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November 30, 2018

On November 1st I started writing the second draft of my first novel. Despite the well-established 50,000 word framework of National Novel Writing Month, I set myself a goal of 65,000 words. I did this because I’m a wordy writer, because I knew from my 2016 attempt that this was a big story, and because setting arbitrarily ambitious goals in stone is just a thing I do, I guess.

Before I started, I also attached a carrot to the project: if I met my goal, I could then sign up for my first ultramarathon, the Diez Vista 50K. Tandye and our companion and housemate Carlos even agreed to crew me on that race… assuming I actually met my goal.

On November 26th I completed the novel draft with over 67,000 words. The book’s not finished, but the whole story is there, and I’m excited to read it out loud to Tandye next month. In that way, I can get feedback from my ideal audience, polish the prose, and fill in the gaps.

part of the Diez Vista course (photo via @diezvista)

This morning, registration for the DV50 opened, and I claimed one of the first 20 spots. Now I have a 19-week training plan in place, an attainable goal for the race (just finish!), and the support and encouragement of my wife and the truly incredible trail running community here in the Lower Mainland.

I’m excited about what I’ve done, and what I’m about to do. Writing a novel and completing a 50km trail race are both huge accomplishments. And the one thing I keep thinking about – despite the impulse to lock into tunnel vision about the race, or starting to fret about cleaning up the novel, or wanting to tackle any of the multiple other projects that I put on hold this month – is how lucky I am to have the support of the people close to me. These are solo endeavours – I’m the one who has to write the words and run the miles – but they don’t happen in a vacuum.

The word count graph for my untitled novel

When I was writing the novel, Tandye gave me the time alone that I needed to focus. I am already a solitary person who loves to focus on her own pursuits – thanks a lot, Asperger’s – so this meant that I was even less available as a partner. To be with someone who understands and supports an endeavour like that, and who is willing to shoulder the emotional and practical burdens, is a lucky thing indeed, and I am so very grateful to her. To Carlos, too, since he got stuck doing even more of the chores around the house!

Ironically, a solo project like writing a novel or training for a race takes a lot of time and effort from multiple people, and I am coming to understand that the results of those efforts ought to benefit those people too.

Training for the DV50 is going to take a lot of time, particularly weekday mornings and Saturdays. The effort there will be just as intense as writing 67k words in a month, although it will probably take slightly fewer hours per week, and it will require more from my body than my mind. I know from previous training blocks that I’ll have a lot of time to think about stuff while I’m out there on my own, grinding out those hill repeats and long runs. The main thing I want to focus on over these next 19 weeks is how to ensure that the people in my life – particularly Tandye – benefit from the hours and the effort as much as I do.

I’m happy when I’m writing, and I’m happy to have written. Likewise, I’m happy when I’m running (even in the dark and the rain), and I love having run, being able to look at the mileage and think about the things I saw. Both experiences put me in a good mood when they’re going well, and I feel like I can be more generous with my spirit and my actions (in other words, nicer to be around) once I have something to show for the effort.

A huge story I get to read to Tandye. A better rapport with my body and peace of mind and spirit. These aren’t quite the same things as being a partner who’s always mentally and physically present, or someone who can always tidy up the dishes and clean the litter boxes, but that just makes me even more keen to ensure the intangible “benefits” really are of value to the people who are affected by my temporary absence. When I’m present, I want to be fully present, engaged, happy and selfless.

It’s all worth the effort.

November 25, 2018

When: November 4th, 2018

My time: 1:58:38 official, 1:59:55 Apple Watch + Strava

The 2018 Vancouver Fall Classic Half Marathon at UBC is my yearly staple race. Its place in my life as the first “long” race I ever completed means it’s one I come back to consistently. It’s for that reason and that reason alone that I ran it this year. I very nearly DNS‘d it; I’d been feeling quite sick in the week leading up to it, and I didn’t do any training beyond the basic 14 miles per week required to make my goal for the year.

I went out to UBC on the morning of the race with no definite goal other than to pick up my RunVAN Hat Trick shirt. The weather broke at the last moment, though, and I felt well enough to toe the line, so I set myself a modest goal of “sub 2 hours” and headed out with the rest of the racers.

It wasn’t a great race for me, but it was a very good run, being a fine morning on a beautiful course. Despite being low on energy and having to walk for a bit towards the end, I came in just under two hours. I definitely cashed out my Pegasus 34 shoes, although I don’t yet have replacements, and I only took half of a Gu gel for nutrition, but it was extremely satisfying to make the effort and come up with a finish I can be proud of under the circumstances.

October 15, 2018

When: October 8th, 2018

My time: 00:51:08 official, matching Apple Watch + Strava

The 2018 Turkey Trot 10KM on Granville Island, BC was a fun, rainy race around Vancouver’s False Creek neighbourhoods.

Why This Race?

I ran it last year, setting my 10KM PR, and I had a great time. I had no expectations that I would come anywhere close to matching that performance (and I didn’t, and it’s fine), but it’s such a nice course that I was glad to revisit it at a more relaxed pace. It’s also part of the RUNVAN Hat-trick series, and I want that swag in November!

Training

I didn’t do any specific training for this race, other than the weekly 12 – 14 miles I’ve been logging to maintain my 1,050 mile goal for the year (scaled back a bit from the 1,200 I was optimistically aiming for back in July).

