Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Race Report: Cabot Trail Relay 2013

6:30 am - at the start of leg 1
This report will have to be short and sweet. My week's far too busy to spend much time writing it.

I had another awesome Cabot Trail Relay experience this past weekend as a member of "To Gno-me is to love me". The Gnomes have been a fixture at CTR for many years so it was an honour to suit up for them, and the weather was much better than expected.

Watercolour landscape - taken with my phone at the start of leg 8
I'd opted to run the relatively easy leg 12 but it felt challenging nonetheless because it started at 12:30 in the morning and, by that time, I'd already been on the road driving, cheering and supporting my teammates for more than 10 hours. Fortunately, although I was very nervous beforehand and struggled to pull myself together in the first kilometre (when both sets of shoelaces came untied and I had to stop twice to adjust my headlamp and the light attached to my shoe), things improved quickly.

Once I'd settled into a good pace, it felt magical running through the darkness on such a warm spring night, even with occasional headwinds slowing my progress somewhat. By the time I'd completed the first section, winding my way over two good-sized hills and out of Cape Breton Highlands National Park, I felt relaxed and comfortable enough to savour the sight of the full moon shining above and the sound of waves breaking on the shoreline below.

I'd been hoping all day that the skies would clear and make running at night easier so, when the moon suddenly appeared from behind the clouds and lit the road ahead, it seemed like a sign that all would be well. I ran the remainder of the leg feeling immensely grateful - for the good fortune to be participating in CTR again, for all that had inspired me to participate in the first place and, most importantly, for the people who had encouraged and supported my crazy running habit over the past 11 years - especially Husband.

A quick word about our team's performance. The Gnomes finished 47th out of 70 teams participating in the event with a total time of 25:39:02 and no penalties! (Penalties are tough to avoid so we were very proud that we didn't get any.) My own performance was less impressive. I completed 15.78 kms at an average 5:56/km pace - quick enough to "make the mat" but in only 59th place.

The last thing I want to mention is how well my friend David did running leg 9. For those unfamiliar with CTR, leg 9 takes runners more than 385 metres up and down North Mountain (approximately 6 kms each way), trashing every major muscle group in their legs before challenging them to run a final tough 5 kms through "rolling" hills in the dark. Until he signed up to run it last December, David hadn't been running all that consistently and, to be honest, I was concerned he might seriously hurt himself attempting to slay this Goliath. But, after months of hard training - including hill repeats up and down Signal Hill in his home town of St. John's, NL - he did himself and all of us proud by completing this very tough 17.5 km leg at an impressive 5:59/km pace and crossed the finish line looking strong and determined. Well done, David!

There's lots more I could say about this fabulous race - about the incredible volunteers, the breathtaking beauty of the Cabot Trail, and the camaraderie that only an event like CTR can generate - but I'll leave it to others to fill in the gaps. A huge thank you to my fellow Gnomes for making it possible for me to participate again this year. I hope to see you all back on the trail in 2014!

Headed for home

Friday, May 24, 2013

Race Report: Bluenose 5k

I've been meaning to write a race report all week but life's been even more hectic than usual - for reasons I really have no time to get into today. In a few short hours, I'm scheduled to be on the road headed for Cape Breton to participate in my second Cabot Trail Relay. I'm excited because I had such an awesome time last year but also completely terrified. I'm signed up to run leg 12 - one of the "middle of the night" legs - and have no idea how I'm going to pull it off. Fingers crossed that I'm well enough trained to run on autopilot if I fall asleep. :-)

In any case, back to the Bluenose: My 5k race on Sunday went pretty well all things considered. Despite giving me so much grief in Fredericton the weekend before, my knee held up just fine and I finished the race in a chip time of just under 27 minutes. I also came 6th in my class (women 50-59) which was pretty cool.

I'm quite sure I could have run it faster if I'd been a little more strategic though. I ran so hard up Citadel Hill I felt nauseous at the top and had to slow down for a km or so while my tummy settled. I'm not sure why I made such a silly mistake. It was something about watching all those runners ahead of me tackling the challenge with gusto. I suddenly found myself hollering "Give'er!" and picking up the pace as I launched myself up the hill. In short, my excitement got the better of me.

