100 Miles, One Day -  Always a learning experience

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100 Miles, One Day - Always a learning experience

It’s taken me a few weeks to digest everything that went on at the 2016 Western States. I will start by saying that it wasn’t the race performance I was hoping for, but it was certainly everything I knew it would be. I believed I could lay down a quicker time - lofty goals indeed for a race with such a reputation for destroying even the best. It’s my 5th hundred and arguably on paper, the easiest course. I didn’t underestimate the difficulties as 100 miles is never an easy proposition - it’s always a journey, with hiccups and bumps along the way. I’ve been here enough times to know that things rarely go to plan, and there will always be low points, along with some pretty incredible highs in any race of this distance. I trained for the heat, and I trained harder than ever. I put in some really good quality work in the early part of the year, that set me up for a great race. But I feel like the second half of Western States just got away from me. I have been trying to analyze what happened, and I think it simply boils down to a bit of bad luck, some overoptimism, and a few schoolboy errors! And one problem can snowball rapidly into others in a race like Western.

Looking across to the Granite Chief Wilderness from the top of Squaw on the WS100 trail

Looking across to the Granite Chief Wilderness from the top of Squaw on the WS100 trail

This race is a giant, and believe me it lives up to the hype - from the pre-race meetings and start line hoopla, to the atmosphere as one steps foot onto the track at Placer High. It is everything that you imagine it to be. It is a beautiful course, especially the first 30 miles through the Granite Chief Wilderness. It is stunning to be running easily along high ridges at first light, with vast vistas of lakes and distant snowy peaks. Of course you feel good in those early miles, and that adds to the whole depth and quality of experience.

Recce up to the Escarpment a few days before the race

Recce up to the Escarpment a few days before the race

Race morning

Race morning

99.8 miles to go

99.8 miles to go

I cruised easily to the top of the escarpment, the first and biggest climb, right where I wanted to be. I typically try to place myself with the lead women, and I found myself passing the early miles with Kaci and Devon who would ultimately finish first and third. We surprised ourselves somewhat when we caught Jim Walmsley near the top of the escarpment, but he was playing mind games with the main contenders, walking the flats, and running the climbs! Needless to say, we backed off and found our rhythm.

Top of the first climb - Lake Tahoe (and Magda Boulet) behind

Top of the first climb - Lake Tahoe (and Magda Boulet) behind

The early miles out to Duncan Canyon rolled by easily. I was fuelling well with Vitargo Race in my bottle. My legs felt great, and I was very relaxed. Fitzy and Ethan Veneklassen were at Duncan Canyon to top up my bottles and it was an in and out in 20 seconds. At Robinson Flat, Saira, her dad and the boys, were excited to see me.

This year's winner in front, last year's champ behind

This year's winner in front, last year's champ behind

 

The atmosphere here was incredible and I felt like a rockstar rolling in. We started heat management here as the day was warming up and high temps were forecast to be in the 100s later on. Ice in the hat, down the sleeves and around the neck - you’ve all seen the Rob Krar video right! I rolled on easily to Dusty Corners where Fitzy and Ethan topped me up again, and I was out of there quickly, enjoying the trail, and anticipating the difficulties ahead. I felt chilly with all the ice, but knew that this was a good thing. I chatted with Kyle Pietari who was cruising the downhills but seemed to be struggling through the climbs. We played yo yo for a few miles, then he was gone, running a fantastic second half to finish 8th. I purposely relaxed on the descents. With around 24,000 feet of downhill, this is not the place to be cranking out fast descents early on.

Leaving Dusty Corners

Leaving Dusty Corners

By Last Chance aid station at mile 43, things were warming up but I was in control. The effort was steady, I had no niggles, and I was eating and drinking lots. In the first 45 miles I stopped for quick bathroom breaks 4 times, so I was on top of the hydration, and it really didn’t feel super hot. I grabbed some gels for the next section, topped up my bottles and prepared for the canyons which is typically where things can turn sour for those who go out too fast. I was rolling out of the aid station when a volunteer offered to douse me with a cold sponge. It was bracing and I gasped with the cold, and then I instantly regretted the shower as my pristine dry shoes and socks got a good soaking. ‘Oh well” I thought, ‘I never get blisters’, and I knew I would be seeing the crew at Michigan Bluff(mile 55) with dry socks and shoes. This is where my great day out took a turn for the worse. Never say never, right.

Albert waits at Michigan Bluff

Albert waits at Michigan Bluff

From Last Chance there is a dramatic and steep plunge into Deadwood Canyon. The drop is around 2000ft. It is steep and loose in places. The grade is such that it’s hard to open up and run down, especially with 40+ miles in the legs. I knew as soon as I set off down the switchbacks that my feet were in trouble. I felt hot spots develop almost immediately in both heels, and within a half a mile I had searing pain in both heels. The grade was such that it was hard to get the weight forward onto my toes, so every foot strike became an agonizing sheer on the skin of my heels. It was a relief to cross over the creek and begin climbing the Devil’s Thumb as the climb provided some respite for my tender heels.  It is a tough old climb, the hardest on the course I’d say, but I felt like I was climbing well. The legs felt good. All systems go. Through Devil’s aid station and then it’s down, down, down again - this time around 2600 ft into El Dorado canyon. The descent is less severe but the heel pain returned as soon as I turned downhill. I was passed by Amy Sproston on this descent on her way to a second place finish, as I tried to gingerly tip toe down through the turns. At the bottom of El Dorado I dipped my hat in the creek for a refreshing shower, this time taking care to keep my shoes dry, but unfortunately the damage was done. Damp socks, blistered heels and hot spots on the forefeet. During the steep canyon descents I was miserable. My feet were killing me, and I kicked myself for allowing blisters to form. It seemed that the discomfort was all encompassing. Negative thoughts crept in for a while, but I remembered a blog post I had read somewhere - I don’t recall where - where I’d read that the pain from blistering usually abates. I had a word in my head for the entire middle third of the race - “Persistence”. I have been through difficult times in races, and things do always get better. “Be persistent” I told myself “it will improve.”

The climb out of El Dorado is steep and temperatures were pushing into the high 90s. I managed to run/hike a lot of this, feeling strong on the ups, and in no time at all I recognized the final short road into Michigan Bluff at mile 55.

Getting my feet tended to at Michigan Bluff. It's 99F and I'm not looking so chipper here!

Getting my feet tended to at Michigan Bluff. It's 99F and I'm not looking so chipper here!

Up until Last Chance I was running off 18h 30m splits, and I’m pleased to say that I was nailing the splits spot on. My feet significantly slowed me down in the canyons however, and by Michigan Bluff I was well off target. I decided I was not going to look at the watch again, I’d just do what I could do and get through. My main goal is always to finish, and at States I really wanted that Silver buckle. At Michigan Bluff the whole crew was waiting. I took a seat and Saira did a fantastic job in drying my feet and applying KT tape over the blistered areas, one of which had already burst. I switched into dry Salomon Propulse, with fresh socks. The boys got me ice and I ate a few chips and refilled the Vitargo. Ethan and Fitzy jogged up the road with me, then it was off to Foresthill. It’s only a short distance, not much over an hour. I was optimistic as the feet felt much better with Saira’s tape job and the dry footwear, and my split to Foresthill was good at around 1 hour 12 mins. As I popped onto the pavement after Volcano canyon, I was please to see Albert waiting for me. Crewing is allowed anywhere in Foresthill, so he topped up my bottles and we jogged together the few kilometres up the hill to the Aid Station proper. Foresthill is 62 miles in and I ran most of the climb on the pavement. We cruised into the Foresthill aid station at a good clip. I was bored by Bert’s enthusiasm and encouragement. He filled me in on the race unfolding up front, and my aches and pains seemed to ebb away. The feet were feeling better, my legs were great and the energy seemed fine.

Crew Chief and Carl - Foresthill

Crew Chief and Carl - Foresthill

Foresthill was a spectacle to behold. Words really cannot describe how it feels to get here. It’s a party atmosphere and it really gives you a boost just when you need it. Saira tended to my feet again as Fitzy readied himself for pacing duties. After a few minutes we were off up the road to Cal street. Fitzy had a temperature of 99F on his watch, so the forecast was spot on. Despite the heat I felt like I had done a great job at staying cool. Ice in the hat and sleeves and around the neck is really effective, and the aid station volunteers were pros at topping up the ice. What I now realize, however, is thatbetween Last Chance and Foresthill, in that almost 20 mile section, I pretty much ate nothing. A rookie mistake, no doubt.

