Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon 2012

Waiting for the start at UBC.
What a great event! 

This was one of those races that was on my radar for a while.  K had a conference in Vancouver, BC during the week and then this race was on Sunday.  Hmmm.  It's the perfect opportunity for a quick weekend away and getting in a race in a new venue.  I've not been to Vancouver since 2004 when I did my second (third?) half marathon there in the larger marathon/half marathon event which occurs in early May.

For quite a while I wasn't sure if i was going to run the race.  I knew I'd come up the last day or two of the conference just to see the city. I didn't want to sign up for the race until I knew I'd be at a point in my cycle that would be conducive to running a decent race.  Hey I"ve had enough crappy race days because of this, why bother if I know I'm not going to run well?

And then the timing seemed to work out pretty well and even better I've been running really well.  I started to think that not only would i run a decent race, I could run really well.  Ragnar Relay is a month after this event and that would be perfect for recovery/race stimulus to ensure a good relay.

And then what happened?  I had a double cycle.  It was a good thing I'd increased iron supplements per my doctor's recommendation based on recent blood work testing.  And I fell on a trail one week before the race.  Now those who know me, know that this has happened multiple times often before big events like marathons.

I'd fallen on a flat part of a trail because I was totally excited and distracted to be running with a friend I'd not seen in a while.  Dork!  I didn't think it was a bad fall although my first thought was 1) i'd turned my ankle again and 2) wow, i landed hard on my hip.  Sure enough, the ankle swelled just very slightly but not bad at all.  My knee had taken a good scraping and I was sore for a couple days.  The hip?  Oh yes, i was noticing it when sitting at work and sometimes walking about.  Running seemed to be ok though except for an easy track workout thursday before the race.  During this workout, I could really feel my IT band on that side protesting.  I did my usual work with a foam roller and stick and worked on staying loose and didn't think much of it.  After all, I've fallen before and it's not a big deal.

SAturday I took the train up to Vancouver.  THAT was awesome!  Easy and scenic travel with little fuss.  They were comfy seats (in coach) and hey you could get up whenever you wanted to go the bathroom!  The border crossing was easy. I would totally do that again.  K and I had fun roaming about the city a bit and went to the Expo to pick up our bibs.  The waterfront area was really fun to walk around and I'm glad we had some time to poke about. 

Race day dawned with perfect weather.  50 degrees and no wind.  We'd have a mix of sun and clouds while on the course.  Sometimes it would feel really hot to me but then usually a cloud would come along and help.  We parked over at the beautiful UBC campus and were off right on time. 

The plan?  First mile at 8:10.  Use the downhills and keep it easy on teh uphills.  The course is much easier in the first half and i could expect to be close to 8 flat pace overall by about mile 7 or 8 but would definitely lose time the second half of the course.  There is a larger hill (a bridge) at mile 12 so expect to slow on that.  And I got out just right.  The first couple miles were downhill but then there was a long uphill finishing around the 5k.  It was exposed and warm here so I kept it easy and planned on taking an electrolyte tablet.

The downhill from mile 5-7 was fun and I was happy that nothing was too steep either.  Even better?  The course itself was beautiful. We'd come around a corner and there were stunning views of English Bay and across the water to West Vancouver.  I took an electrolyte tablet and a gel around 5 and 6 and took small sips from teh water bottle I was carrying.  I planned on dropping it around 8.

Things were going great!  I was feeling strong and the miles were ticking off.  and then I started noticing that I was hitting my left foot to the inside of my right calf.  Uh oh.  That's a bad sign.  I typically will only do this now when I am tired at the end of a long trail run.  Doing this now and on roads means something is bit off with my stride.  Yes there were significant downhills on this course but overall there was a lot more rolling on the flatter sections than I was expecting.  After a bit of an uphill in mile 9 I could feel my outer hips tightening up.  Soon the outside of my hip started barking at me and I could feel throbbing on the outside of my leg (where I'd fallen) all the way down from outer hip to calf.


I kept running.  It wasn't to the point where I was doing any damage.  I changed up my stride to see if I could get it to loosen up.  I walked through a water stop in mile 9 stretching the hip as I walked.  And started again thinking I could last.  The hip wasn't having any of this and shut down function especially uphill.  I could run a very easy pace but there was no power.  Done.  And I started walking more consistently from mile 10 on stretching and massaging hip as needed.

Wow.  Was I disappointed but sadly I've been here enough to just continue on.  K was running too and our stuff was checked under my bib number.  I better get done just to get our bag.  It would not be good for K's race if he passed me walking!  I knew he was in very good shape to run a good race and I was really hopeful that would happen since the weather was excellent and it was a good course.

