September 14, 2014

The Rut - a Real Mountain Run




Whilst I'm certainly not unfamiliar with running in the mountains and have raced in many trail events, it is fair to say that if there was ever any doubt whether I'd raced a 'real' mountain run then that doubt is now 100% gone given I survived The Rut 50km course in Big Sky, Montana yesterday.  When I signed up for this race, which is the final of the World Skyrunning Ultra Championships, I knew it would be tough but the more I saw of the course in the few days prior to race day and the more I talked to folks I began to wonder what exactly I had got myself into.



Checking out Lone Peak in the snow 2 days pre-race

Terrain for mountain goats.  I am not a mountain goat.

A well earned view from Lone Peak

The start line was at over 2300m, which is about 2150m higher than where I live, and the course would only climb, climb, climb until it topped out at Lone Peak, the imposing summit which looms over the mountain resort of Big Sky at some 3400m.  Yikes!  I anticipated that the lack of oxygen could pose some challenges.  If that was not enough, in order to achieve the panoramic vistas from the summit of Lone Peak, I would have to scale not one, but two, scree/ boulder fields and mountain ridges, and given the start and finish line were in the same location, well I'd have to also descend some hair-raisingly steep slopes to reach the finish line.  How hair-raising?  Well, there were ropes on hand and a few yelps and whimpers may have escaped my mouth as, at times, I would descend haphazardly and ungainly down a trail-free mountainside, quite simply trying to do my best to remain upright and juddering from one  bright yellow course marker to another.


Local trail friends

But the course was not all scree slopes and mountain vistas which is what made the course so intriguing; many of the early and latter miles were cruisy wide double track trails or single track bike paths, buttery smooth and oh so runnable (especially if my red blood cell count had been a little higher).  These were easy miles where I managed to comfortably click off a 4min/ km on a smooth and sweet descent about 5kms from the finish line, and these miles lay in sharp contrast to the middle miles where I huffed and puffed and slipped and slided my way up a scree slope, knocking off a none too impressive, but very hard earned, 24min/ km!


Early miles on easy trails
The 'trail' up Lone Peak

All in all, just like Speedgoat 50km back in July, I felt that I held my own and I am more than happy with my fourth place finish.  I knew that it would be a likely unachievable goal to keep apace with the mountain gazelles of Emelie Forsberg, Kasie Enman and Anna Frost so I was just happy to share much of my time on the course with Hillary Allen and Becca Much, as we would switch back and forth between 4th and 6th for much of the course.  With a strong finish I managed to sneak into 4th place for a final time about 9kms before the finish line and then kept my legs spinning faster to maintain this position and earn my sub-7hr finish (6:57:33).

Full race results are available here
And a super photo album, which captures the pure beauty of the course, is available here.

A big shout out to the two Montana Mikes (Mike Foote and Mike Wolfe) who pulled off a true Euro-style mountain race and a great party!


Petzl-ing it up pre-race start.  Photo: Bryon/ iRunFar

3400m and looking forward to a screeching descent.  Photo: iRunFar



August 18, 2014

Squamish 50k

What a fun weekend of trail running activities Gary and Geoff have created up in Squamish, BC!  Friday evening a Film Fest, Saturday a 50 miler, Sunday a 50km and a 23km AND another set of films at the Trails in Motion Film Fest.  All in all, a fun and busy weekend of socialising with trail buddies and enjoying the soft and springy, but also unrelentingly hilly and technical, trails of The Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada.

The weekend started off with helping the awesome Meghan and Bryon of iRunFar with the 50 mile race day live coverage.  This involved an early start, finding myself in a tutu by 6am (thanks Solana!), waiting patiently in random spots trail side and attempting to master fast tweeting with not so good cell coverage.  Fun times and great to see so many out of towners taking up the challenge of our technical backyard (Mike Wardian, Gary Gellin, Cassie Scallon, Paul Terranova, to name a few).  Of course any day on the Squamish trails ends at the Howe Sound Brew Pub, although rather unusually for me this was a pre, rather than post, race burger and fries so I skipped sampling one of their many on-tap beers.

iRunFar trailside race coverage

With Meghan & Solana/ iRunFar reporting.  Credit: Solana Klassen

By Saturday evening I had joined good buddies Susan and David, so we got back to our accommodations at Quest for an early night.  My head hit the pillow and I was out like a light until my alarm was blaring at 4.10am and it took me a few minutes to remember whether the race was today or if I had already run it the day before!

