A Look Back at 2016

sunset californiaRunning wise, this year has been a mixed bag for me, I’ve learned some tough lessons but also had some great races. Personally, I’ve had a great year – Callum and I got married, I have a new niece and we left Toronto at the beginning of November for an extended roadtrip across the USA.

Let’s start at the beginning. Last winter was another cold one and I managed to run through it which is always a big accomplishment. I had a recurring knee injury throughout the first few months of 2016 which eventually flared up causing me to DNF at the Sulphur Springs 100 in May. That was my first DNF and caused me to question a lot about running. I took a little bit time off and re-evaluated what I wanted from running.

sulphur springs 100

I actually didn’t train much during the summer, I temporarily hired a coach that had me running really low mileage. I ended up running the Black Spur 54km with my longest training run being 15km! Black Spur was also my first mountain race, something that I’d wanted to try for a long time and it was tough.

black spur ultra
During the summer, my goal was a fast fall marathon. As it got closer, it was obvious that I hadn’t done enough long training runs to attempt that so I signed up for the half-marathon at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon (STWM).

In mid-September, my friend Sigrid and I road tripped to Wisconsin for the North Face Endurance Challenge Series Wisconsin. Race day ended up being beautiful weather and the flatish course allowed me to get a 50km PR there.

north face endurance challenge 50km
To close out the year, I raced the STWM half and had a really tough race but managed to take almost 5 minutes off my PB!

Looking back, what started off as a tough year allowed me to reevaluate what I really wanted to do and try some new things.

Stats for this year:

  • Total kilometres: 2,654 km (1,649 miles)
  • Runs: 214
  • Total elevation gain: 20,076 m (65,866 ft)
  • Races: 10
  • Ultras: 5
  • Set personal records for the 10km, half-marathon and 50km

In early November, Callum and I left to start our van trip to the US. In the last two months, I’ve run in the desert, at elevation in the mountains, along the ocean and through forests. I’ve also spent a lot of time struggling to get in enough mileage but the amazing places I sometimes get to run more than make up for it.

van rocky mountains
On NYE, I closed out 2016 with a long run along the ocean in LA with Callum. I have some big running plans for 2017 already and I can’t wait to take all the lessons I’ve learned this year to make 2017 an even better year!

What’s on the calendar for 2017 already –

San Tan Scramble 50km outside of Phoenix, AZ next week (Jan 7)
Lone Star 100km race in El Paso, TX in early February
Ragnar Relay from Cobourg to Niagara Falls, ON in late May
Sulphur Springs 100 miler – I have some unfinished business there!

How was your year? What’s your biggest goal for 2017?

Happy running!

Race Recap: Black Spur Ultra 54km

08_20_16_BlackSpurT_0746-(ZF-9491-99359-1-001)It was a far trip to get there and this is also a really long race review so maybe get a snack to make it through!

After a long trip to Kimberley, BC for this race, I was happy that I arrived a day early to get adjusted to the time and have some time to relax before the race.

Going in there were a few things that I was worried about, the elevation was a big one. I live pretty close to sea level and the race starts at 4,500 ft. elevation and then goes up about 2,000 ft. from there. My other big concern was bear; in the suggested race kit was bear spray. I saw a brown bear during Pick Your Poison in the spring and have been on other courses with brown bear sightings but grizzly bears are a different story! I decided not to carry bear spray and instead figured that I would try my best to stay near other people and hopefully the bears would stay away.

The race started at 8am and I got there around 7:30. It was cool outside, around 10C (50F), but the sky was clear and I was happy for a break from the heat and humidity in Toronto.

All of a sudden, it was time and we were off. The race started with a gruelling climb up the mountain. In the first 6km, we climbed around 2,000 feet on what seemed like a trail for mountain goats. It was full of loose rocks and basically straight up with no break for a couple km. I kept thinking that the climb was almost over but it just kept going.

It turned out that climbing was the theme of this race. The race has 3 different loops that each start and end at the Kimberley Alpine Centre so you knew that there were going to be steep downhills to match the steep uphills to get back to the start area.

By the start of the 2nd loop, which again started with a big climb, I was mentally done. I was exhausted and my legs were sore. The trail just kept going up and there was no shade. I told myself that I just had to keep going because every step I took was a step closer to the finish line (this is my default self motivation technique in ultras). The second loop was by far the toughest for me. I usually have trouble around 20km in an ultra and with all the climbing and heat, I’d really had it by that point and wanted to drop out. I managed to push through and by 26 or 27km, I was feeling better.

Thankfully during this loop, I made a new trail friend. Monique and I ended up running most of the rest of the race together. I honestly don’t know what I would have done without her, it was great motivation to just get it done! Monique and I ran half the second loop together and then made it to the aid station at the end of loop 2, we restocked and headed off out for loop 3.

By this point, I knew that I had not been eating enough and it was hot enough that I should have been taking salt pills but I didn’t have any. I tried to eat salty food but the check points (aid stations not at the start/finish) were very minimally stocked and a couple only had flavoured chips which I couldn’t stomach. At the transition between loop 2 and 3, I ate a handful of salt, filled my bottle with electrolyte drink and grabbed some pretzels in hope that I could make it the last 19km.

Monique and I left for loop 3 in good spirits and excited to be getting closer to the finish line. We had a good rhythm going with her being stronger at the climbs and me at the downhill so we pushed each other. I knew there was an aid station 9.4km from the finish line so the goal was just to get there.

elevation black spur ultra

It turned out the be a 3-4km downhill run to get into the aid station and I started to get stomach cramps, I think from lack of salt, and I couldn’t run downhill without being in a ton of pain. I tried to push through it but ended up walking the last bit of the downhill. Monique had run ahead because I think she thought I was done for with the stomach cramps so I was on my own. I got to the aid station and they didn’t have any salt but they finally had plain chips! I filled my water bottle with electrolyte drink, my hydration pack with water and my hands with chips and pretzels and I was off.

After the long downhill to get there, obviously I was going back up to get back to the finish. Thankfully the long climb gave me a chance to eat and drink while hiking uphill. By the top, I was feeling a lot better and started to catch up to the people in front of me. A couple km later, I caught back up with Monique and we ran the rest of the race together. After 8 hours and 44 minutes, I crossed the finish line!

For my first mountain race, I definitely had a great time! I really wanted to take time to enjoy the views and at various points during the course I actually remembered to stop and do just that. There were zero bear encounters thankfully! The climbing was brutal but I didn’t have any trouble with the elevation.

Will I be back next year? Probably not, it’s really hard/expensive to get to from Toronto but you never know. It was a well run race and I would love to do it again, hopefully with more plain potato chips at the aid stations! And now I have much better idea of what I’m signing myself up for when I sign up for a mountain race!

What’s the best race you’ve run this summer? Any must have race foods?

Happy running!