Friday, June 26, 2015

Tough enough for the Kusam Klimb 2015

A festive atmosphere settled upon the small coastal town of Sayward B.C. June 20th, as over 500 adventure seeking runners, and hikers, gathered there to test if they were tough enough to conquer "Bill's Trail", a 23km endurance race covering 5000 ft of elevation in the first 7kms.

The night before race day, rain fell as I crawled into my tent at the Fisherboy Campground around 10 p.m.. The patter of the drops lulled me to sleep. It stopped before I awoke around 4:15 a.m., giving me plenty of time to prepare.

To prevent blistering on the descent I lubed up my toes, and feet, with a mix of Body Glide and Chamois Cream. Since it was going to be a warm day I filled my Camel Pack to its 2 litre capacity.

The skies cleared, as we crowded behind the start just before 7 a.m.. After the countdown, for the first 11-12 minutes, we dashed up a gently slopping paved road to the trail head. I watched Nick Elson, the eventual winner, speed ahead of the chase pack, and disappear into the forest.
I decided early on not to push too hard. My left knee still had a bit of inflammation, and I didn't want to aggravate it further. I was careful on the climb, stopping to have drink breaks, and even paused to take some photos. My Hoka Mafate Speed trail running shoes worked well. I only had to stop one time to tighten the speed laces, as they came loose at one of the very steep rock climbing sections. The rain the night before was enough to get keep the dust down but not so much that things became slippery.

As we climbed to the summit, above the clouds, I saw the exposed rock of the peaks for the first time. Other years when I had reached this section in the trail it was still covered in snow. The backside of the mountain was snow-less as well. Because of this descending the "cliff's of insanity" sections with the long ropes took longer than other years, since there was no way to slide by the lines (unless you wanted to get scrapped with rocks and stones). I slipped on a slimy stone as I jumped across a creek in the swampy sections of the lower back forest. It sent a cutting pain across my right calf muscle, and for several seconds of pain I thought I was finished. I slowly moved ahead, and was able to walk it off. Thirty seconds later I was back to running again, and entered the wider, exposed trail, on the switch-backs leading down to aid station three (where Nanaimo bars and Gatorade were waiting for me).

I ran out of water with about 5km to go, so I gulped down an extra cup of Gatorade at the second last aid station. Soon after this, I heard a familiar voice call out behind me. It was my friend and co-worker Louis Nadeau, running a personal best Kusam Klimb pace. We decided to finish the course together, encouraging each other, as we continued to descend the trails. We could hear blasting rock music the last few kilometers, and raised our hands in victory as we rounded the last turn toward the finish.

Photo credit:

Saturday, May 16, 2015

DNF'ing the 2015 Elk Beaver 50 Mile Ultra

There were a couple of factors that led to me DNF'ing the Elk Beaver 50 Mile Ultra last weekend - shoes and heat. Though I had put in nearly 900km of training over a 16 week period leading up to the race, I found out close to the event that my Hoka Bondi 3 running shoes were deformed. I had run with Hokas in the past and had had no problems, so when I bought a pair online at a month before the race I figured they would be fine, but while training I developed some strain on the inner side of my knee, and a slight lower heal pain. I went to the local Extreme Runners shoe store to get some guidance. They took a look at my Hokas and quickly pointed out, by sitting them side by side on the counter, they were a deformed pair. I had to make some quick decisions, so I purchased a pair of new insoles for an older pair of trail Hokas (Mafate Speeds) and hoped for the best.
This year I was blessed to have my wife, Olivia, along to help out with the aid station. She took some video of the start too, as we all departed at 6:00 a.m. from Elk Lake Park. In the cooler hours of the morning I made good time and completed 30km in just over 3 hours. While the heat of the day hit us, I developed a blister on my left foot. I switched out my shoes at 40km for another pair of old Hokas to see if that would ease the blister pain. It did, but then my knee started to get inflamed while pushing to the 50km mark. I stopped longer at my aid station, drinking more, icing my knee, and I even took a swim in Elk Lake to cool off, since we were right beside the beach. With my core body temperature cooled down I was able to complete another 10km. But my knee was too inflamed by 60km to continue in the heat, so after this stage I DNF'd.

