Friday, December 22, 2017

Christmas Wrap

Wrapping up the year, that is...though I have plenty of the other sort to do, too.

While I'd rather be out playing here.

With 8 runs in the last 6 days I'm off to a decent start in the 100 runs in 100 days, and while I'm not planning any huge mileage over the holiday week I hope to get a couple of short double days in. I don't give a rat's patootie about my place in the standings; it's simply a tool to help me get out the door every day (well, except Fridays) - I often find that no matter how much I DO. NOT. WANT. when looking out the window of my kitchen/office, I actually feel great when I get out there.

Like last night's snow squall run.
It was actually much nicer than I expected, so I ended up running a little longer.

Yes, even the second run of the day. Especially the second run of the day. It frequently ends up feeling better than the first, which was definitely the case on Saturday.

For the second time ever, I ran down to the farmers' market on a cold, grey winter morning. The paved section of multi-use trail along Blair Road was a nightmare of thick, chunky snow that thoroughly kicked my arse - my idea of keeping it to an easy aerobic effort to avoid sweating too much flew out the window when I encountered this energy-sucking muck.

My lone bit of relief was a single fatbike track that appeared intermittently..

The rest of the trail was quite beautiful in the new-fallen snow, though, and I made decent time on the trails themselves.

Even if I stopped to do a bit of dorky photography..

We picked up our groceries for the week and placed a few Christmas orders with the vendors, then for the very first time ever I ran home from the market as well. I took a different route; the sun came out; and there were trumpeter and tundra swans feeding in the Grand River as I trotted up the Linear Trail.

I've only seen swans about 3 other times in Waterloo Region.

I finished by powering and puffing my way up Shantz Hill for a little over 21km on the day, actually having moved faster on the way home despite it being mostly uphill. While it's not a good idea to split up your long run into chunks very often, I'm pretty sure this season has given me a decent dose of the physiological adaptations that come about when running for 4+ hours at a time, and some higher intensity work now and then boosts fitness in a big way.

That should help build on the work I've done in 2017. I had a pretty good year here: I won't make any schmancy mileage numbers by the time the clock runs out (I'll be somewhere over 2,900km, which will put me at 300km more than any other year - it seems like everyone runs more distance than me), but I overcame some early-season injury woes, did just under 500km of racing (with some unexpectedly good results), and went on a few trips that I truly enjoyed. I got to share it all with my wonderful, hard-working and incredibly patient partner in crime, and I'm heading into 2018 with ambitious plans and a great new series of races to which I am greatly looking forward. That beats chasing spreadsheets in my books!

As it's doubtful I'll have time for another post before this old year gives way to the new, I'll wish you all a very merry Christmas season and joyous solstice. Thank you for tolerating my inane blitherings, blatant narcissism, incessant whining, and childish crayon art - I'd resolve to do better in the new year, but we all know that won't happen.

Just more of this.

So, until we meet again - may your days be merry and your feet be light!

Friday, December 15, 2017

Signs and Portents

If the start of this winter is any indication of what the rest of it will be like, it's going to be a very long few months.


December had been pretty relaxed up until last weekend - sure, I needed an extra layer here and there, but I'd run in a skirt with bare legs on the 2nd and 3rd and had seldom even reached for a jacket yet.

That definitely changed on Saturday, with snow that started just after sunset...just as I was setting out for a run.

Though it did mean I could go without a headlamp for some of it.

It was only about -4c so I still managed without a jacket, though I did have a double layer of warm, longsleeve shirts on. Sunday's temperature was about the same as I set out to explore the Lions Lake Trail around Woolwich Reservoir for the first time, but the wind was powerful and bitter.

..and the snow continued to fall.

With the dam being closed for maintenance until March (a fact I only discovered once I arrived at the closure, having hoped to run loops of the 7km trail), I ended up having to do an out-and-back from Floradale Park to the dam counter-clockwise, then another out-and-back clockwise to the closure, and then one last out-and-back covering the same ground as the first jaunt...only this time in pitch dark with even heavier snow falling.

