Monday, May 26, 2008

Sulphur Springs Race Report

Executive Summary

The Sulphur Springs Trail Run is an Ultra race in Ancaster, about an hour south of Toronto. You have a choice of running 10k, 25k, 50k, 50 mi or 100 mi. There's also a 100 mi relay. I ran the 25k this morning. I had a better race than expected. I finished in 2:17:52, 41st out of 150 entrants, 36th out of 88 males, 22/41 in males 40-49.

Verbose version

I got up at 4:30am because I wanted to be there in time to see the 6am start of the 50 and 100 milers. I got up, made an expresso, ate a Promax energy bar, got dressed and I was out of there in my rental car. We live downtown and we only have one car. I decided that we would rent one any time we need two cars. This was one such time. The rental had Sirius satellite radio. I have this perverse need to listen to Country music when I drive by myself. I don't know why. I don't really like country. Anyway I picked one of the many stations and drove off. Commercial free is nice.

I got there with a few minutes to spare before the 6am start. My start was at 7:30 so I had plenty of time. I snapped a few picture of the 50-100 miler start, yelled a few encouragements and then went inside to get my bag. It's hard to get excited because half the people just start walking. They don't seem to be in a hurry. The temperature was a bit chilly, I would say around 50F, so I wasn't sure if I was going to run with long or short sleeves. I pinned my number to the front of my tri shorts so I wouldn't have to worry about it at the last second. I had an hour and a half to kill. Luckily, I actually saw two people I had met a few weeks before trying to stay warm in a Starbucks before a 10k race. One of them is doing triathlons so we chatted about our race plans for the summer. About 7am, I put a couple of gels in my tri short's side mini-pockets, bodyglide my nipples and other friction points (see "Chafing in the junk" thread) and switch to my Karhu M2 running shoes. Those shoes are lightweight and low to the ground. I'm a bit afraid to twist an ankle, specially motoring down some of the hills. I eat a 2X caffeine Expresso gel and drink some water. I'm a bit worried because I noticed that all my gels have caffeine and I tend to get nautious when I have too much in my system. I replace one of the gels in my pocket with a Banana flavored one I found in my race kit.

Five minutes to start and sure enough, I decide to change my shirt to the short sleeve one. We gather at the start line and we're off. This is the start of the 25km and 50km races so there are about 300 of us rushing down the first hill. The couse consists of a 5k loop, followed by a 20k loop. The race starts with a fairly long downhill so we're all flying down the course. The course is well marked with orange ribbons. I will never get lost for the entire race. Around km 3, there's a long, steep, single file hill and everyone is walking. Still a hard hill. Then we finish the 5k loop, step on the mat and we're off for the 20km loop. My 5k time is 26:31 for which I have no frame of reference, this being my first race longer than 10k and my first trail race. All I know is that this is a bit faster than my target pace of 5:30/km. What can I say about the next 20km? My Garmin 305 was doing a fairly good job despite the trees, but my pace was all over the place because of the hills. I was afraid of going too fast and bonk at the end. I didn't want to look at my HR although I was wearing the strap. I have never looked at my HR during a race. I mostly past others. I can't remember being past after the first few km but that doesn't mean it didn't happen. I stopped to pee in the bushes at least three times. There are long sections where I can't see anybody around. It's hard to keep a fast pace when you don't see a rabbit in front of you. There are aid stations every 3 to 5 km, well stocked in water, energy drinks and food. Actually, I've never see station so well stocked. There are fruits, cookies and other tempting snacks. I stick to my plan, so after the first hours I gulp down one of my gels as soon as I see the aid station. At the station, I stop briefly to pick up a glass of water, gulp it down, throw the cup in a garbage can and I'm off. We can't take the cups with us to prevent littering. I took the caffeinated gel and I can feel my heart racing a bit. Is it the gel? I keep going and I fall back into my groove. I almost do a face plant looking at my Garmin. You really want to keep your eyes on the ground. There are a lot of roots and rocks. I'm happy I chose to wear my clear glasses instead of the tinted ones. Wearing clear glasses is something that Brett mentioned in "Zen...", you see clearly and your eyes are protected. The sun rarely reaches the trail and I might not see the trail as clealy with the tinted lenses.