In any case, given how sick I'd been in the weeks leading up to the race, and how tough the course was, I was fine with 26:57 and it felt great to be part of the 10th anniversary celebration of the event.  I've now run all four Bluenose races - the 5k, 10k, half and full marathon - so I treated myself to the fancy pants "Finished 'er" jacket I wanted (see photo above) which made it all worthwhile.

My friend Janet had a great race too, as did a bunch of other friends and colleagues, and nearly 14,000 people participated in various events over the weekend so it was a big success all around.

As good as my run was, the high point of the day was volunteering afterwards. As soon as I'd picked up my finisher's medal and jacket, I hightailed it back to the car, drove to Point Pleasant Park and hiked to the top of the hill to join Team in Training's fabulous volunteers. I spent the first 90 minutes handing out water and Gatorade to runners passing the 16k mark of the half marathon and 36k of the full marathon, then took up my post as a course marshal nearer the waterfront where I cheered my little heart out for another two hours. Talk about inspiring! There's nothing quite like watching a bunch of marathoners do their thing and was especially moving given events in Boston a month ago.

Oops. It's time I signed off and got going.  Lots to do before I hit the road this afternoon. Full report on CTR early next week when I'm recovered enough to write it. :-)

Happy running and writing, friends.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Race Report: Fredericton Marathon 2013

I wore my SF t-shirt for good luck!
I'm late writing this report because it's taken me a few days to process what happened last weekend. The short version is that I planned to run a full marathon but only managed to complete a half. Plans changed because my knee locked up at around 19k and I knew it was going to be a long, slow second half (if I managed to finish at all) and I didn't see the point of hurting myself in order to run another slow marathon. I also wanted to be able to run Cabot Trail Relay next weekend. The last time my knee locked up like that (when I ran Johnny Miles in 2011), I hobbled for a long while afterward and found running hills particularly challenging.

I can't put my finger on the precise cause of my meltdown last Sunday. I know I went out too quickly and had trouble settling into my goal pace of 6:15/km and I was still a bit congested from the flu I contracted 10 days before the race. In addition, I didn't have an ideal taper. We were in the midst of kitchen reno insanity, work was hectic, and I booked more social commitments than I should have. By the time Husband and I drove to Fredericton Saturday morning, we were both more than usually frazzled. Looking at this pic from before the race, I can see how tired I was.

On the upside, we stayed at the delightful Parkside B&B, had a great pre-race supper at the Snooty Fox Pub, and visited with friends Saturday evening. On Sunday, the weather was perfect for running (misty and 14 degrees C), the course was beautiful and I felt strong and optimistic as the race started. 

Grinning because I made it to the start line
In fact, I felt strong and optimistic until about the 19km mark when, for no apparent reason, my knee began locking up and got quite painful. I stopped several times to stretch it out but it quickly became clear that I was in serious trouble. I completed kilometres 20 and 21 agonizing about what to do and stopped just before the finish line to speak with an official about my predicament. He reassured me I could switch to the half so, with a heavy heart, I veered left to the finishers' chute instead of right to start the second lap, picked up a finisher's medal, spoke with the time-keepers so they could make the necessary adjustments and limped back to the car with Husband. Not the ending I hoped for but the right thing to do in the circumstances. 
It's annoying that I look less tired in the after picture
Needless to say, I was very disappointed. After months of training, failing to run a sub-4:30 marathon was a huge letdown. Of course, given how sick I'd been the weekend before, it wasn't a complete surprise but I couldn't help hoping I was strong enough to pull it off - even without 100% lung capacity.

The big challenge now is to figure out how to squeeze in another marathon this year. I hadn't planned to run a fall marathon since I hope to tackle Cape to Cabot in October and would prefer to run shorter "long runs" in August. However, last weekend changed all that. I'm now considering a few options. I've never run the Valley Harvest Marathon, for example - a relatively small race where I might finally be able to run a sub-4:30. The trouble is it's only a week before C2C, which isn't ideal. Another option is Maritime Race Weekend in mid-September, which would be much better timing (six weeks before C2C).

