Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Athlete’s Corner: Race report with Craig Frizzle

Official shirt awarded to each of the five finishers of the inaugural trifecta.
You know you want one ....

Three stellar courses, three consecutive weekends, July 11, July 18, July 25th (2015)
150km combined distance and 48,000ft of elevation change!

Craig Trifecta Results:
Knee Knacker 30mile – 6h48:14 – 61st (Strava)
Broken Goat 50km – 7h45:10 – 49th overall (Strava)
Buckin’ Hell 50km – 7h10:13 – 29th overall (Strava)

Gary giving Craig the thumbs up at the finish of Buckin' Hell.
Photo by Chloé.

Chloé: You have been racing ultras for some time now, up to the 50 mile distance. What was the appeal with this Triple event?  

Craig: My first ultra was in 2013. It was the Meet your Maker 50miler in Whistler. My motto for that run is “Mistakes were made”. I was completely undertrained and unprepared to run that far in that terrain. I was able to finish but certainly would not recommend it as an entry into ultra running. (*note: sadly, MYM50 no longer exists).

In 2014, three friends and I decided that the Squamish 50/50 was going to be the next ridiculous adventure. I felt more prepared, but really, how prepared can one be to run 130km over two days on a Gary Robbins course …

This year, I intended to enter the Knee Knacker lottery but otherwise had no other race plans. This quickly changed after I heard about the Broken Goat 50km race in Rossland on the Seven Summits trail. It was an area I wanted to explore and figured a race would be a guided tour of some of the best trails the region had to offer. Shortly after signing up for the Broken Goat, the trifecta was announced. I knew this would be my 2015 challenge.

Around the same timeframe I was convinced by a friend at the very last minute to put my name in the UTMB CCC lottery as a team of four. I figured my lottery luck had run out but alas we got in. Thankfully the Buck Me, this Goat is Knackered courses are all great training for the UTMB in August.

Photo by Brian McCurdy Photography.

Chloé: Did you feel ready, how did you prepare for this

Craig: Intellectually, I was as ready as I could be for something like this. Yet feel like, and maybe should have done more. My training is a hodgepodge of past experience, books I’ve read (Eat & Run by Scott Jurek and Hal Koerner’s field guide to Ultra running), and discussions with other runners. I’m a shift worker so I have to tailor all training around working 13hr days and nights, and around all the other life stuff that inevitably comes up.

For nutrition I have Tailwind in my water and I usually carry fig bars, baby food, gels and some type of real food (perogies, baked eggs, burritos etc) in my pack. However, on race day I usually end up relying on Aid station food. This usually means I consume a lot of Coke and watermelon with the occasional chips or pretzels.  

For gear, after trying several packs I finally found one that works for me which is the Salomon S-Lab Adv Skin 12. I’m on a constant search for the perfect shoe. Though it’s an even split between Salomon and Pearl Izumi. For the trifecta I ended up wearing the PI EM Trail N2’s for KK & BH & N1’s for BG.

Happy finish for Craig at KK.

Chloé: So, overall how did it go? 

Knee Knacker
First off it was just great to be at the start line of this race. After a full week of wondering if forest fires would force the cancellation it wasn’t until late Friday afternoon that word was sent that the race was on. It was a tough week both being disappointed that I’d have to put my name back in the lottery to have my first KK experience and that the trifecta would be over before it even began.

As for the race itself, I’ve run this course numerous times in training so there would be no surprises there. After a very dusty beginning where we all inhaled a lot of dirt, I kept a steady pace up Black Mountain, but perhaps pushed a bit too hard as I started feeling quite nauseas and light headed and was having trouble consuming food. I really struggled from Cypress to Cleveland Dam, a stretch I normally have a lot of fun on. Thankfully at the Dam I had several friends who became my de facto crew. They refilled my water and restocked me from my drop bag while I just stood there trying to get my wits about me. Their cheers and support sent me on my way up Nancy Greene Way with a smile on my face and a new sense of purpose. From there I felt quite strong and had a great second half of the race. I was aiming for sub 7 hours and came in a very surprising 6h48.

Broken Goat
After a lengthy road trip over two days I arrived in Rossland, checked-in at package pick-up, and sat through a long pre race briefing, the highlight of which was the women who had a panic attack when the Wildsafe BC spokesperson started talking about bears and cougars.

The race itself started in a clearing just off a gravel parking lot on the side of the highway. It was a chilly morning as we all stood around chatting, taking pictures and generally waiting for the start. Although not as drastic, the Broken Goat starts much like the Knee Knacker with a long steady climb. I took it out pretty slow but when I attempted to push the effort I realized that my legs were not going to cooperate for this run. I wasn’t generating much power on the uphill and didn’t trust them enough to  run fast on the downhill.

The beauty of the surroundings and a steady stream of encouraging words from runners on the out and back sections kept my spirits up despite leg issues. When I was starting to get a bit down I saw my wife at the 40km aid station. She provided me with an ice-cold beverage and some positive energy for the Vertical Mile hill. I had mentally prepared myself for this hill and my whole focus was on continuing all the way to the top without stopping. I knew it wouldn’t be fast, and it wasn’t, but I just wanted to make it to the top. 

