Thursday, October 27, 2011

Short and sweets, make life more smiley!

Post marathon, mid-semester, pre-thesis defense, I just don't have time to do serious training right now. I'm now doing what I call short and sweets because they just feel great and keep my head clear. When my brother was having IT band issues and other aches and pains, my advice was long winded, but on the running side I told him he had to reduce his distance to runs that never reached the point where anything hurt.

Whether you're fighting an injury, seasonal reluctance, boredom or you just don't wanna run, my solution is simple: run really short distances. I went out for a 40min run today which was perfect, and qualifies as a short and sweet in my book. It clears my head, energizes and centers me for the day, and adds one more check mark to my loooong agenda. My brother had to get his runs under two miles so his legs wouldn't act up, but that's fine!

Unless you are training for something specific, distance and speed don't matter, fun does, the benefits do. Keep in mind why you are running. I'm running for self improvement, long term health, mental clarity, and to get myself into longer and longer races because I want to. Why are you out there? 

Or maybe more importantly, why aren't you? If it's because you think you're too slow or it's no fun, or the runs are too long; don't worry about speed, take the pressure and guilt out of the equation and it will be more fun, and shorten your runs. This is a form of exercise that can really benefit anyone and everyone and the benefits are most apparent when you find the way that keeps you smiling during it.

It's an excellent way to take 20min for yourself that can bring you some peace and help you get your head in the game for whatever you have to work on today. If your run is 15 minutes but those minutes give you some clarity and center you for the day, you have accomplished your goal!

Get out there and smile! It's a beautiful Autumn this year.
Good running and good living!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

I just don't want to...Fall running, goals and the madness!

Just a month ago there were people running everywhere. We were out in droves enjoying the last sunny warm days of Indian Summer before the inevitable. They're all gone! I've been out less, partly because I was having trouble with my legs tightening up after the marathon, and partly because of the rain and cold.

Time to set some goals. I've got mud race coming up, like this one and it's time to start getting ready for it.
The great thing about these races is that I need to do something in addition to running. I think part of the problem with my legs tightening during and after the marathon was that I didn't cross train. Now's the time.

Look, only a select few really want to be out running when it's rainy and cold. The race above was in hot sunny July and my next one is in cold dismal November. The point of the race for me is too get me back outside training. Not only that but I'm signed up with 6 or 7 other people. I don't have a huge dose of macho in me, but I've got enough to want to make sure I'm not crapping out in the middle of the pack. One of the most gratifying things about the marathon was that I was still jumping, laughing and whooping up the crowd at the end of it.

I plan on the same in November and in order to do so I'm going to have to be in fighting shape. I'm a notorious weather whiner and I have to do some work to get myself out there and motivated to train in the rain.

Number one motivator forever: GOALS!
Having a time and place set, having paid for it, having told other people, having signed other people up commits  you to be ready for the event. I signed up for a late season event for exactly this reason. I need outside pressure to get me out there.

Number two helpful motivator: VARIETY
I love running. That being said it's nice to mix it up with something like jumping into green ice water in the middle of November. I feed on insanity and this is really going to be great. The last scene before the finish in the above video is us running through a field of live electrical wires. If you're having trouble getting out to run it may be that the season's races are over, the other runners have packed it in for the year and you're out there alone. Time to switch it up and train for another goal. Example: I want to be able to lift my car over my head by Spring!

Number three point to keep in mind: KNOW THYSELF!
I'm always coming back to this, but you have to know what will get you going. Getting covered with mud, frozen and electrocuted might not do it for you. Is there something wrong with you or with me?! You need to figure out what will get you out there and do it. DO IT!

If you want to join us in November in Indiana for this lovely number we'd love to have you. Either way, keep moving, keep motivated, keep the gleam in your eye and the madness in your heart...oh and did I mention the free beer at the end of the race:)

Good running and good living!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Finishing That Elusive First Ultra Marathon - Run Smiley Style

A view of Fanshawe Park close to the start line of the Vulture Bait Ultra Marathon

All I can say is, Wow what an experience, there is no other way to describe it participating and finishing your first ultra has got to be one of the most satisfying moments I have ever been involved in. Don't get me wrong, meeting my future wife, my marriage and the birth of my kids are tops in my books but holy crap this is way up there. A few years ago I couldn't even run a mile without falling over in pain, and here I am today finishing my first ultra marathon and barefoot to boot (or should that read shoe to barefoot?). Now, let me clear it has not been a smooth path getting to this point, more like a very rocky and sometimes frustrating one to say the least. If you were not aware this was our second attempt at finishing this race, last year both Nicole and I DNF'ed and it weighed on the back of our minds for the last year with the intent to rectify that wrong. Now that being said the both of us probably did not have the mindset nor the training to realistically finish last year, but it was still left a very bitter taste in the both of our mouths that we did not. I pulled my groin after 30 plus km and pulled myself from the race at 48km finally once I realized I could not go any further. Even though there was only 2 km left to finish, I did not feel doing permanent damage to my groin was worth it, at the time. Nicole was pulled after 25 km because she did not make the cutoff, she was having to much fun taking pictures and talking to everybody on the course that she lost track of time, so there were officially two wrongs to be corrected, not only finishing but proving to ourselves that we both have the ability and the drive to push through, and persevere the adversities to the ultimate goal of finishing.

It has been a year in the making, a lot of ups and downs for both Nicole and I as all our nicely laid out plans of getting an official 50 km ultra done this year was looking like a complete bust. First of all our first scheduled event in May, the Manitoba Trail Ultra at Spruce Woods, was rescheduled to August due to major flooding throughout Southern Manitoba. Then in August it was cancelled for the second time and for the year due to unsafe conditions as deemed by the Race Director and Manitoba Conservation. This is why it is so important to have a good race director, even though we were disappointed that the race was cancelled I do not want myself or anyone else to participate in a race that is deemed unsafe due to trail conditions. Also the Lemming Loop Run was also cancelled due to unsafe conditions, and finally we did not believe we had the funds to get back to Vulture Bait in London, ON to get another crack at finishing that one. But with some creative financing and some planning, we officially signed up on October 7th, for the race to held on October 15. Wow, it has been a year of late registrations, nothing like planning ahead, oh well what fun would that be right?

