Friday, October 18, 2019

Ultra Running: Guide and Tips

I don't know about you, but I find the title of this post hilarious.  Those of you who have read previous post, try to imagine some neophyte runner, desperate for information on how to effectively prepare for an ultra, reading this post.  Perhaps those few thousands of people who claim I'm deviously evil are not entirely wrong.

Dear neophyte ultra runner:  You have two choices:

1.  Do NOT read this post.  In fact, block this blog from your device.
2.  Read this post, but do the exact OPPOSITE of any suggestion contain within.

There, hopefully I won't be responsible for any more runners meeting an untimely end.

What this post is actually about, are a few anecdotal incidents and observations, which might provide some insight into the twisted reasoning of an ultra runner.  Almost perfectly parallel to my training, this post is completely erratic and is in possession of limited logic and order.  This is a little weird as in my professional life (I have been retired for 5 years now) I had to maintain more than a modicum of order, planning and logic.

What is it Like, to be an Ultra Runner?

It sucks.  Think of a perfect hobby, then tick off which of the following list are represented:

  • I have been thirsty since 1975.
  • I am never adequately trained for any ultra I run.
  • One of the best lines in Joseph Heller's (author of Catch 22) book entitled Good as Gold:
    Before I started running, I was sore every morning.  Now I'm sore all the time.
  • If I sign up for a race that is not an ultra, I feel like a failure before the race even starts.
  • There are no conspiracies except my doctors, who must talk behind my back about new and different reasons why I should stop running.
  • The speed at which I run an ultra is inversely proportional to the hours of training I log in the 6 weeks leading up to a race.  If this rule is applied to its logical conclusion, I perform best at ultras in which I have not run at all during the previous 6 weeks.
  • Regardless of the rule above, I spend an inordinate amount of time training for a race in which I will perform miserably.
  • Unlike shorter races, you do not "learn" from an ultra, aside from the fact that more things can go wrong in an ultra than can reasonably be expected.
  • You need nutrition during an ultra.  The best foods are those that are the worst for you.  High on the list are pretzels, boiled potatoes dipped in salt, sugar and candy.  Canada boasts a company that sells a gel (small package of sugar) made almost entirely of maple syrup.  Go figure!
How Do I Train for an Ultra?

Think of almost everything you learned from your running coach (if you never had a running coach, or any coach at all, you will perform much better in ultra races) and do the opposite.  This is tricky, because at the start of this post, I mentioned that you should do the opposite of anything I write, yet I am now attempting to convince you that you should ignore your coach's advice, which means that...  Look!  An eagle!

Training for an ultra running race involves learning how to walk.  A typical rule-of-thumb is that you walk any hill over the top of which you can't see.  In the longer ultras (more than 80K or 50 miles), you need to train by walking at a brisk pace, typically 5 KPH or faster.  You don't want to walk too fast, as it is not possible to maintain 8 KPH for more than 20 hours.  Yes, you might be walking for 20 or more hours, so incorporating walking into your training is paramount.

Learn to run slowly.  Some ultra runners target 10 KPH, but these are typically the podium finishers in the longer races, so most of us need to run even slower!

I could spend 32.6 blogs describing how to properly hydrate, fuel and which is the best concoction of electrolytes and drugs for a given distance, but since all these parameters are different for every person, you are going to have to figure this out on your own.  Some runners never experience GI issues, while others have stomach problems at every race.  Others need to balance Advil (known by ultra runners as vitamin I) to coax the most out of their knees, ankles, hips and/or backs.

Training? I would avoid putting much emphasis on this component of ultra running.  I think it is more important to sign up for a shorter ultra (50K or 6 hours) before investing the time in training.  That way, you will quickly learn what it is like to run an ultra under-trained, which is the normal state of affairs for most ultra runners.  If you insist that I describe a reasonable training schedule for a short race (let's say 50K), you should be running for about half of your spare time.  Good luck!

