The Meaning of “Terrain”

I am a road warrior, but my new coach wanted me on ‘terrain.’  I was lucky enough to procure a borrowed Garmin to capture my heart rate and I had a camel pack for water, but the good decisions ended there. I didn’t just pick ‘terrain’…I picked a trail that started at the most easterly point in North America.

Now, in my defense, I had a darned good reason for choosing Cape Spear to Maddox Cove on the East Coast Trail system. This trail happens to start not far from where my decision to run endurance races really took hold in my mind: the Cape to Cabot 20km road race. I was attached to both the location and the challenge, what could have been a better choice?

So, it would be in Cape Spear out among rolling hills and roaring winds, I would keep an eye to the rushing waves on my left and my feet on my first bit of terrain. I started out with a good pace, and honestly, this was mostly my desire to get warm. It is well known that Cape Spear is colder, windier, and damper than the rest of the Avalon Peninsula. I had on a long sleeve technical shirt and a light shell, no gloves but my fav running hat, and a pair of compression tights. As per coach’s direction, I was carrying about 20oz of water and had a fueling plan for the first time, which I monitored for time and amount. There were so many little details that were new to me, I don’t think I really gave myself enough time with the basics. I tried to keep an even pace, and I tried to just keep going with the intent of hitting an hour out and an hour back. All in all, the lessons I learned in those two hours of lonesome running are invaluable.

As such, here are the top 10 bits of advice I’d like to share with you:

1. You will have to pee. If you’re a guy, awesome, giv’r. If you’re a lady like me…DO NOT WEAR COMPRESSION TIGHTS. This will make the whole ordeal considerably worse.

2. You have not packed enough water. I know. You think you have and there is that whole mess with having to pee, but you haven’t. And, you need water in the car for afterwards, fyi.

3. Speaking of afterwards, bring dry socks and shoes. You can thank me later.

4. Speaking of shoes, don’t wear road shoes on a trail. They were not built for it and you will stub your toes, or worse, you will roll your ankle. I set out in a pair of Adidas EnergyBoost; I now run in Brooks Cascadia. The difference is worth the money.

5. If you are a road warrior like me, plan on being okay with running at a slower pace. There is a skill to running trails requiring you to constantly scan ahead, assess the trail, and make a plan. When you don’t make that plan, you get hurt. Fast. Slow down, run where appropriate and walk if you must. Just keep moving.

6. Bring fuel. In fact, take extra. Gels are not only awesome (and vegan and gluten free in some cases), they are lightweight and downright tasty if you bother to try a few types. Timing these little suckers can keep the energy dips at bay. I like Hammer Perpetuem’s Huckleberry, but that’s just me. Find one you like, and carry extra. (Remember that extra bit of water in the car, toss a banana or two in there as well. You’re welcome.)

7. Longer runs on trails means you need a back-up plan in case you get hurt or lost. Make sure someone knows where you are, how long you plan to be out, and within what time frame they can expect you to return. I did bring bandages with me, just in case, but I made certain to tell people where I was going. Sure I met people on the trail that could have helped, but you could run the whole distance without seeing a soul. Kayla was my person and she knew the trail well enough that she could navigate it and find me should I hurt myself. These people are invaluable. Shower them with cookies and love.

8. Water bounces. Weird, right? I know I already said take a bit more than you think you need, and more means more weight and more bouncing, but this is an important thing. If you are not comfortable on that run, you are setting out for a few hours of misery. Bouncing means the fabric below your water will rub. Rubbing means chafing. Chafing makes everyone unhappy. Additionally, if you wear a fuel belt, and the water bounces, you will have lovely bruises on your hips, or maybe that’s just me. In any case, the value of a well-fitting and properly-functioning water vest cannot be overstated. There is a reason endurance runners wear them. If you are running serious distance, invest in yourself and get the proper gear.

9. Terrain. The real meaning: rocks, roots, stumps, grass, mud, bog, gravel, boulders, rivers, tickles, moose poop, fields, forest, and logs. All of this I encountered during my run, and I was not mentally prepared for any of it. I have a road warrior’s mind and I see the destination distance over journey EVERY TIME. This attitude can mean relentlessly running towards a distance goal while forsaking how your body feels and what is around you (re: dangerous). I suggest working on abandoning this roadblock, and bring in an expert if you can (thanks, Lorne!).

