Monday, July 23, 2012

Jumping In the Deep End With Both Bare Feet : Lost Soul 100 Miler Ultra Marathon

Southern Alberta's Ultimate Trail Run
September 7-8, 2012
Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada 50Km 100Km 100Miles
"The Toughest Race on the Prairies"

So I have been humming and hah-ing about upping the ante this year, and doing 2 legs of the Death Race is definitely doing that. But, I also wanted to really get out of my comfort zone by going all out and trying a 100 miler. Now this might seem pretty silly to some, as the longest I have run in a race situation is 50km but lets just say I was inspired by a couple of fantastic runners who were in the same place that I currently find myself in.

Vanessa Rodriguez of Vanessa Runs and her other half, Robert Shackleford affectionately known as Shacky ran their first 100 miler this spring, see the first of Vanessa's blog posts on the achievement here, followed by Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and finally Part 5. These are a awesome read and a good way to get a unique perspective from inside the head of a Ultra Marathoner who is finishing their first 100 miler. Plus Vanessa is such a good writer, she makes you feel like you are right there with her.

A friend of mine, Scott decided a few months ago that he was going to tackle the 100 miler this year, this will also be his first, and has been training relentlessly since. I have been reading and talking with him about his progress and in the back of my mind weighing the pro's and con's of jumping in as well. First, I was trying to figure out how I could help him crew and maybe be his pacer for the last lap, that seemed possible. The logistics would be interesting because we are both from Manitoba and I would need to get there, secure accommodations and of course take some time of work. Then I started to think, Could I actually run this now and finish? I was originally thinking and planning where I could try a 100 miler next year, but the more I thought (sometimes this is quite the process, I am blonde you know),  why not this year.  I kept all this to myself for the last month or so, not really sure if I wanted to seriously consider it or not, there was some serious logistics to be thought out and I wanted to make sure I was really committed to this. Of course this would mean my lovely and very talented wife would be left with the kids for a few days as Daddy travelled to Alberta, ran a crazy distance, then travelled home in total disarray and would be probably be pretty much useless for a couple of days afterwards. I love Nicole like crazy, because she is totally supportive in whatever crazy ass thing I decide to do, including this one.

I am super excited and nervous at the same time, once we finish the Death Race August long weekend, this will be the focus, so hopefully all my friends don't want to shoot me by the time I leave for Alberta, because I am sure it will be the only thing I want to talk about.

Wish me luck this is going to be a crazy ride, and I will be hanging on for dear life.

Course Map from the 2009 Race here

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Where's The Beach? Stead, MB - Mountain Bike Enduro Event Trail Running Style

On July 1, this year I signed up to take part in a little Run, Bike challenge in Stead, MB. Basically a 33km trail run taking place during a Mountain Bike Enduro Race of 33km, 66 km or 100km. Just couldn't pass it up. It was hotter than hell, and the sand was like running through hot coals but I finished and I finished smiling. This little video was put together by the organizers of the event. I have a very quick double time barefoot running cameo near the end. Had a blast and this is definitely a recommended event if you want to do something a little different.

Canadian Death Race Training Camp Day 2: Mount Hamel

What more can you say other than looking at the above Elevation Profile for the Death Race, do you see that really high up to the right of the white line? That's Mount Hamel, it is a epic 6 mile run up to the top (seriously feels like you are going straight up at times) before you crank out a really long down to the start of Leg 5. This leg is 36 kms long with the largest elevation gain. Of course I would make this leg mine, because I really like to go up and the down is manageable in my mind. But I digress, back to the start of the day.

The day started with little to no sleep, because who can sleep with the a day planned like this, a 13 mile mountain bike ride called Leg 3 to warm the legs up and get them good and tired before tackling my leg, which would be 4, The Hamel Assault. That sounds so cool doesn't it, I think so and that is all that matters. Anyway, as I said sleep was hard to come by the night before, I would be lucky to say Nicole and I got 2 hours between us. What lied ahead and what we just finished did not allow my brain to shut down long enough to drift off. This crazy ass smile just kept drifting onto my face and I could not stop it, I bet I looked like the Joker with that grin, I swear it was from ear to ear.

