Saturday, August 21, 2010

ITT, I Barely Knew You

Three weeks before Haliburton, the Iroquoia Trail Test is the little ultra that could. IT is, as far as I know, the only race that counts in the OUS rankings with less than 50km. The ITT has a way of making me feel slow. Being shorter, it attracts a different mix of people, fast trail runners who typically don’t participate in longer events.

It was my second ITT. Last year I had a pretty good race but I got lost for a good 15 minutes. My plan this year (actually Derrick’s plan) was to go easy on the initial loop, push a bit harder on the way out and then give a good effort on the way back. Sounded like a good plan to me.

After what was essentially a sleepless night (2 hours of sleep) because of non-race related events, I picked up John McAlister (of TrailFooted fame) and we drove to Kilbride, arriving there around 6:45. That gave us time to chat with other runners and at 8am, we started.

Did I mention something about feeling slow? The very large majority of runners took off like bats out of hell. Most of the slower runners had started at the early 7am start, so there were only a few people behind me. I ran the first loop with “The Mod Squad” (see Limberlost report): Adi, Steve and me. We ran that loop really easy in 53 minutes. After looping back to the school, we headed out on towards Rattlesnake Point on the Bruce trail. The terrain slowly became more and more challenging. Although I enjoy running in group, my plan was to pick up the pace a bit and I soon noticed that I had lost my group. I was running well but not hard. In a more technical section, my foot caught something, I started flailing and I knew I was falling. I knew it was going to hurt because there were nasty, pointy rocks everywhere. There would be no rolling. At impact, I felt something hit my kneecap, my right shoulder hit something hard and my neck cracked. I had yelled like a little girl and I heard someone asking if I was ok. I took stock, sitting up and then standing up. A bit of pain, but it felt ok. I told the runners and they kept going.

For a few minutes, I was really careful and then slowly picked it up. I had almost wrecked my Haliburton 100 miler. Gulp. Just before getting on a long bridge, I see David (see his blog here). He had mentioned he was going for 3h30 but from what I knew of the trail, either he was going way faster than that or I was on a 5 hour pace. After the bridge is a long uphill and then a nice runnable stretch to the turnaround where I refilled my handheld. On the way in, you see people that are ahead of you. As you get close to the turnaround, you see people you have a hope of catching up to. I see Chris about 800m from the turnaround, a bit far for me to catch up.

Yes, my handheld. I ditched my vest. It’s just so darn hard to refill. Also, I find I run better on Sport drinks than on water and gels. Anyway, by then I was just totally dripping with sweat and covered in dirt. It was not really hot but it was humid and my clothes were just saturated with water. I get to the turnaround in 2:20:00, for a split of 1:27 for the out section. Following the plan, I increased pressure again. Going pretty fast on that downhill I had climbed minutes earlier, my foot hits something and I fall again, hard. F@ck me! I am so pissed off! From then on, everyone I meet will make a comment about my falls. I scraped my right leg but nothing more. I was going faster but the ground wasn’t as rocky this time around. Back to the bridge and then starts a long section that, for me at least, is just not runnable. Every time I hit better terrain, I run hard but in the first half, those sections are few and far between. Slowly, the trail improves and there’s more and more decent running to be done. I’m passing people now and then. You can’t see very far ahead so it’s hard to go into “catch up” mode, since you never see anyone. All of a sudden, someone just seems to appear right in front of you.

I ran the last 5k or so pretty hard and finished in 3:44:22. The back section took 1h23min, a full 4 minutes faster than on the way out. I felt pretty good, much less tired than last year. My last few races have felt really good and I feel like I'm as ready as I can be for Haliburton, given the limited mileage I did in training.

I will miss you ITT.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Almost There

Driving 100 miles on the highway, at 60 miles an hour, takes about an hour and a half. On rural roads, going at about 45mph it can takes well over two hours and it's a fairly long car ride.

