Sometimes you just gotta enjoy the scenery – Powderface42

This is long delayed, but does it really matter? Back in July I ran Powderface42, a trail marathon with epic scenery. I ran this race for the first time in 2010 and really enjoyed the course. It’s lots of single-track through the foothills of Kananaskis Country with amazing views of the mountains. The course is tough, some large climbs and then some wicked downhill. This year it was particularly muddy adding another element.

I think I came into this race with bit too much confidence. My result at Coulee Cactus gave me hope that I could better my 2010 time of around 4:50. I felt the only way of doing this was to try to stick with a few faster guys at the beginning of the race and make up time where I was slow last time. Given that I haven’t done much, if any, training at higher elevations, this turned out to be not a great plan. I struggled to stay with a few faster guys who seemed to be almost out for a ‘walk’ in the mountains and then I paid for it later on. The second half of the race was a lesson in humility as runners seemed to just continually pass me. But alas, about half way through when I felt I’d killed most of my speed I realized I needed to enjoy the adventure. So I chose to really absorb the beautiful scenery and the experience that was running Powderface42. The mountains, beautiful trees, clear creeks flowing through meadows and forests, wildflowers, birds – it’s all just so beautiful. There’s an irony of trail running, we trail run because we enjoy being in nature, yet when race day comes we often are so obsessed with times that we fail to appreciate what we’re running through. I decided this race would be different. I just focused on what was before and gave up on the watch. No need to worry about personal bests here, the day was too perfect.

I continued to plow through the muddy sections, hopping through puddles and streams, just being a kid and having a good time. I hit the final aid station at around 4 hrs and the volunteer mentioned I could still run sub 5 hrs, I told my friend John who was standing beside him that I had no interest in suffering that much and I’d already done that, so the charm was lost on me today. I struggled a bit through the last section, gathered myself for the finish line and then ran through the finish and into the arms of my wife and kids. It was a beautiful day to run in the mountains and foothills of Alberta.


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A perfect race? Is there such a thing? Well…almost…

Coulee Cactus went better than I expected in many ways. I hadn’t run more than 1.5 hrs in many months and tackling a 3 hr+ course (~32km) was sure to tax my body in many ways I’d hadn’t since Lost Soul 53k last September. The good news though is that the body held up well. I finished the ~32km course in just over 3 hrs (3:04 offically) and placed first in the solo event and 4th overall. I missed out on 2nd overall by just a minute…one minute!

One of the aspects that pleased me most about the run was my negative splits on legs 4 and 5. The course is a 5 leg relay with legs 1 and 2 being the same but reversed for legs 4 and 5. They changed leg 2 slightly, but essentially a runner can see whether he/she ran the second half legs faster than the first. My times were close on legs 2 and 4, but I was 3 minutes faster on leg 5 than leg 1. Given my training I’m pleased with the patience I showed on this longer route. Race competition wasn’t as stiff as many races, but it was still decent for a local race. Many runners had completed monster races the previous weekend and didn’t have much in the tank for this one, so it wasn’t really fair in some ways. But there were a few fresh legs out there and I feel like I still had some speed at the end, had I needed a bit more.

This was the first year I’ve run the real Coulee Cactus course, since last year was the wet weather route. It was one of the most disorienting experiences running I’ve ever had. First, on leg 2 I almost missed a quick double left and then not long afterwards ran into the lead runners coming towards me. I eventually figured out they had missed the double left and were the ones disoriented, but it still left some doubts in my mind. So after not being sure if I had run the correct route for awhile I completed legs 2 and 3 and wasn’t sure where to go at a junction for leg 4. I stood there for a second looking confused and a lady asked if I’d checked in all the required times to the last time aid station. At this point in the race I couldn’t remember if I had so I just ran with Jep, another strong solo runner until I forgot about it (almost). It was during leg 4 that I began pulling away from Jep and the others behind me, but the nagging doubts about the route were somewhat frustrating. I wasn’t sure if I crossed the finish line first whether I’d be DQ’d for missing something. I didn’t know why I doubted, I’d followed Jep most of the race and there didn’t seem to be many other soloists around us. I tucked in behind one of the relay runners, tried to keep up my pace and eat a little before the final leg. Eventually, the relay runner started to slow and I was able to pass her and attack the next relay team target. I hit the big hill at the final transition feeling good, grabbed the bottle (& expresso gel :) I had stashed there after leg 1 and headed back down the hill. It was a little while after the hill that I saw the second place solo runner and just told myself not to blow up or get injured in the final leg. I just had to hold it for another 40 minutes or so. My calves were starting to cramp a bit, but otherwise everything seemed fine. I had some good speed on the downhills and when I hit a few of the smaller hills to my surprise my legs still had something left. So I locked into a short quick stride and ran up as many of the final hills as I could. There was one relay runner ahead of me that I could see and I tried to catch her, but it was definitely too much to ask of my tired legs. I was passed by another relay runner, but this time didn’t care as much, knowing that if I continued moving well I wouldn’t be caught by any of the solo runners.

