The Weekly Coastal

Weekly updaaaaaaaaaate.

The weeks are flying by; it’s true. I can’t believe that I have been back in BC for almost two months.

As promised last week, I’m kicking off this week’s post with some photos of my new home on the coast.

The walls are v bare at the moment, but waiting on picking up some frames to start hanging things rather than using my usual lobster clip approach. For two weeks in, and not having moved with any furniture, it’s coming together pretty well! I basically scour CL and VarageSale every day for bits and pieces that could work. This past week’s find was a teak coffee table for 50 bucks. Not bad! There seems to be a trend at the moment of older retirees selling their houses and getting rid of EVERYTHING, so it’s not too difficult to pick up some pretty great stuff if you keep an eye out, and you have access to a truck. Next up, learning basic furniture refinishing skills.

Coastal moments this week

There were chicks. Little tiny adorable baby ones. Ian and Miranda got Theo an incubator with eggs for his birthday, and some of the chicks hatched this week! I died.

I realized that this really beautiful tiny hike is super close to my house. MORE HIKES. I need them. And not just because they’re beautiful! I’m really hoping that I’ll be able to do my first 100km in 2018, and regular hikes will help me to start to build towards this. Not gonna’ lie, I’ve been thinking of hiking up Elphinstone by myself, but am also a tiny bit afraid of bears? I used to hike a ton, and have never been too worried about bears before, so not too sure where this fear has come from, but whatever. Just bring a bear bell with you, Altaira!

It was Jac’s birthday. I didn’t take any photos of this, but it was a backyard, bistro light, taco potluck feast that included a million amazing taco fillings, plus some fresh from the ocean crab. It was also a super pal fest, and was just the loveliest evening.

Running with Grace had become a regular thing, and schedule’s willing, we’re going to sign up for this adorable 10k in August, and also probably a longer trail race in North Van in the fall. Woo! It feels sooooooooo gooood to be running regularly again. Getting back into it, but also trying not to push too hard, because I am done with these fucking injuries! On that note, discovered that the rec centre had 2 dollar dropins weekday afternoons, which is amazing. The rec centre here is actually the best (last time I went, there were two grandmas playing pingpong in the atrium); it’s a v well stocked gym, and at this time of the day, it’s usually just me, one or two jock dudes, and a bunch of seniors. THE MOST CHILL GYM EXPERIENCE OF ALL TIME.

I also finally feel like I am getting work days on track, and started properly reaching out to folks about getting CreativeMornings Sunshine Coast up and running. Thank goooood. It feels like it shouldn’t have taken this long for me to kind of start finding my groove, but the settling in process has been slower than expected. I don’t know how I thought that I was just going to hit the ground running straight into organized work days, and new CM chapter set-up while also searching for a place, and sorting out my life, but that was my expectation.  Turns out, some things take time.

What else? I keep meaning to mention – people on the Sunshine Coast apparently loooooooooooooooove PT Cruisers. LOVE THEM. I am not even exaggerating when I say that I see at least 4 PT cruisers a day. In a town of 5000, that is a whole lot of PT Cruisers.

I drove this week. It feels super weird to be my age and learning to drive for the first time. At least in Gibsons, the speed limit doesn’t really go over 50, and unless there’s ferry traffic (the rush that happens when people are getting in from the ferry, or trying to speed their way to make the ferry) then the drivers here are super chill.

Ended my work day doing a little writing at Gibsons Tapworks, then chatting a bit with the bar tender and some other Gibsons beer scene folks who I’ve met before. It was just a small moment, but walking out afterwards to grab my bike and head home was one of the first times that I’ve really felt local. Not just like, oh, I live here now. But like this is a part of my routine, and this town is my home. It was pretty nice.

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Living on the Coast – Week 5

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Week 5.

It’s official. I have now been on the Sunshine Coast for just over a month.

This week I had a big case of the feels missing Toronto. I miss my old roommates Steve and Aaron, and my coffee shop haunts, and summer runs with Parkdale. This weekend especially, Toronto is into full summer, and watching everyone run the Toronto Waterfront 10k on social media gave me all the missing feelings. I wish that I could teleport back just for a week to go on a few crew runs and have some late night patio beers with pals. Why are flights across Canada so expensiiiiiiiive.

The Coast has gone into a little spell of Junuary, and I’m getting eager for super summer and swims in the sea.