My only real negative moment of the day was on the last stretch when I could hear the finish line announcer and then the trail turned back away from it and climbed up and away for what felt like a long time. However, that moment passed quite quickly as the trail turned back towards the sound of the announcer and I happily finished to the enthusiastic cheers of Rene Unser the race director.

Buckin’ Hell
The week leading up to it, I was expecting to have a rough race day. I’d be tired, and since I knew the trails, figured that it would be tough to maintain a positive attitude.

Buckin’ Hell, like the previous two races, starts with a long steady climb out of Deep Cove. Despite my week of worry I felt shockingly good. My legs were strong and I ran very well through the lower Seymour sections and the climb to Mt. Seymour aid station. I devised a strategy that on the numerous long steady uphills I would run for two course markers and then walk one. This kept me motivated and it was never too far, because hey it’s a Gary Robbins marked course. I hit a dark place as I ascended from the Mt. Seymour Aid Station up to Brockton Point. I called it Bonk City. For a stretch, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. After a pep talk from friends and volunteers at Mt Seymour and some lengthy downhill I was able to emerge out the other side and have a strong finish to complete the trifecta, which obviously is the most memorable part of the Buckin’ Hell for me.

The view from Old Glory Mt at Broken Goat.

Chloé: What was your favourite about each event?

Knee Knacker – I know the course very well so there were no surprises. Although even having heard all about the volunteers and aid stations it was still an amazing sight to see the lengths they go to make sure we have a good race. From Black Sabbath Mountain, The High Rollers at LSCR and the Roman Emperors of Hyannis it brought a boost of energy every time I saw the enthusiasm and effort the volunteers had put into their stations.

Broken Goat – The entire first half of the course was a treat, with amazing single track, ridge running and spectacular views from the mountain summits. The positive words from all runners I met on the out and backs were a good reminder of what a great community we have. I did not love the Vertical Mile hill at kilometre 40 of the race, but it was definitely memorable. It was also great to see at the awards ceremony how the entire community of Rossland got behind this race. For example, The Mayor was on the course volunteering, how cool is that?

Buckin’ Hell – Honestly because I knew most of the trails on this course the highlight was the last 4 or 5 km from the top of Old Buck where it meets the BP, it was then that I allowed myself to celebrate the accomplishment. I knew that section very well from Knee Knacker so I knew I could power it home from there. Having lots of friends & family at the finish line to cheer me in was also very special.

Chloé: What top tips do you have for others who are considering racing multiple ultras in a row? … would you do it again?

Craig: I figure that anybody who is considering it is physically going to be able to accomplish it. What it becomes is a mental challenge to make sure you take care of yourself and run smart to keep your body in good condition. For me it was important to listen to my body and not push too hard. It’s also very important to spend the week following each race eating anything and everything…it may not help you complete the challenge but it sure is fun.

I never say never but I can’t envision a scenario where I’ll do that again. Much like the Squamish 50/50, I am extremely proud of the accomplishment but now I look forward to new challenges.

I want to give a huge shout out to Matt Barry, Michael Senior, Ken Legg and Katie Clegg whom I was fortunate to meet and share this experience with. I was in awe watching how strong all of them were in completing the trifecta. It was great to see that all five of us who started at the Knee Knacker were able to collect our much deserved shirts at the end of Buckin’ Hell. And to top it off, great to share a champagne celebration with Katie after her finish. 

Also, a special thank you to my wife Robyn who is the best support crew a guy could ask for. She makes an effort to be out on the course with her signs, cowbells, and loud cheering not only for me but all other runners. It gives me a much-needed boost every time I see her out on the course.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Athlete's Corner: Chris Jones wins Knee Knacker 2015

Race Report and Interview

Chris finished in 1st place, 4h51:34

When: Saturday July 11, 2015, 6am start
Where: Vancouver’s North Shore Mountains from Horseshoe Bay to Deep Cove
Distance/Elevation: 30 miles, 16,000 feet of vertical climb and descent
Time limit: 10 hours
No participants: 200 max (by lottery)
Full race results: (here)

About Chris

Years trail running: 2.5
Favourite race you’ve done: Tough to say. Every race offers something unique and memorable. It was amazing to win the Knee Knacker on home soil.

Race you’d some day want to do: Hardrock 100 or UTMB

Worst ever decision made in a race: Eating a PPJ sandwich at 25km during my first 50km. It came back up as quickly as it went down.

Three things you’d never race without: I’m constantly experimenting and trying new things out but what’s been working recently is a fresh pair of shoes, shorts with pockets to hold my goodies, and a trustworthy hat.

Go-to recovery treat: A nice Belgian beer.

Favourite trail/area to train on: I spend a lot of time on Baden Powell, Mountain Highway and surrounding mountain bike trails. Fisherman’s trail along the Seymour river is another favorite for recovery runs. Cypress is also an amazing playground with a ton of hidden gems.

Do you have a coach? Self-coached

Max weekly mileage: I typically train low milage high intensity; 70 - 90km / week for a 50km race with a focus on vertical, intensity and time on feet.

Something people may not know about you: Before running I was equally as obsessed with skiing and competed in halfpipe and slopestyle.

