Running

Race Report: Seaton Soaker 25km by Heather Grieve

Going into a race for the first time, I like to be prepared. The best option is to run the route ahead of time, second best option is to track down a course map with an elevation chart, if that fails, I start scouring the web for someone's race report or Strava activity from one of the previous years. There's one Get Our There Magazine video recap, and a few other bits and pieces of intel, but The Seaton Soaker kept all of its best secrets hidden until race day. The start/finish location at Pine Ridge Secondary School was great. Easy to get to from downtown Toronto, plenty of parking next to the start, and race registration was quick and easy inside the school. The 50km and 25km races got started right at 8:00 am, which is a super civilised time to start a trail race. I've gotten accustomed to arriving at the trailhead for 6 am. When it was go-time, I had a mini-heart attack when I realised my Garmin had gone back into sleep mode and it had to reconnect to GPS while I was crossing the start line. Thankfully it connected 10 feet later. Phew. No runner should ever have to deal with the accurate panic caused by running watch issues during a race.

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The race starts with a quick, paved downhill section, where you can slot in with others running your pace. Somewhere in the first 1-2km, there was a beaver damn crossing that spoiled the fantasy of keeping my feet dry for as much of the race as possible. I was happily surprised by the first 4km of the race being mostly flat - it's trails, so "mostly flat" means little undulating hills that don't slow you down, but just get you into a good rhythm. The terrain gets a bit more technical and hilly the further you get from the start, and there are two serious climbs on the way out to the 12.5km turn around point. Aid stations pop up around 3km, 7km, and 12.5km. All of them were well equipped and super friendly. The 7km station was rockin' a good psychedelic theme, complete with tie-dye and long blonde wigs.

The course is 90% kick ass single track. I loved it. Keeps you focused on what's right in front of you and your mind never wanders and starts thinking about that hot burning sensation that's happening around your big toes. Yup, blisters. Two big ones that covered the entire bottom of each big toe had formed from the increased friction from having wet muddy feet. I started feeling them around 14km, then REALLY felt them at 20km, enough to change up my stride a bit. But after the 20-foot badass river crossing that happens somewhere around 22km-23km my feet were totally numbed from the chilly water and the pain was gone.

My Garmin had under-tracked by roughly a kilometre, so I was surprised to pop out of the woods and see the last climb to the finish. Not so fast, that finish line that's 100m away, yeah you're not there yet. The course loops you around a grass field for an additional 300-400m (which might be the hardest part of the whole race) before you can get that sweet relief that only a finish line can deliver.

Racing with the 50km runners made it hard to determine if I was doing well in terms of the rankings. I knew there were only a handful of ladies and gents in front of me, but some of those had to be heading out for a second 25km loop. Turns out, I did REALLY well. I was 20th across the line, and 2nd female overall in the 25km! Very happy with that result.

Refuelled and chatted with a few other finishers, before calling it a day with the Seaton Soaker. It's a damn fine race, great course, amazing support and as always, the trail running community in Southern Ontario is just so loveable. I highly recommend this race.

Race Report: 5 Peaks Rattlesnake Point by Heather Grieve

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The 5 Peaks Rattlesnake Point race is EXCELLENT if you enjoy running hills, striding over boulders, cliff drop offs, boardwalks, a random raccoon sighting, and some useful race swag (this year it was a 5 Peaks pint glass). I try to do one 5 Peaks race per season. Their "enduro" distances are always somewhere between 11km and 14km, which makes it one of the shorter distances in my race calendar. 

But the thing with 5 Peaks races is that just because they are a bit shorter, doesn't make them any easier and their Rattlesnake Point race is a tough one. With this course you have to be comfortable with lots of rocky and root-covered terrain. It can be SUPER technical, which for me is a blast, but a total ankle breaker of a course if you're not careful. Even if you are being careful, it can take you out. I did one magnificent toe catch and somehow managed to not totally wipe out, but that one impact has caused residual pain in my left foot all summer. It's only now, 2-months later that its finally feeling normal. But that's not the fault of the course, or that immovable rock, that's just me not taking a break to let it feel.

