Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Haliburton Forest 50 Mile Race Report

For those of you fortunate enough not to have run anything longer than 50K, let me tell you that 50 miles (80K) is a LONG race.  Imagine running and after 6 hours on the trails, thinking that a spot of lunch would be good just about now, then realizing that it would be more than another 6 hours before you can stop for a meal.  By then, it will be supper time.  At about this point, your stomach should be saying "Hey!  Wait a minute.  Don't I get a say in this decision?".  In reality, your stomach is not too happy and busy trying to process the cocktail of pills, goo and junk food you have been shovelling into your mouth...

With 5 races of 50K or a bit further over the summer, I felt I had a sufficient base to attempt the 50 mile distance for the first time.  At no point did I consider myself well trained for an 80K race.  Perhaps living with Lee Anne can be a detriment when determining what is construed as "sound" training for a long race.  Lee Anne runs 50K (+-) every Friday and 40K (+-) every Saturday.  Unless she is running 100 miles or something "long"...  So I perceived my five 50+K runs as a skeleton on which I needed to hang some meat and possibly an organ or two.  Since my weekly mileage was not spectacular, I figured the best thing I could do is run the 50 miler at a slow and steady pace.  Walk all the hills, slow down for technical bogs, etc. where a face plant could cost more than a few minutes.

Haliburton Forest Trail run takes place in (duh!) Haliburton Forest, a 65,000 acre tract of land owned by one person.  Not a corporation, not "Haliconglomorate", but a person just like you or me, but with enough maple trees to set up 3,000,000 taps.  The word jealous is such a limiting concept.  Helen Malmberg has been running ultras since the earth was cooling.  I can say this because the earth is still cooling, so Helen can't fault me with implying that she is old.  Helen will kill me anyway, but for the record, she has no right.  Needless to say, Helen puts on a rugged and beautiful race, far from the modern world.  I am happiest on trails and prefer technical to manicured, but I must confess that I looked forward to the Jeep road sections, as a break from the constant undulation of the technical trails.  Hali has its share of up and down.  This is apparent in the finishing times.  Only 2 people were under 9 hours in the 50 mile race this year.  I knew that Hali 50M would take considerable effort, but I wanted my first "grown-up" ultra to be on terrain I could enjoy.  Enjoy is another word with limits...

So, not much of a game plan, since I had no experience at the distance anyway!  Simply start slowly, avoid any effort above "easy" and hold on for a long ride.  After the 6:00 AM start, the first 6K is on undulating gravel road.  The hills were "silly easy" from 0 - 6K, but became monsters on the way back, near the finish.  Not much excitement during the first 25K, at which point I would be into uncharted (for me) territory.  My upper hamstrings seemed overly tight from the start of the race and they never did become quiet.  Strange!  Perhaps it was a psychosomatic reaction intended to force me to start slowly?  Not sure.  The first 2 trails (Normac and Ben) were quite technical and required a healthy output of energy.  Since I was taking it slow, there were no early-race mistakes.

Once past the 25K mark, there was a surprising amount of dirt and Jeep road.  Although some had considerable hills, both up and down, I was happy not to be spending energy jumping over rocks and roots.  My game plan was to run to the 40K turn-around, walking only the uphills.  With a few exceptions, I was able to stay with the plan.

One important aspect of an out-and-back race is that you get to see the front runners and friends along the way.  This can be a tangible positive, greeting friends and also realizing the halfway point is approaching.  I passed good friends Stephan and Kinga Miklos near the 40K point and although I wasn't sure, it seems that Stephan was a top five 100 miler.  Stephan went on the place third overall - well done!

After turning around at the 40K mark, where Lee Anne was volunteering and I had changed socks, I was looking at a long and tiring return to the finish.  A small lapse directly after the 50K aid station sent me about 300 meters in the wrong directions.  The course marking was very good, with a flag every 100 meters.  After walking for about that distance, I did not see a flag and retraced my steps to where about 20 flags directed runners onto a side trail.  They should have placed 21 flags at that turn!

Now the truth about roads.  Although they provided relief from the technical trails, my knees are not happy running on hard surfaces.  At about the 52K mark, my right knee sent me a very strange shooting pain every time I tried to run up a hill, or placed my foot on a rock/root that was more than 3 inches above level ground.  This continued until the end of the race.  I tried changing my stride, limping and even off-loading the strain onto my left leg, but nothing helped.  I was no longer able to run uphill.

