Monday, December 12, 2011

Santa's Back 5K Race Report

After a couple of weeks of more or less stable training, I decided that I needed to set a baseline for my training. Being an unconditional Jack Daniel's follower, I needed to know my current VDOT so I can determine my various training paces. JD says that the only way to know is to race, so when I got an email last week about the "Santa is back" 5K race in Whitby, I knew I was in. A quick email to Chris and he (and Kim) was in as well.

I hadn't raced a 5k since April 10, 2009, which will forever be remembered as the day I broke the 20 minutes barrier. Compared to the logistics of preparing for an ultra, getting ready for a 5k felt like going out to the corner store to grab a can of Pepsi. After dropping off my wife to the airport, I stopped at Kim & Chris' place and got changed there while they were getting ready. For the first time ever, I made the mistake of bringing two right foot Injinji toe-socks. This is a puzzle I've long solved, ever since I saw a guy do the very same mistake before Haliburton. I had nearly 29 hours to think about it then, so I immediately inside-out'ed one sock and voila!, one right and one left.

Two issues were conspiring against me. One is my lack of training at the faster paces. I did a few strides this week, just for for shits and giggles, and I noticed that I completely forgot my various paces. I used to know exactly what my 10k or 5k paces felt like but now I have no idea. My other problem is my weight. Running a lot of distance allows you to eat pretty much whatever you want, but I've run a lot less since July and I've kept eating. The scale was packed up in a box somewhere while we were renovating the upstairs bathroom and a few weeks ago I finally stepped on it and nearly had a coronary when I saw the readout: 177 lbs, about 10 lbs over my target range of 160-165.

We got to the race site, signed up, warmed-up. It was a nice but blustery day. I knew that the course was pretty exposed and we would be running a long stretch going on a slight uphill with the wind blowing right in our face. I figured that would even out the fact that the course was 100 meter short. It was an out and back course. Why they didn't just place the turn-around cone 50 meters further is one of those mysteries that I will haunt me forever. It was on a bike path, there was no ice or other barrier, they knew the course was short (they had announced it). Why, why, why?

Anyway, about 100 people were lined up for the 5k. Chris and I were close to the front and Kim seeded herself a bit further back. When the horn sounded, we rushed forward to get through the 3 feet wide gate that funneled people onto the first section of the walk path before the crowd. After 1km I thought I was done for. The wind was horrible. After 2km, I was still hanging in. The gap between me and the guy ahead of me was pretty stable. I turned around at 2.45km (WHY? WHY?) huffin' and puffin'. The return trip was an exercise in pain management, trying to fend off a side stitch that was threatening to stop me in my tracks and broken expectations when the distance between every single landmarks turned out to be 3 times further than I remembered them on the way out.

I finally saw the clock ticking up from 21:10 and went as hard as I could, finishing in 21:32. Not too bad. Then of course they expect you to stay still while they remove the chip and give you a medal, while you are basically trying not to pass out. Everyone was pretty happy with their results. Kim beat her PB. Chris finished about 20 seconds ahead of me, which I expected because he's been training a lot more seriously than I have.

So this gives me a VDOT of 46, down 4 points from my all time high of 50. I was 160 lbs at the time, so if I adjust for my current unfortunate weight using Daniel's weight correction, I get something that's pretty close to 50. By that I mean that if you had a VDOT of 50 and suddenly went from 160 to 175 lbs, you could expect your race results to reflect a VDOT of 46. Losing the weight is going to be a priority.

Here we go. Back to training.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What a Year

2011 was a tough year but it had its rewards. I ran a ridiculously wet and cold 50KM at the Mud Puppies where I actually felt colder than at any point during Susitna. I experienced my first DNF at Mohican, after 60-some miles in unbelievable heat and humidity, to say nothing of the unexpectedly brutal course. Six weeks later, I again cooked my brain and body in debilitating heat at Burning River but this time I overcame the night demons (on a course that was WAY more difficult than expected) and finished. I paced in two races, two perfect strangers for about 60-70km each, helping them finish their first 100 milers and making new friends in the process. Finally, I ran across the Grand Canyon and back, spraying Gatorade through my mouth and nose all over the South Kaibab trail on the way back up, swearing I would never do anything that stupid again only to find myself signing up for the Leadville 100 on the first day registration opened and then put my name in the Western States lottery.

Funny to think that I’m one of the more reasonable ultrarunners. That being said, I’ve now added some more amazing memories to my list of things I will never regret doing. I believe that those memories will be important when comes the time when most of the day is spent reminiscing, sitting on the rocking chair and telling stories that nobody believes or really cares about.

I do have some regrets about this year, although they were beyond my control. I do wish that I had been able to train a little bit more this year. As proud as I am of what I accomplished, things at work were so insane that I just didn’t have the mental energy required to run the volume that I should have. On the other hand, work was really interesting so what are you going to do?

What’s in store for 2012?  Well, my first big race will be in June, either Western States if I get in or I’m going back for redemption at Mohican. Then, the summer will be spent rebuilding to get ready for Leadville on August 18-19th. Leadville scares the shit out of me, because it’s not just a little dip at altitude, it’s a full 100 miles above 9000 feet, going as high as 12,500 feet. The highest point in Western States (8700 ft) is lower than the lowest point in Leadville (9200 ft). Four big climbs, including two huge ones. For a wannabe like me, this is going to be a big challenge. I’m freaking myself out as I’m writing this so enough said.

To try to save me from my poor decision making, I will once again ask Derrick to train me. Derrick has his own problems with impulse control (he just signed up for the Yukon Arctic Ultra 100 miler), but he did do an amazing job of getting me ready for the two 100 milers that he trained me for. There isn’t much he can do for my poor flat-lander, sea-level lungs but I’m sure he will get me as ready as I can be.

Depending on how devastated I am after Leadville, I would like to rebuild over September and October and run the Javalina 100, near Phoenix in Arizona. We will see about that one, but it’s close to our place and I could make a vacation out of it.

For now, I’m barely running. I’m fat. I don’t care. One needs some rest, so I’m recharging my mental batteries until the new year and then it will be time to start taking things more seriously.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

R2R2R Epic Report

I wasn't really ready for an effort of this magnitude  (a recurring theme this year). Sure, I've run long distances this summer, with some decent climbs, at least for an east coast runner. The thing is, it's easy to look at r2r2r only as numbers. Forty-two miles, 11,000 feet of climbing. Doesn't sound too bad. Well, once again, reality came knocking.

Chris, Steve and I have been planning for this adventure for about a year. A group of OUSER runners did the R2R2R last year and we've have R2R2R-envy ever since. In the last few months, two more runners joined the group: Johnny and Kendra. On Sunday the 23rd, they all flew into Phoenix. I picked them up at the airport and we drove to our condo in Sedona where we immediately went for an hour shakedown run on the local trails.  On Monday morning we got ready and departed for Grand Canyon, where we had reserved two rooms at the Yavapai lodge in the park itself. We took our sweet time, stopping a few times along the way to see the sights.


I was the only one who had seen the Canyon previously.  At the first view point, we stopped the car, got out and just stood there, saying things like "holy fuck!" or "Jesus Christ!".  Pictures don't give the Grand Canyon justice and the thought that we could make it to the other side, let alone come back, in one day, eating a handful of gels and power bars, seemed ludicrous.

