Monday, June 12, 2017

Conquer the Canuck 50K Race Report

I was going to add some witty addendum to the post title, such as "Though Shalt Not Runneth 3 Ultras in 2 Weeks", as the reality for me is I need longer than 6 days to recover before a 50K.  Period.  I don't know how certain people can run 50K or much longer and are ready to go the following weekend.  I could name a few, but as I'm intimating they are freaks, let's let  this one slide.  Just out of curiosity, how is the hole in your shoulder, Stephen?

This was my first time at Conquer the Canuck, so called because the highlight race is a 50K on Saturday and a marathon on Sunday.  To avoid confusion, it was decided not to include the "stage race" as part of the Ontario ultra series, so only the 50K is in the series.  The marathon is not an ultra, so it was anticipated that some of the runners would question why it was in the ultra series.

The Canuck course is a well maintained gravel or grass broadpath, with a few gentle rolling hills.  If you enjoy extremely technical surface, this race is not for you.  But if you are looking for a fast trail race (please don't look up my results just now...) or your first effort off the pavement, you are in for a treat.  With several starts and ample room to pass, there is no bunching at the beginning.  The lack of technical footing is a bonus as the race progresses and the legs tire.  There is a small navigational component, as the course meanders through forest and field.  It was well marked, but you needed to pay attention to signage to stay on the correct path.  I took one wrong turn at a T intersection, where (obviously) the arrow indicating turn right meant that I should turn left.  I had seen the arrow, but decided it indicated turn left, before I was close enough to focus on it...  Fortunately I gave it one last glance, as the runner behind me shouted that I was off course.  An interesting component of the marking was yellow tape at about 8 feet above ground on trails that were not part of the course.  Yes, there was one above me when I took a wrong turn.  Normally trail marking is at ground level, as runners are looking down.  Unfortunately, low signage blocking a trail tends to be "repositioned" by people who are not part of the race.  This has caused me a few worried moments during other races.  At Canuck, the yellow tape remains in place, unless someone deliberately tampers with it.

Conquer the Canuck Race Report

Let's nickname this race Dante's Inferno, as there was little positive while my race descended into the pits of hell.  Let me be clear that the race itself is excellent.  The race kit included a beach towel (I was sad, as I am down to my last 148 race T-shirts) and finishing included a unique medal AND a bottle of wine.  I'm going back!  Yes, I did finish, although the only reason I started the fifth loop was because I am striving for the Norm Patenaude award (you need to complete 8 ultras in the OUTRace series) and I can't make it to some of the races.

The course is 8.33K, or 6 loops for the 50K.  I was hoping to clock near 1 hour for each of the first 4 loops, then introduce walking breaks during the last 2 loops.  Did I mention I had run 2 other ultras in the previous 2 weeks?  The Sulphur Springs and Kingston 6 hour races caught up to me in fine fashion.  Having some inkling that my race was going to be less than ideal, I started at a conservative pace and walked all the gentle hills.  The legs were tired even at the start, so I was hoping they would improve after the warm-up.  First lap was clocked in 59:16 which although slow, was on pace.  The marginal recovery anticipated during the second loop never happened.  I remained tired and my stomach started to act up.  Oh-oh.  Loop 2 chimed in at 1:01, but by loop 3 I was struggling.  No power or speed and I was starting to have trouble taking in enough fluids.  The day was getting hot.  Many runners have difficulty during the first hot race of the year.  I think this was a factor in my stomach problems.  I was taking in salt, gel, calcium and I had electrolyte in my water bottle.  Loop 3 was completed in 1:04, then the wheels fell off.

I've talked before about causal relationships during a race.  20 years ago, approaching my 40's, my problem was with my back and knees.  At that time, I only had surgery on my left knee, so I would favour it.  Over the course of hours, this slight limp would inflame my back, which would result in some spectacular pain and discomfort.  If this happened early enough in a race, I would inevitably see the 3 letters DNF beside my name in the results.  Loop 4 was carnage.  I was no longer able to ingest fluids aside from a small sip here and there.  This led to cramping of my (again!) left hamstrings.  Only 28K into the race and I could not run.  The word frustrating does not truly describe how I felt.  As mentioned above, I would have packed it in after 4 loops if it wasn't for that albatross called Norm P strapped to my genitals...

Loop 4 was comprised of a slow run during the gentle downhills.  I would immediately cramp if I tried running the steeper downhills, flats or uphills.  My time was 1:18 for 8.33K of gentle broadpath.  The 2 aid stations were at 700 meters after the start, about 3K, and nearing 7K (aid station 1, again).  AS1 had an outdoor tap which emitted a fine spray.  I used this at every occasion and it definitely helped, which suggested I was experiencing some heat issues.

One reason I decided to start loop 5 was that I kept hoping I would recover sufficiently to start running again.  My legs were very tired, but it was the cramping that was forcing me to walk, not over-exerted legs.  To run, I first needed to settle my stomach, so that I could increase my fluid intake.  However, the racing gods were asleep at the wheel, because nothing I tried resulted in the slightest improvement.  I didn't know it at the time, but it would be late Saturday night before my stomach finally settled.  Loop 5 was a study in triage that left me wondering if I would ever run again.  Nothing worked, I could not drink, I could not run.  I don't think heat was a main factor, as other runners were moving steadily, if not at their normal pace.  The combination of starting a 50K on spent legs and a severely restricted fluid intake did the damage.  Loop 5 clocked in at 1:30.  Almost 6 hours for less than a marathon.  Not my day!

I started loop 6 because I had enough time to finish under the 8 hour cut-off.  No other reason.  It was a repeat of loop 5, although I had resigned myself to walking the 8.33K.  I was tired and had an occasional dizzy spell due to being dehydrated.  I kept up a very positive attitude when speaking to people (as I normally do) to avoid having someone ask me about how I truly felt.  The loop 6 death march finished in 1:33.

