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Saturday, November 7, 2015

LIFE IN VERNON!

Howdie! It’s definitely been a while since I last posted and a lot has changed. Directly after the Fat Dog 120, Peter and I moved to Vernon, BC, which is considered the hub of the North Okanagan. We nestled into our new place and quickly set out to explore some of the many trails in this part of BC. Although the mountains don’t soar as high as the one’s back home, the views are plentiful and instead of having the ocean in my backyard, there’s crystal clear lakes a 10 min bike ride from home. I am not going to lie, I am a bit of a baby when it comes to mountain biking. I pretty much stopped riding while living on the Shore but I've taken it back up again because the XC trails up here are so fun!

A few of our favorite places:

1) Kal Park: Trail Running and Mountain Biking

My La Sportiva Helios are the perfect shoe for the trails here!
2) Ellison Park: Mountain Biking, and lake side Rock climbing & bouldering

Ellison Lake which is a great place to go for a swim post mtn bike! 

3) Enderby Cliffs (in Enderby): Trail Running/Hiking


4) Bluenose Trail (on the way to the Aberdeen Columns): Trail Running/Hiking


5) Mount Rose-Swanson (Armstrong): Trail Running/Hiking


6) Cougar Canyon: Rock Climbing


7) Aberdeen Columns: Rock Climbing


9) SilverstarMountain: Hiking/Trail Running/Mountain Biking (haven’t explored much of this- next year!)
10) BX Falls Trail: short and sweet but pretty!


The main reason we moved to Vernon is because I am attending the Okanagan Valley College of Massage Therapy to become an RMT (registered massage therapist). This school rocks! I can’t say enough about the quality of the program here. My classmates are pretty awesome too. A few of them own farms! One of my classmates, Jada, has laying hens and brings us eggs! 

There 39 of us total! 
I get to walk to school every day because we only live 4 blocks away! We are right in the heart of downtime which is super close to groceries, restaurants, coffee shops etc. This brings me to my next list…

Great eats in Vernon:

1) Intermezzo: OMG! This is some seriously good food. This is a fine dining Italian restaurant kiddie corner to our apartment.
2) Bamboo BeachFusion: Really delicious and unique food.
3) Naked Pig: The place to go for a great beer, also has great food, especially BBQ.
4) Wasabi Sushi: It’s where I work!!! The sushi is great and really fresh J
5) The ItalianKitchen: Great mussels!
6) Hungry Jack’s (Enderby): Awesome breakfast and soooo inexpensive!

One of the coolest things about Vernon is all the local produce. In the summer there was pretty much a farmer’s market every day of the week and a lot of the specialty grocery stores continue to sell local produce from local farms.


 As far as running goes, I knew my mileage would take a backseat to school. Doing well in school is something that is really important to me and I will forego running to get extra study time in. It seems to be paying off because I am doing really well! I used to be a pretty terrible student in high school but my previous 4 years of university really helped develop my study skills. I never thought I would love school as much as I do because I really didn`t enjoy university that much. However, this program is super hands on which is great because I am a kinesthetic learner. We have a couple practical classes which are awesome. This is where we get to learn and hone my stroke techniques. Were constantly practicing on one another and sometimes I have to pinch myself because I get massaged as part of my school day. 

After living in North Vancouver for the past 31 years, it`s been really refreshing exploring and getting to know a new town and the areas around it. I missed out on a few of the local running races in town but I plan to work them into my race calendar for 2016.  

I have a week off now! Super stoked to relax, do some running, and some baking...and of course studying for exams I have after the break. 

See you in the trails!

Nicola!

Friday, July 17, 2015

KNEE KNACKER 50KM RACE REPORT

I set a goal sometime last year that my focus for 2015 would be my 5th Knee Knacker. Its been years since I have been able to run it at my full potential.

I didn't do any early season races and took a month off work in March to go on a rad climbing road trip through the USA. I managed to sneak in some running amongst a lot of climbing and came back feeling strong and fit.

A couple weeks after returning from the trip I ran the Shuffle 29k in Powell River. I was set on trying to get as close to the course record as possible and ran my way 12 minutes under it. This was a confidence booster and it felt good to put in a balls to the walls effort.

