Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Canadian Death Race

The Canadian Death Race was my first big ultra race 4 years ago so I was curious to see how it would feel going back and doing it again with more experience under my belt.  

The town of Grande Cache plays host to hundreds of racers who overtake the town for the August long weekend each year.  A lot of the houses fly Death Race flags and locals are always friendly.  And of course we can't forget about the huge army of local volunteers that allow us to go out into their local mountains and race all day and night; it's lovely to see a small town get behind such a great event.

Race Director, Dale Tucker (also known as Dr Death), does a great job at the pre-race briefing the night before reminding everyone how important it is to pace ourselves.  The race is 125 km long and has 3 significient mountain passes so pacing is key regardless of if you're running solo or running as part of a team.

It was hot on race day but there was still tons of thick, gooey mud on some of the trails and massive mud puddles to wade through which actually felt quite good on the feet!  My main goal was to pace myself well and finish strong without doing too much damage on my body as I was using the Death Race as a training race for my big goal race coming up 4 weeks later so time wasn't a big issue, but pacing was.

The biggest challenge during the day was hydration as it was so hot out there I was going through a ton of fluid.  Thank goodness for the clean water running through some of the creeks as it enabled me to supplement inbetween a couple of the aid stations.  However, I still ended up with some stomach issues as I was trying to hoof my way up Mt Hamel.  I ended up having to be content with a slow death march wondering if this would be the race that I throw up in (something I've managed to avoid up until now in my races).  

The best thing about being in a ultra race is that the people around you know what you're going through and give out lots of positive support to help get you through the suffer-fest.  My stomach finally settled as night fell and after I'd gotten into dry, clean clothes and shoes at the drop bag station, I found my second wind and ended up galloping off on the final 20-something kilometers.  I started feeling really strong and ended up passing loads of people which is always an energy booster.  

Having gotten down to the river and given my coin to the grim reaper so that I could catch the boat across, I could smell the finishing line only 15 km away.  However, I knew that there were still lots of steep uphill in that section so I put my head down and gave it what I had.  Once in the wooded section, it's just beautiful running.  It felt great popping out onto the gravel road as I knew it was only 2 km to the finish line from there but most of it was uphill so I pulled out my iPod, plugged in some good cardio music and went for it.  I felt so good.  And when I got into town, I started running as fast as I could to the finishing line, sprinting my way across the field.  I made it in 21:01 hours.  The best thing though is that I had absolutely no stiffness or pain in my body and even after a 6 hour drive back to Banff, I still felt loose and supple. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Happy New Year!

I know ... I've been off the grid for a while but that doesn't mean I haven't been thinking of you.
All the best for 2012! Here's to more fun, more adventures and a year brimming with possibility!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Tor des Geants: race report

Tor des Geants was a great experience and I must say, I really enjoyed it. Sure, there were moments of feeling utterly exhausted, craving real food and a long, deep sleep but what an incredible journey. On the whole, I kept pretty happy throughout the week with just one day of wondering why I was doing this to myself, but that thought soon passed! It took a day or two to settle into the race, getting to know how the life bases and refuge huts worked, but it's surprising how quickly we adapt.

The route runs along the Alta Via 1 and Alta Via 2 of the Valle d'Aosta, with the start and finishing line in Courmayeur and is a self-paced race of 336 km (200 miles) with an altitude range of 24,000 metres with 150 hours to complete it. There are life bases set up throughout the week where you can get a hot meal, shower, access your drop bag and get some sleep. These tend to be busy places with people coming and going so the chances of getting any real sleep are slim but they're a great place to get yourself clean and fed before heading out into the mountains again.

There are also certain refuge huts in the mountains that you're able to sleep at for no more than 2 hours. I quickly found that these were the best places to get some shut-eye as they're not as busy as the life bases and a 2 hour sleep when you're exhausted feels wonderful!
Even though this is a self-paced race, you still have to make various cut-off times throughout the course but I realized on Day One that this wouldn't be a problem so I didn't bother take much notice of my times/pace etc and because of this, it made TdG one of the most relaxing "races" I've been in. There are some weird timings as to when you have to leave a life base ie you have to leave by midnight on one day, 2 am on another .... this means that you're forced to run during the night time which added to the sleep deprivation. And that was a whole new experience for me - I was having early morning hallucinations by the end of the week which I've never had before but were fun and entertaining.

One thing I learnt from racing UTMB last summer was that it is super steep in the Alps so I knew that TdG would be an incredibly challenging course every day for 6 days. I took it pretty easy on Day One as this is the day that will either contribute to your success or your demise; it's amazing how many people take off as if they're in a 10-km race from the starting line - this is great if you're some super-fit mountain goat, but it sure is a difficult pace to maintain for that type of distance. I took the tourist approach - get there when you get there and remember to stop and enjoy the views en route. The one thing that is hard in this type of steep environment is getting your head around how long it takes to cover a short distance. On the first day, it took me 13 hours to cover 43 km which is super long (even for me!) And there are times when even 5 km will take a couple of hours so I found having a "get there when you get there" approach kept me from going insane!