Mile 62 - getting my feet assessed again

Mile 62 - getting my feet assessed again

It’s hard to recollect events exactly now, but I believe that I became so mentally distracted by the blistering feet, the wet shoes and socks and the heat management that I omitted to think about calories. In that 4 hours 20 mins between Last Chance and Foresthill, I’d estimate I consumed about 200 calories, which is clearly not enough. In the first half of the race I pee’d 4 times, the second half, once. I just stopped eating and drinking! Obviously the heat plays a part, and can blunt the appetite, but I honestly believe I just became so engrossed in the painful feet situation, that I forgot to take care of the small detail of fueling! It seems so obvious to me now. By Foresthill I think I was probably pretty dehydrated and running low on glycogen. With dehydration it becomes difficult to absorb calories from the gut due to decreased blood flow. The lack of calories also suppresses the brain, and thinking back now, I was definitely in a bit of a fog.

Spirits improved - ready to hit the last 40 miles with Fitzy

Spirits improved - ready to hit the last 40 miles with Fitzy

With Fitzy now along for the next 30 miles, I perked up, but the food just wouldn’t go down well. I developed a nauseating cramp in my side, and every jolt when I picked up the pace was uncomfortable. I felt like I would vomit, but I reassured Mike it would pass, so we dug deep and did our best to keep moving. Not much else to do. If my belly had been good, we would have really flown down this section. Cruisy trails, nothing steep or technical, and my legs felt great, but the belly was a problem.

Cal1, and Cal2 passed in a blur. I remember the course was beautiful as we contoured the American River in a long slow gradual descent. We were in shade through a lot of this section, and I cannot imagine how the heat would be along here if in direct sun light. As it was, the sun glimmered through the trees, and as I think back, this section was a real highlight for me. Mike enthused about the beauty and we wished we had a camera. We were moving slowly, but we were moving. Relentless forward progress is what gets you to the finish. Hundreds are hard, but who would want an easy challenge, right? It’s why we do them. My belly ached. Periodic belches helped, but it wouldn’t abate. My feet were feeling a lot better, but now the gut problems took centre stage and seemed hard to shake.

Rucky Chucky

Rucky Chucky

We hiked the steep and difficult “6 minute hill” to Cal3 aid, and Fitzy chatted with the Aid Station captain who’s family have been crewing here for over 20 years. I started to look forward to the famous Rucky Chucky river crossing where we would see our crew again, and we chatted with Dominic Grossman who was pacing a buddy along here; he entertained us with some of his dance moves, with his iPhone knocking out tunes in speaker mode!  His runner didn’t say much, and seemed to be hurting. Fellow Alberta Salomon runner Alissa St Laurent, paced by Gary Poliquin caught us just before Rucky Chucky, on her way to a fifth place finish. They were obviously moving well, and Alissa put down a stellar performance on the day. Gary handed me something to help with the cramping belly pain, and I have no idea to this day what it was, but it didn’t seem to make much difference! Apparently it had worked a charm for Alissa. I simply swallowed the pill and crossed my fingers. Water and dilute Vitargo were going down OK, but all I could handle at the aid stations was Coke, water melon and a few chips. I think I carried 5 gels with me for over 40 miles without eating a single one!

At Rucky Chucky we met the crew. It is a beautiful spot and I was glad to be here in daylight. Saira, her dad and the boys were enjoying the river crossing spectacle! I was looking forward to cooling off and I had fresh shoes and socks on the far side in a drop bag. That was a killer move! Looking at the splits now, Mike and I had actually made good time along Cal street. My 18h 30m split would have put us here at 18:45, and my 19 hour split had us here at 19:25. We arrived at 20:00 so we weren’t too far off pace. The river crossing was refreshing, but harder than I expected. Huge slippery rocks, difficult ground underneath, and surprisingly chilly.  We made good time across where we were pleased to see Ethan who had hiked down from Green Gate. I changed shoes, Ethan taped up my feet, and I donned a shirt. We hiked up to Green Gate, listening to Ethan’s tall tales. We were passed by multiple spectators heading down to the river. I think Ethan knew every one of them! Ultra legend Dr David Horton high fived me on the climb which was cool, and ex women’s champion Stephanie Howe was at the top cheering. Ethen left us at Green Gate, and what then ensued was a few hours of hike/walk, run fast, belly ache, belch, run fast, walk! We were passed a few times and we passed a few folks. There was a lot of back and forth.

Around mile 85 I felt particularly good and I recall cranking along at what felt like 4 mins/km. I remarked to Fitzy that the human body is capable of remarkable feats, right before I slowed to a walk then vomited up a lot of coke at Brown’s Bar aid! I sat for quite a while at Brown’s Bar. By now, at mile 90, I knew that I was going to finish, but the gut pain was really pretty defeating. I switched to ginger ale and that seemed to settle the belly somewhat. The volunteer who was with me at Brown’s Bar was incredible. He stood by as I wretched and emptied my stomach into the bushes. He talked to me sympathetically and talked about the fact that sooner or later the shit hits the fan during an ultra. He was right, and he knew what I was going through. I don’t know his name, but I remember his words were very reassuring at the time.

After the nausea settled, Mike and I were on the go again. I don’t recall any of the next section. I don’t recall climbing to Highway 49, but soon I was resting in a chair, with my 16 year old son George ready to pace me to the finish. Mike’s job was done, and he did a stellar job. I didn’t talk a lot to Mike in those 30 or so miles, but I appreciated his presence every step of the way. I recall a 2 hour stretch when I was pacing Devin Featherstone at HURT and we didn’t say a single word! Fitzy got a bit of the silent treatment from me on this one, but simply having a good buddy there for you if you need to troubleshoot, and to find the trail, is immensely reassuring.

At Hwy 49 I downed some broth and ginger ale, then George and I were off. I warned him I maybe wouldn’t talk much, but hetook it all in his stride, and I started to feel better. We ran most of this leg, hiking quickly up the climbs. We were across No Hands Bridge in what seemed like no time, and then we were on the final grunt up to Robie Point. I was passed by a couple of runners on this section, and we passed a couple. George ran well a few steps behind me and his encouraging words were a real boost. This is the second hundred miler on which he’s paced me to the finish - the first being Cascade Crest. If you ever get the chance to be paced in by your son or daughter, I highly recommend it! Being able to share a big finish like this with your family is very special. I get a lump in my throat when I think about it.

At Robie point aid we checked in and out in a flash, and at the top of the street Saira, Carl and Albert were waiting. I’ve watched so many videos of the final mile of Western, I had a strange sense of deja vu. As the track at Placer High came into view, I had goosebumps and was overcome with a huge sense of achievement. Stepping onto the track was a surreal experience. It was like going from night to day on the floodlit track. I savoured every step as I tried to pick up the pace around the track. It somehow felt like I was throwing down a fast lap, though my video of the finish tells a different story! Stiff legs, no bounce, the ultra shuffle, but a huge grin on my face. Western States in the bag.

Relief. George snapping a shot after pacing me over the last 7 miles. WS100 finish is a very special place

Relief. George snapping a shot after pacing me over the last 7 miles. WS100 finish is a very special place

Hugs all round! In orange - Ethan Veneklasen who did a sterling job crewing.

Hugs all round! In orange - Ethan Veneklasen who did a sterling job crewing.

What a race. I’ve never finished a hundred and immediately thought, I want to do that again, but as I hugged my crew and family who had made the day so memorable, that’s what I was thinking. Bob Shebest in his blog said he now understands that all roads seem to lead back to Western States. I know that he means, though it’s difficult to articulate. This day wasn’t my best. I had ‘issues’. I vomited, I blistered, and I walked, quite a bit. It slipped away from me in the latter stages, and my lofty goals were just that - way too lofty; but despite this, I’ve got that big silver buckle - the most coveted prize in ultra running some would say. I’ve worn it most days, and will continue to wear it.

With my two fantastic pacers, George & Mike

With my two fantastic pacers, George & Mike

Having my Finish Line photo taken by Larry Gassan - the fatigue is visible!

Having my Finish Line photo taken by Larry Gassan - the fatigue is visible!

I’m back training and running strong again. No injury concerns, no regrets; but man, I hope my name comes out of that hat again next December.

With WS100 legend Ann Trason

With WS100 legend Ann Trason

The Silver Buckle

The Silver Buckle

Thanks, as always to Saira, George, & Albert for the unwavering support. These crazy antics would just not be possible without the three of you, and you really have become a top notch veteran race crew. Thanks to Carl - I wanted you to experience a hundred miler in person - I think was the one to see! To Fitzy for traveling all that way to witness my 30 miles of suffering - cheers man, I appreciate it hugely - hopefully I can repay the favor one day? To Ethan - for getting to those more obscure crew locations - it was immensely reassuring to have you guys out there for me!

