Friday, May 27, 2016

The whole point

I've been putting a lot of energy into my foolish and desperate attempt to ready myself for the Dirty Girls 12hr ultra in July, so it might seem a bit incongruous to take 4 full days off running. As a matter of fact, I ended up only running 4 times in the 9 days after the Seaton Soaker 25k, as I'd taken Monday off as well (due to horrible weather and exhaustion from under 4hrs of sleep on Sunday night). I got in almost 14km on Sunday - the day after the race - and put in another 30km from Tuesday to Thursday, but come Friday I was off the clock.

It is vitally important that I not let running completely take over my life. I'll never be sufficiently good at it to reward that kind of focus, and there are simply too many other things I enjoy doing - backcountry camping and paddling being two that rank high on the list. We didn't manage to get out winter camping since there was either no winter to be found or entirely too much winter happening, so our last trip had been more than 7 months prior, when we paddled at Bon Echo Provincial Park for Campsgiving.

It it also vitally important that I not take myself too seriously, thus after making a small modification to my paddling hat and loading up our kit, we hopped in the car on Saturday, May 21st to engage in the great Canadian tradition of camping for the Victoria Day long weekend...affectionately known to Canucks as May TwoFour.

At last - truth in advertising!

We'd had our concerns about the weather, having booked this trip all the way back in January and what with it having bloody well snowed 6 days prior, but we needn't have worried. We sweated in the sunshine the whole way out to Murphys Point Provincial Park, finally gaining some relief in the wind as we launched our canoe full of gear onto Hogg Bay and headed for Big Rideau Lake.

Yes, all that for 2 nights.
Not exactly roughing it.

After a brief (and I do mean brief - 7 minutes going the "long" way) paddle, we arrived at the Rideau cluster of boat-in campsites and landed on the South side at our tiny sand beach in the lovely, quiet inlet at site # 402. We actually saw a couple of wee minks chasing one another on our way to our little point, and another on the shoreline of a shallow bay behind our site.

Home sweet home.
Our own personal point.

All set up.

With our gear deployed, we settled in for an incredible weekend. Our site on our little point was cozy and surprisingly clean, though admittedly it was only the secon weekend the park had been open. Unexpectedly, we found there was a full-on outhouse that we shared with the one other campsite (401) at the Rideau cluster - we had only anticipated a thunderbox! There was even a nice flat non-technica path to reach it, which really had us feeling lik we were in the lap of luxury. Tanker did some fishing from the point and nearly brought in a big one (over a foot long), but the jerk of a fish spat the hook at the last moment. We lit a fire as the sun set and I got dinner on the go as the wind dropped, then we were treated to a gorgeous blue moon (second full moon in a month) over Big Rideau Lake as we sat by our campfire eating chicken curry. The loons called around us, the frogs sang in the little bays behind our site, and the heat of the day plus some cloud cover kept the overnight temperature in the double digits celsius.

In a word - apart from some noise from cottagers using motorized boats on the lake - it was perfect.

A local swinging by for a visit.

Tanker still hoping on the one that got away.

Dinner view.

My bladder demanded I take a photo at first light.

The next morning, we had a lazy bacon-and-duck-egg brunch with a couple of French press-fuls of Tanker the Wonder Sherpa's amazing camp coffee, then set off to paddle the loop around the park and pick up some more firewood - we'd burned everything we had the night before, pleased to discover the park-supplied hardwood was nice and dry after spending the winter under tarps.

Two small portages to paddle around nearly the whole park!

We began by heading South to have a look at the Feldspar cluster of boat-in sites, which were easily visible from where we were encamped. Larger and with a dock to allow motorboats to moor (as all clusters except the canoe-in-only Rideau have), it was bustling with a large number of campers; every "backcountry" site in the park was fully booked for the weekend! After a quick turn around their inlet, we headed up to the boat launch and hopped in the car to hit the store so we'd have no worries about time later. Firewood acquired and left in the car at the boat launch, we paddled Northeast into a fresh wind toward the tip of the park's lands, pausing near the hike-in beach so Tank could get a line in the water.

Heading out of our site, looking at Feldspar

Up the Eastern side of the point

Rounding the point and turning off the wind into Noble Bay, we passed by the Narrows and Noble clusters of boat-in sites. Cormorants skimmed over the water and loons played by the tiny islands while we gaped at the landscape of Canadian Shield rock and forest around us.

