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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

"Why I Run"

This installment has guest bloggers! I asked some members of our running group a simple question  "Why do you run?"  Here's some of their answers.  

(Edits were only made for grammar and layout.)

Kelsey Bragg

I met Kelsey in 2012 during an orientation run for Squamish 50. At the time she was building distance and has since run and completed several Ultras. She has two awesome dogs, who can whip past you like thunder and lightning, which isn't their real names. - ek

Kelsey - From Facebook

"I grew up in the Yukon, we didn’t have malls and fancy movie theatres.
If we wanted to be entertained, we had to go out and find it. I was nine years old when I first went out for a run.

"As if what I was doing was some sort of secret mission." - Kelsey

"I had been watching my friend’s mom go running all the time and she made it look easy and fun – plus she was really fast! It was the dead of winter, and I didn’t know any better, so I put on my whole snowsuit and winter boots. I stepped out the door without telling my mom and dad what I was doing as if what I was doing was some sort of secret mission.

A Not Nine Year Old Kelsey - From Facebook
"I sprinted as fast as my nine year-old body would allow. Three blocks later I was out of breath at the top of a hill feeling both dizzy and thrilled with this weird feeling that was new to me.
Though I was tired and extremely hot from all those layers, I couldn’t wait to try again. Eventually my mom and dad bought me all the running gear a nine year old girl needed, and sent me off to run with the ski team. I can’t imagine life any other way. Run on!" - Kelsey

Jerome Wasilieff

I've known Jerome since grade eight. He was one of the "rocker" kids, and kinda sort of hung out until graduation when we lost touch until a couple of years ago. He's done some shorter distance trail runs, Tough Mudder and a half marathon. We haven't lured  him into the Ultra distances  . . . yet. - ek

Jerome at Diez Vista/Buntzen 5 peaks "Dude, that wasn't a 'hill!'"
"I hated running. Ya, I HATED it. I played and coached football for a combined twenty years. Which meant everything we did was designed to make us quicker inside of twenty yards.
Sprints till you puked.

Hills till you collapsed. 
Not Fun. 

Oh, and I had asthma that came on because of my allergy to grass. Yea.

"I could run again and it felt GOOD!" - Jerome

"As time went on I had injuries. I broke my left leg, broke my left foot, tore my left Achilles and up wrecked my left knee. All to the point of walking with a permanent limp by the time I was thirty-five.

In Winning Style - From Facebook

"My wife got me off my ass and moving again. Six months of physio on that left leg combined with a personal trainer and the limp was gone. Not only that but I could run again and it felt GOOD! Actually it was awesome. Then I reconnected with Ed after a short break of twenty years and he showed me trails. You had me at "knees bent and arms out." - Jerome

Dianna Christopoulos

I met Dianna through Squamish 50 and the Coast Mountain Trail Series. She's the volunteer coordinator for CMTS and liaison for Squamish 50. She's always smiling unless she's going uphill, and is a monster on the downhills. She has a trademark on the phrase, "Makes my heart happy!" - ek
Dianna "two thumbs up for trail running!" - photo from Coast Mountain Trail Series
 "Two years ago when I ran my first full road marathon, I crossed the line in exhaustion and pure joy that I was finally finished and then it happened, I hated running. I never wanted to do it again. 
I told Steve, a friend, that " I quit running." 
For six months I didn't touch my runners; didn't even entertain the idea of running. The thought of it made me angry. I had lost my best friend to cancer that year and training was consumed by my emotions and nothing made sense. Why the heck would anyone want to do that again. Trying to train for your first full marathon and watching your friend die of cancer doesn't seem fair or right. 

"It wasn't until a friend told me to try Gary Robbin's Bucking Hell race which was either running 10km down, 10km up - or both - so I immediately signed up for the 10km down, what the heck did I just get myself in to?! Made my way to [Mount] Seymour, got my hug from Gary (we may have danced in the pouring rain), and then off we went. I was home... the trails were something else. 

"I run because our trail community is something unique." - Dianna

  "I loved every second of it and couldn't wait to do it again. Who wouldn't love running downhill in the pouring rain bouncing off the trails, laughing every second of the way. Fast forward six months and I was toeing the line of my first 50km. It wasn't easy, there was a lot of doubt and  it wasn't pretty due to injury and exhaustion but there was no way I was going to back out. Crossing that line of my first 50km was unreal and humbling. I don't really know how to sum it all up but it was something that only I felt; every runner has a different experience. 
Diann Jumping for Joy! - photo from Facebook
"I run because I can. I run because as a kid I was never told or taught to go beyond my limits. I run because I embrace the doubt that I create in my head. I run because I want to prove to myself that I can. I run because our trail community is something unique. I run because it makes me happy. I run because I feel at home with the people I run with and the places it takes me. I run because it fuels the fire within me to push beyond my limits. 

"Well that was hard to write in 3 paragraphs!" - Dianna

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Night Running

With the days getting shorter, and the race plans for 2015 starting to take hold, a cardiac inducing panic can set in to long distance running that is hard to escape. Namely, how do I get my time and mileage in with such little time in the day?

Up here in Vancouver BC, sunrise is around 8am and sunset as early as 4pm in the heart of winter. I am not an early morning guy, except on long run days and races, so the idea of waking up at 7am and getting some trail time before the kids are off to school is out of the question. That leaves the evening, which is inevitably dark and cold. Perfect conditions for night running.

I started my night running expeditions during the summer months, with exploration in the safety of clear night skies and temperatures warm enough to get away with exposure if things didn't go well. In the late fall and winter that option changes and gear and supplies, as well as familiarity with the trails is of utmost importance. I've done a fair amount of night running and enjoy it immensely. Your senses come alive, and the forest doesn't so much as "go to sleep" but rather wakes up in a magical way.

So here's what I've learned . . .

Preparation - Overview

When getting out onto trails, it's always important to be prepared, but let's face it, even the most stalwart safety advocate can cut some corners when going on local trails in the bright sun for a short run. This kind of improvisation is not recommended for night running. Ensure you have all your supplies, from food, first aid kit, map and compass, extra layers, and extra batteries for light (which will be discussed in detail later). Always start with fresh batteries. Rechargeable lights are okay, but I wouldn't recommend them as your primary source. It's hard to find a USB or wall charger in the middle of the forest.

