Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Ecuador: The Physiological Impact of Non-interplanetary Running

Okay, I've been 60 years old long enough to choose senseless titles without providing an explanation, even if the title and first paragraph are an obvious attempt to develop a segue for this blog post...

Being 60 and attempting to run at altitude generate some surprising results.  I'm guessing that any research involving older runners will indicate that the cardiovascular is impaired.  I.e. one reason that older runners slow down is because they have less efficient oxygen delivery to the legs.  This is likely compounded by all sorts of other reasons, such as scar tissue in various body parts and possibly carrying extra weight.

I also question if the will to run fast is compromised.  Don't get me wrong.  Every run I fervently hope that my speed increases, the sun shines and I ride a wave of euphoria in an effortless 4 hour workout.  However, the opposite is true, especially during the "warm-up" portion of the run.  I feel sluggish and uninspired for the first 40 minutes of every run.  For those in your twenties, please note the duration of the warm-up.  I recall warming up for a 5K race when I was a youngster.  It involved 5 minutes of gentle running (which was much faster than my current race pace...), then 5 minutes of increasing my pace, until I was at or near race pace.  10 minutes!  It now takes more than 30 minutes for my obstinate legs to even acknowledge that I am out for a run.

At altitude, running takes on a whole new meaning.  For fun, let's talk max VO2.  Once warmed up, my sustainable pace in Ontario is slightly better than a 6 minute kilometer.  I can run at 12 KPH, but not for very long.  While in Cuenca (altitude 2560 meters) any attempt to run even a slight uphill resulted in walking.  I am above my max VO2 at ANY running pace!

However Ecuador is a beautiful country with perfect temperatures and wonderful hikes.  The Cajas National park is a one hour bus ride from Cuenca and boasts several hiking trails and unique terrain.  Some are multi-day hikes and a guide is recommended.  It snows in Cajas.  Every year people get lost and die from exposure.  Part of the problem is that Cajas is on the equator.  It should be hot!  The fact that it is above 4,000 meters doesn't really mean much to the unprepared hiker.  There are also several day hikes for which you don't need a guide.  Some are well marked, but most people lose their way at some point, so you need to keep an eye out for the markers.

Cuenca is a city of 400,000 people and 500,000 taxis and buses, with European charm.  I know this sounds like an oxymoron, but in the middle of South America, Cuenca boasts a plethora of Spanish influenced 18th century architecture.  We stayed at Pepe's Hostal, a recently renovated hotel with incredible ambience.  Pepe is a cat that strolls the inner courtyard and there is no misunderstanding as to who really owns the place.  The inner courtyard is covered with glass and is an ideal spot to lounge, read, eat, have a black Russian, or simply pass the time.  I was forced to spend a few days at Pepe's with an annoying cough.  Although feeling the cold symptoms, reading in the courtyard was pleasant.  Our room was large and well appointed, but could have used a window for ventilation.  Pepe's also has 2 dormitories, where you can spend the night and have breakfast for $11.  If you decide to spend time in Cuenca, I would recommend Pepe's.

After 2 weeks in Cuenca, we made our way to Vilcabamba in southern Ecuador.  If the name seems a bit familiar, Vilcabamba is one of a few spots in the world that claim to have a high percentage of centenarians.  This claim is questionable, but the underlying reasons are not.  Vilcabamba boasts "late Spring" weather year round.  The water supply is mineral rich and life's pace is relaxed and peaceful.

We stayed in Izhcayluma (no one can pronounce it, so don't bother trying), a resort that was 2K out of town.  The resort was very close to being perfect.  Spread out along a mountain slope are 25 rooms (typically 2 to a building), a restaurant, bar, yoga studio and massage parlor.  Hikes abound in the area and varied from a 30 minute stroll along quiet trails to 9 hour hikes through rugged mountain terrain.  The menu includes almost everything, so if you had an urge for pizza, it was incredibly good.  Other options are Italian, Ecuadorian, typical North American fare and the specialty, German.  Mains were priced around $8, so there was little point in going to town just to save money on supper!  We did go to town to eat a couple of times, simply to experience the local scene.  At one point in our stay, I mentioned to Lee Anne that Izhcayluma was possibly the nicest resort in which we have ever stayed.

