Tag Archives: Camp Fortune

Muddy Mayhem at Inaugural Black Fly Ultra

In theory, we should have been super happy. After all, there was no blazing sun, and there were no swarms of the namesake Black Flies harassing us as we ran. However, what we got instead was just as draining mentally and physically. Lots of rain, and lots of mud, which only worsened as the hours ticked by. What exactly am I talking about? None other than my first ‘summer’ ultra trail running race, the Black Fly ultra taking place in my personal playground! There were options to race for 3, 6 or 12 hours. Can you guess what I opted for? Of course, 12 hours! My plan was to use this as a long training day to see how things were progressing for my journey to Sinister 7 (my first 100 miler coming up in July). Read on to learn more about this new and exciting race in our area!

Inaugural Black Fly Ultra

Last year, you may recall that I took part in the inaugural Bad Beaver Ultra, a 3-day staged ultra race taking part in Gatineau Park. Well this year, they added a couple new events to their roster, and I decided to throw my hat in the ring and try them out. After all, who doesn’t want another cool hoodie to add to their collection, right? The idea behind the first new event, the Black Fly, was to pit racers against themselves on a looped course that you would run for 3, 6, or 12 hours straight. The winners would be whoever logged the most loops in the allotted time. In my mind, that meant that regardless how far I’d run, I would at least be able to say I did a proper 12 hour training day.

My going in position was not to take it too seriously or competitively. After all, this was pretty early in the season, and I was running on untested feet! Plantar fasciitis has been a recurring theme, with my right foot currently suffering the brunt of it. I’d been putting in trail time, but due to a lingering winter, I hadn’t been on trails very much yet, just a lot of road mileage to remind my legs how to run. The week before the event, I headed out to the venue and did about 4 practice loops of the course as best I could piece it together. Bumped into a few other folks doing the same thing that day, and we all agreed the trails were in great shape and it should be a fun day racing in a week.

Satellite view of Trail

Well, good ole mother nature decided to play tricks on us, deciding that later in the week should be characterized by biblical rains, and that the actual race day should also feature her favourite natural hydrator. In fact, I learned later that the race organizers were actually on the fence whether or not to cancel the event outright the evening before, due to the risk of damaging the mountain bike trails we’d be using! In the end, the decision was made to slightly modify the original course, and see how things progressed during the event.
As the original plans called for the start/finish/loop area to be in an open space, Deanna and I made a bit of a mad scramble the day before the race trying to secure a pop-up tent that I could use as my private ‘aid station’. Luckily, the fine folks at Euro-Sports had one available, and were kind enough to let us use it! On race morning, we learned that the aid area was relocated to the lower level of the Camp Fortune lodge, so it would be dry. However, I opted to still set up my own tent to keep things simple for my race. It would also mean I hopefully wouldn’t be too tempted to stay indoors and dry when the going got tough, which I was sure it would.

In keeping with my ‘long training day’ mantra, I had a few other tricks up my sleeve. Mostly, this consisted of my testing out a whole lot of new things on race day! I had new shoes to try, new socks, and even new nutrition / hydration. The way I saw it, since we were doing loops anyway, if something wasn’t working, I could swap it out. All told, I went through three pairs of socks and three pairs of shoes, changing out every roughly four hours. I can honestly say that putting on dry socks twice, even if it lasted less than 10 minutes, was a real mental boost during the slog! Oh yeah, and as is often the case these days, I was carrying cameras and getting trail footage for a review (which you can find at the bottom of the post).

Lead Pack

For the 12 hour event, our race got underway at 6am, after a briefing indoors, where we were instructed to always run through the middle of all puddles and mud areas, which would limit trail damage. It was clear we’d spend the day very wet and muddy. There were 34 of us brave souls at the start, with a pretty low-key start line. I decided to hang out near the front and see how things went. It was clear quite early that one dude out to put a little distance between him and the crowd as soon as possible, but apart from that, I found myself running a nice solid race pace with a group of about 4-5 other accomplished ultra runners. Initially, I had a feeling that I’d drop back within a loop, but much to my surprise, I spent the majority of my first 4 hours running with this lead pack (minus turbo dude in front).

