Ultra week

After last Sunday’s half-marathon I got two days of rest, did a couple of shorter training runs mid-week, had another rest day, and then came the big weekend– 56 kilometres on Saturday and and another 21 on Sunday. That made 77 kms for the weekend and 100 kms for the week. Feeling pretty proud of myself.

Also this week I passed the 1,000 kilometre milestone. Meaning I’ve run 1,000 kms since January 1. You will never know what you are capable of until you push yourself. The human body, even this old body has amazing powers of adaptation– just give it lots of rest and nutrition.

In Canada, well at least in the Vancouver area, the only organized ultra runs are on the trails. Much as I love hiking on our spectacular mountain trails, I find them too slow, inconvenient, and dangerous for the kind of training I need to do right now. So if I want to run 56 kms, I have to go it alone. In case anyone is wondering how I managed to run 56 kms all by myself– the key is planning and thinking in terms of route segments, rather than distance. This is what I did:

  1. Planned my route using Strava. ( I know you can do the same with other tools like Map My Run and Run Keeper, Garmin Connect etc. but Strava is the best, most fun running app there is.) I knew generally where I wanted to go but I had to be sure of the distance and turnaround point, as well as my target elevation. I didn’t want to make it up as I went along. I also didn’t want to find myself too far from home at 56K, or worse, end up near home but short a few kms and having to run in circles to make up the distance. Would not be fun after running 50 K.
  2. Planned my fuelling and brought everything in my ultra vest. I am still testing fuelling strategy for Comrades and have been making adjustments. I’ll be making other adjustments after this weekend’s experience. This time I brought some cash so I could buy a Coke at one of the concession stands at the beach park I ran through. I never drink Coke or any other soda or pop, but apparently it is a lifesaver for Comrades runners so I am going to suck it up. Just need a bit of practice. I must admit that after 30 kms it was quite refreshing and it is no worse than a so-called sports/energy drink. Now I know I can stomach the Coke, next time I will buy an espresso for a nice quick mid-run pick me up.
  3. I was able to start the run knowing exactly where I was going. I didn’t have to engage in any internal debates about where to go or do any distance calculations. I had my plan, all I had to do was execute, focussing only on running, putting one foot in front of the other and ticking off my segments. There were four main segments in the run and I only thought about the segment I was running-
    • around Stanley Park and over the Burrard Bridge
    • around False Creek and over the Burrard Street Bridge again (good hill training)
    • along the beaches and up the UBC hill to my turnaround point at about 42K
    • return to my end point finishing with a last pass over the bridge.
  4. I knew the average moving pace I wanted to maintain, and this took the hills into account. I did run with a heart rate monitor just for interest but didn’t monitor it during the run. My average heart rate over the 56 kms was around 75% of my maximum heart rate, well within my aerobic zone. Average moving pace for the run was 6:27 per km which was exactly the pace of my previous 50K run. Amazing how the body senses what it can do. I never feel depleted at that pace, just a bit stiff towards the end. I don’t take walking breaks except when I am eating one of my home-made energy bars. I had a few pit stops where I paused my watch and I wasted 10 minutes lining up to buy my Coke.
  5. It may have made the time go faster if I had someone to run part of the route with but for a super long run I’m going at a slow pace and I don’t know anyone else training for an ultra or running over a six minute per km pace. Fortunately I don’t mind running by myself and setting my own pace and route.

Fuel adjustments to make for next time- no more of my homemade energy drink made of pure organic tart cherry juice, honey, and salt,  and no more Honey Stinger gels. I thought the more natural organic fuel options were the best. But based on experience and further research I have discovered that is not necessarily the case. Fructose alone is not the ideal fuel. I will be switching back to Gu gels which have a balance of maltodextrin and fructose. Not happy with the maltodextrin (just Google it) but will do whatever it takes. There is nothing natural about running long distances for no good reason either.

I have another ultra weekend coming up this weekend, then on May 3rd I run the Vancouver Marathon (as a training run). The week after the marathon, and three weeks before Comrades, will be my last 50 km training run. I am so looking forward to the taper!

If I include my qualifying marathon run on November 30th, my training for Comrades will have included:

  • three marathons,
  • four 50 km runs, and
  • one 56 km run.
Posted in Running

BMO Sunshine Coast April Fools’ Run – half marathon race report

The April Fools’ Run is a hilly half marathon, from Gibsons BC to Sechelt. With 49 days to go before Comrades, it is a good Comrades training run. The race is a net downhill but the tough uphills make it a challenging course as well as a fast one. Every detail of this event is brilliantly organized, the volunteers are terrific, and the April Fools’ theme adds to the fun. It is a relatively small race but it attracts some fast, competitive runners. Although the start is a ferry ride away for most people, it is well worth making the trip over to Gibsons.

