Saturday, July 24, 2010

Giving Back

Well, it had to happen eventually. The urge to give back overcame common sense and this Monday I will begin teaching the “Learn to Run” clinic at the Rosedale Running Room. What was I thinking? Where will it stop? Am I going to end up digging a well somewhere or poking at the ground with a stick in some faraway land, looking for unexploded mines?

I’m not sure whether I will be an inspiring teacher, but I decided to give it a try. I’m excited about the fact that this is a beginner’s clinic. Once someone starts running, they get set in their own belief system very quickly and I won’t have to deal with that. People signing up for the clinic are obviously interested and want to learn, so it should be a blast.

The fact that they will be running slowly is not a problem for me. As an ultra runner, running slow and walk breaks are concepts that II am very comfortable with. The clinic’s goal is basically to build them up from no (or very little) running, up to the RR standard of being able to run a couple of intervals of 10 minutes run/ 1 minute walk. After that, equipped with all the knowledge I will be imparting upon those poor souls, they will be ready to move up the RR clinic pyramid.

It looks like I will have a fairly small class. I’m not really surprised, the hot and humid weather at this time of summer is not really attractive for someone trying to start running. I’m sure many people are telling themselves that they will start running in September. Still, a small group (there are currently 12 people signed up) is ok, as long as I don’t lose too many over the next 10 weeks. Attrition is always a big problem with beginners. Apparently, the current clinic started with 35 people and only 7 showed up last week. Yikes.

I’ll let you know how things go.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Redemption at The Limberlost Challenge

It's weird to talk about redemption after taking over 8h 35min to run 56 km, but what can I say? This was my best run ever. It wasn't my best RACE ever because quite frankly, racing is not exactly what I did on Saturday, but before TLC, I cannot remember running with such "effortlessness". Even after running 56km, I still had that feeling that you have at around 15k when you feel like you could run forever.

I didn't get much sleep on Friday night. My 16 year old daughter had picked that night to go to a party and after some negotiations, we agreed that if I woke up after midnight and there wasn't a text message on my phone that she was in a taxi and on her way, I would shame her by going to that party, actually go inside and take her home, spelling the end of her social life. I set my alarm clock for 3:50AM, went to bed at 11:30, got woken up by said daughter at 12:30, started thinking about the race, finally fell asleep and then woke up at 3:30 and couldn't get back to sleep. After my morning ritual, I jumped in the car and picked up Kim and Chris out in the West end. My Garmin GPS took us for a 20 minute detour in some small roads somewhere near Limberlost. I have NO idea what that was all about, but we lost 20 minutes driving aimlessly around, following directions. Weird.

We got there with plenty of time, setup base camp, covered myself with bug repellent, got my bib and proceeded to shoot the shit with the usual suspects. This race made me nervous. This season has not been kind to me. I feel like I'm in a bit of a funk. All my races have hit me pretty hard, even when I tried to go easy like at Seaton and PYP. Even going at what should have been a fairly easy pace, I finished those races exhausted. Sulphur was a mental disaster and Creemore was a physical one. Things felt like they were falling apart, getting worse instead of better, making me wonder if going for 100 miles at Haliburton was realistic.
I decided to run from the back and hook up with Adie and Steve, who often use that strategy. Steve is a stronger runner than me and Adie usually has a pace similar to mine although she kicked my butt at Creemore. At around 9am, someone started talking in a microphone and eventually the race started. There were a lot of people there, with the 14k, 28k and 56k runners all starting together. We started toward the back and the first few km were more walking than running. There were a few traffic jams to go over small bridges or single file uphills. Eventually though, people spread out and we settled into an easy pace.

The course was beautiful, probably the nicest course of any race I've done. You run near lakes, the trail has a soft feel under your feet (especially when sinking up to your knee in mud!), it's challenging, what can I say? It was just great. The weather wasn't hot yet but it was quite humid. The course was well marked, with markers every km, which was nice because the course was curiously slow and covering a km took way longer than one expected. The course has no ridiculous climbs or difficulty, but there's always a little somethin'-somethin' to prevent you from keeping a steady pace. The aid stations were well placed at 3.9 and 8.8 km, extremely well stocked (they still had ice even in the 4th loop) serving the usual ultra fare. They even had Nature Valley bars, a personal favorite.

