I am not sure if it’s the photos from my adventures, the grin I normally have from ear to ear when coming back from the trails or the involvement that Randi and my sister Lou had at the Squamish 50. Whatever it was, I am happy to say that Randi and my sister Lou are now joining me on the trails and it is awesome.
I am not knocking road running as most of my years leading up to my move to Canada were road miles, the odd fell running whilst living in Scotland, some track and field. I think for a while it was a means to end; I liked competing and you had to log the miles, so I guess I was logging miles out of necessity to hang out with friends and to race.
Trail running I feel is so different. I admit I log miles to train for races but the miles I log are fun as I find new trails; I slip or fall; I get covered in mud, snow, smelly creek water; I meet new trail buddies; I feel closer to nature; I get to mountain peaks. It just really feels like a different world to road running. I still road run to get some training runs in, but really my heart belongs to the trails.
So with all of the above being said, how amazing would it be that your significant other would embrace the trails, and even though Randi has been fighting CFS for 4 years, she is pushing herself beyond her limits to hit the trails with me and do her first race next April. This fills me with pride as to what she is accomplishing and makes me so happy that I can include her in my passion.
So on top of Randi joining me on the trail, my sister Lou has decided to enter a race next year and has been hitting the trails too. I will admit that me and my sister are like chalk and cheese, which is fine as everyone should be happy to be who they are and do what they want to do. So I was surprised following Squamish that my sister suggested she would race the 23km race at Squamish in 2017. I have to be honest and thought this was quite brave as it’s a hard 23km as your first 23km and she may not follow through.
I was then surprised when Lou wanted me to go trail shoe shopping with her. She started asking my advice and after one trail run, I have now lost count on how many she has done. Possibly up to double figures now. I was quite happy when I managed to do a trail run recently with both Lou and Randi, being able to share my passion and both them beginning to share the same passion.
I cannot wait to share more trail fun with Randi and Lou as we round out 2016 and head into 2017.
I have decided to really up my race calendar for 2017 and after having done a 50k and 50 mile race in 2016, I kind of feel now that what may seem impossible is not necessarily impossible. I just need to put in the training and need to get my head in the right place as with longer distances, it’s your mental state as well as the state of your body that dictates if you will succeed or not.
So my motto for 2017 is going to be as per the blog title “Go Big or Go Home. I wont of course risk my health or safety to reach my goals but nor will I take the easy route, if it’s just temporary aches or I’m feeling a bit meh, because that happens in longer events and you just need to be able to push on through.
For 2017 I am going to try and fit in some more cross training so that will mean more rides logged on my bike. Hopefully more cross training should help build strength and prevent injury. I did start adding yoga to my training but that fell off a little during the recent months with work, commute and moving etc, so I need to add that back in and try to stick to it.
A few people I know use tires as part of their strength training and also to replicate the strength it takes to go uphill, so I am looking to get a tire and add that to my routine. Now with a longer commute due to us moving to the Coast, I am going to have to be adaptive to try and fit my training into my schedule. So I will look to add some runs and rides to the ferry and back; maybe some running on the deck when spring/summer is back as running on the top deck right now might be a bit challenging with lack of light, high winds some days and all the rain we get in fall and winter in the PNW.I may look to add some runs on my lunch break and maybe if I need something from the grocery store I might ride there to add some training in where I can.
I may add some smaller races in during next year, but for now my goal races are Lake Martin 100 miler, Diez Vista 100k and Squamish 50/50.
To help me get through to 2017 I have help in the form of being sponsored by Spidertech Tape, a Canadian based Kinseo Tape company; Hill Sound equipment, a Canadian based crampon and Gaiter Company. Also InReach Canada has helped me out by providing me with a discount of my monthly plan.
If you have time please check out Spidertech tape, Hillsound equipment and InReach. It means a lot to me to be supported by these great companies and when you buy a roll of tape from Spidertech or let your friends know about Hillsound or Inreach it would help these great companies and help me too.
This is straying a little from the original thoughts, I had for this blog post but I had to put it out there. I was on Facebook today and another member of a running group I am in, gave me an opinion on something but dismissed himself by saying, he was not at the same level as other members of the group. I said you’re a runner! it doesn’t matter if your front of the pack, middle of the pack or dead last! You’re a runner and we are all part of the same running family, so never dismiss yourself and like me aim high for 2017! Do your first 5k, do your first 10k and if running’s not your thing find something you love and embrace it and never be put off.
