Sunday, October 2, 2011

Tor des Geants: race report

Tor des Geants was a great experience and I must say, I really enjoyed it. Sure, there were moments of feeling utterly exhausted, craving real food and a long, deep sleep but what an incredible journey. On the whole, I kept pretty happy throughout the week with just one day of wondering why I was doing this to myself, but that thought soon passed! It took a day or two to settle into the race, getting to know how the life bases and refuge huts worked, but it's surprising how quickly we adapt.

The route runs along the Alta Via 1 and Alta Via 2 of the Valle d'Aosta, with the start and finishing line in Courmayeur and is a self-paced race of 336 km (200 miles) with an altitude range of 24,000 metres with 150 hours to complete it. There are life bases set up throughout the week where you can get a hot meal, shower, access your drop bag and get some sleep. These tend to be busy places with people coming and going so the chances of getting any real sleep are slim but they're a great place to get yourself clean and fed before heading out into the mountains again.

There are also certain refuge huts in the mountains that you're able to sleep at for no more than 2 hours. I quickly found that these were the best places to get some shut-eye as they're not as busy as the life bases and a 2 hour sleep when you're exhausted feels wonderful!
Even though this is a self-paced race, you still have to make various cut-off times throughout the course but I realized on Day One that this wouldn't be a problem so I didn't bother take much notice of my times/pace etc and because of this, it made TdG one of the most relaxing "races" I've been in. There are some weird timings as to when you have to leave a life base ie you have to leave by midnight on one day, 2 am on another .... this means that you're forced to run during the night time which added to the sleep deprivation. And that was a whole new experience for me - I was having early morning hallucinations by the end of the week which I've never had before but were fun and entertaining.

One thing I learnt from racing UTMB last summer was that it is super steep in the Alps so I knew that TdG would be an incredibly challenging course every day for 6 days. I took it pretty easy on Day One as this is the day that will either contribute to your success or your demise; it's amazing how many people take off as if they're in a 10-km race from the starting line - this is great if you're some super-fit mountain goat, but it sure is a difficult pace to maintain for that type of distance. I took the tourist approach - get there when you get there and remember to stop and enjoy the views en route. The one thing that is hard in this type of steep environment is getting your head around how long it takes to cover a short distance. On the first day, it took me 13 hours to cover 43 km which is super long (even for me!) And there are times when even 5 km will take a couple of hours so I found having a "get there when you get there" approach kept me from going insane!

My goal from the beginning was to get to the finishing line on the morning of the 6th day, hopefully in one piece, but my main goal was to enjoy it as much as possible and I found this easy to do. When you break it down to its bare bones, the only things you need to know on a daily basis is that you're going to be hoofing it up a steep uphill for hours and hours (and hours), and then you'll cross some crazy mountain pass, and then you'll drop down for hours and hours until you reach the valley floor and then you do it all again, sometimes many times over during a 20-hour period including doing all this through the night when you're so tired that you end up staggering on the trail, hoping you don't fall off the mountain. Oh, and if you're lucky, you may get to sleep for a couple of hours here and there.

I bumped into Steve periodically either on the trail or at a life base which was great. During the last leg, I decided to stay at a couple of refuge huts en route to the finishing line. By this time, a huge part of me was eager to get finished - my stomach was sick of all the running food and I was having a hard time getting calories down me. But on the other hand, I really wanted to finish in the daylight as it's a shame to miss out on the beautiful mountain scenery. Plus it's way safer to hit the last downhill section in the daylight. So I ended up making an additional stop at the Bonatti refuge hut for a 2 hour sleep and just before going to the dorm, Steve walked in! Talk about perfect timing - it meant that we could sleep for a couple of hours and then head off at sunrise and cross the finishing line together.

I met loads of great people at TdG and also saw some of our Calgary friends out there too which was a treat. There was a nice feeling amongst people - everyone trying to get to the finishing line and everyone dealing with their own challenges either physical or mental while doing so. The scenery throughout this course is utterly amazing. And the towns and villages that we ran through were very neat and tidy, with friendly people giving support. It's a very well run event and the volunteers do a great job. What a great event - thank you to everyone involved!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Tor des Geants

Well, it's time for another big adventure and this one will take me to the Italian Alps. I signed up for Tor des Geants back in January and it's a race that has somehow come around very quickly.

Banff, like the rest of the northern hemisphere, had a very long winter and I still have to do a double-take every time I look at my calender; is it really the end of August already? It feels like summer has only just begun.