After completing 4 ultras in the previous 6 weeks, I had been hoping to run well during a gentle 50K trail race.  Nothing spectacular, but somewhere slightly over 6 hours.  I did not expect it to take me 7:27:00 to complete.  It seems like there has been no improvement since the beginning of the racing season.  I don't mean this is some depressing fatalistic viewpoint, but that for me, running 3 ultras in 2 weeks is not a good idea!  So I will only ever do this again if someone pays me 1 billion dollars or more.  I won't even consider it for a mere 100 million...

An interesting post-race departure for me was that I got a massage.  I think the fact that I couldn't eat and there was nobody at the massage tables played a part.  I needed to hydrate before I could drive back to Creemore, so why not?  I'll tell you why not.  My first (and last, before Canuck) massage was at the Damn Tuff Ruff Bluff Run in Owen Sound, staged by a good friend Doug Barber.  I had never had a massage, but how bad could it be?  The therapist said she provided "deep tissue" massages.  Having no idea that it was a euphemism for TORTURE, I lay down on the table.  It took me 2 weeks to recover from the massage.

With more than a little trepidation, I lay down on the massage table.  Since it was not busy, 2 therapist went to work on my calves, which were twitching.  They had some fancy name for what was happening (let me guess:  It is related to dehydration?) but they had never seen it quite so pronounced.  This happens after almost every long run, so to me it was nothing new.   The massage actually felt quite good and did not leave me in a coma.

The ride back to Creemore was interesting, especially when trying to work a clutch during heavy traffic while my legs were cramping.  I had eaten very little during the race (see stomach, above) but forced myself to eat some supper when I got home.

Well, I am most pleased to announce that I will not be posting a RR for the next 4 weeks!  I'm looking forward to running less than 25K next weekend on legs that have somewhat recovered.  I need to recover before Limberlost, as the 56K will take me close to 10 hours to complete.  TLC has a beautifully scenic course through forest near Huntsville.  The course is technical, although not overly so, but it constantly changes direction and pitch, so there is never a chance of reaching race pace.

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Kingston 6 Hour Race Report: Leg Warranty Has Expired

I wrote this RR during an internet outage which lasted from 9:00 AM Monday morning until Tuesday evening...  It appears some neophyte at Bell accidentally disconnected our line.  Rather than converting all the time/date references to reflect that today is Wednesday, it would be much easier if you go back in time to Monday morning, then read this post.  Thanks.

Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 6 Hour Race Report.

There's a mouthful! In ultra-fashion parlance: The Kingston 6 Hour race. This race is truly a gem, with a very civilized starting time of 9:00 AM, and no stress regarding cut-offs or a potential DNF. I find the 1.1K loop rarely gets boring, as the scenery is diverse, with views of Lake Ontario, the old Fort Henry and the interesting architecture of the Royal Military Academy. In fact, when the going gets tough, the 1.1K course is a godsend, as it eliminates the need to focus on locating directional cues. You can turn off your navigational processing and concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. There is also no need to worry about nutrition, as the aid station is never more than 6 - 8 minutes away.

Other aspects that make this race interesting is the constant meeting of other runners, as they pass you, or you pass them. Timing is accomplished by an actual human, as a pleasant contrast to most chip timed races. My timer was Pratyaya, which I mispronounced on every lap, as I greeted her yet again. I think the proper pronunciation is “Prataiya”, although I developed some interesting variations as the race progressed.

Kingston is quite the historic town, so although travelling from Toronto the morning of the race is an option, staying in or near Kingston is worth considering. We stayed (via AirBNB) the night before the race at a home roughly 10 minutes from the race. It was a rare event to have breakfast the morning of a race!

Race Report

Leading up to the Kingston 6 hour race was truly uncharted territory for me. I had never run an ultra 7 days after completing a 50K. I also had to factor in Conquer the Canuck, another 50K race I hope to complete just 7 days after Kingston. Compressing the recovery period and the taper into 6 days is something I have never even thought about. How does one do this? What makes sense? Fortunately, the condition of my legs and knees left little room for dialogue. After the Sulphur 50K, I had to take 2 days off. So, on Tuesday, I attempted a short recovery run. Nothing too long or intense, perhaps 7.5K? I made it 2K before my legs starting complaining. Loudly. I turned around and headed back home. So, with a less-than-impressive 4K run, how far do I run Wednesday? I realized that I was not going to run on Thursday or Friday, before Kingston. I ran 7.5K on Wednesday, which would have to suffice for my extensive recovery and taper runs...

Running 2 ultras in 8 days is actually quite simple, as all of your options are stripped away from you, gratuit. Should I start fast at Kingston? No. Should I continue much further than my B goal, of completing an ultra? Not going to happen. Long before the halfway mark of the race, my legs were informing me that at 43K, it would be time to pull the plug. Having little choice, I graciously complied.

The breakdown at Kingston was simple. Run the first 25 loops (about 27.5K), then introduce walking breaks at the aid station. The hope was that the legs would recover more quickly for the 50K next week. Although tired and slow, I never had much problem running when I was supposed to. In fact a few times I “forgot” to walk when I reached the aid station. After 39 loops (42.9K) I told Pratyaya that I would be walking the next loop, which would be my last. It took me 5:11 to reach 39 loops, so I was not breaking any speed records, although it felt like the correct thing to do – avoid any fast running with another ultra only 7 days away. Walking the 40th loop for a total of roughly 44K was actually more painful than running. My knees made it quite clear there would be no 41st loop! Near the end of the race, each runner is given a small bag of sand with their name. When the race hits exactly 6 hours, car horns sound and runners drop their bag of sand. 2 gentlemen with a wheel, trace the course and mark down how far each runner went on their last (partial) loop. The leader-board only shows the full loops completed.