First look at the Grand Canyon

 We found a place to park the minivan near the South Kaibab trail head and walked there for a quick recon. By then, I had butterfly in my stomach. We all went down a bit down the trail to get a taste and took a few pictures. We were all excited, babbling like little kids, asking questions to hikers coming up the trail. Following the advice of local Sedona runners who had done r2r2r many times, we had pretty much decided to stick to the South Kaibab trail for the return trip, rather than take the longer, but shallower Bright Angel trail. With the cool temperatures that were on the forecast, the lack of water on South Kaibab would not be an issue and saving two miles, even at the cost of an extra 500 feet of climbing, seemed like a great idea.

Trail winding down

We got our rooms, got dinner and went to bed around 9:00 PM.  By 4:30 AM all five of us are standing at the trail head, with winds of about 25 miles/hr blowing in our face. We all have backpacks containing 3 litre bladders filled with our drink of choice as well as food, clothes and electronics. We can see nothing outside of the circle of lights created by our headlamps. We try to take a group picture, but we're all chomping at the bit, anxious to begin and we just go.

 We follow each other cautiously, the wind picking up dust, at time reminding me of a snow storm. It's obvious from the start that the group's pace is not comfortable for everyone but we stick more or less together.  After a fairly short distance, we get to an exposed section where we lose the trail for a minute. We pull out the map in the wind and get our bearings. There's only one trail and we eventually find it and keep going. The trail is pretty nice but I'm cautious. The thought of tripping freaks me right out. Some of the sections are nicer than other but some require us to jump down steps or rocks. We go down for over 90 minutes in the dark, my quads slowly starting to feel the burn. Johnny decides to push ahead and will be waiting for us at the Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon. As we approach the bottom, we see lamps below, slowly moving up and we start meeting hikers on their way out of the canyon after sleeping at the ranch or at the campground. Most look a bit grumpy and we just say "hi" and keep going. As we near the bottom, daylight makes an appearance and we can see the suspension bridge crossing the Colorado river below us. The river is pretty damn big. We get there, cross the bridge and push on to the Phantom Ranch where we join John at around 6:15 AM. We've run 7 miles and come down 5000 feet. I still feel great, my legs are good. The worse part of coming down was the constant breaking and I didn't really breathe hard during the descent.

At the Phantom Ranch

At the ranch, we decide to break up the group. The two faster guys want to go by themselves. Us slowpokes decide to stick together. The trail from the ranch to the Pump House is about 7 miles of gentle-ish uphill. We take our time and take lots of pictures and movies. The running in this 7 miles section, from Phantom Ranch to the Pumphouse, is pretty good. We walk a few of the bigger hills, but by this time Kendra is in front setting a nice pace and she likes to run the uphills to "use different muscle groups". The weather is still perfect, with a light cloud cover that prevents the sun from making the temperature uncomfortably hot. From the web site we know that all the water sources are still on, except for the taps at the very top of the North Rim. That's good news because that means we won't need to purify any water.

Bottom of the North Side

The real climbing starts near the Pump House. The trail starts to hug the canyon wall and for the most past the trail becomes an unending 4-to-6 feet wide ledge that climbs up and up and up. The surface is ok, but a few sections are dicey and now that it's daytime, we can see clearly what could happen should we slip or trip so we tend to stay close to the wall rather than the other side, where a moment of inattention can send you down some huge cliff. Slowly, we go up. There isn't much running anymore. Every 10 minutes we stop to take pictures or look around. We can't believe how incredible this is. We can see what we believe to be the top, but as much as we climb, it doesn't seem to be getting any closer. The two guys forgot to leave one of the two maps with us, so we're a bit fuzzy about the distances between some of the landmarks.
Yes, it was scary at times

Eventually, we  hear some voices and here are Johnny and Steve, coming back down. They tell us we're less than an hour from the top. They also ask us if we saw the map they left for us way back near the Ribbon Falls side trail. I had seen some markings, but I definitely saw no map so we figured somebody took it. Steve tells us they'll be waiting for us in the car at the trailhead. They resume their descent and we keep climbing. I'm really starting to huff-and-puff. As we get closer to 8000 feet, my breathing is getting louder and louder. Kendra seems to barely notice and just keeps going. I'm feeling ok, but this altitude is starting to get to me.

We're meeting quite a few people hiking down from the North Rim now.  Most people are just going down for a short hike, but some are going all the way across, sleeping first at the Cottonwood campground, then at Bright Angel and finally at Indian Garden.

Finally, after more climbing, some more amazing vistas and some rain, I hear a hoot from Kendra and I figure she made it to the summit where Chris and I join her a minute later, some time around 12:15. As we sit in from of the top marker to take the requisite picture, hail starts to fall down and we decide to go down where the temperature is a bit warmer.
At the top, North Rim

The difference coming down is amazing. Sections that took hours are dispatched in minutes. We stop at a little rest area after the Supai tunnel to fill our bladders and eat a bit. A bunch of hikers are there and we exchange a few stories. I'm feeling good but I'm getting sick of Gatorade. My initial plan was to drink eLoad but I couldn't find any and the taste of Gatorade is starting to get to me. I pop my last two Tylenol to calm my right Achilles that are starting to get a bit tender. I decide not to switch to water but rather stick to Gatorade. In retrospect, this was probably a mistake. I had been drinking what I thought was diluted Gatorade but in reality was full strength. The US mixing instructions were in quarts and gallons and cups and I somehow got confused when translating to litres. Add gels and other solids and what you have is way too much sugar in my stomach. We're going down at an easy pace though, so I'm feeling ok. Down the narrow switchbacks we go. Just as the sun comes out a bit and things get a bit warm, the trail switches canyon wall and we get in the shade. In what now seems like no time at all, we're back at the Pump House where we stop to drink and eat a bit.

Supai Tunnel near top of North Rim

The trail joins the river and now we're on the 8.5 miles stretch to the Ranch. Easy running, but starting to get harder. The views are still out of this world. The walls of the side canyon we're running in are slowly closing in around us and the feeling of being somewhere special is sometimes overwhelming.  Sometimes, we can see the South Rim, far ahead and I have a hard time believing that I'm going to be climbing that in a few hours. Everything is just so big.

About 2 miles from Phantom Ranch, I'm at the back of our little group and I hear a high pitched scream followed by "SNAKE!". Kendra just jumped over a rattlesnake that was getting itself warm near a rock on the trail. She saw it too late when it started to rattle and had to choice but to just jump over it. When I see it, it's coiled and a bit miffed. It slowly gets off the trail. My camera decides to chose that time to refuse to boot up but Chris gets a good picture and a short clip.

Kendra almost stepped on this rattlesnake

After that, we tend to look down rather than up. After this long day, I'm starting to feel the strain and the thought of climbing up the South Rim is a bit daunting. Chris looks a bit stiff but Kendra is just as bouncy as she was in the morning. I don't know what Crossfit does, but it seems to be doing Something. We keep talking about how we're going to try to buy a cold bottle of Coke at the ranch and how great it's going to be. Eventually, we get to the ranch, but there's no Coke to be bought. Our money is no good down here, and not in a good sense. We sit near the water faucet and rest a bit. Chris looks like shit. I don't notice it, but apparently I'm really bloated and I'm walking around with my gut sticking out. I feel fine though and I drink a bit, refill and put more Gatorade in my bladder. I'm out of Tylenol, but I want to make sure my Achilles don't bother me too much on the way up so I take two Excedrin. After 10 or 15 minutes, we get going again and get to the bridge at 5:30PM.
On our way up South Kaybab

Less than 7 miles to go. Cake. We figure 3 hours, maybe 3:30. AH!

