Grand to Grand Ultra – Getting to the Start Line

The Grand to Grand Ultra (G2G) surpassed any thoughts or expectations I may have had about this adventure.

Its been about a year since I first heard about G2G. I was ending 2015 with a sincere desire to inspire others to chase dreams and to not limit themselves. My desire to run G2G was to demonstrate that we can dream big and choose an outrageous goal, make a plan and work hard to achieve it. This race was beyond my comfort level and certainly outside of any experience I had as a runner.

No sleep but all smiles!

Day 2 of BBU

Participating in the Bad Beaver Ultra (BBU) and the 100K i2P Run proved to be 2 of the best training events I could have done. The BBU gave me the confidence of running a multi-stage semi-supportive ultra. I also gained experience with having an extremely bad run day followed up by an incredible run day. This helped me realize that I could push hard and get through a difficult day, rest/sleep and and do it all over again.

i2p night runJust two weeks after the BBU I attempted my first 100km run (i2P). The goal of this race was to gain experience running at night (the first 50km), but I had every intention of completing it. During the night portion of the run I experienced an upset stomach from about 5km’s on, and extreme knee pain for at least the last 25km’s.  I took off to start the next 50km’s before my coach could talk me out of it, after all we accomplished the primary goal. The pain was so bad during the next 23km’s I had to limp going downhills, eventually it was continuous pain. I chose to pull out at 73kms (after some tears) as this was intended for training and was not my goal race (perhaps I’m maturing??)  I had never experienced this kind of pain and was concerned about an injury preventing me from running G2G. This race gave me incredible mental training and confidence that I could keep going even if I experienced pain.

Both of these races were in August, so by the beginning of September, I was struggling to get out for my long runs. I mentally was feeling exhausted and my life was incredibly busy. I managed a few more quality runs, but not as many as I would have liked. I worried I wouldn’t be ready, began to doubt myself, my training, etc.. It came down to making sure I was mentally in a positive place, so I focused on getting my head ready!

I headed down to Kanab, Utah on Monday to get acclimatized to the altitude and adjust to the dry heat (race start was the following Sunday). Runners began arriving throughout the week and it was nice to connect with others who were about to experience this amazing race.

little shake out run

little shake out run

Some I ran with during the week to loosen up and explore, others I had either lunch or dinner with. To my surprise, there were many  first time stage racers. Of course there were many experienced and elite runners as well. I loved hearing everyone’s stories as to why they were taking on this challenge, it put me at ease.

My Gold Sticker!

My Gold Sticker!

The Grand to Grand Ultra is a self-supported race requiring you to carry everything you need for the 7 days, including food. A tent and hot water was provided at camp every night (and morning) but everything else was your responsibility. The mandatory gear check-in was Friday afternoon, runners were given a gold sticker if they had everything necessary.

My bag weighed in at 23.2 lbs, I believe 10lbs of that was food 🙂 Many of the people I was chatting with had bags weighing approximately 13-16lbs. Of course, this caused me to second guess my gear/food and I wanted to eliminate more weight but I had crazy light gear and I was sure I needed the food 🙂 I purged a little more and think I came back starting around 22 lbs. Turns out the average weight for bags was just over 19lbs.

My coach called me and gave a big pep talk and told me to trust the plan and follow it! He convinced me that I would be happy I didn’t get rid of things and would need the food to fuel properly to get through the event. So, I did what I was told and more than once I said to myself during the race, “Ray, you were right”!

Friday evening was the welcome dinner and a chance to meet all the runners, volunteers and of course race directors. It was a fun evening, but I think we were all extremely antsy to get started! We were given our race bibs, tent mate list, race booklet and other essentials for the race. Much to my surprised I was sharing a tent with my fellow Canadian friend and 5 men! I had a chance to meet so many runners but none of them were the names listed as my tent mates, with whom I’d be sharing a tent with for 6 nights. Honestly, by this point, everything just became all part of the adventure. I guess I would meet them eventually 🙂

There were 139 racers heading to the start line from I believe 24 different countries.

First van out!

First van out!

It was a long drive so of course there was a mandatory pit stop for a bathroom break.

