Wear Test Wednesday – Dion Snowshoes + A giveaway at the end!

I’m someone who LOVES the outdoors. Whatever the season, I want to be outside. Living in Canada, more specifically Ontario, I refuse to let the weather dictate how I will train.

My favourite days are snow days. Those are my snowshoe running days. I will go the nearest trail; strap on my Dion snowshoes and just run/hike.

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Snow covered trails = heaven

Snowshoe running has two main differences than all other running. Here’s why:

  1. Your gait will be slightly wider. Training too much in snowshoes can result in some physical ailments. Mostly I see IT band problems. Like all things running, start slow and build moderately. Dion snowshoes are the slimmest ones I’ve used and my gait felt natural.
  2. You can’t manage pace or even distance. A 10km run can take well over an hour for me. When I run in snowshoes I run for time and forget about the rest of it. Enjoy the scenery and quiet of the snow packed trails.
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A scene from last years race.

I’ve owned and/or test all the brands of snowshoes on the market. For many years I’ve participated in various snowshoe races and have a good sense of what works and what doesn’t. Last year I got my hands on the Dion snowshoes. In Ottawa this past weekend, I finally got to take them out and put them to the test. Running on everything from groomed trails to back country powder, I was more than happy with how these snowshoes fit and performed.

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SNOW DAY

My first time ever out in snowshoes, I kept getting whacked in the back of the head with snowballs. At first I thought it was someone behind me being mean, but then realized it was coming from the snowshoes. I would be soaking wet halfway into my run, with snow covering the back of me, and then melting into my gear.

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Totally dry and NOT covered in snow!

The design of the Dion snowshoes is unique and immediately I noticed in the deepest powder, I was not getting pelted in the head. I went with a friend and while she was wearing another brand, she was covered in snow but I was not. It makes for a much more pleasant day when you are able to stay dry.

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Shape and design make these snowshoes superior

The shape also has a lot of other benefits. They sit on top of the snow better than the snowshoes I’ve used. Climbing up a hill was a breeze. Descending, which is normally harder in snowshoes, was much easier. I found if I leaned back slightly and balanced my weight into the snowshoes, I felt secure and comfortable bombing down a hill.

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The Dion Snowshoes are the lightest, slimmest snowshoes allowed for racing. I really didn’t have to make any major adjustments to my running and once I got going on some longer tracks of trails, I forgot I was wearing them.

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View from above 

The best part of Dion snowshoes is they are the only modular snowshoes on the market. This means you can get exactly what you want and need for your trail run or race. The cleats are interchangeable and durable enough to take on any terrain.

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All the pieces come off and can be switched out to match the terrain and conditions.

I get asked the question, “what shoes should I wear in snowshoes?” Simple. What you would normally wear is perfect. You don’t need special running shoes or even even apparel. You can invest in gators (shoe covers) if you really wanted. I’ve run in everything from racing flats to trail shoes.

Want to try before you buy? Come out to any of the Dion Snow Shoe running races and rent a pair and run! It’s my favourite series of the winter.

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I highly recommend you try at least one race this year! 

This Wear Test Wednesday, I’m including a Holiday Giveaway. This giveaway is only open to eastern Ontario only, so enter ONLY if you are able to make any of the Dion Snow shoe races listed on the website.

I’m giving away ONE race entry to any of the Dion races and One free snow shoe rental.
Follow Derrick Spafford on Facebook and Twitter

Comment on this blog and tell me what your favourite winter cross training sport is.

Holiday Giveaway #4 – 5Peaks Trail Race+Swag!

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The summer of 2014 was one of the most special in recent memory. The reason is none other than the 5peaks trail running series. If any of you followed my blog this summer, you would’ve seen lots of trail running. Being an ambassador for 5Peaks, was more than just a privilege, it was an honour. I showed up to the first race by myself and by the last race day, we had to make sure we had enough room in my car to get all of us there.

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Best looking trails runner ever!!

Each race location was unique and the terrain was never terrifyingly difficult. It’s the perfect event for anyone who wants to try trail running and challenging enough for the seasoned trail runner. You have two choices in distances. The sport course, (shorter in distance approx 6km) and the enduro course (longer, approx 12km). Race day never disappointed. Even though I only participated in the Ontario series, pictures from all across the country, showed that this series was none stop fun for everyone.

