Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Hallucinations From The Trails - Trans Rockies Run part deux

A few months ago, a new friend was giving me a tour of his home. We came to a wood carving of a woman, seated and contemplative, in to me, what looked like a position of peace and strength. What spoke to me about the carving was that the woman’s arms and legs touched, but her core, her center, was hollow. Where her stomach, heart and lungs should have been, the seat of all of her power, there was nothing. Yet she sat there, peaceful and strong. Needing nothing to fuel her, other than the space that simply existed.

I have no idea whether the intention of the artist was to portray this, but this is how I interpreted the piece. While my work is in nutrition, and in teaching others to fuel themselves with clean, powerful food, when it comes right down to it there is so much more to where we get our power. No matter what you put in your body on the day of the race, no matter how long you’ve trained for it, without inner strength, your body will not perform (The new physics: http://www.scribd.com/doc/11657589/EpigeneticsThe-Biology-of-Belief).

And at times, when we are running on empty, we surprise ourselves with strength we didn’t know we had. And had we not been given the opportunity to get to the bottom of the well, to consume the last remaining reserve of water, we would never have access to that source of strength within us that we didn’t know existed.

For me, Trans Rockies gave me the opportunity to tap this strength. Sure, I’ve been through some pretty tough stuff in my life, haven’t we all? But I’d never really tested myself like this. Never been pushed to the limits.

As we walked into the finish area on Day 4, after having pulled out of the race, I couldn’t quite get a sense of what it was I should do with myself for the next few days. It seemed to me that the options were to
1: give up and volunteer with the crew, cheer others on and be a big girl about it.
2: see what it’s like to run at the back and take pictures and just really enjoy being out in the mountains without being focused on a time goal. I honestly would have been ok with this option. It seemed to me that some of the runners at the back were truly enjoying themselves, had no pain and tons of great conversations. Was I missing out on what was important here because I was too focused on the goal line?
3: push hard on my own to see where I would place. As I have never been much of a team sport person, I’m used to this option. No one to blame if you screw up, and no one that can take credit for your winnings. It’s all you baby.

Back at camp, still unsure of my choices, I grabbed my ipod and picked up a few torture tools from the massage tents. I seated myself on a yoga mat in the sunshine, happily enjoying the music and digging at the knots in my feet with the wooden sticks and knobs. Runners mingled everywhere, chatting, sleeping, eating. Life was good and I was open to the answer as to what to do with the rest of the race.

And then he landed. Sat down beside me, grabbed one of my feet and said “What have you done to them?”.

My first reaction was something out of a movie where you try to save the person who is just about to stick their hand in the fire.
I am speechless. Someone is touching my feet.

First thought: I don’t think there is enough sterilizing agent to help this guy.
Second thought: why would he touch my feet? No one in their right mind would do that, is he ok?.
Third: Wait a sec. I’m with my tribe. Just chill.
Still I couldn’t help but smile and mutter some self deprecating comment about how horrible they were as he carefully examined the blisters and calluses and excellent tape job that John The Blister Guy had attempted.

Great conversation starter.

I never did get a chance to look at Martin Gaffuri’s feet, but after about 1/2 an hour of easy chatting, he had convinced me to run with him the next day. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, he had lost his partner to injury as well. He had continued to run, but was officially out of the competition. Little did I know that this guy had some pretty serious talent and could have easily been running with the front guys. He had decided to do me a favor, because he’s a good person. And good people run (www.goodpeoplerun.com). :)

Fast forward to the start line beside Mango’s the next morning. I’ve got my music and we are about to hit up a 10 mile climb just to get to the first aid station. Another of the longest days. I’m ready for a fight. Not because it will matter in the standings but because I want to see what I’m really made of. Am I all talk or can I really keep up with the lead?

Max King - overall winning team keepin' it real on Day 5

Day 5: 23 miles. 4407ft of climbing. Red Cliff to Vail.

The gun goes off and we settle into an easy front position. My race style has always been to get out in front and hold that position. It’s always been much easier for me to take it out fast and maintain an edge than it is to try to regain lost ground. At one point, the lead women (pink t-shirts to identify themselves) take up a race and sprint past, and within seconds I pass them back and stay out front. I’m pretty sure Martin thinks I’m making a rookie mistake, but he’s happy to go with me. No talking necessary, we just jaunt up the hill, cool and calm. I don’t think he even breaks a sweat.

Just to keep it interesting, about half way up the hill I ask Martin “Do you believe in God?”. I figure if you’re gonna run that many km with a person, you should at least ask one tough question. I thought maybe I could get him talking so he wouldn’t die of boredom at my pace. “No. I believe in fate.” was his reply.

