Sunday, January 24, 2016

Winter Running...

As Lee Anne and I prepared to brave the Creemore elements yesterday, I was surprised at how effective procrastination can be during the winter.  We woke up late to a sunny -16C day.  There was a gentle wind from the north, which at -16 can be considered a death threat.  We were in no hurry to don our gear and start the run.  Ah!  Winter running!

Since I was running short (24K - which I quickly changed to 15K after starting the run), we spent some time trying to figure out how to keep Lee Anne's camelback from freezing.  We tried threading the tube under her running jacket, but it was awkward and part of the tube remained exposed.  Next, we tried placing her extra small jacket on top of the camelback, but Lee Anne would have trouble breathing.  Finally, after delaying until the temperature was -11C, we settled on the traditional blowback approach, with the camelback outside her jacket.

Another 15 minutes spent donning 14 layers of clothes, gloves, hats, those things that warm your neck (I don't wear one - I'm almost a man) and 2 layers of pants, and we were ready.  Since we planned to run roads, we started by heading north.  Into that gentle breeze.  After 30 seconds, I asked Lee Anne if she would like to run on the treadmill.  Being the irrational and obstinate person that she is (the category is called "Runner"), we continued on our way.  I have to admit that I enjoy the reaction of cars that pass us during these Arctic runs.  They slow right down.  I imagine the driver is wondering if they should offer assistance or head for high ground.

Let's talk pace for a moment.  We are running with more clothes than I pack for a week's vacation during the summer.  Footing ranges from icy pavement to frozen salt, unless the footing is bad.  That gentle -11C breeze is dense enough to move tractors frozen in mud.  Since we live on the Mad river, the terrain is uphill in all directions, unless we run in or on the river.  About now I would like to take exception to the term "warm-up".  Five minutes into our run, I can't feel my face.  My fingers are frozen near the holes in my gloves.  A graph of my core body temperature would look like a swan dive.  I can't wait to warm up, he says with caustic sarcasm.  Our legs are moving in slow motion, the pace sometimes approaching a 7 minute kilometre.  When we stop to walk, our pace increases.

For some reason I have never been able to fathom, my mileage drops during the winter...

I have to laugh; the above struggle takes place during one of the warmest January's I can remember, in Creemore.  We have had virtually no snow, so the trails are still runnable.  A great winter for running!

Lee Anne started a running log this year.  I started one last year.  I have offered to help track her mileage, which could be a mistake.  Although my mileage has suffered so far this year (I am helping with a construction project in Toronto), even my best months would pale in comparison to Lee Anne's.  So far in January 2016, the comparison is sad.  Due to work, I only have 3 days per week in which I can run.  Lee Anne continues with her one day off (Thursday) and back-to-backs every Friday and Saturday.

During my last week before starting to work in Toronto, I logged 56K.  Since then, my mileage has dropped dramatically.  My total for the month is 103.5K.

For the first 3 full weeks this month, Lee Anne has logged 150K, 158K and 147K.  Her monthly total is 518K.  She is on pace to exceed 650K this month.  I'm hoping to break 150K.

On the bright side, we are preparing for some altitude training.  Actually, we might not be running as much in February, as we will be hiking in Ecuador.  After a few days acclimatizing in Quito, we plan to hike the Quilotoa Loop.  This hike is up fairly high (2800M to 3900M), so running may not be an option.  Along the loop is the Quilotoa crater lake, a fascinating remnant of massive eruption circa 800 years ago.  After the Loop, we plan to climb the Imbabura volcano, although hikers write of scrambles and tricky trails, which might not be much fun at 4630 meters (15,000 feet)!  Our fallback plan is to visit the Otavalo market, just north of Quito.

Strange how events transpire in life.  I understand that we are in the proper demographic (recently retired), but it is still strange how many friends are also travelling to Ecuador.  We will be travelling with Manny and Barb, mutual friends of our good friend Sharon,  Jane from book club has already flown south and our long time friends Mel and Al are flying down on the same day as us!  We plan to meet with Mel and Al in Quito for some sightseeing.