So the last minute preparations started in earnest, including flight reservations, hotel, car rental, sucking up to my sister so she will watch the kids while we are away (just kidding on this one, my sister is the best, she helps us out all the time with our crazy little adventures, sometimes I think the kids want us to go away more just so my sis' gets to watch them). The biggest challenge is to decide what running gear to take, the conditions were calling for cool and light rain, gear is always important in this type of race because you are out there for 5 to 7 hours, a lot of different weather conditions can happen in that time period. Oh well at least the footwear issue is taken care of, that would be none and my ZEMGear 360's as my emergency toe covers just in case. We were flying into Hamilton on Friday and then a short drive down the 403 to London followed by a quick dinner at Tony Roma's then hopefully some sleep. Well it was wishful thinking, but sleep was not going to come easy Friday night, to much anticipation and preparation of game plans swirling in my head. In total I think I managed about 4 hours, not a good thing because Saturday was going to be a long and draining day.

6:00 am, Saturday morning came quicker then the both of us really wanted, it was a slow drag of our posteriors out of bed, organization and finalization of running gear to be worn, put on BRS shirt, take off, rethink what I was wearing, put on Bismark marathon shirt, assess, no this is not right, take off, put back on original shirt, realize that I forgot to glide the nipples (very important, don't want that rub, rub, bleed effect), shirt comes back off, glide, then shirt goes back on again. I think I am ready, nope forgot my shorts, put shorts on, find my hat, Northface jacket and gloves good to go. No, wait something missing, think, think, hmmm what could it be, oh yes must find 360's, can't go to breakfast with no shoes this early in the morning they might think I was weird or something. By this time I think Nic was all ready to go and was patiently waiting for me, wow this is kind of ironic, usually it is the other way around. After a quick really awful breakfast (thankfully it was free but I still almost considered asking for a refund), we packed up the car and checked out. The weather was not the best, off and on rain, about 5 degrees Celsius and a stiff north wind, it was going to be an interesting run, that much I was sure of.

I know I will regret this but I have to explain our drive to Fanshawne Park from my perspective, prior to Nicole attempts to twist things around. Nicole asked me the night before if I knew where I was going, of course I said yes no problem, because I was quite sure I would remember the route as we drove there. Just because I didn't remember the street names that we need to turn on really doesn't mean I didn't know how to get there right? Well withholding this tidbit of information apparently was not a good idea, as Nicole didn't figure she needed to set the location in the GPS to assist in getting us to where we needed to be, well as we drove towards downtown I haphazardly mentioned that the first street we needed to turn on started with a 'D', Dundas or something like that and the next turn would be at a street that I couldn't remember the name but there was a Brick or something like that on the corner. Well this did not go over so well, so as Nicole lovingly chastised me for not relaying this information earlier she starting frantically entering info into the GPS to secure directions. That was when I spot Dundas and cheerfully mentioned, "Oops that was the street we wanted, so I proceeded up to the next street to double back. Once on Dundas we headed east and I started picking out familiar landmarks from last year. Now more confident I would recognize the street to turn towards the park on, I mentioned that I knew I would be on the right road, because I remembered a particular monster truck that was parked as a display in a customization shop. Well once again this did not go over to well, I really didn't consider that the display that was able to be moved might not be there a year after I had seen it last, hmmm food for thought. Anyway as we got closer to the turn, I spotted what I was looking for, The Home Depot on the corner (yeah I know what your thinking, Home Depot is not the Brick, that was exactly what Nicole said, but it does sell bricks does it not). As we headed up the road I saw my monster truck and this little smile creeped across my face and Nicole just shook her head, I did not say a word. After that, it was smooth sailing to the race start.

Nicole and I 'Toeing the Line' Before the Run

We got to the start, parked and headed to pick up race kits, got some comments about my shoe choice (decided to not mention at that point that I was not going to wear them for the run) and just got prepared for the race to come, also would like to note that Nicole won a door prize this year to go with her early entry draw prize last year, and I won squat. After the explanation of the rules and the all the other pre-race info delivery, we started heading down the hill for the start line.

The Runners Making Their Ways Down To The Start
Nicole and I Prior To The Start
(Still Clean)

There was alot of anxious anticipation by the both of us to get going as we milled around more towards the back of the pack. With all that nervous energy I was looking around at all the different runners and checking out the reservoir when I notice a pair of bald eagles gracefully gliding through the air just over the water. Dipping and diving, obviously looking for breakfast, it was just what I needed to calm all the nervous energy that was building in me. Appropriately we had the best fly by that could be had to start a race of this type, it was very fitting, all we needed was a vulture to appear and the day was set. I just stopped and started watching them as they floated in the sky together without a hint of effort totally free of any apparent worries, just being together was all that seemed to matter. This became my goal for the day. I was going to start and finish this race with my wife with no care of time, just finishing with my partner in life, so we can enjoy every minute of it together. With this thought, all the nervousness went away, a smile creeped onto my face as I pulled off my shoes to get ready for the signal to go.

A pair of eagles flying together over the reservoir prior to the start of the race.
(Who needs a plane flyover when nature provides one for you)

As the signal to begin was sounded there was the ever present slow movement of runners as the pack proceeded onto the trail. The conditions were going to add to the challenge of this run, with the cooler temperatures, the off and on drizzle and the gusting winds in the open areas it was going to be interesting to see what shape the trails would be in as the day went on. With a smile to Nicole, and a quick 'Are you ready', we headed off. I had some comments from some of the runners about my bare feet, but that was fairly typical at the start of any race. That was when I heard someone from the starter's area, chime in with this little dosey, "You are going to regret not wearing shoes for this." The only thing I could think of at the time was, "I would only regret wearing shoes for this." But I just let it go because nobody was going to ruin this day for me and we started to pass some runners. As the runners started to spread out, we were just enjoying the run, not trying to go to fast, but ensuring we were going fast enough. The intent was to finish the first 25 km in around 3 hours, because the cut off would be 3 1/2 hours at the half way point and if you were not finished the first 25 km by that point you would not be aloud to go any further. I was going to ensure that this was not going to happen again to Nicole.