There is a poem that really stuck with me this week while I ran:

Come to the edge
We can’t, we’re afraid
Come to the edge
We can’t, we will fall.
Come to the edge
And they did
And he pushed them
And they flew.

Whether you believe in God as a source of strength, or the God within yourself, or Budha or the Universe, it doesn’t really matter to me. Everyone has a source of strength that they can access, that requires blind faith. Like the woman’s core, it looked empty. But within that space, was her source of strength.

The 5th day was pure bliss for me. Phil Villeneuve (Salomon as well) and Martin were playful and fun to run with. They were shooting footage for the Salomon site, so there were times where we ran as three, times I was alone and a good portion of the day where Martin and I ran together. He was great about just being there, by my side, not pushing and not pulling. And the best thing he said to me all day, was something only my dad has ever really reinforced my whole life, except with a french twist:

“Impossible is nothing”. Nothing is impossible.

He was right. And there was something about his style and the whole day that reconnected me with why I run. I almost quit a couple of times when we were at 37 km of what was supposed to be a 35k day. But I kept going. And we kept smiling. It was just one of those days where I felt like I was being carried. Or flying.

I wouldn't have placed 1st in open women. I/we would have been third. And that was enough for me and when Martin grabbed my hand and hoisted it up to cross the finish line, I knew I had left everything I had on the course, to be replaced by the deep satisfaction that comes from pushing past your self imposed limits.

Day 6: Vail to Beaver Creek. 21 miles. 4623ft of climbing.

And then it all went downhill. Not literally (I wish).

So for most of the week, there had been a pretty bad bug going around camp causing any assortment of symptoms from bloody diarrhea to non stop vomiting and obviously severe dehydration. I got the pleasure of waking up to one such symphony outside my tent one morning. It was not pretty. As a guess, there were at least 15 people who had been hit with the bug and had to pull out. Not fun.

When I woke up on the final day of TR it didn’t even occur to me that the bug may have penetrated the immune system I pride myself on. But it did.

I’ve been really sick twice in my life. Once in Thailand about 10 years ago, just before my diving course, and once a couple years ago in Ghana, West Africa. Both times I had the privilege of laying around moaning, and of Cipro. This time, it hit me smack dab in the middle of the final stage of a race that I had promised myself I wouldn’t give up on.

(On the upside, if you're going to vomit non stop for 2 hours, I must say that puking into the bushes is a lot more pleasant than into any toilet I ever encountered in Thailand or Ghana. There’s always a silver lining right?)

That morning, the run started out playful and fun. We had acquired another partnerless Salomon runner, Audrey, and it was Martin’s birthday so the mood was light. He even sang for us for a good part of the first 10k. Everyone was happy to be out, sore and tired, but at the same time wanting to cherish every step of the final day, knowing we would all be sent away from this perfect sugar coated trip within 24 hours. As much as I wanted it to be over, I so badly wanted it to last forever.

Right from the start I could tell something wasn’t right. My legs were heavy. Felt worse than the first day but I thought maybe it was due to lack of sleep and just generally being worn out. I dragged my ass through 12k and after the first station, Martin decides that even if he’s sworn to enjoy the day, this is just ridiculous. He ties a makeshift tow rope to my waist belt, and another to Audrey’s and literally takes off up a hill before I've had a chance to protest.

(Another side note here for those of you who haven’t seen it: a tow system is pretty common in this type of race. Inevitably, one runner is going to be stronger than their partner on any given day, and a tow system enables the stronger one to pull their partner through. While I’d never tried it, apparently it can be incredibly helpful.)

However, neither my body nor my ego could handle a tow that day and I had untied within a few minutes. “Go you guys. Have a great run. It’s your birthday! I expect you to be drunk by the time I get there!” And they were gone.

As soon as they were out of sight I walked. I let the fatigue take over and blissfully enjoyed it. Total fatigue. I had worked really hard for this feeling and I was going to enjoy it. I was happy with my performance. Even though the race wasn’t over, life was just too good to be dissatisfied with where I was. No matter what happened after this point, I would go home content. I had a reason to run again, a reason to love running. Not that I didn’t enjoy it before, but this was LOVE. I remembered why I started running. Being out on the trails, in flats for that matter, and essentially without injury, for a whole week of running with other like-minded folk. I had reconnected with a tribe I didn’t know existed. It was like coming home.

About 15 minutes after this nice little realization, the vomiting started. The usual hot, sweaty, panicky feeling and there I was in the bushes losing my cookies. Heaving away, all on my own. Walk. Puke. Walk. Stumble. Puke. Repeat.

For the first hour or so I tried to drink water because I knew I still had 20k to go to the finish and there was no way I was letting them pull me off the course because of some silly little electrolyte imbalance. Bah.

