April 23, 2012

London Calling

Until this past weekend the only big city marathon I had run was Boston (back in 2008).  I have run a few decent sized marathons and enjoyed the hype of Boston but have felt no real urge to start ticking any more of the 'big 5' off my list.  But with the Olympic year rolling round in London and now living permanently over in Canada this seemed as good a year as any to tick London off the list during a family visit, and it's always nice to do a road marathon once in a while to see where you are at as times between different courses are so much more comparable to each other than trail ultras.

London certainly lived up to it's reputation.  37, 000+ runners many of whom are first time marathoners raising money for good causes, and as if running a marathon for the first time is not enough many runners decide to wear a costume causing multiple world records to fall (5hr marathon whilst hula-hooping anyone?  Or how about the fastest marathoning vegetable - or carrot - to be precise).  This along with the buzz of elite racers (past Olympics champions, countless Kenyans, and several Brits battling it out for the final London 2012 slots) made for a great day.  And that's without even mentioning the great crowds of Londoners who come out to cheer everyone along the full 26.2 miles from Greenwich to the Mall, by Buckingham Palace.  If nothing else it's a great pedestrian tour of the sights of London (Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf, Cutty Sark and more).

Being as I really am in ultra training I had no rights to expect a great marathon time.  Sure, I am training hard but marathon specific work outs are lacking - speed sessions in particular.  But, of course us runners are always a little greedy in looking to improve and I figured that as my current marathon PB of 2:47:14 was set last year when I had also not specifically trained for the 26.2 distance then why not shoot for another PB!  So with that, my super friends Nicky and Mike dropped me off at the race start (the gun would go off at 9.45am) and I had two pace bands (one miles, one mms) strapped to my wrist - 2h45 target - yikes, that'll be 3:54 per km or 6:17 per mile.  I hoped that I would soon find that faster rhythm than I am used to and that the crowds would buoy me along.

With Ian Corless and Pam Storey at the expo.  Got to love finding 2 ultra runners within 15mins of getting to a marathon expo :)

It was great to see a fellow Brit, Phil Dickens, who I know from my Vancouver running club zip past me at the start.  It made me think of Coach Hill at VFAC and helped me reign in my first few kms which were a little excitedly fast.  After that, there's not much to say.  I mean a marathon zips by pretty fast for an ultra runner and with big mile arches overhead and my garmin beeping every km I stayed focused on checking my pace til the half way mark, taking on fuel, soaking up some of the atmosphere and looking out for friends and family who had come out to cheer.  I trotted through half way in 1:22:22 - pretty much bang on pace for 2:45:00!  I felt good and with 'only' 21km to go picked up the pace a little.  Not crazy, but enough that I knew I was eating into my time even more and whilst not killing my legs so allowing a little buffer in case I fell off pace towards the end.

Soon I began to pass women and got feedback that I was 7th and then 5th female (in the non-elite field).  This was great as I had had no idea previously as so many men were ahead that it was hard to see how many women had gone out hard at the start.  Now the focus was when should I pick up the pace a little more or simply targeting one woman and then the next.  I never felt like I was running exhausted but my legs couldn't really go any faster either.

The final mile or two were tough (as they always are) but not awful tough.  Again, if only I'd done some speed training maybe I could have got my legs turning over fast enough to make it feel awful tough!

 Tourist pic at the finish

With my sister and brother in law 

With 600m to go the metres were being counted down with big banners arching over the road and I ran as hard as I could and was glad to reel in one final woman with only 250m to go.  Soon I was on the famed finishing stretch down The Mall and over the line in 2nd place (non-elite females), knocking 4mins off my PB for 2:43:05.

Super happy, lots of fun, and a chance to put my marathon lessons to test again in 14 days time at BMO Vancouver.

Happy trails (and tarmac)

Dave the Telephone gunning it to the finish line

April 7, 2012

Oh sunny California how I love you!

So today was the American River 50 miler from Sacramento to Auburn, CA.  This was my second consecutive year running the event and a short synopsis would be:

1 - Really wish I'd been wearing gloves for first 2hrs - hands super cold and fingers immobile despite weird flapping around motions in the air, fist clenches etc (to, I think, a certain amount of amusement of the group of men I was running with).

2 - You don't sweat very much 18km into a coolish run that starts at 6.00am.  So if you think you have a really damp back this in fact means that your hydration bladder is leaking.  It is not sweat.  You will soon have wet shorts and wet compression sleeves too.  And no drink left in your hydration bladder.  Fortunately if you come into an aid station yelling out 'Does anyone has a spare bottle?' Larissa will save you so you at least can carry fluids for rest of race.

3 - If Brett calls out from ahead on the trail 'do you think this is the right way?' about 35km in, you really should think a little more before replying 'yeah, yeah, it is'.  Cause it wasn't.  But it was only a minor (and slightly longer) detour, and it was trail rather than the proper route which was tarmac, so it was kinda nicer anyway.  And it did mean we at least paused around the 40km mark when signage was unclear - and went the correct way that time - yippee!  Us ultra runners are quick learners.

4 - If you are not side by side with Kami Semick (a la 2011) or with Kami on your tail a race is really much more relaxing.  This is not to say Kami is an unrelaxing person, simply that she is a very strong runner who can make other runners who want to try win feel a little pressured.  It's a compliment, honest.

5 - If you relax and have fun and just enjoy the sunshine, American River 50 miler (especially once the tarmac first half is done) is a beautiful course.  Some relatively shady sections, some dry and dusty (and snow free - whoopee!) trails, some stunning views of the American River (which I was very tempted to jump in when I saw the cool whooshing rapids below but thought best not to as I had no lifejacket or raft, and I think that the river was flowing away from the finish line and back to the start anyway, so that would have slowed my finish time down considerably).

