The Fit Life: 4 race secrets every runner should know.

Two years ago, I became a Race Director.  The race had been around for a while and was one I loved.  In 2016, it had permit problems and other issues and had been cancelled.  When I was approached to resurrect it, my trail group already had a course ready to go, plus a race roster of eager participants and volunteers.  We were golden, right?  Not so much.

When we did our first orientation run, the race’s previous “regulars” were not happy.  What kind of course is this?  This is dangerous!  Do you have permits?? It’s not even runnable! We’re all gonna die!  (The latter might have been their inside voice, but some were definitely thinking it.)  After one especially long orientation run with a few frustrated and very vocal participants, I turned to them and suggested – Perhaps this isn’t the race for you.  They heartily agreed.

There was a lot of pressure to re-design the course to something like what it had been before.  But, I  had my own vision of the type of course I wanted, something that showed off not only how beautiful our natural river valley could be, but that could also hold its own amongst the toughest of races:  gnarly, rooty, edgy, breathtaking and beautiful.  Being married to someone who thinks a lot like Lazarus Lake, also the course designer, I was certain (hopeful? nervously optimistic?) that even if we lost previous participants, we would attract those looking for what we were offering.  The risk paid off.  In just 18 months, the race tripled in size and has been featured in every major Canadian and North American trail running magazine.

One of the things I learned from this experience is that there are races that are right for some and not right for others.  Knowing how to choose the right race for you will help you get the most out of that experience.  Below are four “trail secrets” that every runner should know when choosing their fit.

Trail Secrets I Wish I’d Been Told

When you decide to do a milestone race, choose the race wisely.  Think beyond the training plan to what you want to get out of the whole experience.

  1. Do you want support or anonymity? 

img_9745For my first marathon, I did what I’d done with all my previous races:  I told hubby to stay home and watch the girls while I did my own thing.  It was “me time” and I loved the solitude of the experience, even in a crowd of runners.  I didn’t realize the importance of a first marathon – that sense of accomplishment – until I was at the finish line with nobody to hug but strangers.  It was a let-down.  That said, I know those who prefer to be alone for milestone races, traveling far enough away from home to be guaranteed anonymity.  Know yourself.

2. What kind of energy do you want the race to have?

For my first ultra – a 50-km race in the mountains – I invited Todd to join me.  Marathon lesson learned.  But, I also made the mistake of choosing a race whose energy wasn’t my fit, at least as a soloist.  It was a hyped-up relay race where solo runners could get lost in the masses.   Teams of cheering crowds hardly noticed fatigued soloists crossing the finish line as their own relayers did a fresh-legged sprint and clicked their heels for the camera.   Worst of all, my solo medal was identical to that of the relayers. In a later moment of good-humoured reflection, I used a permanent marker to scrawl “50” on the back of the medal.  I have never gone back.

Two subsequent ultra races that I thoroughly enjoyed had the type of crowd energy I was looking for:160 specifically, they did not have relay teams.  Somehow, knowing that every person I saw was doing the same mileage as me had the feeling of camaraderie and support that I had been seeking.

I know a lot of runners who prefer to run as a soloist at large relay events.  They like the hype and energy, returning year after year.  That I prefer a “true” solo event is really about how I like to race.  Know yourself.

3.  Do you want others to read your race report?2016-07-29 20.50.37

There is nothing more exhilarating than recalling in fine detail every high and low of our race experience.  Race reports are the best…and the worst.

The most important question you can ask yourself when you are writing a report is:  Who am I writing this for?  If you are writing to remember the experience, learn from it, maybe provide insights for others who decide to run it, the more detail the better.  But, if – and this is usually the case – IF you are writing the race report to share an epic event as broadly as possible, keep it short and sweet.  Simple, like an orthopedic surgeon explaining a blunt-trauma compound fracture: “The bone is broke.”  My rule of thumb is, if I have to scroll down, I stop reading.  And I like running!  Imagine how our family and friends must feel.

I wrote my first race report years ago, shared it with my husband, suspecting he would be in awe of what I’d been through. This was his comment:  I’m gonna need the Reader’s Digest version of that – as he handed me back my masterpiece.  Shocking?  Yes!  Am I over it?  So much.  You can thank him for my last race report, which went something like this:

Inkedheart and brain_LI.jpg

Occasionally, I read long, detailed race reports.  Either the content is useful, the person is meaningful, or the author is an amazing writer (rarely the last one, including my own reports).  So, decide why you’re writing a race report and who you want to enjoy it, then go crazy within those parameters!  Otherwise, expect skimming and lies.

4.  Which race will set you up for success?

2016-10-14 21.33.39There are rarely race reports by those who didn’t finish.  If you want the medal, you need  to maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses in the race you choose.  Not to say that you should do the same race year after year.  Push your limits, challenge yourself, chase the white whale.  But, a lot of things can go right and wrong between the start and finish.  The more you choose a race that matches your skills, the more you can push your limits.

