Saturday, 10 March 2018

Hitting the Roads - Daisy Mountain Half Marathon

Do you ever do something and then wonder afterwards what on earth you were thinking about? That's what happened with the Daisy Mountain Half Marathon. Coach Adam had given me a 10 mile tempo run to do and having admitted that I struggle with the longer tempo runs on my own and prefer to do them under race conditions, I thought it would be a good idea to enter the half marathon to make it easier. I also thought it would be interesting to see how quickly I could run given that my last road race was San Diego Marathon almost a year ago whilst the last half marathon I had done was over 5 years ago at the Hypothermic Half on a freezing cold day in Calgary. Back then I just dipped under 90 mins - I've since slowed down even more, especially with my focus being on the longer distances and trail running these days, but I thought maybe if I could motivate myself enough, I might just be able to do it again.

Hypothermic Half Marathon, Calgary - a very cold day and the last
time I went sub 90 mins!

My PR for a half is a far cry from 90 mins - I ran 1 hour 20 in Amsterdam back in the good old days - so I felt no pressure about wanting to chase a PR, but there is no denying that I would love to have gone sub 90 just one more time. I was aware that the Daisy Mountain course probably wouldn't be ideal but what the heck - let's enter it anyway and see what happens.

So there I was this morning at the Boulder Creek High School in Anthem thinking why the hell did I register for this?! My legs had been feeling sluggish and a little achy all week and my glutes had been complaining on and off again, yet here I was on the start line of a flipping half marathon with the prospect of the next 90 minutes being alien and something I'm just not used to these days!

I'd arrived at the start far earlier than anticipated and spent 30 minutes sitting in the car feeling pretty calm and relaxed and not in the slightest bit nervous. I knew I could likely maintain 6.40 to 6.50 pace if the course and conditions were right, but I couldn't decide how to race. I also started wondering if it was possible to get lost on course and was hoping they'd flagged the route - seriously, flag a road race?! Bad news is there were no flags, but the good news is that they used cones instead and they even had the local sheriff and the police directing us across the road junctions and keeping us safe from the inattentive motorists. The biggest surprise though was getting out of my car with 20 minutes to go and doing a warm up, yes a warm up, to see how the legs were feeling and to get the body moving. What the .... ?!

In all seriousness, I had forgotten how to run a race on the roads. I had forgotten how easy everything is in terms of mile markers, arrows and large signs, bright orange cones, assistance crossing the roads, and how basic the aid stations were - not a slice of melon nor a pretzel in sight. I've become so accustomed to trail running that a road event seemed so easy. - except it wasn't easy.  It wasn't easy because it meant I had to stay focused on maintaining a pace for the entire time - that's the hard part, especially when all you can see is a straight road ahead of you. Trails give variety, you dodge rocks and tree roots, you are on high alert for wildlife, there can be mud or ice and snow, and sometimes you can be in the middle of the desert or high on a mountainside, completely exposed to the elements. The roads meanwhile are just, well .... boring .... and yet in my 35+ years of being a competitive runner, I spent probably 20 of those racing on the roads and calling myself a road runner. Yikes!

Daisy Mountain Half Marathon is organised by 4 Peaks Racing and it was a fabulous event. Everybody was extremely friendly and chatty (some road races can be very cut throat and serious!) and even on the start line, there was friendly banter as we waited to start. A speedy young lady I was chatting to noticed the my Aravaipa racing team logo on my singlet - she knew of Aravaipa and apparently attends their weekly group runs. Yay - another trail runner! I also saw a couple of Aravaipa race shirts out on course and it made me feel at home seeing that familiar logo :-)

The first mile was on the athletics track which actually wasn't that bad. Sure there was some weaving in and out as we lapped other competitors, but it was fine and I probably ended up running 200 metres more than I needed to, but hey, who's counting?

As we left the high school grounds and hit the pathways through Anthem Park, I was already leading the ladies race and I was feeling fabulous! The legs were feeling strong and despite the slight incline that would last for a couple of miles, I was moving well and sticking to pace. One of the guys got into a bit of battle with me less than two miles in - I caught up with him, he speeded up, I caught up with him, he speeded up again, I caught up with him, and again he speeded up - I got fed up and passed him. Seriously dude, run your own race and don't be upset if a woman passes you!

Heading through the park :)
Anyways, I'd now moved into 4th overall and was running well but other than me trying to keep the pace going, there really is nothing else to tell. The aid station volunteers were wonderful although they gave me a bemused look when I spoke, a few of them shouting after me that they loved my accent which made me smile. But other than that, I spent the entire race running on my own with nobody nearby whilst ahead of me was a long, straight road heading off into the distance.

I'd studied the route over the past couple of days and was expecting a turn at around 6 miles where there would be an out and back section. I hadn't realised that it was actually the same road and that just curved, and boy did that road go on and on and on. I glanced up at Daisy Mountain and thought about my friend Marisa who was up there right now doing hill repeats - much as I hate hill repeats, I was quite envious that she was up there and was able to admire the views and look into the distance across the valley.

Shortly afterwards, the leading man started coming towards me and the chap on the lead bike told me that the turnaround was about a mile ahead. I was so relieved as by now my mind had started wandering, my pace was dropping, and I was getting distracted watching the rabbits playing in the bushes along the edge of the sidewalk. I kept thinking how cute they were and wondering what they were up to, trying to keep my mind busy so that I didn't think too much of the road ahead and the inevitable boredom that was now setting in. It wasn't that the course was boring - I actually think it was quite a nice course for a fan of road running, but for me personally, I was missing jumping over the rocks, ducking and diving under tree branches, and generally having to keep my mind alert and active rather than switching off and just going through the motions.

I reached the turnaround - 8 or 9 miles in and well over half way, but as I started back up the hill (not really a hill but it was a climb!), my motivation for running another 2 miles along this same road was waning. I knew we turned off again higher up, I also knew that it was pretty much a downhill finish, but boy did I struggle for the next couple of miles. Can you believe I stopped and walked and then scolded myself - it's a bloody road race you idiot, get moving! The quicker you move, the quicker you finish. 

