Tales of triathlon, travel, and trails

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That Time I Ran 100km

Last year at the Lost Soul Ultra in Lethbridge, Alberta I paced my friend Chelsey for the last 53km of her 100 mile run. Rob ran the 53km standalone race. This was our first introduction to this race and the coulees of southern Alberta.


Why did I think this was a good idea?

In January of this year when registration opened, Rob signed up right away for the 100km. I wasn’t doing Ironman and I wanted to keep my races short in 2016 to try to get some speed back so I was going to do the 53k. (yes, I know that’s not short!) But somewhere along the way in the 4 days before the race filled I found myself registered for the 100k. That was all fine and well, we would have lots of time to train and we could run the race together, and then I got the spot for Roth.  That really made things difficult because there was only about 7 weeks between Roth and Lost Souls and for me, I knew that wouldn’t be enough time for recovery, proper training, and taper. But, what the hell, I thought I’d give it a shot and at the very least it would make for a good story.

Lost Souls is a loop course with a sort of figure eight design around the aid stations. It works awesome for crew because they don’t have to drive very far to get access to their runners and for the most part, runners are always about 2 hours or less from “help” at an aid station. The stations and volunteers at this race in particular are some of the best anywhere and the local running community in Lethbridge takes a lot of pride in making this race awesome. The 100km race is 2 loops (53km + 47km).

We stayed at the Days Inn, about 50ft from the start/finish which was perfect for both pre- and post-race. The 100km runners can have drop bags at 2 of the 3 aid stations so Rob and I shared a clothes/sock/shoe bag and a cooler with cold lemonade and coke.


Right before the start, with the big bridge in the background

And we’re off 

The 100km and 100mile races start together at 8am on Friday and both races have a 35 hour cut off. Rob and I were aiming for the 21 hour cut off to obtain a lottery ticket into Western States (more on that later). We loosely figured a 9 hour first loop and a 10 hour second loop, which would leave us a 2 hour buffer for any incidents.


Carrying the poles to make running a little easier!

Friday morning started off clear with big Alberta blue skies. Lethbridge gets warmer weather than Calgary and the coulees have an extra oven effect so managing the heat was going to be important. The first part of the race is basically a big conga line with very few areas to pass on single track trail although there are some sections on paved road and bike trails. For people running 100km and 100miles I was really surprised at how fast everyone was running off the start line! Didn’t we have like 20 hours of this to go?!


Why would we go up the valley when we can go straight up the side of the damn coulee!

For those that have done trail races/ultras, they’re typically on mountain trails with big elevation gain and loss, and you would be forgiven thinking that running 100km in the Alberta prairies would be “easy”. But you would also be grossly mistaken. The coulees are steep, evil, unrelenting hills that make you wish all you had to do was a 8km climb up a mountain pass. All the climbs were graded like on a ski hill with green circle, blue square, black (and double black) diamond. I didn’t see too much else other than black diamonds! To make matters worse, they’re all named with names like The Insult, Dog Shit Hill, Gun Range Hill, Dragon’s Back, Choke Cherry Hill. Apparently there was one coulee labeled as a green circle only to be followed up with a sign saying “We Lied” shortly after. And we got to do all that twice!


Getting the arms involved to drag me up another coulee

Lucky for me, the course runs by a dog park twice each lap so I had a good fill of dog hugs including the most scaredy cat golden retriever I’ve ever met!


Beautiful views of the river valley

We had a really great volunteer helping us at the second aid station of the lap, Pavan. I usually like to be self sufficient and self helping but this guy was upset even when I was trying to load more CarboPro into my pack by myself!

The day got too hot for Rob and I, who are not used to any kind of heat and living in Calgary, have very little chance to acclimate to heat. I resisted dumping ice water on my head because I didn’t want wet feet and blisters. I can deal with blisters for a marathon/IM but not for 100km. We made ourselves ice bandanas for most of the afternoon and that provided a lot of relief from the sun.


After about 30km, my legs were heavy and sore but they hadn’t got any worse, it was manageable, so it was just a new normal.