I would have liked to go a bit faster on this course, especially in the final 2-3km. But alas, I was feeling pretty tired and worn out. Maybe it was the hill climbs, but most likely I was still feeling a bit of fatigued from the Nike Women's 15km race six days earlier. Feeling pretty spent, I crossed the finish line in 1:20:10.

Race Report: Nike Toronto Women's 15km by Heather Grieve

Here's a quick breakdown of my experience with the Nike Women's Toronto 15km race on June 14th: 5:00am first alarm 5:05am second alarm 5:15 coffee and oatmeal and fruit and whatever else I can cram in despite a bit of pre-race nerves 5:45am holy shit where is my Uber cab! 5:46am oh there it is, life is good, I'll be on time for my assigned ferry to the island 6:16am everybody on board! Ferry loaded up to the max and left 4 minutes ahead of schedule 6:30 rain, clouds, chills (thank you Nike for the pre-race heat blankets!) 6:35am - 9:14am grab another coffee, wander around Centre island, nap on a bench, people watch, nap, break my headphones 9:15am get in start corrals 9:45am start time for the 3rd corral (my corral) 9:49am that was a FAST first 1km, should I slow down? No. I feel great. 10:30am ummm this is going REALLY WELL, I should keep pushing it and see what I can do. 10:52am 2km left, that's easy. Let's bump up the pace some more and kill it in the home stretch! 11:02am cross the finish line and feel the wave of euphoria as I realized that I crushed my race day goals and expectations!

@heathrow13 Anything for you. Now, time to dominate 15K. The start line awaits.

— Run Nike Women (@runnikewomen) June 14, 2015

Who would have thought that long waits and dreary skies would make for a killer race time. I'm very happy with this race, it was proved to me that all the hard work and consistency of my running through the winter and spring was worth it. All of that training (and dreaded High Park hill repeats) cumulated in a fast and powerful race for me. A sub-1:20 finish time of 1:18:12 was a big and rewarding surprise. Other than the long wait time once we were on the island, I loved this race. I thought it was a great course, not that challenging but fast. Very fast and very fun. Who doesn't love running on an airport runway while planes are taking off and landing one runway over. Very cool Nike, very cool.

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Race Report: STWM 2014 Half Marathon by Heather Grieve

The first time I ran the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon was back in 2012, I remember it being a BIG step up from the 10km races I'd being doing up to that point. Badass nurse and fellow long run buddy, Caroline Crawford wanted to give it a go and had convinced me to run it with her. We trained together and ran the raced together. Slugging it out for 21.1km in 2:07:22. Fast forward two years, 1 marathon and countless trail races - I was back in the starting corral of the STWM for another go at the half marathon on October 19th, 2014.

I hadn't planned on running the half, as my scheduled running season had come to a close with Chase the Coyote a month earlier. Best bud Caroline had registered for the full marathon, but found herself otherwise occupied in Los Angeles that weekend. In the days leading up to a big Toronto race, I always get a bit race crazy and want to join in on the fun. So with two days left before race day, Caroline donated her registration to me and with a quick downgrade and name swap on the bib - I was in for another go at the half.

Fast forward (again) to race morning, the temp had dropped to a chilly 2 degrees Celsius. From wake up to waiting in a corral is always a blur, before anytime at all we were off and running. Forcing myself to take it slow and just enjoy the run, I was running at whatever pace was allowing my breathing to stay consistent. At the 3km mark I looked at my watch, I was running 5:30/km. That was a bit fast for me for a half marathon, but I felt good. Checked again at 6km, I was now at an average of 5:25/km. I was picking up my pace, maybe that was unwise, but I still felt really good. Must have been the cold.

At 10km, I'm well under an hour. Good stuff. At 16km, I'm starting to tire but I get a short of adrenaline that even if I slow down for the last 5km, it's a sure thing that I'll cross the finish in under 2 hours. After that realization, I got a quick shot of adrenaline and I pushed it - I ran with everything I had and felt fantastic.

I crossed the finish line in 1:55:39.

A year of hitting the trails and not caring about finish times, allowed me to hit a goal that I hadn't really planned on going after. The hard work I put in had paid off, I had shaved 12 minutes and have a new personal best for the half marathon. 1:55:39 is going to be a hard number to trump, but I'm looking forward to the challenge.

