Sunday, December 15, 2013

Resilience in ultrarunning, and in life

At the end of November I had the privilege of being interviewed by Western States Ultra, seven time top 10 men finisher, Andy Jones-Wilkins, for a series of essays he was writing for his AJW Taproom column found on the iRunFar website. He was writing about how the meta-cognitive skills of persistence, resilience, patience, courage, and grit affect ultrarunning. He wanted to know how ultra running helped me to recover after the death of my 15 year-old son, Colt, who took his own life in June 2010.
It's interesting to discover through Andy's articles how running developed skills can positively impact other areas of your life. Please click on the link to the column above (if you already haven't) to learn more.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Sick Kids Foundation 60Km ultra run turns into record attempt

Three weeks before the Great Lake Ultramarathon was to take place I received a discouraging e-mail from the organizer saying that the event had been cancelled due to the low number of registrants. I had been training weeks for this and had already started my fund raising campaign for Sick Kids Foundation. My nephew Joseph was recently helped tremendously by Sick Kids after being born with a serious heart defect (he is in need of a heart transplant). I still wanted to follow through with my running commitment, but didn't know where I would do it or with whom.

A week later I saw a post on Facebook from a fellow ultramarathoner, Stacy Wallington, from Nanaimo, who was going to do a 60km run of his own at Westwood Lake on the same date the Great Lake Ultra would've been. He put out the challenge to other distance runners in the region. The Nanaimo Daily News picked up on the story the week before and interviewed Stacy. He hadn't heard of anyone ever running ten consecutive loops of the Westwood Lake trail before, so this 60km run would be a record breaking attempt, the FKT (fastest known time).

I was almost late to the 8 a.m. start because I was reading my Google Map print out upside-down. I didn't realize that Jingle Pot Road crossed Highway 19 at two separate intersections. Thanks to a couple walking their dog, who gave me directions, I arrived at the Westwood Lake parking lot with about 15 minutes to spare. Stacy was laying out his aid station in the trunk of his car as I drove in. I had a cooler prepared in my back seat with a jug of Gatorade and high carbohydrate snacks. Stacy's wife, Katy, and his mother, arrived just before we departed. They were joining us as walkers.

We set off at an easy pace, running together most of the first loop so I wouldn't get lost. The weather was perfect, and the trail had a lot of activity, as this was the same day a Dog Triathlon was taking place (something I had never witnessed before - dogs and their owners, racing, tackling an obstacle course, and swimming together). I think the local running club was doing a four hour run as well. Stacy passed me as I was at my aid station after the second loop.

Around noon the park began to clear out. The Dog Triathlon ended, and the other runners must have gone off for lunch. I was alone for long stretches, running, thinking of my nephew. Over four hours into the run I changed into a new t-shirt before heading out on loop 7. Stacy had already lapped me but said he was suffering leg cramps and wasn't going to continue. He decided to stay at his car to wait for his wife and mother. When I returned after the next loop they were waiting for me and politely asked if I wanted to end. I declined, saying I was into the ultramarathon groove and wanted to continue. So I went on alone.

The last three hours, at times, was a fight. I had a laminated photo of my nephew pinned to my t-shirt. I glanced down to it for inspiration from time to time. This was the most emotional ultra run I had ever done. I guess because this time I was running for someone who was family.

To keep track of my loops, once another one was completed, I would place a small stone by my aid station on the pavement. As I put the tenth stone down at the end of a neat row, I felt excited. Not only had I finished the 60km run but I had set a new record. I ran into the lake fully clothed and took a swim to celebrate.

Video on Little Joe Sargeant. Please share.

Donations are still being accepted here: Sick Kids Foundation 60 Km Ultra run And here:Heart 2 Heart for Baby Joe

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Running trails in Strathcona Provincial Park and Forbidden Plateau

Two weeks in a row now the pleasant summer weather has made it possible for Louis Nadeau and I to run the trails of Strathcona Provincial Park and Forbidden Plateau.
The first Saturday we attempted to run from Forbidden Plateau to Raven Lodge, Mount Washington. We met-up at Mount Washington, Raven Lodge, around 7 a.m. arriving in separate cars, left one vehicle there, before driving together back to highway 19, towards the top of Forbidden Plateau where our run would begin.

The Forbidden Plateau side the trail wasn't very well marked out or maintained. Once onto the north side of the mountain, we found the switchback trails winding down had many fallen trees across it that we had to scramble over to continue.

