Friday, December 4, 2015

Mission Possible, Amica Seattle Marathon - Take 2

The Amica Seattle Marathon is well known for being a hilly (climbing over 1000 feet), often cold and rainy (being the last weekend of November on the west coast), with diverse scenery (runners spend a good portion of the marathon on a highway and even run through a long I-90 highway tunnel and bridge (this year with black ice to boot!!), then meandering along the ocean, and finishing in the local Seattle (hilly) hood).  

It is a cruel marathon in that the big hills are in the last 6 miles, with one epic (but short) climb that starts out very steep then just levels up but keeps going.  I have done Boston Marathon, and heartbreak hill has nothing on the timing of that doozy.  But the energy of the volunteers (with hilarious signs)...

...along with a really well run race and huge race expo, keeps people coming back, including myself. This was my second time racing this marathon (this time I trained with much more direction).

The night before I sent the following email to the 34 athletes that I currently coach at UBC.  Being accountable to more than just yourself, is a huge belief of mine (which is part in parcel of this blog)

Hi team!
Sorry I could not be there today at the team christmas party to celebrate an awesome fall season behind us with a ton of potential moving into our spring season and beyond!  I am in Seattle this weekend running another marathon tomorrow at 8:15 am.
You all inspire me on a daily basis with your teamwork, work ethic and personal goals.  As you have noticed, I always ask you about what your goals are before your erg tests so you are accountable to more than just yourself to your personal goals.
For that same reason, my goal is to run under 3:35:00 tomorrow.
If you wish here is how to track my progress live, my bib# is 1482.  
Have fun tonight and see you next week!

I also published this on "pre-race gitters", which outlines my pre-race prep, and also kept me accountable to my goals.

When I was found myself deep in a hurt locker after going too fast (~ 30 seconds per mile faster for the first 10km than my goal pace) resulting in a huge cramp in my diaphragm; with 30km+ to go, I remembered that my athletes were watching (and whomever else) and owned up to my goal.  I focused on staying loose (advice from a fellow runner Natasha E), and doing everything possible to get rid of my cramp (pressing on the spot while exhaling deeply through my stomach), while ensure I replenished with electrolyte drink.  

Eventually, after about 3 unhappy km the cramp subsided and from that point forward I eased myself into an achievable rhythm sitting on a very consistent 8:00 mile pace (the pace at which I had trained).  I also received a text stating the my boyfriend had crossed the finish line of his first half marathon!! This fuelled me with happy chills and kept me in a positive and inspired headspace.  

I recall saying to myself "just get to the 35km mark and the rest will fall in place" and that I did.  The hills hit, but they did not hit me.  I got up a and over and reset, with a big exhale, after each one and I was able to really effortlessly push the downhills without cramping.  

I beat my goal by ~ 2 minutes running a 3:33:04 which is a new personal best for me.  
My Garmin data

I am feeling better than ever after a marathon after following a good recovery regime (see my new blog post and soon to be website for details on that).

Happy trails!!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Baker Lake 50k - don't stop, do smell the roses

Our capability to adapt to challenge continually amazes me. 

The sport of ultramarathon; running 50km+ distances over challenging, mountainous terrain, scaling 1000’s to 10,000’s of feet of elevation with hundreds of other people, may just sound like a sport for the crazy folk...

Yes, there may be some degree of legitimacy with the crazy, but my personal enticement with the sport of ultramarathon is the process of searching for that human limit and then witnessing the remarkable ability of the human body and mind to cope, adapt and surpass that very limit.  This applies to so much more than just the sport, it relates to life... 

It is like meditation in movement… finding peace in the battle between the body and mind as pain and fatigue set in.  I have learned to cope by finding the rhythm of my breath and the lightness of the gait while dodging and bouncing over roots and rocks and scaling stunningly beautiful mountain terrain.  Fueling my body with gratitude for the surroundings and fueling my breath with fresh crisp mountain air, I love the feeling of my heart pumping so vigorously up to my ears that I feel so alive. 

