Thursday, December 29, 2011

Mayan Calendar and Running

You know what?  Let's skip the obvious analogies between my struggles with running and the impending ending to the Mayan calendar...

I have been detailing a new strategy for running with a gammy knee.  Running every third day seems to work best.  I still dream of back-to-back runs, but upon waking the next morning, walking is difficult, so running would be unwise.  The next day, I could run, but based on the knee pain, not a great idea.  I have run the second day and it doesn't seem to make things worse, but it does prolong the pain.

Running in Creemore just now is quite enjoyable.  There is 4 - 6 inches of snow and no drifts, so the trails are considerably tougher than in the summer, but very manageable.  The pace is slow (slower?) which translates into a requirement for less concentration on the trails.  One can look about, enjoy the river and wildlife, enjoy the views.

Lee Anne has tossed her hat into the RD ring.  She will organize the Copper Kettle Dash, a 5K run and walk, and a 10K run, during Creemore's Copper Kettle festival.  The festival is organized by Creemore Springs Brewery during August.  Should be a fun event!  Details on the festival:

So, we are now involved in several races and fun runs!  Aside from the CKD and the Creemore Vertical Challenge, we also help to organize the Creemore Snow Run (Feb. 4) and the OUS Spring Warm-up (April 14).  2012 should be a fun year.

One maxim in advertising is to turn a drawback into a positive.  Neil Jefferson (RD for The Limberlost Challenge) and I did just that when we realised our races (Creemore and Limberlost) would be scheduled only 1 week apart.  This is tough for those running the 25/28K distances, but quite a "challenge" for those running 50K at Creemore, followed one week later by 56K at Limberlost.

The Ultra Challenge Challenge!

Yep!  2 challenging ultra races, 1 week apart.  Simply complete both races and you will be awarded the much coveted and incredibly beautiful (can you tell that I made them?) UCC medal.  Furthermore, there will be 6 prizes (top 3, M & F) for the best combined times.  Details to follow (once we figure out the logistics), but I can only envision the envy and admiration when a fellow runner sees the UCC award on your medal wall...

Well, the year draws to a close and I would like to wish everyone success in 2012.  Success in your running pursuits of course.  Everything else (career, family, health, prosperity) is merely living, and thus secondary...  Okay, perhaps there are aspects of living more important than running, but running certainly helps with life's issues.


Monday, December 12, 2011

The Year in Rearview

Before starting on today's topic, a brief update...

Took xray's of my good knee.  On January 23, I see a sports doctor in Collingwood (actually Cranberry Village, for those who DH ski) who will look at xrays, then give me the good news.  I'm pumped!

This is not a review of the year, which I hope to complete early in the new year.  This is more about the social side of running and the amazing people in our sport.  If you are reading this, most likely you are on the list.  Unless you are my mother.  Of course, she's dead, so it is unlikely she is reading this.  Yes, I dabble in the macabre, if you have not noticed so far.

Every aspect of running (I don't want to limit this to trail and ultra running) is positive.  I think if everyone knew how many positives there are in running, our sport would be saturated.  It is trending that way for good reason!  How many of you have run a race (I know, easier to ask how many have not run a race, but humour me)?  We pay good money to throw our bodies against impossible terrain, heart-churning distances and, as 2011 pointed out, some seriously nasty weather.  What is our reward?  Even those chronically astride the podium suffer in this sport.  In fact, those on the podium are the few that suffer the most.  What we take back from a race cannot be bought in a store.  Being familiar with the challenges of the Creemore Vertical Challenge, I most noted 2 runners (Chris and JD) who passed each other at the 35/40K point of the race and both wrote in their blogs about the anguish on the other runner's face.  Both were having an epic struggle and both KNEW the other running was in the same mindset.

We learn at races.  We learn how to overcome obstacles, why nutrition is important in a race, the cute effects of starting too fast and the euphoria of touching the perfect race.  I call it "touching" because there is no apt description of what happens when your training, nutrition, pace and mental state are all in balance and the only disappointment is when the race is over.

The appeal of volunteering at a race is another aspect of running that is hard to explain.  Handing out water in beating down heat or freezing rain, to people too far gone to enunciate a simple statement is fun?  How much am I getting paid for all this?  Yet the expressions on people's faces when you hand them a coke with ice on a hot day is indescribable.  They are too overwrought to figure out what would stave off death to the next aid station and you have delivered them manna from heaven.

I would dearly love to espouse on the camaraderie amongst the aid station volunteers, but unfortunately, what happens in the aid station, stays in the aid station...

Pacing is an entirely different arena.  Many blogs have dealt with how the pacer does everything the runner does, but does not get a finishing medal and deals with a cranky three year old for hours on end.  Sign me up!

I have limited experience pacing people.   One of my first such attempts was to pace Charlotte on her record breaking run of the Bruce trail.  It was an incredible learning experience.  Picture the rabbit on the rail, trying to keep exactly 5 meters ahead of the runner, on a trail that is technical enough to make turning around too often a big mistake.  Then horror struck!  Although still on what looked like the trail, I had not seen a blaze for 200 meters.  Asking Char to stay put while her legs where killing her (she had been running for 15 hours at this point.  Oh! on her 9th day of running 50 - 80K...) then racing around trying to find a blaze...  Not pretty.  I finally found a blaze more than 130 meters from the last blaze.  I think one of the blaze posts must have fallen over.

Or pacing Lee Anne in her first attempt at 100K.  We had almost crested a small hill (sorry Stephan, a MOUNTAIN) when this orange rat attacked us.  I wish I was making this up, but other runners saw the orange rat!  The runner can stop worrying about a plethora of racing details and logistics; leave them to the pacer, and just run.