Lee Anne, although she was supposed to be crewing the 40K aid station, took some time to help me at some of the other aid stations until the end of my race.  I have to admit, it was a highlight to see her, even though I was not spending much time at the stations.

At 57K, the longest distance I have ever run, I was very tired and having trouble running the flats and downhills.  With 8K of the Ben trail (perhaps the most technical) before the next AS, I drank some coke and took a caffeine gel.  The combination was too much for my stomach.  I was not sick, but could no longer ingest any food and could only take sips of water.  Since the next 8K was technical, I was thinking of taking a long walking break.  As luck would have it, I caught up to Rhonda, who had decided that running the Ben trail was too risky, and she would be walking it.  So, for about 4K, I joined Rhonda in a pleasant (okay, some knee pain) hike along the Ben trail.  Although my stomach never settled, the nausea reduced during the walk and my energy levels rebounded slightly.  After the 65K AS, It was time to start running.  This part of the trail (I think it was still the Ben trail) was less technical and the downhills were less steep.  Running was painful, but although my legs were tired, I could maintain a steady jog.

Finally Mark Ishikawa and I made it to AS 3, which is about 12K from the finish.  More importantly, there was only the Normac trail (about 3K) and gravel road to travel.  Mark was able to maintain a steady run and went ahead.  I had some difficulty on the trail, with both knees now emitting a sharp pain on every up or down step.  But I was getting close to the finish and still able to run the flats.  The Normac trail seemed to take forever as I was not moving much faster than 3-5 KPH.  Then onto the gravel roads, whose little undulations had become hills large enough that my knees would not allow much running.

With the sun setting, I crossed the finish line in 12:35:26.  As Kinga mentioned, it is my PB...  I was hungry, my knees were angry, but overall my legs were only stiff and sore, not damaged.  Walking was tricky for 2 days and I did not run until today (Wednesday), 4 days after the race.  I only ran 5K, to let the knee continue to heal.

The jury is still out on whether I "like" the 50 mile distance, or will avoid it in the future.  Part of me would like to try an easier trail 50M, such as Sulphur Springs, in order to see if the knee angst was a function of the roads and overly technical trails, and if I might enjoy something that requires less effort than Hali.  Still, I think trying a race longer than 50K has its appeal, even if the reason is simply a notch in your running barrel.  Perhaps you should not wait until 57 years of age to try it!

The next race and possibly the last for this year, will be the Run for the Toad 50K.  If you enjoy running 25K or 50K on a gentle trail, sign up for this one.  It is how a race should be run (get it?)!  You also get to rub shoulders with some of the better runners in Canada and the USA.  Well, perhaps you get to see the shoulders of these runners, as they disappear after the gun goes off!


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Weenie Greenie Bags a Fast 100 Miler!

There were many reasons to sign up for the Race For the Ages, an intriguing race concept formulated by Gary Cantrell, of Barkley Marathons fame.  Gary, along with many ultra runners who are long in the tooth, thought that there should be a race that attempts to level the playing field for the older runners.  Instead of cut-off's that almost preclude older runners, stage a race that embraces age; that provides more time to run for those whose faster days are behind them.  Sometimes several decades behind them!

And so Gary put his diabolical and inimical mind to work on the problem and came up with a novel race format.  The race would end at 6:00 PM on Labour Day (sorry Gary - Labor Day) Monday.  Runners would have 1 hour for each year of their lives.  Runners younger than 24 would still get 24 hours.  So, hypothetically, would a 24 year old runner be able to run more in 24 hours than a 48 year old runner in 48 hours?  What about an 84 year old?  3.5 days to compete with the babies!

Gary obviously put a lot of thought into the race.  Although the course was only a 1 mile paved loop, he added enough turns to avoid having to change direction during the race.  Reversing direction in an 84 hour race (the oldest runner dictates the length of the race!) would have been chaos.  The clock ticked DOWN from 84 hours.  This made it difficult to figure out how long a runner had been on the course.  Example, a 73 year old at 54:45:00 would have been running for 18:15:00.  However, it was easy to tell how old the runners were, when they started.  If the clock said 63:00:00, they were 63 years old!  There were about 50 race starts over the weekend!  That was about how many age categories started, from 84 down to 24.  The youngest starter was a 2 year old named Burrito.  I believe the toddler was a new addition to the Cantrell clan.