It didn't get any easier over those last few miles but I knew that there were 4 ladies just 2 or 3 minutes behind me. I may not break 90 minutes today but I wasn't about to let the win pass me by too. I walked a couple more times after that - not for long, but enough for me to get annoyed at myself. If I'd actually kept running, I would likely have ran a couple of minutes faster, but I didn't care so long as I could hold on to the win.

A couple more little climbs, and a couple more ponderings as to why I had even entered a road race after all this time, and then there it was - the finish line was just ahead. I completed the race in 1 hour 34 mins give or take which averaged out as around 7.07 minute miling - a little slower than I had intended, but I'm still very happy that after all these years, I can still run that kind of time for a half and be competitive - the 2nd and 3rd ladies were around 3 or 4 minutes back.

The presentation was extremely slick and by 9am I was heading back home, ready for a pile of pancakes at IHOP. It had been a wonderful morning and I was very happy with how it had turned out. The event was extremely well organised and yes, I would do it again. The problem is more to do with my state of mind when doing road races these days and I find it hard pushing and pushing and pushing. Of course you push in a trail race, but it's a very different kind of push. It's not about maintaining pace and chasing a time, it's about maintaining the effort, being aware of your surroundings and battling with nature and the elements.

Next week it's back to my kind of thing as I take on the Mesquite Canyon 50km at the White Tank Mountains. I'm back on familiar turf as it's an Aravaipa event which means familiar faces, familiar terrain and the more accustomed sense of excitement and anticipation. Don't get me wrong, I will still do road running as I think it's important to mix things up and I have to say that road running has helped to increase my leg speed which transfers to the trails, but in case there was ever any doubt, I can firmly say that I really am a trail runner and the trails are where I belong :-)

Daisy Mountain Half Marathon - no Andy so post race selfie :-)

Monday, 5 March 2018

Another Chapter is About to Begin ...

Wowzers! What a whirlwind this past couple of weeks have been but finally, at last, things have started to settle down a wee bit which is giving us chance to breathe.

After Black Canyon Ultras a couple of weeks ago, I alluded to the fact that there are going to be some changes over the coming months that would result in stressful times and changes to my race plans.

Back in January, I thought my racing year was pretty much set out with Zion 100k and Fat Dog 120 on the horizon. The former got knocked on the head when I had news I'd been selected to represent Great Britain at the European 24 hours champs in Romania at the end of May - they considered it too close for me to fully recover, and despite living in the desert for the past 3 years, they thought the heat would affect me too much. I wasn't concerned about the heat - I was more concerned as to whether 5 weeks would be enough time to recover from a tough 100k at altitude, but as instructed, I withdrew from the race and cancelled our accommodation as my focus switched firmly to the Euros.

Of course, even with the best laid plans, things still change. I'm no longer going to the Europeans and will instead be racing the Blackfoot 50 miler that same weekend which takes place close to Edmonton in Alberta, Canada. I'm also no longer planning on racing Fat Dog but will instead be doing Iron Legs 50 miler instead which will take me back to Kananaskis just outside of Calgary in Alberta. Both of these will be great preparation for my A race which this year will now be Javelina Jundred in October where my goal will be to run sub 19 hours.

Why the change when I've said previously how excited and happy I was to be selected to represent my country again at the age of 45?

Those that know me well will know that Canada holds a special place in my heart. It suits my personality and who I am - I love the country and I feel like I belong there. It really does feel like home.

Back in January when we headed back to Canada for a short visit, it made me realise how much I'd missed the mountains, how much I'd missed the snow and the change in seasons, the green of the pine trees even in winter, the feeling of being in the wilderness, of being outdoors in the fresh, clean air. I felt like I was home again and I couldn't stop smiling the whole time we were there.

Fast forward 6 weeks and we've finally had it confirmed that we are home owners again having purchased a property in Leduc, just south of Edmonton in Alberta. We take possession in April which means we are once again packing up our belongings ready for our move back north. The move will happen at a crucial time in my training program for the 24 hour race, and having thought long and hard about it, I decided to withdraw from the GB team simply because I think the move will have a huge impact on my running. Having already relocated twice in the past 6 years, I felt that I would be unable to give the GB team my full attention. There is so much to plan and then we have to settle in our new home - having to.plan for a trip to Europe at the same time would only add to the already high stress levels and it was something I didn't want. 

Of course I'm sad to no longer be going to Romania and I feel like I'm letting the team down, but I know it's the right thing. When I represent Great Britain i want to be at my very best with no distractions- the timing is wrong right now, but I know I can qualify once again and I know there will be other opportunities to put my name forward - maybe next year I'll be on the team at the worlds instead.

There is no denying that I'm extremely excited to be heading back to Canada but I'm very sad to be leaving Phoenix. I've met so many amazing people here and I'm going to miss them. This morning I ran with the AZ Traileggers and despite not seeing them in a while, it didn't feel awkward and I was made to feel very welcome. And then this afternoon we headed to the dog park like we do every day and it once again made me realise how many friends we have here. We have done so much in our short 2 1/2 years in Phoenix and have so many memories that we'll treasure forever. We have absolutely no regrets about our time here,and of course, we leave with another little dog in tow after Tillie joined our family almost a year ago.

Fun with the AZ Traileggers this morning - friends for life and always
made me feel welcome :-) (PC: Jon Cristley)

Happy family ready to move back north - Smudge the cat was home asleep,
but he'll be coming with us :-)
There are still some things on my bucket list before we leave including a trip up Camelback Mountain and a climb to the summit of Humphreys Peak. I'm not the type of person for big leaving do's but if anybody wants to join me on a Camelback hike and lead the way, or if they fancy heading up Humphreys with me and the pups in the next couple of weeks - weather permitting of course - I really would enjoy that.

I do have plans to run Mesquite Canyon in a couple of weeks and I will be back in Arizona for Javelina Jundred in the fall, but if I don't see you there and I have no takers for the hikes mentioned above, please stay in touch and continue to share your adventures and achievements - I love to see how folks are getting on. And of course I will continue to bombard you with pictures of our pups and sharing my running adventures as we begin another chapter in our lives up in Alberta.

