Mid Week Gear Review: My Sudden & Very New Love Affair

I am madly in love with my new trail runners. And I fell hard and fast.

Can you blame me? These are damn sexy.
Can you blame me? These are damn sexy.

I have only worn them once. I didn’t even run in them (I’m still not trail running).  But from the moment I put them on my feet, I just knew these were the perfect shoe for my foot. You know how people always tell you when you meet that perfect person you’ll “just know” and you’re all like “what the hell is that supposed to mean?” until it actually happens to you? My experience with these shoes was exactly like that. I didn’t think a shoe could be so perfect. And I like a lot of my shoes right off the bat.  But I only like them. This, this was love at first sight…and then first wear.

Let’s keep the whole relationship metaphor going. I don’t really believe in people ‘growing on you’.  It sounds ruthless, I’m sure, but if I don’t have a good feeling after a first date, I’m immediately out.  With running and hiking shoes, I’ve never bought into the whole “breaking shoes in” nonsense.  Either a shoe fits and feels fantastic the first time I wear it, or I’m going to kick it to the curb.

This perfectly explains how I don’t need to run in these to know that they will be magical. I don’t need to hike more than the 8 km I hiked in them to know they will replace all my light hikers. My feet were happy. They had room to move and spread. They felt cushioned and supported. The grip pattern kept me from sliding even on the loosest of rocks and the steepest of slopes (and Chilliwack trails offer some seriously steep sections).

As an added, but completely unnecessary bonus, they have just enough gaudy, over-the-top, flashy colour to suit my need for finding the most obnoxious looking shoes I can find. You can’t really tell from that picture, but I promise you the colours pop way more in real life. And just wait until my second pair arrives in the mail (because yes, I’ve already ordered another pair). Their colour palette is even bolder.

But what I love most about these shoes by far is that I took a total chance on them.  I ordered them after trying on a few other brands that felt anywhere from awful to ‘meh’ on my foot. I was discouraged. I felt like I’d never find the right shoe. And then I saw these and it’s like I just knew.   Sure, it was based on looks and a hunch at first but, really, isn’t that how most good things seem to come about in life?

To my Brooks Cascadia 11’s: here’s to the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Oh, the trails we will see together!

 

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Training Tuesdays: Shiny New “0 to Ultra in 100 Days” Plan

Last week I talked about my crazy idea for a 0 to ultra in 100 days plan and committed to unveiling a training plan for it this week. Unlike most occasions where I willfully ignore my commitments, I actually put pen to paper for this one (or should I say finger to keyboard?) and knocked out a simple training schedule. I’ll be the first to admit, the training plan title is slightly misleading as really my goal is to make sure I complete the first 18 km of the race in 2.5 hours (if you missed last week’s post, that’s the cut off for continuing on in the race). After that, I can slow my roll and focus on just finishing. So really, I don’t consider it training for an ultra as much as training for a half marathon.

A few important details about my approach to training plans:

1. My plans are very loosely structured. I focus on mapping out overall weekly workouts and progression instead of micro-scheduling distances and activities by day of the week. I have never been good with super structured training plans. The last time I tried to follow a marathon training plan, I had severe burnout (mentally) to the point that I didn’t run the marathon I was training for, and decided I would never run a marathon again. Famous last words…Anyway, I will keep it flexible, because life happens, and because nothing makes me hate training more than looking at a calendar and seeing things like “32 km trail run” tied to a specific day. Translation: I do not like rules.

2. This plan is made possible by a flexible workplace with an incredibly generous vacation package. Without the ability to tack extra days onto weekends, take extra long breaks, or go in to work late/leave early, I don’t think this plan would work.

3. I have not incorporated any significant running into this plan right now. In particular, I am going to intentionally train without any trail running. Sound crazy? My goal for this race is finishing, which means I need to focus on running the sections that will cause the least injury aggravation (i.e. flat-ish sections). I can train for those through a combination of road running (which tends to cause my body less grief) and fast-paced uphill hiking. I have always been faster hiking uphill than running anyway.