Getting There

Just as I did last year, I drove to a parking lot just outside of Granville Island and walked over to the expo and package pick-up. Parking is free for racers on Granville Island itself, but that place is a nightmare to drive around on.

Gear

This was a relatively short run with easy access to pre- and post-race resources, so I just wore what I usually have for a training run.

  • Shoes: men’s Nike AIR Zoom Pegasus 34s with over 800 miles on them. Definitely worn down, but they still have a few easy road miles left in them.
  • Shorts: generic 7″ shorts from MEC.
  • Shirt: the beloved “chill cat” tank top bestowed upon me by Tandye.
  • Watch: Apple Watch Series 3. It’s normally accurate enough for me, but on this day it did a very bad job on the twists and turns around the harbour, often drawing a straight line across a 200-metre zig-zag path.
  • Music and photos: my iPhone 7 and AirPods.
  • Other gear: my trusty Endur glitch hat.

I also had a backpack with my pre-race sweater, wallet and car keys. I left this at gear check and picked it up afterwards with zero wait.

Nutrition

I had a Starbucks oat bar and a tall coffee with cream 45 minutes before the race, which was more than enough to sustain me. I nearly DNS’d, though, because the night before the race, I’d gone absolutely hog wild on roti canai and sambal green beans from Banana Leaf. It was a late dinner with Tandye and Carlos, well-deserved after a long day running a table at the Vancouver Halloween Expo, and we were all ravenous. I definitely over-ate, and felt extremely nauseous on race morning. I was feeling much better by the time I got to the expo, but I really need to develop some self-control!

Music

I shuffled my “Big Idiot Run Bin” playlist right from the start, eschewing my usual first mile of silence in favour of tracks by The Prodigy, Knife Party, Dilemn, Nine Inch Nails, Pirate Robot Midget and State Of Mind.

Logistics & Organization

The RUNVAN team are experts at these events. I showed up at the expo 45 minutes before the race started and had my bib on and my bag checked within 10 minutes. At the start/finish area and on-course, all of the volunteers were cheerful, despite the rain.

There were two aid stations with water on the course, and plenty of signs and marshals to keep runners on the right path.

One suggestion if you’re thinking of running this event: settle your bathroom business before you get to Granville Island. The lines for the toilets – the many portables and the ones in the Performance Works building that hosts the expo – were the longest I have ever seen. There were still dozens of people waiting as the race started.

The Course

Almost all of the 10km course will be familiar to anyone who runs a lot in Vancouver. It’s a clockwise loop that starts on the eastern end of Granville Island, leads over the Burrard Street Bridge, then hugs the Seawall east through False Creek, going past the many parks and condos on either side of Science World. The finish line is back on Granville Island, somewhat anti-climactically tucked away amongst the trees in Sutcliffe Park.

It’s a fairly fast course overall, nearly flat except for the climb up the bridge and a downhill segment between the bridge and the Seawall. The biggest impediments are the many tight 90° turns on the Seawall, especially between the bridge and Science World, and the many pedestrians walking their dogs on the course who clearly don’t give a shit that there’s a race happening.

I ran the whole race without paying attention to my Apple Watch, so I had no idea what my pace was until I finished. During the run, I felt as though I was applying roughly 80% of my max effort, which felt comfortable and sustainable over the distance. I could have hit it harder, but environmental factors (rain fogged up my glasses and made some of the course a bit slippery) and my overall desire to just finish well and not race my 2017 self kept me in check. Despite it being a slower effort, it felt like a more satisfying run overall.

If you can stay alert through the narrow sections and navigate your way through the crowd of fellow runners during the first half-mile on Granville Island, you should have no trouble setting a PR on this course. Even if you’re just out for a relaxed 10km jog, you’ll have a great time – the mix of urban and marine scenery is gorgeous!

Post-Race

Once you cross the finish line, I recommend snagging your medal, a coffee and some food (the chilli they serve in the food tent is quite good) and then get your gear and head west on the island as quickly as possible. Despite this race being held on Canadian Thanksgiving every year, the famous Granville Island Public Market is open and well worth a visit.

This year I went directly to À La Mode, where you can find enormous pieces of pie, fresh-baked and served by a trio of stern-faced women who move with the unhurried air of people who know their pies are absolutely worth $7 and a 10-minute wait for a single piece. I ate a piece of apple pie on the spot, and brought home lemon meringue and chicken pot pies for Tandye and Carlos.

There are lots of other things to see and do on Granville Island, but if you just want to head home and you parked on the island, make sure to give yourself extra time to navigate the pedestrian-choked streets.

Conclusion

Despite the well-run event and the lovely scenery, this race was a weird one for me. When I ran it last year, I unexpectedly maintained an average pace of 7:20/mile. I started HRT a month later. This year I was nearly 6 minutes slower, having lost a mile per minute off my pace. I went into the run knowing that I shouldn’t expect to get close to last year’s result, but the difference still felt like a huge gulf. It took a bit of post-race reflection (and apple pie) to remind myself that my pace in this year’s event was right in line with my current fitness, that I had more fun than last year, and that those 6.2 miles put me at 901 miles for the year so far. A good workout in a beautiful section of the city and a milestone on the journey to max out my distance are more than enough to cancel out any ennui I might have about what my pre-spironolactone self might have been able to accomplish. Plus, I got to deliver lemon meringue pie to the world’s biggest lemon meringue fan – that’s a reward on its own!

