Race Recap: St. John’s Uniformed Services Run Half Marathon at 21 Weeks Pregnant!

[Surprise, surprise – I wrote this post over a month ago but am only getting around to posting it now. I was waiting for them to post race pictures because I swear I saw a race photographer on the course, but I never did find any photos!]

The Uniformed Services Run in St. John’s, Newfoundland, was one of those races that could have totally gone either way.

On the one hand, I had trained steadily for a trail half just three weeks prior, plus I had tacked on the last couple of weeks of a regular road half marathon training program to fill the time between the trail half and the St. John’s half. In theory, I was in decent running shape for the race.

On the other hand, I spent the eight days leading up to the race in full tourist mode, meaning lots of time sitting in a plane or car and lots of indulgent meals (with some fresh Atlantic salmon thrown in here and there, for good measure). I managed to squeeze in a couple of short (<5k) runs and we did a few hikes as well, but I was certainly moving less than I ordinarily would in the week leading up to a race.

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Behold: Magee and the Great Porta Potty Line Up. (Do I look overdressed for a race in June? Um, yes.)

Running a race away from home has its own challenges, too. I’ve only ever run one non-BC race – a ten miler in Toronto eons and eons ago. Running a race on a vacation means you have to remember to pack everything you’ll need ahead of time, plus pre-race rituals (like the meal you typically eat the night before a race) are tougher to stick to.

Throw the fact that I was 21 weeks pregnant into the mix, and you can see why things felt totally up in the air. For this race, I was at that point where some days, I almost forgot I was pregnant – but other days, I would get winded just walking up a short but steep incline. Even though I’d just run a trail half 3 weeks before, I knew that a whole lot could happen, fitness-wise, in those 3 weeks.

(As an aside, there is something oddly satisfying about running 21k at 21 weeks.)

So you can see why I had no idea what to expect going into this race. Well, I’m glad to say that it pretty much turned out to be the best case scenario!

Initially, my goal had been to enjoy the race and just finish before the 3 hour cutoff. After completing the Loop the Lakes trail half in about 2 and a half hours, I decided I could probably expect to run a road half at least as fast as that, given the relative lack of elevation. I estimated that I would probably finish around 2:15 – 2:30, depending on how it all went down on race day.

On the third day of our Newfoundland trip, it had snowed in St. John’s. The day before the race was cold and damp – the kind of weather that really gets into your bones. I was understandably a little worried about what race day would bring, but the forecast looked promising: sunny but cool (6 degrees, but feeling more like 1 or 2 degrees at our 7:30 AM start time). I had brought one t-shirt, one long sleeved shirt, one pair of shorts, and one pair of running leggings, so I had to option to mix and match depending on the weather. I opted for the long sleeved shirt and leggings, which seemed a little ridiculous for mid-June, but hey – cold is cold!

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Our friend was much faster than me – possibly because he wore shorts instead of pants?

By the time we got to the start line, I could already tell that I had overdressed. It definitely did not feel like 1 or 2 degrees – more like 10 or 11 degrees – and I felt envious of the runners around me who were wearing t-shirts and shorts. It was too late for a wardrobe change, so I decided I would just have to make do.

I pulled up to the start line less than a minute before the race actually started, and I seeded myself towards the back, knowing that I would probably be on the slower side. Before I knew it, we were off.

I knew virtually nothing about the course. Our friend was running the half (though his goal time was much more ambitious than mine), and he had told me that there was some nice downhill to start the race. I also knew there was a loop that I’d have to repeat twice, though I wasn’t sure when it would come up or how long the loop was. I’d read the course description, but all the names of the roads were foreign to me so I decided to just go with the flow.

The first few k were indeed downhill – and HOT! Despite a pre-race bathroom break, within the first kilometre, I was already sweating buckets and I also had to pee. There was a porta potty at the first aid station, but another runner juuust beat me to it. I waited for about 30 seconds but when he didn’t emerge, I decided he was probably going to be in there awhile longer and that I was probably better off just hustling to the porta potty at the next aid station.

There was a good crowd of runners around me, but then the course split off into half marathon and 10k runners – and most of the people around me abandoned me as they turned right towards the 10k course. This was the beginning of my first loop. Despite feeling a little overheated and having to pee, my legs were feeling pretty good and I was enjoying the run.

As I made a U-turn at the far end of the loop, the course marshal said something about pacing myself as I ran into the wind. Wind? What wind?

Then, as I began running in the opposite direction, it hit me – and I mean it, the wind smacked me right in the face. On the plus side, I no longer felt hot and overdressed. On the down side, it was serious work running into the wind. That infamous Newfoundland wind is no joke!

I had time to gather a bit of energy as I stopped at the (thankfully vacant) porta potty at the next aid station, then got back to it. Running into the wind was tough, and as we rejoined the 10k course, the road started to get a little hillier. Thankfully, the hills didn’t bother me too much – I credit this all the trail running I’ve done in the past few months.

One thing to note is that this race has no kilometre markers. I never had any idea whatsoever how far along I was – I wasn’t even wearing a watch (though I had my phone tucked away into my running vest. By the way, I’m pretty sure I was the only runner with a running vest. Trail habits die hard!) I was, however, beginning to wonder when my second lap of the loop would start. For some reason, I had thought that the loop was much shorter than it actually was.

Just when I was starting to feel a little discouraged, I ran into some fans: Cedric and the wife of the friend who was also running. I didn’t think that I would get to see them along the course, so it was great to get some high fives from them. This also happened to be about the point where the first loop ended and the second began – at least now I knew what to expect for the next loop.

