Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 In Review

I guess it’s that time of the year again. Time to look back and reminisce. For me 2010 was a rollercoaster year with unbelievable achievements as well as very humbling experiences. Here are the races that I remember the most. I ran quite a few more, but sometimes things go according to plan and we tend to not remember those races quite as much.

Susitna 100

I know, I know: You’re sick of hearing about it. Doesn’t matter to me, I can talk about it all day long. People who politely ask about it can vouch for that. Susitna was more than just a race, it was an adventure. It was fucking EPIC. I still can’t believe how amazing that experience was.

Sulphur Springs

Although officially it was only a ‘B’ race on my schedule, I managed to screw the pooch on this one. My only goal was to beat my 2009 time of 10h06. My training had been going ok physically, but after Susitna I hit some weird mental road blocks, maybe a bit of burnout. Anyway I felt good for Sulphur and ran the first few loops way too fast, basically running the first 2 loops at a sub-9hr pace, which I knew was too fast. I don’t know what I was thinking. I blame Chris and Jamie (Killerz) who also paid dearly for our collective hubris. I managed to finish in 10h17, after an epic bonk at 40 miles that destroyed me physically and mentally. Yes, the heat was a factor but stupidity was the root cause of my destruction.

Creemore Vertical Challenge 50km

Mile for mile, this is the most difficult race I’ve ever done. I have NEVER wanted to quit a race so badly. It’s only 50k for fuck sake. By 30k I was in trouble and at 35k I was road kill. I’ve fantasized about quitting races before and I’ve done it since, but I’ve never WANTED to quit. At Creemore, I wanted to quit. The heat and humidity were just unbearable. I must have done something wrong. Not enough hydration, not enough salt, not enough food, running too fast. I still can’t figure out if it was all or none of the above. I suspect the hydration and ever since that race I’ve switched to handheld bottles instead of the hydration vest. I did that for two reasons: it’s easier to know how much you drink and I switched to sport drinks instead of water/gels. I did finish, with Kinga’s help/constant torture. I can’t believe I’m going back there next year.

Limberlost Challenge 56km

Limberlost is a new race on the OUSer calendar and I came in pretty beat up mentally after a few difficult races. I came in with only one goal: enjoy my race and that’s exactly what happened. The course is deceptively slow. I couldn’t believe the time it took me to run the first lap. I couldn’t remember any monster hills or walking much, but it was a SLOW lap. I ran with a couple of good friends and we just enjoyed our race, running fairly consistent laps. I finished that race ready to run another lap. I guess this means I didn’t run hard enough but this wasn’t what that race was about for me. It was about redemption and I found it there.

Iroquoia Trail Test

Got to mention the Final Edition of the ITT. For us ultra runners, it’s always humbling to see all those crazy-fast shorter distance guys just sprint out of the blocks at the start. My big memories of that race are the two huge spills I took. The first time I fell right into a bunch of medium-sized rocks and to this day I can’t sleep comfortably on my right side. It’s slowly getting better but that was my hardest fall ever. The second one was more spectacular because I caught a root running downhill, but I landed on soft muddy dirt so no biggie. Again, with Haliburton coming up, my race plan was not to race hard but I still managed to shave 15 minutes from last year’s time.

Haliburton 100 Miler

My last race of the season was the Haliburton 100 miler. Holy smoke. That race was a mud-fest that tested me in different, but equally challenging, ways than Susitna. During Susitna, I never really entertained fantasies of quitting the race. During Haliburton, I thought about it all the time. I never wanted to quit, but for some reason, my mind seemed to enjoy torturing me with the IDEA of quitting. The mud and the Normac loop, especially that last one, were almost too much to bear at mile 90.

Now, the year is over. I had decided to go back to Susitna, but I recently had to change my mind (again) about doing it. After thinking about it over the Xmas vacation, I decided that as much as I wanted to do it, I just couldn’t afford it again this year. I plan on doing a few other non-OUSER races this year and I don’t want to blow my budget on that one race. I’m still training but I might replace that race with Beast of Burden. I’m giving myself a few more weeks to think about it. An alternative would be to go back to my initial plan of running the Sedona marathon. Not quite sure yet.

2010, we barely knew you...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Bear Mountain

Today my daughter and I climbed up Bear Mountain, pretty much one of the highest climbs around here. It was not extremely technical but I have to admit that after my morning run I was pretty happy when we finally reached the summit. Definitely not runnable. The vertical gain is 1900 feet over a shade less than 4 km.
Almost Up Top

We had many false victories, reaching a summit only to discover that yet another one needed to be vanquished. Finally we reached the highest point and took a few minutes before coming down.

Jamie On Top of Bear Mountain

Coming down was not as easy as you would expect, as Jamie can attest after trying to hold on to a cactus during a little slippage event. All in good fun, we made it home in one piece.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Hill training

 Today for my long run, I wanted to go SOMEWHERE. I keep seeing these big mountains around so I wanted to go up one. My schedule called for a 4 hour run, so I figured I would go up for 2 hours and then come back.

