ironamy

Tales of triathlon, travel, and trails


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That Time I Ran 100km

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

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Why did I think this was a good idea?

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

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

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

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

And we’re off 

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

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Carrying the poles to make running a little easier!

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

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

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

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Getting the arms involved to drag me up another coulee

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

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Beautiful views of the river valley

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

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

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

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

Loop 2

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

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Still smiling

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

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

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

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

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Into the sunset

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

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

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

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

Everyone is falling apart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Boston Tour Guide

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

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

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Buying the orange shorts with Alett at Lululemon Prudential Center

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

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

Stay as close to the action as you can!

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

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

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

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Boston Common. So beautiful!

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

Take a Boston Duck Tour!

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

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Our Duck Tour vehicle was named Beantown Betty! Perfect!

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

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

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

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

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All set and registered with my mom!

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

Run or walk the BAA 5k!

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

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

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

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

Fenway! It was so cool!

Carb loading!

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

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Eat dinner (and dessert!) in the North End

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

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Patriots’ Day with Paul Revere!

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

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

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Harvard

Walk the Freedom Trail

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

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On the Freedom Trail. Old and new.

Enjoy a drink in the drunk tank at the Liberty Hotel

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

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Drinks behind bars

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

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Cheers! Where everyone knows your name!

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Mom having some Boston Clam Chowder (gross!)

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

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

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Challenge Roth 2016: Racing the Legend

For the second year in a row I was lucky enough to be the recipient of a free iron(distance) race. Yes, that’s right, I got a free entry into Challenge Roth. And when someone is offering an entry (free or not) into Challenge Roth, you just say yes and figure out the details later. For the 2016 edition, the July registration spots sold out in 18 seconds. Word is for 2017 they sold out in 5 seconds.

I had made it through almost to April sticking to my plan of no ironman in 2016 when a super fast Betty, Meredith, posted in our group that she had won a free Roth entry for her age group winning performance at Challenge Wanaka. The post was up for 24 hours with no takers. Even I initially said no because I did not want to do an ironman in 2016 and I had other plans for the summer like trail running and Vineman 70.3. But after 24 hours and the spot still available I started to reconsider. I had to figure out vacation time at work (I’d have to take my vacation before the race and return home to work immediately after) and basically convince myself that I could do an ironman on 8 weeks of training (more on that later). So as the story goes, in late March I accepted Meredith’s generous offer and started making plans to go to Germany in July! As a side note, I immediately knew this was meant to be because this all went down on a Wednesday in March, and that Saturday Meredith serendipitously arrived in Calgary, from Australia, to visit a friend so we were able to meet and share a run together. As soon as possible I booked a flight to Munich, reserved a rental car, and found accommodation as close to Roth as possible.

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T1 setup from the bridge overlooking the canal

I had 12 weeks (minus 1 day) exactly from Boston to Roth. Subtract 2 weeks for the time I would be in Germany before the race and not training, then subtract another 2 weeks-ish to recover after Boston (it was never a complete recovery) and that left me with 8 weeks to get into Ironman shape. Sure, I had been running, but I hadn’t touched a pool since Mont Tremblant in August, and I had not been on my TT bike since that race, or any bike since cyclocross ended in October. This is not an excuse for how well (or poorly, depending on your opinion) I did, it’s just what happened. I wasn’t going to do an Ironman in 2016! Once I got started I really had no problems with the cycling, just not enough time to get as many long rides in, although it also meant I didn’t have enough time to actually start hating long rides like I normally do. I had big problems with swimming though, including my ongoing problem with the smell of chlorine and a new problem of motion sickness. The large majority of my swims were 1000m and ended in me puking on the edge of the pool into my pool toy bag. Definitely not ideal swim training! In hind sight, I think the compact 8 weeks of training really suited me because I just can’t tolerate long weeks upon weeks of training. 8 weeks is about the maximum I can concentrate for.

I’ve done lots of travelling by myself and I’m very comfortable with it, I even prefer travelling solo, and I’ve done lots of races on my own, but I’ve never done a race in Europe before and I’d never done an Ironman without support before. This was my first ironman without my mom! I was a little nervous about the solo situation but I knew I just had to get over to Germany, my instincts would kick in, and everything would be fine. And it was!

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Bike check in the day before the race

I will write more separately about my time in Germany before the race.

Race morning

The logistics for Roth are somewhat complicated, because there are 2 transitions and even the finish line is about 1km away from T2. To make things more arduous it’s pretty tough to stay in Roth except with a homestay so pretty much everyone stays outside of Roth, even in Nuremberg, about 30 minutes away. I stayed in a little town called Wendelstein, about 20km from Roth. It was perfect and I would stay there again.

The athlete guide said there was parking at the swim start for 15,000 vehicles and I heard there could be long lines on the roads so it was best to get there early. I did not want to set my alarm for 3-anything, so it was set for 4:05.

I had everything laid out and ready to go so I was out the door in less that 15 minutes, and driving in the dark to the race start. I must have timed things perfect because there were no lines and I was directed right into a large field to park, no problem. I slept for 20min in the back of the car and wandered over to transition sometime after 5am.

I spent the morning with my Betty teammate Meredith, which was perfect. She is super calm and chill before races, and I don’t really get too crazy either so I think we made a pretty good duo. The big question was what to wear on the bike. The previous days had been definitely chilly – I had been riding in knee and arm warmers and vest. It felt warmer but as usual I really didn’t want to be cold on the bike. I ended up putting all that stuff in my T1 bag to make a decision out of the water.

