Friday, December 2, 2016

Creemore Snow Run

I apologies to those who have attended the CSR and saw the title of this post...  Sorry for the dark memories of slogging through knee deep snow, lungs hyperventilating, legs burning up (the Dilithium crystals canna stand much moore, Captain!) and this little voice in the back of your head asking you if you really think this is such a great idea...

And picking the date is always a study in trepidation.  Will there be an optimal foot of firm snow on which to lay a track, or will the weather gods make this venture manifestly unhealthy, with 3 feet of snow and no chance in hell of completing one loop?

Tactics are a big part of the equation.  Veteran CSR'rs study weather maps diligently, to determine when they should show up for the run.  Too early on a deep snow day and you are exhausted before seeing the second loop.  The optimal plan is to sleep in and arrive late... "I am so sorry I'm late!  Gee, did Pierre already complete 2 loops?  Well, the course must be packed down perfectly, so time for me to start!".  Arriving late when the weather is north of zero results in DNF - Diabolically Nasty Footing.  While the early birds are sipping their first wine or cider, you are out there slipping, falling, staggering for a 90 minute 7.5K loop, with little chance of getting in a second loop.

I think the above is sufficient to entice runners to venture up to Creemore.   If not, I plan to make finishing medals.  What runner can resist a hand crafted ceramic medal?

So, you are cordially invited to the 8th annual Creemore Snow Run!  Details:

Date:  Sunday, January 15, 2017
Time:  9:00 AM until 3:00 PM
Where:  Lee Anne and my house (same place as the Creemore Vertical Challenge)
Bring:  Change of clothes, stories
Map:  On request (email me at


9:00  Arrive and prepare for the run
9:30  Official start (see tactics above)
1:00  Soup, cheese, crackers, wine, cider and beer
3:00  Official end of the run.  Medals awarded to anyone who finished at least 7.5K (1 loop)
5:ish  Wrap up


- Bring your own aid station supplies.  We will have water and some candies
- There will be a warming hut (the garage) for storing drop bags/clothes, changing, etc.
- You and friends are welcome.  Usually only about 30 people show up.  After all, it is in Creemore in the middle of winter!
- Running in deep snow is called post-holing.  The first 30 seconds are incredible fun!
- Marika is not allowed to hit me, even if I declare that running up a hill on a gravel road is recovery.
- In some (most) conditions, you will need 2 pairs of running shoes.  Expect to get wet!
- There will be a bonfire if we can find the fire pit...


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Tunnel Hill and OUTRace

Lee Anne and I drove down to Illinois for the Tunnel Hill 50M/100M race.  Let's be perfectly clear that I was crew and Lee Anne would run.  Lee Anne was originally going to run the 100 miles, but decided on the 50M instead.  It was more her head space than training.  You have to really really want to run 100 miles in order to achieve success.  Even if you have an overwhelming desire to run 100 miles, sometime it is not enough.  Friends Dawn Hamel, Chris and Christa Baker, and Karen would all be attempting the longer race.

Dawn is freakishly fast for a 60 year old.  How fast?  She had a very good chance of breaking the 100 mile world record for her age category.  She was on pace at 50 miles, although a possible IT issue was causing her grief.  Even with the injury, she had a chance until the unusually cold weather (-4C in Illinois?  Come on!) forced her to slow down.  A combination of hypothermia and dizziness made running at speed difficult, if not dangerous.  Nevertheless, Dawn took 4 hours off the Canadian record.  Yes, she has run 100 miles at least 4 hours faster than any other Canadian women 60 and above.  Her time of 22:27:39 was good enough for 9th woman, in a fast field.  Well done Dawn!

Lee Anne had a successful 50 mile race and ran well for most of it.  With a time of 10:38:22, she was 38th out of 137 women finishers.  Her biggest concern was that she would miss her Sunday morning run, as we had to travel north.  That's the good news...

Speaking of travelling, who sets the estimates on Google map, to calculate travelling time?  The estimate from my house to Marion, Illinois is 12 hours and 39 minutes.  Those who have driven with me know that I don't exceed the speed limit by much, but I am hesitant to slow down.  If I'm on an 80 KPH road, then I usually travel at 95 KPH.  I don't slow down for corners, intersections, construction or slower drivers.  There are typically 2 lanes and 2 shoulders and I use all 4, sometimes during one passing attempt, if a transport truck and 2 tractors are involved...

I also don't like to stop unless absolutely necessary.  It is possible to get to Illinois with only 2 stops for fuel.  Think of stopping at an aid station.  The timer starts when I pull off the highway and I like to be back on the highway before 3 minutes are up.  I would prefer Formula 1 pit stop timing (a new record was set this year at 1.96 seconds) but I realize the fueling stations are antiquated and this would cause Lee Anne some anxiety.

So, I travel about 10-20 percent faster than the speed limit for about 99.67% of the time and I make no unnecessary stops.  It took me almost 14 hours to get to Marion, Illinois.  I was not very happy.

I think that next time we have a destination race, we will include some sightseeing.  We drove far too much in such a short time.  On the road at 6:00 Friday morning, arrive in Illinois at about 8:00 PM.  Up early Saturday morning for the race and got to bed around 9:00 PM.  Back on the road at 5:00 Sunday morning and arrived at Niagara-on-the-lake at 6:30 PM.

My new rule of thumb is that I won't travel more than 8 hours for a 1 day visit...

OUTRace Coordinator

Because I help with the OUTRace email campaigns and Lee Anne helps with Facebook, I was aware that Kim Van Delst was planning to step down as OUTRace coordinator at the end of this year's racing season.  I also announced that I would not continue with the Creemore Vertical Challenge.  Bad timing!  I joke about how I was given the job of OUTRace coordinator as punishment for cancelling Creemore, but the truth is that I hope to be able to make the series stronger.  Kim set a very high standard, as she was adept at communicating and engaging the OUTRace exec and the race directors.  I plan to follow her in this regard.

As OUTRace coordinator, I don't see any big changes over the next few years.  Yes, I would love to attract more big sponsors and add another race or two, but I believe the primary focus should be to make more of Ontario's trail and ultra runners aware of the series.  It is a fun, diverse series and I have enjoyed running in most of the series races.  The small races are personable and the larger races provide some incredible challenges.  They also have the advantage of being close to home.  None of this driving for 14 hours...


Monday, October 31, 2016

The Race Season is Over!

Obviously, by "race season", I am referring to the Ontario Ultra and Trail race series.  There are still many fine races to come in 2016, but a big part for many ultra and trail runners in Ontario is the OUTRace series.  And I don't think a lot of the participants care about their standings in the series.  It is mainly the luxury of having such a choice and mix of races.  Not all are trail races.  Some are run almost exclusively on pavement.  Niagara Ultra is almost an oxymoron, as it is run primarily on a paved trail.  Those two words are not usually paired!

Still, aside from one destination race for Lee Anne, we are not planning on running any more races this year.  I could summarize the 2016 racing year, although to conform with the unwritten year-in-review rule, I will wait until closer to the new year.  Also, there is one more item on the OUTRace schedule, the Film Festival.  I feel that I have flogged this one to death, but in case there is someone out there who has not been apprised of the event, on Saturday November 5, 2016 in Toronto, OUTRace will be presenting the Trails In Motion 4 films.  Last year was a fun time.  Many arrived early (there will be free coffee and cookies) to chat with fellow runners before the show.  There will also be some spot prizes again this year.  No, maple syrup will not make it to the prize table, I am completely out.  There will be some of Lee Anne's pottery and a few running related products.  There are only 34 spots left, but sign up here if you want to join the fun.

So, the race schedule will look a little different in 2017.  Hopefully, Run Off the Grid near Ottawa will return to the series.  Dirty Girls and Creemore will be missed, but there is a chance that other races will help flesh out the schedule.  Even without DG and Creemore, there are still 12 running events from which to choose, if you include the Spring Warm-up.  I have met a few runners from other provinces and nearby states, who are quite envious of Ontario's trail and ultra race schedule.

I did not attend nearly as many races in 2016 as I did in 2015, so that is something I hope to rectify in 2017.  Yes, it is tough to run more than one or two, but the races are such fun.  Think of it this way, if you run more races, you don't need as many long training runs!  It sounds strange, but not having to organize a race will leave me with more time to train and attend other races.

What will I do with all my spare time?  I will continue to be involved with OUTRace, by staging the Spring Warm-up, helping with the Film Festival and the OUTRace email campaigns.  Yes, I'm partially responsible for those email blasts you receive from OUTRace, about 4 times per year!  That reminds me, with the race season over, it is time for the final e-blast.  I might also join the OUTRace exec, if the opportunity presents itself.  The OUTRace exec are the people in the background, that spend a lot of their free time making the Ontario Ultra and Trail race series a reality.  These people deserve all of our thanks for all of their efforts.  I am astounded at how much time Stephan Miklos spends creating and updating the website.  Jim Orr somehow figures out the statistics for almost 3,000 runners, to determine the series standings.  Sharon Zelinski takes care of the financials.  Lee Anne Cohen and Melanie Boultbee post series related information to Facebook and Twitter.  And who is holding everything together?  The OUTRace coordinator, Kim Van Delst.  I'm not sure how Kim finds time to coordinate the series, given her family life and extensive racing schedule!  Many thanks to everyone on the OUTRace exec.

Congratulations to all the runners who toed the line at any of the OUTRace events.  Running any of these races takes training and courage.  To see how you fared against the field, the final standings (pending review) are up on the OUTRace website.  Take a look at the runners who received the Norm Patenaude award.  These are a rare breed of runner, having completed 8 or more ultras in 2016, just within the Ontario series!  The award is on my bucket list, if only training and injuries cooperate.

So, it is now time to start dreaming about what races to run in 2017.  Should I make a stab at the Norm Patenaude Award?  Or should I be realistic?  Ah!  I love humour!

Happy Halloween to all and I hope to see you on the trails!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Winter Prep

I know, the eleventh commandment states though shalt not speaketh of winter, moron...

But winter in Creemore is not exactly on parallel with winter in the GTA (Toronto).  And perhaps I should point out, that a lot of the disparity is self-imposed.  Lee Anne uses the term "Pierre-imposed", but I see that wholly as semantics.  We heat with wood.  Yes, we have electric baseboard heaters, but they are reserved for when we are traveling.  The household first commandment is "Though shalt not adjustous the thermostat"...

