Friday, January 31, 2014

Let's get wooly!

So last week's post may have been a bit thin on content and high on cheek - I have clearly managed not to freeze solid, despite having continued to run outdoors through one of the coldest winters I can recall.

One of the major reasons I haven't died of exposure is this happy fellow:

That's a merino sheep, and their wool is an outdoor enthusiast's best friend. Several companies make apparel and accessories from merino wool, and while it's incredibly expensive compared to synthetics, I've found the price to be completely worth it.

Especially when running in these kinds of conditions.
That's a merino wool neck gaiter keeping my face from freezing.

As I discussed last year in my Winter Running Tips post, you need to be able to manage moisture in order to survive with all your toes. Merino wool not only wicks sweat away better than any synthetic I've ever worn, it also (like all wool) stays warm when it's wet, and even feels dry against your skin when it's soaked since the actual fibres are incapable of absorbing water. This can make a huge difference in extreme conditions, be they hot or cold - dry (or at least dry-feeling) fabric against your skin is less prone to chafe or blister, and leaves you much less at the mercy of the air temperature around you. I happened to hear a fellow ask after the Frosty Trail 3-hour this year what kind of socks other people were using: myself and both others who were there at the time all heartily endorsed SmartWool socks for keeping feet warm and blister-free when running through the snow for hours on end. If ultrarunners will recommend them for long slogs in harsh conditions, you know you can rely on them for your everyday training needs! Make no mistake, though - I don't relegate merino wool use to the winter.

Midsummer Night's 30k in a merino singlet.

Merino wool has an amazing ability to assist your body in temperature regulation: you'll stay warm when you need to, but dump heat as the thermometer (or your effort level) rises. I even wear merino wool longjohns under my trousers to go to work, knowing that they'll keep me toasty in the chilly car but won't make me overheat even in the sweltering heat of my office. I love how dry and comfortable I stay in my merino wool items on the hottest days of summer, too - I wear the socks year-round, and have no less than 3 merino wool tank tops and an additional 3 short-sleeved shirts! The fabrics will vary in their hand by company, but this isn't your grandma's scratchy knitting - even my "no way will I ever wear wool because it makes me itchy" husband is a total convert to SmartWool's incredible socks and the silky, light-as-air Icebreaker garments.

So many applications.
Don't think that merino wool is just for running, either - any outdoor activity, particularly ones where your energy expenditure varies (leaving you potentially sweating and then freezing), can be a wonderful use of merino wool apparel. Tanker and I both lived in longjohns made by Icebreaker and longsleeve merino shirts from Mountain Equipment Co-op while backpacking on the Western Uplands Trail last fall, bringing along merino t-shirts as well for when the weather was warmer. When packing for fast-and-light travel, then diminutive size & weight of merino wool makes a great deal of sense. It's really resilient stuff, too - the pieces I own have been put through the wringer, and while I've managed (through my own stupidity, which we all know is abundant) to put some small holes in a couple of things those holes don't seem to grow. I don't know if it's an effect of the wool itself or the way in which the various companies fabricate the garments, but holes that look like they'd quickly spread and destroy the piece just seem to stay the same size for years on end.

No pants before coffee at Maggie Lake.

There's one more great aspect of merino wool that makes it ideal for endurance sport, travel and outdoor pursuits - being naturally antibacterial, the garments don't stink even after days of heavy, sweaty wear. Seriously. Those longjohns above? I wore them for 5 days straight, took them off for a day, then threw 'em right back on again. No stench, same with the socks that didn't leave my feet for 6 solid days. When you're talking about feet that spent most of their time hiking rugged terrain encased in Gore-Tex boots, that's saying quite a bit. This makes the fabric ideal for commuter apparel, too - I have a great merino shirt made by Bontrager that I use for warm weather cycling on my lunch breaks and after work.

Or running around at -15c in a snowfield. Whatever.