Basic Night Running Gear

Reflective gear is a good idea also. When you're running with others, you become a beacon in the night.

Alley with reflective gear
In the cold, I also carry some hot pockets (the warm pads that fit in your gloves or socks). I carry a knife as well, for both security and utility.
Leave a note and let people know where you are going, on what trails, and when you are expected back. Keep in mind that night running is much slower than in natural light, so a 10k trail that takes an hour, could take two to three times as much time depending on conditions.

I also recommend running with a friend and/or friends. There's safety in numbers and many of your apprehensions will disappear, allowing you to focus on the task at hand.

Light - The Source

There are many different options for lighting on the trail at night and figuring out what works best for you is part of the fun. There are reputable brands of light out there (Black Diamond, Petzl, Princeton Tek, Fenix etc) and in depth reviews of battery life, lumens and range. Generally, the more lumens the better with 100 lumens being the minimum you will want at your disposal. For reference, 10 lumens is about the strength of 1 bright candle.

Leona & Serenity - Red Light vs. White Light
There are two basic types of lights, handheld flashlights and headlamps or head torches (as our European counterparts like to say). I use both, with a headlamp on top and the handheld flashlight in my right hand. Both my light sources are disposable battery powered and shine 100 and 120 lumens at max strength. I have used a precharged battery Princeton Tek light that had a huge 260 lumens also on a 6 hour night run, and it was really good, but a bit of overkill for my needs. Also the battery pack on the back of the head was bit heavy, although it did keep the light from bobbing as a counterbalance.

Colin Aldous with the Petzl Reactive Lighting

The nice part of having a handheld is that you can shine the light in a different direction to which you are looking, granting a better circumspect input of the terrain and surroundings. So if my head is down as I'm climbing some steep terrain, I can shine the light to the sides and get a better sense of where I am at. I also find the trinity of headlamp, handheld and eyeballs gets rid of that tunnel vision and eases any nausea that is known to occur with night running. Ensure the handheld has a strap.

If you're wearing a brimmed hat, turn it backwards otherwise the light will create a shadow over your brim and diminish the range of your light. I do suggest wearing a hat, buff or toque to create a barrier between the strap and your head. It assists with light stability and if you're really bouncing along, keeps the light in place. Nothing like having the headlamp pop off your head or drop onto your neck in the middle of a technical downhill in the dark to make things interesting!

Some people use green, blue or red filters on their light. Honestly, I haven't tried this yet so can't really comment, but I am intrigued.

It's What o'Clock? - When to Run

There are three times when you could go out for a "night run": Dusk, as the night approaches and the light fades; Dawn, as the morning arrives and rising sun rescues you, or; Middle of the Night, the Sun has abandoned you, and the only way you're gonna see it is by spending hours on the trail.

For beginners, I suggest Dusk. You can start in the fading light, allow your eyes to get adjusted to the dark, and be back at the car before it's pitch black. Twilight is hard to run in because of the lack of hard shadows (everything washes out), but the comfort of knowing you aren't spending the whole time in a blanket of pitch black is a good place to start.

A Selfie with the headlamp turned off

If you're an early riser, then just before dusk works also. This allows you to start in the dark, and based on your sunrise, run into the light.The benefit of this is you finish your run without headlamps, and you know you're going into a new day. Lots of Ultra races start in this condition also, so it plays well with pre-race training and mental preparation.

For the brave and adventurous, running through the night or beginning and ending in the dark is a fun option. Ensure you have enough battery life in your light sources as you're living in the darkness for the entire outing.

Technique - Where to Shine

Be prepared to fiddle with your light. A little higher, a little lower, a little to the left or right, a little brighter, a little dimmer. A good rule of thumb is to shine the light about 10 or 15 feet ahead, depending on how quick you're moving and the terrain. Resist the urge to shine it at your feet. By the time you see what's coming, it's too late.

Your light intensity changes depending whether you're leading or following

If you are the lead runner, you don't have much to worry about. Set your light to as high an output as you need. Your responsibility is to light as much of the trail as possible.

If you're running behind someone, there's a couple of options, but do NOT shine your light on full beam as you will cast a shadow of the runner in front of you, in effect negating their own light.
60% of max is good gauge, and then you can go slightly higher or lower based on the proximity to each other. The closer you are, the less power you need, and the further you are, the more power you need.
When following, it's also a good idea to point your light further down, so you're hitting no higher than the lead runner's waist at the highest point. This ensures the aforementioned shadow is minimized while still giving the lead runner the benefit of some at foot illumination.
Another trick when following is to angle your light on your head slightly to the side by about 10 or 15 degrees. You'll still get the benefit of lighting the trail ahead of you, and if you're using a handheld, then that light source can fill the dark spots created by your primary light.

 Where Are We? - Know The Trail

When you're starting out, ensure you know the trails. Begin with reasonably flat, non-technical terrain that you've run before. For night runs, I prefer out and backs; such as a climb and descent on the same trail. The reason this works so well is that you control the time. If you want to go out for a two hour run, then run out for an hour, and then back for an hour. Simple. Make whatever adjustments required if there's elevation or challenging sections. For the most part, the difference whether greater or lesser is manageable to deal with.

Be Trail Aware!
Loops work also, especially ones where you can create shortcuts if needed to get back sooner. For example, if you're planning a specific loop and it's taking longer than expected, you can shortcut along another well known trail and ensure you hit your time goals.
Unless you're racing, then distance is secondary to time. Setting out to do an "18k night run" is a fool's bargain and can end up with concerned family members and Search and Rescue being sent out when you miss your estimated finish time.

Have a map of the trail, and know trail names, junctions (both marked and unmarked), trail markers and landmarks. Keep in mind that the trail will look vastly different at night. Missing turns, taking routes that look like trails but aren't, and getting "turned around" are all likely to happen. be prepared to take your time, and only continue if you are certain of the direction.

Pace - Turtle Power

Don't expect to PR any segments on Strava. Wow, that hurt to write that sentence.

Ain't No Records Being Broken Here!

Sight lines are limited, and  your overall pace will be very slow compared to day running. Take into account the above notes of paying attention to trail markers, and signage, and the number of stops you take will also increase. Pace is irrelevant at night unless it's on a race day. Enjoy the sounds of the night, the silent air, and really get in tune with the experience. Night running had a huge impact on my transition from road (which was shortlived anyway) to trail. My pace addiction went out the window, and getting tuned in to energy output and effort is really easy at night.

