Monday, 12 June 2017

Oh What a Night! Blackout Night 27km Trail Race

Having returned home from San Diego late Monday night, we had a few days off work to chill out and do some relaxing at home. I had a deep tissue massage with the amazing Mackenzie on Tuesday which helped to alleviate some of the post marathon soreness and I was really happy to have managed a couple of easy runs to aid recovery, which saw me heading up Union Peak at the Sonoran Preserve close to home. It was a hot but beautifully sunny day, and despite the heat and the steep climb, I really enjoyed being back on the trails having been mainly road focused for the past few weeks.

Fun running on Union Peak :-)
By Friday, we had all our camping gear packed ready to head north for a couple of nights camping in Flagstaff. Crazy as it seems, I was racing again on Friday evening, this time the 27km Blackout Trail Race on the forest trails at Fort Tuthill County Park and with volunteering to help out with the Big Pine Trail Races early on Saturday morning, we had decided to stay over on the campground and enjoy the cooler and fresher air that comes with being at over 7,000 feet. I had also planned to hike Humphreys Peak with Wilson on the Saturday – at over 12,500 feet, Mt Humphreys is the highest point in Arizona and I was looking forward to the 9 mile round trip to the summit with my favourite boy.

Unfortunately, although the original plan had been to stay for two nights, we would have to return home Saturday evening – a tent located amongst the pines isn’t a place to take a cat, so we had left Khayman back home where we knew he would be safe and well for the next 24 hours having left him before when we’ve been unable to take him somewhere with us.

We arrived in Flagstaff around 4pm and having put the tent up and made camp, we went to make a cup of tea when we realized we had left home without the camping cooker and the utensils so we spent the next hour or so driving around Flagstaff trying to find a camping cooker. My race was due to start at 7pm and I still had to get myself ready, so after an hour with no success (no way were we going to pay premium prices for a stove and utensils from REI!!) we headed back to camp on the basis that Andy would try again whilst I was racing and hopefully our canned beef stew and canned vegetables would still be good to go for tea when I finished my race later in the evening.

My favourite things - camping amongst the pines :-)

The camping area was pretty much right next to the start and finish area of the race so we had a casual wander off and just enjoyed the atmosphere whilst waiting to start. There were 3 races on the Friday – a 27km which I would be doing, a 13km and finally the 6km. Each of the races would take runners through the pine forests and with a couple of climbs and elevations of 7,000 feet, it was certainly going to be somewhat different from the other Aravaipa night races I have done. I was excited to be doing this race but I was also a little concerned – it was only 5 days since I had ran the marathon and whilst I was feeling ok, I wasn’t sure if I was recovered enough to do myself justice in a 27km trail race. I wasn’t really concerned about who else would be racing – this was about me competing against myself and seeing how I got on – and with 25 entries for the 27k (the other distances had far more entrants), it wasn’t going to be as competitive as some of the other Aravaipa events but I was still determined to put in the effort and attempt to have a decent run.

My awesome support crew :-)

With there being such a small field for the race, I found that I was leading the pack for the first half mile or so with some of the guys reluctant to go ahead. I was surprisingly running a decent pace – my legs felt better than expected but then we had only just started – there was still another 16 miles of running ahead of me, and I was more concerned about any ladies that might actually be close behind. The nature of the course meant that there were sections where we could see who was behind us and I was relieved to see there weren't any ladies in striking distance just yet.

The course consisted of two loops through the pines, all of it perfectly runnable. I was surprised how good my legs felt on the flats and downhills, but on the inclines, I definitely felt the after effects of the marathon in my legs and my pace slowed which allowed some of the men to overtake me. It was still daylight on the first loop and the forest trails looked beautiful as the setting sun filtered through the trees. It was a nice change to see the trails lined with pine needles although there were still some sections that were a little rocky and would need more care when darkness set in within the next hour or so.

The first climb came quickly and although it wasn’t particularly steep, it was quite rocky and I immediately started to feel a little of the post marathon fatigue lingering in my legs. I had no intention of walking but I did slow a little and made steady progress up the hill. A few of the guys had by now passed me, but as the trail flattened out and we meandered through the pine forests with the setting sun enveloping us in its golden light , my pace dramatically improved and I found myself speeding up.

The first loop went by quickly with no mishaps and other than having to walk a small incline after the remote aid station, I was feeling happy and relatively relaxed  as I came in to the start/finish area ready to start on my second and final loop.

By now, it had gone dark and I’d had to switch on my headtorch to see where I was going. The full moon provided some light as it shone through the trees and cast shadows on the trail ahead of me, but it wasn't quite enough for me to see properly.

As I ran back out on to the course and followed the forest road along the edge of the campground, there was a chap just ahead of me. I wasn’t paying much attention to him and was just focused on running my own race and wanting to know how mu h of a lead I had. The second placed lady passed us going in the opposite direction – she hadn’t yet started her second lap so I guessed that she must have been around about 5 minutes or so behind me. Now that it was dark and knowing I would likely slow on the final lap not only due to lack of light but also because my legs were starting to feel it, 5 minutes was a little too close for comfort for me and it made me attempt a little surge of pace to increase my lead.

It was then that the chap just ahead started to eff and blind and I realised that we had missed the turn back up the hill and along the x trail. We turned around and were now running blindly in the dark, frantically looking for course markers. Admittedly the first section of the course didn’t seem that obvious even in the evening light an hour or so ago, but now it seemed nigh on impossible to get ourselves back on track. We ran/jogged/walked back the way we thought we had come, wasting a good couple of minutes trying to locate the markers. We spotted the light of another runner through the trees so proceeded to follow them which thankfully brought us back onto the correct route back up the trail.

