Tag Archives: running

A Hard Earned DNF

I should never have even been at the start line of this race. I was undertrained, injured, and just generally knew that tackling such a beast might not be in my best interests. However, pride got the better of me. Welcome to my story about how it came to be that I stopped at the 80km mark of a 125km ultra trail running race. Yes, the much anticipated story of my race at Ultra-Trail Harricana that took place in September, mere days before Deanna and I were heading off to Nepal for nearly a month! I should note from the get-go however that mentally, I was ready for this race, it wasn’t that I *didn’t* want to finish, I just simply *couldn’t*. It’s a feeling I really didn’t enjoy.

Alrighty, let’s back up a couple years though. UTHC is a special race. The event lakes place near La Malbaie in the Charlevoix region of Quebec. It takes a fair bit of time to get there (7-9 hours), and is in a beautiful, rugged region, with plenty of mountains to keep you entertained as you suffer. Two years ago, when I was first starting out running in ultra trail running races, I took part in the inaugural 65km UTHC (see my report) . It was tough, but I loved it, and definitely wanted to return to race it again. Last year didn’t work out in my schedule, but when I heard they were rolling out a 125km option for 2015, I decided that I would make the trip once again!

Seeing as I was turning 40 this year, I had planned a series of awesome races to tackle this year, basically culminating in this race, the toughest 1-day event I’d be tackling. I had high hopes for this event, as I figured I would be in peak form by the time it rolled around. Unfortunately, things were pretty much the opposite of peak. A wiser man would have either dropped down to a shorter distance, or opted to even watch from the sidelines. Sadly, I am not that wiser man. As I was also covering the race for Get Out There Magazine , I felt an obligation to toe the line no matter what. Cue the mild encouragement of both my wife and podiatrist that *maybe* I shouldn’t race the 125k. It fell on deaf ears. So what was going on?

Turns out when you plan a whole series of tough high-profile races all throughout the season, you need to train a lot, and there is little time for recovery. Early season went very well. I had good success, and felt good. However, by June, things were starting to hurt. In particular, my left foot. A couple weeks before a half Ironman, I had things checked out. Plantar Fasciitis was the diagnosis. The cure? Rest and recovery. However, since that was unlikely, we opted for an early attempt at a cortisone shot. It didn’t work. I raced the half Ironman anyway. Then, a couple weeks later, I left for Colorado to race in a 6-day staged trail running race. After that? Back home and to a full Ironman 3 weeks later. Two weeks later, I was at the start of UTHC. Oh, and between those? A 1-week trip to Vegas to do some trekking in addition to walking a trade show floor for days on end. Do you see a problem there? Yeah, no rest. No recovery. Just racing. I avoided trail running, and running in general, between these races, as my foot just couldn’t take it. So, I’d been racing in all these events, not recovering between them AND not properly training for a 125k race. If you picked up a recipe book on bad ideas for preparing and running in an ultra, this would be one of the top choices!

Ultra Trail Harricana 2015

Now many of you probably know me quite well. Well enough to know that I’m stubborn. I don’t quit. My mantra is that the only way I would stop racing is if an ambulance takes me away, or a qualified medical person tells me that I can’t. Not “shouldn’t”, but “can’t” go on (without doing perma. Well, I guess we can add one other to that list, and that’s missing a time cutoff. But that’s not abandoning. So technically, I didn’t abandon this race. But I should have. Before the race, the day before, and all along, I deluded myself by saying that I’d just push through it. I can always get through races. Heck, the Ironman, to many people, is such a hard event, you need peak physical form. Not me. I just went to that one saying “it’s just an Ironman”, “I’ll push through”. And I did. No biggie. But I underestimated the toll a 125km trail running race, with LOTS of elevation gain / loss has on the body. I have learned my lesson. You can NOT just push through. I won’t make that mistake again.

Okay, I know, I’ve now forced you to read all this way and I haven’t told you anything about the actual race. So let’s get through that part. I needed the catharsis of writing out my lesson first. The Charlevoix region is stunning. There are gorgeous mountains that you drive up and over just to get to the start line. It is a taste of things to come. It is also rugged. Our ‘trail’ in many cases was just basic flagging tape on branches / shrubs to guide us to the next discernible trail. I LOVED it! Also, the people who run this event are passionate, and keep giving more and more to this event. Each year, there is something new, and it is bigger and better. This year, they introuduced simultaneous translation to the race briefing to help the non french-speakers out. Great touch. A first that I’ve seen. And next year? Oh, well, they’ve just announced they are now part of the Ultra-Trail World Tour ! Yup, they join the ranks of the very best of the best trail races in the world. After less than 5 years! That is a testament to Sebastien and Genvieve’s work.

When I arrived onsite, it felt a bit like a homecoming. Even though I didn’t know a lot of the people around me, it still felt like family. You don’t tackle a race like a 125k ultra on a whim. Everyone taking part in that event had paid their dues and has a story. You can just feel it, and see it in the eyes and expressions of people there. Oh, and if you did sign up on a whim? Well, you’ll join me and the many other who got the dreaded DNF that day (only 46 people finished out of 93 who started). I strode around the site with a bit of bravado. Having raced the 65k there, I felt I had earned my way to this race, and knew what I’d be up against. I was the guy describing parts of the course to others who had never raced here. How foolish of me to feel confident, knowing my own physical frailties would be on display for all to see all too soon.

Ironically, I was set up to stay in a cabin with not only a few other media folks, but also the eventual winner (by a long shot) of the 125k race. He was very unassuming, but I’d heard he was a credible contender. Super nice guy too though. Ultra runers truly are salt of the earth. There is no glory in winning, no great prizing. Just recognition by your peers, and whatever you personally gain emotionally from finishing the event. The afternoon before the race (we had to leave at midnight by bus to start the race at 2am), I prepped my gear. Cameras and batteries? Check. Hydration? Check. Nutrition? Check. You can eat on course at aid stations, but I like to bring the stuff I want, even if it means I have to carry it. Finally, trekking poles. I’m not completely stupid. I knew the foot would hurt, but hoped that by using trekking poles after the first while (and on all the steep climbs), I’d be able to muddle through.