The South Kaibab trail is pretty scenic and the first 30 minutes are impressive. Beautiful views in the sunset and all that. Then it gets dark and all we have to do is climb. And climb. And climb. There's nothing to look at, we just look at the circle created by our headlamp and walk up. As we go up, I'm starting to get a bit nauseous.  Then, a bit becomes quite a bit, then really nauseous. When we stop, it seems to get worse. I'm really edgy. I start wishing that I hadn't taken those Excedrin. I keep thinking that the caffeine rush is too much in my weakened state. I'm not a puker. I have not puked since 1994, when I got a stomach flu that got the better of me. Before that, I puked in 1980 after eating some "magic" brownies that gave me the munchies, causing a chain reaction. My point is, I do get nauseous but I don't puke. Now, I don't remember feeling this retched. About 4 miles from the top, I call for a break. I sit on a rock, my feet spread apart, looking at the donkey shit on the trail. I'm so sick of Gatorade. Kendra offers water but I'm not too sure about that either. Chris says "One of two things will happen, you'll feel better or you'll throw up".  Deferring to Chris' vast experience in all things puke-related, I take a solid pull from Kendra's water. Fifteen seconds later, I'm starring in disbelief as a powerful jet of Gatorade sprays out of my mouth (not unlike a scene from the Exorcist) and splashes on the trail splattering my shoes. And again. Then some more. Just as I think this is over, my gut seems to get into second gear and spasms even harder, pushing ever more liquids out my mouth and my nose. Unbelievable. A part of me is wondering if it's possible to drown doing this. Slowly, my abs calm down and I feel a bit better. I look around and Chris is so tired that hasn't moved, he's still standing right there, one hand on the wall of the canyon, looking at me with clinical, detached interest: "I know exactly how you feel", he says.

All we saw for 4 hours

I get up and we get going. We get to a sign that says "Trail Head 3.5 miles". Fuck. I was hoping for something like 1.5 miles. We get to a flatter area, probably Skeleton Point and I'm actually feeling better. As soon as we start climbing again though, the nausea comes back though. I keep calling for breaks. My non-puking streaks, that used to last for decades, now only last minutes. I have no energy. I'm pretty sure all the Gatorade and food I ingested since Phantom Ranch, maybe from even earlier, are gone. Every switchback, I look up hoping to see an easy section. Every time, my spirits sink when I see another long, steep climb. The wind has picked up and we put warmer clothes on. It rains a bit. Kendra is in front, cheering me up the trail.

South Kaibab in daylight

It's a weird feeling, being on the side of that wall, knowing you have to get yourself out. I'm not really in trouble. I'm just so fucking tired, going on fumes, and I want to get to the top but I can't get to the top if I don't move. I fantasize aloud about getting my space blanket out and having a nap. Kendra does not approve of the idea. Breaks go from being every 30 minutes to 15 minutes then 5 minutes. Un-fucking believable. I remember being more mentally distressed during 100 milers, but I've NEVER felt this weak before. My legs feel hollow. I puke a total of 5 times going up that fucking wall, then things get a bit better except for the fact that I'm sooo tired. I'm kind of resigning myself to the fact that this will never end. This trail will just keep going forever. And then, all of a sudden: WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT? I see a sign, telling people not to attempt to go down the canyon and up the same day! That has to be close to the top! I perk right up. We keep going. A few minutes later, a "No Dogs Allowed" sign. I KNOW that fucking sign! Steve and I came here yesterday! We're here! We climb up a couple of switchbacks and all of a sudden, a see a flat paved area and a couple of steps. Not a log, not a pile of rocks: honest to God steps. We're on top. We group-hug. We've done it. In traditional ultra fashion, I swear I will never do this again, just as I've sworn after every hundred miler I've run that I would never again subject myself to such misery. We all know what that's worth.

I see some lights in the parking lot but I go the wrong way to get there. I turn around and walk toward the car. I keep thinking the guys are going to come out and congratulate us, singing songs and carrying us on their shoulders. I get to the car and both of them are asleep, the engine running. Jesus, what if they died from CO2 poisoning? What am I going to do? Poor me!  Of course, they are fine and they let us in after I knock on the window. It feels like 100 degrees in the car. I wedge myself in the back seat. I feel so content right now. It's 10PM. What was supposed to be a 3 to 4 hour climb turned into a 5h30 hour pain-fest. Who cares? We fucking finished. There are no cut-offs here. You either do it or you don't.

We decide to sleep in the park again if we can find rooms. Nobody wants to drive. Sure enough, we find two rooms. We buy a couple of pizzas and after a long search for the elusive lodge, we finds the block we're looking for and get inside. I can't eat yet. I have a shower and still I can't eat. I drink ice-cold coke and Ginger ale like it's going out of style, but after one little bit of pizza, I call it quits and go to sleep without eating. Don't worry, I ate plenty the next day!

This was an epic adventure that I recommend to anyone who can do it. The sights, the trails, the climbs, the misery, everything I experienced was MORE than I expected. Everyone finished. Some faster than others, but everybody had a blast. This run was challenging for me. I had just not trained as much as I should have. Still, I have no regrets. Even going up that wall, puking my guts out every 30 minutes, I knew I was doing something special that I would remember for the rest of my life, something that only a lucky few are ever able to accomplish. All I had to do is what we all do: keep moving forward, relentless forward motion.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Just a quick post to let you know that all five people in our group successfully finished the Grand Canyon double traverse in times varying from 12:30 to 17:30. Of course, I was with the slower group. The run was way more challenging than I expected. Full race report coming up soon.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Grand Canyon

A week from now I'm going to run across the Grand Canyon ... Twice. I'm really excited about this classic bucket-list item. Classic if you're an ultra runner, of course. My wife thinks we're utterly out of our minds.

Just in case you're not familiar with the Rim-to-rim-to-rim (r2r2r for short), it's a 45-ish mile run that typically starts on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Two trails go down, the Bright Angel trail and the South Kaibab trail. The Bright Angel trail is longer but less steep. It also has a few water sources. The South Kaibab is a bit steeper but shorter with no access to water. Once at the bottom, the trails end at a suspension bridge that crosses the Colorado river. On the north side, there is only one trail that goes up, the North Kaibab trail. The South Rim is at 6800 feet. We will descend to 2400 feet, cross the bridge over the Colorado River, climb to 8240 feet at the North Rim, and then return. Altogether, the elevation gain, including some ups and downs along the way will be about 11,000 feet. It's going to be Epic.

At this point of the racing season, I'm in ok shape, nothing more. I peaked for Burning River and I've been trying to maintain a minimum of distance ever since. I paced Kendra for 70km about a month ago at Haliburton and since then I've done a couple of 4+ hour runs on trail. My weekly totals have been lackluster due to work. It is so crazy at work that my wife prefers that I run rather than work. Anyhoot, this ain't a race so all I need is to be in decent shape, which I am, and be well prepared. The temperature should be nice as long as we're ready for the near 0C at the start at 4AM and then up to 30-33C in the afternoon. Granted, it's a dry heat (ah, ah), but there is NO shade.

This run is going to be different from any other run I've ever done. For one thing, anyone who has ever been to the Grand Canyon knows that the very idea of crossing it in one day is ludicrous. Doing it twice seems impossible. I've been there twice. The second time was last Fall and we already had formed a plan of coming this year. When the view hit me, I have to admit that my resolve faltered a bit. Holy shit, it's big and it's barren! It's beautiful though.

Another thing that's special about the run is that you see where you're going. It's only 10 miles away, as the crow flies. The other side might as well be on the moon, it looks so unreachable.

