Friday, October 31, 2014

Horror Hill 6-hour Ultra - Saturday, October 25th, 2014

I decided to give it a go, injury be damned. Really - how bad could it be?

Step one - get out of bed and apply kinesiology tape. I went with a different achilles/calf strain application that I hoped would protect the injured soleus and also support the gastrocs, which would have to take over and do a lot more work than usual. It seemed logical.

Do you know how hard it is to photograph the back of your own leg?

Bagel, coffee, arrive at race site. It's a gorgeous sunrise and looks like it'll be a perfect day - none of the horrible rain or snow of the last 2 years. Skirt up, say hello to the wonderful people with whom I'll be sharing the trail, get my straw from Ron Gehl (choosing to believe nothing bad can happen if I have it), and hope like hell this works. Tanker asked if I was going to get a warm-up run in, to which I gave an emphatic no: I was trying to save whatever my poor calf might have in it for racing.

I did, however, do a little skirt-stuffed-into-my-pants boogie.

Ok, ready as I'm going to get.

One last portajohn stop with less than 5mins to the start, then head for the back of the bunch and off we go.

Crossing the timing mat to start the day.

I ran down the long hill past the pavilion/aid station, around the pond and start back up the hill to the turn into the woods. This is as far as I thought I'd make it, but the damaged soleus actually seems ok. No pain, no need to alter my stride - I make the turn to the technical drop into the forest with a little grin on my face as my calf apparently came to play.

You got it!

By some odd coincidence, one of the first people I really notice that I'm running behind is a fellow whose shirt back reads "Achilles - Running through disability". I take it as a good sign and press on.

Reaching the bottom of the two really, really steep climbs (the ones that reduce pretty much everyone except some of the 5k runners to a walk), I mentally cross my fingers and start to ascend. Fortunately it goes just fine, and I'm back to running again when I reach the top of the second bit. It's working!

The first big stinkin' hill - it's even steeper than it looks here.
(Photo found on twitter - would credit the source if I could find them!)


As you can see above, fallen leaves thickly coated the trail, so it was tough to be sure of footing as I ran along. I was also stuck at the back of a big conga line of runners - things are always pretty bunched up for the first loop, as there aren't many places to pass and all of the 5k, 10k, and 25k runners (no 3-hour option this year) are still on course. I actually kind of welcomed it, since it ensured I didn't go too hard out of the gate.

Around the big woods section, down the sketchy descent, then out of the forest and onto the gravel road up toward the building. Calf was actually feeling damn near normal - huge win!

The 2.5km loop.

Who farted?

Through the parking lot, then back into the trees again for the smaller woods loop and onto the long descent. I ditched a lot of the conga line, crossed the timing mats and then passed Tanker at the aid station while happily reporting no issues so far. Wahoo!

The runner behind me is clearly at race weight.

I came through a second lap after about 34mins without any pain and then a third around 50mins, so decided to have a swig of EFS Liquid Shot from the flask I'd bought the night before while picking up race kit at Runner's Choice. I'd already made it longer than I had on Tuesday without anything blowing out, and figured if I was going to be in it for the long haul I'd need some calories. I had done some carbo-loading in the couple of days before the race and really hoped I could make it through at least 90mins so it wouldn't have been in vain! The day warmed up and I had to pull off my earband and roll up my sleeves to dump some heat as I rolled along.

From the official photos

Tanker took this one - thanks for making me look strong, babe!

I started to tick off minor milestones along the way: 10km took me past the 1 hour mark, then at 12.5km I had run twice as far as Tuesday's ill-fated workout, with another gulp of EFS Liquid Shot around 1h25m. I treated myself to a peanut butter Gu at 2 hours, then had to hit a portajohn at around 2h15m as I passed the building heading for the 20k mark. While the calf injury wasn't bothering me, I noticed my effort level on the uphills was probably not going to be sustainable for the full 6 hours - I was puffing pretty hard as I ran up the long climb in the woods. Then again, I figured there was about a 0.0% chance I'd be able to run the whole thing, so maybe it wouldn't be a big deal. I kept up the calories, though, with more EFS Liquid Shot around 2h35m after passing 22.5km. I had also rolled both of my ankles a few times on roots and rocks hidden under the leaves. I'm sure that wasn't helping anything.

