Full Tilt Training

It has been less than a week since I ran the Ottawa marathon and I have two months ahead of my second Canadian Death Race (CDR).  My goal for the CDR is to run the race in less than 18 hours.  I’m thinking I can do it.  A result of the intense training that I have been subjecting myself to.  I say that I am subjecting myself to it, as if it were a negative thing, but I actually like it.

So what is the intense training?  Once a week I head to the gym and do intervals on the treadmill.  It really isn’t the ideal way of training considering that this is supposed to be hill training.  Given the terrain in south-western Ontario (where I live), it is my only option.  I progressively made it up to 8 minute intervals.  8 minutes of running with the incline at 15% (the highest setting) with the objective of keeping my heart rate at or above 95% max. This is followed by an 8 minutes recovery where I let my heart rate drop to 60% max. Repeat.

With all of the racing I have been involved with over the last two months, I have been in a race/recovery cycle.  As such I have been on a hill training hiatus, until today.  I was looking forward to it.  I had swapped my NB MR00 for my Nike Free 5.0’s for the last two runs and decided to continue the week with them.  On the advice of my coach since my calf muscles had been tightening up.  I got on the treadmill and the mental struggle began.

First rep down and I wasn’t feeling all that confident about my effort.  I felt like I was kicked in the gonads.  I wanted to quit.  It seems that there is a theme developing here (see all previous race reflections).  I start and I want to quit.  But for some reason the feeling of regret would be more painful than just doing it.  So I try to ignore the negativity and find my way through the negative thoughts.

The second rep is done, but I am not feeling that much better about my effort.  My quads were feeling sore and they seemed to be giving out on me faster than normal.  I needed to hit and hold 181 bpm for 8 minute intervals.  While I seemed to be able to hold it, I didn’t feel like I could do this another 6 times.

180 bpm is where the red block starts
180 bpm is where the red block starts

Rep 3 and 4 were brutal and demoralizing.  The silver lining was that by the end of the 4 rep I was half way done.  The last four reps were a struggle to get to 181 bpm.  I started trying self coaching devices like repeating a mantra.  “Push through it”  I’d repeat.  Push the up button to speed up.  When I couldn’t hold it any more down a couple.  I’d realize that I still hadn’t hit 181 bpm, so speed up a bit more.  Slowly creeping up to 181 bpm.  The strange thing here is that after the demoralizing 3rd and 4th rep, each one seemed to get easier.

I relate this progressive ease to life in general.  As a teen, life beyond high school seemed impossible.  High school was enough of an adjustment for me.  I looked forward to moving on, but it seemed that all the responsibility would be monumental.  Early twenties, life still felt like a bit of a mountain to climb.  What with all the bills and stuff.  Having to pay for everything and figuring out how to budget and follow then actually follow through.  Yup, intimidating but certainly something that you feel good about once you notice that you are adapting to it.  Present day, not easy, but more or less figured out and feeling good.

Today’s workout brought me back to the realization I had about how amazing our bodies are.  With each rep, I found I had to push harder.  Sometimes finding that I really needed to dig deeper.  I had to find the inner beast to help me through it.  As the workout progressed, my body went from hating me, to punishing me, adapting to the situation, then loving me. Strange.

Home for a rest? – Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon 2014

Ottawa is the epicenter for my endurance running.  The May weekend marathon has become a little bit of a tradition for me.  This year the weekend started on the Friday with a busy afternoon drive up the 401.  As we drove to my mums in Ottawa I remember thinking (arrogantly I might add) that the race was going to be easy.  After all, unlike the first three events I ran earlier this year, elevation wasn’t going to be a challenge, nor was mud.  Suffice it to say I wasn’t really anxious about the race and that I was extremely confident that I would be able to achieve my goal, 3:30:00.

I never appreciated the beauty of the city.  Having lived there for 26 years of my life I always lamented that Ottawa wasn’t a fun city.  I always compared Ottawa to Toronto, or Montreal, or even Halifax.  Now that I have lived in Halifax and now live in Waterloo I miss all of those things I had taken for granted.  The bike pathways, the greenspace, the smallness and bigness of the city.  All reasons why the marathon is a so nice.  It starts on Elgin street by City Hall and it is a tour of only some of the beauty that is Ottawa.  You get the Rideau Canal, the renewal of the West end the parkways along the Ottawa river, New Edinburgh, Sussex.

My cavalier attitude towards the race got the best of me.  Instead of my regular routine of packing my bag making sure that I stuffed everything I would need into the bag, then unpacking it and double checking.  I took a much more “la de da” approach.  It wasn’t until I was half sleeping on my mums couch that it dawned on my that I forgot my heart rate monitor – boo.

The morning of the race I decided to do something I never had done before.  I trotted around for about 15 minutes hoping that bringing my heart rate up a little and activating my legs would help prevent any muscle tightness challenges.  About 5 minutes before the race started I got into the crowded corral along with the 7000 or so other runners.   Then we were off.

Everything felt great.  I was running 20 seconds per minutes faster than I needed to hit my goal, but it felt great.  I couldn’t help but think that I was going to smash my goal, perhaps even qualify for Boston.  Almost a dozen kilometres in I realized another error, a result of being indifferent about the race.  I forgot to spice things up for the girls.  Ha, no – taping of nipples doesn’t really do anything for getting *that* kind of attention from the girls.  I was concerned though, chaffing of the nipples is a very bad thing.  Nice thing about the Ottawa race is that they have aid stations with Vasoline on a stick.  Slap that shtuff on and crisis averted.

At KM 23, I started to realize that I may have been holding on to a pace that was a tad too fast.  I wasn’t really my legs, nor a weakness in my cardio prep that led me to consider slowing the pace.  It was my feet.  They were not happy with me.  Made me consider why I was running this race.  Made me want to stop.  Although stop I could not.  I started to do the math.  I rationalized how much I could slow down and still meet my target.  After some simple calculations I settled on 5:00 minutes per K.  It was a pace I felt I could hold and it would still get me to the finish line under my goal.