Well, I`m sore. My ass is sore. My feet are sore. I got an ankle massage like you wouldn't believe. The higher elevation trails basically become stream beds when it rains and they are covered by egg-sized (and up) rocks. It took me 2 hours to go 10km, climbing from 4600 to 6600 feet. By the end, I was huffin' and puffin'. Maybe even wheezin'.

My run down went a bit faster, but not that much since I wanted to keep my ankles as safe as possible. Still, I got to my car with 20 minutes to spare and I couldn't make myself run the extra time. I was done.

I started way down there

Friday, December 24, 2010

Xmas Vacation

I've been meaning to update this blog for a while. I've started at least 3 posts but never finished them. What can I say.

I'm currently in Sedona, AZ, for the holidays. Weather is nice, not hot but perfect for ... running! I know that this is not exactly snow running but I don't give a damn. I really enjoy the trails here and I'm looking forward to my long run on Saturday. The longest run I've done here was about 3h30. I had started in nice cool weather but as the hours passed, it got hotter and hotter and I ended up running out of water in sweltering heat a few miles from the house. That was not fun. With this nice Winter weather, my hydration bladder will last way longer and I should have no problem running for 4 hours. This means exploring trails I've never seen before and I'm excited about that!

Yesterday I did a quick 45 minutes run. Here's a GPS/Google map rendering:

Sweet 45 minute run

There were no big hills but very few flats except for the last mile or so. The surfaces are challenging but nothing crazy and the dry air makes the run really comfortable. Today I'm going to run a similar route but extend it north a little bit for a total of about an hour.

I'm pretty happy with where I am right now. My right ankle is a bit bothersome whenever I run too fast. Last week I did my second tempo in two weeks and I could really feel it the next couple of days. I've really lost touch with any kind of speed work. Whenever I run faster (Half-marathon pace and up), my body feels fine but a voice in my head keeps asking me what the hell I'm thinking and wants me to slow down RIGHT NOW. 

This is it for now.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ooops, I’m Doing It Again

First, this just in, my number didn’t come up (again) at the Massanutten 100 lottery and neither did Chris’, so I probably won’t be running (or pacing) it. I decided to send my wait-list check but my odds don’t look too good. Starting to smell like Sulphur Springs.

Took me long enough but I finally decided to go for a second trip to Alaska. I had fun reading the comments on my previous post. It might seem like it was a foregone conclusion, but it really wasn’t. That race is very intimidating. I’m extremely aware that last year’s conditions were really good and that there’s no guarantee that it will be the same this year. If you get in trouble, quitting is not easy with aid stations as far as 20 miles apart and volunteers spread out over dozens of miles. At the pre-race meeting, they take an imprint of your VISA card so they can bill you for the flight out if you decide to quit. It is a sobering thought that with near-perfect conditions last year, it took me 37 hours to finish. What’s going to happen if the conditions are more challenging?

I guess we’ll see. I’m back training with Derrick and already I’m excited. I’ve come to term with the long runs that are coming my way. If anything, the most frustrating part is the lack of snow in the Toronto area. This year I would like to put more snowshoe time in. I probably did between 5 and 10 miles with the snowshoes and when I tried to put them back on at around mile 80, I just could not make myself do it. My body physically rejected them. If there’s soft snow, this could be the key so I need to fix this.

A recurring question I ask myself is: why not do the Beast of Burden. It’s a 100 miles. It’s nearby. It’s on snow. It’s cold. I know other runners. Why not? I have no idea, but I feel that I made the right decision.

PS - Dave, read your emails already!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


This is killing me. I'm trying to decide whether I should cancel my February marathon plans and switch to Susitna instead. I was looking at my training last year at this date and I'm pretty sure it's not too late. Actually, at this time last year I was in the middle of an IT band issue that had pretty much confined me to the elliptical until the end of the year, so I'm in pretty good shape. Derrick agrees, as long as I make my decision soon.

I have the gear. Sancho the sled is still in my shed. I have the fitness. I can take the time. Now, am I willing to actually do the training? You can't fake a 100 miler, especially that one where only two guys (Geoff Roes and John Stamstad in 2007) have ever run it under 24 hours. I know I WILL spend lots of time out there.

I REALLY want to run it, but training for that race is something else. I have to decide by tomorrow...


Monday, December 6, 2010

No Western States for Me

Damn, I didn't get in Western States. When I put my name in, I didn't really want to get in for 2011 but as the lottery grew closed I found myself getting excited. On Saturday, I actually grabbed a beer and watched some of the lottery, before the web site crashed (or was it my home network?). Unfortunately, it was not to be. Neither me or Chris McPeake got picked. We had a "pacing" pact going but it looks like there will be no trip to California this June.

That left me in a depressing spot with no exciting 100 miler in my running horizon. There's always Sulphur Springs, I guess, but to be 100% frank, I find the course less than exciting. I can manage 50 miles on it but the thought of going around 8 times quite frankly freaks me right out. So I put my name in the Massanutten 100 lottery, which is mid-May somewhere down in Virginia. Hilly, but if I'm going to give WS a run for its money, I have to get better at climbing.

