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The last weekend of April is marked by a huge party in the Comox Valley. The Snow To Surf Adventure Relay Race takes in the three local municipalities and all the lakes, roadways and trails between them. This year, over 180 teams participated in the relay, each team consisting of 9 team members. The 8 race legs are downhill skiing, nordic skiing, snowshoe running, trail running, mountain biking, kayaking, road biking and canoeing.

Of course, B and I were keen to be part of the action. Last year, we were unpacking boxes on race day so we didn’t even notice the big event. As well, neither of us had any idea where our runners or snow equipment was. So this year, we both made feeble attempts to find a local team who needed us, but  none of our work colleagues were putting together a team and we don’t know very many other people.

The week before the race, I heard about the website bulletin board that links racers to teams in need. Both of us posted a short profile and both of us were contacted by separate teams the following day. We were both asked to do the 6.5 km snowshoe leg. The night before the race, we headed off to meet our respective teams so that waivers could be signed and logistics could be worked out.

When my all-women team finally arrived from Victoria and Nanaimo, we had an extremely late dinner and then got to work trying  to figure out how to transport people and equipment around. With almost no useful information available on the website, it was a complete gong-show. When I left their rented house at 11:00 pm, they were still arguing. After I left, I believe they proceeded to move roof racks, bike racks, the two boats and the two bikes around to different cars. I was thankful that my equipment was simple. The unfortunate part was that I would be picked up at 7:45 am for my 10:15 am snowshoe leg. Although B was running the same leg as me on a much faster team, he arrived at our starting area an hour and half after me!

The snowshoers were corralled into a small area beside the nordic skier finish chute. We crowded together for warmth, since it was about 4 C, and waited for our race numbers to be called. When my teammate arrived, I hustled up to meet her, dropped my puffy jacket at her feet, grabbed the terrycloth wristband and ran up to the parkway.

Because of low snow levels, the snowshoe leg started off on the parkway for about 2 km. Thankfully, we were allowed to carry our snowshoes! The route started with quite a steep incline which, fuelled with race adrenaline, I sprinted up. Once it levelled off and sloped downwards, I was able to open up, catch my breath and think about the pacing skills I have been working on at our track speed workouts. Soon enough, I was passing people. It was fun to focus on someone’s back and mentally reel them in. The race organizers sent us back and forth across the parkway and I found my rhythm was lost each time as I dodged between cars. It was probably the most unsafe road running I have ever witnessed in a race. Each time someone instructed us to cross the parkway, no one was there to stop the cars.  Thankfully, the drivers were almost all associated with the relay and patiently yielded to our zig-zag route.

We were directed onto a snowy forest service road and stopped to put on our snowshoes. I imagined the focus required by biathletes as I fumbled with my snowshoe straps, gasping for breath. Soon enough I began running again and was instantly treated to another steep incline, but this time it was covered in well-tracked, slushy spring snow. Each step seemed to move me forward only a few inches while sucking all the power from my legs. For a race that has a downhill profile, there sure was a lot of uphill in the snowshoe leg!  The course was undulating, with short, steep inclines and long, steep descents. It was a hoot to scream past racers who were pussy-footing their way downhill. From my chit-chat at the start area, I found that many racers had never worn snowshoes before. That was obvious many times over as some racers walked both up and down the hills and some even removed their snowshoes.

In no time at all, the 3.5 km of snow running ended and we were directed to remove our snowshoes and continue down on the trail. The trail was soggy, with a stream flowing down the centre. This section was supposed to be 1.5 km, but it was probably less than 1 km. I pushed really hard on this familiar terrain, focussing on following the fall-line of the trail. The course soon put us back onto the parkway and towards the runner transition. My trail runner teammate was waiting for me and our transition was smooth.

After a few moments of catching my breath, the downhill skier from our team found me and we headed to the car. From there we drove along to almost every transition area, picking up our teammates as they finished their events.

In the end, we finished in 5:09.23, about mid-pack in our category, which I think is remarkable considering our throw-together team and the chaos of the night before. The information available on the event website was pathetic, with not a map or a route description available. It would have been helpful to have some sort of suggestion about how to shuttle the team and equipment around or even a blank map of the region. I think my team learned that the rules are merely guidelines and the whole point of the day is to have fun.

I’m keen on doing it all again next April.  Do you need a teammate??

