Sunday, 15 July 2018

Running, Camping and Having Fun :-)

It's been several weeks now since I ran the Blackfoot Ultra and I have to say it's been somewhat strange having such a huge gap between that and my next big race. I did have a few days recovery following Blackfoot but I was soon back into training and starting to prepare for my next 50 miler.

Iron Legs is a mountain race and takes place in Kananaskis Country near to Calgary. I ran this race back in 2014 and finished 5th lady in a little over 13 and a half hours. There's considerable climbing involved and on my first attempt, I was still predominantly a road runner that was more focused on speedwork that hill work.

Iron legs in 2014 - I was more of a roadrunner back then!
Things are different this time. My body is no longer built for speed and I'm finding it harder to knock out those faster miles after so many years of competitive running. However, I am able to plod for more than a few miles and in the past 5 years, I have ran close to 50 trail races compared to about 10 on the roads. Yep, times have changed and the trails are now where I find most enjoyment.

Living in Leduc, it's been difficult to find the climbs required to prepare for such a race as Iron Legs, so I've been doing sessions on the treadmill with a continuous incline of at least 6%. At weekends, I've headed to the river valley in Edmonton to hit the trails and find the climbs and I've certainly been surprised at how much climbing you can find, so much so that my legs have certainly felt it after anything between 2500 and 4000 ft in one run!

Enjoying the forest trails and climbs of Edmonton :-)

Of course, the views are nothing like being in the mountains but the valley is blanketed by lush green forests and I've absolutely loved exploring those wooded trails. The climbs are steep if not long and I can feel myself getting gradually stronger as the weeks go by. In terms of wildlife, I've not seen any of the large mammals such as bears or moose or even coyotes and deer, but I have seen so many varieties of birds, I've seen squirrels chattering away in the trees, and the other week I even saw a snake - yes, they have them here too although this dude wasn't venomous and shot into the long grass before I could even do the double take!

With Andy working away so much, I can't do my long runs out in the mountains because of leaving the dogs alone all day - it's a 4 hour drive to Jasper which would required either an overnight stay or a very early start, and I'm not that selfish as to leave my dogs on their own for that length of time whilst I go out and enjoy myself. The good news is that I have managed to still get out to the national parks twice in recent weeks, the first time was a solo trip with the pups to Banff, and then just last week, Andy finally made it home and we had a couple of nights camping in Jasper.

Camping really helps me to relax even when the tent is only just big enough and the campground has basic amenities, and on both occasions I've felt a calm come over me. I love spending time outdoors and enjoying the peace and quiet that camping brings, although Tunnel Mountain Campground in Banff wasn't exactly quiet on the second night!

On our first trip to Banff, I managed to get up Sulphur Mountain and Tunnel Mountain and I also headed out to Lake Minnewanka where we got married. The dogs were so well behaved and it made the weekend thoroughly enjoyable. I was hoping that I would be able to meet up with some old friends whilst there, but unfortunately they were busy with their own lives and couldn't make it. The weather was also a little damp and cool but that didn't stop me from heading out for the day and having some outdoor fun. As it turned out, I enjoyed that alone time with just me and the dogs and I was excited to do it again sometime soon.
Fantastic company at Lake Minnewanka - who needs friends?!
Relaxing at the campground in Banff
Fun on Tunnel Mountain in Banff
We stayed at the Wabasso Campground when we headed to Jasper which is far more basic and much quieter than the likes of Whistlers and Tunnel Mountain. The sites are also much larger and having stayed here before a couple of years ago, we were excited to be going back.

During our couple of days away, I was really happy to have the opportunity to head up Whistlers Mountain with Wilson and Tillie whilst Andy and Brandy hung out at the campground due to the latter having a poorly leg. We had a fabulous time on the tops and the weather was perfect if a little on the warm side with temperatures at 27 degrees Celsius. The views were nothing less that spectacular and the dogs had a great time rolling around in the remaining patches of snow to cool off. Of course, there is always that concern about meeting a bear whilst out hiking with the dogs and I spent quite a lot of time singing out loud and yelling "yo bear" just in case.

Beautiful hike up Whistlers Mtn in Jasper

Summit views from Whistlers Mtn
Trying to light the campfire with damp wood
Enjoying some quality family time in Jasper :-)

The daytime heat triggered some pretty intense storms that night and we lay in the tent listening to the heavy rain whilst the ground trembled from the thunder. Meanwhile the lightening put on quite a show for a good couple of hours and poor Brandy got scared thinking it was fireworks. She tolerated it for a short time but then her anxiety got so much that Andy ended up up hopping in the car with her whilst I snuggled up close with the other 2 and drifted off into a very contented sleep.

The hiking and gentle running up the mountains did me the world of good and with just over a month until Iron Legs, I'm ready for another week of quality training. My quads were sore from the long steep downhill and I'm in desperate need of a massage but I still feeling pretty good and focused on my goal.

