A Marathon Experiment


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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Power in Pink Race Report


September is now in full swing but I am still reminiscing about my amazing summer.  Hikes and orienteering in Alberta, kayaking on the lake at our Quebec Cabin, and hardly a run on pavement to be had.  But just because I wasn’t on pavement doesn’t mean I wasn’t running.  This was a summer of trails for me, particularly in August.  After running the MEC Camp Fortune race, followed by the i2P 50k race in Gatineau Park, I finished the summer race season with the Mad Trapper’s Power in Pink Trail Race.img_4594

Like all Mad Trapper races, this was a low-key event in that there were no medals, no official timing company and no pressure to “race”.  It was, however, a fundraiser to raise funds for the Princess Margaret Hospital and cancer research.  It was also a women’s only event – and noteworthy that many of the women were new to trail running.  Race options were a 3k hike, a 5k loop or – my choice – a double loop for the 10.  Runners would be met by three handsome guys serving mimosas.  O.k, I’m biased but come on, they all look good in bow ties, don’t they?


My boys getting directions!

My boys getting directions!

Race director Mike Caldwell gathered participants together to go through logistics and to encourage shout outs to the race sponsors, Bushtukah (did I mention great prizes?) , Bytown Catering (yes, there was a full lunch provided!) and Salomon shoes (free shoe trial anyone?).  The biggest shout out was for Trish, Mike’s friend, cancer survivor and inspiration for the race.  Best wishes from all participants were sent out via video as Trish recovers from surgery. (You continue to inspire, Trish!!!)


With that, we were off.  I think I am safe in saying there were more than a few shocked women when they saw just how a Mad Trapper race starts.  If you need some flat ground to warm up on, sure – no problem.  Will about a 100 metres do you?  Because after that my road running friends you start going up a single track technical trail.  I’ve done this hill several times and to be honest it kills me EVERY time.  I sort of breathed a sigh of relief when everyone ahead decided to walk it; it actually meant I did not feel light-headed or ready to puke by the time I was 500 metres into the race!

Some happy first time Mad Trapper runners :)

Some happy first time Mad Trapper runners 🙂

I am hoping some of the first time Mad Trappers or trail runners are reading this because I do want to give you some words of encouragement.  If during your race you thought, “This is  (insert your own swear word here) crazy and I can never do this again”, you are only half right.  It is ($%*#ing) crazy but you CAN do it again.  As you have probably already learned, you simply have to adjust your expectations.  Walk when you need to, let your pride go and pull over to the side when you hear, perhaps repeatedly, “Passing on the left”.  Focus on the fact that you were running this:


Seriously, your body can do that?  How awesome is that???  What, you had to hike parts?  You thought about crawling?  You considered taking up knitting as a hobby rather than running?  Who cares!  You were seriously amazing out there, wear that Power in Pink shirt with pride.

As for my run, I actually felt amazing for the first loop.  I even felt kind of fast.  When I checked my Garmin it dispelled that idea pretty quickly but I was totally enjoying the run and was happy to head out for the second loop.  There were only a few women who chose to do the 10k so I was out there on my own (not at the front, sadly).  I often end up somewhere near or at the back at Mad Trapper races and have become quite used to having the woods to myself.  However, once on my own I don’t necessarily watch my route as carefully as I should.  So I was more than a little surprised (but probably shouldn’t have been) to realize after about 2k that I was about to run through the horse paddock – the same horse paddock that was at the start of the 5k loop and would lead me back to the finish, though from the wrong direction.  Prior to the race we were told we women were smarter than men; we would be able to stay on the leaf blown trails.  Yeah, apparently I blew that one.  I ran to the start/finish line, reported in and said I would be a while, I was going to head out to try the 5k loop again.  Little did I know that if I had only backtracked a short distance when I was approaching the horse paddock I could have quickly fixed my mistake.  Instead I started again, meaning I climbed that stupid (insert another swear word here) starting hill that I hate so much for the THIRD time.  And needless to say, by adding another 2k onto the 10k race I was last.  Really last.  Last as in everyone had had their lunches and the auction bidding had been done.  But I still got my mimosa, my lunch and, always the best part of a Mad Trapper race, my brownies.  So it was sort of a lose/win/win/win situation 🙂

Hope to see some of you at the next Mad Trapper race on October 15th.  And if you found the trail running relatively easy, I dare you to come out and try the snowshoe races this winter!  For those who know that won’t be easy come out anyway – I am always happy to have company at the back (though I’ll fight you for the last brownies!)