As Nicole was running Leg 3 race day, she did not want to bike it (and who could blame her, I probably should of ran it too, as I swear I almost filled my shorts a few times during the ride), so she and a few other runners left a little bit earlier and headed out to cover it by running. But figuring I was saving my legs a bit for my Hamel by biking (boy was I wrong), Dan and I stuck around the hotel and had breakfast while we waited for the bike ride from hell to start. Now don't get me wrong I like riding my bike, I like hills (remember I am from Manitoba, land of the Flatlanders) and trails but I was total out of my comfort zone with this. Supposedly this was a easy ride, but for a relatively new mountain biker, I never learned how to use my gears until about a month prior, it was nerve racking as hell. Anyway I am not going to bore you with the details, lets just say I was never so glad to get off my bike and get ready for some running when we arrived at the start of Leg 4. The only thing I remember was what Dale said at the beginning, "When you are going downhill, be alert to the big rocks, holes and trees on the path, but don't look at them as your bike will go where your eyes are looking, always look for the clear path and your bike will follow." That is so true, but damn it was mind numbing constantly worrying about going ass over tea kettle when hitting that one big rock.End of story.

But here are a couple of pictures from Nicole's adventures along Leg 3, I was glad she took some because there was no way I was, I was hanging on for dear life for most of it.
Somewhere along Leg 3, I think I had my eyes shut at this point on the bike

Nicole, my beautiful wife rocking the scenery
One of Nicole's partners in crime, I cannot remember her name though, did I mention how crappy I am at remembering names, well this was another case of it.

A river runs through it.....
This was one of the streams that run across the trail along Leg 3, try not to get your feet wet.

One of the many vistas along the way, again I didn't see this either, crap my eyes must of been closed.

Running along the highway to the end of Leg 3

Yay, the finish of Leg 3, now I can get off my bloody bike
Time for Pizza

As I stated above, when I pulled into the area that served as the transition between Legs 3 and 4, I was relieved to the point of giddiness. I was quick to load my bike onto the trail, rip my helmet off and headed directly over to the pizza boxes that served as our very welcomed lunch. After scarfing down 3 or 4 pieces, guzzling Gatorade and water and looking for my trekking poles because I would be needing those for sure, I started getting ready for the running adventure ahead.

I got my pack back on and prepped myself for the run, as I looked down at my Vibram clad feet, I thought to myself, take them off, keep them on, take them off, hmmm dilemmas what to do, what to do. So I decided, to not to freak out everybody, I would leave them on until I hit the treeline, then I could non-discretely take them off and run free once again. So we were off up the road we went following what we thought was the trail up a ridge and along a narrow path to........... nothing, well a dropoff anyway so that could be called nothing. What the heck, we just started the leg and we were already off course, this did not bode well for the rest of the run, or did it. So we doubled back, down the ridge and back onto the road for a bit more before.... low and behold.... a clearly marked trail right up into trees and straight up the mountain. Right on, here we go, once I hit the treeline, the shoes came off and I felt the dirt track against my feet, the big smile graced me with its presence, then I started running. Piece of advice never run in the woods with a smile on your face, because yes, smack right in the teeth a bug decided to make it home right between my two front teeth, yuck, I swear I was spitting bug parts for at least a mile.

The first couple of km the course winded straight up with nice trail like this....

With a little bit of this.......

And then some of this.......

Which resulted in this........

Oh glorious mud, how you cake my legs and feet

Here is another vista shot along the way up the mountain.

I loved this run up the mountain, there was a bunch of different types of terrain, once we got above the dirt trails we hit rock, lots of rock and stone littering the trail.....

A foot massage for sure, I see you cringing, but damn it this rocked.......

But seriously, I was having the time of my life, my legs felt good, some of the steeper uphills I power hiked, but I ran as much as possible to get the full effect of race day. As we broke out of the thicker tree cover we hit the mine road which was a combination of dirt road with gravel, shale and bits of coal thrown in for good measure. This was really fun to run on as I had to do a lot of deking, insert sound effects here (that would be a chu, chu chu type sound). If you have ever ran with me before you would know what that means, if not well maybe next time. The mining road twisted and winded up the mountain until you got to this......

Which of course you had to follow to reach this sign......

The irony as we went over the edge into the unknown, well at least unknown to me anyway

As we carried on we ended up on some more mining roads that continued the trek up the mountain. It seemed like we had been running for at least 10 miles but in reality it may of been 3 or 4, your perception as you run up hill does funny things to you for sure.

Bits and pieces of the mining road up Hamel

The mining road as it twisted and turned up the side of the mountain
Another one of the signs en route, inspiration comes in the strangest places

Once again the trail changes as we hit a new area and height.......

and again.........
What the hell, why are we going down... oh yeah I turned around to take this picture...never mind.

Look over there, way over there, that is Mount Hamel's summit shroud in clouds. Seriously I still have that far to go, shazam..........

I think I will look the other way......... yup looks better, oh well back to running.

and more trail change........
This was awesome on the feet, running in the mud then running up the stream to clean them off, repeat, repeat.......

