ironamy

Tales of triathlon, travel, and trails


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Pacing The North Face 50 Mile

I am really enjoying this pacer gig. I love helping a friend achieve a goal and I love running! Also, I love San Francisco. So when Rob decided to sign up for his first 50 miler at The North Face 50 miler (TNF50, to save some typing!) in the Marin headlands, there wasn’t even a question that I would go with him. Like, twist my rubber arm! I’ve been to SF many times, I can’t count how many by now, and this was Rob’s first trip ever to California! That’s so crazy to me! I couldn’t wait to show him one of my favourite city’s in the world and run with him to the finish line.

TNF50 seems like one of only a few 50 milers that allow pacers. It’s a lot more common for 100 mile races to have pacers after a certain point. The race is highlighted by the 50 mile distance but there’s also 50k, marathon, marathon relay, half marathon, and 5k.

The weather in SF had been unsettled with some rain which was really nice to see because of the California drought. The forecast for race day called for 30% chance of rain and around 14c. Pretty ideal running conditions. A little bit of rain would help increase the tackiness of the trails but too much rain (like in 2012) could cause course changes due to mudslides.

The alarm went off at 3:00am. WAY too early! We were in the car by 3:30am and heading across the Golden Gate Bridge. The race site was easy to find and parking was readily available. There was supposed to be shuttles going between the start/finish and the parking area but when we got there just before 4:00am there was a long line of people anxiously awaiting an apparent nonexistent shuttle. Finally the organizers told us it was only about a half mile walk to the start so most of us headed into the dark for a little walk. It was a short walk, 5 min or so, so the shuttles aren’t even really needed.

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Rob in his tiger tights just before the start

We got Rob’s drop bag dropped off and then we huddled with many other racers and supporters around the fire pits to try to keep warm. It was freezing! I always make fun of Californians for not being able to tolerate cold – in LA, they would be wearing down jackets once it dipped below 60F! But this entire day, I was thoroughly impressed with their toughness and resilience to the cold. I don’t know what the temperature was but I was chilled to the bone. Rob was talking to some of the other athletes, lots of first time 50 milers even though this was a championship race. The cutoff times for this race are quite fast. 14 hours for 50 miles is definitely a challenge! The only thing we had to compare to was the Grand Canyon R2R2R which was close to 50 miles and about 14:30 moving time, so we really didn’t know what to expect. The 50 milers are allowed pacers at mile 27.7 to the finish and with the shuttle schedule I could run either 22 miles or 16 miles with him. I haven’t been training, I had been enjoying a really nice offseason, my first since 2010 (!) so we had sort of prepared each other that I would likely just run 16 miles and he would be on his own for the last 6.

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Freeeeeezing!!

The race started in waves about 30 seconds apart and Rob was in the final wave. Once he was off and running I hung around a fire at the start line for a bit to try to stay warm before catching the shuttle to Tennessee Valley to surprise Rob at about 8 miles. I arrived at the TV aid station just before the lead elite runners were expected to arrive. It was really exciting to see the preparations at the aid station and then even more exciting to see the lead runners cruise by. Lots of them didn’t stop and the ones that did stopped only briefly to grab something from a crew member. It was really cool looking up at the hill and seeing a train of headlights leading towards us. First, I saw Heather, fellow Betty and triathlete/runner/yogi (follow her in IG! @heatherrosescott). Shortly Rob came through and he was so excited to see me. He said he was feeling great and that everyone loved his tights (they look like tiger stripes). I walked with him a bit, sent him on his way, and got back in the shuttle to the start line for a nap. I wouldn’t be able to see him again until I picked him up for pacing at mile 28, and I needed some sleep! And I needed to get warm! I had a crazy good nap in my car with the heat on and only woke up because my alarm buzzed frantically in my ear.

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Rob at Tennessee Valley, feeling great

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The plan was to meet Rob at 10:30-10:45am at Stinson Beach aid station, mile 28, which would have been his fastest estimated time. Based on his arrival time when I saw him at TV, I knew (or at least was quite certain) he wouldn’t be making his best case times. The shuttle from the start to TV came very quickly but I had to wait and wait and watch the minutes tick by until finally the second shuttle to Stinson Beach arrived. The drive to Stinson Beach was very beautiful but I suffer from car/motion sickness and it’s a very winding road! I was doing everything I could to keep my shit together, breathe, and just focus on not getting sick. Finally, and not a minute too soon, we arrived at Stinson and I practically fell out of the bus, I was so wobbly and weak. Also, it was 10:50am. I really hoped I hadn’t missed him! Or worse, that he had to wait for me! I looked all around and tried to see the list of runners that had already been through and determined he was still on his way. I met Sandrine, who was wearing a Betty trucker and super cool tights, as she was waiting to pace Heather. I told her that Rob and Heather may be running together because they were close at TV.

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Finally at about 11:20am Rob and Heather came running happily into Stinson. They were so funny and excited, they couldn’t stop talking – about how awesome the run is, about how everyone is commenting on their tights and calling them the tights pirates. They were like two peas in a pod! We got everyone sorted and the four of us headed out together.

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Rob continued to chat away about how much he loved California and the course and I was so happy to see how well he was doing. He was running great and was in excellent spirits. We also ended up naturally switching pacers and runners a few times so I ran with Heather and Rob ran with Sandrine. Heather was like a professional tour guide of the course, she knows it like the back of her hand because she lives almost on the course and can train on those trails every day! She was a total speed demon on the downhills especially, leaving Rob and I in her dust. Heather went through a rough patch where she forgot to eat so her energy really dropped off, she was less talkative, and she slowed down a bit. Once we got some food into her she went right back to her normal bubbly self and resumed crushing the course.

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At Old Inn aid station, mile 36, Rob really needed to use the porta potty. He banged urgently on the door and the response was, “You’re gonna need to find another, I’m gonna be in here all day!” Rob was pissed. That really set him off. I think he was likely already a bit low on calories, getting more tired (by this point he was further than he’d ever run before), and to be told he couldn’t relieve himself when he wanted to sent him into a bit of a tailspin. He had been taking videos and photos up to this point and in looking back, it’s pretty evident when the going got tough for him because there are no more photos until the end!

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It was “only” 4 miles to the next aid station, which can seem never ending when you have to go to the bathroom, but I knew hanging around Old Inn was not helping. I basically pulled Rob away, who by now was swearing under his breath and just generally grumpy, and kept telling him it’s not that much longer! This section was completely runnable, flat or slightly downhill all the way to Muir Beach. Rob did awesome and he actually did run the whole way. At the first sight of the porta potty Rob basically sprinted to it. While he was doing his business I was emptying my pack of electrolyte drink and getting rid of extra bits of garbage. I’ve been having a hard time taking electrolyte drink (Skratch, Osmo, Nuun – it’s all the same effect) hour after hour and I really just prefer plain water.

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At this point, with 10 miles to go, all I heard about from Rob for the rest of the day, was how that was the best bathroom break of his life, how he feels SO good now, how he can’t imagine ever having a better pee again. And on and on and on. The climb out of Muir Beach is a monster. Rob was still climbing amazing, no one passed us on this climb and we just kept picking people off. We came up on Heather and Sandrine and as much as we wanted to hang with them, Rob just needed to keep going at his own pace. It becomes a game of survival out there and once your body decides on a pace, that’s the pace you’re going to run at!

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We cruised pretty well into Tennessee Valley for the last time. Rob was trying to hang around the aid station for a bit, looking for soup or coke or something but I managed to get him out of there quickly. We had one last big climb all the way up to the final aid station. There was a section that was seriously, honestly, flat and Rob started walking. I tried to encourage him to run, that it was flat, that he shouldn’t be walking but I knew that in his head, after more than 70km, his brain was telling him it was a steep hill and there was no way he could run. That was the last stumbling block for Rob on the way to the finish. After Alta aid station it was 5km (mostly) downhill all the way to the finish.

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In the last stretch, 5km to go! and still running!

Rob ran really well downhill. I was so surprised at how well he was still moving. Even my quads were sore doing down and I hadn’t even ran half of what he did. It sun started to set and we kept running to get Rob to the finish before it got too dark. Finally off the trails there was a short road section, uphill of course, to the finish. This was *actually* uphill and Rob ran the whole thing! Goes to show you the power of the mind and the power of the finish line. We were able to finish without headlights. Rob crossed the finish line after 50miles/80km with around 10,000ft of gain, taking 11hrs 52min. I was so proud of him! He did so much better than I ever thought was possible and I couldn’t believe he ran all the way until the end. Heather finished only a few minutes later and again, I was so impressed with her effort, mindset, and strong running.

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So proud!

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Team Betty tights pirates

We didn’t hang around the finish too much because we were getting too cold, so we got back in the car with heaters on full blast to drive back across the bridge to SF. We had a super greasy meal of burger (Rob), grilled cheese sandwich (me), fries, onion rings, and a milkshake at Mel’s Drive In, across the street from our hotel, and then promptly passed out.

The North Face 50 is a fabulous race. It is definitely more commercial than a lot of trail races but for me, I like the hype and excitement surrounding big races. Rob said all the aid stations were wonderful, lots of food and lots of selection and great volunteers. Of course the scenery of the Marin Headlands pretty much can’t be beat. Both Rob and I would recommend TNF50 in a heartbeat, and for those not ready for or not interested in running 50 miles, there are races offered at all distances over the weekend – 5k, 10k, half marathon, full marathon, marathon relay, and 50k. I’m sure we’ll be back!

 


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My first time as a pacer at the Lost Souls Ultra 100 miler

The day before Victoria 70.3 I got a Facebook message from my friend Chelsey asking me if I would pace her for the last 53km of her 100 mile attempt. I know Chelsey from the UofA although I couldn’t remember if it was from med school or the triathlon club (she later confirmed during our run it was from the tri club) and aside from randomly running into her at a brick workout in Calgary in 2013 I haven’t seen her or, really talked to her, since I left Edmonton in 2007. But through the powers of social media and Facebook, she had read my blog about my R2R2R run and since it seemed like I could run a little bit, she asked if I would run with her in the Lost Souls Ultra 100 miler. Well let me tell you, she came to the right girl! I am pretty much always down for an epic adventure and this one sounded awesome! In fact the last time I had seen Chelsey at that 4 hour brick she had told me she ran the Lost Souls 100k. That totally blew me away and I have thought often since then about how freaking cool it is that Chelsey ran 100k.

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Lethbridge river valley

I told her I couldn’t commit right away because I had IMMT on Aug 16 and the Lost Souls was pretty quick after, on Sept 11, and my recovery from IM has never been that great. Since I would be pacing her, and “responsible” for her, I wanted to make sure I would be ok to run 53km! It’s not really cool to be the pacer that gets dropped! But I was so excited and intrigued at the possibility of being involved in a 100 mile attempt that I confirmed I would run with her before IMMT and then pretty much just hoped for the best from my body.