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The shoe toss is always a good one!

Running the races were fun and let me personally experience some great trails I otherwise would not train on. The best part? The absolute best part? The friendships. Social media gets a bad rap for keeping people inside their houses, nose stuck into a phone. There is a stereotype that all social media hyper users are introverted and afraid of actually interacting in person. 5Peaks trail running series are heavily involved in social media and were responsible for bringing much of the social media running community together, outside where they could freely mingle.

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Tweeters came all the way from New Brunswick. @bagtownbogtrotters

I remember at least once at every race, there was always whispering. “Is that so and so? Wow he’s taller than I imagined.” People were introducing themselves to each other using their Instagram or Twitter handle. It literally became a regular tweet up. We couldn’t bury our noses in our phone, because we rarely had good reception, but our camera’s still worked great! Selfies were abundant and the on course photographers were always great at capturing the moments you didn’t because you were laughing so hard with your friends.

10649708_913215392036787_7500645734737844128_nSo let’s get to the good stuff!

I’m giving away one 5peaks race entry, a 5peaks toque and a 5peaks Buff. The race entry can be used in any race across Canada so this is open to anyone.

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The 5peaks Toque!

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Jessica on the right is wearing the 5peaks BUFF! My favourite!

What do you need to do?
Like the 5peaks Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/5Peaks
Follow 5peak on Twitter: @5peaksrun
You will probably want to follow on Instagram to see all the amazing pictures that get posted! @5peaksrun

Make a comment on this post. If you’ve done a race tell me your favourite thing about the 5peaks event. If you haven’t done one, then share why you would like to try it. 

Sharing is caring! Copy and paste this to share with your friends.
I just signed up for the  and  Holiday Giveaway. Have you? Enter soon! 

If you are interested in a 5peaks seasons pass you have until December 31st to get one at a great discount! Perfect gift for the runner on your Christmas list!

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If you aren’t already make sure you are following me on other social media platforms. As one of the Ambassadors I will have discount codes available closer to race day.
Twitter: @runningchic
Instragram: @michelletherunner

Here are the links to my previous race reviews in case you still can’t decide. 
http://michelletherunner.com/2014/06/01/5peaks-race-1-race-review/
http://michelletherunner.com/2014/09/29/1875/
http://michelletherunner.com/2014/08/12/5peaks-trail-race-4-albion-hills-a-k-a-know-when-to-fold-em/
http://michelletherunner.com/2014/09/08/5peaks-race-5-race-1-of-2-for-the-weekend/

Motivation Monday: The Laws of Physics can’t be Defeated.

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One-week post race and I’m officially allowed to call myself an Ultrarunner if I choose. In my mind it’s all just a title, and I’m a runner. Full stop. Period.

There are bigger matters to discuss than running titles however. As someone who suffers from depression and anxiety from time to time, the post-race depression is a real issue for someone like me. Post-race crashes happen to pretty much everyone, but for someone who already experiences this kind of crash on a semi-regular basis, it feels even more crippling.

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Once I’d determined what this was, many years ago, I was taught how to deal with it using tools I had on hand. When you suffer from any kind of depression, and you’re somewhat self aware, you start to recognize the patterns of the ups and downs. We can start to predict when the illness will decide to tighten its grip. To compensate, we’re taught coping mechanism. Building distractions into your daily routine can help make the downs less dreary and can even get you past the feelings altogether.

After my race last week, I prepared for this. I made sure I had distractions in place to prevent the post-race crash. I thought I had this under control.

Then Monday happened. I woke up and I found myself in a full-blown anxiety attack with more than just a bout of the blues. I’ve had post-marathon blues, even post long run blues but nothing has yet to compare to the crash I experienced today.

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How I spent most of my day

The first week out, I was committed to recovery, was grateful running wasn’t something I had to do. I spent a lot of time using the distraction method, however it clearly became a game of trying to outrun the inevitable.

After taking all the steps necessary to prevent it, I’m not sure post-race crash can be avoided. I’m getting the feeling you just have to put on your seatbelt and ride it out. I can only imagine that because my goal was so much bigger than in the past, the fall was going to match the climb. My inner physics nerd thought I could defy Newton’s law of gravity “What goes up, must come down.”

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Physics and philosophy colliding.

