Almost 200 wicked people that you’d want to get to know running through the streets of Vancouver, and then finishing up with delicious food, cold beers, rad hats, and statement socks. Conversations were flowing and friendships were strengthened and formed. Geographical barriers were non-existent. Laughter filled the air into the late hours of the night.
Two days later, one of the biggest running parties took over Vancouver. The SeaWheeze Half Marathon brought together 10,016 runners from around the globe to crush a goal, experience Vancouver for its raw beauty, and celebrate over yoga and music in beautiful Stanley Park. The two biggest highlights for me:
I was part of a special group of 40 people who were Pace Beavers and were privileged enough to lead groups to their goal time. But beyond that, I was connected to not only the Pace Beavers who were all lululemon ambassadors, but to all ambassadors who came to SeaWheeze. Through multiple events, ending with a picnic style dinner at the SSC (lululemon head office), we shared, mingled, and connected, creating friendships and bonds that go beyond the weekend.
As a Pace Beaver, there is a responsibility I have to have integrity in the promise that I will carry my runners across the finish line in a certain time. It may not seem like much but it is a true honour to lead and hold tight to the trust that runners from near and far have given to me. This was my 4th year as a Pace Beaver and I cannot begin to express how excited and overjoyed I get when I help someone achieve and crush their goal. This is what drives me to continue giving to the community in any capacity I can.
Luck doesn’t begin to describe it. I feel as though I’ve won the jackpot when it comes to life and I keep getting the winning ticket. I’m an ambassador for both Vancouver Running Co and lululemon, each providing me avenues to connect to my community and space to create more. My passion is so deeply rooted in authentically connecting with people through our shared unbridled love of run and celebrating every success along the way. In all capacities. On all terrain.
Tucked in the heart of the Russian River area is a quaint little town called Healdsburg. If you find yourself stumbling around what I can only call Downtown Healdsburg and you’re a runner at heart, your feet will walk you through the doors of the Healdsburg Running Company. There may be tents outside with people in trucker hats milling around and chatting. There may be a family fun run about to happen. There may also be a Salomon Demo Fleet. Above all else, what you will definitely find is a gentleman by the name of Skip whose warm, fun smile fills his face and whose voice captivates and fills the room. You’ll be greeted with the familiarity of a regular, and brought into conversations as though you were there from the beginning. HRC isn’t a large store, but it’s the cornerstone of the local running community. In the 30ish minutes we were there, we were given about 10 things we could do and about 10 restaurants, tasting rooms, and breweries to visit. It was like walking into a family friend’s home.
Asking goal times is a commonality among friends when a race is thrown into the conversation, and with this one, I did and I didn’t. My last race, Squamish 50, was highly unsuccessful, suffering from nausea for most of the day. Lake Sonoma had 2 purposes:
Erase the emotional scar of Squamish 50, and complete a race the way I know how: 100% physical effort and 0% stomach issues. Time-wise, anywhere between 10:30-12:00 would be reasonable.
To witness a really great friend, Elaine, cross the finish line of her first 50 miler. We trained together, until the last 6 weeks before the race when she encountered a foot injury. She was smart during those 6 weeks and didn’t push her recovery too soon. The main thing I told her was that she would go in under trained a little bit, but she’ll finish.
Death by Paper Cuts
Drive about 20 mins outside of Healdsburg on April 9th to the South Lake Trail around 6am and you’ll find almost 400 runners ready to toe the line at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile ultramarathon. The field is deep, as this race is a Golden Ticket race for Western States. As I made my way to the portapotty line, I couldn’t help but overhear 2 runners ahead of me chatting about, surprisingly, running! Way Too Cool 50k was a month prior so stories were shared, and then they moved onto the impending race. One talked of how they’ve consistently done a positive split of an hour on the course, even though they thought they were going out conservative. Then, “Death by Paper Cuts” was how it was described. What an odd and unpleasant way to describe the next 50 miles we were about to run.
Without giving it too much thought, we proceeded to go through the morning pre-race motions and got ready for race start. I told Tav that my goal was to hit the halfway mark at 5.5 hours feeling good. So, let’s see how the day would unfold…
There was no California sun that day with rain in the forecast, so I was geared up with a tank top, arm warmers, and a jacket, and off I went. The first couple of miles were on undulating road and Elaine and I were quickly separated. I tried to balance my road instincts with my ultra brain (READ: Don’t run too fast ahead). We then jumped into the trails and it was, again, undulating. I didn’t go into this race with a pace in mind because, as anyone who has ever run an ultra before will tell you, there’s no way to run “a pace” the whole way. My watch auto-beeps every mile so it gives me a gauge of some average based on whether the last mile was more uphill or downhill. Seeing the times that were coming through, I felt like I was doing well at being conservative – almost a bit too conservative, BUT, I’ve never actually run a race conservative, so there’s always a first. I was tempted, and even gave in on occasion, to pick up the pace though, because you gotta have a little fun!
Every ultra I do, I do want to make sure I take the time to enjoy what I see and experience so I always carry a camera. Today was no exception. Along the way, there was a view of the lake and I stopped to take a shot or two. A runner (Oscar!) came up behind me and told me to hand over my camera. It caught me off guard, but I did what I was told. He took my camera, went past me, and then turned around to take a couple of photos of me. “Smiles before miles” was what he said. So very true, and a great reminder.