The water would have nothing to do with my stomach and vica versa. Same goes for any sort of fuel.

And so it was, I got to be the woman from the wood carving. Running on empty. But tapping my inner strength. Using what existed in the space when we empty ourselves and our minds, and discover our true power.

I can’t really detail the rest of the race for you because much of it is a blur. I know I walked a lot and tried to smile at the aid stations. And tried not to puke on anyone’s shoes. A few people stopped to ask if I was ok as I was bent over heaving in the bushes, to which I would turn my head, smile, wave, puke. All good.

Right about the time it got really bad, I picked a purple flower for Martin’s birthday as a thank you. That flower became my reason to keep moving. I held onto it for dear life because I told myself if I dropped it, it was all over. Sounds silly but sometimes we need something to hold onto to get us there and none of my usuals were around that day.

In the last few km, as I neared the finish line, I could hear music. I started to run. Not sure why because at this point it’s not like it wasn’t obvious that I had walked a good chunk of the day, but I wanted to finish this run running.

Probably not a great idea in retrospect considering I had lost a lot (500mg of salt per pound of sweat, at least 3-4 pounds of sweat that day) and had not replaced any of it. As Cynthia Amon (of Gore-tex) walked towards me with my finishers medal, it was all I could do to put a “just a minute” finger up in her direction and lunge for an empty cardboard box to recommence the heaving. What a show. What drama. Within minutes I had a team of friends around me (Thank You! Doone, Tim, Magi, Martin, and all the others who were there) undressing me, space blankets, trying to get me up. As soon as I stood I had to vomit (or dry heave as it were... there was nothing left inside me) again so then I got the all time most humiliating gurney ride of my life over the the ambulance for a few litres of IV fluid. Not really the shots I was hoping for at the finish line, but within an hour I almost felt human again. And, even though I think it ended up under the cardboard box, the birthday flower made it to the finish line.


So I think I’ve pretty much spilled my guts, at some points literally, on everything I went through this week. We all have our stories and telling them and hearing them is what makes us who we are. We weave others stories into the fabric of our existence and hopefully learn from them.

And in closing, if in reading this, any part of you has wondered if you could do a race like this, like I did when I first signed up, then consider this:

To anyone brave enough to face themselves, even if you have never run a step in your life, I challenge you to run with me next year at Powderface Marathon. It's one day. 42km. It’s a beautiful marathon on the trails near Bragg Creek, Alberta. http://www.powderface42.com/index.html You have one year. And no matter who you are or what your story is, challenging yourself to something you believe to be impossible and then proving yourself wrong, will make you stronger and happier than you could imagine.

Earlier this year, my dad, aged 57, ran the Vancouver marathon in 4hrs 45 minutes. I had been trying to get my dad to run with me for nearly 15 years and he wouldn’t even do a 5k. But when one of my best friends, the right person, put the challenge to him, he made up his mind and did it. And if you ask him he will tell you, with tears in his eyes, how it changed his life. Impossible is nothing.

To anyone who accepts the challenge, no matter what your age, sex, weight or geographic location, I will run with you at your pace. Even if it is at the back of the pack and the crew is sweeping the course looking for stragglers. I hope that at least one person takes me up on this offer. And the more the merrier but the deal is I run with the slowest person. The only condition is that you have to register for the race before you start the training. :)

Happy trails and here’s to fate and new beginnings.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Trials at Trans Rockies

One of the most challenging and rewarding weeks of my life, this recap goes through all of it from course details, personal thoughts, IV bags, ups, downs, frustrations, blisters, nutrition, camp life, personalities and the questionable mental stability of an ultra runner. Rather than run you through the technicalities of the course and overall standings, I’ve tried to provide an honest account of what I went through this week. To me, course beta is a lot less interesting than the human condition and analysis of our personal trials. After all, we’re all here as mirrors to each other right?
Magi and I didn’t win. We weren’t able to complete the race as a team as she had to drop out on day 4 due to injury. But rather than wallow in self pity, which is what I so badly wanted to do that day as I vowed to quit running altogether, in a not-so-surprising twist of fate, my perspective on life was shifted by an unexpected new friend, and I accomplished something I never thought I could.
My apologies for the lack of pictures. No time to stop.

It was still the beginning of the racing season when my sponsor, Arcteryx, contacted me with an offer for an entry to the Trans Rockies Run. I didn’t even hesitate in responding with an enthusiastic “Of course!”. I had big shoes to fill after Adam Campbell’s incredible performance there last year so after sending the affirmative email, I had a brief moment of panic.

Amy you’re not an ultrarunner. What have you just agreed to? But before I had a chance to talk myself out of it, I started the search for the perfect partner.