I was a little pissed off at this point. I was tired, my legs were tired and hurting, the second placed lady was now likely only 2 minutes behind, and I had to run up a sodding hill that was quite rocky but not exactly steep and my legs were winging and protesting on the climb. The chap who had gone the wrong way with me was also doing my head in – it wasn’t his fault, but I was feeling irritable and annoyed and his constant random shouts and noise were driving me nuts. I really needed to get past him but our pace was too similar and I hadn’t got it in my legs to run any harder up that climb.

Even when the trail flattened out he was still closeby along with another chap and although he would start walking, as soon as I tried to pass he would start running again and I selfishly wanted him to bugger off! I just needed my own space both physically and mentally so reluctantly and grudgingly, I picked up the pace to pass men and without looking back, forced myself to keep it going until I hit the next climb shortly after the aid station where I would allow myself a little walking rest. By then, I was hoping that the gap would be wide enough so as not to be bothered by unwanted company. Geez, I was grumpy!

The next mile or two whizzed by and I kept thinking that somebody was right on my tail but it was actually the full moon peeking through the trees as I ran along. It was a beautiful clear night and the moon looked amazing against a gorgeous midnight blue night sky. Despite the fatigue that was now definitely setting in, I was starting to enjoy myself again.

The climb after the aùid station wasn’t that bad the second time around – sure my legs were tired, but knowing that there was another lady likely not too far behind, it motivated me to put in a bit of effort up the hill. I caught a few of the 13km runners in the last couple of miles which now meant that I didn’t know whether the lights following me were theirs or if they belonged to a lady that was racing the 27km - I told myself it was the latter , just to keep me going.

The last mile and a half of the race was relatively flat and even though it was well marked, I was again having trouble spotting the course markings. The trail signposts were reflecting in the beam of my headlamp and a couple of times I almost took the wrong trail, but then I saw a couple more runners ahead which helped, and I knuckled down and started to gain on them.

I remembered there being just another tiny climb through this section of the course before it headed back to the campground and into the finish, and as I started that climb, I overtook another chap who was running in the 27km. I opened a good couple of hundred yards over him, and seeing the campground lights ahead and hearing the loud speakers at the finish line, I picked up the pace again.

The trail then started to climb and became quite rocky – I didn’t remember this at the end of the last loop – but I carried on regardless. I looked behind me a couple of times but nobody seemed to be following me, and then the next thing I know, I crashed face first down onto the rocks, cutting my right knee and badly bruising both legs and arms. It was one of those falls that really knocks you for six – I felt dizzy from the fall even though I hadn’t actually hit my head, I was covered in dust and dirt, and it felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. I sat there on the ground for a minute or so, swearing like a trooper and trying to shake off the feeling of nausea that had swept over me. I finally got up and tried to run up the trail, but my right knee was exceptionally sore and I started to walk. I turned again to see if anybody was following but still there were no lights and I figured that somebody should have caught me by now. It was then that it dawned on me – I had once again taken a wrong turn and started out on the loop again by mistake. I was now not only angry at my clumsiness at taking a tumble, but also about missing the course markings – what the hell is wrong with me?

I made my shaky way back down the trail and almost missed the junction again in my haste to get to the finish line. I hobbled down the last bit of single track trail before hitting the forest road back through the campground and ran / limped my way to the finish which was literally just 600m or so away.

Bloody and in pain, and sulking! :-)
I didn’t feel any elation when I finished – I felt so disappointed that I had fallen and taken a wrong turn not once but twice – and felt certain that the lead I held in the ladies race had been lost because of that late race error. I was feeling peed off and just wanted to get to the medical tent to see what damage had been done. It was only when I was sitting there having my wound washed out and Jubilee announced over the speaker that I was the first placed lady in a new course record that I finally started to smile. Thank gawd for that! It sounds awful but I hadn’t even realized that Andy was at the finish line and had followed me into the medical tent – how awful is that?!

Wounds cleaned and bound and my right knee throbbing with pain, I finally found out that I had indeed won the ladies race in 2 hours 36 minutes, taking something like 9 minutes off the old course record. The chap I had passed just half a mile from the end before making my mistake finished 3 minutes ahead of me so I know that I could have ran faster if it weren’t for the error and the fall. But I’m not going to beat myself up about it – I was happy with another victory and a course record, and I really shouldn’t complain.

Still in pain but feeling happier :-)
It was great sleeping in the tent that night. We had the 3 dogs with us and both Wilson and Tillie climbed under the covers to stay warm whilst Brandy kept guard. Apart from the pain in my knee, I slept like a log and at 6am the following morning, I was helping out with race registration for the Big Pine Races which were held the next day. It was great to see so many familiar faces and it was good to be putting something back into the sport I love by volunteering.

3 little munchkins loving the tent - Tillie is just trying to squeeze through :-)

Of course, the knee injury and inability to walk properly put paid to my planned hike up Humphreys Peak with Wilson. I was disappointed as the weather was beautiful, but I  knew that the hike would not be good for the knee and besides, that peak isn’t going anywhere anytime soon – I shall be back in Flagstaff again soon and fully intend to make it to the summit with my furry boy.

Instead, we took the dogs to the dog park in Flagstaff for some off-leash fun and then after lunch, we had a wander around Buffalo Park. The dogs loved it, we loved it, and we had lots of valuable family time together.

Buffalo Park with the munchkins  :-)

The past week has been amazing what with our visit to the beaches of San Diego and then a weekend in the pines in Flagstaff, and no work all week. OK, my knee is out of action right now – it’s still swollen and I am unable to bend it – but I don’t have any big races now until September, and we have more vacation planned in between which will hopefully involve a visit from Andy’s parents.

