Ultramarathon! Sun Mountain 50k Recap

“show me your bib!”
nervous smiles at the start line

I feel like this is going to be a doozy of a post! It’s also wayyy overdue: the recap for Sun Mountain 2017, my first ultra! Grab a coffee and settle in.

On Friday May 19th (6 days after we got home from Sydney), I met up with Jan and our friends Greg and Martina after a quick morning at the office. The four of us piled into Martina’s car and drove across the border to Winthrop, Washington. Our final destination was the Sun Mountain 50k for me, and 100k for Greg (!).

In few weeks before this, I finished my rural placement, wrote my CCFP, and traveled to Australia. It didn’t give me one spare minute to get nervous about this race, which I think was a really good thing, because it was the farthest I’d ever run, and pretty much the longest I’d been on my feet. (My only longer races were tri’s).

We stayed in a big house with some other Fraser St. Run Club folks, which was the best combination of advice from awesome trail runners and really good vibes. We arrived at the Air BnB a bit late (I was late leaving work + we had a long border crossing + Trader Joe’s stop) and made a quick dinner of stir-fry veggies and quinoa.

labeling drop bags

After eating I laid out my clothes. The weather was calling for 21 and sunny, with an 8 AM start in the mountains. I went with singlet (super old but tried and true) + Flow Y bra + Nike shorts, and a lulu long sleeve to start in. Add my Garmin, latest trail shoe choice and hat (Bondi beach souvenir trucker hat!) and I was good to go.

last minute race outfit pic!
drop baggies

The race had three aid stations: mile 8.6, 17 and 25.2 (km 13.8, 27.4, and 40.5). The website didn’t have a lot of info about what would be stocked there, but people had told me that Rainshadow events are always really well done. I made sure to have Nuun in the second two bags (the heat!) and tossed in a few other things I thought I’d like to eat. FYI: The aid stations were great, and had watermelon, bananas, pretzels, PB+J rollups, chips, water and sports drinks.

I wrote out my nutrition plan on the plane from Australia – colour coded because what else are you going to do with 16 1/2 hours? The main strategy was to get 90-150 cal/h, using foods that I already knew I could handle (not gel). Along the right hand side of the page I noted things I wanted to have available from my bag at the aid station (extra hair ties, chapstick, etc). I ended up not putting in the fig cookies, but I did have some banana bread in there instead.

So Martina (who was 4 months pregnant and an actual superstar) got up early to drive Greg to the start line for their early 5.30 am start, then came back to the house so she could drive me to the 8 am start. I was nervous at that part – it was chilly and I was just overall a bit shaky.

checking in

The race got started in such a quick way! Everyone was kind of standing around (like in the photo above), while the race director, James, did a mini safety briefing. But then, in the same breath, he was like “ok and 3, 2, 1, go!” People just standing around the start line were all “yikes ok!”

For the first bit of the race I was just thinking “omg I’m running 50 kilometres today”. I did a bit of “omg what am I going to think about for the next 48.5 km?!” and a lot of looking around until I settled in around 5k. I came to the first aid station absolutely dying to get rid of my long sleeve. It was around 14 deg at the start line and probably overkill even to have worn it in the first place.

I knew Jan didn’t have access to a car and would only be able to see me at the halfway point and the end, so at the first station I found my drop bag, grabbed some food (another waffle and shot bloks) and ditched my top. This is probably where I made my biggest mistakes of the day. Early that morning, Kat (speedy trail runner, also friend) had told me to get calories in early. She knew that in the heat and hills I wouldn’t feel like eating late in the race.

Feeling great running along at halfway

To make a long story short, I didn’t eat much at all (2 waffles + half a package of chews) in the first part of the race. Things were going so well at the 25k mark that I thought I’d be fine. In the last 10k, I got nauseous and focused on getting fluids, but wasn’t really able to take in a much food.

From about 28-30km, I felt medium –  until 45k, when I really just wanted to be done running. I was tired, hot, and my feet hurt. I really think that a major reason why I faded so hard was nutrition. I just didn’t get enough calories in. So, lesson learned! Eat early!

