Sunday, September 25, 2016

Bold, Beautiful, Brutal

Standing in a relatively small group of ultra runners on a beautiful sunny morning, waiting for the race to start, I thought of my last words with my 13 year old daughter..."what will you do if you feel you can't go on mom?"  I responded, "I'll take one step at a time and keep moving forward."  There was excitement but most of the runners I chatted with really had no idea what to expect.

UTMR is a new race.  This was the first official year.  I knew I was in for a challenge, in 116km, there was +8300 meters of climbing.  The average altitude was 6500 feet.  The race is set-up in a U-shape, taking runners up and over high mountain passes down into valleys through small towns in the valleys to finish in Grachen Switzerland.
The day before, I arrived in Cervinia Italy with my family and went through the gear check, and I have never been required to carry as much gear on a trail race.  I spent most of the evening reorganizing my pack just to make enough room for my water.  At an elevation of 2050 meters you could already notice the air was thinner in, just a bit concerning as I was climbing to almost 3000 meters at least 4 times...

The race started smoothly up and over the top of the first peak and down rocky single track to a small village.  The Matterhorn towered over us on the left side.  I felt good on the first couple climbs, except the top 1/3, I was feeling a bit lightheaded and winded with the altitude.  The top third of the climbs were above the tree line.  The trails were rocky, steep and technical.  My ears popped with each descent and my breathing became easier.  The weather was beautiful, sunny, high 20's.  My family was waiting in Gressoney the 2nd aid station.  I arrived at 3:00pm, I'd been running for 5 hours and covered 28km.... I got to see my family one more time at the next station, Alagna.  I arrived at 7:00pm, which means I would start by biggest climb in the day light.

I needed my head lamp about 1/2 way up the first long climb.  The first climb was an old decrepit Roman Road.  The climb was tough, the road was built into the side of a steep section of the mountain and rocks had slid down, taking out sections.  The best footing was along the outer edge, which had a steep drop onto boulders below.  I used my poles and kept a fairly steady pace, chatting with a few Italian racers along the way.  The decent was tough, it followed the same Roman Road, except now gravity and speed made it more challenging.  The "safer" part of the road was uneven and loose, the outer edge narrow.  I took it slow, forced myself to eat gels to stay alert.  The second long climb also came at night. This climb took us straight up the mountain, most of the time there was hardly a trail.  The top section was entirely rock, the wind had picked up and I layered up.  I stopped for a cup of tea at the aid station and left before getting too comfortable.  The other side of the mountian had more surprises.  Wooden boards and guide ropes bolted into the side of the rock to help navigate past the Mount Rosa statue.  I climbed down the other side and the ground was glistening.  Ice and snow!! Now I am Canadian, but this was steep and slick!  I moved slowly, ever so thankful for my poles and previous experience adventure racing....

By the time I reached the bottom and ran into the first aid station in Switerzland the sun had come up.  I had about 20k to go and the profile didn't look to bad.  I was optimistic until the aid station worker told me most people found this section the most difficult.  This section proved to be my test, I could see beautiful, groomed runnable trails, but not for UTMR.  We were sent up another "deer trail" to a traverse across the mountain, the trail was sloped with the occasional rock ladder to ascend/descend.  The final obstacle was crossing a rock slide.  I could see the orange markers across 30m of steep rock.  The rock was spray painted, I guess to suggest a route.  It was steep, I could't look to the right without getting the feeling I was on edge of a high diving board (and since getting older I don't like heights).  I had to get across.  "One step at a time".

Reaching the final aid station brought tears to my eyes.  I had one more decent to Grachen.  My legs, feet, and back hurt but I knew I was there.  I finished in 26:30 fourth female and 22 overall.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

the problem with FoMO

Let's start at the beginning of the year, 2016, I was taking a bit of a forced "off season" which I desperately needed.  Like several of us runners, I used this time to reflect my previous year and started planning my 2016 season.  There were a few changes I wanted to make, train more and race less, stay consistent, and avoid injury.  

Stacey and I entered the inaugural Ultra Monte Rosa in Italy September 2, 2016 and both of us got in :)  Our awesome sponsor, the North Face Canada offered to support us!!

I had raced in France in 2015 and realized I needed to learn a few things that would help us running in the mountains in Europe, such as how to use poles.  The Europeans are pole masters, getting them in and out of packs while running up and down technical terrain.  So Stacey and I decided we would work on using poles and quicker feet on technical terrain.  