Go outside and just enjoy life, because you never know what could happen tomorrow or the day after or the week after and so on. Embrace life ☺
By now you may have read my account of my first 50 mile race, and you will have noticed that things did not go to plan. On the plus side I was able to turn things around and avert disaster. As it turned out a number of my trail running buddies also suffered and took a lot longer on the course, and so although my race hit the skids at aid station 5; pretty much most runners had a tough day out there.
So what did I learn from my first 50 miler? Well, firstly my plan to get in as much distance as I could before the sun kicked in, was perhaps not the best idea. I have discussed my strategy with others following the race and I’m not the first to try this crazy idea, but the issue is that if you go out too hard and too fast, then your core body temperature is hot before the sun gets you hot. That then leads to a hot runner getting even hotter.
So basically I set myself up for a double whammy of being too hot from running and then increasing the heat from the 35c plus temperatures out on the course. Add to that mix, lots of climbing and technical descents, it’s just a recipe for disaster. That’s why I was a hot disorientated mess when I got to aid station 5. But the whole thing about running, racing or indeed any sport is. you will make mistakes but you need to learn from them.
My next mistake was not testing my nutrition thoroughly enough and I will explain this. I have used Lara bars on various runs. But never have I tried to eat them, when I have gone all out in the heat and that’s my problem in that, I tried as best as I could but I just had so much trouble chewing them.
I got to aid station 5 and I just really could not continue with the Lara bars. I was tired and did not want the additional weight of them, so I handed over my bars to my sister who was crewing me at that aid station, and decided to just use what was provided at aid stations.
Another lesson learned was my use of Tailwind as an electrolyte and calorie intake. I had used it in the past on my runs but usually had water too. I normally used sachets on long runs prior to my 50 miler. They say never use something untested but to save money, I got a large bag of Tailwind and made up portions of powder in zip lock bags to be used at each aid station. The issue was, I was carrying this extra weight with the powder and it was a hassle to mix up the powder, and an adding too much to one softflask (running bottle that folds flat when empty) meant the dilution was super strong. I had started with two bottles of Tailwind but that became too much, so I switched to one softflask water and one Tailwind, but as I said that meant the one softflask had the entire tailwind in it and was super strong.
At aid station 5 I gave up on the Tailwind from a weight perspective and mixing perspective and thought I would use the Ultima electrolyte at the aid stations. It tasted ok and didn’t cause any issues, but I found out at the end of the race, it has zero calories and so I now know why for the back half of the course, I felt like I was permanently running on empty. I did take gels and chews from each aid station but I think this may not have been enough bearing in mind the Ultima had no calories.
I also found on the Galatic trail descent heading towards aid station 4 that I ran out of electrolyte and water before I got to the aid station. Maybe next year I will have water purifying tablets so that I can get some creek water and keep myself going.
As mentioned earlier in this blog post, I went out fast and hard and I recall just getting fluids and grabbing one quick item at aid station 2. I skipped aid station 1 completely, so I think next year when I go back I need a different strategy.
I have done plenty of descents on long runs and it's been ok but I found some tough on this race, so I think some weights and core work may help with the race next year.
But I made it and in a good time as everyone times increased due to heat and some people even dropped, so I am proud of my race and getting it done. But certainly there are lessons for me to take away for my next races.
As anyone who has been following us through our page or Instagram will know, I have been building up to my goal race of running a 50 miler ultra trail marathon. This weekend was my race day and the culmination of months of training, effort and the odd injury had lead me to the start line of the Squamish 50.
This is a bucket list race for many trail runners; perhaps not a bucket list event for people that aren't as crazy as myself or others I know in the trail running community. The Squamish 50 is known to be one of the toughest 50 mile races in North America.
At this year's race there were runners from Australia, Hong Kong and Mexico, just to name a few of the far flung countries that runners travelled from.
We arrived on Friday afternoon and met up with my sister and nephew who had come to cheer me on. We checked into the hotel and then worked out where to go get my race package, and where to find the local running store as I needed to get a collapsible cup as the race was going to be cup-less.
