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Thursday, June 27, 2013

My First Spartan Race Results

In my previous post about my first Spartan Race, I had mentioned I would post my official results once they were made available. I finally managed to find the results page, which is separate from the widely available American results, right here.

My official time was 1 hour and 45 minutes, which was in the top 44.57%. Not bad considering I didn't push myself as much as I had wanted to. Next year Spartan Race, next year!

I was more excited to find the photos of me taken during the race. They scared my mother, but I'm posting them here anyways as souvenirs from the experience.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Burnaby Heights

My last week spent in the Greater Vancouver area was very busy, but thankfully successful. I didn't get to do as much sight seeing as I would have liked and I caught a mean cold from my cousin's toddler, but in the end I managed to sign for an apartment for August. I had originally been looking for a basement apartment as a more affordable alternative, but after seeing a couple of real apartments I started thinking more space and a grown-up atmosphere would be a better start for my graduate studies.

Hopefully things work out with the new apartment, but if I ever find it's not the right fit then I can take comfort in the fact that the lease is month-to-month. I'm optimistic; the apartment is in an older building, which means I have a lot of space and room for guests and visitors. It's also around the area I had wanted to live in: Burnaby Heights.

Burnaby Heights is a cute, suburban neighbourhood in the Burnaby area. There are countless parks, transit options and even a well-equipped recreational center. The hub of Burnaby Heights is Hastings Street, where all the local mom and pop shops and convenient stores are found.

I think a lot of people unfamiliar with Vancouver hear "Hastings" and a red flag goes off. Hastings Street is infamous because of a couple of blocks of East Hastings which are the skid row of Vancouver. In reality, Hastings Street stretches from downtown Vancouver all the way through Burnaby. In my week there, I had spent a lot of time commuting down Hastings Street. While what I saw on East Hastings was definitely saddening, I found it no different that other areas I've come across in Ottawa and Toronto. It just happens that East Hastings is a much more visible and traveled area.

However, by the time East Hastings becomes Hastings in Burnaby, the street is a suburban stretch of shops. It's a cozier environment than downtown Vancouver, and my apartment is a 10 minute walk or quick bus ride away from most of the amenities. There's a heavy Italian influence with lots of coffee shops and Italian restaurants in the area.

Here are some pictures of my new neighborhood. Enjoy them, and hopefully take some comfort in knowing I will be living in a normal, suburban community.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

An Update

There's some news that I've kept private from my blog for some time now while I've waited to get my life figured out. For a period of around 6 months, (probably last September to this February) my blog became very inactive. The reason for this was that I was busy researching and applying to universities for graduate school.

After spending a year working after my undergrad, I knew it was the right decision to go back to school for a masters; I missed learning, reading and research so much more than I thought I would. The application process was highly stressful and a lot of work. I spent countless hours writing emails to professors requesting references, updating my CV, and writing my statement of interest. It was one of the most doubtful periods of my life. However, all the stress and dedication paid off, and I was accepted to both of the universities I applied to: Simon Fraser University and Dalhousie University.

Both of the programs I applied for were very similar, but I found the research opportunities at Simon Fraser University were a much better fit to my interests. So behold: a new adventure! Beginning this September, I'll be studying out in Burnaby, British Columbia.

This new start is what brought me out to Greater Vancouver this week to find a place for myself.

Apartment hunting has been quite overwhelming; it's definitely a very different ball game out here compared to Guelph. Thankfully, after seeing several different basement suites and apartment units, I think I've managed to find something that's perfect for the next stage of my life.

Don't ask me yet how I feel about the Greater Vancouver area; I'm not quite sure. Safe to say, it wasn't like the instant love and connection I had for Guelph. I think the wilderness of BC will be the redeeming factor for me. The horizon out here is nothing but water, mountain and forest, and I can't wait to explore it in the next few years.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

50 Burpees

I'm sure it's obvious by this post, but I survived the Ottawa Spartan Race Sprint! I managed to conquer what I was told was the hardest Spartan Race in Ottawa yet. It was 6.7 painful kilometers up and down the hills of Edelweiss Ski and Sports Club. Despite this, I still have mixed feelings over the whole ordeal. I'm not sure yet whether it's just some post-achievement downers, or whether I truly do regret my performance for the race. I suppose I should just get into what happened and the things that I learned.

