26 May 2015

race report - 2015 Sulphur Springs Trail Run 50k

if there's anything that i've learned in my limited foray into the world of trail and ultra-running its that the competition is less with the field of contestants and more with yourself.  it truly is more of a process of self-discovery than speed-discovery.

with that in mind, i feel like an ultra race report ought to highlight lessons learned over mile-markers passed.

lesson #1 - always set two wake-up alarms
the sulphur springs trail run is an annual event taking place in and around ancaster, ontario following the trails of the dundas valley conservation area.  that's about 90 min. from my house which puts it at a manageable travel distance on the day of the race.  i'd planned to get up, get in a shakeout run, eat breakfast, nab a shower and then hit the road in order to arrive about 80-90 min. before the start of the 50k distance (50 and 100-milers would have an earlier start).  working backwards that would mean a wake-up time of 3:00 am, so i set my trusty clock-radio to the appointed hour ... and just before grabbing my shut-eye thought that it might be prudent to also set an old wristwatch alarm just in case.

as in just-in-case-you-set-your-clock-radio-for-3:00-PM!

thankfully those annoying little beeping sounds emanating from that timex knock-off did the trick in terms of rousing me out of my slumber.

gotta know that the day's going to be an interesting one after that kind of start.

A photo posted by patrick voo (@pbfvoo) on

lesson #2 - 'tis better to have taped and lost than to never have taped at all
in my last pre-race entry i noted that i'd been experiencing some intermittent knee pain in the weeks leading up to this race.  electing to believe that discretion is the better part of valour (at least this time!) i took three days off last week in order to rest up my knee - and tried to incorporate some additional specific exercises and rolling pin application as a number of friends let me know that they thought that i was dealing with ITB syndrome.  i still wasn't convinced that that was the real culprit as my symptoms didn't all match up with the typical indicators (e.g. i could run on it without pain) and i had been very attentive over the past 14-16 months to work on glute and core strength.

still, not being one to look a gift horse in the mouth, when my friend rhonda-marie offered to apply some k-tape if i showed up early enough at the start line i thought that i had nothing to lose (thanks #batgirl!).  wearing kinesiology tape was a new experience, and while i could feel that bit of additional support that it provided it might well fall into the same category as compression socks for me - probably more of a psychological benefit/confidence boost than anything.

how did it work out for me?  a number of friends who i encountered on race day (as well as others that i only really crossed paths with via social media) asked how my knee was holding up out on the course - and the short answer is that it wasn't an issue whatsoever.  i guess +1 for k-tape!

lesson #3 - if you're out there, you're a runner
our 7:30am start included the 25k and 50k racers in a 'starting chute' formation a bit of a ways back from the actual timing start/finish timing mat because some of the longer distance runners were already completing first loops.  it was a bit of a mass gathering which meant that faster and slower runners were all bunched together for the first kilometre or so - the saving grace of that was that the initial few hundred metres were on a very wide swath of trail, albeit it a 58m or so drop (providing a foretaste of the ascent that each loop would conclude with ...).  since the full trail loop was 20k both the 25k and 50k competitors would have to complete an initial 'spur' or abbreviated section of the trail loop - and this worked well, as it provided enough incentive to run a controlled pace from the get-go.  the conventional wisdom about running an ultra well is that it's not about who runs the fastest pace but who slows the least - so a glob of people all together for the first 2.5k or so was just fine.

after the 25k runners had their initial turnaround point (a course-marshaled hairpin that almost had me sideswiping my friend kathleen) the group thinned out exponentially.  it was a strange transition to go from a shoulder-to-shoulder parade out on the trails to being almost completely alone at the 5k mark.  where it got really interesting (at least from a social point of view) was after the first 10k spur, because then i started intersecting with some of the 50 milers, 100 milers and 100 mile relay runners.  from that point forward it was one big encouragement-a-palooza out there, as i looked on with (and voiced my) admiration at/for runners who were tackling the more 'conventional' ultra-distances - and from time to time i might scoot by someone and hear them say "you're looking really strong!".  it reminded me that big, small, faster, slower, we were all out there to do battle with those forces of inertia, or negative energies and histories that might try to persuade us that it's easier to not run.

one particularly inspiring individual was a man competing in the 25k race that i passed several times - each lap i let him know just how much of a warrior i thought that he was.  on spec i figured that he had suffered some kind of stroke or had a particular type of palsy, as the one side of his body including his arm and leg seem to be curled a bit and certainly had a limited range of motion.  after doing some research on the race results i found out that his name is jess heroux and that in 1993 he had an aneurysm which indeed had paralyzed his right side.  but the dude was a beast out there, and made my efforts seem mediocre in comparison.