Even "heating with wood" is a bit misleading.  Many people do so.  They make a phone call to Acme Firewood Company and ask them to deliver 4 bush cord of wood.  They then spend an incredible amount of time and effort moving the pile of firewood from the driveway to the wood pile and stacking it.  Phew!

In order to save the cost of buying 4 bush cord of wood, which can run as high as $1200, I bought a 92 acre property, which includes about 60 acres of hardwood forest.  Yes, I make maple syrup on the same property, but that is simply a massive time consuming perquisite.  The property is primarily to supply firewood.   However, as I factor in the cost of chainsaws, tractors, wagons, fuel and the property, I'm beginning to realize that the savings are not massive.  Even spreading out the cost over the next 412 years, I'm not that far ahead...

If you decide not to phone Acme Firewood Company, you are going to need equipment and  some unique skills.   A tractor with a front end loader is very handy for gathering logs in the bush, as there is less walking with your arms full of wood.  I advise against learning how to drop mature hardwood trees by viewing a few You Tubes...  It is similar to learning how to play the violin by watching an orchestra on You Tube.  You are going to miss out on some salient bits.  Unlike learning to play the violin, cutting down an 80 foot maple tree can be (and usually is) a near-death experience.  I worked as a cutter (lumberjack) for a sawmill back in the 1980's.  The job was thoroughly enjoyable, but had one minor drawback.  I could see that at some point in the near future, I was going to get seriously injured.

So, let's review the steps that are normally replaced by the phone call to Acme:

1.  Cut tractor paths to the wood.
2.  Drop some trees.  The number depends on how much wood you need.  I supply my sister and neighbour with wood, my house and pottery studio, and the evaporator.  A total of about 15 bush cords.
3.  Buck the trees (cut to 16" length for wood stoves, 20" for the evaporator)
4.  Wait 8 months
5.  Gather the wood with the tractor, load it unto the wagon.
6.  Drive the wagon to the wood staging area and unload.  You need to build up a big pile since the wagon cannot be fully loaded in the bush.  The pile is used to fill out the wagon loads when delivering the wood.
7.  Load the wagon in the bush, then load from the pile until the wagon is fully loaded, then drive it somewhere.
8.  Unload the wood
9.  Chop and pile the wood

There!  In less than 10 steps, you too can save $1200, as long as the wood is free and you don't pay for equipment, fuel, maintenance and repairs.  I'll leave the steps needed to actually heat the house for a future blog entry.  The expression "Wood heats you twice" is totally misleading.  I calculate it heats you 12 times...

Creemore Vertical Challenge

I was quite surprised at how many people viewed my blog entry on the demise of the CVC.  I had 1400 views in the first 2 days.  Most understood the reasons for its discontinuation, but the race will still be missed.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Creemore Vertical Challenge is No More

Well, I guess it had to happen at some point in time, but it is still one of the most difficult decisions I have had to make.  I don't know about you, but I am sad to see the CVC go.  It has been a constant companion for 10 years and I will miss what has become an exemplary event, for me.  I will address the reasons for cancelling the race below, but before doing so, let's take a short stroll down memory lane.

The Creemore Vertical Challenge started because some of the Ontario trail races (does anyone remember OUSer?) were tough, but I found them to be less challenging than a few of my training routes.  Some races were touted as "really hilly".  I found them mostly flat.  Back in 2005, as I was climbing the Niagara Escarpment for the third time on one of my longer training runs, I noticed a small plane, possibly a Cesna, below me.  It was likely approaching the Collingwood Airport.  I'm hazy on the details, but a friend was running with me.  Yes, I had chosen a particularly hilly route, in order to impress my running buddy.  His expression?  "Holy sh*t, we are above an airplane!  I recall thinking how his remark was quite funny and wondered if other runners would see the humour.  Only one way to find out!

After much consideration, questions, estimates, logistics and a significant degree of apprehension, I invited 2 race directors from the Ontario Ultra Series, to run the proposed Creemore Vertical Challenge course.  It was the summer of 2006 (the first CVC was held in July 2007) and although the temperatures were great for running, the combination of hills and some heat made sure it was not a walk in the park.  The first course (it changed over time) included a good chunk of the Nottawasaga 4th line.  We had run about 19K of the course, which included a hill up Collingwood Street (Hill #1), the gulley (hill #2), 30th Sideroad in Mulmur (O2 hill) and the Townline, which I call Top Hill.  Don't forget that I am used to running hills.  The poor chaps accompanying me don't normally see so much elevation in a given month of running.  John (Turner?) asked me what lay ahead.  I think he was nearing the limit of his hill running.  I made a small mistake.  I knew the upcoming terrain was relatively flat, but I thought it rose gently, then went downhill.  So I informed John that "we have to go up a gently incline, then it is downhill for most of the remaining course".

We crested the long gentle uphill, only to find another gentle uphill.  John gave me a significant look.  "Oh yeah, I forgot about this rise".  We then ran to the top of the second gentle uphill, only to find another gentle uphill slope.  John turns to me and states "If there is another hill after this one, I'm going to kill you".

At the time of the inaugural CVC, I was a member in some of the larger IT projects at Honda.  At about that point, I would assume the position of technical lead, for Mainframe computer systems, which is a fine way of saying that I was involved in maintaining the project schedule, but didn't have to deal with staffing or reporting to the project stakeholders, typically senior management.  I incorrectly assessed the effort of organizing a race to be the same as a minor project.  It wasn't.  It was closer to a mid-sized project and (of course) I had little support or resources on which to draw.  I now know it takes close to 800 hours of work, to stage the CVC.  Please go back in time and shoot me.

One trend I noticed was that you can expect things to go wrong.  The trick is to have contingency plans for every aspect that can seriously derail the race.  Being able to think fast and invoke corrective action really helps.  Oh, and have a thick skin.  On occasion, a runner will complain about something that is not overly relevant.  Keep in mind that the runner is probably frustrated about his/her performance and is simply venting.  This is to be expected.  The real problem is when a runner complains about something that you should have antcipated, or an outright error on your part.  I think most drugstores have a shelf of thick skin products.  Buy a large assortment.

Over the years, I have strived to improve the race.  Better signage, better prizes, race swag and a great after-race party.  I know, calling it a party is somewhat misleading, but what else could I call it, when Creemore Springs donates 3 kegs of their finest ale?  But there are many different aspects of the race that are improvements, yet not likely to impress most runners.  The Creemore Vertical Challenge was always part of the Ontario Ultra and Trail race series (OUS and OTS, now under the OUTRace series umbrella).  Over the years, I have petitioned to become part of the ACU (National Trail Series race), IAU (Bronze level international ultra race), Trophy Series (Trail Runner magazine) and this year, part of the Canadian Skyrunning Series (Skymarathon).  These improvements have resulted in some surprising (and puzzling) results.  The CVC was included as one of the top 50 international trail races by the UK Trail Running magazine.  I'm not even sure how they found out about the race!

Creemore has attracted what I consider to be an inordinate number of elite runners.  Not that we had Kilian Jornets coming out of every orifice, but still, there were some damn fine runners.  Calum Neff, a Canadian living in Texas, running the 50K in 3:25.  Seriously?  No one had broken 4 hours in the 50K before that record.  Kanchha Maya Koju from Nepal, who ran the 25K and broke the woman's record by 9 minutes, in a time of 2:00.  Wow!  By the way, Kanchha recently broke the Nepalese womans marathon record.  Not to mention most of the top drawer Ontario trail and ultra runners.  I figure they were either drawn by my charisma or my wife Lee Anne's pottery prizes...

Reasons for Cancelling the CVC

Well, here goes.  I intend to spend a bit of time explaining the rational in pulling the plug.  This was much harder on me than it will be on anyone else.  It is difficult to let something that has shine and sparkle fall to the wayside.


I have addressed this in other blog posts, but the 800 hours I spend per year on the race is a significant part of my available time.  In the past 3 years, I have been feeling that it is too much.  I spent close to 2 months clearing trail after this year's ice storm.  I fear that I will one day have difficulty with the relatively small amount of time I need to invest close to the race day.  I work 18 hour days for the week leading up to race day.  Race day starts at 4:30 AM for me and continues until 8:00 PM Monday.  Long after the last volunteer has departed, I am at it.  Don't get me wrong, it is the volunteers that make the race possible, but I would never expect any of them to stick around much after the race is over.  Race prep takes 8 days and tear-down takes 4 more.

What has been troubling me for the last 3 years is that as I undertook the plethora of tasks that need completion before the race begins, I was finding myself less engaged.  I didn't care as much if a task was completed with quality.

As a preemptive measure, no it would not make sense or be possible for others to assume the tasks.  I can't ask someone to run the evaporator and make 65 litres of maple syrup.  Administration of the race is quite unique.  I know the land owners personally.  They are very gracious in granting me the use of their trails, but that is because I'm a friend.  Otherwise, there are No Trespassing signs on their land.  Good luck getting Lee Anne to make 42 pottery prizes for less than a fortune!


Not that I pine for the old days, when races provided water and not much else.  I would like to go back to the days when woman were barred from longer races, but that is for selfish reasons.  I hate it when old fat ladies beat me to the finish line...  Okay, a joke in bad taste is not going to help me!

Races nowadays are mired in bureaucracy.  The Spring Warm-up could no longer be held in Toronto because the city wanted police presence at every intersection.  This was for the 30 odd runners that went out for a fun run.  The Toronto Ultra was cancelled for similar reasons.  I am supposed to remit GST for the CVC, but I am not an accountant and there is no way in hell that the race can afford one.  I spent an interesting month in 2008, while the County of Simcoe tried to determine if the race should submit a special event form every year.  This is a 7 page form that requires sign-off from the police, fire, medical, roads and others.  Eventually, they decide it was not necessary, but this sort of thing is cropping up all over.  I never did get a reply from the County of Dufferin (the race course is on Simcoe and Dufferin county roads) if I needed to submit anything.

My feeling is that I am running on borrowed time and that some day, someone will want to inspect the race financials.  The race financials are very simple.  I pay out of pocket for everything (and keep track of expenses) until the big ticket items need to be paid.  I then withdraw funds from online registration, pay the bills and reimburse myself for expenses.  Any money left over is donated to the national ultra teams.


