Friday, August 20, 2010

Not Since Moses

Last weekend I decided against running the 5000m at AOs in Sudbury and went to visit my brother in Halifax instead. Now why would I dare taint my hardcore running blog by professing that I went on vacation instead of dutifully finishing my track season, you might ask? Well, because I plan my vacations according to races abroad, of course! In fact, I was very much looking forward a race in Five Islands, Nova Scotia, dubbed the ‘Not Since Moses’ run, that was started by Dick Lemon in 2008.

Not Since Moses is a race unlike any other. It takes place in the Bay of Fundy – that’s right, in the Bay of Fundy – which records the world’s largest tidal changes. The horizontal tide can rise and fall several miles apart, meaning that it is possible to walk – or run – on the sea floor at low tide, and swim or kayak (or walk, if you are Moses) where you once walked at high tide. Dick Lemon had the ridiculous idea of creating a 10k run along the sea floor. Of course, this means the slower you run, the greater the chance that you will be swept away to China. Perhaps not an every-day consequence of not running fast enough.

High tide

My brother ran this race for the first time last year and I was intrigued by his description of the challenging course and majestic scenery of Five Islands: he recounted getting stuck in thick, goopy mud, jumping over rocks and scaling barnacles, trudging through sand and running through water, ultimately finishing the ten kilometre distance in over 70 minutes (a good 30 minutes slower than his best 10k time). What’s not to love? Furthermore, this year Dick advertised a $100 cash prize and a free pair of running shoes to attract “star athletes and Kenyan runners”. Now, he may not have totally succeeded in his goal, but this was enough to get my attention, anyway.

I arrived in Halifax at about 1:30PM on Friday and was greeted by my brother and his girlfriend Ashley at the airport. From there we drove straight to Five Islands, where we would camp overnight before the race. We stopped briefly for a nutritious chicken dinner meal at Swiss Chalet and to pick up some barbecueing essentials at the grocery store. We arrived at the campsite around 5:00PM, set up our tent and drove to Mo’s – the local hangout, whose most famed dishes include beer, fried halibut and mystery chowder - to pick up our race kits. I started to get pretty pumped about the race at this point. The G.I. Jane in me could not be tamed, as I began to smack-talk my competition (namely Ashley), threaten to throw mud at whoever came my way, and make outrageous predictions of how fast my 10k time would be despite the difficulty of the course. Ashley, being the competitive squash player she is, revealed to me that she had actually been training in secret for the past six months and was planning to kick my ass. Bring it on!

We got back to the campsite and made dinner: salad, barbecued chicken, corn, roasted peppers...and rum. Thank god that I was with another Coolis who was smart enough to bring his flask of rum with him (even though it was Appleton), since the vodka in mine was for some reason dwindling. We turned to Ashley to ask her if she wanted in and were answered with a slow, disapproving head-shake: “Now I know where you get your problems from, Jeff.” Ashley was kind enough to cook the chicken for us, even though I had to convince her to take it off the BBQ a good ten minutes before she wanted to for fear that it would burn to a shrivelled, burnt, crisp. I am convinced that she plotted to drain me of all nourishment the night before the race in order to beat me the next morning. Alas, I had my wits about me and quickly averted the situation. We made a bonfire and roasted some good ‘ol marshmallows before we were overcome with boredom and mosquito bites and hit the hay at 9:30PM.

Low tide

We woke up around 6AM the next morning, got cleaned up, had a coffee and soon it was time for me to warm up. Apparently squash players eat cheesies and play Frisbee to warm up, as I was the only one to do a shakeout before the race. My legs felt fresh for a change – they had been feeling sluggish all week and I was hoping that a day off was all I needed, and it seemed to do the trick. I did an easy 30mins on the roads before we headed down to the race course. After contemplating my foot attire for quite some time, I had decided on wearing my cross-country spikes for the race. I wasn’t sure if the spikes would do me any good through the thick mud and water, but I figured they might help in the harder-packed sandy surfaces and would not weigh me down as much as running shoes coated in mud, sand and water. As we came down to the course we saw the end of the 2k kids run and I gaped in horror as what looked to be sea monsters emerged from the finish line, covered from head to toe in dirt and grime. Some of the children had mud entrenched in their heads so deeply I wondered if they had mistaken the mud for some kind of hair cleaning product. Would be the demise for all those competing in this event, or were these kids really just being kids?