I started without much of an idea of how I would do. I didn’t intend to race it (not wanting to compromise the killer kilometre week coming up) But on the other hand, my coach said to push the downhills as training for Comrades. I was secretly hoping for under 1:50 which required an average 5:10/km pace. Seeing as my tempo pace now is under 5:15, it seemed achievable without a huge effort.

By half way my average pace was 4:58. I figured I had better slow down. A couple of hard uphills took care of that for me. But hitting 4:00/km on the downhills I felt like I was flying. It is a race and I am competitive so it was a lot of fun to be passing just about everyone in last 10 K. A few of the younger men were perhaps not too happy being overtaken by an old lady and after I’d pass them they sometimes managed to catch me on the uphills. But I could tell by their laboured breathing that they wouldn’t be able to keep it up, and I left them behind on the flat and the downhills.

Coming round the corner into the finish chute and seeing the clock ahead at 1:47 was a great feeling, and it was especially nice to hear the announcer say as I crossed the finish line that I was the women’s over-60 age group winner. My chip time was 1:46:59 and I came in 26th out of all 281 women. Overall I was 97th out of 491 finishers.

I’d taken four minutes off my half-marathon time in just two months– a side-effect of my Comrades training. How did I do that? Well, it wasn’t the speed work, which hasn’t been as intense as what I did last year. My half marathon result seems to have come simply from improved endurance, the result of all the additional mileage I’ve been running.

On Sunday for the first time in many months I started to think beyond Comrades, to what may be possible later this year. But now it is Monday, the start of a killer week and I am going to focus only on Comrades.

I love my April Fool’s award – this lovely pottery bowl, handmade by Naomi Brand Pottery in Halfmoon Bay.


Posted in Running

Relentless forward progress

For the past two weeks My total weekly running distance has been 95 K. Yes, I’ve entered the weird world of ultra which seems to mean lots of slow running on tired legs, and eating on the run. To tell you the truth, spending half a day running is kind of boring, even if it is in beautiful Vancouver with perfect weather conditions. But I gotta do what I gotta do.

Training for marathons I had never run more than a couple of 70 K weeks and my longest training runs were around 32 K. So far, for Comrades my longest run has been 50 K and there is more to come. Much more. Surviving the next six weeks of peak training before the taper is going to be tough. The ultra runner’s mantra: relentless forward progress applies to training as well as to ultra racing. Then there is the Comrades slogan- hard is what makes it great.

Thanks to my wonderful coach Ellie Greenwood my training is working out as planned. Ellie updates my plan every couple of weeks depending on feedback I give her. She is getting the training balance just right and I feel that I am continuing to make progress. The fatigue I feel by Sunday is much reduced after a rest day and a couple of good sleeps.

No matter what happens on Comrades day, at least I’ll have given it my best shot. 

Unfortunately coach Ellie may be out of the running for Comrades this year. A few weeks ago Ellie had a cycling mishap and broke her hand quite badly. She has written about the incident on her latest blog update. With her usual professional and positive attitude she seems to be handling the disappointment well but all her followers and coaching clients feel very badly for her. We are still hoping to see Ellie win Comrades again, this year on the up route.  

This is a rest week for me, thank goodness. Only 58 K planned including the April Fools’ Half Marathon. I wish I could give that race an all out effort because it is a fast course and I think I could do a good time. I know that I am as fit as I have ever been right now. But racing a half marathon would mean tapering and then a few days to recover afterwards and I can’t afford the time away from Comrades training. The easier week this week is not so I can race the April Fools. It is so I can do mega volume next week.

All my other race goals are going to have to wait until a few months after Comrades.

Posted in Running

Ramping up

After an easier week, it was time to get serious. Total for last week- 95K, including a 42K Saturday run followed by a 20K Sunday run. The five hour Saturday run meant starting early. How dedicated am I? I took a 6:30 am ferry from Bowen Island to Vancouver. No way am I going to do my long runs on island trails. The sun was still coming up when I started my run in Stanley Park:

Inukshuk, English Bay

Inukshuk, early morning. English Bay


Solomon vestMy 42K Saturday route included the Stanley Park seawall,  some hilly trails, then across the Burrard Bridge and along the beach paths- through Kits, Jericho, and Spanish Banks. Then the long climb up to UBC, as far as the Wreck Beach trail, and back. Getting water and making pit stops are not a problem anywhere on this route. Thank you Vancouver Parks Board! But you do need to carry your own fuel. For this I wore my lovely Solomon ultra running vest, packed with gels, Cliff bars and a small flask of pure tart cherry juice.

