MEC Race #3- Royal Roads- a half marathon with a reputation!

Not gonna lie, I was less than enthused about running this race. Last year it went really horribly for me- I was struggling with mystery asthma symptoms (struggling to breathe, felt like something was crushing my chest and I was gasping) on and off that whole year and hill running made it worse… So that race was hot, horrible and I thought I was going to collapse during it. I walked, a lot which psychologically is kind of tough.

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At the start. Brrrr. Can you see me? Photo courtesy of MEC Victoria.

My time last year? 2:10 or so. Ha. It’s a hilly and quite technical half, with very steep uphill climbs and downhill ‘jaunts’ that are just murder on your legs. My first time running it (it’s a quite new race, only three years now) I ran it in 1:50 and was kind of shell-shocked, haha.

It’s not a true trail race but there are lots of trail sections, and a loooong flat section (2km) along the Lagoon that is good on paper but a total mental dead zone when you’re running, complete with a pace-killing headwind the whole way.

Soooo yeah, I was not thrilled about this race, particularly since I was wrapped up in a crazy busy weekend with absolutely no downtime. But we picked up our bibs on our way to Hopoxia and it was ON! The race started at 8:30am and it was freezing at Royal Roads. I was shivering and wearing my jacket zipped up to my neck and didn’t want to take it off until we actually started. Ian took it from me (his race started at 9am).

And we were off! Started a bit late due to technical difficulties. I saw some people jump around and generally just waste energy (in my cranky opinion) do a quick fade out at 1km. Oh yeah and the start goes pretty much straight uphill, ha. It’s a pace-killer for sure.

Still, I thought let’s just see how this goes… I ran conservatively, but with the hills, you pretty much only have 1 choice- run conservatively or die.

I cruised up on a few women runners, saw one on the out-and-back at like 2-3km that I thought looked strong (she passed me shortly before the out and back) but I figured if I ran well I could catch her.

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Finishing strong. Photo courtesy of MEC Victoria.

After that, I just didn’t worry about it. I spent a lot of time worrying about the really steep hill climb after the Lagoon though… I paced with this one runner for close to the entire race, haha. And he was a big guy! We’d play a bit of leapfrog up and down, but I lost him at the second loop at the big hill. Too bad, because I was impressed at his stamina.

I generally just kept running and didn’t think too much about anything. It was cold and windy, we had to jump over a downed telephone pole, the hills made my legs feel weird (like, they were kicking out wildly when I was going downhill and I wanted to shout at my legs ‘hey get with the program!!’) and I think that was just because going from uphill-downhill was straining the leg muscles.

I passed the other girl at like 5-6km? And then it was just a run where I had to keep my legs and my head in the game, haha. I didn’t let myself walk up the big hill- BOTH times I kept running (so slowly it was like walking, ha). My right knee this time was bugging me BIGTIME. I was worried going into the second loop, no lie. The downhills in particular were bad.

At the finish I felt quite strong, though my legs hurt quite a bit and felt super stiff and sore. We did it! My redemption race, in full colour.

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The winners! It was freezing though. Photo courtesy of MEC Victoria.

With a respectable time of 1:41 I placed second woman out of a small field (this half doesn’t tend to attract the numbers the other MEC races do, and particularly not for a half this nasty). 38? Women I believe finished the race. But it’s not really the placing that matters to me–it’s that I managed to do it, and ran a strong race for me. That’s the biggest joy of all! 🙂

 

 

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Take yourself with you: Crazy weekend recap~

So yeah this weekend…Wow. I am SO TIRED right now.

And this is with taking Monday off~ Yikes!

We kicked things off with a UVic Young Alumni music bingo event at Moon Under Water brewery. It was actually really fun, and I had a blast listening to all these hits from the ’80s to ’90s. There was free food (and lots of it, and it was great!) and a good atmosphere. We didn’t win at bingo but had a nice time and the night flew by.

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It was colder this year but at least it wasn’t raining!

Saturday I went riding (it was ok) and then we went to Phillips’ Backyard for Hopoxia- and we had a blast! Tried some really cool beers, Tod Creek Cider was there with a raspberry-infused cider. We walked home and took it easy, because the next morning was the MEC half-marathon! I will write about that in a separate post, but it went really well for a quite challenging and hard race.