As an ultra runner, you carry your own hydration but at aid stations, a favourite is normally coke. The coke gives you some sugar and energy, which can be really helpful and so the collapsible cup was for coke at the aid stations.
We got to the package pick up location and I got my race pack and bib. Whilst there I managed to get to chat with some friends, who were volunteering for the race and happened to also be helping out with the check in and race pack pick up.
We went to Capra Running on the way back which is a new trail running store in Squamish. It was set up by three trail runners who wanted to offer a specific running store. It's a great store and they have some good stuff, so if you are in Squamish, please check them out.
I had gone in to Capra for a collapsable cup, but then saw buffs in there (buffs can be used like a scarf or used as a hat or on the wrist to mop your brow). The day of the race was supposed to be 30c plus, so I thought the buff would be a good option to dip in water and keep my neck cool.
We then went and grabbed food at Boston Pizza as I wanted to carb up and grab some pasta. We met up with Eileen, a fellow ultra runner, whom i had chatted with through an ultra running online forum that I frequent.
It was great to meet Eileen and to have a nice chilled out evening meal before the race as I was very anxious with it being my first ever 50 mile race. We chatted and before we knew it, it was time to head back to the hotel for last minute preparations and to try and get some sleep.
When you have a big race, you always try to sleep but it's usually hard to come by. I just could not get any sleep and before I knew it, it was 4am and time to get ready and get to the start line. I managed to get to start line without getting lost which was a good thing to settle my nerves.
At the start line there was the opportunity to leave one or two drop bags. The beauty of this is, if you think you may need some extra items or maybe some blister plasters etc, you don't have to carry extra items and weight which would make the race harder. I assumed I wouldn't need much in a drop bag or indeed two bags, as I had never used a drop bag in a race before. As this was a longer race I did not want to tempt fate and so used one drop bag as a just in case measure.
The race started at 5.30am and it was mandatory to wear a head torch due to lack of light at that time. By about 30 minutes in to the race, the sun was nearly up and the need for the lamp was unnecessary.There was a bucket at the second aid station to drop your labelled head torch in and you could then pick it up after the race.
I had originally thought of trying to complete the race in ten hours, but that was not to be and I think that was being over optimistic. I had wanted to try and get a good portion of the race done before the sun really kicked in, as i knew trails plus high temps would make it tough.
The first 10k is flat gravel trails and I got carried away on this flat run. The first 30k I was only 40 minutes behind the second and first pace runners so way too fast for an amateur like myself and for my first 50 mile race.
The real killer was a trail called Galactic. It's just over 5 kilometres that's pretty much straight up and it really pushed me together with the heat. I ended up running out of both plain water and electrolyte drink and I kept going and kept hoping the 4th aid station was around the corner and it seemed as if for a very long time, I was running on empty. I'm sure it was not that long.
I then had to get to aid station 5 to get to my drop bag, if I needed anything and to meet up with my sister and nephew who had agreed to crew me at that aid station. By the time I got there, I was very hot and a bit disoriented. My sister and nephew got to work trying to help me and the volunteers were super awesome. I got into the shade, got ice in my hat, in my running vest (some runners use light weight running packs called vests) and started to relax and take on fluids and take in food.
By aid station 5 I had worked out my strategy to take in calories by eating Lara bars and to drink Tailwind, a calorie and electrolyte drink mix. It was not working as it took too much energy to eat the Lara bars and I was going off the taste. The tailwind was too much hassle to mix at each aid station. So I emptied my vest as much as I could and took chews from the aid station, the aid station pre mixed electrolyte drink and headed back out after 30 minutes at the aid station.
It did cross my mind to drop at the aid station and my sister, nephew and the aid station crew were very supportive with whatever decision I made. I decided, I would head back out and try to push myself to the next aid station and see how that went.
It was a struggle but no matter the shape I was in, it seemed others were suffering too, and I actually ended up passing some other runners. Even though I was hurting and running on empty, I made it to the next aid station and got more ice and fuelled up. I decided if I had pushed this far, I could get to the next aid station.
I pushed on and the painful legs and the feeling of running on empty did not decrease but I was determined that I would get my goal race done. Throughout the race I met a whole bunch of other runners and I just love the close community that you get with trail running.
