December 22, 2020

2020 - A Year in Review

 Ooof, what a year it has been!  I mean let's be honest it's probably about 1% of you reading this (the brainy scientists) would have had any idea that 2020 would pan out anything like it did.  I remember one coaching client early in the year mentioning how he thought things would unfold (this was before March) and I honestly thought he was being rather alarmist and over cautious - apparently not!  Another coaching client (one of those brainy scientists, Dr O) decided not to race a local half marathon in February due to the virus, and I've told her since that if it was anyone else I would have thought they were over reacting.  Yah, how wrong I was.

My birthday rolled around on March 14th just in time for the start of restrictions and 'lock down'.  I recall that I went for a walk with a friend (we decided that a restaurant lunch was too risky) and the week before I didn't hug my friend Jeanelle as already that was frowned upon.  On March 15th I had to go to work aka lead my marathon clinic (we still thought they'd be running BMO Vancouver marathon in May - oh my, those innocent times) and I was already standing apart from folks and whilst we went for post run coffee I stood at a bar table as I didn't want to touch any surfaces.  And well, that's really been the state of affairs ever since.  Odd, weird, unprecedented (in modern times) and impacting every form of our day to day lives.  To say that it's been a year like no other would not be an exaggeration.

Early on I was fearful that I would lose coaching clients due to race after race after race getting cancelled.  It's been my busiest year yet.  Apparently running is the one thing we can still do and it's been so heartening that the vast majority of folks that I coach have truly found that they love running simply for the sake of running - sure, some have understandably struggled more with the lack of fun races (having a big goal, traveling, meeting run friends etc) but for the majority I have seen a bigger commitment to their running and a love for having a training plan to stick to when the rest of the world is chaotic and unpredictable.  And wow, we've got creative and it's been super rewarding as a coach to see so many folks ending their year with big achievements.  Just a few examples below:

  • Dani in New York had probably only ever run for 3 consecutive days before March.  She's now on day 262 of a run streak (running a minimum of 1 mile every single day)
  • Oneal and Tom - the returnee runners who started coaching and getting back into running and fitness after a significant break.  It's so fun to see them record training PR after PR - biggest run weeks ever, faster run times each week, longest training runs etc etc.  Committing to that process is not easy but they are reaping the rewards.
  • Mya and Cam running 100 mile virtual races (I hope I haven't missed anyone who did!) - this is not something I would encourage for everyone (heck, there is no way I would do it myself) but some folks I know are determined enough to succeed at this and to me running 100 miles without aid stations and the formality of a race setting is hard.  Very hard. 
  • Vert challenges - we've had a few of these including Hideo who signed up for the virtual Hardrock race.  Hideo lives in the Surrey hills of the UK - not the San Juans of CO.  But it's amazing how folks find that if they really need to (and want to) they can go up and down some very small hills time and time over to get vert.
  • Pam hitting an impressive streak of consistency in her training.  Sure, this might not seem fancy or noteworthy, but we all struggle with consistency from time to time so simply hitting a real groove and sticking with it should be celebrated.

Of course there have been lots more achievements (I usually coach about 40 folks at any one time) and to be honest for many people the simple act of maintaining a run routine when working from home and looking after kids is an achievement enough.

For myself, it's been a low mileage year.  The ongoing, undiagnosed gimpy leg continues to hamper my running despite the best efforts of Dr Bovard.  That said, I've clawed my way back from a failed run/ walk program in March (I stopped at 9 x 1 min run, 1 min walk as it was not going well) and completed some 20k runs this year and currently can run 8kms or so numerous times per week.  A few achievements/ highlights of the year:

