Friday, August 19, 2016

Will I pass the test?

After all my whining last week, I actually seemed to shape up a bit on Saturday and ran fairly strong at the ever-lovely Huron Natural Area after the tumultuous thunderstorms finally died down.

Leaving behind a double rainbow

I only ran an hour, though, and then went out for another 40mins on the Grand River Trail on Sunday.


Where Tanker left me some trail love as he hiked while I ran.

We did walk another 3km afterward to check out a portion of the trail neither of us had seen before, and were treated to a lovely sunset over the river.



That was it for training last weekend. As stupid as it seems to be tapering for a race that really doesn't mean anything - I don't have any time goals for the Iroquoia Trail Test 34k tomorrow - I'd overdone things the week before and need to be strong enough to take on what promises to be a challenging course


Not to mention a brutally hot, muggy day with a strong possibility of mud.

I've actually been sleeping a lot this week, or at least a lot for me - 7-7.5hrs every night since Monday. I took Tuesday and Wednesday completely off, and have been foam rolling and doing some yoga for mobility. You know, all those things that should help me recover.

I'd love to say it was working, and that I feel great. I'd be lying, though.

I've been exhausted all week in spite of the extra sleep. After twitching through Tuesday and Wednesday with no running, I went out for a ~5k shake-out trot yesterday evening. My legs didn't feel any different than I'd expect them to if I'd been running all week. 

Fortunately, all I really want out of tomorrow is to have some fun on the stunningly beautiful Bruce Trail, hopefully emerging unscathed.


Preferably upright, but I'm not too picky.

My kit is basically all packed up (advantage of not running in the evenings: I have time to do other stuff!), so all that really remains is to see whether or not I'll pass the test.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Recover..eeh..

I feel like I'm failing at this.

I knew going in that trying to drag my chubby arse around a hilly course for 12 hours at Dirty Girls was going to take it out of me, but it's been almost three weeks now and I'm still feeling the effects.

My muscles get sore more easily, and the soreness lingers longer.

I get tired very easily during workouts - it's incredibly difficult to push hard, and when I do my heart and lungs protest loudly. I fatigue more easily overall, and when I'm done for the day I crash hard. From "more or less fine" to "useless heap of flesh" in the space of 30mins or less.

And, despite taking a full week off after the race and returning fairly slowly, running is still hard.


Like, really hard.

I know it doesn't help that I don't get enough sleep. 6hrs or less per night is not sufficient when you're truly bone tired. The heat warnings and even air quality advisories (due to the high heat and humidity trapping ozone and pollution near ground level) lately haven't been helping, either, nor have the extra pounds I've been carrying this year.

I also know I've shied away from my foam roller because things are still getting sore enough that I know it'll hurt like hell. I have been massaging things with my hands and some arnica gel, but I'm sure I'd be better able to tackle some of the deep tissues with an implement like my roller, a tennis ball or my Stick. I'm just being a whiner about it, and I really need to suck it up.

Life's a beach.

Lastly, I know that my usual recovery time from a big race effort is approximately equal to 1 week for every hour of racing. That means I'm only about a quarter of the way through the period of time it should take me to be ready for another big effort (even an all-out 10k attempt), and about halfway to the point where I can expect to feel more or less normal again.

But, I still feel like I'm failing, because I see all of my ultra friends going out and doing amazing things again like Dirty Girls never even happened. A couple of race reports even said they were barely sore in the days afterward, and went right back into regular training after maybe one easy week - generally less.

It took me 3 days before I could get up off the toilet without having to use my arms to push myself up, or pull myself up using the grab rail in my office washroom.

And here's some pretty trail to get that image out of your head.

Eight days after the race I saw that someone else I know who did the 12-hour day event put in 24km at sub-5min pace. I, on the other hand, was puffing my way through my very first run after Dirty Girls - a measly 5km at approximately glacial pace while we camped at Selkirk Provincial Park. My legs hurt from the very first step.

Last weekend I rode my bike (for the first time in ages) down to the market - an easy half-hour pedal. Then I went out to Guelph to run up the Royal Recreation Trail from Woodlawn to the GORBA trails, fart around in the woods for a couple of hours, and then met Tanker back at the Victoria Road trailhead. We hiked the Royal Recreation's side trails along the Speed River for 45mins to get back to the car, then jammed home so I could shower. Smelling much better, we walked about 2km from the house down to Riverside Park to hit Cambridge Ribfest, then walked back up the hill to get home.

Unfortunately not on a trail as pretty as this one.
Had to wait until Sunday for this.

By the time we arrived, I was toast. Completely and utterly spent.

Yeah, it was a total of 4.5hrs of activity for the day, but a ton of that was just walking at a fairly easy pace. I covered just under 15.5km in two hours on the Guelph trails, so it's not like I was running that hard and I was definitely hiking the hills.

That shouldn't have wiped me out that badly, and yet it did. While friends of mine who ran even longer and further than I did at Dirty Girls were tearing up the sun-baked hills at the Creemore Vertical Challenge, I was getting my arse kicked by what I'd usually class as a fun, laid-back Saturday.