Huge thanks to my sponsors Salomon, Suunto, Vitargo & Compressport.

GEAR

In the race I wore Salomon S Lab Sense shorts and vest; shoes - Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra SG and Propulse; socks - Compressport. Hat - Ciele (custom mod by Saira with ice pocket!). Bottles - Nathan handheld 20oz x 2. Nutrition - Vitargo S2 Race. Watch - Suunto Ambit3 Peak.

FINAL THOUGHTS

There is a lot of downhill running. There are significant climbs but they are not huge.

It’s almost all runnable, aside from a few steeps in the canyons. 

Need to work the steady state efforts more. Longer SS efforts = More specificity of training

Heat training really works - my regime of passive sauna training 3 x weekly was effective.

I need to toughen my feet. Foot goo? Prophylactic taping? Fixing Your Feet website a great resource.

I need to practice nutrition in the heat. Hard to do.

I didn’t cramp at all - additional salt is not needed.

I want a second go at this - hopefully won't take another 6 years to get in!!

 

2 Comments

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The Squaw's.....erm.....whatsit

It's the most politically incorrect peak name around, but Squaw's Tit is a truly iconic Bow valley summit. It's visible from pretty much anywhere in Canmore, and is begging to be ascended. I've been up here before, and the ascent route is always different. There is a veritable spider's web of intermingled trails ascending the steep scree slopes above the Montane traverse, but once above treelike, keep going up. As the steepness abates, the rock and the exposure increase, but the scrambling is moderate. When the nipple approaches, keep to it's left side, for it's tempting to angle across to the right, and that leads to some scary terrain. The ascent is easier than it looks from below, and the summit view is magnificent. 

 

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The Goat Traverse and a 'new' FKT rule

Mountain running is changing/has changed. Skyrunning, trail running, FKTs, fast scrambles, the lines are blurring. Adam Campbell recently wrote about the divergence of trail running, scrambling and mountaineering here. One thing is certain though, however one does it and whatever one wants to call it, it’s a lot of fun and it adds an extra dimension to the activity.

In this style then, Adam Campbell and I embarked on a rapid traverse of the Yamnuska/Goat traverse near Canmore today. We travelled east to west, beginning with Yamnuska, and finishing after a descent from Doorjamb mountain. It was exposed and at times precarious scrambling. We travelled fast and light.  We have no idea what the FKT is, but we travelled quickly today. The route finding was generally easy, but intense focus was required in places. A steady head and climbing savvy helped.

AJ Wainwright, the famous English hiking guidebook writer once spoke of “…..a route to heartily recommend to one’s worst enemy”. This isn’t it, though for a few dicey moments I wondered. It’s a truly aesthetic line. It’s a beautiful high mountain ridge with panoramic views, covering complex and varied terrain. But take care, for this isn’t a beginner’s route. I would hesitate to recommend this to anyone who lacks a modicum of climbing knowledge.

Some trip beta:

Distance 14.55km

Ascent 1641m

Descent 1611m

Time 3h 52m

Details and GPX file are here. Feel free to download, or here 

Clothing: Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra SG shoes, Sense shorts and singlet. Compressport arm warmers. Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra Set pack. Buff. Bonatti WP jacket, in pack. Smith Piv-Lock arena glasses.

Food eaten: zero (carried 4 gels)

Fluids: 1 soft flask H2O. 1 bottle Vitargo S2 (200 cals). Vespa Junior x 1, 30 mins before run.

Technical gear: 30m 6mm Petal cord. 2 slings carried. 1 screwgate biner. 1 ultra lightweight Camp harness. One single 10m rappel was needed - Munter hitch used rather than carry rappel device. Adam carried the rope in his Salomon 20 litre pack.

Topics discussed: FKT rules (see below); good reads - “Kiss or Kill” by Mark Twight, “High Infatuation” by Steph Davis. Future projects. Western States, Transvulcania, Skyrunning, Glencoe. Running power meters - Stryd.

Other details: we propose a new ‘Bow Valley FKT rule' - namely that the stopwatch doesn’t stop until the first swig of beer is down the hatch. We tested this with Newcastle Brown Ale.

Enjoy the photos, and be safe.

Quick - stop the clock

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Early season adventures 2016 - Yamnuska

The weather has been incredible and remarkably for the end of Feb and early March there has been some great mountain running to be had. Most of my mountain jaunts on foot lately have been in the Yamnuska area. It's a great 1000m climb/scramble to the summit with plenty of interest, and a great spot to do laps, if you're into that sort of thing. The perfect blend of trailrunning and mountain craft. 

 

Here are are a few shots taken over a few days recently.  

 

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Moab - spring break 2016

A few pics of the first few days. Nice to run on dirt in March, even if the weather is changeable - like it always is this time of year in Utah's desert country.  

Day 1 - Slickrock

Day 2 - Jackson Hole

Day 3 - Fruita bookcliffs  

Day 4 - Rain! Moab rim hike

Day 5 - Hymasa and hailstones! Bailed on Ahab

 

Moab Rim  

Moab Rim

 

Hail on Captain Ahab

Hail on Captain Ahab

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George and his rental bike - happy about that! 

George and his rental bike - happy about that! 

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Fruita CO for a day

Fruita CO for a day

Hurrah Pass

Hurrah Pass

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The portage on the Jackson Hole loop - an epic day! 

The portage on the Jackson Hole loop - an epic day! 

Last light, Sand Flats.  

Last light, Sand Flats.  

The infamous Moab sinkhole! 

The infamous Moab sinkhole! 

The galley  

The galley  

The Tardis

The Tardis

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Change can be good

Those of you who read my stuff will know that I am:

a) A trail runner
b) A lover of the long hilly mountainous course

I stepped out of the comfort zone this last weekend with a very flat and fast paved 50km. No hills of note, and no trail. Two laps of an out and back 12.5 km paved path in downtown Calgary. I had no real expectations, other than to have a decent early season run and go sub-4 in Gord’s Frozen Ass 50k, the first event in the Alberta 2016 ultra series.

To get a quick 50km in the legs early in the season is a real bonus, and one that will hopefully stand me in good stead for this summer’s big test, the Western States 100 - a notoriously ‘quick’ and very competitive hundred.

What a surprise then to have a great day and take the win in a time of 3:32:51, though I was helped by Jacob Puzey going off course whilst leading at around the 23km mark. Fortunately he was out of sight so I didn’t follow him, something I have become quite good at!

I ran scared after the 25km mark after realising I was in the lead, especially with a fired up Jacob, along with Oleg Tabalev and Mevlut Kont chasing hard. Fortunately I was able to hang on, though I really had to dig hard over the last 5km.

I have recovered well this last week, with solid nutrition and some easy short runs, and the hamstrings and calves are finally starting to shut up. I’m really not used to the kind of pounding dished out by 50km of pavement, but very happy with where I’m at in February, and certainly pleased with some early season success; though the problem with success in a new arena is that it feeds a yearning for more....

Race Notes: 

Gear - Salomon X-Series shoes, Compressport trail shorts and shirt, Salomon buff and jacket.

Pre race nutrition - Vitargo 450 cals and Vespa Junior. Caffeine 200mg tab x 1.

Race nutrition - Vitargo - 300 cals per hour.

Pic by Eric Reyes

Pic by Eric Reyes

Wow, that was painful

Wow, that was painful

Pic by Amy Puzey

Pic by Amy Puzey

Post race refreshments with the family

Post race refreshments with the family

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FASTER study - digging deeper and thoughts on future directions

The recently published paper by Volek et al in Metabolism has been hailed as a breakthrough paper which it is said has proven beyond a doubt that fat adapted runners are able to utilize fat as fuel, with rates of fat oxidation at levels previously thought impossible. Compared to a group of high carb athletes, the HF cohort was primarily using fat as it’s preferred fuel source, compared the HC cohort which was surprise, surprise, burning carbs. I won’t rehash all of the details - you can read it yourself here - but it’s a well designed study that proves it’s point well. And the take home point seems to be that at relatively low intensities (62% VO2 max), fat adapted and well trained ultra endurance athletes use a different fuel source when compared to their traditional high carb consuming ultra buddies. It is certainly very valuable to finally have some valid science to back up the anecdotes of increasing numbers of endurance athletes, but for me however, as an athlete and a high performance doc, I think this paper served to highlight a number of unanswered questions, and it left me hungry for more, if you’ll excuse the pun! I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately and I can think of several follow up studies which I feel would be immensely valuable!