We had a good group spirit, and traded stories and jokes as we got progressively wetter and dirtier, and the trail god increasingly more treacherous. To call it a trail in spots would be a misnomer. It was more like a river carving its way along the remnants of trails. It felt quite rain forest-esque in some spots as well. Luckily, it wasn’t super cold, so I was making do with tights, a merino wool long sleeve top, and a gore-tex shell. Ironically, I’d grabbed that gore-tex shell as an afterthought on the way out, but it ended up being my outer layer for the entire day! I was having so much fun running with these guys that when nature was calling, I was paranoid about losing them, so I had to time my stops. At one point, I was sitting in a porta-potty, keeping the door open a crack to see when the lads would be running by (this was between laps). Amazingly, I didn’t lose to much time and got to hang out a bit longer with them.

Regardless, when hour 4 came along, I decided to take my first real pit stop, and change socks and shoes. Yes, I’d lose time, but that wasn’t as critical to me as it was that I check my feet for any damage, and try another pair of shoes. In an ironic twist, my ‘pit crew’ ended up being none other than Ray Zahab himself, who feigned being grossed out by peeling my socks off for me. But knowing what he has gone through in the past, I have no doubt it was more acting than real disgust! I changed my Salomon Wings Pro 2 shoes for a pair of Inov-8 Mudclaws, which I thought may work better in the now deep mud. The plan was to run in this combination for the next 4 hours.

Full Stride

Well, about 3.5 hours later, a couple things happened. First, I was informed that I’d only be doing one more ‘long’ loop up Brians trail (that whole section was getting cut). Secondly, I’d had enough of the Inov-8s. They were killing my feet. With minimal cushioning and large lugs, every time I’d push off or land on a rock, the lugs would drive into my feet, causing discomfort. I opted to take my 2nd pit stop a bit early. This time, I wanted a full boost. SO, I put on a new dry shirt, new gloves, new socks, and BRAND NEW shoes! Yup, trying out a pair of Skecher GoTrail waterproof shoes for the first time. Lots of cushioning. At this stop, Deanna noted that I didn’t seem very happy. I think she was right. The mud and rain, and sore feet were getting to me!

I lingered an extra minute or so before finally trotting out, with warm, dry feet, and a little trepidation at the final 4+ hours of running I had ahead of me. By now, I had definitely lost the pace of the front runners, and was more or less running my own race. In the past 4 hours, we seen the numbers swell first from the 6 hour runners joining us, and then the 3 hour runners joining. However, after the 9 hour mark, it was back to just the 12 hour runners, and things quieted down a lot. I was on my own. However, something magical happened on that lap I think. I felt lighter on my feet again. It was the shoes! These things drained the water fast, felt light, and were like pillows on my feet compared to the previous pair. When I finally jogged in after the next loop, Deanna could see I was much happier again. Of course, maybe it was also the slice of pizza that I had inhaled!

Either way, when you know you only have a bit more than 3 hours to go, you are starting to see the end of the misery (fun?). By this point in the day, I could tell that my pace had dropped. Without really being aware of it, I had now been lapped by the leaders, who seem to have an inhuman ability to keep pushing at the same pace they’d started at. For me, there was definitely starting to be ‘groundhog day’ feel to the loops, and I realized I now knew exactly where the rocks were hiding in the puddles, which roots to avoid, and which rocks were the best to jump on and off from. Things had definitely moved into the ‘cruise control’ portion of the day. Now it was all in the mental game. Willing myself to just keep going around another time, despite realizing that there was nothing amazing waiting around the bend! Luckily, people were still hanging around at the lap area, occasionally even emerging from the warmth and dryness of the building to cheer us on.

Filming and Running

Energy-wise, I’d say that I’d done a good job with nutrition. I was testing out Tailwind as a substitute to solid food, and it worked pretty well. My only concern was that by moving to a liquid-only option, I think I drank too much, too fast in the early hours, as I did end up with some bloating and discomfort for a few laps. I suspect that on a hotter day, this wouldn’t be as much of an issue, since I’d need the liquids more. At any rate, later in the day, I went back to my tried and tested combo of Nuun for hydration and Fruit2 for nutrition.

