21. November 2014 by swissfitchick
Hi everyone! To introduce myself, I’m Jon, from Vancouver, Canada, and I’m happy to have been asked by Lucie to write a guest post for her blog. For those of you who follow this blog regularly, I’ve actually appeared in these pages before – not as an author, but in the photos and stories about a year and a half ago when my girlfriend Jennifer and I met up with Lucie for a Boston vacation. We had a blast!
(L: We did. It was the perfect Summer Holiday at Cape Cod – and we got hammered too with shit tons of Vodka :-))
For this post, I’d like to talk about the fitness journey I’ve been on over the past couple years, and especially about one race in particular – the Knee Knackering North Shore Trail Run, a 50km ultra marathon which for the past 25 years has taken place on Vancouver’s North Shore in July. What would possess someone like me to try such a thing? Insanity probably…and a desire to test the limits of what I’m capable of.
I’ve always been a pretty good runner, but until the past couple years I’d never run much more than 10km at once, and I only went out running maybe a few times a month. But then I read the book Born to Run, which inspired me to start running more regularly and to increase my distances (that book also got me on board the minimalist footwear movement, of which I’m now a dedicated supporter). Right from reading that book though, I knew that simply jogging for fitness wasn’t going to cut it anymore – deep down inside, some sick and twisted part of me wanted to see just how far I could push myself, to find out whether I could finish a race like some of the crazy ones described in the book. That led me to discover the Knee Knacker, and from that moment I knew…one day I would complete that race. The idea of actually running 50km in one shot though still seemed like a faraway goal, something I might do “someday” but certainly not in the near future.
The next big step came last November, when my girlfriend Jennifer and I signed up for the Whidbey Island Half Marathon in Washington State. Suddenly I had a realistic training goal, which proved huge for motivating myself to run regularly. We put together a training schedule and taped it on our fridge so that every day, we would know exactly how far and how fast we would have to run without having to think about it, and we stuck to that schedule religiously for the four months leading up to the race in April 2014.
Jen and I pre-race.
L to R: Jen’s brother, Jen and I after the Whidbey Island Half-Marathon
Sometime around February, I wandered over to the Knee Knacker website and discovered that registration for the race entry lottery deadline was coming up at the end of the month (they always get more registrants than available participant spots, so entry is by a lottery system). Training for the half marathon was going well, so I thought to myself, why not sign up and see what happens? I figured chances were slim that I would have my name picked anyway. My name ended up being drawn of course, and suddenly the half marathon was looking like just a short training race for the much bigger ordeal coming up in the summer.
The half marathon came and went, and we did awesome! In fact we were high on our success and decided to sign up for a full marathon in October. Not long after though, Jen suffered a running injury, so I was training on my own. And what a difference that made – suddenly it was a lot harder to get out for runs and to stick to a schedule. By the end of June, I found myself heading into race week never having run more than about 30km in one go. Whatever, I figured – as long as I finish, I’ll be happy, and I figured I could push through it and get to the end. No big deal.
So how was it? It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life! The Knee Knacker is one hell of a race. It begins with a 2400-metre steep climb up a mountainside, heads into a long descent back down to near sea level, then goes through two more climbs and descents before reaching the finish, almost entirely on mountain trails that can get pretty rough. On top of that, the weather on race day was over 30ºC and humid. I was feeling great through the first half, up to my comfortable half-marathon distance, but after that things started going downhill. Kilometres 22-28 were pretty tough, and then exhaustion and dehydration began to set in. Kilometres 28-35 were absolutely terrible. The course through that section was brutally rough with logs, roots and rocks, and the trail angled constantly uphill. It took an immense amount of willpower just to put one foot in front of the other, and I really wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to continue for much longer.
Some views from the mountains while running the Knee Knacker.
Me at the 15km mark of the Knee Knacker
At around the 35km mark though, my head started to clear and I started to get some of my energy back. Plus, at that distance, I could get my head around the distances I still needed to cover and put them in perspective. 15km left? No problem, that’s just like my training run along the beach, and that’s not so hard! 10km? A loop around Stanley Park! 5km? A short jog! And then before I knew it I was into the last kilometre, the crowds were cheering and then the finish line was in sight. And then I was done, 8 hours and 8 minutes after I’d started. I’d completed an ultramarathon, and it felt good. And also horrible beyond belief. But good.
Overall it was a great experience, full of ridiculous highs and terrible lows. Would I do it again? I’m not sure. At the finish line, I told my waiting friends to make sure I never ran that race again, because I knew, I KNEW, that soon I’d forget the pain and want to try again to see how much better I could do. At that moment at the finish line though, there was no part of me that ever wanted to go through that again. But sure enough, the next day, through the screaming agony of my aching muscles, there was that same old sick and twisted part of me deep down inside, urging me on. So I might. I’m not sure yet…but I might.
So I’ve taken away a few lessons from this which I would like to pass on – nothing earth-shattering here, and nothing you probably haven’t read somewhere else on the internet, but these are a few things which helped me tremendously in training for the half marathon and the Knee Knacker (and also the Victoria Marathon, which I ran in October – my first proper marathon!):
• Having a training goal is huge. Sign up for a race, plan a long hiking trip, just do something to give yourself an end goal where you will have to push yourself. It will do wonders for your motivation. Once you complete that goal, take a few days off, then set yourself another.
• Just as important as the goal is the training schedule. It was awesome having a printed schedule on the fridge in our kitchen – it would be one of the first things I saw when I woke up in the morning, so right away I knew what I had to accomplish that day. This got rid of the whole mental struggle that usually goes on when you don’t have a plan: “Do I really want to run today? Maybe I should just do it tomorrow…” Plus every day when we went running, we would cross that run off from the schedule, so we could see our progress.
• Having a training partner was great. Jen and I would convince each other to do our training runs when one of us was feeling unmotivated, and we could both share our successes and our difficulties. Even when our paces were quite different, we would at least plan to head out running at the same time. It became part of our routine together.
• Just do it! Your body is capable of some amazing things. This was the first time I’ve stuck to a training schedule like this, and once you get a little ways in, the progress comes fast and furious. If you feel like you’re not progressing, just give it a little time. I think the mix of having a reasonable (half-marathon) and a slightly crazy goal at the same time was really good as well – that way I could stay focused on training for something that I knew I could succeed at, while also still facing something that would really challenge me. If I’d just signed up for the Knee Knacker without the half marathon, I’m not sure I would have been able to complete it, as I think I probably would have decided it was unrealistic and lost my motivation.
• And finally – if you’re a semi-serious runner, check out the minimalist footwear thing. It changed me. Seriously.