I don’t think I’ve ever really hit a true “low point” in a running race before. At 46ish k, I really just wanted to sit down on the trail. I was tearful and not thinking at all clearly about how I only really had 20 mins of running left to do. I couldn’t even recognize myself bonking a bit!

such an emotional roller coaster – from tears to smiles in a few steps

Jan ran out to keep me company for the last 3km, and seeing him really helped. I was so ready to have my first ultra done!

“can I dump some of that water on my head?”

I finished in 6:03 (23rd F). I think I’m capable of something closer to 5:45 if I train harder in the trails and figure out nutrition, etc. It’s taken me a full five weeks but I’m starting to think that it’s maybe something I would attempt again :).

At the race, you don’t get a medal – it’s a stainless steel beer cup! It says “Sun Mountain 50 km 2017”. I totally love it – way more useful and cool than a medal.

the crew watching the 25k finish line on sore legs!
driving through a still-snowy pass on the way home

The rest of the day was tiring but fun – we hung out at the finish line and ate amazing wood stove pizza + tons of snacks, beer, coffee and water. We waited for Greg and eventually ran with him to the finish line of his 100k race. I slept pretty well (I don’t usually after a hard race/workout but 65000 steps in one day will do that to you) and we watched a bit of the 25k race on Sunday morning before driving back home.

I’d definitely race this one again! Thanks for a fantastic first ultra experience Rainshadow!

PS I also got a really cool t-shirt as a souvenir, but no photo of it! Might be able to find it here

MEC Trail Race 3

too sweaty to open my eyes! sorry in advance for the iphone photos – no fancy camera today!

While we were in Australia, my friend Moira emailed asking if I wanted to join her for one of the upcoming MEC trail races (“Trail Race 3“). Of course I said yes!

Side note: the MEC races are so great because they have all the things you need for a race (timing, well-marked course, coffee at the start line and snacks after) but none of the extra bells and whistles (participation medals, t-shirts, etc.). This means they can be SUPER CHEAP but still well-run, challenging and super fun. 

This race was hosted by MEC North Van and was 15$ for a 15k trail race. There was also a 55k option, but it was only 2 weeks after Sun Mountain and even a 15k race sounded hefty. The race was on the Capilano-Pacific trail, which is mostly wide and non-technical, but also very beautiful!

Moira also got friends Jen and Travis to register, and Jan came along for moral support ;). We drove out to Ambleside Park, where the race started. They had coffee and water and we grabbed our bibs. Excel with Grace was there to lead pre-run yoga (when did I get so stiff?!?!).

I lined up near the front of the pack. I didn’t really know what to expect from other people there, but Jan is always telling me to start up front. There were a few layers of men in front of me but I didn’t see too many other women. They ended up going out pretty fast and when I saw us hit the first km in 4:20, I knew I needed to be a bit more conservative. I let the lead pack, including the first woman, go.

At this point I was running with only one or two other people. The race would go slowly up towards the Cleveland Dam before coming all the way back down, so I focused on running the uphills as much as possible, so I could put more distance between me and any other chase groups. I’m still so much better going up than down! I had some doubts in the early kilometers about racing so soon after Sun Mountain, but I reminded myself it was supposed to be a fun, no-pressure day and just went for it.

On the way back, I saw the others (the joys of an out and back course!) and started to feel good, especially with the downhill. I ran the last 7k significantly under a 5:00 pace and finished in 1:18:28 for 2nd female.

It was a pretty warm day, so I wore an old lulu swiftly tech tee and speed shorts, plus my Flow Y sports bra and a random pair of socks. I’m still rocking the New Balance Vazee trail shoes (a departure from my beloved Saucony!) and quite liking them. I had both of my trusty Garmin’s (steps and GPS tracking) and that’s about it! I carried my Ultimate Direction handheld but this was prob overkill – I didn’t drink on the course.

It was great to get a post-race massage, banana, muffin and coffee! We spent the rest of the day hanging out and getting ready for the week – a perfect Sunday in my books :)

Australia Encore in Photos

Jan finished editing some of the raw photos from the actual camera and I couldn’t resist posting them! I also blogged full descriptions of our trip to Sydney and Cairns if you’d like more info!

