Sunday, December 02, 2012

Run In The Rain Goes To The Dogs

I was getting cabin fever after three days of heavy rain in the Comox Valley which had kept me from running. Much of my route shares the road with vehicle traffic in the countryside so I was leery of heading out to run in the down pour with drivers distracted by the weather. But Saturday, I had to go out and do my half marathon route. By mid morning the traffic wasn't too bad. I decided to wear a tuque to help me stay warm with the cool weather and rain. Even though it was December 1st, I wore my running shorts, and after a couple of kilometers I felt fine. The river along Dove Creek Road was running high, swelled from the days of rain. Five kilometers or so into the route, as I passed a couple of hobby farms, three husky dogs joined me. I don't know who they belonged to. They seemed friendly. The three of them ran along with me for seven kilometers, and after one took off, two continued with me all the way home covering a total of fifteen kilometers. It ended up being one of my quicker 1/2 marathon training runs, as the dogs helped to keep me on pace. I got worried when they wouldn't turn back as I got closer to my home. I guess we had formed some sort of bond during the run; a pack mentality of something like that, and I was the leader of the pack. So they stayed with me until I reached my condo in downtown Courtenay. My wife, Olivia, was surprised to see me returning from my wet run accompanied by two huskies.

She gave them water, some left over cat food, and chunks of chicken. I called the SPCA to tell them about these dogs who had followed me on my run. They both didn't have collars, or ID tattoos inside their ears. We let the dogs inside our tiny condo, dried the rain off them, and made arrangements to bring them to the SPCA. I had a quick shower and grabbed some lunch before taking the dogs there in the van. I later posted a photo of them on Facebook and a friend of a friend seems to know who they belong to, so hopefully they'll soon be reunited with their masters.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The 56K Great Lake Ultramarathon 2012

The 56K Great Lake Ultramarathon went better for me than I expected, especially since the start I had was awkward. I was up front near the start with the rest of the runners beneath Youbou Town Hall, and somehow after we all sang "Oh Canada" and were let go, my visor was flipped off by the start ribbon, sending my headlamp flying out of sight. I scrambled around, avoiding getting trampled to retrieve my visor, but couldn't spot the headlamp, so I made a quick decision to run on without it. It was 5:00 a.m. totally dark, I followed the rest of the runners out of the town. We quickly came to a gravel logging road shrouded by forest. The lead pack thinned out. I saw bobbing headlamps ahead of me like fireflies stretch into the distance.

Every once in a while a support vehicle would pass by giving me some help with their headlights, but for about an hour I was running in complete darkness. I managed to pass a couple runners before sun rise, but had no idea where I was placed until near the 3rd aid station where someone told me I was in 4th place.

The friendly volunteers at the aid stations quickly helped me to refill my Gatorade bottles, and at certain ones, find the drop bags I had prepared, containing power gels, electrolytes and snacks.

Near the halfway point I was passed by a runner and her support vehicle. I was slowing the pace because I knew a big hill was up ahead and I would need some gas in the tank to handle that. My quads were already feeling the distance. When I left Aid station 8, at what I thought was the top of the hill, I was encouraged by reaching the marathon distance marker in just under four hours. My joy didn't last long though, when I came around the next corner I saw how the hill still ascended.

Finally I was able to run down the long winding descent to the A&W Aid Station where the course joined pavement and followed fairly level ground again. I knew it was around 12 km from the finish because I had measured it with my car the day before (a sign was there too indicating this) the home stretch. My only concern was that I was down to my last power gel. I would've liked to have a couple of more for the final push.

By this time I was in 8th place. I refilled and holstered my drinking bottles and pushed on. I could feel the heat of the beautiful day rising from the street, as I passed homes and small businesses. At some street corners small groups of people clapped, encouraging me to press on. With 10km left to go I took my last gel. My legs felt like cement. I counted down the kilometers. In the last couple of kilometers I was passed by three runners, two of them in the final two hundred meters or so. We were so close. But by that point my place didn't seem to matter to me. I was just so glad to see the finish line. The cheering happy people. Ringing the finish bell. Coming in eleventh place with a time of 6:03 was better than I had expected. And to top it all off when the first aiders checked my feet at their station in the Lake Cowichan Hall, they couldn't find any blisters.

