Sunday, May 31, 2015

Race Report: Cabot Trail Relay 2015

The view from atop MacKenzie Mountain
Well, it's been a week and I'm almost recovered from my fourth Cabot Trail Relay. Once again, it was a fantastic experience that left me feeling grateful and awestruck. The incredible natural beauty of Cape Breton coupled with the energy of nearly 1200 runners challenging themselves to complete a grueling 24+ hour event is an amazing combination.

The very best thing about this year's race was having my sister-in-law along for the adventure. The second best thing was having the delightful Bev and Delia as our car mates for the weekend. Together, the three of them kept me laughing non-stop.
Sister-in-law, me, Bev and Delia
Because we'd signed up late, SIL and I were allotted back-to-back legs that started at 2:10 and 3:45 in the morning. Running in the middle of the night is challenging at the best of times, but a 20 km leg (16k for SIL) after 14 hours on the road and too little sleep, with frigid headwinds most of the way, was particularly tough. Needless to say, I failed to make the mat, finishing in 67th place (ugh!) with an unofficial time of 2:08.

Given how little I'd trained, I shouldn't have been surprised by that result but I can't say I was terribly happy either. Naively, I'd hoped that excitement, coupled with my tendency to be just a wee bit competitive, would enable me to run something closer to a 6:00/km pace. I'd also hoped to take advantage of downhills to make up for a slower uphill pace. Unfortunately, Leg 14 doesn't have as many downhills as I expected and the wind made it hard to take advantage of those there were. Here's what my Garmin recorded after I remembered to turn it on 2 km or so into the leg. :-(

Fortunately, the rest of the team performed much better - despite cold, windy conditions most of the day and some crazy-ass weather overnight.

Tori, one of our youngest members conquered Smokey Mountain and completed the leg strongly, despite a nasty fall 500 metres from the finish line.

The view from half way up Smokey Mountain
Even with high winds, rain, sleet and snow, our fastest member, Tristan, ran the toughest leg up MacKenzie Mountain at an average 4:22 pace, finishing in 8th place. Needless to say, we were thrilled for him.

Sister-in-law ran well too, despite some nasty nausea she blamed on the nachos she'd eaten for supper the night before. I was especially pleased for Delia and Bev, both of whom did great. The smiles on their faces as they crosssed their finish lines made it all worthwhile. In fact, Bev's smile was so bright she made the front page of the newspaper.

All in all, despite inhospitable weather and challenging conditions, it was another successful CTR for the Smokey Mountain Daredevils. Sincere thanks to co-captains David and Crystal for their hard work, to our teammates for supporting one another so well and to race organizers for staging another fantastic event.

I said going into the weekend that it would likely be my last CTR. However, depending on how well my training goes next winter, it may be hard to resist taking one more crack at it - especially if SIL wants to go again! Given that she's already musing about how to improve her training, it seems she's caught the CTR bug too - which isn't surprising. It's a one-of-a-kind race that every runner should do at least once in their life.

Happy running and writing, friends.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Ya gotta love the taper!

I finished up the last of my pre-CTR training sessions this past Thursday, then settled in to taper for the relay, which gets underway Saturday morning. I have to say, I felt ready for the rest. Though I hadn't been training very long, my body was already feeling the worse for wear. Too many tough workouts back to back, I guess.

Husband and I planned to kick off our 25th wedding anniversary celebrations with a weekend trip to explore the coastline between Shelburne and Parrsboro but, when it became clear Sunday would be grey and rainy, we opted for a day trip instead.

First thing Saturday morning, we headed out and, after a leisurely stroll along the Shelburne waterfront, drove to Cape Sable Island and stopped for a short walk on The Hawk Beach. We were fortunate to arrive at low tide when the "drowned forest" is visible. A woman working at the visitor's centre in Shelburne mentioned it but we had no idea what we were looking at until after we got home and googled it. Apparently, the tree trunks sticking out of the sand are petrified and around 1500 years old. Very cool. (Click on the photo for a larger view.)

The sun shining brightly and the white sand reaching out into shallow waters made it nearly impossible to discern sea from sky.

I didn't mention it to Husband at the time but I had an ulterior motive for wanting to drive to the tip of the Island and back. The roads we took make up the route for the Nova Scotia Marathon, which takes place in late July. I haven't decided yet whether I want to do a half or a full marathon but the route is so beautiful I'll be tempted to do the latter.  

Just as we were leaving the Island, we stopped to savour more views of the white sandy beaches that circle the island and were amazed to see kids in swimming and playing in the water. Brave little souls. 

Our next stop was in West Pubnico, where we enjoyed a delicious lunch at the Red Cap Restaurant (a slice of rappie pie to share, followed by haddock with lobster sauce for me, and pork schnitzel with mushroom sauce for Husband) before driving to the end of the road to get a closer look at the massive Pubnico Point Wind Farm, which we'd been admiring as we drove down the coast. 

