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April 8, 2019

When: February 23rd, 2019

My results: 4:22:20 official, 4:22:29 Apple Watch + Strava

Three big climbs, three big downhill scrambles, the biggest snowflakes I’ve ever seen, and the best race I’ve run in yet.

Why This Race?

Run Ridge Run (RRR) is a Coast Mountain Trail Series race organized by the same folks as the Diez Vista 50k (DV50). Elaine Fung recommended the 25km course to me back in November as a good confidence-building preview race for the DV50, which I’m running tomorrow, and she was right on the money.

Training

This race came a little over halfway into my training for the DV50, so it didn’t get much special consideration of its own. I’d already covered much of the course on previous long runs, and I tackled its specific 25km route to fill in the gaps during my back-to-back long run weekend in January. In the weeks leading up to RRR I’d been struggling with a mild injury that had put the zap on my mental game a little bit, but I knew that if I could keep my legs moving and my head in check, my DV50 training would be more than enough to get me across the finish line.

One thing my training hadn’t prepared me for was the prospect of running on snowy, icy trails. Two weeks before race day, our warm and dry winter got buried under a surprising amount of snow. It clogged up the streets in the western Fraser Valley and absolutely buried the mountains. I stayed on the treadmill once the snow started piling up – which is what led to my hips and quads getting messed up – but when race week arrived, it was obvious that there would be no escaping the slippery stuff, so I managed to get some spikes two days before the race. In retrospect, I should have picked them up just to get familiar with them when the snow started. It would have kept me off the treadmill, too. It’s commonly-held wisdom that you don’t mess with your gear right before a race, but as luck would have it, a few short jogs around my neighbourhood and a 2km warm-up on race day were enough to get me comfortable running with traction on ice.

Getting There

The start line is on White Pine Beach at Sasamat Lake, northeast of Coquitlam. In the winter months, it’s only accessible by car. There’s a bus stop in the parking lot on the hill above the beach, but I’m pretty sure it only runs in the summer. I drove up early because I needed to pick up my bib and I wanted to avoid traffic. Despite a stop for coffee and the narrow twisty roads between Coquitlam and the beach, it only took me 45 minutes from Langley. I arrived a little after 7:00 am, and the parking lot volunteers directed me to a spot in the nearly-empty F lot right by the stairs down to the beach.

Gear

Other than the addition of my traction spikes, my race gear was exactly what I’d worn for every long run during DV50 training.

  • Shoes: Salomon Sense Rides straddling the border between “worn in” and “beat up”.
  • Traction: Kahtoola NANOspikes. Rock-solid and indispensable. I slipped them on for my warm-up and left them in place until I got back to my car post-race. Other than a few minor adjustments during the first 5km, during which my uphill strides were dragging snow into the toe-tips and causing them to sit weird, I didn’t have to fuss with them at all.
  • Upper body: the classic “chill cat” tank top – starting to get a little worn out – underneath a fitted MEC Stride jacket. I’ve learned from experience that this is a good amount of layering for near-freezing conditions. I also had on a pair of the cheap blue gloves they give out at the BMO Marathon expo.
  • Lower body: generic black MEC running pants and black Endur socks (which came in the swag bag from last year’s Fall Classic)
  • Backpack: my Salomon Agile 6 with the usual gear – mini first aid kit, headlamp, battery pack and Lightning charge cable, a red toque, and three Hammer gels. Another two gels went in my pants pocket for consumption during the first half of the race.
  • Watch: this was my last race using an Apple Watch Series 3. I’d been thinking about replacing it ever since it failed to record GPS track points for the second half of a long run, and the guys at the Suunto tent before the race gave me some compelling reasons (not the least of which was a nice discount) on a Suunto 9. During this race, the Apple Watch performed just fine.
  • Music and photos: I had my iPhone 7 and some wired earbuds with me, but I didn’t listen to any music on this race, and I only took the phone out for some photos once the snow situation got too wild to resist.
  • Other gear: my now-discontinued Endur glitch hat (a Google search for it just leads to my own web site now) and a pair of prescription eyeglasses (good depth perception was essential for navigating the white-on-white trail snowpack).

Nutrition

I abandoned the low-carb thing back in December, not yet having reached the level of fat-adaption needed to sustain a 4- or 5-hour long run without bonking. That allowed me to enjoy a multigrain bagel with Fatso peanut butter roughly two hours before the race. I stopped at our local Starbucks right after leaving the house, and after learning where I was headed, the ladies there gave me a free venti Americano with some positivity written on the side.

There are no restrooms anywhere on the course, so I took advantage of my early arrival at White Pine Beach to ensure I wouldn’t need one during the race. Enough said.

