Friday, April 28, 2017

Poison picked

It's race season!


In my infinite bloody wisdom, though, I chose to kick it off with the first race of the OUTRace Series - Pick your Poison, held at the Heights of Horseshoe just north of Barrie, ON.

An effin' ski hill. You'd think I'd learn.

I raced the 25k there in 2015 and it was one of the toughest things I've ever done. I got my arse thoroughly kicked by the relentless hills, despite a bit of tapering and a lot of hill work over the winter. The end of my race report said, and I quote:

"I'm virtually certain it would take a drastic bout of either amnesia or insanity to make me try the full 4-loop 50k here."

So guess what I'm going to attempt tomorrow, on absolutely no taper at all?


Since it's supposed to just be a long, supported training day for Sulphur Springs next month, I've actually been building mileage this week. After taking a full 6 days with zero running at the beginning of April due to injury and overtraining, I've been trying to tread a narrow path between putting in the work to get me ready for 100k and avoiding re-injury or exhaustion.

10 percent rule my butt.

I managed a pair of decent back-to-back trail runs last weekend - 21.5k at Huron Natural Area on Saturday and then another 19.5k (which took just as long due to the mud and climbing) at Short Hills Provincial Park on Sunday. Everything held together for me, so I even put in a double run on Monday 'cause I'm CRRRRRRAZY like that.

I also got my new pair of precious Leadville 2's broken in at Short Hills

This will be my peak training week for the Sulphur Springs 100k, and while I won't hit the 100km week I wanted before I was sidelined, I've been able to put together a pretty solid week of running.

I'll end up with 128.89km in 8 days, assuming I finish the 50k tomorrow.

Tanker has been amazing about trying to reassure me that I'm stronger than I was the last time I attempted to run at the Heights of Horseshoe, and I know he's right - I still considered flat, groomed rail trails "training" for these events back then, whereas I've spent the last year and a bit training mostly on hilly singletrack. So really, I shouldn't have too much to fear...but still..

Finishing hill from 2015. I'll have to run - or limp - down this thing 4 times.

I know the downhills at Pick Your Poison are quad killers, so I'll be trying to take it easy on them to save my legs for the later stages of the race. If all the hills were on the (non-technical) ski runs themselves it might not be so daunting, but I heard they actually added more singletrack to the course last year, and the off-piste climbs look more like this:

Photo from Canuck Carl's 2016 race report

While my ankle has been feeling quite strong after a few weeks of rehab exercises and I do intend to tape it for additional support, there are so many opportunities to damage it again in those woods. My wonky hip/glute and quad were fine all through last weekend, but they'll face their biggest challenge in months on the climbs. I have prioritized sleep and only done very easy strength work this week as a compromise for not tapering, but I have to hope that my body is up to the task.

Visualizing success.

I need to keep things very easy from the start - tomorrow is not about racing, though there is a clock and a finish line. I'm simply there to put in a lot of time on my feet at an easy pace to prepare for the long haul next month. The course cut-off is 8 hours and you must start your 4th loop before 6 hours have passed, otherwise you will be considered a DNF. I "raced" the 25k in 3h10m two years ago, and fully intend to be out there for at least 7.5hrs this time. There will be a fair number of friendly faces on course, sunshine and maybe even some buds and flowers in the woods, so I'm trying to think of it as just a long day of hiking with occasional bits of running. That's not so hard, now is it?

The things I'll do for a jar of honey and (hopefully) a pair of socks, I tell you..

Friday, April 21, 2017

Spring in my step

I had an enchanting Easter weekend. Good Friday was spent hiking with Tanker on the Bruce Trail through Forks of the Credit Provincial Park, testing my legs out a bit to see how they'd react to some elevation change.

With a stop by a lovely waterfall

Thankfully, everything seemed to hold up fairly well, so on Saturday we hit the market and scarfed down some brunch before heading to Puslinch Tract for the afternoon.

