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.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Sweet and Sour

A little bit of a setback this week as I try to recover from my ITB issues. I say "try" because it's not healed yet. It's not worse, it's not better, it's just different. As I perform all the rolling, exercises and stretches prescribed by Derrick, I find the pain moving around my knee. Is it the ITB, some obscure tendon or muscle, the patella maybe? It's sometimes hard to tell. Despite the constant burn, sometimes barely there, sometimes disturbingly sharp, I experienced some excellent running moments, so this week has been surprisingly good. The low mileage has left me feeling extremely strong for the time where I did run.

As a runner, one of my biggest fear is to not be able to run. Injuries are the Boogie Man. Every 5 minutes you feel the need to see if it still hurts by standing up or poking at it with your finger. Ultimately, this threatens your identity as a runner. You are reminded that this can be taken away from you at any time by the running gods. My brother in law, who is about my age, has Parkinson's. He's had it for a while, one of those rare cases that start early in life. He cannot run. At family function, such as yesterday's birthday dinner, I always feel awkward when the conversation turns to my running excesses. I doubt he knows that he's one of the reason I'm doing this. His life is the ultimate ultra. There's nothing easy about it. In the same way that we ultra runners try to find meaning in an activity that on the surface appears to be meaningless, I hope he can find meaning in his personal ultra. I feel I'm not articulating this very well, but it's the best I can do. I'm no poet.

So I'm not too worried about this injury. It is annoying, a bump on the road. There are worse things than a little pain on the side of the knee.

Monday, November 23, 2009

There's No Such Thing As Too Slow

Last week I ran a hair over 8 hours, which for me is a lot. I've had quite a few bigger weeks this year, but in most cases, I had a race during that week. I had maybe two other weeks where I went north of 8 hours without the mental boost that comes from a race. Mileage wise it was average, because my long runs are now done on trails, usually technical ones where my pace is something I'd rather not discuss.

Case in point: yesterday. My program called for 3:30 to 3:45 on trail. I decided to try a new section of the Bruce Trail and headed up to Milton to do a loop of the Halton Hills side trail. That loop is about 20km and I figured I would neeed to run a bit extra but that's OK. Little did I know. The trail ended up being the most gorgeous section I've run yet except for one thing: the trail surface is just nasty. I've been battling a bit of a knee pain and by the time I was 3:00h in, I had to break the seal on my emergency Advil bottle. A few sections were runnable around the Hilton Falls Conservation area but by then the damage was done. I shuffled the last few kilometers to my car, walking whenever the footing got questionable, which whas often.

On the drive back, sipping on my McDonald's Chocolate shake, I started to wonder if maybe I should run on flatter surfaces where I could sustain a faster pace. Wouldn't that be better training? Then I remembered my most brain numbingly boring training run ever: a 5:30 hour, 50k training run on a pancake-flat bike trail near Welland. I was just a grind. There was no joy involved. I actually listened to music for a couple of hours, something I rarely do. I couldn't believe I finished. Yesterday, the run wasn't quite as long but (other than the knife stabbing at my IT band) I had a great time. I took pictures of some of the nice spots; I lost the trail numerous times and got to play with my GPS; I had to go around flooded sections; I had my first shit in the woods (is that what my kids call "over-share"?); I swore at the tectonic plates and/or glaciers to create so many rocks. Never a dull moment. I'll stick to trail. I figure that if I stick to it, next year I'll think the Iroquoia Trail Test course is nice and easy.

So I was slow on Sunday. Who cares? I had a great time.

I have 48 hours to run 100 miles on February 13. I'll be happy just to finish, and that's a pace of 18 min/km. I better get used to slow. And I look at the bright side: there won't be any rocks!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

White Mountains 100

As you might know, I have all but decided to run the Susitna 100 as a replacement race for the Rock and Ice K-Rock. I haven't registered yet since there are no limits on the number of 100 miler entries. I did (or at least I think Derrick did) change my training to take the earlier (February instead of March) date into account.

I recently heard of another 100 miler in Alaska, the White Mountains 100, to be held on March 20-22 near Fairbanks. It will be the first year the race is held. I am torn. I would love to have an extra month to train. On the other hand, the course seems tougher with quite a bit of elevation change (about +/-7300 feet). Did I mention the water? Reading the course description, there seem to be quite a bit of water overflow on this new course, which might mean wet feet.  Then again, the views seem breathtaking.

I thought the Susitna aid stations were far apart, as far as 12 miles between some of them. Well, some of the White Mountains aid station are 23 miles apart. One of those 23 miles section will almost certainly fall during the first night. Can I deal with that? This probably means as much as 10 hours (maybe even more) without seeing anyone. The worst the conditions, the longer it's going to take. Food for thoughts.

A final problem, the airfare to Fairbanks is almost double the fare to Anchorage, usually with an extra stop, which in my book means an extra opportunity to lose my luggage without which I can't do the race.

Obviously, I am seriously considering doing this race or I wouldn't have considered all those factors. I am a bit worried about being ready for Susitna. Any down time because of injury could jeopardize my race. Having an extra month of training would mean a lot, even if it means a harder course. On the other hand, as much as I'm afraid not to be ready, Susitna is less than 3 months away and I just can't wait to DO IT!

I know that I don't really have to decide right now, although White Mountain is capped at 50 racers. They are up to 11 entries right now, none of them on foot. Mentally though, I'm going to have to decide soon. I simply have to know. Call me shallow, but pulling a tire on a gravel road is just not exciting without a specific goal.

My trainer is being very zen about all that. Wait and see. There's no hurry. Aaaaaaaah!!! I don't know how long I can wait. This is eating me up. I need to choose. You hear Derrick? I just need to.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

More Toys

Not much has happened in the last week. Still increasing the volume a bit. Last week was up to about 7h30min of running. I went for an early 3h trail run on Saturday up in the Terra Cotta area of the Bruce trail. As I was running in the early light, trying not to break an ankle because of the questionable footing hidden under the leaves, I wondered how long it would take someone to find me if anything did happen. I checked phone reception at a few spots and it was hit and miss. I did leave a map of where I intended to go at home, so I knew that at some point someone would come for me but what if I didn't qui follow the trail I was supposed to follow?

So I finally broke down and bought a SPOT Personal Tracker. A new smaller model came out, so I got an older one for about 50 bucks after rebate. You do have to buy the service, which is a bit over 100$/year. I bought the older model because it was cheaper, but also because its operating temperature range is -45C/85C, as opposed to -30C/60C for the newer model. My next race is going to be cold, so I might as well be ready for it.

What is SPOT you say? It's basically a GPS unit with transmit capabilities. The GPS unit keeps track of you location, and you can send one of 3 pre-programmed messages. The first two, OK and HELP, go to a list of email or SMS addresses that you can setup yourself. The 3rd button is a hard coded 911 button that sends your location to the closest rescue authorities as well as your emergency contacts defined in your profile. The satellites cover a large portion of the world including anywhere I could ever dream to go.

I tried the unit and it seems to work as advertized although one must understand that there are limitations. Transmitting a message to outer space with a unit the size of a potatoe using 2 AA batteries as an energy source is an amazing feat of technology. And SPOT can broadcast your location every 10 minutes for up to 14 days on one set of batteries. What this means is that the SPOT unit has to be face up when transmitting a message. I tried transmitting while holding the unit in my hand vertically during a run, and the message did not transmit. If I held the unit logo-up for a little while, the message got sent, as long as there was a decent view of the sky.

The unit is not a replacement for a Garmin 305, as far as tracking your run. But if you find yourself in trouble in the bush, your 305 (or any regular GPS) will only be able to show you where you are. The SPOT unit will let others know you are in trouble, or even just keep track of how you are progressing on that 8 hour long run. With the training that is coming over the next few months, I will feel better carying it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Bone tired

A lot happened last week. As you probably know, Rock and Ice has been cancelled and I had to look for a replacement race. I decided to go for the Susitna 100. For more on that, go to the previous post.

