Seaton Soaker 50K – 2015

Seaton2On Saturday I ran the Seaton Soaker 50K, which takes place along the Seaton Trail in Pickering. I hadn’t planned on racing this event, but given how close it was to home, I decided to use it as a long, supported training run in preparation for the Sulphur Springs 50 Miler in two weeks.

Organized by race director Colin Arnott, the race follows an out-and-back 25K route that includes some nice hills, blooming trilliums and a refreshing water crossing. Although it was quite hot, much of the race had tree cover, so the key was keeping cool in the more exposed sections.

Although I felt tired for the first half of the race, I ran the first 28K with Scott Myers, which helped keep me moving at a reasonable pace. (I will be pacing Scott at Wasatch 100M this Sept, so this was kind of a practice session.) Around the 28K mark, Scott stayed longer at an aid station so I decided to jog ahead and eat a CLIF SHOT until he caught back up. I didn’t see him for quite a while until I stopped to take a washroom break, but then he fell back again.

Shortly before the 36K mark, I saw current race leader Chris Giesler walking up a hill, so I pushed forward and passed him shortly after. At the 37.5K turnaround mark, I filled my water bottle and headed back, passing both Chris and Scott who were only a few metres behind me. At this point, I started to feel strong, so I kept to a fairly steady pace. As this was an out-and-back course, I also started to see lots of other runners going in the other direction, so it was great to hear words of encouragement as I passed them. While going down a hill, however, I caught my foot on a root and stumbled. Although I didn’t fall, my legs did seize up in cramps, just like happened at Pick Your Poison 50K two weeks ago. As I said to a runner going in the other direction who saw me trip, “That is how you lose a race.” I did my best to keep steady after that, but I had to monitor my calves and hamstrings from that point forward. Just before the final creek crossing about 3K from the finish, I had to walk due to cramps and was passed by Scott. I stopped in the creek and splashed cold water all over my legs and gave them a quick massage. This seemed to help and thankfully I was able to run the final 2.5K and finish 2nd.

During the race I did my best to stay hydrated, but I probably should have drunk more water. I did do a good job at keeping cool externally by pouring water on my head and body at the aid stations. I ate a CLIF SHOT every 30 mins, and took one or two CLIF SHOT BLOKS every 15 mins after the gels. My energy levels were great at the end, so I just need to figure out this annoying problem with the leg cramps.

My Salomon Sense Pros were great on the trails and they drained well after the water crossings. I also wore Salomon trail shorts, trail tee and visor.

Congrats to Scott for his win and Chris for a strong 3rd after struggling in the heat. Also congrats to women leaders Marylou Corino, Lori Salter and Kimbely Van Delst. It was also great to see April Boultbee finish 2nd in the 25K event after missing a year due to injury.

My next race is the Sulphur Springs 50 Miler on May 23.

Pick Your Poison 50K 2015

IMG_0608My race season has begun. On Saturday, I ran the Pick Your Poison 50K held at the Heights of Horseshoe Ski Resort near Orillia, Ont. My plan was to use this as a ‘B’ race and focus on fueling and pacing in preparation for the Sulphur Springs 50M in four weeks. However, two days before the race, I was struck by the dreaded man-cold, so I just went into the event hoping I could finish without passing out in a ditch and get in a solid training run.

The race follows a 12.5K route through Copeland Forest and incorporates lots of climbs due to the ski hills around the area. I ran the first loop steady and focused on running up all the hills and fuelling well. On the second loop, I ran with Rob Vanderwerf and enjoyed chatting with him. I usually end up running alone in races (and nearly always alone in training), so it was nice to have some company. Shortly after the third loop started, I stopped for a quick washroom break and said goodbye to Rob. I didn’t see him again until after the race (which he won—congrats!). Near the end of the third loop, I moved into third place which I would retain for the rest of the race.

As I climbed the big ski hill at the end of the third loop I was feeling great, so I decided that I would pick up the pace for the final loop. However, as I made my descent down the ski hill to the start/finish line, I slipped on a muddy section (there was still snow melting on the ski hills) and when tried to stop myself from wiping out, my leg muscles seized up. It was quite painful and I couldn’t get my calves to relax. I started shouting and yelling and had a pretty ridiculous freak out at the top of the hill. I figured my race was over at that point. After calming down and massaging my legs for a few minutes, I was able to walk a bit and then did an easy jog down the hill. My race was still on… but I wasn’t in any position to do any sort of “racing.”

For the final 12.5K loop, I focused on running as steadily as possible, while dealing with any cramping issues. Although it was frustrating, I managed to keep to a solid effort. As I hiked up the final ski hill, I couldn’t see anyone close to me, so I was able to just relax and enjoy the finish. When I reached the top of the hill, I looked down below and saw two little people at the bottom who I knew were my three- and six-year-old boys. I waved and they waved back, and I continued my descent (but walked the muddy section) to the bottom. Just before the finish line, I got hugs from Kieran and Brennan and we crossed the finish line together. That made for an extra special finish and certainly one that I will remember fondly. It was also nice to get hugs from my wife, Rochelle, and my parents. I usually go to my races alone, so it was great to have my family see me finish.IMG_0648

Big thanks to Adam Hill and Heather Dunlop, race directors, for organizing such a great event. Also, thanks to all their wonderful volunteers.

