Thursday, February 20, 2014

Run with the Wounded Warriors B.C. relay team

The goal the Wounded Warriors B.C. Relay Team set out to accomplish was to run 600 km in 6 days following the eastern coast of Vancouver Island to raise support for soldiers suffering with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). When I found out that they were open to having runners join them, I checked their route on Google maps, and saw a 22km section from the Parksville to Lantzville legions scheduled for a 2 p.m. start. It looked doable for a co-worker, Sal Barrie, and myslef to complete. As the team came through the Comox Valley I met with Dan Bodden, one of the organizers of the run, at the local legion to find out if we could link up with them for the Parksville segment of the relay. To do this we would need to sign a waiver, and get permission from our chain of command at work to have the afternoon off. We would also have to take two cars, and leave one in Lantzville so we'd have a way to return when we were finished.

Aside from a small set back with my running gear (I discovered, just before leaving, as I was putting my running gear on, that my cat had peed on my gym bag the night before - soaking my two Dry Fit tops), everything went according to plan. When we arrived at the Parksville start we were greeted by the mayor, and the president of the legion. The media was there to catch the runner's arrival. We had a quick introduction to the team, and then departed, heading south, along the edge of old Coast Highway 19. Steve Kobayashi was our first Wounded Warrior running partner. Having already covered close to 60 kms the previos three days, his IT band was giving him problems. We let him set the pace. The sun was out, and the air was still cool, so it was perfect running conditions. Steve told us of how they were hit with heavy snow the first two days on the north of the island, and were dodging snow plows. The segment we were on was timed to be about a two hour run on the schedule. A long gentle down hill about 6 kms in helped to speed us along as we leaned into it and picked up the pace. Unfortunately what goes down on Vancouver Island usually goes up. The second half of the run included several big hilly sections that put some burning into our legs. George Beatteay, a SARtech from 19 Wing Comox, met up with us around 10km in. He took over for Steve. With all of us being from the same Airforce Wing we had a fun time talking, and were looking forward to finishing together.

We got lost in the last few kilometers of the run by following the directions of a lady in a mini van at the side of the road who told us we were going in the right direction to get to the Lantzville legion. I thought she was a volunteer for the race so I didn't question her. Turns out she wasn't. The police escort we were supposed to meet, finally did link up with us just before we hit a big hill that climbed up toward the finish. With police siren tooting ahead of us, and and fire engine with lights flashing at the rear, we approached the legion where a good sized crowd was gathered to greet us. I couldn't have imagined a better welcome. They presented us with a check for $300 to the Wounded Warriors Foundation. There was coffee and and a spread of desserts waiting for us too. We finished the 22kms in around 1:55 hr, ahead of the scheduled time. My thanks go out to all the volunteers who helped to make this happen, and to the courageous runners, Allan Kobayashi, Dan Bodden, George Beatteay, Jeremy Buckingham, Steve Kobayashi, and Steve Deschamps.

Donations to the Wounded Warriors Foundation can be made HERE

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Night run to Comox Lake dam

It was raining like crazy yesterday so I didn't go for my usual long Saturday run after my protein powder-banana pancake breakfast. Instead, I headed out early this morning at 5:30 a.m. while it was still dark. Trying out my new Nike dry max running tights, I had my headlamp on, and hit the trail around 6 a.m. leaving from the Fish Hatchery in Courtenay. Following the dirt service road running parallel to the hydro water tunnels I noticed my headlamp wasn't as bright as it should be. It illuminated a small patch of ground up to five meters ahead of me, plus it was lightly snowing, so visibility was poor. The first half hour I found my mind wandering, remembering a long conversation I had with a mountain man in the summer who had had several bear encounters in the area. He always carried a can of bear spray, and recommended that I have some too. I didn't have anything like that. Not even bear bells. The trail is in a secluded area, but it gets steady traffic from dog walkers, and the odd horse back rider. I told myself that all the dogs marking the trail side would probably discourage any predators. I was pretty sure of this. I remembered watching it on one of those survivor shows. I hoped I was right.

Nymph Falls trail from Rob Sargeant on Vimeo.

Running in the dark forest, after reaching the power station near Nymph Falls, the trail twisted and turned. I recognized where I was since I had passed through the trail so many times during the day. But it did seem like a different world. It definitely felt riskier in the early morning, before sunrise. It felt so good to get to the Comox Lake dam after an hour or so. The morning was breaking, but still dim with the clouded skies. I had to keep my headlamp on until I reached Nymph Falls, running on the other side of the Riverside Trail. By the time I reached the trail under the Highway 19 overpass the sun was fully up, its light sparkling off the wet ferns, and evergreen trees around me. Running in darkness has its challenges, but it makes me appreciate running in the light even more.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

The highs and lows of 2013

2013 in many ways was an emotional roller coaster ride. The lows were related to the loss of my nephew, Joseph Sargeant, who was born with a heart defect, and wasn't able to get a donor heart in time to save his life. My brother, John-Paul, and his wife Sabina, did everything a parent could do to help a child born with a condition like this. The team of doctors and nurses at Toronto Sick Kids hospital did a wonderful job keeping Joseph alive, and comfortable, as long as they could, for a period of almost six months. Regional TV news coverage on City TV, and CBC, aired stories on Little Joe's plight and the need for a donor. A large prayer chain across Canada was started for him. I ran 60kms in September to raise support for Sick Kids Foundation wearing a photo of Little Joe pinned to my t-shirt.

The highs of 2013 included rich times spent with family and friends, and reaching some ultra-running goals. Olivia and I took a week long summer holiday to the west coast of Vancouver Island to enjoy the amazing scenery around Port Renfrew, and the Pacific Rim National Park. Finishing the Elk-Beaver 80 km Ultra in May, the 24km mountainous Kusam Klimb in June, and the 60 km, ten loops of the Nanaimo, Westwood Lake Trail in September were memorable achievements of 2013. I was also able to join the Heliset Hale First Nations Marathon Team in one of their stages running the length of Vancouver Island, raising support for suicide awareness (see video below).

It was encouraging this year to attend a college art show featuring some of our son, Andre's work (see below). His talents have improved over the years. He was paid to do some illustrations for a soon to be published children's book.

Entering 2014 I'm thankful that I'm not struggling with any injuries. I've started on a 16-week ultra training plan, hoping to improve on my speed and endurance for the upcoming season. I think I'll have more of a focus on trail running this year, as I seem to enjoy that more than pounding away the hours at the roadside. We'll see how things go.

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.