The town of Vilcabama (about 2,000 people) was typical of Ecuador and we found shopping bargains in some of the stores.  While travelling, we prefer to spend our money in the local economy.  This can be tricky as we also enjoy good accommodations and meals.  Not that I only stay at 5 star resorts, but it has been 30 years since I slept in a tent.  For example, Izhcayluma is owned by 2 German brothers, so the preponderance of our accommodation budget while in Vilcabamba was not directly spent in a local establishment.

One issue I have with Vilcabamba is that there is a large presence of young and old hippies.  Unlike expats (foreigners who live in Ecuador and spend money supporting the local economy) and tourists, the hippies (American, Canadian, Venezuelan, etc.) are vying directly with the locals for the tourist dollars.  According to my perverse ethical stance, this isn't fair.  There is no harm in foreigners spending money in Ecuador, as it supports the local economy and ultimately will help the Ecuadorians, but foreigners selling product and competing with the locals for the tourist dollars is not.  The reason for the hippy influx is that living in Vilcabamba is almost ideal.  You can easily sleep with just a roof over your head.  Food is ridiculously cheap.

Enough ranting - on to important matters.  Registration for the Spring Warm-up is quite healthy, with 21 people already signed up.  I recognize quite a few of the names, but wonder how many sign up, thinking the Fun Run is actually a Fun Run?  I.e. they have not heard the horror stories of mud, drifting snow and freezing cold temperatures that have graced the Spring Warm-up in years past.  Are they expecting a smooth flat paved surface, instead of the technical bits on the Bruce Trail, long hills on dirt roads and the odd cliff?  I can't wait to see their reactions!

It should come as no surprise that Pick Your Poison (April 27), the first event in the OUTRace series, is sold out.  If you are looking for a race this Spring, you might want to sign up for the Seaton Soaker (May 11) as registration is starting to creep up towards the cap.


Thursday, January 31, 2019

Running in Ecuador - Very Funny!

Greetings for the far south.  Actually, Ecuador is in northern South America, if you will pardon the oxymoron.  Lee Anne and I are currently in Cuenca, which is slightly south of the equator.  I had better quit before this gets too confusing.

Running at 2500 meters is not entirely easy.  From one perspective, it should be easy.  Cuenca is not overly hilly and with temperatures in the mid 20's, we are running in shorts and a T-shirt.  A significant difference from running in Creemore, with 3 layers of clothes and questionable traction.  For fun, let's introduce some variables that are not readily available in Creemore, in January.  The previously mentioned altitude is a big factor.  Until acclimatized, walking up one flight of stairs leaves you gasping for air.  Even gentle uphill slopes take on epic proportions when combined with the altitude.  Toss in humidity and a sun that is directly overhead, and suddenly running becomes "Real Tough".  How tough?  We went out for our long run.  For Lee Anne, this is 4 - 5 hours.  She managed 3.5 hours.  For me, let's just say that after 2.5 hours, I was starting to tremble.

Hiking can also be a challenge.  The Cajas national park is way up there.  The road reaches over 4,300 meters and at points we were looking down on the road.  The park is incredibly beautiful and I will include pictures when I post from home.  Currently I am in an internet cafe and the Spanish spellcheck indicates that every word is mispelled.  I've never seen so many red squiggly underlines!

Well, that's about it for now.  We will be in Cuenca until February 5, then down to Vilcabamba until we head back to Creemore on February 14.


Sunday, January 6, 2019

2019? Already?

The start of a new year is a good time to reflect on the previous year and strategize for the next.  The underlying context is that as we age, we use our experience base to determine a more fulfilling future.

Unless, of course, you are a trail or ultra running.  The adage which usually refers to insanity seems to be a more apt expression:  insanity is performing the same function over and over and expecting a different result.  I thought about this at length during the Stride Inside 6 hour indoor track race, held last Saturday, January 5, 2019.  I ran around the 215 meter track 113 times.  Each lap, I was expecting my running to improve...  Quite the opposite occurred!

