Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Vietnam

Ultra runners talk about avoiding the internet 24-48 hours post race. Why? To avoid signing up for yet another event while still in the after glow of the previous race finish. I did manage to avoid this after finishing the Ultra Africa Race in November. But I had an amazing experience, and couldn't stop thinking about participating in another event. By December I had requested more shift changes and vacation and found myself signing up for the Ultra Asia Race in March.

Ultra Asia Race takes place in the lush mountains of North West Vietnam in the Ma Chau region close to the Laos border.  It is again a self supported format taking place over 4 days, with 160 km, 6000 meter ascent and 7000 meter descent.  Canal Aventure organizes the event, and I was super happy with my experience with them in Mozambique and was looking forward to participating in one of their events again. The courses are challenging and adventurous but the team is professional and I always feel safe and well supported.

Ma Chau

After Ultra Africa Race, I decided to reach out to Derrick Spafford and see if he had any spots available for coaching. I was lucky enough that he did and we started working together in early December. It wasn't a ton of time, but with Derrick's help my training was more focused and I increased the quality and strength in my workouts.  In February I went to Colombia for 3 weeks. Which probably wasn't ideal in the training schedule and I experienced some right anterior knee pain for the first few days in Colombia, so we scrapped the speed work and shortened my long runs.  Even thought training didn't go exactly as planned, I think 3 weeks of training in the heat and humidity helped me get ready for the humid lush forest/jungles of Vietnam.

Because I had spent most of February on vacation (I know first world problems). The few weeks I had between trips were rather stressful, trying to fit in extra shifts at work and finish my peak weeks of training, family obligations and oh ya, we decided to renovate and list the house for sale just before I left.   Needless to say I was more stressed before a big trip and race than I wanted to be but that is life. Thankfully this wasn't my first multi stage race and I had a better idea of what gear and food to pack and did so rather last minute. Just like that I was back at the airport ready for a 24 hour journey to Hanoi, Vietnam.  Unfortunately I didn't sleep well on the flights over and my flight between Seoul and Hanoi was a bit delayed, this meant me getting into Hanoi at 1 am by myself. I was exhausted and nauseated and just wanted to get to my hotel safely. I managed to screw up the name of the hotel, so after realizing the cab driver overcharged me I really wasn't happy when the front desk clerk said they didn't have my reservation, after arguing for a few minutes, I checked my phone that had about 3% battery life left and realized my mistake. I apologized and they gave me instructions of how to get to the next hotel. It seemed easy enough, but I had all my bags, I was tired, it was dark, my first time to the city and it was now 2 am, and my phone was almost dead, not exactly the ideal conditions for me to set off alone to find the next hotel. Thank God, I found it and it was only a few minutes walk away.  I get to the doors and its locked!  This is really not an auspicious start to my journey. Thankfully a staff member heard me and let me in. The check in was smooth from there, I got the WiFi password, charged my phone, raided the mini bar of their Oreos (the food on both flights was disgusting) had a shower and promptly passed out.

Hanoi coming to life in the morning


After a few hours of sleep I felt better and after a quick breakfast, I set out in my run clothes and headed out for a shakeout "run".  The quiet, dark, intimidating streets from a few hours earlier, had transformed. It was an assault on my senses.  Motorbikes everywhere, horns honking, different smells, people everywhere, eating their breakfast crouched on plastic chairs on the sidewalk, different kinds of meat being butchered and set outside on small tables, ladies with traditional Vietnamese hats holding long poles with baskets of fruit and vegetables, the air was thick and no sun to speak of, most residents were wearing masks to protect themselves from the poor air quality.  It was in this "chaos" that attempted to "run".  I slowly made my way to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum . I learned quickly that in order to make it across the street that one couldn't wait for traffic to stop.  You had to trust the process and it was almost like a bizarre symphony of pedestrians, motorbikes, cars, rickshaws and tour buses. You had to have confidence and just walk in an even pace through the traffic, and magically all the moving vehicles avoided you.  There were a lot of soldiers around diplomatic area that morning, so I couldn't get close to the mausoleum, or the the botanical gardens adjacent to it. But I snapped a few obligatory tourist pics and found my way to another historic site. The old citadel. I paid about $ 30 000 Vietnamese Dong ( at this point I had no idea what that was equivalent to in CDN $, nor did I ever really master the conversion rates).  I walked through the grounds of the citadel, tried to take in a bit of culture and learn about the "American War".  I headed back to the hotel and touched base with Jerome (the Race Director) and Bruno (the race Doctor) and then spent the rest of the day wandering around the Old Quarter of Hanoi. In the early evening I caught up with my friend Andrea Low from Germany, we made fast friends in Mozambique, and she was a huge reason I had signed up for this race. We caught up on life and running over spring rolls and beer and was an early night as we were both jet lagged.

Andrea (Germany). After our shakeout run

The next morning I felt a bit better, and headed towards the little lake in the Old Quarter. I met Andrea and we did one last shakeout run together.  To me this was the nicest part of Hanoi, the streets were closed to traffic on the weekend, there were lots of people out enjoying the park.  We saw people doing Tai Chi, badminton, dancing, walking and running. We also caught a bit of the cherry blossom festival.  Afterwards we headed back to the hotel, got our gear organized and decided to go for an early lunch.  There was an "Irish" pub next door to the hotel, but was unfortunately closed. So we met up with another runner Gurkan (from Turkey) and headed out together to find lunch. We did zero research and ended up in a random restaurant. I was still feeling tired and my stomach was already a bit off. The server took us into a small room and closed the door, there were no other restaurant patrons around.  She handed us one menu and instead of letting us browse the menu on our own, she stood over our shoulders.  When I say menu, I should really say novel. It was HUGE and thankfully was in Vietnamese and English.  I am a vegetarian and was getting queasy reading the descriptions, which included every organ and body part of multiple types of animals, even snakes head. We ended up ordering anything deep fried, vegetarian and rice ( I was convinced my upset stomach was due to the fresh spring rolls and salad I ate the night before).  We never saw the rice, and ended up drinking a beer and picking at what I hope was deep fried tofu and mushrooms. We again handed over some Vietnamese Dong for that strange dining experience having no idea what we really paid for it and headed back to the hotel for medical and gear check.

I had way less anxiety for medical and gear check this time than I did in Mozambique, and the process went smoothly.  It was nice to meet the volunteers and see some of the other competitors.  I am not a gear junkie, so once I saw Andrea's gear choices and some of the other runners, I started to question the weight of my pack and my choices of gear and food. I tried not to let it bother me too much, as my pack was a lot less than Mozambique and I hated to be hungry, so convinced myself any extra "luxury" weight I was carrying was OK.  That night we went out to dinner with the race crew and other runners. This time I was spoiled with multiple English speaking participants and a few French speaking participants.  It made it much easier to get to know people.  We again had 5 women competing and 16 total participants. We had runners from Canada, USA, Argentina, England, Germany, France, New Caledonia, Australia, Germany, Denmark,Turkey, Japan, and Vietnam.  We left Hanoi early the next morning and headed towards the mountains in a 5 hour bus ride. Again my stomach was queasy and I was hoping for a quiet bus ride to nap, but some runners were pretty chatty and napping was elusive.

I was so happy to get off the bus and out of the city. The air felt fresher, it was quieter with the exception of the animals and we got introduced to the little home stay where would spend the night before the race start. There were a lot of westerners in Hanoi, but out here we were the only ones.  The children were shy, but curious about us, and the locals were quiet but had friendly smiles. We had gained some elevation, so it was cool and misty, but green! It was so nice to see the mountains and the lush green landscape. A few of us took a casual walk to stretch our legs and check out our surroundings.  My queasiness was easing until some of the other runners took joy in pointing out the cooked rats that were hanging in the local store as food and my stomach quickly turned again!  We got settled into our homestay for the night. We were not camping this time, but staying with local people in the villages along the course. We shared floor space to sleep, showers, and toilets (usually squat toilets).  This was a nice way to spend more time with local people, and to get to know the other runners, as we shared dining and sleeping quarters.  This night we were provided dinner, and it was fabulous, delicious rice and lots of vegetables, I finally had my appetite back. We settled into "sleep", but it was scarce for most of us, between the other snoring runners, trips to bathroom, barnyard animal noises, and it was a bit chilly.
Our first Homestay

 Despite these challenges, we woke bright and early and we were now in the "self supported" part of the experience. Meaning we had to start our own fire and cook our own breakfast. It was drizzly and a bit damp. I was happy with my light weight cook set and got to making my instant Starbucks coffee and oatmeal. I was a little worried about the temperature and rain, but Jerome assured me every year the start is like this and we would be finishing at a lower elevation tonight. I got packed up, took a few selfies with other runners and lined up for the start.