Bathroom break - boys on one side; girls on the other

Bathroom break – boys on one side; girls on the other

img_2152

Arriving at Camp 

My home for 7 nights

My home for 7 nights

Dinner was catered (and delicious), last minute guidelines and rules were given and before you know it we were heading off to bed for hopefully a good nights sleep.

Dinner - What a view!!

Dinner – What a view!!                           pc: Grand to Grand Official Photos

 

pc: Grand to Grand Ultra Official Photo

Goodnight Moon                                      pc: Grand to Grand Ultra Official Photo

Music blared on speakers at 6am sharp to get everyone moving, hot water was ready. Let’s do this!

Stay tuned for the journey after crossing the start line…..

 

 

My First DNF – Or Was It?

The Run

The i2P Run is a celebration of trail running and intended to highlight some of the amazing trails in Gatineau Park. The distances range from 10K – 100K so as to encourage a wide range of trail runners, it’s not a competition against others but instead against yourself! It is also a fundraiser for i2P (Impossible to Possible) with all proceeds from the run going to support this amazing non-profit organization.

My big training run was the Bad Beaver Ultra (BBU Recap) making my original plan for the i2P Run to volunteer. I asked my coach (Ray) a few weeks back if I should volunteer or run one of the races. His immediate response was to register for the 100K! I texted back a huge LOL and his response was “no I’m serious”. I then ignored him for a bit 🙂 This seemed insane to me. When I connected with Ray on the phone, he explained how the 50K night would be amazing night training for the Grand to Grand Ultra. He believed I could do the 100K but said lets focus on the 50K night and whatever happens the next day we can decide as we go.

So with just a week before my first stage race (BBU), I found myself now signed up for my first 100K! Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, right?

Fast forward 3 weeks, and with the experience of BBU now available to me I was not really nervous about attempting the 100K. I actually felt strong mentally and physically leading up to it. Last week I was experiencing a little bit of tight muscles, more noticeably my right quad, and my right arch continues to need attention but overall feeling very good.

The Night Run (50K)

Participants of the 100K met at Breton Beach at Lac Phillipe in Gatineau Park as this would be the finish line (and most check points). Participants were encouraged to drive and park there as it was a perfect option to go back to the car to rest and/or refuel, again allowing you to carry very little.

From there we were transported to Cafe Les Saisons in Chelsea where the owner graciously allowed the i2P Run Organizers to host a private dinner for the runners. After dinner Ray Zahab, John Zahab and Mike Stashin shared some amazing tips. There was then time to get our things organized, chat with some new and old friends and then walk over to the Chelsea Visitor Centre for the start of the race.

I believe my lessons started with dinner.  As with BBU, dinner was provided,  more than likely you will be eating foods you do not normally eat. There was a note sent out to us that dinner was casual and if you wanted to bring your own food that was certainly an option. I didn’t worry about it and honestly only one person did bring her own food. I’ve never had an issue with food or hydration (until BBU). BUT then again, I’ve never ran these kind of distances before. Even with my training runs my longest are usually 25-35km back to back runs, with my longest being just under 45km.

my view as we headed out

my view as we headed out

We started at approximately 9:45pm from the Visitor Centre, up trail #1 (3+km climb), a loop around trail #6, down #30 to catch #8 and make our way up King Mountain. Lots and lots of stairs, no doubt contributing to my quad issue. We then began to make our way back to trail #1 and this is where my stomach issues started again. Gassy, bloaty and a wee bit nauseous.  By the time we hit the first check point I felt like throwing up. It took everything inside me not to call it quit right there, but I didn’t. Of course, I did not let the amazing volunteers know I was considering calling it!

From there we made our way to Wolf Trail and headed down. This is when the knee pain started. Pretty mild at first, but the stomach issue was getting much better. I was now only drinking water and eating a few pretzels and crackers. Obviously this is not going to sustain me but it’s what I had to do. I also had a ginger-chew which is a bit like a treat and seems to calm my stomach. We caught trail #1 again and continued down to Meech Lake Parking Lot for another check point. This is when it was confirmed that a trail runner was missing. She was not from Ottawa and had somehow gotten turned around. Short story is she was found, she was fine and I was crazy impressed at how well she handled it all!! She caught up to me (and passed me) just after trail #36 that was very dark and lonely to run in the middle of the night. It is a beautiful trail that I love to run on during the day, if I had company I might have enjoyed it more through the night.

