getting ready. all the time.

Vision Quest?

A vision quest? Or just an enjoyable long run?

I’m being facetious, of course. I’m not into vision quests, and I won’t be attempting one anytime soon. I am, though, very much into good runs – and I’m pretty sure the Elk/Beaver 50K Ultra on May 10 will be one of those. That said, I plan to follow two strategies at the Elk/Beaver which will push the limits a bit. The first is about fueling, and the second is about gear (or lack of it).


First, I plan to follow the low carb/high fat nutrition regime I’ve been on for the past ten months, and run the Elk/Beaver 50 fueling only with water and a bit of biltong. Second, I plan to run the full 50K trail race barefoot.

The fueling strategy isn’t as outrageous as it sounds. The LCHF thing has worked well for me, with nothing but good to show for it. I now weigh less than I did in high school forty-odd years ago, my energy levels are strong and consistent, and my health is excellent (except for the ongoing prostate cancer thing, but that’s for another post). And there’s a significant amount of evidence, both clinical and anecdotal, suggesting that LCHF can work well for endurance athletes.

Keep Calm

The running barefoot thing is a little more complex. It’s not the distance that I’m worried about. After all, I ran the Toronto Scotiabank Marathon barefoot a couple of years ago. And last summer, I ran a short trail race barefoot. It’s the Elk/Beaver’s trail surfaces, combined with the race distance, that are going to be the challenge. According to Carlos Castillo, the Elk/Beaver’s race director, each of the 10K loops of the race consists mostly of packed dirt and leaf litter, with about 200 meters of asphalt, and 2K of packed gravel. It’s the latter that worries me. I’m not looking for a PB at this one, so will be happy to roll along at a comfortable pace. There’s a cutoff time of 14 hours for all runners, so no worries, I’ll do it. But a total of 10K of gravel? Hmm…

However, based on the following short video, which Carlos Castillo very kindly shared with me, it certainly looks doable.


OK, so a real, honest-to-goodness vision quest it’s probably not going to be. But it will certainly be an exploration of new territory, both physically and psychologically. And it’s only fair to note that, during my very first marathon (the 1980 Labatt’s Toronto Marathon), I did see Elvis a couple of times. So who knows? At Elk/Beaver, I might just go places I’ve not been to before…

Vision quest


Running Horse

Towards the end of every winter-into-spring training program, I always run out of steam. I think it’s mostly because I get tired of the pattern. Yes, I know it’s all very scientific and outcome-oriented, but the rhythm of a 16 or 18 week program eventually just gets tiresome. The result is turmoil, kerfufle, and frustration.

I’ve discovered that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Once I break through the slump/readjustment part of it – and discover a pattern that actually works – I’m better off. Over the years, I’ve become better able to let go of what doesn’t work, and allow something new (and more appropriate) to emerge.

And so it’s been this month.

At the beginnng of the month, I felt fine, but I couldn’t/wouldn’t run. It was a combination of four months training on the treadmill, really dreadful late-winter weather, and just plain grumpiness. At first, I thought that letting a day or two go by would break the slump, but there was no joy there. So I let another day or two go by. And then did that again. After ten days or so, I was getting desperate. So, I just plugged away. I ran the 1.5K lap around my suburban block. I ran short barefoot runs when it was far too cold to do so sensibly. I ran multiple laps of that 1.5 circuit. I went out the door, ran about 200 meters, and turned back. I ran my favourite 6K lap around my neighbourhood ring road, and hated it. I grumped, and moaned, and became less than pleasant company.

And then… breakthough. The weather changed (slightly) for the better. The 6K laps became fun again. My body came back to looseness and strength and fitness. I’d come back. And I found a new pattern.

  • Now, I run on alternate days. Well, not quite. I run on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. That means back-to-back long runs on Sundays and Mondays, which is perfectly OK when you’re training for ultras.
  • I do two runs a day, except for Sunday, when I do one longish run. That’s partly to accomodate my daily non-running life (I do have one, you know), partly about not working so hard at running that I get fatigued, and partly because it feels right.
  • On days when I don’t run, I usually go to the YMCA and have a whirlpool and a sauna. Sometimes I run to the Y on those days (it’s only a 6K round trip), and sometimes I don’t. When I do, I run very slowly.
  • I build up my distances each week. Not by any prescribed amount, just by what feels right.