I knew the first aid station I would see my crew was at 11.6 miles (Warm Springs) so it would be quite a while. There was a small water-only aid station before that and it came and went – a little earlier than expected – but this is trail and distances are generally approximate. Next thing I know, I’m rolling into the aid station where my crew was, with jacket and arm warmers in hand. No sun, but high humidity had me stripping down layers after the 2nd mile. I looked at my watch. 9 miles. Something’s not right. But, not something I can do anything about, so I grabbed what I needed and continued on.
The course continued to undulate, with varying grades. Reviewing the elevation profile before the race, I knew there were a couple of bigger hills I’d have to deal with at the midpoint, but it didn’t worry me too much because that just meant bigger downhills – my favourite. What I FAILED to see in the elevation map was the lack of flat sections to recover from all the climbing or descending. I hit the aid station at Madrone Point (18.8 miles on the course, not according to my watch though) and my crew was nowhere to be found. I remember Tav mentioning about missing the aid station somewhere but I was sure he was supposed to be here. So I had a drink and a 1/4 peanut butter & jelly sandwich and waited. And waited. And then I decided to just go. The climb out of that aid station seemed long. I asked some people at the aid station if crews were coming from where I was going to be going and they said yes, so I was hopeful. I climbed up the steep hill and at the top of that hill were the familiar faces of Tav and Sean (Elaine’s husband). I was relieved. Tav checked my fuel and fluids, said Elaine looked good, and then sent me on my way. But I was getting tired, and my legs hurt and I knew what was coming. This was a big downhill, then a big uphill to the midpoint aid station, and then turn around to redo what I just did, backwards.
My mind was all over the place. I tried to stay as focused as possible, but my legs and back were hurting a lot more than I was expecting. When I finally got to the halfway aid station (appropriately named No Name), I was so relieved. At halfway, here was a rundown on me:
My watch read 19 miles. I don’t know what was happening with it. I don’t use my watch necessarily to tell me to go faster or slower, but I do want to know how far I am. My watch turned into an annoying stop watch at this point. The distance between aid stations became a guesstimate on what my watch would ACTUALLY read when I got there.
My legs. Oh, my legs. My quads were hurting from the downhill. My hammies were hurting from the climbing, which aggravated my back and sciatic.
At this point, I knew I was going to have to fight hard to finish. It wouldn’t be a strong finish, and I anticipated a big fade, but I knew I would finish. And it would hurt. A lot.
Leaving the halfway aid station, it would be a big downhill and then a big climb. The downhill turned into awesome, to ok, to tolerable, to sharp shooting pains in my quads. The uphill teetered between a slow jog, to a strong hike, to a stroll mixed in with aching hammies and stabbing pains in my lower back.
I finally made it to the top of that hill where I saw the guys earlier, about 1/2 km before the next aid station (Madrone Point). I was hoping for a bit of comfort, but I was rushed forward. All day, they kept saying that I was right on pace with the fastest time on my chart so I knew they just wanted me to maintain momentum. What they didn’t know was that my legs were done. But that’s what your crew is for – to keep you moving forward. So there I go, flying down the hill to the aid station, and exhausted from pain when I arrived. Another PB&J sandwich, and I continued onwards. It would be 7 miles before I saw my crew and it would feel like forever. Each step chipped away at what was left in my legs, assuming I still had something in them. But each step forward proved there was more. It would just take more of me mentally.
Finally, the last crew aid station. Warm Springs. 38 miles. Watch: 29 miles. I had 12 miles. Somehow, at this point in the race, I was STILL on pace with almost the fastest time on the pace chart I gave my crew. I have no idea how that happened, but I prepared them for a BIG fade. I told them that I was done and then overdone. I was in a lot of pain. And there would be no hope in hell of me doing the next 12 miles in 2.5 hours. Probably not even 3 hours. But, they are my crew and they are here to not let those doubts seep in too deep. So we parted ways and the next time I would see them would be when I was allowed to stop.
The next 12 miles were not pretty. I could still run the downhills, passing many people, but the uphills were literally just a slow stroll. I had no strength in my step, and I was getting a strange pain in my right foot. I resolved to the reality that this would be the rhythm for the next 3ish hours, with a sitting break at one brief sadistically placed aid station (Island View Camp – 45.5 miles), a 400m out and back section, to stretch my back and legs. I’m going to take a moment to describe this aid station. The 400m was downhill. You can’t access it by car so the crew takes a boat in with the supplies. Think about that. That means, we are at the lowest point possible. The lowest. But I digress, because I have a race to finish.
The moment I heard the sound of cheering in the distance, I was filled with happiness and relief. But I still had to move forward. So, forward I moved. One step at a time, until the trail finally ended and it was a straightaway to the finish line. I stepped across the line, high fived the race director, and took a huge sigh of relief into the arms of Tav. It was over. Finally.
Watch, I hate you.
Legs, you hate me.
Body, you hate me.
Stomach, you’re hungry but we did it.
11:17:59. 30mins on flat according to my data.
Death by paper cuts. Spot on.
Note: 30 minutes after I was done (a pattern throughout the day), Elaine and I shared our finish line hug. I couldn’t have been thrilled and proud of her!!
