One of my goals has been to write more this year.  Since my last post was in January and it’s now April, I would say I am falling a bit behind.

So, catch up.  This winter has been tough (well tough in Van city terms), rain, snow, and very scant days of sunshine.    I have logged a lot of miles in rain, snow, treadmill and Jason has even put screws in my old running shoes so I could partake in ice running.

After a “let’s see what happens and I just want to finish” 2016 year of running,  I put my head down and decided I wanted to put in the work again.  I hit my first 100km week ever (albeit at a tortoise pace but I don’t care).

For the last 10 days or so  I have been rehabbing a rolled ankle (sustained recently on a very adventurous trail run with Alley, which saw slippery bridges, snow, 3 falls, a bruised wrist and a rolled ankle between the two of us).  I ended up on my back, and realized after the fact, I tweaked my ankle. whoops.  Of course that didn’t stop me from finishing out the run.  Stubborn I  am.

Any how, I was not happy – but after a week of icing, heat treatment, balance exercises and anything else I could dredge up on the internet, I am back on my feet.  Not all back and not quite ready for trails yet but getting there.  My physio appointment is not for a couple of weeks, but I am slowly on the mend.  Also, pretty sure my physio would yell at me for running on the ankle but runners are a stubborn bunch.  I know 10 days is nothing in the scheme of injuries but it made me super crabby not to be able to run.  My run walk in the sunshine today has made me deliriously happy.

As for goal races this year – Squamish 50 (my nemesis) is on the list again.   I swore I would never run Squamish again right after the race  (in fact I told J. to shoot me if I wanted to sign up again) but somehow found myself on ultrasignup come registration day.

I also decided I wanted 2017 to be the year of my first 100km  Of course I didn’t really look carefully at the course description.  Exposed, 40 degrees, in a Lethbridge and apparently snakes on course.   I  didn’t really think this through mostly because registration sold out so quickly.

That is my race year in a nut shell (I might add races as the year goes on) but for now, that is it.  I have learned that racing 10 races a year doesn’t bode my well for me.  Partly because my body can’t handle that. Also  races get expensive, and maybe most importantly, trying to balance work, a social life and a supportive but non – runner partner means I get to be a lot less selfish with my time than I could once upon a time but it’s a trade off  I  happily make.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thankfully, today was sunny.

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Elfin Lakes Adventures

 

J and I have had some prettys good winter adventures over the holidays and with our recent spell of cold and snow (aka deep freeze), I was eager to find another mountain adventure.

I had been pestering J to do a winter hike to Elfin Lakes for a while.  This week we made tentative plans for Elfin lakes, weather permitting.  It didn’t hurt that J. had new skate skis he wanted to test out. By Thursday the weather looked like it would hold (sunny, maybe a bit cloudy and not too cold).  We didn’t know the road conditions but with J’s truck which has 4WD and chains we figured we were as prepared as you could be.

Friday night was spent prepping for our adventure as we wanted to get out the door quickly. Saturday morning we were up at 5 am  and  on the road by 6am.  No traffic at that hour  so our drive was reasonably quick.

The roads were dark and the moonlight reflecting off the water along the Sea -to – Sky was beautiful.  The sky was dark but as we drove up the forest service road to the trail we could barely see the mountains silhouetted against a dark sky.  By the time we parked, the inky darkness had faded into light, and a light moon hung in the sky.

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Sunrise in the mountains

As we started our hike, the sky coloured pink.  Travelling in the winter was considerably slower than it had been in the fall/summer.  And at J.’s insistence we had brought our zip sled which yours truly ended towing most of the way up :p.  Also, our packs  were loaded with our gear. J. had even bought a wilderness survival booklet at MEC (given however, there was not a shrub in sight to eat I’m not sure how much the booklet would have come in handy had it come down to it :D).  I grumbled a bit,  as I like to travel fast and light in the mountains, but visions of potentially what could go wrong on winter adventures  were dancing in my head.  So, I carried the essentials (emergency kit, bivy, headlamp, fully charged phone, whistle, extra calories, extra mittens, and a rolled up down jacket and extra fleece layer).  He had all that, plus a compass, lantern with candles, matches, etc.

 

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Entering our winter wonderland

With the stops, equipment adjustments, it took us an hour 15 minutes approximately to the Heather hut shelter.  We pressed on, eager to reach the top. The views began to open up, and we followed the bright orange poles marking the winter trail.  The weather was spectacular; we had picked a good day to tackle this trail.