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Hitting the Trails

This has been a summer of trails for me in one form or another.  July offered mountain hiking and orienteering in Alberta – a post is in the works about that wonderful trip.  There were also hilly runs on dirt cottage lanes surrounding our Quebec cabin.  In fact, I am hard pressed to think of the last time I ran on pavement, though I have made a couple of trips to the local high school gravel track.

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August is now entirely about trail running.  It is also possible that it is my time to have a mid-life crisis, though in a wonderful way.  Right now I have no desire to play it safe; I want to try new things, challenge my perception of my personal boundaries and enjoy whatever the moment brings.  Perhaps that is why the week before the MEC trail race earlier this month I changed my entry from the 20k race to the 31k race.  My theory was that since there was a 50k taking place, the volunteers would not be waiting just for me to finish in order to go home.  I had never done such distance on trails, nor had I ever done so much elevation change.  For perspective, according to Garmin Connect, there was 548m of gain, compared to 87m at Around the Bay – which is considered a hilly road course!  Needless to say I was sloooooow, but thoroughly enjoyed myself.

An encouraging sign at the MEC race!

An encouraging sign at the MEC race!

This past weekend I took part in the i2P trail race, also in Gatineau Park.  My mid-life crisis need to push the boundaries continued.  When I originally signed up it was for the 23k.  Of course once I had done the 31k MEC race it seemed to make sense to change it to 36k.  Then I thought why not do the 10k with my 11-year-old on the Saturday as a “warm up” for the long Sunday run?  And finally, if I was doing 36, really, why not go for the 50?  Yep, that is the way my brain is working these days!

So Saturday morning the whole family was up at 5 am to head to the race.  Mike and Evan were registered for the 12.5 more technical course and Luke and I did the rolling hills and wide tracks of the 10k.  Luke and I hiked the bigger hills and kept a fairly steady pace throughout the rest of the course.  Running with Luke was a pure pleasure – if I can maintain half of his positive attitude throughout a run I will be doing well.  He was shocked when we were approaching the end, he said it didn’t feel that long at all.  Honestly, when I was 11 years old I think I just would have cried if someone had made me run for an hour!  The first thing he said when we picked up our dog tags was, “That was so fun!”

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Shortly after, Mike crossed the finish, having run an excellent pace on the 12.5 course.  And then Evan finished, a big grin on his face too.  As expected, he loved the technical parts of the trail.  What a great family event!

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Sunday I was up again and ready for a long run.  Despite being able to see the Gatineau Hills from my living room window, it is a long drive to get to a bridge to cross into Quebec and then on to the race site.  As the drive continued the sky darkened and right about when I parked the car the rain started to come down.  I have heard a few trail runners say rainy days are actually the best, it seemed this would be the day to test that theory out.

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This was a mostly self-supported race, though water was offered at the start line (which you stopped at to check in 2 times on the 50k course) and at 3 other locations.  The parking was  very close to the start, which meant you could keep any extra supplies in your car where they stayed nice and dry.  The 50k involved three legs; a 23k out and back, a 12.5 loop and a final out and back that had my Garmin showing a total of 51.8k.  The first leg was made of wide paths, rolling hills and a couple of steep climbs if I remember correctly.  The second loop had a technical section that was quite the mixture of mud, water and rock.  Let’s just say I did rather a lot of hiking in that section as my technical skill are still minimal at best.  The final leg was non-technical, though I did far more hiking than running in this section.  Overall, it was the perfect course for someone new to trail ultras.  And by the way – rain is wonderful while trail running!  I stayed cool, there were no bugs and the sound of the rain in the trees was beautiful.

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What will stick with me from this run was the pure joy I felt throughout, even when things were hurting.  I can’t tell you how many times I caught myself grinning.  Sure, to anyone passing it might have looked more like a grimace, but honestly, it was a smile.  Listening to the loons on the lake or the falling rain on the leaves, how can you not smile?  Or at 46k when the song that came on my iPod was k.d. lang’s version of “Hallelujah”; how can you not be thankful for both the opportunity for such an experience and for your body’s ability to carry you through to the end, regardless of pace.

