Friday, August 31, 2012

Leadville Fiasco - DNF by Spreadsheet

The two days leading up to the race, Carlos kept saying: "I wish I could just wake up on Saturday afternoon at Winfield (the turn around aid station)". Well, all of us would have missed the most critical part of the race and in some cases, what was to be our entire race.

I have to say that this was the first time I followed a plan so closely, only to lead me into a situation where it became impossible to finish. I ran out of time, although I was still 45 minutes ahead of the cut-offs at Winfield. Sounds weird? Here's how it happened.

Some of us had sent emails to the race director regarding an additional trail section that they had tried to use for years so that runners wouldn't have to run on the road section that leads into Winfield. That road is really dusty and the cars lift up a lot of dust and runners apparently hate that section. The rumour is that it added over 3 miles to the course (1.6 miles each way), all of it in the Twin Lakes to Winfield section, arguably the toughest part of the race. After running 50 miles, 3 miles of rolling trail can easily add over an hour of so-called running, in my case maybe even more. Somehow, this fact failed to register into my oxygen deprived brain.

Even at the pre-race meeting, I don't remember them telling us how much trail had been added. As far as I recall, they just mentioned that they added "some" distance but that they had added 15 minutes to the cut-offs, although not the 30 hour finish limit. Somehow, making up 15 minutes in the last 50 miles didn't seem too bad. I failed to see the real problem, which is that they had added that hour+ in one section, but only added 15 minutes to the twin Lakes cut off. To make that cut off, you had to make up the time in the FIRST 50 miles, not the second.

So my original plan, which called for turning around in about 12h30 (get to Winfield before 4h30 PM) and then keep going strong, still seemed like a good plan to me. I had all the aid station times figured out. I was the man with the plan.

To be fair, everyone else in the room made the same mistake. So many blogs and race reports warned about the folly of going out too fast that after the gun went off, we were all taking great pains to make sure we were running extra SLOW. God forbid we make it to May Queen in less than 2:15. Only Carlos took off at a good clip, the rest of us jogged slowly on the road, then got stuck on the Conga line once we hit the trail. On the trail, there isn't much you can do. You just follow. I was running alongside Chris because for some reason, our urge to pee seemed synchronized. I must have peed 5 times before I got to May Queen. All that peeing slowed me down a bit and I left May Queen at 2:37, a bit over the 2:30 I had planned. Not too shabby.

The second section goes over Sugarloaf, a 1200 feet climb and then down Powerline. I felt really good and we passed tons of people on that section. On the way down, going pretty much all out on the nasty dirt road, I clipped a rock, couldn't recover and fell really hard. I felt something slide under my left elbow, landed on a rock on my left quad and I felt there was a good chance my race was over. I got up, looked at my elbow and saw quite a bit of blood. While walking a bit, I wiped it clean with some baby wipes I had in my vest. The blood kept coming but it was squirting. I used my gloves as compresses and kept going. My quad hurt a bit but not bad. Finally we make it to the bottom and I was sure we were at the aid station because there must have been 300 people lined up on the road. Unfortunately, we still had well over a mile to go (I think) but it felt even longer.

At the aid station, I decided to show my elbow to the doctor, who cleaned it and put some gooey ointment on it but no bandage. I grabbed a few gels, refilled and took off. Time from start: 4h54, where the plan called for 4:43. Lost a bit because of the fall and clean-up but still within reach. Chris has taken off and I can see him ahead, maybe 400 meters. This section is mostly road, under the sun and it's just a nasty shuffle. Eventually, we turn into a dirt road that isn't much better. We go past a crew accessible area where I catch up to Chris who stopped to fill up with his crew. This is probably where I lost my race. There are a lot of shallow uphills which I decided to walk, because I felt like I was well within the cut-offs and almost everyone else was walking. My legs felt strong but after running for 7 or 8 hours at 10,000 feet, I wanted to be conservative and save my strength. Big mistake. We got to the Half Pipe station, where I refilled and put a bandage on my arm and left as fast as we could. We got out at 10:28Am, 6:28 from start, the plan is 6:19. We're stable at 11 minutes off plan but we're over 1h30 ahead of the cut off. There is absolutely NO sense of urgency.

This is a long climb, that gets steeper as you go and it feels like it will never end. This section feels like it will never end, although there is not much I can tell you about it. You climb. You breathe hard. You try to run when it's flat-ish. After what seems like forever, it starts going down (after a few false hopes) and then you go DOWN. The memory of my flying attempt at the Powerline was very vivid but I went down pretty fast. At Twin Lakes, we meet with Chris' crew (Kim). I refill, take a few minutes to rest in the shade and then walk to meet Chris, who's getting ready. We learn that Morgan is only a few minutes ahead, a big surprise. He's apparently having some issues with the altitude. No news from Kendra and Steve, but I suspect they're not far behind.

We leave at 12:44PM, 8h44 into the race. The plan calls for 8h25, so I lost a bit of time but the cutoff is 10h30 so I'm 1h45 ahead. What could go wrong? Again, no sense of urgency whatsoever. I'm still with Chris. We have so much time banked (or so we think) that we decide to walk to the base of the Hope Pass climb. This climb is going to be a bitch and that last section we just did was pretty difficult and we thrashed our quads going down that hill. Again, few people are running so we feel good about our decision. We cross the river and make it to the bottom. Then, the climb start. Holy Mary Mother of God. In no time at all, I'm breathing as hard as my lungs will permit. Taking a mouthful of water is a challenge because you have to skip a breath to swallow and you can't afford it. After a while, I decide to sit down to let my hr go down a bit. Chris pushes on. I recover pretty fast and keep going. Almost every log or stump has someone sitting on it. I pass way more people than the few who do pass me. Actually, most of those who pass me, I end up passing a little bit further. A girl is laying down on the side of the trail, people are asking her if she remembers her name and her address. They have a radio, so I keep going. Holy shit, this is getting serious. Now the leaders are coming down. Tony Krupicka comes first followed a few minutes later by others.

