My First Ultra Marathon: Pick Your Poison 2018 Race Report

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Doesn’t this look like fun?

But first – serious question: how has it been over a month since my first 50k? And how is it less than 3 months until Squamish?

This race report is a little overdue but I think the day is so well seared into my memory that this should still be a pretty accurate account.

I would like to give this race and its volunteers a solid A+ for excellent organization. We arrived at the Heights of Horseshoe and had no trouble finding (free!) parking right away. I headed in, grabbed my bib and race swag and then had an hour to kill before the race start. Luckily, the Heights had plenty of space to relax and kill time. I had my epic support team of my Dad and husband keeping me company and somewhat calm (?!) but was anxious to get going. I still hadn’t made a final decision on race day attire and kept waffling about whether to start the race with a jacket on. For days the forecast had been showing wind, rain and cold but race day morning felt comfortable so I opted out of the jacket at the last moment. Since the PYP 50k is a 12.5k loop course done four times, runners get the luxury of leaving a drop bag near the start/finish line aid station. I filled mine up with gels, blister shields and my discarded jacket (just in case).

Pre-race social media had informed me that the race director was out on the course the week before the race shovelling and chiseling snow and ice from the trail. Endless high fives and hugs to the race director and anyone else who helped accomplish that.

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Conditions were…interesting?

PYP is not an easy course. It’s at a ski resort in early spring so weather and conditions are a bit of a grab bag. This year we all reached in and pulled out snow, slush and mud with a healthy dose of wind. Even in beautiful conditions this is a course that keeps coming back for more. After the first 12.5k loop I remember shouting at my Dad (who was cowbelling by the finish as per awesome usual) that it was the hardest course ever. There are at least 4 major climbs, lots of steep, often slippery downhills (with bonus technical trail hazards) and a time cut off that would challenge me during the best of years. Runners have 6 hours to complete the first 3 loops and 8 hours to complete the course. After loop 1 I was already hearing the clock tick.

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The situation. 

At the start of loop 2 I flew through the aid station stopping only to grab a few more gels from my bag and toss out empty wrappers. I headed back onto the course and, I’ll admit, was a little distracted by the too soon feeling of running from cut offs. I finished the first loop in around 1:48 but would have wanted to have created a bit of a bigger buffer at this point. I was less than a kilometre into the second loop when I noticed the girl in front of me stop, look around, and then start up again briefly before turning back to me and asking if we were going the right way.

We weren’t. We totally weren’t. I don’t know why I didn’t pick up on it earlier but as I looked around and saw no other runners I knew something was wrong. We both turned around and ran back, trying to figure out where the mistake was made. Oddly enough, I did see an orange ribbon on one of the trees and that threw me again before I realized it was older and dirty looking and probably not from the race. We made it back onto the course but I probably lost around 7 minutes and that certainly didn’t help my cut off time anxiety. I tried to speed up as best I could to make back time but there’s only so much that is going to do and, in hindsight, it may have done more harm than good. Lesson. Learned. Pay. Attention.

I don’t remember much else about loop 2 until I was about 19k in and my IT bands started acting up. Bands. Plural. Yes, both of them. Early on in my running life I struggled with IT band issues but this was the first time in almost two years that I had experienced any kind of problem. Obviously, this really worried me. After about a kilometre of this, part of my mind was telling me to drop after the second loop and the other part was just hoping it would go away.

The end of each loop takes runners down a giant snow covered ski hill and, as anyone with IT band issues knows, downhills are no fun at all. I managed to make it down and into the aid station and, although I complained to my husband and the lovely volunteers that “everything hurts”, I didn’t really think about stopping. I went out on loop 3 feeling tightness on both sides of my legs but not any actual pain. Looking back now, this should have been the first clue that my panicked brain may have misdiagnosed and/or exaggerated the issue. As I’m pretty familiar with IT band pain I know that, for me, once my IT band starts to bug me I have maybe a kilometre or two before the pain is extreme and yet, here I was 6 or 7 kilometres later dealing with discomfort and tightness more than actual pain. 

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Does anyone have a magic carpet I can borrow? 

