Seaton Soaker 50k (Guest post)

This Saturday is the first one in months that I haven’t been out the door at the crack of dawn (oh, okay, 7:30 am is hardly the crack of dawn, but it’s certainly earlier than I leave the house on a weekday!) to go for a long run.

That’s because last Saturday, May 13, I finished the race that I had been training for since January: the Seaton Soaker 50k.

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Stephanie running the Seaton Soaker 50k.

I’ve blogged about running Seaton before, but for shorter distances. This was my first time doing the 50k distance — my first time doing an ultramarathon.

I’ve done the Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon for the past three years, so I’m no longer a stranger to long distances and months of training. The last marathon was the first time I had a time goal in mind. I wanted to break 4 hours, 30 minutes, but a combination of undertraining and unseasonably warm weather meant that was not to be. I felt awful at the end of that race. Physically, I was destroyed. Everything hurt more than any other marathon I’d done before. Mentally, I was a bit bummed that I’d trained so long for no improvement on my time.

It was time to do something new. Enter Seaton.

I had actually signed up for the 50k two years before. I’d put in two months of solid training in January and February of 2015 before my workplace went on strike and my training fell to the wayside. This time, I hoped, things would work out better.

And they did. My partner, Kevin, signed up (he, too, had been intending to run in 2015), as did my friend Casey (read her race report here!). Both Kevin and Casey ran their first marathons in 2016, so I’d say they’re a heck of a lot braver than me to sign up for a 50k the very next year!

prerace

Kevin, Stephanie, and Casey before the race. Can you see the terror in Stephanie’s eyes?

The three of us did a lot of training together, although Kevin is much (much!) faster than Casey and I. We ran through the snow in the winter and through the rain in the spring. We hit the trails whenever we could, including the Seaton trails where the race would be held.

Training went about as well as could be hoped for. Nobody got terribly injured (though Kevin struggles occasionally with Achilles issues, and I had the spectre of a calf injury rear its head on our longest training run of 38k). Nobody missed very many training runs.

On race morning, I was very emotional, but I didn’t quite pinpoint why until later. It had been three and a half years since I’d run a new distance. This was big!

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Casey and Stephanie before the race. The matching purple shirts were coincidental, but turned out to be great fun as the volunteers would shout “here comes team purple!” when we came into view.

The course is a 12.5km out-and-back, meaning that we could leave bags at the start/finish with snacks, a change of clothes, more water, etc. We stashed our things and set off.

Kevin started near the front, because, as I said, he’s fast! Casey and I were content to hang near the back of the pack. Our only goal was to finish, ideally before the cutoff time of eight hours.

About 2k in, we hit a beaver dam that we had been warned about. It was wet, messy, and muddy, with planks and pallets plunked into the mud for a makeshift pathway. Some runners tried to stick to the pallets – others forged through the muck, sometimes falling. It was a great example of the difference between trails and roads.

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Stephanie and Casey fairly early in the race.

After that slowdown, the pack thinned out as people settled into their paces (most faster than Casey and I). We kept trucking along, hiking up the hills, flying down the hills, and slogging through the muddy patches. We tried to be mindful of the fact that we would be out for a long time, so we didn’t want to go out too fast.

We hit 12.5k at about 1:51, which was great pacing for being under eight hours, but not too fast to be unsustainable. The first leg is a net uphill, so it’s a net downhill on the way back.

I tried to be good about my nutrition, which is something I can struggle with on long runs. I ate my gels in the first half of the race because I knew that they wouldn’t go down well in the second half. My other fuel of choice is stroopwafels and Honey Stinger chews.  The aid stations had a nice spread of food as well, from chips and guacamole and boiled potatoes to peanut butter sandwiches and gummy bears. The most appealing thing to me was watermelon, which I ate at almost every aid station.

On second leg (back to the start/finish, the halfway point), the course diverts so that runners have to cross a river (hence the name “Seaton Soaker“). There are firefighters and a rope to help people across. I love the river crossing! We shuffled right in to the icy water, which felt pretty good as the day grew warmer.

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Crossing the river at 23k.

