Monthly Archives: June 2016

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, 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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I’m an Ultra Marathoner!



There is so much to write about my 50k experience, but for now just the facts:

Chip time: 6:09:50

Moving time according to my Garmin: 5:53

Rank: 95/207

Women: 47/110

Age Group: 9/17

But this was so much more than just stats.  What an incredible experience and one that I will remember forever.  And yes, I want to do it again!

Thoughts Before My First 50k

Race Roster

I’m running 50k on Saturday morning.    That thought has gone through my head more times than I can count this week.  To be more accurate, what I have been saying is more like, “Holy $#!* I am running 50k on Saturday”.  I was completely calm about this until Sunday night.  At that point the butterflies – monster butterflies – kicked in.

After being a pace bunny at the Ottawa Marathon, I was riding quite the high.  I know for a fact that I could have finished 50k that day.  I still felt good at the end of the race and the endorphins were racing through me.  Hell yes I would be able to do an ultra!

Two and a half weeks later the doubts are creeping into my head.  Logically I know I can finish the distance barring any injury.  But I keep thinking about the fact that I have essentially done a double taper.  I totally trust the taper, but two in a row?  Not so sure about that.  I feel like I have not run nearly enough even though logically I know there would have been far more risk in over-training  than under-training.  I’m antsy, distracted and tired from the stressful dreams I’m having – a side effect of doing a 50k while also writing report cards and dealing with the usual end of school year stuff.

But I am going to say that I am also excited.  I don’t have a time to beat like I did at Around the Bay in April.  I don’t have an exact time to hit like I did as a pace bunny for the Ottawa Marathon.  This is a “to finish” race and I keep reminding myself that those are the best kind.  I really just need to enjoy the ride and cross the finish line.

I’m going to try to emphasize fun this weekend.  I keep referring to it as a tourist run.  The out and back route starts in Niagara-on-the-Lake and travels 25k along the river to Niagara Falls.  It is not a closed course so there will be some dodging of pedestrians, bikes and a whole lot of tourists at the turn around.   At some point I will probably ask one of those tourists to take a few pictures of me in front of the Falls. There will also be snacks – real snacks, not gels – at the aid stations, so there may be times I am doing more eating than running.

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I only have a general pace plan.  If I do exactly what I did as a pace bunny it will take 6 and a half hours.  I think I will try to go a little faster than that to allow for photos and of course snacks.  I even have a crazy idea that I might do a negative split, which if I start slowly enough should be possible.  Mind you, once again the weather is not really cooperating for this cold weather runner.  Predicted temperatures range from a somewhat reasonable 24C to a far-too-hot 30C.  Ah, memories of Ottawa Race Weekend.

I am also a little nervous about timing.  I have never arrived at an out-of-town race the night before the event.  We’re going to get there, pick up kits and get settled in the hotel as quickly as possible in order to be ready for my 7 a.m. start.  But the upside is not having to sit in a car for 6 or more hours immediately after the race.  I think my legs will appreciate that and maybe I will actually be able to walk in the days after the race.

Now all there is left to do is rest, eat and maybe panic…but just a little.

Ottawa Race Weekend 2016 Recap


What a weekend here in Ottawa!

You can’t possibly recap this weekend without talking weather.  I long ago decided that I would never plan for Ottawa Race Weekend to be a race to PB in, regardless of distance.  Training isn’t an issue for me, I quite like winter running.  But in this city we seem to jump directly from winter to summer and often that seasonal change comes right around this race.  It takes me forever to acclimatize to hot weather, a few days just doesn’t do it for me.  While I don’t plan for PB’s, I do always participate and this year did so in a completely different way; pacing for the marathon.

The heat warnings were up at expo.

The heat warnings were up at expo.