At just over 24K in 6 hour race, my race was not overly stellar.  I have trouble running on concrete and although the track included a rubberized surface, my knees were not happy.  Lee Ann and I also fought a bout of the flu for 2 weeks prior to the race.  Lee Anne ran a fever for 4 days whereas I "only" had sinus congestion and a scratchy throat.  I had the flu shot about 2 weeks prior to feeling sick, so perhaps it mitigated the worst of the flu.  I was also (obviously) out of shape and opting for the 3 hour distance would have been a wiser move.  Due to fatigue, aching knees and cramping, I pulled the plug at 3.5 hours.


I am running much slower at 60 than I did at 50.  Not just a little slower, but a significant drop in training and race pace.  In my 40's, I typically placed above mid-pack, sometimes placing in the top 5 of my age category.  Now I page to the bottom of the results to look for mine.  There are a few reasons for this, but the end result is that I am unable to put in any speed training.  I will attempt to address this again, in 2019.

I actually enjoy looking at the OUTRace Series metrics.  I'm not sure why I did not notice this until recently, but there is a considerable difference between the ultra and trail series.  An example is the number of people in my age category (male 50+) who ran more than 2 races in 2018:

OUS (Ultra):  19 people ran more than 2 races
OTS (Trail):  3 people ran more than 2 races

So, although very slow, if I ran 4 or more trail races, I could be on the male 50+ podium.  Hmm...

I have a great idea!  I'm going to run more of the races in the Ontario Trail Series!

I also want to attempt some of the series races that I have yet to attend.  It helps in my capacity as OUTRace coordinator to know more about all of the races.  This year I am not being forced into running a marathon, but I did not escape unscathed from those negotiations...  I am already signed up for my least favourite race:  Around the Bay 30K.  Why is it my least favourite?  Back in the days when I was an ultra snob (okay, I still am, but now I am a semi-retired ultra snob) I was convinced to run ATB as a training run for the upcoming ultra season.  As it was "only" 30K, I didn't bother to check the weather forecast and showed up on race day wearing cotton sweat pants.  The race started in snow but quickly changed to teeming rain.  I was forced to run with one hand holding up my soggy cotton pants.  Can you say embarrased?

2019 races

These are the races I hope to run in 2019.  The plans for some of these are fairly concrete (I am signed up for Pick Your Poison, which is poised to sell out soon) but others are currently wishful thinking and other plans (yes, I actually have some non-race plans) may interfere with the list:

January 5:  Stride Inside 6 hour (done)
March 25:  Around the bay 30K
April 13:    OUTRace Spring Warm-up (39K?)
April 27:    Pick Your Poison 25K
May 11:     Seaton Soaker 25K
June 15:     Niagara Ultra 50K
June 22:     Pure Grit 30K
July 15:      Massey Marathon 21.1K
August 17: Iroquoia TT 34K
Sept. 21:    Kingston 6 hour
Oct. 12:     Sticks 'n Stones 25K
Nov. 17:    Fat Ass Trail Run 25K

If I realize the above plan, I will have completed 6 races in the Trail series.  I am not happy with the grouping in June (50K, then a 30K the next week), but Niagara and Kingston are the 2 most likely ultra attempts for us, as Lee Anne prefers road races.  There is talk of other races, such as a small (10K?) one in Ecuador in January or February, a duathlon in Ottawa in September and perhaps a race in Quebec over the summer.  So many races, so little time!

Another "plan" for 2019 is to revert back to posting to this blog on a more regular basis.  Monthly, or after each race, whichever comes first.


Monday, September 3, 2018

OUTRace Fun Run and More!

I knew it was a while since I last posted, but was somewhat taken aback when I realized the last post is dated May 2.  Holy snapping left bananas captain, that is more than half the OUTRace season!  There is no single reason for my being this tardy.  Yes, I've been busy with a plethora of tasks, events and general living.  I am also racing less this season as last year's Norm Patenaude award attempt is something I hesitate to replicate.  However, I have not posted due to a lack of interest in maintaining the blog.  It has simply been a lack of due diligence.

Although 2018 is a low-key racing year, there have been some noteworthy events on which I should report.  Should I list them in chronological order?  Why not!