The first 5km of the race was criss-crossing through some easy trails from one side of the access road to the other using a combination of different walking trails. The route at this point was pretty flat and easy to keep a good quick pace due to the easy terrain. The ground cover consisted of hard pack dirt, to grass, a little bit of gravel and a good carpet of soft pine needles. What a treat this was to run on, talk about varying the sensations to your feet, especially since everything was still damp due to the week or so of rain that the area had been getting. A prelude of what was to come later in the run presented itself as we entered the first real wooded area, it was a dirt single track (which turned into mud) with some areas of leave coverage. Lots of downed trees and branches littered the trail along with some good ups and downs. Let me say, after this run I have learned the importance of why to slow down to achieve good traction with barefeet, because if you go to fast you will end up skating everywhere with no control (I almost ended up going off a cliff at one point). Needless to say this area did slow us down a little bit, with gauging for traction, keeping an eye out for those ever jumping out to surprise you tree roots and rocks, and of course the occasional good hearted splash through a puddle. I had a couple more comments about my lack of foot coverings, which I quickly corrected them on by saying, "I've got a nice layer of mud developing here, does that not count." This got a couple of giggles and some strange looks, but darn it I was having fun.

A view of the damn from the first aid station

As we tromped out of the woods adjacent the dam we hit the first aid station, a rather busy place at that point with about 10 to 15 runners re hydrating themselves by grabbing water, Heed, Coke or an assortment of other good ultra sugar type treats.  The volunteers were working like a well-oiled machine, as a cup of fluid disappeared another one magically appeared, no one was waiting for anything. These volunteers were awesome, they did not miss a beat, but with them being so busy I was able to sneak in and out with a coke, a chocolate chip cookie and a hand full of chocolate covered raisins to help with the refueling process.
Nicole had a glass of water and a Gu to help refuel, I was personally leaving my Gu's till a little later as it was still early. As we were getting ready to head out of the parking lot and up the gravel road to the main road, all I hear is a 'Holy crap, he's got no shoes on!". I looked around with this look on my face, and said, "Where? Oh, you mean me? My shoes are right here", as I held up my shoes with a grin and we started heading up the road. We passed by a number of runners up the road, with a couple of "Doesn't that hurt", "Wow that is crazy" and " Your the man" comments, my responses in order were, "Nope, feels great", "Not really, quite natural really" and "Thanks, right back at you!"

As we pulled out onto the road to head across the dam seen above we hit our first bit of traffic, I was getting some weird looks from some of the vehicles and thumbs up by others. This was also our first encounter with the wind as it picked up to the point that it blew the hat right off of my head, luckily it did not go over the edge so I was able to sprint back and pick it up.

Nicole heading to the dam crossing making good time

As we continued down the road towards the front gate with some quick cuts into the woods for some more trails we were heading to one of my favorite parts of the run. Just beyond the gate, we turn into the evergreens and follow a path of soft pine needles that winds through the trees like a outstretched red carpet. It is the most surreal feeling as you enter this area, it's so peaceful you get lost in the beauty of it all, then you loose focus and trip over a outstretched tree root, bringing you back to reality.But it was nice as it lasted, but it also gets you prepared for the focus that is required for the trails to come which is the beginning of the technical trails.

Don't let the looks of the trail fool you, this is actually a treat to run on soft pine needles with the occasional stick or root to jab you in the foot just to keep you on your toes.

Once you exit this area, there is a short jaunt up an old jeep trail to another gravel road along the south part of the reservoir. This is another perfect spot to pick up the pace normally before you get into the ups and downs of the technical single track trails to come. Normally on a dry day the trails are challenging but fun because you can really fly over them, at least that was my experience last year. But this year with all the rain they have turned into a very muddy, slippery trail, especially with all the foot traffic that was trampling over it today (over 300 pairs of trail shoes and one pair of trail skin). Normally I attack the uphills and pick my way through the obstacles but with all the rain, I could not get any traction at all, so I had revise my running strategyy completely. Instead of running light and landing more on the midfoot with my toes slightly curled up, i had to had to be a little more heavy with the landing and dig my toes down in the mud to help stabilize my balance.This was definitely more of a challenge and having to concentrate more on footing and my balance through a larger twist into the run. When I mentioned skating earlier in the post I was not kidding, as my feet got muddier (at one point I had about an inch thick layer of mud on my feet) it was harder to get any traction at all and my feet continued to slip out from under me. So I went with it, where I found that the mud was the slickest, I started this skating motion with my running and concentrated on keeping my balance by utilizing my arms as stabilizing bars, it worked really well. That is until I got to a down hill portion of the trail, skating down a hill with barefeet over roots and rocks, not a good idea. This caused me to walk most downhills or find a path least travelled in the underbrush so I had traction. There was one hill in particular that led down to a bridge over a stream, last year I ran down it really quickly, this year it took me a couple of minutes to negotiate my way down. I was definitely using a lot of different muscle combinations to not only stay upright on my feet but to ensure I did not go sliding off the trail into trees or off the side of a cliff.

Me negotiating down a hill

This was a standard trail lots of mud but the
leaves actually helped with traction.