I enjoyed a little stretch with the wind at my back, then it was once more time to run straight into it. I stopped at the same porta potty on my second loop that I had on my first loop – pregnancy bladder is real!

I am pretty certain that the wind picked up as the morning went on. At this point, the runners were very spread out – at times, I could only just barely make out the colour of the shirt of the next person ahead of me, and they would sometimes disappear over a hill or around a corner. There were marshals along the course, but I really had no idea where I was going, so I wanted to try to keep another race in view at all times.

Meanwhile, my legs were still feeling good. I felt like I was pushing myself, but comfortably – the kind where your legs will probably feel sore the next day, but you don’t feel like throwing up or anything (this is generally a sensation that one wants to avoid when running pregnant, to be sure). Eventually, the person ahead of me would come closer into view until I was able to pass them, then I would target a new shirt colour.

This is how the last few k went – I’d see a shirt colour, slowly catch up to them, and find a new target to lead me to the finish line. The only thing is that I wasn’t sure how far away the finish line was – I knew when I had completed the second lap, but from there I wasn’t sure how far into the race we were.

The last little bit was a slog – windier than ever, and just uphill enough to chew up your legs. I had been trailing a guy in a blue shirt and I passed him as we entered the park. Suddenly, I couldn’t see anyone ahead of me – and I was at a T junction with no course marshal in sight! I asked a bystander if she knew where I should go and she said she thought she saw people take a left, so I decided to do the same. For a moment or two, I thought I might have made a mistake – but then I saw the finish line come into view, thankfully.

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Finish line swag

The finish line clock was just turning to 2:03 as I crossed it (my chip time ended up being 2:02:47) – and I couldn’t believe it! I knew I had felt good, but this was a totally normal road half marathon time for me – and things had been SO windy and, you know, the whole pregnant thing. It was one of those days where things just kind of aligned for me and I struck that magical, elusive balance of pushing myself while still really enjoying the whole thing.

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PEACE, BABY! (This is why my hands look weird in the previous photo – because they were in transition to peace signs)

Another magical, elusive miracle: my Strava app actually recorded the correct 21.1 km distance (although it put my moving time at 2:02:15, so something was a little off – maybe my bathroom breaks automatically paused it?). My KM times are approximately as follows:

  1. 5:59
  2. 5:19
  3. 5:33
  4. 5:35
  5. 5:19
  6. 5:20
  7. 5:44
  8. 5:52
  9. 6:02
  10. 5:54
  11. 5:58
  12. 5:44
  13. 5:27
  14. 5:25
  15. 5:39
  16. 5:33
  17. 6:12
  18. 5:50
  19. 6:07
  20. 6:30
  21. 5:58

I’m not sure when my two bathroom breaks were – I would guess kms 9 and 17.

I am pretty sure that this was the last “big” race while pregnant – though I still hope to run a few shorter, for fun races. Who knows when my next half will  be – but hopefully it’ll be as much fun as this one was.

Race Recap: Run Squamish’s Loop the Lakes 21k

I had such good intentions of writing this post immediately after I finished the Loop the Lakes race… but I didn’t. So instead of writing it with fresh memories and emotions, I’m writing it about a month after the fact. It’s not nearly as satisfying, but better late than never, I suppose.

A quick background: I ran Run Squamish’s Loop the Lakes 21k race last year (recap here!), though under less-than-ideal conditions: I had sprained my ankle in March, so training was sporadic and limited. Plus, it was my longest trail run ever at the time, so the intimidation factor was considerable.

This year, I had the advantage of a few good trail races under my belt from last year – not to mention the fact that I knew the course inside out, having run the same race the year before and having incorporated many of the trails on my training runs. Speaking of training – I trained for this one! Properly and everything! You can read a bit about my training here. I dutifully ticked off each and every run in my training plan, and I even incorporated speed work and hill workouts, which I’ve never officially done before.

There was only one little challenge that popped up in the months leading up to this race: I got pregnant!

When I signed up for the Loop the Lakes 21k back in the fall, I knew there was a chance I would be pregnant by the time it rolled around. I figured there was also a chance that I might not be pregnant, and if that was the case, I certainly wanted to keep up with my running. I decided to sign up because the race would be relatively early in my pregnancy and there was always the option of dropping down to a shorter distance (8k or 15k) if I wasn’t feeling up to the half.

In the end, the entire training period aligned with being pregnant, and I ran the race at 18 weeks. The training runs weren’t always pretty (lots of chafing, lots of pee breaks – I will write more about pregnancy and trail running/running in another post), but they always got done. I was very lucky to feel pretty good overall during my first trimester, and on the days where I wasn’t feeling so hot, I always felt soooo much better when I was out on the trails, even if I was going at a snail’s pace. Being in the trees and moving around always seemed to do the trick for me – though I acknowledge that this is definitely not the case for everyone. (And I did have a few very discouraging training runs – again, I’ll talk about this in another post.)

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Classic pre-race photo – check

 

 

The weeks leading up to the race were HOT – like, 25 to 30 degrees hot. Yet somehow, race day ended up being perfect: cool, overcast, and all around optimal. I headed to the start line at Alice Lake and got a good warm up walk in as I walked from the parking lot to the starting line (be sure to give yourself LOTS of time for this – I arrived at the start just a couple of minutes before go time).

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KILLER finish line food at the Nester’s tent – although the oranges were the only thing I was interested in.

