Friday, September 23, 2016

Ontario Women's Triathlon - Saturday, September 10th, 2016

Yes, it's been almost two weeks since the race. You're getting a report anyway. I promise I had a good reason for not writing it last week, but that's a story for another day.

Maybe it's something about the venue, or that particular weekend. I can only be certain of one thing: it has pissed rain 100% of the times I have tried to race at Georgina out of De La Salle Park. At least this year it was much warmer - 19c/66f instead of 10c/50f.

I was up absurdly early despite the very reasonable race start time of 10am, because I had to get my breakfast (rice porridge with almond butter and honey) ready and then drive an hour and forty-five minutes through the rain to get up to Jackson's Point. Ok, well Tanker the Wonder Sherpa actually drove - I merely kept pointing out how ridiculous it was to drive three and a half hours round-trip for a race I expected to complete in under 80mins.

My other skills include taking terrible photos from a moving car.

I'd taken my time trial bike out for a single ride in 2016, the Thursday before the race - less than 5km of spinning up and down through both rings and all cogs around my neighborhood, just to confirm that everything was good to go after it sat in my livingroom untouched for almost an entire year. My trusty steed performed flawlessly despite being completely neglected since racing at Georgina last September.

Seen here just after bike check in, being led by an overladen idiot.

We arrived at the race site after a Tim Hortons stop and sucking back my well-it's-better-than-nothing coffee in plenty of time for me to pick up my kit and get my transition area set up. After a lovely chat with honorary Race Director Paolina Allen (an awesome lady and thoroughly badass athlete), I meandered to my designated rack with little hope of getting a good spot, but lucked out when the person who'd racked at the end closest to the swim in/run out decided to move their stuff. Score!

Noone is amused by my dorky antics.
I don't blame them.

Bike racked. Shoes and hat laid out. Sport drink poured into nerdy aero bike bottle. Spermy helmet arranged with straps out on aerobars, with sunglasses (bows already open) inside, and race number attached to belt laid on top with clip undone. I even clicked my rear derailleur up to a slightly bigger cog and spun the pedals so the left-hand one was at around the 10 o'clock position, for that extra little edge when mounting. With less than 450km of total cycling in for the year I needed every bit of free speed I could get - I still had no idea why I'd actually bothered tapering for this race, except that it was my only multisport event of 2016 and I don't have anything else on the calendar until the end of October.


Nonetheless, it all just felt so dorky. I missed the simplicity of just throwing on a pair of shoes and having done with it. Gawd, I even needed Tanker the Wonder Sherpa to zip up the back of my spandex onesie (because let's face it: that's what a tri suit really is) after one last stop at the portajohns to lube up all sorts of unmentionable bits of me and try to get the last of the horror out of me.

I may have neglected to mention that I felt like absolute garbage. It had started Friday night and continued all the way up to Georgina that morning - I don't know if I angried up one of my stupid food allergies, if I'd ended up with food poisoning, or if I was just lucky enough to come down with a stomach bug, but I was having horrible cramping and some other really unpleasant effects. I really hoped this wouldn't be a repeat of my awful experience at Muskoka Long Course back in 2010, because I don't think I'm capable of coming up with that many euphemisms for "trying not to crap myself" again. I mourn the loss of that race report, but never, EVER want to repeat its overarching theme.

Think happy thoughts.

After my usual run warmup, I whipped out my stool to stuff myself into my rubbery sausage casing (seriously, the dorkiness just never ends) while the pre-race announcements went on, and then wandered down to the beach to get the suit (also untouched since September of last year) wet and take a few strokes.

Error: enthusiasm not found.

I swam out to the orange buoy you can see on the left, discovered I could just barely reach the bottom there on tiptoe and keep my face above water as I re-adjusted my wetsuit, then swam back with just a couple of minutes before the first wave started at 10am. Three minutes later, the horn sounded and everyone around me started madly dashing into the knee-deep water while I moseyed in like I had nowhere in particular to be.

These ladies are so excitable..

I dolphin dived a lot - 4 or 5 times - then swam for about 20 metres or less. Reaching the sandbar, my hands were touching bottom even with high elbows, so I stood up and started dolphin diving again. I passed quite a few people this way, then dove in again between two pairs of feet and started working my way to the first turn buoy. Fortunately my stomach seemed to have settled down a bit, so I could actually focus on my terrible swimming.

One of these things is not like the others.