For a new race to become known, you can either spend millions of dollars in advertising, or have Gary as a race director.  The buzz went out early and the race was discussed on podcasts, in magazines and social media.  The race concept caught the eye of many of the ultra legends.  Suddenly it was not just a race for a handful of Tennessee ultra veterans.  Anne Trason, Liz Bauer and David Horton showed up.  Some youngster called Joe Fejes (49) joined the party.  Running the race was not just a chance to perform well in a multi-day (if you were over 24) event, but a meet-and-greet of ultra legends.

Lee Anne had a different purpose for the race.  She would focus on the 100 mile distance and sacrifice her chances at doing well at the 61 hour "distance".  Lee Anne is 61 and started at 5:00 AM on Saturday morning, 61 hours before the 6:00 PM Monday finish.  Her "A" goal was to take another shot at the Canadian 100 mile record for her age category (F60-64).  Her "B" goal was to complete 100 miles.  I think there was some talk of Lee Anne doing well in ARFTA, but unfortunately, she had to choose between doing well at the 100 mile distance, or the 61 hour race, not both.

The game plan fell apart even before the race started.  I went out for a "short" 9 mile run on Friday, the day before Lee Anne would start.  In 35 degree heat and 70 - 80 percent humidity, it was all I could do to finish.  How the hell would Lee Anne try to push hard for more than 24 hours in such heat?  In the pre-race meeting, friend Sharon Zelinski, Lee Anne and I discussed options and decide the best (only?) course of action would be to start at a moderate pace and if Lee Anne ran into trouble, shut it down during the afternoon heat.

Sharon was injured (PF) and had no intention of running more than 10K.  She ended up with 15K, but that was to make sure she stayed ahead of the Burrito...  Sharon appeared to have a blast at the race despite her injury. Almost all of the runners signed her race form and I think she talked to every runner who was at the race.  Sharon was a big component in Lee Anne's success.  Sharon helped out when I went for food or a nap, but more important was her experience in long races.

So, an extremely nervous Lee Anne stood at the start line at 5:00 AM Saturday morning, along with Gary Cantrell, Joe Chriest, Jeff Collins, Brad Compton, Rosemary Evans and Joe Salwan; the 61 year olds.  The clock ticked down to 61:00:00 and they were off.

Lee Anne's race was divided into 4 segments of 25 miles.  The plan was to complete the first 25 miles in 5 hours (5:00 - 10:00) and although a bit aggressive, this would align with Lee Anne's current training.  By 10:00 it was over 30 degrees (86F), but Lee Anne had achieved the first goal and although hot, was running well.  We had tried several approaches to keeping her cool, but nothing was having a significant effect in the heat and sun.  On about lap 26 (mile 26), Lee Anne asked for a small bag of ice.  Easy enough to comply, I swiftly handed her the bag and she was off.  On the next lap, she declared that the bag of ice was working very well.  She would dip into the bag and place ice under her cap, in her bra...  Perhaps you don't need all the details!  Although hot and getting hotter, the ice lasted a lap and allowed Lee Anne to continue running.

The second 25 mile plan was to incorporate walking breaks.  We had discussed five and ones, but since Lee Anne was doing well, she decided to take 1 or 2 walking breaks at specific points of the 1 mile course.  The time allocated for the second 25 miles was 6 hours.  I had mentioned in the briefing that completing 50 miles in 11 hours was overly aggressive and if she was behind schedule, not to worry.  However at 4:00 PM, Lee Anne had completed 50 miles.  On to the third 25 miler!

Near the end of the second 25 mile segment, the sky had clouded over, the wind picked up and Tennessee decided to put on a thunder and lightening show.  While Lee Anne continued to run (most runners headed inside the air conditioned building to wait out the storm), Sharon and I held on to our tent.  We watched several other tents, including 2 at the official aid station, get blown away.  I would guess that about 2 inches of rain fell within an hour, then the sun came out and volunteers started to pick up the pieces.