We finished the first loop about 2h 4min, which is an unbelievably long time but we never got passed, at least not while running. One of my goal during that race was to test other hydration systems. I have a feeling that I don't drink enough using my hydration vest because it's difficult to estimate how much is left. For the first loop, I had decided to try my brand-new never-used Camelback "Delaney Race" waist bottle holder. It has a nice pouch in the front where I can stash my Advils and Salt pills and two flask holders for gel bottles. Once it settled on my waist, it was fantastic. The water stayed nice and cool and I barely felt it. After the first loop I decided to stick with it. Once we all refilled our bottles and ate a bit, we took off for the second loop.
I was feeling fantastic. I was drinking more than usual and eating regularly. It was on the warm side, but the trails were well covered and the sun rarely reached us. I had decided to run without a cap on that loop and immediately regretted it when the sweat started to pour into my eyes. Damn. We settled into our pace, taking turn at the front pulling the group forward. At some point we stopped at a small beach and washed the salt off our face in the lake water. Bliss. Running in a pack like this gives you a weird sense of power, especially once you start overtaking people which we started doing late on the second loop. To be frank, that's also when we got lapped by the two leaders. I'm not sure if they were running the 28k or the 56k, but they were ripping it. We finished the second loop in about the same time at about 2h 10min.
For the 3rd loop, I decided to switch to two handheld bottles, even though I still thought that hte belt was the cat's meow. I wanted to try other options, so it was time to switch. I put my hat back on, put one of my gel flasks into a small belt, grabbed the two 20oz handhelds and took off with what was now "the Mod Squad".We walked a bit going up the road, polishing off our melon and Nature Vally bars. Eventually, Steve said something like "are we going to run?" and we broke into what was now our group pace.

I was still feeling extremely good after 30km. I had been monitoring how I felt for a while, remembering how the wheels had fallen off suddenly at around 25km at Creemore. No sign of weakness. I had a big decision to make. Adie was very happy with the pace and Steve was racing with her. Should I push on or stick with "the Mod Squad"? What did "Redemption" mean to me? Why was I there? What did I need? Why did I decide to come, after telling everyone that I wouldn't do this race? I decided that what I needed was a race where after putting a solid effort, I still felt strong. Speed had no meaning, here. We were picking off other runners regularly, noone was passing us. The pack feeling was a bit intoxicating, if to be honest. We would see movement up ahead. The leader would tell the other two and you could feel the pace just pick up a bit. Sometimes it would take 30 minutes to reel someone in. They would hear us come from behind and some would try to pick it up but we never saw anyone we didn't catch up to. So I decided to stick with "the Squad". The 3rd loop was the slowest one, I'm not quite sure why and I'm not quite sure by how much, probably something like 2:15.

Back at home base (aka my chair), I dumped the hand held and went back to the belt. I found that the water got warm too fast and I wasn't used to running with them. I heard Steve yelling my name and I went back out. Even after 3 loops and more than 6 hours of running, I was feeling great. I had a huge smile across my face and when people told me "only one loop to go", I didn't want to punch them in the face.

After a couple of km, Adie told us she was having a bit of a hard time. Steve told me to ignore her. We lined up behind her to make sure we weren't going faster than she was comfortable and kept going. We we going to finish together. We still passed a couple of people. All of a sudden, about 5km into the loop (can't be sure exactly), a girl comes from behind and passes us! When she passes Adie, she says something about smelling the finish line. You would have thought that she had spit in Adie's face. Not 300 meters later, we're passing her back and we never saw her again. Adie had picked up the pace quite a bit and it's not going down. We're passing people we know were well ahead of us and it's a good feeling. With only a few km to go, I'm still feeling great. I'm drining, I'm eating, I'm taking in some salt. The humidity has come down a bit and my clothes aren't as wet as in the second loop. The wind is really nice. We pass one last girl and shortly after that we get to the road for the final stretch. We finish in something like 8h 35min, which seems like an unbelievably long time for 56km but even though we weren't going really fast, we weren't going that slow either. The thing is, I felt like I could go for another loop.

After the finish, we immediately jumped in the lake and it was the perfect end to a great race.

I probably could have run this race significantly faster. Probably. But I would have missed out on something that up until now I had only experienced during Susitna: the feeling that I could run forever. I needed to experience that feeling again before Haliburton. Thank you Adie and Steve for letting me run with you and helping me remember what it feels like to run forever.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Signed up for TLC

Before Creemore, I had pretty much decided against running the Limberlost Challenge, way up in Huntsville. I’m not a friend of the bugs, although THEY like (love?) me just fine. I prefer my forests covered with snow and free of mosquitoes and deer flies.

Well, it is summer and as the week progressed my need for redemption kept growing. Finally, I Google-mapped the directions and found out that it’s “only” a 3 hour drive. With a 9am start, it’s an easy morning drive so I decided to sign up; after all as the “grand prize” winner, I get a free entry! This will be a lot more fun than running a double long run all by myself on boring city trails.

Training went ok last week, although it was damn hot. I’ve been looking at sweat rates, nutrition, electrolytes and all things related to running in ridiculously hot weather. I now have even more questions and fewer answers.

Only two months until Haliburton. That’s 8 weeks and a bit. If you take out a 3 week taper, this leaves only 5 actual weeks of training which can positively affect the race. In the last 3 weeks, you can only screw it up.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Creemore Vertical Challenge 2010

I’ve had a couple of days to ponder Creemore. I shook my Eightball and it says: Signs Point to Nutrition. It’s probably right, but I feel like I was doing pretty good until the wheels fell off. I can deny, cry and whine but the fact remains: I have been judged and found wanting.

