Laura Secord Memorial 100K

On Saturday, I raced the Laura Secord Memorial 100K, which follows the rugged Bruce Trail route in the Niagara Region. According to the race description, the course was supposed to be a mix of single track, double track and a bit of road. Instead, due to the heavy winter and recent rains, it was a mix of mud, ice and a bit of road.

Given that I haven’t completed a run farther than 39K or longer than 3 hours since the beginning of November, I knew I wasn’t heading into this event in race shape (or at least with any semblance of ultra endurance). Last year I trained hard all through the winter. By the time June arrived, I was burnt out and felt flat for my summer and fall races. This year I decided to take November and December off from any structured training and slowly get back into a routine in January and February. Although I’m not very fit right now, I feel relaxed and motivated and keen to keep building my speed and endurance over the next few months. Although I won’t be too sharp this spring, I should enjoy my summer and fall races more (and feel more energetic) than I did last year. I’ve come to realize that as a 40-year-old runner who works long hours and has two young children, I can’t keep pounding out 12-16 running weeks all year round. I need to take a few months where it’s OK to get out there for 6-10 hours a week and just run for the fun of it.

As the event was a joint venture with the Canadian military, we were treated to a cannon blast to start the race at 5 a.m. I settled into an easy pace with Kent Keeler as we ran together for the first 40K or so of the race. I’m not sure if it was my lack of fitness or the extra weight of the thick mud sticking to my shoes, but I started to experience cramping in both my quads. This is something that always seems to happen to me in my first race of the season. Knowing that I had 60K left to go, I started to take frequent walking breaks to let my quads settle down. I hadn’t planned to be competitive in this race anyway, so I knew I needed to focus on getting to the finish. Kent went on ahead (and managed to win) and I just settled into a consistent but manageable pace.

With the heavy mud and icy terrain, some of the descents were quite sketchy. Although I wasn’t pushing the pace, I managed to have a few nasty falls (and have the scratches to prove it). I took extra care as I just wanted to finish the race injury free. And after diving face first into a muddy bog, I stopped worrying about moving too quickly in the really muddy sections. I was tasting dirt for hours after that.

At any rate, I managed to finish third overall, so that’s a decent result given my recent training. If the race conditions had been better and I was in race mode, I would have been concerned about the following:

  1. Aid stations. I took a long time transitioning through. I didn’t have a crew, so I needed to take care of myself. With the military operating the aid stations, they didn’t have much experience catering to runners. As a lead runner, I had to wait while they looked for a jug of water to fill my pack or while they opened a bottle of ginger ale or coke or even to shout at them to come out of the tent and record my number. I’m sure it got easy for the runners behind me and I noticed a difference on my way back. That time adds up.
  2. Course markings. Much of the route used the white Bruce Trail markings on trees instead of flagging. I should have run some of the course in advance as I spent a lot of time standing around trying to figure out where to go next.
  3. Endurance. It was no surprise to me that I wasn’t in ultra shape. This is easily remedied, so nothing serious to worry about here.

Despite the course conditions, the race route was beautiful. Big thanks to Diane Cheslea for organizing the event. We were treated to a number of stunning waterfalls and some majestic soaring eagles on one escarpment. I had to stop a few times just to admire the scenery. I hope to get back on the Bruce and explore some of the trails when the ground dries up a bit more.

Throughout the race, I carried water in my Salomon Advanced Skin Lab Hydro 5L pack and ate a vanilla Clif Shot every 30 mins. I also took an S-Cap ever hour after the two-hour mark.

Race Gear
Salomon S-LAB Exo Zip Tee
Salomon Fast Wing Vest
Salomon Fast Wing Jacket
Salomon Trail Short
Salomon EXO Calf Sleeves
Salomon SpeedCross 3
Salomon S-LAB gloves and Buff
Julbo Trail sunglasses
Suunto Ambit2 watch

The February Challenge

For the past seven years, my friend Ken Niemimaa has challenged himself to run every day in February. Well, he’d probably say, “every damn day.”

As February can be bitterly cold in Canada, it’s often tough to get out the door and run when the temperature drops below the freezing point. By committing to run every day (with an established daily minimum time or distance), it’s easier to keep consistent with training.

In an effort to encourage his running friends, Ken created a Facebook group for those interested in joining in his February Challenge (see http://www.facebook.com/groups/529564193824116/).