I’ve had a lot of running friends over the years. And some of my best friends are the ones I’ve run with, in university, in college, through children, marriage and divorce. The first few years after my twin girls were born, most of my friends knew that if they wanted to see me it was going to have to involve a run. When you’ve only got a couple hours in the day to spare, you’ve gotta multi task. Regardless of speed of the running partners, there’s something about sweating it out through a tough workout that brings you together, bonding over the common pain and ensuing pride in accomplishing what you thought you couldn’t.
But hill workouts, speed work and tempo runs were nothing compared to what I knew I would face on the trails in the Colorado mountains. It goes without saying that any friendship will have to be a strong one to withstand the rigors of blood blisters, aching muscles, extreme fatigue, low blood sugar, delusion and hallucination at times (yes this happened!), success and failure. No matter how beautiful the trails are, when every part of you is in pain and things aren’t going according to plan you need to know that you can make it through and that your partner has the inner strength to do the same.

I’ve been trying to get Magi Scallion to do the Trans Rockies with me for years so when I got the call from Arcteryx, I shot her an email and had a response within a few minutes. Done. Arc’s (Arcteryx) Angels it was. Magi has been through enough in her life and I’ve had enough battles for medals with her on the trails that I know she’s one of the toughest runners out there. So it was decided.

Fast forward through the summer of my marathon in Vancouver, Scorched Soul Ultra, Powderface, Footstock, Crazy Soles and NACAC’s. All baby races compared to the mammoth of a challenge I was getting myself into. I had no idea whether I could actually complete it or not as I have mainly been a 10k runner for most of my life. Not only that, but my pattern around races has been to take a few days off before the race, run balls out, and then take at least a day to recover before I get back into training. There would be none of that at Trans Rockies. It’s 6 days, 113 miles (180 km!), and over 25,000 ft of elevation gain. You don’t get to recover. Every day you get up and run no matter what. No matter what....


Day 1
I’ve found my tribe! I’m not the only one in this group with ugly feet! And not only that but I can walk around in sandals! Hooray!
The foot situation was just the first of many common bonds I would learn I shared with fellow ultra runners at TR. Others included but were not limited to: questioning of sanity, love of suffering in beautiful places, ability to balance kids, jobs and life and still get out for weekend runs, running on the edge of control down a hill, willingness to stop in the middle of a race if a fellow runner is distressed (something you don’t often see in road races as others hurdle you when you have just eaten pavement), ability to swallow 3 gels, 2 saltsticks and 500ml of water in under 30 seconds and then boot it up a hill while trying not to vomit.

Truly though, I can’t even begin to speak to the respect and admiration I have for all of the people I met last week. I realize we were in a bit of a bubble and were getting some seriously high doses of our addiction - running, mountains, socializing with other great runners, incredible food cooked for us, and all the non alcoholic beer you could ever dream of. It’s pretty hard not to be happy in that crowd. But I don’t think I came across any cranky people all week. Sure there was disappointment and pain and I certainly had my share of tears at some points, but it’s all just so raw. The true essence of life for me.

Ok enough of camp life...

Stage 1: 20 miles, 2721 ft of elevation gain. Start line: Buena Vista Colorado.

I had arrived late the day before, after Adam Chase, master trail runner and social networker extraordinaire was able to save my butt and get me a ride to Buena Vista in time to register and find myself a tent for the night.

The first day at breakfast I had no idea which other womens‘ teams were there. It was great to run into the Banff Trail Trash crowd and veteran TR runners: Leslie, Keith, Tim and Doone. These guys have been through it and have come back for more so it can’t be that bad right? But one of the first things Doone says to me is "Nikki Kimball is here. You won't beat her so don't try. If you don't see her back, you're going too fast". I didn't know who Nikki was but with all due respect to Doone, as soon as someone tells me I can't do something, I decide that I will prove them wrong.

Rewind: Doone and I had battled it out on the Powderface trail together a few months back. She has got to be one of the toughest women I know. And not only that but as I’m running along in the forest, making up all sorts of excuses about why my legs are tired and I’m feeling sick through this race, she pulls up beside me and starts to chat with ease as I’m gasping for oxygen. Here I am thinking I’m entitled to quit because I ran a 50k race a few weeks back and must not have recovered yet, and she says: “Just finished the 100miler so I’m not feeling that great. And off she goes leaving me in her dust. Wow, what a humbling experience. Good practice for Trans Rockies for sure.

The first stage of TR was a grueling hot day. It took me at least an hour to shake the cobwebs from my legs. While I had spent a week in Montanna at altitude, for some reason I just couldn’t find any oxygen in the air that first morning. Poor Magi was feeling great and patiently waited as I battled up the hills. This first hour was a good way to see who was in our field.