As September 11th approaches, the sheer absurdity of running a hundred miles is starting to assert itself. It doesn't matter that I've done it once before. That experience has taken a dream-like quality where all I can remember is relentless, neverending forward motion but without much emotional content, except for a few exhilarating moments which I remember with amazing clarity. I am not certain how that race will help me at Haliburton, except for the fact that it at least proves that I'm crazy enough to do it.

Unexpectedly, I have found people willing to pace me. I still cannot believe it. One of my co-worker, his wife and possibly their son are going to drive all the way from Quebec City, a friggin' long drive, to run with me overnight. They offered spontaneously; I never asked! Unbelievable. They will relay each other, driving from aid station to aid station and resting while one of them runs with me so I will have both a pacer AND a crew!

The fact that it takes 2 or 3 average runners to be able to run 40 miles with me, an average ultrarunner, even after I've already run 60 by myself, really drives home how alien ultrarunning is. Obviously, their fear that I will run too fast for them is hilarious. I keep trying to describe how tired I'm going to be but it has hit home yet. They have never been at an ultra so they are in for a treat when they see my face on Saturday night. Last weekend they bought head-lamps and they are really excited about the whole running-in-the-dark-with-the-bears (and wolves) thing and I think this is going to be an amazing boost to my morale. It almost feels like cheating, but I'll take it.

My clinic at the Running Room is going well. I have a core group of runners who are pretty motivated, show up at most practice runs and probably run on their own when they don't come. Sunday on my long run after the clinic, I actually saw one of "my people" running on the Discovery Trail, after having overslept and missed the practice. I was so proud of her. It's so hard to start running and even harder to keep it up for long enough so that you start identifying as a runner. I really enjoy the fact that it's a beginner's clinic. It's harder in the sense that a lot of people seem to have given up already but on the other hand, the people who still come are really eager and ask a lot of questions.

Next weekend is the Iroquoia Trail Test, a "shorter" 32km race, but a tough one because of the really difficult terrain as well as the fact that people tend to take a wrong turn a leat once for some reason. Probably because one has to keep their eyes on the trail. Derrick wants me to run it fairly strong so I will probably suffer a bit. I've trained on the Rattlesnake Point trails quite a few times and the ITT course uses some of those so this will hopefully help a bit. Wish me luck.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Back from the Brink at Dirty Girls

Yesterday, Saturday August 7th, was my first Dirty Girls (DG) race. Last year I had some prior commitments and couldn’t do it. This year, I signed up for the 12 hour race. DG offers a number of events: 30k, 6hr, 12hr and 24hr. The course is a 10km loop. The course apparently has been changed quite a bit this year and people I talked to were unanimous: it’s harder now.

I was dubious about running this long, with Haliburton only a few weeks away, but it didn’t seem to faze anyone else, many people going signing up for the 24hr event. A lot of 12hr and 24hr runners drove up on Friday and camped but Mansfield isn’t that far and I drove early in the morning and got there with time to spare. I chatted with a few people, including a few who had run Burning River 100 the prior weekend. Kinga and Stephan were taking a break by volunteering at the 5km aid station for the whole 24 hour. A couple of or BR100 people were actually signed up for the 24hr event. Unbelievable.

My plan was simple, run about 50 miles and stop if I didn’t have time for a full loop before the 12hr was done. You can keep running until the end of your event but DG will recognize only 1/4 loop increments (2.5km). Then you have to walk back. To me, this was purely a training event. I wanted to test my nutrition, my pacing, my water system and, of course, my fitness.

The 6, 12 and 24hr races started at 8AM. We actually had chips, which is pretty rare in a long event like this. The weather was cool, probably 15C, but a bit humid. Still, it was better running weather than what we’ve had for most recent races.

The course begins with a low grade uphill that keeps on giving. On the first loop, we ran quite a bit of it but on following loops, I rarely ran much for the first 12 minutes. The flat sections were rare. The downhills were steep and rocky. By the 5k aid station, I was already wondering about those 50 miles. Didn’t feel like I was making much progress and I needed an average of 1h30 per loop, which I had thought wouldn’t be an issue. A few of the uphills were really long and steep, sucking the energy right out of your legs. I finished my first loop in 1h21, including a stop at the porta-potty. I felt like I had been pretty conservative, but the first loop is tricky because your body is just so strong. I had been eating gels and Nature Valley bars regularly. It was getting warmer but not hot.

