Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Race report (Part 2): Cabot Trail Relay - fun, fraternity, a challenging course... and a little too much drama

I've been thinking about this post for a few days, wondering how to capture what made my first Cabot Trail Relay experience so memorable.

To start with, I totally lucked out when I got the opportunity to run with the Smokey Mountain Daredevils.  As the photo above (taken just before we all headed home) suggests, they're a warm, supportive, fun and talented group of runners, who made me feel welcome from the moment I arrived in Cape Breton. The "spirit team" ensured we were attired so that we'd stand out in the crowd, uber-organized "Kaptain  Karen" prepared a detailed spreadsheet that detailed where everyone was to be and what they were meant to be doing throughout the race (which lasted nearly 27 hours), and teams members went above and beyond to help and support one another at every turn.

And the sense of fraternity extended beyond the Devils. At the start/end point of every leg, there was a "lock down" period when vehicles were not permitted on the course, which meant those who weren't running were stuck waiting until they could drive ahead to cheer on their teammates. I loved the lock down. With nowhere to go and nothing in particular to do, we had lots of time to soak up some sun, eat, socialize, offer encouragement and support to fellow runners, stand in line for the porta potties and just "be" in the moment. It was incredibly relaxing.

It helped that the weather was pretty fabulous the whole weekend. There was only a minor spattering of rain around midday on Saturday, and though it got chilly at a few points, there were long stretches when the sun shone and it was lovely and warm - occasionally a bit too warm for the runners.

The other wonderful thing from my point-of-view was that I finally got to see the Cabot Trail. Over the years, I've been to Cape Breton many times to visit friends in Arichat and Whycocomagh, and I've driven to Louisbourg and back a couple of times, but somehow I've never found time to travel around the trail.  It is - in a word - breathtaking.  Here are just a a couple of shots from Saturday evening to give you a sense of just how beautiful it is.

Of course, with hills like these, the course was a challenging one.  I ran leg 5, which was rated a moderately difficult 3.5 out of 5. I started a little too fast and I found it quite hot for the first 10kms but my teammates (and others) offered fabulous support, the views were lovely and my body held up well so I was able to run relatively quickly for me (17.5kms in 1:40:45) while still  leaving lots of room for improvement next year. :-)  Here are a couple of pics taken just a few kilometres from the end of my leg. (My tights are rolled up on account of the heat.)

I have to say that I think the leg rating system is a bit wonky though. Given that leg 5 was rated 3.5, leg 4 - which includes a long hard climb over Cape Smokey - should be rated 10 at least! And legs 9 and 10 which take runners over North and MacKenzie Mountains (where I took the photos above) should be rated 15!! I'm in total awe of the runners who completed them.

Me and some of my team members atop Cape Smokey
North and Mackenzie Mountains are especially challenging because they're much higher than Smokey and it's dark by the time the runners reach them.  In addition to the physical challenge of running steep ascents and descents that are kilometres in length, runners have to contend with darkness, very little support (sensibly, team vehicles are not allowed to stop along the most dangerous stretches of the road), possible encounters with coyotes, bears, moose and other wildlife, and late night traffic travelling curving, narrow roadways cut out of the mountainside. Did I mention I'm in awe?

Two "she-Devils", Sandi and Deidre, ran North and MacKenzie for our team. These women are machines! When they finally arrived at the motel to grab a few hours of sleep around midnight on Saturday, they were pale and obviously exhausted. Nevertheless, they were already talking about next year and discussing whether they might swap legs with one another. Crazy!!

At the banquet after the race, all the runners who completed leg 10 were presented with an aerial photo of MacKenzie Mountain - a well-deserved tribute!

Unfortunately, our team also had to contend with a fair bit of drama when one of our bravest and toughest team members ended up in hospital. Just after completing her leg in a smokin' good time, she collapsed and needed oxygen. When she came around and was feeling better, we walked her up the hill to our van intending to go for supper, then join our teammates back on the course. Plans changed however when, soon after arriving at the restaurant, it became evident she was more ill than we'd first realized.  The intense effort - perhaps coupled with the ibuprofen she'd taken earlier in the day to ward off knee pain - resulted in nasty GI bleeding - the symptoms of which are intense cramping, excretion of blood (yes, I do mean she was pooping blood) and vomiting.