Did it really happen? Some days I forget that I even did the 100k. But if I think about the events of the day, I question how I could forget the way everything came together so perfectly. Maybe it’s because it felt like it was too perfect…
The alarm offensively rang at 2:30am and, one by one, we got up to get ready for a long day – myself, Tav, and Greg. By 4:15am, we were ready to roll out the door with everything in check. After an extremely windy drive, which eventually gave Greg motion sickness, we arrived at the Stinson Beach Community Centre – the hub for this year’s Miwok 100k. Race bib acquired and pinned. Now, to find my partner in crime / training partner, Linda, to make up the Power of Linda^2. With 15 minutes to race start, I spotted her and I was calmed. For over a week, I was a huge bag of nerves..
Am i ready? Did I train enough? What if my sciatic rears its ugly head? What if I can’t do it? Am I in over my head?
The pep talks I got all week helped: Hoz offered good advice about the course, Tav was amazing in keeping me focused on the execution of the day, and Linda, who was there for so many of my long runs, gave me the confidence in my fitness that the finish line was more than attainable. But even still, it was difficult not to let my mind race about all the negative potential possibilities.
So there we were, at the start, headlamps lit and ready to take on the next 100km. I don’t remember if there was a gun, but a quick send off from the boys, and Linda and I were on our way. The race started at 5am so the sun hadn’t risen yet, which meant it would just be a hike/trot until the single track line of over 400 runners started to spread out. It was, in fact, a blessing in disguise. There was no ‘going out too hard’. The opposite, actually, and it gave Linda and I a chance to spend about an hour chatting, almost forgetting that there were runners around us. I’m sure they were all entertained by our banter – at least that’s what we told ourselves. I don’t know how to describe that first hour or so, but it really was something else. Tav had described the scenery to me before that it was very ‘Sound of Music’esque’ — The Hills Are Alive!
There was a calming melodical tone to everyone’s footsteps and relaxed demeanour. The time went by quick and the gap between Linda and I started growing. I could feel my old road runner instincts wanting to kick in and dart forward to pass, but I had many voices in my head to hold back. I did pull ahead, but bit by bit. I was crossing a small road section as one trail ended to another trailhead, when I caught sight of the sunrise. I took my camera out and snapped a quick photo. The photo doesn’t do it justice, but it was beautiful and so worth it.
Unfortunately, the ‘Sound of Music’ hills didn’t last forever, and I went right through Aid Station 1 (Bolinas Ridge – 6.3miles). I knew I wouldn’t see my crew until Aid Station 2 (Randall Trail – 12.9miles) so I set my sights on that. The trails between AS1 and AS2 were rolling and I found myself able to run more than I needed to walk. My strategy for the day was to be conservative on the hills. They weren’t my strength so I was better off hiking the uphills and using the downhills to my advantage, as that was where I excelled. What I didn’t account for was the long downhill into AS2, but it was glorious. I flew right into AS2 to meet Tav and Greg at almost a 14 hour finish time pace. They grabbed my pack to fill it up as I went into the portapotty line up for a quick tinkle. Little did I know that the line up would be longer than anticipated – almost 10 minutes. As I was waiting in line, I hear.. “Honey…”. I look over and Tav has pulled a near full bladder out of my pack. Ooops… I guess I wasn’t that thirsty.
As I got ready to leave AS2, the boys told me that it would be close to 4 hours before I would see them – this was key information for me. We did a quick check for fuel and I was on my way back to AS1 (doubled as AS3). What goes down must go up, so that glorious downhill into AS2 became a grunt of hike. About 5 minutes of climbing, I see Linda flying down and we hollered our hello’s. For those that don’t know Linda, well, you should. She has a smile and an energy about her that perks anyone up.
Again, I go right through AS3 (19.5miles) and on to AS4 (Cardiac – 26.5miles). I tried to stay on top of my fluids and my fueling to avoid getting the evil eye again when I was renewed with my crew at AS5 (Muir Beach – 31.5miles). During this time, my crew would grow by 1 as the boys met up with Soroush, a good friend who lived in the Bay area. From Cardiac to Muir Beach, it was mostly downhill and it was fabulous. There was also a small road section so I was able to maintain a fairly good pace. In fact, with the downhill and road section, I surprised the boys by meeting them en route – them in the car, and me on foot. They sped ahead to the aid station to get there before I reached it. Apparently, it was close. Mentally, I was still feeling good.
Physically, my legs were a little fatigued but my back and hamstrings were starting to act up – a symptom of my sciatic issue. I kept this in the back of my mind to ensure I didn’t do anything to aggravate it anymore. You might, however, say that running ANOTHER 50km would be aggravating it.. you might.
The boys filled up my pack, loaded me up on my fuel and I was on my way. I was still in good spirits and I was still having fun. From here, it would be about an hour before I would see them again at the next Aid Station (Tennessee Valley – 36.5miles). I can’t recall much about the trail, but I did spend some time hiking a big hill and chatting with someone from DC – an investment banker actually. Unfortunately, he misread the instructions and thought his drop bag was being moved forward from each drop area and he didn’t have any of his gear until he reached the next AS, where he was planning on pulling out. As soon as the trail started to go downhill, “we” decided to try running. “We”, however, soon turned into just me. I was feeling strong on the downhills and seemed to fly by a handful of runners, with some commenting that I seem to always pass them on the downhill.