But first, the weather.  After a rather cold spring (the kids and I ran the CHEO 10k three weeks ago in 2C with multiple layers), we were very suddenly hit with a forecast for a heat wave.  During the week before the race the predicted temperatures just kept rising.  Every time you thought it couldn’t get worse, it did.  In fact, it ended up being the first 3 day official heat wave in the month of May since 1911.  Needless to say panic set in amongst runners everywhere.  The only people who were more panicked?  The race organizers.  What do you do when predicted temperatures are at least 31C/88F with humidex climbing towards 40C/104F?  By Friday it became clear that the entire weekend could be cancelled due to concerns for runner safety.  The organizers were in a no win situation, anger more than 45 000 runners and cancel or deal with life-threatening heat stroke in potentially record numbers.

In the end, two of the races had their start times changed.  The Saturday evening 10k ran half an hour later and the Sunday morning half marathon started 45 minutes early.  Unfortunately logistics prevented an earlier start time for the marathon while Saturday’s 2k and 5k times also remained unchanged.  Even with the changes there was no guarantee the race would go on and the organizers noted that if necessary the dreaded black flags could go up mid-race and runners could be diverted to the finish.


On Friday during all of this weather related chaos I headed to the expo downtown.  ORW has my favourite expo and I admit I never walk away without spending a chunk of cash.  Before shopping, however, I was going to be doing a 2 hour shift at the pace bunny table.  On my way in I was nabbed by a CBC reporter and immediately asked about what my thoughts were with regards to the race continuing or being cancelled.  At that point I was still hoping for an earlier marathon start but also noted that runners had to be sensible and change their goals.  Let’s face it, in the end we make the decision as to whether we run and how hard we run.  My theory was as long as people took that responsibility seriously all would go well.  Of course we all know that runners are not the smartest group after four months of training.

Once in the expo I grabbed my bunny ears, pacer shirt and my sign and then hung out chatting to other runners who visited the both.  The two hours flew by and I had a great time talking to lots of excited and nervous runners.  It was during this time that I truly realized how much runners appreciate pacers.  I actually have never run with a bunny.  I usually just find a space of my own and once in a while look around at what bunny is nearby.  But wandering around expo wearing those pink ears was an amazing experience.  Lots of people want to talk to a bunny and they are all so appreciative of the work done by pacers.  There was a little part of me that wanted to spend the whole evening walking around but once I had been there for 4 hours I figured it was probably time to go.  Mind you I left only after buying a marathon jacket, a discounted ($10!) long sleeve marathon shirt and  2 pairs of compression socks.  I made up for the fact that my entry as a pacer was free!


Saturday I headed downtown again for a 9:00 a.m. friendship run, a tradition at races sponsored by Running Room.  John Stanton was there to give everyone advice as to how to deal with the heat and keep safe and then all of the bunnies were introduced.  The top three bunnies from last year were awarded golden ears – all of them being less than a second from their goal times.  During the run I got to meet twitter friend Tracey who had come from the East Coast with friends for the marathon.  It was a 3k easy run along the canal in sweltering heat.  It was then I realized that there was no way I would be able to wear the somewhat heavy pace shirt given, this was tank top running weather.

I spent the afternoon eating rice, drinking electrolytes and wearing compression socks.


I opted not to head downtown yet again for the 5k race which Mike and the boys were participating in.  All three did phenomenally well given the fact that the 5k race really ended up having the worst conditions of the weekend.  Starting at 4:00 the city was

The boys looking a little hot.

The boys looking a little hot.

truly baking in temperatures well over 30.  The lack of a water station before the 4k mark – something the race has since acknowledged on its Facebook page as something they have to re-evaluate – made the race all the more challenging.

Sunday morning came early when I got up at 4:40 a.m.  I was very focussed on making sure I ate at least 2 hours before the 7:00 start.  In all that focus I somehow forgot to think about what time I had to leave.  In a sudden panic, I realized that in fact I was already late leaving and not even organized!  All I could think of was this was my first pace bunny gig and I wasn’t even going to make it to the corral in time.  I grabbed everything, flung it all in the car and headed out at speeds I won’t admit.  I applied sunblock at red lights.  Rather than risk porta potty line ups I hit a virtually empty Tim Hortons.  I applied body glide on a side street downtown.  Not the smoothest start but I told myself the adrenaline rush would do me good.  Yes, that is grasping at straws.

