03 August 2012

Trail Running and Oh, I Hate Snakes

For a long time now, I've wanted to try trail running. I've seen many pictures and write-ups on trail running in various running magazines and it always held a certain appeal to me. Lithe runners bounding through the woods, leaping over rocks and stumps and splashing through streams like happy, CoolMax-wearing deer. Maybe it's because it reminds me of playing in the woods as a child, when my biggest worry was finding string to make a bow and arrow set out of the perfect sticks I found in the woods.

Regardless, it's something I've been pining (get it? pine-ing? HAHAHA!) to do.  So when I found myself with little to do on a perfectly sunny day last week, I decided to go for it. I headed to the  Uniacke Estate in Mount Uniacke.

Uniacke Estate Museum Park is a Provincial museum that was the home of Richard John Uniacke, Nova Scotia’s first Attorney General. You can tour the beautiful old home, which is full of artifacts and period furnishings. The house sits on a 930-hectare estate, where there are walking trails that wind through the forest and along Lake Martha. 

I have walked some of these trails before, and recalled that they were pretty easy. The surface was either crusher dust or wood chips.  Not a problem for a first timer, right? Before I left, I reviewed the trail map and plotted out a 5k route. I started at the Hothouse Loop, running to the Post Road Trail, cutting across Wetlands Trail, and then back via the Barrens Trail. I hadn't done this particular route before so it was going to be interesting to see what it would be like.

So far, so good!

I headed out and was instantly happy with my experience. The sun was warm and filtered through the tall trees and the air was filled with the smell of warm pine. Cicadas buzzed around me. The trail was natural, packed earth with various roots and rocks peaking through the dirt.  Within about 10 minutes I knew that it would be a challenging run. I was huffing and puffing as I lifted my feet to navigate the various obstacles of nature.

Gradually, the scene started to change. The path began to narrow and the packed earth became almost entirely roots and rocks. The grass and ferns reached my knees. My paced slowed as I had to navigate the tangle underneath my feet. Well, that and my heart was about to explode from the intensity of the cardio activity.

Awww Bambi!

I came across some fresh deep prints in the mud and stopped to snap a pic. I continued to run and watched for more deer prints, but saw much foot prints that were, uh, much larger. I did not stop to take a picture of these. 

I was bounding along, happily snapping pics of the beauty of nature with my iPhone when suddenly it crashed hard. I couldn't get it to power up at all. At that point I realised that I had done something very, very stupid. I had gone out for this run in the middle of nowhere with no sign of life (with the exception of the footprints of some fairly large wildlife) and the only person who knew where I was happened to be in Ottawa.  

Yep, I had neglected to tell anyone where I was going with the exception of my pal in O-Town, who I had been messaging before I left the house. Now, here I was with no phone and possibly bears on my tail. Can you say stupid? Not to mention what would happen had I fallen and injured myself. Not smart at all. I started thinking about some similar episodes I'd seen of Criminal Minds, and wondered if my heart rate monitor was catching all of this.  I tried to pick up the pace. However, the trail continued to get smaller and more rough, to the point I was climbing instead of running. And then there were the snakes.

Where the hell am I?

I cannot stress enough how much I hate snakes. I've always hated snakes. Seriously, they freak me out. As I tumbled along through the dense trail, not once but TWICE a snake slithered out from under my feet. Yeah, I don't care that it was a little tiny brown garter snake no bigger than a pencil. I HATE SNAKES. I screamed and tried to run a little faster. Funny what a sudden surge of adrenaline will do for you. Maybe someone should throw some snakes at me at the 30k mark of my next marathon?

Snakes? What Snakes?
Man, I thought that trail would never end. At one point, the only way I knew that I was actually still on the trail was the fact that there was a little green triangle nailed to a tree every few feet ahead. And a nice sign posted in the middle of nowhere that said "You Are Here".  Eventually, I emerged from the woods. Exhilarated. Relieved. Seriously out of breath. 

I hiked back to where I had parked my car, thoroughly proud of my accomplishment (and somewhat ashamed that I hadn't told someone local where I was going). Once my heart stopped racing I decided that I would totally do that run again, only next time I would take someone with me to lead the way and scare off the snakes.

The end! Hallelujah!

If you're hanging out in the Nova Scotia and want a good challenge in a beautiful setting, I highly recommend you run the trails at Uniacke Estate. Just be sure to go prepared. Lots of water, a snack in your pocket and make sure you let someone know where you're going and when you'll be back!

A snake statue on the estate grounds.
A warning, perhaps? 

12 June 2012

I Came, I Saw, I Ran


Well, it's been a couple of weeks since the Ottawa Marathon and I'm sure that you are all on the edge of your seat wondering how I did. Well, I finished. I PR'd, but I did not break 5 hours. My chip time was 5:00:39. But you know what? I was thrilled.