I didn’t do a single trail run after the Grand Canyon. No reason, I was just cycling and running on the road training for IM. After IMMT I recovered better than I ever have. My legs were pretty much normal the second day after the race and I didn’t have the overwhelming fatigue like I’ve had in the past. It was really cool to see how my body has adapted through 5 IMs to recovery better each time. Normally I get sick like the day after IM with a cold and flu but not this time. Still, I took it real easy, no swim/bike/run except for a bit of cyclocross and weights and just a lot of eating and sleeping. Then, the weekend before Lost Souls it was practically snowing in Calgary, cold and rainy, and I was signed up for a cross race. I decided at the last minute not to race because I didn’t want to risk a crash and an injury, and I didn’t want to get sick from the cold. As luck would have it, I got sick anyway. So the week leading up to my big job, I was fighting a massive cold and just generally feeling terrible.

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I worked on Friday but I was tracking Chelsey all day. She was doing awesome! Her first loop was about 8h40min. I was thinking how awesome it was that *all* Chelsey had to do was run for the next 30-ish hours. No work, no stressful commute, no one hassling for this or that, she *just* had to run, and I was jealous! I had a few texts from her dad who was crewing her, that she was doing really well and everything was going according to plan so far.

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The dream team of Chelsey and her dad in transition

Rob and I arrived in Lethbridge just after 8pm shortly after that I got a text from her dad that Chelsey would be arriving at Pavan aid station in about 20min. So we jumped back in the car and google mapped our way to the aid station in the dark. Just as we had parked Chelsey and her dad came running (yes, running!) along the path! We ran with them into the aid station and what followed was a badass tutorial in efficient aid station transitions. Chelsey had to check in and out of each aid station with her wrist tracker. She had 2 Salomon running packs and rubber maid bins at each aid station filled with zip loc bags labelled for each stop. Her dad would fill the extra vest with the contents of each zip loc and when Chelsey arrived he would take the vest she had been wearing, give her the new one, and she’d be on her way. No lingering over the food, no slushies (this aid station had a slushy machine!), not even any sitting down. It turns out she sat down only twice (!!) over 100 miles, once after each loop, in order to change her socks and shoes, and that was it. Her average aid station time was under 90 seconds, and those 2 longer stops were still both less that 4.5 minutes. Incredible! But she was so smart figuring that out; it’s free speed you don’t have to train for. Because as soon as you sit down, you can count on 10 minutes minimum being gone immediately and with 5 aid stations/lap and 10 minutes at each one, over 3 laps and 100 miles, that’s easily 2-3 hours gone, just sitting. So anyway, Chelsey whisked through the aid station and hauled ass up the road and up and over a coulee into the night saying she would see me in about 5 hours.

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Meeting Chelsey as we arrived in Lethbridge

Of course I didn’t go to sleep then (it was like 9:30pm), instead, we went to Earls for dinner (pasta! of course!) and then I had to pack my vest for the run because I wanted to be self sufficient especially since Chelsey was moving so quickly through transitions. The plan was that her dad would text me when she was leaving the last aid station so I would have about an hour until I met her. We thought I would meet her somewhere around 2am. I set my alarm just in case, for 1:45am, which was too too too too early since I didn’t lay down in bed until midnight.

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Pain and suffering tolerant. Love it.

At 1:45am my alarm woke me with a jolt and I was immediately confused why my alarm was going off! Adding to the confusion, I didn’t have a text from her dad so maybe she had slowed down and I could get more sleep. I went to the race tracking page and in my sleep-induced, middle of the night haze, I tried to make sense of the tracking times but my brain was not working! I had no idea what was happening! Just as I was asking Rob if I should go back to sleep because it seemed like she hadn’t left the last aid station yet, I got a text from her dad saying she would be arriving in about 20 minutes! So I sprung out of bed, got dressed and headed out to meet Chelsey.

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Chelsey finishing lap 2

Chelsey was in great spirits and she wasted no time in the aid station, just enough to change her shoes, and just like that we were off into the night at about 2:30am. Honestly, I don’t remember much from that night. It was clear that my body was still trying to be asleep because my stomach hadn’t started working yet. In all, it took about 2 hours of running for my stomach to wake up. I was most nervous about running in the night because this run would more than double my total time ever running at night, and both of those times it did not go well. In 2013 I ran leg 7 of the Sinister 7 which took about 1h20min. I fell, I got lost, and I was so scared of running into a bear, like actually running into him because it was night and dark and I wouldn’t be able to see him until I ran square into him. My second night running experience was in the Grand Canyon for about 45min which included an epic meltdown and uncontrollable crying for most of those 45min. Needless to say, my night running resume was less than ideal and now I was responsible for someone else in the dark, when I wasn’t even sure I was going to be ok! I just started talking and we ran and ran and ran, talking about anything and everything. We came across a porcupine, he was cute. Once in a while we would see headlights of other runners in the distance but it was generally pretty quiet on the trails (except for our chatter).

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You can see the trails in the distance. Chelsey is working hard here.

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I experienced a new problem, one that started almost right away, which is that my hands and fingers got really swollen. Initially I thought it might be due to the cold and that once the sun came up, my hands would warm up and the swelling would subside. I also started taking my BASE salt, even though salt will cause fluid retention clearly there was some electrolyte imbalance. The sun did rise, around 6:15am, and I couldn’t believe it was been almost 4 hours of running the dark. And we ran almost every step that night! The swelling in my hands never went away during the run. I couldn’t make a fist because my fingers were so chubby and sore, and all the veins in my hands I can normally see had disappeared. The swelling eventually went down a couple hours after the run. I don’t know what caused this, it’s never happened before. I blame it on my body still being asleep and not used to running after less than 2 hours of sleep, at 2 in the morning!

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Chubby hand and sausage fingers!

The other big problem for me, also new, was pretty severe foot pain/hot spots. I had worn this combination of shoes and socks before without problem but I think I didn’t have my shoes tied tight enough to start. And then going up and down and up and down the hundreds of steep coulees allowed my feet to slide around in my shoes causing hot spots and blisters on the bottom of my feet. It made every step super painful, especially for the last 25km but what kept me going and stopped me from complaining was the fact that Chelsey had 115km more in her legs and feet and she did not complain once. I think once she said “I’m sort of tired but I think it’s how I’m supposed to feel now” (at about 140km). So there was no room for me to complain so I just sucked it up and kept moving for Chelsey.

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Foot aftermath 😦

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Were we hallucinating or did we see a unicorn?

We left the Pavan aid station and it was starting to get really warm. Lethbridge had a 2 day heat wave, the exact 2 days of the race, and the temperatures got to 30C. The coulees were absolutely endless and relentless. Some were so steep we had to use our hands to pull ourselves up on all fours. Chelsey had poles that I think really helped her on the descents. If it weren’t for Chelsey I would have been lost off the trail 3 or 4 times and the girl who was running 3 times as much as me kept me on track! I tend to wander off in my mind and ignore trail markers. One of them was a line of rocks on the trail to prevent us from going straight so we would make a right hand turn on to another trail. I clearly remember my thought being “wow, that’s cool! A line of white rocks!” and I stepped over the rocks to continue along until Chelsey yelled at me to get back on the trail!

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I had been running with Skratch in my pack and made it 8 hours until I was completely over the taste. I really just wanted plain water. But that was a big success for me to go 8 hours! Around that same time that I was tiring of Skratch, Chelsey was getting more tired (finally! haha) and we weren’t able to run much. But we had ran so much in the night and made up a lot of ground, I told her that was fine and really all we needed to do was to keep moving ahead, one step at a time.

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You can see the trail coming over the crest

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Best popsicles ever!

We got popsicles coming out of one aid station and let me tell you, that was one of the best popsicles I’ve ever had! Our conversations, or more accurately my commentary, had turned mainly to supportive cheering. “You can do it. You’re doing it. You’re doing awesome. Let’s just keep moving.”

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Finally, finally, we were on the last stretch, going under the big bridge and then heading up the last big climb to the finish line. I think I talked to and encouraged Chelsey every step of that climb. I can’t even imagine the pain she was in at that point.

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Underneath the big bridge

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She did it! 100 miles!!

In the end, Chelsey finished in 29hr 18min. Well under her A goal of sub-30 hours, made even more impressive by the huge attrition rate: only 25/52 100 milers finished. She sat down only twice, once after each loop to change her shoes and socks. I think she had the fastest overall transition times. She never broke down or lost her shit. It was the most impressive display of athleticism (and mental strength) I’ve ever seen! She made my job really easy and I loved every step of that run with her. For me, I was really impressed with how my body handled the sleep deprivation, I did much better than I thought I would, but it was also really cool to see the problems I had. I’m happy I had a great night run so maybe now I can put those not-so-great experiences behind me. Even though this race is in the prairies, not a mountain ultra, it is brutal. The coulees really are soul sucking and I couldn’t imagine having to do that course 2 more times! A top American ultra runner, who’s actually a native Calgarian, Beverly Anderson-Abbs (she’s the woman who’s gone the furthest in the Barkley) ran and set the women’s course record this year confirmed the course is brutal. I think I could do the 100km event, but I’m not quite ready for 100 miles!

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Up up up and over a coulee


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Ironman Mont Tremblant! Poutine!

I was not supposed to do an Ironman in 2015. And actually, when I started doing IMs, I was only supposed to do one every other year but here I am, having raced one IM a year for the last four years. (I only stuck to the original plan after my first Ironman, IMC in 2010 and took 2011 off). At IM Boulder last year I entered a lottery to win a free IM anywhere in North America and I WON! That’s how IM Mont Tremblant got added to the 2015 schedule. Last year was a big struggle all year and I somehow made it though IM Boulder but looking back, I was clearly deep in a hole of overtraining. Thankfully I physically rebounded but this year was tough mentally, especially with respect to cycling. I had no desire to be on my bike much over 4 hours so I didn’t force it. But that meant my long rides were limited to 100-120km which was frustrating because my body felt good but I really just couldn’t face the long hours mentally. So I came into IMMT knowing that I would be able to finish, but unsure of what I could expect for a finish time.

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As I’ve written about (a lot) before, I am pretty much the worlds’ worst triathlon runner, and specifically, Ironman runner. My open marathon PR is 3:32 (I will be running Boston 2016!) but my IM marathon times are 5:45, 5:45, 5:51 and an outlier of 5:10. In IM, sure there are a few other people that run around 6 hours but I’m assuming their open marathon times are in the 5 hour range, not in the 3:30 range. I run 2.5+ HOURS slower in IM!! That’s insane. I think this is a combination of a few things: 1. I’m not a strong enough cyclist 2. overbiking 3. mental – when I see people walking in IM, I want to walk too, as well as lack of confidence – I feel like I *can’t* run well in IM because I’ve never been able to 4. undertrained in the run.

