Sunday, April 02, 2017

Training run on the Western States 100 Endurance Trail

Last month my wife and I traveled down the west coast of America on the I-5 to visit relatives near San Diego. Along the way we stopped for a couple of days in Auburn where the finish line of the famous Western States 100 Endurance Trail is located. This involved taking a slight detour north/east on highway 80 in Sacramento. A local working in at a cafe in Old Historic Auburn was able to give us directions on Google Maps to the high school football stadium track on Stadium Way, the precise location of the Western States 100. My wife and I soon found Robie Drive and drove down the winding steep road to Robie Point park to scout out the trail head. Since it was already late in the day we decided to find a hotel. The plan was that the next day I would run an out and back of three hours from the Auburn finish in the morning. This route included some good hill climbs and would give me a 12 mile taste of what the Western States 100 competitors had to face. Because I was alone we decided it was best for me to take a small two-way radio with a 20 mile reception radius. The temperature was to reach near 80 degrees in the canyon the next day so I took along 1.5 litres of water with 2 dissolved Nuun tablets.

After enjoying an evening visit to the Auburn Running Company store (featuring WS100 memorabilia in its front window) and the Pub across the street on Lincoln Way, we spent the night in Motel 6 off Auburn Ravine Road.

While there was still coolness in the morning air I set off from the stadium gate at Stadium Way and headed up Finley Street. Following Marvin Way and Robie Drive I descended to the Robie Point trail-head. With clear skies, and the early morning sun rising over the hilltops to the east I continued on running the wide Western States Terrace trails that switched back and forth into the canyon. The trail narrowed, and became much steeper after leaving the terrace. A rainy winter had the creeks and rivers filled. I ran on tree shrouded, muddy trails, pock marked with horse hooves, for the next 1/2 mile, descending into the canyon. Before long, I was back into the sun. I could see the North Fork American River below. I knew that No Hands bridge crossed this somewhere ahead, so I ran along with confidence, passing a waterfall on narrow wooden bridge. It was so beautiful, I had to stop and take a photo.

After crossing No Hands Bridge I took a sharp right turn onto a trail that ascended up into the forest. I was starting to feel the heat so the shade was welcomed relief. Switchbacks led up the hillside until I came into a clearing that gave me a great view of the Highway 49 bridge over the North Fork American River.

On the far side of the clearing I met up with some runners headed in the opposite direction. We exchanged greetings. I noticed one of them had a two way radio strapped onto their camel pack. I had to be careful on the switchbacks beyond this as I crossed over several creeks balancing on rocks so I wouldn't get a my shoes soaked.

Before I knew it, it was time to turn around. I was one hour and forty five minutes into the run when I arrived at an open plateau where the trail branched off in two different directions. That's where I decided to turn back. The descent back toward No Hands Bridge was fast. I felt the the midday heat near eighty degrees. I tried to imagine what the WS100 racers would feel like when they reached this point in the endurance run with one more ascent to endure, up out of the canyon, to Robie Drive. It must be a great sense of relief. I felt a taste of it as I came down Finley Street after following the small spray painted WS100 foot steps that marked the trail as it wound through the city streets to the finish. I was fifteen minutes later than I had planned getting back to the Stadium Gate. My 12 mile/three hour taste of the Western States Endurance Trail had left my legs burning. My wife treated me to a bacon cheese burger at Local Heroes in Auburn so I could get a good boost of carbs. I had booked another night at our motel knowing that I would need it to rest and recover. My foresight was true.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Authors can save time and money with Google Maps Street View

While I wrote the trilogy, Angelic Army Conquests, I found Google Maps Street View to be a great tool for research. Using this, I was able to travel to Israel, and walk the narrow streets of Jerusalem where the climax of this post-apocalyptic adventure played out. It allowed me to accurately describe the architecture, directions, and street names, that my fictional characters encountered. While editing my first book, Lost Ark Found, I sought out the advice of experienced writers, and one of the common things I heard them say was, "Write what you know," so that's what I did. My third and fourth fictional books, Dance With Me, and, In Heaven, were set, for the most part, all on, or around, Vancouver Island. My wife and I would sometimes take day trips to do research at the locations on the island where my stories were set. We talked with the locals, hiked the trails, and stopped for a snack at the small town general stores. Being physically on location to do research helped to add to the authenticity of my writing. Seeing a sunset, or meeting a quirky person, can spark a bunch of creative writing ideas. But when I couldn't afford to travel to Washington D.C., the Middle East, or Koro Island in Fiji, to do research for the Angelic Army Conquests trilogy, Google Maps Street View helped me to get there.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Running with Terry Fox

It was near the end of grade six at Edmison Heights Public School in Peterborough, Ontario, that I first heard the name of Terry Fox, and learned of his quest to run across Canada on one leg. I found the short radio news broadcast of interest because at the time I considered myself a long distance cross-country runner. I ran most days in the early morning before school from my house on Royal Drive down to the Peterborough Riverside Zoo trails that snaked along beside the Trent River. These were the days when Bill Rodgers was at his prime, having won the Boston Marathon, three straight years, 1978-1980. I purchased every issue of Runner’s World to learn the latest tips for diet and training regimes.