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Couldn’t resist playing in the powder.

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Few things in life make me happier than this.  Photo credit: J.

J. would turn around every so often and I would be  lagging behind, spotting  yet another photo taking opportunity. The views are spectacular and I could lose myself for hours in these mountains (literally and figuratively).

 

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J. soaking in the views enroute to Elfin Lakes

While Elfin lakes is described as moderately rolling, a full week of running before our adventure  meant my legs were already tired starting the hike.  Luckily J, likes to stop, look around and enjoy the scenery.  He reminds me that sometimes it is good to slow down, to take my time.

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Requisite selfie on the mountains – the only one we actually took together that day 🙂

I didn’t find out until the end of the day, but his feet were hurting the whole way up. The combination of different socks and new skate skis might have done it.  Meanwhile, I kept running ahead to the next marker, or lagging behind to gawk at the scenery. I could lose myself in these mountains (figuratively and literally).

At the top, we found a great little hut with spectacular views. We spent an hour and a half playing at the top, warming ourselves with this little candle lantern J. had picked up.  I also discovered the wonders of reusable handwarmers (so good).  The hot soup we had packed into his thermos and the flask of red wine I lugged up (in addition to the water) was working wonders.

I could have stayed up there all day, but eventually we  headed out as I didn’t want to be on the mountain after dark. (we did have a very good headlamp and warm clothes but still…) The afternoon sun was warm enough I peeled off layers as we made our way down the mountain. We chased the sunset down the mountain and of course my phone died at the very moment I was trying to capture (in my opinion) the best shot of the day (pastel pink colours, the fading contours of the mountains and a wide expanse of water). The whole scene reminded me of a Group of Seven painting. Sadly no photo of that moment, but we did capture some other moments.

 

We made it back to the car after sunset.  I am deliriously happy  (and happy to be done). J. was just tired.  It was an epic day on the mountains and can’t wait for more adventures.   The early wake up call was definitely worth it.

As a p.s  – we make it a practice to tell someone where we are going, when we start the hike etc, and check back in after we are done.  My mom had no idea we were in Garibaldi this particular day, but as we were driving back from Squamish, I see a text from her that reads:  “out risking your life again?” I had to laugh.

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2016 year in review

I’ve been struggling to find the words to accurately describe this year.  Let’s just say it has had its moments, both on a personal and professional level, but if I were to choose a word that best represented this year, it would be gratitude. I’m grateful for the different work experiences,  friends, family, many mountains and plentiful adventures and finding my way back to running after a year hiatus.   Here are some of my highlights:

  • My first mountain sunrise (hiking up Grouse in the dark with micro-spikes and headlamps was surreal)
  • Crewing for and watching Fat Dog racers finish 120 miles (not yet…)
  • Finishing Squamish 50 miler on a 30 degree plus day. This race was both a highlight and a low point.  Note: I told J. to shoot me if I wanted to sign up for this race again…
  • Winter hike to St. Mark’s Summit
  • Night snowshoeing – a friend’s full moon birthday snowshoe
  • Summer adventures on the Howe Sound Crest Trail
  • Oregon Coast 50km and visiting the Oregon Coast – unreal
  • A holiday break filled with alternate days in which we didn’t leave the house and went snow shoeing as many days as would not break us.  (as of this writing, my legs are rubber from all the activity I tried to cram in)
  • Watching the sunset on Hollyburn Mountain on Christmas day with J.
  • A spirited baby niece who is practically a toddler
  • An amazing partner – there is no one I would rather do life with. (even though at the moment he is glued to wrestling on tv and and shoveling chips into his mouth :D).
  • And to my friends and family who have shared this journey with me, you know who you are, you have helped shape who I am.  Thank you!

A year in photos:

 

 

 

 

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Panorama Ridge – July

 

 

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Manning Park 🙂

 

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Post race in Squamish the day after

 

 

 

 

 

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Moonlight snowshoe for Karen’s b-day

 

 

And above all, it is the little things for which I am most grateful: as  write, fat flakes of snow are falling and I am curled up by the fire with hot cocoa & baileys, savouring the last few days of the Christmas holidays and dreaming of next year’s adventures.

Goodbye 2016, let’s see what 2017 has in store.

 

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Oregon Coast 50km

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The Oregon Coast was a gift.

I had signed up for the Oregon Coast 50km back in April (race sold out in 36 hours), and figured it would be a good Thanksgiving getaway. It wasn’t hard to convince J.  He  remembered the previous Rainshadow race I had run and more specifically the pizza at the finish line :D.  We took an extra day on either end of the long weekend to make it a vacation.  September had been a crazy month for both of us and we were looking forward to this trip.

