Sunday, December 20, 2009
Friday, November 27, 2009
I make this blog post as this is really the end of the season for me. In December, the season starts up again, where I will be ramping up my mileage and distance in preparation for races early in the New Year. 2009 was an emotional year. The year started off with me being depressed with my knee injury and my running future was very uncertain. However, by the end of 2009, I was racing faster than ever and setting PBs all over the place.
What a year.
2009 would be a year where two things would become my staple: the Sunday long runs and the Tuesday Night Workouts (TNW). Early Sunday mornings - without fail - became the standard time to do the long run, and if I had to, I was dedicated enough to wake up extremely early to get it done. One Sunday in the Summer I did my 3 hour run from 4am to 7am. Not because I wanted to, but because that was the only time I could fit it in. With having a family and a job, finding time for running is difficult, and you have to know that getting in the mileage will not be on any set routine. I was proud of my Sunday mornings this year, and hope that this established trend continues into 2010.
The TNWs also became routined. I was a genuine Prairie Inn Harrier this year, and committed to 90% of the workouts. I went whenever I could, and feel that my speed and my fitness really benefited from these. From now on, I bleed red and black. I loved the TNW and loved what benefits it brought to me. Thank you to my training partners Shane, Gary, Garth, Buddy, Andrew for pushing me to new heights this year.
2009 was also a year of accomplishment. No, I still have not found that elusive 1st place podium that I desire, but I did finish in 2nd...and on more than one occasion. I know that my time will eventually come. However, 2009 would be the year that the 40k Nootka Trail was completed. This would be the final coastal Vancouver Island Trail completion for me. Now I can officially say that Bob Wall and I were the first people ever to have run the 4 major coastal trails of Vancover Island - and that, cannot ever be taken away from us.
2009 would also end up being a year that I would "break out". I didn't know it was happening at the time, but all of a sudden in late August/early September, I was suddenly faster. I don't know how and I don't know why, but the change was noticeable. And not just by me, but also by my training partners. Now, some people out there will certainly ask me "what exactly did you do to get faster?", and for this, I don't have a clear cut answers, but I do have some theories.
See my earlier blog posting on these ideas.
The fall of 2009 was especially impressive for me. The performances went as follows:
Aug. 22nd - 47k JdF Trail Run - Time: 6:01 (24 minute improvement from 2008). 4th place. Sept. 19th - 56k GLW Race - Time: 4:47:55 (24 minute improvement from 2008). 2nd place.
Nov. 1st - Shawnigan 1/2 Marathon - Time: 1:24:17 (Personal Best). 3rd place.
Nov. 11th - 20k Thetis Relay - Time: 1:15:55. 2nd place solo runner.
I have some lofty goals for the upcoming season. I am running well right now, so my expectations of what I can accomplish has also increased. I am also hoping to complete a few standard 50k ultras, and also one 2010 epic trail run. I have signed up for some events already next year and here are my goals:
5k - sub 18
8k - sub 29:30
10k - sub 38
Half - sub 1:24
Full - sub 3 hours
50k - sub 4 hours
Now, off-season training continues for another 2 weeks, and then I start ramping things up for the racing season in January.
Friday, November 20, 2009
I also can help but think of where I was last year at this time, and I was injured with my knee. It has been so great to finish the year off so strong...and I want to remain that way, running fast and enjoying the sport.
Therefore, I thought that over this off-season period, I would do lots of core and strengthening exercises, as I kinda did last year. I still am committing myself to running 2 times per week: the TNW interval training and a Sunday morning 20-26k long slow run.
With the mileage drop, and doing some achilles-rehab specific movements I am hopeful that things will get better in the short term.
The idea is to take this off-season program to about mid-December, and then ramp everything back up to my usual 4 days of training, in preparation for the Orcas Island 50k, in early February.
This is the way my off-season program has gone thus far:
Sunday - 13k - Goose Loop (set training PB time)
Tuesday - TNW
Thursday - 30 min Spin Class
Friday - 35 min Spin Class
Sunday (planned) - 20k easy run.
Everyday throughout, 20 minutes of core/strengthening work. The main exercise is the slow double leg calf raise, e-drop to an achilles bounce x 30.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
I felt pretty good on the day, but as was the case before, I arrive to the race only 10 minutes before the race start. There are advantages and disadvantages of carpooling!
I quickly ran up to the tent and did the official 'check-in'. I then said a quick hello to a couple fellow running club members, and began the truncated warm-up. Rumours were swirling that the lake loop was not 5k, as advertised, and people had been saying that it was more like 4.5k in distance. In any event, the distance is fairly irrelevant, as in cross-country racing, it is more about placement rather that time. I had chose to run the full 20k solo this year. Most runners were teamed up in 4's and were doing the usual 4 x 5k relay. I did know of a couple of fast guys who were also doing the solo mission, so it was up to me now to run a consistent race.
The race began and I was close to the front of the pack, heading up the paved hill. A few slim tri guys hammered out ahead, and I found my position nicely behind two running partners, Shane Ruljancich and Chris Callendar. The pace was comfortable along the mucky trails. It was easy to get caught up going way too fast when most of the guys are doing only 5k, but I felt good in the early going. At the 1k point, I observed Shane's coach, Paul O'Callahan, warning him not to go too fast. I was there too, so I heard it as well. Shortly thereafter, my shoe lace came undone. I thought to myself ,"I am such an idiot". Shane joked with me and said that some day he would show me how to tie my shoes the right way. Chris told me to stop and tie my shoe. So against much resistance, I stopped and tied my shoe up. A couple of young guys passed me, but I just wanted to get my shoe done up, and done well. The only thing worse that having your shoe lace come undone after 1k in a race, is to have it come undone a second time.