For now though, I’m relaxing and letting the knee heal and the body recover from a great start to my racing calendar. Mogollon Monster 100 miles is my next focus and I have plenty of time to get strong and fit for that one. There are a couple of training runs planned up on the Mogollon Rim over the next couple of months and I am sure to take advantage of them and the company so I can familiarize myself with the course. With trips with the family planned and trail running with friends, this summer in Arizona is panning out to be lots of fun.

Happy trails my friends, and happy running :-)

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

This Girl did Good for a Trail Runner! The Rock 'n' Roll San Diego Marathon

Just a mere 7 weeks ago, I made the decision to run another marathon, this time in San Diego. The decision came just a week after running an 88km trail race and almost 18 months after my last road marathon where I had vowed never to do another one again. My interest in road running had waned since moving overseas back in 2012 and I find it extremely boring and arduous work trying to stay focused and running hard on pavement for much more than an hour these days. And yet I also saw the benefits of running another marathon - it meant I had to work on my speed and leg turnover, work on my speed endurance, something that my body just wasn't used to anymore with being an ultra-runner and trail running convert for so long.

Moving from trail to road and preparing for a marathon in just 7 weeks wasn't easy. I knew the distance wouldn't be a problem, but I had no idea how I would cope with a faster pace. I also wasn't used to pounding out the miles on road these days and my hips, glutes and feet had been having a few moans and groans leading up to the marathon but thankfully they didn't develop into running injuries. Add to that catching laryngitis and a bad cold just 2 weeks before the race and I really had no idea how my old body would fair over 26 miles.

When I entered the race, I put my anticipated time as 3 hours 10 minutes. Being honest with myself, I felt capable of running anything between 3.05 and 3.10 if I had a good day but I really didn't want to go into the race putting pressure on myself. This wasn't about posting a fast time - it was about teaching my body to run faster again which in turn would aid me with the trail races I had planned over the coming months.

The race was on the Sunday, so we travelled to San Diego on the Friday - a 6-hour drive from Phoenix to the coast. Having never travelled across the very south of Arizona, it was interesting to see how barren and flat it was down there compared to the Phoenix area. As we passed close to the Mexican border, there were real sand dunes just like those I have seen in the Sahara Desert, and I desperately wanted to get out there and have a wander but the heat was far too intense and it wouldn’t have been a sensible thing to do.

Real desert with sand dunes :-)
As we got to San Diego, it became hillier and the dried-out landscape started to become greener with lots more colour. Things also cooled off and we had gone from 35+ degrees whilst travelling across the deserts to around 20 degrees as we came into the city. It felt amazing even with the renowned San Diego coastal fog, and we excitedly opened the windows on the truck for the dogs to breath in some of the fresh air rather than being cooked up with the air con blowing.

We were staying at the Blue Heron Cottages in Ocean Beach and I must say that it was a bloody excellent choice. The original Dog Beach was just a 5-minute drive away and there were enough bars and restaurants in the vicinity to keep us entertained if we wanted to venture out. Ocean Beach definitely had that California feel to it, and we loved it! The cottages were amazing and very pet friendly - up to 4 pets could stay there for just $25 per visit which was perfect considering we had Wilson, Brandy, Tillie and Khayman with us. The back yards of the cottages were entirely fenced in with a communal area for all guests to share, and dogs were able to roam free and mingle with each other. They even provided dog toys to keep them entertained and our 3 pups spent ages out there playing and frolicking with each other. 

Perfect for dogs and cats - back yard at Blue Heron Cottages, Ocean Beach
Can highly recommend them :-)

We spent Friday afternoon at the beach with the dogs and they had so much fun splashing around in the sea and jumping in the waves. Even Tillie wouldn't come out of the water and considering it was her first visit to the coast, we were so happy to see her looking confident and having so much fun. I also managed a short 5km run along the coastal path and the beach and it felt amazing to be breathing in the cool, fresh sea air as the waves crashed against the rocks below.

The real original "Dog Beach" - packed with lots of furry friends :-)

A couple of friends from Phoenix were also running the marathon, so on Saturday morning I met with up with Mario and Cary and we all headed to race registration together. It was great to see them and chat about the race and running in general - with 30,000 runners expected to take part, it was unlikely that I would see them the next day so I was glad to be able to spend a little time with them and wish them a successful race.

At the Expo with Cary and Mario :-)
Saturday afternoon saw us spending more time on the beach but with an early start expected Sunday morning for the race, I had to be in bed early to make sure I was rested ready for the race. That night however, there was yet another terrorist attack in the UK and I found myself watching the news until later than expected, feeling extremely sad that this is the world in which we live these days. It made me think about the race - 30,000 people gathered together, raising money for charity and having good times with friends and family - something that these terrorists resent - but I felt extremely reassured to hear about the increased police presence, the K-9 units that would be patrolling the streets for the duration of the race, and the increased security in general.

Back to the beach with Tillie, Wilson and Brandy :-)

I awoke at 4.15am on Sunday morning and after a bowl of porridge and a cup of tea, we were ready to hit the road. The race started at 6.15 but with all the road closures, Andy needed to drop me off for the shuttle to the start before he got stuck downtown. He wasn't coming to the start with me - there was no parking and with having the dogs with us, it really wasn't practical - so after the hugs and good luck wishes, I headed to the start at Balboa Park whilst Andy headed back to the cottage with the animals in tow.

Downtown San Diego just before heading to the start - 5am and smiling :-)

It was a lovely, overcast and cool morning and conditions were ideal for running. I was feeling optimistic and hopeful of a good run, and I still felt capable of running around 3.10 if everything went to plan. I dropped my bag at the baggage trucks and then headed to the start. I was in coral number 2 and I was a little concerned that I would be too far back but it was perfect. I didn't get dragged along too fast at the start, but then I didn't have anybody in front of me that was holding me up and as they released our coral a minute or so after the first, I was soon getting into my stride and heading out on the course.

