May 31, 2010

Marathon Madness

Ok, so I'm afraid that this post is entirely about a road race but I'm a true believer that road running benefits trail running and I still enjoy the challenge of road racing! There is something so fun about racing against the clock, checking kms splits and going for a PB that is way easier to do on roads rather than trails.

When I moved to Banff in the fall I decided to run Calgary as it is my new home city marathon and I have not finished a road marathon since Victoria in October 2008 (I dropped out of Vancouver with injury in May 2009). I had already trained for Elk Beaver 100km four weeks prior so there would be no need to really train for Calgary in terms of mileage, I could just show up and hopefully put in a solid effort. Pre-race day I was aware that I lacked any speed training at all - I had focused so much on mileage that any concept of short yet fast training runs had long gone out the window. I had clocked 3h07m at the 42km split in Elk Beaver and had then continued to run another 58km, but even so would I have the speed to run much faster over 42.2km? Well, I decided to make a good stab at it and prepped my pace band for 2:55:00, with my existing marathon PB being 2:55:18 from Vancouver in 2008.

I was lucky enough to get a comp elite entry from elite organiser Jeremy Deere, one of the main benefits of which was having elite bag check right at the start with no lining up. I drove down to Calgary the day before the race and the closer we got the Calgary the worse the weather got. Low clouds were rolling in, the sky was grey and as the temperature barely hovered above zero the percipition that started to fall was as much snow as rain. Hmm, not exactly the weather I had hoped for but not much could be done other than figure out how many layers to wear!

Come race morning however as I peaked out the window just after 5am, I was pleasantly suprised to see that it looked like a dry and slightly bright morning and although it was still only 2 degrees it felt much warmer as it was dry. I wolfed down my standard pre-race brekkie of a bagel with peanut butter and a cup of tea, wanting as much time for my stomach to settle before the race. The race start area was less than a 2km walk from our hostel so it was good to stretch the legs and also preview the surrounding streets of the race start/ finish. I did an easy warm up, saw some familiar faces and then got in behind the start line, even with the half and full marathons starting at the same time the elite field was pretty small so I was close to the front.

The gun went off and we were away! I was careful not to get carried away with too fast a start but it was hard to guage my pace when I have not road raced in so long and didn't know any of the runners around me. I only knew Graeme Wilson of Vancouver, a sub 2:30 marathoner so I just made sure that I stayed well back from Graeme! First km I was a little fast - 3:50, when I needed to hit 4:08's but it was slightly downhill so I wasn't too worried. In the first few kms I was glad to see that the km markers were super clear and although I was a little fast I soon reined it in so by 5km I was about 1min up on a 2:55 finish time but back on track in terms of pace.

As the marathoners and half marathoners ran the first 13km or so together until the half marathon route branched off, I was trying to guage who was in which race. I got into a good rhythm with a female half marathoner and there were a handful of men around us but I didn't know if any women marathoners had gone off ahead. When we got to where the half marathoners branched off I just prayed that some of the men were marathoners, but as they all peeled away I realised they weren't and now I had one marathoner male about 100m ahead of me and he was the only racer I could now see. Ok, this would be tough if I was going to have to road race solo! At about 14km we hit a significant hill - a steady climb for about 1km that I had seen on the route map but this didn't worry me. Although I would class hills as my weakness in trail racing, I think I'm better on them than most roadies! So I climbed up and had caught the guy in front so at least now I had some company, plus when I crested the hill I saw a lead cyclist waiting for me - not only company but 100% confirmation that I was lead female. The cyclist immediately asked me my name and right away I knew she was going to be critical in my race, not only would I no longr feel like I was running alone but throughout she gave me helpful hints, like calling out my pace having checked that I didn't have my own GPS. After a few kms working our way through the university I had lost the male runner and had settled into my pace and the rolling terrain. The hills were nothing drastic but some nice ups and downs to break up the monotony. I was checking my km splits every 2km or so and was glad to see I was on pace for sub 2:55 finish but I was also feeling like I was running the unknown, having not specifially trained for a marathon. What is I crashed and burned? What if this pace felt fine now but I fell apart at 30km? But on the other hand I knew that if I wanted to try get 2:55 finishing time then I had to take a leap of faith and go out at that pace.

