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.

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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

Monday Workout Recap!

Happy Monday! Last week was a bit of a drop-back week in terms of mileage for me but good for intensity. I ended the week with a half marathon on Sunday! Stay tuned for the race recap soon, but for now, here’s how the week went!

Monday Normally I rest on Monday’s but since I was racing at the end of the week, I wanted to squish some mileage into the beginning of the week. I ended up doing 40 minutes (8k) feeling SUPER tired after the 33km from the Sunday before.

Tuesday I had planned to go out for a tempo 12k, but after 6k I wasn’t feeling as good as I’d hoped and took it a little easier on the way back. I averaged 4:28/km on the way out and 4:51/km on the way back. This made me a little bit unsure about my plans for the race on Sunday.

Wednesday I woke up early to do an easy trail run before work. It was SO rainy. Originally I’d planned to go for 17-18k, but called it at 15 since I was drenched. Coffee earned!

Thursday I did a short little run in the early morning on Thursday. The cumulative fatigue from the week was catching up with me, and my work schedule meant I could only run from 6-7 am. 6.5km in the trails was perfect.

Friday Off! This was amazing! A much needed rest day.I didn’t even hit my usual 12,000 step goal, which didn’t bother me at all.

Saturday I had planned a shakeout run (the calendar says 30 minutes easy) but we ended up going for a hike at Smuggler’s Cove, which was low intensity and easy and just what I think I needed.

Sunday Stay tuned for a full race recap later this week, but I ran the Fool’s Half Marathon here on the coast! It was finally sunny and I had a really great day. Spoiler alert: taking a few days off is magical!

Total for the week: 63 km 

How did your week go?

Almond Butter Cookies (Gluten Free!)

I like to think of myself as a generally levelheaded person. However, every once in a while, something (like an EXAM maybe?) sends me totally into orbit.

Over time, I’ve learned that the natural answer to this is taking a mini-break. I’ve already gone for a run today, and the late-night studying had me craving something sweet. Since I’m still working in Sechelt, there aren’t any grocery stores open at 9 PM. I decided to try making healthy-ish cookies with what I had on hand – here’s what I came up with :)

Almond Butter and Oat Cookies

Makes 14 cookies

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup rolled oats (in hindsight these are a little oat-y, so if you want to decrease the oats that’s probably fine)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1-2 teaspoons cinnamon (I like more!)
  • 1 cup almond butter
  • 1/3 cup egg whites
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips

Depending on your oats quantity, you might need to add some flour to thicken the batter – you want it to be pretty thick! If you want to keep the cookies gluten free, I think almond flour would work really well!

Combine everything in a bowl. Bake at 350 deg F for 10-11 minutes. Cool and enjoy! 

 

 

Race Day Checklist – Road Race Edition

This Sunday is the Sunshine Coast Fool’s Run. It’s a half marathon from Gibsons to Davis Bay. Since I’ve been working on the Coast (only 2k from the finish line!) I’m excited to run here.

Last weekend I was in Vancouver and needed to figure out what I’d bring back with me. I grabbed a few things to wear to work this week, then ended up going back to my marathon, trail race and triathlon packing posts. I figured it would be good to make one for a simple road race!

General

  • phone
  • wallet
  • keys

So I used to carry some of these things with me during a race, but ever since chafing at Seawheeze from having my phone in my back pocket, I’ve stopped. It’s not like I used it anyway!

Race Gear

  • shirt
  • sports bra
  • shorts
  • arm warmers
  • gloves/hat
  • socks
  • shoes
  • hair tie/headband/bobby pins
  • sunglasses
  • tape
  • number and safety pins
  • watch
  • heart rate monitor
  • Body Glide (I really can’t explain how important this is. Trust me.)

Some of this stuff will be different if you are racing in warm vs. cold weather. The forecast for this Sunday at the start line is 6 degrees and a 25% chance of rain. That probably means running in shorts, a singlet, hat, gloves, and arm warmers. No sunglasses and (happily!) no tape needed this weekend. I haven’t been running with a heart rate monitor lately (but might get back into it… more on that later) and I won’t need to carry anything for a half marathon.

Pre-Race

  • coffee
  • warmups (remember to factor in if these will be thrown away or checked!)

Post-Race

  • warm/dry clothes

Nutrition

  • hydration: race belt (or handheld bottle/vest) – prob only for marathon or longer
  • gels/fuel (What is my plan this weekend???)
  • post-race snack (my favourite cookies!)

And that’s it! Seems like a long list but it’s really not that much. Plus, on a warmer day/shorter race, you can get away with less!

What do you always bring? Did I forget anything?

Workouts this Week


I feel like I barely made it to Friday night this week – finally walking into our place (and seeing my Belgian) after a packed clinic, ferry delays and bridge traffic was the best feeling.

On the running front, I felt a bit of fatigue this week as well, so it’s a good thing the next one will be a bit of a drop-back! Here’s what I ended up doing:

Monday Friday/Sunday call shifts and run last weekendI always rest on Mondays! I think I still had some sleep debt from the , so I went to bed early.

Tuesday Easy 11.5k to the Kinnickinick park trails with Alexa, a med student who’s also staying in Sechelt this month. The run to the park is super hilly, so it felt like a good workout even though we kept the pace (mostly) conversational. I noticed I didn’t have as much pep in my step as I often do on Tuesdays.

Wednesday I ran with one of the docs, Simon, at lunch for a zippy 4.5k at 4:20 pace. After work, I did another 12.5k in the trails at a much easier 5:30ish pace. I had planned to do 14, but cut it a bit short because of timing.

Thursday This was supposed to be 12k of hill repeats, but after 8.5k I was really fatigued, so I ended it there. 2x Field Road hill (138m/450ft of elevation)at 4:43/km.

Friday I skipped my run in favour of trying to get home earlier, but traffic and the ferry delay made it a major fail. In hindsight, I probably needed the rest day anyway. When I got home Jan and I ate sushi and watched The Office. 

Saturday I met Alyson for an awesome, easy early am run around the Seawall. It felt SO good to be back in my usual neighbourhood, waking up in my own bed. We did 5:30/km and ended at Whole Foods – honestly amazing.

Sunday We met up with the usual RR crew bright and early for a 33km long run. It rained the WHOLE TIME! I was very cold but very glad to finish. I tried a fasted-ish run (oatmeal an hour before, then water + 1 shot block during, for a 2350 calorie deficit) and actually felt really good.

Total mileage: 80.6km! Even with the rest/cutting off a run or two I’m still happy with the mileage and happy for the chance to listen to my body.