I did notice towards the end of the race as I stopped paying attention so much to running the tangents that there was a noticeable cant to the road.  Running the tangents?  A course is marked with the idea that runners will take the shortest distance between two corners.  For a distance of a half marathon, not running the tangents can add tenths to the distance.  It doesn't seem like much but if you figure every tenth of a mile run will add 30-60 seconds, you can save time. I'd been doing this pretty well which kept me mostly in the gutter side of the road where there was a pretty good slope. We came to one section of the road which was much flatter and the hip felt better.  Hunh.

I've not had problems with road cant in a while but take a hip which is not happy from a fall, add in half marathon pace and road cant and I guess I get problems.  I'd hoped to stay under 1:50 again but I'd done a bit too much walking and came in at 1:52.  K and some other friends have mentioned that this was a really good time and a strong run.  And it is but it is not what I'm capable of and I know it.  It's been so seldom lately that everything seems to be coming together well for race day and it was distressing to watch it all crumble so quickly.  Oh well.  Moving on.

Meanwhile, I finished and grabbed some fluids and my checked bag.  I was in the process of switching to a dry shirt when I realized that it was almost to the 2 hour mark.  K could be finishing!  And I managed to catch site of him shortly afterwards.  woohoo!  at least one of us had had a fantastic run! 

After a long and painful ride back to the car in event sponsored school buses (note to self: pay for shuttles to the start before the race even if it means getting up earlier!), we had a late checkout from our hotel and a wonderful breakfast at a restaurant on the waterfront.  It was an easy drive home with many stops to stretch out tired, crampy legs.

I didn't have a great race but I had a really fun time in Vancouver and I did really enjoy the event.  We are both planning on doing this race again.  It's small and friendly with a lot of crowd support and for a decent price.  It beats the big behemoth event which takes place in Seattle on the same weekend hands down!

And the hip?  It's still a little irritated.  I've been doing the self care which typically takes care of the problem.  I'll make an appointment with the magic PT to make sure everything settles.  RAGNAR is always a goal event and I cannot wait.

Monday, June 18, 2012


I'd post a photo of rain but why get any drearier?

It's been a wet and cold late spring.  Fortunately I had summer when we were in Scotland!

I had a friend in town visiting from Illinois.  He's one of those crazy people who have participated in the Barkley Marathons not just once but three times!  It's an event with some crazy traditions (no announced start date or time) and super difficult course (5 times a 20 mile loop with limited support stations). This friend really doesn't have trails around where he lives and still manages to get either 2 or 3 loops completed.  That is excellent considering only 13 runners out of 900 have finished the prescribed course within the cut off time of 60 hours!

The Grand Ridge trail system is newly redone and opened to the north.  Last  year, I did a 5 mile course mid-week and was pretty happy to go out for this race again.  It's got all the fun stuff for a trail run. Straight up for a mile and technical trails through pretty forest. Still these trails are much more runnable than some as they are wider and have fewer roots.  Fun stuff.  And don't forget the RAIN!  It had been pouring all day and during the race, the skies opened up again.  I don't think I've been so wet in a long time! 

The friend was game and free for a tuesday night event.  Of course there were a lot of no-shows for the race as it was really wet.  That was pretty nice for this event.  We start out on a rail trail for half a mile and then straight up a technical trail with switch backs.  Last year it was crowded. This year I was better able to just go my own pace.  It also helped that the friend (who is faster) was just planning on running with me as he has been more in maintenance running mode.  I had something to chase for all 5 miles.

the trails were not bad considering the rain.  There had been a really mucky area last year which I think was redone this year.  I didn't have to stop to retie shoes which threatened to come off last year in shoe sucking mud!  And the best part?  The friend had a gleeful smile on his face the entire time he was running. He (and I) were having a blast.

He pulled away the last couple miles which was great.  I could just concentrate on maintaining the good effort and watching my step on the steep downhills.  And done!  I heard "2nd female overall" and sure enough i was the second female to come in.  I was about 5 minutes faster than last year too.  The overall female winner set a course record and was about 15 minutes ahead of me but still, i will claim the 2nd overall title and first in age group.  After all I showed up!

And the friend had a great time.  It was wonderful showing off our amazing trails even in the rain.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Scotland: Of course there was a running race

Edinburgh Castle

It was totally by chance.  We'd picked our travel dates for this trip purely based on the friend's busier schedule.  But wait, K researches and finds out that the weekend we were planning on being there was the weekend for the Edinburgh Marathon and Running Festival.  Bonus!