When I heard that Terry Fox would be running through Peterborough I eagerly arranged to have my parents take me to where he would be heading. The meeting place was on George Street out in front of the public library. I was one of about a dozen runners who showed up to run with him.

He smiled, but looked weary when he arrived, running with an unusual gait, ahead of his support vehicle. We continued with him down George Street. Some of us had plastic buckets that we used to collect donations from pedestrians, who curiously watched us from the sidewalk. There weren’t many people who gave that day. I was discouraged that more of a crowd hadn’t turned out for his reception. We ran with him to the steps of the hotel where he would be spending the night. He took the time to thank us, and shook our hands, before he starting to answer the questions from the media scrum gathered by the main entrance.

I was so inspired by this meeting with Terry Fox that I upped my training efforts that summer. When I heard that Terry’s cancer had returned, and he had to cut his run short, I convinced a friend that we should run a marathon distance for him and collect pledges.

We wrote on white t-shirts in permanent black marker, “We Are Running For Terry” and set out on a cool autumn Saturday morning. I had only run a ½ marathon once before, so this ended up being a challenge. My parents followed us in their car, and provided snacks and drinks along the way. We began the run on Armour Road in Peterborough, and followed it until it joined another street that meandered through Trent University. We turned onto Nassau Mills Road that runs along beside the Otonabee River, and continued to press on to Lakefield. Looping back on Lakefield Road, fatigue began to set in. To keep motivated the last hours of the run we spent talking about what we would eat when we were finished (A can of Chef Boyardee beef ravioli had never tasted so good).

By the time we were back to my home in Peterborough the car speedometer said that we had exceeded the marathon distance. We ended up collecting over a hundred and twenty five dollars in pledges, and donated it to cancer research.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Altra Olympus 1.5 - My First Zero Drop Trail Running Shoe

I've had my Altra Olympus 1.5 running shoes for about a month now, and have put in about 100kms on the trails around the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island, so I think I'm ready to give them a valid review. First off, I have to say, these are the most stable maximal trail running shoes I've ever owned.
The Altra Olympus shoes were constructed as a "Zero Drop" trail running shoe. This means that there is no change in the stack height difference between the heal and toe. It takes a few weeks to adjust your running style in order to fully appreciate what the Altra Olympus has to offer. I would suggest you use your old shoes on every other run for about the first month unitl you get used to them. The toe box in these is also wider than other shoes I've run in. It's shaped like a foot, which is good, because my toes aren't pinched after running for hours. I find, too, that the wider toe box helps to increase stability. The rainy season has begun on the island but I have never felt unstable as I cross the roots, rocks, and narrow wooden bridges, following the forest trail systems around here. I crossed these obstacles with ease.

I would highly recommend these shoes to ultra-marathoners, and to anyone doing training runs that are ninety minutes or more. They save the feet a lot of pounding, and are easy on the joints once you're able to adjust your running style.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Elk Beaver 50 Mile Ultra 2016