I'll try to be a good boy and take some pictures and maybe some video. See you next week.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Running On Empty

Last weekend I paced another runner, Kendra Olson, at the Haliburton Forest 100 miler. This was the only significant running I had done since Burning River at the end of July. I did go for a guilt run of 20 km the weekend before Haliburton, but that was just to determine whether it was even remotely possible for me to pace. Other than, that my runs were mainly short 30-to-60 minute runs near my house.

I could have run more, if it weren’t for work. Work is completely crazy right now. Hugely interesting and crazy-busy, a fatal combination when it comes to my running. With modern virtual teams spanning multiple time zones, lunch runs become a theoretical fiction. By the time I’m done, it’s time for dinner and then I’m just too mentally beat to go out later. Repeat the next day. In “The Lore Of Running”, Tim Noakes stipulates that it’s impossible to run hard and work hard at the same time. I now believe him. Just maintaining the pitiful volume that I’m running now requires some effort. My wife is now pestering me more, saying I run too much AND work too much.

Anyway, my runner finished. I spent 14 hours running overnight from 8 PM until 10:30 the next morning, a total of 70 km. It was a full moon in a cloudless sky, not a hint of wind, cool but not cold (well, not TOO cold). Kendra was a trooper and she hardly complained, except for random announcements that she couldn't run anymore. She would usually say that just before she started to run. We talked a lot about running and people who run. Funny how a relatively short distance like that leaves you completely drained. Running overnight is hard, especially without feeling the mental reinforcement that comes with racing. You are pursuing a secondary goal, basically helping someone accomplish something that makes no sense to begin with.

Kendra says she will never run a hundred miler again. Maybe she won’t. I don’t understand why I will do it again, so I sure can’t judge anyone who decides not to. Another friend, who had just finished her first 50 Miler, was a bit shaken by her experience even though she did really well. Talking to her about it afterward, I could see that she had been caught by surprise by how physical a 50 miler becomes, to the point of questioning whether it was worth it. Obviously, she’s the one who needs to decide where her personal limit stands. Where does insanity start, 50 km, 50 miles, 100 miles or further?

For my part, I find that doing something insane once in a while heals my soul. Somehow, standing at the finish line after the race physically beat up, mentally exhausted and emotionally drained, despite how weak I am, I feel certain that there is something in me that is more than it was a day or so ago. That certainty fades away slowly over time, I guess, and that might be why the urge comes back after a while.

In our world of daily responsibilities, cause and effects and pervasive yes/no technology, is it that crazy that I sometimes feel the need to escape into insanity, if only for a little while?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Burning River 100 Race Report

Anyone signing up for a hundred miler in Ohio at the end of July has some kind of mental issues. Chances are that it WILL be hot and it WILL be humid. I’d like to think that I’m a smart person, but I did sign up for Burning River. I blame my so-called friends for peer-pressuring me into it.

Here’s the story.

Six of us drove down to Cuyahoga Falls in style, having rented a Toyota minivan: Kim (Chris’ crew), Chris (runner), Steve(runner), Stephen (runner), Adi (Steve’s pacer) and me. Spirits were high and we discussed the usual ultra topics at length. Our Garmin GPS guided us to our hotel, which was directly across the street from the finish line. After getting our rooms, we immediately grabbed our drop bags and went to register and … drop off our drop bags. The pasta dinner was ok. We went to bed early, around 9:30. That was not the most restful sleep I ever had, but my phone woke me up at 2:15AM. By 3:15, we were all in one of the 3 shuttle buses driving us to the start line up near Cleveland.

It was warm and muggy. At the line, I met with Carlos (see his blog here) and Gail Anne, who run many of the OUSER races. After a quick stop at the porta-potty (lights are very useful in there when it’s pitch dark), we waited for the start.

At 5:00AM sharp, we were gone. The first 10 miles or so are on road. This fact made me decide to run in my Mizuno Wave Ascend 5 instead of my Crosslites. I knew there were other sections of either pavement, bike path and tow path that were not a good match for my beloved shoes so I went with the Mizunos. They are in the garbage can as I type this. I ran part of the road section with my friends but I had already decided that I was doing this by myself and I stopped to pee and never tried to catch up.

I have to admit that I can barely remember the first 30 miles. Aid stations ticking by. Rumors that a runner had been hit by a car. Desperate hunt for a toilet. Talking to a runner racing without water bottles (really? I was running with two.). I DO remember that it was hot and getting hotter. Sometimes, the trails would go up and down and you would feel what felt like a 10 degree drop (or increase) in temperature within a few seconds. When I got to Shadow Lake (19 miles), someone already hadmy drop bag in hand and I sprayed myself with sunscreen and kept moving.

Other than the road-like sections, I'm not sure there is a single flat on the course. The trail sections were an endless cycle of going up something that is smaller than a mountain but definitely bigger than a hill, going down said obstacle usually almost straight down, totally busting your toes and quads, crossing a stream and then repeat. A few sections had great views of waterfalls that made me regret not bringing my camera.

The one section I remember well is referred to as "The Tow Path". No shade, straight, hot, goes on forever. I was on a strict 25 run/5 walk diet but the temptation to drop to a walk was very strong. At the end, the urge to get it over with won and I stuck with my program. Aid stations are far enough apart that sometimes you need a goal that you can wrap your hands around. A walk break within 25 minutes is a nice goal to have. Eventually, I made it to Station Road Bridge and I was a third done, 33 miles in. A lot of people were hurting at that aid station from the direct exposure to the sun. I took a bit more time than at previous stations, but I tried to get out of there as fast as possible. I filled my bottles, put ice under my hat and in my buff, which I put around my neck. I was cooking. Thankfully, the trail following the aid station had decent cover so it didn't feel quite as hot.

Somewhere after Station Road Bridge, I caught up with Chris, who was having some ankle issues, as well as heat issues. We ran together for a while but I eventually pulled away. Hills were getting bigger, the trails a bit more rugged. Running the full 25 minutes before taking a walk break was becoming more and more difficult. I was drenched with sweat with no hope of relief. I got to Boston Store, 49.1 miles, shortly after 4:30 PM. I still felt somewhat ok, especially compared to Mohican where I was a wreck at 50 miles. Kim was already there waiting for Chris and I sat in her chair for a while, ate some soup, changed my socks and cinglet. I had to do a 4.4 mile loop before continuing forward. Just before I left, Steve shows up having just finished his loop and announced he wanted to quit. I don't know how serious he was but I told him what I thought of that idea. The loop started with a long flat followed by some hilly road and finally I got back to Boston Store. I was now more than halfway done. I changed my hat for a buff, changed my bottles for my Nathan vest filled with half ice/half Gatorade, put my lights on and after eating some more I got out of there. Food was losing its appeal. Even cold drinks didn't feel all that great. The heat was really getting to me now and I felt a continuous low grade nausea.

Just as I was thinking about how stinking hot it was, some guy passes me wearing a full body mosquito suit, including the fucking head net. I ask him if he was training for some jungle race but he told me it was because there were some bugs in the sections to the finish. Wonder if he finished. Anyway, now I'm starting to hurt. Drinking is a chore. Eating becomes more and more difficult. The thought of having a gel is so repulsive that I can't even contemplate it. The trails are a series of unending climbs followed by quad and toe busting downhills. As I get close to Pine Lane I hear some screaming. Bees are running wild stinging runners left and right. I see a woman being helped by volunteers after being stung 3 times. Somehow I get through unstung, refill at the aid station and get back out. Of course, this is an out and back section so we have to run passed the crazy bees again but again, I get away with it.