So there I was, running, trying to keep my focus on at least a 5:00 minute pace and absorbing the experience.  The fog that covered the city had cleared and the temperature was rising quickly.  The heat was getting intense.  I though about the trails, the solitude, the peace, and self reflection.  In moments when you feel at your worst, you can be your worst enemy or your most ardent supporter.  Contrast that with streets lined with people cheering you on with hilarious signs.  The crowds are supportive. When you are running through sprinklers that people put out for you too cool off, that is just awesome.  The spirit of the people of Ottawa is great.  Having said that, I still was dreaming of the trails: happier feet, a more spiritual run.

As I ran the final stretch of the marathon which takes you down Colonel By Drive towards and across the Pretoria bridge, then back up Queen Elizabeth Drive towards Confederation Park.  With only 4 km I was slowing down, it didn’t matter, soon it would be over.  I kept on trying to hold on to my pace, though it was challenging.  My feet were pounding the pavement and I felt each step.  The finish line couldn’t have come sooner.  I took some time to stretch and relax.  Trying to rest my body on the “lush” grass was slow and very painful since my body felt like it needed a spray of WD-40.  After a good long stretch I got up to walk around and realized I made another critical mistake, I forgot the lube.  So the lessons continue… be humble.

It’s a mental game – Seaton Soaker 2014

Ultra running is like a staring contest.  The successful contestant is capable of tuning out the noise and distraction.  It is this kind of mental focus keeps a runner keeping on.  If no other experience before the Seaton Soaker 2014 proved this to me, then the Soaker makes the assertion undeniable.

After a year in hiatus, the Seaton Soaker 2014 was a new course that had us track across the Seaton hiking trail.  It is an out and back.  You start at 73 m elevation and gradually make your way to 153 m over 12.5 km.  There are 2 noteworthy climbs and three steep pitches.  The return is a little faster since the back is a net elevation loss.  The final 3 km of the back have the runner tracking down an alternate trail to the start and brings the runners through a river; hence Seaton Soaker.

Glorious morning for a run.
Glorious morning for a run.

The morning was perfect.  With such a beautiful morning you’d have thought that nothing could go wrong.  And…  your thoughts would have deceived you.  It all started right at the beginning of the race.  I finished my first kilometre and my calf muscles (especially my right calf) were so tight that running was laboured and forced; not fun at all.  As if that wasn’t enough, my right foot decides that it’s tired and falls asleep.  I tried to regain feeling in my foot by kicking my foot out and shake’n it about.  I must have looked like I was doing some kind of strange chicken dance or… the Hokey-Pokey.  After dancing around for far too long, I thought maybe loosening my shoe lace may help.  The situation did not get any better.  I was frustrated and close to the aid station at KM 7.  I stopped, removed my right shoe and sock and walked barefoot for a minute.  My foot was back in business so I put the shoe back on.  Though that was short lived.  With no other option, I ran with my shoes in my hands instead of on my feet.

By the time I got to the turn around (12.5 km), I had my shoes back on my feet since my city feet don’t have much in the way of calluses.  At any rate, I don’t think I really anticipated running the whole race without shoes.  That said, I was still able to keep an average running pace of around 6:00 minutes per kilometre.  Thankfully that was it for my foot trouble and I was able to maintain my pace much more comfortably.

On my way back to the start (to mark 25 km) there was a point when I was running with a group of 50k’rs.  As I noted earlier, there is a river crossing and at this point all crossings have been over bridges. Since it was an out and back and I had not seen the course map I was disappointed that it appeared there was no “Soaker”.  The running banter of the group made it apparent that they knew the course.  So I asked “Where is this epic river crossing?”  I was assured that we would cross the river twice.

I got to the race track, timed in for my 25 km split time and continued back to the trail.  It seemed like there was a little mix up as someone had picked up the flags that marked the trail that would originally ran on the way out.  Some runners headed back to the river.  One of the volunteers politely let me know the correct direction and so I was off.

I didn’t notice at first, my heart rate monitor (HRM) battery must of hit its end of life.  2 minutes before the split my HRM was reading two dashes, not helpful.  Panic started to set in.  How am I supposed to moderate on hill climbs?  How will I know if I have an even higher heart rate that previously thought (see Pick Your Poison 2014).  A flurry of doubt set in.  This is where the mental game is important.  It is just a piece of equipment that quantifies your body’s feedback.  Since I had run the race with the HRM I started to have confidence that I could moderate based on feel and experience instead of pure numerical data.

As I was tracking towards the turnaround point, I really started to notice that I was loosing my spunk.  I was following my nutrition routine and taking salt to make sure my muscles were in tip top shape.  Still I felt like I was fading.  From that point I was think about what they had to offer at the aid stations.  I needed a plan B and I needed it fast.  They had Heed, candy, chips, pretzels, and Coke!  I remember reading in the book, Lore of Running, that Coke serves as a great pick me up.  At the aid station at the turnaround, I pounded two cups of Coke.  And we are back.  From that point I stopped my Perpetuem diet and pounded a swig of good old Coca Cola Classic at each of the aid stations.

Not far from the turnaround point I peaked at my watch, 5:25 m/km, good.  Further along I looked down at my watch and I was impressed.  It seemed that for the last 2 km I was holding a 5:25 m/km pace.  I thought that was unbelievable.  Of course, it was unbelievable.  My watch froze, probably where I was on a flat or a slight decent.  My first thoughts were not kind.  I had some practice with equipment failure twice already so before panic set in, with colourful language I took the watch off and tossed it into my pack.  Now I was running au naturel.

As I turned to the river crossing I noticed I caught up to the first place female.  I was so happy to get to the river that I got down on all fours so that I could cool down my legs.  After my impromtu bath we ran together for the last 2 km.  Since it was a race, I figured that one of us should make an effort to pull in front of the other, so I managed to get 26 seconds in front of her.

Soaking at the Seaton Soaker 2014
Soaking at the Seaton Soaker 2014

I crossed the finish line 5th and I was the 1st place under male under 40.  I don’t think I could have done it if I let the obstacles get in my way.  Each time some trouble cropped up, I felt slight anxiety about it.  I never let that be the final thought or an easy out.  It really doesn’t matter where you place, so long as you keep keeping on.  Like a staring contest, focus on the objective and don’t let anything distract you.