After some trial and error in December, I settled on Hammer gels as my go-to running fuel. They’re not too sweet, I’m not sick of the four flavours I rotate through (hazelnut chocolate, vanilla, blackberry, and raspberry), my stomach doesn’t mind them, and most importantly, they really do sustain me. I brought five of them, although I only planned to eat four, figuring I could keep the last one as a reserve in case I really needed it. I wound up eating only three, one every 45 minutes after the race started – the other two I gave to a fellow racer who was bonking hard on Lakeview Trail. I didn’t catch his name or bib number, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d dropped at the race’s only aid station at KM 18 – he looked rough, and I was glad I had the gels to give him. I filled in the missing calories at the aid station with a bit of Coke, a handful of potato chips, and a soft flask refilled with an electrolyte drink.

I’m very happy with how my nutrition played out during the race, even with the missed gels. I felt energized throughout almost the entire run, despite the increased caloric burn that came from slogging through the snow, and I was merely famished at the finish line, rather than cataclysmically starving.

Music

This is the first race where I didn’t listen to anything at all. I didn’t even get my earbuds out of my pack. Something about the day precluded my desire to isolate myself from the larger world during the race. In previous events, my tendency has been to retreat into a mental tunnel, separated from the other runners, the spectators, and my own aches and pains by a wall built out of effort and music. The character of this race – imparted largely by the organizers and the other participants – was such that it felt wonderful to be present in the moment, to smile at and share a brief word with other runners, to thank the many course marshals, to bask in the oddly communal sense springing from the knowledge that the entire mountainous spur between Indian Arm and Buntzen Lake was alive with delighted, striving nutcases just like me.

So, yeah, no music.

Logistics & Organization

Thank you, CMTS and Bridge Brewing, for introducing me to the only beer I actually like!

The Coast Mountain Trail Series folks have set the bar incredibly high for all future races. The volunteers and set up at the start/finish line were organized, happy, and efficient. I had my bib and was pawing through the generous swag bag (containing, among other things, a can of Bridge Brewing Prime Time beer and matching beer glass) just minutes after the check-in tent opened. There was a snack tent handing out hot coffee and letting folks take shelter from the steady blanket of sleet that would later turn to snow. The start line was clearly marked – it’s hard to miss the big black inflatable Salomon archway – and a 15-minute delay for the start of both the 13k and 25k races (owing to the pre-runners being extra-cautious, I believe) was announced clearly and repeatedly on a loudspeaker. I’ve come to expect some amount of confusion and general milling about before a race, but the vibe before RRR was pure excitement.

Race Director Gary Robbins provided a comprehensive safety briefing right before the race started, including a visual glossary of course markings, and an easy-to-remember rule for knowing which route to take once the 13k and 25k routes diverged (“if you’re doing the long course, you always go left and uphill.” Gee, thanks, Gary). The entire course was superbly marked, with an abundance of bright pink pin flags and ribbons, plus signs to show which trails to take and which to avoid.

Worth a special mention are the course marshals, those brave and hardy souls who post up around tricky sections of the course to provide direction and encouragement to the runners. I lost count of how many marshal points this race had, but I was grateful for each one, particularly those that were way up on the Diez Vistas trail, in places that must have taken an hour or more of solid hiking in winter conditions to reach. They were full of cheer and provided valuable updates on the trail conditions ahead.

The Course

Runners make their way up the icy Sugar Mountain trail as snow starts to fall

KM 0 – KM 6: Sugar Mountain Shuffle

Both of RRR’s courses and the DV50 course follow almost the exact same trails for the first 6km, circling counter-clockwise around Sasamat Lake before climbing a forest service road east to Buntzen Ridge trail. This becomes Sugar Mountain trail before it reaches the crossroads where the 13k-ers go down and to the right, towards Buntzen Lake, while us gluttons for punishment follow Gary’s rule left and uphill onto the Diez Vistas trail.

I power-hiked up the forest service road a little more aggressively than I would have if the ground had been bare – there was enough fresh snow even at this point that a single two-foot wide path had been stomped into the route by the runners ahead, and we were all lined up single-file. I took every chance I got to crash ahead through the thicker snow on the shoulders, not specifically to gain spots over anyone else, but to stay true to the Roderick on the Line adage “keep moving and get out of the way”. I hate feeling like I’m impeding anyone! I ate a gel right before the water station at the Diez Vista branch-off and tried to keep things slow and steady as I prepared for an hour or two of tough climbing.