Chris in his Slopestyle days. Photo by Walrus Design (2009)

Chloé: You are a relatively newcomer to the ultra-trail running scene – though already with several wins and top placings in highly competitive events such as the Squamish50 and DiezVista50. What is your background and how did you get into trail running?

Chris: I was never a runner growing up. As a kid the closest thing to running I ever did was take a few laps during soccer practice when I irritated my coach. I played soccer until 18 but my real passion was always skiing in the winter and mountain biking in the summer. I skied at a locally competitive level in halfpipe and slopestyle from 2003 to 2006. A few too many concussions steered me away from the terrain park and into powder which is where I choose to spend my time on hill these days. In the summers I substituted skiing with downhill mountain biking on the North Shore. I credit my years biking with my comfort running fast down technical terrain. I still ski but find myself biking less and less these days as I focus more on running.

In early 2013 Connor Meakin and I started running the False Creek Seawall together before work to get in shape. Those morning runs snowballed into us running the Bagel Chase, the Sun Run, and then the BMO Marathon. In July of that year Connor convinced me to sign up for our first trail run, the Grey Rock 50km in Yakima, Washington, where we tied for 4th place. I haven’t looked back since.

A happy finish for Chris. Dianna Christopoulos looking on.

About the race

Chloé: Coming off your recent Sun Mountain 50K win (3h54:56), how were you feeling going into Knee Knacker? Any special preparation leading up to race day?

Chris: I felt confident coming out of Sun Mountain but knew I had a lot of work to do if I wanted to be competitive at Knee Knacker. Sun Mountain is a very fast, smooth and runnable course… so completely different from KK. I knew I had to switch my focus from moving fast to moving efficiently over varied terrain.

I like to think I’m a strong downhiller and technical runner but my weakness is definitely in climbing. During Sun Mountain I would fall behind on climbs but make it up on the descents. With 2400+ meters of climbing in Knee Knacker (and 1000m in the first quarter) I knew where I needed to focus my training.
The recovery from Sun Mountain took a bit longer than anticipated but I stayed patient and resumed focused workouts 2 weeks after the race. I made a point of running nearly every run over the next 7 weeks on the Knee Knacker course, with a few adventure runs thrown in to keep me sane. My workouts mainly consisted of longer intervals (8 - 10 minutes), long steady climbs, and fast downhill running over technical terrain. I also mixed in some longer hiking days to build strength and take a break from Baden Powell. A few key runs in the lead-up to Knee Knacker were a 5 hour loop above Lions Bay with 2100m+ of elevation gain over 22km (Mt Brunswick summit to HSCT and down the Binkert trail) and a great (but hot) weekend of back-to-back 3 hour out-and-backs over the first quarter and last quarter of the course.

Over the last 3 years of running I’ve struggled with a lot of injuries and have been sidelined from a number races. This year I was planning to link Diez Vista, Knee Knacker, and SQ50 for an epic local season, but was unable to start Diez Vista with a lingering left ankle issue. That said, I was really worried when 3 weeks before Knee Knacker I developed a sharp stabbing pain on the inside of my right ankle. I took 4 days off before I found the culprit muscle in my arch that was causing the problem. A few solid days of self massage loosened it up and my ankle was good to go.

Chloé: Was this a goal race? What were your key objectives and strategies for this run?

Chris: This was definitely a goal race but with a lot of unknowns. This was my first Knee Knacker and I’d heard a lot about people blowing up on their first go at the race. I went in focused on going under 5 hours and not really worrying about how I placed. I find that focusing on placing keeps me from running for myself. If I was running under 5 hours I figured I’d be in a good position and could push for placing later in the race.

I knew some of the splits I wanted to hit based on Gary Robbins’ success in 2013 and specifically the excellent post he wrote on the race. I have to thank Gary for his invaluable advice: “Come over the top just a few minutes faster than you physically should and you'll suffer the consequences all day long, come over the top a few minutes slower than you should and you'll be playing catch up all day long.”
My goal was to make it to Cypress in 1:20 and to feel fresh in order to stay in the mix. From there I knew I had to play my strengths by running within myself on the climbs and hammering the technical descents. From Cypress I wanted to make Cleveland Dam by 2:20. I didn’t have goal splits from the Dam to the finish because I didn’t want to feel discouraged if I missed something. I wasn’t running for the course record so I only focused on feeling fresh by LSCR and ready hammer it home for a sub 5 hour finish from there.

As for race day essentials, I planned to wear a fresh pair of Pearl Izumi N1s from Distance Runwear. For nutrition I planned on going with gels and coke later in the race. I don’t mind PowerGel Vanilla so the plan was to stick to that every 30mins and to take more frequently if needed towards the end. I wanted to feel light and quick so opted for 1 handheld water bottle instead of a vest.

I can’t thank my girlfriend Stephanie enough for being there and crewing. The plan was for her to be at Cypress, Cleveland Dam, and LSCR, ready to swap my water bottle and top up my gel stash.

On a hike with his girlfriend Stephanie Johannessen (2014)

Chloé: How did it go?