When I tell people I did a 50k race they are in shock.  But I will let you in on a secret – a 50k trail ultra is so much more fun than a marathon!  It is expected that you will walk sometimes, maybe even, like me, a lot of the time!  You will probably chat with some great people who can share some amazing ultra experiences with you.  I loved it when a fellow runner told me that at 47 I was still approaching my prime in endurance running!

In trail running you do not have to look at your watch if you don’t want to.  In fact, for both the i2P race and the MEC race I did not look at my watch before 20k, and after that only a couple of times.  You aren’t going to run even splits.  You are not going to be able to predict your pace.  At first that is a little scary.  Then it just becomes freeing.  The trail and the weather will guide your pace, you simply work with them.  I also find that I am so much more “in the moment”on a long trail run.  With the exception of the last two km, when I was past 50k, I never once counted how many kms I had left to go.  It just didn’t really matter.  I knew I would just keep going until I was done.  I also lose all sense of time.  I honestly had no idea how long I was out there until I finished.  How often in this crazy life of schedules, appointments, commitments and conflicts do you get a chance to forget about the time?  Of course what helped with that was the race’s very generous time cut-off, for which I am very thankful as I am sure a number of other runners were too.  This race just had such a comfortable and easy-going vibe, it is already on my list of runs to do next year.

My first buckle :)

My first buckle 🙂

Early this year I said my goal was to do my first 50k so I signed up for Run for the Toad, to be held on October 1st.  I never would have guessed that the Toad will in fact become my third ultra.  I now have the Niagara 50k (run on pavement)  and the i2P 50k (on trail) under my belt.  Those two races, along with pacing for the Ottawa Marathon, have been the highlights of my running this year.  There is always a part of me that wishes I was a faster runner, but the fact is I have found joy in the long, slow run.  Sometimes you have to take the path that life leads you to. 🙂

For more information on the wonderful organization i2P, check out http://i2prun.com/what.html

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The Mental Games of Starting a New Training Session

Image result for free cartoons runners

When I finish a big race the first thing I want to do is start planning my training for the next race.  This happens regardless of how successful my race was.  If all went well, I will be on a high for days and like all addicts will be searching for my next hit.  If the race fell apart I will be desperate to prove to myself that I can do better.  Despite post race fatigue I will find myself agitated, my mind desperately wanting to be back out on a course.

My body of course is a different matter.  I am 47 years old and I came to running late.  Recovery time isn’t a luxury, it is a must.  As my mind starts looking ahead to training plans, my muscles and joints are happy to move at a pace no faster than a walk .

Like so many other runners I have talked to, after a week or two of rest I start to get worried about losing fitness.  Logically we all know that months of training does not disappear in a matter of weeks.  That said we also all know how quickly a slow 5k can feel like a marathon after some time off.  But if I were honest, what scares me even more is that sometimes after a break even my mind starts to get used to a more lazy lifestyle.  Not having to schedule running into my day seems like a holiday.  Not worrying about clean tech gear and whether the Garmin is charged becomes somewhat freeing.  Watching hourly forecasts becomes a thing of the past.  The days seem a little longer and productivity sometimes even increases – sometimes.  But then there is that schedule that you started looking in the days after the race.  It is sitting there on your computer, or posted on your fridge, or on your bedside table, reminding you that this is what you do.  Being a runner is part of who you are, during the highs and of course through the lows.  Without the direction of a goal, without the daily push, something is missing and it is time to start again.

So here I am, back trying to get my mileage up to ultra marathon standards.  A couple of easy single digit runs will once again no longer be enough.  I’m not even starting at the beginning of a schedule, but instead starting 7 or 8 weeks into one.  Somehow, there are only 11 weeks until my next ultra.  In my non-running life, 11 weeks feels like the distant future.  On a training schedule though it seems like a blink of an eye.  Add to it the fact that I think I am now training for what will truly be my toughest race so far, The Run for the Toad 50k.

The Niagara Ultra, despite being my first 50k, felt familiar to me.  Paved paths, minimal hills… I went into it knowing that if I didn’t get injured I would finish.  Now though my mind is playing games with me.  Sure I have proven that I can run 50k but that little voice keeps reminding me that the Toad is on trails where I am notoriously slow.  It is one rolling hill after another.  It has the potential to be wet, muddy and slippery.  I have to pass the finish line THREE times before finally crossing it and being done.  There is a spot with stairs – STAIRS! – on the course that I will have to do 4 times.  And the steepest hill is at the end of the loop, meaning that the fourth time I have to climb it I will be approaching 50km.  Suddenly the fact that I have completed a 50k race before seems irrelevant.