The paper concludes thus:

“Conclusion. Compared to highly trained ultra-endurance athletes consuming an HC diet, long-term keto-adaptation results in extraordinarily high rates of fat oxidation, whereas muscle glycogen utilization and repletion patterns during and after a 3 hour run are similar.”

I think that a lot of people will be thinking so-what? No big surprise here. Matt Fitzgerald in his book Diet Cults talked about the adaptability of the human body, and how different cultures had evolved very successfully on very different diets. But I think that in the world of the elite endurance athlete, whether we can survive on this vs that is less relevant than what can make us a better performer. We are all striving to maximize our potential. My car can run on regular or premium gas, and with some fiddling could even run on diesel, or vegetable oil, but if it’s a race car, what matters is what makes it go faster.

I think that if one talks to athletes who follow a generally low carb form of day to day diet, most will quite openly admit that they continue to race on carbs. Why do they do this? I think Peter Defty from Vespa puts it well. He stated to me: “Fat adaptation has huge benefits, but, directly, it won't yield the most power output; however, it is an important foundation for the athlete to achieve superior performance.”

What Peter is saying is that once fat adapted, it’s possible to see huge performance gains when CHO is introduced on race day. This point isn’t addressed in FASTER though, and I think that there are those among us who would like to see additional studies addressing the whole performance issue (and to their credit - Volek et al do mention this).

So here are a few questions I have for the authors.

Lactate levels were increased in the LC cohort in the final hour of their 3 hour treadmill run. I have to wonder why is this? One could surmise that this was due to either increased workload, increased muscle fibre recruitment, increased gluconeogenesis resulting in a sugar spike and therefore increased lactate production, or even decreased lactate clearance in the keto group. Intensity was controlled at 62% VO2max for both cohorts, so that can be ruled out, and let’s face it, this is a pretty low intensity. Aside from this I don’t think we really know the mechanism, and I wonder if it’s even relevant, though interesting. I’d love the authors to comment on this, and potentially looking at higher intensity, or even more prolonged sessions, though I won’t be first in line for a 5 or 6 hour treadmill session!

Both cohorts were fed different pre-race meals. I think we know that endurance athletes are likely in a very metabolically flexible position; you have to be when you’re involved in sporting events that can last 20+ hours or more. We also know that the composition of the pre-test meal can influence R/Q values. A local exercise physiologist told me once that he can tell as soon as a runner jumps on the treadmill to have an R/Q test performed whether they had bacon & eggs for breakfast, or whether they had pancakes and syrup! I’d like to see what happens when the fat adapted athletes are fed a high carb meal. What happens to their R/Q values - is fat oxidation switched off in favour for glycogen use? Those of us who ‘train low’ and ‘race high’ would like to know the answer to this, as it may help to determine our pre-race meal. We know that the HC athlete feels awful and struggles to perform when carbs are restricted, but what of the LC athlete fed ‘rocket fuel’!

No apparent sparing of muscle glycogen post-exercise was observed. This is one of the oft-touted benefits of being fat adapted, and personally, I have found my reliance of carbohydrate fuel sources to be reduced when I follow a strict high fat approach, and I know of others who report the same. This glycogen sparing effect is clearly of huge interest to ultra runners or, for that matter, anyone who plans too push their workouts or races beyond 2 hours, so what gives here? If you look closely at the study design, there was no apparent difference between the HF and the HC groups, but the post workout shakes were different. Having said this, immediate post exercise muscle biopsies were performed before recovery shakes, and then repeated at 2 hours. Muscle glycogen was reduced by around 60% in both groups, and at 2 hours both groups were at around 35%. No big difference, except that the they were each fed a different shake. So perhaps it was the higher carb post workout shake that replenished the HC athletes’ muscle glycogen at 2 hours, and perhaps it was a spike in post workout blood sugar from hepatic gluconeogenesis that replenished the muscles of the HF group. It’s interesting to speculate, and the authors do, but I guess at this point we really just don’t know. And of course, whether it is even relevant in the real world of competition remains to be seen, but the potential relevance would be in the use of an immediate post exercise high carbohydrate shake to more rapidly and more fully replenish glycogen stores when a second or multiple workouts are planned for the day. Again, interesting to speculate but no proof from this trial.

What of the female ultra endurance athletes! This was a male only study. Anecdotally, many low carb female endurance athletes report increased carbohydrate requirements when training and racing. This was a male only study, and I’m sure the females are interested in what a similar study of females would look like. I know that many low carb females like to cycle through higher carbohydrate cycles, but I don’t know what data there is out there to support this practice.

The final issue which is not addressed by the authors in this particular paper, and which may ultimately come to light in later analyses, is the issue of soreness and inflammation. I do not know if this issue was looked at. Anecdotally, LC athletes report less post exercise soreness and faster recovery. To date I don’t believe inflammatory markers have been studied in this situation. I see this as being very relevant to multi day event participants, and these events have grown, and continue to grow in popularity. The ability to recover completely from day to day in these events, is likely the key to winning performances, and for that matter, on enjoyment!

So after some deeper reflection, I’ve concluded that this study really just confirms what we suspected: that at relatively modest exercise intensities, fat adapted male athletes have very different metabolic profiles, and utilize fuel sources quite differently to their high carbohydrate counterparts. It’s a great start to have this kind of proof published in a peer-reviewed journal, but I have to say it leaves me wanting more!

Let’s look at female athletes, let’s look at different intensities, let’s look at low carb athletic performance when fuelled by high carb pre and intra exercise meals. Let’s look at the effects of different diets on soreness, inflammation and recovery. There is also some recent evidence that there are genetic responders and non-responders to high fat diets. This is all very interesting stuff, and I think that these are some of the real issues to those of us who are keen to maximize our performance through dietary manipulation and strategic use of different fuel sources whilst competing.

For now I see no reason to change what I'm doing. Day to day I'm a low carb eater but I train hard and race on Vitargo. And I supplement with VESPA, an amino acid, on those long training days and when racing. Vitargo is the only carbohydrate source that I really tolerate and there are some great studies out there showing why it is typically so well tolerated and effective.

Hopefully this post will generate some thoughtful discussion, and if not, well I'll see you on the trails!

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Strength for Endurance - part 1

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Strength for Endurance - part 1

When the snow starts falling, it's natural to want to grab our skis and hit the trails with unbridled enthusiasm. We've waited patiently through the fall months for the flakes to drop, and now here they are here, we want to ski! Early season injuries are commonplace, and typically related to training error.

Tendinitis is usually a 'too much too soon' phenomenon, and can be stubborn to get rid of. Shin splints, tennis and golfer's elbow, low back pain, ankle and shoulder strains, hip flexor and groin strains are all common early season issues in XC skiers. If we subject out tissues to too much load before they are conditioned to handle it, then we run the risk of injury.

We can quantify load by looking at how much force we subject a given tissue to, and how often we subject that tissue to that force. So it's easy to see that weakness in an area, or simply over zealous training frequency or volume can lead to problems. Our muscles and tendons adapt slowly, and we must be cognisent that this takes time. A progressive but gradual increase in loading is what's needed, interspersed with periods of rest and recovery to allow adaptations to take place.

One of the best ways to prepare for the ski season is to hit the gym. If I'm honest, most people I talk to in endurance sports would rather be outdoors doing their thing, than locked in the weights room for hours, but there really is no doubt that a bit of pre-season strength training can not only help to improve our performance out there on the snow, but can dramatically reduce the risk of injury.

A recent paper in the BJSM, Lauersen et al looked at just this aspect of training in a large systematic review of over 26,000 participants. They showed that strength training reduced the frequency of sports injuries to less than one third, and that around 50% of overuse injuries could be prevented by adequate strength training. These are pretty compelling stats.

An earlier paper in Endurance Training: Science & Practice in 2012 looked at strength training in untrained, trained and elite level endurance athletes. They showed that strength training has the ability to change our muscle fibre type from fast-twitch type IIX fibres to more fatigue resistant type IIA fibres, along with important improvements in tendon stiffness and neuromuscular function, which are associated with better performance.

Finally, Ronnestad et al, in Scand J Med Sci Sport, 2014, showed that heavy and explosive strength training could improve exercise economy, lactate threshold, maximal speed, anaerobic capacity and reduce fatigue in endurance activities, all important metrics.

The bottom line here is that strength training can not only make us better skiers and runners, but can significantly reduce our risk of injury.

In the next post, I will take a look at exactly what this kind of training might look like.

