19 January 2015

race report - 2015 Snowshoe Raid

this is a tale of false starts.

after i’d completed the Raid The Hammer adventure race with my friends sean and norm, sean asked me if i would consider joining him for a snowshoe adventure race in january 2015.  looking to engage some new experiences (as i’d never been on snowshoes before) I agreed, believing that i would have ample opportunity to get some practice in in advance of the event. 

the Snowshoe Raid is an annual competition organized by Don’tGet Lost Adventure Racing and this year it was hosted in the town of the blue mountains (actually the pretty river valley provincial park near collingwood, ontario).  of course this meant that the terrain would be hilly and powdery … but to just what degree i was still to discover.

pre-race
sean and i had decided to meet up at the race briefing area, so the day started with me attempting to make the hour-or-so drive from my house to the main village at Blue Mountain.  the ‘attempt’ part had everything to do with finding out at 7am that my car battery was dead.  knowing that my wife would need our other vehicle for errands during the day, i wired up the two batteries and was able to jump start my car.  I was back in action until I decided to quickly pull the keys so that I could lock up the house again … after which the battery was – you guessed it – dead again.  a second rearranging of vehicles in order to re-do the jump start process was in order and this time my brain was able to kick into gear enough to not remove the key from the ignition but instead just remove the housekey from the key ring to lock up the house.  false start #1 in the books.

parking at the blue mountain resort was at one of multiple lots full of skiers and snowboarders – and about a kilometer away from the registration/kit pick-up room.  this provided a bit of a warm-up run, with warm-up being the operative word:  it was still about -20°C with the windchill.

the pick-up for adventure races is more than just a grab-and-run affair.  aside from being given your bib, SPORTident chip, orienteering map and a free pair of Fox River socks, the time allotted before the bus ride to the start line is crucial for plotting out a race strategy.  in the Snowshoe Raid the race is structured as a three hour ‘hit all the checkpoints (CPs) that you can’ competition, with varying point values assigned to different checkpoints based on distance from start/finish, elevation and accessibility.  thanks to sean’s experience as an adventure racer we settled on a route that would follow a loop where the front half would include some of the most difficult but highest point value CPs – the idea being that taking these on while still reasonably energized and fatigue-free would net us the best possible result.

teams working out their pre-race strategies


the race
a 15-minute bus shuttle took us to the start line – basically at a snowmobile trail on/off-loading site.  initially sean and I had discussed the possibility of foregoing snowshoes and trying to tackle the course shod only in running footwear, but gave ourselves the opportunity to survey conditions at the trail entry point before making a final decision.  it did take more than a minute after disembarking from the bus to know that snowshoes would be mandatory – and in fact the race director reported in the nine years of the race’s existence this day provided the deepest fresh snow/powder ever.

the airhorn blew at about 9 minutes after the intended start time, but regardless we had 180 minutes to score as many points as possible on the mapped grid – with a 10 point deduction for every minute our time was late to the finish line.  it was interesting that one of the higher point-valued CPs was only about 300m from the start area, so naturally the mass made a beeline for that easy grab.  we did as well as it was part of our planned route … but there was such a log jam at the actual electronic CP receiver that sean and i actually got separated.  i wound up trying to figure out whether or not the best ploy was to stay put and wait for sean to retrace his steps back to me, or take a chance and try to find him (of course he was our designated navigator and map-carrier) by following the majority of other racers headed off in a particular direction.  after about five wasted minutes of indecision i trotted off down the path ‘more travelled’ and did find sean about 200m away.  a quick regroup and we were off again.  false start #2.

our path took us up and down the blue mountain region, traversing parts of the Bruce Trail (at one CP reaching the sign for the highest point on all of the Bruce Trail), bushwhacking through unspoilt snowy forests and fields, and dodging snowmobile riders along OFSC (Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs) marked trails.  


