Saturday, 5 October 2013

The Long Run

"Hey Leigh, I wanted to tell you something" said a lady who I chatted with at the Captains meeting.

"I don't know what your reasons are for doing this, but our son died when he was 3 and a half of cancer, so thank you"

This exchange took place right as the race started, it shook me hard enough that I didn't even get a picture of Lexie taking off. I didn't even see the start, I was unsuccessful at fighting back the tears that came. Whatever anxiety I was feeling dissipated as I knew whatever pain I was in for that day would never compare to what she had been through. I didn't even remember her name, something I feel terrible for, but I know I'll never forget that exchange.

After I spent some time trying to negotiate that exchange in my head, it was time to get going. Jonelle and I wanted to be sure we got to the first exchange early enough to give Lexie directions and get the cheer train started. So we headed out of the starting area and started our long trip north to Blue Mountain. We passed the runners, and the excitement started. I could feel the energy and it was great. We stopped near the first exchange to give Lex the directions she needed and to cheer her on, it was good because we got to see her twice. She looked great in her running skirt and was running strong. I won't spend much more time recapping her morning, she already did a wonderful job of that. I will say though that it was a great time. Cheering, supporting, hanging out. The time flew by and I was more than inspired by the job she did, and the people we met along the way, including a High School Cross-Country team from Mississauga that was running in honour of a teammate who was undergoing cancer treatment at Sick Kids just days before the run. It was an uplifting and encouraging morning.

This is as good of a time as any to thank Jonelle. She gave up her whole Saturday (which is a big sacrifice for someone that works as hard as her) to support us. She provided us with all the help and encouragement we needed, she even took some video and pictures that I hope to share on here soon. So thanks, Jonelle, we couldn't have got to Blue, without you.

Lexie did a great job, and as we waited for her at the 50km mark, I was so proud of her, but also slightly jealous as she was now done this feat we had trained for, and I was staring down the barrel of it.

Because there was no exchange point at 50km, so we exchanged about 3km shy of one of the exchange points.

Getting Ready to go. She looks great for a 50k finisher, no?
My legs were tight to start. Tapering always does that to me, as I had experienced at the Ottawa Marathon. But it was nice to have some supporters drive by in those first few KM. I loved the honking horns and cowbells throughout the run. Large parts of my run took place on trails, and as much as I love me a good trail, I missed the cheering that was present on the road sections of my run.

I'm off
The first three KM were fine, it took me the entire time to warm up, but when you are running 50K, I guess that is reasonable. After 3K, I hit the first exchange point, at which I wasn't planning on seeing anyone, and didn't.

My next leg was 7km, after which I was planning on meeting Lexie and Jonelle to replenish my water and grab some snickers (that's right, 50K run = lots of candy). This leg actually flew by, it was a little hilly, but the rain that plagued Lexie had stopped, I had hit my stride and I felt great. I was clicking off 10 minute miles with ease. Near the end of this leg some kind gentleman flew by me with some encouraging words like "We are are almost there" and"Only one more kilometre". I just played along, had to save my energy. I also saw the lady mentioned at the start of this post. She rolled down her window and yelled "You're KILLING it Leigh!" That put a smile on my face that took a while to wear off.

I hit the exchange, grabbed my new bottles and food, and bolted. Then it got fun. Compared to Lexie's legs, mine were all relatively flat. But this 9+ km leg was rated a 4/5 for difficulty. Which as it turned out, mother nature promptly bumped up to a 5/5. This leg was LONG and HILLY. Which was fine by me, because long was the name of the game that day. However, it was also during this leg that the temperature dropped 7-8 degrees and it was pouring a nice cold rain. Now as you already know, I'm not nearly as tough as Lexie, so this was difficult for me. Although the leg was difficult, I felt good throughout. At one point my hamstrings were doing some kind of cramp they never had before, which was scary for a minute but after about 10 minutes it stopped, and thankfully never returned. The last KM of this leg was mercifully a long downhill. The next transition was kind of funny, I had hit 20K and my legs were starting to feel it, but as I saw Lexie hobble across the road with my water I realized that I was a long way from sore. I grabbed my water and a PB&J sandwich and carried on my way to Stayner, where if you don't know, they make vinegar.