Chris: This year was set to be a battle royale with what looked to be one of the most competitive Knee Knackers in recent history. I was hoping to lay it all out there with some of the best runners on the West Coast. It was quite disappointing to hear that the defending champ, Mike Murphy, had to drop early and that Maxwell Ferguson and Jeremy Clegg didn’t start. I ended up toeing the line with Mike, Ed McCarthy, and Oliver Utting. Needless to say I felt intimidated by the combined experience and talent of those three.

The race started out easier than anticipated but I was comfortable to slot in behind Ed, Mike and Oliver and cruise up towards White Lake. I passed Mike and Oliver and moved into 2nd just before White Lake but watched as Ed took off the front of the pack. I stayed within myself on the way up to Eagle Bluffs, going over my motto for the day “play your strengths”. I glanced back occasionally but didn’t see anyone behind. When I crested Eagle Bluffs I was surprised to see Michael McMillan close behind me. I made a bit of a push up to Black Mountain and didn’t see Michael again.

Nick Elson and the Black Sabbath Mountain crew were a welcome relief. I grabbed a quick swig of water and pushed over the top of Black. Knowing now that Ed was only 4 minutes ahead and that I was feeling fresh I ran quickly down to Cypress Bowl and hit my goal split of 1:20. I ditched my shirt as I was feeling pretty warm despite the cool weather and mist. Steph handed me a fresh water bottle and a few gels and I was out.

From Cypress to Capilano Dam I pushed fairly hard and ran a 58:25 split putting me in at 2:19. Capilano Dam was a highlight for me. I felt a huge rush seeing my parents and friends for the first time. Adam Harris gave me an update on how Ed was looking and we discussed my strategy over the next section to LSCR.

Running up Nancy Greene I started to feel my legs a bit. The next climb before descending to Skyline wasn’t pretty but I stayed controlled, took it easy and hiked, conserving energy for the descent. I thought I lost a lot of ground to Ed over this section but at Skyline was told he was only 3 minutes ahead. I felt confident that I was racing smart. Skyline to LSCR was as I expected it to be. I ran relaxed and steady into LSCR.

From LSCR my goal was to hammer home to the finish line. That didn’t quite happen. I ran hard out of LSCR but quickly realized that there was a good chance of a blow-up if I powered up the last two climbs as hard as I planned to. Climbing up to Lillooet Road I started thinking about my race so far and the idea of running it in easy for second place sounded nice. I didn’t want to kill myself trying to close a gap on Ed that hadn’t really budged all day. I knew that getting to the top of the Seymour Grind in good shape would give me a solid chance at closing strong. I decided to keep running within myself and moved steadily to the toga party that was Hyannis aid station. I want to say a huge thank you to the volunteers that made this race possible. Hyannis and all the other aid stations made my day really enjoyable.

The slow steady incline to the base of Seymour Grind taunted me. It was steep enough to test my tired legs but not steep enough to warrant walking. I grunted it out and welcomed the idea of switching gears to a hike up the Grind. Hands on knees, I hiked the whole Grind, even opting to walk sections between switchbacks I would normally run. I again told myself to play my strengths and came to the top of the Grind feeling relatively fresh and ready to hammer home. The thought of catching Ed briefly crossed my mind but I didn’t entertain the thought.

I pushed the downhill hard, filled up quickly with ice water at Mt Seymour road and kept pushing. Just after crossing Indian River road I saw the neon yellow swoosh of Ed’s shirt 100 meters down the trail. “Damnit” I thought, “now I have to run hard”... There was a quick internal debate about how deep I was  willing to go into the pain cave but I thought about my friends and family who had been out all day cheering me on. The only thing I could do was push.

I locked in on Ed and ran within 50 meters of him, slowed a bit to match his pace and realized he must be hurting. I quickly tossed back a gel and made the decision to go for it. Just as I caught him I asked jokingly if he wanted to run it in together. I have nothing but respect for Ed. Knowing his blazing fast road times and how he crushed me at Diez Vista last year by 30 minutes, I was secretly hoping he would say yes to a tie. A battle over the next 3km from Quarry Rock to the finish line would be carnage. He politely declined saying he thought he went out too hard. I knew, unfortunately, he was done. I pushed past and never looked back.

As I jumped from root to root politely asking (yelling at) Quarry Rock hikers to get out of the way, the idea that I was about to win the Knee Knacker crept into my head. I didn’t entertain the thought for long as I knew I still had 2 highly technical kilometers to make it through unscathed. The final sea of roots quickly turned to steps and then pavement. I knew I had this one in the bag. Coming down the finish line chute to Panorama Park was something I’ll never forget.

Chris running 8h10:48 at SQ50 mi. Photo by Brian McCurdy (2014)

Where next to see Chris

Chloé: You are registered for the SQ50(mile) and also your first 100K in October … what are your hopes for those races?

Chris: Last year the SQ50 mile was an incredible race for me. It was my first 50 mile so I ran conservatively and finished with a lot left over, but knew there were things I could improve upon. I’ll be focusing on long steady climbs and hard intervals over the next few weeks in the hopes of bringing my time under 8 hours. 