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Team Betty Designs

So my main goal for IMMT was to have a good run, and I really (really, really) wanted a sub 5hr run. I didn’t care what my overall time was, I just wanted a good run. The plan was to really hold back on the bike and coupled with the ultrarunning I’ve been doing this year then hopefully I would finally get a proper IM run.

Pre-Race

My mom (IronMom) and I flew to Montreal on Wednesday and arrived in Mont Tremblant on Thursday. This is my mom’s 5th Ironman as well so she’s pretty much a pro at all things Ironman. We stayed at Le Tour des Voyageurs which is basically twenty steps from the finish line and just a few more to transition. It was perfect and wonderful. It’s only taken me 5 times to figure out it’s worth the extra money to stay as close as possible to the finish/transition.

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The big adirondack chair

The pedestrian village at Mont Tremblant is awesome. It feels European. Of course Whistler is awesome too but there’s just something different about Tremblant. There was a little general store that met all our needs for groceries (we left the car parked once we were on site), and lots of shops and restaurants. My French skills from high school was even starting to come back but it really is one of those “use it or lose it” things!

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The pedestrian village from the chair lift

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View of Tremblant ski hill

I completed athlete check-in with no line and it’s the first time I’ve been weighed at check-in. We wandered around the site, had lunch in the pedestrian village, and I put my bike together to go for a ride. Right outside the hotel I ran into Jen, a OGBetty from last year who’s a total badass. We seemed to be on the same wavelength all weekend because I think we ran into each other every day and a ton of times on race day! I am absolutely terrible and finding course routes, even when I have the map, so it turns out I was actually on the run course but I thought it was too hilly that it couldn’t possibly be the run course! 🙂

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Riding the run course

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On the run course with my mom

I’m glad I checked in Thursday because the lines on Friday looked really long. I went for a run/walk with my mom through the hilly part of the run course. It was overcast and foggy, about 21c, and seriously humid. It actually would have been perfect for race day because there was no burning sun. After the run I did a short swim in the lake which was cool and refreshing. The houses along the lakeshore are really beautiful and it was fun to check them out from the water. I ran into my friend Bria who was getting ready to tackle her first full Ironman and she was super calm! Very impressed! My mom and I took the gondola to the top of Tremblant but couldn’t see a damn thing because of all the fog. I did not go to the athlete banquet, even though I’ve heard it’s fabulous at Tremblant, partly because I’ve been privy to food poisoning at the athlete banquet, and partly because 5pm is just too early for me to eat! There was an outdoor concert after the athlete meeting and some awesome fireworks! Tremblant really puts on a world-class event, everything is top notch. I’ve never seen fireworks (coordinated to music) at an Ironman before!

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Carb loading!

Saturday I did a swim and a final small ride to check out the bike before walking, like, 40 steps from my hotel to drop it off in transition for the night. I reviewed the course with my mom so she would understand the layout because aside from cheering, her major job was to take photos, so we had a short walk to the lake so I could point everything out to her. I was also able to take a nap and my mom made me spaghetti for dinner. I was not nervous, I don’t get nervous before races, I was just really looking forward to the long day ahead.

Swim

I pretty much got what I deserved in the swim. Not that I deserve not being able to swim in a pool for over 2 years, but my swim time was what I expected. I was thinking 1:20 to 1:30 for the swim and ended up at 1:24. A far cry from IMC 2012 when I swam 1:08:00. If at some point I can get back to swimming, even just twice a week, I have no doubt I can get back down to 1:11-1:12 fairly easily but I just need to be able to tolerate chlorine first.

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Me and my mom before the race start

It was very foggy, very reminiscent of Tahoe and I couldn’t see the next buoy, even though they were spaced about 100m apart. So there was a lot of zig zagging going on, and my Garmin data sure reflects that.

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Swim course through the fog

Mont Tremblant does AG wave starts which is really cool. However, I had a lot of contact the entire swim. For me, the swims when I’ve had the least contact were in IMC mass starts and that’s what I prefer.

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Suited up and ready to go

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Each wave has fireworks at the start. My mom informed me these are the fireworks from my wave.

Also, I got sea sick before the first turn so I spent a lot of time bobbing in the water trying not to puke. I’m not sure why that happened in a lake, I’m very prone to sea sickness in the ocean, maybe it was because all the fog obscured the horizon line so that threw things off in my head? My goggles (brand new goggles, Roka X1, tried them once!) were also a bit too tight and causing a big headache which maybe contributed to the sick feeling. In general, I was just not happy in the water. I thought many times about swimming over to the floating pads and handing in my chip because I really didn’t want to continue. I was not having any fun at all!

And then to cap it all off, about 300m from the shore, somebody hit my wrist and my Garmin and a button got pressed that changed the screen I swim with. I panicked, because I really wanted the data from the whole race in triathlon mode, so I stopped, treaded water, and started pressing buttons to try to get it back to my original screen. Unfortunately one of the buttons I pressed was the lap button, which on the 920xt in triathlon mode, sends the watch into T1, and I was still 300m from the shore. Crazy thing is when I pressed the lap button at 1:19, distance read was 3880m, and then I still swam for 5 more minutes! So either the course was long or I was REALLY bad at navigating this swim!

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Finally out of the water!

T1

I’m not even joking, the run to the change tents is 500m. Might even be more. And it’s completely lined with red carpet the whole way. This was also my first taste of the passion the Quebecois have for sport. They were lined up 3 deep all the way to the change tent and yelling like mad! It was so cool. Bravo! Chapeau! I changed quickly into my Team Betty Designs cycling kit. I wear my cycling shorts under my wetsuit so I didn’t have to yank them on over my wet legs! I have never done an IM in tri shorts, I can’t handle it. I need the extra padding on my bum so I do a full change in T1 and T2.

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Awesome picture from my mom showing the red carpet into T1. The carpet extended even further in the other direction right to the water!

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The crowds cheering us into T1

Bike

My goal for the bike was to bike conservative. I have become a stronger cyclist in the last couple of years (I still have a LONG way to go) and I do like to hammer the bike, but this doesn’t do me any favours on the run. So I made a conscious decision to really hold back this time and not worry about chasing a bike PR.

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Looking serious heading out of the change tent

The bike started off overcast and foggy and remained that way for the first lap. It took about 40km to find my legs but I was feeling really good and happy to be on my bike. As always, I got so many compliments on my pink kit and pink bike. Those comments always put a smile on my face. There was a girl who kept yelling at me (in a good way) all day when she would see me (the pink stands out!). Turns out, and I didn’t figure this out until I saw her a few km from the finish, we follow each other on Instagram! Her cheers were so helpful! I also saw Jen so many times, I never felt alone. I stopped being able to eat Hammer Gels after having only one or two, not really a big surprise, but I was just not interested. My stomach even started revolting against the Skratch in my water bottle so I stopped that too and just took water. I continued eating my lovely strawberry apple baby food which was going down really well.

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The first out and back along the highway was fun. There were a couple climbs but nothing major. The return trip on Montee Ryan was also no problem. Leading up to the race, everyone was talking about the climbs Montee Ryan. I didn’t preview the course, I never really do, I don’t find it helps me that much. Either I don’t get a real sense of the course or I get scared so I just don’t bother now. Montee Ryan was nothing! I kept waiting for some horrendous climb to come along and it never did and soon enough I was back at the village where there were again hoards of screaming Iron Fans, including my mom. I had taken that loop really easy, my legs felt awesome, and I was actually ahead of my “predicted” time. Then all hell broke loose.

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Hi mom!

Well, not really, but why does no one talk about Chemin Duplessis?! It was brutal!! It’s a short out and back but on the way out, it’s like climbing steps up and up and up. Lots of climbing! I was not expecting it to be so hard because no one talks about it! I’m here to say, if you’re gonna do IMMT, you do NOT need to worry about the climbs on the highway or Montee Ryan (at all) but prepare for Chemin Duplessis! My first inkling that it was going to be tough was the TdF style spectators at the start of the climbs and a sign that said something like “Welcome to the Duplessis Challenge!” On the way out I kept waiting and waiting for the turnaround and it seemed to take forever. The foremost thought in my mind was “I have to do this again!” (quickly followed by “IM Tahoe was way worse! You can do this!”)

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Back by the village and on to loop #2, the sun immediately reared it’s ugly head. I felt like was my skin was instantly burning and it remained that way for the remainder of the bike (and run). I stopped at special needs because – potato chips! I’ve had potato chips in my bike SN bag at every IM, so I guess now it’s just a bit of tradition. But this time, because I had stopped eating gels early on, I was able to add chips to the mix for some calories. So water, chips, baby food, and BASE salt was my menu for the last 90km.

Did I mention it was hot? It was brutal. Hot and humid. 40C with unbearable humidity. In Calgary we just don’t have any chance to get used to conditions like this. Our summers are like 0% humidity and 23C. I ended up having to completely stop at every aid station (like in Boulder, but this was way hotter) so I could get one fresh bottle of water on my bike and also dump another entire bottle of water all over me. My friend Mel had told me to “come into T2 with a rusty chain” so that’s how much water I was dumping. By the time I arrived at the next aid station in 10mi/16km, I was completely dry and my drinking water bottle was empty.

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A French guy was riding behind me when I heard him say something like “that ass is beautiful!” The bum on our Betty kits says “badass is beautiful” so I assume that’s actually what he said but with the French accent I can’t be sure!

1124_038228The second time on Chemin Duplessis was worse than the first, obviously. There were a LOT of people walking their bikes up the hills! I even think there might have been more people walking than in Tahoe! It was very surprising to me. These hills right before T2 were very worrisome to me because I didn’t know how my legs were going to handle it. It’s very different than the Penticton IMC course where once you get up Yellow Lake, it’s more or less downhill for 30km to T2. When I do Tremblant again, I will do training rides starting from Canada Olympic Park, head out the Bragg Creek or Cochrane, and then once back, do something like 5 COP hill repeats.

My average power was much lower than I wanted or expected but I didn’t feel completely drained either so I can live with it for now, but eventually I would love to see higher numbers off the bike. Final bike time was 6:40, well back of where I want to be so there’s work to be done.

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After handing off my bike to a volunteer, I took my cycling shoes off and ran into the change tent in barefeet. I can’t remember why I decided to do that but it seemed like a good idea at the time! I think it was a good idea because I’ve heard that some people slipped on the red carpet and on the floor in the change tent. I had another full change to do, into my Betty onesie trisuit for the run. I LOVE the onesie trisuit. This is the first year I’ve ever worn a one piece, I always thought it wouldn’t work for me because I have a long torso, but I’m a complete convert. I love not having to tug on a separate top when it rides up and it’s not too hot! In fact, it holds a lot of ice, which I discovered from experience! I HIGHLY recommend the one piece, even if you have to change in transitions of IM like I do.