I came into Tennessee Valley (AS6) a little more fatigued, a little more sore, but in ok spirits. I had a little niggling pain in my soleus area and Greg checked it out. There was really nothing to do except a little bit of extra compression with his magic hands. I asked the boys how long til I saw them again as I knew they weren’t allowed at the next aid station (Bridge View/Rodeo Valley – 41.5 miles), but I was coming right back to Tennessee Valley (doubling as AS8 – 48.9miles). Now, doing simple math, you would be able to deduce that the difference would be 12.3miles, but the day was long and charts can be confusing. I heard 7.8miles and I would be back. There was a sign at the aid station saying that it was 5 miles to AS7 so in my head, it would be a short 2.8miles back to my boys. Then I would have a pacer to the end.
The trail from AS6 to AS7 was tough. It was a climb. A big climb. And it was DAMN windy. So windy that I was blown sideways into the railing. But the view. Amazing. Clear view of the Golden Gate Bridge. I came into AS7 feeling a bit battered, tired, and was looking forward to a mere 2.8 miles til I saw my boys again. And then I saw the sign. 7.3 miles to the next aid station. My heart dropped. This can’t be right. But it was. I took a minute to absorb what I was reading and struggled to think of what I needed to do, as it would be closer to 1.5 hours until I saw them again. I took my pack off and refilled it. I wasn’t thinking clearly, but I remember telling the volunteer that I should eat. She agreed, but nothing on the table was appealing. I may have grabbed something but I can’t remember. I just wanted to go.. but I also wanted to stop. I left the aid station and it was a good downhill to the bottom of the mountain, but that only meant one thing. We had to climb back up to the top and then over to get back to the boys. I started hiking and I was joined by a few of the guys that I had apparently been passing on the downhills. We chatted a bit – they were all so nice. Slowly, they pulled away from me, except for a guy (whose name I later found out to be Sascha) from Florida. We climbed to the top together and then it was downhill to the boys at Tennessee Valley.
Greg met me along the downhill and tried to gauge how I felt. “Garbage” was my response and I started to choke back tears. I came into the aid station, gave them my pack, and went to the loo. I came out and as soon as I saw Tav, the tears starting rolling. All I could say was, “I don’t feel good.” And I couldn’t stop crying. Tav pulled me back together, somewhat, and tried to send me on my way. Before I would leave, I swapped watches as mine died and I went to the aid station to grab something to eat. The volunteer was so lovely and told me that my outfit was her favourite of the day. I thanked her as more tears rolled down my face.
Tav wiped my face and looked me in the eyes. All I had to do was do 5 miles with Soroush and then he would take me to the finish. Just 5 miles. I can do 5 miles. So the 3 of them started to walk me out of the aid station. After about half a km, Greg and Tav left and it was Soroush and I. We started to climb and it was like someone flipped a switch. Everything was fine. I felt really bad for Soroush – he was so great to come out and he was excited to pace me, and here I was, a tearful mess. But, everything was fine now. I had my crew.
So Soroush and I went through the rolling 5 miles which had more downhill than uphill. At one point, we bumped into Glenn Tachiyama – my favourite photographer with the most uplifting smile. He had situated himself at Pirate’s Cove (~51miles?) and we continued on our way. We flew down the hill into Muir Beach (AS9 – 53.7miles) and I was greeted by Tav and Greg. I swapped pacers – Soroush for Tav, or as Soroush was saying, Stud Muffin 2 for Stud Muffin 1 – and we were on our way. And everything was good – it felt like home.
Of course, I whined a little more and Tav had to invoke the “tough love” strategy to get me to the next aid station – a 1300 ft climb to Cardiac (58.7miles). As I said, uphill is not my strength so the poor guy had to listen to me hyperventilate and stroll uphill as best I could. He knew, though, that all he needed to do was get me to the top and I would be golden for the 3mile downhill to the finish. We got into Cardiac, I did a quick pit stop to the portapotty, and we were on our way.
I was tired and sore and had been on my feet longer than I had ever been before, but I’m pretty sure I was flying on those downhills. We passed a number of people and all I could hear was Tav telling me that I was doing SO good, that he was SO proud of me, and to NOT look at my watch. He pushed me to keep going and as we came down the last set of stairs, we were joined by Greg and Soroush. We turned right onto the road and there was the fire hall – the community centre where the finish was next to it.
As I started to make the last turn, Tav was yelling at me to get under 14:05 as I could see the clock reading 14:04 and 30 something seconds. I dug deep and managed to actually pick it up until I crossed the finish line.
Tia, the Race Director, congratulated me and put the medal around my neck. I turned and saw Greg and Tav. Greg gave me a hug. Soroush was behind him filming (see the video at the bottom of this post). And then I turned to Tav and fell into him. I was so overwhelmed .. physically and emotionally. I did it. I really did it. I don’t know how it happened, but somehow, I managed to cross that finish line.
And then I couldn’t move. After sitting for a bit, I slowly made my way to the washrooms to change. I must have been in there for 30 minutes as I was moving at the rate of snail snot. I was also choking back tears. Finally, I came out and was looking for Linda. I soon found her and we had our big teary hug.
