A Bit of a Catchup on Many Things…

What a mad year it’s been.  I clearly fell behind with the old blog thing – with a lot of stuff going on in life and work.  Essentially the combination of working hard, training hard, racing hard, and playing hard (not-to-mention Game of Thrones, Marco Polo, Daredevil, etc, etc…) has left me neglecting my humble little nook on this big old internet.  So here’s a quick recap of my running happenings  – since I last posted following last year’s epic West Highland Way Race.

New Team, Fatigue, and Rebuilding from Ground Zero

Following the summer Scotland trip in 2014, I travelled back to San Diego and chilled out for many weeks – feeling rightfully pretty trashed after my first hundred(ish) miler.  My body did appear to feel recovered pretty quickly though (schoolboy error – see later), so I threw my name in for a local 10K – the Scripps Ranch Old Pros 10K – on the 4th July!  This would be my first race with my new club – Prado Racing Team (or PRT – which sounds much less poncy).  I’d never met most of them, but I toed the line in my red vest with them, and went on to set a new PR of 36:40.  Clearly I was on the mend.  Clearly!  Right??

Naw.  Not right.  Not at all.  I’d read and heard much about adrenal fatigue – where an overworked body’s adrenal glands fail to produce enough cortisol and other crucial hormones, leading to a massive reduction in exercise capacity, as well as a lack of motivation and general vitality (cortisol powers metabolism, maintains blood pressure, amongst other handy things in life).  I figured my addictive personality and fondness of racing put me at high risk of getting something like this – and following that 10K I felt super depleted on my training runs – so I sensibly got on my bike instead.  I also grabbed every introductory offer I could find at the local yoga studios.  If I wasn’t running, I would damn well do something to stop becoming a blob!  A month of near daily yoga (some easy, some brutal, and some kinda dancy; I was hooked!) coupled with my pretty healthy vegetarian diet really turned things around.  I even took up drum lessons for the first time time in ten years – to occupy my time (like I needed another thing to get into!).

I had long since signed up for the America’s Finest City Half Marathon in mid-August, and decided to run it despite not being in decent running shape.  It was a hot one, but it went OK.  I was eight seconds slower than the previous year.   Not too shabby for just turning up and racing.  I’d now focus hard on building my speed – with regular tempo runs and track sessions.  Track was entirely new to me, but my teammates at PRT kindly took me under their wing and introduced me to some killer routines they do regularly.  I puffed and panted my way round the many laps of increasingly-concerning tempo – constantly in their dust!  Nonetheless, I hadn’t felt so fulfilled and accomplished from my training in a very long time.  I was getting faster!

Also at around this time, I was recommended to a local chiropractor by my Mission Bay tempo run buddy, Chris.  Dr Devin Young – of Intouch Chiropractic in San Diego – is a superhero in my eyes.  I’d occasionally see Meb Keflezighi (2014 Boston marathon champ, and a San Diegan) leaving the practice after his treatment – so you can’t help but take confidence from that!

Meb gifted his winning Boston bib to Dr Young. How cool is that?!
Meb gifted his winning Boston bib to Dr Young. How cool is that?!
The natural progression of events when you find Mebs bib sitting in front of you
The natural progression of events when you find Mebs bib sitting in front of you

 

Dr Young found a few alignment issues in my neck and got me on a program that quite simply was the single most effective change in my training program ever.  The treatment instantly kickstarted my vitality and lust for life, and got me to heights of physical fitness and speed I thought I’d never reach.  I know, it sounds like I totally drank the chiropractic Kool-Aid, but along with his advice on form and technique (he’s no slacker in a pair of sneakers himself!) he really got my running mojo back on track, and fast.   Like I said – superhero!

After AFC Half, I was off to New Hampshire to take on the Presidential Traverse with my NJ trail running crew – following our R2R2R adventure in the Grand Canyon the year prior.  Another missed blog opportunity for sure.  That was a fun one!  And then it was back across the country, and time to train hard once more – for the big winter ultras.

Dixon falls into a hole on our way down from Mount Madison. One of us had to! Presidential Traverse weekend - in beautiful New Hampshire. Man I flew I a lot last year...
Dixon falls into a hole on our way down from Mount Madison. One of us had to! Presidential Traverse weekend – in beautiful New Hampshire. Man I flew I a lot last year…

Racing Again, but All Over the Shop!

