December 8, 2015

The end of year ultra trail party

It was four years since I had last raced The North Face Endurance Challenge San Francisco 50 miler (let's call it TNF50 in order to save some ink).  A lot seems to have changed in the sport of ultra running and in my own running career since then.  I mean, when I raced TNF50 in 2011 I met a new local runner called Jorge Maravilla at the start line, later that day I would pass him in the race despite the fact that he had a great run.  Yes, well lets just say Jorge would have to have a downright appalling day for me to beat him in a race now :) As a runner, I have gained a huge amount of experience in the last four years, it was not that in 2011 that I was without experience, afterall I had already won one Western States by then, but certainly I had far fewer achievements under my belt and far fewer miles of my legs.  For the most part I feel that the miles on my legs in the intervening years were beneficial this past weekend rather than a detriment.  Sure, some of those miles have caused injury and aches and pains, but they have also allowed me to become a more experienced, more confident and more aggressive racer.  I am sure that I was far less nervous standing at the start line in Marin Headlands this past Saturday than I was four years ago despite this years race being chock full of talent on both the mens and the womens sides.

It is 'interesting' that whilst my position (2nd) was exactly the same as four years ago my finishing time was a full 16 minutes slower this year than in 2011.  I am pretty sure that the course was identical so I could dwell on thinking that therefore I am not as fast as I was four years ago or that I did not have such a good race, but I'm not going to dwell on that because I feel that there are a few reasons why I ran slower this time around, and well - I just had a lot of fun on Saturday which is surely what it is all about :)  I will pick my race apart in due time to learn from my mistakes, but now is a time to just enjoy the memories of the day.

This year I had a rough start to the year but gained speed in the fall and six weeks ago ran a killer race (even if I do say so myself!) at Les Templiers 75km in France.  I won that race but had to fight hard to the line and when I got to the line I was smiling but wrecked.  I was also extremely motivated, after having not had a good race all year I was jumping up and down with excitement to have won a competitive ultra and so I did what I advise all my coaching clients NOT to do and I launched right back into training after Les Templiers.  I can honestly say that in the six weeks between Les Templiers and TNF50 I did not have one good run.  Speed workouts were slow but hard, long runs weren't as long as I had hoped for, and the thought of tempos went out the window when my Suunto seemed to malfunction and not go below a four minute kilometre ;)

Am I giving excuses?  No not really, just reasons.  I don't honestly know if I had trained smarter (not harder) between my two end of year races if I could have made up the significant 10 minutes between myself and race winner, Megan Kimmel.  Somehow I doubt it, and either way - I am very happy with my 2nd place finish and have enormous respect for the talent that Megan has.  I honestly just feel grateful to have found the ability to run on mashed up legs for much of the day and I am so thankful for having been able to share good chunks of the race day with wonderful ladies such as Anne-Marie Madden and Jo Meek.  I am also super motivated after seeing so many familiar faces out on the sidelines of the race course - Devon Yanko, Jo Zakrzewski, Hillary Allen, Meghan and Bryon, Topher, Stephanie ... the list goes on.

Just like after Les Templiers I have traveled home after the race feeling excited and pumped about ultra racing ... but this time around I'll make sure I sit on the couch and drink a beer or two, rather than hit a speed workout this Thursday.

Some photos below hopefully share a little more of the fun experience I had down in California this past weekend.

Checking out the course with my Salomon teammies pre-race.  Photo: Rickey Gates

Tourists snapping pics.  Myself, Anne Marie and Anna Mae.  Photo: Rickey Gates

Checking out the course with my Salomon teammies pre-race.  Photo: Rickey Gates

Heading out to McKinnon Gulch.  Photo: Rickey Gates
Failing to apply the brakes at the finish line.  Photo: Israel Archuletta

Finish line seat.  Photo: Israel Archuletta

Team Invitational winners?  Salomon ladies!  Photo: Israel Archuletta

Because it's really all about the after party at the 2am club!  Photo: Lindsay Hamoudi

October 29, 2015

Les Templiers

I knew that I had not had a great year of running so far, that was pretty darn obvious and I couldn't ignore the fact but it was not until I read the iRunFar race preview that the stark reality set in - I had not even toed the start line of a trail ultra in over a year.  Wow.