The next leg was perfect. It was all sorts of flat and the rain stopped about 10 minutes in. About half of the 6K took place on a trail in Stayner. It was during this leg that I passed a couple of people, which gave me a bit of a boost because I meant I must have still been running fairly strong. I also had a fun exchange with a guy right near the end of this leg. He ran by me, I smiled and said hi, then a look for recognition cross his face. "Are you running 2 legs?" he asked. "50K" I said. He responded with a quick "You're Crazy" and took off ahead of me. I laughed, I guess I was a little crazy. The leg finished at a school where a whole crew was waiting for me. Lucas, Cooper, Jonelle, Lexie, Oma, Grandpa, TJ, Lesley, Avery, Brooke, Jeremy, Eliza, Grace, and even my dogphew Henry. I was pleased to see them, but by then I had run 26K was getting tired and REALLY needed to pee, so I said a quick Hello and took off for the potty. I was looking forward to this exchange because it had been decided earlier that TJ, my brother-in-law would join me for the next 12K (which was actually longer) leg. Lesley had run with Lexie for a while so I was looking forward to the company.
Heading to the potty!

Support Crew waiting for me at the exchange. Jonelle took the photo!
TJ and I on our way out
After the potty break and a bottle switch and food pickup TJ and I took off for our leg. This leg was 95% on a crushed gravel trail. Which was good for TJ and great for me. Most of this leg flew by as we talked about sports and teaching (the only things we know anything about). However, we were both under the impression that the leg was 12km long, it actually ended up being 14K. I was glad to have TJ with me for those extra 2K because I didn't bring nearly enough fluid for 14K and as a result I was super thirsty. By the time we had finished I had passed the 40.5K. It was here that the pain really started to kick in, it was awesome to have some distraction. This leg wins the award for best ended. As we headed down the never ending trail towards what was the end of the leg, we could see Grandpa up ahead with the kids, what we didn't expect was to be greeting by two mini Darth Mauls and a Hello Kitty. The kids ran in our last few hundred metres with us, which I enjoyed despite the grimace on my face. Lexie was waiting with a clif bar and some gatorade. I had brought along some Coke because I had read somewhere that flat Coke was good for people running Ultra Marathons. I asked Lexie to run and get it from the cooler for me and as I chugged it someone yelled "Get those calories in!" it was a nice boost of support. I drank as much as I could and headed off on my second last leg. I tried to eat the clif bar but it ended up partially chewed on the side of the trail.
Don't get scared now!

The crew that ran me in for the last 100 metres
Get those Calories in!
This leg was very lonely and took longer than it should have. Because the previous leg had been longer than expected, it meant this one was shorter than advertised (4Kish). But I knew that my sisters, Devyn and Kara, my cousin Siobhan, and my Auntie Lynne were waiting for me at the next exchange which made me want it over as fast as possible so I could see them. (they were volunteering at exchange 13, how awesome right?) This leg ran through Collingwood, so I recognized a lot of the sights and it was good to know I was so close (yet so far) from Blue Mountain. Although the leg was short, it was also eventful. Two things of interest happened; First, about a KM in I started to notice my breathing had really intensified, which struck me as odd as I had not picked up my pace at all, as a matter of fact it had slowed slightly. When I checked my pulse, it was somewhere around 170 BPM, which is waaaaaaaay higher than it should have been. I later discovered that it was my body trying to blow off some carbon dioxide to counteract the lactic acid build up in my body. It turns our your body acts up when you push it too hard. The other incident occurred as a turned onto a trail and headed towards towards the final exchange point. I had just passed a guy when I heard a bike bell behind me, I moved to the side, but had no energy to look back. After a few seconds the bike still hadn't passed so I looked back to find a lady mumbling about not moving over or something so I rather impatiently insisted she move along. She did, and so did I. As I approached the exchange I could see my family up ahead, I fought the strong urge to pull a Lexie-esque ugly cry. Which is good because I had very little fluid to spare and sobbing would have increased my already elevated respiration rate. My baby sister Devyn ran to meet me and ran the last few hundred metres with me, which was amazing, I couldn't really talk but managed to let her know I was cramping. She ran and got me a banana, which I ate half of and it really helped. It was such a boost to see everyone at the exchange. I needed some uplifting and some positivity and they provided it. After a quick banana/hug/coke/drink/encouragement stop, I headed off for the home stretch.

