Since I’ve been in Calgary I wanted to try a trail run/race. I went to see a man about a bike when I first moved to YYC almost a year ago and he told me about the 5 Peaks Race series. Still somewhat limited because I have not yet obtained a car, I was unable to get to the ones further afield last year. This year, I noticed that there was one within city limits (and LRT (train) range) so I-at the last minute-signed up for it. This one was in Fish Creek, one of the largest urban parks in Canada, a narrow provincial park with lots of trails and vistas. It’s been quite a while since I’ve run an off-road race. Probably since my cross-country days and from this one race, trail racing is quite different from cross-country racing. There were two options, the Sport course at about 6km and the Enduro course, about 14.3km. Since I had to run long that day anyway I opted for the Enduro course.
Not knowing what or how to prepare, I stuffed my backpack with a bunch of random items–two pairs of socks (a shorter and longer one), hat, sun glasses, water bottle full of water (email said to come with water), wet wipes, post-race clothing, extra running shirts, dates and some other items I am not recalling at the moment. I thought I would see what other runners are wearing and then decide what to put on. The temperature was 46F when I woke up (yes, in July), further complicating my “what to wear” issue. So, I put on a couple of layers and gloves and left my apartment early to get to the start of the race. Google maps said that the start was an hour away.
I arrived to the start without issue and picked up my packet-my number and a pair of technical socks. I was excited about the socks because a) good running socks are expensive, b) you could never have enough running socks and c) who needs yet another technical race t-shirt? I thought about putting on the socks then and there, but saw that many other racers had similar socks to mine’s so I did not change.
I know that they say never to try anything new on race day? Well, I did. I got a hydration vest a couple of months ago in anticipation of my long runs in Calgary summer and early fall without too many options of water (neither faucets nor delis). However, I at this point I had not yet tried it on. Since the email said to carry enough water, I thought my hand bottle would not have been enough so I brought the vest.
The race director gave instructions–trail was marked with orange pin flags and the Enduro course is about 16km. Wait…what??? I signed up for 14 km and now committed to 16km. Yikes! The race went off. There were three starts-speedy runners, mid pack and beer/wine. As much as I love wine, I decided to go with the mid pack runners. As soon as I started to run, I new the hydration pack would be an issue–the soft water bottles were right on top of my boobs so the bounce factor was quite high. I tried to adjust it on the fly but nothing seemed to work, I would have to run this race with four boobs.
The first part of the race was along a road and I thought to myself, “where is the trail, is this not a trail race?” And you know the pithy saying, “be careful what you ask for…” Upon this thought we made a sharp left and immediately funneled into a single-track path along the river. There were roots, ditches, rocks, muddy patches, everything in the first few kms of this trail. The sky above was a pretty clear blue with white fluffy clouds while the ground below was less than clear. It was a trail for sure. I continued along and slowed to cross the roots and river. I ran tentatively because I felt my ankle give a little a couple of times so was a little anxious. I (instead of we because the experienced trail runners are now quite ahead of me) came to the first incline, saw the runners ahead of me walking up so I did not feel too bad about doing the same.
Lots of inclines, and declines and consecutive sharp turns. I felt like I was running along the tracks of the Coney Island Cyclone. My legs grew heavy and it probably did not help that I took a spinning class the day before–my first one in a couple of months. I am also still not sure of how I am adjusting to altitude, I do very good on flat courses but notice that I still get pretty winded even walking up stairs. So, I am not sure if the constant up and down with no recovery contributed to my slowing down. I trotted and walked more than run but still determined to finish. I had no choice, how else would I find my way back to the start of the race? Although the park was in the middle of several communities there were times that it felt like I was out in true wilderness. It is great that this space exists in a continuously expanding city.
