Saturday, June 28, 2014

One Week to Go!

Preparations for the Creemore Vertical Challenge are progressing smoothly.  It helps to have more than 1 week to cram in all the chores, tasks, communications and shopping before the race.  Let's start with the fun stuff - the weather!

I take a somewhat perverse delight in watching the long range forecast before the race.  It is always something pleasant, or at least provides some room for optimism.  Hey!  Only 30C and a light breeze.  Luxury!  Then on the day before the race, they change the forecast to horrific heat, humidity, tornadoes, thunder and lightning.  One year we had all of the above!  And I don't mind the crazy weather.  Why?  Because I stand around at the start/finish and cheer people on.  Okay, that was low, even for me.  I ran most of the course yesterday.  It was only 27, but high humidity.  I brought one water bottle.  I sipped sparingly and it lasted until 19K.  I do this on purpose, so that I am aware that running out of water at the aid stations is a really bad idea...  For those who want a good chuckle on race day, the current forecast is calling for partially cloudy with a low of 14 and a high of 23.  We can sit around the medical tent and joke about it after the race!

As mentioned before, there will be chip timing this year.  I know that chip timing is not flawless (there will be manual backup, in case) but I struggled with the homegrown finish time entry system almost every year.  The trickiest part was trying to print results.  A finisher could not be recorded during the print set-up!

I have just installed a new bridge in the swamp.  I'm not 100% happy with it.  The leading edge is a bit dicey.  However, it is a lot better than the gnome bridge (what did you call it Chris Mc?) and hopefully no one will drown.

The signs have been painted in the CVC colours.  For those who missed last year, the new tech T-shirt colours are navy blue art on a lime green background.  "Garish" comes to mind, but the shirts are highly visible, even at dusk.  There are more signs, although chances are good that someone will get lost again this year.  It is difficult to direct runners on country roads.  I could use about 15 marshals for the more critical intersections, but I don't have 15 friends...  Well, at least those willing to stand out in the hot sun for 6 hours directing traffic!  I have also created a sign that reads "Creemore Vertical Challenge" for posting at the race site, to help those new to the race.

The aid stations will have about the same fare as in previous years.  This year, there will be no gels.  There will be more ice, especially during the afternoon.  Aid stations 2 and 3 (which are both visited twice per loop) will have a 220L dunk barrel, as the sponge stations tend to run out of water in the afternoon.

Home base will offer aid station fare.  Perfect Pizza and Creemore Springs Brewery are back on board.  The water is now being sourced from Dennis Campbell, who has volunteered in past years as the photographer.  His work is excellent - check it out:

Well, back at it!  I still have to final-prep the trails, then I can start flagging (in more ways than one!).

Go Sharon Z!  (she currently running Western States).

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Niagara 50K Race Report

Reader's Digest version:  Good race, insufficient training...

Before I get to the skinny on the Niagara Ultra, Lee Anne and I feel honoured that Charlotte Vasarhelyi has asked us to crew and pace for her on the Rideau Trail (RTA).  I'm sure it has nothing to do with the fact that we are retired and are free on any given day!

The RTA is about 330K and Char plans to run it in 3 - 4 days.  After a brief scan of the trail descriptions, I was under the misconception that it was mainly road, with a few trail sections.  Until Char clarified that the description provided the name of the road at the trail head.  The RTA is influenced by the Canadian shield (granite outcroppings, elevation changes) and has a high incursion of beaver related terrain... Swamp.  Can't wait!  This all gets going on Saturday (June 21) for Char - we will join her on Sunday.

Niagara 50K:  Get Out of Jail Free

Training is a huge component of ultra running.  Without training, it is called ultra ruining.  When you are young, it is fine to skip a few recovery runs.  Skipping the longer "time on your feet" runs is not so good.  Doubly so when you head north of 50 years of age.  I can't entirely explain it, but my running was simply not very enjoyable during May and the early part of June.  I think that retiring was a significant factor.  Before May 1, my MO was to crowd the weekend with running, biking, cutting firewood, landscaping, etc. - basically a 2 day attempt to drive myself into exhaustion.  But this was fine!  I could look forward to 5 days, sitting at a desk, to recover.  As Peter Sellers would say "Not any more!".  After a mere 3 weeks of retirement, I was bruised, bleeding, sore, tired and dragging in a way that is hard to fathom, if you have been sitting at a desk for the last 30 years!

