Endurance Challenge Ontario – My First 50 Mile Race!

“I did it!”

I have started so many emails and texts with this line over the last few days.

I wasn’t fast, but I was steady, I was pretty strong and I had fun.  I made it to the start line (at 5 a.m.!) and then to the finish line with 43 minutes to spare before the cutoff.  I was one of only 15 – yes 15 – female finishers! I was right at the back but I have been told there were over 40 DNFs, so I am not going to complain about being back of the pack.  Not to mention the fact I am used to that positioning anyways!

This was not an easy course.  It boasts the most vertical gain of any trail race in Ontario and due to this province’s unending rain this year, it also had some serious mud to deal with.  Not just mud, but clay mud.  If you have never been on wet clay I can tell you it is much like being on slippery snow.  If you are trying to go up a slope of wet clay there is a good chance you will slide back down.  As an added bonus, clay will cling to your shoes, making your treads useless and adding some significant weight to your feet.  Several times I had to stop to pull out a stick from the bottom of my shoe – you knew you had one when you were repeatedly hit on the inside of the opposite leg.

How’s this for some mud? Photo by Carl Wright

When you run a muddy course in compressions socks.

 

Being at a ski hill, there were also hills, plenty of hills.  Even on the road sections there was no relief – you were in full sun and once again climbing hills.  There were even some stairs, or rather blocks of wood jammed into what was now sloppy clay.  The toughest hills by far though for me were towards the end of the first 40km loop (2 loops for 50 miles or 80k).  In my head the last part of the loop would be the easiest considering we had to make it back down to the bottom of the ski hill before starting the process over again.  But instead of the easy winding trail down I envisioned, I was instead faced with a gruelling mental and physical challenge of going down the mountain a bit only to go back up.  Over and over again.  Every time I thought I would finally head to the bottom, the route took us back up yet again.  Finally there was the downhill stretch.  Except it was down a ski run that I would probably have difficulties skiing.  It was straight down and it hurt.  It hurt my feet, my knees, my back and my poor toes were screaming.  But once it was done I arrived at another aid station and was ready to hit the “Grind Trail” back up.

Hills also mean beautiful views!

I have to say I really enjoyed getting to repeat the loop.  Sometimes loops can be tough but I found this helped me out for the second half of the race.  I certainly couldn’t remember in detail the course, but I had an idea of what was coming up and could plan for it.  I distinctly remember a section where I didn’t feel like running but I also knew that I would be hitting a section of less runable trail soon so I pushed on.

I have been asked by many as to what I think about when out on the trail for so long (13 hours and 17 minutes in this case).  Once again I can’t explain it but time kind of stands still out there.  I run in the moment and rarely look a lot at my watch.  I remember when I did look at my watch and being shocked that almost 6 hours had passed.  I couldn’t figure out how that was possible.  My sense of time is simply gone while on the trail.  I only become more aware of it towards the end of the run when I start to panic about making cutoffs.  I had no need or desire to listen to music so my iPod remained in my pack.  I chatted with some runners and also spent lots of time running quietly in my own space.

My first start line in the dark.

Anyone who knows me knows I am not a morning person, nor a morning runner.  But I will say a 5 a.m. start time is beautiful.  We started under the moon and I loved seeing the snake of headlights climbing ahead of me up the trail.  As I rose higher the birds began to wake up and I felt surrounded by their sound.  Once up the ski hill the sun was coming up and the views opened to Georgian Bay.  What a lovely way to spend an early morning.

Even that nerve-wracking time before the race was enjoyable, starting with a cab ride and a friendly driver who couldn’t believe what I was about to do.  When I told him I was heading to a race of 80km there was a brief silence and then he asked, “On what?”  I enjoyed telling him that this was an 80k journey by foot and asked him to think of me as he had his dinner Saturday evening.

Once at the race I found my ultra running and blogging friend Carl from https://theoldfellowgoesrunning.com .  Last fall we were both at Run for the Toad and now we were getting ready for our first 50 milers.  Then I ran into Peeter; we had met the previous night at the panel discussion and he had shared with me his experiences having done the race two times before.

Really, this is Carl and I before the race.

And finally, just before the start I ran into Tony, a local runner who I first met last year at my very first 50k in Niagara.  It was great to see him and wish him luck as well.  The trail running world is indeed a small one.

Most interestingly I made a new friend when I “adopted” a pacer at the 52km mark. This race originally had the option of picking up a pacer at 52k aid station or for the last mile.  My plan had been for my 14-year-old to join me for that last mile, but a change in aid station location due to mud meant that there would only be the earlier option.  I had checked the night before though to confirm that my kids could run towards me and then run me through the finishing chute, so I knew I would have company across the line.