By the time we got to the first aid station I finally had my second wind and I was ready to tap into my specialty of letting it go on the downhill. We took a little too long at the aid station so Team Salomon from Quebec blew by and we never saw them again. We did manage to maintain the 2nd place position though, cooking down the hills with ease. The race just seemed to get easier as the day went on. Unfortunately for Magi, the reverse was true. She started out strong but as we pounded through the desert like terrain, her IT band started to tighten up. She battled through until we hit the long home stretch road and then had to slow down. When your body locks up, you make a call; you can fight through it and risk needing a week to recover or you can walk in. Magi is one of the toughest cookies I know so if she’s complaining of pain, you know without a doubt that there is pain. As much as I wanted to turn it on and sprint in the last 4k, I knew we had to be smart about this. We had 5 more days of grueling miles and blowing up the first day would be ridiculous just to be 2nd. It was tough to be passed in the last 2k by 3 other open women’s teams but as a member of a team I had to put my ego aside. Finish line soak in the river, watermelon and plenty of fluid. Now, can I do that 5 more times?

Once you get back to camp, the cold beer (mmm... all the taste with none of the calories or alcohol) and chips, fruit, Cliff bars at the Salomon tents beckons. As there is no formal lunch, I had opted to bring Vega Sport Performance protein so I was always sure I could get in some quality recovery fuel. I take it everywhere so I know I’m always covered. Ice bath and a warm shower and you’re human again.
Cheers to Karen and Damian from (http://icoolsport.com/index.php) who so brilliantly positioned the ice baths in front of the shower house... way to keep us in the tub longer as we gazed at the shirtless men coming and going. :) A little nap, a little reading of “Born to Run” for inspiration and before you know it it’s dinner time. Cowboy caterers are my new heros. I’m not sure how you guys made such incredible, clean food for 300+ of us but whatever you do, keep doing it. You fueled us all week!
After dinner, the TR team presents the photo and video recap of the day as well as the virtual beta for the next day’s stage.

The first night we sat down for dinner, unknowingly, beside Max and Andy. “How was your race today guys?” “Not bad, they reply”. It took until the awards started for us to find out that they had won the entire race. Humble people here. There’s no bragging or self endorsement. Like I said, quality.


Vicksburg to Twin Lakes Dam. 13.5 miles, 3617 ft of climbing.

Mental note: next time I do Trans Rockies, bring ear plugs. What are the chances that in a group of 300 tents packed into a field together that you’re not going to hear snoring... or worse than the PG13 version I can describe here? Needless to say not a great sleep but for me, waking up in fresh mountain air at 8500ft is better than a soft bed in a house in a city any day.
Having a vague sense of what I’m in for, I try to eat just enough to fuel for the day without putting so much in that my body will be digesting rather than sending energy to my muscles. Always a delicate balance.

We hop the shuttle and drive into the canyon where the Leadville 100 race had taken place just days ago. Today, we climb to Hope Pass: elevation: 12,580ft. Cold start line, long lineups for the bathrooms. Sunshine and crisp air. A quick sprint along a road before an insanely steep and grueling climb up to hope pass. We crested in 2nd place but the technical descent was painful after Magi’s IT band injury from the day before so we slowed down a bit. While the distance was a shorter 13 miles, it was a grueling day. After a technical descent and a rolling trail beside the Twin Lakes dam, we finished in 3d place with a time of 2:47:08, 14 minutes behind the leaders and 9 minutes behind 2nd place. I will have to go back to admire the view some day.


Day 3
Leadville to Camp Hale. 24 miles, 2737ft of climbing.

Unable to reach Natalie and Jasmine by phone for more than 4 days now, the morning just started off on the wrong foot. I had purposely left my cell and computer at home so that I could focus on the race, but talking to my kids is something we do every few days. This blog is about real life, and what goes into racing and I have to tell you that when I have to fight to talk to my kids it makes it tough to fight on the trails. So after a few private tears, I pound another cup of coffee and head to the start line.

Just an hour earlier, I had walked by a woman crying while talking on her cell. Something about a hip. I had felt so compelled to hug her, but probably more to give myself permission to cry than anything. I just wanted to share her moment of pain. As I found out a few days later, it was Martin Gaffuri’s partner, Caitlin Nelson, who got on a plane that morning after calling it quits due to injury. As it turns out, Martin became my unofficial new partner and was the reason I finished the race at all.

The stage started off well with a long climb through the trees on a dirt road. By the top of the first climb I was bagged. My legs were tired, my stomach felt empty. And I had no idea how I was going to complete almost an entire marathon. I kept tripping on rocks, an early sign of fatigue and no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t seem to get my legs to pick up. About mid way through the race, while running along with some new friends Stephen and Deborah and telling dirty jokes, I tripped and came within a few cm of eating a giant rock and losing at least a few teeth. And that was it. My ego had had enough. Tears. Tantrum.
“I don’t know why I’m crying! I don’t cry! What is this?”
Magi: “Amy I’m a little jealous of your cry. Don’t worry about it. You look great with mud all over you!”
More crying.