One of the things I love about the bigger races I have done in both America and Canada is the fact that they play their national anthems prior to the start and every time I've heard "The Star Spangled Banner" or "Oh Canada", I have felt extremely emotional and patriotic to the country I've lived in at the time. I never experienced that in the UK - the London Marathon and the Great North are both televised and are a huge part of the UK running scene, and yet I cannot recall them having ever played the British National Anthem which I find a little sad. Sunday morning in San Diego was no exception and as the national anthem of the USA was sung live, I once again shed a tear of emotion as I watched and listened to the people around me singing along before a rousing cheer at the end. It was amazing!

The San Diego Marathon course is definitely not flat and the first few miles are consist of some rolling hills. I was trying to stick to around 7.15 minute miles but I felt relaxed and comfortable and found that I was knocking out closer to 7 minute miles. I decided to just go with it to see how long I could hold that pace - even if I slowed towards the end, so long as I ran a sub 3.15 I knew that I would be very happy.

I wasn’t really paying too much attention to mile markers or mile splits but was trying to concentrate on finding a rhythm that I could maintain. I was also making sure to enjoy the course and the race itself. The course wasn’t the most scenic and it reminded me somewhat of other city marathons I’ve done in London, Calgary and Edmonton - but the energy out on the course in San Diego was simply amazing. There seemed to be endless cheerleaders out on the course dancing and singing away on what seemed to be every street corner, and there was plenty of live music to keep you entertained if you needed it. There was also a stretch at around about 8 miles where the street was lined on both sides of the road with photos and memories of soldiers that had died in active service, stretching for a good mile or more down the road followed by locals lining the street and waving the American flag for a further mile or so. The “Wear Blue: Run to Remember” team were behind this which I later learned is a national nonprofit running community that honours the service and sacrifice of the American military, bringing together military and civilian communities and creating a living memorial for all those that have fallen in service. I  always feel emotional when I see things like this, and it seemed apt that I happened to be wearing my blue Aravaipa Racing Team shirt as I passed through.

I passed the half way mark in 1.33 and was happy with how things were going - although I knew I would undoubtedly tire as the race progressed, I was still confident that I would run around 3.10 to 3.15 based on how I was feeling. I wasn’t too bothered about where I was in the ladies’ race – I knew I wasn’t going to win or even make the top 3, but a top 10 placing would make me very happy. At one point, I was informed that I was 17th lady – I was still on track for a 3.10 finish at that point and it highlighted the quality of the field if I was “only” 17th despite running that kind of pace.

We hit the Mission Bay area and did a lovely little stretch alongside the shoreline and through the park and it was a couple of miles after that where the real climbing started.

By now, my glutes were started to tighten a little which was affecting my lower back - I really need to build strength work back in to my training as it did hinder me a little when I tried to stride out and pick up the pace - something to work on over the next few months.

I passed through 20 miles in 2.25 and was once again surprised but very happy with the split but as the road started to gradually climb, I knew that my pace would likely slow from here onwards. I’d been informed by my good friend Mario the previous day that there was a good climb of over a mile but I hadn’t yet encountered that climb. At 22 miles, the road got slightly steeper but then we turned off and headed down to the freeway which led me to believe that that was the climb that Mario had mentioned. How wrong could I be! The next 2 miles climbed up the freeway – it was steep, it was long, and just when you thought you were at the top, there was a bend in the road and it continued to climb. 

My pace had slowed at this point and I ended up doing a combination of running and walking up the hill along with everybody else. We only had about 4 miles to go to the finish and I tried to stay focused, but I did find myself swearing a little when I saw the road again curved and went up even though it seemed like I’d already been climbing for about 10 minutes!

I knew that the finish was downhill but what I didn’t know was how much of the finish was downhill – was it a mile, was it 2 miles?

Finally, as I summited the hill, I saw the 24-mile marker – thank goodness! This meant that it must be 2 miles downhill to the finish – yay! Except my legs were buggered from the climbing and running a faster pace than I’m used to these days, and with the tight glutes, I couldn’t take advantage of the downhill as much as I would have like. I was hoping to do some sub 7’s heading into the finish to recoup some lost time from the climb but I found myself struggling to pick up the pace despite a decent downhill gradient – gosh, I even walked a few steps before realizing how ridiculous it was to be walking downhill!

My sub 3.10 had already slipped away unless I suddenly started to run 6 minute miles, but there was still a chance that I could go sub 3.15 if I could just get the flaming legs moving a bit more quickly. I overtook a few people and tried to keep pushing, counting down the miles as I went – 1.9 to go, 1.8 to go, 1.7 to go – and then finally there was less than a mile to go. My watch was approaching 3.08 – could I do it?

We merged with the half marathon runners in the final mile, us on one side of the road and them on the other, and the crowds were amazing! I could hear the speakers at the finish line but I still couldn’t see it and then bloody hell – there was another small hill of about 100 metres to contend with -what the …..??!! I pushed up the hill as best as I could before turning left into Waterfront Park and there ahead of me, about 600 metres away, was the finish line. I glanced at my watch again – 2 minutes to do 600m and go sub 3.15 – I pumped my arms, tried to stride out and move my legs but it felt like I was running through sludge. The crowds were urging us all on to the finish, I was pushing as best as I could and finally, finally I crossed the line – my official time 3.15.15.

I am not going to worry about 15 seconds – there are so many places where I could have saved a few seconds - if I hadn’t stopped to go the loo at 3 miles, if I hadn’t have walked through that aid station, if I hadn’t walked around that cone, if this, if that – it really wouldn’t make any difference to my result and I was very happy. I also hit my goal of a top 10 place – I finished 9th female, 2nd in my age group and 107th overall out of a few thousand runners. I’d be pretty selfish if I was disappointed with that result!