It’s been almost 2 weeks and I’m still absorbing the whole experience. I get glimpses and flashes of pieces of the day, but I’m having a hard time stringing it together into one full day – into the fact that I did a full 100km ultra. What keeps going through my head is that I had a pretty damn perfect day, with the absolute best crew, best training partner, best support from back home and my community. I am truly a lucky girl – I don’t know how I got to be this way but I am ever so thankful. It’s probably why thinking of the full experience still makes me cry. damnit.
And, if all the support wasn’t enough, here’s a fantastic video that Soroush made of my day.
Do you ever feel so overwhelmed that you become speechless? Does your heart ever swell so much that the only way to express it is through tears? Do you ever sit back and wonder how you got to be so lucky?
Those thoughts and feelings have been coursing through my blood for the last while. August was an extremely emotional month for me – so much so that I needed to give myself some time and space to find the right words. But, the right words will never come so these will have to do.
Like I said, August was an emotional month. I couldn’t have packed more into it:
There were only 5 weekends in August and 3 were full. Somewhere in there, I had to fit in training for my next ultra (Cle Elum 50k), lead the lululemon Robson Street Run Club, see friends and family, and relax.
In and amongst all of that, two very unplanned things happened.
On the Wednesday before SeaWheeze, it was a day like any other. Work during the day and then Run Club. Run Club gives me so much. I had a vision at the beginning of the year for Run Club and it was to build a run club that was a strong tight-knit supportive family, and it was very much becoming a reality. These amazing people inspire one another, support one another, motivate one another, and they make Wednesdays the highlight of my week. The fact that they are continually present for one another and for me is a pretty special thing. On that day, we were planning a route that goes down Bute to the seawall and then running along the seawall. Andrea, an educator from the store, asked if we could do our weekly icebreaker at the park a few blocks away and I agreed. The weather was gorgeous and it’s a nice short walk. So, that day, like any other, we left the store and walked up Bute towards Nelson Park. Two blocks in, a group jumped out cheering and with signs – it startled me! My first thought was, “Who are we surprising?” and then, “Why don’t I know about it?”
Lo and behold, that person was me. Earlier in the year, I set out to start an initiative called #GoalForward. It was an initiative to bring together the things I was passionate about – community, running, goals, and philanthropy. People would apply for #GoalForward, a program where they would get rewarded in charitable dollars for attaining a SMART goal. I would offer to coach and guide them along if they wanted. If not, it was just a matter of connecting with them and if they crushed their SMART goal, then I would send them $100 in charitable dollars. The money from which I was drawing was part of another campaign – One Year, One Percent. This campaign challenged you to put aside 1% of your annual earnings towards charity. I took this campaign and topped it up to an even $1,000 to be given out to 10 people.
lululemon Robson Street was surprising me that day with the gift of paying it forward. They were supporting my #GoalForward initiative by gifting me $500 for the program. So, now, I am able to pay it forward and reward 15 people instead of 10. I was humbled, floored, and overwhelmed with gratitude.
The second occurrence was around SeaWheeze. I was a Pace Beaver last year and it was so much fun. This year, I was asked to be a Pace Beaver again and I was definitely excited. I was going to be pacing 2:10 and was so happy about it because that was the goal time of some of the people in my run club. Not only do I get to watch them train up to the half marathon distance, I now get to bring them across the finish line.
Kat, Alex and Winnie from Run Club were toeing the line with me and my fellow 2:10 beavers, Susan and Marisa. The gun went off and we set out to find our pace. Susan, one of the other 2:10 beavers, and I were keeping each other in check to make sure we weren’t going too fast or too slow. Our strategy was to give ourselves a couple of minutes cushion and to finish just under 2:10 so that anyone who finished with us would not only reach their goal of 2:10, but they would in actual fact crush their goal. Not too long after we started, I realized Kat was the only one with us so I kept my eye on her, encouraging her, reminding her to fuel, pointing things out on the course and throwing in a few comments and jokes along the way. We were also running with another girl who ran SeaWheeze last year and she said that I got her across the finish line in her goal time – awesome.
We entered Stanley Park and I knew things were starting to get tough for our group. But I knew we could do it. For Kat, I knew she had it in her to do it. After all the physical rigours of training, it all comes down to a mental battle. When your body starts to get tired and sore, self doubt starts to seep its ugliness into your brain. Distraction is the best remedy. So we kept the chatter going – or maybe it was self-chatter for me. We got to Lumberman’s Arch and saw Maya, another Run Clubber, cheering and it definitely lifted spirits. There’s a big hill at Lumberman’s Arch and Susan and I were shouting encouragements to power up the hill. When we got to the top, we realized we had almost lost our group so big brakes came out until they caught up. Oops, a bit too excited. I still hadn’t seen Kat and I knew that it would be bad news if I continued without her so I didn’t. We were well under our goal time so I basically hung back until I saw her. Then I continued forward in baby steps until she caught me. My Run Club knows that I’m a bit of a mother hen – I call them my babies, in fact. So, to leave one of my babies to fend for herself – not going to happen. All the while, I knew I had a responsibility of being a Pace Beaver. But I had time. I had minutes to spare. So I was safe. Kat and I resumed our positions – me slightly ahead and her just slightly behind. I kept telling her that she was going to get her goal (and she was!), that we was doing SO great (and she was!), and that we would do it together (and we were!). I told her not to rush it. We were going to do it in HER pace, not mine. When, and ONLY when she saw the finish line, and if she had it in her, she could pick it up, but we were going to cross that line together.
