Another Year, Another Squamish Days 8K Run – This Time at 29 Weeks Pregnant

At the start of the year – before I got pregnant, but hoping it would be a possibility in 2018 – I set out a goal to finish 5 races before the end of year. Over the August long weekend, I ticked off my fifth (and final) race at the Squamish Days 8k run – mission accomplished!

The Squamish Days 8k is a personal favourite. It takes place over my very favourite weekend to be a Squamptonian: the Squamish Loggers Sports Festival. This year, we attended the kettle boil on Thursday night (verdict: underrated and fun, especially when paired with the chili cook-off) and the Sunday World-Class Open Loggers Sports Show (verdict: as entertaining as ever, but SO HOT) – and of course, I ran the Squamish Days 8k for the third time in as many years.

The Squamish Days 8k is a well-run, small town, unpretentious race. The route is a simple out-and-back. It’s all paved and while one generally wouldn’t describe it as overly scenic, it is flat, fast, and is a great distance – a challenge for experienced runners who really want to push it, but friendly enough to accommodate first-timers and third-trimesterers.

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My friend and I fell into the latter category: I was a day into my 29th week of pregnancy, while she had never run more than 4k before and was attempting her first ever race. I had no doubt she would finish in one piece, and I had been keeping up with runs in the 5-10 k range, so I knew I’d be just fine – albeit a little slower than years past.

I first ran this race back in 2016 in the early days of my first marathon training program (and the day after tackling the Red Bull 400 – an excellent and very unique race that should be on your bucket list if you like such things) in a decent 41:44, and cracked the 40 minute barrier last year by squeaking in at 39:55 (which is average for a Squamish runner but REALLY FAST FOR ME). I had a hunch I’d be a litttttle slower this year (ha), but (spoiler alert) I still managed to cross the finish line in the forties.

It was a hot morning – what else is new? – but check-in at the local high school was easy and we had a cheer squad of 3 to keep us entertained until the race kicked off.

I mentioned in my last race recap that I appear to have hit an automatic maximum speed – I simply cannot exert a whole lot of power at this point, so I just cruise along at a moderate, steady pace. I like to think that this made me an excellent pacer for my first-timer friend! We had never run together before, but we spent the race chattering away and the kilometers seemed to tick by pretty steadily (each KM is marked in this race, which is nice).

My #1 concern with this race was the lack of bathrooms along the route. I’m at the point where I need to stop at a port-a-potty on even just a 5k run, so I was a little nervous about this. I’m not sure whether it was the company, conversation, or race day excitement, but miraculously, there were no emergencies en route. That in itself was a major success!

I won’t lie – the last couple of k on the open road beneath the beating sun were REALLY HOT! We were sweating like mad as we crossed the finish line (with our cheer squad going strong and a TON of cute dogs to motivate us).

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Post-race celebrations took place inside the gym, where I enjoyed copious amounts of watermelon and waited for them to post the time results. Here is my insider tip: don’t leave early – your odds of winning a draw prize are very high! My friend was actually the very first prizewinner announced and she walked away with a snazzy pair of 7mesh running socks. I won two tickets to the Loggers Sports event that afternoon, which we were planning on attending anyway.

Our final time: chip time 48:49 and 48:50, gun time 49:01 and 49:02, which placed us 98 & 99 out of 129 runners. I guessed we would finish around 50 minutes – pretty close! I appear to have bested my friend by 1 second, which we determined was based on the fact that my bib, pinned to my belly, protruded further out and hit the timing mat slightly ahead of hers. The perks of pregnant running, folks!

This year, I discovered that the run offers a STROLLER RUN category!!! And you BET I’m going to be running it with my baby next year (will this count as her second time running it?) Only 2 people raced in this year – but the girl who placed first ran it in 40:20, which is most impressive. Think I can crack Top 3 next year?

(Actually, based on the number of pregnant women swarming Squamish, I bet the field will be a little deeper next year!)

MEC Lower Mainland – Trail Race 4 – Rose Park, Squamish Race Recap

Ah, yes, the succinctly named MEC Lower Mainland – Trail Race 4 – Rose Park, Squamish trail running race — I ran that!

This race took place a few weeks ago in my own backyard. I took part in a 15K MEC trail race last year in West Vancouver, but for reasons I cannot remember, I had to miss the Squamish stop on the MEC trail race circuit.