Ah!  Such a dangerous word.  I know that no runner would ever consider suing me because I have such a nice personality, but the first question you should answer before you decided to stage a race is whether or not you like your house.  Because if things go south litigationaly, it will soon belong to someone else.  Think of what runners face on the CVC.  There are hills, heat, roots, rocks, long distances and trucks zooming along the race course.  Cliffs, swamps, branches and possibly angry dogs.  It is not the easiest of races and I often wonder how many "runners", who sign up, haven't a clue what the are about to face?  Perhaps it is possible that their loved ones, when they die on the course, will want retribution?  Is it possible for them to "prove" a lack of due diligence on my part, by finding an eye level branch somewhere along the 12 kilometers of trail on the course?


Strangely, when I worked at Honda, the stress of organizing a race was not a major issue.  Since retirement, the race is the largest stressor in my life.  I don't mind, as it is typically stress for a short 2 weeks leading up to the race.  Recently, I have been questioning if I need the stress and as I approach 60, it seems to be growing.

I probably handle stress as well as anyone, but it still needs to find a release somewhere, somehow.  Guess who is usually on the receiving end?  Lee Anne does not need a grumpy old man hounding her.  I don't like being irritable.

This year, I noticed how much more enjoyable it was to stage the Spring Warm-up (for OUTRace, in Dunedin in April) than a full blown race.  I LIKE the Spring Warm-up.  I'm lukewarm about organizing the CVC.


I could actually go on for quite some time on reasons why staging the CVC is no longer a pleasant experience.  I'm approaching 60 and wonder if I might soon have trouble staying alert during the 16 hours of the race.  I worry about getting sick at some crucial time, such as the week leading up to the race.  What if I am physically unable to prep the trails?  Cancel the race with less than a week to go?

Looking Forward

So, the race is now part of history.  Hopefully people will recall the good times and some will think about how the punishing CVC course helped them to excel in other races.  Ironically, I'm looking forward to being able to train properly during July, a critical part of the year if you want to do well at in summer races.  Yes, I had to virtually shut down training as the race loomed.

Lee Anne and I are also toying with holding a few hill and trail running camps.  Although not fully fleshed, the concept would be to attract runners up to Creemore for a weekend to experience trail and hill running.  The target audience would be runners who wish to hone their trail and hill running skills.  We would offer some tips during the runs, meals and accommodations.  Most likely though, runners would show up just to have fun, get in a few runs and enjoy a Creemore Springs at the bonfire...

Monday, September 19, 2016

Volunteering at Hali and Canal Pursuit

It seemed like a good idea at the time...

One aspect of ultra running that most runners ignore is the amount of time required for the hobby.  I call it a hobby because unlike most other sports, ultra running takes a considerable investment in time.  Technically, you can become an ultra runner with little capital outlay.  I say "technically", because it is also very possible to spend a fortune on ultra running.  Try running Badwater, especially if you foot the bill for your crew.  Or Comrades.  UTMB anyone?

So, the sport can be cheap, but there is little way of getting around the chronological cost.  Especially if you would like to keep the financial cost low.  Think in terms of getting up at 3:00 AM and driving to a race, in order to save the cost of a hotel the night before.

The same holds true for the volunteering component of ultra running.   I chuckle when a sleep-deprived runner asks me a question while I a volunteering at an aid station.  Buddy, I've had as little sleep as you, but here is my answer!

So, Lee Anne and I woke up at 5:00 AM on Saturday morning and drove to the Haliburton Forest Trail Run.  We would be volunteering at the 40K (25M) turn-around aid station (AS7).  Keep in mind that this is the first aid station to shut down.  AS7 closes shop at 4:00 AM Sunday morning.  So, Lee Anne and I would help runners from about 9:30 AM Saturday morning until 4:00 AM Sunday morning.  With a judicious rest break, we would be good to go, after our shift, right?  Here is where it gets complicated...

At 8:00 AM on Sunday morning, after a brief press conference, friend and fellow ultra runner Clay Williams would embark on a running odyssey from Port Severn and run the Canal Pursuit, to raise funds for mental illness.  Clay Plans to run (he is still running as I type) 750 kilometers, to Ottawa.  Please consider supporting Clay, either with a donation or by pacing him.  More information on the Canal Pursuit can be found here:

Canal Pursuit for Mental Health

Let's pretend that ultra runners have a total disregard for sleep.  With the exception of mountain climbing, sleep is something that people in other sports think about.  We don't need no stinking sleep!  Our reasoning was that since we were in the area, we might as well help to pace Clay.  Looking at a map (again, please disregard sleep considerations), it would be possible to start pacing Clay at about noon on Sunday, somewhere near Severn Bridge...

To sum up, our sleep was woefully inadequate for the weekend.  Here is roughly how my weekend went:

5:00 AM Saturday:  Wake up and drive to HFTR
10:00 PM Saturday:  Pretend to sleep (did not happen!)
4:00 AM Sunday:  Drive to a hotel in Bracebridge
6:00 AM Sunday:  Sleep
10:00 AM Sunday:  Drive to where I thought Clay would be running*
1:00 PM Sunday:  Pace Clay
10:00 PM Sunday:  Get to the B&B and go to sleep
5:30 AM Monday:  Get up and pace Clay (Lee Anne did the running while I crewed)
10:00 PM Monday:  Get to sleep at home

*  We had a humorous detour, as in my sleep deprived condition, I thought it was the second day for Clay (Sunday was actually his first day) and went to the wrong checkpoint...  It took us 3 hours to find Clay.

Haliburton Crew

Helen puts on a no frills, no nonsense trail run.  There is little pampering.  There are bears, to keep you awake.  We saw the 50 mile runners once and the 100 mile runners twice.  It poured rain.  I spent almost an hour trying to get the fire going.  AS 6 (about 10K from our AS7) were smart and started their fire early.  I waited until all the wood was wet.  Envision a pile of wood that is partially submerged.  Yup!

Helping the runners was no easy task.   Many were in need of dry socks, rain gear and some hot broth to get them going.  There were few runners suffering from heat related problems, which was a nice change, given how hot it has been this year.  The problem was their feet, with an impressive assortment of blisters and soggy skin.  Due to the poor trail conditions, most runners were not able to push hard enough to get into serious trouble.  We saw many tired runners, but few needed medical attention.  Small condolence for such trying conditions!

Although tired, it was great fun to meet up with and assist fellow runners as they appeared out of the black night.  All were quick to thank us for helping them achieve their goal.

Canal Pursuit

Clay is running along the canal to raise funds for mental illness.  His ambitious goal is to run about 60K per day.  As I was pacing him on Sunday (due to the delay in meeting up with him, I only paced for 23K) I thought about how very few runners will attempt to run 60K.  Think about doing so for 13 days straight.  Quite the daunting task!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Quebec City Marathon Race Report

If I had to sum up the marathon in one word, it would be...  Ugly.

Training is not going well this year and perhaps I have forgotten how to taper.  Last year, my concern was with a crowded race schedule.  I ran 7 ultra races and by the last one (Run for the Toad 50K), the tank was empty.  I DNF'd Toad, so last year's medal collection included 6 ultra races.  Quite impressive, but I was wondering how much of an impact the race schedule had on my knees and back.  This year, I thought I would reduce the number of races and increase the training runs, by both distance and speed.  Neither happened.  Perhaps I need to enter many races in order to do well in those races - kind of a Catch-22 situation.  In other words, prior races become my training base.

Well, let's get the marathon out of the way first.  The Quebec marathon is well organized and scenic.  It starts in Levis, travels to the St. Laurence river, then west along the river on the south side to a big bridge.  Over the bridge then east along the river on the north side.  One interesting aspect of the Quebec marathon is that the kilometer markers start at 42K and diminish along the course.  This helps to indicate where the half and 10K races start and avoids having different markers for the different races.  Wow, it was wonderful to see the single digit markers!

I believe that driving for 10 hours the day before the race was not a good idea.  We left the house at 04:58 and where successful is missing traffic in Toronto and Montreal, but it was an early start.  On race day, we also had to catch a bus in Quebec City at 05:30, to take us to the start in Levis.  Since we had a 2K walk to the bus, it meant another early start!  I did not sleep well the night before driving and the night before the marathon.

I have not been successful in completing much speed training this year.  It is a bit frustrating, as I seem to have difficulty running at any pace either than turtle-slow at the start of every run.  With some alarm, at the start of the marathon, I watched the 4:30 pace bunny pull away from me.  I could not even maintain a 6 minute kilometer.  Eventually, I caught up to the 4:30 PB and passed him, keeping a comfortable pace.

At about 18K, (hmm, didn't this happen at the Niagara 50K this year?) I felt tired, not able to maintain even a slow pace.  I hit the halfway mark at 2:15, just before being passed by the 4:30 pace bunny.  This race was not going to be pleasant!  To add insult to injuries, at about 25K, I was passed by the 4:45 pace bunny.  Apparently my pace was not improving!  From 25K to 35K, I added walking breaks as the knees and back were hurting.  I increased my hydration, which helped to slow the slowing pace.  At 35K, although I was having difficulty running, I reduced the number of walking breaks and pushed for the finish line.  The final damage was 5:06, about 90 minutes slower than my previous slowest marathon.  It was quite embarrassing and I hope to never enter a race again with so little training.  I am entered into the Can Lake 50K, but will DNS, rather than experience so much pain and discomfort.

There is supposed to be good in every race and I think my take-away this time is that I can no longer "cheat" and run a race for which I am not prepared.  The miracle of finishing strong on under-trained 30 year old legs is gone.

Lee Anne did quite well, with a 4:25 time, good enough for second in her age category.  Also, my daughter Celeste had an impressive 10K race, finishing in 53:35, good enough for 12th out of 128 in her age category.

Although our stay in Quebec City was short, it was wonderful to walk in La Vieux Quebec.  We also visited the ancestral home, built by Pierre Marcoux in 1670.  I think it had an impact on Celeste, who is 14th generation Canadian.  Lee Anne and I plan to return soon to Quebec, as our french is in need of a tune-up.


Thursday, August 25, 2016

Quebec City Marathon? What Have I Done Wrong?

I live in Creemore.  There are more trails than you can shake a stick at.  There are no flat roads.  Anywhere.  Most towns have 4 directions; Creemore has only two.  Up or down.  People come to Creemore to train for mountain trail races.  Some also come to train for Badwater, Barkleys and the Antarctic marathon, but I really don't want to talk about those people, thank you.