I sit one more time for a few minutes and then I push on. Eventually, after a long time, I pop out into the open and see the aid station near the top. I see Chris a bit ahead but I don't even try to catch up. He leaves the aid station just before I get there. I decide I have enough water but I get a soup. As I start eating it, Kendra and Steve come in the station and I decide to wait for them. I have plenty of time, right? It doesn't take long and we start climbing. The top is not as close as I thought but we eventually make it.

The view on top on Hope Pass was unbelievable. I don't have pictures but they would be meaningless anyway. The sense of vastness just cannot be captured by a camera. Also, the sense of accomplishment that comes with having run up that friggin mountain after running close to 50 miles is unbelievable. Anyway, we start going down, and down, and down. This is fucking steep! We meet Carlos about 2/3rd of the way down. He looks good, but he tells us to hurry up, that the new trail is really long. We get going, get to the bottom and volunteers direct us to the new trail section. People are not happy. Coming down, nobody could spear the breath to bitch. Here, it's another story. The trail goes generally up, but is rolling. I run ahead of Kendra and Steve and lose touch. 4:30PM comes and goes and I'm nowhere near the aid station. What the fuck? People are talking about another 2 miles. Shit.

I get there around 5:30PM, 13h30 into the race. I've been doing maths slowly in my head for an hour. Basically, it's taken me 4:45 from Twin Lakes to Winfield. Assuming I leave at 5:45PM, I have 4h15 to make the 10PM cutoff. And I'm still 30 minutes ahead of the cutoff! What I don't know is that some aid stations have added an extra 15 minutes on top of the 15 minutes so I actually have 4h30 but how the fuck am I supposed to know that? Nobody is talking. Everyone at that aid station is doomed, but they're still pushing people out as if nothing happened. I'm pissed. I get weighted, I've lost 6 pounds, pretty good. Too bad my fucking race is OVER.

Chris is there with Kim, maybe 4 minutes ahead of me. Morgan is sitting in his chair, white as a sheet. He tells me he gained 8 pounds. What? I assume his race is over. Chris is getting ready to go out. Kendra came in behind me and is nowhere to be seen, probably having left already. Morgan gets up and announces he's going back out. What? I ask him if he thinks that's wise but I don't push it because I don't want to scare his girlfriend. Steve is not in yet, but he had all but told me he was done. His pacer is going to be pissed. I tell him that we can wait for Steve and if he drops, maybe he could come out with me. We probably won't make the cutoffs, but at least he'll go over Hope Pass. I get ready and a short while later Steve comes in, confirms he's dropping and we take off at 17:34. We jog the trail, which is much easier in that direction. Still, it takes us a while.

I'm still doing maths. I'm feeling fairly strong. Stronger than I thought I would at this point. That's too bad because if I were more tired, I wouldn't be able to do the maths that prove that I'm screwed. I wonder if they're going to add more time once they see this fucking fiasco unravelling. I see people crying, telling their pacers that they can't make the cutoffs. I see pacers yelling at their runners that it doesn't matter, that they have to try. We get to the turn off the trail and up the pass. Holy shit. My heart rate redlines within seconds. I'm thinking that I have to drive back to Toronto on Monday, a 3 day drive. My wife broke her ankle and can't drive. To make the next cut-off, I will have to make such an effort that I can't imagine making the next one and because of the added time, I will be running downhill in the dark instead of in daylight. My chances of getting hurt going down become quite real and for what? To get pulled at Half Pipe instead of Twin Lakes? Muscle damage really hits you after 60 miles, so the discomfort I will feel during my drive home will start getting worse for every extra mile I run. I was willing to pay that price for a buckle, but not for a DNF.

I stop, turn around and tell my pacer that I'm sorry, but I can't do it. He's not happy but I don't really care at this point. I just flushed 9 months of training down the toilet. We go back down, meeting tons of racers with no (or very little) hope of finishing. We go straight down to the road, hitch-hike and some nice people give us a ride to Twin Lakes where I officially DNF.

Morgan and Kendra made it through Twin Lakes but eventually missed a cut-off. Chris missed the Twin Lakes Cut-off. Only Carlos got his buckle.

I'm still pissed off at the race director. They say the road to Hell is paved with good intentions and I'm sure that's exactly what happened. The fact is, they should have waited until next year but someone was so excited that they finally got permission to use that new trail that they couldn't help themselves. They didn't have time to think about what adding over an hour to the race meant for people who had planned their race for months and planned to finish in the 29:xx time frame. At the meeting, they didn't even mention how much longer the course was. They should have revised all the cut-offs to give the sense of urgency that they are supposed to generate. This is the biggest race fiasco I have ever seen. What a fuck up. I just wanted to run the race I trained for.

The worst thing is, I have an excuse. In all my previous DNF, I just couldn't finish. It was my weakness in a certain area that got me. The heat, the technical trails, the heat, nausea. This time, sure, the altitude was tough but that was expected and according to what I knew, I was still doing fine. Until I wasn't. So I have this excuse and I fucking hate it because now I have to prove that if I had known earlier, I could have finished.

Anyway, now I have to go back next year. I'll be in better shape. I'm going to be leaner. And of course, I'm going to have a better plan.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Pre-Leadville THoughts

Pardon me visitors, it's been two months since my last confession blog entry.

My wife and I, now being freed from the shackles of parenthood (our kids have fled the coop, for now at least) have decided to spend the summer in Sedona. It's hot, but then again Toronto ain't Antarctica either, but if you get up early, the temperature is fairly cool (less than 25C) until around 9AM. For longer run,  I go up to Flagstaff where it's much cooler, especially up in the mountains where it can be down right nippy. Sometimes I leave here and it's 25C and sunny and by the time I get to the trail head, it's 12C, covered and windy.

Somewhere around the saddle
Actually, those mountains are a big reason I was so eager to come. Mount Humphreys' trail head starts at 9,300 feet and climbs up to 12,600 over 5 miles. That's a profile very similar to the climb over Hope Pass. Not quite as steep, but the trail is nastier. I don't always go up to the very top because the last part from "The Saddle" to the summit is just a grind, but I've been there 5 times and climbed to at least 11,800ft on each occasion. From the saddle, one can then come back the same way or go around the long way following the Weatherford/Kachina trails, an added 15 miles of fun.