Running with a friendly blog reader - Robin was doing her first Horror Hill

To everyone's surprise, my soleus hung in there through 27.5km (11 loops) and over 3 hours, about which I was overjoyed - at least I'd made it through more than 25k, because that would have been cheaper to enter! However, I'd only got one single run of over 20km/2hrs in since the Waterloo Marathon at the end of April (just under 23k about 3 weeks before race day), and my legs were starting to feel the accumulated fatigue without the training to back it up. I had another swig of EFS Liquid Shot to try to perk me up, but it was about this time that the calf started to get grumpy. 

Ok, we'll do it your way.

I came down the long hill to the pond, and as I ran through the little dip I felt a twinge that made me drop to a walk. A friend whom I've known through this race for years happened to be walking along just ahead of where I slowed, so I quickened my pace a bit to fall in step with him and actually ended up walking the whole rest of that lap as we chatted about backpacking and canoeing and the wonders of exploring the outdoors. I had meant to run the downhill bits, but Chris is good company and I wasn't really feeling any pressure to make distance - for all I knew coming into the race I'd be walking all day anyway, or possibly even heading home after less than 1 full lap, so I was more than happy to just enjoy some conversation while hiking through the forest.

Unfortunately, the weather had turned a bit uglier as a cold front came in. We only got some very light rain showers, but the wind whipped up and I started to get chilled. As I passed the aid station I thanked Chris for a nice chat but said I had to go run to warm myself back up again.

Still doing ok...ish.

Rounding the pond, I ended up dropping to a walk again as I hit the little dip. The calf just didn't want to cooperate, and I didn't want to do any further harm. I was looking at the very real possibility of having to walk for the final 2.5hrs of the race, and wasn't yet sure how I felt about that. I decided I'd just keep testing to see what I could do, and keep walking as long as it didn't hurt to do so.

Dorking it up as I went.

I came through 35k almost right at 4 hours, and whil I only needed 3 more laps in order to make it an actual ultra, though (42.5k being more than a standard 42.2km marathon distance), I was definitely feeling a bit worse for wear. I was still able to run the long downhill through the timing mats down to the pond, plus the gentle downhill portion in the woods, but I was walking almost everything else. I got my chocolate peanut butter Gu (with a bit of caffeine) from Tanker to try to put some zip in my step, but also threw on a light jacket as I wasn't able to run consistently enough to keep myself warm in the bone-chilling wind. 

Still dorking.

Feeling that I'd be unable to do much more than walk for the last hour and a half, I actually ditched my flask of EFS Liquid Shot asked Tanker to get out the chocolate chip cookie I'd brought as a post-race snack. I planned to eat it right around the 5 hour mark as a treat for hanging in, but in the meantime I decided to see if there were any banana chunks at the aid station. I ate about a 2.5" piece and was off to the pond once again.

Little did I know that banana was freakin' magic! Suddenly my calf quieted down and I was able to start running up some mild hills again. I think my gastrocs (which I was forcing to compensate for the damaged soleus by digging the ball of my foot into the ground when climbing) were getting too fatigued to handle the extra load, but the banana helped get them firing again. Things improved even more after I had a salted caramel Gu (best. flavour. EVER.) with elevated electrolytes just past 5 hours - against all odds I was running stuff in the last couple of loops I hadn't run for hours - pace per loop was back to where it had been around the 2hr mark!

Calf after the magic banana.

Completing another lap

I pushed hard through the last full lap plus another partial lap before the horn went, having lost count but thinking I'd at least made it through more than a marathon. The sun came back out, and I ditched my jacket again as I was running consistently enough to need to dump heat. I was super happy to make it past 42.5k so it truly was an "ultramarathon" for the day, though a bit sad at the same time because conditions were perfect and my run fitness has been awesome this summer. Had I not blown the calf I could've PR'd for sure.

