Saturday, August 27, 2011

Like childbirth, as the ache slowly leaves my muscles, so too do the painful memories of the race, and I am even considering running again some time next week. :) Charlie and Alan, fellow trail trashers who attended TR this year, sum it up like this: There are three kinds of fun:

Type 1 fun is "it was awesome!" kind of fun.
Type 2 is "it was only fun when looking back".
Type 3 fun is "it wasn't fun at all, the only reason is could be called fun at all is for the story telling value….as in “we all survived”.

Right now I’m wavering between 1 and 2. Which is why I waited a few days post race to complete this blog. Because otherwise it just would have been a lot of bitching and moaning and no one would ever consider attending this race, and no doubt would be questioning my sanity, for doing something so clearly painful.

I don’t know that I would use a “fun” scale to assess Trans Rockies. Rather, did you learn from it, was it worth the experience. While the social aspect, meeting others who are passionate about the same things as you, comparing feet around the campfire (yes, runners are a little odd and when put in a room with other runners will naturally default to comparing battle scars and charm you with details of bowel movements and voiding on the trails) was fun, I can’t yet say that the actual running was “fun”. It was a heck of a lot of work. I have to work really hard at running. First of all, I'm not one of those naturally skinny runners and in running, a few pounds makes a huge difference. Secondly and not in order of importance, my daughters are the most important thing in the world to me and my time with them is precious, so giving up any time with them means that it damn well better be worth it. I trained really hard for this race, took time away from my beautiful girls and work, and focused a lot of my energy into doing well. So while there are times that I run purely for pleasure, and plan to pick my way through the alps on foot one day going at whatever speed I like and stopping as often as I want to, this was a race. I had set goals and was pretty determined to succeed no matter how much my body protested. Fun wasn’t really on my menu during the race. Not until stage 7 when the tequila shots came out anyways.

But there is no question in my mind that it was an unbelievable experience. And I have absolutely no regrets. So in a way, it was a bit of a number 3 type of fun. Unless you are one of those people who has mastered living in the moment, which I try very hard to do on a daily basis, it’s hard not to think about a warm bed while you’re sleeping in a cold wet tent with someone snoring beside you, hunger pains ripping at your stomach. Or to think of a hot tub and a glass of wine and dinner parties with friends while you’re climbing a relentless hill with 14 blisters shooting pain into your feet, knowing full well that there is no way out of this other than admitting defeat (not really an option), and that you still have another 25km to run. Or to wonder if you're a good mother because you've left your children at home in pursuit of something totally selfish and self-fulfilling. But the truth is, when you’re in your warm bed, or having that dinner party or glass of wine, it’s just that much more enjoyable because you have fully experienced the other end of the spectrum. To know pleasure, we must know pain. To know love, we must know indifference. To know joy, we must experience sorrow. And I would rather live my life experiencing every inch of that spectrum than to stagnate in my comfort zone.

This race was one of the toughest weeks of my life. Unlike last year, where everything was new and just completing the event meant that I had succeeded because when I signed up I didn’t even think it was possible, this year I had some very specific goals. Rosemarie and I wanted to do well. We wanted to be on the podium and we were willing to fight for it.

And fight it was. This year’s open women’s category was stacked. We realized this on the first day when we beat last year’s winning time and still only placed 3d. For example - Brianna Torres is a previous USA marathon trials competitor (2:44). Cynthia Arnold can run 2:54 for her best marathon and recently placed 2nd at Pikes Peak. Team Inov-8’s Amy Lane is an avid 100miler. And when we crossed the finish line on day 6, we had only held 2nd by a margin of 17 seconds. Absolutely crazy considering we had just run 120 miles. But that’s how tight it was every day. There was literally no time for anything and no room for screwing up.

