Friday, October 31, 2014

Surviving the Whistler 50 miler

Two groups of ultra runners, departing an hour apart, left the start of the Whistler 50 Mile while it was still dark in the early hours of Saturday morning, October 18th. I was part of the second group, comprised of the faster runners. Since the cut off time was 5 p.m., eleven hours from when I left, I figured it would give me plenty of time to finish (my last 50 miler, the Elk Beaver, I completed in just over nine hours). But this was my first time attempting the Whistler 50 Miler. It had steeper hills, and more of them. The aid stations were set up with, what for me was an untested hydration drink, called ELETE. I couldn't foresee the stomach upset, and painful whack that would later hit me.

The Whistler 50 Mile Ultra course follows a 20km loop, run four times, consisting of paved and gravel trails, beginning and ending in Whistler Village at Olympic Park. The first loop, I had my head lamp on so I didn't see much scenery. It went fast, as I came through Olympic Park in just over 2 hours. I wore my camel pack for most of the first loop, and switched to a Nathan drink belt at the 16km aid station, where I had my drop bag. It would be 14km from there, before I made a return to my drop bag again, and this is when the problems began. I started to refill one of my Nathan bottles with ELETE, which I didn't know was highly concentrated. I drank quite a bit of it up until the 30km mark. My stomach didn't like this, and fought back. I pressed on in the hills, and switched out my drink bottles again at the 36km aid station. Getting some CYTOMAX, which I was used to back into my system settled my stomach somewhat, but my pace started to drag. I came through the end of the 40km loop around 4:25, feeling like I wanted to drop. The large crowds there, some ringing cow bells, cheered me on though, and I was encouraged by the idea that I was over half-way done. I tried to drink more water to flush out the ELETE as I came approached the 50km mark. I rewarded myself with a SNICKERS bar and some Coke at the aid station before heading across the narrow river bridge, up the steep hill to the gravel forest trail. As I continued, the sun broke through the clouds, and I took appreciative glances at the passing lake and mountain views. I thanked God for his amazing creation, and prayed that He would renew my strength. Relay runners, with much fresher legs, overtook me, speaking encouraging words. This did spur me on. An oatmeal raisin cookie grabbed at the 56km aid station helped to settle my stomach, as I made my way back to the start/finish.

When I came through Olympic Park, having completed 60kms, my race number and name was announced, along with other details of my ultra running history, and my home town (He must've been reading my blog). The crowd by this point was quite large there, so their cheering gave me a big boost. I was now started onto my last loop, only 20kms more to endure. Making my way out of Whistler Village I thanked some of the volunteer street crossing guards, giving them a high-five, as it would be the last time I would see them. When I reached the 67km aid station I took another oatmeal raisin cookie and refilled my Nathan drink bottles. A lady warned me to get moving, because I only had an hour to make it to the cabin check-point in the hills before the cut off time. I pressed on, power hiking up the steep hill, munching on the cookie. My pace picked up as I leaned into the downhills of the forest trails. I made it to the cabin check point with fifteen minutes to spare. A large group of enthusiastic relay runners were there, and they cheered me on. Running on adrenaline I made my way to the last aid station, where I reported the good news. I had fifteen minutes on the cut-off time. They offered me some Coke, and told me not to get too excited, giving me the news that I only had half an hour to make it to the finish before it closed. With 4km to go, I pressed the pace on the flat paved trail winding back into Whistler Village. The last official finisher for the relay runners passed me just before Olympic Park. With a time of 10:56 (four minutes to spare) I crossed the finish line. I had no idea where I was placed as an ultra runner, but since I left an hour later than the first group I figured I probably beat some of them.

Unfortunately, back at my hotel in Whistler, I became sick to my stomach (caused by drinking too much ELETE), and I was unable to make it to the awards ceremony. I took a quick shower, sipped on some water, and then crashed on the bed until 10 p.m. when I woke up, hungry. I hobbled down to the grocery store, across the square and bought some beef barley soup, a bottle of Ensure, and a liter of drinking water. Thankfully, I was able to keep this down, and regain a bit of strength.