KM 7 – KM 11: Diez Vistas Snow Dream

The Diez Vistas trail is a rugged wilderness trek with uphill and downhill sections that are gruelling under the best of conditions. Under a shroud of increasingly heavy snow, with six inches underfoot and snowflakes the size of loonies getting lodged in my glasses, it was positively otherworldly. The chain-gang slog up Sugar Mountain trail became a kind of momentum-based train, all runners in single file, lining up patiently during the initial climb to the high point of the ridge. I was in a group of maybe a dozen runners all pulling ourselves up by root and rock, nose to ankle, through a vertical world of accumulating snow and black tree trunks. I felt no impatience here, despite my earlier efforts to get ahead where I could. Far from impeding me, this train of wordlessly panting runners propelled me up the toughest climb of the race at a pace that I have yet to match today.

At the top of the ridge we spread out, and I drifted, nearly solitary, into one of the most surreal experiences of my life. The heaviest snow I’ve ever seen was piling up fast, rounding the edges of the narrow track carved by the runners ahead of me. At this point on the ridge the long upward climbs are over, and the course becomes relatively runnable if you know which line to follow through the clearings and wider areas. In bare conditions on training runs, I’ve had to rely on my inexperienced reckoning to find the best path through these variable regions, but during this race, I didn’t have to think about it at all. Everyone ahead of me had decided by collective agreement. I just ran, and looked at the snow, and ran, and marvelled.

The downhill scramble on the north end of the Diez Vistas trail was marked by a channel through the snow just as clear as the one on the ridge (plus abundant pin flags), but tackling them on autopilot would have been a quick route to a sprained ankle or a broken leg, even with the snow to cushion the fall. There were course marshals posted before the three steepest descents – so surreal and delightful to encounter a bright smiling face in the monochrome gloom – warning about the treacherous path ahead. Despite all this I took this last leg down to the lake at PR pace, only falling once and bouncing unharmed into a snowdrift.

A view of a power line cut (not a lake!) from near the southern end of Lakeview trail

KM 12 – KM 18: Lakeview, Forever

There are two delightfully cruel course transitions in this race, and the first is at the north end of Buntzen Lake, where you come down off the Diez Vistas with shaking quads and fried nerves and find yourself cruising south along the lake on relatively flat wide trails. Just as you get used to that steady pace and your legs start to forgive you for the punishment of the last 5km, oops, ha ha, up you go again, back onto the same ridge you just ran down. This time you don’t go all the way to the top, though. Lakeview trail traverses the ridge about a third of the way up, which is just high enough above the lake that the flatness of the lakeshore doesn’t apply, and the many creeks running down from above have dug themselves nice little gullies. The trail is wide enough and groomed enough that every step of the way I was thinking “I should be running this”, but between the constant elevation changes and the snow clinging to my feet and pushing boughs down into my face, it was a tough slog. I encountered more runners here than through the previous section, including the nameless bonker, and there were many wordless nods and pained glances of solidarity exchanged. This was the low point of the race for me. I wasn’t miserable, but I wasn’t having fun… at least, not until Lakeview suddenly dropped me down onto Buntzen Lake trail, right along the lake again. I remember saying “holy shit, I’m here already?” despite the weirdly timeless grind I’d just come out of.

From there to the aid station the course is a gravel and dirt road with a few slow rises but no big hills, covered during the race with less snow than what had been accumulating at the higher points on course, but enough to graze the foot with every stride. I caught up to another runner, a tall guy with earbuds in, and he startled with a laugh when he noticed me on his left. He took his earbuds out and we chatted for a bit while I scanned ahead for the aid station. He noticed my bib and with a surprised look asked if there was a race happening. It so happens he was on a training run and knew nothing of the race, having come around from the east side of Buntzen Lake on a course that would have only briefly intersected the race up near the entrance to Lakeview. I described RRR to him and he told me he was getting ready for DV50. I told him I’d see him there and wished him well as we arrived at the aid station, whereupon he waved at the confused bib-registration marshal and turned eastward on the bridge over to the east side of the lake. As with the guy I gave my gels too, I didn’t get this fellow’s name, but I hope I see him at DV50.

KM 19 – KM 25: F U Gary, Oh Hi Gary

The aid station tent was at the intersection of the Buntzen Lake trail, the bridge, and the southern end of the Diez Vistas trail, which I’d be taking shortly. My recollection is hazy, but the volunteers were still in a party mode, despite having been out there for three hours at least. Someone filled one of my flasks with electrolyte drink while I snacked on chips and Coke, and then I was off. I was energized by the respite, the conversation with the fellow who’d been out training in heavy snow, and the knowledge that I was close to the finish. Taking into consideration the weather and my potentially problematic leg, I’d set myself an A-goal finish time of 4 hours 30 minutes, but I’d be happy coming in under 5 hours. I left the aid station with 3 hours and 23 elapsed since the start, and I felt like a 4:30 finish was within my grasp.

