Thursday, 29 March 2012

When 50 becomes 50

Having just completed the Chuckanut 50, it is time to take stock. I have been trying to come up with a plan for my next set of races. So to ask myself the question, what is the next logical step after doing a 50km trail race is to:

A.) Rest
B.) Sign up for another 50k run
C.) Do a marathon
D.) Sign up for a 50 mile run

This morning, Thursday March 29th, my buddy Mike Murphy shot me a link to the Meet Your Maker 50 mile ultra marathon in Whistler, September 2nd of this year. I jokingly forwarded the email to my brother Sean, thinking that he would tell me to eff-off. This evening, Sean shot an email back to me that had this attached to it:

I opened it. My jaw dropped.

I sat in front of the computer in disbelief.

In shock.

I got excited.

I got sweaty.

I was merely joking when I fired it his way. In no way shape or form did I ever expect him to register me or us in it. I thought we might talk it over, make a plan, figure out what we wanted to do, if we wanted to do it. There are other ultra's around, others that are less expensive. But this one--this run looks epic. It looks like a quality run, that will be supported very well, where the organizers will take care of the racers, where the route will be amazing and scenic. It seems like I need to take things a bit more seriously. Like nutrition and what I put into my body from now on.

This is huge.

A few years back Sean and I talked about running until we could not run anymore. How much do we have in us to make that happen? How far would we be able to go? The challenge of running in Whistler will be epic. This will be harder than the Chuckanut by sheer distance, but also in climbing. The map looks daunting:

The straight line on the map just in the bottom right hand corner here represents the Peak to Peak gondola. I am a bit speechless right now about this whole thing. So why not plan out the next few months of runs right now. ** indicates that I am committed to doing these runs. This is just a rough plan for the time being.

April 21st:  5 Peaks Maple Ridge **
May 6th:    Vancouver Marathon**

May 27th:    Tender Knee/ Iron Knee
June 9th:      5 Peaks Squamish
June 10th:    Sandcastle 10km or
June 10th     Junk Yard Dog South Surrey Mountain bike race
June 30th:    Tenderfoot Boogie Squamish to Whistler
July 15th:     NB Fort Langley Half Marathon
July 21st:     5 Peak Cypress
July 28th:     Triple Crown Road Ride
July 29th:     Jog for the Bog
Sept 2nd:     Meet Your Maker 50mile**

Then Cyclocross season begins. I suspect that the Meet Your Maker will interfere with the first CX race of the season, and also Aaron Schooler's school of Cross.  A bit of a bummer, but this will be a new experience for me, and lately, the new experiences are pretty awesome.

It looks like I will have to invest in a pair of those Salomon Speedcross shoes I have been eyeing for a while for the upcoming trail races. Those look bomber.

What a day. The meet your maker is an 84 or 85km trail run. The Chuckanut was hard with the rain, snow and cold. The MYM 50 may be more bearable. I have my work cut out for me.


Monday, 26 March 2012

Gearing up for the BMO Vancouver Marathon

The aftermath of the Chuckanut 50 was dealing with bouts our soreness, stiffness, walking backwards down stairs, and hobbling around with sore knees, quads, and calfs. The Stick was of no use to me in the days just after the race, and I did not feel much better until about last Wednesday. I took my first run on Friday evening, a 10km trail run in the shed, and a longer 18km run in the shed/bog on Sunday.

Even a week later, I still have a deep bruise on the top of my left foot, that is making running a bit more painful. The rest of the body feels great. I have had my last two runs in my NB 110s minimal transition shoes, trying to build up strength in my feet and lower legs. Needless to say, I am a bit slower as I have changed my gait and footstrike on the ground, to a forefoot to midsole fall, moving entirely away from a heelstrike. I hope that the speed comes back. I feel that I am still recovering from the effort of the 50k.