Squamish 50km was going to be a low key, hard training run for me rather than a key race, but of course the day prior talk had started of where I would be in the overall field and whether I would hold off all the 50/ 50 men (those running both the 50 miler and the 50km), given this is included the awesome Mike Wardian - this was no easy challenge people were trying to set me up for.

Credit: iRunFar/ Meghan Hicks

A few race highlights included:

- The pace seemed to go out super slow.  I was in the top 4 right out of the gate, and stayed round about there for most of the race.

- I move like a slug on the uphills so truly appreciated Mike Wardian, Dave Cressman and Brian (?) catching up with me.  This forced me to pick up the effort a little and with a run/ hike combination I held my own with the boys until the top of the first big climb (around 14km), I then decided to go playing on the downhills and got a nice little lead.

- On passing through Quest it was great to see David and Chloe out supporting, as well as a lively crowd of other cheerers, a little boost before I headed up the next main climb with Brian (?), he ran the whole thing, once again with a run/ hike shuffle I kept up.

With Chloe at the race start.  Credit: Chloe Gendron.

- Super to see my friend Des Mott at the 32km aid station.  Squamish is a re-birth of Stormy, my first ever 50 mile race, and I had been the lamenting the absence of faces from years gone by.  I remember meeting Des at my first ever ultra back in about 2004 so it was great to have him out on the trail and helping keep us runners hydrated on what was increasingly becoming a hot and humid day.

Credit: iRunFar/ Meghan Hicks

- I was now picking up the pace a little as I moved in the latter stages of the race, so super to have Chloe assist with filing my pack at the 40km station as I headed off for the final 10km which had 2 little climbs in it.

- At top of Mntn of Phlegm, some 4.5km to the finish, Solana and Jay told me I was some 2 mins behind 2nd place guy Eric.  Little did I know this was super strong skier Eric Carter, otherwise I'd have known better than to lay chase.  I caught Eric on the 2km flat tarmac section to the finish and  I held onto his coat tails until he out kicked me by 2.4 seconds at the end.

Less than 1km to go, duking it out with Eric Carter.  Credit: Meredith Terranova

All in all a super event, and one I can highly recommend if you like a little technical single track in the sunshine.

With 3rd place woman, Ann Signorella, and RDs Geoff and Gary.  Credit: Mike Wardian.

Full results of the 50km are here.

Hand crafted finishers trophy!

A huge thank you to ALL the volunteers who put in many hours of hard work to make this event a hugely fun and successful event, and a thank you to all my various friends who gave me rides over the weekend (Kim, Meghan, David and Jeff) so I can maintain my no-car existence :)


July 20, 2014

Speedgoat, Slowgoat, Stellargoat

'Welcome to Karl's party' was the call over the loud speakers as racers started to assemble at the start line of Speedgoat 50km at 6.30am yesterday.  And that for sure set the tone of the day; this was a race where there was so much energy and excitement, so much positivity and help from the aid station volunteers that it might threaten to overwhelm the breathtaking natural beauty of the race course if the course but not so amazingly stunning itself.  I've been lucky enough to run in many places but this course in the Wasatch mountains of Snowbird is definitely high up on the list of just plain pretty courses; whether it was the rocky and still slightly snowy scree slopes, or the meadows of wild flowers, or the fun technical scrambles, there was always something making a very good effort to distract you from the fact that you were ploughing your way up some long and steady climb to the course high point of over 3300m.

Seven weeks ago I ran Comrades 89km in 6h18, and I knew that coming into Speedgoat that it would take an amazing effort to run this course, some 39km shorter, in the same amount of time.  At the end of the day I posted 6h53 for what turned out to be a little over 52kms and I'm very happy with my 3rd place finish.  Speedgoat was always going to be a test of (1) how I would perform at altitude and (2) how I would perform on a true mountain course.  I don't like to be pigeon holed into doing only one type of running as that would mean missing out on many amazing races, but I know that my strengths are in more runnable courses.  I had to have a chuckle when I looked at the profile of the Speedgoat course and figured that there was about 2.5kms on flattish runnable terrain on the entire course!