Surprisingly enough, I actually had one of the best swims I've pulled off in the last couple of years. My sighting - despite wearing smoked, metallized goggles in the dreary half light - went perfectly, and for once I actually swam in a straight bloody line. There was a bit of crowding up to the first turn buoy, but no real contact, and I found some clear water as I made my turn. I even had some decent endurance, swimming a consistent freestyle throughout despite not having swum a straight 500m that I can recall in the entirety of 2016. I passed people as they started to lose steam ahead of me, and my Garmin says I completed the 500m course in 9:50, so under 2mins per 100m. That qualifies as pretty good for me.

500m swim: 11:22 @ 2:16/100m (includes long run-up to T1)
11/30 in W35-39 - 40/184 O/A

A good swim, but I still didn't enjoy it. One of the things I realised all the way back in April is that I don't particularly like triathlon swims. There's only been one in my entire 8 seasons as a multisport athlete that I actually found pleasant, and that was at least 5 years ago. They're generally just something to get through, and this was no exception - a stark contrast to the opening miles of a trail race or ultra, which are generally an energetic and deliriously happy exploration of some beautiful bit of trail.

Does this look like someone happy with their choices in life?

In any case, it was over and now it was time to tackle the absurdly long run up to transition. It was kind of neat because we went through a pedestrian tunnel under the road, but kind of sucked because there was a lot of gravel under my bare feet, a hill to climb on the other side of the tunnel, and then we had to run right around the whole damn transition area to the corner diametrically opposite our approach in order to come in through the run out arch.

Plenty of time to pull off my goggles, cap and suit once I got to the other side.

Discarding all of my swim paraphernalia, donning my race number belt, sunglasses (just as the rain got harder), cycling shoes, and dorky helmet, I grabbed my bike and started heading for the mount line. I even managed to push the button on my Garmin to tell it I was heading out on the bike now (it was the first time I'd ever used multisport mode), and start my cycle computer. Jeez, it's like I finally figured all this crap out just in time for possibly my last tri ever!

T1: 01:27

I had no problems clipping in my left foot after swinging my leg over the bike, but as I stepped on the pedal to get going (and said "excuse me, sir" to a fellow who walked across the course directly in front of me as I did so), something went crunch. I struggled to get moving and to clip in my right foot, standing on the pedals for leverage. What the hell?

Waving to Tanker and Paolina, who were sweetly cheering for me as I set off!

Within moments it became clear that my rear derailleur was in trouble, and the shifter wouldn't stay in place - the moment I released it, it would drop into the smallest (most difficult) cog. Erhm, ok - I had something similar happen in the first few minutes at Lakeside a couple of years ago, but it resolved itself. I dropped into the small chainring up front and did some experimenting with the rear bar end shifter, but it obstinately refused to stay in place unless I held it.

So, I rode in the sub-optimal combination of small chainring and smallest cog for most of the way along Lake Drive, passing a heap of people as I went - to their credit, though, I was on my awesome aerodynamic time trial bike with aerohelmet and all, and passing lots of hybrid and mountain bikes. I had to give my undertrained legs a break a few times when the mostly-flat course rose slightly and definitely had a few pucker moments as the rear wheel would bounce around a bit on the very wet road after I hit a bump, but I managed to stay down in aero and keep cranking away at a respectable pace. A few ladies did pass me (most of whom did not bother to give any indication they intended to do so, which was worrisome as I was dodging slick manhole covers and potholes), but they mostly looked like pretty serious athletes. I was just happy to be rolling along fairly smoothly with my lack of training and cantankerous rear derailleur, sipping sport drink from my aerobottle - the only nutrition or hydration I'd take in through this short course race.

Don't mind me - just passing through.

The turn onto Metro Road to head back toward the race site around 8km in brought smoother pavement, but also a false-flat uphill into the wind (which was thankfully much lighter than last year). I spent a lot of time holding my shifter up in an easier cog, but when I'd hit a bump I'd have no idea what gear I'd be in when I landed. My shoulders and upper arms whined about being in aero for only the second time in the last 12 months, and my legs whinged about their lack of cycling fitness. The weather continued to cry for me, but I managed to arrive back at the dismount upright and with enough panache to do my old moving dismount.

Swing the leg over and try not to fall on your face.

15km bike: 31:36 @ 28.48kph
8/30 in W35-39 - 39/184 O/A

Of course, my bike almost immediately tried to fall over as I began to run, but I just barely managed to save it from going down and taking me with it. Off to transition again, while yelling to Tanker that my rear derailleur was distinctly uncooperative throughout my ride.


