And The Tortoise Wore Sparkles

Alternate titles could have been:

How Do You Spell D-F-L? – This was a serious contender…
Slow And Steady, Wins The Race Gets You To The Finish
Slow And Steady, Wins The Race Is Slow And Steady
I’m Already At 40km.  What’s Another 10?
I’d Rather Crawl Than Walk Away Now
Yes, I Do Need To Kiss The Fire Hydrant

A funny thing happened on 1 January 2012.  I found myself toeing the “line” at the 19th Annual 2012 Vancouver New Year’s Day Fat Ass 50 Run and Freeze Your Fat Ass Swim.  Funny because it was 50km.  Funny because I hadn’t really told all that many people.  Funny because it took me almost half a year to really want to enjoy running again.

A bit of a history:

I ran the Vancouver marathon last May and, while my race plan was sound, my result was a huge disappointment.  I made it to Hood To Coast with Nuun and had an amazing time, but crashed (physically and emotionally) at the end of that too.  

Fake it till you make it!
Not sure I’ll ever top this!

By the end of the summer running had pissed me off enough that I was done.  I burned out.

Due to time constraints and a huge lack of motivation I dropped out of my half marathon clinic that was supposed to get me through the summer months.  I wanted to get back into running, but not be dependent on a schedule.  I found that I could run while Spud was in playschool twice a week and that helped me get back into it.  I still wasn’t loving the runs, but I needed them (physically and emotionally).  

After a while I was really craving a goal.  I knew that there was no way I wanted to do a half in October.  I wouldn’t be prepared.  It would be added pressure that I didn’t want and added costs that we really couldn’t afford.  Now the proper thing to have done would have been to sign up for a shorter distance race.  There are some good 5km and 10km races later in the fall.  However, I have a hard time spending $40+ on a short race.  If I want to run for half an hour I can do it by my house for free…  Anyways, I digress.  I’ve been thinking about ultras for a while now – participating in a 200 mile relay kind of gets the mind dreaming.  The reason the Club Fat Ass event was on my radar is because it’s not really a trail ultra.  Yes, there are trails, but they aren’t too technical and are all within the limits of city parks.  I was really familiar with the road portion as well so I didn’t feel like I’d get lost.  

When I made my decision to run I kept it a secret.  A big secret.  So much so that I didn’t really have anything to blog about.  How can you blog about running a lot when you “aren’t training for anything right now”?  I told a whopping 4 people about my goal; 3 in person and 1 online.  I figured the less people knew the less pressure I would feel.  And I was right.  I found a training program online for another 50km run that was based on time.  It seemed much more attainable than one based on mileage.  I didn’t train as much as I should have (typically me) however, I was able to get in a couple of relatively long runs.  I had no illusions as to how I would place in this run.  I knew that I would be out of my league and probably come last.  Surprisingly, that didn’t bother me in the least.

The Big Event:

While I’d love to start the actual run recap with the quintessential “the day of the race dawned bright and early” I can’t.  It’d be a lie.  Yes, it was early, but not so early as to be obnoxious.  And it was dark.  Thankfully it wasn’t pouring rain – which Environment Canada had convinced me it would be.  I got up at 6:30am so I could get some breakfast and make sure my stomach wasn’t going to revolt on me.  My friend, Laurie, was picking me up at 7:40am so we could sign in around 8:30am.  Every race should be like this.  Seriously.  I wasn’t nervous.  I only felt a little silly in my Team Sparkle skirt, mainly because I was meeting a group of total strangers.  There was no pressure.  Not from anyone, especially myself.  