Now, one would think that after 44ish KM, 6 would seem like nothing, but I'll tell you what, those 6 were the hardest work I had ever done. The first 3 were a straight shot down a loooooong path. It seemed like forever by the time I had got the end of the path where the "Halfway" sign was. A nice volunteer was there and I blurted out "Is this really halfway?", he responded with a chipper "Yep, you are almost there!" I think we had our signals crossed because what I meant was "Are you $#@#ing serious, I still have THREE KILOMETRES TO GO!". The last three KM were on some familiar roads around Blue Mountain. I will save you the details, but the recurring theme of this part of the leg involved me turning a corner thinking it was the end, only to find something other than the finish line ahead. It was on this leg that I thought a lot about the exchange I had at the start line. I thought a lot about the pain that families go through losing a child. I thought a lot about Cooper and how lucky we are to have him healthy and with us. I knew the pain I was in was nothing compared to the pain people feel every day when they lose a child. I knew we were the lucky parents who took their boy home from Sick Kids, and the least we could do was give back.

I finally turned onto the road that leads into the Blue Mountain village. I could hear cheering and smell BBQ and knew I was near the end. I turned a corner and saw what I had been dreaming of for the last 49.6KM; Lexie standing on the road waiting to run with me to the finish. As I approached, she crossed the road and joined me and we headed for the finished line. I again fought the urge to ugly cry and instead asked Lexie somewhere between 100-200 times if we were "there yet". As a side note, as I approached her I also saw Jonelle running towards the village. It turns out I had surprised them and arrived a little earlier than anticipated. All turned out fine though, and as we approached the village, there was Grandpa with my boys. I was about to do it. I grabbed Lucas' hand and we ran the last 100 metres to the finish line. I was exhausted and sore, but it was a great feeling. Crossing that line was the culmination of a lot of things, and the feeling was surreal.

We had done it. Set another goal and realized it. In a word, I was grateful.

Smiles of gratitude

Still to come: Post Race party, Custom Tshirts, Thanks, and more!

Thursday, 3 October 2013

This Blog Post Is Brought To You By The Letters R and H

So it's been over a week and writing about our race has been weighing on me.  You see, it really was an amazing and life changing sort of experience, and I just can't work out in my head what I want to say, and how I want to say it.  I fear that I just can't do it justice.  So I have decided just to give it a go, and I hope that I can convey to you what a wonderful day it was, and maybe encourage you to join us next year!  This will be coming to you in instalments, because as we learned, 100km is a long, long way, and it's going to take awhile to tell this story.

After very carefully overpacking out of fear of needing something we didn't have, and picking Lucas up from school on Friday we headed into Brampton to spend the night at my parents' house.  Our traditional pre-race dinner is pizza, so we hit one of our favourite pizza places, Mackay Pizza, for dinner.  We hung out, made PB&J sandwiches to pack in the cooler, laced our heart beads onto our shoes, and headed to bed early.  As we settled into bed we heard the Rain start.

My alarm woke me at 5am and I was filled with nervous, excited energy.  We showered, because we at least wanted to start out the day clean, packed up the cooler and van and headed out to pick up Jonelle, in the Rain.