Ok, it was still fun even if it left me prostrate.

After sleeping in the next day I was tired, stiff and sore in ways I just shouldn't have been. I still got out for another easy hour/9k at Puslinch Tract, because this was my last opportunity to do anything resembling back-to-back long runs before Iroquioa Trail Test next weekend.


And who can resist the twin ponds at sunset?

That, really, is my biggest concern. I knew as soon as I signed up for the Dirty Girls 12-hour that ITT was immediately downgraded from "goal race" to "just for fun 'cause I've never done it before", but that doesn't mean that I'm ok with walking the whole thing or taking so long that they've packed up the finish area before I manage to straggle in. After all, they're getting some of my favourite post-race food of all time - I don't want to miss out because my heart and lungs refuse to cooperate!


WE'LL CUT YOU


I've spent this week doing a couple of final tougher run workouts in the sweltering heat and trying to ignore the fact some of the 6, 12 & 24 hour Dirty Girls racers are currently ripping it up through the 7 grueling stages of Endurrun, preparing for another 100 miler at Beast of Burden or going full whack in the mountains of B.C. at the Fat Dog 120 miler (which had 2 extra miles added to it this year, just for giggles).

I'm just not that strong.

In an effort not to completely fail at the Iroquoia Trail Test 34k next Saturday, I'm going to try to take things a little easier this week. Actually dust off that foam roller, and spend some more quality time with my pillow.

And, maybe I'll stay away from looking at how much ass my friends are kicking (while wishing them all the very best in their amazing endeavours) - just to try not to feel so weak and pathetic.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The camping trip for 8-year-olds

After a fun but punishing day at Dirty Girls, it was pretty clear that I was in need of some quality recovery time. I vowed to take a full week off of running, and just did some swimming and walking with Tanker the Wonder Sherpa during the few days after. I utterly failed at getting any extra sleep - 5hrs per night being a touch sub-optimal for repairing a beat-up body and brain - but that should come as a surprise to absolutely noone.


I was a somewhat less than productive employee last week, too.

A few months ago, I'd booked us a campsite at Selkirk Provincial Park on the North shore of Lake Erie, just outside Port Dover. The idea was that we'd ride our motorcycles down, camp for the Civic Holiday long weekend, and do some riding while we were there. We got all packed up Friday night, taking until 1am to get everything loaded up on our bikes, and then checked the weather forecast.

Thunderstorms. Lots of them, plus assorted other rain showers at completely unpredictable times throughout the weekend. Sunday supposed to be rainy basically all day.

Now, I'm not one to cancel a trip just because of some precipitation - you can have tons of fun camping even if it rains every day. I do, however, freakin' hate riding my motorcycle in the rain. It's unpleasant at best - painful and dangerous at worst. So, after a solid brunch on Saturday morning, we unloaded the bikes and packed everything into the car, chucking in a few extra luxuries like full-size pillows and an extra tarp, then made our way down to Ontario's South coast.

Pretty sure we're here.

Friendly greeter in the office/park store

Knowing there were supposed to be thunderstorms overnight, we immediately set up one of our more elaborate campsite rigs of all time. Arriving right around 4pm (after a detour to Burlington to pick up a couple of odds and ends on our way down), we were all set for whatever the weather would throw at us by 5:30pm.

Dry tent entrance right beside fully sheltered picnic table FTW!

Selkirk is a tiny little park that we only knew anything about because Turkey Point (at which we'd camped previously on our motorcycles) had been completely booked by the time I went to reserve a site for this trip. There are only about 200 campsites total, and only the ones in our loop (campground 1 - furthest from the beach with no electrical hookups) had any tree cover. We took a walk to explore a little, discovering it was only a 5min walk down the dusty gravel campground road to the shingle beach for swimming, and you could stroll around to the West a hundred metres or so to the sandy dog beach at the entrance to Sandusk Creek.

This is really where the "for 8-year-olds" element really began on this trip, as we found perfect skipping stones on the shingle beach and couldn't resist - Tanker was much better at it than I was, but we both got a few good bounces. After a scorching hot afternoon, it felt lovely to wade through the gently cooling water of Lake Erie as we strolled along the beach, checking out some interesting geological forms on the way to the soft sand around the corner. Then we saw a neat-o water snake half-hidden in the long grass alongside the sandy doubletrack path from the dog beach up to the parking area, and went on a nature hike along the short little (~2k for both loops) Wheeler's Walk Nature Trail.

Through the forest

Over the boardwalk to the West loop

The trail only took about 25mins to stroll, seeing a garter snake and a small toad as we wandered. We got back to our campsite in time to have a quick snack and fill our water bottles, then walked down to the beaches again to watch the sun set.


Clouds starting to roll in.

After the sun went down, we went for a swing on the swingset, then walked back up to our campsite to have dinner...and toast marshmallows, making some into s'mores.

OMNOMNOM

Tanker enjoying a little more adult taste, drinking beer and smoking a cigar by the fire.

We awoke at 4:15am to a riotous thunderstorm banging away outside while dumping bucketfuls of water on the tarp above our tent. Fortunately we'd pitched it on the highest ground on our site and made a dedicated runoff channel in our tarp pitch, so we were snug and dry inside.