Post-race you need to do these things:

  1. eat very well
  2. sleep a lot
  3. rest and some light exercise

Post-race I did this:

  1. drank too much coffee, had no appetite
  2. couldn’t sleep because I was drinking too much coffee (and my sleep patterns were off)
  3. couldn’t walk, let alone lightly exercise which led to a very unhappy grumpy girl
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Back to my therapy

Today, I went back to my saddle. A trick I used earlier this year to subdue my inner demons. I find road cycling to be an aggressive sport and it’s secretly what I love about it. I don’t enjoy running angry, but I will take to my bike at any time of day to release the pressure. This week will be a challenge, but I’m making changes effective immediately. I’m committed to regular sleep, eating, just eating and I’m lucky to be able to do some light exercise again. Failing to secure an emotional safety net, thinking I was invincible was a major mistake. I’ve learned my lesson.

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Enjoying some “light” exercise

Motivation can come from the strangest places. Today in the depths of my darkest place, I did something I’m not used to doing. Taking a page from some of the strongest women I know, I let myself be vulnerable. I let my thoughts be about me. I let myself bleed out loud.

Live Life with Purpose

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The post-race breakdown with the coach is always my favourite part of the whole experience.

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He’s always double checking his numbers.

My coach as you have all read so many times, is very special to me. He’s the perfect balance of data junkie and running whisperer. This particular event we were preparing was a special race. A race you could not predict pace or speed. It was a challenge of strength, patience and persistence.

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What goes up also goes down for 50 miles

We discussed any mistakes we made in my training. To be 100% honest, there were none, none that we could control. The only thing I would do differently was more terrain specificity training. Kissing my life goodbye to live on a mountain and train for 8 weeks leading up to the race sounds amazing. Actually, as I type this, it’s sounds really freaking awesome! Becoming a dirt bag runner wasn’t realistic at this point in my life, as much as many of us would love to dream of it.

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My best friends and I lived the life of a dirt bag runner for a weekend in Ottawa this summer! It was awesome.

The Northface Endurance Challenge is not a trail run, it’s a mountain running event. That is what I think it should be called anyway.

Besides what I could not control, what did we learn from 2014. My coach and I chatted for a long time about this. We learned, for me, more is better. This isn’t for everyone and it’s always a dangerous place for a coach to go with an athlete. More can be drastic and more may not work. We found through my season, more made me stronger and faster physically. More can break you down mentally, but I became more focused and better able to deal with my anxieties and depression.

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Going back to things I loved doing!

Since the age of 35, I felt more was my comfort zone. It was hard to explain, but I felt it. Convincing coaches to take me there proved difficult. A great coach will always protect his athlete and I’ve had great coaches. I understand why coaches have been hesitant to let me journey to this dark side of running. What I learned was, I had to run a 50-mile mountain race to prove that more is better. When Timo said the words, “I will push your mileage up for the next season”, Inside I, whispered, “Mission accomplished.” Finally I was going to get what I wanted.

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Trying completely new things in 2014 was my mission. More Cowbell Cyclocross Race 2014

The relationship I have with Coach Timo works well for one reason only. He never doubts me. He never says I can’t. He will say I shouldn’t but he won’t tell me I can’t do anything that I’ve set my heart on. He has come to learn, I’m dedicated, motivated and will fight for what I worked for. I respect his advice and his wisdom to know when to say no to me.

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Maybe a little to too dedicated. I even won medals in Stand Up Paddle board competitions.

With Timo there isn’t any surprises or “wow, where did that come from.” He knows when or if the results will be good or bad. He may not tell you, but he knows.

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Practice marathon to train for the 50 mile. He knew I would finish this one a bit too fast.

We took notes on 2014 that we will use to plan 2015. 2014 was my experiment year. A year to try new things, play with what worked and didn’t work.

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Spending time with friends “cross training” on our Stand Up Paddles Boards

The experiment was successful. What Timo said next sent chills up my spin.

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PURPOSE

“2015 will be about purpose. I want everything you do in 2015 to be done with purpose.” The light bulb went on above my head. This was exactly what I was trying to articulate about what I wanted for 2015. Hours later another thing happened. I went to the Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon Awards Ceremony. One of the keynote speakers was Kate Van Buskirk (my girl crush/hero). As I hung on her every word, she said this …

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The one and only Kate Van Buskirk

“Do what you love and do that thing everyday with tremendous integrity.”
– Kate Van Buskirk

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INTEGRITY

I’m not anticipating anything for 2015, but I will begin 2015 with a new strategy. LOVE. INTEGRITY. PURPOSE. These words will guide me through the next 365 days.