Ironically, I slept through the alarm I’d set for 11:15pm, to give me time to eat and drink. Instead, I got up at 11:55pm to learn my ride was about to leave! Mad scramble to catch a ride to catch the bus to make the start line! Drama aside, by 1:30am we were in a little community church getting our final race briefings. The night air was cool, but not cold. We all trudged up to the start line, bathed in the glow of headlamps. We’d be running in the dark for probably the first 4 hours (or roughly the first marathon of three back to back…). The start itself was a bit anticlimatic. Knowing just how long the race would be, I was in no rush to be at the front or try to burst out of the gates. In spite of that, racers all agreed the start went out way too fast. The main reason was that we were on paved roads, and it was predominantly downhill. I went with the flow, but tried to keep tabs on my own pace to make sure I wasn’t blowing up. In retrospect, I don’t think it mattered much, as my fate was sealed long before the start.

After the first 8-10k we peeled off the tarmac and hit our first trails. More like dirt roads, but at least it was off the pavement. We followed this until the first aid station of the race. From this point, we were about to tackle the first major obstacle, and toughest (physically) climb of the day. An extemely steep climb in the dark to the highest point in the race, only to dive back down the steep trail on a sligtly differet route, back to the same aid station! The climb itself would likely have been more hair-raising for some if we hadn’t been immersed in darkness. At many points, we actually had to use fixed ropes to pull ourselves up the steep sections. I loved it, but it made for rather difficult filming for me. The other unfortunate side effect of the night was the fact that once we did get to the apex, we couldn’t see anything but inky blackness! I’m pretty sure the view would have been spectacular 🙂

Early Morning Light-001

Once off the mountain, it was back onto gravel roads and singletrack. By this point, there had already been some early abandoners of the race, opting to sit by the comfy warm fire at Aid Station #2. Guess the steep and treacherous climb had spooked them and made them worried about what the future might hold! After about another 20-30 minutes, the sky started to lighten up with streaks of orange, pink, and grey. It was a welcome sight, and also meant that any lingering chilliness should start to lift. At this point in the race I was still more or less running, and unaided by trekking poles. I had started trading steps with a few other people I knew, so the occasional company was nice. As with many races like this, you end up running your own race, meaning that sometimes you’ll be running with someone, by it’s just as likely that you’ll be on your own.

For the next couple hours, I more or less just slogged along, enjoying the day, and realizing with each passing kilometer that things were starting to hurt more and more. I also migrated to using the trekking poles full time, imagining that by taking 20% of my weight off my feet should help with my goal of continued forward progress. I was eating and drinking well, making sure that I took in plenty of electrolytes to ensure I didn’t start getting any bad leg cramps. I feel as though I had that part of my race dialled in this time. I never felt a lack of energy nor any major GI issues. My body *wanted* me to succeed, and did pretty much everything it could to co-operate, but it just wasn’t enough.

Enjoying the Wilderness

As the sun rose higher and higher in the sky, so, too, did us runners. We were climbing hill after hill, and following some pretty spectactular trails in beautiful surroundings. When I topped out at the second major climb, it was an ideal time. The sun had risen partly in the sky, and we were high up in the mountains. As such, a morning fog hung around the valleys far below, which I was fortunate enough to see. It was at that moment that I decided no matter what happened later in the day, I’d remember that spot, and that I *would* be back to take on this course once again. Good thing I made that promise, as things definitely got worse.

Each time we popped out to arrive at an aid station, it always felt like it was the perfect place to have a break, as I was just about to run out of drinks and will to keep pushing hard. I remember arriving at the Parc des Hautes Gorges, a spot roughly halfway into the race. Here, we had access to our drop bags (so change of clothes if you wanted, extra personal food, etc.). By now the sun was beating on us warmly, so I opted to ditch some clothes, re-pack some food, and head back out with a full 2L of liquids. Good thing too, as the next section would be VERY long (and my last one). I started this leg in rough shape, and wasn’t sure how things might finish for me. I was optimistic, but slow. Even at that aid station, it was clear I was at the tail end of this race. Not last by any stretch, but falling back. My pace had also steadily been declining. Not unusual for a long race, but it felt too soon to me.

Tricky Trails

This stage started with a beautiful ridge run, then dropped down to follow a dirt road for another 5-8k. From there, we were plunged into what can only be described as overgrown dense forest trails. Again, really nice, but tough to traverse with a bum foot. I struggled as best I could, but with each passing km marker (yup they were counting down each km for us!), I was getting slower and slower, and the pain was getting greater and greater in my foot. People passing me could tell I was in rough shape, but kept encouraging me to move on. Eventually, I remember shuffling past a swamp, and doing some math on the fly, realizing that at my decreasing pace, there was no way I’d finish the race within the time limits, and was not even looking good to finish this stage before the cutoff. It was a bit depressing to realize I was going to DNF, since I’d already been out of my comfort zone for quite a while, but wouldn’t get that finisher’s rush that makes it all worth it.

After a bit of soul searching, and some food, I trudged on, now barely walking. Because I had slowed down so much, I even ran out of water and had to treat some on the move by taking water from a stream. Otherwise I could have also gotten some nice dehydration. I was now being passed by the real heros of this race, those people that are just on the edge of being cutoff, but dig deep to make it. They were trying to get me to tag on the back of them and follow, but I just couldn’t. I tried, but the pain was exquisite in my foot, and all the over-compensation by my right leg was also wreaking havoc on my ability to even use my right leg. I watched these folks fade into the distance, knowing I was under 5k from the aid station, and that they were running the razors edge to make it in time. Eventually, I stumbled into a clearing of intersecting trails to see the aid station. I hobbled the final few steps, knowing I was done.

Journey Ends at km 80

The volunteers there were gently trying to explain I had missed the cutoff. No doubt they expected a protest or some surprise, but I had none to offer. I was done, and I knew it. I had already decided there was no way I’d try to keep going, even if I had made it. In 3 days I was leaving for 3 weeks of trekking in Nepal, and knew Deanna would not be impressed if I started that trip unable to walk! I was happy to learn that my other friends who were close to the cutoff had made it. They wouldn’t all make it in the end, but they were continuing the journey. For me, it was about 80k into the race, and it was game over. I sat down, drank a whole lot of water, and waited to learn my fate. Eventually, that fate was a local who had been volunteering and had a truck. He drove another racer and I back to the finish line, a drive of well over an hour on the back roads.