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Ice monster right out of T2

Run

Right out of T2 there was a big bucket of ice, which I was pretty much wanting to jump in to. And my mom was right there too so she gave me a big hug and some motivation. I was really worried about the heat. I have lost all tolerance to heat so I knew I really needed to focus on staying as cool as I could. I had a buff in my T2 bag that I planned to use as an ice bandana. I had never used one before, I just knew of it from hearing ultrarunners talk about it in races like Western States. I tied one end tight and my plan was as I was approaching aid stations, I would open the other end, pour ice in, loosely tie that end and run with it on my neck. It took a couple aid stations to figure out the appropriate amount of ice where it would still sit on my neck but have enough ice to last until the next aid station. Even with the aid stations being a mile apart, the ice in my bandana was melting before the next one. I was melting too!

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Early on, still trying to figure out the ice bandana, in my hand!

But, as I started running out of the village, I felt surprisingly good. It was reminiscent of how I felt in Vineman this year. I kept an eye on my Garmin to make sure I wasn’t overcooking my pace and I was feeling super comfortable at between 6:00-6:30/km. I wanted more than anything else to run under 5 hours, which is just over 7:00/km.

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To my surprise, I comfortably ran the hills in the first 4km that had scared the crap out of me in the days before the race. I stuck to my plan of getting ice at every aid station, which of course slowed me down but was an absolute requirement for my survival. I would load up my bandana, the one cup of ice in my bra, one cup in my hat, water over my head, and alternating coke and gatorade. I continued to stick to the BASE salts but still couldn’t tolerate gels.

The big problem I was having in the first part of the run was I was super bloated. I’ve never experienced that before. Maybe it was from all the salt I was taking? I can’t remember who it was exactly, maybe Natascha Badmann, but one woman pro was always super bloated on the run in Kona. Even though she was kicking ass and taking names, her tummy looked awful! Well that was happening to me, I felt like my tummy was sticking out like a pregnant girl and I was getting pretty embarrassed about it! But I couldn’t get anything moving in my gut. This problem consumed a lot of my thoughts so the miles just ticked by, even though I was getting really uncomfortable. Finally at about 14km, I was able to stop at a porta potty and get things moving, after which I had no problems!

Coming back towards the village was mostly downhill although I had to walk a bit of one hill with the Cervelo guys at the top. My mom was a little further past the bottom of that hill and I told her I was doing fine and I had so far been able to run. Run special needs was up another hill, where I grabbed potato chips, yay! The run down the village street on the first lap was excruciating! People were already finishing and I had to take the turn to the right to continue on the second loop. There were some awesome spectators right at that junction who were so supportive, telling me I was looking great and I could do it. I don’t know what my split through half way was, but I believe it was something like 2:26. On the way to sub 5.

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Half way on the run

I came back to where my mom was standing, feeling a little down trodden because I had just been by the finish line which is really tough mentally. I think she thought I looked worse than I was, because shortly after passing her I looked back and mom was running after me, yelling “don’t you have to go back up the hill”, and pointing backwards! I yelled “no mom! I just came from there! I have to do a whole second loop!”

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Telling my mom some sort of story

This was the hardest part of the race for me. Nothing was really hurting, I wasn’t feeling *that* bad, but I just felt like I had so far yet to go and it was a bit overwhelming. I had to walk some of the hills the second loop. But almost everyone else was walking them too. Once I got to the flat part, a cool thing happened. I transported myself, without meaning to, back to running the Grand Canyon. I could have sworn I was back there. In the days leading up to the race, I was thinking a lot about that run because there was a section on the way back from the North Rim, in “the Box Canyon”, where I was totally in the hurt box, but I was running. It was slow, but I was running and it got the job done. I knew if I wanted to get my goal marathon time, I needed to keep running. This is the first time I have kept running when things got tough in the IM marathon. I put my head down, and imagined the huge vertical walls of the canyons and the river, and I just kept running. It was awesome. My pace had slowed after about 23km but I was still running.

After the turnaround at about 30km, I started feeling better! I ran for a bit with a lady from New Jersey and we had a really nice conversation for a couple kilometers. That’s right, I was chatting and running after 30km in the IM marathon. In fact, a guy behind us commented “I can’t believe you two are talking right now!” My response was “I can’t believe this either! In 4 Ironmans, I have never ever ever even been running at 32km into the run, let along talking!!” Once that sunk in I picked up my pace and didn’t let up.

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Actually running, late in the marathon

I started passing people all over the place. I have never passed people in the IM run. Just like how I felt in Vineman this year, it was SO cool. I passed the 37km marker and for the first time I looked at the running time on my watch. 4:35. Somehow I was able to do math and figured that with 5km left, I would sadly miss my 5hr run, BUT if I could hold 7:00/km for 5km, I could get a new IM run PR. Those last 5km (and probably at least 7km) were my fastest of the whole day. I was passing so many people, the spectators were going crazy because I ran every.single.hill. on the way back, and I felt like I was actually running. Not shuffling like usual, but running. So many cheers of Bravo! Chapeau! I ran by my mom in the same spot and told her I was going to get a new run PR!

I made my was up to the top of the village again and that downhill to the finish like was sweet. I even passed people in that downhill chute! I started high fiving everyone I could and as I crossed the finish line, I felt so proud of myself. My final run time was 5:04 and I couldn’t be happier. My final time was 13:31, not an overall PR, but now my second fasted Ironman. And for the first time ever in IM, I improved my AG placing throughout the race from 53 (swim) to 42 (bike) to 37/77 (run, finish).

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That 5:04 *feels* like at least a 4:30. Even when I ran 5:10, it didn’t feel good. This one felt amazing. Even though I missed my goal, finally, I can see the light of sub 5 and my next IM, I will FOR SURE be under 5 hours. Now I know I can do it and I think that might be the biggest win of them all.

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Post-Race

I made my way with my lovely finish line volunteer, through to the food tent. I did not have to go to medical! But I needed to lay down. I have now become very good at avoiding the medical people and laying down where hopefully they won’t bug me. It felt so good to lay down. A couple athletes checked on me to see if I was ok, which I assured them I was. Why can’t I just lay down after going nonstop for over 13 hours?!

I saw some people with the silver space blankets that somehow had missed me so I wandered (stumbled/hobbled) back towards the finish line to find myself a blanket. The food was not that appetizing but I forced something down. Can’t even remember what it was! I realized I had been in the food tent for quite a while without seeing my mom and I knew she would be worried about me because in 2012 when I ran 5:10 I ended up in medical. And yet, I stopped to have my photo taken, and then…. I saw the poutine truck.

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5 time Ironman!

I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I completely forgot about poutine. Highly unusual for me, since that’s usually all I can think about at the end of a race, but right there in front of me was a line up of poutine. I even asked if the poutine was for us because I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was like it was too good to be true. Except it was true! I grabbed a poutine and went back to the guy taking finisher photos and had a picture taken with my poutine. Nerd alert.

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Finish line poutine photo

Somehow, my mom was right at the exit. I was so excited to show her my poutine and she was so excited I wasn’t in medical (because she was headed there next if she hadn’t ran into me!) We sat on a bench while I ate the best poutine I’ve had in my life, and my mom told me how proud she was and how she had been taking photos all day and Rob had been posting them on social media, and how all my friends had been cheering for me all day. That’s an awesome feeling. My mom did such a good job with the photos and being in perfect cheering spots all day. After 5 Ironmans, my IronMom has really got the hang of it! I really couldn’t do these races without her being there with me and for me.

I am not planning Ironman next year. I really need a break, mostly mental, from the long training days. I also want to get my speed back. I WILL return to IM, and to IMMT, and I WILL run under 5 hours because I know I can now. IMMT is the best IM I’ve done, by far. It blows everything else out of the water. The venue is spectacular, so easy for accommodations and spectating, the organizing is top notch, the course is tough but fair, and there’s poutine at the finish line. I can hardly imagine an Ironman being better than IM Mont Tremblant.  It is a must-do race, and I will be back for sure!

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POUTINE!


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Training update and what’s wrong with my back?!

The weekend after Vineman I flew home to Kelowna, because I haven’t been home for a while and because WestJet now charges only $25 each way for a bike! Big ups to WestJet for that!

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Flying into Kelowna. WestJet is the only way to fly! (My brother is a pilot at WJ 🙂

Growing up in Kelowna I always wanted to do the Across the Lake Swim, but I think the biggest barrier and the reason I never did it was because they used to require each swimmer to have their own kayak/canoe escort across the lake. So basically logistics prevented me from ever doing the swim. Now, the event has become so big (1200 swimmers this year!) that personal escorts are not required but you can still have one if you desire. Since I’ve been doing Ironman I haven’t lived at home and the weekend of the swim has never worked out for me. Until now!

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I had a really fun time with the swim. It is billed as a 2.1km swim but my garmin clocked me at under 2km. Who knows. It was a beautiful day and there was no crazy lake current like they had last year. I think I picked a great line to swim and actually swam in a straight line (shocker). For some reason, almost everyone else was off to the right, closer to the bridge, and then had to swing around to the finish. The finish was great, just like Ironman. I think pretty much all of Kelowna was down in City Park to see the swimmers finish! It was a great event, awesome swag – a swim bag, towel, and swim cap!, and I will definitely be doing it again!

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Looking back on where I swam from

That evening I ran 20km which went quite well despite the heat. I had to wait for the sun to be setting because I can’t tolerate training in 38C heat!

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Beautiful sunset from downtown Kelowna

The next morning my mom and I drove to Penticton so I could get out on the Ironman Canada course on my bike. It was brutally hot and I wasn’t feeling great. As I was riding up Richter Pass I looked at my average power, which including Richter Pass, was 108. Wow. That’s bad. Up to that point I wasn’t sure if I was just being soft but that number really showed me it wasn’t just in my head! I descended Richter, which felt like having a hot hair dryer blowing in my face, and luckily my mom was with me for SAG support so I jumped in the car and we headed home to enjoy the relief of air conditioning! I think my poor performance that day was a combination of having raced at Vineman the week before and the heat. Again, it was 38C and that is just too hot!

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Getting started on the (old) IMC course, in my wicked bright Betty Nytro kit

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I used to laugh at my mom when she said her ideal temperature is 25C. I used to LOVE the heat. But now something has changed and 25C actually IS the ideal temperature!

Monday was a swim at Gyro Beach on the Manteo Mile course. It was awesome! I love fresh water, I love open water swimming, and I miss home! If only Kelowna wasn’t already so jammed up with dentists!

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Too hot for a wetsuit!

Goofing off with the gopro

Goofing off with the gopro

That week back in Calgary was full of afternoon storms which made for beautiful photos but Rob and I got caught in a fierce storm, just about 5km from home, but man was it brutal. I have never been so drenched on my bike before, soaked right to the bone!

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Looks like a spaceship. This storm didn’t hit us thankfully, because it was twisting.

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It took almost 2 hours of this storm stalking us to catch up and when it did, we got absolutely drenched.