Friday, 23 February 2018

Black Canyon 60k

A couple of weeks ago, I was all geared up for racing the Elephant Mountain 22k and I was looking forward to a good hard race to give me some indication as to how things were going since ATY. Unfortunately, Andy was called away to a job in Canada at the last minute which meant I was home alone in the couple of days leading up to the race.

I really didn’t mind being on my own and still had every intention of getting out to Cave Creek for a good run, but our elderly cat had other ideas and for the best part of 5 hours during the early hours of Saturday morning, he meowed and meowed and meowed. By the time he eventually went quiet, I had fallen into a deep sleep, missing my alarm and disappointingly missing the race.

I was extremely frustrated as I knew that my training had been going really well, I was feeling good and I had been ready to race hard. I desperately wanted to put in some effort to test my current fitness and I figured the only way to do this was to hit the nearby trails and run those by myself but to pick up the pace. I always find it difficult doing tempo runs unless they are in race conditions and even more so on the trails, but I was determined to push out of my comfort zone to mimic racing as much as possible.

I’ve said on several occasions that Strava is a love it or hate it kind of thing. It’s so easy for people to cheat (seriously, how do people do 100,000 ft of climbing within 2 days of the month starting?! And how come that sub 3 minute mile on the local roads hasn’t made it into the record books yet?!), but if you use it for yourself rather than comparing against others, it really can be a useful tool.

So that’s what I did. I ran a route on both Saturday and Sunday to see how I compared to my previous efforts and I was delighted to see that I had achieved shiny new PRs on pretty much all of the segments including the climbs, and my 13 mile PR on the large loop at Apache Wash was smashed right out of the proverbial water. OK, I know it’s chopped cabbage as Andy would say, but for me it indicated that I’m still pretty fit and training is heading in the right direction.

With Andy being away, I even sneaked in a couple of little hikes with the dogs. We had a fantastic morning over at Deem Hills one day and the dogs were suitably sleepy afterwards. Much as they all love the dog park, I feel like we bond much better when out on a hike and the dogs for sure seem to enjoy themselves more with so many new things to sniff at and different things to explore. We even shared a bottle of water and a few doggy biscuits at the top of the hill whilst we caught our breaths and admired the views 😊 I love spending time with the dogs, probably more so than running on my own - the only thing that beats both is running on the trails with the dogs, and that really is magic!

Hikes with the pups :-)
Black Canyon 60k was just 2 weeks after Elephant Mountain and after a really good 10 mile progression run, I was starting to feel excited about racing. But come midweek, the wind had gone out of my sails. I was due to start my period and the heavy legged and sluggish feeling was settling in – I was not happy. I’d gone from feeling really excited to suddenly feeling fat, heavy, miserable, and really not in the mood. The other issue was that I still didn’t know whether Andy would be back in time for the race and with being a point to point race, it messed up the logistics of getting to the start and then back home afterwards. Then there was the crewing. Normally Andy would be at the aid stations making sure I was eating and drinking and to attend to any blisters etc which takes away some of thinking for me and allows me to just focus on putting one foot in front of the other. I figured that this time though, it was “only” a 60k race, so I’d already kind of made the decision to race without any crew, any drop bags, and certainly no pacers, making use instead of the amazing volunteers along the way that I knew would look out for me as well as all the other runners on the trail.

As it happened, Andy got back on the Thursday and could have come to the race, but he was so tired from all the 20 hour days whilst on site that in the end, he just dropped me at Black Canyon City at 6am so I could get the shuttle bus to the start, and he would then come back later once I’d finished.

The drive up to Mayer was pretty relaxed and I got talking to a lady from Albuquerque in New Mexico. She was running her first ultra today and was asking lots of questions which kind of took my mind off the racing. It was a pleasure to chat to her and it was great to see her name in the results afterwards and knowing that she had successfully finished.

We arrived at the school just as the 100k runners were setting off and it was a good 5 or 10 minutes until the entire field had made their way out onto the course proper. I never realised how well attended the 100k was until then and it was a great sight to see.

The 60k wasn’t due to start for another hour, so I headed inside to get warm – it was extremely chilly with a gusty wind blowing although the sun was shining, unlike last year where we had hours and hours of persistent rain to contend with! I hung out in the school hall, feeling pretty relaxed and a little less grumpy about racing now that I was actually here. As I sat on the wooden floor waiting, I still didn’t know how I was going to tackle the race.  There is quite a bit of downhill but also a lot of short climbs, and people often forget how tough the Black Canyon course really is. I also knew that there were some speedy ladies in the race making for some good competition – I didn’t want to hold back too much and let them get away, but neither did I want to have them sitting on my shoulder for the entire race, only to be pipped to the finish because I’m really crappy on the climbs. Even as I waited on the start line huddled up with the other runners and trying to hide from the wind, I still didn’t know what I was going to do – in the end, I decided to just wing it – no plan, just run and see what happens.

The first 2 or 3 miles of the course are ran on road/dirt road which means it’s usually a pretty fast start. I’d gone out at what felt like a relaxed pace but I was knocking out around 8’s or just under – it felt good, so I decided to just go with it. There weren’t that many runners ahead of me and I was already in 2nd place in the ladies with 1st place not too far ahead at that stage. It was still quite blowy and hard work into the wind, but as we hit the trails and got a little more shelter from the surrounding hills, things calmed down although it was still a little nippy.

Compared to last year, the conditions were perfect for running and as we made the first climb up on to the BCT, I finally saw the beauty of the Bradshaw Mountains in their true splendour. Last year, they had been shrouded in mist and I couldn’t see more than a couple of hundred yards ahead whilst the one training run I had done on the trail had also consisted of light, drizzly rain and limited views.

Today, the sun was shining and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and it truly was a wonderful sight.
The trail looked so different today and there were several sections that I didn’t recognise as I ran along. I’d had a couple of guys trailing me up the climb but as we hit the flatter more rocky sections and then the downhill, I found myself stretching my legs and striding out. I was running quite hard for an ultra, something which surprised me, and yet I really didn’t mind if I later discovered I’d gone out too fast. I knew I could keep going, even at a jog, and I’d said to Andy that I anticipated finishing in anything between 5 ½ to 6 hours. My pace was putting me in at much faster than that, but I knew there would be more climbing in the latter stages so I was banking what time I could without going too crazy.