A word on my partner: she is not human. She is a super human with apparently incredible pain tolerance and ability to work on almost no fuel, in a human’s body. :) In all honesty though, Rosemarie Gerspacher has incredible strength. We didn’t know each other that well going into this race and she was clearly much stronger than I. For the most part, runners are not team players, including myself, so this event is a challenge for everyone. I know that Rosemarie struggled in having to wait for me or go at my pace. The days I tried to stay with her I just blew up and couldn’t get my legs to come back. The days we started slowly, which is usually not my style, we were able to keep running on hills that others walked, and to slowly overtake one team at a time. Almost every team has one strong and one “less strong” runner. Doing well at this event is about working together. Going into this race I was absolutely against towing I experienced it for a few moments last year when Martin Gaffuri tried to tow me on day 6 and I was having none of it. But this year, I was literally told by last year's winner Max King that if we wanted to do well, we were going to have to suck it up. “Amy, you think my partners like being towed? You think they don’t have to put their egos aside? Deal with it.” and he hands me his tow rope in exchange for my pink Arc’teryx running skirt which I have to say looked incredible on him ;).

I’m not going to write about each stage of the race now that it’s over. Essentially each day went like this: wake up at 530am, force feed yourself even though you want to vomit, try to hold a conversation with other blurry headed runners, try not to be too negative, consider going back to tent and hiding, consider checking in at local movie theatre for the day, crap! ok fine i’ll line up on the start line but i don’t plan to make it to the finish, self talk yourself into positive thinking, take tylenol and advil and other supplements that make you feel like you have a chance in hell at not feeling pain, hydrate, balance electrolytes, line up at the medic tent to have your feet wrapped and pray that the tape will hold the skin in place for one more day, actually line up on start line, feel overwhelming sense of community and camaraderie as you look around at the incredible people standing there in the cold with you, feeling just as much pain and reluctance as you yet lining up anyways, feel that surge in your heart and let it overflow through your eyes for a second, swallow, insert earphones, start watch and ipod, and then the gun goes off. Start running, legs are burning, lungs are searching for oxygen knowing full well you’re working on about half of what you’re used to... and then.... you just drop into this zone. A zone of the present. And really, I have to be grateful for this because while there are moments throughout the day where I go somewhere else, think of my kids or that hot tub, I probably spend 99 % of the time fully present. Picking my line on a technical down hill, calming my breathing, assessing blood sugar and whether or not it’s worth the effort of getting a gel out of my pocket and trying to swallow water, while breathing, without stopping so that Rosemarie doesn’t kill me. Choke, breath, splutter, swallow, breath.

If you’re interested, you can view the stages here:

So what did I learn from this event? Not to give up. Day six was tough. It was tough in every way it can be and just when I thought the pain was about to stop, they threw in another relentless hill. We knew we were in 3d place but had no idea by how much. Because we hadn’t seen the 2nd place team all day I had no idea whether they had dropped out or were so far ahead of us that we had completely lost our 15 minute lead from the day before. But I refused to give up. Because who knows, it could come down to 17 seconds. And it did. Zac and Stephanie lost 2nd in the mixed category by 10 seconds. That could have been us. So I’m glad that I didn’t surrender to the pain, or throw a tantrum at being the weaker link on the team.

Thank you to all of you for your prayers and positive thoughts and good energy you sent during our race. It was tangible when I called on it. Thank you to my sponsors, Arc’teryx, Vega and Inov-8 for making this event within reach for me. Thank you to my coach Cal Zarytski for believing in me and writing an incredible program! Thank you to the Trans Rockies crew, who went out of their way for us at every opportunity especially Matt Pasley, Tyson Greenman, Memphis Jo, Cynthia Aamon of Gore for being the enthusiastic camp mom, Magi for doing my laundry one night (you have no idea how great that is until you’ve smelled a runner’s tent on day 4). Thank you to my team mate for her patience and strength and determination. Thank you to my daughters for letting me go, I know it’s hard. Thank you to all the other runners for the words of encouragement while we struggled out there together. Thank you to my fellow Trail Trashers and especially Charlie for her spirit and enthusiasm and for always making me smile. And thank you to a surprise breakfast companion, you know who you are, whose openness, empathy, passion and compassion and inspirational words in the last hours before I left, gave my tired legs a new spring.

