Kansas Rails-to-Trails Fall Ultra Extravaganza (Oct 28)

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ONE AMAZING WEEKEND!!
I’ve been thinking about a lot about my race and working on getting this blog report written and posted. I feel as though that I can’t find the right words to express all my thoughts and feelings, BUT I do hope that this somewhat captures a bit of my experience at the Kansas Rails-to-Trails Fall Ultra Extravaganza in Ottawa, Kansas.
MY UTMOST THANK YOU’S

Each race, whether considered good or bad, is unique in its own way. Even from year-to-year the same race can be entirely different. I respect the training that goes into each one and always want to walk away with a smile. This race has a special place in my heart. It brought together all the things this trip down to Kansas has meant to me. First and foremost I’m here to be with Phil. We had come off a great summer of training and exploring trails mostly in Dundas Valley and Caledon, often driving longer distances than we were running. After Phil left for his extended work assignment, I continued training on those trails, but it wasn’t the same driving alone and knowing that I wouldn’t see him around the next corner. This really played with my emotions, my thoughts and attitude and sometimes I even found myself ignoring the beauty of the trails that would usually pull me in. Despite these emotions, running was still a constant and kept me in a routine. So to be able to see him at the start, at each of the aid stations and then to see him waiting for me at the finish was so special. I could always hear his cowbell and cheering voice in the distance before I could even see him or the aid station.

This race also marked the end of a season of hard work and I was thrilled to be able to race and put into play everything that I had been learning through the guidance of my amazing coach, Derrick Spafford. It’s been a journey and one which I’ve learned and grown from so much both as a person and as a runner.

My “little” brother, James, also helped me to become a better and stronger climber, which in turn built strength for running. James has a knack for interpreting the climbing routes and problems for me and also calls me out when I’m being a lazy climber 🙂  He’s been helping us with keeping an eye on things back home and we appreciate him greatly.

HUGE thank-you to Phil, Derrick and James for being patient with me, having confidence in me when I didn’t and always seeing the good in things. Yes, I had my moments of mini melt-downs and yet you guys stuck it through with me. I also appreciated all the support and encouraging words from many friends back home, you all inspire me to do my best.

RACE WEEKEND

Okay, let’s get on with the race… just a warning this is LONG post. Read it if you wish or just enjoy the photos 🙂

This race was on the radar for a while as a possible goal race, but as with all my races this year I only signed up a couple of weeks before race weekend. I had done all the training, but needed that extra little push to sign up and really glad that I did.

The race was in Ottawa, KS about a 2.5 hours drive from Wichita where Phil is currently living. We decided to make it a weekend getaway and started our mini-road trip up to Ottawa on Friday. Part of our drive was along the Flint Hills National Scenic Byway – a beautiful drive with panoramic views of the Flint Hills and Tall Grass Prairies which are a rich golden colour this time of year. It was one super windy day though (but better Friday than on race day).

A highlight was the little town of Cottonwood Falls that we just happened to come across during a brief stop to take photos. Phil commented that it looked like it was frozen in time, with its old buildings and artifacts, the uneven cobblestone road and an old court house taking prominence at the top of the street. We learnt from some local residents that the Chase County Courthouse is the oldest working courthouse west of the Mississippi. We grabbed a small bite at the Grand Central Hotel & Grill, another historic site and then hit the road. We passed through a few more little historical towns. As we got closer to Ottawa, the landscape started to change. We noticed a lot more trees, rolling fields and farms; it felt like we were driving through the countryside back home.

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Chase County Courthouse – Cottonwood Falls, a quaint town captured in time

We checked in at the Super 8 in Ottawa and then headed to Celebration Hall, the start line for the races, for race kit pickup and pasta dinner. Then it was early to bed.