At half way there was a weird out and back in a cul-de-sac where we crossed over a timing mat and it also allowed me to see that 2nd place woman was probably a little over 1min behind me. I wasn't phased when I saw her as I was happy with my 1:26:47 split and knew if I could keep up this pace I was on for a PB. We then headed through what I found to be the toughest section of the race. We went into a nice residential area with large houses and yards but this was at about 9am on a Sunday morning and save for 2 residents there was not a soul in sight so there was little atmosphere and nothing to push you along. Again I was spurred along by the lead cyclist who cheerily shouted out to all the marshalls and occassionally said a few words to me. I was really impressed by the organisation of the race, at every possibly place that a runner could have queried which direction to take there was a marshall standing by to point runners in the right direction.

The advantage of having had to climb the long hill at 14km was I knew that we got to go back down it! I had checked out the km markers on my way up and knew that the descent began at about 32km, so this was a double motivation - get to the downhill and get to the 10kms to go mark! As I hit the downhill I let my arms pinwheel around and I enjoyed picking up the speed a little, although my legs were beginning to tire a little I know from trail racing that my quads can take a good downhill pounding so I wanted to take adavntage of opening up my stride and gaining some time. At the base of the hill we the course then was relatively straight to the finish, keeping fairl close to the river. It was here that I began to pass slower half marathon runners and got the boost I needed. I knew I was going to make it to the finish but was digging deep not to let up on the pace and lose what was now looking like was going to be a new PB. The lead cyclist was shouting out 'elite female marathoner coming though, move to the right!', I had to laugh, I felt like I had a VIP escort and lots of the ladies who were walking and jogging the half took off their iPods and cheered me on, which was a great boost. I really wanted to cheer them on too but now I was just clinging on to not losing the pace. My personal escort even went one step further and would tell some upcoming marshalls my name so when I passed them I got a 'Go Ellie!' from people I didn't even know. I tell you, this cyclist gets a gold star for how to lead a marathon!

In the last 10km I kept imagining that I was on my last loop of Elk Beaver and how fast that had seemed but this 10km seemed so much longer. I was checking each km split and realised that I might now post 2:51: something - woo hoo, that definitely kept me going! I was literally counting the kms - 5km = 20mins to go, 4kms = 16mins to go and by 4okm I was so excited to get this race done. In the last km there were a few uphills that slowed my pace and drained my legs to feel super heavy, but it was great to get cheers of encouragement as I came around the final corner and saw the finish banner. The cyclist peeled away, 'Go Ellie, it's all yours!'. I looked at this section after the race and it seemed so short - maybe 15om - but at the time it seemed miles away as I tried to sprint to the finish. The clock had clicked over to 2:52 but as I broke the tape to win I saw 2:52:21 - a PB by 2m57secs!!!

I am absolutely stoked at the time that I got. Having gone into the race on high mileage but blind to the course and what type of speed I had I did think I was maybe being optimistic to shoot for a PB. Of course, I am now thinking that if I can just throw in a few speed work outs into my mileage then maybe there is a sub 2:50 out there! And of course, Calgary is about 350m lower than Banff but it is still over 1000m, so maybe a race at lower elevation.....!

The Calgary marathon route was new as of last year so I got CR too, and fastest female time since 1990 (and apparantly the new course is tougher than the old course!), and 5th runner to cross the finish line. Fellow Vancouver Falcon, Graeme Wilson, narrowly missed the mens CR but still placed 1st in 2:32:14 - just 4 weeks after racing Vancouver! And I've got the bug back for road racing, so now looking at what marathons I can squeeze into my schedule and see if I can push that PB a little lower still....

The Calgary Herald did a neat little video montage if this link stays active for a while

And check out the race details and results at

May 15, 2010

Hey Ladies! No cat fights! Let's all just bliss out on our spa products!

Today was my first ever women's only run. I found out about the Rocky Mountain Soap Company's 1/2 marathon through the Lululemon (yoga store) group that I have been running with every Thursday. It had already sold out but it's one of those events that let's you trade places at no charge and so I managed to get a spot via a Facebook trade.

