Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Boyne Valley Provincial Park

With Xmas around the corner, getting a long run in is becoming quite the challenge. On top of the usual, my sister was coming to visit yeasterday, so desperate times call for desperate measures. Yesterday (Monday) morning, I got up at 2AM (yes, 2) and by 2:30 I was driving toward Boyne Valley National park for a 5 hour walk/snowshoe/run in the snow. There is ZERO snow in Toronto and I wanted to make sure tthat wherever I went had a decent amount, so North I drove. I got there around 4Am and had a bit of a challenge finding a good spot to park, as all the "official" parking spots appeared snowed in. Success, at least there's snow!

Decent snow

It is a weird feeling to stand by the car in the darkness at 4:30AM, in the middle of nowhere. I got "Sancho" the sled out, strapped my snowshoes and backpack in and got going. Because of my current injury (that seems to be getting worse instead of better), I didn't plan on running much but I wanted to test the other components of the race: the sled, water delivery, clothes, ligths, navigation. I didn't bring my stove and other cooking gear, I'll try that next time. The plan was to walk 15/run 5 but that didn't happen. The trail was very rarely flat and quite narrow. Running downhill with a sled trying to pass you is a bit of a challenge so other than flats and very gentle downhills, running opportunities were far and between.

The problem with the Bruce trail is that it's on the Niagara Escarpment. While it's nice for hiking, for runners it makes the trail a bit too challenging. The only thing worse than pulling a sled up steep snowy swithbacks in the dark is going DOWN hills steep switchbacks with a sled falling down the hill or turining upside down at every turn. Because the ropes are encased in two PVC tubes to prevent the sled from crashing into me, every time I had to interact with the sled, I had to remove my belt. I swear I had to do that at least 20 times. Lesson learned: don't leave anything in the sled that you are not willing to lose if your sled slides down a cliff and the content empties into a river. I got my keys back into my pocket after the first near disaster. I never lost anything, but it could have happened.

Sancho the sled

I wore my Nathan vest to see what would happen in the cold. It was about -7C (19F), so not cold, but still a bit nippy. The water in the tube started freezing after about an hour. At that temperature, you basically wear very little (I had my base merino layer and a light merino mid-layer) so you can't really wear the vest under a jacket. I was able to keep the tupe from freezing by tucking the tube and valve into my second layer but there was a section that was uncovered, but it didn't freeze. If it had gotten much colder, I would have added a fleece layer over the vest and kept all that tubing out of the cold. Anyway, I'm brining the vest. At the very least, I can put two thermos bottles in there instead of the bladder. Anything to not have to get to the sled.

My brand new, slightly-oversized-to-wear-warm-socks, La Sportiva Crosslite worked flawlessly. I never even thought of taking my Microskpikes out. I had fantastic traction with the shoes alone on packed snow. I guess if it ever got cold enough that I had to wear the overshoes, part of the sole would get covered and the Microspikes would be necessary. That, or just ice. Anyway, I'm happy I got a new pair of Crosslites. I used the snowshoes two times, for a total of about 40 minutes. The snow was very light and the snowshoes worked well, but they are racing snowshoes, and I have a feeling that they wouldn't work so well in deep snow without a firm trail underneat. That won't be an issue.

Felt longer than that!

A few hours going up and down steeep hills, my left knee started bothering me. It never got truely painful, but that prevented me from running more than a few minutes at a time. I was hell bent on not letting the pain get out of control. I had to be able to get back to the car! I pushed my "OK" button on the SPOT a few times and got the email on my iPhone in short orger. I put the SPOT on top of my bag, on the sled, and that gave it a perfect view of the sky and minimal rocking motion (except when the sled flipped over, of course). That worked perfectly. I'm happy with the SPOT.

It was dark until about 7 or 7:30Am, so I had almost 3 hours in the dark. I quite enjoyed it. I might have to upgrade my frontal light. I have a Zipka Plus headlamp with the retractable cord. It's tiny and I just throw it in my bag. I think I could do with a bit more light though. I also have a handheld, which is very powerful so I always had enough light. You need two lights.