Organizing a race is also rewarding, perhaps the most so, but requires an order of magnitude more time and committment.  This is not intended to discourage people from organizing a race, but be prepared to invest heavily of your time and capital.  The result of poor planning in a race is different than forgetting to bring your shoes to a race!  Again, there are aspects of being an RD that don't add up.  In a quaint little race like Creemore, prepare to spend 5 - 8 grand before any money trickles in.  If it trickles in!  And regardless of how much insurance and medical staff you have on site, why don't you gamble on losing your house and assets in a lawsuit?  Yeehaa!

But being an RD has incredible rewards.  Like the runner in 2009 who approached me after finishing the 25K, shook my hand and stated "I don't like you".  Then he walked away and poured himself a Creemore Springs beer!  I appreciate that for close to 20K of the race, he had this image of the ##$&^ who designed the course that had punished his body.  He was back in 2010...

So by all means, continue to push yourself in the races.  Here in Ontario, we are the envy of much of North America, with our "normal" 5K, 10K, half and marathon races, but also depth in our trail and ultra races.  Try a few you have not done before.  Not experienced on trails?  Try racing Pick Your Poison.  I guarantee it will open your eyes!  Or jump to a 50K or 50 mile race.  It only costs cents per minute (you will want to hurt me for this once you figure it out...)

But also try pacing, volunteering or crewing next year.  You will learn so much, that can be used in your own races!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Changing Seasons - And Obvious Analogies

Okay, the title was just to draw you in, pique your interest and make you question if I would propound on analogies involving life lessons and secret BBQ tips.  Keep reading, but prepare for disappointment...

I enjoy the potentially short season I affectionately call "between DST and THE SNOW".  For those in exotic southern locales, such as St. Catherines, you might not realize that Creemore can have very nasty snow-filled time periods normally referred to as weeks, with serious accumulations of snow.  These periods (let's call them "weeks") can dump 1 - 2 feet of snow and are a gentle reminder that winter is on the way, and in a few short days, running trails becomes a distant memory.

Running trails, with impending or snow present, in the dark, can be quite invigorating!  There is something other-worldly about running a familiar trail in the dark.  I like the thrill of the heightened tracking requirements, or becoming lost on a trail I can normally run with my eyes closed.  This is a bit hypothetical; running the trails and cliffs near the Mad river with your eyes closed is not generally encouraged.  Unless you enjoy really cold and wet swan dive-style face plants.

This year and last year are wonderful examples of a DST-to-snow season wherein I could steal precious time on the trails due to warmer than normal weather.  Last year, we even organized a 100 miler at the end on November, and definitely had luck on our side.  I think we caught the elements off guard, as they did not expect anyone to be rash enough to run for 15 hours in darkness!  A 100 miler in Creemore at the end of November would normally be considered a bid to increase the cemetery population...

So I am enjoying these weeks, careening along darkened trails (note:  "Careening" this year is a euphemism for my pathetic limping gait, but in the dark it feels like you are flying!) gauging how close the coyote packs are to my position and struggling to remain upright.  Too soon THE SNOW will make running trails nearly impossible.  Then what?

On Saturday, February 4, 2012 you are invited to join (let's be nice, here) some adventurous souls in the Creemore Snow Run.  This is not a race, but a fun run in which we see how long and how far we can run in the depth of winter.  Most consider it good training for the plethora of hyperventilation events (nope, I can't think of any), or a wonderful way to chase away the winter blues.  As in, your face turns blue from lack of oxygen...  The run starts at 09:00, which brings up the tactical aspects of this event.  Some will be starting early, to truly appreciate the challenge of being first (possibly only) to pack deep snow, at a run.  Others will be "unavoidably" late, and wait for the not-so-bright to pack the trails for them.  At the end of the day, those who arrived late are chagrined as they missed the challenge of packing the snow (I didn't say this is an honest blog) and those who started early question their sanity...

Although I have yet to think of an analogy for running and the changing seasons, winter running provides different challenges and logistics.  How to keep water from freezing, which roads are plowed, but not icy and whether a rum toddy or a black russian will thaw your frozen face faster.  Say that 3 times after a 3 hour winter run!

So stay on the trails until the last possible moment, then join us in Creemore for some seriously stupid and dangerous winter running.  Oh!  And the bragging rights and a finisher medal that proves you conquered the Creemore Snow Run!

PS  I'm off to see the doctor tomorrow for a look at my knee.  I am running very short (5 - 7K) every other day.  Any more and I can't walk the next day.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

What Does Not Kill Us...

Sometimes denial pays off!  Although the knee pain feels like bone on bone, with swelling inhibiting motion when bending it past 90 degrees, I am guessing/hoping it is only knee strain.  It hurts less to run than to walk.  Did 17K yesterday without major pain, so I will continue to take every other day off and monitor (this is what I call avoiding a trip to the doctor) on a weekly basis.  Thanks for the offer to help diagnose the issue, Derrick.  I could not reply directly (I know, a computer challenged systems analyst...) so consider this an answer and an update.  I'll definitely contact you if this persists for 3 more years.

Two topics today!  Although podium runners probably have a different outlook (I have never been a podium runner, although through luck and logistics, I have found myself on the podium upon occasion), many ultra runners attend races in part, for the social aspect.  Purely as an observation, a race is not necessarily the best medium in which to socialize with fellow runners.  Before the race, many are a bag of nerves and can only maintain discordant communication.  We are all trying to finalize our nutrition strategy, organize drop bags, make that last life-saving trip to the loo...