One of the hills up, this was a lot steeper than it looks
and lots of squishy between the toes mud

Last year I was proud to say I did not fall or trip once at this race, this year I was not so lucky. I hit the mud 3 times on the first lap as I tried to figure out my footing tactics, and it must of worked because I did not hit the ground again on the second lap, so what ever I did to compensate did the trick. I will admit there was a few times when it was pretty close, but I was able to keep my balance. We were still keeping a decent pace going back and forth with a bunch of runners including Raymond who was running his first 25km and Marcel our very optimistic Frenchman who keep telling Nicole, "You will finish, you have to believe you will finish!" This is very true advise, you do have to believe you can do it, any negative thoughts and that will play on you and odds are you will not finish the race.

Aid stations 2 (12 km mark) and 3 (18 km mark) were not quite as busy when we arrived, the majority of the faster runners were quite a bit further ahead of us and that was ok. We stopped for some water and some quick snacks and headed out as quickly as possible. The terrain between aid station 2 and 3 consisted of asphalt road, chip and seal, a little bit of gravel and more awesome trails. The trails were really messy, and I had to let a few runners by for fear of holding them up to much, traction was still a bit of an issue. I was definitely utilizing a different combination of leg muscles at every turn, trying to stabilize myself or keep moving forward, this was becoming one hell of a workout, but I was enjoying every minute of it. About the half way point between the second and third aid stations there is a crazy steep hill that you have to go down, normally I take it fairly slow due to the loose rocks that cover the entire single track length. But this time add the slippery mud and this was a really interesting challenge, I was actually contemplating sliding down on my butt, but I figured that would hurt more than if I tried to negotiate my way down. Once I was down I had to pick up the speed to catch up with Nicole again who scaled the hill like a mountain goat, I am still amazed at how she just cruises down all the hills with little to no trouble at all. We were still making good time, at the rate we were going we would come in at the half way point at about 3 hours, that would give us 4 hours to complete the second loop.

Between Aide stations 3 and 4 there are some more asphalt roads, single track trail, a creek crossing and my favorite area for the entire race. That would be entering an area of pines that create a corridor or a canopy over your head its so quiet you could hear a pin drop or a shoad runner clomping away at least. It goes really quiet through this area and the ground is covered with red soft pine needles that make it seem like you are running on a thick soft red carpet absolutely awesome feeling on bare feet. Its like you are running down a aisle towards the front and everybody is watching you and silently cheering you on. It is a very surreal feeling, one that I quite enjoy. I was still finding that I was skating quite a bit, so I started running back and forth between the mud trail and the areas beside the trail to see if I could find a bit more traction. It appeared to be working cause I was able to pick up some speed and make my way by a few runners. There were quite a few areas where I had to slow down and pick my way through but for the most part I was quite happy with the pace that we were keeping through this stage of the race. When we hit Thorndale Road and crossed the bridge over the river, the rain was starting to come down a bit and the wind picked up. It was a bit of a challenge through that area until we reached the trail head again at the top of the hill. But once we got back into the woods again it was smooth sailing except for the mud. As we reached the creek crossing I just smiled, everybody was complaining about having to get their feet and shoes wet and the water was higher than last year, etc. I just did a quick look for the quickest path through and jumped on in and negotiated my way to the other side. It was great, very refreshing and I was able to get most of the mud off of my legs and feet at the same time.  The bigger challenge was getting up the hill on the other side to the trail because there was nothing left of the ground that would work for traction just mud, so you had to make your way into the brush a little bit to get a hold of some tree branches to help pull you up.

The creek crossing, last year you could see the rocks out of the water but not this year.
Note the mud hill on the other side not easy getting up.

This is the very scenic part of the trail, single track running along the river for most of it, including some areas where the ground just drops off towards the river. It was really interesting at corners here, because if I did not have my footing in check I would of just slipped and slid right off the trail and the cliff. So needless to say I made sure I was planting my feet on as solid ground as I could find.

By the time we reached the 4th aide station at 22 km we were quite excited because we knew the first loop was almost done and we were in great shape to reach our half way point goal. I took my first Gu at this stop because I felt it was important to start the energy boost now and not leave it to late. Everything was going good, both Nicole and I had lots of spring in our steps and were raring to 'Get er Done'. As we came out of the woods by the golf course, we ran into this volunteer who was screaming her head off, then she saw my feet and her eyes opened wide. I wasn't sure if she was surprised by my bare feet or that I was carrying a very clean pair of shoes in my hands. I was a little amazed that my shoes were still as clean as they were as well, but they were new and I didn't want to get them all messy unless I had too. There was a good group of us running towards the finish area and cut off for the next lap, and once again the majority of them veered off to the finish line, and only 4 of us veered to the left. I yelled 'Great run' at Raymond as he headed to the finish line, this was his first 25km run and he did fantastic. As we passed the mid point we were at 3 hours and a minute (plus or minus a few seconds), so I looked at Nicole and said half way there lets go finish this off. Nicole was estactic because she had made it past the half way point and she wasn't getting pulled.

With objective one done, we headed out onto lap number 2, we ran with a gentleman named Hans for the first 3 or 4 km of the second lap. What an inspiration, he is a 78 year old great grandfather who has been running numerous ultra marathons over the last few years. He was out here running the race with his grandson (who finished way ahead of us), and was going to continue to run for as long as he was able. He looked strong and had no signs of fatigue at all, I just hope I can do what he does at his age that would be awesome. The funny thing was he keep telling me he was in awe of me because I was running this barefoot, and I kept turning it back around to him, and he keep shaking it off like it was no big deal. I had the pleasure of meeting his family after the run including his wife, his son, grandson and great grandsons and they were a treat to talk too.

As we hit the first aide station again, we stopped for a bit longer as Nicole had to use the facilities and I started talking to the volunteers. One of them remembered me from last year as the barefoot runner with the kilt. It was interesting, it seems I was the talk of the course for going out barefoot again this year and with the conditions that were at hand to boot. So after some questions and answers, Nicole and I headed out up the gravel road to a bunch of good lucks and have a great run. I really like how all the volunteers are so friendly and appear to be having a good time. Its also amazing the selection of drinks and food products that they have available even this late into the run.