After the race, we went riding- and I rode in the indoor because the footing was pretty deep/chewed up in the outdoor AND Oats was a total looney tunes- spooking, high alert and bolting across the outdoor when a kid was walking along the fence line. Sheeesh…

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He was ok in the indoor, which was good because we then had to get home and get ready for Ian’s dad’s birthday BBQ! Ian bbq’d some great burgers for all of us (his mom, dad, and sister) and pork tenderloin, and we listened to music and hung out on the patio. It was really nice and for once I wasn’t frozen solid!

I ate way too much, adding to my general sluggy feeling of eating/drinking way way too much this entire weekend. I went to bed pretty early as I was feeling totally wiped after the race, riding and hosting the BBQ.

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We saw a building being demolished!

And that was good, because on Monday I got up and had a riding lesson! It went really well, and we practiced releasing tension. It was a nice ride and for once I didn’t feel stressed or anxious. Just lovely! I ended up waterproofing some blankets and I’m sure I inhaled too much silicone spray, because I had a nasty headache for the rest of the day.

But my ‘weekend’ wasn’t over yet! We had the Stars concert at (WAY TOO LATE) as it turns out…they didn’t hit the stage until 10pm! I didn’t get to bed until almost midnight. Boy am I paying for it today, I feel like total shit. But, the band was amazing, and I loved seeing them again- just a great energy and the lead singer- Torquil Campbell- was on fire! He rocked!!

But yes. so tired. So very tired.

VIRA’s Comox Half-Marathon Race Recap!

Wow, where to begin? I was definitely gunning for a better time at this race. My previous half-marathon in the fall showed me I am capable of more (I ran a trail half at 1:40), which very much surprised me. I was coming out of my year-long racing funk and things were looking up!!

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Photo by Comox Valley Road Runner’s Jim Hockley.

I haven’t traditionally had great times at the Comox Half-Marathon. Our first time running it, I was so new to the distance we raced it at over two hours! Crazy eh? (2:05 as I check back with Raceday Timing). It hurt, it was hard and I wasn’t sure about this longer distance at all.

But, things improved. Piece by piece. The year after, we ran it at 1:45, which was HUGE for me. Wow! But that’s when things started to plateau/actively get worse for me in my body. I struggled last year with my breathing. For some reason, my VO2 Max seemed to get a lot worse and I was frequently gasping for breath. It felt like someone was squeezing my chest. I couldn’t get enough air, and almost collapsed at a pretty horrible race, in what felt like the penultimate bad decision…

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Real close up to the finish- Photo by Comox Valley Road Runner’s Jim Hockley.

Anyways, so my times at Comox last year reflected this, somewhat. I raced at a 1:44, which to anyone looks like success eh? Well, numbers don’t show everything, do they. I wasn’t happy about it, but then my Halloween Half Marathon with MEC showed me that hey, I was getting over this bout of weirdness!! Yeah!

And now…how did this race go? The big one?

It went GREAT!! I started cautiously (relatively…It still felt so fast to me) while I ran the first 9km between 4:30-4:45 at the worst end on the longer hill). People who I typically race around took off like a shot! I felt anxious about this. I couldn’t even see them anymore…Yikes.

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Very determined to the finish. Photo by Comox Valley Road Runner’s Jim Hockley.

But, the half is a much longer race, so I had time. So I hung on, and carefully watched and ran conservatively. It was amusing, because in my ‘careful’ pacing I ran with several other runners who were maybe at their max earlier…And I could hear them plotting to catch up to and pass me. And they did! But…I kind of knew they weren’t going to be able to hang on to that and it was at like, 2km. Soooo yeah, slow down guys. It’s a long race 😉 And I am a crafty person.

So I kind of laughed to myself and focused more on running a strategic race. It came to a head at 9-10.5km/the turnaround, when I was playing a bit of leapfrog with a runner who was starting to irritate me (well, and me to him probably). I knew I could outpace him, but I wanted to push him a bit, see where this was going. You can guess, he ran up, passed me, I dogged him a little…He clipped my heels when I managed to make another pass, I let him go ahead, and then dogged him…And then around the turn I blasted off!!