The pit stop was quick, and I think it only was about a 20 second stop. I then found my pace again and carried on. I noticed a short while on that Chris and Shane were not that far ahead. I maintained things and eventually got back to the rear of Chris once again. The trails were still mucky, and the hills were undulating. It was near perfect cross-country conditions.
As I passed Chris at the 3k mark, he applauded my early effort and commented that I looked strong. He was right, I did feel strong. Shane now was still within eyeshot, but I had no intention of catching him. He is quite the speedster, and in another league to me.
At this point in the course, I was surprised to find quite so many nasty hills. I had run the course, but years and years ago. In total, I think I have run at Thetis Lake Park only 4 times, and never in this particular area. So three nasty uphills hit me unexpectedly, and it took quite alot outta me to finish them without walking. I did not anticipate needing such determination so early in the race. "Only 3 more times up these hills," I told my myself. :)
The good news was that I survived the hills quite well the first round, and now I opened up the legs on the downhill and caught a runner infront of me. Now rounding the final corner, I could hear the eager crowd cheering for the leaders way out in front. Along the final straight section, which was sandy beach, I could see Shane only about 10 seconds infront. I checked my watch and it was just above 17 minutes.
My goal time for the 5k loop was 20 minutes (and this 4 min/km pace was very ambitious over 20k of hill/trail distance). Since this was 4.5k, I figured 18 minutes would be fast. So, 17 minutes was actually too fast, and as I rounded lap #1, my heartrate was crazy high. This would have been an excellent 5k loop for me...only problem: 3 laps to go.
My time so far was nothing short of phenomenal. But things could not have been a whole lot worse at this point. Crappy warm-up, started way too fast, shoe lace undone, unexpected hills and now a heart rate and breathing rate that was through the roof. The only way I was going to finish this thing, let alone do well, was to now use my brain.
So I consciously decided to slow down and calm myself down. I figured even if I could do a 20 minute loop here on lap #2, that I could still set myself up for a decent time and placement. I really needed to recover here. And that is exactly what I did.
I spent the next 3k (the easier half of the course) basically recovering into a comfortable pace. My heart rate was down and I was now relaxed for the very first time. I took the hills in stride and survived them quite well actually. Lap #2 would elapse in 20 minutes, a much slower time than the first loop, but the difference was that I was relaxed and felt that I had at least another 2 loops in me.
Lap #3 began the way the last lap did, with a few relay runners hammering by me initially, only to have me catch them again by the 3k point. I was side-by-side with a relay runner who wore a "Westwood Lake Team" shirt, but I eventually caught him just before the hills. The hills once again were difficult, but again, they were not going to stop me. I passed a couple people who were now walking up the hills - these people must be people who I was now lapping.
I picked up the pace again for the final stretch and hit the beach section on stride. To my pleasant surprise, my wife, Janelle, and my son, Griffin, were there cheering me on enthusiastically. I rounded the finishing bend and headed out for my final loop. Loop #3 was also close to 20 minutes.
With only 1 loop to go, I picked up the pace slightly for the first stretch. The first bit was easier, so I figured I had to make my pace count on the easier section. I knew Shane was miles ahead of me (and he was doing the solo), but I didn't know if any other solo guys were infront. The nature of this particular event (and all the divisions within it) is that it is incredibly difficult to know where everyone is at any given point. I did figure however, that I was in 2nd or 3rd, and that there could have easily been a person or two fairly close behind.
I had a pretty good energy for the final loop and once again, the hills would not beat me. I got to the top of them and now I knew that nobody was going to pass me from here on the final 1k. I could hear the cheering of the finish well ahead, and I picked up my pace to be a part of the celebration. Up ahead I saw a young guy going with a fairly good pace, and I made it my goal to beat him. So I dropped the hammer. Not known for a finishing kick, I kicked it as best as I could and took the guy by surprise. He responded with a sprint of his own and now it was all out for the finish line. I didn't know if this guy was running solo or not, but I wasn't gonna take any chances. We equalled stride for stride now and both crossed the finish line at the exact same time: 1:15:55.
The finishing time was well below my goal time of 1:20. However, the course was also shorter by about 2k. I would end up finishing in 2nd place in the solo division (5 minutes behind Shane), and I am very satisfied with that placing. In fact, there were no solo runners behind me by minutes. Overall it was a tie for 14th place out of 149 teams.
Full results are here.
I had many things go wrong for me initially, but as always, I battled on and did not give up, and I am pleased with my final lap time of 19 minutes. I used my running smarts to adjust to things that occurred at the end of the first lap and I benefited from that.
However, I have learned not to start too fast (yes, I have said that before so maybe I haven't learned!) and also not to be caught up by the relay nature of things.
This is my final event of 2009, and now begins the much anticipated off-season training schedule and Achilles recovery plan. Details to follow in the weeks ahead.
Monday, November 2, 2009
The training since the Great Lake Walk has been going great. My Tuesday Night Training sessions have been noticeably faster over the past few months, and I am now close to the top of my training group. I was also reassured a couple weeks ago in training when I was able to complete my usual Oak Bay 13k loop 2-3 minutes faster than my PB, and also another time when I was able to hold a 4 min/km pace for a 28 k training run. To sum it up, I am faster.
So the big question is why and how did I get faster? And to this, I haven't got a firm answer, but I have a few insights.
#1 - Intensity. I put 110% into my training sessions and have been doing so for quite some time. I think my training partners can tell that I am an "all-business" type of athlete.
#2 - Physiology. I firmly believe that finally my body is changing into a runners build, both inside and out. It takes some time to develop physiologically and in time, benefits can be seen. I think I am seeing some of those benefits now.
#3 - Forefoot strike. I have been trying to get away from heel-striking my way through runs, and changing it more to a forefoot strike. I have had a few shorter training runs, where I am strictly focusing on the strike.