And clear, clear water.

Paddling further along, we stopped at the day-use beach for a snack and to refill our Nalgenes from the water bladder we'd brought with us. It was another hot, sunny day so hydration was important, though the wind was enough to keep us cool on the water.

Day-use beach and my super fun paddling partner.

After a turkey pepperette and a granola bar each, we headed further South and lazed around in a little inlet so Tank could try some different lures. No luck, but it was very pretty.

I live for stuff like this.
Reaching the end of our journey on Noble Bay, we portaged a couple of hundred metres past the park store - with an ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY stop for an enormous grape freezie and a bag of marshmallows - then finished our double-carrying down to Loon Lake where Tank tried hooking some of the numerous panfish we could see in the water.

Ironically, it was about the only place we didn't hear loons.

The fish weren't biting, though, so we paddled across to our second (and final) portage into the South end of Hogg Bay.

With a short pause for some rock god-ness.

Back up through the Bay past the campers' beach, we stopped one more time at the boat launch to pick up our bags of firewood before heading back home for the evening. 

Nowhere I'd rather be.

I think Tanker got a bit of a kick out of me using some found birchbark plus a flint and steel to light the campfire both evenings. It's good to know that at least in dry conditions my bushcraft skills are somewhat up to snuff.

Spark it up..


And of course we put the bag of marshmallows to good use for a post-paddle snack before I finally got 'round to making dinner. The wind dropped completely as the sun set, and while not quite full anymore, we were treated to a spectacular show as the moon rose huge and red over Big Rideau Lake.


The next morning I was awoken again by my bladder just a few minutes after sunrise. I couldn't really complain.

Because it meant I got to see this.

Back to bed until around 9am, we got up and breakfasted simply on oatmeal and coffee before tearing down camp and preparing to head out.

All packed up on the point.

PFDs on and ready to go!

Before jumping in the boat, though, I had to make one last trip to the privy...and finally spotted the first turtle we'd seen all weekend! This little painted fellow climbed up on a fallen tree in our "backyard" to bask in the hot sun that beat down on us.

I got a little too close and he dropped off this log.

But he emerged again on another.

Back to the boat launch again by 1pm, we loaded the canoe onto our car and dropped off all our camping gear in the back. Changing into our hiking shoes, we paused for a bite of lunch before going exploring on the park's trails for the afternoon.

To see things from the other side.

The Point Trail took us out to the hike-in beach and up to the Northern end of the park, with gorgeous Canadian Shield terrain and some lovely views.

Setting out

The bones of the land lie close to the surface, here.

View from the hike-in beach.

Another lovely spot for a picnic

More Canadian Shield

The very Northern end of the park, looking out over Big Rideau Lake

A mix of hardwoods and conifers take advantage of all ecological niches in the park.

We decided we'd do the Sylvan Trail as well, since we're not sure when we'll be back to this park. We really enjoyed our time there, but there are places within a similar distance (it was a five hour journey from KW with long weekend traffic) that are at least as lovely - Bon Echo in particular comes to mind, with the added attraction of Mazinaw Rock and no motorized boat traffic on Joeperry Lake. I can't say that Murphys Point was a bad choice - far from it, and I'm happy to have discovered a new-to-us park with such excellent amenities and scenery - but the drive is a bit prohibitive for a place that is merely one of many wonderful destinations.

In any case - onward through the Sylvan Trail loop! It's actually an interpretive trail with numbered signposts that correspond to a trail guide available from the day use parking area. Not having the guide (and starting oddly from the middle), we merely stopped and looked at anything interesting along the way.

View from near the Narrows cluster of campsites.
The boat-in sites are not accessible from land, though.

View of Noble Bay through a valley.

Boardwalk and more Canadian Shield

Loving the bright greens of spring at last

Returning to the Point Trail, we walked down to the hike-in beach once more and had a snack while watching a pair of loons play around the little island just offshore.

They're both in this photo, unperturbed by the approaching motorboat.

Then it was time to head back to the parking lot, while spending our last few minutes drinking in the beauty of the trail.

More of this, please.

We don't wanna go home!

