races

races – short, long, and everything in between

Bucket List

Once in while, I like to make a list of races I’d like to run. Not saying I’ll get to all of them, but it’s nice to keep them in mind. Here’s my current bucket list:

Race to the Stones

A 100K ultra along The Ridgeway, a 5,000 year old path in the UK. The course passes Iron Age forts and ancient burial chambers, crosses the Thames and the Salisbury Plain, and finishes at the 3,000-year-old stone circle at Avebury.

I plan to run The Race to the Stones in July of 2015.

Two Oceans Marathon

Billed as “the world’s most beautiful marathon,” this is actually an ultra, not a marathon. It takes place in Cape Town, South Africa, and runs 56K from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean.

I was born in South Africa, so doing Two Oceans would be a kind of homecoming for me.

Ultra-Trail Harricana

Back to Canada, in Quebec’s Charlevoix region – remote and wild, with rolling terrain, fjords, and wide bays. The Harricana 65K is a true wilderness ultra, featuring 1,800 meters of elevation gain.

This would be my first wilderness ultra.

Lesotho Ultra Trail

Lesotho is a small, mountainous country, completely surrounded by South Africa. Over 80% of Lesotho lies above 1,800m (5,906 ft). The Lesotho Ultra Trail is only 50K in length, but is a Skyrunning Ultra, featuring 2621m of vertical ascent and 2437m of vertical descent. The course consists of dirt roads, jeep tracks, rocky trails (the greater part of the course) and short sections of open grass. Stream crossings and loose rock are also featured.

This one’s The Big Dream.

Coming Up: ENDURrun 30K

ENDURrun 2014

Yes, you read the above dates correctly. The ENDURrun International is a 160K, 8-day, 7-stage event that takes place in Waterloo, Ontario.

Distances range from 10 km to the marathon, on both roads and trails. Runners can participate in the Ultimate category (all seven stages), the Sport category (the last three stages, comprising a 25.6K trail run, a 10K time trial, and a marathon), and the Guest category (any one of the stages). Seven-person relays are also an option.

This year, I’ve chosen to enter as a Guest (though I can see a future attempt in either the Sport or Ultimate categories). On August 12, I’ll run Stage 3 of the ENDURrun, which is a multi-loop 30K cross-country course. According to the event website, it comprises mostly grass and wood chip paths, mostly through forest trails. It sounds interesting and fun, and will give me a chance to suss out the organization and locale a bit.

ENDURrun Stage 3

Looks like I’ll be putting in some trail and hill training in the next few weeks!

No to Niagara

I’ve decided – reluctantly, but probably wisely – that I won’t attempt the Niagara 100K on June 14.

That’s a huge disappointment, of course, as I’ve really been looking forward to it. But my feet haven’t healed enough yet to do a 50K, never mind a 100. I lost almost all of the skin from the soles of my feet after running 40K of rough gravel at the Elk/Beaver 50K on May 10, and the new skin is too soft and too tender to run anything long. (Though I did manage almost 30K last Sunday, and am getting in between 6K and 18K on other days.)

Bummer, as we used to say back in the day.

I’ve learned, though, over that past few years, that it’s better to be sensible in cases like this. I’d rather DNS Niagara than try it and damage my feet any more. I’ll spend the next weeks running progressively longer distances, and I’ll pay careful attention to how things go.

Next up is Stage 3 of the ENDURrun International, a 30K trail race in Waterloo, Ontario, on August 12. Then I’ll run the Self-Transcendence 12 Hour on September 27, in Ottawa.

And no foolishness along the way. I promise.

Race Report: Elk/Beaver 50K

Elk/Beaver 50K

Question: When does a DNF count as a success?

Answer: When it involves winning.

“DNF” and “winning” don’t usually go together – but sometimes it’s just the right thing. Consider the following quote from elite ultrarunner Kilian Jornet:

“Winning isn’t about finishing in first place. It isn’t about beating others. It is about overcoming yourself. Overcoming your body, your limitations, and your fears. Winning means surpassing yourself and turning your dreams into reality.”

Last Saturday, I arrived early at the Elk/Beaver Ultras race venue so I could check things out. And got a bit of a surprise… The course, which I’d been told was primarily packed dirt/rocks/roots (eminently doable in bare feet), had been “upgraded” by the Parks Department with fresh gravel a couple of days before. I arrived at 5:00 AM, in time to look things over. The fresh gravel consisted of medium-sized, sharp, pointy stuff, and, as it turned out, covered about 2/3 of each 10K loop. Definitely not good news.

I’d started the day at 3:00 AM, and, over my first espresso of the day, had my usual nervous jitters about the race. I was a long way from home, I didn’t know the course, and I was about to try something I’d never done before. Guaranteed to bring all that existential angst to the fore. Now, seeing all that gravel, the doubts really built up. Still, I was there and I’d set myself a challenge, so what else was I to do but run it?

I had two goals for the Elk/Beaver. One was to follow my ketogenic-adapted regime, which meant running fasted (my last meal before the race was dinner the night before) and with only water as fuel during the race itself. The second was to run the entire 50K barefoot, and not worry at all about my finishing time, much less about getting a PB.

Elk/Beaver start

The Elk/Beaver started as do most of the ultras I run – a small number of participants, the edge of a grassy field, and someone calling out “One, two, three, go!” After that, we began the first loop. It’s a pretty course. Mildly undulating (though the official course description had said “very flat”), a bit of mud, with good views of the two lakes we’d circumnavigate during the morning. A total of 77 runners were involved, for five events (50K, 100K, 50 mile, marathon, and 40K walk), so the race offered good company without any crowding. Kind of ideal when you think about it.

On course

The photo above and the one below were taken at around the 30K mark. I felt really good for those first three loops. Lots of steady energy, no trouble moving across the gravel, and feeling sheer barefoot bliss on the packed dirt sections of the trail. My son and grandson were there at the 30K mark (and again at 40K), having journeyed from Vancouver to support me. Seeing them was pretty much the high point of the race and my day. I’ll always remember that.

Feeling strong at 30K

One of the fun things about this event, which is basically just a local club race, was that two of the three aid stations consisted simply of a flat of bottled water on a park bench, along with a small sign saying “Elk/Beaver Ultras.” The third station was a table at the start/finish, offering fruit, cookies, Coke, and water. Didn’t need or want any of that, though, so I just cruised by.

I started to feel the gravel during loop #4, to the extent that, by about 35K, I was running on the grass verge of the trail if there was one. By 37K, I’d slowed down from the pace I’d kept to for the first 30K (7:10 mins/km) to a really pokey 10:15 or so. I knew I’d have to make a decision the next time I went past the start/finish area, and considered my options – keep on going for what I knew would be a real Death March, or slip on my Sockwa X8s in an effort to minimize the damage and maybe improve my pace a bit. I chose the second. But getting the Sockwas on my feet was difficult, as they were starting to swell. And the bottoms of my feet were bleeding in more than one place.

I soldiered for another kilometer or so, and then found that I simply wasn’t able to go on. In fact, once I stopped and took off my race bib, I found it difficult to even stand. A kindly course marshal gave me a ride back to the start, I crawled to the car, and drove back to my hotel in Victoria.

Time to call it quits

This is what a 40K bailout moment looks like.

Wounded

And this is what my feet looked like about an hour after I finished. A little bit of blood (there was more, and it continued for a couple of days); the swelling had only just begun, would get much worse, and would last about four days.

So what did I accomplish? And what’s all this guff about “DNF and winning”?

Well, first of all, I ran 40K fasted and fueled only by water. That proved, once again, that if you’re keto-adapted, you’ve got the fuel you need (fat) in your body, and don’t need anything else. In fact, it shows, once again, that it’s better to run this way, as it results in steady energy levels, with no insulin spikes, no bonking, and no hitting the wall. And, I might add, no ravenous hunger afterwards. Immediately after the race, I ate a few pieces of biltong (for the protein) and, an hour or so later, about 500gm of full-fat yogurt (for the fat). And felt good.

Second, although I didn’t run the full 50K, I did run 40K barefoot, on rougher gravel than I’d ever run on before. I ran the first 30K at my target pace, my form was good, and my spirits were high. I made the right decision (to bail at 40K) at the right time, clearly and cleanly. I learned that I am whole and strong, and that I can accomplish extraordinary things when I try.

I won.

Thanks to my wife for her love and support, and to Simon and Malcolm for being there.

Poster Boy!

TMTR poster

Last year, I ran the Tom Marchese Trail Run at the Cold Creek Conservation Area in Nobleton, Ontario. It was my first barefoot trail run, and an event I enjoyed immensely. I can’t make to this year’s TMTR, as I’ll be doing the Elk/Beaver 50K trail ultra on the day it happens. I’ll be there in spirit, though, and am planning to run the TMTR again in 2015.

I’m honoured to be pictured in the poster for this year’s event. (Click on the image at the top of this post to see it in all its glory.)

If you’re local to the GTA, I urge you to run the TMTR. It’s a great race and a great event. I promise you’ll have a wonderful time!

Loops and Laps

Loop

A while ago, I posted about transitioning through a slump. That was successful, in part, because I slogged through multiple sets of shorts loops around a ring road in my neighbourhood. I was able to start with single, short loops, move to longer loops, and then do more and more loops. Sounds very simple, but sometimes it’s the simplest tools make things work.

Since then, I’ve kept on doing loops for my training. Sure, I regularly do out-and-back errand runs as well, but the loops are what keep me going. While doing them, it occurred to me that all of my races this year will involve doing loops. (Except I guess when you’re racing they should properly be called laps.)

I think this is very cool. Not sure why I think that, I just do.

Self Transcendence 12 Hour

Self Transcendence 12 Hour

Today I sent off my registration for the Self-Transcendence 12 Hour Ultra, which will happen on September 27. It’ll be my second track ultra (the first was the Run4RKids 6 Hour I did in early January), and my first attempt at a 12 hour track event. I liked doing the 6 Hour ultra very much, and am hoping the 12 Hour will be equally enjoyable.

The 12 Hour will take place at the Louis Riel Dome, reputedly one of the best tracks in North America. It’s also the biggest air-supported dome in North America, and the second biggest air-supported dome in the world.

Louis Riel Dome

The Ottawa Self-Transcendence is a big event. It’s the longest-running 24 hour race and the oldest timed ultra worldwide. And it’s a place where big things happen. Since its debut in 1981, it’s hosted the National 24 Hour Championship a number of times. The men’s course record for the 24 Hour is 242.919K, set by Peter Holubar in 1990, and the women’s is 214.487K, set by Jamie Donaldson in 2009. In 2013, American ultra runner Jon Olsen ran 100 miles in 11:59.28 (see his race report here), setting a new American 100-mile track record and a new North American record.

OK, I’m not going to do the 24 Hour (not this year, anyway). I’m just going to run for 12 hours. By the time I get to the Self-Transcendence, I will – hopefully – have run for a longer time than that. On June 27, I’ll do the Niagara 100K, and hope to complete it within the 14 hour cutoff. But the Self-Transcendence will be different – an indoor, timed event on a 400m Tartan track. By late September, the soles of my feet should be nicely conditioned, so I may be able to the whole race barefoot. Or I’ll do most of it barefoot, and wear my Xero Shoes Sensori sandals as needed.

I can hear you saying, “That’s all very nice. But why would you want to run in circles for 12 hours? And why do it barefoot?”

Because I want to find out what happens when I run a long way. Running barefoot is the most comfortable, most natural way to do it. When I run very long distances, I almost always reach a place where I feel whole and complete, where everything fits together and I’m at peace. And that’s really what it’s all about.

A runner's feet

Race Report: Run4RKids 6 Hour

My first timed race, my first indoor race, and my first track ultra. It went very well indeed.

Feeling strong, at about the four hour mark

I managed to cover 51.62K in six hours (222 laps of the 232.5m track), ran at an average pace of 6:58 min/km, and came in 12th out of 21 male finishers. I ran in minimalist sandals for the first five hours and barefoot for the final hour. I took fuel stops each hour on the hour, and made two bathroom stops. I’m happy with the result, as I only trained for three weeks for this one.

The venue was York University’s indoor track. This comprises a 5-lane, 200m banked rubberized track, which was used for the 5K and 2K events, and a 232.5m flat concrete-surfaced track, which was used for the 6 hour, 42.2K, and 30K events. Participants in the latter three events changed direction every hour.

Going into the race, my strategy was simple. Start at a reasonable pace – not too fast, not too slow – try to hold it for as long as possible, and accept the gradual slowing down that comes with any long-distance race. Slow down to a walk once each hour, and use that to grab a gel, a couple of sips of HEED, and half a banana from my personal aid station (a mini cooler at trackside). This fueling model worked well for me at the Vulture Bait 50K trail race I did in October. So the logic was there, and I was hoping it would pay off again.

My race kit was minimalist, as usual. I wore my Xero Shoes Sensori Venture sandals, my oldest RaceReady side-cut sorts, no shirt, and a Buff. My Garmin Forerunner 210 and my new iPod Shuffle completed the list on the technology side.

Barefoot track

I ran barefoot for the last hour of the race

Choosing a playlist for the iPod was fun. I decided to give music a try because, judging from a video I’d seen of a previous edition of the 6 Hour, facility was going to be noisy, with a good deal of echo. I chose the minimalist/ambient music of my two favourite composer/musicians, Terry Riley and Brian Eno, because I wanted a groove that I could get behind for the duration of the event. I ended up with a 5 hour and 38 minute playlist, which was just about perfect.

Running barefoot for the last hour was a real treat. Not only was the concrete track surface very barefoot-doable (as good as, if not better than, most of the sidewalks I run on in the warmer months), my pace actually picked up during that last hour of the race. No surprise to me, as I find that my form – and therefore my cadence and pace – are always better when I run barefoot. It was just the spark I needed at the end of the race.

A strong finish!

A strong finish!

This was a well-organized event, with a very engaging race director, competent timers, and enthusiastic volunteers. I plan to do it again next year.

(I’m grateful to Abdollah Dehnashi for all the photos which appear here.)

Coming Soon: Track Ultra!

York U. track

Only a week to go until I do my first track ultra – the Run4RKids 6 Hour.

Given that I’ve had only three weeks to train for this one (registration was a more-or-less spur of the moment thing), I’m feeling pretty good about it. There’s the novelty aspect, which helps – this will be my first track ultra, my first timed ultra, and the first race where I have to supply my own food and drink. As if that weren’t enough, I’m planning to run with music! I got an iPod Shuffle and a pair of Yurbuds earphones for Xmas, and have been rediscovering the world of tunes. Should be interesting, to say the least.

And I have been training. I’ve put in some hours on the indoor track at the local YMCA as well as on my home treadmill. And I’ve been changing my focus a bit, in hopes that running around a 200m track for six hours will be a joy rather than a chore. So far, so good.

I’m almost there. I’ll wear my Xero Shoes Sensori Venture sandals, fuel with Hammer gels and HEED, and while away the hours listening to Terry Riley and Brian Eno.

Stay tuned – full race report coming soon!