The start of loop 3 wasn’t all that bad. I ended up chatting to a few other runners and to the volunteers at the first aid station (who remembered my name, what awesome people). Talking really helped take my mind off things and put me in a pretty good mood. The first 5k or so is more flat and uphill so I was relatively comfortable. The pain started back up when I hit the more significant downhill section and again it was hard to keep the negative thoughts out. I thought about quitting and worried I was doing actual harm to my IT bands. I would never advise anyone else to keep running if they thought they were doing actual damage but, here’s the thing – I was starting to realize that this wasn’t my typical IT band injury. It hurt but I could still run normally and it wasn’t getting any worse. I remember thinking that I didn’t come all this way and suffer through all the hills and descents and snow and mud just to drop out after loop 3. I knew I was cutting it close for the loop 3 cut off and I told myself that if I could get onto loop 4 before the cut off I would start and see what happens. Even if I had to hike it in, 50k is 50k.

I also really wanted that official finish. All PYP finishers get a lovely pair of finisher’s socks but it was never about the socks. I wanted an official ultra finish. When I finished loop 3, I was 10 minutes ahead of cut offs. Just 10. I never thought I’d be that close to being kicked off the course. I wasn’t in a particularly good mood at this point. I was still worried, I was exhausted and I had no appetite at all and was very under-fuelled. I remember thinking “ok, now go slay that dragon” and that was probably the most positive thought I’d had in hours.

I was only a few kilometres into loop 4 when EVERYTHING CHANGED. I’ve run enough trail races by now to know that Ontario’s trail and ultra community is made up of so many fun and friendly people who really treat this like a team sport. I ended up meeting two other runners, Rachael and Nick, early in loop 4 and, honestly, they completely turned my struggle bus around. Having someone to talk to and commiserate with is wonderful and both Rachael and Nick were friendly and encouraging as we battled that cut off time together. When my watch beeped for 43k Rachael turned around and took a picture of me at that exact moment when I became an ultra runner. How amazing is that?

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43k. (Credit: Rachael) 

I also need to thank the volunteers. The aid station one volunteers learned my name (I was too tired to properly thank them for this) and offered words of encouragement reminding me that all I had to do was run to the next aid station and then to the finish. No big deal. At the next aid station, the ladies encouraged me to eat when I said I was nauseous and made sure I left taking at least something (a sad, lonely fig newton) with me.

The last loop ended up being the most fun. Sure, I still felt terrible but, interestingly, my IT bands didn’t hurt quite as much. I was distracted by our wonderful ultra community and their support and also by the beeping on my watch. Every kilometre was suddenly a huge deal. 47. 48. 49. My watch hit 50k at the top of the final hill and I knew I had done it. I had time left and was going to make the final cut off. I ran down that mountain an ultra runner and official finisher of the PYP 50k.

The socks are wonderful, by the way. I still haven’t worn them. They are sitting on a shelf in my room and I look at them every single day.

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Best socks ever.

I crossed the finish line to the sound of cheers from my fellow runners, all of whom I hadn’t met before race day. The race director handed me my socks and I think I said something along the lines of “I hate you” (in the most loving, appreciative way possible). He then reminded me that there’s a reason the logo for this race isn’t a unicorn. Fair point.

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Race shirt. The logo tells you everything you need to know about this race. 

Lessons Learned

I cannot count the number of times I thought I couldn’t do this. I almost didn’t sign up for PYP because I thought there was no way I was ever going to be able to make an 8 hour cut off on a course with over 4300 ft of gain in early Spring. When I got lost, I thought it was over. When my IT bands started playing games, I figured I’d have to drop out.

And yet, I did it anyway. I have to give myself some credit for the hours and hours I spent out on snowy trails and the late nights at the gym. I became a tougher, stronger athlete because of this race.

I also learned a lot. I know now that what I was calling “IT band issues” likely wasn’t. It behaved nothing like the IT band problems I had in the past and was completely gone the next day. No trouble getting down stairs, no pain on my first run back. I am now convinced that this was more an issue of weak outer quads confusing my paranoid brain into thinking my IT band would completely give up. I’ll be stepping up my strength training to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

I’ll also be experimenting with eating differently. I had a hard time eating after loop 2 and the thought of more gels or sweet food made me nauseous. I only wanted chips and Heed. Time to reevaluate how I fuel and add more protein, fat and savoury foods.

Last but not least, this isn’t the first time I’ve had my race saved by another runner out on the trails. I call myself an introvert but nothing makes a race more fun than meeting people and supporting each other. Our community is amazing.

