30 December 2012


So today is my birthday shmirthday (woop-de-doo), and we celebrated it in very exciting fashion by unpacking boxes in our shop - something we haven't got around to since we moved in April. The main motivation was to organise my homebrewing equipment so I can start that up again. It is a new race season coming up, so that calls for some new refreshments! (there's a running reference for you)

But in one of the boxes, I came across the cards my mom and dad received when I was first born back in 1965. I can't really recall ever looking at them, but here is a notable one from the stack -  a nice cartoon celebrating my Scottish ancestry on my dad's side. It was quite serendipitous coming across these on my actual birthday!

One of the nice things that Nadia Arndt, the RD of the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon (KAEM), does every year is send a photo of the participants on the his/her birthday. So here is the one she sent me this year - thanks, Nadia!! My head doesn't look anywhere near as pointy in this picture! Wow, looking at that kid above, who would think I would ever be doing something like this?

04 September 2012

Do's and Don'ts preparing to face the Giants

I am finally on the way to Italy for my second running of the Tor des Geants, a 330km/206-mile route in the beautiful Aosta Valley just south of Mont Blanc. Before my first time, I was both scared and excited about the unknowns of running farther than I have ever gone before, and where the trail would take me. This year, however, I am both scared and excited because I know how brutally hard the course is, yet how stunningly beautiful it is.
As I prepared through the year, I came up with a number of things that tell the tale of my pre-race period, and which may help others should the decide to take this awesome event on.

Do run a 100 miler first

Sun and dry trails at the Un-C2M. photo:
This should be pretty obvious, but if you are going to run 206 miles, it would be a good idea to do half that amount to get yourself in shape and figure out some race logistics, pacing, food, etc. For my part, I took on the Un-Coyote 2 Moon down in California in March. We had a drenched, rain-soaked winter and spring up in BC, and after torrential race-cancelling storms at C2M last year, this year’s sunshine and dry trails were incredibly welcome to my water-logged feet. I sweated, I got a sunburn, and I wore shorts. It was awesome. I ran well, although ran out of steam a bit in the last 15 miles. I was paced the last 25 mile by a very good friend, which was really special considering my history with the Coyote events over the past nine years. It was well worth getting that distance in so early in the year.

Don’t sleep in, and know the secret codes for your credit cards

Know it before you enter!
On-line entry for the race opens at noon Italian time. With the time change, this means 3:00 AM in local time on the Pacific Coast. I was up at 2:30 AM in front of the computer with my credit cards in hand. I had everything set to go and started entering information into the form as soon as it was made available. Personal info – done. Payment info – entered. But what’s this? Enter your MasterCard “SecureCode”? What the heck is that? Attempt 1 – denied. Attempt 2 – denied. Attempt 3 – and my card is locked out. Ack! Back up the form, and plug in my Visa card number. “Enter your Verified by Visa password.” What the heck? I seemed to recall using that about three years ago for some online purchase. But don’t enter anything , don’t get this card locked out too. Off to the Visa web site, where I was able to reset the password – whew! Meanwhile, the clock was ticking away…. 3:25 now. Back to the race entry page, and enter the Verified by Visa code. Click Submit, and……. it went through! Time now was 3:31. I went back to the race’s main web page, and found that entries were closed! They had oversubscribed the race above the 500 limit, with about 650 entries submitted in that half hour after opening. I checked the entry list, and saw some friends who were in, and some who didn’t make it -  screwed by the early time, the credit card codes, or the huge demand that filled the race up so quickly.

Don’t move houses

And that was only a portion of what we had to unpack.
Opportunity knocked for my wife and I, and I accepted a job offer in Courtenay, BC. This meant moving houses and cities: shopping for a new house, packing up the old house, cramming some final renovations in the old place, finalising job stuff and a major project at work before leaving; preparing to say goodbye to close friends. It was all-consuming, exhausting, emotionally draining, and tons of work and time. My training pretty much dropped down to zero for a couple of months with all the work, and the focus on preparing and setting up our new lives. Moving is a ton of work, and I don’t recommend it if you can avoid it.

Do move to a new town

Despite the amount of work and emotional capital it took to get there, Courtenay has been a fantastic new home for Martha and I . We have a house and property we always imagined, the people in town and work have been very welcoming, my new job is good, and we have an amazing amount of new trails to discover. Our lifestyle and quality of life have improved immeasurably, which was he reason for coming here. I gained about two hours of time per day with a shorter commute to work, and can spend that time training, working in the yard, or with my sweetie. These are Very Good Things.
What a difference from our city home!