The moments when I wasn’t having little longing pangs for Toronto though were pretty good.

Wednesday I had a really great working hangout with my new friend Jenn McRae, who is also a freelancer who is new(ish) to the coast. She has exactly the kind of house you would picture on the Sunshine Coast, with a long winding forest driveway, and a living room that looks over the beach. We worked in the morning, then took a mid-day break to grab some food at The Basted Baker and do some thrifting, then worked some more and had some dinner and chats. Hurray for co-work dates! It is so nice to be making connections with other people to work with.

On that note – I’ve been thinking more and more about my eventual plan to open a co-working space here on the Coast, and in the upcoming week I’ll be digging a little deeper into what that could look like, and making a business plan. Hurray! In the meantime, I’m searching out a venue to do a weekly co-working drop-in to gauge interest and figure out what next steps could look like. WORKING TOWARDS DREAMS, GUYS.

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Friday I ventured into the city to tell a story at Record Club, a storytelling night put on by the organizers of RainCity Chronicles that is themed around a specific album. This month’s album was Janet Jackson’s Control. Though I have hosted many many times, I have not given any sort of actual talk since university so I was nervous. When Lizzy Karp first invited me to share a story I had no idea what I would talk about, but said yes. Then when I sat down to brainstorm, it just poured out of me. I talked about being a perfectionist, and the need to be in control, and how running gave me a place to learn to be present and give up control. It brought me back a little to my first time hosting CMTO when Steven Artemiw talked about the ugly side of running. And it further reignited my love of running, and how it has changed me for the better. I practiced a million times, and was the most nervous getting on stage, but it all went smoothly and being done was THE BEST feeling. Hurray! The whole evening was pretty magical – the stories were so well curated, and another new pal Joni McKervey was also speaking. The atmosphere was super cozy and friendly, and it was the best. Afterwards, went to The Emerald with a few pals then crashed on Matt Milligan’s couch. Pals pals pals!

Met with my friend Nico for bfast before jumping on the ferry to head back to the coast.

I biked to and from the ferry – the ride into Langdale is super chill and lovely. The ride from Langdale into Gibsons is ONE GIANT HILL. Not gonna’ lie, I walked up part of it, because fixed gears are not made for this kind of hill riding.

Some old pals were visiting their parents in Davis Bay that night, and I decided that I might as well bike there too. Which was fine, except that I missed my turn off and biked 20 minutes out of my way, also up an enormous hill. :/ Whyyyyyyyyy. I keep just re-assuring myself that all of this cycling, and bike hiking up hills will lead to me being a super amazing cyclist again by the end of the summer. We had a lovely dinner, and drank drinks, and caught up, and had a marshmallow fight in the backyard. It was late, so I crashed at their place. In the morning, their mom made us the best giant breakfast and they gave me a ride home (no biking uphill for almost an hour hurraaaaaaaaaaaaaaay).

Sunday was all about naps, and then J made a really lovely dinner for Father’s Day.

Then on Monday, I went for a run that was not by myself!! YAAAAAAY. I went for the best run along the waterfront with Grace Carter, and baby Jo. We’re going to make a habit of running every Monday, and I am so happy to have a running pal again. Running alone is nice and all, but running with a partner is just unlike anything else. I couldn’t be happier, and I can’t wait for a many more runs in the future.

I took fewer photos this past week, so this post is pretty light on the photos. Gotta’ remember to take out that camera! More next week.

Life on the Coast – Week Four

IMG_0561.JPGWeek 4 is in the bag. Holy moly. I can’t believe that it’s been almost a month.

Spring is slowly giving way to summer. I’ve been running more, which feels amazing. I can’t even begin to tell you. Still only little short guys, but I feel pretty certain that I’ll be able to start adding extra KMs on soon. I can feel longer distances coming!

This past week led to a last minute housing change, as there was a hiccup with the first place that I had taken. Not to worry though! Serendipitously, I ran into the owners of another place that I had seen and had been thinking about, and they hadn’t rented it out yet! Hurrraaaaaaaay. Why? Because everything is always working out for me.

I went and signed my lease yesterday. My new landlords are also new coasters, who are currently just up here on the weekends doing renos. They’re both landscape architects, and just seem like really great people, who I will probably end up hanging out with when they’re in town. I’m moving into my place on July 1st.