Lets fast forward to May 2016....The race season has started, the weather is amazing and feels like summer already.  It seems everyone is racing, signing up for races or making plans to travel to amazing training camps.  Not that there is anything wrong with that, but what about my great early season planning?? Why am I so tempted to jump onto Ultra Sign Up only to become a race junky again?  This hasn't served me well in the past, I've raced overtired, overworked and undertrained enough times to know better.  I've even tried to enter a "race just for training" but really who am I kidding??

Stepping back from the hype and excitement around early races and sticking to the plan is the best thing for me.  I have incredible local trails, last week my tempo run looped through a winery and along a beautiful path beside Okanagan Lake.  I have Knox Mountain 5km from my house for hills, the Greenway and several mountains nearby for training, and friends wanting hours on the trails.  So I've decided to keep going with the plan, get some poles, train, and when September 2 rolls around, I won't be sidelined or missing out!!

~ got to run

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Chuckanut 2014 - Not my first time at this rodeo

This past Saturday I travelled to Bellingham with Sarah, Stacie and Daryl to run Chuckanut 50km.  This was my 4th time competing in this event.  Chuckanut is a competitive and relatively fast early season race.  I always seem to feel a bit behind in terms of training, compared to the costal runners.  Coming from Kelowna, the trails are just getting clear of snow.

This year I had a different approach to the race.  I wanted a steady strong effort and good finish but really wanted and needed a confidence booster.  I was coming off a DNF (I had dropped HURT due to medical reasons) and last year my racing was sporadic due to injuries.  I wasn't ready to lay it all out.

The race starts with a fairly flat 11km to the first aid station.  I reached the station in 4th (female).  Not too bad, I felt good and was chatting to my new running friend, Al.  After this section, the trail branches to single track climbing, not too steep, but steep enough the quads feel it.  Al took off on me flying up the hills.  This is not my best section, I could see other runners catching my up the switch backs.  I reached the next aid station and started to climb a steady road for 2 km or so and dropped to 6th female.  

Photo credit Glenn Tachiyama - heading down to aid station 2.
The thoughts started, I need to train more on hills, I need to work more on tempo, but this year instead of holding these thoughts I just let them roll on by.  I new my goal for this race was to do my own thing.  As well, a 50km race isn't decided at 15km, there was plenty of time.  I kept talking to other runners, enjoyed the weather and soft trails, knowing that my strength is the 2nd half of the run.  I made sure I was eating and drinking, assessed how I was feeling and enjoyed my time.

I started catching runners before Chinscraper, the final climb.  I was so surprised to see the 5th and 4th place girls who had passed me on the hills.  More surprised to pass the girl who was 3rd.  She eventually dropped.  Once the climbing was done, I knew I had the speed to fly down the hills .  I caught Al on the down hill and we pushed each other the final 11 km.  

Photo credit Glenn Tachiyama - climbing Chinscraper.
I finished this run, giving it that hard and steady effort and ended up 3rd female, 1st masters and a couple minutes slower than last year.   More importantly to me, I felt in control of my body and race the entire time.  It gave me that boost in my confidence but also ended up being so much fun!  It helped me remember that can rely on my experiences as a athlete and run my own race.  

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The North Face Challenge 50mile

I am very fortunate.  This past weekend I travelled with my hubby to San Fran to run TNF 50mile.  The race is held in the Headlands Park, the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge.  We stayed in Sausalito, a small community close by.  
I've had a couple injuries this year and wanted to run this race injury free, finish strong and stay injury free.  For me this means not going out too hard~

The race starts at 5:00 am, so we were up at 3:30 for breakfast and headed off.  It was cold, not BC cold, but still for CA, -2C is chilly.  The start/finish is at a hostel so when you arrive at the start it was dark and quiet.  A bunch of runners huddled around heaters...

I was put in the first wave with the elites. When the gun went off, all I could see was a steam of headlamps taking off and I thought I was at the end of the group...and basically ran alone along dirt roads in the dark.  The first couple hills felt bad, but that's typical for me.  It takes a while to feel comfortable and I stuck to my pace.  I went through the 2nd aid station and Kevin told me I was in the top 20 females.

The sun came up between aid 2 and 3.  I was winding up along mucky single track the ocean down below to the left.  Beautiful.

After station 4 there is an out-back section for almost 3 miles to aid 5.  This was the first time I go an idea where I was positioned in the race.  The lead men were on fire coming back wearing singlets and shorts.  I still found it cold and had a toque, jacket, and arm warmers on!!  After a while I saw the lead woman coming back, I wasn't as far back as I thought.  This section was challenging as the ground was icy and the trail was narrow and cut into the side of the hill.  Fine if you were the only one running but tough to pass and get around. 

