For many years, I have plateaued at a comfortably fit, but soft, weight. Weight loss has never been a concern of mine. I realise that I am in the minority of women who don’t think twice about a second serving of dessert. (I can just hear you saying “Binny Skitch”!) I admit that I still have clothes in my closet that I wore 15 to 20 years ago and I’m pretty sure my wedding dress would still fit.

But seven months ago, when I suddenly became sick and soon-after treated to surprise intestinal surgery, I predictably lost some weight. As my surgeon said “we cut you open, pumped you up with drugs and starved you for more than a week” so I wasn’t surprised that the scale numbers dipped down about 10 lbs.

But those pounds never came back. As soon as I was given the green light, I ramped up my training, trying to regain my baseline of running fitness for the busy summer race schedule that I had fantasized about during my bed-ridden days. My weight stayed steady at 10 lbs lighter for a few months but recently it has dropped even more (consistent 60km/week might have something to do with it). None of this was alarming until I realised where this weight is coming from.

I have dropped a full bra size. My little As are now AAs! No more Victoria’s Secret for me (since her secret is ‘size-ism’).  I will now have to shop for undergarments on websites like littlewomen.com and ittybittybra.com. Those sites seem like kiddy porn with all those tiny young girls and their tiny double As. I think I’ll settle for my trusty high school training bra instead.

I am trying to come up with perks (excuse the pun) for my new-found svelteness. If nothing else, it makes the search for a hydration backpack all the easier since I no longer have to figure out whether the chest strap goes over or under!

Should the strap go under to lift up??

photo credit: Karen Chow

Or up above?

photo credit: Karen Chow

Or right over top to add extra support?

photo credit: Karen Chow

Or way up high, like a necklace?

 

A bunch of us were traipsing along on a trail last week. The route meandered mostly upwards for about 15 kilometers before we reached our high point and headed mostly downwards for the remaining 15 km. As the trail dipped slightly before resuming its upward trend, a question was posed:

What makes you start running again after you have been walking?

We all chattered about different motivations that get us going again but I found myself thinking on this question all week. I am not questioning what makes us slow to a walk in the first place: there are countless reasons that make walking (or stopping) a viable option. I am only interested in the thought process behind starting to run again.

Grade - I have a mental picture of my runnable grade. If the trail grade relents to something within my ‘runnable’ zone, then I somehow convince myself that walking is no longer an option.

Catching My Breath - After a big climb, I am often breathing too hard, feeling winded, to begin running. I need to spend a few moments/minutes allowing my cardio system to recover before I can run again. But once my breathing is back in control, I am usually easily persuaded to run again, especially if the climb is over.

Being Hunted - I only encounter this motivation during a race and, even then, it is rare for me to ever feel competitive. But, for many runners, the thought of being passed by another person is a strong motivator to begin running again. For some men, ‘being chicked’ falls into this category and I believe it is even more motivating! If I feel that my gains are soon to be lost, my shuffle will become slightly more determined when I think about those pursuing me from behind.

Reeling Someone In - Again, this is a race day anomaly. If I can spot someone ahead of me, I can usually find the strength to push the pace a little higher. I attach my mental bungy cord to their shorts and pull myself through the distance that separates us. If I had slowed to a hike, the mere thought of reeling someone in is enough to get me going again.

Keeping the Group In Sight - Many, many times, I have been the caboose in a group run – since I tend to surround myself with greatness – so I have to work hard at keeping up with the group. Fear of making a wrong turn and being left far behind (or worse – the beer supply being finished before I get there!) forces me to keep the legs turning over.

A Fabulous View - Standing back and soaking up an amazing view is one of the key reasons that I run. Although it would be luxurious to flake out on a hot granite slab and soak in the view of the valley below for a few hours, I get motivated to get going again in hopes of finding something even more spectacular atop the next summit.

Staving Off the Chills - No matter how warm the day (in the pacific northwest mountains), I get chilled as soon as my effort declines. I have to be moving and exerting myself to a fair degree in order to stay comfortable. After the effort of a climb, I can enjoy the view for only a few minutes before I need to get going again or I need to instantly don an extra layer or two for the descent. The fear of being cold is enough to put some speed in my turnover.

A Change in Muscle Groups - Any repeated movement is going to become tiresome. I embrace the idea of being able to change my pace and engage different muscle groups. Running feels freeing after hiking or walking for long while. To me, a flat road run is torture because the same muscles are in demand the whole time.

