k mark, on the way to one of only 2 aid stations out on the course itself. I got quite warm here and started to sweat profusely in my insulated jacket; I simply wasn't able to dump enough heat out the un-insulated, breathable soft shell panels down the sides and under the arms. I hoped I hadn't made a severe tactical error and zipped down the collar to vent a bit - fortunately the cold air on my neck (even through my tubular gaiter) was enough to cool me sufficiently.

Bogdan and Patty - can't believe he has nothing on his head or ears and Patty has bare legs!

You reach the aid station just before the main falls, before the 5k mark (no, the kilometers weren't actually marked, though the trail tape, flags and directional signs were plentiful).

Friendly folks helping a bunch of idiots running around in the cold.

I'm sure some runners were highly disappointed that the aid station was not closer to the fire pit above the falls, nor to the falls themselves - the 10k course diverged from the 25k loop here to descend down by Hilton Falls itself, but those of us who prefer to prolong our suffering turned upriver onto another rocky section of Bruce Side Trail.

Getting technical again

This is the closest the 25k course actually comes to the falls

What follows is some of the most beautiful and challenging trail of the loop - the longest stretch of rocky singletrack of the whole business. You do this in each direction, for a total of four passes in the 50k.

Ron I. eyes up a fallen tree at the bottom of the first rocky climb

Ron after mountain goat-ing his way up

The sun came out and shone on the stream.

This looks a bit tamer

But could still easily commit ankle murder.

If I ever wondered why I do these things, this right here is why.

So beautiful, even as I try not to stumble wandering over it.

Patty and Bogdan being much more competent than I am in the technical sections.

Which feel like they go on for quite awhile, though really it's less than a kilometer.

Eventually you emerge at a right turn onto the Beaver Dam Trail, which leads you to the edge of Hilton Falls Conservation Area - it's wide open and groomed, trending steadily upward as you head northeast.

Run while the running's good

Sunshine was most welcome!

I realized before I'd managed to pass 7k that I'd already been on course for nearly an hour, so finally started taking in some nutrition - I swigged on my flask of EFS Liquid Shot while walking up one of the gentle hills, having got a bit ahead of my company. I'm glad I did, to be honest - my left set of spikes came off as I trotted along, and it wasn't until Bogdan and Patty yelled at me to tell me that I realised it! Bogdan was even nice enough to pick it up for me, so I could lean against a tree to wrestle it back onto my shoe. It's damnably difficult to get my spikes on properly at the best of times - even moreso with gloves and chilly fingers in the mix. 


Patty and Bogdan ripping it up - they'd pass me while I was trying to finagle my idiot spikes.

Knowing that I needed to pay closer attention, I started spending more time looking at my feet to make sure my spikes were still on my shoes, which made my neck hurt - I'm used to looking a couple of where I'm stepping on technical terrain, but not straight down. Soon we came to a steeper climb, at the top of which we could see the only other aid station out on the course.


You're damn right I walked this.

Dion, Mat F. and Steve B. were amazingly helpful all day long!

I managed to drop the lid of my water bottle after unscrewing it on the approach to Russell's Roost, but Bogdan was generous enough to pick it up for me and it hadn't got too messy - I felt awful about it, though, as I shouldn't need a cleanup crew to chase me around! I knew I'd need a full bottle to get me through the far end of the course; we were at about 8km here, and wouldn't see another aid station until we returned to this point around 9km later. I'd brought a soft bottle along to get extra water but decided I'd see if I could make it on a single bottle in the cold temperatures.

Now at the top of the Beaver Dam Trail on the edge of Hilton Falls property, we turned left into the woods past the aid station into the final technical section of the course.

Map of the course from MapMyRun.com - created by Race Director Jeff
You can view the original map here

At least this section is relatively flat

There are a couple of interesting piles of rock on the trail, though

I hoped this wouldn't get too muddy as the day went on

Tempting fate.

Coming out the other side of this half-kilometer singletrack section - after having rather badly jammed my left ankle, despite moving cautiously - we emerged onto the wide doubletrack trail of the Britton Tract.