I did, however, remember to take my helmet off as I passed through transition, so all was not completely lost. I was also pretty stoked to see there was only one other bike at my rack when I arrived - it seems I'd put in a decent showing after all! A quick shoe change, ditch the sunglasses, get moving while I throw my hat on my head, and out the arch to finish this thing off with the one part for which I should be reasonably qualified.

T2: 01:05

Of course, run fitness in a triathlon is partly an effect of bike fitness, which I was sorely lacking. I started to death whistle almost immediately in the soggy air, and never really stopped. I kept pushing, though, and passed quite a few more people along the way. The rain picked up again as I ran the very mild uphill to the turn-around, and I had to keep fussing with my race number belt as I trotted along - it seems at some point in the last year the elastic had begun to lose its snappiness, so it sagged quite alarmingly with all the bouncing of my stride.

Even my fat butt wasn't quite enough to keep it up!

Nevertheless, I managed to surprise myself by running faster than I have in at least two years - just a few seconds slower than my stand-alone 5k PR pace, despite tired legs from the bike and overall lack of multisport fitness. I had expected to chug along like the diesel I am after all the long, slow ultra racing I'd done this year, but in far less time than I had anticipated I was making the turn off of scenic Lake Drive into the chute to the finish!

Gotta get the ill advised racing gang sign in there, of course.

4km run: 21:08 @ 5:17/km
7/30 in W35-39 - 30/184 O/A

I got my greatly unexpected finisher's medal (not accustomed to those in multisport events this short!) from Paolina, and reflected that the whole thing had actually been a fairly fun time after all. Ooh, and my belly behaved itself, too!


Official time: 1:06:37
7/30 in W35-39 - 30/184 O/A

(Garmin data here)

While I did enjoy the race overall, and had more fun than expected doing my first women-only event, I do believe this might be the end of multisport racing for me. I have some serious goals for 2017 that are all in the ultrarunning realm, which may preclude any involvement in tri next year. It has nothing to do with the Ontario Women's Triathlon, which is a truly excellent race experience - Paolina Allen and MultiSport Canada put on a very high quality event that is accessible and welcoming to the newcomer while still holding the allure of a flat, fast course for more experienced athletes to go chasing PRs. The bike routing along Lake Drive gives beautiful views of Lake Simcoe - better scenery than the average tri, but still just not quite as alluring to me as a wandering singletrack trail through a forest..

Anyone want to buy a used wetsuit?

Friday, September 9, 2016

A Tale of Two Runs - Lessons in Heat Management Strategies

Despite being away from home and indulging in some harmless shenanigans with friends last weekend, I still got out for a couple of runs while we were down in the wild blue yonder of Southeastern Michigan. The weather all weekend was fairly stable, and delightful for riding motorcycles: sunny days warm enough to go jacketless even at high speeds.

Good times!

Of course, that meant it would be awfully warm for running. Both times I went out were in similar conditions: near-flat routes, virtually cloudless skies, bright sunshine and temperatures around 24c/75f with fairly low humidity. The results of those two runs were very different, though, and I'd like to examine why.

On Saturday, I departed around 4:15pm for a 12.5km trot just after returning from a group ride that had spanned several hours. My view was rather uninspiring, as the rural areas Southeast of Detroit tend to be.

If you like miles of farm fields and crap pavement, though, have I got a destination for you!

I ran up to Nike Park as one of the only green spaces within reasonable range of the rally's location, and I suffered. The sun was beating me down and the heat was unbearable. I actually had to stop a couple of times just to catch my breath and drink deeply from the water bottles I was carrying. 

Yep, that's about it.

The run wasn't long enough to require any nutrition, so plain water was my only fuel along the way. I got to see one of the funniest signs I've ever encountered:

At Nike Park, by the remote-controlled aircraft flying field

Spotted something that I swore looked like a wooden sculpture of a dragon with a bazooka:

It turns out it's just a lopped off tree, but still..

And I sweated.

We went out for an awesome dinner (Ruby Tuesday FTW!), engaged in some revelry around the fire, and eventually tumbled into bed. On Sunday, we headed out for breakfast, then jammed over to Cabelas where I was able to pick up a tube of electrolyte tablets - I'd neglected to bring any with me, hence using plain water the day before in my bottles. When we got back to the rally site, I did a bit of work on a friend's motorcycle (glad your clutch feels better!) and hung around for awhile before heading out around 6pm for another 9km.

