barefoot

Transcendent Reflection

Transcendence

It’s been a week since I ran the Ottawa Self Transcendence 12 Hour (see my race report in the post below). It was a remarkable experience, and one that I’ve been thinking about a lot.

Though some specific learnings come to mind (train better, walk better, be more gutsy), it’s the “softer” lessons that have more meaning. In some ways, I feel like I’m a different person since running the 12 Hour. Still not quite sure what the difference is, but I’ve begun to get a sense of it.

First, I’m surprised that it’s not a sense of accomplishment that stands out above all else. Sure, running for 12 hours and 71K is a big deal – I’ve never done either of those before. But what’s significant is that I feel more complete than I did before.

Second, I’m happier. Not that I didn’t feel happy before last Saturday. I have a very good life, with little stress and lots of joy in it. But, since running the 12 Hour, I’ve been generally more at peace, more optimistic, and more calm. Something changed because of last Saturday, that’s for sure.

Third, I feel stronger. Not only physically (I’ve been running well all week), but psychologically and emotionally. I’m facing the world differently, and am a better person for that.

The outcome? Well, you may not be surprised to hear that I’m considering running the Self Transcendent 24 Hour next year. Something’s going on here, and I want more of it.

EB Update

It’s been two weeks since the Elk/Beaver 50K trail ultra, and my feet are finally beginning to heal.

They’re not long run-ready yet, by any means, but I’m making steady progress towards being able to do the Niagara 100K, which takes place only three weeks from today.

Right now, “healing” looks like this:

Healing

As you can see, my left foot is still a bit swollen, and I’m still wearing a band-aid to protect some tender skin. My right foot, though, is pretty much back to normal. And both are a whole better than they were two weeks ago:

Wounded

Since Elk/Beaver, I’ve managed a few road runs, a couple of treadmill runs, and a whole lot of walking. All of that’s been done in my new Bedrock Syncline sandals, which will be my footwear of choice for the Niagara ultra. This week, I’ll try to transition from the treadmill, which offers a somewhat cushioned runnng surface, to the roads, in anticipation of running Niagara.

Here’s hoping…

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.

Barefoot Running UK

Barefoot Running UK April 2014

The latest issue of Barefoot Running UK is available online here.

I can’t recommend this publication highly enough. If you’re at all interested in barefoot and/or minimalist running, movement and sports therapy, product reviews, this is a must read. If you’re still struggling along in foot coffins, well, this just might be the nudge you need.

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!

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).

LCHF

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

Patterns

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.