Sunshine, solid running, and even a bit of fall colour left!

I was able to make some decent time through here, and even get an S!cap and a pocket-warmed berry coconut Bounce ball into me while walking up a small hill around 90mins in. Then, my damn spikes came off my left shoe again! I decided I'd hold off on putting them back on this time, though, because:

a) the right set of spikes - which was holding my blown shoe together - was still just fine.

b) the trails would remain non-technical until I got back to the cross-over section to the aid station.


No additional traction required.

It was actually really pleasant in the pine forest

So, I ran with the loose spikes in my hand for awhile, and took in the beauty of the Britton Tract. I'd never been up here before, but it's well worth exploring!

Sunshine over a marshy bit.

Unfortunately, my hand got cold from holding the snow-wetted spikes, so I eventually had to stop to put them back on long before I even reached the halfway point of the 25k loop. I had to lean against a tree again, using both of my frozen hands while trying not to drop my bottle. I'm sure it was a ridiculous sight, but I eventually got it sorted out.


Then went to chase Patty & Bogdan, who'd blown past me while I struggled with the spikes.

After completing 2/3 of the Britton Tract loop to the north, you make a right turn to head southwest into the Robertson Tract, down another wide doubletrack trail to a lovely little singletrack mountain bike trail called The Pines. Don't worry - there were directional arrows and course marshals at the major intersections to make sure you stayed on track.

There is definitely some undulation in the Tracts

The Pines was beautiful!

Nice little logpile for the mountain bikers

After that refreshingly runnable singletrack loop, you emerge back onto the wide doubletrack that will take you all the way back to the cross-over to the aid station.


Easy rolling - you're now starting to descend from the highest point of the course



Downhill past the fork of the Britton Tract loop

There is a good-size climb to get back up to the entrance to the singletrack
I used this hill to enjoy a piece of bacon and a swig of EFS Liquid Shot while draining almost the last of my water.


There really isn't that much climbing for an ultra

Remember how I said I'd be happy if the technical sections stayed frozen and didn't get muddy? Well, add the whole pack of 25k runners - who started at 9:30am, half an hour after the 50k set off - churned it up pretty well.

Eek.

DON'T DIE K

One foot in front of the other

Climbing the last bit up to the aid station - Race Director Jeff and Mat F. at the top sorting out some 

Back at Russell's Roost by around 2h15m, I desperately needed my bottle filled - I'd had my last sip about halfway through the technical section and knew I'd need to get my soft bottle at least partially filled for the second time I did the Britton and Robertson Tract sections. I also decided it was time to get ahead on my nutrition a bit, so had a chunk of banana and even half a baby dill pickle while the friendly volunteers topped off my bottle. With profuse thanks and a statement of intent to return, I was on my way back to the start/finish and into unknown trails once more.

Turning right from the aid station took me down the other side of the Beaver Dam trail (for which the race was named), and directly into the powerful, cold wind.


The trail starts out very runnable

This stream runs under the trail..

..and apparently sometimes over it.

I had to pick my way past the mud puddles caused by the stream overflowing, as I was getting cold again and frankly didn't want to risk getting my feet wet. Frostbite is no bueno!


Upstream of Hilton Falls, looking south

Looking north

The uneven rocks under chicken wire fencing were a little dicey with my spikes on, so I just walked this bit.

What was initially wide, flat trail becomes increasingly technical as you progress down the north side of the Beaver Dam Trail.


You can still run it, but much more carefully.

..and I'd just walk the up-slopes.

You can get a turn of speed on this boardwalk

But you'll have to slow right down again on the other side.

Rocky trail up to a small footbridge

The same stream you keep on crossing

Some dork on the bridge

End of the Beaver Dam Trail loop

Once you make the right on the stick of the lollipop of the Beaver Dam Trail, you're heading back the way you came through the gnarly singletrack on the way to the first aid station.

Map of Hilton Falls trails


The first part is fairly runnable

Winding through the pine forest

Up and over some small ridges

I used this opportunity to get some more calories and electrolytes into me - I popped another S!cap and pulled out my flask of EFS Liquid Shot around 2h45m, knowing I'd want to finish it before I hit the start/finish so I could ditch the empty flask along with my phone and the wrapper from the Bounce ball I'd had earlier.