Other nice things this week:

I found a Danish teak table for my livingroom for 25 bucks. I also found some really cool vintage Japanese pottery mugs and saucers + cream and sugar set for 10 bucks. And also a really great straw panama hat, becaust coast life. Keep your fingers crossed for me finding the perfect sofa in the next few weeks! For reference, this is the vibe that I’m aspiring to.

J’s parents, Paul and Carol, put together a surprise celebration for Jac and Clayton’s wedding anniversary, which was a picnic dinner on a little boat coasting around the Gibsons harbour, and a few pals were invited along. It was the most lovely surprise for all of us. Again, I’d been feeling a little, “ok but now what?” and then this happened and it was like, “ok now what is that your life will be filled with beautiful pal and nature surprises plus lovely food, that’s what”. This was seriously the perfect coastal evening.

Post boat ride.

Littlest Jo was NOT HAVING IT with this wheelbarrow ride.

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It was Theo’s birthday party. A whole bunch of pals came in from the city, and J and Clayton hosted a really lovely backyard BBQ. Again, nice hangs, great people, delicious food, plus Theo and pals being completely pumped about a party.

I volunteered for the Puddle Jumper Classic. It was just a little short shift, but a good first glimpse into the running community up here on the coast. Some dudes from East Van Run Crew were up for the race, and we had a little chat about run crews, and it tugged at my heart strings and made me miss Parkdale. I miss that feeling of running with a pack. And I miss my run fam. It’s easy to forget a little how far away you are and how long it’s been when there’s social media, but it’s summer and I miss those hot summer nights speeding down Richmond Street back to the Gladstone.

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I had my first impromptu hangout! My one single friend texted me on Friday to see what I was up to and we went and grabbed last minute beers at Persephone. Hurray! It was so nice, and also funny to have a “Friday out”. Deciding what to wear on the coast is kind of funny, because my first thought was, yeaaaaah, wear your black tunic/smock thing, and your camel jacket etc etc etc, and just no. Pretty much take any outfit that you might wear out to dinner with friends in the city, then underaccessorize, sub out one interesting piece of clothing and add birkenstocks. We also ran into another person who I know while at Persephone, who joined us for a drink. Making paaaaals.

Sunday night ended in another farm field pizza oven potluck, with the usual pals, and a few other new coasters who I had not yet met. All around nice people.

I was asked if I was single and would be interested in being set up on a date. And because I’m actually so curious about what dating will be like here, I just said yes. I didn’t even ask for any details. And then how do I write about the dating experience up here? It’s a small town, so do I just keep it to myself? Keep posts vague? Part of what’s different about my experience compared to a lot of others is that I didn’t move up here with a partner, so it feels like something that I should be documenting, no? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ TBD.

Even in this week’s post, I’m already doing a teeny bit of small town censoring just in case. Because small toooooooowns.

I’m giving a talk this Friday, and I am so nervous.

More to come.

 

 