As the clock marched forward, I started doing the mental math on pacing to figure out exactly how many more loops I’d have in me. You see, as long as you START a loop before the 12 hour cut-off, you can finish it, and it counts. So in that way, the 12 hour race is actually over 12 hours :-). I have a feeling that my internal clock was actually pre-programmed however. On my final lap, it appeared as though my pace was EXACTLY tuned for complete the loop AT the 12 hour mark. I’m pretty sure that if I’d *really* wanted it, I could have crossed the line a couple minutes before the cut off and completed one more loop. However, I also realized it would not affect the standings in the least bit for me. The next person ahead would be at least 1 loop ahead, and I couldn’t catch them, and anyone behind me would be unable to do another loop anyway, and therefore not ‘pass’ me. So I opted to just cruise in comfortably at the 12 hour mark.

Finish Line with Race Directors

A small but energetic group was gathered at the finish cheering in the 12 hour finishers at this point, including all 3 of the race directors. They were chanting for me to dive head first into the mud across the line, but frankly, I was having none of that. I just wanted to be done now, get out of the rain, and rest a while. After all, I was slated to be at a potluck / party in the next hour!! You can just imagine how much fun I was going to be there 😉

When all the dust, or rather mud, settled, the stats on the day were cause for some happiness. I had covered roughly 85km of distance, including over 3,500m of elevation gain. I clinched 5th place overall, and by looking closely at all the results, had a pretty damn good day out there. While I really had nothing to prove, I nonetheless showed myself that my early season fitness was there, and that as long as I stay healthy, I should be in good shape to complete all my challenges planned out for 2017! As to the new gear, again, I’m happy to report positive findings on all fronts, especially my decision to impulse order DryMax socks from the US. After going through this 12 hour torture test, my feet looked pretty immaculate, all things considered. Given that they were submerged in water with churning sand all day, this was a remarkable feat. Mind you, it took HOURS to rinse out all the gear the next day, but I suffered not a single blister! Amazing!

Strava of Route

Well that pretty much wraps up my race report from the Black Fly. I’d say this is a perfect early season event for any ultra runner, as you can go as hard or easy as you want, test new things out, be surrounded by fun people, and get in a hell of a training day with lots of elevation. If you’re into that sort of thing, I’d definitely put this one on the calendar for next year. And in case you need any more convincing, check out my video below! Until next time, get out there, and have some fun. Next up for me is another 50 miler, back to the Cayuga Trails 50 in Ithaca, New York. Stay tuned for that race report!

Hitting the Slopes One Last Time

And Down I Go Again

Howdy everyone! I hope that everyone is enjoying the long overdue spring weather that we may be finally getting. Just today, I finally noticed some buds appearing on the branches, so I *think* we may finally have bid adieu to winter! However, it does appear as though I was a tad premature in my final post when I indicated that it was my last race for the winter season. As it turns out, thanks in part to late snow, I had one final crazy race to try my luck in. XCZone’s Camp Fortune Nordix Skier-Cross Races. Yup, quite a mouthful, but if you’ll bear with me, I can explain (and show) it all. To put you in the right frame of mind, imagine if Red Bull put on a race downhill using cross-country skis. Oh wait! THEY DO! This was the ‘local’ version of that kind of thing. Before you read on, please feel free to look at the pictures I took (embedded below), then hear my story.

Pictures from the Event

I’m a sucker for cheap races. When Dave started drumming up support for this race, and I saw it was only $10, I saw no possible reason NOT to sign up. Less than a week from the race, we trekked up to the lower slopes of Camp Fortune to do some course scouting for the race. That is when I started seeing some possible reasons. First off, it was icy. Really icy. Cross country skis don’t exactly have biting edges like downhill skis. Also, with a loose heel, you definitely don’t have the same control. And of course, there’s that whole ‘gravity’ thing that Newton postulated about so many years ago. It tends to make my skinny plastic skis propel me rather rapidly to my pending doom at the bottom of icy downhill ski runs! Oh, and did I mention that this course would take place on the snowboard parc? Yeah, interesting.

But, you all know me. Taste death to live life and all that. I wasn’t going to let a little risk deter me from throwing my hat in the ring. On that Tuesday, we did 2-3 practice runs, and then I stuck around on my own to re-try some of the tricky bits to see if I could avoid falling repeatedly. We were also assured that come Sunday, the slope would be well groomed and not that icy death trap that we had been dealing with. Time would tell.