I enjoyed the final few kilometres of familiar trail and cruised through the finish line without pushing it too much. I crossed the finish line very content that I had finished first in the solo event and even felt good at the end (no puking in the final 5 min like last year). As I look forward to Powderface 42km trail marathon and Lost Soul Ultra 53km races this season, my Coulee Cactus result gives me a lot of confidence that I can continue with my training regime and do quite well in those races. One of the biggest things for me has been figuring out my nutrition and race plan. I used 2.5 GU gels (2 chocolate (only kind I like) and 0.5 expresso), half a Larabar and approximately 2.5 litres of Gatorade plus 0.5 litres of Gatorade just before the race. For many people that’d be overhydration, but I sweat a lot and hope I’ve what works. All in all it was nice to win, but what was even nicer was being able to hang out with so many of the Lethbridge and area running community for the day. The event brings out all the local runners I hadn’t seen in a long time, due to my busy family life schedule and it’s such an inspiration to hang out with everyone. Cheers to all the organizers and volunteers (though a few more flags/signs next year might be nice).

Well, no rest for the weary Powderface is just over a month away, so I’ll need begin ramping up the training again soon. Take an easier week this first week and then build again to 2 weeks before the race. Isn’t race season so much fun?





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One day until Coulee Cactus 39k trail race

Tomorrow is the big day for Coulee Cactus trail race. Actually it’s a pretty low-key race, but it’s still a race so I’m looking forward to the challenge of competing. The race is about 39km and it’ll be my first trail race of the season. It all goes well, it’ll be followed by Powderface 42k trail race in July and Lost Soul Ultra 53k trail race in Sept.

My only concern, as is typical of most runners, that my training hasn’t been adequate. I maxed out with a pretty good week just two weeks ago totaling 100k; however I did it with runs less than 17km. So doubling that and more may pose some problems come race time. Sure I have some speed for 10k or 15k, but maintaining it may be problematic. I comfort myself in the knowledge that 100 miler runners never actually finish the distance in training, so maybe it’s fine if I do the same for shorter races? Last year I managed a good race at Coulee Cactus with my longest run being 2 hrs and the race taking 3.5 hrs. Maybe it’s more about consistency and intensity of workout rather than pure mileage on long runs? Who knows, training is a big guessing game and I try to fit in whenever and wherever I can. That’s my training plan – run when I can, for as long as I can, as hard as I can. Sounds simplistic and a bit silly, but it’s all I got. Yes, I taper, yes I rest, yes I do some faster and some slower – but that would make it sound complicated. This is where I’m at. We’ll see what the course says about it – ultimately it has the last say anyways.

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Moonlight Run 10k – exact same time!

A 10k road race definitely isn’t my favourite type of race. I’d rather spend some time on trails in a beautiful area jumping over roots and rocks and enjoying the scenery. Nonetheless, a 10k is a great chance to test overall fitness. It’s long enough to require you to maintain speed over distance. Last year was my first 10k road race and I was quite pleased with a sub 41 minute time (40:44) on a course with a substantial hill (~300 ft.) at the finish. I also did very little specific training for that first 10k.

This year I really looked ahead to the Moonlight Run 10k. It’s the largest race in Lethbridge and a chance to see how I stack up against the city’s best road runners. Overall I did less mileage than last year, but more specific speed training. Cranking out a lot of lunch time 30-40 min speed workouts. Thus I was anticipating I could challenge for a sub-40 minute and top 10 result.

