Thursday, January 3, 2013

Brand New Year, Same Old Stupid

Two years ago, I was at a New Year's Eve party and a couple of my friends were moderating their drinking because the next morning they were going to run the Club Fat Ass New Year's Day Fat Ass 50 Run. As the name suggests, this is a 50 km run, starting at 9 am on New Year's Day. Of course, I questioned their priorities, laughed and had another drink. However, as is often the case in such scenarios, I found myself signed up for the very same run this year.

It's important to note that this is a run - not a race. It's supposed to be fun, it's supposed to be an encouraging start to the New Year and it's supposed to be done with a hangover.


They record your times and post them on their web site; they note the current course record and they submit everyone's times to What's more, as people tend to take a generally relaxed approach to the run, David Papineau's course record of 3:46:28 seemed like it might be attainable. So I set myself a vague goal of running around 3:45.

But as this wasn't a race and I didn't want to put any kind of undue pressure on myself I decided to sabotage my pre-non-race preparation as much as possible.

Three days out I attempted my first speedwork in over a month, running some fast-ish laps around Beaver Lake. Much to the surprise and disgust of my hamstrings and quads.

Two days out, I ran some new trails on the North Shore and sustained a fairly painful rolled ankle.

And the day before was New Year's Eve. Instead of my usual pre-race two glasses of red wine, I had three glasses of red wine. And two glasses of champagne. And a beer and a vodka and a mountain of delicious food. When I decided to head home at around 1 am, I spent several minutes searching for my watch before I realised that it was in fact on my wrist.

Suffice to say, when I woke up on New Year's Day after barely four hours of sleep, I didn't really feel like I had the stomach (or the legs, or the head) for the fight. Still, it was a rare crisp, clear day in Vancouver, I'd paid my entry fee and people would rightly mock me if I failed to turn up.

After a more standard pre-run breakfast (oatmeal, banana and coffee - my investment in an espresso machine has probably been my most inspired running-related purchase) I stumbled on to a bus, noting the usual characters who had still to find their way home from the night before, and almost felt a pang of jealousy. They'd be in bed soon. Upon arriving I met up with several of my VFAC team-mates who'd also signed up: Ellie, Mary, Helen and Rebecca. The latter three were making the first attempt at the 50k distance and they'd also manage to rope in two other VFAC guys, Matt and David to run at least some of the way with them.

Fortunately, I didn't have to look at my own outfit.
Shortly after 9 am the run started and we trotted out of the parking lot towards the first section of trails. I'd been obsessively checking the registration list and I knew that three superstars of the local and international ultra-running scene were going to be in attendance. Ellie Greenwood immediately fell in alongside me, followed by Gary Robbins. Shortly afterwards, Nathan Barrett joined us. I felt ridiculously out of place, but managed to restrain the urge to ask for autographs or otherwise bow and scrape. The initial pace was a little brisk and somehow Nathan and I pulled slightly ahead of Gary and Ellie who had already fallen deep into conversation. Possibly because Gary, having chalked up some 250 km in the previous eight days, felt no need to join in our lunacy.

I've been running the trails near my work for six years and I still get lost, so I was secretly proud that I managed to guide us through the first section of the run through Stanley Park without taking any wrong turns. We were then dumped out on to the sea wall at Second Beach and settled into a nice quick section by the water before hopping over the Burrard Bridge and through Kitsilano to Spanish Banks. As we hammered this out at around a 4 min/km pace, Nathan remarked on how this was the kind of comfortable pace he enjoyed running at; and instead of dissenting, I just agreed with him (on the exhales). We needed to sustain a pace of around 4:30 min/km and averaged more like 4:10 for the first 17 km or so. Hmm. This wasn't what I had planned. Oh well, I thought, it'll be nice to have a buffer for later.

I was a little apprehensive as we entered the trails of the Pacific Spirit Park. Nathan won the Kneeknacker trail race in 2012 on his first attempt. I was there at the finish line, and he looked pretty relaxed for someone who'd just run 30 miles and climbed 8,000 ft. Which is to say, he's a phenomenally good at running hills whereas I often get out of breath on small flights of stairs. I'd spent a most of the previous half-hour warning him about this, but he was kind enough to ease up to let me keep up with him. As we started the biggest climb up the Salish trail towards UBC, I encountered a slew of my friends from Pacific Road Runners bombing down the trail towards me. We exchanged Happy New Years as Nathan casually trotted away from me, jumped into the bushes to answer a call of nature, then re-emerged on to the trail and did some sort of jaunty dance while he waited for me to slog my way up to him. I pushed unkind thoughts out of my head and we jogged on up to the crest of the hill.

The next few kilometres of gently downhill, smooth trails passed uneventfully enough. We hit the turnaround at 26 km, said hi to Ran who'd set up an impromptu aid station and started the return to Stanley Park. A few minutes later we passed Gary and then Ellie. I knew their was a sense of "friendly rivalry" between Nathan and Gary, so I finally told Nathan to leave me and run his own not-a-race. As he skipped off into the distance I relaxed my own pace a little and enjoyed the next few kilometres exchanging encouraging exclamations with the rest of the runners still on the outbound stretch. I also rolled my ankle while over-enthusiastically high-fiving someone. Honestly.

Leaving the trails after about 35 km, I was starting to feel a bit tired. Forcing myself to keep up with Nathan had taken its toll on my legs and my pacing slackened off further as I headed back towards the Burrard Bridge. I distracted myself by trying to calculate just how slowly I could run and still hit my 3:45 goal all the while berating myself for not choosing a more pleasant target. As I swerved through the crowds at Sunset Beach, gathering for the annual Polar Bear Swim, I started to get a craving for something sugary; understandable really since I'd not eaten anything since breakfast. I fished around in the pockets of my hydration pack for the half-empty pack of Clif Shot Bloks (I thought it was full when I picked it up in the morning), popped one of the little purple cubes into my mouth, only to find that it was more or less frozen solid. I briefly pondered whether infusing them with Vodka would lower the freezing point sufficiently to maintain their chewiness at lower temperatures. Must remember to patent that idea.

As I hit the final stretch, I tried a few times to run a little faster, only to find that my body had different ideas. So I just plodded along as best I could. I noted how there seemed to be so many more bends and loops to the sea wall when you're tired and really, really, just want to stop running. Still, as I entered the final dash through the parking lot I was relieved to see I was going to make it in a couple of minutes under my target time, which gave me a short-lived boost. Clearly addle-brained from my questionable nutrition strategy, I didn't question the tradition of kissing the fire hydrant.

A tender moment...

Nathan was of course already back, fully clothed, and looking like he'd been hanging around for quite some time. So I was relieved to find this picture of him

which suggests that he suffered a bit too. Still, he'd knocked 11 minutes off the old course record, so not a bad morning's work.

Gary strolled home a few minutes later, looking unfeasibly fresh for someone who'd run 300 km since Christmas Eve. Ellie rolled in shortly after and then upstaged us all by immediately disrobing and plunging into the frigid Burrard Inlet. The rest of us made some vague excuses about the men's showers being out of action, but I don't think anyone was buying it.

As we reviewed the day's highlights over a lunch that contained the holy trinity of "B"s - bacon, beer and burgers - we noted the crowds outside returning from the Polar Bear Swim. What a ridiculous thing to do, I remarked.

Club Fat Ass report of the run.

My run on Strava. Notice how my pace disintegrates at 27 km once I stop trying to keep up with Nathan.

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