I had interspersed my PRT duties (some short USATF cross-country fall events around San Diego county) with some more of the XTERRA SoCal Trail Series races that I loved so much from the previous season.  I’d already won my age group in the XTERRA SoCal Trail Series, netting me an automatic entry to the Nationals at a ski resort in Utah (I later found you could just buy an entry to these “Nationals”!  D’oh!).  Anyway, I turned up and grabbed 16th (second age group) place and was delighted with that given the depth of the field – and given that I ran it the day after a beastly 20 miler at altitude.  That back-to-back weekend was my way of training for the inaugural North Face Utah 50 in Park City two weeks later – my first exposure to racing at 10,000ft and a race I would massively recommend to everyone – runners and spectators alike.  Crew and supporters simply have to ride the chairlift up to the main aid station – which is visited twice!  How easy is that?  I placed 13th (first age group) – netting me yet another pair of armwarmers I think.  Oh the glitz of it all!

XTERRA Nationals in Ogden, Utah. Photo credit: Some rip-off race photo organisation
XTERRA Nationals in Ogden, Utah. Photo credit: Some rip-off race photo organisation.  Sue me
Riding the lift with Al after TNF 50 in Park City
Riding the lift with Al after TNF 50 in Park City
You always make friends on the lifts
You always make friends on the lifts
Red Pine Lake. A nice treat after a long climb up
Red Pine Lake. A nice treat after a long climb up

My usual December pilgrimage to the North Face San Fran 50 ended with a second DNF (2 finishes, 2 DNFs – both on wet years) – after twice rolling my right ankle – which I damaged badly during an overzealous turkey trot the weekend prior (trying to stick with a rather speedy girl who was laying down a crazy pace!).  I bailed at 50k, but got to see the leaders finish which was really awesome and something I don’t tend to get to see!  I even managed to trigger the timing belt at the finish line (I left my bib in my pocket) and somehow registered myself as 18th place.  It was only when I received a bunch of congratulatory texts from San Diego friends that I realised what had happened!!!  The ensuing emails I got from pissed off Team Nike Trail members weren’t the politest, but I duly contacted the race organisers and iRunFar.com – who had very quickly published the results (hence the pissed off proper elite runners who’s placement I properly screwed up!).  Everything was resolved by the next morning.  I finally got my moment of glory though on an iRunFar race recap!  Winner!!  :)

Other big ticket items that I really should have posted separately include Avalon 50 on Catalina Island in January with my PRT “Mountain Division” buddies,  Rocky Raccoon 100 in Texas two weeks later with my NJ friends, and a return to the Big Sur Marathon in April with other NJ friends – Denis and Angie.

I was delighted with 7th place at a muddy Avalon 50 – a race perhaps best known for madman Dean Karnazes running 100 miles from San Diego to Long Beach, then kayaking 26 miles to Catalina, then running the race!  This race was a great experience – mainly because I got to be the “sensei” and see my aspiring San Diego friends kill their first 50 miler – though I’m not sure if they all necessarily caught the ultra bug from that mudfest of a race!

PRT "Mountain Division" at Avalon 50. Mike, Rob, Steve and me. We'd all Top 10 this race, with fellow teammate Fern blazing into 2nd in his first ultra!
PRT “Mountain Division” at Avalon 50. Mike, Rob, Steve and me. We’d all Top 10 this race, with fellow teammate Fern blazing into 2nd in his first ultra!

At Rocky Raccoon a couple of weeks later, I surprised the hell out myself – taking 11th place in a time of 15 hours 19 mins (this would later become the race that really bumped up my ITRA performance index – serving me up a UTMB guaranteed entry spot if I want it!!).  In terms of race experience, I have to be honest and say it was not the most inspiring.  As fun as the whole event weekend is, running five loops of any course is going to get tedious fast, and it really did.  I was so thankful for having Matt and Gene pacing me, and to see Al after each loop – feeding me my strawberries, crisp and beer!  That kept me sane!  As with many races, I said “never again”, but we’ll see how that pans out!  A real special part of the weekend was getting to see my friends Lauren and Heather finish in the AM, and to get the unexpected bonus of seeing friends cheering me through aid stations!  Just have friends around me in a race is rare for me and my travelling hobo ways.  Speaking of which, we slept in the back of a rental car after that race.  No issues at all :)   You really can’t beat the euphoria of a painful race finally being over, and getting to agonizingly shower your chafed bits, drink beer, vomit it right back up, then fall instantly asleep in the back of your rental car.  Now THAT’S how you treat a lady to a good weekend!