Road to Recovery

After months of resting, icing, not getting better, not knowing what was going on, I have finally FINALLY figured out where my stupid foot pain is coming from and what I need to do to start to recover.
Just to review how my injury happened, and what’s been happening since, about 2-ish months ago I was walking down the street minding my own business, when I felt a sharp, stabbing pain in the ball of my right foot. I hobbled the rest of the way to the coffee shop, thinking that the pain would go away if I gave it a moment to rest, but two hours later, I still found myself hobbling home. When I took off my sock to examine my foot, my second toe and the area behind it was red, tender, and swollen. I RICE’d the shit out of it, but the next day, the red had turned to purple and the swelling had gotten worse. I went to the doctor who told me it was either a bad sprain or a mild stress fracture, but either way, REST. Try to stay off the foot as much as possible for at least 6 weeks. This at a time when I had just ramped up my training again. This was about a week out from a 2 and a half week trip to BC where I had planned to spend at least part of every day trail running through the forests of the Sunshine Coast. I tried to find other activities to occupy me. I tried yoga, and that hurt my foot. I tried swimming, and that hurt my foot. I tried pilates, and I hated it.
7 weeks in, my foot wasn’t improving, so I went and had an x-ray to confirm that it was not a stress fracture so that I could start physio. I’d been going for 3 weeks, and it was helping a little, but what had actually gone wrong was still a complete mystery.  I was pretty sure that there was some kind mechanical weirdness happening in my feet, but it as just a strong inkling on my part, with nothing concrete to back it up.
Well, this week in physio there was FINALLY a breakthrough. I kept talking about how things weren’t improving, and how my other foot also has similar but different issues. And this week my physio started remarking about how the callousing on the bottom of my feet is really unusual (the middle of the ball of my foot has a heavy callous), and pulled in the foot expert from their practice to take a look. He remarked that not only is my medial arch fallen, but that my anterior transverse arch is also 100% not there. WHAT. I didn’t even know that this arch existed. And suddenly everything made sense. After more exploration, my physio and I realized that I was essentially using only my second toe to stabilize my entire foot. We tested out the strength on my outer toes, and they are basically ornamental at this point. What the hell?!?! I can’t actually even begin to express how exciting it is to finally have an explanation for the weird pain I’ve been having in my feet (left starting 3 years ago, and right starting 2 months ago). I’ve talked to GPs, Sports Medicine experts, osteopaths, and other physios, and they have always done some exploring and then given me a big ol’ shrug when nothing showed up in my scans.
I’ve still got a lot of work to do, and mindfully trying to walk while focusing on my arches and how they SHOULD be working rather than how they HAVE been working is really really difficult. It’s kind of like I have to relearn how to walk all over again. I’m continuously baffled by bodies, and how we seemingly have to teach ourselves over and over again how to actually use our own bodies properly to keep us from injuring ourselves. Shouldn’t something as simple as walking just be intuitive? Apparently NOT.
ANYWAYS. Mystery solved! While I’m still in pain, I now have a plan, and can actually see my road to recovery. Can’t wait to be hitting the gym, and road, and trails, again very soon.

PS. Giant thank-you to Ossington Chiropractic and Rehabilitation for helping me to finally solve this horrible mystery.

PPS. As an aside takeaway from this whole ordeal. You know what is going on with your body. You have intuition. You have feelings. And never doubt that you should listen to them. I’m very lucky in that I’m assertive, English is my first language, I’m extremely health literate, and I am fortunate enough that I was able to afford access to physiotherapy. If even one of the pieces of this puzzle was not in place, I would likely still be hobbling around in the dark in extreme pain. I would likely have an incredibly frustrating couple of months ahead, before finally being told that I should probably just not be a runner, and should try to find something else. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to be an advocate for your own health, and to trust your gut 100%.

An update

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There’s been a lot of change in my life in the past few months, and there’s going to be even more in the months to come. I wanted to make an update post to keep people that I know in the loop about what the heck I’m up to these days.

  1. I’ve had an injury. The week after I made my post about how active I was and how much I love being active, I got a stress fracture. I was told to immediately stop any activities that had a high impact on my foot (ie: running). I tried yoga, but the upward to downward dog transition hurt my foot. I tried swimming, but the foot paddling associated with anything but the breast stroke also caused foot pain. I tried to walk less, but I’m such a big walker, and honestly it’s been a crazy struggle. 4 weeks later, I’m not feeling that much better, and I’m wondering if the end will ever be in sight.
    I’m going to try to get back to going to the gym, but with no box jumps, skipping, steps ups, etc etc etc, and see how it goes.
    I’ve seen so many runners that I know deal with injury, and it’s so fucking difficult. On the plus side, it has made me MISS running so much. I constantly think about how much I love it and how much I want to get back out there. Distance is definitely making the heart grow fonder in this case. So much fonder.
    I’m trying to remember to see the long game (patience!). In the big scheme of things, one month off (or two…) is so short when you compare it to a lifetime of physical activity.
    This injury was also a good reminder for me. I knew that it was time to replace my shoes. I could tell that they were worn. But I put it off. And with the level of physical activity that I was putting in, that was a fucking stupid decision. I will never do it again.
  2. I’ve started freelancing full-time. This decision came about in late 2016 after a series of personal breakdowns and revelations, and I finally realized, “I CAN DO WHATEVER I WANT” and went for it. I spent the next few months taking every meeting and coffee that I could get, and now things are starting to come together. I’m so god-damn excited about the year ahead. I’m excited for the variation in projects and clients, and the feeling that I never have to be stuck in a specific job if I don’t want to ever again. BUT WHAT DO YOU DO, ALTAIRA? Well, I’m still kind of figuring that out.
    For now it mostly falls into a few buckets:

a. Writing. I love writing, and I’m good at it, and I can pretty much write about anything. I’m hoping to do more health care communications work, some work related to environmental and social issues, and also some work making online resources on various topics. This will be balanced with a healthy dose of blog posts on things like running and mental health and creativity. Writing all the time.