Overall, the race panned out pretty much as I expected - after the first 9 miles and approx 800m of climbing I was in 8th place.  As I had feared, I was struggling with the altitude and my general weakness on uphills on the runnable climbs, plus it always takes me a while to warm up.  But as soon as we hit the descents I picked off a couple of places, despite being careful to not hammer hard, as I knew there was still an equally big climb, in addition to many smaller climbs, to come that I would need solid quads for.  The later climbs I found myself keeping apace with the runners around me, despite hiking practically all of them, and found the steeper climbs, although very tough, was were my decent ability to powerhike paid off.  And then once we were over Hidden Peak (approx km43) for the final time it was time to hammer hard down the final big descent (which also had a new mini climb in it!) to enjoy the finish and ensure I wasn't caught by Hilary who was just 2 minutes back of me at the top.

All in all, it was great to mix it up and do a race that was different from a lot of the runnable stuff I tend to do.  I now know what I can work on to improve on, and I also know that although the altitude likely slowed me down, I still managed to run well enough that I would race again up high - which is a good thing as I'm excited to be heading to Montana for The Rut 50km, another Skyrunning World Series race, in September!


Click here for my post-race interview with iRunFar.com

Thank you as always to my sponsors: Montrail, Mountain Hardwear, Clif, Nuun, Udos Oil the Machine, Drymax socks, Sundog Eyewear, CEP Compression Canada.


Gear I used on race day included:

Montrail Bajada shoes
Drymax Max Trail Pro socks (during race)
CEP Compression socks (post race)
8 x Clif gels, 1 x pack of Clif Shot Bloks, Clif hydration drink.
Mountain Hardwear Mighty Power Cooler Sports Bra, Wicked Lite Tank and Cool Runner Shorts
Sundog Dialed mela-lens sunglasses
Nuun (post-race hydration)





Approaching Hidden Peak after 1st climb.  Photo: iRunFar


Glad to have almost made it to top of first climb! Photo: Paul Nelson Photography


Hello Meghan! Photo: iRunFar


Heading down to Mineral Basin.


Congratulation Anna who won for 2nd time! Photo: Paul Nelson Photography


Speedgoat top 3 ladies: myself (3), Anna Frost (1), Kasie Enman (2).  Photo: iRunFar


With the Speedgoat himself, pre race.  Thanks for an amazing race Karl!  Photo: iRunFar


Towards Ridge Trail


End of Ridge Trail










June 23, 2014

Coast Mountain Trail Series: Buckin' Hell 21.1km

As I frolicked down a technical descent, through old forests with soft pine needles and not so soft rocks and roots underfoot this past Saturday I had two thoughts:  (1) I'd forgotten how much I love technical trail running and (2) this is classic Gary Robbins :)  Gary, along with Geoff and Linda, host the Coast Mountain Trail Series, which are various mid distance to 50km races in North Vancouver and Squamish.  There is a reason why Gary is the course record holder at HURT - he likes technical and he knows where to find those type of trails in North Van!

In my training for Comrades I had done a decent amount of my training on trails but had stuck to the least technical trails I could find.  It was therefore a delight to be back on trails where it's less about speed and more about your ability to rock-hop, leap over roots, hurl yourself around tight corners and jump down rocks and other gnarly mountain biking features.  Ok, there was also a fair amount of plain slogging up hill, given Gary had packed some 1300m of climbing (and same of descent) into this half marathon distance course, but that was good to given I've got Speedgoat 50km in just four weeks time.

All in all it was a fantastic day on the trails; the sun shone, we got to hang out at magical Deep Cove at the end, and I got to watch my friend Kim nimbly tip toe up hill ahead of me (well at least until she got so far ahead that I lost sight of her - congrats on the win Kim).

A definite 'to-do' race and a North Shore classic.  I'll be back next year for sure.

