Friday, January 27, 2017

Frosty Trail 3-hour Trail Race - Saturday, January 21st, 2017

This one was a bit of an odd duck, but I certainly can't complain about the outcome.

Woke up at stupid o'clock on Saturday morning to make my bowl of oatmeal with almond butter & maple syrup feeling dreadful - I'd had 4.5hrs of sleep (5 the previous night), my jaw was still unhappy from having a couple of wisdom teeth cracked out of it the week beforehand, and I just wanted to go back to bed. So, after eating my porridge and a small post-race-sammich-related mayonnaise explosion, I did. It clearly wasn't my day.

And really, the day was anything but clear.

Bed was good. Bed was cozy. A little too cozy, because I napped longer than I'd intended, which meant a minor panic to get out the door and up to Camp Heidelberg. I hated it - I despise being rushed on a race morning. We did arrive just a few minutes later than I'd hoped, though, thanks to some rather frenetic driving on the part of Tanker the Wonder Sherpa.

I just tried not to spill coffee all over myself.
The fog was almost as thick in the air as it was in my head, but I was delighted to see so many friendly faces had turned up to run around in the woods for anywhere from one to six hours. I chatted and caught up with many wonderful people as I slowly progressed toward whatever would pass for "readiness", swinging my limbs in ungainly ways in an effort to loosen up and slathering myself shamelessly in anti-chafing goo. I got my straw from Ron Gehl, and with just a few minutes before the start I stripped down to the bare minimum I thought would keep me from getting chilled in the mild (4c/39f) but damp air.

"Bare" being a fairly apt descriptor.

Shoving some nutrition in my pockets and grabbing my hand bottle (plus a spare to keep at the start/finish for hand-offs), I stepped outside and we all gathered 'round for a group photo.

Well, almost all - there are definitely a few faces missing here!

A few instructions, a horn, then around the parking lot and into the woods for the initial conga line. I was partway through the upper woods section and working pretty hard up a hill when I realised I was directly behind Charlotte and just ahead of Catherine - as in, completely out of my effin' league. I tried to let Catherine pass but she said she'd wait for the downhill, where she went flying past as I tried to get some kind of handle on my pace. Little right-left jog to get onto the driveway, then down the muddy slope and back onto the snowpack.

Start of the long way down - emerging from the upper woods

The driveway got very muddy

A huge slush puddle appeared here just before the end of the 3-hour

Past an icy patch (fortunately one of the only ones, as I'd decided to forego my traction aids) and into the main woods - the Frosty Trail course does not go down around the pond that the Horror Trail one does, making it a 2.2km loop instead of 2.5km. This is a rather important distinction.

Slight downhill on ice - wheeeeeee!

Into the trees..

Down a rooty, sketchy bit, then up the big hill in rather mushy snow. How would this hold up to the passage of many feet throughout the morning?

On approach

Not super encouraging seeing an 8" slide mark from someone clearly wearing Yak Trax..

There was a girl in a pink jacket still behind me as I traipsed through the forest, so I dodged off to let her pass as I don't like holding people up. Then it was just me, alone in the mist as she steadily pulled away. I'd apparently ditched some people well behind me, and spent most of the day just seeing other runners in the 2-way traffic on the driveway or as they'd lap me.


On through the first lap and into the second, my legs were feeling pretty stiff and uncooperative and my calves seemed to be threatening to cramp. I just wasn't into it, and I wondered if it was going to be a long day. Suddenly I looked around me and discovered I'd run right past the turn into the woods and was nearly down to the pond - at least a hundred metres downhill that I'd have to climb back up to get on course again. I'd blown it on my second freakin' lap!

Stupid bloody lemming.

So, back up the hill I ran, then down into the woods again. Up the big hill and through the main, mostly flat portion - there were some less-snowy spots further to the West where the coniferous trees were a bit thicker.

Getting churned up even early on

Fortunately it didn't get too muddy.