Of course, the alternative would be to accept that I blew my shot at a marathon this year and forget about trying again. Yeah, right. Like that's going to happen. We all know I'm too stubborn to give up that easily. 

Speaking of stubborn, this week on a whim I signed up for the Bluenose 5k. It's the only distance I haven't run at Bluenose and it's the event's 10th anniversary so I wanted to join in the celebration. Plus there's a very cool 10th anniversary finisher's jacket for sale. (Yup. It's all about the swag.) And maybe all the hills and speed training I did while marathon training will pay off and I'll run a 5k PB. (Unlikely given that the course includes a climb up and over Citadel Hill but a girl can dream, can't she?)  In any case, once I've finished the race, I'll head to Point Pleasant Park to take up my post as a course marshal for the half and full marathons where I'm especially looking forward to cheering for my good friend Janet and my boss, both of whom are tackling the half. The forecast looks good so it should be a great day!

Thanks to everyone who offered words of encouragement and support before, during and after my marathon attempt last weekend.  Hopefully, the next one will go better.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Running lessons: Making lemonade out of lemons

Less than a week until race day and I feel miserable - not the usual "I'm in tapering hell" miserable, but the "coughing, hacking, I can barely breathe" miserable.  No, that's an exaggeration.  That's how I felt yesterday. Today, after a decent night's sleep, I finally feel I've turned the corner and will eventually recover from the flu that laid me low for most of the past week. It's a weird one too. It started with a slight tickle in my chest that turned to three days of coughing and chest congestion before moving into my nose and ears. Yuck.

Anyway, as I sat in a chair on the front porch yesterday, reading and wheezing, I told myself it was a good time to try turning lemons into lemonade - to remind myself that at least my legs would be fresh come race day. I have to admit I still toyed with the idea of going for a short run to see if I could clear the gunk from my lungs but a quick on-line search convinced me it wasn't a good idea. And news this morning that two young people collapsed (and one of them died) at the Toronto Scotiabank Marathon yesterday was a sobering reminder that it would have been foolhardy to run when my lungs and heart were already working overtime to clear this nasty bug.

It was hard not to run this past weekend. Spring has finally sprung and buds and blossoms are bursting everywhere you look. I made it off the porch yesterday just long enough to grab a few photos of the massive forsythia in front of our house. In the greyness of a Nova Scotia spring, forsythia bring a welcome splash of colour - which likely explains why they're so ubiquitous in this part of the world.

The only other outing I had this weekend was on my motorcycle. We stayed in the city Friday night because I felt too miserable to travel and Husband wanted to get some work done on the kitchen renovation Saturday morning. Around noon, it was so warm and lovely, I couldn't resist firing up my motorbike (I still need to pick a name for her) to go for a first short spin of the season.  My destination was Eastern Passage, a small community at the mouth of Halifax Harbour, where I stopped for a minute to grab a photo.

That's Devil's Island in the far distance. I've never visited it but, even from so far away, you can tell it's a fascinating place. Apparently, there were still people living there as recently as 2000 - a couple of Norwegian artists who hurriedly left under mysterious circumstances. I bet there's a story there.

In summary, it wasn't great week of running, but at least I'm on the mend and my legs will be fresh when I start the marathon on Sunday. And it was pleasant spending the past few days being gentle with myself, reading, taking pictures, exchanging messages with friends, and following updates from fellow runners tackling their first races of the season.  (On that note, hats off to the Blonde who successfully completed her first 50k trail race on Saturday! Way to go, girl!!) Fingers crossed that I feel well enough to go for an easy test run around the lake tomorrow night after work.

For the running geeks in the crowd, here are the stats for last week:

Total distance: 13k
Total # runs: 2
Longest run: 8k
Tempo run: 1 x 8k

P.S. The other fun thing I did last week was take my 12 year old niece to see "Legally Blonde" at Neptune Theatre. It was a terrific production and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. I've been humming tunes from the show ever since but this one in particular stuck in my head. Hilarious! Enjoy!