A couple weeks prior my Betty Designs teammate and fellow dentist Mel, asked me if I would be the runner for her team in Calgary 70.3. Without hesitation I said yes! since I needed to do a long run that day anyway (longer than 21.1km but that’s besides the point). Our team also included Quinn who is also a Betty fan so naturally we were Team Betty. I’ve never done Calgary 70.3 before, I’m not interested. I can ride those roads any day I want so it’s not exciting to me. I like to be excited when I race. Also, I hate running around the Glenmore Reservoir. I don’t know why I agreed to run so quickly! I’ve jsut never had a good run around there and I find it boring, but that’s just me. Lots of Calgarians love the reservoir, I am not one of them. I do wish we could swim in it though!

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Generally hating life running around (or rather, 3 out and backs of) Glenmore reservoir

It was interesting waiting in T2, not really knowing when Mel off the bike would show up. I still get confused when I do open running races because I have nothing to set up. I always feel like I’m missing something. Quinn had a tough swim because of some confusing buoys and course markings in the lake and Mel had a great bike. It was weird to be running “fast” because I was fresh and passing people doing the race on their own. I felt bad, like I wanted to tell everyone “don’t worry, I’m just in the relay!” I started off around 5min/km pace. I have lost all my speed I had at CIM and all I could think of during this run was how the hell did I run 42km at this pace?? I was good until about 12km when the wheels started to come off. At about 17km you’ve just run up a substantial hill from the water and they make you run past the finish line to and out and back. The third out and back on this course.  Did I mention I hate running around the reservoir? It was pure torture. I don’t remember a half marathon being this much torture ever. It’s true I haven’t been training for speed since CIM but I’m really disappointed I’ve lost it all so I was was not happy with that run. Oh well. The beer gardens and race beer mugs helped ease the pain a bit!

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Team Betty at the finish! Next time Quinn has to wear her wetsuit, cap, and googles and Mel has to wear her cycling shoes and helmet

Then we stalked pro Magali Tisseyre since Betty makes her awesome tri kit this year so we could have a photo. Unfortunately she ended up being disqualified from her race win because of the aforementioned confusion in the swim.

With Magali and her awesome blue version of our team kits

I had a couple more hard rides, including one with soon-to-be pro (I’m sure of it) Emma who completely smashed me for 100km between Banff and Lake Louise. It was full gas for me just to hang on her wheel. But, I did it, surprised the hell out of myself, and was tired for 2 days after!

Hanging on for dear life

I am really looking forward to Mont Tremblant, largely just for it to be done! I am not planning on doing a full IM next year, I need a break from the long stuff. Turns out I didn’t have patience for 100 mile rides this year, so I just didn’t do them. I’ll let you know how that turns out after Tremblant!

Also, my back needs a break. The butt and hamstring issue I’ve described before, that prevents me from straightening my leg, has been diagnosed as a “back sprain” and disc bulge with sciatic nerve involvement, and it’s this nerve involvement that causes the pain in my butt and down my leg. My physio is very positive and expects a full recovery, which doesn’t involve complete rest (because exercise makes it feel better) but likely IM/ultra training is not helping. I am really looking forward to having an actual off-season (I haven’t had one for 3 years) in which I’m planning to hit the gym, yoga, and maybe barre or kettlebell classes to strengthen my weakened body.  I’m glad to have a diagnosis finally so I can work towards full rehabilitation. The thing that bothers it the most and that I’m most worried about is sitting on the plane to Montreal. Prolonged sitting (like over 30min) can be really, really uncomfortable and it’s about a 4hr flight to Montreal. Robaxacet and pain medication might be my best friend! But now, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and some poutine waiting for me (hopefully) at the finish line in Tremblant!

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Alberta canola fields make for beautiful photos in bright Betty gear!


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Vineman 70.3

Vineman 70.3 is my favourite race of all time. This year was my 4th year swim/bike/running in Northern California wine country. I can’t put my finger on exactly why I love this race so much but I think it’s largely because it reminds me so much of home, Kelowna. The Okanagan is Canadian wine country (I know there’s wine in Ontario, but let’s be honest, the Okanagan takes first place here!) so the landscape is very similar to Sonoma county. I guess it sort of feels like home! Now, I don’t even need GPS to get around Santa Rosa/Windsor/Guerneville!

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After a flight delay, a bit of a hassle with the rental car (my bike wouldn’t fit and they didn’t have any hatchbacks available), and major construction on the Golden Gate Bridge, I arrived in Santa Rosa on Friday night at 2:15am. I immediately threw out any plans of getting to the expo early because I needed to sleep!

After a deep sleep, putting my bike together, and a stop at Whole Foods, I breezed through the mandatory pre-race meeting but then got hung up, as usual, at the expo. I love race expos. I love buying things. I got a container of BASE salts to start trying, another Vineman coffee mug. and met the fabulous couple at RIPlaces because one of their sets of elastic laces involves pink skulls! I literally stopped in my tracks, backed up, and proceeded to buy them out of pink skulls to pass along to my Team Betty teammates.

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I took my bike for a short ride on the run course to make sure I had set it up properly and thanks to my Betty friend, Jordan, I dropped my bike off with SAG Monkey so I could avoid the post race shuttle back to Guerneville. It was golden!!

Race morning always comes too early since I hate waking up. SAG Monkey drove us to the swim start where we picked up our bikes, and then the wait was on. We arrived sometime before 6:30am, and unfortunately I had the very last swim wave, at 8:42am. So it was a lot of waiting. It was cool to see the pros come out of the water and up the steep hill out of T1. I was glad to see pro Emily run up the hill because that’s my strategy too. There’s always lots of carnage at the bottom of the hill from age groups trying to mount their bikes, losing their balance, and crashing so time went by quickly. I saw quite a few people I knew which was awesome. Throughout the weekend I ran into more people I know in California than I do at races back at home!

The most interesting part of the day was a guy who came running up the hill pushing his bike in bare feet. I just assumed his shoes were mounted on his pedals and he would do a flying mount and be on his way. But instead, he came over to his wife/gf at the fence beside where I was standing and they proceeded to have a frantic conversation, in Spanish, I assume about the fact he didn’t have his cycling shoes. I’m not sure why he didn’t sort this problem out when he racked his bike in the morning, but she passed him socks to put on and then as she was passing him running shoes, some officials interrupted them and told them he cannot receive outside assistance like that. They kinda stopped for a second, then tried to pass the shoes again, and the officials stopped them again, and told them he had to start riding as he was. So, he took off on his bike, wearing only socks on his feet (with Shimano SPD-type pedals) and his wife/gf running after him. After he left, the officials started feeling bad and hatched a plan to chase down the wife/gf, get the shoes from her, then they would give him the shoes, because if help comes from a race official it’s not considered outside assistance. I’m not sure what happened to him or if the officials ever found him. I was too shocked at the whole sequence to write down his race number so I could see if he finished. But it was very interesting to watch!

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My swim was fine. I swam 38.34 which I think was a minute faster than in Victoria, so that’s great. The water was warm but not unbearable, and I think this was the first time I didn’t scratch my hands on the bottom. Weird, considering the big drought in California right now.

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On to the bike, I dropped my chain twice in the first 10 miles. It didn’t take long to put the chain back on but long enough that the people I was riding with got further up the road so I had to work pretty hard to catch back up. I was expecting a lonely ride being in the last wave but it was actually great. The road wasn’t as crowded as starting in a middle wave and I was able to pass a lot of 20 year old guys, who must have been in the wave before.

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I worked hard to stay with a girl wearing a Smash kit, because we had the same pink Rudy helmet, and she looked really strong and was biking well. After dropping my chain those 2 times, I decided I didn’t want that to happen again so I  rode the rest of the course in my big chain ring. Including Chalk Hill. And I didn’t fall over, although I saw another guy topple over.

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At some point my mind started to wander, and I decided I really just didn’t feel like suffering that day. My mind wandered back to my pre-race set up where I couldn’t picture what I did with the rental car keys. I was certain I had dropped them somewhere and I was trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do about getting the rental car back to SF. Oh man, I was stressing. And there was nothing I could do about it until the race was done and I could get my T1 bag back! So that took up a lot of energy but I was able to stay with the Smash girl into T2 where I thanked her for keeping me somewhat on track. My bike split was a disappointing 3:04:06 but I knew it wasn’t my best effort.

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As I started the run I looked at my watch which told me I had been really lazy on the bike and now it would be a big ask to finish in under 6 hours. I really really really didn’t want to be over 6 hours, because I’m better than that now! I realized I actually felt really good. That is an unusual feeling for me. I was easily running 5:30/km, it felt like I wasn’t even trying, and that feeling continued for quite a few kilometres! My overall pace does not reflect 5:30/km because I was a straight up ice and water monster at the aid stations. The conditions were “mild” for Sonoma-in-July standards, but still too hot for this Canadian! So I was full-on stopping at every aid station to fill my hat and tri suit with ice (lumpy tri suit FTW) so I couldn’t continue running comfortably. I passed people, and I kept passing people. Never have I passed so many people in a 70.3 run, and I don’t think it was just because I was in the last wave. And then I started to realize I was passing a few girls in my age group and only a couple had passed me. You guys, I can’t explain how weird that is for me. I have never passed girls in my AG on the run.

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Right around 10km and heading into La Crema winery, I passed another Smash girl in my age group. I didn’t see her at the turnaround at 8.5 miles so I assumed she had dropped back. I continued my ice monster ways at aid stations although my pace was slowing. At the last aid station around 18km, I pulled in begging for ice and the Smash girl cruised right by me. The aid station volunteers yelled at me to get going and I took off after her. This was another weird happening for me. I NEVER actually “race” in a 70.3, especially in the last 3km of the run! But there I was, chasing down a girl in my age group. With about 1km left I finally caught her, thanked her for pushing me and told her she should come with me but she said no way!

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I came across the finish line in 5:55:09, far slower than I had hoped, and slower than it felt. But the big up from the day was my run (2:03:58). Not a fast run, and not under 2 hours (yet again) but it’s the strongest I’ve felt in a 70.3 ever. It’s also the first time EVER, in any triathlon, of any distance, from 11 years of racing, that I have improved my age group ranking from the swim to bike to run. Yes, I haven’t been swimming so my swim is slower, and I was lazy on the bike so you could say I had some ground to make up, but in every other race, I would have lost even more spots on the run. This was a huge break-through for me!

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I also broke one of the cardinal rules of racing which is “never try anything new on race day”. I’ve done it before, and will continue to do so, within reason. The BASE salts were great, I love salt, and with my peanut butter Hammer gels I can create a salty peanut butter blast of goodness that actually does put a smile on my face. I also had the RIPlaces in my shoes which I didn’t try out the day before, and I didn’t get a single blister or hotspot. And I could run knowing my shoes matched my Betty Designs onesie (which I absolutely love – ice down the front is genius!) and obviously matching my outfit is my primary concern!