Photo: Solana Klassen
Photo: Solana Klassen
Chilling at the Deep Cove finish line.  Photo: Nic Browne
Me (2nd), Kim (1st) and Chloe (3rd).  Fun times!

Sharman Ultra - New Ventures

For the 0.01% of you who read my blog meticulously, you may have noticed a 'coaching' tab appear on the top bar a few days ago.  That was indeed not an error and I am delighted to announce that I will now be offering my coaching services as I work along side Ian Sharman for Sharman Ultra.

Please check out Sharman Ultra here and Ian's announcement of me joining the team here.

I'm very excited to spread my knowledge and experience, and help fellow ultra runners achieve their running and racing goals!

Ian and I at American River 50 mile finish line, April 2011.

June 9, 2014

Thank yous, Photos and Race Memories

Comrades.  Wow, that was one tough race and a big battle but a battle I'm so happy to have fought.  It was an ugly win, but one I am so happy to have achieved :)

You may have already read my race report over on iRunFar which goes into how the race played out but I wanted to post some thank yous, some photos and some random race memories here:

The Thank Yous
  • Nedbank for including me at part of the Green Dream Team.  It was my 4th time racing for them and a great experience as always.  Personal thanks to Nick, Adriaan, Patrick and all the race day 'seconds' (crew).
  • My wonderful sponsors who support my running all year long, through the tough training and the racing highlights: Montrail, Mountain Hardwear, Clif, Flora, Drymax, CEP Compression Canada, Nuun Hydration and Petzl.
  • The Medical Crew: Chris Napier at Restore Physiotherpy, Dr. Jim Bovard, and Bobby Crudo RMT.
  • Ian Sharman for his coaching tips over the last few months, I'm pretty stubborn but I'm very glad I listened and trusted Ian!
  • My 'people' - my mum, dad, sister, brother-in-law and niece.  For their cheering, support and for a relaxing catch up post-race.
  • My friends, including Mikey P, Ran, Jackie, Susan, Ryne & Kristin.  I might not have seen you all much in the last few months but you were always there when I needed you!

The Random Race Memories

Ok, race reports are nice but there is not always room for the anecdotes that make up the day, so here are a few random memories :)
  • Pre-race I wondered where Kerry Koen, a South African runner was at this years Comrades as I'd enjoyed meeting her in previous years.  She then appeared at the sidelines mid-race just when I needed a friendly face and some moral support!
  • Nothing beats watching the sunrise over African farmland an hour or so into Comrades. 
  • As I stood right at the front of the runners on the startline, pinching myself to believe I'd actually made it, relatively, uninjured to that spot.
  • When I didn't need all the Clif electrolyte drink in my bottles I poured it over my head, I just hoped I wouldn't become a sugar trap for insects!
  • Seeing Frank Stebner of Vancouver for a hug at the startline and then he was one of the first people I saw at the finish line.  A little bit of home, half a world away.
  • When the wheels felt like they were falling off oh so early in the race, wondering if I'd be tough enough to death march 50kms.
  • Amy Sproston showing up pre-race with green nails to match the Nedbank kit, we all then copycatted her; ultrarunning is all about looking good afterall!
  • My physio appointment with Chris the day I flew out to South Africa, I think the advice for the mental approach was just as important as the actual physio treatment.
  • At 30kms 'to go' thinking that it was way too early to be counting the km markers one by one.  At 21km, trying to convince myself that I had 'just' a half marathon to go.
  • Patrick of Nedbank telling me that I was too far back of 1st and 2nd to catch them, but that 4th was too far back to catch me.  Well, I always say a race is not done until the finish line ...
  • Going through Pinetown at about 12km to, two female marshals cheered me with an insane amount of enthusiasm and it definitely powered me up that hill. 
  • Seeing the timing car and the Nurgalieva twins ahead of me for the first time at less than 5km 'to go'.  Even then I wasn't really thinking about winning, I was just thinking about running as fast as I could.
  • Ian Sharman passing me when I was a walking mess with about 20km to go, and then passing Ian back with about 800m to go - I knew he wouldn't be expecting that :)   It was great to have such a friend among a field of 16, 000 runners be next over the finish line behind me (note, Ian was 'jogging' a sub 6h30 time for a training race).
  • Seeing two Union Jacks along the course and a huge Maple Leaf at the sidelines in the finishing stadium.
  • Spending time in the VIP area at the finish and meeting so many Comrades legends.  I was in awe, especially when I then spoke to Bruce Fordyce on Nick's phone.  Bruce told me in 2013 that I could win Comrades, I decided he knew what he was talking about and I decided to believe him :)
  • Hearing Amy Sproston's story of how her injury flared up at 23km to go so she walked the remaining distance to the finish line and had two beers en route.  I am sure Amy is disappointed but she showed true Comrades class and earned her finishers medal.
  • Having to walk down stairs backwards to get to the press conference.  It' been a long time since I've been in that much pain, and it never felt so good!
  • At the press conference reminding Norrie Williamson (Scottish/ South African Coach/ Comrades expert) that he had asked me when I first met him in 2011 how I was going to win Comrades with such a slow marathon PB ;)