Tor des Geants is a multi-day mountain race which ran for the first time in 2010 but is a race that filled up within days of opening this year. I will be on the starting line with 499 other people who will all be hoping to get to the finishing line in one piece! The course is 330 km in length and you get 150 hours to complete it. There are some life bases en route where you can get a shower, food and sleep so I'm hoping to be able to get some shut-eye during the week but am not counting on it. When I ran UTMB last year, I was shocked at how steep it is in the Alps so I've got a pretty good idea of how long it takes to cover a small distance and how challenging this course will be - pain is definitely in the forecast!!!

My only goal is to get to the finishing line without too much long-term damage but if the body blows up on me, then Plan B is to sit back in a gelato shop and watch the world go by - now that's an attractive idea. Maybe I should just skip the race and go straight to the gelato shop!!

Anyway, wish me luck! I'll let you know how I get on after I've hobbled back home.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Images from a week in Jasper

I raced the Iron Leg 50 miler last weekend and then took a week's holiday and spent it running in neighbouring Jasper National Park - what a blast! I ran on lots of new trails and also did my old favourite, the classic Skyline Trail. Together with the race, I managed to rack up about 300km so was pretty happy with that as I felt great at the end of the week.

Fryatt Valley

Fryatt Valley from the Headwall.

A very misty Sulphur Skyline

We don't usually have a lot of mist here so this was fun.

Whistlers summit overlooking the town of Jasper

Mt Edith Cavell.

The Tonquin Valley

A moose!

The view from Wilcox Peak

The view from Bow Summit.
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Sunday, August 14, 2011

A quick fastpacking trip into Floe Lake

It was my birthday on Wednesday and I decided on a spontaneous fastpacking trip into Floe Lake to celebrate.
Floe Lake is part of the classic Rockwall Trail and is easily accessible from the 93 South Highway. After a couple of hours of climbing up and around, you step into the beautiful and quiet Floe Lake area. There were quite a few campers already set up, fed and hunkered down in their tents for the night. I'd gone in straight after work so didn't expect to see too many people up and about but I still had quite a few hours of daylight left and sat on the edge of Floe, eating my pre-made dinner and just marveling at how easy it can be to "get away from it all".
I had a pretty good night's sleep and was up super early to pack everything up, make some hot coffee and then boogie back down the trail to my car where I had my office clothes waiting for me. After a quick wash and change, I was back on the highway and at my desk by 8.35 am what a great start to the day!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Helen Lake

Exploring beyond Helen Lake

Isabel Lake
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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Western States: race report

Wow! What a race. After all these months of training and fretting, the big day finally arrived at Squaw Valley and I took my place at 5.00 am with all the other runners, looking forward to a long day of running some beautiful trails. I tried not to think too much about the distance because 100 miles (160km) is a very long way and I figured I would just let the day unfold as best as possible. My pre-race nerves had actually kicked in the day before during registration so I ended up feeling super calm on race morning and felt even better once I'd hooked up with friends Angela and Leslie. Leslie was pacing Angela from Foresthill so after our good luck hugs, we said goodbye to Leslie and Angela and myself pushed our way as close to the front as possible before the countdown had us on our way.

My only goal for this race was to finish under 30 hours and to try to enjoy it as much as possible. I wasn't hung up on exactly when I was going to get over the finishing line so didn't have any split times or anything like that. I did however run with a list of the aid stations and their cut off times as there was always that small niggling doubt of whether I could keep ahead of these.

It was just getting light as we started pushing our way uphill and I was amazed at how many people were out to support us. I even saw some sponsored athletes cheering us on. Once I reached the snow, I found that my legs were feeling pretty nimble and I ended up overtaking loads of people who seemed quite shy of this hard white stuff under our feet. That's one good thing about having lived in Canada for so long - I've gotten very used to being on snow!

Some of the course was a little slick, especially on the snow slopes and I wiped out a couple of times so pulled myself back a little as it's no good getting hurt so early on in this type of race. The scenery was stunning and as the course opened up, I forced myself to take it in as much as possible. It felt like it was going to be a good day. There was a warm breeze and the skies were clear.

I figured that the key to success for this distance, especially in the heat of the canyons, would be to keep myself hydrated and fueled as much as possible. My weight on race morning was 127 and by the time I got to the first aid station, I was down to 124 so this was a good cue to start drinking more and to add some electrolytes. My weight all day only fluctuated by a couple of pounds and when I got on the scale at the finishing line, I was 126.