Do climb hills

The Tor des Geants has more than 24000 metres (~80000 feet) of climbing over about 20 mountain passes. You have to go back down as well. While we train for hills as part of our general routine, the Tor presents a different challenge with the amount, length, and steepness of its climbs. I remember using my hiking poles there to use my arms to pull myself up some of the hills because my legs were so tired. To prepare, I have been trying to get as much hill training as I could in our new home area. It has been exciting discovering new trails, and though I know there are more placed I have to find out yet, I have done pretty good at some steep mountain bike trails in Forbidden Plateau, running up Strathcona Parkway to the top of Mount Washington, and getting some vertical hiking in Strathcona Park. It is a wonderful playground I live next to now.
But –have I trained enough? No, I am going to suffer. However, I have a decent base to see me through it, so I just need to focus on the surrounding scenery in Italy and less on my noodly legs.
The beautiful Flower Ridge Trail....there is a whole loop to do around those peaks t he left....

Don’t crosstrain

Nasty, but you can't stop staring, can you?
Courtenay has the world-class mountain biking trails of Cumberland right next door, and I was eager to take up the offer from a co-worker to join him on a ride one day. Though I am a veteran of couple of 24-hour cross-country mountain bike races, it has been a couple of years since I have spent a lot of time in the saddle. Throw in a rainy, soaked day on gnarly downhill trails with my rusty bike-handling skills, and you could pretty well predict that I would be spending a bit of time eating dirt. And so it was, with no great effect- until the steep wooden bridge that I slid out on…. My bike disappeared beneath me in a microsecond and I slid across the bridge, scraping my kneecap across an exposed nailhead. I launched off the side of the bridge, and I had a vision of a tree coming straight at me. It is amazing how fast your brains works, processing “I’m falling”, “Ow, my knee”, “what am I going to hit”, “Tree”, “TREE!!!” and somehow straightening my head for the impact. I drilled the trunk of the tree dead-on with the top of my head, heard a couple of cracks in my neck, and plopped on the ground. I lay there and grabbed my head to stop it from moving, and immediately thought “this is not good.” Assessing myself, my hands and feet moved, there was no pain in my neck, and no numbness. I slowly moved my head and found it all OK. I was a bit dizzy, but got up, pish-poshed the flap of skin hanging from my knee, hopped on my bike and rode out with my friends for another hour or so. However, I felt like puking on the drive home, and the blood from my knee had flowed down and soaked my sock. After a visit to the hospital I worked at, the end result was six stiches and a nasty scar on my knee, a small chunk of bone floating around in there somewhere, no broken neck, and some lingering and very sore whiplash-like soft tissue injury in my neck and shoulders that is still bother me a couple of months later. It all set me back about four weeks of run training all through July, which was really not optimal in trying to prepare for Tor des Geants. However, I am lucky that the way I hit the tree didn’t break my neck with some other disabling effects – I am glad to be able to start the race, period.

Don’t watch videos of your previous 206-miler

Last time I ran the Tor, I carried a video camera with me and shot a bunch of segments through the race. I watched them when I got home after the race, but hadn’t looked at them for a while. We brought them up last week to go over things again, and it scared the crap out of me. The scenery is all just as beautiful as I remember, but it is funny how our brains segments out pain and suffering from our recollection, and the video of me on the trail captured the suffering I really went through out there. Tor des Geants is a very, very challenging course and the truest test of endurance I have experienced. It is the most significant thing I have ever accomplished, but nothing worthwhile ever comes easy. This year will again be very, very hard, but the reward at the end makes it all worth it.

Here is the bad (three days in, and about 277km done)

And here is what makes it worthwhile, stopping to appreciate what is around you (about 30 sec in):

22 December 2011

LaSportiva Mountain Running Team 2012

I am very pleased to say that I have been welcomed back for my third year as a member of the LaSportiva Mountain Running Team for the 2012 season! I am very grateful for the opportunity to keep working with such a great group of inspiring, fast, and adventurous people, and to represent a company with such excellent products and strong values about people, production, and the environment we love to get out in. 

Thanks for having me back, and I am looking forward to bringing that screaming loud Italian yellow out to the trails again in the coming year!

Check out the Mountain Running Team site at 

20 December 2011

Deception Pass 50k - the last and best of the season

Running the coastal trail along Deception Pass, half a mile to the finish.
I had been looking forward to racing again after taking some time off after running Hardrock in July and the TransRockies Run stage race in August. The switch in focus was good for me, and I was charged with enthusiasm to get back running and training hard again. Races start to get a bit sparse on the calendar during the winter months, but a few flattering words and some bribery involving malted beverages of the highest quality scored me an entry into Rainshadow Running’sDeception Pass 50k. With a goal in mind, I took to the trails and jammed up the mileage on my feet, throwing a number of bike commute rides in to seal the deal (and because it’s fun when the weather in Vancouver is dry). Heck, I even did the first 60-mile training week I have done in months! And damn, it felt good!