At km 18 or 19, I can see this girl a few dozen meters in front of me. I slowly catch up and finally pass her in a horrible uphill section. Every time you get near the top, you see that there's another uphill right after. We keep passing each other, me during uphills and her going downhill. She's tiny and she's just flying down those hills. My quads are destroyed by now and I'm afraid my legs will just give out while running all out down a rocky hill. I try to chat with her and she's wearing a friggin iPod. What the ...? Trail race with an iPod? Anyway during one of the flat sections, I decide to up the pace a bit and get rid of her. My energy level is still good even though my quads are shot. I decide not to take the banana gel, which I've never tried. I run thru the last aid station about 2 km from the finish. I feel ok, it's still nice and cool. I'm just so goddam tired. Here's that single file uphill we hit in the 5km loop again, so we're all walking single file. The walking streches the calf muscles and it feels as if they are going to snap. They are on fire. I decide I'm going to pass the two people in font of me, a man and a woman, before the finish. I'm having trouble catching up on the flat section but as we get close to the finish and the trail starts going uphill, I pass the guyand then decide to sprint the last 100 meters and pass the girl about 50 meters from the finish. I almost feel bad, but hey, it's a race. I finish in 2:17 and change. Better than my target of 2:30. I feel good for 5 minutes and then I wonder how fast I can run this next year.

They take the chip off and give me a bag with a banana, a granola bar, a bottle of water and some jelly beans. I eat all of it. I go to my bag, change my shoes and shirt and take my HR strap off.


Once at home (more Country music), I download my Garmin data and looked at my data. Warning: I'm a math geak, so now I will analyze my data. My Garmin shows 24.5km instead of 25km. That's the biggest error margin I've seen, but I guess it's pretty good considering the tree cover and the hills. I can tell from my HR that I could have done better. My average HR was at 81% of maxHR (168 bpm for me), comfortably in zone 4. I did not go into zone 5 until the final sprint. I should be able to run at about 88% of maxHR for that period of time. I did feel that I could run faster during the race, but I wasn't sure if I should because of my lack of experience in longer distances and in trails. When I run another half-marathon type distance, I will definitely ramp up the pace, specially on the flat sections. I don't know that I could have run faster in the down hill portions without breaking an ankle. I might push a bit harder in the uphills. I would like to see my HR in the upper range of zone 4, with a few incursions in zone 5, just to show that I tried.

I'm happy with the gels I used although I think I will tone down the caffeine. My hydration was ok for the distance I ran. I drank water at all but one aid station. I need to figure out if I should alternate water and gatorade. I'm not sure how much water is needed to digest the gel. All I know is that you can't have gels and only Gatorade. Still some work to do on nutrition.

Next year I will probably go for the 50k, maybe even the 50 miler depending on training. My wife did say that all those people (50 and 100 milers) were "f#$ng crazy" and tried to make me promise never to do something like that, but then again she said that about marathons and I'm running one in September!!!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Trail race tomorrow

My "spring blues" have abated a bit. Weather is still on the cool side, but I'm getting excited about tomorrow. Weather is supposed to be great for the race.

Tomorrow should be the hardest run I've ever done. The "Sulphur Springs Trail run" offers a variety of distances from 10k to 100 miles. I'm running the 25k, which is a longish distance for me. I've run 20-23 km in training so I'm not worried about being able to run the distance but I've never RACED anything close to 25k. My longest distance up until now has been 10km.

In theory, my half-marathon pace should be under 5 min/km but I'm not ready for that AND this is a trail race. A lot of uphills and downhills. A lot of the downhills are pretty steep so I will have to apply the brakes. I don't have trail running shoes so traction, specially going down, is sometimes dicey.