My optimism was tempered by the race’s second sucker punch course transition. Immediately upon leaving the aid station, you go straight up the start of the Diez Vistas trail that leads to the intersection with Sugar Mountain, a brutal 1.5km climb with an off-book nickname designed to make you cuss out the race director every time you say it. Taken with fresh legs, it would require a stout effort, but coming towards the end of the race as it does, it’s a sadistic test of how well you conserved your energy over the previous kilometres. I knew it was coming and plunged into it with the giddy fatalism of someone leaping out of a sauna and into an ice bath. In reality, was only about 20 minutes of power-hiking, but when I emerged at the top, back at the spot where the Diez Vistas turn-off and the water station had been hours before, I felt the entire accumulated effort of the race vibrating in my feet, quads, hips and lower back.

From this point, things are almost entirely downhill (in a good way), retracing the first 5km of the race in reverse. On the day, getting to the finish was just a matter of keeping my feet moving, tip-toeing down over a few loose rocky sections half-buried in pulverized snow, and coasting through runnable sections and switchback, the churned muddy ground like frozen brownie batter. Hearing the amplified voice down at Sasamat Lake announcing runners as they crossed the finish line inspired me to pick up the pace a little bit, giving me my fastest overall kilometre of the race. I sloshed my way through the slush on White Pine Beach – much whiter than it had been when I started – to claim a 4-hour, 22-minute finish.

The start and finish line at White Pine Beach on Sasamat Lake

Post-Race

Gary Robbins and I

Every CMTS race is directed by Gary Robbins, who gives hugs or high-fives to every person as they cross the finish line. I collected a solid hug from Gary, and after I caught my breath and perused the sushi at the food table (did I mention CMTS races have sushi at the finish line?), I went back to introduce myself to him properly. To my surprise, he recognized me, and we had a chat that began with me being utterly star-struck and concluded with me feeling like I had found – and been accepted into – an amazing community of runners. He asked me for a photo, which was wild, and I took one too.

By that point, the aches and pains of the race were catching up with me, and the wet and cold were settling into me, so I said my goodbyes and headed back to the car.

Conclusion

Run Ridge Run is a first-class race held by a first-class organization. Everything was carefully planned and executed with care, from the pre-race info email to the colour of the paper used for route signage to the array of food and drink at the aid station. Every volunteer was alert, cheerful, and engaged, and that energy transferred into the runners and set the whole race course ablaze with good vibes. In a setting like that, it’s no wonder I had an incredible time.

Despite the weather and the panic I’d been feeling over my sore and seizing legs, I put in a performance that I’m extremely proud of. My nutrition was on point, my pace was tuned to ensure that I didn’t flame out or leave anything in the tank, I beat my A-goal, I helped some folks, and made some friends. It literally does not get any better than that.

February 22, 2019

I have my first race of the year tomorrow. Run Ridge Run 25km is going to be a fun test of all my training so far, and also a great opportunity to see if I can keep my head on straight if my left quad or calf gives out.

Last week it snowed a lot down here by the river and even around downtown Vancouver, so I ran two longer workouts on our treadmill – 26km over two days, including hill repeats at 9° elevation. That was too much treadmill time for someone who hadn’t been on one in over a year, and I gave myself some pretty bad tensor fasciae latae problems. My incredible massage therapist Anton (book him, he’s worth the wait!) found space in his schedule to help me out, so now with 13 hours until go-time, I’m sitting here with rock tape on my leg, a spiky orange massage ball jammed into my hip, and a leg that works so much better than it has any right to. Lesson learned (again): if you change anything about your training routine, don’t make it drastic.

The irony is that now the course is under a bunch of snow anyway, and probably layers of ice under that, so I’ve got some Kahtoola NANOspikes for my shoes. I’d never used traction devices before today, but I tried them out on a very short run on the ice and snow around my home, and I was amazed at how effective they are. They aren’t going to make me reckless tomorrow, but I’m going to be able to tackle the upper Diez Vista trails with way more confidence.

I haven’t posted a lot here in the past few months for the same dumb reason I don’t post a lot on Werewolf-News.com: I psych myself out by imagining it’s going to take more to write something worthwhile than it actually does. Tandye has encouraged me to write more about the unique things I’ve seen and done on all my training runs around Buntzen and Sasamat Lakes, and I promise that for the remaining months of training between today and the Diez Vista 50km and BMO Marathon, I will. That’s one way I can turn this whole process into something that’s not quite so self-absorbed. I also have a much longer series of posts in the works regarding what it takes to change your legal name and gender marker in British Columbia, but that’s more meticulous work than simply taking 15 minutes to say: I’ve been training hard, it’s been challenging and wonderful, and no matter what happens out there tomorrow (yes, I’ll write a race report), I’m ready, I’m excited, and I’m going to have fun!

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!