Without crew or drop bags, I was just using Tailwind in my backpack accompanied by energy gels, and when passing through the aid stations I was grabbing coke, chocolate M&Ms, watermelon, banana, orange and choc-chip cookies. I think at one point I grabbed a grilled cheese sandwich which I managed to eat despite almost choking on it as I tried to swallow with a very dry mouth.

In all honesty I don’t think I was eating enough – I felt hungry for the entire race but I didn’t want to waste time eating. I also perhaps didn’t drink enough – I refilled my bladder just once and when I finished it was still half full – 4 litres of water over 38 miles when usually I can drink 1 ½ litres over 13 miles – it definitely wasn’t enough, and I didn’t pee for a couple of hours post race.

Yet despite not fuelling sufficiently, I was running well, I wasn’t feeling sick and I wasn’t feeling dizzy or anything silly.

Heading down from Antelope Mesa Aid Station - Photo Credit Howie Stern

As we started on the long downhill after the first aid station at around 7 or 8 miles, I started to catch the tailenders of the 100k. They were all so gracious moving aside as they heard me approaching behind and I felt a little bad at them moving over for me as they too were no doubt wanting to finish as quickly as possible. At one point I caught up a chap that was in the 60k and had the usual “I ain’t been chicked” behaviour. He wouldn’t move aside and I was almost clipping his heels and had to hold back. He then had the nerve to say if I wanted to take up the pacing for us both, let him know and I could pass! I kindly told him I didn’t need pacing, I just wanted to pass him at which point he moved aside and I bombed past and opened up a good 100 meter gap, wondering to myself why certain men have such issues about ladies doing well and finishing ahead of them. Even now I don’t understand. Unfortunately I didn’t see him again after that and he was nowhere near me at the finish otherwise maybe I would have plucked up the courage to ask out of pure curiosity.

Coming into Aid Station 2, I was just a couple of minutes behind the leading lady. I’d seen her just ahead for quite some time now and the gap between us hadn’t changed. Unfortunately I needed to dash to the bathroom and when I came out, she was nowhere to be seen and I knew I wouldn’t catch her. I was already running as fast as I dared to make sure I didn’t face burnout – my main concern now was making sure that I didn’t get caught from behind.

The trail between Hidden Treasure and Bumble Bee is really nice single track that is  quite twisty turny with some ups and downs, and it was here that I bumped into a lot of the 100k runners including friends from the AZTraileggers group who gave encouragement as I passed by. It’s always nice to see familiar peeps out there, especially with not having Andy around today, and it always gives me that little pick up that I sometimes need.

Bumble Bee was the next aid station and this time we would be passing through the ranch where the aid would be located. By now I was at around 20 miles and I was starting to feel the hunger really setting in. I ate as much as I dared and took another gel, but I do feel like this is where I started to feel the earlier pace and where the feet started to get sore.

I remembered a climb out of Bumble Bee from last year and this year it didn’t feel any easier. What I didn’t recall was how rocky the next section was, how rolling it was, and it was here where I did start to walk a little bit more on the hills. I was still moving well and still overtaking people but I knew that this is where I would start to eat into my banked time from earlier in the race.

I didn’t remember this section being so rocky and bare and I wondered if it had been affected by the wildfires in the area last year. The views were still impressive from here, but the 4 or 5 miles between the aid stations just seemed to go on forever and I found myself switching off and losing focus. I had to keep telling myself there was only around 10 miles to go, and as soon as I hit single figures, my mind was back on the game.

After Gloriana Mine aid station at 24 miles, I knew there would be some more downhill before another climb. My toes and feet were now getting sore from the rocky terrain, and I stubbed my big toes a few times whilst running over the rocks. Of course this year we were following the proper course, and the climb I was expecting didn’t come. Instead we dropped down in to a type of gully with more loose rocks which made it difficult to take advantage of this really good downhill section. I did however still pass a few runners here as despite the unsteady terrain, I was able to put my downhill running strengths to good use.

The miles after this have since become a blur. I remember there being lots of up and down, up and down, up and down, I remember running across a sandy, dried out river bed followed by a tough climb up to an aid station, and then I remembered even more ups and downs with around 6 miles to go and me cursing like crazy because the legs were moaning, my feet were sore, and I now had a huge purple bruise on my toe thanks to a stumble which resulted in me kicking a boulder as I tried to steady myself and prevent a fall. I remember there being far more cacti around now and more vegetation, and in the distance I could see Black Canyon City which is where the 60k finish line was located.  At one point, we crossed yet another river bed, this time with murky, sludgy water to wade through, and we cautiously used a few slippery tree branches and logs to get across without getting too wet before we were confronted with a huge climb back up the mountain/hill side.

I knew we only had a couple of miles to go now, but that last climb was terrible as it zigzagged upwards and never seemed to reach the top. The climb was tough but generally I was still feeling pretty good although admittedly I couldn't go any quicker. After finally reaching the top, it was just a mile or so to the finish and I could see the gantry ahead in the distance which spurred me on.  As we ran down, the 100k runners were heading back up and I was glad that I was only doing the shorter race and wouldn't have to run back up that incline!

As the trail flattened out and we left to join the dirt road into the parking lot and onto the finish, Adam and Meghan were heading out, the latter looking strong and relaxed and determined to tackle that last 40k. I shouted some random rubbish at them both before finally crossing the finish line, finishing 2nd lady and 8th overall in 5 hours 52 mins. I was almost half an hour behind the winner who'd had an awesome run and just about broke the old course record.

Happy with a second place finish :-)
I was really pleased with the run as I know that I didn't let up all way through. My failure if anything was that I should have eaten more but this time, I was able to get away with it with the race being just 60k - my theory was that I wouldn't eat that much for a 50k and this wasn't that much further. I finished with no blisters despite quite sore and achy feet, but I did have a huge bruise on my big toe thanks to the encounter with the boulder in those closing miles. My legs felt tired but it was more to dehydration and lack of fuel that the distance, and that alone gave me some reassurance. Considering it was my first race of the year and just 6 weeks or so since ATY, I was very happy.