i’d agreed to partnering up with sean figuring that as an endurance runner (and not knowledgeable in the ways of orienteering or snowshoeing) i’d at least be able to help set a good pace along the way.  what i discovered was that sean has a significantly long walking/snowshoeing stride.  even when i would be snow-jogging up hills i would barely be keeping up with sean’s walking pace – and when I would see sean reduce his cadence to a walk and choose to follow suit, he would outstride me by about 2:3, or even 1:3.  i would put my head down to power hike right on his heels,  only to look up a few strides later and find that sean was a good 15-20 feet ahead of me.  my only saving grace (and the reason that i didn’t become a liability on our team) was that when we hit the flats or downhills i easily switched gears into my auto-pilot long-distance mode and find that i would overtake sean simply through continuous running.  as he would say, the long and straight stretches would just ‘drive him crazy in the head’ and he would have to take intermittent breaks.  sean’s wife Kathleen chooses to describe him as a ‘burst runner’, covering shorter distances in faster times but struggling to maintain a long and even effort.

we’d determined to review our progress after reaching what would be the most taxing CP destination as that would offer us a sense of our economy of time and effort – and sure enough we felt like we were well on track to tackle the remainder of our planned route.  criss-crossing paths with other teams headed to and originating from every direction (and helping at least one team whose sense of direction was turned around enough that they were headed somewhere toward Saskatchewan) we nailed CP after CP with almost pinpoint accuracy.

all the way up until our last intended point grab. 

with a sense of the impending 2:09pm deadline looming, we felt like we had just enough margin to ascend a small hill and find our final CP at the edge of a pond.  maybe it was the self-imposed pressure.  it could have been that we were due for a flub in our navigation.  perhaps we were just paying for our greediness.  whatever it was, we ended up following a length of the Bruce Trail that actually took us farther away from the finish line (and nowhere near CP 64) and we had to abandon the hunt in order to scramble back to the road that would finally culminate at the finishing tent.  we booked it along the road (along with many other teams) to the end, and again this was where i had a bit of an edge being able to scramble down the home-stretch non-stop in my snowshoes, whereas sean had opted to detach the snowshoes and carry them but had to take intermittent walk breaks.

we clocked in with 10 seconds left to spare.



post-race
while we noticed that various other racers had nabbed some snacks and hot chocolate from the official tent at the finish area, these refreshments quickly ran out.  sean managed to grab a couple of timbits and a cookie, but i missed out completely as even the giant hot choco container had run dry.  i was thankful for having snagged a cookie at the one aid station on the course, and proceeded to mow down on some of the energy snacks i'd ported along with me.

while on the course sean had mentioned to me what a significant calorie burn snowshoeing provided, especially given that we were trekking up and down inclines through sometimes three-foot powder sections.  by the time that we were starting to cool down i was feeling the hunger pangs, so we decided not to dilly-dally and headed straight for one of the buses.  in fact, it was the third bus situated in the middle of five school buses headed back to the resort parking lot (take note).

http://snowshoes.com/learn/article/fitness-benefits-of-snowshoeing
probably burned about twice the calories compared to if i'd run the course!

on board the bus sean quickly changed out of his wet tops (he is a self-described 'heavy sweater') in order to prevent a nasty post-exercise chill.  we were both looking very much forward to getting back to the villa and cashing in on the meal included as part of the race entry fee - among the options were cheeseburger and fries, poutine, grilled chicken sandwiches, pizza, and chili w/ buns.  mmm mmm good.

but the wheels on the bus didn't want to go round and round.

we watched as the buses parked in front of us departed, and the buses behind pull out around us.

it was like the game where you try to pick the fastest check-out line at the grocery store and inevitably choose the wrong one.

our bus had somehow been designated to be the one to wait for the very last teams.  clearly there was no particular rhyme nor reason as to why this bus was so chosen - except that maybe sean and i were on it - and the other athletes who were similarly looking forward to a quick ride back to a meal and awards were quick to voice their chagrin.  i felt for the bus driver, who was really not at fault in any way for our delay - even after the last racers climbed aboard (to loud shouts of hurrah) the driver had to wait for the official 'green light' to be issued via radio dispatch.  after a good 25 min. or so wait after all the other buses had left we finally began our return trip.  false start #3.

back at the ranch we didn't fare much better - the cafeteria serving the complimentary meals was swamped with not just adventure racers but also skiiers and snowboarders.  this made for long line-ups for the hot food station, and short ones for the cold food (e.g. deli sandwiches) and pre-heated food (e.g. pizza slices, chili) stations ... which would have been okay except that (a) all the chili was gone, (b) the sandwiches were down to two out of the original 8 or 9 varieties (yes, egg salad was one of the types still on the shelf), and (c) the food voucher was only good for one slice of pizza (which was a rip-off compared to what was being served quantity-wise from the hot food station).  sean and i decided that time was of the essence so we grabbed our flimsy ham sandwiches, chocolate milk and single piece of fresh fruit and were out of there.