Everything was going great as we went along, we ran over the dam, passed the gate, ran the pine needles hit the dirt roads and boy was I smiling as we passed the spot where I put my VFF's on last year. My feet were feeling fantastic, no ill effects of running 35 kms without shoes, I could sense it I was going to finish this thing off without my shoes. That was objective two complete, now just one more to go and then the big finish, things were looking good and both Nicole and I were getting more and more confident as we progressed. Its funny one of the reasons that Nicole got pulled last year was because she was camera happy and taking to many pictures. So what do we do this year, we stop and take pictures, it seems to be a trend with our runs, we are out to finish but we are also out to just have fun, Run Smiley Style.

Nicole looking relaxed, confident and
 fantastic at 38 kms

The time slowly ticked away as we passed Aide Station 2 and then 3, we were still making good time but there were some areas where we had to walk up hills or down hills because the traction was not there. But I do have to say, other than forced walks due to conditions we did not walk very much at all. I was very happy with that, I felt strong for pretty much the entire run, my legs were finally starting to get a little heavy from all the extra muscle work near the end. The traction was a little better on the second lap as well on the flats, unlike the first lap where I was slipping and sliding everywhere, this lap I seemed to figure it out. Things were going fairly smoothly as we carried along the trails. I will say I did end up stepping on a couple of roots or stones that were hidden within the puddles on the trail but other than that everything went perfectly.

As we hit the 4 aide station, we had about 25 minutes to finish the last 3 or so km, so after a little bit of refueling we set off. This was objective three, last year I pulled myself out at this aide station because my groin would let me go no further, so the perma-grin attached itself to my face for the rest of the way. I was glad that there were no bugs out, because I would of been eating lots of protein with me showing all that teeth. So here we were at about 47 or 48 kms in, and only a couple more to go and we would be officially finished our first ultra marathon, who would of thunk it.

1 km to go, woo hoo!

As we hit the 1 km remaining sign, we had to stop to take a picture to commemorate the occasion, because damn it we were almost done. A little bit of gravel road, some single track and a grass run to the finish line and the nemesis that is the first ultra is done. As we broke out onto the grass to some cheering, all we hear is 'sprint the last little bit to the finish'. All I can think is, but I am sprinting can't you tell. As we got to the timing pad, Nicole and I finished like we started, we crossed the line at the exact same time, 6 hours 56 minutes and zero seconds (not the best time but for the conditions I will take it). So the last goal was completed to start together and to finish together, my partner in life and my partner in running. We did it, together, now how many people can say that, at least I know I can.

What a day, what a great weight off our shoulders, now we can move onto the next challenge.

Nicole and I after we finished, notice the nice shiny metals
and my nice clean shoes.

Better shot of my barefeet and yes we are tired but still standing.

Just a little bit dirty but the ZEM 360's are clean
They performed admirably sitting in my hands.

Vulture Bait 50 km done like dinner.

I'm running 100 miles to raise money for kids this weekend

This Saturday I will be running in the 100 mile endurance run from Corona to the Santa Monica through 23 cities.
The race is fundraiser for the 100 mile club, an organisation I hold dear to my heart.

Philosophy of the 100 Mile Club

Our philosophy is simple. We believe that every individual has the ability to achieve true personal success and a new level of physical fitness by Accepting the Challenge of running (or walking) 100 Miles at school during a single school year. These feelings of true personal success and fitness are ones that will carry participants to new levels of achievement in all areas: academics, athletics, and implementation of the valuable life skills identified in the bricks of Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success.

The 100 Mile Club is a personal journey toward a very personal goal.    It is not a race with anyone but yourself.  We NEVER compare students.  We never race or compete between classes or students to see who makes 100 miles “first”.  100 Mile Club is not an external competition. The competition is with your biggest rival: yourself. We celebrate all personal successes at the end of the school year.  100 miles or not, we award students together, celebrate together, and never separate out those that make 100 miles from those that do not. The personal successes students feel while on the100 Mile Club journey are unquantifiable but ever-present.  We celebrate those most of all.

I am raising money for the 100 mile club by running in the 100 mile Endurance Challenge.  If you would like to help donate to the organization please click HERE or check out the link on the top right of this blog.  Even a donation of $10 can pay for kid's membership for one year.  The 100 mile club often involves itself with inner city schools where parents cannot afford even a cost as small as this.  These are the same kids who's parents can not afford to put them in others sports such as soccer or basketball.

I'm not really good at begging and pleading for donations so I will end with this.  If you have a couple extra dollars the 100 mile club could sure use your help.  I have seen first hand how it can change the lifes of a child.  Last year I got my Nephew's school involved with the program and it has been a roaring success for the children the parents and even got their principal running.

If you would like to get your school involved please contact me or the 100 mile 
club directly and we will do what we can to  get your kid's moving and keep kids running Smiley

If you want to see a full preview of the course you can read about here.

The race can be followed at twitter  

A Race Car

I checked for traffic before pulling out onto the track. The first few laps were slow as I made sure everything was running correctly and the rubber adequately warmed up.

The song I was listening to changed as I approached the green flag. It was just the kind of song that gets your adrenaline pumping, if your not already engaged in a heart pumping activity. I crossed that line and put the accelerator down.

I cruised around the first bend. I held onto my speed between turns 1 and 2. I felt like a sling-shot coming out of turn 2 heading down the back straight-a-way. As I entered turn 3, I knew I was pushing the laws of physics. Would the rubber hold?

It did and my confidence grew from there. Turn 4 was gone before I even realized I had entered it. I sped through the front straight-a-way gaining speed. My first lap complete.

Gently, I let up on my accelerator just enough to let the momentum and friction pull me through the first couple of turns without going careening off the track. I pulled out of the turn into the straight-a-way, my favorite section. I went faster. My second lap complete.

I was in a groove. I was fast in the straight-a-ways and tight in the turns. The spectators barely breathed as I went by. My time for each lap was consistent. I drove a well-oiled machine.