Let's just say I wasn't bored in the meantime.
That run was an entirely different experience, and I want to run down the reasons why so you can learn from my mistakes.

1) Hydration Beforehand

On Saturday, we'd just got back from a ride and I was pressed for time to get the mileage I wanted in before we needed to leave for dinner. I can't drink water while I'm in the saddle, so I ended up leaving for the run dehydrated. It doesn't matter what the weather is like, how long you're running or really any other factors - starting out that way will make for a miserable run. On Sunday I was able to slurp down at least 2L of water in the 2-3hrs before I went out, greatly mitigating the effects of the hot weather.

Though I may have spent some of Sunday night dehydrating myself again..

2) Time of Day

The difference between running between 4:15-5:30pm and running from 6-7pm in early September is the difference between running at the hottest part of the day and taking advantage of a reduction in the sun's intensity and thermal inertia with the onset of evening. While the sun angle is obviously at its highest at mid-day, heat continues to accumulate - it's absorbed and held by the pavement until the sun angle is low enough (as in early evening) that it begins to disperse. I knew I couldn't wait until sunset to head out because there are no streetlights where I was running and I brought a headlamp that isn't up to the task of nighttime running, but I could at least wait until the shadows got longer and the heat began to dissipate.

Not as intolerable.
It's not always possible to dictate the time when you'll be out running (especially if it's a race), but unless you're specifically trying to acclimatize to hot, sunny conditions and you have the option to run in the early morning or late evening, it will make for a far more pleasant experience. If you're doing a workout that requires high intensity intervals (track work or tempo runs), you will likely find it much easier to hit your target paces if you avoid running mid-day.

3) Route Selection

I was also able to choose a better route on Sunday - one that led me through more tree-lined roads around Stony Creek, rather than the wide-open expanses.

Sweet, blissful shade!

The effect of solar radiation on endurance is not to be dismissed. A recent study (April 2016 - Otani / Kaya / Tamaki / Watson / Maughan) showed that the difference in time to exhaustion among a group of cyclists performing trials at 70% of VO2max was reduced by almost 50% on a simluated hot day with intense sun (800 W/m(2) @ 30c/86f ) when compared to a hot day with no solar radiation (0 W/m(2) @ 30c/86f) or a hot, overcast day (250 W/m(2) @ 30c/86f). The sun really does have a sledgehammer, so find yourself a shady place to run if you can!

4) Electrolytes

Remember when I said I was able to pick up some electrolyte tabs on Sunday before I went out running again? I used one in the bottle I carried with me that evening, and was thus better able to keep hydrating myself throughout the run. Sodium in particular facilitates fluid uptake and retention, as well as preserving blood volume and preventing dilution of bodily fluids. Thus, I will usually add some (even just a bit of table salt if you're in a bind, or simply stingy) to my water when running in hot weather even when I won't be out long enough to take in calories. I generally use S!caps for longer runs in hot conditions, but didn't want to risk a sticky situation at the border trying to cross with a bunch of caplets filled with white powder, and forgot to bring a tube of the dissolving tabs with me.

Yes, I'm dumb. Here's a pretty view of Stony Creek.

5) Cooling Technology

Having heard that it was going to be warmer on Sunday than it was Saturday, I saved an additional arrow in my heat management quiver for Sunday's run: a shirt with cooling technology. While several companies have come out with fabrics that are supposed to provide sweat-activated cooling, the specific one I used was part of Columbia's Omni-Freeze Zero line - same as the tubular piece I used to good effect at Iroquoia Trail Test last month.

It's also a bright colour, which should help reflect some solar radiation.

While previous runs in this shirt have proven that (at least for me) "sweat-activated cooling" is not the case, I have found that the fabric does have some effect when soaked in water. Thus, I gave my shirt a rinse under the faucet just before I was about to leave so it would stay wet for the maximum amount of time while I ran. You could get a similar evaporative effect from any shirt, though the Omni-Freeze Zero technology does seem to amplify it somewhat. Despite most of the shirt having dried out by the time I finished, the areas where I was sweating remained wet and provided some welcome relief from the heat.

While Stony Creek provided relief from fields of corn and soybeans.