Training wise, things went fairly well. I ran for a total of 6h15min, not terribly high but decent specially since I took Wednesday off work (mental health day) and squeezed in a sweet extra trail run. My long run yesterday was about 2h15min, also in hilly trails. Even though I went at a reasonable pace, the hills are just HARD. We're talking steep. By the last few uphills yesterday, I could definitely feel the burn.

Because of the fact that I have to be ready to run one hundred miles by February, my weekly running time will now increase fairly quickly. That will be interesting.

In other news, I'm pretty sure my wife came down with swine flu, so it's been hectic last weekend. She was not a happy camper and the weekend was no picnic. She's now getting better. We'll see what happens to me and the kids. She started feeling sick Thursday night and we still feel ok so we might get away with it. We'll see.

Last week I also picked my training tire. That's the tire I will use as a resistor to simulate pulling a pulk (fancy term for sled). apparently you're supposed to name it so I decided to name it "F@cker", because of my initial reaction when I first tried it ("You're a heavy f@ucker!"). I don't really have space to store a tire at my place so I'm using a discarded tire that I've seen on the side of the Don Valley trail. It's been there (with 4 others) for well over 2 years. Now that's recycling. Am I green or what?

Now I have to go out for a short recovery run, but I have to admit that I am bone TIRED.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The King is Dead. Long Live the King.

I guess there's no point crying over spilled milk. R&I is not happening in 2010. Time to move on.

I have considered my options carefully. I had already planned on training for the 100 miler at Haliburton next September. That's one of my A races, but it's way out in September. I'm a forward looking guy but I need something closer to get me excited.

My BQ is still good for 2010; I could do that but I find that an A race is about emotion and Boston (and other large marathons) fails to excite me. Actually, this year I DNS (Did Not Start) Boston so I could run a local 52k trail race (Mudpuppies) instead. Didn't regret it (except maybe when a guy I ran with told me he was Flying the next day so he could do both. You can do that?).

For the first time, I'm picking a goal race that I'm not sure I can finish. After discussing it with my coach Derrick, who thinks it's a strech but doable, here it is: I'm going to run the Susitna 100 in Anchorage, Alaska in February.

The Susitna 100 is not a stage race like R&I. You run it in one go, carrying pretty much everything you need. There are 3 divisions: bike, ski, foot. Obviously, I will be running it. The time limit is 48 hours, which means I will have to sleep on the side of the trail somewhere at least once, probably twice. The aid stations are few and far between and offer mainly water. The winning time is well over 24 hours.

My big hangup is the distance. One Hundred Miles. By February. So little time to train. Still, I have built a solid base this year. I feel so strong right now, that emotionally, I am CERTAIN that I can run 100 miles, given the right pace. The memories of total physical exhaustion after Haliburton (hell, after all ultras) are gone. The Cartesian side of my brain tells me that I my odds of finishing are not 100%. There are a lot of moving pieces in that project.

So here's a rough outline of my 2010 races:

February - Susitna 100 miler
May - Sulphur Spring 50 miler
September  Haliburton 100 miler

I will do some of the OUS races as well, or course.

Like Alice, I'm falling down the rabbit hole, with no bottom in sight. I find myself in a strange universe, populated by crazy people doing extraordinary things. Strange thing is, I'm not looking for the way out.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Need I say more?


I am SO sad. I was so mentally committed. It's going to take a while to sink in.

Big Trail Weekend

After buying so much outdoor crap, it was all but inevitable that I would feel the urge to try all those toys. After an unsuccesful attempt at finding like minded companion for a little running/camping trip, I set out for the Terra Cotta Conservation area, all by my lonesome self. This being Halloween night, my yougest daugthter made sure to ask me if I had seen "The Blair Witch Project".

Because of an issue with my cat, I had a late start and didn't get there until almost 4PM. I left a sign on my dashboard indicating that I would be sleeping overnite and took off. The Terra Cotta trail was very nice. The weather was marginal, covered and really windy, but on the trail it wasn't really an issue. The footing was ok, but you had to be careful because the dead leaves covered everything and it was fairly rocky. At some point I got to a fence right on the middle of the trail, with a big "Private Property" sign. I didn't notice that the fence had a builtin ladder to let pedestrians through so I took a side trail. Only on the way back did I notice the ladder, which I used to run a bit more on the main trail.

My goal with these run was to try my gear, so I had both my Garmin trusty Forerunner 305 and my new eTrex Legend. On the Legend I had loaded the Canada Topo map of the area as well as the "Bruce trail" map from the Bruce Trail Project. Even after this weekend, I'm not comfortable with the eTrex. The map drawing is really slow and I found myself going back to my 305 for navigation. Also, even though I enabled the WAAS option, which is supposed to enhance the precision, the route recorded by my 305 seems more precise than the eTrex. Mind you, at some point I stuffed the eTrex in a side pocket while the Garmin was on my wrist, but still...

So I ended up running about 14k in 1:45, with my pack on, loaded with about 5 lbs of stuff. After my run, I went back to the car, stuffed some more gear in the pack, attached the tent to it, grabbed another bag and hiked to the camp site which was a mile from the trail head. I was in a bit of a rush because it was getting dark fast. The ground was fairly wet but my tent came with a footprint so it didn't cause any problem. I setup my tent, took a picture and got in. The wind was really blowing and it was getting cold.

Inside, I organized a bit. I changed into fresh clothes. To be totally frank, I really didn't feel like firing up the stove. It was a bit nippy and the thought of opening the door to cook was really unexciting. I toyed with the idea of stuffing myself with energy bars, but the whole idea was to try the gear so I opened up the door least exposed to the wind, opened the vestibule and started the stove. The vestibule on that tent if fairly small, so I'm going to be really good at starting the stove before I can cook without opening it. The thought of those flames so close to all that nylon/polyester had me eye the other exit in case I had to make an emergency exit. I boiled my water, dumped it in my Spaghetti with meat sauce and waited a few minutes. I must admit it was really good. 500 calories, lots of carbs and protein. Keeper. I read until about 11:00, changed the time and went to bed.

My sleeping bag was rated at -7C (20F) and the temperature went down to about 0C (32F), so I was quite toasty. Actually, at some point during the night I had to open up a bit because I was HOT. I had a decent sleep, although I admit I did dream that a bear was getting in the tent and I was paralyzed and could not wake up. I slept until about 7:30, longer than I expected. I opened up that tent and  cooked some Scrambled Eggs w/ham and peppers for breakfast. By cook I mean I boiled water and poured it in the pouch. This one was not a winner. It felt really heavy and didn't have enough carbs. The taste was ok, but I won't be bringing that one to Yellowknife.

After breakfast I quickly broke camp and hiked to the car, where i dumped most of my crap. I emptied my backpack, keeping a thermos of Gatorade, my phone and the eTrex. I wasn't supposed to run with a pack, but due to a packing error, I had forgotten my "pee bottle" in the car the night before and had to pee in my water bottle during the night. Rinsing it did not seem sufficient so I decided to use the thermos and I needed the pack to carry that.

For that run, I went south in the Silver Creek area. This trail was really challenging. Few flats, really hard footing. Rocks everywhere. For long sections, you basically have to jump from one rock to the other. All that, with leaves hiding most of the bottom of the trail. In some area, the leaf cover was some complete that it was easy to lose the trail. I had to concentrate so hard on my footing that it was easy to miss a trail marker. It was a beautiful trail though and well worth the effort. Didn't do much mileage in the 1:15 that I ran, though.

When I got home, let me tell you, people kept a safe distance from me until I had my shower, which felt glorious.