June 2:  Kingston 6 hour

The numbers at this race remain low.  I think this is due to a limited race venue - you can only enter the 6 hour event - and its relatively distant location - about a 6 hour round-trip drive from the GTA.  Lee Anne and I enjoy the race in part because it is not crowded.  The field is a core group of ultra runners and very personal.  Each 1.1K loop you are greeted by your timer, an actual human.  Since the course is primarily paved, it doesn't appeal to the hard-core trail runners.

I would love to state that I know the Ontario Ultra Series rules so well, that I was aware in turning 60, I could run a mere 32K and score points.  Jim Orr (OUTRace statistician) knows the rules very well (in fact Jim wrote most of them) but I was not aware that for fixed distance races such as the Kingston 6 hour race, entrants aged 60 - 69 can obtain points in the OUS for covering more than 20 miles.  This is very good to know if you are ancient and having a bad day on the course, but not the reason I stopped at 32K.  I had a 50K race in 2 weeks and did not want to trash my legs too badly.

June 16:  Niagara Ultra

Things start to get interesting for Lee Anne and I at this race.  I started slowly, with the hope of running the preponderance of the 50K before resorting to a walk.  This meant no heroics during the first 25K.  Simply run efficiently and make no mistakes to the turn around (which happens to be Niagara Falls), then repeat on the way back.

I hit the turn-around 25K point feeling tired.  My paltry 32K at Kingston was having an impact on the legs.  I was maintaining acceptable nutrition and hydration levels and although tired, was optimistic that I would make it to 35 - 40K before imploding.  We have all experienced factors in an ultra that poignantly show it ain't over until it's over.  At 27K, with Lee Anne running just ahead of me, I looked up to see her sitting on the curb.  Oh-oh.  A very brief search of my memory did not bring up one recollection of seeing Lee Anne sitting on a curb, a mere 27K into a race.  This can't be good...

Then I noticed the blood.  It was streaming from her head.  Cars were stopping.  A Niagara bus stopped.  I caught up to Lee Anne and assessed the damage.  One large gash above her left eye and another gash on her left cheek.  Blood flowing copiously.  In my rugby days, I had often noticed how much scalp wounds bleed.  Lee Anne was relatively responsive, but I soon noticed a few gaps in her memory.  She did not recall sitting down on the curb.  The bus driver was trained in first aid and was thoroughly proficient in wrapping her head in gauze and taping it, before the ambulance showed up.  The driver of the car had used her cell phone to call 911.  The ambulance arrived and the attendants took over.  I thanked the bus and car drivers for their help.

I am an overly pragmatic individual and sometimes that can get me into trouble.  My first thought,as Lee Anne was being helped into the ambulance, was that I should finish the race.  No, I had no overriding need to avoid a DNF, I simply knew that Lee Anne would be waiting in emerg for 2 - 3 hours (it was actually closer to 4) and I had no car, id, phone, money - you get the picture.  If I finished the race, I could then drive to the Niagara Falls hospital and would have money to purchase the chocolate bars and sports drink so necessary for post-race recovery in a hospital...

I made the wise choice of deferring to Lee Anne.  She was quite adamant that I join her in the ambulance on her way to the hospital.  After the obligatory waiting room wait, Lee Anne was stitched up by the doctor.  Those who know Lee Anne won't be surprised to learn that she asked the doctor, after receiving 8 stitches, if she could return to the race course and finish the race.  I pointed out that we would have trouble finding where we had left the course.  I had no sooner stated this concern when I realized it would be easy to find a large pool of dried blood...

August 25:  OUTRace 30th Anniversary Fun Run

How better to celebrate 30 years of ultra and trail running, than to run 30K!  Almost 60 brave people ventured to Creemore to share in the celebrations.  The weather was not ideal for running, although the rain helped to keep the temperature reasonable and with the 2 river crossing on the course, everyone would be getting wet regardless.

The 7.1K course was on the challenging side, with a few steep hills, some long hills and for variety, some gradual hills.  Pat Campbell might of summed up the feelings of many when he finished his first loop and yelled at me "You're a dead man".  I can only assume he was intimating the course was tough as opposed to being too easy.  The rain made getting up the hills tricky.  The river crossings had the advantage of cleaning the mud off of shoes, but they would not stay clean for long.  Ron Gehl had followed my advice and donned old shoes with almost no tread.  He had a tough time scrambling up the rain soaked cliffs.  Serves him right for taking advice from me!