Sunday's run was much stronger and more enjoyable because I correctly applied heat management strategies that I had - whether through pressures of time or pure idiocy - severely neglected the day before. I hope you'll consider the five-fold approach laid out here the next time you're staring down the barrel of a run on a hot, mercilessly sunny day. Stay cool, my friends!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Change of pace

I came to a realization recently: starting with the Conquer the Canuck 50k on June 11th, through the 72km I did at the Dirty Girls 12-hour on July 23rd, and ending with the Iroquoia Trail Test 34k on August 20th, I raced a total of 156km in 10 weeks. That represents twenty-three and a half hours spent ambling around various courses, all in ridiculous heat and relentless sun.

In between those, I ran another 309km in training, and I've run another 58km since Iroquoia. There's also been a bit of swimming and cycling sprinkled throughout that, plus a good chunk of walking and hiking. I even climbed a freakin' mountain in there.

As much as I enjoy the endurance dork life, I'm a tired girl. I've never done more than four 3-plus-hour running races in a year before, and Iroquoia makes five since February in 2016.  Things ache, and kicking my butt out the door to train this week has been particularly tough.

It's time for a break, and I'm taking one.

I'm trading my spandex militia uniform in for my leathers, and hopping on my motorcycle as soon as I get home from work to ride off to a different country. This weekend will be spent marauding around on my (gas-powered) bike and carousing with friends-who-are-family at the annual Great Lakes Rally in Michigan.

I love running through the woods, and was delighted last weekend to discover a new close-to-home place with challenging trails and stunning forest.

Dryden Tract is amazing

This ravine runs throughout the area

Buttery flow along the Grand Valley Trail - some of its 275km path runs through the tract 

And some rather more technical singletrack to keep you on your toes.

This weekend, though, I think I need some fun of a different sort.


Bah, who are we kidding? There are two sets of running kit packed in my saddlebags, and I've already got some routes mapped out.

There's just no help for some people.

I'm not running tonight, though. It's my day off.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Iroquoia Trail Test 34k Trail Run - Saturday, August 20th, 2016

Can you call it a race if you're not really racing?

I knew as soon as I signed up for the Dirty Girls 12-hour that Iroquoia Trail Test had been demoted to a "just for fun" race. That worked out well, since I'd also heard it was the most technical trail race in Ontario, and I am far too clumsy to have any time-related expectations on anything more technical than groomed rail trail.

Considering I can trip over my own feet with no outside assistance

In any case, I just wanted a nice day out in the woods. Woke up before 5, tried making some actual oatmeal (instead of the rice porridge I usually have, which is apparently now hard to find) with almond butter, sea salt & maple syrup for breakfast, then got on the road with Tanker the Wonder Sherpa just before 6am. The usual Tim Hortons stop for caffeination, then down to Crawford Lake Conservation Area just after race kit pickup began at 6:30am.

Coming today: lots of sweaty people!

It had rained overnight, leaving the cloudy morning air totally saturated with moisture. While the actual temperature was quite mild, the humidex was already through the roof.


I got my race kit, chatted with some friends, got my straw from the inimitable Ron Gehl, and did all the pre-race things like lubing up the chafe-y bits and swinging my limbs around with reckless abandon while listening to some awesome pre-race tunes (Operation Ivy and Forgotten Rebels FTW!). I asked volunteers if I'd be able to use trekking poles, since I have a vested interest in staying upright and the course had been described as "nice and greasy" - noone knew for sure until I finally found the race director, who told me the trail would be too narrow and just to be careful. He clearly doesn't know me at all.

Who would want to?

We got Tanker the Wonder Sherpa settled in near the start/finish line with my cooler bag full of crap, got a kiss from him, then lined up toward the back of the 34k pack just before the horn sounded to send us on our way.

I'm way at the back, behind all the skinny, competent-looking people.

The course begins on the wide, grassy doubletrack of the snowshoe trail with a couple of little hummocks in it, then veers off to the right onto some still wide and grassy singletrack before plunging you into the woods. The rocks start cropping up almost immediately, but are sporadic enough that you can easily pick your way through and keep running, even in the conga line that is a trail race start.

No problemo.

The forest was incredible in the early morning. The air was so thick with moisture I was soaked and my braids were dripping from their tips within the first 10 minutes - I've never been that wet unless it was actively raining. The air temperature in the shade of the trees remained mild so far, but the sun slanted down through the canopy in stunningly beautiful beams through the misty air.

Stolen from Patty since I didn't have my camera.

