Saturday, April 23, 2011

Finding my heart by almost losing my feet

Well, footing really -more than once. It was the best time EVER!! -in that "I have lost 20 years and quite a few brain cells" voice that most teenagers are doing these days..

Yesterday morning I got up at 5:45 gobbled my breakfast and donned my black lycra with my vibrant pink skirt. Yep, it's race-day, but in a change of events, instead of being nervous or encompassed with a feeling of dread, I was excited. A race I actually want to do; this is a rare sensation at the moment. Not going to go too much into the pre-race stuff; you all know it by now. I packed my "rice krispie squares" (New attempt at "Food of the running gods") and my cobbled together new wrist-held water bottle - let's just say more work needed, more on that later.

I had decided to do the "Golden Ears provincial park" race of the 5-peaks series. 5-peaks is a trail race series where you climb a mountain; or two if you are doing the longer course over anything between 5-15K. In my usual fashion I hadn't registered beforehand and I hadn't even determined which course I was going to do. It wasn't until I managed a 7 mile easy trail run yesterday without too many aches/pains, did I decide to do the longer 14K(8.7 mile) course and not the shorter 8.8K course. I mean I have an important race next weekend -the 8.8K course wouldn't give me enough opportunity to kill myself before hand.

This registering on race-day -or as near to race day as makes no odds- is proving to be a complete winner for me. No pre-race nerves, because I don't really know I am running the race until the day (or day before) the race. There isn't all this, training and goals that get tangled up with the whole experience of running. If I don't want to run; like last weekend, I don't run. If I do, I know I haven't specifically trained so I have no expectations.

So off I went, for the 40 mins trip to the race. I have lived in this part of the world on and off for 6 years and I am still amazed by the beauty around here. As I was driving on this cold morning (it was about 2C/35F), I marvelled at how the sun was topping the snow-capped mountains and how the morning mist was evaporating away. I had to take some photo's of the Coast Mountains, (at designated stop signs of course *cough*). However, it didn't do the mountains or view any justice. They don't put "Beautiful British Columbia" on the car license plates for nothing.

I had learnt my lesson from my "Race from hell", and didn't arrive too early to the race. I also brought some snacks to eat before I headed out. The beauty of this trail race series is that it's still a little unknown event; even at 8AM -an hour before race start- there was car parking and hardly anyone around. I can't imagine saying that for the BMO Vancouver Marathon next week. In total there turned out to be only 160 racers for the longer course and only 360 racers for the entire event(sport+enduro races). This in my view is completely perfect; this wasn't a race, it was just a random collection of insane people starting to run up a mountain at the same time.

I managed to find my new friend Megan at the race start. This lady is my new running idol; she is woman who run's up mountains with egg sandwiches and coffee - you may remember her from my last posts. She is more of a veteran of the trails than I am and although I knew I wouldn't keep up, my goal was not to get too far behind. She introduced me to the others in the trail running pack I am hoping to join in the near future. They all looked as if they knew what they were doing; unlike me in my checked running skirt and a "hacked" water bottle holder. Oh well...

So off we started and I was quite surprised I was able to keep up with the pack. When I ran Buntzen lake last year, I pretty much failed as soon as I started. This time the easy rolling trail allowed my legs to warm up before we hit the hills. My feet were a different matter. We had to to splash through a snow-melt creek on the first 500metres. So cold, wet feet before we started. I was wearing my Merrell Barefoot pace gloves and they dried off pretty quickly and even though my socks were drenched, my feet did warm up after a couple of K. Very thankful I wasn't wearing my VFF Flow's; I can imagine I would be pretty miserable for most of the race. In all we had 6 or 7 small creeks to cross in the entire race and although my feet weren't anything close to dry, they were warm.

We had about 4K before the climb started. I was able to keep up with Megan, so I was pleased. As we ran she told me that she ran this route last week as prep and the mountain was a killer. The gradient and length of climb wasn't the worst part she told me, but the fact that the climb itself was dead straight not switch-back. She said it was the most demoralising mountain she had run, because you can see it in all it's glory straight in front of you.

There was a gentle climb to the hill and actually I was again surprised how well I was coping. I have only been doing trails with any form of gradient in the last month, so the fact I was still keeping up was pleasing. Until that is, we hit the first and main mountain. As soon as I saw the trail, I knew exactly what she meant. When you know you have to hit the top of the trail and you see the trail loom way above you, it does make you take a gulp. I had already decided to power hike the climb, but it was clear at this point Megan was a better hiker than I was, so she went on ahead. My calves were feeling it and by half way I could feel them cramp. I had to stop every so often to let the cramps die down before I carried on. I think it's time I put more hill work into my running, because frankly I SUCK at hills. :)

It was at this point I realised my hydration plan needs more work. Ever since I tried to run further than 5 miles, I have been frustrated by the fact I need to carry water and food. The food bit is okay, you can pretty much shove any type of food stuff down your running tights, (Okay that came out wrong), but water is another matter. I have spent a fortune on hydration back-packs, handhelds and waist-packs and I dislike them all for one reason or another. Hydration back-packs are good, but I still haven't perfected how to get them to work properly and for this reason I still distrust them. Waist-packs irritate me because I am always bashing them as I move my arms. I don't like handhelds because they feel heavy and lop-sided to me (because they are sometimes quite big) and I have to actually hold them. My hands aren't free. This may not sound a big deal, but when you are running technical trails there is always a risk you will fall and you will use your hands to stop you falling. A little hard if you are actually holding something. What I was looking for -and have never found- is a wrist-held water bottle.

