Sunday, April 19, 2009

Seaton Trail Mud Puppies

This was my second Ultra and my last truely long distance run before Sulphur Spring. I was confident that my training was more than adequate for this race but I was a bit worried about my right Achilles tendon. So Saturday morning, I got up at 5:45, popped two Excedrins (aspirin, acetaminophen, caffeine) and performed what has somehow become my morning ritual. Tape nipples, lube, get dressed, eat, drink, washroom, go. The race start was only about 35 minutes from my house so I got there before the 7 am start of the 78km racers. 

The Seaton race is capped to 130 racers, 30 of which had started at 7 am, so the start of the 52k (my race) and 26k was a small affair. At 8 sharp, we got going.

I had a few goals for this race. The main one was not to relive the total devastation I experienced at Seneca Creek last month. My plan was to do the first loop real slow. I hadn't reaced in trails since my last race and I didn't know this one. All I knew was the course record was around 5 hours, which is about an hour slower than other courses, so the course had to be fairly challenging. Another goal, probably related to the first one, was to fine tune my nutrition. In previous races, I quickly got tired of Cliff Bloks and gels. This time I also brought some Cliff Bars, switched to Powerbar Gels and intended to take advantage of the aid station. My third goal, which I basically pulled out of my ass, was to finish in less than 7 hours.

I had seen a few people that I had met at the OUS Spring Warmup and I started to chat with a guy named Steve. He tells me that he won't be going too hard because he's running Boston on Monday. We keep chatting a bit more and then I let him go, because I noticed that my pace seems to be a bit faster than I'd like. I'm wearing my Garmin 305. At Seneca, I had sworn I would never wear it again, but I decided to use it.

As always, the first kms go by really quickly. There's no way to keep your feet dry. After a bit more than 2 km, there's a river crossing where fast flowing water goes up passed your knees. I'll grow to enjoy this "ice bath" over the next 6 hours. After this, the course becomes more challenging. Ups, downs, mud, stairs, creeks, roots, climbs so steep you need a rope to get up OR down: you want it, they have it.

The aid stations are nicely laid out. There's one at about 6 km, one at 11km and one at the start/finish area. This being an out and back, 26 km course, it seems like the next aid station is never far away. They are well stocked and the volunteers are amazing. I found myself eating very little of my own stuff and fueling mostly at the aid stations.

I got to the turnaround in about 1:38, a pace of 7:30/km (12:08/mile) which I was pretty happy with. I wasn't happy with how fast it was, I was happy with how SLOW it was. I felt fantastic. I start heading back and I meet nobody. Am I last? Then, I see one, two people, then a few more but not that many. It's still early and there's only about 25 people running the 52k, so how many people can be behind me anyway. I keep running and about halfway through I slowly start overtaking people. I'm not going faster but they definitely are slowing down. Eventually I catch up with Steve and another runner I met at the Spring Warmup named Kinga. We would run the remainder of the race together.

What else can I say? I ran, ran and ran some more. After the first loop, done in 3:11, I ate a bit, changed my shirt, drank some Accelerade, popped two more Excedrins, dropped off my sunglasses and got going. My Achilles was achy but holding up well. Other than that I felt good, but it was still early. At Seneca, I crashed and burned at around 35km. But the second loop was uneventful. It was nice to chat with my two running buddies. We took turn leading and our paces were so close to each other than the running was very comfortable. We passed a few people. At the turn around, Kinga told us to keep going and although we tried waiting for her a few times, she never caught up. 

I never hit the wall. I was comfortable until the end. Of course, after the last river crossing, we knew how close the finish was and we picked up the pace quite a bit. I have the last km clocked at 5:15/km (8:24/mi) and that last km has a lot of uphills. At Seneca Creek, I couldn't even manage 6:00/km going downhill on a road. I finished in 6:42 and change. This was slower than Seneca Creek, but believe me, I ran much better. As mentioned, the course was hard.

I feel like I'm ready for my 50 miler. After the race, I was sitting down in my chair, drinking Accelerade and looking at those poor bastards running the 78km, going back out for their 3rd loop, I didn't think they were completely crazy, maybe just a bit crazy. This is a good sign.

Friday, April 17, 2009

That Time Again

Here we are again, the night before a race. This is supposed to be only a training run but seriously, give me a break. A 50+km run inches into epic territory. I expect to run around 6 hours and 30 minutes, possibly longer.