It's been two weeks of recovery back in the Comox Valley for me and my stomach is still a bit sensitive. I've eliminated highly acidic food, and most sweets from my diet for the time being.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Training for the Whistler 50 Mile Ultra 2014

I decided the 2nd week of September that I would enter the Whistler 50 Miler scheduled to take place October 18th. I was encouraged by Armand Leblanc, president of the Association of Canadian Ultramarathoners, who happened to be in the Comox Valley on business, working for a couple of weeks at the same Air force Base base where I am stationed. While he joined me on a 16km hill training run in the Cumberland forest, he shared with me some of his experiences running ultramarathons since he began racing in the late 1980's. The first competitive race he ran was a 100km one in Europe. Before that the furthest he had gone was 10km. Since then he has run over 100 ultras of various distances. He told me the upcoming Whistler Ultra was a Canadian championship this year for the 50 Mile distance.

Since I hadn't trained intensely during the month of July while I was in Hawaii this year, I wondered if I still had the stamina for a 50 Miler, so the 2nd last weekend of September I had Olivia, my wife, drive support vehicle for me on a 44km early morning run to Campbell River. My pace ended up being faster than I had ever run that route before. The cooler temperatures and rain that day probably helped. You can watch a video blog of the training run below.

I've been doing much more mid week hill training, and have been feeling good results from it with increased leg strength. It is sort of risky running alone on these forest trails this time of year because the bears and cougars are active. I wear a bear bell most days to ward them off. I haven't seen any of them so far, but I did cross paths with a majestic elk, around 12 feet tall while running the pipe line trail up to the hydro station. Just as I reached into my Camel Pack to get my camera the elk took off into the thick woods.


I feel I've had a good base of ultra training this year, so it will be interesting to see how things go in Whistler.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Adventures running the Cape Scott trail, North Coast Vancouver Island, and the miraculous key

It is possible to run the Cape Scott trail on the North Coast of Vancouver Island from the trail head to the lighthouse and back in one day. This is around a 46-km ultra-marathon distance. Due to the technical nature of the terrain I would class it as being even more difficult than a typical 50-km trail ultra. My attempt to complete this run on Friday was hindered by a bear and cub encounter in the early stages. I had only run about ten minutes when I came upon an adult bear and cub at the edge of the trail. Following the instructions that I had just read listed at the information booth at the start, I backed away slowly and returned to the parking lot. The park attendant told me to wait until the bear cleared the area, which would usually be about 1/2 an hour. Encouraged by my wife, Olivia, to give it another attempt I headed down the trail a second time. Cautiously, I ran through the section of forest where I had spotted the bears. There were no signs of them accept for some bear scat at the side of the path. I ran on, making noise as I went, hooting and singing out loud every now and then, to alert any wild life ahead that I was approaching.

With overcast skies the temperature wasn't an issue for most of the morning. I kept a good pace, slowed only at sections with exposed roots and rocky outcrops. With a Camel Pack holding two liters of Gatorade strapped across my back I kept hydrated. I had some power gels and S-Caps in one of its pouches to help out as well. Near 10-Km in I found a good water source at Fisherman's Creek where I refilled my Camel Pack bladder on the way back. After running 2 1/4 hours I was about 2 km past the Danish memorial on Cape Scott. I turned around there because I knew my wife was waiting, and we still had to drive back to the Comox Valley that night. She worked the next morning. I was whacked pretty hard by running around 30 km on the Cape Scott trail that day. When I got back to the trailhead along with several other groups of backpackers I shared their sense of revelry with having come to the end of such a difficult slog.