Lap times with a few notes

I actually got Tanker to come up to the timing mats just to get a photo of me with the time clock so there would be some evidence that I was still running close to the 6 hour mark!

ill advised racing gang sign and all.

So we go inside and listen to the awards while I get an AMAZING massage and some post-race food (though I never did eat that chocolate chip cookie). Instead of finisher's medals this year, we were given certificates of completion with our final distance. Now, the timing company made a small error and credited everyone with a complete final lap, but I was still surprised to see mine said 47.5km.


It turns out I'd somehow missed a lap in my count, and had actually completed 18 full (45.0km) plus 1.6km of my final lap.

Official distance: 46.6km
0.1km PR (prior best 46.5km in 2011)

4/10 F<40 - 6/13 Women - 22/39 O/A
Official results here

So apparently despite walking that one full lap plus about 2/3 of most laps past the halfway mark, I still managed a 0.1km PR in a race I've now done 5 times.

That's worth a couple of thumbs up.

More awesome things from the race:

There was a volunteer dressed as a zombie marauding around the course for most of the day. He'd hide behind trees and run out at competitors, or hide himself in a pile of fallen leaves and jump out at people. Scared the crap out of a few of us!

Photo lifted from the overall winner's race report

My friend and stud ultrarunner Steven Parke guiding the indomitable Rhonda Marie Avery through the 6 hour race - meet Team Tutu!

They raised $550 for KidsAbility, too!

Why does Rhonda need a guide? Because she's legally blind, and still a more badass ultrarunner than I could ever hope to be! Also the sweetest girl you could ever ask to meet - she's a sports therapist by trade, and generously offered to help out with taping up my calf before the race (on which I'd have taken her up had I not done so before leaving the house), and told me to find her to work on it if it started bothering me while I was running. All sugar with a core of pure iron, that one!

And finally, the fellow I'd seen first thing in the Achilles shirt actually ran his final lap in the storm trooper helmet I'd seen him wearing when we first arrived at the race site.

He beat me by 2km, too!

The best part of all, though? Far from having done any further damage, at 2 days post-race my calf was feeling better than it had at any point since the injury. I took a full 3 days off running and eased back in with an easy 4k on Wednesday and 5k on Thursday, by which point the injury site felt almost completely back to normal. My right (non-injured) calf actually felt tighter than the left! I'm continuing to do knee-wall touches and heel drops - now with both legs instead of just the left - and making sure to warm up my lower legs prior to heading out the door, but I'm confident I have the damage under control and will be well healed in time for the Chocolate Run. A far cry from my expectations when things started to hurt last week!

Post-race glow.

I can only wonder what might have been if I hadn't had to contend with the injury. Fingers crossed for 50k in 2015!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Here goes nothing..

So, like a good girl, I tapered for Horror Hill.

I nixed a hilly road 10 miler last Saturday in favour of a 10 kilometer trail run.

Sunday was an easy-pace 6km trail run which was originally going to be 10k.

I kept the mileage down (ok, 46km instead of 56km for the week), and for once even started getting some sleep.

Running rocks!

I ran easy on Monday evening - just a half-hour around my neighbourhood. I did have to run on some uneven grass a couple of times to avoid inconsiderate people who feel the sidewalk is their sacred domain, not to be yielded to some dorky runner, but it seemed like no big deal.

I headed out Tuesday evening in misting rain for my last hard run before the race: 6.5km of tempo. I took off a little more quickly than I intended up our street, feeling a bit of a chill - it's definitely not July anymore. There was a bit of a twinge from my left lower leg, but it diminished rapidly.

All went fine as I climbed to my turn-around point, though my throat felt a little phlegmy. "Great - just what I need!" I though, turning on the jets a bit at the top of the last uphill so I could make the light to cross the street. "A damn cold isn't going to help at all.."

You see, I was actually entertaining the idea of a PR at Horror Hill this year. I've been running really well since mid-summer, and while I've only done a single run of 20+km / 2+ hours since the Waterloo Marathon, I know that my endurance is in pretty good shape from a few years of long distance stuff (not to mention the marathon and Around the Bay in the spring).

