Sunday, 23 February 2014

Race Wins and Dreams of Spring .........

With two race victories in just 6 days, it's safe to say that I've had a pretty good week, although saying that, I also like to think that I am realistic when it comes to my running. I know that had Alissa not twisted her ankle at the Frozen Ass 50k, and had Kim turned up to the race the cross country on Saturday rather than having to work, the best I could have hoped for in all honesty is 2nd lady at both races. Even then, there are some other speedy ladies that are always close on my tail these days - Joelle McDonald, Anne Landry, Joanna Ford to name just a few - but I've always been told to seize opportunities and that you can only race those that turn up on the day - put yourself on that start line, and the rest is up to you.

The 2 races couldn't have been more different. A 50km run on pavement during a Chinook, resulting in "warmer" temperatures just above freezing with glimpses of the sun that meant I got a bit of a sun burnt face - and then an 8km cross country race 5 days later when we were yet again blanketed in an arctic airflow, with light snow and stupidly low temperatures of -15 or less. Variety is the spice of life, right?

The Frozen Ass 50k is a fantastic event - well organised, very friendly and excellent value for money. You get a good quality hoodie to keep you warm through the cold winter months, a few other goodies, and of course pizza, home made soup and cakes afterwards, with an endless supply of hot coffee and tea - no wonder I went back for a second year! OK, the route isn't the most scenic, at least not unless you have a fascination for railway tracks, electricity substations and the traffic flow and road structure of the nearby Deerfoot Trail - but it is traffic free, it does follow the river up through Nose Creek and  it's a relatively flat 2 x out and back route which isn't so bad really. 

Frozen Ass 50km - at the start
This year I knew I had more competition amongst the ladies, so my main goal was to just run my own race and hopefully dip under 4 hours. Within the first couple of  kilometres, I knew that this was going to be a tall order - the pathway was covered in ice which slowed us all down as we tentatively picked our way through to avoid falling over. Thankfully, the really bad icy sections only caused a problem for the first 2-3km and again on the way back, but for the remainder of the route, it was almost plain sailing with just some minor sections that needed a little more care.

I was aiming to run around 4.45 - 4.50km pace but it looked like Alissa was also doing a similar pace and it wasn't too long before I caught her up. We ran together and chatted for a short while before we both got back into the zone and continued on our merry way. It was great to finally meet and speak to her properly even if it was under race conditions. She is a truly magnificent athlete with some pretty impressive race victories and course records under her belt, and indeed, at the Lost Soul 100k last year, I finished a good 90 minutes and 2nd lady behind Alissa who had not only won but also smashed the old ladies course record.

Although it had been quite cool when we started, it was beginning to warm up and I was starting to get a little too warm with all the layers I was wearing. I was also extremely thirsty despite carrying some water, but with feed stations 12.5km apart, and with the temperature rising, it didn't last long enough and I was just so relieved to see the turnaround point where I could refuel, remove some layers, and get going again. It was great to see my friend Alan there helping out, along with some other awesome volunteers, all of which gave up their time to give us lots of encouragement and made sure we had everything that we needed - I can't say thank you enough!

It had taken an hour to do the first section, so I knew that getting under the 4 hours was going to be tight. I'd edged slightly ahead of Alissa by this stage although I was convinced that she would be just behind and ready to pounce any moment, but I was determined to stick to my plan, stay focused and carry on doing my own thing. I was starting to tire and I knew that with having had very little breakfast (I'd been kept awake for most of the night feeling queasy due to too much garlic so couldn't eat much first thing - don't ask!), I needed fuel that was more substantial than a few energy gels, plus I was in desperate need of more fluids.

I eventually reached the icy sections again and was somewhat relieved as it meant I had an excuse to slow down, thinking to myself that maybe I would just do the 25k and call it a day. The last couple of km involved some uphill and it was here that I thought I would be overtaken by one of the other ladies, but as I ran into the next aid station and the turnaround, I was pleasantly surprised that nobody was right behind me and that I'd actually got a 2 minute lead over both Alissa and Joelle, the latter of which had moved strongly through the field and was now 2nd placed lady. 

Heading off for Lap 2 - thanks Joanna for the photo :-)
As I headed out for lap 2, both ladies were just arriving at the aid station, so I knew that now the race was on. I was dreading the second part as I was already feeling tired and I knew that it would now come down to a battle of wills - I had to keep pushing, I had to keep focused. Knowing that my strength and speed is strongest on the downhill and the flats, I used these sections to my advantage and tried to speed up to widen my lead, and when I hit the uphill, I just tried to keep moving and not panic. I was starting to overtake some of the men's field by now, and it looked like I was about 8th overall as I went through the feed station again at 38km. I grabbed some nibbles and downed some energy drink, coke and water, before heading off again, thankful that neither Joelle nor Alissa were anywhere in sight. 