Quebec City Marathon:  Sunday August 28, 2016

It has been 10 years since I ran a marathon.  I figure that with good behaviour, Lee Anne won't punish me by forcing me to run on a flat, straight paved road, for 42.195 kilometers.  I was wrong.  I don't recall doing anything that could be misconstrued as a punishable offence.  I think?  Now I'm questioning my angelic disposition...

And don't get me wrong, I do run roads.  I enjoy running with Lee Anne and if she is running, it is on a road.  I just prefer gravel roads or the shoulder, if the road is paved.  With lots of hills.  The Quebec marathon is supposed to be on "rolling hills", but you aren't fooling me.  It's like the Around the Bay race.  I was told there were rollers and a big hill at the end.  The course was virtually dead flat until the finish line.  Someone LIED to me!  Of course most people don't share my definition of a hill, but most people are wrong!  A hill has to have significant pitch and gain altitude.  I question anyone who considers something a hill if there are no airline jets flying below the summit.

Even running on pavement is not so bad.  My knees can take up to 154 meters of pavement before they start to complain.  But 42K?  Why do you think we invented trails?  I just hope they have gravel shoulders or grass along the route.

Another sticking point is that I did my last marathon before losing considerable speed.  Oh, and knee surgery.  I think the two are related.  The last marathon for which I could find results was the Massey marathon, in 2005.  I ran it in 3:31, which is close to the slowest marathon I have ever run.  I vaguely recall a 3:36 at some point.  Guess what will happen this weekend in the Quebec marathon?  I will be lucky to break 4:36.  Isn't it a crime to run more than an hour slower than your worst time?  Do I have to worry about the RD at the finish line, consulting sheets of statistics and tapping the arm of a Canadian Armed Forces sniper, pointing at me and ruthlessly shouting "Tirez ce Batard"?

However, I am looking forward to the trip to Quebec.  It has been years since I last visited the town of my ancestors.  I am 13th generation Canadian.  Pierre Marcoux (no, really!) built 2 houses in Beauport, which is now a suburb of Quebec City.  The first house was completed in 1681.  That is about 100 years before "Old Quebec" was built.  The funny thing was that a Marcoux lived in that first house from 1681 until about 1980, when it was sold to someone whose last name is not Marcoux.  I would buy it back, but the house is too damn old...  The second house is now a museum.  One weird fact was that I attended a family reunion at the property in about 2005, which was about 350 years since Pierre Marcoux first landed in Canada.  The reunion was on June 17, which happens to be my birthday.  People were a little taken aback when I mentioned my name was Pierre Marcoux and it was my birthday.  The more gracious people figured the misunderstanding was due to my lack of French...

Lee Anne is also running the marathon and graciously offered to run with me.  I declined.  No, that can't be the reason she is forcing me to run a marathon, because I declined to run with her after I agreed to run the marathon.  I think.  It's just that 42K of pavement will hurt me, while Lee Anne considers the first 40 or 50 kilometers of a run to be the warm-up.  She runs 45 - 50K every Friday and 35 - 40K every Saturday.  The rest of the week are "short" 15 - 20K runs.  I don't think I want to hear her chatting away while I am dying...  My daughter Celeste is also coming to Quebec and will run the 10K.

Well, expect the race report to be all about the great food and wonderful ambiance of La Vieux Quebec and little on the race itself, unless I finish...  After that, we are volunteering at Haliburton Forest Trail Run.  If you are in the 50 or 100 mile race, we will see you at the turn-around aid station, at 40K (25 miles).  This year, I'm not running 50 miles before attempting to vollie all night.


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Creemore Vertical Photos... and more

The 2016 Creemore Vertical Challenge has all but wrapped up - just waiting for the last invoices to finalize the accounting.  The profit is directed to 3 groups.  1, it allows me to comp (complimentary entry) up to 5 people, for various reasons.  2.  About 10% is discretionary.  I used this year's allocation to help Noa Bridson's Fundraising.  As a note, Noa was one of the runners comp'd into the CVC 50K.  The third item, as it has been for quite a few years, is a donation to the Canadian ultra teams.  These athletes spend an incredible amount of their time training, in order to represent Canada on the World ultra stage.  They receive little support from the government.  The donation, paid for by runners in the Creemore Vertical Challenge, allows the team to hold a team dinner, or purchase much needed supplies or equipment.  This year, the total will be a bit over $1,000.  For this, I thank all those who signed up for the CVC!

Finally!  It took me 4 days to figure out how to download pictures to Flickr:

Creemore Vertical Challenge Pictures

Also, Jeff Rowthorn of Get Out There magazine, made this cool video of the race.  Yes, the drone had a freakin laser on its head!

CVC Race Video

And to round out the links, results on Enfield Timing:

CVC Results

Now, I get almost 2 months off (with good behavior)...


Sunday, August 7, 2016

Creemore Vertical Challenge: Race Report

Well, the 10th Creemore Vertical Challenge is now in the books and based on dialogue with the runners I would guess that most enjoyed the race.  Is the course tougher?  Yes.  Regulars at the race described in detail how the new hill, the "Pitch" was a rude awakening, coming within the first 5K of the course.  Oh, by the way, it starts with a "P", not a "B"...

Even the weather cooperated, with cool temperatures in the morning.  I noted 16C on top of the escarpment at 6:30 AM, shortly after the 75K start.  The weather was not ideal, as the thermometer crept up to 28C by the middle of the afternoon, but far better than the 32C I experienced the day before, while slamming a tooling bar into the rock hard ground while attempting to install the signs!

There were a few glitches, but I expect that most of the runners did not notice them.  One that the 50K and 75K noticed was actually in their favour.  Perhaps the volunteer felt it was too much to ask the ultra runners to climb the Pitch 2 or 3 times, but the 50K and 75K runners missed the Pitch on their first loop.  No such luck on the subsequent loops and up the Pitch they went!

I hope that I echo the thoughts of the award and spot prize winners, but Lee Anne's pottery has improved dramatically this year.  New glazes and more time spent at the wheel has elevated her craft to the point where the mugs and bowls are almost works of art.  I mention this because the other prize component is maple syrup, which is appreciated by the winners, but I see the pottery as a tangible attraction for the podium runners.  Many thanks dear!

The Creemore Vertical Challenge has never been a 2 person show.  Yes, Lee Anne spends 200 - 300 hours as her contribution, which includes pottery, food purchases and taking care of the volunteers.  I spend an inordinate amount of time making the finishing medals, maple syrup and clearing trails.  Recently, I have questioned the sanity of a race director (in itself almost a full time job) who doesn't farm out the prizes, medals and the "hard" work.  I spent part of 2 months clearing trails after the ice storm.  I'm an idiot!

But it is the volunteers that allow the race to proceed.  The 34 people who sat for hours at marshal stations, fed, watered and gave encouragement to the runners and kept the race running (wow! what a great pun!) are the true heroes.  They receive many "thanks" from the runners, but they seldom are in the race spotlight, gaining well deserved praise.  Many thanks to all of you, for your efforts!

I would like to mention a few items that happened at the 2016 CVC, that many people probably are not aware.  If you read my 2016 Kingston RR, I mentioned that I helped to guide a good friend Elizabeth Hurdman.  Liz is 95% blind and I was very nervous about helping someone with so little sight,  navigate the Kingston course.  Although mostly paved, it had turns, bumps and gravel sections.  But Liz has a wonderfully optimistic outlook and loves to run.  The result?  We had a gas and running on a mostly paved surface was not a problem.  Liz signed up for the Creemore 25K.  Hello?  Another good friend Sharon Zelinski would be the guide.  Sharon has been experiencing foot problems, possibly Plantar Fasciitis for over a year.  She is having trouble running more than 12K.  I know, you're thinking "what could possibly go wrong"?  Nothing did go wrong and Liz completed the CVC 25K race in a respectable time of 4:18.  So, those of you who ran the course and considered it (as I do) a very tough challenge, imagine doing so with virtually no vision!

Another good friend and neighbor Peter Taylor is an experienced ultra runner.  This would be Peter's first attempt at the CVC, as Peter has almost always had a destination race when the Creemore race was on.  Sinister Seven, Fat Dog, Canadian Death Race...  This year, Peter was finally able to run Creemore.  Result?  DQ (disqualification).  I think the problem was that Peter 'knows' the area too well.  While in 4th place in the 50K, Peter took a wrong turn and ran for almost 5K before realizing he was not going in the proper direction.  He was on the course, but running it in the reverse direction.  I feel for Peter.  I know we have all gone off course, but it still sucks.  Mind you, I can't wait to chat with Peter and mention that yeah, he has done well at Sinister Seven and Fat dog, but how did he fare at a really tough race, such as Creemore?  Can't wait!

My boss Csaba Melnyak and my son-in-law Daryl Klein walked the 25K course.  In fact, they walked 29K, as they went off course for a few kilometers.  Csaba (pronounced Chuba) used to walk 100K in about 24 hour, back in Hungary and missed doing so.  I suggested he walk to Creemore course.  I believe they had fun and also found it a challenge.

Agnes and Saj Moktan are friends who share our passion for running.  During a training run of the CVC course a few weeks back, they casually mentioned that they would like to bring samosa to the race.  Then they mentioned they would bring 300 samosa!  Seriously?  I had a couple at the Seaton Soaker race and they were delectable.  I offered to pay (well, the race would pay) but they politely declined.  So, if you are one of the 200+ people that enjoyed a samosa, please thank the Moktans!  They also offered up the services of their family and friends, a total of 4 volunteers.  Many thanks to the entire Moktan clan!

Although busy from 5:00 AM until almost 7:00 PM, I enjoyed the rare moments when I could stop and chat with a friend or one of the runners new to the Creemore experience.  It is possibly the best part of holding a race, for me.  I only wish I had more than a few moments to chat with the 100 or so people during the day.

So, runners found the course tough, the pizza and samosa savoury, and the Creemore Springs beer a well-deserved reward after their epic battle with the Creemore hills!  Last year, the 3 kegs sufficed for the race.  This year, after the 3 kegs ran out, I had to quickly buy 2 more small kegs.  Trust me, you don't want to run out before the 75K runners finish.  These are tough people!

Today (Sunday), I was able to clean up almost everything.  This is mainly because we had the luxury of several volunteers on clean-up duty after the race.  Yes, they picked up dirty watermelon rinds the runners tossed to the side of the road, used gels, etc.  Lee Anne also helped pull flags from a few trails this morning, allowing me to start dismantling tents and tarps early.