TL;DR

What I ate and drank: Uhm, not enough? Honey stinger gels, Cliff Shot Blocks, potato chips, an Oreo cookie, a fig newton, some (very dry) pretzels, Heed and water. DO NOT BE LIKE ME 

What I wore: Brooks Cascadia 12, Injinji socks, Oiselle Go Joggings, Oiselle Wazzie Wool long sleeve, Oiselle Hi-ten Bra, Buff, Ultimate Direction Jenny Vesta, a cheap pair of dollar store gloves on loop 4 when it got super cold (FYI I suffered no blisters and no chaffing)

Do this race if: you need an early Spring challenge to motive you through winter training, you like hills, you like pain and suffering, you hate unicorns

 

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I Think I’m the Reigning Queen of Taper Madness

Ok, let’s have some fun. (“Fun”?)

Taper Madness is a very real thing. It’s the irrational yet honest belief that all of a sudden you are not ready for that big race, you are injured, you are/are getting sick, everything will go wrong and you will die.

Ok, you probably won’t die. But you might totally fail and suffer terribly and it will be awful.

I have suffered from taper madness on every single taper since my first half marathon in 2015. One might think that by now I would recognize the symptoms and be able to dismiss them. But that just isn’t how taper madness works. You recognize the symptoms but you just can’t seem to dismiss them.

My symptoms usually set in around 10 days before a goal race and are at their worst 2-4 days prior. So this is where I’m going to try to have some fun with taper madness. As I am writing this it is Wednesday April 18 and I am running my first ultra marathon on Saturday April 28. I’m going to go through my usual taper madness symptoms and then not publish this until April 27. I’ll update it along the way and we can all see how I’m doing (spoiler: it probably won’t be well.)

Disclaimer: the below is a list of my usual taper madness symptoms. Your experience may be different and your symptoms may vary. If you are currently tapering and experiencing anything out of the ordinary whatsoever, be sure to Google it. I am sure Google will be very reassuring.

  1. The Ghost of Injuries Past

The week leading up to my second marathon at STWM last fall, I was completely convinced that something was wrong with my knee. It just didn’t feel right. I can’t remember now if there was actual pain or if it just felt off but I was incredibly worried that it would bail on me during the first few kilometres and I would end up having to drop out. This did not happen. I remember running the first 2km and being happy that my knee seemed to feel ok and then I honestly did not think about it again. I felt no knee pain at any point during the marathon. I felt no pain after and I felt no pain the next day. I think both my knees were stiff for maybe a few days. That was it. I can’t even remember why I was so worried. Obviously everything was fine.

Imaginary injuries are a taper staple. I can be completely pain free and confident that I’ll never have an injury ever again three weeks before a race but as soon as I’m properly into taper, everything hurts and is a catastrophic injury.

There appear to be several explanations for this. Apparently, during taper your body is going into repair mode and randoms pains can be a sign of healing. I always tell myself this but only believe it when I’m not tapering. Another cause is the heightened bodily awareness we have leading up to a race. If you’re anxious about race day and focusing on your body and it’s ability to perform you might notice little aches and niggles that would ordinarily go unnoticed or be dismissed.

Anyway my left foot has started to hurt sporadically.

Update 22/04 – now I’m convinced I have Achilles Tendonitis despite never having any issues with this before.

Update 24/04 – I was out for an easy 6k and my left leg felt really odd, just on the outer edge of my quad, right above my knee. Now I’m panicking that my ITBS is back despite not being a problem for almost two years. I wish I did more glute meds work.

Update 25/04 – I went out for my last run and I’m still worried.

2) Don’t get me sick

This is probably the worst symptom of taper madness. I am always extremely paranoid and germaphobic during taper. I suddenly am afraid that everyone around me is going to pass on some communicable disease that is going to prevent me from racing. Every tickle in my throat is probably the plague and I feel like I need to wash my hands 100x a day. There is no cure for this, it is a legitimate concern. You just have to eat well and sleep well and hope you’ll be fine.

Typically, everyone I know gets sick as soon as I hit taper and I spend all my time yelling at people to PLEASE STAY AWAY. So far so good but we’ve got 10 days, so.

Update 24/04 – Someone at my office was sneezing and sniffling and coughing today. Clearly they are deathly ill and will spread it to all of us, myself included.

Update 27/04 – I thought I was getting a sore throat last night but it appears to be fine this morning. Fingers crossed.