I found the van was locked when I returned to the parking lot and I couldn't find Olivia anywhere. I was out of water in my Camel Pack and still thirsty. I could see there was plenty inside the van to drink but I didn’t have a key. I felt to walk over to the information booth at the trail head to see if maybe Olivia had left a note there for me. I didn’t find a note but I did find a car key. It was just a random car key left there by someone, but I felt an urging in my spirit to try it on my van door. Miraculously it worked on the passenger door and I was able to get in. My wife came back to find me refreshed, preparing a sandwich with groceries from the cooler. She had attempted to hike to a nearby beach. She was delighted like I was at God's provision of a random car key that would work to open our car door.

To get to the Cape Scott trail take highway 19 until just past Port Hardy. Turn left onto the paved road where the sign says Holberg - Cape Scott Trail. 14-kms down the road you'll come to the boot tree on the right side of the road, where some of the past hikers of the trail have placed their worn out hiking boots. Continue on this road west 50-km until reaching Holberg. Drive through Holberg past the restaurant/pub and baseball field until you see a sign for Cape Scott Provincial Park. Turn left there and follow the logging road as it branches off to the right. Watch out for pot holes and logging trucks while on these roads.

Holberg has a gas station/variety store open from 3-6 pm and a restaurant pub. This is the last place to pick-up any back packing supplies before reaching the trail. For more information on the park visit - CAPE SCOTT PARK

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Long distance running training in Waikiki Hawaii

I tried to keep up my long distance training while serving on temporary duty with the Canadian Air Force for almost a month in Hawaii as part of RIMPAC this July and August. Our hotel was on Waikiki Beach, close to a user friendly running path that looped around Diamond Head providing a good 10km run. Because of the heat and humildity most of these were done at around sunrise or sunset. This made for some beautiful views coming around Diamond Head at the end of the day. To run this, follow KalaKaua Avenue in Waikiki turning left at Monsarrat Avenue behind the Honolulu Zoo. Monsarrat Avenue becomes Diamond Head Road and continues in a loop joining back to Kalakaua Avenue.

Another route around the same distance leads from Waikiki Beach east to a trail around the perimeter fence of the golf course and then back along a palm tree lined river channel utilized by the rowing community.

One Saturday I spent about two hours power hiking up to Waahila Ridge State Recreational Area. This was worth the slog as the views are great from up there. The trails along the ridge weren't runnable though as rain had made them slippery. The only way to access this park is through a winding series of residential streets. Follow Kapahulu Avenue from Waikikki under the H1 highway, turn right at Waialae Avenue. Take the first left at St. Louis Drive. Follow this steep residential street all the way up to Betram Street, and stay on it until you get to Peter St. Turn left, go two blocks, and then turn left again at Ruth Place. There you will find the entrance to the Waahila Ridge State Recreation Area. If you can run up this hill it would make for some great hill training. I could only manage to power hike. But I did run most of the way down, and that did a good number on the quad muscles. I recommend having the Loco Moco breakfast at the Rainbow Drive-In on Kapahulu Avenue after completing this, as you will certainly build up a good appetite. (Loco Moko is a hearty breakfast that includes white rice, a hamburger patty, and eggs, smothered in gravy.) The Rainbow Drive-In also makes a tasty icecream slushy drink.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Kusam Klimb (Slime) 2014

(Photo by adventuresbycamera.com )

From the moment I arrived in Sayward, B.C., I felt the warmth of the community as it welcomed me as one of the almost five hundred participants who took part in the 2014 Kusam Klimb. The friendly host at the Cable House Cafe prepared me coffee and chicken salad before I picked up my race number, and the kind staff at the Kelsey Rec Centre went out of their way to give us a comfortable night's sleep (for the $20 we paid to stay there we had use of the rec centre swimming pool, whirlpool, and TV room.)

Near 7 a.m. the Kusam Klimb race began. I took off with the lead pack and settled into a 5 minute per kilometer pace heading along a paved road until we reached the narrow trailhead. Rain continued throughout most of the ascent creating slippery sections on the steep rocky inclines. I didn't want to get injured so I took it slow, power-hiking most of it, stopping for water - keeping my calories up during the almost two-hour slog. Ascending close to 5000 feet in just 7 kilometers is a tough chore, but it does have its rewards. Between 3000 and 4000 feet the views at some sections are amazing as you're running above the clouds. There wasn't as much snow on the summit this year. One run off stream I was planning to refill my drink bottle at was bone dry.