The gist of this post is: I have to do something. As you can see from my lack of postings, I'm in a running funk. The Sedona marathon in February is just not doing it for me. Quite frankly, I don't give shit about ever beating my marathon PR. If I happen to be in Sedona on that date, sure, I'll go out and run it but as a motivator it's just not happening for me.

So I might have to resort to Plan B: Susitna 100. There's also plan C, Beast of Burden which a number of people I know are running but all things being equal I would prefer going back to Alaska. There's a little more than 2 months before both of them. If I don't get injured, Derrick thinks he can get me in 100-miles-shape in time for the race. See, I think I'm getting excited already...

I think what triggered this 100 miler fever is my first experience as a pacer at the Creemore Horizontal 100 miler 10 days ago. After freezing my ass off working most of the night at an aid station begging people to let me pace them, a friend of mine decided he could do with some company at around 3:30am. He's a faster runner than me but by that time I had no problem keeping up. We had a good time chatting about all the finer aspects of bonking, until he finished the race at around 9:30. This experience made me wonder about the sanity of volunteers, especially non-runners. How can people be so nice? Anyway, I did have a blast chatting with the other volunteers and having quick chats with slowing imploding runners. I'm going to do this again, for sure.

Last Saturday, I ran the Santa Shuffle with a couple of my runner's from my "Learn to Run" clinic at the Running Room. It was a fun little race and it was nice to see of they improved since to the beginning of the clinic. That clinic has a lot of attrition (some don't even make it to the first clinic), but it's very satisfying to see some of them become runners. Today is my last clinic and I won't be teaching the next one. I need my weekends if I'm going to race long in February and I need to get back to my regular schedule.

That's my news for the last month.

Friday, November 12, 2010

That Time of the Year

Yes, tomorrow is the opening of the Western States 100 lottery. This is the first time I’ve seriously thought about entering and I’ve pretty much made up my mind to put my name in. Up until today, I had pall but decided not to enter for fear of getting picked. Chances are not good of being picked the first year but if your name comes up, you have to do it. You just have to. It’s Western States for Pete’s sake!

A few things were on my mind:

On the plus side: I’ve got my 100 miles qualifier in the bag. I’m healthy. I’m willing to train.

On the minus side: I’ve heard people who run much better than me say that they don’t think they can finish in 30 hours (the cutoff). The heat is a problem. The altitude won’t help.

Well, I don’t care about the negatives. Well, I do care a bit, but they reflect my insecurities and I’m using them as excuses not to do it. The fact is that I can train for heat. I can train for hills. What am I really afraid of? I think my biggest fear is to miss a cutoff. I guess I’ll have to train for speed too then.

So you bet I’m in! I probably won’t get in, but I have as much chance as the next guy. Should I get picked, I have a plan: back to training with coach Derrick, who trained me for Susitna and Haliburton. I would definitely need help for that one. If I’m not picked then it’s all good too. I’m sure I’ll find something crazy to do in 2011.

That Time of the Year

Yes, tomorrow is the opening of the Western States 100 lottery. This is the first time I’ve seriously thought about entering and I’ve pretty much made up my mind to put my name in. Up until today, I had pall but decided not to enter for fear of getting picked. Chances are not good of being picked the first year but if your name comes up, you have to do it. You just have to. It’s Western States for Pete’s sake!

A few things were on my mind:

On the plus side: I’ve got my 100 miles qualifier in the bag. I’m healthy. I’m willing to train.

On the minus side: I’ve heard people who run much better than me say that they don’t think they can finish in 30 hours (the cutoff). The heat is a problem. The altitude won’t help.

Well, I don’t care about the negatives. Well, I do care a bit, but they reflect my insecurities and I’m using them as excuses not to do it. The fact is that I can train for heat. I can train for hills. What am I really afraid of? I think my biggest fear is to miss a cutoff. I guess I’ll have to train for speed too then.

So you bet I’m in! I probably won’t get in, but I have as much chance as the next guy. Should I get picked, I have a plan: back to training with coach Derrick, who trained me for Susitna and Haliburton. I would definitely need help for that one. If I’m not picked then it’s all good too. I’m sure I’ll find something crazy to do in 2011.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Fresh Plans

With my racing season having pretty much ended at Haliburton, I’ve been taking it pretty easy. I’ve been running 3 or 4 times a week for a total of 4 to 5 hours. I’m eating as if I’m running 100 miles a week, so I’m afraid to step on the scale, which I haven’t done since August. We’ll cross that bridge when we have to.

One of the good things about running less is that it allows me to run harder. After a few difficult races early this summer, I slowed everything way down with the definite goal of finishing Haliburton. That worked well. The second half of the season was slow, but I enjoyed every single race. Now that Haliburton is done, I can go with the flow a bit more, without making a conscious effort to stick to a certain pace or effort level. Personally, I find running fast exhilarating and my mood is always sky high after a harder workout.