Fortunately, we were less than an hour's drive from Cheticamp by that time so John, who stayed cool, calm and reassuring throughout, jumped behind the wheel to drive our team mate and me to the hospital there, where she got wonderful care. The two nurses on duty immediately phoned the doctor on call who quickly arrived to assess and admit her for the night. John headed back to join the team who needed the van to support our other runners and I stayed on at the hospital until I knew she was okay, then walked to the motel. By the time Kaptain Karen and other members of the team arrived around midnight to grab a few hours sleep, schedules had been rearranged so I could stay on in Cheticamp when the van left at 6:00 Sunday morning to accompany her back to Baddeck.

Despite an awful, sleepless night, our team mate was up and ready to go when I arrived back at the hospital. We piled into the car shortly after 9:00 and drove to Baddeck where we joined the rest of the team to watch the last few finishers cross the line, then walked up the hill to the arena for the closing banquet.

Of course, the banquet would have been a pretty sombre affair had we known that a runner from one of the other teams, Steve Dunn, collapsed and died shortly before the race ended. I never met Steve but, from what I've heard since, he was a terrific guy who died doing what he loved and will be remembered by the local running community for many years to come. My sincerest condolences to all his family and friends.

Since the sad news about Steve hadn't yet reached us, our team was obliviously celebratory as we scarfed down our lunches and cheered individual and team accomplishments.You gotta love a race that ends with lobster!!

It was incredibly moving and inspiring to help celebrate the relay's 25th anniversary and meet people who'd run every year and completed all 17 legs! A massive shoutout to the organizers and volunteers who've made it such a class A event.

For the running geeks out there, the winning team, the Maine-iacs, completed the relay's17 legs in just 16:39:32 - considerably faster than any other team. The fastest local team, the Cape Breton Road Runners, came 3rd, completing the race in 18:57:04, while the Smokey Mountain Daredevils finished in 16th place, completing all legs in 23:37:23.

I have to admit that, as I headed to Cape Breton last Friday evening, I kind of expected that my first Cabot Trail Relay would be my last. Though determined to enjoy myself and scratch "run the CTR" off my "bucket list", I wasn't sure I was up to participating in such a challenging event.  Now that I've experienced it, I'm determined to train harder than ever so that, hopefully, I can join the Devils again next year and contribute a little more to the team's success.

For a few more pics from the weekend, click here!

P.S. I almost forgot to mention the water stations. Outstanding!! Unfortunately, I didn't get many photos but here's one of my favourites.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Race report (Part 1): Cabot Trail Relay - a Devilish good time!

I'll post a full race report later this week. In the meantime, here's a quick photo of most of the team at the end of leg 3. (We're just missing Ron - which is a shame because he ran wearing a red kilt!).

Smokey Mountain Daredevils

Today, like all my fellow racers, I'm mourning the death of the 58 year old member of another team who collapsed and died during the last leg of the race. The news didn't reach me until this morning and details have yet to be released but it was a tragic way to end a fabulous weekend celebrating the relay's 25th anniversary.

For the running geeks out there, the Smokey Mountain Daredevils did great! Official results aren't posted yet but I think we came 16th or 17th out of 70 teams. Of course, I placed much nearer the bottom in leg 5 but was pleased all the same because I ran faster than I thought I could over 17.5k, finishing in just over 1:40 (a 5:45/km pace).

Looking forward to writing more in a few days when I've caught up a bit on both work and sleep!

Monday, May 21, 2012

The first long weekend of summer... and what a weekend it was!

We enjoyed a perfect long weekend in Nova Scotia with warm temperatures, impossibly blue skies, and brilliant spring blossoms at every turn. I ran an 8k "long run" along the river yesterday morning just to savour it, then another 8k with a good friend today because it felt so good.

Of course, 8k barely qualifies as a "long" run for me these days but I had several good excuses for not running farther.

First, I'm still recovering from my first ultra (a 50k trail run) a week ago. Though my body stood up to the experience remarkably well, I'm wise enough to realize I need to take it easy for a week or two to let it recover fully.

Second, Husband and I cycled to Mahone Bay (36k return) for lunch on Saturday. Our route followed an old rail bed so was mostly flat, but the trail was rough enough that we were tired and ready to give our butts and arms a rest by the time we made it home.