And damnit, we did. And it was fan-freakin-tastic. I can’t even express the emotions I was feeling – words don’t do it justice. I was so proud of her. That day changed both of us and we will forever be bonded by that experience.
And, if you check the results, she actually finished 2 seconds ahead of me. 🙂
…or something like that. With the recent uprise of participants in trail races and ultramarathons, it’s easy to get swept up in the chatter and commit to a 50k without actually knowing what you’re in for. Yes, it’s ONLY 8km longer than a marathon, but it’s leaps and bounds more than that. You’ll know once you’ve done one.
My goals had changed about 2 months ago from doing a 100km or a 50miler this Fall, to landing at running another 50km trail run. Due to circumstances beyond my control (such as getting pneumonia in June) and scheduled commitments (Wanderlust and SeaWheeze), I had to step back and think about what was the smarter choice. And sometimes smarter means doing less.
This 50k (or, actually just over 53k) would be different though. I’ll be solo for this one. Of course, with any race, your race is yours alone to run – there’s no tag team like a relay, no one’s going to piggy back you, and no one’s going to pretend to be you and run it for you. Usually. Originally, I picked this race because a friend was doing it and long races are always better with company, for training and for racing. It was also in the right time frame. Unfortunately, like many unplanned things in life, what was planned was not what happened. Life happens and you have to learn to adapt. So, I set out to make the 4 hour drive down to Cle Elum, WA solo on Friday, run the race on Saturday, and then make the trek back right after the race – with multiple stops to stretch my legs.
Luckily, my friend Hozumi and his four-legged furry companion, Miles, were able to join me last minute. Whew!
So, late afternoon on Friday, we packed up our gear and headed across the border. Based on the emails that I was receiving from the race, we were told to be prepared for all types of weather. And, even on the drive down, we experienced everything from sun to torrential downpour. This was going to make for an interesting race day. But another day, another 50k, right? Not so much.
We arrived that morning and it was chilly, but not raining. About 20 minutes before the race, I decided to do a quick shirt change – from a single t-shirt, to a double-t-shirt. They had said that the ridge at the top could be quite windy and cold so better safe than sorry, and I was already cold at the start.
The clock was ticking and it was time to go line up at the start. In the true fashion of ultramarathons, the race director told us to imagine a line where the start was and line up there. 🙂 10 second countdown, quick bye to Hozumi and Miles, and off I went. The course profile showed 17 miles of climbing to START, followed by 12 miles of downhill, then half mile uphill, and half mile downhill to the finish. I was definitely looking forward to the downhill, but most certainly not the uphill.
So, a few days before the race, I checked online and did the regular pre-race analysis – check the course profile and map out how long it would take me to get to each aid station. Ultrasignup, the registration system, targeted my finish time to be 7:29. I’m not crazy fast but I didn’t think it was going to take me that long. So I started to make predictions, with a finish time of 6:30 hours thinking that it was a fairly conservative time. My predictions were:
Aid Station 1 (9.5mi) – 2:05
Aid Station 2 (14.5mi) – 3:10
Aid Station 3 (21mi) – 4:20
Aid Station 4 (25mi) – 5:10
Finish (33mi) – 6:30
The climbing was relentless. Not just ‘relentless’, but ‘RELENTLESS’. By the time I arrived at the first aid station, slightly ahead of schedule (1:58 vs 2:05), I was in a lot of pain. I had to shake my head when the volunteer told me I was the 5th woman overall so far. You gotta be kidding me. Do you have any idea how many illnesses or injuries I thought I could fake to stop the madness of this uphill climb??
My right hamstring has been an issue for the last 2 years, and for the last week, my left one was starting to feel not quite right. The climbing in the race started at mile 1, but it really started at mile 2. The running quickly turned to hiking, and because of the early onset of increasing pain in my hamstrings, it quickly turned into an uphill shuffle walk. To be honest, I was in so much pain, I wasn’t sure if I would make it to the finish line. But, it was a bit too soon to call it a day. I grabbed a quarter of a peanut butter & jelly sandwich and continued the hike uphill. And then I saw a friendly face – Hozumi & Miles – just a little outside of the first aid station. I called out to him as I passed saying that it would take me 7 hours, and he responded with 5.5 hours. A little comic relief is always nice.
The climbing continued, varying from slightly runnable to steep steep steep – so steep, in fact, that I felt like gravity was going to roll me backwards. It was definitely wearing on me mentally and physically. Looking at my watch, I knew I was close to Aid Station 2, but not close enough. I looked up at one point and saw a ridge and saw the aid station, but then I realized where I was, and it was still a good amount of climbing to go. And the pain in my lower back and hamstrings were only getting worse.
One by one, people were passing me and I had nothing in me to retaliate. Each time I tried to lift my leg to take a bigger step, it would cause so much pain that I would nearly be winded. So baby steps it was. I didn’t stay long at Aid Station 2 as it was on a ridge and, as the race director said, those areas were quite windy and cold. Aid Station 2 was at 14.5 miles and I knew the high point was at 17 miles. I only needed to climb 2.5 more miles before I could get some reprieve and make the downhill trek.
