Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What worked, what didn't

I know that by now everyone is sick of reading about Susitna, but I've been asked (well, by one person) to make a list of what worked and what didn't. Some of it was pretty clear from the race report, but I think this would be an interesting exercise. That's the last Susitna post, I swear!

I brought a lot of gear to Alaska. At the pre-race meeting, I stuffed only some of it in the bag, just to make sure to have the minimum weight (15 lbs) and I weighted in at over 30 lbs. The complete list of the gear I brought is available here.

I decided to shed some weight. I won't go through all items, but basically, I went through each item and wondered if I was going to absolutely need it. This being the night before the race, I had a pretty firm weather forecast and I knew the cold would not be a major factor. Some of the items I decided to discard:

  • Half my hand and toe warmers
  • Stove, pots and pans, and fuel
  • Some of my extra gels and both dehydrated meals
  • Some of the spare clothes (kept 2 base layers and 5 Injinji socks)
  • Most of my duct tape
  • Replacement cleats
  • Half my batteries (AAA and AA)
  • My two 500ml thermos (I kept the 1l)

All in all, I got rid of a lot of stuff and the final weight, without the sled, was 26 lbs. Of all the things I discarded, the only thing I missed were the spare AAA batteries for my headlamp. I brought my spare head lamp, which contained a fresh set of batteries, but I loaned the lamp to another runner who's lamp didn't work. After the first nigh, my headlamp was pretty depleted. I got fresh batteries at Luce's Lodge (they didn't sell batteries but the lady gave them to me!). The betteries would have been ok for the second night, but they would have been weak. My headlamp, the Petzl Tikka XP2, worked great and was really powerful. Just remember, if you want the 60 lumens, 1 set of batteries per 16 hour night). I also used it most of the day in blinking mode to make sure that the snowmobiles rocketing toward me at 100 miles an hour saw me.

The SPOT satellite tracker was one of those fire and forget thing. People were able to follow me, I never really thought about it except in the morning to restart the tracking mode (tracking turns off after 24 hours). That was money well spent. The eTrex Legend is another story. For that race, you just don't need it. It goes through batteries fairly fast. There's not enough memory. It doesn't support Garmins downloadable maps (you have to buy the DVDs). If I ever need a GPS for a race, I'm going to buy a better unit. I didn't use it during this one.

If I had to pick a piece of equipment that I loved the most, it would be my Kahtoola Microspikes. Even though my La Sportiva Crosslites sport decent lugs, they are still rubber and traction was an issue. The Microspikes gave me fantastic traction in soft snow, on hard snow, you name it. I wore them for at least 60 miles, possibly more. They never came off or slipped. The only negative is that they are heavy and toward the end I convinced myself that they were tiring my legs and I took them off so my feet would feel a bit lighter. Maybe I should have kept them on. There was little decent running after that, but that also coincides with when the snow softened up because of the temperature so I'll never know.

I was one of the few runners who brought snowshoes, a pair of Dion. I was happy I brought them. I probably only wore them for 12 or 15 miles, but they saved me from mental collapse. In the afternoon, when the snow softened up and I started post holing like crazy, I almost started crying. I would try to follow a firm path but every few steps, I would sink in all the way to my calf or knee. I put on the snowshoes and even though I couldn't run fast, I was running. And, I didn't have to worry about where I would put my feet. Toward the end of the race though, I put them on and ran a bit with them, but I was just to tired. I couldn't do it and I walked the more punchy sections. I should probably have trained with the snowshoes more, but with the Winter we had here in Toronto, it wasn't in the cards.

My foot care was pretty good. Not perfect, but it's hard to run 100 miles and have perfect feet at the end. One thing I did, which had been recommended by Dave Johnston, was to change my socks and base layer as often as possible. I ran most of the race only wearing a thin merino base and a wind shell. I seem to remember maybe wearing my extra merino layer during the first night (I was told it went down to -15C/5F but I never felt the cold). I definitely wore it in the last two hours of the race while walking. I changed my base layer only twice, both times at Luce's Lodge. It felt so great to feel the warm, dry wool on my skin. Recommended. I changed my Injinji socks at every aid station, a total of 5 times. Unfortunately, I only had 3 pairs of thin wool socks and I couldn't change them on the way back. I didn't want to use my thicker wool socks because I was afraid to create pressure points. Next time, I'm bringing 5 pairs.