Stage 1: Pa Coe- Xam Khoe 31 km 1000 meter ascent, 2000 meters descent

We started off at a decent pace on the dirt road, and my pack felt pretty good (I hadn't run with it since November). I could see that Veronique (originally from Montreal, but running under the French flag as she is a resident of the French Territory; New Caledonia, an island in the Pacific about at 3 hour flight from Australia) was going to be quick. I thought since the distance wasn't too long, that I would try to hang with her, but that plan was quickly aborted. In the first few kilometres some of the markers were missing. Luckily we were all still in close proximity to each other so we stayed together.  It took us about 10 minutes to sort ourselves out. We climbed our way out of the valley, but Veronique, Florian (France), and Gurkan(Turkey), were running pretty quick up the hillside, and I decided it was too early to expend that much energy. The first few kilometres were tough, it was misty, steep, and a bit slippery. Even though we weren't super high, every climb up was still a solid effort and I could feel my heart rate and respiratory rate rising with every climb up.  After about 5-6 km we got out onto more solid footing and a bit of a downhill and Mark (England) and I found ourselves together, we were chatting and clipping along at a decent pace, probably going a little too fast, trying to make up for the slow start.
Mark Scott (England) and I. Day 1. Photo Credit: CanalAventure©H.HuyNg├┤


We got to Check point One and filled up with water and carried on. After Check point one, we started descending more. I am not the best descender, but this descent was particularly challenging, it was narrow, with a steep drop off, and loose slippery rocks.  I was wearing my Brooks Cascadias, which I am usually confident with on slippery terrain, but they weren't gripping great and I think my balance was off with the bigger pack. I took two falls on the descent, the second one being the worst, I hurt my leg as it slammed against a rocky step and fell on the same hip and and hand.  This slowed me down even more, as it was the first day and I wanted to finish safely. This technical part was maybe only 2 km, but it seemed like forever.  Once we got on more runnable descent, I recovered and caught up again to Mark and Jacob (Denmark) who had passed me on the descent.  I ran the rest of the way to Check point 2 with Mark, we got to see our first rice paddy and run through some villages.  I was feeling stronger by CP 2, and shortly after that Mark told me to carry on. A few kilometres from the finish I caught Guillume (France) as he had missed a marker and gone a few minutes off course.  I got faster knowing the finish was coming, and there was a longer climb, but it wasn't technical and I was moving well. I was pleasantly surprised when the finish line appeared "early" according to my Garmin. I was fourth overall for the day and second female, but was well back from lead three over 20 minutes. I was happy and other than my bruised leg, I felt good. It was just after lunch, so I had plenty of time to take care of myself and recover. I was elated to find out we had access to showers, seated toilets, a table to eat at, and we could buy a beer from the locals! (Heaven) This was really great, and added to the social aspect of the race, we got to chat with the other runners, and share a beer and a meal.  (meal being a dehydrated backpacker meal) but we cooked and ate together. In the homestay we got mattresses, mosquito nets, and blankets, I chose to use my sleeping bag. After the loud night we had before, us faster finishers and non snorers had tried to stake out a non snoring corner of the homestay. I don't think it worked that well, and even though I take a sleeping pill for the race nights, nothing combats the roosters and dogs.

One of the many rice paddies we ran through


***side note*** The dogs***. I've had some experience running with stray/wild dogs in Tanzania and Colombia, but Vietnamese dogs take the cake. They are actually well looked after, but they are EVERYWHERE. Every house has at least a few, and there are puppies everywhere too.  It is to combat theft so I've been told.  There are barking dogs all over the course, most respond to a firm voice, or waving my trekking pole. Occasionally some are braver and get more snarly and follow us for a longer time, once or twice I had to resort to throwing rocks at them to protect myself.  It takes up more energy than you would expect to constantly be on guard for dogs. ***

Stage 2: Xam Khoe-Kho Muong  1500 meters ascent, 1500 meters descent

We started this day a bit earlier as it was the longest stage. So start time was 0700. I was ready to go, breakfast done, and all packed up, gear checked and ready to go with about 15 minutes to spare. I felt good, and had no pain in my leg, and was hoping to have a good long stage day.  About three minutes before the start I went to take a sip of my hydration bladder, and nothing! (fuck).  I had put Tailwind in that morning and in hindsight probably too much, trying to get extra calories. I quickly took my bladder out checking for kinks, nothing. Bruno was counting down to the start. I repacked my bag and still had 500 ml bottle of water. I made the decision to start the race and hope I didn't get too far behind on hydration. The temperatures during the day are 25-30 degrees, but it is the humidity that is the killer, sometimes up to over 95%. Our clothes never dried, you were sweating right from the get go. I ran for about an hour and drank my 500 ml of water and took a salt pill and decided to pull over on the trail to try to fix my bladder, 3 or 4 runners caught me. I wasted at least 5 minutes and still couldn't fix the problem. Luckily the first part till check point one was pretty flat and runnable. I caught back up to Andrea. We stayed together till check point 1. There I took the time emptied my bladder and used a safety pin from my race pin to unclogged the tailwind and got in working again, it took another 5 or so minutes to do that, but worth it, as I could drink now.  A couple of runners had passed me at the check point, but now that I wasn't wasting mental energy worrying about dehydrating on the long stage I started running better and caught up to them. There was one tough section were the trail had lots of debris blocking the way and wasn't the prettiest, but it was over quickly.  The rest of the day had been breathtaking, beautiful rice paddys and bamboo forests.

After the not so nice section there was some downhill road and I ran away from the others and descended down to the river.
Kids at the house boat at the river crossing


Here I saw Huy( Vietnam) already on the boat crossing the river. Andrea caught me as I was waiting, but the driver said only one at a time, so I left Andrea and didn't see her again till the end. (I learned that a few others had caught her, but she didn't get the advantage and they all shared the boat).  On the other side of the river, I caught up to Huy, and we silently went back and forth for awhile, but I went ahead before check point 2.  There I saw Guillume leaving. I took the time and bought a soda, I knew the hardest part of the day was coming with a big climb. I caught Guillome at the start of the climb. The climb was long (over an hour), but it wasn't technical, so I made decent progress, stopping occasionally to catch my breath and to eat and drink. The views were great and we went right up the mountain to the other side. They had a third small check point at the top to make sure we were OK. We then had a few kilometres of asphalt descent. My feet didn't hurt, so I made up some good time there, and then we had some single track leading into the village. My energy was pretty good, I was actually signing along with my music. I had dropped to 5th overall that day and second woman. I was happy, the long stage was done, I was in good spirits, nothing was injured. I knew my quads were a bit trashed from the descent, but overall I was in a good spot.


Village at end of Second Stage

We were again treated to showers, toilets and shared accommodation at the homestay. One thing I changed from Mozambique, was my post run food. I missed salt and fat in Africa. This time I packed Moon Cheese and Vegan Jerky and mixed salted nuts. I was actually looking forward to my post run treats. The salty snacks also went well with cold Hanoi Beer :).  I think that night I may have drank three beers, but I took it as re hydrating and a bit of carbs. Even though we were competing with each other, we were all friendly on the course and at the homestay. That night I was sleeping beside Veronique and Andrea, so we got to chat and get to know each other better. Veronique took pity on my mess of hair and offered me her comb and some chocolate as a treat. Staying at the homestay made it feel a bit like a running camp. At night we would talk about other races, where we came from, challenges from the day, we had developed some inside jokes. It is amazing how quickly you bond with people after spending a few short days with them. Some runners would come in a bit later, we had a 10 hour time limit. Ian (Australia) impressed me everyday.  Even if he came in a bit later, and he was having some trouble with his hip and knee, you could see him limping. He always had a smile and his attitude and energy were contagious, he always had me in stitches with his funny one liners.  It was a long day for all of us, but even a longer night. That night we were staying right beside a pond, and the ducks and frogs were so noisy. It was really unbelievable, when they finally stopped the bloody roosters and dogs started. I don't think any of us got much sleep that night.