I’ve definitely had a great winter of skiing this year. Although there have been some interesting times, what with the crazy heavy snowfall causing snowmageddon in the park, for the most part, we’ve had great coverage and plenty of opportunities to explore. I was just about to put on the storage wax and call it a year, but figured that one final day of skiing would be fun.

On Sunday making the first climb to the top of the hill (yup, that’s right, no chairlift for us!), I watch someone take a practice run and snap their binding right off their ski, and someone else break their pole. Suddenly I had a flashback of my final bike commute in 2011, where I ran into a parked truck and snapped my bike in half. Was I tempting fate once again by a late-season risky activity….? Hopefully not, but I had no time to dwell on that. Only time for a couple practice runs of the redesigned and re-groomed course. Thumbs up to a great design and more reasonable conditions as compared to Tuesday. Of course, I did quickly realize that going through the trouble of re-waxing my skis just for this race was an exercise in folly. There was no need to eek out more speed than what I was getting with our old friend 9.8m/s/s!

I’ll cut right to the chase here. After the practice runs. the 60 or so participants amassed at the top and broke into groups of 4-6 for individual heats. The first was a throwaway. I came last in that one. The 2nd one was for real, but again, I came last. My reward? Stripped of my race bib and relegated to spectator status. I can safely say that after 4 runs, I was done anyway, and grateful I hadn’t broken either my equipment or me! For the rest of the morning, Deanna and I hung out watching the ‘pros’. I had also brought along my GoPro and another camera, and in spite of the grey skies, shot some footage and snapped some pics. Below you’ll see my little video that I put together hurriedly.

All in all, this was a great way to close out the cross-country ski season. It was interesting to note that of the 60 or so people racing, there were less than 10 of us that were in the ‘masters’ category. Apparently, my normal skiing friends are a bit wiser when it comes to risking life and limb playing the younger man’s sports. With that being said, kudos to my fellow Natural Fitness Labs teammates. We had fun, and teased each other a fair bit. And at the end, to soothe my bruised ego and refuel, I treated myself to a hot dog, grilled cheese, fries, AND a beer in the lodge! It was heavenly, and a good time to finally bid adieu to the winter ski season till next December!

With this out of the way, it is now time to start focusing on the true summer pursuits. Time to ramp up the biking and running volume, both on the road and on the trails. I predict another amazing summer of fun doing the things I love with the person (and people) I love! Bring on the hot tub and bring on the sun! Oh, and the BBQ too please 🙂

Video From Race

I Am Spartan!

Hanging with Spartan

Okay, okay, I’m not huge on corporate branding and following the herd, but I couldn’t help but use the phrase after tackling the latest race that I was in. I speak of none other than the Spartan Sprint Race that took place at Camp Fortune over the July 1st long weekend. This is a brand new race and format to the area, and pretty unique in that it combined trail running and obstacles. You might say it was tailored for people like me who like getting messy outdoors! For many however, half the challenge was getting to the start line (literally, not figuratively). With over 4,000 people eventually racing this thing, Gatineau Park was jam packed, with traffic backed up all the way to the highway in Chelsea! People had to hike 5-7km just to get to the start line of a 5k race! Lucky for me, I wasn’t in quite the same situation. However, I still have lots to tell you about, so read on to find out more, and don’t forget to check out some pictures that I snapped at the event!

I’ll get my griping out of the way early here. How is it that grass-roots awesome events like the Mad Trapper Snowshoe series, and the 5 Peaks trail running series, which both market themselves in the outdoor stores and in the running community, can only manage sub-100 participants, and offer great value for money? Meanwhile, the Spartan Race, advertising through gyms, bootcamps, radio, etc, can lure over 4,000 people to part with $60 each?? Both claim to be races, but after taking part in the Spartan, I can assure you that a large majority of the ‘participants’ were not really prepared to ‘race’. Granted, they all had a great time, but the amount of dehydrated and collapsed bodies littering this 5k course was shocking. As such, the organizers definitely underestimated what they might need on site. Namely, not enough first responders, and a complete lack of water on the course. End result were a few semi-serious injuries (broken bones and lacerations), and the eventual closing of at least one obstacle. Also the parking issue was a nightmare! But, given this was the inaugural year, I have full faith that the race director will learn from this event and come back with solutions. I’m sure plenty of racers will offer their advice on those matters!