Glad I brought my better headlamp..

While the trail isn't really technical and is quite flat, my ankles took a bit of a beating from being unable to see roots, rocks, and frozen, lumpy mud under the thick blanket of fresh snow. I'm sure my osteopath - whom I'd just seen two days prior for a treatment on my left ankle - would be delighted with me! It was definitely a return to all the most challenging parts of winter running, and I think now that's a trail I'll leave be until springtime.

I only ran on my lunch on Monday and Tuesday, but even that proved a bit dicey - it snowed heavily enough on Monday that it was difficult to see while I ran into the wind, as the big, fluffy snowflakes blew into my eyes even under the brim of my hat

Not a great way to be in Mississauga traffic.

Tuesday the snow relented, but the late-morning temperature of -4c (for which I'd brought kit to work) dropped to -7c with 50kph winds blowing streams of snow off the roofs of buildings by the time I got out for my lunch run. Windchill: -16c, for which I had definitely NOT brought kit.

The only thing that saved me from freezing solid was the bit of sunshine on my thin, black tights.

Wednesday was even colder as I ran down the trails in the dark after work, once again able to go without a headlamp between the snow and the glow.

Fortunately I mostly had a tailwind for this one, too.

Then last night was the chilliest yet at -11c with a windchill of -18c when I finally set out around 10pm.

I wasn't super happy when my eyelashes iced up and started trying to stick my eyes shut.

We've been thrust firmly and without ceremony into the days of chapped lips, windburn, too many layers, and serious concern over the state of my previously badly frostbitten appendages...all as the 12th annual 100 runs in 100 days challenge begins.

While it may seem a bit cheesy, this challenge - which I've done every year since (I believe) 2011 - really does help motivate me when winter is howling outside the door and I am despairing at the thought of leaving my cozy, warm house or office to face its wrath. Winter and spring are also the only time I am really able to manage double run days due to my schedule: I can run on my hour-long lunch (which is reduced to half an hour in summer, making it impractical), then again after we get home from work. The challenge gets me out the door for that 2nd run on tired legs, knowing that my Fridays off will mean I have a day to make up each week.

To pull it all off, more than ever I'll need to focus on finding the good in every run even as the weather turns miserable. There's almost always something beautiful - or at the very least interesting - every time I step out the door, so the goal is just to be mindful and seek the positive every day.

Like road salt that blooms into a flower on a random manhole cover.

..or a beautiful display of lights.

..or the serene beauty of Cooksville Creek in ice, snow and darkness.

I'd encourage anyone to consider signing up for the 100 runs in 100 days challenge. It's completely free, though to officially participate you need to set up a login on's forums and record your workouts in their training log. They do have Strava integration now if you balk at the minute or two that would take daily, or you can always just record your runs via your own means if you don't care about your name showing up on the leaderboard - there are no prizes other than emerging from the winter with a solid running base and perhaps a few less lingering pounds of turkey, stuffing and gingerbread 'round your middle.

Wait, that's just me, isn't it?

In any case, you don't need to feel obliged to put in the full 100 runs - any increase in your running frequency (assuming you're not already running 7 days a week and still take any appropriate rest that your body may require to stay healthy and un-injured) is almost certain to pay dividends once racing season comes 'round, and at the very least it's a great exercise in discipline.

..I'm just not sure what it might portend when this year's challenge starts on my own non-negotiable rest day.

So anyway, between tomorrow and late March, if you're looking for me...I'll be out plodding along, looking for something that makes me smile.

Sometimes it's right under my nose.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Happy Go Lucky

Will you kindly indulge me in being a bit pleased with myself for a moment? It doesn't happen often..

I was also pleased with the lovely sunshine over the weekend.

I had mentioned last week that I'd got a couple of bits of good news lately, both of which had been rather surprising. I'm sure the suspense has been non-existent, but nevertheless I'm ready for the big reveals.

The first piece of news I've actually been sitting on for awhile, because I almost couldn't believe it until I had the proof in my hands.