Many thanks to all who participates in the event.  Runners from all over Ontario and beyond, friends, family and neighbours.  The event is grand, but the people are what make it worthwhile.

Oh!  I will have pictures on my Flickr page by the end of the week.  Go to or Enfield Timing for results.

Dig Deep!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Creemore Vertical Challenge: One Week to Go!

Okay, technically the CVC is 8 days away.

With help from friend Everhard who is running the 25K, the trails are ready to be flagged.  Creemore Springs Brewery is back on board to stave off life-threatening thirst for runners after their race.  The race has reached cap (250).  The week leading up to the race is a hectic time for me, so I stop making changes to registration at 23:00 on Sunday (this year, July 31).  This gives me time to focus on race set-up without incurring 18 hour days.  As such, I decided that creating a waiting list would not be of much benefit or worth the time and effort.

Please note:  No changes will be made, such as dropping from 50K to 25K, after Sunday.

This also allows me to provide the information to Enfield Timing, race kit set-up, aid station supply estimates, etc. at a more leisurely pace.  In the past, I have found it is the "last minute" changes that create registration and timing havoc.

Race entries are 175 for the 25K, 51 for the 50K and 26 for the 75K.
Race bibs will be 1 - 175 for the 25K, 201 - 251 for the 50K and 301 - 326 for the 75K.

The above does not factor in complications that are almost certain to arise!

Again, I would like to emphasis that the course is more challenging this year.  Since the Creemore Vertical Challenge is now part of the Canadian Skyrunning Series, there is more vertical.  The old course was approximately 850 meters vertical gain per (25K) loop.  This year, the figure stands closer to 950 meters.  Hence, the 50K runners will enjoy about 1.9 kilometers of vertical gain...  And love every minute!

In the past 4 days, the forecast for Creemore has changed from a high of 24, to 25, to 26 and now it is 28 degrees.  This is the part where I tend to lie, so my prediction is that we will have a gentle rain and a high of 22.  Bring a light jacket!

Parking at the start/finish (my house) is always a bit dicey.  Please try to carpool with your running buddies.  Think of the drive up as a pre-race meeting where you discuss strategy and who will draw the first beer.  In that order.  Laneway parking (the driveway) usually fills up before 7:30 AM, so if you arrive later, expect to park on the shoulders of the road.  Please follow the directions of the parking marshal and note that the driveway will be closed at 6:00 (75K start), 8:00 (50K start) and 9:00 (25K start).

Most importantly, enjoy the day.  If it is a hot one, walk the hills.  You are not going to set a PB on this course!  Try to enjoy the views at the top of the hills.  I'm usually too busy trying to get oxygen into my lungs to look about, but I hear the views are splendid.  With the exception of deer flies, the bugs are not bad.  There will be sunscreen at the aid stations, but consider putting it on before you start.  The creeks and river are low this year, so little chance of getting your feet wet, unless you actively try to do so.

For those going long, Kinga Miklos will be sweeping the course, starting at about 2:00 PM.  For 75K runners, 2:00 PM is the 50K cut-off (must finish 50K within 8 hours), so hopefully no one spends the night in the wilds of Creemore.


Monday, July 11, 2016

Creemore Vertical Challenge: Under 4 Weeks To Go!

How did that happen?  I start work on the CVC in November.  The pace is relaxed, just like a long training run.  In March, activity is stepped up.  Initial contact with various organizations, confirmation of key requirements (chip timing, toilets, police,...) and of course, making 60 litres of maple syrup.  Around June, I start spending serious time on trails and administrative duties; planning and doing.  Every year, I need to cut new sections of trails or remove vast quantities of downed branches and trees.  This year, thanks to requirements for the Canadian Skyrunning Series and an ice storm in April, I had plenty of both!

So, I plug away with my head down, trying to visualize what signs are needed and where they should be placed.  There are 2 new trails (the Cunningham and Harvey trails) and 2 trails that needed rerouting.  I made 250 finishing medals before I realized that sign-up consists of more 25K runners than anticipated.  I am now creating another 28 - 25K finishing medals.  This year, the shirt order was placed on the morning of July 2.  It is the only way I can guarantee that those who signed up by July 1 will get a correct sized T-shirt.

So, suddenly there is less than 4 weeks to go!  I am itching to get on the tractor to mow the tall grass and whipper snip the trails, but if I start too early, runners will be navigating foot high vegetation.  Not ideal for setting a CVCPB.  Yes, I speak of a CVCPB.  There is little point in runners attempting to better their 25K, 50K or 75K PB.  It ain't gonna happen!  Actually, there was a fellow who set his 50K PB at Creemore, but he had upped his training by a considerable margin.

I am thoroughly confused about the current status of Canada Post, but would highly recommend that people do not mail in any more registrations.  It would really suck to mail in your registration and show up on race day only to find you are not in the race!  Note:  All mail-ins are added to, which sends an automatic email to the runner.  Speaking of registration, there are less than 75 spots remaining.  If you want to run Creemore, now would be a good time to sign up!

We ran the CVC course last weekend with friends Agnes and Saj Moktan, Derrick and Everhard.  We took our time and a few pictures, but were surprised to find out we ran it in just over 4 hours!  I run the course about once per month (less when there is 3 feet of snow) and I am always surprised at how much effort is expended to cover "only" 25K.  The new pitch and inclines slowed us down and the new course is (sorry!) closer to 26K, but still - bushels of effort to complete the course.  I decided not to add any more hills; 4 is enough thank you, so the new elevation gain entities will be called The Pitch (about 100 meters vertical gain) and the Harvey Incline (a mere 40 meters VG).

Friend and neighbour Stephen Bridson's (wins the Ontario Ultra Series with annoying regularity) daughter Noa has volunteered at CVC in past years.  This year, she is following in her father's footsteps and running the 50K.  Noa is also raising money for Global Citizen Year, an organization that helps to round out life experience of recent high school graduates.  If you would like to help Noa, take a look at the website or donate by clicking on the second link:

Well, with under 4 weeks to go, I better get back at it.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Niagara 50K Race Report: DNF

As per my Kingston RR, my training will not support 2 ultras in as many weeks.  It's funny how you know all about these maxims, write about them, but that still doesn't stop you from signing up...

For those who have yet to run the Niagara ultra, it is an almost ideal race for road runners.  There is a 10K, half, marathon, 50K and on alternate years, a 100K.  The course follows a paved trail that runs parallel to the Niagara Parkway, along the Niagara river.  An old pal of mine Winston Churchill once called it the prettiest Sunday afternoon drive in the world.

The race starts in Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL) and travels south to Niagara Falls.  The various races turn around at their respective halfway points, although the 100K travels along the 50K route twice.  The 25K turn-around (for the 50K and 100K) is situated right at the Canadian falls.  Lee Anne and I use NOTL as our "go-to" weekend vacation, so we are familiar with many of the tourist sites.  These include the Botanical gardens, Floral clock, Butterfly Conservatory, whirlpool and of course, Niagara Falls.  Something I should not mention, there are also a happy dozen wine tasting stations along the course...  Hold my wine glass!

Why is it ideal for road runners?  The course is almost entirely flat, with few road crossings.  Elite ultra runners use Niagara to attempt record breaking runs.  Back when I could muster up a semblance of speed, I was surprised to see Elizabeth Ruel blast past me when I was at the 23K point.  When I first noticed how fast she was running, my thought was that she was some elite 5K runner out for a training run.  Then I noticed the bib.  She was at the 27K point and running a 50K race at almost a 20 minute 5K pace!  Her 3:29 is still the Canadian 50K record.

Yesterday (June 18) was not a day for records.  It reached 32 degrees (90F) by 1:00 PM.  In fact, yesterday was not a good day for racing.  Most runners either pulled the plug early as I did, or settled down into a death-avoidance jog.  The 100K was a fine example of the carnage.  47 runners started and 26 finished.  The splits (relatively cool morning first 50K, scorching afternoon 50K) showed the impact of running in bright sun and heat.  One notable exception was Julie Hamulecki, who ran the 100K in 8:41.  I think she was running too fast for anyone to tell her it was a hot day...  Julie was an hour and 21 minutes ahead of the second place finisher, also a woman.

Was heat the deciding factor in my DNF?  Not at all.  Nor did injuries, old or new, play a role.  Simply a lack of training.  I was hoping to be recovered from running for 6 hours in Kingston 2 short weeks ago, but no such luck.  And it was a bit frustrating.  I ran 15K of hills on Wednesday, without an issue.  I could have gone longer, but I had a 50K in 3 days.  From the start of the race, I kept my pace leisurely.  I had no illusions about running a fast 50K.  I knew I would be struggling before 35K, but was surprised that at just 10K, my legs already felt like they had 30K on them.  Feeling tired at 10K is a serious wake-up call, so I focused on hydration, nutrition and salt intake.  I had gel at 5K and 10K, Ibuprofen at 5K and salt at 10K.  I was ready to push steadily for the next 15 - 20K.  Or so I thought.

At 18K, I could no longer run without walking breaks.  Excuse Me?  Not even in the back of my mind did it occur to me that my race was over.  Obviously, I was not hydrating enough or my nutrition was off.  I had just taken salt at 10K, so that could not be the issue.  I took a hefty slug from my gel flask (it holds 6 gels) and drank half of my water bottle.  At the 20K aid station, I drank a full bottle of ice and Gatorade.  I was confident I would get my mojo back and be running smoothly by 25K.

When your race is not going well, it is amazing how much mental dialogue floods your brain.  This in itself is counterproductive to having a good race.  All the internal analysis and second guessing crowds out the calm and positive thoughts that produce an ideal state of mind for racing.  It is also difficult to stave off the negative thoughts that can end your race.  After running for 41 years, I understand this, but in the middle of a race, it is difficult to calm your mind when nothing is working.  After struggling for 7K, I realized it simply wasn't my day to race 50K.

This gave me 2 options.  I could slog through another 25K of walking / staggering in 32 degree heat and bright sunshine, or save my legs for another day.  I have been there, done that.  In fact, I have pushed through on a hot day while running 50K at Niagara.  I developed heat stroke and although I finished in some ugly time, I also came close to passing out at a restaurant that evening.  My heart would suddenly speed up for no apparent reason over the next few days.  I would like to give a repeat of this experience a pass...