With that out of the way, on to the race report. Incidentally, this is also the first event at which I was both racing, as well as reporting from for Get Out There Magazine. As a roving reporter for this publication, I provide video race reviews of certain events in exchange for race entries. So, while not technically paid to race, I at least don’t have to pay to race sometimes. Given what I spend on race entries, it is worth it. Mind you, it is also extra work, and has resulted in me adding more events to my calendar :-). Part of the deal is that I have to get reviews up within 24hrs of the event. In case you are interested, feel free to check out the race review that I have posted for the Spartan Sprint. Note that I will continue to also write my full reports, which will be my personal thoughts and performance, whereas the race review will be just that, a review. They will be a general overview of the races, etc, not how I did or anything. For that, I’ll keep writing my tomes here on ActiveSteve.

As it turns out, the Spartan race (and not doubt others like it) is EXACTLY the type of race I’m suited to compete in. With my light frame, experience in trail running and ability to contort and jump, etc, I feel like a true contender in this event. Mind you, I didn’t know how much of a contender until many days after the event was completed. As it turns out, my time of 33 mins. was good enough to land me in 5th place overall (only 10 seconds from 3rd) in the crowd of 4000! However, as a result of multiple start waves, and the fact that I had to wait at several obstacles due to lineups, I’ll never be quite sure if I could have outright won it or not. One of my suggestions for next year is to do wave starts, but seed it based on past qualifying times. That way, I could actually toe the line with my ‘true’ competitors. As it is, I’m sure I won my actual wave, but that was not obvious, and more importantly, not representative (necessarily) of the overall race. But enough pseudo-bragging, I’m sure you’d all like to know about the actual obstacles and conditions, right?

For starters, they had advertised that this race would feature ‘at least 10’ obstacles as part of the roughly 5k course. Due to the nature of the terrain, I wore no watch, hat, GPS, sunglasses, or anything, so actual distance is anyone’s guess. However, as to the number 10, the number was actually more like 20 obstacles, which was impressive to say the least. When you separate them by steep uphill or technical downhill sections of running though, the flow was actually quite decent. Overall, the course would still favour a runner over a pure obstacle tackler. Luckily I was both :-). To give you a quick overview of the obstacles, here is the list I’ve been able to pull together based on memory and a survey I took after the race (in the order they appeared).

  • Camo Mesh Net
  • Over and Under Logs
  • Short Wall
  • Barbed Wire (short)
  • Tire carry up and down
  • Long Barbed wire
  • Rope Climb
  • Cargo net climb
  • Water Bucket carry
  • Tall Wall
  • Spear Throw
  • Rope Hoist Cinder Block
  • Water Tunnel / River
  • Pipe Walk over water
  • Deck Block drag / Carry
  • Slippery A-Frame scramble
  • Ice pit / Barbed wire
  • Gladiators
  • Fire Jump

I imagine that for most of these, the obstacle objective is fairly self evident, but in a few cases, let me clarify. The very first obstacle was a camouflage mesh net more or less on the ground that I had to dive and crawl under in the mud. Apparently, later on, this was higher off the ground and you could shuffle under, but not in my case (being at the front). To also be clear, at the very start, I *wasn’t* leading. A few young bucks went out way too hard at the start, but by the time we hit the LONG barbed wire crawl, I passed most of them due to my ‘wisdom’ related to pacing :-). Short and tall walls were walls we had to scale. I was able to get even the tall wall with a single try straight up and over, and in observing others later with Deanna, I decided I was in the minority there! The tire carry was interesting, as you grabbed a tire, ran up the steep ski hill, then had to run back down it, and ditch the tire. Cinder block hoist you can see in my video, as with the spear throw and water tunnel and river, and pipe walk. You’ll also see the deck block carry, ice pit, Gladiators and fire jump.