Before I knew it, we were off. I seeded myself towards the back of the pack, anticipating that there was a good chance that I would be one of the last of the half marathoners to cross the finish line. As we headed out to loop around the first like (Alice Lake), another girl made a comment about being happy to let others go ahead of her – she told me her motto for this quarter of the race was “slow and easy”. I never thought about having a motto for each quarter, but I liked the thought and decided to adopt it myself.

Slow and easy seemed especially fitting since it would prevent the keeping-up-with-the-pack start line jitters – plus, I have grown to dislike running the Four Lakes Loop clockwise in Alice Lake Provincial Park, and this motto would get me through it in one piece. I’m not sure why I don’t like it – I think it’s because I have run it a few times too many and it has just enough incline to be runnable, but annoying.

Anyway, I took it slow and easy through this first section of trails and found myself thinking that the small uphills weren’t as horrible as I’d anticipated. I pulled over at the same porta potty I stopped at during the 5 Peaks race for a pee break (for those doing the math – I was also pregnant during the 5 Peaks race), then got ready for the second quarter of the run.

The second quarter is actually my favourite part of the run – I love the technical parts of Entrails and the flowy, downhill Roller Coaster and Lumberjack segments more than anything. I had run these trails a ton during training and I surprised myself when I was able to pass a few people on some of the more technical bits. At this point of the race, I was feeling great – though I knew it was still early on. Still, rather than focusing on how things might start to hurt in a little while, I decided to enjoy feeling great while it lasted.

 

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These extremely unflattering spandex shorts are the only warm weather bottoms I have that currently don’t cause extreme chafing.

When I popped out of the bottom of Lumberjack, I adopted a new motto for the third quarter of the race: keep your head down and run. This part of the race features the Around the Rock section that I remembered from the previous year as being pretty uphill – zapping any evidence of a runner’s high that might have developed on Roller Coaster and Lumberjack. This was actually the only part of the race that I hadn’t covered in my training runs and, indeed, it did have lots of uphill and I certainly slowed down. The reward was none other than my beloved (not) Jack’s Trail – mostly the same section that is covered in the 5 Peaks race, where the incline is slight but relentless.

Throughout this section of the race, I felt like I was running alone – I saw virtually no one else out there, aside from some course marshals. This was fine by me – I did the vast majority of my training runs by myself, so it was nothing new. Besides, I was still feeling pretty good.

At long last, I found myself back at Alice Lake Provincial Park – but the race wasn’t over. I now had to run the Four Lakes Loop counter-clockwise for the fourth and final quarter. My motto for this leg: dig deep. The end of the race is so often where the wheels start to fall off, and in this race, us 21k runners actually run against a stream of 8k runners for part of the stretch. The 8k runners got to tackle a fun downhill, which for me was a slog of an uphill. But I knew that once I got through the uphill, it would be relatively easy until I crossed the finish line – mostly flat and downhill, woohoo!

I didn’t need to dig to deep after all (though I did take one more porta potty stop, for good measure). Overall, I was feeling pretty good – far better than I had for either of the two 19k runs I had done in training.

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Finish line fun

When it was all said and done, I crossed the finish line in 2:33:09 – placing me 26th out of 42 women. More importantly, I beat my time from last year by more than 21 minutes – at 18 weeks pregnant, to boot!

All in all, it was a great day. The runner’s high lasted me through the entire weekend. I was proud of having felt so good throughout the entire run – and I was really, really proud of all those training runs I had completed, even on the days where it was the last thing I felt like doing. Having a race like this was exactly the motivation I needed to get outside and get moving – two things I hope this future baby likes to do, too!

The Official 2017 Magee Running Awards

My goal is really to get outside, explore the local trails, stay healthy and injury-free, and gain a little confidence on running trails.

This is a self-quote from a blog post I wrote nearly a year ago, where I laid out my running plans for 2017. I mostly succeeded in my overall goal, though I failed a little on the “stay healthy and injury-free” side of things – but I’m exiting 2017 in one piece with seven races under my belt (or, more accurately, my running vest). I’d call that a win.

To cap off a season of running, races, and physio visits, I thought I’d get a head start on award show season and celebrate some of my greatest (and not so greatest) running moments of the year.

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Best Race Swag

Overall, this was a positive year for race swag. There was good swag (hats!) and less good swag (so many – too many – drawstring bags), but one race’s swag really stands out: 5 Peaks Alice Lake.

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I didn’t even run this race, but as a volunteer, I got to take home a pair of the neon orange running glove/mitten combos that has become a staple of my winter running wardrobe. Two mittened thumbs up for 5 Peaks Alice Lake!

Best Event to Volunteer At

I volunteered at several races this year (even a mountain biking one!), but the Squamish 50 takes the cake. I volunteered at the package pick up for the 50k, and it was unbelievably well organized. There vibe is positively electric and it was fun matching race bibs with IDs from around the country, continent, and indeed, world. A+ experience.

Best Runner’s High Moment

My spirits were never higher than they were as I finished the Comfortably Numb race in June. I’m not sure why I loved this race so much – I wasn’t particularly fast and there was nothing really out of the ordinary, but I loved running point-to-point on unfamiliar trails, and cruising downhill for the second part of the race was just so, so fun.

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I loved this race and I hope to run in again in the future.

Most Humbling Race

The Squamish 50 23k KICKED MY BUTT. The horrible extra hill detour I took from accidentally veering off course certainly didn’t help.

