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!