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Oh yeah, my car keys were right where I put them in my jacket pocket 🙂


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Victoria 70.3

I signed up for my 10th half ironman, Victoria 70.3, because I was having FOMO once I saw that four or five Betty’s were registered for the race. And also because Victoria is so beautiful, it’s always awesome to get away from Calgary (June monsoon) and get some actual summer weather. I wasn’t sure how my body and legs were going to respond given the Grand Canyon was just 3 weeks prior. As it turns out, (spoiler) long, slow trail running doesn’t help me in triathlon! For some people it works well, but for me, if I train slow, I race slow.

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Artistic Orca in Victoria’s inner harbour

Rob and I headed to Victoria on Friday evening. I met 2 Betty’s, Alison from Victoria,  and Kathy from Arizona, for dinner. It is always such a pleasure to meet other girls with the same interests as me because sometimes I feel like I’m the only one doing this crazy Ironman stuff!

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View from our “hotel”, right in front of the Empress

My dad had sailed his sailboat up from WA and we were lucky enough to get a slip right in front of the Empress so it was like staying at the Empress for, like, a tenth of the cost! Staying on a boat for a race, and especially a triathlon presents some unique challenges, like putting your bike together on the dock without dropping any important screws/parts/the bike into the ocean, and once the bike is put together, where does the bike go? Luckily for me, and Cervelo, my dad came prepared and had a huge chain that we used to lock Cervelo to the mast. Not gonna lie, I had a couple restless nights worrying that someone was trying to jack my bike but it all ended up fine!

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My dad’s boat and Cervelo’s home for the weekend

Alison was kind enough to meet me on Saturday morning for a shake out ride and to make sure I had put my bike together properly. We ended up on the last few miles of the bike course which was helpful to see because there was a slight downhill section into a left turn and an immediate hill that Alison pointed out and reminded me that gear selection is important so as to not drop a chain or be grinding uphill in the wrong gear. Check in was fast and easy and our bikes slept over night in transition. I discovered I forgot a race belt, CO2, and a transition towel, so Alison came to the rescue and hooked me up with spares of hers. Alison was also amazing because she had priority parking at transition! Otherwise I would have had to drop off my bike to a transition volunteer, park a couple miles away, take a shuttle back to transition and then complete my checkin. So thanks, Alison! You made my life so much easier!

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Cervelo pink lightning racked and ready to go

We skipped a practice swim (since I haven’t been swimming anyway, what’s the big deal?) and I found myself back on the boat with a glass of wine and some sun on my pale, pale skin.

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Pre-race hydration and legs up

Race morning, my alarm went off at 4:00am. Victoria is a super early start time, my wave started at 6:09am and I arrived at transition a little later than I wanted! Logistics for this race are complicated, involving a shuttle to the race site, but they do the best they can. I met up with Melanie (who unfortunately didn’t start the race due to being sick), Kathy, and Alison and got my transition site set up. I think I’ve been racing a lot of races with 2 transitions so I’m used to using bags and not the grass beside my bike so I just felt like I was missing something (I wasn’t).

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Kathy, Melanie, Alison, and me. Team Betty, in transition before the race

My wave of girls waded into the water and waited for our start. I positioned myself near the back because I haven’t been swimming and I didn’t want to get in the way. I did not swim once from IM Boulder (Aug 3) until New Years Eve, when I decided to swim 100×100 (that was fun). Then I did not swim again until I went to tri camp in Tucson in the beginning of March. I’m not sure of the total yards we swam there but I didn’t do the big set so I think it was less than 10,000yds. After camp, I didn’t swim again until 2 weeks before Victoria when I swam 2000m just to make sure I could still do it. So my TOTAL (not weekly) swimming since IM Boulder has been less than 10,000 meters. This is all due to my chlorine sickness problem that’s STILL affecting me, 2 years later. I have tried noseplugs, menthol rub in my nose, allergy meds, scopolamine patches, and nothing works. I still feel like I’m going to barf every time I smell chlorine. My solution therefore, has been to not swim. Because if I don’t swim, I don’t smell chlorine, and I don’t puke! Calgary unfortunately doesn’t have public lakes and beaches so open water swimming here isn’t an option unless I drive about 1 hour to Canmore. This entire situation is less than ideal but I’m just doing the best I can with a crappy situation. The good news is I’m really comfortable in the water and swimming is not a problem for me. I have lost about 10 minutes in an IM swim over the last 2 years, but the way I look at it is that I can devote that time not spent swimming to biking and running, or sleeping and recovery.

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Flashing my matching nails before the swim start

All this is to say the swim was fine. I definitely felt like I was swimming slow, and my results prove that. The water was a great temperature, flat, and the sun wasn’t a problem. I exited the water in 39:44, my slowest 70.3 swim ever – about 5-6 minutes slower that I should be but life (and the race) goes on!

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Thumbs up to a slow swim!

My butt/hamstring is still bothering me. Actually the only time it hurt all day was during the swim (go figure) and in transitions. Not being able to sit down quickly or straighten your leg makes it difficult to get shoes on and off! No one is quite sure what the problem is, still. I’ve had a couple treatments of shockwave therapy which feels like getting a tattoo on my butt and hamstring, and for a bit I thought it was getting better but now I’m not so sure.

Once I was on the bike I started passing people right away. This is a new thing for me. I used to always come out of the water in the top quarter or so of my age group, then get passed by about half the group on the bike, then get passed by the rest on the run and end up near the bottom. So basically I would spend the entire day just getting passed. But because I haven’t been swimming (and so come out of the water later), and because I’ve been working hard at getting stronger on the bike, I get to pass people now! And seriously, passing people is WAY better than getting passed. The course is very rolling. I didn’t find that there were any big hills, just short, punchy climbs requiring a little standing. But with those little climbs came fast downhills and lots of speed.

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Pretty hard to miss on the bike course. Betty Designs team kit

Right at the start of the bike a guy rode past me, complimenting me on my helmet (and then kit, shoes, bike – all pink) because he was wearing the same pink aero Rudy helmet. We ended up leap-frogging each other for the rest of the bike. It was so fun! We always made sure to say something when we would pass. It really made the ride enjoyable.

The part that wasn’t enjoyable was all the douchebag men 40-44 years old who can’t stand to be passed by a girl. Clearly, if I’m riding up on you, I am going faster than you so when I pass you, you need to drop back. But there’s always a few of these guys who won’t let a girl pass. At one point me and another girl (who looked totally badass) were surrounded by 5 or 6 guys in a little pack and neither of us could break free. Every time we tried to pass, the guys would speed up so we’d have to drop back and then try again. It was hard physically, but harder mentally. Just because I’m a girl and everything is pink, doesn’t mean I can’t ride a bike, and it doesn’t mean I can’t pass you! Finally, I got the courage to put the hammer down and ride away from these dudes. The girl yelled something I couldn’t understand but I just hoped she wasn’t mad at me. Finally I was free of the pack and the girl had ended up coming with me. As she rode past me she said “you rode awesome back there! Great job!” and we talked about how frustrating it is when guys with too much ego or testosterone won’t drop back. And she wasn’t mad at me, she was yelling at me to go, because she wanted to come too!

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Back in to T2

My bike time was 2:53:02, just 1 minute off a 70.3 PR for me, on a tougher course. I know I can still improve but this is a great start!

The run at Victoria 70.3 is the best course I’ve done. It’s almost entirely on a shaded trail, twice around Elk Lake. There are a couple small hills, but they’re really small. In fact, I think this is the first 70.3 I didn’t walk at all (except aid stations). However, I am still completely unable to run off the bike. It happens in all distances. For a 70.3 I run about 25 minutes slower than an open half marathon, and it’s even worse for Ironman. I think I’ve broken 2 hours on a 70.3 run only once, out of 10 half ironmans.

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My stomach had been off the last bit of the bike, I think it was from a banana that didn’t sit quite right, so the first lap of the run was pretty uncomfortable. I wasn’t able to take a gel until well into the second lap. As I came around to the transition area after the first lap, I stopped momentarily where Rob was standing, looking just for a hug, and instead all I got was a big “why are you stopping?! You have to keep running! GO!” No hug.

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Looking for a hug

The remarkable thing about this run course is I have never seen so many people running, and running FAST, in a 70.3. I know it’s Victoria, home of the Canadian national training centre, so fast people are expected, but I also race a lot in California where fast people abound and there was always walkers. Here in Victoria, seriously, NO ONE was walking. At least it kept me running because I didn’t want to be the only one walking!

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Into the finisher’s chute

So I kept running, something I never do. I actually felt better on the second lap, and although my splits show I slowed down, I really thought I was running a negative split and by the time I finished, Rob thought I had run the second lap faster as well. I guess what happened is I just didn’t slow down as much as I normally do. But that’s progress! I ran just over 2 hours, again, 2:05 but importantly, I felt better the last half of the run. So maybe the trail running actually is helping me!

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Overall I finished in the time I expected, 5:42. Considering it took me 6 half ironmans I think, to break 6 hours, and now I can pretty easily hit 5:40ish, that’s pretty awesome. Maybe in 10 more I’ll be around 5:20 🙂

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Victoria 70.3 finishers! Alison, Kathy, and me

The race was wonderful, Victoria is one of the most beautiful places in the world, so I would highly recommend this race! I will definitely be back.

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Running the Grand Canyon R2R2R

I first heard about running the Grand Canyon (specifically rim to rim to rim/R2R2R/double crossing) when I was living in LA in 2011. Likely, it was in the same conversation that I learned about people who run ultramarathons  – any distance longer than a marathon, usually 50K/50M/100K/100M. I had no idea that people actually ran anything longer than a marathon! While the idea of running 100 miles has taken, and is taking, a while to grow on me, I was immediately captivated with the possibility of running across the Grand Canyon. The seed was planted in my head and it continued to grow and grow over the last 4 years.

The Grand Canyon. Must be seen in person.

In October 2013 I was all set up to do the run with a group of friends from LA. My flights were booked, lodging was set up, and then the US Federal Government shut down because they ran out of money, or whatever. That meant all US National Parks were closed, including the Grand Canyon. How can you close a part of nature?! The shutdown started a couple weeks before we had scheduled our run so we were confident the situation would be sorted out in time, but it wasn’t, and instead, I spent a weekend in Sedona running around the red rocks. I also had an opportunity to do the run in 2014 but that particular weekend didn’t work with my schedule. So I kept waiting for a group to join but that never happened. Eventually I decided that since my schedule is somewhat tight, with Ironman training and other travels, and that since I knew quite a few people who had done R2R2R already, I would be able to get enough information from them but I could organize it myself and find a time that suited my schedule to best. And so, the Rim to Rim to Rim adventure of May 2015 was born.