Lessons learned: Check running shoes for deformities, no matter how trusted the brand. Be prepared for all types of weather.

My wife and I shared the same motel as Arielle Fitzgerald (the eventual winner of the women's 100km race) and we drove her to the start with us in the morning so she didn't have to get a taxi. We helped her out as well during the ultra, sharing an aid station, giving her gels and S-Caps to help her when she looked like she was dragging. I was able to get video clips of the top 100km finishers including Adam Kahtava, and some shots taken after the race. You can find it below:

With this being my third time participating in the Elk Beaver Ultra I was pleased to see some people had returned. Armond LeBlanc, president of the Canadian Ultramarathoners Association, and manager of the Canadian ultra running team, was there. I had run some hills with him before in the Cumberland, last year, so it was good to see him again. Two of the Wounded Warriors I ran with last year were there as well. Allan Kobayashi competed in the Elk Beaver 50Km event and finished strong with a time of 4:30, placing first in the Men's Open category.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Running from one year to the next

New Years Eve, 2014, a friend, Louis Nadeau, and I, set out around 11 p.m. to trail run from one year to the next. It was a clear night, just below freezing when we headed out to what we call, the Pipe Line Trail. This starts at the Puntledge River power station in Courtenay, B.C., and runs up to the head of the Riverside Trail. Most of it is a gravel pathway, until it enters the forest after 6-7 kms. We had run this route several times before in the dark, early morning, so we had some idea of the risks we were taking. With only the moon, and head lamps, for illumination, I figured it was good ultra training, for those long runs that go through the night, or begin early mornings.
We both wore hydration packs, with a mix of gels, and other nutrients, tucked into the pockets. We weren't running for long when we noticed the cold temperatures caused the water in the hydration pack lines to freeze-up, so we had to be careful to take frequent sips to keep things from clogging up with ice. We were midway through the winding forest trail when the New Year rolled over. I stopped at that moment, and let out a few hoops, and hollers, yelling, "Happy New Year!".
We took turns leading on the trail, as it wound its way through a fir tree forest to the Comox Lake dam. While passing through this we noticed a temperature difference, that it was several degrees warmer in the thick woods, even though we were at a higher elevation.
Unfortunately I tripped over a root on the return trip from Comox Lake, totally flipping onto my back. The hydration pack cushioned the blow, but spilt most of its contents. My headlamp went flying off into the undergrowth. I'm sure Louis thought my trip was amusing, though I didn't hear him laughing. He found my headlamp and helped me to reseal the hydration pack, which was now soaked. There was still some drink left for the remains of the run, but not much. The biggest problem was the wetness on my running tights. That caused my legs to freeze up, and my running pace slowed to a crawl.
The 25 km run ended up taking around 3 hours to complete, due to the tripping accident over the root. Over all it was well worth it though. What a great way to ring in the year 2015.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Live from Bethlehem - in Parksville

While taking a well needed break for my body to recover from all the ultra running I did this year I've been able to do some Christmas holiday activities. Yesterday my wife, Olivia, my son, Andre, his girlfriend, Fiona, and I, attended Bethlehem Live, at the Parksville Baptist Church. We arrived about 45 minutes before the doors opened and there was already a line up, but we didn't have to wait long. Soon we were ushered inside by Roman centurions, who said we had to go the Bethlehem to pay our taxes. See the video below documenting the experience.

It was encouraging to see all the local volunteers in costume, acting the roles of various village residents. The fish, and meat products the venders had on display were all real, so you could get a sense of what the village would have smelled like. Ewwwh! I'm glad they were baking fresh bread to balance out the scents.

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 Miler, 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 would leave, 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 was mostly done in the dark. 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 pushed 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. The race results showed that I had finished 25th overall, and surprisingly I managed to just make it into the top ten for the men's masters category.

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