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Photo by Comox Valley Road Runner’s Jim Hockley.

Goodbye! I wasn’t running at my maximum at all!

I did not see this runner again. But now it was my turn to really max out my race. It was also a very long downhill stretch (my right knee is NOT GOOD today because of this….yeesh). But I could use it, and I sure did! I clocked km’s at 4:17 and 4:12, which shocked the hell out of me. Wha? I can and am doing this?

I started catching up to the runners I usually race with. They had been so far ahead I hadn’t even seen them the whole race and here I was, coming up behind. It felt really good!

I rocked the ‘faster than usual for me’ pace up until oh, 17-18 km which is traditionally a real dead zone for this race. It’s flat, lots of cars (an open course) gravel, and just…soooooooooo long.

My pace faltered a bit, but you know what? I didn’t stress and fuss. I picked off another few runners coming up the last few KM’s, which again surprised me. Usually I am getting passed at this point.

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Ian and my ribbons. The couple than runs together 😉

I was wishing I had grabbed another Gatorade drink at the 17km marker. It was really nice out, warm, sunny and I was getting hot and thirsty. Oh well! I came over the bridge, lost some momentum doing that, and then began the long run to the finish. I was so happy, people were calling to me ‘Go girl, get it!!’ 🙂 YESSS!! I got it!

I finished smiling, with a 1:34:55 for my personal best in the half, good enough for 5th place in my age-group and 11th woman finisher. A great race, well-run with over 100 generous volunteers, good cheering sections and the best food around! I enjoyed the chili and cheese and bread very much.

Hatley Castle 8k- Race Recap!

This past Sunday was the Hatley Castle 8k- a fun and challenging race in the VIRA Island Race Series. Notable for a very hilly course, scenic views, and tasty hotdogs for the participants!

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Yum!

It was also freezing. There was a light dusting of snow on the ground, and the gravel was slick and icy. A windstorm was currently raging in Victoria, luckily we only got hit with it at Royal Roads when we ran along the water at the start. Anyways, it felt pretty lousy.

I didn’t have very high hopes for the race- not that this was bumming me out, but that I’m focusing more on building more Km’s into my week and not taking a lot of time off during the week= deader legs. I know this going in, so I am not using these races for goal races, I’m realistic about what I can accomplish.

But…I’m also improving. I am getting faster, even with not-so-fresh legs supporting me.

Logistics were pretty smooth, lots of parking, hit the port-a-potties early so no lineups, and I felt pretty chill (haha, I was frozen). We warmed up, I stupidly kept my fleece on for the race b/c I was frozen, and when we hit the start line, I fumbled trying to zip it up. I couldn’t! We were going too fast. I also hit my watch ‘START’ and it didn’t. So my recipe for success:

  1. Run with your jacket flapping like Superwoman. Yeah that’s not annoying at all!
  2. Watch doesn’t start. Notice 1km in.
  3. It is so cold my exercise asthma was kind of flaring but not badly so.
  4. ….
  5. Success?

We ran up the first hill, I was getting passed like crazy but I had a feeling like- nah, I can do this. I will wait. I will bide my time and then I will go.

To be honest this ‘zen’ mindset is more to keep me from freaking out and trying to run faster when I am getting passed early. That’s a quick way for me to ruin a race. I have to run MY race.

So I hung on, lost a bit of speed and enthusiasm up the longer hill and we hit the flatter gravel section. Now it’s flat but also gravel….slippy. The guy running ahead of me slid pretty dramatically around the turnaround but he didn’t fall! Came damn close though.

I plugged along, not running great but kind of looking forward to the forested trail section. We ran for awhile on the gravel and then turned into the woods. Yes! My time to shine! (sort of). I was able to tackle the hills well here, played leapfrog with another woman runner up to the top of the hill. By then, I was able to pass her and stay past. I had been getting passed by her consistently up until then. Sweet!!

Then the loooong downhill. Ouch my hamstrings.

Flat section, some more gravel, and a slight downill again. Use it! Free speed.

And…the long leadup to the finish. I didn’t really sprint (ha, yeah like I could) and my hamstring was feeling really cranky…

But I am happy with my time: 36:39 and good enough for 1st in my AG women’s 30-34. First time ever!