I did wear my IQ overshoes during the first night. They felt great either with the snowshoes or the Microspikes. You can't wear them without those because they cover the bottom of the shoes and there would be no traction. Still, I'm keeping them.

At some point, when it got pretty cold, I decided to wear my ski goggles because my eyes were a bit uncomfortable and they worked pretty good. Until I took them off for a second by letting them hanging around my neck. They steamed up from the heat coming up my shell and they froze instantly. That was the end of that. I tried wiping them off, melting the ice with my fingers, nothing worked. Goggles are still a big question mark for me. Something always seem to happen, they fog up, and then they are useless.

The 20 run/ walk 5 routine worked well. I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to sustain it, but it was fine. As soon as I stopped, I drank a bit, ate my 200 calories, drank some more. There are ups and down, but 5 minutes is pretty long and I usually didn't have any problem starting to run again. One has to keep warm and the best way is to run.

The iPod was ok. I did listen to music for a few hours but it wouldn't have been a big problem if I hadn't. Using the headphones instead of the earbuds was definitely more comfortable for me.

One thing that needs a lot of work is nutrition. I had enough food, but I had too many items that contained peanut butter. I arranged my food in baggies, putting about 800 calories per bag. At 200 calories per hour, a bag carried 4 hours worth of food and I had one bag in each pocket. That means I didn't have to stop and go through my bag between checkpoints. That was good. In those bags, I had a mix of:

  • Macademia nuts
  • Reese Cups
  • Peanut butter and honey wraps
  • Nature Valley Harvest Crunch Crunchy Granola bars
  • Powerade gels (vanilla and strawberry)

I had tried all of those in training, but after a while, I had to pinch my nose to eat anything with peanut butter. The macademia nuts were a total fiasco. I'm never eating one again. When it became clear that I was doing better than expected and had more than enough food, I switched almost exclusively to Granola bars and gels.

All in all, I think I was better prepared than most runners. Not all. I had good equipment. I had trained with it. I had a plan. I did pretty well even though I wasn't racing. I spent a ridiculous amount of time in aid stations. I think that of all the runners, I spent the 3rd most time at checkpoints. I had a blast.

We were lucky, the weather wasn't a factor, but I was prepared either way. I knew I had what I needed. I remember vividly running in the night, stopping, turning off my light and looking at the stars for a few seconds. Then I would turn the lamp back on and keep running, further north, away, towards nowhere. I never felt any doubt.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Sunday I had a decent trail run. I went up to Halton Hills and ran some of the Bruce Trail side trails up there. It was colder than expected but I had a good time. Trails re definitely more fun than pavement.

Had an exciting Monday morning. Me and the guys at the office (there are 6 of us) have been buying 6/49 tickets for years, but only when the prize goes above 15 millions. Even people who now work somewhere else still participate. We round robin and last week it was my turn to get the 6 tickets for Saturday's 42 million draw. On Monday morning I checked my tickets and the last line had 5/6, with the 6th number being a 10 instead of the winning number 11. Damn. That was close.

Still, we decided that the glass is half full, since we won $6,000. Split 6 ways, nobody is quitting their job but to make a long story short: I got new running shoes!

I decided to split my $1k four ways with my wife and 2 kids and I with my share I bought a new pair of Nike Lunarglide. I tried some of the others in the "Lunar" series but they either had a small toe box or I had funky pressure points. These ones feel pretty good and and decided to give them a try.

My current road shoes were a pair of Adidas Adizero Pros. They are barely more substancial than socks and they feel great for shorter distances but there is NO cushioning and I decided to try shoes that hit the pavement a bit softer. I have to say though, if I had to run a 5k tomorrow, I would definitely run in the Adizeros.