I was about to win the race car championship... or I was about to finish another run on an inside track at the gym. Who says watching the same scenery go by every 10th of a mile can't be fun?

A Barefoot Rose By Any Other Name

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Epic Redemption - My First Marathon Fiyah!

Sunrise on the trail at Mile 5
Original Post from Zapmamak @ Running Naked on Sharp Pointy Stuff
WARNING: This post contains inappropriate language used appropriately for emphasis. 
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Sometimes you just feel something in your gut and you know you have to do it. That's how I felt when I signed up for the Rock-N-River 50 Miler and Marathon. And even at the exact moment when I was registering I had serious doubts about a lot of things. Mostly whether my body could hang for the marathon portion (27.7) miles, but also about my nutrition, my training, my abilities and my limits. I had a lot of questions and a deep layer of doubt and hesitation. I messaged Seth, my coach, to explain my concerns. Here's an excerpt from his original reply...

June 4, 2011
"As far as you doing it here is my answer. If you have doubt and don't think you can, then I don't think you can either. Now if you think you can, I am 100% confident you can...Ya its going to be hard, ya its going to hurt, but who cares. If you don't even sign up and try it you will never know and you will never have even given yourself the chance...
For example... you may be thinking this is an extremely rough and hard course, but you need to be saying to yourself who cares what the course is. Its another run and I will finish it. You keep telling yourself these things and soon you will believe it and once you believe it that's game over. You will go out there and dominate. Plus, if for some reason you don't finish you won't care because you know you went out there and gave it everything and never doubted yourself. "

Yeah. I needed a serious talking to at that point. He tells me I think too much, which I do. Essentially, he was trying to tell me the same thing my old X-country coach told me on every long run in high school - "Get your head out of your ass and just run!!!" 

I decided that if I was going to do this I had better commit myself 100% and just do it. It was just a trail marathon. People do marathons all the time. But, honestly, the hardest part about preparing myself for an event like this wasn't the physical training. It was reprogramming my brain for a goal that I had been telling myself for years that I would never be able to achieve.

I spent the next couple months feeling in my heart that I was going to totally DO THIS. I just knew I could do it. I felt strong. I felt completely capable. I felt totally badass. I was supersonic. You couldn't stop me.

And then about three weeks prior to this marathon my confidence started to fail. I hadn't ran one race this year where I didn't have IT Band issues. Why would this marathon be any different? I will be lucky if I can get to mile six before I can't bend my left leg.

Funny thing is these negative thoughts kind of took me by surprise. I had been trying out some mental tools that my neighbor, Kirsten Lewis, from Awesomeness of You had been giving me to work through my doubts (she works with professional athletes giving them mental "tools" and strategies to find their edge, up their game and change their negative thinking) but for some reason I was having a hard time finding the time to listen to her mantras and follow her advice. I wasn't doing my homework.

But something happened after New York. The energy from all those people was amazing! It was hard not to be inspired by so many incredible athletes, mentors, and fellow BFRs. It was meant to be that I be there. It may have saved my confidence. After New York I decided I was going to Run Smiley this marathon 100%. My only goal was to get my ass to the first aid station and see how I felt from there. I could totally do that.

So on race day I woke up at 3:30am. I didn't intend on waking up that early, but for some reason my body woke up about a half hour before my alarm went off. There was no way I would get myself back to sleep so I dragged my ass out of bed.

The good thing about waking up extra early is that it gave me a little more extra time to roll my knees, quads and glutes. I grabbed my coffee first (hoping to get "things" moving along) and had a couple paleo pancakes with bananas and some granola.

My husband and I arrived at race start around 5:45am. There was already a bus load of runners who had been dropped off by the shuttle. There were maybe a couple hundred runners with 45 of us running the marathon portion. At first look the race seemed a little disorganized. The race website had no detail trail map or elevation profile, but I had ran a few of the trails up here and around the lake near Granite Bay so I wasn't too worried about the trails. I had no idea, however, where the start line was and which direction we would be running. Nothing was marked out from the the beginning of the race, but it was dark so I figured I just hadn't seen all the markings. I debated on whether to wear my headlamp. I pulled it on over my waist and decided I would hand it off to my husband once I saw him at Rattlesnake Bar about 9 miles in. It was still pretty dark.

I expected to run this race solo. I didn't know of anyone else who had signed up, but I was surprised to see some familiar faces from my old trail running group. A few of them were running the marathon with me. It felt good to know people.

The one person I did not expect to see on race day was my coach and mentor, Seth. He's been struggling with some serious back pain lately. An injury he got while in the marines has drastically affected his mobility and he's on copious amounts of pain meds and waiting for surgery as I write this. He messaged me the day before telling me I was going to do great and wished me luck, but, when I turned around and saw him standing a few feet away I almost got teary. ALMOST. I'm not a weepy, teary type, but it moved me to see him and totally made my day. I can honestly say I would have never even been at that start line if it weren't for him. It made me feel really special that he was there to see me off, especially knowing how much pain he was in.

So I'm getting ready and I hear the race directors yelling out something about the first aid station not having any fuel and to make sure we load up here or grab something to go since the next aid won't be until nine miles in. That was fine. I was set with my race iskiate (my homemade power gel) and nuun and I was shoving a banana in my face as they were yelling at me. I also heard something inaudible about the first part of the trail. Apparently, they were giving directions and I couldn't hear a word. That's OK, I was thinking, cuz I'll just follow the front of the pack 50 milers who were probably hanging on every word. Um. Yeah. Good plan.

The race starts and the runners are sprinting at a good clip which was totally weird to me. I'm thinking, isn't this a 50 miler and marathon? Shouldn't people be conserving their energy and chilling in the beginning? I forgot that the first couple miles was all downhill and the 50 miler was a qualifier for the Western States 100 so most of the front pack runners were probably taking advantage of the steep downhill to ensure they reached their cut-off time to qualify.