The sky was overcast at 6 a.m. as we gathered behind the starting line at Hamsterley Park on the edge of Elk Lake in Victoria. I had set up my aid station with the help of two friends, Michael Burton, and Randy Hughes. They had committed to man it for the duration of the eight loop, 80km (50 mile), ultra. As usual, with most early morning ultras, I wasn't able to get much sleep the night before. I was up at 4 a.m. to get a boost of carbs, eating a couple of re-heated protein powder pancakes, a cup of coffee, and several cups of water. After running three or four kilometers I shook off my tiredness, and started to feel the Victoria vibe, taking in the pleasant scents of Spring on the forest trail.
The first 10km loop was right on pace, finished in just under one hour. I wanted to get the first four loops done in around four hours, before the heat of the day hit. Heading out on the second loop I thought of the weeks of training I had put in for this event, how my wife had driven our van as a support vehicle while I was on two long training runs in March and April. I had also been training with the 19 Wing Njimegen marching team, for over almost two months completing many 10-25km marches, with a 25lb backpack. This had all helped to contribute to my preparation. I also had the support of many friends and family behind me. I thought of the verse from the Bible, in Hebrews 12:1 "Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, an sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us," (English Standard Version).
The volunteers at my aid station were great. They even prepared thick cut bacon for me to munch on, that I could take along with me on the fourth loop. It went down so well. I began to eat a mix of sweet potato and honey after loop three, as the power gels I was taking every 1/2 hour weren't settling so well. The sweet potato and bacon helped to give me a boost as I was over the half-way point feeling a lot of energy, on the fifth loop.
At around the 60km mark I felt a pebble in my shoe. As I took a quick seat in my aid station, I asked Randy to check my shoe, but he couldn't find anything. Turns out, it was the start of a blister. It wasn't unbearable, so I pushed through the remaining 20kms trying to ignore the discomfort. The wind picked up, and the skies grew darker during the last loop. A couple of groups I passed on the trail, cheered me on, breaking into applause, when they heard it was my final loop. I had estimated that I would finish in 10 hours, and I came through the finish line at 10:21, close to my goal, and ended up placing 3rd in men's masters. I was elated.
In the evening, after a relaxing soak in the whirlpool, and a dip in the pool back at Howard Johnson's, Randy took us to John's Place, an eatery in Victoria. The restaurant has a lot of character, and a great menu, but since my stomach had almost shut down during the ultra I only could handle the soup of the day - black beans and bacon. It came with fresh baked bread too, all I could eat, which wasn't much. A great way to end the day though.

2016 Ultra Training Videos

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Koro Island, Fiji, battered by Tropical Cyclone Winston

Anyone who has read my pre-tribulation fictional novel, Raptured, will recognize Koro Island, Fiji, as the featured setting where the climatic final chapter of the book takes place. Tropical Cyclone Winston, a category five storm, hit Koro Island on February 20th. Wind gusts up to 325km/h pummeled the island, leveling villages, and stripping away trees. It was the strongest storm on record to have hit the island nation of Fiji. Forty-two people are reported to have died. Nine of those were from Koro Island.

I checked photos posted online of the aftermath, and was shocked by the devastation. Much of the beautiful tropical paradise that I observed while doing research for my book has now been stripped away. It looks like whole sections of the forests were crushed, and many buildings appear to be roofless or totally stripped away from their foundations. I imagine that the coconut trees, and crops, the locals rely on for income must be severely damaged.

Fijian Ministry of Agriculture officials, after seeing the devastation firsthand, are considering putting Koro island under quarantine to limit the spread of communicable diseases. Due to contamination, the water supply and crops there are now deemed unfit for consumption. The Public Health Department was mobilized to assist with rehabilitation efforts, with hopes that a quarantine can be avoided.

I encourage readers to donate to the International Federation of Red Cross, which already have a society in Fiji and can quickly spearhead support efforts.

Thank you,
Author Rob Sargeant

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Running with Sasquatch

Above illustrated by Andre Sargeant

I know some of you won't believe this, but for the past three years I've been trail running with a Sasquatch. When I first encountered the timid creature, it occurred early one summer morning on a narrow forest trail in the Comox Valley of Vancouver Island. I regularly ran this route on Saturdays, during four to five hour training sessions. Since few in the local community are crazy enough to join me running this far, I usually do it alone.

For weeks as I ran this route solo I had the feeling I was being watched. A couple of times I heard footsteps, and deep breathing, behind me, but in the few seconds it would take me to stop, and turn to look back, whoever or whatever was following me would disappear into the thick underbrush.
I gained my pursuer's trust one day by offering them bites of Cliff energy bars (I had them stashed in my Camel Pack). After luring him into the open, amazingly, I discovered it to be a real life Sasquatch. He was able to communicate with simple grunts and rudimentary sign language. I gave him a Power Bar gel, but he didn't seem to like the taste. After taking a few sips he made an ugly face, and tossed it to the ground, stomping on it with his big foot.

I slowly backed away, and carried on with my run. To my surprise, he followed me, keeping up with my pace. When he became thirsty, he stooped down on all fours at the river's edge to drink. We ran together for almost two hours that first day. I didn't know that Sasquatches were so fleet footed. Since then, he has joined me on numerous training runs.

He's a true barefoot runner who doesn't ever need a pair of Vibram Five Fingers when the trail gets tough. He's embraced the 'Green Revolution,' living off only what the wilderness provides.
When I qualify for the Western States 100 I'm going to bring him along as my pacer.