Gee, you know you are getting up there in elevation when you come across....... SNOW in late June.

I almost went over to put my foot prints in the snow, but figured why ruin a perfect picture
Then we hit above the tree line and the shale switchbacks, these were really interesting to run on barefoot, trying to find the sweet spot to put my foot down and make my way up, the switchbacks seemed to go on for ever as I slowly made my way to the top. With a combination of running and power hiking, utilizing the mossy areas on the side of the switchbacks when I could, I slowly made my way to the top. Just as I reached the last set of switchbacks before the summit I met a hiker who was making his way down the way I came up. I look at him and give him a quick hi, he looks at me and starts to repeat the salutation when he realizes there are no shoes on my feet. His expression changes and he says, 'Wow, barefoot, now that's hardcore man!' I just smiled and said, hardcore no, silly maybe, we will see how my feet are when I get down the other side. With this we parted ways and I continued up to the top.
This was the surface of the switchbacks, lots of shale sheets, rocks, rocks, rocks everywhere....
oh yeah, that is my finger there, just pretend its not there and obscuring part of the shot. Sorry about that......
As I crested the top of Mount Hamel, I just stood there and looked around, I was in awe, firstly because I have seen numerous pictures and videos of this on the net as I was doing my Death Race research and could not believe I was actually here. Secondly, because this is the highest I had ever gone on my own two feet (and bare to boot) and that was a great feeling. Thirdly, because the view was absolutely spectacular, well it probably would of been if I was not shrouded in cloud, what a cool feeling that was.
The proof is in the pudding or the cloud bank, here is the marker that sits on top of Hamel....
Notice the white piece of paper taped to the support post, it was a little bit of inspiration for Nicole, well probably not my wife Nicole, but damn it you take the inspiration where you can get it.....


Next time, I want to see a big set of bare foot prints that scream, "Go Death Racers"

Some more misc. shots of the top of Mount Hamel, once again I apologize for the thumb in the picture, I was in awe.....

In the immortal words of Bon Scott of AC/DC, It's A Long Way To The Top If You Wanna Rock'n'Roll........

love the bagpipes, and yes I am Scottish.......

and one of my favorites, it's a long way down
So, here I stand on top of Mount Hamel with my barefeet, I honestly thought I was going to be cold, nope I could feel the heat coming off of me as I took in the views. What a feeling, I had just run up a mountain with no shoes on, the week before I was unsure if I could deal with the verticals, now I knew I could do it, and what a feeling that was. Bring on race day, because I am going rock it, and be dubbed the convented 'Death Racer' and hear me roar.
The crazy thing is while running up Hamel is a major achievement, I still had to go down, and the up was only 10 km of the run, there was still 23 more to go, totally mind boggling. My feet were feeling great, but after the swale switchbacks to the top I figured I would be running on the same coming down, I really did not like that idea to much and would shred the bottom of my feet and I still had another day to go. So I put my Vibrams on for the way down, it was kind of a strange feeling, knowing what I had just tackled and completed, but I like my feet and I figured they liked me so I wanted to keep them.
The run down was very different, the slopes more gentle the trails winded in and out through the trees as we made our way down, I really could of taken my Vibrams back off but for some reason I was a little hesitant, oh well at least I will have a little bit of protection in case I need it. This was the perfect place to keep practicing with the poles, and I was starting to think I was getting the hang of it as my legs were feeling pretty fresh and relaxed. I was able to start just letting go, relax and running with the hill, unlike my usual 'fight the momentum and tense up as I traversed down an incline'. I was having a blast. Dan caught up to me as I hit a flat and made a stop to have a bite to eat and a good drink, it was good to run with him for a time, running trails in solitude is a lot of fun, but running with a friend is just as much fun.
We continued on for a while until Dan decided he needed to walk a bit, I on the other hand wanted to pick the pace up a bit and with a quick see ya at the end, I was off. It is such a great feeling to just let go and run, I was having a great time and moving quite quickly along when I heard a funny noise. It was sort of this low rumbling throaty sound that was coming from the treeline, my first thought was crap is that a cougar. I really didn't want to look, but figured it would be smarter to know then not know what I might have to deal with, I really don't like surprises and especially ones like this. So I turned my head and looked into the trees and low and behold there is a black bear about 20 feet from me (felt like it was closer than that) making some really interesting noises and looking right at me. So my woodlands instincts kicked in (I grew up on a airforce base in northern Alberta called Cold Lake and spent most of childhood in the woods) and I started making the same noise back at him (or her) in the throatiest growl I could come up with. It seemed to work, the bear caulked its head and just sat there as I ran by, it did not come any closer but it did continue to talk like it wanted to have a conversation. I obliged with a few more growls and I picked up the pace so I could get as much distance between it and me as possible. I did not slow down till I was at least a km away, and was glad I did not have to clean out my shorts, too close for my comfort that's for sure. Next time I will make sure I have some bear bangers with me, I am just glad the bear speak I used, did not translate into a challenge or something. That would not of been good for someone, and that someone would of been me.
I got down into the more flatter areas (relatively speaking of course) and saw someone I was not expecting in the not so far distance. There was Nicole moving along steadily ahead of me, I figured she would of been finished and waiting for us at the end of Leg 4 by this point. Oh well, at least I would be able to run with my wife for a little bit as we were not to far from the gravel road and the start of Ambler's Loop.
A few more pictures along the way down Hamel....