Back at the boat launch, we both took the opportunity to change into flip flops and wandered down the ramp into the bracingly cool water. The hot, sunny day had left us both sweaty and a bit worn out from our 1.75-hour hike, so wading in Hogg Bay was absolutely delightful.

Saying goodbye.

We left the park around 4pm and didn't make it home until almost 10pm because the 401 is freakin' awful on a long weekend, but the incredible weather and the refreshing of our souls in the rugged beauty of Murphys Point made it all totally worth it. Training? Well, that could wait until Tuesday.


Friday, May 20, 2016

Seaton Soaker 25k Trail Race - Saturday, May 14th, 2016

I had no real expectations heading into this race. With ~75km in my legs in the 7 days prior and precious little sleep (ever), I was really just going to see what all the fuss was about at this highly spoken of event.

I was also taking the opportunity to try a new pre-race breakfast, because my habitual fare won't be terribly manageable at Dirty Girls - I don't forsee easy access to a toaster for my customary bagel while we're camped in a field. So, at 4:30am, I stood in my kitchen and cooked up some rice porridge with almond butter and a generous dollop of maple syrup, then blended some cashew milk with chocolate-caramel syrup (!) to dump into a cup of coffee we'd pick up along the way.

By 5:10am, Tanker the Wonder Sherpa and I were on the road, arriving WAY BEFORE Google Maps said we would - I wanted to be there by 7am to give me an hour before the start to pick up kit and get ready, but we were at Pine Ridge Secondary School by 6:30am.

Unfortunately, the weather beat us there.

I said good morning to some friendly faces while the rain fell in fits and starts, availed myself of the facilities to get into my race kit, swung my appendages around a bit in an effort to loosen up, and waited for my cup of delicious sugary coffee to work its magic on my digestive processes so I could "get down to race weight".

This did not happen. I was not pleased. I foresaw poor things in my future, especially since I didn't know if there were any portajohns on the course.

At least I managed to get my calf sleeves, socks, gaiters and shoes on in the correct order...both times!

With about 10mins before gun time I loaded my gel flask into the pocket of my vest, donned a pair of lightweight gloves because my hands get cold easily in wet, windy conditions, and grabbed my hand bottle. With a straw in my hat from Ron Gehl (who gave me crap for doing the 25k instead of the 50k) and a kiss from Tanker (who is wonderfully un-judgmental about my poseur status), I was as ready as I'd get for the start.

Ooh, look at all the soggy skinny people.

After a few words from the race director - who stages this event as a memorial for his brother, who holds a course record at Seaton - we were off. We'd been told that beavers had flooded the course around the 2km mark so to slow down and be careful as there were pallets placed to help us over the worst of the mud (and wet wood is teflon-like in its slipperiness), I'd heard that there was a set of stairs somewhere along the way as well as the river crossing, but someone in the Run Trails Ontario group on Facebook had said it was all quite runnable. I was hoping that with all the trail running I've been doing lately since I got my Garmin fenix 2 I'd be in decent shape for this and be able to cross the line of the out-and-back course in less than 3 hours.

From the race director - see further details here

We started off along a paved pathway through the school's athletic fields and Beverley Morgan Park, then ran up a small incline to Valley Farm Road and across the stream before diving back into the trails. Reaching the 2k point things started to get muddy, and turning a corner I found the pallets in the mire. I managed to get through them without falling (though someone near me wiped out just trying to make the turn), and then we were trotting along into the forest on the Seaton Hiking Trail.

Photo from race site's gallery

All was pretty much well and good for the first 4km or so - there were some undulations, but it was all looking as runnable as described. I was feeling pretty tired and weak, though: I couldn't keep my breathing under control, and I found myself really wanting to walk despite the terrain not being that challenging. I managed to keep running, though, and chalked it up to accumulated fatigue from over 200km in the 3 weeks prior to raceday plus the fact most of my recent long Saturday runs have included either walk breaks up significant hills or pauses to check routing/take photos/kiss Tanker within the first 4km. I kept pushing, hoping that my legs would warm up after awhile and I'd be able to settle into a comfortable rhythm, as had happened after about an hour the week before while running at Dundas Valley Conservation Area.

Then, nearing the 5k mark, the first of what were described as "two major climbs" hove into view.