Jeffrey and Ashley (note the young sea monster on the left)

Ashley began to complain about her chronic hip bursitis (excuses, excuses!) and decided at the last minute to switch into the 5k event. So much for the G.I. Jane vs. Action Ashley showdown! The registration desk told her just to turn around at the 2.5k mark and that she needn’t change her event officially. We lined up at the start line and eventually the gun was fired. I found myself tied for the lead in the first few hundred meters, which worried me since I had absolutely no idea where I was going. Was the course even marked? They advertised that volunteers would be around to direct the runners but I doubted that there were any cones laid out. I saw the outline of a person a few hundred meters away and decided to run towards them. Suddenly, we hit a patch of mud that was dangerously soft and slippery. My feet sunk into the ground so deeply with each step that I wondered if I would lose a shoe 200m into the race and rekindle my nickname as Shoeless Jane. I tried to run on my tippy-toes through the sticky mess (as advised by the one-and-only Dick Lemon), but after a hundred meters or so my calves began to tire and I gave up all efforts to try and be efficient. At this point the mud had slowed me down enough such that I was no longer in the lead and I allowed myself to calmly follow the men in front of me. Soon after we hit a rocky patch that led into shin-deep water - what a perfect opportunity to clean the mud from our shoes! This was followed by a long stretch of undulating, soft sand, which felt like a break from the mud but was still very labour-intensive. Once we got to the 2.5k turnaround, however, most of the course was hard-packed sand or rock and we were able to pick up the pace considerably. I counted seven men in front of me and was feeling good so I started to push the pace, though it still felt like a tempo effort. I was really enjoying myself on the course and found myself looking around at the beautiful view, waterfalls and islands we passed by and thinking about how happy I was not to be in dreary Sudbury, Ontario running a 5000m on the track. The volunteers were amazing, cheering and directing us every few hundred meters and encouraging me to pass the men in front of me. I began to catch some of them who were tiring and by the time we hit 5k there were only three men in front of me. I realized at this point it would be pretty cool if I could win the entire event, though it seemed unlikely since I guessed that the leader was a good minute in front of me. Still, I tried to push a little harder and by 7k I was in third overall. When I hit 7.5k I ran into the slow joggers and walkers who had just reached the 5k turnaround and was forced to weave between them – I tried to be polite but am quite sure I splattered most with mud and water flying in all directions from my spikes. In the last kilometre I re-encountered the slick, ankle-deep mud that was even more treacherous now that several hundred people had run through it, but this time powered through on the tips of my toes and sprinted hard to the finish line. I was surprised to see that my time was 44:23, since I had arrived at the 5k turnaround in 23:15 or so, meaning I had negative-split the race by a long shot. I have to say¸ I felt great crossing the finish line and actually wished that it was about 10k longer so that I could have caught the first place man, who was only about 45s ahead of me!

After a 10min sludge around the finish area I went back up to meet Ashley and Jeffrey, who were getting sprayed down by the fire hose provided by the race organizers. Apparently Jeffrey had tried to keep up with me for 5k despite not having run for more than 20 minutes in the last year, and finished 11th in 47 minutes, a good 25 minutes faster than last year. Nothing like a little smack-talk from your sister to fuel your competitive edge! Ashley took it pretty easy and did the 5k in 39 minutes: however, it suddenly occurred to me that she could be mistaken for the winner of the 10k and steal my prize money! She cackled and celebrated at this thought, exclaiming that she had indeed beat me in the race and that, since she was registered in the 10k, the prize money would be hers. I was so terrified that I tracked down Dick Lemon himself to set the record straight, at which point he assured me that the money would be sent to me. I hope I didn’t give Torontarians a bad rep by demanding for my prize as soon as the race ended? Regardless, I will be back next year to reclaim my crown, that is unless Ashley successfully sabotages my race, as I am sure she plans to do...