We left Vancouver early Friday morning (before 7 am at J’s insistence) and the weather was miserable:  rain, wind, fog non – stop.  At the border, border patrol asked where we were going and why.  Um, to run 50 km. Excuse me? (border patrol’s exact words)  So I repeated myself :D.  It rained pretty much all the way to our destination. I was a bit worried as running in such conditions would not be fun.

8.5 hours of driving (J. was happy to do all the driving) later, we reached Yachats.  Yachats is a beautiful little coastal town in the Central Oregon Coast and it took me all of 10 minutes to fall in love.  Our room at the inn faced the ocean, and every night we fell asleep to the sound of the waves and woke up to the same.  Need I say more?

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Sunset in Yachats

 

This race was a bit of an afterthought in that I had done exactly 2 long runs since Squamish 50 in late August (one of which was Sky Pilot) in September.  I had, however, run faithfully on the weekdays.  I had very low expectations and hoped I would finish. Dutifully, I laid out my pre – race gear and drop bag (including a second pair of trail runners). We had picked up groceries so we had dinner and drinks at the inn.

Saturday morning J. dropped me off at the Adobe resort (2 minutes away) told him the cut off time, and I did bag check, bib pickup and two bathroom breaks.  We were bused to our start line some 7 miles south to the town of Waldport. 7 miles of beach running awaited and oh my, the ocean was beautiful.  Runners milled at the start and with no fanfare, James the race director shouted, go! The most anticlimactic race start ever. I met some interesting people, including a lady who ran barefoot the entire way, and a guy who had never run more than 15 miles and started the race with no water, no food, hiking boots and khaki shorts.

I trotted along the beach being careful to go slow. I hadn’t really done any beach running, but luckily the sand was relatively firm.  Rolling waves, and fog and mist shrouded the skies. I had to pause and take a couple of photos.  Yes, I know this was a race.  Somewhere along the beach (right after I jumped into a huge puddle of water) photographer extraordinaire Glenn Tachiyama was waiting to capture the moment.

 

7 miles of beach later, we were on gravel road. My legs were a bit tired from running on the beach but a quick stop at our first aid station, fuel, and change of socks and shoes (we got wet on the beach) and I was off and running.  Nothing some flat road couldn’t cure.

I made some new running buddies, including a girl from Denver running her first ultra and a research scientist running her first, and I had company all the way to the 14 mile aid station.  We climbed through some of the most stunning trails I have ever seen. Soft single track, and carpets of moss. The trails were surprisingly runnable and I felt as though I was running through a scene from Lord of the Rings.

 

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Running through magical moss covered forests

 

Cape Perpetua was breathtaking.   I could see the highway, and ocean stretching out below us.Naturally, I stopped for a photo – op.    Then I chased a couple of runners down the trails, all the way to the 14 mile aid station.  Watermelon, coke, m&m’s and salt pills.

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Cape Perpetua

It was somewhere after leaving the 14 mile aid station (which also doubled as the 24 mile aid station) that I rolled my ankle, badly.    My foot just slipped out from underneath me and I landed on my butt. A passing runner offered his help. I thanked him and told him I would walk it off. I pulled myself to my feet and began limping along. I decided I would seek help at the next aid station (I didn’t know there was an aid station at mile 19.5) and thought I had 10 miles to go.  Well, by the time I hit mile 19.5 my ankle was no longer hurting, so I kept going.  After fueling, I felt a lot better and began picking up the pace, completely disregarding the fact I had rolled my ankle. I was careful on the downhills but in the last stretch I felt pretty good so picked up the pace.

J. was waiting outside our inn (we ran past at mile 8 ish and again at mile 27ish – guessing h) so that was a super nice surprise. He took a video of me the first time round and the second time offered me coffee (spiked) of course. Bless his soul. I told him maybe half an hour to the finish. I walked, trotted, and tried to run, and I could smell the finish line. Soon, I could hear it. I was on the tail of another runner crossing the finish line.  And then I was done.  Maybe I will go back and see if I can run it faster next year.

 

I promptly sat down, and pulled off my trail runners and my left ankle was the size of a baseball.  Oops.   A volunteer came to ask me if I wanted anything to drink. Such service   The volunteers at trail races are the best!