Elevation - Climbs Get Easier, Downhills Get Harder

For most of us, downhills are faster than uphills. That stays relatively true with night running, but be prepared to experience fatigue on the downhills and a more relaxed state on the uphills.
As I mentioned in a previous post on climbing, going uphill in the dark is awesome. Why? Because you can't see how high it is. The incline disappears from your field of vision very quickly, leaving you with a 15 foot arc of light which leads you into never never land.  Your breathing and your steps are the only things to keep you company. The top of the climb meets you when it meets you, and the monumental task of going up is nary a worry for the majority of the tunnel in which you travel.

And Bears. And Cougars.

The inverse is true for downhill. I tend to fiddle with my headlamp angle a lot more on the downhill so I can run as fast as possible and still be "in the light."  The ground approaches and disappears quickly, regardless of how fast you're going, and the space behind is swallowed into a black pit of nothingness. It's exhilarating and a serious rush. Depending on how technical the trail is, your primary goal is not to fall flat on your face.
The concentration and mental fatigue can accumulate quickly, much like lactic acid in the brain, as you focus on the quickly manifesting and dissolving reality before you. If you know the trail, and have run it multiple times in both bright and dark conditions, speed can come, but always at a price. Things seem faster in the night, so the payoff is huge regardless.

The Elements - Weather You Know It or Not

Summer time night running is very different than Spring, Fall or Winter running; mainly because of the respect it deserves. It's normally cooler at night, and even more so in the wilderness. A balmy afternoon can turn into a sub-freezing evening very quickly. Be prepared, and check the weather reports. Being on a mountain, in the dark, in a volatile weather season can be disaster. In Vancouver, North Shore Search and Rescue is very active plucking under-prepared or unlucky hikers, runners and adventurers in the colder months.

Caution and Preparedness is your friend
A sudden drop in temperature, a mistaken turn or a downpour can all suddenly change the amount of time you are exposed to the elements. I wear Icebreaker merino base layer gear religiously, and have mountaineering shells for wind protection, a thermal blanket, and merino wool toques and gloves. While moving, it may be overkill, and stores neatly in my pack, but if someone, including myself, was injured, a 30 minute or 3 hour wait for rescue in the dark under changing conditions is a bad place to wish for a blankie and a teddy bear. Add to that the potential for shock, hypothermia, and dehydration and you're asking for trouble. Now, don't get me wrong, night running in the winter is awesome, but follow the old adage of better to have and not need, than to need and not have!

Time on Feet - Training 

As a training tool, night running is perfect to prepare you for the travel race, or ensure you have a strong base for the Spring season. It's a great way to spend time on feet, and minimize the distance and pace goals in training. The discussions at night also tend to take on a different seasoning. Most of my night runs have brought me closer to my running friends. The moments of silence are noticed, not ignored, and the conversations tend to be deeper in meaning, less trivial (although your mileage may vary).

In summary, get out there and give it a shot. Night running is something you can really fall in love with, and its rewards far outweigh the risks. For ultra running, night running is an integral part of the majority of distances in the 50 mile + range if you're a mid to back of the pack runner. Getting comfortable with it's nuances is not only an enjoyable part of the work of trail running, but one that can ensure you success.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Hallow's Eve 2014 Race Report: Two Years of Trails

This year's Hallow's Eve was a special moment for me as it brings about two years of trail running.
In 2012, this was my first trail race, and I signed up on a whim, and did the half marathon distance. I had no idea where we were running, or how the course looked. In fact, I didn't even realize people ran on trails like the ones on this course!

Well, two years later, several races, including Ultras that both went well and went not well, I wanted to have fun with this course and see how it translated compared to two years ago.

I was planning on beating my original time, and had a lofty goal of 2:20, with a secondary goal of sub 2:30.
Of course, training was not really happening and my mileage leading into the race was super low (as in calling it "training" is not really a fair statement).
I was maxing out at 20k per week, which is not much at all. I was also still figuring out nutrition woes, so the fact was that, despite the experience of two years, my ability going into this race was only slightly greater than the first year I entered.

I had my mask and chain arm sleeves as Hallow's Eve is a costumed run. We had very little of our running group at this race, since many of them had completed the Oregon Coast 50k the weekend prior and were embracing much deserved recovery.

Natasha, Marc and I were the only ones doing the half, and Jamie and his family were there also (his wife was running the 10k as her first trail race).

Chatting with a super chill Peter Watson (RD)

Hallow's Eve is part of the Mountain Madness series, run by Peter Watson, who also has Fat Dog Ultra as his opus.
His races are always fun and super chill, and this was no exception. We had a quick chat after registration, and he looked relaxed. I used that and just allowed myself to chill out too. On this race, whatever happened, let it happen was my mantra. If I wanted to go fast, slow, run up, run down, do the hokey pokey, walk, sit, drink whatever, just let it be.

I was going minimal on the fuel. I had a 20oz bottle of gatorade. Yup, that's it. Anything else I was going to grab from the Aid Stations.

My family was of course there in full force to cheer, take pics and spook us on the trails.
Do I trust these cannibals or what?

We started, and the first section through the cemetery was great. I was able to see the leaders all the way into the woods trailhead about a kilometre in. Everyone in the front to mid-pack went the wrong way immediately after that, and we added close to a km in distance with a missed flag. Not a big deal, but it did affect my time goals with an added 3 minutes 30 seconds to the total time.
I felt we were off course, but as the whole group was there, we reconnected with the trail in a short time and carried on.

Termininan (aka my wife)

After the technical beginning of the BP section, we start a scattered net uphill with a mix of stairs, roots and runnable single track. I ran and walked where necessary but felt fatigued. It was low mileage in training and I was fine with it. Post SQ50, my mental needs were more important.
Ironically, I felt a little mental as I started counting my steps as I ran. I would count 1 to 100, then do it all over again. I tried to break the habit, by thinking of a song, but couldn't. All that I could think of was counting. Then Radiohead's Karma Police came into my head, which is NOT a great song to run to, so I allowed the counting to continue. It stayed with me the whole race. I must have counted to 100 several thousand times over the distance of the race. Good times!