Rolling out of bed around 9:30am, it continued to rain on and off the whole morning, so we stayed cozy and dry under the tarp-covered picnic table drinking pots of Tanker's incredible camp coffee and stuffing our faces with entirely too many pancakes - cooked one at a time over our tiny stove and either turned into breakfast sandwiches with bacon & eggs or slathered in peanut butter and maple syrup.

This is one of my favourite things in the whole wide world.

Eventually the rain tapered off to just a few sunshowers, so we jumped in the car and took the scenic route into Port Dover. We strolled Main Street, hitting On the Fringe and a couple of other motorcycle-related shops, plus an incredible bakery I'd heard about to sample some of their delectable treats. Then, it was back to our childish ways, throwing down on the nautical-themed ArborTown MiniGolf course for the 18 holes we'd intended to play (at a different course) on my birthday.


"..it's a Cinderella story.."

CANNON HO!
There are also buoys, an anchor, and even a treasure chest on the various holes!

There's a beautiful little waterfall right in the middle of the course.

After Tanker beat me soundly while rain continued to fall in fits and starts, we took a walk down the pier to have a look at the lighthouse.


I have no idea why my neck looks that wide.

And then I went for a quick wade on the stunning main beach


I'll spare you an actual photograph of me in my bikini.

Returning to Selkirk around 6:30pm, I got changed and went for my first run since Dirty Girls. Of course, as is traditional for me I wore the shirt from the race for my debut post-event outing, only to discover later that its length almost completely covered the shorts I was wearing.


No wonder the other campers were giving me weird looks.

It only took me half an hour to cover the entirety of the nature trail and each of the 5 campground loop roads, which was perfect as I wasn't interested in running for any longer - things were still a little sore from the deep muscle damage done just 8 days beforehand, I fatigue pretty easily after long events, and it was still incredibly hot and humid. It also meant I had plenty of time to grab a snack (ermagherd the brownie & other treats we picked up at the bakery were amazeballs!), get changed, and walk with Tanker back down to the beaches to skip more stones and watch another lovely sunset over Sandusk Creek.


Calmer waters in the gentle breeze.

We swung on the swings again, then walked back up to our campsite to light a fire. Despite predicting rain showers all evening and into the night, it stayed dry from the time we got back from Dover (enough that clouds of dust would rise after cars passed on the campground roads again), so after dinner we were able to peacefully sit by the campfire while toasting more marshmallows for s'mores!


Who needs graham crackers?

There was no evidence that it rained overnight (probably much to the delight of the 3 young raccoons - likely siblings from how close they stuck together - who came wandering into our site looking in vain for unsecured food or scraps), but showers were predicted to start around 2pm on Monday, so after a breakfast of bacon & eggs on bagels with more of Tanker's camp coffee we wasted no time getting the site all torn down and packed into the car. Once we had made sure our site was a little tidier than we'd found it and put out a couple of fires that other campers had left blazing - in the middle of a horrible drought, mind you, when a single spark could torch the whole bloody park - we drove down to the beach so I could go for another wade in the hot, dusty sunshine.

It started to rain again a bit (half an hour early, dangit!) as we sat on a picnic table on the shingle beach so I could dry off in the sun, so we hopped in the car and drove back into Dover to hit up the bakery again.

Yeah, they're that good.

We ended up parked up by Powell Park, then walked down to the beach so I could go for another wade, because the warm water of Lake Erie and the soft sand of the main beach were just too tempting in the blistering sunshine that had taken hold once more.


Ok, I lied about sparing you.

And then, walking back to the car with a bag full of sweet & savoury treats from Trish's (seriously - go there. They have 6 different kinds of butter tart squares plus innumerable other delicious sweets, and their sausage rolls and meat pies are enough to reduce any Briton to tears of joy!), we spotted the last element of our camping trip for gradschoolers.


TEETER TOTTERS!

While not what we'd planned, this was one of the most fun and relaxing weekends I've had in ages. I enjoyed every single minute of it, and was lucky to have such wonderful company with whom to share it all.


Just a couple of big kids after all.

If you're looking for a park that is easily accessible for beginner campers, I can't recommend Selkirk Provincial Park heartily enough. It's about a 90min drive from either KW or Toronto, and is even a participant in the Learn to Camp program through Ontario Parks. We were delighted to see large numbers of brand new campers (judging by people unpacking tents out of their cardboard boxes and removing packing material) of all different cultures enjoying a weekend outdoors, and while the park may be small it just means that all of its amenities are close at hand. There's a full playground as well as the swingset, a sandy volleyball court, a full comfort station with free shower facilities and of course the mild waters of Lake Erie to enjoy while you're there. While our camping trips typically take us to rather more adventurous places, it was a lovely place to spend a leisurely weekend close to home.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Dirty Girls 12-hour Day Trail Run - Saturday, July 23rd, 2016

Brace yourselves, kids: this is going to be a long one. 

Yeah, I know you're shocked - I'm usually so concise! For now, though - courage. Maybe go get yourself a beverage and a snack to get you through this thing. I'll wait.

