Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Closing Credits and Outtakes

This year I have shifted to publishing articles at Spafford Health and Adventure's brand new web space, so this blog will be more or less dormant. The past few years have been challenging, and perhaps because of that I've found it more difficult to share my thoughts here. I'm feeling more myself lately, but also like a different person in many ways than the person who started this blog almost a decade ago as a training journal in preparation for the Rock and Ice Ultra. Since then my running has definitely gone through a shift, where now I am putting a lot of my running focus on coaching others to achieve their goals, which I find extremely rewarding. 

I've pulled together some excerpts from a bunch of things I found in my drafts folder that I never ended up posting. They serve as some random outtakes over the years, to which I've added my present day comments in italics.

September 2010 - Perfection?

Social Media hasn't made this any easier for any of us, that's for sure. 

We live in a world where perfect has, for some reason, become synonymous with polished. Joe Strummer knew not to over-polish his work. He realized that too much polish can rub the magic off, leaving what was once raw and magical, dull and lifeless. Joe quote: "It would be nice to turn on the radio and hear something that didn't make you feel like smashing up the kitchen and strangling the cat." 

We live in a time where it is overvalued to be perfectly polished and sanitized. Individuality is thrown out the window in favour of ubiquitousness, to make everyone just like everyone else.

I love coming back from a trail run with dirt-caked legs, oozing scrapes, bug bites, all dripping sweat and disheveled; it's affirming and makes me feel alive. It's real, and a reminder to live life with the courage to make my own mistakes rather than always playing it safe. To not be a sheep. They get their pretty sweaters stolen All The Time.

June 2011 - Sloth and Gluttony

Wow, shocker! Life and training can catch up sometimes. Nothing to see here.

Time for an update. I'm taking a sloth and gluttony day. I had two naps last night and then slept straight through the night and then slept in this morning. Today I can't stop eating. I'm going with it, and totally enjoying it. Work has been busy and training has been good, so it makes sense to take a day to recharge the batteries.

November 2011 - Too Much of a Good Thing

And also there is no Santa.

In the hours after my first 50 mile race in September, I was very soured on long ultras for what that effort did to my body. I am used to sore muscles, beat up toes, fatigue, etc. after a race, but this one was so different. I felt just utterly wrong in my body internally for hours and hours, and in certain ways it stretched out for a few days.

After a while I figured out that one of the big things I did wrong was to down a bottle of straight water immediately upon finishing. It had heated up a lot, I had sweat a ton, I had taken loads of S-Caps, so I assumed I was probably a bit dehydrated. I didn't clue in fully at the time, but my water/salt balance was now dangerously thrown off, and I had developed the symptoms of hyponatremia.

When that happens, our bodies respond by getting rid of that excess water, kind of like you are a very dry houseplant that you pour tons of water on - it just drains away. TMI for non-runners but that means you need to pee urgently every 10-15 minutes for hours and hours afterwards and you feel like complete hell. In my post-race brain haze, I finally started realizing I needed salt, so I started taking in more and gradually started improving. By the next morning I was feeling much better.

The last two hours of that race I was not having any fun at all. I felt horrible, and couldn't stomach any more gels, which just made my energy plummet all the more. I ran the several hours increasingly on fumes. (I should have switched to a sports drink or cola from the aid stations.) With 6 km to go I told Derrick, "This goes in the big fat Never Again pile." This was just after helpfully informing a young boy that anyone who ever told him ultras were fun was lying. Oh boy. Sorry buddy. 

October 2014 - Two Great Explorers: Bonatti and Horn Charting Their Own Paths

I got lazy and didn't get past some notes for this one, but if you enjoy reading about expeditions, I recommend you check out books by Mike Horn and Walter Bonatti.

Critical Response - Bonatti a lot of criticism and attention

Attitude - hardest, not done before, personal ethic, do whatever it takes

Horn, expeditions 1st, mountains 2nd
Bonatti, mountains 1st, expeditions 2nd

Answer to "Why" - they both have good ones for!!!

Feb 2016 - Pile of Fuel

What I know now that I didn't know when I wrote this: The waves don't stop just because you are drowning and you want them to; and there's a difference between acceptance and surrender. What I'm still learning: Only in the grace of true surrender can we truly find freedom. 