The following day it was my birthday so we headed down to Tuscon and then up into the Catalina Mountains to Mt Lemon. The weather was much cooler and cloudy and we got caught in a hail storm as we climbed higher. We still had a little walk in the woods with the dogs and it was so fresh up there. The dogs loved it despite being damp and we had a lovely, enjoyable day together and making plans.

Winter fun in Tuscon, and up in the Catalina Mountains
There are changes looming ahead once again in our lives which are going to have an impact on my race plans over the coming months. I'm excited about what's ahead but I know it's going to be stressful for a few weeks and I just have to be sure to use my running and hiking with the dogs as stress relievers to help us get through.

I've ran this week since the race and my legs feel good right now and I'm feeling surprisingly strong. Next up is Mesquite Canyon 50k and as things stand, I'm feeling good about that race and hoping to have a good one that shows that my training is still working and we are heading in the right direction for my bigger races later in the year.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

A Great Start to the New Year

If the first month of 2018 is anything to go by, then the rest of the year is going to be simply amazing!

After ATY, I had a couple of easy weeks where I spent time walking the pups and then gently jogging to allow my body to recover from its exploits in December. It felt so good to be back just jogging although the legs did still feel a little tired, but it was nice to get back out on the nearby trails and enjoy the views and being outdoors.

Back on the trails and enjoying the recovery runs :-)

It also gave me some time for reflection and as I looked back at my performance at ATY, I decided that I would put my name forward to the GB team selectors anyway - as coach Adam said, the worse outcome would be that they would say no which wouldn't exactly be the end of the world. So I pinged an email and put things out of my mind - the team would be announced on January 25th so no use spending all my energy thinking about it.

That same week, I had some exciting news - I had been invited back to the Aravaipa Racing Team for the third year in a row, and I was ecstatic! I'm one of those people that never takes things for granted - yes, I'd had a great year of racing last year but there are so many other amazing lady runners in Arizona that are continuing to improve every day, and I certainly aren't getting any younger! I always feel that others are far more worthy of a place on the team than I am, so when I received the email from Hayley I was once again over the moon :-) Being a member of such a strong, focused, dedicated team gives me the motivation to compete and do the very best I can and I am so happy to be back for another year.

Of course, life sometimes gets in the way of running, and for Andy and I, we were at the point where we needed to extend our visas, and for me my work permit, if we wanted to stay in the US after April 2018.

In order to do this, we had to leave the country so that we could "land" again and have that official stamp and with being permanent residents of Canada, we headed north of the border and back to Calgary where we would have our interview at the US Consulate. Despite knowing that there really shouldn't be any issues, there is always that lingering doubt that we may get refused. It didn't help that the three people in front of us had their visas refused there and then, and we were beginning to think that we too would be walking out of the building disappointed and not knowing what steps to take next.

Fortunately for us, we were approved which meant we had to spend the next week in Canada whilst waiting for our passports to be returned.

US Visas Approved - whoo hoo!
This really wasn't such a bad thing, and from the day we touched down in Calgary to the day we left, I was on a permanent high and couldn't stop smiling - the only thing missing was the dogs which we'd left back home in Phoenix in the capable hands of Mackenzie (who has now gone grey from all the stress!)

Although we did spend some time having to work whilst there, our week in Alberta was amazing and it felt like we had never been away. It was fantastic to see so many of our old friends and catch up on their news and we even managed a visit up to Banff where I had an awesome snowy run up Tunnel Mountain and along the banks of the frozen Bow River. We also headed over to Lake Minnewanka where we'd got married 3 years ago and not surprisingly, it looked as beautiful as ever covered in snow and surrounded by the mountains, and then we headed a little further into the mountains as we paid a brief visit to Lake Louise and had a wander around the ice castle.

Snowy Run in Banff

Lake Minnewanka

Beautiful conditions for running :-) Lake Minnewanka

Lake Louise

On the Thursday evening, I joined the Calgary Road Runners for one of their evening runs at Twelve Mile Coulee, the location for one of the annual cross country races, and it was fabulous to be back on those trails that I have many fond memories of when I'd ran the cross country there every year that we'd lived in Calgary.

Calgary Road Runners

After heading north to St Albert for the weekend and checking out Leduc and the surrounds, we were back in Calgary where we stayed with another fantastic friend. Dawn had to work so we were left in the company of her wonderful dog Brutus and both Brutus and I had a lovely 5 mile walk through Fish Creek Park in the snow on another beautifully sunny day. He absolutely loved it and at every opportunity he was having a roll in the snow and having such a great time.

Brutus! Don't tell Wilson, Brandy and Tillie!

I was determined to run whilst in Canada and manged to get outside pretty much every day. Although chilly by Phoenix standards, temperatures of -5 to 10 degrees c wasn't actually that bad so I was making the most of it and running outdoors, thankful that the pavements weren't too icy and avoiding a fall.

The night before flying home, Dawn had a track session at the indoor track so I headed over to Mount Royal Uni to do my 6 mile steady run on the track. Running loops got me thinking back to ATY and it was then that I remembered that the GB 24 hour team selection meeting had taken place that day and the decisions had been made. If I didn't hear anything tomorrow, I would know that I hadn't been selected.

Fun at the Track - PC Dawn Ladds
We headed back to Phoenix on the Wednesday with our flight leaving Calgary at 6am and us not arriving home until 12 hours later. It was a long day of travelling and we were pretty tired, but it was so good to see the dogs and Khayman our little moggy and they were sure happy to see us too! We took them to the dog park and they went crazy seeing all their friends that they hadn't seen for a week.

We were straight back into work the next day and I still hadn't heard from the GB selectors. It was already mid-afternoon in the UK and the announcement was due anytime soon. I'd still not heard anything but had already resigned myself to the fact that I hadn't made the cut. 

As I was eating breakfast, I received an email from UK Athletics and I really didn't want to look at it for the fear of rejection. 