My left leg was complaining a bit about the unsure footing in the mushy snow, but finally after about 45mins my legs seemed to figure out I wasn't going to give up and finally started to respond a bit. I grabbed the camera from Tanker (who was single-handedly running the aid station by the building, 'cause he's awesome like that) and took most of the photos of the course that you see here during my 3rd loop. Hey, at least it kept me paying attention to where I was going..

Well, mostly.
I was nearly through my 4th lap when the horn sounded to end the 1-hour. As I came past the aid station I remarked to Tanker that I couldn't imagine being done already, since I was only just starting to warm up. As soon as I ran away into the upper woods I regretted my words: there might have been some people coming in from their final lap in the 1-hour race who had just run longer than they ever had before, in tough conditions to boot. I felt like an elitist jerk, though I hadn't meant it in a disparaging way at all - just that I was so accustomed to running for hours on end at this venue, and my legs were finally starting to buy into the morning's activities.

Can I just disappear in here?

Maybe I'll go hide in the tepee..

I finally started taking in a bit of nutrition at 1h5m - a swig of sea salt chocolate Gu Roctane gel diluted 2:1 with water from a flask in my pocket. I had further sips at 1h40m and 2h10m, but that was it for calories for me - about 150cal total, plus 3 hand bottles' worth of water (~60oz).

And all the moisture I could suck out of the air.
This section in the main woods was badly rutted by tire tracks from logging.

Round and round I went, counting my laps as they ticked past and the snow got mushier in the mild air. The sketchy downhill just before you come out of the main woods got badly churned up, and I was convinced every time I came to it that I was going to fall and break my damn fool neck.

This does no justice at all to how petrifying this descent got for my clumsy arse.

Made it through every time, though, thankful to reach flat ground again.

While the conditions were getting more difficult, I was actually surprised by how strong I felt after the initial slow start. One of the things I love about returning to the same course over and over, year after year is the ability to gauge your fitness based on obstacles with which you're intimately familiar. While I never used to be able to run up the driveway to the building past about the 2nd hour at any Camp Heidelberg event, I actually ran it every time on Saturday, despite the energy-sucking mud. I even ran up the steep hill out of the woods to the driveway a few times - mushy snow be damned!

Climbing up as Ron Gehl goes rolling on past.

The fog was relentless

Almost done the lap

I didn't really slow much past the first half-hour or so, just trucking along as the snow turned to mashed potatoes and some sections got stomped into mud.


The sun tried to come out a couple of times, but it would only increase the melting of the snow, so the fog would thicken once more. I lapped a couple of people, and got lapped by some others. I noticed that I ended up passing the girl in the pink jacket when she stopped at the aid station, and she never came past me again. I smiled and offered encouragement to my fellow runners and they kindly did the same. Ron Gehl asked if I'd like to pace him for the other 3 hours after I was done, and I said I'd probably come out for a few loops with him anyway. No matter how tough or weird a day, running with the group of folks who came out to Frosty Trail this year is always fun.

Jonathan and Jeff overtaking me in the parking lot
(a.k.a. the overall winners of the 3-hour & 6-hour respectively)

My left leg started griping at me a bit more after my foot slipped climbing up the hill with the log "stairs" (which were totally invisible under the snow), but coming through the start/finish with 9 laps down and about 38mins left to go I knew I could get at least one more full loop in. As a cold wind started to blow over the snowpack in the field beside the driveway, I started pushing a bit, hoping I wouldn't end up doing my usual: one full lap plus just past the top of the big hill before the horn.

I cannot begin to count the number of times I've heard that horn sound just after reaching the top of this thing.

In my haste I started to get a bit reckless on the trail, tweaking my oft-damaged left ankle nastily in the increasingly mushy snow. I got through my 10th full lap with more than 20mins to go, though, so figured I could probably get another loop completed if I hustled.

Still illin' with minutes to go.