That’s why I decided to start a marathon training cycle, with the Sedona marathon on February 12th as my target race. Since most programs are 24 weeks, I don’t quite have enough time for the full program but I think I can ride my current fitness level and compress it a bit. It’s not as obvious as I thought. I found out this week that running faster means changing my stride and form and that means pain. Right now both my calves really feel the burn from my last couple of workouts. I might race a 5k or 10k race in the next couple of weeks to kind of see where I’m at and set my various training paces. That should be painful.

So I’m kinda, sorta, semi-excited about running my second marathon. Compared to my earlier idea of another epic trip to Alaska, running a marathon is a bit underwhelming. I guess I’m desensitized or something. With a Winter hundred miler, for just a bit more training you get to enjoy over 30 hours of fun in the snow instead of a paltry 3 or 4. Damn, maybe next year. Still this marathon will definitely be a challenging race for many reasons: I haven’t raced hard in a long time; the race is at 4500 feet, not quite officially at altitude but you definitely feel it; only half the course is on pavement; and finally, there over 1800 feet of elevation change. I doubt I will break my marathon PB on that course, but it should be fun and I’ll give it a shot.

This is it for now. Enjoy this nice cool weather.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Back from Vacation

Well, my vacation is over. I had a great time in Arizona. I haven’t run quite as much as I’d hoped but I still managed to squeeze in a few good ones. The main reason I’ve been so busy is that we were looking for a vacation property here in Sedona and that consumed an amazing amount of time and mental energy. We did find something so expect to see more posts and pictures from here in the next few years. I just love running the trails here and I’m really looking forward to doing a lot more of it.

Sweet trail
Last weekend, Thanksgiving weekend, the kids flew in and spent the weekend with us. We went to see the Grand Canyon on Sunday. It’s big. It also reminded me of the Rim-2-Rim-2-Rim (r2r2r) trip that a few Ontario ultra runners did this September. Looking at this gigantic crack in the Earth, it’s hard to believe that anyone could go down, climb up the other side and then do the whole thing in the opposite direction, all that in the same day. My wife was not impressed when I told her that I really wanted to do that next Fall. I’m going to have to work on my climbing. 

To the other side and back?

Hopefully, other like-minded runners will be interested and we can make this a team expedition. I’m not sure I would attempt this all by myself. I believe there are already two of us. Let me know if you’re interested!

Another big decision I made is that I’m not going back to Susitna this year. There, I’ve said it. That breaks my heart but I just can’t contemplate the training right now. I need some down time where I can just run for the fun of it without having to worry about squeezing in 5+ hour long runs on the weekend, plus travel time if I need to find snow. I believe that the fact that I can’t even think about the training tells me that I need a break, so I’m taking it. We're going to try to spend as much time as we can at our new "cottage" and I'm going to enjoy my runs there, that's a for-sure. I'm going to call it hill training for r2r2r.
Our new garden. Looking forward to a few beers.

I’ve been taking things pretty slow since Haliburton, running about every other day for 45 to 60 minutes. My pace varies according to my mood and the terrain. I’ve been eating like crazy so I haven’t stepped on the scale since the race. I’ve started teaching another Learn to Run clinic at the Running Room. I’ve got 27 people signed up and yesterday I met them for the first time. Much harder to go out with so many people. Still fun though.

So this is it. No race in the immediate future. That feels weird. I’ve been training for one race or another for a couple of years now and it’s going to take some getting used to. Mind you, Seaton is only 6 months away. 50 miler this time? Some people never learn.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ooops I've Done It Again

My Garmin Forerunner 305 has been giving me grief for a few weeks now. The "mode" button gets stuck and is now pretty much non-functional. That's a problem, because I rely on my Garmin to get me back home if I get lost on the trails. The "take me home" button has saved my bacon a few times and I need a functional "mode" button. When I go out on trails I don't know intimately, I always bring my 305 and my little Petzl Zipka headlamp. That little headlamp can be worn on your wrist or you can stuff it in a pocket, and is bright enough to get you out of trouble. Last year at Susitna, a guy I was running with couldn't make his headlamp work and he ended up running the whole race with my little lamp.

So in the interest of safety, I took advantage of my Running Room discount and got myself a brand new Forerunner 305 (with HR strap) for less than 170 bucks. I couldn't make myself pay the extra money for the 310XT. I would love the 20 hour battery life, but I run more than 10 hours at a time maybe 5 times a year, it costs over 200$ more, so 10 hours will have to do. Quite frankly, at that price the 305 is almost as much GPS as the 310XT for less than half the price. Love the '05.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


The last weeks have been pretty mellow. I have not done much running outside of my Running Room “Learn To Run” clinic. My racing season is over, so I’m really enjoying the rest. I plan on picking it up a bit this week. I have to admit that my legs are still under the shock of Haliburton.

I’m leaving on Sunday for a two week vacation in Sedona, AZ. My wife and I have been there many times and we always enjoy it. I truly enjoy running on the beautiful trails, surrounded by red rocks. The plan is to hike with my wife really early in the morning and go out for a run either right after (if it’s still cool enough) or late afternoon. I just love running in the desert, for some reason.

