August 24, 2010

Where are my road shoes anyway? Edmonton Marathon Race Report

It was the usual sort of scenario that got me to the start line of the INTACT Edmonton Canadian Derby marathon this weekend. A friend sent me the link to the website, I figured it was a fast course and it was in my new home province so why not? Always fun to try a new race and winning Calgary marathon in May had got the road running bug back into my legs and mind. Of course, before August 22nd rolled around I had got myself in way too many trail races and instead of my initial thoughts of training specificially for a road marathon I once again found myself tapering down from ultra-trail mileage and quickly trying to get some turn over back into my legs in prep for the marathon.

Despite being in my home province, Edmonton is still a good 5hr drive from Banff but it was a fun road trip and Mike and I soon arrived at our accommodation for the weekend - Mrs. Cherniwchan is an 83yr old Ukranian lady and a close family friend of Mikes, and simply the best person to stay with for a race. We had food in our mouths practically before we were in the door and the beds were snug and warm with 100s of covers like no hotel bed ever can be.

Saturday afternoon was spent eating, relaxing, picking up race number and checking out the expo. The expo was small but I spotted a booth selling compression socks and calf sleeves. I'd been looking into getting some for a while and as my legs had been feeling pretty lead like after hoping back on the running band wagon pretty much right after Death Race I soon snapped up a pair of calf sleeves and figured I needed all the help I could get. For some reason the pre-race fuelling led us to West Edmonton Mall (largest shopping mall in the world. I hate shopping) and into the fun-fair area where Mike and I got our competitive mentalities honed on a few rounds of 'whack-a-mole'. I am sure that such a game can only be found in Alberta! Later in the day a friend of Mikes was kind enough to drive us around a good portion of the race course, which although I never think essential it was great during the race to have an idea of the course and landmarks ahead. Having not slept much the few nights prior I was in bed by 9.30pm, asleep by 9.35pm and the next thing I knew my alarm was blaring at 5.30am.

It was a short and worryingly bumpy 30min drive to race start where we could park within 100m of the race start/ finish at Northlands horse racing track. The reason for the bumpy ride become evident as we parked up and realised Mike's car had a flat, oh well - we had a race to run and car mechanics could be dealt with later!

The race venue at Northlands was awesome - tonnes of indoor space, lots of parking and well laid out. After a quick few hellos to some Vancouver friends who were also racing the full and the half, we made our way to the start line for the 7.30am start. A quick rendition of O Canada and we were off! I was confident to go out in the front of the pack as I was hoping I could scrape together a 2:55 or so finishing time despite the Death Race legs, and if I could post that time I figured I would be in top 10 to 15 runners overall. That said, I went out a little too strong and at the 1km mark posted 3:49 - oops, best calm down a little as I was meant to be on 4:08 kms! I reined in the pace a little and settled into a rythm and kept diligently checking my splits at each km. I was a little up but getting back on track and noted that Mike, who was out for a training race and aiming for 2:59, was on my shoulder. I yelled at him that we were 2mins up on my pace and this was only about the 5km mark, but I knew it would be easier for me to tell Mike to ease of his pace than for him to actually do that!

The course basically goes out and back to the start and then out in the other direction and back again, and pretty much remains pancake flat the whole way. On a map it looked simplistically dull but with the main route being along a pretty tree lined street, through shopping and well-to-do residentital areas it was suprisingly scenic. And of course the advantage of any such route is the steady stream of runners moving in the other direction to distract you when the going gets tough.

I passed throguh the 21km (and therefore almost 1/2 way) mark in 1:23:50 and had a little chuckle at myself. I have not run many half marathons so my PB is a not overly speedy 1:23:34, and now I was cruising along in a marathon only seconds off that. Although I realised this was a fast split I wasn't too concerned as I'd got 2mins ahead of pace in the very early kms and since then had held much closer to my intended 4:08 kms.