The last race I did was two and a half years ago.  I was going into the race with an injury but was in denial, never good.  Even more significant, I was taking on a race that was going to make me work in areas of weakness for 50 miles.  There are things I do well:  uphills.  There are things I’ve learned to do well: downhills.  All things athletic I have learned that I have to work hard to do well, period.  I’m a runner, not an athlete.

So, I went to this race, in a different province, on unknown terrain, to discover that I was not ready for it.  An athletic person like Todd figured it out in minutes.  He had a blast, whooping and careening down crazy mountain sides.  To date, it’s his favourite race.  It took me about 62-kilometres and 13 hours into the same race to realize that I didn’t have the athleticism to learn on-the-spot and nothing else could prepare me for the tough course except time.  The one thing a race does not give you is time.  I timed out and that sucked.  But, I learned something valuable:  That was not the race for me.  Yeah, yeah, if I wanted to prove something, I could train for the conditions and return to finish it.  For what?  Pride and ego aside, I didn’t enjoy the race, I struggled, I was frustrated with my hesitations and nerves.  It maximized my weaknesses and minimized my strengths.  Not my fit.

Find what you’re good at and do that race, and other races like it, as many as you want. Occasionally, you may want to try something that frustrates and drains you, so go for it.  But, if you’re going to pour time into training, money into racing, and effort into finishing, find your fit.  Train your weaknesses and race your strengths.

Above all, and in case you missed it, in any milestone race you choose, the best trail secret is this:  Know yourself.

to think own self be true

Feature Photo Credit:  Angie Zee Photography

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The Fit Life: the hardest thing to face.

2016-12-26 15.30.55Someone I recently met said that she tries to build community wherever she’s planted. She’s about half my age and I see so much spunk in her that I remember having at the same age.   I recognize that wide-eyed innocence and bubbly enthusiasm, not knowing yet some of the hard lessons of leadership.  I can also see that she’s still figuring out her own place in this world, who she is in relation to others.   Her journey into leading and motivating others is normal and also unique.  The hurdles will be what every leader has faced and will require courage and tenacity, fortitude and resilience.  But, how she faces the challenges and overcomes them and shines her light will reflect her own uniqueness.

If this young woman were to ask me – what’s the greatest challenge she will face, I’d say this one thing.  The hardest thing about building community is not about putting yourself out there.  It’s putting yourself out there imperfectly.  Making mistakes – being human and flawed – while in the public eye.

30712960_10101334394166395_608407084123291648_nIn my own journey, I’ve done some things well and I’ve done other things poorly.  There are moments where I got it all right and just as many moments where I totally screwed up.  I’ve learned from many of my mistakes.  Some of them have been good life lessons about who you trust, managing disappointment and letting go of what wasn’t yours to hold.  Other lessons have been just me being insensitive or demanding or thoughtless, my flaws being lived out under the unblinking spotlight of the public eye.  Standing alone in the glare of my humanity for all the world to see.

Think about silly or embarrassing things you’ve said or done and wished you could take back.  Then think about all of those things happening in front of those you are invested in, actively engaging and supporting.  Think about letting others down, letting yourself down.  Then consider those who never wanted you to succeed, who clap their hands in glee at your failings.  “See, I told you she was [this or that]!”  And those things are true.

But, our flaws aren’t the whole story of ourselves.  And sometimes the only one reminding us that our pluses are greater than our minuses is our heart, “It’s okay.  You’re okay.  Keep learning.  Keep leading.”  And you navigate waters of self-doubt and inner judgment through compassion and kindness that keep you afloat in your own humanity.

2016-09-06 09.23.54After all that, when we decide to create community in hopes that others will join in, the unforgiving spotlight becomes the best teacher of self-love.  In order to successfully lead and continue to lead, we have to learn to love ourselves in the kindest of ways that defies the judgment of others.  We learn to accept our blemishes and we mature, falling in love with all of ourselves, not just the good parts.

To this young, ambitious, sparkling woman who is embarking on a mission to change the world around her, I hope that she will find not only her own inner strength to rise to the challenges, but to also fully embrace her humanity in all its flawed beauty.  We can only give out of what we have, even if we have to figure that out in front of everyone else.



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The Fit Life: Are you okay?


snl 1When I was a teenager, my parents ran a home for adults with chronic mental illness.  Depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder.  They were stable, independent individuals who just needed that extra bit of support – “Here are your meds.  Have a good day at work!”  …. “You’ve been sleeping all weekend.  Let’s go do some gardening.”  Everyone had meals together, walked the dog, shopped for groceries, went on road trips.  The goal was normalcy with stability and support.