Welcome to Our Nation's Capital!
The days leading up to race day were really stressful and scattered. Miguel found out that he had a job interview and the only day they could do it was when we were supposed to be in Ottawa. So we had to scramble and rearrange his flights so he would fly in Friday evening instead of Thursday morning with me. After 3 calls to Air Canada, we eventually got it sorted and off I went.

Unlike previous marathons, I tried to do this one right. This time, no shopping trips to Montreal the day before the race. No staying up til midnight drinking wine and stuffing my face the night before. This time it was a sensible dinner and a quiet evening before an early bedtime. As a result, there was no oversleeping when the alarm went off the next morning. Go figure.

This is the 5th time that I've done this race and third time that I've done the full marathon course. You'd think that I'd be a pro at it by now. But sure enough, when I got up that morning my thoughts quickly switched from "What should I eat?" to "What can I keep down?" I was a bundle of nerves! Luckily my bagel never made a reappearance and I and my nervous stomach settled down as we got to the start line.
Oy vey, it's hot! Can I get a glass a wahtah ovah heah?!
It was an awesome day, beautiful sun. It was a little warm and whenever I tried to pick up some speed I would start to feel ill from the heat, so I knew it would be smart to finish slower than my goal pace instead of in an ambulance.  I mean, it's not like I was in it for the money prize, so why waste a good marathon by passing out from the heat, right?

Taking it a little easy may have stopped me from breaking 5 hours, but I shaved 6.5 minutes off my last marathon time and I came away with some serious new resolve. I *can* do this in under 5 hours if I train right and lose some weight. And even when my training sucks because of all of the obstacles life throws at me along the way, I can still accomplish what I set out to do - run a good race and do my best.

So in the end, I was undefeated.
Will they make me take this off at airport security?
Ottawa Race Weekend is so much more than a race for me. It's a weekend filled with the love and support and kindness and hospitality of my Ottawa family.  My dear friends who follow me around the city for 42.2 km every year - rain or shine, who have waved signs and made t-shirts and have run along side of me when I thought I couldn't take another step.  They make sure I know the route before the race and they celebrate with me after it's done. These people go out of their way every year to make sure that I'm able to do my best.

And then there are the friends and family who cheer me on and encourage me even when they can't be there on race day - though I like to imagine that they're hitching a ride in my pocket.

I hope they know how much I love them.

03 May 2012

I get knocked down...

Hey kids, I'm back.

I wish I could say I have been on a fantastic adventure for the past couple of  months, but alas it's not that exciting.  I've been through some ups and downs and all along training for a marathon.  The most recent "down" knocked the wind out of me pretty good, almost to the point where I wanted to throw the towel in on the marathon.

I've been less than happy at my job for quite some time. Running, as you know, has been my coping mechanism for dealing with things that make me less than happy. Through the winter, running wasn't making me feel any better. Every run seemed slow and painful from head to toe. Zero energy, zero enjoyment. The weather didn't help. Ice, wind, snow, slush. It all sucked.

Then there was a ray of light.

I was offered what I thought was my dream job. I accepted and resigned my old position that I had for almost 9 years. Suddenly I was full of energy; every step I took was a bounce. I was lighter on my feet than freakin' Tigger.

And then there was dark again.

My dream job was cancelled before I even started. Suddenly, I was not only without the job that I had looked forward to so much, but I was completely unemployed. *Expletive*. After I stopped sobbing, the first thing that came to my mind was "How am I going to run a marathon?" Funny, I think most normal people would wonder "How am I going to pay my mortgage?" or "How am I going to feed myself?".  It's not like those things weren't important, but running was my coping mechanism to get through those kind of struggles. I felt truly defeated.  Enough so, that I thought about just giving up and hiding from the world on my couch. 

I'd like to tell you that I suddenly had a revalation that nothing can beat me and I'm much stronger than this, but it didn't happen.  I sobbed some more. I made some calls and started connecting with people and looked for job leads. And the next day I went out and ran.  I don't think I'm running now because I look forward to the release - not like I used to. Now I run because it's normal. For now, I have no desk to sit in by 9:00. I have no reports due every second Tuesday. My training schedule is what's keeping me sane, like I have a purpose besides sitting at the computer emailing contacts and searching for job postings. 

I used to post each and every run to all my social networking outlets. It was my pride and joy. Look! I ran! I felt great! Look! I ran and it was raining! WOOT! Now, I don't post them at all. I want to keep them to myself for now, because how I feel during these runs can't be summarized by a smiley face or even a frowny face with a bandaid on his head.

So I'll keep plugging away and in a few short weeks I'll run the full marathon in Ottawa. When I cross the finish line, regardless of my time, then I will know that I cannot be defeated.