Because both of the turn arounds were loops it meant I couldn't see where 2nd place female was behind me so for all I knew she could be 20 seconds or 20 minutes back. This in a sense was good as it meant I never relaxed and never took my lead for granted, I just had to keep pushing in case I only had a small lead. Come the 30km mark I rather feared that my Death Race legs might get the better of me. I was tiring and thinking that maybe I had gone out too fast but I so didn't want to look stupid and post a slow finish to the race, so I dug deep and nestled in with a small pack of men and ploughed on. The 3 guys were chatting away as if they were out on a Sunday morning training run and I was rather glad that they didn't spark up too much of a conversation with me, as I was clearly breathing and working a lot harder than them!

I can vividly recall the last 8kms of Calgary marathon (in May) being tough, like really, really pushing-it-to-the-brink tough. But this time that toughness never really quite got me. I was pushing hard, I couldn't go any faster and I now just wanted to get this race done, but I was always in control and feeling mentally strong. At 36kms we hit the only hill of note in the race but with marathoners now in steady flow in the other direction they cheered me along and got me up the hill. By this stage I was churning out pretty solid 4:00kms and knew that if I could hold that pace that a sub 2:50 time was on the cards...just. I was blown away that I had come to this race really thinking my legs were toast and now a landmark PB might be happening.

For the final few kms I was urging on the next red km marker and toeing behind the lead-female bike. I had two bikes with me for good chunks of the race, both were ladies and it was great to have a little female company on the road :)

I pulled into Northlands, spotted the tower that I knew was near the finish line and powered in focusing on that. I was passing half marathoners and peeled into the finishing chute seeing 2:49:40 on the clock. There was no way I was letting that clock hit 2:50 before I was over the line so a final sprint push brought me over the finish line at 2:49:57 (or 2:49:54 chip time). Wow! I was stunned at my time and the fact that 2 TV cameras and 3 mikes started following me around until I could compose myself enough to spout out some incomprehensible-elated-excited-shocked-finish-line-ramblings.

Overall I am stoked with my result. The course is undoubtedly fast - very minimal elevation and not too many twists and turns. However I had not specifically marathon trained, my legs were not feeling chirpy pre-race, and although lower than Banff, Edmonton is still at 2200ft. I would totally recommend this race to anyone; the venue is awesome, the course scenic, the field large enough but not huge, the post race brunch tasty and the welcome from the elite director Brian Torrance superb. A few other things to note:

- Have you ever had blueberry perogies day before race day? Me neither, but they worked (thank you Mrs. Cherniwchen)
- Calf sleeves - I raced in them, they felt great, I'd wear them again. Hard to tell if they helped but I'd like to think they did.
-Congrats the Marilyn Arsenault, Katherine Moore, Mike Palichuk and all other sea dwelling Vancouver-ites who raced with less oxygen than they are used to. Nice work!
-A post race brunch of eggs, pancakes, fruit and coffee included in race entry and consumed sitting on real seats in a marquee is awesome for an event of this size!
- It takes a really long time to drive from Edmonton to Calgary at max 80kms/ hr on a spare tyre :)

Happy running and enjoy the end of summer (or at least that's what it seems like with the chilly mornings here in the beautiful Canadian Rockies)

Ellie x

August 7, 2010

Your Favourite Trail Race!

So often I talk to a friend or read a magazine and find out about some awesome race....the day after it took place. Hurumph, means you have to wait a full year to go run said race, far too long for any impatient runner. I mean there are the big races that everyone hears about but there are so many other little gems out there too that are just fun to be part of. So let's get this discussion going...what's some neat race that you've done, got on the cards or are hoping to get into? Doesn't have to be big, doesn't have to be official, certainly doesn't have to be an ultra.