I didn't want to carry any more than I needed to for the second go 'round


It was difficult enough as it was!

Though also heart-achingly beautiful


Easy does it down the steep, rocky descent

Of course this was the section where my right set of spikes decided to come off, just before 20k. I managed to get them back on with badly numb fingers - my right hand was in poor shape from the water in my bottle pulling the heat out of it through my glove, and I resolved to change to the heavy mitt I had waiting in the UltraCooler™ at the start/finish. I'd have to keep the glove on my left hand, though, if I wanted to have any dexterity (or possibility of putting a blown set of spikes back on) in the second half of the race.

Back along the stream above Hilton Falls

I made it all of maybe 200m before the damn spikes came off again! It's so difficult to get them positioned just so so that the straps can't make their way off the shoe, but I took a little extra care this time - ruing my frozen fingers - and hoped it would cooperate.

Following a 25k runner down the pile of rocks and over the fallen tree


On final approach to the aid station by the falls.

I was surprisingly low on water as I approached the aid station around 2h55m, so got my bottle filled one more time before hitting the wide, runnable, groomed trails of the conservation area. This section would be slightly different than the way out, and a little faster.

RUN DAMMIT

Try to catch the rabbit!

It's not going amazingly well.

By this point I was in pretty rough condition - I'd beaten up both of my ankles pretty badly and my hips, neck and hamstrings were all complaining a lot. I was, however, resigned to heading back out for another loop. This was my last race of the year, so I really had nothing for which to save myself.

How bad could it be?

I tried to capture as much of the course as I could in the first lap, knowing that the second would be all about survival and trying to push to finish before dark. I figured I was in decent shape to do so: sunset would happen at around 8hrs after the start, and it looked like I might be able to bring my first lap in around 3.5hrs.


I think we have a winner for "most shelf fungus on one tree"

At the very bottom of the Beaver Dam Trail I found Sue Sitki still out photographing.

I shot back!

My flask of EFS Liquid Shot in hand - I'd take the last sip of it around 3h15m

Making the right past Sue, I was back on the first bit of groomed trail I'd come in on that morning.


Neat rock formation beside runnable trail

End of the line - back onto singletrack!

Through the woods on the Philip Gosling Side Trail

Rhonda E. and Ashley S. coming out for their second lap

The Bruce Trail is nothing if not gorgeous

Along a ridge

Looking across the 401 at the escarpment at Kelso - I took the same photo, but mine was very dark and overcast so here's a much nicer one shot by Sue Sitki

Down the hill we conga line'd up in the morning

The wind across the open field was still vicious
Rebecca R. is tearing up the course ahead of me!


Rebecca and her husband John killed it in the 25k

Super well-marked course

My thoughts of reaching the start/finish by 3.5hrs went rather off the rails when I discovered just how muddy and slippery the lower section of trail had become.


Shades of Horror Hill..

Of course my left set of spikes decided this was an opportune time to come off again, so I said to hell with it and just picked it up and ran with it in my hand again. My shoes became incredibly caked with thick, sticky mud as I scrambled through the muck, using trees along the trail to help myself up a sharp rise covered in sliding footprints. Loads of fallen leaves embedded themselves in the mud on my soles, adding even more weight to each footstep.

The one other difference in the end of the loop versus the start is that you have to climb over a stile to finish the 25k - I'd have to do this twice for the 50k, just a half-kilometer from the finish line.

Finally caught up with my rabbit!

I had to be very careful going over the stile, whose steps were covered in the mud of other runners' passage. The stuff stuck to my shoes didn't seem to want to come off, though, no matter how I stomped or scraped my feet.

Even on the pavement and wood of the no-longer-icy bridge

That flat trail we started out on? Turns out it's actually uphill to the finish.