BA Letterhead K1878 TOP.jpg
Dear Adela

I am pleased to inform you that you have been selected for the British Athletics Team in the IAU 24 Hours European Championships to be held in Timisoara, Romania on 26th & 27th May.

I read the first two lines and started shaking. I read them again and started to cry. I read them a third time, convinced that I had misread it or they had go the name wrong, but nope, my name was there in black and white. OH. MY. GOSH!!!!!!! 

I have never been so excited to be selected to represented Great Britain. In the past, I had been at the peak of my running career and could compete with the best in the country to get my name out there, but this time, I really didn't think I would make it. Even now I am completely flabbergasted that I will once again be wearing the GB kit and will be representing my country of birth in Romania.

Being selected to represent your country is one of the greatest honours and something that I thought was well beyond my capabilities after all these years. And yet here I am making plans to do just that. It motivates you in such a way that you want to get even better, train even harder to make your country proud. The reality is that I don't have to change a thing. What Adam had me doing in the lead up to ATY is exactly what I need to do for the European Champs - it worked before, and I trust his judgement and guidance as a coach. There are of course areas that I can improve - I need to work on strengthening my hips and glutes and improving my flexibility so that I don't have the same issues I had in the latter stages of ATY. If I can master that, I believe I can run the same distance once again, if not further. I'm excited to see what I can do :-)

My training has already started to pick up again as I get ready for my other forthcoming races here in Arizona, starting with Elephant Mountain 22km next weekend. Yesterday I ran a 10 mile negative split. It was the further I'd ran since ATY and I was very happy to be hitting sub 7.25 pace for the entire run. Today I headed over to Apache Wash for another 10 miles, this time on the trails - I felt really good and positive about the coming weeks and months - all I need to do is avoid injury and stay consistent, and all will be well.

There are some changes ahead over the coming months that I know I will have to deal with, but as with everything I'll work through them and take each day as it comes. For now though, I'm ready to start training again, ready to start racing again, and ready to set my focus to the end of May where I hope to be at my very best and to perform once again to the very best of my ability.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Across the Years 24 Hour Race

There was no secret about my goals for Across the Years 2017 edition - as a minimum I wanted a PR whilst my ultimate goal was to reach 139 miles which would give me the A standard for British 24 Hour Team.

Whilst I didn't make it to 139 miles, I still achieved far more than I could have hoped for. You see, it wasn't just about the final result and how far I could actually run - it was also about the journey along the way, how I coped in the entirety both physically and mentally, it was about my pacing, about stayed focused the whole time, having the confidence to go off at a pace that was far quicker than originally planned, making sure I stayed fueled and hydrated in the heat of the day and maintaining that when the temperatures took a tumble and got much cooler overnight.

A 24-hour race isn't easy. As with any distance race you face highs and lows more than once, but the mental challenge is far harder due to the endless loops of the same course over and over and over. Yet for me there is something appealing about that challenge, something about stepping out into the unknown with no idea as to how the body and mind will hold up, not knowing whether you will finish happy or finish frustrated. With a 24 hour race it can be so easy to stop early, after all, there are no DNFs in a 24-hour - the goal is to run as far as you can in that given time and it would be so easy to stop early. You reach a milestone, your body is hurting and yet something keeps you going and even now I don't know what that something is.

Safe to say that the 2017 version of Across the Years saw me finish very happy - I ran a PR, I broke 200km and I won the race overall. 

Before the Race
Across the Years would be my third 24 hour race so to some degree, I already knew what to expect. I had also ran the Mogollon Monster and had been on my feet for near on 28 hours, so there was no doubt that I could stay awake for the full 24 hours without the need to sit down or sleep. The key to my success would be getting the pace right - do that and I honestly felt that everything else would fall into place. My steady pace in training had greatly improved recently and yet prior to my race, I was still saying that I would be targeting 10 minute laps. Each lap was just over a mile which meant just under 10 minute miling - this seemed pedestrian to me on a flat course, and I felt that it wouldn't be problem. I had also done various lab tests in the past and on each occasion, the results highlighted that I had a very good and efficient running economy thanks to years of endurance running. According to the experts, my body is meant for distance and not speed, and I always seem to have had an ability to knock out pretty consistent miles for a long time.

However, to meet my goals I knew that I would need to take a risk. I needed to run quicker than 10's but I had no idea whether I could keep a faster pace going for as long and it started to make me nervous. I finally realised that the best way to deal with things would be to run by feel - instead of targeting a pace where I would panic if it felt too hard, I would run to the feel of my body. I still needed some sort of guideline and so I opted to run a couple of 10 minute laps to see how it felt and then adjust as necessary. If my breathing became too laboured, I would ease back but if it felt too easy, I would speed up. I needed to teach myself restraint, but I also knew that I had to go with it at the same time.

I'd opted for the 29th start for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there wouldn't be as many starters on the 29th which meant more room on the narrow sections of the course. It also meant less distractions from people - I needed to get into my own zone, into my own head, and block out everything else around me if I was to succeed. It also meant that starting on the Friday gave me chance to recover in time for work on the 2nd - based on how I was for a couple of days after I finished, this was in hindsight the right choice! The final reason was that if I did have a good run, it would set precedence for those racing after me, and I wanted to set the bar high so that they too had to work for the win if that's what they wanted.

I try not to let other runners influence my race plans, but the race started on the Thursday and a lady had entered that was targeting 130 miles. She was clearly competition despite running a day earlier so we sat pretty much glued to our computer screens throughout the day watching her progress and willing her on. She had set off at my planned race pace and we were curious to see how long she held it for - unfortunately her pace slipped a few hours in which put her behind schedule and she ended up finishing with 114 miles - a very respectable distance but I personally felt that I could exceed that, and I knew that the opportunity for me to set the standard for the next day was there if all went to plan. 

My race plan was pretty simple:

- Remain positive
- Run my own race and don't let others dictate my pace
- Trust my training and believe I can do it
- Just keep moving forward, one step at a time, and don't think about the clock
- Don't dilly dally when refuelling - no sitting, no sleeping
- Stay focused and don't allow negative thoughts to enter the mind

My husband Andy would be crewing me again and I knew I was in the best hands. I felt ready I felt focused, I was set for go.