the organizers had elected to wait for as many of the racers as possible to collect their meals before proceeding to any award presentations and door prizes, so this meant an even more drawn out post-race affair.  given that it was getting late already (just about 90 min. since the conclusion of the race) we cut our losses and headed for home - evidently at just around the same time as three-quarters of the skiiers coming off of the hills.

 we took enough time to find out that we finished 10th overall (out of 109), 5th for male teams

all told, the race itself was a lot of fun and a fabulous workout.  kudos have to be given to those who set out all of the checkpoints and markers out in the winter barrens - they were clearly and securely affixed to their designated locations, and it must have been a ton of work to get out there to do all of that.  as for the event in a larger context, registration was straight forward but between the distant parking situation, the bus delay and the cafeteria logistics, both sean and i felt that Don't Get Lost should look seriously at a different venue (or at least configuration) for their subsequent Snowshoe Raid events.

gear rundown
here's what got me through the day ...

waist-up:

waist-down:

have you ever competed in a snowshoe race, or an adventure race?  what has been your experience competing in them, or why wouldn't you enter into one?

09 January 2015

the sounds of cadence

blonk.  klop.  boing.  whirr.  ping.

i know, it sounds like the noises that might come from some cool new kids toy.  or your car's transmission just as it's about to blow up on you.

but have you ever paid attention to your footfall while running?

admittedly, it's far from scientific ... but i think that one of the markers of my running progress has been just how i visualize (or perhaps auditorialize) the way in which my feet impact the ground during the running gait cycle.
 
image taken from here

when i first started taking to running as a form of exercise (mid-2009) i simply didn't think about it.  as such i tromped along, slapping my foot onto the tarmac with each stride as if letting my feet fall like dead weights (wearing the heaviest tennis shoes that i had in the closet probably didn't help any) was the best way to maximize my fitness ROI (return-on-investment).  it was heavy, jarring, and makes me think of *blonk*.

the next iteration of my footstrike pattern came when i started to believe that the most natural (!) and effective way to run was to land heel-first, roll along the mid-foot and then toe off.  this reminded me of the way that a wheel contacts the ground, and actually was the way that i used to explain the functionality and science of Nike running footwear to our patrons while i worked for Nike's retail division.  the word that i associate most closely with this style of running was/is *klop*, as even though the technique is depicted as a rolling motion it often winds up being more of a slapping-the-ground movement.

http://www.drnicksrunningblog.com/the-propulsion-phase-of-gait-why-you-should-avoid-toe-off/
watch dr. nick campitelli talk about the perils of 'toe-off'
  
when i was first introduced to the idea of forefoot striking (courtesy of my friend trevor and dr. mark cuccuzzella) i transitioned to loping around on the front pads of my feet.  the immediate kinetic feedback was that i was activating the springy tissues (e.g. tendons and ligaments) as well as relying on my muscles to serve as shock absorbers and energy-returning pistons.  i had braced myself for the inevitable "you'll feel unusually sore" response to making this kind of a change, and while it did happen it didn't last very long.  i had done it - made the move to a more 'natural' method of running.  each day i took to the roads with a *boing*.

and then i read a little something about vertical travel.

at the time i was not only a fan of american distance runner ryan hall (and still am!) but also did my best to model my running style after his.  when i read this article detailing how if you measured the distance of vertical travel or 'bounce' that ryan had over the course of a marathon it would equal something like 1.24 miles - quite an unnecessary expenditure of energy.  in my attempts to mimic ryan i was quite unwittingly also bouncing around - as noted by the pacer i ran with at the 2012 hamilton marathon road2hope.


https://vimeo.com/14725271

just as surely as a pendulum swings back and forth, my next 'adaptation' was to try to limit the extent of vertical travel during my stride cycle and mimicking what it would be like to "balance a dinner plate on your head".  my running form got closer to a shuffle-like movement, staying low and level ... something of a *whirr* effect (think 'road runner') across the ground.  a corollary effect of this transition was to turn my attention to increasing my cadence since (at least in my mind) i was going to cover less distance while airborne.

