Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Fuck that, yes I can.

Two weeks ago,  I was injured (a bit) and tired (a lot). When my amazing training partner, Katie, got injured badly enough to have to pull out of the North Face 50 mile race - I panicked. A big part of my decision to do the race was based on how much I enjoyed training together: a five hour run is much less daunting if you can chat the whole way. The prospect of running for over 9 hours by myself on race day terrified me. I can't remember the last time I started a run of more than 10k on my own. I haven't done a long run on my own since January. In races, I usually tuck in behind someone, and use their energy and pace to help me.

At the same time - I am not injured. I have the race entry paid for, the plane ticket booked, and a lot of miles run up mountains. So last week, I did a 19k tempo. And then an interval workout. I struggled, mentally. And I finished fast. And I chose - and chose hard - to commit to the race, and commit to training for the last couple weeks as much as I can. The rest of the race will be in my head: to trust myself, trust my strength, trust my body to move through the hurt and keep going.

The good news: I don't have to be on my own yet. This past weekend I did a hell of a lot of running with a hell of a lot of fun people.

I went over to visit Meghan on the Sunshine coast. I left right from work on Friday, and arrived about an hour too early at the ferry, in time for a wintry sunset. Meghan lives in a suite of an old house, right on the ocean. The house has wood floors, huge windows, exposed brick walls...and a china / cutlery / glasses cabinet with leaded glass. It also has Meghan's amazing cooking.

ease in
I slept in Saturday...until almost 7:30am. Instead of rushing into compression tights and heading out the door, we had a pot of tea and watched the sun rise over the mountains. The plan was to powerhike up and run down Mt. Elfinstone, one of the highest mountains on the Sunshine coast.

we have discovered winter
I would have thought living in Ontario for four years would have prepared me for cold temperatures. Even with a toque, gloves, jacket, and one wool sock (almost laundry day) I was freezing when we started the uphill. The trail was steep, windy, virtually deserted, and gorgeous. After about 30mins up, what we thought was frost turned into a light snow. The ground felt bouncy - frozen on top, with give underneath.

There were some fun runnable sections on the way up. Ours were the first shoeprints along the snow. Meghan was out in front, scouting the trail. In one section, I was following her closely behind - a bit too close. I heard her yell - something - but couldn't quite make it out.

Until I went down, hard, on a patch of snow-covered ice. I managed to break my fall with my wrist/knee/chest. It hurt, but neither of my ankles were rolled, so as far as falls go, I was pretty happy.

As we got closer to the top, even though we were going uphill, it got cold. The rocks we scrambled up were covered in ice. We used branches to pull ourselves up across snow-covered roots to the final top of the mountain. The views made it all worthwhile.

dial in
When we started our way downhill, I was scared. The less-than-five minute break had me freezing. The sections where we had struggled uphill looked even more intimidating on the downhill.

This past week, when talking about her training plans, Katie had said to me: I want to put a sign on my wall that says "I can't". And every morning, I'll look at it and think "Fuck that, yes I can."

With that in my head, I started to granny-step my way down. The trail got easier, the temperature climbed, and we chatted as we wound our way down through roots and red pine needles. Meghan once again took one for the team by leading the way downhill and finding the slippery doing some of the most controlled non-wipe-outs I have ever seen.

We ended the day - tired, but not injured - with a lunch in a Gibsons cafe, sunlight streaming in.

this weekend just got real
Sunday's run was a lot less technical...and a hell of a lot longer. Barry ( had come up with a good 50k training route. It had a runnable uphill, was accessible by car, and I wasn't at the risk of seriously injuring myself. The one drawback - the route was known to be boring as hell. After a couple months of views and sunshine, the two long repeats up the dirt access road on the backside of Grouse Mountain didn't exactly hold the same appeal.

like fun, but different
The clear answer was not to find a more enjoyable running route, or somehow change the weather forecast from 1C and rainy to something (anything) better. It was to friends to do the run with. Luckily, between our VFAC friends and trail friends, we knew some people with a somewhat different definition of fun. I asked Lucy, one of my oldest running friends in Vancouver, who taught me how to trail run. Her initial response - no. Then, she changed her mine. She explained to me: "I could do something fun, or pretty, like Norvan falls. Or I could run up and down the road with you." Turns out poor decision making is contagious. She was to come with us for our first repeat. Ben, a fellow VFAC member and marathoner, also said yes (to be fair, I didn't quite fully explain the run to him). He was joining us for the second repeat.