I'm really happy with how the weekend went. I'm comfortable with my gear. I know I can eat that dehydrated food for a few days. I probably won't start a major fire in the tent at R&I. My only open issues are about how I can run for 3 days without a shower. I almost hope they keep that tent freezing, because the stench of a few of us will be unbearable.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mini Book Report - "Walking on Thin Ice" and "Polar Dreams"

Following up on suggestions from a distinguished readers, I finished "Walking on Thin Ice" by David Hempleman-Adams and "Polar Dreams" by Helen Thayer.

"Walking on Thin Ice" relates his trip to the geographic North pole, accompanied with Norwegian Rune Gjeldnes, to round up what he calls the Adventurers' Grand Slam.

"Polar Dreams" is the story of Thayer's solo, unsupported trip (her and her dog, Charlie) to, and around the Magnetic Pole.

I enjoyed both books and recommend them if you are interested in reading about polar exploration. One thing these books can never convey is why those people actually do what they do, but that's ok.

"Walking on Thin Ice" was an easy read. Although I didn't really felt like I could relate with Hempleman-Adams, the book was interesting to read. One reason I say I couldn't really relate is that through the book, you really know that he means it when he says that to him, it's all about the destination. I try to be more about the journey. I try. Doesn't mean I'm not happy to get to the destination. Is book is all about what they DO. He's not afraid to admit his fears and I really enjoyed the story.

"Polar Dreams" is all about the journey. I should have preferred that book, but I have to admit that I didn't. Thayer seems like a nice person, but really, trying to save a lost baby Polar Bear? When she loses all her food, but the dog still has plenty, she feels it would be unfair to take some of the dog food even though the dog has been eating HER food for the whole trip. You wonder about her sanity. I would have eaten the dog food. That being said, her accomplishment stands on its own and her story is entertaining. The polar bear encounters are just unbelievable and you wonder how she made it alive. Actually you know that the only reason she did, was that in a moment of mental clarity she decided to accept the advice of a local Inuit and took a dog with her. I doubt she would have made it alone. But she did and her trip is for you to enjoy in her book.

Both books are recommended.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Trying to Find My Stride

Decent week of running with just under 5 hours of running and a total distance of 50km. Out of that, about 30 minutes were in the Vibram Five Fingers.

Today, I went back to Rattlesnake point and ran a different section of the Bruce trail. I ran a total of 13.2 km in about 90 minutes. The section I ran wasn't as challenging as last week, but it was still really nice. I think that section will be really good for snowshoing, later this winter.

I felt really good today. I've been working hard on my stride for the last month and I think all that work is paying off. I ran in my Crosslites and they felt like they were painted on my feet. Tap, tap, tap, tap. I've noticed that my foot strike is way cleaner than before. It used to be much louder. Now, I constantly try to strike under me instead of ahead, with a strike that doesn't break my forward motion.

My Crosslites have close to 700km on them and the lugs are getting real short. I'm going to need a new pair soon. I might buy them 1/2 a point larger so I can wear thicker socks in them this winter.

I got some more of my Rock and Ice mandatory equipment this week. I got a Garmin eTrex H GPS. I brought it with me today actually and used the "Backtrak" function and it worked pretty good. I also got

  •  a compass, 
  • down camp booties, 
  • a pair of Katoola Microspikes, 
  • a small cooking pot, 
  • a fuel bottle (and some fuel)
  • and a lighter. 

I tried to get some good boots (I need a new pair anyway) but they didn't have a good selection yet in my size.

Yesterday I tried my MSR Whisperlite stove. Good thing I tried it outside because I would be homeless. I won't bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that a Whisperlite can be lit while upside down. I was wondering why my pot wouldn't sit securely on top of the stove. Mystery solved. I don't want to talk about this anymore.

Today I also tried my new (well, used) tent. It looks great and I couldn't see anything wrong with it. It even had the footprint.

I'm thinking that next Saturday, I'm going to head out to Rattlesnake Point and camp overnight. I might do a short night run on Saturday and then my long run on Sunday morning. I could play with all my new equipment and try some of the food I want to bring to R&I. I'll see how that jives with the family.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Chances are ...

It's that time of the year again. It's marathon season, so we have to read more articles implying that marathons (and by inference ultras but those writers don't even know there are people crazier than marathon runners) are a sure-fire way to kill yourself. Here's a typical one  with scientists and all.

My favorite quote:

"Siegel, a former marathoner who researches the health consequences of the race, says the smartest thing to do is to complete the training and then watch from the sidelines."

What a fucking moron. Apparently, the odds of dying during a marathon are 1 in 50,000. We live in a culture of fear where a quantyified chance of dying makes us feel like it could actually happen to us. After all, SOMEONE died. Well, you can't live like that.

As an exercise on fear, here are the odds a US resident had of dying of various causes in a 12 month period (complete list here ):

Pedestrian (in other words, walking) 1/48,816
Car occupant 1/20,331
Falling 1/15,085
Assault by firearm 1/51,620

And the list goes on. Basically, you have the same odds of dying while walking in the street as those of dying while running a marathon (assuming you run one a year). All in all, every year, you have 1 in 1681 chance of kicking the bucket.

So running 2 marathons a year is safer than using cars. So why the hell is there even a discussion about this? I'm not going to go there, but that Siegel fellow and others like him can live their life in fear, away from pools and lakes (1 in 82,777 chances of drowning).

They of course "take swimming lessons but stay on the side of the pool"! Unbelievable.

The lifetime odds of dying are 1 in 1. All we can do is make sure that when the time comes, there are as few regrets as possible. Will Dr Siegel, on his death bed, think: "I sure had a lot of fun on the side lines, looking at those people run marathons"? I don't think so.

In the immortal words of Tim McGraw: "Live like you were dying"!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Bruce Trail

Today, I went to Rattlesnake Point Conservation Area for my long trail run. The trail connects to the Bruce Trail, which means you can run forever. What a beautiful trail! It was a bit technical once it joined the Bruce trail with lots of roots and rocks, quite hilly, but I had a great time. 

When I came home, I bit the bullet and actually paid for a Bruce Trail Conservancy membership. In my opinion, the Bruce trail is a national treasure and I can't believe it even exists. The least I can do is give them a little money. A father at my kids school tried to run the whole thing but ran out of steam after 550km (out of 850). Still, an amazing thing. They collected 110,000 dollars for the Hospital for Sick Children. Unbelievable. I'm wondering if I can get a couple of hundred bucks for Muscular Dystrophy for Rock and Ice, and those guy collect 100 grands.

I had a decent week of running, up about 30 minutes to almost 4h30min of running. I'm losing track of my actual mileage because I find myself using my Garmin less and less often. Don't get me wrong, I love the darn thing. I never go in trails without it. That "Go Home" function is just indispensible when going in unfamiliar trails. I can just run and run, picking whatever sidetrail I want until my time is halfway up and then I can just go back, following electronic breadcumbs. It's just a great tool. On the other hand, I haven't used my HR monitor in weeks, maybe even months. Oh, well...

Yesterday I went to MEC and bought a few more items I will need for Rock and Ice:
  • MSR Whisperlite camp stove
  • Glove liners
  • Merino wool base layer top
  • Two 500ml thermos bottles (to prevent water from freezing)
I wanted to get a few more things but the place was a zoo. I will probably go during lunch time this week, it might be more civilized.

I'm trying to buy a used tent on Craiglist. I may have found one and it looks like a good deal. I asked a few questions, and if the answers are positive I'm going to buy it. It's a small 4 season tent and I will definitely have to sleep outside a few times this Winter for practice, probably combining that with a snowshoe outing. I haven't been this eager for snow since I was 12 years old. They say there's an El Nino; what does that mean? No snow or a lot? Anyway, they know nothing.

As my legs come back to life after their near death experience at Haliburton, I'm thinking more and more about a short distance race before Xmas. I had a fantastic time running my tempo on Wednesday (I might have run too fast). My body is craving an act of total abandon, which as we all know, can only be done in a race.