lesson #4 - keep rollin', rollin', rollin', rollin'
during our wednesday night trail runs sensei jim has (half-seriously) offered to provide workshops on how to fall properly.  it involves something of a tuck-and-roll method to use your momentum in an effort to minimize any significant impact and also to allow you to get up and keep going as soon as possible.

while i didn't physically practice this, i took good mental notes.  and i'm glad that i did.

twice the trails came up and bit me.

the first time was at about 28km when i got distracted by trying to reel in a runner who was about 20m in front of me.  by fixing my attention on trying to catch him i became totally oblivious to the 'rooty' section of path that we were traversing.  even the runner behind me said (post-fall) that she could totally see my tumble coming.

but it was a real 'matrix' moment in the process of being tripped up and falling - while i instinctively put out my hands to brace for impact (thank goodness for my nathan quickdraw elite handheld bottle providing a crash pad) i also found that my brain switched into super slo-mo mode and i had enough wherewithal to process that i should turn into the ground with my shoulder (left was my preference) and tumble along with the ground rather than into it.  and you know what?  even though i went down i managed not to miss a beat - and actually caught that runner without any additional effort.

the second fall came at around 40km in - this time it was just a matter of mental fatigue from having been out on the course for about 3h45m at this point.  in a road race you can get away with shuffling your feet a bit more, but not so on terra natura.  the events of this fall were almost identical to the previous one except that my initial bracing action resulted in my payment of a pound of flesh to the spirit of sulphur springs.

call it machismo, adrenaline or outright stubbornness i didn't think much of this scrape after i got up to keep going - until i thought my waterbottle was leaking from landing on it.  and then i realized that i wasn't carrying my bottle in the hand that felt all wet.  yep ... i was leaving behind your regular CSI-worthy bloodtrail dripping off of my hand, spraying DNA samples with every cycle of arm swing.  i even had to refrain high-fiving some of my friends who happened to be running towards me on the same path for fear of hemoglobin spatter blinding them after we'd make contact.  thankfully i wasn't far from the next aid station where they graciously bandaged me up in F-1 pit-stop fashion so that i didn't lose much time.

all in all i spent 95-98% of my time on the trail running, only having really stopped to:
  • get rid of a rock in my shoe (always, always, always take the time to do this - especially in an ultra as a minor irritation now can become a major headache later)
  • take a quick trailside pee
  • powerhike several steep hills (i found the course very runnable - only 50% of the hills required slowing to walking pace, and many sections of the course you could even plot to take the tangents to save time/steps)
  • avail myself of nutrition at four aid stations (i downed eight GU gels - a record, i might say - but also picked up something at every aid station but several times managed to just keep moving through ... i paused once to re-fill my bottle, once to grab a PB+J sandwich from my drop-bag and twice to down a handful of pretzels).

lesson #5 - trail markers won't do any good if you don't follow them
i thought that i'd done my due diligence in advance of this race considering i wasn't familiar with the dundas valley conservation area trail system before (unless i'd traversed some of it following the orienteering lead of my friend sean in last fall's raid the hammer adventure race).  i watched various race recap videos on YouTube, read and re-read the 2015 race participant guide.  and then having completed a full first loop of the course, you'd think that i knew where i was going.

you'd be mistaken.

i think that by the time that most of the 50k runners had completed the first loop a few of the less-necessary marshals were relieved from their posts - and since there were other hikers and cyclists on the course some of the yellow caution tape which had been draped across trail intersections to indicate the correct direction of travel had been dropped to form more of a 'line in the sand'.  and therein lay my problem.

at 29.4 k i missed a hard right turn uphill onto "Lookout Trail", and wound up scooting down a section of trail (after obviously skipping over/past some fallen caution tape) for just over 500m before i came across a 50-mile runner going the opposite way.  he was gracious enough to yell "are you going the wrong way?", to which my immediate response was "am i?!?".  he replied back "you'll know at the bottom", since i was descending about 20m into another intersection.  at that nexus i found three cyclists resting on a bench and asked whether or not they'd seen any other runners coming down the path that i'd just run down - and to my dismay they responded "no, everyone's coming from that way" pointing to their immediate left.  since i'd read in hal koerner's field guide to ultrarunning that the rules (usually enforced by the honour system) of ultras is that any diversion from the official course must be rectified by returning back to the point of departure to reassume the actual route i turned around to climb back up the hill and rejoin the Lookout Trail after covering a little more than an extra kilometre.