Overlooking Coogee
you could so easily climb on these cliffs and have a picnic! we enjoyed watching the waves
more beaches 😻
jan instagrammed a version of this photo – it’s the bondi icebergs swim club. I love the waves crashing into the side of the pool. And that blue!
catching a few afternoon rays on bondi
bondi beach
the sydney opera house from across the harbour
I’ve just been on a plane for 16 hours, I have no idea what time it is, but can you believe we’re in Sydney!?
first afternoon exploring the harbour quay with my favourite travel buddy
I could hang out by the ocean all day :)
so cold!
snorkelling over the great barrier reef
these signs were all over the place warning us of dangerous jellyfish in the water!
on a ridge heading down towards ellis beach
caught doing my beach happy dance
ellis beach! all to ourselves
another shot of ellis beach
just driving on the left side of the road
swimming in crater lake
looking out over atherton tablelands
long exposure of josephine falls

Thanks, Jan! Pretty great to have such awesome photos of an incredible trip :)

Vacation Continues – 5 days in Cairns

my hair is very relaxed ;)

Here’s Part 2 from our Australia adventures! See Part 1 (Sydney) here. Cairns (“Cayyyens”) is 3 hours by plane from Sydney. When we landed, we Uber-ed to our hotel and checked in. By the time we were settled, it was about 1 PM. We spent most of the first day exploring, hanging out by the pool, playing giant chess and generally getting into full relaxing mode.

For the rest of our time in Cairns, we planned day trips to see different things. The city itself is not that exciting (or, wasn’t for us) but it was a great base for a lot of the natural beauty of Australia’s far north.

Day 1, we went on a tour of the Tablelands, slid down a natural rock slide at Josephine Falls, Crater Lakes National Park, and the Cathedral Fig. We were probably the oldest people on this tour (omg when did this happen to me?!) but it was still really fun.

here we are with “Wally”! he’s a maori wrasse, native to the GBR

Day 2, we had to check out the Great Barrier Reef, especially since it might be gone before we can get back to Australia. The reef is actually located quite a ways off the coast, so we took a SUPER choppy boat ride out to a pontoon. Once out there, we were given stinger suits to protect us against marine stingers – many of which are not that big a deal but some (I’m looking at you, box jellies and irukanji) can kill you. We put on a snorkel and fins and jumped in. Jan had also done some research and rented an underwater camera, which was so cool. After a while I got really cold and had to take a break, but Jan (not usually the swimmer!) loved every minute.

ellis beach all to ourselves

On our third day, we needed a break from group activities and decided to rent a car and venture out along the coast. Since Jan doesn’t have a valid driver’s license, I drove! It was my first time driving on the left side of the road – the hardest part was honestly that the turn signal was on the opposite side of the steering wheel. I kept putting on the wipers when I wanted to turn!

stopped for a cappucino

We checked out several beaches, including Ellis Beach (white sand and totally deserted), 4 mile beach, and some coastline along the way. Technically jellyfish season was over, but we played it safe and stayed mostly out of the water. On the way home, we also stopped at Rex lookout and watched the sunset – beautiful :).

For our last full day, we joined a tour that was a bit slow moving but let us check off a few more destinations: Cape Tribulation and the Daintree Rainforest. We also got to go on a river cruise where we saw HUGE crocodiles in the wild!

Saturday morning we were all set to go back to Sydney for our flight home, but we had one more thing to do. Jan had tried to book us a helicopter flight over the reef on the day we sailed out there, but the weather was too bad for us to take off (I’m telling you it was choppy). Because of that, the helicopter company offered to fly us out, tour us around the reef and fly us back on our last morning! We even landed on this tiny sandy cay in the middle of the ocean! It was amazing.

On our way back to Vancouver, we did have one more mini-adventure. There was a medical on our flight somewhere over the South Pacific, and since I was the only MD on board, the Air Canada flight attendants were really happy for the help. While I was sorting it out (nothing critical), Jan got a cheese plate and a glass of port (one happy Belgian), and back in Vancouver, I got some AC goodies and a gift card as a thank you. I appreciated the gesture! Thanks, AC.

17 Days Down Under

I have a lot of posts to catch up on! Basically in the last few weeks, I went on vacation and ran a few races and in between frantically wrapped up the last requirements of my residency. It officially ends June 30th! Over the next few days I plan to catch up here :)

Anyway, at the end of April I wrote the CCFP, which is the final exam required by the College of Family Physicians to practice independently. A few days later, Jan and I went to Australia. He had a work trip to Sydney planned, so I went along and we added an extra week of R+R.