Ready? Let's go.

Some of the children are bigger than others.

We drove up straight from work and camped in a field on Friday night in sweltering heat - got our tent set up by 8pm or so, then found out that while the Mansfield Outdoor Centre campground has an in-ground pool & hot showers, Dirty Girls does not. We weren't in the actual campground and had no access to the facilities, so that put the kibosh on the pre-race shower and shave. D'oh! I picked up my race kit and my pre-ordered hoodie, chatted with some of the other racers and their support crews (we camped beside a big contingent of KW friends and some other ultra acquaintances, right at the entrance to the trail), then I cooked up some chicken fried rice for my pre-race dinner on our single-burner camp stove before going for a little stroll with Tank. We rolled into bed around 10:30pm, by which time it seemed everyone else had been in bed for about a half-hour. Understandable, considering most of the campers would be racing 24hrs instead of the 12hrs I had on deck.

Eating straight from the pan like a savage with our luxury accommodations in the background.
It's the largest tent out of the 5 we own.

Mass relax on the outside - scared pantless on the inside.
Photo credit to Clay Williams

We were just starting to fall asleep when a group of about a half-dozen rowdy folks showed up, blinding us through the tent wall with their car's headlights and making a hell of a racket as they pulled out their gear and got set up. I managed to get to sleep by 11-ish, but was up around 1:30am for a bit of stargazing and a thorough inspection of the womens' washroom facilities. I crawled back into the tent and got another nap in before rising at 4:40am to make a romantic breakfast of rice porridge with almond butter and maple syrup for one by headlamp in the lingering darkness.


Nothing dorkier than a titanium pot and spork while car camping.

There was still noone else stirring by the time I'd finished eating around 5:30am, though first light had broken and was starting to reveal the hordes of tents along the course.




Everything was still silent when I crawled back into the tent, though, while setting another alarm for 6:30am. By the time that went off and I rose for the day, the other racers had come alive and legions of 32k, 6-hour and other 12-hour racers were showing up. Tanker made coffee, a friend who was doing the 6-hour and then hanging around to help Tank crew for me showed up (thanks Jen!), I got my straw from Ron Gehl, and I played some tunes on my phone while I got all my pre-race stuff done.


Tanker always takes the most flattering photos.

I ran down my goals for the day in my head as I swung my various appendages around in an effort to get them loosened up. In descending order of importance, I wanted to come out without injury, keep going for the full 12 hours, have some fun along the way, and ideally complete 9 loops for a total of 72km. A little 3-phrase mantra had popped into my head a few days earlier that I'd carry with me all day:

Walk a little. Eat something. Smile.

Swingin' & smilin'
The entrance to the first trail section is behind me, past the sumac.

A quick washroom stop, then up the slope to the start line and into the crowd of 6-hour, 12-hour day and 24-hour racers - the 32k would start a half-hour later than the timed races, and the 12-hour night race wouldn't go off until my race was over at 8pm.


Trying not to look like too much of a poseur..

At 8am, a horn sounded and we all meandered off down the field and into the woods. It was 23c/73f at starting time and a heavy dew had fallen overnight, so it was already rather toasty and humid within the first half-hour. The trail was hilly right from the start and rolled relentlessly all the way through. We're in the middle of a drought, so the woods were bone dry with heaps of deep, energy-sucking sand and puffy, dusty leafmould that would hang in the air for a minute after a runner passed through - I was still blowing black dust out of my nose Sunday afternoon from inhaling it, and everyone's legs were black up their calves from the dust sticking to sweat. The only saving graces were the wind and shade, which we had for most of the course.


Look at all those topographical lines huddled together, like they're whispering to each other about how they're going to wreck my legs..

There's no sugar-coating this one - it's a really effin' hard race. There are two major climbs (Happy Girl's Access & Dirty Runners' Pain), the tops of which are steeper than any other part. Both are fairly deeply grooved from washout and some of the least shaded portions of the trail. The latter is particularly nasty in that you come down the quad-busting descent of Chatty Girl Escape no.2 to a hairpin turn, then you're right back up Dirty Runners' Pain - you can actually see the other runners making their way up as you run down, which is great for camaraderie on the course as you can exchange some encouragement, but damn it's tough knowing you'll have to gain back every foot of elevation you lose on that painful downhill just to get past the 6k mark.


The rest of it is no cake walk, either.