On big decision I have to make is whether I will do the Susitna 100 again this Winter. Because of the lack of snow in the Toronto area, the training last year was completely demented. Many times, I had to get up at 2AM and drive North for a couple of hours to find some decent snow covered trails. I really would love to do the race again, but I’m not so sure I’m willing to go through all the sacrifices that this kind of training demands. To say nothing of the snide remarks at home about being crazy. Even if we do get some snow, training in the city is not a good option because of the lack of maintained trails, so some kind of travelling is required. It is a 100 miler and I need to do the volume that this kind of race demands.

Susitna is not just about running though. If something happens, you are responsible for getting yourself out of trouble, or at least keeping yourself safe (alive?) until help arrives, so you also have to be able to use your equipment. Sounds simple but you would be surprised by how hard it is to get out of a sleeping bag at -30C, boil some water, make food and pack up your gear without freezing you hands and feet off. Just keeping your water from freezing can be a challenge. Last year the weather during the race was very forgiving but it’s not always like that. My problem is that I don’t see how I can NOT go. I sometimes watch my Susitna video on Youtube and I can feel something stirring in my head and in my gut.

Anyway, lots to think about. Hopefully, some rest will make things a bit clearer.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

2010 Haliburton Forest 100 miler Race Report

I Ran All Day. Then I Ran All Night. And then I ran some more.

I’m waiting for the nurse to take my vitals at the Haliburton Forest 100 registration desk. The nurse in question has her finger on the guy’s wrist. “76”, she say. “That’s high”. The guy is shattered. “But my rest HR is 50! That’s impossible!”. I feel my heart rate go up as I try to slow it down. She pinches him on the top of the hand. “Your dehydrated. You have to drink lots of fluids tonight.” Then he steps on the small IKEA scale and whatever the number is, he’s not happy with that either. He walks out, dejected. Pretty much the same scenario plays for me and then Chris.
I’m sitting with Kim, Chris and Steve. After we finish our pasta at the 100 miler dinner, a paramedic explains how we will surely either die or, if we’re lucky, end up on a stretcher in the Emergency. Then, we hear that we should expect ridiculous amounts of water on the course thanks to mother nature and also a beaver, whose house I will run by many times. Basically, we should expect our feet to be wet at all time. He wasn’t kidding.
4:00am Saturday morning. Thanks to cell phones all holding the exact time, I can hear 3 alarm clocks ringing their different chimes at the same time. It is time. We tape nipples, lubricate feet, ass and balls. I remind myself again never to borrow someone else’s Bodyglide stick. I drink some coffee and eat breakfast. It’s fairly quiet in the cabin. Everyone is thinking about the race. It’s about 3 degrees Celsius so we congratulate ourselves on our smart decision of going for the nice heated cabin. Getting dressed in a cold, humid tent would not be as much fun. The coffee is nice and hot.
Walking to the start line, I hear my name. I turn and here’s Derrick, my coach, who’s not supposed to be there. I have a quick thought about how hard it must be to be wearing “civilian” clothes right now. We chat a bit, other people join in. Then, Helen says the prayer and we’re off. I start way in the back, making sure I’m not sucked into a fast pace. I’ve learned my lesson at Sulphur Springs. I have a vague outline for a 27 hour finish. First 50 miles in 12 hours, then 15 hours for the next one. Death by spreadsheet.
Some people run without lamps. That just plain blows my mind. Why risk 6 or 8 months of training for a 20 dollar lamp? I’m wearing my small Petzl Zipka Plus, who saved another runner’s bacon at Susitna. I always have it on me if darkness is possible. I will have to loan to two other people before the night is over. It’s getting warmer. When I get back to station 2 after the Normac loop, I take off my arm warmers and put them in my drop bag. I go out toward station 4.

Aid Station 4. I feel great, I’m in a good place but the trail was kind of harsh. My feet are thoroughly soaked and caked with mud. I forget how many times my feet sank in the mud passed my ankle. I pick up my second hand held from my drop bag. Up until now the aid stations were pretty close together so one bottle was fine. The next step is about 10k and I don’t want to take a chance. I saw someone who ran out of liquids last year and he was not a happy camper. Derrick is there: “What do you need, JD?”.
I’m getting closer to the turnaround. I’ve been running for 5 hours now, yet I’ve just started. Thinking about time in a 100 miler has no meaning. All I know is that I’m at leat halfway to Aid Station 7, the turnaround. The past few hours are a blur of never-ending uphills and downhills, as well as mud and water. The weather is nice, not too hot. I run mostly alone. I remember how great I felt last year. Then, I didn’t. This year, I’m drinking fine. I’m taking in a fair amount of calories, probably over 200, definitely under 400. How many calories in a burrito? I see a group of runner, Johnny MacA is in there. I ask how the trail is and he pouts a little makes a face and says there are hard sections. Half an hour to go. A bit later, I see a bunch of people I know coming the other way, Steve, Kinga, Stephen, Iris and finally Chris.
The extra spur at AS7 is a pain in the ass. I wonder how much more I’m going to hate it tonight. I don’t have a drop bag here, so I refill and I get back out. 25 miles in the bank. 5 hours and 30 minutes. Right on target. I wonder if that’s good?
I enter AS4. “42”, I yell. “What do you need JD?” Someone grabs my bottle to refill it. I look at the food and pick something. I try to eat at least one substantial item at every AS. I hear a noise behind me and here comes my new pal Josh. Unbelievable. This guy has not run a step since AS7, 25km back and he has kept up with me. He says he can’t run anymore. He walks ridiculously fast, especially uphill. Since most flat sections are effectively pools of mud, I can barely run at all so he effectively walks as fast as I can run.