the most recent change in my running form has been a more modest one, and has come about as a result of watching and studying the speed and lightness of 2014 NYC marathon winner mary keitany.  in a post last month i commented on how there was much to learn from watching mary run, and perhaps for me one of the most remarkable aspects of that is just how effortless she appears while in motion (contrast that with the discernible chugging effort of someone like meb keflezighi or the flailing form of lelisa desisa).  i've characterized this footstrike as something akin to a *ping* - rapid, reflexive and light.  the intention behind this adjustment is all about economy of motion.

of course all of this only exists inside of my head ... i've not had any kind of video evidence or filmed analysis to corroborate the notion that the way that i run has changed at all, or that (apart from the Road2Hope pacer's observations) i even do half of the things that i think that i've done with regard to running form.  but if visualization counts for anything at all i will continue to think of myself as pinging my way to faster race times.


 

*** GIVEAWAY TIME ***

now you know that i hear voices (or at least imaginary footstrike sounds) in my head.  that's partially due to the fact that i don't listen to any music during any of my runs, of any distance ... but maybe you do!  if you'd like to enter to win a 2GB iPod shuffle just use the rafflecopter form below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

01 January 2015

race report - 2015 CANIrunning Snowflake Series Race 3 (10k)

day one of 2015, and first resolution broken.

alright, 'broken' might be a bit of a harsh description - but i certainly deviated from my goal, which was to not repeat any races that i'd run last year.  however, given that this is the only new year's day race around here and that it's organized for a good cause (The Sharing Place food bank) i dotted this event on my calendar as the right way to kick off a new year.  a $15 registration fee also doesn't hurt any.

to be honest, there's nothing like a race to get the juices flowing for another turn of the calendar.  and even though i'm only into week two of the hansons marathon method training plan in preparation for the waterloo marathon, i was able to use this event as a tempo run more than a time trial.  the conditions certainly didn't lend themselves to a time trial situation, as we had snow-packed and icy road conditions underfoot and -13°C windchill temps (felt even colder than that) thanks to 40kmh+ wind gusts.  in reality, this day felt very similar to the conditions that met us on jan. 1, 2014.



for a small, homegrown race this event pulls out a decent crowd - usually in and around 150 or more of the most sober post-new year's eve celebrants - ranging in age from under 10 to over 80 years of age.  as i'd noted last year, orillia has a very strong and supportive running community, and this kick-off to the new year may be as popular as it is in part because one of the lead organizers of the CANIrunning team is lisa avery, the top canadian female finisher at the 2012 ottawa marathon.  as a native orillian, she is not only giving back to her home community but finding that they are loving her and her efforts in return.

as for the race itself, let's keep this short and simple ...

pre-race
i showed up about an hour ahead of the start time and decided to drive the course route to determine what kind of footwear to don (i'd brought pairs of both my skechers gobionic and gorun 3) and reacquaint myself with the elevation changes and number of turns.  i'm glad that i did, as it was a bit hillier than i'd remembered, and the traction was far from optimal.

 learning from last year - wearing trail shoes this time!

after checking in with lisa avery at the registration table i nabbed my bib and affixed it to my skechers singlet which i'd wear overtop of my winter running jacket.  suited up, off i went for a 2k warm-up run, which included a bathroom pit-stop at the local mr. sub.  it may have been that the employee had just opened the store for the day, or my race bib, or my frozen visage - but walking into the restaurant she stopped her mopping, stood up tall and stared at me with a dumbfounded look on her face.  i might as well have been green with bulging eyes telling her to take me to her leader ... but instead i asked politely to use the restroom, and she obliged.


did i look that weird?

gathering at the starting 'chute' area with a couple of minutes to go, lisa bullhorned out a few announcements which were completely lost in the gusting wind and general crowd noise.  i managed to spot a few familiar faces and exchange pleasant "happy new year" greetings.  as the countdown ensued, i had one regret as i assumed the forward lean position: the copious amounts of food i'd eaten yesterday at the chinese food buffet as part of our 'christmas dinner' with my parents.