So I hitched a ride in the supply van back to the start/finish.  On the way back, we stopped at the aid stations, most of whom were out of ice.  I know many of the people who were out there, running in the heat and for the most part, they did not look well.  Even the cheery people, those who always seem to be smiling during a race, were struggling.  I had made the correct decision.

What's next?  We will be camping with the grandkids (they are bringing their parents) the week before Dirty Girls, so I will have to skip that race.  Waiting until Haliburton seems like too long a gap from Niagara, so perhaps Limberlost?  TLC has such a fantastic course, it would be a shame to miss it.

Creemore Vertical Challenge

Well, the new course is set and I am in big trouble.  I had mentioned earlier that I would be adding a hill.  But this is how my mind works...  (Yes, that statement is open to interpretation)  If I need to add a hill, then I should approach 2 people with hilly trails, so that I have a better chance of obtaining the use of one of them.  Sound plan, right?  Both people are allowing me to use their trails.  I don't like choosing as people might accuse me of being partial to one hill over another, so I have added both hills to the race course.  Also, there is this cute little slope that is right beside the race course and should be part of the Creemore experience.  I excluded the slope in past years because it is about 500 meters before the finish and I wanted runners to see the slope and think "Hey, Pierre's a nice guy.  We don't have to run up that paltry little slope"...

The good news is twofold.  Because the course is now a bit long, the trail through the pine trees directly after aid station 2 will be eliminated.  Also, the first new hill will be designated a "pitch", as it only has about 100 meters vertical gain.  Thus the course will only have 4 hills, one valley, one pitch and a paltry slope!  Everybody will be happy...

We're Not Happy Until You're Not Happy

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Kingston 6 Hour Race Report

It is very strange how far we can stray from our race goals.  I think this is a result of having very simple race goals, which do not necessarily fit into the complexities that develop, once the race begins.

My "A" goal for the Sri Chinmoy Self-transcendence 6 Hour race in Kingston was to run 42.3K.  This is mainly due to a lackluster training program, which was due to a late maple syrup season, contracting the flu and lousy running weather in March and April.  Contributing factors were the ice storm, tractor repairs and difficulty with altitude, but I won't go into detail...

So, how hard could it be, to run a minuscule distance above a marathon?  I had forgotten about what happens during a race.  In the tone of the Deer Hunter:  "The complexities, the complexities".  Although a bit warm (people who ran Sulphur are laughing about now), a cool breeze off Lake Ontario provided some relief every lap.  The Kingston course is run around the old Fort  Henry and beside the beautifully restored Royal Military College buildings.  The 1.1K loop is paved, with about 500 meters along the shore of Lake Ontario.  Think beautiful old building and sailboats.

A good friend Elizabeth Hurdman was also running the race and since Elizabeth has very little eyesight, Lee Anne, Stephan Miklos and I would pace her, around and around the 1.1K loop.  I was very concerned that I would not be able to keep up with the Kingston Trio.  I had of course, forgotten about the complexities that evolve during a race.  I did have difficulty with the initial pace.  It was slow, but little of my training was even at that pace, and not very much on pavement.  Within the first hour, my back was complaining.  So, with 5 hours to go, I was already struggling.  However, I was not the only one who incurred early-race issues.  Elizabeth's legs started to cramp just 2 hours into the race.  The heat was a factor and perhaps we were enjoying the conversation too much to focus on proper nutrition?  For the next 2 hours, Elizabeth struggled and needed a few walking breaks.  The breaks and some Ibuprofen helped right my back, and I was able to keep up with Stephan and Elizabeth.  Since there was little point in having 4 of us run in a group, which caused a bit of a road block for the faster runners, Lee Anne went ahead.  Stephan performed the lion's share of pacing Elizabeth.  Stephan never once flagged, which is amazing considering that he ran 50 miles at Sulphur the previous Saturday!  At 5 hours into the race, I asked him if he was feeling even a bit tired.  The answer:  Nope.  I was very annoyed...

Kingston is very different than the average race, even trail races.  "Timing" involved running past the start/finish, making eye contact with one of 12 people who are manually recording the time of the every runners' loop, and saying "hello" to your timer!  This gives Kingston a very personal touch, lacking at most other races.  You need to experience it once, to understand.  The aid station is well stocked.  They had small bags of ice, sponges, seaweed, watermelon and the usual ultra fare.  Hydration consisted of water, sea salt water, HEED and a clear electrolyte drink whose name escapes me.

At about the 4 hour mark, I was no longer able to keep up with the group.  This was quite good, as I had expected to start lagging behind the group after 2 hours.  The strange part was that although I lagged behind, I seemed to catch up almost every loop.  The group was taking walking breaks, which did not coincide with my walking breaks, but allowed me to get back in range.

Was I on pace to reach my A goal?  Part of the reason I wanted to stop at 42.3K, was because I have the Niagara 50K race in 2 weeks.  I was hoping to get a technical ultra (technically, more than a marathon) in about 5 hours, then stopped, to save the legs.  From 4 to 5 hours, I was running "alone", although friends would lap me (and I would lap a few) every so often, so there was always someone with encouragement or with whom to briefly chat.  I hit the marathon lap (lap 39 covers from 41.8K to 42.9K) shortly after 5 hours.  I was still "catching up" to the group on almost every lap.  I decided to get my keys on the next lap and grab a bottle of maple syrup for Hladini, the race director.  I forgot my keys!  By this time, I figured I might as well catch up to the group and finish the 6 hours together.  With about 15 minutes to go, every runner is given a small bag of sand with their name.  Along the race course are 3 or 4 cars.  When the 6 hour time limit is reached, the cars all sound their horn.  Runners drop their bag.  Someone with a measuring wheel then walks the course and the distance of your last lap is recorded.  Lee Anne ran 3 more laps than the rest of us, however Elizabeth, Stephan and I covered 45.755K.  Yes, manual timing, but at exactly 6 hours, they provide your distance down to the meter!

So, my "A" goal went right out the window, although I completed my first ultra in 2016.  Hopefully I will not pay too dearly at Niagara for my exuberance.  Pacing Elizabeth was surprisingly enjoyable.  It helped take my mind off the drudgery of running a 1.1K course over and over again.  It was instrumental in exceeding my A goal.  It was also the first time I have run with Stephan, who is also a good friend.  Stephan typically runs the longer distances and at a faster pace.  I see him at the end of the race, so it was great to share a few hours on the course.

This morning, I am stiff and sore.  One drawback to a 6 hour race in Kingston is that it makes for a long day.  6 hours of running and 7 hours of driving.  We missed a fabulous meal that Kingston dishes up after the race during the award ceremony as we had to make the long drive back to Creemore.  In future years, we will sample the impressive B&B's located in Kingston.

Both Lee Anne and Elizabeth made it to the leader board.  This is a board set up near the S/F line and is regularly (manually) updated with the top 7 male and female runners.  A hearty thanks to all the volunteers, who gave up a fine Saturday in order to attend to the runners' needs.  Hladini puts on a top notch race.  I am always surprised that this race has not been discovered by the trail, road and ultra hoards.  Of course, if sign-up reached 500+ runners, it would change the character of the race.  Manual timing would have to be replaced by chip timing, etc.


Sunday, May 15, 2016

Seaton Soaker 25K Race Report

I have been considering running the Seaton race for over a decade.  With the river crossing and single track trails, it was never on Lee Anne's wish list, so it never made it to mine.  This year, we are mixing up our races, skipping a few we have frequented and trying a few we don't normally do, or have never done.  If you read one of my earlier blog entries, yes, the list has changed.  Quebec City marathon is a likely candidate for 2016.  A marathon is a race of medium length, typically run on roads.  I know, you're thinking what type of daft idiot would want to run one of "those" races, but marathons are surprisingly popular.  Some even attract more people than the 250 that show up at my race.

It was time to try the Seaton Soaker.  Missing Pick Your Poison and skipping Sulphur swayed the decision.  On Saturday, Lee Anne elected to run 32K in Toronto, so friends Kinga and Stephan Miklos and I headed to Pickering.

Colin Arnott (Seaton race director) and a plethora of volunteers did an excellent job of staging the race.  Colin has a fantastic race base, in a large high school.  Plenty of hot showers, bathrooms and the cafetorium was ideal for registration, awards and food.  The trail is mostly single track, although there are many areas of double track and even some pavement, in which to pass or be passed.  The 12.5K course was well marked and the trails were perfect for running, aside from being slippery due to the rain.  The temperature was optimal for running, although the trails soon became greasy in the rain.  I fell twice, not because of the slippery conditions, but because of 2 small rocks or stumps that I stumbled over.  The first fall was an impressive head first glissade through the mud.  It was quite enjoyable to be sliding along and the Russian judge gave me an 8.3...  Which brings me to a tip that I should pass on to the visually impaired.  I don't run trail with my glasses.  This has nothing to do with the difficulty in seeing through glasses during a rain storm.  Without my glasses, I don't see obstacles on the trail, so I don't slow down.  Perfect!

Since I recently got over a battle with the flu, I took it easy on the way out to the 12.5K turn-around.  Footing was an issue, but I doubt it slowed us down all that much.  I ran for a while with a fellow for whom Seaton was his first trail race.  He picked his inaugural race well, as footing required considerable concentration around the curves and up and down the hills.  He mentioned that he was surprised at how much effort trail running required.  I suggested that he should not focus on his max VO2 (typical in road races), but concentrate on maintaining a steady level of effort.  He asked "what about the stairs?"  Alas, I didn't have an answer!

12.5K of mainly single track in slick mud takes almost as high a mental toll, as a physical one.  Since it was less than a week ago that I was not able to breath while running (and I kept having to stop and pick up a lung - such an annoyance), the outbound leg seemed fairly easy.  Not that I broke any land speed records.  The first place runner passed me near the 9K mark.  That means I had run 9K and the lead runner was already at 16K!  I reached the 12.5K turn-around at about 90 minutes, turned and decided to pick up the pace slightly.  On the way back, I was able to run a few kilometers with JD Begin, an old friend who was in the 50K race.  JD had taken a couple of years off running and was just getting back into ultras.  It was good to run with JD and he helped me to maintain a hearty pace for the last 6K.  At 22K, there is a river crossing.  On the way out, a different trail is used that crosses the river on a bridge.  On the way back, runners must negotiate about 8 meters of open water.  Great!  I thought.  I can put all my river running to good use.  On hot days in Creemore, I run about 2K along the Ganaraska trail, then hop into the Mad river and run upstream back to the house.  It sounds incredibly dangerous, but falling into a foot of water is quite gentle and very refreshing!  Since I was running at a good pace and did not want to slow down, I took the shortest line through the river, at race pace.  With some luck, I did not face plant in front of the volunteers, who were positioned at the river as a safety measure.  A woman who was navigating the river by using the rope, talked to me at the finish and mentioned that she was impressed with my river crossing method.

