Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Niagara Ultra 50K Report

I have gone from the couch to running a 50K in less than a year. Yes, indeed, you read that right. It is still hard for me to believe. Let's take a look back at the beginning. Just under a year ago, I had had enough. Enough of feeling tired, soft, mushy and fat. I had let myself go, not out of laziness, but because of lack of goal and improper prioritizing. I wasn't doing anything for myself. I missed running and I missed feeling fit. In July of '09, I began the Couch-to-5K program. I loved it. Then my friend Kathy stated her dream of running a marathon to me. The two of us joined a half-marathon running clinic at The Running Room. We were very dedicated to our training throughout the winter months. In March '10, we ran a half-marathon. At the end of March, a 30K. In May, I ran my second (1st being '92) and Kathy ran her first full marathon. We are training for another full which we will run in September, and have a couple of half's and 30's scattered throughout the summer. This past weekend, on Saturday June 19, I ran my first (and it won't be my last) ULTRA Marathon! I ran a 50K race. In less than a year's time, I went from not being able to run 50 seconds, to running over 6 hours and 50K! I still find it mind-boggling.

The route followed the Niagara Recreation Trail with the gorge of one side and the vineyards on the other. It was a beautiful route with our half-way turn-around being at the famous Horseshoe Falls of Niagara. My friend Cindy and I started out together with the intent to move at a slow and controlled pace and enjoy ourselves. We had our head's wrapped around the fact that we would be spending the greater part of our day out there running. But Cindy felt crappy. She had a cold coming on and was suffering a sore throat, sinus congestion and drained energy. I tried to keep her feeling uplifted, but just past the half-marathon turn-around, she urged me onwards as she really was not feeling confident she could finish.

I reluctantly headed out on my own. Kathy lent me her iPod, thankfully, as it would have been a long and lonely time in my own head. I have never run with one before. I have since purchased my first MP3 player.

My game plan was to run 15 minutes, walk 2 minutes and to not rush through aid stations -- take advantage of each one. Being an ultra, they were set-up every 5 K's, so you had to be prepared. The day was slated to be steamy hot, so I had a lot of electrolytes, gels and water on me and restocking at the aid stations was essential. I loved the 15:2 ratio, it allowed be to get into a running rhythm and enjoy it for a while, and the two minute rest allowed me to take in a decent amount of water or electrolytes and really rest the legs.

At one point, however, I got pulled off my game. I caught up to a RR teammate who was running 8 minutes: walking 50 seconds. She swore by her method, so I went along for a time, but found it too choppy. She was struggling, so I went back to my game-plan and edged ahead. There comes a point in a marathon or an ultra, that you have do your thing. I was by no means out to set any records. I was slow...slow...but steady and just had to keep moving forward. that was basically my mantra for this race...KEEP MOVING FORWARD.

What a surreal point in the race to run PAST the full marathon half-way point. I can't really say I was happy, but I was excited. Given the option, I would not have turned around. I was there to run the 50. What a reward the 50K runners received at our half-way turn-around -- the Horseshoe Falls of Niagara. Sure, dodging the tourists, when agility is not quite your forte after running 25K's was tough. But the mist off the Falls and the scenery was priceless. Another surreal moment was at the 30K mark, when I said to myself, "Yeah only 20K's to go", I mean who says that, really?

I firmly believe that in any race experience, we will meet our running angel, be it a fellow runner who says what you need to hear when you need to hear it, or a spectator on the sideline who thanks you for running for their cause. I once had a Golden retriever join me on a trail run for about 5k and then he turned back for home. Well, on this day, at the Falls I saw a malamute. I ran over to the couple walking him and asked if I could steal a hug and he proceeded to lick the salt off my face. I mentioned I had 15 at home. They asked if I showed and bred. I said yes, asked where they got him and it turned out to be from a friend of mine in Michigan. I came across them again after the turn-around and a ways back up the trail where they had driven to have a picnic lunch. My encounters with Cooper-the-mal made my day. Another nice surprise at the Falls and the turn-around? CINDY!!! What a girl, she kept on moving, caught up to Tracy and they supported each other through to the end.

As beautiful as the course was, it was not without it's challenges. On the outbound route, we ran uphill for about 10K followed by and equally long descent. After the turn-around, we had to climb again until we had 10 K left to go and then it is winding trail through the park system on a trail with a very awkward camber. Owee, said my ankle. And the heat -- it was hot. I was smart with my pace, water, electrolytes and gels, sunscreen, sun visor and shades and therefore, oddly enough, did not feel overwhelmed by the heat. Normally I am. We were very lucky to have cloud cover for much of our race, in addition to a fairly strong headwind on the way out, which became the blessed wind-at-our-back on the way home.