From the crossing it’s only about 2k back to the finish, or halfway point. We hit a big, deep, steep muddy culvert that was difficult to climb out of. I slipped and pulled my bad calf, but after walking it off for a minute I felt good enough to keep going.

We reached the halfway point at 3 hours and 30 minutes. My mother was waiting to cheer for us there, which was really great. She and a helpful volunteer (huge shoutout to all the volunteers, who were fantastic) helped us refill our hydration packs. I debated changing into a short sleeve tee, because it became clear that we weren’t going to get the rain that the forecast had called for and the sun was coming out. I stayed with my long sleeve mostly to avoid potential chafing issues. Changing socks/shoes was right out of the question – mine were caked on with mud!

midrace

Stephanie devouring watermelon halfway through the race.

We set out on our second loop, briefly making a wrong turn. A fellow runner corrected us, thankfully! We realized we were pretty much at the back of the pack, but that didn’t trouble us at all. We were just in it to finish.

We wondered whether we would see Kevin on this lap, and we did! He came hurtling down a hill as we were walking up it. Judging from the number of runners we had seen before, I shouted, “Are you in third?!” He said he was in fourth, and that he was feeling pretty good. Yay!

It started to feel much harder on the second loop, as expected. Our legs were tiring and both Casey and I tripped a few times on roots. Mostly we managed not to fall, but Casey took a pretty decent nosedive into some leaves and dirt at around 30k. She hopped back up and brushed herself off and took off like a champ. Casey is one of the most stubborn, determined runners I know. Running with her is very motivating!

At the turnaround, we calculated that we had about 2 hours and 30 minutes to make it to the finish — plenty of time! It was slow going, but we just kept running, usually only walking when we hit a hill. We knew that if we stopped, it would be very hard to start again.

At the second water crossing, the firefighters and rope were already packed up. We weren’t impressed with that, but we made it across safely and stayed to make sure another runner behind us was able to cross as well. (Edit: We contacted the race organizer the next day, and he didn’t realize the firefighters had packed up early. He promised to make sure it didn’t happen that way next year. The race really is a lovely, well-organized one!)

Our families were waiting for us as we came out of the woods to run up to the finish line, and Casey and I both started getting a bit teary and emotional from seeing them and from realizing we were about to finish.

We crossed the finish line in 7:32, well under the 8 hour cutoff! Casey and I exchanged our homemade medals that we had crafted for each other (this year the race opted to give out finisher buffs instead of finisher medals). We took very different approaches to making our medals, but we both love them! Mine is a unicorn barfing up a rainbow, and it reads “#1 Majestic Beast.” It’s perfect.

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I love the medal! I also loved being finished!

We discovered that Kevin had finished in 4:42, coming in 5th overall, and 1st place in his age group…not bad for his first 50k! We joked that he could have done a whole other lap in the time it took us to finish, to which he replied, “No, I definitely could not have.” He gave it his all!

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Stephanie, Kevin, and Casey after the race.

Casey and I placed 9th and 10th in our age groups. That sounds pretty impressive, but it was out of 10 people! Hah! We were 71st and 72nd out of 76 runners (though I think about 80 signed up, so a handful of people may have dropped out before or partway through the race).

I was quite sore after the race, but not as sore as after my last marathon. I was also able to eat some food a couple hours later — a good sign, as long races usually destroy my stomach. The sore muscles mostly faded after a couple of days, and by Wednesday I was able to try a short run again. I made it 4km before deciding that my muscles just weren’t ready yet — but I don’t think I’d ever tried to run just four days after any previous marathon!

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Stephanie’s very muddy shoes.

So would I do it again? Yes, I think I would. I love running on trails. It’s not as hard on the body, in some ways, compared to the repetitive nature of road races. Plus, the scenery is beautiful and the people are super nice (even the leaders would say “Great work!” to us as they passed us). The training is certainly a commitment, though. Maybe we’ll try to get faster one day… but hey, maybe not. Back of the pack isn’t so bad.

 

Stephanie is an astrophysicist, writer, photographer, sometime triathlete, and now an ultramarathoner.