Try to enjoy the great outdoors this month.  There is no doubt that hiking or running in January is tough, but there are sites to see and you can gain a new perspective on the outdoors, during the winter.  Dress warm!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

2016: The Speed Returns!

Those of you who have been running for more than 6 days know that ramping up is tough.  Some aspects of a running ramp are easier than others, but they all involve some form of discomfort.  Normally, increasing weekly mileage is tough, but not as discomforting as increasing your long run.  This is true in part because increasing weekly mileage can be done in several ways and the "pain" can be spread across 7 days.  For example, running 5 days per week instead of 4 is relatively easy.  There are still 2 rest days and adding a 3K run on what was previously a rest day; not overly demanding.  Don't get me wrong, some weekly increments must be epic struggles.  I cannot fathom how elite athletes add an 8th training session to their weekly regime.  The LMRC's (Leg Muscle Recovery Centres) must be truly pissed.  They no longer have 20ish hours in which to perform recovery, but must be ready for another bout in 8 hours!

However, the first time you increase your long run from 28K to circa 32K, your entire body lets you know it is not happy.  At all.  Even after years of ramping up in the Spring, the long run ramp is the one I dread.  Forget sore leg muscles, everything is sore.  Oh, you forgot to apply lube to certain areas of your body?  What a wonderful conversation piece!  I hate experiencing, but love watching runners who are out on a long run and have forgotten to bring electrolyte.  They are shuffling along at the speed of a brisk walk, but the expression on their face indicates a struggle of magnitude to maintain the pathetic pace.

Speed work is a different animal altogether.  In my twenties, I used to look forward to speed work, in preparation for the rugby season.  I was young, relatively uninjured and running had very little resistance.  As you age and accumulate chronic injuries, something horrific happens to your pace.  Instead of 1 or 2 aches and pains, every muscle in your legs and torso hurt.  The resistance is alarming.  Maintaining what I used to consider a recovery pace, takes real effort!  Speed work is no longer uncomfortable, it is downright painful.  In my mid-forties, I experienced a plethora of injuries.  In retrospect, I believe this happened because I was training for 50K's instead of 10K's.  This required aggravating old injuries at the same time that I was incurring new running injuries.  When you are struggling to train with a bad back, bad knees and a broken neck, developing Plantar Fasciitis can greatly affect the speed and distance of your training runs,  Running a 50K (or DNF'ing) with insufficient training is tricky.  Speed work went out the window.  Forget quality sessions, I was striving simply to get in some mileage.

My hope for 2016 is that the base I have built since retirement in 2014 will allow me to try some speed work.  I fervently hope that at the end of 2016, I am not posting about the difficulties of increasing speed in your late 50's!

Plans for 2016

No, I have not seriously pondered my goals for 2016.  That only happens when I write this post!

As mentioned above, I will incorporate speed sessions.  I envision the sessions will be weekly, starting on the treadmill during the winter.  This will provide the option of stopping at any moment, without having to walk home in the deep freeze.  I will use the concept developed in France a few years back, which is to run for 4 minutes at about your 5K race pace, then one minute recovery pace.  I like this concept because my current 5K "race pace" is around 6 minute kilometres.  It should be easy at the start!


This is not set in stone, but more of a wish list.  Again for 2016, I plan to focus on the local ultra races, but am eyeing a few in exotic locals, such as Quebec...

Spring Warm-up   April 16

Not a race, but I have to be there, so why not run?  Hope to run 39K (3 loops).

Pick Your Poison 50K   April 30

Why not?  Yes, it is a rude and unpleasant wake up call, but I enjoy the course and I need a long run in late April.

Sulphur Springs 50M   May 28

If everything goes according to plan, I will attempt my second 50 mile race.  Sulphur is an easy trail course and 4 loops of 20K will provide some familiarity during the later stage of the race.  My hope is to get a more respectable finishing time, but realistically, I will probably be struggling to finish.