We dropped down to the beach to station 6 (over 1/2 way!) and I was heating up.  I was so happy to see Kevin and drop my outer layers.  I knew the big "cardiac" climb was coming. At this point I had gained a bit of ground. Kevin told me I had gained a couple spots.

For me, getting over half way in a race is a big mental boost but for ultra runners, this is where the race begins.   I was able to pass a few girls over the next 10 miles.  The trails were fun, mostly single track and we ran through Muir Woods, the infamous redwood forest.  Amazing trail and scenery. 

By the time I reached about 10 miles to go, I was starting to feel real fatigue on the climbs.  It was hard to know who was running the 50 mile race as we caught the 50 km racers (always fun!!).  I knew there was still some more climbing to do and geared down, but also was thinking my position was pretty much established. 

On the final descent, 2 guys running the 50k gave me a push, which was very encouraging! I was able to finish strong and held my position.  I ended up 9th female, 8:11, and 1st in my age group. 

I feel fortunate for this amazing opportunity to run with so many strong elite women and I'm thankful for support of my sponsors, TNF and Wild Mountain Kelowna but also couldn't have done it without the support of my friends and family.

Friday, August 30, 2013

TransRockies Run 2013 ~ Let the beauty you love be what you do ~ rumi

Transrockies run is a 6 day stage race from Buena Vista to Beaver Creek CO.  I had teamed up with Stacey Cleveland for this adventure last summer after our one long run together...we both though it would be a great idea.  Fast forward one year, I needed almost 3 months off running this spring to recover from tendonitis in my foot and stared to run again in July.  I definitely had some doubts how running 6 days at elevation would work out.

For those who know me, the hardest part of this race was getting on the daughter was in tears at the airport, I was leaving for 8 days, while my husband was working and managing three different camps for the kids.  This was my first time flying out of country alone.  I was meeting up with Stacey at race check-in.  I spent one night at an airport hotel in Denver and met up with other runners (who became great friends) on a shuttle bus to Buena Vista.

Day 1:  20.8 miles, 2800 ft
No time for acclimating to altitude for this girt, the only advice I had to follow was drink as much as possible.  Day one started on a short road segment that led out of town.  We hit nicely groomed single track trail and dirt roads right away.  The scenery was amazing, red rock, pine, beautiful mountains.  The altitude was most challenging on Day 1, I felt light headed if we pushed too hard, so I just kept drinking :)  We went back and forth with Team FitSocks, a speedy team during the run.

The last part of the day was 5-6km on flat dirt road, we planned to hold our pace and let the speedsters go if they passed us.  At 800m we could hear them coming and decided to push and get Stage 1!!

Our first night in camp city followed, I'm not much of a camper and thought it best to choose a tent close to the line of portapotties, that was a mistake, as I heard the "creek and slam" of the doors all night...Then early the next day morning got a wake up call at 5:00am from an excited runner...

Stage 2: 13.4, 3200 ft.
I was looking forward to this stage from the beginning.  This stage involved climbing over Hope Pass, close to 13000 ft !!! The trail up the side of the mountain was entirely single track, so of course getting to that trail head in a good position helped.  Although the distance was only a 1/2 marathon, there was one climb, one descent and then about 6 miles flat and rolling.  The climb was beautiful, we passed through forested areas, across small creeks and then above the tree line.  The air was breezy and cold.  We power hiked most of the climb and then opened the legs on the descent.  
  The run ended near the town of Leadville, where we spent the afternoon in the only coffee shop and met up with Tina Lewis, a friend running the Leadville 100m later that week.  We avoided tent city that night by staying in Stacey's friends cabin.  I have to say I prefer a couch to the tent, just to wake up warm...

Day 3:  24.3 miles, 2800 ft.
Day 3 was probably the most challenging for me.  I knew it was a long stage with some long grinds on dirt roads.  I wanted to be over half way through the race.  We started with a climb and I needed to put my head down and work it out.  I told Stacey, "it's not you, I might just be grouchy for the first hour every day now..." Luckily, after the climbs there is always descents, and I love to hit "runnable down". The weather was perfect, sunny and hot at times, but there was always a wind to cool off.  Dave, Stacey's hubby followed us along this stage which was super encouraging.  We spread our lead and chatted most of the way (while after the first hour).  We ran into Nova Guides, our camp site for the next two nights.  I booked a massage to celebrate being 1/2 done and have some lotion rubbed into my dried out legs!! 

