I haven't posted on here since January, about the same time I decided it was finally time to cross running a marathon off my bucket list!
I developed a passion for trail running about 3.5 years ago, after figuring out that running any farther than 30 km on the road really made me feel miserable and the trails were much gentler on my body. So, I started running year round, discovering the joys of winter and night running, chasing my crazy and adventurous running pals around the forest, gradually getting to the point where running for 4 hours at a time was actually no big deal.
With the idea of working up to a trail marathon, I ran the 25 km Pick your Poison trail race in 2013 at Horseshoe Valley, scrambling up and down ski hills and then....I sold my house and embarked on the EPIC ROAD TRIP = the end of 4 hour weekend runs with my pals.
I managed to get in some really nice runs in Arizona and California, but the heat and lack of company zapped my enthusiasm to run any longer than an hour or two.
There, I would find a nice little 6 km loop with some significant climbs in and out of the ravine where I would do long runs. It is beautiful through the seasons and especially gorgeous in winter.
So, as mentioned, in January of this year, I decided to cross marathon off my bucket list, but because marathon is not a common distance on the trail, I set my sights on the 50 Km Seaton Soaker Trail Race in Pickering, Ontario on May 9, 2015.
For those living in South Central Ontario, you will probably recall that last winter was pretty damned cold and there was a ton of snow, yet I was determined. I ran around and around that ravine loop for 6 hours at a time in -40 degree C temperatures with the wind. When the snow started to melt and the meltwater refroze, I strapped on my kahtoolas and ran on the ice. During that time, the totally runnable hill leading down into the ravine turned into an icy frozen slide reminiscent of a bobsled track. I am proud to say I stuck to my training plan no matter what it was like outside.
All through the winter and into the spring, I ran solo soaking in the beauty of nature, still missing my trail buddies. I was really glad when I heard there would be a group training run on the Seaton course a week before the race, so I could run with other people again. Even more happy to reconnect with a few of my old trail pals on race day!
Seaton went pretty well. It took me almost 7 grueling hours to finish, yet much to my surprise, I somehow managed to get first place in my age group! Now, I was finally able to check marathon off my bucket list knowing I'd even surpassed that distance by an additional 8 km. And, yes, folks, on the left was one of the many gnarly hills I power hiked up, definitely not the same deal as running the smooth flat asphalt of a road marathon.
I had done it, and I was really happy to have achieved my goal. Yet, the ultra running community is a special one. Once I did that race, I was eager to keep going and continue to be a part of it all. Inspired by my good friend Kelly Anne Wald, whom I reconnected with at Seaton, I started thinking maybe it would even be possible for me to run farther than 50 km on the trails.
I figured that having a coach who could help get me to running 50 miles this year without injury would be smart. I'd heard a lot of great things about Derek Spafford of Spafford Health and Adventure from Kelly who had become a serious ultra runner. So, when I decided to do the 56 km distance at The Limberlost Challenge in July, I signed up with him with the idea it would be a step towards my goal race of 50 miles at the Haliburton Forest Ultra.
It was really awesome being able to ask Derrick all of my crazy questions about ultra running, receiving a weekly training schedule and getting regular feedback on my progress. I felt ready, yet nervous about Limberlost as I'd heard it was a tough and long course to complete. At the end of the day, what I heard proved to be true.
With four, 14 km+ loops head of me, I went out the gate pretty quick clocking my first loop in under 2 hours and feeling like maybe I could keep it up to finish in around 8 hours. Yet, the hills, soggy ground, mud and constant water crossings really sucked the energy out of my body. That, plus it was sweltering hot and humid, over 30 degrees C. On the final loop, the main thing that kept me going was knowing my kids would be waiting for me at the finish line. We had camped over at Limberlost the night before and they were volunteering as race crew and swimming while I slogged it out on the trail. Sure enough, they were there when I crossed the line. I was thrilled to see them and even more thrilled to be DONE!
Ultra running is like childbirth in that you quickly forget the pain and effort involved and only focus on it's rewards. So, soon after running Limberlost, I was asking Derrick what he thought about my running the 6 hour race at Dirty Girls. As it was only 2 weeks after Limberlost, I didn't have much time to recover so he wasn't thrilled about it. I'd heard so many good things about this race, including great atmosphere, a beautiful course, awesome swag and food. I persisted in convincing him I would take it easy and run it as a training run for my goal race.
It was another blistering hot and humid day and true to my word, I took it easy, squeezing in 40 km before the 6 hour mark.
Then, of course, I knew that the Creemore Vertical Challenge, the next race in the Ontario Ultra Series was coming up in another 2 weeks so once again I asked Derrick for his thoughts on my doing the 50k, fully expecting him to say "NO" because that would mean squeezing 3 races into 6 weeks. I was surprised when he said that as long as I could run it as a training run, it would be good preparation for Haliburton because of its long steep hills.
So, I signed up and on yet another hot and humid summer day, ran 50 k on long dirt roads and gnarly trails with my friend Liisa, whom I met and ran with the last loop and half of Limberlost. We crossed the finish line together 10 mins faster than my time at Seaton so I was pretty happy. After the race, I took full advantage of the opportunity to soak my legs in the river while replenishing my carbs with a nice cold glass of Creemore Springs.
I guess I must have sat in that cold river a little too long because a few days after I came down with the flu and spent a few days in bed. However, on the upside, Derrick mentioned that if I was going to get sick, this was a good time because I could use the time to recover from the past 3 races before completing my training for Haliburton. Looking back on it, he was right, but one never feels like there's a good time to get sick when they are in the throws of it. Then again, I was tired and I needed downtime so I was glad I had a bit of a forced break from training.
I believe we can rise to our personal and societal challenges by embracing the spirit of adventure and the enduring wisdom of nature.