Progress, or something

So this blog has been focusing mostly on my running regime. This isn’t because the other aspects of my life aren’t interesting, quite the opposite in fact, rather it’s because most other people in my life shouldn’t or couldn’t be bothered with all these thoughts on running. With that said, yesterday I was at my running class and felt quite proud of myself for running two kilometers. Yes, that’s right, a mere two kilometer track workout. The catch is that it was a speed test. The first kilometer I completed in 3:18 and then the instructor said he wanted the second around 3:10-3:12. “What!” I thought. “I can’t do that.” But the human mind and body are incredible and I went out and ran the second in 3:14. For some that’s not fast, for others it is. For me that’s fast and I’m hoping I can string together a couple of those for a good 5k result in the future and then a good 10k result for the March 2012 Moonlight Run 10k here in Lethbridge. I’m quite enjoying this speed work training. The summer was focused on trail running, which is my deep passion, but it’s great to switch things up and try something new. I think it’ll make me a better overall runner.

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HITting the ground running

HIT or High Intensity Training has gotten quite a bit of buzz in the running world lately. Basically it’s the concept of replacing long slower training runs with short high intensity running workouts. The jury is out on whether this is the best method to improve performance for say, a marathon or ultra marathon, but it has proven effective at increasing VO2 max.

So whether it works or not I’m going to give it a try. Why? Because I really have no other choice. My work and family schedule mean that I have a maximum of 60 minutes 3-4 times a week to run or workout – mostly over my lunch hour. Over the next few months there will likely be no (or few) leisurely 2+ hr trail runs. So I’m giving HIT a try. My plan is to alternate VO2 max training  (approximately 30 minutes of 1-3 minute intervals with breaks) with Lactate Threshold/Tempo workouts (approximately 20-40 minutes of high tempo work – e.g. 41-45 minute 10k pace). The theory is that even the best ultra runners have relatively fast 10k times and if I can improve my VO2 max and Lactate threshold I will become a faster runner and do even better at trail running ultras. For example, Gary Robbins of Vancouver, BC who is a top 10 Western States 100 mile finisher has a 36 minute 10k time. Why the need for such speed when you’re 100 miles? Well, part of it is natural talent, the other part is the way the body uses oxygen. If you’re body can handle running 10k in 36 minutes it should find running 5x 10k at 50 minutes relatively easy. I know that’s simplifying it, but that’s partly the theory. Yes, lots of long easy runs help, but who has time for that? Not me recently, so this is the plan and I’ll see if it works.  Stay tuned.

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Running, the beginnings. my story.

It all began in 2004 when my sister suggested I enter a 15km running race with her. I had always thought running was a means to something else, like when I ran around my block to train for basketball season. But to actually run, just for the sake of running…well…I hadn’t done that since grade school.

I finished that 15k race and was subsequently convinced (once again, by my sister) to enter road running’s big time, the Ottawa Marathon in May 2005. Part way through my marathon training the addiction component of running had clicked in. The daily training was quite flexible compared to all the team sports I’d played in high school. There was no set practice time or gym location – just a simple distance or workout requirement that you could do anytime of the day. You could also skip a workout and do it a different day. There was structure, but also great flexibility. I’d run out to my parents house in the country and my wife (bless her heart) would drive by and hand me a water bottle. Each time I checked off my training days on the marathon plan I felt a sense of accomplishment. It was tangible, it was simple and it always pushed me.

Running has got to be one of the most simple physical activities. You have a set distance and you record how fast you can run that distance. Simple, easy to understand, and easy to see improvement over time. There’s also a whole host of physical and mental benefits that come with running. This is why so many people are taking up this sport later in life.

But alas, this is where the problem or challenge lies. As soon as you begin running you enter this world of time comparison. For example, you compare your 5k or 10k time to a friend’s and see who’s faster. If you train hard you may win your age group and compare to overall race times instead of just your friend. When you get faster you begin comparing to everyone in the race, then you get to the front of the pack and compare to other races in other cities. Attempting to see if your 10th place finish would place in the top 50 in a big city event. It’s an endless game of finding faster and faster people to compare your times with. The beauty of it is there’s always someone else to compare to and the frustration of it is – there’s always somebody faster. So what do you do with this dilemma ? You could choose to not be competitive, run for the sake of the beauty and joy of running and just settle into your place in the runner’s food chain. Something I highly recommend, but in reality have a hard time following. Yes, I love running. I love the fresh air, the feeling of moving fast under one’s own power, the struggle of a hill or long distance, the sunrises, etc. but…I also love a good challenge.

Taking up trail running in 2006 provided a brief hiatus from the strict comparisons. Trail running is naturally difficult for comparisons because the courses are all different and there aren’t a large number of runners to gage times from. There’s a simple beauty to trail running not present in road running’s mass starts and thousands of entrants. Nonetheless, once you are involved in the trail scene for a year or so you begin to find your place in the pecking order and naturally want to move up (not altogether different than the road scene).