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With Meredith. Betty sisters!

There are about 20 waves total, including relays, and only 2 women’s waves (girls! get your butt to this race!) so something like 4500 men and 500 women I think, and the women start right after the pros. Each wave is started by a canon blast and it scared the crap out of me every time!

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Meredith and I getting ready for the day!

The Swim: Canal and crowds

I was really calm, but also excited to get started. The edges of the canal and the bridge were absolutely packed with people. Our wave was called into the water. It’s a deep water start, the canon blasts, the rope lifts up, and we’re on the way.

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Hot air balloons over the swim start

I was wearing my friend Mel’s sleeveless Roka wetsuit. I was worried about being too hot in a full sleeve and I just haven’t been happy with my Huub. This was only my third swim in the suit but in the 2 days prior the suit felt good so I just went with it.

This is the coolest swim I’ve ever done. The canal is not very wide, less than 100m, and almost the whole course is lined with spectators. In what other race do you get cheering on the swim?! It was so cool to take a breath and hear clapping and cheering.

I lined up in the middle of the canal, along the buoy line. The start was rough, they always seem to be for me, maybe that’s because I don’t mind getting in peoples’ way. I was able to settle into a good rhythm and really enjoy the swim. I just remember thinking I love swimming, I love fresh water, and I felt strong. It’s been a long time with little to no swimming for me, but in fresh water I remember why I love it so much.

At the turn around  I stayed close to shore for the swim back. There are theories of a whirlpool effect in the canal so if you stay close to the shore where it’s shallower you may get a push from a current. Not sure if that’s true but I felt like I wasn’t even trying. At half way I checked my watch which said 35 minutes. Something must be wrong, I thought, followed quickly by surely I’ll slow down so don’t even think about 1:10. I continued to enjoy the cheers, made the last turn, and I was actually sad to be done with the swim. I could have stayed swimming all day. When I got out of the water my watch said 1:09. WHAT?! 1 minute off my swim PR when I was swimming 3x/week for a year. Now I swam 1:09 with 22 swims in a year and it felt easy? Imagine if I had actually trained for this!

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I loved the Roka sleeveless wetsuit so much, I immediately found one online to buy! Thanks Mel!

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I decided to wear my vest for the ride. I probably could have done without it in hindsight, but I was never too hot so it worked out. I had a great spot for my bike right outside of the tent so I had a quick transition and I was on my way.

The Bike: Solar Hill

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From Challenge Roth’s facebook page. This is Jan Frodeno charging up Solar Hill, and the crowd enthusiasm was exactly the same for Jan as for us age groupers. The best!

Roth’s big claim to fame (among many) is Solar Hill. Since it is a 2 loop course you get to go up the hill twice, but it’s the first time that is most special. Solar Hill is located just outside the town of Hilpoltstein and comes at km 71.5 and 156.5. It attracts up to 25,000 spectators just on the hill itself and the scream and bang noise makers and literally push us athletes up the hill, just like in the Tour de France. As I made the right hand turn and came face to face with Solar Hill, my mouth gaped wide open and I was speechless. You can read all the race reports and see all the photos you like but nothing will prepare you for that sight. You can’t even see the road because it’s just covered with people, and if there’s no one in front of you, you can’t even see how to get up the hill! Luckily for me I just stuck on the guys’ wheel in front of me, I didn’t want to let him get too far ahead because people just step back on the road in front of you to get a better view down! The whole time up the hill (a minute or two) I was saying “oh my god, oh my god!” and pretty much crying. It was without a doubt a top experience of my life, right alongside making the left onto Boylston in Boston. Every triathlete MUST have this experience! Those few moments riding up Solar Hill made everything about coming to Roth completely worthwhile.

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Pink + Canada

Other than Solar Hill (which is not a big climb) there was only one other “big” climb on the loop. It is located just outside of Greding. I rode it a couple days before the race because it looked big on the course profile and I wanted to see what it was like before race day. It is quite steep but pretty short, I think it took me no more than 8 minutes to get up the main part of the climb. This is much different than most other Ironmans like done, like Penticton and Tahoe where we climbed legitimate passes so it really set my mind at ease. There is a little bit of a tricky descent shortly after with a couple hairpin corners and hay bales lining the corners like in the TdF!

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Leading out a train of boys

The bike course winds it’s way around the German countryside, through fields from little town to little town, and each town has it’s own beer garden set up with lots of cheers! It’s so cool! I felt like I was cycling really easy. I really tried not to push hard, especially the first lap. I loved the scenery, I loved the cheers, I loved riding through the towns. The thing I did not love was that I had to pee sooooooo bad. I have never had that feeling so bad before in ironman!! And of course, Roth (or Europe?) doesn’t have porta potties on the bike course at aid stations! omg! I spent a hell of a long time trying to get myself to pee on the bike. The first time I got close was just after the Greding climb but I had to concentrate on not crashing around the hairpins so I lost my concentration to pee! Thankfully shortly after that I succeeded for the first time ever being able to pee on the bike. And then I continued to pee throughout the ride! I never once saw a porta potty.

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Betty Designs, all day long!!

