Thursday, 23 November 2017

To Future Ultra Steve

“The worst part of running 100 miles is you show up at the start line in the best shape of your life and a day later you’re at the finish line in the worst shape of your life.”

Dear future Steve in 2025,

Congratulations on finally getting into Western States after many years in the lottery.  This note from 2017 serves to remind you about everything that went really right and horribly wrong with your first 100 miler.

All the good from Tunnel Hill 100

300 calories an hour from 1 bottle of Tailwind plus gels, Clif bars, pancakes, grilled cheese and candy.  Remember this is an eating and drinking contest, not a running race.  Eat off the tables and eat early and often.  Never stop eating.

Pop and tape them when they start hurting.  Don’t suffer through every step. 

Change them a lot.  Whenever feet are wet change socks and use baby powder to dry the feet.

Stay warm and dry.  It’s worth carrying extra jackets, hats and mitts to stay warm and dry.

Start slow then go slower.  14 min/mile pace is a 23:40 finish, so no reason to ever run any faster.

Having a fantastic crew (yay Heather!) waiting at aid stations is so much better than digging around wet drop bags in middle of the night. 

Reapply body glide early and often to prevent chafing.
Finally done

And now the bad from Tunnel Hill 100

Train more than 11 weeks.  Why did I think 11 weeks was enough training to run 100 miles?  The fact that my body let me get away with that and still actually finish Tunnel Hill is nothing short of a miracle.  For my next 100 miler I need to train at least 24 weeks, do 50 milers and 100ks in training and get multiple 10+ hour sessions including one 15 hour day.  No short cuts. 

Pop and tape them all race, not just in the first half!  Even after 24 hours it’s better to take the time to pop and tape blisters instead of suffering through every step.

Walking vs Shuffling
When you walk your leg muscles get stiff and tight.  When you shuffle your leg muscles actually loosen up and allow you to run.  Never commit to only walking.  3 min walk / 3 min shuffle is a better approach.  Push through the pain during the ultra shuffle.

Relax your left thumb
Whatever I did to my left thumb for 28 hours at Tunnel Hill caused terrible tendonitis in my left arm.  Relax the mind and all the muscles, even the thumbs. 

Tough love
100 miles hurts a lot.  It’s easy to have a pity party.  You paid for this and trained hard so suck it up and gut it out.  The finish is 100x better than the temporary agonizing pain during the race.

Don’t DNF.  Don’t even think about it.  At 2am the option of quitting and going to sleep in a warm bed is too tempting.  Don’t even think about it under any situation.

Take short breaks
Long breaks allow the legs to stiffen and getting going again can be near-fatal as witnessed after 76 miles at Tunnel Hill.  Ensure that breaks are short and that my legs stay warm.

Ice bath afterwards
Don’t get in the hot tub.  Take a post-race ice bath despite every urge to resist.  My right foot doubled in size after Tunnel Hill and this could have been prevented with ice, elevation and compression.

Have fun!  You will get one shot at running Western States in your life.  There may be 10 feet of snow and it may be 100 degrees.  Control the controlables, forget about everything else and enjoy every minute.

Friday, 3 November 2017

100 Miles of Why?

In 1 week I’m running 100 miles at Tunnel Hill.  I’ve previously ran two 100k trail races but this will be my first shot at the “hundo”.  Why do I want to run 100 miles?  I do not have an easy answer but the answer is important, or at least it will be after 20+ hours of nonstop trail running.

1.       I want to find out what I’m capable of.

I’ve ran 3 long ultras, done one full Ironman, completed a double crossing of the Grand Canyon and climbed 24,000 feet in a day on Grouse Mountain.  I want to find out what I am capable of mentally and physically. 

2.       I want to run the Western States 100 miler.

Someday I will run Western States and I want to be ready.  For the past 2 years I have been qualifying for the Western States lottery by running Black Canyon 100k.  I want to run 100 miles now so I know what to expect at the distance and to experience what it is like running all day and night. 