While I would hesitate to go so far as to say that my running this year has sucked , because I have had the opportunity to run in some awesome places with amazing people – I have definitely been frustrated with how things have gone. Sickness, snow, monsoons, hailstorms, injury, lack of oxygen, waitlists, and a training regime that makes my butt look fat, have all contributed to some humdrum race results that have been way more work than pleasure to achieve. I was motivated and had been pretty solid over the past month or two, but I was still feeling a little trepidation about how a 50k would go, considering the struggle most other races this year have been. Many times at a race I will give my wife a projected finish time and hit that fairly accurately, but this time I didn’t even venture a guess besides “please go and get coffee or go shopping but don’t get back too late so I don’t get hypothermic standing around in the cold when I’m done.” (Thanks, honey, for getting back in plenty of time and hanging around!)

I know I have a habit of getting a tad long-winded in my tales, so the point of all this is that I am so excited with how well the race went that I had to say right now that I totally nailed it and had my best and most enjoyable effort of the entire year. Wow, it is soooo nice to end the season on such a high note! Ok, with that off my chest, onto the long-winded stuff:

Trying to stay warm before the start
The race started at a snappy pace, and I drifted towards the front pack while holding back a bit, trying not to go out too hard. There were also 25k runners mixed in, and it was hard to tell who was running what. Still, I picked a level of effort that I felt slightly restrained at, in the hopes that it was crisp enough to keep me towards the top third of the field, but conservative enough to hold through the remaining 5 – 7 hours. People were passing me, but I didn’t want to chase at this early stage. I ended up behind a couple of gals, and though I was barely holding them on the hills, I felt like I had to restrain myself on the flats and downhills, which was fine with me since I knew it would keep me reigned in. 

Once I knew I was sufficiently warmed up and flowing about 10k in, I did pull past the girls and ran my own pace. From here, I was surprised to see that I was slowly reeling in runners ahead of me, one by one. Though almost feeling like I had headed out at a 10k race pace, I felt I was maintaining the speed all the way along, while others were perhaps paying for their faster starts. I figured I was running in about 15 - 20th position or so, but slowly creeping forward. 

Following Shawna Tompkins and Monica Ochs over The Bridge
The trails themselves were quite inspiring to run on, and the beauty of the area was amazing. The day was grey and overcast, but still lovely - it would be absolutely phenomenal on a warm sunny day. I have never been to these trails before (you would hardly even know so much single track was even there!) and was loving the narrow, rolling forested trails that would break out into ocean vistas or exposed shoreline from time to time. There were a number of lollipop loops that we had to run to cover ground and make up distance, and I give huge kudos to RD James Varner and his volunteers for marking these out in such an incredibly clear manner. I’d also give a nod and thanks to my fellow racers who were all very polite and accommodating as we ran past each other in the narrow sections. 

I was running well. The trails were beautiful. I was a happy guy. All I had to do was not blow up towards the end. I kept running strong, and kept passing people, not believing how well it was all going. This was proving to the kind of run that is absolutely sublime: effortless speed, great trail surface, and a beautiful environment. 

A beautiful place to run!     photo: Glenn Tachiyama
The second half of the race spins off to do two 11k loops in another section of the park. I left the aid station and headed into my first loop, pleased with my time of 2:20 into the race so far, feeling comfortable but hoping in the back of my mind that I could hold it for the distance. So far, so good. I was running the uphill grades consistently, and only walked a couple of times on some short, steep sections. It struck me part way through the loop that I had neither seen anyone in front of me for quite some time, nor anyone behind me. I was running alone through the forest – racing in the hopes of either catching someone in front or staying away from someone behind. I was expecting the latter, since that had been the pattern of my races this year. 

I completed the loop in just under an hour, and finally saw some more runners as I approached a short out-and back to the aid station. After all the time running alone, I was surprised to see that I was not far behind four other people. I filled a bottle with nuunand grabbed a gel, then turned back to catch some of the runners ahead of me. On the way out, I noticed that there was a long way to the next runner behind; either I had run away from them, or they had faded out from their pace in the first half of the race.