After 6 weeks, I have lost about 10 pounds and starting to recover faster.  I think the saving grace leading up to the 50K was a 25K run on the Bruce Trail that took 4.5 hours.  There is no substitute for time on your feet!  I also ran a half-decent trail half marathon the week before Niagara.  Nothing epic, but 2:09 for 21.1K with a few hills and a sprinkling of technical bits.

So, 2 half-decent training runs and I'm about to tackle a 50K?  Yes, I was concerned and worried about the blow-up.  I had 3 goals.  C:  Run to 15K, turn around and run back, for a 30K DNF.  B:  Beat last year's time of 6:29.  A:  Run 50K in under 6 hours.  The A goal meant that I would not be able to take any walking breaks, as my current long distance speed is damn slow.  This was fine with me as I dread walking breaks.  The first few are good recovery, but after a bunch, they don't really provide much recovery and it is a herculean effort to resume running.  I often joke that I am too tired to walk.  It is somewhere near the truth!

So the card you are dealt in running a 50K without much training can range from "Congratulations on a new injury", reactivating an old injury, massive recovery time (6 months anyone?) to, when older, the extremely remote chance that nothing bad happens...  Guess where my race fits in?

I started slowly.  How slow?  At about 2K, I look back to see if there was anyone behind me.  There was!  I ran for a while with a woman from Great Britain (I think England) but let her go when the pace slowly crept up to "uncomfortable".  My plan was to gel every 10K and take salt at the aid stations between the gels.  I had a truly ugly race in 2013, although I just found out it was 33C last year, so perhaps there was a reason why I overheated so badly.  This year, I even walked the hill at Queenston!  I was surprised at how easy the hill really is.  I always envision it as being steeper (as steep as Hill #1 on the Creemore course) and longer, but in reality, it is a very easy-to-run hill.  I walked it regardless.

Predictably, I started to get tired at 15K, but with no major issues, decided to abandon goal C and try for A or B.  It would be really easy to say I nailed the hydration, electrolyte and nutrition, but at the speed I was running, it is not very difficult to do things right.  Conversely, it is really easy to do things wrong at any speed!  I can only imagine how hard it must be for someone running 50K in under 4 hours, to dial in nutrition correctly.

No issues at 20K.  I spent about 2 minutes at the turn-around (25K) and refuelled, hydrated, took Ibuprofen and made sure I was good to go, for another 25K.  Of course I forgot something!  Fortunately it was simply a timing issue.  At 27K, I remembered that I had not taken salt.  The dialogue in my mind was brief:  "I need to take salt.  Should I wait until the 30K aid station? NO!  TAKE IT NOW!"  The words in caps stemmed from my legs.

Just before the 30K AS, I took another gel.  I could no longer make it 10K between gels.  I continued to get tired, but was surprised that I could maintain my slow pace without much duress.  At 35K, the "Circus of Injuries" started.  There is a point in every race where the mind and body join to try and derail your race plans.  I think this because pushing past a certain point is tough, both mentally and physically, and the body rebels.  The mind is bored, so it joins in the fun.  For me, that point came at 35K.  The knees threatened to give out, my back was hurting and my right ankle started throbbing.  I laughed heartily at my body's feeble attempt to make me stop and continued running.  About 38K, I realized I don't have an ankle injury.  Hmm.  The ankle continued to get more and more painful.  I have had ankle pain before at races, almost exclusively at Niagara, about the only race where I run for 50K on pavement.  Since I was getting seriously tired and hurting in many places, the ankle pain was nice to have, since it focused my attention away from the real injuries.

At 40K, I was tired, in pain, but doing well.  At 43K, I broke my rule and took a 30 second walking break.  I needed to take salt, but my fingers were too swollen to unzip my belt and prise open a Ziploc bag while running.  At 45K, I filled my bottle and started for the finish.  It was great to see the single digit kilometre markers go by!  4K, 3K, etc.  With about a mile to go, someone mentioned that if we picked up the pace, we could break 6 hours.  Although struggling, I pushed for the first time during the race and was rewarded with a pace that was (probably) slightly faster than a 6 minute kilometre.  In hindsight, had I know how much time was remaining, there was no need to increase the pace.  I reached the finish line in 5:55:xx.  It felt great to post a sub-six hour 50K!