Some of the other runners at Kingston need mentioning. April Boultbee lapped me more than 20 times! April pushed hard and I believe she either achieved or was close to a Canadian record. Pablo Espanosa also went by me like clockwork, completing 63+ laps. Both of these incredible runners will represent Canada at the World 24 Hour race in Belfast on Canada day (July 1)! Paul Chenery placed 2nd male with 57+ laps, which is outstanding for someone in my age bracket. Well done Paul! Another good friend Charlotte Vasarhelyi (also going to the 24 hour Worlds) cranked out 55+ laps for second place female. Speaking of runners I know, Lee Anne Cohen placed 3rd female, which is astounding for a 63 year old. Well done dear!

Many of the runners ran stupid-long distances at the Sulphur Springs race last weekend. It was almost embarrassing when I mentioned I had “only” run 50K the week before. I am typing this as a text document instead of on Blogspot because our internet is currently MIA, so I can't provide the distances run by Paul Chenery, Ron Gehl, Jeff Ishazawa et al, at Sulphur, but it was something to behold.

I am also typing this on Monday instead of Sunday as I worked in Toronto yesterday, helping my son-in-law Daryl rip carpeting and trim out of his new house. That was not easy, although recovery is a bit better than last week; I even toyed with going for a brief recovery run. In retrospect, it would not have been wise.

I am very much looking forward to having a few weeks off after the Conquer the Canuck race this coming Saturday! Even factoring in the ultras, my weekly distance has decreased. I am spending too much time recovering and tapering. It will also be good not to drive somewhere far for a weekend.

Cheers!


Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sulphur Springs Race Report: The Tank Be Empty!

Well!  The optimism evoked by how I felt after the Seaton race was a tad premature.  Apparently running 50K every 2 weeks catches up to you on the third race.  For this report I will skip the fueling breakdown as I think it is as good as it can get, for me.  I was a bit too fast for the first (10K) loop, comfortable for the second (20K) loop and disaster reigned rampant for the final (20K) loop!

I'm calling this report "The Tank Be Empty", but rather than envisioning a scenario where I simply run out of gas, think in terms of leg muscles, knees and ankles achieving meltdown.  It was ugly to behold.

Sulphur Springs is a 20K loop, which lends itself to having all sorts of ultra distances.  It also caters to the 10K and 25K distances, which is reflected in their numbers, as the race caps out at 1200.  To say the course meanders is an understatement.  This is more of a plus than a detriment as the course is well marked, so going off course takes care and planning.  However, since there are so many distance options, the course portions with 2-way traffic allows one to meet and greet a multitude of friends throughout the day (or night!).  The 10K is a segment of the 20K loop, the 25K and 50K run a 5K or 10K spur before tackling one or more full course loops.  The (take a deep breath) 50M (ile), 100K, 100M, 200M and relay races travel the 20K loop between 4 and 16 times.  With 1200 people on course, shouted greetings ring out every few minutes.

The highlight for 2017 was an interesting frictionless mud, generously sprinkled on a total of more than one kilometer of the 20K course.  I'm not sure how much this special mud costs, but the race directors (Andrea and Tim) certainly got their money's worth!  I decided to wear road shoes.  Obviously my decision ignored the fact that the 200 mile runners would have run through pouring rain for most of Thursday and Friday, chewing up the course.  I envisioned a few muddy spots that I could easily avoid, or "hop over".  Since the average mud track was about 50 meters long, the hopping concept did not fare well.  In fact, circumventing the mud was most difficult.  The easiest method was to run through the mud.  This resulted in a statistical range of results from your foot planting firmly in the mud, to your foot sliding to the right, left, forward or backward, all with about the same probability of occurrence.  This had the distinct benefit of keeping the runners sharp, but the disadvantage was the effort needed to undertake corrective action.  If the times this year seem a bit slower, the mud was a factor.

I mentioned above that I went out a bit too fast.  My thinking was that this was my third 50K in 4 weeks, so I should be "getting used" to the distance, hence I could step it up a notch.  This assumption was horribly wrong.  Factor in the mud and the first loop is a bit fast for me:

Loop 1 (10K):  1:03:12
Loop 2 (20K):  2:37:35
Loop 3 (20K):  3:06:29

Total for 50K:  6:47:28

You should be able to spot the anomaly - almost a half an hour slower on the third loop...

One mistake I made, which probably did not affect my race; I forgot my water bottle.  Before the race started I donned my hip belt, but failed to insert my water bottle.  This was fine as I passed an aid station twice during the first 10K loop, although I drank water, not Nuun.

All went well for the first 30K.  I started loop 3 feeling quite good, although my left hamstrings were tight.  Too tight, it appears, as around 40K they seized up.  Running came to a halt.  Although I had been fueling well for the entire race, my knees were hurting, quads were painful, breathing was ragged and calves were tight.  Although quite frustrating, I was down to a walk, but hoping, as at Pick Your Poison, I would shortly be able to run the downhills.  It took about 5K, but I could then run slowly if the gradient was gentle and downhill.  No matter what the speed, running in a race is always much more enjoyable than a death march.  This is totally cerebral, as the difference in speed between a brisk walk (let's say 5 KPH) and a slow run (6 KPH?) is negligible.  Perhaps I am old school (yes, there were schools when I was young), but my perception of races is that you run them.  I realize in an ultra it is of strategic importance to walk the steep or long uphills, so that you can continue to run longer into the race, but I don't like walking the flats.  I realize my attitude has to change if I ever decide to run 100 miles, but it makes sense to run in a 50K "race".  With just over 3K to the finish, my hamstring started cramping even when walking.  That was not the best feeling!  Fortunately, much of the last kilometer is a long gentle uphill; I did not lose much time by walking slowly.