I’m entering AS2 after my Normac loop. I barely have 2km to go for my first 50 miles. I won’t make 12 hours, but I won’t be much more than that. I really don’t like the Normac. I keep thinking about Derrick’s story about the guy who dropped from the 100 miler with 10k to go because he couldn’t bear the thought of running the loop one more time. I understand. I look around and see Jean, one of my pacers. Jean and his wife Hélène drove 10 hours from Quebec City to pace me. Unbelievable. We chat a bit and then they leave to drive to the various aid stations to make sure they know where they are going. We agree to meet at AS4, around 8:30pm or later.
I get out and about halfway there I see Chris. He can’t be much more than 20 minutes ahead of me. We exchange a few words, without really stopping. Wonder what’s going on? As I get close to the line, I get a bit choked up. I don’t know why, since I’m not finishing. Going back out is not going to be as hard as I thought. People are cheering. I step over the line, thank the people and turn around.
Entering AS2, aka Margaritaville, I decide to get ready for the night. I see Kinga with her shoes off, with someone working on her feet. We have a quick chat and I go hide behind a tent to change my shorts. Bending my legs is a bit of a challenge. 50 miles will do that to you. The new shorts are nice and dry, and keep my “package” a bit tighter. I was starting to get worried about chafing down there. I change my shirt. I sit down and finally take one shoe off then the sock which is caked in mud. I’m pleasantly surprised. Nothing too horrible to report. I put on a fresh pain of Injinji socks and finally decide to also switch to my 1/2 a point larger Crosslites. My other foot looks just as good. I’m really relieved because there are some nasty looking feet around here. Marika is rubbing some kind of white paste on her feet and they look a bit harsh. Someone comes in and says he just saw a bear on the Normac and the bear wouldn’t move and growled at him. Fucking Normac. By the time I’ve changed my shirt and setup my lights, a couple of other runners are ready to go. We leave as a group for our outbound Normac loop. I’ve spent 35 minutes at the aid station, but I figure it’s time well spent.
We’re on the Normac and we haven’t seen a bear yet. Is pretty much dark and the guy I’m running with didn’t pick up his lamp at AS2. We try running with him in front, then with me. Christy is about 50m behind, but she’s looking strong. We meet a guy coming the other way, by himself, with no light. How the fuck is he going to find his way out? About 5 minutes later, I remember my spare Zipka lamp, which I have in my pocket. I give it to my companion and things get better fast. We can run a bit now. The mud pools look bigger with more light though.

I finally enter AS4, an hour later than expected. Running in the dark is not for sissies. Plus, there was that extra time at AS2. I kept going with the same group. We even picked up a few extra runners. Jean is waiting for me and he is so ready to go. He looks so clean and fresh, surrounded by dirty, exhausted runners. His shoes are so white.
Jean starts to run. Boom, boom, boom. He is running with a slow, powerful stride, full of energy. He pulls me ahead and I follow. Tap, tap, tap. Fast, short stride, my feet barely lifting above the ground. We’re alone and we push ahead into the darkness. I have no idea what time it is. My watch is on “chrono” and all I know is that I’ve been running for what seems forever. Kim, Chris’ wife, told me that Steve dropped at 50 miles. I have a vision of him sitting on the couch, having a beer. This image will be a siren song that will make the rest of my race very difficult. I’m so tired.
Hélène is doing great. She’s ahead of me, running with a nice easy stride. She doesn’t pull as hard as Jean, but I don’t mind. I think that I need the rest. I think she’s surprised by the amount of water on the trail. I actually talk more with her than with him. I barely know her so it’s an easy conversation. With Jean, we tend to talk about work and neither of us wants to do that.
I see someone ahead. Jean is back on the clock. We’re getting close to AS7. We catch up and this is Chris, running as if someone had emptied a box of nails in his shoes. He says he doesn’t think he can finish in time. I tell him that he can finish for sure, there’s plenty of time and he’s moving really well. When we’re sure he’s out of range, Jean and I agreed that there’s no way he is finishing this.