John* was our longest-term resident.  He had lived with depression his whole life, attempted suicide a number of times.  His sisters would take turns visiting him, but otherwise, he was alone.  Our family unit became his second home.  John was quiet and pleasant and kind.  While staying with us, his mental health stabilized.  Eventually, me and my brothers graduated high school and moved away.  Then, my parents moved to a different province and closed the home.  Shorter winter days came along and we weren’t hearing from John as regularly as usual.  His sisters mentioned that he was struggling again.  Shortly before Christmas, he took his life.  It was devastating news.  That was 30 years ago, but it irrevocably embedded in me the importance of connection.

Not surprisingly, my first career was in mental health.  John, and others like him, are one of the reasons I started a variety of groups over the years – some successful, some not.  It’s also partly why I avoided cliques or people who – intended or not – excluded others. Eventually, I started Edmonton Trail Runners25354067_1674036455950237_3070551520715089948_n.jpgSome who didn’t know my motivations, the back story, were quick to judge my leadership, accusing me of having too much ambition.  This always makes me and Todd chuckle.  I learned to not worry about what others thought.  ETR became a community of care:  fit runners who make every person of every pace feel welcome.  There is no room for cliques because there is no hierarchy of importance.  You’re fast?  Okay.  I’m not.  Did you meet your daily forest raking quota today?  It’s not a good run unless we’ve shared smiles and chuckles – “Glad I came!

Getting to Really Know Each Other

Todd and ScottIn our run club, Todd and I talk about the importance of managing mental health, reminding others that some of us run for mental wellness, to escape addiction, to manage depression, to deal with anxiety.  Good talks, lots of agreement.  Is it helping?

In the last month, three runners from our group have opened up about their own mental health struggles.  Running has helped them, and still, highs and lows happen.  Especially around this time of year.  Shorter days, holiday stress, isolation, grief.  Instead of slipping into the dark hole pulling them down, they’ve reached out.  Without saying it, they’re really saying, “You tell us to talk about this.  I’m talking about it…?”  With each of them, I’ve had different conversations.  To all of them, I’ve said – “It’s good that you’re talking about this.  I’m glad you said something.”  To one of them that I regularly run with, I said – “I noticed.  Remember that.  You’re seen here.”  We all need to hear that, am I right?

How Can I Help?

As we celebrate the holiday season, let’s remember to create points of connection, to reach out when we need someone to know that we’re struggling, to reach in when we see someone around us who looks like they’re struggling.   If you want to help and you’re not sure how, here are some ideas:30741117_10101334394351025_4419477775140782080_n

  1.  Pay attention.  There’s something about running together that brings out a different kind of awareness.  We’re not always talking or listening.  We’re looking at our surroundings in relation to each other, moving around in each other’s physical space.  Sometimes, I’ve noticed someone was off just by running way ahead of them when they should have been way ahead of me.  Or running beside them and noticing that they’re grimacing where they’d usually smile.  This is one of the reasons that we say at ETR – “We compete at races, not on runs”.  You miss what’s going on if you’re just trying to out-pace someone, or get a PB or an FKT.  Do that on your own watch.  In a group activity, pay attention to others.  Why else are you there?
  2. Ask awkward questions“Are you okay?  You don’t seem okay.” … “Do you need to talk to someone?”  “Here’s the phone number of my therapist, he’s great.”  …  “You said you were feeling depressed last week.  How are you doing?”.   You don’t know which question may be the one they need to hear.  Might be none of them.  Might be all of them.  Be curious and inquisitive and sincere.
  3. Follow up.  “Did you talk to your partner?” …. “You said you were going to check in with your psychiatrist.  How’d that go?”   Keep in mind that you are not responsible for another person, and nobody wants that, really.  You’re just checking in.  What if they confided that they were struggling with an injury?  Wouldn’t you ask them about how it was going the next time you saw them?  If they hadn’t seen anyone to treat the injury, wouldn’t you say – “You gotta do that.  It’ll help so much.”  Apply the same interest in someone’s mental health as you would in their physical health.  25446475_323451428134410_5514156625163838548_n
  4. Create points of connection“I’m going to the Saturday run.  Wanna go together?” … “You’re working late?  Come for the campfire.  I’ll save you a spot.”  Sometimes, we all need a little support to show up.  That’s all you’re offering.  You don’t need to save anyone – it’s just a ride and a “good to see you!”.  Connection is that easy.


I recently saw an Instagram post with the caption, “It feels great to be first”.  I remember how great it felt when I used to take the podium.  Still, I was struck by how we can get so focused on ourselves – our successes and our failures – that we get confused about what’s really important, like others.  People.  ConnectionI see you.  You matter.  Tell that to someone this season, in any way that works.  Giving isn’t just about presents.





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The Fit Life: what’s your story?