One week after that I ran the BMO Vancouver marathon. Since I had just run a really hard effort (and was feeling the effects of that leading up to the marathon) I had very low expectations for the marathon. However, even with an early porta-pottie stop, I still managed to set my best time ever of 3:01.

I took a couple weeks to recover from this one mostly due to a tiny niggle in my quad which was a sign to take it easy anyways.

At some point during this time I thought it would be a good idea to sign up for the Fat Dog 120. Now I was trying to juggle 50km training with 120 mile race training. In the end, I think I ended up doing more long slow runs versus any type of speed work and I think this may have effected my outcome at Knee Knacker...but more on that in a second.

For the first time since I ran the Boston Marathon I was actually taking this race very seriously. I was going to do a proper taper and I spent a lot of time visualizing race day. Peter was going to crew me so I wouldn't have to stop. I was psyched to put my best foot forward and knew that my competition were similarly matched.

The weather leading up to race day was pretty shit. I went for a run on the Wednesday before the race and had doubts whether or not the race would even happen. The air quality was extremely poor and there were fires burning all over the province. Luckily, it was very windy on Friday and it blew all the smoke away. Best of all, the temps had dropped and race day was looking like it was going to be the coolest it had been in a month (by 10+ degrees!)

I found myself standing next to Darbykai (winner) at the start line. We hadn't seen each other in a long time and took the opportunity to catch up. The first split is my toughest. I am not a strong hill runner. I have trained myself to be half decent but I am never going to be the first one up black- ever. Most years I would walk/run the first hill but I knew I had to get in that single track somewhat up front. It can get really bottle necked and I didn't want to be slowed down. I watched as a few women sailed away but I settled into a nice pace with my friends Marieve and Tara Berry. The 3 of us stayed together all the way until cypress with Tara and I staying together until the cross country trails.

I was working going up Black. I wasn't pushing too hard though and if I were to do it over again I would go the same speed. If I was stronger climber, I might be able to run more of the little steep run-able hills. Although the temps were down, it was humid and I was sweating a ton. I was surprised to feel rain at the top of black mountain. I came in 2 minutes behind the leader, Darbykai to the Cypress aid station. At this point there was another lady 30 seconds ahead. The next section rolls quite a but and the lady ahead of me was a strong hill climber. It took me until the cross country trails to pass her. Tara was right on my tail here as well.

The terrain from the Cypress XC trails to Cleveland dam are my Jam. The trail is both technical and flat or downhill. I always use this section to gain time and have the time of my life doing so. This is my favorite part of the entire trail. I was hopeful to catch up to Darbykai on this section. I ended up running down with a couple guys who were great downhill runners and we had a blast making our way down the Hollyburn shoot. I was nearing the British Properties and had yet to see Darbykai. I honestly don't think I could have moved any faster. This worried me ha. I came into Cleveland Dam feeling a little spent. I have never worked that hard in the first half. I had set a PB on my first split (to Cypress) and matched my fastest 2nd split (to Cleveland). (side note: yes, I know all my KK splits intimately!).

No time to chit chat, I could see Darbykai on the road going up to Nancy Green. I had gained on her which was a relief. I grabbed my pack from Peter and began the climb up the road. I haden't taken in much fuel on the descent down to Cleveland so I hammered back a lot of water and some fuel. My face was incredibly hot. I was able to run about 3/4's of the climb but when the other guys around me began to walk, I did to. Meanwhile, Darbykai was sailing away in the distance as she ran with ease up the road.

Things turned a bit south on the Grouse section. My split was slower than in many previous years. I think I had tuckered myself out. I was notified that Tara was 30 yards behind me and I had to dig really deep to hold her off. I knew from previous years that if you go into the Grouse section with tired legs, you get WORKED! There are so many little undulations that are SO runnable...unless your tired.  Well, I was tired and walking most of them. Once the trail began to trend downhill I felt myself come back life a little bit. Oddly, it was on this section I began to feel little muscle cramp twinges. I had been using elite (liquid salt solution) in my water so I was a bit surprised. I wasn't carrying any back up salt pills on me (at the time) which was a mistake.

At this time I feel as though I am just holding my own. I am in second, I am feeling OK, and there is only 1/4 of the race left. I just passed my good friend Matt Berry who is experiencing a little bonk which reassured me that I could be feeling worse.