Of course with training for my ultras I did no speed work in prep for today's race but was just excited to be participating in a local event (of which there are far fewer than in Vancouver) and looking forward to racing my first 1/2 in over 2 years! My 1/2 PB is 1:23:34 so I thought I could well beat that....oh how wrong could I be!

The race is held in Canmore (20 min drive from Banff) and I got there a good hour before the race to do package pick up, warm up and just scout out the area. The start/ finish was at the Canmore Nordic Centre (built for the '88 Olympics), already a little step above the valley with beautiful views of the mountains around. I had checked out the course profile and knew it was going to suck - pretty much out and back (that's all fine) but about 3km of downhill at the start...which would mean 3km of uphill at the end! And in between what had looked at brief glance to be a nice flat course was in fact a nice rolling course of small ups and downs at regular intervals.

In previous years there had only ben 6km and 12km events so I had no past results of the 1/2 to see (1) how tough/ easy the course would be and (2) what the competition would be like. Looking at the 12km times I figured I would be in the lead few.

Pre race I bumped into some ladies I know from Lululemon and also had the pleasure of meeting a local ultra runner, Brenda, who I've exchanged a few emails with but yet to get the chance to meet. Also to my suprise I knew one of the guys doing the race timing - Michael Campbell-Burns - a Lions Gate Road runner and a Vancouver trail runner - so great to see a familiar West Coast face :) I also got chatting to some fellow racers and it looked set to be a fun and social day.

Michael did the count down, the horn went off and away we were. Myself and another lady (Lynette) went out fast but within the first few hundred metres I was in the lead. I wanted to race hard so was not going to hold back and was very glad to have a lead cyclist as I didn't know the route at all. (Guys - I would highly recommend volunteering for lead bike in a ladies only race - Jay must have had a field day having several hundred excited, fit and lycra clad ladies trailing along behind him!). After a loop in the Nordic centre we hit the tarmac downhill to the valley/ town and I clocked 3:57 in the first km and 3 flat in the 2nd (Coach Hill, if you are reading this - I promise the 2nd km was fully downhill all the way!). Already it dawned on me that the last few kms were going to be killer!

Now you may think that 21.1kms would be easy for me but as I'm a slow, steady runner my pace felt hard and I was thinking that Elk Beaver 100km 2 weeks prior was probably easier in some respects! I'm just not used to running where I am heaving for breath all the time. But I settled into a pace as much as I could and found that a bulk of the race was on packed cycle path trail - some of which was flat and other sections of which had switch backs to work it's way up and down. Jay (the lead cyclist and I were by now on 1st name terms!) was awesome at pre-empting me of the sections up ahead and I knew he was a runner when he was talking about what pace I was on for 1:26 he thought at the time. Now 1:26 I would be ok with, but under 1:24 would be much nicer ;) But by the 6km mark or so I realised this was not an easy, fast road 1/2 marathon...

I was well ahead of 2nd place, but like Jay said it was a beautiful day for a solo run! And I looked up at the surrounding snow covered mountain, blue blue sky, and dried out yellow grass and indeed it was a stellar day. I was just perfect in shorts and t-shirt and was happy with my choice to wear my Monrail Rockridges. No doubt road shoes would have been fine too as the trail sections were easy but on the other hand I would estimate about 40% of the course was non-tarmac. I was carrying Clif Shot Bloks and using the water stations en route, although I felt vaguely guilty when two kids aged about 6 got reprimanded for not being ready holding out water when the lead runner came though! No worries - they were pros by the time I passed their station on the way back :)
After the loop around to turn back I was pleased to hit a section of highway - slight downhill, good response from the tarmac and real open-road running. I then got to pass the ladies who were still heading out and it was great to encourage each other along. Another little boost in was given to my rapidly fading legs when I got a cheer from my coworker Lawrence who was out cheering on his wife and daughter.

I had hit 11km in 45 even and that felt fast! But I was totally thrown when I hit the 14km marker at 64mins - I mean I know I was hurting but yikes - 7km to go and I was at 1:04 and still had the uphill finish. Oh yikes, this was all going horribly wrong! Yet I then hit 15km at 1:08 - had I got back on track, as we were to find out later, I think the km markers were a little out! Whatever, I couldn't run harder so just plowed on and at least I wasn't getting caught.