Race Report: Chase The Coyote by Heather Grieve

September 27th, 2014, was a BEAUTIFUL day for the 3rd annual Chase The Coyote trail race. This was my second time running the Challenge course, a stunning 14.4km route through the lovely and sometimes technical terrain of Mono Cliffs Provincial Park. After running this race last year, I knew I would be back in 2014. Everything about this race is great. The people, location, scenery, difficulty, I love it all.

The 14.4km Challenge course has three significant climbs playfully named "Cardiac Hill", "64 Steps to Ruin" and "The Roots of all Evil", but most of this course is fast and fun with plenty of downhill. I'm a fan of technical trail running. Rocks and roots are where it's at for me and this one has a few sections that require a bit of fancy footwork. This was the first time I've run a trail race with my partner Ian and around the 10km mark he was taken down by a mighty toe-catch that is now turning into the big "badge of honour" black toenail on his left foot.

A final sprint to the finish line
A final sprint to the finish line

After Ian's wipeout we decided to run our own races and I picked up my pace to pass eight runners over the next 3km - which seems like a crazy spread between runners, which is actually one of things I love about this race. It's a small group of runners over a long distance. In 2013, I was alone for a 4km stretch where I started to wonder if I strayed off course or worse... was I in last place?? Not at all, my time in 2013 was 1:30:54, and this year I came in at 1:34:37. I placed 102nd overall, I was the 32nd woman to cross the finish and 10th place in my age group.

My post-race cool down was spent re-fueling with a free slice of pepperoni pizza, water and HoneyMaxx. I got talking to a fellow trail running enthusiast about their favourite Southern Ontario races and cherry picked their top race suggestions for 2015 (Run for the Toad, Creemore Vertical Challenge, Vulture Bait). It's never too early to plan next year's race season and I know I'll be back for more of Chase The Coyote in 2015.

Race Report: 5 Peaks Kortright Centre by Heather Grieve

On September 6th, 2014, I ran the new 5 Peaks trail race at the Kortright Centre for Conservation in Vaughn, Ontario. The Enduro race was two laps around a 6.5km course for a total distance of 13km. I registered on a whim at the last possible minute before the registration cutoff. This was my second 5 Peaks, my first was Albion Hills Enduro in 2013 (my first ever trail race). The race started at 10am, the latest start time of any race that I've run. Which was great for me since I woke up with a sore throat and head cold. I'm used to 7:30am gun times, so I appreciated the extra sleep and time to clear the fog of sickness. I planned on being at the race an hour early - BUT - arrived with only 7 minutes to the start time. The 400 North from Toronto to Vaughn was CLOSED! This made my 35 minute drive turn into a 90 minute traffic freak out. By the time I made it to Kortright, I was a nervous wreck. I gave myself 30 seconds to get my shoes, socks, and water in order. Locked the car and made a mad dash to registration. Chip timer wrapped around my ankle, bib pinned in place, slip into the back of the 2nd wave and we were off! Not a minute of downtime, but once we were moving I was able to zen out and forget the troubles of the morning.

Kortight is a lovely green space in the suburbia of Vaughn. It's hard to believe the massive shopping palace of Vaughn Mills is just a few clicks away. The conservation area is very lush with a great mix of meadow, forest, swamp and ravines. It had rained hard all night so there was plenty of mud (not as much as TNC ECSON) but there was a surprise water feature on the course. Fitness blogger Iron Rogue included an excellent photo of it in his race report. It was a refreshing dip that the Enduro course ran through twice that cleaned up the mud from the previous kms.

Post-race relaxing in the parking lot
Post-race relaxing in the parking lot

The course has lots of pleasant dips, turns, and ascents. It's not too technical and has a only a few hills to contend with - I was warned there was a huge one at some point, but after running up Blue Mountain pretty much everything else feels like a molehill. I ran my second lap in a negative split and crossed the finish line in 1 hour 27 mins, placing 11th in my age group. A good time overall considering this was a spontaneous race paired with a sore throat and sinus congestion.