Pick Your Poison 2014

I think I went out to fast.  My objective is to push my boundaries, stop dreaming, get off my ass, just do it.  So in that spirit I run hard, I set ridiculous goals padded by some goals that aren’t so ridiculous, both challenging and rewarding.  This is my path to self discovery.  You may wonder what I am trying to discover.  The answer is a question, am I being the best that I can be?  While the answer to my question can be a binary answer, I complicate the answer by approaching each race looking to learn something new.  Which I suppose implies that I am not being the best that I can be because I am still (and always will be) learning.  At Pick Your Poison (PYP) 2014, I wanted to find out how hard I can run a 50 km and I wanted to place in the top 10, preferably the top 5.

PYP is a nice course that takes you around and across a ski hill at the Horseshoe Resort, which is situated just north of Barrie, Ontario.  The start is a teaser that runs across 3 or so km of relatively flat terrain where you can ‘kick it’.  Then the ‘back half’, I heard one fella refer to it as, brings you along hilly trail where you find yourself taking on some serious climbing (for Ontario standards).  Since Ontario has seen snow day after snow day, it was really no surprise to find the ski slopes were still blanketed in snow and even some of the single track trail had packed ice on it.  The packed ice wasn’t really a challenge, but the spring skiing type of snow made it very difficult to run on. If you had the pleasure, you would be moving at a snails pace redlining it to cross the glacial covering.  I have one word for it: sucky.

So my first lap taught me lesson one.  My heart rate is capable of beating faster that I previously thought. Yessir, 192 BPM.  Captain obvious here, that means that my 88% max heart rate pace is higher than I previously thought.  And this is exactly what I surmised while I was barreling up the first monster climb on the first lap at PYP2014.  So I figured that my safe 164 BPM average was now 170 BPM.  Which surprisingly enough, it is.  Why is this surprising, I didn’t calculate it or anything of the sort (which I couldn’t have done while heart rate (HR) was bumping at 170), I just figured it.  Why was this a mistake, I changed my game plan to be more aggressive too early.  My intention was to try to hit 1:06 on the first lap and then settle into a pace.  Instead, I upped the ante.  It wasn’t until midway through the third lap that I considered slowing down to make sure I had reserve for the final lap.

PYP has 3 races.  There is a 12.5 km, 25 km, and a 50 km race.  It’s great because it encourages all sorts of people to come out and run the trail.  What isn’t so great about it is that you (um, I) need to focus on your (my) race.  As the saying goes, don’t judge a book by it’s cover.  Or don’t assume someone is racing a 50 k’er when they are really running a 25 k’er.  I got so excited everytime I would be approaching someone.  I’d take a stab at what race they were in and go from there.  If the runner didn’t have a bottle, then I figured them to be a 12.5 k’er.  Another dead give away is when someone asks you what the distance is on the first lap.  The difference between a 25 k’er and a 50 k’er, come to think of it, I am not sure how to tell the difference between a 25 k’er and a 50 ‘ker – so therein lies the problem.  Nearing the end of lap 2  I thought I spotted a 50 k’er and that I was starting to catch up to the front of the field.  I managed to pass the fellow as we came down to the start/finish/drop area, I peeled off to swap my food bottle.  When I turned around to get back on the course and start my third lap, the guy congratulates me as he put his fist out for a bump.  “Damn!” I thought to myself.  Yeah, lesson 2.

Back to lesson 1, in the final lap and after I finished stumbling through the glacier at the bottom of the ski slope I peeked over my shoulder for the reassurance that nobody was catching up to me. Except that there was no reassurance this time.  Chantal was barreling forward and she impressed upon me that she had a full tank.  Immediately I started contemplating what this meant for my race.  Was she the only one that was catching up, was I loosing that much steam? My thoughts had me spinning out of control.  Crap, another climb.  So I did what any other hard headed person would do, I carried on regardless. She did pass me and as she did I couldn’t help but be jealous of her pep.  Coming up to the final stretch I realized that two more runners were on my tail.  I knew that there wasn’t even a kilometre to go. So I pushed it up the final stretch; a short rise to the peak of one of the ski slopes followed by a quick decent down half the slope, then an epic glacial crossing.  I learned that I was able to hold on to achieve my goal (not the ridiculous one), top 10 (at 10th).

Looks cold doesn't it?
Looks cold doesn’t it?

I hobbled over to my car with my new PYP socks (the finisher prize instead of a medal) in hand.  Pushed through the rigor that was settling in so that I could have dry clothes and hobbled back to the chalet where it was warm and where there was lots of food to eat.  I grabbed a healthy portion of food and sat down.  As a result I got to meet some of the other runners giving me insight into their experiences first hand.  One of the volunteers and someone whom I met is an incredible endurance runner, and it was really something else to hear her talk about what she is learning.  So that is lesson 3, stick around after the race and get to know the community.

I pushed my limits and while I am disappointed that I lost steam on the final lap, I was rewarded with achieving one of my goals.  I have an simple excuse to keep training: get to the top 5.


The night before the race was long.  We stayed at a motel called Canada’s Best Value Inn, never stay there.  The folks above us were tweaking all night playing music, banging about and being obnoxious.  That experience seemed like a bad omen.  I played it cool by chalking up the reason I couldn’t sleep to being anxious.

Dragan  and I got to Camp Wetaskiwin around 4:30 am, sat down in the dinner hall and waited for directions.  I tried putting my head down, but the effort was futile.  What would I get out of 5 or 10 minutes of rest?  A little before the racers started towards the start line where were some Red Coats, which I found a little strange.  The cannon went off to mark the start of the race and then it all made sense to me, the race’s name is the Laura Secord Memorial.

Just as soon as the canon sent us running and it started to hail.  It was pitch black with a bunch of bobbing headlamps.  At one point we were running alongside a lake when I looked back and was wondering what the hell was going on, only to remember that they were other fellow racers.  Sometimes I wonder about myself.

This year my training has been more structured and focused on performance and, as noted previously, under the guidance of a coach.  I have been feeling stronger and as though I was making improvements.  Early on in the race I could see these improvements – There was a half km descent where I was able to break free from the pack that I was running with. 10 km later, somewhere between kilometer 20 and 21, there was a gentle hill and another pack of people.  Most people in trail running walk the hills because it is more economical than running up the hill.  Here I was able to power up the hill and leave the other runners behind me (no dust metaphors, there was none, just mud).

Near the end of KM 27 we passed by some runners returning.

“1st place, no way!” I said.

“No, we went the wrong way.” The incorrectly assumed 1st place guy replied.