It’s working very well. I’m getting my distances, I’m getting the recovery times I need, and I’m back to being a happy runner again.

And you know what? I’ve become very fond of running laps.

Getting Ready

I’ve spent the past few days putting my ducks in a row for the upcoming Elk/Beaver 50K trail ultra, which happens on May 10. Since it’s an “away” race, there’s more to preparing for it than for my usual local races. Long story short, it’s going to involve a little travel, a little visiting, and a little personal holiday time. Oh yeah – and running a barefoot 50K trail race.

Here’s how it all plays out:

1/ Fly to Vancouver;
2/ Spend a few days visiting with family;
3/ Do some “tourist running” in Vancouver (Sea Wall, here I come!);
4/ Take the ferry and bus to Victoria;
5/ Run the Elk/Beaver ultra;
6/Explore Vancouver Island for a couple of days;
7/ Fly back to Toronto.

That’s a fairly dense package, but I think it’s all going to fit together. Hope so, anyway.

Slump End


Well, the slump I mentioned in my last post is over.

Kaput. Finis. Done like the proverbial toast.

As expected, all it took was a few barefoot outdoor runs. On Friday and Saturday I did a couple of short ones. They were short because the temperature was -5C, and, because I ran early in the day, the pavement was very cold. I didn’t run yesterday, when the temp went down to -19C. But today the high temp was +5C (1C with the windchill factored in), a mix of sun and cloud, and a light, 17 km/h wind. Now that’s the sort of thing I can deal with. (I am, after all, Canadian. This is mild spring weather for us.)

I just came in from a delightful run around the neighbourhood. 7.02K in 44:34, with no goal in mind except to run. Bare feet, shorts, a long-sleeve t-shirt, and shades. No hat and no gloves. The pavement didn’t feel very cold, though there were lots of icy puddles on the sidewalks. It wasn’t a long run, and it wasn’t a fast run. But it was a good run.

And it took me out of the slump. And that, believe me, is a good thing.

Slump Time


I’ve been in a running-related slump for the past ten days or so. Can’t raise the motivation to run, therefore don’t get out the door, and that just builds and builds. It’s a downward spiral, and I haven’t been able to come out of it.

Note that it’s only running related. Otherwise, I feel good, emotionally. cognitively, and physically. I’m facing some medical issues (more about them in a later post), but I don’t think they have anything to do with the slump.

For now, I’m blaming the weather. I can see spring on the near horizon, but it’s not here yet. I tell myself that, once it gets milder, I’ll be able to run barefoot on the roads, and that will make all the difference. I sure hope so.

Meanwhile, we are not amused. Not one little bit.

How It Is

I thought I’d chart “the state of the nation” for you, so there’d be no mistake.

Personal Threat Level

It’s almost the end of February. I’m in week six of a sixteen-week training program for the Elk/Beaver 50K. I’ve run on my treadmill for the past four months, and I’m feeling something akin to cabin fever. So now I’m running outside. But it’s really cold and windy, and I have to cope with icy streets and sidewalks. Sometimes I just feel old and grumpy.

All things considered, I’m doing OK.

Treadmill Love

NordicTrack A2550

It’s February. The snow in my front yard is thigh-deep and there are shoulder-high drifts at the end of my driveway. The temperature right now, with the windchill factored in, is -26C (-15F). A couple of weeks ago, the temperature got down to -38C (-34.5C). Just before that, we had a huge ice storm, which basically shut down life as we know it for a few days.

That means it’s treadmill time again!

At the top of my post is an image of my trusty ‘mill. It’s a four-year old NordicTrack A2550. There’s a nice review of it here. I bought it for about C$800, via an online sale at Sears. It’s a basic/mid-range ‘mill, and good value for what I paid for it.