Post Race Party Zone in Waterfront Park, San Diego

Andy was unable to see me finish with having the dogs with us but we met up about an hour later and headed to Denny’s to get some greasy food to refuel before heading back to the beach again with the dogs. It was a pretty awesome day and I really felt extremely content when heading to bed that night.

More dog park and doggy beach fun :-)
It's now Monday afternoon and I’m typing this as we are heading home having had another amazing day. We spent another hour at the dog beach in Mission Bay this morning before heading to La Jolla to see the wild seals on the coast and have a little walk along the cliffs. We stopped off in Palm Springs and spent a little time there at yet another dog park to make sure the pups were fed and watered, and as I type, we have just crossed the state line and are back in Arizona after a wonderful weekend in California. Looking back, I can say for certain that I would consider the San Diego Marathon again despite being more of a trail runner at heart these days.

Coastal Walk in La Jolla

Wilson and Tillie chilling out in a hot and sunny Palm Springs

Wild seals in La Jolla

As ever, I have my husband Andy to thank for agreeing to going on another mini road trip with the dogs and cat in tow, and for putting up with me harping on about running and racing and pacing and heart rate etc etc etc for goodness knows how many years now! He may not have been able to make it to the start and finish line with me this time, but he still made me feel relaxed, he still had belief in me, and I felt much better knowing that the furries would be taken care of whilst I raced.

I also have to say a huge thank you to Adam Livingston who has been coaching me since last October. I am feeling the fittest I have done for a while right now and it’s thanks to the program that Adam has put together for me in recent weeks. When I think of the races that I have already done this year, I feel like my training has been spot on in helping me to recover but also in preparing me for the next. I had niggles that thankfully went away because my training plan didn’t have me overdoing things, and my pace increased enough for me to run a 3.15 marathon which I didn’t think I was capable of anymore – who knows, if I trained properly for 6 months instead of just the 6 weeks, and if I cut out the trail running, I may have even got close to 3 hours! Vegas in November anybody....?

But my passion isn’t on the roads, it is on the trails although that doesn’t mean I’m reluctant to venture back to my running roots occasionally - training for something different has helped to refresh my mind and body and I am glad I did the marathon - but I am looking forward to getting back on the trails over the coming weeks, starting with the Blackout Trail Race this Friday night in Flagstaff. Yep, I’m racing again on Friday and I’m once again feeling just a teeny weeny bit excited 😊

Been there, done it, got the t-shirt :-)

Monday, 22 May 2017

The Dreaded Lurgy and New Puppies

I was meant to have raced the Adrenaline 27km Night Race on Saturday evening, but instead I was at the cinema watching the new "Guardians of the Galaxy" movie. It wasn't intentional, but last Tuesday I had a terrible sore throat and by Friday I was snorting out lots of the green stuff and had lost my voice. I was actually feeling ok and went to bed Friday night with every intention of racing but on waking up on Saturday morning, I started to question whether racing would be wise.

Since the Whiskey Basin 88k at the beginning of April, my focus has been on the San Diego Marathon. The Aravaipa races have just been part of my preparation for the marathon and whilst I love to race and be competitive whenever I can, I haven't really been out to win these races but rather used them to gauge my current fitness levels. 

The plan had been to run the Adrenaline race at my marathon pace, or at least as close as possible given that I would be running in the dark on trails, but I wasn't sure what effect a 17 mile all out race would have on my body and it's recovery ready for the marathon. It took a lot of discipline to say, "No, I'm not doing it", but with the support of Andy and coach Adam, I felt much better walking away - better to have a DNS than a DNF, and it also means that - fingers crossed - I can run again this week and get back on track with things for San Diego.

The marathon is just 2 weeks away and training had been going well until the minor blip this past week. My racing had gone well, my tempo runs were giving me confidence every week, and having done a steady 20 miles on the road the previous Sunday at a comfortable 7.26 minute miling, my goal for the marathon changed and I felt capable of an even faster time.

The good news is that even though I haven't ran for the past 3 days and despite missing a run last week, I still believe that I can hit my goal. I wasn't feel great on Thursday or Friday last week but I still did a couple of 6 milers and was surprised at the pace  - even with the heat, the brisk breezes and a throat that felt like sandpaper, and even though I was trying to control things and keep the heart rate low, I was still knocking out 7.30's.

Enjoying an evening run at dusk - my favourite time to run :-)

Normally when I don't run, I'm like a bear with a sore head as the saying goes and I have to keep myself busy doing more mundane things to pass the time of day. However, just over a week or so ago, we had a new addition to the family and she has kept me - and the rest of us! - extremely busy.

We didn't intend to adopt another dog - Wilson and Brandy are absolutely amazing and I love them more than words can ever express. They go everywhere with us and we have a very strong bond with them - we had no reason nor need to change what we already have with these two.

But those that know us will be aware that we also have a little cat named Khayman, and he's now 19 years old. He joined our family as a tiny, stray kitten back in 1998 and he's been in our lives ever since. Although Khayman is in excellent health for his age, we don't know how much longer he will be with us, and we had already discussed that when he departs this crazy world, we would look into having another dog but one of the smaller breeds. 

As a result, we - or rather I - had been keeping an eye on the rescue centres in the Phoenix area, just to see what the more common breeds were and how likely we would be able to find the right dog that would match Wilson and Brandy's personalities, as well as fitting into our lifestyle. 

Arizona seems to see more Pitbulls and Chihuahuas at rescue centres, neither of which we personally felt would fit into our lives, but then I came across a picture of a little Italian Greyhound Mix that was up for adoption with Caring for Canines. I shared the link with Andy whilst he was working in rural Iowa, and on his return a couple of days later, we contacted the rescue centre to see if this little puppy was still up for adoption. She was, and we arranged to head over to the foster home that was caring for her for a meet and greet that evening, not only with us, but also with Wilson and Brandy.