I think most of my day was occupied with monitoring my food and drink, always looking at my watch and taking a gel or some solid food at regular intervals. I tend to start these long races eating sweet food and I was extremely happy to see chocolate chip cookies at the first few aid stations so I grabbed some of those to munch on inbetween my gels or blok shots. I was impressed that the aid stations had plain gels so I didn't have to gag on all the strong flavours that are usually on offer.

Later on in the day, I switched to saltier foods ... things like Ritz crackers, chips, boiled potatoes etc. I must be honest and say that I love eating during these races and usually have a really good appetite. Western States was no different; I had a solid stomach all the way through which I was very happy with as I passed at least 4 people throwing up on the course and I can't imagine how crappy that must feel, plus how difficult it must be to try and refuel your body after that. I also used Carbo Pro which is a non-tasting powder that you add to your water/nuun and this is a good way of sneaking in some extra calories.

I'd opted to make Michigan Bluff my main aid station and this is where I was picking up my headlamps and also getting changed into dry clothing for the night time section. It was still daylight when I got there but I thought it would allow me to skip through the larger aid station of Foresthill as quickly as possible as I imagined that it would be a gonk show there what with people picking up their pacers and lots of spectators etc. I never had any intention of running with a pacer as I really wanted to do this race by myself and, even though I knew it would be a little more challenging running solo, I also knew that I'd get a kick out of doing it this way. It was quite funny to have people pass me at night telling me how ballsy they thought I was. I'd never dream of running at night by myself at home, but it doesn't bother me in a race. I actually like it. But maybe I'm too tired at that point to really care!

It always surprises me how quickly time passes during these races. I remember looking at my watch at some point and realizing that I'd already been going to 15 hours straight and yet I felt reasonably fresh. I'm sure I was moving fairly slowly but it all felt good. Until the blisters on the bottom of both feet appeared. I can't tell you how painful that is. It felt like I was trying to run on hot coals and the bad news was that I still had 30 miles to go. I was quite relieved when they finally burst as they now just felt like someone was cutting into my feet each time I placed them down. However, there comes a time when you have to suck it up and just get 'er done. I think this part of our British genes - stiff upper lip and all that!!

In some ways, the last 30 miles felt a little easier as the aid stations seemed to string together nicely and I managed to get myself a steady pace - not fast, but at least moving forward. I hadn't seen Angela since the race started and I assumed that she was still ahead of me so I tried to pick up my pace a bit in the hope of maybe catching her up (I found out later that she was actually behind me and was suffering from knee problems - hardly surprising considering the amount of downhill elevation involved). I was also wondering how my friend Ellie was doing as I'd been hoping that she'd come in as first female (she's super speedy!) The one aid station wasn't sure but once I got to Highway 49, they were able to confirm that yes, Ellie Greenwood was first female! I can't tell you how elated I felt. Somehow it put a spring in my step and I was off, ready to knock off the final few miles to the finishing line.

There's a section between Highway 49 and No Hands Bridge which is the prettiest section of the race - lucky for me, I was running across this during daybreak and it was amazing. It's an area which is open and flat, with beautiful long soft grass and gorgeous soft billowing trees - it's like something out of a poster.

I managed to make my way down to No Hands Bridge without too much pain. My feet were in a stable state of painful numbness and my quads were still screaming, but were losing their voice. I was starting to realize that I was going to make it afterall! I was surprised at how early it was in the morning and didn't feel in a massive rush to get finished because I had nothing at the finishing line and they didn't start serving breakfast until later in the morning so it seemed pointless breaking my butt to finish, just to sit around waiting. So I kept to as good a pace I could maintain without stressing over the hour.

And finally I got to the very last aid station and pavement. Who would have thought that a paved road would look so good?!! It was surprising to see so many people out on this warm morning and how fantastic they were at cheering us on. I managed to overtake quite a few folks on the last stretch and then ran onto the track of the high school for the final push to the finishing line. I can't tell you how excited I was. I was laughing, pumping my arms, clapping my hands, giggling ..... what an amazing journey! I crossed the finishing line in 26:11 hours. I was so proud of myself for keeping myself strong, looking after hydration/nutrition and remaining happy throughout.