Thinking back on the event, I was searching my memory banks to try and tell you all what I thought were the hardest obstacles for me personally on it. I was worried about the rope climb and tall wall scaling, but these actually proved to be easy peasy lemon squeezy for me (guess being light and agile truly pay off sometimes). So in the end, I’ll settle on the two obstacles that involved carrying heavy weights. First, the water bucket carry made us fill a 20L bucket with water (but only about 10L) and run through a technical bit of track in the woods. It was only about 20lbs in that case, but awkward to maneuver around people to stay ahead. Secondly, the deck block carry. I don’t know offhand what they weigh, but I opted to drag mine, and it seemed bloody slow. Next time, I’d probably opt to carry. The tire carry, on the other hand, was pretty easy. I’ve had to carry my bike on my shoulder many a time in adventure races, and the tire was far less awkward and lighter, so that made it pretty easy.

The coolest obstacle was probably the water tunnel. Basically, we entered one end of a drainpipe, not knowing how long it was, that was fairly full of water. We then had to get through to the other side. I chose the side that was a bit tighter with space, so the final stretch you almost had to hold your breath. I thought that was awesome. Not hard, just cool. Definitely not for those that were claustrophobic. I guess it is worth mentioning that you didn’t HAVE to do all the obstacles. But there was a penalty. If you skipped, or failed, an obstacles, you had to do some penalty burpees. The number varied, but there were a lot of people just skipping obstacles and doing burpees instead. For shame. I did, but only once, and I have a good reason.

Now that I talked about the obstacles, a quick run through of the running. It was at Camp Fortune. This is a ski hill. It is steep. Any questions? Apparently, a lot of people didn’t understand this, and were lamenting how hard this was to run. Ummm… Yeah. That’s the idea. Ha ha. Luckily, I do a fair bit of trail running, and hill training, so I was no fazed in the least. The trouble is that waves started every 30 minutes. Given that I only took 33 minutes, and was in a later wave, you can imagine what happened. I caught up to the waves ahead of us by the 7th obstacle, and it got worse and worse as I kept going. The problem was showing up at obstacles, and realizing I’d have to wait for people to finish before I could do them. You can quickly see how all the waiting would have easily taken a minute or two in my total time, which could have made me the overall winner had I had a clear run.

The absolute worst was the spear throw. The lineup was over 30 people long at each of the two stations. Here, I knew I had to skip and do burpees, as I’d be out way faster. 15 burpees later, I tore out of there. Hated to skip, but had a feeling my overall standing was at risk here. I was also lucky enough to do the slippery A-Frame, which was a climb over an A frame covered in plastic with water running down it. Shortly after I finished my race, they had to shut it down, as exhausted people were having accidents on it, such as a broken ankle. At least I can say that I ran the whole course! The final obstacle with the gladiators was fun. There was two of them. One swung high, the other low. I managed to somehow pirouette between the two, stumbling only slightly, and running by. Sounded like the crowd was impressed with my show. I then did the splits in the air while jumping over the fire, showboating just a bit since I was at the finish :-). However, my best feat was the up and over I did on the cargo net climb. Climbed up, and did a total 2-hand flip dismount from the top. The volunteers were saying it was ‘epic’. Wish I coulda seen it, but I was just happy I didn’t land head-first on a rock and kill myself in the process. It was controlled (barely) chaos!

Apart from the parking and actual race, the entire site was also a complete zoo. People everywhere. The start/finish area was over-crowded and cramped. There was barely enough room to walk around. There was a lack of water or food at the finish (there were jugs of water, but hard to get to, and open to all). They had a bbq, but it was pay-only, and we passed on it. Happily, we did all get medals and cool t-shirts as part of the swag though, and I know Deanna was definitely happy to add a medal to her own growing collection 😉 The own tall Spartan that you see in my picture actually remembered me all day, because at the start line he was apparently struck by my very serious face when we were asked to display that we were ready to enter battle. I definitely had a calm, strong, race face on, and was saving the energy for the run.

All in all, this was definitely a blast, and I’d love to do it again. I just hope the next one I do is a bit less chaotic, since that definitely took something away from the event. With this race out of the way, Deanna and I were mere days away from packing up and heading east for some well-earned vacation time. Much more on that in my next post! Hope you’ll come back and read that one too! Now, out into this heatwave for a little swim training.