During the race, talk degrades to primal grunts, shouts of "Hi!" and on some occasions, an actual conversation the lasts more than 18 nanoseconds.  After the race?  Yeah, I can't speak for everyone, but I typically look and feel like someone who has vacationed in a middle eastern war zone.  Parts of my mind and body are not working according to the scriptures, and crawling into a hole sometimes has more appeal than chatting about the race results.

So, a race venue is not always the ideal setting for chatting with the fellow runners we see at various races during the season.  Good friends Cheryl and Gerry take care of this gap by hosting a social at the end of each season, where we can get together and talk about running and hula hoops.  People are relaxed (except Barb and Ron Gehl, and daughter Laurie McGrath, who seem to think that it is neccessary to be in a accident before or after every running event.   Perhaps they need an extra challenge?) dressed in these wild non-running clothes (yeah, I had never seen them before either) and willing and able to spend a few minutes chatting, rather then mixing some strange looking brew (you're not really going to drink that, are you?) as prep for the race.

I also get a chance to talk with runners who are typically gone long before I finish, or are running a distance where I would need to stick around until the next day, to say more than hello.  Like Jeff Ashizawa, who did amazing things this year in the Ontario ultra series.  Lee Anne and I drove down with Ken Moon, another runner who is way out in front.  Ken considers himself to be a "slow" 50K runner (he excels at the longer ultras) posting lethargic times, such as 4:28.   4:28?  Slow for a 50K?  Maybe in a car.  We had so much fun talking with Ken that we took a circuitous route on the way home.

The other topic is one that I have threatened to discuss in prior blogs.  Injury list.  You might want to skip this section out of fear of boredom or to assist with your own denial...

I should present the info in some cohesive spreadsheet, but there is no true fashion of making this pretty...  Here goes!

Some injuries do not affect my running, such as crushed fingers, broken nose and hyper extended elbows.  I've listed everything in order to avoid appearing like I favour some injuries over others:

Neck.  Broken.  Rugby.  My doctor diagnosed it as broken, although technically, all I have is massive degeneration in V's 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7.  This can (and does) cause loss of feeling in both my arms.  Since it does not affect my running, it is kinda cool!

Elbow:  Hyper extended during a university rugby game.  The most pain for your dollar.

Back:  Contused lumbar region (Rugby), scoliosis, compressed disc (downhill ski racing) putting pressure on my sciatic nerve.  This is the big one, in terms of impact to running.  It curtails the amount of effective training I can undertake without ending up in a wheelchair, again.  During a race, if my back acts up, I have about 2 hours before I will lose feeling in one or both legs and fall down.  I can usually get back up, but running (as opposed to a comical lurching walk) becomes a low-percentage challenge.  Rule of thumb:  Since the pain is quite severe, if I have more than 2 hours remaining in a race (2 hours, adjusted for a zombie-slow jog) when my back gives notice, I DNF.

Right knee:  No issues (disregard the comments at the start of this blog entry and the previous entry.  Oh, and chipped knee cap (chainsaw).  All right, there is also arthritis in both knees.

Left knee:  No cartilage (high school basketball), torn patelar tendon (University rugby), cut ACL (chainsaw), IT band (who doesn't have this?), cut quadricep (swiss saw) and knee strain (arthritis).  If you have a problem with your knee, talk to me.  I can probably provide an accurate diagnosis!  When a knee causes pain, I change my running style to favour it, which usually goes away after 10 minutes.  If the pain persists, my back will give out (see above) after 30 minutes of running with a limp.

Hips:  Arthritis.  This is fairly new (less than 5 years) and interesting in that it restricts me from fully extending my legs.  There is also much more resistance, similar to running under water, resulting in more effort.  I can get at least a 10K training run effort from only 7K, if there are a few cliffs.

Ankles:  Sprained both several times (Senior A rugby, running, walking backwards near cliffs), lower achilles tendon issues (getting old) and arthritis (ditto).  Ankles have only caused an impact in one race (Niagara DNF).  Usually the pain is minor.

Feet:  Broken bone (skiing), Plantar Fasciitis (both feet, running).  Minor impact to running.

Head:  Probably no need to list this one, if you have read the above!

Nose:  Broken (rugby practice, rugby game, cross country skiing down a cliff, tobogganing down Mansfield ski hill at night)  People are always amazed that I have no sense of smell, with such a large shnoggan!  Oh, and broke it (actually just a fracture) downhill skiing out west.  Fell so hard, I could not lift my head off the snow as I slid down the hill, due to my broken neck.  While discussing it in the hot tub that night, some guy who had been quiet all week got very agitated and yell at me:  "Great!  It's people like you who make furrows in the snow with your nose and then I catch an edge and fall".

It's always the quiet ones!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Injured Again!

Denial and knees don't mix...  I have had little trouble with my right knee, but in the last 2 weeks, it has developed what I will optimistically call knee strain.  It hurts to walk.  It hurt to run (not all that much more than walking) and it is not getting better.  I did not run this weekend and the pain was very bad this morning, when I attempted to walk.  I have a limp...  You get the picture!

Cancelled the easy 7K trail run I had planned to test it...


Anyone know of any black market knees?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Life in St. Catherines

Just spent 4 days at a house in a secret location, somewhere near Niagara-on-the-Lake.  Actually, the title contains a strong hint...

We try to visit NOTL 3 - 4 times per year, but they are usually short visits as the cost of accommodations is rather steep.  They usually want an arm and/or a leg, which can cramp your running.  In this case, we stayed at the house of friends (thanks Henri and Dirty Di!), who were away at some secret location near Creemore...