I had not realized my time for the first 30K was fairly good, so I was worried that I would be last, after my third loop hike.  An interesting statistic is that 9 people finished the 50K less than one minute behind me.  Had I been one minute slower, I would have finished 115th instead of 106th.  This will not impress the podium finishers, but it shows that even under duress, runners should still push to the best of their (dis) ability...

So, I was under considerable anxiety before Seaton, 2 weeks after running Pick Your Poison, and had a good race at Seaton.  I was "comfortable" after Seaton, leading up to Sulphur, and had a tough race.  I now have 6 days before Kingston 6 hour, and have regressed to a state of anxiety.  Not sure if this old body will recover sufficiently to attempt an ultra so soon after Sulphur.  One week after Kingston, I have the Conquer the Canuck 50K.  I will likely pull the plug, should I make it to 42.3K at Kingston, in order to save the legs for CTC.

5 ultras in 7 weeks.  I obviously do not understand the concept of moderation.


Cheers!


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Seaton Soaker Race Report

Blogger (what I use to write this blog) offers some simple statistics regarding people who read or follow a blog.  All bloggers are interested in knowing if their blog is gaining audience or dwindling.  I'm no different.  Some posts have large readership, such as my post on shutting down the Creemore Vertical Challenge.  I understand that one, as it affected the plans of quite a few people.  The metrics also includes information on when a blog was read.  Example, I recently had quite a few hits on my Sulphur Springs race report from 2015.  Why, I asked myself?  The answer is simple; people are looking for information on a race they are thinking of doing, or are about to run.  It never dawned on me to do so, but what a great idea!

Yeah, I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed...

I've also noticed a trend in the timing when I write race reports.  Sunday morning, when I am normally out for a run.  Lee Anne ran 85K yesterday during the 12 hour Mind The Ducks race in New York.  This morning (about 13 hours after finishing her race) Lee Anne mentioned that she will be ready to run tomorrow morning and asked if I would join her...  Let's not bother to include my reply.  So I sit here, my legs in an advanced state of trash (Trashectomy?), unable to do more than type.

Since I plan to run 5 of these ridiculous ultra races over a 7 week period, I'll provide a condensed version for those who have no need to know the details:

The race went well, I was able to run the duration, was not as tired at 35K as I thought I would be after running 50K 2 weeks prior (Poison) and finished with a slow but respectful time of 6:49.

Seaton Soaker Race Report

Again, almost ideal running weather at Seaton.  This is filling me with foreboding, for upcoming races.  I don't ever recall having excellent weather for 3 races in a row.  The race started with a slight drizzle, then remained cool (8C?) and cloudy for the first 25K loop.  The sun came out for the second loop, so I doffed my fleece, although the temperature was never more than about 12C.  I ran with Nuun in my water bottle, which allowed me more freedom in what to eat and drink at the aid stations.  One is never perfectly certain, but I think I have found the correct schedule of fluid / nutrition / supplements intake for me.  I ate very little on the first loop, being more intent on wasting little time at the aid stations.  Seaton has none of the major climbs that are so generously sprinkled along the second half of Poison's 12.5K loop, but I was still surprised to see 3:12 for my first 25K loop.  Seaton has an ingenious course layout where you run on dry trail on the way out, yet there is a river crossing on the way back to the start/finish.  On the way out, there is a beaver dam, which means getting your shoes muddy, but with some care, you can avoid a soaking.  The course layout means that those in the 15K and 25K races get their feet wet about 3K from the finish, which translates into no blisters!

The 50K is a different story, as we have to run the course twice.  At the S/F (25K), I took the time to shed my socks and shoes and don dry socks and shoes.  Aside from a few muddy spots, the trail was in great condition.  I was hoping for this as I wanted to wear my road Hokas for the second loop.  The Hokas provide more cushioning, which translates into less wear and tear on the knees.  Off I went on the second loop, hoping to run at least until the turn-around (37.5K) without having to resort to walking.  More importantly, I was worried that the hamstring cramping that affected me at Poison might  resurface.  Again, wearing the road Hokas for the second loop meant my knees behaved themselves, resulting in less wear of my right quads on the downhills.  Using Nuun in my water bottle resulted in NO cramping during the 50K.  I had to slow for the last 5K, as I could feel the odd twinge that presages cramping.

Here is the 50K race nutrition strategy that worked for me:

Unit Type:  Late 50's human male @ 185 lbs., with 40+ years running and several injuries.

Calcium (Tums):  25K
Electrolyte:  In water bottle (hip belt)
Ibuprofen:  12.5K (one 200 mg tab) and 25K (one 200 mg tab)
Salt tab:  18K and 28K
Gel:  7K, 18K, 25K, 30K, 38K and 45K
Coke:  Most aid stations after 25K

I had a chocolate milk at 47K and although it sat funny in my stomach, seemed to help me get to the finish line.  I normally drink chocolate milk as a recovery drink.

At the turn-around (37.5K), I was still running well, albeit at a slow pace.  This surprised me because I normally take 4 - 6 weeks to recovery from a 50K.  When I run long 2 weeks after a 50K, I hit the wall very hard, around 35K.  Perhaps my 6K walk at Poison mitigated the normal issues running long shortly after a 50K, as technically, I only ran 40K, then walked 6K, then ran/walked 4K.  Who knows!  At about 38K, I hooked up with a youngster (she was 48) whose name escapes me.  Having no memory is normal for me, especially under the stress of a long race.  Since we were both in need of a pacer to see us to the finish, decided to run together.  We took turns leading.  A strange thing about leading a group (in this case, a group of 2) is that it feels great to do so while you are fresh, but at 45+K into a race, the opposite is true.  It sucks to be in front, desperately striving to maintain a healthy running pace.  At one point both sad and humorous, neither of us wanted to lead!