                                                                                                                                                       Me β†‘

After a quick briefing that covered Club Fat Ass’ rules – no fee, no aid, no wimps* – we started at 9am.  The local media was out to film us as we are apparently odd enough to get coverage along with the polar bear swimmers.  It was clear from the get-go that I’d be on my own.  I kept up (and by that I mean within sight) with the group for a while.  I was mostly concerned about getting lost in Stanley Park as I don’t think I’ve ever actually gone on the trails there other than the seawall.  It’s really pretty in the park.  Definitely not something I would do on my own for safety reasons – it is smack in the middle of the city – but I’d go back to run them with Colin.  I caught up to another runner – Sybille, the Chief Exec of CFA – for the last bit of the park before she headed back to the start.  My friend Gina surprised me at that point and took some pictures.  I knew she’d be coming out to help crew for me (take pictures and provide moral support), but I didn’t know when and where she’d show up.  It was nice to see a familiar face.  

Once I got out of the trails I was on the part of the route that I was comfortable with.  I could stay on the seawall for a few kilometres before I had to take the stairs (later the bane of my existence) up to the Burrard Bridge.  If you’ve been reading for a while you’ll know that the bridge was my nemesis during the Vancouver marathon when I had to go over it each way, the second time being at 40km.  Thank goodness they changed the route this year and I only have to do it once!  Anyways, after the seawall it was through some fancy residential neighbourhoods all the way to the beach.  It was nice to zone out running along there – my iPod was on the radio just for noise and I though about how much time Colin and I spent down there when we first met.  I got to where I thought the next trail started and it wasn’t as far as I expected.  I had to call Gina because I wasn’t sure if she was meeting me there or not.  Unfortunately we missed seeing each other a few kilometres back!  I added the .73km here – extra distance is a rite of passage at a CFA event so I wasn’t too worried.  

It wasn’t quite this sunny, but the view was still nice

The third section was all trail again.  Some of it was narrow and muddy.  I was thankful that it hadn’t rained as it would have been a total mess and I’m sure I would have landed on my butt at some point!  The bad part was that there were a lot of stairs and my legs were not to happy about them.  They weren’t regular stairs, but at a height that was just too high to be comfortable.  I turned left at the next trail and discovered that, while wide and covered in gravel, it was a hill.  And it was long.  My knee was starting to hurt so I walked a lot on that part.  About 5km from the turnaround I saw the first of the runners coming back towards me.  The guy who “won” – and was honoured with a brass pig – finished in 3:48!  I kept plodding along through the trails.  I had my directions (written, not a map) in hand and checked frequently to make sure that I was still going the right way.  It’s not like it was wilderness, but I didn’t want to tack on more distance than absolutely necessary.  Pacific Spirit Park is another park that I’ve been to, but never really explored.  The trails were beautiful.  You know it’s an urban trail when the signs say “weekdays, dogs on leash; weekends, leash optional”.  I got a few “good jobs” and “nice skirt” from runners who had already turned around and one was kind enough to tell me that I was really close.  Such a relief!  

Pacific Spirit Park trails

I was looking forward to seeing Gina again and I knew that Colin would be there with my food too.  Gina walked a little to meet me – and tell me that Colin had his camera out.  Usually my pictures aren’t great, however, Colin is talented and I was running much slower than usual so I wasn’t the colour of my jacket.  When I met up with him I immediately sat down and fished the tiny stones out of my shoes.  They’d been driving me nuts for a couple of kilometres.  After that I had a few salty tortilla chips – stroke of genius to bring those, let me tell you – and some of my kona cola Nuun.  I finished the first half in roughly 3:30 which I was quite pleased with.  

Here’s where I should be honest.  I probably should have stopped at 25km.  My knee was sore.  Most likely the changes in terrain and the distance were wearing on my shoes.  If I’d had a second pair it would have been nice to have some more cushioning.  My quads hurt from the hills/stairs.  But the weather was decent – brisk, but not cold, and not raining – and I signed up for 50km.  I at least owed it to myself to see how far I could go without taking the easy way out.  Time wasn’t (never was) a factor so it was simply seeing if I could do it.