While challenging, the course really is very beautiful, with distinct sections: pine forest, open glade, root steps, gravelly dirt fire road, hardwood rolling hills. Chatty Girl Escape no.1 starts off with a plunge through dense foliage, Single Again has a section of sunny, open ferns that almost feels like running through the jungle, while both Hippy Runner's Chillout and Earth Girl's High are typical Ontario woodsy-feeling with lots of roots to trip over. Both Dirty Intro and Dirty Boy-Muscle Boy Duel have very steep, sandy climbs that are tough on the quads and calves because there isn't really enough of a base to get weight onto your heels, so you end up ascending with your toes dug in. There are some stunning views from the top of the escarpment on Lover's Leap, but it feels like it takes for bloody ever to get just to the innocuous little yellow sign for the 2k cutoff point, let alone to the aid station at 4k and beyond. Once you pick your way through the roots of Dirty Boy's Confusion, though, it's all downhill on Beer Gut Boy's a-Singin' and onto the Free Time Trail that curls around to the right and over one last, sandy hummock to the start/finish in the middle of the field. Note that I may have mixed up the exact locations there - I may have seen each part repeatedly, but I'm dumb as a post when I'm running, and doubly so when it's hot and sunny out. The open areas were murderous when the temperature climbed to 35c/95f with a humidex over 40c/104f and the sun would beat you down, but most of the course was shady and breezy. The wind was a real help as I spent most of the day drenched, and it would accelerate evaporative cooling. 


I AM THE WETTEST THING EVER
Photo credit to Jeff Wemp

All that sweat has to be replaced (well, to the extent possible) by drinking, so I was hydrating constantly. From my very first loop it was clear that I'd quickly start running out of water in my hand bottle before the 4k aid station - I'd have to tell Tank when I got to my crew stop to have my vest ready, since I'd need to carry more than one bottle as I slowed down and the extra strap I'd ordered hadn't come in on time.


Completely accurate assessment from a friend who did the 6-hour.

I also needed to stay on top of electrolytes and nutrition, so I started in with the S!caps and EFS Liquid Shot at 50mins, then kept up with both fairly regularly (30-40mins). I had to stop by the portajohns before crossing through the start/finish of my first lap because apparently the coffee Tank made me came a little late and was still working its magic in my digestive tract when I set off - I felt much better after losing some more weight, and got my bottle filled at the start/finish aid station. 

One down - lots to go.

Running down the slope to my crew stop, I realised that I'd be better off just getting Tanker to fill my bottle for me so I didn't have to stop twice. After seeing my time for the first lap (1:09:51), though, I was fairly certain I wouldn't be able to make my goal of 72km in the 12 hours. I actually thought it was more like 1h12m, because I was looking at my watch as I was getting to my crew stop rather than when I crossed the timing mats. I knew that the climbing and descending would take its toll and my pace decay would be ruthless as the hours wore on and the heat continued to rise, but I just figured I'd do the best I could and see how it came out. I'd be totally happy just finishing, and 64km seemed pretty achievable - a nice, square number. 


Who you callin' a square?

I grabbed a big chunk of lemon cookie in a baggie and stuffed it in my pocket, then got back out there after a kiss from my sweetheart. For the most part, I was just happily frolicking through the first 2 loops. It was beautiful, there were lots of people I knew running, and I was feeling pretty good. The inside of my left big toe junction with my foot (a chronic problem area) started to feel a bit blister-y, but it actually went away on its own. I hoped that the sand and dust wouldn't much my feet too badly, especially after I lubed them up and gave it all something to stick to. I ate a little too much cookie with too little water and ran a little too hard afterward at one point - I had to slow down a bit to let myself drink and digest, but otherwise no problems. Laps 1-3 were all negative splits, coming in at 1:09:33 for my second and 1:09:22 for my third for a cumulative 24k time of 3:28:46. 


3 down and still illin'

I ate some giant corn nuts for some salty food and kept up with EFS Liquid Shot and S!caps at intervals until I finished the flask of EFS, then downed an Endurance Tap gel for a bit of variety. I also had a chunk of banana and an orange slice at the 4k aid station while waiting for the wonderful volunteers to fill my bottle with ice and water - the ice was a wonderful help in trying to keep myself from overheating, even just from having the cold against my palm as I carried the bottle in its harness. I'd also start pouring cups of water down my chest and back, and into the tubular thing I had around my wrist as the day wore on.


Leaving the 4k aid station
Photo credit to Clay Williams

I figured if I could pull off the first 5 laps in under 6 hours, I might actually be able to eke out 4 more in the second half of the race. Coming in at 1:12:35 from my 4th lap meant I was starting to slow down - it was starting to get tougher, especially as it was now about 12:40pm and into the part of the day with the least shade. I continued with nutrition, hydration, and cooling strategies as best I could, and chatted with friendly people along the way. I managed not to trip and fall on any of the myriad roots and rocks, and only jammed/rolled my left ankle once - incredible, given how clumsy I am and how technical the trail was (except, of course, where the photos were taken..). I did, however, kick a root REALLY EFFIN' HARD with my right big toe (while I was WALKING, no less) right around the 5-hour mark. Amusingly enough, I did the same thing to the other big toe at Conquer the Canuck last month, so I guess now I'm even.



OW OW CRAP DAMN HELL STUPID FARK AAAAARGH

It throbbed and hurt and I wondered how much damage I'd done, but told it I didn't have time for its whining - I still had a long way to go. Fortunately, it shut the hell up and was totally fine after about 15mins, That let me bring my 5th lap in clocking 1:17:36 - now at 5:58:57 cumulative time for 40km, I was just under the wire for my roughly-calculated estimate of being able to reach my distance goal.


It's getting harder as the sun gets higher..