what did it cost me?  well, aside from just some additional discomfort from hammering my right big toe for that extra 1100m or so (c'mon, what's an ultra without a blackened toenail?) i know that i lost a couple of places in the chase.  in the end i finished the race feeling strong, albeit not having laid everything out on the line ... i felt like i basically cruised through the entire race.  crossing the timing mats in 4:38:41 (meeting my 'C' goal) i officially claimed 14th place overall (meeting my 'B' goal).  in terms of age-group placing, the results table shows me in 13th since their official age-group bracket is 0-98 years ... but if you don't mind some creative accounting, had there been a 40-49 male AG then i would have taken 4th spot (and meeting my 'A' goal).


lesson #6 - free massage?  did somebody say free massage?
even though i felt good crossing the finish line i knew that i would be wise to start the recovery process as quickly as possible - so i put in a 5-10 minute walkabout the grass and then made my way to the food tent where they graciously provided some juice, fruit, yogourt and a pulled pork (or pulled chicken) hot sandwich.

there was also a bunch of massage tables set up courtesy of students from trillium college.  after signing up on their 'reservation list' i waited all of about two minutes before my name was called and i was introduced to marcy who asked a few quick questions about any injuries, medications or current aches/pains.  even though i noted the k-tape on my knee she chose to focus on my achilles tendon (which had been surgically repaired after a complete rupture in 2006).  as i lay on the sun-heated massage table and had my right calf, hamstring and glute-area worked on i wondered to myself why i'd never taken advantage of post-race massages before.  i suppose that in larger races when it's been offered the line-up/wait time was prohibitively long ... but i will be looking for this added-value service again.  not sure whether or it not the actual massage was of any real benefit, but the relaxing time on the table made it worth the while.  and between the massage, the k-tape and wearing my tiux compression socks all the next day i'm pleased to say that my knee has not acted up really since the race.  after all was said and done i wonder if maybe it wasn't just an atypical ITB issue but in fact some minor degree of lateral meniscus tear from attempting to find faster (and safer) ways of bombing down trail descents by employing a 'slalom' style of foot placement (angling from side to side).     


all told this was an excellent race experience - the trails were in superb condition (i heard numerous times that it looked the best that others had seen in years for this event ... as witnessed by a new course record in the 50k distance) and the organization was top notch.  the weather was about as nice as it could be, and getting to/from the locale was a piece of cake.

speaking of cake, it's time to enjoy some ... a full week off until resuming training for the north face endurance challenge series 50-miler.  woo hoo!

race gear for the 2015 sulphur springs trail run 50k:


21 May 2015

an ode to getting old

though the dawn still breaks
and the roads remain open
and the will still presses on

there's a toll that time takes
on aging muscle and bone
and weathering skin that once shone.

all the focus on running form,
cadence, training plans,
lactate threshold and nutrition

only weather so much of the storm,
when injury and circumstance
hinder goals from coming to fruition.

 ... and you can already tell that i'm not much of a poet.

this ode comes to you courtesy of my preparation for this week's running of the sulphur springs 50k trail race - and one ailing knee.

it could be that once again i've not given myself enough time post-marathon to recover properly.  after all, i did put out a PB effort just over four weeks ago - and i thought that taking a full five out of the seven following days off from running would provide me with sufficient rest to ease back into training for this ultra distance event.  but just about 10 days ago (following the MEC barrie race two) i began experiencing resting (as in during my sleep) pain on the anterior side of my right kneecap that would effectively lock my leg in position.  it was discernibly swollen and sore to the touch, but with some self-administered massage/rolling i was able to continue training through it.

this week i strung together two off days in the hopes of getting it primed for a solid race effort this weekend, but it still seems to be on the edge of getting funky.  i know that in terms of my year-at-a-glance planning i'd mapped out this race as more of a preparatory/training event in advance of the north face endurance challenge series 50 miler this july, but the competitive side of me says that i have more of a shot at doing well in the 50k distance - that and my main goal for the 50 miler is just to survive it.

i'm going to give it the best of what i've got in ancaster on saturday - fat loading is done, several weeks of ultra training are in the bank, and now its time to lay out my goals so that any of you who read this post can hold me somewhat accountable to them:
  • 'A' goal - finish top 10 for my age-group
  • 'B' goal - finish top 25 overall
  • 'C' goal - finish with a sub 5-hour time.

there you have it - i'm eager to see how this race turns out for a number of reasons.  i feel like i learned a lot from jim and my experience at the limberlost challenge 56k last year, particularly in the area of nutrition.  i'm also still riding the momentum of my marathon PB.  what'll be most interesting is how my knee holds up and the fact that i'm not particularly familiar with the sulphur springs course (unless it traverses some of the same terrain that we took during the raid the hammer adventure race last fall).  it will also be great to see a number of friends who will also be at sulphur springs to tackle various distances from the 100 miler to the 10k, including my running pals rolf, dave, kathleen, steen, ashley, amanda, robin, 'fast bill' and steve.

time to kick up some dust - or eat some!