Day 4:  14 miles, 3700 ft
For a strange reason I woke up today feeling like I was ready to go.  Sure my legs felt tired and a bit sore, but no worse than any other day....We didn't have to pack up our tents so had a bit more time in the morning.  Team Fit Socks had been trying to stay with us the start of each day and unknown to my dear partner I decided "not today".  It was a short stage, why not??? I took off hard and fast and Stacey tagged along.  We pushed the climb, the craziest and steepest jeep road I've every seen, and had a blast descending.  The last section of descending was down a creek!!! Awesome!
The run ended in Red Cliff, a small mountain town with one restaurant, one hotel, etc.  We enjoyed tacos and beer and felt ready for bed by 11:30 :) 
 shuttle in/out of Red Cliff

Day 5: 33.6 miles, 4100ft
Day 5 started early again, 5:00 am wake up call from the "neighbour", putting my clothes in my sleeping bag to warm up, getting dressed with a camp light, layering in a down jacket, carrying our 50lbs. bags to the transport vans, breakfast, shuttle back to Red Cliff to wait for the start.  I was excited again, but promised Stacey no sprint starts today....We were running to Vail.  The trail was a combination of single track and road.  The single track was amazing.  Beautiful wild flowers, bright mushrooms, creeks to cross.  Stacey and I were feeling good and cruised through most of this run.  Once we hit the top of Vail, there was a short rock scramble and down-down-across and down- to get to the finish.  We could see the finish for a least 30 minutes before getting there!!
Vail reminded me so much of Whistler, same type of shops/restaurants/tourists.  They were shocked to see a group of us emerge from a creek and walk thru town to catch a shuttle to camp.  We showered at camp and had decided to and check into our hotel in Beaver Creek one night early.  

Day 6: 21.7, 5200 ft
Yeah!!!! Day 6, I was so excited for today, unfortunately, Stacey had developed a head cold and was not sharing the love....we probably should have gone for the hotel sooner.  This was my favourite stage; in every race I feel best towards the finish.  We climbed great single track out of Vail and ran with some friends we had made along the way.  Again the weather was fantastic, sunny, warm and windy.  At the top of the climb there were jeep roads for several miles and then a descent through a gorge of huge wild flowers (thistles) and creek crossings.  The difficult part was a second climb with sun exposure.  Stacey's cold was taking it's tole and it sounded like Darth Vator was chasing me....We slowed down and took our time on the climb and then blasted the descent into Beaver Creek!!

Overall, we won our stages and placed first female team.  Each stage has an awards ceremony and we received pink leaders shirts to wear all week.  This made for an exciting week.  I was so proud of our team work throughout the week. I had incredible support from home (friends and family) and my sponsors, Wild Mountain and The North Face!! 

What did I learn from this experience:  I love running in the mountains, the cold air, streams, and fast trails, the beauty all around.  The expressions and joy of other runners finishing the stages and sharing stories of the trail with my new friends, joy and beauty from the inside.  I am so happy to have this experience, travelling alone, and working on a team.   
Let the beauty you love be what you do~

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Chuckanut 2013, running a new age

Sometimes when I run it's an opportunity to reflect on changes in my life.  This year Chuckanut provided more of an awakening, like being doused with a bucket of cold water (not just freezing rain).  I turned 40 in December and I've run 2 races in my new age division, but my age didn't really make a difference.  Now, don't worry, this is not a post on "aging" I hope that won't come for a while.  No, this is more because I realized how things in my life have changed over the past few years.  Subtle changes, for sure, but sometimes they become more clear during an event like Chuckanut.  

When my kids were very young, running provided a break from the sometimes tedious daily tasks of being a mom.  It was a social outlet and there tangible results, I got back into shape after having babies, toned up, lost weight...  Now my kids aren't little, (7, 10, 12) they are fun to take new places, they motivate me during training and races.  My time is more precious with them as their lives start to fill up with school, friends and activities.  I want to share my experiences with my kids and hope they will go on and follow their dreams and passions.  I was starting to realize how fast time goes by, so cliche, I know...but this was the stuff rolling around in my head mid race!!  Mentally, I had checked-out!