It is not all fun and games  - it is certain that adversity will strike in this sport.  Thus far I have raced anywhere from 5 ½ to 11 hours 50km to 80km with 4000ft - 10,000 ft of elevation gain.  I have fallen, had shooting sciatic pains from a slipped disc, ran through huge bleeding blisters, bruised toenails falling off, muscle cramping so bad that even just walking feels awkward.  My gait has turned from light bambi-like prance to and elephant stomp - the effort to keep moving forward has felt like that bad dream where you try to run but you cannot. I have cried, I have stopped and sat in the middle of nowhere, even worse, due to injuries I have even stopped a race.  What I have learned is that mistakes made more than once are a decision.  The body will cope, if not today, it will adapt in time with work.  

Gratitude for the beauty of the process is by far the finest fuel for the long run.  As we all know, that goes for many things in life, not just running.  Running is just a great way to practice.

This is the only way I can explain what happened last weekend at the Baker Lake 50km ultra marathon.  After Boston Marathon in the spring, I spent May-July with little to no running with an ugly broken pinkie toe (silly klutz move and then I actually re-broke one month into healing). 

Surprisingly, I actually enjoyed the break from running, this was the first time I really took a long physical break in decades (minus my bike accident 10 years ago).  I kept pseudo-fit without a car and commuting a small distance to and from work by bike.  When I got back onto all 10 toes, after 2 months completely off running and most activity, the first few runs were pretty rough -  I felt like I started entirely from scratch - but very surprisingly, I got it back quite quick, making smart decisions (initially). 

A little over one month ago I came back to BC, and was simply so happy to run in the mountains again.  Gratitude, good company, and muscle memory fueled three long runs a 34km, 36km and 47km on consecutive weekends (that completely breaks most rules of training with a massive increase in training load but after the first, second, and even third run I felt more than fine, I felt alive)….  I couldn’t understand how I felt so good, since I really had little recent running under my belt, 

I can only equate this with a little bit of muscle memory from the past 4 years of training and a whole lot of gratitude.

Baker Lake 50km last weekend was one of those epic days.  My body and mind were at complete peace, running on a spectacular trail along Baker Lake.  The volcano glistened beside us under perfect blue skies on a crisp fall morning.  I even took the 20 seconds to stop and take this could I not??!! 

With a ridiculous smile on my face, my heart happily raced, averaging 165 beats per minute for 5 hours and 44 minutes.  Most of which time I focused on my footing with plenty of wet, mossy bridges, fallen leaves and roots and rocks over an undulating mountain terrain.  I placed 2nd in my age group and 5th women in the race, which for me was a solid achievement.

Not every run will be like that, but if I can continue to appreciate the process this much, perhaps that is possible.  My goal in the future to have the confidence in my body to actually race the entire distance....

I am now back to searching for that same meditation in motion on the pavement - next stop – Seattle Marathon November 29th with my personal goal of racing under 3 hours and 30 minutes.  

Happy trails!!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Boston Marathon and Beyond

Just looked into my blog and realize it has been 8 months since a blog update...

Deception Pass 50km in December....Long and short, that was an absolutely amazing day - the training paid off and for the first time ever I was able to actually race the majority of a 50km trail race (even though I turned back and added 2km to get help for an injured co-runner get help).  Still mid-pack but working my way up, and enjoying the moments.

Boston Marathon in April: the next milestone...

A milestone it was!!  An absolutely unbelievable race and I was very proud to be a part of the beautiful crowd and 30,000+ athletes.

All in all, Boston Marathon - SO MUCH MORE than one can ever imagine.  Though, the weather was much to be desired with 60km head wind gusts, sideways rain with near zero celsius temperatures; this did not phase me in the slightest. 26.2 Miles straight of huge crowds cheering (even though it was absolutely horrendous weather....).  The energy of the relentless crowd and co-runners infused energy by osmosis.  When in doubt I just high-fived a few smiling kids and immediately my pace was right back on track!!   No real doubt on the day.  That in my mind is a success regardless....I even-paced for the first 40 km but unfortunately spent every penny before the last 2.2km, both legs were in full fledged cramp and only mini-jump-steps were possible (sad but true, so unlike me!!).  I was on pace for a <3:35 but ended up 3:38....  Unfortunately no sub 3:30 Boston for me this year (maybe next???!!)