I didn’t notice too much drafting, it seemed to me that everyone around me was staying legal, and there were a TON of course marshals. Also, I was expecting a lot more “male bravado” from the guys when I passed them, because in Canada, guys can’t stand when a girl passes them and we end up in an annoying game of leap frog. But my experience was completely difference in Roth. There was none of that, and just lots of comments, some in languages I couldn’t understand, about how cool my kit was and they liked the colours, and Go Canada!

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At the end of the first lap, the first time I looked at my watch on the bike, it said 3:00. I thought that was interesting but figured there was no way I could get close to 6 hours on the bike, because I never have been close and I would surely slow down. The second loop was quieter at Greding and quieter at Solar, but still more spectators than most other Ironmans I’ve done! With 30km to go my watch said 5:05 (!!) so I thought if I could ride 30km/hr until T2, I could get a bike PR! This is not a recommended tactic for ironman distance but I decided what the hell, and did my best time trial impersonation for 30km. I was passing (mostly) guys like nobody’s business! Really not a good idea but it was fun. I was really struggling the last few km into a headwind into T2 and ended up with a big bike PR of 6:01. Pretty cool for me!

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This is how the beer gardens were set up in each little town, on the bike and run.

T2: Euro style

I’ve always done a full change in T2, either because I was forced to (cold in Tahoe), or for comfort. I can’t/don’t want to ride 180km in tri shorts so I wear my cycling shorts under my wetsuit and change into tri shorts for the run. As I rolled into T2 the realization hit me that there was only 1 tent! Men and women together! So Euro!! So I just said, to hell with it, it’s nothing nobody has seen before, and most likely, no one is actually looking at me, and whipped my cycling shorts down and wiggled into my tri shorts. No problem!

The Run

I didn’t have any goals for this race except to run under 5 hours. This would be my 6th time trying to do that and the closest I’ve got is 5:04 last year in Mont Tremblant. This situation is well documented in this blog and I really, really, really needed to relinquish my stranglehold on the title of worlds’ worst Ironman runner.

I hit the run too fast for the first 2km. Oh well. It was exciting and downhill! Daniela Ryf ran past in the other direction on her way to the win so I gave her a cheer and she gave me a weird look.

I didn’t pay attention to the run course map before the race because it looked very confusing and indeed it was. There was a large part of running on packed gravel which was nice on the legs, a long stretch along the canal, and honestly, the rest was a blur. It seemed like a lot of out and backs and little loops and at 30km I really freaked out because as I made (yet another) turn onto the path along the canal, I was certain I had already been there before and that I had missed a directional sign. I was dying a slow death by this point and the thought of missing a turn and having to go back was too much to bear. I frantically asked a guy running near me what his garmin said. “Are you at 30km on your garmin?!” “No english…” So I’m pointing to my garmin saying 30? 30? 30!! And finally he gets it and confirms 30km, and shortly after the marker for 31km appeared. Disaster averted!

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The lone photo of me on the run! I was too hot!

I think there were porta potties on the run but I didn’t take too much notice because after all the peeing on the bike, for some reason I didn’t need to pee on the run! I ran really well (for me) for the first 21km. I came through half way around 2:10-2:15 which was exactly where I wanted to be. I wasn’t watching overall time or run time, only average pace. For a km or two I had a guy running *right* on my heels. It was so annoying. There was plenty of room to pass and yet he continued to stick on my left shoulder and annoy me with his breathing and footsteps. That was a faster segment for me because I was trying to get rid of him!

I had two big problems on the run: 1) I needed pineapple juice, STAT, and 2) I needed ice. Europeans don’t do ice. In restaurants there’s no ice in the drinks. The drinks from coolers are only sort of cool. And that trend continues into triathlon, apparently. I have pretty much no tolerance for heat, so even though it wasn’t as hot as it’s been in years past, it was still plenty hot and I was literally melting. I couldn’t get myself cool because there was no ice and the water was pretty warm. I became a crazy lady at the aid stations for sponges because for the most part, that water was cold. I would grab as many sponges at a time as I could – 10 or 20 of them, and squeeze the water out all over me, repeat 2 or 3 times, make lots of noise about how awesome the cold water was, dunk my head and shoulders in the bucket (the Germans were horrified!), and then get on my way until I could do the same thing in 2km. It was a serious situation. And then I needed pineapple juice. I’m not sure where that came from but I had an insatiable desire for pineapple juice. In the absence of that, I made my own lemonade at the aid stations. I have never seen this before but the aid stations had watermelons with salt (I don’t like watermelon so I didn’t indulge) and lemons! Even though it was warm water lemonade, it still helped with my pineapple juice debacle for a bit.

And only in Germany, there was beer at the aid stations! Erdinger Alkohol Frei beer! That was wonderful. I alternated one aid station beer, one aid station coke. I didn’t worry that I haven’t tried beer in training 🙂 More ironmans need to provide beer at aid stations!

I slowed considerably in the second half of the marathon which I something I really want to improve. I was only watching overall pace and it kept creeping closer and closer to the pace for a 5 hour marathon. I was trying to do math to figure out how many seconds I could lose and still be under 5 hours (the sponging and head dunking at every aid station ate up a lot of time!). I was really struggling. I had sworn off all future Ironmans and endurance events and a nice lady at the last aid station walked a few feet with me and told me I had to keep going and that I would be so happy when I got to the finish. Through the cobbles of Roth I distinctly remember the church bells ringing. I should have clued in that that meant the top of an hour but it didn’t and all I thought was they sounded nice. I didn’t even think to look at my watch.