This year, I had the race on my radar, but I held off signing up for awhile because the date coincided with my leap into the third trimester of pregnancy and I just had no idea how I would feel. Luckily, not only are the MEC races outrageously affordable ($15 – which includes a timing chip and all that), but unlike many races, prices don’t go up as you get closer to the race, meaning you can make a decision the week of, as I did.

The bulk of my runs this year have been solo, but there is one girlfriend I have enjoyed running with about once a week or so since the early days of my pregnancy. She had signed up for the MEC Race and gave me the push I needed to finally pull the trigger. There are two distances in this race: a 5k or a 10k. We signed up for the former.

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A 5k romp in the woods – no biggie, right? WRONG! We had heard that this particular course featured some serious elevation, and folks – the rumours are true! I don’t typically run around Smoke Bluffs – in fact, the only time I’ve really run there was during last year’s Squamish 50 23k, which had me cursing the never-ending uphills – and MAN, was it steep.

The 5k route is said to have about 230m elevation gain, which doesn’t seem so bad. Except the course is kind of a lollipop shape, so that 230m elevation gain is concentrated in just half of the race. Now, the first 0.5 km or so of the race takes place on a paved path that leads from the start/finish at Rose Park to the trail head at Smoke Bluffs. What I’m saying is that the 230m elevation gain basically occurs in only 2km of trail, so it’s a lot steeper than the numbers would suggest at first glance. (The 10k features an elevation gain of 410m, for what it’s worth.)

If you’ve been around Squamish this summer, you already know that it has been relentlessly hot – I’m taking 30+ degrees day in, day out with little to no rain at all. Most of my runs have wrapped up by 8/8:30 AM to beat the heat, but this race didn’t start until 9:20 (the 10k runners took off closer to 9). I was a little concerned about the heat, but it was early enough not to be atrociously bad and the shaded trails kept us pretty cool overall.

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Picking up our bibs was pretty straightforward, and we swatted tiny biting bugs until it was time to take off. I haven’t been doing much trail running since June – the road has just been easier and offers fewer tripping hazards for a pregnant solo runner – but I have to admit, it was nice to ditch the pavement for the dirt for a change. Once you enter Smoke Bluffs, the trail starts off as a not-too-steep gravel  trail, then eventually transforms into a narrower, more technical dirt trail.

It climbs. And climbs. And climbs. While we were able to run some of the gravel uphill, I had to walk most of the climbing dirt bit – and man oh man, did my calves ever burn. I tried to pick up the pace whenever the trail flattened out a bit, but the breaks in the climbs were usually very short lived. There was a lot of power hiking over kms 0.5 – 2.5. This part of the run felt a lot longer than 2km.

Of course, what goes up must come down, so the second half of the race is a nice treat for those who like to careen down steeps. I took it pretty conservatively on the downs, as I didn’t want to risk twisting an ankle or tripping over a tree root. The consequences of a fall right now seem a little more serious than usual.

We didn’t do this run to smash a personal record or anything, but I have to admit that as we returned to the paved trail and tackled the last half k to the finish line, I still had some energy and I wanted to really give ‘er. But it was strange: I already seemed to be at my maximum capacity. For whatever reason (smaller lung capacity? extra weight? blood pumping all over the place?), I couldn’t seem to move any faster than I already was – which, believe me, was nowhere near record breaking speeds. I wasn’t overly bothered by this – after all, I expected to slow down as the weeks went on – but it was certainly a big shift from the St. John’s half-marathon I ran just a month and a half earlier.

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The finish line was simple but sufficient: bananas, water, and electrolyte beverages were free for the taking. My favourite part, however, was the girl who dunked a towel into ice water and mercifully wrung it out over our sweaty heads.

In the end, we ran the 5k in a reasonably respectable 46:12 (chatting the entire way – not bad!), which placed us 16th and 17th out of 39 women (not sure how we ranked overall – the results are organized by sex). For the record, the fastest lady finished exactly 10 minutes faster than us in 36:12 – just to give you an idea of the terrain we were dealing with.

So that’s how that all went down. At the beginning of the year, Cedric and I made a list of goals that hit on various parts of our lives. In the fitness/sport category, I made a goal of running 5 races in 2018. This one was #4 – and though it was pretty short but sweet, it was perfect for where I’m at right now. Besides, now I have a time to beat for next year!

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!