I managed to get to the 7th and last aid station and I thought I'm nearly there. One last climb and then back down into Squamish, but it was actually like a roller coaster with ups and downs before the final climb. At the top of the final climb a trail running friend of mine, Kenzie, was one of the course marshals. We hugged and then she gave me the good news that it was 4 kilometres to go which renewed some of my spirt.
I headed down with a bunch of runners and then we got to a point where there were 4 sets of stairs to go down, and when your quads feel like you are on fire, some swearing occurs when you see stairs. But we pushed on and I even managed a sprint at the 100 meter point so that I came in at 12 hours and 24 minutes; 60th position in a field of over 200 racers. It was so tough, 50 runners dropped out.
Other interesting things which happened during my race was getting my sister to rub Deep Blue rub onto my dirty and sweaty feet and legs. I think I owe her a few beers for that. Getting a freezie to eat between aid stations from an impromptu mini aid station being put on by Nesters Markets (one of the race sponsors). I am not totally sure but I think one of the volunteers at aid station 5, who helped me was Ellie Greenwood. She is an elite ultra runner originally from the UK and lives on the North Shore.
While I was out on the race course, Randi was helping out with the food at the finish line and met some cool people, and she got to hang out with some of the cool elite ultra runners.
Randi, Lou (my sister) and Ezra (my nephew) made sure I was taken care of at the finish line; that is after I got my hug and high 5 from Gary Robbins. Gary is such a nice guy. He is an ultra runner and one of the race directors and he hugs and hive fives every finisher.
Volunteers really are the backbone of any race and they were amazing with their commitment getting to tough places to set up, getting up early, staying out late, making sure all the runners had everything they needed from fuel to support and encouragement. At the finish line Josh, a Toronto resident and PT, helped sort out my cramping and painful legs for free. He was at the race, as his girlfriend was racing, and he offered his services.
I really can't highlight how much I love the trail and ultra running community. It feels like an extended family and I hope at some stage I can volunteer and give back to this amazing family/community.
Following the race I was sore and racing was far from my mind, but this morning I made up my mind to go back to race at Squamish next year and race what they call the 50/50. You run 50 miles on Saturday and then 50k on Sunday. Its going to be tough but then I thought 50 would be tough and it was, but I amazed myself with how far I could push myself.
I'd like to thank the race directors, Gary and Geoff, for putting on this amazing race, the many volunteers for their hard work and to my sister and nephew for being my crew. Also my partner Randi for volunteering and supporting me at the race and during my training before the race.
Check out Squamish 50 on Facebook for details of the race.
People don't come right out and say it, but you can sense from their reactions or from what they say that they pretty much think I am crazy.
I hear things like I don't drive that far or similar, but I suppose some people don't run, others run shorter distances or perhaps don't get that I have a drive to push my limits.
So what made me decide to take on the challenge of running an ultra trail race? I think it's the fact that I have ran and competed at different race distances and felt I had achieved what I wanted to. My current personal best for the marathon is 3hrs30. I have been told I could get under 3hr30 and possibly 3 hours but maybe when I am ready I might try again.
For now I am happy with what I have managed from 5k to the marathon and I want to push the limits of what I felt my body was possible of doing.
It's surprising what you can achieve and a prime example is this past April I toed the line at the Diez Vista 50k trail race. Three weeks before the race I managed to roll my ankle whilst out training on the trails. The typical runner that I am I rolled it at 20k and thought it wasn't a bad roll and continued to run another 10k. I discovered when I got back to my car that it was pretty bad and I could not put weight on it for serval days.
I iced and applied a rub which is infused with therapeutic-grade essential oils on my ankle and after a week or so's rest, I started training again but just smaller runs. Add to that I picked up a virus two days before the race and you could say I was not in optimum shape to do any race, but me being me I decided to toe the line and drop out at an aid station if it became too much.
Well as it happened, I surprised myself as I pushed on through right to the finish line with a time of 5hrs59, a top 30 finish and my first ever ultra trail race and 50k firmly under my belt.
So I had eyed with fascination the Squamish 50 mile race before me and Randi had made the move from the UK to Canada. So in December of last year after having been in Canada for just a little over two years, I thought the time is now; I'm going to register and go for it.
I suppose another reason for heading into the ultra marathon scene is that I'm no elite athlete and I'm unlikely to get much quicker, but maybe I can go longer, further and have some fun along the way.