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Running a 100 miler in March in California – what a delightful idea!

Back in October, as B and I talked ourselves into signing up for the Coyote Backbone Trail 100 Mile event, these are some snippets of conversation that we exchanged:

What a great way to enter into spring! An early season ultra!

It will be a way to escape those last throes of winter!

We’ll miss some of March’s 140+ mm rainfall at home.

March in California brings to mind daytime heat and perfect nighttime running temperatures.

H’ard puts on a great race. I’d love to be part of any event that he organizes.

I fantasize about having to wear shoe gaiters and having foot issues like dust between my toes.

It is a stretch to picture myself wearing shorts and a t-shirt after months of tights, wool and rain jackets.

I can almost taste those freshly-picked, straight-off-the-plant, local strawberries that will be available at every aid station.

And don’t forget about the avocados that ripen right along the trail!

The views will be awesome. There will be incredible views earned with every climb!

Do I even need to mention the Ray Miller trail? That amazing trail will lead us right to the finish line.

Buoyed by these visions, we each entered the race and ramped up our training.

Me and B all bundled up for our New Year's Day fat ass run. I can't wait to show off my True North Strong and Free white legs in March!

Me and B all bundled up for our New Year’s Day fat ass run. I can’t wait to show off my True North Strong and Free white legs in March!

But soon, the reality of training for an early season ultra hit us hard. Two factors quickly reared their ugly heads.

First – the dark. We live a dozen miles south of the 50th parallel. We are treated to long, long days in the summer where it is light enough to be busy outside without a light until after 10:00 pm. At that time of year, we also get used to the early light of the morning where our rooster begins crowing around 4:30 am and blackout curtains are required for sleep (and earplugs too!).

But, in the depths of winter, it is dark on the way to work at 8:00 am and dark on the drive home at 4:30 pm.

This picture was taken on the Winter Solstice 2015 at 07:50 am. We have some pretty fearless hens!

This picture was taken on the Winter Solstice 2015 at 07:50 am. Our hens ain’t afraid of the dark!

We have never really gotten used to the fact that weekends are the only time we get to enjoy seeing more than those next 10 ft of trail. Although running in the dark is possible, thanks to many lumens of flashlights and headlamps, it does sort of suck the joy out of it. I am constantly telling myself that I will rock the night section of this race since my entire training has been done in the dark.

A typical post-work run

A typical post-work run – at least it is only raining!

Second – the wet. Here, on the Wet Coast of BC, we are awash in rain. It is wet all the time and sometimes it is very wet. But, on the upside for us running folks, you can train in the rain. If you can get yourself into the right head space, you can run probably 360 days of the year on dirt and take just 5 or 6 days off due to our two annual snowfalls.

To some, the idea of a snowfall might sound like fun but here, in our coastal paradise, it is no fun at all. To us, snow is what we call the stuff as it falls from the sky but, as soon as it hits the ground, its name changes to #%@! (I wish I knew the Inuit word for this #%@! kind of snow) It gets wet and heavy – sort of like wet concrete – and then, due to our typical near 0°C temperatures, it melts, freezes, re-melts and re-freezes, making it either slippery slurpee or blocks of solid, immovable ice.

Winter trail running wavers between fancy footwork and having your life flash before your eyes

Winter trail running wavers between fancy footwork and having your life flash before your eyes. It would be easy to go head first into this guy’s maw!

This pattern continues until the next torrential rain storm finally washes the #%@ away. Usually this happens all within a 48 hour time frame. But not this year.

Just last weekend, early January’s dump of snow/ice/concrete finally disappeared and we were able to actually run 30 km on dirt. It was a low elevation run with only minor climbs but it was still a trail run! But today, as we dig ourselves out for the fourth time in two months and prepare for yet another ‘snow day’, I really wonder if it will be possible to run 100 miles after having trained in 10 km snippets with almost no hill work. Almost all our plans for long runs have been thwarted by weather.

Yes, yes - we have opportunities to train in the snow but it is a stretch to go for more than 20 km in this terrain.

Yes, yes – we have opportunities to train in the snow but it is a stretch to go for more than 20 km in these conditions.

During the last dump of snow, I resorted to running 27 loops of our property in an attempt to get a few miles in. This is me, teetering on the brink of madness.

During the last dump of snow, I resorted to running 27 loops of our property in an attempt to get a few miles in. This is me, teetering on the brink of madness.

This is the hard reality of being a non-professional ultra runner who works full-time (in a job that I love and for which I am very very thankful!). But right now, it feels like I have been tapering for this race for more than 3 months!

I heard a saying that goes something like ‘you can suffer through the training or you can suffer on race day‘. Although I can attest to having suffered already through my pitiful training, I know that race day will take it to a new level. You can’t fake it for 100 miles.

So, until then, over the next 4 weeks, I will be motivated by pure fear and that long list of delights that I mentioned above. I sure hope they have plenty of strawberries for me!

