Friday, September 22, 2017

Aye, that's the rub

I got back to running much earlier than I'd have expected following the Haliburton Forest 50 miler - after just 5 days off, I felt ready to go...but since Friday is my carved-in-stone rest day (and date night with Tanker!), I waited until Saturday to hit the trails again.

At gorgeous Christie Lake Conservation Area

I didn't feel super strong - there's still a lot of deep-down fatigue from the race - but I was able to enjoy a little 5-ish kilometer loop around the lake as the fall colours began to appear and the sunlight fell golden on the trees and water.

Seriously. This was an amazingly beautiful place to run.
I highly recommend doing it with friends at the Sticks n'Stones Trail Race next month!

I wonder how much of my early recovery - I'd expected to be out of commission for running for at least 7 or 8 days, if not more - can be attributed to the awesome massage I got on the Monday after, and how much I can consider increased resilience. I did put in a rather large block of racing earlier this year: 206km in 11 weeks between Pick Your Poison, Sulphur Springs and Limberlost, then just 4 weeks after that I ran 40km/more than 6.5hrs at the Haliburton training run and had 5 weeks to recover before the 50 miler itself. The increased recovery rate - or at least the beginnings of it - could even be traced back to the end of last year's racing season, when I raced two 6-hour ultras in a fortnight.

The only other thing that may have helped is that I give myself regular rub-downs with substances that claim they'll help with sore, tired muscles. Just before we left the Haliburton Forest Wildlife Reserve after the race, I stopped in at the office and saw little vials on the counter labelled "Golden Rod Oil". Curious, I asked the girl at the desk what it was; she said it was great to rub on aching muscles, and that the forest's employees had been having excellent luck with it. Considering this was less than a day after I finished running for almost 13 hours, I was sold.

Then I just had to make it down the one, single step off the deck outside the office.
I'd be embarrassed to say how long this took me.

In the days that followed, I'd use the goldenrod oil or my usual go-to of arnica to rub on whatever happened to hurt, and things began to feel better. The market is, of course, replete with creams, gels, oils and other goops that claim they'll set you right as rain if you'll just squirt some on the affected area. I've always wondered, though: is it actually the stuff in the tube/roller vial/tub/pick-your-own-container that is doing your muscles the good, or just the fact you're actually giving them a good rub? Is it really some transference of chemicals through your skin, or possibly just the increased temperature and blood flow from manipulation that loosens things up? Would I feel just as refreshed after working in some moisturizer?

At least it would be good for my skin..

After making the princely investment of $2.50 on the goldenrod oil, I did some searching on teh interwebz to see if there was anything to back up its claim as a liniment. I didn't find much to turn me into a believer - nor is there a lot of science backing up any other muscle goop claims. There are some, but not many.

Maybe someday I'll do an experiment to see if I can figure it out for myself. If you ever see me giving my legs a vigorous rub-down with cooking oil or sunblock after a race, you'll know that curiosity finally got the best of me. In the meantime, I'll keep rubbing in some goldenrod oil, arnica, or whatever other voodoo magic happens to come my way...because a rub-down even with plain old water is still better than nothing at all, and my poor legs need all the help they can get!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Haliburton Forest Trail Run 50 Mile - Saturday, September 9th, 2017

Somewhere in the forest..

I knew this one was going to be tough, but the outright panic didn't set in until the day before as we drove up to the Haliburton Forest Wildlife Reserve on Friday afternoon. We checked in at the Boiler Room a little before 5pm to pick up race kit, then established our base camp in the tent city just before the gate to the forest proper.

It's a bit elaborate, but it's nice to be comfortable.

Tanker had to dodge off to the pre-race dinner as he was volunteering at Aid Station 5 all through the race, so I set about making and eating my usual chicken fried rice and then ended up trying to help Doug Barber and his lovely wife with some electrical issues they were having with their trailer (set up just behind our extravagant campsite) until darkness fell. Tank returned, we went for a short walk to see if we could spot Hershe the moose (nope), then we rolled into bed around 10pm.

I awoke at 2:45am to make myself my pre-race breakfast of a bowl of oatmeal with almond butter, maple syrup and sea salt, then sat and ate while the pack of wolves at the Wolf Centre howled under the incredibly bright moon.

Half awake and half braided.

Still in my mohair sleeping socks 'cause it was only 3c out!

I rolled back into bed from 3:35-4:45am, then got up for realsies and pulled on my running kit. It was predicted to be a perfect day for running: a high of around 16c with dry, sunny conditions all day. I went with my usual racing skirt and hat, a merino wool t-shirt, my wind vest and a buff from the 2015 Xterra Mine Over Matter off-road tri relay that had Canada flags on it, since I knew that two of the aid stations were doing Canada themes.

Also: red Compressport calf panties and my awesome red skully Dirty Girl gaiters.

The wolves started howling again as I threw on my hydration pack full of nutrition, then bundled up in a down jacket to ward off the morning chill while I drank the incredible cup of coffee that Tanker brewed up for me. A portajohn stop, applying liberal amounts of lube all over (including getting some on my jacket, because I just can't have nice things), and then flailing my limbs around a bit took until just before race time.

Hard to warm up when it's so damn cold out!