I am approaching the last tiny climb at the end of Varley Trail, when I see a familiar face running down the stairs towards me. It's Ellie Greenwood! I tell her to stop running so fast and she tells me that I am 1 minute off the lead. 'Wow', I thought and then 10 seconds later, just at the top of that little climb, both my inner thighs go into spasm. I immediately have flashbacks to the HURT 100 when this happened in January. But that is Hawaii and this is Vancouver, WTF!!! I'm literally reduced to tears because I can't move and the cramping was excruciating. Herman, the photographer is asking me if I am alright and all I am doing is swearing "fu$k, fu$k fu$k, wtf wtf" as tears are rolling down my face. Somehow, my quads relax and I am able to walk a bit before I am back running.

As I am running up the hill to the aid station this mountain biker starts talking to me. "How far have you run?", he asks.  I am in such an emotional mood that answering would take far too much energy and I don't answer. Assuming I didn't hear him, he asks a new question "where did you run from?". Again I don't answer, and when he finally turns his head to see whats wrong with me, I just shake my head and gesture with my hand to stop asking me questions. It was tough coming up to that aid station such a mess. I wanted to be that happy person that I usually am, but I wasn't. I grabbed the bottle of salt pills and filled my pack and got out of there as fast as possible.

I immediately take a few pills. A few moments later something cramps so I take a moment to stretch and take more pills. I could see Tara behind me and in all honesty I just wanted her to pass me so that I didn't have to think about competing anymore. She didn't pass me until the switch backs down towards the pipeline bridge (near Riverside drive). I pretty much had to slow down. My muscles were very touch and go and if I tried to push they'd just cramp. All I could do was focus on keeping the cramping at bay and continue to put my best foot forward. I was actually surprised when I saw Tara at the beginning of the Seymour Grind and it did give me some hope that I was still in it. But, in the end, I just couldn't push the last downhill and had a few more cramping episodes along the way, stopping to stretch until it relaxed.

On the bright side, I didn't cramp from Quarry Rock to the finish and was actually able to run more than I thought I would through that section. I was shocked when I still came in 5 minutes under my previous person best!!!

My goal was do my best and leave it all out there. I really felt like I did that. Even when the going got tough, I still tried my best and worked as hard as I was physically able to. It's tough knowing I was more to give had I not cramped but that's what this is all about. Perfect days are rare when you are pushing the top level of your game. Sometimes it's magical and sometimes its not.

It's funny because looking back I have cramped at 4/5 Knee Knackers. I've cramped when I have used electrolytes and when I have not. The one time I didn't cramp I was coming off an injury and didn't push the pace at all. In my honest opinion, I believe I am cramping because I am pushing myself outside what I have trained. In other words, I am trying to make my body go to a place it is not used to going. It's no secret that I don't do much intensity in my "training". I love to run, I love to have fun and rarely am I pushing myself out of my comfort zone. However, something changes when I race and I have no problem going to that place. I just don't think my body is always ready for it :)

But this is just my theory!

This race was a great learning lesson that if I do want to be competitive, I cant just get away with not putting in the work.

I'd love to thank the women who made me work hard during the race. You pushed me to my limit and kept me on my toes. I'll be a better runner because of it.

On the mental side: Competing is tough, I think so anyway. Its hard when your constantly getting (un-requested) updates every 20 minutes about the person in front of you or the people behind you. Your brain is ALWAYS on and it makes it hard to run your own race. I find myself questioning if I am going to fast, to slow or just right.

My shoes: La Sportiva Helios SR These shoes were perfect. Light. Amazing traction. Highly recommend trying them out!
Pack: Ultimate direction Jenny pack and UD handheld. I just ultimate direction products,
Socks: Defeet Monkey Socks: These are my classic socks. They are fun, affordable and I never get blisters!

Congrats to everyone who ran! Congrats to Darbykai on an amazing performance! The day before the race I said to Tara that it would be great to share some miles with you and I think we shared more than we bargained for! It was my first ultra and it's still my favorite race to date. The organizers do such an amazing job. I'll definitely be back!

Thanks you Peter for crewing me and giving me exactly what I need, which is often a "great job, get out of here".

Thanks Grandma for coming to Cleveland. Which I could have stayed to chat! My dad and uncle Steve were at the finish line. My dad had never seen me race before and it meant the world to me to have him there.

Ok, that was long!