We arrived back at the start/finish at 5:04pm which was 9 hours after beginning this adventure. Right on target for our first lap! We didn’t stay together in the aid stations because we each had specific things we needed to do. I changed my socks just because I wanted to but kept my shoes the same and Rob changed his shoes. I had another lemonade and a rice ball and we both had a nice sit down in the camping chairs. We spent about 15 minutes there before setting off for loop 2.

Loop 2

It was still warm and we couldn’t wait for the sun to set. Except we could wait. We made the mistake of putting our headlights in the other aid station, not at headquarters at the start/finish. We had decided together that yes, we would be able to make it to Pavan before the sun set to get our lights. Except that once we were actually faced with the task of doing that, it appeared that wasn’t going to happen.


Still smiling

In the afternoon dusk we saw about 8 deer bounding through the coulee. That was really cool. Actually, other than those guys and the dogs, we didn’t see any other animals. There are stories and photos of snakes though, and I’m so happy we didn’t run into them.

As dusk started to settle in we started making plans to use our iPhone flashlights to get us to our headlights left in the next aid station. A couple came up behind us and Rob asked if we could try to run with them to follow their light. Instead, they let us borrow one of their lights. So nice! I hope they finished well. We only needed the light for about 10 minutes and we were into the aid station where we returned the light with many thanks.

Falling apart 
See when it starts to fall apart
Man, it really falls apart
Like boots or heart, oh when they start
They really fall apart – The Tragically Hip

This is where things get interesting. After about 70 or 75km I really started to fall apart. And like the Hip say, once you start to fall apart, you really fall apart.


Into the sunset

I longest I’ve run/travelled on my feet is about 75km in the Grand Canyon. And I’ve never run into and through the night so this was new territory for me. I did a lot better with the night than I expected but I think having Rob with me was the biggest reason it went ok! I’m not sure I would be ok running on my own in the night. The constant ups and downs of the coulees were really starting to hurt and this translated to constant ups and downs in my mind.

Along the way I had lost the ability, or desire, to run. It was dark and windy. And my mind went into a dark place too. I hated walking. I hated that I couldn’t run anymore. This is a 100km run, not a walk, and I was sad, frustrated, annoyed that I wasn’t strong enough to make it a run. I thought many times, and said out loud to Rob “what’s the point of this?! This is not fun, this is supposed to be a run not a death march. I’m not having fun! I don’t want to do this! I hate this!”. Oh man, it was a bad time. I had (again) sworn off all endurance sports.

My stubborn self was upset that I had to admit weakness. I don’t like being weak, mentally or physically, and I just get myself going in a bad direction when I start feeling that way. I willed myself back into Pavan aid station and although Rob thinks/thought I was mad at him, I wasn’t. I sort of just needed to cry. I was cold and they had those portable heaters set up so I went straight over and sat on the ground under the heater with tears down my face. There were 4 people sitting at a table beside me and one guy asked if I was ok, could he get me anything. I said I’m fine, thanks, and no I don’t need anything. I thought they were the medical crew and that if I talked too much to them or said the wrong thing, that they would pull me off the course. So as bad as I was feeling, I still didn’t want to quit or be forced to quit.

I laid down on my back and cried for a few minutes. No one bothered me. Finally I sat up and the guy who was trying to talk me to before came to sit down beside me. I told him I was upset because I thought I should be doing better than I was and I thought I should be stronger. He said basically, that’s a silly way to think, that even signing up for 100km takes a strong person and if I’m not strong enough so far, once I finish, this experience will make me stronger. After a few more word of encouragement, Rob and I left once again into the night.

Everyone is falling apart

Almost immediately Rob’s knee really started to hurt him. I am pretty sure it’s his IT band. I suffered previously from ITBS for many years so I know exactly how painful it is, and it is worst on the downhills. From Pavan to Softball Valley there are 3 coulees to cross, affectionately named the Three Bitches. Every step downhill was excruciatingly painful for Rob, and one misstep even landed him in a prickly tree on the side of a hill. For me, once Rob was having problems it forced me to get over myself and try to be strong for him. I didn’t have any physical ailments, other than sore legs and being tired, but Rob was now having a hard time even walking.