When we saw this little gingery, tanny coloured little pup, our hearts melted. She was so timid and frightened, and she had bite marks all over her forehead from where she had been attacked during meal time at the foster home, but she was such a sweet looking, lovable little girl.

Tillie's first night with us and nervous at the dog park

They knew very little about the puppy - they estimated her to be around 4 months old and came from the very south of Arizona - quite likely originally from Mexico with being so close to the border. She was in a shelter down there but they were bringing in 5 Pitbulls and needed the space - this little Italian Greyhound wouldn't have coped with such large, boisterous dogs and without another shelter taking her in, she would have faced the unfortunate outcome of so many other dogs here in the US - a life that ends far too soon simply because of over-breeding or because people still don't neuter or spay their dogs, which only increasing the problem. The shelter staff had a hard decision - it was either save this little girl and lose 5 others, or save the life of 5 other dogs and .... well, you get the picture. 

Thankfully Caring for Canines were able to take her in and she spent almost 3 weeks in a foster home before we eventually spotted her and were able to welcome her into our home.

The initial meeting with Wilson and Brandy went  really well and whilst it wasn't exactly love at first sight for the 3 of them, they got along absolutely fine even if they just tolerated each other rather than became best buddies straight away.

The little pup had been named Sonia by the rescue centre but it didn't seem to suit her quiet and timid demeanour so Andy and I spent the next couple of days trying to decide what to name her. We eventually agreed on Mathilda - or Tillie for short - taken from the movie Leon. The name stuck and Tillie already responds extremely well to it and knows who she is.

Since Tillie arrived, things have been a little more chaotic than normal. She was terrified of going out on a leashed walk and it has taken a lot of patience from Andy and I, and quite visible reassurance from Wilson and Brandy to get to head out on her morning walk, but she now walks with her head and tail held high and only hesitates occasionally - the 3 of them now walk 3 abreast and look like the heavy mob walking along the street - watch out Phoenix dogs! 

Family Time in Prescott

She also seemed to struggle in controlling her food intake and would literally wolf down her food, perhaps for fear of not knowing when her next meal would come. She now takes her time and even leaves a few chunks of meat at the bottom of her bowl although she does find Wilson and Brandy's dinner far more tasty whilst they have both become huge fans of puppy food again!

The sweetest thing is watching how she tries to play with Wilson and Brandy. She will roll over on her back and try to get their attention right in front of their noses, she will jump on them, she'll even drop a toy on their front paws, but the older pups are playing hard to get, much to the frustration of Tillie. But when they do play, they play, and Brandy is being the most excellent "big sister" - watching carefully as Tillie tries to climb out of the car, keeping tabs on her when around other dogs at the dog park, and nudging her and giving her a gentle nip when she steps out of line.

Trying to get Wilson's attention to play

Following her big sister and learning so much!

The dog park has now become one of Tillie's favourite places along with the park just across the street from our house. She loves rolling in the grass and digging in the sand at the kiddies park and does a little skip and spins around when she wants to play with Wilson and Brandy, both of which she has become somewhat dependent on for reassurance.

The dog park was initially a little overwhelming for her but this past couple of days have seen her trying to initiate play with the other dogs, and last night, she spent a good 20 minutes playing rough and tumble with a 6 month old puppy named Bailey - it was fantastic to see and wonderful to watch :-)

There are a few that have said we are crazy to have taken on another dog, but I have to say it is the most wonderful thing ever. We had 3 dogs many years ago and have experienced it before, so had no doubt that we would be able to cope - the difference this time was having a puppy. But to see Tillie integrate with our family and to watch her grow in confidence everyday is fantastic and even with the daily poops and pees on the carpet, the chewed shoes and shredded kitchen towel, even with the corner of books being chewed off and maps having to be taped back together, the potpourri strewn across the floor and the loosened stitching in the odd pair of shoes, we wouldn't change a thing.

A far more confident and happy Tillie :-)

Of course, we head off to San Diego in the next few weeks and I can't wait to spend time with Andy and the dogs - and of course Khayman will be coming too! I'm looking forward to spending time on the doggy beach and watching how both Brandy and Tillie react when seeing the sea for the first time, I'm looking forward to letting Wilson stretch out his legs properly and have a good sprint across the sand, and of course, I'm looking forward to racing the marathon and getting the result I am looking for.

I may still have a cold as a type this and will once again miss my run today, but life is good and we are all very happy right now :-)

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

A (Very) Happy April :-)

We are now in May and marathon training is in full swing and I have to say that I am very surprised and very happy with how things are going right now and so long as I can avoid injury and I don't overdo things, I am feeling optimistic about a good run in San Diego next month.

Looking back to April, it was a pretty awesome month - not only did I have some good races but I also had some good training sessions which have given me a huge confidence boost. It hasn't been easy with Andy working away so much, but I have managed to fit in some decent quality runs in between walking the dogs and keeping them entertained, and looking after myself.

I recovered surprisingly well from Whiskey Basin and within a couple of days, my legs were back to normal and I was ready to run again - so much so that I sneaked in a little 3-mile run a day earlier than I should have done! But I felt great and having taken it easy, I knew it wasn't going to do any harm. I also got a couple of runs in with Wilson which made exceptionally happy, including an early Sunday morning trail run with the AZ Traileggers. Wilson was so well behaved despite all the new people around him, and it was so nice to see that he was waggy tailed and happy to see Cary and Adam again having met them on previous occasions.

Wilson leads out the AZ Traileggers on a beautiful Sunday Morning :-)
Photo Credit: Jon Christley
That weekend, I decided I wanted to do another marathon and so to help determine a target time, I signed up for the Dam Good Run 13k to see how fast I could run these days when putting in a bit of effort. Being a shorter race than I am accustomed to, I had no idea how I would get on but it would give me a benchmark on which to base my marathon training.