Day before

Checking out the start/finish line right outside Celebration Hall on a gorgeous evening

Race day

The big decision on race morning was what to wear. We had been warned that the weather in Kansas constantly changes so to check it and then check it again and again. As the day approached I had noticed that the nice warm weather might be changing and by Friday the first frost warning of the season had been issued. Race morning was -4C with a little bit of wind. Long sleeves, a toque and light gloves were perfect. The 100 milers started at 6 am and 50 milers at 7 am, both in the dark. It was daylight when my race started at 8 am and the weather was sunny with not a cloud in the sky. There were about 30 people in each of the events. I do like these smaller races. It was quite relaxed at the start line with some chatter while we waited for the count down.

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50 K-ers listening to RD Carolyn Robinson – small group, eh?

The first section was an out and back from the starting area on a paved path, then we headed south on the Prairie Spirit Rail Trail. The trail is a converted rail line that stretched from Ottawa south to Iola; the 100 milers were running the entire length of the trail and back. The trail parallels I59, except for a short section of road that connects the trail and goes around the ramp to the Interstate (we were cautioned to NOT go up the ramp). There were also several sections where the trail crossed some rural gravel roads; I had to wait for cars to pass a couple of times and then run through the clouds of dust that were stirred up from the roads. The front runners were a group of 7 people who went out in a pack. I lost sight of them at around 8 km. My goal at this point was to not let their pace dictate mine, which I was aiming to keep at over 6 min/km until at least the first manned aid station.

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Front runners on the out & back section. The gentleman in kilt in the previous photo was the overall winner, but not in this photo. He must have been running behind this group early in the race. The 2nd place male is in black (his first ultra) and the 1st place female (and new KS state 50K record holder) is to the far right in yellow.

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And then me…

I was now running alone. There was no one in sight ahead of me and I could no longer hear the chit chat of those behind me. The only people I saw were supporters who were following their runners and I came across them a few times at the road crossings. They were a lot of fun!

I was running quite comfortably and really enjoying the scenery and trying to figure out what these big round green brainy-looking things were laying along the side of the trail.

IMG_3941Side note: About a week later, I saw the same things during a hike and put it out to FB and IG. I have learnt that they are fruit (also known as hedge apple or bodark) from the Osage-orange tree.

 

Princeton – Aid station at 18 km

As I started to approach the first manned aid station, my pace picked up a bit… I made a bee-line to the restroom 🙂  Phil made sure that I was checked in and out with the volunteers and was busy telling me that the first group of runners passed through about 10-12 minutes ahead of me (they had spread out a bit) and that I was the 3rd female and 8th overall at this point. I was ready to keep going. My legs were still feeling pretty fresh so I decided to pick up the pace and see what would happen. I was still running alone. For this next stretch to Richmond, I ran based on effort and just kept an eye on the distance. Pace wise, I was pretty sure that I was slightly ahead of my pace chart that I had tucked away in my pocket.

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The lovely Prairie Spirit Rail Trail – Princeton to Richmond

Richmond – Aid station at 28 km and turnaround

I passed couple of 50 milers on this stretch between Princeton and Richmond, and as I approached the aid station I finally saw some other 50K runners. The faster ones were returning and still looking nice and strong. I made it through the turnaround as the 2nd female and 6th overall. I was still running based on effort versus pace.

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Approaching Richmond and turnaround

On the return, it was so much fun to see the other runners as we cheered for each other and getting some high fives! One lady was running with her dog, who was overly excited to run at the beginning, but when I saw them, the dog had lost some interest in running and seemed to be more curious about what was possibly lurking on the sides of the trail (oh boy). I felt myself slowing down a bit as I approached the next aid station (back to Princeton) and some of my existing aches were starting to flare up.