I guess I was running well, because it wasn’t long before I caught up to the next runner in front, with another person in sight not too far along as well. I knew I would have to surge past them and keep going to make it stick, so with a bit of a sustained effort, I pushed the pace to go by and then build in a bit of a gap. Now, without seeing anyone in front any more, the motivation to keep up my pace was the pressure from behind me; I was determined to not get caught. 
Summiting the Goose Rock climb     photo: Glenn Tachiyama

Towards the end of the second loop, I was pleased to see that my time was about the same as the first lap, although I could feel a bit of a twinge starting in my quads. I had to hold my pace and not have my legs crap out on me now - there was only about 4km to go! I paused briefly at the aid station again for some more nuun and another hit of EFS LiquidShot gel, and then took off along the road. On a straight stretch, I could see the next person in front of me off in the distance. I could see them, but would I be able to catch them? The carrot was out there!

Alas, the sustained pace through the race was catching up to me, and my legs were getting weaker and more sore as I hammered as best I could through the final kilometers. After the road, I lost sight of the runner in the trail section, and was just going as hard as I could. I got hyped up a bit when I saw a glimpse of someone through the trees, but it was a 25k runner I had caught up to. I also really had no idea of how much further the course went, so hoped that my final effort wasn’t started too early. I recognised some of the trail we had headed out on, but wasn’t sure just how we would loop back to the finish.
I rounded a corner along the shoreline, and there was Martha taking pictures, so I knew I was reasonably close to the finish. After pausing to give her a quick kiss, I charged on and soon popped out on the parking lot that lead to the finish line. 

I crossed the line in 4:55 – the first sub-5-hour 50k I have run in a few years and good for 6th overall (and first 40+, for what that’s worth). I was absolutely elated. The trails were beautiful, I felt good and ran well, and the race organisation was impeccable.

Many thanks are due to James Varner and his sweetie Candice Burt for all their hard work organising and putting on this event and finding such a lovely place for us to run in. Check out more of Rainshadow Running’s other races, they are all great runs on fantastic trails. 


GU gel (4 oz)

20 November 2011

Western States - in with the masses

Feeling the heat - Michigan Bluff, 2003

Let this be a reminder to myself.

This is me at Michigan Bluff the second time I ran Western States in 2003. The fact that the photo is in black and white does not take away from the actual colour of my face at the time - pale, drawn, and vacant. I was capital-D De-hy-dated and messed up. Badly. I have never been in a deeper hole. I vowed to never look like this again. Ever.

I consider myself a decent 100-mile runner, having achieved some pretty solid results and milestones over the past ten years of racing 100's: a sub-19 at Lost Soul, a 3rd place at Bighorn, the Grand Slam, and 5 loops of Hardrock. However, Western States has been an absolute nemesis for me. I have run it three times, and on every occurrence, it has scoffed at me and rubbed my face in the fine dust of California Street.

2001 was my first ever 100-mile race, when I was full of wide-eyed wonder and everything was mostly pretty good. I still got kind of smacked down that year and dragged my butt through the night towards a 26:07 finish. 

2003 was the devastating meltdown described above, but I bounced back to finish pretty strongly in 25:30, even dropping my pacer on the way from Highway 49 to No-Hands Bridge (sorry, Art!).

2006 was my most recent effort there, and was the first event of the Grand Slam that year. I was in great shape and primed - and overconfident in my abilities. I was on track for the 22-hour finish I knew I could do, but the exceptional heat that year beat me down into a writhing bag of pain. I couldn't run a step from Auburn Lake Trail aid station to the end, only being able to manage a stride length of about 6 inches. On the way up the hill from Robie Point, my pacer Wade asked me to describe how my legs felt. I told him my quads had been beaten with a ball-peen hammer and that someone had taken a wood planer to the soles of my feet. I lost six toenails before I ran the Vermont 100 three weeks later.
2006 - the Good: flying into Miller's Defeat

2006 - the Bad: "running" toward the High School

I was done with Western States. After three less-than-successful efforts there, it had beaten me and I moved on to other things - with better results, I might add. However, it has always rankled me to never have done well. I don't necessarily mean that I have never earned a silver buckle, although I know that deep down I am quite capable of it, but just that I haven't been able to crack the code that will lead to a satisfying personal success there, one where I can be content that I have done my best. 

Maybe it took a while to get over the failures, relatively speaking, at that race, but after watching the race unfold on the Net last year and seeing friends do so well there, the hype started making itself known inside me and a slow burn started. Long story short, I just clicked "Submit" on my entry into next year's Western States. Yes, I became entrant number 1737. For those not keeping track, that would be 1737 entrants in the lottery for about 350-ish race slots. Slim odds indeed. But if you don't enter, your chances are zero, so my odds are already looking up. Will I be devastated if I don't get in? Hardly, there are so many other interesting races I am keen to run that I would not be at a loss for something else to do. But it would be kind of cool to get back to Squaw Valley to seek some kind of closure to that particular course. And this time, I won't get De-hy-drated.


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