I saw another runner and finally I stopped one more runner “How did this happen?”

He explained that they took a wrong turn and they had to backtrack 9 km only to run it again.  I turned to my buddy, “How many people did you count? 8 or so?”

I couldn’t help but think, this *has* to put us in the contention for the top.  Forgetting that there were some 70 km yet to cover, I picked up the pace at the risk of of possibly getting ahead of myself.  Seriously, there were still another 70 km to cover.

After we passed the Rockway aid station and were running down Ninth line, I took a quick look at the race plan: 10 mins ahead of my target time. Sweet! It appeared that things were falling into place.  Though, I knew that the next number of kilometers were going to be tough, I just didn’t realize how tough.  The previous weekend , I was out with Dragan and we covered this section trail.  At that time the trail was mostly mud covered, cavernous ice, most of which was not strong enough to support my weight.  All that ice melted and left us with mud that swallowed your foot ankle deep with each arduous step.

I escaped the mud and I popped out of the Louth Conservation area and made it out to the aid station by the Staff Estate Winery.  I grabbed some sour keys and kept on.  The next little stretch was paved and it served as an opportunity to transition to an easy speed with minimal effort.  Oh look at that, I can see the skyline of Toronto, neat.

We finished the stretch of road and headed for the trails.  It couldn’t have come a moment sooner.  As soon as we entered the woods I had to pee.  As I relieved myself, I made a startling discovery – clear urine – a sure sign of over hydration.  This meant that my 16 oz of water and Hammer Perpetuem mix per hour was still too much for me.  I was worried but I wasn’t going to let it bother me. I skipped my drip for the next four intervals I had set on my Garmin, that combined with a handful of regular chips helped me solve that problem.  Having said that, my goal is not to have to eat conventional food during an Ultra. Clearly, I still have work on balancing my hydration.

Between Mountain Rd and Mountainview Rd aid station I started chatting with a guy from Montreal; let’s call him Montreal Guy.  This was his first Ultra and it was his first trail run. I was really surprised, as it turns out he was in the top 10 and that’s really impressive.  I guess running up Mont-Royal through the frigid Montreal weather really helps. He noticed that at each stream I was soaking my feet, and I gave it up that I like to do that as I think it helps numb my feet and keep them from swelling.  Should have asked for his name; who knows, I’ll probably see him on a trail somewhere and it would be nicer to greet people with “hey {insert name here}, how are you?” rather than “hey man, nice to see you again, how did you do, what’s your name?”

In the section of forest leading up to the Mountainview Rd aid station, we were on top of the escarpment and the weather seemed cooler than below the escarpment.  Easily observed by running over the ice-covered path and falling on your ass.  Well that’s just a part of the game – you fall and you pick yourself up, then you keep moving.  Assess the damage while you run and push all pain to low priority.

“Hey man, looking good” I said to the racer ranked number 1.  Montreal guy and I were impressed with him.  Friendly and looking like he had just started.  This was encouraging, it meant that the turnaround was near.  It also meant that we could now figure out where we ranked; this is a race, so yeah, your ranking matters.  I counted, two, then three.  We got to the Mountainview Rd aid station where Montreal guy took a repos (french for a rest).  I swapped my bottles and continued to the turning point.  As I ran up the hilly trail I counted 4, then 5.  I finally made it to the  turnaround point where one of the wonderful volunteer was sitting auditing the racers to make sure we actually ran to the pylon then turned around.

“So am I number 6?”

“No, you are the 7th I have counted” she replied.

No way, clearly she made a mistake. I only saw 5 people running back to the finish, how can this be?  Well whatever, before this race started, finishing in around 17 hours was a realistic goal.  Here I found myself running ranking 7th; pretty sweet.

As I was returning to Mountain Rd I saw, let’s call him 5th Place Guy even though he was 6th Place Guy (Yes, foreshadowing at it’s worst).  I ran beside 5th place guy and asked him how he was doing.

“I’ve resigned myself to just finishing” he said sounding a little defeated.

“Ah man, that sucks, why’s that?”

“I’ve had some knee injuries and this is the longest I have run.  Just not sure I can keep up the pace.”

Not that I was happy for his resignation, but I was selfishly thinking that I was I was golden to be 6th place guy. Obviously 1st place is the best rank, but I am a novice on all accounts and top 10 for me is amazing.  So yeah, I was thinking “Fuck yeah, I’m killing it!”  Well, I don’t know what happened, call it what you want, but all of a sudden 5th Place Guy found a second wind and I never saw him again.  Amazing, simply amazing. Ok so I am 7th Place Guy…

Approaching Staff Ave. aid station. Headed to the finish line.
Approaching Staff Ave. aid station. Headed to the finish line.

7th Place Guy until I got back to the Staff Aid station, that is!  I did my bottle swap and moved on, but not without noticing that one of the top 6 (and not 5th Place Guy) was sitting down with whom I presumed to be his wife.  Ok this is it! press on!

Not sure where this fits in to the whole flow of this post, but somewhere around 70 km  in I was thinking “ok I have 30 km to go, I can do that”.  Then I got to 15km to go and I remember thinking to myself “I can run with my eyes closed, but after 85km… well I can do that, maybe I need to keep my eyes open though”. That said, I kept looking over my shoulder, no 7th place guy.

From the turnaround point I greeted each runner with a “Hey man, how’s it going?” or something along those lines.  Each time I got “You’re looking good! Keep it up” or something along those lines anyhow.  The soldiers that were tending the aid stations were simply amazing.  They always wanted to make sure we got what we needed, you know food and such.  Mind you, I’ve learned an ultra runner doesn’t really eat food.  That aside, these men and women were all so helpful and encouraging and they were amazed that we would be out running 100k.  That’s understandable, many people wonder why I am doing this stuff as well.  With that said, what I find more amazing is that these people are helping all Canadians at a moments notice and whenever they are called upon.  I just hope our soldiers realize that all Canadians appreciate what they do for all us and how amazing it is what they do for us.

Anyway, I was finally at kilometer 2 and running along a river with some wonderful waterfalls but really feeling the 98 km that I had just been running.  I came up to the turn where I figure the ten or so runners may have taken a wrong turn where there was an Amry Reservist standing patiently directing racers in the correct direction.