The funny part: 4 days later, I stubbed my right pinky toe (and broke right in half - I will say the x-ray is quite ugly).

5 weeks later with a recent x-ray the toe is still a full break, but I can now wear shoes again, and feels fine-ish to me so (Dr. approved) running will begin soon.  I enjoyed the much needed rest (I don't think I have done that in about 17 years).

To start off with a bang I just agreed today to running in a relay in the Muskoka 70.3 half Ironman next month!!  (of course with consideration that I will be DOG SLOW).

Phew....I'm back!!  (Though I was getting used to the lazy version of Sheryl....)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Failure lessons meet success

My new Mantra:

I know, what a concept!?? I know, its very simple, but something I have overlooked over the past 3 years.

For some time I have treated my new-found sport of running as simply a fun, social past-time, never really setting any goals or expectations...I would sign up for any and every race I could and I ran as many miles as I could because I absolutely love trail running.  However, with the lack of structure and adequate rest and recovery from these long distance races failure began to happen. With 2 DNF's in 8 months due to a lingering back injury that got out of control I began to experience the defeat of failure.  All because,
I simply did not want to take sport seriously again after years and years of being a full time athlete who took her sport perhaps too seriously for her own good. 

I say this to my athletes all the time now: failure is not a bad thing as long as you can learn lessons from your failures, and apply those lessons so as not repeat the failure.  

So I sat down, scratched my forehead and came to the brilliant realization (duh) that I absolutely DO need to treat my body, my races, and my training with respect and I CAN indeed set myself some realistic goals and strategies to achieve those, even with little desire to compete in sport seriously anymore.  

My first step...goal-setting

I set myself some goals and researched key workouts to achieve them.  Now I share them with you for two reasons:
1) because I know myself well, if I actually state them, then I am accountable to you..and I will do what I can to achieve them.  
2) I hope you learn from my failures and the process inspires you to set yourself some goals and path to success as well

My goals!
1) To run <40 minute at a 10km within the year I turn 40, I am now 39 and 4 days young!
2) To run <1:35 at a 1/2 marathon
3)  To run <3:30 at the Boston Marathon April 20, 2015, for which I qualified last year.
4) To run < 5:30 at a 50km ultra.

These are most of my past results so I think my goals are hopefully doable...

2nd step...addressing my weaknesses

My Christmas present to myself, 4 sessions with a local running coach (Dave Cressman of Distance Runwear) to assess my goals and my gait which I will start in a few weeks after I recover from this past weekend. 

3rd step...execution!

This past weekend I ran the Victoria Marathon. I was physically very unprepared for a personal best, but I approached it with a race-plan I new would work for me, and I even tapered!

I knew I had not trained beyond the 30km distance since May (I signed up for this race before my back injury) I simply "raced" the first half at a pace I knew from my training I could hold and beyond then I just kept moving forward while enjoying the beautiful moments of an awesome race.  I felt absolutely fantastic, was so happy I had very little back issues, and actually had to hold myself back in the first half, went through the half way point at 1:42 which is still a decently fast clip for me.  

I had so much fun embracing my fitness for about 28kms the rest involved a fast-ish marathon wobble on two cramped quads.  But thanks to my awesome boyfriend who supported me for the entire last 1/2 of the race, and 42.2 kms of awesome volunteers and roads covered in people cheering, I kept smiling through my self-induced suffering.  I still pulled off a 3:38:30 with a fly-and-die race plan.  This was a success in my mind, and a 2016 Boston Qualifying time to boot, just in case I want to do it again next year.
Cheers to taking steps towards success!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Respect and preparedness

noun: respect 


a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.

a particular aspect, point, or detail.