Taking a mini-vacation in southern Ontario in early November is akin to playing Russian roulette.  You are taking a big chance with the weather!  This extended weekend turned out to be glorious fall weather.  Lee Anne and I took advantage of it by running along the paved Niagara trail.  The trail, made famous by the Niagara Ultra Race, runs for about 50K from NOTL to Fort Erie, passing through Queenston and Niagara falls.  Large trees, big houses, views of the Niagara river and wineries make it a wonderful route for a training run.

After a DNF at Run for the Toad, I dropped my mileage considerably, for about 4 weeks.  This week's total was 40K, without significant pain, which is a bright spot in an otherwise dismal year.  Although I was not able to complete an ultra this year, I am already toying with signing up for the Frosty Trail Run, a 3 and 6 hour trail race on January 21, 2012, near Waterloo.  Organized by Patrick Campbell of the Horror Hill Race fame, the FTR might be a good gauge of how your 2012 training is progressing.  I might even be able to put a tick beside the "U" goal early!

Well, the short vacation draws to an end.  Back to work tomorrow, but looking forward to running trails in the dark.  It is actually quite invigorating to run with head gear, trying to gauge how far away you are from the howling coyotes and whether it would be wise to pick up the pace a tad.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Crucifixion? To the Left, One Cross Only

I almost died on Thursday...

Before the snow flies, I needed to weld a retaining bracket on the snowblower.  Those of you who have run the Creemore Vertical Challenge know that my laneway is 500 meters long (for those into imperial measurements, way too long to shovel).  I have a 6 foot wide snowblower that runs off the tractor, but the discharge shute was missing a small retainer and would fall off when the snow was heavy (or when I "blew" gravel).

So I needed to install a 240 volt single phase receptacle for my welder, something I have put off for an impressive 6 years!  On Thursday, I wired the receptacle to the outlet for the kiln.  My main panel notes indicated that the kiln was wired into the dryer line.  The kiln is 7,000 watts, so I pulled the dryer/kiln fuse box and got to work wiring from the kiln outlet in the garage to a welder outlet...

I had loosened the 2 live wires (I'm no electrician, but I'm pretty sure they are black and red), the neutral (white) and the ground (green).  While joining the 2 ground wires (one leading to the welder receptacle), the black live wire sprang loose and touched the screwdriver I was holding.  The resulting arc was impressive, melting the tip of the screwdriver.  The molten metal melted the tips of 3 of my fingers and left my temporarily blinded.

My first thought is that I could use a current meter...  My second thought was something along the lines of "Gee (I used more emphatic descriptors) I could have died".  The Kiln (mislabelled on the main panel - by me) is connected to the oven line.  I blew one of two 35 amp fuses.  Had I held a live wire and the ground, I'm not sure if the current passing through my body would be enough to blow the fuse.  Perhaps there are electricians out there who could argue the point, but I think I would have died before the fuse blew.

I shut the main breaker (I have 100 amp service for the house) and completed the wiring.  Today I welded the retainer brackets on the snowblower - the welder worked marvelously!

Moral:  If you are working a a 70 amp line, make sure it is truly disconnected.  I could have turned on one of the 5 elements on the kiln and watched to see if it turned red.

On the bright side, the snowblower is ready for the winter and although it has been 23 years since I operated a mig welder at Honda, my welding is not too shabby!  But perhaps from now on I will take a bit off extra time to ensure I am safe before undertaking any electrical work!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Doug Barber Bad Road 65K

Just a quick post while I have some time.  Doug Barber (250+ marathons or ultras) invited a few friends on Saturday, October 22, to run 65K and help celebrate his 65th birthday.  Henri Ragetlie and I manned the S/F aid station.  We had everything!  Tents (although we didn't put them up), music, his and hers washrooms, cold weather, wine and an innate ability to guess exactly what the runners wanted, then give it to them, even if they kept telling us they didn't want any damn dark chocolate!  The boiled potatoes, fresh out of my garden, went over well, especially with the runners that had never experienced a longish ultra (more than 50K) and were surprised to see cold, salted boiled potatoes at the AS.

It was cold!  The forecast promised (I know, but I grew up near Disney Land) sun and cloud, with a high of 10.  For almost the entire day, it was overcast, windy and the temperature struggled to reach 7 degrees.  I think my rib about Owen Sound being close to the north pole did not go unnoticed.  Anyway, Henri and I kept relatively warm, using Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, tools that should be handled with care and make sure to read the directions...

About 13 runners ran various distances.  I "paced" Lee Anne for a 12K out and back loop.  The quotes are because I had trouble keeping up with Lee Anne!  She ran 40K the day before and I could not keep up to her from (her) 36K to 48K.  Lee Anne went on to complete 60K before calling it a day.  Although not many of the 13 intended to complete the 65K, Doug Barber and Ron Gehl pulled through and crossed the finish line.  Some tactics were in evidence during the day, such as when Ron's support (his wife Barb) went for a hike just as Ron was finishing his fourth loop (48K).  Ron had intended to call it a day, but without Barb (she took the keys to the van), Ron had to keep going.  He grumbled something about Barb "doing this on purpose", which was unfair, although perfectly true!  Ron mentioned that he had run 5 long races (mainly ultras) in the last 15 days and was beat.

Doug ran an smart, steady race and looked fresh right until the end.  He had an amazing time, which I don't know as they wouldn't let me near the timing clipboard after the second bottle of wine.

We capped the day by having a fine meal and awards at Tomato Joe, in Owen Sound.