“1.5 clicks to go, and it’s all mud” he mentions nonchalantly.

“Great, just what I needed to hear!” I replied to him sarcastically.

I finally got out of the mud and onto the road, took the last left turn and kicked it into an all out sprint.  Don’t know why, it isn’t like anybody was running beside me; I had been running alone for almost 30 km.  I came flying down the road and crossed the finish line.  Although it didn’t really seem like there was a finish line, so I kept going.  The crowd by the actual finish line called out to me: “You can stop now!”

“Thank goodness!”


Interesting Links

Garmin recording

The Bruce Trail: Short Hills Provincial Park

I am ramping up (more like ramping down) for the Laura Secord Memorial 100k.  Last weekend I spent 6 hours and 30 minutes running in circles on what is known as the “Hydrocut”; I like to call it “The Cut” (see Petersburg Regional Forest).  It is a trail system that gets used throughout the winter by dog walkers, mountain bikers, and runners.  This year we have had so much snow that only a few of the trails actually got packed down enough so that you could keep running on them.  I spent many long runs trying to pack down another trail (Adam’s Run) only for it to snow another 30 cm so that the following weekend.  Like groundhog day, I found myself doing the same thing all over again.

With the race coming up and to help my coach help me formulate a race plan, I decided to head out of the comfort of the The Cut and run on the part of the Bruce Trail of which the race will cover.  The start of the mission has me encouraged.  In Waterloo, an apparent hour and bit drive away, we are still suffering from massive, albeit diminished snow banks.  Here in wine country, it appears that the winter has been a little kinder.


While running in the winter can be fun and exciting (I know I just said that), there comes time in the season when seeing snow sends you into a downward spiral of depression and self loathing (maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much!). Every day you wake up with the hope and optimism that today will be the day that it is warm and sunny, that finally winter is over.  But as you force yourself out of the warmth of your bed and your vision clears up you look outside and realize it’s -10 C with a windchill bring that to -20 C.  Your heart sinks.  Even worse is when you look outside and its snowing, AGAIN!  With the last shred of hope you pull out your BlackBerry (or other smartphone) hoping to see a warming trend on the horizon.  Your passion for life is squandered when you realize that there is no hope and the 14 day forecast and there is nothing but misery on the board. The Ides of March has come and gone, where is spring?

When it comes to running, I love the freedom and simplicity of shorts, shirt, and shoes.  I make sure I have the right nutrition to keep me going and head out.  When it comes to winter running, there are so many things you have to remember.  A toque, mitts, jacket, the right number of layers, etc.  You wake up and check the weather network and open the door and guess what you need.  Is that one layer or two, perhaps three?  How windy is it? Should I cover my face or not? Did it snow, should I wear these shoes or those?  Sounds simple, but these are REAL problems that add at lest an hour to my routine.

I digress.  My running pal and I started out this past Saturday morning and we were very much encouraged since there was very little snow as compared to the Cut.  We ran along the Bruce till we got to Swayze Falls.  A point in the trail where we undoubtedly took a moment to soak up the scenery.  A small reward for getting out on the trail is that you get to see these wonders of nature.


As we continued our run, we splashed through mud, very hard packed snow and slid over ice patches.  There were times where the terrain covered by an ice patch made for trickiness that required a bum bounce.  It is a painful way of moving forward and little less efficient than staying on your feet.  That said, a good bum bounce is key to keeping your pace up and keep you from looking like your standing still.  To this I say, train to bum bounce effectively, quickly, and with as little pain as possible.


Our run was over in two hours.  In that time we managed to cover 17 km.  Since we effectively ran out and back we saw 8.5 km of the west side of the course.  While that didn’t give me the full picture of what the race will be like, it certainly was a welcomed relief from running the obnoxiously stinky Cut in Waterloo.  While running in the Cut is convenient (proximity to my house), I am conceiving a new challenge:  Run the whole Bruce trail, from Niagara to Tobermory.  Wanna join me?


New year, new challenges

Last year I ran over 2600 km.  I think it’s pretty cool considering that I started endurance running in January 2010 and I spent the previous 12 years of my life as a very heavy smoker.  My first goal was to run a half-marathon.  At that time my dream goal was to run the New York Marathon.  While I haven’t taken that on yet it is pretty clear to me that running has become somewhat of a passion, if not an obsession, of mine.

My original plan for 2013 was to participate in 6 races.  They were chosen strategically so that I would gain experience that would help me prepare for my ultimate goal for 2013; finish the Canadian Death Race.  Of the 6, I was only able to complete 5 since one of them did not open for 2013.  Even so, 5 races was still more than double what I would have normally participated in.  This year I am doubling the number of races yet again.

My accomplishments last year are as a whole a catalyst for more.  Bigger races, more extreme challenges, more running.  I have been researching the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, Western States 100, Fat Dog 100 among others.  The driving motivation for me to ultra is two fold, to be healthy and to travel.  When considering the travel, I want to be travelling to places I have never been before.

For many of the harder races, I need to qualify.  This is the reason my training started December 1st 2013 under the direction of Jeff Hunter, my coach.  No matter the conditions this winter, I have been out there.  Often I have been trailblazing through knee deep snow,  sometimes deeper.  I was out during what meteorologist’s called the polar vortex.  The temperature dipped to -35 Celcius and I was out there slugging away, one foot in front of the other.

So my race plan for 2014 is as follows:

Race Distance Status Date Result Rank
Laura Secord Memroial 100k – OUS 100k Completed April 5, 2014 13:52 6
Pick Your Poison – OUS 50k Completed Apr 26 5:22:16 10
Seaton Trail – OUS 50k Completed May 10 5:10:50 5
Ottawa Marathon 42k Completed May 25 3:23:44 711
Pelee Island 21k Completed June 1 1:38:30 17
Creemore Vertical Challenge – OUS 50k Completed July 5 4:55:07 5
Limberlost Challenge – OUS 56k Completed July 12 6:07:15 2
Canadian Death Race 125k Registered August 3 17:35:29 15
Iroiquios Trail Test – OUS 34k Did not register August 16
Haliburton Forest Ultra – OUS 160k Registered September 6 DNF
Run for the Toad 50k Registered October 5 DNS
Scotiabank Waterfront 21k Will not register October 19

Go Death Racer!

Hi, how are you?