Knowing I was running short on time, I grabbed my hand bottle and hit the portajohns one last time for a pee before heading over to the start line as the 5 minute warning had been called. A bit of panic - I couldn't find Tank anywhere! Fortunately another friend who was there to pace a hundred mile runner took my jacket for me just before the start (thanks again, Rich!), and because someone's watch was apparently running a few minutes fast we all took off into the pre-dawn darkness at 5:57am.

Down the hard-packed gravel roads toward Macdonald Lake, I saw the first of the sunrise over the water as I neared the Normac trailhead - absolutely spectacular, and almost enough to make it worth getting up in the middle of the damn night. My legs had felt good in the week leading up to race day, having taken a full 4 days off running the weekend before while we did some paddling for Labour Day and then only run Tuesday and Thursday. It felt a bit weird that my 3rd run of the month would be 50 freakin' miles, but my legs had a spring to them on Thursday evening's run that I haven't felt in ages, so I know the time off did me some good. Spending an hour on hands & knees taking apart and re-assembling bits of trailer probably hadn't, but I refuse to regret trying to help someone in need of a hand.

First light by Macdonald Lake
(from official course photographer David Sweeney)

In that vein, I couldn't help but stop for a moment before the 5k mark: Hans Meier - an absolute legend in Ontario ultrarunning and one of the nicest men you'll ever meet - took a tumble early on in the race, and asked if I could sort out the two top safety pins holding his bib on his jacket as they'd torn out when he fell. More concerned that he was ok (most people don't bounce very well in their 70s!), I was happy to get his bib re-pinned for him and give him a moment to collect himself before we continued on. I was relieved to see from the results that Hans went on to complete the 50k (the 100 mile, 50 mile and 50k racers all started at 6am), so it all seems to have worked out in the end.

I started taking in nutrition and hydrating early - a swig of EFS Liquid Shot at around 30mins washed down with plenty of water, though I didn't need to stop at AS2 on my first pass as I was carrying a 20oz bottle and had another 16oz soft bottle in my front pack pocket. I was also carrying a filter bottle in the back of my pack just in case - I'd come very close to running out of water on a couple of sections when I attended the training run 5 weeks prior, and didn't want to risk dehydration on race day. I also kept on top of electrolytes by popping an S!cap at 40mins, then continuing to take one about every 60mins after that. Onto the Normac Trail for my first lap around Macdonald Lake, the morning dew had wet down the trail enough that I had to be cautious. My feet slipped a couple of times on wet roots, so I ended up taking my time and reveling in the sight of the mist on the water in the growing light.

This. This is why I run races I have no business attempting.
Photo stolen from Claude Tremblay

By partway through the Normac Trail it had got light enough (sunrise was 6:45am) that I could stow my headlamp, though I had some trouble getting it into the side zip pocket of my pack - I'm not really flexible enough to be very dexterous in the vicinity of my armpit, especially while moving. I eventually got it squared away and was very happy that I wouldn't need to access it again for hours, if at all. I had hopes of finishing before sunset at 7:37pm - that gave me 13h37m to cover the 40km trail out and back, knowing that I'd taken 6h42m to make the trip from the turn-around back to Base Camp 5 weeks prior at the training run. Hrmm..

The trail was, however, in much better condition. It had rained all day at the training run, I'd been left behind early on to navigate my way through the un-marked course (with a less-than-detailed map and my confidence rather shot from an early wrong turn), and I'd stopped to take some photos along the way. This time the course was fairly dry with a few mud holes; the boardwalks, bridges and rock sections were not slippery death; I wouldn't be taking any pics as I'd not brought any devices with me except my Garmin; and the trail was very well marked with orange flags every 40' plus bunches of alternating orange and yellow flags at any turns or junctions.

This was the map I worked from for the training run, from the race site.

Of course, that didn't stop me from blowing the turn onto the Poachers' Trail after the Macdonald Lake loop on the way out. Bless that kind lady with the black braids who yelled at me to get me back on course with only a 50m or so detour down the road! Apparently even the best marking isn't quite enough for a dumb lemming like me. I blame it on the headache that started up early in the day: I knew it couldn't be the usual ice cream headache I get in cold weather because I had my buff over my ears and that always prevents it. I wonder if my headlamp strap was a bit too tight, though - I'd only been wearing it over a hat lately, as it's been summer and I haven't needed anything to keep me warm. The extra thickness of the buff under the strap may have caused too much pressure, as I could ease the headache a bit throughout the day by pulling on the brim of my hat to give my poor noggin a bit of breathing room. It could also just be that I'm not accustomed to wearing a buff over a hat right now (again; summer), so the extra squeeze was just too much. In any case, it persisted for most of the day, but I would periodically give my hat a tug to get some relief for awhile.

My other two concerns were my left shoulder and my right knee. The knee was something that had been a bit of an issue lately - a tight calf pulling on things leading to some pain in the outside of the knee. It had been ok in the week leading up to the race but started to grumble a bit on the roads early on - fortunately, it shut the hell up when I got onto the Normac Trail and never cropped up again. The shoulder issue was again a problem with using the side zip pockets of my pack: I went rummaging in the left one for a ginseng spirulina Bounce ball around an hour in as I was ready for some real food (being 4hrs since my bowl of oatmeal), and something tweaked as I contorted my arm to get the packet out of the pocket on my ribcage. It was quite tight for awhile, but settled down after a bit and I didn't notice it again until after I'd finished.