Sedona red rocks, from October 2013

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That time I was running in Sedona instead of the Grand Canyon

We arrived in Phoenix Saturday afternoon. There were four of us – myself, Rob, Tessa, and Suzanne. Suzanne was fresh off running the Mustang Race in Nepal (and helping out after her trip was modified because of the earthquakes) and we all had a lot of catching up to do. After a couple (not so quick) stops at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Safeway we made the 4 hour drive to the South Rim. We got to the South Rim Village sometime after 7pm so had to make quick work of photos before the sun went down. Gazing out across the canyon, when you can’t see the bottom and you can barely see the other side, I really started to wonder what we had got ourselves in to. The only word I can use to describe what I was looking at is “impossible”. It looked impossible that someone could make it across there in a week, let alone in one day. Good thing it got dark quickly because if I had stared at it much longer I might have talked myself out of it!

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It looks impossible, doesn’t it? We had no idea what we were looking at, and figured it out only after the run!

I have no idea what’s waiting for me!

Rob’s first view of the Grand Canyon

We checked in at the Bright Angel Lodge and quickly found some food to eat and then discussed plans for the morning. The plan was to have our alarms set at 3:30am (wtf), call a cab at 4am, and be on the trail shortly after that. The big concern though, was the weather. For Memorial Day weekend the weather was unusually cold and unsettled. That evening on the Rim was seriously freezing and the forecast for the morning was 33F and a chance of rain. This is similar to what we’ve been training in but we were all expecting warmer temperatures. Also, I had spent 14 hours being cold at IM Tahoe and I am still traumatized by that race and I was really scared to be cold for that long again. But there was a fine balance between having enough/too many clothes and enough/not enough nutrition in our packs. Layers of warm clothes take up precious space in running packs devoted to nutrition, but being too cold could end the day just as much as not having enough nutrition. Back in our rooms we got our bags packed for the morning and tried to sleep (that was also impossible). Normally I don’t get nervous before races and I can sleep no problem but this one was different. I was primarily just so scared to be cold that I spent the few hours we had to sleep tossing and turning debating about what clothes I was going to wear.

Our alarm went off at 3:30am. It was hell. I really try my best to not get up, ever, before 7am so this was rough. I had decided to buy a warmer jacket that Tessa had brought with her, in the interest of being warm. I just needed to settle my mind. My clothing consisted of: toque, running jersey, Lululemon long sleeve, vest, jacket, skirt, knee warmers, compression calf sleeves, and mitts. My Betty trucker hat was attached to my pack. On my feet I wore (pink!) Newton Boca ATs. I probably didn’t need the knee warmers and I likely would have been fine with my original lighter windbreaker I brought but I had peace of mind that I wouldn’t be cold and that mattered a lot! My Ultraspire Zygos pack was full of food – Buddy Fruits baby food, Hammer peanut butter gels, PB&J on croissants, Snickers bars, trail mix, and Skratch. I was estimating for 200 cal/hr over 15 hours, with some extra just in case. I also had Salt Stick salt pills, Tums, Pepto pills, and Advil 🙂

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Our group of 4 at the South Kaibab trailhead. All of us representing Betty Designs!

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Nervous smile

The cab dropped us off at the South Kaibab trailhead about 4:40am. We really wanted to start by 5am to beat the mule train that heads down the trail to Phantom Ranch. There was another group of 3 runners starting their R2R2R as well and they took off a few minutes before us. We took the obligatory “before” photos, took a deep breath, and at 4:50am we started our watches and headed into the Canyon.

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Ready, set, GO!

We all had headlights which were useful for a little while in the morning. The sky was full of clouds so unfortunately we were never able to see the sunrise from the trail, which I’ve heard is amazing. Next time!

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Into the abyss!

The trail is immaculate. It’s the most well maintained trail I’ve ever seen, and that sentiment continued for the entire day. There are rock and log steps made into the trail (which become like little Mt Everests at the end of the day) and drainage tracks off the sides. There had been some rain in the days before our run so a lot of the path was big puddles but they were easy enough to avoid.

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Early on, down South Kaibab

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Rob capturing the moment

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First view of the Colorado! But still a looong way to go!

The canyon was very green. I didn’t expect that. And the cacti were blooming with all colours of beautiful flowers. We stopped a lot in the first couple of hours to take photos, and still, we feel like we didn’t take enough!

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Tons of photo ops

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Sunday Funday on the South Kaibab trail

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Puddle jumping

A few other groups of runners passed us, I couldn’t believe how fast they were running downhill! I was just trying to save something my legs, I didn’t want to burn them out on the first descent! The SK trail is about 7 miles long, downhill, with the steepest section at 22% – that’s a lot of pounding in the legs without a proper warmup!

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The “stairs” were filled with water from all the recent rain

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Switchbacks of the South Kaibab trail

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South Kaibab cutting across the red dirt

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There were lots of hikers too, some going down like us, and others already coming up so early in the morning. We ended up leap frogging a bunch with a guy named Andy. He was just hiking but because we were taking so many photos it took us about the same amount of time to get to the river!

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Cactus flower and the Colorado getting closer!

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More steps! omg!

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Unknowingly I had put myself in a really great mindset. As much as I was completely overjoyed to finally be running in the Grand Canyon, I had not allowed myself to think of the entire run at one time. I was really just taking it one step at a time down South Kaibab, and trying not to fall! We enjoyed being able to talk amongst our group as we stuck close together, and also to be able to complain about all the steps! I was not expecting those steps. My Newtons were perfect, especially since we had to dodge puddles most of the way down which meant stepping to the side of the trail. Road shoes would not have been good enough.

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We made it to the river!

Reaching the Colorado was our first big achievement. It felt awesome. We had dropped about 4800ft from the South Rim! The river was so green and beautiful, and definitely powerful. Shortly after crossing the river we arrived at Phantom Ranch, a campground with a restaurant and cabins in the bottom of the canyon.

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The mighty (green) Colorado

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The Black Bridge across the Colorado

We didn’t spend too much time in Phantom Ranch as the canteen wasn’t open yet and we will had plenty of water because of the cool, overcast skies. We joined onto the North Kaibab trail which is about 14 miles from Phantom Ranch to the North Rim.

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Somewhere in the Box on the North Kaibab trail

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Deep in coversation

The bottom of the canyon was very green and humid! It never got really hot, the forecast was for mid 70s which is perfect running temperature. Although blue sky and sunshine makes for even more beautiful photos in the Grand Canyon, it would have been too hot for us Canadians. That being said, by the time we got to Phantom Ranch, we had most of our layers off.

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Green canyon floor!

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Weird Dr Suess cactus flower

The trail runs alongside a creek and the sound of the moving water was very soothing. We had entered what we thought of as a side canyon, an off-shoot of the main Canyon. The trail was gently sloping upwards for about 7 miles, definitely runnable but relentless. There were lots of these weird Dr Suess cactus flowers bending up to the sky. We were able to dip our heads in a stream at one point which brought a lot of relief. Then we almost mistakenly sidetracked to Ribbon Falls. A group of hikers was standing right in front of the directional sign and Suzanne took off down the wrong trail! I have heard that Ribbon Falls is beautiful but we didn’t want to add on the extra mileage to an already long day.

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Running alongside the river on the North Kaibab Trail

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One of the bridge crossings on the North Kaibab trail

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Not Ribbon Falls!

We got to Cottonwood fairly unscathed and actually caught up to the group of 3 who left the South Kaibab trailhead before us. We ended up leapfrogging them and chatting with them a lot of the way up to the North Rim. They were Ironman athletes as well. We filled up our packs with water and continued on. I had iodine pills with me in case of water breaks but I never used them. The Grand Canyon water was delicious and no one in our group got sick.

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I really like the photo. It shows how small we are compared to the huge walls of the Canyon.

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Hands on hips – never a good sign!

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Shortly after Cottonwood the trail makes a left and starts heading *straight* up the canyon wall. This section was not runnable for us and yet this trail was my favourite part of the day. The trail is literally carved right into the side of the canyon. I have no idea how they made it! I am not scared of heights so the narrow trail and steep cliff didn’t bother me but I imagine that someone who is nervous would have a difficult time. There was no problem moving around puddles or passing other hikers. That being said, I did remind myself to be very careful to not trip, which I have a habit of doing, because a fall could really be deadly.

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Where’s Waldo?

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Straight down!

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Rob is a little close to the edge here!

At some point everyone in our group turned inward and into survival mode to get to the top. Rob motored on ahead as he was really keen on getting to the Rim as soon as possible. Suzanne and I had a long conversation about if we were getting cold and if we should stop to put on more layers. We were now gaining elevation rapidly and the temperature was falling just as fast. I was fine, my hands were warm which is a sign to me that I’m dressed properly and doing ok. I was also worried about stopping and then having to get going again. We decided to wait until the top to add more clothes. Tessa continued to move strong and silent up the steep trail.

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The girls heading up to the North Rim

For about 2 hours we continually asked hikers coming down “how much longer until the top?” And for those 2 hours, the answer was always “about 30 more minutes!” Seriously. It was really growing thin on us when we had heard 30 more minutes for over an hour and we STILL had more than 30 minutes to go!

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I look tired! Suzanne looks great.

We knew the North Rim was about 8000 feet (actually 8250 – that extra 250 feet was sure a surprise!) and Rob had altitude on his watch which was really helpful because he could yell out “800 feet to go!” “600 feet to go!” Measuring progress by altitude was better than by distance because Garmins don’t work well in the Canyon. That’s why every report on R2R2R you read has a different total distance for the same trails. My trusty Garmin 920 gave me 3 erroneous miles throughout the day, in which it told me we were running from 4:00-6:00 min/mile. I can 100% guarantee we did not get anywhere close to a 6 minute mile and a 4 minute mile is just laughable.

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Supai Tunnel 1.7 miles from the top of the North Rim. Would have been nice to know that at the time!

Suzanne, Tessa, and I were making our way up, up, up when TJ, the guy from the morning, and who we had passed at Cottonwood came up behind us. I have no idea why but I decided to stick on his heels. I dug deep and stayed with him and eventually we passed Rob. Rob is a really good fast hiker, I am not. I have short legs and I walk slow at the best of times. Fast hiking is an area of ultra running I really need to improve. But there I was, passing Rob! He was shocked. He said he’s never seen me hike up so fast. And it was steep. Eventually the trail turned to mud due to the snow and hail the night before. Luckily, we did almost all our training on muddy trails in Bragg Creek so it felt like home for us!

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Muddy trails and a view from where we came

We reached the North Kaibab trailhead after about 6h50min of running time and about 22 miles. I felt great. I had been really diligent with my hydration and nutrition and all systems were still go. Never once did it cross my mind that I would have to take the bus back to the South Rim. We had each packed $85 for the bus in case shit hit the fan at the North Rim. The other 3 in our group said they had all considered it on the trail up and Rob said if I had even just mentioned it to him, he would have been on that bus no problem. But it wasn’t an option for me. We emptied our packs of trash (there are no garbage cans below the rims, only at the trailheads on the rims) and filled our packs again. We also got really cold, really quickly so all our layers went back on and we got started on Round 2.