Miranda’s first 10 km! (Guest Post)

On April 30th, I ran my first 10K. I run with some frequency, although I haven’t run in an organized race in years (okay, in decades). I decided to run in the Forest City Road Races 10K for a variety of reasons, but mostly, I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.

I’d like to go on to describe my strenuous training schedule, to explain, in detail, that I ran diligently three to four times a week, adding in longer runs and building up my stamina, and that I did strength training to protect all the muscle groups in my body.

But I can’t write that. You see, I have a full-time job and three young children (ages 10, 7, and 4). Running is definitely something I do for myself. It is “me time.” It’s the one activity that I do on my own, no matter what. I don’t even bring my dogs with me. That said, it’s also an activity that gets dropped when other things come up. If I were writing this post for a women’s magazine, this is where I’d make some profound statement about work-life balance and how women can—and must—balance their work-lives and their home-lives, ensuring that they devote precisely X number of minutes to themselves each day (I’ve found the number varies from magazine to magazine). Thankfully, this isn’t a women’s magazine, and I can be honest: I think the whole notion of work-life balance is bullshit.

Balance is a myth. Scheduling, time management, and, frankly, sacrifice are all real. There I said it. For me to run, I have to schedule it, and I don’t mean schedule it in the “I wake up in the morning and decide, Oh, it’s a lovely day, I think I’ll go for a run this afternoon.” I mean, I have to enter any run on our family calendar. My runs have to work around my teaching and writing schedule, around my partner’s teaching and writing schedule, around both of our seemingly endless meetings, around our children’s school schedules and their various activities, and around any community commitments we may have. Often running is the first thing to go on a really busy day. Some weeks it was easy for me to run three or four times for 45 or 60 minutes. Lots of weeks, most in fact, I was lucky to get in two 30-minute runs. In fact, between January (when I registered for the race) and April, I only managed to run ten kilometers twice. Most of my runs were between five and six kilometers, although I did get in about ten runs that were seven to eight kilometers long.

So when I woke up on the morning of my 10K, I was nervous. I knew I could finish it, but I was nervous about how long it would take me. Plus, the weather was less than desirable—cold, windy, and a bit drizzly. I decided that I would be happy if I finished in 70 minutes. This was a calculated decision on my part. I can, and usually do, run a five to six minute kilometer. But I also struggle with pacing myself, so by the time I get to the eighth kilometer, I’m tired. For this race, I gave myself permission to go slow.

As I ran, I consciously chose to run near people whom I knew were running a bit slower than my normal pace, and I slowly picked up my pace. I used my FitBit’s exercise feature to help me keep track of my time, so I knew my pace for each mile (my FitBit tracks in miles, not kilometers, and I haven’t had the patience to reset it). I ran the first through fourth miles between 9.36 and 9.39. I had to stop for a pee break during the fifth mile (three kids, remember?), so it was a just bit slower, 9.59 (again, three kids, so I am accustomed to peeing fast). By the start of the sixth mile, I felt good, and I realized I had a real shot at finishing in under an hour. So I picked up the pace. I ran the last mile in 9.04, and I finished my first 10K in 59.09, a time I am really proud of. I also felt like I could have kept running, which tells me that I am capable of going longer distances.

After the race, my family found me, and my middle child hugged me hard and said, “Mama, I’m so proud of you. I want to run a race now too.” That made me as happy as my time. You see, another key reason that I run and exercise is to encourage my children to do so, to teach them that it is important for everyone to do something physical that they love. Hearing my kid say that reaffirmed that this message is getting through.

My oldest child asked if I plan on running another race. Without hesitating, I answered, “Yes.” And I do. I taught myself that I can do it. I also learned that I enjoy it. So, yes, I will do it again, hectic schedule be damned.

 

Miranda Green-Barteet is a teacher, a feminist, a parent, a writer, and a runner. She also plays soccer and occasionally manages to read a book just for fun.

My new cardio companion 

Back in December my work teammate Anthony asked me about my exercise schedule. I had been doing a 30 min class twice a week since November. We sit near each other and he and I often talked about our soccer experiences last season and fitness in general. 