This event is not for everyone, but like last year, I would challenge each of you reading this to set a goal for yourself that you think is impossible. And then just don’t give up. Take small steps, start slow if you have to, but just don’t give up. Because you never know what you’re capable of until you try.

A few links to race videos and photos:
Stan and Monica's video

Trans Rockies site photos

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Stage 2 (TRR & Day Two: 13.3 miles, 3,250 feet elevation gain

Stage 2, Aug 22
Current standing: 2nd place for open women.
It was another tough day. I’m not sure why but my legs just don’t seem to be cooperating. We are currently in second position, 23 minutes behind 1st place but only one minute ahead of 3d and 8 minutes ahead of 4th. This means that every day matters, every step matters. There isn’t a lot of room for error. It’s a close race.
Rosemarie is racing incredibly well. She’s definitely the stronger of the two of us. I feel like I should be closer to her but just can’t seem to get my legs there. We have a couple of theories, one of them is that for whatever reason I slow down when I run behind her. Demoralized? Really? does my ego have that much power over my legs? Quite possibly. We’ve both noticed that I slow down considerably when I run behind her so for tomorrow I am going to set the pace and do most of the leading.
Secondly, I’m pretty sure we started off way too fast, without a warm up, and I went lactic right away and just never really got it back. I worked hard all day and didn’t have a single moment of feeling good no matter how much water I drank or how many gels I took. So for tomorrow, even though it’s a 40km very long day, I’m going to warm up and just run my own race.
It was one of the most beautiful days today. One of the shortest as well. All the way up to the top of hope pass, down the other side and along twin lakes for 7miles. 13.2 miles in total and it took us 2hrs and 36 minutes. 3d place again today, 2 minutes behind second place.
Still, we’re sitting second overall and we’ll try to hold on to that tomorrow as we pull into Camp Hail for two nights.
I’m just praying my legs come back.
On the upside, hearing Jasmine and Natalie’s voices on the phone, wishing me strength, and naming the places we would meet in our dreams tonight, lifted me as it always does and no doubt it will give me strength tomorrow.

Because we're at Camp Hail with no internet or phone service, there won't be any updates today or tomorrow but you can check the Trans Rockies run site for results. I've posted the day 3 and 4 stages below.

Off the the races!

Stage 3 (TDay 3: 24.2 miles, 2,800 feet elevation gain

Stage 4 (TRR): 14.1 miles, 2,900 feet elevation gain

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Trans Rockies 2011 Stage One

Stage 1 (TRR & RUN3): 20.9 miles, 2,550 feet elevation gain

Day one of the Trans Rockies Run 2011. Rosemarie and I have decided to take last years winning times for women’s open and try to beat them each day for this years Trans Rockies Run. Today we succeeded, beating last year's winning time by 11 minutes.
Stage one was 20.92 miles, which we finished in 3:05, one minute behind second place and seven minutes behind first. Rosemarie ran incredibly strong, and had to wait for me for most of the day as I just couldn’t seem to get my second wind. My legs felt like they had each gained about 20 pounds. I seem to remember something similar on leg one last year so I’m not overly concerned, especially because I’m quite happy with our time, which is 11 minutes faster than last year’s winning time on the same stage.
Most of today was sandy... starting with a 7 mile climb off the start, then weaving through the hills behind Buena Vista, with a 5k flat road section at the end that seemed to go on forever. I knew we were behind but as we neared the finish we spotted the 2nd place women’s team. Knowing full well I had absolutely nothing left, I asked Rosemarie if she wanted to try to catch them. We did pick it up but didn’t have enough distance to cover to catch them.
Today was tough for a lot of people and already one person is out with vomiting and diarrhea. I’m just hoping that the same thing doesn’t go around camp as last year, which I managed to avoid until half way through the final stage when it hit me full force.
Tomorrow is the shortest leg, but a brutal climb up to Hope Pass. I’m just hoping I can keep up with Rosemarie tomorrow and we’ll aim to go for a podium finish again.
Sitting around the campfire after awards tonight, catching up with some of the people I haven’t seen from last year, I am reminded why this week is so great. Once again, we are all with our “tribe”, the people who get us. Who understand why we do what we do and why we’re so passionate about it. It’s like the best family reunion ever.