#getyourmilesin  #GOlikeneverbefore

10 May 2015

race report - MEC Barrie Race Two 15k

i think that i could get into this 'using races as key workouts' thing.

as this week marked my return to training after the waterloo marathon i have shifted gears to focus more on time-on-feet and refining my trail legs.  this is all in anticipation of the Sulphur Springs 50k and The North Face Endurance Challenge Series GORE-TEX® 50 miler.  this saturday called for a 33-38k run at 'comrades pace' (given that i've jumped into following a training plan for the renowned comrades marathon), and since the 2015 MEC Barrie Race Two - their first trail-specific competition - was scheduled for the same i decided that i would put in about a 19k warm-up before joining the 15k distance option for the race.  although i was very much looking forward to this event i had second thoughts the night before as i experienced some soreness in my right knee (likely as a result of ramping my mileage up again to full throttle after the post-marathon week off) but decided that i really didn't have the time to waste before the 50k.

the race took place in the simcoe county forest with which i was somewhat familiar given some training runs i'd done with the barrie trail running club.  however i felt that i'd best be served for the race by doing some advance scouting of the route (just to make sure that i could actually find my way through and test my friend jim willett's trail marking abilities) so i arrived a couple of hours before the scheduled start time to run the course.  the MEC crew was already well under way setting up the start/finish area as well as setting up some final signage along the course to help ensure directional clarity.

as far as the warm-up went, i was joined for most of it by my new friend rob (whom i'd met at the MEC Barrie Race One) who helped keep the pace honest.  by the point that we connected on the trail i had already gotten off-course once (and had to double-back to find the appropriate ribbon markers), and together we managed to overshoot the turn-off to the finishing loop by some 2 kms - i would find out later that we were out before some of the final signage had been fastened in place, and when the marshals were in place we'd have no problem discerning where the appropriate turns would be.

upon completing my warm-up distance i picked up my timing chip and corralled in with the other 15k runners.  there was another stellar turn-out for this event, which to some was surprising given that we were tackling roots and rocks instead of pavement and parking lots.  i managed to spot a number of our intrepid tribe of barrie ninjas (trevor, lewis, rick, jason) as well as several other friends (kathleen, tina, brenda, marc) and my former coach rick ball whom i'd not seen in well over a year.

how did the race itself go?

overall i was happy with how it all went down, even though i started out a bit faster than i'd wanted (in order to clear some traffic before getting onto single track sections).  i managed a respectable pace throughout, power-hiking a few tough uphill (and sandy, to boot) sections and scrambling well down the same sections on return halves of those loops.  i believe that i turned in another negative split  which i was pleased with because (a) it was trail terrain all the way, which is energy draining due to its constant variation and (b) the temperatures rose from 16°C when i'd started my pre-race warm-up to 28°C by the time that i crossed the finish line.

my fellow ninjas brought home numerous race accolades from this event, including 1st (trevor) and 3rd (rob) place overall in the 15k, 2nd female finisher (amanda) and two 1st in AG (rick and lewis) in the 5k.  sarah also hit her goal of making the first page of results for the 10k and jason represented team running free in strong fashion with a sub-2 hour 15k training workout.


and for some last minute notes and observations:


08 May 2015

book review - Hal Koerner’s Field Guide to Ultrarunning

i'm barely a runner, never mind an ultra runner - so i need all of the help that i can get.

as i've now completed my spring marathon, the next two main events on my calendar are both trail ultra competitions - the Sulphur Springs 50k and The North Face Endurance Challenge Series GORE-TEX® 50 miler.  winter training season was a strong one for me this year (as evidenced by my new PB at the waterloo marathon a couple of weeks back) so while i feel decently conditioned for the 50k distance i know not to take any ultra for granted (as evidenced by my near self-destruction at the 2014 limberlost challenge).  after a quick peruse through my local library i picked up hal koerner's field guide to ultrarunning by - who else? - hal koerner.