(Side note: I've spoken with a few other runners in camp since that little episode and from a nutritional perspective, I'm pretty sure that sugar was a huge part of the emotional outbursts. Other runners have experienced similar episodes ranging within hours from anger to tears to hopelessness and back to elation. Don't get me wrong, it's not like I don't know that my body was exhausted, but just as a learning point here, when you force feed your body isolated sugar without any of the other nutrients that come with whole foods, from a 5-phase theory point of view, you are bound to have some parallel feelings of isolation. For those of you who know someone with emotional outbursts or instability, try cutting simple sugars out of your diet and boosting good fats and protein. You'll be amazed at how much more grounded and stable you feel.)

Amazing the hormones that are released through tears. After a few minutes of feeling like a two year old, I was good as new and ready to go. Within a km or so, Magi and I had made an unspoken agreement to just hold the position we had (4th) and enjoy the day. There were non stop jokes with other runners and aid station workers, a request to a cop manning the course to commit me to a mental institute, a few flying unicorns and even trying to convince a couple of doctors to moon the camera with us on the finish line in the hopes of getting a little air time from Glen and honoring my fellow trail trasher Jen who couldn’t be there to moon herself because she had just given birth to her new baby girl! While we packed on a good 20 minutes of time, it was a great day overall. Little did we know it was also our last full day as a team.


Day 4
Camp Hale to Red Cliff. 14 miles. 3009ft of climbing.
Reward at the end: the famous fish tacos and margaritas at Mangos.

“Magi, this is our day. I had a dream last night and I know what to do. If you can just stay with me, even if you hate me all day, I know I can pull us through to first.”

Up to this point I had been running without music. So I’m not a purist. I have a crutch. I like the beat of music in my ear, partly because then I don’t beat myself up for such labored breathing but also because I was a dancer for 8 years and music moves and inspires me. It blocks everything else out and becomes almost meditative as I let it pull me. We had to carry a pack anyways for safety reasons, whats a few extra ounces for an ipod if it speeds me up? The day started out great. We were in the lead and I felt strong and confident we could win the stage.

But it was not to be. Again, as much as I wanted to push, it’s a team event and Magi just wasn’t able to force the pain out of her body. We made it to the top of the climb and as we jogged away from the aid station, I said to her
“Magi, you’re done.”
She keeps walking, unable to bend her left knee at all because her IT band has completely locked on her.
“Magi, you’re done”.
“No, I’m fine. I’ll be fine.”
“No Magi you’re not fine, you have to stop.”

She stops, fighting back the tears. I know how hard this point in any race is. I went through the same thing at 32km in the Vancouver marathon earlier this year. You tell yourself you’re being a baby and that the pain will go away. You tell yourself it’s not really an injury. I had to be her logic because as tough as she is, it would have been crazy to try to continue.

She lets me massage her glutes to try to loosen her IT up as a few of the other teams pass us but refuses to stop walking. I decide not to push it or her, and resign to walking the rest of the way out.

I try to stay positive as we descend the relentlessly steep hill through the forest. No views, just interesting red spotted mushrooms and a few wild strawberry patches which I enjoyed (the strawberries not the hallucinogens). It took us close to 3 hours to get down to the next aid station and when you’re feeling really crappy, there is only so much conversation you can force. I think for both of us it was something like being at a Christmas party with a bunch of people you don’t know when you’re having a fat day and your boyfriend just broke up with you. You just want to crawl under a rock.

At the next aid station we managed to hitch a ride to the finish line, which is why our time for the day shows up as 11 hours even though it was closer to 4.5. Magi understandably disappears back to camp as I head in to Mango’s for a beer and some fish tacos. At this point, I couldn’t see getting back out there for two of the longest days in the race if I wasn’t going to place. I figured I’d cut my losses and just help out with the incredible staff and enjoy the race atmosphere. Little did I know that within a few hours I will have met Martin, who convinces me to get back on the start line and finish the race as if I was still in it. To be clear, Martin is a world class runner who could have finished at the top that day. His patient encouragement, and his boundless energy, compassion and passion for life was what got me through day 5 and even through the worst 24 hour flu and severe dehydration on day 6 that I've ever experienced.

To be continued in TR2 asap...

Saturday, June 26, 2010

My first Ultra - Scorched Soul 2010

Hello pain, nice to meet you. Now p*^%$ off!