b. Research. I’m good at digging for things online, I know how to identify legit sources, and I’m basically a professional lurker. If you need something from the Internet, I can find it. I love going down knowledge rabbit holes and digging forever until every bit of useful information has been found. Whether it be for an environmental scan, or a policy paper, research holds a special place in my heart. It is a good partner to writing.

c. Other consulting. This third basket is a mixed bag of other things that I like doing. This includes some consulting about events (how should it run, what issues might you come up against, what are your goals), some strategy, and I’m hoping in the future to help teams develop online courses/workshops etc to supplement their own consulting work. I’ve helped to shape countless workshops and online education modules in the academic world, and I’m ready to take those skills and apply them to creative projects.

d. Workshops. I’m also running a series of workshops here in Toronto called Just Write. The purpose of which is to give participants the tools that they need to turn off the part of their brain that tells them that they can’t, and to just start the writing project that they have been thinking about, because that is the first and most difficult step. The next one is THIS SATURDAY. If this sounds interesting to you, I encourage you to register. This month’s workshop is only 45 bucks and will include a really great yoga session by City Yogis.

  1. I’m (mostly) moving back to BC. You heard me. May 2017, I will be packing up my Toronto life and moving it back across the country to Gibsons, BC. I’ve known for a few years that I would be planning a move to BC’s Sunshine Coast, and now the stars have finally aligned and it’s time to go home. I. CANNOT. WAIT. If we’ve ever spoken about my homeland in real life, you will have noticed how my eyes light up when I talk about the smell of the forest, and the damp air coming off the sea. I’m ready for bonfires and vegetable gardens, for trail runs and swims in the ocean on my lunch break, for easy west coast hangs that blend from morning into night, for long table dinners in apple orchards and afternoons spent holding baby sheep. READY. FOR. IT. In large part, this readiness has been facilitated by my decision to freelance. I was always hesitant to move back, because even though my heart ached for the West Coast, the thought of leaving my Toronto life completely behind, and visiting a week or two a year was just too much to bear. So at the moment I’m building up my Toronto clients, with the plan to have a home base in Gibsons but to come back and live in TO 2-3 months a year. The Sunshine Coast has so much possibility, and I cannot fucking wait for the projects, events, community building that I have started brainstorming for the year ahead.
  1. I’ve met so many wonderful people. WEST COAST HIPPIE MOMENT. When I finally gave in to what I really want from my life, I started to meet even more of the best people. I already have some truly wonderful, supportive, funny, generous friends in my life. But the connections that I’m making have just started to explode off the fucking charts in recent months. It’s blowing my mind a little.
  1. Everything is always working out for me. My fam, Jacqueline Jennings Pierrot has started using the term, “coming out of the spiritual closet” for people connecting with their purpose, and generally getting into new age spiritual practices like tarot readings, crystals, positive vibrations with the universe etc. One morning, on my most recent trip to BC, she was like, “I’m listening to this positive thinking podcast, I know you think that it’s stupid, but whatever, it’s totally working”. One of the things that she said from the podcast as a positive mantra was, “everything is always working out for me”. And my immediate reaction was *EYE ROLL* *FUCKING GAG ME* and J was like WHATEVER. And then I started saying it as a joke, because it was too self help, new agey for me, but then actually everything started just working out for me in exactly the way that I hoped it would. Soooooooooooooo… EVERYTHING IS ALWAYS WORKING OUT FOR ME.

Update COMPLETE. Big thanks to everyone who keeps reading my blog, and sending kind words or letting me know in person that a post that I wrote really resonated with them. You’ve helped me to write more consistently and honestly in the year that’s passed, and encouraged me to dig more deeply in the year ahead.

 

Tips and thoughts on first ultras

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I know, I know. We get it, Altaira! You ran an ultramarathon. What do you want, another fucking medal? Why do you keep writing posts about it? Also, we know that you run! Congratulations! Why not write about something else maybe? I will soon, I promise! But also, get ready for me to probably write about running for roughly half of all future blog posts.

Anyways, after my brief ultra summary post, I also wanted to write a list of lessons learned/general thoughts tips if you’re considering an ultra, or if you’re getting ready to run your first.