I arrived to the finish in time to see the 2nd and 3rd place finishers in the 125k race. The times were much slower than had been originally anticipated. I wouldn’t be surprised if they adjust the cutoff times for next year to allow more time. It is most definitely a tough course, and one that obviously took its’ toll on many a racer. I stuck around the finish for quite a little while, greeting racers, swapping stories, and just marvelling at the perseverance put in by racers. I would have liked to stay until midnight for the final racers to come in (22 hours after the start), but I was just too exhausted and in pain. Once I found a drive, I took it. I was brought back to my cottage where I collapsed into a deep sleep until the next morning.

And what a next morning it was. My legs were lead! My feet extremely swollen, and pain all over. I now regretted that I was on the second floor of this little cottage, with very steep stairs to navigate. In the end, I recruited someone to carry my gear down the stairs so that I could do down on my butt. I wasn’t looking forward to the very long drive home alone. Luckily, it gave me time to reflect on the entire experience, and take something away from it.

Overall, I think you can all see I loved this race. In fact, I WILL be back. Mark my words. However, I have gained some wisdom, and know that I will only tackle this one if I am properly trained and ready. I will also not plan a whole slew of difficult endurance races all around it. I think I’ll need to commit to focussing on runing to make this worth it. However, I owe it to myself to go the distance on this one, and cross that finish line. For no one else but me. I could care less about my time, but I need to complete the journey! Until that time, I will leave you with the video I put together for the first 79km of UTHC this year, in case you haven’t seen it. Enjoy, and if you’re looking for an amazing trail race, check this one out!!

Before and After Portraits

As part of racing in the 125k event, there was a professional photographer, Alexis Berg ( © Alexis Berg), who was working on a project meant to showcase runners before the race, and immediately after completion, capturing the differences and emotions. Here are my before and after pics (I got my after pic taken as soon as I got back to the finish area, even though I was a DNF). Amazing photos! See more them by clicking this sentence.

Before UTHCAfter UTHC

All Training and Racing Makes ActiveSteve Dull

Hey all! Before I embark on another few big adventures (starting with a 125km Trail Running Race at the UTHC, and followed by 3 weeks in NEPAL!!), I wanted to take things down a notch. Specifically, I wanted to address any concerns people might have that I spend all my time training and racing. Truth is, that is only one part of my busy, fun life! I can assure you all that I have a lot of other interests, and that I definitely do my share of relaxing and recovering (sometimes more than I should methinks… I *could* be on the podium more I suppose if I tried…). With that, I bring you a short post on a few fun things I did in the last week.

First off, I got on a jet plane and headed to Vegas, baby! Now, ostensibly, I was there as part of my job, attending a conference on the mobile wireless industry, but it was Vegas nonetheless. And, seeing as I have a couple very good friends who live down that way, I was able to head down a few days early, stay with them, and have some quality pool and trekking time!

Slideshow from Vegas

Bring on the Fun

In addition to visiting them and taking in the strip, I also managed to sneak away with Troy to the nearby Red Rocks park to do a little bit of light trekking and test out the 4×4 capabilities of Troy’s Jeep Liberty. We brought a couple of the dogs along with us and made a day of it. I think my favourite part of visiting this part of the world is the fact that Mexican food is plentiful, and delicious. I’m a bit of a taco fan, and managed to each Mexican almost every day down there! Add in the tasty new beers I sampled, and cool gadgets I saw at the conference, and it made for a relatively enjoyable “work week”. The only downside was the fact that I spent most of the late nights catching up on real work from the office!

Troy and Otis

To cap off my week down there, I was extremely fortunate to score a ticket to see Love, the Beatles-music inspired show from Cirque du Soleil. This was a really amazing show with spectacular acts and awesome music. My biggest challenge while at the show was trying to figure out exactly where to focus my attention. There were acts on the stage, acts high up in the air, and other acts in the wings pretty much the entire 90 minutes. I think I could watch the show 3 times and still see new costumes and feats!

The second bit of fun that I wanted to share actually straddles the line between fun and racing. On a whim, I volunteered to be what is known as a ‘Beer Bunny’ at the Ottawa Beer Run. When I read the description of the event, I realized that it is what I’ve been training for my entire life :-). You literally run from brewery to brewery, sampling the beers, and finish off at a big post-race party with even more beer!

Slideshow from the Beer Run

Ready to Start

All in all, we were visiting a total of 5 breweries for my ‘wave’. There were two route options, so of course I chose the longer one, at 15k (I pushed closer to 17k with some back-and-forth running I did with my group). As a beer bunny, I was more of a ‘crowd control’ and ‘beer shepherd’ dude than a pacer. We had to try and get everyone to each brewery in a certain amount of time, and also make sure they all cleared out after about 20 minutes. In addition, since the course wasn’t marked heavily, nor were there any road closures for it, the 4 ‘pacers’ in my wave spent time going back and forth making sure everyone made the right turns and were having a good time!

Cheers from Route 2 Wave 1

All in all, it was a BLAST! I definitely want to do this one again in future years, provided it works into my always-busy schedule. It was fun chatting with people and helping them get to that next beer that was always waiting for them. My wave visited Lowertown Brewing, Mill Street Brewery, Kichessippi Brewing (in a ‘mobile’ location on Bate island), the Clock Tower, and finished off at Beyond the Pale. Some of the bars even had snack food waiting. For example, at Clocktower, not only were we early tasters of the seasonal Pumpkin Ale, but we also had POUTINE!! Does this event not sound like a match made in heaven?

Although the weather had started out quite foul with heavy rainfall the entire day before and overnight, when we actually hit the road, it was barely raining anymore, and the sun even poked out a few times. All in all, it was an ideal time to run. Also, there was no pressure whatsoever. No timing chips. In fact, we would end up bunching up when the group hit red lights that we had to wait together at before moving along. If you are looking for a little motivation to do a longer run, I highly recommend this. With the entry fee, you got a nice tech t-shirt, 5 stops at breweries to have at least 8 ozs of beer at each, and a really cool medal that doubles as, what else, a bottle opener!