I continued making my way back to Breton Beach going through Lac Phillip camp grounds. I am not sure how long I ran with the knee pain but it continued to get worse, especially all the downhills. I’m guessing at least 15km’s or so till I finally made it in. I had 1.5hrs. to rest, recovery and get ready to head out for the 2nd 50K.

The Morning Run (50K)

When Ray heard my knee was giving me some pain his response was, “okay then were good. You did what we wanted, you got the night run in.”  I of course, had not even considered not continuing. I immediately suggested that I’d go out for the next 23k and if I limped in we’d call it. I argued that he knew me and that I recover quickly and I could do this. He agreed 🙂

85km Lake Superior Gate to Gate Girls (top photo Lake Superior, bottom photo i2P run photo bombed by Ray

My running sisters! 85km Lake Superior Gate to Gate Girls (top photo Lake Superior, bottom photo i2P run photo bombed by Ray

So at 8am it was back out to do the next stage, 23km. We headed out onto trail #55 with a smallish climb and then at about 1km we hit a downhill. I immediately felt shooting pain in the knee, I had to stop and walk down. If I was smart I would have turned around right then, but I’m more stubborn then smart. I could manage the straights and the inclines but had to walk almost all of the downhills. I finally hit the 12.5km turn-around. My sweet dear friend was there for the check point. I should have stayed with her and hopped in the van to go back to the finish, but instead we ate some grapes and I told her not to tell Ray 🙂 Again, stubborn!

So now I had to make it back to Breton Beach. At this point I was at the back of the pack. There were 4 walkers behind me and that was enough motivation to keep moving forward. I could not let them get ahead of me. I was now practicing mental toughness and doing everything I could to rid myself of the pain I was feeling (still mainly on the downhills). I started singing out loud for every step, and it worked. I was mastering the pain, I was pushing through and I could now start to run more downhills.

At this point I ran in to Steve and Sylvie and admitted to feeling the pain. They both told me firmly that I had to call it. It wasn’t worth it and I knew they were right. This wasn’t my goal race, I had to be in good form for G2G just one month away. BUT did I mention I’m stubborn?

I was still contemplating doing the next loop of 12.5km as it is more technical which I love but it would also allow me to complete 85km. With 8km’s to go I knew I had to call it when I got in. I finally shed a tear or two accepting that the right thing to do was call it. BUT I still had 8km’s to get back to the beach. I used that time to work on my mental toughness and pushed hard to run without pain! I was lying to myself and it was working. I knew that when I arrived at the beach I couldn’t look at my watch or talk to anyone before finding Ray and telling him I had to call it – I needed the accountability to not let me go on. In the meantime, I came upon 3 separate runners at 3 different times. With each one my goal was to run enough to pass them and keep them behind me. Just a little win for me at the end.

Here is what I’m walking away with:

  • I ran a night run even though I was scared/nervous to do this alone (yay me)
  • Every run gives me an opportunity to learn and develop as a runner
  • I am mentally tough (yes, and stubborn but I can push past hard)
  • I have amazing and wonderful friends that celebrate effort as much as completion
  • I get so much enjoyment at seeing others achieve their goals
  • If you don’t go through the hard stuff, then you miss out on the lessons
  • I’ve come a long way! I only started running trails 2 years ago. My very first trail run was the i2P 23km run. I only seriously considered doing Ultra running less than a year ago.

So as my husbands said to me, “Did you DNF or did you run an extra 23km?” The goal was the 50k night run, I just wanted to do it all 🙂

Have you experienced a DNF before? What was your experience?

 

Prepping Continues – Grand to Grand Ultra

Gathering Up The Gear

Things are moving very fast suddenly with only 38 days to go before the start of the Grand to Grand Ultra (G2G)! I am flying out early so really I have less than a month to finish getting everything organized.