Finally - and most importantly - I needed to save my legs to run my first Cabot Trail Relay next weekend. I've been hearing about CTR for years so was thrilled when I was offered an opportunity to participate this year. I'm running leg 5 as a member of the Smokey Mountain Daredevils. It should be quite the experience. According to the official race website:
The annual Cabot Trail Relay Race is a 185 mile/276.33 km, 17 stage relay race through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world… beginning in Baddeck, Cape Breton, over steep mountains in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, through many small communities around the famous Cabot Trail, to the gently rolling Margaree Valley.
I confess I'm a little nervous about tackling my first CTR but my team seems well-organized and I already know two of its members so, hopefully, all will be well. If nothing else, it should make for an interesting race report next week. Stay tuned. ;-)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Race Report: Wascally Wabbit 50k - Postscript

I hopped over to the event site today and found a link to more photos from the day taken by Troy Johnston.  Thanks, Troy! 

Here are three of my favourites.

Husband and me approaching the finish line
One very happy camper at the finish line

The fabulous organizers!
A great event and a great day! Thanks again to everyone who made it happen. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Race Report: The Wascally Wabbit 50k Trail Run

Woohooo! I did it!  I ran 50k to celebrate turning 50 a few weeks ago.

And the great thing was it didn't even feel that hard. I mean it felt hard, of course - it was a 50k trail run, after all - but everything that could go right did so I had a wonderful day.

It was a rough week leading up to the event. I was nervous so didn't sleep well, and the weather forecast was grim. Added to which, I'd heard a lot of scary stories of how bad the blackflies and ticks might be. Fortunately, the weather was perfect as it turned out - sunny and cool with just enough breeze to keep the blackflies at bay (for the runners, at least) - and I never saw a tick.

The organizers and volunteers did an amazing job. Despite being attacked by blackflies, they worked hard throughout the day, providing directions, ensuring the runners were well-fueled, taking photos, and providing terrific encouragement and support at every turn. As a result of their efforts, the event raised over $1400 in support of a local woman who is fighting cancer. Hats off to Jodi Isenor and his team for a job well done.  If I'm not running next year, I'll volunteer for sure.

A total of 55 runners toed the start line to run 6k, 12k, 15k, 30k, 50k or 80k and nearly everyone finished. The course consisted of two loops - approximately 6k and 9k long - with 68% on logging roads and 32% on ATV trails. Here are a few pics to give you some sense of the terrain.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Running lessons: Three more days and I'm in tapering hell

A quick post because I need to get some stuff off my chest so I can try to focus on work.

I'm in tapering hell. It's the worst thing about training for an endurance event - the jitters that settle in the week before when you find yourself worrying more or less constantly about the weather and the tightness in your hamstrings and the slight tickle in your throat and whether you'll find parking close to the start line and what you should wear and how much it's going to hurt and whether your body's going to hold up... You get the idea.

The very worst part is that your usual antidote for this kind of spinning is to go for a long run but, of course, you can't do that because you're saving your legs for race day. You can go for an easy, short run but it feels so awful when you do that you wonder why you ever thought you could run 50k - and the spinning gets worse and friends and family begin walking in wide circles around you and you just...want be race day already!!

There. I feel better. Sort of.

BTW, in case you think I'm the only person who experiences tapering craziness before a race, check this out.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Running lessons: Five days and counting…

The path behind our house
My first ultra – a 50 k trail run – is just five days away. I won’t lie. I’m terrified – though perhaps I shouldn’t be. After all, the Wascally Wabbit is only 8kms longer than a marathon and I’ve already run six of those. The scary thing is that it isn’t a road race. It’s 50kms on rough logging roads and ATV trails and I honestly have no idea whether my body is strong enough to deal with so much rough terrain. I guess I’m about to find out.

Between now and Saturday, my plan is to try to eat well, drink lots of water, sleep as much as possible and think positive thoughts.

To that end, I spent a good part of my long run on Sunday (a relaxing 15kms along the river between our home in Conquerall Bank and Peace Park) coming up with a list of things I’ve learned (or relearned) in training for this event. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Running lessons: Digging deep

A stone bench on the shores of Lake Charles
Last week wasn't a great running week. I was tired from a tough long run the Saturday befoe and busy moving into our new house this past weekend.  In fact, I only managed to run twice - 7k on Wednesday and 19k on Sunday.

And I almost didn't run on Sunday. Husband and worked 12 hours straight on Saturday packing and moving stuff from two locations into the new house. Sunday, we spent the morning unpacking and organizing, before returning to clean the apartment we'd just vacated in the afternoon. By the time we'd finished, it was after 3pm and we were both bruised, sore and exhausted. When we finally made it back to the house, I laid on the bed and dozed while my tired body and brain tried to figure out whether they were up to tackling a final long run before race day.

There were two things that finally got me off the bed and out the door.