The last few kms were as bad as I expected, I just simply had lead legs, was breathing hard and yet I think I saw an ant pass me. I was sooooo slooooow. I trudged up and had to hit a short power walk on one particularly nasty tarmac hill, but the upside is that after a silly-steep hill, normal hills were now manageable in comparison :) I could hear the announcer calling in 6km finishers and the sight was in finish. But no - we looped past the finish and down a hill, and as all runners know - what goes down must come up. Oh *&?!*. So uphill I went and to my dismay yet another seemingly unneccessary steep uphill had been added just before the fun rolling downhill to the finish. I swear that we looped 7 sides around an octogon to get to the finish line! And my killer winning time was a staggeringly slow....drum roll....1:36:11. Oh well - only about 12 to 14mins off my goal!

At the finish line we were handed a bag of Rocky Mountain Soap Company goodies (nice smelly stuff), there were towels to mop your face and some organic-gluten free-vegetable-fair trade-tree hugging juice was handed to us. We were definitely treated like ladies :) But it was at the finish line that the intrigue started to unfold. I had felt slightly better when one woman said she was 20mins slower than she normally runs a 1/2, and then the 23km or so rumours started. I mean you can't fool us ladies especially when some have GPSs!! So it does for sure seem like the course was about 2kms long.

I then saw Lynette who I had chatted to at the start and guessed she had come 2nd, well...yes, but.... It seems likely that the woman who crossed the finish line 2nd went off course so Lynette crossed 3rd but should have been 2nd and Sandy crossed 4th but should have been 3rd!! Now no one was being nasty about it but the 2nd finisher claimed she ran past both Sandy and Lynette. Sandy and Lynette admitted they were running hard but they were also running alone so figure they would have noticed someone race past them, they were not that delirious! 2nd across the line (for some reason we never found out her name!) claims that she recognises my ponytail from running behind me towards the start of the race. Well that's pretty good eyesight given she crossed the finish 12mins back of me! All in all Lynette and Sandy managed to laugh it off, and it got us chatting so now I may have some familair faces to spot when I race Calgary marathon in 2 weeks time. However it was judiciously decided by the RD that for the 1/2 marathon only age group prizes would be announced and we had a good laugh that they obviously expected some cat fight to break out if they attempted to award overall 1st, 2nd and 3rd!
Anyway, to top the day off before I needed to get the rental car back to Banff I decided to make the most of having wheels and continue my girly day with a power hike up as much of Lady McDonald as I had time for. A steep forest trail in Canmore, with the smell of pine needles and the chirping of crickets in the warm sun it got my blood pumping for some fun times discovering new trails this summer. And just had a few minutes on my fav terrain - boulders and scree- before I ran out of time and had to turn back. All in all, a fab day of new people, new trails and new freckles to mark the start of summer trail running season :)

Happy trails xx

May 5, 2010

Elk Beaver 100km EPIC!

Finally I can call myself a real ultra runner: I've checked my first 100km off the list! (you will note that I say my first, cause I think there may be more to come). So what made me finally step up to the 100km distance was a few things really. I did feel that having only run 50kms and 2 x 50 milers meant that I got some stick from the hardcore peeps that run longer distances - so yep, in part it was peer pressure! In addition, after Stormy 50miler last year where I logged a solid result I was really encouraged that I could tack on another 20kms without too much trouble. And importantly in the mix, Stormy RD Wendy Montgommery really encouraged me to try qualify for the Canadian 100km team for the 2010 World Championships in Gibraltar and that really appealed - not only was I going to try run 100km I was going to try run fast and with an extra incentive of the Wolrd Championships rather than just the distance itself.

When I moved to Banff in November I delcared to all my work colleagues that when they were out skiing in minus 30 degree temperatures I would be out running, and I'm not the kind of person to say something and then not stick to it. So as soon as I got to Banff training began, there were several races in the meantime but my real goal was to up the mileage and intensity so I wouldn't look stupid come May 1st.