Why was this running through my head during Chuckanut?  I'm not exactly sure, but I think because by age was relevant in this race - it counted that I was competing in the masters division - and it started a chain of thoughts such as-how have things changed since I turned 40?  Who knows, maybe I was hungry and should have forced down another gel :)  Did this change my approach to the race or how hard I was willing to push during the race? No, but it meant working hard during the mid section of the race to refocus on running and staying present.  That's an amazing thing about ultra running, you can rein in your thoughts, focus internally on breathing, pace, heart rate, pull it together and finish a good race.  Looking back at it, Chuckanut ended up being a great day, I placed 6th this year, last year I was 4th, but I took 11 minutes off my time from last year and finished in 4:33.  I had a great time traveling and meeting up with friends ~ it was also great to catch up with the family at home.

It's great to be learning new lessons and realizing new things about myself out on the trails :)  Next race, I'll be prepared to keep that focus.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

HURT, my first 100 miler...

I find if difficult to put my near 27 hour experience into words, so I will start at the beginning...I hope that sharing my story will provide some motivation for others to follow their passion.

HURT was my first 100 mile race, I was not selected in the first lottery and had put the race out of my mind (and budget) for the year.  In November, I was notified my name was drawn from the wait list and I stalled in responding.  It wasn't until the race director called my house and spoke with my 12 year old son that I actually confirmed the race.  Hard to refuse 3 super excited kids, now I had to get ready!!! 

Winter training is challenging and I would suggest not worrying about your gps or splits and go for time/effort.  I had a couple good friends willing to meet up and run long runs through snow and ice, looking for trails, often hitting logging roads.  Some runs I did on snow shoes.  While this is great training I was starting to wonder how this would play out in the hot and humid (not to mention technical) conditions in Hawaii. 

From the pre-race meeting to the awards banquet, HURT had a grass roots feel to the race which I love.  At the pre-race meeting, I hooked up with my fellow BC boys, Gary Robbins, Jason Loutit, and Matt Sessions.  It was great to see these guys several times on the course. 

Matt Sessions and Mel-pre race

The course consists of 5-20 loops divided into 3 main climbs and desents into aid stations.  The aid stations were stocked and so full of energy and because I hit them every 6-7 miles, I only carried one water bottle or used my camel back.  The race director indicated the course was well marked and we won't get lost if we followed the right colored ribbons.  The only problem with that was the course was so technical, I rarely looked up :)

All set....a little nervous!!

The start if kind of funny, right beside the row of portapotties...oh well... It was very dark in the trails and I needed my head lamp until the first aid station.  I enjoyed this part, so many people to chat with and follow along.  After the first station, I dropped my light and started running with another HURT newbie.  We had a similiar pace and chatted through aid 2 and started the return to home base.  I was suprised, I had moved into 1st place at that time.  Way too early to mean anything as there were still 4 loops to go. 

Unfortunately after the climb we missed a gate and continued back the same way we had run out in the dark.  We actually missed another turn and ran down the road too far...anyways we thought we had found the right trail and were headed back to the start, feeling great.  Until we ran into Jason Loutit who was coming up this trail and told us to turn around~ arrgh!!! We ran back at least 25 minutes to the gait where Jason sent us on our way.  I knew running mad or trying to make up time would only come back to bite me, so I let Daniel take off.  After lap 1, I tucked in behind Matt to regroup and spent an hour catching up.  I left him at the 1st aid station and started slowly moving up running with a few different people during laps 2 and 3.  I was getting worried about running this course at night.  Honestly, I have never run a more technical course and had already wiped out, gashed my hand, and been lost on my 1st loop!!

Water crossing into aid station 2

Fortunately, I had a put together a couple pacers to help keep me on the trail.  Rob Van Geen from the Big Island and Kevin Bos, my husband.  Rob is probably the happiest guy running I've ever met and knew the trails like the back of his hand.  Kevin is a cyclist, and his mountain biking skills were fabulous at chosing a good path through rooty/rocky sections.  They were able to pace for 2/3 of a lap each and then couldn't keep pace.  Still, having them on trail gave me a mental boost and I was able to finish the race on my own. My good friend Daryl Spencer was crewing every station, keeping me focused on moving forward and providing encouragement.   Once I was a bit more comfortable running at night, I found it was peaceful and enjoyed the cool air; of course my pace slowed but I felt comfortable.

My personal aid station and pacer Rob!!
The last section of my final lap was amazing.  As I climbed out of the final aid station the sun began to rise and I put my lights away.  I crossed a ridge section and could see the sun coming up, I knew I would be finished in less than an hour.  I felt giddy and happy, joked with other runners on course, made sure I went through the gait and headed home.  Crossing the finish line of your first 100 miler is an intense, raw, and emotional experience.  For me it was pure joy.