So,  armed with a strong coffee and about 20 gels, I was set to go.

fueling meet-up
Lucy met us at 7:55am - and promptly informed us that her injury wasn't quite rehabbed enough to do the 25k round trip #1. She did, however, drop off some kamut bars to help ensure we were well-fueled. We started jogging. The temperature hovered around freezing. I could feel my legs from yesterday - but honestly, it takes me forever to warm-up anyways. The trail switchbacked up through forest at a runnable grade. To pass the time, we talked. (At first, Barry talked and I sort of wheezed replies). In the first 12k to the the Grouse Mountain Lodge, we had discussed: relationships, work, how short marathons seemed. Nothing was off-topic - except, obviously, food. This could only be discussed in the final 10k.

we might have underestimated
As we neared the top of Grouse, it started to lightly snow. The sky was slate-grey. In several parts, the road was covered in ice. Barry took a bail on one particularly bad patch - our only wipeout of the day. One of our complaints about Mountain Highway: boring. This is due to both the views (or lack of them) and the non-technical nature. After negotiating our way along the first uphill and the ice / thin layer of snow, we agreed this run had become a lot more "interesting".

Ben hates us
We finished our first "repeat" at 10:31 - exactly one minute behind Barry's predicted time (Barry, you seem good with numbers - ever consider a career switch to accounting?). Ben was waiting at our meeting place, much too enthusiastic to understand what the run actually entailed.

At the start of repeat #2 - with blissfully ignorant Ben
 As we slowly jogged up the endless switchbacks a second time, Ben quickly came to realize this was a bit different than the usual long runs along the seawall. To further reinforce this, the light snow from the first repeat turned to heavier, more blowing-in-face snow for the second time up. We felt guilty - sorta - about duping Ben into coming along. The guilt faded about 30min later, as a warmed-up Ben helped to drag us uphill.

at chilly victory
As the top of Mountain Highway was cold and had diagnonal snow, we quickly headed back down after one picture.

Ben has now put his name in the 2013 kneeknacker draw

Ben, pumped from his successful repeat, started to fly downhill. I was definitely going in a downhill direction, but it took my legs a little longer to adjust to the change. 4k longer, to be exact. The final stretch, the guys were out in front, talking. I started to notice all of the aches and strains that happen after running a lot in a short amount of time. I told myself: just focus, keep moving - you can worry about it all later.

scary numbers on the Garmin
As we finished the last couple kms, Barry commented about how, in his ultra training experience, one of the weirdest things is "seeing scary numbers on your Garmin." This was the second time I had ever done close to 50k - and the first time wearing a GPS watch for it. I usually don't bother keeping track of stuff on trail runs, but here are some actual, honest to god numbers: 49.7k (like fuck I was going to run another 300m - I was DONE.), 5:03 (including all stops), about 1500m.

The second scariest number - the amount of bacon consumed by Ben and Barry at brunch afterwards.

The day after the run, my quads were a bit achy, but my body was surprisingly okay. My immune system, however, wasn't quite up for the challenge. I replaced Tuesday's tempo with trips from my couch to my bed to the kitchen to make more tea. Still - so worth it!

cups of tea consumed in 24hrs: 8
times I comtemplated out-loud moving to Sunshine coast: 4
trails that Meghan knew: all of them
gels I brought for Sunday's run: way too many
gels I actually consumed during the run: 3
glasses of wine consumed Saturday night, pre-run: 2
glasses of wine regretted Sunday, mid-run: 0
hours curled up in bed in fetal position Sunday afternoon: 1.5

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