I was quite comfortable with completing the rest of the race without a pacer but when I got to that aid station one of the volunteers immediately asked if I wanted one to join me.  My first thought was that I must look awful and they thought I needed a pacer for survival.  Ends up though it was a man named Mario who for the second time had come to the race to be a pacer but ended up not needed due to his friend not making cutoffs.  He was very keen to go out with a runner but no one had taken him up on his offer.  He had even added in marker the words “For Hire” on his official pacer bib.  So Mario became my pacer and a great one he was!  We chatted on and off and that kept my mind busy.  He was great to slow down when I needed him to and he even checked a few times that I was lucid and in good form.  As a fast marathoner he must have felt like he was crawling at my pace but he never complained.  I think I was at my most tired somewhere just before 70k but focussing on his feet moving ahead of me kept me going.  That and a caffeine pill!!!

Recalling all the details of an ultra is tough.  Like I said, time is different and somehow that affects what I remember. Certain things stand out but much of it is gone.  It happens in the moment and somehow stays in the moment.  It is what I find so special about ultra running.  The rest of life is such a rush, or at times too slow.  It is like utra running is the
Goldilocks moment of life – just right.

Randomly, what I do remember:

  • Realizing that I am a mud convert.  I love splashing through mud and I no longer care that it slows me down.
  • Suddenly feeling completely fresh at 26k, as if my warm up was done and I felt ready to go.
  • Cursing ski hills, both on the up and the down.  They can hurt either way.
  • When I hit my most tired (I think around 68k) and reminding myself how lucky I was to be out there, that it was a choice and I needed to embrace it.
  • My ITB killing me on downhills, but discovering that an Advil (I know I shouldn’t do it and never have before) can make that go away.
  • Making a wrong turn, despite good course markings, just because I thought all the voices I could hear off to the right were from an aid station.  Ends up it was actually the zip line start.  A kind Blue Mountain employee sent me back in the right direction.
  • Thinking in awe of what my body and mind can do.  And ultimately I think ultra running is far more mental than physical.
  • Heading down the last hill and seeing my kids coming up – they ran me through the chute and across the finish line to my husband. No words.
  • The excitement of learning about my kids’ and husband’s race.  They were Team Tardis (faster on the inside – you need to be a Dr. Who fan to get it) for the marathon relay and they did an incredible job.  So proud of my 12 and 14-year-old who flew through an incredibly tough course – my 14-year-old TWO times – and had a blast doing it.  How lucky am I that my family not only accompanies me on such a journey but take part themselves!

A great family race!

Ultra running is definitely a mental game for me.  Unlike anything else I have ever done it has taught me the power the mind has.  I do everything I can to stay positive, to enjoy the moment.  It sounds cliche but an ultra marathon has more to do with the journey for me than the finish line.  I will not be a fast ultra runner, and I am beyond O.K. with that.  In fact, I think I don’t push myself quite as hard as I could just because I want to enjoy it from beginning to end and take it all in.  I like having a smile on my face and being able to tell aid station workers that I am having a great time.  I like slipping into some kind of meditative zone.  Conversely, I also like chatting with others and enjoying the comradery of trail runners.  If my body and bank account could handle it I would run an ultra every weekend!  Instead though I will just have to wait for the next one.

So what is next? I knew going into this race that I wanted to do a 100k this year.  The plan was (and still is) to do one at the end of September.  But as all we crazy runners feel the need to do after a race, I came home and signed up for the i2P 100k in August.  My logic?  The training miles are already in the bank, why not use them?  And so continues the slippery slope of ultra running.

 

 

 

 

Ottawa Race Weekend 2017 Recap

It already feels like Race Weekend was ages ago. Race Weekend is a little like Christmas; there is such a buzz, so much excitement, and then suddenly it’s done.

I am very much making the shift from road running to trail running.  But there is no way I can miss this race.  It is a huge event in Ottawa and it virtually takes over the city for the weekend.  For me it is not really a race but a fun and social running event.  I’m not even sure which is the more exciting part; the actual running or meeting up with so many great people.  This past year I have become much more involved on Twitter and I can’t say enough about the incredibly positive and encouraging people I have met through social media.  Many of those Twitter friends were in Ottawa for the race and it was such a pleasure to meet up with them! I had the advantage of wearing a pair of pace bunny ears at Expo, the friendship run and of course at the race, so I was easy to find.  Honestly I could barely move through Expo without either running into a local running friend or a visiting social media friend.  As someone who up until very recently has been a solo runner, it kind of shocked me just how many runners I know.  What an incredible community we have as runners!

The festivities started on Thursday night for me as I headed to expo to work a shift at the pace bunny table.  That was followed by a wonderful shake-out run along the canal with local friend Emma and east coast Twitter friend Catherine.  It was a gray, drizzly evening that was remarkably beautiful and perfect for running.

