Friday, August 26, 2011

Running in the dark

Last week I had my first night run experience. Granted it was still evening - 9pm - but it was getting dark. Part of my ultra will be at night and ever since I signed up, that part kind of scared me. It's one thing to run at night in town with street lights, cars, houses and people nearby. It's a whole different thing to do this on unlit , uneven trails with animals roaming around. So one of my running buddies offered to run with me for an hour or so, starting when it's still light and ending up in pitch black. Cool, I thought, let's do this. Time to finally try out that headlight and hand flashlight. I had made a contraption around the flashlight so when I don't need it, I can just let go and it will hang on my wrist within easy reach.

We set out and by the time we got down the first hill it was time to turn on those led babies. Yeah! Oh no, the strap around my head is too loose! With every step I took it moved down until it was over my eyes..OK tighten it up and there we go again. Poles in one hand and flashlight in the other... running dramatically slower (ok we were walking) than during the day because the play of shadows create holes where there aren't any and hides the real ones at the same time. At some point we were looking for a trail that would take us off the gravel path down a coulee. I went ahead.. What was that noise! Turning on the handheld and shining it ahead, I hear a "HEY"!! Oops, sorry! Didn't see you there. A teenage couple sitting on a bench in the dark just got 'flashlighted'. Sorry guys...looking for a trail down here. As I said that I came closer and looked at them, resulting in another blinding experience for them because all 4 leds in my headlight are shining in their eyes. "Oh shit, so sorry guys! I won't look at you" and I turn my head but as soon as the guy mumbles 'yeah whatever, it's ok' I turn towards them to offer an apologetic smile and flash them yet again. O Jesus, I am going to get beat up here pretty soon, better get out of here. Meanwhile my running buddy found the trail leading down, hallelujah! Offering one last apology to the couple (this time with my back to them) and off we went. The darkness made the ravines between the coulees look like the Grand Canyon and the farther we went down, the more humid it became. Running in the dark makes your world very small.. as big as the circle of light created by your devices... Other than the sound of your steps and rustling in bushes and weeds it's very quiet and peaceful. Wait, ack! ORGGHHHH what the!!! Of all the wildlife I was thinking of encountering at night, moths were not on my list. And yet here they are! Dozens of little grey dusty moths, stirred up by me going through their hiding spots and attracted by my head light.. fluttering around my face, in my eyes, nose and mouth. Oh yuck! I ate a few...(they don't taste very good). Hopefully they have died off in a couple of weeks with colder nights in the forecast. A rustling in the bushes behind us! Now what! Ah a coyote, OK. I can handle a coyote...if it's only one. Finally we reach a gravel path again where we can speed up a bit, Yikes! A snake coming right at me! Or no wait, a branch hanging over the path, that seemed to slither as my flashlight moved past it. Deep breath in ...I can do this. One more hill up and we are back where we started.
As I thank Tracy for bearing with me, I blind her with my light, time to turn the damn thing off! She tells me there is a 'light' etiquette for runners but I forgot what it is. It's on my 'to google' list now.

Oh and 'mister - all you need to go for a run is shoes' Please add $20 for a Buff so my head stays warm at night and the headlight doesn't give me permanent indentations on my head... just so you know.

All in all, I loved the run in the dark even though I felt like a klutz. It is very different, serene, adventurous. Tracy told me that if you keep up your nutrition and hydration during the day, the night will make you feel refreshed and awake again and that is something I will look forward to.  I run this race by myself but will likely try and stick close to a group of people at night just because alone...well is just alone.

Google light etiquette
Get spare batteries
Get Buff
The flashing light feature on the headlight does have a purpose, turn it on when you are in trouble.
Remember, snakes sleep at night!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Tick tock goes the clock

When I signed up for the Lost Soul Ultra, it was January, cold and September 9 seemed a lifetime away. Then I blinked, turned around and looked on the countdown clock on my desktop and September 9 is 17 days away! WTF happened to the last 9 months??

This morning I sat in front of my computer, staring at that clock, ticking away.. cold sweat appearing in the palms of my hands and a heart rate that was climbing steadily. OK... breathe in.. breathe out.. sip coffee and STOP looking at that clock! 

I think I have trained enough, no I KNOW I have. I remember in the first months googling 'ultra-marathon', ultra training, ultra everything. Reading everything, creating little folders in my favorites, filing, sorting, starting lists of things to do, buy (whoever said running is great because all you need is a pair of shoes, should have a serious reality check by the way), and lists of things to ask or google some more. 

Find an easy first ultra I read... hmmm.. The Lost Soul Ultra is said to be 'the toughest race on the prairies'. Comparing times of ultra runners that have ran this one and for instance the Canadian Death Race or Sinister 7, it IS harder than any of those. 

Find a fast flat ultra I read... ok.. Average time to finish the 100k is 20 hours,... meh.. didn't Einstein say time is relative anyway? 
How about flat?.. The ultra takes place in the coulees of Lethbridge and for those of you that aren't familiar with coulee: "Coulees are commonly canyons characterized by steep walls that have been shaped by erosion. These types of coulees are generally found in the north-western United States and south-western Canada."

A training buddy and experienced LSU runner said the following about the course:
53.37 km per loop with 1850 m of climbing that is 6069 ft of up per loop. With 28 climbs per loop and lots of little ups & downs I think 6000 feet of gain is reasonable. This course is hard because it has all these little up not because of big climbs.

I'm going to do 2 of those loops.

Choose an ultra and train on similar terrain I read... I got this one! I choose the LSU because it's in Lethbridge, where I live so since March I have been training on the course. I have also been fortunate enough to be able to hook up with quite a few experienced LSU runners that gave me a ton of information and tips about running ultra's in general and running this one in specific. In return I gave them the joy of having to wait for me to stumble down the coulees or grunt up the hills. They would bear with me and encourage me:
"Just think it's flat Karin" one said as he peered over the edge to watch me pull myself up on the weeds. 
"Just let gravity take over, you'll be fine" the other said as I came to a screeching halt in front of a drop off that had a narrow-just about vertical- deer path going down about 100 ft with at the bottom a steep turn to the right (failing to take this turn will result in another 50 feet fall into the Old Man River) He could hardly contain his snickering as I screamed down the hill narrowly making the turn at the end.

My husband shakes his head every time after I come home muddy, with scrapes and bruises and stories about free falls, snakes and relieving myself in bushes.
My own mother thinks I've gone off the deep end and I wouldn't be surprised if those two have had meetings about the possible necessity of an Intervention.
My 9 year old confessed she is scared I am going to get hurt and my 22-yr old told me I am nuts.

Other than that they are all extremely supportive, which is great, because I love it. I love the trails, I love the hills, I love the ultra stories and community. I want to reserve judgement on whether I love the actual ultra until I have done one but so far..I love everything about it... except for the damn countdown clock on my desktop.. 17 days, 10 hours, 27 minutes, 30, 29,28..