Before setting off for the second half, I took my longest stop of the entire race at my crew area. My right sock had got bunched up right at the outside of my arch and was munching on my foot, so I stopped to sort that out by un-hooking my gaiter and just reefing on the cuff of the sock to try to un-bunch it. I had felt some dampness in my shoe earlier, and I didn't want to know if it was my poor toe bleeding. I had already resolved at this point I wouldn't be changing socks or shoes unless something really awful happened, despite having brought 3 extra pairs of socks (in case the sand was macerating my feet or things got muddy) and a second pair of shoes that fit a bit bigger in case my feet swelled. Other than the hotspot that I hoped to resolve with a great big tug, my feet seemed to be doing ok. I could feel a couple of blisters on my second toes, because I have a stupid tendency to pinch them together with my big toes when I run, but they weren't that big a deal.


Still smiling after 40k

I finally grabbed my vest, which meant I needed more lube (it chews on my neck if I'm not all greased up, and I figured I might as well re-apply to the "chub rub" areas as well to be on the safe side), and I scarfed back half of the turkey wrap with mustard I'd made for myself that morning. I wasted some time getting the stuff out of the pockets of my top before putting on the vest, only to discover that the back sits high enough that I could have just left everything as it was and had perfect access. After what felt like forever but was probably only 5 or 6 minutes, I finally set off for the second half of my day. The sixth loop would bring me to 48k, which is the minimum qualifying standard for awards in the 12-hour day race...not that I figured I'd be winning anything, but it was nice to at least know I'd made the minimum distance. I hated donning the vest - the weight of a 600ml bottle of water on my shoulders and the feeling of something wrapped around my ribcage as I was breathing heavily was bad enough, but when I came to a small downhill bit on Dirty Intro and started to run, the bouncing and sloshing of the bottle was driving me nuts! I'd have to get used to it, though, since it was the only way I had to carry enough water to get myself to the 4k aid station - I'd emptied my hand bottle by the time I reached 2k. I scarfed back a couple of watermelon slices when I made it to the aid station, though - just heaven on a hot day.


I eventually forgot about hating the vest.

I got bitten by a couple of deer flies on this lap, so ended up picking up a stick to scratch the bites (on the backs of my upper arms, so not easy to reach) and to whack any others that tried to get a piece of me. I stepped over a tree fallen across the trail and could have sworn that it hadn't been there earlier, but memory was no longer a reliable guide to events. I did, however, find out later (reading Jen's race report) that a tree did in fact fall - I wasn't completely out of it after all. I was really slowing down a lot, though, and worrying that my 72k goal was slipping out of reach due to fatigue and pace decay.  It was getting harder to recover from the effort of hiking up the steep hills and start running again, and I was running less and less on the flat areas - basically just the downhills, and sometimes only for 10-15 feet at a time. I'd never run more than 6h38m before (at the Conquer the Canuck 50k last month), and this lap brought me to 7h26m, so it's not hard to see why I was beginning to fade. The hills were getting much harder, too, so I knew I'd done the right thing by having my trekking poles waiting for me. Now that the 32k & 6-hour racers were off the course, the woods were much emptier, so I spent a lot of time on my own out there without seeing another soul. Fortunately, I train alone and am pretty comfortable in my own head - sometimes I could even gap out a little while trying to do math to figure out the splits I'd need, and suddenly discover I'd been running for a couple of minutes without really realising it. My hands were quite swollen despite regular intake of S!caps, so I figured maybe I would try reducing my electrolyte intake a little in case it was making me retain water - I was getting some salt from the corn nuts, cookies, crisp rice treats and turkey wrap anyway. At 1:27:40, I was a full 10mins slower than the prior lap and couldn't afford to slow down much more & still make my goal. I decided I wouldn't do my usual "tourist lap" with the camera because it would mean I would stop to get non-blurry photos, and since this was my A-race for the year I was pretty motivated to get those miles in. So, unfortunately no pretty trail pics this time.


Yeah, I haz teh sads about that, too.

I ditched the whacking stick (in my hand above) after getting Tanker the Wonder Sherpa to spray me with bug repellent, then headed out for lap 7. You feel like a total rock star running through the open field with all the other racers, their supporters, and the volunteers all cheering for you as you pass by. Back into the woods for more sandy, dusty fun, where the heat of the day had worked its magic on the pine trees and filled the air with the delicious, clean scent of their sap. I ended up spending a lot of this loop chatting with a 24hr racer who was moving about the same speed...by which I mean we were both walking everything except the downhills, and running progress was generally just a few seconds at a time. The pleasant company made things go by a little more easily, but I ended up losing him (without ever learning his name!) on Dirty Boy's Confusion when I started running down a sketchy, rooty descent that he felt was safer to walk. I totally don't blame him - I'm still surprised I managed to stay upright on some of those technical bits.