Princeton – Aid station at 38 km 

I was so happy to make to the aid station and see Phil. I was in pain, but I knew that I just needed to keep moving. This was my only brief walk. I checked in and out, still holding on to 2nd female and 6th place. Oh, I never did find out what they were serving at the aid stations and the unique item at each station will remain a secret. I carried enough fuel (lots of gels and chews, and S!Caps) to keep me going. This last stretch to the finish was the toughest. I made sure to keep up on fueling and took another S!Cap, checked my form, shortened my cadence, all the things I’d been learning and practicing, and just kept looking and moving forward. With what I think was about 8 km to go, I could now see a couple of runners in the distance. I was determined to catch up to them. I went to take one more gel and as I reached into my pocket it fell out and dropped to the ground… crap. I carefully reached down to pick it up and thankfully didn’t cramp.

Finish line

I could now hear the interstate, which meant it was the final stretch. The finish line was at Celebration Hall which was accessed by taking short turnoff from the trail down a dirt path. I knew the turn-off had to be approaching, but it was hard to see. Fortunately, I could hear a cowbell in the distance and as I approached I could see that it was Phil!!  He told me later that he was trying to ring the bell as loud as he could when he spotted me through his mega-zoom camera lens and hoped that it would help me know that I was close to finishing. I crossed the finish and the RD presented me with a Finisher’s belt buckle and sticker. She told me that I was the 2nd female and 4th overall. Wow! I also hadn’t checked my time or pace since the first aid station, so I was pleased when I saw the time on the clock. I was so happy!

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Back in the Celebration Hall, I got to see and chat with the other runners. They joked around with me and told me that they were surprised to see me so soon after the turnaround. That was nice of them.  Lots of cheers as more runners entered the Hall.  There were 4 Kansas state records broken that day across all events with some pretty fast times.

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OMG Cinnamon Roll

The post race food was just as good as the pre-race meal. We had a spread of breakfast foods including homemade cinnamon rolls made in-house right at the Hall – OMG they were good!

This was an amazing race experience from my inquiry to the RD back in March right to the end. Thank you to RD Carolyn Robinson and her amazing team of volunteers. It’s going to be one I’ll remember for a while. Like I said at the beginning, this race was special in many ways!

Post-race fun

We spent the rest of our weekend getaway visiting Kansas City, MO. It was a contrast to Wichita where most things are flat. The street were hilly, which provided for some great lookout points. For dinner and post-race celebratory meal, we went to the famous Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que. Anthony Bourdain says this is one of the restaurants you need to go to before you die. The line up was out the door and then snaked through the restaurant, but worth the wait even on some very sore legs.

Photo (L to R) – top row – Behind the WWI memorial | overlooking Kansas City | Country Club Plaza; middle row – J C Nichols Memorial Fountain | old tower part of the Cheesecake Factory building | Union Station; bottom row – WWI memorial & museum | photo exhibit at memorial | ceiling inside Union Station

Love it when the day and weekend ends with a gorgeous sunset.

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Now to just relax and reminisce and enjoy some downtime.  Just keep looking for those sunset moments… no one is the same.

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Rotary Park Trail, Sudbury

My work allows me to visit different parts of Ontario and this past week I spent a few days in Sudbury. I have been to the outskirts, usually to fill up on gas when camping, but never have visited the city. Our flight from Billy Bishop airport was slightly delayed so it was already starting to get dark when we took off. It was neat to see the city from above with all the lights, but it quickly turned to darkness as we got further away from Toronto, with the occasional glow of smaller towns. Unfortunately, this meant that we wouldn’t be able to see the lovely Canadian shield on our approach to Sudbury.

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Over the city

One of the things I really enjoy when in a new place is to explore by foot as it allows me to stop and mingle and discover places and things that might be missed when whizzing by in a car (I didn’t have much of choice this time as I was without a car anyway). Sudbury has its regions and getting from one to the other by foot was a bit far, so I was limited to exploring the area where my hotel was situated in New Sudbury (north-east of downtown). This area is relatively new and very commercial with lots of outlets and big box stores. My client told me that like much of Sudbury, all this development involved extensive blasting of rock which is very costly. So unfortunately, I was only able to admire the remnants along the side of the roads and perimeters of buildings, which was still quite impressive.