For a bit more elevation change

It was the first real hot, sunny day of the year, and I took things super easy. I walked every hill, stopped whenever I saw something interesting, and just enjoyed being back out on the trail.

Along with the spring wildflowers just starting to appear

While I felt ok during the run, things got rather tight and sore afterward - I actually resolved on Saturday evening that I wouldn't run the next day. I didn't want to push things too hard with Pick Your Poison and Sulphur Springs mere weeks (or less) away.

This seemed tough to top for a run finish anyway.

Sunday morning, though, I felt 100% fine getting out of bed - I guess a short evening walk, a hot shower, running cold water over my left foot & ankle, rubbing down my sore muscles with arnica creme and sleeping in compression socks did the trick!

Or maybe just getting a decent amount of sleep for once..

It was a windy day with some rain showers blowing through, but another warm one. I decided it was time to knock the mud from my adventure through Hockley Valley off my older trail shoes, so popped them on and headed out to Crawford Lake Conservation Area to try a loop of the Iroquoia Trail Test course.

On some ever-so-slightly more technical trail.

It was there that I discovered my caution and rehab work had paid off - I was able to power-hike hills again without pain!

Ok, maybe not all the hills..

I also found I was more comfortable running on the very rocky sections than I had been last summer when I actually did the race, so perhaps all my time spent on technical trails in the past year has finally made a dent in my natural clumsiness. I didn't even mind the bit of rain that fell as I hiked my way out of Nassagaweya Canyon, and I had a lovely walk on the boardwalk around the meromitic lake with Tanker after I finished.

I've remained cautious, sticking to just a lunch run on Monday and Tuesday, but other than my inviolable Fridays off I've been able to run every day since the 6 day break I took near the beginning of the month. I'm incredibly grateful: for the gorgeous weather we've had, the beautiful & challenging roots and rocks of the trails I've traversed, the flowers and buds on the trees that speak of renewed life, and the health to enjoy it all.

It would be such a shame to miss out on this.

With almost a thousand kilometers in the bank year to date (996.7 as of yesterday, to be precise) and almost 60k in just the last 6 days, I know that I have the training in the bank to carry me through, but I'd like to make one last push if I can. So, the plan for this week is to keep building, culminating in the Pick Your Poison 50k next Saturday before a few days off to absorb the work and some light running just to keep things moving before Sulphur.

If anything feels off, I'll shut it right down in favour of rest and recovery, but I'd like to get one last big week in. I'll be taking things slow and easy, though, and you bet your arse I'll be stopping to smell the flowers along the way!

Or at least take a photo.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Happily hopping

Last week was a pretty dark time. Acknowledging multiple injuries this close to race season was wholly disheartening, but I was diligent about doing rehab exercises and even - mon dieu! - took Friday completely off from everything.

Seriously. I didn't even walk or do a single stretch band rep. Total rest, despite the sunshine.

Saturday dawned bright and sunny, with the temperature climbing into the "spring" range. With Tanker the Wonder Sherpa hot on my heels on his mountain bike, we set out along the Royal Recreation & Downtown Trails in Guelph to test out the effects of 6 days off running. Being fairly flat and well-groomed (and with my sweetheart along to keep me from dodging into the gnarly singletrack that parallels parts of it), it seemed like a good choice to keep things easy to start with.

Even if a bit of it was underwater.
You bet your arse I splashed right through that calf-deep puddle!

 It went ok - my ankle felt great, but there was still a bit of tightness in my hip and quad. I did get about 12km in, though, so felt it was a pretty good day.

Like any day I get to spend with this guy.
Sunday brought another sunny day with even milder air, so after a fun afternoon spent on my motorcycle I headed out for another 8km (which actually turned out to be 9km - whoops) on the Mill Run Trail.

More flat, groomed trail.

