Monday, 18 March 2013

Chuckanut 50k (pound it out)

Barry, me, Meghan, Sabrina - photo courtesy of Rebecca Reid

can you just cut to the chase? your blog uses a lot of words
time: 4:51.03
place: 2nd female 20-29, 11th female overall
other: squeaked into the top 20 fastest female times ever (and I think #1 fastest time for a runner with a small buddha belly - damnit, taper week!)

the difference one year makes
A year ago, I raced the St. Patty's Day 5k in Stanley Park. I was so reluctant to register for the race that Craig signed me up right before it sold out. I remember the start: all my VFAC friends in the wintry sun, nervous in our jerseys, and the rush downhill through a sea of people. I remember gasping through the first couple kilometers, dealing with the unexpected hurt. Then, I just started going: I saw my teammates up ahead, and I picked up the pace to catch up with them. And I was able to. I crossed the finish line in 19:23, a jangle of nerves and still astonished at the power I had in my body.

It's been a bit of a surreal journey to wind up at my third ultra start line since then -  surrounded with new friends, an amazing sponsor, and a whole different headspace.

I should mention that signing up for a 50k trail race in March went about exactly how you would expect...if you expect a lot of rain. After the North Face 50, I realized nothing weather related could be that bad (this is not a challenge, weather gods), so I wasn't too worried. But yeah, the weather went from just-rained, to rainy like crazy, to just-about to rain. Maybe it is time to look into doing a race somewhere warm? Or I just have a secret love of mud and chafing.

road trip
Meghan picked me up Friday afternoon and we made our way across the border....and into a Trader Joe's store. More specifically, into the chocolate aisle of the store. I left with ideal taper food: two bottles of wine, a bag of chips, and three chocolate bars. Then we headed to REI for gels and gear-ogling...and finally, to the package pickup, to rendezvous with Barry and, most importantly, getting as many miniature Cliff bar samples as possible.

sweet dreams?
Barry managed to find the one cafe that had a happy hour special, which we arrived at the tail end of. (Happy hour time sounds better than senior citizen time, which is also was). We pulled into our hotel's parking see the lobby crowded full of dancing teenagers. As we were checking in, the teenagers were performing song and dance acts at a high volume. We realized it might be a long night. The first room we were given was right next to the lobby. The next room was further away...but also occupied already by kids. The third room was empty...kind of. Barry promptly left to go across the street to buy wine and earplugs. In the end, we slept as well as three nervous soon-to-be-ultrarunners could. Meghan and I reached an important friendship milestone, in that we finally shared a bed (if there was a couch that she could've slept on, I'm pretty sure she would have taken that option).

get up, lube up
We woke up at 5am, started coffee/tea, and added hot water to our respective bowls of instant oatmeal. I was determined to avoid my weekly chafing (and related very painful showers). Donovan was determined to avoid my weekly whining about chafing, and had loaned me some fancy triathlete anti-chafing lube-spray. (I think Craig has something similar he has used to make his very long bike sessions less painful). It felt like a sex aid in a can, but anything was better than how I had been feeling post-long-runs, so I sprayed it - everywhere. And then passed it to Barry and Meghan. Barry had intended to go "old school" with his signature huge tub of vaseline, but was swayed by the fancy spray can.

I love mud
We parked by the largest puddle, then milled around the parking lot / start line as the sky faded to dawn. The course goes like this: easy 10k, a hilly and technical 30k, then back along the same easy 10k. I started out running with Mary and Meghan for the first 10k. The pace didn't feel entirely great to me, but the start of races never does. After the first hour, my legs woke up and I was able to get up the first climb, and then make my way down the first downhill, all ankles intact. After, it was a longer uphill along an old logging road, with switch back after switchback at a grade that was runnable, but barely.

Finally, at the top of this, was the part of the race I actually wanted to do: technical singletrack along a ridge, with views out to the ocean. It was wet and the mist came in and out of the forest. The trails were muddy, rooty, with large wet rocks that I went down in a slick of arms and held breath. My legs didn't feel entirely my own. For the first, ever, I actually passed some people on technical downhill sections (usually my signature move is trying as hard as possible to get out of people's way as they barrel down roots next to me).  By this time, I was feeling the last couple hours of running a bit. I just kept saying: "focus. FOCUS." to myself as I dropped, and dropped some more, down the trail. I emerged from the ridge section, all ankles intact and only a small leg scratch in terms of injuries.

In my head, this was a much more technical trail. photo from Glen Tachiyama.
I love caffeine
I'm not great at nutrition during long runs or races. In long trail runs, I frequently hit spots where I feel angry or sad - this usually means I need to have a gel or some caffeine (this is different to the rest of my life, when these feelings get meditation, talks with friends, or an early bedtime...and occasionally sugar and caffeine). I eat horribly during ultra races: caffeine and sugar. I rely on caffeine a decent amount during ultra races. And here's the thing: once I start caffeine, I can't stop. I just hope the high from each gel or cup of coke lasts until the next time an aid station comes around.

Getting my fix. photo courtesy of Glen Tachiyama.

About three hours in, I was still out high on the ridge, without any aid stations around. The buzz from the last gel had long since worn off. The gradual uphill section, all of a sudden, felt really long. I started to walk. I had one gel - lemon lime. I had some water. And that was how I had my first caffeine pill, ever. Honestly, I was hoping for more perkiness, but the crippling depression and fatigue went away in about five minutes, and I was able to pick it up for the long downhill switchbacks. My body still hurt, but my mind found another gear and I just kept moving.

finish strong
I can't help the road runner side of me that feels compelled to do every race with a Garmin. This is despite a) pace is meaningless and demoralizing when I am powerhiking a steep muddy uphill b) satellite reception in the forest is bad, so I have no idea how far I've gone, anyways c) all technology is bad, anyways. However, when I made it back out of the higher trails and onto the last 10k back, I knew I had to run like hell. With no watch to tell me pace, I did what I do: went inside, and found the edge. I found the hurt, and I just opened into it and pushed faster. I didn't know how many kilometers I had left, I had no idea how much time I had left, but I wanted to make all the miles I had already run in this race count.