33091086_10101351501912335_2624161817412239360_nEveryone has a story.  We assume that ours is like everyone else’s – our truth is their truth – or we believe that nobody else has gone through what we have, that we are alone.  The best thing we can do to connect with others is to find out each other’s story.  Every story is important.

This is Todd’s story.  It’s not really mine to tell but he’s letting me try.  It’s hard telling someone else’s story.  Bear with me.

The Athlete

Todd pack mentality 2012Todd started running at the end of 2012.  He ran his first 10km trail race in December, in knee-deep snow at Pack Mentality Ultra.  56 minutes.  Eight months later, he paced a friend at an ultra and accidentally ran 56 kilometres in six hours.  That was the beginning. He was a natural, and he loved the trails.

It didn’t take long for Todd to get private invitations to run with the fast kids.  I didn’t get those invitations, I wasn’t fast enough, but I was excited for him to connect with the trail community.  PC: David CheckelStrangely,  he declined most of the invites, only accepting ones where I’d cajole him to “try it out, meet some people your pace, make some friends”.  It wasn’t long before he’d be back to running alone or letting me chase him along cliff edges and wildlife trails.  Occasionally, he’d find a kindred spirit – someone his pace who ran with him for the love of the trails and not for competition or ego.  Otherwise, he didn’t seem to care about the attention of others.  It baffled me.  Probably confused many others.  For Todd, that was him just forging his own path.  Something he’d been doing his whole life.

The Square Peg

Todd ChildhoodTo every story, there is a back story.  And no story seems to have more impact than that of our Family of Origin.  Todd was born in the late ’60s to a catholic 18-year-old girl from a Norwegian immigrant family.  His dad was black and not in the picture, that’s all he knows.  An adorable boy with thick curls, big dimples and an easy smile, he spent two years in foster care:  nobody wanted a bi-racial baby in Quebec during the political unrest of the FLQ years.  He was eventually adopted by a workaholic dad and an alcoholic mom.  Childhood years were blurred by chaos and neglect.

Todd’s upbringing made it hard for him to fit in.  Every fall before school, his dad took him to the discount outlet store  for a new wardrobe, purchasing pants that were a foot too long at the start of the year and  inches too short by June.   His mom, in rare moments of sobriety, would make months’ worth of sandwiches and freeze them for the countless days that he and his adopted younger sister fended for themselves.  He still cringes when recalling the texture of a thawed egg salad sandwich squashed inside a saggy lunch bag.  Most days at school, he ate alone.

The Cool Guy

The summer before high school, Todd was sent to Sept-Iles to spend some time with extended family.  It was the first exposure he had to living in normalcy, picking strawberries with cousins, staying in a home with laughter and smiles, not needing to be in a constantly hyper-vigilant state of anxiety and apprehension – “what was going to happen next”.   Just before school started, he returned to discover that his parents were getting divorced (a relief after years of fighting).  Mom was in rehab again and dad couldn’t take care of the kids while sorting out his affairs.  So, Todd was thrust back into the foster system, everything he owned boxed up and thrown away.  Within hours of returning home, he was living  in a foster home of thirteen other boys – a different kind of chaos.  Later that year, his father had a heart attack and passed away.  At 15, “home” as he knew it was gone.

In the midst of this, Todd figured out that he was truly on his own and needed to find his own way.  He got a job at Harveys and the pay cheque offered him a better wardrobe, one that actually fit.  He stopped parting his afro hair into a caucasian side-poof.  Looking less like Gumby and more like a “regular guy”, he noticed that all the people who had bullied or ignored him for years now wanted to be his friend.  Almost overnight, he’d gone from outcast to cool.

We all remember those coming of age movies where the geek becomes popular – Sixteen Candles, Almost Famous…  Todd’s story could have played out the same, the quintessential tale of transformation.  Whether it was the hard knocks he’d experienced or just who he is and has always been, he wasn’t interested in the fairy tale.   He could see how others treated him better when he looked a certain way even though he was still the same guy he’d always been.  The only thing different was how he was perceived.  The story that others knew.  Todd recalls how fake the attention felt.  He wanted nothing to do with being defined by others.  He instead chose to hang out with a few who thought the way he thought and didn’t need the pull of the crowd to feel important.

The Story Within the Story

Todd and SherylThere are more chapters to Todd’s story, chapters that got worse before they got better.  Those chapters are for another day.  The story of what happened to him and around him isn’t really the Story.  They’re just the circumstances.  The story that defined him – that defines all of us – was the one inside his head – the beliefs he held about himself and the world around him.  He learned at a young age and never forgot that people will always chase what they perceive to be cool.  Don’t get caught up in it.  That does not define you.  Choose wisely and well where you invest your time and with whom, from friendships to races to the person with whom you share your life.  The only thing that needs to make sense is what makes sense to you.  Be undefined by others.