That final 10K? That was hard. That was where fatigue had set-in and the iPod and the mantra KEEP MOVING FORWARD became essentials. People were struggling on the route. I maintained pace as best I could, kept up with my 15's and 2's and started to pick people off. It becomes a game at this point: that guy in the red up there, I am going to pass him by the end of this 15 minute run. That sort of thing.

I lost my way with 1K to go as I missed a turn. A man reeled me back in and set me straight, but I managed to tack on a 0.2K bonus distance that I really did not need. The last 800 meters is on grass and it was at that moment when I heard my friend Joan, who had run the half, jump up and yell "There's Jen!" I have said it before, and I will say it again, there is nothing like the Barrie Running Room gang: supportive, enthusiastic -- simply AWESOME!

I felt euphoric as I crossed the line. Where's the beer and pizza, was all I could think. That was what they were providing at the finish line (along with the obligatory Gatorade and water) and I think I had started fantasizing about beer and pizza an hour earlier.

The rest of the day was devoted to eating carte blanche, though it is hard to shake the good eating habits. I ordered a freakin' grilled vegetable sandwich on multi-grain with hummus. Seriously. Then when we went for ice cream, we opted for mixed berry frozen yogurt. I kid you not. Finally, when my blood sugar bottomed out while Cindy was browsing souveniers at Niagara-on-the-Lake, I buckled and got myself a caramel apple with smarties sprinkled on top. That's more like it, albeit, I shared it with Joan.

Funny enough, none of us were that sore. I think the slower pace and longer duration helped our bodies to process and rid the lactic acid from our systems. The next morning I felt like I could run again, so I headed out with Kathy to our Sunday group run. We had a 16K scheduled, of which I ran five. My ankle was acting up and five was enough to help loosen things up again.

Would I run another 50K race. In a heartbeat. I will definitely run that race again.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Mississauga Marathon...Check!

We did it!!!!!

Ever since Kathy said to me last summer, "One day I would like to complete a marathon", we have been on a mission. We did it smart, we did it right and we finished well. We are grateful to the gang at the Barrie Running Room for their incredible leadership and support, and to our SparkFriends, who are, to put it simply, there -- always.

Well known by now is the fact that I have been battling to reduce inflammation in a very irritated trochanteric bursa over the last couple of weeks. In fact, I wasn't even certain I would be able to run 5km of this race, let alone the 42.2km, but regardless, I was prepared to walk it all, if need be. That was the plan, anyway. We wanted to ensure that we were well rested and cool as cucumbers leading into race day, so we booked ourselves into the host hotel the night before. We struck out early on Saturday morning as we had to deliver canine semen to the airport, bound for PEI. My lucky dog, Elliott, is being used at stud by a breeder in that lovely province. It was little, obscure side-trip. LOL

Aside from getting a little bit lost at the airport, that diversion went as smooth as can be. Our timing all day Saturday was bang on. It was then time to visit the Mississauga Marathon Race Expo to browse, shop, pick up our race kits, register our timing chips and...drumroll please...meet John Stanton, president and founder -- aka guru -- of The Running Room. What a nice guy -- so informative, supportive and easy to talk to!
-- photo to come --
There was a great t-shirt booth at the expo and we each bought a technical shirt. I bought the one with the slogan that read, "Does this shirt make my butt look fast?"

We had lunch, checked into our hotel and had a nice afternoon nap. We woke up to head out for a pasta dinner and to buy bottled water at the near-by convenience store, and were back in our room by 7:30pm. We ordered up a movie, threw on our jammies and were in bed by 8:00. We watched the movie and fell asleep by 10. We both slept great. Well rested, we were up by 4:30 and ready to go. We grabbed a quick breakfast at 5am that the hotel put on for the runners, consisting of oatmeal, a banana, a coffee and a hard-boiled egg. We ate that early enough that it, hopefully, wouldn't cause either of us problems during the race. Then it was time to head to the start line and meet up with the rest of the Barrie Road Runners for our pre-race group photo.

We stood in line to take that all important port-o-potty break and then made our way to the start corral for the 7:30am start.