Monday, June 22, 2015

MARATHON SHUFFLE RACE REPORT

The Marathon Shuffle (name is deceiving) is a 29km trail run along the Sunshine Coast Trail in Powell River. I heard about it a few years back but the timing has never worked out for me.

Luckily, but rather unluckily, Peter and I were in Powell River after his surgery which is where he wanted to be during his recovery. 

The shuffle kind of reminds me of the Knee Knacker (KK). People throw around "Shuffle" times like we North Shore-ites throw around KK times. 

For a FREE event, this race offers  A LOT. There is a FREE shuttle that will pick you up and drop you off at the ferry. There is a FREE t-shirt for the first 100 who register and a FREE Townsite Brewing beer after the event at the Shinglemill. The trails are well marked and the trail maintenance volunteers put in countless hours of work. Plus there is a pasta dinner ($15) the night before at Mag Pies. I should mention that its a great excuse to hang out with some awesome people and in a pretty wicked town. They do recommend a donation to PRPaws, the local non profit who up-keep the trails, build wicked SCT huts, and sooo much more. 

I am lucky to have made some running friends in Powell River. This trip I made some new one's too. Every time I go to Powell River, these awesome people invite me to join them to explore new places (to me). All of my friends were also running the Shuffle which was pretty cool. 

I decided I wanted to run hard at this event and test my fitness. I made a mental note of the previous course record which was 3:04. I set out at a petty conservative pace and quickly one of my new friends Steph (badass runner/mother of 3) told me to pass, so I did. I passed a half dozen more people and shortly there after we went up a rather long and steep hill. Because I was now in front of a group of people I decided to keep running up the hill at a decent pace. It went on for much longer than I thought it would and my heart rate was through the roof. I couldn't help but wonder if this was going to bite me in the ass later but decided to put it behind me and do my best. 

The rest of the race was SOOOO fun. The trails are so lush and the old growth forest is incredibly beautiful. I pushed myself really hard, even on hills I typically wouldn't. However, the run was 29km and I have learned I can push myself pretty hard for that distance. I ended up finishing in 2:52, setting the female course record by 12 minutes. 

I really enjoy the shorter distance races. I find I can push myself harder in a race than in training and it's a hell of a lot more fun.I recommend this race to everyone!!! Thank you to Eagle and Scott and everyone else who volunteered their time out there. 

My La Sportiva's were the perfect shoe for the course. 

Happy trails!


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Post HURT DNF Race Report

The start of the race  Photo by: Rob Lahoe
The HURT 100 had been on my radar for the last 3 years. I had actually signed up for the lottery twice before but pulled my name both times because the timing wasn't right. Needless to say I was excited to be on the entrants list.

Training went ok- I had no injuries! However, I was having a hard time motivating myself to get in the miles with the combination of crappy weather and the lack of daylight hours. Weekends were no problem, I was committed for the long haul, however, I was hardly getting out for more than an hour on a daily basis mid week.

While my friend Josh, who was coached by Gary Robbins, was spending his weekend days looping all over the north shore, I decided to take a different approach and just run whatever I felt like. I figured I'd deal with the 'loops' on race day and didn't feel the need to torture myself in training. Looking back, I can see why Gary had him do this! I knew the course had 3 sections to each loop but I didn't quite understand exactly how repetitive it was going to be!

The climb up from the Nature Center
I had a pretty long taper- 3 weeks, which isn't something I normally do but due to work commitments it was kind of the way it worked out. Plus, I know people who do 3 week tapers so I figured it wasn't all that bad!

Once Peter and I got to Hawaii, I was stoked to get running. We went out on the course for a 40 min run and I was super giddy for all the technical running I was about to embark on. If anyone knows me, they know how much I love technical running, especially when it's downhill. Within minutes I was drenched in sweat- something I am not used to. The humidity in Hawaii is an interesting thing. I am not even sure sauna training can really prepare you for it. We spent the next part of the day driving to each aid station so Peter knew where he was going.

The air BnB place we rented was only a 4 mile drive to the start which was very convenient. Thanks Kerry Ward for hooking us up with that!