Through the undulations of the course, I finally made my way back towards the finish. Or so I thought. Every time I thought I recognized the trail, I would follow the pin flags (the course was well-marked) and realize that I was not as close. This happened several times during the last couple of miles/kilometers. I finally stopped to ask a volunteer how much longer. He showed me where I was on the map and how much further I had to go. It did not seem close. At last, there it was, the crowds, the finish. I could first hear them and then see them.
“We have another finisher!” I turned towards the bridge that I crossed to get to the start earlier. “No, no, you need to go that way!” I turned to go “that” way. “No, no (laughter), that way!” “Which way??” I stood like a bear in the tall grass and asked? I saw the trail leading to the finish straight ahead of me, not more than 20ft. So I bounded in the tall grass towards this trail. “Hey, we have a bushwacker! For bushwacking to the finish, you get a free entry to the Canmore race!” So, now I am committed to running another trail race a couple of months from now!
I worked my way to the post-race area were there was a nice spread of muffins, bagels, nutella, peanut butter, bananas, oranges and watermelon. And potato chips. I was starving so I stuffed my face. I know I need to work on my race nutrition, pre, during and post. I am anticipating the Canmore race, I have a couple of months to prepare while also marathon training so we shall see how it goes. And Canmore is at a higher altitude. Maybe I should add oxygen to my diet.
Floating in a most peculiar way
Tired after the trails I was looking forward to my first floating session. My friend/colleague Betty told me about her floating experience and how it was very relaxing (you could read about her experience here). I Googled it, it is a form of sensory deprivation. I am all into this mindfulness thing (at least trying to be) so I thought the floating would not only be a good way to recover from this race but also a space to practice some mindfulness. Betty got a Groupon to Soul Float that would allow us to float for 1 hour.
Floating, as I mentioned, is a form of sensory deprivation. It is supposed to reap all kinds of benefits, including reduced stress, more creativity, reduction of pain, etc. You are basically suspended in a tub filled with warm water and over a thousand pounds of epsom salt. I think denser than the Dead Sea?
At Soul Float, Betty was now a pro (this was her second time), so did not have to go through the orientation (other than picking floating music and finishing tea). The music menu offered a number of options ranging from meditative singing, Tibetan bells and nature sounds. I choose one that was described to enhance my theta waves. I was shown to my room, rather than a pod (or float tank), I got an open tub that was meant for couples. I was given some neon orange ear plugs and instructed to put in the plugs, shower using the provided shower gel and then enter the water. It is recommended that you float in the buff, but have the option of wearing a swimsuit. I buffed it.
I turned on the music, turned off the lights and entered the pod. The light, which was blue, slowly dimmed until it was totally out. It was completely black. This was a little disconcerting as first as there was no difference between my eyes closed or open. I laid back and spread my arms and legs like a starfish and tried to relax.
At first I felt my body rotating and wondered if I was really rotating or if it was the deprivation that made me feel as such. The water was warm but since I was floating, the top of my body was not covered so at times I felt the salt water tighten on the exposed skin. This was rectified with gently moving some water over my skin. The water was viscous and soft. I floated, it did feel peculiar at times as I did not know in which direction my body was drifting, but overall very relaxing.
The music was on but since I had on headphones it was very muted. I used the music and listening to my heartbeat to practice moments of mindfulness. In mindfulness you are encouraged to go back to the breath when your thoughts drift. In the pod I returned to my heart sound. It was soothing but still hard to maintain. Towards the last 10-15 minutes of floating, I anticipated the ending. I was told that a voice would gently let you know that your session was over and the blue light would return.
“Your session is now over, please leave the pod.” Not as gentle as I thought but at that point I was ready to finish. I was quite relaxed. I took a shower and used the provided products–all natural, organic and nicely scented. After I showered and dressed, there was a nice cup of hot tea waiting.
The float was a unique but relaxing experience, especially after a challenging workout. It enabled a quieting of my mind and soothing of my body. I was not as sore the next day so I am sure the hour in the epsom salt helped.
I spent the next day wading in the river and watched a unicorn float under the Peace Bridge.