The full marathon and half were on Sunday (the day we were flying out of Glasgow) but on Saturday there was a 10k and what was called the International Breakfast Run.  Sign me up!  We booked our B&B early expecting the city to fill up and this was a good call.  Almost 27,000 people took part in the various events on Saturday and Sunday.  Our B&B was just a mile walk to the start/finish area.  Perfect.

We got in to Edinburgh Friday afternoon and dropped our friends off at the train station.  The week had gone so quick and we'd seen and done and tasted so many things it seemed.  It was a great way to travel and I'd surely do that again with them given a chance.

We drove over to packet-pick up. There were some interesting differences at this non-American race.  All bib packets were mailed to all UK runners.  Considering there were 27,000 runners in all the events, that was a lot of post!  Turns out, they mailed K's bib.  We had it waiting for us when we got home.  They were able to give him another of course.  No Expo.  Really?  I was all primed wanting to buy some momento of running in Edinburgh and try some different sports related drinks/eats at the Expo.  Nothing.

We went wandering around the area on the gloriously warm and sunny day.  Packet pick up was in the area of the new Scottish Parliament building (still being built when were were there last) and Holyrood Palace.  Last time, the palace was closed as the Queen was there as it's the home of the royal family when in Scotland.  This time?  I was hoping it would be open.  No such luck. Some dignitary was in town.  harumph.  Strike 2 for the Holyroodhouse. 

International Breakfast Run
WE had a good Italian dinner at a small restaurant within walking distance of our B%B and were up bright and early for the race the next morning.  That was mostly because we had east facing windows and the sun was up fully at 4:30 am.  Yeah, it was going to be a warm one!  I was really happy to just be racing a 10k and nothing longer.

Racing?  Mostly.  We'd done a lot of walking every single days and some days my legs and feet just ached.  But overall I was feeling pretty good by Saturday having adjusted to the all pork (breakfast) and alcohol (beer and scotch in evenings) diet.  Hey!  I was on vacation and I didn't forget that.

The International Breakfast Run was a blast! Only about 50 runners showed up (it was a separate registration fee and event) but that was perfect.  We set out with a police escort up to Edinburgh Castle via the Royal Mile. There we were greeted by some council member blahblahblah.  Mostly we took pictures and marveled at the beautiful morning and no tourists.  The Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle are normally swarming with touristy crowds.  Another jog back down (cobblestones are hard to run on!) and we were back.  Technically we could get porridge (oatmeal) but with only about 20 minutes between finishing the breakfast run and the start of the 10k i was more concerned with finding a port-o-potty and checking my bag.  Yeah, the lines for the port-o-potties was too long.  I ended up going in the shrubbery.  Some things do not change!

Holyrood Park - trails and roads
I was in the first corral for the 10k.  How many runners?  2,000!  I chatted with the gal next to me about the race and the event and just was happy.  Running a race like this is a great way to get a local feel for the area.

And we were off.  I'd seen the course elevation and knew it was hilly but I still wasn't prepared for how hilly it was!  I got out at the pace i wanted (8:10) and expected to be slower on the uphills.  It was sunny and hot and the course was exposed.  But that meant we had fantastic views off of the hills of Holyrood Park.  I am not kidding. What a great park to have in the city and i know it is a popular place for runners, walkers and bikers.

Adulterating the oatmeal!
Did I mention it was hilly?  I knew i was keeping a good effort for pace and was hoping to come in around 50 minutes for this course.  The last couple miles were tough.  There was a great long downhill (nice!) to an additional loop around a small lake and through a small village.  Very cute.  Then we got onto the Innocent Railway, a former railroad.  It was tortuously hot through here with a ferocious headwind.  I battled and was quite surprised to see a tunnel on the former railway line although we didn't go into it.  Another hill and then a downhill finish.

I'd been playing leapfrog with a guy in orange.  I'd pass him and he'd pass me back.  We did this a couple miles. I passed him again and he'd pass me back.  Something do not change even if you are racing in another country. He did not like being chicked!  I think he started his surge to the finish too soon with one of those leapfrogs because i blew past him with still a half mile to go. I'm happy with that!

Porridge Time! with Holyrood Palace. 
50:23 is my official time.  For some inexplicable reason, full results are not posted for this event.  But evidently I placed 3rd in my AG which really surprises me and I actually question this result.  I was 189th overall finisher. Whatever.  I ran well for the course, conditions and vacation!

There was really no food available after the race except for a small oat bar in the finisher's packet.  I was getting shaky while waiting for K.  I did down a water with an electrolyte tablet (provided in teh finisher's packet).  That helped.  Did i mention it was hot?  I got a tan while racing hot.

