The Mad Trapper Pancake Prediction Run

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So, let’s just start by stating the obvious – if a race has the word “pancake” in it, you know it will be a worthwhile race.  If the race is also going to offer you a bottle of maple syrup to take home, well, is there really any reason not to attend said race???

Yesterday’s Mad Trapper Run, which all four of us took part in, lived up to all that the snowshoe/running series promotes – some good exercise, a fun social event and lots of food.  If you are a runner who needs chip timing, medals and certified course distances (oh, and the burning off of more calories than you take in), well the Mad Trapper might not be for you.  But then I would ask, do you really need all of that for every race you participate in?

As per the name, this was a prediction run.  No watches or cell phones allowed.  To be sure everyone followed the rules, before the race started you were asked to introduce yourself to a stranger and then frisk them.  To record times you wrote your name and time prediction on chart paper – who needs high tech?  You could set a world record, you could stop and enjoy the scenery, you could sit and have a drink at the turn around if you wanted, you just needed to come in as close as possible to your prediction in order to win.

The 8k run was on a rural dirt road with plenty of hills.  There was no traffic and lots of room for the 60 runners taking part.  That dirt road was also at its best for running; just soft enough to feel comfy without being so soft that it dragged you down.  A fairly crisp morning was the final ingredient in a comfortable and fun run.

When you crossed the finish line someone handed you a sticker with your finish time on it.  You then took your sticker, put it on the chart paper and figured out the difference between your prediction and your actual time.  The next time your kid asks you what the point of math is, just tell them they will need it to do important things in life, like prediction runs ;)

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Unfortunately no photos of Mike crossing the finish line - the down side to being the first of the family to finish.

Unfortunately no photos of Mike crossing the finish line – the down side to being the first of the family to finish.

Once the run was done (and by the way it finished on one hell of an uphill!) you headed inside at The Ark to socialize and await the much anticipated brunch.  By the name of the race you would be right to assume that the brunch would be pancakes.  But what wasn’t included in the title (because really, it would be one helluva long race name) was the bacon, sausage, hash browns, eggs and beans that were also served on your plate.  I should have taken a picture but was too busy eating and didn’t really think of it until my plate was empty.  Priorities.

After the meal the top three “predictors” were announced.  Amazingly the first place winner was only off by one second.  Then Evan, in his first 8k event, tied for second, with his final time being 15 seconds slower than his prediction.  He ended up winning a great Salomon running backpack… one he might be forced to share.  I should note that so many runners were so kind to Evan and Luke, congratulating them for their efforts.  I think the boys walked away feeling a little special, and who doesn’t enjoy that once in a while?  It is one of the things I love about running, everyone supports everyone, regardless of age or ability.   A special thank you to the ORW 60 minute 10k pace bunny who came and offered words of encouragement to Evan with regards to his upcoming first 10k race.  It is one thing for your mother to tell you that you can do it, another thing entirely for an official pace bunny – and last year’s winning pace bunny at that – to cheer you on!

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For the record fellow Mad Trappers, Evan still isn’t sure who Nick is, but he is pretty excited to have “beaten” him :)  Look out Nick, in a few years he might be trying to chase you down in a race.

As for me, I can barely organize my pace with a watch on!  But on this run I teamed up with Luke, so I got to hand over all the decisions to him.  Ends up we totally underestimated what he could do on a hilly 8k run.  He predicted 59 minutes and came in 5 minutes faster!  At one point I said to him that I thought we were going too quickly but he said he was feeling good and wanted to see if he could keep up the same pace.  Just to prove how nice it is to be young, he then sprinted up the final hill, leaving me to fall behind.  He also managed to talk almost non-stop throughout the run.  Don’t young children need to breathe when they are running???  I was exhausted just listening to him.