The race was held on the Tom Thompson Trail near Owen Sound and would make a lovely venue for a 24K, 50K and 100K race.  Doug, are you reading this hint?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Running and Chainsaws Don't Mix

Before I go any further, I should state that I don't mean running while operating a chainsaw don't mix.  Although it is quite apparent that they don't, I am referring to cutting firewood for 4 hours, then attempting a run.  The crux of the matter is my back.  Of course, a lack of conditioning has an impact (I was getting to that) but running when you cannot stand up straight is more than tricky, it is also painful.  In a somewhat doubtful epiphany, I decided to run the next morning...  You guessed it!  I could hardly get out of bed.  This all stems from taking a few days off to finish the pottery studio, set up more maple syrup taps and cut some firewood.  I also cut 8 large cedar posts (20 feet long - basically the whole tree) for a cabin I plan to build next year, up on the maple bush.  I much prefer going for a run after work.  Work involves quality time on a computer (uncannily similar to blogging!) and sitting in meetings.  A "day off" involves serious attempts at self-mutilation.  I dread weekends and mark the days until I can go back to work!

This reversal of typical North American values has a corollary in races.  Running a race can be euphoric and cause for celebration.  Then there are those days where toeing the line results in a plethora of unpleasantries.  Volunteering, on the other hand, can be tough work.  Ask the people at Seaton this year.  Or those who helped at last year's Creemore Horizontal 100 miler.  A bunch of wacked out crazies decided it would be quite funny to hold a 100 mile race in Creemore, in late November...  Actually, it still sounds funny!  But volunteering at a race can be very rewarding, especially when you realize that by not running the race, you don't look or feel like the wasted zombies to which you are doling out water and peanut butter sandwiches.

So, when Doug Barber decided to celebrate his 65th birthday by holding a 65K fun run on October 22 in Owen Sound (go to the north pole and turn left), I jumped at the chance to run an aid station!  Even better, I will share the duties with my friend Henri.  What could be better than spending time with a friend, handing out water to zombies?  What will keep us warm?  Do we both have DD's?

Henri is coming off an injury, but there is a chance we can get in a loop.  The course is actually an out-and-back along 6.5K of trail.  Each loop is 13K and the runners will clock 5 laps.  For those of you who have always wanted to run 65K in late October somewhere near the north pole, here are some details.  Perhaps we will meet up!

Kiwanis Soccer Complex, 3005 9th Ave. East, Owen Sound
October 22, 2011 @ 08:00 (ish)
Registration at 07:00
Cost:  Free (now I have your attention!)
A donation to the Tom Thomson Trail would be appreciated
Showers after the run
Doug has booked a nice restaurant for afters

I'm looking forward to volunteering and holding those quality 30 seconds chats with runners.  Then I get to yell "Get out of my aid station!" as I was trained by John Rennison, also known as the aid station captain.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Run For The Toad

I don't know how many runners entertain thoughts of organizing their own race.  It can be a wonderful idea, if (in my case) you have a thoroughly challenging course that demands to be shared with other, preferably unsuspecting, souls.  Execution of your plan can be something entirely different than what you envisioned.  It is tough to hold an event these days.  Gone are the times when you could hold a race on a whim, with little planning and less thought to details such as medical, police, port-a-potties, insurance, websites, registration and personal liability...

Now imagine a race that has it all.  Makes international marathons look limited in scope, has high-end catered lunch, great prizes, an amazing trail, a civilized 9:30 start and the most ultra runners of any race in Canada.  Yes, Run for the Toad.  The Toad is organized down to the finest details by Peggy and George Sarson.  George and Peggy put their hearts into the Toad each year.  As a race director, all I can do is look around their race pavilion and take notes.  No race approaches the experience or the chance to see some of Canada's best runners up close.  Last year, I chatted with Ellie Greenwood.

The course is a 12.5K loop of mainly trail, with some small paved sections.  There are no monster hills, but before you ignore the rollers and attempt to scream it at max VO2, prepare your will.  There is one short but indecently steep kicker just past the 11K mark.  If you overdo it, there is a bench at the top of the hill that you can share with a skeleton.  Look closely at the volunteers.  Some of Ontario's top ultra talent are handing you a cup of water, or enticing you to try a pretzel.  The Ontario ultra community is a small family and they are all at the Toad, racing or volunteering.

Oh yeah, my race report...

I did not train nearly enough for the 50K distance and as we well know, 50K is not a distance in which you can cheat on your training without suffering dire consequences.  I started off slowly, hoping to prolong the time before my lack of training would take more than an intrinsic toll.  I had some difficulty in the first loop, the same troubles with stiff joints I refuse to call arthritis.  At times, it takes considerable effort to extend my leg forward.  The start of the second loop filled me with hope as the effort of running eased somewhat.  I was tiring at 14K and took a gel, which seemed to help me to maintain a decent gait.  Things went from good to better as I was able to drink a large amount of water (I have GERDS - Gastro esophagus reflux disease - which means I cannot swallow and tend to throw up during races) and was feeling very positive as the race progressed.

Who was it that said that all good things must come to an end?  I hit 20K and was actually passing a few runners!  I was becoming tired due to a lack of training, but running was pain-free.  Until 20K...

I felt a twinge in my left knee.  This is my bad knee.  No cartilage, problems with the ACL, patella tendon, IT band and lower quads, to name a few of the injuries.  This happens on every long run and it usually recedes after 1 - 2K.  So I continued to run, favouring the left knee ever so slightly, waiting for the pain to subside.  No such luck.  For 4K, the pain became progressively worse, until I was performing a running lurch that must be hilarious to watch.  At 24K, I had to make a decision.  In previous races, when my left knee forced me into a hobbling run, I have about 30 minutes before my back goes out.  Once the back goes out, the writing is on the wall.  I have no more than an hour of sheer agony before I lose feeling in my right leg and fall down.  Getting back up ranges from crawling up a tree, to quality 911 time...