Finally, I was at half way (according to my watch) and it was 3:54 into the race. Was it going to be an 8 hour day? Should I just pull out? I just didn’t know if I had it in me to be out for that long.
But then things changed. The downhill started and I could just let go and enjoy it. I was passing a lot of the people that passed me on the way up. Some even commented on how much time I had made up on the downhill and stepped aside for me to pass. There were a few motorbikes on the trail that we had to move aside for, which made for not so pleasant fumes, but there were few interruptions. My spirits were starting to lift.. until I stumbled on a rock. As I stumbled, my calf decided to cramp and I had to stand on the trail for a few moments to let it subside. Whew. That was odd – I had never cramped in a race before. Well, shake it off and continue. I passed through Aid Station 3 barely stopping as it was a water only station at about 4:35. I still had 10-12 miles to go. I knew that would take me over 2 hours. It was definitely going to be a long day.
Glenn Tachiyama, an awesome photographer who’s often at ultras and has a talent for capturing the best moments, was coming up. There was a creek crossing at about 22 miles and everyone knew he would be there. When I arrived at the creek, I saw Glenn on the other side. I stopped at the entrance to the creek and thought, “What the hell. Just go for it.” And THAT was pretty damn fun. Amongst all the suffering, it was nice to just get back to being a kid and to play in water.
Things started to go sideways for me after that point. Hozumi told me that the back half would be a bit undulating, but it was a net downhill. This meant that overall it was going downhill, but there would be small sections of uphill. I had good momentum for a while, but then suddenly every time I hit an uphill and tried to run, my calves would cramp. When my left calf cramped, my left shin would cramp. When my right calf cramped, it would cause my right foot/arch to cramp. Ugh. So, time to adapt. For the next 2ish hours, every time I hit an uphill, I would have to walk. I would then rely on the downhills to make up more time.
I knew I had one more aid station, where Hozumi and Miles would be, and I was really looking forward to seeing them. They walked up the trail from the aid station and waited for me. As soon as I saw them, I felt better. I stopped and chatted with Hoz and told him I was cramping like a bastard, pardon my French. He asked me about my nutrition and if I was taking enough salt. I could tell that based on my answers, it wasn’t sufficient. He told me that the aid station station was a minute ahead and to take some salt tabs. So I trudged on to the aid station and did as I was told. Salt tabs, a couple of potato chips, 2 small cups of Coke, and a water refill for my pack. I hadn’t run out of water but knew that it was dangerously low. I left the aid station stocked up, with 6-8 miles to go til the finish. It was just over 5.5 hours into the race and I knew it would take more than an hour to get to the finish. Maybe it really was going to be a 7 hour day. Dear God.
By now, even the downhills were getting tough. I had leapfrogged with a bunch of people for the last hour or so. I even chatted with a runner who recognized me from the Gorge Waterfalls race. “You’re the girl that fell, right?” Yup, that’s me.
We were back and forth for a little bit and then I pulled ahead. I then caught up to a young guy wearing a BMO Vancouver Marathon shirt, who I had also leapfrogged with earlier. When I got to the next uphill, I had to walk again as the cramping episodes were still happening. He came up behind me and I offered to let him pass. Instead, he asked if he could walk with me. Of course! But I did let him know that I didn’t care where I placed and if he was gunning for a particular time, I was more than happy to let him go ahead. He said it was his first one and he was happy to just run with me and I was definitely happy for the company. We bantered back and forth and it was really nice to finally chat with someone and take my mind off of how I was really feeling. I knew there was a big’ish hill about 2 miles from the finish, but it ended with a nice downhill. So we joked at every little uphill section as to whether this was the hill or not. Finally, it really was the hill and we were on the last downhill section. This section was on a service road with my least favourite terrain – large sharp rocks that didn’t offer very good footing. I was bouncing left and right trying to find some flow, when my shoe suddenly caught on a large stick on the ground and threw me forward down the trail. In mid flight, my right calf decided to cramp badly again while the other end of the stick impaled me in the chest. Awesome. I was lying on the trail face down on a downhill slope and trying to un-cramp my very tired calf. My poor running companion stood there unsure of what to do. It took every ounce of my strength to roll over, stretch my foot, and then spin myself around so that I could get myself into an upright position. Damnit, James Varner! Why do I fall at every one of your races I run?
The best was when my running buddy said, “Wow, you were like completely horizontal.” Oh, so comical and tragic. I pulled myself together and we continued down the trail. Not too long after, I saw Hozumi and Miles again. As I passed him, I yelled to him that I fell. I can’t remember what he said as I was just focused on getting to the finish line. And then I could hear it. I could taste it. Down a little steep hill and over a bridge, and there it was. Amazing. 6:51:07. 35th overall and 7th woman in.
This was the least prepared I’ve ever been for an ultra – not enough volume training, not enough hill training, and poor nutrition.
Each ultramarathon offers something different. And each ultramarathon can teach you valuable lessons. It was my slowest and toughest 50k, but at the end of the day, I had a few good takeaways on what I needed to do for the next one. Yes, there will be a next one.