So, all these factors led me to believe that this would be a good race for me. However, as good as my training had been up to the race week, the final week was downright awful. With coaching so much in the past couple of weeks and with my family members (1 by 1) getting sick, I simply haven't had the time to get my runs in. Last weekend, I did a 2 hour treadmill run instead of my usual long-slow Sunday run. The week leading up to Sunday's race, I was working on 7k of mileage for the week. However, I still felt confident that the base training was all in there.
I got up at the usual time and got my gear all ready and walked 2k to the carpool rendezvous point. I carpooled up to the race with fellow run club members Gary Duncan, Claire Morgan, Julie Van Veelan, John Catterall, and 2 other new faces. Time was tight and we got to the race with only 15 minutes to spare. I jogged up to the registration desk and pinned my number on as quickly as possible, then headed down to the start line (which was another 600m away). As I got in a last minute warm-up, I scoped out who was in the race. Looked like a few fastees, but mostly a recreational field.
The race then started abruptly, with no apparent count down. I pulled out ahead and stuck to the right side of the pavement. For the next 7k, the course followed W. Shawnigan Road, which is known for its undulating hills. In a span of seconds, Hugh Trenchard sped ahead and took his pace. He was not to be denied this day, as he was the lone elite in the race. However, I was in second and another runner (Frontrunners guy by the name of James Sandquist) was right behind me. This would be the placings for the first 5k. And in those first 5k, I ran well. I seemed to gain a bit of distance on James going up the hills, but would lose the distance back on the downhills. I also didn't see any kilometre markers until the 5k sign, so I had no idea of exactly what my early pace was, but I did know it was a fairly strong pace. At the 5k sign, I was reassured of my gut-feeling when I saw my watch hit 19:00. At about that point, the course went downhill for a while and that is when James went ahead. I had no intention of going with him, as I was comfortable where my pace was. I joked in my head and told myself that 3rd place is pretty awesome anyways. I could head nobody behind me and it seemed that by the 7k mark, Hugh Trenchard was minutes out in front and James was now barely in sight.
At 7k, the course then headed right onto trail. The trail would be similar to the gravel parts of the Galloping Goose Trail, and I welcomed the change in terrain. However, just as I was thinking how nice it was to be on the gravel, it also occurred to me that the same kind of pace would be hard to hold on a softer surface. It was a little wet out as well, and there was a little 'slip-back' factor with the toe push part of the stride.
Hugh Trenchard then came running towards me. I guess this was an out-and-back part of the trail and I was supposed to stick to the side. So I did. James was not all that far behind Hugh, and it surprised me how much ground James had opened up on me. I finally hit the 8k turn-around and sped back the other way to follow the leaders. At that time, I was completely surprised to see Gary Duncan who was only about 20 seconds behind me. My focus had been on the two guys infront of me and I totally forgot that there were others in pursuit on my tail. I did my best to find a comfortable pace on the trail, and at the same time, not let the pursuers catch me.
At the 10k mark, I was bang on 39:00. My pace on the trail was right on a 4 min/km pace, which is where I wanted it to be. However, as good as this was for me, I figured Gary was probably slightly faster than that, and I did expect him to be passing me soon.
At the half-way mark, I was at 41:20. I knew at this point that posting a wicked time was definitely possible, just provided I could hold the tempo down. At this pace, a 2 minute PB would be in the cards.
Until km 15, I maintained a 4 min/km pace on the trail and with each step, I was becoming less of a fan of the trail. I felt that my energy was sagging somewhat and I just told myself that 6k was not really that far to go (less that 1/2 an hour of more running). At km 16, there is another turn-around spot and once again, I saw both Hugh and James, who were still well ahead in the 1-2 position (Hugh was exactly 1km ahead of me when I hit the 16k mark).
At this point, I know I slowed down somewhat. I was tired of the trail, and was fully expecting someone to be right on my tail. However, as I completed the next turn-around, Gary was behind me, but was no more closer than he was before. I knew that if I could put in a good kilometre here, I would be hard to catch on the final stretch. Gary too, was quite a ways up on 5th place. I thought to myself, the worst I will do today is 4th.
I finally made it to the 17k mark and got back onto the pavement. Thank God. The pavement felt so good on my feet, and I then put my road shoes to good use. I felt awesome now and put in a couple solid 3:50 kilometres. Tangenting was good in this stretch and I pissed off a car or two by cutting across the road. I checked out my watch and estimated my final time now as being low 1:23's. But, apparently things would not be quite so easy...
At the 19k mark, I was not surprised to see the course go uphill. I knew that the finish line was at the back of Shawnigan Lake School, and this meant that it was at the top of a hill. What I didn't know however, it exactly at what elevation I was right now at the 19k marker.
Well, the course went up for quite a ways. It went up and then rounded a corner and went ever more up. Wow. What a crazy finish to a race I thought. While I was dreading the uphill that I was on, I figured that Gary, nor anyone else would be able to catch me going uphill. (I know I am a pretty decent climber).
At the 20k mark, the course flattened out a bit, but only for about 100m before the uphills came again. Again, I could not believe who designed this nasty finish for a race. I rounded a couple more corners and hammered into the finish at 1:24:17.
Well, I did do it. I set a PB (by over 1/2 a minute) on a pretty nasty course. I finished in 3rd place overall, 1st in my age-division and finally beat Gary Duncan on a road race. All good things.
I am definitely running fast these days and this was a breakthrough performance for me.
Next up for me is to solo the Thetis Relay. 20k of muddy trails with a million runners all over it. I think if all goes well I could do it in 1:20. Hopefully I will stay healthy and strong until then.
After that race, it will be some time off to recover my Achilles which has been bothering me significantly over the last little while. I want to start 2010 off on the same note as this last race.