I’m running with Hélène again, on our way to AS6. As I left AS7, someone said “75% done!”. Somehow, I found it depressing. I am so fucking tired. I feel 95% empty, but apparently I’ve only done 75% of the work. I see that couch. The beer. All I had to do is scratch. I could have driven back with Hélène and Jean and been done. It was 2:30AM when we left AS7 well behind schedule but with plenty of time to finish. Chris was right behind us. Now, even though I remember this section as very runnable, I can’t summon the strength to run much. In the light of our headlamps, everything looks like an uphill. My quads are on fire. The bottom of my feet radiate pain every time they hit the ground. There’s a hot spot on the back of both my heel but nothing on earth is going to make me take those shoes off now.
Oh look, another fucking lake of mud. I follow the others on the right edge, getting my feet wet anyway. At the very end, I see a good spot and I put my left foot there. I sink in the mud up to my thigh, and I fall sideways into the mud. This is so much fun. The others try not to laugh.
I get in the aid station. I’m not sure which one. Derrick is there. I tell him I heard that Christy was in trouble. I’m telling him how tired I am. I’m such a whiner when I get tired. This is the bottom of the barrel. I’m still eating. I’m drinking plenty of eLoad/Heed. My mood is just nasty. Couch. Beer. I know never to think about that in a race, but for the 100th time tonight, I’m certain that I will never run a 100 miler again.
I finally turn my lights off. It’s fucking daylight. This means that the end is nigh. As long as it was dark, it couldn’t end because it could only end in daylight. Now it is, so the end becomes possible. If only I didn’t have to shit so bad. Jean is back pacing me. I did a section without pacer because of logistics. The plan now is for him to take me to AS4 and then I pick him up at AS3 after my Normac loop and he takes me to the finish.

I’m by myself. Two guys have taken off. Marika and her pacer are somewhere behind and I left Jean at the last AS. Chris, against all odds, is probably not far behind Marika. I don't understand how he can still be running. I try to ignore the stirring in my gut but there’s no way. For the first time ever, I’m going to have to take a dump in the bush during a race. How far are the girls, I wonder. Thank god I have some baby wipes. I find a good spot and do what I have to do. Bending my legs to get the proper angle is just pure agony. I should have leaned on a tree or something.
I’m looking at the flat rock on the ground, with a series of parallel scratches made by fucking bear claws. I’m not really afraid, but that rock looks scratch resistant to me. I can’t believe I’m doing  this fucking loop (yes, I’m on the Normac) yet again. I’m by myself and I’m pushing a bit. There’s a part of me that’s waking up. Distances are now numbers that make sense. I’m less than 10k from the finish, the the trail is trying to hold me back. The mud pools are getting bigger and muddier, more difficult to cross. I finally get to one where I look in disbelief. I actually yell “HAVE YOU NO SHAME???”. I don’t remember this! Did someone come with a fucking shovel and dig this? Did the bear do it? Holy fuck! I walk straight through it.
I see a turn ahead. No!? It can’t be! YES. Here it is, the gravel road that marks the end of the Normac trail. I turn back, flip my middle finger and yell “FUCK YOU NORMAC!”. This is effectively the end of my torment. There are not a single steep uphill or mud pool between me and the finish. Jesus Christ. I’m going to finish this.
I’m running on the dirt road with Jean. He was hoping that I had hooked up with someone and that he wouldn’t have to run with me. I told him he didn’t have to come but he insisted so here we are. I’m going to blow through AS2.

I blew through AS2 although I did take the time to say hi to Derrick and thanks the volunteers. I am running like a crazy person. I dropped my pacer because he couldn’t keep up. I had to walk a bit on the hill but now I’m actually running. I feel no pain. I feel like I’m running a 10k. I see the line. Yikes, it’s far. I can hear them. I get a bit choked up. I’m so happy this is over. The course was just too hard. I cross the line. I’m done. An angel goes to the cabin and hands me a handheld filled with beer. Where’s the couch? I tell Helen she's crazy to make us run that course. I finished in 28 50min.

I knew from the start that this second 100 miler would be difficult. I had one in the bag, so I had nothing to prove. The terrain was just nasty compared to the flat Susitna river valley. The intensity of running the distance under 30 hours compared to the 37 hours last Winter. Which one was harder? I truly don’t know. They were the same, but different.
Again, I slipped into the dark side for a while. This is a side of me that sometimes shows its ugly face. I was able to rein it back a bit, but I felt it loose all night inside my head. This race truly tested me. I’m happy I finished. Again, I was able to live hard, to turn up the contrast and experience life with an intensity that is painful but also beautiful, like looking directly at the sun. After the race, most of it disappears and all that is left is an after image that slowly fades way. Then, I guess, you have to race again.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Halibuton update

Just a quick post about the Haliburton 100 miler. I finished it yesterday morning with a time of 28h 50min. It was hellishingly (is that a word) hard with innumerable mud pools where you could sink up to your knee. The hills were everywhere. Big ones. There were no easy sections. Anyway, I'll have a race repost soon.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

This Running Life

“I’m about 6 years old. I’m running on the street with my friends. They are all in front of me. Why can’t I move my legs faster?”

“A few years later, walking to school, one of us starts running. We follow. We all jump through someone’s hedges. The house’s owner is on the other side. I’m slowest. I get caught.”

“Grade 11, the English teacher starts a jogging club after school. I go to the first meet. We all run around the gym for 10 minutes, then we all are completely wasted. Nobody goes back.”

“In University, a guy I know tells me he ran a marathon the year before. Unbelievable. He must be crazy.”