A ton of work goes into these events. In some ways, us racers have it easy. The course is marked, there are aid stations set up in remote areas, all of them have ice to put in with your fluid, the volunteers are amazing - they go out of their way to treat you like an Olympian and thousands of hours of trail work and paperwork is done well before race day. My job was to show up, run as best as I could and to enjoy it as much as I could. And that I did. Thank you Western States for making this such a special event.

Monday, May 30, 2011


It's been a great couple of weeks for racing. Last weekend, I stopped at the 5 Peaks race in Calgary for a 5.4 km trail race and then headed to Red Deer to run Woody's RV Marathon. We've still got tons of snow around Banff and so I signed up for this road marathon in order to get some good mileage and speedwork in and ended up really enjoying the race! I've never been to Red Deer before so it was a good way of seeing this small Albertan city and the marathon itself is very well organized and supported. Kudos to the organizers and volunteers for making everyone so welcome. My goal time was 4 hours and I ended up crossing the finishing line at exactly 4 hours. I was pretty happy with this as I wasn't pushing terribly hard so now know that I could finish a marathon under 4 hours if I needed to.

And this weekend was another long road trip to race the Blackfoot Ultra. This race offers various distances and I'd signed up for the 80 km hoping that I would be able to recover quickly and so far feel pretty good. I was hoping to finish in 9 hours and crossed the line in 9.09 so was again pretty happy with that. My last lap was definitely a lot slower than the others but it was fine for a training race. And the added bonus was that it was hot, dry and snowless!

Next up is Western States at the end of June. Blimey! What have I gotten myself into?!!!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Rocky Mountain Soap Half Marathon

We had some fabulous weather this weekend so it made the Rocky Mountain Soap Womens Half Marathon in Canmore an even more enjoyable experience. This is the 4th year that this weekend event has taken place and it offers a 6km, 12 km and half marathon so appeals to all type of runners from all over Alberta. It's a hilly course so everyone gets to have a good workout regardless of which distance they've chosen and the hill work at the finishing line makes everyone relieved to be done!

It's great to see so many women out there having fun, giving themselves a challenge and supporting each other. Plus it's a great fundraiser towards Breast Cancer so everyone wins! Rocky Mountain Soap is made here in the Canadian Rockies, is all natural and smells divine! If you have a chance to come across it, I highly recommend it.

This was my second half marathon and I managed a time of 1:56 so was pretty happy with that. I think I'm starting to like this distance!!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Running photos from the Grand Canyon

This was our first visit to the Grand Canyon and I found it incredible. It's so big that it's almost overwhelming. It was exciting to get our first glimpse of the Colorado River, knowing that we'd be running all the way down there. Yay - downhill all the way!
This is a trail runners dream. And it's warm and dry - I can't tell you how lovely that felt after being buried in snow for the last 5 months.
The scenery reminded me of the old west - I was half expecting to see John Wayne out there.
What a great first day. We started on the South Kaibab Trail, ran down to the Colorado River and came back up on the Bright Angel Trail. It felt good knowing that we had another 4 days of hitting the trails.
Going down is optional, coming up is mandatory!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Grand Canyon

We just returned from 5 days of running in the Grand Canyon. Wow, what a place! More photos to follow ....

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Rogers Insurance Half Marathon

I went into Calgary on Saturday and ran my first ever Half Marathon! I'm not much of a road runner but figured it would be a good way to get some speed work in over 21 km and I actually enjoyed it.

It was bit of an overcast day but the temperatures were good and there was quite a bit of bare pavement to run on which made a nice change for all the snow and ice we've had this winter! I didn't really know how to pace myself for this type of race so figured I would go out and try and keep a consistent pace going which seemed to work well.

Steve was en route to visit family but gave me a nice surprise by showing up near the end and running the last couple of kilometers with me before I bolted for finishing line.

I finished in 1:57 hr and came in 91 out of 233 (7th female out of 33 in my age category). Not bad for my first Half! I think next time I might try and push a bit harder as I had plenty of juice left in the tank at the end and my legs felt fine the next day.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Running on empty

I ended up getting a stomach bug last Monday so spent most of last week sick. I don't usually get ill so it was a good reminder not to take good health for granted. Thankfully I'm starting to get my strength back and feel like my old self again.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Frozen Ass 50: race report

Yesterday was the Family Day public holiday so we got to enjoy a 3-day weekend. And what better way to spend it than racing in the Frozen Ass 50km in Calgary. This is an event run by Gord's Running Store and is one of those lovely, low key, no-fuss type of races with fantastic volunteers and a bunch of running nuts willing to get out there and put some mileage in at the start of the year.

