Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Summit of Mt. Finlayson and cooking up some lava

Today I decided to run in Gold Stream Park and tackle Mt. Finlayson, a large diorite dome that errupts from the banks of gold stream at sea level. Mt. Finlayson is a short but steep trail that climbs from sea level to 1375 feet in just a few kms. The trail starts out fairly smooth and steep and is runnable but once you reach the shoulder of the mountain you enter multiple class three pitches with rocks wore smooth from hikers and past glaciers. It actually is about the most technical stuff I have attempted on the island. It took me about 28 minutes to top out but I wasn't feeling that well due to a sore neck from a restless night which lead to a morning headache. I was a bit dizzy off and on and it definitely isn't a trail to have any sort of fainting spell. I took it relaxed and power hiked the majority of the upper trail. The run down was quite dangerous with many spots where it would be easy to get out of control or lock ball-bearing gravel under your tread and slide of a ledge. I took a nice controlled descent and I can't for the life of me figure out how I got off the trail (it is extremely straight forward with bright orange markers everywhere) but before I knew it I was in the middle of the bush, whacking my way towards the general direction of the trail. I picked the main trail back up and flew through the last km of the trail like it was nothing. I ended up finishing the round trip in about 45 minutes, which is a pretty short run for me but I think that the steepness and length of the climb spiced up the variability of my weekly regime and I think I will use this one for future hill training and stack multiple summits to really get used to steep 1400 foot climbs and descents over technical ground.

After running Finlayson I headed into school where I whipped up a quick batch of lava. Much like baking cookies but instead of flour and sugar I add Silica (quartz SiO2) and calcium carbonate (limestone). And instead of putting the batch in at 200 degrees celcius I place it in a furnace at 15oo degrees celcius. When it has cooked long enough I pour out the glowing red viscous melt onto a stainless steel plate and now instead of a white or redish powder (from iron) it is a black glass like obsidian.

It was a good day with a steep summit of finlayson followed by making some lava. My life is awesome!

I decided to throw some Arcade Fire on my blog since I don't have Canadian music represented yet. This is a group with quite a few members but fronted by a husband and wife team from Montreal. This song "Keep the Car Running" is one of many favs by the band and I think it is a great song to have playing in the noodle during a crazy trail run like today. Check out more of their stuff, they have tons of different weird instruments that they incorporate in genius ways.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Music of the Trail

The sun was cooking my back and the sweat was already pouring off the brim of my hat. I had only been running for two kilometers. I was running my 14th run in 11 days and Victoria was in the throws of a heat spell. I knew going into week two of this training block that I would have a tough go since past experience had shown me the middle of week two usually turns into an absolute battle for survival. I turned onto Whitaker and started my first summit push of the day. I couldn't believe it I had absolutely nothing to give. Even before I reached the steeper portion of the Irvine climb I found myself out of breath and my heart was pounding in my chest like a runaway train. I hit a particular steep exposed section and really pushed myself up the hill. As I reached the crest of the scorching little climb my head began to spin and I was swimming in dizziness. I began to alternate short jogs and power hikes as I approached the summit. The last 200 meters were completely in the sun and as I topped out I sat down on a rock complete deflated. I felt like I was giving the run everything I had to give but already I was 4 minutes behind my usual pace and still had 35 minutes and about 6.5 kms to go. I clumsily stumbled down the steep rock slope of the bedrock buster and felt my legs turn to jello as I shuffled through dancing waves of heat rising from the scoured rock. I didn't turn left like I normally would if I was doing the full course, but instead hung a "Randy" and headed right back down to my car. The total run still took me nearly 48 minutes and on a good day would only take 30. I knew that I had finally crossed "the line".

Training for an ultra requires a ton of work and consistency but it also requires a balance of easy runs and careful planning to prevent over-training. I feel to properly train you have to constantly be pushing yourself right up to the threshold of over-trained, without ever actually crossing over. It sounds easy in theory but in practice it is like tightrope walking on 200lb test monofilment stretched over a yawning chasm of over-training induced symptoms and injuries. I knew that I just fell off my precarious perch of "just enough" and was now thrown into the middle of the abyss of misery that is to be over-trained.