  • Peak bagging in the summer with Bill and the rest of the JSR crew.  Long days, the best of people, stunning views, tough and rough terrain.
  • Making it to the top of West Lion (thanks Bill!) and Black Tusk (thanks Kerry!) - technical scrambles and stellar views.
  • Completing the double GVRAT (see an earlier blog post).  That was my running peak of the year in terms of kms and also so much darn walking.  I found out that you can get very fit if you walk a lot ... and that walking takes much longer than running.
  • Comrades Virtual 10k with AM and Dave pacing.  It was either 42 or 43 mins (I think it was 43) which is slower than I used to race the last 10k of Comrades (89k), but it as fun to push hard and be part of the Nedbank team.
  • Consistent strength work when gyms were open.  MVMT Academy crew are the best.  Sure, I'm still terrible at pushups and can't do a single pull up - but I've showed up twice a week when I can and try my best. 

And whilst the world is not going back to normal once January rolls around, every day we keep on moving forward is another day closer to more normal living. So long as it is safe to do so, I'm super excited to volunteer at some races in 2021 and maybe jog a few myself (Comfortably Numb and Gunner Shaw would be nice).

Merry Christmas (or Merry whatever your holiday of choice is).  Keep running, keep hiking, keep lifting, and just keep showing up and giving every day your best.

x Ellie

And if you really want the stats:

 Running/ hiking: 2800kms

Vert: 99 300m

Walking: maybe about 1000 kms of purposeful urban walks.

Gym sessions: no idea - 2 x week when gyms were open.

Biking: hardly any, there's not been many places to commute to since we're all staying home.

Swimming: Awesome from January to mid March (5 x week or so), none since.

Stretching: Let's not comment on that.


September 11, 2020


 Last Sunday I went out on an outdoor jaunt with two friends, Bill and Pat.  It was a grand day in the mountains - getting up above cloud inversions, surveying from afar the peaks of Squamish and those much more distant,  sampling numerous blueberries and huckleberries, chatting up a storm on topics ranging from religion to ultra running to politics to the merits of Sour Patch Kids (I am a recent convert).  We spent some 13h45 on the trails and mountains and covered some 26kms/ 16 miles.  I can already see some of your brows furrowing and you shifting uncomfortably in your seats.  'Just how did they go THAT slowly?"  And that is me being on the optimistic side - Bills watch said 26k, mine said a mere 22k - which would mean that we pretty much moved at a pace of one little lonely mile per hour.

Sure, we bumped into Eileen and her friend Shawn so spent a good 15 minutes chatting and taking group photos for one another, and yes - on one peak we spent maybe 10 minutes looking for the whisky cache (more to come later - it's a North Shore thing), and on another peak we took a few minutes ensuring that we were on the actual peak (which is not as odd as it sounds) but other than that - no long picnic lunches, no lengthy swims in mountains tarns, no mountain meadow siestas in the sun, just plodding along steadily and with purpose - and that got us at a pace of a hair over one mile/ hour.  Welcome to North Shore peak bagging!

In recent years, 'peak bagging' has become more and more popular locally - in a similar vein to Colorado's 14ers (peaks that are 14, 000ft or more) some locals have come up with a list of some 84 or so distinct peaks on Vancouver's North Shore.  The concept I guess was mostly the brain child of David Crerar and others and with the publication of their book (The Glorious Mountains of Vancouver's North Shore) and the Bagger Challenge Facebook page more and more have followed in their footsteps.  The ambitious and foolhardy (or those who don't work 9 to 5) may attempt to summit all 84 or so peaks in one summer season, for others it's a lifetime project.  I guess I fall somewhere in between - and in fact I am not even registering the peaks I have attained on the official register - instead I am smugly summiting peaks without a care for outside recognition from my peers ... tho looking back I did do three Instagram posts based on last Sundays outing alone, so I guess I am indeed in search of a little back patting and kudos from the online world.  Heck, why not - 13h45 on the trail - and it was an 12k cycle each way on a non-motor road to get to the trail!  Even in mid summer this would be a headlamp outing. 