But the best difference for racing was finding the Porridge Truck and buying some oatmeal with a shot of whisky in it!  Delicious!  Yeah, they just had a big bottle of whisky there on the counter.  I can't even imagine this happening in the US.

Exploring Craigmillar Castle
We did find a small tent with memorables from the race.  Of course I'd not brought enough for porridge (and whisky!) and a shirt.  But they were able to hold stuff for me.  We went back later and found everything picked over.  Yep, rather different than the US and the mass marketing which happens at RnR running events.  I was delighted with my UK olympic shirt and K found a nice running hat.

We poked around Edinburgh more and did some smaller but nice museums.  Truthfully the crowds of tourists were a bit much after the peaceful countryside we'd been in and we kept our touristy activities to a minimum.

But we did find one last castle to go exploring before heading off to the airport the next day.  And it turned out to be one of the best castles.  Built and rebuilt and expanded with tons of passages and rooms (roofed rooms) to explore, e had the entire Craigmillar Castle to ourselves with great views of Edinburgh and the countryside.  I'm still making happy little sighs thinking of our travels.  That was a vacation!
Thanks Scotland!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Scotland: The Distilleries

We first were in Scotland (specifically Edinburgh) in 2004 at the end of our UK tour where we went to Wales, England and Scotland with a lot more time in London.  By the time we got to Edinburgh we were tired! We swore we'd go back.  I still remember having a taste of scotch at a pub in Edinburgh along the Royal Miles.  We'd just started to try scotch at home but hadn't developed much of a palette.  Eight years later, we were going back with friends with the express idea of tasting scotch in Scotland.  It's known as scotch here in the US, but there it's called Single Malt Whisky (no "e" as in the US spelling).

There are scattered distilleries all over the country but we knew we didn't want to do too many distillery tours (the only way to get a taste usually).  Instead we'd buy mini-bottles and taste test in the evening at the B&B.  This way the driver (K!) could get a chance to taste too.  We were all amazed by the selection of whisky in the grocery stores.

After Glasgow and Inverness we headed to Elgin (pronounced el-gin with the "g" pronounced as in the word "guy").  Elgin was an easy home base to the heart of the whisky region of Speyside a particularly known area of whisky making.  Above, K and friends are walking along the River Spey.  We did just two distillery tours.  One was at Dallas Dhu an historic distillery now closed (in mid-80s). 

The pot still shown to the right is from Dallas Dhu.  Most other distilleries which are in production won't let you take photos.  They are bigger than I expected and really quite beautiful.  At Dallas Dhu we got a good intro to the basics of whisky making as it happened from the late 1800s through most of the 20th century. 

Having made it to Oban but been turned away from their distillery tour since it was full, we'd heard about another tour at Aberlour Distiller in Aberlour (rhymes with "sour").  This tour which was three hours long and included whisky tasting paired with chocolate (!) was one of the highlights of the trip.

It was a small group with the four of us and four very serious whisky affectionados from Sweden. Serious but friendly and we all got chattier as the tour progressed.  We got taken through the history of Aberlour and taken onto the main floors where production was taking place.  OMG.  It was hot! 

The tour guide really did a great job of explaining everything and had samples of all types of things you'd see in the process (watch out for foreshot!).

And then we got to taste four different single malts after having had an intro one before starting the tour.  Five wee drams no matter how tasty are still a bit much for me before lunch time! 

It was great though and we even had the opportunity to pull our own bottle from a single cask.  Really, i could not pass up the opportunity.  We bought just a couple more bottles from duty free shopping leaving Glasgow as packing space was limited and not quite up to carting liter bottles in my soft-sided rolling luggage.  We were really impressed that the Swedes planned on taking back 10 liters which is their full allotment of whisky under European Union regulations. Try and fit that into your luggage next time.  And carry-on luggage had weight restrictions for them.  We figure they only brought back whisky and left all their clothing in Scotland!  

And of course we did manage to spot another Highland Cow herd which was decoratively posing by a castle with a distillery in the background.  Yeah.  It was a good day! 

And no one wanted the day to end.  Have you ever tried your porridge (oatmeal) with some whisky mixed in?  Well try it because the aroma and flavor of the whisky really complements the oats.  Too bad I can't have this breakfast every day before work!  