Monday, October 5, 2009
Recently, my weekly mileage has decreased, which has been intentional, and also has been very positive. I have been experiencing achilles issues on my right side for the past 4 months, but not severely. I have been waking up in the mornings with a tightness and slight pain in that area, but it has not impaired my running at all. Over the past few months, I have tried icing and stretching, but nothing seemed to calm the achilles down. It hasn't been getting any better, but it certainly hasn't been getting any worse either.
Last week, I was given some advanced stretching information from Eric Findlay, who apparently, had the same problem a couple of years ago. My co-worker, Ritch Primrose (fitness guru), also confirmed that the technique is tried, tested, and true. So now, I am doing some eccentric loading on my achilles several times a day, and fingers crossed, the last two days have been much better on the achilles. Hopefully in time, things will get back to normal there.
Over the summer, I mentioned in an earlier blog post that my fitness and speed seemed to be at another level. I have maintained that level, and feel as fast as I ever have. The last two PIH workouts have been awesome for me. Last week, I was paired off with Shane Ruljancich (a 33 min/10 k guy) in the "Parloff Relay", and kinda kept up to him. Additionally, a few of my recent training runs have been very strong, and I am feeling like right now I am on fire. It feels great.
With no set big race coming up, I have had the freedom of choosing distances and training runs that are a little more exciting than ones from the past. I have been dying to do some more elaborate training runs in Mt. Doug, and I have really enjoyed it. I consider Mt. Doug: my backyard playground. I also have done a couple 10 Mile Point loops in training, and again, it was great to get out to some of my older routes. I feel motivated right now to get out to those trails and do some cross-country races.
Well...this is my off-season, and keeping the mileage down and resting my endurance body is vital. However, I plan on training just as hard, but just with less weekly mileage. This should put me in good form for those races that have distances that are 20k or less.
I did sign up for the upcoming PIH Thetis Relay on November 11th, which I plan to solo the 20k distance on. I also think that I will do the Shawnigan 1/2 on November 1st, if i can work out some transportation issues. After that, my year may be pretty quiet on the racing front.
Things are good right now...I'm just trying to focus on staying healthy and strong.
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Recently, I was asked to share my opinion on what it takes to be the "Ultimate Athlete." At first, I thought I was being contacted to participate in this upcoming reality-type event, but alas, I was actually just asked to share my opinion on the matter. Damn, $100,000 sounded pretty good to me. Think of all the Power Gels I could buy with that.
Since this is an opinion post, and many people may be reading this who are not familiar with me, I'll provide you with a very brief bio. I do believe that my knowledge on the matter and my opinion on the subject actually has some substance and weight behind it, and didn't want readers to think I was just blowing hot air on the subject.
I grew up playing team sports. Eventually after participating and being exposed to many different types of sports, I began to specialize in one: field hockey. Yes, men do play field hockey, and no we don't wear skirts. I played field hockey for the better part of 20 years, where I eventually went on to captain the local university team (the UVIC Vikes). In my time, I also went to the Junior National Championships. Although I never went on beyond this level, a few of my teammates stayed with the game and made it to the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
After getting married in my late 20's, and then having children in my early 30's I grew tired of the game and somehow found myself running in my spare time to stay in shape. Over a couple of years, I gave into my competitive nature and began running competitively, both in road running and in trail running. I then specialized once again, and am now fully engaged in distance trail endurance events.
So, now back to this event competition and my opinion...
Ask any teenager about who they think is the best athlete and expect a wide-range of answers. Names like Tiger Woods, Lebron James, Roger Federer, Brett Favre and Wayne Gretzky would no doubt come up. Media-crazed teenagers. Those with a bit more knowledge on the amateur side of sports may throw out names like Michael Phelps, Simon Whitfield or Kenesia Bekele. However, I would hazard a guess and suggest that putting Tiger Woods on a windsurfer and expecting him to perform would simply not happen. Or, stick Lebron James in a collegiate-level water polo match and watch him rise to the challenge? I think not.
Individual versus Team Sports
I have always believed that the best athlete in the world is one who is diverse. One who can be put in a water polo game and compete, one who can downhill ski well, and one who would be put in a new sport and immediate pick it up and make an impact.
There are two different types of sports: those that are individually-based, and those that are team based. In my humble opinion, the best athletes in the world should be able to do both, and not only that, do all the sports very well. Individual sports are very easy to judge: run the fastest, lift the most, or last the longest. However, how exactly does one judge an individual participating in a team-based sport? No, I do not think it is impossible, but I do think it is very hard and can only be done by the experienced, trained eye. Soccer coaches picking rep. teams have done this criteria-based judging for years, so yes, it can be done. In PE class, games like speedball and endball are purposely designed to highlight team skills such as space, communication, off-ball movement, support and position. The best athlete in the world should have these team skills build into him or her.
I do not know, but I would guess that the 20 disciplines that are in competition with this "Ultimate Athlete" are all individually-based. Tangible results, easy to tabulate. If this is the case, I would say that this is too bad. Realistically, I would hope that there would be some team-based games that focus completely on those team skills (space, support, etc.). I encourage the organizers to phone me ahead of time to organize some endball for this competition next year (my rate is only $5,000).
Who is going to win
I do not know who is going to win this "Ultimate Athlete" event, but I think I know exactly the type of person who would be great at it. Obviously, if you had someone who had experience in all 20 disciplines they would have a supreme advantage over others who do not. Therefore, actual experience with all the disciplines is critical. I am not by any means saying that they need to be at an elite level at the 20 disciplines, but they would need to be competent at all. Furthermore, if someone is to be very good at all 20 disciplines, I would expect this "Ultimate Athlete" to be quite committed to athletics and the outdoors. In other words, I would not expect them to have a family, or even a job really. The ultimate athlete would be someone who pretty much just does this kind of thing for a living. And again, I would expect someone who is good at all 20 disciplines would also not be 19 years old. The "Ultimate Athlete" would have to have the wealth of experience, but also not be tied down with too many blue-collar duties...like a family.