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This was just a tough race for me – the toughest I’ve ever run. I still can’t figure out if it was because I undertrained or was just having an off day (it happens), or if it is due to the tricky terrain and unforgiving uphills towards the end. I finished the race feeling extremely humbled.

Most Satisfying Race

The Squamish Days 8K was a personal favourite. I love this small local race – it’s a straightforward out-and-back road race and I squeaked in under the 40 minute mark.

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For someone who tends to sit comfortably on the slower side of the middle-of-the-pack in trail runs, it’s fun to be able to run a fast race on the roads. I’m proud of this one!

2017 Trail of Distinction Award

After exploring many of the trails around Alice Lake and Garibaldi Highlands, I proclaim Roller Coaster the recipient of my favourite trail award. I don’t know what it is – it winds so perfectly, meandering up and down (but mostly down) through the beautiful woods without too many death traps to trip over. I love it!

2017 Trail of Terror Award

The first few months of 2017 consisted of awful icy patches, but no section terrified me as much as the bridge by the waterfall on Covenant. On one bitterly cold run, we almost wiped out as the slanted wooden slats were transformed into a wipe-out zone of black ice death. Even in perfect conditions, I STILL cross this bridge with great caution and hesitation.

Best Food

Hands down, the tastiest and most random finish line food were the Hot Buns Cinnamon Buns at Comfortably Numb. Hey – maybe they had something to do with my runner’s high?

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Most Satisfying Impulse Race

I initially only had 3 races on my agenda for 2017, but I signed up for another 4 races on relatively short notice. My last race of 2017 was the Boundary Bay Half Marathon. Just shy of two months out, I decided to take a break from trail running to focus on roads for a bit.

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My training wasn’t pretty (see: injuries and more gym time than running time), but the race ended up being a lot of fun and gave me the extra push I needed to end the year on a good note.


As 2017 comes to a close, I’ve started thinking about my running goals for 2018. I haven’t solidified anything yet, but I already know it’s going to be a tricky year. I’ll be away for some of the big races of the year (including Comfortably Numb and the Squamish 50), but my goals include trying a few new races, running a road race in another province, and enjoying many sunny days on the trails enjoying the smell of hot trees (my favourite smell ever).

Happy trails!

Race Review: TRY EVENTS Boundary Bay Half Marathon Recap

Last year, I ran the Boundary Bay Marathon. It was my first marathon, so I spent more time in my own head that really taking in the race.

This year, I ran the half marathon, a distance I’m a little more comfortable with – so I feel like I’ll be able to provide a little more race feedback for those doing research on the race. (Why are there so few race reports of the Boundary Bay marathon?!?!)

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LET’S DO THIS!!!!!

I signed up for the Boundary Bay Half Marathon on somewhat of a whim. After my Squamish 50 23k race in August, I thought I had one more race in me for the year, so I signed up for the Boundary Bay Half because:

  • The early November timing was just right. I needed a goal to work towards to keep me running through the fall.
  • I knew the course and the race itself – I liked the level of organization, the relatively small race size, and the overall vibe of the event.
  • It was pretty cheap – $55 before September 30 (it’s $50 if you sign up before July 31).

Unfortunately, training didn’t go as planned, as I discussed in an earlier post. The three weeks leading up to the half marathon, I spent a lot of time off my feet. I did a lot of stretching and foam rolling, I got a massage, and I focused on cross training at the gym, on the stationary bike, and at hot yoga. Here’s a sneak peek at my DREADFUL training:

  • 3 weeks out: 0 running from Monday to Wednesday; a whopping 3.02 k run on Thursday (5:29 min/km pace), and a 21.25 k run on Saturday that I suffered through (6:19 min/km pace) <– why did I think that run was a good idea? My sore leg got DESTROYED.
  • 2 weeks out: a 3.97 k run on Tuesday (5:29 min/km pace), a 13.44 k run on Thursday (6:13 min/km pace), and a hike/run up the Sea to Summit trail on Saturday (it took me 1:53:50).
  • 1 week out: a 5.06 k run on Monday (5:32 min/km pace) and a 5.02 k run on Wednesday (5:52 min/km pace).

Not ideal. Not ideal.

When I signed up for the race, I hoped to break the 2 hour barrier (which I’ve only done once before) and perhaps even nab a PB (my PB is something around 1:57). After training through aches and pains, I readjusted my focus to simply running healthy, even if it meant taking 2:10 or 2:15 to finish the darned thing. I felt like a lot of weight had been lifted off my shoulders by shifting my goal. So how did it go? I’ll get to that soon.


Race Details

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Spot the cute dog in the jacket

First, let’s talk about the race itself.

Registration is easy peasy – your usual sign up online affair. As I mentioned, the prices are reasonable, especially for the half and full marathon distances. Cedric signed up for the 5k (his first race ever – he is a non-runner), which was $50 – kind of expensive for the short distance. So the Boundary Bay races offer the best value for the longer distances, but it’s nice that they have a 5k and 10k option so that family and friends can take part.

The Boundary Bay website is not the best – a lot of the key information is kind of hidden in the left column. Maybe they’ll redesign the website by the time next year’s race comes around (which is when future racers are most likely to read this post – hey guys!)

Early package pick up is encouraged. If you live in the area, they give you a few options. It’s a roughly 2 hour drive from Squamish to Delta, so we opted for the day-of package pick up, which costs an extra $5 per person. You also have to send them an email ahead of time to request day-of pick up – they don’t email back to confirm, so you just have to assume it’s all good.