Now that I’m all prefaced out, without further adieu, here is my laid-back guide to ultra training…

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It’s simple. It’s manageable for maintaining an actual life where I can still enjoy evenings out, time with friends, etc.  I know myself well enough to know I will never structure my life around a hard core training schedule. I also think it will be kind to my SI. Before I started all these trail running shenanigans, my SI was fine. Hiking doesn’t seem to be a problem, and so I’m going to focus on hiking farther, higher and infinitely faster and hope that it translates into a super speedy 18 km. I think the appropriate well-wishes to myself in this scenario are “god speed”…with the emphasis on speed.

Monday Musings: On Regaining Lost Muscle

It’s no secret that muscle loss happens quickly during periods of forced (or unforced) inactivity. I went through a two-week exercise hiatus, followed by another two weeks with pretty minimal activity, and another couple of weeks with pretty low intensity workouts (compared to my usual level). In total, it was about a month and a half of significantly reduced activity. I would expect some muscle and fitness loss during that time, but this weekend my muscle loss slapped me right acrossthe face (metaphorically speaking, of course).

Of course after not hiking for almost two months, I chose to reintroduce hiking with back-to-back steep trails this weekend, climbing 1000 m and 800 m respectively. Since they were both well under 20k return, I figured I’d be fine. Mostly, I anticipated burning lungs and a pounding heart (i.e. I feared that my endurance would be shot). As further proof that I am rarely right, I was wrong about this too. My cardiovascular fitness was fine. My legs, on the other hand, were not.

It is the first time that I can remember–although I admit I am outstanding at blocking exercise-induced physical pain from my memory–my quads hurting during a hike. Ever. Even more alarming, my calves hurt! I (used to) have calves of steel! How did this happen? I had to find out. In the past I’ve heard that you can lose everything from 10-25% of muscle loss after just two weeks of inactivity. Could that be true? And, if I’ve been active but just not doing the same activities as usual, would I experience the same degree of muscle loss? Once again, I had to consult with dear Google to fill in the blanks on my muscle loss woes.

Here is what I learned:

1. It takes just two weeks of physical inactivity for those who are physically fit to lose a significant amount of their muscle strength. What’s significant? Well one study quoted that “young people” (side note: I assume I still count as young people) can lose up to 30%(!!!!) of their muscle strength in that time. Well, this explains a lot about the muscle soreness I’ve experienced during my recent hiking endeavors…and how a set of 6 dead lifts leaves my glutes feeling ever so tender. I guess I just assumed losing fitness was all about the endurance and cardiovascular side of things, not the strength piece. It is just like me to drastically underestimate the importance of something like muscles. I am an Arts major, after all, and have always shied away from that pesky science.

2. While general exercise (cycling, cardio, etc.) seems to help recover physical fitness, it doesn’t do as much for muscle strength. What?!? All those hours on the cursed elliptical were for naught! This should have been so obvious given that, no matter what settings I tried, the elliptical never seemed all that hard. But had I known this, I might have avoided it altogether purely to save myself the mental hell that goes hand in hand with my using the elliptical. All I can say about this is thank goodness I started working with a trainer.

3. One study I read about said it will take three times the amount of time I was inactive to get my muscle mass back. I am giving myself a 3 week inactive period since my first week ‘back to workouts’ after the injury was pretty light. That means 9 weeks to get back to pre-injury muscle mass…which, by my calendar, means I will only get there around July 8th. Coincidentally this is right around my birthday, so I guess happy birthday to me and I will be gifted the return of fully functioning muscles. This is depressing.

4. Evidently the more muscle mass you start out with, the more you lose. It feels wrong to me that a fit person will lose more muscle than an unfit person. Physiologically, I understand it, so when I say it feels wrong I mean it feels unfair. Because the one perk of starting out fit should be keeping more of your muscle mass, shouldn’t it? This makes me want to throw in the towel and aspire to be the unfit skinny person…except that I’m not blessed with a body that will keep me skinny if I’m not fit. I would also like to file that under unfair.