But much of the trail from Forbidden Plateau was runnable. We power hiked the steeper inclines. 8km in, the trail seemed to vanish. We followed what we thought was the continuation of the trail (more like a deer trail) to Douglas Lake, where we found a rustic cabin which was unlocked and luckily had a supply of filtered water I could use to refill my camel pack.
After a while of going in circles we found a trail leading north that eventually lead us out of the park to a series of logging roads. We could see Forbidden Plateau at some points as we ran the logging roads. Exposed to the sun, things heated up quickly. We took breaks in the shade to have a power gel or to take in salt capsules.
When the steep logging road came to an end we found ourselves in a clearing surrounded by tree stumps and rotting logs. Walking to the edge of a nearby bog we continued heading west, knowing that Paradise Meadows was in that direction. We could see on Louis' I-phone map we were just off to the east of the park. No signs of a trail appeared. We came to a larger lake with an old campfire that gave us hope, but how did people get there? We decided to follow a narrow stream with a good flow of water and hiked higher. At one point I splashed my face and cupped my hands to drink water from a small falls before climbing up it. Refreshed, I soon saw signs of civilization - an old rusty cart wheel lying on the river stone, and then we heard a voice, a lady, she was standing on a bridge, saying, "Are you lost?"
I think we were somewhere near Lady Lake. With a very runnable trail to now follow we got into stride and made it back to the parking area near Raven Lodge in good time. Overall the 28kms took us 6 hours and twenty nine minutes. We had almost 4000 feet in elevation gain, much of that probably from the steep logging roads we had to go up and down.

This Saturday we met at the Raven Lodge parking area on Mount Washington, same time. Louis brought his son Dom along for the run. Dom was a B.C. provincial cross country running finalist last year, and is also a top road racer on the island for his age category. We asked him to take it easy on us old goats.
The trail was much simpler to follow than the week before, with many runnable sections. It became more technical as we came to the foot of Mount Albert Edward. Steep sections there, we had to be careful on, due to loose footing. Sometimes we were down on all fours scrambling up roots and boulders. We were inside the clouds, and couldn't see very far once past 5000 feet. There were fewer trees and it seemed harder to catch our breath

When we reached the summit I found a patch of snow and made a snow angel, cooling off the quads. We took some photos and refilled our camel packs with ice. I made a Gatorade slushy.
On the way down we met up with many hikers with heavy backpacks, taking advantage of the long weekend. Seeing that we were running, they politely stepped to the side of the path and let us pass. I thought I came across a bear when a black nose came around one corner, but it belonged to a large Labrador dog, thankfully. We were very tired by this point in the run so I wouldn't have been able to do much if it was a real bear.
Dom was waiting for us in the shade when we got back to the Raven Lodge parking lot. The 25km run took us old goats 6 hours and 22 minutes with 3000 feet in elevation gain.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Kusam Klimb 2013 - The Cliffs of Insanity

Running the Kusam Klimb is probably the most insane thing I've ever attempted, and I liked it. The 23km race course ascends from 9 to 1482 meters within 7.7kms from the start. The first 2kms were on paved roads so I was able to keep the lead runners in my sights until we got to the narrow trail head. Soon it became so steep we had to power hike. Since it had been raining often the previous week the race trail higher up was muddy. At times I was on all fours crawling along, glad that I had worn heavy duty gloves. I stopped to refill my drink bottles at a stream fed by the melting snow above us. It took about two hours to get to the top where we were above the clouds near the peak, scrambling across snow drifts. What an unforgettable view that was.

The craziest part was getting down the other side of the mountain. At certain steep places long ropes were fastened to trees for us to use on the descent of the snowy slopes, reminding me of the 'cliffs of insanity' from the movie Princess Bride. I was able to slide down a few sections, seated on the snow, using my feet and hands to protect myself from protruding rocks and tree branches.
I entered runnable sections of forest not long after the course passed by a lake and the second checkpoint. Soon I found myself running alone and wondered if I had somehow wandered off the Kusam Trail, but then I would see a small pink ribbon up ahead tied to a branch telling me that I was going in the right direction.
After reaching an old logging road I picked up speed following switchbacks down towards a mist filled valley. Along the way I came to a broad stream with water calf deep. It cooled my burning feet as I ran across. The third check point had Nanaimo bars and Gatorade to offer, which I took advantage of. Just past this, I met a fellow runner, leaned against a tree, suffering with muscle cramps so I stopped to give him some salt capsules (later, at the finish, he thanked me, saying that he couldn't have finished without them).
The last six kilometers I ran steadily, descending over a mixture of logging roads and quad wheeler trails, passing several runners. I tripped at one point, going head over heals and landed on my back, but quickly got up and shook it off.
I heard the finish line before I could see it. They were blasting rock music and making announcements over a loud speaker. I finished strong, smeared with mud, in a time of 4 hrs and 35 minutes, happy to have completed the most crazy race of my life.
Thanks to all the volunteers who helped to make this event go smoothly.

A couple of weeks after running the Kusam Klimb race I spoke at Aaron House Fellowship in Courtenay, B.C. and had a chance to share some about the experience.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

50 Mile - Elk Beaver Ultra 2013

The night before I was to run 80 kilometers, non stop, for the first time in my life, I ordered a piece of thick New York strawberry cheesecake from the Elk Lake Restaurant in Victoria. I would need the extra carbohydrates. I felt excited, and nervous, going over a check list in my mind, making sure I had the things I needed to be able to finish the 26th annual Island Runners - Elk Beaver Ultra. My training was sufficient. I had spent 16 weeks in preparation, putting in the long runs on the weekend to build up the required base to attempt a 50 miler. My left knee had developed some inflammation problems midway through the training, and it had healed. I hoped that it wouldn't flare up again during the race.