I had shared that I wanted to get some high intensity cardio in but never seemed to make it happen. 

“I’m hitting the treadmill Monday, Wednesday, Friday want to join me?”

I agreed that Monday and Wednesday would work for me. We’ve been going regularly and I’m loving it. 

The gym was pretty busy in January so we shifted to 2pm to avoid the crowd. It has been humbling getting back into running. Plus there is a definite technique specific to treadmill running and not getting motion sick. 

Running is the most efficient way for me to get to a target heartrate. In a few minutes I’m in the zone and I’ve been alternating walking and running for a total of 30 minutes. 

A close up of Natalie's face making an unsure expression. She is sweaty with her hair pulled back. The backdrop is a gymnasium.
We can’t always score machines beside each other but it’s really not about running next to each other. The biggest benefit has been that we take turns nudging each other to keep working out. A quick “you hitting the gym today?” has kept me on track. 

The mid-afternoon timing helps me over the lull I usually feel that time of day. I get back to my desk feeling energized and optimistic. 

Anthony and Natalie smile, ruddy faced and slightly sweaty. They are wearing casual clothes and sitting in an office cubicle.
Last week I was feeling harsh with cramping feet and I just could not hit my stride. Seeing I was frustrated Anthony gave me a pep talk and offered that walking on an incline could keep my heart rate up. 

I’m enjoying the little bits of support we offer each other. and it has helped me reclaim running with, and around, other people. 

This week I ran 9 minutes continuously, the longest I’ve done in a while. It felt good to have a new milestone so early on. 

Thanks for being my cardio companion Anthony!

We’re streaking! Join us?

Image result for streakingI’m not a big runner. Injuries plague me. But, I love running short distances. I also love having an exercise plan in place to keep me happy through the holidays. See december is the new january.

People hear that and think I mean weight loss. I don’t. But I am an introvert. I find the increased social demands of the holidays stressful. It’s also grading season for professors everywhere. And it’s the start of winter and I need a push to get me out the door.

So bring on the running streak. Here’s the Runners’ World version: The goal is simple: Run at least one mile per day, every day, starting on Thanksgiving (Thursday, November 24) and ending on New Year’s Day (Sunday, January 1). That’s 39 consecutive days of running.

I did it last year and loved it. See My holiday run streak complete!

I shared the Runners’ World pitch to our Facebook page  and instantly had company. Cate says she’s in. Then Susan. And now Amanda Lynn.

You don’t have to do the Runners’ World version to join in. Make up your own streaking plan.

We’ve all made modifications. I’m going with last year’s plan. I skip the run on the days I ride my bike big distances on the trainer, or ride more than 40 km outside. Cate’s had enough of the winter weather. She’s running on the treadmill. Amanda Lynn isn’t planning to run. She’s getting out for  a walk each day. So you do you. Whatever works for you.

Run Streak

How about you? Are you joining us? Comment below about your plan and what your rules are. We’d love to have you streaking with us.

Ontario, it’s time to move to equal distances for men and women in cross country (Guest post)