this really is a field guide, which to me means several things:
  • it's easy to read and provides accessible information to the newbie and seasoned veteran alike
  • it's fairly comprehensive without being encyclopedic (i.e. too detailed)
  • it's written from the perspective of someone with first-hand experience.
i can't say that i'm really familiar with hal koerner - but then i'm not well-acquainted with the ultra-verse, so i'm not sure how much that says about his credibility.  however, if you take his stories at face value then the guy has a wealth of experience upon which to draw - and he certainly tells tales in a way that are vivid enough and echo of 'insider experience' to make me think that he well knows whereof he speaks/writes.  [if you need to find out more about his résumé - including his wins at the hardrock and western states 100s - read here]

something else that i appreciate about koerner's writing is that while he covers a lot of territory (no pun intended) in his book, he doesn't offer the simple 'cut-and-paste' descriptors on issues like hydration, terrain and footwear.  as an example, when he addresses the differences between trail-specific shoes and road running shoes he notes that while trail shoes do have tread patterns for greater grip on uneven surfaces there are some lug designs that actually suck up and hold mud and grit more than other designs.  just that tidbit alone was something new to me, and his suggestion that asking those sorts of questions (which again rings of insider knowledge) of the staff at your local running store will prove helpful as you engage the environs of your training/racing routes.

what's also interesting is that he brings to the book his perspective as a race director (of the Pine To Palm 100 miler) and retail store owner - so his perspective is not only as a prospective coach to fledgling ultrarunners like me, but also as someone who has a vested interest in making sure that all athletes compete well, safe and fair.

all that being said, the least impressive part of this book falls in the penultimate chapter on training plans.  having conveyed his wealth of insight and wisdom gleaned from endless miles of running in just about every condition imaginable i found the three training plan templates - for 50k, 50miles-100k, and 100 miles - pretty bland and generic.  he hits on the requisite core workouts (tempo runs, fartlek/intervals and hills) but i've found more helpful plans online (like those indexed on ultramarathonrunning.com) and am actually using a great training plan that i found designed for those preparing to run the comrades marathon ... which i hope to compete in before long.

i'm seriously thinking about purchasing this book after returning it to the library - it's well worth a re-read, and will provide boundless points of reference after i complete (*bold predictions*) my two ultras this year.  i'm thankful to have discovered hal koerner, and would definitely say that the generous information shared in his field guide to ultrarunning is indicative of the kind of personalities that form the trail and ultra running community - focused on helping one another enjoy the planet that we get to explore and to do it with confidence, competence and respect.

01 May 2015

post-marathon into pre-ultra

while not an avid racer i have always found that it's training for races that motivates me to run.

so this week has been both torturous and exciting.

having completed my best-ever marathon performance last weekend, i've had a stretch of four days now (having run just a few get-the-blood-flowing miles the day after the race) of no running whatsoever.  that constitutes my longest lay-off period in about 15 months ... but i needed it.

here are a just a few observations from the last few days:
  1. i've definitely gotten to the point where running is an integrated part of my daily lifestyle.  i genuinely miss not getting up to go out an run.
  2. it's been a long time since i've treated myself to a good sleep-in.  it took me three mornings of not getting up before the sun before i actually slept through to when i'd set my alarm.
  3. resting and recovery takes as much discipline as going out the door to workout.  for the two big races prior to the waterloo marathon last weekend i'd shortchanged myself on time off of my feet, and i think that in both instances i paid for it with a less-than-desired experience/result.
  4. it wasn't too hard to put weight back on.  i gained about 5 lbs. in 3 days, but then read that most of it could probably be accounted for by water retention as part of muscle repair.  and i also saw that meb keflezighi gained about 12 lbs. shortly after his 2015 boston marathon which made me wonder if maybe i haven't been treating myself enough (!).
  5. my legs feel really good.  i might attribute it to better overall conditioning, smart race-running, extra sleep or the tiux compression socks that i wore as part of my kit on sunday.  maybe all of the above.
now it's time to switch training gears - gotta hit the hills, log some longer single runs and get my trail legs under me as i focus on the next two big events on my calendar, the sulphur springs 50k and the north face endurance challenge series gore-tex 50 miler (don't forget to use the promo code D30PVON15 for a 15% discount if you want to sign up for any distance of the north face ecs!).

- - - - - - -

and now for a quick shout-out ... here's to my friend, training partner and fellow barrie running ninja rick doucet who's taking on his first full marathon at the goodlife fitness toronto marathon this coming sunday.  you got this ricky ... #runninjarun!