Going to the top, with a small group from the Sedona Running Company

Weatherford trail

19 miles of fun
There are some nice climbs around here as well, Wilson Mountain (+2400) and AB Young (+1800) to name a couple, although the altitude tops at around 7,000 feet. Still, that takes a toll. The rest of the trails I've done are rolling hills, with very little flat.

What I'm trying to say is: I've never done so much climbing. Last Spring, I remember wondering if poor sea level Torontonians like me could ever train to run uphill. Well, last time I went up the Humphreys, I actually ran most of the way up to the saddle. Most, because some of the trail is not really runnable and also I did have to take some walking breaks in the steeper parts above 11,000. I climbed to the saddle in 1:15, more than 15 minutes faster than my previous hiking time. I remember the first time I went up and I got passed by a runner, I couldn't fucking believe that guy was doing that. What a difference a few weeks can make.

Going up Wilson Mountain near Sedona

So I think I'm as ready as I can be, considering where I started at Xmas. On January 1st, I was 20 lbs overweight, still under the shock of my puking-fest at the Grand Canyon in October. One can only do so much in 8 months. I still feel I can build on what I have now and improve even more, but there's just no time. Running here is just a joy and when I think about going home, my heart sinks a little. Running is running and it shouldn't matter where you do it, but to me it just does.

On top of Wilson Mountain, looking at the Humphreys in the distance
What can I say, it ain't just the same as looking down the Down Valley Parkway from the Crother's.

We're leaving for Colorado next Wednesday. I will drop off Michelle and the cat at a pet-friendly hotel in Denver where they will wait for me. She broke her ankle hiking a few days ago, and I don't think Leadville is where she wants to be. I'm surprisingly not nervous about the race, either because I'm stupid or maybe because I know I've done pretty much everything I could to get ready for this race.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Altered State

Way out there beyond the marathon, somewhere around the 50 miles mark, there is a world where things like cars, money and the Internet mean nothing, simple mental processes like addition and subtractions feel like advanced calculus and the only important things are food, pain and water. In this world, your day-to-day self that cares about and understands those things retreats and hides somewhere, waiting for the insanity to stop and those shiny things to come back.

 Entering that world is difficult, remaining in it a constant struggle which is only possible if the perceived reward is incredibly meaningful. If the persistence theory is correct, to our ancestors, that reward was food. To us, it's something that has to have some internal value that is important enough that we are willing to experience the pain that comes with the pursuit of that goal.

That world is not a better world, it's just different. It is a world where you can walk by a fellow human being who is puking his guts out five miles from any help, say "how're you doing?", and just keep on walking without giving it a second thought.

To some of us, this state is addictive. Maybe it comes from some atavistic need to live a simpler life that we fully understand and where we feel we are fully responsible for our destiny. All I know is that a few hours or days after a race, no matter how much I suffered, I already long for the next one.

One thing that makes Ultrarunning so difficult, is that problem solving skills are greatly hampered while in this altered state. Decisions like whether one is drinking enough or too much, or taking too much salt or too little, become mental struggles that are obsessed about for hours. I live in that world only a few dozen hours a year, so gaining experience is a slow and difficult process. Every race tends to be different, so applying lessons from a previous race doesn't always work. At some point, pain and anguish become such that the reward is not worth it even if the goal is attainable. The runner stops running.

 This is what happened to me at Laurel Highlands. I came into the 58 miles aid station at 9:30PM, with still a full 6 hours to finish the last 12 miles. Many things happened during the race, none of them taken individually would have been enough to end the race but as they added up, I just didn't care enough about finishing that particular race to finis those 12 miles even if I could have easily walked them. I signed my bib and DNF'd with a smile. As I sat down and drank some chicken noodle soup and calories started to feed my brain, I exited that alternate reality and my regular self came out of it's protective cocoon. Relief turned to regret, although the pain was still present enough that I still understood that I made the right choice. Maybe.

 Was it a failure of will? Maybe. I don't really care. I try not to think in absolute terms. To me, this race was a training run for Leadville. I would have loved to finish it, but that wasn't an end in itself. Too many things went slightly wrong and I went to a mental place where had I gone on, some of the darkness might have broken into my protective shell and taken Leadville away from me. There were some cracks already and I just couldn't let that go any further.

I know this was a weird race report but I think it depicts more clearly what I feel than a blow-by-blow of my various falls and nutrition issues. We've all had them and understand that sometimes, it's just not your day.

 Happy trail.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Bear Mountain Post Race Thoughts

Hindsight being 20/20, it's always interesting to look back and see what went right and what went wrong in a race. It's actually pretty important: I don't race 50 or 100 miles very often so I need to learn everything I can for those times when I do.

When looking back, it's important to remember the goals I had going into the race. My main goal was to finish while maintaining a good routine. I knew the course was challenging and time was immaterial. I had stated a hope for a 11:30 to 12:00 finish, but I had summoned that number out of thin air.

Nutrition: That went pretty good. I was on a one gel/one waffle per hour schedule and maintained that to the bitter end although getting those waffles in became harder as time went by. I had a close call after forgetting to drink for over an hour, but my flow meter saved my bacon and I was able to recover, although not without feeling pretty crappy for a couple of hours.

Effort: I simply could not risk not finishing this race. It would have scarred me mentally in my Leadville ramp up. I have to admit that I was a bit shaken by how close to the cut-off I was at that first hard-cut-off aid station at mile 20. Still, 20 minutes at mile 20 means 50 minutes at mile 50, which means I kept gaining 1 minute per mile on the cut-off. Had I been alone, I would have gone out faster. Steve kept telling me to cool it off a bit, especially on the climbs but also on some of the flats. He's usually the one freaking out about going faster (see Mohican, Grand Canyon reports), so when he told me to slow down, I listened although I did feel like I was over-reaching. Maybe he saved my race. Maybe I could have gone faster. I doesn't matter. I finished in fairly good shape, although shocked by how tough the course was.