The Turkey Trot is a great excuse to get up early on a holiday and get a nice calorie deficit going before all that turkey and stuffing, and I will definitely be back again next year.

September 15, 2018

My all-time favourite piece of music is the track “Bannockburn”, from the generative music app “Adrift” by Loscil. It goes on forever – literally – and it never sounds the same because the stems are algorithmically / pseudo-randomly mixed.

The musician behind Adrift and all of Loscil’s other music, Scott Morgan, just released an hour-long render of Bannockburn as an MP3, and I am in absolute bliss.

I have fallen asleep to this music, written thousands of words to it, run a marathon to it. There is something lonely and alive and deeply Pacific Northwest in its drones and trills. It is perfect, to me.

September 4, 2018

When: September 1st, 2018

My time: 2:49:56 official (bib 98), 2:49:52 Apple Watch + Strava

The 2018 Handloggers Half Marathon on Bowen Island, BC was my first trail race. This is my first race report. It is very long.

Why This Race?

After rediscovering my love for running and having some great experiences with the VanRunCo trail crew and an MEC trail techniques class, I decided to investigate some races. Not to compete, but to have something to train for, to push my mileage up, and to show me new things about my body, my endurance, and the world. Completing a trail race at a distance I was already very comfortable with – the half marathon – seemed like a good idea before I started considering anything bigger… like the Diez Vista 50k, which has been stuck in my mind just as firmly as the BMO Marathon was in the months before I made it my first marathon.

Handloggers Half is held on Bowen Island, just off the south coast of British Columbia. I’ve lived within 90 minutes of Bowen for most of my life, but I’d never been there. This race seemed like the perfect excuse to finally visit a place that had always been something of a childhood mystery to me. When I was a kid living in Gibsons, we often took a ferry from the same terminal that services Bowen, and my parents always said it was where you ended up if you got in the wrong line. I also rather liked the idea of being able to look at the island on a map and have the satisfaction of thinking “I ran around a big chunk of that”.

In practical terms, the price was right ($30 for a solo entry if you get in early, plus a donation to the charity they’re supporting), the event was small enough to not feel intimidating, and the few historical Strava recordings I could find gave it the appearance of an easy / moderate course with few surprises. I was wrong about that last part, as you will read.

Training

I followed a 12-week training program adapted from one I found online. During the first six weeks I was diligent about hill repeats, power hiking, and cross-training (mostly weight-lifting), but during the second half of the period I got a little sloppy. I overtrained, which burnt me out, and I dropped many of the cross-training days for another rest day or some light bike riding. Many of the runs in that second half were on roads or pavement, which was a mistake, and I did virtually no downhill trail running or technical trails, which I paid for dearly during the race.

As usual, I hated the taper.

Getting There

Unless you live on Bowen Island or know a cool friend with a boat, you’ll need to take the ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Snug Cove. I drove to Horseshoe Bay and paid $15 for all-day parking in the lot attached to the terminal, then walked on to the 6:50 A.M. sailing for $10.45 (you don’t have to pay to come back to the mainland). I went early instead of waiting for the 8:00 sailing the race organizers recommended because I was paranoid about there not being any parking at the terminal (there was plenty). You could drive onto the ferry, but parking seemed scarce around the parts of Bowen that I saw.

A small cove. A wharf on the left has small boats docked alongside. The vehicle ferry back to the mainland departs on the right.
The ferry departs Snug Cove.

The ferry trip takes about 20 minutes, which is just enough time to get a coffee, go up to Deck 3, and take in the scenery and fresh air. It was a little intimidating staring at Mount Gardner – the race’s primary geological feature – the whole way across, but the beauty of the open water and the coastal mountains all around helped calm my nerves.

When the ferry docks in Snug Cove, the wharf where registration happens and the race commences is literally 40 feet away, on your right, at the little two-walled hut with the map of the island inside. I was there 45 minutes before registration opened, so I chatted with a few other early arrivals, took some photos, and made sure my gear was all ready.

Gear

I tried to stay as light as possible, which was a comfort for me both physically and mentally.

  • Shoes: Scarpa Neutrons. I got these for a song but they’re a half-size too small. I want to replace them soon, but they were comfy enough to wear on race day.
  • Socks: Endur floral crews. Endur socks are the only ones I’ll ever wear for races and long runs. Even with tight shoes, I had no blisters or chafing.
  • Shorts: A 7″ pair I got at MEC in 2016 when I had to re-buy a bunch of gear that got stolen in San Francisco.
  • Shirt: My lucky “chill cat” tank top, which I also wore for my previous race. It’s cotton, not technical material, so on a hotter day or a longer race it might have been the wrong call, but Tandye bought it for me years ago and it’s imbued with powerful good vibes.
  • Pack: Salomon Agile 6. Light, convenient, comfortable. Packed with a first aid and survival kit, a warmer shirt, a Quest bar, and soft flask water bottles in the straps.
  • Watch: Apple Watch Series 3. I use the built-in Workout app to record, and the excellent HealthFit app to export that data to Strava.
  • Music and photos: my iPhone 7 and AirPods. This is the first race I have ever run where my phone’s music app or the bluetooth connection didn’t screw up somehow.
  • Other gear: a cheap pair of sunglasses that I only needed for the last few miles, and my lucky Endur glitch hat.