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LOVE

Holiday Giveaway #3 – Wear Test Wednesday: Sport Suds

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It’s another Giveaway day!

I’ve just run the hardest yet most enjoyable race of my life. I was in San Francisco and just returned home on Monday. I got home, opened my suitcase and was blown over by the stink that exploded out of it.

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The day is just getting started!

My sweaty funky run gear would seem unsalvageable, and in the past the best I could hope for would be to mask the scents with traditional laundry detergents. Quite frankly I don’t really want to smell like Hawaiian Aloha or Apple Mango Jango. These names scream toxic and unnatural.

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This is a stink bomb!

Being introduced to Sports Suds a year ago, it’s the only thing I use now. I’ve saved so much gear from ending up in the trash. Years of built in, caked on runner’s stink that left me feeling insecure around my running pals. Always wondering if they could smell what I smelled. Guess what. If you can smell it, then so can the person beside you.

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Bathing in filthy Ice water after a 50miler – without Sport Suds I would have tossed them on the spot. Sports Suds to the rescue!

So how does this work? Without going chemist on you, it’s simple. It’s a natural laundry detergent that actually eliminates the bacteria from your clothing. Bacteria can live in your clothing fibers for a long time because we let them. We wash them in machines that have live bacteria multiplying everyday. We use detergents that are full of additives that only clog the pores of the fibers and provide a really nice home for bacteria to live. They have an unlimited supply of food. So that stench, I’m sorry to say, is really a huge bacteria tailgate party happening while you run, bike or workout at the gym.

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This shows how bacteria clogs your clothes and what your fabric should ideally look like.

Sport Suds cleans your machine and rids it of mold, mildew and bacteria hibernating inside. Once you have a clean machine, every time you wash your clothes with Sport Suds you’re allowing the fabric to return to it’s natural state by unclogging the fibers.

For really stinky stuff it can take up to three washes before you notice a difference. Once it’s gone though, it’s really gone for good (if you continue using Sport Suds).

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This big guy last forever!

The best part of this product is the cost. At first glance a tub of Sport Suds is $60. You will probably have a sticker coma and completely pass over sticker shock. Look closer though. A tub at $60 gives you 140+ loads of laundry in a traditional machine. In an HE machine it’s even more. I’ve had my tub for just under a year and it’s still not empty. I do laundry up to 3-4 times a week. I’ve done the comparison and it’s the best deal on the market for anyone. You can buy a $10 dollar bottle of other laundry detergents that will give you 40 loads, but I would go through that in less than a month.

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All kinds of good goes into this product.

I live in my run clothes. As someone who works in the running industry, my running clothes are my “office” attire. I can’t go to a meeting at a running store smelling like a funky sweat mess. Sport Suds is the ONLY thing I will use now.

My Top 5 Favourite Things about Sport Suds:

  1. It’s all natural, biodegradeable and Vegan
  2. It is safe to use in creeks, lakes and Septic tanks, as there are no harmful chemicals. (Camping just got way better for me)
  3. Allows all your tech fabrics to actually work again. (They will whisk and absorb like they were meant to)
  4. I no longer have to separate my laundry. No more piles of run clothes and fun clothes. I wash my most disgusting run gear with my favourite haute couture dresses. True Story. Everything comes out smelling neutral.
  5. It works the same in both hot and cold water.

Here’s the deal folks. I’m giving away one Sport Suds Laundry room combo kit.

It’s simple to enter.

Like Sport Suds Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/sportsuds

Follow Sport Suds on twitter: https://twitter.com/sportsuds

Comment below and share what gear you have that you’d love to rescue.

I’ll keep this contest open till next Monday so get in your comments and extra points for social media posts that include the hashtag #holidaysdonthavetostink

Good Luck and stay tuned on this one – there are some surprise bonus additions that will be added.

Check out my other Social Media links to stay tuned for other great contest coming soon!
https://twitter.com/runningchic
http://instagram.com/michelletherunner

I Ran a F**king Ultra!

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My First 50 Miler!