Picking up the bib on race day is smooth sailing. I just gave my name and the $5, and they gave me a bib, timing chip, safety pins and zap traps, and a long sleeved red t-shirt (you specify your size at check out).

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Getting stoked at the start line.

The start line has plenty of parking, some decent public bathrooms (go early – the line gets long!), and – best of all – a McDonalds food truck giving away free McCafe beverages. If the idea of downing a coffee before a marathon makes you nervous, don’t worry – the truck is still there at the end of the race.

Fifteen minutes prior to the race, there’s a group warm up. Ronald himself participates. I suppose I should mention that this race benefits the Ronald McDonald Foundation, a very worthy cause that I’m happy to support. I believe they raised $7,000+ this year at the race. Good job, participants!

Since there are four distances in the race (5k, 10k, half marathon, and marathon), there is a staggered start. Marathon folks take off at 8:30, then three minutes later the half-marathon runners head out, then the 10k, then the 3k. This is great for avoiding congestion, but it makes the gun time a little misleading – for instance, by the time the 5kers take off, the clock has been ticking for about 10 minutes.

The course itself is straightforward – you cannot and will not get lost. It starts off on a hard packed gravelly/sandy/dirt pedestrian/bike path. About two km into the course, it dips into a residential neighbourhood – this is the only portion on pavement. They don’t shut the road down, so they ask you to run single file. It is a low traffic road and there are plenty of volunteers along the way, so it’s no big deal. Then, the road returns to the path, which winds along the ocean. The surface is kind of like a good dirt road – a little slower than running on a paved road, but it’s not potholed, nor is it like running on a loose gravel path. There are parts of the path that are more worn down than others, so if you can get into one of these ruts, it’s a little easier to move faster.

The turnarounds for the 5k, 10k, and half marathon are clearly marked and impossible to miss. There are a few aid stations along the way – I believe these only handed out drinks, but I’m not 100% sure since I brought my own food and drink. As I recall, things get a little boring and industrial on the full marathon route, but the when the half distance turns around, you’re still in the pretty park-like setting by the ocean. You run by a golf course and if you keep your eyes up, you may see a few golden eagles.

If you like a varied course with lots of turns and changes of scenery, you probably won’t love this course. If you like a straight course that requires little in the way of paying attention and allows you to space out and get in the zone, you’ll love it. It’s a very flat course, but given that the surface isn’t road/pavement, it may not be the best course for setting a world record. Or maybe you’ll like the surface because it’s a little easier on the body. Who knows.

The course is marked with kilometre markers and orange pylons. Since it is an out-and-back-course, the numbers are repeated on your return. So if you see the 6k marker on your way back, that means you have 6k to go.

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Snazzy medal – AND you can pretend you came first! (Note the McDonald’s hot chocolate by my feet)

The finish line is the same as the start. Upon crossing it, you get a medal to wear proudly (you earned it!) and a volunteer clips your timing chip from your shoe. Results are not instantaneous, and given that the start times are staggered, the big timer showing the gun time is not perfect for predicting your chip time.

Results are posted on the Try Events website within 24 hours – this year, it only took about 5 hours. Results are divided by distance, but not by age group or sex (these details aren’t provided at all). The order is determined by gun time; there is no option to sort by chip time, so your finishing position may be a little off. If I could give one piece of feedback, it would be to provide better results data – but I’m kind of a data nerd.


My Race

Okay, time to talk about my personal race experience. We had to leave Squamish early (around 6 AM), but the race happened to take place on the day Daylight Savings wound up, so it felt more like 7 AM, mercifully. It was clear day, but cold as heck. Most of my warm up consisted of hopping around trying to maintain circulation. I was VERY glad to have worn running gloves.

I didn’t really get a chance to seed myself at the start line – I just joined the queue, somewhat towards the back, then we were off. I weaved my way through to the crowd to try to find a comfortable start in the first kilometre. I settled somewhere in the middle.

I hadn’t quite decided on a strategy for my race. On the one hand, I could try to run slow and steady to ward off my calf pain for as long as possible (it had reared its ugly head anywhere from 3k to 13k into my “training” runs). On the other hand, I could try to run fast early on to make up for the slow-down that the leg drama would inevitably cause. I was feeling pretty strong, so I decided to run at a pace that felt a little challenging but sustainable.

For this race, I had a feeling I would need extra motivation for zoning out and not focusing on any discomfort, so I busted out a secret weapon: music. I hardly ever run with music (NEVER in the trails), but I had good luck running with tunes at the Squamish Loggers Day 8k in August. This turned out to be a wonderful distraction. The two songs that gave me the most turbospeed super powers (think the mushroom in MarioKart) were Sail by AWOLNation and Forgot About Dre.

KM 1 – 7

The first 7 k felt good, but I was freezing cold. My hands and feet were totally numb. There were a lot of distractions throughout this part of the run: other racers, the km markers, the turnoffs for the 5 k and 10 k distances, the road detour, etc.

Around km 7, three things happened:

  1. My extremities thawed. This was both wonderful and awful (have you ever had that hands defrosting feeling where it feels your nails are falling off? Yeah). I stuffed my running gloves in my vest for the rest of the run.
  2. Sail came on my iPod. I passed a large group of runners and felt like a superstar.
  3. The dull pain in my leg reared its head. I was a little annoyed but happy I’d enjoyed 7 kilometres of pain-free running.

