Tales of triathlon, travel, and trails

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A photographic history of recent birthday celebrations

My birthday is coming up in a few days; another trip around the sun. And it also got me thinking about the awesome trips I’ve had for my birthday. For the last few years, I’ve made an effort to do a trip or at least do something fun for my birthday. I’m not really the type to go out for dinner or drinks with a bunch of friends to celebrate and a birthday is a pretty good excuse to get away for a few days!

I can’t remember what I did in 2007, but I was still in dental school, so I was probably studying. #nerdalert

2008: I was living in LA (Westwood/UCLA) and actually I did go out with my friends for dinner and drinks! Spoke too soon! We were also celebrating the birthday of one of our co-residents, I think his birthday is Feb. 1. But we also had dinner at my favourite restaurant in the whole world, C&O in Venice, and then my friend Andrea (check out her blog here) drove to Huntington Beach and ran the Surf City half marathon. In the pouring rain.

2008 birthday CO

With Janice at C&O

2008 birthday half marathon

I think this is before the race! Looking like drowned rats already!

2009: I was still living in LA (Venice) and my dad came to visit! There was a February heat streak, it was in the 80s and so beautiful. We rode cruisers around Venice, MDR, and Santa Monica. We saw a Cirque show. And we ate at C&O, of course.


Me and my dad at C&O in Venice. Best restaurant in the world!

2010: I was newly back in Calgary and not happy about it so my mom came from BC and we went to Banff and Lake Louise for the weekend. I bought my rad Arbor snowboard in Banff and we snowshoed up to the tea lodge at Lake Louise. It was awesome!

Banff birthday 2010 with mom

Me and my mom in Banff

Banff birthday 2010

My Arbor snowboard. It’s Bamboo and Arbor is form Venice

2011: My 30th birthday, so I went to Africa by myself for 3 weeks 🙂 It was the time of my life. I climbed Mt Kilimanjaro, summiting a few days before my birthday. I was not in a group, it was just me and like 8 Tanzanian guys guiding me up the mountain. I will always have the fondest memories for those guys and I would love to go back and see them again.


Great view of Kili and one of the camps



Going up, up, up!



Summit! 19, 341 ft. Tallest mountain in Africa and largest freestanding mountain in the world!

Then I went on safari to Lake Manyara, the Serengeti, and Ngorongoro Crater. We stayed in tents (not the luxury tents, these were like actual camping tents that we had to set up and take down ourselves every day), listening to the sound of lions and elephants whoever else was there at night. It was amazing. My birthday was actually while I was in the Serengeti so it’s pretty cool to say that’s where I spent my 30th birthday!


Giraffes are so awesome in real life!


Elephant in the Serengeti



Serengeti sunset



Maasai Grandmama



My camp fire birthday cake on the Serengeti. On it was written “Happy birthday Emmy” 🙂


Finally I made my way to the crystal clear waters and white sand beaches of Zanzibar where I took a spice tour, went scuba diving, and indulged in the best coconut curries I’ve ever had.


Stone Town, Zanzibar



The most beautiful water I’ve ever seen


2012: I was back living in LA (Venice) so I met my dad in San Francisco for the weekend of my birthday. We did our usual thing while in SF – cable car rides, walks through Haight Ashbury, drinks at Top of the Mark, exploring Marin and Sausalito.

2012 birthday SF dad

February in SF!

2012 birthday with dad

Love the cable cars

2013: I ran my first (and so far only) ultra – Orcas Island 50k. The race happened to fall exactly on my birthday and I decided to run my age! 50k = 31 miles and I was turning 32 so after the race I ran an extra mile to reach my age! It was one of my most favourite races I’ve ever done, I highly recommend it, or any race directed by RainShadow Running. It was tough, 8600 ft elevation over 50k, but the beautiful single track trails took away a lot of the pain. And beer after the race helped a lot too!

Orcas 50k

About mile 26


I wore this sign on my back during the race. At one point Jenn Shelton (of Born to Run fame) cruised past me and wished my happy birthday. That was pretty cool!

2014: I managed to escape to Maui for a week for a dental conference that took place over my birthday. And my dad happened to be in Maui at the same time too so we drank Mai Tai’s, drove up Haleakala, and I surfed in Paia.


Hawaiian birthday sunset



Epic hike off the road to Hana (puke)



Take me back!





Of course I have plans for this year too! I’ll update that later!