Checking in for Beer

To round out the fun of that event, Deanna also volunteered to be a ‘Brewery Captain’ at Mill Street, helping us get our bibs punched and beers drank before sending us off to the next venue. That meant we re-convened at the finish line, and I could enjoy a few more beverages before having her drive my tipsy self home :-).

All in all, this was a great way to cap off a week of relaxing and recharging, especially in light of the next race looming on my calendar. Although I still have a sore foot on account of plantar fasciitis, I’m planning ton complete the 125km race and live to tell the tale! Then after that, some quality time celebrating my wedding anniversary in the high Himalayas! How’d I get to be so lucky?? Stay tuned for more exciting tales…

Forging Myself into an Ironman

Howdy all! The title pretty much gives it away, but in case there was any doubt, this post will go over my recent race experience in the Muskoka region as I tackled the inaugural Ironman Muskoka. As some of you may be aware, this wasn’t my first time racing in an “iron-distance” triathlon, but it was my first taking part in the big corporate machinery known as World Triathlon Corporation, the group that puts on all the Ironman races globally. Ironically, in the week before the race, the entire corporation was actually bought out by a Chinese company. So I guess in a way, my Ironman standing was now ‘made in China!’. At any rate, this would be my 3rd full iron distance triathlon (almost 4, but the last one featured a half marathon instead of full marathon for the run.

For the uninitiated, an Ironman is a swim, bike, run race, in that order. The distances are not inconsequential either. The swim is typically 3.8km in length, the bike is 180km, and the run is a full marathon, 42.2km. The events are done in order, in a non-stop fashion, on a marked course. There is an absolute time limit of 17 hours to get it done, and some intermediate cutoffs (that really just take people off the course if it is clear they’d miss the cutoffs. Between each event you head to a transition zone to change your gear. In addition, many say that nutrition is the 4th leg of the event. Staying hydrated and properly fueled throughout the day is a big challenge to many. They say over 50% of competitors will experience some form of distress arising from challenges in either nutrition or hydration.

If you’re wondering about my preparations for this kind of race, there really was no specific preparation. On account of all the other types of races I was doing this summer, my only real preparation has been getting out there and doing general training and racing. If you surveyed the 1300 athletes that took part in this Ironman, I’m pretty sure you’d learn I was the only one who did a 6-day trail running race in the mountains 2 weeks before this race. Most folks would have chosen to ‘taper’ leading up to the race, so that gives you an idea about my prep ;-). My principle goal was to get ‘er done, and have fun doing it. As a friend reminded me, this was an opportunity for me to do something I love all day long. I should be ecstatic, right? Truth is, I was excited, and nervous. I was looking forward to tackling a race of this magnitude and seeing what the fuss is all about. So I went in with a good attitude.

Now, what can I say about the venue before I get in to the race specifics? Well, for one, the host site was Deerhurst resort. This is a place that holds a special place in my heart. Not only have I raced in a number of events there, it is also the site of where Deanna and I got together initially, AND where I finally proposed to her! Unfortunately, she was unable to make it with me to this event, but I still got to head down to the water where we got engaged, and felt her presence with me throughout the entire event as a result. It’s a gorgeous setting for a race, and they had things very well laid out for the race looming in the next couple days.

Pictures from the Race:

Swag Haul

Race registration and kit pickup went off without a hitch. I was among the last athlete to actually check in for the event. Many people arrive days in advance, so they checked in the day before. There was a 5pm absolute cut-off, and I only made it on-site around 4pm, thanks to road works on highway 60. After registration, I made my way downtown to watch the IronKids children’s races, and take take part in the full athlete briefing. There was even a beer gardens and food vendors on site downtown. Again, the town definitely rolled out the red carpet for us. Race briefing was entertaining, as they actually acted out the entire race day, including transitions and clothes changes. After that, 4 different bands took to the stage to entertain folks well into the night. However, most athletes sadly didn’t stick around much past the briefing!

The Saturday prior to the race was a low-key day. I managed to get out for a 1.5 hour bike and a 45 minute run to make sure everything was working as expected. I had put on brand new tires the night before I left Ottawa, and really wanted to test them. After that, it was just time to relax, and check in all my gear at the race HQ (run and bike stuff, as well as leaving the bike overnight). That evening, I had a lovely meal with my awesome hosts, and crashed as early as I could for the 4am wake-up.

Pre-Race Video:

Morning came far too early. It was dark and chilly out. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, had my bagel and bowl of granola, and pured myself into the car to head to the start. The transition zone was hopping with activity. I got my body marked, added my nutrition and drinks to my bike, and headed for the water. The swim was a rolling start as opposed to age groups. That means is works like a running race. You line up next to a sign that reflects the time you think you’ll take to finish the swim, and get in the water with people at your speed. In theory, it means less jostling in the water, and avoids getting kicked and bumped. For the most part, it worked well. I got in the water with the 1:15-1:20 bunch, and set out at a nice steady pace. I had no major expectations based on my challenges breathing on account of my lingering cold. However, when I finally pulled myself out of the primordial soup at the 19th hole to find my land legs, I noted that my actual swim time had been 1:10! Not bad at all.

I let the magical wet suit peelers do their job stripping me of my rubber cocoon, then trotted off up the hill to the transition zone within the Deerhurst Resort ballroom. I wasted no time in stripping naked to apply chamois cream before putting on my cycling shorts and jersey. Volunteers were on hand to help us with our gear bags and clean up after us. It was a great help to racers. I did some quick filming, then jogged to the start of the bike, pausing to allow sunscreen appliers do their thing (even if it was overcast).

I was simultaneously looking forward to and dreading the 180km course. I knew it was quite hilly and challenging, but I’m pretty good on hills, so hoped I’d eke out a 6 hour ride in spite of the challenges. Unfortunately, I was untested this year at racing 180km on my bike. I’d done Rideau Lakes, which is 180km each day for 2 days, but that is not at race pace, and not part of a 3-phase event like this. My focus had to be on nutrition, hydration, and energy conservation. Running is traditionally my strong suit, so I wanted to make sure I had gas in the tank to pull off a good run later.