Splits:

KM 1: 5:49 — KM 2: 5:38 — KM 3: 5:29 — KM 4: 5:39 — KM 5: 5:39 — KM 6: 5:38 — KM 7: 5:42

KM 8 – 14

Though the ache in my leg was present, it didn’t feel like pain – just discomfort. My left hip flexor also felt a little wonky (this was a new ailment), so I just focused on keeping proper running form (glutes! glutes! glutes!) and listening to my music. I tried to run relatively conservatively for the first few kms in this segment, knowing that I could pick up the pace depending on how was I feeling at the turnaround.

The turnaround snuck up pretty quickly, so I bid adieu to the poor marathoners and started making my way back. I chowed down on a Kewaza ball at the halfway mark to keep my energy levels high for the second half of the race. (I talk about Kewaza balls and other fueling fun facts in this old marathon training post, if you’re interested.)

When I run longer distances, I try to assessment my effort every so often and think: can I sustain this pace for 15 more minutes? (I read this somewhere long ago and for whatever reason, it works for me). This helped keep me pushing, but within reason.

As I got closer to km 14, I felt a little tired, but I knew that I still had plenty in me. When I reached the 2/3rds mark, I was pleased with how much energy I felt I still had.

I slowed down in this segment, which I’m going to go ahead and blame on the minor but nagging leg tightness.

Splits:

KM 8: 5:46 — KM 9: 5:48 — KM 10: 5:47 — KM 11: 5:53 — KM 12: 5:51 — KM 13: 5:59 — KM 14: 6:00

KM 15 – 21.1

I was feeling good and the solid tunes just kept on coming, so I allowed myself to stare off into the distance and go on autopilot. By this point, the runners were fairly well spaced out. I could see the same cast of characters ahead of me (orange jacket guy, blue jacket guy, black top guy, etc.). Every so often, someone ahead would pull over to walk or tie a shoe. A couple of people passed me, but I had a good amount of wind left in me and I was able to pass more than passed me.

This rarely happens, but the km markers seemed to come reasonably quickly as the race went on. I started to wonder if, against all odds, I just might sneak in under the 2 hour mark after all. I didn’t have a watch on me and my phone was tucked away, so I had to go purely based on feel. I knew I’d have to pick it up and challenge myself if I wanted to really go for it, so I tried my best to giv’er.

Before I knew it, I could see the finish line up ahead. Is it just me or does the finish line always seem like a mirage – so close, but so far? Luckily, the CLASSIC Darude hit, Sandstorm, doo-doo-doo-doo-dooed me all the way to the finish line.

Splits

KM 16: 5:44 — KM 17: 5:45 — KM 18: 5:54 — KM 19: 5:46 — KM 20: 5:44 – KM 21: 5:14 (it was Sandstorm)

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My final chip time, according to the results, was 2:02:23. I am STOKED with this! No, I didn’t break the 2 hour mark, but I felt sooooo good the whole time DESPITE the most lackluster training and a nagging injury. You know what that means, right? It means that if I let myself heal properly and bust my butt in the spring, odds are good that I can set a PR at half in 2018. Game on!

I placed 78/249 runners in the half distance, which I’m happy with (though this is a little misleading, because a handful of runners raced faster than I did, but their gun time was slower because they started behind me). I estimate I came 37/119 for women (based on names that sound womanly) – alright!

As for Cedric, despite ZERO training (literally not a single practice run – though there was some cross training at the gym and on his mountain bike), he placed 12 out of 99 runners for the 5k! He says the runners in that group were on the casual side, but still – I’m pretty stoked for him.

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And that’s that for another year of races. I’ll do a full Year in Review a little later, but I’m so happy to have finished on a high note after facing a few good road bumps in my running this year.

On Running and Changing Plans

When I planned out my race calendar earlier this year, the Squamish 50 23k was supposed to be my last one of the year – but when we returned from the Yukon, I felt like I probably had one more race in me.

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(This photo is 2 years old but seemed suitable enough for this post)

I felt a little burned out from trail running (weird, I know), so I decided to sign up for a road race. I wasn’t exactly smart about it; I hadn’t run on roads in awhile, so I decided to lace up my shoes on a lovely early fall day to see if I could manage to run roughly a half marathon distance (even if it took me forever to do).

I could! It wasn’t easy – I ran at a 6:23 km/h pace – but at least I knew I could handle the distance.

I signed up for a half marathon about 7 weeks out, and I thought that if I worked hard at training, I could probably break 2 hours (which I’ve only done once) and could maybe even snag a PB.

The first month of training – and I use that term lightly, because although I had a rough structure, I wasn’t following a proper plan – went swimmingly. I got progressively faster on my long runs and a 5:45 km/h pace (needed for a 2 hour half) seemed challenging, but doable. Also, my long runs continued to fall on days where the weather was just perfect. Life was good.

Except for one thing: I felt a nagging soreness in my lower left leg – kind of behind the shin, by my inner ankle bone – which was annoying, but ignore-able. I ran through the soreness, but it only got worse. Eventually, I wasn’t able to ignore it anymore. Running was starting to seriously hurt.

The foot on the opposite leg also had a weird shooting pain when I stepped on something uneven (like a small pine cone or a pebble), which wasn’t good either.

I got a solid massage and upped my stretching game, but I was hurting hard only three weeks out from the race. I wasn’t able to put in many miles and my long run was excruciating – and I felt much slower than I’d been in recent weeks. As you can probably imagine, this was not exactly motivating.