I chose Elk Beaver as it's fast and flat. At first I thought that this would make it 'easy' but the closer I got the race I realised that in some ways it made it tougher - all flat, no hills I could walk and no downhills to shake out the legs on - it would be pure and simple hammer out 100kms with quick turn over. With this in mind, and the fact that the Albertan winter had hit, I spent hours on the treadmill - steady pace, minimal elevation and on my best session topped out at 2.5hrs on the damn thing! I also took to doing back to back long runs on the weekend and whereas in November a long run had been 2hrs, that time now became my standard after work mid week run about 3 or 4 nights a week.

So come May 1st I knew I'd make it to the finish line but to be honest was unsure about time. By this time I had found out that I'm not Canadian enough to represent Canada (I'm 'only' a landed immigrant) so had checked out the GB times and found that minimum qualifying time was 8h39 - so I set out with a pace band of 8h40 - manageable I thought but not crazy ambitious. Having never done a pace band for an ultra before even making that freaked me out a bit - splits per 5km was all I had room for! I would have to hit 52mins per loop/ 10k to get my goal.

I headed over to Victoria the evening before the race with my friends and newly recruited crew - Mike and Sukhi. EB is a small race - approx 50 racers over the 50km, 50mile and 100km distances - so I was super happy to have 2 really good friends to keep me company and I'd asked that they run one lap each with me (EB is 10 x 10km loops).

Race start of 6am rolled around too fast but with such a small field I didn't have the usual pre-race nerves - I was just happy to be back on the west coast among friends. I clicked into next to Sammy (Lofti-Pour aka Sammy Loverunning!) and a 50km runner. Sammy then pulled a little ahead so after a short chat with the 50km runner I was on my own and following Sammy. At each loop we had to pass through the start/ finish area where I'd set up my aid at the picnic shelter. First loop I was bang on 45mins, Sammy turned and saw me 'Ellie if you are running that close behind, you're running with me', and off we set on the 2nd and 3rd loops together chatting a long and catching up on running gossip. After the 3rd loop I was on 2h15 - wow this was fast! I nipped into the washroom, got a fresh bottle and headed out having lost Sammy ahead of me. I was a little daunted by my pace but it felt comfortable so I didn't see any reason to ease off. Even if I suffered later I thought, it was worth the risk. So loop 4 was the first on my own and I settled into a rhythm on the soft trails, not really feling alone as so many dogwalkers and weekend runners were out on the trail. Mike & Sukhi had also set up awesome banners for me that made me smile each time I passed them :) 'Go Greenwood Go!', 'Ellie Rocks' & 'As Fast as a Greyhound'!

I'd asked that Mike join me on the 5th loop, I did consider changing this to the 6th as I was still feeling strong but decided that some company would be good. We chatted along easily about Mikes goals for the Vancouver marathon the next day (2:53:37 - nicely done Mr. P!) and he gave me some good encouraging words to take with me on the next few loops. On the 5th loop I clocked 44minutes which included time at the aid station so I was half way in 3:42:40. This was a 50km PB of 6mins for me and I'd clocked 3h07 at the 42km mark - my 3rd fastest marathon ever! I was still feeling good, my hamstrings were seizing but they always do and I popped some ibuprofen - not something I would do other than on race day - and that definitely helped the pain.

Now I was half way done but just wanted to get to 60km mark, then mentally I would be on my way down to the finish. Mike and Sukhi took the opportunity to leave base for a while but there were so many other friendly faces at the start/ finish that I still felt encouraged. Myke Labelle was there supporting a friend and it was great just to have someone check I was ok when I came in for 60km. Throughout the race my pit stops at the start/ finish were pretty smooth, taking only a couple of minutes. I was very conscious that I needed to stay fuelled and shouldn't cut corners as that would be suicide for the final laps so I was prepared to spend a moment or two longer getting aid to save time overall. I was carrying a bottle of gatorade with me on the trail along with Clif Shot Bloks (love 'em!) and at the aid station I was hydrating on coke and salt & vinegar chips. Sukhi was diligently checking if I needed anything else like the P&J tortillas I had prepped but to be honest I was off the idea of any real food so just went for easy calories.