On the Road

I felt very smooth and relaxed on the bike. For the most part, I held my position, and in fact seemed to pass a good number of folks on the first loop. I was passed by some as well, in particular the speedy cyclists that are not strong swimmers. My nutrition was quite simple. I avoided all aid station food and stuck to my Fruit2 and Fruit3 bars. I wanted to avoid GI issues all day if I could (and trips to the potties). I’d had a Boost before the start of the bike as well, to kick start my nutrition. I also had a bottle of Hammer Nutrition Perpertuem on the bike. I had mixed a 3-hour bottle, and had another 3-hour bottle ready to be mixed at the special needs area at the 90-100km mark.

Everything seemed to be dialed in and working well for me. Even the 2nd loop didn’t seem too bad. I knew where the hills and turns were from the first loop, and where I could push a bit vs. save a little energy. I dare say I was having FUN the whole way, with a smile painted on my face much of the way. I stopped twice for a roadside pee break, both times at about the same place on the loop. The scenery was great, and the slightly overcast skies for most of the bike helped. It only started getting sunny at around my 135km mark. We were now into the afternoon, and I realized this would mean a hotter run, so I tried to ensure I kept well hydrated.

I was soon on my last 10km chunk of the course and heading back to Deerhurst. This section has the steepest hill, and while I definitely felt it in my legs, I still felt pretty good overall. Having not really paid too much attention to my time, I was very happy to see my time was just over 6 hours when I finally pulled back into transition. I believe it was 6:04 on the official clock. I should be able to comfortably break 12 hours unless things went really poorly on the run. My original goal had been 12:30, with an internal goal of sub-12. In other words, I was having a good day and getting what I deserved so far.

Back into the big hall I went, once again stripping off my lower layer to swap the bike shorts for running shorts. I opted to keep my cycling jersey on, since it fit nicely, and was good at thermal regulation. It also benefited from having pockets to store food and my camera. I decided to stick with my 100% self-fueled race, using only what I brought instead of grabbing food at the aid stations. The reason for this was that I KNEW it wouldn’t bother my stomach. Of course, it meant that when I ran back out to the course, I felt laden like a pack mule! I’d brought way too much food for a 4-5 hour effort. I ended up jettisoning some Mojo bars by the 1st Aid station on the run. The bouncing was just driving me nuts. My only course food was on the hydration front. I had to switch to Gatorade from my usual Nuun, since I had no bottles. I alternated aid stations with water and Gatorade (or both). As I’d soon find out, this might have been a bad idea.

Running in Huntsville

For the most part, loop 1 of the run (21.1km) was not too bad. I wasn’t exactly breaking any PBs, but had to remind myself that I’d already swam almost 4k and biked a HARD 180k course. So the pace was obviously lower. Energy-wise though, I was good. Looping around for Lap 2, I had already watched the winners come in, and was blown away by their performances. There are some amazing athletes out there! Running back into Huntsville in the now full heat of the day, I could start feeling the tightness in my legs. I focused on a very even stride, making sure I minimized any extra movements, lest I risk cramping. I also popped a few salt pills, and even Ibuprofen, since my plantar fasciitis was flaring up badly. I knew I’d get through the rest, but knew it’d be a mental struggle combined with actual physical pain.

My plan worked well, and with short, even strides, I was on the final road (and 3km) from the finish. Then at 2k out, disaster struck! Both my quads completely spasmed and seized up. I was stopped dead in my tracks, and it was all I could do to not fall. I screamed out in agony alerting all those around me of my pain. I got some sympathetic looks and words from other racers. One fellow even stopped to fish out more salt pills for me to take. Unfortunately, I knew it was too late to really help. I stood there massaging my legs for precious minutes, trying to coax them back to life. I briefly envisioned myself needing to CRAWL 2k to the finish. It wouldn’t have been pretty, but I WOULD have done it.

Luckily, I got the legs under control enough that I could start a cautious walk, being very careful not to trigger more cramping. At the aid station a few hundred meters away, I had a cup of chips to get more salt in me, and decided I had to just keep going. When finally back on Deerhursrt drive, I managed a very half-hearted jog-shuffle into the dying sun. Daring to look at my watch, I realized that I was still well on track for sub-12, so I didn’t worry any further about my state. Instead, I took the time for me. I took in my surroundings, marveled at the beauty of the setting sun over the tree tops and the manicured greens of the golf course, and realized just how lucky I am to be able to do the things I love to do, and with the support of the woman I love. Everyone goes through these experiences in a race like Ironman, and crossing the finish line without having had that kind of struggle or adversity truly would be a shame.

Speaking of finish lines, it was soon my time to hear my name being called. “Stephan Meyer from Chelsea, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”. Yes, they call out every single athlete that crosses the line to recognize their accomplishments. After crossing the line, I let myself loosen up a bit and not worry about legs cramping again. Instead, I focused on getting some food in me, and collected my hat, t-shirt, and medal :-). After chatting with other racers and volunteers at the post-race food area in Deerhurst, I dragged myself back out to the finish area to watch more athletes cross for the next few hours. Wth over 1,300 athletes, there were still plenty of folks out there battling their own demons and physical limits just to hear their name be called! It was humbling and inspirational watching all the people streaming in.

Guiding Lights

The party lasted WELL into the night, as the final cut-off was midnight, 17 hours after the start. For my part, I’d capped off my race at about 11 hours and 45 minutes. Not my fastest time ever, but a time I was very pleased with. Of course, my mind was already turning towards my next challenge, which lay only 3 short weeks away, when I’d be taking part in Ultra Trail Harricana and trail running a continuous 125km in the mountains of the Charlevoix Region. How the heck will I pull that off? Well, I’m sure I’ll be carrying LOTS of salt pills this time to hopefully avoid cramping. In addition to that race, I had a trip to Las Vegas for a full week in the middle, which is where I’m writing this up from!

The next morning, there was an awards ceremony to recognize all the overall and age category winners, as well as to hand out the coveted slots to the Ironman World Championships in Kona in 2016. We had a bit of breakfast along with that. After the awards wrapped up around 11am, it was time for everyone to make their way back to their respective homes and training grounds, to reflect on their experiences. Personally, I was just looking forward to stuffing my face with lots of junk food for the next week! So there you have it, my tale of Ironman Muskoka. As you may have guessed, I lugged many cameras along with me, and as a result, I have a video to show for is (actually, 2!). The first was embedded up top, and below is the final, race day video. Enjoy both, and here’s hoping everyone is still getting outside and making the most of the tale end of our good weather!