J came to pick me up and we enjoyed wood even pizza and several beers,  staying long enough to cheer in the last runners before heading back. The Oregon Coast 50km is a fun low key race (not technical and super runnable) and was the icing on a beautiful Oregon Coast trip.

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The Adobe – finish line of the 50km

*Post script – we spent another night in Yachats, and explored Florence, visited the Seal caves (only to be told the seals were hibernating – oh well).  The views along highway 101 are some of the most beautiful I have ever seen. Miles of white beaches, rugged coast lines.  I wanted to stop at every view-point.

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We went to the Seal Caves (only to be told they were hibernating) but these views weren’t bad either:)

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J. taking in the Oregon Coast.

Monday we left Yachats, and headed north, taking the scenic route, driving through Waldport, through Tillamook, stopping at Devil’s Punch, Rockaway Beach, and spending the night in Cannon beach in a quaint little one bedroom suite with the fire place with the ocean yards away.  We were treated to a brilliant sunset and sunrise in Cannon beach before we left.  As I write this, I can still hear and smell the ocean (yes I know we have plenty of beaches here, but it’s not the same).  I miss the Oregon coast already. We’ll be back.

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One last sunset in Cannon Beach 🙂

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Squamish 50 – Race Report

I don’t have quite the words to describe the Squamish 50 mile course.  I had done the 23km and 50km previously, participated in the orientation runs, and trained.  I knew what lay ahead of me, and yet this was one of the toughest race experiences I have ever had. Quoting a friend, “I don’t think you can ever be completely psychologically prepared for something like the Squamish 50.”

Add in 30 degrees plus weather, exposed trails, 11000 feet of ascent and descent  and well the race was a special kind of type 2 fun. In case you are wondering, Gary Robbins likes his racers to suffer :).

How did I get myself into this mess you ask? Well, four years ago, I was volunteering at the Alice Lake Aid station of the inaugural Squamish 50 mile race (which replaced Stormy). As runners came through,  I was thinking  the following thoughts…what kind of crazy nut job runs this far?  Those people are insane. You won’t catch me doing this crap.  Hah.

4 years, 2 shorter courses at Squamish and one trucker cap later, I decided  it was only fitting that since the cap had all the different Squamish race distances embossed on it, I needed to finish off the then trifecta ( This was before  the 50/50  distance was added). If that isn’t the smartest reason for running a race, then well, I don’t know what is. Not.

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The cap that started it all 🙂

 

Pre- race

We drove up Friday afternoon to Squamish (I should point out I had twice as much as gear as the bf – race not withstanding).  At his suggestion, I had packed all my race gear into a clear plastic bin (pre – packed race drop bags, and all). Best idea ever.

We headed to package pick- up where many I saw many familiar faces and friends, not to mention a keg of beer. Of course I had a beer.

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Requisite bib photo

 

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Requisite bib photo

At the motel (so grateful we chose one across the street from the finish), I went through my pre – race ritual, promptly claiming the kitchen table to lay out all my gear and supplies. (gels (huuma, guu), nuun, salt caps, salt sticks, body glide

 

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Pre race gear…

I double checked my two drop bags and added a few items.  One of those drop bags had a pair of extra trail runners (important because the next morning, enroute to the race,  while wearing the ones I planned to race in, I discovered the plastic  heel plate was poking out of the heel lining or close to it).

Somewhere in here, J. made me an almond baileys, coke and peanut butter ice cream float. So good.

After a dinner of chicken burritos and corn chips in the hotel room, I lay in bed and fretted while trying to watch the Olympics.   Because J is so calm, even though I was nervous (i.e. a little sick to my stomach thinking about Squamish), I wasn’t my usual pre – race mess.  We discussed whether to go with his shammy or my buff in order to use to douse myself with water. We did a test and apparently his shammy could hold a cups worth of water. But my buff won, because I could wrap it around my wrist and I didn’t want to add more weight to my pack.

The alarm clock was set for just before 4 am for breakfast (race start was 5:30 am) and around 10 pm, lights out.  As expected, I didn’t sleep exceptionally well, but managed about four hours sleep.  I woke up at  (1:30 am ) and then again at 3:45 am (before the alarm and hit snooze as not to wake him up).

I dressed in the dark, and ate a breakfast of banana, instant oatmeal and quarter of a rock solid bagel.  At quarter to 5, I peered out our motel room and saw two racers preparing to leave.  I looked out the front door to see two more racers leave.  I figured this was a good time to head to the start line.