The first Aid Station had coke, so I drank a cup of that, rinsed with some water, and then carried on.
The steps up to Old Mountain Highway went by quick, saw my fam for the second time, and then I was looking forward to Griffin Trail. The single track was slick, muddy and wet, and I just cruised along.

Once we hit Lynn Headwaters, I knew Cedar Mills trail was gonna be boring, so I just settled into my counting of steps and focused on form.
The climb up to upper Lynn Loop felt longer than normal, but I always forget the last set of stairs on that section.
The top of Lynn Loop has had a lot of trail work done, some new bridges, hard pack dirt, and a covering and filling in of the technical roots and rocks made it almost unrecognizable. It's a heavy use trail, so understand the needs to prevent erosion, but it still changes the dynamic of that path a lot. I prefer the eroded version.

I ran past Solana and Jay who were jumping out and scaring people (they missed me luckily! Ha suckers!!) as they were running to a new position.

The descent into LSCR was fine, and the day was getting really warm. At the final aid station I splashed water on my head, and cooled myself off as I ran. I immediately got life into my run, which wasn't "bad" up to this point, but it wasn't "great" either; it was simply "good" or "meh" up until this point. No real excitement, and no struggles, just kind of "whatever".

I felt more alive with the water on my head, and as I passed the suspension bridge, my wife and kids were there, so I called for them to run with me! They ran about 50 meters with me before I disappeared down the trail.

My kiddos 
The final out n back section was good, and I was excited when we finally kicked out onto the road and headed back through the cemetery. Jamie snapped some shots as I ran down the final stretch and I cruised into the finish.


I suppose I was expecting some form of magical experience on this race after two years of running, as though it had something to live up to. I did expect to perform better than I did overall, but none of those things happened. In hindsight, I guess it's natural to have those highs and lows in a season, and this was neither high nor low, but somewhere in between, likely the middle as my balance points (both physically and mentally) reset itself after a challenging season.

So what's next? Our running group is having an anniversary run (also 2 years on), and then race planning for next year. The Ultra goals are still on standby as we continue the investigation medically on the puke factor, and my training goals are going to be mixed.
Nothing is concrete until December at this point.
I'm relaxed about it all, and am looking forward to lots of exploration into the high country for 2015 with alpine peaks and back country expeditions.

We also have a number of night runs planned (I LOVE night running), so I'll post some tips and strategies on those experiences in a few weeks!

Until then, see you on the trails and mountains.

Crush and Coffee
Natasha and I post race

Strava File 
Official Time: 2:31:24
Placement: 62 out of 115

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The End of Ultra . . .

Well the end of 2014 has derailed slightly due to poor recovery from Squamish 50's grand explosion. I've had some good runs, and some not so good runs since then. The hamstring injury subsided pretty quick, but the dead legs and lack of energy have not dissipated quite so neatly.

I dropped distance for Frosty 50 to the 27k, but after a test run on a "Tour de Buntzen" where I did 35k of trails along Sugar Mountain, Diez Vista and the Buntzen trails, the long run ended badly with severe vomiting all the way home and  a passing out on the bed once I got there.

With a distance like 27k, I would want to race it, so the idea of "just getting it done" wasn't in the cards. I actually feel really good with my decision for ending the Ultra season on this note. I plan on doing a lot of races for a lot of years, so a short term hiatus to allow my body to get back to a solid plane is important.

I will be doing some flagging, sweeping, and volunteering for both 5Peaks and Coast Mountain Trail Series, and then racing the Mountain Madness Hallow's Eve 23k at the end of October. I want to be ready for that race and push hard and really dig deep.

I'm seeing a nutritionist at Fortius Sports Centre  in Burnaby, and getting a plan to ensure both my daily intake and race day intakes have enough calories to sustain my active lifestyle of running, martial arts, and generally doing stuff. The initial assessment shows that I'm well short of my daily caloric needs, so eating more, more often and more consistently is one of the goals. We'll see how this translates into the longer distances.

In the meantime, our running group has found an addiction to getting into the high country, and peak seeking, as well as back country explorations have entered the We Run Mas market place! Experiencing nature on this level has produced a lot of emotional attachments amongst our friends, and the positivity and connections have grown very strong. It's a great feeling when as strangers through social media, we now have so many memories that bring us together. Magical in fact.

As far as 2015 is concerned, it's too early to tell what the Ultra plans are going to be. Dialing in my gut issues has been the seven headed hydra. Every time I lop off one head, two more grow  in its place. It's perplexing and a challenging,  both mentally and physically, but I'm up to the task. I have hopes I will find the nutrition plan that will work for me, but know that it may be a long road to get it sorted.

Next update will be October, post Hallow's Eve.

Until then, I'll be running around, climbing mountains, bombing down technical descents, and laughing as much as possible with the people that make me so very happy.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

"I Can Run Faster Than I Can Run"

Recovery from Squamish 50 has been interesting. The monday after, my family and I helped remove some of the flagging on the final 2k of the course. I had plans on doing more, but my right leg was definitely going on strike.

My wife and boys at Smoke Bluffs - de-flagging. 

As far as post race meals were concerned, I was seriously craving spicy food. I ate chicken curry, spicy tacos, thai spiced chicken etc. I think the body learns how to convert calories most efficiently based on the diet upon which you grew up, and I grew up with spicy food. In order to get the nutrients back into the system, that's an efficient way to do it. I have read supporting documentation of this concept, and thus far it seems to hold true in real life experience. Listen to the cravings and feed the body what it wants.

By Monday night I was reasonably sore, and we had a great lunch before leaving Squamish with Sean and Elaine after we did some pool and hot tub. The drive home, we dropped off the flagging at Gary's, and then dove into some much anticipated rest and relaxation. Sitting was aggravating my hamstring tendon, so I made a Float House session for Tuesday, and a physio appointment at Coast Therapy for Thursday.

Float Tank at Float House

Tuesday was rough. The Float House was really cool, and it was nice to just reset the nervous system with the sensory deprivation. I'll be setting up another session in the fortnight.
By Tuesday night, my ability to walk was seriously compromised, and I rested as much as I could.