My schedule for this Saturday called for a 15 mile negative split run and I was all set to do the roads around Leduc. But on Friday during my lunch break, I discovered that there was a half marathon on Saturday in St Albert so I was pondering whether to do that instead. I decided on yes even though it meant giving up my Saturday morning sleep-in with the dogs and I went to bed with good intentions of getting up early for the race.

I was awoken early Saturday by a stinky smell and I realised that one of the dogs had had an accident and it needed to be cleaned up. I was frustrated at been woken up so early and having spent half an hour scrubbing and cleaning, I thought, "stuff the run, I'm staying in bed". By the time my alarm went off at 6.30, I'd changed my mind and reluctantly made the effort and got ready for the drive to St Albert.

My plan for this half marathon was to do 8 minute miling up to 7 miles and then around 7.00 minute pace in the second half. It would bring me in around 1 hour 40 mins. I had no intention of been drawn into a race and I was convinced that with that time, I wouldn't podium so wouldn't have the added pressure of holding my position.

But of course, things didn't quite go that way.

From the start I felt extremely relaxed and didn't check my watch until around about the 2 mile mark. I was surprised to see that I'd been doing around 7.20 pace which was much quicker than planned but it felt good and so I decided to just go with it. It seemed like there were lots of folks ahead of me and I had mentally settled into my perceived 4th or 5th female position, grateful for no pressure and for once just being able to enjoy the run. But around 5k, I was greeted by raucous applause and was enthusiastically told I was lead female. Bollocks - now what? I honestly did not want to be leading as I knew that if I was being caught, my competitive instinct would kick in and I would end up racing - that was not the plan and I was trying to stay disciplined.

It was extremely windy out on the course and whilst trying to decide what to do, I heard what sounded like somebody clapping loudly behind me. The persistent clapping lasted for the next 5 minutes until finally a chap behind me said that he was going to shelter behind me due to the wind. He liked the pace I was doing and commented on how consistent I was so he was going to stick with me - I was not a happy chappess! 

I really dislike it when men use me as a pacer or to avoid the bad weather, especially if there is no intention of sharing the load! I laughingly told him that if he stayed there for too long I'd stop dead in my tracks to force him to pass. Many a truth told in jest and sure enough, a mile or so later, I deliberately stopped at an aid station for a drink hoping he would continue. He stopped too, hovering and waiting for me until he finally crealised his free ride was over - run your own race buddy, not mine. He surged ahead to catch somebody else and that was it until after the race when we chatted and laughed about it (he actually finished 3 minutes ahead of me, and he was really happy with his result :-) )

Meanwhile I was still running well. An out and back section gave me the chance to see how far behind the next lady was and it looked to be around 600 metres. With another 6 miles to go, it was possible she could catch me but I stuck to my plan - no racing.

By 9 miles I had picked up the pace a little as I worked towards my negative split. My legs were tiring, the wind was horrendous and a couple of short inclines were taking their toll. Thankfully there was another guy running close and he was being so encouraging to every other person. I don't know why, but he reminded me so much of Travis from the Aravaipa Racing Team in terms of personality and spirit (there was also an Adam lookalike that finished 2nd!) and his positive attitude was infectious. I really appreciated him being there when normally that kind of thing would irritate me, and he actually helped me to keep it going.

By 10 miles my lead had increased further with my slightly faster pace and I knew that the victory would be mine. It was kind of bitter sweet - if I win a race, I want to work for and not have it handed to me on a plate. If the competition isn't there, I still like to compete with myself but today hadn't been about that - it was purely and honestly a training run. Had I ran it hard, had I gone out fighting for a time and a win, I would have felt better, but I felt like I cheated somehow by not really running flat out.

Saying that, I did find the last 3 miles tough. The wind seemed to have increased and it had gone quite chilly and I found it hard trying to get under 7 minute miles for the finish.

My official finishing time was 1.36.03, good enough for first lady and 12th overall. Yes of course I was happy with a win, but I would have been happier had I worked much harder for it. I would have been happy to have been beaten by the ladies behind who had given their - I didn't deserve it by just trotting around - but then I had to remind myself why I had ran today. I ran for me, I ran because I'm building up to a different race where I want to run well and really give it my all. My goal was simply to run the negative split, which I did - just! Looking at my splits afterwards, I was just 2 seconds faster in the second half than the first but it was still a negative split - mission accomplished :-)
MEC Half Marathon, St Albert - 1st lady :-)

Next weekend Andy will be here again and I'm hoping that in the next couple of weeks, I can get out to Jasper again for a mountain run or hike before Iron Legs. I've been meaning to get out to Mount Robson again to run the Berg Lake Trail and having seen the wonderful pictures that a friend of mine took on that same trail just this weekend, it is highly likely that this will happen if Andy isn't called back to site too soon - I rely on Andy to babysit the dogs when I do these long runs and races and he's always happy to oblige. Either way though, whether we do get out to the Parks again or not, it'll be great to have some company and I'm looking forward to having him here.

Mount Robson Marathon  and Berg Lake Trail
back in 2014
Mount Robson and the Berg Lake Trail back in 2014
I'll be back soon!


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