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.