The last major advantage of merino wool is that it dries from soaking wet faster than just about any other material I've ever encountered. Between the complete absence of any smell after wearing and the quick dry time, this means you can push a very small number of pieces very hard - I have been wearing my heaviest-weight merino base layer shirt almost every day during this polar vortex to run in the evening, hanging it on the side of my laundry hamper overnight, and finding it ready to go again less than 24hrs later. Decided that you've worn it enough to warrant a good bath? Just chuck it in the washer (we wash everything in cold and use the delicate cycle for athletic apparel), then either hang or lay flat to dry. It'll be ready for more abuse within 24hrs at most - sometimes as little as 4 hours, depending on temperature, humidity and how much water the spin cycle gets out. I've heard you can send it through the dryer as well on low heat, but that's not a thing I've ever tested. I've never had cause to, either; I've actually taken garments off in the evening, laundered them in a hotel sink and hung them up, then put them right back on in the morning. I have even washed out a pair of briefs in a campground comfort station and used a hot-air hand dryer to have them ready to wear within a few minutes. It's probably best you don't ask for further details there.

An Ibex sweater for a chilly, windy training run.

The long & short of it is, you need some of this stuff. I balked at the price when I bought my first piece (an Icebreaker base layer shirt that I still wear 5 years later - that's the one I mentioned above that's been saving me from the polar vortex!), but I've since invested in enough to clothe me from head to toe. Gloves, neck gaiter, hats, a pair of pants, plus different weights of base layers - it's all delicious to wear and can save your life if things really get rough out on the trail. I heartily endorse just about anything made by Icebreaker (they even have a neat "BAAcode" tag on their garments that will let you track the origin of your piece to the very farm where the sheep was raised), SmartWool socks and accessories, and I've had good experiences with Ibex as well. These companies all pride themselves on making quality products using wool from mulesing-free farms.

Wool all over!

If you needed another reason, you can also feel great about the fact you're using a naturally sustainable resource - the sheep need shearing anyway, and will grow another huge, fleecy coat the next year! Much better than contributing to depletion of non-renewables through consumption of petroleum-based synthetics, most of which won't last as long as the hard-wearing wool. So what are you waiting for? Go treat yourself to the very best!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Frosty Trail 3-hour - Saturday, January 18th, 2014

Butter churning and ankle turning.

I'll try to keep this one short (ha!), as there isn't a whole lot to say. I did try a different race day breakfast, mainly because I was out of meal replacement shakes & wanted to try something completely dairy free. Had a cinnamon raisin bagel with dairy-free cream cheese on half and raw almond butter with honey on the other half, plus a tiny bowl (maybe 1/4 cup) of cereal with almond milk. Topped it off with the usual Tim Hortons CafĂ© Mocha on the way up to Camp Heidelberg, hoping it would help me wake up a bit after another night (week/month) of too-little sleep.

We were the first ones to arrive bar the race director, so picking up race kit was a breeze. Weather was to stay at around -7c/19f all day with some wind and blowing/drifting snow. I hit the washroom, lubed up, dressed, threw a windproof wrap skirt over my tights, and then wrestled with my idiot brain as I tried to remember to put my gaiters on before my shoes. I told myself to do this, then forgot and had to remove the first shoe (fortunately I hadn't tied it). I then promptly did exactly the same thing with the other shoe, 'cause I'm awesome like that.

Wonder dork powers ACTIVATE!

Room full of badass ultrarunners...and me.

I wasn't happy with the static cling I was getting from the skirt, so I ditched it and re-pinned my number to my tights before getting down on the one bit of carpet in the room and making a total fool of myself by repeatedly humping the air and doing some other strange-looking things that have become part of my warmup routine as I continue to take special care of my damaged hamstring. A minute or two after the appointed start time of 9am, we were all lined up in the cold outside the Rehkopf building as the horn sounded to start the day.

25 runners total.
It's nice to know there are other people as weird as you.


Starting toward the back. I know my place.

Around the parking lot and into the woods to start the first loop of the 2.1km course, it became immediately apparent that this was going to be what we technically refer to in the business as a "shit show". There was a crust of ice under the top layer of snow, then more snow under the crust - which sometimes did and sometimes didn't support the weight of the runners - and then choppy, footprinted, ankle-turning ice on the bottom. The initial conga line through the Western woods section moved slowly, but not slowly enough for me to keep up; within two minutes of the start I had dropped to a walk and was gasping for breath.

"Trail" into the Western woods loop.

I managed to persuade myself to run down the snow-covered grassy hill from the Western woods to the gravel driveway, but only just barely made it upright - the combination of the choppy ice and soft, sand-like snow made us all lurch and stagger like a pack of drunks. Hitting the driveway was like bliss, as it has been plowed...until you got down toward the bottom, where slick ice awaited under the top skiff of snow. Many people were running with screw shoes or traction devices (YakTrax or Microspikes), but I was relying on the Vibram soles of my NB WT1010s to keep me on my feet as I'd done most of my dicey winter running in them (when I hadn't stuck with my beloved Brooks Launch) and there were some clench moments.