The weather was quite warm which made it pleasant as I can't imagine how bitterly cold that course would be on another day, especially as it's so open. The footpaths were snow covered and a little icy in sections but the footing was pretty good. And just prior to the halfway mark (or the finishing line if you were doing the 25 km race), we were running down the middle of a frozen river which was fun as the front runners were just starting to make their way back so it was nice to see who was out in the lead. It wasn't long until I saw my mate Ellie (first female, 2nd overall) booking along. And not too much later I saw Steve and then my mate Mike. I recognized quite a few folks from the Calgary/ultrarunning community there too as they went running past. It also meant that I had to be quite close to the halfway point which had me happy! My friend, Angela, was helping to man the aid station there so it was great to see her and have her help me on my way.

Going back was quiet as all the 25 km folks had finished at Angela's aid station and the 50 km people were now more strung out. I'm not a huge fan of flat terrain, especially over this type of distance, but I figured it would be a good training run and I actually felt pretty strong up until the 35 km mark but then my legs starting to complain quite loudly. My calf muscles were giving me some cramp spasms and my quads were screaming so the only thing to do at this point was to hunker down and get 'er done! I kept reminding myself that the pain was good experience and a taste of what's to come in my summer races, so it was a great motivator to recommit to my training program!

I was very happy to see the finishing line and was one of many people hobbling around afterwards! The post-race gathering was held inside the Canoe Club and was a great end to the day. Tons of food, various drinks and nibblies. Plus door prizes. Frozen Ass has to be one of the best value races out there and has a great vibe to it, so if you're in Calgary at the end of next February, I'd highly recommend it. Gord does a great job of organizing this event and has an army of fantastic volunteers to ensure that it runs well.

I wasn't sure how long the race would take me but I was hoping it would be no more than 6 hours and I came in at 5.48 so was pretty happy with that. I got the mileage in which was more important and, even though my legs were pretty tight today, I managed to get up early and go to my muscle class (skipping out on the lower body section, thank you) and got half an hour of yoga in at lunchtime (I was too sore to do any more!) And yes, that is a grimace that you see on my face as I try to make the stairs, but hopefully I'll be back to bouncing around again soon.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Moving house

I move to the other side of town at the end of next week so am now knee deep in packing boxes and am counting down the days until I'm ensconced in my new Princess Pad. I've moved tons of times in the past and am one of those who try not to accumulate too much stuff but still, it's surprising how quickly the "stuff" mounts up. I'm also having to downsize so it's a good chance to do more purging (I'm not sure how I'm going to fit into 360 sq ft of living space but I guess I'll find out next week!!)

I'm trying to keep myself organized as there's also a lot of things going on in my day-to-day living. The Fifty Ass race (50 km) is on Monday in Calgary so I'm keeping one corner of my place as "the running corner". Losing sight of my running gear at this point would be a bit of a disaster!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Bow Valley Parkway

I had a lovely run this morning on the Bow Valley Parkway. Locally known as the "1a", the parkway more or less follows the route of the first road completed between Banff and
Lake Louise in 1920.
With the completion of the Trans Canada Highway in the late 1950s, the 1a became an alternative, slower route. So if you want to go for a Sunday drive, enjoy the scenery, see wildlife,
ride your bike or simply run, then the Bow Valley Parkway is a piece of heaven.
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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Newport Ymerodraeth State of Mind

I love it - this is such a funny take-off! And so Welsh!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


It's a very cold week here in Banff with temperatures hovering between -27 and -18 celcius. I've still been able to get out for some runs but it's chilly!
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Saturday, January 1, 2011

Goodbye 2010 and Hello 2011!!

I love this time of year, seeing all those months on the calendar looking fresh and ready to be used.

2010 was a pretty good year. I ran three 100 km races in preparation for UTMB and enjoyed visiting New Zealand, California and Europe, catching up with family, old friends and making new ones. It was also sad to see a lot of young people I know die of yukky diseases, and that's always a reminder to make the most of the present, as none of us know what's around the corner.

I've just spent the last 3 weeks on holiday and decided to stay home which surprised everyone, including myself. But when you live in a place as beautiful as Banff, it's not a hard decision. I got to work out, do some running, read, watch films, visit friends, celebrate, ate a ton and even drank some wibbly wobbly stuff. I guess it's time to get back on the program again!

And I'm really looking forward to 2011 - there's lots of adventures out there waiting to be had!

Happy New Year everyone.