By 47K I had reached that point where I could not slow down, without resorting to a walk and increasing my pace would result in cramping.  We hit the river crossing where I ran across (I felt I would stop if I slowed down) and continue towards the finish.  The youngster caught up to me with about 1K to go, but as she was running at a pace I could not match, urged her to go ahead and finish strong.

I continued at a slow and steady pace, out of the woods onto a field, up a small hill, around the sports field, then towards the finish line.  The clock read 6:49:52.  I toyed briefly with sprinting to the line to finish under 6:50, but quickly realized that was a bad idea.  I had forgotten that my chip time would be a minute less than the gun time.  I finished in 6:49:36.

And so, 2 races down and hopefully at least another 6 to go in my own personal albatross known as the Norm Patenaude award.  Why and how people decide on these crazy ventures is beyond me!  Once more I have 2 weeks off (with good behaviour) before tackling the Sulphur Springs 50K.

Next year I'm going to run one 5K race...














Sunday, April 30, 2017

Pick Your Poison Race Report

I feel sorry for the 70 odd people on the PYP waiting list.  Not to rub it in, but you missed a great race!  The weather was almost perfect for running (cool for the volunteers), the trail was mainly dry and swept clean of leaves.  The only complaint is the lack of snow on the ski hill traverse and the final ski hill descent.  There is something iconic to pushing through a foot of snow at the end of a punishing 50K hill race!

I feel envy for those who ran the 12.5K.  With ideal weather and predominantly dry trails, it must have been a thing of wonder to dash along a tough course and complete the race tired, but happy.  No nutrition mistakes, injury triage, chasing cut-offs or a generous sampling of aches and pains.  Just run fast and strong, and finish in good form.

Yesterday's lesson (and all races are a lesson - you never reach a point where you "know" everything there is to know about running and racing) was what I would like to call a study in causal chain reactions.  When you are young, or new to running, the chain reaction is primarily positive.  Your learning curve is on the offensive.  If you are diligent about your training, and especially your rest periods, training translates into positive results during a race.  You quickly learn the importance of hydration and eventually the pivotal role of nutrition in longer races.  Dialing in both these components allows you to leverage your training to an optimal level.  Injuries are always a complication, but you learn to manage injury by adjusting your training schedule.  No, you don't want to ignore injuries (unless they are something you savour) but you don't have to give up running because you sprained your ankle.

As you get older and especially if you enjoy running long, chain reactions take on a more defensive feel.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is something you need to embrace, if you want to continue running long.  Perhaps I should define "running long".  Firstly, running long is relative, and different, for different people.  For argument's sake, let's call anything over a half marathon "long".  Some runners consider a 25K trail race to be at or near their limit.  Others enjoy the multi-day races, such as a 3 or 6 day race.  The length (or duration) is not overly key, as they all take considerable management as you get older.  You will note that there are few women over 60 in a typical 100 mile race.  This is because most F60+ have difficulty finishing in under the 30 hour cut-off.  People that have been running for 30+ years have a long list of injuries, which tend to pop up at intervals.  So, the management component of training takes on a more defensive role.  They need to understand that ramping up is problematic.  In fact, most older runners simply maintain a higher mileage year round, so there is no need to ramp up.

Get the picture?

Pick Your Poison RR:

Before yesterday's race, I was undertrained.  I have been running ultras for about 15 years and I know that without two or three 30K+ training runs, I am going to experience nasty surprises during a 50K.  But let's make this interesting, and focus on a hill race.  Better yet, make it the first race of the (Ontario Ultra) season.  On my long list of excuses (a list we all have) is that I make maple syrup in March and early April.  Many mornings, I have the option of going for a run, or getting to the sugar shack before the sap freezes solid, and I can't start the evaporator.  This has little to do with priorities, but more a question of preemptive choices.

So, how do you run 50K without proper training?  You run slowly, cautiously and pay attention to your hydration and nutrition.  You dance that fine line between being too slow (chasing cut-off's) and hurting too badly to finish.  My plan for the four 12.5K loops:

Loop 1:  1:35  1:35   Walk the hills
Loop 2:  1:45  3:20   Walk all the hills
Loop 3:  1:50  5:10   Short walking breaks
Loop 4:  Get it done  Run / walk

Typically at PYP I have big trouble starting the 3rd loop.  This is mainly the psychology of being overly tired and having 2 more loops.  The trick is not to get sucked into starting too fast and using up all your resources in the first 2 loops.  Loop one was completed in 1:35.  This made me feel great, to be on schedule, but in the back of my mind, I had this small misgiving.  Not sure why.

On loop 2 I focused on deliberately walking all hills and eating at every aid station.  I spoke with a fellow runner (I am very hazy on who I ran or talked with during the race) who had severe cramping last year, and was now using Nuun (electrolyte supplement) to counteract the cramping.  Funny I thought, I used Nuun the last time I ran PYP (in 2015), but I was relying solely on water in my bottle and electrolyte from the aid stations.  When I remembered to drink at the aid station...

I did not get a time at the end of loop 2, which is fine.  I felt I was near my plan and did not want the mindset that I was "5 minutes behind schedule" or some such nonsense.  I refilled my gel bottle (it holds 5 gels) and started loop 3.  On loop 3, I planned to stop briefly at all aid stations, start drinking coke and take short walking breaks to prolong the time in which I could continue to run steadily.  On this loop, my left knee started acting up.  I have no cartilage in my left knee, so when it flares, it can be rather spectacular.  I almost fell twice.  Of greater concern, I could no longer put much weight on it, so the quads on my right leg were taking the brunt of the downhills.  And there are several downhills at PYP, which become nasty if you try "braking" with only one leg...