I had a stretch goal of 21 hours 29 minutes.  I wanted to beat the time of a woman who told me I couldn’t finish the Death Race, even if it was only by one minute. I didn’t finish in time to achieve my stretch goal – how is 22 hours 42 minutes 21 seconds? –  But it was my first Trail Ultra XLong and my second Ultra ever, eh?

Since I have quite a bit of race experience, I have learned to work out the kinks that can come along with being unprepared for a running event.  I have a routine at night to make sure all the equipment and supplies a racer needs are laid out and organized: food organized in bags by exchange, poles, gloves, long sleeve, jacket, my Polar, my sets of shoes, my socks, my buff, most important of all was my race plan.  I also have a solid morning routine, which includes a good prayer to John, eating the right food and getting to the start line to chip in before 7:40 am.  Check, check, check.

The forecast called for thundershowers, but they weren’t supposed to start until the afternoon.   Waking up to the pitter-patter of rain made me nervous about what was to come.  After all, over the past two weeks of being in Grande Cache, we had all sorts of weather that a kid from south western Ontario is not used to seeing in July. These treats for the senses included daily thunderstorms, hail on two occasions, lots of rain, waking up to 5 C, and on some days, it would warm up to 27 C.  The only thing that was missing was a full on assault with snow.  I was nervous now – what were we going to see out there?

Leg 1: Here we go

I met up with my training and race partner Donna outside the Big Horn Inn, a not so wonderful motel.  We made our way to start line, registered and waited anxiously.  The race kicked off with a quick out and back parade down one of the main roads in the town.  It was almost as if the locals were seeing us off as we set out to war.  The hopes and dreams of this town rested firmly upon our shoulders.  As we paraded through the town I saw some of my new friends cheering us on so I ran over for some morale-boosting high fives!  Leg 1 was a little crowded but fun.  The muddy bogs were the highlight as you could hear the crowd of runners empathizing with a group “Ohhhhh!” as some poor runner likely took a mud bath. And this was no beauty treatment either!  I remember thinking “I hope they got that on camera!”


At the exchange for leg 1 and 2, my dad and step-mother were frantically trying to get a handle on how to crew for a runner; double-checking to make sure they were filling my hydration pack properly, then my water bottles.  “Did you eat? Have your salt?” they pestered me, just like I instructed them to ask.  I looked up to the top of Grande Mountain.  “Dad, pack my long-sleeve and my gloves.  Looks like it’s gonna be cold up there.”

 Leg 2: Near death

The climb to the top of Flood was steady and seemingly gentle.  I started to belt out “GO DEATH RACER!”  I waited for a response…and got nothing.  I scolded the others by belting out “Really guys?  Nothing?”  I tried again. “GO DEATH RACER!”  This time I could hear the echo up and down the mountain of people belting “GO DEATH RACER!”  “HA HA!”.

After cresting Flood Mountain, the way down to Slugfest was a nice surprise, made up of some somewhat short, very vertical descents.  This was probably my second favourite part of the course.  It was a gorgeous, forest covered single-track that brought you across streams, through bogs and down aggressive “bum slides”.  It was also surprising to see so many Death Racers with poles and no clue how to use them. Please, I implore you, that if you are going to take on this race as a solo or relay participant and you are taking poles along for the ride, use YouTube or something, but learn how to use them! They can be very helpful, but they are worthless if you don’t know how to use them. Moving on.

As I was getting to the end of Slugfest, I could hear the frequency of the thunder increase. “Not good”, I thought. But, there was no time to dwell on our collective misfortune. If a storm was coming, then a storm was coming. We had to keep pressing on. I got to the aid station and filled up on pretzels and gummies and took off.  No sooner had I set out, the rain began to fall.  Not so great considering what rain can do to the trails.  But not the worst kind of weather either.  At least it wasn’t hail.  Right…?

Cue Mother Nature. She abruptly decided she was going too easy on us and changed tactics to “tough love”.  Rain, wind, thunder and lightning and now… hail.  Ok, this is great:  Trekking up a mountain road and hail is smacking us all over.  I pulled under a tree to get out of the trajectory of the hail, but I soon became impatient ‘cause the hail wasn’t letting up.  “Can’t let a little hail get in the way.” And we were off.  Then the hail got bigger, the rain and wind colder.   My objective shifted – get under tree cover!  I had a long sleeve thermal from MEC and a pair of mitts, so I took a moment to swap my shirts and put the mitts on. I paused and looked out from my hiding place.  The hail still wasn’t letting up.  “Gotta press on.”

At the summit of the mountain, the hail had subsided but the wind was as strong as ever.  I timed in and booted it to the decent.  What a relief to be in the cover of the trees!  Next up was surprise number 2: The thick, slick mud made it a constant challenge to stay on your feet.  It didn’t matter if you had poles or not.  There was no effective way to get any footing or balance.  The best way down was to resign yourself to the fact that the lower your centre of gravity, the better off you were.  In this case, having your butt on the ground and sliding through the mud was the least painful way down.  I kept trying to do it on foot.  Even pretended I was skiing or something.  Every time I tried to do it on foot, I’d just fall and get covered in mud.  First, it was just mud covering my legs.  Then once I was about half way down, I was fully covered.  My hands, poles, legs, butt… everything but my face.

Leg 3: Hello Joe, whaddya know?

Once I was at the bottom of Grande, I noticed my right foot was hurting.  I took it for a small bruise and carried on.  I passed through the exchange and was on to Leg 3.  I kept moving along with a new found limp.

As I was catching up to a fellow runner, he turned around and asked “Where‘s Donna?”

“I think she’s 10 minutes behind me, she told me to move ahead without her” I replied. It took a moment, but I realized I was talking with Joe whom Donna had met on the charter from Edmonton.  Joe attempted the race last year and missed the cut off time at the end of leg 3.  A heartbreaking result.  According to my plan, we were in good shape to make it to the cut off, so we continued running and chatting.  Fate has a curious way of working – The same woman that told me I would not be able to finish the race ran with Joe last year!  Joe was such a great spirit; every time we’d come up on a creek, he would wait for me while I cooled down my foot and leg, obviously trusting that we’d make it to the cut off on time.  At this point, my projection was that we would get there by 6:30, 15 minutes later than my original plan.  As we were running down the old mining road to the bridge over the Smokey River, we knew we had plenty of time to finish the 3 or 4 km there was left to get to the cut off (the 3/4 exchange).  Fist bumps and big smiles!  We crossed the bridge over the Smokey River, and were coming up to the highway.  There were so many people there cheering us on and among them were a couple of cute girls!  One of them said to her friend, “Take a picture of me with them!”  A little embarrassed (imagine how I smelled) and flattered, Joe and I set up and this cute stranger posed in between us; a picture was snapped.  “Excited!”