Cuyamaca 100k should be interesting. The race is in San Diego and only 6 weeks after SQ50. It has 3300m elevation gain over 100km which makes it seem pretty runnable on paper. I imagine it will be similar to Sun Mountain only twice the distance. I have some ideas around what I’d like to do there but it really depends on my recovery from SQ50. The race also happens to be a Western States qualifier… so there’s that.

With Ed McCarthy (2dn place). Photo by Chloé

Social Media

UltraSignup: (here)

Monday, June 15, 2015

Hit the RESET button

Flint + Feather lookout with the Vertical Walk Club - Photo by Hilary

"Researchers say that Over Training Syndrome (OTS) can mimic a host of diseases, including leukemia. But the most common symptom described by athletes is simply an ineffable, confounding lack of ability.” Running on Empty, Outside Online Magazine

I crossed out the dates of how many training days I’d missed in the calendar. There I was, weeks of enduring this blinding pain, numbness in my extremities so severe that I couldn’t use my limps … and then half of my face and tongue became temporarily paralyzed.

Waiting for a diagnostic was the worst part. And the medical explanation was that I had essentially crashed my lymphatic circulatory system (lymph nodes the size of lemons), thus derailing the immune function which fired-up a host of ‘F__ YOU’ signals in my body … shouting “stop what you’re doing, stop RIGHT NOW you’re finished”.

Looking back now, in the nineties I was serious about cycling. I performed well in training and showed promise early on in the Canadian cross-country series circuits. Juggling a full-time career and pushing hard to maintain my elite category license was a challenge. It did catch-up to me. It started with mono, then a series of respiratory infections. Docs said “anything is possible: virus, autoimmune, transient injury.” Eventually, I took a year off of racing.

In the beginning ...

The silent plague

Once I returned to racing, I soon found myself on the operating table. I had trained through a bladder infection, which led to kidney failure … all because I didn’t want to stop and pee during a 190K training ride. I quit cycling after that, primarily to go back to school, yet the urge to compete still gnawed at me.

“… true overtraining syndrome is triggered by a combination of psychological and physical stress … a severe shock to the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the body’s inflammatory pathways.”  – Running on Empty, Outside Online Magazine

When asked if I had overtrained, my immediate response was “no”.  Honestly, it didn’t feel like I was excessively run-down at the time. I have endured far more taxing loads in the past, plus the doctors had assured me this was random.

It’s been 21 weeks since symptoms first flared up (see blog post). The moment that I had a draft diagnostic though, my action plan was promptly laid-out. It worked. I have made progress toward a recovery. Now the trick will be to address the cause or triggers, to reframe my approach and change ingrained patterns. For example, where before I would push through fatigue (i.e.: "just accomplish one more thing") or through pain (i.e.: "awe, it’s nothing I can still run on it"), now I slow down and weigh my actions. 

"Before 2011, I was so stubbornly focused on just running,” Krupicka says, “but recently my body hasn't been able to weather that kind of abuse anymore, so I’ve learned to find satisfaction and inspiration in other activities. Running used to be my main motivation and goal. Now, the landscape and the experience—the mountains—are my primary motivators." - Trail Runner Mag

Getting back into things, slowly: Flint + Feather Vertical Walk Club,
candies at Tuesday Walk Club,
and the view from the Evac Trail in Squamish

What helped

Some find it helpful to altogether get away from the ultra scene and look for other outlets to identify with. Myself, I preferred to stay involved and accept the support of our community. I volunteered and crewed, and started a shame-free Walk Club. 

Movement, motor-control, mobility
The human system has an amazing capacity to heal itself. I addressed some fundamental mechanical issues such as eliminating prolonged sitting and realigning a faulty posture. I worked through my circulation issues by staying mobile such as frequent moderate walking, rigorous stretching and ‘MOBing’. I joined Dave Melanson’s stretch class* which sparked the first signs of healing. 

Sleep, nutrition and other delights
I was laid-off from my employment at the onset of this illness. It compounded my stressors and was demoralizing, however came with a silver lining. It gave me time to sleep, rest, slow-down. I put more effort in the kitchen and in marvelling at simple moments.

True, deep down I ignored growing pressures in my life by glossing over a series of detrimental setbacks, outside of running. I was in denial, naively calling it optimism. So what. I can accept I may never fully return to being the athlete I was, though I do aspire to be a more adaptable human.

Bad experiences are an interpretation or an invention of the mind. A breakdown is neither good nor bad. It is simply an interruption in something we are committed to. The value of the breakdown is determined by how we choose to respond to it. Malandro Consulting Group 

The trail family giving-up their training time to walk with me.
Shown: Pascal on F+F lookout. Dave on Evac lookout.
I'm taking a breather on Mt Brunswick, first time up there - photo by Jackie

*Stretch Class: targeted to endurance athletes, to address mechanical and circulatory dysfunctions and to promote better alignment and general mobility. The class has limited space and is by appointment only. For more info or a consultation, contact Dave directly:

See more recent photos on my Instagram.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Walk my way back to health

February 28, 2015 first signs: Falling behind ... 

“First, I want to reassure you that this is not in your head and this is not something you did to yourself … ” said the specialist, “… but it is serious, in some cases debilitating, and there is no known cure.”