​by Leslie Sexton

With the fall cross country season approaching, it is time to continue the push towards gender equality in XC. Last year, the IAAF ruled that distances at the World Cross Country Championships will be 10 km for both senior men and senior women. In July, provincial branches voted to align Canadian Championship distances with IAAF World Championship distances and senior women will race 10k in Kingston this fall at the Canadian Championships.
Despite these changes at the national and international level, the senior women’s distance at the Athletics Ontario Cross Country Championships remains at 6k. It is time that Athletics Ontario committed to the principle of gender equality in cross country and equalized distances at the senior level (at the very least). Already 48 out of 50 states in the US have equalized girls and boys cross country distances at the high school level, and Ottawa has done the same in their OFSAA qualifiers. Therefore, I ask Athletics Ontario to be a leader and revisit not only the senior championship distances, but all championship distances for age groups older than Bantam (after which the gender disparity in racing distance begins, with the exception of the Masters race).
Nowhere else in distance running is this disparity present. On the track and in road racing, all distances are equal between men and women and there are anything but recent changes. The women’s marathon was added to the Olympics in 1984 and the women’s 10,000m was added in 1988. Only cross country remains several decades behind the times, with women racing 25-40% less distance, depending on the age group. It is time that cross country joined the 21st century and abandoned unequal distances as a relic of the past, as has been done in distance running on other surfaces.
It was shocking to me to see that despite this glaring inequality,  the AO championships are hosting a “day of girl power” with Fast and Female. I commend AO for their efforts in working with this organization, yet I have to question what kind of message AO is sending to young women when ‘Fast and Female Ambassadors’ are not allowed to race the same distances as their male counterparts. If we truly wish to empower and inspire girls through sport, we must stop presenting women’s cross country as a lesser version of the men’s events and put the principle of gender equality into practice.
I have emailed the above to Katie Ozolins (Executive Director of AO) and Randolph Fajardo (Competitions, Technical Specifications, and Logistics Manager at AO). I encourage others who support gender equality in cross country to contact Athletics Ontario staff and ask for change. Athletes and coaches need to speak up on this and make ourselves heard if we are to challenge the status quo.
AO staff email addresses can be found here: http://athleticsontario.ca/staff/

Photo by Maxine Gravina, Canadian Cross Country 2015

Leslie Sexton is a London, Ontario distance runner, a 2.33 marathoner, occasional pacer for hire, unapologetic geek. She’s on Word Press at lesliesexton.wordpress.com and on Twitter @LeslieSexton.

Bracebridge Duathlon Race Report (August 7, 2016)–Guest Post

This was my fourth duathlon and first international distance race (10k run – 40k bike – 5k run) of the 2016 season.   I was very active in duathlons from 2008 through 2013, including competing in three national and two world age-group championships.   In the time since then, I have been dealing with injuries (a concussion and plantar fasciitis in both feet) as well as life upheaval and menopause.  When I returned to training, I had lingering symptoms and was carrying an extra 20 lbs which is very detrimental to racing speed, especially running.

My main goal for 2016 has been qualifying for the 2017 world championships.  The qualifying race would be held on August 24th, at the international distance.    This distance has typically taken me 2hrs30 to 2hrs45, depending on the course.  I knew I would feel more confident going into my goal race, if I completed one prior.  The Bracebridge race was only 17 days before August 24th, but I decided to do it and treat it as training.   I also did a full week of training leading up to the race and did not allow myself a taper.  This was going to be a test of endurance, not of speed.   I’ve used this strategy before and it takes a good deal of humility, especially when you know your less-than-stellar results are going to be posted online for everyone to see.

This was my first time doing the Bracebridge course.   I have done the hilly Multisport Canada (MSC) Gravenhurst and Huronia (Midland) races in the past, and was told that the run course would be flatter than those, but the bike course would be harder due to longer hills.   I debated changing the gearing on my bike but in discussion with others, opted to stay with my existing gears.

I drove up to Bracebridge the night before and was able to get to the race site with plenty of time in the morning.   I stick primarily to the MSC series as their races are very consistent in their organization.   I quickly had my bike racked and transition area set up, including a second pair of running shoes.  With my plantar fasciitis still bothering me a bit, I opted to do Run 1 in my cushioned training shoes and Run 2 in my racing flats.  

For my warm-up, I did about 5 minutes of easy jogging, in contrast to the normal 20+ minutes I would have done in the past.   I knew I was going to do Run 1 at an easy pace, so I didn’t need a long warm-up.  As well, I didn’t feel that I had any endurance to spare!  My legs felt good with no hamstring or calf tightness.  My nutrition was good, my stomach was settled and all the bathroom stuff got taken care of in time.  I have had some stomach upset (runner ischemia) in the past so I have now started taking two Imodium after my final bathroom visit at races, and this is working well.

Run 1 (goal 6:00/km, actual 6:09/km) –  We started out on grass and headed up a small hill.  Within the first 10 metres, I was in last place of all 24 participants.  At first, I was very disheartened about this, but then I realized that it took all the pressure off of me as there would be no one for me to try to stay ahead of.    