The trail
I turn on my headlamp when we get to the first dirt trail and follow the pack. We eventually turn left onto a fire road and go almost a mile down into the canyon when I hear someone yell back up "WE'RE GOING THE WRONG WAY!!!" Then I see some of the front pack start climbing back up the hill past us. What the fuck??!! Are you serious? Does anybody know where they're fucking going? Someone needs to text the race director and figure this shit out!

One group takes an unmarked gravel road off to the right. Some of the runners continue down the canyon ignoring everyone else. I decide to follow the third group back up the hill to find where we fucked up and missed the turn-off since I've never raced this particular race and I don't know where the hell I'm going. So I ruck it back up to the top of the road with about twenty other runners. Yeah. No biggie. I just added another mile and a half to an already 27.7 mile MARATHON. And its a nice steep mile and a half. Yeah. No biggie. Let's just make it an even 30 shall we? Cuz, really, what's another 2.3 miles after you've ran 27.7 miles of hard trail, right?

Sunrise on the American River
Once on the right trail I finally settled in and made my way down into the canyon. It wasn't long before I had to pee though. Typical. Yeah. I specifically try not to drink much right before a race because I'm like a nervous Chihuahua on race day. You know? The little dog that runs around really fast when it gets excited and pees all over the place? That's me. So even though there was no fuel at the first aid station there was at least a decent enough porta potty. So I used it. Then I proceeded to pee about four more times off trail before mile five which was a tricky situation since a lot of the trail was flanked by a steep uphill slope on one side and a sheer drop-off on the other. Seriously? Did my bladder really have to let go of a week's worth of hydration all on race day? Sheesh. 
Getting close to Rattlesnake Bar

The trail was absolutely gorgeous once daylight started breaking. I stopped and took pictures. I facebooked. Yeah. I did that cuz I was Running Smiley. Even after the trail fail start I was amazingly calm and by around mile five I still hadn't felt any knee pain. Actually, I had no clue what time it was or how far I'd gone or what my pace was. Except for my ipod in my pocket and my phone, I had no technology whatsoever. Even when I was on my phone facebooking and never looked at the time. It felt good not to know anything. The only thing I cared about was enjoying every single step of trail running fiyah!
Coming into Rattlesnake Bar around mile 9

And HOLY SHIT did I have FIYAH! By around mile 12 or 13 the carbs started kicking in (I have no idea why it took so long for me to feel it.) The clouds parted. Sunbeams rained down. Angels sang. There were rainbows and unicorns everywhere. I swear I felt like I was high on something. It was as if my body went from driving a Pinto to driving a Corvette. I was supersonic. I was flying! 

This is me on carbs around mile 16
When I saw my husband on his bike mid-trail around mile 16 he was surprised at how happy and full of energy I was. In fact I think I ran towards him screaming something like "CARBS ARE BETTER THAN CRACK!!!" Yeah. I was that high. I told him I would meet him at the next aid station but when I got there he wasn't there. He was carrying my Nuun so I hung out for a couple minutes, ate a couple peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and then finally decided to used the Heed supplied by the aid station instead so I could keep moving. Apparently, I ran too fast for my husband to catch up. On his bike.

It was at this point that I suddenly realized how far I had gotten without any inkling of IT Band issues at all. I was starting to feel some tightening in my hips and the backs of my heels were feeling just a tad sore, but I could totally deal with these minor issues. These little aches and pains were nothing compared to the crippling knee pain that I've typically felt around mile six in the past.

I was ecstatic. I had about ten more miles to go. I promised myself that if I still felt good at mile 23 that I would up my pace and push with everything I had to make up for all the messing around I did on the trail prior to that point. And that's just what I did.

My husband picked up the trail on his mountain bike to meet me around mile 20 (which was totally against race rules) and rode along side of me until the next aid station. It was nice to talk to him and have some company.

The last ten miles the trail evened out into a wide fire road

It was at that point we did the "Happy-Hour-Hand-Off." I had mixed up a small batch of happy hour iskiate to be consumed within the last couple miles of the race if I made it that far. It was going to be my way of celebrating my personal achievement (or coping with a failed attempt if for some reason I had to quit mid-race.) This particular recipe excluded the normal chia seeds and instead had about one measure of gin mixed with 4oz. of water, some sugar, lime and my tropical flavored Nuun. It was tastily potent, slightly naughty and I spilled half of it all over myself at mile 26 trying to open it. I was rocking the running (or at least it felt like I was) and had passed about eight or so runners near the end of the race reeking of gin. But, I didn't give a shit if I smelled like a sweaty bum cuz I was on top of the world at that point!
Granite Bay

No more dirt trail... I decided to run the shoulder

By this time all the dirt had disappeared under my feet and in its place I found myself running on asphalt bike trail. If there ever was any low point in my race (and honestly, I really didn't have one) this would have been it. I was a little disappointed to see asphalt. Gone were the rocks and grasses, trees and rutted, sandy trails. I could hear traffic. It bummed me out a little, so I plugged myself into my music, got out my happy hour and decided to focus on running as hard as I could to the finish.
Trail Marathon Happy Hour

My husband met me at about a mile away from the finish line and joked with me how I only had 23 more miles to go, which was NOT the thing to say to me at that point. If I wasn't using every ounce of what was left in me to run the shit out of the last bit of that race I would have slapped him. Instead, I waved him off from my pain cave and mumbled something inaudible about not talking to me. But it was nice to have him beside me to run with me into the finish line.

I won the Blue Ribbon!!! Well, the Pabst Blue Ribbon anyway. But I did it! I totally did it!! And PAIN FREE!!! Well, relatively pain free cuz my hip was hurting a bit more at the end. I was so proud of what I accomplished. Words can't even begin to describe the feeling I had finishing that race. I had such an incredible time and really did enjoy every moment.
I earned a Blue Ribbon!