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My First 100×100 swim

I never knew there was such a thing as a 100×100 swim (for the non-swimmers, that means swimming 100 meters 100 times, so 10km total) until I started reading Hillary Biscay’s blog a couple years ago. It seems like she swims 100×100 every week! At least she does it for “big” occasions like birthdays, weddings, and New Years. I mean, running 10km is a good run and sometimes I even have a hard time running 10km. But swim that far? That’s only for the crazy Ultramen!!

I grew up always around water, our house was on Okanagan Lake. I never swam competitively so I just know how to swim from growing up in Canadian Red Cross swimming lessons (remember the colour badges?!), lifeguarding, and growing up on the lake.

After wondering for a couple years if I could even survive a 10km swim I had the hair-brained idea to attempt a New Years 2014/2015 100×100 on December 31. My last training session for 2014!

I haven’t swam much in the last year and a half because of the problem in having with chlorine – it makes me feel sick and nauseous. And I had one ~1500m swim with a friend in September that she somehow convinced me to join. So why I thought it would be a good idea to suddenly swim 10km I have no idea but that’s what happened.

I had no idea how long it would take me and frankly, I didn’t care. I had prepared myself to be at the pool as long as it took to finish. I wore my Team Betty swimsuit for inspiration and jumped in the pool.

I had also prepared myself for feeling tired and sore because I hadn’t been swimming but there were several things I hadn’t accounted for. The most debilitating was sea sickness. I am and always have been prone to motion sickness. I’ve puked in all types of moving vehicles throughout the years – cars, boats, planes, trains, roller coasters, and instead of “growing out of” this phase, it’s only become worse, especially on the water. It’s put a real cramp in my scuba diving style because I have a hard time with boat dives and if there’s too much movement when I’m in the water I end up feeding the fish my lunch.

So after about 5000m, I was tired as expected, but I also started feeling sick. I had to stop doing flip turns because basically doing a somersault every 25m was really messing me up. I had to start incorporating kick sets because I had to have my head still and above the water. Along the same lines, I had to start bilateral breathing. I’ve always been a bilateral breather because that’s how I learned to swim in Red Cross and as a lifeguard. It’s just when I lived in LA and swam Santa Monica masters under an Olympic coach who told me “Amy! Swim like a swimmer! Not a triathlete!”, which meant Olympic swimmers breathe one 1 side to get more oxygen. So since then, although I can breathe on either side, I breather every 2 strokes instead of 3. Except halfway through the 10km swim I had to breathe on both sides to try to stop the dizziness.

This was all about the same time that Trevor and Heather Wurtele arrived at the pool and Trevor asked to share my lane with me. I managed to pull myself together for a while longer, and of course, my monster swim outlasted theirs. The extra motivation of having Ironman Champions swimming beside me was awesome!

Soon enough I started on a downward trend of feeling worse and worse. At 8950m I had the distinct and awful feeling that I was going to puke. So I jumped out of the pool and ran into the bathroom, reaching the toilet just in time to “spew my guts, dude”. Gross. But afterward I felt much better, not quite like a million bucks, but pretty close, so I rallied and finished off the last 1050m.

I am very proud of myself for attempting and completing the 100×100 and for problem solving my issues along the way. I learned A LOT which will come in handy because I will be asked to swim it again at Camp in March. And I will do it better then! My biggest weapons next time will be the confidence that I CAN swim that far and a scopolamine patch.



California International Marathon 2014

This post has been swirling around my head for a while (I really wanted to write it in March) and then on my computer as a draft for another while. Turns out it was harder to write this one than I thought! This was/is just such a huge accomplishment for me and I am so proud, it’s hard to put that all into words; like words don’t do my feelings justice. But of course, I will try.

Qualifying for the Boston Marathon was something I never thought I’d be able to do. And I did it. I mean, Boston is a race only for elite runners, right? I am definitely not an elite runner so even though, of course, I always “wanted” to run Boston, it was just never in the realm of possibility for me. My first open marathon was the 2011 SF Nike Women’s Marathon with a finish time of 4:48 and for sure after that, I believed there was no way I would ever run a sub 4 marathon, let alone Boston.

Fast forward 3 years and 3 more marathons, each of those marathons was under 4 hours, one painfully close to a BQ (LA 2013), and finally a BQ in Sacramento on December 7.