I cruised through the mostly-downhill return route back to the house, thinking about what kind of swim I'd put in at the pool after the run.



As I came to a slight uphill less than a kilometer from home, the back of my left calf SCREAMED at me! It felt like the achilles tendon above my ankle was caught in a bear trap, and it was all I could do to keep running up to the top of the small climb.

When I got there, though, and darted back across the road (now on flat ground into a downhill) it felt just fine.


So I kept running. Onto my street, down the slope and around the bend, then another slight uphill to the end of my driveway.

More pain.


I did my usual post-run walk and dynamic stretches, noticing that walking "grapevine" style or stepping backward down the slope to my house (both of which stretch the soleus) was extremely painful. Walking forwards downhill or on a flat surface was just fine, but even tottering up the mild rise of my driveway was unpleasant.

Into the house and up the stairs, I'd have to put my whole foot on each step in order to walk up pain-free. After changing for the pool, stepping down a stair with my right foot would make the trailing left leg hurt, but I noted that I could avoid any pain by making sure I lifted my heel.


The swim was fine - the sore calf actually felt better afterwards than it did before, despite twinging nastily while doing some breast stroke (frog kicking) for a cool-down. I gave the whole back of my left lower leg a good rub-down with some witch hazel, then some arnica cream, and slapped on a compression sock.

Wednesday I had planned as a rest day anyway, so I foam rolled as usual in the morning before work. I spent more time than my boss would like to know about on teh interwebz looking for information about the issue, coming to the conclusion that I'd probably strained my soleus. No pain doing anything with a straight leg, so probably not an achilles tendon issue after all - it only hurts when I do bent-leg stuff. I actually even went so far as to pick up some kinesiology tape and slap on a hybrid achilles/calf strain application.


I also read a lot of stuff about how this sort of thing doesn't really respond well to rest, but that people have had success treating similar problems with eccentric heel drops and knee to wall touches.

I got to work. 20 knee to wall touches every time I used the bathroom at the office. Sets of 15 heel drops every time I was near a step.

Things began to feel better. I was able to do my usual Thursday pre-race yoga (2 sun salutations + 2 moon salutations) without much pain, and got in more heel drops. I was walking pain free even up mild slopes, and only feeling a twinge walking down stairs. I can walk up stairs with my heel over fresh air, and it doesn't hurt. Hitting the pool Thursday evening, I had no pain at all even when breast stroking.

The tape job began to come off before I even got in the water, though.

I had a really good stretch out in the hot tub afterwards, peeling off the last of the adhering tape, then went for a walk 'round the block with Tanker once I got home. More rubbing with with hazel and arnica, and more compression sockery.

As I sit and write this.
Yes, I know I'm a complete knob.

So that brings us to today. It's definitely not perfect, but about the same as yesterday only un-taped. There is no visible or palpable swelling, bruising or lumpiness to indicate a rupture. It hurts like a bitch when I roll it out with an oversized tennis ball (better for targeting the soleus than a cylindrical roller), but most of the time it feels pretty much ok. I haven't tried running since it happened.

Packet pickup is this evening. The race is tomorrow at 9am.

The biggest thing I have to consider is that I can't mess myself up any further. I have another race coming up in mid-November that means the world to me, and even if I can't pull off the Chocolate Double (the 10k at 7:30am PLUS the 5k at 9:30am) I must be able to run the 5k that day.

I really only have two options:

1) Pull a DNS and sleep in. 
2) Go see how far I can make it. 

For those of you who are regular readers, I'm pretty sure you know there's really only one option.

How bad could it be?

So this may end up being less than a 6 minute race instead of a 6 hour race, but I have to give it a whack. After all, I raced Frosty Trail all the way back in January on a broken toe and made it the full 3 hours. Even if I can't run much, it actually looks like it's going to be a pretty nice day. Why not go for a walk in the woods among friends?

Wish me luck - I'm off to do some wall touches.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Beauty in our own backyard

Campsgiving was fantastic!

Packed up Friday evening, hit the market Saturday morning, then a big brunch and grocery shopping as the stores would all be closed Monday. Load everything into the car, then drive..