It was unfortunate that Andy was away that weekend so I knew I would have to go to the race on my own. No big deal, but I felt awfully guilty about leaving Wilson and Brandy at home on their own for a few hours. To make up for it, I took them to Prescott on the Saturday and did the loop around Lynx Lake. It was much cooler up there compared to Phoenix that day, and being at around 5,000 ft, the air felt much fresher and cleaner. I love the lakes and pines of Prescott and the dogs had a fabulous time swimming and paddling in the water before sitting down and sharing a picnic with me. It was a beautiful day spent together and after 2 hours at the dog park when we got home, they were suitably tired and spent the remainder of the evening and the following morning fast asleep.

Fun in Prescott at Lynx Lake with the Pups
Photo Credit: Me!
Dam Good Run was on the Sunday morning, and on arriving at Lake Pleasant at around 7am, it was already feeling rather toasty. The forecast called for a high of close to 100 degrees and I was glad that I was only doing 13k rather than one of the longer races.

Lining up at the start, I was still unsure as to how I should run the race and decided that the best plan of action would be to run just outside of my comfort zone so that I was working hard but not going flat out. I had no idea what that meant pace wise and decided to just run based on feel. I knew the first 2 or 3 miles were on road with the remaining 5 miles on trail with a good climb to the finish at the end and I figured that I would just keep the pace going for as long as possible and hopefully avoid fading at the end.

I was extremely surprised when my first mile came in under 7 minutes and when my watch beeped for the second mile, I had somehow done a 6.48 - where the hell did that come from?! I was feeling good too which also came as a surprise considering it was only 2 weeks ago that I had raced an 88k.

When hitting the trails, I looked up and realized I was gaining on the lead lady and a couple of minutes later, I passed her. I hadn't increased my pace, if anything it had slowed slightly, but I was still concentrating on trying to maintain the same level of effort.

I consider the Dam Good Run course to be a fast one - yes there are climbs but they aren't too bad, and apart from some sandy sections through washes, the trails are smooth and non-technical. I was flying along those trails and I was absolutely loving the feeling of pushing harder than normal, and I held onto the lead until around about the 6-mile mark which is when the real climbing started. I slipped back into 2nd place and I found that I did have to alternate between running and walking up the hills over those last couple of miles - I was feeling fine, but I just didn't have the power there to push up. The gap between the lead and myself widened but I knew I was still having a good run and I really didn't mind what position I finished in - this was about something else today.

I crested that final hill and attempted a sprint to the line, finishing 2nd lady in 1 hour 3 minutes and all top 3 ladies finished inside the old course record. I was over the moon with my run - I expected to run anything between 65 and 70 minutes, so to run 63 was extremely satisfying. It made me realise that whilst I likely won't run any sub 6 minute miles these days, I can at least inject a little bit of pace if I want to - yep, I was happy :-)

2nd lady at Dam Good Run 13k and VERY happy :-)
A couple of days after the race, my marathon training kicked in properly and I had a couple of tempo runs to do that week. I knew I was going to find these tough, not just because of having to run a bit quicker but also because unless I'm racing, I find it very difficult to run hard for anything more than a mile or 2 if I don't have company.

The first one was 6 miles and as with the race, I didn't really know how to pace the run. I tried to keep things relaxed and focus more on how I felt rather than hitting a pace but I was happy to say that the legs felt good and whilst the old body resisted the heavy breathing and burning lungs a couple of times which caused me to stop, in the main I kept things going.  I was excited to check my watch post run just to see how I had got on and seeing an average pace of 6.43 miling left me speechless. Had I really just ran that kind of pace for 6 miles?!

The following day saw another tempo, but this time it was only 3 miles with a few miles extra added on at the end at a more steady pace. Once again, I was doing sub 7 minute miling, getting close to 6.40's - what was happening?!

With two days of faster paced workouts behind me, my legs were starting to feel it a little so I was happy to have a nice and easy run scheduled in on the Thursday. I was racing again Saturday and I had been instructed to treat the Sinister Night Trail Run 27km as an easy training run. All day long I felt relaxed about the event, knowing full well there was no pressure and I could just relax and enjoy running in the desert at night.

The Sinister Night Run takes place at the San Tan Mountain Regional Park in Queen Creek south of Phoenix. I hadn’t done this race although I had raced the San Tan Scramble in January - that was a good race despite taking a wrong turn that cost me the lead, but I wasn't about to let past experience affect things today.

I love the Aravaipa Running Night Series Races. The atmosphere is so friendly and relaxed and yet everybody is having such a wonderful time as the music pumps away at the start and finish line. The Sinister Night Race consisted of 3 x 9km loops on twisting, rolling, non-technical trails and it feels like the first half of the loop is all uphill whilst the second half is a gradual descent. I was excited about running this race and was feeling happy because Andy and the dogs would be here this time - they had missed my previous two races and it was so nice to have my little support crew with me even though I wasn't taking the race seriously tonight.

WE arrived at the San Tan Mountains as the sun was going down, and what a beautiful evening it was! The temperature was just nice, and despite a brisk wind which I would come to curse a little mid-race, the conditions were pretty much perfect for running. 

It was great to see so many familiar faces and we had a little fun posing with the dogs on the podium before we set off.

The 27k started at 7.30pm and we needed the head torches pretty much straight away. I started off nice and steady, not bothering to look at my watch and just making sure I stayed nice and relaxed. From the off, I was already with the lead group of men along with another lady who was just a few strides ahead of me. But I wasn't here to race and I let her run her own race, not minding if she pulled away into the distance. 