I was really happy with my training for this race. I followed a plan out of a book and modified it to fit my schedule. First, I was doing cyclocross races almost every Sunday in September and October so I had to switch my long runs either to Saturday or Monday, and I used the cross races as anaerobic/power training. Second, I didn’t train Mondays other than those few days I had to make up a long run from the weekend. I don’t work Mondays and I find especially when I’m training a lot I need my Mondays to do business work or errands. I also rarely ran on Fridays because I typically feel too beat up after a week at work to entertain the idea of training Friday evenings. So pretty much I ran 5 days a week, which I feel worked just great for me. Third, I can get pretty skinny from training (especially running) a lot but when I do, I start feeling weaker and less powerful, so it was really important to me to keep some pounds on my body. How did I do that? By maintaining my post-IM Boulder diet of beer and poutine – the most calorie-laden food I can think of! Pretty much every long run was followed up by beer and poutine on Sunday night, and it was amazing. And finally, I ran 20 miles (with my awesome training partner, whom I could not have done this without). Twice. I’ve never done that before in training. I know, I know. Clearly, it helped, and next time I will add a 22 miler.

My goals were:

1) 3:30, because this would BQ me in my old age group which I tried for before, but I age up for 2016

2) 3:35-3:38, just to BQ (standard is 3:40)

3) finish, if all hell broke loose, because finishing a marathon is always a great day

But first, (let me take a selfie) some photos from training:



13 mile run right after a cyclocross race. Tough but made me stronger!






Fall running in Calgary



Fall running in Banff



30km indoors on a 200m track. One of the hardest sessions I’ve ever done.



Last “long” run the week before the race. 10 miles at and faster than race pace. Indoors.


I arrived in San Francisco late Friday night, stayed in a crappy inexpensive hotel and drove to Sacramento Saturday morning, to another (really) crappy inexpensive hotel. I spent a surprisingly short amount of time at the expo got my little shake out run done no problem. I hadn’t run outside for a couple weeks prior to the race because of cold temperatures and icy paths, so I was in heaven running outside in shorts. I had my usual “errands” to complete while in the US – REI, Trader Joes, Whole Foods, and I had dinner at my favourite restaurant, Old Spaghetti Factory.


Capitol building and finish line



My name is in there! Love these!



Shake out run. I am a Betty!


Race morning arrived, well early. I don’t like mornings and I hate waking up early. I grabbed my breakfast I made the night before (almond milk, chia, buckwheat, hemp, fruit, PB) and walked about 7 blocks to catch the bus at 5am to the race start in Folsom. It was all set up really well and the whole process was very smooth. When we arrived at the Folsom Dam we were confronted with the most porta potties I have ever seen. There must have been 300. Major kudos to the race organizers for getting so many potties, I barely stood in line. I organized my nutrition and music, dropped off my gear bag, and ran through my warmup. I had a throw away sweater from a friend that I could wear until the gun went off which was really helpful. The temperature was beautiful, around 50F, foggy and still, which I was really thankful for because previously it was 30F last year and pouring rain the year before. I knew I had to take advantage of the favourable conditions. Finally I lined up with the 3:30 pace bunny and waited for the start. I love racing, I don’t get nervous, even before big races, and I totally thrive in those few minutes before a race start. It’s always so exciting!


Race morning, waiting for the start


For as much as this course is net downhill and “flat”, the first half is NOT flat! I was actually quite surprised by the rolling hills. None were really big, I never had to really exert myself on them but they were just pretty relentless for 13 or so miles. The road was also more crowded than I was expecting, even though both sides of the street were closed to traffic. I guess I thought since there was only 9000 people or so it would be less busy than the 24,000 at the LA Marathon, but I actually think this race felt more crowded. I didn’t feel like I had clear road in front of me until well after half way. I also didn’t know what side of the street the aid stations would be on, turns out they were on the right. I don’t carry water/hydration with me so I depend on the aid stations and they were BUSY the whole way. I got cut off a lot by people cutting quickly across the road to get to the stations, and then they would suddenly stop to drink. Clearly, they didn’t take “Amy’s School of Aid Station Etiquette.” 🙂


Pace tattoo. Loved this!


The first 6 miles went by in a flash and I felt great. I wasn’t able to run right on the shoulder of the pace bunny as I had planned because everyone else wanted to and I didn’t want to put the energy in to fighting them.