These are the head games running plays with you.  You build yourself up, amazed by what your body can accomplish and then somehow you get knocked down again, only to start the process all over.  This is the cycle we runners go through regardless of our speed or ability.  Fall down, get back up.  Slow down, speed up.  Hit the wall, break down the wall.

The most important part I guess is to just make sure you are willing and brave enough to start the cycle again.

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What Worked for Me for My First Ultra

Running my first 50k was a very emotional and special event in my life.  The day was everything I wanted it to be and more.  If you haven’t checked out my recap you can do so here.

Overall, the plans I put into place seemed to work well, from what I wore to what I drank.  The following things are what I would use/do again for my next Ultra, which is only 12 (???) weeks away.

Run slowly:  I almost always start faster than I should.  I have always done my long runs faster than I should too.  Training for my pace bunny duties for the Ottawa Marathon taught me to slow down and be steady.  I picked up the pace for the 50k, running 30 seconds per km faster than I did for my pacing stint.  But I kept it pretty steady until the end and was very pleased that I did not hit a wall.  Now, I will note that I am finding it very difficult to pick up my pace again.  I feel like I am flying and it is still so much slower than I used to run.  I am hoping some speed work this summer will solve that.

10 and 1’s:  My only experience with 10 and 1’s was when I first took a Running Room 5k clinic and later when I taught two 5k clinics.  While I considered them a great way to get started running, I had never been comfortable doing the run/walk pattern for long distances.  My pace bunny job required I do 10 and 1’s and to my surprise I became quite used to them.  On the 50k they were perfect.  I adjusted when needed.  For example when the main hill of the course was approaching I held off taking my next walk break and instead did it on the hill.  If I was downhill or approaching an aid station I skipped a break.

Sponges: Both the Ottawa Marathon and the Niagara Ultra were run in significant heat.  Prior to the marathon I had the brilliant idea of carrying my own sponges.  Why wait for a sponge station when you can start with your own?  For both races I tucked them under my tank straps and wet them at the first aid station and every station thereafter.  For the ultra I also wore a buff around my neck which ended up perfect for holding a few ice cubes grabbed from the stations.

Hydration Pack:  I could not have done the ultra without carrying a significant amount of electrolyte drink.  A waist belt would have driven my crazy for that amount of time.  Instead I carried my new Ultimate Direction “Jenny” pack which allowed me to carry two bottles up front and a 2L bladder in the back.  I particularly loved the soft bottles that deflate as I drink and conform to my body.  The front pockets held my phone, my salt pills and some chews.  I also stored a few Fig Newtons that I picked up at one of the aid stations – possibly my new favourite running treat. (Photo from Ultimate Direction website)

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Tailwind:  I have tried many hydration mixes, some with more success than others.  What drew me to Tailwind was the many, many positive reviews and the comments that it did not upset the stomach.  It is still not sold in Ottawa but I have now ordered from Edmonton several times for only $5 shipping.  I love this stuff.  Unlike other drinks, this one has a mild flavour, one that doesn’t become sickly sweet as the run and heat start to wear you down.  I have had no stomach issues and I have liked all 3 flavours I have tried.  For a long run I actually mix a non-caffeinated flavour with the caffeinated Green Tea Buzz. (Photo from Tailwind website)

50 Serving Mandarin Orange

SaltStick Caps:  I don’t run in the heat without these.  I am a very salty sweater and it took me a while to realize that part of my problems with running in hot weather was the loss of salt.  Between the Tailwind and the SaltStick I have far fewer problems in the heat.  For short runs I just take a SaltStick before the run.  For long races I take one the night before and then periodically during the run.  I feel like I cope with the heat so much better now that I control my salt and my hydration. (Photo from SaltStick website)

SaltStick Caps


Cheap clothes:  OK, this may sound strange but I have discovered that my most comfortable and coolest tops are cheap Activewear tanks from Wal-Mart.  I barely feel these tanks and as a result I feel like I am running in just a sports bra without having to worry about sun burn and hydration pack chaffing.

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Compression socks:  Whether they actually make a difference or it is all in my head I have no idea, but I don’t do any long run without them!