I wouldn't call this course exactly hilly, but the first few miles are a gradual climb with some short but steep ups and downs through washes as you head out to the aid station at around 3 or 4 miles. I wasn't really putting in any great deal of effort, but by the time we'd reached the first mile or so in the race, I had taken the lead. I really didn't want to get into a race tonight so tried to stay calm and in control, making sure that I didn't go into race mode and avoiding the urge to up the pace.

After the aid station, the trail narrowed and there were a few more climbs with more twisting and turning. By this time, I was running pretty much alone although I could see a couple of head torches ahead whilst a stream of lights was still following behind. It was so peaceful out there in the desert - not a sound except for my own breathing and my footsteps in the sand. I became so entranced with the darkness around me and the trail in my immediate vicinity as I ran along that I started to gain on some of the men. It really wasn't a conscious thing, but I was feeling good and thought that I may as well keep it going.

As I came into to start my second loop, it was so nice to see Andy there for once whist the shouts of support I got as I passed through was tremendous and I felt a little overwhelmed.

Some of the men stopped at the aid station as we came through and I found myself starting lap 2 on my own without anybody nearby. I was still making sure to stay relaxed - OK, I was probably running a little faster than the easy pace I had intended, but my legs were feeling great, I was feeling great, and apart from desperately needing a drink (I'd dropped my handheld as I hate carrying things), I was still managing a good pace.

After passing through the mid-loop aid station for the second time, I started to bump into the 9km runners who were running the same loop. It was great to see so many people out there having so much fun, and although I had reveled in the peace and quiet of the first loop, it was good to hear so much laughing and chatter from people. These folks were amazing and happily moved over when they heard me trotting up behind them even though I'm sure many of them were hoping for PRs out on the course.

I had been leading the ladies race for over 90 minutes now but being dark, I had no idea how much of a lead I had. With just one loop to go, I didn't really want to lose the lead now and so I decided now was the time to up the tempo a bit and put in a little more effort. I tried to work the hills more so than the previous lap whilst I tried to stride out as I came into to finish that loop and start the third and final lap of the course.

End of lap 2 and heading out onto third and final lap
Photo Credit: Aravaipa Running
The third lap was the quietest of them all and it really did feel like I was out there all on my own. I was also noticing that the beam of my torch was starting to fade and I couldn't see the trail as well as before. I stumbled numerous times on rocks but thankfully didn't trip and fall but I was starting to get a little concerned that my torch may well die on me and I would end up running in the complete dark. The dark didn't bother me - the course was well marked and even in the dark I don't think it would be that easy to get lost - but I was still leading the ladies race, and I know I would be gutted if I now lost out simply due to a dodgy head torch!

The final loop did see me walking a couple of sections simply because I couldn't see very well, but these walk breaks were short and swift and I ran whenever I could. The other thing was that my time for the previous two loops had put me on track for a new course record - if I could run this loop at a similar pace as the others, the course record would be mine. 

It's hard to gauge distance in the dark and even with a headtorch I couldn't really see my watch, but with about a mile to go, I knew that the course record was within my reach. There was one last, long climb that I had to contend with but after that, the trail opened up and it would be plain sailing into the finish line.

I stumbled up the climb, spotted the landmark bench at the side of the trail and that was my cue to go. I could see the lights at the finish line, I could hear the music pumping, and I ran as hard as dared in the darkness down the trail, heart rate rocketing, lungs about to explode, but a mind and body so determined that I didn't dare defy myself. I was feeling amazing and didn't allow myself to relax until I had crossed that finish line.

The time on my watch read 2.27 - I had done it by just under 3 minutes - I was VERY happy! 
The wonderful winner's trophy
Photo Credit: Me!

Looking back on the splits for each of my loops, there was barely any difference between them which shows a consistent effort which did surprise me:

Loop 1 - 48.16              Loop 2 - 47.59            Loop 3 - 48.40

For me personally, I felt like I'd had a good run and I couldn't have asked for a better result.

Of course, even though I hadn't raced flat out, I was conscious that maybe I had put in more of an effort than originally planned and therefore come Sunday, I was very careful to make sure that I did a 6-mile recovery run rather than the steady run that was penciled in. A few years ago, when training for the World 50km Championships, I suddenly lost all my energy and for about 6 weeks, it would take me nearly an hour to do just 3 or 4 miles of running. The weakness came from nowhere and I did nothing but sleep and at the time, I had no idea of the cause. Looking back, I now realise that I was likely suffering from over-training syndrome - training too hard in order to succeed at the Worlds - and as a result, the Worlds weren't meant to be that year.

Since then I have been very careful not to overdo things and I try to make sure that recovery means recovery. With doing more faster paced runs this past couple of weeks in preparation for the marathon, I have felt a different type of muscle fatigue that I don't get from trail running, so now more than ever I need to listen to my body and be sure to communicate to my coach if I run into any problems. The good news is that Sunday's easy run was amazing and I was sure to take my time and enjoy the views as I headed over to Deem Hills and the dog park.

So, with 5 weeks to go and another 27km race in 3 weeks’ time, I'm feeling good, I'm feeling faster already and having lost another couple of pounds in weight and being back at what used to be my racing weight I am noticing the difference and feeling far better than I have done for months.

Of course, being in Phoenix in May means that the heat is already starting to increase and today we had our first 100 degrees day of the year. There is more to come this week before things cool off for a few days, but I know that it won't be long before we see triple digits daily for days on end. Early morning runs are going to become the norm again, along with treadmill running but whatever it takes, I am looking forward to what will hopefully be another happy, healthy and successful summer in the desert.

Happy trails - and roads! - my friends :-)

Oh What a Night! Blackout Night 27km Trail Race

Having returned home from San Diego late Monday night, we had a few days off work to chill out and do some relaxing at home. I had a deep t...