I ended up pushing the pace a bit as I hadn't brought a headlamp and the sun would set just after I reached the turn-around in Hespeler. Ordinarily I wouldn't mind too much, but the spring thaw had rather swollen the Speed River, and I didn't really want to try this bit near the 401 after dark:

There is supposed to be gravel trail to the right of the rocks, rather than being a test of my practically non-existent agility.

 Fortunately it all went fairly well, and I was even able to run on my lunch on Monday. I didn't try a double run, partly because I don't want to push things too hard yet, and partly because the wonderful Rhonda Marie Avery - badass ultrarunner and massage therapist extraordinaire - had graciously agreed to see me Monday evening to try to sort out some of my lingering issues.

I didn't cry. I didn't scream. There was, however, some rather pointed grunting.

I left with some newfound mobility in my left hip and some recommendations for stretches, yoga poses, and myofascial release. I've been a good girl and kept up with the rehab exercises, nixed a swim on Tuesday in favour of a bit more sleep to help me recover, and have tried to keep my running as easy as possible as the signs of spring begin to flourish on the trails.

Buds and shoots and green things - oh my!

So far things seem to be holding together, so I have hope that I'll be able to make it through Pick Your Poison without wrecking myself for Sulphur Springs. All I really wanted from the time off was to be able to run consistently again, and that's happening, so I'm happy and grateful that my body is cooperating. While I'm still feeling some symptoms of adrenal fatigue, I may even venture out onto some not-too-technical singletrack this weekend to see how the ankle feels on more technical terrain, and try climbing some moderate hills. I just really want to be able to get lost in the woods for awhile!

Besides, who knows what I might see out there?

Happy Easter everyone!

Friday, April 7, 2017

April Fooled

Saturday, April the 1st was a lovely day - the first one of the year where Spring started to feel like it was almost in reach..

Sunshine and green things!
I'd gone down to Shade's Mills Conservation Area to run around in circles for awhile, since it was the first sanctioned training run for Conquer the Canuck (which I raced last year) on the new course for 2017. I might see some other people out, the course would be marked, and I could easily get in the 3 hours or so of running I wanted for the day.

With a bit of elevation to boot.
It very rapidly became apparent that it was not, however, going to be my day.

I'd taken what I thought was a pretty easy week or two since plowing through a bunch of training leading up to the end of the Slowtwitch 100 runs in 100 days challenge, but in retrospect I didn't really cut my mileage down the way I should have. My "easy week" ended up being over 65km despite the extra day I took off (during which I hiked for 3.5hrs with Tanker at Hilton Falls Conservation Area), and culminated in a 4.5 hour grind through the ice and mud of the Bruce Trail in Hockley Valley that included over 1,000m of elevation change. It was beautiful, but left me ragged - my quads were destroyed from running sharp downhills on dirt roads, and I was simply exhausted from the effort of hauling my butt up a trail that doesn't seem to believe in switchbacks (I'm looking at you, Hockley Heights Side Trail!) after all the running I'd done in the prior 8 days.

Almost 40km on the Elora-Cataract Trailway. Back-to-back double run days in the 72hrs directly afterward, without enough sleep. I knew I was heading for trouble - there aren't enough carbohydrates in the bloody world to hold me together when I'm running myself into the ground.

Even if it's lovely and sunny..

I took things a bit easy after the Hockley Valley run - just a ~6k lunch run on Monday and Tuesday (no double run Monday evening), and I didn't add any distance to my ~12k run on Wednesday, but I still wasn't sleeping enough, and because of time constraints I wasn't taking my weekday runs at an easy enough pace for my recovering legs. My poor, damaged ankle was complaining, my left hip and deep gluteal muscles were tight and sore, and on Thursday morning I felt something twang unpleasantly in my left thigh on my 8th burpee of my morning strength workout. Like a good little soldier I headed out into the massively gusting winds on Thursday evening, and (having decided not to go to the pool so I could get a bit more sleep) extended my run a bit longer than usual despite the pain in my quad.