I joined in the challenge this year (I’ve got four days left), and I’ve found it extremely helpful for my winter training. And since February is a short month (only 28 days), it’s been an easy one to keep a running streak going.

There have been a number of days when I didn’t want to brave the cold and run outside. Because of the challenge, I was able to motivate myself into going out for a short 20-minute run (my set minimum) every time. The great thing is that except for one day, I always ended up running much longer than my set minimum (and the one 20-minute day was an evening run after flying back to Toronto from London, England).

If you’ve found this a hard winter to keep running, I’d encourage you try Ken’s February Challenge next year. By signing on, you will receive inspiring quotes, pictures and updates from other runners that will keep you motivated in even the harshest weather conditions.

Thanks, Ken, for keeping us going!

Winter Strength

Despite the cold weather and icy conditions, I had a solid block of training last week. As long as runners can shift their focus from pace and mileage to time and effort, winter is a great time for training.

Hills, Hills, Hills
Running uphill is one of the best ways to build strength. Instead of hammering out intervals on icy roads, find a hilly area and hang out there instead. When the weather finally warms up and you return to faster training, you’ll benefit from the added power.

Break Trail
Running through fresh snow will slow you down, but the extra effort will make you stronger. Just be sure to pace yourself accordingly. If you’re already huffing and puffing in the first few minutes, you should ease up on the pace a bit.

Crossmax w ScrewsGet Traction
Last year I had a few big falls after slipping on ice. It’s hard to build any strength when you’re stuck at home with a bruised back or concussion. Depending on the ice situation, I either wear a pair of shoes that have sheet metal screws drilled underneath or I slip on a pair of Microspikes. I’ve had some fantastic trail runs this winter in sketchy conditions thanks to my Microspikes.

Snowshoe Running
Snowshoe running is a great way to build strength. It’s also a low-impact exercise. With small, lightweight options such as the Dion 121s, you will be able to run quite naturally in snowy conditions. Snowshoeing can also break up the monotony of training a bit.

Wrapping Up 2013

Oh yeah, I just remembered that I have a blog.

Back in June, I lost my healthy balance of work, family and running. I took on some additional responsibilities at work and spent far too much time worrying about my job. My leg took a few weeks to heal after tweaking it at Sulphur Springs and then I never felt like I regained my pre-race fitness. And due to sickness and teething, my youngest son didn’t let us have a solid night of sleep all summer.

Some people stress about finding enough time to train. This year I learned that training is the easy part; the challenge is finding adequate time for recovery. More training requires more rest. And if other aspects of your life are tiring you out, then you probably need to rest even more. You can’t expect to stay healthy and strong if you’re not balancing the stresses in your life with recovery time. At some point you’ll just burn out.

Although I did enter a few races over the summer and fall (see updates below), I had a disappointing season as far as competing is concerned. I didn’t have the same hunger (or even joy) for racing that I had last year. And at some point, I also started to get stressed about running in general. I just felt tired.

So, this fall, I pulled back from structured training. I gave my body and mind some extra time to rest. I ran when and how I wanted. I took days completely off from running when I needed to. And I tried to enjoy every run as much as possible.

As the year comes to a close, I feel like I’ve regained a healthy life balance. My family continues to be my priority, I’m managing my work responsibilities better and I’m back into a solid running routine. And I’m looking forward to getting back into race shape over the next few months. As I return to structured training, I will continue to make rest and recovery a priority. If work or family issues create extra stress for a given day or week, I will adjust my training accordingly.

Given my break from training this fall, it’s not surprising that my running mileage is lower than last year. However, I still managed to log over 5,300 km, which is still fairly decent. And this doesn’t include the many thousands of extra miles spent chasing around my little kids.

Here’s hoping for a solid (and balanced) 2014!

Race Updates

Limberlost Challenge 56K – July
I finished fourth this year at Limberlost. I ran over 20’ slower than last year and had no interest in keeping up with the two people who passed me in the final 3K. I fell twice in the race and my legs cramped up both times. As a July event, the race times at Limberlost are always slow due to the heat, but I think I’m capable of finishing much faster than I have the past two years. I will probably return in 2014 and give it another try. It was great to have my friend Geoff participate in his first trail race at the event and also to see my parents at the finish line.