Congrats to Rob and Mike Tickner for their strong finishes. After dominating the 25K trail scene for years, Mike is now incorporating some longer races into his schedule and will keep us ultra-folk humbled by his super-fast speed. Also congrats to Angie Darbyson, Shannon Miller and Cathy Gallagher, who were the top women finishers.

Thanks to Salomon Canada for supporting me again this year. I’m proud to be an ambassador for such a great brand. They’ve provided me with some amazing shoes and gear for the coming year. For this race, I wore my Sense Pros (my favourite shoe), Sense Ultra Set vest, Fast Wing tee and Trail shorts.

I’m also pleased to be an ambassador for CLIF BAR this year. For this race, I ate a vanilla CLIF SHOT gel with water every 30 minutes and, starting at the 45-minute mark, also took one or two CLIF SHOT BLOKS (just individual chews, not packages) about 15-minutes after every gel. Pretty simple.

Next race: Seaton Soaker 50K on May 9. Rather than do a long training run by myself two weeks before Sulphur Springs, I figured I might as well have some company and use Seaton as a long, supported training run, especially since it’s so close to home. This was a spur-of-the-moment decision this morning, so hopefully I won’t regret it. The challenge will be to take it super easy and not get caught up in the excitement of racing. Is there such a thing as a ‘Z’ race?

2015 Race Schedule

With the rising temps and disappearing snow and ice, it’s time to think about running on some sweet trails. The plan for 2015 is to have fun racing and push myself to achieve my best.

Here’s my list of races (and a few fun runs) for the coming year. As long as I stay healthy, my plan is to focus on Sulphur Springs 50M and Oil Creek 100K as my two key races.

Apr 25 – Pick Your Poison 50K | 3rd
May 9 – Seaton Soaker 50K | 2nd
May 23 – Sulphur Springs Trail Run 50M | 3rd
Jun 20 – Niagara Ultra 42K | 2nd
Jun 28 – North Downs Run 30K | 38th (jet-lagged fun run)
Jul 18 – TNF Endurance Challenge Ontario 50M | 9th
Jul 25 – Dirty Girls 6-hr Trail Race | 1st
Aug 29 – Twisted Branch Trail Run 100K | 5th
Oct 10 – Oil Creek 100K | 2nd
Oct/Nov – Killarney Park’s La Cloche Silhouette Trail 80K ** not a race and/or
em>Oct/Nov – Frontenac Park Perimeter 50K ** not a race

Winter Consistency

1898563_1610114122558506_5196643739205315842_oI’m not a winter person. It’s not easy getting out the door for an evening run when the ground is covered with slippery snow and ice and the cold wind bites at my exposed skin. However, this winter I’ve tried to be as consistent as possible. On the few nights where I haven’t felt motivated to run, I’ve talked myself into going for 20 minutes, which inevitably became longer runs once I made it outside.

Although committed to running nearly every day, I’ve relaxed on the intensity during this period. With all the slipping and sliding out there, it can be stressful striving to hit faster pace targets, weave around people on narrow sidewalks because of snow banks or trying to stop quickly in front of person driving a car who doesn’t see you. The risk for injury is also much higher. As well, it’s tough (and sometimes dangerous) completing long runs on extremely cold days. While running longer than two or three hours in winter will build mental strength as well as endurance, you can certainly push things too far and burn out early in the season. It’s a fine balance.

With the pressure off, winter running can actually be quite enjoyable. It’s beautiful to see a fresh dusting of snow on the trees or to watch the wind blowing snow around in whirling patterns. And breaking trail in deep and untouched snow is a challenging and exhilarating experience as well. Switching to a power hike on a hilly and snowy trail may prove more beneficial than a planned long run.

It’s not all been easy runs, though. At least once a week I’ve included a hill repeat workout to build strength for future training. And when there’s been a reprieve of snow and ice, I’ve also thrown in a few faster workouts, but these have been spontaneous rather than planned.

My favourite piece of running gear this winter has been my Salomon Mont Baron hoodie jacket. While it’s not technically part of the Salomon trail running clothing line, I love the lightweight and comfortable fit and the Gore-Tex Windstopper fabric does an amazing job at blocking the harsh wind. It’s also quite water resistant and breathable, so it’s a great jacket for these Ontario winters.

On the weekend I headed off with the family to visit friends in Kingston. This meant I could jump into the Dion Red Barn Snowshoe Race for some fun on the Saturday. After the race, I headed off to Frontenac Park for some more snowshoeing. Due to the deep snow on much of the trails, the run often turned into a challenging hike. This was a tough two-hour workout that made for a nice three-hour training day.

Hopefully the extreme cold we’ve been experiencing will dissipate soon. Once the temps drop and the ground conditions improve I will start building up the mileage and intensity. After taking some time in the fall to relax and recover, I’m feeling quite healthy and motivated to put in some quality training in the spring.