For my part, it's the Rubble Creek Classic held nr Whistler, BC on Sept 26th this year. 26kms, but oh my, it's one massive climb, the fun n flat and oh so scenic alpine cinder flats, and then one blasting, knee crushing descent. Big on scenery, low on hype and only one friend cracked some ribs last year! rubble/

Please leave your comments, I'll look forward to seeing if there are any...when I'm back in from my run...

Happy Trails,
Ellie x

August 3, 2010

A Date with Death. 125kms of Mountain Magic

Eight short weeks ago I was kindly offered a spot in the Canadian Death Race in Grande Cache by the Alberta North Face rep (TNF sponsor the event). I ummed and ahhed, took the plunge and then began haring madly up any hill in sight in my quest to become a mountain ultra runner in less than 2 months. This would be my longest race to date and with 17, 000ft of elevation change it wasn't going to be a walk in the park, but more a hike up a mountain (or two).

Come race day I was pretty confident that I would finish the race when I listened to many people (who promised that the race was not as deathly as the organisers tend to imply) but still knew that only about 1/3 of starters completed to full race in 2009 and had warning from some who said it was one seriously challenging enterprise. Needless to say after the 6hr or so drive from Banff with my friend Mike I arrived in Grande Cache feeling much nervous anticipation. We arrived middle of the day, day prior to the race, but the afternoon seemed to zip by with package pick up, prepping drop bags, pre race meeting etc. But my most important task that afternoon was to meet up with the Adventure Science guys who were doing a study on gait analysis at the race and had got me on board. They filmed me doing some short runs to camera and I answered some surveys for them, they also explained the questions that they would need to ask me at each of the 5 aid stations on the race course. It was a great way to feel part of a team and importantly the Adventure Science folks would act as my crew at the aid stations. This was a big relief as Death Race has only one drop bag on the course (at 87.5km) so having access to gear at 4 other points would be invaluable rather than having to rely on aid stations.

Death Race is a little unusual for an ultra in that it starts at 8am in order to allow as many racers as possible the 'oppotunity' to run in the dark! This is just one indication that Death Race is a little quirky. The other main quirk is that at 110km you take a jet boat across the Smoky River, but only if you have not lost a silver coin that you are given at the start. No coin, no boat ride and you are DQ' 110kms into an 125km race! Many competitors run Death race as a 5 person relay so I would hate to be a relay runner that loses your teams coin!

The 8am start and the fact that Grande Cache is a small, isolated town meant that setting the alarm for 6am was plenty time to crawl out of the tent, wolf down some breakfast and head over to the start line. Lots of locals were already lining the streets and starting their cheers 'Go Death Racer' that we would hear throughout the day.

As the gun went off (a mountie firing a rifle into the air - this is small, mining town Alberta afterall!), we raced over the line and jostled to get a good position on the opening 1.5km road section before we squeezed into the trail. With 418 solo starters and probably about the same number of relay teams it was a busy start to an ultra. I immediately fell alongside Denise McHale who introduced herself and we chatted on and off for the first leg. I knew that Denise would be my main competition and that being an adventure racer she had far more experience at long duration racing. Everyone had warned that with a net downhill over 19kms that on leg one it is easy to go out too fast so I checked that I was taking it easy. Pacing, pacing, pacing would be key to finishing this thing. On the first small inclines I saw Mike ahead of me slow to a power hike, I took note and followed suit - no need to try run the hills now - save the legs for later.

The first aid station was a zoo, I ran in, filled my hydration bladder with water from the aid station and then moved along to the Adventure Science tent which stood out nicely. There I popped gatorade powder into my bladder, took some extra bottles and answered their survey questions whilst draining a coke and grabbing a bag of chips. I was pumped and moving fast until one of the crew, Keith, said 'you've only been in 2mins'. Ok, I could slow a little and make sure I refuelled properly. For legs 2 and 4 I had planned to use my poles, Ally thrust them into my hand pre-set at the correct height, wow - this crew were pros!