Respect is quite likely the first and foremost trait I have carried on from my upbringing.  Whether it presents in the form of respecting my authority, neighbors, friends, family, athletes, teammates, or the cashier at the name it, "respect" and I are tightly knit unit. 

What I learned this past weekend was my ignorance to respect myself and to respect a the sport of Ultramarathon.

Knowing that I was coming off a relatively serious and personally scary back injury, and thus ill-prepared and filled with trepidation, I stilled followed my ego toward the race I signed up for, ignoring all medical advice.  Me-being-me, was eager to complete yet another adventure fueled by a love for my new sport. 

Ultramarathons are never, ever, to be taken lightly.  In order to run for hours and hours on end on unknown terrain, climbing countless feet, one must be very mentally and physically prepared in so many ways.

This weekend I was mentally prepared but physically not.  I am past the point of competing in these events simply to complete them, I want to embrace my fitness and push my limits as far as I can in beautiful places, but not harm myself in the process

I sat at that start line asking myself, "how long will my back hold out?".  That is absolutely no way to start an adventure, especially when you are in it for fun, like I am.   Sure enough, 8.5km and about 2500ft in nerves from my injury started firing up down my right leg and my head took a downward spin. 

I stopped at 5500 ft and only 14km/52 km in.  Pathetic in my mind.

As most of you do, I absolutely hate not completing things, and this is still gnawing away at me that I even tried, knowing that I likely couldn't.

I bow down to those runners who prepared, listened to their body when they should have and completed their goal.  Myself on the other hand, I have learned a good lesson with regard to respect.  Starting a task that you are not prepared for does no one any good.  Respect for yourself and your sport (or job, or family, what-have-you) goes a long, long, long way.

I look forward to my next adventure whatever it may be, but will spend the next while making sure I ingrain my capacity to respect myself and my own body. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Challenge faces trepediation

noun: trepidation
a feeling of fear or agitation about something that may happen

Trepidation fuels my every step as I run towards my next challenge.  This Ultramarathon's beauty absolutely captured me

This is how I have lived my life as long as I can remember, chasing the next challenge ahead.  I prefer the self-inflicted crazy challenges I place before myself....but each and every challenge life has given me has made me even more prepared for the next challenge,  self inflicted or not.

This self-inflicted challenge over these next few days could be a doozy.  Its the inaugural Trailstoke 60k (never ran before) and said to be "one of the toughest Ultramarathons in the world".  I look forward to spending the day challenging myself with like-minded (crazy) folk.  As a "skyrunning" event high in the alpine I have my mandatory bear spray in hand and have reviewed my bear awareness....still shaking with the thoughts. My "plan" is to embrace myself with the beauty in order to forget the pain.

Trepidation comes from the fact that I have been out of commission with a bulging disc in my back (damn that was painful!)...which has cleared up over the last week (fingers crossed it stays this way over 60k).   I little tentative,  I will at least try.

I have set in my head that I have no expectations on finishing.... if my sciatic nerve starts firing I'll just piggy back one of those grizzlies down to the finish line :)

Okay, off with my adventure! 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sheryl's running tips and tricks

As a rowing coach who runs for fun I think it is time to share some of my tips and tricks that keep my one foot in front of the other on the road and trail.  Though I am not a great runner per-se, I DEFINITELY enjoy the process of running....and my little tricks I have devised over the years have help me a ton, so I hope they help you!


Well....I am biased on this one because I worked a specialty running shop in Victoria for 10 years (Frontrunners), but if you have not already, go to a local running shop - NOT the mainstream running room/Sport Check ones - and have someone look at your running (not walking) gait...take their opinion only as an opinion but chances are they will help you to select a good shoe for your foot (in Vancouver I recommend Forerunners or the Run Inn, and Victoria, undoubtedly, Frontrunners


For those new to running, your breathing pattern is the first and foremost thing that can make or break a run.
  • Breathe in two steps and out two steps, simple - obviously unless you are in an all out sprint.  I am no running coach but I know this is the basis of all of my runs.  I also was recently told, if you have a stitch, breath out on the opposite side of the stitch....didn't work for me but maybe someone else.