I had a surprisingly good third loop.  Yes, I was slow, but was still running well and aside from my left knee and right quads, felt good.  This filled me with dread.  No tangible reason, simply watch your favourite horror movie to figure out why.  My stomach was also starting to act up, which is normal and I only mention it because (I realized this in retrospect) it affected what I drank at the aid stations.  I was now limited to a choice of drinking coke (helps to keep me going forward) and electrolyte.  I was also having a few twinges in my calves (this is also normal) and the hamstrings of my left leg (this is not normal).  I should have seen the signs!

My time at the end of the third loop was 5:18, which was fine with me.  I was now quite tired as 37.5K was the longest I had run all year.  I also realized I had only taken salt once.  Yes, I had pretzels and chips at the aid stations, but no significant source of salt.  I was less than a kilometer from the start/finish when my left hamstrings started cramping badly.  I was forced to a walk and (since I had the time) took salt, a calcium tab and increased my water intake.  For the next 6K, every time I tried to run, my left hamstrings would start to cramp.  During this forced 6K scenic hike, I started the relatively novel process of calculating the cut-off.  I have never been a podium ultra runner, although I have on occasion done well in my age category.  But with 2:42 until the race cut-off, and forced to walk, I wasn't sure if I could finish in time.

After 6K of walking, I felt rested enough to try running.  I found that I could run downhill (my right quads were quite displeased) but had to walk the flats and uphills.  Since I was mostly walking, I cut back on my nutrition intake and only drank ginger ale at the last aid station.  This helped to settle my stomach somewhat, but did little for the speed at which I could run.  Finally I was running down the last painful ski hill and to the finish line.

Time:  About 7:35

Are you Pondering what I am Pondering?

Although I had no delusions of running a sub-five hour PYP 50K, I figure the lack of electrolyte added about 30 - 40 minutes to my finishing time.  Time to revert to adding Nuun to my water bottle!  Recovery so far (18 hours after finishing the race) has been limited to typing, which is not too painful.  Walking and stairs are a different story.  My legs are no longer threatening to cramp at the drop of a pin, but there is about 3 days of pain ahead, before I can try a run.

It was great to see all the familiar faces at PYP.  Ultra running is quite a small and friendly community.  I think this has a lot to do with the lack of competition.  It is mostly a contest between you and the course.  Fellow runners know how you feel and will help you if they can.  Besting you is far down the list.

Many thanks to Adam, Heather, Dawn, Rob and all their volunteers, for putting on "Poison", a great start to the Ontario Ultra and Trail race series.  As a hint to those hoping to attend next year, sign up early.  2018 will be the 10th running of Pick Your Poison and I am sure the race will sell out early.

See you at the Seaton Soaker in 2 weeks.  Hopefully I will be recovered enough to take on the 50K event.


Cheers!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Let The OUTRace Season Begin!

I have been busy lately.  Sometimes being retired is simply a cruel joke.  It allows you to take on way too much.  Maple syrup?  Sure!  If everything works according to plan, it won't be much more than 40 hours per week.  Might as well organize the OUTRace Spring Warm-up.  Throw in a week in Costa Rica, my eldest daughter having a baby girl, coordinating the OUTRace series and training for the Norm Patenaude and I'm sure I will have plenty of time for gardening, blogging, firewood and possibly eating a meal once every few days...

Speaking of cruel jokes, I'm beginning to fathom how other runners must feel when they decide to take on The Norm.  Start with a bang; 50K of ski hills at Pick Your Poison tomorrow.  Tomorrow?  Holy snapping left bananas captain, we're gonna need more dilithium crystals!  Today is my second day off running, as my knees need ample recovery (please don't mention Seaton - in 2 weeks) before a race.  I can't over-exert myself by chopping wood, raking, running, hiking or building a replica of Machu Picchu out of stone.  Here I am with more energy than normal, becoming more and more nervous as the race approaches, and I'm supposed to sit quietly?  Very cruel indeed.

I know, no one is forcing me...

Good news!  My daughter Brittany gave birth to baby girl Audrey Edith Burling.  Edith was my mother's name, which was quite sweet.  Audrey and her support crew (mother Brittany and father Kris) are doing well and adjusting to the freakish schedule of a new-born.  Lee Anne and I just got back from visiting Audrey (oh, and Brittany and Kris) in Sudbury.  Audrey has long black hair.  Seriously, she needs a hair cut.

Spring Warm-up

The evil Creemore weather gods threw yet another curve ball at us mere mortals who attended the Spring Warm-up.  Was it extremely cold?  Or horrible rainy weather?  No!  We had a bright sunny day with temperatures approaching 15C.  Oh yeah, we also had to stomp through a foot of drifted snow.  Yes, we were post holing on April 8!  Many were unprepared for the snow, showing up in shorts.  I asked good friend Stephan (in shorts) if his feet were cold.  His answer was no, he could no longer feel them.

One 13K loop of the course was enough (thank you very much) for most, although a few continued into their second and third loops.  Others opted for some quality hill work on the roads, as there is only one direction from the start/finish in Dunedin:  Up.  Sasha Bedjany from Baden, Ontario (home to Ron Gehl and Laurie McGrath) won the grand prize.  Good luck to Sasha in her running and Triathlon schedule this year!

Well, it is a fine day outside, so I will cut this post short, go outside and... do nothing.


Cheers!









Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Making Maple Syrup

I'm only going to write briefly about running since I have had some form of the stomach flu for the last month and I'm not overly happy with my training.  Visions of posting a few 30+K training runs before the OUTRace season opens is falling by the wayside.  I'm not even sure where a wayside is, but you are likely to find my long training runs over there.

Making maple syrup is very simple.  Find a maple tree, take some of the sap during the Spring, boil it down and voila!  Maple syrup.  Now that you are an expert on maple syrup production, there are a few things you should know, in order to make the experience somewhat more pleasant.  In fact, why don't I touch on a few topics that will round out your expertise.  This will come in handy if you are obtuse enough to actually believe what I have written above...