Check here for the Great Lake Ultramarathon Results

Monday, July 23, 2012

Running the Sky Line Trail, in Jasper, Alberta

I had planned to run the 44 km Skyline Trail from start to finish while on my summer vacation in Jasper Park, Alberta. I thought by the middle of July the snow would be melted on the summit, but after ascending 15 km up the winding trail on the side of Curator Mountain from Maligne Lake I was stopped by a washed out trail and snow drifts. If I had brought my gaiters along I probably could've continued. I was being cautious though because the staff at the Parks Canada office in Jasper had warned me that snow was still a problem at those altitudes, and if I encountered it I was to turn back - risks of avalanche still in places.
A family of Marmots met me where I stopped to turn around. I was able to catch them on video, and shared a video blog of my thoughts after reaching the summit. The view was worth the trip, even if I couldn't continue. The run down was a blast, leaping over roots and rocks on the switch backs. I met up with some backpacking hikers and warned them of the snow on the summit. They seemed undeterred by the news, wearing hiking boots that would help them get through the deep snow. I hope they made it.
You can view the video blog of this running adventure below:

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Burning Boot/Great Walk 63.5 K Ultramarathon 2012

When I reached the 538 meter summit at 5:30 a.m., running in fourth place, I let out a celebratory hoot, knowing this was the highest point in the Burning Boot ultramarathon. The next ten to fifteen kilometers were down hill - some hills dangerous with 16-18% declines. We had started in darkness at 4 a.m.. At 5:30 the rising sun was still hidden by mountains, casting dim light across the cloudy skies overhead. I took special care going down the steep decline at 20kms, walking at the steepest parts while I ate a banana and a Power Gel. This was where I was injured the year before so I took it easy.

Continuing on, running down into the mist filled valley I was kind of disappointed because the amazing views I remembered from the year before were hidden. After aid station five, 25 kms or so along, I was informed that I was in tenth place. As I ran across a flat stretch of gravel road, the fog ahead parted, revealing a narrow waterfall cascading hundreds of feet down the mountainside.
The lead group of runners I was part of was making good time, reaching the halfway point of 32 kms between 7:00 - 7:30 a.m.. When I came through, the volunteer crew at the aid station were still trying to fix the "halfway point" banner up between the trees across the road. When I stopped there to change my socks and add more Vaseline to the bottoms of my feet (I was developing a blister on the ball of my left foot), the official told me we were going too fast, and that they wouldn't be able to get my drop bag to stage 9 before we would get there, so I had to take an extra set of power gels and protein bars with me in a plastic bag, carrying them by hand.

The weather improved as I came to Heart Attack Hill, near Aid Station 8. Aid Station 8 is where my first attempt at completing the Burning Boot Ultramarathon ended last year. I felt joy passing through it, refilling my drinking bottles with Gatorade and water, and grabbing a banana to go.

My first experience of Heart Attack Hill did a number on my quads. I power hiked up most of it, but running after it was a chore. Descending, I quoted the Bible verses from Isiah 40 under my breath, "Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not grow weary..." I felt like I was taken to a place outside of time, where there is just the next step, the next stride. I stayed in this place until I made it past aid station 11, eating 1/2 a protein bar and another Power Gel along the way.

The last big hill, before the final aid station, maxed out my quads. They stiffened up like watermelons and couldn't take the pounding of the descent. I was forced into a brisk walk, and watched as three guys came flying down past me. I recognized one of them as my friend from work, Russ Green. I had spotted him far behind me before aid station 8, but hadn't seen him since then.

Once I was down on the flats again I could run, and ate another Power Gel. A burst of adrenaline came over me as I rounded the corner and saw in the distance the public school gym roof next to the finish line. I ran the final kilometer into Tahsis, welcomed by the sound of Fire Fighter Sirens, cheering villagers and volunteers.

My final time was 7 hours and 40 minutes, close to what I was aiming for when I started out. The expected rains never came, and the day maintained cool temperatures, making ideal ultramarathon running conditions.

(Update) All the finishing times are now in and I ended up in 12th place, at 7 hours 40 minutes. Two groups of finishers ahead of me tied, so it brought my final finishing position up in the standings.
Big thanks goes out to all the cheerful volunteers who helped out along the way, manning the aid stations and the final First Aid centre.