Wearing my Team World Vision jersey, I joined fifty other runners at the 6 a.m. start. From the northern park on Elk Lake we followed a 10km, mostly flat, circular route counter clockwise that wound through woods and fields along the water's edge. I was to run this circuit eight times to complete the 50 miles. The path was still open to the public so as the day warmed we met up with local joggers, walkers and even some people on horse back. With fresh legs I ran the first 30 km in 3 hours. I thought since it would be cooler earlier in the day I would try to bank as many kilometers as I comfortably could.

The day did heat up around 11 a.m. and I wasn't prepared for it. When I headed out to tackle the 50km loop I didn't bring enough with me to stay hydrated. My muscles began to cramp. I had thoughts of dropping out, giving it serious consideration as my run turned into a shuffle as I headed towards the check in point back at Elk Lake to my aid station. A voice in my head told me to take some salt tablets and extra water first, before making a final decision to stop. I did that, and felt well enough to start off on the 6th loop, munching a Snickers bar. Within ten minutes I was back running again at a pace that helped me make up for lost time.
With three kilometers to go I whispered a prayer to finish in 10:55. A surge of energy came over me in the last 1/2 kilometer and I ran faster than I had in hours. The cheesecake from the night before was kicking in. As I rounded the corner heading toward the official timer's desk for the last time the digital clock read 10:55. Finishing a race never felt so good. I was surprised to find out that I placed 2nd in Men's Masters.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Saint Peter's Run - 40 Km

With my wife, Olivia, driving the support vehicle, I was able to do a 40 km training run from Courtenay to Campbell River, B.C., Easter morning. I decided midway through the run that I would call it "Saint Peter's Run" in memory of how Peter and John ran to the tomb looking for Jesus on that first Easter morning two thousand years ago.

A good portion of the route we followed, wound along beside the eastern coastline of Vancouver Island offering amazing views on this Easter morning. Below is a video I made of the journey.

Departing from the Canadian Tire store at 5 a.m., wearing a head lamp and reflective running gear, I ran uphill following old highway 19A, taking the scenic route to Campbell River. Every now and then I could see the brake lights of our van far off in the distance. The first stop to refill my drinking bottle was 6 kms into the run. It worked out well to have the support vehicle stop every 6 - 7 kms so I could get more power gels and top up my drinking bottle with Gatorade. This made the adventure much easier.

After an hour and a half of running in darkness I was able to take off my headlamp and leave it in the van. Things went smoothly until the heat of the day started to wear on me. I hadn't taken enough S-Caps to compensate for my increased sweating, so my sodium levels dropped around 30 - 35km. This caused me to cramp sooner than I should've. We reached the 7-11 Store in Campbell River, my goal destination 5 hours and 10 minutes into the run. I was planning on turning around there, to run back another 10 km, but decided to take Olivia out for an Easter morning brunch instead at a riverside restaurant. Still dressed in my flashy running gear, I helped myself to the all you can eat brunch buffet. Eggs Benedict never tasted so good.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Ultra Running Season 2013

Ultra running season will soon be upon us here on the west coast of Canada and I'm hard at work training. But Ultras aren't the only thing I'm interested in competing in this Spring, I've also applied to take part in the first Amazing Race Canada. A co-worker, Rob Herrett, and I, submitted an online video application earlier this month. We're both members of the Royal Canadian Air Force and want to compete under the banner "Team Rob". Have a look at our audition below.

If we're not accepted onto Amazing Race Canada I'm planning on running the 80 km Elk Lake Ultra in May, and the 56K Great Lake Ultra in September. All of these will be held at various picturesque places on Vancouver Island with courses on hilly logging roads and trails. Training so far has gone well. The wet weather and cold temperatures have held me back a bit with days off with leg cramps and chest congestion. Overall I'm feeling stronger as I get closer to doing the long four hour training runs required to get a good base for ultramarathon running. I think I'll do the Comox Valley 1/2 Marathon in March as a training run since the start for it is on the street just outside my condo in Courtenay.

On rainy days and Sunday mornings I'm still writing, working on my next novel, entitled - In Heaven. The main character is a soldier who has died in Afghanistan, and is recruited to join the angelic army of heaven. His first assignment as a heavenly warrior is back on earth in semi-angelic human form as an ultra running guy who saves a teenager whose life is in danger. My wife and I traveled to Woss, B.C. to do some research for the book after Christmas, as this is a town mentioned in the story. It's amazing how when you're in the actual location you're writing about writer's block is broken.

Big Run Recovery Drink
1 peeled banana
1 peeled orange
1 cup milk (soy or normal)
1 scoop chocolate Protein Powder
2 table spoons, Greek yogurt
Blend well for 20-30 sec. Enjoy.