Ian Crafter (Australia) and I at the Finish


Stage 3: Kho Muong- Xom: 36 km 2000 meters ascent 1500 meters descent

After a long night, it was a slow moving morning, I was stiff after all the descending, but knew there was more climbing today and it was less distance. We started off, this was probably my slowest start yet. The first 16 km weren't that difficult, with the exception of gnarly short steep climb and descent at 7 km. We used the assistance of a rope to climb up and the descent was super steep on the other side, I fell yet again, this time snapping my pole in half (fuck again!).  They had two checkpoints close together 11 and 16 km to check us out before the big ascent. One of the other runners Sebas (Argentina) had lost his luggage and most of his gear. He had to pack food that he could find in Hanoi as his fuel. As a result he had a lot of GI trouble and he was taking stage 3 off to recover. I saw him and Bruno on the road, they saw my busted pole. Sebas kindly offered me his pole as he wasn't racing. I double checked with Jerome and he said it was OK. I wasn't sure as it was self supported, but at camp runners had been sharing food, chargers, and cook sets, so I guess if we were OK with that, Sebas sharing this part of his gear with me was alright. Right after this check point the climbing started. It was close to lunch time, and hot. We left the rice paddies and headed up.  It was a hot, technical and steep climb. The first hour I was using my hands to scramble, more than my poles. This climb was way harder than yesterdays. I caught up with Guillome about a 1/4 of the way up. He looked hot and tired too. We took a selfie, and gave each other some encouragement and carried on.  At times I felt my heart racing and I was a bit dizzy. I decided to stop and drink and ate an Elevate Me Bar. It was a good decision, even though I more climbing to do, I could feel my mood and energy lifting. Shortly after the trail remained rocky, but less steep and I was gaining ground. I caught up to Mark and Huy. I am sure I was happier to see them than they were me. I passed them but then on the descent there were a few missing markers, so they caught me. Mark and I stuck together for awhile and lost a few minutes checking the map to make sure we were going in the right direction (we were). After we saw Jerome and got a little more water and headed toward the finish. We were done with the technical stuff, but we had a few kilometre asphalt descent, followed by long climb to the finish. I was happy though. I am a decent road runner and finished feeling strong and in 5th overall and second woman again.  That night we got to watch some of the local youth play soccer, and one of our volunteer Thao, was teaching the kids English. As tired as I was, this was definitely a highlight.  I went to bed that night knowing tomorrow we would be finishing at the Eco Lodge, with hot showers, and comfy beds.

End of Stage 3: Veronique (France) Huy (Vietnam) Mark (England)


Stage 4: Xom-Ma Chau. 44 km 1500 ascent, 2000 meters descent.

I woke up feeling fresh, with the energy of the last day and the finish line calling me.
Three Amigos at the start of the last stage (Me, Veronique and Andrea)

I set out strong, with my legs feeling pretty good. Within the first few kilometres I was still close to the leaders. It was rolling non technical terrain, and I still had legs to run. I was keeping pace with Veronique for the first time the whole race. Mark, Veronique and I were soon running together, I kept thinking at any time I would start slowing down, but I didn't. We got to check point one within minutes of each other and first place Gurkan was just leaving. Wow! Just a few kilometres after that things changed, I was following Gurkan down some single track, I slowed down to eat a bar, and then all of the sudden he was racing back toward me saying there were no flags. I thought no big deal, I just saw one a minute ago, so we must have just missed a turn. Mark and Veronique were right there too. But no, there we flags down one trail and then they stopped, we checked the map, tried a few different ways, Gurkan left to go further back down there trail, and we never saw him again. Then Flo (France), Huy and Andrea caught up to us. (fuck lol). All the work I had put in this morning was gone. We had lost at least 15 minutes. But at least we were all lost together, Veronique and Flo took a different trail and we followed after them, it was steeper and more technical and I hoped we wouldn't have to climb back up, then I heard them yell "marker" (yes!).  We all found our way and saw Jerome shortly after and told him about the mix up.

** side note** overall the course was really well marked, unfortunately I think some of the local kids like to move the markers from time to time. The maps we carry were accurate, but it's inevitable in a long event you always hate to retrace your steps**

 I took another chance and with the first ascent I pushed to try and pull away from the group. It worked, for over an hour I was by myself, but then we started an almost hour descent, near the end Veronique caught me, I tried to keep up, but she is so smooth and fast on the descent, I came in a few minutes behind her to check point 2. We were down low again and it was hot. We had some flat road running, but my legs were gone, I focused on eating and drinking to try to recover some energy. I could see Veronique in the distance, but was no longer motivated to catch her. I was in third place overall and hoping to keep it that way to the finish.  We ran together for a bit of the end of the flats, but we had one more ascent about 7 km from the finish and she pulled away. It seemed like it was taking forever, but really it wasn't that long. As I was having a small pity party for myself on the ascent, there were two Vietnamese ladies carrying large loads on their heads and backs coming down the hill, and I put everything into perspective and started to feel grateful again for everything I have.  We then had a nice 5 km slight descent on paved roads through villages to the finish, it was hot, I was running but slowly and couldn't stop looking at my watch. I tried to remember to take it all in and be grateful, but I kept wishing for the finish. We turned off the road again, and ran down some smooth single track bordering another rice paddy, and then I saw the finish line. It's amazing how quickly your energy can shift, now I was sprinting! Jerome was there with a smile, big hug and cold Coke! It was awesome to finish. I heard Andrea was not too far behind me, but I was overheated, so opted to go get checked in hoping to get cleaned up and back to finish line in time to see her finish.


award ceremony. Photo Credit: Photo: CanalAventure©H.HuyNg├┤


Ma Chau Eco Lodge is like an Oasis.



I just got to my room, when I heard a "woo hoo" in the distance, Andrea! I got to see her finish from our room. Day 4 was what we called "woman's day" we finished 2,3,4 and Veronique won the whole race overall! I ended up fourth overall, and second woman, Andrea was 7th overall, and third woman. It was a great race for all of us. Once in the room, all the struggles quickly disappeared and we were fresh and clean and ready to eat and celebrate.  We booked massages for the next day and promptly started to relax. One nice thing about these races is we get a "free day" the day following the race. We got to enjoy the resort, eat and drink with the other runners and celebrate our accomplishments. This time really solidified the friendships we made, and we were all planning a reunion race somewhere around the globe. I am really pushing for the Track.  I have been home for 48 hours and managed not to sign up for another race, but I have already been researching flights to Australia.

Thanks to Canal Aventure for another great event. I would highly recommend these events.  The team is professional, supportive, and while the event challenges you, I always feel safe and know that the team really wants everyone to finish and have a good time.

Thanks to the other runners, you really made this race for me. I had so many laughs and hope to run again with everyone soon.

Thanks again to Derrick Spafford for helping me get strong enough to have a good race.

Thanks to Frank and my family for always believing in me and supporting me from a far.

Gear List. From the non gear person... no idea what anything weighs lol.

Ultimate Direction Fast Pack 20 L.
Smart Water bottle (bought at the airport)
Franks Hydration Bladder
Brooks Cascadias  **feet were great, one small blister and no foot pain**
2 pairs smart wool socks, med weight
Hand me down skort from my cousin Kathleen
Free Honda shirt from Frank
One sports Bra (I think I bought it at Wal mart)
Endurance Tap (about 4-5 per stage)
Elevate Me Bar (one a day)
TailWind
Moon Cheese
Vegan Jerky
Instant oatmeal
Instant Starbucks coffee
One small bag of salted mixed nuts
3 Vegetarian Dehydrated backpacker meals
Western Mountaineering sleeping bag (can't remember which model, it is good to 2 degrees Celsius)
Trail Toes lubricant (love it). I had zero chafing.
Julbo sunglasses (never used them, hardly any sun or my hat did the trick)
Stolen Trucker hat from Pablo
Phone, headphones and usb and watch cords, and rechargeable battery (didn't need recharger, we had power at homestay)
Safety gear (as per required list)
Black Diamond trekking poles (only one for the last day).
Capris, flip flops and long sleeve NYC marathon shirt to sleep in/ be in camp with
sunscreen and bug spray
First Aid kit
Imovane sleeping pills 7.5 mg, took them for 4 nights, I think they helped.
Cheap light head lamp for camp with extra batteries.
light wind breaker (never used it)
fuel tabs (6).
Titanium pot (from MEC it cost me $60, but I loved it more than the one I took to Africa)
Little light weight stove? Its big enough to hold the fuel tab and my pot, cost me like $10
Spork
Mug
2 packs of Shakeology for recovery drink
I think that's it.

We didn't weigh our packs at the start. At home on the scale with the pack on it was 6.5 kilo before 1.5 to 2 litres of water





Saturday, 20 January 2018

How are those resolutions going?

Today is well over half way through January. I am just checking in with how my resolutions are doing, and wondering how everyone else is doing in 2018? Did you set some resolutions, intentions, goals, a word for this year? Are you sticking with it? Or has it fallen by the wayside? It is January 20th, and I remember some statistic being said that it takes 3 weeks to form a habit. So if you are still sticking to your resolutions, we're at at the threshold of three weeks, so hopefully that means the good habits we we're trying to introduce are sticking.