When Kevin and I signed up to race, the only available heat was at 4:30 - the last heat of the day. When we arrived to the ski hill, we noticed that our heat was probably much smaller than the others, and filled with less intense runners and groups in costumes. I was pleased to see this since I was hoping not to break any bones this weekend.

From what we heard, the race had been designed with a vengeance; the last two years there had been a lot of complaints that the Ottawa Spartan Races were too easy, so this year the course designer made it much, much harder to appease the critics. This was my first Spartan Race so I can't support this claim, but I did find the course was designed to really take advantage of the terrain. The race trail has us going up and down the mountain three times. We didn't wind up and down the hills either, instead the race led us straight up the steep ski hills. It was brutal. Nearly everyone in our heat walked up the steep inclines.

Overall, the obstacles weren't too bad and I only failed two throughout the whole event. The first several obstacles involved crawling under barbed wire and fences in the mud. It was quite easy; I found the worst part was that the bottom of the mud pits were covered in large rocks of different sizes. My first failed obstacle was a set of steel railings that racers were expected to traverse by using only their arms to hold themselves up. I don't think I had the upper body strength required, but it didn't matter; my hands were still muddy from the previous obstacles and I instantly slipped off the bars. 30 burpees.

I think the biggest eureka moment of the whole race was right then: I realized I had over-trained burpees. As it turns out, we were only expected to do burpees that extended from squat-plank-squat-jump, whereas I had been training with a variation that included a push up. I blasted through the 30 burpees, fueled more by the excitement from my sudden realization than anything else. Other obstacles I encountered included walls to climb over, mud pits, and tunnels to crawl through. Kevin was really helpful with the walls and gave me boosts. My first time climbing the wall was a little awkward; it took a moment to figure out the best way to get my body over the wall. After my first attempt I had no problem. Kevin would hold out his hands and I'd be on the other side a moment later.

I also found I was really impressed with my strength for any of the weight-lifting obstacles. There were several that involved carrying different objects up and down an incline: a sandbag, two ammo containers, and a gas container full of water. Other obstacles I excelled at included using a pulley to lift and lower a weight, as well as an obstacle involving pulling a cinder-block on a chain.

Overall, it was really the hills that killed. The process became routine: walk steadily up the incline, do obstacles, run down the hill. Never did we stop except for brief seconds to stretch our calves. I think this is what helped us to finish in relatively good time.

The last few obstacles were set up to be challenging. A 12-foot wall followed by a set of monkey bars, ropes, and rings. I excelled at the monkey bars and rings, which I was really proud of, but I failed the rope climb pathetically. Despite looking up techniques on the best way to scale ropes, I was still useless at it. I got myself to the middle of the rope and was in a good lock and comfortable, but I didn't have anymore strength to pull myself up. I hung there pathetically for a few minutes chanting, "I don't want to do burpees." Eventually I felt bad hogging one of the ropes and slid down. 20 burpees.

The volunteers at the end of the race were feeling a little exhausted and impatient by the end of the day. The race was a lot longer than previous years, and I noticed they were a lot more generous than they probably should have been. On the rings, I couldn't quite grasp the very last ring because it was too high. I had built up momentum and had swung back and forth 5 times, touching it each time. Finally the volunteer called out to me, "You're fine. You're getting farther than a lot of people. I'll count it, you've touched it." The volunteer minding the javelin throw had a similar attitude. I've read on a lot of other blogs that usually anything that doesn't pierce the scarecrow results in burpees. This time around she was counting anything that touched the targets. My throw was awful: it was a near miss except the back end of the javelin scraped the straw. Surprisingly the volunteer counted it and told me to run off before she gave me burpees for my shitty throw.

I don't know what my final time was for the race because I was too busy  trying to find Kevin afterwards. I have an idea it was somewhere between 1:30 to 1:45, but I'll update later with my true time. I found several of my sister's friends who all found my time to be quite decent, but I suppose I'll have a better idea once all the scores go up in a few days.

After finding Kevin, we took some pictures together and hosed off all the dirt and mud we were covered in. For the beating we endured we were award with a Spartan Race medal and a nice Reebok t-shirt. I also rewarded myself with a delicious VEGA energy bar (this was the closest I've had to a chocolate bar in nearly a year).

Although the race is over and I managed to survive, I still can't help feeling a little disappointed in myself. Again, I might feel better in a few days when I can see the average times, but I can't help the feeling that I didn't push myself enough.