The day before the race:

I got up, went to the best pancake house in town. The Dipsea Café and waited patiently for the San Francisco Running Company across the street to open up. This store is the coolest running store and I love everything in it! The best part is it’s the place to situate yourself during The Northface challenge weekend to see all the famous ultra runners. Sure enough, moments after I walked through the door so did Sally McRae. I have watched her documentary and followed her online. She is an amazing athlete and after meeting her in person, I can say she is super sincere and so friendly. What did we talk about? Shoes of course!

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BEST PANCAKES!

As I ate lunch at another café, Sage Canaday walked by me, but my reaction was just a tad slow, he was already out the door. As I headed back to my car, I spotted the LA runner (Billy) who hangs out with Ethan Newberry and Chris Vargo. He was really great to chat with. He gave me some last minute tips, and reminded me I was running in a very stacked field of female elite runners.

I then was on my way to meet Michele A.K.A. the Pink Hat Runner of Instagram fame. The short background story about Michele is that a year ago in Big Sur, we chatted in a Starbucks the day after I ran the Marathon. Fast forward a few months or so and I got this instagram message asking me if I remembered talking to her in Big Sur, which of course I totally did! Then I started coaching her and over a season we really bonded online. She came to crew for me this past weekend. This is a girl who is online is an amazing person and offline even more spectacular. She is beautiful, funny, selfless, supportive; simply amazing! Every minute I felt like I was a burden and she kept saying “What are you supposed to do?” My answer “I came here to run” she would answer “then do that!”

Race Day:

I did everything right the night before prepping for the next day. I filled up my bladder, my water bottles, packed my nutrition, packed an emergency PB&J, packed a change of clothes, checked my list and I was ready. I even was so smart, I went to Starbucks before I went to sleep and got an Americano so that in the am I could simply warm it up. I wasn’t settling for brew coffee on my biggest race day!

As anyone named Michelle or Michele would understand this. Michelle’s tend to forget small little insignificant matters such as where are we going to meet at 4:30 am in the dark? With no cell service, I only knew to look for a pink hat (of course). 4:35 – starting to make back up plans for my backpack. 4:40 – She’ll find me. 4:45 – panic is setting in. 4:50 – I see the pink hat! We made a game day decision, since the organizers changed the course slightly due to a washed out bridge, meaning I would have access to a fully stocked aid station twice before I headed to Tennesee Valley (the first time I would see Michele on course). So I decided to fly light and let my legs have a bit of break and I would pick up my pack at Tennessee Valley. Someone this weekend said, Ultrarunning is more about problem solving than running and after reflecting on this thought, I have to agree with him. Lesson 1. You learn to make gut decisions and go with the flow.

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Finally the pink hat is found!

I gathered with the rest of the runners at the start line. It was humid at 5am and this was slightly concerning for me. I didn’t need arm warmers, a jacket or a hat. I was wearing next to nothing and I was still too warm. I looked to my right and started the normal running banter with the boy next to me. Matt was from Orange County.

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Matt from the O.C. (non photo without watermark coming soon!)

The race is about to start in 5 minutes and I decided to tell him how I secretly love the TV show The O.C. It’s my sinful pleasure. Awkward. He wanted to run a sub 8 hour 50 miler. I said I’m going for 7:30. Yes I was still very much confident that this was very doable. How a girl started the season suffering from performance anxiety to having the balls to think she could “easily” pull out a 7:30 50 miler in Marin County is beyond me. I would say this has everything to do with my amazing coach. He never ever said I couldn’t. If I asked him now, I know we both would agree on a flatter course I could easily pull off a 7:30 50 miler. Neither him nor I had any idea what I was really going to be up against. Lesson 2. Don’t ever think you can’t do something no matter how big or small it is.