Before I had left, I did some research and discovered the Rotary Park Trail, which is a part of Greater Sudbury trail system known as the Rainbow Routes. This 3 km trail is intended to provide people with an alternative non-motorized route from downtown to New Sudbury. I walked from my hotel around the box stores, which added some distance, but was safer as there was only a narrow shoulder along the busy 4-lane road and then was rerouted due to construction in the residential area. The planned 2.5 km quickly became closer to 4 km. The access to Adanac Ski Hill, near the start of the trail, is off Beatrice Cres. using a short path between a couple of houses, with the driveway a few houses down. I wandered around, chatted with a couple of locals walking their adorable dogs, and then found the trail head. The start of the trail ran along the perimeter of the base of the ski hill and then paralleled Junction Creek with beautiful birch trees lining one side.

Along the trail was a series of story boards telling the story of Samuel the Blanding’s turtle, “Samuel’s Most Important Message,” a children’s book written by Frank Glew from Kitchener. The story is about a Blanding’s turtle living in an urban environment and the impact of human activities on nature. Part way through the story, I came to a set of metal staircases that led to a lookout over New Sudbury Conversation Area. Lovely views! Unfortunately with the shorter days, it quickly became dusk and out came the fierce mosquitoes, so I had short-cut the trail and make my way back to the hotel. The rest of Samuel’s story and trail will have to wait for another day.

My flight back was also delayed, however this time it was just dusk so we were able to see the contrast of the lovely rocks, lakes, rivers and forests to the city views.

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When I get another chance to visit Sudbury, I hope that I can explore more the southern part below downtown Sudbury, specifically around Ramsey Lake and Lake Laurentian Conservation Area.

Glen Major Forest

What a glorious day! This past Saturday was the perfect day to be outdoors to soak up some springtime sun. We hit the trails fairly early this morning at Glen Major Forest in Durham (and a bit through Walkers Woods). The first portion of the trail leading from the parking lot is crushed gravel and then it changes to dirt trails that meander through the forest and some open areas. There was a nice mixture of wide sections and single track and lots of rolling hills. Everywhere I looked it was so green! And the sounds…. silence! Okay, there were the occasional squirrels and chipmunks scurrying through the bush.

I came across a couple of other runners and some mountain bikers, including a large group of 15 or so bikers who were a part of an organized trip – they had Canada 150 signs mounted on the front of their bikes.

I’m not very familiar with these trails; the last time I was there was in the winter snowshoeing. The main trails are marked but there are many side trails that can make it a bit confusing. I crossed over to Walkers Woods and thought that I could circle back but the trail connected to a trail along private property (different from what the map indicated) so I back tracked and tried a different route. This time I was sure I was headed in the wrong direction so I checked the compass on my phone. Sure enough I was headed in the opposite direction, so I back tracked again and caught up with the Trans Canada Trail which led me back to my car. All of the trails connect and lead back to a road or parking lot, so it’s not really possible to get lost.

I was impressed with how well maintained the trails were and not much in way of garbage! I saw maybe one beer can and something shined at one point, but not much else.

And what would a trip to Durham be without a visit to Hy-Hope Farms. We sat out on their deck and had an early lunch, while looking out all the way to Lake Ontario. Spectacular view!

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A great day to be outdoors!

Christie Lake Photo Walk

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Christie Lake is one of Hamilton’s conservation areas which we visited for the first time during the recent May long weekend. This day the parking was plentiful, but I expect that it gets quite busy in the warmer summer months. We decided to explore the trail that goes around the lake about 5.6 km. There are side trails as well as an adventure trail that leads to Webster and Tew Falls and further into Dundas Valley, but we’ll save those for another outing. The first part of the trail passes through a frisbee golf course and then becomes a comfortable dirt trail with just a few sections of rolling hills. We walked the trail clockwise with glimpses of the lake on one side and a variety of vegetation along both sides of the trail. Particularly beautiful this time of year were the Trilliums displayed in whites and purples.