After the run, people were invited to select a prize of pottery, maple syrup or Creemore T-shirts.  All went away with an OUTRace toque, a prize and some memories.  Perfect Pizza from Creemore served lunch and Creemore Springs Brewery donated 10 cases of their famous fare, to help with the celebrations.

I have a few pictures of people at the second river crossing.  If you would like a copy, email me at  Tell me where you are in the group photo above and what you are wearing, so I can search the pictures for any of you!

Sunday September 16:  Terry Fox Run

I am helping to organize a Terry Fox run in Creemore, starting at 9:00 AM at the Station on the Green.  The course will be an out and back totaling 5K.  Those wishing to log 10K can run the course twice.  Everyone is welcome, so pop up to Creemore and help to support a worthy cause.

Well, that's it for now.  I hope your running is fast and effortless!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Pick Your Poison Race Report - 2018

I would like to break the PYP race report into 3 sections:

1.  Some history on the race.
2.  More detail than I normally provide on a shoe:  The new Arc'teryx Norvan LD trail shoes.
3.  Yup!  The report.

The 10th edition of the Pick Your Poison race is in the books.  This year, Adam and Heather Hill, and Dawn and Ron Hamel put together a great show during one of the coldest Springs on record.  Imagine trying to clear trail one week before race day, with a foot of snow on the course.  It is difficult to clear branches when you can't see them.  In some areas, Adam was having trouble finding the trail!  I was called in 2 days before race day to cut some trees that were blocking the trails.  Trees that had not been visible a week earlier.  Get the picture?  Probably not, unless you ran the race, then there is no need to explain further.  You might gain some insight into race day conditions if you compare the finishing times with other years.  In the woman's 50K, only winner Melanie Boultbee was under 6 hours.  Yes, it was a 50K, not a 50 miler...

Before Pick Your Poison, Daniel Boon staged the infamous Ganaraska Trail race, which was set in the same general area and shared part of the course as PYP.  Ganaraska was a 25K loop, so there was no 12.5K race, just the 25K and 50K.  In 2003 during the 25K race, I vividly recall being torn into tiny pieces by the course.  Near the finish line, I was running with another fellow and I commented on how glad I was that the race was over.  He smiled brightly and mentioned that he was in the 50K, congratulated me and stated "off for another loop - see you soon"!  It had not really occurred to me that there were people so twisted that they would attempt 50K on this brutal course.  I decided that I needed to research this in more detail, the following year.

PYP is set early in the year and is the first stop on the OUTRace series.  As such, it is a great eye opener and test of how things might transpire as the racing year unfolds.  In recent years, PYP has sold out.  This is a great benefit to the race director, as there are less financial surprises before race day.  Not so great for those of us who tend to sign up closer to the race, but in a way it helps assure continuation of the race.  Back in the old days, it was not always the case.  In the 2003 Ganaraska 50K, there were only 31 finishers.  It is difficult to stage a race for so few people.

Norvan LD Trail Shoe

I had the very good fortune of receiving a pair of Norvan shoes, made by the Arc'teryx sports apparel company.  Over the years I have used several brand name shoes and although I have some favourites, nothing on the market really jumps out at me.  This is likely due to my demographic and physical condition - perhaps some background is in order.  In an earlier blog, I wrote an article entitled Advice on Injuries.  It is intended as a bit of light humour for those struggling with an injury.  Unfortunately, most of the injuries stated, with the exception of the paragraph about running after death, have happened to me over the last 40+ years.

Having had surgery on both knees, weighing in at circa 180 pounds and reaching the alarmingly ancient age of 60 this year, I have difficulty finding a shoe that provides the correct combination of cushioning, support and traction.  For the youngsters under 50, 180 pounds is about 82 kilometers.  Trying a new shoe is typically no fun, as any drawback in the above 3 areas just reinforces the fact that for me, running is becoming problematic.