  1. You’re stronger than you think

I know that this one is a cliché at this point, but some clichés become clichés simply because they’re true. With the work and the will, you can become stronger and faster than you’d once imagined, and you can accomplish big goals that you’d never have thought were possible. Running has been an on-again-off-again activity in my life, but when I decided to be on-again in the fall of 2013, I had no idea how integral running would become to my life in the years to come. I remember my first run around Kensington from my first shitty Toronto sublet. I probably only went out for about 5k, and it was slow, and it was painful. I felt heavy and weak. I wasn’t running because I had a goal, or because I loved it; it was simply an inexpensive form of exercise that I had once done, that would be easy to pick up again with no commitment.

One day a friend tagged me in an Instagram post about Parkdale Roadrunnners, and more to make social contact in a new and lonely city than for a dedication to running itself, I became of devout attendee of Tuesday night runs. A way to get fit evolved into a way of life, and the rest is history. Nothing in my life has ever given me the sense of my own strength both physically and mentally that running has. It has left me forever changed, and I imagine that there are many more changes yet to come.

  1. Test your gear

636050460845428430This might sound like some serious “no shit” advice, but it really can’t be emphasized enough. TEST. YOUR. GEAR. When I ordered my running vest, I followed the sizing guide, and it seemed just fine when I put it on unloaded. But 5 blocks into running with the water bottles filled, and I knew that it was all wrong; I traded it in for a smaller size later that day. If I’d waited until race day to try it out, my vest would have been an excruciating burden, instead of a source of support. Also, remember that something that feels mildly annoying over a distance of 5k will become a colossal pain in your ass over a 6+ hour run. Make sure that you’re comfortable going out, you’ll experience enough discomfort without adding unneeded chafing and blisters into the mix.

 

  1. Read about running

This might not be a thing for everyone, but it was immensely helpful for me. I’d never really read much about running before, but in the 6 months leading up to my ultramarathon, I got into running lit. The four that I read were, What I talk about when I talk about running by Haruki Mirakami; Eat and run: My unlikely journey to ultramarathon greatness by Scott Jurek; Older, Faster, Stronger: What women runners can teach us all about living younger, longer by Margaret Webb; and Marathon Woman by Kathrine Switzer. By reading about their experiences, these runners got inside my head, and they got under my skin, in the absolute best way possible. When I felt like I didn’t have more left to give, their stories would come back to me. Their will to go on and overcome their own limitations, helped me to push myself that extra step to overcome mine. If books aren’t your thing, there’s also no lack of blog posts and articles about running out there. Other people’s stories can give you that extra bit of inspiration you need to try something new, to believe in yourself, and to keep going.

  1. Read about your race

20160716_075456Yes, road race courses vary. But trail races vary a lot more. Is the trail “technical”? How? What time of year is it? Will the course be slippery? Will part of the race be run in the dark? Do you need to learn about trail markers? Is part of the course single track? All of this information will affect how you train, but it will also strongly affect your gear; especially your shoes! While road shoes might be fine if the course is mostly packed dirt, you might risk injury if you don’t choose more rugged shoes for a trail that involves a lot of rocks, roots, and steeper downhills, particularly if the course is wet and slippery. Reviews and the course guide will also tell you how well supported the race is. If it’s 12k between aid stations, then you need to make sure that you’re carrying enough water/electrolytes/gels to make it between stations on your own. You’ll also need to eat real food throughout your ultra, so if you have severe dietary restrictions, you might want to check with race organizers to see what will be available on the day of. If nothing works for you, having a friend meet you at spectator points with a snack, carrying food in your vest, or having a well-stocked drop bag, will be essential. I’d also recommend reading up on trail running etiquette.

  1. Cross train

Cross train. Cross train. Cross train. Months of box jumps and single leg deadlifts didn’t make the uphills on my ultra easy, but it did make them waaaaaaaaaay easier. It also helped me to avoid injury. Trail running is a full body sport, and particularly if you live in a mostly trail- and hill-less city like me, cross training will be your best friend in the lead up to your ultramarathon. Long runs on flat city streets can only take you so far. If your race has a lot of long hills, I would also consider hitting a treadmill on a steep hill setting once a week. Sometimes hill sprints just don’t cut it. If you have easy access to hiking trails, I would also highly recommend doing a big hike every week or so as part of your training. Maybe a no-brainer, but sometimes it’s too easy to just put in the distance and hope for the best on race day.