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Total relief after making it to the North Rim!

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Photographic evidence of reaching the North Rim!

Running down the North Kaibab trail was one of the best parts of the day. Almost every hiker we had passed on the way up, and who were still continuing up, had huge praise for us turning around and heading back to the South Rim. We got so many awesome, encouraging comments, I totally felt like a badass!

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Rob’s typical awesome bow pose

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Worst bow pose I’ve ever done. Leg was getting stiff and sore!

We were back to running downhill which was a nice change after a few hours of uphill hiking but those damn stairs really started to take their toll. The views were even better on the way down, if that’s even possible!

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Charlies Angels bridge

Charlie’s Angels

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Living life on the edge

After about 8 hours of running and 28 or so miles my knees really started to bother me. It was not a bone on bone, or cartilage or ligament problem, it felt like my knees were super swollen and that if I looked down at them they would be 10 times their normal size. And the downhill really aggravated that feeling. I was still able to run but I had to slow down. I’ve never experience that feeling before, maybe just because I’ve never run 50 miles before! I’m not worried about it, I think it’s just something I need to get used to and train my knees for if I continue on in ultra running.

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Waving to some hikers and saying goodbye to the North Rim

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Steep canyon walls of the North Kaibab trail

Once we got back to Cottonwood we didn’t really know how long much further it was to Phantom Ranch. Why oh why didn’t we find a list of trail distances!! This part of the run seemed to go on FOREVER! It was never ending. The sun had finally come out and it was really warming up. But the biggest problem was that the canteen at Phantom Ranch that supposedly has lemonade, was closing at 4pm. It was around 3pm and I was pretty sure we had 7+ miles to go. That would mean holding a pace for over 10km we hadn’t held all day. Coupled with my “swollen” knees I was pretty sure we weren’t getting any lemonade. Suzanne ran ahead and made a valiant effort to reach Phantom before 4pm but it didn’t happen. I’ve heard that’s the best lemonade in the world too!

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Heading down!

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Rob and I kept moving forward, the steps downhill and water drains were getting harder and harder to step over. We started seeing a lot of lizards running on to the trail, I guess to sun themselves. Then we came upon a sizeable frog on the trail. Rob was able to get quite close to him and take his picture. He was so close to this frog that it prompted me to ask “is he alive?” Rob inched his toe closer and close to the frog and finally gave it a tap and the frog did not respond. Rob thought maybe he was sleeping (!) but I’m pretty sure he was dead. So now, we have a beautiful photo of a (freshly) dead frog in the Grand Canyon!

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The infamous dead (or sleeping?) frog

My knees continued to ache. It was pretty bad. Eventually Rob and I discussed it and thought I should try taking off my compression socks because maybe the compression was causing fluid to back up in my knees. I have no idea if it helped, I know it was a complete struggle to get them off, and it felt good to have my legs free again, so who knows.

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Close to Phantom Ranch we somehow caught back up with Tessa and we ran into Phantom Ranch together. We had all missed the canteen hours so no lemonade. I headed straight for a picnic table because I really wanted to lay down. I took off my shoes and socks and held my feet up in the air which felt so good. After not long enough, we were back on the trail for the final climb.

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Heading along the Colorado on the Bright Angel trail

We took the Silver Bridge back over the Colorado this time and started up the Bright Angel trail. The route we ran, South Kaibab-North Kaibab-Bright Angel, is the “classic” R2R2R route. South Kaibab is steeper and does not have any water stops while Bright Angel is supposedly less steep (it’s still steep!) and has water stops which are especially important on hot days. The girls had got ahead of us again because we were taking photos, again. Rob challenged me to stay on his heels as he picked up the hiking pace and we eventually caught the girls.

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Crossing the Colorado again!

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It’s a long way down. Although the water was so inviting!

When we were standing on the South Rim the night before, we were looking at a big plateau with a trail seemingly falling off the edge. We didn’t really know what we were looking at but we assumed that was the Bright Angel trail. So as we’re hiking up and up and up and looking at these huge canyon walls towering above us, we all kept wondering when and how we were going to get on that plateau.

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Clearly the hours and hours of running was taking it’s toll because I imitated a tree

There were lots of weird noises, I think frogs, which I teased Rob were the pissed off brothers and sisters of the dead frog he took a picture of, and they were coming to get him. We got super close to a cute deer eating leaves.

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A very tame deer around Indian Garden, just eating leaves, NBD.

We reached Indian Garden (not aware that we had seen it from the South Rim) and filled our packs again. My stomach was still feeling fine, in fact it “worked” all day but somewhere around here I just sort of stopped eating. Looking back, this is where my day took a turn for the worse. I should have kept eating because I was totally able to, I just didn’t want to. We also saw a sign that read 4.7 miles to the South Rim. That should have been a sign of hope but I started doing math on the amount of time it might take us to travel those 4.7 miles and then my head started getting in my way.

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Somewhere around 8:30pm Rob and I switched on our headlights and things got really bad for me. I’m not scared of the dark but I think losing a visual reference for the top of the Canyon was devastating for my mind. All we could see was headlights winding back and forth on the switchbacks above. I don’t really have any experience running in the dark so I’m certain that played a role as well and is something I need to work on. Lots of bugs came out on the trail including a scorpion, which didn’t even bother me, which shows how tired I was! Our lights also scared the shit out of a deer and he jumped straight off the cliff – he was fine but I thought we were going to be dealing with the trauma of seeing a deer jump to his death!

I cried almost every step of the last 3 miles. Epic meltdown. Some of it was straight up hyperventilating hysterical crying and some was just quiet crying. I wanted to be done SO bad and even 2 miles seemed too far and impossible. The demons in my mind were telling me I couldn’t do it even though I knew I could. I think I get really frustrated when part of my mind starts telling me those bad things but the other part is telling me and can do it, so a war starts in my head and all I can think of to do is to cry. But I never stopped moving. The same thing happens to me in Ironman. Rob had to turn to threats to get me to stop crying. He would say “if you don’t calm yourself down I’m going to call the rangers and they’ll carry you out of here on a stretcher. Is that what you want?!” He knew, of course, that was going to happen over my dead body. Sleeping on the trail with the scorpions wasn’t an option either! Rob was also forcing me to stop and drink some of his Gatorade every so often because he thought I needed more sugar. One time he pointed out the first building light on the Rim that we could see and that sent me spiralling into despair again. But through all this we continued to pass others heading up the trail. I’m really thankful Rob was strong and stayed with me through those last few miles (and all day) because I really needed him to be there!

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Ignored this sign!

Finally at 9:15pm we reached the Bright Angel trailhead on the South Rim! My Garmin says 49.79 miles, 14:33 moving time, 10515 ft ascent, 10872 ft descent (so 21300 ft elevation change – holy shit!). That’s a BIG run!

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Zombies?

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We did it!

The Aftermath

For the last mile for sure, I was 100% done with running, trail running, Ironman, anything athletic. I didn’t want to run another step in my life. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do to fill my time but I was certain I would not be doing any more endurance events. Almost immediately I went into a fairly severe shivering phase, my teeth were chattering so hard I thought I might break them! Once back in the hotel room I just really needed to lay down. My feet have never been so sore. I couldn’t stop rubbing the arches and moving my toes. The aching was spectacular! My knees were also still sore, but they had been for hours so I guess I was just used to it. Suzanne, who didn’t seem to be in any pain at all, was kind enough to get me ice for my knees and that helped a lot. I was really worried I wouldn’t be able to sleep that night but thankfully the poor and short sleep the night before and the massive effort combined to grant me deep and peaceful sleep.

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We came up that crack to the right of the point on the plateau.

It was really cool waking up on the rim so we could examine what we had accomplished the day before. We realized we had no idea what we were looking at, what cracks we had run through, when we peered over the edge the evening we arrived. We found the big crack we ascended on Bright Angel beside the plateau we were looking for for so long. We saw the side canyon that took us over to the north rim. We saw the switchbacks of Bright Angel that we had climbed in the dark, that had played with my mind so much. And still, even though we had run it all, it seemed impossible.

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A successful R2R2R!

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We ran across there, twice!

My legs continued to be unbelievably sore for 2 days. It was a little worse than after an open marathon, although I always seem to forget exactly what it feels like after these things. Stairs were a no-go, and even small sidewalk curbs brought a tear to my eye! I found I really needed to swing my right hip laterally to get my right leg to move forward. Sometimes if felt as if my leg wasn’t mine! Then almost in a single instant, my legs went back to normal. Almost a week later, my legs feel totally fine but I’m quite fatigued. I could sleep all day. I’ve taken my recovery very seriously – for 6 days I did absolutely nothing except eat, sleep, and work. I did a 2000m swim the following Saturday just to make sure I could, since I haven’t swam since March and, well, I have a 70.3 in a week. And I’ve been on my bike a couple times as well. I have been really surprised at the level of general fatigue (it probably shouldn’t be a surprise but it is!) I’m experiencing. It’s been very pronounced, worse than post-Ironman fatigue. So I’ve been really careful to not dig myself into a hole before the triathlon season even starts and have changed any goals I had for the 70.3 (a run PR) to a big catered training day, which is more fun anyway!

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The day after, with Bright Angel trail in the background.

I have been dealing with a sore muscle or tendon or something, no one knows, in my right butt (literally, it’s been a pain in the ass) for the last 6 or 7 weeks. It hurts pretty much every time I move from sitting to standing, and I can’t make my right leg go straight. It feels like a muscle in my butt and hamstring has been contracted for 7 weeks. The main suspects are quadratus femoris and obturator internis. They’re small little muscles deep to the glute max and I’m discovering they’re very hard to stretch and to “get at”. My butt has been rolled, poked, proded, I’ve done IMS, Graston, ART and nothing has cured it. But this whole time, I’ve been able to run completely without pain. Like zero pain. And I’m not making that up just so I could do this run. It does not bother me at all when I run. I didn’t feel the pain for one second in the Grand Canyon, not running flat, hiking uphill, or running downhill. How is that possible?! It’s a complete mystery to all the health professionals who have tried to fix it. Now, since the R2R2R it actually feels like I have more mobility in that leg, the injury is definitely not worse, but my plan is to not run for at least 2 weeks and keep stretching it and hope for the best!

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My legs up the wall. My right leg doesn’t go straight anymore. At least I can still bike and run?

And oh yeah, I’m fully back on the endurance sports train. I was as soon as I woke up the next morning. I’m already looking at options for my first actual 50 miler and without a doubt, I would do the R2R2R again.

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The most beautiful photo of a rainbow, in Sedona. Photo credit: Rob

*many of the above photos were taken by Rob, who’s turned himself into quite an awesome photographer!