After day break, I saw a few deers and even a "flock" of wild turkeys. What a racket! I can't believe these animals can fly. They are as big as a dog. I did find a good 4km loop, called the "Primrose loop" where I was able to get some decent running in. If I need a good spot training, I will go directly there. Hopefully we will get snow closer to Toronto though.

Total time 4:45. Not much running. A lot of learning. Left knee not doing well. I'm very worried. I decided to not run at all for ten days. I'll do as much elliptical as I can. I need to put a lot of hours in so I don't lose any fitness. In ten days, if I still can't run, I will probably have to make a difficult decision. Hopefully, that won't happen.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I'll take it

My left ITB is still giving me grief. It now feels great for about 30 minutes but after that I can feel the burn coming back. I've broken down and seen an ART practitioner (or whatever). Yesterday was my first appointment so no comment for now. I promised I would give her two weeks, during which I will not run if I can feel any kind of pain.

Today (Sunday) was supposed to be my long run but that was changed to a 4 hour fast hike up on the Halton Hill side trail. Since there would be no running, I decided to go all out for everything else. I loaded up a pretty heavy pack, with many layers of clothing so I could try different combinations. There was a few inches of snow on the ground, so I put my snowshoes in the outside pocket of the pack as well. Finally, I wanted to experience the trail at night so I woke up at 4am and got to the trail at 5:30, giving me at least 1:30h of darkness. The weather was around 0C (32F) so it was pretty comfortable, maybe even a bit warm.

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Being alone on the trail in the dark is a weird experience. I had slept trailside a couple of months ago, but I hadn't walked or run in the dark. During my "sleepover", I surprized myself by being a bit nervous during the night. I even had some dreams of a bear getting in the tent while I couldn't get out of my mummy sleeping bag. Encounters with bears are the fear of many ultra runners. Today though, I'm not sure if it was the snow (aren't bears hibernating?) or the fact that I was moving, but I found the first couple of hours weirdly enjoyable. I had my Petzl frontal lamp and a torch, but I mainly used the head lamp.

I managed to keep a pace of about 12:55min/km overall, including food breaks, a bit of sightseeing and changing in and out of my snowshoes (just to try them for about 20 minutes, there wasn't much snow). The pace doesn't sound like much but a race like Susitna is not about speed. Not for me anyway. Looking at past results, I'm not sure how much actual running I'll be doing.

So I managed to go about 18.5km in a shade under 4 hours.I felt fantastic to finally exercise for more than 40 minutes. I experienced no pain whatsoever during the walking or snowshoeing.
I was really afraid that it would flare up but thank goodness it didn't happen.

There's hope for me yet.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Let's Forget This One

I won't mince my words: last week sucked. Working sucked and running sucked. I managed to run a grand total of 3 hours. My left knee is just not cooperating. I've been carefull to do all the strengthening exercises, stretching and rolling recommended by coach Derrick, but yesterday I had a flare up and the second half of my run was not fun.

This is a fairly minor injury and normally I wouldn't mind, especially at this time of the year, but with Susitna only 7 weeks away I'm getting a bit worried.

December 7 and still no snow. This is getting ridiculous. Just bought snowshoes for Pate's sake. Come on, snow already!

Thursday, December 3, 2009


I don't normally write about work-related issues, but I decided to make an exception, because the venting will be therapeutic and will ultimately help my running.

Here it goes:

A couple of thousand years ago, when a roman army unit fought poorly, one punishment that was sometimes performed was 'decimation'. Basically, groups of ten soldiers would draw lots, and the one loser would be clubbed to death by his pals.

Fast forward to yesterday. Even though it's making decent money, the company I work for decided to enhance shareholder value by "decimating" the work force. About 15% of the employees were let go. The deed was done by the immediate superior. There were no warning, but as soon as the first people were let go, the rumors spead like wildfire. I would say that 10 minutes after the layoff started, everybody knew. We all sat at our desk, looking at our phone's caller id screen, hoping not to see our boss' name. Ironically, after the deed was done, they called the remaining people to let them know they were ok, but for that one short moment before they were told, everybody thought they were goners. I remember when my phone rang, I said "F$ck!" out loud.

I survived the decimation. A lot of my friends are gone. I wish them all well in their new endeavors.