Best Luke quote of the run?  I told him he had a wonderfully positive attitude when running.  He replied, “I’m always positive on the outside, on the inside let’s just say you may not always want to know.”  :)

There are more Mad Trapper races to participate in this season.  The boys have already decided they want to participate in the June natural off trail obstacle race.  According to organizer Mike Caldwell, the course will involve going over everything that you would normally go around on his wooded, hilly (really hilly) property.  I’m pretty sure that my kids’ eyes lit up at the explanation, particularly when the crossing of streams was mentioned.  As for me, maybe slightly out of the comfort zone of this road racer but I will be doing it anyways!

Personally I am looking forward to another race in the series, the Power in Pink women’s only trail race at the end of August.  Mimosas, firemen and prizes have all been mentioned and it is a fundraiser for the Princess Margaret Hospital for cancer research.

Why not take a break from your regular race routine?  For more info about any Mad Trapper event, check out the link at the side of my blog.

The Prague Half Marathon Race Recap

 

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About two years ago I started thinking about running the Prague Half Marathon in the Czech Republic.  Having worked in Prague for a brief time over 20 years ago, it was a city I really wanted to return to and show my family.  All I needed was for the race date to fall within my March holidays to make the trip possible, and this was the year it happened.  Was it worth the wait?  Absolutely.

My previous posts have talked about our travels in Nice and Prague prior to race day, plus my rather weak attempt at putting in a proper taper.  The two weeks of busy traveling prior to the race confirmed in my mind that I would not be going for a PB, but I would be aiming to run a solid, comfortable race.

Race Expo

 

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Race expo opened on Thursday morning and I made sure to get there early, curious as to what it would offer.  Up to that point I wasn’t sure what to expect.  The Prague Half Marathon is an IAFF Gold Label event, one of 5 held in the Czech Republic and one of 3 Gold Label events in Prague itself.  But I had noticed some key differences in the months leading up to race day.  I admit that here in Ottawa I am used to some pretty detailed websites, not to mention lots of information through email and Facebook.  I found the Prague website and information a little sparse in comparison which made me wonder about race organization.

There was no need to worry however.  This would prove to be a very well organized race event.  While the expo was quite small compared to Ottawa Race Weekend or Toronto Waterfront, it offered a couple of great things that I have not seen before. I was hugely impressed by the fact you could choose between a long sleeve or short sleeve tech shirt, both in men’s and women’s cuts.  I have no idea how they plan for that number-wise, but what a treat as a participant to have a choice.  And that certainly puts to shame any races that have yet to manage to offer male and female cuts.  You also got to choose your colour for your RunCzech sports bag, another bonus that was much appreciated.  I was also very glad to see souvenir gear, something that I really missed not having at last year’s Vancouver Half Marathon.

Another offer at expo was a chance for your family or friends to record a personalized message cheering you on.  This message was linked to your timing chip.  At the 14 and 18k marks of the race there were chip reading mats and very large – think billboards – screens.  When you crossed a mat there was a chance your video message would appear on the screen.  I was lucky enough to see my husband and kids up there at the 18k mat and as silly as it may sound, it gave me such a boost of energy!  My pace immediately picked up.  I also admit that I waved to them… as if they could actually see me :)

I also liked the big poster that was up at expo that showed the route plus all 12,500 names of the race participants.  A nice touch.

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The expo was located outside of the centre of Prague, about 5 or 6 km away from the start line.  It was easily accessible by tram, or at least easy enough once we found where we could actually purchase tram tickets.  That part took almost as long as the tram ride itself.  Moving out of the city core gave me the opportunity to do one final little run before race day, this time in a park immediately beside the expo grounds.  I had heard this was a popular area for runners and sure enough there were several out there running the paths.  This run gave me an opportunity to make a decision about what shoes to wear race day.  I had tried some cobblestone running in my Nike Lunar Tempos earlier in the week and was not convinced they were the right call for such uneven terrain, particularly given the fatigue my legs were feeling after two weeks of constant walking.  This time I tried my Asics and with their extra cushioning and support they proved to be the shoes to run with.