I always view the first 10km of an international distance duathlon as a mental challenge.  I try not to think about the fact that I am only in the first 10km of a total of 55km that I need to cover.  I need to go hard, but not so hard that I am exhausted for the bike.   When I am fit, I usually aim for 1-2 minutes slower in total than a stand-alone 10km race.   That would put me at about a 6:00/km pace at my current level of fitness.   The run was an out and back on a Muskoka road with cottages on one side and a river on the other.  It was partially shaded, which helped as the day was already quite warm at 8:30am.   My feet were tingly within the first couple of kms, due to lingering plantar fasciitis symptoms, but I knew this would improve as I carried on.  By about the 3.5km mark, I started to see the fast men coming back towards me, followed by the women around the 4km mark.   Lots of encouraging words back and forth, as many of us in the duathlon world know each other.  There was a young woman volunteer on a mountain bike playing “sweep” who was following me as I was in last place…. That’s a first for me, but she was also encouraging.  I plodded on, keeping my pace just below 6:00/km, but I faded in the last 3km and finished up a bit over that.

Bike (goal 24km/h, actual 24.8km/h) – a fairly quick transition, then out on the bike course.  It started out fairly flat but at km4, there was a very big uphill.  I had to go into my easiest gear, and stand up, but I got up it fine.  After that, there were quite a few more ups and downs, but none as big as that one.   In retrospect, staying with my existing gearing was the right decision.  Mentally, this one-loop bike course went on forever.  I had done a number of solo 50-60km rides in training, but my total bike mileage year-to-date is very low and I had not done any 40km time trials as I had in past years.  I just kept telling myself to ignore my speed and get through it.  The second half of the course had more of a tailwind than the first half, which was motivating.  Finally it was over and I was back into transition.

Bracebridge bike

Run 2 (goal 6:30/km, actual 6:30/km) – Ideally, I try to keep my second run to within 15-20 seconds per km of my first run.  Any closer than that means I haven’t worked hard enough in my first run.   Any slower than that means I have gone way too hard on the bike portion.  I headed out of transition feeling my normal amount of quad pain after a 40km bike ride, but was pleasantly surprised to find that my legs were ok after the first km.   I got into a good running rhythm and started to feel very happy, knowing that I was going to finish the full distance in a solid manner.

 

I headed in towards the finish area and became quite emotional, realizing that I had met my goal of getting back up to the level of fitness where I could finish this race distance.  I was thinking of all the life stuff that I had dealt with since the last time I did a full duathlon, especially the sudden cancer death of my dear friend Shirley last summer.  I was very down for many months and for a while I thought that I would never compete again, let alone at this distance.  Shirley’s cancer was completely unexpected and it threatened my previous assumption of my own health.  The feeling of relief and gratitude when I crossed the finish line, was suddenly overwhelming.  

It was pretty easy to collate my results….. 2nd of 2 in my age group, 8th of 8 women, 24th of 24 overall, and 3hrs18 total time, my slowest for this distance by about 25 minutes.   Last in every way and a personal worst time, but it just didn’t matter.   What a relief to know that I had met my race goal of finishing this distance.  

Here are some random pics with my pal Shirley.  Yes, she did 50 half marathons by the time she turned 50!  She is very deeply missed.

 

 

 

run like a wombat!

cuddle

(2008) Lousy photo of me but the wombat looks great! So warm and cuddly. These were orphans whose mums had been hit by cars so they raise them and release them into the wild. Once they turn into surly teenage wombats they stop wanting to cuddle and they get them ready for release.

I’ve long been a fan of wombats. The photo above is me cuddling a wombat while on sabbatical in Australia. They’re odd animals to be sure but the young ones are super snuggly.

But today on the sad occasion of the world’s oldest wombat’s passing, I learned a new fact about wombats: “Wombats can run 40 km/hr despite looking fat and slow.” That’s from the wonderfully written obituary for Hamlet.

I love the idea–as a heavy, stocky, muscular (pick your adjective) runner, that not all creatures who are fast look like they are fast. Sure we praise gazelles and jaguars, but look here’s the speedy wombat. I think the wombat might be my running role model. Go wombats go!