I finally reached the start/finish and Tanker's Canteen aid station at 3h37m, and took several minutes to sort some things out. I got rid of my gel flask, trash and phone, and used my right glove to scrape the mud off the sole of my left shoe. Tanker was kind enough to fill my water bottle for me, then help me get my left spikes back on - I was having real trouble with my frozen hands and nothing to lean against. It was then that I discovered my left shoe had gone the same way as the right; the midsole unit trying to peel right off the upper.


Definitely not performance.


Welp, nothing else for it - I'll just have to make sure both sets of spikes stay on.

I grabbed: a couple of packs of caffeinated gel; a turkey and mustard wrap; a packet of chocolate oat cookies; my winter mitten for my right hand; my now-full bottle; my headlamp (just in case); and a smooch, then set off into the breach once more. Total time at the aid station was maybe 6 or 7 minutes.

And I'm outta here!
Photo by Sue Sitki

I munched my turkey and mustard wrap as I made the long climb back up the Bruce Trail - I hadn't felt any real growls of hunger yet, but I also knew that solid food would help keep any at bay that might be in the mail, while also keeping me warm as I digested. I planned to keep moving as consistently as possible for the second loop, partly to see if I could manage even (or possibly negative) splits and partly just to keep myself warm.

My plan was somewhat foiled by my damn spikes. Knowing I only had a mitten to work with on my right hand now, I was seriously committed to ensuring they didn't come off completely. This meant I'd have to keep and eye on the toe straps to make sure I adjusted them back into position if they came out of place.


Which also meant even more neck-wrenching staring at my feet.

I swear that all this looking down is what led me to hit my head AGAIN on the SAME BLOODY BRANCH before the 3k mark. It wasn't nearly as hard this time - merely a glancing blow - and was fortunately in a different spot, but I'd have been just as happy not to give my skull another whack.

See, part of the reason I had to be so vigilant is actually unique to my particular set of spikes: they have a toe strap that I have to keep on the front of my shoe, above the little toe bumper that wraps up from the outsole.

This is where it needs to be.

They would obviously be much more secure if I wrapped them further up and over the toe, as in the image from the manufacturer:


Seems legit, right?

Here's the problem with that: I got horrible frostbite in my left big toe (plus a touch on the second toe) at the Oracle Trail race back in February 2016 because I spent half an hour with the strap of my left spikes sitting on top of said toes. It compressed my sock, meaning I had no insulating air space to keep those toes from freezing. I still have major problems with that big toe going numb in cold weather - it had done so this very morning, and took almost to the first aid station at 5k to thaw out again - so you'll have to excuse me if I'm a bit particular about strap placement.

However, I was also getting tired and even clumsier than usual, so I wasn't always lifting my feet as much as I should to clear roots, rocks and other objects along the trail. Any time I'd catch a toe - and sometimes even when I didn't - I'd look down and discover the strap was out of place. It would either roll down - which would quickly lead to the spikes coming right off - or it would roll up onto the top of my shoe and put pressure on my toes that could lead to further frostbite.

I had to stop a lot to fix them, particularly on the very technical sections. 


I was much less happy about that than I look here.

The strap placement I'm forced to use does have one issue, though: it puts a bit of pressure on the front of my shoe at the ends of my toes. It's usually not a big deal, but because I hadn't properly rinsed out my shoes after Horror Hill they were quite stiff when I went to put them on before the Beav. As a result, I didn't get my right shoe tied as tightly as I should have - a fact which didn't become apparent until they warmed and loosened up a few kilometres into the course. So, my shoe would let my foot slide forward & backward a bit on the ups and downs of the trail, and my right middle toe - which is slightly longer than my big toe - was taking quite a beating. On its own it wouldn't have been too big a deal, but it was just one more thing added to an ever-growing list entitled Bits Of Me That Hurt.

The course was also even muddier in the singletrack sections than it had been the last time I was through - the sun had melted the snow and the passage of feet had churned the trail into a slippery mess. I was sliding even just walking, with traction devices on no less! I just tried to be careful and keep myself upright; I didn't want to fall and give my skull another crack, or damage any of my other bits for that matter.