  1. Do a sweat rate test

A running friend recommended that I do a sweat rate test, since I’m a heavy sweater, and he suspected that I was drinking too much water. I got lazy and didn’t make time for it in the lead up to my race, and then really regretted it half-way through. I was drinking pretty steadily and feeling good throughout the first half of my ultra. I also made the horrible mistake of taking electrolyte tablets for the first time (SEE NUMBER 2) during my race. At some point my fingers started to swell like little sausages, and I got worried and didn’t know what to do with myself to correct this. Sadly, the aid station attendants were also not well-versed in electrolyte-water balance, and they advised that I just drink more water. I found out later that this is not what I should have done. If I had done a sweat rate test, I would have had a better handle on the situation, and wouldn’t have had to run with a low level of worry and fear of dehydration or hyponatremia.

  1. Enjoy yourself

As mentioned in my previous post, focusing on the pleasure of running, and of being outside really got me through the pain, exhaustion, and mental resistance to running my ultramarathon. Focusing on the physical beauty of my surroundings took me out of my head, and helped to ground my body in my surroundings. For me, trail running is the ultimate exercise in mindfulness. Notice the colour of the sky, the smell of the dirt and trees, the feeling of the breeze against your skin. Seriously, just taking the time to notice that you are somewhere beautiful will make the whole journey a million times better.

Any advice you wish you’d heard for your first ultra? I’d love to read it in the comments!

 

 

Crushing KMs and 2016 goals

13697023_1045612325474873_3095487871918566861_nBlue Mountains, Ontario. All photos courtesy of The North Face.

A few weekends ago, I ran my first 50k ultramarathon – The North Face Endurance Challenge at Blue Mountains, Ontario. I had no idea what to expect going into it, beyond knowing that it was going to be a challenge. It turned out to be so much better than I imagined it would be.
Don’t get me wrong. It was hard. It was really fucking hard. But it was also beautiful and exhilarating and wonderful.
636050461481989480The thing that I have always loved about trail running versus road running is the variety. Instead of a regular and consistent gait, using the same muscles over and over, you are using your whole body to push you up hills, to skip over rocks and roots, to run down mountains. While the distance was a serious challenge, it was this variety in effort and landscape that ultimately kept me going. Over the 50k, there were some seriously steep rolling hills, and challenging forest switchbacks, but there were also beautiful expansive grassy meadows with a single, soft track running down the middle; easy, flat forest trails, with young spry trees forming a light-dappled tunnel of green overhead; and long-stretching lake and valley views.
At 26k, I hit a wall, and I was 100% certain that I was not going to finish. I arrived at the aid station thinking that I’d run further than I had, and felt so defeated to learn that I still had double the distance to go. I couldn’t fathom it.
I don’t know what kept me going at that point, but I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, moving forward. My mantras for the next 16k became “run when you can”, and “come on legs”. I hiked up the steeper hills, and every time I was tempted to keep walking, I would kick myself into gear, and repeat these two mantras to myself. I focused on the beauty of my surroundings, and the joy of being outside doing something that I love. I focused on the other runners I know, through friendships or through legend, and carried them with me. I focused on my own strength, and my will to get through this thing that I’d set out to finish.

636050460739805458Finding my happy place.

And then at some point it got easier. I rolled into the 42k aid station feeling light and energized, happy and free. It was the home stretch, and I ran it joyfully. Near the end of the course, there was one very long, very steep downhill. We’d run it once before early on, so I knew what to expect going into it; my knees and quads were screaming at me, but somehow it was easier the second time around knowing it was the last difficult challenge to overcome before a quick straightaway to the end. I’m sure the other runners around me thought that I was crazy, but halfway down, I let out a loud, “FUUUUUUCK THIS HIIIIIIIIIILLLL!!”, then painfully laughed my way to the bottom. I picked up pace, and sprinted in to the finish line. I don’t know that I have ever felt stronger and more sure and proud of myself. When I finished my first marathon, I was surrounded by a huge crew of people that I loved cheering me on, and it was such a struggle to make it to the end. And here I was, pushing myself to the end of this 50k trail race on nothing but my own will, with springy legs and a light heart.
The next day, it was hard to walk, but I couldn’t help but start the Google search for my next ultra, and think about how I can’t wait to do it all over again.