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.