I knew there wasn't another 26K left in my legs, so I would be walking at about the 30K mark, if back pain did not sideline me first.  Did I mention how great the lunch was?  Did I mention that there might not be any left if I completed after 5:00 PM?  I had many ready-made excuses and knew them to be such, but I was also not willing to spend the next 5 hours in pain, simply to finish my first ultra of 2011.  I decided to call it a day at 25K.

This causes a problem.  This will be the first year since 2004 in which I have not run an ultra.  Something has to be done.  Suggestions are most welcome.

On the bright side, I ran 7K this evening without any pain and very little effort.  This is the beauty of running.  Your deepest self-imposed low (not running an ultra in 2011) is quickly replaced by something positive.  Maybe I can train effectively now.  By April of next year, I'll be running 50K's with the front runners (please attempt to forget that I am 53 years old), moving up to an age category podium finish, run all the OUS ultras and cure cancer...

Well, gotta go get a medical degree this weekend!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

West Highland Way

Okay, typically I'm overly verbose, tend towards the bulging emails, write a paragraph when a yes or no will do...  I think you get the drift!

I also tend to become preoccupied when "on a project", such as the pottery studio I'm building for Lee Anne, hence the 11 day hiatus from this blog.  So, rather than spend an acceptable (inordinate) amount of time dealing with an embarrassing lack of technical calendar reading (also known as scheduling), I will copy the article written about the West Highland Way.   The "Way" is staggering in scenery, wonderful to experience and a unique view of Scottish land and life.  The article does little justice to how glorious the experience was and how much we experienced.

But first, a succinct line or two on my glaring scheduling faux-pas...  Basically, I thought I had 2 weekends between now and the Run for the Toad!  For those calendarially challenged such as I, the Toad is next weekend (9 days from tomorrow).  Out the window go my plans to ramp up to 28K for 2 weeks before the race.  Unfortunately, the reality is that running 50K at the Toad is also not practically possible.

Let's get on to the Way:

Running the West Highland Way

Considered a rite of passage for the Scottish, the 95-mile West Highland Way (the Way) is a wondrous venue for exploring and appreciating Scotland.  It covers majestic landscapes in both the lowlands north of Glasgow and the highlands, culminating in Fort Williams.

There are many packages for hiking the trail, typically in 7 or 8 days.  There is also a race for those who would like to test themselves against the terrain.  In 2011, the race started at 1:00 AM on June 19th with a cut-off at noon on June 20th.  This provides a generous 35 hours to cover the 95 miles.

Most of the course is quite runnable, following well-marked paths or older roads comprised of gravel, pavement or cobblestone.  Some trail sections are more technical in nature, but these only represent about 15-20% of the course.

Planning to break the course record?  In 2006, Jez Bragg ran the WHW in 15:44:50.  The next year saw Lucy Colquhoun shave 20 minutes from the woman’s record with a time of 17:16:20.  The race started in 1985 with two runners and aside from missing a few years, continues to this day.  In 2011, 113 runners beat the 35-hour cut-off.

Are you interested?  Check out for details.  Entry for 2012 opens in September or October of 2011.  Read the rules carefully, for there are hidden gems, such as you must have motorized support and at least 2 crew on your team and you are not allowed a pacer if you are within 4 hours of the leader!

My wife Lee Anne and I hiked the Way in 6 days.  Although no day was as difficult as running a 50K race, we hiked up to 22 miles on one day, which took about 9 hours.  You truly deserve a dram of scotch after such a feat!    The Way starts at Milngavie, 12 miles from the Glasgow airport.  Milngavie is more or less a suburb of Glasgow and at the start, the Way reminded me of any crushed rock trail inside a city.  A very pleasant way to start a long journey.  Throughout the lowlands, the trail is mainly on groomed trail or road, but with enough technical bits to require some of your attention on the path forward.  The scenery is splendid; it seems everything in Scotland is lush and green, or historic.  I excitedly took pictures of waterfalls, until the tally superseded 50, and then tended to consider them as no big deal.  Loch (lake) Lomond figures prominently in the lowlands, with startling vistas from Conic Hill.

Once you arrive at Crianlarch, the trail turns more rugged and the Highlands start.  Viewing a country via a “horizontal” trail is new to us.  We tend to hike trails in the mountains and have done so in Scotland and other countries.  These “vertical” hikes are most impressive and provide beautiful vistas, but hiking “horizontally” brings you in touch with the history, architecture and natural beauty of a country.  Highly recommended!

Lee Anne runs about 90 miles per week and went for a few 10-mile runs after the shorter days, typically comprised of 14 miles of hiking.  I found 95 miles in 6 days just about right, thank you.  On 2 days, we both ran the last 6 – 8 miles and were quite surprised that it would have been easy to run part or all of the Way throughout the 6 days.  In retrospect, a very doable run.  Either as a 95 mile race in under 35 hours, or as a 2 – 4 day run / hike.  We booked with Macs Adventures, as we prefer B&B’s to camping.  It tends to rain in Scotland!  Macs Adventures ( was hassle-free.  They book the hotels and B&B’s, transport luggage to the next room and provide excellent maps and details of the hike.

For runners with Scotland on the bucket list, consider the West Highland Way.  The trail is a wonderful Way to see Scotland and run some interesting terrain!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Wasaga Beach Half

I am still resenting the decision (actually a lack of a timely decision) to skip Haliburton.  The reason was acceptable, I couldn't afford the time just now to drive over on Friday evening, run a race (Curly would start at 06:00), wait around for Curly to finish 50K or 50M, then arrive in Creemore Saturday evening.  I am building Curly a 12' X 20' pottery studio.  She plans to ramp up her pottery, now that she has retired from teaching.