Around a couple more bends and suddenly I was running “fast” and I was in the finish stadium. Roth has the best finish line I’ve seen. They build a stadium and fill it with screaming fans and we get to run a lap around before hitting the finish line. It was exhilarating.

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The run around the stadium was the best!!

As usual I needed to lay down after the finish. Although I was eventually asked to move to the athletes’ area I did get a nice break for a few minutes. This was the first time I looked at my watch. 12:04?? I was sure my Garmin was wrong. It must have stopped somewhere. There’s no way I did that. I was expecting 12:45. I was/am completely pleased with myself with this result. Could I have found 4 minutes somewhere? Yeah, probably, because 11:xx would have been cool but for now, this is just awesome. And thankfully, I have FINALLY run under 5 hours (4:43!) in an Ironman marathon, and there’s more to go from here!!

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I love Challenge Roth!

Post Race: Showers and fireworks

In Roth, there are enough massage volunteers for every athlete to get a massage. It was amazing. There must have been 100 tables set up! In Ironman there’s like 6. My stomach wasn’t working well enough yet for food but I did get to enjoy 6 or 7 cups of tropical fruit juice, which was cold, and helped me forget about the pineapple juice.

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Challenge Roth 2016 finisher! And a shiny new 56min IM-distance PR

Roth also has showers available for post race, I think mostly because they want everyone to stay around for the last finisher and the fireworks. The showers are single stalls but the shower area is co-ed, of course, it’s Europe, so that was a bit shocking! I didn’t feel like standing in line with a bunch of naked guys so I tried to change as discreetly as possible in a corner and I found a great spot in the stands to spend the next few hours.

The finish line was a huge party. The couple sitting beside me were from a town about 30 minutes away, they didn’t know anyone running, but they just came to Roth for the day to cheer on the athletes and attend the finish line party because they said it’s the best party of the year! (Hard to believe with Munich and Oktoberfest being only a couple of hours away, but whatever!)

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Enjoying the finish line party

Roth is the best race, tied with Boston, that I’ve ever done. Everyone needs to put this on their list. It will be hard to do another Ironman after this because nothing will compare! Now I’ve successfully ruined marathons and Ironman in the same year!

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Staying until the last finisher and the fireworks is a must!

 


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Boston Marathon 2016

On April 18, 2016 I ran the 120th Boston Marathon! It was a wonderful day, fabulous, amazing day, a true highlight of my life.

I did not have the run I was capable of or that I trained for but the experience was better than I could have imagined and exactly what I wanted. I finished in 4:05:30, in great spirits with tears of joy and pride in my eyes. The Boston Marathon is truly like runners’ heaven and in my opinion completely lives up to and surpasses all the hype around it. At this point I sometimes can’t think about running another marathon because I don’t think any other race will ever live up to Boston!

I will write a separate blog about the days leading up to the race and after the race in an attempt to keep this post manageable 🙂

And before I forget I want to say thank you to my mom for being my number 1 supporter, race sherpa, cheerer, and travel companion. Also my friends and family deserve a big thanks for putting up with me, especially Rob for doing all my long runs with me, even when he wasn’t training for a marathon. Thank you!!

Getting the unicorn jacket is the biggest reason I wanted to run Boston. This is what the unicorn means.

Race Morning

Boston has a totally civil start time with the elite women starting at 9:32am, followed by the elite men and then four waves. I was in wave three with a start time of 10:50am. My alarm went off around 6:30am. I had a great sleep and felt very rested and happy. On the TV all the Boston stations were reporting on the race, with reporters in Hopkinton and at the finish line. It was all very exciting! I got dressed (bright orange shorts!) and ate a bagel and my mom and I were out the door about 7:15am. The walk from the Sheraton to Boston Common took about 20 minutes. There were already a lot of spectators nabbing prime viewing spots on Boylston! At Boston Common there were about 100 school buses (a bit of an exaggeration but not much!) waiting to drive us out to Hopkinton. It was a very impressive set up and clearly the Boston Marathon people know how to organize a race! My wonderful friend Farida who came all the way from Calgary to see me for 2 seconds in the race met us at Boston Common as well. It was so awesome to see her! I have the most amazing friends. (My friend Liz was also planning to come to Boston but she had a passport mixup and unfortunately couldn’t make it.)

With Farida in Boston Common before getting on the bus


I said goodbye to my mom and Farida because I wouldn’t see them until the last turn onto Boylston later that afternoon. On the bus I sat beside a nice woman from California. The ride took about 1 hour and all I could think was this took 1 hour to drive here and now I have to run all the way back!

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I was so scared of being cold I was wearing 2 sweaters! Din-o-mite!!

Every day leading up to the race had been quite cold. Like around 2C in the mornings and warming up to less than 10C in the afternoons so it was chilly! Also I packed a little light so I would have room in my bag for all the Boston gear I knew I was gonna buy 🙂 This meant I was pretty cold in the days leading up to the race and I was SO worried about being cold in Hopkinton and during the race. Spoiler: I shouldn’t have wasted  a single second worrying about being cold!

In Hopkinton

As we arrived in Hopkinton at the high school the sun was shining and the sky was bright blue. I immediately had to remove the garbage bag I was wearing because I was too hot and already sweating! There were race organizers with megaphones directing the athletes towards 2 large fields and the most porta potties I’ve ever seen. That also came with the longest line ups for porta potties I’ve ever seen. It was insanity. Here’s a tip: the line ups in the corners of the field are WAY shorter, like a quarter of the length. My stomach seemed to be working great and I got my stretches done on the grass. The air was buzzing with excitement and actual buzzing from 2 or 3 helicopters making circles above. The US Army did a fly-by with 2 BlackHawk helicopters and the US Coast Guard flew over as well. This race is the real deal!!