Fast forward to today: the race is in a week and a half, and I’m not doing a whole lot of running. Instead, I’m doing lots of long, slow stretching. I’m foam rolling and yoga-ing, too. This morning, I went for a short run and didn’t feel any soreness. I contemplated extending my run, but decided it was better to stop while I didn’t feel any pain rather than pushing it too much.

Of course, running healthy is the most important thing – but I can’t help feel discouraged that the crucial couple of weeks before the race have gone to waste. The good news is that I think I’ll be able to tackle 21.1 k on race day – and if not, I can always drop down a distance.

The bad news is that I worry I’ll feel slow and sluggish and awful. I’m coming to realize that my sub-2 hour goal probably isn’t realistic for me for this race; rather, I should aim to have a healthy, pleasant race, even if I’m going at a snail’s pace. The nasty weather we’ve had as of late hasn’t done much to lift my spirits, but luckily, we’re heading into a stretch of sunshine now.

I’m hoping for a mini miracle on race day – one of those perfect weather days where you feel like you can fly. Either way, I’m getting nachos after, so it’ll be a good day no matter what.

Oh – and now I’m getting sick of road running and can’t wait to get back into the trails. Running, you fickle, fickle beast.

A Failure of a Half Marathon

I just read a thing that noted that people who blog rarely mention their failures. So today, I’m going to talk about the time I pretty much failed a half marathon.

It was to be my fifth half marathon, and I’d actually run this particular race twice before. The first time had been my first half marathon ever, and I’d run it in 2:01:02. The next year, I hit 1:56:54. I trained for this one as I had for the others – nothing too strict or crazy, but a good mix of short and long runs with basically no attention paid to speed workouts or hills or anything like that. I felt as prepared as I ever had.

In hindsight, it’s easy to see why it didn’t go well. The week before the race, I’d come down with an annoying cold. The Saturday before the race (it took place on Thanksgiving Monday), I’d been up in Whistler. We’d gone to Maxx Fish and it had been nearly empty, so we’d imbibed in the free drinks that were offered to us. And the day of the race was cold, wet, and nasty all around.

Still, I felt totally fine at the start of the race. It was dark, freezing cold, and way too early, but I had a pep in my step at the starting line and the first 10 k were pretty breezy. They had added a small trail component that year, and I remember being caught behind a few people on the single track and being annoyed that I couldn’t pass them. I was pretty sure I was going to set a personal record on this race.

Around the halfway mark, I suddenly felt really terrible. I can’t think of a good way to describe it – I just felt bad. Lightheaded, low energy, and blah. The cold and wet hadn’t bothered me before, but now I was definitely noticing them.

I had never “DNFed” (did not finish) a race before and I wasn’t sure what the protocol was for doing so. I got to an aid station and told a volunteer that I didn’t feel well and didn’t think I could finish the race. She told me to wait in her car so that I could warm up and that she would have someone come and pick me up. I sat in the passenger seat and put my head between my legs. I’d had a few tough races before, but I’d never quit. I was really disappointed in myself. I pictured going to work the next day and my coworkers asking me about the run. It would be so embarrassing to have to tell them I had dropped out partway.

My large ego made me get out of the car and get back into the race. I told the volunteer that I was going to push on. She told me I didn’t look great and asked me if I was sure, and I told her I could always drop out if I felt bad at the next aid station.

I was able to run for a little bit, but I found myself having to stop and walk quite frequently. I thought of a UBC friend who was (and still is) a race walker; he can race walk much faster than I can run. Despite never having race walked in my life, I tried to give it a go for a kilometre or so. I probably looked even more ridiculous than I felt.

I should mention that this was a pretty small race (286 participants total). Runners kept passing me; eventually, I hardly saw any other runners at all. I started getting nervous – I had checked my backpack, which had my car keys and my phone inside. What if I was so slow that they shut the course down and closed down the bag pick up? How would I get home?

My motivation became arriving in time to get my bag back. Then, things got really weird – this is DEFINITELY when I should have dropped out. I started having trouble following the course signs. Now I was getting worried about getting lost. Just ahead of me were what I presume was a mother-daughter duo. The mother was a good bit older and was having difficulty with her knee. The daughter would coax her into running a bit, then they’d walk a bit, repeating the cycle kilometre by kilometre. I let the daughter be my coach, running and walking with them. I knew I couldn’t lose them or else I wouldn’t know where to go or how to get to the finish line.

I don’t remember most of the rest of the race, but I remember getting to the finish and telling someone (I’m not sure who?) that I didn’t feel very well. The next thing I remember is being inside a bank, sitting on a chair. The volunteer from the aid station was there – as luck would have it, she was a nurse. Someone brought me my backpack and gave me a Gatorade. I took a few sips and puked into a garbage can as a few kids looked on in horror. I must have been a sight for sore eyes.

I remember feeling very, very weird. For instance, they asked if there was someone they could call for me. I told them to call my friend Charlotte. They asked me how to unlock my phone, and I couldn’t remember. I knew that I unlocked my phone ALL the time, but I couldn’t remember how it worked. I couldn’t remember things like my postal code. Eventually, the paramedics arrived and I told them I was worried about my car getting towed (priorities!).

I ended up in the hospital and they found some enzyme thingies by my heart, but it ended up being okay – Charlotte and her friend came to get me at the hospital, they released me after half a day or so, my car didn’t get towed, and follow up medical stuff indicated that my heart was in good shape. I eventually found out my time: 2:37:42. Although I had been certain nobody was behind me, I placed 270/286. I’m actually pretty impressed with this time, given that I felt like I’d walked the entire second half of the race.