Taking my time at the aid stations:  Unlike road races, where I try to either skip or stop only briefly at stations, I opted to avoid rushing them at the ultra.  It appeared most other people also took the time to cool off, drink and have something to eat.  I have to say it is a more civilized way to run and after each break I felt ready to go again.

Pre-race fuel:  I think I may have finally nailed my pre-race eating.  I will warn you, it is not exciting.  In the last couple of days prior to the race I stick to mostly white rice with soy sauce, bananas, toast and no-nut butter.  The morning of the race I have a Salt Tab, a small juice and granola.  Just before the race I have a banana.  This has worked for my last three races – my energy has lasted and I have not had to make those dreaded porta-potty stops due to GI issues.  I am hoping this incredibly boring menu continues to work in the future.

My next ultra is on October 1st.  Weather-wise I guess it is quite possible that my favourite cheap tank will not be used.  But I won’t mess with anything else on this list – if it worked once I am going to put faith into it all working again.

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Niagara Ultra 50k Recap

Love that this race gives a hoodie instead of a tech shirt - nice change.

Love that this race gives a hoodie instead of a tech shirt – a nice change.

Perhaps I should title this post “Blog for an Average Ultra Runner”.  I was, after all, right in the middle of the pack as well as in the middle of the women and the middle of my age group.  I have that average thing covered.  But is there such a thing as an average ultra runner?  I don’t think so!  Anyone who chooses to train for and run an ultra distance can’t be average – crazy maybe, but not average.

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It was kind of an interesting chain of events that led to me signing up for the Niagara Ultra.  I had made the decision during the winter that I wanted to try an ultra distance and had decided to do a very popular race called Run for the Toad which this year will be taking place on October 1st.  I hesitated for a while about officially registering.  It was one thing to decide in my head to do it, another entirely to actually sign up.  The final push came when I became a SWEET ambassador for Bushtukah, becoming part of a group of women inspiring  and empowering others through sport and fitness.  One of the requirements to be part of this group was to be willing to try something new.  Trying an ultra distance for the first time seemed to be perfect and I took the leap and registered.

In the meantime, another new opportunity had come up.  The lead pace bunny for Ottawa Race Weekend had put the word out that they were short a pacer for the 5:30 marathon group.  Suddenly I found myself signing up for yet another new experience, one I had really never even thought of doing.

Training for my job as a pace bunny meant as soon as I finished Around the Bay I needed to start practicing my pace and using 10 and ones rather than running continuously.  It took some practice but suddenly I found myself loving my long runs.  Spring was here, it felt amazing to be outside for hours at a time and I found myself smiling on all my runs.  One day I headed downtown and had a thoroughly enjoyable 32 km run.  Suddenly I wanted to do more.  We all know what happens to a runner after a fantastic run – you hit Google before hitting the shower to find out what race you can sign up for.

I had heard of the Niagara Ultra before and when I realized it was only 3 weeks after the Ottawa Marathon I couldn’t resist.  Thankfully my ever patient husband said sure, why not drive all the way to Niagara so I could run 50k.  It then expanded to a family run with Mike and the boys signing up for the 10k race.

The Niagara Ultra is about as opposite of Ottawa Race Weekend as you can get.  This is a small race that is capped at 800 runners for all distances combined (10k, half, full, 50k and 100k).  The course starts in beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake and follows the river, for the most part along a recreational paved path, to the Horseshoe Falls.  It is not a closed course so you are expected to behave as all pedestrians should – crossing roads only when the way is clear and being aware of traffic when on roads.  It also means that once you get to the Falls you are making your way through huge crowds of tourists.  There may be people who don’t like that but I actually found it refreshing.  For a period of time I needed to thread my way through people whose only priority was getting the perfect picture or selfie.  I found it kept my mind busy and I wasn’t even thinking of fatigue.

What a view for a race!

What a view for a race!

Near the turnaround.

Near the turnaround.

On the way back.

On the way back.

Saturday was yet again a very hot day, not quite as hot as Ottawa Race Weekend but still a tough 30C plus humidity.  Thankfully though this course does offer on and off shade due to the many treed areas the path went through.  Imagine the Ottawa river pathway with lots of trees… and very, very large homes… and vineyards.  OK, the main similarity is the river and the path, but you get the picture, and it is a very pretty picture – one worth running in!