I love to compete, to test my abilities against others. For whatever reason I was born with competitive instincts and after a few relatively successful seasons of road and trail running I feel the urge to want to be faster. Should I just settle into my place at the back of the front pack? Content to be faster than some and slower than others? Where does true contentment lie for a runner?

Yet, I want to win or at least come close, but I also know that at many races this is unrealistic and would involve sacrificing too many other important aspects of life for what may ultimately be a selfish purpose. Being at the back of the front pack is a tough place to be. You know you don’t have the raw talent to be at the front, but you can see them and they’re getting farther away.

This running thing sure is addictive.

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Back to the blog

After a flurry of life events including moving, new job, and the birth of our two children I feel like getting back into this blog. I feel I have some things to say and write about whether anyone wants to read them or not. There have been so many amazing events in my life over the last few years and I haven’t had the chance to really reflect on them. There have also been some difficulties and I feel I can now also reflect on those events. So, in short what am I up to? Being a dad, a husband, municipal planner, film maker, trail runner and wannabe ultra runner and much more.

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Lost Soul Ultra 2011

Last year (2010) was my first shot at running the Lost Soul Ultra 50k. I had trained hard, quite hard in my opinion – putting in a lot of tough 3 hr+ training runs on the course. I was familiar with virtually the entire course after a year of running the coulees with experienced local ultra runners, such as Phil Fraser, Larry Kundrik and Marc Hayward. The only thing I hadn’t done was run the entire course in one shot. I set out with an ambitious goal of a sub 6 hr time with an early pace of 5:30 and all was going well for the first half of the race. I’d led or co-led the race for the first few hours resulting in a substantial lead in the race past the half way mark. But part way through the infamous north loop I underestimated my hydration and crashed. I pulled myself together thanks to some coke and salvaged a fourth place overall (3rd male) finish in 6:26. I was proud to overcome my earlier mistakes, but finished 2010 with an empty feeling that I could’ve done a lot better.

So it was with much anticipation that I toed the starting line of the Lost Soul 50k. I hadn’t trained as much as 2010 due to our new beautiful boy Caleb being born just over a month earlier, but I was still confident I could improve on 2010. The motto for the race was “start slow and keep it up”. I learned from the previous year that the pace by the end of the race is so slow for most runners, even the front runners, that if you have anything left you can easily pass people at this stage in the race. The strategy was to spend the first half hydrating and eating and worry about catching runners on the flat sections at the end of race, where I would be running and they would be walking – hopefully.

My family had flown in for the weekend and it was great to have my sister, neice, mom and dad at the starting line to see me off. The race started and I let what seemed like a dozen runners go ahead of me. I panicked briefly when I thought how difficult it might be catch all of these runners, but I put that thought behind me and started up a conversation with a guy beside me. This took away some competitive drive and made me run my own race. I looped back into the headquarters at exactly 40 minutes perfectly on my pace. I soon caught up with a young female runner who was pushing hard and breathing heavily. She was running up many of the hills I was walking and seemed to a little over zealous this early in the race, so I asked her if she’d run this course before. She informed me she had last year. I thought perhaps I should offer her a tip on walking the hills, but she seemed to think she knew what she was doing so I kept tight-lipped and figured maybe she was superwoman. After talking the next loop at an easy pace I checked into Peenaquin at exactly 2 hrs, also right on schedule.

Hydration was going to be the key for me as I felt I’ve been dehydrated for most races and therefore under performed. I was carrying 2 handheld 500 ml bottles and was finishing just under 2 bottles per hour. I grabbed a few gels at Peenaquin and headed out to Pavan. I still hadn’t run into too many of the lead runners. I figured they’d make it to Pavan in good time, but I’d be able to catch them on the 10 mile north loop.

I made it to Pavan around 2:45 grabbed my running backpack that was waiting there, some coke and watermelon with salt (yummy) and headed off for the north loop – vowing to do better than last year. Starting the first hill Kevin McFadzen caught me and I congratulated him for making it farther than last year. Him and I shared the lead until Pavan in 2010 before he had to drop out. I slowed to let him pass and he pushed on ahead over the hill and through the coulees. He said that he would see me again. I guess he was correct because awhile down the trail I caught back up to him and pulled ahead for the next few kilometres. Soon I caught a few other runners, including local Dean Johnson who was struggling with cramping. He’d trained hard and went out hard. I felt his pain from last year’s experience, but there wasn’t much I could do for him. We ran together for a bit, as I was starting to feel fatigued and a bit cramping and wanted to take it easy. I knew there was still a long ways to go.