Things were going well until the 5th loop. My pace was getting slower but that was to be expected. The wheels came off a bit. Eating the gels was difficult. I switched to NV bars, but I didn’t feel that much better. After a climb, getting back to running was difficult. Back at the start area after the 5th loop (50km), I felt pretty bad. On that loop, my time had been 1h40 and I knew that 50 miles (8 loops) was no longer an option. I briefly wondered if maybe I should just stop. I didn’t feel horrible, but the gravitational pull of seeing all your stuff around your comfy chair is really strong. A guy was drinking a cold beer right beside my chair. It looked so good.

I was feeling a bit nauseous. Something had to be done. My nutrition wasn’t working. I decided to stop the solids and switch to sport drink. My problem is that I don’t really like Heed if it’s not ice cold. I filled my bottle with 1/3 ice and the rest Heed and I got going. Stopping had not really been an option. It was just nice to pretend that I could put an end to this.

The 6th loops was both the worst and the best loop of the race. The worst one because it was my slowest one, in the 1:45 range. The best one because I came back to life on that loop. About 2km into the loop, I was running pretty slow and going down a long hill, I passed a wreck of a guy. He was walking down, chatting with another female runner. I recognized him because he had lapped me on the previous loop. I slowed down a bit and he decided to follow. I decided to stick around with him for a while. I needed some rest and he could use the diversion. So we jogged/walked for a while. After a km or so I could feel him pull and I told him to go. A few 100 meters later I passed him while he puked about a liter of liquid on the side of the trail. I reached the 5k aid station in pretty good spirits,considering that only 5k before, I had considered quitting, however briefly. They had, of all things, grilled cheese sandwiches. After a while without solid food, I decided to try one and I slowly ate it walking away on the road. It felt surprisingly good. Actually, I felt pretty good. My pace on the first 5k had been really slow, but now I felt pretty darn good.

I had read and heard a low about getting out of bad patches. Personally, although I had experienced going from horrible to bad, I had never made it back to feeling good. Well, by the end of that 6th loop, even though that loop was the slowest of the day, I felt like a million bucks. I decided to test this miraculous recovery on the 7th loop. I wanted to know if this was a fickle feeling that would go away as soon as I pushed a bit or if this was something more substantial. I decided to leave my legs on the course on that last loop. When I plan on suffering, I make deals with myself about the limits. There’s a part of my brain that seems to need to know the worst case scenario. In this case, the deal was that we would run as hard as we could without puking and in exchange, we weren’t going back out for a partial loop, no matter who tried to convince me to go back out.

The guy I had helped passed me at some point and when I got to the start/finish area he was still there trying to figure out how to revive himself. I stuffed my face with fruit, Charlotte gave me a big chunk of cantaloupe from her personal stash. On my way out, I told him I was now officially un-lapped. He was now less than a lap ahead. He said he would catch up and I told him he could try.

I started the loop and ran the shallower hills on that first uphill stretch. Not quite as much as on the first loop, but more than in any other loop. I felt pretty friggin’ good. Sometimes, after a longer uphill push, I started to feel nauseous and I walked until the feeling receded but my general energy level remained high, even with the effort level I was sustaining. I got to the 5k aid station in what felt like no time, and then it was time for the final push. At about 7k, I hear something and here’s my new friend, apparently recovered, right behind me. Damn. When he catches up I let him pass and off he goes, slowly pulling away. But not pulling away that fast. I still feel like I’m running strong. The big difference, compared with the first couple of loops, are the downhills. I just can’t go down as fast when the footing is questionable. I’m afraid my foot will not do exactly what I want it to do and I’m going to end up flat on my face. About 2k from the finish, there’s a short out and back where you can see other runners that are within a few minutes from you. My pal is not that far ahead. The last section has a sign that says: “Single track to the end”. I know there’s not 10 minutes left. I decide to go all out just to see what happens. I run the uphills (well, maybe I walk the one). I’m a running machine. I see movement up ahead. Ah! I sprint and catch up shortly before the field. We come out of the forest at the same time and he is gracious enough to let me get on the mat before him, thereby un-lapping me officially. By him anyhow. I got lapped numerous times, even double lapped by a couple of people.