(This article will appear in a modified form in Skitrax magazine)

Working the chicken legs - maybe Vitargo will help

Working the chicken legs - maybe Vitargo will help

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Strength for Endurance - part 2

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Strength for Endurance - part 2

In my previous blog post, I discussed the role of strength training in endurance sports. Not only can resistance exercise make us faster at our chosen sport, but it can significantly reduce the likelihood of injury. By progressively increasing the loads our muscles and tendons are able to tolerate, we can not only improve our absolute strength - the maximum force our tissues will tolerate before they fail - but we can also make our bodies more ‘fatigue-proof’, and less injury-prone. This occurs through a few different mechanisms - most notably, we can actually change our muscle fibre fibre type by heavy resistance training, we can increase the size of our muscle fibres, and we can train our brains to recruit more muscle fibres to work in a given exercise. All of this leads to increase strength, improved fatiguability, and the ability to work at higher intensities for longer durations.

In the past, conflicting advice has been given to endurance athletes with regards to the value of strength training. There is often concern that ‘bulking up’ will worsen performance, but in the real world this simply doesn’t hold true. You have to work really hard, in a very specific way in the gym, with fairly dramatic dietary and supplement support to get big. There is now a wealth of evidence that not only can concurrent strength and endurance training lead to greater performance gains than endurance training alone, but that favourable changes in body composition occur which optimize, rather than hinder, our endurance.

So what does a strength program for endurance exercise look like?

Well much like a well designed run or ski program ebbs and flows in terms of volume and intensity, with the aim being to build a good aerobic base, then progressively add in more challenging and specific workouts, building in defined rest periods, and ultimately peaking just prior to a predetermined event, a strength program has a similar approach. This is what is known a periodization.

A strength program for endurance exercise typically should consist of several phases: strength endurance, basic strength, strength and power.

In the first phase, a general strength program is undertaken to prepare the athlete for the more vigorous training to follow. Higher volume training is undertaken - typically 3 times per week, with higher repetitions of 10-15 repetitions per set. Usually 3-4 sets of 4 or 5 exercises with similar movement patterns to our chosen sport. This phase may last 2-3 months, and as we progress, higher loads with fewer repetitions are introduced. Typically every 4th week will be used to recover, and to enhance physiological adaptations (super-compensation). As the athlete moves towards more specific race preparation, the volume of strength training is typically reduced, whereas the intensity is upped. Strength workout frequency is typically twice per week, with 3 sets of 3-5 repetitions of each exercise. Heavier loads and more explosive lifts are utilized in this phase, which may be 2-3 months in duration. Closed chain exercises are most often utilized, and I would recommend looking for 4 or 5 specific lifts, and work with a trainer to hone your technique. Finally as the athlete approaches race season, the really heavy loading is typically reduced, but volume is maintained at twice owe week. The aim is to facilitate recovery but maintain the strength gains achieved earlier.

For those looking to delve into the specifics further, an excellent free article is available online, with examples of specific exercises in the April 2015 edition of Strength and Conditioning Journal: Strength Training for Endurance Athletes: Theory to Practice.

 

Here's a link:  http://journals.lww.com/nsca-scj/Fulltext/2015/04000/Strength_Training_for_Endurance_Athletes___Theory.1.aspx#

 

Albert Reed - showing me how weak I really am

Albert Reed - showing me how weak I really am

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Guest Blog Post - Adrianna Rowe - Medical support, Grizzly Ultra

Adrianna Rowe is a medical student from the U of C's UCLIC program, who has been spending time working in Canmore in her final Med school year. She volunteered medical support at this year's Grizzly Ultra. She writes:
 
"On a bright and sunny Thanksgiving Sunday, I volunteered with the medical team supporting the Grizzly Ultra Marathon & Relay in Canmore, Alberta. It was a busy, high energy event, with over 1000 runners participating, including Dr. Reed. The event attracted athletes of all abilities in all shapes, sizes and costumes.
 
The medical team consisted of three EMR and first aid certified volunteers, as well as myself, a third year medical student. The day was quiet for us, our most demanding tasks being putting on band-aids and handing out ice bags with a smile. We were prepared for more serious injuries thanks to resources and equipment from St. John’s Ambulance, but thankfully we did not need it.
 
Our most important job may have been redirecting some avid 4 year old racers who wanted to run a kilometre instead of 100m in the kid’s race! This left us with plenty of time to socialize with participants and organizers, and to enjoy the crisp fall day.
 
Mass Gathering Medicine Calgary is a group of medical students, residents, practicing physicians, health care professionals, and other volunteers who have an interest in providing healthcare and first aid at mass gathering events. Event medicine not only provides learning opportunities in pre-hospital medicine, but is also an excellent way to engage with the community and contribute to events that make our community more vibrant. We cover a wide variety of events, from races and competitions to art festivals and concerts. If you’re interested in learning more about us, check us out at http://ucalgary.ca/mgm/
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The North Face 50

It's an incredible race. The last big race of the year for most North American runners. Guaranteed to be fast and uber competitive, just look at the start list! Big money and competition attracts all the big names. Maybe it will be one race too many go me, but when you get an invite from Salomon, it's hard to say no.  Run Rabbit Run was supposed to be the end of my season! But I love the coastal trails of the Marin Headlands too much to let this one pass me by. Thanks Salomon. I'll try not to self destruct.

 

In terms of form, well I'm relying on the miles in my legs leading up to RRR100 for endurance. I think I'm still good for the distance. I've concentrated on some shorter quicker stuff since October, not something I usually do. We'll see how that goes! And lately it's been mostly ski touring. If it's deep snow in SoCal I'll be good!

Oh, yeah, and there's also the small matter of a couple of important lotteries that day, too. Here's to TNF50 being my first long training run for WS. #seeyouinsquaw? Let's hope so....

Last decent run I can remember! 

Last decent run I can remember! 

Training has looked more like this the last few weeks! 

Training has looked more like this the last few weeks! 

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Using carbs when you’re fat adapted - my #OFM approach and how I use Vitargo in training and racing

As most of you who follow my social media posts, and occasional blog posts, will no doubt know, I follow the #OFM (optimized fat metabolism) approach to race nutrition and my diet in general. I believe that for many out there, not just athletes, the high fat, low carbohydrate, ketogenic approach can confer significant health benefits in terms of weight management, chronic disease risk reduction, and potentially the reduction of cancer risk.This excellent podcast by Dr Dominic D’agostino is very compelling and well worth an hour or two of your time.

For me, as an endurance athlete, I truly believe that the changes I’ve made to become a fat adapted, low carb athlete, have not only improved my lab data (see my lipid values post here but have also helped me drop a few pounds and improve my body fat percentage. I look leaner than I ever did in the past following the conventional high carbohydrate athletic diet, and the reduced weight has allowed my running performance to steadily improve. At age 45, it’s unlikely that I’m going to win many ultra competitive races (though I did post wins at the Elkhorn 50 and Blackspur ultra 100km this season) but I am still competitive.

OFM is the term coined by Peter Defty from Vespa. Peter is a big believer in the high fat, low carbohydrate approach to health and performance, but he also sees the benefits of strategic carbohydrate use, particularly when racing. The science is there, and the recently published paper by Jeff Volek, is a credible addition to the literature.

I won’t go into all the details you can read about it here suffice to say that there is now little doubt that ‘fat-adapted’ low carb athletes are able to tap into their body fat stores to fuel their performances at rates that were previously thought to be impossible. Potential benefits include a relative preservation of muscle glycogen stores for longer events, translating to a diminished need for fueling during prolonged activity.

The commonest reason for ultra runners to drop from races is GI distress. So a lower fuel requirement could potentially lead to a lower rate of gut issues. I quote from Outside magazine:

“GI issues are the most common reason runners drop out of 100-mile races, according to Kristin J. Stuempfle, a professor of health sciences at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. During a recent presentation at the Medicine and Science in Ultra-Endurance Sports conference, Stuempfle cited endotoximea—when molecules normally confined to the GI tract leak into the blood—as a likely cause of severe stomach problems.   Although the exact triggers of endotoxemia are unknown, many experts speculate it is related to reduced blood flow to the gut. But Laye feels differently. He thinks endotoximea has more to do with the constant jostling of fluid and food caused by running. “You hardly, if ever, see endotoxemia in cyclists,” he says, “and my hunch is that’s because cyclists are not bouncing up and down.” 

Your best chance of thwarting GI problems during a race is to train your gut by practicing your fueling plan during training. Still, Laye says about 60 percent of competitors experience nausea at some point during an ultramarathon. If you do vomit, he says, “the only strategy is to keep eating and drinking. Aim to replenish what was lost ASAP.”