So the morning of the race I found an old strap of a large handheld and tied it in such a way that it would hold a small 7fl oz flask of water, but on my wrist, not in my hand. My idea was that there are aid stations every 5K or so and I would just get the flask re-filled. I never drink more than 2 flasks over a 13 mile run. This actually worked quite well except the bottle cap kept leaking, so by the time I had run 1K from the aid-station, the flask was empty. However, in the fact it was light AND it kept my hands free, this was ideal. So not a complete success, but now I have something to work on. This did mean however, I did run the entire race on pretty much 2 cups of "refresh" at the aid station and nothing else. As the day was cool I didn't suffer too badly, but I had better get my inventing cap on before the summer hits.

The volunteers are great at this event and those at the top of the hill were shouting as we reached the top. All I could manage was a small grunt; this was a hill that just kept giving. The beauty of going up-hill is that you have to go down-hill before you hit mountain number 2.

This is where the trail gloves came into their own. I had an absolute blast going down. The little firmer protection allowed me to bomb down the trails. In my Flow's I had to carefully hike downhill too and I still had stone bruises. This time I found the beauty of trail running. I let gravity do the work and I just tried to put my feet in the best place on the trail. The grip on the Trail Gloves did give out on a couple of patches, but luckily my form is good enough I was able to recover before I spectacularly went "A over T" as my Dad would say. (That's "Arse over Tit" for the Non-Brit's out there).

As the race field was so small, I spent most of the race running by myself. I am not sure why, but even 8-10 months ago this would have been awful to me; I needed distraction. This time there was no music, no company, nothing. It just goes to show my much I have changed as a runner, because this was heaven. I was bombing up and down the trails just content in my own space, enjoying the view and my only thoughts was where to put my feet. When running, people tell you that there is this place of calm you go to where you think of nothing except where you are going. I reached that place. I had no times in my head, no music, no phone, nothing; just me and my legs. (I left my phone in the car, would have been useful in case of an emergency, but without a signal it was pretty useless and destined to get lost, just thought I would add that... Also ran with no ID; DON'T shout at me, yep I know that wasn't smart, but the whole "lost" thing again, but hopefully my road-id will be here in time for the next race)

About 2-3K from the end we hit the first and only major mud pile on the track. I secretly think the organisors took large numbers of water barrels out to this spot the night before, just to make the 10metre patch really muddy. Up until that point all of the other mud patches were only 1-2 inches deep and only 2-3 strides wide, this one was at least 6 inches and there was no way of getting around this bugger. As I looked at my shoes after I had dragged myself through I couldn't help but imagine my Merrells giving little cries of horror. I have this theory that my Merrells look at all my other minimal shoes -who are all pretty clean and tidy- with an element of envy and grief. I imagine little cries of "why can't I be like that?"

Just after this mud pile there was a very vocal volunteer who was enthusiastic in his encouragement. Apart from the fact he distracted me so much I nearly ran into a tree, he also shouted "I have those shoes". I looked at my feet and wondered, "How could you possibly know what shoes I am wearing? Even I can't tell what they are", he also mentioned he didn't have my colour because he wasn't a girl. For some reason this made me laugh; he was about 6 foot 2 and very clearly not female. At the end of a race, the simplest of comments can seem so absurd.

As I mentioned, I secretly think the organisers had created the mud pile just for entertainment and I think this was confirmed when 500m later there was a waterfall/creek combo. Just deep and rapid enough to ensure that most of the mud was washed away. See, it takes years to plan a race like that.

Just after the creek was the run home. Simple, flat, paved road. Perfect. I was surprised on how well my legs felt and I was pretty sure I was looking at least a 2 hour finish. I hadn't been pushing speed-wise. So I was again surprised when the clock said 1:49:something. The run was better than I thought it could ever be.

I found Megan who run a 1:39 and her friends who ran a 1:30 something. However, I wasn't last -although towards the back of the group- and I wasn't too far behind the main crowd, so I was pretty happy. It wasn't until I checked the results later that my time was actually 1:46:17. I had forgotten they had sent us out in waves, so in the end I was only 6 mins behind my running idol. :)

This race was so different to Buntzen Lake last year. My attitude, my aims and the way I ran and felt during the race. Although this doesn't prove I am a trail runner to BC standards, (because frankly the people at these races are all nutters), but at least a true trail runner in my heart.

Four more races to go - I am really going to enjoy this summer.

p.s. picture of the start/finish. Not very interesting I know but look at the mountain behind... yep, that's the one we went up. Race stats: 14K/8.7 miles; 2 mountains of 20%+ gradient; elevation gain 648m/2,125ft(over the 2 mountains); 6 creeks; 1 creek+waterfall; 1 huge mud-pile; 160 racers (quickest runner was 0:56:45 name..NUTTER!!); course technical (according to the RD)/single->double track.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds so fun!!! Well done and so glad you enjoyed yourself :)