I woke J. up and headed to the truck. We followed a procession of cars in the dark and arrived at the start line at the ocean front just after 5 am.  Stars hung in the still dark sky, silhouetting the Chief, and I found my friends and other familiar faces.  A porta potty stop, a photo-op, a cup of coffee later, and we were off.

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We look happy and unaware of what awaits 🙂

The race

The first 11km of the course were fast and flat and I could see light reflecting off the lake as we ran past and into trails.  The darkness was just giving way to light as we slipped into some trails.

In a flash, we hit our first aid station at Canadian Tire, and I breezed straight through.  I hit it in about 1 hour 10 minutes, faster than I wanted.  With fresh legs, I was trying desperately to hold the pace back, knowing full well a long day was head.

We wove through the neighborhood, where we came across an inflatable arch, and people were dressed up in blue men costumes etc and cheering for the racers. Made me smile.

Soon, we joined up with a single track trail and were greeted by our first climb of the day – Debeck’s. I was caught in a conga line which was just as well as it kept me from pushing too hard. Finding some open space on a gravel road after the climbs, I tried to find some sort of running rhythm but the Squamish 50 course does not lend itself to smooth running.

I was still pretty happy at Alice Lake aid station, where I saw Pargol, Krysta, and other familiar faces cheering and crew. Pargol set to work refilling my flasks, snapped some photos, and reminded me to run my own race.  Then I was off.

 

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Handouts at Alice Lake Aid station – watermelon!

I met some new trail running buddies along this stretch and came by Alley as we made our way towards the Corners aid station which was 8 -9km away.  As we approached I saw familiar faces cheering and screaming – always a welcome sight. We hit the aid station and I stopped to eat and apply sunscreen while volunteers refilled my flasks.  Off we went to do a 10km loop before returning to the aid station (a bee was buzzing in front of my face) and I was very irritated.  I had the bright idea to try to out run the bee :p.  Fail.  I caught up with a couple of runners and the bee finally went away.

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Headed back to the Corners Aid station for a second time for more food, a handful of chips, watermelons, oranges and cups of coke (what I subsisted on for the whole day).  I slathered on more sunscreen, and then texted J. to let him know an estimated arrival time at Quest.

Soon after leaving the Corners, came my first low point of the day, a 4km winding up hill trail named Galactic.

 

I knew this climb well, but it was starting to get hot (and my legs already had 37km in them). Still, I had a reasonable strong pace going up as hills are my strength. We were greeted with stunning views in the back ground, and I stopped for a photo op.

Somewhere along Galactic, I met Becky and we were able to run the next stretch to Word of Mouth aid station together (where she also took the best video of me – butt sliding down some technical terrain and hanging onto trees).   It felt like forever to Word of Mouth aid station. I was starting to get crabby. Luckily, it was only 5km from Quest.

 

 

 

 

 

Approaching Quest University Aid Station (53km) I was happy relieved as I knew I would see J.  As I approached, a  volunteer handed me my bag, Ellie came up to me, asked what I needed, refilled my flasks, poured ice into my hat.  Kim found me a seat, asked what food I wanted, brought me watermelon, and peeled bananas for me ?!  J took everything out of my drop bag, bandaged my blisters, brought me a frappucino spiked with baileys that made my day, restocked my pack with food. I was speechless and I felt so spoiled being waited on hand and foot. The volunteer and crews were incredible this weekend, and I can’t thank them enough.

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Having a melt down 🙂

I should say my primary goal for the day was to get to the finish line.  I had time goals and expectations which I missed wildly even accounting for the heat. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed but you win some, you lose some.  And yes there were some tears of frustration, but things don’t always go according to plan in an ultra, and I could either pout because it wasn’t going my way  or pick it up and keep going.   I did however, lament to Jason and Kim, that I was already behind schedule. Kim told me very wisely, given the day’s heat, to forget the time, to keep moving and I would finish.   We all knew the race started at Quest (if you could call it a race – my day was more like a crawl).

After spending just under 40 minutes at Quest, I left the aid station double fisting watermelon slices.  (J. looked at me with sympathy and goes, I’d double you on my bike but pretty sure that would get you disqualified :)).

The climb from Quest up to the trail head was the second low point of the day. It was hot, and  I was starting to feel the effects of the heat. Switchbacks in hot exposed sun were not fun, but I told myself to keep moving. I kept pouring water on my buff and wiping down my face. I started singing to myself and gave myself a pep talk.  I tried to imagine how many switchbacks I would have to climb (I told myself a zillion) so I would feel better when in fact there were not a gazillion switchbacks.