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The arm warmers didn’t last too long after this photo!

It was already hot. Not unmanageably hot, but hotter than it had been. I had to ditch my nice new arm warmers and sweats before I even left the high school. The walk to the start corrals is a little less than a mile. It felt like a big parade. People were sitting on their front porches watching and cheering. There were tables set up with sunscreen (so thankful for that!) and for clothes drop. I wasn’t nervous just really excited to get running.

Thumbs up before the start

On the way to the corrals I heard someone say my name behind me. Turns out it was Kristie from Calgary who I was “supposed” to run with at home because a mutual friend said we run about the same pace. We had never been able to meet in Calgary and the first time we met was right before the start of the Boston Marathon! That was awesome.

The starting gun went off for the start of wave 3 and we started moving towards the start line. Immediately I started bawling my eyes out. Oh boy, this was gonna be a long day if I was crying already! A lady was trying to talk to me, I have no idea what she was saying, but all I knew is I couldn’t believe I was actually at the start line of the Boston Marathon and it was too much for me to comprehend. There were TV cameras all over and apparently I made it onto race coverage waving at the camera!

The First 12km

I had been warned and read a lot about not starting off too fast. It’s a bad idea in any marathon but especially Boston because the first part of the race is downhill. The corrals are organized so everyone is your corral has a similar qualifying time so technically you should all be running the same pace. I just went with the flow, actually a little slower than the flow. Right from the first step whatever pace I was running felt harder than it should. Even if I slowed down I still felt like I was working too hard. I wasn’t that concerned because I had a long way to go and if I just kept running then likely things would turn around.

Air time

The sidelines of the course were completely packed with people going crazy cheering for us. I ran on the side so I could high five all the people along the way. I ended up running pretty much the whole race with my hand up high fiving so no wonder my shoulders were so sore the next day! All along people were sitting in the front yards having barbeques and drinking beer. Jealous!

At about 2km I saw a girl wearing Canadian stuff and with an Ironman Canada tattoo. I came up beside her and said I had the same tattoo as her. We talked about Ironman and Boston and where we had qualified. It turns out we both qualified at CIM and finished within 1 minute of each other and we’re pretty sure we had this exact same conversation at CIM! And then to top it all off her name is Amy too! That was a really cool coincidence! I guess Canadian Amy’s stick together!

Not too long after meeting Amy I heard my name again, this time attached to “Betty!” It was my Team Betty teammate Ginny hauling ass through us all. She qualified for Boston in Kona (seriously!) and this was her first marathon. And she was going for it, running so fast! She said “come run with me!! You can do it!” I would have loved to, and I did for 1km or so (which was my fastest km all day!) before I had to tell her to go on her own badass way because I couldn’t hang on.

Unfortunately I continued to feel just off. I couldn’t get anything out of my legs. My pace dropped significantly after 12km (still a long way to go!) and it still felt like I was pushing too hard. But nothing was wrong. My stomach wasn’t hurting. My legs weren’t sore. I felt rested and excited. It was hot, yes, but not outrageously hot and I felt I was managing it well – although I was dumping water on me every aid station, ironman style, and putting ice down my top and in my hat and I would be dry by the next aid one mile down the road. It just didn’t feel like anything was wrong that I could fix. I chalked it up to sadly just having a bad day, because those happen. When you’re having a bad day for no specific reason there’s not much you can do except keep moving forward. The only thing I knew was that I wasn’t going to let a bad day ruin my Boston Marathon experience.

Somewhere in the middle

I continued to high five everyone who had their hand up. Through the course of 42.2km I probably high fived at least 1000 people. It was awesome. The energy from the crowds was so surprising. As runners, we were all saying “this is insane! There’s so many people!” and we could hear the spectators saying “this is crazy! There’s so many runners!” The crowds were 5-10 people deep in many spots!

I loved the Boston accent. Every mile I heard “wah-tah! I have wah-tah!” and it always made me giggle. In between the aid stations, random people (lots of them!) had set up their own aid stations: ibuprofen, oranges, water, freezies (I had 2! best freezies of my life!), and the weirdest thing people were handing out was wet paper towels. I grabbed one but it was too weird to use!

Two of the funniest signs I remember were: 1. a photo of Bernie Sanders, saying “feel the Bern!” and 2. a photo of Trump, saying “if he can run, so can you!”

I was running on the right side of the road and suddenly I saw a golden retriever up ahead on the left side. I can’t remember at which point this was but I needed a hug! I cut straight across and as I came up on the dog I saw he was wearing a service dog vest which typically means they’re working and you can’t pet them. I think his owners saw my face drop and said immediately “you can pet him!” I went right for the hug and he was so nice! I felt so much better!

There were a lot of Canadians in the race, all decked out in maple leafs so there were so many cheers of “Go Canada!” There were also seemingly a lot of Amy’s in the race so I felt like I was being cheered along the whole way! My Betty kit got a lot of love as usual so I also heard a lot “Go Betty!”

So much of my race was spent running with my hands in the air

There was a guy with a megaphone and a bunch of signs in front of his automotive shop telling us to “look right!” so we could see ourselves in the windows!