Ditching my bottle to run unencumbered, it was muddy splashing down the driveway and back onto the snow. Suddenly my feet were completely sodden as at least an 8' round slush puddle had appeared out of nowhere! With conditions getting even dicier in the forest and my sore ankle, I decided that I'd be done when the 3 hours was up - the 6-hour folks were welcome to this crap!

Runners emerging from the upper woods

I made it through the start/finish for the 11th time, then continued on as the race director had put out some markers every 200m and would be counting them as checkpoints for partial laps. I managed to make it around the parking lot and into the upper woods once more, just past the first 200m checkpoint before the horn sounded to end the 3-hour. I ended up running down the grassy (snowy) downhill from the upper woods to the building anyway, because gravity.

Finito bandito.

Final distance: 24.4km 
1st woman (of 6?) - 3rd overall (of 8?)
(No official results have been posted yet - see my Garmin Connect data)
It was a bit disappointing that the volunteers who were supposed to be recording laps seemed to have missed 3 for each person in the 3-hour, but enough of us had GPS devices that we were able to verify actual laps completed. I was delighted to discover I'd come in 1st woman overall (just behind the only 2 men in the 3-hour), with a prize of a $10 gift certificate for my favourite local running store - thanks Runner's Choice Waterloo! Even with the tough conditions, I still managed a 50 metre PR for Frosty Trail - my prior best was 24.35km in 2015.

I strangely wasn't that tired or hungry afterward - another sign that I seem to be getting stronger, though that didn't stop me from plowing through some of the delicious post-race chili while I hung around until the end of the 6-hour so Tanker the Wonder Sherpa could finish up his volunteer duties. Rest assured I took him out for a feast afterward at our beloved post-race venue - Taco Farm in uptown Waterloo - though I'm pretty sure I got the best part of that deal!

You'd look like that if you knew how good that porchetta taco was, too.

I am totally pleased with how my day turned out, given that I had no expectations coming so close on the heels of the RUN4RKIDS 8-hour just a fortnight prior. Better yet, my legs were hardly even sore the next day and my ankle was sufficiently recovered to get in a short road run - I ran every day from Sunday to Thursday morning, which I think is another sign I'm getting stronger. So, after 2 more teeth pulled out of my skull last night (it's Friday now - my usual day off), it's time to get myself fully recovered and then start the real work for the spring races I have planned. It's going to take a lot more strength and fitness than I've ever built before to achieve the goals I've set for myself, and I can't wait to get back to my adventures in the woods!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Slush fund

There's a big thing going on today. I'm ignoring it, because what's happening tomorrow is way more up my alley.

It's Frosty Trail time!


It is not in actual fact looking all that frosty.

Though I think I'd rather have frost than rain..

It appears there will, however, be an abundance of rotted ice and mushy snow. A friend went and walked the 2.0km loop at Camp Heidelberg today, and...well..

Credit for all 3 photos goes to Steven Parke

So it looks like the name of the game will be "try to stay upright and not get stuck in a quagmire of slushy mud".

Not that I'd know anything about mud at Camp Heidelberg..

From, say, Horror Trail in 2012 and 2013..

Fortunately this one is just for kicks - no performance goals at all, as I wouldn't really call myself "recovered" from the RUN4RKIDS 8-hour a fortnight ago, not to mention:

  • not tapering (I've actually started re-building distance this week)
  • lack of sleep the last couple of if that's anything new.
  • having 2 wisdom teeth pulled last Tuesday
  • finally having got rid of a lingering sinus infection this week
  • being (almost) fully mobile again after my back locked up on my last Saturday, likely as a result of some interpretive dance moves to stay upright on an icy trail run.

So, traction devices will be packed and fingers shall be crossed!

It's only 3 hours, right? How bad could it be..?

Friday, January 13, 2017

RUN4RKIDS 8-hour Indoor Ultra - Saturday, January 7th, 2017

This was not what I expected.