On race day I was feeling pretty good. It was great to have my wife and kids come out for the late 8pm start time and see the buzz around the downtown for the race involving 2500 of the city’s 80,000 residents. I took off at a good pace knowing that I’d need some decent speed to break the 40 minute barrier. The first half felt fine, but I knew I wasn’t feeling too energetic when my watch clipped passed 20 minutes. The next 10 minutes I could feel the sub-40 minute slipping away. I knew this would be the tough stretch, but I was expecting a few more runners around me. A few guys passed me after the 5 minute mark and I just couldn’t seem to catch them. I was maintaining, but not gaining any ground. I hit the turnaround (~6k) and tried to pick up the pace a bit, knowing that I could’ve given more during this stretch last year. This went well as no runners passed me and I was able to pass one runner thoughout this final flat stretch of the course. I hit the hill feeling it was going to be tight, but hopeful of a faster time. The first quarter of the approximately 1.2km hill I maintained pace, passing numerous 6k runners. Then, rather quickly the lactic acid started to build and the lungs were aching and I had to slow the pace. The finish was less than 1k away, but I couldn’t muscle a long extended sprint to the finish. I vowed not to walk and just kept moving as fast I could. I hit the crest of the hill and tried to give it as hard as I could, which seemed a bit like slow motion compared to my final sprint last year. A few metres from the finish line I glanced at the clock and thought ‘Wow, this is gonna be the same time as last year’. I put on a big smile for my family as I crossed and felt proud to have suffered through a great effort.

It turns out my gun time was 1/10th of a second faster than last year. Pretty amazing to be that close to my time as last year. I guess, if anything I am consistent. A little less mileage and more specific training equals the same result. Given that it’s early in the running race season and that it’s been tougher to get my runs in this year I’m proud to be maintaining my fitness level and speed. It gives me hope for another great year of running. Thank God for the ability to run. It’s such a joy!

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Less than two weeks til Moonlight 10k

Well, it’s less than 2 weeks until the Moonlight 10k and I’m as uncertain as ever if I’ll reach my sub-40 minute goal. I feel good and have trained hard when I’ve been able to; however every time I do a time trial or tempo type run I hover just over 4 min/km and feel just whipped at the end of the run. The 4 min/km barrier is a tough one. My body runs comfortably around 5-6 min/km so I’ve been really pushing it with some speed work over the past few months, trying to get used to that quicker foot speed and heart-pumping pain threshold. I’m optimistic in some regards for the Moonlight 10k. Last year I totally surprised myself with the result, so maybe that will happen again. A bit of adrenaline during the race should help, but there’s also a massive hill in the last kilometer, which is sure to kill any good pace I’ve got going, despite all the hill training I do. All in all I’m excited to see 2500 people running in Lethbidge and all the vibe and good feelings that come with knowing thousands of people are taking a step (or two) towards better health and an active lifestyle. It’s the closest thing in Lethbridge to that big race feel. I can’t wait!

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Looking forward to 2012

2012 began with a rocky start. Our whole family contracted the seasonal flu virus and we’re still recovering over a week later. Nonetheless the idea of training has gone slower than expected. I’ve gotten back to short lunch hour training runs, but I am still feeling the effects of the flu bug and had to stop today after 24 minutes of moderate speed work. But that’s enough about today, what about my goals for 2012? Here they are:

Biggest goal: Don’t get injured. After that, here are my 2012 running goals.

Moonlight Run 10k – March 10
Goal: sub 40 minutes (44 seconds faster than last year, maybe it’s possible)

Coulee Cactus Crawl – June 2
Goal: top 3 finish (I won last year with a less competitive field and a wet-weather course)

Powderface 42 – mid-July
Goal: sub 5 hrs (I’ve done it before, can I do it again?)

Lost Soul Ultra 50k – Sept 8
Goal: sub 6 hrs (I was 6:10 last year, only 10 minutes! I can do it!)

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Sub 19 min 5k

To catch things up from my last post. I ran a 5k time trial at the U of L indoor track on Wed Nov 16 in 19:20. I was pretty pleased with that, though I was aiming for a sub 19 minute result. The 20 seconds equates to less than 1 second per lap at the 200m indoor track.

Since that initial 5k time trial I’ve worked more on speed and maintaining that speed over distance. This has meant some fairly short workouts, less than 20 minutes most times as I try to crank out sub 6 minute miles (4 min/km) and faster. This morning the hard work paid off as I finished up my running class with an 18:50 – 5k time trial at the indoor track. That’s knocking 30 seconds off my previous result. Given that I ran for 90 minutes on Sunday I’m pretty pumped with this result. It gives me confidence that I’ve reached that ‘fast’ threshold for semi-competitive runners. A sub-19 is pretty competitive in most local 5k races, putting a runner in the lead pack, so that’s nice to know I can do that. What else is interesting is that I improved with a lot less mileage than normal during training. Usually when I train for a race I ramp up mileage, with this training I only ramped up speed, took leisurely weekends, and just did intense speed work for the most part. Less is more? That’s what some of the experts have been saying these days. Perhaps it’s true?