Most of our imported strawberries come from Ventura County, CA, minutes from the finish line.

Most of our imported strawberries come from Ventura County, CA, minutes from the finish line.

“Strawberries, you say?! Are they at the end of this snow tunnel?”

There is only one week left before we leave for our Tor Des Geants 338 km run in Northwestern Italy. The race itself begins in two weeks. As my training days wind down and the race looms ever closer on the horizon, I endlessly wonder if my preparations have been enough. How do you prepare or train for an event that is bigger than your imagination?

When received my acceptance into the event, I made myself one promise:

If anyone asks me to go for a run, I must say yes.

It seem like a pretty simple guideline and I have followed it. I think I have accepted every offer, except one when I was out of town (at a race!). With a dedicated group of trail running friends who have all had their own racing goals this summer, I have managed to run with a buddy for almost half of my runs. Most of those shared runs were the long, mountainous loops that took up a good chunk of the day. Many more of those runs followed a day of solo training, where I had worked alone on speed or hills. I have become used to running on tired legs and luckily my trail buddies are patient and haven’t minded waiting for me to catch up along the way.

So even when the TDG doles out ascents and descents that are way beyond my level of preparation, I will be able to think back on my training with a smile, thinking of those beautiful trails at home and those dear friends who have made me strong.

Here are some trail pics taken on those fabulous days with those friends (most of these have already been posted on FB in my One Per Run album):

Is that a trail? With Kelsey and Todd on Red Rotor

Is that a trail? With Kelsey and Todd on Red Rotor

Wild flowers on the rockey outcrop of Upper Queso - with Todd and Kelsey

Wild flowers on the rocky outcrop of Upper Queso with Todd and Kelsey

"There's a black bear in that clearing" - Twister trails with CVRR

“There’s a black bear in that clearing” – Twister trails with CVRR

Summiting Albert Edward with Bruce and Todd

Summiting Mount Albert Edward with Bruce and Todd

Caught in the mist of Mt. Becher - with Kelsey and Todd

Caught in the mist of Mt. Becher with Kelsey and Todd

Mtn Bike Trail Art on Crafty Butcher with Kelsey

Discovering new mountain bike trail art on Crafty Butcher with Kelsey

Hot and steep descent on Forbidden Plateau with Kelsey and Todd.

Hot and steep descent on Forbidden Plateau with Kelsey and Todd (photo credit: Todd Gallagher)

Climbing out of the log jam on the Boston Ridge Trail with Jerry, John, Todd and Kelsey (photo credit: Jerry Van)

Climbing out of the log jam on the Boston Ridge Trail with Jerry, John, Todd and Kelsey
(photo credit: Jerry Van)

 

Fabulous sign placement on Upper Puntledge Plunge trail - with Bruce

Fabulous ‘no diving’ sign placement on Upper Puntledge Plunge trail with Bruce

Using the Furtherburger stream to refill water bottles with Todd

Using the Furtherburger stream to refill water bottles with Todd

A casual MOMAR reconnaissance run with Peter on Upper Thirsty Beaver

Finding more art on a casual MOMAR reconnaissance run with Peter on Upper Thirsty Beaver

An brand new trail which gives an odd perspective on Cumberland's downtown

Jerry showed me a brand new trail which gives an odd perspective on Cumberland’s downtown

Our Cumberland Long Loop finishes off on a nasty clear cut with 2-storey-high slash piles that we call "Gateway to Corporate Greed" - with Todd, Kelsey, Steve, Jerry and J.P.

Our Cumberland Long Loop finishes off on a nasty clear cut with 2-storey-high slash piles that we call “Gateway to Corporate Greed” – with Todd, Kelsey, Steve, Jerry and J.P.

Running through a Raven Rookery high above Perseverance Creek on Bear Buns with J.P.

Running through a Raven Rookery high above Perseverance Creek on Bear Buns with J.P.

Mountain Bikers build the best trails! This cantilevered bridge is on Race Rocks trail - with Todd

Mountain Bikers build the best trails! This cantilevered bridge is on Race Rocks trail – with Todd

Running up a beautiful switchback trail called Blue Collar with Jerry, Todd and Steve (photo credit: Todd Gallagher)

Running up a beautiful switchback trail called Blue Collar with Jerry, Todd and Steve (photo credit: Todd Gallagher)

Thanks team! Every step with you has helped!

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.

Bugs! – In the height of summer, the flying insects can be as numerous as the wild flowers. While steadily moving along, I can just stay ahead of the bugs. But any stop, whether to adjust shoe tightness, wait for a trail buddy or a well-deserved snack break, the cloud of buzzing buggery descends, finding nose and ear holes quite irresistible. Horseflies, blackflies, mosquitoes, no-see-ums, deer flies and gnats are always waiting, which motivates me to get a move on and pick up the pace.

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.

The Happy Wanderer

My Paths on Strava

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