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Monday, July 6, 2015

Reload: What is Ultra Inspired?

When I first got into trail running, the aspect that lured me the most was play. I really enjoyed running through the woods. It reminded me of when I was a kid, hopping on my BMX and riding down the street in Coquitlam to a friend's place who lived on the side of the ravine. We would jump his fence and go trounce through the woods, sliding down slopes, climbing trees and playing Knights and Dragons. We would laugh endlessly.

Al Quinto, Simone and I at top of Shannon Falls on Sea to Summit
(Photo Credit: Gregan Dunn)
Returning to that childhood feeling through trail running definitely reignites that emotional state from my youth. A simpler time where nothing really matters other than the forest breeze on your face, the sound of the pine needles crunching underfoot, and the sunlight shining down between the gaps in the canopy.
I jumped into distance pretty quickly, with the 20 to 25 km long run as a benchmark within a single season, and felt great during those runs. Tired, fatigued, and expended but still laughing. Still ready to go at it again the next day. I enjoyed the shorter races, the 8k to 25k trail events that could take anywhere from an hour to three and a half hours depending on the course. They were challenging, I could redline the fast bits, and they required strategy and endurance. I'm analytical about a lot of things, and it appeased that desire in me to dial in pace, fuelling and technique on a race.

Then came the Ultras. I was so inspired by the concept of running for 50 kilometres or more. Being on the trail for hours, and (for my pace), perhaps 8 or 10 hours on a 50k distance. It was a challenging goal, and one that I knew was just out of reach for me unless I trained for it. I wanted it badly, but the work had to be put in. For those who may not know, my first race Ultra attempt was the Squamish 50 miler which ended badly at kilometre 53'ish of 80k. My mind wanted it, but my body wasn't ready. I have completed two Ultra races, and the distance four times, but always with immense struggle.

Living on the Edge with Marie Boucher and Jeremy Schwab.
(Photo Credit: Jeremy Schwab)
The biggest hurdle I've had is my gut. At times, I feel like it's taken over my life and this blog itself, it's such a monster. It's an issue that seems to evade explanation, and I've seen the gamut of experts, including a Sport's Nutritionist, three Neurologists, two Gastroenterologists, three sport's science PHD's and have received loads of advice from elite, mid pack and back of the pack friends and colleagues.
I've read every book under the sun from Noakes,  Fitzgerald, Daniels and Maffetone, as well as peer reviewed studies on endurance sport's physiology and training effects. If there's a podcast about endurance training, I've listened to it. The tests have been endless, from countless investigative blood, urine, and fecal samples, pipes down the throat, stress tests on treadmills, CT scans, MRI's, and Ultrasounds. There have been some anomalies, each given a different strategy for training. I've listened and adhered to the training prescriptions each time. They all end with IV bags as my body denies the time based exertion and stops taking in fuel and water.

To say it's frustrating is an understatement. In most instances, my legs and muscular strength is fine (aside from the cramping). I know I have to drink and eat more, but it's easier said than done. I can look at my water bottle, and take a sip, and it'll come back up seconds later. Same with calories, no matter the form it takes. It's hard to hydrate the body when that happens even if the previous hours were on point in both calories and ounces per hour. When the switch turns off, there's no turning it back on.

So this leaves me at a turning point. Fact of the matter is I only have so many mass implosions left in me. It's hard not only on my system, but also on my family. I also don't want to end up deep in the back country and hit that point of no return where help is challenging to get. It's not fair to my family or to my running friends to wonder if I'm gonna turn into a Zombie and become a liability.

It's July of 2015. Two years ago this month I completed my first 49km run. I did it on minimal fuel and water, and felt pretty good aside from some leg cramps. My threshold has shrunk, not grown, since that time, hence listening to my body is key. I'm going to pretend like I can't run an Ultra (which isn't too far from the truth) but not lose what it means to me. Inspiration.

My Wife Simone and I
This had forced me to do some soul searching. I'm thankful I can run for 4 or 5 hours and about 25 k with little issues. So that's where I'm going to reload. I am still inspired by the Ultra distance. By the challenges it produces, the adaptation it requires, and the mindset it requires to achieve such feats. The 100k mark is my ultimate goal distance. But not yet. I'm hitting CTRL+ALT+DELETE and resetting and reframing my abilities and get back to a "play" state of mind. I've developed some amazing memories and irreplaceable friendships along this continuing journey, from our running group We Run Mas, to being involved in the local trail running community on a deeper level than I had imagined or hoped.

We Run Mas aka Coolest Team on the Planet
(Photo by Simone Kumar)
I still love that moment of taking the last few steps to the summit of a mountain top, and seeing the endless views and vistas of the landscape, with only the sounds of your breath and the whisper of the trees. Descending a fast hill, covered in roots, rocks and lined with moss covered trees that witness your passing. Stopping at a mountain stream and rinsing your face, dunking your buff and feeling the crisp, clean water refreshing your senses. These are the things I love about trail running, and despite my Ultra goals for this year escaping into the distance, I'm still running towards it because I have to know what's beyond the horizon.

Chasing the Sunset
(Photo Credit: Jamie Douglas)