I could go on and on, as I'm still riding my high from today's run, augmented with an Americano from Jetfuel Coffee, but I guess it's enough for now.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ramping up slowly

I'm slowly ramping up the miles. This week I ran a tad under 40km for a total of 4 hours of running. On Sunday, I drove up to Uxbridge for a short run in the Durham Regional Forest trails. I definitely need to do more trails. My usual route is so flat compared to trails, no wonder I bonked at Haliburton. I will try to get to a trail at least once a week. It's hard though, because it takes so much time. I better get used to it since it will probably be the only way to get decent snow for snowshoe training this Winter.

This week I'm starting my formal training program with Derrick. He's got me all setup on Training Peaks, where he can post my workouts and I then post what I've actually done. This week is going to be similar to last week as far as volume (4 hr). The big difference is that Derrick just happens to be a strong believer in core work, so I will try to make myself do the exercises. This is an advantage of having a trainer actually look at what I do. My previous training programs did recommend core work, but I never actually did it. It's all Jack Daniel's fault. He's not a big believer in cross training; he thinks that the best training for running is running, as long as you don't overtrain. Anyway, I'm going to have to drink the Kool-aid on core work.

My feet are doing ok. Both side are equally sore in the morning and then I'm pretty much fine for the rest of the day. My calfs are feeling much better. This should be a good week.

I look at the upcoming months and I can't believe I won't be running any long races until March. Although I know my body needs the down time, I read other people's race reports and I crave that feeling of going beyond the limits we set for ourselves in training. I miss going long.

Speaking of going beyond your limits, I just finished reading "Everest" by Reinhold Messner. It's a detailed description of his ascent of Everest without oxygen. He was the first person to go up Everest without the use of bottled O2. Basically, doctors told him that they (he and Peter Habeler) would probably suffer from brain damage and die up there. Good read. Translation is much better than "A Climber's Life", making it a bit easier to read. Now I'm out of books. Suggestions are welcome.

That's it for now.

Monday, October 5, 2009

My Calfs are Killing Me - YES!

One thing that has been a constant ever since I started running is that there's always a noagging pain somewhere below my waist. I had pain in my knee, my feet, my calfs, my hamstrings, my butt... Usually, the pain lasts for a few days or weeks and eventually goes away. As soon as that happens, I guess we just go a bit harder or longer and then something else hurts. That's fine.

What is not fine is when something hurts for more than a few weeks. As you may or may not know, I've been plagued with a pain at the insertion of the right Achilles since February. I've tried many things but I could never get rid of the pain.

I've always suspected that improving my stride might help. During my post-Haliburton two week break, I re-read "Born to Run". After my break, since I would have to start running slowly, I decided to insert small amounts of VibramFF running and to be really carefull to strike with the forefoot. The sole of my running shoes show that I'm more of a mid-foot striker and I want to try to move forward a bit.

Anyway, to make a long story short, my last two runs have been Achilles-pain free. I've had a few semi-pain-free runs this summer, but my last two runs were truly pain free. On the other hand, my calfs are killing me, but that's a welcome change that was to be expected with moving to a forefoot strike. My running on those runs was really comfortable, at a reasonably fast pace (marathon pace).

Now I'm not out of the woods yet, but I'm hoping that this is behind me. I will definitely keep running short distances in the Vibrams to keep me honest. For example, yesterday I did a quick km around the block before going for a 10km run in my Adizeros. I'll keep going that until the weather gets too cold.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Book Review - Free Spirit - A Climber's Life by Reinhold Messner

With my running volume close to zero, I have way too much time on my hands. To sustain my hunger for the epic, I'm on a strict diet of running books and movies but I'm running out of choices so I decided to branch out in other sport related to endurance. After re-reading "Into Thin Air" by Jon Krakauer, I came across Reinhold's Messner's name and it rang a bell. Reinhold Messner has been called by some the greatest climber of all times. After watching a movie about him on Snag, I was intriged. I'm no climber, but as an ultra runner, I understand the attraction of committing to a goal that challenges one's notion of what is possible.

Free Spirit covers Messner's life from his first climb up until his crossing of Antartica on skis in 1990. This book has chapters about climbs that had special meanings to Messner. Don't expect detailed descriptions of each ascent. This book is not "Into Thin Air". What you do get is a peek into what motivates someone like Messner. A say a peek, because ultimately, such a relentless drive cannot be explained on paper.

As the book progresses, you scarcely can believe that one person can live such an intense life and accomplish so much. He is the first to admit that he was extremely lucky to survive all those adventures, when people around (literally) him died. In climbing, you are always a falling rock, an avalanche or a storm away from death. That being said, Messner knew that and found ways to minimize those risks. He had an almost perfect measure of his own abilities and knew when to turn back.

What is amazing about Messner and makes this book interesting, is not any individual accomplishment; it is the shear number of them. Every single ascent in the book is a momentous accomplishment, like his unsupported climb of Everest without oxygen. But the book is full of them.

At time, I wished he would go into a bit more details about an expedition, but I guess I can always buy some of his other books, which are more focused on a specific ascent.

If you decide to read this book, be aware that it sometimes it feels as if it has been translated from German to English using Google Translation. But hey, who am I to judge?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Rock and Ice Gear - Sleeping Bag

I thought I would share with you the various items I'm acquiring for the Rock and Ice K-Rock. Maybe some other poor souls are in the same predicament I am in and they can learn from my experience. This is not really a gear review, since I haven't really tried the item yet. This is more a "buying experience" review. Yes, it's easy to buy most things online, but spending big bucks on something I've never seen scares me a bit.  After the race, I'll go over every item and let you know how they performed.

The single most expensive item I need for the race is a -30C (-20F) rated sleeping bag. Rock and Ice is a staged race, so every night we get to sleep in a tent, but the tents have no floor and minimum heating. Basically, you have to put your sleeping pad on the snow and you sleep on that. I heard from past racers that sometimes the heater stops unexpectedly during the night and it can get pretty nippy in the tent.

For all those reasons, one can't really take a chance. I need to know that I can slip into my bag and be warm.

I had been looking around for a sleeping bag for a while. My plan was to buy it later, but someone told me that they can be hard to get in the Winter months so I decided to bite the bullet. I have to say that in the end, I didn't have too many choices. It basically came to a choice between the North Face Solar Flare ($750Can at Europe Bound) and the Mountain Equipment Coop (MEC) Thor ($480Can). Both are filled with down and had good reviews. I know someone who has a Solar Flare and he has only good things to say about it. The reviews for the Thor are all outstanding.

It just happened that there was a North Face sample sale in Toronto yesterday. The sale was cach only so I got there at opening time with loads of cash in my pocket. After waiting over an hour outside the store to get in, I found out there was no Solar Flare. They had a Tundra for $220, which is filled with synthetic material instead of down. Some of the reviews questioned the -20F (-29C) rating. I just couldn't take a chance. I imagined myself shivering all night and put it back on the rack. So much for saving money. They had no base layer items whatsoever, so I couldn't get the Merino wool shirt I had hoped to find. Pretty much all the clothes are MEDIUM in a sample sale. In things like winter jackets, medium is a bit tights for me so no luck either.

On the way home, I decided to detour to MEC, where I ran upstairs and got a Thor. Done. The Solar Flare was seemed nice, but in the end I just couldn't justify spending that kind of money ($750) on one item. On the way to the cash register, I detoured to the trail shoe section and looked at them longingly. Why? I have shoes already. I have a running shoe fetish!

Last night I slipped in my Thor for a few minutes and it feels nice and cozy. It's a left zip, so I can operate the zipper with my right hand. Couldn't stay in it long because one gets a bit toasty at room temperature. I might buy a Vapour Barrier and a liner to prevent my perspiration from getting the down wet. I tend to sweat a lot when I sleep.

When nights start getting below freezing, I'll get a bivy sack (also on the list) and sleep in the back yard to try it out. Maybe I'll get lucky and we will get some snow soon! The only thing that scares me is racoons. There's a family of 4 living near my house and they will for sure investigate this potential source of food. If they sniff in the face opening and I wake up I would probably freak out. They probably would know better, but I keep imagining it.