Lap 7 I ended up running abut 15mins with Joe Public and his friend who were out for a run and couldn't believe that they were now involved with a 100km race, but when their dog ran off I lost them and for the first time plugged myself into my iPod. Now, I never race with music, I use it a lot in solo training but never feel the need in a race but I thought that 100km would be different. I was wrong, after a while it really bugging me but I didn't want to get tangled in the wires so kept it on until I finished the loop - if nothing else it kept me pushing as I wanted to get rid of it!

Lap 8 and it was Sukhi's turn to accompany me. Until this point I was still averaging 45min per loop/ 10kms but now I could see I was easing off. There were markers every km which had first scared me but I soon came to love them as I could monitor my pace so easily. Sukhi asked if I wanted to go a little faster but now I was strguggling and decided best to let the pace ease a bit on this loop to save myself for the final two. Part way round the 8th loop Sukhi uttered words that were music to my ears 'I can do the 9th loop with you too if you want'. Do I want?! Oh yeah!! I was hurting at this point (more ibuprofen down) and picked it up a bit on the 9th loop but only becuse I was hangin on the heels of Sukhi. We didn't talk much (I couldn't!) and Sukhi was about 2ms in front of me, I tucked my head down and powered on.

Pulling into the start/ finish for the start of my 10th and final loop I was so determined and knew that 10km was a breeze but I was also pretty tired. Imagine my suprise when I went to grab some coke and saw Sammy, 'C'mon Ellie, let's do this together' and so I did a very short stop and we headed out together. I was totally envisaging us crossing the finish line together but maybe the comment of a supporter got my blood pumping a little ' Guys vs Girls!' - 'You better watch out with comments like that' I replied laughing as Sammy and I headed out. It was 6h50 as we left and my previous daydreams mid race of getting under 7h30 had gone but I didn't care - I was still wearing my 8h40 pace band and I was going to smoke that!

After about 1km on the final loop Sammy was cramping and he told me to go if I wanted. To be honest I knew I had to hammer as hard as I could otherwise I would totally lose my pace, so I kicked it up a notch and began earnestly searching for the next km marker. I so knew I could do this but the cheering of Mike and Sukhi at 7kms to go which I hadn't expected really helped too :)

There was a turn off on the trail at 1.5kms to go so as I ran along one particularly straight section I was willing on that turn and then I would be on the home straight. Sukhi had walked along the trail final km of the trail to see me in but I think all I said to him was 'I really want to beat Sammy' and then I got a little sprint on before grabbing one of the banners Mike had made to carry over the finish line, 'Tough as Titanium' - well the hamstrings didn't feel like titanium right now but who cares, I'd just raced my first 100km, just won my first overall race and just clocked 7h36m40s - wooooooooooooooooo hoooooooooooooooooooooo!

I'm still, 4 days later, on a little high from this weekend. A race where the fun-ness of the event and my result far exceeded my expectations, and the next day I volunteered and cheered friends on at the Vancouver marathon and half - so many good times of catching up with people that are part of the running scene. I've also had a few people wonder how I ran that time, and if I'm totally honest I don't know. All the stars were lined up for me at Elk Beaver and I just had a good day.
But what might have also helped:

- Logging more traning miles than ever before
- Runing lots of consecutive days so geeting used to running on tired legs
- I don't think I've lost weight but I might have leaned up a bit and have been eating healthy
- Living at an elevation of 4, 800m (I'm training even when I sleep!) and racing at sea level
- Making myself eat during the race - I was forcing fluids and Shot Bloks down, but at least I didn't bonk
- Chosing a pancake flat, looped course can't do any harm to running fast ;)
- Montrail providing me with one fine n' dandy pair of Rockridges that I can run 100km in without so much of a hot spot or hint of a blister.
- Having the ability on race day to run with my gut instincts - not being afraid to run at a pace far in excess of my plan, what's the worst that can happen? You bonk and you learn for another race.
So all in all, one fab race and I'm hopeful I might get a spot on the GB team for Gibraltar. Sammy - thank you - you rock! It was a privelege to race with you! Mike & Sukhi - is it an Elk? Is it a Beaver? No, it's a Lion!! Thanks guys so so much xxxxx I owe you one! And thanks to fellow Brit, RD & 50km racer - Carlos Castillos!