Weather and mathematics both play a prominent role in maple syrup production.  As an example I recently struggled with, if you have a 1,000 litre plastic tote with 600 litres of sap and the temperature will drop from +7  at 16:00 to -15 at 06:00 the next morning, how thick will the ice be on top of the sap?  I'll give you a hint:  There was a strong wind all night...  The obvious answer is that you have to check it at 08:00.  Doing so would have shown the ice could be broken with a stick, but the pumping line was solidly frozen, so the status of the sap in the tote was irrelevant!

Sap Collection

Glossary:

Spile:  A spout that fits into a hole drilled into a (hopefully) maple tree
Tap:  The process of "tapping" a spile with a hammer, into a hole in the maple tree
%#*$@:  An expression used when hitting your thumb instead of the spile
Drop Line:  When using tubing (as opposed to pails), about 2 feet of tubing is formed into an arc that will fill with sap, preventing bacteria from travelling from the mainline to the hole in the tree.
Vacuum:  Using pumps to create negative pressure inside the lines and tubing.  This helps to draw sap over flat terrain and increases the sap flow rate.
Bleed line:  An open main line or tubing at the upper end of lines, to allow air to "bleed" into the line and avoid air locks.  Don't use bleed lines with a vacuum system (duh!).

If your Grand Design is to set up a few taps, then pails or tubing will suffice.  If you hope to tap 100 acres (about 10,000 taps), you're gonna need a bigger boat.  It takes about 2 hours to collect 100 pails, so the math indicates you will need 5 weeks to collect from 10,000 pails.  You will need to collect every day, during a good sap run!  So, tubing is best for more than 50-60 taps.

Collecting from pails is easy and frustrating.  Dump the sap from the pail into a gathering bucket (I used 20 litre pails) then from the bucket into a drum.  If you are in a maple bush, you will need a snowmobile, tractor or horses to haul the drum.  Sinking into 3 feet of snow and dumping 40 litres of sap on your crotch is both refreshing and frustrating at the same time.

Tubing is great in bushes that have a downward slope to the sugar shack.  Note to self:  Don't build the sugar shack at the top of a hill.  You can string about 20 taps on a single tubing line, but then the tubing line should be connected to a mainline.  A mainline is typically a larger diameter black plastic pipe.  You should support mainlines with high tension wire, to avoid undue sagging.  Sagging (aside from the drop lines) is not good for collecting sap, as it causes back pressure and reduces sap volume.  Try to avoid putting mainlines across roads and trails.  This can be done, typically with quick release couplers, but it is still a pain to disconnect a line, drive through and reconnect the line.

It is quite an art in establishing where to place mainlines and how to route tubing amongst the trees.  I obviously suck at it, since I tend to redirect lines almost every year.  I don't use vacuum as I don't have electricity in the bush, so I am forced to use slope for sap delivery.  Unfortunately, I don't have very much slope in some areas of the bush, so I tap "downhill" trees low to the ground and "uphill trees" sometimes as high as I can reach.  If I am standing on 4 feet of snow when tapping high, pulling the spiles at the end of the season can pose a problem!  The ideal mainline slope is 3% or more.  The tricky part of establishing lines is when a section has no slope for 100 feet.  The mainline has to start about 6 feet off the ground and "descend" to 3 feet above ground.

You will need to place a big container (I use 1,000 litre totes) at the business end of each mainline.  Try to have 2 or more mainlines end at the same point.  Hopefully these totes are somewhere near the sugar shack, as you will need to pump from the totes to the sugar shack reservoir.  Ideally, the pumping lines have no sags where sap can pool and freeze.  I have had pumping lines remain frozen, even when mainlines are merrily running.  I think the weather gods are involved in this somehow...

Sap Concentration

Glossary:

Reservoir:  A storage tank, typically raised above the evaporator, so that sap can be gravity fed into the sugar shack and then the evaporator.
RO:  Reverse Osmosis.  They used to use pig bladders for this!  Think of a closed box full of sap with a membrane that is pushed halfway across the box.  Only water makes it through the membrane.  The remaining water and the sugar remains in the unfiltered part of the box.  Bigger outfits can increase the sugar content in the sap from (about) 2% to 18% using RO.  This reduces the boiling time by over 80%.
Flowbox:  Similar to your toilet, a float in the flowbox controls the amount of sap coming from the reservoir.  Since the flowbox is coupled to the evaporator pans, the float drops down when the evaporator level drops and opens a valve that allows sap from the reservoir to flow into the evaporator.
Flues:  Trenches at the bottom of the sap pan.  The flames and hot gases from the firebox travelling between the flues to the chimney.  In essence, flues increase the surface area of the bottom of the sap pan, creating a much faster boil.  Some sap pans have a drop flue (the trenches are "below" the bottom of the pan) and some have a raised flue (the trenches are above the pan bottom).

If you plan to boil down the sap on your BBQ, most of this section is not overly relevant.  You will need about 5 tanks of propane for every litre of syrup that you produce.  I wish I was kidding!  Simply start boiling and add sap as the level in your pot gets low.  Try to boil down under a shelter, or you might be adding a lot of rain to your pot.  NEVER boil down sap inside your house!  Horror stories range from wallpaper falling off the walls to everything (floor, furniture, walls and ceilings) being coated in syrup.  However, you can finish boiling in your house.  This provides a bit more control over the flame and since you will need to boil for weeks at a time, a bit more comfort.

You have maple syrup when it reaches a temperature 4C above the current boiling point of water.  Water boils at 100C at sea level, during calm weather.  Altitude and air pressure greatly affect the boiling point of water, so when your sap is nearing syrup, boil some water and figure out the current boiling point of water, then add 4 degrees.

