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.
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.