(also for context: This time last year would have netted me 6th place. Ha).

Thanks again for the volunteers, race directors and VIRA for putting on a well-run, smoothly executed race despite some weather challenges!

Race report: VIRA Cedar 12k (er…11.9k)

This was an exciting race because at the last minute the course had to change! A car hit a hydro pole, so crews were out at work on-course the morning of the race. The host club- Bastion Run Club- had to work fast to re-route the course and save the race!

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From the start line- photo by Lois D’Ell/Ceevacs Roadrunners.

They did a fabulous job. The re-route was slightly short- my Garmin read about 100m short, so not certified. BUT it was a lovely route, along some farms, quiet road and very scenic. Slight rolling hills but nothing compared with the prior BIG hill the Cedar 12k usually features, so times were indeed faster this year (well also it was short).

I wasn’t interested in racing this one balls-to-the-wall because I wanted to run during the week and save my race efforts for some other races – and quite frankly I am still riding the high of reaching my 10k goal at Cobble Hill, natch!

So, my husband ran with me (he was also not racing hard for this one) and we worked on some pace strategies. I want to try to see if I can maintain a 4:30/km in a race scenario longer than a 10k. Could I this past Sunday? Not quite! I was at 4:32/km which is close and I was pretty happy with that. It felt hard, and my legs were tired, but it wasn’t an insane gasping-for-breath pace that a tough race effort would be.

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At the turnaround: Photo courtesy of Ross Palfrey.

My next goal is to try and take that pace longer- for a 15k. Can I do it? Maybe? Not sure!

The volunteers kept us safe on the new course, the scenery and weather were FANTASTIC and a great day was had by all!

I finished the race with a fairly respectable 54:24, which was amazingly good for 2nd place in my AG. This is the best I have ever placed in my AG! It was a softer field for sure, less entrants. I felt pretty gleeful about that, whoop!

We had some great snacks afterwards, the awards went pretty fast and we had time for a beer at Chemainus’ Riot Brewery-score!!! 🙂

Cobble Hill 10k VIRA race recap!

Ah, the 10k. Last year it was the bane of my freaking existence. I was actually contemplating the (kind of grim?) idea that my days of progressing and getting faster were completely over.

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So, you can see I was running a tight pack most of the entire race and I got passed right at the finish too. Ha. Photo by Neil Gaudet.

I was struggling- a LOT. My breathing sucked, I was sucking air even on ‘easy’ runs and had some truly frightening race moments where I thought I was going to collapse. I think now it was me dealing albeit poorly with allergy-induced asthma, but at this point who knows??

It was just kind of a rude awakening because I’d been getting progressively faster (ha, well fast for me) and seeing some good 45-minute or so 10ks (45:23 was my best)…and then bang, the bottom dropped out and I was clawing on to 47-something minute 10ks wondering wtf was going on?

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Photo by Lois D’ell. Me gaining on the pack…Yes I can do it!

Anyways as I am learning I was deep in a plateau. Like, a year plateau. I kind of mentally gave up last year’s lousy race season and did whatever I wanted running-wise for the summer/fall. I ran a 10k in …Sept? And it was pretty blah. I was terrified I was going to stop breathing, we ran it and it was a 47+ minute ish one. I didn’t have any trouble breathing! Maybe I could trust myself?

But..it still felt hard. I still sucked at it.

I ran a half at Halloween and blew it out of the park!! It was the first race where I felt GOOD!! I was high-fiving, smiling, having a rockin’ good time. Turning the corner on my sad-sackery? Maybe…?

I still felt kind of ambivalent about the 2018 race season. Given how shitty my last one was, I sure wasn’t holding my breath (ha). The 8k I ran two weeks ago shocked me- I was running faster paces than I ever even tried. And it didn’t feel bad?

But, you know the 10k is a different beast.

The drive up to the race saw it just pouring rain, hammering down. Victoria had a windstorm. I was feeling kind of grouchy…Not another blasting wind/rain pain race?!

But you know what?  I ran the fastest race I have ever run. YESSS!! It did NOT feel easy- it felt hard. But, it was a hard I could do! I had to let go a bit of mentally beating myself up in the middle sections, I was starting to struggle, worry, and think that I couldn’t get it.

