races

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.

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

ENDURrun

ENDURrun

One of the really cool things about running is that there’s always something more to discover. I grow as a runner and as a person with each event. And then look further again, to yet another new horizon.

I recently received an email from fellow ultra runner Wilf Goron, who told me about the ENDURrun International. It’s a multi-stage ultra which happens in my neck of the woods, but which, oddly enough, I’d never heard of. It looks really interesting, to say the least.

I’ve already got a solid race calendar lined up for this year (see my 2014 Races page), but will, I think, have a go at doing Stage 3 of the ENDURrun. It’s a 30K trail run, which I can do barefoot. It’ll make a nice break between the Niagara 100K on June 14 and the Self-Transcendence 12 Hour on September 27. Then maybe do more of the ENDURrun next year.

As I said, there are always new discoveries – and new challenges.

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.

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.

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

Running 100K

100k badge

I recently registered for the Niagara 100K Ultra, which will take place on June 14, 2014. It’ll be my first attempt at running this distance, in a race or otherwise. I’m pretty sure that, barring injury or mishap, I can complete the distance. The real challenge will be to do that inside the 14 hour cutoff time.

I’m excited, of course. But I’m also aware that this will be running at an entirely new level for me. For now, the thoughts that are going ’round in my head are quite general. I’ll get into strategies later. For starters, I’m thinking pluses and not-so-pluses.

On the plus side…

I had a very positive experience running a 6 Hour ultra earlier this month. I felt remarkably good during and after the race. That bodes well.

I’ve run the Niagara route before. Twice, in fact – a 50K in 2009 and again (though DNF) in 2010. So I know the route – and I like it.

There’s a good chance of warm – or even hot – weather on race day. That’s my kind of day!

On the not-so-plus side…

I’ve never run 100K at one go before. Physically and psychologically, it’s going to be a stretch.

The 100K event comprises two loops of the 50K route. Passing the start/finish at 50K, and then heading out again, is going to be heartbreaking.

There’s a real possibility of major hurt, or even injury, in the latter stages of a 100K run. I’ll have to accept whatever comes, deal with it, and keep on moving.

That’s three for three, which isn’t bad, all things considered.

Come to think of it, there’s one more for the plus side… The turnaround point (which will come at 25K and again at 75K) is at the mighty Niagara Falls itself. Corny as it sounds, that’s always really inspiring – and I’ll get to see it twice!

Niagara Falls

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.)