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Photo Credit: Mike Bell the Botanist

I won’t do a blow by blow or a play by play. Here is the gist. The moon was full, the sky was gorgeous running in the dark with lights crisscrossing across the landscape was a very memorable experience. The race started straight up a switchback that went on for many km’s then it went straight down, due to the course changes, we had to do that loop twice. By loop two my legs didn’t seem to want to warm up. I didn’t’ feel “fresh” and this was concerning. I did some deep breathing, tried to go to a steady state and started to assess seriously the situation. I was only maybe 10 miles into the race and all I could think about was “I peaked too early in my season” That was the thought that stayed with me for another 10 miles. I started retracing my training back the last 4 weeks and realized what this not “fresh” feeling was most definitely the affects of peaking too early. Lesson 3. Be prepared to turn the volume down on your confidence meter. So I did and I told myself I would be okay if I didn’t’ podium. (I’m just telling you guys the honest truth, it sounds like I’m full of myself, but seriously, I was completely jacked on confidence pills)

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Tennessee Valley

The sun was just coming up, the fog was still heavy and Tennessee Valley was just ahead. Michele the amazing crew of one, took my headlamp, gave me my hydration pack, relayed the Facebook message to me and sent me off back into the hills.

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On one woman crew ready to take care of me!

My legs started to feel a bit better and I felt like I was finding my groove. Then the humidity really set in, the sun came full up and I wanted my Honeymaxx. Total. Hydration pack. Failure. I can’t blame the Jenny Pack. I can’t even blame the bladder I was using. I was swearing, shaking my pack upside down, totally frustrated. My mind was now racing. I’m going to de-hydrate, I’m carrying weight I don’t need to carry, I NEED my HONEYMAXX!! Remember the problem solving mentioned earlier? I stopped, re-grouped and put my pack back on and nicely asked to sip off other people’s bottles until I could sort out this issue. By the next Aid station, I was already starving. I took as much as I could stuff in my face. Potatoes, bananas, oranges, blocks and by accident loads of mountain dew instead of what I thought was Lemon Clif shot. The pack was still not resolved.

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Off for more hills!

Once we passed Cardiac station we really got into the gnarly trail stuff. The Dipsea trail, was beautiful that words could never describe, but now I was thinking about my pack, and my quads that were feeling pretty cooked. At this point I had only completed the equivalent of one marathon. I still had basically one more to run! I was most worried about de-hydration and I couldn’t remember if I had taken the health insurance option on my plane ticket or not. I started to panic about the hospital bill that was going to show up in my mailbox after I ended up on an IV drip. Then I heard running water, and then I saw running water. A waterfall! You can guess that I got down on my hands and knees and just started drinking from the creek. Problem solved. If I could find a waterfall every couple of km’s I would not end up in a hospital and go bankrupt. I was pretty sure at this point I was a genius. Lesson 4. If you leave the country to do a big race, make sure you have health insurance coverage.

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So gorgeous! Photo Credit: Mike Bell the Botanist

Next aid station came and I got to see Michele again. I think I was a little cranky. All I remember saying was “total hydration pack failure, take this thing, I’m going to run the rest of the way without it.” I took my gels and bloks, pigged out at the aid station and again off into the mountains. By this time I had my Ipod on. With my legs starting to cramp, I needed a distraction to keep my mind from focusing on the negative. It worked! I used all the songs I trained with and it immediately lifted my spirits and my pace! With my bra full of nutrition, my plan was to drink any creek water I came across and pig out at all aid stations. Then this guy came up behind me and asked if I was okay. I replied, “I’m good, but I could use a sip of water.” He asked if I was cramping. I said “a little but not too much.” Then he pulled out a bag of white pills and poured a bunch into my hand. He told me to take 4 at a time, gave me his water bottle and gave me his bib number so at the next aid station, if necessary, I could go to his drop bag and get more.

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My on course drug dealer.

Without a second thought, I downed the salt pills, washed them down with his weird electrolyte powered water and carried on. Aid station number who the hell knows, I demoed the table. Like a Tazmanian devil, I drank probably 5 cups of coke, water, soup and oranges. I just couldn’t get enough food in my face. A little bit ahead I ran into the pill guy again. I asked “Hey do you have anymore of those pills.” He pulled out a fresh bag full of white pills. I said “Dude, having a trail drug dealer on the course is awesome.” We all had a good laugh at that. The rest of the race, he kept me topped up with salt tabs. Lesson 5. Before you begin a race with a hydration pack, check the valve and make sure it will spew out water before you end like me. (What I think happened is that an air bubble got stuck in the tube creating an air lock)

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Amazing running! Photo Credit: Kent Keeler

Enter the Redwood forest. This was part of the course I was most looking forward to. Then I got to that part and yes it was gorgeous but it was also ridiculously hard. So picture this. You have just run over a marathon and now you have to climb up and down stairs, climb over fallen trees, cross full flowing waterfalls and even climb up a ladder! This went on for the entire redwood forest section.