On this photo walk, I was learning about aperture and experimenting with a 50mm lens. We took quite a few photos and have found a few favourites to share.

What a great way to explore a new park/trail.  Next time we will run the trail.

Waterloo Marathon

Today was my second time running the Waterloo Marathon. It is a well-organized race with awesome volunteers who take care of the runners from beginning to end. The volunteers even pour your drinks and dress your bagels at the finish line. The race was in support of St. John Ambulance and this year was the inaugural Ed Whitlock Half Marathon. There was a nice tribute to him during the opening ceremonies.

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I placed 3rd in my age category. I am happy with how I ran the race although at times it was tough going. We received handmade finishers medals made a local potter. For my third place finish, I received a first aid kit from St. Johns Ambulance.

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The temperature was nice and cool, and the rain held off (happy dance), but it was very windy. I’m sure it was mostly a crosswind or headwind for most of race. I remember turning a corner near the end of the race along with another runner and we both said… “Are you serious?!” as the gust of wind came head on. You run to the conditions you are given, right?

A bit about the course… I love this course. The first half is along rolling country roads with great views of farms and fields. The horses were playful and entertaining. I even saw two horse and buggies. After running through a covered bridge (pretty cool) the course transitions to city roads, which only have about a foot of paved shoulder plus a wider gravel shoulder. Thankfully, the traffic wasn’t too bad today.

There were also moments where I felt like I was in so much pain that I wanted to walk in between aid stations. This is when I thought about everyone who had helped me get here and pictured them cheering me on… that really kept me moving!! I think I was also talking to my legs, trying to trick them into thinking that nothing was wrong and coaxing them to keep running J  I did have a lot of fun racing regardless.

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Happy that the finish line is in sight.

Thanks especially to Phil and Derrick. Phil (my hubby) and I enjoy supporting each other with our running, but he is better at it than me. Derrick is my amazing coach, without whom I think I may have given up. He helped me through my “bad attitude” days with encouraging words and prepared me well for the race. I am continuously learning new things.

Great race day!

The Horizon

Harmony cruise -20170216-105(Things that get written on my commute to and from work… I wrote this a few weeks ago but only posting it now… with a bit of an update)

So last year I sprained my ankle during a trail race. This is my first real injury that’s more than an overuse injury. I didn’t think too much of it as the swelling subsided within a day and there wasn’t a significant amount of pain or discomfort. I thought I’d bounce right back and be out running in no time. I took a little of time off and then got back out onto the roads with same intensity as before the injury. That didn’t feel so good. I backed off a bit, got an X-ray and ultrasound done just in case; thankfully nothing showed up, but I started to realize that maybe this was a little more than a scratch.

Here I am almost exactly 8 months later. The ankle is much stronger, but sometimes I can still feel ‘something’. It seems to act up from time to time when I ramp up the intensity. I know, back off, slow down, stop, right?  Easy to say, but it’s hard for me to walk away from a workout. I want more from myself. I want to push the boundaries. Sometimes I feel like I can do more and then I without thinking I’ve done too much. My body has also been compensating causing other aches and annoyances, but also showing me what other weaknesses I need to work on. It was actually easier in the earlier months, when I told myself that this will teach me discipline and patience, and that when it’s all said and done, I’d come back stronger. But 8 months!!… I’ve had my moments of just wanting to give up and forget about my goals. I couldn’t see what was beyond the horizon and that frustrated me. I was looking too far ahead and not seeing what was in front of me today and what I can accomplish now and celebrate those little victories.

All this is so evident when I look back on my daily journal. The earlier months were much more cheerful.

About three months after my sprain, I got a coach, Derrick Spafford. I wanted to see what else I can do, but felt that I needed help in doing it right. Derrick is awesome. He builds and adjusts my workouts as I go back and forth from good to bad and good again. Sometimes I trip up…. usually when I don’t follow instructions. This often causes me set backs and I do get frustrated with myself. I am learning. Some things that I thought I knew, I now understand (these I’ll save for future posts).