Kathy, Lucile, Kirsten and I all started out together and held on to a conservative pace for more than half the race. It was so much fun staying together for that time. Beyond the halfway point we started to spread out. I was feeling good -- good enough to maintain a fairly even pace through the entire race. Even my final kms were staying within the ranges I had been conservatively keeping during the beginning stages of the race. I felt good about that.

About my hip. I took a Motrin -- ibuprofen -- before the start and stuck a Motrin patch over the hip-bursa area for the race. The hip felt good -- the feeling was there, but bearable. It was my low back, sacro-iliac joint, that was tightening up and seizing up during the last 10kms or so, as well as an irritating patch of skin chafing that was starting to come up from the inside of my upper arm brushing against my tank top. It was warm, but there were lots of beautiful, mature trees providing shade, and a nice breeze off the lake, so the heat was not unbearable. I am, however, sunburned today. When the pain really started to seize me up in those last kms, I had this mantra going through my head over and over, "When you feel hurt, don't be hurt, be AWESOME instead!" It came from this poster, LOL!

And this one makes me laugh even harder. It is what I had up as my Facebook profile picture in the days leading up to the race in order to psych myself up:

With 2kms left to go, I started to pick up my pace. I passed Kathy's mom, daughter and friend and that revved me up, and the rounded a corner to see the greatest gang of cheerleaders ever assembled -- the Barrie crowd. WOW! I was 400m from the finish and in tears. I poured it on for the finish and found a couple of fellow Barrie runners there as well as my husband. Nothing better than a big hug at the end of a big race. I grabbed a banana and water and watched for Kathy to come in. She wasn't that far behind. How amazingly, wonderfully fantastic to have completed such a distance on such a wonderful day with the most amazing people.

Then it was off to the pub for a beer and a burger. Well-deserved, I would say!

And here is Kathy and I -- post-race -- hobbling around.

My chip time? 5:03:30. Considering my last few weeks of battling this injury, I simply happy to have made it to the start line, let alone finish the race. It leaves plenty of room for a PB down the road. Meantime, stretch and strengthen these muscle imbalances I have in the hopes that there will be no more bursa flare-ups and no more seizing S-I joint pain in those long runs.

It was a great day -- Kathy, I wouldn't and couldn't have done it without you. Bring on the next one -- whaddya say?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Trochanteric Bursitis

Oh so we are 4 days away from the marathon and I have deduced, along with my PT/Chiropractor, that the problem with my hip isn't a muscle, it is trochanteric bursitis. The bursa sacs that are located all over our body to act as friction buffer pads are highly innervated and have a strong pain reaction when irritated. Due to repetitive strain, too much too soon and the imbalances in my hip musculature (strength:stretch ratios) I have irritated the beejeebers out of my right trochanteric bursa. This is located under the glute medius and tensor fascia latae muscles and over top of the greater trochanter - the ball & socket hip joint.

This bursa is inflamed so I am doing everything in my power to reduce the inflammation and hence, the pain. I have resorted to taking NSAIDs (just a short course), ice, rest, gentle stretching and massage. Additionally I am taking and applying the homeopathic Arnica (the product is called Traumeel), and today I will be picking up another natural product called Serrapeptease which is supposed to have really promising anti-inflammatory properties. If I put together a protocol that creates success, I will certainly share. I am just piecing it all together right now, because this trochanteric bursitis is one of those issues which tries to render one sedentary. Ya, well, not me, notsomuch.

Yesterday I got in a painful but gentle 2k jog followed by a 40 min Jillian Michaels DVD and cool down. I tried to run another 2k, but didn't make it out the driveway, so back to the ice bag.

Currently I am:
- 2x/week: seeing a pain and injury specialist for trigenics (ART), chirporactic, ultrasound and laser
- taking fish oil, multi vit, cal/mag
- 3x/day: taking Traumeel orally and topically (Arnica - homeopathcs)
- icing affected area twice daily
- just started taking NSAIDs (ibuprofin)
- analgesic cream in affected area in conjuction with gentle massage followed by ice
- doing yoga

What I will add:
- Serrapeptase (natural anti-inflammatory)
- a joint-health supplement that includes MSM, Glucosamine, Boswellia, curcumin, bromelain
- continue in the NSAIDs until current inflammation is reduced
- ice more frequently, ideally 20 min every hour)

I know we only have one body and there is always another race, so if I don't race Sunday, or try and cannot finish, that is ok. I am ok with that. But I have to put on an all out attack and attempt to make it to that start line -- I cannot surrender yet. That is just my nature. I am by no means being delusional or unrealistic here. As my brother keeps joking to me, "It's play-off time, Sis, suck it up and play hurt."