Friday, May 18, 2012

I'm turning into Big Foot

There's only a couple of more weeks to go until the 64 k Burning Boot Ultra-marathon. I've been sticking to my training plan for the past 18 weeks, and for the most part it has paid off. This past month I completed two runs, each a little over four hours long, running up and down Forbidden Plateau. I've been experimenting with various power gels and drinks to find out what my stomach handles best and think I have found a good balance.
With the increased mileage my feet have expanded. I'm turning into a Big Foot. This is common among ultramarathoners. I've purchased a pair of runners 1/2 - 1 size larger than I normally wear to deal with it.
We shot a Red Bull spot up on Forbidden Plateau Monday evening. Red Bull Launch Pad is holding a dream video competition so we submitted this 30 second entry. Vote for it and maybe they'll make it come true. I want to be sponsored by Red Bull as an ultramarathoner so we can raise money and awareness about the need for more water wells in Tanzania. In some of the remote villages there, young ladies have to walk for 3-6 hours to get water for their households. Most of it is used for cooking so personal hygiene is neglected, causing sickness and disease to spread. Tanzania has one of the highest infant mortality rates partly due to this.
After shooting the video, driving down from Forbidden Plateau I stopped to video this black bear: World Vision has a site set up online for those who would like to sponsor me in the upcoming Burning Boot Ultra. Here's the link if you wish to do so:World Vision Fund Raiser.
Thanks for your support

Friday, March 16, 2012

Ultra marathon training progress - pain and gain

The middle of December I started a 50 mile, ultra marathon training plan that I found listed on the internet, and so far it has greatly helped me to increase my endurance. I didn't start to feel the benefits of it until near the end of the second month. Up until then, there was a lot of pain on the long weekend runs (especially in the shins). This training plan sandwiches two long runs into the weekend, between two rest days on Friday and Monday. When my long runs got close to 1/2 marathon length, I purchased a Nathan running belt with two, 10 oz, plastic drinking bottles. It also includes a handy zippered pouch where I can store my Sony Walkman, and a power bar or two.

I've noticed with the longer distances, my running style has changed, taking on more of a forward lean. I ran two weekends so far with Saturday runs over three hours. I'm hoping to get to the four hour lengths by mid April.

This weekend I'm registered in the Comox Valley 1/2 Marathon. It's a fast course. The record time for it is 1:03. Simon Whitfield (Canadian Olympic Triathlete) is supposed to be taking part, as well as several other hundred runners. I don't plan on pushing too hard as I'm in the middle of training for the ultra. It should be fun.

There's a life lesson in all of this training. The struggle, difficulties and pain I've gone through has all worked to make me stronger. I've gained from it just like I've gained from all the struggles and pain that God has allowed me to go through in life. If I have the right attitude, it's all working to help me develop perseverance, and strength.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

A celebration of life for Grandma

This past weekend I shared the below eulogy at my Grandmother's Celebration of life ceremony in Ontario. She was 96 years old.

Blanche lived a full, rich, life. She had a genuine faith in the words of her savior, Jesus Christ, who said, “Whoever believes in me will not perish but have everlasting life.” So we know she is now in heaven, we can celebrate as we remember her.
Blanche Victoria Atkinson was born May 16, 1915, in Newmarket, Ontatio. Her father, Charles, was a farmer, who later went on to become a carpenter. He was active in the church choir, and sang in quartets at the Gormley and Stouffville Missionary churches. While growing up, I’m sure Blanche and her younger sisters, Reta and Delma would’ve been proud to sit and listen to their father sing.
After completing her education, Blanche worked 31 years as a teacher. The first 8 of those, in one room school houses, typical of rural Ontario at the time, where one teacher would teach around thirty students from 8 grades. The first school house she taught in still stands in East Gwillimbury, Ontario, now known as the North Community Hall. In those days, a wood stove sat in one corner of the class. The kids furthest away from it had to keep their coats and boots on to stay warm in the winter. Blanch met her first husband, Clifford Gordon, while on her first four year teaching assignment in Ravenshoe. They were married September 7, 1940. She took a ten-year break from teaching to start a family. This is when her daughters, Glendyne June, and Louise Margaret (my mother) were born. She returned to teaching at a one-room schoolhouse in Whitchurch township for another 4 years, before transferring to Summitview Public School, in Stouffville, where she continued to work until 1977.