Trucking right along, you come to a nicely groomed and mildly undulating rail trail-like section near Crawford Lake itself (a meromitic lake - deeper than it is wide - with little to no mixing between the distinct layers of water that support different ecosystems depending on their temperature, and very little oxygen at its lower levels).

Now this I can run.

Almost as beautiful as the forest itself were the wood carvings down by the lake, about half of which we passed on the course (the rest being on the other side of the Crawford Lake Trail, from which we diverted to continue along a section of Bruce Trail side trail). They depicted various flora and fauna indigenous to the area.

Turtles and toadstools

Big, beautiful snake and a bench to take a rest

Turning away from the lake, it was through a bit of meadow with hip-high grass, then back into the rooty, rocky trail again. I'd managed to run most of the first 3 kilometers or so (which included an aid station - nice to see plenty of water on course on a hot day!), trotting along and chatting with Jason, whom I'd met at Conquer the Canuck back in June. As we began to skirt around the edge of the Niagara Escarpment on the edge of the Nassagaweya Canyon, though, I was forced to walk more and more as the wet, slippery, mossy rocks began to dominate the trail's surface. There's one point where a slab of rock runs right across the narrow, side-sloped trail that drops away precipitously to the right hand side. Said rock was as slippery as the rest of them in the soggy morning air, and too wide to step over or around. There was a tiny, pitted toe-hold chipped out of it in almost the dead centre, and you're damn right I used that to my advantage on every single loop.

Carefully now..

Making it past the most perilous portion of the course by walking for minutes on end, I came to the second aid station around 4.6km in and refilled my hand bottle. I'd already started with some nutrition and electrolytes - an S!cap at 30mins with a swig off a flask of diluted EFS Liquid Shot (result of me rinsing out the last of a refill jug). While it felt early to be eating and taking in salt, I was concerned that my breakfast had been a bit lighter than usual - I didn't want to overdo it with the oats until I knew how they sat - and knowing that my EFS was diluted about 3:1 with water I felt like some calories might help. I'd had nothing but water since my coffee (with cashew milk and some Rolo syrup) since 6:30am, and was actually a bit hungry, so figured I'd keep up with dilute gel every 30mins until it was gone.

If there's a bird in your hand in the bush, is it worth 3?

After another bit of grassy doubletrack where the sun was already starting to beat us down, there's a big, sketchy downhill section that took us through some muddy puddles with flat, slippery rocks in them, and it was here that I encountered some people going the other way. They were wearing bibs with 200-series numbers on them, though, so it seemed they were 18k runners (34k runners' bibs were numbered in the 300s, whereas the 7k runners had numbers 0-199). I assumed the 7k loop went the other way, then they continued on to the 11k loop. I'd looked over the map of the 34k course a couple of times (not nearly enough to remember it if push came to shove), but hadn't looked at any other distances.

There's a huge PDF of this map available here.

After the loose, gravel & stone-strewn, muddy descent, the trail opened up a bit into a gentle decline on very mildly rooty dirt singletrack. This was probably the most runnable section of the entire course, and I put in some time here before coming to the final aid station around 7km in. I still had a fair bit of water, so didn't bother filling here, despite being warned by a volunteer that we were approaching the biggest climb on the course. Around a corner, then along a bit more runnable trail, and suddenly the start of the hill hove into view.

Random trail section - nothing to do with the hill.

You can't see the whole thing from any point on it, as it winds its way through the woods for over a kilometer and a quarter. There are a couple of very short flatter sections on the way up, but they really only serve to give you false hope that you've finally reached the top. The trail varies from not-too-rooty dirt singletrack to a very deeply washed-out section that had large chunks of tree laying in it from the overnight rain - that would have been awfully dangerous if the predicted thunderstorms had happened during the race, as all that forest debris would be heading straight for you!

Eventually reaching the top, there is some more runnable trail (though there are quite a few roots, so it's a bit of an agility course), and then another descent down to a most welcome sight: wooden boardwalks through a marshy area around Limestone Creek. The springiness of the boards is lovely at any time, but by the third loop it was positively heavenly! It was also a good spot to take in nutrition as you didn't have to watch your step for the most part, though the boardwalk was in sections at different levels so you'd have to mind the ends, either stepping down or up to the height of the next piece.

Or flying, if you're so biologically gifted.