By the time I saw Joelle again on the return leg, I figured I must have had at least a 5 minute lead over her and as we passed each other going in opposite directions, we gave each other some encouragement and big smiles. I was a little concerned that there was no sign of Alissa and did wonder what had happened, hoping that she wasn't injured or anything, and later found out that she had sadly dropped at 25km due to twisting her ankle and being in some pain.

With just 10km to go, I had succumbed to a bit of walking, especially when faced with an incline as my walking was becoming much quicker than my running pace. I overtook a few more men, and figured that now I must be in the top 5 overall which gave me a bit of a boost as I kept ticking off those km. But that last 10km seemed to go on forever, and even though I was familiar with where I needed to run, I was becoming frustrated as the path just seemed to go on and on and on, I couldn't remember seeing some of the landmarks, and the ones I could remember were taking far too long to appear.

At last, I saw the bridge over Deerfoot, and I knew that I only had around 3km to go. I knew now that I had won the ladies race, and I also knew that there was no way I would break 4 hours, so it became a case of just keeping going to the finish. The last few hills were taking their toll, and then all of a sudden, there was loads of shouting and cheering from a group of people at the top of one of the hills. They were cheering me on and it turned out to be good friends Adam, Kim and Joanna who'd come out to give all the runners a bit of support. It was so nice to see their familiar smiling faces, and with a high 5 to Kim and Adam whilst Joanna tested her photography skills, I got a bit more of a spring in my step as I headed to the finish line.

Yay! Finishing Frozen Ass 50km - 1st lady and 4th overall
I crossed the line 1st lady and 4th overall in 4.06.45, taking 4 minutes longer for the second half . It wasn't my best paced run, but I was happy and relieved with the win, and couldn't wait to get some food and drink into me to start the recovery!

I expected to be pretty tired and sore from the race, but the next day, I was thankful that I could still move around with no stiffness. Knowing I had the cross country the following Saturday, I opted for a couple of days rest, and then a couple of easy 5km runs with Wilson and Brandy. I felt OK on the easy runs - a little tired in the legs but generally OK - so I was looking forward to getting out for the cross country the following weekend.

Organised by our good friend Alan, the race starts at Glenmore and heads to Weaselhead. Unfortunately, the floods last year damaged parts of the old course, so this year it would be a two lap course but thankfully Alan had made sure we still got to experience the Jack Rabbit Trail.

I'd turned up to the race feeling pretty relaxed again and not feeling any particular pressure, but when I heard that Kim was unfortunately working, I realised that the race was open and for the taking. Joanna and Anne have both been running extremely well, and I'd heard a rumour of another speedy lady that was taking part for the first time, so knowing that this really could turn into a race for victory, I started to feel apprehensive and nervous.

The weather had gone much colder than earlier in the week, we'd had some light snow overnight, and it was still falling as we were awaiting the start. With the course change, I had no idea where we would be going and was rather hoping that it would be good underfoot without too much deep snow which can be energy sapping. 

As it turned out, it was good mix of everything, and whilst I was secretly moaning to myself about having to traipse through some deep snowy sections that swallowed my legs with every step and I couldn't stay up straight or get a grip, I loved the section through the trees where running was good and we could pick up a bit of pace. To quote Joanna, it was like a roller coaster with all the rolling hills but it made for a beautiful and interesting course and I loved it! Considering I'd raced earlier in the week, my legs weren't feeling too bad and I was making sure I was working on the hills. I was being followed by a couple of young lads - and I mean young lads - and they were putting me to shame at how fast they were going. They eventually overtook me, but they sure helped me to keep going and push ahead, and as I approached the finish line to shouts and cheers, I was absolutely chuffed to bits to have my second race victory in just 6 days.

Enjoying Jack Rabbit Trail at Weaselhead XC  and
leading lady - Thanks CRR for the picture :-)
So yes indeed, it has been a fabulous week of racing and I'm really pleased that things still seem to be heading in the right direction. The winters are long here in Canada and the long range forecast is showing sub-zero temperatures for at least the next 10 days. Running in the cold, in ice and snow, it is so easy to want to give up and walk away, but I'm fortunate to have met and got to know so many motivated people here, that get out on the roads, trails and mountains regardless of the weather and so long as it's safe. Even today, I had the pleasure of a 25km run with Alan and Kim despite it snowing and being a bone-chilling -21, but it makes things far more easier when you have somebody to run with. I love it here and I do enjoy winter running, but I have to say that with the lighter nights becoming more noticeable, I am starting to dream of green meadows filled with spring flowers, of accessible trails filled with the sound of birds singing, the bears out and about with their cubs and all the other wildlife with their young, the sound of bubbling brooks and raging rivers as the snow starts to melt, and things once again come to life. Spring has always been my favourite time of year, and I'm hoping that I really can knuckle down when the proper warmer weather arrives and hopefully have another big smile on my face at the Red Deer Marathon in May.

Dreaming of spring ..... :-)

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