Now, we know that this is a larger subject than simply a paragraph but for the purpose of this post, Let us simplify this into one paragraph.

I recommend to think about your body and how to minimize impact and maximize speed forward.  Minimize the amount of time spent on your feet (I think of running on hot coals and minimizing over-striding/healstriking by taking more and quicker steps than you think you should), with good posture (I think about keeping my chin tucked in and tall spine with a relaxed upper body, I check into my posture often whenever running by reflective windows).

Running Buddies

For those long runs there is absolutely no better way to spend countless weekend hours chatting on the trail or road with like-minded people, not.  If you do not know any runners, try joiniong a local club - TRUST ME, do not be intimidated these clubs are always filled with a vast array of running folk at all running paces and there is almost always someone your pace - fast or slow.


If you are out for a long run, either bring a your visa and plan the route by a convenience store, or bring it with you.  I underestimated this for so long, but now realize it is so key to keeping on, going on.  As for hydration packs, I recommend the Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 5.  This pack is awesome, it is easy to clean, carries 1.5 litres of water (I take the bladder out and throw it in the washing machine); to clean the the bladder I leaev ~ 4 Tablespoons of bleach in 1.5 Litres of water for 10-20 minutes then thoroughly rinse awesome for water bottles as well.


Though I love listening to the sound of my feet hitting the ground, especially on the trail and gravel.  However, music can make a long run not only endurable, but even more pleasurable.  There are some key aspects to listening to music that I have found really help me:

The earphone(s):
  • I personally recommend the JVC Ha-FR36 Marshmallow-type earbuds (or similar ones) find them on amazon or at London Drugs for us west-coasters.  Not only do they stay in place but you can switch songs with the touch of a remote control on the earbud wire.  
  • I also recommend to CUT ONE WIRE SO AS TO ONLY LISTEN TO ONE EAR.  This is very important especially on trails or while running with road traffic.  You can experience the joy of listening to music while staying safe and respectable to others in the process
  • In order to secure the earphones without them falling out, I tuck and loop the earphone under my hat or through my headband.

Lets be honest this can be a huge pain for every runner long distance or not.  Before long runs I literally douse my feet and in-between my toes in "Body Glide" or a similar non-petroleum based product out there this and in and around the seams of my sports bra.  I know a lot of other people have issues with inner thigh chafing, but I usually wear capris to minimize this, so I would do the same on the thighs when wearing shorts. 

The music:
  • Obviously you need to like the music you are listening to but I find, especially on the road, the TEMPO of the music is even more important.  I personally have a "long run" playlist with a bit of a slower tempo and a "shorter" or "speed-work" playlist with higher tempo.  Here is a mix of my personal favorites (but I have a ton more so if you want, message me and I am more than happy to share).  
Artist / Song 

Coldplay/Hurst like Heaven
Coldplay/Strawberry Swing
Coldplay & Rihanna/Princess of China
Matchbox Twenty/I Will
Lorde/Love Club

Bustrexx & CoMa/The Business of Sadness
Rameses B/Drift Away
Rameses B/Letting Go (feat. Amelia Rose)
Andreya Triana/Lost Where I Belong
Rollz/The Music (Be Strong)
NCT/Frozen In Time (feat. Andreas Ort & Charline)
TwoThirds & BadApple/Sense of Being (feat. Veela)
Jakwob/Blinding (Hybrid Minds Remix)

Rosie Thomas/Since you've been around
Howie Day/Collide (Acoustic)

Hunter Hayes/Wanted
Keith Urban/Thank you

If you actually listen to these songs in iTunes, you will notice there is a large variety, but one regular thing is the tempo/beats per minute are all similar.  These are just a few, I have tons from over the years that have helped to keep my one foot in front of the other.  

On the trail, I personally prefer to listen (in one ear) to a variety of music and tempo not so important since there is rarely continuity in my running tempo due to the terrain.

I hope this helps you in some way to get out there and enjoy your run :)