As a note, I have very little or no memory, I can't remember which.  This was an advantage in my job, because it forced me to write down everything and to rely heavily on my scheduler.  This is also a significant advantage in ultra running.  I rarely recall what I did for training, hence I am usually confident going into a race.  A tangible upshot of ultra races is that what happening yesterday is not important, so missing a training day has no impact.

Tips That Will Help You During an Ultra Race

Don't wear your glasses during trail races.  With glasses, you will see clearly and the technical terrain will freak you out.  By not wearing my glasses, I run much faster and my finishing time is better.  There is some correlation between the bruises I have the morning after a race and not wearing my glasses, but I don't remember it, so let's move on.

There is a certain angle at which (this is different for everyone) it is more efficient to walk up a hill than to run it.  Keep in mind that running a hill, if you are over your max VO2, means you are building up lactic acid, which will slow you during and after the hill.  Walking gives you some recovery, which is handy.  Walking hills also gives you a logical point at which to hydrate or fuel.  I try to time my hydration and gel breaks during ascents.

Going into a race, fix in your mind a virtual energy gauge.  This gauge is (hopefully) at 100% when you start, but gradually descends as you progress through the race.  The rate of descent on the energy gauge is low during downhill sections and faster during uphill sections.  If you turn up the speed to pass a runner ahead of you, the gauge registers this.  I.e. you only have so many "bursts" or can run up only so many hills, before the gauge starts registering in the "unhealthy" range.  Once familiar with it, this gauge can tell you when you are about to hit the wall, or when you should adopt a death march over a marathon shuffle.

One of the most difficult aspects to grasp of ultra running, is that nutrition plays such an important role.  I allude to this in the above paragraph, as nutrition heavily impacts the energy gauge.  It is difficult to ingest more than 200 - 300 calories per hour while running.  Shovelling in 1,000 calories in 38.2 minute is easy while sitting in a restaurant, but quite tricky while running over a mountain.  Running (for someone my weight - no, please don't ask) expends between 500 and 1,000 calories per hour.  Do you see the problem?  You are at a net loss of 300 to 800 calories an hour during a race.  These are supplied from the body's reserves.  Please see the latest technical papers on how stored fat is converted to glycol by the liver, blah blah blah.  This holds no interest to a runner who suddenly goes glycol deficient.  The symptoms are usually revealed as charming items such as a death march or if you are lucky, hallucinations.  Gels can help to alleviate the worst, so carrying a few extra is worth it.  But the best approach is to fully understand your body and how much you can push it, before meltdown begins.  This is quite easy to figure out, but takes time - usually 3 or 4 decades.

Run your own race.  I often notice the 25K podium runners going at it all in a pack.  That means that one person is setting the pace and the others (in the very small pack) are tagging along.  The same happens in a marathon, with the elite.  This is not such a great idea in an ultra, because if you attempt to run at someone else's pace, you are setting yourself up for considerable misery.  During the ebb and flow of an ultra, your body hits good spots and low spots.  These are typically influenced by your fuel, hydration and drug schedules, which will differ from someone else's timing.  I rarely run a race with another person.  Don't get me wrong, I run with other people - this can help to pass the time, especially when running with people I know.  But I rarely plan to run the entire race with another person, because you must then travel at the slowest pace of the highs and lows of two people.  Or suffer a lot more.

Embrace the experience.  This is a shoddy way of saying "deal with it", but has some merit.  The only constant in an ultra is that you will have low spots.  These bad times are part of the experience and are instrumental in helping you to devise or alter your ultra training and race plans.  As another runner once put it, if ultras were easy, everyone would do it.  You run ultras to explore your limits.  It is never comfortable near a limit!

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Autumn Already? What Happened?

Yes, it has been some time since my last post.  I've been busy, of course, but the real reason is not placing high enough emphasis on sitting down and writing an entry.  Period.  Rather than list all the excuses why I haven't blogged of late, let's get to it.

2019 Update:

This is a cleverly hidden attempt to justify not blogging this summer...

Spring Warm-up:  We had a record crowd in attendance and quite good weather for running.  The trail was "mostly" in good shape, but a few icy spots ensured an interesting time.