Going to work with the rally cap


Thankfully the sun never came out, it was always stuck behind a layer of fog so the temperature stayed cool, and still I was getting warm! It was more humid than usual, I think, and coming from dry Calgary made it seem worse. But in any case, the next miles to half way flew by as well. I did a system check at the half marathon point to see how I was feeling, and the conclusion was that I felt fantastic. I felt fresh, like I had only just started to run. I knew it was going to get hard at some point, but of course there was a little part of my head that said “maybe it won’t get hard this time!”


Air borne!


I continued to run easy and relaxed through 20 miles. By now the crowd of runners had thinned so getting to and through aid stations was more straightforward. The 3:30 pace bunny had brought us this far 30 seconds under predicted pace and this is also where I started having to work. My mantra for this race was Britney Spears “WERK bitch!” I just repeated to myself “if you wanna BQ, you gotta WERK bitch!” The bunny started to pull away from me a bit around mile 21 but I just stayed focused on my own race. I noticed that some people who had started with our group and had been right on the bunny’s shoulder had been dropped so I felt thankful to still be holding on.

I lost a few seconds between mile 21-23 and then things got really bad. Not as bad as LA this year but I guess just the typical end-of-marathon-leg soreness. No cramps or anything, but my legs just sort of started turning to cement and no matter what I did or what I said to myself, my legs would not move faster. That’s a really interesting place to be, when you want something so bad and your head is totally in it, and your body just says “no way!” But I knew I had built up a cushion so I just needed to keep moving forward the best I could. My pace took a huge hit, like it fell off a cliff, so this is definitely something I need to improve for next time, but I didn’t stop or walk, so that counts for something.

I am always amazed how freaking LONG the last 2 miles of a marathon take. I swear it’s equal to the previous 24 miles. OMG. Somewhere before mile 26 I saw 3:30 go by on my Garmin and I was definitely disappointed but I also knew I was going to get my BQ so I’m sure I let up a little bit and tried to enjoy the final moments. I made the 2 final left turns into the finishers’ chute (there’s actually 2 finishers, chutes – 1 male and 1 female! weird! First time I’ve ever seen that!) and let me tell you, I was pumped. I stretched out my arms, (a girl pipped me right at the finish line, more on that later), and crossed the finish line in 3:32:25. A PR and BQ.



Finish line!



I think I’m a bit older than her, so I’ve had more time to practice my finish line photos 🙂


Surprisingly, I didn’t cry! I am a big crier in races and I have no idea why the water works didn’t flow. I just felt calm and proud. It was like a big weight had been lifted off my shoulders.


Upright for the official finisher photo. Betty Designs all the way.

But I needed to lay down. I have learned the hard way that the finish line people and medical staff don’t like it when you try to lay down right AT the finish line. That’s the sort of shit that gets you taken into the medical tent (been there). So I got my medal, my bottle of water, my foil blanket and stumbled as far as I could away from those people (it wasn’t that far, 20ft or so!) and finally laid down flat on the ground. It was glorious. Medical did keep coming over to check on me but I was able to convince them I was fine. I am allowed to lay down after running 26.2 miles, thankyouverymuch!! After a period of time that seems lost to me, I pulled myself together, found my phone and called my mom. That was the first time I cried, when I told my mom “I did it.” And I rang the BQ bell, that was cool!


Ringing the BQ bell!


I will spare the ugly details but I had to walk to 7 blocks back to my hotel and car, and what took me about 8 minutes to walk that morning, I’m not even joking, took me 1hr+ post marathon. Brutal. Then I ate a bunch of In N Out, drove back to San Francisco, and when shopping at Bloomingdales.

So what about the girl who beat me right at the finish line? I was annoyed for a second when she came running by me but then quickly forgot, as I was savouring my accomplishment. That is, until I got my finish line photos. As it turns out, she was part of a relay so just ran a portion of the marathon! And ruined my finish line photo, which was my biggest concern. Thankfully my friend fixed it for me 🙂

Back home in Calgary, I proceeded to get super sick, as I always do following a big race, recover, then get sick again with the stomach flu and actually make a trip to the ER! Good times.

So the moral of the story is that everyone starts somewhere and hard work and perseverance will get you to places you never thought possible. So finally I get to say: I will be running Boston 2016.

What I wore:

Newton Distance 3 – 5 lugs, brand new pair!

CEP compression socks

Lululemon speed shorts

Betty Designs tri top – the pockets in the back allow me to carry all my nutrition, and it looks cute

Betty Designs trucker hat – to be fashionable of course

Nutrition – Hammer gels (peanut butter, raspberry, Montana huckleberry), PowerBar gel blasts, Salt Stick salt tabs