We arrived in the dark, and the Rain, at North Hill Park Community Centre where the race would begin.  It was then that we realized that this was different then any of the other races that we have run before.  There were tents set up in the parking lot, light refreshments, a tent to check in, a tent to pick up our GPS pack, cowbells which we grabbed for the kids and a palpable feeling of camaraderie, of acceptance, and gratitude, of team spirit and excitement.  It was an eclectic group of runners.  you could look around and see obviously avid, seasoned runners, beginners, and people who were stepping out of their comfort zone. We love all races, and we love runners and the running community, but there really was something different and special about the feeling there.  So many people coming together for one purpose.
Photo Credit: Patti&Co.Photography

After several nervous washroom breaks, filling my fuel belt, almost forgetting to take some immodium (just to be safe), retying my shoes 42 times (why are my shoes never tight enough, or never loose enough on race day?), and rolling out my calves we headed to the start line, in the Rain.

To be honest I am not sure how the race started!?  We were all waiting there behind the starting line to go, and then we were off.  I can't recall a horn, or gun, or countdown...Not sure if I was oblivious or what.  But we were off, in the Rain, and I was consciously reigning myself in.  That was the unique nature of this race for us.  Many of the people busting a move off the starting line were running that 8.5km leg only, some would be running a couple of legs, but I knew I had to save my legs, because I had a lot of Hills to climb and a lot of distance to cover.  This was perhaps one of the most mentally difficult things, I wanted to bust a move too, I'm a runner, when I see other runners busting a move in a race I naturally quicken my pace.  No one wants to be the only one not busting a move!  But I overcame my natural tendency to race everyone, and stuck with my plan, 10 minute (or so) miles, climb the Hills steady and strong, let my legs go on the downhills, eat, hydrate, and feel strong but spent at the end.

Photo Credit: Patti&Co.Photography

I fell into pace with a couple of other runners on that first leg and we chatted easily through the constant Rain and up and down the Hills, and maintained that 10ish minute/mile pace.  We approached Albion Hills Conservation Area, where transition 1 was (the course had 14 transition points, which is where teams check in and switch runners).  As 50K runners we did not need to check in, and did not need to switch runners, so as instructed by the race organizers we would just run through the transition points and continue on our way.  Thankfully Leigh and Jonelle had their ears to the ground and waited at the turn leading to transition point one to let me know that I did in fact need to run into the conservation area, I did not need to check in, but this transition point was so far off the main route I would have lost 2km had I just run through.  I was glad that they figured this out, but a little less glad when I saw the huge Hill someone accidentally left right in my way.
Photo Credit: Patti&Co.Photography
I continued on to transition two at Palgrave Public School feeling great.  My breathing was easy, my legs felt good, my taper had worked, and all those Hill repeats in training were paying off.  We treated each transition point as an aid station.  Leigh would fill bottles of Nuun, water, or Gatorade and meet me at the side of the road with the bottles and something to eat.  I would try to hand him my empty bottles, which turned into me dropping my empty bottles as I ran by, he would hand me full bottles, something to eat, and ask me what I wanted at the next transition.  It worked out perfectly and allowed me to rehydrate and refuel without having to stop running.  The transitions were also great indicators of progress.  Mentally ticking off transition points helped the miles to fly by.

Between transition points three and four TJ, Lesley, Eliza, and Grace (my brother, SIL, and nieces) drove by honking their horn.  This could not have come at a better time.  This portion of the race was on a Hilly, winding, unpaved road.  Because it had been Raining for so long, parts of this unpaved road were very mushy.  My feet would get pulled into the muck as I ran, sucking strength and energy out that I couldn't spare.  The car horns, and cow bells and cheering out of windows was awesome throughout the whole race, but when I realized that it was my people I was super excited!  I came into transition 4 and saw the girls holding their awesome signs.  I stopped for a quick hug and kiss, got new bottles and a handful of peanut M&M's and headed off again.  M&M's were not sitting well, so most of them got tossed to the side of the road.  I apologize to the mama birds and field mice for feeding their babies junk food.
Photo Credit: Patti&Co.Photography

