Friday, May 23, 2014

Race Recap: Mudd, Sweat & Tears, Kelowna

A couple of weeks ago I was part of a 7 person team taking part in the second Kelowna 'Mudd, Sweat & Tears' event. It's very similar in style to the Tough Mudder & Spartan races out there - basically mud, obstacles, running and some major kick-ass team building/bonding!!

I recruited Chris and I both for my workplace team 'The Bridge Trolls' (we work at The Bridge Services!). I'm not really sure if you need to train for these kind of events - I figured that since the distance was only 12km my regular road running had me comfortably able to manage the distance. And cross training at home doing P90X and Insanity workouts should have me covered in most other aspects, really I think the most important aspect in pre-race readiness is the right mental attitude!

Our team had an assigned start time of 10am - which was quite the treat - being so close to home the alarm was actually set later than it is on an average week-day! Due to the logistics all participants had to be bussed up to the ski resort where the event was taking place. The day got off to a bad start when they were in short supply of buses and it took 80 minutes to stand in line waiting for a shuttle ride...

But we got there....and with a quick dash around to get us registered, changed, bag dropped, potty break etc we were ready to go. Having such congestion at the buses and start line worked in our favour - they introduced an 'extra' start time of 10:15 and since most people had rushed to set off at 10 we had a very small start corral! Perfect once you encountered the obstacles with no line-ups!

The organizers wasted no time in living up to the first part of the event name - MUD. After scrambling over a 9ft wall we were getting down and dirty in a shallow mud pit, bear-crawling along staying low enough to ensure we avoided the barbed wire hanging just inches above the mud. From there we had rope climbs, more mud pits, more walls, tire pulls, and a couple of demoralizing hill climbs with heavy sand bags (up AND back down again).

Surprisingly in the end one of the more challenging aspects of this race was the running in between obstacles. We'd signed up for a 12km race, but at the end my garmin had only logged around 7km (and was consistent with several other teams). Frankly I didn't mind! We'd run from the bottom of the mountain to the top - around 1200ft elevation gain in just over a mile! and then all the way back down again. (You know, there was a perfectly decent chair-lift right there we all could've used!!)

The kicker was the final obstacle. It was an 'Over & Under' type thing. A giant shallow pool of very liquid, slooshy and cold mud. With logs across it - some were 4-5ft high - those were to go over (more difficult than it sounds since they were slick with mud) and then some logs were just inches above the mud pool - and those of course you needed to go under - I mean, of course!. The first 'under' wasn't too bad - we were down and crawling and it was bad. But then there was the second 'under'. And that was the mother of all muddy, dirty obstacles. This log was no more than 2-3 inches above the level of the mud. I stood there contemplating my fate for a few moments. I considered just hopping over the thing and calling it good. And then I decided that 2-3 inches may be just the air gap I needed. I got down flat on my back perpendicular to the log and ducked under hoping and praying and squeezing my eyes as tight as they'd go that I wouldn't end up fully sub-merged. I was one of the lucky ones. I surfaced with a small patch of pinky flesh still visible! Yay for small mercies. The rest of my team did not fare so well and every. single. patch. of. human. body was slick and covered in mud. And I mean EVERYWHERE!

The TEARS part of the even name came right after we crossed the finish line. There was a fire hose hooked up to icy mountain water to wash off a little - and you did have to wash off, or at least try! It really was pretty hard to bear without getting instant brain freeze and it most certainly brought tears to your eyes!

In all, it was a super fun event!

Linking up to Jill's Fitness Friday

Friday, May 9, 2014

Race Recap: Vancouver Sun Run

Time has been whizzing by and already 2 weeks have passed since the Vancouver Sun Run. I LOVE this race! This was our third time taking part, the first back in 2006 and we were tourists still road tripping around North America in our RV! Wow, I'm sure we never dreamt back then that we'd be running 8 years later as Canadian residents!

I love that it's such a BIG race - this was it's 30th year and there were over 50,000 people registered! The crowds aren't for everyone but I love the atmosphere and vibe of it all. I love that tight jostling in the corrals at the start and the sight of so many people doing what I love doing - running!

We had a fantastic hotel really close to the start line - just one block away from the back of the corrals. We were actually placed much further forward so we walked about 3 blocks parallel to the start line street until we could enter our corral a little nearer the front.