Not too long after, I saw the Nesters guy with his truck and freezies!  This made me deliriously happy.  He asked me if I wanted one (umm yes), gave me two, and happily double fisting my cherry freezies, I made my way into some covered trails where a marshall was standing on top of a mountain bike ramp.  I asked him how far to the next aid station – he told me, and steeling myself, I marched onward.  By the time I hit Garibaldi Road Aid station, I was even more crabby – do you see a theme going? I decided stupidly to play the how fast can I get to the next Aid station game (and probably ran way faster than I should) in order to try and make it Fartherside by 7 pm. Note that in my original plan – I wanted to be at the finish line by this time, if not before. :p

I had not anticipated needing my headlamp a second time, but I would be cutting it close. I moved quickly (or so it felt – in the stretch between Garibaldi and Fartherside aid station. I made it o the Aid station, made it with 10 minutes before you had to take the headlamp rule and still, at the suggestion of the crew, took it. The forests were dim and the sun was setting.

This is where I saw a trail running friend Alley, camped out in a chair.  Both of us had anticipated being done by this point. The fact I wasn’t irked me greatly.  After having my flasks refilled, eating some watermelon, and eating a couple of chips with guacamole, putting on my headlamp, I headed out. Only 7 miles of torment awaited before the finish line. So close yet so far away.

This was by far the lowest point of my day because (a) I knew how long this 11km stretch could take (b) doing it in fading light was not what I had anticipated.

For the first hour, the light was reasonably good. As I approached the  mountain of phlegm (which took forever), the light grew dimmer, and I had to be careful not to trip or miss the pink flags. Luckily reflective tape was hanging from the pink flags.  From the mountain of phlegm – 4km to the finish! I picked my way down in the darkness (so this was what night running was like), being careful not to miss flagging. The thought of getting lost after such a long day would be crushing. Also my 100 – 120 lumen headlamp wasn’t as bright as I would have liked.

Finally, I saw the first set of the stairs and the beginning of the end (3 sets of stairs later) I was only a couple of km away.    The sun was truly setting as I approached the  Smoke bluffs and the beautiful sunset took away some of the sting (but not all).

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The sun setting over the smoke bluffs..

I caught up with some new friends from earlier in the day, and we ran along the water for the last couple of km (cheered on loudly by spectators) which gave me a huge boost. I followed the  orange pylons, heard the screaming and at the park, straight into the arms of Gary Robbins.  I am pretty sure the  words FML came out of my mouth.

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J. was waiting, videoing my anticlimactic finish  and had an ice bath waiting so after a quick chat with a fellow runner, we headed back to the motel (which was mercifully across the street).

Squamish 50 miler was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Mentally it took me to some pretty dark places. It was soul crushing and while I’m happy to have finished  I really wanted to be faster.  I don’t think I have ever felt so defeated by a race before.  This is one race where I felt I earned my race medal.

I’m going to eat all the food now and not run for at least a week.

Post run feet – in case anyone wanted to know.  You are welcome.

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Dirt and dust.

Thank you to all my friends who cheered, crewed supported, the amazing volunteers and crew, and to J. – the best other half a girl could ask for. Couldn’t have done it without all of you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Having not raced in 8 months,  I haven’t posted in a long while.  I can’t quite find the words to describe 2015, but a run at the dawn of 2016, might capture some of it.

Run

It was early (well 7 am early anyhow) when I headed out for a  dark albeit glorious run along kits beach, towards false creek. It was chilly, but I had layered appropriately.  Wispy clouds shrouded the mountain, and as darkness faded into light, I stopped to snap a shot. Water lapped against the shore, and ducks (fought..or so it seemed like it) in the water. I decided against an out and back loop, opting instead to take the scenic route, around False Creek. Good decision, as right around Science world, I was treated to the most glorious sunrise, the sky aglow, painted in hues of pink, reflecting off the water.

I have been struggling to get back into my groove these past months, and I told myself that as long as I got out the door for 20 minutes, it didn’t matter what pace I ran. As I ran, I reset. I paused to take in my surroundings, letting the thoughts swirl in my head, and then kept running. Every foot step, every mile I was moving forward. Never mind that my pace was painstakingly slow, that my “easy pace” six months ago, would be my tempo pace now. I reminded myself that I didn’t get to that point over night and so I would not be back to where I wanted to be over night.

I remembered why I run, not because I had to, not because I had been hovering on ultrasignup, signing up for races without thinking about the commitment required to follow through (gulp), but because I loved to run. Running speaks to the very fabric of who I am.