The trip started in Sydney, and we were able to take a direct flight from YVR. Honestly, I was a bit nervous about how long it would be! 16 hours in one spot is not my idea of comfortable or relaxing. We managed to snag the bulkhead, so there was a lot of legroom. It was actually totally fine – the flight left at midnight, so after we took off, I put on a movie to tire myself out. I also had a glass of wine (thanks Air Canada!) and by 130 AM I was totally asleep. I definitely woke a few times/only slept lightly, but I managed to stay that way for almost 8 hours. We left Vancouver Wednesday night and with the flight + time change, landed in Sydney in the morning, on Friday! 

During the first week, while Jan was working, I mostly relaxed and explored the city. I was also trying to squeeze out a peak week before Sun Mountain, which sort of worked (more on that later). We stayed at a great hotel right in the CBD, or Central Business District, for the first 8 nights (thanks, Amazon!). After that, we moved to an AirBnB near Bondi, and spent a weekend with a really sweet couple: Mike and Georgia. Highly recommend!

this friendly wallaby let me scratch his chin
by the time we got to manly beach, I really needed a sandwich #hangry
on the bondi to coogee coastal walk!
Bondi beach at dusk

The waterfront is beautiful and there is a path kind of like the seawall, so running was easy. I also loved the Botanical Gardens, Darling Harbour, and running over the Harbour Bridge to Kirribilli (such a similar vibe to North Van!). Jan and I both explored the Taronga zoo, downtown Sydney, Manly, and lots of other beaches! We did the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk, which was absolutely gorgeous and sunny.

It wasn’t quite warm enough to lay on the beach in Sydney, so I think that helped me explore more on my feet. You can see some of my running routes on Strava, and I’m going to do a separate post on my trail running adventure. Public transit was really easy to navigate. We just got Opal Cards (pretty much the same thing as a Compass Card in Vancouver) which you can reload and use to tap on/off busses, trains and ferries. We also used Uber, which was so convenient!

this photo effect is called “wine”

For our 3rd night, Jan had made reservations at a restaurant called Quay. It’s right on the waterfront and we were lucky enough to get a table with views of both the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. We had an 8 course (!!) tasting menu complete with wine pairings, and it was one of the best meals I’ve had in my life. Everything was based on local ingredients, and the dishes were so creative.

I think our favourite was the dessert, something called a Snowy Egg. It was so light but so good!

Other food highlights were coffee and breakfast at the Grounds of Alexandria, pizza at al Taglio, and Tim Tam’s! Jan tried kangaroo meat for dinner one night, but wasn’t a huge fan.

There is a lot of shopping in Sydney, and it seemed like there was a huge mall on every corner. I was really struck by how dressed up people seemed to be for work – sometimes I even felt a bit out of place wearing my running clothes on the street!

We also noticed (and were warned!) that Sydney is a really expensive city. We were easily spending 25$+ per person on meals, and neither of us is a really big eater. We went to the grocery store a few times to stock up on fruit, bars, and other easy things to have for breakfasts/snacks, but I really think that the food ended up costing more than our hotel stays!

We were in Sydney for 10 nights, which was more than enough to explore the city and a bit of the surrounding area. Next up we flew to Cairns. More on that soon!

Sunshine Coast April Fool’s Half Marathon – Race Recap!

On Sunday I ran the BMO Sunshine Coast April Fool’s Run presented by Coast Cable. It was a really beautiful day, lots of friends were on the coast for the run, and I actually ended up running a surprise PB! Here’s how the day went:

I’ve been living on the Sunshine Coast for the past 8 weeks while working at St. Mary’s Hospital and the Upstream Family Medicine Clinic. On Saturday, our friends Greg, Martina and Greg’s brother Jeff took the ferry over from Vancouver to join me and Jan in Sechelt for the weekend. We had a late lunch at Shift Kitchen, and then drove to Smuggler’s Cove Provincial Park for a short hike. We didn’t attempt anything too intense, since Greg, Jeff and I were running the half the next morning. On our way back, we grabbed some groceries and made an awesome dinner of steelhead, quinoa salad, risotto and grilled asparagus. Martina also made this really awesome guac that we ended up eating with lime-flavoured tortilla chips..the best.