I'm so tired. It's getting dark and I push on with my lights on. Things are fuzzy. I run, I walk, I run some more. This is when I remember how hard it is to run 100 miles. After the race, you forget but after 65, 70 miles, your body remembers. It is so hard not to quit, the temptation is almost overwhelming. To be honest, I remember nothing until shortly before I finally get to Pine Hollow, mile 70, a bit after midnight. I remember walking with this guy who had been hit by a car. He went to the hospital, got a ride back 2 hours later who dropped him off where he got hit and then started running again. Now, he's decided to quit with 30 miles to go. I probably have 10 or more hours of running left. I want this to stop. I swear to myself that I will never run another 100 miler. But I need to finish this one. I do my loop and when I come back an hour later, I get my drop bag, change my clothes, chat a bit with Kim and a volunteer and get the Hell out of there. Cut offs are far enough away that I don't really worry about them but they're not that far either. I push on.

The section to Covered Bridge is a nightmare that I can't remember. 6.6 miles in the bush, all by myself. Every five minutes, I wonder if I missed a turn even though this course is very well marked. I keep thinking I'm off course. Up. Down. Cross a stream. Up again. Repeat. Eventually, I get close to Covered Bridge and I see the dark outline of a huge hill. Of course, I see a light moving near the top. Fuck. At the aid station I get some rest and refill my vest. I try to eat a saltine cracker. After a while I go out for my loop, another fucking nightmare. As I get out of the aid station, a guy is puking so loudly that I ask a volunteer if it’s a joke. I saw someone in the first 5 minutes, a grown man crying telling his pacer that he’s sorry but he can’t go on, his feet are just to painful.  I'm pretty sure I didn't see anyone until I finished the loop. By now, the sun is rising, I know I only have 15 miles to go and things are looking up. I may just finish this thing. I don't spend much time at the aid station. I say hi to Chris, who just got pulled off the course because he missed the cut off and I leave. He’s sitting in a chair with a space blanket wrapped around him. He looks like what I feel.

The rest of the course is mainly roads, bike and tow paths although there are some trail sections. I try to run as much as I can but it's not going well. It's getting warmer by the minute. I'm so nauseous I'm afraid I might puke any minute. I can barely drink a few sips of water once in a while. Eventually, a guy named Wayne catches up to me and we pull each other for a while. As we get close to the finish, we run faster and faster. We're passing quite a few runners, who probably think we're assholes for passing them so close to the finish but we don't care. We just want this to be over. Eventually, we cross the finish line (28h55min) and I almost cry, I'm so happy this is over.

Sitting in a chair at the finish is Adam, a guy with whom I ran big chunks of Susitna last year. He finished almost an hour ahead of me. Small world. His father physically lifts me up and sits me in his chair and we chat for a while. After about 20 minutes I walk across the street to the hotel. As I walk in the parking lot, I start sobbing because I’m so relieved this is over. It only lasts a few seconds and then I'm under control again, I go up to my room and jump in the shower.

This race was supposed to be easier than this. Instead, it ended up being my toughest race yet. My feet were completely destroyed. I could barely eat or drink for the last 10 hours. I'm happy I raced my own race. I believe that's why I was able to finish. Go fast when I can, go slow when I have to. Still, that one was a bitch.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Pre-race - Burning River 100

It's funny how one can feel great after 35 miles and be completely destroyed at 50. That's what I remember from Mohican. Going from feeling ok, maybe even felling good, to feeling like I couldn't go on within the span of what felt like a few miles.  I don't remember feeling in-between at any point. Good, then horrible.

No need to tell you that I feel a bit gun-shy about Burning River this coming weekend. I used to feel invicible. I used to think that (barring an injury) I could just push on no matter what.  I knew that the temptation to quit is always strong, I've felt its siren song many times before, but I thought I could always overcome it.  I guess that's one reason we run ultras. We want to find out what it takes to break our will. Mohican bitch-slapped me. I didn't see it coming. My ears are still ringing.

One of the biggest challenge at BR will be the heat. As hot as Mohican was, the course was almost entirely in the shade whereas BR has a lot more road and tow path where we will be running in the sun. The forecasts are for pretty warm weather, but then again, we're running in Ohio on July 30th. It's not like it's unexpected. I'm going to go with a 25 minutes run/5 minutes walk schedule, same as Susitna. My thoughts are that heat is even more debilitating than cold, so I need to recovery time. I will take the time to take care of myself, eat, take my salt and drink. The key will be to keep a good walking pace.  When it's all said and done, in the second half of the race, a solid walking pace is not much slower than running, where the term "running" only loosely describe what I'm doing.

For the first time, I plan on not using my Crosslites, at least for the first 20 miles. The first 10 miles are on road, so I want to save my legs a bit and the Crosslites are a bit lacking on the cushioning side. I will wear my Mizuno Wave Ascend 5 trail shoes and plan A is to run the whole race in them. I've never run very long in the Mizunos so I'm not sure how my feet will react. They have a bit of a road shoe feel to them, similar to my old Wave Riders 11. I'll have a pair of Crosslites in both my 19 mile and my 50 mile drop bags.  I'll put my old Wave Riders in my 75 mile drop bag just in case but I probably won't use them. I'm still hesitating about the hydration system. Probably start with two hand-held so I get a good start on the calorie intake, switch to the Nathan vest at 50 mile. Something like that.

Still, I'm excited about this race. Nothing else would have satisfied my need for redemption. God forbid I had to wait until September or later to try again.  When I was in my teen, I had a car accident and I wrecked my car. I was fine physically but mentally shaken. The next day, my mother told me to take her car and drive for a while. The longer you wait, she said, the worse it's going to be.  That's how I feel now. I need to give it another try now. Not just to the distance, but rather the distance, the humidity AND the heat. BR is just what the doctor ordered. My only reservation is the amount of road/tow path, around 25% or basically a full marathon. Personally, I prefer trails, where you don't have that long strip of asphalt/gravel ahead of you. I guess it could mean a fast time, but I don't really care about time for time sake. What does a 24h hundred miler means out of context? It's all about the course, right?  It's a little bit like life, you don't want to see too far ahead. You need to be able to imagine some surprises are waiting around the corner or else things can get a little boring.

Like they say, it's all about the journey.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Morning Running, My Nemesis

I hate running in the morning. When I drive my daughter to school and we see morning runners, I always point to the offending runner and say "I hate you". I hate morning runners the same way non-runners hate runners: I wish I could do what they do. Since I can't, there must be something wrong with THEM.

When I got into my rental car in Phoenix a few weeks ago, I started driving and I noticed that the clock was wrong, it said 1:17 and it was sometime around noon. Then, I figured out that I wasn't looking at the clock. I was looking at the thermometer and it was 117F, or 47C. In the shade. Holy fuck. We actually had to turn around and go back to switch from a Dodge Neon to a Malibu because the Neon's AC just couldn't cope.

By the time we got to Sedona at around 3PM, it was a balmy 104F. How am I supposed to run in that?  Well, I have two choices. One, I wait until 6 or preferably 7PM, when the temperature goes down to the low 90's but than I only have an hour of daylight left. It's nice though. But this isn't a good choice when you're vacationing with a non-runner, which is the case for my wife.

The other choice, the only choice, is to run in the morning. Early in the morning. At 5:30AM, the temperature up here is usually around 65F. By 10:00AM it's usually in the mid-80's and there ain't much shade, this being the desert and all. There are trees, but they're short and don't project much shade. So there you have it, I've been getting up at the crack of dawn, I eat breakfast and then drive to the trail head and squeeze a decent run.