I headed out and was excited to be getting really into the race with the 1st 'easy' leg done. As I didn't know the course I wasn't sure where the real climb up Mt Flood would start but I soon adjusted to running with my poles in my hands even if I wasn't really using them on the flatter sections. I can honestly say that even so soon after the race there are whole sections I cannot recall at all and the climb up Flood and Grande are two of them. I have brief recollections, chatting to Clint who I know from Banff, advising an ultra runner on how to try recover from already being sick, passing a runner who was struggling, but other that that I have vast chunks of amnesia about this section of the race! I can only put this down to the fact that I was so focused on the task in hand that I really was not taking note of the surroundings like I normally would. I do recall heading down Grande, a famed steep and teacherous descent. I met up with Simon (Denato) and Steve (Russell) at this point and it was great to chat and follow in Steve's confident steps down the dusty and sometime rocky, steep, steep trail. Leg 2 circles back to the start/ finish line in downtown Grande Cache so I enjoyed coming in and being cheered along by spectators. Again, it was a quick transistion as I Denise was literally seconds behind me and I headed out to leg 3 for 19kms of running with total 1000ft of elevation loss.

I enjoyed leg 3, it was easy to check off the kms and feel that you were making real progress, there was a rubbley descent that reminded me of the North Shore trails in Vancouver and then we hit grassy sections and what looked like prime bear territory! When I saw some bear poop and what I was convinced were bear prints I started hooting and hollering as a cruised along pretty happy (I later found out that a friend had been charged by a bear on this section during a training run!). I crept up gradually on Ricky, a young US guy with only 4 marathon finishes under his belt who was out attempting his first ultra. It was super to chat with him for about 15mins as we plodded along, he was so eager and as a 2:26 marathoner with such an obvious love of running I really hoped he would do well.

The aid station at end of leg 3 marked the 65km point. I rolled in at 6:49. One of the questions Adventure Science asked us at each station was 'Are you exceeding or meeting your expections?' At this point I was far exceeding my expectations but a little leary that I may have gone out too fast. I was feeling the heat a little (it was 3pm and super sunny), I was only half way and I had the infamous Hamel mountain looming. To top it off I looked up and saw that my friend Phil (Villeneuve) had dropped. Seeing Phil at this point was proably the toughest part of my race day, if he had dropped what was in store for me? But I knew that I was going to finish this race even if I had to crawl to the end, I'd not signed up to go away without my finishers silver coin and I didn't care what I had to do to finish.

I zipped out and up onto leg 4, poles once again in hand. I was blown away by the fact that I was now 2nd overall in the race, with only the demi-god of ultra running Hal Koerner about 30mins ahead of me. The first section up Hamel was lush and leafy and jungle like but very steep so I was talking to myself to keep going and chuckling at the thought of Hal Koerner being the only soloist ahead of me, certainly not soemthing I had envisioned pre-race day! Emerging from the forest at the base of Hamel I continued to power hike and was blown away my the amazing mountain scenery - rocky, rubble trails, views for miles and the sight of stick-men like vollies silouhetted on the ridge that we were making our way up to. There was no way I was running this, but I hiked as fast as I could knowing that Denise was probably still close behind. On the ridge there was a short out and back section before we began the rocky descent down. Denise was no longer in sight and I was now running totally solo, save for the occassional relay runner. My hydration bladder was drained so I stopped and refilled it with water from bottles in my pack and willed myself to run the flat sections even though even the slightest incline was now proving a challenge. I clearly recall the 80km marker and mentally noted that I was feeling pretty ok about the thought of another 45kms to go, now that the main climbs were over. Soon I popped up to the drop bag station manned by vollies at the start/ end of Ambler loop. I set out to do the 5km loop and once back grabbed my headlamp from my bag and dumped my empty bottles. At the pace I was going I doubted I would need the headlamp but it was race rules and who knows what could happen over the now 32.5 remaining kilometres. As I headed out of Ambler I saw Denise come in, ok - that meant she was 30mins behind me but I knew I should keep pushing in case she had a strong finish. I barrelled down the dirt road, great downhill grade to pick up the pace and soaked up the cheering and shouts of 'Go Death Racer!' from locals passing by on their quad bikes. At 100km I popped out of the trails and into the roadside ditch for 2kms to the 4th and final aid station.

