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.


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.


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


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


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.


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...


Thursday, March 9, 2017

Costa Rica and Maple Syrup

Can you believe there is only 1 month until the Spring Warm-up?  This fills me with immense foreboding as the racing season starts only two weeks after the Spring Warm-up.  I have signed up for Pick Your Poison 50K, Seaton Soaker 50K and Sulphur Springs 50K...  Then my season gets ugly.  Lee Anne and I are busy on June 17, which happens to be the Niagara Ultra.  Since I am attempting the Norm Patenaude award, that means I have little choice amongst the remaining races.  So, I am planning to run Sulphur 50K (May 27), Kingston 6 hour (June 3) and Conquer the Canuck 50K (June 10).  Notice the generous and ample time to recover between races?  6 days???  I need 6 years to recover from a 50K...

Lee Anne and I spent 8 days in Costa Rica with Lily (Lee Anne's daughter), Daryl and the grandchildren; Hannah and Griffin.  My incredibly naive plan was to run long many times, while in Costa Rica.  We woke up early the first morning and were running comfortably at 05:45, just before the sun came up.  Then something inexplicably horrible happened.  The sun came up.  The temperature went from comfortable to oven baking hot in about 15 minutes.  Did I mention the hotel was nestled on top of a small mountain?  I don't recommend running up a steep hill on a dirt road that could easily double as a frying pan.  Let's not forget the humidity!  Every morning I tried to run long and basically made it to 1 hour before pulling the plug.  Lee Anne ran for 3 hours each day, which is usually her warm-up, so she was also feeling the heat.  This lasted until mercifully, I contracted the stomach flu and could take a day off.  Our grandson Griffin was also sick, which sucks on a vacation.  The flu affected my ability to run for about 2 weeks.  I hope to run long tomorrow for the first time in a while.

Costa Rica is a beautiful country with some amazing national parks.  We rented a car for a few days, which although more expensive than taxis, was quite convenient.  While driving in CR, I figured out that licenses are either optional, or there is no such thing as a driving test.  Cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, bicycles, pedestrians and police made no effort to obey any of the signs or rules of the road.  When turning left onto an unlit major highway at night, make sure there is no motorcycle holding 3 people and no lights, on the wrong side of the road!

Although not our favourite style of vacation, we stayed at a hotel near Jaco beach.  We did get out to a couple of national parks.  The Carara national park was exceptional, with low-technical trails that meandered through a forest jungle.  Not sure of the correct name for the terrain.  We saw monkeys, parrots and a cute little boar.  We were able to hike for about 3 hours and saw some huge trees.  If you ever get to Jaco, take in Carara.

The other park was called Manuel Antonio.  Unfortunately, it included a wonderful beach, which attracted almost one billion bathers.  The trails were more akin to a country road and packed with people.  The beach was nice and we enjoyed swimming with the grandchildren.

The food was quite good in the hole-in-the-wall restaurants, although since Jaco is a tourist destination, the bigger restaurants had typical international cuisine and cost about the same as restaurants in Canada.

The timing of our trip to Costa Rica was ill-advised, as we only returned to Canada on February 28.  This cuts into my maple syrup prep time.  This was not overly critical as aside from March 1, it remained cold until March 6.  We will once again experience a cold snap, well into next week, so I have plenty of time for the finishing touches.  I set about 200 taps on March 1 and the remaining 140 on March 6.  The sap ran on Monday (March 6) until Wednesday, so I boiled down a small batch yesterday (March 8).

Making maple syrup is rather strange.  I would be hard pressed to isolate which chores are physically demanding, yet a day in the bush leaves me sore and exhausted.  On Tuesday I ran a 10K hill run, which is taxing, yet not overly so.  Then I boiled down for a few hours.  My back, shoulders and arms ached that night.  Strange.  Yes, I haul supplies 1K into the woods, stoke the evaporator, walk in a foot of snow, but nothing I would describe as hard physical effort...  Perhaps simply being active for 12 hours can do that to you.

I am now able to make a prediction as to my next project.  Today, Lily (Lee Anne's daughter) and Daryl sold their house in Toronto that I helped to build.  Daryl has promised that the next house will not be a ground-up project (virtually a new house), simply a major renovation.  Perhaps I will have recovered from making maple syrup by then.


Thursday, February 9, 2017

Ramping Up in February

Lee Anne and I run year round, but that is about as far as any similarities go.  I ramp up in the winter, to get ready for a Spring ultra, although I have been known to delay the year's first ultra into June.  Lee Anne on the other hand, runs 50K on Friday and 40K on Saturday, practically without fail.  If you run 90K in 2 days every week, there is little point in ramping up.  So, she has an easy time running in the winter, while I have a truly momentous task.  I know, some of it is perspective, but what freak of nature would consider increasing his or her mileage on days when the temperature slowly warms up to -15C?