See, that's the problem with the Spartan Race; you're stuck in a trade-off between trying to conserve your energy for obstacles and pushing yourself to improve your time. In the end, I finished feeling like I still could have tackled more.

As well, I'm left feeling a little guilty over how easy-going the volunteers were to excuse my burpees. I still could stand at the end of the race and wasn't too tired, I guess I just feel like I deserved those burpees for technically failing those obstacles. Oh well, nothing I can do about it now. I guess next time I'll have a better idea of how my energy will play out for the race, and I'll be able to push myself as hard as I wanted to.

Here are some things I've learnt for next time:
  • Wearing just a sports bra was a very good idea to help with not overheating, but definitely consider some sort of Under Armour pants to protect the knees.
  • I stand by french braided hair despite my hair getting somehow entangled in a leaf camo net.
  • Nylon underwear are fantastic.
  • Trail runners really worked for me AND they washed perfectly clean.
  • Either run alone or with another ambitious lady
This last point is a bit hard for me to write. Kevin was definitely helpful with the walls, but I couldn't help feel beaten down by running the race with him. It was frustrating to see him outperform me on all the obstacles; he didn't fail a single one. To make matters worse, he hadn't trained for the event in the slightest and it almost seemed like he was there to make a point about not having trained. 

I guess I just felt a little attacked because fitness has become my lifestyle, and now I'm left feeling like all of this strength training and cardio might have resulted in nothing but aesthetics. I just have to remember it's unfair to compare male-female performance. Men are blessed with much stronger upper bodies, and the comparison just isn't fair. Next time, I think I'd like to run with another fitness chick; we could motivate each other, and help one another over the walls. 

As the days pass, I'm starting to feel better about the race. Regardless of Kevin surpassing me despite zero training, I still managed to get through the race with energy to spare. My body is beaten, bloody and angry, but I didn't listen to it while I was climbing up and down the ski hill three times mid-day. I definitely should be proud.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Little Bit of Self-Doubt

Those close to me know that I've been working out and weightlifting for a little over a year. The original goal of this was simple: become stronger. At any point in the future, I want to be able to look back and know that I took full advantage of my youth and pushed myself while I was in my prime.

At some point towards the end of last summer, I made a goal to compete in an obstacle-based race such as the Spartan Race or Tough Mudder. I was just starting to see results from my new routine, and I wanted to set a goal that would highlight just how much stronger I had become.

I had decided on the Spartan Race and signed up to run with Kevin in Ottawa. The race date is now three days away and I'm starting to panic a little bit. What if I struggle through most of the course? What if I let myself down after this whole year?

I need to relax and reflect. I've done the hard work (I have a creepy bicep vein to prove it). At this point I can only do what my mother always tells me to do, "just try your best."

Today was my last training day before taking two days off before the race. I decided on a 5 km run through the ravine, some "obstacles" at a local park, followed by some burpees when I got home. Besides the burpees, I think I'm more than capable of holding my own during the Spartan Race. Originally I had been worried about my upper body strength, but I came across a really great park today that proved me wrong.

It's hard to find a decent play structure these days! They're usually reconstructed to be ridiculously safe for children. This is the first park I've come across in my area that was actually significantly taller than I am. For practice, I swung across the monkey bars three times (for once I couldn't touch the ground) and I also climbed my way up "the pole". 

I think my trail running in the ravine will be a godsend. The Spartan Race is taking place at a ski hill, so I have no doubt there will be lots of running up and down steep slopes. The ravine has allowed me to become familiar with running hills and learn how to safely keep myself in control despite my momentum. I've also worked a lot on not being afraid to run on wet earth or through puddles. An additional bonus to this is that I've gotten better at running with muddy and wet shoes. Boy, did I ever dirty my trail runners tonight!

This, my friends, is how trails are meant to be run.

I'm off to go drag my aching body into bed and get some rest. Please send any positivity, good thoughts and luck my way for the big race! (If you know how to bottle endurance then please send it my way too!)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Wild Goose Woods Boardwalk

This is the best time of year for my favorite area of the Guelph Arboretum: the Wild Goose Woods boardwalk. During the late spring the boardwalk trail is still flooded with water, but the surrounding Freeman's maples have regrown their leaves, creating a green cast on the water's reflection.

This particular day the boardwalk seemed almost ethereal. It had been raining on and off for the past few days, and the birds were spirited during the break from the rain. The rain clouds in the area kept the forest shadowed, but the light, dry wood of the boardwalk created a wonderful contrast in photographs.