There's always a happy-go-lucky vibe at 5 Peaks events, but are some serious runners at these events. The top women in my age category are amazing. Laid back and lightning fast. There's a real community to trail running. I don't know anyone at these events, but every race feels like I'm running with old friends. I'm looking forward to trying out the 5 Peaks course at Rattlesnake Point in 2015.

Race Report: North Face Endurance Challenge Ontario 2014 by Heather Grieve

One of my favourite internet time wasters is watching video after video of ultra running on YouTube (like this Badwater UltraMarathon documentary that's equal parts inspiring, mind-boggling and gross). The North Face publish some of the best videos out there. Since getting into trail running, watching clips from their international endurance where the gods of ultra-running tackle the Alps or the Andes is pure eye candy. So when I heard TNC was expanding their endurance series to Ontario, with race offerings at distances from 5km to 80km. I was sold! I quickly registered and then started reviewing the details. Distance: Half-marathon. Location: Blue Mountain, Collingwood. Difficulty level: Masochist! The North Face Endurance Challenge Ontario here I come.

Distance: 21km. Total elevation change: 1,704km. Ugh.
Distance: 21km. Total elevation change: 1,704km. Ugh.
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Skip ahead to race day, I was rested and ready to go. The half-marathon started early on Sunday, July 13th. It had poured for most of the night, which kept the morning air a bit cool but we were warned that the trails would be a bit of a slippery mess. After a quick pep talk from ultra-running jedi Dean Karnazes, we were off! And for the next 2km all we did was climb. I knew this was a vertical challenge, so I settled into a slow and steady pace and tried to keep my breathing in check. By the time we broke out of the trees and reached most of the way up Scenic Caves Drive at 3km I was hurting. My lungs were burning, but not nearly as much as my calves. They felt like rocks in a kiln, I've never felt muscle pain like this before. I was having delusional thoughts about whether or not calf muscles could just fall off.

Just when it was at its worst, we hit a glorious 250m downhill road section that felt like running heroine. I could open it up again and get the blood pumping through my whole body. The weather was getting rainy and humid when we left the road and dove back into the woods on an insanely narrow and muddy single-track trail. Trail runners are 99% of the time a super friendly cooperative bunch and you could see it in full-effect during this section. We were still closely bunched up and every slick hill or boardwalk was announced 10 runners ahead with the message passed along to those behind us. People were wiping out but not because of lack of warning.

Leaving this wild and wooded section we popped out on to a dirt and gravel road that took us from 1/2 way up the mountain straight to the top. This section was another calf killer. I started to walk, so did all of the other runners I could see in front of me. At the crest (that felt like it was never going to arrive) was the first aid station. This was 6km into the race and it felt like I had already expended the energy of a half-marathon. After a quick eLoad, Honey Stinger gel and water combo, I climbed the first of two ladders and we were into a beautiful lush tall canopy forest. This was the most beautiful section of trail I've ever run on, unfortunately I was not feeling well at this point. 100m of running was followed by walking, I would run again and the cycle would repeat. Somewhere around 9km, my Honey Stinger gel came back up, it wasn't pretty and neither was I at this point. Shortly after that digestive mishap, I started to get a pace back together and things were looking up.

For the next 2km I was totally alone. I lost sight of anyone in front of me and there was no one behind me. My only reassurance that I was on the right track were the coloured race ribbons tied to the occasional tree. When I did see another runner, I quickly wished I was alone again. Somewhere around 11-12km, the half marathon course merged with the 10km course that started an hour later. I was stuck in a thick line of middle of the pack 10k runners, most of whom seemed to have no knowledge of trail running etiquette. There were dangerous passes, headphones and all sorts of attitude when you asked to pass on the left. It was frustrating but motivating. I tried hard to pass and get some distance between myself and anyone wearing a red 10km bib.

The next section of the race was a roller coaster that zig zagged up and down the ski hills and the thick forest between the slopes. To soften the blow of these gruelling hills I got talking with a fellow half-marathoner about his training for the Chicago Marathon this fall. I wish him luck, but if he was able to carry on a conversation at kilometer 17 of this race, I think he'll do just fine.