What type of sport will win
So if it is strictly an individual-based competition, the athlete must have (besides experience) a supreme level of personal fitness. The five guiding area of fitness are: flexibility, muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance and body composition.
Clearly, if 20 disciplines are happening in 7 days, then the "Ultimate Athlete" would have to be more that just skilled and experienced. They would have to be able to compete throughout these 7 days at a high level. This means knowing what the need for their preparation (nutrition/hydration), competition, and also recovery (nutrition/hydration). I have a huge interest in the area of recovery and believe that the "Ultimate Athlete" would have to know a thing or two about it. Cardio and endurance would also be vital.
In the Olympics, a multi-sport event was created decades ago to find the ultimate athlete. It was called the decathlon (men) or heptathlon (women). Athletes have to be able to run, jump and throw and get points based on their results. Top athletes in these events are good at all disciplines, but specialize in a few. Same thing can be said about another multi-sport event: the triathlon. Athletes have to be really good at swimming, biking and running, but the top athletes in the world, at some point, were elite specialists in at least one area. Adventure racing is another multi-sport event where athletes are put to the test of kayaking, canoeing, orienteering, running, swimming, biking, skiing, or whatever. Nowadays, they really have thought of it all. There are some supreme adventure racers out there that are not household names. But they are wicked athletes.
In summary, the "Ultimate Athlete" will have/be...
- between the ages of 20-39
- no family tie-ups (ie. kids)
- a decent amount of experience in all 20 disciplines.
- specialist (ie. elite) in a few of the disciplines.
- great knowledge of outdoors (knowledge of Oregon is a bonus).
- been doing this kind of thing for most of their life.
- great level of fitness, especially cardio and endurance.
- previous experience in multi-sport type events (such as adventure racing, triathlon, etc.)
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Leading up to this run, I was a little uncertain of what exactly would transpire on race day. Since this race was only 4 weeks after running the Juan de Fuca Trail, I had little time to really recover from that race and gear up for this one. However, I was banking on my previous long races to be all the training I needed to get my through this one.
I felt that my levels of hydration and nutrition were great heading into race day. The logistical planning pieces were also coming into shape nicely. The only real concern I had was overracing, as this was my 3rd ultra in 7 weeks.
After staying at my parents place in Duncan the night before, I was thrilled that I got such a good sleep the night before the run (6 hours). I went to bed a 9 am and was up at 3:30 am. My gear was all prepared from the night before, and I was now driving to Lake Cowichan in the darkness to my rendezvous point.
I arrived in good time and met with Elaine and Andy Galbraith who kindly offered to take me up to the start in Youbou. Elaine was running the event, but Andy was just dropping her off as he had to work that day. The finish line in Lake Cowichan is 8 km away from the starting point in Youbou, so most people take a bus shuttle before the run. The only problem is that the shuttle leaves at 3:30 am, about 1.5 hours before the start of this race. Last year I got chilled to the bone waiting around for the start.
On the way up to Youbou, we spotted an elk as we entered Youbou. It was pretty cool. Last year, I also saw elk actually on the race course...so now we are 2/2 with this.
As we parked the car, I thanked Elaine and Andy for the ride and quickly made my way up to the main rec. hall where all the runners and walkers gathered before the race.
Being the competitive person I am, I quickly scanned the hall for elite runners. With the exception of Campbell River's Rob Fontaine, I saw nobody else. It appeared as if there were a couple of social runners, but nobody that I could really recognize. To my surprise, Mark and Shawn Nelson were not there, even though I was supposed to be meeting them at the start line to discuss potential adventures for 2010.
At the start line, I did spot a couple of other runners: Rob Smith of Victoria and Allan Crawshaw of Sidney. Allan did beat me last year in this race, so it was time to get serious and now it was showtime.
After participating in the annual ritual of signing the National Anthem, the organizers said "Go!" and we abruptly left the parking lot and were now off down the dark road. At this point, the course was paved, but this only lasted for about a kilometre or so. Everyone had headlamps on, and shortly after the start, those lights were the only thing we had to see. The conditions were great, but extremely dark. It had rained the night before, which made the upcoming dusty logging road not so dusty. It was cool and pretty perfect for a distance run.
Rob Fontaine and I easily took to the front and established a comfortable pace. Having run this course last year, I had a race plan in mind and the main plan was to learn from my mistakes of last year. Starting out slow and keeping the scheduled nutrition would be key if I were to have a good day.
The pavement ended and the gravel logging road would be the theme for the next while. Unlike last year, the road was not graded, so although the road was firmer, it also was a pothole-fest. I have never thought of a gravel logging road being technical running, but this certainly was. Once wrong step, and the ankle could go. I was definitely thankful for having such a bright light.
Rob and I spent the better part of the first run getting acquainted. We knew each other a little bit (mainly through our mutual friend Bob Wall), but these are intimate times. Not much else to do really except get to know each other. We didn't talk a great deal, but just enough to know that we both planned on finishing 1,2. Rob had his Garmin watch going, so he was able to tell me the distance travelled. This was a pretty handy tool for me, as the course was unmarked, and I only just ever run with the stopwatch.
At 10k, Rob informed me that we were doing 46 mins/10k. This was perfect for me, as this is my typical endurance pace and I again felt that I wasn't being pushed by running with Rob. He, too, could have gone much faster at this point, but there is great danger in a long distance race if you start out too fast.