Friday I was back at the Expo site again, but this time as part of Team Awesome, a team of social media race ambassadors. While several of us had met before, this was a chance to meet more of the group in person while attending the President’s Reception.  It was such a privilege to be part of this amazing group of runners!

After the reception it was off to a pasta dinner, thanks to an invite from another east coast Twitter friend, Melinda.  More great conversations with runners, including Catherine and Kendra.  Put a group of runners together and you know they are all going to get along!

Saturday morning was the friendship run, a tradition of any races that Running Room sponsors.  I picked up my 5 hour bunny sign, had my ears on and headed out for a little 3k run along the canal with other bunnies and race participants.  I chatted with more Twitter friends here as well as other bunnies.  Finished that run and got a text from my Toronto friend Rod that he was in Expo so headed there for a little catch up.  One would think the day would be done for me at that point but instead I headed home, relaxed a little and then headed back to the race with my kids who were running the 10k at 6:30pm.  My husband had already run the 5k race by the time we got there – and I will just add that he won his age group! We got the boys into their corrals and then we set off to the VIP tent at the finish line, the passes being provided to all Team Awesome members.  What a treat to watch the elites come flying down Queen Elizabeth Drive to the finish line and then see our kids (a little later!) come in at 54 and 55 minutes.

Finally it was time to head home and get some sleep.  After all this activity there was still a marathon to run at 7:30 Sunday morning! I was once again so excited to be a pace bunny at this race.  My goal is to continue to do so as long as I physically can.  This year I took the 5 hour group (half an hour faster) and I discovered it was a perfect pace for me to run comfortably at, even under the hot sun.  I cannot recommend pacing enough.  It really is something every runner should plan to do.  Technically you are giving to the race, but you will honestly receive so much more.  To be part of someone’s marathon experience is a joy, albeit a little stressful!  Just like last year, when I paced the 5:30 group, the butterflies started hitting early in the week.  On the one hand I was very confident I could do the pace but on the other hand we runners all know anything can happen, especially in a marathon.  Somehow I would lay down at night and have visions of me tripping or getting light-headed from heat or even worse, needing several porta-potty breaks.

I’m happy to say that none of those visions came true and I managed to keep a very steady pace throughout the race, finishing in 5hrs and 11 seconds.  I was actually coming in a few seconds early so slowed down to cheer people on.  I got so into the cheering that I almost forgot that I still needed to cross the line!  Once I crossed the finish line I stayed in the chute to see the runners that fell a little behind me finish.  It was such a treat to see them come in, plus get to see other friends finishing either the marathon or the half marathon.  From that point on it was more social time, both in the recovery area and the beer area, with lots of race stories shared.  I admit I was hesitant to go home as, much like going to bed on Christmas night, you know the big event is done for another year.

Thank you to all the Team Awesome members, the @RunAtCan tweeps and all my running friends for making Ottawa Race Weekend such a special event this year.  Can’t wait for next year!

But before that, there is a little 50 miler I need to get done…

12 Hour BlackFly Race Recap

 

I still can’t quite get my head around the fact that I completed a 12 hour race.  I would find it hard to believe even if it was done on a nice even surface with rolling hills and gentle sunshine.  The fact is, it was done on the most technical, muddy, swampy, rocky, rooty, single track I have ever done. And there was over 6000ft of elevation gain based on my Garmin “enabled” feature, way more than that if the feature is turned off.

Really, this is a case of letting the pictures do the talking, though I don’t think even they do the mud justice.

When I originally registered for the race, my main hope was to get past my longest distance of 52k.  My other goal was to go for 10 hours and if need be stop then.  The truth is, had the event offered an 8 or 10 hour race that would probably have been what I would have signed up for.

When the route was posted I went out a couple of weeks before race day to check out the trails.  That was easier said than done since the trails were still covered in snow, and I just couldn’t find some of the trails.  I did, however, do enough of the 5k loop to know that I was in for one heck of a challenge.  Enough of a challenge that I also adjusted my goal to “just” trying to complete a marathon.  My experience on highly technical trail is limited at best and I knew I had to come out of this injury free to fulfil my pace bunny duties at the end of May.

By the time race day came along I was thinking I would have to adjust my goals even further.  Ottawa had just received a month’s worth of rain in a week.  This was following a very rainy April and a large snow melt.  To say things were going to be wet would be an understatement. And race day was not going to be better – rain was shown for every single hour.

First challenge of the race was going to be the start time.  I am not a morning person.  Races kind of conflict with that aspect of my personality.  This race was an hour away and I needed to be there by 5:30 a.m.  Whaaaat??? Ends up I was wide awake by 2:30 anyway.  Anxiety can have some advantages.