In mid February I had the flu. The bulk of the symptoms subsided after four days off of training and a few days of working from home. I improved, so resumed training. That following weekend I ran Crown Mtn from the Grouse parking lot with Joel and Pascal. We kept a good pace but also enjoyed stops for photos, the weather was incredible and all was glorious. On the return I faded way behind, feeling weak, sore and nauseated. I thought: “that damned flu is back”. That night I was blasted by a fever that swept me on a bad trip for two days.

The following weekend, FOMO incited me to join Joel and Shannon on a run in Squamish. Immediately, I was dragging behind … chest pains … can’t breathe … so hot, dizzy … cramps everywhere. We cut the run short.

During the week I felt better, more alert despite headaches, brain fog, random sharp aches and a super sore throat. Athletes live with pain. I wondered, “am I a wimp or is this ‘bad’ pain”? I had Gorge Waterfalls 50k coming up and wasn’t going to lose fitness over a common flu bug.

The following weekend: same scenario. I went with Adam, Jackie and Dana. Halfway up Cypress Mtn my body started shaking. At that point I was furious, ready to murder something.

Last two weeks of running attempts: Crown, Squamish, Capilano, Brother's Creek 

Seven weeks of flu? This can’t be right. I was even on vacation, lounging with Netflix and sleeping a tonne - why was I not recovering??

I begrudgingly cancelled my trip to Oregon forcing a full stop to training. To make sure this was the right call, I tested my body on a fun-run with Aran and friends, which confirmed what I actually needed was to seek medical attention.

Doctor A visit #1: “It could be Lupus or Lymphoma, or Thyroid and we’ll for sure check for all the Cancer markers, and anemia …”

Doctor A visit #2: “Your Ferritin is low but that doesn’t explain the symptoms you’re experiencing. The ultrasound shows you have over ten masses in your throat, but they appear to be soft nodules, not a concern but we’ll send you to an Oncologist for biopsy, and continue with Lab tests”.

March 21, 2015: Aran & friends, my last run

The 2.5 weeks vacation ended, I returned to the office with the intention of negotiating reduced hours because my energy level was ridiculously low. In a weird twist of fate, incredibly poor timing or perhaps a blessing, I was laid-off that day due to a re-org. Escorted out with a severance package. Ouch.

Doctor B visit #3: “… we’ve eliminated Mono, Gout, Lyme, Cancer, and a bunch of other stuff. I’m sending you to an internal medicine specialist. It could be Acute Adrenal Fatigue or CFIDS/ Fibromyalgia … or MS …”

My symptoms:
  • Exhaustion, made worse by physical exercise
  • Low-grade fevers, recurrent flu-like illness
  • Constant pharyngitis (sore throat)
  • Severe muscle cramping and joint pain
  • Painful lymph nodes (especially on neck and under arms)
  • Unrefreshing sleep, night sweats
  • Headaches
  • Parasthesias (numbness, painful tingling feeling, itchiness)
  • Frequent dizziness and nausea
  • Impaired cognition (attention, memory, spatial disorientation)
  • Dyspnea (labored breathing) and chest pains
  • Heart palpitations
  • Multiple sensitivities to medicines, foods, and chemicals
  • Random allergies (including pets)
  • Intolerance of alcohol
  • Dry mouth (constant feeling of being dehydrated)
  • Mild mood swings

Doctor C and Doctor D visits #4-5: “You have Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome, it was triggered by a virus however the cause is unclear. CFIDS tends to affect people who are generally healthy and highly active. Some never fully recover …”

My first reaction was “I don’t buy it”. Chronic Fatigue sounds like a mystical illness, and my misery is very real. No cure? No way. I will fight and win.

Turns out, there is plenty of info on this syndrome and useful resources. I was able to build a treatment plan, which is keeping me positive. I’m very lucky to be unaffected by some of the worse CFIDS symptoms which include depression, anxiety and psychosis. Since being diagnosed, I already feel as though the worse is behind me.

Saying goodbye to my kitties due to allergies, working from home,
short walks in my neighbourhood, and with friends in the forest.

The key is self-management, essentially building on the same principles as with a training program. I’m told to expect anywhere from six months to get back to baseline/normal, and up to two years before returning to a training regime, with careful monitoring of course. (See athlete with CFIDS blog).

I’m motivated to keep mobile and very grateful to friends, family, and random strangers who have shown me sincere kindness and provided much encouragement throughout this scary ordeal.

Memories of adventures with friends keeps me going. I will be back!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Athlete's Corner: Gorge Waterfalls 100K

Race Report and Profile: Alexa Laidlaw and Hilary Matheson 

When: March 28, 2015
Where: Benson State Recreation Area, Oregon US
Distance: 100K
Elevation Gain: about 12000' feet of gain
Time limit: 16 hrs
Full race results: (here)
Alexa finished: 12:56:09 (9th female)
Hilary finished: 14:12:34 (18th female)

Alexa with Dennis.
Photo by Glenn Tachiyama

Years trail running: 1.5

Favourite trail race: Gorge Waterfalls 100K

Best result: 4:57:22 Oregon Coast 50K (2014)

Worst decision made in a race: Not looking at the Sun Mountain 50K course profile. I saved nothing for the last climb and found it emotionally and physically devastating. Good lesson though.