Feet: I thought I was beyond losing toenails, especially on a 50 miler. Boy, was I wrong. Pain, and fear of pain, became my single biggest problem in the last 15 miles. I'm not too worried for now. First, that toenail is now gone so I'm good for the summer! Second, the trails at Leadville (and Laurel, I believe) are nowhere close to that technical, so I don't believe this is going to be an issue. That being said, I need to get better at running on technical terrain. Also, in hindsight, I should have run with my new pair of Crosslites. The old ones, those I wore, were a bit shriveled from previous mud and water action and the toebox felt a bit tighter. I'm also experimenting with the Vertical Ks, which have a much roomier toebox, but are less rugged.

Hills: I mention that separately from "effort", because  I'm making a special effort to improve my hills. I've never been very good at climbing. I had considered trying to run most hills, but given the fact that I really wanted to finish, I just couldn't risk it. That being said, I power hiked up most of them at a good clip and passed tons of people. I did get passed a few times on shallower grades by people running up. Maybe I could have run those, but again, didn't want to risk it. This time. Really happy with this though.

Downhill: I believe that running downhill on technical trails is my weakest skill. I struggled to keep up with runners that I had been catching up to on flats and uphills. On the downhills, I sometimes would lose ground. Nothing I can do except practice. Again, not a big issue for Leadville.

Conclusion: Bear Mountain was a big success. I do wish I could have run faster, but doing that would have jeopardized all my other, more important, goals. I now have a solid, challenging 50 miler in the bag. This gives me some options for the Laurel Highlands 70 miler, my next race. Depending on how hot it is, I might push it a bit to see how my stomach will react. The rocks won't be as much as an issue so this will be more about my fitness than my big toe. A DNF, if it happened for the right reasons, would not be a big issue for me.

This was an amazingly tough race for a 50 miler and I can't believe that, after swearing all day that I would NEVER do it again, I already plan to do just that. That never happens.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Race Report: TNF Bear Mountain 50 Miles Race

Here we go again. It's 5am, I slept a total of maybe 4 hours last night and I'm standing with a couple of hundred crazy people, waiting for the start of the TNF Bear Mountain 50 miler. I'm a bit nervous because this is basically my first race this year, at least my first ultra, and I'm starting my season with what is supposed to be one of the hardest 50 milers in the US. I'm sure some are harder, but the next 13 hours will prove that there is at least some truth to that statement.

Headlamps are mandatory, which I like because I'm sick and tired of losers(I first wrote assholes but some of my friends don't wear headlamps when the star in in total darkness and I don't want them to be mad at me) saying they don't need a headlamp and ride my (or other normal people's) coat tail and then don't have to be stuck with the friggin head lamp for 10 miles. Who do they think they're fooling? "I can see fine", they would say after pissing all over the porta-potty seat. What are you, a fucking cat? Anyway, everyone has a lamp and that makes me happy.

Someone on the PA system tells us how much fun we're going to have and then we start moving. Within minutes, we're moving up. I'm running with Steve B., who says he's not feeling 100% and thinks my pace would be perfect for him. He's a much stronger runner than me and I take that as a compliment. We're probably about 2/3 of the way back. Very quickly, rocks start to appear. Big rocks. Lots of them. It will only get worse all day. The weather is ok. It's foggy, so very humid and warm enough that I'm comfortable starting in a t-shirt. Makes things simple, but I quickly start sweating. I feel great. I forgot to bring a watch (doh!) so I'm using my Garmin Forerunner 305 in "inside" mode to keep track of time. 

We mostly climb for a long time. I eat a gel on the half hour and a Honey Stinger Waffle on the hour. The course is nice but you can't really look around without risking a face plant. There are big rocks, small rocks, loose rocks, little rocks sticking out and the other kinds too. I power hike up the climbs at a solid pace. Steve tells me that maybe I should cool it down a bit, so I turn it down a notch but we still tend to make up time on runners ahead of us. This means nothing at this point. I remember very little of the aid stations. I basically fill my bladder every other station and that's it. I have a potato wedge at one of them just because it's there looking at me. I drink about 300 to 400ml/hour, and my pee is nice and golden. Time flies and I'm having a great time. We do a little of Geoff Roes hating, because he said that there were no climbs longer than 3 minutes on the course. Are you fucking kidding me?

There is not a lot of flat, easy running. I don't know what our pace is but as pleased as I am with my race so far, we're not exactly setting a new land speed record. Still, we're passing people regularly so we feel good. After running for so long (over 5 hours now) and feeling so great, it's hard to believe that things will ever change. Sure I kicked a few rocks, but I still feel strong. Then we get to Skannatati aid station. All of a sudden, it seems like we're surrounded by crazy people. I guy behind us says this is the first hard cut off, at 10:47. It's around 10:30 (can't remember exactly). I'm a bit surprised, quite frankly. We've been running pretty solid and I did not expect to be so close to that cut off. Still we reload and leave. People are zooming past us for a while, scared shit-less by the cut off. It's 7 miles to the next station and I see this guy, soaked in sweat, stumble past us without any water bottles. What the fuck is he thinking? It's not Mohican or Burning River hot, but it's hot and humid enough to require drinking. This is where experience pays off, I think. We decide to change nothing. This is only mile 20. We know that the hard parts are coming. The course up until now has been challenging, but not epic. This means that what's ahead is bad and we need energy to handle it, so we look at those people pass us and shake our heads.

I'm still feeling ok but the mood has changed. That cut off thing has hung a cloud over our heads. Time flies. I'm not feeling as great as I was feeling just a short time ago. I hear Steve drink and it sounds like his bottle is empty. What? Didn't we just leave the aid station? I look at my flow meter and I've only drunk 100ml and it's probably been 90 minutes since that station. Fuck. I start to drink more, but not too much. The next couple of hours are the lowest point of the race. I have little energy. Starting to run after we have to get up a hill is a struggle. During a steep climb in this section I feel a bit light headed and I get a bit worried. Where's the fun now? What's the point of all this? Yaddi, yaddi, yadda... The usual. Slowly though, I force myself to drink and eat and I come back to life. I start pushing a bit more and it feels ok. I've been in front for a long time now. I look back and there's a small conga line riding us. I ask Steve to ask them if they want to pass and they say no. I keep going. Eventually, we make it to camp Lanowa, mile 27.7 (almost mile 29 on Steve's GPS) where our drop bags await.