The reason that peak bagging tends to be a relatively miserable pace per hour affair mostly comes down to the word 'peak' - significant vert usually makes up for the piddly mileage total.  For example in last weeks 26ish km adventure Bills and my watches agreed on vert - it was something north of 3000m.  Not bad.  I think these stats are now making it abundantly obvious that this is NOT trail running - at times it is trail hiking but routinely it is blueberry bushwhacking and heather slope scrambling - no established trails,  some rough goat tracks (though sadly I have yet to see a mountain goat on these adventures), and an occasional fixed rope pull up some rocks (for which I am always very grateful to those who have installed the ropes).  It's rough, it's steep, it's technical, it's a lot of fun.  And somewhere along the line someone decided to make this a lot more fun by starting the tradition of whisky caches, so it's not unusual that as we huff and puff out way up the final metres of a summit we ask one another, 'Does this one have any single malt?' and then the group spreads out, turning over rocks and cairn piles often to be rewarded with some Macallans or similar.  (Side note - it's COVID times so hygiene is a must, bring your own mug, safety first!)

And whilst peak bagging is becoming all the rage here in our local mountains it's worth remembering that we are far from the pioneers in this task.  I couldn't but help think that I was treading in the footsteps of some of the women who were part of the group to first ascend Mount Dickens in 1908.  And one can only assume that First Nations folks explored these mountain summits long before the Europeans came.  I slightly over dressed last week in 3/4 tights and my HOKAs got damp in the mud from recent dew, but I was sure as anything impressed by Elizabeth Creech, Mary Fowler, Miss Wickwire and the men of the first ascent - long skirts, wool pants and leather boots were no doubt their attire of some 112 years ago as they made it to the heady 1300m summit.  I doubt they had CLIF drink or Sour Patch Kids to fuel them either.

So instead of following the ethos of my favourite website iRunFar, I have found that iHikeSlowly can be a lot of fun too.

August 26, 2020

The Power of 'I'll try'

Whilst sharing a stage last year with the famed Dylan Bowman, Dylan referred to myself and Gary Robbins as 'the blogger generation' and whilst I have rather fallen into a lapse (an understatement if ever there was one) on blogging and moved more over in trying to keep up with the Instagram generation, maybe one or two of you are still listening out there.

In April of this year a coaching client of mine (Adam Benkers of Ten Junk Miles) asked what I thought about him doing the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee.  I hummed and hawed, said I'd seen something about it on social media but not looked at it much.  After a quick bit of googling we agreed that the 8.3 kms daily average required to complete this challenge, the brainchild of Gary Cantrell (aka Lazarus Lake), seemed doable and so I have him Coaches authorization to sign up.  I hung up on the Skype call (Zoom had yet to become the rage), sent out details of the virtual race (that soon became commonly known across the globe as GVRAT) to a few other clients who I thought might need some inspiration in COVID times and then began to think about it for myself ...

It has been many years since I have trained for a race, sure from time to time I've toed a line when the perma aches and pains have been at bay, but I've not truly dedicated myself to training for something since sometime in 2018.  This was probably a smart move given I gave up on speed work in January of this year due to a bad hamstring and in mid March abandoned my run/ walk program once I got to 9 x (1 min run, 1 min walk) and generally felt like a bag of rattling old bones.  But then COVID hit and by end of March our gyms and swimming pools started to close - I entitled my final swim workout (aka trying not to drown) on Strava as 'I'm screwed'.  No gym, no pool, too many aches and pains to run.  Don't even suggest ocean swimming in March in the Pacific North West.  But I'm not one to give up lightly so in April I acquired some basic weights (thanks Bev and Deb), I tackled some stair reps (whilst scowling at anyone who did not keep a 2 metre social distance) and started walking.  Walking felt pretty awful to start but as the old legs got moving they loosened up ... and I got back to run/ walk on the local track (3 x 1 min run/ 1 min walk).  So naturally by end of April it was tempting to sign up for a virtual race across a state that I have never been to that required me to cover just over 8k (5ish miles for the Americans and Brits).  It made zero logical sense but then probably most concepts that Laz comes up with don't make a lot of sense and that's why they appeal.