Deep, soft and uneven - a trio of terrors.

The Eastern woods proved no better than the initial loop. It was tough sledding no matter how you approached it - took me something like 10k effort to run at all through the sections where it was possible, and almost half marathon effort just to walk through the really horrible spots. I wondered if I'd be able to keep it up as I watched the 1-hour runners go flying past me, and figured my goal of trying to get in at least 20k had gone right out the window.

What will the next step bring? Who knows?

I was nearly through my 3rd lap as the horn sounded again to signal the end of the 1-hour race - I'd only done 6k in that time, but then again the 1-hour winner only managed a bit more than 10km, and the 1st place woman only did 4.2km. It was a tough day, made no easier by my broken toe complaining about the uneven terrain. Fortunately its whining was severely blunted by the fact I was essentially icing it the entire time I was out there, since my feet were usually buried in snow.

This was literally as good as it got.

I decided I'd need some calories if I was going to keep working at this kind of effort level, so grabbed a swig of EFS Liquid Shot from my flask and washed it down with a sip or two of water. I wasn't drinking enough, but that was mainly because opportunity was hard to come by: even while walking in either woods section, I was stumbling around so badly I'd nearly fall if I tried to drink at the same time. The only place that was really clear to drink while moving was on the driveway, and half the time I spent on it was going uphill - once I reached the (flat, salted) parking lot, I was still trying to catch my breath in order to plunge back into the suck in the Western woods section. I grabbed little sips here and there, and started pausing at the foot of the big f-off hill in the Eastern woods to get a good sip before walking up. Oddly enough, that treacherous hill proved one of the most navigable parts of the course: the choppy ice under the snow formed almost natural steps, providing good traction. Still tough on the legs, though, as it's like doing a stair climb in the middle of the course.

Still beats running through this.

As the day progressed and myriad feet trampled the snow and ice, some sections that had been nigh impassable first thing in the morning became runnable. Unfortunately, some parts that had been runnable were now deathtraps at anything over a walk! At least, so it appeared to my clumsy arse, though I certainly wasn't the only one having issues staying upright. I chatted with other runners along the way who likened it to your legs being drunk while your upper body was sober, often finding your shoulders had swayed a half meter to one side or other of the single-track trail while your feet scrambled for purchase on the ever-changing surface. The most poignant comparison of the day was made by Jack, a seriously studly runner who won the 3-hour by a large margin and super nice fellow - he said he felt like he'd been churning butter with his legs for the entire time he'd been on course. 

If you go out in the woods today..

My totally-not-pulling-it-out-of-my-butt math told me I'd probably be able to make about 8.5 laps of the course in the 3 hours, so I'm guessing it must've been past the two hour mark as I finished lap number 6. A bit of a tumble into a (fortunately quite soft) snowbank on the side of the trail and a mildly wrenched left ankle told me I was getting sloppy and could probably use some calories, so I took one more swig off the EFS Liquid Shot flask to see me through. I rather needed to use the washroom, but the only options there were: 

a) go into the Rehkopf building and up a set of stairs to the indoor ladies' room

b) try the possibly locked, possibly frozen solid portajohn down at the end of the driveway.

Neither of the above sounded enticing, so since it wasn't urgent I just kept plugging away. Clearly the dairy free pre-race breakfast strategy was paying off, because every other time I'd had any inkling of needing a bathroom at Camp Heidelberg in the past it certainly hadn't been optional. Note to self: continue with bagel experimentation. Bagelsperimentation. Bagelness. Yeah, that.


With my gaiters packed full of snow, a baggie of macaroni in my pocket and a couple of very sore feet, I finished loop number 8 (16.8km/10.4 miles) with around 15mins left to go. Nothing to hold back for now, I threw whatever I had left into it , but still had to walk a great deal - almost all of the Western woods loop was trudging only, and the only place I could really get a sustained run on was the section that takes you from about halfway out to Kressler Road on the driveway into Camp Heidelberg back to near the bottom of the driveway, via a really steep downhill that makes me nervous even in good conditions. I actually made it all the way through that part and was running back up the driveway to the start/finish line when the horn sounded once more to end the 3-hour race. I dropped my bag of macaroni right behind the Rehkopf building and walked the last hundred-or-so metres to the end, though I was only credited with 1.8km for my last loop for a total of 18.6k/11.5 miles.