I'm a bit worried about my right Achilles. It can handle regular runs, but tomorrow is much longer, and it's all trails. Uphills tend to make it worse. We'll see.

I've been practicing running slowww. I intend no to get sucked into going out too fast. At the Seneca Creek Run, I imploded in the last third, probably because I started too fast. This time I'm starting slow, even if it means being way at the back. Promise.

I almost didn't tape my feet. I know for a fact that my feet will get soaked early in the race and last time that happened, the tape came loose in some spots. Still, I decided to tape.

At Seneca Creek, I swore I would never wear my GPS again during a race. Looking at the kms was almost unbearable towards the end, they changed so slowly. But I decided to use it to keep me honest during the first section. It's so tempting to go too fast. I need to run in the 7 min/km (11:15/mile) range and that's barely running. So I'm wearing the GPS.

That's it for tonite, I'll let you know how things go.

Friday, April 10, 2009


Following Wednesday's fantastic workout, I mentioned I felt like going for my 5k PR real soon. I looked around and found 2 races with certified courses: the Good Friday 5k race in Burlington and the Jordan 5k (in ... Jordan) on Saturday. I picked the Burlington race because it was closer both in time and distance.

I wanted a certified course because in a previous race, I got some flack from Yumke about the course being short, even though I mentioned it in my post. On his blog he then goes on about "unearned PRs". 

Anyway, I signed up on site this morning. There was a 5k and a 10 miler. I don't know why, but I wanted to run HARD so I went for the 5k. When you run longer distances, it's easy to dismiss shorter races. I don't. Each distance offers its own challenge and a 5k race BURNS!

I had pretty much decided I was going for under 20 minutes. The 20 minute 5k has been my personal "4 minutes mile" for a while. I was thinking that maybe at 45, I was just too old or that I didn't have the "genetics" to do it. But after Wednesday, I felt like I could do it.

On my way to the school where the race was held, I noticed a fairly noticeable downhill, which means there was an equivalent uphill somewhere. I was a bit distressed because I had hoped for a flat course. The Jordan 5k advertises a "flat, fast course". Damn. Too late.

My right Achilles has been bothering me lately and although it felt ok, I decided not to take any chance and popped 2 Excedrins an hour before the start. Not Canadian Excedrins. US Excedrins from my personal stash. Canadian Excedrin only has Acetaminophen and Caffeine. US Excedrin also has Aspirin so you have anti-inflammatory, pain killer AND a dose of caffeine. What's not to like? I have no idea why there's no Aspirin in the Canadian version. 

I lined up at the front, behind the elite, with the "sub 20" people. Felt weird. I won't bore you with the race, but suffice it to say that I ran hard on the downhills and tried to keep a decent pace uphill. I almost blew my race when I saw what I swear was a 4k marker and accelerated, only to see another 4k marker later. Was it 3k? Was it for the 10 miler? All I know is that I thought I was screwed.

As I got closer to the finish, I saw that the clock said 19:something. Then I saw 19:40-something and I just went as hard as I could. Gun time finish: 19:55, chip time: 19:52. That puts me 5th in the MEN 40-49 age group. I would have had to break 19 minutes to get 3rd place.

My official VDOT is now 50. This is amazing. Only about 18 months ago, I raced my first 10k and my 54:15 finish was good enough for a VDOT of 36. Training does work!

According to the tables, a VDOT of 50 gives me a shot at a 3:10 marathon time. My experience with the Jack Daniel tables has been really good, so I might give it a shot this Fall. My last hard race, in December, gave me a VDOT of 47-48, so I'm still improving. This is encouraging, because Tim Noakes, in "Lore of Running" mentions that our VO2Max usually only improves by 15% and that this improvement occurs fairly quickly. This is why I like the VDOT, which is based on your running ability. That ability includes our VO2Max, but also our running economy and willingness to endure pain. 

So this is it. I'm now a sub-20 5k runner. My next big mental barrier is the sub-40 10k barrier (VDOT 52) but for now, I will concentrate on my distance races. Next weekend I'm running the Seaton Trail Race where I'm signed up for the 52km. After that I'm going on Vacation in Arizona, where I will be training at altitude for 2 weeks. Then on May 23rd is the big race, the Sulphur Springs 50 miler. Damn. I still can't wrap my head around this one.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


I haven't raced short distances since December. I have to admit that I miss the raw abandon of a 5k to 10k race where you're basically on fire for the whole race. I believe my fitness has steadily, if slowly, improved over the last few months but I don't have a PR to prove it. Even that last race in December was a bit of a let down because even though this was by far my best 5k pace ever (4:09/km or 6:38/mi), the course was short by about 100m and I decided to drop that amazing 20:25 time from my PR list.