That free hat cost me 337km of racing between April 29th and October 28th

Somehow a lot of the big guns - by which I mean the incredibly fast and talented ladies who usually dominate the OUTRace Ultra Series - were off racing other things this year, so I managed 2nd place woman under 40. I was even more stunned when I looked at the final standings and saw that I'd managed to place in the top 5 women overall!

Not by much, but there I am.

For someone who really has no clue of what they're doing and just tries to truck along as best they can, it's a huge honour to see my name among such ass-kicking women. It almost makes me feel like I may have some business out there after all..

Nah, not really - but I still have fun.

It's a nice cherry on the top of a fairly successful 2017. Not only did I make all of my racing goals, I actually managed to place in at least the top 3 of my age group in 5 out of the 8 events I ran this year.

Even if everyone else was gone by the time I finished so they could announce the awards..
(True story)

This means 2018 is going to have its work cut out for it in order to top all that. However, the other piece of news I got just last week should help out with that a lot..

Say whaaaaaaa?

I was invited by the kind folks at Happy Trails Racing to act as one of the handful of ambassadors for their growing race series in the 2018 season. With the wonderful experience I had at their inaugural event - the Sticks n'Stones Race this past October - and knowing the incredible passion of the Race Director and Race Coordinator for both trail running and philanthropy, I couldn't possibly say no! I'd already registered for the first event in the new year; an indoor track race in January called Stride Inside that will benefit Women's Shelters Canada, partly because I'm a sucker for punishment (having said I'd never do another indoor track race) but mostly because I know that Jeff and Heather will be sure to nail down every last detail to make it a fantastic experience. The excellent cause that will benefit is the icing on the cake!

Like the gorgeous sunset over the Grand River at the end of Sunday's run.

I look forward to racing or volunteering at as many of Happy Trails Racing's future events as possible, as these two continue to bring more depth and variety to the Ontario trail and ultrarunning scene while selflessly working to support worthy causes. I'm honored to have a tiny part in that, and encourage you to check out some of the unique races they have planned!

Which come with some awesome swag, too!

So I'm cruising on a bit of an ultrarunning high right now, and have great hopes for the season to come.

'til next time, you awesome people - Happy Trails!

Friday, December 1, 2017

Well Seasoned

I'm bad at off seasoning.

Because this is my happy place.

I have been saying for months now that November would be an easy month - I'd only do short, little runs and take as much time off as I wanted.

..and this is how that worked out.
Green squares indicate days that I ran, with weekly totals at right.

I didn't even manage to take every Friday off running, and that's usually a non-negotiable rest day. I did take last Thursday off, but that was under orders from a medical professional - I'm finally seeing someone about trying to patch up my wonky ankle, and had my first treatment that evening. He told me not to run afterward and I hadn't been able to get out earlier in the day, so an extra day off happened.

Only somewhat grudgingly..

All told I took 7 days off (3 more than I usually would, as there were 4 Fridays in November) and ran 186.8km. It's the second-lowest monthly mileage I've posted this year, so I was sort of taking it easy..

Now, however, it's that exciting time when registration is opening for events in the new year and plans are starting to become concrete. I'm already signed up for the first four events I plan to race in 2018, and it's just a fortnight away from the start of the 100 runs in 100 days challenge. I can almost taste the double run days now..

In the middle of all this, I recently got some stunning good news on a couple of fronts. I'll ask you to wait a little longer before I reveal all of the details (though some of you may already know about one or the other through different channels), but both are things that I feel shine like sunbeams - one on my 2017 season, and one on my future endeavours.

So, regardless of how much I may or may not have rested in my "off" season, one thing is clear: the time is ripe to get it ON!

..and go chase my happy on the trails.

Oh, and just as weird little notes: by the end of last week (Sunday, November 26th), I'd broken my annual mileage record to date. Last year I totaled 2,640.1km - I hit 2,640.4km during the run pictured at top, on the Royal Recreational Trail and have clocked another 30km since. On Wednesday's run I passed 17,000km since I started running regularly in 2008 - just 19 days after the 9th anniversary of the trot 'round my block that started this whole business. If I have my way, I'll be calling on every single step of that training to get me through the challenges I've set for myself for the year to come!