I have been slowly gathering the mandatory items required by for G2G. Testing out all my gear last weekend in the Bad Beaver Ultra (BBU) had me reconsidering some things.

Things that are working for me:
  • My shirt:  I’ve settled on the Lululemon Swift Tech Shirt. It is moisture wicking, light weight and antimicrobial.
  • My back pack: I had to try out a few to find the right fit for me but finally settled with the Osprey Rev 24. I’ll admit I’m concerned about getting everything into my pack but my coach will have the final say of removing things 🙂
  • Eyewear: I was concerned about this as I have had some eye issues over the past few years when wearing contacts for more than a few hours. I now only wear them to run BUT given we will be running multiple days for hours upon hours this could be an issue. I tested out daily contacts for BBU and had them in for 12+ hours every day and I forgot I was wearing them! No infections so fingers (and toes) crossed 🙂 I will be using my favorite Sundog Sunglasses. Prescription sunglasses are also an option but I’m running out of time (and money)!
  • Shoes: Inov-8 Race Ultra 270 is my shoe. It’s the one my coach recommended to me when I first started trail running. If it isn’t broke why fix it!
  • Sleeping Bag: Check (light weight and very compact)
  • Whistle: Check
  • Lightweight Down Jacket: Check
  • Headlamp: Check (need two with spare batteries)
  • Red Flashing Light: Check (worn at night)
  • Meals: breakfast and dinner is worked out, most snacks but working on in race fuel.
  • Medical Clearance Certificate: My doctor doesn’t get it but has cleared me 🙂
What I am now tweaking,  re-evaluating or still need to do:
  • Sleeping Pad: As the G2G is a self-supported race, I will be carrying everything including my sleeping bag and sleeping mat. I had planned on using the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Mattress but there are some people that have experienced their mats being punctured on the dessert floor. So the other option is carrying the Solite Sleeping Pad, which is extremely light but bulky and would need to be attached to the outside of my pack.
  • GPS Watch: My faithful (but old) Garmin has served me well but is not as reliable to charge lately. It has a max. of 12-13hrs. battery life. I’ve been looking at a new watch as I will need one in the future but adding this expense before my trip doesn’t seem like a true necessity. During my BBU experience I chatted with an experienced runner who only uses a watch to track time on his stage races. This seems like a more practical option, as I do need to know how long I am out and keep cut-off times on my radar. I have an old Timex Ironman Watch that might do the trick. However, still considering the Suunto Ambit 3 Sport Watch.
  • Fuelling/Hydration: This has not been a big issue for me but after my experience in the BBU, with the duration of being out and the heat, I realize I have missed the mark here. After speaking with my coach, we have a plan in place and will test it out this coming weekend at the i2P Run.
  • Shorts: I have been training with the same shorts since Spring and have loved them, however, with the duration of the time out for BBU and the extreme humidity I was chaffing by day 2. I ended up wearing my sleeping capris on day 3 to avoid being uncomfortable.  That sent me on a search for shorts that would be a bit longer to avoid chaffing. Although the temperature will be hot in the Grand Canyon it will be a very dry heat. I do not know if I’ll have an issue of chafing but I do not want to be dealing with it if I can avoid it by adding 1.5 cm to my shorts. I ended up finding a pair from Under Amour and gave them a test run this week. The big test will be at the i2P run coming up this weekend.
  • Patches: I need to have my Canadian Flag and i2P patches put on my pack and my shirts. It is mandatory to have your countries flag on the left sleeve of your shirt(s). The i2P patch is because I’m a very proud supporter and I’ve been working hard to raise $5,000 for the youth ambassadors heading off to Death Valley in September (they will be running during the time I am running, kind of cool as they will be in my heart)! You can still help me by donating here.
  • Gaiters: I have two options here and I am still torn as to what to do 🙂 This will be my priority after this weekends run. It is a matter of deciding and then fitting the shoes accordingly.
  • Compass: need to purchase and get some basic training!
  • Signal Mirror: min. 6cm diameter still need to purchase
  • Knife: min. 5cm blade – need to purchase
  • Emergency Blanket/Space Blanket: min. requirement 1.4mx2.2m (turns out mine is 1.3mx2.1m *sigh*)
  • Blister Kit: almost complete
  • Precscriptions: I have the prescriptions (required to deal with nausea/diarrhea and pain) but still need to get them filled.
13921100_10157245662100414_3328331827719054754_n

photo from Nia’s facebook 🙂

I have to say this has been an incredible journey since January of this year. I have felt from the beginning that this journey was meant to be and I still feel very strongly about that.  I had the honour of meeting and running with 3 of the i2P Ambassadors that I am fundraising for.