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Race Day

This race would be my first ever noon start time.  I wasn’t entirely sure of what I would think of that, but it ends up I loved it.  Obviously it would not be a great start time in hot weather.  While it did get warmer on the course than I was anticipating, it was still manageable.  The advantages of a late start?  Firstly, I actually had a reasonable night’s sleep, a rarity on race nights for me.  With the start line only a short walk away, I had no concerns about sleeping in and being late.  Secondly, there were virtually no line ups at the porta potties 35 minutes before the gun.  Either European runners just don’t have to pee as much as we North American runners before a race, or the fact that everyone was up well before race time meant there was time to sort things out so to speak prior to arriving at the race.  All I can say is it was a treat to be in a race with over 12,000 runners and not have to deal with the stress of waiting in a slow moving porta potty line!

Gotta like the women's porta potties, or "Jennys", with NO line ups!

Gotta like the women’s porta potties, or “Jennys”, with NO line ups!

I had made a last minute decision to not wear shorts for the run.  There was a fairly cold wind blowing and cloud cover.  I did leave my running jacket at the apartment, bringing instead a throwaway fleece to stay warm before the gun.  It ends up though that there was access to a building right beside the corrals, so there was no issue staying warm.  About 15 minutes before the race I figured I should head out to my corral.  I was surprised to find that only a few people had done the same at that time.  As a result I had easy access and was even able to run back and forth a few times in the space.

As the corral filled I heard any number of languages, plus English being spoken in a variety of accents.  We have an amazing running scene here in Ottawa, but I could not help but be a little jealous of European runners.  Imagine being able to hop on a train or take a quick flight and be able to attend a wide choice of races in other countries.  That would be a dream situation for me.

Waiting for the gun everyone was shivering and I was thinking that the fleece would have to stay on for a km or two before I would warm up.  But almost as soon as the gun went off, the sun came out and suddenly I was regretting my decision to not wear shorts.  In the 8 minutes it took for me to make it to the start line I ditched the fleece and was ready to go.

The crowds were thick, both on and off the course.  The spectators were great; whistles seemed to be the most popular way of showing support.  I am pretty sure this was the most crowded I have been at the beginning of a half marathon course.  It took all my concentration to make sure I didn’t trip over someone or cause someone else to fall.  Throw in uneven cobblestones, tram tracks and curbs and islands in the middle of the road, and this became what I would consider a technical road race.  The 2 hour “pacemakers” (no bunnies here) were just ahead of me but I couldn’t fight the crowds to stay with them.  They clearly did a better job than I did of maneuvering around other runners, so after several times of me catching up then getting caught behind a crowd I gave up.  To a certain extent I felt like I just followed the crowd for the first 5k.

Here is an important note if you are going to run in Europe.  Cobblestones are not your friend!  They may look quaint and pretty in pictures but I am sure the human body was not meant to run on them!  I knew they would feel different, I didn’t know that, particularly once you get tired they can suck the life out of you.  I did become a bit of an expert though on which ones were easier to run on.  Take a look at this picture:

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The stones you see on the left are the worst.  They may look flat in this picture but they are not.  The stones you see on the right are easier, a little flatter, packed a little closer together,  The large line of rectangular stones in the middle are the easiest, except of course for the fact that they are narrow.  There were several times on the course when my whole goal was to try to make it to the easiest footing.  That said there was lots of smooth pavement and very few elevations changes, so there were plenty of opportunities to run comfortably.  If you like flat courses, I don’t think you will find much flatter than this one.

At one point in the course I thought the spectators must all be enjoying a good Czech beer as there was a rather hoppy aroma that was becoming quite strong.  Unlike here, in Prague there is no issue having your alcohol outside in a public place.  I did come to realize however that we were in fact running past a brewery.  Who knew that the smell of beer could overpower the smell of the sweat of thousands of runners?  It was a bit of a tease though, since there was a lot more running to be done before being able to enjoy a pint.