I remember a few years back when the sinking realization hit me that nothing we build up in life has permanence. Like waves on the ocean, everything has to recede. It made me despair to face the reality that everything tangible that supports our happiness is eventually swept away. As I started losing more loved ones, and getting older myself, the question haunted me: What, then, is the point?

Then the terrible wave came that made my mother sick, and swept her away from us too. As close as the cold waters felt, I knew that for me the torture of this wave was to witness, endure, and learn to carry on; and more importantly, to care, to love, and to remember. And to remind myself that in many ways we were still in fact fortunate, even when it most certainly didn't feel that way.

I don't know what it all means, maybe it is random. But I am drawn to figuring out the point, because I don't think I believe in random. I believe in order in apparent chaos, physics in the spiritual, and mathematics in our poetry. No matter how blind they both may be to it, the scientist and the preacher have a point of intersection, and that point is where my truth lies.

I've let my despair, which sometimes flared to anger, mostly go, and am moving towards acceptance. Just like in an ultra when you might ask that same 'what is the point', question, in life it is equally likely to send you down a dark path. Maybe the better question is simply no question at all. Happiness isn't about a set of circumstances; it is a state of mind. That is the hardest and most painful lesson that life is teaching me. 

I'm feeling energy return for other things as that wave recedes farther each day and leaves me free from thrashing to keep my head above water. I'm no longer questioning the point, instead I'm using some of that returning energy and I'm lining up to race tomorrow because it's what I have. I'm writing about it because it is also what I have. To use what we have - by which I simply mean doing that which gives us satisfaction or joy - is to celebrate and honour those we have loved and lost. I'm throwing a match on a huge pile of sorrow and burning it as fuel to eventually transform my tears into joy, and then using that joy as a life raft

June 2016 - Becoming Unstuck - The Delicate Dance of Patience and Action

Fittingly, I only got as far as the title on this one. It pretty much sums up the last couple of years.

July 2017 - Lifting to Failure

Although it did get better, I didn't start really enjoying running again until very recently. I realized I had to give myself permission to be happy again, which I expect is a common hurdle on the path of recovery from significant losses. 

Years before running became a life-changing habit, I started up several times before inevitably putting it on pause and eventually returning with renewed resolve. Even after it became a passion, at times I would struggle with motivation and ways to prioritize energy. Deep down I never questioned I would make it work. 

At times I’ve put my body through more running than is good for me in order to find my breaking point, and then later I'd set out to test it again to see if that point was higher. I’ve nudged myself along the journey from competing against the clock and others; to embracing personal goals to expand those narrow definitions of success; and now where I'm finding such deep satisfaction and joy in coaching others. 

In all my years of running I’ve only ever outright quit once, and that was this April. It wasn’t that I suddenly disliked running, it's just that over the years I had expected it - and relied upon it - to help me structure so much of my life, and to help me through difficult things. I had finally hit a bottom where I had pillaged the bounties to the point the well was dry. In this final spiral I had limped along in my training for nine weeks with nothing but an inertia of identity holding me to it - and that just barely. Not knowing what else to do, I kept waiting for the bottom to fall away and reveal another layer.

But it didn't, so on that day in April I utterly gave up trying. Three days went by, and then I found myself lacing up my shoes. Resurrected. Like in strength training when you lift to failure as a way to get stronger, none of it was pretty. But it has been better since. 

Monday, October 31, 2016

Adding in, Adding on - GPS Notes on Frontenac Challenge

I wasn't aware when planning my Frontenac Challenge that there was a new option this year of swapping a non-official park loop called Moulton Gorge with the standard Little Salmon Loop. I thought of this when, late last week, zooming into my GPS tracks from the confusing second day of Trail Trek for Judy where Carolyn and I did 5 loops, I realized there was a 500m section of Tetsmine loop along the top of Lynch Lake that I somehow missed! I couldn't believe it, and was bummed and mad at myself. What we did was actually longer, but still, that piece got missed. But then I realized I still had an open window until Oct 31 to get out and do that little strip of trail, so Carolyn and I teamed up again and ran a route yesterday that gave us that missing link, plus Moutlon Loop, plus the three remaining loops that she needed to do the challenge, Arkon, Arab and Doe. Without that missing piece I never would have been motivated to do this additional 4.5 hours of running this weekend in the park, so it all worked out just great. I'd been feeling some post-goal blues all week, and this run helped shake that feeling off, so it was especially helpful. Derrick did a big run of his own while we were there, so we had fun afterwards comparing our outings. Between us we covered 8 loops that day!