Niagara Ultra 50K   June 18

I expect Lee Anne will be signing up for the 100K, so I might as well run a short little 50K.  Seriously, I have doubts about finishing 50K four weeks after a 50 miler, so there is a chance I am volunteering instead of racing.

Canadian Skyrunning Festival  22K Skyrace   June 25  Mont Albert, QC

Fitting this into "the schedule" will not be easy, unless we take a 2 week road trip to include this race (500K NE of Quebec city), Ottawa and Limberlost.  I would like to state for the record that recovery is utterly overrated!  Since Creemore is now part of the Canadian Skyrunning series, I would like to visit a brother race.  Don't let the short distance fool you.  The 22K has almost as much vertical as the CVC 50K.

Ottawa Ultra  50K    July 2

This race hinges on what I do at Niagara.  Lee Anne might not run 100K at Niagara, but run 24 hours here, depending on her goals.  I would prefer to race Limberlost, which would mean that I don't run in Ottawa.  Decisions, decisions, decisions...

Limberlost  56K   July 9

Obviously running 56K at TLC will only happen if I don't run in Ottawa.  I would like to try the "grown-up" race distance.  For those of you who have not been to TLC, 56K is a LONG race.  in 2015, only 6 people ran it in under 7 hours!

Dirty Girls  12 hour Day  July 23

I have unfinished business at DG.  In 2015, my race was a textbook example of ignoring all the warning signs.  I need to revisit this race to put the demons to bed.  Expect disaster here again, in 2016.

Creemore Vertical Challenge  0K  August 6

I hope to get in 0K.  Last year, due to bear activity on the trail, I ran up and down a section of trail that I cut DURING the race, in order to divert runners away from some angry wasps.  Their nest had been ripped out of the ground and strewn along the course.  Ask the 75K runners regarding fond memories of their first loop.

Haliburton  50K   September 10

If Lee Anne goes back to help Sharon volunteer at the 40K aid station (#7), I will run the 50K, then help them.  Last year, I somehow thought I could run 50 miles, then volunteer.  I did not factor in being close to death after the 50 mile race...

Horror Trail  6 hour   October 29

I DNS'd this race in 2015, so again, some unfinished business.  I would also like to be present for the OUTRace awards.

2016:  Good Luck!

That's it.  Probably more than I can embrace in a single calendar year, but plans are adjustable and I expect to make alterations.  So, good luck with whatever you are planning for 2016.  Don't limit yourself to what is plausible or practical.  Reach for the sky and once in a while you will see the stars.

8% No Limit

Just a heads up on a documentary that will be circulating soon.  Rhonda-Marie Avery, a runner with 8% vision, ran the Bruce Trail in August 2014.  Yes, the whole 885K, in 20 days.  I cannot conceive of the struggle she endured, running along cliffs, over such technical terrain, while exhausted and with little vision.  For details on the film, please check out the website:


Sunday, January 3, 2016

2015: First 50 Miler; Almost Happy

It is hard to sum up a year in review.  In fact, I waited until there was enough time to write about what transpired, in a year that represented a dramatic increase in running.  As an observation, don't wait until you are 57 to run your first 50 miler.  It has little to do with being older, slower, chronically injured and short of breath, but that you have a large enough experience set to comprehend that you are not enjoying the last 6 hours of the race...  You want to be young enough that you don't realize what a bad idea it is, to run for 12+ hours.

Note that I am recommending trying a long race.  Just do it before you are experienced!  I had 2 objectives for 2015 and I fully anticipated that they would compliment each other.  1.  I would run more long races.  I figured that in order to attempt a 50 miler, I needed to run longer.  Being slightly adverse to planning copious 40+K training runs, I reasoned that if I signed up for enough 50K races, I would be trained for a 50 miler.  2.  I would run faster.  Does it make sense to you that by increasing your weekly total from 30K to 50 - 80K, you would also get faster?  Apparently not, if you are approaching 60 years of age and have not run fast for the last decade.

