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: " 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!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

I am Struggling ...

I am struggling with an injury. I have a pain behind my right heel that just won't go away. The pain seems to be mainly at the Achilles tendon insertion, but then again I don't have x-ray vision. I'm not too sure what it is. I saw a few people (chiro, physio, massage) but there doesn't seem to be a concensus. People with hammers see nail everywhere.

I don't think it's Plantar Fasciatis, the pain seems to be too high up the back. The tendon itself doesn't hurt. Some days, like today, I can barely feel it. Other days it hurts quite a bit. I've stopped running for a few days and didn't see any immediate improvement. I've run long distances on it and the pain is not necessarily worse. I hate it.

I guess I will have to find an actual foot doctor who is also a runner. Damnation.

Friday, July 10, 2009

About 2 years ago ...

About 2 years ago, I was driving home from cottage country having dropped my daughter off at a friend's cottage. Instead of using the highways, I had decided to use the regional roads and listen to some music. Somehow, I ended up listening to a country station and they played a sappy song called "Live Like You Were Dying". Some guy learns that he is sick and when asked how he reacted, he says:

I went sky diving,
I went rocky mountain climbing,
I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.
Some day, I hope you get the chance,
To live like you were dyin'.

Even though the song is a bit of a cliche, on that day, for some reason, it made enough of a mark that I remember the moment clearly.

A few weeks later, I started running. Over the years, I've tried many times to become a runner but I've always have "good" reasons why I couldn't persevere. Injury, business, family; you know the drill. Well, no more. Injuries heal, business can wait a bit, the family can be without me for a few minutes (hours, days?). So I'm still running. I've become what I felt I was inside: a runner.

Now that I've gone to the dark side and started running ultras, few people outside of other ultra runners understand what it is I'm doing and why. It doesn't matter. Our culture of fear tells us that running will wreck your knees, damage your heart. Fuck them.

This is what I want to do. This is who I am. Running is my "Fu Man Chu".

When I look back, there must be no regrets.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Creemore Vertical Challenge 50k

Quick update: I'm now 9th in the men's 40-49 division in the Ontario Ultra Series standings after 5 races. Somehow, that doesn't seem right but I'll take it! Now with the race report.

Despite nagging pain in my right heel, on Thurday I finally decided to enter the Creemore Vertical Challenge 50k. There was a 25k option, but hey, why go all the way up there to run 25k when you can run 50? Got up early, picked up my Zip car at 5am and I got there around 7:15, for an 8am start. I followed the route proposed by my Garmin car GPS. You should have seen some of the so-called roads. At some point I ended up in a single track unpaved path, deep in the bush. Their route algorithm can be scary at times.

I get my packet and sit down to put my shoes on. I take my La Sportiva Crosslites out of the bag and wtf? No insoles. I took them out to let the shoes dry, but I FORGOT THEM AT HOME. Thank God, I always bring two pairs of shoes so I decide to run in my Mizuno Wave Rider 12.

There were quite a few people, I would say about 150. We all started at 8am sharp. The course, as described on their web page is "a 25 K hourglass loop with 50% trail, 50% country road and almost no cliffs. The course is hilly (60% uphill and 30% downhill), climbing the Niagara Escarpment twice with about 875 metres (2900 feet) of vertical ascent per loop."

From the start I ran with two runners which I knew from previous races have a pace similar to mine, Kinga and Steve. We ran the first loop real easy, chatting a lot and talking with others. This early in the race, there are a lot of runners around so it's easy to engage in short conversations with another group and then one pack moves on at their chosen pace. There were aid stations at every 5km. I made an effort to spend as little time as possible at the aid stations. I've been known to lose a lot of time there. I just downed two cups of Heed (yuck), grabbed some food and moved on, eating while walking or running.

The course was hilly. Some of the so-called hills were LONG, so since we walked the hills, it felt like a lot of walking. The downhills were much steeper than the uphills, making me wonder about whether my quads would be able to take the punishment on the second loop. I train mainly on flat-ish paved trails, so those steep hills are always a challenge for me.

All along, we had been talking about a finish in the 6:00 to 6:30 range. This was not to be. Kinga, just as during the Niagara Ultra two weeks ago, discovered her competitive streak and saw someone ahead that "she had to pass". We picked up the pace, running under 5min/km for much of the last 5k in that first loop. At the start area, Steve said he would change his shirt, so Kinga and I raced to the porta-potties and took care of business. I ran to my bags and downed half a bottle of Accelerade. I saw Kinga running towards me but we couldn't see Steve so we just took off. It's a race, after all. I noticed that Kinga was still pushing the pace. We had finished the first loop in 2:54, so now she was bent on breaking 6 hours. We then see some people across a field. Kinga thinks Steve is ahead Again, I feel the pace quicken. A few km later, we catch up and yes, this is Steve and another runner. He didn't change his shirt after all and had just kept running.

So we keep moving, at a pace I'm still comfortable with, but which is definitely faster than I had expected to run. Just before the first hills, I pop two Excedrins, because my feet are just screaming. My right heel hurts a bit, but the worse is always my soles which start hurting in the 30km range. After we hit the first hills, Steve decides to slow down and runs with someone he knows who is right behind us. We keep pushing the pace a bit and slowly overtake runners. Our slow first loop is paying off. The hills, barely difficult on the first loop, are getting to me. Some of the downhills are beating up my quads and feet something fierce. Then it's uphill again, cresting a hill only to see that it wasn't the end after all and there's more to come. At 40k, Kinga sees a woman going up a hill ahead and says "I know her" and starts running up the fucking hill. No way. I keep walking. I kept her in my sights up until the end, but I never caught up to her. At about the 35k mark, my Nathan Hydration pack bladder split open and I lost most of my water, so now I'm real carefull to drink plenty of liquids at the aid stations. My nutrition is going well.

At 45k, I'm ready to be finished. The last few km are a bit challenging, with muddy ascents and descents using ropes as well as a section where you have to balance on top of a 30in plastic drainage tube to cross a muddy puddle. Running down a steep incline, my hamstings start cramping and I have to ask someone ahead of me to move over, 'cause I can't break no more.

Then it's over. I finish the second loop in 2:51 for a total time of 5:45, way faster than originally planned. Kinga had finished 2 minutes ahead in 5:43. Then it's time for pizza, beer, more pizza and the long drive home.

Cooling off. I'm on the left.

This has been my most "intelligent" trail race yet. I didn't linger at the aid stations. Easy start. Negative splits. Good pace. Best time for a trail 50k despite the challenging course, thanks mostly to Kinga's pacing. I will remember those lessons.