Mo's post-race lunch!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Training Camp!

Last weekend we had our first training camp, and in the words of Borat: “GREAT SUCCESS!” It was a great chance to get in some fine training and have some girl-on-girl time (get your mind out of the gutter). I drove down with Kat on Friday in what seemed like a very quick 2hr45min drive to Prince Edward County. We stayed entertained with our amusing directions to the Isaiah Tubbs Resort, which striked me as something out of a Disney movie: “Follow Highway 33 south for approximately 30 minutes until you arrive at a stop sign. You will now be in the village of Bloomfield.” Could there really be only ONE stop sign in 30km of country road? Would this magical stop sign suddenly catapult us into a small lovely flowery village? Answer: yes. Not only did Bloomfield have one stop sign, but one grocery store, one post office, one church, and of course, one [important] liquor store! Unfortunately we didn’t stop at the one-and-only liquor store, a decision we were soon to regret. Once we arrived at Isaiah Tubbs, however, Nic called those still on their way and told them to pick up “a magnum of vodka” (whatever that means!). Now THAT is an awesome coach!

We had Friday night to chill out and make dinner with those who had arrived before 6PM – AZ, Nic, me, Kat, Cathryn and Jenn. Kat, being the only vegetarian in the house, strangely offered to cook us chicken, while I made the salad and Nic butchered the sweet potatoes. Surprisingly, Kat’s chicken was absolutely delicious, and she made sure we finished every last bite on our plate before amassing and doing the dishes. Thus, her ‘Mama Kat’ nickname was born. The late-comers arrived by about 10PM, which included Val and Jenny, who we suspected had got held up smoking some kind of grass, as they were overcome with giggles and an immense appetite upon their arrival. Soon after we were off to bed in preparation for the true beginning of our training camp.

Saturday began with a 5k hard tempo for the non-triathletes in the group, which included everyone but Jenn and AZ. They opted for a swim in the lake during our tempo-time, before they would jump on their bikes for a 180km ride. We were out the door at 8AM for our 2k jog over to a long, secluded road about 3k long. Nic and Beth’s plan was to go out at 18:30 pace and for me to hang on and go anywhere from 18:30 to 18:50. My legs were not feeling great, even after a day off of running on Friday, so I was weary of how feasible an 18:30 was. We did some drills and strides while Mama K – saving her legs for the big 30k execution run on Sunday - jogged to the 2.5k turnaround to direct us back. We set out and as usual, Nic was out like a bullet at far faster than 18:30 pace – so much for me ‘hanging on’ – I decided not to even go with them. After 1k I settled into a pace that felt hard but not race-hard, and reached the turnaround in 9:12-13. This is where the pain began....Nic, Beth and me were strung out about 100m apart at this point and my legs felt heavy and dead. I tried not to let the gap between Beth and I get any bigger, but as soon as a small incline crept up this strategy quickly crumbled. I struggled big time from 3-4k, but the last 500m downhill gave me a second wind and I was able to push hard to the finish and cross the ‘pole’ in 18:59-19:00. Beth was 18:26 and Coach N was 17:44. Nice! We turned around to see Val and Jenny bustin’ it home in just under 20:30, which are seasonal bests for them, and Cathryn not too far behind. Coach was proud and took some lovely photographs of us afterwards (Cathryn wasn’t quite ready to celebrate ;).

As we jogged back in the morning heat I looked forward to a pool run in the impressive 25 meter “heated outdoor pool” near our lodge. I went straight there and jumped in, only to resurface shrieking in terror and shock, since it was actually frigid (that’s-what-she -said). It must have been about 50 degrees, which perplexed me since it seems they would actually have to purposely cool the pool for it to be that cold. Any sane person at this point would have jumped out onto their towel and never returned to this horrible, frozen and deceitful place – I, however, being the crazy person that I am, decided to continue on with my workout and go as hard as I possibly could so as to prevent my whole body from going numb. After 25 minutes, however, I realized that my efforts were to no avail as I was shivering and –according to Mama K – my face had gone blue. That would be a sign.