I also had a gear bag with my pre-race sweater, a post-race change of clothes, a Quest bar, a book, and my car keys. I left this at registration and picked it up at the finish.

Nutrition

I had a toasted bagel with peanut butter and a coffee on the drive to the ferry, another coffee on the ferry, and a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie right before the race. On the trail I ate three Gu energy chews and drank only water, and at the three aid stations I had a handful of potato chips, chocolate milk, part of an energy bar, and more water. I had no stomach problems during the race but I felt pretty sick afterwards, probably from not eating enough. I tried to make up for it with another cookie and a Coke at the finish area, and later on the best ice cream cone of my life, but my guts felt unsettled whenever I stood up through the rest of the day.

Music

Logistics & Organization

This was a low-tech race which made the logistics refreshingly simple. The start line and finish line were banners. Timing was done via stopwatch so there were no bib chips or timing mats. Gear check was a line of bags next to the registration desk that magically appeared at the finish line. All of this was set up and executed with cheerful proficiency.

Cars and pedestrians on the deck of a ferry. A ramp is halfway lowered. A sign on top of the ramp supports reads 'Snug Cove, Bowen Island'
Foot passengers, including some fellow racers, wait to leave the ferry in Snug Cove.

This was the smallest race I’d ever been a part of (there were around 100 registered runners) but it was still a lot of work to set up and run, and the people in charge were on top of their game. I got my bib at the registration table in seconds. The pre-race briefing was useful, although the guy describing the course markings made it sound as though there weren’t going to be many, and those that we found might be wrong (neither turned out to be true). I saw a mix-up where someone had accepted the wrong bib right before the race started, and within moments, the organizers had straightened it out and both runners were good to go. That wouldn’t have been possible with a larger race or less competent organizers.

The volunteers were incredible, too. There were many locals, but quite a few came from off-island. It was a fun experience to be 10 miles out in the bush and recognize a face from the ferry ride earlier that day. Course marshals and aid station workers were all cheerful, well-informed, and fully engaged with every runner who came by.

The Course

The Handloggers Half is a 12.6 mile (sorry, it won’t quite knock out that September Strava half marathon challenge) counterclockwise loop around Mount Gardner, with over 1,300 feet of elevation gain. This course has everything from paved roads to wide groomed trails to brush-choked single-track to loose stones, both uphill and downhill. There are many fantastic runnable stretches, but be prepared to shift gears a lot as you adapt to the wide variety of terrain out there on Gardner’s western side.

The elevation profile for the Handloggers Half.

Start – Mile 3: Mellow Park

Relatively flat, with lots of wide, groomed trails in Crippen Park. The bridges and scenery were beautiful. Directions were clearly marked with flour arrows and pin flags, and marshals were posted at the point where the “out” segment intersects with the “in” segment. The majority of the road-running in this race happens here, but there were a few rocky, rooty sections too – one of which I rolled my left ankle on, just before getting up onto Bowen Pit Road, where the Big Hill starts.

We all started the race in a pack, but by the end of this segment, we were pretty spread out. The hardcore runners were already gone, charging up the hill. I stayed in the back of the middle, comfortable that I’d found a pace that matched my strategy of taking things easily, but seriously.

Mile 3 – 6: Big Hill, Bad Ankle

Most of the course’s uphill happens in a 1.6 mile grind that starts around mile 3.1, after which you might assume the rest of your morning will be an easy downhill coast. That’s what I planned for, and I was wrong to such a grave extent that it almost ended my race early.

Bowen Pit Road turns into a trail around mile 3.4, which is where the first aid station was. I don’t remember much about that station, other than there being a lot of camping chairs, parked vehicles, and enthusiastic spectators and volunteers. I had some water but kept moving – I knew I had another 1.3 miles to go on the Big Hill, and I didn’t want to lose any momentum.

The trails in this section – Skid and the eponymous Handlogger – are steep but navigable, with sandy/gravelly patches and a few flat sections long enough to let the power hikers catch their breath without having to stop. It’s more like the Grouse Grind than its wilder sibling the BCMC trail, but half as steep. I passed a few people but didn’t push hard. My left ankle was bugging me a bit but I thought little of it.

Once I got to the top of the hill, around mile 4.7, I started running again, and I immediately rolled my hurt ankle twice more within a quarter mile. Overconfidence and exhaustion let me get sloppy, and I wasn’t prepared for how rough the trail was up there at the top. I encountered lots of single track with roots, rocks, hills and dips just significant enough to break my rhythm.

This is where things started to go very wrong for me. I was sure I had trashed my left ankle to the extent that I didn’t know if I could continue. The pain was the worst I’ve felt on any run, stabbing me right through the top of my foot and my ankle any time my foot flexed upwards. I was too trapped in my head to notice much about my surroundings, which is a shame – I have a vague recollection of the ocean being visible far away down the slope to my right, and rich red earth that was beautiful when it wasn’t sending roots up to further mangle my ankle. I kept moving, having found a way to keep my left toe pointed in a way that wrecked my form, but that mostly prevented more pain.

