Friday, October 19, 2018

Sticks n'Stones 53k - Saturday, October 6th, 2018

Sometimes it's just not your day - that doesn't mean you can't have some fun anyway, though.

Especially in a beautiful place.

It was raining when I woke at stupid o'clock, and continued on and off as I proceeded with the usual pre-race stuff like oatmeal, getting coffee for Tanker and myself, and the drive down to Christie Lake. We'd been informed that the gates would not be open until 8am (with a 9am race start), but arrived a few minutes early as there was very little traffic...until we got to the conservation area, where a huge backlog of vehicles was waiting at the gate.

Not amazing.

Eventually the word went out that we'd all have to drive up to the gate, pull a u-turn, turn left out of the driveway on Hwy 5 and then make another left into a private laneway that met up with the park road (used by Hamilton Conservation employees) in order to get in. This, understandably, took some time - if I have one suggestion for the race directors for next year, though, it would be to address this up front by either a) posting BIG signs to indicate racers should come in via the laneway to begin with or b) pushing the race start back by half an hour to allow for the backlog of traffic.

Really, I'm sure it would have been fine if I hadn't tried to help Tanker out a bit with setting up the aid station at the start/finish, and if I weren't a complete moron. While race kit pickup went smoothly, it wasn't until after I'd spent most of my precious hour before the race chatting with friends that I realised I'd left the long-sleeved shirt I wanted to wear for the first lap or two (as it was still quite chilly in the damp air) in our car, about 300m from the starting area. As I walked over to get it, I ran into more friends arriving for their races that wouldn't start until later (the 50k solo/relay and 25k began at 9am; the 10k and 5k races started at 10am) and stopped to say hello and get some hugs...which meant by the time I reached my car and grabbed my shirt, dropping off the amazing race swag we'd been given (Happy Trails Racing tote bags and license plate-style bumper stickers; a Sticks n'Stones logo magnet and hoodie; plus samples from sponsors Stoked Oats and Flexitol), I had all of 5 minutes left before race start.

What a haul!
Photos from Sue Sitki

I managed to get in about half of my usual dynamic warmup, then had to run back to the aid station while a young lady sang the national anthem. I felt like a disrespectful jerk as I ran past the throngs of people standing dutifully at attention - sorry singer, and sorry Canada! - but I needed to drop off the car keys with Tanker, grab my hand bottle, and then get myself to the start. Having decided to train through this event (I could hardly call it a race), I knew I'd probably need every second before the 8-hour cut-off time.

I made it just as the horn sounded to send us all out, ran around to the back of the pack, and began my day on the trails.

Does having worn my True North skirt and a maple leaf Buff make running through the anthem more reprehensible, or less?

I finally managed to get my Garmin to lock on to a satellite signal when I was more than a minute and maybe 300m into the race, and it rapidly became apparent that this was going to be an even longer day than I originally expected. While running at what felt like a half-decent and sustainable pace, I looked down at my watch and saw a pace that was at least 30 seconds per kilometer slower than I felt I should be moving for my effort level. No bueno. I had decided to "train through" this race, though I did take Monday and Tuesday off from running on race week - so I ran Thursday evening, did no carbo-loading, and no special prep except my usual chicken fried rice on Friday evening and oatmeal for breakfast...but I really felt heavy and sluggish, particularly as I'd only run a total of 9km in the prior 6 days.

Fall colours were on display

I suspect it may have had something to do with the very humid air; Race Director Jeff told us it had rained quite hard in the early morning when he was on site trying to set things up, and the cool air was holding on to every drop of moisture as I made my slow, laborious way 'round the reservoir. I've had breathing trouble in very humid air before, possibly due to a family history of asthma. The thing is I didn't feel like my respiration was difficult; I just felt slow, tired, and like I had a cinderblock tied to my arse. I was a little on the heavy side going in (race weight has not really been a thing this year; le sigh), but man - this was going to be tougher than I thought.

At least the scenery would be nice..

..despite a distinctly gloomy day.

I had also forgotten just how much the landscape of Christie Lake rolls. It's not too bad on the north side of the reservoir, but things get a bit vertical on the south side. I didn't figure the rain would pose too much of a problem, as I remembered the trail as being nicely groomed crushed gravel. I'd just have to drag my chubby butt up a bunch of hills.