The rain came at almost the perfect time.  Lee Anne had been getting red in the face.  During the heat, although running well, I had asked if she would like to head inside, to cool down and rest during the heat of the day.  She felt good enough to continue,  After the rain, the air had cooled to about 25 (77F) and stopping every mile for ice was no longer needed.

During miles 50 - 75, Lee Anne started walking more.  She never did incorporate a 5 and 1 split, but continued to use cues along the course to determine her walking breaks.  This seemed to work well.  Sharon had explained that the trick was to "get used" to starting to run at a certain point (along the course or by time).  This would condition the body to get used to changing from a walk to a run.   Lee Anne was still churning out some 13 minute miles, but more were in the 17 - 20 minute range.  The plan was to complete miles 50 - 75 in 7 hours, for a total of 18 hours.  Lee Anne was able to stay near the plan, sometimes logging a few long laps, but averaging near the plan.

The final 25 mile segment was not pretty.  Lee Anne was experiencing stomach issues, as she had been trying to ingest enough calories, salt, electrolytes and fluids to keep up a significant pace.  I was running out of ideas on how to entice her to continue eating.  At about 80 miles, we had to stop giving her electrolytes (Nuun), as she no longer had a stomach for it.  I figured that she had almost enough time to walk the remaining 20 miles and would no longer need a large caloric intake, so she started having breaks from food.  This did not settle her stomach, but allowed her to continue clocking 18 - 20 minute laps.

At lap 85, I was having trouble staying awake.  I had slept badly on Friday night (about 4 hours) and had only obtained about 1 hour on Saturday night.  Lee Anne did not get much more sleep, so with an upset stomach and being bone weary, continuing to run was not high on her list.  I mentioned that she would probably break the record, even if she walked the last 15 miles, but if she continued running, she would be done sooner.  I think at this point Lee Anne realized that there was no reason not to run!  She would not get any more tired and running would end her race that much quicker.  From lap 87, her pace increased until she was completing miles in 16 - 18 minutes, with the odd 20 minute lap.  Her 100th lap was completed in 15:06.

At 61 years of age, Lee Anne ran 100 miles in 26:34:44, about 100 minutes faster than the current Canadian record!  I am very proud of her and have now seen how much stamina and perseverance she can harness.  As one ages, the pace suffers.  A woman in her 60's no longer commands a 5 minute kilometre pace.  Although near their "maximum" effort, 100 miles will still take considerable time.  The world record for F60 is 20:47:35, almost 21 hours.  Very few other age groups need to sustain effort for such a long time period.  Well done dear!

Some notes on A Race For the Ages...

The picture will confuse almost everyone.  Yes, Lee Anne completed 100 miles in 26:34:44, but the clock registered 34:25:10, which was the time remaining before 18:00 on Monday.  Recall that the clock is counting down!  Lee Anne started at about 61:00:00, so the difference is 26:34:44.

While I was running on Friday, Lee Anne and Sharon went shopping with Liz Bauer.  Lee Anne said she was tongue-tied during their foray.  I missed possibly the only occasion when Lee Anne was at a loss for words.  We all have to live with our regrets...

Lee Anne was listening to a podcast about Anne Trason, when she was interrupted by Anne Trason, who wanted to chat.  Lee Anne mentioned this to Anne who thought it was a bit weird!  I made most of this up.

At one point, Lee Anne was running with David Horton, who was also wearing a green shirt.  When David would not divulge his name, Lee Anne nicknamed him the green hornet, which is quite apt as I believe that David has won more ultras than anyone in the world.  David then nicknamed Lee Anne the weenie greenie...

Liz dropped off a big container of Gu Roctane for Lee Anne to try.  Later, I was chatting with Joe Fejes's crew (wish I could remember his name), who mentioned that they were low on energy drink.  Since Lee Anne had about 40 Hammer gels, I offered him the Gu Roctane.  I cautioned about trying something new during a race (a big taboo!).  Joe's crew read the ingredient list and mentioned that although they were looking for Maltodextrin (main ingredient of Gu Roctane), he knew that Joe could handle the second ingredient, Fructose.  Apparently Joe has a concrete stomach, which is good because I wouldn't want to be remembered as that Canadian who sabotaged Joe's race...