With the rest of my money, I'm probably going to buy a new bladder for my Nathan Hydration Vest. My daughter just came back from the Amazon (yes, that's right) and she used it quite a bit down there. It smells a bit funky and I don't trust it one bit.

I'm starting a new training cycle and today I ran hills. Ouch! Sulphur Springs is only a couple of months away and I feel out of shape! Really, how could this happen? I just ran 100 miles for Pete's sake! I need speed. I need to feel the burn! I think I should be careful what I wish for...

Damn. So close.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Weird Week

I guess all weeks cannot be above average. This means that some will suck. This was another of those. As the title says, this was a weird week. Both my daughters are away. My running, although getting better, started in the gutter last weekend. And it was my birthday. Everything was just off.

I'm still struggling a bit mentally on longer runs. Not sure why. It's as if my inner dialog brain center went into dialog-debt during Susitna and now I can't think about anything. My kids being away, I can't be mad at them for the various usual reasons.

Luckily, things have started to improve a bit so I'm optimistic I will be ready for the Mud Puppies 52k.

Last week I ran a total of 3h 15min. I started ramping up a bit and next week I'm going back to more "serious" training.

I've now lost 3 toenails and that will be it. I've learned my lesson, so I waited for them to be ready to fall off so there were no pliers or blood involved. They already started growing back, so it's all good.

That's all she wrote my friends. I'm off to the airport to pick up my oldest.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Blood and Mud

Another slow week to report. I only ran twice. I lost one toenail, with two more hanging on for dear life. Mentally, I still feel a bit numb, like someone stuffed my skull with cotton balls.

Last Friday, I decided to give some blood so at lunch I went to Canadian Blood Services instead of going for a run. In and by itself, I don't mind giving blood. My problem is that I find that it affects my running for a long time. Yeah, yeah, your blood volume is supposed to be back to normal after a couple of days, but really, your blood is just diluted with water (or whatever). It can't carry as much oxygen and I, for one, can feel the difference. I don't have much capacity to spare. There are good reasons why you have to wait a few months before you can give blood again. So I figured that since my running is what it is right now, this would be a good time to give. Done.

This week, I will try to increase my running volume, to maybe 4 runs: 3 short ones and a longer one on Sunday. I feel like I need the mental lift that comes with running, even though my ankles still feel a bit achy and stiff.

I signed up for the Seaton Mud Puppies this morning. I'm going to go for 52K, not the full 50 miler. I just want to strech my legs on that race and I had a great time last year doing that same 52k. It's a great long run, a month before Sulphur Springs.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Looking ahead

Nothing much to report for last week.

I watched way too much Olympic coverage. I overdosed on Bell and Royal Bank commercials. I ate and drank too much. Loved every moment (except the commercials, which I used to get more booze and food).

As far as running is concerned, I did start running again this week. I ran 3 times: a short 25 minutes on Wednesday, 30 minutes on Friday and a whopping 45 minutes long run on Sunday. My legs feel like they have only one speed. My feet are still pretty stiff. Still, those runs were quite enjoyable. I'm told that the spring is going to slowly come back to my step in the next few weeks.

I am now introspecting a lot, trying to figure out what I want from running.

Is speed important to me? I think it is. I'll never be a gifted runner, but I think that I'd like to see how fast I can run the 50 miler at Sulphur Springs. We'll see how I recover from Susitna, but I think I have enough time to train and give it a decent try. As for Haliburton, where I would like to go for 100, I won't be as aggressive but still, I'm going to start with some kind of time goal.

Is there a marathon in my future? The fact is, I've run only one marathon (2008, 3:27) and I often wonder how fast I could run that distance if I trained real hard. Still, I don't like big crowds and running on pavement is so hard on my legs, compared to trails. Last year after the Niagara 50k, which is on streets and sidewalks, my hips were killing me and my legs felt worse than after a 50 miler on trails. So I don't think I will run a marathon this year. I'm sticking to trails. No Niagara either.

As for the rest of the season, I will show up at as many OUS races as I can and have fun, talking to whoever happens to run next to me. Can't wait.