Although the money raised will go directly to support i2P,  when someone gives it’s a special message to me that says, “Leanne, I believe in you and am so proud of you”. I’ve taken it to heart and am so thankful!

Next up the i2P 100K! The focus is the 50km night run to get some training in for running through the night but if I can make the cut-off times and feel like I can do it, I will continue and run the 50km day run.

If you have tips or suggestions to help me finish my check list I’d love your input!

Chasing Dreams…..

Bad Beaver Ultra Recap

The Bad Beaver Ultra (BBU) is a 3-Day 150km  semi-supported stage race taking runners on a journey through Gatineau Park, Canada. As part of my training for the Grand to Grand Ultra (G2G) my coach insisted that I participate in this event. Of course that was way back in January of this year so it was only in the last few weeks that I started giving this race any serious thought.

It’s not that I wasn’t training for it, I just wasn’t focused on it. My coach laid out  my weekly running scheduled and I followed it, usually without questions. I had settled in to a routine of  long runs Friday and Saturday with Sundays thrown in when a third back to back was required.

I’ve been eating mostly “real” food and/or trying out different protein bars for these runs. I’ve also been using a few different hydration mixes as I try to dial in to what is going to work for me. I have had no issues so far with any of the food/hydration that I am trying but I am still working on timing, calories and of course sustaining energy. Days before BBU I had just picked up a new hydration mix that was full of good stuff and more affordable than what I was using. Seeing as BBU was a training race, to give me experience with stage racing, it seemed appropriate to test this hydration out over the weekend.

I was dealing with some difficult news leading up to the weekend, and true to “Leanne style”, I pulled away from everyone, including my coach, in an effort to deal with the emotions I was feeling. I made some race decisions on my own and because of that I experienced some valuable in race lessons.

IMG_1674As I packed my back pack for the three days, I was not concerned with the 15lbs weight (before water) as for G2G I will be starting out with approx. 20lbs on my back.  I later learned that most of the other runners packs weighed in at around 8lbs-10lbs. In addition to new hydration (I had a selection of what I was currently using and the new format), I was also determined to get my nutrition figured out. I limited myself to a variety of bars and discovered I really lacked imagination and experience as to what would benefit me.

Pre-Race

We arrived  Wednesday afternoon at the Wakefield Mill Hotel and Spa giving us a chance to meet the other runners and settle in before we shared a meal together.  We were given a swag bag and assigned our own beautiful room. IMG_1678After dinner there was a mandatory gear check and race directors went over the next days race course.

As this was the very first BBU the race was capped at 20 participants.  It was clear from the beginning that there were many experienced ultra runners as well as a number of first time stage racers. My goal was easy, learn as much as I could from these amazing people and complete the 3 days!

Day 1 (55km’s)

The start line was just outside the hotel and ended at Brown Cabin near Lac Phillipe. Temperatures were in the high 30’s and was certainly felt when we were out in the open especially on Trail #55. We headed up to Lusk Caves where we dropped our packs and made our way through the very cold water. I was nervous about this very early on in the day, but with the heat it ended up being all I could think of through the day.  I was thankful to go through the caves with another runner and the cold water was so appreciated. From the caves it was maybe 7km’s or so to the finish line.IMG_1724

The volunteers were like angels at each check point! After a few check points, I realized the doctor was pretty much at every check point as I arrived. A high five was in order on Day 3 when I celebrated not needing his services 🙂

Day 1 I also realized that there were sweepers on the course to pick up the flags after the last runners. We ended up having Neil as the sweeper on Day 1 who ended up hanging out with us for the first 25km’s. I offered to pick up the flags so he could get a good run in 🙂

IMG_1722When I entered this race, I suspected I was the slowest runner so knowing there was a sweeper on the course was very comforting in the event I was out there at night by myself.