Todd sinister 2And for those of us who only know our stories, learn the back stories of others.  Get to know the quiet runner in the mid-pack who doesn’t say much but smiles all the way to her eyes.  Chat with the new guy who shows up wearing sneakers and a pack of cigarettes rolled up in the sleeve of his cotton tee.  Learn their stories.  Tell yours.   Don’t define others by what you’ve known – re-define your view of the world by what you learn.



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The Fit Life: which story do you believe?

1488I remember a girl from Junior High. Gail.  She was picked on, had no real friends.  “Bullied” would maybe be the term we’d use now, but back then she was blamed: mocked, alienated.  Gail invited me over a couple times.  I went because I knew she was lonely.  She was angry and negative, spoke badly about everyone.  It was hard to be around her for very long.  At the time, I wondered if she had always been that way or if she had become that way because of how others treated her.

img_4293I’ve only experienced social isolation twice in my lifetime.  Neither experience was great, but the first was definitely the worst.  I was 22 and working at a bank.  My supervisor, Connie, decided she didn’t like me.  She was a bully, the kind whose behaviour is tolerated because of familiarity and fear.  She’s had a hard life.  That’s just her way.  I was the new girl, great at investment banking and terrible at balancing the till.  My weakness was her target.  Every day, I’d watch the sun set while I tried to find that missing 10 cents.  Every day, I’d be out again.  Nobody helped and Connie never relented.  A university education and you can’t even count!  Sneering comments were whispered about me, angry orders yelled at me.  I remember going home one day and sitting in front of my mom, breaking down.  What do I do?  She had no answer.  So, I’d walk to work each morning feeling like I was going to throw up.  And I’d walk home every night filled with self-loathing, the un-balanced till repeating itself day after day.  It didn’t matter if I sold a record amount of RRSPs in a week.  The till – and Connie – mocked me.  Eventually, I started to believe what was said to me – I am dumb, I always make mistakes, I can’t do anything right.

30739809_10101334393303125_227797068150734848_nWhat saved me in that situation was a mentor.  Martha.  She and I would meet every week for coffee and conversation.  She’d teach me about life and relationships and the things that really mattered.  One day, I told her what was happening.  So, she gave me a tool:  Take a small agenda with me to work (this was before we had cell phones), write sayings that I could look at when the day got too much, and keep the agenda at my work station.  Some of my favourite scrawled mantras were – This too shall pass…You are loved…You are smart enough and strong enough.  Every time I was attacked, I’d go to my agenda and read those words.  The words gave me confidence, a little bit re-gained every day.  I began to stand up for myself, to take the hits and respond with calmness and confidence.  I got better at my job, it became harder for her to find flaws.  I still struggled with that damn till but I’d learned ways to succeed even in an area of obvious weakness.  In the end, I moved on to a job that was a better fit.  A new manager eventually joined the bank and cleaned house.  Connie and her gang of fearful followers were let go.

As a young adult, that experience could have shaped my life – my beliefs about who I was and what I was capable of.  What saved me was what I let myself think each day:  The conversations in my head about me and about my worth.

PC: David CheckelI went on for decades without ever having to deal with a situation like that again.  I grew more and more into someone I am very proud of, facing other obstacles and overcoming them with strength and grace.  Not that long ago, I was targeted again, different reasons, same tactics.  Luckily, I had skills to manage the attacks, borne from resilience and experience.  I knew that what people say to us and about us does not define us.  I refused to let what was being said about me become the story in my head.  And it all passed.  As bullying always does when we don’t give it power over us.  This too shall pass.

1309I have lived enough and learned enough to say – nobody  does great things without somebody opposing you.  And, this is important:  There is always a grain of truth in every lie that you are told.  That’s why the lie works.  Maybe you like to make sure that what you organize has the stamp of excellence:  To one, that is responsible leadership; to another, micro-management.  Perhaps you are single-mindedly competitive, able to block out everything for your goal:  To some, that is inspirational; to others, ruthless.  Maybe you are an emotional person:  For one, that is passion; for the other, rage. Every good thing is flawed, touched by imperfections.  That doesn’t make you bad or wrong.  It makes you human.

If you want to do great things, decide what your story will be.  Decide which story about yourself that you will believe.  Celebrate your gifts and acknowledge your flaws.  Always control the story in your head about who you are, and – if you can – surround yourself with at least one person who gets you.  Because we are all great.  We are our own amazing tale.  Even if nobody else sees it.  Yet.WCT sunset

Dedicated to Martha and Todd.


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The Fit Life: a kinda sorta race report.

42236113_1844017812383910_365359428918050816_nStats.  The intimate friend of every runner.  Two years ago, I ran a 16-kilometre really hilly trail race in 1 hour, 32 minutes.  I finished with the lead pack, 1st in category.  Last weekend, I ran a 20-kilometre really really hilly trail race in 3 hours, 20 minutes.  I finished at the back of the pack, just ahead of 7 other athletes.  The only thing that was the same between those two races was how I felt:  exhausted and awesome.