For me, I have found that since I switched things up, I can get by on less race fuel. Less fuel means less fluid sloshing around in my gut, and less GI distress. And the beauty of the OFM approach is that I can live a low carbohydrate lifestyle most of the time, but race on carbs! You get the best of both worlds. Peter Defty describes fueling on carbohydrates in the race situation as being akin to consuming rocket fuel. Much like there is evidence that low caffeine consumers have more to gain by using caffeine before racing than habituated caffeine drinkers, perhaps the same is true of the low carbohydrate cohort.

I initially played around with a variety of readily available carbohydrate rich sports drinks - all the usual suspects - gatorade, powerade, heed, cytomax, e-load etc. Eventually I decided to try the Generation Ucan products, after listening to Dr Peter Attia, who is a big advocate. After using it in training and racing though, I found I had a lot of gut distress in the latter stages of races, and in fact it was pretty unbearable for me for a couple of days after racing. I chatted with the Vespa guys, and it was suggested that Ucan can in some individuals ferment in the lower GI tract, causing gas, nausea and bloating - something I can attest to. Peter Defty suggested I try Vitargo whilst racing.

Vitargo is an interesting product. Developed in Sweden, it’s a patented low osmolality, high molecular weight carbohydrate, consisting primarily of amylopectin starch. The predominant advantage of Vitargo is that it is rapidly absorbed from the intestine.

A 2000 study, Muscle glycogen resynthesis rate in humans after supplementation of drinks containing carbohydrates with low and high molecular masses’ Eur J Appl Physiol 81:346-351 showed that Vitargo replenished muscle glycogen about 70% faster than other sports drinks.

A second study, Improved gastric emptying rate in humans of a unique glucose polymer with gel forming properties’ Scand. J. Gastroenterol 2000;35:1143-1149 showed that Vitargo very rapidly exits the stomach, a property which limits the potential for GI distress.

I’ve been using Vitargo S2 for the last 6 months, and in the interests of full disclosure, I am now a sponsored Vitargo athlete. It may not be for everyone, but it is certainly worth a try if you’ve been troubled by gut distress when racing. Not only does Vitargo taste great, but for me it works like no other sports drink I've tried. I am now following a largely liquid race fueling strategy, supplemented by the occasional gel, which I seem to tolerate fairly well.

You will see from the Vitargo website that S2 can be used pre, during, and post workout. Here’s my approach:

I do not use Vitargo before my low intensity training runs - about 80% of my training, unless it’s an unusually long session. Typically I get by on zero calories if I’m out for less than 3 hours, but if I have an interval workout planned, I will use 1-2 scoops of Vitargo S2 30 mins before heading out. If I am out for 3+ hours, then I'll begin fueling with Vitargo at around the 2 hour mark.

If I run for over 2 hours, or if there is significant intensity, I will use 1-2 scoops of Vitargo in the immediate post run period, to aid in restoration of depleted muscle glycogen. Ideally it should be consumed within 15-20 mins of finishing, and this really goes for any kind of post workout carbohydrate ingestion. I will add whey protein to Vitargo if it is a prolonged or hard session, and I will always use additional whey protein if I have been in the weights room. There is a Vitargo Post product with contains protein, though it has been hard to come by lately!

During racing, I will use Vitargo at every crewing point, most of a standard bottle downed in one go, and I am now carrying the Vitargo single serving packs whilst racing to mix on-the-go.

My day to day diet, is really a high fat low carb affair, but if I am racing an ultra the next day, or if I know I have a long day in the mountains planned, I will consume extra carbs the evening before.

So that’s my approach. It seems to work in terms of minimizing GI issues, maximizing energy levels whilst racing and in speeding up my recovery. Of course, everyone has their own approach. I would be definitely interested in what kind of approach others are using.

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Run Rabbit Run

Run Rabbit Run Race Report

A few thoughts and learning points

I just finished my 5th hundred miler. It was a brute, though to be fair, all hundreds are. This was my slowest hundred to date, but I'm very happy with the result; this one provided new challenges, and ultimately we learn more from those races that force us to dig deep and to problem solve, than from those which present no big issues. I proved to myself that I can run with the stars of the sport over this distance; I feel good about this. I've had a great year so far, but until RRR100, the fields weren't deep.

Thoughts about the race.

  • Steamboat Springs is beautiful. What a place! Ski hills in summer aren't renowned for their beauty, but I enjoyed the feel of 'the boat'. Cool coffee shops and great eateries. The format of the race is cool. I enjoyed the late noon start. I actually slept the night before the race - a novelty. 3 and 4am starts really are a chore.

  • The start this year was straight up the front of the ski hill. Over 1000m to the top of Mt Werner - a good time to keep the pace mellow. A 100 miler has never been won in the first 4 miles to my knowledge. I went off at a reasonable clip, power hiked, but didn't redline. Learning point: don't push in the first half of a hundred, and train specifically.

  • The drop down Fish Creek Falls trail was the only really technical running of the course. It was beautiful, and the autumn colours were stunning. Wish I'd had a camera! The 4 mile road section down to Olympian Hall was painful and dragged on. Learning point: run on roads occasionally in training.

  • I enjoyed the buff single track run over to Cow Creek and back round to Olympian. I ran most of this section with Timmy Olson and Josh Arthur. I passed Dave James as I dropped down to Olympian. He looked to have blown up badly. I reached Olympian feeling great and feeling like I hadn't pushed. That was the pre race goal. Learning point: getting to half way feeling in great shape is key for me.

  • I was warm leaving Olympian for the climb back up to Long Lake via Fish Creek Falls. This didn't last long. By the time I was at Long Lake Aid I was frozen. Thin gloves a thin long sleeve shirt and windproof didn't cut it. My hands froze and I was unable to fiddle my windproof zipper shut. Not ideal. Andrew Skurka ran by me looking great here. He ultimately finished in third place. Learning point: if it is expected to be cold, dress appropriately. Technical gear these days is lightweight. Don't skimp.

  • Long Lake Aid - fantastic atmosphere. I didn't partake of the Mescal or Whisky. The fire was too inviting for a brief visit. I stayed here way too long. Jenn Shelton offered to rub my legs with vaseline - I declined. Olson wasn't looking too great at this point. Learning point: it's easy to waste time in Aid stations.

  • After donning 3 shirts, 3 thin windproof jackets, 2 buffs and 2 pairs of gloves I was good to go. I stayed warm until Summit Lake - another warm and inviting oasis at 10,500 feet. Post it notes in my drop bag reminded me to 'Embrace the Pain' and that I was 'Primed and Ready'. The positive talk helped and I ran well from here down the long descent to Dry Lake. Learning point: mantras and positive vibes do help!

  • I ran the next 9 mile out and back to Spring Ponds well, but spent a bit too long sitting back up at Dry Lake Aid. Saira insisted I wear my Arc'teryx down hoodie for the climb back to Summit. I was glad I did. I didn't run much of this though it's a runnable grade. 75+ miles were taking their toll. It was -14 C at Summit Lake. Learning point: take advice from crew.

  • The sun rose as I traversed from Summit back to Long Lake. I did get a lift from the daylight - the first time I've ever run all night long, with 11 hours of darkness, but this section and the next back to Mt Werner felt never ending. I passed all the 50 milers heading out. They were very encouraging! Learning point: try to smile!

  • On reaching Mt Werner I had over 100 miles on the GPS (Suunto Ambit 3 Peak). 6 miles of painful downhill to the finish made this my longest run to date. I didn't enjoy the final descent, as I was getting some tendinitis in my left foot, which I think was due to insufficient training miles in the Propulse shoe. Learning point: running hard down ski hills after 100 miles isn't fun. Train in the shoes you plan to race in.

  • Post race free beer and food for runners - great idea!! Learning point: all races should offer this!

  • Final time - 23 hours and some. Good enough for 10th place in the Men's Hares, and second old guy (over 40s). If I account for the extra 6 miles and at least 2 hours in aid stations, I probably ran this no slower than my best hundred, but obviously it all counts! Learning point: overall finishing time doesn't mean a lot. Don't worry about times unless going for FKTs.

  • Nutrition - solid all day. Vespa ultra-concentrates and Vitargo at every aid station worked well. I supplemented this with some broth and ramen at various points. I only ate about 8 gels all day and a couple of bars. I used no salt tabs and drank only water whilst running. Learning point: fat adaptation works. Salt tabs aren't necessary. Don't change things up on race day - use what you've trained with, and don't underestimate the power of long training runs on minimal calories.

  • Shoes - Salomon Ultra SG 4 til mile 52 then Salomon Sense Propulse until the finish.