Still alive & kicking.

I grabbed the camera from Tanker and walked a bit of the Western woods portion to get some of the photos above, then headed inside to get changed out of my soaking wet gear. The temperature had dropped a bit in the last hour or so, such that my fingertips started to get cold while running, but overall I felt I'd dressed pretty well for the day. My legs also felt really good throughout, though my ankles were a bit worse for wear; my limiter had been my lungs as I tried to power through the mush. Even the supporting muscles (adductors & abductors) and my healing hamstring felt ok at the end, which is a testament to the strength and rehab work I've done. Air humping works, people!

Yeah, it was exactly like that.

I later discovered, however, that I'd actually done some damage to my feet - and even my shoes! I'm guessing that I must have stepped on the edge of an icy footprint and had the medial side of my foot scrape against the other edge, tearing the outer mesh uppers of my shoes and leaving me with a very sore spot where my right big toe meets the ball of my foot. As I sit here now, 3 days later, it's still pretty unhappy.

Just about exactly where the tear on the right shoe is.

So while I was still in the ladies' room wrestling my wet feet into my compression socks, I heard my name called. I finally got myself sorted out in dry clothing and emerged to discover I'd got 1st female in the 3-hour! Of course, it wasn't until long after I'd collected my prize (a $25 gift certificate to Runner's Choice, my favourite local running store) that I found out there were only 2 women in the 3-hour race.

The other of whom decided to drop out after 3 laps because she had fallen.

And she was pregnant.

Still, a win is a win, right?

I takes what I can gets.


Regardless, it was a fun day out in the woods - I shared a course with great, friendly people and had amazing support from the volunteers. Big shout-out to my sweetheart Tanker for taking care of my every need and helping out at the aid station, too! You're awesome, baby!

Friday, January 17, 2014


And just like that, it's race season!


See? "Race" does not appear in the description.

Having taken a week off running in November to try to sort out a hamstring issue (don't ask - I do stupid things when I drink), then most of another week in mid-December while my new ink healed, there was no way I was signing up for anything more than my usual 3 hours. I actually had to do rather a hasty build in the last couple of weeks to see if even that was a good idea, as I hadn't run more than an hour since Horror Hill all the way back in October. The last two Saturdays have been "long" runs of 14k and 18k, with last week creeping back up close to 50k total - right around where I'm comfortable to take on most events. The leg has hung in there, despite some truly horrific conditions, so I registered for the 3-hour on Monday with the Tanker-enforced caveat that I pull the plug the moment anything starts to hurt.

ill advised racing condition 1 achieved: under-preparedness.

Yeah, I'm trying to take Around the Bay relatively seriously this year. I have a goal of going under 3 hours, which may or may not happen, but damnit I'm trying to do the work. That being the case, this is rather prime training instead of tapering, I actually have ramped up the mid-week mileage a little these past few days. To top it all off, I've been back in the pool (for the first time in almost a month - fresh ink plus 2 new piercings needed to heal) since Saturday, so I've added even more to the fatigue I'm carrying and have been getting even less sleep.

ill advised racing condition 2 achieved: no rest for the wicked.

Then there's the matter of the weather and trail conditions.

"There are some slippery sections" - as in, from the start line to the finish line.

The ice storm was all the way back on December 22nd, but we've had precious little in the way of weather to improve things in the woods. This week alone has been an absolute nightmare of freeze and thaw, producing impassable sidewalks slick with glossy, treacherous ice. I haven't had the daylight or the courage to hit a trail recently, so I simply don't have a clue of what it will really be like. It started snowing last night, too, so whatever is out there may very well be invisible. At least we're supposed to have some sun during the race itself!

ill advised racing condition 3 achieved: high probability of hurting myself.

From last night's run.

Then just when you thought things couldn't get any more perfect, I actually managed to break a toe last night. In the hot tub. While stretching.

I'm not kidding.

ill advised racing condition 4 achieved: minor annoying injury incurred proximal to race.

Sounds like I've got all the bases covered - let's go racing!