Then Wednesday morning, I felt great. I could walk pretty much normally with no limp. All the spicy food, rest, and Float session had some impact. My recovery from training has normally been very positive this year, and the post race actions were doing likewise. After the physio session on Thursday, the assessment was I overextended the hamstring muscle and the hamstring tendon causing some minor tearing. We did Ultrasound, active release and IMS on the back of the leg all the way down to the calf. It hurt, but I knew the focus on those areas would draw my own healing into the right places, despite feeling beat up after the physio appointment.

I have a deep tissue massage set up for the 1st of September, and I'll start running again on the final weekend of August.

So, that leads us into Frosty 50k. What do I plan on doing different to prevent the mass explosion that was SQ50 and ensure a great race?
Frosty 50 Banner

Frosty 50 Pre-Race

  1. Recovery: I have to ensure I am injury free before this race. I really wrecked myself at Squamish, and ensuring I have enough rest, active recovery, and muscle therapy leading into the race are important. Float House sessions, massage, pool running and physio, with some active strength exercises are going to be vital. I have the base I need, and the technical ability to run so less focus on that, and more on the other aspects of the sports required athleticism. The We Run Mas support group is keeping me honest on ensuring I don't over reach before I'm fully recovered. Thanks team!
  2. Sleep: I have to ensure I get enough of it pre-race, so the 72 hours before race day will be boring, boring, boring. Lots of movies, and reading, and take it easy at work.
  3. Nutrition: Eat a lot. I normally carb load the 48 hours before, which I did NOT do for SQ50. I'll also ensure I am taking in and monitoring my Magnesium, since that is a major problem for me (I have magnesium deficiency, which plays a role in my electrolyte balance). 

Frosty 50 In -Race

Colin and I at Quest: SQ50
I'm actively releasing my calf cramp
Photo Credit: Jen Mullaly
  1. Start Slow: I was going at what was a moderate pace for SQ50, but even then I could have gone slower. The way I put it with my friends was, "I can run faster than I can run." It's a simple statement, but holds very true. I need to dial it back. I have a history of feeling really good, not "pushing" but not actively "holding it back" either, and then getting hit by a virtual linebacker ten yards from the goal line (I know a football metaphor in a running blog.) I can comfortably run a 4:40/km half marathon pace on flat terrain. So, that effort level taken down a few notches would be closer to a 5:25/km pace effort level (all equivalent exertion here, since pace on trails is irrelevant), and then one more notch down to a 5:50/km pace equivalent. Running a 5:50/km pace for me on flat feels like a crawl, so that's what I'm gonna do. Even if I have to go into a 6:00 or 6:10/km effort level, I'll do that.
  2. Nutrition: Infinit has worked really well for me in training, so the fact I couldn't hold down any fuel in the 2nd half of SQ50 was really odd. I'm used to having stomach issues, but haven't had any since training with Infinit. It's pretty much similar to Tailwind for liquid calories, but it's a Canadian company, and it's customizable, so that's all a bonus. To sate any potential hunger, I'm going to carry a sandwich or try some of Scott Jurek's rice balls (does that sounds creepy or is it just me?). I'll likely take in a little less than a 24oz bottle an hour, closer to 20oz per hour, which ought to get me around 220 calories per 60 minutes +/-. 
  3. Puking: IF I start puking again, I'll cut the race short. I haven't figured out how to recover from this yet. At Diez Vista 50k, I got nauseous but stayed on the dry side of hurling and finished really strong. So my goal is to keep the gut in check as much as possible, and prevent puking at ALL COST! It gets hard to breathe after, and really unravels things quickly for me. So, DON'T PUKE!!
  4. Cramping/Seizing: If it happens again, I'll do what I did at Squamish by slowing down, but I won't push through if it turns to full leg seizing. I have no problem getting a DNF for Frosty. I'm still learning how to manage the sport, and my expectations around it, so I'm thinking of the long game in this race.
  5. PEAK-A-BOO: There are two climbs in this race. The first one is just up and up to 7900', and then down and down. RULE: Do NOT bomb down the first peak. Dial it back, restrain the desire and take it easy, similar to a long run. On the second climb, maintain a steady pace. There are rollers on the top of the 2nd peak, so cruise along at a suitably moderate minus effort. On the 2nd peak descent, open up the legs and see what's left in the tank for the final 8k. I still need to do more course recon and see what different portions of the trails are like as I have run zero of the trails in Manning Park. 

Quest on SQ50. The "Old" Me.
Photo Credit: Jen Mullaly

In summary, my plan is to use the training that I have "in the bank" and be way more careful about my lead in to the race. It's far less supported than most races, as majority of the trails on course are very remote. This means I have to be smart and cautious. As much as I'd like to break the threshold of going from "Survivor" status in Ultra running to "Runner" status, I'm not there yet. I think with a few more finishes, and more experience, time will tell where I will end up falling into the longer distances. For shorter races of 25k and less, I'm definitely a mid-pack runner, and while I did my best to hang in that bunch for the last two Ultra races, it wasn't in the cards. It's a bit of an awakening. The person who went into Squamish 50 was not the same person who came out of Squamish 50. Who that person is won't be revealed until Frosty 50, but I'm hoping he's a lot more savvy! 

SQ50 Finish: The "Not the Same" Me
Photo Credit: Jen Mullaly

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Squamish 50: Race Report 2014

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

All the WRM Racers
The Squamish 50 race has a special place for me. It was the first Ultra at 50 miles that I attempted in 2013 (read the race report here), and it is also the major reason why I have met and developed so many amazing friendships. Ultra running brings people together in ways that are hard to explain. The highs and lows of training and racing is very visceral. It's hard not to feel a connection on a very deep level with the people to whom you expose your deepest self.

This year, I was running the 50k. My original goal was to use the SQ50k to set up my 50 mile plans at Meet Your Maker, but with the cancelling of MYM, I reset the SQ50 as my "A" race of the season, with Frosty 50k as my final ultra of the year in September. My training leading up to the race was solid. I blogged about it here. I felt confident going into Sunday's race and was shooting for a ballpark 8 hour finish time, with hopes of a 7:30 if the day went right.

We arrived on the Friday, and this year I was the Logistical Co-ordinator for the weekend. My job in the months leading up to and into the weekend were to ensure that stuff got to where it needed to get to at the right time. With over 900 racers, 80 kilometres of  mountain terrain, 200+ volunteers, 250 pounds of bananas, 500 pounds of watermelons, and endless amounts of potato chips, cookies, tables, water jugs, oranges, Coca Cola (oh the Coke!) and all the other stuff, we got to work right away on Friday. 