Running and working the coach:

I just have to say I am LOVING working with a coach! I had wanted to do this for a few years, but hesitated spending the money on myself and was skeptical someone could work with me with my shift work, and I never really liked following a set plan etc. I was so wrong!  I thought I was a pretty self disciplined person, and didn't need more accountability. Again I was wrong.  My coach is really flexible, he looks at my schedule for work and how I did the week before with training before he gives me my next week of workouts. I love how much the training is individualized.  Also I found that I am working harder especially on quality days, because I know someone is looking at and analyzing my data.  It is also getting me out of my comfort zone, I tried training with a tire this week "fred" and can't wait to see how that type of training is going to help me with my climbing this year. This is one resolution that has been easy to stick to, I love getting my workouts on Sunday, and seeing what challenges I have for the week. For almost 10 years I have been making this up running training thing as I go along, it's really been a nice treat to myself to work with somebody that cares about my goals and is going to help me challenge myself.

Sober January!

I was really hesitating making this goal public, because I was truly worried I wouldn't make it past a few days. I am at 20 days now, and  I am surprised at how easy it has been. Last night was the first night I was craving a glass of wine after work. But  I fought the urge and made a cup of herbal tea, and gave myself a generous spoon of honey in it, and the craving went away. January was a good time to try this challenge, with the exception of running and work, I am in full on hibernation mode, there is minimal socializing going, so it makes it easier to avoid situations with alcohol. I feel great, I think my sleep is better, and I am consuming less calories at night. All big wins. Before this challenge I was listening to podcasts about women and alcohol, my favorite is HOME podcast.  Even if you're not into sobriety, these are two friends in there late 30's talking so honestly about sobriety, money, men, and life in general.  I am still reflecting about my relationship with alcohol and if/how I want it in my life.  I probably have more to say on the matter, but it is still percolating in my brain.  We are going to Colombia in 10 days, and I am sure I will have some drinks when I am down there celebrating carnival.  But taking this break, as made me reflect a bit on alcohol and my relationship to it, and question if/how it is going to be in my life moving forward.  I am going to take this resolution, as a big win. I was able to stick to it, and it wasn't has painful/awful as I thought.

Meditation

I am only 20 days out of 365. But as I said in the beginning, I am really close to that 21 day mark, so hopefully this is becoming closer to a habit. I invested about $75 in the headspace app for the year. It is well worth it. I have used this app before and I love it. It is easy to use, down to earth, and they have meditations from 1 minute to 30 minutes.  They also have theme packs based on what you want to work on, like, creativity, anger, relationships, anxiety etc. I used to leave meditation as the last thing I'd do before work, but then my morning would get away from me, and sometimes I'd miss it. I changed my routine, and I do it before my shower now.  I haven't had to yet, but if I have a crazy morning, its on my phone, so I can do it anywhere, a parking lot, the breakroom at work etc. My longest streak previously was 75 days. So I know I need to be diligent about making this a priority. If anyone else is interested the other resources I found helpful were Dan Harris' 10 % happier Book and Podcast and I signed up for Sharon Salzberg meditation challenge in February (its free).

Writing

I am writing daily in my gratitude journal. I list three things every morning while eating breakfast.  I am currently on Day 60 of this habit, so I am hoping it sticks. It is a nice way to start the day. I am also writing in another daily blog. I bought Marianne Williamson " A year in miracles" . Each day is a new lesson based on the "Course in Miracles" . So every morning while I am eating breakfast, I read the lesson, and then write out my thoughts on the lesson. These two practices allow me to get about 20 minutes of writing in everyday. Otherwise, I have had lots of ideas floating around my head but I haven't really sat down to start writing them. Hoping I might be able to get some writing done when we go on vacation. Any other writers out there? What are your practices?

Spanish

This again is the neglected resolution, the red headed step child of the group. Other than becoming obsessed with Jane the Virgin recently I have spent zero time on this resolution. We do leave in 10 days for Colombia, so I will have a 20 day immersion into the culture and be living with people whose English is equivalent with my Spanish, so I hope I learn something and maybe it will motivate me to make this a priority when I get home.

Most of these goals are yearlong pursuits, but I think I will throw one or two monthly challenges in there. So starting February fist my goal is to refrain from GOSSIP.  I think this will prove to be a harder challenge than it sounds (although lets be honest, I am giving myself a HUGE advantage being away in Colombia for 20 days where the language barrier will be advantage for this goal).

I'd love to hear how everyone else's 2018 is going. Also if you are struggling to stick with your goals check out 4 tendencies Quiz by Gretchen Rubin.  I've heard her recently interviewed on a few podcasts. She explains how different techniques work for different tendencies in terms of sticking to your goals.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Winter Running

It's the time of year where there are an abundance of articles about winter running gear, tips for running in the winter, and couch to 5 k programs for those people that made running a resolution.  The other day as a was running on New Year's Eve and I think it was -30 something with the windchill and I was doing my long run mostly solo because I couldn't recruit anyone other than my loving boyfriend to share some cold miles with me. It was so cold my phone froze, so I was running solo silent miles and  I started pondering what could I share about winter running/training?  The following are a few random tips/thoughts that popped in my head.


  1. There is no inappropriate weather. Just inappropriate clothing choices. So layer, layer, and layer. Once it gets to -20 and beyond I like two layers on bottom and three on top and some kind of balaclava for my face. A good pair of wool socks and a warm pair of mitts, my hands and feet were fine. 
  2. Just get outside. I have never been officially diagnosed with SAD (seasonal affective disorder), but my mood is definitely lower in the winter. It is easy to get into hibernation mode. Getting outside in the fresh air and being out in the sun (when it's there) helps so much with my energy.
  3. Find some friends! It's easier to get through tough cold days, when you're laughing and suffering together with some friends. Probably is also a good safety feature when you're venturing out on trails for hours on end.  Two winters ago I had one of my toughest trail "runs".  Really it was a giant ridiculous slog.  It was supposed to be a 30 something km run end to end on a section of the Bruce Trail. It turned out to be post holing slog fest and took us almost 8 hours to complete. It was cold, hard and I ran out of snacks (not a good combination). What saved me was sharing this experience with friends. My friend Lori was laughing the whole time and embracing the adventure. So was my friend Agnes and she also had brought way more snacks than me and generously shared some cold grilled cheese with me, when I was ready to have a complete hangry meltdown. Later that year when I was competing in a 100 miler, I would recall that day and remember that I can do hard things. 
  4. Sometimes it makes you feel like a bad ass.  At least in my head anyways. Sometimes I think, 'wow I must look really tough' running out when its -30. Then I think what I must really look like, with all my layers on that don't match, some kind of ridiculous hat, my frozen face, and snot pouring out of my nose. It's not really the image of women winter running that I see advertised or on some trail runners Instagram account. But getting through workouts in the winter, usually toughens me up for spring training and racing. 
  5. It can be really freaking pretty! Some winter runs when the snow is fresh, and it's cold so you hear every crunching footstep, and all the trees are snow covered, and you are alone in the forest, it can feel pretty magical.  It is a way better experience than a treadmill.

Those are just a few of my thoughts about Winter Running. What tips/tricks help you get your training done in the winter?



Thursday, 28 December 2017

Looking forward to 2018

It is that time of year again, New Year's Resolutions, finding and planning races, and making big goals for 2018. I have been contemplating what kind of goals I want to work towards in 2018.  Even though it's December 27th I don't think I have entirely fleshed out all the things  I want to work on, nor have been able to articulate the reasons why.  But it is just four days away to the New Year, so now is as good as time as any to put thoughts and goals on paper.  This may a living breathing document throughout the year as I get inspired a race or a new project. Even though it may not be totally complete, I need something to anchor myself a bit, and a concrete goal to work towards.  So here we go!

Running Goals


Work with a Coach:


I can check this one of my list.  I have wanted to work with a coach for a few years.  I wanted to see what it would be like to stick to an actual plan.  To have someone give me an individualized plan. To have someone push me. To have someone to bounce ideas off and give me feedback on my training.  Although this is something I have wanted for awhile, I could never justify the cost to myself. This year I wanted to make it work and to make it a priority.  I have made the commitment on cutting back on buying take out coffee and buying lunches at work ( I really could probably have got a coach, without these sacrifices, but it's how my weird little mind works with money, and less take out will be better for my wallet, waistline, and the environment, it's a win/win situation).