Day 2 (70km’s)

The heat was unbearable over night in the cabin, no air circulating at all. As I was one of the last one’s in the night before I was left with a top bunk for sleeping. After unsuccessfully trying to sleep we were up for 4am for breakfast and coffee.

No sleep but all smiles!

No sleep but all smiles!

By 6am we were heading out for Day 2. It was another high humidity day with temperatures reaching “feels” like 40+!

From about 12km’s on I was having stomach issues, this is the first time I have ever had issues and it was awful. Another runner was experiencing his own challenges that day and we ended up running together most of the day. I was very thankful for this as he is an extremely experienced runner and had completed G2G 2014. We climbed lusk falls, dealt with full sun as we made our way to the fire tower and down Trail #1. The funniest moment was when Colin suggested we find some shade and lie down for a minute, where he shared his chips with me (I will be forever grateful) and the sweeper caught up with us. She was a little surprised to see us lying on the trail and cautiously asked if we were okay. She shared her ginger candy with me to help my stomach issues (see they’re angels, all of them!!)

Embracing the suck together

Embracing the suck together

We didn’t lie around to long, a few moments at most and continued making our way to Wolf Trail. I was thankful to be climbing down this trail as it would have just been cruel to make us go up.  We eventually made it to Meech Lake and then shortly after that came some rain. Most of the day is a blur of familiar and unfamiliar trails, including our last check point at Champlain Lookout. We then made our way to the final trail of the day. Within 10 minutes of hitting Trail #9 (quite technical), it was like the lights went out. We now very much depended on our headlamps as we made our way through the trail to Camp Fortune, the finish line for Day 2.

pc: Jordan Thoms

pc: Jordan Thoms

I’m not sure exactly how late it was that we came in but I found it difficult to eat anything. I forced some pasta down simply because I knew I needed something. Tonight we were sleeping in one large room. This was the night I was testing out my sleeping pad that I was planning on using for G2G. Unfortunately, it was another almost sleepless night with lots of tossing and turning. We were up again early for coffee and breakfast.

Day 3 (25 km)

I felt better heading out and decided early on that I was going to just run for me today. I texted my husband “if all goes well I should come in around 1:15pm”. The route for the day took us back onto Trail #1, #17, down #8 across to King Mountain, did the loop and then out to I think #15 back to P7 and eventually down Penguin to the finish line. I crossed the finish line at 1:11pm, I’d say it went pretty well then. I felt like myself the entire run and enjoyed so much about this route.

There are so many memories mixed up between the days now but the entire race was full of incredible views and experiences.

Post-Race Celebration

Crossing the finish line did not mean we were finished yet! Once everyone arrived we headed on over to Le Nordik Spa for a special time in the baths and to enjoy the brand new VIP area. There was an open bar and an amazing post-race dinner cooked on their brand new outdoor grill. It was a wonderful way to end a truly epic event! IMG_1795 (3)

The race directors wanted to use this event to highlight some of the amazing trails throughout Gatineau Park but they also wanted to highlight some of the local businesses in the area. We were treated to our first night at the Wakefield Mill Hotel, breakfast and dinner each day were provided by local businesses, bars on the course, and so much more.  Instead of receiving a medal at the end of the race we were given maple scented candles, crafted locally as a keepsake of our amazing journey.

My coach Ray Zahab has become like family! His belief in me and ongoing support has helped me succeed in ways that I never knew were possible. He understands the commitment and dedication required to chase my dreams and try to have an impact on others to believe enough in themselves to chase their own dreams.

My coach but more importantly my family!

My coach but more importantly my family!

I would highly recommend this event to anyone who is interested in an amazing 3 day stage race. Whether you are very experienced or just thinking about a stage race, this race has so much to offer everyone. I have no doubt next year will be even better!

Do you have some go to snacks you use on a long run?