Colin kindly reminded me that I probably shouldn’t doddle.  He was right.  I waved goodbye and continued my walk/run back the way I came.  As is usually the case, the run out of the park didn’t seem as long as the run in.  I (kind of) knew where I was going – and I had my trusty directions.  I wasn’t much of a fan of running on my own, but the headphones were out and I was being attentive.  It wasn’t dark – yet – so not really a concern.  I don’t run on my own all that often when it’s that solitary.  A different experience to be sure.  I definitely enjoy running where there’s more people or with people I know.  At one point I met up with Laurie again which was quite a surprise.  I’d asked Colin if she had turned around as expected at the halfway point.  He assured me she had, but I hadn’t seen her on my way there so I was a little confused.  Turned out that she had missed a turn and had to go the long way around.  After a quick pitstop – the bonus to an urban race is that there are real bathrooms – we ran together for about 15 minutes before she left me in her dust (with my blessing!).  The hill back down was as unfun as it had been on the way up.  Usually I’d love it, but my knee was still giving me heck so I was taking it nice and slow.  The stairs were no fun going down either and I did sort of a sideways left-foot-down-right-foot-down on each stair.  Colin met me at the end of the trail and would have taken pictures, but his battery died.  Boo.  I dumped some more rocks out of my shoes, grabbed more chips, and told him that I’d see him soon.

Soon, apparently, is relative.  I really didn’t have that far to go before meeting up with Colin and Gina again.  But it seemingly took forever.  Wait, it actually took forever!  Run, walk, hobble, run, walk, hobble, ru-nope hobble still, run…  You get the picture.  It didn’t help, either, that I was going past concession stands and the smells were taunting me!  I was very happy to see my crew.  Our friend Dan was there as well, having biked out of downtown, and I jokingly asked if he was there to pace me.  He probably would have fallen off of his bike if he’d tried as I was going so slowly!  I was especially happy that Colin had my gloves.  Why I’d given them away I don’t know.  It was a short stop.  Mostly I figured that if I’d already hit 42km (on my watch) I might as well finish the darn thing.  I knew that I could walk the rest of the way if necessary and still finish.  When I left them it was a bit of a hill – not much of one, but enough after that amount of time – and my leg just wasn’t wanting to work.  Every step sent pain up under my left knee cap.  I knew that my shoes were done for the day – it was the same thing that happened at Hood To Coast.  The foam looks like it’s good, but it’s like having wooden soles.  So I did what any stubborn runner would do and poked around at my knee until it felt “better”.  

I might have felt like crap, but at least the views were distracting.
Again, wasn’t this sunny, but not raining either!

I walked across the Burrard Bridge because at that point I didn’t feel like running up and over it.  I walked down the stairs – fearing I would turn into a tumbleweed – back to the seawall.  I ran past the last few crazies (different from CFA ones) who participated in the annual polar bear swim.  The route back to the start wasn’t through the woods, but past Lost Lagoon and back to the other side of the seawall.  There were a lot of people out which was nice, if not a bit annoying.  If the split bike/pedestrian path is only wide enough on the pedestrian side for 4 people, please don’t walk 4 across!  At least it was entertaining to pass them rather closely and surprise them.  I was beyond being curteous at that point.  It was getting dark as I made my way past the Nine O’Clock Gun and under the Brockton Point Lighthouse.  I popped up to the bike path where there were more lights since I wasn’t entirely sure where the road was back to the start.  There were only a few people around at that point – including one person coming towards me.  I wanted to make sure that I was aware of my surroundings and just pass them by.  That was until I discovered that it was Colin.  He’d come to wait for me so that I wouldn’t have to be alone in the dark.  Funny now that I thought my husband was some potential creeper.  I checked my watch and determined that I would be able to finish before the next hour struck!  

Moon wasn’t out, but this was one of the last views from the seawall
Lion’s Gate Bridge – it actually was this dark, but it’s not my picture

It was a little incline up the parking lot to the finish.  There was no line to cross, just a fire hydrant to kiss.  I’m sure that there were all sorts of germs on it, but there was no way I wasn’t going to kiss that sucker!  