As expected, well meaning people tried to convince me to go out for a partial loop. But I had made a deal and I only smiled. Sitting in my chair, I saw a number of people come out of the woods and then go back out and I marvelled at their mental fortitude. I guess they made different deals.

DG was a great race for me. Experiencing this comeback blew my mind. I’m sure it wouldn’t have lasted forever, but it sure lasted longer than I thought. Just knowing that my body is capable of that is an amazing boost  before Haliburton.

Do I regret not going back out? After all, the point of the race is the distance you run, not how fast you run. Not really. Of course, all those people will move ahead of me in the official results but I satisfied that I accomplished what I needed todo for myself.

I’ll post my official lap and finish times when they come out.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

6 Weeks to Haliburton

This has been an excellent training week. Ever since Limberlost, I've been feeling ridiculously good. I think that I've come to term with the fact that I need to train slow if I'm going to have a good race at Haliburton. Limberlost was, for me, almost effortless. I've been trying to use that same level of effort in training. Also, I've watched "Indulgence", the movie about Anton Kupicka. His stride seems so easy. He has this fast strike rate, but very economical, his feet landing right under him, that makes him look like he's just out for a light jog. Tap, tap, tap,tap... Obviously, he's probably going twice as fast as me when he does that, but what's important is the perceived effort. I've watched other videos, including Josh Cox's 31 mile training run, but those guys are just friggin' flying at close to their marathon pace, which is faster than my 5k pace (WAY faster) so it's hard for me to relate. I'm just not in the same genetic running specie. I just watch in awe.

So I've been prancing around in my "Anton" stride, running slower than ever but still aware that this is faster than I will be running in Haliburton, so who cares? This week's run have all felt ridiculously easy, except for the hill training/tempo combo on Wednesday that nearly did me in. Yesterday's goal for my long run was 4 hours and that's pretty much what I did (3h 53min). I ran a total of 35k on pretty hard surface and although the first 3 hours felt really easy, the last hour was a bit of a grind. City runs over 3 hours are just long, especially  at this point of my training where pretty much every weekend I run long. Thank god for races, where you run on trail and talk to other runners. I guess I could have driven to a trail, but my wife is starting to resent how much time I spend running and I don't want to add the extra 2 or 3 hours required to drive to Rattlesnake point or Terra Cotta. Small price to pay but that last hour yesterday was just such a grind!

Yesterday though, I was actually quite spent after my run and that made me question whether running the 12H race at Dirty Girl next weekend is a good idea. Is running a 50 miler (give or take a few miles) 6 weeks before Haliburton too much for me? Not sure. Anyway, I'm going to go for sure because whatever I decide to do this week, the course is a 10k loop that makes it easy to run whatever distance I decide to run. It's all paid for anyway so might as well enjoy it.

In other news, this week was my first week teaching the "Learn To Run" clinic at the Rosedale Running Room. I have about 15 runners-to-be. This is a true beginner's class and we're not running much yet (7 bouts of 1 min running/2 min walking) but we're going to increase the pressure slowly but surely. Pretty much everybody was there at Monday's class and run, but it was a lot quieter on Wedesday evening and this morning, with about 6 runners showing up for practice. It is a long weekend so hopefully, things will pick up this week. I'm sure prople have run on their own this week.

The group seems quite motivated and people ask a lot of questions so I've been enjoying myself. They keep me busy talking and I keep forgetting to stop after 60 seconds of running.  Too bad I won't be there for the Run for the Cure, I would have enjoyed running it with those who want to try a 5k. Maybe I'll try to find another race around that time.

That'sit for me this week.