So this was the story of my sleeping bag. Next on the list are the Snow Shoes (already purchased) and the ongoing backpack saga. Then, all the other stuff!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Quick Book Review: Why We Run by Bernd Heinrich

Bernd Heinrich is an Ultra runner. A good one. He has held a number of records, mostly after he tuned 40. He is also a Ph.D in biology. His book is basically a story of his running life, more specifically a buildup toward his 100km record run in Chicago in 1981, intersperced with scientific information about endurance in various species, from the Hawk moth and the honey bee to the camel and, obviously, humans. He expands on how/why humans eventually developed the ability to do what he calls persistence hunting: the ability to run a prey to exhaustion.

One of the points Heinrich believes is key in explaining why humans evolved to be able to run such long distances is our ability to see the future in our mind's eye. Most animals just give up the chase after a few miles. Humans can maintain their focus over extended periods of time and keep their eye on the prize for as long as it takes.

I read the book in one day. I have to admit I seep read some of the finer details of how the honey bee maintains its internal temperature, but as a whole the book was very interesting. His attack on the world record was deliberate and mostly based on what he knew about endurance in animals. He knew a lot. You constantly have to remind yourself that this happened in 1980, before Gatorade and Gu even existed.

This book reinforces the fact that running is something we are born to do. Racing is basically a playful re-enactment of the hunt and this is something that comes from deep within us.

Another point Heinrich emphasizes is the fact that running is not all about VO2Max. Yes, our performance is ultimately limited by genetics, but for most people, the limiting factor is the mind. Before you reach your physical limits, you need to overcome many obstacles, most of them mental. You need to decide to train. You need to want to compete. You need to set goals that are realistic, yet help you go beyond what you know you can do. You need to plan your race, not just hope for the best. During the race, we all know what we have to deal with in ultras.

So all in all, a good read. Two thumbs up.

"You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up."

General George S. Patton
1912 Olympian, Modern Pentathlon

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


There's no way around it, I'm tired. My body (brain?) struggled to get me through Haliburton. This was my second year running and my first year running ultras. In the last 12 months I've run one marathon, four 50k and two 50 milers. I think this was a full season, so I've decided not to race any long races until Rock and Ice in March. I've accomplished a lot in the last two years and it's time to take a step back.

So I'm actually TAKING A BREAK FROM RUNNING for at least two weeks. I'm one week in the break; I hate it and I feel like shit. My back hurts when I lay down, which never happens when I exercise. I feel like I'm gaining 5 pounds a day, but I can't stop eating, because I have all that friggin' time available. On top of that, my mom sent 3 huge boxes full of sweets (1 box of fudge/mashmellow/cookie squares, 1 box of plain fudge, 1 box of date squares) for the kids. There are a few date squares left, but I should be done soon. I called her last weekend to say thanks and ask her not to do that again. I'm afraid to get on the scale. I'll wait two weeks after I start running again.

I've thought about going out on my bike but just the thought of it makes me gag. Don't judge me. Riding a TT (Time Trial) bike in Toronto just plain scares me and hurts my ass because of the shameful state of the roads, specially the cycling lanes which basically cannot be used on a TT or road bike. Maybe swimming. Swimming has grown on me last year while practicing the Total Immersion method. I kinda miss it a bit.

In other news, I've decided to get a personal trainer for the next year. I had a long phone conversation with Derrick Spafford last week and he agreed to take me on as a client. We will be starting a new training program after my little break.

I have two big goals for 2010:

Do well at Rock and Ice
Run my first 100 miler (Haliburton?)

I feel that having access to the experience of a runner like Derrick will help me reach both goals. Derrick has run the Rock and Ice twice, so he understands my particular brand of craziness. He also trains David, who will also be in Yellowknife so we can get each other all worked up with anticipation.

I am still really excited about Rock and Ice. I go to Mountain Equipment Coop every weekend and look at all the stuff I'm going to have to buy: GPS, -30 sleeping bag, stove, food... My Xmas and birthday lists are growing by the minute.

This is it for now.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Haliburton 50 Miler Race Report

After finishing the Sulphur Springs 50 miler, I remember thinking: "That wasn't so bad!". I would be punished for this case of hubris. I don't remember ever sitting in a race. Before the end of this race, I would have sit at least 3 times, one of them on a rock between aid station 5 and 4 wondering how I as going to find the energy to finish.

I arrived at the race site Friday afternoon around 3PM. I got my kit and setup my tent. I hadn't been out of the car 5 minutes that I'd made new friends, all of them as or more excited than me about the upcoming race. One of them was proudly wearing his Haliburton 100 Miler belt buckle. I looked at it with a twinge of envy. No buckle for me this year since I was running the 50 miler. As I noticed I had forgot my pillow, he just ran to his tent and brought me one. Another guy was attempting to finish the 100 miles for the 5th time. Unfortunately, it wouldn't happen this year.

The whole weekend was like that, either meeting amazing people for the first time, putting a face to an online identity ("I'm RabidChipmunk", "Haaaaa! I'm JD!") or reuniting with people I'd met a previous races. Before dinner I found Derrick Spafford, who was bringing my brand new Dion Snowshoes, which I bought from him for the Rock And Ice Ultra.

Dinner was a blur of war stories from people sporting Badwater, Marathon des Sables or Himalayan expedition gear. The sense of community was overwhelming. After the traditional pasta and a few speeches, one by one, everyone stood up, introduced themselves and announced which distance they were going to run.

Then I was off to bed. I taped my feet, then I read "Into Thin Air" by Jon Krakhauer until about 10 and went into a fitful sleep. My alarm rang. It was pretty cold, but I took my checklist out and started: nipples: check, Excedrins: check, Bodyglide: check.... Soon enough I was out of my tent and walking toward the start. There I met Chris Mcpeake, a fellow blogger, also running the 50 miler and his wife Kim who was racing the 26k later.

Then it was the prayer and the start. I was glad I had my Petzl head lamp. It was pitch dark. I just remember running, talking on and off with Chris. After a few miles Chris picked up and proceeded to run an amazing race which I'm sure he will write about on his blog. Given my Sulphur Spring time, I was expecting to run the course in about 11 hours. My right Achilles felt ok, but it was a bit tender and it would be for the whole race.

The first 25 miles, or 40k, just kind of happened. It felt like the course was rolling hills, rarely flat, but I saw no reason to push since I was making great time. At every aid station the volunteers were just amazing. The trail markings were perfect. At any given time you could basically see the next flag. I got to the turn around at 4:56, feeling fantastic because I had held back quite a bit and I felt like I could maintain the same pace till the end. Sub-10 maybe? I was exactly where I wanted, except for one thing: I had missed the Shrine and therefore had been unable to leave my offering to the forest goddess. It felt heavy in my pocket. I sat down, took some rocks out of my right shoe and took off toward the finish.

One thing about this race that was different from other races I had done, some aid stations are far apart, like 10k. At he pace most of us are going, that's an hour and a half, maybe even more. It's a long time when minutes start feeling like hours. And after a very short time, I realized that the course had not been rolling hills, it had been downhill with a few uphills. Even the dreaded "mulch" at Sulphur would barely qualify as a hump on this course. It was just ridiculous. The hills were unrelenting. You would climb forever in a gnarly trail full of roots, turn a corner near the top and then there was another one, even steeper. I did not remember going down those huge hills. I kept hoping it was over. It never was. Then fatigue set in and I started tripping over rocks and roots. Again and again. Where was all that energy that I thought I had in the bank?

I was devastated. Running a short out and back at 55k, a guy running in the other direction tells me theres a bear up by the turnaround sign. I just kept running making a bit of noise. As I got close to the sign, I looked around, didn't see anything, ran to the turnaround line and ran back to the aid station. This section, between AS 5 and 4, is about 10km and it crushed me. I swore in French, I swore in English. I heard a noise that sounded like a sob, but I was alone so it couldn't have been. It was as if the course was mocking me.