I kept the nutrition coming with an Endurance Tap gel packet and an S!cap around 4h25m, just past the first aid station where I had to stop to get my bottle filled again. Digesting a turkey wrap takes a lot of water, and I didn't want to have GI problems! Life can't be all business, though, so I also munched one of my chocolate oat cookies on the way to the Russell's Roost aid station around 4h45m. I did get my soft bottle filled this time, so headed out for the 9k Britton/Robertson Tract section with over a litre of water instead of just 600ml.

Despite having to adjust my spikes every few minutes - not to mention wrestling the left one back on after it fell off AGAIN in the Britton Tract loop - I was actually pretty successful at moving more quickly and consistently through the second lap than the first. I wasn't able to run as fast due to sheer fatigue and soreness - my injury-riddled season and much lower-than-usual training mileage still means I get worn the hell out pretty quickly - but I was able to push myself to run where the terrain permitted.


There's definitely more green than there is red here.

I even managed to pass a few people who'd been well ahead of me as I photographed my way through the first 25k. I caught the legendary Hans M. as we headed into the Britton Tract north section (then had to pass him again after I blew my spike and put it back on), then I found myself coming up behind Ron G. on the beautiful Pines mountain bike trail. I was perfectly happy to hang in behind him on the singletrack, taking the opportunity to fill my hand bottle from the soft bottle in my vest pocket as I walked up a small rise. Of course I managed to soak my mitten in the process, and seriously feared what might happen to my right hand as I carried my heat-sucking bottle with a wet mitt. No choice but to keep pressing on; as soon as we returned to the doubletrack, I wished Ron well and ran for all I was worth to try to keep myself warm.

I'd also downed an "espresso love" caffeinated Gu gel packet, an S!cap and another slice of bacon around 5h30, which allowed me to turn up the heat a bit. I always save the caffeine for the last quarter of a long race, and I believe its lift was what allowed me to push hard for the final 10-11km of the race.

Love me some rocket fuel!
Photo by Sue Sitki

I downed another chocolate oat cookie around 6hrs to keep my energy up - they're only 45cal apiece, so not too heavy on the stomach, and I was able to eat it while walking through the technical section on the way to the 8k/17k aid station. I got my hand bottle filled there, and thanked everyone profusely for coming and staying out to support us in the freezing cold. I managed to pass a couple of ladies who'd been ahead of me coming into the aid station, but who stayed there longer than I did to hydrate and snack.

Ticking off the kilometers as quickly as I was able with my loudly protesting hips, hamstrings, neck and right shoulder (I have no idea why it's been so whiny the last few races; it's not like carrying a handheld bottle is anything new), I ran as much as I could down the Beaver Dam Trail loop and then carefully made my way through the long singletrack section. I had managed to pass a fellow on some of the runnable portions, but he passed me back as I had to stop frustratingly often to adjust my spike toe straps. I popped one last S!cap (5 total) at 6h30m, then had a vanilla bean Gu for another hit of caffeine and sugar just before I reached the final aid station around 6h45m.


Full workout data is available here

I thrashed myself on the wide-open, groomed trails through Hilton Falls after leaving the aid station. I wasn't able to run it all, as my legs simply would not carry me at more than a walk up anything steeper than a false flat, but I worked very hard with the idea that I might be able to bring this in under 7.5hrs. I also managed to pass the fellow again with whom I'd been playing airborne caterpillar, and hoped to keep him in behind me for good this time. 

I thought about deploying my pole - which I'd carried with me for the entire race - to help me through the muddy, slippery section near the finish. I decided against it, though, as I figured I'd wait to see if I actually needed it. I pounded down the grassy hill in between the sections of singletrack, then dove into the steeply down-sloped bit of Bruce Side Trail toward the section that had been so treacherous earlier. As I reached it I felt my left foot slip sideways - I'd blown the damn spike again! I had to turn around and backtrack up the hill I'd just come down, expecting at any moment that my pursuer would pass me again.

I finally found the damn thing just a few feet from the entrance to the side trail, and just picked it up and ran with it - I didn't care if the sole tore right off my shoe at this point and I finished barefoot! I just wanted to be done.