The moral of the story seems to be that I lost a lot of muscle and it will take me some time to get it back. The good thing is that I’m so incredibly stubborn that I will force myself to hike at every opportunity to beat my legs into submission (i.e. fitness). The more they ache, the more I will push. That is how you teach muscles a lesson.

RWIR #12 (how has it been 12 weeks?!?)

I cannot believe that it’s been three months of TWIR/RWIRs! By now, I thought I’d have run my first mountain race (the 13km Survival of the Fittest) and be deep into my training plan. Certainly things have shifted gears with a focus on recovery and strength building.  But I’ve already covered this, so let’s move on to where this week took me in training/recovery:

Saturday
Activity: Stairs + Incline Walk + Rehab “Routine”
Relevant Stats: 50 min. Stairs, 10 minute walk, 60 min. rehab exercises
Observations:  I am not a fair weather hiker by any means, but when the rain starts bouncing off the pavement, even I have to question whether it’s worth it. Saturday was apparently the wettest day of the year here and I couldn’t stomach the thought of hiking in a torrential downpour. Instead, I decided to be all hardcore and spend a couple hours at the gym with a good mix of cardio and doing my training homework.  This turned out to be a good choice as it allowed for us to take a field trip to Golf Town where I learned that putters are ridiculously expensive and that golf product makers suffer the delusion that women want all of their golf gear in pink. Newsflash: we don’t.

Sunday
Activity: HIKE!!!!
Relevant Stats: 8.5 km return, 650 m elevation gain
Observations: It was short and not what I would normally consider a real hike, but it is the most elevation gain I’ve done in a month and a half and it felt spectacular. The trail was muddy care of Saturday’s rain, and quite slick in spaces, so I was a bit anxious about slipping and hurting my SI. Luckily I emerged from the trail unscathed, and even a couple of slides on wet mud didn’t seem to aggravate my injury. The scariest part of this trail actually ended up being the frogger-like jaunt across the Sea-to-Sky highway to get to the trailhead!

Monday
Activity: Elliptical + Stairs + Rehab Exercises
Relevant Stats: 75 min. in total
Observations: Likely this should have been my rest day but it was sunshine-y outside and it made me want to do something, so I opted for a gym session mixing cardio with my rehab exercises. I can’t say it was my best workout, but at least it was something.

Tuesday
Activity: Training Session
Relevant Stats: 60 min.
Observations: We are continuing to progress in training. This week’s add-ons included: farmer carries, L sits (which I am still doing only with modifications…in other words, I can’t actually lift my legs), some sort of weird backwards walking thing that I like to describe as the “t-rex moonwalk”, 55 lb deadlifts (without aggravating my SI!!!!), bear crawls on sliders (even less fun than regular bear crawls) and increased weights all around.  Good times.  I also have the go ahead for run/walk intervals–1 minute running, 5 minute walking.  It’s more of a test than getting back into running in a real way and I actually think it will be harder for me to do intervals than anything. I’ve never been good with the whole run/walk concept, but I suppose if I’ve learned anything through this process it’s that I need to stop jumping back into things.

Wednesday
Activity: Rest Day
Relevant Stats: 1 clothes closet tidied, 5 loads of laundry
Observations: Boredom struck pretty hard last night when I planned for a walk outside, and instead found myself trapped inside while the deluge struck.  Instead, I filled two bags with clothes I never wear, finally hung up all the crap in my closet, washed a crap ton of laundry, and still felt like the laziest human on the planet.

Thursday
Activity: Spin + Elliptical
Relevant Stats: 60 minutes spin, 10 min. elliptical
Observations: I tried for an hour and a half of cardio but after ten minutes on the elliptical I threw in the towel. I have not been feeling workouts the last couple of days and really look forward to getting back on the trails this weekend.  I’m especially excited because I think my new trail runners have arrived at the office!