My A goal for Seaton 25K was to be under 3 hours, so it was nice to cross the finish in 2:56.  I don't think I would have been any faster if the trails were dry, possibly slower on a hot day, so I was happy with my start to the OUTRace season.

Many thanks to Collin, the volunteers and the fellow runner who redirected me when I was about to go off course, about 1K from the finish.  The post-race pizza and refreshments were great, although the hot shower was pivotal in my opinion.

It was also great to talk with all my racing buddies, both on the race course and after.  May you all do incredibly well this year, except those in the male 50+ category...

Friday, May 13, 2016

Pick Your Poison "Bed" Report

In Ron Irwin's race report on Creemore last year, he states that after running the 50K distance 8 times, the score stands at Creemore 7, Ron 1.  Until April, I thought I understood perfectly what he meant.  That is, until I contracted the flu in April and was too sick to volunteer at Pick Your Poison.  As posted previously, I delayed the decision to sign up for either the 25K or 50K until PYP sold out.  Perfect!  I can volunteer.  For those who have not vollied at a trail race before, let me assure you that it is a LOT easier than running 50K, or even 25K.  There is also a bit of a mean streak in me that enjoys watching other people struggle in a race while I stand around and shout out "GET YOUR PRETZELS HERE!".  Fun times!

But lying in bed running a fever and wishing I could "get out there", either running or volunteering at PYP is no fun.  The flu won that round, although in my fevered state, I was trying to figure out what clothes I should wear, in order to stand at an aid station beside a ski hill for 8 hours and assist runners.  It wasn't so much common sense that kept me home, but a desire to avoid the embarrassment of asking a 50K finisher if he or she could drive me to the morgue.

And yes, the above convoluted segue is a recommendation to watch Jeff Rowthorn's Youtube PYP race report for Get Out There magazine.  Maybe I could have worn a parka?  Jeff had an impressive finish, at 7th overall.  Well done Jeff!  In 2016, GOT magazine will undertake to videotape most of the OUTRace events.  Hopefully it doesn't wear Jeff out!

Tomorrow I will attempt the 25K distance at the Seaton Soaker race.  You would think that after completing 6 ultras last year, a 25K should be a walk in the park for me, but the reality is that it might just be a walk in the park...  In the last 4 weeks, I have run further than 10K once, and it was not what I would call a quality run.  I am able to breath again, which is really important in races.  Training was abysmal, so I will run slowly and see what happens.

Preparation for the Creemore Vertical Challenge goes well, although I am still looking for 100 meters vertical, to add to the course.  This is to satisfy the minimum requirements for the Canadian Skyrunning Series.  I have my eye on a cute little hill, which I am sure people will love!


Monday, April 18, 2016

Ontario Spring Warm-up

For those who follow my blog or have taken a wrong turn and ended up in Creemore, you might be under the impression that the weather around here is less than calm.  Extreme is what I would grudgingly call an apt moniker.  Fellow runners who live in exotic locals such as Brampton or Hamilton love to regal me with horror stories about how the Creemore weather affected their race or training run.  And I have to grit my teeth and bear it, because it is true.  You know the red bar on the weather network that indicates a Sunday hike might be out of the question?  In a 3 week period this Spring, the Creemore forecast had a severe weather watch or warning on all but one day.

During the 2009 OUSER Spring Warm-up (which is now the OUTRace Spring Warm-up), 2 young ladies asked if they could run the route in the opposite direction.  "Sure" I said, then asked them why.  Apparently the gale force winds, sleet, snow and rain was making it difficult for them to run against the wind on top of the Niagara Escarpment.  In other years, we have experienced bad weather...

The Sunday before this year's Spring Warm-up, Stephen Bridson, Stephan Miklos and I ran the course.  I was going to run it with my chainsaw, but I had forgotten my chainsaw camel pack at the sugar shack.  Why would I run with a chainsaw?  Aside from the advantage of being left alone (people will actually move off the trail, if they see you coming), a chainsaw can be handy shortly after a weather forecast red bar indicating an ice storm.  Just a note, don't run with a chainsaw on your back in the Dundas / Yonge street area of Toronto.  There are some crazy people down there!

I forgot to bring my camera, so the picture (Stephan Miklos climbing a tree in Dunedin) is from a few year's back.  The Bruce trail portion of the SW course had about 4 inches of firm snow (this is on Sunday, 6 days before the SW), which was quite a good running surface.  However, with the warm weather predicted for the coming week, I could easily see the trail becoming an almost impassable surface of mud and ice, along the cliffs.  Here we go again!

To our surprise, the trail was mostly dry!  Stephen Bridson ran a loop of the course early in the morning, on the day of the Spring Warm-up and reported the incredible findings.  Coupled with a bright blue sky and ideal running temperatures, most people wanted their money back...

With exemplary weather and an appealing course, most people had a great day out on the trails.  About 50 of us enjoyed talking about our race plans and how mutual friends were doing.  A few people mentioned that the SW was their first chance this year to get out on some technical trails and "get ready" for the race season.  As I am nowhere near ready to run an ultra, 2 loops of the 13K course were enough for me, clocking just under 4 hours.  Quite slow to run 26K, but you should experience the course before judging me too harshly.  I would guess the better runners were pegging about 90 minutes for the 13K course.

Speaking of better runners, Hans Maier won the Grand Prize!  Hans has been a mainstay and supporter of Ontario trail and ultra circuit since before pavement was invented.  It could not have been granted to a more deserving individual.  Way to go Hans!

My goal of running 50K at Pick Your Poison hit a bit of a snag.  Due to lethargic training this Spring (or second winter, depending on your viewpoint), I waited a bit too long before signing up.  I could not decide if I should run the 25K or 50K.  PYP sold out!  So I will be a vollie (volunteer) at PYP.  I might head down to Seaton, a race I have never run before.  Otherwise it will be a very late start to the season, if I wait for Kingston.  Lee Anne and I will miss Sulphur Springs for the first time in about 6 years.  No big reason.  Lee Anne is not happy with trail races, after falling at both of them last year (PYP and Sulphur).

Note to self:  You need to sign up for a race if you want to run it...

I boiled down today for the last time this year.  I made 200 litres of maple syrup, so those of you whose race strategy includes an age category podium finish at Creemore, there will be syrup!  The last batch is always tough.  Not because of any sentimental tripe about it being all over for another year, but because I'm not mentally equipped to waste sap.  It takes so much effort to get sap into the evaporator, that I don't want to waste any.  So the last batch becomes tricky...  The evaporator is comprised of a finishing pan (2' X 2' flat bottom, on the left) and a sap pan (2' X 4' drop flues (trenches), on the right).  This morning, the 2 pans were filled with cold concentrated sap.  There is no more sap in the storage tanks, so to make the last batch, I plug the finishing pan (small pan) and drain the sap pan.  I cannot start a fire without liquid in the sap pan, so I fill it with water.  This is the tough part.  I have drained 80 litres out of the sap pan.  Yes, 80 litres!  I then add 120 litres of water to the sap pan.  I can now start the evaporator.  Over the next 4 hours, I add the 80 litres of concentrated sap to the finishing pan.  During the same time period, I add a total of 320 litres of water to the sap pan.  I carry 40 litres of water from the Mad river, which is about 100 meters from the sugar shack.  By the time I reach the sugar shack, my arms are 3 inches longer.

Now, I need to clean a few kilometers of sap line and mainline, dismantle the evaporator and clean it, and haul everything home.  The sugar shack is about 25K from where we live in Creemore.  I also have a few branches to pick up at home... from the ice storm.

The problem with being retired is that there is no time off...

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Happy Spring!

Spring might be early this year, but it certainly hasn't brought warmer weather.  It was -10 in Creemore this morning.  Brrr!

Running has not gone well so far this year, mainly because I've been desperately seeking alternatives to lacing up the shoes and heading out into the cold gloom.  Every Autumn I convince myself that running in cold weather has its advantages, such as (help me out here!) less foliage blocking the views and (a bone, throw me a bone!) uncrowded trails.  But around early February, I'm fooling nobody.  Running in Ecuador, although difficult to breath, made it that much harder to don the winter running uniform and head out the door, once back in Creeland.

Eventually, it is time to ramp up mileage.  Yesterday was scheduled to be a 20K run.  However, we slept in a bit and took our time getting ready.  The start was slow, even by my standards.  At 10:42, we had reached the 10K turn around; a hamlet called Dunedin.  Those of you who have joined in the OUTRace Spring Warm-up fun run will know the local.  The hall is exactly 10K from our house.  This is about the point where I woke up and realized that meeting Andja at the sugar shack was going to be dicey.  I had to run home (10K), then drive 25K to the property, by 12:00.  Epiphany!  I will combine a longish run (20K) with speedwork!  I turned for home and increased my speed.  This lasted about 5K when my bad knee (left) started complaining.  Not sure how many people have a chronic injury, but my bad knee has been hurting since 1975.  Yes, my doctor has suggested that I take up a different sport, but I'm an optimist and somehow I keep thinking that my knee will get better, possibly in the next 40 years.  Yes, I can guess what you are thinking, about how my knee will get "better"...  Needless to say, I had to slow down and was a bit late meeting Andja.

A timely segue into the Spring Warm-up.  OUTRace (Ontario Ultra and Trail Race series) puts on an annual fun run that doubles as a fund raiser.  This year, Stephen Bridson and I are organizing the run.  For a modest entry fee of $35, runners get to test their "winter legs" against some big hills and part of the course follows the Bruce trail.  There is also a grand prize of free entry into most of the races in the series.  Lunch is typically soup and pizza and there are spot prizes to compliment the grand prize.  For me, the best part is chatting with some of the regulars on the Ontario circuit.  The Spring Warm-up is on Saturday April 16, 2 weeks before the first race in the series, the dreaded Pick Your Poison.  Better to test the legs early, than in a race!  For details and to sign up:

OUTRace Spring Warm-up

This has been a troubling year for maple syrup.  It is still a bit early, but there has been a plethora of warm days with no sap run.  My concern is that the tap holes will heal early, reducing the sap yield later this season.  I have made 37 litres of syrup so far, which is less than half the syrup needed for the race.  I would also like to sell some syrup to recover the costs and a bit for personal use would be enjoyable.  This year, along with cutting 4 bushcord of firewood for the evaporator, I had to replace about 200 feet of tubing.  The warm December resulted in more squirrel activity and they chewed through quite a bit of tubing.  Add in general maintenance, jars and cleaning supplies, the cost adds up!  I normally make more than 200 litres of syrup in a year, so the current tally is not healthy.