They look so small, yet feel SO BIG

I'd also forgotten how much pavement there is on the north side of the lake - you follow the park road for a couple of hundred metres to a parking lot, at which there was a slight course change from 2017 to 2018: instead of going up one side of the lot and across the top at the disc golf course entrance, you now go up the west side of the lot and onto a grassy pathway past a day-use campsite with a firepit to the north of the lot. Not sure if this was changed to ensure noone just cut a diagonal across the parking lot, but it's possible as the new routing eliminates that chance.

You still go past lots of lovely trees and tributary streams.

I was fortunate in that the side-sloped bit of trail leading to the dam around the 2k mark tilted downward to the right, rather than to the left - had it been the other way 'round it would have put a lot of strain on my still-injured ankle, but this way it was actually decently supported. I had taped the ever-loving crap out of it (and my hamstrings, which have been problematic in longer races this year), but it was nice not to have to worry too much.

Though I'm sure one of these days I'm going to smack one of the rigid gates onto the dam hard enough to cripple myself.

Now I'm going to throw the pics all out of order - if you want a blow-by-blow tour of the course, see last year's race report. It's my blog, I can do whatever I want! You're powerless to stop me! I AM INVINCIBLE MUAAHAHAHAHAHA!

Ok, I'll settle down. Onward!

The other side of the dam proved...less nicely groomed and gravelly. 

Much more on the "muddy and squishy" side.

I was already hungry for some reason by 15mins in, so I took a swig of EFS Liquid Shot from my flask. By the 4k mark, my ankle - regardless of any fortuitous side-slope direction - started to hurt. I was moving slowly, and just barely keeping pace with a couple of 70+ year old men (if you know anything about the Ontario ultra scene, you know I mean Ron G. and Hans M.) as I slogged my way through the muck.

The final hill at 4k was particularly slippery all day.

I made it through my first lap in 38:15, then the second in 38:59 (1:17:14 total) - pretty close times, considering I stopped to get my bottle filled by Tanker at the start/finish, and that was included in the split for my 2nd lap. I ditch my longsleeve shirt and grabbed my phone from Tank after the second loop, as well as a chunk of Skratch bar from Lizzy at the aid station plus a little caramel chocolate chocolate bar I'd brought - gels just weren't cutting the hunger on a still-cool morning. I figured I'd go get some shots on course while the rain held off; it had stopped right on cue around 9am (as I was scrambling to make the race start), but looked like it would be back later on.

Umm hey Michigan? You wanna just hang on to that for me?

So, you get to see some of the course while conditions were still improving from the passage of feet working to dry out the course after the early morning soaking.

Looking down the lake from the dam.

Christie cascade was certainly flowing more vigorously than last year.

Dion running a tight ship with his enthusiastic volunteers at the aid station on the far side of the dam.

Because of all the stopping to take pics, my third lap happened at the rather more glacial pace of 45:56 for a total of 2:03:10. 

And I'll subject you to a selfie. 

I decided it was time for a chunk of bacon at this point, and its salty deliciousness reminded me that I'd completely flaked on grabbing my little flip-top bottle of S!caps before the race - it was sitting in the UltraCoolerwith Tank at the start/finish, which was not optimal placement. It certainly wasn't hot out, but that didn't mean I wasn't sweating, and my sausage-y fingers attested to the fact I was definitely burning through some electrolytes.

I can't imagine why.

It's not like I had to work hard or anything.

In an interesting twist, a thick fog also descended upon the course during the end of my 3rd and all through my 4th lap. After coming through the start/finish in 42:47 (2:45:57 cumulative) - never having really recovered anything resembling speed after my tourist lap - I grabbed another chunk of Skratch bar and set off again as the fog only got thicker.

The far end of the lake had disappeared.