That was part of what kept me going today in my first 50k trail race (with over 1700m of elevation gain I might add), and first win of the year. Today, I was able to try a new technique of observing the pain, the negative thought, or destructive emotion and then placing it outside my body and detaching from it. It worked famously. Like watching a movie. It never became a part of ME and I was able to push through this incredibly tough race with ease.

It's been a frustrating year in that I have been second at every race I have entered, and had to drop out of the marathon in Vancouver after training for it for months.

But today, everything just seemed to fall into place. I had my best race in a long time and part of that was just feeling incredible the entire time.

After a week of not running and paddling around the ocean up near Prince Rupert, I wasn't sure my legs would even remember how to run this morning. We got to the race at 630am for a 7am start which was plenty of time to finish my coffee and stand in the lineup for the biff. Temps were perfect at about 18 but I had purposely eaten a lot of salt yesterday in an effort to retain some water and prevent potential hyponatremia, knowing that the forecast was for 30 degrees today. I had a bigger than normal breakfast for me, as I usually don't eat much on the morning of the race. It seemed to do the trick. Felt great to have a really full belly of banana and (eeek! don't tell anyone!) a snickers bar. OMG. Yes. A snickers bar. A lot of people ask me what I eat before a race and I really can't say I have a set breakfast. It totally depends on what I've eaten that week and what I feel my body needs. I just listen to my gut (literally) and it usually tells me what I want. And this morning it was Vega Sport, water, coffee, banana and a small snickers bar. I felt great.

After the gun went off, I got out in front, as I like to do. We climbed for more than 10k before hitting a dirt road, just past the second aid station. I grabbed some water but was basically ok up until the 14k aid station, where I stopped for a swig of more Vega Sport and a gel. More climbing but this time through rocky, wet and very muddy creek beds. The footing was terrible and I was pretty sure I was going to roll an ankle or better yet end up face first in the creek, but I was able to run almost the entire way up to the next aid station at 19k, just before the ascent to the summit and turn around point.

The only thing that really slowed me down on the way up was having to stop and stretch every 20 minutes or so. After Vancouver, I just couldn't risk seizing up again and figured I should take a proactive approach and just chill on going out too hard and fast. Again, I consciously listened to my body and stretched as soon as I felt pain, which actually got quite bad at some points. The climb was slow. Really slow. We're talking 9 minute kms. But I was ok with it. I knew that after the halfway point it was all down hill and figured I could make up some time on the way down.

After passing the 19k mark, I had another package of Vega Sport and ditched my pack in the bushes. It was just me and the music all the way to the summit. More mud, creeks and after a couple km's, snow! Yup. Snow in Kelowna. At least 3km of deep snow all the way to the top. Made for some interesting slip and slide trying to stay on track. A little slow but nonetheless a great distraction. At this point I was still in the leed and running past a few of the 80k females I got a lot of "go sista!" and "go get those guys!" to which I responded "that's the plan"! There were 5 or 6 guys ahead of me and as I still hadn't seen any of them and was nearing the summit, I thought I might try Ellie Greenwood's approach of "chicking" the guys. No such luck.

Almost missed the turn around (typical Amy didn't pay attention on the start line) at the top. Luckily I stopped after a few meters and asked some of the 80k runners that I was following and they politely guided me back to the bag of numbers that I had to grab to prove I had been to the summit.

The descent was all about footing. And after growing up in Canmore, years of hiking, backpacking and mountaineering I knew that I had to pay attention or the race was over.

So while I was lucky enough not to roll my ankle, it was at this point that the pain really set in. My hip flexors had been pretty sore on the way up but this pain was muscles seizing, knees, calves, ankles. At 30k I bent over in a downward dog to stretch and realized that my ankles were caked in blood. I hadn't even noticed the blisters forming, let alone popping and bleeding. So I stopped, pulled my sox up a little higher and kept moving. I thought about Jasmine and Natalie, felt the bracelets they had made me for this race and our week apart, and sent them out a whole bunch of love on our silver wire. (A magical, unbreakable and invisible wire we use that connects our hearts whenever we are apart, to send each other love. Something my dad had invented when I was little). Additionally, it was incredible how well the new technique of "observing" this pain and placing it outside of my body worked. I felt like I was floating (or maybe I was just getting delusional). Either way, it worked.

I prayed, let go, and floated. When I can, I pray during races. It really helps me to focus and let go and remember what's really important in life. For this one, if I had held back on the downhills my legs would have seized up even more. I had to just relax and ride it down. I had lots of energy, took gels at every station and just cruised. Passing the 32k point (where I dropped out in Vancouver) and the 42k point made me even stronger. I had run a smart race, which is uncharacteristic for a girl who likes to get ahead of herself and then blow up. As I passed the last aid station with 4.8k to go I felt incredible. I couldn't see any women behind me so I just cooked down the hot dirt trail, averaging 4minute kilometers, crossing the finish line in 5 hour and 19 minutes. The longest, steepest race I've ever done but I felt great.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Believing in the impossible and trusting your gut.