He is joking, of course...

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Hot Hot Hot!

On a snowy, yes snowy May 8th, I decided to partake in a Lava Yoga class. Also known as Bikram or hot yoga this is a flowing yoga class in a room heated room. Heated room -- they aren't kidding! We were up around 98 degrees and sweating profusely within minutes. I mean sweating, drenched, pouring. I have never, in my recollection, sweated so much in my life. We are supposed to embrace the heat and let the sweat flow. Halfway through the class I felt queasy, so stepped out for some cool air and potty break. I came back and completed the class, but felt a little queasy at the end of class as well.

When class was over, my first thought was - why on earth would I put myself through this again? Then someone asked me if I was going to come back, and my response was, only if someone drags me in kicking and screaming. Give me some reasons why this form of yoga is beneficial.

I get that the heat gives you a better, deeper stretch. Stretching warm muscles -- makes sense obviously.

I get that it is purifying and detoxifying. I sweated out my entire innards and every possible toxin that could possibly have ever made it's way into my body.

They say that because the heart is pounding heavily and rapidly in an attempt to cool the body, that it is reaping cardiovascular benefits, but it feels rather like a cardiac episode to me.

I would caution anyone thinking of taking this type of class. Know your body, drink gallons of water, take breaks when you need them. It is WOW!

I still don't know if I like it, or if it is right for me. But I am rethinking the whole kicking and screaming part. I will probably try it again, on my own accord. I will have a better idea of what to expect and could possibly enjoy it a wee bit more.

Friday, May 7, 2010


So as it turned out, I didn't need an ounce of guilt about skipping Wednesday's speedwork run. It was cancelled due to thunderstorms in the area. I attended the Thursday clinic and headed out for the run with the group. An easy night of fartleks was in the plans. I ran about 1.5k and realized this TFL (tensor fascia latae - a muscle on the side of the hip, just behind your hip bone) was NOT happy. My right TFL is an angry, angry little fellow.

So, I pulled out and walked back and went to yoga. There was a restorative yoga class starting and it's slow, gentle, recuperative pace was what I probably needed. This is frustrating and scary - especially this close to the marathon. But, my take on it is that everything happens for a reason. Obviously I am having these issues for a reason and need to work through them for a reason. And the reason is? I don't know - but there is something to learn from every set-back, right?

Ann, our yoga studio owner and a past Olympic track and field athlete, advised me to not run at all until race day. Do yoga, visit the chiropractor (he does ART and trigenics, laser and ultrasound on me), ice, rest and restore. That is the idea for the next week. It's HARD, because I feel SOFT! But it's ok and it's necessary.

And the taper begins...

We are into the taper for our Mississauga marathon.
I skipped the speedwork last night -- our last hard workout before the taper. We had 10 Yasso-800's planned. I am battling various strains in my hips area. Usually it is the psoas and low back, but last Sunday on the long run my right TFL wore the brunt of the effort. Problems are stemming from imbalances that I need to work on once this marathon is out of the way - imbalances in strength ratios between glutes and other hip stabilizers. I am glad to have identified the issues, because now we can zero in on them and get stronger for the future, but all in all it is a bit of a setback. Hence, I started my taper early and it is a recovery/taper. Well, a taper is a recovery, but you know what I mean. And this basically happened because I had a couple of weeks of 5-6 days running and higher mileage than what I was able to handle at that time. Ohhhh, typical Jen, bit off more than she could chew. It's tough, though, as my cardio and motivation could certainly take on the load, but the imbalances in my hips were pushed to the limit and reared their ugly head. But as my chiropractor said to me, "If I truly wanted to find out what was wrong with a person's body, I would ask him to run as far as he could until he broke. Then I'd know. You have done that for me!" And I am not truly broken, I toned it down and caught it all early enough, so I am feeling ok about where I am . Everything is a learning cure -- at least for me. And I am going to finish this marathon -- there is no question about that.

Kathy is prepped and in a good place for this race, too. We are TEN days out!!!!!

I have been asked to be a co-leader for the marathon training group at the Running Room for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. I am excited to encourage others to reach their goals and to re-commit into the fall. Every step of this journey is a learning experience. You learn so much about yourself, your body, your mind.