I am happy to say that in December I started working with Derrick Spafford.  He has tons of experience as a running coach. I have had some really good friends work with him, and he came highly recommended. I was worried my crazy schedule wouldn't work for a coach, but Derrick has worked with shift workers before and is really open to working with my schedule. It's only been three weeks, but I am loving it so far.  It's so nice not to have to plan out my week and think about what workouts I want to do.  It's also nice for each workout to have a purpose. I am loving the accountability and having someone to give me feedback and adapt my training based on how I am performing.  This first goal, is a big piece of some of my other goals for 2018 and beyond.

Ultra Asia Race: Vietnam (March 2018)


I came back from the Ultra Africa Race so pumped and inspired.  The stage racing experience was everything I had hoped it would be. It was a serious challenge, made some awesome friends, and had some amazing experiences.

I had been looking at Canal Aventures Road Sign Continental Challenge for a few years.  I always thought it would be so cool. But I would quickly dismiss the idea, as I didn't have the time or the money to do such a challenge.  Having completed one of the races in Africa, made me more confident to keep going with the challenge. Also, yes it does take time and money, but so do lots of other things, and when a time comes where I have more time and money, I may not have the health and physical ability to do the challenge. So when I saw my friend Andrea was going to go Vietnam, I started seriously looking at the race.  Again I was fortunate with awesome co-workers who helped switch some shifts, my partner Frank is supportive of my adventures, I found a cheap flight, and I messaged Jerome the race director, and voila, I am going to Vietnam for a four day stage race at the end of March.  I will probably write a post closer to the leaving about how my training is going and what is involved for this event. This will be my big running goal for the first half of 2018.

I like to do A, B, and C goals for races.

A: Finish in the top 3 women

B: Finish in top 5 women

C: Finish the event.

I have a long term goal of going to The Track in Australia in 2019 (more on that later). As of right now I am still trying to decide what other goals/races I want to tackle in 2018.  Some thoughts I have are....

  1. Go for a sub 24 hour 100 mile
  2. 50 miles at La Cloche race in October
  3. Find another longish trail in Ontario or nearby and do an end to end
  4. Ultra Bolivia Race Fall 2018 (anyone want to start a gofundme page lol and convince Frank and my family :) 
I would love to know what other people of working towards in 2018, and any ideas for me to consider, as I can't seem to commit to anything past March.


Non-running related goals

Sober January

I have never done an intentional sober anything.  I have heard other people doing these challenges. I would think, ugh that sounds awful.  The fact that I perceive this as a challenge, tells maybe I need to do it.  Also it gives my liver a much needed break before we go to Colombia for Carnival and all the festivities we will be partaking in there.  So there you go, I have said it publicly, I am going to have a sober January.

Writing

I have been doing some writing daily for the last month.  This is a practice I want to continue in 2018, so I find if I say things publicly, I am more likely to make myself accountable. Kind of how a race gets my butt out the door when its -25 out.  

Part of this goal includes keeping a daily gratitude journal. I have heard this practice suggested from Oprah, to so many other self-help, happiness project type books and gurus, and always dismissed it, or would try it for a day and forget about it.  I have been doing the practice for 37 days and counting now, and it is surprisingly easy, and I enjoy the practice of pausing for a few moments at the beginning of the day to think about what I am truly grateful for at that moment.  

I have chatted to one of my friends who also writes, about meeting up to share our writing, and talk about writing. Having a group to share this activity with would help with accountability, learning and sharing the experience with others.  If there is anyone else that would be interested in this, let me know! I by no means think I am a writer, but I think it would be nice to have a creative outlet to compliment my physical pursuits and the busy work environment I have. 

Meditation

Ah meditation.... out of all my goals for 2018. This should be the easiest, right!? All I have to do is for a few minutes a day, is sit still and pay attention to my breath.  How hard can that be to do every day??? Well this will be my third year trying to incorporate meditation daily, so I am going to say, it's pretty fuc&%$g hard! I am persistent though, and I know how much it helps when I do it consistently. So here we go again for 2018. Go big or go home, 
 
I am going to mediate every damn day!

For any of my other friends out there that practice mediation. Any tips, apps, etc that can help? I would love to know!

Learn more than three lines of Spanish.

I have been dating a Spanish speaker for more than a year, and I have learned no more Spanish, than a knew a year ago (except for some swear words). I know this is pathetic. The reality of this is hitting me like a ton of bricks, as we are leaving for Colombia in a few weeks time and I am going to have a really hard time communicating with Frank's family.  I bought an app almost a year ago and never use it.  

This is a goal I really need to flesh out. 

I am I going to practice daily?
I am going to sign up for lessons?
A different app?
Buy Rosetta Stone?
Have Frank and the kids only speak Spanish to me from now on?
Some kind of Audio material, that I can listen to on runs and in the car?


Clearly this still isn't a priority for me.  But again, maybe if I say the goal out loud and publicly maybe it will get me set on actually doing some practices towards achieving it.

As I said at the beginning, this is more of a living breathing document and not a totally concrete set of plans for 2018. At least it gives me some guideposts of where I want to go in 2018. Hope everyone has a great New Year! 






Saturday, 16 December 2017

Reflections 2017

It's that time of year, to start looking back over the past season, before looking ahead to 2018.
This year I didn't run as many miles as I have in the past couple of years. I didn't have any injuries, but I focused on some more quality than quantity.

The Numbers

Total km as of Dec 14:  2 541 km. (500 km less than last year)

Elevation Gain  29 143 meters

Time 300 hours

Days running 243

Highlights as best as I can remember in chronological order

January: Road to Alabama with my bestie Kendra Olson.  She thankfully said yes to my ridiculous idea of driving 13 hours to Alabama and running a 50 km and then turning around and driving 13 hours home.  We always have lots of laughs being trapped in a car 26 + hours you really get some great /silly conversations. We did our requisite making fun of Trump supporters and humongous portions at restaurants. As for the race, it was the Mountain Mist 50 km.  I was coming off 2 + months of barely running. It went well for me, my energy was good, I enjoyed the course and finished under 7 hours.  Typical of any races I have experienced in the USA and especially the south, the RD, volunteers and other runners were all super friendly and welcoming.

February: My fifth attempt at the February Challenge

This was my fifth attempt and third completion of the February Challenge, the brilliant idea of my friend Ken.  The concept is you run outside everyday in February, you set the distance and time for your own goal. I keep my goal to 20 minutes. But it is a great boost to training to make it outside every DAMN day in February.

March: Frank completing the Hockley Loop and running the Grand Valley Trail

One of the big changes this year was starting a relationship with Frank just before the New Year. I always said I didn't want to date another runner, because I liked running to be my thing. I was wrong. I really like having a partner that likes to go out for runs and explore new trails. Frank is a really new trail runner. When we met it was his third trail run ever I think.  His first was the Hockley Loop in the Fall (which is ridiculous) it's one of the most challenging loops around in my opinion. His first experience wasn't great, my friend Steve had to help him and our friend Mariana leave the loop early.  Fast forward a few months later and we were tackling it again. It was great to catch up with my friend Steve, and Frank finished the loop feeling strong and giving him confidence for upcoming race in the Vipava Valley in Slovenia.

Frank also had a another first in March, we went out with my friend Rhonda ( a known bully ;).) Rhonda had been working on finishing the Grand Valley Trail. We did about 35 km that day. It was a cold and windy day in March. This was his longest run.  It was great this year to see trail running from a newer runners perspective.

April: Running my fastest 10 km since 2010 and Vipava Valley 50 km

Early in the year I started hanging out in Barrie and Frank introduced me to the Run Ninja Group. I was reluctant at first, because I don't like running on the road. Again I was proven wrong.  I have met some great friends because of this group and love the positive and welcoming energy from everyone. They are also a FAST group, for this stubborn trail runner that never does "workouts" it was a much needed change. After training with them during the winter, my speed had started coming back and I went out and did my first road run in 7 years and got a sub 50 minute 10 km. Still a far cry from my sub 45 minute PR, but I will take it.