I managed to make it into the corral at about the right time and had the chance to meet many of the people who wanted to start running with me.  They were so grateful that this race supplied a 5.5 hour pacer as many races don’t.  Given the heat, many runners also wanted to start very conservatively and just enjoy the experience.  I told many people to do it for the party rather than the pace.

And what a party it was.  I can honestly say I have never enjoyed a race experience so much.  I loved chatting with the runners following me.  In fact it amazed me how quickly you can start to have a “mother hen” feeling for those around you.  I wanted so much for each and every runner to have a positive experience.  And that is what is the hardest part of pacing; as you go you do lose people – thankfully not to medical emergencies which had certainly worried me with the heat – but just because people have to run their own race and when they decide the pace isn’t right for them they have to adjust.  As we were told by the pace team organizer, our job was to pace a time, not a group.  But as some people left the group, falling behind or ready to go ahead, others joined and new people were met.

One moment that will always stay in my memory was when we turned the corner at the War Museum. At this point we had merged with half marathons and there was such an energy in the air.  There were lots of spectators cheering and as we passed, one of the men in my group kept shouting, “Give it up for the pace bunny!”  Talk about feeling like a rock star! (Thank you Francois!!!)

In the back of my mind I was still worried about the possibility of the race being stopped.  We started on green flags but somewhere along the route we noticed they had been changed to red.  There is only one colour left after red, the black flag indicating that the race would be over.  It was only after I got home that I discovered runners in the after 6 hour group were diverted and had to do a shortened course.

Because I was not running my regular pace it is hard for me to judge how bad the heat was.  The first couple of hours were under cloud cover and whenever we ran towards the east we would catch a breeze.  The race organizers did an amazing job of making sure there was plenty of water and Nuun. The only station that ended up under-supplied was the final sponge station where volunteers apologized that they had no sponges left.  There was still the trough of water though and I saw a few runners stop at it to splash themselves.  As for me, I for the first time brought my own sponges and started with them under my tank and bra straps.  I poured water on them at the first station and kept them wet for the rest of the race.  I highly recommend this to anyone running a hot race as I have no doubt the sponges made a difference in my body temperature.

I have to give a massive shout out to the people of Ottawa.  Organizers had made an appeal in the news and social media asking for residents on the route to bring out hoses and sprinklers.  Letters with the same request were delivered to the homes along the race course.  These residents were amazing!  There were more hoses and sprinklers than I had ever seen.  But they didn’t stop there.  Kids were out with water guns, families handed out water bottles – with the lids already off so you could just drink or soak yourself right away.  By far my favourite were the young kids handing out freezies somewhere around 36 or 37k.  Never has a freezie tasted so good.  These people stuck around for the back of the packers and cheered with gusto.

As for being a marathon pace bunny, I would do it again in a second.  It was such a great experience on so many levels.  I loved talking to the people following me and learning a little about them.  Some were running their first marathon, others were just coming back from injuries.  There were runners who had made extraordinarily lifestyle changes to make sure they were around for years to come.  What a privilege to be part of their marathon experience.  The thank you’s they passed on to me in person and even in social media mean more to me than they can imagine.  I was incredibly impressed with their determination and will to run in some very tough conditions.  We always hear about the Boston Qualifiers, but the people closer to the back are working just as

My pacing skills were better than my photo skills!

My pacing skills were better than my photo skills!

hard and spend far more time on their feet.  I have so much respect for each and every one of them.

I stuck around at the finish line for a while and managed to catch some of the runners who had run part of the course with me cross the finish line.  I managed to get a picture with these lovely ladies who ran the whole race with me and then were able to take off at the end to get their sub-5.5 hour time.  Amazing!

Ironically I do feel it was me, not those with me, who got the most out of the experience.  All I could think of when I finished the race was, “When can I do this again?”  Believe it or not the 5 and a half hours flew by and there was a part of me that didn’t want it to end.  Needless to say I am very much hoping that I will be part of the pace bunny team again next year.  Maybe I will get even closer than 3 seconds to my goal time 🙂