Having spent most of my running life in the mid-pack, a small portion of that time in the lead pack, and an equally small segment in the back, I feel I am well positioned to share three constant truths about racing at any pace.

Truth #1:  The only race that really matters is your own.

I am competitive.  I love the chase and being chased.  I’m driven to pass the person ahead of me and the next after that.  But, that is just the game.  The joy of the race has nothing to do with anyone else but me.  Beautiful surroundings, technical trails, pushing hard, breathing hard, challenging myself, leaving it all out there.  That’s my satisfaction.

img_5802If the podium is what you chase, missing it will leave you frustrated and empty.  If you have to beat your rival, you will feel defeated when a race goes sideways and they surge ahead.  If you need to be known as a certain type of athlete, you will feel sidelined and invisible when life hands you less than how others perceive you.  Don’t let yourself be measured by anything other than your own effort.

Not long after I started competing against quicker folks, I attended a small 50-km mountain race with tough elevation and even tougher athletes.  I remember standing among the fourteen females at the start of the race and thinking – “These are the fittest women I’ve ever seen.”   The first place finisher was a world-ranked athlete who had showered, changed, had lunch and a nap before I finished.  I came in third from the end, chasing cut-offs the whole way.  That was my first time in the back of the pack.  I dug deep, worked through some tough moments, and never let myself slow down or give up.  I still have that medal in my office, the only one I display.  Take pride in your own race.

Truth #2:  Data doesn’t tell the story42168923_329959577575794_6088994329748045824_n

We know this is true; otherwise, nobody would ever do a race report, right?  The report tells you what the data doesn’t.  Yeah, I ran a 6-hour marathon but it was in the mountains and – man – if you knew how many things went sideways and how tough the conditions and, also, I was recovering from a bad cold, plus blisters!!  The bigger the fish, the better the story.  I’m not judging that.  I like fish stories!  I have a few of my own.

Here’s the problem with letting data tell the story: data doesn’t measure significance.  Sorry, Strava, not even if you give me trophies and FKTs.  As a training tool, data can be a great resource.  That’s all it should ever be.  What counts more? – a fastest time ever in ideal conditions, or leaving it all out there in the worst conditions?  One builds fleeting satisfaction; the other, character and strength.

Last Saturday, my first race in two years, I started at the back of the pack and my goal was to pass 1, maybe 2, runners.  That was it.  With an ear-to-ear grin that said – “It’s great to be back!”, I pushed as hard as I’ve pushed at any pace  …50 extra pounds,  new kinds of chafing, breathing like my blood was on fire, walking every uphill – even the anthills…  What do I remember most about that race? –  a Mother Moose, glorious and immense, summitted a ridge above me and galloped across my path.  It was amazing!  The athlete in front of me didn’t. even. notice.  He was looking at his watch.  As I excitedly yelled and pointed, his earbuds blocked out the snorting beast and he missed that moment, convinced that the real story was on his screen.  Let your race story unfold in front of you and around you.  The race is the story.  The experience is the thing.

Truth #3:  The only person who will celebrate you the most is you.  

5k-10k-20kHorseshoe-48.jpgThere are a lot of great races that also do a great job of making the lead pack runners feel like a million bucks.  Perfect photos that rapidly join personal Instagram collections, fancy medals and even fancier podium prizes, full aid stations and the best finish line crowd.  There are very few great races that do a great job of making the mid-pack and back-of-packers feel as valued as the lead pack.  I’ve been a lead female coming into cheers and high fives.  As a mid-packer, my short frame was usually lost in the crowds.  As a back-of-packer, I’ve shown up to mostly-empty aid stations and one or two people at the finish line.

As anti-climactic as it can feel to finish a hard race with very little by way of recognition and applause, I’ve learned that my pride in my race is the best recognition.  Yes, I sulk for a few minutes, not gonna lie.  And then I let it go and tell myself – “good job, proud of you.”  More than that, at whatever pace I’ve raced, I celebrate every success from start to finish.  Nobody is cheering at the top of that crazy straight-up one-kilometre climb.  Nobody is paying attention when I fly down a gnarly technical section like I have wings on my feet.  Nobody notices that I never slowed down on that last climb even though my legs were on fire.  I am the best positioned to celebrate me.  That’s why I tell myself – out loud – “good job” or “you’re awesome” at every opportunity that I know I’ve earned it, throughout the race and especially at the finish.  Nobody else will appreciate my hard work more than me.  We don’t need reasons to critique.  We need reasons to celebrate.  Be your biggest fan.  Ten years from now, those who noticed you or didn’t notice you probably won’t be around.  You’ll always be there: be the one who cares the most about you.