....Minutes after posting this I received an email in my inbox, letting me know that my good friend Tatiana had left her sick body behind to be free to fly. Tatiana is 33, mother of two children, and wife to Dallas Smith, who fought by her side over four years. Tatiana's fight was inspiring to say the least. She never gave up, had grace and poise and passion and so much love. I have only really gotten to know the family in the past year or so, and was able to have her daughter Sofia join us on a couple of our holidays this year. This beautiful little girl, who has lost her mother, is a testament to her parents and the love they poured into her. She absolutely radiates energy everywhere she goes, charms everyone she meets with her beautiful smile and heart.

So while we are all running up Hope pass tomorrow, I will be thinking of Tatiana, who never ever ever gave up hope, not even when the doctors told her she had 12-24 hours to live. When I think it hurts tomorrow, I will think of you Tatiana, fighting from your hospital bed, to live for your family. And about Dallas, her husband, who fought by her side every day. Between the two of you I think you must be the family that says thank you more than anyone I've ever met. While you've left your body, you will be with us forever. You will be missed by so many. You are loved by so many and this love will not stop, it will only be redirected to Sofia and Rand... we are here for them.

I am grateful for each day, for my children, and for my ability to run. I hope you all take a minute to consider all the gifts you have in your lives as well.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Powderface 42

Ok so I'm a little behind schedule on my blogging. It's already the day before Trans Rockies and I'm still not caught up from Powderface, which was mid July.

So I'll back up a little bit.
My last official event was Powderface 42. I didn't race it but I had promised a team of people that I would be there that day with them and that I would run with the slowest person, no matter how slow.

While there was initially about 30 people signed up for the “Nothing is Impossible Powderface Marathon” group last October, standing on the start line there were only four. Kyla, my dad, and Jen and Ed. And, just as amazing, there were three others who would stand on the start line for the half marathon a couple hours later. And believe me, the half marathon is pretty crazy too. Not your typical 21k around flat city streets. All of these individuals blew me away with the dedication they showed to training and not giving up, especially when they got hold of the course profile and realized what they had been (tricked) into. :)

For those who don’t know, Powderface is an absolutely grueling 44km race through the mountains just outside of Calgary. The course has a total elevation gain of 2070 meters with a significant climb of approximately 500 meters over Powderface Pass at the mid point.

I ran powderface last year in preparation for the Trans Rockies Run. It was one of my first trail marathons. I got some kind of stomach issue part way through and didn’t do as well as I’d hoped but still placed second, with a time over five hours. So when you compare that with my marathon time that is closer to three hours, you get an idea of what the course is like.

My promise to my team was that I would run with the slowest person. As it turned out, that was going to be my dad. One of my best friends, Kyla, stayed with us for about the first 5k and then trotted ahead, making it look effortless. A word on Kyla: she is one of those naturally beautiful women that all the guys drooled over in high school, who just doesn’t ever seem to get how amazing she is. And she never complains and is always positive. She’s got this way of breezing through life with seeming grace and ease. As a mother and wife she has always been one of my role models.
Kyla ended up finishing the day in just under 7 hours. Absolutely incredible for someone who really only took up running in January. I don’t think I heard her whine for even a second when it was over.

So there we were. Just Dad and I running along. My sister and I tease him a little bit because he is usually sorta grumpy for the first 30 minutes or so of every run, as are many of us as we work out the kinks and catch our second wind. There are some pretty good climbs within a few km of the course and dad is already apologizing for holding me back. I keep telling him that I want to and am prepared to be there with him and that I’m not leaving. He smiles and pushes on.

It’s only after the first 5k or so, as we’re running along a flat section through the fresh morning air that out of nowhere my dad says “My brother visited this morning.” “Really?” I ask, waiting for him to tell me the rest of the story as my dad’s brother Ted died of cancer nearly 20 years ago. “What did he say?”. “He said he was proud of me and that I was going to do great.”