After the last of three, maybe four monster uphill climbs in what was now a super sunny day, I finally hit the final aid station that marked the final descent to the finish line. It was all out madness on this 1.5km section of mud, rock and roots. A runner ahead of me had a severe calf cramp and went down hard. I stopped to help him, but lost my footing and slid 20 feet down the hill and landed back on my feet on the trail. It proved impossible to climb back up with all that mud, so I kept going. I do wish he was able to finish.

When I did reach the final 400 meters from the forest edge to the finish line I had a tiny rush of adrenaline for a final kick. I was 50m behind a couple when a spectator yelled "you can beat them" and using everything I had left, I gunned it. I sprinted to the finish leaving them in my wake and crossed the finish line at 3 hours and 33 seconds. I was handed a medal and TNF water bottle and if I wasn't so dehydrated I would have cried, but no tears flowed.

Within a few minutes I was breathing normal and standing tall and much in need of a shower.

This course is a trail anomaly. It is exponentially harder than any other trail race that I know of in Ontario. It took me 4 hours and 24 minutes to run a marathon, this race was half that distance and still took 3 hours. It was hard and I had finished. All in all, I had three wipeouts, I ran through a stream, crossed the top of a waterfall, slipped on a boardwalk and collided with a tree, but I had triumphed over the North Face Endurance Challenge. I was a happy runner and I would do it all again in 2015.

Race Report: Sulphur Springs 25km by Heather Grieve

May 24th, 2014 in Ancaster Ontario: the perfect morning for the Sulphur Springs Trail Run where runners had the option to register and run one a 10km, 25km, 50km, 50mile, 100mile or a 100mile relay race. As this was my third trail race in under a year, I opted for the 25km. Further than any trail race I had complete before, but significantly less than the marathon that kicked off my 2013 running season.

Despite a hard training winter that included multiple polar vortices, I was confident that I had done the work and that my training would keep my afloat over 25km, but Sulphur Springs proved to be quite the challenge. Divided into two 10km loops with a 5km out and back to start and hills a plenty this was no walk in the woods. This course had everything that makes trail running great and at the same time totally brutal.

Race take-aways:

1) Gravel is an energy vampire. The larger the pieces of gravel, the harder it was on the ankles and knees. After doing the 5km out and back, and into the first 10km loop there were long sections of double track gravel that just zapped my energy. Quick glances at the ol' Nike+ GPS watch happen frequently when I'm uncomfortable and at this point on the course I found myself lifting my wrist every 100 meters. Not a good sign, especially since the deep valleys of the Dundas Conservation Area were playing havoc with the GPS signal and only partially registering the distance. My only saving grace was a man in a cowboy hat sitting at trail junction that told me I was about to start the second 10km section (according to my watch I was 3km short of completing the first 10km). At that point, the ground went back to a softer packed dirt trail and my energy and enjoyment levels shot right back up.

2) Mother nature doesn't mess around when it comes to hills. Long after you've had enough, there will always be more hills. I like hills. I like wind. I like running in adverse conditions. When the run is tough, I remind myself that its making me a stronger runner. But on this course, I had my fill of hills. By the time I reached the "Three Sisters" somewhere near kilometre 20, I was angry. My fun was done. There were no more mantras left in my self-coaching brain. I was sore, tired and frustrated that I still had a few more kilometres ahead of me. The last of the big climbs in this section felt almost vertical. I definitely grabbed some roots in front of me to help with the ascent.

3) Finishing grouchy. I'm a happy runner that always has something left in the tank for a big kick to the finish and a toothy smile for the photographers. This was the first race I finished cranky. My darling partner Ian came running up to me moments after I crossed the finish, I love this dude, but in those moments all I wanted was to sit on a big boulder that was tucked away behind the broo-ha-ha of the finish and be left alone. I was pretty miserable, or rather ugly miserable. It took me 5-10mins until I could break the fog of misery. I'd like to thank Gatorade and Ian's presence for getting me out of that deep dark funk.

4) I must be a glutton for punishment. I'm already planning a return to the Dundas Valley Conversation area for the 2015 edition of this race to take another stab at the same 25km.