Not only did I complete my first trail marathon, but I finished almost 29 fucking miles of it! And not only did I do almost 29 miles, but I did almost 29 fucking miles in my minimal shoes (my Merrell Pace Gloves). And not only did I complete almost 29 miles in minimal shoes, but I did it with NO long slow distance runs under my belt. And not only did I complete almost 29 fucking miles in minimal shoes with no LSD runs, but I did it pain free with no IT Band crap holding me back!!!!

Funny. I was only expecting to complete a marathon. Now THAT'S what I call RUNNING FUCKING FIYAH!!!

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This post is part of the  Run:) collective.

Monday, October 17, 2011

5 Tips to Help You Race Smiley

I have a confession to make.

I recently ran a race. A road race. And I tried to run very fast . . . and (this is hard for me to say) I set a PR. There. It's out. I hope Kate doesn't excommunicate me from the Collective, but I have to be honest. I ran hard, and it hurt. But I also had a blast. In fact it was a completely Smiley experience, proving once again that running smiley and kicking-ass can go hand in hand.

Anyway, it spawned two bits of writing, and I thought I'd share them with the collective. First, I wrote up a race-report over at my blog for anyone interested in the play-by-play of the fast and fun Bed-Stuy 10K.

I was also inspired by the experience to write an article for giving some advice on how to have a blast at your next road race. Just a few things to keep in mind the next time you tow a starting line to make sure you finish fast AND smiley.

A Call To Barefoot / Minimalist Trail Runners

This is a humble request for feedback from experienced minimalist trail runners, some of which I have personally called out to, like Barefoot Ted, Daniel Dubois, Jason Robillard, Michael Sandler and Patrick Sweeney. But at this point, I’m really interested by opinions from everyone with experience. I am looking forward to reading your comments / advice.

I won’t tell you the whole story of how I got into barefoot / minimalist running, I’ve done that before. But for the sake of comprehension, I need to mention that I started barefooting to break an unending circle of injury, notably of IT Band problems. I’ve been (road) running barefoot for over two years now, with great satisfaction and success.

I rediscovered trail running this summer, while preparing for my first ultra marathon. I had somehow forgotten how incredibly better trail running is, with its added challenge and beauty, the need for constant attention and the reward of being one with nature in a very special, physical way. Awesome.

After my ultra, and even more so when I learned I would be running the Copper Canyon in 2012, I realized that my trail abilities needed to seriously improve. So I started adding at least one trail run per week, while adding to my mileage gradually. I chose trails that offer various levels of challenge, but that can all be regrouped under the category “technical”, which means they are of the “single trail” type. Not smooth, gravelled park pathways. I’m talking roots, sharp rocks, vertical drops up to 5-6 feet, rolling pebbles, riverbeds, mud pits. Below are a couple images of trails I run (Click to enlarge).

I started hitting the trails in the same minimal shoes I ran my ultra with, the Merrell Trail Gloves. However, I quickly found they were very limited in capability, notably in terms of protection. I’d get bruises under my feet, experience severe adherence issues on slippery downhills or wet tree roots, and have a really hard time with surfaces made of sharp, protruding rocks. All these issues would get much, much worse as I would add speed to the equation.

I also had a very hard time going downhill on steep declines. This is clearly inexperience on my part, but I also think there’s more to it. After realizing I couldn’t really forefoot strike while going downhill unless I break my cadence with every step, I was advised to aim for a mid-foot landing that would allow me to use gravity to my advantage and that would stop me from hitting the ground so hard (and breaking my forward momentum) compared with my usual “barefoot” form.

So I did, and for a while, I got convinced I’d found the proper solution. I replaced my Trail Gloves with somewhat minimal La Sportiva Cross Lite and changed my downhill running technique. I gained awesome traction, a lot of confidence and I got much faster (in a mid-pack runner way, not the Patrick Sweeney way ;). All was good under the sun!

Except, Last week I did 2 hard trail runs, doubled with road trainings on the same day (the “back-to-back” technique for ultra training). My first one was 22.5km (14 miles) trail + 9km (5.5 miles) road, both at moderate pace. I took a 2-day break, then went for a 9km (5.5 miles) hard trail run (fast+technical), then went home and out for a 16km (10-mile) road run. I had to stop my road run because my knee started hurting in a way that was all too familiar – and, must I add, that I thought was gone for good. It was a slight IT Band pain. Like back in my shod days.

I gave myself 4 full days of break, then last Saturday went to a 23km (14.5-mile) vertical trail race up and down a ski resort. The knee pain came back around the summit (around the 11 mile point), and with a vengeance. When I started the last 3-mile straight downhill to the finish, the pain was really bad, I was limping and pretty much unable to run decently. Under other circumstances, I would’ve quit altogether. Anywho, I finished the race, but now my knee’s bad. And it’s IT Band.

This makes me think it’s a warning of overuse AND a sign of bad running form (probably a bit of both), coming from my intensified trail training / volume and the changes in my technique. I feel a little depressed, and back to square one. So while I ice and whine, there are many questions I want to ask you :

  • Did any of you experience similar issues?

  • Do you think this is maybe an “adjustment” my body’s doing and that it just needs time?

  • Are there barefooters / minimalist trail runners out there running shod part-time? What shoes do you use?

  • What do you specifically recommend I do, when I get back on the trails, considering the above context?

  • Am I the only one to think “performance” trail running on technical, single trail courses is impossible barefoot and extremely tricky / risky in minimalist footwear? (Also note : I’m from Canada, with seriously cold falls and winters)

  • For a barefooter / minimalist runner who gets injured the minute they wear shoes, what is the proper downhill running technique?

  • I am used to training volumes of 40km (25 miles) to 85km (53 miles) per week, on road. What should be my volume on trails?

  • Considering my ultimate goal is the Copper Canyon Ultra next March, do you have any other advice for me?

I hope I provided enough details for all this to make some sense. I also wish this can bring an interesting debate and stir ideas around a little. I find that there’s an overwhelming number of barefoot/minimal/whatever shoes that have gone out recently and pretend to be trail runners while they are far from it.

I will come back often and respond to your feedback. Thanks a lot for your time and help!