The Aid Station Organization Team!
I would also relay and monitor all radio traffic to ensure that marshals were in place, aid stations were stocked, ready and re-supplied and that the supplies were re-organized, sorted and prepped for Sunday's 50k & 23k after Saturday's 50 mile day. It sounds hard, but with the team of Gary (RD), Geoff (RD), Sarah (Volunteer Coordinator), Dianna (Volunteer Liaison) and Amber (Potato Cooking Demon!), things were floating along like clockwork.

Yes, these are real times of the day! I know!!
Friday went by like a storm, and before we knew it, it was 10pm and we had a pre-race, post registration meeting. I got to bed around 1:00 am for a 3am wake up call but didn't really sleep in anticipation of the Saturday event. 

4am Saturday morning: Race Logistics
By the time Saturday came around, I was at Race HQ, multiple radios in hand, my wife gathering AS2 supplies. Majority of the AS Captains picked up their supplies the night before (which was awesome, thank you captains!!). 

50mile race start was set up for 5:30AM, and the plan was rolling along. Through radio updates, text messages and phone calls, all marshals were en route, and Sarah was ensuring volunteers were on the way to the right locations. To make a long story short, Saturday went off really well! The race was solid, with strong showings, and a large number of our friends conquering new distances, and a few of them even doing the dreaded 50/50 (running 50 miles Saturday, and 50k Sunday)! We had a LOT of our friends running across multiple distances, so the energy and excitement was through the roof!

Ellie and Dianna
I did my hand off to John Barron Saturday evening as he was going to manage the day for Sunday, and finished my shift at 9pm. A long and rewarding day! A quick trip to the finish line to see Leona and Emily come in (that was emotional, as Leona was recovering from projectile vomiting, and Emily was emotionally spent). 

Leona 50mile
Photo: Carolyn Kelly-Smith

Andy H 50/50
Photo: Carolyn Kelly-Smith

Spring 50mile
Photo: Carolyn Kelly-Smith

Linda 50/50
Photo: Carolyn Kelly-Smith

Joseph Chick 50/50

Apocalypse Now

By the time I got to bed on Saturday night, it was just past midnight. With only one hour of sleep the night before, and three hours of sleep on Saturday with a really poor day of eating, my setup going into race day was in danger. I felt great waking up at 4am though, and quickly had a small bite to eat, showered, shaved (no race beard this year), and got my gear together. Went through my checklist of Infinit Nutrition, Snickers bars, Ginger and Tums. We were expecting a humid day with higher temperatures than Saturday's race. 

My boys, our dawg, and me
Heading out to the start line with the family was an awesome ride. We cranked the tunes and the adrenalin was pumping. We came into the busy staging area at Alice Lake. The sun was gently rising, which cast a pre-dawn hue to the skyline as it crested the mountains we were planning to conquer. The number of racers was astounding, and we neatly found our friends for the 50k and 50/50 day two.

Ready to Rumble!
Gary went through the pre-race briefing, and then in typical fashion started his countdown from 8 seconds. We were off!

Gary showing us how to do jumping jacks with flagging tape
Andy Joyce, Colin Aldous and I set off together, as we are all similar pace, with minor differences in strengths once the trails show up. A quick jaunt to the trail head, lots of waves and smiles and we start on the first rolling section through Stump Lake. This section is really easy and runnable, and we're cruising along, talking and planning our day. We know we will likely split up at some point, but for now, we were happy to run together and share in the experience. It was Colin's first Ultra, and Andy was back from an injury, so our joy was perceivable to be out there together.

I was leading our little wolf pack, and I kept checking in to ensure we were on a decent and casual pace. "This pace cool boys or too fast?" The response was always affirmative, and we were talking the whole way so no concerns there. We came into the Dead End Loop and up the switchbacks. We had a conga line behind us, but no one wanted to pass. We kicked out into the power lines shortly after and were coming into Aid Station #1 "The Corners" 8km in at 58 minutes. Perfectly on schedule. We didn't stay long, refilled water and were off at exactly 60 minutes into our day.

Running with Colin (L) and Andy J (R)
The cruise down the FSR to the entrance of Galactic, our 2500' climb to the ridge was fun and easy. Temperatures were good, although the humidity was making itself known. We hiked and ran and hiked up Galactic and ended up at the front of another very large conga line of about twenty five racers. I called back several times if anyone wanted to pass, but everyone seemed good with the pace. About 3/4's of the way up, I pulled to the side as the mental pressure of being ahead of that many racers was not a stress I wanted to carry. I pulled back in with a runner from Patagonia, his first Ultra, and we chatted about the course. 

Once my new found friend and I reached the mountain river at the top, he carried on and I took a moment to fill my "splash" bottles from the stream. I was using the Salomon soft flasks as dousing water to keep me cool as I tend to overheat on hot days. Colin and Andy were about a minute ahead of me, but well out of sight. Evannah and I ended up together and she was looking strong. We traversed the top of the ridge together, and once we hit the rocky trail, I passed her in order to keep my flow on that type of terrain. If I go too slow on rock-bed trails, I tend to turn my ankle, so I skip along the top of the stones kind of parkour like. My breathing was steady and I was still at a low heart rate, so all good. I passed a few people, as expected on the downhills, and then hit Upper Powersmart, a black diamond rated trail and one of my favourites

I'm feeling great, super fluid, strong legs, and in the groove. I float down the trail breathing light and passing a lot of people. My nutrition was holding tight, and I was a good third bottle into my fuel, so right on target with 260 calories per bottle. I catch up to Andy, and shortly after Colin. We kick out of the first section together and jaunt up to AS2 "Word of Mouth." Colin shows us a war wound, as he had crashed on the Powersmart descent before I caught up, and he has a gash just below his knee. As we leave the aid station, and drop into the Word of Mouth trail network, Andy jokes that the only place he's gonna slide is through the finish line. Seconds later, he takes a dive, but Colin catches his arm, preventing any major concern. We have a chuckle at the irony, and as we cruise along the single track, Colin says "I don't plan on any more spills." To which I respond, "What's the fun of that?!!" Oh, perhaps I should have kept my mouth shut on Word of Mouth. Just after the Wormhole split off, there's a simple little drop, and as I lead us through I catch a toe (Andy heard the crunch and thought I broke my foot) and go down hard, all in less than a second. This is a first, since I don't crash - ever! Yet, here I was, sprawled out on the trail. Unfortunately, the way I went to brace my fall put a huge amount of force on my right leg, and as I roll over to prop myself up, the entire right leg seizes up, from hamstring to calf. Colin and Andy are concerned, and I tell them to get out of here. It's a race, not a long run, but they won't leave. 