Another steep half-kilometer uphill slog back up the same sketchy hill and into the mud puddles you descended through earlier, then past the place you turned onto the descent and up something that can only be described as a goat path lined with little black-eyed susans (during which climb I ran out of water taking another S!cap - d'oh!). You finally emerge back on the grassy doubletrack that leads you to the start/finish. This part is a bit infuriating, though, as you expect it will be the same route as you took on the way out. For the very last part this is true, and you'll see two-way traffic. However, the way to the finish includes no less than 4 extra turns! At each one, you believe the finish line is just around the corner...only to discover more trail. Such a tease!


I finally made it through the first lap in 1:32:23 and got my bottle filled at the aid station beside where Tanker had parked himself and scarfed back a small slice of heavenly watermelon. I hung out for a minute while Jason got whatever he needed done, stuffed another gel flask with some watered-down sea salt chocolate Gu Roctane gel (having learned at Dirty Girls that it's too thick to suck from a flask straight) in my pocket, grabbed a half a dozen deliciously salty giant corn nuts to munch on, and then we were finally on our way down the hill and back onto the snowshoe trail. I completely failed to pick up the camera, which had been my intention - just plum forgot.

The photos you see are from much later in the afternoon.

I played airborne caterpillar with Jason and another fellow (who was a self-proclaimed senior citizen, which tells you something about my pace) through the second lap, sometimes running with one or both of them for quite awhile but still spending some time on my own. I also managed to tweak my left ankle a couple of times, at least once badly enough that I had to do my usual "am I ok?" self-check, then just keep running anyway. It's always worked in the past! My hamstrings were getting grouchy with all of the steep climbs I was hiking, but overall I felt ok and the trail remained engagingly beautiful, though the lady I spotted very carefully picking her way through one of the most technical sections in a pair of road running shoes may have had a different term for it - she looked petrified. I will definitely say it was impossible to get bored out there!

Jaw-dropping scenery

It was getting hotter out, so I soaked the cooling tubular thing I had on my wrist (which I was trying out today to see if it would help in the high heat and humidity) with a cup of water from the first aid station. I'll do a review of this bit of kit later on once I've had a chance to use it some more, but it sucked the water right up and felt rather heavy on my wrist. It did, however, get quite chilly as well - I'd give it a quick squeeze with my other palm once in awhile to get a bit of cooling, though its position on my wrist with my hand bottle made it impossible to wipe my face with it due to the brim of my hat getting in the way. I noticed my hands swelling so popped another S!cap at 2h20m, and kept up with the dilute EFS Liquid Shot about every 40mins until it was gone at 2h30m. No GI issues, though I did have a bit of gas - sorry to all those I cropdusted on the trail! I promise I've tracked down some more rice porridge and will switch back to that from the oatmeal.

Moving right along. I slammed an Endurance Tap gel and another S!cap at the 3-hour mark with the last sip of water in my bottle. I still had a mile of sun-drenched doubletrack to go to the start/finish, despite having the wonderful volunteers at the last aid station add an extra cupful for me. I'd have to be mindful on the last loop, especially since I was slowing down while the temperature was still going up.

Kill me.

Maybe the heat affected my brain, because I was certainly pretty stupid out there. On my second descent of the big, sketchy hill I saw people with 34k bibs coming up the other way. Um, I know I came this way before and this is the turn the volunteer told me to take - how could I have gone off course? Actually, this is where I figured out that the main downhill and the first part of the final uphill are on the same piece of trail - the mud puddles with their flat rocks were a dead giveaway when I got there. So, that's a course knowledge fail and initial landmark recognition fail for me, since I didn't put it together when I was climbing out on the first loop. Such a lemming!

I'll pass it off as being too busy trying to stay upright

At some point during this loop it also became clear I needed to pee, but by this time there were quite a number of non-racers out on the trail, just doing day hikes through the gorgeous woods (many of whom were using trekking poles - guess noone told them the trail is too narrow for them). Obviously I'd have to wait until I got back to the start/finish and use the portajohns that were set up nearby if I wanted relief.

I crossed the mats again at 3 hours 12mins and 37 seconds, having taken 1:40:14 for my second lap - slower than the first by 07:51, but it did include all the dithering at the start/finish on the first loop and two extra aid station pauses (to soak my cooling tube and get an extra cup of water), so perhaps not quite such catastrophic pace decay as it looks.

Full workout details here.