Mile 6 – 8: Nightmare Zone

I hobbled along for a while, trying to run through the pain, stopping every few minutes through the last mile of this segment to stretch and calm myself. I felt panicky, and very stuck in my head. Every time I started to feel like I was back in control, a new surprise popped up, the worst of which came somewhere near the end of mile 6 – a quarter mile of what I can only describe as a downhill chute of loose river rocks. I caught up to another woman picking her way down this nightmare, and we agreed that we’d preferred the earlier uphill slog to this.

Steady progress and a change of music around mile 7 helped my panic wear off, but I resigned myself to the idea of dropping from the race if I wasn’t feeling better by the time I reached the next aid station.

Thing started to turn around when I came down a hill and found a cell phone and a bluetooth speaker set up at the base of a tree, blasting dancehall music. I knew from the distance on my watch that it belonged to aid station two, at mile 7.5, but it was still out of sight, further down the hill and around a corner. There was only this surreal party beacon in the wilderness. I think I smiled for the first time since the start of the race and made my way down the hill.

Aid station two saved my race. I had water, a handful of chips, a part of a protein bar, and chatted with the crew and a few other runners who came and went. The simple fact that I had to stand still for a few minutes and not run on my ankle surely helped me recover, but what really made the difference was the crew there. There were two or three people. I was too addled to properly recall. I do remember a man and a woman, both positively effervescent, working hard to ensure that everyone who came through left in better shape, mentally and physically, than they’d been in when they arrived. It worked on me too. I spent maybe three minutes there, and I left with a clear head, rejuvenated legs, a compliant ankle, and no doubt in my mind that I was going to finish.

Mile 8 – Mile 10: Euphoria

A single track dirt path leads up a hill between ferns and trees
Ferns and a friendly hill at mile 9

I headed downhill onto Mid Island Trail, which is a nearly straight shot to Grafton Lake. It was here that I got into the state of mind I have only ever experienced during long trail runs, when I am by myself, my mind is clear, and everything is working well.

I wasn’t hungry or thirsty. My legs were a little tight but my ankle was silent, and I settled into a more natural running form that sustained my most consistent pace of the morning. It was like a kind of moving meditation. The drone-y, ambient wash of Loscil’s generative music app Adrift propelled me over rolling hills of packed earth or fresh finely-crushed stone. Trees that had fallen across the trail years ago had rotted into the ground and then been dug up into fresh red mulch again by the pounding of dozens of feet. I passed the weird and deeply incongruous “Pit“, a dusty crater filled with Mad Max style rusted cars and busses that the trail skirts briefly before climbing up a ridge and back down into a stand of deciduous trees. Grafton Lake twinkled on the right, looking much larger than it actually was under the sunlight that was breaking through the clouds.

A gravel path winds between trees. To the left, down a steep hillside, a lake can be seen
Grafton Lake at mile 9.7

Experiences like this two-mile stretch are why I don’t think I can go back to road running as my main outdoor/fitness thing. This is what I’m in search of, and it has to be earned.

Mile 10 – Finish: the Hairpin, the Bandit and the Causeway

Mile 10 starts on the eastern side of Grafton Lake with an uphill hairpin out-and-back diversion. Because there are no timing mats or other methods of electronically verifying that you ran all the way to the end before turning around, there are marshals posted at either side. The one at the end of the diversion gives you a verbal password that you must repeat to the one back at the main trail. It was a neat little bit of human contact after several blissed-out miles, but I do wish they had extended the diversion all the way down to Grafton Road – that might have added on the extra half a mile this race needs to qualify as a definitive half marathon.

At mile 10.5 I emerged from the woods to find the final aid station back on the cusp of civilization. It seemed to be in someone’s front yard, and was staffed by a woman and a black dog who was happily licking a flour arrow off the ground.

I arrived slightly behind a guy in red shorts that I’d seen earlier in the race. We’d swapped spaces a few times during the Nightmare Zone but he’d pulled ahead by the time I got back into the groove. Now here he was again, and despite us not having exchanged a single word I was glad to see him, at least until the aid station lady asked if he had a bib number so she could check him in, and he admitted that he wasn’t registered. Some family member had been meant to do it, he said, but hadn’t for some reason or the other. I left immediately, determined to crush the remaining miles. I had been through a lot, I was feeling good, and I would be damned if I let a bandit finish ahead of me.

After a brief excursion on the paved Green and Mt Gardner roads – crewed by volunteers, some of whom I recognized from the ferry, and all of whom were still cheerful despite having been out there for over two and a half hours – the course led back into Crippen Park. I had a painful 30 seconds where debilitating cramps froze up my left leg, the muscles of which had depleted more quickly than my right thanks to my ankle-preserving gait earlier in the race. I stepped to the side of the trail and massaged it back into life, imagining it like a left AirPod that had somehow used more of its battery than its righthand sibling. Luckily the cramp dissipated, and I got moving again, passing park visitors who were bemused but very supportive of the exhausted runners on their final push.

The last half a mile followed Melmore Road down to the causeway so prominently featured in the Handlogger’s promotional materials. I saw more people on this last little bit of road than at any point since the start of the race. There were pedestrians, volunteers, locals in their driveways, and finishers with their bibs still on, laden with canned drinks and food and looking exhausted but happy. Every person I encountered made eye contact and smiled, waved, or cheered me on, from the road where I was technically impeding traffic to the finish line where I was maybe the 60th or 70th person coming in. I might as well have been in first place – everyone was that excited. It was hard not to finish strong with that kind of support.

This was my thirteenth race finish, and the most exhilarating by far. I was amazed to be finishing over 10 minutes faster than my 3-hour goal time, especially considering the minutes I’d burned dealing with my ankle, but the vibe of the finish line crowd is what truly elevated the experience.

Post-Race

Your pal Angela, wearing a hat and sunglasses, sweaty and exhausted, smiling at the camera. Blue sky and the Pacific Ocean are visible behind her
Angela looking sweaty and stubbly somewhere on the slide from “euphoria” to “uh oh, my stomach”

The finish area was hopping with volunteers, runner and families, and the atmosphere was like a small community festival. Within moments of finishing, the euphoria wore off and the collective effort of the race landed on me like a thousand pounds of wet laundry. I started feeling sick to my stomach in a “you didn’t eat anywhere near enough calories” sort of way, so I collected my gear bag, grabbed a drink and some food from the positively stacked snack tables, and sat down to recover and send Tandye a “hey I survived” message and photo.

I usually like to chill on my own for a few minutes after a race, but a fellow runner I recognized from the ferry and the pre-race chat on the wharf was there and I was glad to see him. We talked about our runs, commiserated over injuries, and marvelled over some of the amazing finishing times we’d heard about. I didn’t catch his name, and my nausea kicked into high gear shortly thereafter so I left before the awards were handed out at noon, but he works at a running shop near my home, so I should go say hi.

I crossed the finish line shortly before noon, which left plenty of time to catch the 1:10 ferry back to Horseshoe Bay. Thankfully my stomach had recovered enough for me to go enjoy that amazing ice cream at Branch & Butter before I boarded.

I napped on the ferry deck in the sun for about 10 minutes before we got underway, and it was an all-time incredible snooze.

Conclusions

The Handloggers Half is not a full half marathon, but it is the hardest race I’ve ever run, even judged against my two full marathons. It is not a race for beginners, and if you think you can skate by on luck and endurance alone, you will find yourself in pain or worse, but if you pay attention to your body and your surroundings, you can finish strong.

I wanted an experience that would show me new things about my body, my endurance, and the world, and I received all that in abundance. There were some real lows caused by my lack of downhill preparation, but the beautiful, unforgiving course, the periods of absolute euphoria, and the amazing organizers and volunteers made this a peak experience. I don’t know what other trail races might be in my future – I have some commitments to meet before I even dare consider the DV50 – but I will absolutely be coming back to Bowen for the Handloggers Half next year.

My sincere thanks to the organizers, the volunteers, and my fellow runners for an amazing experience!

August 27, 2018

I started building web sites as a teenager. In 1998 I started using the family’s Macintosh LC475 to mush together <font> tags and image maps, and a 33.6 modem to put the results on Geocities and Angelfire. I was obsessed. It was probably the only thing I did on that computer more than play Marathon. I even snuck on in the dead of night to work on my Nine Inch Nails lyrics site during a two-month period when I was grounded.

After high school I was accepted into one of the only colleges in western Canada at the time that taught web design as a visual art rather than a technical discipline. In September 2000 I hopped in my Micra and drove off to the campus in the mountains with Zeldman-sized dreams in my head.

I loved building web sites for two reasons. The first was because at the end of the 20th century, any work on the platform had a high level of legitimacy by default. If you could write rudimentary HTML, you could appear every bit as professional as a major media outlet or corporation, and you didn’t need to know how to kern a font, set registration marks, or record a musical instrument. The web was an egalitarian place where the value of your work was gauged by your smarts and dedication, not your marketing budget. This stemmed from most of the web’s users being nerds, and the impossibility of skating by on flashy looks. Everyone’s computers had 4MB of video RAM and a JPEG took 45 seconds to download.

The other reason I wanted to build web sites was because I wanted to make a metric fuck-ton of money, really quickly. I’d gotten it into my head that working on the web was a quick way to earn the tens of thousands of dollars it would cost to go to school to make monster suits for Hollywood films.

I’d grown up in the 1980s and 1990s falling in love with practically-created monsters, like the werewolf in Silver Bullet and the titular alien hunter in Predator. Computers were amazing, but all I really wanted to do was make (and wear) monster suits like those that Rick Baker and Stan Winston’s shops were creating. I was sure that slinging HTML was a license to print money, and the tech-culture zeitgeist at the time reinforced this belief. I was going to save up the $45,000 tuition for the creature effects school I’d found in Toronto, I was going to throw my Dreamweaver 4.0 CD in the trash, and start slinging foam latex instead. I’d learn how to turn people into aliens and nightmare creatures! My unyielding attention to detail would make me a phenom! By the mid-2000s I would return to Vancouver to take up my rightful place with the monster-makers who worked on The X-Files and The Outer Limits.

None of that worked out. Instead, 9/11 happened, the tech bubble popped, and when I got out of college, I found that none of the creative agencies in Vancouver were hiring. With no experience and no networking skills, freelance work was nearly non-existent – at least it was for me, for whom the basics had come easily, and who presumed that everything else would be just as easy.