The air wasn't the only thing getting foggy - my brain apparently was, too, as I don't recall a whole lot about the middle portion of the race. I know my taped up hamstrings complained as I hiked up the small-but-steep hills on the south side of the lake, my hip flexors got very sore from lifting my heavy legs to climb, and I actually got a bit lightheaded a couple of times. Each time I did I'd take on some calories - between the Skratch bars, my flask of EFS Liquid Shot, 3 packets of Endurance Tap (one of which I actually picked up off the ground, unopened, just as I was feeling like I should get some nutrition into me; I took it as a sign and gulped it down), plus a couple of other treats later on I totaled around 1,150cal for the race. I just never seemed to feel lively, though.

Just a gorilla in the mist.
Photo credit Sue Sitki

More fog at the west end of the reservoir

The pine forest looked amazing later on - this was, of course, taken on my 3rd lap

Laps 5 and 6 were even slower at 43:07 (3:29:04 total) and 46:40 (4:15:44 total) respectively, after which I decided it was time to pull out my turkey & mustard wrap - I was getting hungry again, and had still been really crap at taking in S!caps - I'd had one more, now almost 2/3 of the way through the race, but I'd foolishly left them in the UltraCooler instead of putting them in the pocket of my skirt. That may very well be why, as I set off for my 7th lap, something in my upper, inner left hamstrings decided to start screaming at me every time I tried to run. It seriously started as I made my way across the field and stayed with me for the whole loop; if I persisted in running it would grudgingly settle down a bit from the initial sparkle of pain, but never quite got to the point that it didn't hurt unless I walked...and I still had 10 miles left to go, because the lap is actually 5.3km and I had 3 remaining before this madness would end.

At least there were pretty flowers.

And apparently I thought the whole thing was hilarious, because I'm actually laughing in almost every one of the photos from the race.

To make things even better, it started pissing rain again, and far from the 24c that had been predicted I swear it actually got colder. The trail conditions that had improved a fair bit through the first 4.5hrs started to degrade again sharply into a muddy quagmire.

To be clear: this was taken on lap 3, BEFORE the rain came back and made it worse.

I was cold, hurting, and seriously questioning whether or not it was worth trying to slog out 3 more laps of the increasingly slippery and treacherous course. My much-less-damaged left ankle was grouchy (the right ankle had apparently figured out its complaints were falling on deaf ears and kindly shut the hell up), my lower back and hips were whining, and even my shoulders were feeling sore on top of the nagging pain in that hamstring. I have two more long races within the next 5 weeks, and could not afford to injure myself through sheer stubbornness...but I also know that what seems awful one minute might be just fine the next, and I foolishly wanted my finisher medal and to be able to wear my new hoodie with pride.

If you look carefully here, you can see it's absolutely piiiiiiiiiiissing.
Photo by Tanker

Coming through the start/finish in my slowest time yet - 49:33 (5:05:17 cumulative), I faced the fact that I was probably going to post my slowest-ever 50k time even if I did continue - even worse than my "just training through" dawdle at Pick Your Poison last year, which has more than twice the elevation change - and might even really test how lenient Jeff & Heather were going to be with the 8 hour cut-off time. I told Tanker that I wasn't doing amazingly well as I donned my longsleeve shirt again and got my bottle filled, downing another S!cap and chunk of Skratch bar. After explaining about the sore hamstring, he counseled me to consider calling it a day; he knows what I have coming in the next few weeks and that I'm the worst person in the world to live with when I'm injured, but I told him I wanted to give it one more lap. He gave me a smooch, and then another one for luck, and I set off once more.

He's pretty amazing <3

Here's the crazy thing: it actually worked. I swear his kisses are magic, because from the time I took my first step for my 8th lap until I ran it in to the finish, I didn't hear another peep out of that stupid hamstring. 

(Ok, I think this was actually taken by Sue Sitki early in lap 7)

I wouldn't have to crawl off into the underbrush and die after all!

I started to pick up a bit of momentum at last, pushing a little and completing lap 8 in 46:26 (5:51:43 total), about 10mins after a shift in the wind that suddenly flooded Christie Lake with delightfully warm air. I was now sweltering in the longlseeve shirt over my wool shortsleeve, so off it came once more as I grabbed my rocket fuel - the only caffeinated gel I had in the house when I went to pack up my kit for the race. Note to self: check supply levels a little more than 12hrs before the event.