Evannah catches up, and stops also. Dammit people, go run! I look right at Colin as my leg is still fully seized and tell him to go, I'll see him at Quest. He takes off and Evannah follows. Andy takes about ten steps, then turns around and says, "I'm not leaving you here." I realize he's telling the truth, so I fake it. I know he's not gonna skedaddle unless he sees me get up, so I get up. I take a breath, tell him I'm gonna walk it off, and then he seems satisfied. He takes off and the second he's around the corner, I lean against a tree and jab my fingers into my leg to get them to release. (As I write this on Tuesday evening, I definitely tore something since I can't straighten my leg and my hamstring tendon is twice the size it should be.) 
Slowly but surely I am able to walk, then run, and I carry on into Quest. I arrive shortly after Colin and Andy, who seems perplexed that I came in so quick. My experience is that if a cramp can get moving again, then it feels better, so that's what I did, not knowing that the damage was greater than I first assessed.

My son Paris stretching out my cranked leg. Lucien with the pep talk!

My wife and boys are the Quest Aid Station, along with many other friends who were crewing for their own respective families. It's a major hub, and also the halfway mark for the race. While the back half of the course is much harder due to the relentless changing of terrain, I'm right on time for an estimated 8 hour finish. I've done training runs in the same trails from 36k to 47k so I'm planning on 4 hours for the back half to finish line! I express that despite my uncharacteristic wipe out, I'm having the best race of my life! 23 of 50k in the bag!!

As an aside, I did notice that my watch was paused!! Dammit, I must have hit it on a bottle swap coming down from the peak, so I decide to reset it at Quest so at least the back half will be accurate.

Buffet. Yum. Still feeling good.
A quick peruse of the buffet, a snickers bar to sate a bit of hunger (Saturday meal plan was coming back to haunt me), and bottle refills and I was off. Jen Mullally and Spring were there to cheer, and I rolled down the road, a couple of high fives and then the boring ass climb up Mamquam road. I speak to Chris from Ultralive TV who was live video updating the race on Saturday and running Sunday. He goes off into the trailhead up Legacy, and then my stomach starts to turn. This is an exposed, and very hot section of trail and I literally go from feeling good with some right leg pain to feeling like a bag of crap in about six seconds. My pace drops immediately, and Lisa Oswald-Coates cruises past me. No problem, slow it down, dial it in, stay cool, and slowly drink your calories. Nope, not happening. The first heave of the day is pending, and the lack of sleep and pre-race nutrition is catching up to me.

Andy: Radler Power - Take I

Andy H: Radler Power - Take II
Andy Healey cruises past, this being the second day as he completed the 50 mile on Saturday, and I realize I'm probably moving slower than I think I am. I don't feel like I'm bonking. I don't have listless legs, over riding fatigue or anything like that, and my fuel up to that point was good. I just feel, "off." It's the only way to describe it. Even plain water is making me gag! Another 50/50 runner comes up on the Legacy to NorthSide Connector crossover; it's Ginger Runner Ethan Newberry. He's looking focused and just after he passes, so does my stomach. I puke on the fire service road. Yes, it has begun! The Squamish 50 devil has latched onto my back and is dragging me down with every step. Let's continue shall we . . . 

The Nine Layers of Hell

I struggle to get out of the exposed trail, under the rising sun and ever increasing humidity. The longer I stay here, the more difficult my strategy to deal with it will become so I try to hammer through until I reach the long tall trees before Climb Trail. The stream I wanted to dunk in is dried up, so I curse it, and move on. As I approach a mountain bike bridge that goes over the trail, I see two runners who have already descended Angry Midget helping a female runner who bailed on the bridge and was cramped up and couldn't stand. I offer assistance, but they say that they have her. I don't know what happened to her after that, but she looked rough. 

Just before I go under the bridge, I see my Patagonian friend! Okay, things are falling into perspective. In about 6k, he has gained an hour on me in distance. Crap, how slow am I going?! I try to hustle, but anything faster than a trot and I feel sick. Not nauseous, just not right. It's very odd, and I realize my day is unraveling. It's gonna be longer than I expected, so I reframe my mind to deal with a 4 1/2 to 5 hour back half instead.

Climb trail arrives and I'm getting passed. I start to have issues staying centred on the trail, and am weaving a bit back and forth, so I try to stick to the upside of the mountain so I don't slip on a switchback. Candice Ridyard comes up as I sit on a rock in the blazing sun and asks how I'm doing. Thumbs up, but I feel like shit. We have a quick chat about the next section, I mention the false downhill before you climb again, and she disappears into the forest. Puke number two decides to make an entrance and it's violent. Whatever was in that forceful cleansing sets off a chain reaction of cramping up and down my right leg. I'm now hobbling up climb trail with a seized leg that is also rapidly cramping, and I can't take in any water, or fuel (liquid or otherwise). Not good, since I know that dehydration was my bane last year, and I have to do whatever it takes to avoid that to ensure I get to the finish line.

I reach the top of Climb Trail, and there's the course marshall there. I sit down on a stump and let my stomach settle. I love Angry Midget, but it's steep and fast to get into AS4, so I don't want my gut wrenching on the way down. She checks in on me, I set my watch for a 2 minute countdown and breathe. Down I go. I make it halfway down, stop, run some more and remember that our friend Shanthi is course marshall on the road kick out. I race down to her, and hear her signature, "You ROCK!" 
I ask her if she has a phone and if she can text my wife Simone that I'm way behind schedule, but her phone died. Quick hug and I take off down the road to AS4. I need some help.

