Saturday, April 23, 2011

Gowland Tod Park 4 hour run through the emerald hills

I awoke this morning and loaded my running pack with 2.5 liters of water, my camera, and a peanut butter and honey (PB&H) sandwich. It was going to be my first 4 hour run I have done for many months. Since I am running strong and consistent, I felt I was ready to start doing what I love most- long runs with loads of relief.

I picked the Gowland Tod Range to run for several reasons. First it starts at about sea level and climbs as high as about 1350 feet at Jocelyn Hill and then dives down again and back up to 1000 feet at Holmes Peak after which you turn around and climb them both again in reverse. In total it has some good elevation and relief. The second reason I love this route is the views are breath taking. The entire trail parallels the Finlayson Arm of the Saanich Inlet and you can see the ocean, surrounding mountains, and forest. I believe every trail runner should have an opportunity to run this course at least once in there lives.

The weather was superb without a cloud in the sky and temps were hovering around 60. After arriving at the trail head I started my run and within about 10 minutes found myself cranking up the first hill, which climbs unrelentingly for several miles. The trail is rocky and winds it's way from near the ocean south towards Squally Reach. My legs were a bit tired from this week's runs but once I started motoring up the trail I began to relax and find my pace. Though not the fastest pace, it was maintainable and comfortable, and I knew it would last for 4 hours so I stuck with it.

Squally Reach in the Gowland Tod Range. Floating over the grassy hummocks!

I arrived at the squally reach lookout and drank in the most amazing view. I could see the ocean and Salt Spring Island, even Mt. Baker was dimly visible looming over the eastern skyline. I ran across the grassy hummocks and could swear I was floating.

After playful running on the reach I began to turn my attention to summiting Jocelyn. Jocelyn is a large grass covered blister rising nearly 1400 feet above the ocean. The trail from Squally Reach to Jocelyn undulates and ascends and descends over uneven terrain. Though most of it hovers around the same elevation there is plenty of ups and downs to keep you earning your forward progress. You feel you are nearly to the summit but then the trail turns north and you almost back track a Km before curving around to the south again. After turning to the south you begin to overlook the ocean once again and the views are breathtaking.

Approaching Jocelyn Peak with the Saanich Inlet behind me.

Leaving the Summit of Jocelyn.

The summit was a perfect place to stretch out on a rock and enjoy my PB&H. The sun cut through my sweaty shirt, warming my body all the way through. I closed my eyes and just let my mind wander. My thoughts turned to my summer plans and I decided that I really want to hike Lone Peak with my wife. Lone Peak is an 11,000 + footer rising directly over the Salt Lake valley with nearly 6,200 feet of prominence, it is not for the average weekend warrior.

When we were first married we would hike almost year round often in remote and unknown places. I recall many long drives in my jeep as we listened to music and discussed everything from our favorite movies to our future plans. These trips made our relationship grow so much stronger and created a depth that wouldn't have existed without these precious adventures. Now after the children have arrived I realize that I really miss hiking with my wife and I decided I will take advantage of having family around this Summer to watch our kids while we go and have another adventure. I hope Vye will be game. I snap out of my daydream and decide I better get busy and continue on to Holmes Peak.

Holmes Peak is the small blister (barely visible) in the foreground on the ridge with the taller hill behind it being Mount Finlayson.

The trail to Holmes Peak is very straight forward but I still veered off the main ridge and descended about 500 feet to a main road and realized I just tacked on about 3 extra miles and 500 extra feet of elevation up and down. I don't care, there is no need to stick to a plan I am just running where ever I feel like it. I regain the ridge and decide rather than turn around I will continue on to Holmes Peak.

Trail towards Holmes Peak.

Trail to Holmes over some rusty (gossanous) soil.

I reach the small peak and push quickly to the top. I then decided to finish my sandwich and get heading back. The sun is much warmer now as the day has progressed but I don't mind, I missed the warmth during the sun's 6 month hiatus from the Island. I worked my way back towards the arbutus tree-strewn ridge that hooks back up with Jocelyn. I am now feeling the distance and time on my feet. My legs are toast as I continue to climb.

I forgot the feeling that comes after several hours of hard trail running. The legs ache and elevation is not won so readily. I persevere through and begin to push a bit just for fun. I summit Jocelyn again and take one last look at the view.

The undulating terrain between Jocelyn and Squally really takes it out of me. I begin to have to power hike a few of the steeper hills and I can tell my body is burned out. After a long struggle I reach the Squally and only need to run down hill from that point. The quads feel like they have just gone through a meat grinder but I like it in a way only a distance trail runner could understand. I can feel that I really pushed myself and that I was operating near my maximum for the day. I know that I put everything I had to give into the run and I know that I am back to running 4 hours again. Everything is right in the world, I got the treasure that comes after you have done everything you can. My hydration and fuel were on point and I never felt thirsty or hungry. It was a great day! As I drive home I analyze my run and feel satisfied with it. I can't wait to try it again!

The video below is of the same trail but I made it a different day. Enjoy!