I’d call my dad a pretty spiritual guy but this really threw me. He rarely talks about his brother and certainly never talks about anything like that so I know this day is significant to my dad. Really significant. And if you knew my father, you’d know how incredible it is that he actually finished this race. I won’t go into all the details of my family history but suffice it to say that dad and I both have fairly strong heads and have had our share of battles over the years so it meant a lot to me and I think to him that we were doing this together. And it’s been amazing to share my love of running with my father, to chat shoes with him, or water packs, or fueling for the race. It’s really brought us closer together and I think given him a window into my world and what I love to do.

The day was long. Dad did incredibly well despite my continual lies of “the top is just around the corner!”. There were a few stations that we almost didn’t make the cut off for. And he was tired and sore. This is a 58 year old man who admittedly has about 15 pounds to lose but is strong like a bear. And once he decides to do something, he is relentless and tenacious.
And I have to say, the best part of the day was the last 5k. We were right near the back of the group. I jokingly tell Dad that I think he should try to pass just one more person. It's a mental game I use sometimes just to keep me moving at the end of a hard race.
Dad's initial response is "no way, I can't. that guy didn't even finish this year, I can't pass him!". But a few minutes later, dad starts racing for the barn. I'm not kidding. I think he was running 9minute miles. "Bad form dad, you can't drop the person who's stuck with you all day and try to beat her right at the end of the race!". But he didn't stop. My sister pops out of the bushes a few minutes later, having already completed the half marathon, and we both get tears in our eyes. Dad doesn't even slow down. He just flies. All the way. All the way to the end where, I go to grab his hand to cross the line with him, a moment I've been visualizing all day, and to this day I'm still not sure that he didn't shake it away from embarrassment. ;). And even though the awards were over, we had a whole crew of people there to cheer for us, including my good friend Jennifer who had driven all the way up from Lethbridge for the weekend, just to be there to watch Kyla and I do it and to spend the weekend with us. A true friend. And others who could have left, but waited there for us to finish. Thank you.

I can't even begin to express how I felt crossing the line with my dad that day. It was over 8 hours of running, 44km. It's a lot of time to spend with your father, especially at the mercy of his blood sugar. :) Come on dad, you know what I mean. Running with someone through pain and through low blood sugar and blisters and muscle aches, and cramping can bring you pretty close. It is a gift that my father has given me that I will be forever grateful for. Not many people can say that they challenged their father, at 58 years old to not only start running but then to take on one of the craziest marathons out there. Powderface is not an easy race by anyone's standards. But dad said he would do it and he didn't back out. He kept his word, he didn't whine. Dad you have inspired so many people to get out and run. Thank you from all of us.

Kyla: we only got to run together for the first few kilometers but as usual, you blow me away. You are a mother of two, and only really started running in January. And on top of that, you had to do most of your training at the local gym on the treadmill because that is where you had childcare! And you finished in an incredible time! And of course, when I asked you how you felt, your response was the par for the course for Kyla: "it felt great!". Kind of like when we asked you how the birth of your children went. Oh it was fine!... I'm not sure if you have some extremely high tolerance for pain or if you're just not a complainer. I think it's probably a combination of both.

Jessie and Steve- both of you. Wow. You have a one year old daughter and both have crazy busy jobs and your own businesses. It meant so much to me that you trained and still showed up to run the half.

Geneva- you've had quite the year. Busy engineer, lots going on in your personal world and even an injury the week before ... yet you still showed up on the line.

Jen and Ed - I can't say that you two don't already kick ass at running because I'm sure you'll be on the podium this year at TR. But your love for running, for each other and for life really shines. You're always smiling, always positive and always enthusiastic.

To all of you: I hope you proved to yourselves that nothing is impossible. I hope you realize what you took on and accomplished. I hope that you can carry that to anything you chose to tackle in life and can look back and say "If I can run that kind of race, nothing is impossible". I hope you keep running and setting new goals, and continue to reach for your dreams. Thank you for giving me new inspiration!