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Trail Porn Photo Credit: Mike Bell the Botanist

It was hard not to have your breath taken away with the beauty of it all, but then you came to a rock wall you had to hands and feet climb up. This was actually the most fun part of the course, but also really started to crush the quads. I should mention that up to this point I still hadn’t looked at my watch once! I became so terrified to see how long I’d been running, what pace I was doing, and the distance I had run. I was running completely on feeling and effort. Place wise I was always between 7th and 9th so I was happy with my position. By this time I was making quite a few friends and we just kept each other in good spirits. Lesson 6. Remember pain is temporary and positive thinking can do wonders to alleviate it.

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Once we got out of the forest section, we had hit the switch back trails that had been turned into a running mudslide. While in the forest it had rained and turned everything to a complete mud fest. The mud was sticky and at times felt like quick sand. 7. Running downhill at around 40 miles become harder than running uphill.

The end is near. I was digging deeper than I’ve ever had to dig. I had 5 miles to go and I wasn’t sure where I was going to get the energy, power or desire to finish this. I never went to dark places, but I just started to forget how to stay motivated. Humour, especially sarcasm came in handy. The guys and I started cracking really lame sarcastic jokes. The jokes totally sucked, but it was all we needed to just push to the crest of that final hill.

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Elevation baby!

Cresting that hill was the best thing, I’ve ever seen. It was a 2 mile descent and like I said running downhill was now way more painful than running uphill. This is where I just focused on my breathing. I would only let my mind focus on each breath in and out. For 2 miles I just breathed comfortably. I completely disengaged my brain from my legs and the pain. I glanced at my watch not to see the distance but the pace, feeling like I was running a 10 min /km, but in fact I was running a 4:45/km. How I was able to get under 5min / km at this point in the race was a miracle. Then I saw the finish line. I went for it. I grinded up the small incline then turned onto the grass and flew to the finish. It was OVER! I crossed the finish line as 9th woman (even though my results says I was 12th). Michele was at the finish line, grabbed me and hugged me so hard, and I just kept yelling. I did it! I ran a F**cking Ultra! We couldn’t stop laughing. Lesson 8. Make sure you have a full arsenal of mental tools to go to when things get rough.

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Very cold but muddy ICE BATHS

I headed straight for the Ice baths. Michele helped me get my shoes and socks off and I jumped in the muddy disgusting water. I could care less. The ice-cold water felt so good! I changed into warm dry clothes and then saw my on course drug dealer. We got a photo together and I thanked him immensely for being so awesome. I forgot to bring an extra pair of shoes, so I wandered around in bare feet and totally muddy. I started to talk to some other runners who enquired about my pack issue. After telling them what I did, a weird look came across their face. They had told me about the possibility of Giardia in the water sources, that maybe drinking from creek water wasn’t so good. “what is going to happen if I get Giardia?” They all told me, I would be okay, it would take about a week to set it and then I would be sick for a week straight. Lesson 9. Repeat lesson 5 so you don’t have to contract some weird water parasite. Let’s cross our fingers I will be fine. At least I’ve been warned.

Finally, Michele was off and I was sad to see her go. As she left, Matt, remember matt from Orange County.

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Matt from the O.C.

He popped out from a crowd of runners and we started to chat. He was kind of on his own and now so was I. He had to wait for a friend to finish. I was just about to leave but decided I would hang out and keep this kid company. He had a really cool story about how he started running. I was impressed. He is truly inspiring. As our interaction continued, I realized we were being filmed. Who the hell was this Matt guy from The O.C. Turns out he is in the middle of creating a youtube documentary and I got to have a small bit part in it. This day just kept getting better.

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The whole 50 Milers.