Pick Your Poison 25K:  This was to be the start of my dominating the old guys in the Ontario Trail Series.  As you read on, you might note that several other initiatives sidetracked my plan to run many of the trail races - typically the 25K distance.  After scrutinizing the Men 50+ Trail series category of prior years, I had estimated that running only 4 of the races would place me on the age category podium this year.  Perhaps several other old guys made the same estimate, as there are 4 runners with more than 3 races - so far...

Back to the drawing board!

Great Room:  During the second half of May, I poured the foundation for a 16' X 16' addition to the house.  June was spent in construction and by early July, it was complete.  A few of the finishing details were completed in September, as I needed a break.  It looks fine and will hopefully provide us with a nice area during the winter months.

OUTRace:  Coordinating the Ontario Ultra and Trail Race Series (OUTRace) moves along nicely.  We opted to purchase 100 dark blue towels for distribution amongst the 15 races.  New this year is moving the OUTRace awards from the last race of the year (Fat Ass Trail Run) to a fun run, staged by Tony Martin near Waterloo.  I thank Tony for allowing us to leverage his fun run for the awards!

The decision to change the awards was mainly due to the short timeline for Jim Orr (OUTRace statistician) to tabulate the series standings.  It also puts pressure on the last race to provide accurate race results, sometimes before the longest race has even ended.  In the years where the last race has had to spend time verifying their results, the OUTRace awards have been delayed until almost all the runners have left the race site.

Award winners have the option of registering for the fun run (imagine not having to kill yourself during an OUTRace event!) for the low fee of $27, including lunch!  Or you can attend the awards ceremony for free.  I plan on entering the Fun Run, as it means I won't be in last place!  To register for the Fun Run, use this link:

Ultra Legends 3 hour Fun Run and OUTRace Awards

If you would like to attend only the OUTRace awards ceremony, please use the above link for information on location, etc. and note the awards start at 12:30.

Creemore Art Festival:  The Purple Hills Arts and Heritage Society hosts the Creemore Festival of the Arts this weekend (October 5 and 6).  Lee Anne will be displaying and selling her pottery during the festival.  This is more or less blatant solicitation for you to attend the event!  As I am also on the PHAHS board, spreading word of the event is important.

Run Off The Grid:  Yes, I actually made it to a second series race this year!  After 2 races, I stand 16th in the OUTRace Trail series Male 50+ category.  So much for series domination!

ROTG 25K Race Report

The race would be a chronic sell out if it was closer to Toronto, but it is "way up there", north of Algonquin Park.  I drove up from Creemore on the morning of the race, but from the GTA, it would involve a middle-of-the-night start, or finding nearby accomodations.  However, a good portion of the appeal of this race is that it is in such solitude.  It is aptly named, for as far as I could tell, there is no power grid up there!

The course is a true oxymoron; an out and back loop...  I know, which is it?  The course is a 12.5K loop, but the second loop is done in the reverse order, so it is also an out and back.  Yes, I noted the ominous undertones of a Barkley'esq style race - it filled me with a modicum of foreboding.  But the course is a wonderful mix of technical single track and easier broadpath trails.  This made for less issues when meeting oncoming race traffic.  Rarely did I need to step off single track to let another runner by.  With my incredible lack of speed, I thought that 2-way traffic on single track might be an issue.  I saw myself running through the trees, to avoid slowing down oncoming traffic, but it was not so.

I ran the 12.5K course out, then back in the reverse direction, for a total of 25k.  The 50K runners did it all over again.  The way out seemed to be comprised of fairly steep downhills and gentler uphills.  A few of the hills were truly steep, including a 100 meter hill with rope assist.  This was a great mix as it meant that on the way back (the 12.5K reverse loop), the course was a few steep uphills interspersed with long gentle downhills.  From those of us who have had surgery in both knees, thanks!

I was happy with my finishing time of 3:50.  Slow, yes, but the overall winner ran the 25K in 2:19 and the 50K winning time was 5:30.  I recommend this race to anyone who wants to experience a race in a wilder environment.

Well, this is getting longish, so I will end here and hopefully be back in the not-too distant future.

Run long and prosper!

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!