Sucking down the (expired) packet of sea salt chocolate Gu Roctane as I began lap 9, I was actually moving pretty well; I figured if I put in a solid effort, I might actually be able to bring it in under 7.5hrs...but I'd have to work for it. The course wasn't getting any worse at this point, but it wasn't really getting better, either - I was nervous on the slippery downhills, as I didn't want to fall and hit my head...not that there's anything inside it to damage. As I trotted along, steadily eating up the remaining miles I could actually hear the mud sucking at my shoes; they would make a sound like suction cups being pulled off a smooth surface with each step I took.

Nonetheless, I was getting it the hell done. My penultimate lap was a comparatively speedy 45:39, for a total of 6:37:22m - of course, this was longer than my total time of 6:33:58 for the 50k (53k at least!) last year and I still had one lap to go, but it was faster than I'd moved since the halfway point!

I even started running up this gentle, grassy incline again!
There were a lovely bunch of folks in the picnic shelter at the top who were wonderfully encouraging all day.

Knowing I'd have to be efficient in the last lap to break 7.5hrs, I gulped down one last S!cap as Tanker filled my bottle, got one last smooch, and set off to get the damn thing done.

Even though my Garmin said I'd already run almost 50k..
Full workout data (less the first minute or so as detailed earlier) is here.

With the warm front now firmly in charge and nothing left to hold back for, I thrashed myself to run as much as I possibly could through the squelchy mud and rolling hills. The expired gel may have hampered me a bit, though, as I suffered from a bit of heartburn right near the start of the lap.

Still apparently finding everything hilarious.

As I reached the aid station on the far side of the dam, I was joined by young Rachel who had been volunteering there all day - she had been an amazing help and cheering section, and sweetly wanted to run with me on my last lap. Unfortunately I only managed about 50 feet of actual running, since there's a steep, nasty hill just beyond the aid station.

This is just part of it.

She didn't mind walking along with me as I hiked, though, especially since she was in her rubber rain boots! When she'd had enough and decided to turn back to the aid station, I bade her farewell and thanked her for coming along; I had spent most of the day running alone except for being passed (and very, very occasionally passing someone), so it was nice to have company for a few minutes anyway.

Over the hills, across the west dam/road, then up through the destroyed grassy rise along the north side of the reservoir as the sun actually made its first appearance all day. I did have to walk just a bit, as my breathing was getting hard to control, but managed to run it in fairly strong with a final lap time of 45:03; my fastest split since the 3.5hr mark, almost 4 hours prior.

Sunshine and freedom!
Photo credit Race Director Heather

Official time: 7:22:29 @ 8:50/km (assumes 50.0km)

Full results are here
The above includes people who DNF'd - there were actually only 5 racers who finished behind me.

Who doesn't want a hug after a long, painful, rainy and mud-filled endeavour?

This is very much the story of the day.

Ironically enough, last year this was the only race I did that wasn't a mudfest - this year it's been the only truly muddy course I've run. The race organizers did a wonderful job, though; the setting is lovely and very runnable, you'd have to try to get lost with the amazing course marking (though I did manage to nearly go up the wrong hill just before the 4k mark on my 6th lap, almost climbing Wedeln Run instead of the main loop through the pine forest), and the swag is second to none.

Check out the awesome wood-burned medal, handmade by Race Director Jeff!

I'm grateful that my hamstring issue resolved and I didn't have any other significant problems on the day - thanks to a generous application of BlisterShield in my socks beforehand, I only had one minor hotspot near my left big toe that never really became painful, and my stomach was fine all day other than the minor bit of irritation on the last lap. I'm also incredibly grateful to the wonderful people who got me through the day with their tireless work to support all the racers, whether they were friends and family or total strangers!

I'm not too happy about the repeated bouts of lightheadedness, but it may simply have been a matter of low blood sugar as I was able to alleviate them with calories. I'm pleased with having consciously made the decision not to quit just because things got difficult and at having pushed myself through the final laps (when I was able), and my overall effort on the day. I may have been very slow as compared to the other competitors (and almost an hour slower than my own time last year), but it's more important to me that I didn't give up on myself in spite of a tough day.