Photo Credit: Patti&Co.Photography
I would next see Lesley et al. at exchange point five where Lesley was very generously waiting to run two legs with me.  At this point in the race I was really grateful for the company.  I had been running  by myself for quite awhile.  It was nice to have someone to chat with.  Lesley's physical and emotional presence, and fresh running legs helped pace me through that "I have already run so far, but I still have so far to go" part of the run.
As we approached exchange point six I realized that my Mom, the boys, and my sister had arrived.  I was thrilled to see my adorable boys standing in the Rain at the side of the road, ringing their cowbells like crazy people.  It was such a sweet sight and SO encouraging.  Stopped for a quick hug and kiss, because I can't resist them, and made a port-potty stop that I also couldn't resist at the time.  Luckily the people in line graciously allowed me to cut in when I explained that I was running 50K and going straight through, not waiting for a teammate to arrive to start a leg.

Coming into exchange point seven was when I really started to feel the strain of the distance, the Rain, and the Hills that I had conquered thus far.  I was nearing marathon distance and my quads and knees were telling me so.  When I talked to Lesley about it later she said that she knew that I was hurting because all of a sudden I became very quiet.  It was much like that long runs that Leigh and I had done together in training.  At some point near the end the conversation would stop, we would begin to conserve all the energy we could, and become singularly focused just to continue to move forward.  Being an awesome running partner, Lesley knew that at this point all that I needed was for her to be there, and she ran silently beside me, willing me forward.  We came into transition seven where everyone was standing at the side of the road cheering.  I squatted for a few seconds to stretch my knees and quads while Leigh gave me two full water bottles.  At this point I was feeling VERY pukey and knew that water was likely all my stomach would tolerate.  I had jelly beans in my Fuel Belt that I would use if I needed anything to eat.  As I ran off Lesley shouted after me "only 8.9K to go, you can do it."
Pain Face
Everyone loaded into their cars and after a few minutes my caravan of supporters drove by me cheering, honking horns, and ringing cowbells.  After they passed I burst into a full on ugly running cry.  I was so close to reaching my goal, and I was so overwhelmed with all of the support I had received along my way.  I was able to pull myself back together.  I had 8.9km to go and it was going to take some grit and determination to get there.  My pace slowed a bit, the upHills became more difficult, and my quads screamed on every downHill.  One runner passed me with a chipper "hi" on her way by.  I reminded myself to run my own race, to remember how far I had come (literally), how many Hills I had climbed, and decided not to get down on myself because someone had passed me.  The last 2K were hard.  My breathing had became rapid and loud.  The race was no longer a physical challenge, this was all mental, it was all an exercise in mentally overcoming the pain, and mentally willing myself to go on.  As I literally approached the realization of my goal I reflected back to where it began.  I thought about that afternoon on December 12th, 2012 when I sat frantic on the couch the day before Cooper's surgery, that was when I found, that was when we started on the path towards this goal, that's when we decided this was how we could give back.  I thought about all of the fear, and pain, and dedication, and passion, and love, and perseverance, and commitment, and support that all came together to make accomplishing this goal possible.  Finally I saw them in the distance, it was just the push I needed, 50K was right there.  I ran/hobbled as fast as I could right into Leigh's arms.  I had done it.
Stretching out my arms, not adopting a new running style.  Even my elbows were sore by the end

My bib did not survive the Rain!
p.s.  My Garmin read 5:11:17 when I was done.  I can proudly say that I ran the whole 50K with no walking breaks.  With 2 quick hug breaks, 1 quick potty break, and 1 quick stretch break we figure my official time would be around 5:14.

p.p.s.  It Rained for every second of that 5:14.

p.p.p.s.  In case you can't tell this post was brought to you by R for RAIN, and H for HILLS