Despite my up and down pace due to crowds, my overall average pace stayed a very steady 5:43 for most of the race, with a final pace of 5:42.  Could I have pushed a little harder and therefore finished faster than my 2:01:08?  I think so.  But with the way I had been eating and walking and climbing endless stairs for two weeks, I really had no way of knowing how long my energy would last.  I kept things conservative and as a result felt good throughout most of the race.  I did somehow manage to screw up my distance reading.  I thought I had not even hit the 21k mark yet when suddenly there was a sign saying 600m left.  Oops!  I admit I would have started pushing harder earlier had I known.  But I was able to cross the final bridge (there were a total of 6 bridge crossings over the Vltava river) with a smile on my face and enough energy to wave to my family and then sprint to the finish.  I actually had to ask somebody to move over at one point as I couldn’t get by!

 

About 300 metres to go and still smiling!

About 300 metres to go and still smiling!

There was a long walk through the finishing chute, but everything was handed out efficiently.  I handed in my timing chip (the largest chip I have ever had on a bib, maybe that slowed me down a little!), picked up a medal and foil blanket, then was passed water and a sports drink.  Following that I had the best post drink ever – they were serving warm, sweet tea.  I don’t even like tea but this was delicious!  It might even rival chocolate milk.  Food as far as I could see was limited, just oranges and apples.  Personally, it  takes me a little while to be hungry after a race so I was happy to just skip the fruit and pick up a yummy “Trdlo” with Nutella once we left the race.

I will say though that leaving the race was tough.  It was definitely a moment I wanted to hang on to.  Even as I started to get chilled I didn’t want to leave and instead just spent some time taking in the view of the river and Prague Castle one more time.

Enjoying the moment,

Enjoying the moment.

In the afternoon there was a little time to relax thanks to my personal race crew:

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And then it was time to celebrate with traditional Czech food and of course Czech beer:

I am now addicted to Czech dumplings... a bit of a problem now that I am back in Canada.

I am now addicted to Czech dumplings… a bit of a problem now that I am back in Canada.

How can you not like beer that costs less than $1.50?

How can you not like beer that costs less than $1.50?

Would I run this race again?  In a heartbeat.  The only reason I probably won’t (besides the obvious of the cost of traveling) is the fact that the world is large and time is short.  There are many races out there I would like to try if the opportunity arises.  It may be some time before I get to try another running adventure such as this but I certainly hope there will be more in my future.  And I admit it, I have now checked out the website for the Reykjavic Half Marathon in Iceland several times.  Maybe one day….

 

 

 

 

Cobblestones and Crowds

It was a very crowded race and there were way more cobblestones than I thought there would be but I enjoyed the whole event and finished with a big smile.  My official time was a fairly comfortable 2:01:08, not my fastest for sure but a nice pace and one that allowed me to have a good time.  Lots more info later, until then a few pictures:

Look in the centre and you will see me in the red shirt and pink hat.

Look in the centre and you will see me in the red shirt and pink hat.

Running to the finish feeling good!

Running to the finish feeling good!

How is that for a skyline at the end of a race?

How is that for a skyline at the end of a race?

A post race "Trdlo" filled with Nutella.  MMMM

A post race “Trdlo” filled with Nutella. MMMM

 

T’was the Night Before the Prague Half Marathon

Despite the fact that the whole reason we came to Europe was because I wanted to run the Prague Half Marathon, the race itself has become somewhat secondary. We have had an amazing and unforgettable family vacation and all of us have recognized daily how lucky we are to experience such a trip.  I will admit that the fact we were on two Germanwing flights less than 48 hours before the devastating crash has certainly driven that fact home.  This has been a wonderful experience for all of us and I am thankful.

To get in some relaxing time without walking, we spent this evening at a lovely classical music string ensemble concert in the grand staircase hall of the National Museum. For a five year period, the only way to see inside this building is if you attend small evening concerts.  The building is closed as renovations continue to repair damage from WWII and from Soviet machine gun fire in 1968, much of which had been poorly “patched up” in the past.

The very grande central staircase of "Narodni Muzem" or the National Museum.

The very grand central staircase of “Narodni Muzem” or the National Museum.