Colin came out to finish with me

Checking my time
Proof I actually did finish!

I finally finished in 7 hours, 54 minutes, and 41 seconds.  I was tired, sore, and my shoes squeaked.  I was almost an hour over what I would have liked to finish in.  I was last.  I didn’t care.  Colin, Gina, Dan, and Laurie (who finished her first 50km race in 7:07) were there to celebrate with me.  I wasn’t willing to do the celebratory Freeze Your Fat Ass Swim though…

And then Colin and I went and got the tastiest bacon and cheese hamburgers ever on the way to pick up Spud.

* Club Fat Ass rules:
No Fee. I understand that there is no such thing as a free lunch. I agree to not whine about how a free CFA Event is organized and promise to enjoy it for what it is rather than grumble about what it is not. I don’t expect a finisher medal, souvenir t-shirt, draw prizes, a loot bag or any other stuff to take home after I finish a CFA Event other than my dirty laundry and, possibly, some bragging rights.
No Aid. I am an experienced endurance athlete so I know how to dress for the weather and to pack what I need to eat and drink. I agree to not whine if I suffer as a result of my screwing up and not being adequately prepared for a CFA Event.
No Wimps. I understand that a CFA Event may be physically and mentally demanding. I agree to suck it up and not whine regardless of how tough a CFA Event might be.


13 responses

  1. Congrats to you for busting ass!

    January 7, 2012 at 2:45 am

  2. Very cool! Way to finish! Are you planning any more 50kms in 2012?

    January 7, 2012 at 3:01 am

  3. You are a trooper – looking forward to getting some LSDs in with you in the next few months. What a start to 2012!

    January 7, 2012 at 3:13 am

  4. So awesome! I love all the rules of the CFA, sounds like a great event. Great job you for doing it. You should feel really proud of yourself.

    Awesome pictures too. Great job Colin.

    January 7, 2012 at 3:49 am

  5. Amy

    I am impressed! What an accomplishment, and what a secret! Amazing Alanna!

    January 7, 2012 at 4:45 am

  6. You go, Sparkle Tortoise! You are such a trooper and have such a great attitude! Good for you!!!! I am so proud of you πŸ™‚

    January 7, 2012 at 5:59 am

  7. Oh my! CONGRATULATIONS!!! What an OUTSTANDING accomplishment! I am SO proud of you. You really muscled through that race and I enjoyed reading your play-by-play. I hope that this pulled you out of your burnout.

    Way to go on a strong race. I admire how you pushed yourself through it.

    January 7, 2012 at 6:38 am

  8. Congrats on the 50k, awesome job for sticking through it and finishing (I was dead last in my first 50k that I ran in November!).

    January 7, 2012 at 11:16 am

  9. Congratulations, Alanna. I feel honoured to have run with you on the first few km for a bit. Perhaps next year I can aim for the full 50km yet…Funny how it becomes part of how one starts each New Year!

    January 7, 2012 at 4:40 pm

  10. Awesome summary… the pain must have subsided by the time you wrote it. It was a pleasure to run with you, albeit briefly (I only did the “half-ass” 25K route.)

    1 Jan 2013 is the 20th anniversary of the event, so hope to see you complete the swim leg, too! =;-)

    January 7, 2012 at 6:09 pm

  11. Wow – way to go! I hear ya about the knee thing. I totally move it around until it feels better too. πŸ˜‰ Rest up now and take care of your body until you feel good and ready. You certainly deserve it. Seriously Alanna – if you are still burned out, you are a runner and a great one at that, but your identity is not found in running….so go ahead and take a break, a rest, whatever you need until you are ready to start up again. Take care! πŸ˜‰

    January 8, 2012 at 3:11 am

  12. Congratulations! What a great way to start your year. Now rest up that knee.

    January 8, 2012 at 3:59 am

  13. Wow CONGRATS!!!!! 50km! That's insane!

    January 11, 2012 at 6:00 am

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