I read my SportsTrack entry for CVS (Creemore Vertical Challenge) last year (2009) and it said: “My best ultra race ever.” Same with my blog entry: “Most intelligent trail race yet”. Wow, what a difference a few degrees make.

I drove up to Creemore with Chris and Kim. They got a Zip car, picked me up at 5:30am and we got there with time to spare. The weather was already warm. I wasn’t worried. I had a plan, I knew the course and finally, it was only 50k: how bad could it get? Right...

There’s nothing to say about the first loop. It was warm but not horrible. I ran with my pal Steve and we had a conservative pace. Toward the end he took off to catch up to someone he knows but that was fine. I stuck to the plan: easy pace, eat and drink every 30 minutes. The one thing that did happen is that I got a side stitch on the right side after going down a long, steep hill. We went down fairly fast, but what can you do? It was steep. The stitch faded but never completely. I didn’t know it at the time but my fate was sealed.

I finished my first loop in exactly 3 hours and I was really happy with that. I replaced my nearly empty gel bottle (5 gels) with a new one, refilled my bladder and got going. I still felt good although I did feel like I was going a bit slower. Then, someone passed me. Then I heard voices behind me and got passed again. And then again. Every time I tried to increase the pace, my stitch would come back. In the never ending uphill section, I was still in good spirit but I was starting to get worried about that stitch. WTF? I never get stitches at a slow pace.

It was hot. It was damn hot. The was little or no shade. At the 35k mark I saw Chris coming the other way, looking like someone wondering what the hell he’s doing there. It actually made me feel a bit better. I though he would be much further ahead. Misery likes company. I was craving ice cold beverages. then, with the next aid station in view, a thought popped into my head: “why don’t I just ask for a ride”? What’s the point of finishing this pain-fest? Then, as I was finishing a cup of water and ice, I saw Kinga coming into the aid station. I figure I’ll try running with her to the next aid station around 40k and see what happens.

I became Kinga’s project. I’ll never know if I would have quit. I don’t think I would have but that’s beside the point. Every time I talked about it, Kinga would freak out. Personally, I don’t have a big issue with dnf’s, given the right reasons. I was trying to discuss those conditions with Kinga, but basically, for her, there is no such thing outside of a broken limb below the belly button. And even then, I remember her telling me about her thoughts on duct taping a broken ankle, at last Winter’s training run in Creemore. This should give you an idea of what I was dealing with.

I was starting to feel bad for her, because truth be told, if I decided that I should quit, then I would and I was starting to worry that she would be mad at me. The point is, if I was going to quit, 35k was the place to do it because after that you only have 10k to go so what’s the point of even quitting? They’d probably ask me to walk back anyway.

So we walked the uphills, some of the flats. By then it wasn’t just the stitch. I had been out there for longer than expected. I was experiencing an honest to god bonk. I was still forcing myself to eat and drink, but probably less than I should. I was worried that I wasn’t drinking enough to digest my salt pills, which I had been taking fairly regularly although probably not enough.

Did I mention the heat? I was just unbelievable. There was no shade to speak of. here and there, you could catch 10 seconds of shade but that was it. There was some wind in some places but mostly, it was just damn hot. Running in the tall grass, with rising humidity from the ground and no air was oppressive.

After the last aid station, I started to feel quite nauseous after hard efforts. There are two extremely steep ditches where you actually have to pull yourself out using a rope and at the top of both of them I thought that was it. But then, you start hearing the people at the finish line and you know it’s over. We jogged to the bridge and then the finish and it was all over.

Laying down in that river a few minutes later was just pure bliss. It was just unbelievable. Someone mentioned that that race had the best “after-race” setup and it’s so true. Talking to other runners, I could tell that I wasn’t the only one who had a tough time.

I’ve had hard races. My 50 miler at Haliburton last year was extremely hard for me but I eventually recovered somewhat in the last 10k. This race was harder. The stitch, the bonk and the heat together made this close to the limit of what I’m willing to endure for “fun”. One thing Kinga said made sense: “the reason we run ultras it to experience extremes. Well, experience it!”. In other words, be careful what you wish for.

After all this, it’s funny to think that I’ll be there next year asking for more.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Quick Update : Creemore Vertical Challenge

Just a quick update about CVS yesterday.

I won't write a full race report because I'm still not sure what happened yesterday. Well, I know what happened: after a near perfect first loop, a side stitch got progressively worse, then I totally bonked and never recovered. Most of the second loop was a death march under the near-ever present sun, in oppressive heat, with Kinga Miklos cheering me on and providing constant entertainment.

This was my personal Waterloo. On that day, for me, it was the hardest race I've ever ran. I added almost 1h30 to last year's time. I ate, I drank, I walked the hills, I took my salt tablets. What did I miss?

I'm still struggling with some things: what happened?; should I have called it quits and dnf'd at 35k?; did finishing that race make me stronger or made me question my mental toughness?

As you can see, much happened under the Creemore punishing sun and I'll let you know when I sort it all out. It's still too raw.