So, I increased the number and duration of training runs and races, but only half-heartedly attempted to include speed work.  Result:  I remained slow, but was able to complete 6 ultras, including the Haliburton 50 miler.

Will I run another 50 miler?  Probably.  There is significant road (dirt road) at Hali and I believe this was a factor in my knees going south at about the 55K point.  There is considerable room to improve, with a 12:35 finish time.  Perhaps a gentle trail race (Sulphur?) would be better.  Will I run a 100 miler?  Not.  Training for long races is difficult with my back and knees.  I would end up walking a large portion, which would mean chasing cut-off's; it is not worth it.  Walking plays a role in ultras.  A big component of ultras is managing your resources, including being as efficient as possible.  In a 5K race, you will never reach "empty" on your leg muscle scale, so sprinting up a short hill is a good racing tactic.  In an ultra, it is suicide.  Walking up a hill that exceeds a certain pitch is more efficient than running it, which results in reaching the finish line sooner.  But I also believe that you should train so that you can run a preponderance of the race.  Planning to walk the last 40 miles of a hundred miler is not actually "racing" but completing the distance.  Might as well not enter the race and simply run and walk the distance on your own.

2015 By the Numbers


Longest:  80K
Shortest:  1K (aborted run)
Average:  6.59K (includes days off)
Average:  13.75K (only running days)


Longest:  95K
Shortest:  0K  (hiking in the Dolomites)
Average:  46.10K


Longest:  289K
Shortest:  67.5K
Average:  200.33K

Year total:  2,404K

2015 Race Synopsis

OUTRace Spring Warm-up   34K  2015-04-11

Not a race, but the first chance to run with people you normally see at races.  Running with "racers" typically results in expending more effort than during an average training run.  It is very important that NO ONE realizes you are wiped at 13K.  They can (and will) use this information against you, during the racing season.  Yes, we all claim that the SW is a fun run and a great chance to chat with running friends, but never underestimate the subterfuge.  So, after 2 loops (26K), don't mention that you are tired-beat-to-hell, but that you are starting to warm up and would like to increase the pace.  It is more important to "win" the SW than doing well in the last races of the year.

Seriously, the SW is a fun time and a great course.

Pick Your Poison  50K  6:24:05  2015-04-25

Tough wake-up call.  PYP starts on gentle trails, but after 5K, the word "Ski Hill" comes into play.  It is very difficult to train well for PYP, as most trails (in Creemore) still have snow until a few weeks before the race.  Running 26K on a treadmill will not prepare you for PYP!

Sulphur Springs  50K  5:42:31    2015-05-23

Gentle course, some recovery from PYP, but beware the "little" hills.  Heat can also play a part in this race, although 2015 was relatively good running weather.  Did not start too fast, but had hoped to complete the race in less time than it took.  This would be the theme for the remainder of the year.

Kingston   6 Hour   52.8K   2015-06-06

Had hoped to complete more distance, but the pace was too slow.  Knees held together fairly well on the pavement, but recovery from SS and PYP was not complete.  This is a great test at the 6 hour duration.  The manual timing gives this race a sheen not found at most other races.  It was cool watching Hans Maiers (76) break the Canadian record for his age category!

Niagara Ultra  50K  5:34:59  2015-06-20

I had forgotten how I fared at Niagara (always a bad sign) so I had to read my race report.  How could I forget?  3 ultras in 4 weeks...  Yes, the 50K times are trending downward, but I recall being sore and tired at the 15K mark.  This is not the best mental frame for running fast, with 35K still on the horizon.  I will likely have to take a longer break, should I want to push for a faster finish.  I also have trouble running on pavement.  My knees and back don't take kindly to performing the same mechanics for 5.5 hours.