..a whole half-hour.


Arrived & set up

We'd never been to Valens Conservation Area before, despite having driven past it a number of times. We'd planned to camp there one New Year's Eve, but the weather turned awful (near-freezing temperatures with rain) so we kiboshed the trip and figured we'd go explore another time. That time waited until this weekend past!

As soon as camp was established, I ventured out on the trails for a run.

Trailhead just steps from our campsite
Huffing and puffing my way through the succession of drumlins within the park, I discovered that not all of the trails are in the best of condition.

Had to wade through calf-deep swamp here
I did make it through, however, and found my way to the gorgeous 300m boardwalk through the wetland at the North end of the man-made lake.

Lovely fall colour in the woods beyond

The trails on the other side of the lake were in much better condition, and I had a really lovely time trotting through the woods. I also ran across the fishing bridge that spans the lake.

Wish a hump in the middle so boats can pass under.

About 6km of glorious nature & sharp hills

I returned to our campsite just before sunset, then wandered up to the beautifully maintained comfort station just a stone's throw away to use the free showers to rinse the sticky black mud off my shoes, gaiters and legs. Glad I brought real trail shoes instead of my usual travel running footwear!

This photo doesn't do the swampiness justice at all.

With the sun setting and the temperatures headed down past the freezing mark overnight, it was time to get some food in our bellies. What better for Thanksgiving weekend than turkey?

Tandoori turkey breast tenders from the charcoal grill, that is!

We had a lovely evening around the fire, capping it off with a heavenly cup of hot chocolate before bed. Awaking to a sunny but cold morning, we got the fire going again before enjoying an enormous breakfast.

Back bacon & egg wraps with Irish cream flavoured coffee!

My poor, soaked running shoes set to dry by the coals.

Then we set off to do some trail work, as I'd like to leave the park even better than we found it and opening up the trails for other runners, walkers and cyclists was just the way to spend the chilly first part of our day.

There were several inconveniently placed fallen trees

Tanker and our little saw hard at work

Much better!

After some clearing, we tried using some downed limbs to make a way through the swampy puddles I'd forded through, but they were simply too deep. I took Tanker another way around to show him the boardwalk through the wetland, the lookout tower behind the camp store, the fishing bridge that belts the reservoir (lake), and some of the lovely trail through the woods.

Lookout tower

Woodland Walk Trail

Lake from the fishing bridge

Stream through the wetland

Blazes of colour

I got in another, longer run, exploring almost all of the 10km of trails in the park. The constant hills and somewhat technical, rooty trails made some excellent training for Horror Hill!

And the fishing bridge & boardwalk are just plain fun to run on.

Then as the golden hour set in, we brought our canoe down to the boat launch and set off for an evening paddle.

The warboat ready for launch.

I paddled, Tanker fished, and we both enjoyed the beauty of the lake.

Approaching the bridge


Fishing bridge from the water

We finished up just as the sun was setting, taking a walk out onto the bridge to see the sky catch fire.


Then it was back to the site again to make dinner and enjoy another wonderful evening by the fire. While not so chilly as the night before, the humidity had come up as a system moved in, making the air feel damp. We were most grateful for our campfire and another cup of hot chocolate!

Not to mention some toasted marshmallows

This is living, right here.

Our site by night - reflective guylines everywhere!

As morning came so did the rain, but we had set our tarp up well and enjoyed a good breakfast as we packed up the site.

Snug and dry at our brunch table!

We drew a lot of comments from other campers at the park that weekend - it seems we were the only ones there who weren't in an RV, fifth wheel or other hard-sided shelter, usually with a propane heater of sorts. People couldn't believe we'd camp in a tent even though the temperature had barely got below freezing! We were just happy to be able to enjoy a gorgeous, mostly-sunny weekend at what is truly a hidden gem of a park.

We'll be back, Valens!

Yes, it certainly was!

So I ask you - what amazing beauty is hiding right under your nose? Why not take this weekend to go explore a place you've always wondered about? You might just find a new favourite spot!