I grab all my food from my drop bag and change my shirt. Even though a couple of my toes hurt, I decide against changing into my new shoes. I've never had much luck with shoe changes and this pair doesn't even have 10 miles on it so I decide to go with the devil I know. We're on our way back now. I feel fairly good, although once in a while I kick a rock and I have at least once toe on each foot that are starting to feel a bit tender. My big toe on the right side has that full feeling that tells me it's a goner. Oddly, the course keeps getting harder. I theory, we're going down now, but the uphills are either incredibly steep or covered in rocks that make climbing difficult. There's also quite a bit of mud on the trails and numerous streams to traverse. Many times, I come to a sudden stop only to have Steve crash into me asking gently "What the fuck are you doing?". "Jesus Christ", I would reply in a friendly voice, "we need to get over that motherfucking stream and I'm fucking trying to find a way that doesn't involve swimming". "Oh.", he would say. I used the word "fuck" at least 200 times during that race, mostly in the last 20 miles. We're really moving now though and really hit a solid pace. There are some fairly easy sections and my feet are happy.

We get into Anthony Wayne aid station, 10 miles to the finish, with something like 3:30 to finish, 2:30 to break 13 hours. Cake, we think. The aid stations are out of gels and Steve is bonking a bit. I offer him some of mine but he won't take it. We eat while walking out of the parking area, wondering why there would be 2 aid stations in a 10 miles stretch, and then start running. I can't remember anything until I step on the mat at Queensboro Rd, around 5 miles to the finish. I'm ready to be done now. The course is getting to me. If I never see a rock again, it will be too soon. We still think we can make 13 hours. That foolish thought won't last.

This section is the stuff nightmares are made of. They probably had prisoners from 50 states break rocks for the last 10 years and then dumped them on the fucking trail. There were rocks on the uphills, rocks on the downhills and rocks on the flats. All loose, about the size of a Kleenex box. When there's no rocks, wait ... there are ALWAYS rocks. Actually, we get to this trail that is nice and soft, EXCEPT IT'S AT A 45 DEGREES ANGLE and you have to run with a leg a foot higher than the other and your feet angled sideways. My ankles want to fucking explode. It's impossible to run on that. Then I think it starts going up. The surface is back to loose giant ankle bruiser rocks. We go up, and up, and up. All this shit is happening on a 2.5 miles section, for fuck sake. And we're not done. We go up some more and finally get to the top. We run a short distance and reach the gates of Hell itself. Hell is a downhill that looks to me like it's a mile long. It's steep. Very steep. Obviously, it's covered with rocks, with a stream meandering though the trail, for added fun. Every single one of those rocks has a picture of my big toe on it. I start to go down. I will spare you the details, but I nearly have a nervous breakdown going down. Eventually, I make it down and run on a small path which turn a bit. Then, IT STARTS ALL OVER AGAIN. Not quite as long, not quite as bad, but bad enough. Eventually I get to the real bottom and I catch up to Steve, who went down a bit faster. A short run and we're at the last aid station. It took us an ungodly amount of time to cover 2.5 miles.

Everybody tells us we're done, it's all easy from here on. "Really?". "Well... it's easier.". Fuck me!

We start down a road, eventually hit a trail. Good news: there are no rocks on that trail. Bad news: it's going straight down a giant 45 degree hill. I'm afraid that my quads are going to rip. My ass is sore. My eyes are scanning the ground desperately for hidden stubs that I bust my toes on. The trail follows a slight "S" pattern that makes fun of switchbacks, as to remind us that lesser courses would use switchbacks, but is is not that kind of race. With my toes crushed at the bottom of my toe-boxes, eye watering, I reach the bottom and dare to hope that my torture is over, that the course is ready to let me go. Steve and I agree that there an evil design, that whoever designed the course was probably drinking heavily and taking psycho-active drugs and went in a frenzy at the end, piling more and more crazy shit to crush our spirits.

For the last 15 miles, we also know with total certainty that although this race needed to be done, we will never come back to this mean, evil course. Fuck that! We now realize why our two friends who ran it last year and insisted this was a fantastic race, came up with lame-ass excuses and mysteriously couldn't come. They're just mean, not crazy.

Eventually, we do make it out of the bush. Yes there are last minute attempts to demoralize us but finally, we run through the tunnel, then the field, we see what I thought I would never see: the finish line. We finish in 13:17:13. Our other two friends, who have some kind of alien DNA finished way before us. Fuck them and the UFO they came on. Anyone who runs this course faster than 10 hours should be interrogated, and then dissected by homeland security. They are definitely not human. We all agree, even the aliens, that this course was just too crazy. Can they move their pinky?

After a good beer, a good shower, a good dinner and a bad night sleep, we start the drive back. Halfway 
home, we're discussing how much faster we're going to run this race next year.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Pre-race Jitters

I would be lying if I said that I'm not nervous about Saturday. All I have to do on Google now is press "B", and Google proposes "Bear Mountain NY Weather". I've been looking at the chances of rainfall for Saturday steadily climb from nearly 0% a few days ago to 70% as of 10 seconds ago. Rain sucks for two reasons: your feet get wet and it's hard to dress comfortably, especially because the temperature will climb from 10C to 24C. Taper is going ok, although I feel sluggish and tired. Well, that might be last night's beers with Chris.

I'm not sure I have a race plan. Run when I can, hike when I can't. Eat a gel on the half hour, a Honey Stinger Waffle on the hour, salt as required and drink plenty. Don't waste too much time at the aid stations. I will wear my old stinky Crosslites, since I'm not comfortable wearing the new ones after only one outing. They would probably be fine, but why risk it? Because of the course, I have no firm time goal. If you were to waterboard me and force me to make a prediction, I would probably say between 11:30 and 12:00. I pulled that number out of my ass, using a technique know as wishful thinking.

I can't say that I've been mentally stable this week. Not being able to run a 50k race prior to Bear Mountain has left me without a confidence builder. I'm going from a soul destroying 30K race in March to this. I've been looking at my training log extensively, trying to decide what makes me run well in ultras. If I'm totally honest with y'all (I've been watching Friday Night Lights), I feel like I haven't really improved since 2009, when I had most of my best races: first I broke 20 minutes on 5k in April, then my first 50 miler at Sulphur run with nice splits in 10:06, Niagara 50K run in 4:45 with perfectly even splits, and then a solid race at Creemore. After that, things went ok but not great, with maybe the exception of Susitna. I had a lot of fun, but I can't think of a race that I've been real happy with since then. Well, maybe that 15 miler in Phoenix last Winter, that was solid.