and......... one of the friends we met along the way........

here is a shot of the valley we ran through before we hit Ambler's Loop.....

and another one......

As we broke out of the trail and onto the dirt road we hear all this whooping and hollering from our personal cheering squad, the organizers. What a great sight to see, everybody sitting around waiting for the runners to get to this point, and they had chips and fluids (water, Gatorade and even beer) for those that needed to indulge. Absolutely fantastic, although I was not able to run Ambler Loop, which was a shame, I figured that could wait for race day. I hung around for a few minutes, chatting with everybody and fueling up a little bit before I started out down the gravel road to the end. Of course got some pictures to share as well.

Dan with a well deserved beer..... once a hasher, always a hasher......

The smiling faces of Lori and Dave awaiting us at the Aid Station

Tanis and Eryn grinning from ear to ear.......

Anita keeping track of the runners,

Yes, I am going out again..... look I am putting my gloves back on to prove it.......

Nicole, Dan and I pose for a great picture.... who's thumb is that? Man I am short or Dan is a giant..... yeah I guess I am short.....

I ended up making it about another 2 km before the volunteer trucks came flying down the dirt road to start plucking the runners one by one, to see if we could stuff the cabs as full as possible. I ended up sitting in Nicole's lap, I was hoping my bony ass didn't cause her to much pain as we hit the bumps along the way. I think we ended up with 11 in the crew cab and another 4 in the back for 15 crushed runners. Of course there were the die-hard runners who totally refused to get in and wanted to finish. If I only knew that was a option I would of probably did the same, oh well the ride was good too.

Anyway, a quick recap....

Mountain biking in the mountains is scary business, and I am not sure I like it.

I ran up Hamel barefoot and am damn proud of that.

You can really run faster when you are scared s**tless.

It is surprising what your body is capable of when you think you have nothing left or should have nothing left.

The organizer's for this race are first class, and I would recommend the training camp to everyone who is thinking of doing this race, I had the time of my life.

My thoughts for race day, I will start Leg 4 barefoot, and run up Hamel to the shale level then put the Vibrams on for the summit and take them back off for the way down. This is going to rock.

So if you are running up Hamel or anywhere else along the course and you see some lunatic run by with no shoes, just wave and say hi, because that would be me.

Go Death Racers.

I was going to make a separate post for Day 3, but I think I will forgo that with a quick review of the day.

Day 3 consisted of me running Leg One (not from the start line but from the hotel) out to the trail head and continuing for about 7 km through some 'easy' (relatively speaking of course) trails with lots of mud and water. It was a blast with my bare feet, until we reached the point where we cross the highway, this was where we took up the mountain bikes again to finish the balance of Leg 1. Yes I scared the crap out of myself again with some of the hills, almost went into the lake with the bike and tackled some crazy uphills (one that Dale had to get off his bike and carry it up). Best quote of the day was when we were standing at the hotel before the start and Dale was mentioning not to take any gear with you that you did not need for the run. As he looks straight at me, and says, "If you don't need your gear like shoes for the run, throw them into the back of the truck" Of course everybody looked at me and started laughing. Tension be gone.

Looking forward to tackling this for real, see you in August for Death Race Weekend.......

One last appropriate song for good measure.....

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Like? 36 Hours Remaining to Back em Up. Go Bia!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Day One of Training Camp CDR Style Cont.

I can't believe I almost forgot this, to top off the epic two mountain summit run on Friday, Nicole and I also joined about 32 or so other training camp participants for a 5km plus or minus night run of the start of Leg 5. This was one of Nicole's legs and how could we pass up the opportunity to run in the dark on the all important last leg of the race. Even with my slightly rubbery legs, I was not going to miss it, because I was bound and determined to see as much of the course as possible over the three days even if it killed me (and that was a distinct possibility, it is called the Death Race don't you know).