When I heard "indoor track", I went in with a couple of assumptions: a nice, soft, rubbery surface in a warm building. I actually nearly brought a pair of trail shoes, thinking I could probably get away with them on the track and solve the problem of not having worn road shoes for more than an hour-long run in recent months.

Haz disappoint.

Imagine my surprise when I turn up and discover that while there is a nice, soft, rubbery track, we would not be running on it. Our course would be the outside lane, which was cement. A thin coat of terra cotta coloured paint would be our only cushioning from the absolute worst surface for running. I'm seriously glad I still had a pair of my beloved original Brooks Launch without too much mileage on them, which I fortuitously brought with me to start.

Of course, we did get to do a bit of running on the soft, rubbery inner lanes. We'd change direction at the top of each hour, pulling a U-turn just past the timing mats onto the inner track to run 'round the curve before moving back out to the horrible cement outer track. While it was a minor relief from the pounding, it came at a price.

The curves of the inner track were cambered, which meant after trucking along on completely flat ground your ankles, knees and hips now had to deal with running side slope. It hurt enough the first couple of times I did so that I noped the hell out from about hour 4 onward - I'd just walk the curve and then (maybe) start running again once it flattened out and we transitioned back to the outer, 232.49m track.

Air conditions weren't much better: while I'd assumed that York University would keep their indoor track & field centre cooler than regular room temperature, I had prepared to be warm while running: I wore very light summer kit, and even brought a couple of cooling fabric multifunction tubes to wet and wrap around my wrist or neck, plus a cooling material t-shirt that I've written about before to try to keep my totally-not-heat-acclimatized self from overheating. Fat chance of that - the temperature never got above about 11c/52f the whole day, with huge ventilator fans blowing a chill blast over the track that seemed to be worse when turning counter-clockwise. People were running in long sleeves and sweaters! There was almost zero humidity, too - absolutely awful for me with my lingering sinus issues.

Regardless, I had punched my ticket, so I might as well take my ride. I'd tapered (mostly) for this, woken up at 5am to scarf down a bowl of rice porridge with almond butter and maple syrup, and made poor Tanker the Wonder Sherpa drive into Toronto at an ungawdly hour on a ridiculously cold (-13c/8f) morning. At least I bought him coffee and breakfast! I'd also sported about half a household's worth of crap along with me, so might as well put it to good use.

When the race director says they won't have anything but water on offer due to financial contraints, I bring ALL THE THINGS.

I set up my gear while Tanker the Wonder Sherpa swung into action as a volunteer, then I used the washroom facilities, flailed my appendages around a bit in an attempt to warm up, reluctantly gave up my sweater, and ended up Grover dancing for some reason just before the start.

I swear there was some reasonable explanation behind this..

There were some pre-race announcements, and then everyone gathered around their starting line - the folks doing the marathon in one spot, and all the other races (half marathon, 50k, 6-hour, 8-hour and 12-hour) by the timing mats.

So many chilly skinny people.

Very little fanfare - I'm not even sure I heard anyone say go, but everyone ahead of me started to move - and we were off.

Obviously, there's not that much to report about the course, since you could pretty much see all of it from the start line.

Timing mats down on the left

It took me ages to figure out the V-shape in the middle was for hammer throw.

I ran around in circles and ate a lot. My sinuses really hated the dry air, and every part of my lower body hated the cement track. My original idea going in was to start with a run 5 laps/walk 1 lap strategy, but it's incredibly mentally difficult to make yourself walk early in the race when you're feeling fresh and everyone around you is running.