At the aid stations, Rob would stop and fuel up...and I kept going. Unlike last year, I was running with my Nathan Hydropack this time around. I figured it was safe to run with it, even though it made my 6 lbs. heavier. It was loaded with my Carbo-Pro and gels, and I had grown quite comfortable over the course of the year of running with it. I stuck to my nutrition plan early and things were going great early on.
Close to the 20k aid station (which we did in another 46 mins.), I joked around with Rob and asked him if he brushed his teeth that morning.
He asked, "Why?"
I replied, "Well, you wanna look good for the photo at the end when you win."
He then said, "Yea, I'll probably have bits of sticky, gold gel packages stuck in my teeth."
I then informed Rob that if he wanted to pick up the pace he could. I told him that I would be slowing down over the next 10k to save my energy for the hills which lie much further ahead. He agreed that slowing down was smart, but then as I slowed down to fuel myself, he surged ahead.
I was totally fine that he went ahead, and in fact, I was happy that he would not be pushing my pace this day. Slowly I could see him extend his lead over the next few kilometres until he was out of sight. The course remained the same, except after the 20k aid station, the potholes were far and few between. The only difference was that the flat course was no longer flat. Slow, rolling hills set in and my pace laboured slightly.
I was still feeling alright at the 28k (midway) point in the race. I think I was around my time from last year, but without kilometre markers, it was difficult to tell. I was generally just going on feel.
As I approached the 33k aid station (Station #5), I could hear and see a little commotion up ahead. Bloody hell. It was Rob Fontaine, and he didn't look pleased. I ran by the aid station and joined Rob who just started his run again. Rob chucked a half-eaten orange peel at the garbage can and he was pissed off. Apparently, the aid station , which was also a "drop-bag" spot, had lost Rob's drop bag. I assume Rob had dropped some sort of nutritional aid, and now Rob was without it. Rob swore under his breath and then sped ahead yet again and opened up a good lead over the next few kilometres.
It wasn't long before I decided to start walking up some of the uphills. I would guess it was around kilometre 36 that this decision had been made. I was still feeling reasonable (although the legs were a little heavy), but I really had intentions of finishing this race strong. I did not want the last 8k to be a walk-fest like it was the year before.
With the hill walking, I had a little bit of concern that runners could be catching me. So occasionally, along the long straight stretches, I glanced behind me and thankfully saw nobody. This was reassuring. This was about the point in my race last year where I was passed by a couple of guys (like last year's winner, Jason Wellard) when I was doing the exact same thing.
I walk-ran a decent pace uphill to the 40k aid station (Aid Station #8). I was especially keen to get to this aid station, as my mom was actually in charge of it. It appeared as if she was surprised to see me. She immediately told me that Rob was 7 minutes in front of me. I chuckled and told her that I was going for 2nd place now, and that catching Rob simply wasn't gonna happen. I stopped briefly to get a couple of photos (for the blog of course!), and to take in some electrolyte mix, and then I ran off.
The uphill continued. This is definitely the toughest part of the course. It is essentially a 3k slow uphill that just drains all your energy. However, I battled through it and made my way to the top. My left hamstring at this point was flaring up slightly, and both calves were tightening up.
However, the toughest part of the course was now behind me and I got to the marathon marker (the only distance marker I saw) at 3:30. All things considered, this was a great time. And best of all, I was not shattered. Not yet, at least.
What goes up, must come down and the next few kilometres, thankfully, went downhill. The change of pitch was a welcome reprieve for my body, both physically and mentally. I didn't go fast, but I did run a decent pace down to the next aid station at 44k.
I saw the sign at the aid station that said 12k to go, and I was relieved to see that the gravel road was no more, and it was now pavement from here to the finish.
I ran for about a kilometre or so, until I had to stop and walk again. My legs were pretty wrecked, and pushing the running at this point would only cramp me up. My feet also hurt. The trail shoes were definitely too firm on the pavement. So for the duration, it was essentially a run for 2 minutes and walk for 20 seconds. Yes, it was a walk-run to the finish line, but it was certainly far less walking than last year. At times, I glanced over my shoulder to see if other runners were going to catch me, but again, there was nobody in my rear-view mirror.
Eventually I came to a slow uphill that had a sign that said "3k to go". I had been checking my watch frequently over the past few kilometres, in an effort to estimate my finishing time. It did look like I could finish sub 5 hours, which would be a nice barrier to break.
After the slow uphill, I rounded the bend and saw yet another aid station ahead. This for sure, must have been the last aid station. At the station, another sign said "2k to go". What! This was totally weird (but in a good way). I must have only run 200m tops from the last sign. Either this aid station really wasn't 2k to go, or someone who had no idea what they were doing was putting these distance markers up.
After another few minutes, I saw the "1k to go" sign. Hilarious. This sign was probably more like 600m from the last one, but still nowhere near a kilometre. But, at this point in the race, I'll take it. No complaining from my end. I knew for sure now that a sub 5 finish was in the books.
I went down around a bend and then began to walk uphill. As I walked, I thought....wait a minute...this is the final hill! I remembered this final hill from last year so clearly all of a sudden. I got a surge of adrenaline and ran uphill, over the crest, and then hammered to the finish. Spectators were now cheering and clapping. This "1k to go" was seriously like 150m to the finish!
I crossed the line in 4:47:55. Good enough for 2nd place. It wasn't a great race, but it definitely was good. I am very pleased that it was a 24 minute improvement from my time in 2008. I know I could do this event in 4:30, but whatever, it really doesn't matter.
I saw Rob Fontaine ahead and went over to shake his hand. Rob did win, but he experienced a difficult last 12k and finished only 7 minutes in front of me.
Now, my racing season is basically over. 5 ultras done in 2009, and all of them went very well. I will likely do a couple more low-key events in the fall of 2009, but I will be taking a small break with the endurance training for a couple of months.