I'll be running with my Karhu M2, which are fairly low to the ground. I used them on my "recon" run 2 weeks ago and they felt good. There are 7 aid stations on the main 20km loop so I've decided not to carry any liquids. I will take a gel before the race and carry a couple more just to see how it feels. Technically, I shouldn't need nutrition on a 25k race but I'm trying to get used to ingesting the gels. The aid stations will also have food, but I'd rather find something that works for me and stick with it. The only problem with the gels is how to carry them. I don't want to wear the fuel belt so I will have to either wear my triathlon shorts and stuff them in the little side pockets or pin them on my clothes somewhere.

I've reserved a rental car which I will pick up around 5pm. I'll get up around 4:45 am tomorrow and try to make it for the 100 and 50 miler start. I wouldn't mind seeing that. The 25k start is at 7:30 so I'll have plenty of time to pick up my packet and get nervous. Lacking any kind of reference, I'm aiming for a 2:30 time. On the "recon" run, I did 22.5km in 2:50 but I stopped MANY times to get my bearings on the map. I'm pretty sure I can do 2:30.

I ran 8k and swam for 30 min yesterday. Today I won't really do anything. I was debating going for a swim but I've decided not to do it. My legs are a bit stiff and I feel like I need the rest. I'm hydrating more than usual today to make sure I start the race on a full tank.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Spring blues

What the %^#& is going on with the weather? Today is May 22nd and we're still freezing our ass off. My AC hasn't started once this year. I have to keep my office window closed because my feet are freakin' cold. I had to run with a LONG SLEEVE SHIRT earlier this week. What's up with that?

And the wind. Man! The worst thing though is the rain. The Toronto I know and love is hot and rainless. Lake Ontario is about to overflow for Pte's sake. After the $hitty winter we just had, we need to be warm. I demand a sun burn. How am I supposed to want to go out to train, when it's 10C (that's below 50F) outside and I look out the windows and I see rain pissing down at a 45 degree angle?

I have my longest race yet (Sulphur Springs 25k trail run) coming this Saturday and I DON'T FEEL LIKE TRAINING. I just feel tired.

It's supposed to get better over the next few days. Sure hope so, 'cause I got the blues.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Aerobars are freaky

I'm finally starting to use the aerobars on my tri bike. The position is very uncomfortable and kinda scary, as there are no breaks on the aerobars. I'm getting better at it, but after a fairly short time, my traps are just burning and my neck gets tired of looking forward. Not exactly a natural position. I'm trying to adjust them to maximize comfort.

Anyway, people seem to eventually get used to it, so I probably will as well although I have a feeling that I won't use them much during my first race. Gusano, from, bought the same bike as me and the first thing he did was to replace the aerobars. Maybe they are flawed. I'll give them a few more weeks.

Monday, May 12, 2008

New LLLT available

Episode 13 of my French podcast available from my French blog.

Long Trail Run

Yesterday I went to the Dundas Valley Conservation area to run part of the course of the Sulphur Springs 25k trail run. My wife needed the car and it was mother day, so I rented a compact at the local Thrifty outlet and left around 10am. The park is in Ancaster, an hour drive from my house. The directions on the web site were pretty good and I got there without incident. I parked close to the race start area and changed into my running gear. The weather was cool (14C) and overcast. From top to bottom, I was wearing:
  • Technical cap
  • Clear sunglasses
  • Technical long sleeves shirt
  • Fuel belt with 4 x 8 oz water bottles. In the belt pouch I had my phone, 3 Cliff gels, a salt pill and my car key.
  • Shorts
  • Extremely thin socks
  • My beloved Karhu M2 running shoes
I took a gel, gulped some water and crossed the road toward the trail.

I had printed the map from the race web site. I found the trail entrance and started running. I got lost after 500m. I admit I'm no David Crocket, but let's just say the trails are confusing. They criss-cross each other and often, only one post has a name on it and you don't know which one is which. People were very helpful though and most of the many times I got lost, someone was around to help me. The trails are well maintained and there was very little mud. We'll see how it is on race day.