Needless to say I am overjoyed to have won Les Templiers 75k (well, it was 77k really but let's not get picky) in the Grands Causses region of France this past weekend.  Not only was the win fantastic but the race course was one of the most beautiful I have had to privilege to run on, and the organisation by Odile, Gilles and their team was second to none.  Merci a tous!  I spent a wonderful few days with new and old friends from all over the world - it was nothing short of amazing.

Thanks to iRunFar not only live tweeting race coverage on the day, but for also publishing my race report.  It can be found here.

Below are some photos to try share some of the amazing atmosphere of the event.  In my opinion, yes Chamonix and and the French Alps are stunning, but as a foreigner you are missing out big time if you think that that is all that France has to offer the trail running world.

Medieval villages nestled in the gorges are typical of this area.  Credit: self.
Cheese, cheese and more cheese!  At the race expo.  Credit: self.
Race start/ finish area and our accommodations at St Esteve.  Credit: self.
Sightseeing with my Saffa buddies.  Credit: Jock Green (as he has long arms ;))
Sightseeing with the Saffas.  Credit: self.
Team competitions were part of the fun.  On the ladies side myself, Jasmine and Malika took the European win.  Credit: Jasmine Nunige.
Start line focus.  Credit: DROZ Photo.
Les Americains!  Credit: self.

Village of Couvertoirade, typical of the Aveyron area.  Credit: self.
Comrades reunion!  With Nick Bester (Nedbank manager and former Comrades winner) and Jonas Buud (2nd place and multiple gold medalist).
Cruising section of the race.  Credit: Ski & Run.
Joyful trails.  Credit: Bruno Poirier.
Passing through a village water station mid race.  Credit: Ski & Run.
Finish line crowds at one of the other race distances over the 3 day run Festival of Les Templiers.  Credit: self.
Grinding the uphills.  Credit: Ski & Run.
The views weren't bad.  Credit: DROZ Photo.
With the wonderful Cassie Scallon, strong 4th place finish for my Salomon teammie.  Credit: Greg Salvesen.

Finish line thumbs up for the best trail journalist around :)  Credit: Bryon Powell/ iRunFar.

 Coming out of the darkness and into the first aid station.  Credit: DROZ Photo.
Having taken the lead, coming into 2nd aid at 48k.  Credit: Bryon Powell/ iRunFar.
Jasmin Nunige (Switzerland) pushed me all day.  A pleasure to race with her.  Credit: Bryon Powell/ iRunFar.
Top 4 women.  Cassie Scallon (4), Jasmin Nunige (2), self (1), Anne Lise Rousset (3).  Credit: Bryon Powell/ iRunFar.

September 20, 2015

Grinding Glaciers in Revelstoke

Having slowly been working my way back from niggling injuries (which are still far from 100% gone) I decided less than two weeks ago to race Glacier Grind 44k in Revelstoke this past weekend (a 5 Peaks race).  It was the perfect balance of being close enough to home that I could commit to the race not too far in advance, and yet it was far enough away from home that I'd get to experience the fun of racing on new-to-me trails.  The 44k distance and amount of climbing (around 2400m, and same of descent) was great too as it made it a good challenge yet not anything too extreme.

Speaking at the race briefing the evening before the race, with Adam Campbell.  Photo: Amy Golumbia
The race profile was relatively straight forward - complete an undulating loop of a few kms to warm up before hauling yourself up some huge mountain ascent that seemed to grind on for a very long time, play around in the alpine and some rocky sections for a while whilst admiring some pretty lakes swirling in the mist, before bombing back down the mountain on one crazy fun long descent to the finish line.