I had spent a good part of the week prior to the race trying to figure out what to take in my drop bag.  While a looped course may not offer much in varied scenery (trust me, in this case it didn’t matter because I never took my eyes off the trail), it does mean easy access to a bag.  But the question was, if you were going to be soaked all day, was there any purpose in having changes of clothes?  In the end I packed a little of everything, almost none of which was actually used.  Of all the things I packed, the most useful ended up being a Dollar Store red poncho.  It looked ridiculous and I had every intention of taking it off after one lap, but that thing stayed on me the whole race.  It kept in just enough warmth for the top of the ski hills where it was windy, but let in enough air that I didn’t over heat on the up hills.  Part of that may simply have been because of how slow I was going, but I digress.

So with bag packed and layers on I headed out to Gatineau, Quebec in the early, rainy hours of the morning.  To say I was nervous would be yet another understatement.  Yet somehow the nerves got worse when I entered the ski lodge.  I always find it amazing how quickly you can lose all confidence in yourself, in your choices, in your plan.  I immediately felt like a 9th grader who was in with the completely wrong group of kids.  I will stress, this is not because of anything anyone else said or did.  This was just my looming self-doubt taking over.  Somehow, everyone else just LOOKED the part of serious trail runners.  I don’t even know what that means, but these people looked the part.  I do know some of them appeared to have quads that I will never have in this lifetime!

A little before the race one of the 3 Beavers, ultra runner Ray Zahab, did a briefing.  The main quotes I remember:

“Brian’s Descent Trail is gnarly with a capital GN.”

“There is a high risk of injury.”

“You guys are all experienced trail runners or you wouldn’t be signed up for 12 hours.”

“Oh shit.”

Ok, that last quote was from me.  What the hell had I got myself into???

I have been running enough now to now that the talk inside my head has a direct effect on what my body does.  So I placed myself right at the back and reminded myself that this was for me and me only.  I went in knowing I could finish with the least number of laps, so I tried to take any pressure off myself to pick up any speed.  The fact is though, with my limited experience on really technical trails, speed wasn’t going to be an option.  As I pulled over and watched other runners go flying down the hills of the first loop, I felt more than a little out of my league.

I could give you a loop by loop account of the race, but since that would be boring and, quite frankly, the loops are mostly a wet, muddy blur to me, there really is no point.  In no particular order, here are some of the things I remember:

  • Thinking that it was the most mud I had ever seen.   Little did I realize it was going to be a whole lot worse after 12 hours.
  • Getting a little frustrated at pulling over so much when the 3 and 6 hour racers were on course. That is the disadvantage of single track and having people much faster than you on a looped course.
  • Being annoyed that my Saucony Peregrines, which are so super comfortable, have one flaw: the mesh is too loosely webbed.  As a result, every time I went in flowing water, which was constantly, the water was actually able to wash silt into my shoes, which unlike the water did not come back out.  If it hadn’t been for that I would have worn those shoes all day, but instead I changed to my Salomon Speeedcross, which let in very little silt.
  • Thinking how nice it would be if Brian’s descent would be shut down because I was getting to a point where the only way I could see getting down it was on my butt.  The mud was so thick and slippery, I was at times clinging to trees.  I was briefly excited when I saw cones directing runners away from that part of the course only to find out they had decided that the 3 hour racers would be on a shortened loop. The race volunteer looked at my soggy 12 hour bib and said, “Sorry, not you,” while pointing me back up the hill.
  • The realization at about noon that as long as I didn’t injure myself I shouldn’t have any difficulty lasting 12 hours.  In fact, from that point on it was never a question in my mind that I would go to the very end.  Once again, even in rain and mud, time stood still for me.  12 hours just did not feel like 12 hours.  Maybe it is the simplicity of it all.  Not that it is easy, but ultimately you just have to make the decision to put one foot in front of the other.
  • Eating pizza while hiking uphill and holding cookies.  I figured at my speed there was no time to stop for food.  I did, however, almost choke on the pizza.
  • At 8 hours being relieved that we too were being diverted from the toughest part of the course. That gave me some renewed energy for sure!
  • Knowing that my “last” lap was going to be before the 6pm finish, which meant I was allowed to do one more lap.  I was tired and cold but there was no way in hell I was going to skip doing one more lap!
  • Feeling so happy that my family, all of whom had run the 3 hour course (and had done amazingly well!) were still there at the finish, despite having been done for hours.  Having them at the finish line of my first 12 hour race meant so much!

When I was done I stood in a cold creek in the attempt to wash off some of the mud from my shoes, then headed indoors, which Camp Fortune had very kindly opened up for us given the weather conditions. While there I had a chance to talk to Ray Zahab for a bit.  In the weeks prior to the race I had told him of my original goals (beat 52k) and my updated goal (get in a marathon).  While I knew others had done so much more, I was proud to say I had reached my first goal with my Garmin showing just short of 58km.  At that point Ray, who has only met me a couple of times, admitted he wasn’t so sure about me doing this race and had wondered if I was up to it.  But he was thrilled to hear my results and very encouraging about the possibility of me trying another 3Beaver race in the fall – this one 110km!