What I found marvellously liberating and refreshing is the knowledge, having done this race a few times that there was NO time pressure to get to the start line. There are 50,000 people all lined on Georgia Street in 6 or 7 very large corrals and it takes over an hour to get everyone through the start line. And with the race being chip timed your race doesn't start till you cross the start line! There's a countdown and release for each of the corrals so you don't even miss out on the pizzazz of the start wherever you are! Knowing this we opted to loiter in our hotel till the very last minute. I'm a nervous runner pre-race - and I need the bathrooms. Usually multiple times. And really it takes longer to queue at the start line than it did to just hang in our room till I was sure I was good to go!! Plus we didn't want to check bags for clothes, so we made got ourselves completely ready and probably didn't head out till just before 9 (official start time). It really was just a few minutes walk and as we approached our cross street we heard the gun go off for the first corral. We had time to squeeze into our corral as they removed the barricades and edged us forward to the start line. We got going at around 9:16 I think!

I love that the first 1km is down Georgia Street, towards Stanley Park and is a steady and gradual downhill. It's perfect for me to work up to a good pace and breathing pattern with just a smidge of gravity assistance. Unfortunately I spent that first 1km wrangling with my Garmin to pick up a satellite signal on the fly after it failed to start. Frustrating but at the 1 mile mark I got it going (what is it with me and my technology at the start of races - it's not the first time this has happened!!)

I had no great expectations for this race - I never do! The previous 2 times we've run it we've both been hungover and have gone into it with a worst case scenario of 'it's just a nice stroll out on a Sunday morning'! Of course we've always managed to pull out the stops and do a little better than that, even with a fuzzy head! This year we'd had our big night out on Friday but I still didn't feel on top form and liked that it was no pressure - kept me way more relaxed.

The thing is, the only real 10km races I've done were back when I ran in Cyprus - before chip timing and so far back that when I contacted the organizers to try and get the results out of the archives they were too far gone! They were always around the 60 minute mark though. I do have a couple of 10km split times from some of my half marathons - my best being 51 something, but really not an 'official' 10km time. So the only other 10km races I actually have times for are my previous Sun Runs - and they were both just over an hour. So I was feeling pretty confident that no matter what happened I was going to get a new 'official' PR!!

I'm always slower for the first mile or two of a race - since most of my races are Half Marathons it evens out OK, but for a 10km I guess I should work on that!! Chris ran with me and kept me at a good pace - really pushing me on the couple of bridges when I may have slowed. It's a nice, flat course apart from those 2 bridges! As you run the decline on the second bridge you can see BC Place and you know the finish line is close, and as you turn onto the exit ramp there it is! With a final push we made it across the line with the clock showing 1:08!

Now as you'll remember my garmin wasn't working so really I didn't know what our time was. I only thought I'd remembered seeing 9:16am on the clock as we set off, but I'm not totally sure. With some rough calculations I hoped that meant we should have finished in around 52-53 minutes, but we'd have to wait till the results were posted online - either way I was happy - it was a good race and  PR no matter what that I was pretty pleased with - considering that I'd not specifically trained for a 10km and wasn't feeling on perfect form.
After the race we dashed back to our hotel to grab a quick shower and check out and then headed for lunch at Steamworks Brewpub. I loved that everywhere you looked in Vancouver that afternoon all you could see were runners and happy faces - many people were still wearing their race t-shirts and bibs and you had the feeling that you were all in one giant club. This is the atmosphere that I was talking about!

And my new 'official' PR time - 51:47! I'm happy with that!

Linking up to Jill's Fitness Friday

Monday, May 5, 2014

Eating in the dark at The Dark Table, Vancouver

Last weekend we enjoyed a city break in Vancouver - once again killing 2 birds with one stone we were celebrating Chris's birthday and running the Vancouver Sun Run.

We headed off early on Friday morning and went via the Aggasiz Tulip Festival. The fields were in full bloom and after a short walk from the parking lot we were in the middle of it. Rows and rows of the beautiful blooms in lots of different colours! - just gorgeous and very spring like! We lucked out with some great weather too - although there had been a lot of rain the fields were pretty dry - in fact strangely spongey and rather fun to walk on!