The funny thing about this night run, was at the orientation prior to us starting camp, Dale asked everybody in the room, who was going to partake in this little night time adventure, and about 40 hands went up. At the time Dale chuckled at this, and quickly noted that he expected that by the end of the afternoon that would easily be cut in half. Well Dale, you were not quite right, and I think we surprised him with the amount that did show up. Can we say this camp crew was hardcore, why yes, yes we can.
So at 10:30 pm as the sun was starting to go down we all met at the Hotel entrance to see what Dale and the rest of the team had in store for us. With a little more 'magic' to be performed by the organizers, we shuttled everybody to the end of the 5km run and piled into a vastly smaller quantity of vehicles and headed to the starting point of Leg 5 at the Sulpher Gates Station where we would enter the heavy tree canopy portion of the leg.  So as Dale explained what would take place and how important it was if you were running Leg 5 to see what the conditions of running this portion in the dark would be like first hand. The first portion of Leg 5 you enter the 'Canopy', it gets dark quick and the trail is full of tree roots, so keeping a diligent eye and having a very good head lamp is important, or you will be not on your feet to long.

Map of Leg 5

Dale gave us quite overview of what we were to expect on the trail, from the cat's eye reflectors on the trees to mark the trail (these were neat to see, like a airport landing strip at night), to the tree roots and quick turns, he explained you needed to be aware of your surroundings at all times. He split us up into groups of 4 or 5 runners and sent us on our way, with his catch phrase bellowing, "I Love This Shit!!". Put a smile on my face as we entered the tree line and the pitch black conditions.

I will say, after finishing Leg 2 today and the chore of Leg 4 the next day, I decided to wear my Vibrams for this 5km and I was glad I did. Nicole and I were testing out new headlamps and mine just sucked, it would not stay in position and the light just bounced everywhere. So as you can imagine I would be running along not really seeing where I was going and damn it, I would either land on a tree root or kick one on the leg lift. I just plain could not see the ground properly because of it and I had to slow my pace down just to ensure I was staying on the trail. I really do not like being at the mercy of a light, but I would have to make do I guess. So along the 5 km I ended up going off trail 5 times, almost missed a turn and went off the side of the trail and down an incline (scared the crap out of me), kicked a dozen or so nasty tree roots and stepped on too many to count. That little bit of protection saved me some pretty good gashes and 2 very sore feet for sure. 

With me trying to make sure I didn't die on the trail, Nicole flew ahead and finished way ahead of me (I blame it on the downhills, because Nicole really likes the downhills), I could hear her whooping and hollering through the trees having the time of her life. I knew this was going to be the perfect leg for her, plus she really wanted to do the river crossing on the boat, so how could I deny her that pleasure. I believe I finished about 5 minutes behind her, and was just glad to be back in a area that I could see. But seriously I do like to run at night, because it adds an element of difficulty and a whole new aspect to the challenge of running. But having the correct gear to assist you is very important, and testing out a new light on a trail you don't know is not a good idea. Lesson Learned.

After 'I' finally finished, Nicole and I headed back to the hotel for the night to prepare for the next day and the 'Mountain Bike Ride From Hell' and the 'Rise To The Summit of Hamel'

To be Con't.

But first some more photos from Leg 2:

Somewhere heading up Flood Mountain

One of the many mountain streams that are scattered across the course

A look to the south (at least I think its South, I'm not an orienteer or anything you know) from the trail. Can you see the bee that I caught flying in front of the lens.......

Carolin making her way up Mount Flood showing good climbing technique with the poles

Another view from the trail, don't know what mountain it is but thought it was pretty neat that the clouds were touching the top

The feet were mighty happy to running this terrain. 'Sole'ful bliss I would say.

Round, round we go up the mountain

Enter 'Slugfest' This is looking up at the trail we just came down. This is me kneeling and pointing the camera up the trail, i was trying to show the butt sliding slope of the down. You might even be able to see the grooves of many a previous ass cheek that has slide down this hill

On the floor of Slugfest looking towards Grande Mountain. The muddy trail in the photo is some of the driest down in the valley

The whole trail is full of spectacular views

A view of Grande Cache from Grande Mountain

A storm is a brewing' time to start heading down the mountain

Not even half way down the power line, what fun this descent was

The Smokey River below

Some of my favorite types of trail, dirt that squishes between the toes, ahhh nice soft dirt with the occasional 'proper running form' checking type rock.

All done with all things considered a mild case of mud and dirt coverage

Our Relay Partner Dan coming in after finishing Leg 2. This is his leg  

Dale Tuck, our fearless leader bringing in the last runner to the finish

Nicole and Dan looking quite happy for Leg 2 to be finished. Relaxing in the grass