August 31, 2017

A good old fashioned foot race

A couple of weekends ago I toed the line at another race for a bit of fun and in an attempt to try work my way back to fitness.  I had never raced Squamish 23k before, although in past years I had raced the 50k and 50 mile distance, but both of those are beyond my capability levels right now and so instead it was time to attempt to run fast and yet what is also a long distance for me currently.  It was a weird mixture of having to remind myself to work harder and push a higher intensity on trails that I am used to exerting an ultra effort on, and yet I also knew that I am not really fit enough right now to really push hard for 20+ kms.

The gun went off and so did the front of the field, I had placed myself a little bit back as I didn't want to get in the way of the handful of speedsters who I knew would be considerably faster than me.  Not surprisingly my super fit and speedy buddy Anne-Marie pulled ahead right away but I was a little disheartened to see my other buddy, Ramsey Ezzat, running stride for stride with AM up the initial climb.  My last experience of racing with AM & Ramsey was at my last ultra, Chuckanut 50k in 2016, and during that race we had spent a bunch of time together as a happy little trio trudging up Cleator Road together and yet now it was clear that (a) I was much slower on uphills than them and (b) this was a sub-ultra race and I didn't have the speedy wheels that they did.  Hey ho, a reminder to focus on running my own race.  I had only had a couple of loose goals heading into the race - position was not one of them as I had no idea of the other ladies racing and nor did I have a time target as I had never run the race before.  So instead my goals were to run as hard as I could and to aim to be just under ten minutes behind AM at the finish, a sensible target given we had raced together two weeks previously so I had a gauge on our relative speeds, it wasn't that I was racing AM but I just wanted to use her as a good motivator to work hard.

The nice thing about Squamish 23k compared  to the two other races I have done so far (Buckin' Hell 15k and Green Race 25k) is that Squamish was a bit of a bigger race and so I had fellow racers in sight for 99% of the race.  This made it easier to work harder, to strategise and to stay focused on pushing a good effort.  In the early kms of the race I zig-zagged back and forth with a good little group of men and women and this was great to keep the energy levels up.  Compared to Green Race where the long 12.5k uphill didn't really play to my strengths, the Squamish course weaves up and down, back and forth - it's fun, it's dynamic and it keeps you constantly changing gears.  It reminded me how much I had missed running on these trails and whilst I typically lost contact with the runners ahead of me on each small uphill, I was still pleased with my ability to rally and run more uphills than I hoped.

AM has won SQ23k every darn 6 years the event has been held.  Amazing.  Photo: SQ23.

 However I soon got a little confused along the race course - each twist and turn would bring back memories of having raced the 50k and 50 miler here, and yet it didn't make sense - these landmarks were really close to the finish and yet I had only just started racing.  Something just didn't add up.  It was then that the reality hit, yah - 23kms used to be the finishing push in a race for me, and now it was my entire race course.  Ok, ok - best to not just think about that, afterall I had more things to be concerned about - like the fact that I was 11kms in and could I really carry on at this effort for another while 12kms?  I really wasn't sure.  Having done no tempos runs at yet, running this distance at a higher intensity was well out of my comfort zone and so I was grateful that at this point I started to catch Ramsey and have some company to distract from my fears.

From there on til the finish, Ramsey and I would shift back and forth - he'd pull ahead on an uphill, I would rally and often catch him on a downhill.  Whilst my cardio fitness and leg strength for uphills are currently lacking, it was fun to be able to weave through the roots and rocks somewhat proficiently on the downhills.  The final 2kms or so of the race course end on some very flat tarmac and gravel trail.  As I headed onto this long drawn out straight away I saw Ramsey's bright blue shirt ahead of me - ok, time to put the hammer down for a head to head.  I can honestly say that that was one of the highlights of my race - my lungs were burning, my arms were pumping and my legs felt like they would not hold on for very much longer at all, and yet I caught Ramsey, we both passed another runner, and then Ramsey re-caught me before we both stumbled, pretty worked, over the finish line.  As Ramsey so perfectly put in a text message to me later, 'Thanks for the good old fashioned foot race today.  Good to be able to see you able to push that hard too'.  There is nothing more fun than a head to head with a friend and there is no better way to really work on your fitness than chasing right to the line.

Womens podium: AM, me, Vivian (despite a little detour!).  Photo: SQ23.

August 8, 2017

Baby races

Running in Castlegar ahead of The Green Race 25k.  Photo: Martin Cai.

So after very, very, very little racing in 2016 I launched off my 2017 race season with a local 15k trail race ... in July.  Sometimes I find it's better that I don't over analyse that sentence as it's just not exactly encouraging.  Sure, I have since followed that 15k race up with a 25k race just two weeks later - but that still amounts to just 40 kilometres with a race bib on ... when I used to consider a 42.2k race as a mere training event.  In 2012 I raced a total of 950kms ... in 2017 I have so far raced 910kms less and I can't see that I will be making a huge dent into that 'deficit' in the remaining three months of the year.  I guess that's ok.

Buckin' Hell 15k finish line with a couple of local running friends.  Photo: Scott Robarts.

I guess I should be a little optimistic - I mean, I have managed to string together some weeks of running that made me think I could race 25kms and not suffer too many injury setbacks afterwards.  I say not too many as I am far from running without any aches and pains.  Sure, I know many of you reading this will say 'well, I always have aches and pains, get on with it' and that has certainly been the reasonable feedback many folks give me - but I just don't know how much discomfort in the form of possible injuries I'm prepared to run and race through.  Time will tell.  For now I am still a very long way from creating anything that resembles a training plan or a race schedule, and I am still very unsure if I will be able to reach the minimum distance (50k) that is required to be able to call myself an ultra runner again.  But most weeks I am trying to add a couple of kms to my long run and I will see if I can build on that week on week.  I have made it up to a long run of 33kms so far - I almost died but didn't - so that's a positive!  I have also been making it back to my run club weekly trail intervals which was a huge goal of mine as I love those workouts and those are definitely what is needed to try get me back in any sort of shape again.  You may think that getting back into running shape is easy but I assure you, it's not.  To put things in perspective - I ran 25kms on July 1st of this year and that was my longest run in 14 months (since BMO Vancouver Marathon in May 2016) - yah, my endurance is shot, my legs are not strong and you can now see why I am unsure if I can build to ultra distances quite yet!  But I'll keep plugging away and see where the coming months and years take me.  Weekly strength work with my trainer (Michelle) is a big part of that too.

Hill repeats with VFAC.  Photo: Nic Browne.

I certainly have made enough progress that I only see my physio every two to three weeks now (yay time and money savings!) and I am hoping to start working back with my running coach as I feel I have a somewhat shaky but still workable base that we can springboard from to get me back running a little faster and maybe even further.  In the two races I have run so far I had no goals other than making it to the finish line as fast as my current fitness would allow and not getting injured.  If I came dead last - fine, so long as I was exhausted and no more injured at the finish than I was at the start.  I successfully achieved these goals at both Buckin' Hell 15k and The Green Race 25k, and came 2nd in both (against some great runners)!

As many runners might be starting to wind down their race season, I'm hoping I can soon get out of the starting blocks without too many false starts.  But that's ok, because running has no seasons - it's a lifestyle and one super lifestyle that I hope I can lead again, ideally in the not too distant future.

Making my way up the 1200m climb of Mt Sentinel in The Green Race 25k.  Photo: The Green Race.

Dr, race winner, Salomon teammie, friend.  With AM in the smoky Kootenays.