My point is that I'm a bit gun shy. I'm afraid to go too slow and not be happy with my race and I'm afraid to go too fast and blow up like I did at Sulphur in 2010. I'm pretty sure I learned something at that race though. I remember the effort level pretty clearly and I'll stay under that for sure. Doh.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


I guess it's become a tradition that before any significant race, I have some kind of a "taper" or "pre-race" entry. This time is no different.

With the fairly nasty weather we've been experiencing lately, this taper is more than welcome. Last weekend's 2-ish loops run at Sulphur Springs was the second time in a row where the weather has been cold and windy. At least this time, it wasn't pouring frigid rain. I'm ready for warm weather.

Next stop: Bear Mountain 50 miler. Total elevation gain: 7034 feet. As far as I can tell from the elevation chart, not a flat surface anywhere and possibly some vertical ones.

I feel that I'm ready to tackle the course. Derrick did a good job of pushing me to run way more than I usually do on my own. It's good that I feel that confident because it means that I'm able to go into the race without the confidence builder of running a 50K race prior to this difficult 50 miler. A couple of people in our little group are running Pick Your Poison (50K) this weekend. As much as I would love to see everyone, I just can't see an upside for me. If I ran 50k, my legs wouldn't fully recover in a week. If I ran 25k, I would probably run it too fast, being in a race and all. They say that training takes almost 3 weeks to take hold. What I mean is that today's run takes 2-3 weeks before it translates into body adaptation. There's nothing that I can do now that will improve my fitness by race day. The only thing i can do is screw it up or not keep what I gained. As we all know, we lose fitness much faster than we gain.

So the plan is to keep training reasonably and try not to gain any weight. My weight loss has plateau'd as soon as I stopped counting calories a few weeks ago. I'm not where I want to be yet, so that's something I need to address soon. I'm just so hungry all the time now.

It will be interesting to see how people in our little group perform at the race. There is little doubt that I will be the slowest of the four although one of them (and you know who you are) has barely been training and two of the group plan to bust up their quads at PYP this weekend (including mister minimal training). Who said the universe was fair?

That being said, I plan on running a solid race. I've mentioned my nutrition problems many times in the past. I've been working really hard at staying on top of it, but it hasn't really been hot yet and that's usually when nutrition becomes difficult to manage. Hopefully, the weather won't be ridiculously hot. That always makes things worse, especially this early in the season.

I got a new pair of shoes this week, a pair of La Sportiva Skylites 2.0. I had high hopes for those shoes because they are so similar to the Crosslites. If the trails were dry at Bear Mountain, my plan was to wear them for most, if not all, the race. Unfortunately, when I wore them on my long run last weekend, I didn't find them as comfortable at the original Crosslites. The trails were wet and I was fully expecting traction to suck, because the Skylites have no lugs, but I wasn't expecting the various pressure points that started to be annoying after only 5km or so. When I got back to the car, I switched back to my Crosslites and I knew I was going to race in them. I could probably get used to the Skylites, but why would I? This kind of made me worried that maybe the new Crosslites 2 have had the same "improvements" and that they may not be as perfect as the Crosslites. What would happen if (when) La Sportiva stops making the originals? The hunt for a replacement shoe resumes. I've tried so many shoes over the last couple of years. Damn.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Top Shape

Racing season is fast approaching. Last weekend was the OUS Spring Warmup, a sure sign that I will be doing  something stupid, like running ridiculous distances, in the coming weeks. Ah, the smell of Spring!

Less than 3 weeks to Bear Mountain. I haven't raced a 50 miler since Sulphur Springs in 2010 and that didn't work out so well for me. I'd like to think that I'm at a better place in my training than I was two years ago. My training has been solid, I feel great, I feel strong. I under no illusion: Bear Mountain will be a b!tch. It will be my slowest 50 miles ever. It's the nature of that course. This should be an awesome, fun filled trip though. Should be a hoot and a half.

As I mentioned above, training is going well. Quite frankly, I don't remember ever having such a solid base going into the season. My training going into 2009, following Norrie Williamson's book "Everyone's Guide to Distance Running" was close, but included very little trail running outside of races themselves. My experience is that road hills are not up to the task when it comes to preparing for trails. Most road runners, when confronted with the dramatic inclines in most trail races, throw up their hands in the air and declare that trail running is not really running. I find that road runners are often obsessed with their pace and can't handle it when they have to slow down, regardless of the terrain. That's why they hate hills so much. When I'm in Sedona, how many times have I stared in amazement at runners on the sidewalk, wondering why on earth they would run on pavement when they could be out on the hundred of kilometers of amazing trails a few hundred feet from their current location. After talking to a couple of people about this, apparently the answer is pace. Who knew? More trails for us!  That being said, looking at how popular trail running is becoming, I guess that more and more people agree with us that pace isn't everything.

So, this year I've got a deeper and wider base than ever before. Hopefully, this will pay off at Bear Mountain. My biggest problem with that race is how hard to race it. When do I run up a hill rather than walk? I've run only three 50 milers and my last two have been a lesson in bonking. My first one went well, but I nearly passed out at 35 miles at Haliburton in 2009 and almost quit at 43 miles at Sulphur. Hopefully, the additional training and experience will help.

If I'm totally honest though, the thing that freaks me out the most about Bear Mountain is the deer black flies. I was reading Chris' Bear Mountain race report and he mentions swallowing a few. I can't handle deer  ANY flies, I just hate them. At least, mosquitoes respect DEET. You squirt a few shots on yourself and you're pretty much safe from them. Not so with deer (horse, black, take your pick, I hate them all) flies, who are just too fucking stupid to care. They drive me nuts, going round and round, waiting to take a chunk of flesh out of you and I'm not sure I can handle them. Yes, it is that bad. I guess we'll see.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Why Do You Keep Banging Your Head Against The Wall ?