Race morning came and at 6:00am we were off. Josh, Alicia, and I all started off together, however Josh was gone within seconds. Alicia and I spent the first few miles catching up, which was great. We were slowly making our way up the first climb without too much effort. Slowly, we began to pass people as it became a bit more run-able. Then out of thin air Denise Bourassa appeared out of a bush. She had gotten off course but she was back on track and moving well and I figured it would be a good idea to keep up with her. Probably mistake number one as I was now running up a hill I wouldn't be on any other lap. At the same time, the pace felt fine and I rolled with it. We crested the climb and hit the road and Alicia, Denise and I exchanged a few words here before entering the trail again.



As the trail started to descend I went ahead of Denise and danced down the trail with a smile on my face. I was having so much fun on this descent and passed quite a few a people. Just before the Paradise aid station, I caught up to and passed Amy Sproston who was leading the women's race. I really had no intention of being this far up the pack this early on in the race but I didn't feel like I was pushing too hard, so I just went with it.

I left the aid station before Amy but she had caught up to me and passed me very quickly. Because it is a 'race', I found myself getting caught up in it a bit too early. I could tell I was working hard power hiking up the hills but I knew I couldn't keep up to Amy and she was usually out of sight within minutes. Because of this I was really surprised to see her again on the descent into the Nu'uanu aid station. I passed her again and we joked about this becoming a trend. I left a bit before her but again she caught up to me very quickly and I didn't see her again until the next aid station at the Nature Center.


I had already began to feel a niggle in my right hip flexor, which began to bother me on descents. I was also feeling really tired, like eyes heavy tired, a feeling I don't normally get until night time. I literally felt like I could take a nap! Of course, that was not an option and I was in the midst of a really tight race.

So, one thing I didn't realize about this course is that when you go down a hill to an aid station, you turn around and climb right back up that same hill. In fact, you do this for all 3 aid stations. What I thought was going to be a 'loop' course, looked more like 3 out and backs. But this also made it fun because you frequently got to see racers and encourage each other. You also could keep track of how far ahead or behind you were from other runners.



Amy and I departed on our second lap together. We chatted a bit going up the next hill, which was the steepest of them all. Again, before long she was way ahead of me. At this time I was also running near Jamil Coury (who puts on the Desert Solstice 24 hr/100 mile race) but he quickly joined Amy up ahead. Surprisingly, I caught up to and passed Amy again on the descent into the Paradise Aid station. For some reason, catching her always surprised me because of how fast she zoomed away from me uphill. Although it was the hottest part of the day, I told Peter not to fill up my bladder all the way. I did this so I wouldn't have to carry extra weight since it was only 5.5 miles to the next station. Somehow though, on the way to the Nu'uanu station, I started to run low on water. I immediately kicked myself for being such an idiot because now I was in conservation mode and didn't eat as much because I didn't want to run out of water trying to digest it. I also rolled my ankle really bad on the ridge before the descent and decided that downhill play time was over and had to be more cautious if I wanted to get through this run. This was the first descent that I didn't pass Amy on.

I'll admit, the fun factor was starting to wear off fast! I am sure it was a combo of being mad at myself for making a stupid decision and the ankle roll. I felt emotionless and spent the majority of my time on the way to the aid station thinking about what lay ahead of me and how many more times I had to go up and down these damn hills. My clothes were completely drenched in sweat.  I came into the paradise aid station while Amy was still there. I knew I was slowing down. I had hit a low point. But, there was a lot of encouragement coming from the volunteers at the aid station as well as from my friends and loved one. I left the aid station for my 3rd lap and began the steep slog up the next climb.

On the descent down to the Paradise aid station, I started to feel some twinges which signaled to me that I was low on electrolytes. I am typically not a heavy sweater and rarely experience cramping issues. I had been putting Elete in my bladder at every aid station and took this as a sign that maybe I was working a bit too hard considering the heat. Amy was already a few minutes out of the aid station when I saw her and this was the biggest lead she had on me all day. I asked for some salt pills at the aid station but they didn't have any. Luckily, a wonderful volunteer donated her own supply to me. I took a couple there and put about 8 in a baggy to go.