Anne Trason ran 115 miles shortly after having knee surgery.  Let me repeat that.  Anne Trason ran 185K shortly after having knee surgery.  After my knee surgery, I wasn't allowed to drive that far!

On the way home, I used the GPS to chart the route home.  I then completely ignored where we were going.  At one point, Sharon noticed that one of the upcoming directions said "Ferry".  What???  Sure enough, instead of crossing from Detroit along the Ambassador bridge, we had found the smallest ferry in the world, somewhere near Sarnia.  2 minutes after we arrived, I drove the car onto the ferry.  We were first on the boat.  I asked how long it would take and was told it would be 5 minutes.  In 5 minutes, we were driving up to Canada Customs, first in line (no cars waiting) and cleared customs in 3 more minutes.  On Labour Day Monday!

 Liz Bauer had asked if we could pick up a chicken sandwich from MacDonald's at about midnight.  So, while Sharon crewed for Lee Anne, I drove to Macs and picked up some supper for myself and a chicken sandwich for Liz.  I figured the chicken sandwich was instrumental in Liz winning the race.  She clocked 164 miles in 56 hours, for first female and 7th overall!

Many thanks to Gary Cantrell for thinking up such an implausible race structure and seeing it to fruition.  Also thanks to all the volunteers, who helped make the race a huge success.  Thanks to Mike from Florida who actually figured out how to time such an esoteric race.  Mostly, thanks to Sharon for "sharon" her wealth of knowledge on long races.  I am truly sorry for the pun.

Believe me!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Running in Italy: Hahahaha

We're back!

Italy is a wonderful country to visit.  Italians are both friendly and accommodating.  Even to Canadian tourists who have not really bothered to learn any but the most basic Italian expressions.  In my perverse travelling world (I'm a fireman in that world) I thought that knowing English, French and a smattering of Spanish would suffice to communicate in Italy.  Wrong!  Had I learned German, I would have had no trouble, especially in the the north (Dolomite mountains).  No matter.  After picking up a car at the Florence (Firenze) airport, which was a bad idea of epic proportions, we immediately got lost.  Something to do with not understanding what the signs mean, not being able to read Italian and adjusting to roads that in Canada we call "single track"...  A local in a gas station somewhere west of Florence (we were supposed to be heading south) spent 10 minutes in broken English, providing us with instructions (spoken and written) on how to get to San Gimignano.  No, don't even attempt to pronounce it, unless you are from Tuscany.  Even then, I think Tuscanians go to "Learn to say Gimignano" school for a year or two.

Creemore Vertical Challenge Update

Oh!  Before getting into Italy, I should mention that while we were in Italy, the Creemore Echo had a cute picture of a six foot black bear, which was in someones back yard on August 6, two days before the race.  Apparently, the wasp nests that were strewn across two of the trails was due to a bear.  Those who were stung might take some solace that they were not mauled.

Back to Italy

Scheduling a flight to Europe 4 days after staging a race is not the best idea.  Although I rushed to complete all the post-race tasks, I was not able to complete all of the finances and storing of race gear.  I am still working away at some race related tasks.  Today, I separated the trail flags into same-colour bundles of 100 and put them away.

The flight to Firenze (Florence) was uneventful, but LONG.  I do not sleep on an airplane.  As a firefighter (note:  My travelling world) I need to be ready at a moments notice in case the captain needs me to put out a fire in the cockpit.  So, we were up at about 8:00 AM, went for a run, packed and drove to the airport.  The flight left at 5:30 PM and landed in Amsterdam at 12:35 AM.  After a 3 hour layover, the flight to Firenze took off on time and landed at 6:00 AM.  After a 22 hour day, I found out it was noon in Firenze!  We checked into the hotel at about 3:00 PM (9:00 AM EST) and the rest of the day is a bit hazy.

Florence is an amazing city.  We stayed in the old part, just off the tourist area.  Our hotel was originally a convent built in the 1400's.  It is a strange feeling to walk up a set of stairs and realize that people who died 500 years ago used the very same steps.  Although most of the bridges that spanned the Arno river were blown up during the second world war. We ran across one were Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo had an arguement.  It is hard for Canadians to put Florence history into proper context!