If you know anything about the Boston Marathon, one of the things everyone talks about is the girls at Wellesley College and their scream tunnel. I am here to confirm the rumors are true: you actually CAN hear them from a mile away! Never have I heard screaming like that before, even at a Backstreet Boys concert. They were all holding signs like “kiss me, I’m from Colorado” “Connecticut loves kisses” “kiss me if you love California.” A few men running in front of me bee-lined over to kiss a few girls. I didn’t want to feel left out of all this kissing a Wellesley girl fun, so I got a kiss too!

Heartbreak Hill

Another famous landmark (maybe the most famous?) of the Boston Marathon is Heartbreak Hill. The expo is filled with gear representing Heartbreak Hill so it’s hard to ignore!

You enter Newton and the Newton hills around mile 16. It’s a terrible place to insert hills into a marathon! The hills weren’t so terrible but they definitely take a bite out of your pace, so yes, I DID notice them! I did not walk up any hills but LOTS of people were walking. There are 4 hills and I found the first one to be the worst but the crowds here were some of the largest and loudest the whole day.

At about 30km a girl ran up to me and just started talking to me. I was not in the mood to talk, she even said she had tried to talk to someone else and they basically told her to stop talking or move on! I wasn’t so abrupt but it was a one-sided conversation. We were both looking for our friends who she thought might be coincidentally standing together! Luckily I saw a pink sign up ahead with my name on it held my by amazing friend Alyson. I got a human hug this time (sorry for the sweaty hug, Alyson!) and she gave me energy to keep going. I think I mentioned to her that I was having a tough day but everything was otherwise awesome.

Half way!

And then I had a beer. At the bottom of Heartbreak some college kids were handing out beer and I’m not really one to pass up a free beer, I didn’t think it would make me feel worse (it didn’t), and just why not?! The beer was delicious. Shortly after I ran up to the Betty cheering section of Alett and Lisa. They were wonderful and encouraging.

The sign that said “Top of Heartbreak Hill” was amazing but the breeze coming in off the ocean was not! I had been so hot, trying to keep cool with water and ice, but now the breeze cooled me down too much so I actually had goosebumps! There was just no winning on this day!

To the Finish

It didn’t seem possible but after Heartbreak the crowds grew even bigger. I was still high fiving and saying thank you to the volunteers. So many of them were saying thank you back to us for running

All the photographers are not-so-conveniently situated in the last 3 miles of the course. How the hell do you get good photos in the last 3 miles of a marathon! Those are the absolute worst miles!!

I was waiting, and waiting, and waiting to see the famous Citgo sign, which means 1 mile to go. However you can see it from about another mile away so really it seems like you’re never going to get there. The Red Sox game at Fenway had ended so there were lots of baseball fans cheering us on. The Citgo sign was still looming away in the distance and I had definitely slowed my pace yet again, but I didn’t have a complete meltdown, mental or physical, like I’ve had in the past. I *still* have yet to figure out how to properly run the last 3 miles of a marathon, 5 marathons and counting, so I’ll just have to keep trying.

As bad as I was feeling there were A LOT of people who were A LOT worse off than me. I actually can’t remember another race when I’ve seen so many people walking in the last 3 miles. That really surprised me. Boston is supposed to be the best of the best runners and still, there was massive carnage out there.

Finally I ran up alongside the Citgo sign, there’s a banner painted across the street stating “1 mile to go!” and there’s race photographers there! Of course! I knew there would be a couple dips and rises to negotiate (that feel like Mt Everest at 25 miles in) because my mom and I had walked the BAA 5km 2 days prior. The dip under the underpass came and went and I hardly noticed, and immediately we were making the “right on Hereford, left of Boylston.”

The Citgo sign! 1 mile to go! And both feet are in the air!

I had asked my mom to stay at the left hand turn on the Boylston because it was easy access for her from the Sheraton and I would know where to look for her. Coming up the hill on Hereford I saw my mom jumping up and down and waving her pink sign like crazy. She was way over on the left, sort of off the course so I veered around a little barricade to give her a hug. I was in full-on tears. I don’t remember what we said to each other but my mom told me afterwards that a lady standing close to her got choked up seeing my hug my mom and her be so happy for me.

Hands in the air all the way down Boylston to the finish

I ran back around the barricade and heard my name again and it was Farida and Tae screaming at me! I blew them kisses, got some in return and turned to face the finish line. It’s probably a 400m straight shot down Boylston with huge crowds on both sides and eventually grandstands on the right. I ran the entire way down Boylston crying and waving my arms in the air. I tried to savour every second of that stretch and I felt like I didn’t want it to end! It was the most exciting and meaningful finish line I’ve experienced.

The best finish line ever!

Post-race

The top-notch organizing continued with people sitting up high megaphones directing us through water, food, medal lines and towards the family meeting area. Somewhere after the water and before the food I really wanted to lie down. Laying down after a race or a hard run is my thing. I am usually fine, I just want to stop moving and lay down for a few minutes. So I picked a nice curb and made my way down to the ground. Like 10 seconds after a nice EMS lady asked me if I needed a wheelchair (Boston accent). I thought to myself for a second that a wheelchair would be heavenly but then they’d probably wheel me into medical and I did NOT want to go there and there were probably lots of other runners who actually needed the wheelchair. I replied I didn’t need the wheelchair and she said she felt terrible but she couldn’t let me sit on the ground. Oh man. There needs to be a lay down area (that’s not medical) at the end of these races!

