Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Why I run

I feel my need to run far as a longing. Ever since I started running long, I have this image that sometimes pop into my head: I'm running down a trail. I feel great. I don't know where I'm going but I know it's far. I'm just moving forward. Then the image is gone but its taste lingers and I know that I want to be that person who was running free, alive, without a care in the world. 

I'm lucky because I actually got to live that dream. I remember running in the dark around 1 AM, my headlamp painting a white circle in the snow in front of me, listening to my foot steps on the hard snow: crunch, crunch, crunch. At least 5 times I stopped, turned off my lamp and looked at the sky, taking it all in. Then I'd get cold and get going again. I hadn't felt so alive in a long time.

I run so I can live my dream again, so I can be free. Often I wish I were a good runner, that I could run faster, but really, it doesn't matter. Much.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Seaton Trail Mud Puppies 2010

Finally, the first race of the season, the Seaton Trail Mud Puppies! I have to say, I like that race. It's the second time I run this race and I had forgotten how hard the course is. It's weird, because this year the OUS Spring Warmup was pretty much run on the same course but I think we just happened to miss the best parts!

Oblivious to common sense, I offered a ride to someone I met over the Internet, on Runningmania.com. His handle is Killerz. I picked him up downtown, near where I live and we got to the start in time to see the 50 miler start.

The weather was harsh. About 3C (38F) and pretty windy. Occasional snow. I changed into my full length Sugoi tights and a light merino base top. I also wore light gloves, a hat and yellow sunglasses. Finally, I wore my trusty Injinji toesocks and my brand new La Sportiva Crosslites that I just bought last weekend. They are half a size larger than my previous pair to prevent my toes from crashing into the front of the toebox when going downhill. This new pair feels a bit tight on top and I might have to cut part of the integrated gaitor. I wear gaitors anyway, so that's no problem.

For hydration, I went for my Nathan HPL-020 hydration vest. I just hate running with a bottle and I love the storage. I can have a bit of sunscreen, a first-aid kit, some bug spray and all the food I need. One of my goal in this race was to spend very little time at the aid stations. I'm a sucker for aid stations, especially when I get tired so this year I would basically run right through. I brought an extra bladder so after the first loop, instead of refilling the bladder, I would just switch for the full one.

The course had changed a bit from last year, going around some of the stairs and was a bit longer so that 3 loops would be 50 miles (80.5km) instead of 78km. According to my Garmin readings after the race, the "52km" course is really a shade over 54. I might be wrong, but some of the hills that went around those stairs were huge. I mean HUGE.

It was really nice to see the usual crowd. I had seen a few in Creemore this Winter at Pierre's impromptue training run at his house,but some of them I had not seen in a while.

We started right on time. My plan was vague: run a good race. Not all out, but not a jog either. I started the race with Ron at a fairly sedate pace, then Kinga and Adi. On signature feature of this race is that there's a river crossing only a couple of km from the start. I'm not sure how, but after a while I ended up by myself. I pressed a bit harder. I walked (crawled) the hills but ran the rest. I ate a gel and drank water every 30 minutes, stopping at the aid stations only to down a quick cup of Heed and maybe grab a handful of chips. The course was harsh, muddy in a few places but the shoe sucking swamp section was detoured, replace by a deep, runny mud section and an ankle busting rocky hill.

I got to the turnaround in about 1h40min. According to my Garmin, the outbound leg is a net uphill of about 235 feet. I don't really trust the altimeter,but it's definitely an uphill. On the way back, against my better judgement, I pushed pretty hard. I finished the back leg in 1h30min for a 3h10min loop. There would be a price for that. At basecamp (a camp chair with my stuff stacked on it) I quickly switched water bladders, replaced my gel flask with a full one, popped two Excedrins (my Achilles was feeling the uphills), took off my gloves and stuffed them in my bag and took off.

I still felt good but my pace was definitely slowing. Mentally, that leg is difficult because there's no end in sight and you're starting to feel the burn. The hills had grown taller and steeper. The wind felt colder. I was having a hard time warming up my hands. That leg was the slowest with a time of 1h46min. That turnaround felt like it had been moved about 2km further down the trail. I felt like my legs were completely out of juice. Going up the steep hills, I could feel the burn. Once I got up the top, I couldn't immediately start running. I needed a few steps before going again, huffin' and puffin'. I finally made it to the last river crossing and then finally to the finish with a total time of 6:40:05.

I pretty happy with my race. I think that I might have overdone the second leg a little but it's hard to say by how much. 50km going up and down trails is a long way and obviously, one is tired after a while. Because of the steepness of the hills, I can't imagine running even splits on that course. Going up the hills, you can feel the energy just evaporating from your muscles. Once it's gone, it's gone until you stop and recover so you have to run that last leg on some less energetic fuel. It gets the job done, but it's a more involved, more painfull effort.