I hate it. Not the running, the morning thing. Even if you've been up for an hour, the first few steps of a morning run are jarring. Every step resonates deep into my skull. I'm immediately winded. My legs hurt. My stride is way off and I feel like my legs have forgotten how to run. Things do eventually get better and I end up having a great time anyway, but I ain't a morning running convert. If I wasn't scared shitless by Burning River, I'm not sure how many times I would have run. As it is, I'm not sure I ran as much as I should have, but I probably ran enough to maintain what I had and have a good shot at finishing. Hopefully.

My vacation is now almost over, I have only one or two runs left. I'm probably going to rest tomorrow and try to get up REALLY early on Saturday and do an epic climb. I did that run last Xmas when it was nice and cool and it was hard so I have to be up there before the heat. Coming down should not be an issue even if it's a bit warm.

Now on a completely different topic. I've always been amazed that one can actually run in trails without face-planting every 2 minutes. I believe my trail running is slowly improving. When I first started running in trails, I remember being very indecisive. I always looked for a better line than the one I was taking, therefore not paying enough attention to MY line and tripping frequently. Tripping (or stubbing your toe) can be frustrating, painful and down right scary if you're going down hill. I've noticed a sudden and dramatic decrease in the frequency of such tripping incidents. Somehow, my brain seems to have decided that it doesn't matter which line I pick, as long as I pick one. I also think that my focus has moved a little further ahead but somehow, my feel still seem to end up at the right place. Mostly. Anyway, I find it interesting because this is not something I've been consciously trying to change, other than NOT falling on my face, obviously.

Obviously, I'm totally scared of Burning River. I told Russell (the runner I paced at Sulphur Spring) that I preferred to run alone and wouldn't need him as a pacer. Maybe it's a mistake. I just feel I need some alone time out there. Mohican was confusing to me and I need some clarity and I believe running BR by myself will do that.

That's it for now.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Mental games

In the last few days, I've spent a lot of time flashing back to the race, to the last fateful hours where my will to finish were finally overwhelmed by the humidity, frustration and fear of the coming suffering. The point of all that thinking is obviously to answer the question: could I have finished?

It's a difficult question to answer. I remember thinking how thrashed I was after 50 miles. I couldn't believe I was only halfway. In contrast, last year at Haliburton I was relatively fresh after that distance. I certainly didn't feel defeated. This time around, after two loops and 54 miles, I wanted my suffering to be over. I've rarely wanted something so bad in my life. On the other hand, I couldn't believe what a cup of soup and a change of clothes were able to accomplish. I was tired but ready to finish.

I can't remember what happened, what made me decide to quit. I know that it became mathematically impossible to finish and that's why I quit, but why did I let it happen? Why didn't I tell My running partner that I needed to go? He would have understood.

If I let my mind wander a bit, I always end up in that forest, with my headlamp illuminating the trail. I remember thinking that I was scared to go on. By that time, I had never sweated so much in my life. I was wondering how I could go on in that oppressing humidity.

The 100 mile race is a mental race. Sometimes, one is tested, like we were tested last weekend. We thought we knew what we were doing. For some of us, our inexperience showed. In my case, I had a purely mental breakdown and let my mind take me to an emotional state where it became impossible to finish. I know I'm babbling, but that's how it's been all week inside my head.

Thank God for Burning River in 5 weeks! I need redemption so bad I can taste it and I rally don't feel like waiting until the Fall. I'm going to spend the next 3 weeks in Arizona, running in the desert looking inside myself, trying to understand why this is so important to me when nobody else really cares.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Mohican 100 Miler 2011 - My First DNF

Mohican 100 Miler DNF Report

It never crossed my mind that I might not finish this race. I may not be what you would call a high mileage runner but I did put in some good mileage preparing for this race. I just didn't expect the challenge that was coming. The tone of the post might be a bit bitter, but then again, I am.

I drove down to Loudonville with Chris Mcpeake and his wife Kim, who was crewing him (but ended up helping me almost as much). Thanks to modern GPS technology, we got there without getting lost. After picking up our bibs and waiting 45 minutes for a plate of spaghetti, we attended the pre-race meeting where we learned that the toughest part of the course would be the last 2 miles. how hard could they be?

There are a few things that were troubling me going into this race. It was pretty hot and humid. The weather was really muggy and it didn't cool down much during the night despite an evening shower. The aide stations were pretty far apart, more than 10km in some case and never less than 9km after the first 2 loops. That's almost 2 hours on tired legs. Other than the start/finish drop bag, you only had one other drop bag at around the halfway point. Not a problem, I thought, I'll take advantage of the aide stations. Anyway, I knew this was going tombe a challenge so it was all good.

The next morning at 4:15AM, after a short but decent sleep, I drove down with Steve, who had come in too late to attend the meeting and he picked up his packet. Steve, Chris and I decided to run together. Steve was kind of my unofficial pacer and Chris was a bit gun shy after a tough experience at Suphur so he decided to stick with us despite my slower speed.

The race started at 5 AM sharp in warm, stuffy darkness. We started toward the back, to let the 50 milers move ahead of us. Immediately, we were stuck in a long single file that went on forever. There was very little running in the first hour, even on the downhills because the line was sonlong that someone ahead was walking up a hill and keeping the pace down. Even at that slow speed, we started sweating immediately. By the time we reached the first aide station, it was light and we were able to turn off our headlights. We refilled and left.

Time passed. We were sweating heavily and were careful to take our salt tablets every hour. I ate gels from my flask, sandwiches from the aide stations and a Boost when I got to a drop bag. We ran through beautiful scenery. That course is just gorgeous. There are no flats. It felt like every in was an incline, usually long and often steep. As we got to the end of the first loop, we were all in excellent spirits. We got to a short section where we met a few runners going out on their second loop and just before we turned on the final 2 mile loop, a guy said: "take it easy on the loop". Holy shit he wasn't kidding.

I didn't time that one, but it probably took us over 45 minutes to run those two miles. It was madness. The loop was entirely composed of 5 long uphills, with the matching downhill on the other side. Not gentle switchbacks; brutal staight up and down. I got to the start/finish a little shaken by the thought of having to run that loop 3 more times.

We had a short stop at that point, just enough time to switch my headgear from a buff to a regular hat. Drank a Boost and we jetted out of there. It was easy not to linger because it was slim pickings at the aid station. It was getting warm. We walked to the trail and started running. The amount of sweating was just ridiculous and it had no cooling effect whatsoever, or so it seemed. There was no wind to speak of. As we get to the Park Road aide station, we're really hot but thank goodness they have a sponge bucket filled with ice and water. When they pour the water on my neck it feel like an electric shock! I wish I could dive in that bucket! I get a few pieces of turkey sandwiches. It was a nice novelty a few aid stations ago, but this is getting old. With the heat, my stomach is starting to get picky and the sandwiches just don't cut it. I'm sick of gels. We leave for the next leg. It's a pretty short one (meaning a normal 5 or 6 km) and surely, things will be getting better soon. See where I'm going?

I'm starting to get some chafing down there. Never happened before but then again, I've NEVER sweated so much in my life and none of it is evaporating, it's just pouring down my body. It's probably only 28 or 29C, but I bet the humidity is above 90%. In this section, it's not too hilly but it's never flat. We're not talking so much anymore. We get to the next aide station and now I'm getting worried. They're out of Heed and I have to fill with Gatorade instead. They must be low on ice, because the sponge bucket is filled with tepid water. Again, only fucking sandwiches.