During the last year, I have run three 50K races.  Niagara (2013) in 6:29, Toad in 6:14 and Niagara (2014) in 5:55.  If I extrapolate into the future, I should break the 50K world record in about 8 more attempts!  I know, don't hold your breath...

A huge thanks to the volunteers and race director Henri for putting on a fine show!  Dawn Hamel (who dragged me out for the 4.5 hour run on the Bruce Trail) ran the 100K in 9:33, which shaves about 22 minutes off the Canadian record for her age category.  Way to go, superstar Dawn!

And now I continue to prepare for the Creemore Vertical Challenge on Saturday, July 5.  There will be some changes again this year:  Chip timing, a new clay body for the awards and finishing medals, better brighter signs and cooling stations (okay, sponges and head dunk tanks) and a new bridge through the swamp!

Dig Deep!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Status Report: First month of Retirement

Rather than crowd my first year of retirement with too many objectives, I thought I would keep it simple and assume a limited number of projects.  My "normal" tasks, including the races; Creemore Vertical Challenge and Copper kettle Dash, prep for the maple syrup season, cut firewood for a few customers and myself, and a few other projects for this year, including helping to build a house (Lee Anne's daughter Lily and son-in-law Daryl's house), upgrade the bathroom and sunroom and build a cabin on the Singhampton property...

Thrown into the mix is a strong desire to make the races better (new signs, better bridges in the swamp, etc.), spend more time in the gardens, landscape and increase my training (running and biking).  I think you see where this is going...

A week has 168 hours.  I know this because of my "old" job, which included fiddling with several part ordering systems (parts needed to make Hondas).  Some of the more esoteric systems needed to perform calculations based on roughly a half hour breakdown of transit times, staging times ("production" hours) where parts could be unloaded and readied for the assembly lines.  On a personal level, I never really analysed the impact of "not" working on my available time.  If you exclude sleep (let's factor in showers, breakfast, etc. and call "sleep" 8 hours per day), there are about 16 hours per day that are available for "projects".  Let's keep things simple and declare that work represent only 40 of the remaining 112 hours.  I know, travel time to work alone used to burn 6 hours per week.  Disregard, damn it!  So, when I worked, I had 72 "project" hours per week and I now have 112.  Not an order of magnitude, which is what I THOUGHT I would have...

A tangible problem with retirement that I never considered, is that I can CHOOSE what to do on almost any given day.  This sounds wonderful (and it is!) but it also means that bizarre tasks that no one should consider doing are gladly slotted into my daytime schedule.  Let's bike to Owen Sound, or Angus, or Phelpston (all of these were done in the last 2 weeks).  I hopped on the tractor and started to dig out the pond.  This actually requires some foresight as you need to block the inlet 3-4 days ahead, so that the pond bed has a chance to dry out a little.  The muck in the pond is an alarming 3 feet thick.  Think of the volume!  My smallish pond (about 20' X 80') has about 180 YARDS of muck.  That would be about 18 large dump truck loads.  I realized I had nowhere to put the mud, so I abandoned the task, until the fall.

So, the Creemore Vertical Challenge SAP (Specific Action Plan) is mostly on schedule, but I'm surprised that I am not way ahead of the plan.  What have I been doing, lallygagging?


I am not happy with my running as yet.  It is starting to improve, but the curve is very slow.  Ran a half marathon trail run on the weekend (12 Mile Creek) in 2:09, which is acceptable, but bodes badly for next week's race, the Niagara 50K.  I will run as far as this body will allow, then DNF if I must.  No, I don't want to drop to the half, it's not something that would inspire me.

Well, that is about it for now.  I will be glad when the CVC is over.  Not because I dread it, but because I still have a "job" to do, until it is complete.  I think retirement will truly start once I can stop adhering to a schedule.

Hey!  Hope to see you are the CVC!