All through this race I kept flipping through the last year. Thinking back to the growth, the training, the lessons, the tears and all the laughing. My memories bubbled to the top of my friends who made me the best version of myself, the family that supports me through all the crazy things I decide to do and the amazing running online and offline community that continues to be the strongest community I’ve been a part of. I kept asking myself “Michelle, did you find what you were looking for? Is the experiment complete?” I didn’t have an answer. As I entered the last 20 miles of the race, I tried to find a place in side myself that felt complete. To be honest, I was frustrated. I was hoping for this big dramatic epiphany and then to end this chapter of my book. Instead, I felt like more data was needed for this experiment. The only answer I have is, I know exactly the person I want to be. I impressed myself with my will to hold my ground, dig deep to achieve my goal and at no point was quitting an option. The experiment wasn’t’ just about running however. It was about how to balance a healthy relationship with my community of friends, supporters and family. There were two special people I met this past weekend that shared a lot of personal stuff with me, and together the three of us discussed life inside and outside of running. Matt from the O.C. and Mike the Botanist made me realize that this past year was just one layer of the onion. I am just scratching the surface of who and what I am. I have no idea what is next. I don’t even want to think about that for the next week. I want to bask in the glow of officially being initiated into the Ultra world. Everything that went right and wrong this weekend came down to this lesson. Just when you think you have it all figured out. You made a plan. Life will decide to make a mess of that. There is always a curveball, an obstacle or a problem to solve. How you personally decide to deal with those kinks is what defines you. Who will you decide to be?

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The Sally McRae

Sally McCrae said something in the running store to her little girl when she was trying to pull something off a shelf. “Kenzie, let’s make good choices”. That stayed with me all weekend. Lesson 10. Running doesn’t solve problems. It’s the right choices I make in life that solve problems. It sounds simple and it took me a year to get this far. I ran a 50-mile race to find answers. Instead I found amazing friends and the answers I’m looking for are within these friendships.

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It’s the people you get to meet!

Packing for my First Ultra

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It’s time to pack for my very first ultra race. I’ve traveled for all distances, from a 5km to a marathon and besides a race outfit and shoes there isn’t much that really needs to be thought out. This time, I have to think about so much more. Terrain, mud, sun, microclimates, sweat, hydration, fatigue and staying positive are just the tip of the iceberg of things to think about.

After a few days of contemplating what I will need, a few frantic emergency emails to the countries best ultra runners. I made a list!

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The list just keeps growing!

There is just a bit more to bring for an Ultra race, I’ve discovered. There are also way more miles to dedicate to my running community. As some of you know, I do mile dedications to get me through the good times and the bad times. The bonus for this race is I get 50 Miles to reflect on the most amazing people in my life. A quick aside here before we get to the packing list. A good friend was diagnosed with MS this week. Robyn Baldwin you are amazing and I love you. I know this will not be and easy journey but you are strong enough to get through it. My race on Saturday will be mostly dedicated to you, when I feel like I can’t go on, I will think of your strength and ask, “What would Robyn do?” You never quit!

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This is our Robyn!

Before I begin to cry let’s get to the really essential things I must bring for this particular race.

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My race day Must Haves are ready to go.

  1. My Petzl Head lamp is a must, since my race will start before sunrise. (with fresh batteries)
  2. My Ultimate Hydration Jenny Pack. I will mostly depend on the aid stations, but having some hydration for emergencies will greatly increase my odds for success.

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    My Favourite EVERYTHING pack I have ever owned!

  3. My V800 Polar watch, fully charged.
  4. My BUFF head band
  5. My Inception Cyclery Power Band. This sweatband has a lot of memories stuck in it. It will be my very special memento on race day.

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    This Band stinks really badly because i won’t wash it, afraid the memories will go with the dirt.

  6. My Canon Camera for all the stargazing.
  7. Honeymaxx and GU gels to keep me hydrated and my electrolyte levels balanced.
  8. A printed map of the course, since even the best runners get lost on this course!
  9. Transcend the movie to watch and re-watch for inspiration
  10. My Iphone

I have a one-woman race crew. The plan so far is for her to meet me at mile 8 and 44 will work out perfectly. I will be at mile 8 to pass off my headlamp and grab whatever essentials I may think of at that point. At mile 44 I can ditch my pack, down three cups of flat coke and run the last 6 miles free of the extra weight.

My one-woman crew will have my backpack where I’ll have packed a few extras for emergencies. I was advised to pack candied ginger for any GI issues that could arise. Dates and apricots for quick sugar sources. M&M, my new favourite running treat, they have these at the aid stations but post-race I will want ALL the sugar I can get. A change of dry clothes and a towel so I can enjoy an ice bath post-race.

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The Pink Hat Runner A.K.A. Michele

My list is thorough and complete, checked and double checked, so let the packing begin!