Men's podium at Squamish 50K

Men’s podium at Squamish 50K

Squamish 50K – August
Given the lack of vertical climbs in Ontario, my plan for Squamish was to use it as a solid training run for my September race in Haliburton. For the two weeks prior to Squamish, I had a blast running on trails in Vancouver Island and North Van. In particular, I had three solid training runs in Lynne Headwaters that felt fantastic. So, I certainly didn’t arrive on the start line fully rested. I expected to get crushed on the climbs, but I managed them surprisingly well. However, the descents were a complete disaster. I just didn’t have the experience or skill to run most of the long downhill sections. I was grabbing onto trees for support (and at times, for dear life). Although I managed to pick up the pace on the few flat sections, I lost significant time on the descents. Later that night I kept having nightmares about running downhill and tripping on rocks and roots. I finished third officially, but there were two faster runners (including my super-fast Salomon teammate Blaine Penney) that started an hour earlier. The Squamish 50K was the most challenging and beautiful race I’ve ever run. I would love to do this one again.

Haliburton 100 Miler – September
I won this race last year, so my hope was to post a faster time in better weather conditions. However, I struggled early in the race. My body just felt off and I didn’t even try to keep up with Dale, who led the race throughout. At the 40K mark, I just wanted to lie down and sleep. When I passed the aid station at 70K, I said to the volunteers, “I wish I wasn’t in second place right now because all I want to do is quit.” When I hit the 50-mile turnaround, I think only two of the 50-mile racers had finished their race ahead of me and I was still in second place for the 100-miler, so I pushed myself to keep going. I couldn’t understand why people weren’t passing me when I was feeling so lousy. By the time I reached the 92K mark, I saw my wife, Rochelle, at the aid station and told her I was done. As I was still in second place, she tried to encourage me to continue. I spoke to the doctor and nurse at the aid station, described my symptoms, and after they checked out my eyes and abdomen, whisked me into the medical tent. Sometimes you win a race, sometimes you end up in the med tent. It’s more fun to win.

Grizzly 50K – October
This was more of a run-cation than a race for me. After Hali, I took a couple of weeks off from running to recover and then just started back with some easy running. As I had never been to Canmore or Banff, and I needed to get a break from work for a few days, I decided to run the Grizzly 50K. I totally blew up in the race, but it was very beautiful course. I hiked much of the final 10K just to enjoy the amazing scenery. The highlight of the weekend was staying at Chez Phil, going for a fun Canmore trail run with Phil V and Adventure Simon, and hiking in Banff. Hopefully I can return to the area next year with Rochelle.

Shuffling for Third at Sulphur Springs 100 Miler

McAlister_Sulphur1On Saturday, I raced the Sulphur Springs 100 Mile Trail Run in Ancaster, ON. Here’s how it played out: Started slow and easy, felt great and relaxed, figured I had this in the bag, tweaked my knee, sank into deep depression, thought about quitting, ate lots of gels, listened to music, stopped feeling sorry for myself, focused on moving as fast as I could, finished third in 17:44, received medal and belt buckle, gobbled down some pizza, shivered in freezing tent, decided to find new hobby.

If you’re looking for more details, check out the report on Salomon Canada’s running blog.

Big congrats to Dale Draaistra and Laura Paulo for crushing the 100-mile course records, and Michael Daigneaun and Adam Hill for their incredible 50-mile and 50K course-record runs. It was inspiring to see them running out there.

Gear:

  • Salomon S-LAB Jacket: Was cold at start, so wore this extremely lightweight wind jacket for first 20K.
  • Salomon EXO S-LAB Zip Tee and EXO S-LAB Twinskin Shorts: Comfortable and supportive shirt and shorts.
  • Salomon SpeedCross3: Great traction, support and cushioning over 100 miles. No blisters.
  • Salomon Advanced Skinbelt S-LAB Belt: Wore this for first 60K to carry my gels and electrolytes. Lightweight with no bounce.
  • Salomon Advanced Skin S-LAB 5: Decided to wear my hydration pack for last two-thirds of race so I wouldn’t have to carry a handheld and could just focus on taking care of my knee. Really enjoyed wearing this light pack, so may just use it for all of Haliburton 100 in the fall.
  • Salomon Fastwing Hoodie: Started to get cold in the evening, so wore this jacket for the final 20K.
  • Julbo Trail: My favourite sunglasses for trail running.
  • Suunto Ambit: Used the GPS and HR monitor to help me stick to a steady but relaxed pace.
  • Clif Shot Gels: I ate 36 of these (raspberry and vanilla) and had no stomach issues. I drank water from my handheld/pack and took sips of coke/gingerale at aid stations. I ate no solid food.