As I trudged home that night, after my terrible run, I began to become a victim of one of the worst side effects of over-training, the mood swing. It started a few days earlier as I found that my typically good-natured self seemed to be replaced by an irritable and moody monster. After my terrible run I was playing an innocent game of clue with my wife and her younger sister, I threw a tantrum when I was thoroughly bested by my better half. I left the room and began to read my book and sulk, not about the game (that was just the straw that broke the camels back), but about my terrible run and the fact that it was feeling like my running was getting worse and not better. I knew I still have a ridiculous long way to go, and I was frustrated that I was set back because of my fainting spells last fall. Vye came up to try to sleuth out what was causing this Dr. Jekel and Mr. Hide reaction. I began to vent and really began to realize that perhaps most frustrating of all was coming to grips with giving up on a leg of research that I had devoted the last two years of my life to. A few days earlier my advisor and I reached the conclusion that this particular approach to the problem was not going to work. Two years of 30 hour experiments and trips to Vancouver to analyze my results, and then back to Uvic to analyze with the laser seemed like it was all for not. I was in a very dark place. As I vented if finally dawned on me that my mood shifted several days earlier and that I was not being myself. I began to piece together other clues such as my elevated heart-rate and breathlessness, my out-of-control hunger, and the insomnia that had plagued me for 3 nights in a row now. I was in the middle of over-trained-itis

I quickly apologized for being grumpy and explained what had caused it. The following day I took a much needed break, the first one in 12 days. The next morning I was still not my old self but I felt I was improving. I decided to take the following day off as well.

Last night a small cold front blew in and dropped temperatures significantly. I had taken a slow easy run or two after my two day break. Tonight I was now ready to really run again. The wind was still gusting and the temperatures were in the high 50's perfect for a strong run. I felt well fueled and hydrated and decided to run the Gutbuster course in reverse (a much steeper and more challenging run than usual). I busted into a trot and within three minutes of running reached my first climb, a steep relentless attack of the South face. I typically run down this trail when running the normal direction, but tonight I bounded up it like one of the many bucks I spooked on the side of the trail today. My legs were strong and I began to get into a rhythm. I could hear my feet striking the earth with a metered thud. Almost on cue a strong wind would blow through the trees about every four steps joined by a song of an unidentifiable bird, almost like a concerto playing over my percussive foot strikes. I began to relax and all my senses became enhanced as I continued to listen to the music of the trail. Above tree line a plant covered in black-seeded pods began to join the orchestra of noise. The song now took on an almost tribal feel as the rattles began to grow in both tempo and volume. I became elated as I realized I was running through the notes of a song that only I could hear. A song that can only be heard if you are in the right place at the right time and are paying attention to the mountain and what it is trying to convey. The summit came too quick but for those few short minutes I experienced something almost outer-bodily as I actually felt what it is like to run through a masterpiece. During that portion of my run time seemed to stretch endlessly before me yet it ended so abruptly it felt like a blink of an eye.

The remainder of the run was fueled by that amazing runner's high. I had overcome the spell of being over-trained and found myself in the middle of one of my strongest and definitely the most magical run of the year.

I don't have a song to embed in this post because there is nothing that could do the music I heard tonight on the trails of Vancouver Island justice. I heard the music of the trail.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Summer decided it was about time to heat up the southwestern BC coast today and I actually was able to run for the first time this year in temperatures warmer than about 20C or 70F. It actually was in the upper 20's (80-ish) when I ran at 4:00 (I know it sounds pretty tame compared to Utah's summer temps but what can I say I am getting soft living on the BC coast). From my previous post I suggested that day 10 of a new cycle of consistent training is always brutal, well today was day 9 and the run proved brutal. There are several reasons for this. First I hadn't hydrated properly today even though I knew it was going to be toasty. I opted out of bringing a water bottle because I wanted to get some heat training without water to stretch me mentally and physically. Lastly I am running on tired legs, nine days without a break and averaging between about 7 and 10 miles a day. So I had set myself up for a real can-kicker. Immediately I knew I was in trouble when I noticed a stretch of trail that typically takes me about 7:30 to run, actually took me 8:10 to run today. Forty seconds slower for a mile is a significant decrease in speed, additionally my effort level seemed much more intense. I bit the bullet and began to push my way up the ferns to the Irvine climb. My legs revolted! I was barely able to maintain a shuffle so slow even an elderly person with a walker could pass me. My mouth was already dry and felt like there was sand in there, but I decided to persevere and kept in mind it was the first warm day in Victoria this year. I finally summited and sat at the top gasping for breath with sweat dripping off my nose and chin and my whole body glistened with beads of salty sweat. The drop down the bedrock buster was a joke, I found myself barely being able to control my descent, my legs were just knackered.