Whoever it was that said this whole course was runnable is either a mountain goat or a jackass. This thing just kept going up - a singletrack washout littered with loose rocks, roots and sweaty, panting runners tottering somewhat unsteadily toward the rain-washed sky. I became very happy I'd worn my compression sleeves as my calves began to protest this treatment, threatening to go on strike by cramping.


Around this time I zipped my vest down a bit and ditched my gloves in my pocket, as I was getting quite warm despite the damp and occasional gusts of wind. I bypassed the first aid station at around 4km in as I still had plenty of water on me. I had a sip of EFS Liquid Shot from my flask around 40mins in and kept drinking from my bottle, but things didn't seem to be getting any easier - effort level was still very high while my pace remained distinctly uninspiring. I tried to console myself with the fact I'd seen that the course was a net downhill on the way back and kept plugging away. At least the trail was beautiful - lots of rooty sections of conifers with patches of hardwoods carpeted in trilliums.

Ooh, a flat bit!
Near 7km in.

Coming down a long, paved hill on Whites Road (that I knew I'd just have to get back up on the return trip) I hit the Bridge aid station - which marked the turn-around point for the 15k race - and got my nearly-empty bottle topped up with a couple of cups of water. As always, I made sure to thank the volunteers, as I had been doing all along the course. The rain continued on and off and the course marshalls and aid station staff tended to be in less-sheltered and thus windier areas, so it was extra wonderful of them to put up with the miserable weather just to help out a bunch of smelly people out trotting around in the forest.

The folks at the Bridge aid station were mucho festivo, too!
If I'd known there was guacamole and tortilla chips on offer I might still be there eating..

Back onto the trail, we ran past the top of a staircase that was cordoned off with caution tape and I wondered if they'd taken the steps out after all. No such luck - I would discover there was not one, but SIX flights of stairs to be climbed on the way to the turn-around.

Example from Stu Hall

Oh, and I nearly bailed stepping on a wet, muddy root that sloped sharply down to the left on a heavily side-sloped bit of trail. By just past the 8k mark runners were starting to come back the other way on the trail, and in an attempt to stay out of their way I ended up sliding violently sideways and wrenched my back a bit contorting myself to stay upright. Yes, I achieved my goal, but now my left mid-back was grumpy. And it was starting to rain some more, and the wind picked up just as I was running on a more exposed section.

Somehow, though, I was still kind of enjoying myself...despite getting an inch taller and five pounds heavier with every step at some points in the sticky mud. If you'd like an impression of what the morning was like, you can check out this video from Get Out There Magazine.

At an hour and 20mins I slugged back another ounce of EFS Liquid Shot from my flask and just kept trying to use my glutes to hoist myself up the climbs - that huge arse has got to be good for something, right? - while being cautious and using the upslopes to stretch out my grumbling, mutinous calves. I finally made it to the turn-around at Whitevale Park and got 2 more cups of water for my bottle at around 1:29:xx, then began the arduous journey back to the finish.

Net downhill. Net downhill. Just keep telling yourself that. Ignore the fact that some of the descents have been tricky as hell due to tangles of roots and loose rocks.

On the bright side, I wasn't feeling any ill effects from my uncooperative digestive tract. I was a bit gassy (and my sincerest apologies to any and all of the runners whom I inadvertently crop dusted), but my belly wasn't causing any troubles. What was less encouraging was the rain, which continued to conspire with other runners' feet to churn the trail into a quagmire of slippery mud.

Near the 18k mark

Back I toiled, surprised at the number of people I managed to outrun on the way to the turn-around, but having to be extremely cautious on the steep, technical hills so I didn't end up sliding or just rolling down them in a broken heap of flailing limbs. I once again had to resort to interpretive dance in order to keep my clumsy self upright, and there were some flat sections on the return trip that had got so muddy I had to walk them because even my wildly windmilling arms were not going to be enough to prevent me from falling on my face.

I will do you the dance of my people!

From the looks of a lot of other runners on course, I made the right moves - lots of muddy legs and bloodied knees out there, and a couple of people fell quite hard in my vicinity (all of whom I made sure were ok before continuing on my somewhat merry way). I was seriously pleased at one point that I make it a habit to ensure my shoes are tied securely - there were two short patches of ankle-deep mud that threatened to pull them right off my feet! My back was still grouchy, but I had to ignore it and just shuffle on, scarfing back a packet of vanilla spice-flavoured Gu Roctane around the 2 hour mark.