Favourite aid station food: Trail Butter! Espresso flavour – so good!

Three things I’d never race without: Morning coffee, SportShield, and a strong belief I can achieve my race goals

Go-to recovery treat: no alarm clocks the next morning

Favourite trail to train on: Mt Fromme. Up Mountain Highway and down the various mountain bike trails, to work on extended uphill running and technical descents (both weaknesses for me)

Average weekly mileage: around 80K

Something most people don’t know: I grew up traveling the trails by horseback rather than by foot

Coach Gary, Racer Hilary, Pacer Brice


Years trail running:

Favourite trail race: Squamish 50K

Best result: Beacon Rock 50K (5th GP, 2nd age group)

Worst decision made in a race: Not pulling over to deal with blisters and having to run the next 40K with them consuming half of my feet

Favourite aid station food: Coca-cola and Gummie Bears

Three things I’d never race without: hydration pack, bandaids, nut butter

Go-to recovery treat: an entire pizza the day after

Favourite trail to train on: Mt. Fromme (esp. Seventh Secret, Ladies Only)

Average weekly running time: 10-14hours

Coach: Gary Robbins and Eric Carter of Ridgeline Coaching Services

Something most people don’t know: I sing – metal band, jazz ensembles, acapella group, and I'm with the Good Noise Vancouver Gospel Choir

Chloé: Alexa, you’ve ran ridiculous ultra distances as adventures runs in the past, why did you pick Gorge as your first 100K race?

Alexa: First, you can’t go wrong with a Rainshadow Running event. Their courses are beautiful, challenging, with such an amazing community. That crew really does something special, and I love being a part of it. I knew that the course was incredibly scenic with spectacular waterfalls and lush forests, worth spending a 100 kilometers on. I was also drawn to the race’s reputation of being very tough and sneaky. This race would give me the test I was looking for.

The timing was perfect. I’m signed up for Fat Dog 120 in August, and an early season 100K would put me in a good place physically and mentally in my training. It was good to test the waters early, give me enough recovery time if I got injured during this race.

Alexa coming into the Wyeth aid station, at the 50K point

Chloé: How about you Hilary, why was Gorge your first choice for a 100K race?

Hilary: I fell in love with the course last year during the 50k, plus I can’t get enough of Rainshadow Running’s races. I’m not normally a fan of an out and back course but in this particular case it appealed to me. It seemed like it would be a mental boost getting to the half way mark and know exactly what to be facing on the way back.

Chloé: ... what was your main goal, and how did you plan for this race?

My primary goal was to finish. The cut off time was not exactly generous, so after consulting with Gary, I decided to take the early start. There was no real doubt that I would finish under 16 hours, but really didn’t want to think about cut offs at all during my run.

In my pre-race planning, I may have broken a couple of the cardinal “thou shalt not” rules, but only after careful consideration, with backups for my backup plan in case something went wrong (I have learned a few things after nine 50Ks and a 50miler).

The first gamble was experimenting with my nutrition. In the past I’ve struggled with massive GI issues, having to rely on what I could stomach at aid stations. This time, I fuelled 80% on high fat, high calorie nut butters (Justin’s). And topped-up with Coke and Gummie Bears at aid stations. Result: no energy crashes or bonks. I definitely want to experiment more going forward, but this was one of the most successful nutrition strategies so far. 

The second gamble was my gear. My past hydration packs have felt too bulky for races. I got the new Slab Sense Ultra pack the week before, and used it on race day. The soft flasks were finicky when I first tried them out at home, but went into the pouches easily once they were filled. The pockets allowed to stash plenty, such as nut butters, salt pills, windbreaker, headlamp.

My Pearl Izumi N2 were worn out. I was debating whether I should run in a brand new pair or stick with the worn, familiar ones. I went with the new pair, but had backup shoes at aid stations along the course – better safe than sorry! No issues, aside from minor blisters.

Hilary. Photo by her pacer Brice Ferre

Chloé: Alexa, you were singled-out as a wildcard contender for this race. Was it your plan to crush the competition or was this intended more as a training run?

Alexa: My goals were to finish and avoid injury. Gorge was a training run, a stepping stone on my journey to Fat Dog. I was curious to see how my body would fair after running 100K at a higher intensity than any of my longer distance adventure runs. I’d been dealing with chronic back issues over the past couple of months, and unsure if it would flare up during the race.

The course didn’t play to my strengths as a runner. I consider myself a strong hiker, even on tired legs, but the majority of the climbs were very runnable. My plan was to start conservatively, listen to my body, and maintain a sustainable pace. I estimated about 14 hours to finish. Getting to the 50K point in six hours felt like a good pace, giving me enough time (ten hours) to cover the last 50K if something went terribly wrong.

Chloé: Gear, nutrition?

I wore my new Brooks Pure Grit 3. The grip was stellar on wet rock, soft dirt, even on pavement. The cushioning allowed for hard downhill running even 95K into the race, and the strike plate was key in the rocky sections. Overall, I was super impressed with their performance on this course, zero feet issues all day.