We soon finished the flat section of Pavan and headed into the hills for a brief period. I think it was here that I put some real distance between myself and Kevin and Dean. I loved this section of trail, remote, hilly and beautiful views at times. It soon ended and I made my through the flat stretch onto the remote water station. Since I didn’t have a water bottle, only a hydration pack, I pumped some water and put my mouth under it to get as much pure water as possible. It tasted so nice. I was sick of gatorade already and the pure water was refreshing. I kept moving well along this flat section although it felt like I was going slow. Not too long after the water station my dad appeared on the old mountain bike I’d lent him. He turned up like this numerous times in the race to my complete surprise. I figured he’d get lost finding his way through this crazy course. He asked how I was doing and rode behind me on the bike – providing me someone to chat with for a brief period of time. I was feeling pretty good, but knew I needed to take my salt tablets (which interestingly are mostly cal-mag with some sodium). I stuffed one in and grabbed my hose just in time before I threw up. So I stopped completely, breathed heavily and ensured it went down okay. I wasn’t making the same mistake as last year – pushing through when my stomach didn’t feel well. It worked and I was back running shortly thereafter.

I should also say that there are multiple fences to cross during this section and because my legs are cramping I had to throw my legs over the fences without bending them too much for fear they would seize. Obviously not a great state to be in, but it seemed to work.

I arrived at Pavan aid station a little behind schedule, but happy to not have thrown up (yet) and still running decently, albeit slow. I fueled up with coke, watermelon and some gels at Pavan before heading out with my handheld bottles and ditching my backpack. They told me I was now in second place as the third place runner was resting at Pavan. I started to run a bit on the first stretch, but had consumed too much for my stomach and had to walk. I convinced myself to recover and eventually climbed the two big hills and was able to keep up a steady pace on the flat stretches to Peenaquin.

I arrived at Peenaquin aid station only to be told that the second place runner was faltering and I should be able to catch him. Hey wait, wasn’t I the second place runner? This was confusing, but it seemed more believable that I had passed the third place runner at Pavan and not the second place runner. A cold water sponge bath felt wonderful at Peenaquin and off I was to run the final stretch of the course in position to crack the top 3. Maybe just maybe I could keep it under 6 hours. The final stretch is almost all flat, but some sections are rather technical along the river’s edge and there are few places to really run without having to think too much. I love this section when I’m feeling good, but at the end of a race it’s just tempting, since you can’t actually enjoy it much. I navigated through the bushes, over the many logs, across the gravel and rock and eventually bumped into a few 100k and 100 mile runners to chat with.

One nice 100k runner stayed with me for the next few kilometres, giving me extra motivation to keep moving and a pacer. He encouraged me immensely and kept telling me that I would catch the second place runner who was struggling. Eventually my dad popped up again on the paved path by the nature centre and he rode with me until the bottom of the final hill. The Lost Soul Ultra finishes at the top of a wicked hill. Despite all the steep hills we run in the course, the final one might be the steepest. They ran a different one in 2010, but I’m told the 2011 final hill is the traditional one. At the bottom of the hill I looked up and saw one runner slowly making his way up. I figured he was a 100k or 100 mile racer and that I’d missed my 2nd place finish. I thought “that sucks, but at least I tried hard”. I still tried to ascend the hill quickly and caught up with the runner. He said he was in the 100k race and I stayed with him for a few seconds before continuing on up the hill. I hit the top, walked for a brief portion and then jogged to the edge of the Lethbridge Lodge parking lot where I broke into a full out run to the finish. I crossed the line in 6 hrs 10 minutes. I sat down and a nice young man told me I had come second! What? I was a little delirious, so I asked him to check. He informed me that the runner I passed was Logan and he was in the 50k race! Well, maybe we were all confused, but it seemed clear now. I had caught him and placed 2nd, 15 minutes faster than in 2010 and with less training. I ran a smart race for my training regime and finished well. I was satisfied content and could now rest (until next year ;) .

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Lost Soul Ultra 2010

Here’s shortened race story. The Lost Soul Ultra runs through Lethbridge’s beautiful river valley, winding its way up and down the hills (something like 15 of them). I’d run almost the entire course over the last year with our Tue night run group. So I felt confident that I knew what to expect and had trained decently for this type of race. So I took off at the start behind the lead runner at a comfortable pace. I followed him through the first 20k or so and then he disappeared and I was left alone at the front. Kind of a strange feeling, considering there’s usually speedier people ahead of me in most races. I was eating well and drinking a decent amount. I came into the 28k aid station ahead by about 20 minutes or so I think, and feeling hopeful.