Here's a link to the run. The short out-and-back at the top is the missing section of Testsmine Loop. The straight line is where I paused the watch while we drove between trailheads.

Without having a GPS track to come back to, I never would have noticed this and would have happily continued assuming it was covered. Admittedly that would have been an easier way to go, but I'm glad to have a backup and know for sure that I did the entire challenge. I did this challenge in honour of my mom, and I needed it to be done right. (Fittingly, the yellow challenge sign for this loop referred to GPS use in the park. We had a good laugh about that.)

Speaking of GPS, I did a post a few years ago on GPS tracks being able to be modified, but never really addressed the accuracy of the tracks to begin with. It is always interesting to see the differences in our stats when Derrick and I run the exact same route. He has a newer model of Suunto Ambit, presumably with a more sensitive receiver, and he routinely gets distances that are longer than mine, especially on single-track trails that typically wind around a lot. 

Derrick's tracks versus mine for days 1 and 3, where we ran every single step the same. Very different stats for both distance and altitude. (Click images to enlarge.)

Derrick: Day 1

Sara: Day 1

Derrick: Day 3

Sara: Day 3

For comparison, here is the SPOT track for Day 3. Not very useful under such a thick tree cover and only trying to get a read every 10 minutes!

Birch Lake Trail

Friday, October 21, 2016

Trail Trek for Judy

From Oct 16-18 I ran my Trail Trek for Judy version of the Frontenac Challenge, and am very grateful to everyone who has donated to Myeloma Canada and helped me surpass my fundraising goal. 

I put together this short video to show a bit of how it went out there. I hope you enjoy it! 

If anyone is interested in the maps and data, here are the Movescount links to each day. 

Day 1:

Day 2:

Day 3:

For more information:
CanadaHelps page

Donation window is open until November 30th. Thank you to everyone for your generous support!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Race Goals versus Projects

The first running book I ever read was Jeff Galloway's Book on Running where he introduced the idea of an evolution that runners go through, from beginner through competitive stages, to latter stages where racing against time or others isn't nearly as important.

At the time I read his book, I was quite taken with improving my race performances and working hard to do the best I potentially could in that respect, so I couldn't imagine a day when I would not care as intensely. But now, some years later, I admit that race goals don't motivate me like they used to. However for me, the simple purity of getting out there for the sake of it doesn't always fully give me enough motivation to run as much as I feel good doing either.

I need goals, but I don't always want them to be confined to the narrow realm of races. Happily, trail running offers a wide range of options for alternative types of goals and projects. For example completing a new trail or network of trails, fastest known times, running streaks, running vacations, volunteering at a race or even race directing, to name just a few.

This fall I've created a running project called Trail Trek for Judy for Myeloma Canada, in honour of my mother who passed away last October. For me it is a very different type of goal altogether because of the fundraising element, but it allows me to use my running in a way that resonates emotionally while doing something of use, and that feels good right now.

I may get excited about some race goals again soon, but in the meantime there are plenty of options as different interests, moods, or life stages come and go and we evolve as, hopefully lifelong, runners.

A project-within-a-project: discovering new trails while training for TTJ

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Ten Things to Consider When Planning the Frontenac Challenge


I’ve run the trails at Frontenac Park countless times over the past decade, but I’d never considered doing the Frontenac Challenge – that is to do all the loops in their entirely in the months of September and October – until this year as I plan my Trail Trek for Judy project.