Now it is time to get some more miles in my legs before a taper for the marathon. Based on my half time from Feb, a 3:01 is doable, but I think I am not there yet. I will add a few minutes to that. Running 6 hours has given me a huge amount of confidence, knowing that I hit the wall at about 4:40-4:50 or the Chuckanut 50k. That is very encouraging. Very excited about the marathon, and the next ultra, whatever that might be.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The 2012 Chuckanut 50: The Full Details

To commemorate my first ultra marathon, I have written and extra long post. This post is like an ultra marathon: highs and lows, it is emotional, and in many ways too many words are just not enough to describe it, and all that goes along with it. I have tried to capture as much of what went down on St.Patrick's day 2012 in Fairhaven, Washington in this post. I do this for me when I am old, and for my kids as an open journal to inspire and motivate them when they are older, to show them that determination and mental toughness can often trump our own self doubt, and negative thoughts that creep in when we go into those dark places.

The last two weeks have been the final lead up to my first ultra marathon ever, the Chucknut 50. From running 50kms two Sunday's ago, to another half marathon loop last Sunday, I was feeling prepared to tackle this mountain race.

After last Sunday, Lor and I took the kids to Seattle for a day, and I did not get another run in for the week. I chalked this up to a taper effect, but come Tuesday night, strep throat had set in, and I was on a major decline, health wise.

By Thursday, I was supremely ill, not even able to get out of bed at all, rocking a fever, super low energy, passing migraines, shivering, sweating, and the fact that every time I swallowed, it felt like razor blades over the tissue of my esophagus. My throat was swollen and closing up nice and tightly in my chest. Pop-sicles and tea were my only nourishment for all of Thursday. It crossed my mind to not attempt the run to not tax my body and become run down even more, and for the fact that I could not even walk to the bathroom without holding on to the walls.

This is where it is a bit of a gamble: do I not start the race and let my body heal, or run the race not looking at a time goal, but to go and finish it, hoping that It will not have a deleterious effect on my total overall health. On one side, I could end up in an American hospital for the night with a raging fever and IV drip. On the other, I might be fine and make it home for dinner. Sean, my running partner and brother-in-law, predicted a miraculous recovery. I was concentrating on just getting up enough juice to run.

By Friday, I was feeling a bit better, out of bed at 7am. Elijah fell on Noah dislocating his elbow, so Lor took the little guy to Children's  for the day for some treatment, while I got the other two kids organized to go to Fairhaven to pick up our race packages. Lor got back in time to have the whole family make it stateside, and the road trip began. 4 hours later, we were back at home, and I was preparing for the run come 8am Saturday.

I woke at 5:10am to have my typical pre-race breakfast: steel cut oats, water, Tim's French Vanilla, banana, and a couple of gels. I said to Sean that we did not have to eat much because we would be fueling all day. My race clothing choices consisted of:

Sugoi marino sleeveless undershirt
Icebreaker merino longsleeve
Midzero tights
Sugoi Zap Vest
Sugoi Knit gloves
Race touque
New Balance MT910 (This is my last run in these--they are now retired due to abuse from the race)
Camelbak Delaney Race hydration beltpack

Sean arrived dark and early to chauffeur us across the line, and we made it to the start area just after 7am, giving us little time to use a biffy at the Greyhound station, trot across the road to give our post race bags up, check in and take our places in the start corrals. At 8am, we were off, running a comfortable 5 min/ km pace for the first 12 kms in the cold, driving rain all the way down the Interurban (IU abbr.) trail. Familiar territory for Sean and I from our summer runs in the Chucknut Footrace. The first aid station afforded me a pee break and some clif shot block, all which helped keep things going. I nearly decapitated myself on the climb just after Aid #1 by trying to duck a low hanging branch that was more like a low hanging log. Darn thing took my toque clean off, and gave me a nasty bump on the head. Head injured 13kms in to the race.

Descending Two Dollar.
Photo Credit: G. Tachiyama

The climb up to Fragrance Lake was technical, but not too scrambly. This is where the trail running began and got really, really fun in a hurry. We got to the snow line in short time, and for the next 4 and a half hours we would be in the thick of pristine, snow covered forests, with no sense of where we were, the direction we were travelling, or how far to the next aid station. A very liberating feeling knowing that all we had to do was run. The climbing became tougher, the descending more gnarly. Soon, we made it to aid station 2 at the base of Cleator Road where we stocked up on goodies and drink. This was where the long fire road climbing began. It was a matter of simply finding a rhythm and sticking to it. Uphill road for as long as one could see, and not only that, the snow was coming down in an undecided form--as if it was a one quarter rain, and heavy and solid for the other 3/4s. Cleator road was a slug, but still our surroundings were magical. One dude ran by us in a slicker-style camo trench coat.

Running the Ridge.

The most fun part of this run was running the Chuckanut Ridge Trail. Snowy and slippery on two sides, rocky, rooty and muddy up the middle, the ridge was a trail not unlike the Powerhouse Plunge in the Test of Metal in terms of how technical it is. Unlike the plunge which has little climbing and not very good views for the trees, the Chuckanut Ridge Trail has spectacular views, and it undulates. 3 hour into the run,  pinballing off of all the rocks, roots, and logs, I thought it possible to break 5 hours, and things were so good that I passed a bit of judgement about the run. I considered it the best run of my life.

Those two things: the time prediction of 5 hours, and feeling really good about run, were about to head south. I did not know what lay ahead, namely Chinscraper, and the descent back down Cleator Road. The undulating trail up to the Chinscraper was fast, muddy/snowy and a challenge to navigate on two feet. It was like driving on snow and over mud pits with all season radials on the wheels. Lots of slipping and sliding. Through one section, the mud was so deep that my whole foot sunk in on one stride, and I thought that I was not going to get my shoe back. Sean and I had arrived at the base of the Chinscraper, and to my relief, an aid station.

This particular aid station seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, back country Chuckanut Mountains. I was relieved for the fact that my left calf and hamstring had begun to cramp on me, and hammering back some gels, shot blocks, and electrolyte drink kept those to a minimum. I tried a bit of Coke, but swallowing that stuff burned my throat. For the first 3/4s or the run, the Strep was not an issue. While putting that vile stuff in my stomach, it was a reminder that I was still very sick. Sean downed a shot of whiskey, which would prove to be part of his undoing on the climb to the top of the mountain.

Leaving the aid station, I was feeling great, and soft-climbed my way to the top. Many treacherous switchbacks, steep grades worn in from the runners before us, and soft dirt/mud sections gave us fits. one guy in front of me got to the top of a climb and then lost his footing and slipped and rolled down the trail slope halfway. I opted the far left line, avoiding the path he took up. Much of Chinscraper was hike-able only. Imagine the upper section of the Grouse Grind where the trail pitches skyward, and the technicality/difficulty goes up. That is Chinscraper. And it goes on and on and on. The snow falling through the bright fog layering the forest gave a heavenly feel to this part of the run, as many were probably going through hell.

11 miles to go--Happy at the top of Chinscraper.
Photo Credit: G.Tachiyama, PB

I made it to the top feeling great, my watch reading 38k, figuring that we had 12k to go. I calculated this to mean that we would have a descent of about 2k, then 10k back to the finish. How wrong was I. Sean made it to the top looking more pale and hurting that ever. He was battling a serious case of nausea, the victim of not drinking enough, and medicating with booze twenty minutes prior to the summit. He sweats so much that salt cakes on his face, around his eyes and brow. I suspect that he needs to take on more water and salt to replace what he loses. He was in rough shape, and I was doing my best to boost him up. I know that when someone tries to cheer me on and I am in the hurt locker, I want to punch them in the face at that moment, or tell them to leave me alone. The descent  to the interurban trail would have us run down some of Cleator Road, then continue down even further on Fragrance Lake Road, nearly 5 or 6k of downhill, quad destroying-running that would be a knockout punch.

The descent was seemingly never ending. Down the road the sun poked through the clouds, and for the first time of the day, at 12 pm.-- 4 hours and change of running, the warmth of sunshine was on our chests and faces. No more snow, or rain, but beautiful sunlight. Down the fire road we saw, people sitting in their cars that had slipped into the ditch, and were passed by many folks who were solid downhill runners. We reached the Interurban Trail and were told that there was six miles to go.


Hearing that , doing the quick math in my head, I concluded that we had another 9.7k to run. That was enough to hurt just a bit more. From the top of the Chinscraper, it was 12 by my watch. Now the math was going to add up to 17k from the top, total. When I prepare myself for something, and it takes a dump, like this, the wheels start to fall off.

As you can see, I start to fade at the end, by a fair margin.

And they did.

I had little to give in the last 10 kms, which equated to about another hour or so or running in the sorry condition I was in. Sean and I made many stops along the trail, to pee, eat, walk, talk, or whatever to keep us going. The markers indicating the distance to Fairhaven Park seemed to mock me as I passed each of them on the Interurban trail, like a carrot on a stick waving in front just out of reach. On this stretch, I lost places to many other runners whom had saved energy on the climb, and had better descending skills. As we rounded the bend into the park and made our way onto the finishing stretch, Sean somehow had his water bottle pop out of his beltpack and roll on the ground. I stopped, turned around and picked it up for him. 55kms as my Suunto T6C and footpod had recorded, and now, after the most treacherous terrain I had ever run, Sean dropped his bottle on the lamest part of the run--flat pavement. I thought for a second that he might have done that to pip me at the line and take the competitive win between the two of us, but he waited for me, and we crossed the line together.

6:11:23.6. Of running.

Starts out gentle, gets hairy, then down, down, down. 

We picked up our backpacks from the bag check, and grabbed a park bench to change into our dry, warm clothes. Post race, the food tent ran of warm soup and  ran out of cream cheese for the bagels, so were left with bowl of chips, Udo's Oil, Clif products, dry bagels, and electrolyte drinks. We made our way back to the van via the shuttle, and off to get a real bite to eat at Subway. At Subway, I really could not stomach the thought of food, but there I was, trying to put back a turkey flatbread and some water. I figure that I was in shock from my shaking hands and wobbly gait, and shell shocked neutral facial expression. Off to the aquatic center to freshen up with a dip in the hot tub, and a shower.

After cleaning up, we went over to the Bellingham Bay Brewery where the post race party was held. I met Adam Campbell, an ultra-runner whose I have been following for the last couple of years on his blogsite and twitter. I felt a little starstruck, kinda like one of my students meeting their favorite Vancouver Canuck, or other athlete they admire. Considering how much time I put into running, and knowing how fast this guy is, it was a an honor to meet him. His climb into the elite echelons of ultra running were cemented on Saturday as he beat the deepest field of runners at the Chuckanut 50 in years. Past winners, locals, and a 2011 ultra world champion were all toeing the line this year, and local Victoria/ Vancouverite Campbell took them to task to win in the last few miles. I told him how happy I was for him and we shared some conversation. Quite soft spoken and humble, Adam is a worthy champion.

Sean and I dumped our full blonde ales on the patio of the pub, the sun setting over the bay, not able to stomach the strength and flavor of the local brew after our effort. Something lame like Rolling Rock or High Life would have been just fine--water with a beer flavor. Without anything left in the tank, and little patience to wait around to hear Scott Jurek, the MC for the evening speak (although that was the point of going to the brewpub), we made our way to the van, and left Bellingham. Aches, pains, and all, we went home. For some runners, as we left the brewpub, they were just crossing the finish line back in Fairhaven Park, making a finish time of 9 hours for those poor souls.

Movescount Summary of the run. The smile is fake.

Lessons learned from my first ultra marathon:

--If I want to make a better time at this race (which right now is not a priority because of the condition I am in 3 days later), I would have to be more self sufficient.  Relying on my own nutrition rather than the aid stations is key to dropping some time. Or at least limiting my time in each station. In terms of nutrition, I feel really good about how I fed and watered myself on the run. I would not change that at all, if not drink more on the run. Acquiring a Nathan pack would be useful in becoming more self reliant.

--I would also up the pace from a pedestrian 6:11/km to a 5:30/km. Even knocking 40 seconds off per km would reduce my time by one hour and nine minutes.

--Something that amazes me is that in spite of all the hiking terrain, technical trails, and potential for disaster, injury, or death, nothing happened. No turned ankles, no injuries, no tripping. This day went off without incident. Mental alertness was excellent. Next year, a stop at Tim's before crossing the border is something that should be repeated.

--Although the conditions of this race were the worst in years, they were also the most beautiful and fun to run in. I would am proud to have tested myself in such horrible running weather in very challenging terrain. Next year, who knows how hard mother nature will make this race. Perhaps colder? Perhaps dry and sunny. Keeping my attitude light and recreational made for a very, very fun 55km run.

--Hopefully in one year, my feet, ankles, and legs will be stronger for the minimal shoes I am weening myself into. And running more hills. And descents. Those two will be necessary for tackling this run again. I know that I was way under prepared for this run, and it showed in the last 12 or so kilometers. So SFU, North Shore mountain running will be on the list for race prep. Anywhere there is a hill, I will have to climb it. Again, and again, and again, and again.

--What I do know is this: the Vancouver Marathon is on May 6th. My goal this year will be to run a 3:05:00  marathon. I will need to get some more tempo runs in, and rest up, but my determination to do so is high. I know I get tougher when the chips are down, and that I will try not to contract a bacterial or viral infection days before the race. This race mentally put me in a dark place. Highs and lows of extreme proportions came out. I can work those things out. I know how to deal with those emotions. Not only being mentally and  physically tough, but emotionally tough are keys to my success in any race. I did this under prepared. I can do it better next time around with this experience under my belt, if I follow my own advice.

My work is cut out for me. I am stoked, charged, and yet still recharging. I can't wait for next year. Or my next ultra.

12 years of running, and I feel like I am just learning how to do this properly.

*A huge special thanks goes out to RD Krissy and all of the volunteers for putting this on in such horrid conditions. They made this race what it was. It takes a tremendous amount to time, commitment, and effort make this happen. Such a huge undertaking or organization and execution. Very well done!!

Chuckanut 50: the short report

Last Saturday I finished my first ultramarathon, the Chuckanut 50. Never in my life have I run as long, as far, or climbed as much. It was truly and experience that I will never forget. Three days on, I am still ripped up, sore, can only descend down stairs backwards, and have trouble generally walking. I have a detailed report in the works, however, it is taking me longer to finish as it is chok-full of all the finer points of the race.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

50km run before the 50km race

This last Sunday, I tackled my first 50km run. In training. Some people, and often many running training programs do not subscribe to running the full distance of an event before the actual event. The Running Room will develop training programs to take people to 20 miles or so in order to complete a marathon. If you ask me, those last 6.2 miles, or about 10km or so, can be about the toughest ten kilometers to get through. It is there where you begin to lose focus, develop in your mind and actualize self doubts, and let your body do what it wants to, rather than overpower your instincts with you mind, and stay disciplined through the pain.

So last Sunday at 5:00 am, I wolfed down some oatmeal and out the door to meet Sean at 5:30 down the road. We determined a figure 8 loop that took us through the Shed, up to the Alex Fraser Bridge, back down to Highway 10, into the shed, and over again. 2 loops. 4 gels, 5 bottles of water, 1 clif bar, 1 pack of Clif bloks, and a roll of toilet paper that I managed to dispose of in the first 4 kms. Par for the course, really.

What struck me on this run was that I was fine over the course of 4 hours, but with 4 kms left to go and 4:45 into the run, my steps became labored. My concentration waned. My energy diminished, and I had trouble believing that I could finish out the run.

This is all very important to the race coming up on St. Patrick's day. I know what 50 kms in my legs feels like. I know it will be really hard. I know that I have enough food to propel me through this run. I know all of this because although I have not done the course, I have been in the dark place of self doubt. I have felt what it is like to want to stop, but need to continue to push on. I have developed the confidence in myself to know how hard I need to push myself. When the event is for real, and the timer is running, something in me clicks. I have endless strength and determination, unlike on a training run.

The Chuckanut 50 is next week. I will be by Sean's side and we will be running it together. It will be a great bonding experience for the both of us, and I am going to be proud to finish with him. It will be tough, but it will only make me tougher. I know what to expect my body will do next week on the run. I just have to prepare it to behave the way I want it to. Showing up prepared, stoked, nourished, and ready to go is my goal now.