Friday, November 24, 2017


I know I probably don't come across as the most stable individual in the world, but lately I've been having a lot of fun - and hopefully improving my injury resistance and fitness - by becoming even more unbalanced than usual.

No, not by having psychotic episodes.. least not yet.

I bought a balance board to see if it would help me strengthen and rehabilitate the chronically damaged left ankle I've been dealing with since, oh...sometime mid-last-summer.

This is the one I purchased for $36.11CAN plus tax in October 2017.
I do not receive any compensation for use of the above link and provide it only for information.

Since then, it has become one of my favourite toys. I keep it at my office and try to play with it for a few minutes every day.

There are wooden versions with a plastic bubble on the bottom, but this one is molded right into the board.

At a bit less than 16" in diameter, the size is compact enough to sit under my desk while still offering plenty of space for my big feet.

Made even bigger by my awesome Keen clogs.

I didn't know it at the time, but the specific board I purchased was probably a good bet for someone clumsy like me. It has a little indent in the centre of the base - I think of it as its navel - that lets it default to sitting flat on the floor while still being highly unstable when any pressure is applied.

Belly button.
Yes, my office could do with some serious vacuuming. 

The octagonal shape also makes it a little more stable when mounting up to balance on it than a fully circular board would be. I use mine on the thin carpet of my office with no underpad, which lends it a tiny bit of cushioning and stability but not very much.

As for using it, I generally start by pulling it out while seated to work each ankle separately.

Stripey socks are optional.
Despite the texture dots, the plastic is slippery enough that I'll only wobble barefoot or in shoes.

I start by doing full revolutions of the board in one direction - trying to touch each part of the edge to the floor - then switch directions and do the same the other way. I'll rock the board back and forth sideways, touching a flat edge on opposite sides to the carpet, then do the same thing forward & backward. 16 of each is enough to make things start to fatigue in my lower leg, so I switch sides and do the other foot as well.

I can also use the board to get a really good calf stretch by standing with my heel against one flat edge - a bent leg will stretch the soleus and achilles tendon, while a straight leg will hit the gastrocs.


I can also stand with both feet on the board, rocking it back and forth from side to side to work the stabilizer muscles in my whole lower body - a great exercise that actually feels a bit like running, and certainly engages many of the same muscle groups as running on the uneven terrain of the trails.

Rock, but try not to roll.

My favourite use, though, is just balancing on the board.

Which is damnably difficult to do while taking a selfie.

Part of the reason I keep the board at my office is that it works as an incredible stress reliever for me. When things are getting hectic and I'm feeling overloaded, it's absolutely blissful to take a minute and focus on nothing else but balancing. I'm not terribly coordinated, so it takes a bit of effort - I choose a focal point to stare at and think about drawing my spine up tall, as though a string were being pulled upward from the top of my head - but I can happily balance for a minute or so before returning to work with a better mindset and better posture.

For an extra challenge, try squatting on the board.

For me, the centering effect of the board would be worth it even if it had no beneficial effect for my damaged ankle or running in general - after all, not all aspects of fitness are physical. I do, however, already feel that through a few weeks' use my lower leg stability and general balance has increased. I'm a huge fan of this little toy, and highly recommend giving one a try - they're not terribly expensive, and you can even make your own if you're so inclined. You could even make a larger one that would be more stable to start, then decrease the size of the deck as you become more adept over time.

There are heaps of exercises from beginner to advanced that you can do with the board, and I can't think of anyone - runner, athlete or just someone interested in living a better life - that wouldn't benefit from better balance and stability. Why not give one a shot?

Just don't expect me to demonstrate any of the more challenging exercises for you..

It won't go well.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Super Looper

Because ultras are long (by definition) and the logistics of manning and maintaining wide-spread aid stations and caring for runners over vast areas are nightmarish for race directors, I end up running a lot of loops of courses. This is even more prevalent in timed races - where you aim for as many laps of a set course as possible in the time limit - but it happens even in training, where it's more practical to run around a tract of trails multiple times to make the time/distance you desire than to travel to somewhere large enough to do a single lap, or to arrange transportation for a point-to-point.