The descent was a slimy process as the rain and melting snow created a series of challenging mud holes. I almost lost my left shoe gaiter to one of them. I was glad to see they had ropes to help us down the steeper slippery places. At a snowy decline where I chose to sit and slide around ten metres I lost a Nathan drink bottle. By the time I realized it was gone, I was too far down to make an attempt at reclaiming it. On the ropes I met a lady who remembered me from the year before when I had offered aid to her husband who was cramped up and dehydrated. I had given him two S-caps which enabled him to finish. She commented on how weeks later she had read about the incident in my blog. Just then, the fellow behind us, listening in on our conversation, said he forgot to bring his S-caps on the run and he could use some. I happened to have extra with me, so I gave him a couple before continuing on with my descent.


I picked up speed after leaving the snow and muck, and once we were out of the woods I was able to keep a steady pace running down the winding snake ridge to the 3rd aid station where a spread of Nanaimo bars was waiting laid out. One of the aid volunteers filled my drink bottle with Gatorade as I attempted to adjust my left shoe gaiter which was about to fall off. I scarfed a Nanaimo bar, as I waved goodbye.
I passed several runners over the last ten kilometers, stopping once to give Advil to a lady who was hurting. The continuous downhills put a strong pounding on the quads. The last aid station had a Hawaiian theme, the ladies tending it had grass skirts on, and were dancing the hula as I approached. I commented there that I would be heading to Hawaii in two weeks time as I took one of the pineapples they offered on a serving tray. Checking my watch as I left, I saw that I might be able to finish in under 4 hours. I picked up speed when I heard rock music playing, and the amplified voice of an announcer echoing up the hill. It was 3:52 as I rounded the last corner, on the paved road toward the finish. I could just make it. I crossed the finish line at 3:58. Almost 1/2 an hour faster than I had run the Kusam Klimb the previous year.


(Photo by adventuresbycamera.com )

While waiting for the evening after race buffet, we took advantage of Kelsey Rec Centre's offer to let us use their pool and hot tub to soothe our aching muscles (a bonus for those of us who had paid to spend the night there). Other racers were welcome as well but they had to pay a small fee. We made friends with some of the local children at the pool who dared us old goats to go down the kiddy slide. Never too old for fun, Louis Nadeau and I took up the challenge to the amusement of all.
Later, I joined over a hundred hungry runners as we filled our bellies at the buffet in the Sayward Community Hall. Awards, and door prizes, were given out. The festivities ended around 8:30 p.m.. Since it was Summer Saltice there was still plenty of sunshine left in the day to light my drive home to the Comox Valley.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Strong finish at the Elk/Beaver ultra-marathon 2014

(Photos by Lorna Shaw) As the hours wound down to the start of the Elk /Beaver Ultra in Victoria, B.C. May 10th, I found myself wrestling with the prerace “What ifs”. What if I go out too fast, and cramp up? What if the weather turns foul? What if my training wasn’t sufficient? What if my stomach upsets? Running ultra-marathon distances has its risks, because you’re pushing your body to extremes – sometimes trying to run as far as you ever have, as quickly as possible, exposed to the forces of nature. There’s a fragile balance to be kept, of calorie and hydration intake, and speed. And if it’s not, it can lead to upset.

Around 5 a.m., without having had much sleep, Russ Green and I checked out of the Elk Lake Hojo’s Hotel near the race start. It was his first attempt at completing 100 kms, I was there to improve on my 50 mile (80 km) personal best finish time, set the year before.

In the cool of the early morning we joined a crowd of ultra-runners on the grass behind the starting line in Elk Lake Park, and set off at an easy pace, following a 10 km loop trail that wound through forests and fields next to the Elk/Beaver lakes. This was convenient, because we could keep a self-serve aid station near the start, and access it before pushing on to complete our next loop.