I think a lot of things contributed to this running fail: being leftover sick from the cold, consuming alcohol in the 48 hours before the race, the crummy weather, starting off way too fast, and just having a bad day. My biggest fail, however, was not listening to my body when it was telling me to call it a day. Caving into my ego was dumb – really, my coworkers would not have cared at all if I’d had to quit. Was it worth putting the extra stress on my body and ending up in the hospital? No. Definitely no.

I swore that I would never run a half marathon again – but in 2014, I came out of retirement and ended up running that same race (though the route had changed a fair bit since the disastrous race of 2011). I registered very late and I only had 5 weeks to train, so I took it easy and focused on staying healthy. I ended up running it in 2:04:15 – and though it wasn’t my best time, it sure beat my worst!

Ever since the failure half marathon, I’ve focused on staying healthy on my runs and during my races. I’ve learned to listed to my body and to take myself less seriously. It was a humbling experience, for sure.

And that’s the story of how I failed a half marathon.

My 2017 Running Goals/Races

Living in Squamish means that I am spoiled with countless trail races to choose from – if not in my own backyard, than either up the road in Whistler or down the road on the North Shore.

Luckily, my running goals for 2017 are all about trails, so this is perfect.

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Random running photo from my “Coming out of running retirement” half marathon. I trained for it in five weeks! PS Does anyone else prefer to run with their shirt tucked in?

I went into 2016 with absolutely 0 running goals. Actually, that’s not true – I’d signed up for the Whistler Half Marathon 10k route, but I had to transfer my registration because I was out of town working on the Woods Canada campaign. When I returned from that, I ambitiously signed up for 3 races: the Red Bull 400 (because it sounded cool), the Squamish Loggers Day 8k (because it was local, inexpensive, and a totally runnable distance) and the Boundary Bay Marathon (because I was on a roll in signing up for races).

The marathon was not a New Year’s resolution or even a bucket list item – it was just something I decided to try. That ended up being the Great Running Accomplishment of 2016.

Earlier this winter, I made a list of all the trail races I was interested in running. There were many of them, especially in the summer months. After considering my fitness levels, my budget for races, and my ability to recover from other races, I narrowed it down to three: the Loop the Lakes 21k, Helly Hansen’s Comfortably Numb, and the Squamish 50 23k.

Before we discuss each of these, let’s talk specific goals. My main goal doesn’t actually involve doing any running; I want to volunteer for at least one race per month. That gives me the chance to participate in the race buzz, get a feel for the event’s vibe (to see if I want to run it some day), plant some roots in the local running community, and get a few free t-shirts and granola bars.

In terms of racing goals, I’ve never aimed to be the fastest, so I’m not going to start now. My goal is really to get outside, explore the local trails, stay healthy and injury-free, and gain a little confidence on running trails.

On to the races.

Run Squamish’s Loop the Lakes Trail Run

This will be my first race of the year, but it’s not until May. I’ve run around Alice Lake a good bit (remember this post I wrote the first time I ran there?) and I absolutely love it. I hope that my sort-of familiarity with the trails helps ease me into the trail racing world.

There are three distances in this race: 8k, 15k, and 21k. I signed up for the 21k. I know it will be a challenge (I think my longest trail run to date was 18.5k – in snow no less), but I figure it’s not much harder to run 21k than it is to run 15k. I hope I’m right.

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I’m not sure of the exact elevation but it doesn’t look too bad – two notable ups and the biggest range is from about 100 m to about 400 m.

Helly Hansen’s Comfortably Numb Trail Running Race

I haven’t actually registered for this race yet, but I plan on doing so before the price bump on February 1st. I have never run Comfortably Numb and it has always been very daunting for me (just from things I’ve heard from mountain bikers who have a love-hate relationship with it). I am sort of intimidated by it, which is exactly why I want to run this race.

I used to run once a week or so with Lululemon’s run club in Whistler and we often hit the Lost Lake trails. These are (sort of) my old stomping grounds and I anticipate some satisfying feelings of elation once I finish this one – hopefully in one piece. It is somewhat longer than Loop the Lakes – 23+ km (why do they put the plus sign? It makes it scarier!) – but the vertical gain is 800 m, more than double Loop the Lakes. Yikes. Luckily, most of the ascents take place in the first half, so I should be able to survive by just rolling down the trail for the second half.

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This one is not until June, so I’ll have a month or so to work on those hills after my first race.

The Squamish 50 (but the 23k course)

After volunteering at last year’s race, I knew I HAD to run it this year. I’m not quite up for the 50k distance yet (nor the 50 mile distance, nor the combo 50/50 distance), but this one feels like a big, legendary race and I can’t wait to take part of it. Taking place towards the end of August, this will probably be my last race of the season. In all honesty, this is the one I’m looking forward to the most.

This race is notorious for being tricky – even the 23k route has a 1,000 m ascent (but a 1,200 m descent).

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In short, I am super excited for my trail running goals. (I may also do the Logger’s Day road race if they are running it – ayooo, pun – again.) I have to admit that everything seems daunting right now – doable, but daunting. I’m not going into these races with any major training plans, but right now I’m aiming for a well-rounded routine that includes:

  • 2 longer trail runs per week
  • 1 shorter run per week (e.g., running fast on the road or doing hill repeats by myself)
  • 2 gym days per week
  • 1 yoga per week (at least)
  • All the fun activities I can fit in – snowboarding, cross country skiing, hiking, etc.