Running is mostly a personal challenge and joy and I”m proud to have reached this accomplishment. For most others it will mean relatively little, but it’s the knowledge that when you try hard and train hard you can accomplish your goals. An old adage that is still very true.



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A break on the trails

I love trail running. If you know me this isn’t anything new. The ability to be in nature and travel vast distances across any type of terrain makes trail running one of the most amazing experiences in the world. I love jumping over rocks, running up and down hills, seeing deer, beavers, birds, hawks, beautiful sunrises and so much more. So, after a few weeks of track and treadmill running I was losing my motivation and hit the trails again. I took off for a few lunch hour trail runs and one short Sunday afternoon run (thanks to my wife :) . There’s always a new challenge on the trails whether it be learning how to maintain speed over obstacles or seeing how fast you can ascend a small hill. The best part is that I live in a city with almost unending trails. It takes me 5 minutes to hit the trail head and after that I can go for hours without getting back on sidewalk.

On the 5k goal – my running class has a 5k time trial on Wednesday of this week so we’ll see what happens. Today (Monday) I ran for 15 minutes at 20 min/5k pace and it felt good. I’m not sure I can crank out faster lap times for the 18 minute 5k, but I think I’ll aim for sub 19 minutes and hope I can run a negative split. Who knows, it’s a fun game and a great challenge.

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Lately I’ve had this notion in my head that I can run an 18 minute 5k and a sub-40 minute 10k. I think the latter is possible, but the former I’m uncertain. Working on a speed is much more difficult in some aspects than distance. With distance training there’s a lot of certainty that with enough training and the proper race day strategy you can complete the distance. If you’re not worried about distance and speed than the game is much more mental than physical. Speed over short distances is a different game. It’s difficult for different reasons. The more trying part is convincing yourself not to slow down. I always say that in a 50k race at least the first half is fun. With a 5k speed test there’s hardly any of the actual race that I would consider ‘enjoyable’. For me it’s difficult pushing your legs and lungs to go that fast, but the result is rewarding.

Today at my running class we did 2x1600m. It went fairly well as I completed the first in 5:45 and the second in 5:39. This was sub 18 minute pace, but I definitely wasn’t feeling it was sustainable for 5k. The other day on the treadmill I tried running at 6 min/mile pace (~18 min 5k) but quit at 2 miles (12 minutes) because my lungs just couldn’t take it (and I was worried about falling off). It may seem trivial to try to lower my 5k by a minute or two, but it’s a fun goal and challenge so why not? I think it’ll make me a better runner and it’s always a great confidence booster in longer races to know you have that speed in the tank.

With all this speed work one thing is certain about running – there are no shortcuts. If you see anyone busting out a sub 20 minute 5k or sub 40 minute 10k you know they’ve put some work into it.

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Doing what you love for the love of it.

I was astounded by this short video. It features the world’s top ultra runner revealing that he’d lost his love for running. Kilian Jornet has won virtually every single major ultramarathon in the world and he’s only 24 years old. The video does an excellent job portraying how his hectic schedule and corporate sponsorship led him to drop out of a race simply, as he says, because he didn’t want to run anymore. In short, it wasn’t fun, it was work and that made him sad.

I have profound respect for his sponsor Salomon in creating this short video. They could’ve kept pressuring him and pushed his rigorous schedule, but instead they chose the higher ground and allowed Kilian to be human. In the end, it’ll probably pay off for Salomon, but I’m sure it was difficult. Kilian’s story hits at the heart of the issue for many of us. What do you love to do? Think about that activity and then think about how easily that joy can be taken from you. Many of us can think about an activity we used to love, but then something changed and we no longer came to love that activity. I love how Kilian has returned to the mountains he loves to renew his energy and restore himself. What a perfect picture of how to regain that love of your sport or activity. Return to what made you love it. In a world where too much has become a job and corporate interests strive to appropriate all we love, Kilian reminds us that we must return to the land that gives us strength. Enough said – watch the movie.

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