Friday
Activity: Spin + Rehab Exercises
Relevant Stats: 20 min spin warmup + 40 min. rehab
Observations: Today was a light day partially out of laziness and crankiness, and partly because the weekend is all about the hike and I wanted reasonably fresh legs.  So who cares about today because tomorrow is the start of HIKING WEEKEND!

Overall, I didn’t hike as much as I wanted to on the weekend, but the rain really is to blame for that.  The rest of the week was lackluster because of my own attitude.  So the best I can say about this week’s workouts is…

meh

For next week, my goals are to build a training plan for my 0 to ultra in 100 days dream, and to add the BCMC trail into my weekday mix so that I hit THREE hikes in one week. I just hope I don’t get attacked by that cougar that’s been lurking at Grouse…

Throwback Thursday: On Getting Disoriented on Trails

Only twice have I legitimately feared that I may not get back to a trailhead safely because I might just be lost. Both were horrifying in the moment, mostly because I pride myself on not being ‘that’ person. You know, the one who goes off into the woods ill-prepared and with no route-finding abilities whatsoever. There’s a reason I stick to front country trails. They minimize my need to understand where I am in relation to the landscape. Also, there is a greater likelihood that, if shit goes south, another hiker will stumble upon my injured body or corpse in due time and at least my family will not suffer the horror of never knowing what happened to me. Yes, this is actually how I think.

Up until last year, I carried little in the way of survival gear. And by little, I mean I carried nothing. Like nothing. I carried a tiny trail running backpack with a questionably sufficient amount of water, maybe a rain jacket (if skies looked grey), sometimes a lara bar and, if I was feeling particularly mindful, a pair of gloves. It is truly amazing that I have emerged from so many hiking adventures completely unscathed.

Alas, here is the tale that changed my ill-prepared ways.  After this, I started to carry a more suitably sized backpack.  After this, I also started to carry more food and layers.*

Let us travel back in time to last summer’s four-day weekend in Mount Rainier National Park last year, during which time I had an unobstructed view of Mount Rainier for a grand total of, like, 20 minutes. At any rate, I was on a cattle-call type trail called Burroughs Mountain, which has three peaks.

The first peak is a tourist mecca. It is teaming with people, like a scene from Walking Dead. It’s a short and relatively undemanding hike to get there and supposedly the views are fantastic.  The second peak is a little less crowded as it requires a smidge more effort and distance.  The third peak…well, let’s just say I’ve visited it twice and the only signs of life I encountered was a herd of goats.  It’s a somewhat less defined trail, unmarked, and involves a more lengthy (but still not all that challenging) climb.

So, on this cloudy-and-constantly-threatening-to-rain day, I decided to continue to the third peak, hoping the clouds would miraculously part and reveal Rainier (spoiler alert: they don’t). Instead, the clouds rapidly descend and shatter my hopes of seeing anything.  Suddenly, I am standing in a sea of low cloud. I can see roughly five feet in front of me.

I decide fate is not working in my favour and I opt to make my way back to the promise of warmth in my car. Like most things in life, I walk off with a sense of purpose and certainty, tromping along like I’m on a mission.  I pass a cairn that marks the way and keep on truckin’.  Within 10 or 15 minutes, I stop dead in my tracks.

Suddenly I realize the trail I’m on a) doesn’t look right b) doesn’t look familiar and c) doesn’t really look like a trail anymore.  However, I assume that I cannot possibly be off course on a front country trail in one of the most popular spots in a national park. I also know that I am the world’s most unobservant human and figure it looks unfamiliar because I probably wasn’t paying attention on the way up.  After a few more minutes, however, I realize with certainty that I am off course.