Big smiles right after the finish

So I continued on. There were a ton more photographers and then there were dogs. The Boston Marathon has therapy dogs at the finish line. I almost started crying again! I gave a huge hug to the biggest St Bernard I’ve ever seen. For me, having dogs to hug at the finish line was a great service and I think more races should consider this. That was such a good puppy hug!

I should have taken the dog with me to get our picture together!

They make you walk, not even joking, 1km after the finish line to the family meeting area. As soon as I got there and determined I was far away from medical and EMS I finally laid on the ground with my feet up the wall. And no one bothered me. My mom and Farida eventually showed up and my mom brought with her the thing I really wanted; the reason why I wanted to do Boston so much: the unicorn jacket!

This is how my mom found me in the family area – a homeless marathon runner!

The Unicorn jacket with my BostonAmy supporters 🙂

I wore my jacket to sleep that night (obviously) and pretty much all of the next week. The day after the race if you don’t wear your jacket AND your medal, you’re weird. So many people passing on the street offer their congratulations finally you can hit the pub for a beer and the North End for a pastry or Boston cream pie 🙂

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You must wear all things Boston marathon the day after the race including your medal

Final Thoughts

Although I did not have the race I trained for, I had the experience I wanted and at the end of the day, I RAN THE BOSTON MARATHON! I still don’t know what made that day so hard, some weird combination of sun/heat/wind. While I was out there I thought I was the only one feeling so off. But back in the lobby and elevator at the Sheraton that was all everyone was talking about. There were stories of entire run clubs being 20+ minutes slower than expected. The online forums also reflected these same feelings. Of course there were lots of people who had a great day but my observation is the majority of runners were at least 20 minutes slower than what they trained for. 3:45 was very reasonable for me so I fit into this 20 minute slower phenomenon as well. Every step felt like an Ironman marathon. So my takeaway? If I can run 4:05 on day that felt like an Ironman marathon, then I should be able to get close to that in the real thing!

And I’ll get my chance this July (I got a late-entry spot) at Challenge Roth! Two epic, bucket list races in the same year – I’m very lucky!

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Stopping traffic on Boylston


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2 weeks until Boston!

It’s two weeks until the Boston Marathon! Most people I talk to say this must be a dream come true for me. In a way, yes, it absolutely is. But in another way, it’s not quite as simple as that. Boston was never a dream of mine because after my first open marathon (4:48) I was SO FAR away from the qualification standard, so far away from even running under 4 hours, that I couldn’t even dream of running Boston. Yet here I am, 2 weeks away, and it still feels unreal. Almost every run I see someone wearing the famous Boston unicorn jacket and I think “wow, he/she is such a good runner, they’ve run Boston!” and it’s sort of impossible to think that I’m going to get my very own unicorn jacket!

Since running the First Half, I have been happy with my training. It’s been consistent and I’ve felt better mentally since removing pressure from myself to really perform in Boston. Running a marathon hurts at the best of times with the best training and to set a PR, you really have to be willing to suffer. Basically right now, I am just not willing to suffer to get a PR in Boston. It’s just not an important goal for me. I really want to be able to fully enjoy the experience of the crowds and excitement for 42.2km, especially in the last few miles, and I just know myself, that if I am pushing really hard I won’t even notice what’s going on around me, and that’s NOT what I want to happen!

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My original goal was 3:29. I have adjusted to a loose goal of 3:39. That would meet the Boston qualifying standard again for me but it wouldn’t be fast enough to gain entry for the 2017 race (I don’t want to run it next year anyway!). However in reality, I’m going to try to be easy on myself and see how I feel on race day as well as taking the weather into account. I am in wave 3, corral 3, starting at 10:50am, so I may not actually start until closer to 11:00am and if it’s a hot day, it’s gonna be a long run through the hottest part of the day! So maybe I will run 3:45? or 4:00? I will run whatever my body will allow me on that day.

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The only snafu in my training came in the middle of March, March 18 to be exact. Why do I remember the date? Because it was one month until Boston. I was in Vancouver for a dental meeting and I met up with a friend from high school to run along the sea wall. We hit some trails through Stanley Park and as we were coming down to the sea wall, I was freaking out about the beautiful weather and the ocean and who knows what else, and I didn’t see the drop down to the running path. All of a sudden I crashed onto the pavement. My left knee took all the impact. I did a quick survey that nothing was broken (except my Betty Designs tights) and continued on the rest of the way. Immediately after I stopped running my knee swelled and got really bruised. I couldn’t touch my knee at all. I did not run the day after because I could barely walk normal, and I tried a 5km run the second day which didn’t go great. My knee felt really unstable, like it was going to give out. After about 10 minutes of limping/running it was like my quads and the other leg muscles kicked in and my knee started feeling more stable. I couldn’t go up or down stairs very well and I couldn’t sit or get up from a chair. There were a lot of one legged “squats” going on! Meanwhile I was panicking a bit. I thought it was a mild PCL sprain. I kept running because after the first 10 minutes it would start feeling better but I couldn’t do really anything at the gym, and skiing was actually the worst for it. My knee definitely did not like the lateral movements involved in skiing. Then all of a sudden two weeks after the fall my knee went back to normal! Thank God! I think the fall caused a lot of swelling and fluid build up in my knee that caused pain and prevented normal movement and function. But all’s well that ends well and I’m back to 100%!