I have one speed that I comfortably fall into when I go out for a run.  It’s a nice, easy, sight-seeing pace that allows me to run with minimal effort for hours and hours. I don’t believe in listening to tunes (although I have been known to sing out loud) so my pace is genuine – something that comes from within me, like my personal metronome.

But, as I have lamented of late, I am in a running rut and I have begun to take action to dig myself out.  As part of my Learn to Run 5km clinic, the group leaders have begun adding fartleks into our group runs.  Simply, we go out for a slow, casually-pace run and, on the call of the leader, we all put in a 30 to 45 second burst of speed and then resume the casual pace.  These bursts are not supposed to be your flat-out fastest sprint but merely a faster-than-tempo spurt. During our weekly runs, we have been doing 3 or 4 fartleks over our 45 minute run.

Did I mention that this Learn To Run clinic involves weekly homework?  Well, it does.  We are encouraged to complete 3 other runs each week and they should involve the same casual pace and fartleks.

Being a good little school girl, I headed out yesterday to run my favourite close-to-home trail loop and, for the first time, I added in 4 fartleks. What I learned is – it is hard to be honest and truthful about your running when you are on your own, on familiar trails.  I found that I was putting off the speed work because an incline was coming up. Instead, I would cheat and wait until the trail began its downward slope before I decided to pick up the pace.  Is this cheating? Or is this smart?  I never seem to know the difference.

The other aspect that I found easy to fudge was the timing.  I am a bit old-school, in that I don’t carry some techno device that will calculate my minutes per mile or my gps coordinates.  For pete’s sake, I don’t even where a watch!  So how long is 45 seconds, when you don’t carry a time-piece?  Somewhere during my first fartlek, I decided that four footfalls took a little more that 1 second, so I would count every fourth step until I reached 30.  I have NO IDEA if this was accurate.  Each fartlek could have been anywhere from 20 seconds to 3 minutes.  Who knows?

But, in all honesty, those little speed bursts kept me very aware of my pace throughout my run.  After each fartlek was done, I was gasping and almost staggering along, trying to keep out of the salal and huckleberries at the trail’s edge.  I consciously tried to run relaxed and slow right up until the urge to ramp up my pace came through me again.  And then I worked on my recovery, both in breathing and in pacing.  That has to count for something, right?

Part of the Learn to Run 5km clinic is a weekly seminar where an expert in some area of running speaks to the crowd of 100 novice runners. So far the topics have touched on stretching, injuries, nutrition and speed work.  A few weeks ago, we heard from the Comox Valley Road Runners’ track coach and she spoke about her Tuesday night track sessions.  Somewhere during the past two weeks, I decided that maybe a regular track workout would cure my plateaued running regimen.

On Tuesday evening, I grabbed a water bottle and a hoodie and I headed down to the local high school track about 15 minutes before the workout.  I could see few runner-types doing warm-up laps and I dutifully joined in.  After about 1600 m, we met at the bleachers.

Right away I could see that this was a fun group of people.  Since it was Valentine’s week, many came dressed in silly boxers, heart ties, tightie-whities with strategically placed hearts and lacy camisoles.  There was a ghettoblaster playing some latin rhythms and the session started with an invitation to dance.

After a few news items, the two new members were introduced and the workout explained.  We would have 2 options:

400m + 800m + 1200m  x 2


400m + 1000m x 2

We began our warm-up stretches, strides and various other hopping, skipping and high-stepping exercises. Then the running began.

I opted for the shorter version since it has been forever since I did a speed-work session and I really didn’t want to injure myself.  We all began together and those choosing the shorter workout simply sat out the 800m section and rejoined the group for the final 1000m.  I opted to do the longer 1200m – mostly because I didn’t know where to stop for 1000m.  (You have to understand that it was pretty dark by the time we were running)

I felt fast and light on my feet.  I held my own and was able to keep a fairly steady pace throughout.  I pretty chuffed at my 5:05 1200m time during the first go around. During the second 1200m, I kind of got boxed in by some chatty fellows ahead of me on the final lap so I was slower than before.

The workout concluded with a fun 4 x 100 where we had to pass off some item of clothing as a baton. My teammate gave me her lacy camisole and I passed off a dollar store beaded necklace to the fellow running in the tightie-whities.

Overall, I had fun and I surprised myself at my underlying fitness. I wonder how sore I’ll be tomorrow!


The Happy Wanderer

My Paths on Strava

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