So, of course, I didn't. I'd pause at my little table every few laps to take a sip of water from my bottle (my mouth was really dry from the sinus cold and the lack of humidity), then started on nutrition around 45mins in with a swig of EFS Liquid Shot. Over the course of the race I'd go through an entire flask of EFS, nine S!caps electrolyte tabs, a single-serve peanut butter flavour Gu gel, a single-serve of Endurance Tap maple gel, 4-5 bite-size pieces of banana from the aid station table, a few Tostitos Rolls tortilla chips here and there, half of a big chocolate chip cookie, and half of an even bigger turkey wrap with mustard. I also unabashedly slurped sea salt chocolate Gu Roctane directly from the bulk package, 'cause I'm classy like that.

It's amazing I managed to run at all.

Tanker being his awesome self at the much-better-stocked-than-anticipated aid station table.

Despite all this face-stuffing, I actually had no GI issues all day. I did need to pee around 90mins in, with additional washroom breaks around 5hrs and 7.25hrs, but thanks to walking a lap or two each time I'd eat "real" food and washing it all down with lots of water my digestion actually felt pretty good. It's nice that something did.

Don't let the smile fool you - I'm in horrible pain.

The cement track was beating me up pretty badly. My left knee and VMO started to get grumpy, then got worse when we changed from clockwise to counter-clockwise. Something in the left side of my groin started to complain around 2hrs in, but then fortunately went away again. By 3 hours in I had developed a hot spot under the 2nd toe on my left foot, but chose to ignore it while internally yelling at myself that I need to get better at stopping to fix my feet instead of just carrying on regardless. If I ever want to run hundred milers I need to get out of the mentality that "it'll either get better or fall off". This is not sound strategy! I did, however, continue to turn a deaf ear to its cries for help.


My reward was a blister on the bottom of the toe so freakin' big it actually ballooned up between my 2nd and 3rd toes as well. Maybe if I'd done the 12-hour it would have wrapped all the way 'round? We'll never know. What's awesome is that it turned out to be one of those blisters that looks really horrible at the time but you never hear from again once the event is over. Seriously - not a peep out of the monstrosity that grew inside my sock since. It just deflated and will probably slough off the dead skin in a couple of weeks. This does nothing to dissuade me from my approach of willful ignorance.

So here's a picture of Grant and I instead.

At some point the folks doing the timing got their laptop to jive with the twin projectors and screens they had set up by the timing mats, so as you came through the start/finish you could see your lap split, number of laps completed and distance completed so far. This was pretty cool, and actually helpful in a way - as the hours pressed onward and the pounding started to accumulate, I did walk a bunch of laps and it got progressively more difficult to get myself to run again. I could, however, keep myself running until I reached some arbitrary number: either a round number of laps or a particular distance.

My full splits. There's a lot more walking in the second half.

Occasionally I'd pick up the pace a little just to change the muscle recruitment a bit - the unvarying flat track didn't give me a whole lot of variety, even with the change in direction. I started naming laps (snickering like a teenager on lap 69, 151 was the rummy lap, 180 was "good darts score", 242 was Headhunter, etc..), and my brain started doing stupid things like hallucinating that a brown plastic bag one runner had left near the track was a whole roast turkey.

I also took my phone out for a few laps here and there, which is only marginally less insane.

Some other weird stuff went on at various times throughout the 8 hours as well. It felt very odd running completely unencumbered - I hadn't worn my usual racing top as I didn't need pockets, and I didn't carry anything with me (not even my watch) until the second half when I started to bring a water bottle with me more while running. Despite this, my shoulders got very tight and sore before I'd even gone 4 hours; I spent the latter half of the race periodically stretching and swinging them around to try to loosen them up.

Possibly from t-rexing even worse than usual..

I made 42 laps for my first hour and 81 by the end of the second, not knowing how much I'd be able to do but having set a goal of at least 200 laps (46.5km/28.9mi) for myself when I started that morning. With my random pauses and walking breaks I was through marathon distance (42.2km/26.2mi) in 4h52m - not exactly a PR, but not too shabby for a sick girl in not much of a hurry.


The next goal was 216 laps, as that would give me 50k. It was pretty sweet to pass that point before the 6-hour mark, as it was only my second time ever running a sub-6-hour 50k (the other being what I consider the best race performance of my life). 