3) Crushing self-doubt aka “I’ve completely forgotten how to run”

We all doubt out abilities sometimes. That’s what makes training and racing such a challenging and rewarding experience. This doubt is magnified x1000 during taper. Suddenly it’s like I’ve forgotten the last 4 months of busting my ass training for this race. Hell, I have forgotten every race I’ve ever done. The questions just keep rolling in.

Update 24/04 – Do I have the right nutrition plan? Did I train on trails enough? Should I have done one more trail run instead of sticking to roads the last two weeks? Will I make the cut offs? Did I focus on the right strength training? What if I’m injured and have to drop out? What if I seriously injure myself and can’t train for Squamish? What if I get sick and can’t race? If I get sick should I race anyway? What’s going on with the weather? Should I wear shorts or tights? If I wear shorts will the cold air make my ITB seize up? What if I can’t do this? Can I really do this? What was I thinking?

4) Let’s just race already

This is a feeling that sets in right after the longest long run and will not go away until the gun goes off. Once I’ve put in the work I want to skip taper and just race. I feel like something is going to happen in the next few weeks that will get in the way of racing (ex. See numbers 1 and 2 above). The sooner you get to race, the less can go wrong in between.

So let’s race?

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Cuisine au taper. 

(Long Overdue) Winter 2018 Ultra Training Recap

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Just a suggestion. 

Well, I intended to write this a month ago. Let me tell you the first thing I’ve learned about ultra training – it is hella time consuming.

The past few months have been dedicated to training for the Pick Your Poison 50k on April 28, 2018. I did not want Squamish to be my first ultra so I signed up with the main goal of testing the ultra waters and getting a better idea of what my race strategy (read: survival plan) might be. It’s exciting but it also means that 8 out of 12 months of 2018 are entirely training focused.

Overall, it’s been fun. I am working harder than I ever have and staying mostly motivated. Of course, there have been some seriously tough days. Prior to this training cycle I had only ever done 4, maybe 5, workouts in a week with the remaining days being solid rest days. I am currently doing 6 days a week with only one rest day and have managed to keep this pretty consistent. I’m proud of that. 

What training plan?

I didn’t start out consciously thinking, “Screw training plans I’m just gonna roll with it” but that’s what happened. This is one of the biggest changes from my ordinary training MO. For all other major goal races from half marathon to full marathon distance, I have had some form of structured training plan. When I trained for my first half marathon, I had no idea what I was doing and carefully followed a training plan I found online. As I got more comfortable with consistent training, I started making my own with an excel spreadsheet and a calendar.

This time, I had a 16 week First 50k training plan all printed out and ready to go and … I ignored it. I think I had to change the structure of the plan a bit to accommodate Frosty Trail Run in early January and then I got sick and had to skip a long run and a few other workouts and pretty soon I was winging it. 

Here’s the thing- I know how to train for a race. I know how to increase the mileage on my weekly long runs. I know how to progress with the number of hill repeats. I know I can’t go hard and fast on all my runs. I know I need to rest at least once a week. I’m not about to write “Nora’s Fool Proof Guide to Intuitive Training” any time soon but I am at a point in training where I can just sort of glance at the calendar and know when I need to be at X weekly mileage and roughly how long it will take to get there. So – I’ve slowly gone from running 40-50 mins after work to an hour or more. Long runs started around 15k on the roads and peaked at 38k on the trails.

Do I suggest you do this? Maybe? I think I’m able to do it because I am motivated as hell right now. I also have three years of training cycles to look back on. If you’re new to training, absolutely look up a training plan that fits your schedule and follow it religiously. After three years, I am loving my new approach. It has helped me be more flexible when work or life gets in the way and I don’t feel bad or guilty for rearranging workouts to fit whatever I have going on in a week. As long as I accomplish the runs and workouts I need to be doing in roughly the period of time I have to do them, I’m good. And I’m happy. 

Long, long runs

Ok, we all know how important these are. Long runs are the cornerstone of any marathon/ultra training plan. They build endurance, of course, but for me, it’s more about building confidence. 

I always planned to do my longest long run of 38k three weeks before race day. Starting at 15k, this means that I increased my long run mileage by around 3 or 4k every week. I would typically build some cut-back weeks into a training plan but those took care of themselves thanks to cold and flu season. Being that I was training in the dead of winter in Southern Ontario, I started with road running and moved to the (still somewhat snow covered) trails at the beginning of March. Running on snowy, icy and muddy trails has slowed my long run pace to a crawl but I am trying to remind myself that the point is to build endurance and if it takes me five hours to run 35k then I’m going to be out on the trails for five hours to finish that 35k. 