Somehow we made it to the last aid station at Softball Valley and the guy that had helped me before was there. I was a different person, and although I really needed to sit down, I was doing much better than the last time he saw me. I had some soup broth and tried to convince Rob to get some kinesio tape put on his knee but he wasn’t hearing any of it. I was getting really tired and when I closed my eyes just for a few seconds, I was fast asleep. It was time to get out of there!

Along the way to the finish, Rob hallucinated a big furry spider but immediately realized what was going on when I didn’t see it! Finally at 3:45am, 19 hours 45 minutes after starting we finished Lost Souls 100km. There was (surprisingly) very little emotion, we both managed a smile, but no finish line tears!


FINALLY DONE!! I think we’re both holding each other up here

In the end, I may not have been as strong as I wanted that day, but I’m stronger now because of that day, and one day (but I don’t think next year) I’ll try again. I learned a lot and seriously, I met all my goals, so I need to just stop being so hard on myself! Interestingly, but maybe not entirely surprising, since a couple weeks have passed, I have come around and will likely run 100km again (just not in 2017) so I can try to do better, although I think 100miles might be off my table forever now!

In case you’re interested, my gear for this expedition:

Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 2 (+ Lululemon speed sock). I didn’t get one blister. NOT ONE!! Remarkable for 100km, in my opinion! I was careful to not get water in my shoes and I changed my socks at half way, just because, but I didn’t even get a start of a blister or a hot spot. The Nike’s are so comfortable, they feel like slippers, and I will be getting the 3rd version asap!

Dirty Girl gaiters. I must for trail running, in my opinion. When I don’t wear the gaiters for whatever reason, I am constantly getting little pebbles and sticks in my socks and shoes and the gaiters stop all of that. And they’re not just for girls – Rob wears them too!

Betty Designs run tank. It arrived the week of the race so I wore it right out of the package and it was perfect. The material is light and flowy which helps in the heat and I didn’t get any chafing under my arms. And, it’s bright and cheerful!

Arcteryx running skirt. Trails should be run in a skirt, obviously! I love this running skirt, the skirt material is really light and the shorts underneath are really comfortable, again, no chafing. Of course it’s awesome, it’s Arcteryx!

Salomon S-Lab Adv Skin 5Set running vest. I love this vest. I’ve tried many vests/running packs over the years, and this one is the best, in my opinion. It fits a 1.5L bladder and/or two handheld bottles. I couldn’t get the plastic smell out of the handheld bottles and that smell is totally intolerable to me, but the bladder is great. I will probably try getting new bottles, maybe I just got two bad ones. The other Salomon pack that’s perfect for a races with consistent aid stations is the S-Lab Sense Ultra Set. (Salomon has the MOST confusing names for their packs!)

Black Diamond Distance FLZ women’s poles. These are not carbon poles but they’re more adjustable than the carbon poles because when I bought them a couple years ago, I didn’t know what size I wanted. They are light enough, they don’t make my arms tired, and they’re purple! I think poles are a big advantage for this course because the hills are so steep, they help to save the quads a little bit!



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Boston Tour Guide

In celebration of Boston Marathon 2017 registration opening, here is a recap of my time spent in Boston for the 2016 marathon.

During our week in Boston it was abundantly clear that Bostonions LOVE their city and are very proud of it. They love to show off the city highlights and interestingly, their recommendations for food, drink, and entertainment are all so similar! One of my (self-described) talents is being a tour guide and travel agent (one day, being a dentist will be my side job and I’ll be a professional tour guide) so I love learning about new places. I also had access to the best ever advice from a once-local, my friend Farida, and current local Betty sister, Alett so I was left with no shortage of things to do and places to see. I will also share some helpful hints for the days surrounding the marathon for anyone lucky enough to race in Boston.