the race
it was again a combo of 5k and 10k racers, so you couldn't quite tell which pack to pace with - i'd already determined that my goals were to make this a tempo-ish negative split run, so i found a couple of ladies to latch onto.  one of them was wearing a running free vest, and it turned out to be fellow team running free barrie athlete caitlin foisy (who would end up finishing just behind me at the end of the day).  the front half of the 5k was well within the mid-high aerobic HR zone (my first race wearing a heartrate monitor), though i wasn't watching my garmin so much as i was trying to go by feel.

just prior to the turnaround i noted what i thought to be five runners coming back at me for the back half of the 10k, which meant that the pack was thinning out quite a bit as i would have said that there were a good 25-30 runners ahead of me coming out of the gate.  

navigating the hairpin at the start/finish line i mentally shifted into 'run harder' mode and focused on trying to keep within sight of the lanky, loping runner who was about 75m ahead.  for the second half of the race i managed to do just that, although i failed to close the distance on him ... it may have been that i didn't want to shift into top gear or that i simply didn't have it in my legs to catch him as he picked up pace.  or it could have been the extra plate of sushi rolls and deep-friend shrimp from yesterday.

with a final burst into the nasty headwind i crossed the line in 43:19 (21:53 and 21:26 for a negative split)  - decent enough to claim 5th overall, 2nd in my age group and a 50 second improvement over last year's finish at the same race.


post-race
i kept on chugging for another 2 easy kilometres as a cool down, and then nabbed the chocolate milk out of my car as my recovery drink to go along with the timbits which were provided as post-race snack.  there was a bit of milling around the food table and chats with some of the runners that i knew, but nobody seemed super keen on hanging out in the frigid lakeside environs so i didn't linger either.

so even though i violated one of my own racing objectives for 2015 it was a fantastic way to kick off the new year.  kudos once again to CANIrunning and the town of orillia for hosting a wonderful community fitness event.  even though i may declare that i will change up my schedule again for 2016, it's more than likely that you'll find me freezing my buns off with the other nutty competitors at couchiching beach park in 365 days' time.

how did you spend your new year's day?  what are your running resolutions for 2015?  as always, i'd love to be part of the conversation!

29 December 2014

on the run ... avec moi

one of the blogs that i follow is 3 Cheap Runners authored by mike, michelle and rhoda - and last week i noticed this little 'get-to-know-me' segment that michelle had posted (as part of a pseudo-bloghop), and i thought that i would keep the fun going ... not unlike the good ol' chain letters of yesteryear. :)

four names that people call me:

1. patty
2. vooman
3. p-voo
4. spiff

four jobs i've had: 
1. volunteer resources administrator
2. pastor
3. funeral director's assistant
4. communications officer
 
four movies i have watched more than once: 
1. the shawshank redemption
2. casablanca
3. the matrix
4. all of the lord of the rings trilogy  

four books i'd recommend:  
1. the old man and the sea
2. the bible
3. born to run
4. open  

four places i've lived:
1. london, england
2. orangeville, ontario (canada)
3. mississauga, ontario (canada)
4. barrie, ontario (canada)  

four places i have been: 
1. cape hatteras, north carolina
2. teotihuacan, mexico
3. kota kinabalu, malaysia
4. palace of the romanian parliament

four places i'd rather be right now: 
1. surfing in new zealand
2. motorcycle trip across route 66
3. whipping around in a TARDIS
4. backpacking through the UK  

four things i don't eat: 
1. coconut
2. bacon
3. coffee
4. alcohol  

four of my favourite foods:
1. gingerbread men
2. pizza delight
3. doritos
4. hot peppers  

four TV shows that i watch (watched): 
1. gotham
2. ink master
3. penny dreadful
4. star trek: the next generation  

four things i'm looking forward to this coming year: 
1. tackling my first 50-mile race
2. teaching my daughter to drive
3. having something of a summer vacation for the first time in about seven years
4. finishing up my project motorcycle and getting it onto the road  

four things i say a lot: 
1. who left these lights on?!?
2. are you a runner?
3. hey, dr. brad!
4. off you go!

and now you know a little bit more about me, whether you wanted to or not.  if you'd like to pick up this ball and run with it i encourage you to do so - let someone else know what you're all about!

23 December 2014

in the still of the night

to all my friends, mentors, encouragers, collaborators and supporters - i wish for all of you and your loved ones the merriest of christmas seasons and the boldest and brightest year ahead in 2015.

keeping in step on the journey,
patrick