Today is too cold to make syrup, so I will start a fire in the pottery studio and start making the CVC medals.


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

In Like a Lion

Not sure what the rest of Southern Ontario is like today, but the Creemore area is white and cold.  Running this time of year is a challenge;  the struggle to don outdoor running gear AGAIN and run in slush along the side of the road.  The alternative - an epic run on the treadmill, is less than inspiring.  Also at this time of year, I have a few too many distractions to focus totally on winter running,  Today, I transported the evaporator up to the sugar bush, hauled it 1K to the sugar shack and assembled it.  Tomorrow, I'm helping to build a deck at my son-in-law's in Toronto.

However I did get a trail run in recently.  It was tough, although I was only sinking about 4 inches into the snow.  Only once did I break through the ice into the Mad river, so it was a fun run (no police reports to fill out).

Hauling the evaporator to the sugar shack was also quite pleasant.  One reason I decided to do so today is because we are expecting about 25 cm of snow, which makes pulling a 2' X 6' drop-flue evaporator on a sled by hand, quite difficult.  Think in terms of pulling a plow for 1K.  Today, the sled was only sinking about 3 inches, so there was no need to hyperventilate.  Building the evaporator went smoothly as well, which is why I'm home by noon and have time to write this post.  To avoid boring people with the build details, assembly requires using nifty little clamps for the drain valve, draw-off valve, anti-backwash coupler and float box.  I'm supposed to level the sap and finishing pans, but I forgot, for the sixth year in a row...  Hopefully I can add a picture to show the end result.

This weekend, the plan is to tap.  With only 1 foot of snow in the bush (yes, I mix up imperial with metric in a most confusing fashion, look!  An eagle!) tapping should be easier than most years, when there is 1.2 meters of snow.  In recent years I've had help tapping, which is wonderful, as drilling 325 tap holes and setting the spiles takes a bit out of me.  Daryl (son-in-law) and Stephan (good friend) both claim they enjoy it.  I guess there are worse things than being out in the bush, tramping through snow and working up a thirst!

Another reason for this post is because I tend to get real busy during maple syrup season.  If you are interested in checking out a small / medium sized operation, feel free to drop by in mid / late March.  Email me for directions and disclaimers.  Note the 1K hike through forest, to get from the road to the sugar shack.  Most years all you need is boots, but snow shoes, a canoe and perhaps a helicopter might come in handy.


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Running in Ecuador

Just a note for those die-hard runners, who think in terms of "running" and "other", where "other" is a series of boring tasks (eating, sleeping, working) required before the next run...  The subject line is completely misleading.  Yes, Lee Anne and I ran in Ecuador, but we ran no races and my mileage was not significant.  Unless you want to read about hiking in Ecuador, skip this post.  I ran 10K, mainly on a track in Latacunga and 12K, also on a track, in Ibarra.  That's it, for 12 days!

Mind you, running at altitude is a bit weird.  Picture shuffling along at your slowest training pace when the visual world starts to get darker, similar to your computer screen just before it launches a pop-up.  Your body knows it is not pushing hard (it is not complaining to the brain), but there seems to be an element lacking in the mix.  Or technically, a compound, known as O2...  We found it almost amusing that we could only run about 400 meters flat, before being forced to walk.  Even walking at 2800 meters above sea level takes a surprising length of time, before there is enough oxygen in the legs to consider assuming a running pace.

Ecuador is a series of contrasts.  With some foresight, they have vastly improved the road infrastructure, in what I assume is an attempt to prepare for more tourism and a 21st century lifestyle.  However, a large percentage of the buildings are old or unfinished.  By unfinished, think of buildings with a completed ground floor in which people are living, yet the second floor is partially built concrete block walls with rebar sticking out the top.  I heard many reasons for why this was happening.  I am not sure which are true; likely all are factors.  Ecuadorians would simply build until they ran out of money, then stop until they saved up a bit.  Or they had failed to obtain the proper permits and work was stopped.  Another "rumour" is that they prolong the building period, as the tax is not increased until the building is completed.  As long as they can complete 10% each year, the building is considered under construction.  So, there is a modern airport in Quito, excellent 6 lane highways, with 18th century buildings along the way.

Private roads are another matter.  Again, only what I was told, but maintenance of the smaller roads is performed by the locals.  They would pool their funds and provide the labour.  The private road we traveled upon near the Quito airport was comprised of rocks embedded in sand.  Similar to cobblestone roads, but much rougher.  Tires last about 2 years for those who must travel these private roads on a regular basis.  I can see a rally race along these roads!

Travelling in Ecuador is inexpensive.  Our flights were about $600 CAD each.  Hotels (Hostals) range from $25 to $70 for a private room.  We stayed at Las Orquideas hotel in Ibarra for 3 nights.  Including 3 breakfasts and doing our laundry, our bill came to $75 USD.  Mind you, they waived the laundry and the $2.50 breakfasts.  Meals are also less expensive, although wine is on par with Canadian prices.  There is considerable tariffs on the import of wines.

Our first day was spent touring the old section of Quito.  We elected to stay at the same hotel for the first 2 nights, to help acclimatize to the altitude.  This had an added benefit, as my luggage did not make the flight from Bogota to Quito.  The airport was able to send my luggage to the hotel the following day.

Our third night was spent in Latacunga, a staging area for the Quilotoa Loop hike.  The next morning we set out for Sigchos, were our hike would start.  We were travelling with Barb and Manny (Manfred), as our schedules aligned nicely.  Barb and Manny are also retired.  Things went south quickly for Barb, at this point, as she succumbed to the flu.  Picture travelling in a coach bus along rough and steep mountainous roads, with the flu.  I am not sure how she did it!  Mind you, there was little choice.  Getting off the bus in the mountains was not an option.

It is always a good idea to have some flexibility in your travel plans.  Barb was in no shape to hike from Sigchos to Isinlivi.  So, while Lee Anne and I hiked, Barb and Manny took a taxi to Llullu Llama, out hostal in Isinlivi.  This 4 hour "warm-up" hike presented incredible vistas and one taxing uphill climb, with a pinch of altitude.  The next day, while Barb recovered a bit, Manny, Lee Anne and I hiked a loop trail and we all stayed a second night in Isinlivi.

Again, Barb was in no shape to hike, so while they took a taxi to Chugchilan, Lee Anne and I hiked.  This was to be the theme for the Quilotoa Loop.  I almost feel bad (we owe Manny and Barb big time) but while Lee Anne and I enjoyed hiking with one light pack, Barb and Manny drove in a taxi to the next hostal, with our heavy pack.  The pack I should have been carrying!

The hike from Chugchilan to the Quilotoa crater is tough.  There are two long steep climbs, the second of which reaches 3900 meters (12,800 feet).  Fortunately the hike is relatively short (5 hours), so although the altitude takes its toll, it is not coupled with complete exhaustion.  Mind you, sleeping at 3900 meters is a nuisance.  Imagine having a minor hangover for the duration.  No one slept well that night!

The next day we set out for Ibarra, where we had planned to hike the nearby Imbabura volcano.  Since the volcano was a significant hike (over 4600 meters / 15,000 feet), we decided that it would be a better idea to tackle something less technical and altitudinal (it's a new word, buddy) and opted for the nearby Cubilche volcano.  At 3800 meters, it would make for a satisfactory hike.  It also had a cute little lake at the top!

For the hike up Cubilche, we hired Emerson Obando, a professional guide.  Emerson is extremely fit and guides tours in the area 2 - 3 times per week.  I still can't figure out how he ran up a steep hill at 3800 meters, while I had to stop every 50 feet to avoid blacking out.  I thought I was in shape!  Hiring a guide provides one pleasant bonus.  We did not have to spend hours scrutinizing trail maps and questionable directions.  Simply admire the views and take pictures.  Emerson did all the navigation.  Emerson is positive, talkative and very sensitive to the environment.  I'm sure that it was not part of the tour, but we helped Emerson collect garbage at the crater lake.  If you ever plan a trip to Ecuador, consider using a guide.  Emerson also runs a hostal in Esperanza, basically a suburb of Ibarra.  Check out his website at:

After returning from the hike to his hostal, we donned traditional garb and enjoyed a photo op!

Our last day was spent at the Otavalo market, which has a huge variety of traditional clothing, leather, art and food.  Prices are great ($5 for a Panama hat, $15 for a Llama wool shawl) and the atmosphere is something to experience.  I normally don't like shopping (this is an understatement), but there was so much to see, it was bearable...

One reason our flights were inexpensive was because the return trip was not ideal.  We left the hostal at 2:00 AM for a 05:20 flight.  We had considerable excitement at about 04:00 when Lee Anne figured out that she dropped her money bag in the back seat of the hostal van, on the way to the airport.  After some panic, she was able to contact the manager, who drove the van back to the airport and delivered her money, credit cards and birth certificate.

After a short flight from Quito to Bogota, we had an 8 hour layover.  Time creeps ever more slowly when waiting for a connector in an airport.  For fun, I converted my USD into Columbian pesos, then into CAD.  Yeehaa!  We finally embarked on the last flight and landed in Toronto at 9:40 PM.  Daryl (son-in-law) was kind enough to pick us up and drop us at Manny and Barb's place, where we had left our car.  The drive to Creemore was quick as there is little traffic after 11:00 PM on a Sunday night.  I activated the woodstove in record time and it was almost warm by the time we went to bed, at about 1:30 AM.  Almost a 24 hour day!


Hiking in Ecuador will take you out of your comfort zone.  This becomes important as you get older and avoid new experiences because they don't fit your schedule.  We experienced some inconvenience in the hostal in Latacunga, where the average age was about 18.  But we most definitely gained incredible experiences not available in a package deal to Cuba.  Consider hiking Ecuador because it requires some effort to absorb the culture.  Then we will have earned our lattes and petit four...