I roll into the aid station and David Appleby, who was AMAZING as transport team David/Jeff on Saturday, is the captain there for Sunday. He gives me a hard time in just the right way, but also takes excellent care of me. I get a chair, try some coke to sip, and sit near the bushes to ensure that I have a safe place to hurl if that happens. I stay at AS4 for 20 minutes. David kindly uses the radio to contact Sarah Newman-Thomas to text my wife, since there's no reception in this area. Yea, I used my official status to use channels to communicate, but I was okay with it. I was SO far behind my goal pace that I knew my other friends would pass me at some point if this didn't get fixed.

I take off down Fools Gold and move through the Darwin's Crossing portion of the course. I'm at km 34, but I feel like it's twice that. There's a valley that connects STP into Bonsai and the temperature is sky rocket high at this point in the day. The wheels fall off completely in this valley. I puke my way up the trail, stopping every 30 or 40 steps. I count this whole section as one puke for the record. By the time I get into the shaded trees, I'm totally done. Exhausted from puking. Unable to drink anything. My mouth tastes like bile. My legs, now both sides are fully cramped. My left quad cramps so hard that my kneecap gets sucked up into it and I can't bend my leg. I sit down on a rock, completely spent. How did this happen? I've run further, faster, and with harder conditions self supported. Something about race day at SQ50 has it in for me. I lean back and close my eyes for a second and I just want to sleep. I have a thought. I could just sleep here. Forever.

Into the Belly of the Beast

I quickly open my eyes, and realize that if I don't get up now, I won't. I yell at myself, "Let's go fucker! MOVE!" I snap to my feet, my left leg still locked with my knee cap doing it's own thing and single leg hop along the trail. It's magnificently the most ungraceful thing. There's a set of rocks before this section goes into a downhill, and I won't be able to go down it with my leg locked, so I lean against a tree, and start massaging it into "relaxation." I keep repeating, "relax, relax, relax." Finally, after a few minutes, the quad stops being seized and I go downhill before it changes its mind!

I make it about half way down and I have to stop. My legs are cramping like crazy, and although my quads are not locked in place, my entire legs are rippling up and down, and I'm worried I'm gonna take a dive on the technical single track. As I walk, stop, and then stop again, I hear a couple of runners coming down. A woman I don't know and then it's Elaine! She looks really good, and I'm super stoked to see her. We talk a little and I try to stay with her for a bit. It's good to have her company, and although I know she'll drop me soon, it's reassuring to know I can get through this technical section without exploding.

Elaine Killin' it!
Before the trail kicks out onto the service road, Elaine takes off, and cruises into the distance. I walk the service road, trying to keep my legs from seizing. Cramping I can deal with, but the full seizes are brutal and feel like an iron rod has been impaled into your muscles. I'm dumping water on my head and face constantly, since if I'm not drinking, at least I can try to stay cool this way. 
A couple more pukes on the FSR and I'm on my way into AS5, the final stop before the finish line.

Even my dawg was pooped!
When I come in, my wife and kids are there.They get to work, refilling water, offering me food, and seeing what I need. Dianna, Sean and Joseph Chick are also there, and offer reassurance. I sit down, my kids help change my socks (my feet look rough with trench foot, which is also a first, since I've never had foot issues.) Another racer has a bottle of pickles and kindly shares a couple of pickles with me. I fill the one bottle with water, and a soft flask with coke. I then take a 5 minute nap. 

When I open my eyes again, it's not better. I haven't woken from a bad dream. I'm at km 40 (a distance I have done multiple times) and in the worst place both mentally and physically of my life. NONE of this happened in training. My preparation coming into this race was dialled, and here I was, potentially fighting cut off and maybe not even making the finish line. Such a weird reframing of my goals. I told myself I would drop. I would drop from the race, but it wouldn't be here. It HAD to be at the finish line. I would drop at the finish line; that was the goal.

Best Aid Station We Run Mas Crew!
When I went to stand up, my legs had other ideas. My legs seized up so badly, my boys and Sean helped me to the hood of our car that was parked beside us and I leaned against it. The pain was so intense and there was nothing I could do about it. So I cried. It was all I could resort to. I was out of questioning why this was happening, or what I could have done, or what I had left to do. There was no use in analyzing any of it. I just had to experience it, accept it and allow it to happen. This Ultra had turned from a race where I wanted to achieve some time goals to the deepest emotional experience I had encountered in my life. It was no longer about the race, or making cut off, or proving anything to anyone. It was about surviving and just moving forward. Just one step after another.

I left the aid station and gave my phone to my wife. I didn't want an out. I didn't need the option to call and ask for help. The final few km from the finish line was too easy a place to get picked up and call it a day, so I removed that choice from my temptation. I went into the hellish final two climbs of Seven Stitches & Mountain of Phlegm. I continued to cramp, puke and have full leg seizures throughout the whole part. I was light headed, and shortly after Alanna passed me, Barb Wilkins came up. I tried to tag onto her, but couldn't keep up. Just before the final push up Mount Phlegm, my left foot seized and contorted into the weirdest angle, dropping me into a bush as I was stepping down onto it in a half trot/run. It took a few minutes to unlock, I crawled on all fours to the course marshall at the bottom of the final ascent and leaned my head against the rock. It was a steep slope, and he was gently cheering me on. I took a hard swig of coke from the soft flask and went up the hill. 

On the way down Phlegm, I looked at my watch. What time was cutoff? It was 4:32pm. Could I run the final 4k in 28 minutes? I started pushing with whatever I had left. It was more like run ten steps, walk twenty, but it was progress. I puked beside some boulder and rock climbers, apologized and kept running along Smoke Bluffs. I saw Carolyn, asked her about cut off, and she gave me some ice cold water. I was out of the trails and had a couple of road sections, and a park trail to get through. I walked it in to the railroad tracks, saw Sean and Jeff along the way, and then heard the cowbells. You can never have too much cowbell!

I ran along the road towards the trees to the finish line with all our friends cheering in. The finish arch was there and I ran straight into Gary's outstretched arms. It took me two years to get to that moment. It didn't matter that I missed official cut off by just over five minutes. Squamish 50 brought out something in me that I didn't know I had. And for that, it will always hold a special place in my heart.

Sarah helps carry me away. IV bag and two more pukes coming!

Official Time: 11:05:02.6
Placement: 204th (missed cut off)
Pukes: 11 (9 on course, 2 at finish line)