The Photos
Start line in Pietermaritzburg
 
Finish line :)


With Nick Bester, Caroline Wostmann and Bongmussa Mthembu (mens winner)


With Camille, Frida, Sophia and Amy


With Bruce Fordyce, 9 times winner

With Nick Bester, former winner and Nedbank team manager

With Jonas Buud, consistent gold medalist and top master (7th overall)

May 5, 2014

BMO Vancouver Marathon

BMO Vancouver marathon is an event of mixed experiences for me; 2008 - my first sub-3 (yay!), 2009 - my first DNF (boo!), 2012 - 2:42 for the win and a PB (yay!), 2013 - another DNF (boo!), and then this year - just a nice solid jaunt around the course with lots of friends and team mates both running and cheering.  With Comrades 89km just 28 days away the aim of yesterdays race was not to race too hard, but to get a solid effort in all the same.  I still need to get some solid training in this week for Comrades so if I raced too hard then the recovery time for the marathon would eat into the training time for my A race - not a good idea.    I am more than happy with my 2nd place, 2:43:04 finish time yesterday, mostly for the fact that I felt great at the finish and feel great today so I know that I can still train well this week.

A training race like yesterday also has added benefits of working out a few race day details for Comrades.  I am now set on the shoe and sock combination that I'll sport on June 1st in South Africa, I got good practice at grabbing bottles from a the table and remembering to look out for elite stations on a race course, and I had the added benefit of running the first approx 23km with Wayinshet Abebe Hailu (Ethiopia) which was great as we took turns sharing the pace, something which might also come in useful at Comrades.  All in all I got exactly what I hoped for out of the day, and had great fun doing so with so many Vancouver Falcons team mates to chat with at the finish line and share our accomplishments together.  A huge shout out to Kim Doerksen who nailed her marathon in 2:36:59 for the win, to Bryan Andrews who ran a great race and surely helped Kim to that time both on race day and in training, and to all VFACers who competed in the marathon, half and 8km.  In the full marathon all 7 VFACers who raced all came in sub-3 - nice work!

Hope everyone else had a fun day, despite the rather rainy conditions!


With some of the elites at Media Lunch.  Photo - Dan Cumming


With fellow trail/ ultra runners Kim Magnus & Sam Lofti-Pour.  Photo - Kerry Ward


With Bryan, Kim & Courtney - part of team VFAC pre-race.  Photo: Dave Palermo


With Wayinshet at the half way mark on Spanish Banks.  Photo - Ryan Allderman


Pacing along Spanish Banks.  Photo - Ryan Allderman



Posing for the camera with 1.5km to go.  Photo - Ryan Allderman


Finish line - photo Rita Ivanauskas


With cheerer April and training buddy Kristin (who raced the half).  Photo - Kevin O'Connor

 
VFAC Coach John Hill with his 1st & 2nd place ladies!  Photo - Kevin O'Connor


With super star Ferg Hawke (he's come 2nd at Badwater 135 miler, among a whole host of other achievements).  Photo - Jim Hinze



Top 3 ladies at BMO Vancouver Marathon.  Photo - Jim Hinze