After the concert, an outdoor meal of chicken shishkabob in a baguette and alcohol free beer.

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Not so sure how great a meal that is for the night before a race but the view was spectacular…

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I will give a full report on race expo at a later time but for now a few pics to share. Also one note: this race allowed you to choose a long sleeve or short sleeve race shirt.  How awesome is that?  There are races out there that can’t even manage to hand out women’s style shirts but RunCzech and Addidas gives you a choice of long or short sleeve – each with different coloured stripes. And if that wasn’t enough you then got to choose from five colours for a sports bag!

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There was also race souvenir clothing, and of course I couldn’t resist…

 

My "Praha"shirt, with well known buildings and a measuring tape underneath showing 21.1

My “Praha” shirt, with well known buildings and a measuring tape underneath showing 21.1

A comfy (and very bright) Adidas Prague Half Marathon hoodie.

A comfy (and very bright) Adidas Prague Half Marathon hoodie.

That’s all for now.  Time to organize and sleep, though with a noon start and being only a 15 minute walk to the start line, it won’t quite feel like a regular race morning. My only goal tomorrow, to have fun!  PB’s can wait.  Wish me luck!

How Not To Taper

IMG_4144 (Shrunk)We have spent the last two days exploring Prague’s never ending maze of cobblestone streets and still feel like we have barely scratched the surface of this historical city.   The only thing I haven’t really managed to do?  Run.

That’s not entirely true. On our first morning I did do a mini run of 4k.  But I stopped so many times either for traffic, pedestrians or simply to look at things that I’m not convinced I can officially call it a run.  I can tell you that running on cobblestones is much more difficult than you might think.

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So if you want to taper in all the wrong ways, just do as I do and try the following:

  • Don’t bother running the final week of training
  • do walk at least 15 km daily for two weeks prior to your race (today we were closer to 20)
  • do lots of hills and stairs, in fact make sure wherever you are staying has a minimum of 80 stairs to climb (we have 88 here at our place in Prague – completely worth it though as the apartment is gorgeous with an amazing location).
  • Just in case you haven’t done enough stairs, go up a bell tower with just more than 200 stairs coiled so tightly you are dizzy by step 10.
  • Follow a very special diet, including
  1. Bratwurst and giant pretzels (Germany)
  2. crepes, cheese, socca (traditional Nice chickpea bread), chocolate croissants, and Lays olive flavoured potato chips (France)
  3. pizza and gelato (Italy)
  4. dumplings, apple strudel, trdelnik  (a traditional grilled – yes grilled – pastry), hot mulled wine and beer (Czech Republic)

In my defence, the beer in Prague costs the same as a bottle of water.  This is the land of the $2 beer!  The beer and wine are also sold at stands on every corner.  Once you buy it you can walk freely with it.  Quite a change from Ontario where we can’t even buy beer or wine in the grocery store.

All of this should add up to a fast half marathon in a couple of days, right?

Oh well, there is always the Ottawa half in May to aim for another sub two hour race :)

Some more photos:

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- most of my run will be following the river you see above

Running in Nice, France

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If I’m honest, the half marathon I am running one week from tomorrow has virtually been forgotten this week.  I am in vacation mode and the thought of racing has been pushed to the back of my mind. In the past five days we have been in four countries: Canada, Germany, France and today a day trip by train to Italy. It doesn’t get any better than this!

By the seaside in Italy.

By the seaside in Italy.  This picture was taken after having Italian pizza in a restaurant on the beach.

I’m sure in the last three days we have walked more than 45 km. At least half of that has been up hills, often up stairs. Our apartment is situated high up in the Old Town.  Looking at the picture below, you can see how we have to go up to get to a door on the left.  There are 27 stairs, outside, another 28 inside to get to where we are staying.  Behind where I took this picture are another 50 or more stairs.  Our legs are getting a workout every time we head “home”!

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Morning in Nice.

Morning in Nice.

