Showing posts with label Ultramarathon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ultramarathon. Show all posts

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Mount Finlayson Victoria, BC Double Summit Trail Run (video and trail photos)

Mt. Finlayson from the Little Niagara Train Trestle!
Mt. Finlayson is a seemingly small hill in the Goldstream Park about 15 kilometers north of downtown Victoria. At 410 meters (1374 for my imperial friends) it doesn't seem to encapsulate the grandeur of runs in the Coast Range of Northern Vancouver, or even large mountains on Vancouver Island, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in personality. The short trail to the summit runs an average grade of 20% and often requires class 3 scrambling.

There is a more mellow, but still relentless approach on the north slope, that doesn't require scrambling and isn't as exposed but still requires a fair chunk of work to make the summit quickly. This was my first plan of attack. Being one of the first warm Saturdays of the year I knew that Victoria's most popular mountain would be a zoo. By parking off the lesser known trail head, and climbing Finlayson via the backdoor first, I knew I would be able to focus on my first solid summit without navigating around a bunch of people.

My plan worked perfectly and I only passed one or two lonely souls on the back side.

My legs felt fairly strong as I began to coax them into a solid pace for the first flattish kilometer. I knew that there was nearly 400 meters (1000 feet) of non-stop 20% grade ahead of me so I held back and just tried to  conserve energy. Before I knew it I was ascending the mountain, climbing steps, and dancing between rocks. I applied constant pressure to my legs. Not so much that they blew up, but when they began to complain under the constant accumulation of lactic acid, I didn't give in. I kept pushing them up the trail as it wound it's way up the mountain side.

About half way up I took my first walking break (other than a few short rests to set up my camera). The walk was great and gave the lactic acid a chance to be whisked away by my blood. No sooner did my muscles begin to recover then I would start right up into a trot again only to find the acid come swelling back into my muscles quicker than ever. This is what hill running is all about. How well can you ignore the screaming voice of your muscles? Your muscles are doing everything in their power to get you to give in and to stop. It is these steep brutal hill runs that allow your mental toughness an opportunity to be developed and pushed. Without hills I wouldn't be half the runner I am on the trails or the road.

The summit was quickly won in about 24 minutes and I felt great. I knew that I possibly could have shaved another couple of minutes off but I still had an extremely technical descent and ascent via the ledge-choked south slope.

Mount Finlayson out and back route plus mile markers.
I started down the steep technical face and sat back in the saddle and let my quads begin the main task to absorb my forward and downward momentum. I was glad I had been running downhill hard for several months now and I could count on my quads to take the brunt of the force as I clomped down the face. I would crab crawl, slide, and leap down a large ledge and then I could run a short distance of smooth sloping rock before finding the next ledge waiting to throw me off the mountain. I began to pass group after group of hikers; mainly young university students in their Nike Free Run's. In fact I saw more Nike Free Runs on that mountain than I have in all the running stores I have ever frequented combined. I don't know how Nike does it but they somehow find a way to convince the majority of young active people to purchase their shoes.

I really wanted to set up some great shots of the many challenging ledges and rocks that must be carefully dealt with to prevent injury, but the crowds were everywhere so I only captured a few shots of the ledges so my video looks quite a bit tamer than it is in reality. I worked at keeping as much of my feet in contact with the rocks as possible to maximize my coefficient of friction and keep me securely glued to the hill. Halfway down my pace began to slow as my quads became fatigued. I just relaxed and eased back to let my legs have a chance to recover. Before I knew it the technical portion was finished and I was sailing to the main parking lot.

I quickly turned on my heels and retraced my steps up the trail. The ascent was much safer as far as the risk of falling but at that point in the run my legs weren't really excited about running 20% grades again. My muscles' voice was loud enough to drown out my will power so I began to power hike instead of run. Even power hiking I could tell I was maxed out. My heart rate was through the roof and I could occasionally see swirls come and go as anyone with low blood pressure can relate to. I made a game to see how many hikers I could overtake (about 30). This kept me red lined at my max and ensured that I didn't settle for anything less than 100%. I scrambled my way up the ledges as the warm March sun beat down on me, and reflected off the worn rocks, giving me a second dose of radiation. I wasn't complaining though. The sun recharged batteries that had worn down to dangerously low levels after the long sunless winter!

I summited again taking some footage of a quick victory pose and then I bailed back down the north and somewhat abandoned trail I had first climbed. The descent was slow because my quads were knackered. They felt like they had just gone through a meat grinder. How I love the feeling of thoroughly thrashed quads! I took it easy and soaked up a bit more afternoon sun as it penetrated through the firs and drenched me under large patches of gold between fields of cool blues and green.

What a great run! I went home feeling fatigued muscles and the warm glow that follows a difficult workout in a beautiful location!

Gold Stream Park trail maps

Mount Finlayson drenched in afternoon sunlight!
Here is the video from the run! I hope it illustrates even a little bit of what it is like to run on this awesome mountain!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

0-100 miles: Training for a Trail Ultra Day 1

I am constantly kicking around ideas to stay motivated and run consistently. Recently my friend Tim was up from Utah visiting me on Vancouver Island. We were discussing motivation techniques to aid in consistency, and I thought an idea to help me get back on track with my running goals would be to create a video blog (vlog) of what it takes for a slightly below average trail runner, that is currently out of shape and running inconsistently, to train up for a longer distance 50 or 100 mile Ultra.

I will record a few thoughts during one or several runs each week about what I am going through as I try to whittle my pathetic body into a beginning ultra-runner. The blog and idea are more for me than anybody else but I thought I would share so perhaps someone in a similar boat might see my experiment with long distance and hopefully learn from my mistakes.

The end result should allow me to run more consistently for the next 6 months to a year and hopefully will lead to a Ultra event of some sort.

Today's run was a 6-7ish mile run up and down and around Mount Douglas in Victoria. This is my usual venue for training. Tomorrow I will do a flat 5 miles.

Below is my first Vlog. I have to mention my voice can be quite monotone and boring. I often have to teach labs for my schooling and after each course the students evaluate you and you can read what they said about you later. I have to say I have been lucky to get great reviews but one student gave me a critique that follows "you are extremely passionate about geology, BUT... your monotone voice which lacks any sort of inflection makes it sound like you are quite bored, and as a result makes me think you are not as excited about it as you should be." I laughed and had to agree. I definitely have a weird monotone voice, so if this vlog puts you to sleep I apologize. Additionally I say um, uh, and so WAY too much. I am not a great orator but the idea is just to show others my life as I train for ultra distances through my eyes. It is a little uncomfortable putting myself out there like this but I will roll the dice and see what comes of it.

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.