These are the ideas that have been churning through my mind. What makes you speed up to a run? Please comment and add your own.

So there we were, flying down a sweet, single track trail called Short Line, laughing and chattering away as we dipped and dodged around trees.

Photo credit: Todd Gallagher

The sweet single track of Short Line!

After a 4 km climb, we were soaking up the descent. I always think that my eye muscles will be the most fatigued muscles after a speedy descent as I try to anticipate each footfall and negotiate all those roots and rocks. These shorter, mid-week runs with friends are probably my favourites. There is no pressure to put in long hours; the purpose is simply to enjoy being out after a day of work.

We reached the reservoir and the flat, gravel service road that runs around its perimeter. As usual on the boring flats, my focus waned and I began chattering away to Farley, our group’s loyal trail dog. Next thing you know, I caught my trailing toe on an embedded rock and I was flying through the air, Superman-style. I almost saved myself from the fall, managing to get three or four more quick steps in as an attempt to recover my balance, but alas …

The full impact of my fall went onto the top of my right hand, near my pinky finger. Since I was holding a hand-held water bottle, my fingers wrapped under my hand so the knuckles of my right hand slid and scraped through the rough gravel. I lay on the side of the road with my eyes closed and tried to assess the damage. Still with my eyes closed, I decided it was nothing more than a bad scrape. When Steve and Todd came back to where I lay, I realized that I was holding my injured hand so tightly that they couldn’t see what had happened. As soon as Todd peeled my left hand off of my right, Steve said,

“It looks okay. Just a couple of stitches.”

Before I even had time to take a peek or disagree, Todd had removed his sweaty running shirt and bound up my injured hand with it.  With MacGyver-like finesse, he used my hand-held water bottle strap and cinched his shirt tight against my hand.

Ingenious and resourceful bandaging was in place within moments of my fall.

Ingenious and resourceful bandaging was in place within moments of my fall.

Together we walked the remaining 4 km back to the trailhead and they kept me amused with stories and jokes. Todd followed me as I drove my car (automatic!) and made sure that I went directly to the hospital. Not only did he pay for my parking, but he also escorted me into ER, sat with me in triage and coerced his work colleagues to take extra good care of me. Only after I was settled in, waiting for an examination, did he heed my request to leave.

When the ER doctor gave the okay, I unwrapped my scraped hand and finally saw the extent of the damage. A sharp rock had gouged a flap across that pinky knuckle and filled it with dirt and grit.

Some of that grey is dirt but some is bruising starting to show its colours.

Some of that grey is dirt but some is bruising starting to show its colours.

Gruesome gash filled with grit.

Gruesome gash filled with grit.

I had a few x-rays, which thankfully showed no broken bones, had a good wire-brush scrub (with freezing thankfully) and then was sewn back together with 10 stitches. I didn’t tell the doctor of Steve’s pending bet of 3 stitches until she had finished her work. The pinky knuckle  was the hardest hit, requiring 5 stitches and the next 2 knuckles shared the rest.

This day #2 pic shows the 10 stitches and the nasty swelling.

This day #2 pic shows the 10 stitches and the nasty swelling.

Yesterday, day #2, the rest of my body felt like I had been in a bar fight, with a sore shoulder, knee and elbow. I unwrapped the bandage and found that my hand was unrecognizable with the swelling. My knuckles are blackish purple and the skin of my hand is stretched to its limits. I have very little mobility in those two last fingers and the throbbing forces me to keep it elevated.

Chubby Knuckles!

Chubby Knuckles!

How lucky I am to have friends who don’t hesitate for a moment in this kind of situation? To literally be given the shirt off his sweaty back is a gift I’ll not forget.

It is perfect running weather today so I think I’ll head out onto the trails. I wonder if my running buddies are free.

 

Remember last year?  I was recruited to run the snowshoe leg for a women’s team from Victoria. Although they called themselves a fun, recreational team, they turned out to be super intense and competitive. In fact, at the post-race beer garden, the team captain started rattling off the stats for each leg, telling us who had let more teams pass during each leg. It was a bit of a nasty shock for me – especially since these stats were not available anywhere!

So this year, I reclaimed my free-agent status and waited to see if a better option came about. And the better option soon appeared.