Some of you may have known her as a teacher, a friend, or a co-worker, I knew her as Grandma. My first memories of her go back to when we lived in Chilliwack, B.C. in the 1970s, when she would fly out from Ontario to visit us during school summer vacations. She usually picked up a gift for us at the airport. I remember this book she gave us, from the Noddy Boy Books series, the adventures of a young bobble head toy. She would read it to me before bed, and then we had what she called “kissy kissy time”. As a little six or seven year-old I didn’t seem to mind. But we weren’t a real kissing family around the home, like some Mediterranean families. When I became a teen-ager, I shied away from these kissy kissy times with Grandma, most of the time I could. In the summer of 2009, I was posted from 19 Wing Comox to the naval base in Halifax. My wife, Olivia, my eldest son, Andre, and I were driving across Canada. I knew Grandma was suffering with Dementia. I wondered as we drove into southern Ontario, if she would remember me. When we stopped to visit her at the nursing home, Grandma was in the midst of taking a nap. I quietly entered her room, and stood beside her. She promptly woke up, made eye contact with me, put both her arms up, and the first thing she said was, “Give me a kiss!”

I only ever saw Grandma angry once, and that was when were sold some dead fishing worms at a gas station in Coboconk, Ontario, near the 4 Mile Lake, Atkinson cottage. She took those worms back inside and demanded they be replaced. “How dare you sell my Grandsons dead worms!” The attendant argued that they were just sleeping, but after her insistence, he did replace them.

Being a teacher all those years must have given my Grandma extra patience for dealing with boys. Somehow she could get me to do things no other adult could. Like one summer she taught me how to play a tune on the piano by putting numbered masking tape on the keys. To this day it’s the only song I can play. She introduced me to literature, like, Charlotte’s Web and Stewart Little. She was a strong creative influence in my life.

Grandma loved to travel. Several summers, she visited a cottage on the Bay of Fundy coast in Nova Scotia belonging to her dear friend, Helen Weatherby. After Grandma retired, with her second husband, Cecil Emmerson Banks (they married Dec 1, 1979) they visited Hawaii, and Great Britain. She went on several bus tours down south, and even joined my parents as they took an Airstream trailer through the United States in the late 1990s.

Board games were another passion of hers. She was an avid Scrabble player, and any time I faced her across the table, if I won, I knew she let me.

While I was studying in England and overseas is Egypt working as a missionary Grandma would send me monthly letters, with encouraging clippings she had found in the church bulletin, or in her Daily Bread devotions. She would update me on her comings and goings in Stouffville or share a diary of some bus site seeing trip she was on. When we returned to Canada, we could count on a weekly call from her on the weekend. She was genuinely interested in our lives and many times had words of encouragement or advice if we were facing struggles or challenges.
She was a very even keeled person, who, like I said, rarely became angry. I did some stupid things as a kid, even as a young man, but I never felt judged by her. Instead I was encouraged. As many of those here who knew her can testify, especially former students, she was an encourager. I feel privileged as her grandson to have known her. Though I’ll miss her I hold onto the hope that I will meet her again in heaven.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Amazon Studio Fame

A couple of months ago I got this weird idea to make a short video about Santa Claus getting angry. The image of Santa going Ninja, swinging candy cane nun chucks popped into my mind, and made me laugh. I convinced some co-workers to help me make it. Over the period of a couple of days in November we shot the video at the warehouse where I work. The 3 1/2 minute production premiered at the annual Logistics Christmas party and got a lot of laughs.

I heard that Amazon Studios was planning on holding a Trailer Fest in the new year, so I thought I'd search their website for angry Santa screenplays to see if we could possibly contribute our skillfully acted video as a trailer. To my surprise I found a script, entitled, A Claus Worth Fighting For, and it was a perfect match for our footage (although in this screenplay when Santa got angry he ran around like Rambo with two AK-47s). I was encouraged by the fact that part of the screenplay I found took place on an Air Force Base, much like where we shot ours. I spent a couple of days re-editing the footage to match the project, and uploaded it as a trailer.

A Claus Worth Fighting For (trailer)

A few weeks later the very script we uploaded the trailer to was chosen as one of five finalist for the best November screenplay award, with potential to win a $20,000 prize. The finalist scripts were to be judged by a couple of Hollywood producers. This was out of a field of over 5000 competing scripts. My jaw dropped open. Suddenly, our angry Santa video catapulted to the first page of the Amazon Studio Comedy trailer listings.

Sadly, A Claus Worth Fighting For, didn't win as the best script in December, but our movie trailer is still in the running. January and February 2012 Trailer Fest is taking place at Amazon Studios, and as of today, our little video continues to rank on the first page for comedy trailer listings. Amazon Studio fame could possibly be within our grasp.