We're slowing down. It's getting hot and I think Chris is getting the first signs a heat stroke. He's panting, his breathing short and shallow even when we're walking. Steve is starting to worry about time, but I'm thinking things will improve when it gets cooler. We did the first 27 miles loop in 7 hours, we're going to do the second one in 7:30 and the last two loops are only 23 miles each. Why worry? He worries anyway. We climb down the canyon and stick our heads under the waterfall. We're starting to get worried about the water. All of us are almost out. We get to the dam and the water fountain is off so no luck. We're all out but thank God, it's only a flat couple of miles to the Covered Bridge aide station, where we have our drop bags. The aide station area is like an oven. My Boost has been cooking in the sun for a while and Chris gives me one that's semi-cool instead. Steve is chomping at the bit, he wants to leave so bad. I look at the table in disbelief: there's only fucking sandwiches. My morale is in free fall. I sponge with cool-ish water and we get out of there. At least, the trail is in the shade.

My mind is racing. As expected, I can barely take a sip of gels without wanting to hurl. One can only take the taste of warm gel for so long. What I didn't expect, was that the aide stations would have nothing appealing as far as solid food is concerned. What the fuck am I supposed to do? It's 5.5 miles to the next station, the better part of 2 hours going up and down horrendous hills, all that on half a sandwich? We're still running, but definitely not as fast as we should at this point. There's no more laughing.  Well, some, but not much.

OK, the rest of the loop is not good. The expected fall in temperature is simply not happening. I'm eating less and less. Chris is panting like a dog. My mind is all over the place. Steve is trying to help us finish but we don't want to hear what he's telling us. Or we simply can't do it. Chris because he's in trouble physically and me because I've snapped mentally. I try to regroup and pick it up but just as I'm almost turning the tide, we reach what we are now calling the lollipop, the 2 mile loop from hell. I believe this is where I lost my race. Chris and I convinced Steve to go ahead and finish ahead of us. It took a while to convince him but he finally took off (Steve finished in 29:10). It's past 7 PM and it feel just as hot as it was at 2. I try to imagine running all night, getting to aide stations that offer me nothing but turkey sandwiches and jujubes. I want this to be over. I'm almost excited by the idea of quitting.

I decide to make a major stop at the start/finish and try to rebuild. If I don't, there's just no way. If I leave before 9PM, I have 16 hours to finish. Two 8 hours loops. Doable. IF I rebuild. I get to the start/finish and they have nothing. I shake my head in amazement. I grab my drop bag, and go to my chair. Kim offers me some warm chicken noodle soup and drinking the broth almost gives me a hard on, it's so good. I change my clothes, my socks and my shoes. I put my buff on and my headlamp. I switch to my Nathan hydration vest because my arms are just about to fall off. I have more soup, more water and probably something else but I can't remember. I feel 90% better. My side stitch, reminiscent of the one I got at Creemore last year, is still there but it never really got bad.

At 9PM sharp, with 16 hours to go, we get up and get out of the station. We're all excited because we're going to finish this! As we walk into the forest, the humidity hits us in the face like a baseball bat. We start running and we're drenched immediately. I'm feeling pretty good though. After a few miles, Chris tells me he's panting again. Now. Chris and I are not two babes in the woods. We do things because we decide to do them. At any time, any of us could have told the other that he was going to either fall back or push on. I decided to stick with him to the next station and see what happens. It was mostly uphill anyway so we weren't losing much time. We actually passed a few people! The next station was as bad as I feared, maybe worse.

We get out of there and we actually started running again but after a bit we had to stop and then we started doing the math and it was becoming pretty much impossible to finish before the cutoff. Personally, it was because I couldn't look forward to anything except humidity and lack of food. I just couldn't summon the will to finish because I felt like I had no real support. It was midnight and I had not seen any improvements in the aide station food. It was 50k race food: a few fruit, pretzel, candy, chips, sandwiches.

We decided to drop, each for our own reasons. I don't regret it. I wasn't ready for this race. I was ready for a hot, humid, hilly 100 mile race. The aid station thing got me by surprise and as you can tell be reading this, I became totally manic about it.

Anyway, again, instead of accepting early in the day that this was how things were going to be, I kept rehashing that in my head all day and I went to the dark side. There was no time to pull out of it at that point. At 32 hours, the limit on that course seems pretty tight. This is a new course and the winning time went from 19:07 last year to over 22:00 this year. Last year's winner was there but I was told he pulled after the second loop. He wasn't interested in running a 22 hour hundred miler. Some of us don't mind staying out there for a long time, but we need potato wedges and chicken noodle soup.  I believe about 60% of the starters DFN'd. I'm told the weather wasn't bad for the area and the time of year. It was a tough one.

It's time for dinner. Hmm, turkey sandwich.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

When Birds Attack

Not much running over the last week, this being a taper and all.  I'm looking at the weather reports for Loudonville, OH, every 30 minutes hoping for perfect weather. After running in the heat last week, I know that a hot weekend could make for a character building experience. Not much I can do about that.

One weird thing that's happening on my running route, is that I'm being bullied. Some bird has decided that he hated my guts and has been bomb-diving me, actually hitting me on the head. I tried changing my hat and it still happens. He attacks me going out, and coming back. I've asked other runners if they had been attacked and they look at me like I'm crazy. Yesterday, I looked at a cyclist ahead of me and he went through no problem so I followed and sure enough, the friggin' bird came after me. On the way back, I picked up a stick and tried to hit it when he came for me. He started hovering just out of reach, mocking me, so I threw the stick at him and almost got him. Be careful bird! Law of the jungle and all that.

Overshare warning! Skip this paragraph if you're not comfortable with intimate-part running injuries. I don't know what happened last weekend, if some of my shorts shrunk or something, but on Thursday morning I woke up with shooting pain in my left ball area. Was it the heat? That kind of pain is a bitch. It radiates to other location and I was worried my race was doomed. I went for my run on Thursday and it wasn't too bad, but it sure didn't help. I decided not to aggravate it and take 3 days off.  I could have panicked but I didn't because I've had this kind of pain before, ending up laying down on an ultrasound table, a towel under my sack and a female technician named Frieda running the ultrasound stick all over it. Not fun. Not to panic, I was told, leave it alone, stop squeezing it to see if it hurts and it will get better. That's what I did this time and sure enough, I'm now perfectly fine. End of overshare.

I have not started to pack for the weekend. I still have to buy my gels and Advil. It's Wednesday for Pete's sake. Last year, I think I started getting my drop bags ready a week in advance. I'm not sure I opened more than one during the race. The only thing with Mohican, is that the aid stations are pretty far apart, about 10km in a lot of cases. That's a long time when you're shuffling in the heat, so you need to carry a lot of water. At least two handhelds. I will also leave my belt and my bladder in drop bags in case I get sick of carrying both bottles. I will leave 3 different kinds of shoes at the start/finish: my oversized Crosslites, my Mizuno Ascent trail shoes and, in case of emergency, my Nike Lunar-something road shoes because the toe box is so nice and roomy. I will start with the Crosslites.

My plan for this race is to eat and drink more than I did last year. Derrick always told me to eat close to 300 calories per hour, but I doubt I did. This time I will. Of course, it's easy to say that now. We'll see what happens after 50 miles in the heat. Eating is not so easy then. I keep getting flashbacks from Creemore, where I experienced the worst bonk of my life. Was it the hydration, the salt, the heat, the side stich from hell, all of the above? Freaks me out just thinking about it.

I could go on, but let's end this now. Race report next week.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Countdown to Mohican 100

You know a race is coming when you can see it on the 10 day forecast. This week is going well, mostly running medium distance in hot, humid conditions. Hopefully, those forecasts (max 24C) will hold because the heat is just killing me. We basically didn't have any warm weather, so a long race like this in hot weather would be a challenge.