I even went so far as to take a video so I could capture the audio of all the excited birds hidden in the canopy of the old-growth forest.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Billy Joel Dance Moves

 I've heard this song at least a hundred times, but I've never seen the music video before. This is one of the best first impressions I've ever had. There was a huge smile on my face the whole time. This video is so dorky and typical of the 80's that I can't help but love it.

I'm particularly fond of the quick, snappy dance moves. I'll have to seek special moments where I can recreate these cheesy moves from now on. Pamela will definitely love this, and I have a feeling my department will get a kick out of seeing me snapping around their corner of the office.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Trail Runners: XR Crossmax

Lately I seem to keep spending more and more money on shoes. I never was a shoe girl, but these aren't conventional girly shoes anyways. I'm talking about athletic shoes. Since this spring started I've purchased a pair of Adidas Cupa Mundial cleats for ultimate frisbee, as well as a pair of Asics for jogging. I guess after losing my big toenail twice last summer I've come to realize just how important quality footwear is.

Considering these two big purchases, I was a little hesitant when I first thought of adding trail runners to my growing collection. However, I finally caved earlier this week when I found a beautiful pair of Salomon XR Crossmax on sale.

These shoes are definitely made for dirt trails. The soles have treads so you have a good grip on the terrain and they also have convenient quick-draw laces that stay out of the way. Today I decided to put them to the test. It rained all day today and when I got home from work I was antsy to get them out to the ravine. 

Guys! It was so much fun! I found the shoes way more comfortable than my Asics and absolutely loved being able to run through the trails of the ravine. I felt like I had finally found my niche in running. I'm in my element on those dirt trails, and I feel less aware of the fact that I'm running because I'm being stimulated and challenged. I find when I run on pavement I get disengaged; nothing's interesting and I feel exhausted, uncomfortable and awkward. This was the very opposite. I was tuned into my surroundings while I leaped around slippery tree roots and listened for any people or animals nearby.

I was out for about half an hour and felt like I wanted to continue, but I was afraid I would lose too much light. It was definitely a very different feeling than after jogging on pavement. Usually I feel extremely sore in my hips and knees after running, but I think running on the dirt was much lower impact despite all the hills. 

I might be hyped up on endorphin's right now, but I'm really glad I made this purchase. I can't wait to take these trail runners back outside! They did quite well in the dirt, rain and mud too:

The important question remains: How are the socks?

Completely dry. No mud, but some little specs of dirt on the toes. I never thought I'd say it, but I'm a happy runner! Welcome to the shoe family, Salomon! 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Big Apple (Highway 401)

While driving back home from Guelph this past weekend, Bri and I decided to stop for dinner at The Big Apple. She had never had the chance to see this place before, so I thought it was a good opportunity to do a little sight-seeing while grabbing some food.

The food was good! Bri ordered herself a Cesar salad pita, which came with real grilled chicken and bacon. She requested extra lettuce, and she ended up with a huge pita that couldn't be contained. On a less healthy note, I got myself a grilled cheese sandwich made with apple bread and apple slices. Although it sounds like a weird combination, I'm a big fan of apples and cheese and it tasted amazing.

After eating we decided to check out the farm animals in the petting zoo. There was nothing too exciting except maybe the llama and a couple of frisky donkeys. I guess I'm just a little disappointed there were no goats. Despite not meeting my goat criterion, I can see how little kids would love this place. I used to love The Big Apple when I was younger and my parents were definitely glad to have me exhaust my energy during long drives.

The petting zoo wasn't all bad; I got to befriend a moody sheep when I decided to feed him some snacks. I couldn't help it. I'm just a sucker for ungulates and a country girl at heart. 

We didn't have time to go inside the apple (where there is a small museum), but before leaving Bri and I had to get a dorky tourist picture with the star of the 401: The Big Apple. 

BBQ Reunion in Guelph

So this past weekend I traveled back to Guelph for a barbecue that Drung was hosting. This particular trip to Guelph was special because it was my first time driving there by myself. I never had a car of my own to drive during my undergrad, and while I've been living back at home I've had to share a vehicle with my parents and sisters. Usually a trip to Guelph would involve sitting 7-8 hours on the Greyhound, but thankfully I was able to borrow one of the family's cars for the weekend which made the short trip worthwhile.

I was lucky to have Brianna there as a road-trip partner. She's living in Ottawa this summer, but still has friends and a wonderful boyfriend in Guelph. It really did work out well; I was going down this weekend for Drung's barbecue, and she was conveniently already planning on travelling to Guelph for Gender Blender and a Toronto Rush game.

We made really good time travelling. We left immediately after work on Friday and I was able to get Bri safely into her boyfriend's arms by 10:30 pm. I didn't get settled down until midnight because Drung wasn't home and I had to break into his house. Thankfully he didn't hide the key in his old spot, and I was able to get inside the home and dig out Stew's mattress from his packed room.

Early on Saturday Drung returned hungover after going to a bachelor party the previous night. I spent most of the morning helping him prepare for the barbecue before I left to run my own errands in the afternoon. I came back to Drung's place just before some of the first few guests started showing up.

The barbecue was great! It might seem a little excessive to drive all the way from Ottawa to Guelph for a barbecue, but this was the first time in a long while that the whole group of us were together again. I got to catch up with some old Guelphites and meet some new people who had known Drung in high school.

It was great to pick on Drung again too! Man, I miss poking fun at that guy. I was helping Drung barbecue the hamburger patties and sausages when he started burning everything on the grill. In his rush to move the food off the barbecue, he accidentally sent some burnt sausages flailing across the yard. I started laughing at his panicked mistakes, which resulted in his usual response, "A-MAN-DUH. Stop it." I couldn't handle it. I came rushing back into the house laughing so hard I was bright red and in tears.

The night went on and we enjoyed the (slightly burnt) food and the keg of beer that Drung had bought for the event. We even got some use out of the beer pong table that Dave and I had painted. I'm so proud that I had to take a picture of it puddled with booze.

Dave, Kevin and I crashed for the night, and when we woke up in the morning we decided to go to Symposium - our post-party tradition. I'm proud to say I ate more than any of the boys that morning. After my order Kevin turned to me and said, "you realize you just ordered at least four slices of bread, right?" Nope, but that didn't stop me.

After breakfast Kevin and Drung left to go golfing while Dave and I decided to spend a few hours hiking the arboretum. The poor boy wasn't prepared in the slightest; he was wearing flip flops, a t-shirt and some light shorts. We had gotten a lot of rain that weekend, so when I dragged him into the more wooded areas of the Arboretum he was instantly either swarmed by mosquitoes or slipping in the mud. To make matters worse, we even got rained on while exploring Victoria Woods. Dave was a trooper and remained in high spirits the whole time. He even took pictures and blogged about our excursion, which you can find here on his blog.

Besides the bout of rain, the Arboretum was spectacular as usual. We covered most of the trails because I was determined to photograph some cedar waxwings. While we did heard the birds, unfortunately we never got a good enough view to take photos (the rain probably worked against us). However, we did see and hear a lot of other birds including a catbird, baltimore oriole, cooper's hawk, redtailed hawk, turkey vultures, and a rose-breasted grosbeak. If I could distinguish the calls of sparrows and warblers there would be even more in that list. The birds were definitely back from migration!

The most interesting find of the day was a male yellow-rumped warbler that we found in the parking lot of the disc golf course. The little bird was busy protecting his territory and had found another male that just wouldn't back off: his own reflection in the side mirrors of cars. He was busy fluttering back and forth between different cars, attacking his reflection and pausing to rest atop the mirrors. The poor guy was probably wasting all his energy on the mirrors. I would imagine the rest of his territory was probably overrun with competitor males.

Another interesting find was coming across my first common whitetail dragonfly. Are these bugs actually common in the Guelph area? I've never seen one there before, and certainly not in Ottawa either. They were all around the bog portion of Wild Goose Woods, with the white, large males chasing each other away. The females were there too, but I mistook them for another species because they were an average size and brown.

It's funny how quickly I revert into "nature interpreter" mode when I'm outside with someone. I spent a lot of time teaching Dave about things we came across: crows chasing a hawk, five turkey vultures circling overhead, a catbird screeching obnoxiously in a nearby tree. Dave seemed excited and willing to learn, which is a good thing because I can't seem to turn off my inner teacher. 

The Arboretum was blooming will all sorts of gorgeous flowers this past weekend. Everywhere I went, I smelt lilacs. Irises, my favorite flower, were also in full bloom. Dave and I each took pictures since early flowers like these don't last very long. However rainy the weather was this weekend, the spring flowers really help me to appreciate it.