At the end of April Frank and I traveled to Slovenia. I became interested in Slovenia after meeting Bojan on a run in Tanzania and he told me about his country. In late 2016 when  I was looking for a new race to inspire me, my friend Agnes posted about this race she was doing. I saw the videos and pictures and had found my destination race for the year.   It was originally going to be a solo trip and I would meet up with Agnes and her husband at the race, but I would be spending the majority of the trip solo.  This changed when I met Frank, he had never been to Europe and was able to take the time off. He had done one 10 km race, but bravely signed up for the 25 km, with serious elevation gain. I had signed up originally for the 110 km, but I was under trained and wanted to enjoy the race, so I opted for the 52 km.  I really didn't know much about the race of the country of Slovenia. I was pleasantly surprised by both. Frank and I also had never traveled with each other and had only been dating less than 5 months when we left. But we ended up traveling well together and the entire trip ended up being magical. Slovenia, is truly beautiful, with not a lot of tourists, friendly people, super safe and easy to travel, and not that expensive by European standards. The race didn't disappoint, it had a true European flair, lots of trekking poles and spandex, meat and cheese, and wine at one of the aid stations. I felt like I was in the Sound of Music all day. The climbs were hard, but I put a strong effort in and finished feeling good in around 8:20.  Frank had a great day, he finished the 25 km under 4 hours and felt great and he loved the experience too.

May: Eating and drinking our way through Slovenia and Italy

After finishing the race, I did a few short runs in Slovenia and Italy, but my main focus was eating, drinking, relaxing and taking in the sites. We came home the second week of May and we ran the Mec 15 km Trail Race.  I ran the race hard with a tempo like effort, I finished fourth female and Frank beat me by seconds.

June: Barrie Half Marathon

I have not run a half marathon, since I helped a friend in 2011. My last great half marathon was 2009 where I ran a 1:38 at Angus Glen. Frank gets a free entry into the Barrie Half through work, and it was his first half, so I reluctantly agreed to go.  I woke up and it was rainy and miserable out, it was perfect, because it fit my attitude. I had in my head that I would like to break 2 hours and if it was a great day break 1: 50. I started out conservatively and kept building, the cool weather and rain helped. I had forgot to charge my watch, so after 10 k I had no idea of my pacing and had to run by feel. I pushed pretty hard, the last few kilometers were hard as expected and I came through in 1:49 and change, a far cry from my PR but I was happy with my effort. Frank finished and made his goal of breaking two hours. I guess it wasn't so horrible after all to run a half-marathon.

July: Enjoying the summer

I opted not to do Limberlost, and stay up at the cottage and enjoy some summer sun.   I took Frank and Franco to my cousins cottage for the first time on Lake Naraka.  They loved it, we enjoyed the peace and quiet and I got some easy runs in the morning around the area always followed by a dip in Naraka (my fav). We did a nice mini trip to Lions Head and got some miles in on the Bruce Trail (one of my favorite parts of the Bruce).  It was sometime in late July or early August, that I decided to register for the stage race in Mozambique.  So I tried to stick to a training plan, but it didn't always go as planned.

August: Fam Jam and Portaging

In July I managed to keep my mileage at decent number, but August I dropped off, because I had two non running vacations planned. A four day portage trip, meant no running at all, but I looked at it as great crossing training, and a great time to test my gear for Mozambique. Both trips I got to spend time with my son, our second trip was to Nova Scotia to spend time with my high school friends. I got a lot of hungover runs in, but no quality work and no high mileage runs. I really didn't care because I loved both these trips, it was great to spend time with family and friends.

September: Solo camping and group running

The long weekend, I did one solo night of camping at Cape Croker up on the Bruce Peninsula to again test my gear and my skills of starting a fire and generally not dying lol. The next morning I met up with my friends for the last organized group run on the Bruce Trail for the year. I had organized 5 group runs throughout the season at different points on the Bruce Trail, they were fun fat ass runs with friends.  I hope to do more next year, it was a great way to connect friends from different running communities. Also in September it stayed HOT, we really didn't get a hot August or July, but I was grateful for the heat training in September, and for my friend Christina.  She was training for a marathon in October, so we shared many hot long runs around Barrie and it helped get my mileage up.

October: Vulture Bait and Bertha

Bertha, was what I decided to nickname my pack for Mozambique, because she was big and heavy despite my efforts to keep her lean and light. Through the end of September and October I started taking her out on runs (not enough though).  I had also registered for the 50 k at  Vulture Bait before signing up for Mozambique, it was only 2 weeks before I was flying to Mozambique, so I decided to be conservative and run the 25 k but with Bertha.  I went down to London with the two Kelly's and it was a great mini girls weekend away. I loved the course at Vulture Bait, one big loop, pretty flat and fast and a lot of single track. I think Bertha weighed in a 10 kg. I thought it would be a long day with Bertha, but of course, I got into race mode and was feeling good. Soon I was passing people and ended up running 2:50 or so and felt pretty good, except my collar bones were killing me. I got in two more solid efforts with Bertha in Hockley Valley with friends and then Oct 30 I was heading to Pearson for the start of a 40 + hour journey to Mozambique.

November: Ultra Africa Race

I wrote a whole blog about this race. So I will just say it was one the highlights of my year and a dream come true to go back to Africa. I loved the whole experience, the course, the people and I was very proud of my performance. The race was 220 km in 5 days with 3600 meter elevation gain, I was second female and 8th overall.

December: Rest and Reset

I took a few weeks off after returning home from Mozambique and focused on doing some strength training and my nutrition. This year I am trying to avoid gaining weight over the holidays where I inevitably eat more and run less. So far its going well, but its only Dec 15th.  This week I have started to train again, because after such an amazing experience in Mozambique I have decided I want to do another Canal-Aventure race, it will be their Ultra Asia Race in Vietnam in March 2018, 4 days 160 km and 6000 meter elevation. It will be my first time to Asia, and it will push me to work more on my hill running and climbing ability.

This year has been one big blessing with having Frank in my life, selling my house, meeting new friends, reconnecting with lifelong friends, seeing my son travel all over the country and turning 16 and doing a great job in his first year of plumbing co-op. I have longed and dreamed about travel for so many years, so it was amazing to be able to run in both Europe and Africa this year and be planning a run in Asia and I will be going to South America for the first time this year to in February to celebrate Carnaval and meet Frank's family for the first time.  If 2018 is half as good as 2017, it will be an awesome year.

Do you reflect at this time of year? What were some of your highlights? Have you started goal setting for 2018? What are your dreams and goals for 2018 and beyond?



Friday, 17 November 2017

Ultra Africa Run 2017

I always find it amazing how sometimes a few short days, hours or even minutes can imprint in your memory so intensely and other days and weeks go by and it feels like nothing has changed.  Time is so relative.  These past few weeks I know will stay with me for a lifetime.

The adventure I signed up for was my first self-supported race and my first time in Mozambique. It was the creation of canal aventure. Five days, 220 km, 3600 meters of positive elevation gain and self-supported, through the beautiful beaches and tracks of Mozambique.

The week leading up to leaving for Mozambique I had this persistent low grade nausea and restless nervousness. The floodgates of self-doubt had opened and I was overwhelmed by all the last minute anxious thoughts, I haven't trained enough, I don't want to leave home for so long, why did I spend all this money, what if I get lost, what if I get attacked, what if I suffer every day, what if I can't my gear through customs, what if they decline my entry visa, and so on. 

"It takes courage to endure the sharp pains of self-discovery rather than choose to take the dull pain of unconsciousness that would last the rest of our lives" Marianne Williamson

Despite all the self doubt, I said my goodbyes and I left home the afternoon of Oct 30 and arrived at my final destination of Maputo, Mozambique Nov 1 in the afternoon. It was a 40+ hour journey.  In the last few months I have been really have been focused on trying to stay in the present, meditating more and assuming the best case scenario in every situation. It's amazing how much these practices help with my anxiety. Although it was a long journey, everything was seamless and I arrived in good spirits at the hotel.

The hotel was listed $$$ place to stay in my Mozambique: Lonely Planet Guide. If you know me I only stay at $ accommodations.  It was recommended by the race and the crew and other competitors would be staying there as well.  To simplify logistics I decided to stay there too, and after such a long journey I was happy to have the comforts of a western style hotel. The first night I just had a shower and dinner and went to bed early.

The next morning after breakfast I was going to set out to do some sightseeing and then Rafael, a fellow competitor from Germany spotted me in the hotel lobby. I guess a white girl in running shorts was easy to assume I was part of the race. He offered to go for a walk with me and I was happy to have the company.  We went for a 2 hour walk around Maputo. It is quite a modern city and I found it less chaotic then Moshi. It is the capital, so most people seemed well dressed and stylish.  There were the typical street vendors, but no one was very aggressive and there wasn't anybody begging in the streets. Of course we talked running and the race.  This is when I started to learn how experienced and accomplished some of the other competitors were. Former UTMB  winner Marco Olmo, four of the competitors had published books (including Rafael) about their adventures in running, one of the female competitors had done TDS, Tor de Geants and 4 deserts, Atacama crossing, all this year!! One of the other female competitors had run across America, Europe and Siberia!!  Oh and Takeo a runner from Japan, had a whole film crew following him. Usually my anxiety dissipates when I actually get to the race, but learning all of this, it just got worse! Serious imposter syndrome!