Up and over the stile with every inch of my body protesting, I picked my way down under the shadow of the escarpment and ran across the bridge to the final trail section. I had to walk a bit of uphill - almost able to see the big inflatable arch - but did manage to whip myself back into a run as I approached the field and the finish line at last.


SO READY TO BE DONE

Official time: 7:23:24 @ 8:52/km
11/11 W20-39 - 22/25 Women - 64/71 O/A


My split times are actually pretty close

I got my hug and my awesome medal from Race Coordinator Heather, and finally got to just...STOP.



I'm not sure I've ever been so happy to finish a race.


The medals are ceramic and bear the cute beaver race logo
Photo by Sue Sitki

 Amusingly enough, despite a much more difficult day and course (not to mention the accumulated fatigue I came in with), I was less than one minute slower than my time at Sticks n'Stones five weeks prior. I also managed to vault myself into 6th place in the OUTRace Ultra Cup standings in the women's under 40 age group!

I know I won't stay there because there's a race left in the series, but I still say that's not too shabby for a cripple!


I'm pleased with how the day went overall: I had no GI issues, managed to take in around 1,400cal (so still less than 200cal/hr, but better than I've done in most races lately), and my ankles and hamstrings held up for as long as I needed them to. I was in very poor condition after the race, though; it was made even worse by my footing giving way as I tried to climb the berm that separated the finish area from the parking lot, dropping me into a deep lunge that had my right hamstring positively screaming! Dion was sweet enough to help me up, having returned from the 8k/17k aid station to help Jeff and Heather tear down. I feel awful that I couldn't stay to lend a hand with packing up the race site as well, but even after changing quickly into dry clothes I was still freezing in the bitterly cold, gusting wind. It was strong enough as the sun was setting that it was actually lifting the pavilion tent in which the start/finish aid station was set up!

I am, however, rather pleased that I didn't give up despite a tough day. At least 9 people with 300 series bib numbers (indicating they registered for the 50k) show up in the 25k results, and while there were 71 finishers in the 50k the timing company shows 92 entries for that distance. I did something that many other people could or would not do on a frosty day, and feel like I earned my awesome Beav hoodie.

The race kit also included an Endurance Tap gel packet and a little bag of jelly beans!

A nearly 7.5hr 50k might not be anything to brag about - I only finished ahead of 7 people total, 4 of whom I passed in the last quarter of the race - but it certainly felt like a decent accomplishment to mark 10 years since the day I became a runner.


And my sweetheart was there through it all, helping me and everyone else on course. Photo by David V.


Realistically, I probably could have come in the best part of an hour sooner had I not bothered to take over 100 photographs on course, and if I hadn't had the constant issues with my spikes. The way I was able to motor through the groomed sections right up to the end tell me I had plenty left in the tank, despite all the Bits Of Me That Hurt - in a perfect stroke of irony, I seem to have finally raced myself into shape just in time for my race season to end. I know I need a good break, though; I was in quite dire condition after finishing, and was just barely able to hobble down to the local cenotaph the next morning for Remembrance Day services. Since the race all I've done is walk - I'm taking at least a full week off running, maybe hitting the pool for the first time in months, and going to head to the climbing gym for the first time in ages. I finally had some inklings of being able to get back to training the way I want to before Horror Hill, and I don't want to risk jumping back into running too quickly after all I've asked of my body in the last five weeks. Incidentally, this race put me over 1,000km run in the 9 months since the catastrophic ankle injury that had such an enormous impact on my year. It's time to say "that'll do, pig" for a bit.

I'd definitely recommend this race to anyone who enjoys a good challenge. The course is an amazing mix of technical trail and fast, runnable terrain, and the scenery is simply stunning. With the generous mix of trail tape, directional arrows, flags, caution signs and marshals, it would be difficult to get lost even for a lemming like me, and the Happy Trails Racing events all have such a wonderfully warm and supportive vibe that you're sure to have a great time no matter what your speed or skill level.


So now it's time for me to rest and regenerate with the aim of making my 11th year a little less painful and frustrating - there are so many more adventures to be had!


Hopefully with more waterfalls, and fewer disintegrating shoes!