The race course doesn't start at the park entrance but after about 6 km, you get to a gate and although I didn't know it, you have to pay to get in. Of course I had no money. I explained my situation to the guard and he let me in gratos. That was nice. A bit later I saw a group of 5 deers and took this picture using my phone. I couldn't figure out the zoom so they're a bit small, but I tried. I think you can see 2 or 3.

About an hour in, I took my caffeinated mocha gel. As I mentioned, I got lost quite a few times so my 20km run stretched to 22.3. At some point I went around a small loop three times looking for what was described as a "spur" on the map. Finally I saw what looked like a friggin' rabbit trail, followed it down, jumped over 5 or 6 fallen trees and finally found the course. They will need good signage, let me tell you.

The course is not too hilly, but it is mostly rolling terrain. Toward the end, there are two horrible hills. I will probably walk those. The biggest one is only a km or two from the finish and by that time I was a bit tired. Almost at the finish, a girl walking down the path asked me if I'd seen her husband running, saw my map and told me she had been running that race for a few years. She was from Montreal, we switched to French and talked a few minutes walking toward the exit. She told me that the last hill, the worst of the course, is also part of the initial 5km loop so we'll have to do it twice. Great.

The whole thing took me longer than I thought. I ran for 2:50. Getting lost so many times did slow me down quite a bit and I wasn't really running hard. Mind you, with the hilly terrain, I'm not sure how much faster I'll be running. I would hope for a 2:30. I think my nutrition was ok. One can probably run the course on water alone, but I think the caffeine gave me a little needed boost and I did feel a bit spent toward the end. That last gel may or may not have helped, but it was good psychologically. Question is, should I rely on Aid Stations or should I carry my own water? I'll have to think about that.

My Garmin Forerunner 305 did extremely well. The leave cover should be a bit thicker in a couple of weeks but it was nice to know anyway. Tall buildings are definitely a problem but the forest doesn't seem too bad.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Bought a Tri bike

I finally broke down and bought a tri bike. What can I say? I tried to wait until after at least a couple of triathlons but I couldn't do it.

I need pedals, but they loaned me some with standard cleats in the mean time. Can't wait to try it. The price was higher than what I know some of the Triscoop people paid, but it came all setup, plus a bike fit and a lactate threshold test. It was still way less that the msrp and still 3 digits in Canadian dollars so I'm happy.

This is going to require some getting used to. The speed shifters (or whatever they are called) are on the aerobars and the breaks on the regular handles so you have to let go of the handle bars quite often. Freaky.

I'm going to take it for a spin later tonight to see how it feels on the bike path.


I went out for a quick 10km on my new tri bike before dark and it was fantastic. Had to brush my teeth because I was grinning so much and going through clouds of mosquitoes. That thing goes FAST! It wants to go straight. I would say that for the same HR, I was going 7-10 km/h faster.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Sporting Life 10K race

The Sporting Life 10k race is probably the biggest 10k race in Toronto with about 10,000 runners and walkers. The only time I've seen more people was at the Run for the Cure last September which reported about 30,000 people. It's a big event. They closed down Yonge street which is a big deal because it pretty much splits Toronto in two. Drivers are not amused when that happens.

I wasn't too sure how I felt coming up to this race. I haven't done any speed work since my last 10k on March 30th but I've trained steadily and I've cross-trained with cycling and swimming. I had scheduled a taxi the night before for 6:30am, so I got to the course early, around 6:45 for a 8am start time. It was friggin' freazing, about 8C (about 46F) with pretty strong wind so I decided to dash to Starbucks for a quick Expresso. The place was full of runners taking advantage of the warmth. I chatted with a couple of Easter European guys and got out to warm up a bit. My pacing felt a bit off but I felt ok. I never feel great that early in the morning.