As the months turned into a year and then two years, and no web work or corresponding fortune materialized, my dreams of making monsters evaporated. By 2004, depressed and failing to make ends meet, the notion of doing anything creative as a means to support myself – let alone something as exotic and specialized as creature effects – was the furthest thing from my mind (other than exercise or proper socialization).

My werewolf mask, designed and fabricated by Tim Peirson.

Then a series of remarkable things happened. I met a lady on the Internet. I wooed her with my writing and a very cool film-quality werewolf mask I had recklessly purchased during a brief period of financial solvency. We fell in love. She moved to Canada to live with me, her nerdy would-be werewolf, despite that werewolf’s lack of resources or prospects, and six months later we were married.

That was thirteen years ago. So many things have happened in that time, and virtually every one of the good things can be credited in some way, small or large, to that woman, Tandye Rowe. I could write so much about her. I will, in fact, and she will be very shy about it, which I understand, but when you encounter magic, I think you are obliged to share word of the resultant miracles. I will just have to hope she forgives me.

The specific magic I want to tell you about now – the magic that started me writing this post – stems from her utter refusal to allow her circumstances to dictate what she does.

Tandye is creative. She’s a brilliant illustrator and a baker / cake decorator so gifted that she’d make Zumbo lose his mind. She’s been to art school twice and left both times because she knew more than her teachers. She can’t cut a straight line with scissors to save her life, but she wields a glue gun and paint like a Renaissance master raised on a diet of 1980s cartoons and Etsy crafts. Her enthusiasm, her skill, her “Lisa Frank versus Tim Burton” aesthetic, and her generosity have produced so many delightful works of art – some of which were edible, some of which have made neighbourhood kids cry during trick-or-treating. In the five hours between my bed time and my alarm in the morning, she’ll make two dozen life-like eyeball cake pops or take a drawing from a sketch to a coloured hi-resolution character reference. If she wants to draw something, paint something, or make something, she learns what she needs, and then she does it, no matter what.

What all of these works have in common (other than their progenitor) is their spur-of-the-moment genesis. There are consistent themes in Tandye’s work, but no grand plan, or years-long scheme. She works with what is available, or readily obtainable through an afternoon shopping trip to the local art store or supermarket. There are no excuses, no maybe-laters or passions shelved, because making these things is what Tandye does. It is a kind of magic that is every bit as vibrant and surprising now as it was when I first saw her art online in 2004 and thought “huh, I should post a comment on that.”

As you can imagine, this is an amazing thing to experience in a partner, or to be around at all. But the point of this post, which I promise I did have in mind when I started writing it an hour ago, was this: now Tandye is making monsters.

She’s always been interested in monster masks and creatures. It’s one of the things that brought us together, and the desire to make werewolf gloves and demon clown costumes in our garage has come up frequently enough that my own dreams in this realm have resurfaced. It still seemed desperately improbable as a thing for me to do – my web-based vocation pivoted from “designer” to “developer” in 2008 and blossomed into an extremely satisfying career – but it was there again, under the guise of “wouldn’t it be nice to have the time one day”. This kind of deferment is not Tandye’s style, though, and this summer she undertook with characteristic casual ease what I’d long dreamed of doing but never dared to actually fucking do: learning the craft of practical creature effects.

Tandye’s first-ever sculpture in WED clay, depicting her original character design.

One month ago she signed up for two concurrent classes at a local FX shop that cost less than half of what I paid for that werewolf mask in 2004. Her character for the mask-making portion of the class is a scary clown made of melting ice cream, and her first-time sculpture effort is so far ahead of the class that (and this just my interpretation, fellow classmates) the instructor has kind of run out of things for her to do. She’s learning techniques from watching YouTube videos, and she’s practicing in our kitchen in the dead of night. She made the Silent Hill nurse mask pictured at the bottom of this post in a handful of hours with paper towel, water, flour and paint. In short, she’s doing exactly what I wanted to do 15 years ago, and she’s accomplishing it the way she gets everything else done – the way anyone gets anything done. She’s just rolling up her sleeves and doing it. There may be magic in her skill, but there’s no magic in the act of simply starting.

The mask you see at the top of this post a prototype. She started another one, today, applying some of the things she learned the first time around. The first few layers of newspaper and paper towel are drying on the head form right now, pasted on with a mixture of water, Mod Podge and flour. I have some of that mixture under my fingernails as I type this. You see, I volunteered to help her with this one, since it was a daytime project. This mask is still in the early stage, so my help was limited to dunking strips of paper into the glue mixture and smoothing them down, but it was a start. There’s talk of a third Silent Hill nurse mask, to be built on a cast of my own head in the weeks to come. I may even wear it as a performer in a haunted house this October. We’ll see.

I would like to try my hand at the sculpting and painting on that third mask. I owe it to myself to stop waiting.

July 12, 2018

I’m goal-oriented. Given a pursuit that requires measurable effort towards a clearly-defined milestone, I will attack like this web site’s titular beast. If I don’t have a race to train for, or a word count to hit, I’m lost.

To keep my running on track (and to keep reaping the benefits of happy brain chemicals, physical fitness, and being outdoors), I’ve signed up for at least three races per year for the past three years. The RUNVAN Hat Trick is a tidy way to manage that, but I’ve also thrown in the Eastside 10K and a few MEC races in the past. The combined effort of training for those races each year puts enough miles in the bank that by the autumn, I started looking at my cumulative mileage and thinking about setting my yearly goal at 1,000 miles. That’s roughly 20 miles per week – an average I feel comfortable with, factoring in high-volume training blocks and recovery periods, and considering I am a dedicated amateur with a partner she loves and a job that keeps her busy 50 hours a week.