"Because it feels so good when I stop!" goes the joke. Well, this weekend I felt like the joke was on me. My volume has been steadily increasing and I've come to the point where I'm wondering whether I'm running just because it feels so good when I don't.

For a long time now, I've been running long on Sunday and resting on Monday. This week, I ran long on Sunday (5 hours in the snow in Sedona, see pictures), ran again on Monday because I was traveling during the week then did a b2b Saturday(3:30)/Sunday(2:05). I was supposed to go longer (2:30) on Sunday but even though my legs felt fresher than they had any right to be, my brain was fried. I wasn't 10 minutes into the run and I was already fantasizing about stopping the run short.

Epic Snow Run in Sedona

Basically, my body felt like I had betrayed it. WHAT? I carry you up and down those friggin' hills for 3 and a half hours on Saturday and I don't get to sit around and drink beer the following day? What kind of bullshit is that? And indeed, I betrayed it because by the time I got home and had a shower, it was 5:05PM. I went to open a beer and I WAS OUT. Shuffled to the Beer Store and IT WAS CLOSED! With a sick feeling to my stomach, I power-walked to the Liquor Store a few doors down and dammit, it was closed as well.

I had to drink white wine, left-over from my wife's Book Club meeting a few weeks ago. Now that's sad.

Ontario must be the last place on Earth where you can't get beer at the corner store. I was going to go on a rant about the inability of our provincial government to make any kind of decision, but this is a running blog so I'll skip it. But Beer Stores, Liquor Stores and the public Catholic school board are all leftovers from days long gone that Ontario cannot seem to be able to shake. I want to be able to buy beer on a Sunday at 6PM, is that too much to ask in 2012? I guess I did go on a rant.

Back to running. I've been looking into running Pick Your Poison and/or Seaton, but I don't think I will be able to run either. Those two races are only 2 weeks apart, with Bear Mountain 50 miler smack in between. I think Bear Mountain will be hard enough as it is, I don't think I need to make it harder by running 50K the week before. Maybe 29km at Seaton? Volunteer? I need to talk to Derrick about this.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Mesquite Canyon 30K Race Report

Sitting on my couch two days after the race, I try to remember the end of the race. I do remember the events. I remember being so tired that I couldn't compel my body to run, except if the trail was perfectly flat or downhill and then I could only run for a few hundred meters before something broke inside my head and I had to walk. Sitting on the couch, it seems almost impossible that your mind cannot tell your body what to do, even though you remember it clearly.

That's what happened to me on that race. From the start, I knew it was going to be a tough one. Those mountains looked mighty big and despite the name "Mesquite Canyon", I couldn't see any break in the skyline that didn't involve significant climbing. Reality is, we would climb pretty much to the top.

We ran somewhere close to those antennas in the background. Maybe a bit lower.

The first few kilometers were flat and I was going at a good pace. Maybe too fast but I felt good. The trail was pretty good but despite that, my foot caught on something and I fell, rolled nicely (so I though, but I ended up with a few bruises) only to end up in some kind of bush full of needles. Not a cactus per say, but vegetation is mean here. I dusted myself up and kept going.

All of a sudden, the course goes from flat-ish to straight up. Between km 9 and 15, we climbed over 1700 feet mostly very technical footing. Really. I really thought I was in better shape than I actually was, I guess. I got passed a bit. Mostly by the 50km leaders who were on a different course, but also by a few 30k racers. That depressed me a bit. You could see the trail far in the distance, up, up always up, with little people climbing.

The climb was relentless and very steep. Because there was no way of driving up that friggin' trail, there were no aid stations either for 9 miles.  I have to admit that I questioned my manhood a few times going up that trail. Someone mentioned that the name wasn't Goat Hill (or something like that) for nothin'. I got a bit of a side stitch and it took quite a while to get rid of it. Once you got to the top, the trail became a bit less technical for a while but you could not take your eye off the trail without risking falling off a cliff or at least a really painful fall.

I kept drinking and eating as much as I thought I could. I got a bit of a surge of energy once we started going down. Even passed a couple of people. The trail was technical but runnable. At some point though, it became ridiculous and I started tripping everywhere. My quads were shot, the trail was steep and there was basically no stable footing half the time.

Finally, I get to the bottom and horror, there's an uphill section. Lots of hiking and shuffling. The last few kilometers were quite painful. I had nothing left. I knew I did, somewhere, but I just could make myself care. I was hot. I knew I would come in under 4 hours, which was my goal. I would start running and then after a couple of minutes just stop, I had never experienced something like that in a short distance like that. Anyway I did finish in 3:53. Within my goal, which was based on nothing, but more tired than I had expected.

The winner ran the course in 2:18. That's an average of 4:35/km. Someone explain that to me. Between the climbing and the footing and the death if you make a mistake, there's something I don't understand. Un-friggin'-believable.

So that's my experience of my first race involving a real climb. It was a humbling experience. It really kicked me in the nuts both physically and mentally. I kept thinking the following: Hope Pass is over 3000 feet on the way out. That's almost twice as high, possibly steeper and all that between 9,000 and 12,000 feet.

Lots of training to do.  I better stop whining.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Redemption Will Have to Wait

Thought I'd write a little training update to show some accountability on my new goals.

First, after a few slushy days, this Winter has been perfect for running so far. It sucks for anyone training for a snowshoe race or any other real Winter sport but it's been great for us poor souls stuck in the city. Running in slush drives me nuts and ice scares me, so I'm a happy camper right now.

This brings me to the important thing: Leadville. That's going to be a recurring theme until the end of August. All Leadville, all the time. Truth is, I've probably read ALL the Leadville blogs out there and I've come to the conclusion that for me to finish the race withing the 30 hours, I will need to commit physically and mentally. I wouldn't be as worried if the time limit was 32 or 34 hours, but 30 hours will be hard.

Yesterday I had my first official talk with coach Derrick. Now that Derrick has got that silly Yukon Arctic Ultra (where he finished second in an unbelievable 23 hours and 18 minutes) out of his system, he can move on to the real important stuff: how to get me over Hope Pass twice and on to the finish within the time limit. Derrick is fast at work building my plan as we speak and I will begin formal training in about 10 days.