6 - Every runner should enjoy the sunshine responsibly.  Especially us freckle-faced Scottish/ Canadian Ultra runners.  You may therefore smell like a coconut all day (Hawaain tropic factor 60), but I think there are worse things to smell of than a coconut.  Especially if you are an ultra runner.

7 - I will always cheer for my 'trailee team mates but if I do pass both Sean and Erik in the final sections then I am really not keen that they pass me back.  Great sharing the trail with my Montrail Team mates - nice racing guys! - and I always like to do us Montrail ladies proud.

8 - If Rod Bien tells you that he has not been 'chicked' since 2008 when you pass him about 2 miles from the finish (on an uphill, what was that about?!) then you are likely only 'chicking' him because he is chatting away and you have long lost the ability to run, breathe and talk at the same time (maybe men are better at multi tasking than women after all?)

9 - Post race massages really are most awesome.  And it is also much fun to hang around in the sun munching on a veggie burger, chatting with friends old and new, and thanking RD Julie as well as Greg (Soderlund of WS100 renown) and Stan Jensen for their support and smiling faces on the trail.  Very nice new friends like Andy even give you a ride back to Sacramento (thank you so much!)

 10 - The 6.30am flight to get home may have seemed like a good idea when you booked it.  Not so much when you realize that you will be getting earlier that day after the race than the day of the race.  Oh the sleep-deprived-sun-filled life of an ultra runner.

Happy trails
x Ellie

Mr. Meissner, another Montrail shirt in a speedy blur
Erik - local Montraileeee.  Zippin' to the finish
With Dan, who was running his first 50 miler.  Good trail company :)
Top 3 ladies.  Both 2nd & 3rd rocking their first 50 milers.  Congrats!

April 1, 2012

Anti Doping in the Ultra World

When I oosted on my Facebook page yesterday that the anti-doping folks had been knocking on my door at 6.30am wanting me to pee in tot a little container I think many people were a little surprised.  'You get drugs tested?', 'They can just show up?', '6.30am?!' were a few of the surprised comments.

Firstly, how did I come to be on the anti-doping register?  Well, it now seems like many moons ago but in Nov 2010 I won the IAU World 100km.  This is an IAAF (International Amateur Athletics Federation) event so drugs testing then ensues for the top 3 (I think) both immediately after the event and then you are on the register.  Sure, there's no prize money, hey - the winners medal isn't even that flash , but it is an IAAF event which holds certain prestige and strict regulations so that's the way it goes.  My attitude to whether this is right or wrong - well, personally I think it is right.  If we want ultra running to gain more recognition and prestige on a wider scale in the athletics world we must present ourselves as a professional sport and having anti-doping controls is part of that.  And hey, no one forces anyone to enter these races and no one certainly forces you to come top 3.  If you don't want to be drugs tested - don't run the race.

On a side note, so what did this first drugs test involve when I won World 100km in Gibraltar?  Well, you get whisked away at the finish line under the supervision of the anti-doping authorities.  In Gibraltar it was back to the cruise ship that we were staying on that then ensued a rather funny 10 minutes or so when they couldn't find the cabin where the testing was to be done.  We walked u and down hallways, I hobbled along behind and struggled up and down a few flights of stairs, clinging onto the bannisters.  After a few sets of stairs and still the room had not been found, we had a good laugh when I asked if we could take the elevator!  Anyway, we found the room and basically you have to pee in a cup (under same sex supervision) and until you do that - no food or drink other than water (which should be from a sealed bottle).  I like to be efficient so downed 4 litres of water, peed in my cup and completed forms regards any medication I'd taken in last 10 days.  There are also strict guidelines regards the testee getting to choose the cup and the tested being the one that seals all packages etc.  Ok, job done - now off the celebrate!  Unless you hear anything in about 14 days, you can assume you are 'all clear'.

Since then I have had to register my Whereabouts each quarter.  This is under the management of WADA (World Anti Doping Agency - www.wada-ama.org).  They have an online system and you have to enter an address for every day of the year and also a one hour testing slot between 6am and 11pm for every day.  This testing slot is so they can come and do random tests like they did to me yesterday.  It is worth noting though that in the 17 or so months since I have been registering my Whereabouts this was the first time I have had an 'out of competition' test.  And so for those of you who thought 6.30am was a little unfair - well, I asked for it!  'Out of Competition' testing is exactly the same as 'In Competition' except there are some medications which are allowed 'out of competition' and not 'in'.  So yes, you do have to be careful what pills you pop when feeling under the weather but there is an online search you can do on their website to see what is allowed and what isn't.

The only other time I have been tested?  Comrades in 2011.  There, the top 12 are tested as the top 10 win prize money so they go 12 deep in case anyone in top 10 fail the test and get disqualified.  Comrades can certainly justify their drugs testing as the prize money there is significant.

So, that's my experience of being on the anti-doping radar so far.  Yes, it 's a pain to have to complete Whereabouts (especially when say hosteling in Chile and deciding where you are staying on a day to day basis!).  Yes, it was not ideal to spend 30 mins peeing in a cup and filling out forms at 6.30am when I really needed to be at work at 8.00am.  BUT, if we are going to see more prize money and more prestige in placing well in ultra distance events then drugs testing is part and parcel of this.  It's better we have drugs testing from the get-go, rather than our sport waits until there is actual speculation that drugs may be a problem in our sport.  Let's make it fair from the start and make our sport look professional in the eyes of the outside world so we can grow the level of competition and professionalism in the awesome sport of ultra running.

Happy trails