almond milk + coffee + nervous Alyssa = must be race day

So Sunday morning I woke up early with my usual pre-race nerves. After scrolling through Twitter for Barkley Marathon updates, I decided to just get up. I ate a bowl of oatmeal with a little bit of almond butter and chocolate chips. I also drank about 1/2 a mug of decaf coffee with almond milk. It was so nice to have Jan, Greg, Martina and Jeff to chat with! Really helped distract me from the race.

time to boogie! Greg 1.0 , me, Jeff and Greg 2.0

 

Since the race is point-to-point, we left one car at the finish line and all piled into Martina’s car to head to the start. There, we met Alan, Greg B., and Dimitri (also saw Julie and Steph!). We all grabbed our race packages, put on our numbers, and did a quick warm up.

It was sunny and clear, so I went with shorts + singlet + arm warmers and gloves for the race. I think it was the right call! I would have been warm in a tee-shirt but I was glad for the arm warmers. #ventilationFTW! The race goes off at 9.17 am, and around 9 the volunteers started corralling us all to the start line. I went to the bathroom one last time and gave Jan my joggers and hoodie.

Before I knew it, the race started and I was over the timing mat. I was trying to run by feel for the first little while. The last time I raced a half marathon was in August – Seawheeze! This was also my PB, and while I knew I’d gotten stronger since then I also didn’t feel like I was in that kind of shape. I didn’t taper into this run and I’m in the middle of a 50k training cycle, so I thought “ok, let’s just see”. My best guess was that I’d run around 1:40.

So we start the race and I just try to settle in. My first three km splits were 4:19, 4:13, 4:17 (averaging 6:45/mi) and while my initial thought was “whoa too fast”, I also thought “but I feel really comfortable”. I decided to just go with it and see what happened.

still feeling good at 6k

The first 10k of the race flew by. This has never really happened to me. I felt like km markers were just coming up so quickly. I’m not sure if it’s because I was enjoying the rolling hills, or because I’ve gotten used to much longer runs, but I found myself thinking “How are there only 10km left in this race?!”

With every km I checked my watch to see how far off of 4:30 pace I was. I wasn’t planning to push myself for anything faster than that, but the plan was to try to use it as a benchmark. For every km under 4:30, I just felt like I was putting seconds in the bank – and I ended up needing a bunch of those to get up the hills in the next part of the course.

there’s the pain face!

I ran with a few small groups until this point in the race, occasionally drafting in the headwind or pulling one or two runners (mostly men) with me. I took a cup of water at every aid station (there were four) but none really made it into my mouth. One I splashed on my face, another down my neck and I think I got a tiny sip out of the third or fourth. I didn’t have any food for the race (this is pretty standard for me in a half).

At km 15-16, I was running totally alone, and came to the start of the large hills on the course (Marlene road up to the highway, which continues up). I really had a moment coming up Marlene when I thought I’d burned all my matches and just about died, but then I settled back into a rhythm and the highway seemed like no big deal. At this point the race was really spread out – I could only see one or two other runners ahead of me.

chasing down 10th place!

The hill crests at km 18, and from there it was just get to the finish! I saw Jan and Martina at a few points (the start, 6km, 12ish km, and the finish, plus driving from point to point) and that was a big boost. I saw Jan with his camera just before the finish, and turned to sprint home. I passed one woman in the chute with only a few metres to go!

I have fast friends :) Alan and Greg were already done and demolishing bagels!

Ultimately my official time was 1:34:17, 10th F overall and 5th in my age group. This is a 41 second PB over Seawheeze on a tougher course, so I’ll take it! After the race we all came back to my Sechelt place for a family brunch – the best way to finish a race :).

Jan and I also took a quick afternoon drive/walk to Porpoise Bay, just up the road from where I’m staying. It was so pretty but so windy! Towards the end of the evening I got a really bad headache. I tried everything (caffeine, fluids, rest, a shower) until I realized I probably needed salt (I had already eaten oatmeal, then pancakes, fruit salad at brunch and then a salad for dinner). I literally put some margarine on a piece of toast and dusted heavily with salt and magic! 30 minutes later I felt like a different person.

What did you do this weekend? Anyone else a very salty sweat-er? 

All photos by the wonderful JAN except the one with the Fool’s Run banner, which is thanks to Rick Horne