Buying the orange shorts with Alett at Lululemon Prudential Center

I spent 1 week in Boston, Wednesday to Wednesday, with Marathon Monday in the middle. It was perfect for the experience I wanted. I have been to NYC before so I didn’t really feel the need to get there and April might be a bit early for visiting Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard; I suspect those areas are better visited in the summer but they’re probably beautiful all year! For the marathon you don’t *have* to spend a week, obviously, but it’s a long way to go from western Canada so I wanted my money’s worth.


Walking the Freedom Trail is a great way to loosen up the legs the day after the race

Stay as close to the action as you can!

We stayed at the Sheraton Prudential Center. It was perfect for the race. Yes, the prime location hotels charge an arm and a leg but that’s to be expected and I’ve learned over the years the value of spending extra to be close to the race events. The expo is in the convention center attached to the Sheraton and the Prudential Center so you don’t even need to go outside to go to the expo! The Sheraton is also on the corner of the saying “left on Boylston” and the straightaway to the finish so very convenient for your supporters. There’s a Starbucks in the lobby so coffee drinkers will appreciate that (I don’t drink coffee but my mom does so it was great for her!) The Sheraton held a pasta buffet the night before the race and although we had dinner plans elsewhere, it would be an easy option for a pre-race carb load.


Adidas RunBase on Boylston. Be sure to check out their gear because they have different t-shirts than at the expo

I really enjoyed arriving a few days before the race because the city was noticeably quieter on Thursday before the throngs of marathoners arrived. Also, I was really worried about the expo running out of my size of the unicorn jacket (I needn’t have worried, more on that later) but that would have been a disaster for me!


Boston Common. So beautiful!

We arrived Wednesday night after a full day of travelling so we pretty much just had dinner at the Cheesecake Factory (also in the Pru) and then fell asleep immediately after.

Take a Boston Duck Tour!

Thursday morning we had reservations for a Boston Duck Tour. This was a highlight of our trip, both my mom and I enjoyed it so much! We had a great driver/tour guide and learned so many interesting, quirky facts about Boston that we wouldn’t have learned anywhere else. The Duck Tours are in old WWII amphibious vehicles so part of the tour is through the streets of Boston then you drive right into the Charles River and have part of the tour from the water. It was so cool and a must-do for anyone visiting Boston.


Our Duck Tour vehicle was named Beantown Betty! Perfect!

I joined a group at the Adidas RunBase (Boston Marathon central) on Boylston for a run long the Charles. It was really fun to talk to some locals. There were only a couple of us from out of town who were running the marathon. I was constantly asked if I qualified for the marathon. At first I was completely confused because, yes, of course I qualified! That’s the only way you get to run the marathon! But it turns out that, from what I understand, a lot of locals are able to run for charity and really only locals know about it, or they only let locals do that. Regardless, when you say you qualified for the race, people are super impressed!

Shake out run with the RunBase people! It was so fun!

Go to the expo in the early days when it’s less busy

Friday morning was the big day at the expo. I went pretty close to opening time and there was no line at registration and package pickup. They had the ropes set up for the onslaught later on and if that snaking line was full, it looked like it would take hours to get through, so go early!


All set and registered with my mom!

The expo was the biggest running expo I’ve seen. All the big running brands were there, all with their special edition Boston marathon gear, like shoes and t-shirts. Newton, of course, had the best Boston running shoes (duh! because the course runs through Newton!) and they also had the cutest t-shirt with a the course profile and a little broken heart at Heartbreak Hill! The official Adidas merchandise was awesome. The official colour this year was teal/turquoise as a throwback to the original Adidas design and I loved it. As I mentioned, there were a TON of jackets at the expo in all sizes so everyone who wanted one could get one. There were also jackets at the Adidas Run Base and Marathon Sports on Boylston. I picked up a pair of the special edition Adidas marathon shoes too, specific for the 2016 race so they’re teal.

Run or walk the BAA 5k!