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Scotland: Inverness and Elgin

The goal for this trip?  See the countryside of Scotland, check out castles and other ruins, taste scotch and enjoy the less touristy side of things.  check, check and check.  Having a car was essential for driving about and getting a feel for the country. Of course, we still got a chance to go for some nice runs.  Inverness was particularly pleasant.  The River Ness had nice paths on both sides and multiple pedestrian crossings.
Inverness and Loch Ness are famous for the Loch Ness monster of course.  We did the usual stop at the famous Urquhart Castle and drove along the Loch.  it was too sunny and beautiful to even consider a monster. We'd probably not had enough beer and/or whiskey either.  But we did end up heading out towards the Isle of Skye.  The scenery changed and got rougher and wilder looking.  Eerie.  yeah, i could imagine monsters around in those hills and lochs. 
This meant that we stopped at a very famous (and highly photographed) castle Eilean Donan.  It was spectacular both for the setting and the demonstration of obsession.  This was a ruined castle built originally in the 13th century but ruined by the 18th century like so many others but it was rebuilt in the early 20th century. 
The countryside is beautiful.  Sheep and cows and rolling farmland. And everywhere you look there is ancient history.  Remember this is the are the Romans didn't conquer and walled off from the rest of Britain. I was really interested in seeing some of the Pictish sites.  Pictish?  it means the "painted people" and that's what they were called.  No one knows what they called themselves.  The carved scroll work on this 21 foot tall sandstone block were amazing.  the battle scene on the other side is weathered and no one knows which battle is represented.  And even better, this stone was just off of a road next to some houses.  Off the beaten track for sure!  

And after all that trekking about, it was wonderful to go back to the other draw of the UK.  Pubs!  I had my fill of steak and ale pies and tasty brown ales.  And no I didn't try the haggis.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Scotland: Glasgow to Inverness

Glasgow International Airport is a dream.  Far easier than Heathrow or Seattle even.  We picked up the rental car for the next bit of adventure. 

A B&B owner gave us the best advice many years ago for driving in the UK.  anything to your right has the right of way.  Remember that.  It works!  But still, there is a bit of a learning curve.  It didn't help that the rental car agency gave us a map of the entire country with nothing specific for Glasgow.  Oh well.  We made it eventually to our hotel. 

We just had some time to kill and went over to Kelvingrove Park and Museum.  We mostly wanted to see the Charles Rene McIntosh room and did enjoy that.  Chatting with the falconer outside the museum was just as interesting.  That's a golden eagle and weighs about 14 pounds.  For reference, I asked if he knew how large a bald eagle would be in comparison and they'd be half again.  Yikes! 

We didn't have a lot of time in Glasgow but I still got a run in (of course) and we did do a bit of walking along the river and through Kelvingrove Park.  It's a very different focus than Edinburgh but still has a pleasant feel.  All B&B owners said shopping is much better in Glasgow too. 

We just spent the one night at a small hotel close to Kelvingrove and then went driving off to see the Glasgow Cathedral and the Necropolis with our friends in tow. 

What a treat!  Glasgow Cathedral is an intact Gothic cathedral which survived the Reformation.  It was beautiful with intact stained glass windows and a wooden roof (many stories up!).  We kept seeing this Fish Tree thing on many places on windows and coats of arms.  Ah. Turns out that is related to St. Mungo (patron saint and founder of Glasgow) and the 4 miracles he performed. 

Just behind the cathedral, are paths leading up a hill to a lovely Victorian Necropolis established when parish churches stopped being responsible for burying the dead.  It's a peaceful place with lovely views of the cathedral and the surrounding city. And you might just see a Scotty Dog! 

After the quick tour of Glasgow, we were off in the car to Oban (pronounced oh-bin).  It's a teeny little touristy town on the west coast with a perfect bay and protected by some larger island.  We came to see the famous distillery but were charmed by the pretty little village.  On a perfect day, we sat on some outside tables by the ferry dock and had some fresh smoked salmon sandwiches with other assorted picnic items from the local grocery store.  Unfortunately, the distillery tours were full for the day.  Not to worry though.  The selection of scotch in the local grocery store was much better than anything we've seen before.  We stocked up and prepared for our own private tasting at the B&B later. 

We took a small road up along the coast.  Ben Nevis was visible and pretty stunning.  It's the highest mountain in the UK.  There are popular hiking trails to the top as it's only 4500 feet.  Weather can be changeable though so it's pretty dangerous.  I dreamed of a nice trail run of course.  There is a race to the top and back down (8.7 miles with a cut off time to the top of 2 hours!). 

It was a beautiful day to be driving the countryside.  We stopped at one more stop before making it to Inverness.  Fort Augustus at teh southern end of Loch Ness has a series of locks which are fun to look at.  Built in the early 1800s as a way to employ all the Highlanders who were being evicted from their land, the Caledonian Canal is a series of locks (29!) and lakes (Loch Ness is one) and a canal.  It makes for some great viewing.