Sometimes the trails themselves send you looping back on yourself.

Some people find the prospect of many loops intolerable, and either avoid those races or resort to distractions like music to keep them from turning into a dizzy zombie. After several years now of racing looped courses from 20 kilometers all the way down to 232 metres and many distances in between, I've never actually resorted to any tactics to take my mind off the repetitive nature.

So, how do I keep myself from turning into a drooling moron even when running the same stretch up to 281 times in a row?

Wait, that's actually me every day.

I think it comes down to philosophy, really. For me, it's not truly repetitive because no two laps are actually the same.

"You cannot step twice into the same river for fresh waters are ever flowing upon you."   - Heraclitis

Every moment of each event has its own unique qualities. In some races the light will be the only change from lap to lap; sometimes it will be the weather that lends each loop its particular character, growing more or less overcast, colder or hotter. The sun may rise or darkness may fall. Other times still it will be the trail itself, evolving through the passage of many feet from one surface to another - sometimes it will improve, other times it will worsen dramatically lap by lap. Your foot will seldom fall in the same place twice as your stride changes through fatigue and you try new lines through technical sections.

I have run through this root well countless times, but I have yet to repeat a particular pattern of footfalls.

Even when the course is stubbornly static, you are not necessarily the same person from pass to pass along its length. The strange nature of ultrarunning dictates that sometimes a part of your body will begin to hurt, then the pain will pass. Other soreness will simply grow over time as the pounding takes its toll. You can feel joy, despair, hunger, fullness, camaraderie and loneliness all in the same place with the simple shift of time. Like watching a single spot in a river, your experience of a multi-loop race is both unchanging and yet never the same from moment to moment.

So, rather than let your mind become bogged down with negativity at having to run endless loops of an unchanging venue, why not revel in the chance to experience the course in many different ways throughout the day?

Of course, I do have an extra sweet incentive to enjoy races with multiple laps..

Nothing quite like being able to get smooches during a race.

Friday, November 10, 2017


It's not that it's unusual for us to get snow in November, but I was not at all prepared to wake up to this:


Ok, I was somewhat prepared - they'd been talking about this Arctic blast coming in for days, and it's not like I don't have an embarrassingly large collection of warm apparel. It's just a terrible shock is all - it had been 16c on Sunday when Tanker and I went hiking in a thunderstorm, and I haven't even needed a jacket to run in yet despite the sun pulling a disappearing act every the afternoon this week..

Stupid time change stealing all the fall colours on the trails - the sun sets before I even leave work!

And now there's this, seen out my front door this morning:


I can't even really say I'm safe from winter's sudden onset in my office, because we're now in week 3 without a functional furnace. As I type this, I sit here in an insulated skirt, wool tights, a wool long sleeve shirt and a heavy fleece sweater - just enough to fight the chill.

In a stroke of comedic timing, the new furnace is supposed to be installed on Monday.

Of course, none of this should be a problem since it's Friday and I always take Friday off from running, right? I can just cuddle up on a nice, warm couch with Tanker, a kitty or two, and a hot cup of tea..

Um, about that.

You see, not only did I get an invitation that was too tempting to refuse, it also happens to be the 9th anniversary of the day I started running. I always try to make sure I run on my runaversary anyway, so why not do so with friends?

Ok, that's a pretty decent reason.
When, however, have I listened to reason?

So, despite having thrown my back out while raking leaves last Saturday and the Hoth-like conditions out there, I'll be bundling myself up in my most Armageddon-y run gear and heading out into the night to run for a few hours with some folks who have been at it all day long.

I'll try to keep up.
Oh, and not freeze to death.

If you happen to be nice and toasty sometime between 9pm and oh, maybe midnight tonight, try to send some warm thoughts my way, ok?

I'll be out here somewhere.
(Photo source)