I reminded myself that it was healthy to have a break from running, that the hunger, that the fire in my belly would come back.   A couple of years ago, I would have had to be reminded that there are priorities outside of running.  This past year has brought a number of changes, and, accordingly running hasn’t necessarily been first on the list. And at different points in my life, my relationship with running has looked different

Can’t say that the fire in the belly for running is all back but this morning’s run was definitely a step in the right direction.

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Sun Mountain 50 miler – race recap

Late in the race - faked a smile :).  PC: Glenn Tachiyama

(photo credit: Glenn Tachiyama)

Where do I start? Perhaps with our drive up the stunning North Cascades highway. One of the highlights was Diablo lake. We were greeted by glassy green waters, snow – capped mountains and we took many photos.  As we wound our way up the highway, I could audibly feel the tension drain from my body.

The Methow valley was incredible. Lush fields, valleys and mountains.  Seeing the Methow Valley for the first time was like stepping into another time and place. Words and photos can hardly capture the beauty  of this place.

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Diablo Lake

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Our little cabin was in Mazama, just outside of Winthrop, Washington.  The name of our cabin was “A – cute – cabin” and indeed it was.  Old fashioned skates hung in the entrance. A white cabinet filled with giant red mugs and polka dotted cereal bowls. Wrought iron bed and a porcelain white bathtub. Fire place and couches, and a back deck with a bbq.

The cabin

The cabin

Cottage style country bedroom

Cottage style country bedroom

We had dinner, and made a grocery run to the local IGA.  Relaxing in a hammock, drinking white wine and soaking in the beauty of our surroundings.  It was a very laid backing evening. We met Laura, who was also staying in the same, cabin and was running 50km the next day.  By 10pm, we were all in bed.

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Pre – race ritual.


The Race

Race morning dawned early with 5 am wake up a call.  I ate half a bagel with chocolate peanut butter and we drove the 1/2 hour to he start.  A hint of light rose over the mountains,  and a deer flitted across the road.  I felt a wave of contentment wash over me.

Pre - race photo.

Pre – race photo.

The race was definitely an experience. Having not run further than 35km this training period, and having not run further than 50km, ever, I set out to enjoy this race.  I had heard many good things about Sun Mountain, and Sun Mountain did not disappoint.

The day turned out beautiful, albeit hot!  We started at 7 am, and within an hour I  could feel the warmth especially since the course was exposed with very little shade. But the beauty of the Methow valley was undeniable.  A lake, lush valleys, meadows bursting with wild flowers and stunning vistas of snow-capped mountains made for an incredible day.

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Playing in a meadow of wildflowers early in the race. Photo credit: Glenn Tachiyama

I didn’t have any particular goals for this race, except to cross the finish line. I stopped to take photos  and chatted with fellow runners.

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Wild flowers abounded…

 I felt reasonably decent heading into the 20 mile aid station   I had left a drop bag here but didn’t take anything. Volunteers refilled my flasks, and I crammed food down, chips, gummy bears, fruit and a lot of coke, pb and j. sandwiches.  For some reason, the coke sat well in my stomach.  It was also at the 20 mile aid station, that a fellow runner I had been running and chatting with at the beginning of the race caught up to me. After a few words of encouragement, he pulled out of the aid station.  I never saw him again – but looked him up –  he ended up finishing an hour and forty minutes ahead of me. He told me his strategy had been start very slow and then pick up the pace. Pacing anyone?

It was 7 – 8 miles to the next aid station, and I was warned a climb was ahead.   I focused on putting one foot in front of another, and making it to the next aid station. That made the race more manageable in my head.  The thought of 80km in one go was a bit overwhelming.

Selfie part way up a hot and steep climb.

Selfie part way up a hot and steep climb.

Being such a long day on course, I also had plenty of time to think.  I chose not to run with music, so when I wasn’t chatting with fellow runners or admiring the surrounding beauty, I was inside my own head.   I realized I was so mentally tired (not from the race).  I was carrying burdens that weren’t mine to carry.

And as I made a conscious choice to let go, I felt a weight lifted off me.  As I was recently reminded, by someone very dear to me, we only have so many moments in life, and we might as well enjoy each one.

Besides running further than I ever have (I use “run” loosely), the race took me to places mentally I have never been.  Between mile 27 – 36 were probably the toughest as distance wise. And temperatures continued to rise.