But then I could. And I did. And I waited, saw my chance and hauled ass!

I wasn’t sure if this was going to be my day, but it was!! I ended up with a very respectable 43:09 gun time. Good enough for 4th in my AG and 13th woman overall (a smaller field). I am BEYOND happy with that effort! 🙂

The food was also great after the race, and the volunteers were very cheery and kept us safe on the course, as it is an open track with cars on the road.

Guest post: Finlayson Arm 28k 2017 Race Recap!

Courtesy of my husband who bravely undertook this insane race last weekend! Without further ado:

The good memories of the 28k Finlayson Arm race are overshadowed by my evolution through intensifying stages of discomfort. This constant pain was punctuated by bursts of sunlight piercing magically down between treetops, a stunning vista or two and little reminders that this amazing network of trails is in my own backyard. There was also the reminder that I had volunteered for this little jaunt through the woods and that no one would sympathize with my agony.

A few weeks before the race, I had decided that four hours was the longest it would take me – the rough number to beat. I figured that was setting expectations so low that I was sure to finish with a smile. There was even some pre-race training for me, complete with my brand new water-bladder on my back and getting lost for an hour or two in the trails behind Thetis Lake. I felt sure-footed and strong. This was a race I could do. All I needed to do was power through some tough hills and keep moving. In a sense, that’s exactly how things turned out.

It was a chilly morning when we set out – cool and clear over night – but the forecast was sunny. The 50k and (suicidal) 100k racers had finished the day before in the rain. As if their punishment was not enough. I went quick off the start as I anticipated getting bottlenecked later on the narrow single-track. After a kilometer I was established near the top 10. Then we hit the creek. Anyone who has been to Goldstream Park will notice how a four-lane highway rips through the middle with no safe way to get from one side to the other. You either need to dodge cars or get your feet wet (and maybe your legs and maybe your ass depending on how nimble you are). A rope strung across helped the crossing not be complete madness, but it was a gritty way to start a race.

With wet feet I carried up through the rolling side hill on the west side of the highway. This is a really nice section of trail that I will have to remember to check out when I’m not racing. It was a time to flex out your legs, find your pace and your seeding, a bit of a free pass before you hit the real hills. Looking back I wonder if I went too fast in this section, maybe blowing too much gas.

About five kilometers in, we were back under the highway (luckily through a dry stream bed this time) and through the main park, eerily deserted in the still early morning. I already had a pain in my leg, a nagging injury that I’m learning to live with, so I started to run a bit more cautiously.

Next it was on to the main event of the first half of the race, up the face of Mt Finlayson. There’s a slow build to remind you that this is a serious climb, to check your pace and your ambition. Then it gets steeper. Then the trail kinda takes a break and you start scrambling over rock, open to the sky. I should mention at this point all the volunteers and signage to keep you on track. There is plenty of both and I always felt like I knew where I needed to go. They seemed to anticipate in these early sections where you might go astray and had people there to point. On the mountain there were more guides. It’s the kind of climb where there is the very real possibility of running off a cliff into thin air so I’m glad they were there to point the best way.

At the top of the hill I felt pretty good. Well, not good. My legs were burning. But there was a lift in getting over what I knew was the hardest section of trail and I had kept my pace and not been passed. It was this feeling that propelled me down the backside, not too steep (which was nice) and into trail that I had never seen before. Just before we popped out on asphalt (a surprise) I was passed by someone with a bit more lift than me, but I stayed on his heels as we ran along the short section of road towards the first aid station.

The station could not come soon enough. Almost two hours into the run, I suddenly felt depleted. I wanted to stop and sit and eat some cookies, but my new nemesis just cruised on through. I grabbed a cookie and a banana piece anyway and set off on the next leg, back into trail. This is where my memory of the route got a bit hazy. What kilometre were we at? How far to the turnaround? Basically, the race had moved solidly into ‘not-fun-anymore’ territory and I was doing some mental math on how much longer I would have to move. At two hours the footsteps behind me turned into people passing me. I tried my best to make sure they weren’t increasing their lead on me, but I found myself slowing on every little hill, my flow completely evaporating.