I was impressed by how quiet these massive windmills were - even when we stood directly under them!

From Pubnico, we headed straight up the highway to Church Point, to get a quick look at St. Mary's Church (the largest wooden church in North America) and its impressive 185 ft spire, before we meandered our way back to Yarmouth. Our last major stop was at Mavillette Beach just before suppertime. It was too cold and windy to linger but we definitely want to get back for a visit soon.

At Yarmouth, it was time for another celebratory meal - this time at Rudder's Brew Pub and Seafood Restaurant. We weren't expecting much from the food (we mostly went there for the beer) but the it was actually quite good. Husband had beer-battered haddock, which was flavourful and perfectly cooked. I went for deep-friend bar clams, which were also beautifully tender and delicious.

By the time we made it home late Saturday after more than 13 hours on the road, we were pooped, so the rest of the weekend was pretty low-key. Sunday, we hung out by the fire, mostly reading though we managed an 8k run late afternoon when the rain let up. Monday, Husband headed off first thing in the morning to help our friends with a roofing job, while I went for a motorcycle ride, wrote a little, read and made a delicious supper (if I do say so myself).

I also spent some time with my camera, trying to figure out how best to use different kinds of light - for example, morning light pouring in a window...

...evening light peeking over rooftops...

...and midday light shining brightly from above.

Obviously, I enjoyed the spring flowers as well. I love it when our perennials flower.

That's it for this post. It's time I headed home to welcome my sister-in-law from Ottawa and finish packing for our Cabot Trail adventures this weekend. Look for a full race report early next week. And send positive thoughts our way please. The forecast's not great and I feel woefully under-trained so I expect my run's going to feel a bit tough. Here's hoping the fun outweighs whatever suffer-fest may lie ahead.

Happy running and writing!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Running lessons: Be grateful for what you've got!

I've been stressed about running lately. I feel so slow and out of shape, I can't imagine running Leg 14 of the Cabot Trail Relay at anything like 6:00/km pace, which is what I'll need to do to "make the mat" before the timing chip sensors are picked up and moved to the end of Leg 15. I suppose it doesn't matter really. It'll be the middle of the night so there won't be a lot of witnesses if I finish at the back of the pack and the truth is, though I've been training hard for the last month, that's not nearly enough time to get back into race form after a winter of slow slogging on icy streets and sidewalks.

Today's Osprey 5k in Riverport didn't help. It was a perfect morning and I felt quite good as we waited at the start (see photo above) but I went out too fast and spent the last two kilometres feeling nauseous and miserable. In fact, it got so bad, I had to stop and sit for more than a minute to pull myself together just half a kilometre from the finish. As a result, my time for the second half was nearly 2 minutes slower than for the first.

To add insult to injury, when prizes were handed out, I realized there were a number of women older than me - some by 15 or more years - who'd run much faster than I had. It was all totally depressing.

(I should mention in passing that Husband ran a much better race this morning - setting and keeping a wonderfully steady pace that let him finish in a personal best time. I'm so proud of him!)

But here's the thing. While I was busy beating up on myself for being chubby and slow, I was totally forgetting to appreciate what my body can do. For instance, in the past week, it's completed a hilly 20k run to Halifax and back - which involved crossing the bridge pictured below twice! - a tough 7.5k tempo run, and a challenging hill training session, as well as today's 5k race.

Seriously. At 53 years old, I should be damned happy my body's able to handle that much training. Sure, a little over 40 kms in a week isn't much compared to the distances more serious athletes run, but it's not too shabby for a middle-aged recreational runner.

The trouble, of course, is that I too often compare myself to stronger runners - the ones who've been running for years, are more naturally athletic, or are inclined to work harder - rather than those who run slower or don't run at all.

Correction, the real trouble is that I compare myself to anyone - including my younger, fitter self - and lose sight of the astonishing fact that I'm able to run the distances I do and that, in just two weeks, I'll be participating in another Cabot Trail Relay. If you'd asked me when I was 40 if I'd ever participate in such a demanding event, I'd have told you in no uncertain terms you were crazy. Yet, here I am preparing to do it for the fourth time. When I stop to think about it, it's actually kind of miraculous.

So, there it is. This week's lesson. Be grateful for what you've got. Even when you wish things were different, don't forget to notice all the good things that come your way - loving relationships, interesting work, good health, sunny days and unexpected adventures. Life's far too short to spend much of it wishing things were different.

Incidentally, lest I've given the impression I didn't enjoy my long run last weekend, here's proof that in fact I enjoyed it very much - especially meeting Bluenose Myles in Point Pleasant Park at the midway point.

I also enjoyed the massive dim sum brunch Husband and I shared afterwards. :-)

Happy running and writing, friends!