Alpine lake along the course.  Photo: Amy Golumbia
A runner in the swirling mist.  Photo: Steve Shannon Photography
 As usual I showed my weakness is long uphills climbs and I hiked a huge portion of that, but I was relatively good at just putting my head down and getting to work.  Well, I didn't put my head down entirely as we'd been warned at the pre-race briefing that there were both black and grizzly bears active in the area so my eyes and ears were open, but the most I saw was some fresh berry-filled poop on the trail and some footprints in the mud.  But the bears were definitely around with one racer I talked to having been (un)lucky enough to see 3 separate bears during the race.

Runners grinding their way up to Eva Pass.  Photo: Steve Shannon Photography
 The biggest kudos has to go out to the volunteers at this race and the Revelstoke National Park staff - whether they were runners from further afield or Revy locals, many folks stood out in the cold and drizzly rain for many hours to ensure that we stayed on track, didn't get eaten by bears, but did get to eat the usual aid station food.  It was a grey fall day and although it was warm at the lower elevations, by the time we were up at the high point of Eva Pass, I was definitely pulling out my jacket to stay warm on the descent over rocky slabs and through lush moss and fungi filled forests.

Volunteer ensuring we all arrived safely atop Eva Pass.  Photo: Steve Shannon Photography
 My friend Liza from Canmore led the female charge on the uphill and it honestly didn't surprise me - Liza is a strong and competitive adventure racer, mountain biker and runner - and well, she's just more of a mountain lady than I am.  But Liza and our fellow friend Fitzy were within sight on the final portion of the climb up to Eva Pass so I was hopeful that I could catch them both on the descent.  Unfortunately before I caught Liza I also caught my toe in some mud and before I knew it I'd splatted down onto a rock and bruised my knee.  To be honest I was more annoyed that my gloves were now super muddy and wet rather than bothered by my knee, but with a bit of on-the-run thinking I took off my wet gloves and instead used my arm sleeves to keep my hands warm.

Typical Fitzy ... and volunteer unicorn.  Photo: Steve Shannon Photography
Surface scrapes from getting a little too familiar with the trail.
 The final descent through what can only be described as an enchanted forest was far too much fun - a nice grade to pick up the pace and yet enough technicality to slow you down.  All the better was that on the final few kms of descent I caught a total of three men to secure an overall 4th place finish and 1st female.  Liza was not far behind over the line as 2nd woman.

Enchanted forest.  Photo: Stephanie O'Brien
All in all a great course, amazing volunteers, awesome to catch up with so many Banff/ Canmore buddies, and lots of fun to be back racing again - albeit at a low key event and still with much progress to make in terms of working through aches and pains, and working back to full fitness.

Top 3 ladies.  Photo: Jan Herman
Rainy Revy recovery run the day after the race.
Valley running in Revy.  Photo: self.
Pretty ceramic medal :)

September 7, 2015

It's been an uphill battle

Fair to say that 2015 has been a bit of a disaster in terms of my running so far.  I keep saying that there is still time to turn the year around but now sitting in early September I realise that the pages of the calendar are flicking over fast.  However, ever the optimist I'm determined to keep plugging away.  This year I've had niggling aches and pains and various little injuries here and there for what seems like most of the year and so I've struggled to attain the consistent training required to be in good running shape and racing fitness.  After Mont Blanc marathon in late June I came home to Canada hobbling with a messed up tibilais anterior and was ultimately forced to take a few weeks totally off running, not exactly what I'd had planned for the middle of summer when beautiful mountain trails were calling.  But instead I hit the tarmac of my road bike and like every injured runner in Vancouver - I climbed Grouse Mountain like a demon.  Grouse Mountain has various trails of about 3km in length which climb around 850m, and then there is the delightful gondola which whizzes you back to the bottom - allowing for a tough but very minimal impact workout.  It's a huge old powerhike and I'm not sure I've actually got any better at my poor climbing skills but it was certainly fun just to be on the trails, especially on the Grouse Quadruple Quad Crusher day with my buddy Jer (that's my made up event for completing the Grind, BCMC, Skyline and Flint & Feather trails all in one outing, about 12.5k with about 3200m of ascent).