So on May 1st I was registered with the attitude of 'I'll try'.  My top goal - bail if I started to get more injured.  My 2nd goal - bail if I started to get more injured.  My final goal - bail if I started to get more injured.  By nature I like to finish what I start but this was a case of actually being smart for once and trying something that my head might be ready for but my legs might not.  I has 123 days (the four months of May, June, July and August) to just keep moving.  I figured I probably wouldn't have time to walk all of my miles but I also calculated that I could not run too many - that seemed far too ambitious (recall the failed 9 mins of running in mid March).  In addition to the online race tracking I drew up my own spreadsheet and I started walking and jogging and logging my miles.  I am generally not a fan of the word 'jogging' but I am a fan of glorious, aimless junk miles (please note - this is not what I advocate as a Coach, but it's the way my brain is badly wired) and this is probably one of the reasons that GVRAT appealed to me - it's not fundamentally about speed, but it's about plugging away day after day after day after day ... for 123 days (or less).

... And by the closing days of June I realised I was on track for a double GVRAT!  Ok, not quite - I was a little behind but somehow I had logged far more than my required 8.3km average per day, and was closer to 16 kms/10 miles days.  Go figure, you might think I used to be an ultra runner or something.  So of course the double appealed and I knew I had to start playing catch up, so late June was a bit of a push and probably my main error of the project - I tried to play catch up too soon and whilst I completed a single GVRAT in less than two months, a few too many old aches and pains were appearing.  Boo.  Nice try Ellie, and I abandoned the thought of a double crossing (1200 or so miles) and instead settled on a mere 1000 mile/ 4 month goal.  As an added bonus, Laz rewarded 1000 mile finishers with a cool pin - which seemed far more of an incentive than the map of Tennessee for double GVRAT finishers.  Sure, I have two silver Western States belt buckles but some small pin that is probably mass produced in China seemed quite the draw.  Ultra runners truly are not very smart.

To reach my 1000 mile goal I figured I needed a little extra motivation - another two months of dedicated training seemed a little daunting (the online tracker had overnight gone from saying that I was 100% complete for GVRAT to saying I was 50% for the double - ooof, way to downgrade a runner/ walker!) So at this stage I started to try raise funds for a cause close to my heart - Band of Runners which aims to bring veterans into the community of trail running.  Please do check out their website here for info and a super eight minute video shot at their annual camp in 2019.  No quitting now - numerous folks made kind donations so I just had to keep walking and jogging, but it did feel like added pressure to have other folks know what I was doing and now the risk of failure now seemed higher.  And then another funny thing happened - about 10 days into July on my 1000 mile quest I found that I was bizarrely still ahead of the double GVRAT goal ... and my aches and pains had subsided.  Like I said, I do enjoy glorious junk miles and somehow by taking the pressure off and deciding not to do the double I was still on track.  Ok, back on the 1200 mile/ 10 mile a day goal!

I can honestly say it was no small feat for me to complete this task last Sunday.  In 115 days I had propelled myself forward on my own two little (well, size 9.5) feet for 2043k or 17.8kms per day (11.04 miles).  A little over half my miles were running, I hiked up mountains, I bushwhacked up gullies, I walked for 30 mins at the end of runs when I was too tired to run any more, and I went for 3hr urban walks to chomp away at the miles.  It was hard, it was time consuming, it was fun, it was rewarding, and it was double the distance I set out to accomplish on 1st May.  


So the next time you're not sure you can do something, how about saying 'I'll try'?

Happy trails to you all, stay healthy, stay safe and stay happy.  And if you have read this far (thank you!) and are so inclined - please do consider a small donation to a very worthy cause, Band of Runners (click here).  It would mean to world to me and my tired legs (I'm taking an easy week right now).