Some things I’ve considered (so far) when planning my Challenge: 

  1. Route planning and strategy – What loops to do, and in what order is a bit of a puzzle to figure out. How to fit in the required distance over the days you have available takes a good deal of thought. There are efficiencies to be found when doing multiple loops in an outing by eliminating some of the distances from trailheads, but this comes with the added difficulty of doing more distance at one time. Which trail access points to use each time is also to be factored in.
  2. Work your strengths – In finalizing your planned days and routes, knowing your strengths can help set you up for success. Some people do better with tackling more loops in a single outing to make very long days, and others are happier with more days of fewer or single loops, even though that makes the cumulative distance longer. If you’re considering the Frontenac Challenge you likely have experience to draw on to know where you fit along the continuum. No matter how it is done – running or hiking, many days or all in one - it is definitely going to be a challenge.
  3. Know your style - Do you want to accomplish the challenge as a solo traveler, have a partner or small group, or go on larger group outings such as with the Rideau Trail Association. Or perhaps you want to do a combination.
  4. Register your challenge – The Park Office issues a log sheet for those attempting the Challenge. Letting them know of your attempt also allows them to keep track of numbers for their records and use as promotion to encourage park use. They also acknowledge successful completions each year. 
  5. Know the rules – Familiarize yourself with the Challenge rules, including the fact that each loop must be completed in its entirety. This means that adjoining sections of loops must be traveled twice. There are other rules, helpful tips and information on the Frontenac Challenge page. 
  6. Find the Challenge signs – Every year the park places a yellow label in a tree somewhere along each trail loop with a word that needs to be recorded in your log to prove you were there. An honour system must be relied upon to some extent, but this collection of words helps confirm completion. When looking at the ground (which often happens while trail running) they can be missed, so don’t forget to keep an eye out!
  7. Be safe! As with any trip into the backcountry, tell others your plans including route and time of expected departure and return. Bring a map and plan what you are taking for food, water, and extra clothing so you are prepared for any possible weather. Long days on the trail mean things can change unexpectedly while you are out there.
  8. Cell service – Large parts of the park are without cell service, so don’t rely on being able to use your phone. Generally speaking, tops of hills or along lake shores may have some or better reception in some areas. 
  9. Buy an annual pass – It is worth it to purchase an annual pass for Ontario Parks. Besides Frontenac you can enjoy our other beautiful provincial parks. The more you use it, the better deal it is.
  10. Be good to yourself – Your body is your vehicle through this trip, so be sure to take care of it. Train enough to get stronger, but not so much that you risk injury or burnout. Eat nutritious food, hydrate well, and get plenty of rest. Getting to the start of the Challenge in good condition will make it more enjoyable to experience the beauty of the park as you travel through it.
  11. Mentally Prepare – Just like this list, trail miles are longer than expected, especially when you start getting tired. I’ve found a big difference between meeting a goal and falling short is not underestimating the difficulty. Troubleshoot in advance some tactics to deal with struggles that may arise, and visualize your success in working through them.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Heading West, A Trail Sampler Menu

See Derrick's website HealthandAdventure.com to read about our recent trip to Oregon and California. Click here to find it.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Dion Red Barn 2016

It wouldn't feel right to let a winter pass without doing at least one snowshoe race, so I was happy to be able to run the Dion Red Barn race this past weekend. I had a blast, and am really glad to have kicked off my year by getting in a race. Having not raced in a while, I started nice and conservatively for once, and found the snow conditions good for me, with deep and sloppy snow that slows down the road runners, ha. The last km was a lot more packed from being repeated from the start, and it revealed the true state of my running speed as Bryan and Matt, the guys I was running with, took off and put a lot of time on me in a short distance. It was kind of funny actually, and inspires me as I'm notching up my training. Overall I'm pretty happy with how it went!

Full race details here

Some people asked for the soup recipe...see below.

Just after the start. Photo by ScallyEventPhotos.ca
The last hill, nearing the end. Photo by ScallyEventPhotos.ca

Brennan, Tasha and Hazel working the kit pickup. Photo by Grace Vanderzande
Start video by ScallyEventPhotos

 Red Barn Soup

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 jalapeno, diced (optional)
2 14-oz. cans diced tomatoes
2 sweet potatoes, chopped
2 red peppers, chopped
4 cups vegetable broth
1 tbsp ground coriander
2 tbsp cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup natural peanut butter
2 cups spinach, chopped (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Saute onions and garlic. Add all remaining ingredients except spinach and simmer until sweet potatoes are soft. (Or add everything to a slow cooker and cook on low for several hours.) Stir in spinach just before serving.

Jack Judge enjoying some warm soup after his race. Photo by Grace Vanderzande