We got to the exchange, and I was limping around.  Kevin, a resident of Grande Cache saw me come in and after a quick chat, offered me his foam roller to loosen up my leg.  I waited around for 7:00 pm but still no Donna.  I decided I had to press on.

Leg 4: Serenity now

Joe joined me and we started up Mount Hammel.  “I’m walking” I stated.  “Me too” Joe confirmed as we began the longest leg of the race.  Hiking up Hammel I noticed that my foot, although very sore, wasn’t aggravated by the climb.  This was good and it allowed me to keep up a quick walking pace.  After a couple of km’s I noticed Joe was falling behind, I wanted to help encourage him up the mountain, but he told me to keep on without him.  I did exactly that.

A race volunteer greeted me, “Welcome to the cutoff!”

I was elated, “Sweet! What time is it?”

“9:15 pm.” she replied.

I was very happy since I had made it to the cutoff with an hour to spare.  As I continued up Hammel, I felt small.  From the cutoff to the top of the mountain, we passed the tree line and it was one switchback after another.  It was quiet.  It was peaceful.  It was painful.  So close to the top, yet so far away.  If only we could have gone straight up!  Once I was on my way down, I started running with a guy named Ron.  He had blackened his toes and had restrained his pace as a result.  So we kept each other company as the sky turned black and we realized we would need to use our headlamps.

Ron and I walked down Hammel rather carefully.  Neither one of us really wanted to aggravate our feet; my bum right foot and his toe nails.  As you can imagine, we were being passed by fellow Death Racers.  Until one of them, a cute lady Death Racer pulled alongside down a  technical pass.  Once we made it through and the lady Death Racer sped along, Ron had suddenly found some motivation.

A little further down the mountain, I caught up to Ron again and we kept each other company.  I remember thinking at this point that my feet were dry for such a long stretch.  I wondered if it was going to be possible to keep them that way.  Then, of course it happened; we came across a pond, nay a lake, in the route and it looked deep and threatening.  We stopped to look for some way around it.  “There’s gotta be a way!”  I said desperately.  After a couple of minutes, it was decided: There was no dry way across.  My longest stretch of having dry feet came to an end.  I was sad and knee deep in water.

There are so many obstacles that XL trail ultra runners run up against.  Obviously distance is one, and certainly there are a number of mountain range runs where elevation is an added challenge.  Imagine this, you are in the middle of a 37 km stretch and you have to go.  What do you do?  I suppose the first thought is do I have to go number 1 or number 2.  Number 1 is pretty easy to take care of.  But being a “civilized” person, number 2 poses a little bit of a challenge, especially when you are in the middle of a 37 km stretch of trail on a 7000 foot tall mountain.  As Ron and I we heading down this stretch of trail, a fellow Death Racer asks “You guys got any tickets?”  I sure did.  I wasn’t getting stuck anywhere with a dirty bum!  I offered up some of my TP to my fellow Death Racer and “pressed” on.

Leg 5: Inspiration

Around 3:00 am in the morning, I pulled into the last exchange.  Sore and beat up, I came around a corner and found my training partner Donna was there.  I was sad to see her since it meant that she timed out at the critical exchange 3-4.  Selfishly I was thankful that she was there.

“Hot soup!” Donna said as she handed it to me. “Well lukewarm now, anyhow.”

As I munched on the chicken soup, Donna helped my legs recover a bit with a short  and welcomed massage.  My dad and my step-mother prepared my pack for the final leg.  I put on my North Face Ultra Guides hoping they would be soothing considering how much my foot ached, and then I was off in search of Hell’s Gate with my sacred Death Race coin!

The first 7 km of Leg 5 is some of my favorite trail anywhere.  It starts off with a wicked steep climb, and then evens out to a fun roller coaster single track that is fairly technical. The trail itself is soft and there are a number of creek crossings.  At this point I knew I could make it to the end even if I walked the whole leg, but I didn’t want to do that.  I felt pretty good again and I really liked the trail so I kicked it into high gear (well, as high as possible after about 19 hours of running), and boogied.  As I pushed through the Crack of Doom and down to the final aid station, I pushed as hard as possible to get to the river crossing.

To cross the Smokey River on leg 5, you need your Death Race coin. You have to give the coin to the Grim Reaper and then you get to hop on the jet boat.  I busted down from the Crack of Doom to the river bank and said “Mr Grim Reaper, here is your money.”  I boarded the jet boat, and we were off to the other side of the river.  Once there, I “jumped” off the boat and began an eternal climb.  Up, and up and up and up.  “When is it going to end?” I kept thinking.  Finally, it did.  And I started running again.  I was passing a number of folks that knew they could make it to the end safely by walking, but I was impatient; I just wanted to cross the finish line and be finished.  I got to the Soul Tree (see picture) and with 5 km left, I decided it was time to walk.  I did just that until I was back in town and the end was in sight.  I picked up my pace and started a slow jog to finish the race.

“Go Death Racer!” I yelled with the sentiment waning between sarcasm and seriousness. As I ran across the finish line, my new friends and residents of Grande Cache were there to greet me as I crossed the line.  Hugs, congratulations and smiles were there for me.  I was done and completed my mission!

My dad, step-mom and Donna all were at the finish line to help me out.  Almost as soon as I sat down my core body temperature started to plummet.  Donna pulled out the thermal blanket, put my pants on for me, and took off my wet socks.  After a couple of minutes of shivering they decided to move me along.  I was taken to the car and driven up to my glorious motel room.  I was given water, coffee to warm me up and ice for my foot and leg that had swollen to twice the size of my foot.  Donna passed me her BlackBerry Z10 and insisted I call my wife.