I told myself: Friday is rest day. Friday will make everything better. I will be fine on Saturday. I got 335km of running in the bank in March, never having done more than 293km in a month before. I am strong. I will be ok.

I was not ok.


Overloaded from the downhill running at Hockley Valley and given insufficient time and resources to repair the micro-tears in my quad muscles, I started to hurt within the first few kilometers. Despite my left leg deteriorating into pain and weakness with every additional hill I climbed, I still refused to cut the run at Shade's Mills short of my originally intended 3 loops - I even added a bit at the end to go see the trails on the other side of the beach, which have been cut from the new Conquer the Canuck route but are very pretty. While over there I encountered two women walking dogs off-leash, and while watching them scramble to grab collars I stepped on a root and rolled my damaged ankle again. By the time I met Tanker back at the car I could barely even walk, let alone run. My entire left leg was nothing but pain from just behind my toes to the top of my hip.

Bu-bu-but it was sunny and warm!

I didn't even bother setting an alarm for Sunday - just slept as much as I wanted (nearly until noon), then tried to get my head straight about what I'd done to myself. Less than 5 weeks from the Pick Your Poison 50k and under 9 weeks to the Sulphur Springs 100k, and I was incapable of even walking up a set of stairs without pain.

I had originally resolved to just spend the day lazing around, but it was sunny again and even warmer than the day before - it felt like mid-May, not the beginning of April. So, I hopped on my bike trainer in the basement to see if I could cycle without causing any more problems for my sore hip, quad or ankle. Everything seemed to go smoothly, so I aired up my poor, neglected mountain bike's tires and prepared to go for my first outdoor bike ride of the year. I knew I might not make it off our street and resolved to shut it all down at the first sign of pain, but I actually ended up having a lovely hour-long ride with my sweetheart.

We went for a stroll on a nice, flat trail afterward, enjoying the sunshine and warm air even as the sun set along the river.

It's hard to complain about getting to see this..

I still haven't run since. I'm trying to be a little smarter than I was last week, and realise that pushing things now would be the worst possible thing I could do for my race season. While Pick Your Poison is just intended to be a supported training day, I need to come through it healthy enough to recover in the 4 weeks between it and Sulphur Springs if I want to have any hope of finishing the 100k without messing myself up badly.

I know I am strong enough to push through pain. Right now I have to be smart enough not to do so.

Instead, I'm taking the opportunity to make some improvements. I've finally got serious about doing some rehab for my chronically damaged ankle - that has been ongoing since at least August of last year - and giving my legs some real rest and recovery time.

I'm still clumsy, though.

The quad seems to be responding to the rest - it feels almost completely fine now - and my ankle is definitely in the best shape it's been in months. Even my terrible balance is improving! I have been on the bike trainer and to the pool a couple of times, but I've only done one walk this week. I've been trying to get some more sleep, and do the right things nutritionally to help things along: sipping bone broth and eating gelatin with vitamin C to try to encourage my ligaments and tendons to heal, plus having a bit more healthy fat to try to get my overloaded endocrine system back on track. The issues with my hip and glutes are proving a bit more difficult to resolve (and may actually span a couple of years..), but I'm recruiting the help of the best ultrarunning RMT I've ever met to help me with that.

In short, I'm trying not to be such a fool in April.

If all feels 100% tomorrow - when Spring is supposed to put in another appearance after a fairly nasty week of wintry wind and even a blanket of snow that fell last night - I'm going to try a short-ish run on a flat, non-technical trail. If anything feels off or hurts, I'll shut it down and wait for another day. I have a ton of mileage already in the bank - 885km and 4 runs of 4+ hours in duration - so the goal is just to get back to running consistently and without pain. It will do me no good to try to push mileage if I can't even make the starting line at Sulphur Springs healthy and ready to rock!

No matter how much I want to go play in the sun.

So, wish me luck at getting myself back to fighting fit, and maybe being just a little brighter with my decisions.