There is a long hill in this section that, mentally, nearly did me in. Where was the bloody turnaround? The trail was also quite technical, with loose rocks and big steps up in places. Then I saw the front runners coming back down and couldn’t decide if I was elated or destroyed. It meant the end must be near but also put the necessary route back home into perspective. At least they were giving shout outs to keep me going: “Almost there!” I hoped they were right. Finally there were more people coming back down towards me – people I recognized! Hey, you’re only a bit ahead of me! And there were the volunteers, a photographer snapping a picture of my grimaced face, and the end of the ‘out’ – it was time for the ‘back.’ (Side note: one of the volunteers or spectators or whatever was announcing ‘halfway there’ and I thought that was a bit cruel. Maybe most didn’t hear or didn’t care, but I was a believer for a moment. Could this truly be only halfway?)

I was so happy to be heading home (and downhill to boot) that I even passed who I would later find out was my trail buddy. I swung my bag around and took out my gel pack. Time to take in some energy and get going. Things were looking good. Now it was my turn to dish out enthusiasm to those still on the grind to the top – “keep going,” and “almost there” I kept saying even as it became less true the further I went. And there were so many people behind me. I was doing well! Then all of a sudden I wasn’t.

I was coming undone, step by step.

After three hours of “running” I did not have the strength to keep my pace, or any pace. I was passed, then passed again. I knew the aid station would be coming back up again but I needed it now. As I popped out of the woods back into the daylight I was passed by another three. But I had to take a moment. I grabbed another gel pack, a banana and squashed a cookie in my mouth. The volunteers were asking if I needed to fill my pack, something to drink. I shook my head and imagined the madness in my eyes. I muttered something about wanting to use up what I had. Maybe I had filled my pack too full as well. Then I was off for the final few kilometers and my once measured race became an unhinged stumble to the end.

The return route did not go back over Mt Finlayson, but skirted along one side. It was a rolling bit of trail that took a lot of focus. Right in front of me was the aforementioned Trail Buddy – temporary companions in suffering. It felt reassuring to keep pace with someone. Those who had passed us seemed to have extra energy to tap and were pulling away, but we were hanging in there, moving forward. I knew the end could not be too far off, but looking at my watch I began to wonder if I would get in under four hours. More importantly, would I be able to stand on my feet for that long? We rounded the mountain and rejoined the steep trail up from before – this time heading down. My legs – knees, shins – could not handle the steep downhill. I grimaced with every step. Up or down would not do; I needed flat, please.

Down and down we went and we were passed again. My world got smaller as I narrowed my focus on foot placement without collapsing or catapulting downhill.

Next was a split off to the left, in the direction of end/start. I could hear the highway again. I was picturing a mental map of the park and where we were in relation to salvation. The end could be around any bend, I told myself after every bend. Out of nowhere this guy in his sixties came up on us, hooting and and maniacally urging us along. “C’mon boys, let’s give ‘em hell” he shouted as if we were heading over the top of the trenches or storming Normandy. I put on a face and groaned some more. The crazy old man disappeared whooping and skipping along. Maybe I imagined the whole thing.

Then at about the same time that I decided my legs were finished, I spotted spectators ahead. There was a volunteer with a clipboard, calling ahead with my number, the sound of fans and a PA system blurting out names and congratulations. And then I heard my name, a mix-up, before I shot out onto the grass and over the finish, some prize pack thrust into my hands, the buzz of activity all around. There was my run buddy (he beat me in the end) with a high five and then food, glorious food.

For the next 45 minutes or so, I paced around in agony in between vigorous stuffing of burgers and beer. I could not decide whether to sit, stand, walk, or crawl into the bushes for a little nap. It was agony, but I had done it. And I never had to do it again.

I stayed on to cheer some others as they came across. A seventy year old, a guy who had finished the 100k yesterday was doing the ‘double-double,’ some others who I recognized from races past. Were they fast, was I slow? Did we all do “alright?” I cared a little. As much as this race was an experiment, you want to do well. Or well enough for your expectations.

I got in at 3 hours and 51 minutes, somehow just inside my (soft) target. I might as well have run a marathon. It’s the slowest 28 kilometers I’ll likely ever run yet certainly one to remember.