When I got back to the room Nic was gone with Val, Cathryn, Jenn and AZ for their 180km bike ride. We ate breakfast then headed down to the beach for some vitamin D. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to execute my number two goal of training camp which was to get rid of my tan lines for my wedding. It was pretty windy down there so I kept my sweatshirt on and worked on my computer. There happened to be a wedding ceremony beginning on the beach to which we had front row seats, so Mama K brought out the party mix and we sat back in our lawn chairs to spectate. Beth retreated to the far end of the beach at this point, embarrassed to be associated with the loud and intrusive wedding gawkers, but we sat happily, criticising the bride’s overly pouffy wedding gown and incompetent guitar player. As we realized 2nd workout time was approaching, we hustled back to the lodge and got into our running gear for either a 5k or 10k run. At about 4:30, Nic, AZ and Jenn returned in a fluster, throwing down their bikes and dashing into their room to rip off their bike shoes and helmets. 30s later Jenn bolted out the front door in a full-out sprint that nearly knocked me over. Holy crap! She is going to rock the transition at Ironman Canada. The seemingly slow and lazy runners finally got their acts together and caught up with the triathletes for their last workout of the day. I helped pace Jenn for the last 5k of her run in 4:35-4:45/km and Beth sat with AZ to the end. We finished the day with a group stretch led by Coach N., which was a great way to wind down. Almost as good, in fact, as breaking open the magnum of vodka and pouring ourselves a drink (or for Coach, perhaps one drink too many ;)!

Once again, dinner was made by Mama K, who today marinated a salmon and baked it to perfection. This was accompanied by rice, salad, corn, broccoli, Suzy G.’s infamous foccacia bread and wine...(or vodka). It was a spectacular meal, so perfectly summed up by Nic’s shriek of “this is better than Thanksgiving!!!” though that may have been the magnum talking. Afterwards we had some chocolate almonds and donuts (Nic was trying hard to hit her target of 5000 calories for the night...but I don’t think she quite made it ;) and then we made a fire in the BBQ pit for smores. People began to fade pretty early and by 11PM everyone was asleep for the big execution that was to go down at 7:30AM the next morning.

Sunday was Mama K’s big 30k execution – and luckily Nic discovered a perfect 15k loop that we could run twice so that everyone could either do 15k or the full distance. Beth and I joined in for the second half where Kat would be doing 6k at marathon pace (4:10) and 2k hard from 20-28k followed by a 2k cooldown. We acted as the support group for the first half, driving to every 4k mark and handing out the group’s Gatorade and gels. They all looked awesome, Kat and Nic clocking consistent sub-4:45 ks and AZ, Jenn, Suzy G., Val, Cathryn and Jenny sitting around 4:50/k. I hoped in at 12k with Nic and Kat and ran in front to shield Mama K from the wind. She looked so strong and in control, and at this point most of our k’s were clocked at sub-4:40, some 4:32. Despite the odd curses to Absolut vodka, Coach N looked pretty comfortable throughout ;). At about 17k we started to wonder where the support vehicle was that was supposed to be picked up by Suzy G. after our first lap. It was pretty humid and Kat missed a gel and water that she definitely needed. Nevertheless, anything can happen in a race so we took it as good prep for the big day. At 20k, still no support car was in view but we began our execution phase of the run regardless. After playing with pacing for a few hundred meters we finally got it right and went through 1k in 4:09. We were pretty much right on for every subsequent k and hit 6k in just under 25:00. I dropped off at this point, unwilling to bust out some sub-4:00 as was the plan, but it turns out Mama K was feelin’ the burn and didn’t drop the pace significantly. She finished strong, however, holding the pace to 28k. Very impressive on such a hot day and going more than 10k without water or fuel. Awesome work!!! Once again we headed to the pool post-workout – this time not to pool run but to soak our legs in the icy coolness to help recovery. Turns out this ‘pool’ made for a fantastic ice bath. We packed up and headed back home, concluding our first training camp, that is sure to be followed by many more!