  • Clothing - Salomon shorts, ultra vest, and Compressport On/Off shirts; S-Lab Sense windproof x 3; Smartwool and Lululemon long sleeve shirts. Arc'teryx Nuclei FL hoodie and buffs.

  • Lamps - Petzl Nao and Petzl Tikka RXP.

Giddy up!

Giddy up!

Pre race Wabbit

Pre race Wabbit

With Canadian Legend Dave Proctor

With Canadian Legend Dave Proctor

Race record holder, eventual winner, and all round nice guy Jason Schlarb

Race record holder, eventual winner, and all round nice guy Jason Schlarb

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Chasing Michelle Yates up the first climb

Chasing Michelle Yates up the first climb

Freezing but smiling at mile 75

Freezing but smiling at mile 75

10 seconds after I finished

10 seconds after I finished

20 seconds after I finished - but happy with my belt buckle!

20 seconds after I finished - but happy with my belt buckle!

Post race eats in Denver with top crew

Post race eats in Denver with top crew

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Lake Louise

I don't get out here enough. Despite the poor forecast this was one of those runs that for whatever reason was a special day. The broody clouds, intermittent squalls, and occasional clearing views of distant peaks made for a memorable outing.

I ran from the Lake to the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse, to the glacier lookout, then back to the Highline junction, and from there to the Big Beehive, down to Lake Agnes and out. I'm not sure there's a better, more runnable mountain 20km loop, that gets you into such great terrain, so easily.

Check it out on Movescount here

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A few random thoughts on RRR100 in bullet points.....

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A few random thoughts on RRR100 in bullet points.....

  • Coming up in a little over 2 weeks.
  • Recovery has been OK since Blackspur 108km. Very low carb the week post Blackspur helped.
  • I've been wearing compression most days.
  • This is my A race for the year. I've had 2 great wins this year. I'm not going to win this but I want a good performance.
  • I need to finish! It's my WS100 qualifier.
  • Trying to maximize rest. Not always easy with a full time job!
  • Keeping the running workouts short - I'm not gonna get any fitter.
  • Power hiking - definitely great for active recovery between short-turnaround ultras.
  • Sleep - could be better - need more! HRV has been my friend. My HRV tightly correlates with sleep quality/quantity.
  • Race nutrition - dialed in. Vespa and Vitargo all the way. I'm new to Vitargo - thanks Peter Defty for the recommendation.
  • Weather could be an issue. It can be wet and will be cold at night.
  • Altitude - likely not a big issue given where I live, but it tops out at >10,000 feet.
  • This will be an all-nighter. Lighting will be important. I've always finished my hundreds in the dark.
  • No pacer's allowed - a first for me in a hundred miler. How will this be mentally? Running into daylight will be helpful.
  • Field - there is a stacked men's and women's field.
  • I'll run my own race and not get caught up with the hares!
  • Excited. Very.
Getting up high on Mt Sparrowhawk  

Getting up high on Mt Sparrowhawk  

A great place to hike

A great place to hike

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Blackspur 108km!

My race report from last weekend. Thanks again to my awesome sponsors - Salomon Canada, Suunto Canada, Compressport Canada, Muscle MLK and Vespa. All are top notch products!

I was very pleased to be standing at the start of the inaugural Blackspur Ultra 100km race in Kimberley, BC, this last weekend. Just three short weeks ago I finished the Elkhorn 50 miler in Montana. It was a big effort, racing in the heat, and I wasn't sure how the recovery would go. Still, I was feeling well rested, and with a few reasonable miles in my legs since Elkhorn, I lined up feeling confident that I could have a good showing. The weather had looked pretty iffy earlier in the week, with a lot of rain, so when race day dawned looking clear and cool, I was happy. Coffee, beet juice, Vespa CV 25, and some greek yoghurt with a few berries, almond butter and nuts are my go to pre race breakfast fuel. I like to eat at least two hours before I race, so it was a 6am breakfast, which in ultras is quite civilized!

The race format was fantastic - 3 loops back to the start/finish area at the Kimberley Alpine Resort, then repeat. I was self supported on this one, so all I needed was a well stocked cooler with food and drinks and a few spare clothes at each transition. Simple logistics, that made self support a breeze.

Leg one involved a big climb to the top of the ski hill. Brian Gallant, RD, was laughing when he described the route in the pre-race meeting. He described single track, turning into a scramble up a gully, then, well not much of a trail at all! He figured this one would beat us up. About 16km with 1000m of climbing.

Leg two involved apparently involved some great singletrack and fast times were predicted here due to the very runnable nature of this leg. Still, it came in at around 18km with over 900m of ascent.

Leg three involved more single track, a big descent down an old dirt road, followed by an equally big climb back to the finish, with some great views promised on this leg. 18km and 800m of climbing would mean this leg was no pushover, especially on the second go around!

Race morning dawned cool and slightly breezy, with a great forecast for highs of around 21C. It's impossible to remain completely tension free at the start of a race, but I had already decided to go out slow, take it easy on lap one, scope the terrain as it were, then push through lap two, if things were going well. The pre-race plan had me quite relaxed. No pressure. I had also decided, that if things weren't going to plan, I'd drop early, and save my energy for Run Rabbit Run in Colorado in 4 weeks.

At 8am - a highly sociable hour for a race start - Brian counted us down, and we were off. A few of the 50km runners bolted, but I held off, consciously told myself to go easy, and set off up the initial climb. After a couple of easy kilometres up a wide access road, we veered off right, enjoyed some flowy single track, then made a hard left and it was hands-on-knees time. The next couple of km was a mix of steep grassy ridge, rocky gulch, and deadfall scrambling. I loved it, and was pulling away from some of the other 100km solos, and before long I was running alone, high along a great little ridge out to the aid station high on the ski hill. A quick bite then a fast descent down some great technical rocky trail. We crossed some large boulder fields, and an off camber trail traversed under some spectacular cliffs. The beauty and technicality of trails was quite surprising to me, and I was inspired to crank up the pace, but an inner voice told me to cool my jets and save the quads. After a quick transition back at the start finish area, where I reassured a nervous looking Brian that not only was the course a lot of fun, but that it was well marked and I hadn't got lost, I was off on leg two. By this time I think I had about a 10 minute lead on second place Majo Srnik, who was running in Luna sandals!!

Leg two was a bit of a blur. I remember it was quick, fun and runnable, and aside from some steep burmed MTB trail early on, I ran every step. The highlight was a fantastic little trail that gradually climbed up alongside a beautiful silvery lake. More rocky cliff-side trail and bouldery traverses followed, and given that the next nearest guy was racing in sandals, I pushed the pace a little on this leg, and soon I was heading back through transition with a 14 minute lead.

A quick refill of water, a swig of some sports drink at the aid station, and it was off onto leg three. The start was very similar to leg two. We climbed some twisty and burmed MTB trails, which would be a blast to descend on a bike, no doubt. Then we headed off through some thin forest. Again, the whole trail was very runnable. Eventually I dropped down onto an old road and it was a fast smooth descent to the Aid station at the campground. It was a long drop of around 350m I'd say, and after a couple of thousand metres of descending it was a relief when it ended. The day was heating up now, and the climb up the Myrtle mountain trail was hot and dusty, but the views of distant peaks were quite inspiring. I was still running most of the climbs well as I approached the 50km mark, and I figured my lead was growing. I was passed by a team (who ended up winning the overall team event), and surprised myself when I was able to pick up my pace and latch on for the final few kms to the end of lap one. My lead was around 35 minutes buy the end of this leg, so my pit stop was a little more relaxed.

Lap 2 was simply a repeat of the first lap. The measurements were a bit off, so lap one ended up being closer to 54km than 50km. With a good lead, I felt I could back off, run relaxed, and avoid blowing a gasket. In 4 weeks I race the Run Rabbit Run 100 mile event in Steamboat Springs, CO, so avoiding digging too deep was the modus operandi. The remainder of the race is a bit of a blur to be honest!

The climb on leg 4 ended up being the only significant low point. I'm experienced enough now to know that almost every race will have one. I felt a bit drained on the steep hands on knees climb, and decided to take a short break. I sat for about 2 minutes, downed some Vespa ultra concentrate, 2 gels and an Omni Bar! The calories kicked in quickly and soon I was high on the ridge and life was good again. The descent was still a blast the second time round, and I think I had a large grin on my face again at the end of this leg. By the end of leg four my lead was almost 50 minutes. I changed shoes, knowing the nature of trail now, into the new Salomon Propulse shoe, which I figured would be a great shoe for the faster more runnable and smooth trails ahead. Dennene Huntley was gracious enough to help me refuel; she filled my flasks and grabbed me some gels, and her bubbly, energetic personality gave me a definite boost! Thanks Dennene!