Also: did not stop me from smiling my way through the forest.

The way out wasn't terribly eventful. I got my hand bottle filled with water at each aid station and had to pee every couple of hours, but had no sloshing or GI issues. I tried to repay karma when I saw a redheaded girl in a grey and red hydration pack miss a turn on the way to AS5 but couldn't yell loud enough to get her attention - I think she may have been wearing headphones. I felt bad for her, but also a bit relieved I wasn't the only one to go off course.

Rock slab bridge on the Poachers' Trail - photo from the training run.

It takes for bloody ever to make it from AS4 at ~16km to AS5 at ~23km. It's only 7km, but it's almost entirely singletrack trail and certainly the most technical section of the whole course. On the way out you are greeted with The Pass, then Redstone Vista & Vista trails, onto Ben's Trail and then Krista Trail - I think I managed to run a total of 100m in that stretch, being cautious of my taped-up ankle and general clumsiness. I did make it through 18km before I saw the first of the 50k runners coming back the other way, having a grand old time loping down Ben's Trail and telling us it was way more fun as a downhill than the climb myself an a few others were then trudging up. He certainly made it look fun, though I knew I'd probably break my fool neck if I made any attempt to move like him through the singletrack whether uphill, downhill or flat.

After reading a ton of stories about bad things that can happen in the woods and the fact that many cultures from all over the world have traditions of asking the woods for permission or forgiveness to pass through them, I actually started a quirky little habit: after clearing a particularly technical section (or a mildly technical bit that I tried to run), I'd touch a bit of wood - a tree trunk or branch, as long as it was living wood - and either think or say a respectful request to enjoy the forest unscathed. As the day progressed and this happened more and more often, it evolved into a simple statement as I touched the trees: "by your leave". 

Sounds so much better than "PLEASE DON'T HURT ME"

Yes, I'm a weirdo. Yes, I'm totally ok with that. After all, not only did I make it through without falling, I didn't even smash a toe off any roots or rocks and there were only a couple of times I had to do a bit of interpretive dance to stay upright. Hell, I only tweaked my damaged left ankle a couple of times, and not even enough to make it hurt until a couple of days later! You may laugh at my superstition, but I'll go with whatever works. Besides, the Haliburton Forest likes to make me bleed - I got carved up by thorns at both the training run and during the race - and I've proven myself perfectly capable of tripping over ABSOLUTELY FREAKIN' NOTHING, so it's not like my fears were totally unfounded. 

After more than an hour and a quarter (around 3h40m from the start), I finally emerged at AS5 to find both Tanker and my drop bag with just a few sips of water left in my soft bottle. I filled up both bottles, got another flask of EFS Liquid Shot (having emptied the first), ditched the garbage in my pockets, grabbed a turkey wrap, a baggie of bacon and another of maple cookies, and topped up my pack's waterproof pocket with all the S!caps I'd need for the rest of the day so I wouldn't forget to do so later. In the process, I totally flaked on dropping off the filter bottle I had in the back of my pack - I'd established that I wouldn't need it since the aid stations were a little closer together than they'd been at the training run. I also forgot to pick up more of my homemade maple vanilla sea salt crisp rice squares, though leaving them until later in the day wasn't such a bad thing - I nearly broke a tooth on the first one I had around 2hrs in because the cold air had turned the marshmallow into cement!

I got a kiss from Tank and went along my way, knowing that the trails opened up quite a bit in the next section of the course so I'd be able to make up some time. I scarfed back my turkey wrap around 4h in - I always find that I'm hungry for something substantial by this point - and continued with hydration and electrolytes on the Blackcreek Trail. I'd been hoping to find a portajohn at AS5 as I didn't have my cathole trowel with me, but managed to hold out until I reached AS6 around the 30k mark. Unfortunately 2 girls got there just ahead of me and occupied both of the wooden outhouses that were cruelly up a damn hill from the aid station, so I had to wait a minute or two to "get down to race weight". I finally took my first bit of food other than what I carried there, too - just a small chunk of banana, but it tasted great and I've been saved by bananas in the past.

The Marsh Lake Observatory is just past AS5

Heading out for the last section of the course on the Lookout Trail, I was passed by the first of the runners doing the full course coming back the other way (I believe it was the young fellow who eventually took 3rd place in the 100 mile), which fell in line with my hope to be through 30k before the fast people made it to 50k. I did, however, get myself into trouble with a slice of bacon around 32k - I'd eaten it while walking up a hill, but when I was able to take off running again there was still a bit I was chewing on and I aspirated a tiny piece. It took almost a full kilometer of coughing and hawking and drinking to clear it out of my windpipe, leaving me a bit winded and hoping I never, ever do that again. 

Except for the occasional runner coming back the other way, I was mostly all on my own for the majority of the day, but I don't mind that. I run alone and the woods are beautiful. I soon passed my favourite place on the whole course: a stunning, rocky creek on the Lookout Trail that runs under the bridge over which I trotted. 