In some ways, 58km doesn’t seem like much in 12 hours, given the fact I have done 50-52km in anywhere between 6 and 7.5 hours.  But between the footing, the weather, the technical aspects and the vertical work, it was a challenge for me to complete that mileage.  And the entire time I was reminding myself to go easy since I have those bunny responsibilities coming up.  I really had no idea what others had done given the looped nature of the course, other than knowing that there were many guys and one woman who just kept lapping me.  Race results weren’t being posted after the race because of the change of course.  The race timers were going to have some work to do to sort out the laps.

When the results were published the next day, I was in for quite a shock.  While I was in the bottom half of the results, I was actually the third overall female!  If that isn’t proof of what perseverance can get you, I don’t know what is!  That third place had nothing to do with speed, just the simple fact that I kept going, quite literally plodding along through the mud with no plans to stop until the time was up.  Of any race that I have done, this is probably the one I am most astonished to have completed and the most proud of the results.

My bib was literally disintegrating by the end of the race. I carried it for the last 2 laps!

Would I do another 12 hour race?  Absolutely!  Would I do another super technical trail run…hmmmm, I’ll have to think about that one.  I watched those fast, experienced trail runners in awe.  The truth is I don’t even want to try to run that fast straight downhill over rocks and roots.  That said I am quite happy hiking technical trails.  Ideal for me is probably a run that has a nice mixture of both, which I think the Midnight Moose 110k just might have.  Looks like I know what I will be training for this summer!

Check out a very cool video of the race from Get Out There Magazine at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8k9ckZ-8EI

For more info about 3BeaverRacing check out http://3beaversracing.com/

Follow me on Twitter @AverageRunnerK 

Why Ultras?

*Author’s note:

For some reason I drifted away from this blog.  Perhaps I was too busy.  Perhaps I was bored with my writing.  I know I questioned if anyone really wanted/needed to read yet another running blog.  But in looking back at many of my posts, I have realized that the real audience for my posts is me.  In reading previous posts I have been reminded of things long forgotten, of lessons learned and lessons yet to be learned.  Perhaps one day my kids will enjoy reading this too, an opportunity to see their mother not as a mom but as a person striving to accomplish new things and challenging herself to experience life to its fullest.

So, for anyone else who chooses to read, welcome to my blog, Part 2!

When I started running almost 6 years ago I am not sure I had even heard of the term “ultra marathon”.  I’m not sure when the phrase did develop meaning for me but I can guarantee I was not even considering the possibility of running past a marathon distance.  Quite frankly, when I did my first marathon I quickly noted that it really wasn’t my distance.  I was glad I had crossed it off the bucket list, but I did not see a future of training for and running long distances.

Yet somehow after running a several marathons (I guess I felt the need to cross it off the bucket list multiple times) the idea of a 50k started interrupting my running thoughts.  My plan for 2016 was to try one 50k and be able to say I had done an ultra – a baby ultra perhaps, but an ultra still.

I can now say that in the last 10 months I have completed not one 50k but four.  To be more accurate I have done two 50k’s and two 52k’s. (I have also learned that trail runs don’t necessarily match the distance of the race description).  With each race I have fallen more and more in love with the distance.  Surprisingly I would choose a 50k over a marathon now. And for the record I have now done six marathons, with a seventh coming up this spring.

So what is different about the 50k experience?  Why would this middle-aged woman (I don’t actually know what the definition of middle-aged is these days but I am now 48) decide to focus on distance running?

My quick answer is always that distance running is an excuse to run slowly.  I no longer seem to crave speed PB’s, even though I have some respectable times at all road race distances.

A second answer I often throw out is that it’s worth distance running for the aid stations.  M&Ms, chips, coke, fruit, cookies and sandwiches (Nutella? Yes please!) are often found when doing an ultra.  Realistically though there are easier ways to treat myself with junk food.

After four ultras I have identified why I enjoy them so completely.  It is because time disappears.  I recognize this sounds strange, after all any race – road or trail, short or long – is timed.  Isn’t that the whole point of racing?  You race another runner, you race against yourself, you try to get a PB.  This is what you do in a race, right?  If I run a shorter race I feel a bit of a slave to the watch.  My eyes repeatedly shift to my Garmin. What km am I at? What is my pace?  Why is my watch not matching the race km markers and does that mean I am going too quickly or too slowly?  And yet on my last 50k I never looked at my watch until 20k.  In fact I was confused for a moment as to what the “20” on my watch meant because I was positive I had not gone that far.  The next time I looked at my watch was at 37k.  Given my slow pace, that was a long time between watch glances.