I was wondering what I had done wrong. Did I eat enough, too much, not the right thing? Maybe I didn't drink enough. Then again, maybe I drank too much? I was doubting every decision I had made.

Yes, I did sit down.
Picture by David Bohn

The only thing that told me that maybe, just maybe, things were not that grim was that nobody was passing me. There were a couple of guy which would pass me, then I would pass them, but never anyone new. I must not have been doing as horrible as I felt I was doing. After what felt like forever I got to AS 2. A loop around the lake. Kill me now. At AS 3, about 6 km from the finish, I drank, ate and then walked in the lake and submerged myself completely. It felt so fucking good. Then my thighs started to cramp and I got out of there pronto and started running. My mood was improving. I overtook a guy and we started talking. We got to AS 2 again and just blew out of there. I was getting excited, we're like a mile from the finish. We ran (yes ran) up a long hill, we turned and then we saw it. The finish. We picked up the pace and we basically sprinted (?) the last few hundred meters.

As I stopped running, I felt a sudden emptiness. Things went from total focus to being finished. A girl said something, there was a camera, someone put a medal around my neck and I almost started balling right then and there. I couldn't talk, afraid I was going to start crying. I turned around and this guy is coming to the line, looking at least as tired as I felt but his number is below 100, which makes him a 100 miler. He runs across the line, turns around and goes back out. I couldn't imagine it.

I sat down with a fellow and we talked about the race, yelling encouragements to runners coming to either finish the 50 miles or turn around for the 100. After a while, maybe 45 minutes, I felt ready for a shower then dinner, which I ate with Chris and Kim. We talked about the race and then I decided to hit the sack as it was getting dark, around 8. I started reading, hearing cheers when runners showed up at the 50 miles line. I would think about those runners, now running for 14 or 15 hours and my eyes would blur with tears. I went to sleep around 10pm. I slept fitfully, waking up whenever a 100 miler would finish.

Around 7:30 am, I grabbed my chair and walked over to the finish line, where a group of people were waiting for the next runners. We kept a kind of vigil, talking about the race, comparing blisters. A runner would show up, everyone would get up and cheer until they finished. I saw this big guy finish, walk away and stand there, tears just pouring out. Finally around 11:45, the last runner came in, his girlfriend waiting for him. He finished, went to his pack looking for something, dropped to his knee and proposed. The whole weekend has this dream-like quality about it.

It felt strange to leave, after the Awards Brunch. I might not see all those beautiful, crazy people until next Spring. My head was spinning for the whole drive home.

In the book I was reading, I read this sentence about mountain climbing. Jon Krakauer say that "climbing is like life itself, but it is cast in much sharper relief". I think this applies to ultra running as well. Last weekend was so intense. I learned so much about myself, about things I need to change.

Haliburton scares me because I know I'll be back. As someone said, it got under my skin and now I know I will have to come back and try the 100 miler. I have unfinished business there.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Man, Oh Man!

You know what I mean. I work on the 3rd floor.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


I just came back from running the 50 miler at Haliburton. I finished in 11h 11min 26sec, pretty much the time I had in mind at the start. The course was difficult in a way that was almost Zen-like. I felt like it had a personality and it was trying to tell me something. Those are the facts and they are the only things I'm ready to share them with you. They also mean nothing.

As for the rest, I'm still trying to understand the weekend. I've seen grown men cry. I might have cried, I'm not sure. For me, at this point in my life, this was a life changing event and I was not expecting it. This was so much more than expected.

I'll see if I can come up with a race report that makes sense to anybody else.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Shoe Dilemma

Anyhoot. Today I went out for a quicky (damn you taper) and decided to try my La Sportiva Crosslites. I just happen to love those shoes. They look fast and they FEEL great. I ran almost all my trail races with them including my only 50 miler. The only problem I had with them is that because they fit so well, they become a bit tight after 35-40 miles.
La Sportiva Crosslites

I haven't worn them in a long time. At Creemore, I forgot the insoles and had to run with my road shoes. Then, I turned my left ankle and for some reason, the Crosslites were just killing that foot so I had to use the Wildcats for a while.

La Sportiva Wildcats

Today, though they felt just fantastic. I had all but decided to race the Wildcats at Haliburton, but now I think I'm going to start with the Crosslites and send my Wildcats ahead in a drop bag, just in case I feel a bit tight later in the race. I KNOW I can run 50 in the Crosslites. I have never run more than 20 miles in the Wildcats although I have to admit they have a bit more support and the soles are a tad more cushioned.

Tomorrow, I'm going to run with the Wildcats and make the final decision.

Ain't this fun?

Friday, September 4, 2009

One week to Haliburton

At this time next week, I'll be packing the car to leave for the Haliburton Forest where I will be running the 50 miler. I feel ready both physically and mentally even though I'm a bit tired after a long season that started back in March with my first ultra, the Seneca Creek 50K.

My goal for this race is to finish in one piece, without doing anything that could jeopardize Rock and Ice. R&I is 6 months away, which mens that training will start soon, probably mid October so now is not the time to wreck myself. I want to enjoy this race and then rest for a few weeks to allow my body to recover as much as possible.

My taper is going well. I'm a lazy bastard, so I don't feel that overwhelming urge to overdo things. I know a few people who are probably doing back-to-back long runs this weekends. My view is that there's nothing no gain at this point, all I need to do is no f@ck it up. I'm doing one last medium run today (20-ish km) and then I will just maintain my fitness and blood volume by doing a few short quality workouts next week. I'll probably carbo load starting Wednesday, with Friday consisting of only "low-residue" carbs to minimize my chances of having to take a dump with the bears. That's the plan. That, and trying not to gain too much weight. Hunger doesn't go away just because you reduce the mileage. Carbo loading will add a few pounds, but I've added more than that before Sulphur so I'm trying to be careful.

I was re-reading my pre-Sulphur post and I definitely don't feel as hyper as I was back then. I've run 50 miles before and I know this is going to be hard. That being said, I feel like I should have gone for the 100 miles but really, that would have been stupid (see above reference to not jeopardizing R&I). Still, that's something that is in the back of my mind.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Great Trail Run

I often complain that I don't do enough trail running. I heard through a fellow runner about a group run today, so this morning I got up at 5am and drove to Ancaster to meet a few other ultra runners for a 30k training run on the Sulphur Springs course. We started running at 7am. Being only a couple of weeks from Haliburton , we took it real slow and took almost 4 hours to run the 30k but that's fine with me. 30k was in the upper range of was I had planned to do during my taper, so I wanted to make sure I didn't overdo it.

The course was WET and muddy. One of us (you know who you are) slipped and fell on his ass in a huge puddle. The temperature was cool but a touch humid: it was a blast! There's even a shower at the community center where we parked and we can use them free of charge.

It's funny. Last week I ran about 34k (including my little "detour") in 3:58 and I was completely spent by the end of the race. I actually had trouble with stairs for 2 days. Today we ran 30k in pretty much the same time and I feel like I jogged 10k. That gives you an idea of the difference between the Sulphur and Iroquoia courses. The ITT course is just ridiculous.

This coming Friday, the group is meeting after dark and they are going to run a loop (20k) in the dark. This is something I've been meaning to try, so even though I'm running the 50 miler and won't be running in the dark (hopefully), I will probably go and give it a try. More on that later.

Good times.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Journal entry

Earlier this week, I was laying flat on my stomach with electrodes hooked up to my leg, chtaaing with the physio in charge of my treatment. We were discussing my problem when I heard myself say: "I don't mind the pain so much while running, I just don't want to do permanent damage." What? Who said that?

I've been noticing lately that my attitude toward pain was changing. I accelerate in the uphills. When I turn around, I turn at the top of the hill instead of just before. I now always finish my runs, any run, with a hard sprint. I guess running 5 or 6 ultras in the same summer is another example. Things like that.