After insufficient sightseeing in Florence (give yourself at least a week, unless you are a Renaissance buff, in which case 4 years should do the trick), we then travelled to the Dolomite mountains in the north.  Note to fellow travellers:  Be careful travelling on Italian holidays.  We tried, on Saturday August 15 (yes, a holiday Saturday...  No, I did not ask why) to get from Florence to La Valle, in the Badia valley.  Quick tip:  All towns in northern Italy have 2 names.  Something to do with the region once being Austrian.  One is German and the other Italian.  The town names (German and Italian) are not always similar in spelling.  This does not include oddities like Florence, which is Firenze in Italian.  It will confuse you, so let's move on.  We had train tickets from Florence to Bolzano (Bozen) but 2 things happened.  1.  Our train left from a different train station than the one we were near (!) so we took a train to the "other" train station.  2.  The buses from Bolzano to Badia (close to where we were going) were not running due to the holiday.  Even the train from Bolzano to Brunico (Bruneck) was not running.   We found all this out after arriving in Bolzano...

The ticket attendant in Bolzano was some sort of genius of the Italian transportation system.  No other way to describe it.  He had us take 2 trains to get to San Lorenzo, then told us which bus to take, to get to Pederoa, which was close enough to the hotel that the owners could pick us up.  So, even on a holiday Saturday, it is possible to get from Florence to La Valle, but you either need to take 4 trains and 2 buses, or hire a helicopter...

The Pider hotel (pronounced like Peter) was fantastic.  If you ever want to hike the Dolomites, book the Pider hotel.  There were 5 - 6 epic hikes starting from the front door, or you can take the bus (that stops at the front door - unless it is a holiday...) to many more.  We stayed at Pider for a week.  The bedroom was spacious and modern, with a beautiful balcony overlooking the Dolomites and the town of La Valle, Wengen.  With accommodations, breakfast, supper, wine, laundry and the odd packed lunch and drink in the bar, our bill for the week was $1400.  Not bad, considering the meals were upscale and the wine was incredible.

We did not run as much in the Dolomites, mainly because 8 - 10 hour hikes up mountains seemed to be a sufficient amount of exercise for each and every day.  The hikes were challenging and the views were breathtaking.  I took 500 pictures, which is extraordinary for me.  I like landscape shots, which typically don't change much during a hike.  Not so in the Dolomites.  Around every corner was something new, or very old.  We took pictures of a church that was built on the side of a mountain by miners in 1389.  The rock striations would change colours every so often.  Pictures don't really do it justice, but 500 photos starts to paint a picture, pardon the pun...

After the Dolomites, and 2 buses and 4 trains, we were back in Florence, where we rented a car at the airport, to travel to San Gimignano, a medieval town south of Florence.  San Gimi is famous as it has 14 of its 70+ towers still standing.  Most medieval towns knocked their towers down throughout the ensuing centuries.  In the 1300's it was de-vogue to erect a tower beside your house, in order to provide a presence, house your army and whatever other reasons medieval people needed to rationalize such a huge endeavour.  Of course the towers had to be higher than their neighbour's tower, so some reached upwards of 230 feet.  I was quietly hoping none of the towers' structural supports would fail while we were there...

Running in Tuscany keeps you on your toes.  The streets are narrow and heaven forbid they put in a curb, sidewalk, ditch, or any other such structure for those who are not hitting mach 3 in their Ferraris...  Although we had a few dicey moments while running beside a rock wall on a left-hand curve, 6 inches from the road surface that was suddenly occupied by a tour bus, the scenery was beautiful and (according to Lee Anne), the grapes, olives, peaches, nectarines, plums and figs were a fantastic natural aid station.  Okay, the olives were not ripe, but you get the picture!

After some wine tasting and touring the town, it was back to Florence for the flight home.  The only excitement on the trip home was when our flight to Amsterdam was slightly delayed, and we figured out we had 45 minutes to disembark, clear security and make it the full length of the airport to reach our connecting flight.  The flight was boarding when we got to our gate!

So, we will certainly be back to Italy at some point in the future.

Next is a trip to Tennessee where Lee Anne will run in the "Race for the Ages".  Our good friend Sharon Zelinksi is also going and we will be travelling together.  Strange concept for a race!  Check out the website: