races – short, long, and everything in between

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


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!

Race Report: Vulture Bait 50K

Doin' the Vulture Bait!

Doin’ the Vulture Bait!

There’s something to be said for a race that begins with the sighting of a bald eagle…

As the small crowd of runners gathered for the start of the Vulture Bit 50K trail race, someone called out “There he is!’, and we all turned to watch a bald eagle swoop low and slow over Fanshawe Lake, near London, Ontario. It seems that seeing one of the pair of Fanshawe’s resident eagles each year is a tradition at the event.

Where it all began

Where it all began

It was a memorable start to a memorable event. Lots of adventures, lots of weather, lots of rewards.

First, this was my first real test of the new Vivobarefoot Breatho Trails. I’d only run in them a couple of times on some trails near my home in the weeks before the Vulture Bait, so this was a big test. They passed with flying colours! I wore them with an old pair of Injinji socks, and had no problems at all with either fit or support. Given the conditions of the race, and the fact that they were essentially an unbroken-in pair of shoes, I think that’s pretty remarkable.

Feeling good near the start

Feeling good near the start

My choice of kit was typical for this time of year. 3/4 length tights, a long-sleeve t-shirt, a Buff, and cheap cotton gloves worked well for temperatures that started out cold (8C) and got colder (6C) by the end of the race. As if that weren’t enough, while the day was cloudy at first, the rain that had been forecast started about two hours into the race. And then it rained heavily for the next four hours. Cold rain certainly isn’t my favourite for any kind of running, particularly for an ultra, but you take what you’re given.

Somewhere along the trail...

The beginning of a muddy descent

The course, a combination of a few grassy open spaces and a lot of rocky, rooty single-track, soon became interesting. The mud was over my ankles in many places, and there were two ice-cold, mid-calf deep water crossings to contend with which chilled my feet to their centers.

I tripped twice, once about 7K into the race, and once about 4K from the finish. The second time was a doozy. I fell hard and, after rolling over onto my back, lay for a minute or two, trying to catch my breath and wondering if I’d broken a tooth. Fortunately, I’d only split my lip.

Vulture Bait trail #5

Roots. Lots of them. (Thanks to Terry V. for the photo)

In typical trail/ultra fashion, a fellow competitor came back to make sure that I was alright before going on his way. The fall cleared my head and gave me a much needed shot of adrenaline (I’d been walking on and off just before it happened), which helped me cross the finish line with a little bit of speed and some dignity.

Trail races are amazing things. For all the seeming downsides – cold, wet weather, two falls, rough terrain, and a lot of elevation changes – I not only had a wonderful time, but I managed to improve my 50K PB time by about 2 minutes (the last one was set at my first ultra, a road 50K I did in 2009).

After the race, I gave a pass to the huge amounts of food on offer (I don’t do grains or sugars, and the well-stocked tables were all about pasta and sweet desserts). Instead, I quickly went to my car and changed into dry clothes. Then I turned the car’s heater to full blast and set the heated seats on high. Then I wolfed down a big bowl of home-made nut porridge and a couple of coconut flour-based cupcakes. Then I began to thaw out, and I was simply sore and happy.

And I got thoughtful. I’d been through a lot, I’d done well, and I began the journey of processing the thoughts, emotions, and experiences of the race. The fact that it’s taken me so long to write this report speaks eloquently of what an impact the Vulture Bait had.

The complaint department

These are serious people!

Post-script #1

Usually, I chuck race t-shirts directly into the recycling bin. But the shirt from the Vulture Bait is purple. And it has this on the back. So I may actually run in it.

Vulture Bait t-shirt

Post-script #2

When I began running long distances, I used to joke that it offered the only glimpse I’d ever get of enlightenment. When I started running ultra races, I started saying it seriously. It was, I guess, a combination of the euphoria of an ongoing runner’s high and the depths of the dark places that inevitably come with physical and mental exhaustion. Reflecting on the Vulture Bait, and doing a lot of reading in the field of neuroscience, I now take it very seriously.

This passage from Power Up Your Brain: The Neuroscience of Enlightenment, by Dr. David Perlmutter and Dr. Alberto Villoldo, provided a real taking-off point for me:

“In the language of neuroscience, enlightenment is the condition of of optimal mitochondrial and brain functioning that allows us to experience both well-being and inner peace and the the urge to create and innovate.”

I’m now in the process – rather ambitiously, I’ll admit – of working up a theory of how and why running offers me a path to enlightenment. For the moment, I’m calling it “The Four-Brain Circuit.” Once the concept gets clear enough, I’ll write a post about it.

Vulture Bait Update

Just a quick post to update re the race report for the Vulture Bait 50K I did a couple of weeks ago…

I’ve been waiting for photos from the race before posting a full report. It was quite something, and it deserves the pics. To whet your appetite (I hope), here’s the nutshell report:

It started out cold (8C) and got colder (6C) by the end. It started cloudy, began to rain two hours into the race, and then rained heavily for the next four hours. The course was really muddy (over my ankles in many places), and really rocky and rooty (I tripped twice, the second time heavily enough to split my lip). There were two ice-cold, mid-calf deep water crossings (one on each loop), which chilled my feet to their centers. But I had a wonderful time, and I managed to improve my 50K PB time by about 2 minutes (the last one was set at my first ultra, a road 50K I did in 2009).

There were 76 starters in the race, and 56 finishers. Some injuries – one broken wrist, one dislocated shoulder, one case of hypothermia, and one person suffered a temporary loss of vision. The course was pretty, but would have been tough even without the bad weather. There were a lot more elevation changes than I’d expected.

Coming Up: Elk/Beaver 50K

ElkBeaverLogo A few days ago, I registered for the Elk/Beaver 50K, which will take place at Elk Lake Regional Park, just north of Victoria, B.C., on May 10, 2014. That’s a long time away and a long way away. But it’s a race I’ve been thinking about for quite a while. And the Elk/Beaver Ultras (100K, 50 Mile, and 50K ultras, a 26.2 mile “first-timers’ marathon,” and a 40K ultra walk) have a participant limit of 200, so I wanted to get my name on the list early.

Presented by the Prairie Inn Harriers running club, this 27th annual edition of the Elk/Beaver ultras is described on the event website as a “fast and flat 10 kilometre trail circuit around Elk and Beaver Lakes… Runners complete 10 laps for the 100K division, 8+ laps for 50 Miles and 5 laps for 50K, while walkers complete 4 laps for 40 km… The venue is all trails, very flat, has good footing, and is in excellent condition. Definitely a runner-friendly, P.R. type course!”

“Runner friendly” is good. “Barefoot friendly” would be even better. I’ve been assured by Carlos Castillo, the event’s race director, that it’s barefoot-doable, but he also adds that, if I do it barefoot, I’ll be the first runner to have done so. It’s going to be a challenge, particularly as it’ll happen early in the running season, when I won’t have had a whole bunch of time to condition my soles after a long Ontario winter. (Gravel bucket time! ) A new PR? I don’t know about that. At this stage of my planning, all I can think of as a goal is to finish inside the event’s 7 hour cutoff.

As for the Elk/Beaver being on the other side of this vast country, well, that’s going to present the usual issues involved in a destination race – travel, hotels, unfamiliar beds, different food, and logistics. But there’s an upside to this – both my wife and I have family in Vancouver (a ferry ride or short flight away from Victoria), so I’ll have time with them as well as some personal vacation time on beautiful Vancouver Island. Left Coast, here I come!

Vancouver Island

Race Report: Tom Marchese Trail Run 6.6K

Tom Marchese Trail Run

Well, my first barefoot trail race went even better than I’d expected. For one thing, I finished in 43:17, which was good enough for a third place finish (out of 25 total entrants). Better still, though, the TMTR turned out to be a perfect little jewel of a race.

Going into it, I had a feeling that the course would be a good one. It was at the Cold Creek Conservation Area, a small conservation area that’s tucked away in the hills of King Township, Ontario. It’s located on the Oak Ridges Moraine, a spectacular area of rolling hills and river valleys that was formed 12,000 years ago by advancing and retreating glaciers.

What that meant for the race was that its trails consisted of hard packed dirt, with lots of roots, a few wooden footbridges, and some stretches of grass. Lots of climbs and descents, some short, some long, but all of them steep. And mud – lots and lots of mud.

To say that it rained on the day of the race would be like saying that Pacific Ocean is kind of big. The rain started about midnight the night before, continued in the early morning, and then intensified as race start time drew near. It didn’t matter – once you accept the fact that you’re going to race in the rain, you stop worrying about it.

The race benefited the King Township Food Bank. There was no medal and no t-shirt, which suited me just fine, as I long ago got tired of that sort of thing. What it did feature was good organization, a great bunch of volunteers, and enthusiastic participants. The race organizer was Tom Marchese, a local realtor and Food Bank supporter.

Tom Marchese and I

Pre-race – Tom Marchese, the race organizer, and I

Look at this course map, note the names of various trails, and you’ll get a sense of what kind of stuff we were running through. “Pine Plantation,” “Wetlands,” “Mixed Forest,” “Cedar Grove,” “Century Forest” – it was amazing how much variety was packed into a relatively small area. Hardly any straight stretches on the course and little or no flat land at all. Up, down, up, down, over and over again. Wet grass, wet leaves, and mud, mud, mud. There was one section about 100 meters long towards the end of the end where the ground was littered with ping pong-sized windfall apples. Try running through that in your bare feet!

TMTR course map

Yes, I slid and slipped a lot. But I only fell once – on a very short, very steep downhill slope going to one of the little footbridges. (I’ve been told that you aren’t a trail runner unless you fall once in a while, so I now consider myself baptised.) I’ll confess, too, that I power-walked one or two of the very steep climbs, and skittered down more than a few of the muddy descents. Overall, I was amazed at how pleasant it was to run the race in my bare feet. I’ve learned, I guess, how to dance my way through, around, and sometimes over the obstacles that come up.

As I said, a 43:17 finish. That was only three minutes slower than the first-place finisher, and only two minutes behind the second-place finisher. I’m very happy with that. But I’m happier still to have been part of this particular race. It was so good, in so many ways, that I’m already looking forward to doing it again next year – especially if there’s a double loop 12K option!

Trail race feet

Post-race – wet feet, muddy feet, happy feet.

Race Report: Milton Half Marathon

Milton Half Marathon 2013 finish

copright Kevin Vagg 2013

This was a good one! Not because I PB’ed – in fact, I was about 4 minutes off my PB, set at the Sarasota Half Marathon earlier this year. I did place first in my age group (male, 65-69) – but it turns out I was the only one in that category. No, this one was good because:

1/ I’m at a new place re my diet, weight, and nutrition;
2/ I made a new discovery about my running technique;
3/ I shared good times with running friends before, during, and after the race.

Let me unpack that for you…


I started on a ketogenic diet at the end of June. In a nutshell, that means no grains and no sugars at all. It’s about eating a diet that’s high fat (a lot of whole-fat dairy), adequate protein (grass-fed and pasture-raised meats) and low carbs (lots of vegetables, very few fruits). In late June, I weighed 147 lbs (66.7 kgs) and was carrying about 14.5% body fat. On race morning, I weighed in at 135 lbs (61.2 kgs) and was at 8% body fat. Eating keto has resulted in having more energy and better mental focus and enjoying stronger runs. I now run fasted, don’t take any fueling supplements, and eat better than I’ve ever eaten in my life.

Running Technique

At about the 16K mark, I found that my hips opened up dramatically. I felt as if I were striding and floating, all at the same time. I think it happened because I’d briefly increased hip flexion and extension. It wasn’t about increasing my stride length, but about letting my knees swing more easily and fluidly. Only lasted a while, unfortunately, so I’ll have to experiment more with this. This adjustment came as a result of reading Brian Martin’s excellent ebook Running Technique. I’m learning a lot from this book, and recommend it highly!

Running Friends

Met some good dailymile friends at the start, got cheered by a few more – at both the 2K and 16K marks – and got together again at the finish. That was simply icing on the cake of a very good morning. Can’t say better than that!

The Race! The Race!

A fairly low-key start. About 240 runners set off. No gun, no airhorn, just the announcer’s voice counting down to zero. A short straight, a turn, a longer straight, another couple of turns, and the we head of on a long southerly straight. I’ve decided to shadow/stalk the 1:55 pacer for a while. If I stay with him for the whole race, it’ll be a new PB, but I’m not married to doing that. My original plan for this race, after all, was to run this one for a 2 hour finish, since it’s really just a training race for next moth’s Vulture Bait 50K.

The Milton course is basically a big rectangle around the town, with a couple of little loops thrown in to make up the distance.

Milton Half Marathon course map

So it’s south and then west and then north again. Along the way, there are a couple of nasty bits of sidewalk and road construction, which means I have to dance a bit or move either to the road or the sidewalk, depending on where the lumpy stuff is. That slows me down a bit. More importantly, it breaks the rhythm of my running. Part of what I like about this course is the long straight stretches, where I can fall into a groove and stay there. I’m following my planned fueling strategy, which is to only take a sip of water at every second or third aid station and a couple of organic raw cocoa beans every 6K or so. I soon discover that it helps a lot to take the cocoa beans just before an aid station, as they’re a little dry. Good to chew on, though, and a nice taste.

As time goes on, by the 12K mark or so, I let the 1:55 pacer and the couple of guys who are with him pull away slowly. I’m doing OK, and I’m not really keen on pushing my pace. I run with another fellow for a while, then in front of or behind a couple of women. Then, from about 14K on, I’m running on my own, and liking the feeling.

At about 15K, I discover the hip flexion/extension thing, and get kind of lost in it. It just feels so good that I can’t quite believe it’s happening. Then, I have to pay attention because I have to cross a major intersection, and I get distracted. Can’t get back to the new discovery, so I let it go, knowing that I’ll get back to it another time.

At the 16.5K mark, some good dailymile friends waiting, cheering, taking photos…

Milton Half Marathon 2013 16.5K

(thanks to Amy D.)

Another couple of turns after that, a slight and short uphill, another corner, and the home stretch. I pick up the pace just a wee bit, adjust my form, and do my best to look respectable as I cross the finish line. And get the photo you see at the top of the post.

Post-race had its own goodness. I met with the friends I’d chatted with pre-race, checked out the notice board to get my official time and placing, and wandered over to the car to get ready for the trip home. On the way, I had the pleasure of congratulating local legend Ed Whitlock on setting yet another age-group world record (1:38:11 for males 80 years and older). Then I sat in my car, savoured all the good feelings, and had my post-race snack – two coconut flour/cocoa powder cupcakes, two low-carb high-fat egg cups (eggs, whole fat cream, spinach, mushrooms, and onions), and a couple of dried beef jerky strips.

Next Steps

In contrast to the photo at the top of this post (which I like very much) I give you the following video of me crossing the finishing line. (My thanks to dailymile friend Shawna G. for providing it.) In it, I’m not graceful looking at all. I’ll grant you, this is nominally good barefoot form – short strides, high cadence, upright body. I just wish I could look less prissy and delicate. I think that improving my hip flexion and extension will resolve that.

Next up (on Saturday, September 21) is the Tom Marchese Trail Run 6.6K. It’ll be my first barefoot trail race. As a much younger person would say, I’m stoked!