Don't get me wrong, I am still a lazy person. It's just that I now seek the rush that comes with doing something ridiculously hard. That means some level of pain. This Spring I broke 20 minutes in a 5k for the first (only?) time. Some of it was fitness, but a lot of it was embracing the pain. That was the sharpest pain I've ever felt during a race. It was exhilarating. Then you have the long distance pain, maybe enhanced by a good bonk, running (you wish you were running, you're shuffling) by yourself in the bush, minutes feeling like hours, thinking that maybe you could just lay down in the leaves, right there by the trail, and pass out. Maybe they'll find you and maybe they won't. You don't care all that much. It takes a while to come back from that. It changes you a bit. Some people call it "seing the bear" and I can see why. I've seen it. I know the price to pay if I go just a bit too far.

During a race, there's usually a point beyond which I can't really remember why I thought this would be fun in the first place. I now have this rule that I never question my motives during the race. Another rule is to never decide anything during a race, including deciding to never to run an ultra again! Big no-no.

In a previous post, I mentioned how difficult it was for me as an ultra runner to communicate to "civilians" why I do this. I think that this relationship with pain might be why I'm not comfortable explaining it. They don't understand the rewards, they just focus on the pain. The term "epic" has a meaning for endurance sport junkies that other people don't understand fully. Their loss. I've had a few glimpse of the epic. I want more. The price you have to pay for the experience is pain. In that way, pain is your friend, singing in your head, guiding you. Sometimes, your friend will tell you that it's time to back off. You have to learn to recognize those times and listen.

If you're not an ultra runner and you're thinking of trying an ultra, don't worry too much about what I wrote. Maybe my family is right and I am crazy. In the mean time, I'm going to go look for the epic. It usually hangs out with the bear...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Iroquoia Trail Test 2009

When people talked to me about ITT, one theme remained constant: "it's really technical", they would say. They weren't kidding.

I had a few misgivings about running that race. My last big race is Haliburton (I'm running the 50 miler) and I don't want to get injured so close to it. I've been battling an Achilles injury for a few months. The doctor said to try and stay away from hills. Gulp. On top of that I turned my OTHER ankle last week while doing hills. I actually had to skip 2 days of training this week because I just couldn't run on it. On Friday I went for a spin in my La Sportiva Wildcats and it wasn't too bad so I decided to do the race. I actually tried to run in my Crosslites and couldn't, but the Wildcats were good.

So this morning I went through my usual pre-race, which includes two Excedrins, and drove to Kilbride (what a name). I followed the direction my Garmin GPS gave me and I got there just in time to see the 7am start, which is supposed to be for slower runners who need the extra hour to make it to the turn-around before the cut-off. Some of the people didn't look that slow to me.

I got my number and got ready. The usual suspects were all there. Again, people I talked to kept mentioning how slippery the rocks were. We moved toward the start, the race director gave some last minute directions and we got moving.

The course is comprised of a first 7.5k loop where we crossed a river twice. There was a perfectly good bridge right there but didn't get to use it. Need to get those feet nice and wet. The second part is out and back. It's really hard. The rocks are just nasty. They are uneven, wet, slippery. It kept getting worse. I kept turning my left ankle. You had to really be careful about you foot placements.

At around 17km, I was following a small group and I hear: "are we lost?". Of course, we all keep running. After a hundred meter, me and the guy in front of me stopped and looked around. No ribbons still. We decided to go back. We ran 300m back and met other runners coming up the trail. They reassured us and told us they had seen a ribbon. The bastards. We run back 400m, only to meet the people we were following in the first place, telling us there was no exit to that trail. Great, back we go, finding the trail about 500m later. (back home, I overlaid my Garmin data to Google map with SportTracks and calculated we ran an extra 2.1km). That was an extra 2.1km (and 16 minutes) I didn't need.

We got to the turnaround at about 2:30. Going back was more of the same, only harder because it get's harder to lift your feet. It's like roots and rocks appear where you could swear there was none a second ago. I somehow managed not to fall. A fall ANYWHERE on that course must hurt, since there are NO flat surfaces. My main goal was to NOT break an ankle.

I got to the finish in 3:59:19, a bit slower than I had expected, but if I take away that extra 15 minutes, it's pretty close to what I was going for.

This is a good race. I would have enjoyed it even more without the ankle/Achiles pain, but still I had a great time. As we all know, we do it for the pain, so maybe they just enhanced the experience.

P.S. After the race, the race director mentioned that next year would be the last time the ITT would be run. I didn't hear a reason. He did say that they would try to do something special, like offering an option to RUN IT AT NIGHT. What?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Where Did That Come From?

Last week, I turned my foot pretty bad going down a hill in a trail near my house. It felt kind of ok after, so I finished my workout which was hill repeats. I ran quite a bit on it over the next few days without much pain.

Yesterday, I got ready for my run, started my Garmin, ran 2 steps and had to stop. The pain in my left foot and ankle was sharp and I knew I shouldn't run on it. WTF? I had just signed up for the Iroquoia Trail Test that very morning (last day of online registration).

Just as my right foot is getting better, my right one is giving me grief! Sounds familiar?

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Heat is On

Well it had to happen. Summer is here. I'm not one of those people who were complaining about the lack of stupidly hot weather. I was very happy with what we had. Bring me 25C (75F) any day and I'll be happy. Even the rain; I love running in the rain. I just can't imagine why people would think very hot and humid weather is great.

This week was another fairly high mileage week for me. I ran about 80km, for a total of about 7h30 of running. I had a double longuish run this weekend 25km on Saturday and 21km on Sunday. That went well, but on Sunday it was extremely hot and I didn't bring enough fluids. The last 5km were harsh.

I'm considering signing up for the Iroquoia Trail Test this weekend. That's a 32km trail race with rugged trails, major climbs and 2 river crossings. It fits well in my training plan, IF I don't run it too hard. I've never done that race before but it's supposed to ba a classic. The usual suspects are all signed up, so I will probably do it.

I've started treatment for my heel pain last Friday. I'm seeing the physio six times. He is doing Iontophoresis with Dexamethasone. Basically, using an electrical current to force the medication inside my Achilles. I was a bit skittish about using steroids for my Achilles, but further research into injection vs iontophoresis reassured me (advice from Tim Noakes, author of Lore of Running: if your doctor wants to inject your Achilles with Cortisone, leave immediately). The physio also gave me stretches and strenghtening exercises for my tendon, which I have been doing studiously. I have my second treatment today. I'll let you know how this all turns out.

Monday, August 10, 2009

50k Training Run

Last weekend was my last truely long run before Haliburton. I wanted to do it at Dirty Girl, but my daughter had a regatta in Welland all weekend so I couldn't do the race. I did a short run (jog?) with another parent on Saturday, and Sunday morning was pretty much a dressed rehearsal.

I noticed last weekend that I got a couple of small blisters after my 20 miler, so I put a strip of tape under both feet to cover the area. I usually don't get blisters in my trail shoes, but since I was going to run on a paved bike path, I was wearing my Mizuno Waverider 12. I like those shoes, except for two things: the sole is a bit mushy and once they get wet, they never seem to dry. I can cross a river with my La Sportiva Crosslite and my feet feel dry after 30 minutes, if that. Unfortunately, the Crosslites are NOT road shoes.

On Friday, I stopped by the Mountain Equipment Coop to buy some food (gels, Cliff bars) and made the mistake of going in the shoe section. My Crosslites are perfect, but once my feet swell after 40 or 50k, they become a bit small and my toes hit the front of the toe box. Perfect excuse to buy me some oversized shoes. I tried a few and settled on the La Sportiva Wildcats. They are a bit more substancial that the Crosslites, but I bet they will feel real good in the second half of longer races. I made sure they felt just a little too big. I might put them in my halfway drop bag in Haliburton, if I don't just decide to run the whole race with them.