Being in IT at Honda and involved in project schedules, (I tend to default to the technical project lead, even when I instruct my managers not to slot me into such a position.  Managers!  Who can trust them...) I like to keep personal projects on schedule.  I know, run, think about running, write about running...

A surprise phone call at work on Wednesday from Curly culminated in her signing us up for the Wasaga Beach half marathon.  The half is actually a wonderful distance.  The course was flat (flatter than Creemore!), a mixture of road and bits of trail, and it doesn't burn the day away, such as a 50K 3 hours from home.

A half is also a distance at which you can "cheat" on your training.  From my perspective, the first 5K of Wasaga was painful and slow, as the various ailments resist running faster that a slow hobble.  From 5 to 10K, I can ramp it up to a fast, lurching hobble, with little pain.  Quite enjoyable!  From 10 to 15K, my lack of training resulted in a short black period, in which running became painful surviving.  From 15K to the end was a bit better, as I kept repeating to myself that I only had 6 more K!

A finishing time of 2:05 was my second slowest ever, but I'm happy, given the lack of training.  An added burden stemmed from handling 6 bushcord of firewood last week and hauling wood and hammering on Friday and Saturday, something I do infrequently.  It was strange to run with significant resistance in the shoulders and arms.

I can now look forward to running 50K at the Toad.  How am I going to do this without proper training?  A very good question!  Any hints or suggestions?  My only recourse at this point is to attempt a 30K next weekend, then execute a perfect taper.  "A" plan is run 25K, then run/walk 12.5K, then walk/crawl the forth loop.  B plan is to run 25K, then DNF.  The plan will depend on how much pain I am managing at the 25K point.

Well, the floor is done and 2 walls are framed, but time to swing a hammer!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Confusion Reigns Supreme!

Okay, I've been very very bad this week.  I had hoped to run Haliburton or with Ron Irwin (West Grey Runner) who scheduled quality time yesterday on the Bruce Trail at Beaver Valley.  Guess what?  Time commitments precluded both endeavors as I needed to complete the firewood supply for one of my sisters and myself, before starting a new pottery studio for Lee Anne this coming weekend.  Today is Lee Anne's first official day of retirement!  She is looking forward to once again becoming a professional potter, after teaching primary classes for 27 years.

So, firewood, pottery studio and running.  Did I mention I work for a living?  I know, my priorities are running, thinking about running, writing about running and way down the list, "other"...  To be fair, this week I have been writing an article on the West Highland Way in Scotland.  Lee Anne and I hiked the Way in August.  Inspiring scenery, epic hiking and a wonderful way to see Scotland.  There is also a race that follows the 95 mile Way.  I hope to post soon.

At some point I need to post on my injury list.  The task is surprisingly daunting, as I have been running for 38 years and was also active in sports that are usually not considered sedentary in nature.  While playing Rugby for Waterloo University, my teammate's ear became infected after having been partially torn off.  He needed a note to play against McMaster, but his Doctor knew little of the sport.  He convinced the doctor that Rugby was similar to tennis, and was granted a doctor's note to play!  Similar to running, denial is a large component of high-impact sports...

For fun, let's start with the left knee:  Operation to remove cartilage (embarrassingly enough, it was high school basketball), damaged ACL (chainsaw), torn petellar tendon (rugby), ripped quadricep (Swiss saw), IT band (running) and knee strain (arthritis).  I jokingly state that my left knee is the good one!  Enough frivolity, I better call it a night...

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Advice on Running

Running is a highly personal endeavor.  We run races for several good reasons, such as to spend time with others that share our passion, meet up with friends, test ourselves against the field (Hey!  I'm 33rd out of 49 in my AC.  Awesome!) and to provide us with goals.  We run to keep fit, enjoy the great outdoors, get out in winter and to put our daily stress into perspective.  Reasons for running vary tremendously.  Someone who has run ultras for years (Doug Barber) has a totally different perspective on running than someone who has finished their first 30 minute training run.

Where is this all leading?  I wrote a short article on running that provides advice more from the skewed ultra counter-culture perspective than what is normally found in a running mag, intended for beginners.

2 notes before the article:

I have always struggled with completing a 50K "ultra" race.  This is due to a considerable injury list, that precludes sound training practices.  I talk of 50M and 100M races, but not from experience.  I hope to one day find the correct mix of motivation, training, free time and medication to undertake a 50M race.

The article is not intended as sound advice for training, nutrition or the correct alignment towards mental fortification.  It is intended as a vehicle to highlight alternative perspectives.  Enjoy!

One interesting aspect of running is that, aside from runners on school or elite teams, most get to pick which races they enter.  Even at the ultra distance, there is a considerable selection of races from which to choose.  Since both my wife and I run, we can also incorporate a race into a vacation.  At the start of a year, it’s fun to map out which races you plan to enter, but not so much fun when you realize your body is not keeping up to your expectations…

Here are some tips regarding your “ultra race wish list”.  These tips are meant for runners who are relatively new to ultra racing (less than 65 years running ultras) or fall into the “human” category.  Those who fall outside this category know who they are, for the most part.  A brief caveat on these tips.  They should not be confused with what is realistic, sane or any other description that does not apply to runners.  Try mentally noting all the runners you know that are realistic.  See what I mean?