2009 has really been a great year for me. I now begin my thoughts on what epic adventures may lie ahead for me in 2010.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
So for over a year I have been planning, training, and gearing up for this one special day. This day would mark the conclusion of the "West Coast Conquest". Completing this run, would make Bob and I the only people to have run the 4 major coastal trails of Vancouver Island (JdF, WCT, NCT, and Nootka). Unlike the other trails, there is not much information on the Nootka Trail really out there. A good map was difficult to find, but eventually one was found and once again, I took the liberty of studying the map and the guidebook thoroughly in preparation for the big day.
A few days before the run, there was some concern as to the state of Gold River. The town was on evacuation standby, as a forest fire was within 2k of the city and withing 400m of the city's powerlines.
The day before the run, my parents picked me up just after lunch and we zipped up to Campbell River to pick up Bob. Bob and his wife, Tammy, picked out a pasta joint where we all had dinner. After loading up on a chipotle-blue cheese-bison pasta, we hit the open road and made our way towards Gold River.
As we rounded Buttle Lake, we kept our eyes peeled for any signs of the forest fire. Coming this far, we didn't want to be stopped short of our upcoming run. About 5k away from the city, we smelled smoke and could see the hillside in smoke. It did not seem that bad, and in no time at all, we were at our hotel in Gold River.
We checked into our hotel, and made a group decision to take the 13k drive to the port of Gold River, which would be where we were catching the floatplane at 6:30 am the next morning. It was an easy drive and there was not much to see at the dock, except for an active mill and a few Air Nootka floatplanes in the water.
On our way back however, something caught my eye. I could see our hotel from a distance and it really looked like the top of the hotel was on fire. Smoke was bellowing up behind our hotel, and it was shocking how close this fire was to our hotel.
Our hotel was full that night. Full of firefighters. Their gear was all hanging from the railings outside the hotel, and it really hit home that this town was in trouble.
In the hotel room, Bob and I got all our gear sorted out. We spent a while figuring out exactly what would go in our bag (we called it "The Finishing Bag") that would be there with my parents at the finish.
It was about then that I heard Bob say, "Oh Sh!t!".
I said, "What?"
He said, "I forgot my shorts."
I said, "Are you serious?"
After getting over the initial shock of having no shorts, Bob now recollected himself and decided he would go in style for the run. He was going to run in his boxer shorts.
I took a few digs at him immediately and I told him that I'd make sure that the people back at home would soon know how an ex-national level runner could make such a stupid mistake.
We then went to bed, and in no time at all, it was race day.
Saturday (Run Day)
We met Brad from Air Nootka at 6:25 am and we boarded the small Beaver floatplane. For my parents, it was an opportunity to sightsee Nootka Sound from an aerial viewpoint, something that they had wanted to do for years. For Bob and myself, it was time to mentally prepare for the endurance event that lay ahead.
The plane trip was nothing short of phenomenal. Although the weather was foggy and drizzly, the plane flew very low to the ground and we could see just how scenic this area truly was. The plane trip took us completely up the distance of the Nootka Trail, so we got to see it before we had to run it. At the top end of the trail, the plane took a sharp right turn and then started it's decent. The only problem now I could see is that the plane was descending into a forest, rather than water. However, at the last minute the trees disappeared and we descended into a place called Starfish Lagoon. I had never landed in a floatplane before, so I was expecting a hard landing. However, it was as soft as anything, and after landing, pilot Brad turned off the engine and we coasted up to the shore. As we did this, I looked into the water and now realised why it was called Starfish Lagoon. It was brilliant seeing all the hundreds of different Starfish and Batstars under the coasting plane.
Bob and I then thanked the pilot, said goodbye to my parents, then hopped into the knee-deep ocean water and began our run at the flagging tape that marked the beginning of the trail.
And I do not know why, but I expected the trail to be fairly well travelled initially. I imagined something like a gentle chip trail guiding us in the first couple of kilometres from Starfish Lagoon down to Third Beach. However, the opposite happened.
The trail was rugged and gnarly. There was lots of blowdown logs to cross, foliage to forage through and roots galore. Flagging tape guided us a short ways down a river, but I was surprised to see us come out to Third Beach in 10 minutes.
Third Beach was beautiful. Open sand and beautiful marine coastline marked what is the Nootka Trail. We kept the ocean now to our right and skirted along the shore, not needing the high tide headland trail. The tides worked perfectly here. The tide was out and would be that way for much of the run. The planning had paid off.
However, it was not long before the beach ended and we were forced into the trail. This for me was unexpected. The map I studied so carefully showed coastline running here, and for a good, long while were battled through the gnarly trail. And it wasn't easy. We did our best to get in a few running strides here and there, but we were mostly just speed hiking now through the coastal rainforest. Cedar Trees, 10 foot salal, mud and roots seemed to be the theme.
I led the pace with Bob trailing behind. I kept the pace firm, but around one corner, I smashed the side of my Nathan Hydropak into a skinny tree. The tree ripped at one of my pouches, and I was now forced to carry my gels in my short pockets.
Soon enough, we were now back on the beach. The tide was way out now, and Bob and I found the marine shelf perfect for running on. Perfect, except for the fact that it was damn slippery and one false step into a tiny tidepool could mean the end of the journey.
Algae of all kinds coated the shelf and rocks. Some of them were just fine for running on, while others (the brown shiny one) may the surface just like ice...and we had to reduce our pace accordingly.
I was feeling good at this point. The weather was ideal for running, and we were certainly covering some ground. Where the shelf became too slippery or too rocky, we headed up to the beach for some running. It was not always possible to run the beach, but we did our damndest to keep moving. It was also hard to tell exactly where we were on the trail. It was so easy to tell with a map and also by air, but now on the ground, it all just looked like endless beach running. And it kinda was.
The nutrition plan was consistent with all my long runs: stop every hour, take an S-Cap and a Gel, and take sips of my diluted Carbo-Pro Water along the way. Bob had a similar plan as well, except he preferred to eat Cliff Bars along the way instead of going with all gels.
We eventually hit a hard packed beach and saw a landmark, you could not miss: Calvin Falls. We knew now that we were about half way through our journey. After a few token photos, we ran on, following the footprints of three bears in the sand.
The sight of bear prints in the sand did not scare or, nor surprise us. The prints were going the same way as we were, and provided that we just kept our heads up, we would be fine.
We carried along at the standard pace, and the scenery was now getting a little monotonous with seeing ocean on our right, beach on our left, and the combination of rocks and shelf infront of us. At one point, we thought we saw a sealion in the distance, but alas, as we got closer, it was just a rock that looked exactly like a sealion. A marine mirage. Later we would hear that this corner was actually Bajo Point, just past the half way point.
Occasionally, we would cross a small river along the way, but we found it really difficult to relate where we were in conjunction with the map. However, we eventually got to a bay that had two rustic native dwellings on it (with solar panels!), so we knew that we were at Beano Creek. This was the final stretch of beach running, and the inland trail lay only about 1k ahead.
Shortly after Beano Creek though, something then happened I will remember for the rest of my life. As we were running the shelf, I planted my left foot on a rock that can only be described as a 45 degree skateboard ramp. The ramp dropped on the other side. As I planted, I completely slipped on that foot (and my entire weight was on that foot), and I went down. And went down hard. As I fell, I got my hands down to cushion my fall and pretty much got my face drenched in saltwater. I felt an acute pain in my leg and Bob asked me if I was ok. I told him that I needed a minute and I was now clutching my leg. Bob asked me if I was hurt and I said I thought my leg was hurt. I then took a look at my hands briefly only to see them covered in blood. I took about 2 minutes to put direct pressure on my leg. Without a first aid kit, direct pressure was about the only strategy I had to stop the bleeding.
Bob and I now took a look at my leg and it was a small puncture wound that went deep all the way into my tibia. Apparently it now appeared that my leg smashed against the skateboard ramp that had a barnacle placed on it.
While my leg was the main concern, I was also bleeding outta both palms. Bracing my fall meant driving my hands into a couple of the local periwinkles. My left hand wasn't bad at all, but my right hand had a deep cut on it. Cool. More blood.
It was only sheer luck that I decided to wear a long-sleeve running shirt that day. Now, Bob was using the edge of a mussel shell to cut open my shirt along the seam. The plan worked, and we now had a bandage that I tied tightly to my leg.
I got up and tried walking.
I could walk. There certainly was pain from my leg, but it wasn't too too bad.
After a minute, I tried jogging and I could do it. At this point, I had regained hope that I was going to finish the trail. For a moment there lying on the shelf, I had my doubts.
We now followed bear prints again in the sand that took us to the inland trail marker.
The trail was again similar to the previous inland trails. There was maybe a little more runnable terrain now, but there was certainly enough blowdown to keep us from getting a good pace on. Also did I mention ropes? Well there were around 12 of them in this section, and you needed most of them going up and down the scramble sections.
My leg only hurt when I had to jump down (and this was fairly often), and my right hand would not stop bleeding. This run required your hands to navigate through the trail. I was relieved that in about an hour, my right hand finally settled down and stopped bleeding.
The rest of the Nootka Trail now was sections of hilly trail and small pocket beaches. I think I counted about 8 pocket beaches in total.
We got excited when we saw a sign that said Maquinna Point, because we thought we must be close to the end. However, as is the case in many long runs, the end is always a little further than one would always like. So on we slogged.
In fact, as the trail got on, my leg became a non-issue. I was feeling great physically, and my body was showing little sign of fatigue and no sign of cramping. I still led, and bob now looked like he was lagging a little behind me. Perhaps it was because I knew the end was near, but I was actually ready to hammer the last little stretch of trail.
We passed a few hikers at this point, and I assumed that they were hiking their way out to the ferry. This only encouraged me more.
But as the trail popped out of the woods, we were now at the edge of a river, and Bob and I questioned if we had taken a wrong turn somewhere. The trail was not completely obvious to us which way to go. We backtracked slightly and tried to follow some footprints, but it didn't help us much.
We decided that we had to cross the river, and it was deep. At the deepest point, it came up to my hips, but we did make it across. Now across the river, we followed some footprints up to a trail that now went inland. We followed this trail for quite some time now, and came to a saltwater lagoon. The trail now, was nowhere to be seen and we had no idea where we were.
Bob was tempted to bushwhack through the forest in the obvious direction, but I was the voice of reason, and led the way back to where we crossed the river.
We now took the direction of the beach and before too long, we saw footprints again headed the same way as us. Shortly thereafter, we could see people ahead in the distance and a lighthouse way in behind them.
We passed the people, ignoring the strange looks we were given, and found an old ATV/Quad Trail that seemed to be going the right direction. We saw more people now, and we were definitely on the home stretch. I could now see an old church now at the end of the road and my parents were up there, now excited to see us.
We finished the trail in 5:40. With the exception of the viscous fall I took, it was an extremely strong run for me. Now, the dream was complete. The 4 major coastal trails had been completed.
We took the ceremonial finishing photo, then got on some warm clothes and refuelled with some bagels and Powerade.
The ride home on the UChuck III boat was relaxing and scenic, but also very slow. At this point, I was keen to just get home and rest. And eventually, I did just that.
The nootka Trail was 40k in distance. I'd say it was 3/4 beach running and 1/4 trail running. The trail sections resembled the North Coast Trail more than anything else (ie. hard), while the beach sections were more like the West Coast Trail (ie. manageable).
Now with this trail complete, it only begs the question: What is next?