I am continually learning from my experiences and know that I just need to keep trusting myself and my coach and work hard each day… one day at a time.

Treat Saturday

This past weekend we ran Around the Bay. So, in preparation we decided to stay mostly off our feet on the Saturday and just drive around town and pick up some treats for ourselves.

First off, was a hunt for the new Elevate Me bars. We tried a few flavours of these bars that we had received as samples.

Love them for these reasons:

  • They taste great (to date blueberry is my favourite followed by PB&J)
  • They’re filling and don’t upset or sit in my tummy
  • They’re not too messy to eat
  • They’re made in Canada

We spotted them at Organic Garage and Ambrosia, but they don’t seem to have them in the chain grocery stores at least in the GTA yet (we looked in Superstore, Metro and Highland Farms). We also discovered that the prices were different at the two stores. Also, the yellow packaging contains 3 x 22g pieces vs 2 x 22g in the newer black label packaging… so need to watch out for the unit cost too. There’s enough bar in the smaller black packaging so I like that one better (no leftovers to carry around). We have a stash for our before and after workout snacks and a few new flavours to try out.

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This was followed by a trip out to Hy-Hope Farms where they make the best butter tarts. It’s a little further out, but worth the drive. We had discovered this place after a skate ski outing.  They sell freshly baked goods, canned goods, farm produce, nice warm-you-up from the inside cider and other goodies. It all smells so yummy. There was a job fair going on that day, so it was busy with students waiting for interviews. We came away with some homemade pickles, sauerkraut, sausages and butter tarts of course. Oh, I also had tomato soup with potatoes, which the chef told us would be addictive (and I think he might be right). This was our before race treat 🙂 (at least that was our excuse).

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Not to forget, Phil kindly took me to Currys (Art Store). I always get excited when I walk into a art or craft store… this time was no different. Let’s just say I got some nice things to make my journal that much more colourful.

Back home, we got our race gear ready and rested up for the remainder of the day…. and had our homemade by Phil pasta dinner.

Slightly Exposed

Just a couple of nights ago I was out in the cold running. It was one of those nights where the air was crisp and I could see my own breath, and the edges of the road were still slippery from the freezing rain. I loved the feeling of the cold air; it was refreshing and made me feel alive.

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This morning was a bit of contrast. I woke up, threw on shorts and a tank, laced up my shoes and got to run on a street called Beach Boulevard amongst the crowds of other runners. Yes, today I am a south-lander. My exposed white winter legs hinted Northerner, but my smile, wave and friendly hello probably said Canadian. It’s nice to get away from the cold for just a little while and get slightly exposed.

By the end of the week, I’m sure I’ll be ready to strap on some snowshoes and get back to winter for a little while longer. But until then, it’s flip flops and sun.

Rest

It finally snowed again and this time it was the nice fluffy stuff. I love how it gently blankets everything and puts everything to rest. This made me want to get outside. The soft snow under my feet, the fresh footprints and just the overall quietness in the neighbourhood was refreshing. I find that when it snows people tend to hunker down in their homes instead of getting out and embracing the beauty of winter (although cozying up around the fireplace is nice too).

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This week is about rest and recovery after the snowshoe race this past weekend. I went out too fast and came out feeling a bit wrecked. Yesterday I rested my body, but I found that my mind was restless as it had time to over analyze and criticize things (I suppose that’s the accountant in me). So while my body rested my mind went into overdrive. Today, my mind got its turn during my gentle recovery run. When I run, I’m a lot more relaxed and think less or I daydream, although the latter sometimes gets me in trouble like today when I forgot to take the modified route and ended up a bit further from home than planned. I thought I knew the importance of rest as part of training, but I think I’m only starting to understand it now.