When running on the trails for an ultra marathon, time actually stands still for me.  Strange I know, and I can’t guarantee that feeling for anyone else, particularly someone who is going for a specific time.  So far though I have only set very vague goals, goals that generally start with “somewhere between this hour and this hour”.  I run choosing to let the terrain tell me what to do.  Since each of my four courses have been very different, I simply can’t predict what will happen and therefore I choose to let go of control.  I can control my training runs, but on race day I simply put one foot in front of another.  Simply put, I live in the moment.  What a rare gift in this busy life.  My mind slows and I feel at peace.  Sometimes I chat with other runners and I enjoy listening to their experiences.  Sometimes I listen to music that moves me.  Sometimes I focus on the quiet, feeling a little small in my surroundings.  And somehow through all that, time stands still.

All of this means that this middle-aged woman who started running in her forties is now on an ultra quest.  I want to run past 52k.  I want to try different terrain.  I want to be braver on technical single track.  I want to live in the moment and be present.  I want to be thankful for being able to run, hike, hobble or crawl over a distance most people would only drive.  This is part of who I am right now.  This will be my journey.

IMG_6813

 

Road2Hope Marathon and My Little Experiment

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Two and a half weeks ago I finished my last big race of the season, the Road2Hope Marathon.  It was very much a last-minute addition.  I mean everyone just throws in a marathon at the end of race season, right?  The fact is it had been in the back of my mind to do this November marathon for a while.  I had run it last year and despite wind, GI issues and a cold enjoyed the experience – or at least as much as one can enjoy a marathon.  I was hesitant to sign up early though, not knowing what my body would think of running a marathon 5 weeks after a 50k trail run.

Once the trail run was done I tried a 20k run 6 days later and seemed none the worse for wear, so I made the decision to go for the marathon.  My hope was to beat last year’s time of 4:34, ideally by 4 minutes.  Worst case scenario (besides serious injury) would be I would fit one last long run for the year with the added bonus of aid stations, a shirt and a medal.  I like my long runs, but I also knew there was very little chance I was going to go out and do 42.2 km by myself one weekend just for the heck of it.  I need an organized race for that kind of insanity.

I went into the race knowing I could finish the distance.  As long as I don’t get injured I can finish a marathon.  Three 50k’s this past year have demonstrated to me what my body can do.  The issue was pace.  I am a slow marathoner at the best of times.  After a season of training for trail 50k’s my pace had slowed down even more.  I was also used to a constantly changing run pace mixed with walking.  On the trails I simply do what the ground allows me.  I don’t aim for a steady pace.  A marathon is obviously quite different.

The first change I made compared to past races was I decided to do 10 and 1’s.  I had only ever done it once before; last spring as a marathon pace bunny.  But given the lack of steady running I decided it made sense.  And indeed it did.  I fell into a nice pattern of running a bit ahead of the continuous 4:30 bunny, then falling a bit behind on my walk.  In fact, I ran the most steady marathon ever (except for during my bunny job!) until 37km.  I have to say it felt good to not be dying at 32k.  It felt particularly good to pass the porta potties that I had to stop at last year.  No stomach issues this time around!  I think I have finally nailed my taper week/pre-race eating.  (Basically it is just eat the blandest, whitest food I can find).

The fact is everything was just right for a great marathon.  The weather was near perfect, it was my first fall marathon without a cold and I didn’t need to stop!  But did it lead to a mind-blowing PB?  Nope, unless you consider 37 seconds over 42 km a dream PB.  The fact was at 37km I was done.  I kept going, but I was done.  It is possible I might have almost cried, bu tI am trying to forget that part.  At 35k I thought I was going to make my 4:30, by 38k I knew it was out of my grasp.  Final time was 4:33 something.

I finished not really sure whether I should feel happy or disappointed.  Prior to the race I thought I would have a half decent PB or my body would say the hell with this and I would have one of my slowest times.  It actually hadn’t crossed my mind it would be more or less the same as last year, just a steadier version of it.  It certainly wasn’t a disaster of a run.  My body held on to a pretty steady pace – something I really hadn’t been training for – for longer than it had in the past.  Usually I start slowing down significantly after 30k.  And of course I did this marathon 5 weeks after a 50k race, which was preceded by two other 50k races in June and August.  In fact, in 2016 I ran a 30k, a 32k, a marathon and three 50k’s prior to this marathon.  My 47-year-old body did that.  So was I disappointed in the final time?  Yes.  I felt a little down for a few days in fact.  But am I impressed I did it.  Yes.  It would, quite frankly, be stupid of me not to feel proud.