Then we started talking gear and pack weight and I became even more anxious that I had made the wrong choices and my pack was too heavy etc.  Rafael was very positive and encouraging and he even commented on my walking style and said he could see how strong of a walker I was.  I agreed and told him I hoped this would help me because I couldn't see running a lot of the miles and hoped my walking would save my race.  We parted ways and I went about distracting myself with pool and free WiFi.

That afternoon I met Brian who is from South Africa and was helping out with the race. This was great because he was fluent in English and beer drinking and didn't want to talk about running. So I finally started to relax as we joked and talked about travel, politics, family and his love of Celene Dion.  Later I met Andrea and went for dinner with her and Rafael. This was her second self-supported race, she had completed the 4 deserts Namibia race earlier this year (this made her infinetly more qualified than myself) .  She was a part of Rafael's Little Desert Runners Club, an online club that helps runners new to multi-day self supported races. I wished I had found something like that before the race.  We made fast friends and I took in any advice she and  Rafael offered.


The next morning we took a six hour bus ride to the lodge where we would start the race. I was pretty quiet, the other competitors seem to know each other and there were many different languages being spoken. I was the only competitor whose first language was English. I silently cursed my entitled North American background of being mostly unilingual. When you have limited language it's hard to get past small talk.  We arrived at the Nhambavale Lodge in the afternoon. It is this picturesque place with traditional huts on the shores of a beautiful lake. It was hard to remember we were not just on vacation.

We were assigned roommates and I was assigned Kuzuko from Japan.  There were many blessings on this adventure. But this was truly one of them.  Kuzuko is 64 and is probably half my height and maybe weighs 100lbs.  She has the biggest smile and her spirit is amazing.  I speak zero Japenese but Kuzuko tries really hard with English and we soon figured out a way to communicate with each other.  She has kids the same age as me and has been doing long distance running for over 30 years and has run across continents. She is the most humble, gentle and kind person.  We became fast friends, she made me feel at ease and my anxiety started to lessen.
Kuzuko

The next morning after breakfast, Rafael, Andrea and I went for a short 3 k run to shake out our legs and get a look at the terrain.  After that was gear and medical check. Rafael kindly stopped by my hut and helped me get rid of extra weight. I got rid of a ton of gels and all of my medical stuff and half of my fire starter. My pack ended up weighing in a 7.7 kg without water. Far better than the 10kg it was before.  I hoped I wouldn't regret anything I left behind.

Day 1:  Nhambavale Lodge to Kanda 35 km 657 m ascent.

It was a simple breakfast of cereal and coffee, last minute check of my pack, pics with the competitors and last minute bathroom break and we were ready to go at 8 am.  My plan was to go super conservative and make sure I looked after myself.  The first 2.5 km were sandy rolling double track.  I took it easy and walked any climbs and then we were over the sand dunes and on the beach.  I am more of a mountain girl than beach girl, but this beach was breathtaking.  The sky was so blue and the water was turquoise and crystal clear.  To the left were sand dunes.  This section was 19 km and there were no houses or resorts, we would see the occasional fishermen.  Thankfully the tide was out so this section was quite runnable.  I found myself in 11th place.  I ran conservatively and passed three runners before we left the beach. I was feeling good and stuck to my plan of drinking each km, gel every 5 km and salt tab every hour.  There was a breeze on the beach, but once we turned off you could feel the heat and it was getting later in the day.  I stuck with my plan of walking the uphills and if the sandy track was using up too much energy to run then I would walk for a bit.  After check point #2 I caught up to Ita.  She said she was a bit tired ( no wonder, she was the competitor that had done TDS, TDG and Atacama).  She said she was good so I carried on.  Along this section we ran past our first villages and everyone was friendly.  At 30 km I stopped and bought a soda. Jerome the Race Director had said we were allowed to stop and by a cold drink if we wanted as it would give us an opportunity to engage with the locals. The last 5 km were hot with sandy rolling track. I knew I was second female and so I took my time and finished around 4.5 hours. I arrived at camp to find out I was only 5 minutes behind Rafael and Andrea (the first place female).  I felt good, I didn't feel like I pushed too hard.

There were lots of kids to greet us at camp. I got set to make sure I got my recovery drink into me and ate my salted cashews. I then observed the other competitors and followed their example of resting.  I organized my gear and tried to stay off my feet. That afternoon, many locals stopped by to observe us, we sang and danced with the kids.  It was awesome.  This is really why I wanted to come back to Africa, it is amazing to be able to spend time with the local people and see villages and schools where tourists don't usually go.  Even when your hot and tired it is impossible not to have your spirits lifted by the laughter of the kids.

The evenings are short. I cooked my dinner early and choked back the tasteless backpacker meal, drank more water, meditated and went to sleep by 7 pm.  I had survived my first day!!


Day 2:  Kanda-Quissico 39 km 716 m ascent

I woke up early around 4 am. I took the time to meditate and then got ready packing up and cooking breakfast.  I was ready to go by 6 am, but we weren't starting till 7 am.  So I rested, I watched the village come to life, kids walking to school, women going to get water or carry materials to town, young boys taking cattle somewhere, and then we were off at 7 am.  I felt ok, my legs weren't sore at all, my back now that was a different story.  Finishing well the first day, my goals had slightly changed from merely surviving to maybe trying to stay second female or to try and win a stage.  I still knew I had a lot kilometers ahead so I started off conservative again. Today was mostly sandy dirt track and we ran through many villages to start. I passed a few runners and stopped to take a few pics with locals.  After checkpoint # 1 I felt a little low and was worried about how many more kilometers I had to go. I took a gel and decided to use my i-pod. The combination of the sugar and music was amazing, all the sudden I was smiling to myself and the kilometers were clicking by. I caught up to Rafael and Andrea and kept going.  Running faster I was a little worried I would miss a marker. So I stopped a few times to double check. Rafael caught me at the 30 km I tried to keep up to him but he was too fast so I slowed down to my pace again. After 30+ km of similar looking terrain, we were treated to solid dirt road with a crazy view of this beautiful lake and palm trees, like a postcard. I was running well till the last 5 km, the hot sandy track started again, I could feel myself losing motivation, again I stopped and got a Coke from a stand and rolled into camp around 5 hours and 9 minutes. Ita from Italy had taken the lead as first female. My time was good enough again for second female and seventh overall.

Camp was a surprise, we were on the lake! That meant swimming! I went down to the lake with Steven a French competitor and told him in my awful Franglais that if we saw snakes I would be jumping on top of him. But there was nothing scary there. It was pristine, clear water and white sand. I just floated and felt on top of the world. After, was reality check, my feet were getting some blisters and I had lost a flip flop (dammit), now I'd have to wear my running shoes around camp. On the bright side though, it was a few less grams that I would have to carry. Dr Bruno helped me out with my feet.

Dr Bruno became such a good friend to me.  He reminded a bit of a great teacher I had in high school, Mr Fischer. He kind of had that same quiet but encouraging attitude of having higher expectations for you than you do yourself. Once he knew I could speak French, there was no going back to English, he let me struggle to find my words and even if I was speaking Franglais he would answer always in French.  He was accomplished ultra runner in his own right. He competed in the first Marathon des Sables among many other ultra adventures. A cervical fracture while skiing in the mountains prevented him from running competitively anymore.  He has since been the medical director on 34 ultra trail adventures all over the world.  He was so knowledgeable and looked after the competitors so well.
Dr Bruno Thomas 

One of best things about these adventures is the simplicity, there is no distraction of the internet, work, family and other obligations. Routines are simple, recovery, foot care, cook, eat, drink, sort gear, go to sleep. Smile and play with the kids and chat to other runners in between.