The ultramarathon community, as I’ve described it to many friends, is like walking into somebody’s home. Not house, but home. Each aid station is like an invitation to someone’s kitchen to sample some of the goodies they’ve personally prepared for you. Each volunteer’s face is like a warm hug. Each cheer helps to propel you one step further. For this, I am so fortunate and ever so grateful.
Most of everything I post on here is about running, but I’d like to take a moment to reflect on “girl stuff” and running. Yes, women always complain about how men have it so much easier (and they do, ahem) but let’s spell it out.
Warning: If talking about “girl stuff” is going to make you squeamish or uncomfortable, you should probably move on and read something else … like a different post I have on here. 🙂
Women go through, what I’ll call ‘hormonal imbalances’ once a month for 3-7 days. But life isn’t easy for more than that duration. Let me walk you through my morning, as I am on the “lead up” period (no pun intended).
And before I continue, I’d like to state that I’m not delusional. I know I have a smaller frame. I know that I’m not overweight. Really, especially with the running, I’ve acquired a boy’s body .. losing what little chest I have and acquiring stronger legs. I’m a bit of a rectangle. Thank goodness for clothes that help give shape to those that don’t really have it. And thank goodness for baggy clothes. But I digress…
I woke up feeling thin, which I often do mainly because I’ve been lying horizontal all night and gravity is my BFF during this time. Within a few minutes, I see myself in the mirror and it’s not quite so. With these wonderful hormonal imbalances, my body seems to play a joke on the fact that I run often and show me what my body would look like if I took 3-6 months off and ate chips and fries as my main diet. Thick. Soft (and not in a good way). And no amount of “sucking it in” helps. Excellent.
Plus, my skin likes to take a nose dive and I’m getting acne like a teenaged girl going through puberty. Lovely.
Oh, and I’m also a victim of the ‘chest pain’ symptom, which is ironic because I really thought that you can’t really hurt where you don’t have much, right? Wrong. It still hurts. Sweet.
I start getting ready for my run and head out the door. As I’m driving to my destination, all I can feel is my belly and love handles that hangeth over my shorts. Thank goodness I wore my “big girl” shorts today. Because I’m within a few days of the “dreaded event”, I often stress over whether it’s going to happen early so a nice, serene run through the trails turns into a ridiculous train of thought of whether I brought “precautions”, “oh, but they’re in the car”, and “did I wear dark shorts in case of an accident”, “how far am i actually from the car”, and the occasional “will i need to duck into the bushes”. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?
And I haven’t even touched on the emotional side of things.. so let’s not and save us all some grief.
By the way, this is all BEFORE the actual event happens, which can last anywhere from 3-5 days.
So, on days when you think you’re having a bad run… imagine if you were having a bad run PLUS going through everything that I already mentioned. It’s really not that bad, is it?
PS – I do have to give huge props to the men that ‘survive’ this monthly ordeal and help us get through this temporary insanity. Oh, and to the puppies too. You must really love us. 🙂
I went through a natural progression from being a beginner road runner to a not-so-beginner road runner. I started with a 10km, did another 10km, thought it was too hard, so went to a 5km and worked my way up. I was never a fast runner, and the thing I loved about running was that it was an accomplishment that was measurable and was completely my own. How well I did or how poorly I did was 100% completely dependent on me. Some may like that and some may not. Sure, we can argue on the advantage your fellow runners in a race give you, as well as the lift you get from cheering spectators, but at the end of the day, I’m the only one powering my legs to push forward.
My motivation for many, many years was speed. I wanted to get better, run faster, be stronger. I’m not out to win races, as I’m a realist and that will never be me. I’m completely ok with that. But I knew I could do better than I was – it just took time, effort, and determination.
Then came injury. Recover, rebuild, and try again. And then another injury. This time recovery wasn’t so easy so I was introduced to the world of trail running, but not JUST trail running – it was ultramarathon trail running. All of a sudden, I was running longer and farther, and staying injury-free. And the pressure was off. There was no pressure of speed, pace, metrics, or race results. It was all about setting a goal, and crushing it. Get to the finish and high five.
Over a year ago, I was feeling torn between these two different spectrums of the running scale. As friends who run road continue to get faster, I feel my inner roadie pulling me towards them. Taunting me. I’ve spent the last couple of years just getting miles under my belt, and I’ve become very comfortable in one speed. And even that one speed can become difficult the longer you run, so it’s not come without its own set of challenges. But I want that speed back – at least for now I do. There has to be a happy balance I can find between high miles and speed. They say there is, whoever they are, but they are always the experts, right?
I lead the lululemon Robson Run Club, and last week, in light of the recent tragedy in Boston, I went back to my old roots to when I was training for Boston and led the group in a track workout. Although I didn’t actually participate (a sacrifice I’m happy to make when leading), it stirred up some old feelings in me. Track was always tough, but it was always good. Even when it was bad, it was good, because I knew it was helping. Plus, track, and the people with whom I trained, propelled me into the vast world of road racing and where I saw the most gains, physically and mentally. It was all good, so now it’s time to reintroduce that good back to my world.
So, here’s the plan. The track. It’s not that exciting or elaborate, but I’m going to try it out and see how my body reacts, as I’ve got a nagging hamstring. Once a week for the next couple of months. Wish me luck and let’s hope my legs remember how to turn over quickly!