She was out on a training run so the voicemail goes like this: “Hey baby…” deep breathing as i guess I was out of breath.  “I finished…” I continued and still out of breath.  “22 hours 40 minutes… Yay….”. Obviously delirious, my time was 22 hours, 42 minutes, 21 seconds.  I continued “I am just sortof in bed… I’m injured…I got ice on my leg… I’m in (deep breath) .. getting warm, drinking water, rehydrating uh yay, so I’ll talk to you later, love you, bye bye”.

I lay there trying to fall asleep.  One hour passed, and another.  I finally gave up, BBM’d Donna and we met for lunch.  The food was welcomed, but most of all, I took on a couple beer.

“Hey Donna, I think I’m ready to go sleep.”  Yep, the beer helped.

The next day

On the Monday that follows the Canadian Death Race, there is an awards ceremony.  Naturally I attended because it is at this ceremony that you get your coin.  The coin that gives you the right to brag.  First they call up the racers who have finished the race previously.  Then, one by one they call up the the each of the first time solo finishers.  Each finisher then walks down the line and shakes and congratulates each other for finishing.  Following that you take your spot at the end of the line and you are now inducted into the club.  I was summoned, performed the ritual and took my place.  Moments later, Joe was summoned as well and was soon in front of me.  Joyfully I gave him a big hug.

“I’m so happy to see you here Joe!” I said to Joe sincerely.

I didn’t achieve my goal of finishing ahead of the cursed woman.  I did finish even though she said I wouldn’t.  Maybe it is a testament to how stubborn I am, maybe it is a direct result of the training, or perhaps it was a bit of luck.  Whatever it was, I know I am left with a feeling of longing.  I am longing for the feeling of doing something extreme, something grand, something where I feel free and alive.

Other interesting stuff

I use a Polar RCX5.  The GPS is a seperate unit from the watch and lasted for 107 km.  It kept recording my heart rate and I actually forgot to stop it once I crossed the finish line.
Watch recording: link

Race results.


Alberta, Alberta

When I first had it in my head that I wanted to take on the Canadian Death Race, it wasn’t too long after I happened to visit my sports medicine doctor. His advice to me was to go the mountains  at least 2 weeks in advance to aclimate, and I would have some time in my taper to get to know the course.


Once I got to Grande Cache, it was 9pm or so and there was still plenty of light. I grabed some dinner at the Big Horn Grille and chatted with the server. She recommended that I join a Facebook group that all the local mountain runnes are members of.  I did that and this awesome couple has taken me under their wing as a result.

We met up and tackled leg 1. What a great and reassuring experience.   Though this is one of the easier legs, the experience has reassured me that my anticipated time for leg 1 is realistic. Further to that, the folks I was running with knew the course well and although they are not “elite”, they were tonnes of help.  So my plan of attack is really starting to take form.


Here is some advice: don’t drive through a mountain range with a Chevy Spark.

Insomnia, as night turns to day.

I woke at 2:00 am this morning.  At first I thought I figured this wasn’t a problem and I would soon be asleep; my alarm would bring me back to life.  But no, this was not the case.  I just lay there and 2:00 am became 3:00 am and still I lay there.  I have been getting anxious about this big Death Race.  I have been second guessing myself.  Am I training enough?  Am I do the right training?  Can I run at night?  I couldn’t and wouldn’t let 3:00 am become 4:00 am with me still lying in bed and not doing anything about my anxiety.  It was 3:15 am, so I got my butt out of bed so that I could turn this into a training opportunity.

I got to the trail at 4:00 am.   I don’t know exactly what I was thinking, because I didn’t bring a flashlight.  I guess I figured I needed to train running blind, thinking that my eyes would adapt to the lack of light and I would ‘just’ see.  But that wasn’t going to happen.  Good thing I don’t go anywhere without my BlackBerry.  Thanks to very helpful little apps, I was able to turn my BlackBerry Z10 into my BlackBerry flashlight and behold,  there was light and I could run.

It is pretty freaky to be in the woods all by yourself in the middle of the night.  Have you seen the Blair Witch Project?  That is scary stuff.  After seeing that movie in the theater I remember driving home through the country roads and being creeped out.  Here I find myself older and running through a forest  and over on my right I’d hear some noise. I’d look over but it’s pitch black so I couldn’t see anything.  Feeling chills running down my back, “It’s ok”, I’d repeat to myself, “nothing is going to happen to you, keep running!”  Once my nerves started to settle down, I just ran, BlackBerry in hand lighting the way so I could Keep Moving.

5:00 am, and the sky started to get light out.  Put away the BlackBerry and started to train to run with minimal light.  This was pretty neat because every 15 minutes or so, it seemed to get noticeably brighter.  So much so that I was speeding up as a result of seeing the terrain (knowing it is mud and being able to adjust before I find myself on my face sucking mud).  All of a sudden I hear “Break on through to the other side!” (in my head) and chills were going up my back.  This time it wasn’t because I was being a Nancy but ’cause I was speeding up the trail as the sun really started to light the day.  It is hard to describe so I’ll leave it to you that when you are having trouble sleeping, you make your way out to the trail and run till you break on through to the other side as night turns into day.



It is finally getting nice outside here in the dub (Kitchener – Waterloo) and I logged about 9 hours of running. Wish I had thought about preparing for the runs and that I would have learned my lesson after my first weekend run.


No, that’s not a fancy new white shirt with hilarious spots.  The red is not paint either. It is not comfortable sleeping!

Where have you been?

It has been a while since my last post.  If you have been following this blog wondering how my training is coming along, perhaps you have been thinking that my IT issues have gotten the best of me.  To be honest, it wasn’t looking good and I had to stop running for nearly 2 weeks.

The break made me realize that it is Okay to give your body a break. That doesn’t mean it is time to sit on the couch and chow down on chips.  If, and when your body needs a break, find something else to do that will continue to help build strength and endurance.  So I went to the pool.  There is nothing like waking up at 5:50 am to go swim laps {do you sense the sarcasm?}.

That aside, I am back out training and it seems that the winter just doesn’t want to leave us.  During my shift at the Running Room last night (April 24, 2013),  I looked outside and my jaw dropped: SNOW!!  Are you kidding me?  Well at least the forecast looks good?

I am hoping for nice weather cause this weekend is the Pick Your Poison race.  The fun will be to do a trail run without having been on any trails this year (#ThumbsDown).  So fingers are crossed.