Mid race (I can tell by the smiling) at the Rocky Raccoon 100
Mid race (I can tell by the smiling) at the Rocky Raccoon 100
I ran 5 loops of 20 miles each. Prize: belt buckle. You really can't beat the euphoria of a painful race finally being over, and getting to agonizingly shower your chafed bits, drink beer and vomit it right back up, then fall instantly asleep in the back of your rental car. THAT'S how you treat a lady to a good weekend!
I ran 5 loops of 20 miles each. Prize: belt buckle.
Anne, Joel, Lauren and Kyle. Lauren's first 100. And what a great crew she had.
Anne, Joel, Lauren and Kyle. Lauren’s first 100. And what a great crew she had.
An emotional Heather - after finishing her first 100 despite having an undiagnosed knee injury even before the race began. So strong! With Gene and Matt - who kindly stepped in and paced me for a while
An emotional Heather – after finishing her first 100 despite having an undiagnosed knee injury even before the race began. So strong! With Gene and Matt – who kindly stepped in and paced me for a while

Recovery from the “Coon” (as I so politically incorrectly referred to it) was remarkably swift.  After some time off and a quick refresher training block, I nabbed 12th (second age group) in April’s Big Sur Marathon – in 2:54:28.  Not a PR by any means, but given the hilliness of that course I was well aware that this was definitely my proudest and strongest marathon performance yet.

Met Big Sur marathon winner Adam Roach in the pub! Denis, me, Adam and his girlfriend
Met Big Sur marathon winner Adam Roach in the pub! Denis, me, Adam and his girlfriend

Unfortunately though, I managed to sabotage my goal race of this year – which was the West Highland Way again.  Going out too fast with a rival runner, and blowing my IT band by mile 40 (his race ended at mile 20), I couldn’t even hike the rest of the race.  It was over.  It was stupid, and very much against my way of doing things.  I felt so bad for my doting crew.  Only beer could resolve my anguish.   And a lovely relaxing trip to Italy with Al!

Start line of the West Highland Way 95 miler - in my hometown, Milngavie
Start line of the West Highland Way 95 miler – in my hometown, Milngavie

 

Apart from WHW and TNF San Fran, these were all pretty solid results by my previous standards – in some big well-stacked races.  My shorter stuff was also improving – with another 10K PR (35:41) and my first ever mile race (5:03) happening in San Diego.  I totally want to smash that 5 min mark by year end!!

Bye Bye for a While, San Diego, Hello North Vancouver!

And so I now find myself living in Vancouver’s North Shore.  Visa issues earlier in the year in the US necessitated that I leave the US for 12 months, and Canada seemed an appropriate place to hide – given the timezone match for my relationship and for my work (which is still for US-based clients).  As luck would have it, Al’s company was very nice about letting her work remotely, so she’s been able to have some extended visits too :)  It’s the old “when life gives you lemons…” adage for sure.  We even managed to incorporate the Big Sur race into the road trip up here!  I had to sacrifice a bunch of other planned SoCal races though – which was a bit of a bummer financially.

Despite the initial upheaval of the relocation a being huge sap on my life – and Allison’s – it’s all stabilizing now (well at least until next year when we’ll have to do it all again in reverse!). I’ve instantly fallen madly in love with the mountains here (Al likes it too!), and the training is the best and most fun I’ve ever had.  Staring up at the local Grouse Mountain every day still gives me a longing to just get up there.  My solitude here led me to quickly get signed up for some Coast Mountain Trail Series races – organized by ultra superstar Gary Robbins – of HURT 100 fame.  He’s actually the man who guided me to North Van – instead of downtown – and I am so thankful for his openness to emails from complete randoms.

My training in the local mountains has been easy to fit into my life – since I’ve mainly been living alone with bugger all else to do!  I’m finding being atop Grouse Mountain or Mount Fromme is the very best corrective measure for a day of being a blob sat in front of a computer screen all day.  Cue hours and hours disappearing into the hills, and racking up training weeks of > 20,000ft elevation gain.

This perfect training paid off with a recent win at the inaugural Buckin’ Hell 50K in July.  And the great thing is I still had buckets of energy left afterwards.  Enough to squeeze in another 25 miler the day after – with a new trail buddy Josh.

Photo credit: http://www.brianmccurdyphotography.com/
Heading towards my first ultra win at Buckin’ Hell in North Vancouver. Photo credit: Brian McCurdy Photography

Suffice to say I went into the recent Fat Dog 120 with buckets of confidence, and high hopes of gaining redemption for my DNF in Scotland, along with getting an all-important Western States 100 and UTMB qualifying race finish.  Oh, and Fat Dog is one of very few remaining Hardrock 100 qualifiers too!  All the more reason to get it done – no matter what!!!

That race report is to follow.  Might take me a while at this rate 😉   I highly recommend you head over here in the meantime and read the report of race winner Nickademus Hollon.  It paints a good picture of what the conditions were like out there.  And he’s my new running coach!!  😀

Thanks so much for reading.  Now I’m all caught up, I can get back to making beer.