It looked like maybe rain, so I settled on a lightweight Smartwool long sleeved and New Balance shorts. Ultimate Direction pack, hydration bladder, gels and chews, and I left a bag of avocados, dates, and baby food with my crew. My nutrition plan was to eat mostly sugar (dates, gels, chews) between aid stations, and to eat something more substantial and high fat (an avocado) when I saw my crew.

I was really lucky to have my boyfriend, Matt Barry, and good friend Adam Harris (both running the 50K next day) as my amazing, super efficient crew for the day. I saw them at four points during the race. Thank you so much!!

Alexa's crew Matt and Adam killing it in the 50K

Chloé: Hilary how did your day go, what were the highlights, any issues?

Hilary: As mentioned I did the early start, so it was strange being passed by the lead pack. The first guys flew by less than an hour after my start (seriously?). I struggled at first with not knowing exactly where I was in the race. It’s hard to be competitive passing people wondering if they are a minute or an hour ahead, or, behind you. I decided to run my own race 25K in, and ignore everyone else.

Overall, this race was a fantastic experience for me. Being my first 100K, I was paying attention to my pace, especially in the first half. I knew the big climbs were at the beginning and at the end of the course. I was terrified about going out too fast, but my first half was 7 hours, and the second half only 12 mins longer.

I felt my strongest from about 60K to 85K, consistently running the hills without difficulty. I probably could have pushed the pace a bit more in the beginning, but considering it was uncharted territory, better to have finished on a high note with energy to spare rather than a faster start and later have the wheels fall off.

A highlight was running much of the race with badass Vancouver runner Vera Horsman. The first 30K flew by as we chatted, and even as we subsided into silence, it was comforting to have company nearby. One issue was my right glute kept seizing-up. It didn’t affect my gait much, but I was stopping every 8-10K to stretch.

At Cascade Locks, my training partner and good friend Brice Ferre joined me for the last 35K. He came along for the weekend just to pace and support me. It was fantastic to run with someone that can read and monitor my suffering. It was a great boost, especially on the last climb where I put my head down and just followed his feet up to the top.

Having done Gorge 50k last year, I knew it would be a stunning course with deceptively challenging terrain. Rainshadow Running races are exceptional. Such enthusiasm from everyone involved, particularly at the aid stations and the volunteers who cheerfully checked runners in at 2 o’clock in the morning. Thank you all for the memorable experience!!

Alexa at 65K

Chloé: Alexa, how did it go for you?

Alexa: This year, the 100K race was part of the Montrail Ultra Cup, and the top two male and female finishers were to receive a ticket into this year’s coveted Western States 100 race. This definitely added to the excitement of the event, as both the men and women’s fields were stacked with strong runners, including some BC favourites Alicia, Tara and Gary.

I was up by 1:30am, at the start by 2:30am. Coffee, get organized, visit with friends, then before I knew it James was sending us off. The race began with a run to the other side of the lake, before climbing up a moderately steep section of switchbacks. I hiked most of this section, soaked-in the wild image of hundreds of headlights dancing along the hillside above and below me. The 500 meter climb was followed almost immediately by a 500 meter descent down muddy and slick switchbacks to the first aid station (No Name at kilometer 10ish). The next few K's felt easy, and even the 4K stretch of highway went quickly. The trail between the second and third aid stations rolled up and down through beautiful, lush, old growth forest and past the most spectacular waterfalls.

I felt good at this point, and settled into a comfortable pace, chatting with another racer, Travis. I saw my friends Graham, Dennis, and Dave in this section along with the sunrise. I was super excited to see my crew Matt and Adam at the Cascade Locks aid station. I wanted to chat, but they kept me focused and to the next aid station (Wyeth at 50K).

I hit a low-point climbing out of the aid station, but ate my way out of it with a bag of dates. It was super uplifting to see the leaders coming back along the 50K turnaround. I felt better, running well to the next aid station.

I thought I wouldn’t like an out and back course, but being able to connect with the other runners, saying or nodding an encouraging “good job” in passing was a special experience.

The last 21K felt very long, at this point marking the furthest I’d ever raced but I kept a steady pace. The 4K of road felt a hundred times worse than it had in the morning … yet the finish was nearing. I gave a good push over the last major climb, accepted the pain down the switchbacks. Then realized there was a chance I could finish under 13 hours. I hustled around the lake to the finish line.

It felt so amazing to high-five James and finally stop running.

Incredibly happy with how my race went, I had so much fun! And so proud of all of my friends who ran this weekend. The Rainshadow Running community put together such a stellar weekend, I recommend this race in a heartbeat.


Chloé: What’s next for you two?

Alexa: A couple weeks of relaxed runs with my dog before ramping up for Fat Dog 120 in August. Training will include Broken Goat 50K in July, and otherwise adventures runs that inspire me.

Hilary: Less racing and more adventuring is my focus this year. I’m also signed-up for Broken Goat, followed by Fat Dog 70 mile, likely will do another 50K, and a few of the Coast Mountain Trail Series races.

Learn more:
Instagram: alexalaidlaw

Instagram: thehilaryann
Facebook: Hilary M.  Ambassador for: Pearl Izumi Canadian Champions team