Of course, I promptly forgot all about needing to use the facilities, instead just heading over to get my bottle filled. There was quite a lineup at the start/finish aid station, so I gave u and grabbed my other hand bottle (providently filled and already with a strap on it) instead. I also ditched the empty EFS flask and took a snack baggie with a fudge creme cookie and a little corn flapjack (made of pan-fried masa harina) I'd made the night before and decided to try as fuel. I also had to take my bib off my skirt - the top two pins had pulled right through so it was barely hanging on, having deteriorated badly in the wet morning. I stuck the bib in my pocket and, with another kiss from Tanker, I was on my way again for the final lap.

Bib issues.

Jason caught up to me on the Snowshoe Trail and asked how I was doing - I left it at "well, I don't think I'll go out for a fourth lap". I was starting to get a bit tired and knew I'd have to pay very careful attention to what I was doing to avoid a slip-up that could result in really serious injury, particularly since the noonday sun was causing some contrast issues in the dappled light of the woods. Fortunately, I managed not to do any more damage to myself, despite probably running a little more (and in some more challenging sections) than in either of the prior two loops. I only caught one toe on a root or rock once, and just gently - there was no interpretive dance required to keep myself from going sprawling, though I saw plenty of that happen around me.

Gee, I can't imagine why..

I spent a lot more time on my own during the last loop, too, only occasionally passing or being passed by someone. It turned out it was more of the former than the latter, too - while I might have been getting tired, I apparently didn't fade in the building heat and blowlamp as much as some others, and put some time in on at least 5 or 6 people. Part of that may have been due to my cooling tube - convinced that it was doing some good, I moved it from my wrist to around my neck during the 3rd lap, and while it would get warm on the back of my neck where there was no air circulation to it I was delighted to discover I could give my face and temples a refreshing wipe periodically with an exposed (and nicely chilled) section.

Though a bench still sounded tempting..

It also may have had to do with increasing my caloric intake during the last loop. I ate my little corn flapjack (~55cals) at 3h40m as I walked through the longest un-runnable (by me, anyway) section, which had improved somewhat as the sun dried out some of the more exposed slippery rocks. I had a shot of my sea salt chocolate Gu Roctane gel at the 4-hour mark, which had the added benefit of some caffeine to sharpen me up a bit, and then ate my delicious fudge creme cookie at 4h20m just because I didn't want to have carried it all that way for no reason. I increased hydration as well, filling my bottle at every aid station to ensure I wouldn't run out. Two more S!caps at 3h45m and 4h30m (the latter mostly to help with recovery) made for 6 total throughout the race, but my swollen hands attested to the fact I probably could have done with more. I never did get that pee, either.

I did, however, eventually make it up that last goat path climb, even managing to pick myself a little black-eyed susan to stick behind my ear. It was abundantly clear I couldn't be fast - might as well look fabulous finishing.

Well, fabulous is a relative term.

Finally, with a few minutes left to go before my "gee I hope I can make it under 5 hours" cutoff, I made it through the maze of turns on the Snowshoe Trail and up the hill to the finish line.

Holding my poor, beat-up race bib as I crossed.

 Official time for 34k: 4:52:32

I'd actually managed my 3rd loop in 1:39:54 - twenty seconds faster than my second, despite additional time at aid stations and accumulated fatigue.

Actually 6/7 F<40 - 15/18 F & 68/85 O/A among finishers

The race directors really thought of everything for this one, having freezies waiting for finishers right at the line (as well as my stylish hand-painted finisher's rock)!


After cheering Jason in across the line, I got some post-race food into me and then Tanker the Wonder Sherpa and I went out for nearly an hour-long hike on the trails (which is where most of the photos in this came from) so he could see a bit of the beauty I'd experienced, though the really challenging parts of the course were too far away for my tired legs to hike, so don't think the pics here are demonstrative of the full nature of the course.

Oh, and just in case you've ever questioned his title of Wonder Sherpa, I submit this photo of Tanker as evidence:

Removing my shoe for me, despite it being the smelliest thing in the world.
Seriously. I ran in those things for 12 hours straight last month!

Love this guy!

Then it was time to hop in the car and go home to cut the heat of the day with a nice, cool beverage.

Huge thanks to all of the volunteers and staff who put on an excellent race. It wasn't one I am well suited for, but I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and the hard work you put in to make a great race experience! The course marking was excellent (even I couldn't get lost), the aid stations were superb, and the amenities were second to none. I wouldn't hesitate to come back to try to pass the test again!