On legs five and six, I have to say that I felt like I was covering new terrain! I remembered bits of each leg from the first time around - like the beautiful lake traverse, the technical descending, the climb out of the campground, the distant peaks visible from Myrtle mountain, but I felt as though I was on new trails! Amazing that the mind can play such tricks, and my GPS track confirms that yes, I did indeed do each lap twice! I suspect that I was watching my step a little more on lap one, as the pace was higher, whereas I was moving more slowly, and had time to enjoy the views on lap two. So whilst laps can be boring, this was not the case here!

At almost 12 hours 59 elapsed, I dropped down to the finish area for the final time. I was feeling great, and was even able to manage to jump across the finish line, Jorge Maravilla style! The atmosphere was fantastic, as it had been all day. I think this format of race makes for an incredibly friendly and enjoyable experience. The race volunteers were fantastic all day. Mevlut Kont, who won the 50km deserves a special mention. He was there at the finish and at the end of leg 5 to let me know that the lead was big, and that I didn't need t push hard. He grabbed me food and drink at the finish, and was generally just a great help, despite having 54 fast kilometres in his legs. Cheers Mack!

Kudos to Brian and his race organization for a brilliantly organized race. There are so many great races out there now, but if you're looking to stay in Western Canada, this one is highly recommended. The race prizes were unique (a handcrafted beer stein!) and the sponsors clearly very generous.

I hold the course record now (year one!!), but I tell you, it can be smashed!

Final distance 107.9km with 4483m climbing. Data from this Strava track.

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Blackspur Ultra is here

This weekend I am off to the inaugural Blackspur ultra in Kimberley, BC. I’m racing the 100km version and it’s a great looking course. Brian Gallant, a well known and experienced RD (Sinister7) is running the show.

Check it out here

With almost 6000m of climbing over the 100km course this will be a very tough challenge.

Live results available at zone 4

Hopefully the weather will be better than this

Hopefully the weather will be better than this

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The Elkhorn 50 miler

The HURL Elkhorn Endurance Runs promise, according to the race website, '....big time challenge, small town feel.' Race director Steven Engebrecht adds 'We challenge you to find a more difficult 50 mile course anywhere.'

On all fronts, the Elkhorn 50 miler, lived up to it's billing.

I always relish the opportunity to run new trails, but I have to admit, now wrongly so, that the hills around Helena, Montana, have never been a draw. Typically, as I've headed south from Alberta, Canada, down Interstate 15 to Utah or Colorado, I've merely glanced at these hills, not knowing what gems are hidden beyond view. I won't make that mistake again! The hills look somewhat tame from the I-15. Believe me, they are anything but, and the Elkhorn 50 will give you a real ass kicking if you haven't put in the requisite training.

This year, a modified course promised an additional 3 miles of single track, adding 450ft of climbing to an already challenging 13,450 feet of climbing. Throw in temperatures close to 100 degrees, and you can see why this is not a race to be underestimated.

The race started early at 5am from the Willard Creek trailhead. Primitive camping was available, but proved popular and a real community of like minded trail runners up for the challenge sprung up the evening before. The heat was evident immediately on rising early at 3:30am on race morning. Pockets of warm air drifted through the start finish area. It was going to be a scorcher, especially for the Canadian contingent, more used to down parkers at this time of day.

The race start was relaxed. We hit single track immediately. Head lamps were mandatory, but I suspect the full moon would have been adequate. There was little breeze and the silvery hue of moonlight lit the way. It was a beautiful setting as we slowly climbed in the dark up Willard and Jackson creeks, with the Elkhorn mountains enticing us in the distance. Occasional elk were startled by our presence, and charged away into the undergrowth.

The early miles were easy, the pace gentle, and the climbs runnable. I joined a small group up front. Locals and past participants, it was a good group to hang with. They knew the way, and the difficulties.

As we climbed upwards, headlamps were soon discarded. First light revealed breathtaking views of distant ranges. We crested 7000ft, then began the first of many rocky and technical singletrack descents. I feared for my quads later in the day, so descended conservatively. Fast and nimble feet were required to negotiate the drops. Wide grins were evident as we stopped to refuel at Tepee creek aid station after a furious descent.

Soon we were climbing again. Temperatures were warming up now, but feeling good on the climbs, I moved into the lead. I had been passed on the early descents, and nursing a minor foot injury for a few weeks, I was deliberately conscious to pick my way easily down the rocky descents. The climbs are generally my strength, and this was my opportunity to put some time between myself myself and the chasers. Power hiking, keeping within myself, I was soon alone, 15 miles in. The trail was beautiful, and I took time to take it all in. Twisting, dusty single track wound it's way across exposed grassy hillsides, rocky ridges and ancient old mining roads. We crossed numerous muddy creeks, and scrambled through dense forest. There is no pavement in this race, and 85% is single track. Hard to beat.

Eventually I was descending an old road into the historic ghost town of Elkhorn at mile 30, and the main crew access point on the course. The early miles seemed to have flown by. The varied trail had certainly entertained and challenged. No fear of boredom here! The legs felt great though, and I knew I was having a good day. My family greeted me, anxious to see how I was doing. They have become extremely proficient at crewing duties over the years, and I trust them to get me fuelled and back out into the race efficiently. This time was no different, and all too soon, I was leaving them, having had a very efficient pitstop. The historic old town looked like a place to explore, but the race was on, so no time to dawdle!

My crew was well prepared for the conditions; I had an ice filled bandana looped around my neck, and cupfuls of ice down my race vest. The climb out of Elkhorn town up to Leslie Lake and the Skyline mine was a brute. The trail began as a rocky, loose and exposed boulder strewn old road. It was difficult to run, and with numerous steep pitches, it rapidly became a baking hot hands-on-knees type of affair. I was glad of the ice in my pack, keeping the core temperature down.

Leslie Lake was an oasis. The single track trail skirted around the shores, and it was tempting to take a dip. I refrained but repeatedly dowsed my cap in the numerous feeder creeks. I sensed I had a good lead, but felt the need to keep pushing, as no one had any idea where my chasers were. The swivel-head was in full action! After a steep climb from the lake, it's a dash across some primitive and indistinct trail, before a 1500 ft plunge down to Tizer creek and Manley Park. The trail was brilliantly marked, and renowned for losing my way, I was glad the trail crew had done such a good job! It's a rare day that I don't get lost! I was able to concentrate on the running and not worry about the directions.

As I crossed the grassy hump of Manley Park, in waist high grass, it was a relief to reach the friendly and encouraging aid station of Tizer Creek for refreshments. Here I joined the 50km course, and after almost 20 miles alone it was nice to see some other runners. Sensing another runner up the trail is like the proverbial dangling carrot, and with renewed vigour I set off up the final climb to Elk Park. The grade is very runnable, but with temperatures hovering around 97 degrees, and 45 miles in, it was more of a run/hike. I felt guilty to be hiking, and reminded myself that to dig deep now would bring rewards.

Soon I was descending steeply and after a few painful miles the technical loose trail eased into a smooth, hard packed single track. The final miles reverse the initial gentle climb of the early morning, and I pushed hard on this perfect last stretch to take the win. I was glad I did, as it turned out that second place Chase Parnell was less than 6 minutes back!

I cannot say enough good things about this race. The organization, trails and scenery make for a highly memorable day out. A great crew hung out at the finish line until 10pm to see in the last finishers. The atmosphere was relaxed and sociable. A few beers with new and old friends, and even a slice of chocolate cake, cooked on site, made for a fun evening. My legs will take some time to recover, but hey, that's a good pain, right?

If you're a devotee of difficult, technical trails, and big elevation changes, consider adding the HURL Elkhorn Endurance Runs to your bucket list. The low key atmosphere is refreshing, and the Montana hospitality is outstanding.

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Winning a race is always fun

Winning a race is always fun

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The historic town of Elkhorn

The historic town of Elkhorn

Some of the kit I used

Some of the kit I used

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Maui - day 9

The Road to Hana

I was warned about this trip, most notably that the road to Hana is long, slow and twisty. It's also home to some great beaches, a ton of waterfalls and waterfall hikes, but a frustrating drive.

Highlights from today included:

Wai'anapanapa State Park and the black sands 

Wai'anapanapa State Park and the black sands 

Hanna beach

Hanna beach

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Maui - day 10

Haleakala

On day 10 we visited Haleakala. It really has to be seen to be believed. 10,000ft above sea level, essentially it's a huge crater. I ran a great loop in the crater while the family hiked. I'll post a few pics here which will do it more justice than my words.

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