Afterwards my legs were completely toast. I could hardly make it back the 3k easy to the lodge and practically fell asleep standing up before we left (this could have been attributed to the lack of my blessed Starbucks coffee, however ;). Looking back on my last 8-9 days of training, I am not surprised why. I raced Nationals 5000m on Friday, followed by a 3000m on the track on Tuesday night, a very tough track workout on Thursday night and two back-to-back workouts (including a double run) on Saturday and Sunday. I decided on Saturday to call it quits on my track season, so luckily I have a week of easy running ahead of me, which I’m sure my body will appreciate. I am really looking forward to building up the long runs again and increasing my mileage – I am not the low-mileage type and although it was fun for the summer, I am excited to get back to my meat and potatoes.
Preparing to be executed.

At the dinner table after a long day of training...

Mama K's delicious salmon!


The ice bath. *shudder*

Monday, August 2, 2010

Worth a shot

[Nationals 5000m Race Capper]

“Drink one half bottle for moderate energy. Drink one whole bottle for maximum energy. Do not exceed two bottles of 5-Hour-Energy shots daily, consumed several hours apart.”

Perhaps not the kind of shot most would assume I would be taking. But after a long day of work and hours before the National 5000m Championships, I needed a little something extra. Moderate energy? I don’t think so. So chug the whole bottle I did. I jogged over to the track a few minutes later to meet Nicole for our usual pre-race pow-wow. My heart fluttered and I started to feel a little race-anxious on my way over, though this may have been attributed the well-advertised 'Niacin Flush' and 2-cup equivalent of caffeine contained in the shot. The label warning of ‘nervousness, sleeplessness, rapid heartbeat, hot flashes and skin redness’ could have been *somewhat* compounded by pre-race nerves, however. Are energy shots really a good idea before a race, especially one as nerve-wracking as a National Championship? This was not the time to contemplate this thought.
I found Nic and she gave me sound advice to not get caught up in an early fast pace but to stay in contact with the group – likely the second pack if it split up early. There would be two or three girls to push me to a sub 17:45 performance no doubt. I headed for my warm-up around 7:20 and was finished my drills and strides at 8:00PM. I think a more appropriate name for my drills are ‘movements,’ or perhaps even ‘stretches.’ After watching the sprinters earlier on, I have come to realize that my A’s,B’s and C’s look more like fluid ballet moves than intense ballistics. Ah well, I guess this is why I run the 5000m. My nerves were building steadily as I went to check in, at which point I was aggressively confronted by the woman at the desk:

“What is in your spike bag? Do you have any electronics – Ipod, cellphone, Blackberry, with you?” She asked suspiciously.
“Well, yes I have my cellphone,” I confessed.
“Is there anyone you can give it to? NO?! Well then I am going to have to take it!” She exclaimed triumphantly.
“Do you have any Gatorade?” She continued to demand.
“Ummm....ummm....hmmmm....yes?” I finally admitted guiltily, as if I had been trying to sneak a bomb onto a plane.
“Well hand that over too. And by the way, you aren’t allowed to wear a watch either. You have to take that off right now. And please take off your spikes I have to measure them.”