I also learned two important things from this marathon.  Firstly, I want to focus on 50k ultramarathons.  The attempt to run at a very specific pace for 42 km on asphalt is not where I find the most joy.  That doesn’t mean I that I don’t want to do marathons, it just means they will not be my focus.  More likely they will be training runs.  Dear Lord, did I just say marathons would be training runs???  Who would have thought?

And finally, the most important lesson.  Never, EVER forget your iPod in your bag check.  Especially if much of your plan revolves around listening to the new tunes you had your husband add to your playlist.  And in particular, don’t put it in a bag check at a very organized race where they immediately get your bag on a bus to head to the finish line.  You really have no hope of getting it back until you have run 42.2 km, all the while having to talk to yourself in your head the whole way.  I like spending 4 and a half hours with my music.  Four and a half hours with just me inside my head though…nope.

Of course what does one do when the last marathon of the season is done?  Start Googling 2017 races of course.  As of right now, three official registrations are done.  The focus is definitely going to be on distance!

Finally finished and ready to relax with my friend Emma who finished her second half marathon!

Finally finished and ready to relax with my friend Emma who finished her second half marathon!

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A Marathon Experiment

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Two words that probably shouldn’t go together: marathon and experiment.

And yet I find myself two and a half weeks away from a marathon that will indeed be a bit of an experiment. Why?  Well, I haven’t actually been training for a marathon, or more specifically a marathon pace. I spent the summer hiking and trail running.  I have this year completed three 50k races, the last one only two and a half weeks ago.  So, can I finish 42.2km?  Absolutely (that is of course assuming no injuries – at this moment I am knocking wood!).  But trail running 50km of rolling hills is very different from running a marathon on roads.  On the surface, the marathon should seem a little easier.  Pavement is faster than dirt, it is almost 8k shorter, and the Road2Hope marathon is famous for its lengthy downhill section.  Piece of cake, right?

Here’s the slight glitch – I have not been running “faster” paces (faster always being relative) for any distance.  I may be slow in a marathon, but I really slow down on trails.  I also walk many of the inclines in a trail race, so  I have not been trying to sustain long steady efforts.  OK, as I reread that it sounds a little ridiculous.  I guess if you do 50k’s you are in fact trying to sustain long steady efforts.  But, the fact is, as much as I may be able to finish a 50k (and recover nicely I might add), trying to maintain even a 6:20 min/km pace over a distance is currently challenging for me.  I honestly can’t believe that I have actually run half marathons under a 5:45 pace.  How did I do that and not die???

So this marathon is truly going to be an experiment.  What happens when you have done plenty of long, very slow runs, but virtually no tempo or speed runs?  What happens when you have already done 3 ultra races in 5 months?  What happens when you are trying to combine a recovery period with a taper to be ready for a marathon?  And just to throw in one more variable, what happens when your final “long run” is actually going to be a 6 hour orienteering event in the Gatineau Hills?  At the moment I have no idea!  All I know is that I do actually have a plan:

  1. Start slowly!!!
  2. Use 10 and 1’s.  I have not raced a marathon this way, but I did use this method when pacing the Ottawa Marathon
  3. Try to maintain a 6:20 – 6:30 min/km pace, but take advantage of the downhill to pick up the pace a bit. The weekend before last I did 20k at this pace and found it to be a bit of an effort to maintain.  This past Saturday I held the pace very comfortably for 26k.  But another 16k??? Hmmmm…..
  4. Eat M&M’s.  They worked on the ultras so why not?
  5. Pray for no potty stops and no gale force winds, both of which occurred at the same race last year.

Speaking of last year, my time was 4:34.  I’m going to put it out there that I think it is possible I could beat that time by a slim margin.  If not, well Road2Hope will be my last long run of the season because regardless, it is time to take a little break!

Run for the Toad 50k Trail Race Recap

Mike and I getting ready to start our races.

Mike and I getting ready to start our races.

The race swag included a Nike bag instead of a shirt, but I couldn't resit buying this cute tech shirt that also has all of the participants listed on the back.

The race swag included a Nike bag instead of a shirt, but I couldn’t resist buying this cute tech shirt that also has all of the participants listed on the back.

It’s hard to describe what goes through your mind when at the 6k mark of a 50k race you seriously question your ability to complete the race.  That feeling at 35, 40 or 45 is somewhat normal, possibly even expected.  But 6k???  That was what happened to me at Canada’s largest trail race, Run for the Toad.  Usually at 6k, I am nicely warmed up, I’ve found a rhythm and all looks right in the world (with a full expectation that the race wouldn’t feel like that by the end).  Instead, on this run, I felt almost panicked.  The humidity in the forest was stifling and I felt like I was struggling to breathe, despite the cool rainy weather. This is a quote from the race website:

The course offers very few flat sections, and at the same time very few extended climbs. The course is very rolling and the longest climb shouldn’t take you much longer than 90 seconds. The exciting part of the course is what didn’t seem like a hill on loop one or two becomes a mountain on loop 3 and 4!