Despite this though, three runs have been squeezed in.  The first was a morning run on Thursday. Because we are renting an apartment rather than staying in a hotel, we are in residential area of the Old Town in Nice. As I headed out it was school time for the local kids, so up and down these narrow alleys the children were coming out of huge, ancient doors, chattering with parents and friends as they headed off to school. I’m not sure why, but I think this may remain one of my favourite memories of this trip. For a brief moment I felt like I lived here and was part of the weekday routine.

As the kids continued to the school at the end of the road, I turned to follow the maze of streets, through the morning market and on to the sea.  I ran 11 km, following the Promenade des Anglais.  At 16 degrees and sunny, I was heating up quickly but when I turned to come back I was running into the sea breeze and it was nothing short of perfect.  I finished up with three hill repeats and then, what better way to finish a run than dipping your feet into the Mediterranean?

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That evening the four of us headed to the same path to do a family 2k run. The evening run was even nicer than the morning run with a perfect temperature and lots of activity, from other runners, to walkers, and bike riders making good use of the wide Promenade.

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This evening I was out there again on a solo run. The Promenade feels very safe. It is well lit, there is a heavily used road running alongside it and there are lots of other runners taking advantage of the pleasant evening weather. I was perfectly comfortable throughout my run.  It was a “bit of everything” type of run with 2k at a 5:43 min/km pace, followed by 2k at an easy pace, then speed intervals at 400m, 800m and 1 km all below a 5 minute pace. Finally I finished up with a 1.8 km slow, easy cool down and then a wonderful walk  through the Old Town, where the patio restaurants were vying for Friday night customers.

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And so this half marathon is not a constant presence in my mind as another race might be.  I’m too busy enjoying the here and now to think a week ahead. Can you blame me?

A view from our walk from the apartment to the lower part of the Old Town.

A view from our walk from the apartment to the lower part of the Old Town.

 

It Took a While….

…but we finally made it to Nice Tuesday night, about 8 hours later than planned. What should have been an hour in Munich before getting a connecting flight to Nice turned into most of the day thanks to Air Canada and a plane “computer glitch” back when we were trying to leave Toronto. That made for an hour of sitting on the tarmac at Pearson airport and no chance of making a connecting flight.  So, making lemonade out of lemons, once in Germany we hoped on the S Bahn, travelled into the centre of Munich and spent a few hours wandering the city. It was an added bonus for the boys, who now get to tick off another city and country they have visited and it was fun for both my husband and I, as it has been many years since either of has been there.  To be honest, I think I was in a bit of an Oktoberfest haze when I last saw the city over twenty years ago.  This time round I refrained from any beer, not sure how well I would deal with it in my sleep deprived state. I had been sure I would sleep on an overnight flight, ends up I was wrong. Mind you, I thought the kids would too, and that didn’t really happen either.

Spring in Munich.

Spring in Munich.

Finally, about 25 hours after we left our house, we arrived at our rented apartment and saw this view from our window:

 

Looking out our apartment Window!

Looking out our apartment Window!

Completely worth the wait!  By this point we had been up well over 30 hours and were all anxious to get to bed.  When we awoke, the daytime view was just as spectacular:

 

Day time view from our apartment

Day time view from our apartment

I’ve not forgotten that this is a running blog, not a travel blog. But on our first full day in Nice, I suppose it is not surprising that a training run has not happened yet. The plan was for all of us to head out for an evening run together along the walkway that follows the coastline. But by the time we spent the day exploring this unbelievably beautiful ancient city, the evening brought only the desire to eat and rest. By Mike’s watch we walked more than 16km, much of it up hills and stairs. I’m just going to call it cross training :)

Our walking route.

Our walking route.

In the meantime, I have fallen in love with this city. It may end up rivaling Prague in my affections. Within the first hour I was asking if we could retire here.

Some more pics of this beautiful city:

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Update: 

Just finished an 11k run along the sea this morning.  Photos to come.  For now, lets just say there was no frostbite warning like there currently is in Ottawa (couldn’t help but look at the Ottawa weather!)