Courting death

I had just over 3 hours left when I came through my crew stop (lap 7 took me 1:25:13, so a couple of minutes quicker due to less time changing up gear), taking my first caffeinated gel of the day. If you haven't tried Gu's sea salt chocolate Roctane, you're missing out on pure gold for long, hot running. Unfortunately, the flask with the salty chocolatey goodness in it was buried under a few things in my cooler bag and I had trouble finding it, leading to the closest I had to a meltdown all day - when I found the two empty EFS flasks on top and still had to keep digging (while bent over because the bag was on the ground - NOT an easily tenable position after nearly 9 hours of running), I got a little snippy with Tanker the Wonder Sherpa for burying useful stuff under useless objects. WHY WOULD YOU PILE EMPTY FLASKS ON TOP? I finally found what I was after, then discovered that the thick consistency made it a pain in the arse to slurp out of a flask. D'oh! I got it into me, though, and got Tanker to stick my trekking poles in the back of my vest to start my 8th lap, yelling to him that I love him over my shoulder as I dove back into the trail. I neglected to drop the harness for my hand bottle, though, despite knowing the bottle wouldn't fit in the pocket of my vest with it on, and that I wouldn't be able to have the bottle on my hand when I was using the poles. So, when it came time to stow my bottle as I got to the bottom of the climb up Happy Girl's Access, I ended up clipping the harness in the straps of the front of my vest. 


It may look stupid, but it worked perfectly.

My shoulders HATED the poles immediately, but I knew I'd made the right choice. Despite only having used them on one short hike since last October (and never while running - I meant to try it on a training run, but it just didn't happen), I use poles when I backpack and they helped in a few different ways: 
  1. I kept a better walking cadence on flats & gentle rises because I have a natural rhythm when swinging the poles. 
  2. They improved my posture. I'd been slouching while ascending, and my lower back was starting to get sore from the strain. The poles made me keep myself upright, and the pain in my back disappeared.
  3. They took just enough load off my quads on the climbs that I could keep running the downhills. I could also double-pole my way up a couple of really, really steep bits that I might have literally had to crawl otherwise. 
My hands had providently deflated enough to make handling the poles comfortable, and a quick stop to water a tree somewhere along the way let me know that slowing my salt intake was probably a pretty good idea. It was harder to drink water with the poles in my hands, but I was able to take one off and have a drink pretty regularly while walking on the flat sections. When I'd run, I'd just lift the tips up behind me so I didn't have to fuss with the wrist straps, being very careful to lift them in front of me if I heard someone coming up behind me so as not to stab anyone. As time wore on I could feel some hot spots developing on my thumbs from the bouncing of the straps in my hands as I ran with them, so perhaps in future I should bring a pair of cycling gloves if I think I'll need the poles again. With some wonderful encouragement from some other racers out on the course (thanks Kinga and Giovanni!), my 8th lap was a decently consistent 1:25:53, bringing me just past the 10h17m mark as I crossed the start/finish for the penultimate time. Bit of a funny moment along the way - I looked down at my Garmin sometime during the lap, seeing 63km for my total distance and thought "that doesn't make sense - I can't run that far".



Results say that was a lie.

I had another shot of sea salt chocolate Gu Roctane before I set off for my last lap, hoping the caffeine would give me a bit of a boost again to get this done before the 12-hour cutoff. Having over 1h40m left gave me confidence I'd make it, but I also wanted to hedge my bets as much as possible, so I dropped everything I had on me that I could do without. The harness got un-hooked from my vest and ditched, and I only took 1 Endurance Tap gel with me to have at the halfway point. I was out of my crew stop had gone a few feet before realising I hadn't got my between-lap kiss from Tank, and he was sweet enough to come jogging down so I wouldn't have to go back. Freshly smooched, I was on my way again. My quads were very sore by now - you know you're in rough shape when you have to take a deep breath and grit your teeth before starting to run down a gentle slope because you know it's going to be horribly painful.

Unvarnished truth.

I was also double-poling my way up all of the steep, sandy climbs, as my legs just didn't have the strength to do it any other way - had I not brought the poles, I'd have had to lever myself up with my hands on my knees, if not just crawl. I stayed pretty chipper the whole way through, though - I never had any dark periods where I felt like quitting. As a matter of fact, it occurred to me later that despite having massive trepidations about my ability to even finish the race in the days and weeks beforehand, when the horn went off the only question in my mind was whether or not I'd make my distance goal. I never lacked confidence on the actual day in my ability to keep going, despite the heat and the truly challenging nature of the course. 

I wasn't really feeling much worse than the previous lap, and just focused on making steady progress while enjoying the increased shade and decreased heat from evening's onset. I got really, really hungry at this point, too - it has been awhile since I had any real food (I'd gone back to just gels while using the poles for simplicity after finishing the last of my chunk of lemon cookie around 8.5hrs), and my belly was growling! I knew I had taken in enough calories to keep me going at my slower pace, though, so just knocked back my lone Endurance Tap as I approached the 4k aid station and ditched the wrapper in a garbage bag. I didn't even bother taking the time to get ice in my bottle there this time - I was less concerned about cooling and more about just getting things done, though I did thank all the volunteers profusely for their wonderful help and enthusiasm all day long. Leaving the aid station with 55mins before time would run out, I knew I had it pretty much in the bag, but continued to push myself to run where I could so as not to let all that hard work go for naught through laziness and overconfidence.