I do a lot of running on the ‘mill between November and March. Five or six days a week, in fact. I’m not a cold-weather runner, and I usually have a race coming up in the early spring. So I start building my late season base on the ‘mill, and transition in late December or early January to serious training runs. Right now, I’m running about 60K a week (and ramping up steadily) for the Elk/Beaver 50K trail ultra in May.

To do that kind of thing, you’ve got to like running on the ‘mill. Many runners don’t, which I find puzzling. Here are some tips on how to get happy about running on a treadmill.

It’s different from running outside. Wishing it otherwise will only bring you grief. So accept it.

Find your groove. I run without music and without TV. I wear earplugs to muffle the sounds of the ‘mill and my big floor fan. I have two training plans (for my upcoming 50K and 100K races) on the wall in front of me, along with a print of palm trees against a tropical sky. Do whatever works best for you.

Change your pace as you go through your week. Fast, slow, hills, long, short. It’ll be better for your training, and it’ll keep you from going stir-crazy. Don’t be dreary.

Run minimalist. Barefoot if you can. If not, in as little shoe as you can. You’ll be a better runner if you do.

Use a fan – a big floor fan. You’ll be sweaty enough on the ‘mill, so you might as well make yourself as comfortable as you can. Embrace the sweat.

Setting your incline at 1% or 2% doesn’t offer any benefits, according scientific studies. Leave it at 0%. (Unless, of course, you’re doing hills. Then, do whatever is needed – hill repeats, playful hills, hard grinds. Go nuts in whatever way appeals to you.)

Do all of the above, and you may very well find that you enjoy running on a treadmill. At least while the snow, ice, and cold winds prevail. Later on, you can go outside.

Until then… more treadmill!

The Training Path

Earlier this week, I began my training program for the Elk/Beaver 50K trail ultra, which will happen on May 10. As soon as that’s done, I’ll move immediately into training for the Niagara 100K road ultra, scheduled for June 14.

That means that, after a couple of months of “just running,” with only one race (the Run4RKids 6 Hour on January 4), I’m back to following the path of training. Not the path of least resistance, but the path of training. As I said recently in a dailymile post, “Training isn’t the same as just running. Sometimes I’m happy about that, sometimes I’m not.”

The training path

The above image pretty much says it all. Despite the title of this post, where I am now is more a place than a path. No, strike that – it’s actually more a space than a place.

I’m comfortable where I am. I came out of my 2013 race season with some new PBs and a whole bunch of new experiences, and I did well at the 6 Hour event. I’m fit, I’m healthier than I’ve been for a very long time, and I’m happy. But, come May 10 – and even more so, come June 14 – I want to be where my magic happens. And that means getting down to business.

There are definitely things I like about being on a training program. At the beginning anyway, it’s easy. It’s a pleasure to start with short distances and gentle efforts. (I am, after all, a lazy man.) It helps to be able to give over some control to a structure that’s outside me, and simply do what I’m told. And, having done that, I take joy in watching my progress as I go through the days and weeks of the plan, getting stronger and more confident. I like aiming at a goal.

In the past, I’ve struggled in the latter weeks of my training plans. Most of them are 16 to 18 weeks in length, and they always become a bit of a grind near the end. But I may have a little help with that this time. About a week before the Elk/Beaver 50K, I’ll fly to Vancouver to spend some days with family before the race itself. That’ll force some flexibility into the plan to replace the usual staleness. And the couple of weeks before the Niagara 100K will, if there’s any justice at all in this world, see me enjoying warm, if not hot, summer weather. I’m always in a good and creative space when that happens.

So I’ve got 15 weeks of training before race #1, and, after that, another 5 weeks of training before race #2. In all kinds of ways, I’m looking forward to it.

Hard Work Ahead

Heading for the Vulture Bait

The Vulture Bait

The Vulture Bait 50K is exactly one week away. It’s going to be a challenge.