One thing that came out of this conversation is the realization that I can't seek redemption at Mohican without jeopardizing my Leadville race. Running a 100 miles takes a big mental and physical chunk out of me and sometimes I can be months running like crap. I just can't afford the down time. On the other hand, last year's DNF at Mohican left me in pretty good shape. Derrick suggested I run Laurel Highlands, a 70 miler down in Pennsylvania in early June. I've heard excellent things about that race so I'm pretty sure that this is exactly what I'm going to do.

On the training front, I have to say that things are going great. My right Achilles is the best it's been in a very long time. I've lost about 5 pounds since I started my calorie counting project a bit over 3 weeks ago. Basically, I've stopped stuffing my face all evening and eating chocolate croissants for breakfast. Another aspect I wanted to improve was consistency and that's improved as well. I've run pretty much 6 times per week in the last month. I'm up to about 6 hours of running per week, which is starting to feel like real training.

The biggest difference though is how I feel while I'm running. To be completely honest, last year, running was sometimes a struggle. Even short runs felt like crap, except maybe when I ran on trails. I never really got into a groove while running on pavement, where my Achilles hurt with every damn foot strike. For the past couple of weeks, as the pain slowly receded, even those boring runs feel great and I actually enjoy them. I guess it's true what they say, consistency pays off.

That's pretty much my news for now. I'm leaving for three weeks of running bliss in Arizona on February 29th and I can't wait. I'm looking at running the 50k or 30k at Mesquite Canyon, on March 11th somewhere near Phoenix. The 30k seems more reasonable but I'm not discarding the 50k depending on how I'm feeling.

Hope those pilots at Air Canada don't rain on my parade with a strike.

Monday, January 23, 2012


Sometimes I feel like crying because I’m so tired of running. The thought of going out for another run on nasty, unmaintained, slippery sidewalks makes me want to puke.

Sometimes I feel like crying because I’m sick of pain. Pain in my ankles. Pain in my quads. Pain in my calf. I feel like if I ran only when there’s no pain, I wouldn’t run at all.

Sometimes I feel like crying because I feel like I’m waisting my time running ultras. I suck at running long and I’m not really getting any better.

Sometimes I feel like crying because I’m mad at my family for not giving a shit about my running and never offering any support.

Sometimes I feel like crying because I hate other runners, for whom everything seems to effortless, who get up at 5AM to run, who never seem to doubt anything. Why is it so hard for me?

Sometimes I feel like crying because I wonder if I’ll ever be able to run 100 miles again. It’s so hard. Can I ever summon that much willpower again?

But then again;

Sometimes I feel like crying when I remember standing alone under the stars in Alaska, my headlamp off, taking it all in.

Sometimes I feel like crying when I stop during a long run in the desert to look around and see how beautiful it all is.

Sometimes I feel like crying because I feel so alive I can hardly stand it.

Sometimes I feel like crying because I know how lucky I am to be able to do this.

Don’t worry though. Most of the time, I’m OK.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


After barely dragging my ass out of the Grand Canyon in October, I had a hard time running with any kind of consistency in November and December. Heck, I had a hard time all year!

I felt like I had all the excuses in the book. Too much work, tired, my Achilles is killing me and finally my favorite: maybe having half my thyroid removed is lowering my energy level. It’s rare but it happens. Haven’t I gained over 10 pounds in the last year? Surely it has nothing to do with the fact that I’M EATING LIKE A FRACKING PIG. I eat a lot, I eat often and I snack all night. AND I had gained about 5 lbs even BEFORE the operation. What's up with that? Obviously, I'm full of it.

So my new thinking is this: my right Achilles hurts more because I’m heavy AND I run too long for my level of fitness right now. I would typically go for a run at lunch, let’s say 8 or 10k and then my Achilles would hurt the next day and I would skip. Vicious circle. No consistency. I believe my fitness has been on a downward spiral for over a year now. I need to do something about this.

My new plan is to rebuild from the ground up.
  • Lose weight: It’s a fact that I need to lose weight if I’m going to finish Leadville. I hear people who say they ask their pacer to carry their water bottle, which weighs a pound, and here I am carrying 15 our 20 extra pounds on my back. I need to go below 160 lbs. I started calorie counting on Monday so I can reset my eating habits. Calorie counting is the only technique that works for me. Everything becomes black and white: either you eat it or you don’t.
  • Consistency: I want to run at least 5 times a week, preferably 6 times. I’m starting with short runs, in the 30 minute range, so I won’t aggravate my Achilles and have to skip. I should be able to build fairly quickly on top of this. I went out 6 times last week and this week looks good.
  • Increase volume: As mentioned, my training sucked last year. Looking back at my training log last year, I see only 8 weeks where I ran more than 7 hours. If you take into account the fact that I ran two hundred milers, paced two others, ran two 50k and did r2r2r then you’re left with ONE week where I trained more than 7 hours. It’s really hard to run more than 5 or 6 hours if you run 4 times a week. Your really need to run maybe 5 but probably 6 or more days to get that kind of volume.
  • Shoes: After two years running in Nike Lunarglides, I’ve decided to switch back to the Lunaracers. I’ve noticed after coming back from running trails in my Crosslites that my Achilles felt really good only to get really painful after a couple of road runs in the Lunarglides. I’m not a big fan of Nike because they change their fracking shoes too often but I seem to come back to them. I tried to get me some Adizero Pros, but Adidas doesn’t seem to carry them here. Fuck ‘em. I got a new pair of Lunaracers which is more of a neutral shoe, where the Lunarglides are more of a “support” shoe. They feel pretty good and my Achilles feels really good. Then again, might be my new plan and the shoes do nothing.
So this is my re-boot plan. After I’ve consolidated this for a while, I will get into more Mohican/Leadville-specific training (aka ‘pain’).

Speaking of Mohican, I see on their website that they have removed the horrible 2 mile lollipop we had to do at the end of each loop. This is a relief. A (small) part of me thinks that to get true redemption, I would have needed the same course, but really that section of the course was truly horrible. The cutoff is still 32 hours, so I shouldn’t count my chickens until I see what they’ve replaced it with...