At the 27 – 28 mile aid station a kind volunteer held out my drop bag. I changed my tank top, slathered on more screen, ate more chips, fruit, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and grabbed a few gels for the journey in between aid stations.

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Mountain views abounded on a very scenic course.

Shortly after leaving the aid station,  I felt a blister on my foot. I debated turning around and heading back to the aid station but decided against it.

Somewhere between mile 27 – 36 mile included a lot of walking, with some “running” thrown in. As long as I kept moving, I figured I would be okay.    I was passed by a lot of people and stung by a bee. But the scenery was stunning, so that made up for it.

At the 36 mile (ish) aid station, I consoled myself by telling myself there was “only” a 1/2 marathon left.  I left the aid station and was greeted by none other than more climbing.

We hit 40 miles ish after a climb to the Sun Mountain lodge. I was not pleased to have to climb this late in the race. We had tried to descend the trail initially – and the volunteers kindly but firmly told us – that if this was our first time around we had to climb up the mountain. The lucky runners heading downhill were 50km racers.  Coming down the mountain hurt too – but seeing the volunteers the second time and going downhill made me feel slightly better. It’s too bad running wasn’t an option – I walked, shuffled along and then ran a little.   We were told the last aid station was 44 – 45 milesish.  Those few miles took a long time and I was hungry.  I was delighted to discover a fruit leather stuffed into a pocket of my hydration vest.

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Somewhere on the course – can’t remember where in the race I took the photo

Catching sight of the last aid station filled me with indescribable joy.  At the last station I found a running buddy volunteering. Seeing a familiar face late in the race was oh so sweet – the first familiar face I had seen all day.  He refilled my flasks, and snapped a photo as I ran off. Thanks for the help 2.0.!  He and another volunteer kindly told me the next 5.5 miles could be done in just over an hour.

I wasn’t so sure but I had my illusions.  After refueling and stocking up at the last aid station,  we pulled out and more climbing ensued.  And it was still hot. (The day alternated between heat, stifling heat and at times the weather would taunt us with gentle breeze).  We reached a ladder.  The ladder seemed cruel so late in the race. A group of us encountered a suffering 50k racer. We offered salt pills and then proceeded to do a group climb (sort over) over the the short ladder over a barbed wire fence.  And then we kept climbing. Surely, it must end.   We caught a tiny reprieve, and then the climbing resumed. I could see faster runners ahead, ants in the distance, across a higher ridge.  There couldn’t be more climbing. But I suspected there might be.

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More climbing.

We reached the ridge, and I was dismayed to see runners ahead, winding their way up a steep hill.  I almost cried, but kept marching up wards.  Runners making their way down called out encouragement. We were less than 5 miles from the finish line.  One foot in front of the other.  And as I finally crested the top and turned around. I felt relief.  I started to run downhill, but my quads protested and it became more like wobbling down hill.  Of course, hidden somewhere in the meadows was Glenn Tachiyama, photographer extraordinaire.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what my race face looked like.

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Late in the race. It was hot. I was tired. Photo credit: Glenn Tachiyama

 I was alone at this point and I kept my eyes peeled for pink flagging.  I felt as though I had gone awhile without the tell – tale pink flags. I started to re – trace my steps uphill. Three steps up, I ran into a fellow runner with whom I had been sharing miles. We decided we  hadn’t come across any turn offs and continued on our paths. Finally, a pink flag appeared on a shrub.  As we gingerly descended the trails on trashed quads and blistered feet, I felt a wave of emotion wash over me.

We exited the trails and crossed a road onto another set of trails. Seeing the Chickadee trail head on which we started, I was certain the finish was just around the corner . But every time we rounded a bend more pink flagging awaited. Those last few kms felt like the longest of my life.

Finally, I heard a volunteer, and then another who told us  200 yards. I had to be close. I willed my legs into a feeble run.  I saw Alan just before the finish.

As I ran into the finish area I could hear screams and cheers of finishers and spectators. The trail running community is so tightly knit.  They cheer for friends and strangers alike.

I came to a halt scanned the finish area and I found J. off to the side, snapping photos.  He had arrived 10 minutes before I crossed, based on my own estimated finish time.  I handed him my hydration pack and peeled off my trail runners.

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Done.

11 hours later…80km done.  It dawned on me 80 km was kind of far.  At some point during the race, I swore I would never do this again but I’m already contemplating the next race. 100km sounds reasonable to me…

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Exploring a park the next day. He decided to carry me, because it was quicker than waiting for me to walk :p.

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