McAlister_Sulphur2

Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab Belt Set Review

BeltMy favourite piece of gear this season is Salomon’s Advanced Skin S-Lab Belt Set. It’s a lightweight, flexible and form-fitting belt that can comfortably carry gels, flasks and any other small items needed during a trail run or race.

Each year, Salomon releases new shoes, clothing and gear that have been crafted by their designers in consultation with their top athletes. Prior to public release, the S-Lab products are rigorously tested in training and race situations by top Salomon athletes. If the products don’t perform at the highest level, they don’t make it to the market.

The Advanced Skin S-Lab Belt is one of the newest S-Lab products. The belt features two halves (front and back) that connect together with quick-release fasteners located on the both sides. The sizing of the belt can be easily adjusted on either side to fit your waist.

At the back, the belt has two large pockets, each of which can hold an 8oz soft flask (note: the belt comes with one 8oz flask included). There is a stretchy band at the top of each of these pockets that can help secure the flasks or other items. Alternatively, you can use the rear pockets to store gels or other larger items.

At the front, the belt features two large zippered pockets that can hold items such as gels, phone, iPod, keys, etc., without them easily falling out. On top of each zippered pocket is another smaller pocket that can hold gels or other small items.

As the belt is soft and flexible, you can rotate it around your waist whenever you want to easily access the pockets. This is helpful in longer races when you are adding new items to the rear pockets and you want to ensure you pack them efficiently. As well, the mesh material keeps the belt lightweight, breathable and fast drying.

The design of the belt offers many options for use. If you’re going to be running for a short period of time, you can carry one or two 8oz flasks of water in the rear pockets and store your keys, phone and a couple of gels in the front pockets. If you want to carry a bit more water, then you can combine this option with the Salomon Sense Hydro S-Lab Set and carry an additional 8oz flask or two easily in your hands. This will enable you to carry 24-32oz of water in flasks that can be flattened and stored in the belt when empty. If you are running or racing for a longer period of time, you can use the rear pockets to store gels and other food items that you will need and rely on larger handheld bottles or a hydration pack for water.

I Drank the Hemlock

I ran Pick Your Poison 50K just over a week ago and chose to drink the hemlock. Yep, I quit. Surrendered. DNF’d.

Located at Horseshoe Valley, the race featured four 12.5K loops with some nice climbs around the ski hills and surrounding trails. With the recent cold weather, there was still some mud and snow on the trails, so it made for an interesting course.

Unfortunately, I had some difficulty early in the second loop and things just continued to get worse, so shortly after I started the final loop, I decided to stop with about 7K left to go. Although I could have still finished with a decent time, my body was feeling quite beat up and I needed to ensure that I could keep training through the following week in preparation for the Sulphur Springs 100 Miler, which is my focus race for the spring.

Basically, I made the idiot move of trying out some new things on race day. Please don’t do this. It’s a stupid move. You don’t want to be that guy (or girl). And if you have a blog where you talk about your races, then you have to let people know how stupid you are.

When it comes to racing, just do what you know. Keep it simple. Even if you’re a race addict, nearly all of your yearly runs will be regular training sessions, so there’s absolutely no reason to try out new things in a race environment. Experiment in training, not on race days.

Anyway, I took a couple of easy running days on the Monday and Tuesday after the race and then had a solid tempo run on Wednesday. Although I took Friday off completely, I still managed to get in nearly 14 hours of running for the week.

This week is going well, and should be my heaviest training week for the year so far. If I survive past Sunday, then I will cut back on my volume and taper for the final two weeks before the Sulphur Springs 100 Miler. Although it’s early in the season and we’ve just escaped winter, I’ve managed to run over 2,200 kms since January. While my volume isn’t as high as I would have liked, I’m hitting my speed workouts faster than I ever have, so the PYP debacle aside, I’m expecting to run well this year.