These principles also apply to life.

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The Fit Life: what’s your excuse?

Many of us have heard the story of the rocks in a jar. A professor fills a large jar with rocks and asks his students if the jar is full.  Yes.  Then he fills it with pebbles.  Okaay.  Then sand.  Full now?  Ummm. Then he pours water into the jar.  I’ve often wondered what else he could have done.  What if he heated the water?  Isn’t steam and air filling up the spaces too?20180803_123953.jpg

The lesson is about perspective.   It’s easy to see the obvious:  The rocks.  The hurdles.  But is that all there is?  How do we focus on the unseen potential, the nooks and crannies that can be filled with a myriad of other things?

Last weekend, I hung out with some runners who live in the unseen spaces.  Literally.  A team of five legally blind athletes decided to challenge a 125-kilometre course of mountain trails that included three summits, multiple creek crossings, roots, rocks, and so much mud.  It gets better.  They were not trained for the terrain at all.  At. All.  (…I’m not entirely sure how a blind runner trains for this…).  But they finished.  Every one of them.  They fell, they swore, they laughed, maybe cried?  Even without meeting the cutoff for a medal, they never once considered stopping.  25 hours later, they crossed the finish line.

There were rocks:  literally, yes, but also…they couldn’t see!  So, that’s kind of obvious and hard to get around.  And that would stop most people.  Then there were pebbles:  they didn’t have the right terrain for training.  No, the Gatineaus in Ottawa – as picturesque as they are – no, they will not prepare you for the Rockies.  There was sand:  no trail gear and not much understanding of how to fuel or pace for mountain running.

But then there was water…five guides who poured their time and energy and enthusiasm and seeing-outside-themselves to be eyes for others.  Guiding is not easy.  It’s hard and taxing and work.  I’ve paced, not even close to the same thing but as close as I can figure, and there have been moments on those trails with a whiny, suffering racer that I’ve considered leaving him (Todd) for dead.  Still, the guides who have a much harder job than pacing – they keep positive energy and intent focus for the sake of another.  Water to fill the unseen spaces. IMG_20180805_074450_379

And finally, there was air.  So much air!  Good natured, high humoured, always adaptable, completely unflappable air.  Indomitable spirits that settled into all the spaces, filling each tiny crack with energy and potential.

I apologize that this blog has taken an unexpected poetic turn, not intended.  The words follow their own path and sometimes the indescribable is only found in art form.  What I know that requires no flowery prose is that there are no excuses.  None.  Our lives are not limited.  They are limitless.  We don’t focus on what we can’t do.  We find a way to do what we can.  My own life, which I thought had been lived beyond limits before my injury and then far too limited since then, has been redefined.  I am no longer interested in what I can’t do right now.  I am very interested in doing everything I can with what I have.  Life without limits.  There are no excuses.

With gratitude to Blind Team “now you see us, now we don’t” – Bronwyn and her husband/guide Adam, Peter with my husband/his guide Todd, Shelley with guide George, Richard with guide Rebecca, and  the ringleader/inspirateur Diane with guide Cheryl.  20180805_090011-01




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The Fit Life: how to finish a hundred miler.

I have never run a hundred miles.  I have never even run 100 kilometres.  Once, I ran the West Coast Trail in a day and we got really lost in the dark, so that was 80 kilometres instead of 75 kilometres.  Otherwise, my only real experience with actually running ultras is 50-kilometre races.  I’ve done lots of those, mostly in the mountains, and I can tell you that nothing about a 50-kilometre race will prepare you for a 100-mile distance.

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Brian McCurdy Photography

What I have that most ultra runners don’t have is raw objective data, lots of it.  As an experienced crew, I’ve supported racers from 100-kilometres to 100-miles multiple times, multiple types – from first runner in to last runner done. As a race director, I’ve been a close observer of each hundred miler’s journey at River Valley Revenge.  And when I’ve been hanging out for 24-plus hours, I’ve paid attention.  I’ve watched what others do.  Falling easily into my academic comfort zone, I’ve observed and taken notes and hypothesized.  And in all that, I’ve discovered that there are certain things that work and other things that definitely don’t work.  I can tell you how the top finishers at major mountain ultras hydrate and fuel.  I can speak to what the average racer generally does, and I can regale you with fascinating tales of epic fails.  So, if you still want to hear what a non-hundo has to say about finishing one, keep reading.

How to Run a 100-Miler

Know the difference between universal truths and individual truths.   b1You should seek – and will get – lots of advice.  Know the difference between what is a biological fact – you must consume a glucose-combination fuel at regular intervals in order to metabolize enough glycogen for energy – and what is a subjective preference – drink pickle juice at every transition.  There is value in both but for different reasons:  a universal truth – you better know that sh*t and have it built into your plan; an individual truth – interesting, maybe something to try on a training run, might work, might not.