Hey, I was #1 at something!

I even took a whole day off running afterward..

Friday, October 5, 2018

Gratitude adjustment

I could feel sorry for myself.

I could cry you a river, though it wouldn't be as pretty as this one.

I could whine about the fact I'm still injured. I could whimper about the forecasted rain for the Sticks n'Stones 50k tomorrow.

Less than bueno.

I could even have a whinge about the fact it's supposed to rain 4 out of the 5 days of an adventure next week that Tanker and I have had planned for months.

I'm not going to, though. In fact, I'm grateful.

Not for the rain - it can bugger off.

I'm grateful that - though I know it won't be terribly comfortable as the day goes on - I have the health to even show up at the start line of Sticks n'Stones.

I'm grateful I can explore beautiful places, both well-loved and yet-to-be-discovered.

I got to run the Royal Rec trail on Sunday for the first time in months!

I am grateful for my wonderful friends and family; the strangers whose good works help my world run smoothly more times than not; the job that pushes me to broaden and deepen my skill set and funds an enjoyable lifestyle; and the energy to pursue activities outside of work that challenge me and allow me to grow.

I'm also sincerely grateful to have a friend and partner who supports those pursuits.

This guy right here <3
Look for him at the start/finish aid station all day tomorrow!

So while I could get down about the things that aren't perfect, instead I'll just give thanks for all with which I am blessed.

If you see some dork grinning like a fool while limping along in the rain, say hi as you pass!

And believe me, you WILL pass me.

I'll just be enjoying the journey as much as I can.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Friday, September 28, 2018


Have I ever told you what my favourite part is about running?

Here's a big hint.

Sure, it's a great way to strengthen your cardiovascular system and bone structure, and of course it does a decent job of keeping me from getting fat(ter). For some people it's a social activity - getting out with a friend (or group) for a run can be lots of fun. You can raise money for great causes, or simply get some "me" time to decompress from a stressful day.

My favourite part, though, is exploring.

Particularly on some of the lesser-traveled trails.

One of the things I missed the most this spring - whilst trying to recover from my devastating (and sort of ongoing) ankle injury - was the ability to just take off into the woods to chase some sketchy line I'd spotted on a map, or see what lies beyond some tiny trailhead I'd noticed while driving past. I'm incredibly grateful to have rebuilt my fitness to the point that I am largely able to set off for points unknown, confident that I'll be able to explore as much as I desire. 

Ooh - where does this go?

I know that I could do so simply by hiking, but even at my fairly glacial training paces I'm able to see so much more than I would simply by walking.

More views like this? Yes, please.

I actually put this all into action on Sunday, when I decided to go run a bit of trail on the outskirts of Riverside Park that I hadn't seen in a few years.

On a beautiful sun-drenched evening.

It clearly isn't a very popular route to get out the east end of the park on the north side of the Speed River.

Just a titch overgrown in places.

The groomed ease of the Mill Run Trail on the south side of the river certainly gets much more traffic, but most of my alternate route was flowing and non-technical.

I could run stuff like this forever.

It gave a whole new set of views of the river, too, as it wound along its bank above the northern arm of this divided section of the Speed.

Sun and shade and a river to the right.

Of course, it didn't all go perfectly - it turns out that a hundred metres or so near the eastern terminus are more bog than trail.

Grateful I wore wool socks and shoes with excellent drainage.

I have to wonder whether this section would be better or worse in the frozen depths of winter.

I may have to come back and see!

All too soon, I reached the end of this little diversion at the park entrance off Speedsville Road.

Umm, they might want to think about extending that a LOT.

While this was just a tiny bit of trail - I ran most of the Mill Run Trail out from the other side of Speedsville and back to the park to net a mere 8km - but the distance wasn't the point. It's the glorious freedom to set off wherever my feet end up taking me, to find new routes and experiences along the way.


If you're stuck in a rut, tramping the same old routes week in and week out, I strongly encourage you to do a bit of investigating and find yourself a new place to discover. While it's important to do the training necessary to prepare for upcoming races, almost every schedule should allow you an easy day once in awhile to go explore a new place and see what kind of beauty you can unearth either far from home or right under your nose.