The vest also has room for, and allows quick access to my iPhone so I can take pictures en route. (Nice to see that Strava has finally upgraded their photo integration.) I love everything about this ultra vest. It has lots of pockets and zips. It is light and the collapsable water bottles are brilliant. There is even a whistle for alerting bears.

My experiments with fuelling on long runs tells me that after the first half I want salty and crispy, not sweet and creamy. I’m sure that after halfway at Comrades I am also going to get hungry. But I understand that the Comrades course has plenty of aid stations with a variety of things to eat, including salted potatoes so I don’t plan to carry anything with me on race day. I’m just going to trust local knowledge and go with the flow. The only thing I will need to get used to is Coke. Apparently it is very popular with Comrades runners so it must be a necessary evil. I just hope that it is flat. The Coke I mean.

This week, my long run will be 50K.

61 days to go!

Posted in Running

An easy week


Last week my coach gave me an easy week, relatively speaking of course. I only ran 68K including two runs on the Stanley Park seawall- a tempo on Tuesday and 5K intervals on Friday. Both run in pouring rain.

Ferry to Vancouver in the rain

Ferry to Vancouver in the rain

Fortunately there was a break in the rain on Sunday morning and I had a wonderful 30K long run with one of my step-daughters and a friend. Both of these ladies are training for the Vancouver Marathon. Although they are much faster than me, they are not yet as used to longer runs. We ran part of the marathon route and they kept me going at a nice steady pace, faster than I would usually go, but still within my aerobic zone. By the end though I may have been pulling them along. Our average kilometre pace for the morning was 5:50 and it was my fastest training long run in decades.

I usually try and take at least one Instagram photo during my long runs. Here are a couple taken from where we ran along the beaches heading towards Vancouver. It was a grey day but at least it wasn’t raining.

Running to Vancouver

Running to Vancouver

Jericho Beach

Jericho Beach

Shoe shopping

New Balance Fresh Foam Zante

New Balance Fresh Foam Zante

This week I also did some running shoe shopping. My favourite shoes so far this year have been the New Balance 1400s for speed work, and New Balance 890s for long road runs. But both pairs are approaching 600 kms and have to be replaced.

Even though the 1400s have worked well for me, they have a high 11 mm heel drop and I was looking for an alternative racer, something less than 11 mm, but not as minimal as the NB Minimus. This year, starting with my Saucony Kinvaras, I had transitioned to lower drop shoes. I got quite excited when the shoe sales person showed me a new New Balance. These Fresh Foam Zantes have a 6 mm heel drop.  Competitor magazine says they are the road shoe of the year. They felt light and comfortable when I tried them on. I even like the vivid violet –Well at least they aren’t pink.

Unfortunately the store hadn’t yet received the women’s New Balance 890 v5,  and I didn’t have time to start visiting other stores. I’ll have to wait until next week. The 890s are my long run shoes. The new version 5 are the shoes I plan to wear for Comrades. Coincidently they are the official Comrades shoe.

Still I was trying to keep an open mind before making a final decision. I had read such good things about Adidas. A few of the top marathoners like them, and my coach wore Adidas for Comrades. I had hoped that there may be a pair suitable for me and I planned to try some out in the store. But it was a case of dislike at first sight. I could tell just by looking at them that they would be too narrow for me. So no more looking around for something better. I’ve committed to New Balance 890s for the big day.


This being a lighter running week I seemed to have more mental energy for sewing and I began a new project, a dress for our trip to South Africa. I’ve also been thinking of experimenting with sewing running clothes and my internet research turned up a couple of interesting blogs by sewers who run:  Scruffy Badger Time, and Fehr trade who also creates and sells patterns for running wear.

So far I’ve bought a running skirt pattern from Jalie Patterns, a Quebec based company. Interesting to have discovered a Quebec based pattern company through a UK blog.

Ten weeks until Comrades and this is going to be a heavy training week– 95K total distance, including back to back 42K and 20K runs this weekend. This is getting serious.

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