My goal from the beginning was to get to the finishing line on the morning of the 6th day, hopefully in one piece, but my main goal was to enjoy it as much as possible and I found this easy to do. When you break it down to its bare bones, the only things you need to know on a daily basis is that you're going to be hoofing it up a steep uphill for hours and hours (and hours), and then you'll cross some crazy mountain pass, and then you'll drop down for hours and hours until you reach the valley floor and then you do it all again, sometimes many times over during a 20-hour period including doing all this through the night when you're so tired that you end up staggering on the trail, hoping you don't fall off the mountain. Oh, and if you're lucky, you may get to sleep for a couple of hours here and there.

I bumped into Steve periodically either on the trail or at a life base which was great. During the last leg, I decided to stay at a couple of refuge huts en route to the finishing line. By this time, a huge part of me was eager to get finished - my stomach was sick of all the running food and I was having a hard time getting calories down me. But on the other hand, I really wanted to finish in the daylight as it's a shame to miss out on the beautiful mountain scenery. Plus it's way safer to hit the last downhill section in the daylight. So I ended up making an additional stop at the Bonatti refuge hut for a 2 hour sleep and just before going to the dorm, Steve walked in! Talk about perfect timing - it meant that we could sleep for a couple of hours and then head off at sunrise and cross the finishing line together.

I met loads of great people at TdG and also saw some of our Calgary friends out there too which was a treat. There was a nice feeling amongst people - everyone trying to get to the finishing line and everyone dealing with their own challenges either physical or mental while doing so. The scenery throughout this course is utterly amazing. And the towns and villages that we ran through were very neat and tidy, with friendly people giving support. It's a very well run event and the volunteers do a great job. What a great event - thank you to everyone involved!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Tor des Geants

Well, it's time for another big adventure and this one will take me to the Italian Alps. I signed up for Tor des Geants back in January and it's a race that has somehow come around very quickly.

Banff, like the rest of the northern hemisphere, had a very long winter and I still have to do a double-take every time I look at my calender; is it really the end of August already? It feels like summer has only just begun.

Tor des Geants is a multi-day mountain race which ran for the first time in 2010 but is a race that filled up within days of opening this year. I will be on the starting line with 499 other people who will all be hoping to get to the finishing line in one piece! The course is 330 km in length and you get 150 hours to complete it. There are some life bases en route where you can get a shower, food and sleep so I'm hoping to be able to get some shut-eye during the week but am not counting on it. When I ran UTMB last year, I was shocked at how steep it is in the Alps so I've got a pretty good idea of how long it takes to cover a small distance and how challenging this course will be - pain is definitely in the forecast!!!

My only goal is to get to the finishing line without too much long-term damage but if the body blows up on me, then Plan B is to sit back in a gelato shop and watch the world go by - now that's an attractive idea. Maybe I should just skip the race and go straight to the gelato shop!!

Anyway, wish me luck! I'll let you know how I get on after I've hobbled back home.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Images from a week in Jasper

I raced the Iron Leg 50 miler last weekend and then took a week's holiday and spent it running in neighbouring Jasper National Park - what a blast! I ran on lots of new trails and also did my old favourite, the classic Skyline Trail. Together with the race, I managed to rack up about 300km so was pretty happy with that as I felt great at the end of the week.

Fryatt Valley

Fryatt Valley from the Headwall.

A very misty Sulphur Skyline

We don't usually have a lot of mist here so this was fun.

Whistlers summit overlooking the town of Jasper

Mt Edith Cavell.

The Tonquin Valley

A moose!

The view from Wilcox Peak

The view from Bow Summit.
Posted by Picasa

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A quick fastpacking trip into Floe Lake

It was my birthday on Wednesday and I decided on a spontaneous fastpacking trip into Floe Lake to celebrate.
Floe Lake is part of the classic Rockwall Trail and is easily accessible from the 93 South Highway. After a couple of hours of climbing up and around, you step into the beautiful and quiet Floe Lake area. There were quite a few campers already set up, fed and hunkered down in their tents for the night. I'd gone in straight after work so didn't expect to see too many people up and about but I still had quite a few hours of daylight left and sat on the edge of Floe, eating my pre-made dinner and just marveling at how easy it can be to "get away from it all".
I had a pretty good night's sleep and was up super early to pack everything up, make some hot coffee and then boogie back down the trail to my car where I had my office clothes waiting for me. After a quick wash and change, I was back on the highway and at my desk by 8.35 am what a great start to the day!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Helen Lake

Exploring beyond Helen Lake

Isabel Lake
Posted by Picasa