I had to keep patient when the 50 km distance runners were pushing the pace. This paid off when 4 hours into the ultra I reached the 40 km mark with lots of gas still in the tank. While I changed out my shoes at my aid station I met up with Russ who was looking strong heading out on his 5th loop. I didn’t see him again until after I had finished. To keep motivated going through the low points of the run I thought of my cause, Sick Kids Foundation, and the children who were bed ridden in hospitals, hooked up to machines, waiting for vital organ donations.

A great sense of exhilaration hit me as I came toward the finish on the last loop. All my “What ifs” were in vain. Under my previous time for this distance by almost an hour and forty minutes, coming in at 9:13, I was pleased. And I ended up awarded second place in Men’s Masters.

Russ Green soon came through our aid station with one loop left to go. It was still possible for him to complete the 100 km before the 12 hour cut off time, but he would have to push the pace to do it. I gave him a couple of my power gels to get him through the last kilometers. With seven minutes to spare, I spotted Russ emerge from the forest shrouded trail. We cheered him in to the finish where he was awarded third place in Men’s Masters.

Donations for my cause, the Sick Kids Foundation, can still be made HERE

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Training for Elk Beaver 50 Mile Ultra 2014

My wife, Olivia, was a great help this ultra training season as she drove the support vehicle on my longer runs. Twice we left while it was still dark, early in the morning, heading along the 19A coast highway. Once, up north 45kms to Campbell River, and another time, 47kms down to the Denman island ferry station and back. Olivia drove ahead of me 8kms or so, prepared my drinks and energy gels, and always offered an encouraging word. Early in the mornings the highway traffic is low. No convenience stores, or gas stations are open though at this time, so it would've been impossible for me to find the calories and water required to complete these runs alone.
March 9th, the first day of spring, as I ran beside the ocean approaching Campbell River, the sunrise was amazing over the Rocky Mountains peaks to the east. Starting off at 5 a.m. running in fog, I had wondered how the day would progress, was the weather man's prediction for rain true?. Thankfully it wasn't - only an hour of fog to run through. Later we had clear skies, sun, and spotted eagles in the trees, and comorants on the tidal rocks. My training pace was faster than the previous year, and I wasn't experiencing the leg cramps I had when I attempted this before. Maybe it was the new, Hoka One One Stinson Tarmac, running shoes, or the mix of Power Bar/Cliff energy gels I was using for calories. Whatever, it was a great feeling to arrive in Campbell River, and celebrate by going out for a delicious brunch at Banners Restaurant with Olivia, who had helped me along the way.
At midnight, March 29th, I left the house, running south along highway 19A. Olivia was going to catch-up with me in the van and meet me 8kms down the road at the edge of Royston. I felt a sense of issolation with just my headlamp for illumination along some of the long stretches of road. When we reached Union Bay, beside the ocean, the sea lions were active, in a frenzy barking to each other. One must have been right up near the edge of the road, as it gave me quite a scare when it barked out as I ran by. I sped up my pace for a few hundred metres to get away. I safely made it to the Denman Island ferry terminal, where Olivia was waiting with the support vehicle. She had the video camera out and was making some commentary. We even managed to get a photo.
My quads felt cramped at the turn around point, so I took in extra salt capsules and Gatorade. I told myself to run in the now, that time was just an illusion, and slowly got back into pace. 4-6 hour training runs are essential if you want to be a successful ultra distance runner. There's no short cut to building up endurance. I had a low point, on a very dark section of road, and felt like stopping, but as I came around the corner I saw the dome light of the van in the distance where Olivia was preparing my drinks. I pushed on, and was encouraged by my wife that this was the last aid stop before reaching the edge of Courtenay. I made it home just as the city was coming alive, glad to have missed the traffic, and even gladder to have a hot shower.

I'll be running for the Sick Kids Foundation on May 10th as I take part in the Elk/Beaver 50 Mile Ultra. Donations can be made here: Sick Kids Foundation