The anxiety I felt was completely visceral. People talk about sinking feelings in their stomachs.  My stomach was somewhere around my knees.  My breathing was shallow. My intuition was like “yeah, you’re pretty screwed right now.” You’re probably thinking, so why didn’t you just retreat and follow your footsteps? Here’s the thing. That low cloud was like the thickest fog I’ve ever stood in and I literally couldn’t see beyond 3 or 4 feet. There were no landmarks to work with. There were no mountains to give me a sense of my general direction. There was no trail to simply follow back to the summit.

In the back of my mind, I was trying to think of it would really be better to stay where I was. After all, I had a safety check in place.  Then again, she wasn’t expecting to hear from me until 6 or 6:30 (a good four hours later) and, really, I imagine most safety checks aren’t going to go straight for contacting search and rescue. They’re going to wait a while, assuming you are just running late or forgot. On the flipside, I could become even more hopelessly lost if I tried to just follow my instincts and get back to the trail. Conundrum.

I started to think worst case scenarios, like mentally preparing for a night in the cold with my tiny, trail-running backpack and my water-resistant but not waterproof jacket. I wondered if you could actually get hypothermia at this elevation in the summer just from being improperly dressed.  Then I started wondering if the herd of goats would sense my fear and then huddle with me for warmth, which actually made me smile because that would have been sort of awesome. Then I imagined search and rescue discovering me amidst a herd of goats, warm and content, saved by my spirit animals (yes, I said spirit animals).  Of course, I’d still have to hang my head in shame as they would clearly be asking me how the hell I got lost on such a popular trail.

Weighing my options not at all carefully, I decided to go with a solid 180 and literally retrace my steps for 10 minutes. If, at that point, I was still lost, I would figure out what to do next. I walked. I analyzed the ground. I fantasized about the clouds lifting.  My anxiety grew exponentially.

And then, a beautiful thing happened which is that I stumbled upon that little cairn that I had passed earlier and which I had mistakenly assumed meant ‘come this way’.  What I hadn’t noticed the first time around is that, about four feet to the left, was another virtually identical cairn. That sly little bastard had been hanging out there the whole time and I’d just blazed right past it.

I have never felt so relieved to see a cairn, and the trail to the side of it. I obviously made it back to the car safely, and promptly downplayed the whole scenario to friends and family who already worry enough about my solo hikes.  I know the truth: my spirit animals, the goats, were sending powerful vibes into the universe guiding me back to the true trail.  You may think I sound crazy, but trust me when I say that I lack the navigational aptitude to have done it on my own.

*Now, I can actually say that I have  a solid assortment of emergency supplies so that, if I somehow stumble off-course, I can at least make it through a night in relative comfort and safety. That’s less to do with this adventure, though, and more because my boyfriend is a safety bear and bought me everything I needed for trail emergencies for Christmas.

Mid-Week Puzzler: Why do I Hoard Running Shoes?

I seem to confess a lot in this space. I’ve confessed my FOME, my fear of falling off mountains, and my disdain for running in herds. Today, I have yet another confession to make: I am a slob.  For as long as I can remember, I have been a slob. Open any cabinet, closet or drawer and you will quickly see evidence of my pigpen ways.  This is important context, I promise.

Because I am a slob, I frequently have to dig through my front closet in search of random shoes.  My front closet has zero organizational order and has become a collection space for everything from my recycling to my cleaning supplies to my coats and my shoes.  It is total and complete chaos in there. I would include a picture but it fills me with too much shame. Again, I swear this is important context.

As a result of the careless abandon with which I throw everything into this closet, I can rarely find and extract a matching pair of shoes without pulling almost everything out of my closet.  Trust me, I’m getting to my point.

In the course of trying to find a “missing” (i.e. hopelessly buried) second shoe recently, I realized that I have not one, not two, not three or even four, but five pairs of running shoes.  At home. In my front closet.  I have another two pairs of running shoes at work in a drawer next to my desk.  I have two pairs of trail shoes on my patio. I have one pair of hiking boots in my flex room.

That’s 10 pairs of running or trail shoes. At one time.