This photo from the training run does it no justice at all.

While the top of the course features a lot of runnable logging roads, it also includes the interminable freakin' climb of the King & James Trail. There were loads of people coming back the other way now as and I got friendly words from quite a few as I slogged my way up. I started to watch my water intake in the last few kilometers before the turn-around so I wouldn't run out, then hit the flatter, packed Red Trail and hauled arse as best I could. 

That little flat spot in between the two huge lumps in the middle.
Elevation profile from the Haliburton Forest Trail Runs facebook group

I knew the turn-around was past the final aid station (AS7) and I still had a bit of water left by the time I was passing, so instead of stopping I just trucked on by. I swear it then took me a damn hour running at top speed (for me after nearly 40km, so approximately "continental drift" pace) to reach the turn-around, which always seemed to be around one more turn or up one more incline. I finally reached it around 6h16m, which lit a spark in my mind for the possibility of a sub-13hr finish as I rounded the sign staked into the ground and headed back to AS7 with only a sip of water remaining.

Stopping off to get my bottles filled, I was delighted to see a friendly face working at the aid station, and even more delighted to scarf back a chocolate chip cookie (of a type I know is safe for me) they had on offer. Now there's a celebration for being halfway done! I thanked all of the volunteers profusely for spending their day helping a bunch of smelly, sweaty weirdos in the woods and then went on my cookie-crumb-covered way. I had apparently forgotten how to count and thought I only had 1 maple cookie on me (I really had 2) for the return trip to my drop bag, which then became my next well as running as much and as fast as my legs would permit back through the non-technical terrain.

Well, mostly non-technical.

I was able to rip back down the huge hill on King & James, but had to exercise more caution on some of the other descents covered in loose, shifting stones (like the washed-out business pictured above). I caught up to a gentleman with a European accent (German or Slavic?) who told me I did well to take it slow and easy on the sketchy downhills, as it didn't have much of a time penalty but it was easy to get hurt if you pushed it - he had actually broken a couple of ribs falling on similar terrain at JFK a few years back, but managed to finish the race anyway. Tough fellow! I told him I know how clumsy I am and am cautious of my taped-together ankle, so I was in no danger of running away on him. When we came to the runnable parts, though, I ended up leaving him behind.

Passing people was a bit of a feature through the second half for me - I ended up playing Airborne caterpillar with a few, as I'd trot past them on the runnable sections and then they'd leave me in their dust (leafmould?) through anything technical. I know that this isn't a course that plays to my strengths so there was nothing I could really do about it, but it was a little frustrating. I tried to offer a kind word to anyone I passed or who passed me, which was usually returned. Quick stop for another banana chunk and getting both bottles filled at AS6 with a ton of thanks for the friendly volunteers, then back on the road toward my drop bag and my husband. I ran down in my mind all the things I wanted to drop off and pick up as my legs carried me through the sun-drenched logging roads.

Notably, the wide-open sections of road with full sun were about the only place I ever felt warm all day. I'd zipped my wind vest down to about navel-height and tucked the collar back under my pack straps to keep it off my chest so I could dump some heat, but never had any inclination to remove it completely. Even at mid-afternoon my bare arms and hands still felt a bit of a chill anywhere that there was even a touch of shade...and I was heading for a LOT of that.

Marsh Lake means I'm almost back to my sweetheart!

I got back to AS5 around 8h30m - approximately 4h50m from when I'd left - and stocked myself for the final trip home. I decided against grabbing my trekking poles as the course was in good condition and it would be easier to keep eating and drinking if I had my hands free; there was no consideration at all of making the podium (those who use poles can place no higher than 4th), but I did want to try it "au naturel". I dropped off the filter bottle, got myself some more cookies, grabbed my other turkey wrap and packet of bacon (even though I still had a slice, I wanted the bacon to put in the wrap I had waiting for me back at Base Camp), and loaded up with 3 caffeinated gels. Those would be my rocket fuel to bring me in during the last few hours of the race.

A double chocolate cookie, a piece of delicious watermelon from the aid station, full bottles and a kiss from Tank later, and I was on my way. I told him to take care of himself through the night and thanked all of the volunteers, who had done an amazing job decorating their pavilion tent with a Canada/US friendship theme. Too bad the mosquitoes had come out to make it authentically Canadian!

At AS5 around 57k
Not pictured: 14 different mosquito bites happening at once.

I munched my turkey wrap and had another cookie for good measure, as my belly was rumbling again and I was back into the toughest part of the course. It had dried out quite a bit in the sun and with the passage of many feet, though (thank you to everyone faster than me!), so I was able to run a bit of Krista Trail on the way back despite my quads becoming increasingly whiny. Apparently they didn't like that huge, pounding descent on King & James, but they're not the boss of me, dammit! 

I'm still a klutz, though, so I walked most of Ben's/Vista/Redstone Vista/The Pass - which meant not only did I need to zip my vest up a bit again to keep warm, but I continued to be plagued by bloody mosquitoes! That's not freakin' fair - it's either supposed to be chilly and bug-free, or warm enough for a t-shirt alone and buggy. Apparently the Haliburton Forest had not got the memo, nor the one about the mosquitoes leaving you alone as long as you kept moving. I guess you need to be able to outpace a glacier for that.