Another odd thing - when I'd drop to a walk in the last few hours, I'd feel a little lightheaded. I'm not sure if it was due to a blood pressure issue or lack of calories, but I tried eating more through the latter portion of the race and it seemed to help. I'm still not totally familiar with all that happens to a human when running longer than 6 hours, and I've heard from Tank that I wasn't the only one who experienced the lightheadedness, so maybe it was something about the venue. Who knows?

I bet Joe or Grant could tell me - those guys are ultrarunning legends!

Having passed the 50k mark, the next goal was 250 laps, which I made with just under an hour left. By this time I was really hurting - my left ankle hadn't been turned or tweaked, but was still complaining loudly about all the pounding on the harsh cement, and while my quads were basically ok (advantage of no hills) my glutes and hamstrings were feeling pretty wrecked. At some point near the end even the left side of my mid-back tightened up, though that went away when I started to pay a little more attention to my posture. Perhaps I'd been slouching into the curves as I ran around the track counter-clockwise during the last hour?

I had made 258 laps - my stretch goal of 60km/37.3mi - and still had time left. If I could pull off a 38min 5k after nearly 7.5hrs of fairly consistent movement, I could finish the day with more than 40mi in the bank. Tanker said he believed I could do it, so I went for it.

What did I have to lose?

Surprisingly enough, my lap times (when I was actually running) didn't really degrade that much as the hours pressed on. I was clocking a pretty consistent 01:30 per revolution, even managing to pass the fast group of guys (who were mostly admittedly running the 12-hour) at one point around 7-odd hours in. It seems I have a pretty solid (if slow - 6:27/km or 10:23/mi) pace even when tired - I just walk a lot more when the fatigue gets heavy. By the last couple of hours I'd definitely slipped into the "run 4 or 5 laps and walk 1 or 2" I had envisioned from the start.

Yes, running was still happening even at the end.

I came through the 280th lap for 65k with just under 2mins left to go, having run the last 6 laps / 11mins in a row - the longest stretch I'd done without walking in quite some time. I decided I couldn't leave it at that, so went for one more.

See? Definitely still running.
At 01:26, it actually turned out to be my fastest lap of the second half, no less.

Official Distance: 281 laps / 65.33km
2/3 O/A - only female in 8-hour

I'm pretty pleased with my endurance through this very strange event, and despite the monotony I was able to stay pretty cheerful throughout just by passing a friendly word here and there with my fellow runners. While I'm not sure that I'd do this particular race again (I'd rather be frolicking through the woods!), it was a good experience to learn from as it was only my second time running more than 50km. It also pushed me to get some longer training runs in during the winter and step outside my comfort zone a bit: things that should serve me well as I continue my Sulphur Springs 100k campaign. 

Sense of accomplishment!

I never used the extra pair of shoes I brought along with me, though they were a pair that have a very soft midsole that might have helped cushion the pounding a bit. I might have also fared better if I'd known that I'd be running on cement, and thus put in some long training runs on roads & sidewalks as opposed to doing all of my long runs on trails. Conversely, I might have ended up too beaten up (or injured) from running long on hard surfaces and been unable to get the volume in that allowed me to run as strong as I did for the duration of the race. Hard to tell which is the better approach, especially since there's no way I wouldn't have felt the effects of running 65km on cement (blecch!), but I do know I enjoyed my adventures on the trails more than I would have slogging along on the road!

Recovery has been going ok, despite the shower I took at the York Track & Field Centre after the race nearly having seared the flesh off me (the sign said "showers may be too hot for some" not "showers may be used to cauterize open wounds"!), plus some chafing around my bra band and chub rub areas that I swear was a result of barely having broken a sweat in the chilly, dry air. Now to heal up from some emergency dental surgery this week and get down to business again - just 8 days left until Frosty Trail!