My nutrition went well, I never truely bonked although I did get slower but that's ok. The cold was a factor, but not a big one for me. My merino top kept me from getting cold without being hot. My fitness is ok, but not outstanding. I still have some time before Sulphur, but not tons of it so I might have to rethink some of my goals for that race. Mentally, things went well. I ran most of the race by myself and I never went to the dark side, except maybe before I got to the turnaround on the second loop. It felt like it would never come.

If you're looking for a challenging 50km on trails, you should consider Seaton next year.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


About that last post...

Yesterday (Tuesday) I ran again the same route with my HR monitor. Same pace. Same distance. My HR was down very close to last year's. This goes to show you one of the problem with hr-based training. Our heart rates can change for various reasons. Maybe I was a bit dehydrated. Maybe I was still under the effect of the 5hr run from the previous Saturday. Maybe I was fighting some bug. We shall never know.

Anyhoot, I'm relieved because secretly I was a bit worried about Saturday's race and even more worried about Sulphur Springs, where my goal is to PB on that course (last year I ran a 10:06 for the 50 miler). That mental question mark about my fitness would have been hanging over my shoulder and maybe given me an excuse to slow down when the going gets tough (and you know it will!).

All is well, I'm not wearing that hr strap again for a while. Like a politician, I have now cherry picked the numbers that prove I'm in great shape and I will ignore the rest.

Monday, April 12, 2010

What Happened?

On a whim, I decided to wear my heart rate monitor during my Saturday run. I hadn't done that in ages. Up until I started ultras last year, I ALWAYS recorded my training runs. I know that some of you are not friends of the Garmin, but what can I say: I majored in math, so I like to crunch numbers. Well, let me tell you that I was in for a surprize. My top-end fitness has gone to shit. Sure, I can slog forever but on that run, done at what should be my recovery pace, my HR was a full 10 beats per minutes higher that on the exact same run last year. WTF?

That goes to show you that all those intervals and hills actually do a lot for one's fitness. I just recently started doing hills again (Susitna was flat as a pancake) so I'm expecting things to improve quickly in that department but I will change something else in the way I run: I think I run my recovery and long runs (when I can't get to a trail) too fast. They feel fine, I breathe easy, but I think that I need to slow down on those runs.

I'm running the 52km at the Seaton Trail Mud Puppies on Saturday. I intend to push a bit and see how things compare to last year. I was definitely more fit last year, but I feel that my body is stronger now and also I have more experience with ultras. My other experiment: stop wasting time at the aid stations. This is my curse and I have to stop doing that. I might just go with gels and grab the occasional cup of Coke and/or cookie, but that's it. I'll let you know how things go.

On the training front, I managed an ok week of training. Following last weekend's 5hr, 38km long run, I pulled back a bit this week with a nice 2hr run at Rattlesnake point. The trail was more challenging than I remembered and I tripped and fell for the first time in a while. That obviously happened as I was meeting a group of hikers. Never saw that rock sticking out of the dead leaves. I felt ok but not great. I really wanted to run on trails because I just bought a brand new pair of La Sportiva Crosslites. My old ones were a shade too small and after a year and much distance, the lugs were almost gone. The ones I bought for Susitna are too big to run with regular socks, so they will be my Winter shoes. I bought the new ones half a size bigger than my old ones, but still half a size smaller than the Winter pair, and they feel great. My toes didn't hit the back of the toe box, even when I hit that rock and fell on my face (well, I tried to roll, with mixed success).

This week's training will be light, kind of a mini taper, with hopefully a great day at Seaton on Saturday.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

OUS Spring Warmup

Last weekend was the OUS/OTS Spring Warm Up. The Warm Up is not a race but more like a group long run on trails, with an aid station added and a prize. The prize is nice: free entry to all the OUS races of the season. This year couldn't have been more different than last year's warmup. Last year (in Creemore) we had a mini snow storm during the event, this year the temperature shooted up to about 20C.

It wasn't quite that warm at 9am, but it was still comfortable. The course was a bit vague. Follow the trail to the school and back, which was a 22km loop, I think. That is basically a big chunk of the Seaton Mud Puppies race course. People immediately split up in a few groups and I ended up with the slower group, since I planned on doing two loops. I have been struggling a bit since Susitna, but lately I found that my longer runs were going well (especially on trail) and even though Derrick had planned on me running about 3h30, I had pretty much decided to go longer than that. There were 6 of us, I think, in the group and were kept a comfortable pace, chatting the whole time.

We missed a turn somewhere although we did follow the trail markers and ended up at a parking lot at about 9.5km. The course was not quite as technical as I remembered, but it was still quite challenging. Last year's Mud Puppies was one of my first trail races, certainly the most technical, and it left a big impression. The shoe sucking mud and steep hills were certainly still there.

After the first loop, we ate some pizza and refilled. We lost a couple of people who didn't want to go back out and about half-way through the second loop we lost some more, so it was pretty much me and one other runner after that, although were briefly ran with a third man on the way back from that second loop.

After the run, I learned that I was the Grand Prize winner! That was nice.

So all in all, a fantastic day. About 38km of nice technical trail. My running felt nice and strong. Good company. Beautiful weather.

What more can a runner ask for?