 Number of races to enter

This depends on several factors such as cost (ignore this), travelling distance (ignore this also), logistics of fitting a race into the other demands on your time (wow!  Ignorance is bliss!) and how long it takes to recover from the previous race.  This last one is important, but I cannot remember why.  The best advice is to take the number of races you did last year, add 3 and divide by the square root of the number of major injuries you incurred during the second half of the year.  This formula may appear to be a complete fabrication, but it has the benefit of looking trendy, so let’s move on.  No one will remember it next year, anyway.

Vacation races

This has been given considerable exposure in the running magazines, but most articles fail to point out some salient facts that can be critical to a good experience, yet are not overly apparent.  Example:  If you are running an ultra out west, do not climb a mountain the day before the race.  This may seem like a good idea at the time, but mountain climbing takes a long time and is surprisingly dehydrating.  When you get back to town, you will need a nap and forget to drink water.  After the nap, it will be time to drive to the race.  Stopping at the first aid station for 6 glasses of water is considered bad form and results in an embarrassing sloshing sound for the next 25K.


You will heal more quickly if you complain about them, especially to other runners.  Injuries can be divided into 2 categories.  Those you can “run through” and still heal, and those that take a hell of along time to heal, when you continue running.  Rule of thumb:  If the injury persists for more than 3 years, see a doctor, preferably a psychiatrist.  It is important to correctly assess the extent of the injury.  Is that hamstring pull a micro tear or an ubertear?  Within 2 days of injuring a hamstring, you should schedule a speedwork session.  This will provide you with conclusive proof if it is an ubertear.

How to choose a race

You need to ask yourself some serious questions, then sign up for the race.  I didn’t say you need to answer the questions, hence the signing up before the realization hits, that you are woefully unprepared for the race.

Does it improve my chances of winning the series/challenge/cup?  It is important to know if the race is part of the race grouping you are intent on winning.  It is critical to run as many races not affiliated with the series/challenge/cup, for bragging rights.  “Yeah, I only came in 62nd, but I ran 16 races outside the series”.  This really impresses the series winner…

Is the race way beyond my abilities or training?  This question is so patently ignored by ultra runners, it hardly needs mentioning.  You have just struggled through a 50K race on a gentle flat broadpath trail race.  It almost killed you.  The logical progression is to sign up for that rugged, brutal 50 miler that is 3 weeks away.  No chance of training properly, you will need to wake up at 2:00 and drive for 3 hours to reach the starting line and the hills will destroy what’s left of your legs.  With luck, you will be eaten by bears, which is the only satisfactory excuse for doing poorly at a race.

What is the post-race food?  I actually cannot think of anything funny or derisive about this question.  It might be the only aspect that should be seriously considered as part of your decision to enter a race.  Try to remember what you were thinking at the finish of your last 50K or 80K.  Actually, thinking isn’t truly a factor.  Aside from being close to tears because you have just done the stupidest thing you can think of, your weary war-torn body is self-propelling to the food station.  You have no choice in the matter.  Stale bagels taste like a Michael Stadtlander masterpiece.  Of course, this implies the post-race food is not important.  Perhaps the question should be “Is there post-race food?”.

How much international media attention will I get?

It is very important to enter only those races that will enhance your media profile.  I cannot remember the reasoning behind this, but it has to do with positioning yourself so that you can ultimately quit work and be paid huge sums of money to run.  This was the consensus a bunch of us reached in the Angel pub, after the Niagara Ultra.

We also realized that running and winning the major marathons is tantamount to cheating.  You need to mid-pack obscure races in hostile climates.  Again, the reasoning escapes me at this precise moment, but I do recall that there were sound, lucid arguments supporting the conclusions.  It was almost an epiphany, just after the Tequila shots…

Do I run the risk of getting injured?

Avoid all races where the answer is no.  If you run a 50K race and have no chance of pulling a muscle, twisting an ankle or falling down a cliff while being chased by cougars, you will have to move to Orlando, Florida and live at Disney World.  I apologize for being so vehement, but avoiding this tactical error is a must.  Think of it this way:  You are talking to a bunch of ultra sisters and brothers, discussing this month’s injuries and you mention that you are injury free.  This will coincide with a lull in the noise level throughout the room and everyone will hear you.  A death-like silence will last longer than it takes to tie the spotless shoes that cover your healthy pink toenails.  Everyone will slowly move away from you, never breaking eye contact with The Freak (that’s you).  Any questions?

How much will it cost?

I happen to live 15 minutes from the starting line of the Duntroon / Stayner Canada Day 8K.  The race is free.  I can get up at 7:00, drive leisurely and make it to the race a half an hour before the start.  Very disappointing!  The most memorable races are those that involve complex travelling logistics, huge entry fees, massive crowds, a sprinkling of blood and a stale bagel at the end.  Why enter an event that does not test your physical, mental and financial limits?  If you can include stratospheric airfare to some isolated hellhole, sleep deprivation and a DNF due to heat prostration, consider it a bonus!

Should I run the race?

If you have read to this point, then you have already answered the question…

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Let's Begin at The Beginning!

Okay, this is primarily a test, to see if I can successfully navigate through the site and actually post something!

This post will contain mainly content regarding the sport of running.  I have been running ever since this surgeon-guy removed the cartilage in my left knee.  Why did he do such a thing?  Because it was causing some discomfort and I could not bend my knee past 90 degrees.  Oh, and he assured me it was torn.  Back when the earth was cooling (1973), post-op recovery was comprised of one phone call to your surgeon.  (I made this up.  It is a fabrication.  Please note that in the future, what I declare emphatically, is usual wrong, twisted, or an outright lie...  Sorry)  My question was:  What should I do to keep my knee healthy?  Dr. Coreless's answer:  Exercise.  Always one to push the envelope, I asked him a second question:  "Like, running?".  Yes.

I have been running ever since.