So back to the training run. Taped my feet (used one of my precious tincture of benzoin applicator as adhesive, recommended: don't waste your time taping without adhesive), filled my hydration bladder, filled a gel flask with 6 gels, put some sun screen on, prepared two bottles of Accelerade and I was ready. I set up a chair in our paddling club's tent, with a bathing suit, towel and the Accelerade bottles. It was 9AM and already the humidity was oppressive.

I hate running that long by myself. I have a fairly active inner life, but this is ridiculous. I didn't want to carry my iPhone because the weather called for T-storms. People asking me how far I was going gave me a weird look when I told them. I took off. My plan was to break it down in 10k out-and-back sections but once I got going I decided to go our 12.5k for a 25k loop. My 2 liters (70oz) bladder would last that long. It was haaaawt. I was sweating like crazy. I do a run 13, walk 2 cycle. When I stop, I take a swig of gel and wash it down with water. Worked great.

After the first 25k, I downed almost a whole bottle of Accelerade, changed into my bathing suit and jumped into the canal, keeping my shirt on to rinse it a bit. It felt goood. Changed back into my shorts, put my shoes back on, refilled the bladder, which was almost empty, changed my socks, popped a couple of Advil and took off.

The skies opened up. Thunder, lightning, rain. It felt great. I love running in the rain. This lasted about 10k and then it stopped but the humidity wasn't quite so bad after. The second half was actually easier than the first one, except for that last extra kilometer that I had added, "just to be sure". What was I thinking?

So it is done. My right Achilles' felt ok. The tape did its job and I didn't get any blister, despite running the second 25k with wet feet. As I mentioned, the Mizuno's just won't dry once they get wet. The sole of my feet was completely white when I took my sock off, but the tape protected my sensitive areas.

I'm happy this is done. Haliburton should be fun.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Good Week

Last week was pretty good. I ran a total of 81km (50miles), which is a decent number for a week without an ultra. My right heel is holding up pretty good.

About the foot, I saw a doctor today, who diagnosed an Achilles tendonosis at the insertion, which he says is not dramatic. I have his ok to finish my training and run my 50 miler next month. He recommends getting orthotics but I'm not ready to do that just yet. He also recommends, if I won't go for the orthotics, 1/8th inch heel lifts although the logic escapes me. This whole thing is at least partially caused by my tendon (or the muscle it's attached to) being too short. Wouldn't wearing a lift exacerbate the situation and make the tendon even shorter? I might just go for more streching, but streching a tendon is a long term proposition. Anyway, no big deal, I keep running.

On the Rock and Ice front, I'm building a spreadsheet of everything I will need for the race. It's a long one, and some of the items are pricey. I looked at last year's results and A LOT of people DNF'd. I have my work cut out for me. I'm still very excited.

Next week is my going to be hard. It's my highest mileage week in this cycle, with over 100km (60 miles). Sunday is a 50km long run and I have to do it by myself because I my daughter is competing in the Western Ontario Dicision finals in Canoe/Kayak. I will probably plan a 10k loop around the site and do it repeatedly. Maybe I can convince a couple of the other fathers to do one loop with me, as I know some of them run a bit.

This is it for me.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Ramping up

Yesterday, I wrote an abbreviated plan to make sure I'm in some kind of shape for Haliburton. I've been lowering the volume since Creemore Vertical Challenge on July 4th to give my right ankle a chance to heal. Since mid-March, I've raced four 50km races and one 50 miler as well as two Sprint Triathlons and crushed my 5k PR with my first ever sub-20 time. I think I needed a little rest.

The plan is now to increase the volume back up to a rolling max of between 65 and 100 km per week. This is as much as I can run without feeling like it's work. As much as I love running, those long 40 or 50k training runs all by myself can be a bit of a grind. That's why I like to sign up for as many ultra races as I can, but I can't make it to Dirty Girls so I'll have to do it the hard way.

I'm still very pumped about Rock And Ice. I'm preparing a list of all the things I need to get (and learn to use) before the race. I'm not really a camper. Camping in itself is of no interest to me. I have a love/hate relationship with mosquitoes. They love me and I hate them. This means that I have to get a lot of stuff. Not that most people own a -30C sleeping bag and a bivy sack anyway so I doubt I'm the only one in that situation.

Here are a couple of picture I lifted from a Rock And Ice 2009 video on Youtube:

For some reason, those images made me feel like this something I have to experience.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Rock and Ice Ultra - K-Rock

YES! I've finally made the commitment. I signed up for the K-Rock Ultra, a 3 days, 135km race up in the friggin' tundra, near Yellowknife. The race is from March 20th to 22nd. You run on foot or on snow shoes, depending on the surface conditions.

View Larger Map

Preparing for this race will keep me busy for the whole Winter.

I am so excited I could scream. Over the next few months, you will hear about this race A LOT. For now, I'm trying to resolve my heel problem and concentrating on getting ready for the Haliburton 50 miler.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Triathlon Saguenay Race Report

Last weekend I drove 1000km to Saguenay, Quebec for the "Triathlon Saguenay". Some of my childhood friends and I try to do this triathlon every year. This year there was 4 of us boys signed up for the sprint and 3 girls signed up for the relay. The relay was olympic distance so each leg was still quite a race.

The weather has been miserable up there and that morning was bad. It was cold and rainy. Three of us were driving together, so we met around 6am for coffee and there was an underlying sense that if anyone dared suggest it, we would just go back to bed. The day before, we had go in the river to test the water and we knew it was frigid. Unfortunately for them, I had driven too long to back down so we ended up in our wetsuits with cold water upto our neck, waiting for the start. It was pouring.The river had a decent current and the course was such that we were going downstream in a counter-current that didn't push us down, but we had to come back against a fairly significant current. That second half was a killer. I swam only once this year and that was at my only other tri last month so my swim was lackluster. I finished 22nd out of 42 sprint swimmers, about 3 minutes behind my friend Marc. The other two guys were a few minutes behind.

The bike course was 3 loops of 7.7km for a total of 23.1km instead of the usual 20. It was still raining quite hard. Racing in loops is a lot of fun because you get to see the others and you can judge whether you are gaining or losing. Quite frankly, we didn't care about the others in that race. After one loop, I knew I was gaining on Marc and as I met him, me finishing the loop and him starting his second, I yelled "I'M COMING!!!". I knew he had a decent bike but he was weaker on the run, so I had decided (and told him before the start) to thoroughly bust my legs on the bike. As expected, my thighs were on fire and I kept remembering that guy on the TDF commercial: "...you have to be the ... maso-hist... if it hurts, you know you are good...". Damn you Versus! So I kept up the pressure. To keep my mind off the burn, I kept trying to think of something to yell at my pal at the next turn: "you swam too fast, you're tired", "you didn't swim fast enough!". Eventually I passed him with about half a mile to go but he kept pretty close and we got off the bike pretty much together so I erased his swim advantage. I knew by then that the other guys were about half a loop behind. This was the best bike race I ever did. My legs were thoroughly spent, but I wasn't really worried.

The run was out and back, downhill to the turnaround and then a nasty uphill to the finish. I transitions in the heavy rain and my feet felt completely numb in my running shoes. Still, I had an ok run and gained about 4 minutes on Marc. I finished 18th out of 42 participants, 14th/25 men, 4/8 in the 45-49AG. Best of all, I finished 1st of our group of 4. After the race, we stayed around to encourage the girls doing the relay.

Triathlon Saguenay is a small race but people are serious about it. We are basically the only people doing it for the fun of it. We're trying to convince people we know to train a bit and do it for fun. This year, we got the girls to sign up for the relay. Next year they are doing the sprint. Another friend is signing up for the sprind with us boys. We're going to take the thing over!

This was great fun. What else were we going to do on a freezing, rainy day?

Then it was time for the post-race party at a friend's cottage. That's another story!