All of a sudden it's time. I find my spot in the corral, in the 40-49 minutes area. I have to admit that people were pretty good about it. Many times I've seen walkers seeding themselves way up front but the start was pretty smooth. The gun goes off and we're running. The first 500m is flat-ish and then the down hill starts. We are just flying! Eventually just before the 2K mark, there's a little uphill stretch and then it's pretty much downhill again all the way down to Adelaide, about 7km down the course. There's a water/Gatorade station at 4 km but I don't stop. My breathing is pretty good. The buildings are screwing up my Garmin GPS, so I can't really rely on it for my pace but I had expected that much. To be honest, my breathing is a bit too good. Some of the people around me are huffing and puffing but I feel solid. Maybe I should have gone harder? Anyway, now the course is flat as a pancake and I'm passing quite a few people but I'm getting overtaken as well. I'm passing more though, so I'm good with that. I'm not 20 anymore!

Now were running west under the Gardner Expressway so my Garmin has no idea what's going on. Someone screams "1K to go!!!". I think it's more like 1.5 but I can't tell since technology has failed me. I pick up the pace a bit, but not too much. This is starting to hurt. I remember saying something for my podcast like: "I feel like crying right now". All of a sudden I see the turn north on the York exit so this means it's almost over. I'm now running sub-4/km, sprinting for the finish line. I'm passing quite a few people. Some crazy kid flies by me like this is a 100m sprint. I'm hurtin' when I cross the finish is 42:34 (chip time). I keep moving with everyone, gasping for air, my chest on fire. A kid cuts my chip loose and I head for the Gatorade stand, grab myself two cups and down the first one in one gulp. I slowly sip the second one.

I should have brought a pack with warm clothes. I see people getting into their warm pants and fleece jackets. I'm freezing so I decide to go home. I jumped in the subway and I was home in no time.

Looking at my race recording on my computer, I see that my heart rate was pretty low in the first two thirds of the race if I compare to other races. I'm not used to racing downhill and I didn't want to overdo it but I guess I was a bit too cautious. As soon as I hit the flat part though, my HR went up to above 90% of max, all the way up to 196 (my maxHR) at the finish. Maybe I could have gone a bit faster, but I'm really happy with this race. I was 468th overall (10,000 runners/walkers) and 66th in my age group (40-44M, 541 runners). I don't know that I will ever be able to beat this PR at another race. According to my GPS, there's a 100 meter difference between the start and the finish. Anyway, I finally have my sub-45 minute 10k even if I'm not sure I want to keep it!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Beyond common sense

I was running past a couple of people on a trail the other day and I just caught an audio glimpse of their conversation. I believe that the guy was explaining to the girl why running was actually bad for you. And he was making sure I heard him. I chuckled inside. He had no idea. That morning, I had swam for 30 minutes and then ridden my bike for 45 minutes. Now, I was running 5 miles to top off the day.

What would he think? Funning thing is that I started this whole multisport/triathlon thing because I was training too much. I was running 6/7 times a week. Now I have 9/10 workouts a week. What happened? The only logical explanation, which seems to be shared by Brett from "Zen and the Art of Triathlon" is that I'm crazy, same as all other tri-athletes. Swimmers make fun of our lack of technique ("what do you mean, you have to look up, there's no line at the bottom?"), roadies don't want to ride with us ("aerobars are forbidden on this group ride") and runners, well they don't know we exist.

Yet here we are, considered by most people (sometimes by our own flesh and blood) to be crazy and/or addicted to training. I don't really have a deep answer to this. If all I wanted was to be in good physical shape, running 3/4 times a week would be enough. For some reason I don't understand, the allure of running a 10k, a marathon, an triathlon or even an Ironman or an Ultra-marathon seem to be irresistible. It's not about winning, because I know I won't, but I do care about doing those things well. We all have our limitations and I do want to try to do well within those boundaries. By including multiple sports in my training, I feel like I'm becoming a more complete athlete, even at the cost of losing a bit of my "runner" identity.

I don't mind. I will soon be a triathlete (after my first tri in June), a reject from other sports with a weird bike, running with wet shorts, barefoot in my running shoes and swimming in a wetsuit. Can't wait.