So I ditched my running pack for my handheld water bottle for the next 16k stretch, which had an unmanned water station halfway through it. The big mistake was that my water bottle contained no food whatsoever. I didn’t think that would be a problem since I knew the stretch of trail, had run it a couple times and could refuel once I was at the next aid station. It wasn’t until over halfway through the 16k stretch that my body began to tell me something was wrong. Up until then I was slowing down a bit, with some cramping, but nothing drastically wrong. Eventually my body wanted to get rid of whatever was in my stomach (likely partially due to a new electrolyte mixture that I started a few weeks previous in training and was using in the race).

To somewhat add insult to injury the second place runner passed me as I was doubled over on the side of the trail. I eventually struggled into the next station where Darlene and Leah were waiting for me (hurray!!) and spent a good couple minutes trying to get myself together. I ate and drank what I could and tried to muscle the energy to get back out on the trail. I got a good butt-kicking from Terry, one of our Tue night run group members, who told me to get back out on the course.

I left the aid station feeling pretty dizzy and uncomfortable, but decided to try to eat what I could. I hiked up the final two climbs and then did all I could to try to run the remainder of the course. I was passed by a few others, but eventually caught the 3rd place male, who was struggling worse than me, and ended up still taking a top 3 finish (4th overall)! I was proud that I was able to overcome some difficulties and finish the race in a good time (6:27ish). Someone once said it’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get back up. I feel that was my quote for the day. I had some ambitious goals at the start of the race, which I think were legitimate and not overly ambitious, but weren’t meant to be given my tactical errors and inexperience. If I ever run this race again I feel I can run a sub-6hr time if I fuel properly, but then again – they don’t call it the “Toughest race on the prairies” for nothing.

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Commuting to work: the sustainable way 2010

Here’s 2010 – sustainable ways to get to and from work.

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Lost Soul Ultra

Well, I finally got off the waiting list for the Lost Soul Ultra 50k. So on September 11, 2010 I’ll be attempting to race through the coulees and enjoy the beautiful rugged prairie river valley in the city that I’m currently living in. Lethbridge is a beautiful city, but it’s beauty is not always appreciated or even seen by most people. There are great manmade parks (Henderson and Nicholas Sheran) and amazing natural parks in the river valley. Running through 50k of trails in the river valley should be pretty neat, as it’s one of the few races that I can literally run to.

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30 things in 30 days

30-logoIn light of my pending old age I’m proposing to do 30 things in 30 days following my 30th birthday on November 12th. I was trying to think of something that would make me feel young at-heart and would involve friends and family from around the world.

The catch is that you (my friends and family) will contribute the ideas of the 30 things I will do.

Here’s the plan:

Leading up to my birthday on November 12 I will be taking submissions of things I should do. I will then choose the best 30 things suggested and do one each day for 30 days (you may also suggest things that can be done once a day for 30 days). Here’s the criteria.

-Must involve the number 30
-Something that I can do in less than 1 hr
-Something that costs little or no money
-Something that is: challenging, comical or fun
-Can be done either once or once a day for 30 days

What will happen?

I will be posting the best (& worst) ideas on my website and facebook for people to keep track and vote if they so choose. I may choose to do the top voted thing (if it’s reasonable). On my birthday I will finalize the list and began completing the things. I will try to log and photo the things that I do also on my website and facebook page.

To submit your idea send an email to or post it on my facebook wall.

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July biking

In July I calculated that I biked 375 km. I don’t have a bike computer, so this is an estimate based on online mapping.I biked a total of 16 days out of a possible of 19. Only three days I drove due to rain or other circumstances – overall a great month for biking!

It’s been interesting to note that my fastest times have dropped substantially. My ‘to work’ time has dropped from about 30 minutes to a record of about 25 minutes and averages between 25-30 minutes. My ‘from work’ time has dropped from around 35-40 minutes to a record of just under30 minutes, with averages in the low 30s. A big result of the dropped times is my increased fitness and skill tackling the ‘Lethbridge coulee’. Formerly I was taking about 10min to get up coulee on the westside, while now I have it down to around 5 min or under. It’s pretty exciting to feel so strong on the bike, although the bike ride isn’t long enough to test my real endurance, just mostly speed. I also find that my time to and from work can vary widely based on how I hit the stop lights. There’s a potential to wait about 5 minutes at all the stop lights, so it’s tough to really set a record speed unless I hit all the lights green.

Other interesting things to note

-I can now recognize most of the ‘regulars’  who walk, bike or run from the west side of Lethbridge each day
-I’ve talked about 5 different commuters at various times, sometimes for awhile, sometimes just to say hi. This is something I enjoy about biking that never happens in a car.
-Biking in the rain ain’t so bad as it seems and can be overcome, something that I thought was a major barrier to cycling
-Putting my canoe ‘dry bag’ into my pannier was an easy way to ‘waterproof’ my pannier
-My bike work remains one of the highlights of my daily work routine

pedaling off…

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