Thanks to the orange helmet man for going on some very slow bike rides with me :)

Langley Medio Fondo.  88k ride in 3h00, it'll do for a rookie :)

Jer and I on our 4th climb up Grouse, the coffee after the 2nd climb was a life saver :)

A leisurely day above Elfin lakes with some of the most super people ever :)
Barcelona for some Salomon filming.  A manic trip but such fun and squeezed in a few ok runs like this.

But of course I was excited to get off the bike and speed the hiking up to running as soon as I could,  and have been slowly building up in the last month or so.  I've put no focus on running pace other than my weekly trail intervals with my running club, because in all honesty I'm in such a running state right now that even just building steady, easy running will get me in better shape.  A friend at our running club the other night asked me what pace I'm running tempos at,  erm ....  I don't run tempos (well I do, but definitely not right now).

Then a few weeks ago I heard about the inaugural Salomon Valley to Peak race being held in Vancouver - 20k with 1600m of advertised climb (it ended up being more like 1800m) and very little descent.  It seemed like a great fun event and a good race to test my legs on (non-ultra, little downhill pounding) so on Saturday my super buddy Anne Marie picked me up bright and early (thank you for helping me maintain my car free life!) and we drove the spectacular Sea to Sky highway to Whistler.  In all honesty I went into the race with no focus (I'd done 2 hikes up Grouse the afternoon before) but just keen to have a fun day and get my competitive mind set back.  Well, it was fun - once I got to the finish line!  No, I shouldn't say that - it was an amazing event but bear in my that my fortes lie in ultra distance running on flats or downhills - so for me this was pretty much a 2h40 suffer fest to drag myself up a mountain and focus that every km counted as there were only 20 of them in the race!  I think in part I need to learn that powerhiking is ok (and also get better at uphill running) as I just get despondent when I hike SO much.  The bulk of the climbing was done by the 10k mark so then spurred on my a flying glimpse of local trail runner Gemma cheering at an aid station, I then buckled down and blasted any short downhills and tried to push the flats.  It was all going great til the course markings got a little minimal and I took a few very brief wrong turns which knocked my mindset once again.  Adam Campbell (who had already finished the race and come back down the course to cheer) was met with a rather grumpy Ellie some 1km from the finish.  But by then the course was steep and rocky and he told me to 'get my hike on' - well, if Adam is telling me hiking is ok, I'll go with it :)
I don't recall this snow on race day - maybe that means I was actually focusing on running hard.  Photo: David McColm.

Whistler alpine is stunning.  Photo: David McColm

Enjoying a small amount of downhill :)  Photo: David McColm.

Finishing at over 2100m at the peak of Whistler with a bluebird sky day and a dusting of recent snow on the ground it was definitely one of the most spectacular finish lines I've been at, and even worth all that hiking to get there!  I came over the line 3rd place woman, which is really neither here nor there since my aim was simply to toe the start line of a race in a beautiful setting.

With Eric (2nd male), Will, Anne Marie (1st female) and Tom at the finish.

I hardly dare say it but for now the rehab seems to be going well and running progressing slowly but steadily.  As such I'm hoping to keep training sensibly but consistently with the aim of toeing a few more race start lines before years end.

After my finish at BMO Vancouver Marathon back in May (just 3 days after losing a hand cast post hand surgery) my running club coach described me as 'perseverance in motion', so I'm keeping that in mind and will hike and bike as much as needed to maintain the motion whilst I get back to running, but I'm not giving up on this running thing quite yet!

Playing around in the alpine with Tom & AM post race.  Photo:  Anne Marie Madden.

Post race cool down.  Photo: David McColm.