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My training has been really consistent. My legs have felt the best they ever have, I have very little muscle soreness after any run which I attribute to the weightlifting I started in the fall. I am noticing more general fatigue (normal for two weeks out I think!) especially after the long runs but I seemed to recover pretty well after a day of rest.

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At this point I just feel really excited and completely ready to run a marathon and get my unicorn jacket!

(*all photos by Rob Leishman, my personal photographer and running partner!)


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Vancouver First Half Half Marathon

My first race of 2016 was the Vancouver First Half Half Marathon on Valentine’s Day. A while ago my friend Ashley suggested I run it in preparation for Boston, to test my race pace. I couldn’t argue with that, especially since Vancouver is beautiful and it’s hard to pass up a run through Stanley Park! We’ve had an excellent winter in Calgary, not *that* many cold days but in January it had been getting so warm in the days that the remaining snow was melting and dripping on to the pathways which froze into ice at night. So there was a few weeks when the pathways were really slippery, and I even fell (no problem, nothing happened thankfully). I was very much looking forward to ice-free running in Vancouver.

My training for this race and for Boston had been far from ideal. I was not hitting the paces I wanted to be or thiugh I should be hitting at that point. I think largely it’s because I don’t really care. When I was training for CIM to get my BQ, my goal was very well defined (3:30 marathon) with a big reward at the finish (a BQ). And when I qualified, my first reaction was that I want to run Boston for fun and really just enjoy every single aspect of the race experience. But of course ego always has to get in the way of good intentions and I started thinking I wanted a PR and 3:29 or faster. So that’s what I started training for and my mind and body were just not having any of it.

Three weeks into January I fell deathly ill (seriously) with the worst flu I can remember. I have never missed a day of work, ever, and I had to cut 3 days short because I couldn’t function properly. I couldn’t keep any food down high fever, high heart rate, chills, and absolutely zero energy. Anyone who knows me knows I’m up and moving/working/training/busy ALL the time and for 2 weeks all I did was sleep 14+ hours a night and feel like shit. It was insane. I thought I was never going to get better. I couldn’t even walk around the block and I couldn’t even imagine running a marathon at some points. My birthday came at the end of the second week of the flu of hell and that involved a few days in Mexico so I think the warmth and humidity zapped the last little bit of virus out of my body. But that flu knocked me back a solid three weeks of training and once I returned from Mexico (surfing, drinking beer and margaritas, relaxing in the sun, so NOT training) I had 10 days before the half marathon which meant I was heading in super under-trained.

I made the decision to alter my goals for Boston, back to having a really fun race, and deciding I really want my last 3 miles of the marathon to be my best, to not slow down or at least slow down less than I did at CIM. Once I removed the pressure (self-induced, admittedly) my running started feeling better and I went to Vancouver just looking for a catered long run on pathways that weren’t icy.

I wasn’t expecting much. I wasn’t even sure I could break 2hrs. I thought 1:55 would be a good time, at this point. Ashley got me into drinking beet juice so the day before I did something (*gasp!*) you’re not supposed to do and tried something new the day before/on race day! And involving my GI! Fun!!

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I woke up race morning and it was pouring rain. I don’t have a lot of experience running in rain, it doesn’t rain too much in Calgary so I get confused about what to wear. I also prefer to sleep in rather than see the sunrise so at 8:20am I finally left my hotel to run the few blocks to the start line at 8:30am. I was wearing a full sleeve rain jacket and after running the 4 blocks to the start I was already too hot so I ran back to the hotel and changed into a Betty vest and made it back just in time for the national anthem!

I started off very conservative, running around 5:20/km (except for km #2 which was a little hot at 4:52). There were a lot of runners and space on the road was pretty tight. I was feeling really excellent and just enjoying the race.

Somewhere before 10km I heard two guys saying something like “a skull and a butterfly… That’s not something you see together every day…” So I looked around and chatted for a while with them about Betty Designs (how it means girls can look good racing and still kick guys’ asses) and Ironman Canada (they saw my tattoo) until I decided I was still feeling good so I should turn up the pace a bit!

I picked it up to 5:00/km or faster just to see if I could. And I could. My last 6km were all under 5:00/km. No girls passed me, and only 2 guys passed me, and I kept picking people off one by one which is a game I love playing. I kept checking with myself to see if I could hold the current pace and it just kept feeling easy.

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The biggest thing was that my legs were not sore or tired at all! I have been weight training with a personal trainer since September, once a week with her, once on my own, and since January I’ve been doing heavy squats on Wednesdays. Since September I have spent more time in the gym than in my whole life combined and this race was the first time I was able to see what a big difference this extra work was making! It was really cool. I kept expecting my legs to get sore or feel like they wanted to crumble and they never did. Originally I had planned to lift only until race season started but now, after seeing such a big benefit, I’m going to keep up with the weights.

The last kilometre had the biggest incline (of course) but I powered up and raced into the finish line, thoroughly pleased with my finish time of 1:48:22.  Far away from my PR (1:41) and further away from what I think I’m capable of (I think 1:37-1:38 is very doable and I have my eye on sub-1:34 which will be a biggest task!). But at this point, with this training, I was very pleased. It taught me that I need to give myself more credit and believe in myself more (applicable to most aspects of my life!)

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I had Valentine’s day post race poutine lunch with my dad at the Flying Beaver on the way to YVR. The best!


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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!