Even while being drained of my life's blood by tiny vampiric jerks, I still feel that my "take it slow and easy" approach to the technical sections was better than trying to push pace and catching a toe on a root, sending me crashing down an embankment. Dying in a crumpled heap of broken limbs with a wolf gnawing on my elbow doesn't sound like much fun, to instead I walked along and looked around at the beautiful trails, still touching wood as I passed and trying to show respect to the forest (even though I peed on quite a bit of it). 

No, K. You have no business trying to run here.

I actually apologized to trees, too - there were a few places where a quagmire of mud or deadfall meant picking my way around the trail itself, and sometimes I'd bend a branch or snap off a twig as I passed. If you thought you heard someone in the forest saying "sorry tree!", yeah - that was me. 

Like I said: I'm in a good place with my weirdness. Moving right along..

My hand bottle and my soft bottle were just enough to get me back through the long, difficult, up-and-down way over Krista Trail/Ben's Trail/Vista Trail/Redstone Vista and the stunning beauty of The Pass to AS4. I didn't exactly regret leaving my poles behind, but I was definitely feeling some fatigue - at one point I asked myself "if walking is easier than running, is there something that's easier than walking?" as I climbed another steep, root-choked hill.

Very possibly this one on Ben's Trail

Back onto road again just before hitting AS4, I was surprisingly able to get myself running again. I think my nutrition really helped me keep energy up through the day, which allowed me to feel strong (well, except for that bit of whining while climbing) later in the day. It was basically just 1 shot of gel on the half-hour and a bit of real food on the hour, until 8h30m (past AS5) when I had a turkey wrap, slice of bacon and a cookie. Because I'd taken in so much, I waited until 9.5hrs for more real food (a fudge creme cookie) & started with caffeinated gels at 10h, with another at 11h, and one final one at 12h. All told I munched my way through 2 flasks of vanilla EFS Liquid Shot, 3 crisp rice treats, 3 slices of bacon, 2 turkey wraps with mustard, 1 x double chocolate cookie, 2 fudge creme cookies, 3 x maple cookies, 1 chocolate coconut Gu Roctane gel (caffeinated @ 10h), 1 EnduranceTap gel, and 2 sea salt chocolate Gu Roctane gels (caffeinated @ 11hrs & 12hrs). I also took 2 chunks of banana plus 1 big piece of watermelon from the aid stations, and that scrumptious chocolate chip cookie at AS7 after the turn-around for a total of about 1,200cal of gels, 600cal of cookies, 600cal of bacon slices & turkey wraps, 150cal of crisp rice squares, and 100cal of fruit = ~2,700cal. Electrolytes were provided by 12 S!caps every hour around 40-45mins past the hour. I had no GI issues & no low points, and never ran out of food, either; I always had at least a couple of gels/cookies/bacon more than I needed, which is a good strategy in case I'd run into trouble (got lost or injured) and taken extra time. I peed on the trail about every 2 hours but only required one "real" bathroom stop at AS6 on the way out. Super happy with how it all worked out, really - so many people struggle with picky stomachs during races, but while I may have the worst digestion in the world in everyday life I'm a freakin' champion muncher on the trail.

Or series of rock faces. Whatever you want to call it.

I made it through Poachers' Trail back to AS2 to start my last Macdonald Lake loop with about 2hrs to fill my bottles and go if I wanted to bring it in under 13hrs. Of course, I wasn't doing myself any favours there because I got chatting with a couple of friends who had showed up during the day while I was out on course and "wasted" a bit of time, plus I actually used their outhouse like a normal human being for once instead of just peeing on the side of the trail like a jerk. Coming back out for the final 12km, Catherine walked with me a bit while I took in some calories and then I ditched her because I felt like I could actually run the mild uphill on hardpacked road.

Heading out of AS2, laughing with Catherine Kelly (who has probably said something hilariously raunchy)

As I left, thankful that I only had one bit of technical trail left to negotiate before the finish and would get to do so in daylight, I passed a girl in a fluorescent orange shirt who was one of the 5 or 6 I'd passed on my return trip. She and I had swapped spots a few times, so I told her not to worry - she'd just pass me again when we got to the Normac Trail. She laughed and said she preferred to think of it as just us swapping back and forth; nice girl! 

I hit the trailhead at 11h20m, giving me less than 1.75hrs to get through Normac and Chico trails and then over the rolling roads back to Base Camp before 13hrs were up. Fortunately the Normac Trail was in incredibly good condition - the morning dew had evaporated, leaving it the most runnable trail of the whole course, and the still-bright sun made this pass much easier than it had been in the faint dawn light. I pushed myself to run as much as I could, actually holding off the much more agile girl in the orange shirt - it had taken me almost 2hrs to complete the Macdonald Lake loop and get back to Base Camp at the training run after only having run 28km beforehand, so I knew I was up against it if I wanted that sub-13. 