Stayner Duntroon  8K  42? Minutes  2015-07-01

This is a fun little race, with free entry.  In terms of race strategy, it is a killer.  The first 2K is a gentle downhill on a paved road (or gravel shoulder), followed by a gently uphill for 2K, then 4K flat.  If you want to podium, it is virtually a sprint for the first 2K, but don't let up there!  No!  Maintain your pace during the uphill...  Lee Anne and I ran "fast" for the final 4K, resulting in an acceptable finish time, given that we started slower than a 6 minute kilometre pace.

The Limberlost Challenge  28K  3:52;29   2015-07-11

If you are unhappy with your pace, you need to shake things up a little, to see what happens.  My race strategy for TLC was a bit suicidal.  I would warm up at a decent pace, then simply crank it until there was nothing left.  Then hold on or crash for the remaining distance.  Guess what happened?  I enjoy the TLC race course.  The trails are not overly technical, but there is never any recovery.  If you want to go fast, you have to expend vast quantities of energy.  Period.  I was in trouble at the 5K mark, but decided to tough it out, in the hopes of a miracle.  There was no miracle...  I was already slowing down before the end of the first 14K loop.  My splits tell a very sad tale.  1:41 for loop one and 2:11 for loop two.  Ouch!  Did blasting the course and trashing my legs have any redeeming features?  No.  Chalk one up for the "Don't do this - ever" book.

Dirty Girls  12 Hour Day   56K   2015-07-25

I had more trouble at DG than at any other race in 2015.  I was so focused on bagging more than 60K during my first 12 hour race, that I ignored a plethora of warning signs that the weather was hot and humid, and that it was taking a BIG toll on my body.  My fluid intake alone should have been enough warning.  Suddenly, a half litre bottle was not enough to cover 4K.  I met some 24 hour runners who were walking during the afternoon because "it was too hot to continue running".  These are experienced runners.  Even Kinga Miklos shut it down after 64K.  The warning signs were all there, but I chose to continue running at a pace I could not sustain during the heat of the day.  Result?  After only 6 loops (48K), I could no longer run and was very dizzy while walking.  After an 8K loop that took 1:48, my race was over.

Haliburton Forest   50 mile  80K  12:35:26   2015-09-12

Too much taper and mountain hiking before the race.  This might seem a bit contradictory, but I feel that I lost some running stamina while hiking in the Dolomites, yet I also over-used my hamstrings.  A mere 15K into the race, my hamstrings became tight and stayed that way for the next 65K.  50 miles is a long race.  I compared it to a 50K, but with an extra 30K of "pushing" on very tired legs, to get to the finish line.  If I run another 50 miler, I need to train more, taper properly and avoid running on roads.  I really like the Haliburton 50K course and plan to be back.  From the 25K point (50K turn-around) until the 40K point, is a lot of road.

Run for the Toad 50K  DNF  2015-10-03  (finished 25K)

3 weeks was not enough time to recover from my first 50 mile race.  After only 15K, there was not much left in the tank and walking / staggering for 35K did not appeal to me.

Horror Trail  6 hour   DNS   2015-10-31

Running after the Toad DNF simply emphasised that I was not recovered from Haliburton.  My run-down state probably also led to a bout of the flu or a cold.  With the bathroom project and being sick, training was negligible.  I saw no good reason to enter a race where I had little chance of even a mediocre performance.  Also, I could not afford to take the time, since at that point the bathroom was not fully functional.

Plans for 2016:

This will have to wait for another post, as the 2015 review is long enough.  I will incorporate more speed work, as I want to improve my finish times.  I will probably run about the same number of races, but mix up the distance a bit more.  I think that running 6 ultras during the summer does not allow for sufficient recovery.  One reason my race times remained slow was that I was taxing my legs with another 50+K race every other week.

This February, Lee Anne and I will be joining new friends for some hiking in Ecuador.  I like the idea of getting the hiking out of the way early, before any serious training begins.