I'm sitting here with my daughter enjoying our sweet potato chips on a cold spring day in Calgary. Today's focus is on hydration and rest before the Nipika Crazy Soles race tomorrow. It's a 10k trail race. I'm nervous, not sure where my speed is at the moment as up until the beginning of May I was training for the Vancouver marathon and only really running speed workouts once a week.

I've been putting off posting anything about the marathon because it was such a total disaster but also a great lesson. I've had this desire to run a sub 3hr marathon for a few years, although honestly I personally feel way more satisfaction from running 50k in the mountains and just getting off the road. My first marathon in Calgary was a 3:17 back in 2006 but I knew I could have gone faster and it's always bothered me. And it seems that in the running world you have to distinguish yourself with a fast marathon. Or maybe that's just the pressure I was putting on myself. Either way, I was doing it. The girls are 5 now and in kindergarten, business is as busy as I want it, and I have the Trans Rockies race coming up in the fall so I figured a marathon early in the year was a good way to get me focused before too much of 2010 had slipped away. Plus, a bunch of girls were making a trip out of it and what greater thing to share with girlfriends than running and Vancouver (my favorite city in the world).

The other part of the story is that I have been trying to get my dad to run with me for years. I mean 5 or 10k, nothing huge. Every year I ask him to do the fathers day race with me and he finds an excuse. This year however, my boyfriend and I devised a plan: Martin is one of the only guys in the world my dad really respects. And as Martin is an ultra runner, I knew that there was a chance my dad would accept a challenge from him to do the marathon, especially if Martin offered to train with him. And to my shock and disbelief, my dad accepted. He started the training and didn't look back. This is no small miracle. This is gargantuan. My dad. A marathon. Now I believe that anything is possible. (Side note: the one lesson my dad reinforced with vigor as I grew up was that ANYTHING is possible if you work hard and put your mind to it. He never let me make excuses or give up.)

As I started my training, I did so with a bit of reluctance. Seriously if I have a choice I want to be in the mountains, on the trails and as far away from pavement as possible. But, I live in a concrete jungle and so during the week a large part of my running is on city streets and treadmills. It's reality. This feeling of reluctance, of having to run at a certain pace, watch my times and get in a certain number of miles just isn't me. I should have listened to my gut because my feelings towards a marathon manifested themselves as injury in my body. No part of me wanted to do a marathon. I should have paid attention.

Even a month before the race I considered switching to the 1/2, way more manageable but I also knew that if I did this, there was a good chance my dad would drop out. And this was one of the biggest accomplishments of his life and already he was saying things like "I feel alive for the first time in 5 years". I couldn't let him down. So I kept at it.

And when race day came, I felt perfectly trained to run sub 3hrs in Vancouver. I had fueled properly, trained well, rested, and generally felt mentally prepared. I'd had an Achilles injury which I thought was under control (apparently it wasn't as I learned at 18k). But I was ignoring this gut instinct that running on the road was a chore. And running never has been or ever do I want it to be a job or a chore for me. I should have listened to my gut.

The race started well, on pace all the way. I felt strong until about 10k when my feet fell asleep and I kept trying to push through and ignore them but finally had to pull over and loosen my laces. A few km later everything went to s$(%t. My achilles was shooting pain through the heel and all the way up my calf. Then the left foot went and by 24k my legs were completely seized up. I have no idea why to this day. I had enough salt, had eaten well and I know I was hydrated. It's a mystery. Crossing the half way point at 1:34 was ok and I thought I might be able to hold on but by 32k I knew that if I continued the race it would mean no more running, hiking, biking or ANYTHING for the entire summer. And I have way too many plans for long mountain runs, weekend backpacking trips and the Trans Rockies in late August. It just wasn't worth it. I was in so much pain that I knew it was beyond stupid to continue. I stopped, breathed, cried, walked, cried and kicked a rock. I hate giving up. One of my best friends and my pro physio - Somer - ran by and asked if I was ok and all I could say through tears was "don't stop, i'm fine. keep going". I cried for another minute and then told myself to stop being such a baby. It's one race out of hundreds. It's just not worth it.

I managed to catch a ride back to the finish and got there with enough time to wait for my dad and Martin to cross the finish line. We ran together, holding hands. And when I crossed the finish line with him I didn't regret dropping out, and everything about the day was perfect and exactly as it should have been. Within a few hours of finishing the race, over a couple of sushi rolls, my dad says to me "so when's the next race?". Congrats Dad. You've proven to me that nothing is impossible.