Friday, January 10, 2014


Still not back in the pool yet and have not been cycling much, but running continues to happen because there are races coming. It's been cold like we haven't seen in years, if not decades - every single run lately has been a competition to see how much eyelash frost I can accumulate, and it's taken longer to get ready for most of them than it has to complete them.

Nothing much.

Little bit here..


The trails are in horrible shape after the huge ice storm - the local conservation authorities and municipalities have had their hands full dealing with the damaged trees that threaten residences and public buildings, so even weeks later nothing has been done to remove fallen foliage on the multi-use paths.

Wide open here.


Sad to see so many trees damaged.

Near the Hespeler/Sheffield St. end of the Mill Run trail - totally blocked.
Tanker and I did manage to get out for one cross-country ski on a milder day - despite the heavy snow, it was warm enough to go jacketless for an after-dark run!

Fun times!

So much nicer without 20lbs of clothing on!

And now I get to enjoy even more of that, because it's currently above the freezing mark for the first time I can remember (my memory is like a leprechaun - short and seldom to be trusted) of course it's going to rain all the lovely snow away, and continue to rain until we get locked back in the deep freeze again sometime next week.

At least I might get to ride my bike to the market tomorrow. It would like that, assuming I recall how to turn pedals.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Lemme see whatcher've got in yer

With 2013 having been all about long course, it's time to change things up. I'll be 35 this year (ooh, new age group!) and I'm entering my 6th season of racing - that puts me near the end of the average person's likelihood of continuing to improve just by doing the training. I may also have slightly pushed the boundaries of how much time my incredible husband is willing to spend with a wife who is constantly mired in 12+ hour training weeks, making her - by which I mean me - absent, tired and prone to irritability.

Basically, not much fun.

So, the focus this year is shifting. I'm going to try to race a little less, race shorter, but get faster. Focused training sessions instead of just mileage. It'll hurt, but sometimes the stuff that hurts can be fun, too!

I feel like I should be winking and nudging right now. Just imagine that I am.

Say no more!

I don't make resolutions for New Years. I just don't. However, I do usually have some goals, so here's a small list for 2014 off the top of my head:

1) Go sub-90mins for a standard 750m-20k-5k sprint tri. I came close at Woodstock last year, and probably could have made it if I'd tapered at all. Will probably have both Woodstock and Belwood at which to make attempts. There may also be some 5k racing, crits, CX and maybe another stab at the Cambridge Classic Mile.

2) Finish my business with Mine Over Matter. I completed it in 2011, then broke my wrist there in 2012. This will be the Canadian Cross Triathlon Championship, so I will get my ass soundly handed to me, but damnit I'm going to get through it again without breaking myself.

Especially since I'm in the video still on the front page of the race's website.

3) Go paddling with Tanker lots, including a canoe trip at some point this coming summer. It's something we've been meaning to do for awhile, but my training tends to eat the time we could use to get him comfortable in a canoe (I grew up with a paddle in hand, so it's just building stamina for me) and rentals are a bit expensive around us. With shorter training hours and a friend having given us a boat in a staggering display of generosity, we should be able to get this done!

Paddling at the Pinery on Thanksgiving weekend.

4) Keep drawing regularly. I started sketching again in November, and try to do so every day at work. I'm not very good, but the only way I'll get any better is through practice, and it feels good to create things using nothing but a pencil and paper.

5) Be a little more fun this year. Go to more concerts, ride my motorcycle more often, spend more time with my husband and friends, and enjoy all the wonderful things life has to offer outside of tri.

6) At the same time, be a good ambassador for healthy, active lifestyle and achievement along with all the kickass women I have the privilege of getting to know through the Vanderkitten VIP program!

Ophelia's got my back!

7) Keep on top of my nutrition and body composition. 2013 finally saw me lean out again after some nutritional and hormonal issues going all the way back to 2010, and I think I've finally identified the last of my food sensitivities. While it's a bit of a pain at times to have so many restrictions, I feel awesome when I fuel myself right and my body responds by shedding excess weight and performing well. I won't say that I didn't indulge over the holidays, because you're damn right I did! But since my favourite jeans - the ones I bought in fall of 2012 because they fit me perfectly - still don't need to be un-buttoned in order to put them on & take them off, I can't have done too much damage.

These goals may not bring me fame, fortune or even age group podiums...but they should bring me happiness and wonderful memories, which I think are a lot more important.

Hope your holidays were fantastic, and that you're on the road to an amazing 2014!