Have a plan.  Break your race down into segments, usually done by transitions, and figure out what you need for each segment:  fuel plan, clothing plan, pacing plan.  Some racers have charts and graphs, others have notes sharpie-scrawled on their arms.  The details don’t matter and no plan should ever look the same – because y’all are unique! (remember that) – but if you haven’t planned to finish, you’ve planned to fail.

Be ready to throw away the plan.  Wait what?  Sometimes, the plan doesn’t work.  The Todd and Martyfuel you’ve trained with is now making you throw up, you caught a cold and your pace is way off, your go-to shoes are giving you blisters.  I have seen many athletes with the perfect plan – tried and tested – DNF because the plan stopped working and they couldn’t deviate from it.  Once the plan failed, they failed.  I’ve also seen athletes dump their fuel and switch to water after retching for the umpteenth time, or throw their GD shoes over a cliff and run into transition in sock feet to borrow a pair – and finish!  Essentially, they’re accepting that what they’re doing is not working and that they must do anything else but that. Can you change the plan if the plan stops working?

Spend your energy wisely.  Everything you do from Point A to Point Z will take energy from you: physical energy, mental energy and emotional energy.  Use all three wisely.  If you’re running up a mountain and you can power hike it faster, conserve your physical energy for when it will give greater returns.  If you’re heading into transition, rely on the qualified volunteers or your crew to take care of you.  Save your mental energy for when you’re fatigued and alone, navigating difficult terrain while trying to stay awake.  If the thoughts in your head turn ugly, get out of your head.  Find a mantra to disengage from stinkin’ thinking.  Stop running with someone who is depressing the hell out of you.  Find someone to share a few kilometres with where you can laugh and smile and relax.  If you’re alone, choose your focus.  One racer said that when she got lost, she’d be grateful for a view she wouldn’t have otherwise seen, or when she’d run out of water, she’d be grateful that her pack was light.  Your energy is a resource:  don’t squander it on what doesn’t serve you.

30703733_10101334393687355_849081052637954048_nIt’s all about the pain cave.  Running a hundred miler is about managing suffering.  You can only physically train for so much mileage.  At a certain point, you reach the end of your physical training and the race becomes 100% mental.  A person’s willingness to accept the suffering, to acknowledge the pain without letting the pain define them or control them – it’s called mental toughness.  The battle is with your mind, not with your body.  One racer was sulk-hiking a tough section during the night, sore and miserable.  Another racer came up and said – “Does it hurt to run?”  – yes – “Does it hurt to walk?” – yes.  “Might as well run.”  You signed up to suffer.  Shake hands with it and keep going.

Never give up.  Never. Give. Up.  nevergiveup.  I have seen enough to tell you that there will always be a dozen reasons to stop, and sometimes no reason to go on.  Keep going.  A lot happens in 100 miles.  I have seen athletes have the worst race ever, to have the entire day turn around at mile 65 and finish 4th overall.  I’ve seen experienced racers blow up on a brutally hot day and the unknown waaay back there who just.wouldnt.quit win the race.  I’ve seen numerous racers pull when I knew they could finish.  I’ve observed the regret countless times.  And I have witnessed unbelievable moments where people had legitimate reasons to stop… but didn’t.  I don’t think I’ll make cut-off…made it by 9 seconds …I’ve thrown up 20 times in the last hour…crossed the finish line while they were still throwing up…my shoulder is dislocated…used their hydration pack to sling it for 70 miles to 1st Place.

I’m not saying be reckless and put your life in danger.  But, really, every race has medics and volunteers and crew who are watching out for you.  And isn’t the very definition of doing one hundred miles about testing your limits?  In my observations30726463_10101334399795115_7302776740709924864_n, most people’s limits are found just beyond the finish line.  Keep going. 

…and finally, but most important…

Have perspective.  It’s a race where every finisher gets a medal, not the Olympics.  Yes, you trained hundreds of hours for it.  That alone is a point of pride.  The moment isn’t just the finish.  Moments happen every day.  Every opportunity to live and breathe and challenge and press on is a gift.  The outcome is merely one tangible victory in a series of smaller, undefined, intangible victories.  I timed out at my first attempt at a big distance.  There are a list of things that could have changed that outcome.  They didn’t happen that day.  The victory was that I didn’t stop until they made me.  Find pride in every effort.  Learn from it.  Find someone who did more than you and congratulate them.  Help someone whose journey was harder than yours, make their load lighter.  Look around. Give Back.  See outside yourself.  Because ultra running and ultra racing can be a self-preoccupied sport if we let it.  Look at me!  Don’t look at me.  I finished!  I failed.  me. me. I. I.  Live a life greater than yourself and you will find your potential.  Perspective is everything.

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