Race Day Video:

Poking the Bear in Upstate New York

Greetings race fans on a sunny early summer day (well, getting close anyway). I’m here to bring you another little race report from a recent trail running race I took part in a couple weeks back in Bear Mountain, NY. Last year, I raced in the 50k version of this event, rolling my ankle 3 times in the process. This year, I opted to race in the 21.1k version of the race, and am happy to say I did to with NO ankle rolling! Read on to find out more about my race, and check out my re-cap video of the event.

Bear Mountain is about a 7 hour drive from where I live, so it makes for a great roadtrip opportunity. You know what that means, right? Brewery stops! Yup, Deanna and I planned out our weekend to make sure we got to stop at a few watering holes on our way down and our way back. In addition, with my race only being on Sunday, we decided to drive halfway on Friday night (to Syracuse), then finish the trip on Saturday. This mean we got to enjoy a great meal at the world-famous Dinosaur BBQ on our way. It’s pretty much a must-stop anytime I’m heading into New York.

Now, while loading up on BBQ meats and beers may not seem like the ‘ideal’ pre-race fueling strategy, I’m not too fussed. After all, if you’re not living life to the fullest and having fun, what’s the point? So I will continue this approach most times (except on the off occasion I want to be truly competitive).

While in Syracuse, we stayed at a nice little house we found on AirBnB, and for the actual race night, we booked a room in a cheap motel nearby. Running the half marathon on Sunday meant that we had extra time on Saturday to actually have a bit of a tour around the area, and this year, we crossed over the Hudson and headed over to Peekskill to take in the sights. It was an absolutely stunning day, and the views of the mountains were spectacular. It really is a gorgeous area of New York. Based on the trails I’ve now run down there, I’d dare say it would also make a great camping / trekking destination, and there was also a fair number of cyclists, but with the traffic on the roads, it seemed like it would be like Gatineau Park, but with bigger hills, and more cars to contend with (oh, and some of the roads were in rough shape).

Anywho, I should probably talk about the race now, right? Luckily, Sunday was also looking like it would be another nice day weather-wise, so upon waking up, I threw on a t-shirt and shorts for the race. It was a little chilly first thing, but I knew I’d be heating up very quickly. At the start / finish area, there were heaps of people warming up and preparing for the trails. I shot some footage, and looked around for people I might know. There weren’t too many. I was slated to start in Wave 3, so a few minutes after 9am. I found my group, and made sure I was at the front of that wave, as I was pretty sure I would be faster than a lot of people in the first 2 waves. Rather than carry a pack with food / water, I just strapped my GoPro to my head, and decided to count on the aid stations. After all, there were 4 of them on the course, and I planned to only be out there for about 2 hours.

I watched the first 2 waves start out before getting my chance. As soon as we got underway, I sprinted off and stayed at the front of our wave. Only 1 other guy got ahead at the start, but by the first big hill, I was ahead of him too.  And so began my process of picking racers off. Unfortunately, with 2 waves ahead (each 1 minute ahead), it wasn’t long until I was trying to thread the needle on tricky uphill trails. Not the safest thing to do, but I had no real choice. There is something to say about the constant pick-me-up I got from passing people all along the course. I can happily confirm that not a single person passed me during the entire race! That was a nice feeling, and leads me to conclude that I had a great race out there!

I was very focused on ensuring that I didn’t roll my ankles anywhere, so I ran very focused, only pausing on occasion to film sections of the run with my camera while picking my way through all the rocks and roots strewn all over the trails. It didn’t take long to remember what the big challenges were for this race! For an idea of my overall race, have a look at the Strava route summary from my watch.

Course Route Map

I felt strong pretty much the entire way, and enjoyed the entire course. I have been working hard over the early season to modify my running style to be more of a forefoot striker, in hopes of decreasing my chance of ankle rolling. With my new gait, I’m lighter on my feet and try to minimize ground contact. This was my first big test of the season, and my plan is to ease my way up to longer events, culminating in a 125km race in September. So again, I would say success overall. The end result are tighter calves and quads, but that will strengthen over time as well.

So just where did I finish? well, my official finish time was 1:58:24, so pretty much bang on with my prediction of 2 hours. In terms of my age category, that place me firmly in 5th place. It was also 20th male, and 23rd runner overall (in a field of over 750). The only thing I was left wondering was how much better I might have done if I had been seeded in the first wave, avoiding a few hold-ups in traffic. I can only speculate that it might have given me an extra minute or two. Regardless, I really didn’t expect to win here, considering the race attracts some real speed demons. Case in point, the first 2 to cross the line did so in under 1h41mins! That’s a full 17 minutes ahead of me!

To celebrate the race, Deanna and I loaded up the car and got the 7 hour return drive underway. We stopped for lunch in a small town not too far away, conveniently timed to hit one final brewery. Then, we stopped at a beer distributor for grab some local NY beers before making the long trip back. Luckily, our border stop was one of the fastest ever, so we were home by 9pm, which was perfect, given that I was working early the next morning! Yet another perfect weekend spent doing WHAT I love WITH the person I love! Stay tuned for another race report coming up from my first adventure race of the season. Till then, get out there and have fun!

For the record, here are the breweries we visited this time:

And to finish off, here is the official race video I put together from the event:

Getting my Tri On at Winterlude

Greetings again friends. Winter is always an interesting time to be racing. And it seems that the annual Winterlude Triathlon is one of the more interesting events that I’ve done now many times. The usual format is a skate, followed by a ski, followed by a run. However, over the years, due to weather situations, it’s been modified to ski and run only, or skate and run only, or run-skate-run, or even just a pure run. Well, I’m happy to report that this year’s edition featured the full traditional triathlon format. Although leading up to the event it was looking doubtful that we’d have enough snow for a ski, we managed to get a decent dump mere days before the event, giving organizers just enough time to groom out a nice loop in the Arboretum.