To date, I’ve run one road 50K ultra and DNF’ed a barefoot road 50K (at 37K), run six marathons (one of them barefoot), ten half marathons (eight of them barefoot), and completed a 6.6K barefoot trail race. But the Vulture Bait’s a trail ultra, so it’ll be different from anything I’ve attempted before.

For this one, I’m going to wear my new Vivobarefoot Breatho Trails. They’re an ultra-lightweight shoe, with an outsole fitted with multi-directional lugs and an ultra-thin puncture-resistant layer to maximize proprioception. The uppers are a lightweight and breathable mesh. An anatomic toe box and zero-drop profile round out the picture.

Vivobarefoot Breatho Trails

The Breathos are almost tailor-made for these sections of the Vulture Bait course:

Vulture roots

Vulture rocks










(Thanks to Terry V. for the photos)

My goal for this race is really simple: finish inside the 7-hour cutoff. My strategy is equally simple: relentless forward progress. If I can hold to the latter, I can accomplish the former.

The forecast for next Saturday is partly cloudy, with a low temperature of 7C and a high of 11C, with a 40% chance of showers. Not bad running weather, by any means.

When I first registered for this event, I thought its name was funny. Now I’m not so sure.

Caveman Playground

Sometimes learning new stuff can turn your life around. At least parts of it…


Sometime ago, I began looking at stuff from MovNat. It’s a way of looking at fitness based on natural movement. It is, as the MovNat website says, “a physical education and fitness system based on the full range of natural human movement abilities. These include the locomotive skills of walking, running, jumping, balancing, crawling, climbing, and swimming. In addition we practice the manipulative skills of lifting, carrying, throwing, and catching. How we move is how we train.”

As much as I like a good gym workout, I found that, once I began to incorporate MovNat workouts into my life – and very soon into my daily life – I felt much better about fitness exercising. (I’m basically a lazy person. I run a lot, but that’s because running is easy. And exercising – for me, anyway – isn’t.) Soon I found myself doing bear crawls around the living room, going up and down the stairs on all fours, and lifting heavy things just for fun. The logical next step was to make my own MovNat exercise area in my back yard.

I decided to call it my Caveman Playground.

Caveman playground

In the photo, you can see the current version of my caveman playground. From left to right are: three rocks, placed about a meter apart, that I use for taking single-leg steps. Because the rocks are uneven, landing on them, and stepping off to the next one, requires and develops good balance. As I get more confident, I’ll progress to jumping from one rock to another with both feet. Later, as my skill levels improve, I’ll move the rocks further apart. In the middle of the photo are three rocks which I use for lifting, for squats, for waist carries, and for arm and shoulder exercises. One of these three (and all of the stepping-stone rocks) I found half-buried at the edges of my back yard; the other two I found by the side of the road about 500 meters from my house, and carried home. On the right of the photo is the trunk of a tree that I’d cut down earlier in the summer while clearing the back yard. I use the tree trunk for a MovNat exercise called “push press,” which involves holding the end of the trunk at chest height with both hands and pushing it above my head a number of times.

As well as what you see here my backyard workouts now include dead hangs from a branch of the apple tree at the back of the garden, bear crawls in the grass, and some tentative climbing of a big Russian olive tree. (“Tentative” because I never climbed trees as a kid, and I’m still very much averse to heights.) I do all of the moves barefoot.

Instead of going to a gym and doing repetitive movements with weights and machines, what I’m doing now is incorporating MovNat skills into my daily life.

MovNat Skills

As someone has said of my playground, “It’s a gym, it’s outdoors, and it’s for free!” All to the good, as far as I’m concerned.

Right now, all of this is quite enough for me. My Caveman Playground invites creativity and exploration, as I discover each time I get into it. That being said, I’d like to expand it to include a long log for balance walks, and an obstacle course of long branches and tree trunks leaning up against other trees. (I also have a fantasy of creating a babbling brook through which to walk while carrying one of the big boulders… But that’s probably a bit of a stretch.)

And perhaps, eventually, I’ll even add some caveman art to my playground.

Lascaux cave art