3.       I want to ski with my family all winter.

It’s already snowing in BC and I want to ski 6 days a week this winter:  twice downhill, twice skate skiing and twice alpine touring every week.  When I am training for an ultra that becomes my physical focus and skiing becomes secondary.  By finishing Tunnel Hill 100 miler next week I will be able to commit to a full winter of skiing.

4.       I want to teach my kids about perseverance and dedication.

Running is hard.  Lacing up for a 30k run the day after a 40k run takes dedication.  And not stopping when every muscle and joint hurts takes perseverance.  I want my kids to learn the intense satisfaction of hard-fought accomplishment.   

5.       Because we live in a beautiful world.   

Over the past 3 years I have ran across deserts and canyons, up and down mountains, through rainforests and valleys, and around lakes and parks.  I am grateful for every day that I have the health and the time to experience nature.  Tunnel Hill 100 miler is not a destination, it’s part of my journey through our wonderful world.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Zero for Two on the Howe Sound Crest Trail

There are trails in BC that every runner in Canada knows about such as the Baden Powell and West Coast Trail.  However, it wasn’t until after moving to BC that I learned about the Howe Sound Crest Trail. 

The Howe Sound Crest Trail is a (short!) 29km mountain trail that goes from Cypress Mountain to Porteau Cove.  It is a net downhill with only 1,830m of elevation gain.  Sounds simple, right?  In 2016 I attempted it solo on a hot August day and after 11km and 3 mountain summits (St. Mark's, Unnecessary, North Unnecessary) I made the decision to turn around and head back to Cypress.  I was dehydrated, I grossly underestimated the difficulty of the terrain and knew there was no way I was making it to Porteau Cove alive.

Smoky Lions
This week I returned to Cypress for round 2.  I started solo at 6am on yet another hot August day.  By starting early I was hoping to avoid the heat and spare my asthmatic lungs from the midday smoke from the raging BC forest fires.  At 7:30am I was on the summit of St. Mark's.  I was happy about the time, but already drenched in sweat and guzzling my limited supply of water.

On the approach to Unnecessary I accepted the fact that I wouldn’t make it to Porteau Cove today.  My new plan was to get past the West Lion and to Magnesia Meadows, summit Brunswick and Harvey and exit down to Lions Bay.  Objectively this would still have been a successful day in the mountains.

Before things went wrong
After summiting North Unnecessary and heading toward the West Lion I finished my last gulp of water.  It was 9am, 30 degrees and I still had 5km of treacherous terrain to make it to water at Magnesia Meadows.  I was determined to push through into new territory.  Then I got to the Lions….

The West Lion
Those in the Vancouver area know that people have died falling off the West Lion.  The Howe Sound Crest Trail goes around the peak and does not summit the mountain.  After accidentally starting to ascend the West Lion I realized I was on the wrong trail and corrected my path. 

With record breaking snow this past winter there was still a significant snow bridge across the valley between the East and West Lion.  I spent most of June summiting snowy peaks on Seymour, the Lynn ridge, and around Cypress, however this was different.  Slipping on the snow would mean shooting down into a valley of boulders.  However, my main concern was the snow bridge collapsing and burying me alone in the valley between the Lions. 

1,000m drop-off
After 10 minutes of searching for a safe way across the valley I determined that it was time to turn around.  A successful completion of the Howe Sound Crest Trail would have to wait for another year.  I retraced my steps to North Unnecessary then instead of returning to Cypress I evacuated down the 1,500m descent to Lions Bay.  This seemed to be the best choice, but in reality my knees were already knackered and not prepared for the 35% grade descent.  

The downs are so much worse than the ups

When I return to the Howe Sound Crest Trail for round 3 perhaps I will finally make it to Porteau Cove.  After a 2017 of 14 mountain summits, 100km in Black Canyon and 25 ascents of BCMC / Grouse Grind the allure of finally finishing the Howe Sound Crest Trail still beckons as I gaze upon the smoky North Shore skyline. 

Happy to be off the mountains