We checked into the St.Regis Hotel for our weekend - it was a fabulous small boutique hotel and the location was second to none right on Dunsmuir and just one block from the start line for our race on Sunday! From the moment we checked in the doorman remembered us and greeted us by name throughout our stay - talk about great customer service. There was free wifi and free bottled water in the rooms. The rooms were small, but very nicely decorated and modern. There were cosy bathrobes and an amazing bathroom - it was nearly as big as the room itself. The breakfast was also an awesome perk - included as part of the room rate it was an a la carte menu served meal cooked to order and was delicious, plus an on-site pub/bar which was perfect for drinks before we headed out to dinner in the evenings.

Anyway, possibly the most exciting part of our weekend was Friday night when we had reservations at The Dark Table. This is a blind dining restaurant - meaning that you're eating in the dark. Pitch. Black. Darkness. I first came across the concept back in January when we watched the movie About Time and there are 2 characters who meet at a dark restaurant.  I loved the idea but lamented that it was a bit hip to have such a thing here. Literally the next day a work colleague of mine was at a conference in Vancouver and posted on her Facebook that she was 'dining in the dark' that evening. With a quick google search I discovered that indeed there was such a restaurant as per the movie in Vancouver, and we were visiting in April for the Sun Run! I made the reservations there and then!!

There are 2 'sittings' and we were booked for 8:45pm as a table for 4 - we were dining with our friends Les and Deanie. I think we were all super excited about what was to come. On arrival you sit out on the verandah and check out the menu - it was pretty simple - maybe a half dozen choices for entrée and then a 'surprise' starter and dessert. They take your food and drinks order and then you get called by name to meet your server at the main door. You line up one behind each other, putting both hands on the shoulders of the person in front and with the first of your group with their hands on the servers shoulders and you're off...after passing through 2 doors you enter complete darkness! The servers are all visually impaired themselves - our server had been completely blind since age 7. But these guys know how to move!! We were whisked along at quite the pace and led to our table.

We could see NOTHING. Nada. You could put your hand in front of your face and you couldn't see it. Chris had to take off his watch since the glow-dial was blindingly bright and in danger of ruining the atmosphere!

You were left at the table for a few minutes to orientate yourselves (before they let us loose with alcoholic beverages in open glassware containers!). The table was large. You could barely reach the person opposite you even when you were both stretched out - on reflection I suppose that was quite key in not knocking things over and fumbling around for your drinks glass - there were no 'extras' on the table - a simple textured place-mat and your cutlery, so after some feeling around you got quite comfortable.

The food was OK. Perfectly nice, but not wow. We had warm bread rolls and the starter was a simple salad, which I felt that I rocked! I even managed to use cutlery and pick it all up with a fork - which frankly I find challenging at the best of times! (at least I think I got it all!). For my main course I'd picked a stuffed chicken breast which was tasty. I didn't find my vegetables till later on so most of it I was just eating great hunks of meat rather than a mixed forkful of food. Well, most of it I ate with the fork!! Eating with your fingers soon became the easier and more instantly satisfying option! Dessert was a very ordinary chocolate mousse-y-cake thing - which should definitely have been a cutlery kind of affair, but by this time most definitely wasn't. But no-one can see you!!

But the food was not why I was here. Seriously I was competing with the Cheshire cat for the size of my grin that night! I just couldn't stop smiling and laughing. It was SO. FRIGGIN'. FUN!! When you needed to use the wash-room you had to call out for your server and he would come, you'd place your hands on his shoulders and he would whisk you off 'doing the conga' style. And you had to hold on tight because he was a busy man and was moving some and you were terrified of loosing your grip and being stranded mid-restaurant not knowing your nose from your ass, and never finding your way out!! I just found it all completely hysterical!! When you were done you had to stand at the bathroom door and call out again so he could lead you back.
Photo source
We were there a good couple of hours and had an absolute BLAST. Possibly the best dining experience I've ever had. And when your face hurts from smiling so much you know it's been a great, great night! It was fascinating to be dining in the dark - an insight into what blind people experience every day and you rely so much more on your other senses - despite our table mates being 'so far away' opposite us we never had trouble communicating - I guess because your hearing kicks up a notch to compensate. And texture and feel became so important for eating in particular.

If you ever get the opportunity to dine in the dark I'd totally recommend it - but go with friends - we were chatting to some couples who'd been and it didn't seem that they had quite as much fun - I think it's not the place for a romantic dinner for 2 (especially when you're sat next to a table of 4 drunken idiots cackling with laughter and giggling all night long!). I wouldn't necessarily go back - not because I didn't absolutely love it but I think it's a bit of a 'one-off' experience not to be missed!
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