We are not hardcore runners, who must run outside.  We have been know to sneak over to the Base Borden indoor track (220 meters at the Buell gym) and we have a dreadmill in our house.  Trails are a different matter.  Lee Anne does not run trails.  I think her running style (eyes closed, running towards traffic) is not overly effective on the trails.  She tends to get injured.  Her last 50K trail race (and I do mean her LAST trail race) was at Pick Your Poison in 2016.  She smashed up her knee, face and arm.  It wasn't pretty.  However, as I willingly volunteer, she only trains on roads, so you have to realize something is going to give, during a trail race!  On the other hand, I strive to run trails throughout the year.  February has not been a good month for running trails in the Creemore area.  In January we had a warm period, which packed down the snow on the trails.  We have since received a few inches of snow, which is covering rock hard ice.  Each foot placement moves to the nearest and deepest depression, which is typically an imprint left over from postholing early in the year.

I wrenched my left arm and tore a muscle in my back from a couple of spectacular falls, and have a few black toenails from the pounding.  Some of the trail sections are drifted over, which becomes problematic because of the pain of breathing with a torn back muscle while postholing.  Due to several reasons (see above), my pace has slowed.  However, I'm stoked that all this time on the trails will pay dividends once the race season begins.  I might not move faster than a tortoise, but my lateral muscles are developing nicely!

Looking out my window just now, it is hard to believe that the Spring Warm-up is a mere 2 months away.  It will take place at Dunedin again this year, on Saturday April 8, 2017.  For $35, you can get in a nice run in the country, on dirt roads and the Bruce trail.  Lunch and an aid station are also provided.  There are spot prizes and of course, the grand prize, which is free entry for the winner, into most of the OUTRace events.  Check out the OUTRace website for further details.  I'm hoping to get in 3 loops (13K per loop), although I will likely have to pull the plug to get back in time to organize lunch and the prizes.  The 13K course is typically quite tricky, with snow patches and a few hills...

Lee Anne and I are off to Costa Rica for a week in about 10 days.  We are travelling with our 2 grand children Hannah and Griffin, Lee Anne's daughter Lily and Lily's husband Daryl.  We hope to get in some hiking and a few runs in the warm temperatures.  It is 36C and humid in Jaco, Costa Rica today, so perhaps the runs will be shorter than anticipated.  I'm sure Costa Rica is flat, so at least we won't have to contend with hills...


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Creemore Snow Run

I'm still having trouble grasping the fact that I will attempt to garner the OUTRace Norm Patenaude award this year.  I must be out of my mind.  Yes, I am agreeing with you...  After making such a hubris declaration, I sat down with the OUTRace schedule and did some number crunching.  There are 11 ultra events on the schedule.  I need to complete 8 of them.  We are not able to make 2 of the events; Niagara and Haliburton.  My nephew had the temerity to plan his wedding on June 17, which is the Niagara Ultra and also my birthday.  We are most likely in Great Britain in September.  I know, I could sign up for Hali and see what happens, but I need to present a semblance of logic.  Speaking of realism, in case of a DNF, I need to sign up for the remaining 9 ultras, 3 of which occur on 3 consecutive weekend.  Want to guess how many times I have run back-to-back ultras?  Yes indeed, zero times!  Oh well, pragmatism is a lost art in the ultra community...

Creemore Snow Run

About 15 hardy souls braved the elements and drove up (okay Stephen, down) to Creemore.  The course was surprisingly easy to run.  I think the key factor was that Creemore received a light dusting of snow, instead of the projected freezing rain.  Temperatures were mild and the sun had some difficulty breaking through the cloud layer.  The result was mainly firm footing, with a few icy spots to keep you on your toes.

A few were satisfied with a single 7.5K loop although most stretched the run to 3 loops.  Stephen Bridson held on for 5 loops, considered a seriously tough 37.5K.  Everhard Olivieri-Munroe bagged 6 loops for an official ultra.  One runner (yes, I have forgotten her name) ran one loop.  What makes this of note is that this was her first outdoor run.  Talk about picking a tough first run!

After the run, we retired to the house and chatted about recent runs and race plans for 2017.  This mild January weather is helping us to run outdoors instead of being chained to the treadmill.  I do hope that the weather turns cold as I need some snow before the maple syrup season.  I think people were delighted to receive a finishing medal, embossed with a runner and CSR.  Not quite a race, but the course was tough enough to acknowledge with a finishing medal!

And so, I am a bit in limbo lately.  We leave in about a month for Costa Rica, to spend a week on the beach with Lee Anne's daughter Lily, son-in-law Daryl and the grandchildren.  Not enough time to start a project...  We get back on March 1, just in time to crank up the maple syrup machine.  If anyone is interested in seeing the operation, please email me and we can make plans.  I have 340 taps, so the help is much appreciated!

Some of you should receive an email from OUTRace, as plans are to send out the 2017 start-up email this weekend.  It talks about the 2016 series winners, what's new in 2017 and a suggestion on how to attempt your first ultra, or (if you are already an ultra runner) trying a 6 hour race.  I'm looking forward to a challenging year.