Once again, I was not only participating in the event, but also collecting footage from inside the race to put together a race review for Get Out There Magazine. As always, that brings its own set of challenges, and does impact my ability to focus purely on me. However, it’s fun to be able to bring the event to others who might be interested in trying these events out, and want to know what it’s really like to race in them! Another reason I was there this year is that I’ve decided to take a crack at another Rudy Award this year, and the Winterlude Triathlon is a mandatory event. So if you miss it, no award for you! Doesn’t matter where you finish, but you gotta finish! So with that, and the fact that I hadn’t skated at all until 3 days before the race, I knew what I was in for.

So I’ve mentioned that we got a nice little snow dump in advance of the race? Well, what we didn’t have advance warning of was how bloody cold that morning would be! Deanna and I often muse about the fact that on most weekends, we’re awake and out of bed EARLIER than we would be during the work week. Sad fact of the life we lead I guess. We roused ourselves out of bed somewhere around 5:30am that morning, and glancing at my bedside weather display, I noted the temperatures outside under the deck were around -21C. That means cold hands, cold toes, frozen batteries, and challenges with snow conditions! For those not aware, when cross country skiing, very cold snow is tough to deal with, as your ‘glide’ can be quite compromised, to the point where people liken it to skiing on straw. I’ll learn this over and over again this year….

Regardless of the temperatures, there was a job to be done, and I’ve never shied away from a challenge or race due to weather. What’s the point? You’ll just regret it later, and generally speaking, once you’re out there, it never seems that bad (until you stop!). Arriving onsite with time to spare, I quickly set about getting my transition zones laid out. That entails prepping and setting up the skis in one area, and laying out the running stuff in another area. We had also driven in morning glow, as the sun wasn’t yet up. As a result, I got to take advantage of the most amazing sunrise over the canal to get some decent footage in beautiful morning light. Unfortunately, the sun did NOT bring heat with it today. The winds weren’t super bad, but it was frigid.

I went for a quick warm-up skate (if you can call it that), before toeing the line and getting a bit of footage of the front of the race pack. As is customary, Rick and the race crew managed to get the event started promptly on time. As is also customary, the beginning was fast and furious. The long blade skaters (myself included) seed themselves closer to the front on account of the much more efficient skating longer distances, and begin to put a gap on the other skaters quite quickly. However, there are always a few ‘hockey skate’ skaters that blow my mind with their ability to keep up with at least us slower long blade skaters. A point of pride for me in this event is to at least finish before any of those ‘hockey skate’ skaters. I think the tally was 1-0 this day, as one fellow did finish before me.

I’ve gotta say this much for this year’s edition. With the super cold temps leading up to the event as well, the Canal was in absolutely fine form. That was probably the best skating I’ve ever seen on the canal. Almost no cracks, and only a few bump bits on the entire 8k course we skated. Kudos on that front. This portion is over before the 20 minute mark for most people, and from there, it’s time to throw on the planks, grab the poles, and hit the snow. Traditionally, that is my weakest discipline, but I’ve been trying to improve. Sadly, I hadn’t taken the time to properly prepare my skis for these temperatures (I had a ‘warmer’ glide wax on), so I’d say that while I was okay out there, I was not looking like an Alex Harvey. Regardless, I got ‘er done, and only had some annoyances on the second lap when the lanes were getting clogged with the racers that were on their 1st lap. However, some well-timed and executed passes, and I’d say I was no worse for wear.

The camera, on the other hand, did not fare as well. The batteries died in the first 30 seconds of the ski, so I got no footage of that. This also meant that when arriving for the next transition, I had to make a detour to my video gear bin in order to dump one camera and find another to carry with me on the run. Thank goodness for at least a little forward thinking on my part with battery charging the night before on an older camera. With that in hand, and with my running booties on, I charged back out, having lost a minute or so.

The run is interesting, in that probably half of the 5k is literally on the ice of the canal, at the edges. Knowing that, I made the tactical choice to use my Salomon Snowcross shoes, which not only have high, water / wind proof tops on them, but also feature 10 or so micro spikes on the sole, giving amazing traction on snow and ice. With those, I was able to run with less trepidation about slipping on the ice, especially on the turns and exit / entry points. As such, I was able to make up a few spots on the run, passing a few people as I went. For some reason I didn’t feel I quite had all my energy with me, but I kept going steadily.

An interesting thing happened in the closing kilometer of the race. With the sun in the low horizon at our backs, we cast long shadows as we ran the final 400m stretch to the finish. The bonus? You could actually see if someone was closing in on you. This was the case with me. As I was preparing for filming the finish, I saw a shadow closing in fast. I strode out a little quicker, thinking I’d lost my pursuer, and went back to filming. Then, it was there again, gaining speed and steam… in the last 100m!! I was NOT going to have that happen again this season (happened at a recent Mad Trapper race). I dug deep into my ‘sprint’ reserves and turned it up to 11. I could see by the shadow that I was keeping my lead, but barely.

I crossed the line exhausted by the effort, turning to see my quarry. Turns out, it was some kid under 19! He had gone to the line, and obviously had the competitive drive to pass me even though we were in completely different categories. I congratulated him and thanked him for pushing me, but as you may imagine, at that age, they really aren’t all that gracious or into the spirit of the chase. Regardless, it was a nice push at the finish. Deanna was there waiting for me as well, staying warm in her big parka and the ski pants I’d loaned her. We hung out a bit longer, so I could have a hot chocolate and do more filming, before deciding we’d had enough. Try as I might, I just didn’t have it in me to stay till the awards ceremony. It was just too cold.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why they can’t have an indoor venue for the post-race. The cadet hall I next door, and we had used it in previous years. It is really hard to keep anyone around after they race due to the freezing temps and not much to do. I hope in future years they may be able to come up with something. However, in spite of that, I got all my footage, and put together a decent little video of the day. If you haven’t done so yet, check it out below! Till next time, stay warm, and stay active!

The Video

Milestones and Mile Markers

A mere 1 month after I ran in the County Marathon, I’m finally putting the words down to tell you the tale of the event. However, much more importantly on that weekend, Deanna and I celebrated our 1 year wedding anniversary. I know, we’ve got a long way to go to catch up to many of you, but it was still pretty awesome to us! In case you are wondering, the notion of running a marathon that weekend actually came directly from Deanna. The idea was rooted in the fact that we first met while racing, and are always looking at new adventure to embark on together. Also, we like wine, beer, cheese, and the County 🙂 With all that in mind, we decided that it might be fun to celebrate our first anniversary doing some wine touring, and finishing off with running a race [sort of] together.