So how do you approach your first 50k on a blistering hot day?  Slow and steady!  I started inadvertently in the middle, when I probably should have started right at the back.  More people than I would want to count passed me in the first few km but I kept reminding myself that I had to run my own race.  I wanted so badly to finish feeling strong.  I was probably still a little faster than I should have been in the first 5k but I have to say it was the most patient I have ever been at the beginning of a race.  I also knew that I wanted to take advantage of each of the aid stations located every 5k on the course.  This was not going to be a grab-a-cup-and-gulp-and-run type of race.  I was going to enjoy the true ultra experience and make sure I snacked at the aid stations!  Have to say Fig Newtons have now become a favourite, but I liked the M&M’s as well.  I wasn’t quite brave enough to try the Coke, just not sure how that would sit in my stomach.

There are so many other details I could write about, but ultimately there were three experiences that will stay with me for a long time to come, none of which I am sure I can do justice to through my words.

Anyone who knows me knows I am a huge Piano Guys fan.  Their mix of piano and cello, pop and classical, often manages to have a strong emotional effect on me.  So when their combination of “Fight Song” and “Amazing Grace” started playing on my iPod just as the Horseshoe Falls came into view, I was almost overwhelmed.  In those moments I was so grateful, so happy, so blessed, so in awe of what I was doing and the beauty I was seeing… I had tears in my eyes and goosebumps on my skin.  Sometimes there are moments when you just have to take a step back and let yourself be in awe; in awe of the beauty around you; in awe of what you are capable of doing; in awe of the gifts you have been given.  And then you have to be thankful for that opportunity to find yourself in such awe.  This was one of those opportunities for which I will forever be grateful.

As if once wasn’t enough, I had another incredible moment when turning around at the Falls and heading back for the second half of the course.  There is a slight incline as you leave the Falls, enough that I had already told myself I would just take my walk break there even if it wasn’t the right time.  But at the base of the incline another Piano Guys song started to play on my iPod, this time “Beethoven’s 5 Secrets”.  The opening of this piece is an incredibly beautiful and serene cello part.  As I listened to that cello I found myself in that runner’s zen that we all hope for.  Honestly, I swear I floated up that hill.  I think my watch did beep to tell me it was a walk break time, but I just continued running without effort.  At the top of the hill I told myself that regardless of what happened on the rest of the race, these two incredible moments were worth every second of pain or fatigue I might feel.

Yet somehow I was blessed with even more.  Mike kept track of where I was and managed to make sure that he and the kids met me three times along the course.  Each time was wonderful but the best was having my boys join me for the last km of the race.  They had run a 10k already but were willing to run more to get me to the finish line.  Needless to say I was tired at this point.  I may have walked some of that last km had I been alone.   But my kids took on the parent role.  They cheered me, told me how amazing I was and were with me every step of the way until just before the finish when they split away to let me cross the line.  Mike went ahead to get final pictures  and I was able to run right to him after crossing the mats.  What an incredible way to finish my first ultra run.


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The last km.

The last km.

After the race I lay exhausted but happy in the grass with a full litre of chocolate milk.

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My 13 year old told me he would tell everyone at school about me...wow, what a feeling!

My 13 year old told me he would tell everyone at school about me…wow, what a feeling!

Eventually I got up to get the pizza and beer that was served post race.  I only managed a few bites of pizza, but the beer went down rather well!  After a short nap at the hotel it was off to dinner for margaritas and Mexican food with a group of wonderful east end Ottawa runners who very kindly invited myself and my family to celebrate with them.  A night walk around the Falls (the boys had yet to see them) finished the long but incredible day.

Would I do it again – absolutely yes!!!  I loved the relaxed atmosphere and different vibe of an ultra race.  I put less pressure on myself to maintain a specific pace and was able to enjoy the ride.  That said, I was pretty pleased with my splits.  All of my 10k splits were within 4 minutes of each other, the last 2 splits about the same.  For the most part my running pace stayed the same, there were just a few more walk breaks and longer aid station breaks in the last half of the race.

I have now run a half, a 30k, a marathon and a 50k since March.  Other than the 30k I really haven’t worked on speed but I am incredibly proud of the endurance I have gained.  So now, it will be a two week break from official training.  That doesn’t mean I will be doing nothing.  I orienteered last night and will again next week.  On Saturday I am doing a trail obstacle course race, though I will take it very, very easy.  Once the two weeks are up, it will be back to training, this time for my next 50k, The Run for the Toad.  There will be new challenges this summer: I want to do more trail training, more hill work, more speed work.  There is always more to do!

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