Race Day
I arrived at Camelback Ranch feeling pretty calm and quietly confident. I'd been having some glute pain in the weeks leading up to the race and I'd also been fighting the onset of a cold the past week but I was trying not to dwell on things - if I did, I knew that I would use it as an invalid excuse to stop or slow down later on when things got tough. I put both issues out of my mind, my mantra being, "deal with it, get over it, move on" - it worked, and I can honestly say that at no point during the race did I have any issues with either my glutes or the remnants of a cold.

We'd been down to Camelback Ranch the day before to get "base camp" set up for race day, and I had been sure to include a whole array of tasty food to keep me going. I had opted to use minimal gels this time, replacing them instead with a good supply of Jaffa Cakes and Malt Loaf, both of which were a godsend for several hours before I needed to eat more solid and substantial foods to keep the energy going. I also ate hard boiled eggs during the race, fresh tomatoes, mashed potatoes, an endless pot of mac 'n' cheese, and it was great being able to have hot cups of tea and coffee during the night, especially when the temperatures dropped off and drinking cold water and Tailwind sent a chill through the entire body.

The good news is that even with a mixed concoction of foods, I was only sick once and this was mostly fluids. I appeared to have digested the solid foods extremely well for once, and I even managed to have two really good poos during the race :-)

The race started at 9am and I knew what I had to do. My first two laps came in at a shade under 10's but it felt like it was too easy and so I picked things up and found myself in a comfortable rhythm that was giving me around 9 minute laps. I had no idea how long I had kept thing going for until after the race and looking back, I am still a little bewildered that I was able to keep steady, consistent laps going for several hours.

PC Yissel McCardie
I also have no idea what I was thinking about for the entire time. My mind seemed blank, I just seemed to enter the zone, and my body just followed that forward motion. I became oblivious to those around me - the only thing that brought me out of my reverie was crossing the timing mat each lap to check that I was consistent, and then looking out for our tent where Andy was feeding me a regular supply of Jaffa Cakes and Tailwind.

Some 3 and a half hours in, I looked at my watch and realised that I was approaching the marathon distance. I needed just 2 more laps and then shortly afterwards, we would have our first direction change. I went through the marathon in around 3 hours 50 mins and I recall still feeling strong and in control.

No sooner had I "celebrated" reaching the marathon than my mind had already shifted to my next milestone of 50km. Just 5 miles - or 5 laps - to go. Without faltering, I made it to 50km in 4 hours 34 minutes and after a quick refuel at base-camp, I pushed on.

My next goal was 50 miles which was quite a ways from where I currently was, and yet once again, I somehow managed to keep those consistent laps coming, I somehow managed to keep eating and refuelling, I somehow just kept on racking up the miles.

PC: Jubilee PAige/Aravaipa Running

At some point Andy had to go home to check on the dogs and Yissel hung around to take care of me. Yissel and I had been Facebook and Strava friends for over a year, and yet we had never physically met. It was pretty awesome that she was able to share some of the crewing responsibility and she did a grand job in keeping me moving, keeping me fuelled, and offering lots of encouragement. Before I knew it, Andy had returned with the dogs, Yissel had to go home to her family, and I had somehow racked up 50 miles in 7 and a half hours (my PB for 50 miles is 7.22 which I ran in Texas many years ago - what the ...?!)

By now the sun had started to set. It had been an extremely warm day and temperatures had peaked close to 80 degrees. Some of the runners had been affected by the unseasonably warm temperatures and yet I had barely noticed them. I had been hydrated all day and had been peeing without any problems, but as the sun was setting I was starting to feel it, and I remember mumbling that I "just need that sun to go away. It needs to set and go dark!"

The hours had now just become one big blur, and I had lost track of where I was. I was focused on getting to 100km - the next distance milestone, and it seemed to come around fairly quickly, passing through in around 9 and a half hours. It's all relative, but I was still feeling great. I was so happy that I had kept my energy up all day, so glad that despite taking that risk with my pace at the start, I hadn't yet started to falter. It all felt a bit surreal, and bit dreamlike, but I just kept pushing onwards.

My next goal was 100 miles and I knew that it would be another few hours before I reached that mile mark. And yet I just kept telling myself to get to the hundred and I'd "only have 50k to go to hit my target". I needed to get to the 100 miles before I could see if there was a realistic chance of exceeding 130 miles, of getting close to the British standard, but I still had 38 miles to go so it was back to keeping the head down, maintaining that focus, keeping it going.

Did I mention how dusty it was?!

Sometime in the evening, our good friends Carrie and Allen Wilson came down to offer some support. My tactics since dark had changed a little and rather than grabbing food every other lap, I was running 3 or 4 laps non-stop and then taking in greater quantities of food instead of just nibbling. Mr Wilson joined me for a few of those laps, and as we were merrily chatting away and laughing together, I realised that we were still doing 10 minute loops give or take. I was likely at around 80 miles by then and even now I'm shaking my head wondering how on earth I was still going at that pace.

An extremely chilly evening meant that I had to stop briefly to grab a long-sleeved top, hat and gloves, and Andy had started to heat up some mashed potato and mac 'n' cheese to warm me up. Both tasted delicious washed down with a good strong cup of tea, and my energy levels were still pretty high although my quads were obviously starting to get a little tired.

There were so few people out on the track now that it was late evening, and those that were out there were like zombies walking through the night. We mumbled a few words to eachother, offered encouragement and just kept going forward. At one point I passed a chap all bundled up in layers and he asked if he could run with me. I said yes, but warned him that I wasn't exactly in a mood to chat and that I wouldn't be very fast if he wanted to run quickly. He was ok with that and joined me for a half mile or so. I asked him his name - it was Dave Proctor, the Canadian record holder who I have spoken to on several occasions - I felt a right plonker!

At some time around 1.20am and 16 hours 21 minutes into the race, I passed the 100 mile mark. I seriously could not believe it - a half hour PB for 100 miles and I was feeling pretty good! Even now I don't know how I did it, but I was over the moon!