By contrast, my only race this year, a 50k trail run, was an exercise in pacing and control. I missed the mark a bit but I tried to be reasonable. There were no "burning lungs" but rather a total absence of mental and physical energy and the pain of my diaphragm trying to take yet another breath.

Training for longer distances requires more mileage than I've ever run. There is some speed work and hills but those tend to be short, intense workouts. Today, finally, my program called for a fairly long tempo run. It might have been a misprint. It said: "15k-18k at 15k race pace". Well I don't know what a 15k race pace is, and it's a bit weird to race 18k at 15k-race-pace but I was happy to try!

I've been experiencing some Achilles pain in my right foot so I was a bit apprehensive, so I warmed up for about 1km, felt great and got going. I was surprised at how good I felt. I thought I would stop every 5k, as per my long run program, but at the 5k mark I decided to keep going. I was going a bit faster than my half marathon pace. I turned around at 9k and on the way back I pushed a bit harder. I did negative splits, basically accelerating every km. My last km was run in 4:10, my 5k pace! I shit you not, I could have beat my half marathon PR on that run.  Reason prevailed and I stopped at the 17km and cooled down for the last km home. What a great run. And my Achilles felt really better than it had in a long time.

So there you have it. Training for marathons or ultras doesn't have to mean getting slower. It just feels like it sometimes.

I see that there's a 5k race in Burlington on Friday. Coincidence? Maybe I'll be there!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

OUS/OTS Spring Wamp Up

Yesterday I went up north to the OUS/OTS Sprint Warm Up. I hadn't registered in advance in case I changed my mind. I left the house around 6:30am and followed the directions of my Garmin GPS for and hour and a half. I got to the town (?) of Avening, Ontario, at 8:00 just as the race director pulled in the parking lot. The weather was nasty. Winds of 30-50 mph, snow and freezing temperatures combined to produce conditions that would be, as my kids say, "character building".

About 15 to 20 people showed up for the "race", which was really a training run with an aid station. You could pick between a 16k, 14k or 7.4k loop and do any of those as many time as you pleased. The 16km loop was mixed hilly back roads and trail. Muddy, hilly, wet trails. 

Earlier this week, during a speed workout, I did something to my left hamstring. At the time I thought it was a cramp, but it's been bothering me ever since although I can run on it. Right from the start I could feel it and it was a constant pain in the ass for the whole time. My right Achilles tendo ached a bit but never got to a point where I had to stop. 

I ran with a group of colorful characters. We exchanged war stories and had a good time despite the killer side winds with almost whiteout conditions in some sections of the course. A few of them had run 50 and 100 miler races and I tried to extract as much information as I could.

At the end of the second loop though, I began to falter. My running companion at the time kind of said this was it for her. The others all made a bee line for the Community Center, where "base camp" was. One guy was going for a 16 km loop, which was too much for me. I might have been sucked into a 7.5k loop but nobody was going for it, my hamstring felt really achy so I called it a day.

There was pizza inside, I listened to everyone else's stories about the various ultra races they'd raced. Good times. Some other runners, which I believed had left, came in to warm up a bit, and THEY went back out for that extra 7.4k loop I didn't do. By that time I had changed and just couldn't make myself put those wet clothes back on to go with them.

All in all, a good training day and it was nice to meet some people who don't think I'm crazy!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Slow Week

For the past few weeks, I've been fighting some Achilles pain, mainly on the right side but sometimes on the left as well. I've run on it for a while but it's not going away and might be getting worse. Although it doesn't affect my running on flats and downhills, it hurts a bit more on the uphills. I don't think it used to do that. This seems like a escalation so I've decided to do something about it.

I've been seeing a chiro for a few sessions now and I have to admit it hasn't done much good. She says I can run on it, but I'm starting to wonder. So I've decided to run way less for a couple of week. I'll do two quality runs (hills and intervals) and my long run. For example, I did 5x400m hills (total 10k distance) yesterday, I'm going to do some speed tomorrow and then I have the OUS (Ontario Ultra Series) Spring Warmup on Saturday where I should run about 40 km in trails. I might do the same kind of thing the following week, with a shorter long run if I don't feel better. I'll try to ride the trainer a few times on top of that and I should be golden.