My quads were totally fried from all the pounding, but I thrashed myself coming off the Chico Trail to run as much of the East Road and North Road back to Base Camp as I possibly could. Other than my whiny legs and some soreness in my feet, plus a bit of chafing in my left armpit (?), I was actually in surprisingly good condition - my toes didn't feel too munched from the mud puddles as I'd liberally sprinkled my socks with the amazing BlisterShield powder before putting them on in the morning, and had re-applied SportShield at AS5 on my return trip just to keep any more...ahem...personal chafing at bay. I was just tired, and wanted to be done.

I just had a bunch of rolling hills to deal with first.

I got my bottle filled one last time at AS3 and dug in my spurs again, slurping down one final gel and running more in the final 6.4km after coming off Chico Trail than I had since the beginning of the day. With just over 2k to go I passed right through AS2 without stopping, with a holler of "101 checking in checking out - thanks you guys, you're all awesome - love ya, bye!" as I trucked on by. I saw the incredible Debbie Bulten running up the hill out of the aid station, and managed to catch her while saying I had 20mins left to make the final 2km for a sub-13 finish. She yelled at me to get going and get it done, so off I went with all the speed my sore, tired legs could manage. 

Despite the hills, I only walked (by which I mean fast powerhiked) 2 short sections in the last stretch back home. As soon as the hill that reduced me to a walk started to flatten out, I'd start to run again - it almost felt easier on my legs than walking, probably due to the amount of hiking I'd had to do on the singletrack. As I rounded a final curve I could see the top of the timing tent at the top of a long upslope to Base Camp, and while my lungs tried to punch their way out of my chest I mentally horsewhipped myself to keep on running - I was almost there!

My Garmin workout data can be viewed here.

Cresting the hill and passing the gate, I saw 12:53:xx on the clock and ran for all I was worth finally crossing the line with a few minutes to spare under 13 hours.

Official time for 50mi: 12:53:40
7/13 W0-49 - 12/19 Women - 42/55 Finishers

I fully credit the caffeinated gels for my pace at the end, covering the final 2km in less than 14mins (under 7min/km) despite the elevation changes along the way, as well as having the fitness for a faster time but not the agility to use it on the technical course. My return trip took me approximately 6h38m - about 22 minutes slower than the first half, which isn't really bad pace decay over this sort of distance. All of this seems to bode quite well for trying longer races in the future, and I'm pleased that out of the 3 people who passed me back on the technical sections in the second half of the race, I managed to catch all but 1 of them on the roads. 

When all was said and done, my quads were totally trashed but I didn't fall, Ididn't get lost, I had no GI issues or really dark spots (just a bit tired and whiny for a little while), I never ran out of nutrition, I have no injuries (with only minor tweaks to my damaged left ankle), I wasn't eaten by a bear or wolf, and I beat the sunset - I'll call it a win! I was also a little more than 3hrs faster than my 100k time at Sulphur Springs earlier this year, which is what I had hoped I'd be capable of.

Noone caught a finish line photo, so this will have to do.

Mud on my shoes and salt-crusted shins
Another win was actually successfully taking care of myself after the race - this was the first time I was without my darling crew and Wonder Sherpa after a race, and we were camping to boot. I managed to eat something (adding my trail bacon to my turkey wrap as planned - w00t!), chuck myself into the shower, get bundled up against the cold evening and even spend some time chatting with other racers, crew and volunteers around the fire and cheering other racers in before rolling into my sleeping bag for the night. 

Haliburton is an amazing race: the brilliantly stocked aid stations, incredibly well-marked course, selfless volunteers, breathtakingly beautiful trails and true family atmosphere all coalesce into an experience that will draw you back again and again. I'd highly recommend this one for trail runners of any level - there are 12k and 26k distances with easier terrain available for those who are just dipping a toe into this exciting pursuit, with 50k, 50 mile and 100 mile races for those who wish for a greater challenge. You'll be treated like gold from start to finish and may never want to leave the Haliburton forest!

Pretty sweet medal! Wonder if I could get a buckle like that..?

Friday, September 1, 2017

Grab a paddle & let's skedaddle

You'll be spared my driveling for a bit, because I'm buggering off into the woods again - Tanker and I are going to explore a new-to-us park!

Though well-known places do have their appeal, like running through the sunset at GORBA last Saturday.

Tomorrow morning we'll load up our awesome canoe and head up to just South of French River and launch into the (hopefully) smooth waters of Grundy Lake for our first look at the Provincial Park of the same name. I'm hoping for a relaxing weekend of easy paddling and maybe an easy, short trail run to stretch my legs and explore the park a bit. The trails seem to be fairly short (the Beaver Dam seems to be the longest at around 3.5km), but I'm happy to do a couple of extra loops to catch things I missed the first time 'round, and I don't need to get a long run in anyway. Whatever fitness I'm taking to Haliburton has already been built - the priority now is just to stay un-injured and get some rest to absorb the 284km of running I put in through the month of August. I'd happily just hike the trails with Tanker, too, if the weather or trail conditions look too sketchy for running.

They're calling for rain - what else is new this year? - but we have good tarps and an excellent tent, plus temperatures are supposed to be quite mild. I'm just hoping the frost advisory for the area last night killed off the mosquitoes!