“1984, I’m 20 years old. I'm doing a work term during my 3rd year in University. I’m so out of shape it’s not even funny. I’m trying to start running. I can’t get past running 10 minutes. Someone at the office says it gets better. When?”

“A few years later, out of school, someone gives me a training guide from the Montreal Marathon. It has a beginner’s program. This is a revelation. A training program. Who knew? There is a method to this madness. I start running regularly.”

“Couple of months later, I’m running my first 10km race. I turn around, the police motorcycle is right behind me. I pick up the pace a bit and I pass an old guy with a few hundred meters to go. I’m not last.”

“After a long run a few weeks before the Montreal marathon, my IT band hurts like hell and I decide to take a few days rest. I won’t run again for 2 years.”

“New contract at work, a few people run at lunch so I start again. I’m now 25, maybe 26. I’m running my second 10k race ever. I started way too fast but I hung in there. I see the finish now and it’s under 50 minutes. Unbelievable. I sprint as hard as I can and finish in 49:55.”

“I’m 31 years old and I’m trying to start running, yet again. My youngest one just won’t sleep and I’m so tired all the time. I’m pushing a double “running” stroller with both kids in it. They loved it last time. Now they’re fighting and it hasn’t even been 10 minutes. Damn.”

“June 2000. I’m in the middle of a lake in Sydenham, Ontario. I’m sitting in a kayak so tippy, I can hardly move. I’ve signed up for the master’s program of flat water sprint kayaking. I’m on the starting line for my first race ever. The gun goes off. I lean forward for my first stroke. I tip on the line.”

“Three years later, I’m paddling in a canal, down in Florida. A bunch of us came for a ‘training camp’. I really enjoy the long 2 or 3 hour outings. Maybe I’m more of a distance guy.”

“August 6, 2007, I go out for my first run. I’m trying to improve my cardio for kayaking.”

“September 2007, I’m in a sea of people for the Run For The Cure 5k. Unbelievable. Never seen so many runners in one spot. They say there might be 30,000 people. I believe it.”

“Early 2008, browsing the Burlington Runners website, I’m looking for a medium distance race in my ramp up for my first marathon, which I would like to run in the Fall. I find the Sulphur Springs Trail Run. They have a 25km trail race. They also say they have a 50k, 50 miles and 100 miles race. What the fuck are they talking about? Nobody can run 100 miles.”

“May 2008, 6:00AM. I got to the Sulphur Springs race early so I can see the 50 and 100 miles start. What kind of people do stuff like that? They look ridiculously ordinary. When the race starts, some just start walking. I don’t understand.”
“October 2008. I’m about 30km into my first marathon. I might have to punch the guy behind me right in the face. he’s been huffing and puffing for the last 2 hours right in my ear. Pfff! Pfff! Pffff! He hasn’t said anything, he’s just right there, a foot behind me. I finish in 3:27 and qualify for Boston. Unbelievable.”
"April Fool's 5km run, Burlington. My lungs are on fire. I turn the last corner and I see the finish line. The clock says 19:something. Jeee-zus. I dig even deeper, finding energy I didn't know I had and I finish in 19:52. Unbelievable."

“May 2009. I had signed up for Boston, but got sidetracked in my training and never made it there. I just finished my first 50 miler at Sulphur Springs. Hard as hell, but not as hard as I thought.”

“July 2009, Triathlon Saguenay. I just finished the race ahead of all those same childhood friends who used to be ahead of me when we were kids. I feel vindicated. I'm 45 years old and I'm in the best shape of my life. Only took me 40 years to finally run faster than them.”

“September 2009, mile 35 of Haliburton Forest 50 miler. I hear: ‘Are you allright?’. I reply: ‘Sure, just a bit tired.’ Fuck, I’m not all right. I might pass out right there. How the hell am I supposed to finish that race? I think I will sit on that rock and cry a bit. If only I could be sure that nobody else is coming...”

“January 2010. You know there’s something wrong with you when you wake up in your backyard, in a sleeping bag and bivy sack in -20C weather. It’s 2am and I’m driving up north for a long run in the dark. I’m registered for my first 100 miles race up in Alaska next month. Like that makes it ok.”

“A month later, around mile 45 of the Susitna 100. It’s about 1am. It’s -20C and the snow is nice and hard. Perfect running weather. I see the incoming light of the first runner going back towards the finish. I've seen a lot of cyclists and skiers but no runner yet. It’s my new friend Dave. We exchange a few words, then we go our separate ways, he to win the foot division, me towards the turn around. Can’t believe I’m here. Sometimes, I stop, turn my light off and look at the sky. This is definitely the craziest thing I’ve ever done.”

“July, Creemore, Ontario. I’m listening to Kinga, who’s been talking non-stop for what feels like hours. I sometimes give a feeble reply, threatening to quit. I’m experiencing a total system failure in what should have been an easy-ish 50k race. The 30C+ temperature got the better of me. If I quit I will probably have to walk to the finish anyway, so I keep going.”

I’m not sure where running will take me now. The Haliburon 100 miler is in 10 days. After that, I don’t have definite plans. All I know is that I wouldn’t trade my running memories for all the gold in the world. Unbelievable.