There are numerous methods of boiling down sap.  You can use a BBQ, soap kettle, cinderblock arch, or an evaporator.  Fuel can be oil, propane, natural gas, steam or wood.  Described below is the process I use, which happens to be a 2' X 6' wood fired drop flue evaporator.  The finishing pan is 2' X 2' and the sap pan is 2' X 4' with eight 5" drop flues.

So, if you have been paying attention, you now have sap in a reservoir situated near the sugar shack, above the level of the evaporator.  There is a 3/4" line with a shut-off, from the reservoir to the flowbox.  There are several different methods of boiling down sap until a batch of syrup is ready.  Some larger producers have automatic draw-off, in which the draw-off spout is automatically controlled to allow a flow of maple syrup.  Recall that I have no electricity, so some of the more esoteric gadgets never made it to my shack.  I rely heavily on a refractometer.

A refractometer is a device that measures the angle (refraction) of light bending through the sap or syrup.  As the sugar content of the concentrate (thicker than sap, not yet syrup) increases, the angle of refraction changes.  Once it reaches 66 Brix (66% sugar), I have maple syrup.  So, after years of experimentation, I have adopted the following process:

Boil down sap in the evaporator until the finishing pan is about 48 Brix.  Manually increase the sap inflow by pressing down on the float in the flowbox.  Once the level in the sap pan reaches the second weld point on the north wall, open the finishing pan valve and fill a 12L bucket with the 48 Brix concentrate.  Cease the manual flow of sap, then stopper the backwash coupler between the sap pan and the finishing pan.  The backwash coupler is a pipe that joins the sap pan to the finishing pan.  It travels outside both pans and reduces backwash (mixing of concentrate from the sap and finishing pans).  Pour the bucket of 48 Brix concentrate back into the finishing pan.  After about 1 hour, the finishing pan will have about 10 litres of syrup.  I pour off about 10L into a metal bucket at 65 Brix.  It is then poured into a maple syrup filter pail.  The filtering and loss of steam during bottling results in 66 Brix maple syrup.

Bottling

Once syrup is drawn off the evaporator, pour it into a filter pail.  Inside the filter pail is a heavy cloth filter and a paper filter.  The pail also has a draw-off valve used to fill maple syrup containers.  This year I am using 500ml and 1 litre glass mason jars and 1 and 2 litre plastic maple syrup jugs.  I then add the batch number and date.  Once at home, I add our label and the grade.  Our label is "Mad About Maple" as the sugar shack is near a tributary of the Mad river.  We live about 25K from the maple bush and our house is also on the Mad river.

Needless to say, all the equipment must be washed thoroughly.  Sweeping the floor is tricky as air-borne dust heads straight for the evaporator.  I bring the filters home to be hand washed before washing them in the washing machine without detergent.

Making maple syrup is tricky when the weather is factored in.  An ideal sugaring day is when the daytime temperature is about 5C and about -5C at night.  Why?  Sap stays in the roots when it is below freezing.  It takes a sharp frost for the sap to descend from the branches back into the roots, or about -5 degrees.  When the temperature rises from below freezing to about 5 degrees, the sap moves up through the trunk (some leaks out of the tap hole) and into the branches.  If it stays below freezing for 2 - 3 days, there is no sap run.  Also, all the sap in the totes, reservoir and evaporator will freeze.  A frozen reservoir can take a long time to thaw (with no electric heating cables) and a hard frost can break the evaporator, so you need to empty it before a long freeze.  Might as well clean it at the same time.  Cleaning an evaporator in -10 degree weather (as I did this morning) is tricky, as everything (include fingers here) is frozen.  You can heat the evaporator to clean it, but you need to completely extinguish the fire before emptying the pans, or the pans will burn.  I find removing the embers with freezing hands is a win-win situation.  If the temperature stays above freezing for 2 - 3 days, there will be no sap run (aside from the first day).  The sap will stay in the branches, so there is no way for the tree to transfer more sap from the roots.  If the weather stays warm enough for long enough, the trees will start to bud.  The chemical composition of the sap changes during budding, the sap turns sour and it is no longer possible to make syrup from the sap.  As a note, if your sap starts foaming uncontrollably late in the year, the trees are probably budding.

I've mentioned before that I am tired after working the evaporator.  Here is a very rough schedule of what happens during a sugaring day:

Pump sap from a tote to another tote or the reservoir:  About 5 times per day
Adjust sap level in evaporator:  2-3 times per day
Add vegetable oil to the evap:  Once per hour (to control foaming)
Add wood to the firebox:  4 times per hour (an arm load)
Refractometer reading:  2 - 3 times per hour
Carry 40L of water:  Once per day (for cleaning) about 150 meters from the Mad river
Check lines:  About an hour total per day
Skim:  About 5 times per hour (remove foam and floating sediment)
Bottle:  1 - 2 times per day.  This takes an hour per bottling
Wash Evaporator:  About 10 times per day I wash the outside of the pans.
Fix lines:  About 30 minutes per day.  There is always something to fix!

I have 340 taps, which should translate into about 300 - 350 litres of syrup per year.  I tend to produce less, usually about 200 - 230 litres.  I think the land is too rocky.  I have more top kill (the tops of some trees die off) than many other bushes.  It is also possible that I have not had many "good" years so far.  The weather has been strange for the last decade.  Probably global warming, but January and February are milder and March and April are now cooler than in previous decades.  My hope/concern is that one year, I'll gather a huge amount of sap.  I don't have enough wood to make 300 liters of syrup!  I gather about 1200 liters of sap on a good "sap run" day.

Hope this helps anyone toying with making their own syrup.  A friend once asked what was the cheapest method of making maple syrup.  I think he was hoping that I would tell him to put up a dozen pails.  My reply was either install 100,000 taps or buy the syrup...


Cheers!