Let me state off the bat that this was definitely NOT a personal best for me. I have rarely set foot on pavement for running in the past couple years, instead focusing my effort on off-road running and multisport racing. Also, I’d just taken the last 2 months off, and in that time, despite best intentions, didn’t squeeze in as much training as I might have liked. However, I did make some amazing trips, and managed to get our house sold and buy a new house, so at least I was doing SOMETHING :-). Along the same lines, Deanna had originally intended to run the marathon herself, which would be her first full length marathon run. However, with also getting in less training than she’d hoped, she opted to drop down to the half marathon distance, which was totally understandable. As I had also agreed to provide video coverage for the event, I stayed at the full length race.

To make it a special weekend, we actually decided to rent a trailer near Sandbanks Park near the water. I figured it might be nice to build a little fire, watch the sun go down, and sip wine with the love of my life the day before racing. Unfortunately, mother nature had other plans. Friday and Saturday were cold, windy, and wet. Definitely not romantic wine touring weather! But as always, you change and adapt your plans, so we made the best of it and still managed to visit our favourite spots in the area, including the County Cider Company, Black River Cheese, Lake on the Mountain, a few wineries AND Barley Days Brewing. Along the way we snapped some pictures, and also picked up some groceries to prepare our own pre-race meal in the comfort of our private getaway. As it was only out first anniversary, we didn’t want to go overboard!

As far as the race goes, the course is a point to point race starting in Wellington and winding it’s way through the county until in reaches the finish line near the Crystal Palace in Picton. The half marathon actually started at about the halfway point of the marathon course AND 2 hours after the marathon started. That meant that barring any unforeseen really bad luck, I’d get a chance to see Deanna before her race started too! Both races featured buses to get participants to their respective start lines. However, in a stroke of luck, the 1/2 marathon course actually started about 400m away from where our trailer was located! That made race morning logistics much easier, as I’d be able to get up early, and take all our stuff to the finish line before catching my shuttle bus to the start. Deanna, for her part, could sleep in a bit and then just wander over to her start line. Perfect planning, right? 🙂

Morning came far too early for my taste, especially after the big supper and bottle of wine we’d consumed. The wind and rain had been howling all night, so I braced myself for the worst. However, I opened the door to find that although it was chilly out, it was no longer raining. As for the wind, it was still pretty strong, but based on the direction it was blowing it looked like 3/4s of the course would have cross and tail winds, with only 1/4 (10-11km) forcing us to run directly into the headwinds. I drove to the finish, and piled into the shuttle bus. In no time, I found myself at the start are. Luckily, we had a whole rec center to use as a warm up area, and it even included an indoor track. I did a little warm-up run, where I actually shared the track with the eventual winner of the race as he warmed up too. There weren’t many of us up there, with most racers just relaxing in the lobby areas below.

At 8am, with very little fanfare, we were off. Having not run a marathon in a while (well, other than running things like 100k trail races…), I opted to try and maintain a steady yet reasonable pace the whole way. I didn’t know how my legs might react to pavement pounding for 42.2km, and I was somewhat leery and dreading it. After about 15 minutes I fell into a pretty steady rhythm, and reminded myself to keep the energy up and not let my pace wane when others started fading. Of course, it would be a while before i had to think about that.

The course wound it’s way along country roads, passing through Wellington and Bloomfield before taking a right hand turn to head towards Sandbanks. That’s when we hit the headwinds. I didn’t realize just how taxing that would be, nor how much it would start impacting my pace. I had unofficially decided that my goal was 3h30mins, and up to that point, I had 30 seconds to a minute in the bank, and was feeling good. As the kilometers ticked by in the headwind, I saw that banked time slip away and eventually see me ‘in the red’ for time. I hoped that perhaps once back in a crosswind I could make up time, but of course, the winds took their toll on overall energy levels. This is when I dug into my earlier mantra of keeping up the pace. At every possible moment, I’d just push myself harder, knowing I was really only keeping the same pace I’d had.

My new goal was to pick people off in the distance, and see if I could reel them in. Happily, when I had reached the halfway point, Deanna was there, waiting on the side of the road for her race to start. I stopped running and gave her a big hug and kiss and wished her good luck, as this was our official wedding anniversary, October 5th! She ran along beside me for a few hundred meters then told me to just go for it. I had been toying with running the second half with her, but in the end, she knew it would likely be painful for me to do that, as I’d be waiting at least 15 minutes there for the start, then have to match her pace. Instead, I decided I’d get the run done, then get the car ready, and be at the finish line to film her cross the line.

Apparently, there are 2 ‘hills’ on the course, but given the amount of trail running I do, nothing really registered as anything overly challenging to run ‘up’. I could obviously tell they were hills, but they didn’t impact my pace. However, it did allow me to pass a few more people (not that it really mattered). the final 9k of the run was a nice run back into Picton, where the small, but very energetic groups of spectators were concentrated. I finished the race feeling fine and not a moment too soon. Shortly after crossing the line, collecting my medal and space blanket, it started raining. I felt a bit bad knowing that Deanna would have to run in the rain, and hoped she wouldn’t get too cold. In solidarity, I stayed outside in the rain the whole time waiting anyway, slowly freezing until I finally accepted another space blanket from a volunteer who saw me waiting and shivering. Sometimes having a low body fat percentage really sucks!

I was elated to see Deanna in good spirits as she came into he finishers chute. She busted out into an all-out sprint as there was another girl catching up to her that she didn’t want to ‘lose to’ at the line. Looks like I may be rubbing off on her ;-). When the race was wrapped up for us, we grabbed some of the post-race food, and hung out a bit longer. We also wandered over to the rink for showers and a change of clothes before snapping our final pictures and heading home. All in all, it was a great weekend, and a memorable way to spend our first anniversary. Who knows, perhaps we’ve started a new tradition? And in case you haven’t seen it, below is my video from the event for Get Out There.

Video from the Race