I’m sure for actual distance runners and competitive types that’s actually normal.  But here’s the thing, I am not a competitive runner or a real distance runner.  And, even worse, of the 10 pairs of shoes that are currently in my possession, I wear exactly 4 on the regular. That means I’m holding on to 6 pairs of shoes for no reason except that I keep thinking “maybe one day I’ll need them.”

Let’s explore why this is ridiculous:

  • 1 pair of trail shoes has shoelaces broken in multiple spots, and I’ve repaired the laces simply by tying them together. The laces are now a sea of knots and they cannot be tightened because the knots won’t fit through the holes. They are no longer waterproof. Their seams are torn. They smell…well-worn. In short, they need to meet their maker.
  • 1 pair of shoes are the dreaded minimalist runners that led to many an injury.  Sure they look flashy, but I can’t run in them.  They are currently being imprisoned in my desk drawer as punishment for the injuries they caused.
  • 2 pairs of running shoes have giant, gaping holes either along the soles or on the toe basket. They, too, smell well-worn.  They have zero cushion remaining and would surely punish every joint in my body if I were to wear them.
  • 1 pair of running shoes are the wrong size. I kept them and used them back in the day because running shoes are expensive and I was poor.  They have long since been replaced with appropriately sized footwear.  There is no reason to threaten my toes with that kind of discomfort ever again.
  • 1 pair of running shoes barely resembles running shoes.  There is no evidence of grip pattern. There are so many holes that they more closely resemble sandals than shoes.  One of the shoes is missing its shoelace.
  • I have moved these shoes from city to city over the years, unwilling to part with them.  I do not know why.  Is it laziness? Is it slovenly ways? Is it hoarding? Or, perhaps, is there an emotional attachment that exists just beneath my level of consciousness?  Those shoes have covered a lot of miles and terrain. They’ve seen me in my best moments and my worst moments.  They’ve stuck with me as I hobbled in injury. They’ve carried me across finish lines.

    So maybe one day I’ll let go of my hoarding ways and finally kick them to the curb.  But for today, I think I’ll hang on to them a little bit longer. You never know when a hole-riddled-smelly-one-shoelaced sneaker might be just what I need…

    Training Tuesdays: 0 to Ultra in 100 Days?

    As of tomorrow, I have exactly 100 days until my scheduled ultra marathon. Up until now I have sort of assumed that I won’t be running it. My latest injury has caused a 1.5 month set back and I doubt I’ll be running for a while yet (at least not in the way that you need to run to prepare for an ultra). I’m back on trails but very slowly building up to more intense elevation gains and distances. And yet, that little idealist inside me wonders if it might not just be the greatest coup ever to go from 0 to ultra in 100 days.

    Is such a thing possible? Trusty Google came up short on 100 day training plans for ultras–at least, for people essentially starting at 0.

    But then I started to do the math. All I really need is to reach the 18 km mark of the race within 2.5 hours. That means I need to move at roughly an 8.5 min/km pace. If I do this, they cannot disqualify me! No matter how slow I am after that point, they have to let me finish the race. It’s possible that I should apologize in advance to the race volunteers who will be waiting hours and hours for me to walk my way out…

    As I thought about the feasibility of this pace and plan, I realized I can actually hike that fast! At my fittest (which granted I am not at right now), I typically hike at a pace of 8-10 min/km on flat to rolling terrain and can maintain a 10-12 min/km pace on moderate incline (which is all the uphill component of the Mount Robson marathon really is). All I need is to run a few a few strategically placed flat sections, which the first 18km of the course is chock full of.

    I can almost taste victory! And by victory, I mean simply finishing.

    But I still need a plan. So next Tuesday, I will reveal to my tiny little group of followers* what I’m sure will one day be a mass-marketed, highly lucrative, sought-after-by-every-wanna-be-lazy-runner “100 day couch to ultra” plan. And before you get any ideas, you better bet I’m already in the process of trademarking this puppy.

    * Obviously as early followers I will offer you a discounted rate on my new plan when it goes viral.