For the past few laps, I had felt blisters forming so Andy and I had agreed that once I hit the 100, I would change my shoes and put some warmer clothing on. I was feeling the chill and my feet were sore, but I didn't want to falter at this point. Andy swiftly helped me to change which gave me my slowest lap of around 20 minutes, but I was soon back out there and still moving well.

Now my mind had woken up and I was trying to do the maths in my head. I had well over 7 hours still on the clock, and unlike last time when I did ATY, I was still moving having gone through the 100. I had slowed a little compared to earlier but I was still running 10 to 11 minute laps - even if I now slowed down to 12 minute laps, so long as I could keep things going, I would get to 135 miles. I faltered for a second in disbelief - could I? Would I? Is it really possible? It gave me the motivation I needed and I honestly, truly felt that I could do it.

Distance covered was no longer in my thoughts - I'd started counting again as if from the start with the aim of hitting 50km. With barely anybody out on the track, I was able to just focus and keep moving, following my strategy of run 3 to 4 laps, refuel, then run another 3 to 4.

Around 6am I started to notice some pain in my left groin and it felt like I was dragging my left leg around the course with me. I was still able to run, but Andy noticed my gritted teeth and knew something wasn't right. Amazingly, I was still hitting 12 minute laps and I was still on track for 130+ miles although it was now getting close for the British B standard of 133. If I could keep it going for just 3 more hours, I might just do it, but this groin pain really was bothering me.

I ran a couple more laps and then finally, after stopping for another hot cup of tea and some "breakfast", I had concede and walk. The plan was to just walk one loop, to walk out the pain and loosen things up, but as I approached our basecamp and tried to run, the pain was too much and I couldn't lift my leg properly. It was going to be a hard slog to get anymore run miles but I was still doing a good power walk and knocking out 15 minute miles - I could still get another few miles in at this rate.

Allen and Carrie were back again by 7am by which time I really had resorted to a walk. At no point did I think about stopping and saying I'd done enough - I still wanted as many miles as possible and I still wanted that 130 if nothing else. Carrie joined me over that last couple of hours, and we managed a good 6 miles in about 90 minutes. We watched the sun rise together, we finally had the opportunity to have conversations with the other runners/walkers and find out about where they were in the race and what their goals were, we laughed, we chatted, and we smiled.

With 30 minutes left until the clock stopped, we decided to go out and do one more loop which would give me just over 129 miles. I was ecstatic and got a little emotional crossing the line. I stopped with 8 minutes to spare - in that time I know I could have broken 130 miles, but ATY doesn't measure partial laps and it would not have been recorded in the results.

The distance would be enough to put me 1st lady and 1st overall, but with 4 more days of racing remaining, another lady could easily take top spot and knock me down the leader board - I was about to have the most restless and sleepless 4 days ever!

After the Race
After I had finished, I found it difficult to eat for 2 full days and the only thing I managed was a bowl of Cheerios covered with ice cold milk. It also took me a few days before I felt fully hydrated again despite trying to drink at every opportunity, and when I finally started eating, all I wanted was tomato soup and tuna sandwiches.

Body wise, my groin was sore for 2 to 3 days and I had trouble getting in and out of bed and even found it difficult to roll over in the night when my legs were aching and fidgety from the racing. The tendons in my left knee were also a little sore and the tightness in my quads made me laugh when I couldn't get up or down the stairs. It was 3 days before I finally felt the need to pop my blisters which is a record for me :-)

I had Epsom salts baths every day which really helped, and I just tried to sit still and recover, which isn't easy when you have 3 energetic dogs demanding walks 4 times a day!

Sleep wise, we barely got any. On day 3 and 4 of ATY, there were a few ladies that started the 24 hour race at the same pace as me. We watched them most of the day and into the night, checking to see if they were likely to challenge my lead. Fortunately - for me at least - they all seemed to drop off the pace and I was able to retain the outright win.

It's now a week since I finished my race and I am ready for a little jog although there is no denying that my legs still feel a little tired if I stand around for too long. I keep forgetting how far I ran just last week and I still shake my head and wonder how the hell I did it.

It would be unfair of me to focus purely on my own race, after all, those that take part in ATY are like an extended family as you spend so many hours seeing the same people. There were record breakers out there that ran for more than just a day, there were people in their 60s and 70s doing amazing things, and there were friends out there aiming for their own personal goals.

One thing I love about the ultra running community is that even though we all have our own individual goals, there is also so much love and support for all the others out there. Nobody is any better than anybody else. Somebody running their first 50k at ATY or aiming for a PR in a shorter distance still deserves credit for their efforts as they too have pushed beyond what they previously thought they were capable of.

On that note, as ever I have to convey my thanks to all those that made my last race of 2017 so successful and enjoyable.

To Andy, the most amazing, supportive husband I could wish for - thank you for staying out there in the cold to feed me and to keep me going. Seeing you every lap was amazing and I wanted to succeed as much for you as for me.

To my coach Adam - thank you for getting things right in my training. Those back to back hard sessions were tough, but I took each day at a time, and in the end they produce the results. Here's to the next one eh?!

To Mackenzie, thank you for helping with the glute problem and for keeping this old body mobile.

To Carrie and Allen and your lovely daughter, and Yissell - you guys are flipping awesome! Coming to support me in your own time meant so much! I'm sorry that I was sick, sorry I shouted how great the poo was, sorry that I was breaking wind and swearing at times, but you guys take me for who am I, so thank you!

To Aravaipa Running and all the volunteers at the event - thank you for putting on such a fantastic race.

And finally, to all my other friends out there, runners or otherwise, thank you so much for believing in me, for supporting me, and for being there this past 12 months. You are all amazing!

I'm really hoping that 2018 will be another fantastic year, and I'm pretty sure that once I'm recovered and back into the swing of things, there will be more fabulous racing and running adventures on the horizon :-)

Hitting the Roads - Daisy Mountain Half Marathon

Do you ever do something and then wonder afterwards what on earth you were thinking about? That's what happened with the Daisy Mountain...