In 2016 and 2017, I managed to cross the 1,000 mile line by the last week of December. Both times, I needed to fit in a few extra runs between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, but I wasn’t scrambling. This spring, feeling the effects of HRT (to be documented in a future post), I set that 1,000 mile goal in Strava with more than a little pessimism.

I started the year strong, but by March I had to admit my stamina was gone. My pace had slowed by roughly a minute per mile. I was struggling to reach 20 miles in a week, let alone the 35 or 40 I needed for my marathon training. I dropped from the 26.2 to the 13.1 for my May BMO race, and that decision coming in the middle of the training block meant taking a lot of long runs off the board.

This was expected, I told myself. MTF trans athletes all experience a drop in output as the testosterone blockers melt away their “bonus muscle”. That’s what I’ve been calling the muscle that people born with male bodies get for free once puberty hits, and their body starts exhibiting all kinds of wild (and, in the case of pre-transition trans women, almost entirely unwanted) changes. If you live for several decades in a body soaked with testosterone, you’ve got bonus muscle, even if you’ve never jogged a mile or lifted a weight in your life. Cut the testosterone, and that muscle goes with it, leaving you with a higher body fat percentage and reduced stamina.

Killian by Alex Schlitz

I knew this was coming. I started HRT in November 2017, and for the six months leading up to that, I interspersed my running with whole-body weight routines that would put muscle in the bank. I certainly never got to Killian levels of bulk, but I felt stronger than ever, and in combination with speed training, I set at least one PR that I’m unlikely to best anytime soon.

By March 2018 my body fat had gone from 15% to 18%, and I had never felt so listless. That extra fat was causing physical changes that I loved in the mirror, but the same dumbbells I’d been lifting in November felt twice as heavy. Running was a chore that rewarded me with an alarming downward trend on my Strava route pace graphs, and the lead I had on my 1,000 mile goal was shrinking by the day, dipping into single digits as I struggled to complete my long runs. I consigned myself to running the BMO Half Marathon as a fun run rather than a challenge. Being unsure of anything other than the likelihood of my HRT serving me more of the same for the next 24 to 30 months, I didn’t sign up for any more races.

Then, at the beginning of April, something happened that changed everything: The 2018 Barkley Marathons, and my introduction to one of its runners: Jamil Coury. He had been permitted by the race’s director to film and post a small portion of his Barkley attempt, and those led me to his stunning video of his 2017 Hard Rock 100 ultramarathon race.

In April, and for my entire (very short) career as a runner up to that point, I had been a die-hard pavement pounder. Now, here in July – for reasons that I will explore in a future post because this one’s already too long – I’m in love with trail running. Single-track, downhill technicals, the endless woods and rocks and roots, the seemingly-endless “vert” here in the Vancouver area. Suffice it to say, what I sought to gain from running changed.

Now every mile is about how much I can enjoy it, not how fast I can run it. For the first time, I met (and ran with) other runners in the community. I took classes to learn about the suggested gear, the right form, and how not to eat it on a downhill run. I signed up for my first trail race, the Handloggers Half Marathon, and while it’s given me something to train for again, my goal is not to finish it in any particular time, but merely to finish it strong.

I finished May’s BMO Half Marathon strong, too, wearing my road shoes and a hydration pack from my trail gear. I treated it like a long run instead of a race, and had more fun running than any other run in the year up to that point.

The Handloggers Half is in September. I’m five weeks into training. I’m getting faster. Testosterone or not, I’m putting on muscle, and I’m only lifting weights one day a week. As of today, I’m on pace to run 1,200 miles this year.

I’m not lost anymore. I’m on the trail.

May 8, 2018

I’m happy with Sunday’s race. The weather, the course, the volunteers and the other racers all made for a great morning, even if my result wasn’t anything special (in relation to what my goal would have been if I’d actually been training for a half). I’m thrilled with this photo, though – it was well worth the $24.95 I paid for it just to get an event photo of myself where I don’t look like I’m stoned, miserable, or made of melting plasticine!

May 4, 2018

I’m running a road half-marathon this weekend and the anticipation is bittersweet.

In 2016 and 2017, I ran the full marathon distance for this race. This year, I gave myself permission to scale back my training and aim for the half, instead. I changed my registered distance and dropped my weekly training distance from 65km to 43km. I’ve benefited mentally from the extra rest, and it’ll be fun to run a slightly different route this year. I have to remind myself that this was a conscious choice and that it’s been good for me (and my relationships, and my work). The full 42.2km will still be there next year!

This will also be my last race under the classification of “male” and the designation of my old name. I could have changed that information with the race organizers – they make it quite easy – but it would have required providing documentation that I’ve already surrendered as part of the process of updating my details elsewhere. It feels strange, but I mind way less than I thought I would. Right now I don’t ever feel like I’ll use the term “deadname” to refer to my old identity. It’s who I was, and that informed who I am now. Having my old name on the back of my bib is a reminder of the work I’ve done to be comfortable in this body – work I began before I ever dreamed I might ever have a different name on my ID.