I'm experiencing the usual last minute doubts. I second guess my training. Did I do enough?  I really think I did. The problem is the enormity of the task. It's easy to forget the specifics of 50 milers. I remember being tired, I remember pain but I could always visualize the finish. But with 100 milers, I remember darkness, despair and exhaustion, with 30 miles to go. I remember at the turn around at Haliburton (25 miles to go), thinking I was 95% fried, having that feeling that the end was still so far into the future that you can't allow yourself to think about it yet.

It's weird that just as I question the wisdom of running 100 milers, I've signed up for two and I will probably run a third one in the Fall. And then there's R2R2R. Am I stupid? I don't have anything to prove: I've done it twice already. So what's up? I just don't know.

Obviously, there's no good reason to run ultras but that's ok. There's no good reason for people to do yoga either. So what if they get all bendy? So they can tie there shoes without bending their knees? Really, who cares? In the words of Evan Hones, at least with ultra running "When Armageddon comes,[...] running really fast and jumping over stuff will come in handy". So there.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sulphur Springs 2011 - Pacing Russell

This was my second pacing experience and it was awesome, yet again.

I jumped in on the Saturday evening at around 9 or 9:15 PM. Russell was done with his 5th loop and had equalled his previous longest-distance record. Only 60km to go.

My man Russell looked great for a guy who just ran 100 km. I had seen a few people come in that looked pretty terrible (Hi Chris!), so that was a relief. The course was wet and muddy, the day had been humid and all those factors combined were taking their toll. By the time we started running it was dark and we took off in the dark.

The night was warm and wet. All night I felt a weird disconnect between how I felt and how I knew Russell felt. Both of us are from Quebec and we became known as the “French Connection” at some aid stations. I tried to gently help by initiating a gentle jog every time the trail was flat-ish. It’s easy to “forget” to start running again when you’re as tired as those guys.

After our 7th loop, with one loop to go, Russell announced that we were going to walk the last loop. We walked for more than 10km on that loop, until he realized that he could probably make it under 28 hours. That (and wanting to be DONE) gave him the motivation to get running again and we ran a fairly solid second half. I was happy to start running again, cause I was starting to feel very sleepy. Running, a cup of instant coffee and a volunteer’s Tim Horton Breakfast sandwich, brought me back to life. Dear volunteer, I’m so sorry. I couldn’t say no when you offered. I don’t know how you guessed that I was dieing for that sandwich. Was it the drooling?

According to the splits, we did the 8th loop a shade faster than the 7th so we must have done something right.

That hill at the start/finish is STEEP.

We got to the finish with time to spare and Russell finished his first 100 miler in 27h 50min in pretty difficult conditions. As I mentioned, it was muddy and it rained on and off pretty much all night.

I have to admit that my feet were in pretty rough shape for a 60km run. I felt solid, but my feet were hurtin’. I have a fair sized blister on each pinky toe and one of the toenail (left pinky) will probably fall off soon. Weird. Maybe there’s been too many wet races in a row.

Mohican is coming in less than 3 weeks now. I’m going to take those weeks fairly easy, with a decent run next weekend but nothing like this. There’s nothing I can do to get fitter now, I can only screw it up. I’ll try not to.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Where's The Heat?

Last Saturday was the first day I ran in any kind of warm weather this year. I thought I was going to croak. This makes me worried because my next race, Mohican 100, can be pretty hot and I have a troubled history when it comes to running in the heat. With only 3 weeks to go, I might have to find me a sauna or something. Maybe the weather is as cold there as it is here.

Training was sluggish this week and not just because of the heat on Saturday. I ran the Toronto marathon a bit harder than I planned and it made my training this week feel like I had no energy. The last couple of runs have been better but I got a bit worried. Did the surgery really have no effect? Anyway, I'm going to go for blood tests to make sure my hormone levels are all good.

This weekend is Sulphur Springs and I won't be racing it. I decided that running a 50 miler 3 weeks before Mohican would be counter productive so I will be pacing my new friend Russell. I will be running the last 3 loops with him, probably starting at around 9PM until the finish. I guess I could have singed up for the 50K but this way, I help someone, there's no temptation to run too fast and the distance is just about perfect, especially at the speed I will be running. It's Russell's first 100 miler and his stated goal is to finish within the 30 hours so I don't expect a mad pace.

After this weekend, I will not be racing until 3 weeks later at Mohican, so I'll keep my running volume fairly reasonable. This year is incredibly busy at work, so it's very hard to find the time for longer runs during the week. I'm going to go for a low volume taper and I should be in top shape for my race. If it's not too hot...

Monday, May 16, 2011

Toronto GoodLife Fitness Marathon 2011

Short one. Yesterday was the first Spring Edition of the Toronto Marathon. For those of you not familiar with Toronto, we've had two marathons here for a few years. For some reason that are unclear to me, the newer Scotia Marathon decided to hold its race only 3 weeks before the older Toronto Marathon, which seems to me like a shitty thing to do. With more money (Scotia bank is the main sponsor) and the most boring course ever (but flat as a pancake), Scotia finally succeeded in forcing GoodLife to move to the Spring. I don't care who's right, I just like the GoodLife course better.

Anyhoot, last week I decided to sign up for GoodLife which was held yesterday. I signed up before looking at the weather forecasts. That's just as well cause I probably wouldn't have run yesterday. I was supposed to meet Chris before the start but I believe he just made it in time.

There was a light drizzle at the start and around 10C (50F), but the wind wasn't so bad. Other than a fairly long-ish hill about 3km from the start, the first half of the course is a net down hill from Northern suburbia (also known as North York). We ran down Yonge st and then, after a little detour toward Casa Loma, to the Bayview extension. This took us to about 18km and pretty much Lake level. My plan was to run in around 3:45 and when I got to the intersection of the Bayview Extension I found myself running with the 3:40 pace group, led by Dave The Beaches Runner. Despite an earlier traumatic experience with a pace group, I decided to stick around. Not like I had anywhere to go.

I was wearing a thin Merino base with a singlet over top and I was getting warm but I could hear the wind in the trees around us and I knew it would be cooler on the Lake shore so I decided to keep the base layer. I felt surprisingly good. At around 28km I saw Chris ahead of me, obviously in trouble since I was catching up. He had been worried about his knee all week, after running the 50 miler at Bear Mountain last weekend. I picked it up a bit and caught up with him. He confirmed that his knee was not doing well. I waited for the pace group to catch up and I ran on with them.

The pacer was really good. We held a very even pace, running at around 4:55 to 5:05/km and we walked briefly while drinking at the aid stations. I had a gel every hour, replacing Gatorade with water at that aid station. I felt strong until km 38. The CN tower still looked so friggin' far, I stepped in a huge puddle, I got elbowed in the teeth by someone who stopped cold right in front of said puddle, the wind was blowing in our face and our pacer, for some unknown reason, picked up the pace to 4:40 to 4:45/km. For a moment there, I wondered if I was going to be able to stick around. More accurately, I wondered why I should. The pacer was obviously demented.

Running too fast, all of a sudden, THE LEFT TURN! After that, it's straight up to the finish. This is sweet and sour. Sweet: we're about 3km from the finish. Sour: it's almost all uphill. Anyway, I push on and run slightly ahead of the pace group. With around 1 km to go, a girl who was running with the group catches up and we pull each other toward the finish. We finally cross the finish under 3:39:46, gun time. My chip time is 3:38:59.

That was a sweet race. I did better than planned. I never got bored. I was sufficiently prepared. I didn't bonk. And finally, it also reminded me that there is such a thing as having fun in a marathon.