On Saturday morning my mom and I walked the BAA 5k. It was so fun for my mom to get involved in the race a little bit and she even got a finishers t-shirt and medal! The race starts in Boston Common on Beacon Hill and winds it’s way through the beautiful streets of Boston and even crosses the marathon finish line. There is an elite field that seems to draw some really fast runners. We were at the back of the field and there was 10,000 runners I think so the elites were finished before we even got to the start line! I would really recommend this race as a shake out run before the big day.


Mom and I getting ready for the start of the BAA 5k

Mom working it over the Marathon finish line during the 5k

Saturday afternoon we walked over to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox vs Blue Jays. The Sheraton is less than 2km away from Fenway! So cool! The game was a blast, even though Canada lost, it was fun for the home team to win and hear them play Dirty Water by the Standells. I don’t eat meat but my mom had a Fenway frank and we both had a beer (carb loading!) and really enjoyed the afternoon.

Fenway! It was so cool!

Carb loading!

The day before the race I wanted to be able to keep things pretty chill. The few days before the race there are lots of meet and greets and talks with pros you can attend if you’re interested in that stuff. I attended a talk, invited by Betty sister Dorette, with Meb Keflezighi. I took a bunch of photos at the finish line, and pretty much everyone else in the race was doing the same thing!


Eat dinner (and dessert!) in the North End

Alett made us dinner reservations at her favourite Italian restaurant in the North end. This was our first time exploring a different part of the city and it was completely amazing! I felt like I was actually right back in Italy. There are about a million Italian restaurants which makes the pre race carbo load really easy. After dinner we wandered around for a bit and stumbled on celebrations for Patriot’s Day. Clearly, Patriot’s Day is a big deal in New England but I don’t think anywhere else in the US, and definitely no Canada, even knows that it exists. We saw a speech by Paul Revere on his horse, some singing of Yankee Doodle – it was all really fun and interesting but made me realize just how little (pretty much zero) I know about American history. Something to brush up on!


Patriots’ Day with Paul Revere!

Wear your unicorn jacket AND medal the day after the race!

The day after the race if you’re not wearing your unicorn jacket AND your medal, you’re weird! That was awesome. My mom and I did a huge walking tour of Boston that I think really helped flush out my legs. We took the bus to Harvard. Hah-vahd. We didn’t take a tour there due to being a bit short on time but it was so cool just to wander around the campus grounds. I really love visiting famous universities so this was a highlight for me. We ate lunch at Shake Shack in Harvard Square which was absolutely delicious. I had the fried portabella burger and I’ve sort of been thinking about it ever since!



Walk the Freedom Trail

We walked the Freedom Trail and it was fabulous. Again, I need to brush up on my American Revolution history! I don’t eat seafood (I know, sacrilegious, visiting New England and not eating seafood, but yuck!) but my mom enjoyed a bowl of clam chowder in the North End. Her report was that it was excellent! Also, if you’re lucky, you can enjoy a pint of Sam Adams special 26.2 brew for the marathon!


On the Freedom Trail. Old and new.

Enjoy a drink in the drunk tank at the Liberty Hotel

One highlight was having a drink at Alibi in the Liberty Hotel. The hotel is the former jail and the bar is the former drunk tank for the jail! It was so cool. The whole hotel was amazing. And the drinks were top notch too.


Drinks behind bars

Apparently it’s not a Bostonion thing to do, but really, what trip to Boston is complete without a stop at the Cheers bar? We didn’t go inside but we took pictures in front of the staircase like the tourists we are.


Cheers! Where everyone knows your name!


Mom having some Boston Clam Chowder (gross!)

Overall, Boston was one of the coolest cities I’ve been to, not just in America, but in the world! I was really impressed. I think it often gets overshadowed by NYC. Both cities are cool, but really not comparable, they offer completely different experiences. Boston just felt very comfortable and manageable and after a week in the city it was very easy to see why Bostonions love their city so much! There’s a lot to love!


You have to wear your marathon jacket and your medal the day after the race! (I slept in my jacket I was so proud!)