Today's song comes from Finland by a small duo named "Villa Nah". They are a synth duo with many great songs. Today's song is called "Emerald Hills" and though it really wasn't in my head during the run it kind of summed up my run today as I was climbing an emerald hill. I like the song and think that it fits perfect for spring trail running on Vancouver Island.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Running Free

Several weeks have passed since my candidacy exam. The exam was one of the most stressful and pressurized situations I have ever been in. I had studied well and felt prepared but after nearly 6 weeks of 12-17 hours a day right up until I took the exam I realized that my brain was revolting and as the questions were asked my mind turned into a thick fog and a million fragmented pieces that I couldn't form together to make any sense. I was grasping and grasping but there was nothing there. It is the first time in my life that my mind froze like that. I was able to struggle through the exam and answer enough so that I somehow passed in the end, but I was really disappointed because my performance didn't represent what I really know. That being said, the exam came and went and I was able to get back to my experiments, research, and also running. For the first week or two following my exam my running was weak and inconsistent because of the 6 week running hiatus, foul weather, and because the stress from the exam took some time to completely dissolve away. This past week though, my running has improved drastically without the stress of the exam holding me back. I have felt like I have been running free for the first time in many months if not in over a year.

Monday was warmer than it has been all year and so I stripped down to a single shirt and shorts which felt amazing after 6 months of tights, toques, layers, gloves, and sleeves. I had been training for the past few weeks with a pack to prepare for my long Summer mountain run and so without the weight I felt extremely light and nimble. I ran really strong and summited Mount Doug 6 times for a total of about 3,000 feet of vertical both up and down. I just flew through the trails. I felt something that had been missing for some time...the twinge of a runners high...the warm glow that accompanies a runner when life is balanced and everything is in it's place!

Today I didn't have the option to drive to the trail head so I had to run the 3 mile evil black strip of asphalt, choked with walkers and automobile exhaust. The run started partly cloudy and about 55 degrees (perfect for running) and within 10 minutes my legs began to really start moving. It was one of those rare times where the legs crank like some sort of perpetual motion machine. The more I pushed them the faster they seemed to respond and it felt I was getting much more out of my legs than the energy I was investing. This carried me to the trail head and beyond the road extremely fast. I chose to do the more challenging and steep reverse route of the Mount Doug Gutbuster. As I was approaching the first summit the sun peered out of a dark veil of clouds and back lit a million succulent chartreuse leaves making them have the appearance of fluttering green butterflies. My spirits lifted as I rounded the corner to my first steep summit. The effects of the 3000 feet from Monday's run apparently hadn't fully left my system, and my legs began to fatigue. I pushed them right up to my lactic threshold trying to push beyond it so next run I can push it back even more. I tore down the mountain after summiting and felt the warmth from the patches of exposed sunlight between the new foliage-choked trees. After my descent I began a long and steady uphill grade to my next summit. I kept the legs spinning but they were tired. I didn't care I was free in the forest with my thoughts (free from stress and baggage that comes from feeling guilty if you aren't studying).

I began to think ahead 72 days when me and my best friend(s) line up at Smith and Morehouse Reservoir and begin our 24-ish mile run through Utah's Uinta Mountains to where we finally will summit Bald Mountain at 11,947 feet after 6,000 feet of vert. Is there still going to be too much snow in July? Will I be ready by then only being able to train at sea level and having no time to acclimatize? Questions began to spin around in my head. I began to think about Tim and I as we have spent many Summer's camping hiking and fishing in the shadows of the Uinta Mountains and now almost 20 years after our friendship began we will be running the same hallowed trails. I remember hiking there with Tim's dad and hearing him tell us how he used to run those trails and I couldn't fathom being able to do that and now I am months away.

The steep face of the last 100 feet of my second summit snapped me out of my thoughts and I began to grind up the steep face. On top I pound the last slug of water from my Ultimate Direction water bottle, I knew I could use all the fluids I could get with the sun now warming the temps. I glide down the slope and head for my final summit, the Bedrock Buster. The climb is steep and brutal and my legs are toast by this point. I pushed myself and ran on the exposed rib of diorite making up the trail. I catch my breath and am shocked to find dozens of people on the summit apparently deciding to crawl out of their holes to soak up some sun after driving to the top like hibernating critters. I decide not to linger in the crowds and plummet off the summit and down the mountain and instantly find myself alone again. My thoughts wander back to home and bounce from mountains in Utah and Colorado I want to summit, to the Himalayas. I wonder if I could ever accomplish my dream of summiting an 8,000 meter peak and what kind of money and kitchen pass I would have to come up with to attempt this. My legs are now spent as I reach the road. I painfully push myself the remaining few miles to my house. I feel I am ready for my first 4 hour run of the year. I will use the Easter weekend to run the Gowland Tod range and clock some time on my feet in that beautiful and under-utilized range just minutes away from Victoria. What a great feeling to be running free again!

Since my legs felt perpetual today I decided to post a song called "Perpetual" by Irish/British electronic group VNV Nation. VNV has components of Synthpop, Industrial, Trance and EMB sounds. The name stands for "Victory not Vengeance" in keeping with the band's motto that "One should strive to succeed, not sit in bitter regret." The song has a very perpetual motion sound to it and I like to use it as means of pushing myself during tough stretches or even to accompany me when running well like most of today. I saw these guys live in Salt Lake a few years ago and was really impressed with the positive energy and the great show they put on. Enjoy some Perpetual!