No getting cocky - I could still trip over my own feet.

Finally, with about 13mins to spare despite taking things a touch easier on the final descents (so I'd be able to run through the field to the finish arch), I crossed the line one last time to complete the 72k I'd set out to do.

I can haz collapse now?

I usually run the clock right out at timed events, but the next checkpoint would be at 2k and it would take me at least 25mins to get there - I wouldn't reach it in time for it to count, and then I'd have to turn around and walk back out again. So, I said forget that, and set about getting out of my sweaty, filthy, salt-encrusted kit. My Garmin actually says I did 73.4km, and the loop is actually reportedly 8.05km (which would give me 72.45km), but I'm not that fussy about it. The amazing thing is, I believe that if I'd had time I could have managed at least one more lap, especially with as consistent as I was in my last 3. I also ended up with a 19min8sec difference between my fastest lap and my slowest - a reasonably respectable pace decay of 27.6% for my first whack at something of this scale, let alone on such an unforgiving course and day. All of this gives me huge confidence for attempting a 50 miler at some point in the future.


Official distance: 72.0km 
3/4 in W30-39 - 4/9 Women - 7/19 O/A


w00t!

Ok, now feed me.

Apart from being made of salt and pain, my feet were nightmarishly dirty afterwards - sand & puffy leafmould stuck to Sportshield - and I had a couple of big, ripe blisters on my second toes, a very minor blister where my sock had bunched up, plus some heat rash on my inner thighs and ankles. Still not too shabby, though. My hands hadn't ended up blistering from the pole straps, and I hadn't had any GI issues during the race, either, which was pretty awsome. Even better were the kind congratulations from all the friendly people in the field, some of whom had even waited around after their own races just to see me finish, and some of whom were perfect strangers that were just generous with their praise for a hot, tired, smelly girl. You guys are the best!


This is why I had debated lubing up my feet in the morning..

I had to do clean myself up as best I could with wet wipes, as the race director informed us there was only a "Polish shower" (garden hose with nothing but cold water), but I couldn't have cared less about being a bit filthy - I was bathed in the afterglow of the race, and seeing my months of hard training pay off. I'd teeter around like a drunk on my rapidly stiffening legs if I tried to walk, so I mostly just sat in my camp chair with my feet up at my crew stop, cheering on the 24hr & 12hr night racers (the latter having started at 8pm, when my race officially finished) and took 3 whole hours to drink a single tall can of beer! I'm not sure I've ever been cozier than hanging by trail entrance wearing my Dirty Girl wonder hoodie & wrapped in a Star Wars quilt, drinking a Glutenberg Double Belgian and eating everything in arm's reach.


And making a bloody great racket as darkness fell.

"Keep hands and feet away from her mouth"

By 1:30am neither Tanker nor I couldn't stop yawning, so we crawled into the tent and slept. I awoke around 7:15am, and managed to make it out of the tent (unassisted, much to my surprise!) in plenty of time to see the last of the 24-hour & 12-hour night race. Lots of dirty people - I seem to be one of the only ones who didn't take a header at some point on the course, and I heard there was some crawling happening up some of the nastier bits in the dark hours of the night. Not surprised - even with glow sticks all along the way, I couldn't imagine trying to negotiate that trail in the dark!

After making breakfast we packed up camp and headed southwest toward Canmbridge. We got home around 1pm, and by 2pm I had finally scrubbed all the dirt and salt off and was merely in horrible pain. My legs were shredded, and even stupid stuff like the sides of my boobs hurt. When I'd take a halfway decent breath, the backs of my shoulders and my lats would hurt. The small victory for Tuesday was been standing up from the toilet without needing to use my arms, and it took until Thursday before I could tackle a set of stairs like a normal human being again.

I did get rather a shock on Sunday evening, though, when I finally bothered to check the results. It turns out I was 2nd of 4 in my age group, 3rd woman out of 9 and 5th overall (EDIT: the results were later updated & I ended up 4th woman / 7th overall) out of the 19 racers who completed at least one lap! So not only did I apparently do surprisingly well - I was only 1 full lap behind the overall winners - but the girls owned the day at Dirty Girls with 3 out of the top 5 places going to females! The first male (3rd overall) only did 76k where as the ladies who took #1 & #2 both did 80km (of course, I later found out the reason I was only 1 lap down on race winner and freakin' awesome runner April is that she was suffering from terrible hamstring cramping). No award for me (only 1st M/F overall & 1st in each age group got plaques), but I'm stunned to have ended up placed so highly given how strong the field of runners are in the Ontario ultra community (which still sort of holds true even with the updated, more modest placing).


Maybe not quite such a poseur after all.

I can't say enough to express how fantastic this whole race experience was. The "summer camp vibe" from camping with other racers, the organization, layout, incredible volunteers and stunningly beautiful, challenging course all come together to make for a simply spectacular weekend. There's an awful rumour that this may be the last year for this race, which makes me sad that I won't be able to go back for more dirty fun but deliriously happy that I at least got to experience it once. Huge thanks to race director Diane and her whole crew of hard-working folks who pulled off this massive undertaking with clockwork precision and grace!