I had read this many times prior to race day.  All I could think of during the first lap was what if everything already felt like a mountain on loop one???

As I finished loop one though there was the relief of realizing that I had seen everything the course would be throwing at me, there were no surprises coming, just another 3 loops.  Amazingly – and strangely – loops three and four felt significantly better than the first leg of the race.  And as much as I may have worried what it would be like psychologically to cross the finish line 3 times before my fourth and final crossing at 50k, I discovered that it was actually a great moral boost.  Each time your reached the finish area there was a line of people cheering you on and I could literally feel a burst of energy.

I find I can have such different personalities at races.  Some races I find myself in a gregarious mood, taking every opportunity to talk with other runners and high-five spectators.  Other times, I find myself more introspective, quieter, with a need to simply let my mind wander.  This was a quiet race for me.  I couldn’t tell you what I thought about, other than during that first loop when I allowed myself to panic.  I have discovered that while I may not be a fast runner I am very capable of running for long periods of time without getting bored.  I can honestly say that I did not feel like I was out there over 6 hours, it truly did not seem that long.  Time escapes me a little on really long runs and it is a feeling that I love.

Early in the race I realized that I had not set up my data fields with everything I needed  on my new Garmin 235.  The big piece of information missing was my overall average pace.  I did have 1km split times being shown but when on a trail your splits are all over the place (or at least mine are) and there really wasn’t any easy way for me to calculate if I was near my hoped for pace.  Between that and how awful and overwhelmed I felt in the first lap I decided to change my goal to 7 hours.  I had been hoping somewhere in between 6:30 and 6:40.  Unlike a road race, it is so hard to predict a time on the trails.  In this case I knew I had no huge vertical climbs but I really wasn’t sure what toll the never-ending roller coaster trail would take on my legs.  With my readjusted time goal I settled in and enjoyed the ride.

Just starting my final 12.5k loop.

Just starting my final 12.5k loop.

As I approached the beginning of the fourth lap I realized that even in my hazy mental state, I could look at the timing clock and at least estimate when I would finish.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that I had more than enough time to beat my A goal of 6:30!  Without pushing too hard I finished my last lap (including a stop behind a tree for a pee break) and crossed the line in 6:17, only 8 minutes longer than what I did on what I consider an easier paved course at the Niagara Ultra.  I didn’t quite manage to make the middle of the pack, but I am pleased with my 72/122 finish.

If you decide to try this race, don’t let the lack of significant vertical climb fool you into thinking it will be an easy race.  The incredibly well-groomed trails with lack of technical footing certainly makes it a faster course for experienced trail runners.  As someone relatively new to the sport, however, I did find the rolling elevation challenging both mentally and physically, but in a way that I very much enjoyed.  The race was wonderfully organized, from the opening ceremonies to the incredible full meal served in a massive, decorated tent.  And there was pie.  Seriously, all races need to start serving pie.  The location was beautiful, even on a cloudy, misty day.  There were plenty of aid stations – definitely not a race where you needed to be self-sufficient. I have discovered that I particularly love M&M’s and ginger snap cookies when out on a trail for hours.

The main tent before the race. This was where you could come in and eat after your race.

The main tent before the race. This was where you could come in and eat after your race.

Another enjoyable part of the weekend was meeting up with fellow bloggers and running friends.  Kyra, from Kyra On The Go, and her husband hosted us in their home for the weekend, keeping these two runners (yes – Mike ran the 25k race and did an amazing job at his longest distance in years!) well fed and entertained with good company. I am looking forward to seeing them again in a few weeks when I head to southern Ontario again for one last fall race.

At kit pick up and again before and after the race we got to meet up with Carl from The Old Fellow Goes Running.  Carl, like me, started running 50k’s this year, and has managed to squeeze an amazing four 50k races in this season!  It was such a pleasure to meet him in person and I am hoping we will meet up at future ultras.

Carl, myself and Mike at the end of a tough but successful race!

Carl, myself and Mike at the end of a tough but successful race!

This was my third 50k (actually my second totaled 52km – I think that is important to mention) and I continue to love the distance, much more that the marathon distance.  One thing that is appealing to me about ultras is the variety in the race.  My three ultras were nothing alike, each was a new adventure and a new way to push my limits.  I would do any of them again except for the fact that I am realizing how many interesting ultras are out there.  I love the idea of trying new ones each year, getting to experience the variety that trail running can offer.  I already have my eyes set on the Bromont Ultra next fall.  I am realistic about ultras.  There is only so much training I can do, so I am not going to be fast.  But I can finish and I am happy to accept that as a serious accomplishment!

Finishing my third 50k distance happy!

Finishing my third 50k distance happy!

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