To make a long story short I ended up walking several portions of the climbs, and the sections that were flat, I just maintained a shuffle. This run was about enduring more than anything and I fought the urge to cut-off a summit here, or a traverse there, and gave it some serious stick-with-it-ness. It ended up being a mental victory and reminded me that I have to train and improve my mental game every bit as much as I have to focus on the physical aspect of my training.

Well Victoria looks like it is going to be in a heatwave for a while so I am going to get more opportunities to cook out in the sun and improve my heat tolerance. To celebrate this late Summer and the subsequent first hot run of the year I am going to include a video by IAMX's first album. The song is called "heatwave". I couldn't find any awesome concert footage of the song but none-the-less I had the song on my mind as the sweat poured off my face and the sun baked my back. It is a great song and will be my theme song for the next week at least based on the forecast!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Week in review June 26 - July 4 and some TrailMode

In the previous 7 days I managed to run 9 times for a total distance of about 40 miles. It feels great to see some consistency. My run yesterday on the 4th of July was perhaps the crowning achievement of the previous week's hard work. My legs reached the point where they seemed to be on auto pilot, they pulled my body up the hills with a minimum of lactic acid build-up. It was awesome to not have to power hike anything. I had awesome runs on both Canada Day and also the US Independence Day and perhaps the added emotions that come with freedom and patriotism make for a little extra something to draw from. It seems like after 7 days of consistent running I always end with a strong run. I typically find that the next 7 days, particularly day 10, can be quite painful and sluggish. I will see if my past experience with week 2 this time pans out.

I ran particularly late last night and as I was cruising through the impending darkness on Mercer everything was clicking, and for a moment the only sound that could be heard was my feet on the trail and I just clipped along and "Enjoyed the Silence". One of the many great things about trail running are being able to find yourself in these types of situations where you are completely engrossed in the moment. I find it only appropriate to include some classic Depeche Mode to represent my run that played out in almost eerie silence. This is some classic Exciter Tour footage from the DVD "One Night in Paris". I also included an image of my own re-interpreted album cover art from Violator, I call it "TrailMode".

Reinterpreted Album Art - combining Depeche Mode and trailrunning (geeky I know).

Original Album Art

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Running towards consistency and a Whisper to a Scream

I am finally getting consistent. It has taken me a while to get into a grove and start building momentum. I have nothing to blame but myself. Perhaps following the Western States 100 last weekend finally got me out of my slump and lit a fire. I have been very consistent since Sunday and I have started logging some "Twice-a-day'rs" which is a first for my entire history of running. I really like running twice a day it is interesting to run on legs in the afternoon that you thrashed 8 hours earlier. I find my legs sluggish and non-responsive on my morning runs but they are usually pretty peppy for the afternoon runs. I don't know if that is normal or just for me. I do run much harder and longer in the mornings. The two-a-days let me run 10+ miles a day and not have any adverse effects like overuse injuries.

Last Sunday I had an extremely fast run nailing 56:44 on my 11 km run. It felt great to break an hour again and my legs were super strong on everything (hills, flats, rocks whatever). Yesterday my a.m. was brutal I never felt that my lungs, heart, and legs achieved sync. My heart rate was through the roof and 10 bpms faster than normal. My hydration was low and my lungs burned the whole time. I would tell my legs to move faster and step higher, but like naughty children, chose to ignore my pleas and rather they unresponsively tripped on every little obstacle and totally dragged. It was brutal but it was one of those runs that serve an important purpose and remind me that this is an endurance sport and there is a large dosage of enduring required to do well.

This morning found me running on a cold and rainy Canada Day (Happy Canada Day all my friends north of the 49th). I started out with the thought that I am going to focus on my uphills since the rain slows me down on the descents due to slippy rocks. So I hammered the uphills very hard. I felt OK and the first two summits were smooth but I ran out of gas on the third. It was an average run with a time of 1:00 hour even but my legs did have a little more spunk then the day previously. I then helped a neighbor move into a place down the street and I have decided that I am going to take the night off and Celebrate the great Country of Canada and then tomorrow I think I will run two very laid back runs to rest me up for Saturday's long run.

Today's song is a classic 80's and arguably a one hit wonder by Icicle Works. The song is called "Whisper to a Scream (Birds Fly)". I wandered upon it while spending time boosting my 80's collection a bit and forgot what a sweet song it is. I think the song is going to somewhat represent my training this year. My training barely would even be considered a whisper at the moment but it is going to build into a scream as I prep for a major 100 miler. I believe I will be running the Bear 100. I may also look at theStormy 50 or 100. I have a lot of work to do but I hope I will be screaming by the Fall! Enjoy this forgotten under-rated 80's classic!