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Exhibit A

I will admit that this is probably my biggest insecurity going into my first 50k. I feel like long runs have turned into long runs/hikes due to the ridiculous trail conditions I’ve been dealing with. I know there will be plenty of hiking in Pick your Poison but it just feels weird to be this far into a training cycle and not have run a steady 20 miler.

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Exhibit B

Eat Eat Eat Eat Eat 

I have always struggled to take in enough calories during races or long runs. I either lose my appetite or forget, or, in the case of a marathon, am too damn tired to bother opening another gel (tip: don’t be like that.)

Ultra runners need a lot of calories to keep going. I also think they need to be able to stomach a lot of random aid station food because it’s convenient and no one wants to lug around more of their own nutrition than absolutely necessary. I’ve been heading out on the trails with 1.5 litres of water, 2 or 3 gels, some kind of energy bar (usually Clif) and a pile of junk food. I’ve taken Oreos, chocolate covered pretzels, M&Ms, gummies and Coke with me. Yes, all at once.

Is this healthy? Noooo. But it makes me happy and gives me something to look forward to. I can also justify myself with the knowledge that this is standard ultra aid station food and my stomach needs to adapt. Yes.

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Yeah this is my life now. My hand for scale. 

Gym Life

This could and should be an entirely separate blog post so I’m going to save my gym spiel for a later date (likely falling later during taper when I have some actual free time). I will say this, however – I didn’t know I was a gym person. Somewhere between the stair master’s interval setting and learning to do my first ever barbell squat, I became a gym person. Plus, my gym is awesome and has a cat. Yes, a cat. Details to follow, I promise.

Road (/trail) Blocks

Here’s a question for anyone reading this – how do you block out the negative and focus on your workout?

I work in a fairly stressful professional position and sometimes it is really hard to just pack the day away and go out for a run. I feel like I am being physically weighted down. It’s hard to get out the door and sometimes I want to quit running the whole time, not because I’m not capable of doing whatever workout I set out to do but because, mentally, I’m not there, I’ve gone to a place of worry and anxiety. This is the hardest part of running for me. If I’m anxious, I am also lazy and slow. I will also say that the dark, cold winter months don’t really help and I sure am happy that there is now sunshine for my after work runs.

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Just me out here.

And now, taper

And just like that, it’s taper time. I can’t believe I made it here. I’ve never trained harder or been more consistent which will probably make taper even more of a shock to my system than it normally is. I’m going to try to blog about Taper Madness because a) I have time and b) It is a real thing. Nothing is more real than taper madness.

 

TL;DR

Training highs: being more consistent than ever, sticking to strength training and using a squat rack for the first time ever

Training lows: hill repeats in the dark and cold, anxiety being pretty much the most demotivating thing ever

Eating: Uh, everything? Brookside chocolate I got in bulk from Costco is a great trail snack. Also, birthday cake Oreos.

Wearing: Tights all day everyday because it is still damn cold. Injinji toe socks save my feet from blisters. Tip: Always wear an old marathon shirt to the gym for confidence.

Shoes: Brooks Adrenaline for road and Brooks Cascadia for trail

Soundtrack to the training cycle: Survivor by 2WEI, War Lord by 2WEI, Majesty by Apashe, Waisu and all the Ginger Runner music obviously

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My Love/Hate Relationship With Winter Running

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Well this looks motivating. 

I’m so ready for winter to be over.

I actually fell in love with running in the winter.

I started running in July of 2013. By started, I mean that I ran consistently for about 6 weeks, worked myself up to 3 kilometres or so and then got injured. I think that tells you everything you need to know about my fitness levels at the time, but that’s not the point. The point is that, by the time I started running regularly again, it was freezing cold outside. I didn’t have any winter running gear. I used to layer leggings under a pair of track pants and top it off with a very poorly ventilated windbreaker. This was back in the day when I owned exactly one sports bra. I promised myself that if I ran through the winter I could go out and buy some real running clothes for the summer. That was my primary motivation.