10. Have fun. Take breaks. Realize it is a part of a much larger goal and enjoy it for what it is: training. I did not enjoy my first trail run. I ran with a disregard for the terrain, a lack of understanding of the importance of gear, and a mindset that kept me from enjoying the journey. I encourage you to avoid this attitude if at all possible.

I did run the same route a week later, with two other lovely folk (thanks Lorne and Karen!)  who made the trail an enjoyable place. Karen and Lorne

Maybe the secret #11 is to share the run with people who are as passionate about running as you are.

If you want to check out my run, follow this link to Strava where I’ve started tracking my training for Deer Lake 67.


It is but a Word

“But” is a powerful word. It holds on to just about every worrisome thought that floats through our heads. It hovers at the end of brilliant statements. It holds us back.

How many times have we felt that urge to run, open-armed and openhearted, into an idea that makes our hearts flutter and our mind explore only to come crashing down to earth with a single “but”? I don’t mean to oversimplify the case, there are certainly cases where we stop ourselves from embarking upon something that is potentially harmful. Yet, how many times have we stopped ourselves from really exploring the joy of an idea or impulse or gamble? How many times have we shuttered ourselves away from chasing our hearts and let “but”  rule our decisions?

Let yourself be silently drawn

by the strange pull of what you love.

It will not lead you astray.

 – Rumi –


Much Ado About Tempo

Last night the 10k group I coach locally had their first tempo run, and boy were they anxious. Typically, Wednesday nights are hill nights for this group. Now, I find hills to be a challenge (not looking forward to that tonight!) and I dread all their arrival all week long, so learning my group would rather run hill repeats than tackle the tempo was a bit of a shock. Even more shocking, they didn’t even know what the darned word meant.

Ever the teacher, I set out to chat about lactic acid build-up and retraining our bodies to push past limits and learn to burn up the acid and set a higher lactic threshold…jargon, words, blah. As I did my best to explain that tempo running was sustaining a faster than normal pace over a period of time or distance, I realized I was earning some very dubious looks and serious eyebrow raises. And then, it clicked. They believed faster meant a specific number. Suddenly, I realized the word I needed to use was effort. The fear of the unknown was taking them out of the run before they even took a single step.

Changing my tactic, I led them into their warm-up before they bolted, and reformulated my strategy as I ran. After a solid 3km warm-up, we huddled at a point on the 1km loop I planned to use for the tempo. I explained that I wanted them to set a pace whereby they couldn’t get out full sentences, but where they could grunt a quick ‘ok!’ as I passed them. I had planned to run in the opposite direction for three reasons: 1. I didn’t want them to set themselves based on my pace, 2. I wanted them to have something to run towards, even if it was a lame high-five from me, and 3. I wanted to pace my loops against the fastest, and most consistent, runner in my group. Brilliant. And, it worked.

Comments after the workout (which ended up being about 7.5km)  …”That was wonderful!” “I felt stronger with every step!” “That sucked.” (me, haha!).

Consistently, I am reminded about how the brain and our old patterns of thought can affect how we tackle new fitness goals. Rightfully so, taking on a fitness goal requires an assessment of where you are. Right. Now. Not an assessment of where you want to be, or think you should be, or where you think your new trainer/coach/partner thinks you should be. Rather, it is taking stock of exactly where you are in this very moment that is the most beneficial. My group was subconsciously grading themselves against what they thought I believed was ‘fast.’ What they gained in this run was an individual ability to asses how their body felt in the moment and adjust to meet the demand of the workout. The phrase effort-based reassured them about listening to their own body and measuring their own breathing and comfort level. They got it.

Sometimes, it is that outside eye/comment/encouragement that is key to the success of reaching your goals. Sometimes, what we need is a coach to provide the method to physically complete something that our brains have told us is impossible.

Remember me moaning back in February about lack of direction? Well, I couldn’t really take it anymore; August waits for no one. The insecurity, and the looming behemoth Deer Lake 67, made me take action. That action was to contact one of Canada’s top ultra marathon coaches, Jeff Hunter, out of the blue and ask for help.

I finished week one of his assessment of me, and I feel confident in saying, his taking stock of me was thorough. He has magically melded my coaching schedule to what I need to do for this race. This week, I feel strong even though my kilometers run has jumped. I find myself anxiously awaiting my weekly overview (yes, at just the second week) and am excited about how well my effort matches my coach’s plan. Funny enough, yesterday’s tempo put me at 67.7km over the past 10 days of training with Jeff. It took 7hrs. I wonder what my time will be on that one day in August…