The out-and-back nature of the course was nice in that I had a decent idea of what to expect on the way back, and was excellent for being able to say hi to friends who were also running but at very different paces than myself (read: much much faster). The organization and marking was fantastic, too - I can see why so many Ontario runners return year after year, even apart from the beauty of the trail itself as it winds along the stream.

On a much nicer day - from

I never really did manage to fall into any kind of comfortable pace throughout the entire race, though, and spent more of it than I would have though possible death whistling. By the 20k mark I was ready to be done, but I was nevertheless still pushing myself and trying to catch people ahead of me. I also managed to direct a fellow racer who was heading off course to get her back on track - everything was brilliantly well marked with pin flags every few feet and marshals to direct athletes at most intersections, but fatigue is a factor for which it can be impossible to fully compensate.

Down the now incredibly slick, muddy washout that had been the first major climb, I knew that most of the rest of the course was runnable so I tried to pick up my feet and get after it. With my bottle totally empty I paused at the Forestream aid station to get a couple of last cups of water from the wonderfully cheerful volunteers, then made the hard right at the base of a downhill to see the only part of the course that would come as a surprise.

I hadn't been totally sure what to expect from the river crossing - I'd heard the water was typically between ankle and knee deep, and there was a rope strung across to aid tired runners. Unfortunately for me it was on the right-hand side, which meant it was only usable with the hand that had my bottle on it. I have got reasonably adept at working around it, though, and grabbed ahold anyway...only to have the rope dive under my hand as the runner ahead of me nearly fell over and leaned his whole weight on it! He was able to save himself a premature ice bath, and once he was clear I managed to safely pick my way through the ankle-threatening, shifting riverstones. My back even quit complaining, and I emerged on the finish line side unscathed (not to mention slightly cleaner) with 2.5km left to go.

Into the home stretch, I was totally roasted and had to fight the overpowering urge to drop to a walk on the mostly flat, easily-runnable trail. I just focused on keeping my legs turning over, and was rewarded by passing a couple of people just before emerging from the woods into Beverley Morgan Park and heading up a gravel path that I'd noticed on the way out, climbing back up the downhill we run on the paved path to start the race. Knowing I was less than 2 minutes away from the finish I flogged myself to keep running up the hill to the Pine Ridge Secondary School athletic fields, heading straight for the arch and seeing Tanker waiting for me beside the paved path. I was nearly there!

..except I wasn't. When I reached Tank less than 100m from the line, he told me I had to turn left and run a lap around the field! AAARGH NOOOO - what a dirty trick!

I followed the runner ahead of me onto the wet, energy-sucking grass, making a big square as my legs screamed at me for a rest. Finally I was back to the very spot where all this had started, crossing through the arch the same way I had hours earlier.

Kill it - it's in pain!

Official time for 25k: 3:01:01

Seeing the clock displaying over 3 hours as I approached the end was a bit depressing - the only other time I've taken more than 3hrs for the 25k trail race was at Pick Your Poison last year, and that's at a bloody ski hill.

I'll still take the medal, though.

So, not hugely happy with my time, but I felt quite weak and tired right from the start - no taper and very little sleep might have something to do with that, and I think the wet weather may have been a factor, too. A couple of friends of mine DNF'd at 25k (they had signed up for the 50k and are both super strong ultrarunners) because their asthma was playing up in the rain. I noticed myself death whistling a lot more than I would have expected and suspect that I may have a touch of exercise-induced asthma (my dad was full-blown asthmatic), so that may have contributed to my effort level feeling absurdly high for the way I was running.

Full results available here

The results say I didn't really do too badly, though - I know I could easily have found a couple of minutes on the course had it not been so treacherously muddy. I certainly didn't envy the 50k runners who would have to deal with even worse trail conditions and greater fatigue as the day wore on!

I am, nonetheless, satisfied with the way I kept pushing right to the finish. There were several times that I really wanted to give myself an excuse to walk a bit, but I buckled down and even managed to pass some people right up until a few hundred yards from the finish. I'm also pleasantly surprised that I managed to get through a technical trail race without tripping over anything - possibly a first for my clumsy arse!