The Norvan's are a different story.  I was about 1 kilometer into my training run before I remembered that I had on a pair of shoes I had never worn before.  It was eerie that nothing was rubbing the wrong way, the shoe was neither too wide or too narrow and seemed to simply fit my foot perfectly.  The Norvans have a Vibram sole, which I have never tried in a shoe before.  At this point, I had not reviewed the product features, which incidentally, I don't fully understand.  However, I know how other shoes worked on my regular 7.5K training run and the Norvans took the mud, hills, ice, snow and cliffs in stride.  Sorry, I had to use that at least once!

Trying a new pair of shoes in a tough 25K race is usually not a wise choice, but after experiencing impressive traction, support and cushioning on two shorter training runs, I thought they could handle a 25K.  During the Pick Your Poison race, I tried a few things one should avoid.  Ahead on the single track was a slide pattern set down by an earlier runner who had obviously gone sideways due to the slick mud.  I deliberately placed my foot on the exact same spot, which usually results in the same slide, or a fall.  Perhaps it was the intelligent side of my brain screaming at me not to do these really stupid things, but I was able to keep my footing.

So, after the first week of running on the Arc'teryx Norvan LD's, the prognosis is very favourable.  I would recommend these shoes to any new or experienced trail runner.  I can see these shoes helping elite trail runners, although I can't help with such a review.  But if you are getting on in years, these shoes might be what it takes for your trail running to improve.

Pick Your Poison Race Report

If you have read the above, then you are aware the conditions at PYP were not favourable for setting a PB.  In my 2012 PYP RR, I mention that I set a PW for 25K at 3:02.  In 2018 at PYP, I again set a PW of 4:01.  I am slower than 6 years ago, but not by an hour!  Much of the extra time was due to the conditions.  I would guess that about 3K of the 12.5K course was under ice and snow.  Another 3K was under water (spongy grass that had been covered in snow a few days or hours before) or was slick mud.  It was fantastic!

After hiking for 3 weeks in Ecuador, that included very little running, we returned to Creemore where I contracted a cold that came and went for 6 weeks.  Did I mention it was maple syrup season?  The drawback of making maple syrup is that on some days, you had to get to the sugar shack and boil down, before it became too cold, too warm or before the sap spoiled.  None of this is conducive to proper training.  I went into PYP under trained for a 25K.  Add that to the conditions and there is little chance of staging a fast finish.  I knew that a 3 hour finish was not going to happen, but I was hoping for a finish of 3:30.  Talk to anyone who experienced PYP this year and they will tell you that there was little chance of maintaining race pace for long stretches.

Keeping an eye on the terrain was paramount for about 9K of the 12.5K course.  I took the first loop easy, as I fully expected to crash and burn closer to the end.  The first loop was uneventful, although painfully slow at 1:56.  I actually felt quite good during the first 3K of the second loop, which coincidentally, is the easiest part of the course.  A tree had fallen on my right ankle while cutting firewood for the evaporator.  I'm sure this happens to everyone.  It turned an ugly shade of purple and yellow, but did not hurt much, unless I brushed it with my left foot.  I also tore my right calf muscle on a training run two weeks back and it caused me significant discomfort for the first 5K.  I believe that favouring my right leg was a large reason why my left hip extensor starting cramping about 4K into the second loop.  Yet another reason for slowing down...

Although the energy reserves were hovering just slightly above zero, I managed to continue running slowly, walking all the uphills, until the finish.  My time of 4:01 is a new PW, but I'm happy with the results, given my lack of conditioning and the trail conditions.

Now would be a good time for me to start training in earnest, for the Niagara Ultra 50K on June 16.  We plan to run in the Kingston 6 hour race on June 2, as a tune-up run.  Hope to see you out there soon!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Spring Warm-up - - - If Spring Ever Arrives!

Okay, it has been a while since my last entry.  No good reason, just life getting in the way of living.  We arrived back from Ecuador on Valentine's day.  My first task was to determine a realistic timeline for tapping.  The forecast (on February 14) called for cool-ish weather for the next 2 weeks.  Excellent!  I would be able to catch up with chores and take my time while preparing for the maple syrup season.

Wrong.  On February 15, the very next day, I again checked the forecast.  I have found the forecast can change precipitously during late winter.  In the summer (or winter), a change in forecast of 3 - 4 degrees means nothing.  No big deal if the high changes from 22 to 26...  However, a change from a high of +1 to +5 during sap season is a big change!  The forecast now called for syrup weather for the next 2 weeks.  Damn the torpedoes, we've got some drilling to do!