We haven't been into the backcountry in awhile, and while I've enjoyed our glamping trips this year, I can't wait to leave everything behind to go play in the woods for 3 days. This should be the perfect way to really dive into my taper before the Haliburton Forest 50mi next Saturday, and I'm really looking forward to sitting around a campfire with my sweetheart while the lake and forest breathe new life into my soul.

My idea of heaven.

Of course, reading these stories beforehand might not have been my best idea. I wouldn't suggest sneaking up on me or making any funny noises in the night unless you're looking for a sizeable hunk of highly sharpened steel to be implanted somewhere in your body under highly unsanitary conditions.

There probably won't be a blog post next Friday as I'll be traveling and setting up camp in the Haliburton Forest, but if I don't turn up at the start line can someone please go check the Northwest corner of Grundy Lake to see if there's a pile of jewelry-studded bear droppings?

If you see a staircase, though, just turn around and go.

Friday, August 25, 2017


I know a lot of people like to get their running - especially long runs - done first thing in the morning. As a matter of fact, I know some people who get up absurdly early and run through the sunrise (I'm looking at you, #before5amrunclub)! They're badass ultrarunners who go fast and far and generally rip things up out there.

I am none of those things, and I take a completely different tack for my Saturday long runs.

I run through the sunset instead.

Which has its photogenic side, apart from any other benefits.

Part of the reason is necessity: we do 90% of our grocery shopping at the Cambridge Farmers' Market, which is only open Saturday mornings from 7am-1pm. The later you get there - particularly in summer, when many more people take advantage of the nice weather to patronize the market - the less chance you have of being able to purchase everything you came for. They've been known to run out of some of the choicest goods before 10am! That means I'd have to get up at 3am latest in order to get ready (which takes at least an hour straight from bed); go for a 3+ hour trek through the trails (which takes at least 4.5hrs with travel time to the trailhead and a few stops for photos along the way); then change, eat something, and get down to the market. 

Not. Happening. I get little enough sleep as it is.

So, instead we go to the market first thing when we get up. I usually ride my mountain bike down the trails for a bit of fasted cross-training, which is a delightful way to start a weekend.

Chasing down the green tunnel of the Grand Trunk Trail

After picking up all manner of delicious things to eat and a couple of excellent cups of coffee from Roy's Roast at the market, we head home to put everything away and I cook us up a hearty brunch. We take care of any errands or chores that need doing while we digest, then I change into kit and we head out to whatever trail is calling my name that day. Last weekend it was a return to Dundas Valley Conservation Area to run the Sulphur Springs course, with the addition of Canterbury Falls.

I shouldn't have to explain why.

I set off at 6:15pm, knowing I would be out for around 3 hours and that the sun would set an hour before I finished. I brought along my headlamp and gave'er, needing its illumination by the time I started my descent off the Headwaters loop. It was pitch black when I met up with Tanker - who had been hiking while I ran - partway up the Martin Road hill. We walked up together, had a picnic "lunch" (at 9:30pm!) in the car, then drove home to shower up and make dinner.

The next day I ran the Mill Run Trail from Hespeler, and started just 15mins before sunset.

Though some bits of it are always pretty dark.

I managed the first 6km with no headlamp, but had to turn it on when I came through the little deer path cut-across in Riverside Park and needed it the rest of the way back.

The view by headlamp - loving my Petzl Actik!

You may ask yourself why I wouldn't try to get out earlier - after all, I'm certainly not at my freshest when starting a long run at 6pm when I've been up and doing since 8am, and there is an increased risk of ending up in a bad situation (injured, lost or hypothermic) when running into the darkness. Apart from scheduling constraints - trying to get to businesses when they're open, or needing daylight for outdoor chores - I do have a big reason why I don't mind going into a long run a bit fatigued and knowing I'll lose the sun along the way.

That's exactly the same way a lot of my races will end, and it's excellent mental training for that eventuality.

Also: incredibly pretty.

My main goal race this year was the Sulphur Springs 100k, and I was well aware of the strong possibility (and eventual truth) that I'd finish after dark. My next race is the Haliburton Forest 50 miler, in which I'll be starting out before sunrise and almost assuredly finishing after sunset. I am already comfortable alone in the woods at night, but I had to get myself accustomed to moving with purpose (I won't say "fast") on the trails after dark. It takes a bit of practice to spot the difference between a bit of mud, rutted dirt, roots or rocks by headlamp when everything is approximately the same colour, but the psychological benefits of the hours I've spent in the woods at night after a long day outweigh even that bit of practical experience.

By the time the light fades on the trail, I definitely won't be fresh as a daisy - I'll have been on my feet all day, traipsing through the forest and trying not to get eaten by a bear. Many people will find that their spirits drop along with the sun, knowing they're doomed to pick their way along in the tiny pool of light offered by their headlamp. Hopefully I, on the other hand, will simply get on with it...since it's just like any other Saturday.

"Don't trip don't trip don't trip don't trip.."