Just before Christmas, my friend Rae texted me, asking if I’d like to be on her long-standing (15 years!) Snow to Surf team. It soon became apparent that she was hanging out with those teammates as she texted. The whole team was on Denman at a Christmas Craft Fair, in the throes of purchasing costumes for this year’s race. Costumes?! Now this sounded like the kind of team that I desired! I said yes immediately.

Tie-Dyed, Thigh High Socks - locally sourced here in the Valley!

Tie-Dyed, Thigh High Socks – locally sourced here in the Valley!

As race day approached, the emails were flying between all the members of the team. The inside jokes and comradery were fun to read and I simply sat back and enjoyed being an outsider peaking in on a tight-knit group of girlfriends.

The night before the event, we all got together for homemade chili and the annual ‘forging signatures’ party. We donned our costumes – consisting of sateen capes, colourful wigs and thigh-high socks – and headed to the race check-in and costume judging, complete with a group cheer and bundles of spirit.

One of our 10 team members, decked out in super-hero style.

One of our 10 team members, decked out in super-hero style.

In the morning, we met up and carpooled to the starting lines. Krista, our downhill skier started the race off. As I waited in the snowshoe coral, I was struck by the grace and beauty of the downhill skiers as they sailed effortlessly down the mountain.

Graceful, Smooth and Speedy! The downhill skiers made it look easy (even though they had to start their leg with a grueling uphill run in ski boots).

But, turning my head, I was confronted with the agony ahead of me as I saw those first snowshoers reduced to a walk as they regained lost elevation in a one kilometer hike. Even those frontrunners were walking within minutes of the hand-off.

The Snowshoe Death March – Up, Up and Away!

When Krista appeared on the downhill slope, I readied myself to grab the wrist band and pass her the car key. Once the hand-off was complete, I turned and ran out of the chute and up the mountain. In no time at all, I was reduced to a walk. Although it was a short leg, the route went up a ski run for one kilometer before flattening out and eventually easing downhill for the remaining 1.5 kilometers. By the time I began, the spring snow was well-trodden and slushy, providing no traction at all. For every step I took, my foot plant would skid back to its starting place. I mentally focussed on all the hill training I have been doing recently with my Cumberland Grinders and told myself that this was no tougher than hiking/running Pity The Fool, Stub and Grub up to 620 meters. The snowshoers around me were all struggling too. Many had stopped trailside with their hands on their knees, gasping for air. Could the 1590m (5200 ft) elevation be more of a factor than fitness for all of us seaside dwellers? It was easy to pass people simply by continuing with a determined walking pace, although my lungs were screaming and I could taste that tinny, metallic taste of blood! A speedy woman passed me and I mentally attached a bungy cord to her, allowing her to pull me along. Soon enough, the incline eased and we were treated to a flat section where I tried to get my breathing under control. I tried to stick to the untracked, groomed parts of the trail that provided a firm footing. As the route snaked more steeply downhill, I would move onto the slushy, tracked snow which allowed me to glissade farther with each running step.

Suddenly, I could hear the cheers from the next transition area. I couldn’t believe that the snowshoe leg was already coming to an end. I managed to push around the last corner and figure out the transition chute. Barb, our nordic skier, was exactly where I expected her to be and, with a quick wristband exchange, she was off and I was free to stumble around, gasping for air and trying to get my eyeballs looking the same direction. I didn’t time myself but I guess that it took less than 20 minutes to complete.

I found my way to the parking area and saw Krista waiting for me. Together we drove down to watch the nordic to road runner to trail runner to mountain biker exchanges before heading off for lunch and a costume adjustment. We rejoined the festivities at the road biker to canoe transition and then moved on to the finish line.

Our team finished in 5:45.31. In the official results we were 100/142 overall and 7/7 for women’s masters.

The results board has us in 104th position (Sno2Slurzz) but we ended up in 100th place in the official results!

The results board has us in 104th position (Sno2Slurzz) but we ended up in 100th place in the official results!

The costume contest, which was our real goal, unfortunately ended up being awarded to a less-deserving team. All the same, we made a good showing at the beer garden, having the largest pile of bags in the whole area and having our photo taken many times over by adoring fans. One of those photos even made the local newspaper the next day, in spite of our obvious beer consumption.

One of our many team photos. Perhaps being featured in the local paper is a better reward than a silly costume contest!

One of our many team photos. Perhaps being featured in the local paper is a better reward than a silly costume contest!

Not only did I luck out in being with a high-spirited, truly recreational team, I think I have found a new group of friends to hang with. Go Slurzzz!

The Happy Wanderer

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