Tapping went well and in a total of about 8 hours over 2 days, all 325 taps were in place.  Well, actually, while removing a large branch from a mainline recently, I noticed that I had failed to tap 4 trees.  It is on the todo list.  For 2 weeks it ran well and I made 52 liters of maple syrup.  Then someone turned off the heat...  As most know, it has been too cold for much of anything lately.  It was -12C in Creemore this morning.  Some Spring!

But never fear, I found something both entertaining and enlightening to do during these last 4 weeks of cold weather.  Yes, I embraced a lovely case of the flu.  Running has been severely sidelined for more than 6 weeks, if hiking in Ecuador is included.  At one point, I was starting to doubt that I could run 1 loop (13K) of the Spring Warm-up course.  It was a nasty flu!

Yes, the infamous OUTRace (Ontario Ultra and Trail Race) Spring Warm-up is nearly upon us.  Sign-up for the April 7th event has been steady and we are expecting a good crowd.  Perhaps rumours of the treacherous weather and trail conditions in past years is helping to bolster registration.  Last year we enjoyed drifting snow and warm sunny weather...  No, I'm not making this up.  Come join us for some hills, trails and pizza.

As I alluded to earlier, running has not gone well.  The flu included a bonus feature, similar to a low grade vertigo.  This dizziness has lasted more than 4 weeks.  Running on a trail inches from a freezing white water river is normally a lot of fun, unless staggering into the river is a tangible possibility.  My race plans this year are not nearly as audacious as last year.  I hope to run 25K at Pick Your Poison and 50K at Niagara Ultra.  I am being forced (sigh!  bad behavior) into running a half marathon in Sudbury, although it should be a hoot as I am running with my daughters Celeste and Brittany, and Lee Anne (yes, she is running the marathon).  I hope to make an appearance at some of the OUTRace events that I have yet to attend, and I am likely to be at Fat Ass, so might ass well (sorry) run 25K there.  Not much of a schedule, compared to last year, but coming off the flu just now, it seems like a full slate.


Ecuador was fantastic.  It is such a relaxing place to spend time hiking and absorbing the 2 main cultures.  There is a vibrant and artistic native culture in Ecuador.  Their lifestyle appears to be much simpler than ours, yet they seem to enjoy life.  Perhaps all the trappings and gadgets of North American culture is not the answer?  There is also the culture that originated from Spain.  These people are perhaps similar to North Americans in that they are hard working and don't seem to have much time off.  They have one advantage, in that they live in a beautiful, diverse country with arguably close to perfect weather.  The high sierras boast a daytime high of between 20 and 28 year round!

The Quilotoa Loop was as impressive and challenging as it was 2 years ago.  It was fun to experience the hike with friends Dawn and Ron, and my daughter Celeste, pictured above.  No, we did not don our Quebec marathon shirts for the photo op - these embarrassing mistakes happen.

For those who can't be bothered to read the 2016 blog about the Quilotoa Loop, it is a 3 or 4 day hike through rural Ecuador, terminating at a massive volcanic Crater.  It is difficult to imagine the force needed to eject the volcano innards, when gazing down upon the lake.

When I say rural Ecuador, there are 2 important differences from rural Ontario.  1.  The terrain is steep.  The trails and roads along the course are not dangerously steep, but involve considerable effort hiking uphill and some caution hiking downhill.  2.  There is no oxygen.  I think the Spanish conquistadors stole this along with the gold and silver.  Going uphill is usually a tough slog followed by passing out.  We were thoroughly pissed when 2 girls from France passed us during the hike.  They would pass us, then stop for a Gitane... Yes, they kept ahead of us, even with their smoke breaks!

Well, that's about it for now.  I am fervently hoping that the maple syrup season extends a bit into April.  I am only at 25% of what would be a lean year.  I tapped over a month ago and the due date for tap holes is usually only 6 weeks, after which they heal.  I am hoping that there was little healing during the freezing cold temperatures.  In 2 weeks is the Spring Warm-up and the long range forecast is calling for a high of 3 degrees and partially sunny.


Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Buenas Dias De Cuenca, Ecuardor!

Hi all.

Well, Lee Anne and I have been in Cuenca, Ecuador for 8 days and have not missed the snow yet.  I am typing in an Internet cafe on a Spanish keyboard, so don´t expect grammatical perfection.  It took me 10 minutes to find the apostrophe, which I hope looks like ´...

Cuenca is a smallish city of circa 400,000 people and about 600,000 taxis, all vying to come within inches of anyone on the sidewalk while travelling at 120 KPH.  The buses feature a unique cloaking device; a shroud of jet black smoke that emanates from the back of the bus.  I think the objective is to mask their trajectory, so that the trailing taxis must hesitate before deciding on which sidewalk to pass the bus!

Let´s talk about running.  Cuenca has some beautiful parks with trails and paved tracks.  The problem, which you have probably already guessed, is getting to the parks alive.  Aside from the all too real risk of getting hit by a taxi or motorcycle while running on the sidewalk, breathing is problematic.  Cuenca is at 2,800 meters, so the bus fumes combined with a lack of oxygen results in running in an atmosphere not unlike a vacuum.  Picture blacking out while being run over by a taxi.  Trail running in Ontario has zero risk, compared to road running in Cuenca!

Cuenca is quite picturesque, with circa 1800´s building and about 300 churches.  Not kidding about the churches - there is literally a huge church on almost every corner!  One that we visited took 70 years to build.  In another church, everything in the chamber that housed the alter was covered in gold.  It appeared to have 10 - 20 kilograms of gold leaf.  I´ll add pictures when I get home.

Let´s revisit spelling and grammar...  Almost every word I type is underlined in red - apparently a typo in Spanish.  Strangely, spellcheck works fine, so hopefully I can weed out the typos before posting.  The keyboard is not only in Spanish, but some of the keys are worn blank - some guesswork to find the hidden English letters!

As I type this in a tiny Internet cubicle, buses and motorcycles fly past, inches from the door.  Yes, I am including the sidewalk in the distance calculation.  So what have we been doing in Cuenca?  The historic buildings, churches and restaurants would suffice to make Cuenca a destination, but there are also some interesting small towns surrounding Cuenca, with artisans and knitting cooperatives.  A 40 minute bus ride costs $2, so getting around is quite reasonable.

There is also this cute little national park called Cajas nearby.  I don´t know how big it is, but some hikes take 4 days and people tend to get lost and die on occasion.  We stayed on one trail that took 3 - 5 hours to hike (depending on how much of the trail you hiked) as it did not require a guide.  We did the pink trail 3 times, although what with getting lost on every occasion, our route was slightly different each day.  When I describe the trail as being pink, it does not indicate it was easy.  Pink was the colour assigned to the infrequent markers that indicated which of several trails you wanted to take.  The pink trail crested at 4,000 meters, so again, breathing was not always an option.  The trail was not overly technical, unless you consider getting lost and dying of hypothermia "technical"...

The scenery is astounding.  Hopefully a few pictures will provide an inkling of its beauty.  Cobalt blue lakes, brown-green valleys, strange stunted pine tree formations and chalk white cliffs.  The weather was cold although it warmed up on occasions while walking in the valleys when the sun came out.  Rain had that "recently snow" feel about it, although it only fell lightly and just long enough to don a rain jacket, before it stopped.

Getting back to Cuenca could not be easier.  All hikes end at the highway.  We would simply find a straight stretch and wait for a bus.  Typically the bus would spot us and sound its horn.  If you waved, it meant you wanted a ride back to Cuenca.  All buses went to Cuenca.

We leave Cuenca on Saturday and join friends Dawn and Ron, and my daughter Celeste in Latacunga, the staging point for the Quilatoa Loop.  Lee Anne and I did the Loop 2 years ago and it is still fresh in our minds.  Breathtaking scenery, fascinating indigenous villages and an epic adventure.  From Quilotoa, we travel to Otavalo for the market, then possibly on to Ibarra, to climb the Imbabura volcano.

Once back in Canada, I´ll post again, with pictures, hopefully before cranking up the maple syrup season.  That´s all for now from Cuenca.  Run safe!