By this point I was totally pumped. Jason of Adventure Science had been my main crew for the day and exceeded himself at this point. He told me to come get my coke (which I'd forgoten about by this point) and he had tipped out the contents of all my drop bags for me to see. Seems a minor thing but my this stage I coudl hardly recall what I had in the bags so to have it all laying there on the ground for me to pick and choose was awesome! I had contemplated changing shoes and socks here as my feet had begun to fell it a bit of the last leg, but now I think I was so pumped all pain had gone. I left the aid station, spirits high and said to Jason, 'I'm on 11:21, I've got 3hrs and 23km to get this course record'.

Immediately out of the aid station was a steep hike and I spotted a guy coming down, he was confused by the routing but I said I'd seen no other flagging anywhere so we carried on up. The trail soon levelled to beautiful single track traversing the hillside in a forest. It rolled up and down and I'd got energy back in my legs so was even running the hills. My only concern was there was zero flagging. The course had been immaculately marked all day and I was cursing the fact that we were now so close to the end and I was doubting the route. Luckily I had packed the course map so pulled it out and was reassured that I was going to right way. 10kms soon passed and I dropped to river level, handed my coin over to the ferry man (I hadn't lost it - phew!) and soon I got a personal jet boat ride across the river. The river had steep canyon walls and with the light diming at about 8.20pm it was simply stunning. I hoped out the boat, thanked the vollies and hiked up the trail. Was Denise catching me? Could I snag this CR? Could I get sub 14hrs? I had so many things to keep me pushing and with the finish line almost in sight and the evening light fading on the beautiful flat to rolling Sulphur Rim trail, I truly was loving this race even in the closing kms.

There was a final uphill on dirt road which I hiked and then out I was on the tarmac of Grande Cache. Even though I didn't know the road I knew it was a small town so the end must be in sight. I turned the corner, saw the finish line and sprinted (well, it felt like it even of it might have been more of a hobble!). Final time: 13:28:39! 2nd overall! New women's CR by 52mins! I'd even broken the previous mens CR! - of course so had Hal Koerner (in 12:45:38) but that meant I had run the 2nd fastest time ever on the Canadian Death Race course!!

Canadian Death Race is one beautifully scenic and challenging course. Not once did I get bored as the course was ever changing and challenging. The volunteers and community of Grande Cache are exceptional - never have a felt a race take over a town so much and be truly welcomed and appreciated by the community, from honking their horns when they saw you running the short stretches of highway, to the local church organising the breakfast before the awards, they fully embrace and welcome the race.

Check out the race website, details of Adventure Science and an interview with the Calgary Herald at:

World 100km Championships Here I Come!

After much waiting (or so it seemed to an imatient runner!) I found out last week that I have been selected for Team GB for the World 100km road running Championships in Gibraltar in November! My time at Elk Beaver got me on the team and it is still taking time to sink in, afterall only one year ago I was daunted at the prospect of running 100kms anywhere, let alone at the World Championships! The only thing that is really daunting now is the thought of running that far on tarmac! Still, I plan to mix up my training with plenty of mileage on flat, fast trails, along with road running and even getting back on the treadmill in part to reduce the impact on my body and in part to get some variety in. Also if anyone knows anything about Gibraltar it is likley that is basically a rock in the sea on an incline! This had me worried on what the course might be like (just how many loops and how hilly!) but I have since found out that it is pretty flat 7 loop course - phew!
I am so looking forward to representing GB, wearing the team kit, taking my training to a new level and racing with the best from all over the world (including lots of Canadian and US friends).

More officialdom about the race can be found at: