Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Recovery and Road 2 Hope plans

It's been over a week now since the Scotiabank Half and I'm feeling pretty good. I took a few days off to let the suspected groin strain heal, did some foam rolling and yoga to stretch out (seriously these videos, use them!), and then a few easy runs during the week. My legs were still feeling pretty blah when I joined Patty and Amy for a 13k long run on Saturday, and let's just say I hope we don't get that weather for the Road 2 Hope half this coming Sunday!

That was not my favourite run ever /understatement. I don't think cold, windy, and raining is anyone's idea of a good time, other than maybe the half dozen people we saw running in a pack all wearing tutus. I still have not figured out what was going on there.
Sunday I did an easy 8k and it was the first run since the race where my legs felt back to normal. I also hit a downhill near my house to get some downhill running practice before the Road 2 Hope, since the race has a significant downhill section that should, in theory, let us take a few minutes off that Scotiabank time. And it also let me enjoy some of the fall colour while we still have it, before we get into dreary grey November.

Probably would have been smarter to do the long run this day, when it wasn't pouring rain and windy and horrible.
So the plan for this week is to get in some easy miles (and test out possible race outfits*), with a tiny bit of race pace tempo Wednesday just to remember what that speed feels like. The race plan is again to stick with Patty and abdicate all pace setting responsibility, since I seem to run better when I have no idea what's going on. We're going to attempt to take full advantage of the downhill section, and then I hope my quads have enough life in them after the downhill to get me over the finish line under 1:50 to qualify for corral C at Around the Bay. Amy will be running with us, too, which will be fun, because she's going to get herself a massive new PB. Plus Patty will probably have to repeat everything she says an extra time so we both hear her, which I'm sure will be super fun for her (sorry in advance, Patty!).

Elevation profile for the Road 2 Hope half.
I would have preferred 3 weeks between the two races instead of two, but I'm feeling pretty good and ready to really go for it. If it turns out I just don't have the mojo working or the life in the legs on Sunday, then so be it. I've achieved what I wanted to this fall already, so this is gravy (no one tell Rob Ford there's gravy here).

*damn weather forecast keeps changing. Right now I'm thinking a black and pink combo (sophisticated!), but if the forecast temperature keeps dropping I might have to change my mind. Whatever I end up wearing, you can be assured a skirt will be involved.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Race report: Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon 2013

Spoiler alert: this race was awesome!

Saturday my husband and I successfully pawned our children off on some helpful relatives and headed into downtown Toronto. First stop, the race expo. Packet pickup was straightforward, but the expo area was crowded and neither of us does well in crowds of slow moving people (especially when half of them are on their smart phones and not paying any attention to where they are going). So we decided not to do much shopping, although we did snag some free yogurt.

Kind of sad I didn't manage to spend any money or buy any fun new gear. I love new gear.

We checked into our hotel, where we got a free upgrade to a corner suite (fancy!) and a stunning view of the ass end of the CBC building (not fancy!). Headed out for dinner where I had a burger and fries, which I know isn't exactly a traditional pre race meal but it's worked for me in the past.

Yeah, I don't think this hotel is known for its views.
Made sure all my stuff was organized, hung out for a while in the hotel bar with my husband eavesdropping on people, and eventually went to bed. There was some sort of wild party going on on our floor of the hotel, so iDevices to the rescue with some nice ocean noises to drown out the idiots. What the hell is the appeal of partying it up in a hotel room, anyway?
Making sure I didn't forget anything! Flat Emma ready to run. Although she might want a pair of shoes.

I woke up a few minutes before my 6 am alarm, feeling fantastic. I rarely get that good a sleep the night before a race because I'm usually waking up every 30 minutes in a panic that I've slept through my alarm - but in this case our hotel was only 1 km from the start line, so I knew I would have lots of time even if I did miss my alarm. I choked down my preferred pre-race fuel (half a bagel and some caffienated NUUN), messed around for a bit with my iPad, got dressed, and headed for the hotel lobby breakfast to see if I could find a banana. It was quite amusing watching people approach the breakfast buffet - I played spot the runners, who were all stocking up on bananas and oatmeal and leaving the eggs and bacon untouched.

I wanted a strategy for the late race mental suck, and I thought this might be helpful.
I gave my husband my post-race bag of gear, put on my throw away sweater, and headed to the start area to rendezvous with my little brother and various Daily Mile friends. It's always so much nicer to spend those nervous pre-race minutes commiserating with other runners instead of standing around lonely! We unfortunately failed to get any group pics, but people were coming and going from the bag check and I don't think there was a moment we were all there at the same time.

I did remember to grab a picture with Patty, at least! You can find her take on the race here.

The grey and pink coordination wasn't planned, but don't we look great? Team Ruffle Skirts! Although mine only has ruffles on the back.
Patty also let us in on the secret of the bathrooms, aka how to find an empty bathroom close to the start with no line up.
Hello swanky deserted bathroom incredibly close to the corral entrance. Score!
We wandered aimlessly around a bit, went back to the bathroom again, and eventually made our way to the yellow corral to wait for the start of the race.

Start line waaaaay off in the distance.
I was feeling surprisingly warm in my sweater, arm warmers, and gloves while we waited for the start, so with about 10 minutes to go I decided to toss the sweater. After Oh Canada, some booing of Doug Ford, and the start of the red corral, it was our turn to move forward to the start line. At this point my watch lost satellites because I had locked on too early and it had been idle too long (gah!) and I made the hasty decision to also ditch my arm warmers and gloves, so I was a bit frantic as the horn sounded and we were off. The last second wardrobe toss may explain how my watch didn't actually start when I crossed the start line - I SWEAR I hit start, but about 300m into the race I looked at it and saw a big fat 0. Ack.

So basically my watch was totally whacked for the whole race. This, I think, ultimately worked in my favour, since I was able to ignore it and just focus on staying with Patty. She told me our splits after each km and I just worried about successfully dodging the slower runners we seemed to be continually passing.

The first part of the race went by so fast! Every km marker for the first 10k or so seemed to come up way sooner than I was expecting it. There was some decent downhill in the section on Bathurst and we took advantage; I remember Patty telling me some splits that seemed crazy fast, but it all felt pretty easy at that point. And we needed to make up some time after a slow first kilometer anyway. There was one problem - at around 7k the top of my left inner thigh muscle really started to hurt. It was very distracting but didn't seem to be affecting my running at all, so I ignored it as best I could. The kilometers continued to tick by, and other than the sore thigh, I felt great. I was in the zone, not really thinking about anything at all, which is ideal, because it means my brain wasn't bothering me with doubts. I wasn't even listening to music, although I had my headphones in just to keep them in place.

Once we got onto Lakeshore, I could definitely feel the difference in running flat vs. the previous downhill. The pace started to feel more challenging, but still well within my abilities. It was really fun to watch the elites go past in the opposite direction and scream encouragement at them (especially Lanni and Krista, who both broke the Canadian's women's record! So thrilled when I saw that after the race!). It was a nice distraction from the pain in the my leg/groin, and I also managed to spot my brother heading the other way before the two sides of the road separated and we couldn't play 'find our friends' any more. After the 10k timing mat, I felt like I needed a little boost so I put my music on. Which is probably why every time Patty said something after that point I was all WHAT? WHAT DID YOU SAY? Sorry about that Patty!

First 10k, sort of (since I didn't start my watch until we were 300m in, my splits don't reflect the actual course km markings): 5:21, 5:30, 5:21, 5:10, 5:05, 5:08, 5:10, 5:19, 5:24, 5:16

Official 10k mat split: 53:48 (pace 5:23/km - the 300m my watch missed were fairly slow, due to how congested the first km was)

Hey Patty, wait for me!
Overall, not looking at my pace really worked for me. Not looking meant my brain couldn't be all "OMG WE ARE GOING TOO FAST AND WILL DIE!!!" like I'm sure it would have if I'd actually been able to see some of those under 5:20 kilometers as they were happening. One of these days I will work up the courage to run a 'naked' race with no watch at all.

After the turnaround at 12k on Lakeshore I knew there was an unpleasant hill coming, both because we'd driven it the previous day and Patty pointed it out to me on the out part of the out and back. We made it up fine (focusing on even effort) and our split was I think pretty consistent through that km. Hill conquered!

10-16k, sort of: 5:21, 5:24, 5:21, 5:16, 5:24, 5:24

After 16k, though, my brain was starting to object to this whole running thing. Right on schedule. "This is too fast. let's walk a bit. Oh hey now both of your inner thighs are hurting, you better stop. Let's just slow down. Just for a few minutes. Let's walk a bit. C'mon. Just for a minute or two." I kept glancing down at 'believe' written on my hand and thinking, no, I'm going to keep going. I believe in my training. I'm doing this. 5k to go. Less than half an hour. I can do this.  4k to go. 20 minutes, I can do this.

We kept going. It hurt, but we kept going. If Oakville and this race have taught me anything, it's that I need to have a mental strategy in place for the late stages of the race.

17 & 18k-ish: 5:27, 5:13

I knew Paul had said he would be waiting around 19k to cheer, and I latched onto that. Just get to Paul. Look for Paul. Don't think about how much this hurts. And then I spotted him and freaked out, waving my arms in the air like a total idiot, but seriously, I was so happy to see him! It really gave me an energy boost, so thank you Paul!

Under the Gardiner - photo swiped from Paul.
 19 & 20k or so: 5:21, 5:21

Finally, we turned up Bay St towards the finish. I swear it felt like we were running over sand at this point (especially since it was uphill, OMG why is there always an uphill at the finish???), and I have no idea how fast we actually went because between the Bay St. tunnel and the tall buildings, my watch freaked out and recorded some really bizarre stuff. And Patty's watch couldn't deal with it either, so we have no idea. There were markers for 500 meters to go, 400 meters to go, etc, and they DID NOT HELP. Every one of those 100 meters felt like the longest 100 meters of all time.

21.1k: ???? my watch claims 4:50 but it also seems to think we were about 150m west of where we actually were and then we levitated over a bunch of buildings to the finish, so clearly that's not right.

That's the best of a terrible, terrible set of photos. Yikes. 
Crossing the finish felt a little anti-climactic because I had no idea on our time. Patty said we were under 1:54, so yay, but it wasn't until my husband met us as we came out of the finishing area that he confirmed I'd run 1:53:57. 'A' goal achieved!! I have to give a ton of credit to Patty for this one, she believed I could run with her even when I wasn't convinced it was remotely possible, and I don't think there's any way I would have run sub 1:54 without her there to push/pull me along. Left to my own devices I would have gone for 1:55 and possibly cheated myself out of over a minute (or more) on my time. Thank you Patty! Having someone to run with makes such a huge difference.

Chip time: 1:53:57 (PB by over 4 minutes!)
Category place: 136/776 (17.5% - this is blowing my mind, I still think of myself as a mid-pack runner)
Gender place: 893/5371 (Patty was 892nd, I knew I should have tripped her when I had the chance)
Overall place: 2947/10093

Post race - sweatier, but happy. Once again I had my medal on backwards. You'd think I'd learn to check that before we take pictures.

The finish area was kind of insanely crowded and I was starting to get cold, so I said goodbye to Patty and headed off with my husband to walk back to the car. I also managed to steal Patty's sunglasses. That'll teach her to finish a race one second ahead of me.

Nathan Philips Square finish area and the funky bike sculpture in the background. Can you spot Sam and Nicole?
Ran into Sam and Nicole, talked briefly about our races but we were all tired and holy crap, when not running it was cold! So we headed our separate ways to find our cars and head for home.

Hello salted caramel hot chocolate, with your nice hot cup to warm up my freezing cold hands.
Things I liked about this race: Hello new PB! I enjoyed the course, other than that stupid hill at the end. Really fun. The t shirt is great. Decent crowd support along the way, especially the drummers at the Ex. Some amusing signs ("You are running this city better than Rob Ford" "You know you want me" held by a guy dressed as a bottle of beer). Running along Lakeshore back towards the city with the CN tower in the distance was pretty cool (even if that was a bit of an 'oh shit we have to get past there to get to the finish it looks so far' moment).

Not a particularly impressive kit overall, but the shirt fits very nicely. I demand more samples of products I will never buy!

Things I didn't like: The crowd at the finish - too many people waiting for runners blocking the runner's exit so things started to back up. I think they needed some volunteers to keep the crowd back. Spending the entire race dodging around people; I kind of wonder how much extra distance we ran due to constantly passing people. I had to do a lot of back and forth especially through the first 10k. The woman who almost ran into Patty with her bike when she decided she just HAD to cross the road during a marathon. The cost - it's an expensive race!

Overall I think I prefer to run smaller races where the runners are more spread out and you have a little more room to breathe and settle into your pace. But I would run Scotia again; it's just not going to be a must do every year race for me the way Around the Bay is.

Nice bling. I like how they put Toronto landmarks on the medals (ROM this year).
So what now?

Next up is the Road 2 Hope half marathon, assuming the groin thing is fully resolved (I think it was a mild groin strain of some sort - what am I, a hockey player? It feels better but I have to test it out with an easy run). Then the Downsview 5k because my husband asked me to run it with him, it's his first race, and although I swore no more 5ks until spring, how can I say no to that?

And of course there's this, which I registered for in a fit of post-half marathon PB euphoria...

Wait, what did I just do?

I probably won't do weekly training updates now that my A goal race is over, because frankly even I was getting bored of me the last few weeks. I'll update the blog with race reports (of course) and then probably monthly training updates until marathon training starts. Oh my god, I'm going to train for a marathon. !!!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Fall training 2013: RACE TIME!

And this is it. I've been working towards this race basically since June, although I didn't officially start training for it until July. But it's been the big goal race the whole time, and it's exciting/terrifying that it is finally here. Time to obsess over details like the weather forecast.

Monday's forecast. Rain? RAIN? That's not part of the plan! Fortunately Amy called Environment Canada and pulled some strings to get that changed.

There were a few hiccups along the way in the training (like, say, pretty much all of August). But overall I'm pleased with how this training cycle has gone. The 10k PB a couple of weeks ago in particular shows that I've made progress, and should be able to knock some time off my current half marathon record. Sunday we'll see just what these legs can do!

Training summary since the Mississauga half in May. That's a lot of running. Could have done more interval training, and how did I not have any cut weeks in June or July? Maybe that explains some of the issues I had in August. 

Monday: Thanksgiving Monday, so no work, yay. Easy 8k by the lake, just because I love to run there. It was too beautiful a day to run through the boring late 80s suburban developments where I live.

A little nicer than my closer to home routes. Also fewer hills (bonus).

Tuesday: Rest day. I did a yoga video that has some amazing hip stretches. Fantastic. Find it here.

Wednesday: 6k early in the morning in the rain. Did 2k at race pace in the middle. Felt good. I ran this without music which meant my brain was all "Oh hi this pace? HA HA I DOUBT IT", so when I got to work I made myself a sign to hang over my desk. My brain can be my worst enemy in races, so this is my current strategy to get my mindset positive.

Oh god, did I spell believe right? I hope I spelled it right.

Thursday: Very easy 5k at lunch. I found myself running the same route I used to use for some of my Couch 2 5k runs. That helped put things in perspective - I remembered how it felt each week to make it a little bit further along the path as the running intervals got longer. I remembered how it felt to finish my first 5k run, and then my first 5k race (30:58, thank you very much - that was almost exactly two years ago). Even if I don't reach a particular time goal on Sunday, running has brought so much joy to my life, and it was nice to be reminded of where I started and how much I've accomplished along the way.

Scenery wasn't half bad, either.
And that's it. No more training left to do. Along with Believe, my mantra this week has been Trust the Training. The hay is in the barn, as they say. There's nothing to be done at this point except keep loose, fuel up, and try and get lots of sleep. And make sure my planned race outfit is clean (*runs off to do laundry*). My legs feel strong, and my brain is starting to come around to thinking this might just be possible.


What are my goals? My last half marathon was at Mississauga back in May, where my goal was to go sub 2 and I surprised myself with a 1:58 - I was convinced going into that race that if I got the sub two it would be just barely. Two minutes under was amazing. In retrospect, however, when I look at the splits from that race, I really think if I hadn't paced it in the stupidest possible way I'd have had a legitimate shot at 1:56:xx. Starting out way too fast will cost you at the end of the race, imagine that. Amazing how pretty much all runners have to learn that by experiencing it themselves. Over and over and over again..

So the big goal is 1:53:xx; roughly a 5:21/km pace. I will be ecstatic if I can hit that; I will be happy if I can go under 1:56. Honestly 5:21/km kind of feels like a stretch, but what have I been doing all this training for if not to go for it? So there it is. I'm going to be running the race with Patty, so I plan to ignore my watch (I'll set it to display calories burned instead of current pace), and just stick with Patty until we either finish the race or I collapse at the side of the road.

Aside from the race itself, I plan to enjoy myself! My husband and I are ditching the kids and will go to the expo together (hoping for some good deals, especially on gear for him now that he's decided he wants to train for a spring half marathon). We'll go out for dinner Saturday (also without kids! YAY!). Before the race I hope to meet up with lots of my Daily Mile friends. Even without a PB running a race is always really fun, and I love doing them. The energy in the air, being around so many other people who share the same passion for this slightly ridiculous sport. It's exciting.

Scotibank half marathon, I'm ready. Let's do this thing.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Fall 2013 training week 15: 1 week to go

TAPER!!!!! Time to fret about whether I've trained enough, check the long term forecast repeatedly, and try and figure out what I'm going to wear for the actual race.

Monday: Rest day. I might have done yoga, but now I can't remember. My troublesome hip was a bit cranky after the trail race/long run back to back combo, so lots of foam rolling and stretching throughout the week.

Tuesday: Lunch run. Easy 7.8k. Not much to say about it really. It was a run.

Used my new gym bag from the Run for the Toad. That was exciting.
 Wednesday: Early morning tempo. No complaints (yes, I am running out of things to say). 2k warmup, 4k at HM pace, cooldown. Splits were 5:19, 5:16, 5:21, 5:19. So pretty much right on.

 Another yoga video in the evening. La dee dah.

Thursday: Can you tell I'm getting eager to just get to the race already? Easy 8k early in the morning. It was dark.

I spent much of the week reading surgical journals for work. Surgical articles sometimes include pictures. I deserved a donut after some of what I saw.
The weird pain in my glute I got at Midsummer showed up again while I was sitting in a meeting, and I had a flash of recognition - sciatica. Damn it. I remember it from the first time I was pregnant. Made an appointment with my physiotherapist for next week to see if there's anything she can do to help. At the moment it only hurts when I'm sitting for a long time and is fine if I stand or run, so at least there's that. Since I mostly work at a computer all day, though, it's not exactly a great development. Maybe I can talk them into a standing desk!

Friday: Rest day. Took my kids apple picking and made a bunch of thanksgiving themed cupcakes.

Saturday: long run with my husband! A first for us. Usually running together isn't an option because for some reason they frown on people leaving small children unsupervised. My brother was supposed to join us too but he got to clean puke out of his car instead when my niece got carsick. You can laugh at him, we did!

Heading out. Perfect morning for a run.

We ran to a rail trail and did a straightforward 13k out and back with a few stops for nutrition and such.  Unfortunately the leaves were about a week past peaking so it was a little less colourful than I'd been hoping, but we still had a great time. 
Couldn't get a good picture of the cows. There were a lot of cows.
 Tried out my planned outfit for scotia, and it worked out well. 

Haven't fully settled on the shirt yet, but the skirt is a winner.

Of course that afternoon was the big family turkey dinner, yay!

Mmm, carbs with gravy.
Sunday: Easy 10k. The plan had been 15 Saturday and 8 Sunday, but my husband had never run more than 12, and I didn't want to push him too far on Saturday. So I cut that one to 13k, and made up the missed mileage Sunday. 

You can't see in the picture that I'm completely soaked from the rain. It stopped when I was about 5 minutes from home, naturally.
One week until the race now. The training is essentially over - some easy runs this week just to keep moving, maybe a few km at race pace just to lock in the feeling, but the hard work is done! I'll do a pre-race post later this week once I'm in full on rest/carb loading mode.

Weekly stats: 48.8k run in 4:50:12. A couple of yoga sessions and lots of time with the foam roller. Race day is almost here!!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Race report: The 2013 Run for the Toad 50k relay

Way back in the summer, when Kim and Sam asked if I wanted to join a relay team for the Run for the Toad 50k trail race, I thought it sounded like a great way to run a fun race without all the time pressure I tend to put on myself when I run road races. Plus, I'd never run a relay race before and was interested in trying that out. And I'd always heard that the Toad is one of the best organized races around, so I figured what the hell, let's give it a shot.

I still have no idea why it's called the Run for the Toad.
The weather was a bit iffy; that weird humid but also kind of cold thing we've had going on here lately. It's hard to dress for because you are freezing before you run but 10 minutes in start overheating. I decided to grab one of everything, essentially, to take with me to the race and figured I'd make a decision on an exact outfit once I was there - since I was running third I knew I'd get a chance to hear from Sam how the first leg went and how her outfit worked out for her.

Not even lying, I packed everything. Even towels in case it poured rain. Be prepared.
It was very strange arriving at a race after it had already started. I couldn't shake the feeling that was I late, even though I knew it would be quite a while before it was my turn to run. I managed to time my arrival exactly as the 25k runners were crossing the road into the parking lot. Smooth move.
Get off the road! I'm a motorist! Stupid runners.
After wedging my car into a tiny parking spot next to a tree (had to get out on the passenger side, d'oh), I made my way from the parking lot over to the Toad Tent City, and almost immediately ran into Kim - as I was pulling out my phone to text her! We had some time before we needed to head for the relay exchange area to wait for Sam. I checked out the vendors in the Tent, and was shocked to find a running store selling my particular shoe model for $50 cheaper than usual - and they had one pair left in my size! In a different colour than my current pair, which is awesome because it makes it easier to tell the pairs apart. I got them to hold the shoes for me because I'd left my credit card in the car - I hadn't expected to want to buy anything in the middle of a freaking forest.

Welcome to tent city! The huge tent with vendors and lots of seating is just one of the ways this is a top quality race.

Kim and I waited for Sam, cheering for other runners as they came through. The Toad is a 12.5k loop, so the 25k runners do it twice, the 50k runners do it 4 times, and the relay runners (teams of 4) each run one loop. We weren't waiting too long (Kim might dispute that, she was freeeezing) before Sam came through and Kim was off on her loop of the course.

Swapping the timing chip. I'm being helpful by taking pictures.
After yelling at Kim to run fast, Sam and I headed back to our cars (a bit of a trek, and when Sam says she has no sense of direction, she's not lying). Sam had my race kit in her car, and I needed my credit card to get my shoes. When we got back to the tent city who should we see but our fourth teammate Phil, who somehow managed to score a sweet parking spot right by all the action. Which was awfully convenient because I had not been looking forward to another walk back to the car to store my new shoes, so I stashed them in Phil's Jeep. And now you know way more than anyone needs to about the saga of my new shoes.

After all that blather, the least I can do is show a pic of the new kicks. That's what the kids these days call them, right? Oh god I'm old.

Very nice swag - I will make good use of the gym bag, and the little baggy of epsom salts for a post race soak is brilliant.

Sam recommended a tank top for the run, so I had changed back at the car and got myself organized to run my loop of the race. We hung out chatting at the exchange area and managed to completely miss Kim coming across the finish line (TEAM FAIL). Glad Mari, who we were chatting with, spotted her. I tossed my jacket at Sam, got the chip safely onto my ankle and headed out.

View of the lake by the start. Pretty!
It was very, very odd starting a race all by myself - no one else was coming through the finish area at the time and I found myself running a stupidly fast pace. I took a few deep breaths and told myself to settle down, then immediately started worrying about getting lost. Since many of the 25k runners were now finished, there were some stretches of the course where I was basically running solo, until I would come up on a slower runner or walker. The course marshals kept telling me I was looking strong, and I wanted to tell them, um, I've only been running for about 800 meters, I better look strong! Not like some of the people I passed who were obviously 50k runners now 25k+ in to their race.

Happy runner!

I quickly realized that getting lost wasn't going to be an issue; probably the most well marked course I've ever run. There was never a moment where I had any doubt or hesitation about which direction I was supposed to go. Kudos to the race organizers for that.

No, I didn't take this during the race - had to walk on some of the race trail to get to the parking lot. They had a million of the little flags marking the route, you could always see the next flag, so it was very easy to tell where to go.

The actual run itself had a lot of hills - nothing particularly long, but definitely steeper than this road runner is used to dealing with. I quickly realized that running up some of those inclines wasn't going to get me to the top any faster than a brisk walk would, so settled for walking the steep uphills and then running again as soon I crested the top. That worked really well, and I settled into a nice rhythm. The kilometers seemed to fly by, and I was just loving it! Nothing particularly technical (one section had some tree roots, but they were easy to avoid), and nothing particularly muddy. There were some gorgeous views, too, where I really really really wanted to stop and take pictures, but figured my teammates might be a bit WTF if they realized I'd stopped for photo ops.

Of course I did double thumbs up. Like I ever do anything else. Sigh.
 About 3k from the finish I spotted a female relay runner in a tank top not far ahead of me, and decided to try and catch her. I'm pretty sure she had passed me a few km earlier, so I really wanted to catch back up to her. I was gradually closing the gap, feeling pretty good, when we arrived at Skeleton Hill, aka the hill everyone talks about because you practically need a sherpa to get up it.

Tank top runner is 3/4 of the way up. OK, so I stopped for ONE picture. I swear it only took a second, guys! I had to get a picture of that hill!

Tank top runner RAN up the hill. HA HA HA. At that point I let it go - no way was I going to attempt to run up that! So I said a silent farewell to her, climbed the hill, and headed for the finish.

Air! I need air! And my teammate to take this damn ankle chip off!
Turns out? Tank Top runner was the third runner on Mari's team, and we'd Sam had been trash talking Mari for weeks! I was pretty pleased I'd managed to come in so close behind her, giving Phil a chance to pull out the victory in the admittedly somewhat imaginary race between our teams. I also finished only a couple of minutes before the winner of the women's 50k - glad I wasn't slower, that might have been awkward ("Oh gosh, is this tape stretched across the finish for me? Oh, no. I suppose not.").

Phil headed out for his 12.5k, and I was STARVING (all caps totally warranted). I got my lunch, which was delicious. Another thing this race does completely right, excellent post race food.

It was too much food, in fact, I couldn't eat it all.

After some sitting and chatting, we all headed back to the finish to wait for Phil (figured it would be kind of rude to miss him finishing, especially since he would be getting all our medals). Phil flew through the course with our fastest time of the day, collected our medals, and we celebrated a great relay race and super fun experience!

Way to go team! Shamelessly stole this pic from Kim because she did a way better job at colour correcting than I did with mine, in that I didn't even bother to try.
Oh, and we TOTALLY beat Mari's team. Just for the record. I ran my 12.5k in 1:18:14, and our team finished with a final 50k time of 5:09:44; 28th out of 52 teams. Not bad especially since none of us is really a trail runner!

I look a bit suspicious of my new friend the toad there.

I find myself really really tempted by the idea of the 25k race next year. It was really fun and I felt like one loop just wasn't quite enough. Stay tuned, I may turn into a trail runner yet.

Plus how cute is this medal? So cute!