Day 3 (The long day) Quissico to Lac Poelela 51 km 803 ascent

After two days there was only a few minutes separating the top 3 female competitors.  I was hoping to be conservative again and maybe catch the leader Ita later in the day.  This did not work out.  She put a gap of almost 50 minutes on me. Her strength and ability are really amazing.  I started out the same as always, this was probably the worst day for my back, I was getting these sharp stabbing pains in my shoulders and upper back and my feet were starting to hurt.  I caught up to Andrea early and we ran into check point one together.  I took some Aleve, knowing the risk but hoping to only take it the one time.  My back settled down and I continued to run with Andrea.  It was so great to have the company because this was going to be a long day.  We enjoyed the kids and stopped to take some pictures and video at the local school, shortly after that I got a little ahead of Andrea.  I was running by myself and suffering a bit, thinking how hot and tired I was and I still 25 km to go. Then I heard the sound of a giggle.  I turned around and there was this beautiful girl probably in her early twenties named Iza. She was in a blouse, skirt and flip flops and she was running with me.  This instantly lifted my spirits and we ran the next mile or so together.  We shared few words, but running and smiles are universal.  She stopped when we met up with her friends I thanked her and kept going. I rolled in check point # 2 at 30 km in good shape.
Iza
Then I saw that Julen the current second place competitor from Spain, sitting on the ground looking hot and exhausted.  I quickly learned he was not injured but maybe just overheated? He had been walking a lot and he didn't want to do the race like that. Andrea came in just behind me.  Andrea, Bruno, Jerome and I convinced him to keep going. I was ready first so I left and he and Andrea left just after me.  There's a saying if you want to feel better or worse in an Ultra just wait 10 minutes. Just minutes after leaving the checkpoint I started feeling hot and tired and lamenting to myself how long these next 21 km were going to take.  Julen quickly caught me on a long hot dusty uphill and I was happy to see he decided to stay in the race.  The next few kilometers were solitary, no smiling villagers, no little kids to run with me and although near by I couldn't see Julen or Andrea. I tried to stay focused on looking after myself in the heat and lost all interest in trying to catch Ita the female leader.  Even after a few kilometers when I came to the next village it was hard to run fast enough to satisfy the kids who wanted to run with me.  I came to a stand and bought a COLD Coke.  (This in itself seemed miraculous) .  In Tanzania I never found anything that was cold.  The sugar rush hit and I was running, I caught up to Julen again and came into check point # 3 just ahead of him.  This checkpoint was on the beach and the water looked so inviting.  I decided to go for a swim, best decision, I could feel my core temperature lower and I was renewed. I left the checkpoint behind Julen and ahead of Andrea. We were warned the next 10 km were hard and they did not disappoint.  It is really hard to run on soft sand, and while the scenery was gorgeous these last 10 km grinded away at me and I hiked most of them.  Finishing hot and exhausted around 7.5 hours second female and eight overall and having no idea how I was going to recover enough to get up and do it all over again tomorrow.

Camping on a beach is kind of like having sex on a beach. It seems kind of romantic but all you do is end up with sand in places you don't want, this meant even in my dinner.  Plus the water was blocked by large vegetation and not the easiest to get to, so most of us didn't swim.  It was later in the day and my feet were getting worse, Dr Bruno helped me again get them sorted. I struggled with starting a fire and thankful Ramon and Raul from Argentina and Chile were able to help me yet again with getting a fire going.  They speak about as much English as I do Spanish but we figured it out.  Hanging out with the South American runners and listening to them speak Spanish made me really homesick and miss Frank even more.  I had drank at least 6 liters of water and hadn't peed since 7 am.  I really wanted to go to sleep so I thought I would try to pee before bed.  I tried and then found I was peeing blood, my heart sank, I remembered the Aleve I had taken earlier (did I take or one or two?), how I still felt overheated and I was nervous this was the start of something ominous.  I went and told Dr. Bruno, and again was thankful for his experience as runner and not just a Dr.  He was unfazed by my revelation and said it had happened to him at MDS and other races and that stress of running can sometimes cause hematuria, he told me it was a common problem and not to worry about it and to stop with damn NSAIDS.  He said my kidneys would be fine and go drink more.  Were only allotted 8 liters a day of water, today because it was the long day we got an extra 1.5 liters.  I went and chugged the rest of my water and waited impatiently for the urge to pee.  It was now 8 pm and I finally I had the urge to pee, by the light of my headlamp I could see it was clear, success!

Day 4 Lac Poelela to Cambula 47 km and 807 m ascent

I didn't know if I could take another day of heat and the universe heard me, I woke up to glorious rain! I can't even say how much joy that gave me.  It's never fun to try and get ready or stand around in the rain but I didn't care! The rain didn't take away my foot pain though, when I put my shoes on they hurt and felt too small. My feet were starting to swell, why didn't I buy shoes a half size bigger!  We started with a few kilometers on tarmac (the only in the race), but I was slow and stayed behind.  Most of the tract was pretty runnable but it took me almost an hour to kind of wake up and find my legs.  I finally caught up to Andrea and we ran and chatted for the next several kilometers.  The track was packed down and it was nice not to fight with the sand.  It was a little frustrating because I could've run a faster pace but it was day 4 and my feet were hurting constantly and so I kept to a pretty conservative pace and the highs were getting more and more spread out.   After checkpoint # 2 I caught up with Giuseppe from Italy. I got a little bit of ahead of him and I had to pee, awesome, I had never had to pee yet during the race, I must be doing a good job of being hydrated, yay me.  Then I look down and blood again, dammit. I tried not to let it bother me and kept focus on drinking. I got to a cross roads and some kids were playing with the marker, I thought no problem, I will pull out my map.... fuck. No map, it must have fallen out when I stopped to pee. I ask the kids which way the marker was they assured me it was pointed to the left and I could see footprints so I headed down the path.  But, I was too unsure, plus I am not in the greatest shape with the sore feet and peeing blood so I don't want to get lost on top of it. I waited for Giusppe and he had also lost his map also but reassured me that all the front runners shoe prints were there so we stuck together until the next marker and then  I kept going at my pace.  These next kilometers were hard mentally. I was kind of over being distracted by the scenery and people.  It was like at the end of a 100 miler, I couldn't think a lot and focused on one foot in front of the other and one kilometer at a time. Four kilometers from the finish Dino (our photographer) and Brian had a surprise checkpoint with Fanta, I took a swig and their encouragement propelled me on to the finish.  I was about 6.5 hours, second female and eighth  overall.

It was still raining at camp, so there was the added challenge of drying out gear and finding dry firewood.  Raul the fire king had no trouble getting a fire going and I was so grateful. I ate my backpacker pasta and it didn't taste half bad.  My feet were super painful and getting swollen and I wasn't sure how well the last day was going to go for me.  Andrea found my missing map, she had also found it day 3 (my map angel).

Day 5 Campula to Jangamo 47 km 507 meters ascent

It was probably my worst night sleep, I couldn't find a comfortable position and were up at 330.  I was done fighting with the fire and skipped my oatmeal and coffee and ate a protien bar (not the best decision). I got rid of anything non mandatory and kept my calories to a minimum. Its the Last Day, just 47 km between me and a swim in the ocean, beer, shower and wifi!! I thought the last day might be like the last miles in an ultra where you get a boost in energy because you can smell the finish line, not so much.  The first hour was miserable although my body was tired I wasn't having any major problems, but my mind was the challenge of day 5. Other runners, kids, music, nothing was getting me out of my funk. I kept moving forward and hoping my mood would change, it did for a bit.  After check point #1 I started moving a bit better and passing a few runners.  I ran through a pretty village and the people were smiling and waving and I looked at all the women in the field with their babies and watched them working hard and reminded myself to be grateful.  I was feeling better once I got to checkpoint # 2 and thought, OK, last 19 km and it is on this beautiful beach and the sand is runnable, let's go! But no, everything was resisting, my mind was kind of miserable, my feet hurt, my knees hurt and my watch died.  The kilometers seemed endless and even though I didn't want to walk I couldn't make it more than 5 or 10 minutes without a walk break.   Andrea was close to me, but I just kept going with my run/walk pace.  Finally I saw our photographer Dino, he snapped a few pics of me and than ran and chatted a bit with me, my mood improved and he said I had 4 km to go.  Then I saw Brian, I was close to tears, I was so tired and done with this run, he tried to cheer me up by saying the first round is on him and promised me it was only 3 km to go.  The beach seemed endless and yet I couldn't see the fucking finish line, where was it!?  I waited for Andrea and I said if the finish line is not around the next corner I am going to cry and walk to the finish, fuck it.  She laughed and reassured me it had to be around the next corner and sure enough we saw some buildings and the race vehicles, and just like that our pace quickened and we were joyous again.  We crossed the finish line together, instant relief and happiness washed over me, celebratory hugs from Bruno, Jerome and Rafael.  Damien had Coke and fresh Coconut water still in the coconut ready for us, amazing. Then I go down to the water, the same water I stared at for the last 19 km, the same water where we started 200 + kilometers ago.  I go in and let the waves crash over me and I laugh and float and go with the flow of the waves.  I just ran 220 km in Mozambique!  How lucky I am I? So grateful for this life! Now where is the beer!?
Dr Bruno, Ramon, Julen, Andrea and Kuzuko