Finally, I heard the finish line through the trees, and ran one last mini downhill to cross. Then full stop.

Sadly, the most flattering "after" photo of Barry and I.

clothes are a lot of work
Donovan made the trip down to see me finish - because there is no better way to spend a Saturday then driving to a muddy parking lot to stand in the rain and watch your girlfriend try to string together full sentences after a race (thank you!). Barry and North Van trail legend Nicola Gildersleeve were also at the finish line, looking much too fresh for just racing 50k.

I suddenly wanted to be dry and warm, so very slowly hobbled over to Meghan's car. My run brain was wiped - I leaned against the back of the car, and contemplated my clothes. The act of taking off wet compression sleeves, socks, top and finding new dry stuff to replace it seemed pretty overwhelming. Donovan helped out with the changing special olympics, but I still spent about 15minutes, half-naked, gazing into space in the full parking lot while my shoes were untied for me (this is sort of similar to post-kneeknacker training run behaviour, minus the assisted changing).

Meghan finished her race - and killed it! - in 4:56. I think she gets bonus for the most hard-core runner, as evidenced by her huge wipe-out. ("I just bounced back up and kept running!") By the time she made it back to the car, I was finally in dry gear and sitting in Barry's car with the heat on full-blast. And Donovan got to help with changing the secon time around (this is good practice!) Barry had already started drinking beer - I had to politely decline his offer as I felt already pretty spacey. I was a bit dazed the rest of the day, and twitchy and restless that night.

Meghan is hardcore!

normal people life
The next day, the endorphins finally kicked in. Sunday brightened up with fresh snow on the mountain and chilly sunlight. Meghan and I did a seawall walk with tea, taking any uphills very slowly. As it was St. Patty's Day, I learned the joys of mid-day drinking...and then promptly needed a very long nap (advantages of dating an ultra-runner: gets loaded easily). My body is trashed, my head is worn out, and I want to eat all the food, ever - but I know I'll bounce back.

I sort of joke about my goals for ultras being to not get lost or not get injured. But it's sort of serious: taking a month off after kneeknacker to rehab my ankle was tough. It was also tough doing 3k bonus mileage on the NF 50 (as I was already tired any whiny). So it was awesome to get those parts sorted and just be able to focus on racing. It felt a bit daunting to start down this type of distance and commit to racing it - going hard, feeling sore, and running through. Nowhere in the race did I ever feel comfortable. If I did, I pushed harder. That doesn't mean I didn't have a great time. There was joy in the hurt: I loved the views, the rain, the ache in my quads, the hard breath. I don't do this to feel good - I do it to push limits. I stayed positive, and knew I could not have gone any harder, at any point, and I am completely elated that I pulled it off.

thank you, other crazies
Huge thanks to FITS! Despite running in the rain/mud/more mud for almost five hours, I have zero blisters, and no new black toenails. The hiker crew socks were solid, which was good, as all other parts of my body were in a lot of pain.

I am so lucky to have so much support and encouragement from my trail, road, and triathlon friends! Kneeknacker bad-ass Brooke Spence dropped me off the best good-luck present ever Thursday night: an illustrated cat encyclopedia! Craig sent down encouraging texts when I told him about my tri-lube plans, and Katie was pretty much the best text-cheering squad ever. The fact I had to talk my friends out of biking down, in the crazy wind and rain, to watch the race finish shows a lot about the wonderful life I have.

Meghan had been training with me for the past few months. Despite living on the Sunshine coast (in a much bigger, nicer, more ocean-view-y place than me), Meghan came over pretty much every weekend to do training runs. I was getting used to having her sleep on my couch and have bedtime tea drinking, yogourt eating, and life chats every week, and tried to convince her to sign up for the marathon so we could continue this. However, it turns out the us road-runners (okay, maybe just me) with our talk of paces, garmins, and distance tracking stressed her out too much, so she's ready to take a break for mountain biking.

Barry came off of a calf injury, and managed to rehab his ankle and then race on it within about a two week span. Barry also supplied the patience and sense of humour that is much needed in any run group that includes me. He had the most creative taper, which involved leaving with his work to go out for drinks at 4pm...and returning home at 2:30am the next morning. He also has some seriously short-shorts, and makes me motivated to step up my game in that area.

Mary and Sabrina both ran their debut ultras in wet, rainy conditions. They both rocked the race - and, most, importantly, came away happy, with a love of trails, and ready to do more! The determination and sense of humour these ladies have is amazing, and if growing up ever happens for me, I want to grow up to run like them :) VFAC has a group of these women, and the way they train hard, but, more importantly, support each other through good runs, bad runs, injuries, and wins is an inspiration for the type of running I want to do and the friendships I want to have.

Rebecca - one of the fastest masters in Canada, and also owner of the best (sarcastic) sense of humour in Canada - was supposed to run the race. Unfortunately, she had the trail race from hell the weekend before, and emerged alive....barely. However, she still got up at the crack of a very rainy morning to drive Sabrina, Mary and Brian across the border. And was there at the end of a very rainy day in a very muddy parking lot to cheer everyone on. Amazing.


  1. wtf caffeine pills???

    pretty sure if i can survive law school without them, you can survive running without them. lets get on that agreement, shall we?

  2. Congratulations ALEX. you are super fast.