Roughly 10 minutes out of the aid station both my quads cramped which temporarily prevented me from walking. I stopped and stretched and took a couple more salt pills. From my experience, this combo usually alleviates cramping. Which it did, for about 5 more steps until the same thing happened again. I took 2 more salt pills, stretched, and even sat down on a rock and massaged out my Vastus Medialis, which was where the cramping was taking place. Again, I got up, made it about another minute until BAM it happens again!!! Holy shit! Seriously! Is this really happening!??? At this point I was starting to get really concerned and began doubting whether or not I was going to be able to make it up the freakin' hill. I literally COULDN'T WALK. I only had a couple of salt pills left and I was slowly starting to drain my water supply. I sat and contemplated what to do, hoping that more rest and massage would help. After a while I got up and tried to walk and the cramping attacked again. In a moment of weakness I decided to turn around and walk back towards the Paradise A.S. Luckily, I was actually able to walk downhill so I turned around and started walking back uphill, only to cramp up again. At this point, I was really bummed. People were chronically passing me in all directions and I pretty much let every negative emotion enter my head.

Then a couple of trail angels came walking up to me. Turns out they were part of Denise Bourassa's crew. If anything they just got me to relax and allowed me to think about something else. I was able to tell them about all my woes and they got me laughing. Eventually I got up, walked a bit more and was able to continue walking. However, I was running really low on water at this point and hadn't been eating. I wasn't  able to take in to much because I didn't have much water to spare. Amy was pretty much already at the top of the next climb when I began to descend to the Nu'uanu A.S. It was dark now and I took a wrong turn towards the bottom of the hill. When I went to correct myself I actually started walking the wrong direction back up the hill away from the Nu'uanu A.S. I didn't notice until Kerrie Bruxvoort passed me going down the hill (she had been behind me). It took me a few moments to put it all together but I turned around and followed her to the aid station. Just before I got to the river crossing I slipped and fell between a few rocks and my left calf cramped. It was so painful and I was on the ground moaning in agony. Needless to say, when I got to the aid station, I grabbed a chair, grabbed Peter, went to a corner out of sight and just balled.

Peter, is one stand up hell of a guy. Prior to the race I said to him, "whatever you do, do not let me drop out". He treated me with so much love and compassion and literally did everything he could to get me out of that aid station.  I decided I needed to lay down on a cot and get some rest, a place I was content to stay for the rest of the race! But he got me to eat some food, a change of clothes, and loaded my pack up with water. He was never going to pace me but I told him I needed him to come with me to the next aid station and he obliged. He went to the car and got some clothes to 'run' in and we left the tent. But, on the way down towards the creek crossing I had a melt down. I just didn't want to continue. My legs were stiff and it just felt over. I was in such a negative space and I couldn't get out of it. Again, somehow he convinced me to keep going and we actually climbed all the way to the top of the hill where there was a beautiful view of the city. It was so beautiful that I didn't want to leave and begged Peter just to sit on this beautiful bench with me. In fact, I convinced myself that just sitting there staring at the view was more important than finishing the race.

I couldn't fathom the next 45 miles. How was I going to go another 45 miles with how I felt? How? It was unimaginable. In reality, I had like 22 hours to do so and it was more than achievable. I pleaded and begged Peter to let me stop. This is the interesting part of having your boyfriend as your crew. I don't know if it is just me but I find I get way more emotional around him than I do a friend (if I am feeling negative). I don't think I would let anyone else see me the way I let him see me. Anyone else have experiences like that with their partner in long races when your in a funk?

In the end, we took a few steps in the right direction but then my quads cramped again and I said I was done. Peter finally stopped pleading with me to continue and we turned around and walked back down the hill to the aid station.

I was so happy to be done. But, the sadness I felt the following two days was much worse. I never anticipated the horrible feeling of defeat. I felt very similar to this when I DNF's Western States in 2013. It was hot, I went out a bit fast, got caught up in the competition and suffered a debilitating cramp in my stomach that had me walking for 12 miles until I dropped at mile 50. Literally, this exact scenario happened. I wish I had taken the time to reflect on that experience prior to this race.

I have come around and can sit here and write about it without getting emotional. I have so much respect for everyone who finished, especially those who suffered through things and still had the will to keep going. You are all amazingly inspiring. I was not prepared for the mental challenge of this course and when I come back, I will be prepared!!

Thank you so much to the HURT team. You guys are a riot and it's really refreshing to be a part of a race atmosphere like that. It's crazy that they had the highest finisher rate ever at 49%!!!! Now I know why.

Thanks to La Sportiva for your continued support.

Happy Trails