I had to restrain myself from asking her if I had accidentally walked into the New York airport instead of the University of Toronto’s Varsity Stadium. Would she like to strip me of my clothes and pat me down in addition to confiscating my shoes, electronics and liquids? After all, I could very well be plotting the death of Megan Wright by suffocating her with my extra t-shirt, or planning to cut Courtney Laurie with the sharp edge of my TTC token. Oh, the dangers that could present themselves! After she carefully measured my pins, she motioned to me to enter the holding room and I breathed a sigh of relief. My reprieve was short-lived, however, as we were ushered into an adjoining windowless, cold and bare room, for the next twenty five minutes. We were kept cooped up like animals in a pen, with no food or water and no sense of time or space, as the officials refused to give us any information as to how long our race would be delayed. We slapped our faces and legs, licked our lips thirstily and kicked our knees up periodically as we paced back and forth, anxiously awaiting our release onto the track. Now and again the entrance would clear so that we could peer out hungrily into the stadium where we would eventually be allowed to run free. In what seemed like hours later, we were led out onto the track by the athlete-herders. We were allowed to do a few strides and then it was time to line up. ‘On your mark’ and the stadium went silent. Suddenly a loud, wild, roar from the stands erupted as Nicole yelled “GOOOOO JAAAAAAANNNNNNEEEEEE” at the top of her lungs. My laugh was quickly stifled by the shush of a race official.
The gunshot fires and we are off. I immediately go to the back of the pack despite knowing that it is not a fast start. I am anxious and stressed and find it impossible – even after an 87s first lap – to stay relaxed. We stay in a tight group and continue to plot along, going through 1000m in 3:36. I begin to get nervous about the slow pace but it suddenly drops and I can tell everyone is picking it up. Since I don’t have my beloved watch, I have no idea what my splits are and this only stresses me out further. I try to hang on to the other girls but they begin to gap me in the second kilometre. Apparently I clocked an 82s lap and had a 3:27 2nd kilometre, which was far too aggressive. I slow it down to 3:37 in the third kilometre and am now completely on my own, in 11th place. I am feeling horrible now and am convinced that I am on 20:00 pace. At this point I have given up any hope of running sub 18:00. Unfortunate, but easy to do when you are in that much pain with 2000m to go. I cringe to report that I must have averaged about 3:50/km in the last two kilometres and was passed in the final 600m or so by the last-placed girl who went on to run 18:11. My finishing time was 18:20.
That being said, I did have the most fantastic cheering squad of anyone in the field. I could hear people all the way around the track cheering for me, which prevented me from dropping out (always a good thing). Of course I could hear Nicole every second of the race, telling me to keep it going, run hard, close gaps, etc. The video on YouTube is dominated by Nicole’s voice, it really is quite hilarious! I tried to listen but my brain definitely turned off halfway through. The front-end of the race was very exciting for the last few laps. Megan Wright managed to hold off BC-er Natasha Wodak in an intense sprint to the finish, and Leslie Sexton had a phenomenal race to win bronze in a new PB of 16:47. Awesome.
I went for my cooldown in a bit of a daze, not sure what to make of my race. My legs, that had felt so heavy and burning just minutes earlier, suddenly felt light and springy and full of zip. I began to pick up the pace and found myself up in Forest Hill fifteen minutes later. I began to worry that the girls would be waiting around for me at the track (we had plans to go to Cold Stone afterwards) so I booted it back down, covering in what I’d like to think was 8k in 28 minutes ;). As expected everyone was worried about me. Jeff had called my cellphone and when the terrorizing security official at the check-in desk answered, I was happy to hear that Jeff demanded “THIS IS MY GIRLFRIEND’S PHONE WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?!” Serves her right...
We convened outside the track and decided whether to stick to our plans of ice cream or to join the boys at Bedford Academy.
“Now be honest,” Nic asked, “do you want ice cream now or...shots of vodka?”
Now really, what kind of question is that. Obviously I would take shots of vodka over ice cream any day. We all agreed that a bed of some sort was in order. Half the girls actually wanted to sleep, the other half made their way to Bedford for some food and drinks. Of course, my double martini and Wallybanger shot (kind gift from Anne Myers) arrived before my food, so I was feeling spectacular in no time!
All in all, I am not too disappointed with the result since there will be other opportunities to run fast. The race was definitely worth a shot – if not the shot of the start gun, or the bitter shot of five hours of ‘energy,’ it was at least worth a shot guessed it: vodka. Absolut-ly.