There was also a part of me who thought that “real” runners had to run through the winter and if I stuck it out I’d be passing some kind of runner’s commitment test. At the time, I had no plans of ever racing and I’m not even sure I knew how long a marathon was, but I’d head out two or three days a week and get it done. It wasn’t so bad in the late fall and I remember coming home elated after a 6km run (my longest run ever!) and signing up for the Yonge Street 10k.

The Yonge Street 10k isn’t around anymore but all you need to know is that it’s in early April. So I’d head out in my track pants and horribly uncomfortable windbreaker/old fleece combo and train. It was slow going but I managed to drag my mileage over 10km by the time the race came around. I have a lot of memories from Winter 2014. Mainly, it was frigidly cold and every time I came in to defrost I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I’d gone out and faced off against the elements and gotten shit done. I had a goal and I was going to power through. And February is the best month for sunsets over country roads. My phone has been littered with sunset photos since this first training cycle.

Now, I do this every year. Signing up for early Spring races forces me out the door in the most ridiculous conditions. I ran my first ever half marathon at the Chilly Half Marathon on March 1, 2015. I ran Around the Bay in 2016 and 2017. I’ve had some pretty adventurous long runs. It’s been -30C and I’ve been out there with three pairs of pants on. I’ll be attempting my first ultra at the end of April. This has become a tradition. It isn’t winter if I’m not running across the countryside dressed like a ninja.

My biggest nemesis is probably unshoveled sidewalks and unploughed roads. I live in a small town where no one seems to care if the sidewalks are maintained in the winter. Ploughs don’t hit the roads until late in the day or, in the case of country roads, days later. I train alone and sometimes the thought of slogging through ankle deep snow for hours is a lot to stomach. There’s also a bit of a safety issue. I fell flat on my ass just last week and I’ll admit it completely freaked me out. Injuries are my worst fear right now.

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What’s a plough? Never heard of it. 

That said, I have made some pretty crucial adjustments to my wardrobe. I now have real winter running tights of varied weight and layering options. I have fancy Merino wool base tops. I own five running jackets (two were gifts, and one was Chilly Half race swag). I still only have one hat and one pair of gloves.

And Winter running still sucks. No amount of fancy gear will change the fact that some days it is damn hard to get out the door. I joined a gym a few months back and sometimes I do run on the treadmill. After 4 winters of nothing but outdoor running, it feels like a luxury and I don’t really want to get too used to it. Winter running has taught me to tough it out even when you’re miserable and that you don’t always need to like running to love it.

This isn’t to say that the runner’s commitment test my former self believed in is a real thing. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being on the treadmill November-March. Do what you need to do to chase down your goals. If nothing else, it will make you look less crazy. Which, I’ll admit, in a small town, could be a very valuable thing.

2018 Frosty Trail Run Race Report

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Last Saturday, I ran the Frosty Trail Run at Camp Heidelberg in Waterloo, Ontario. This means that after years of obsessively reading everyone else’s race reports for every single race I have ever entered, it is finally time I write my own.

The Frosty Trail Run is a loop race. You have a specified amount of time to run as many loops of the 2.1km course as you can. I was in the 3 hour event but there is also a 1 hour and a 6 hour, making this a great race for all abilities.

I first did this event in 2017 and, I’ll be honest, I was afraid it was going to be boring. I like to watch the scenery change as I run and could not imagine seeing the same 2km for hours on end. This is the wrong attitude. Totally wrong.

So, let’s start off with a brief note on the perils of winter running and, in particular, winter trail running. I didn’t exactly win the accessible trails lottery. I am lucky enough to have a 24k loop trail a short driving distance from where I live. In the summer, this is fantastic. In the winter, the park is closed and the trails are not maintained. Running through knee-deep snow is an absolute slog that threatens to double the time of my run while I wonder if my water is going to freeze because it’s -15C. Maybe not the safest training plan for this solo runner.

Frosty Trail Run solves this problem. No matter what happens, you are only ever going to be 1km away from food and water and a warm building. The start/finish aid station is stocked with fruit, candy, chips, coke — all the necessities for running around and around in the woods for hours. Instead of a freezing cold long run on a poorly plowed country road, I get to put in time on the trails with plenty of good company. This is a small event (around 35 people) so everyone is friendly and encouraging. I’m still pretty new to Ontario’s trail and ultra scene but people are always nice and don’t make me feel like a complete rookie who accidentally stumbled into the woods on a Saturday morning.