Funny to think that as recently as last November I'd only done one nighttime trail run. It's amazing how something that was once such a point of trepidation can become like second nature, if only you're willing to put in the time.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Iron and lace

It often seems that there aren't enough hours in the day, particularly when my athletic goals require a lot of running on top of a long commute and full-time job. Swimming and cycling have largely fallen by the wayside as my run mileage has increased, but I know that strength work is just about the best thing any runner can do to stay injury resistant...not to mention keep myself in decent enough all-round shape for other adventures (both human-powered and non-), and even every day life. Noone wants to be helpless in the face of a heavy grocery bag or long portage; thus, I do 4 strength and conditioning workouts per week, even if the way I fit them in is a bit odd.

I hop out of bed, throw on my underwear & grab my clothes for work, head down to the kitchen and make my lunch, then hit the iron.

In my knickers.
(No, there will not be any photos. You can stop reaching for the eye soap.)

It makes me laugh that some people are convinced they'd be unable to perform a single squat without a full suite of gym equipment, the latest sweat wicking compression clothing, their music player and headphones, and 18 different mirrors to show every angle of their form. If that's simply what you prefer, that's fine - whatever motivates you to move your body in positive ways is a good thing. I'm just saying that I'm down in my livingroom - usually before Tanker is even out of bed - ignoring the fact I'm still only half awake and ripping out a different workout in my undies with a modest set of free weights (stretch bands, 3-10lb hand weights, a 25lb kettlebell, a pair of dumbbells and a standard barbell with about 100lbs worth of plates) each morning from Monday to Thursday.

Even if walking lunges are the bane of my existence.

Without so much as bothering to put my hair up, I generally get in about 20mins per day - planks and mobility work like single-leg bridges & fire hydrants on Mondays; heavier lower-body work like squats, single-leg deadlifts, lunges, and calf raises on the stairs up to the kitchen on Tuesdays; upper body work on Wednesdays (because I used to swim Tuesday & Thursday); and a full core workout with a big, bouncy ball on Thursdays. I start with a dynamic warmup to loosen up any stiffness in my joints, and include at least one hip abductor exercise (like band lateral walks or hip hikes) and one hip adductor exercise every day, plus some lateral and regular core work. These are areas that I have had trouble with in the past, and I know keeping them strong and mobile will help me stay injury free under the varied conditions on the trails. I throw a towel down on the floor for stuff like bridges, dead bugs, push-ups, leg raises and clamshells - because carpet fuzz, cat hair and errant kitty litter are magnetically attracted to a sweaty body - and give myself a quick wipe-off with it after a few post-lifting stretches like child pose, downward dog, and sitting back on my feet.

Once I'm done, I get dressed for work in the kitchen, pull my breakfast out of the microwave (I have a sweet potato with almond butter & cinnamon every day - simple, fast, and I really enjoy it even after years of repetition), then eat it on the way to work while Tanker drives.

It's perhaps not the best system: I often end up a bit sweaty, so I could probably smell better arriving at work for the day (though I do wear perfume to the office that I'm sure helps). If we end up being late for work due to traffic, I do feel a bit guilty about the time it takes in the morning - if I'd cut my session short or skipped it entirely, we'd have made it in earlier. It's also damn difficult sometimes to climb the stairs to the kitchen after a tough leg workout, and getting dressed for the office in the kitchen - with no mirror to check details - results in the occasional wardrobe malfunction.

Super professional there, K.

But, it's the best way I can ensure that the strength workouts actually happen. If I waited until after I got home from the office, I'd either have to do it directly before or after a run since I train in the evenings. As much as I do end up with sore legs from the lifting I do now (my hamstrings hate me after deadlifts), separating my workouts by several hours is the only way I can think of to reduce interference between them; I don't end up risking injury by either running on wobbly legs post-lifting, nor by having poor form from a tired body that just hammered out miles of hills.

The most important factor here is that it gets done. There are no excuses first thing in the morning. If I'm super tired and sore, I can modify the strength workout to make it a bit easier - focus more on mobility than building strength, or on building muscular endurance through higher reps at lower weight - but the only times I skip it completely are when either:

  1. it's a holiday Monday (when I'm more concerned with having adventures with my sweetheart);
  2. we're out & about on vacation, because noone wants to plank in the dirt at their campsite, or;
  3. I'm so deeply incapacitated after a race that I can't make it down the stairs to the livingroom.

I do change things up a bit during the week before a race: Monday is generally the same, as it's typically my easiest strength work day (when DOMS is at its peak after Saturday's long run), but Tuesday becomes bodyweight-only leg day and on Wednesday I'll just foam roll instead of lifting. Thursday before a race I have a yoga routine that focuses on joint mobility and function, and Friday is always a day completely off training.

Every other weekday morning, though, you'll find some weirdo in our basement lifting heavy things in their underoos.

Peeping toms beware.

So, now you know my dirty little secret. Do you have any weird tricks to fit in training in your life?

Note: if you wonder who the (dis)interested party is in the bad crayon art above, that fuzzy grey-and-peach blob is none other than the indomitable Miss Esmerelda. Esme was living a rough life on the streets of Guelph for a couple of months before we met her at the beginning of July and brought her to her forever home at the Punk Rawk Palace, where she spends her days getting all the tickles, treats and snuggles that her soft, fuzzy little body can handle. She's filled out nicely from the pathetic wee bag of bones she was when we found her, and is a sweet, sassy and silly girl who has stolen our hearts and completely dominated our big old tomcat Karma.

Esme cat!