It’s hard to set a goal for a winter trail race, and I really didn’t get the impression that people at Frosty Trail are there for competitive reasons. It is less of a race and more of a big training party in the woods. Last year, I used the race to give myself a kick in the butt after a few months of post-marathon slump. This year, I used it to to gauge my fitness at the start of training for my first 50k – Pick Your Poison in April 2018, because there is no way in hell I am showing up at Squamish an ultra virgin if I can avoid it.

Whatever your plan is, the weather that mother nature happens to bless us with on race day is a major factor. I was a bit reluctant to sign up until I was convinced the forecast wasn’t going to require me to drive for an hour in freezing rain. Luckily, the weather was absolutely perfect at just below zero with some lovely sunshine to warm us up. 

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Cheers to RD Partrick Campbell for getting a picture of me where I actually look like I like running. And for making delicious veggie chilli.

In 2017, my somewhat defeated post-marathon self was pleasantly surprised with 10 laps and quit after about 2 hours and 50 minutes. This year, I wanted to run for the full 3 hours regardless of where I was on the course. If this meant starting another lap with only 1 minute on the clock, I’d do it. This turned out to be a very motivating strategy in the final hour as I wanted to travel as far as possible. I pulled off almost 11.5 laps for a total of over 24km and I absolutely ran as hard as I could to get that extra 0.5. No, it doesn’t count towards my total and official results will only say 11 laps but I know I did it with a smile on my face. I’ve convinced myself that I am at a pretty good place for the start of a 50k training plan. Mission accomplished.

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Short and steep and still (kinda) smiling. (Photo: Patrick Campbell)

But, why isn’t it boring? Don’t you start to feel like a hamster? I still haven’t quite answered that. I find that running loops helps me get into a sort of flow. I know what’s coming, I know where I should push it and where to conserve energy. I look forward to whatever treat I’ll grab at the aid station the next time I pass through. It helps that the trail was beautiful in the early morning sunshine. I can’t say that I would want to do this on the roads but feel free to drop on in here and tell me how totally and completely wrong I am about that.

This turned into less race report and more Loop Racing 101. But did you really want to read my blow by blow description of all 11.5 laps?

TL;DR

What I ate and drank: Razz Cliff Shot (x2), two random Cliff Shot Blocks I found in my jacket pocket, banana, chips, gummy bears, M&Ms, gatorade, water

What I wore: Brooks Adrenaline ASR 12, Injinji socks, Oiselle Joggings, Oiselle Moto Traction Bra, Nike 1/2 zip, pink Running Room jacket I’ve had for years, Buff

Do this race if: you need to bust out of a winter slump, you want to support the KW Optimist Club, you need to regularly ingest candy to stay motivated

So how many hill repeats can I do until I lose my mind?

Hi.

My name is Nora and I live in Ontario. Ontario is a relatively flat province. We don’t have mountains in Ontario.

At the end of November I signed up for my dream race – the Squamish 50k. Now I have to train for a race with 8500 ft of gain while living in a town surrounded by farmland. This might end up being a pretty decent story about how I turned corn fields into rainforests and dirt roads into mountain trails. It could also be pages and pages of me describing stairmaster sessions and endless hill repeats.

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No hills in sight. Plenty of dust, though.

I’ve always wanted to start my own running blog and Squamish training is the perfect excuse. I will admit that I have read an embarrassing amount of other people’s SQ50 race reports. I probably should have been deterred from signing up because that would be the sane response to all those tales of suffering, but here I am starting my own blog the content of which will primarily focus on how hard I can kick my ass to prepare to have it kicked harder.

I’m a pretty average runner. I could wear one of those “World’s Okayest Runner” shirts and people might actually believe that’s a legit title. I’ve run four half-marathons and two full marathons and a bunch of other distances, several of those being on trails. I love trails. You get lost in the woods and don’t have to talk to anyone (except maybe other trail runners – who are always cool). I like the technical challenge. I get excited if someone says a course isn’t very runnable. Sometimes I even think I like hills.

If someone is out there on the internet blogging about being a totally average runner living in a completely average place and training to run up mountains, I would absolutely read that blog. If it was specifically about SQ50 I’d probably just quit this one and religiously read theirs. Or maybe not, because as a person who can read 15+ race reports, I definitely think an extra opinion can’t hurt.

It would make me ever so happy if someone (aside from my parents, probably) would read this and tell me about their own experience with flatland training for not at all flat races. Bonus points if your race is Squamish.