Catching Up

john_catchingupGuess it’s time for a new blog post.

Pick Your Poison
After Laura Secord 100K in April, I decided to run Pick Your Poison 50K in early May. The plan was to use this as a steady training run for the Sulphur Springs 100 Miler later that month.

The good news is that I didn’t go into crazy race mode and managed to stick to a steady pace, finishing fourth overall. I lost some time playing with my laces on the third loop (my fingers were too cold to tighten my shoes) but I didn’t get too worked up about it. I did tweak my knee when my leg fell through some snow into a hole, but it didn’t really cause me trouble until after the race.

Big thanks to Adam Hill and Heather Dunlop for organizing a great event, especially given all the snow remaining on the course.

Sulphur Springs
After PYP, I lost a couple of weeks of heavy training due to a sore knee. At first I figured I would have to skip the race, but the knee improved enough that I decided to give it a go. I felt great for the first 50K, but then the knee started to flare up a bit, so I got concerned. About 63K in, I decided it wasn’t worth risking further injury, so I dropped from the race. This was unfortunate as I was sitting in third place overall and the top two runners would soon drop out as well after racing at a blistering pace early on. Oh well, better to err on the side of caution and stay healthy.

My plan for June was to run a marathon at the Niagara Ultra. I haven’t run a road race or marathon in over six years, so I was looking forward to trying something different. I also wanted to run a qualifying time for Boston as I’m tired of people asking me if I’ve run it. Unfortunately, I had unexpected neck surgery the week before the race to remove large cyst, so I had to skip the event. I also lost some training time while my neck healed. The good news is that the cyst wasn’t cancerous.

john_catchingup2TNFEC Ontario
After missing out on Niagara, I decided to run the TNFEC Ontario 50M in Collingwood. I don’t like running in the heat, so my plan was to just use this as a fun training run or “B” race. This was my first time running at Blue Mountain, so I was surprised by the big climbs available in Ontario. I thought the event was well organized and I enjoyed the great views offered at the top of the tall hills. It was also nice to chill out and run with some friends throughout the day. I think I finished eighth and first in my age category (the nice thing about getting older and slower is you have more chances for prizes).

Eastern States
When some spots came available for the sold-out Eastern States 100 Miler in Pennsylvania this August, I made a spontaneous decision to enter. I knew it would be tough, but the race crushed me. Toughest thing I’ve ever done. I blew my quads early in the race from braking so much on the long, steep and rocky descents because they seriously frightened the heck out of me. Then came the rattlesnakes and the bear followed by heavy rain and blisters and then a few hours stuck at an aid station shaking uncontrollably with hypothermia despite being covered with seven blankets. Somehow I managed to crawl to the finish. I never, ever want to experience that much pain and discomfort again. The race was well organized and the volunteers were amazing, but I was ill prepared for this event. I think I was only 26th, but considering I thought I was hospital-bound for a while, I’m just glad I’m alive and got my finisher’s belt buckle. There were only 72 finishers out of 199 registered runners, so a very challenging course for sure.

Laura Secord Memorial 100K

On Saturday, I raced the Laura Secord Memorial 100K, which follows the rugged Bruce Trail route in the Niagara Region. According to the race description, the course was supposed to be a mix of single track, double track and a bit of road. Instead, due to the heavy winter and recent rains, it was a mix of mud, ice and a bit of road.

Given that I haven’t completed a run farther than 39K or longer than 3 hours since the beginning of November, I knew I wasn’t heading into this event in race shape (or at least with any semblance of ultra endurance). Last year I trained hard all through the winter. By the time June arrived, I was burnt out and felt flat for my summer and fall races. This year I decided to take November and December off from any structured training and slowly get back into a routine in January and February. Although I’m not very fit right now, I feel relaxed and motivated and keen to keep building my speed and endurance over the next few months. Although I won’t be too sharp this spring, I should enjoy my summer and fall races more (and feel more energetic) than I did last year. I’ve come to realize that as a 40-year-old runner who works long hours and has two young children, I can’t keep pounding out 12-16 running weeks all year round. I need to take a few months where it’s OK to get out there for 6-10 hours a week and just run for the fun of it.

As the event was a joint venture with the Canadian military, we were treated to a cannon blast to start the race at 5 a.m. I settled into an easy pace with Kent Keeler as we ran together for the first 40K or so of the race. I’m not sure if it was my lack of fitness or the extra weight of the thick mud sticking to my shoes, but I started to experience cramping in both my quads. This is something that always seems to happen to me in my first race of the season. Knowing that I had 60K left to go, I started to take frequent walking breaks to let my quads settle down. I hadn’t planned to be competitive in this race anyway, so I knew I needed to focus on getting to the finish. Kent went on ahead (and managed to win) and I just settled into a consistent but manageable pace.

With the heavy mud and icy terrain, some of the descents were quite sketchy. Although I wasn’t pushing the pace, I managed to have a few nasty falls (and have the scratches to prove it). I took extra care as I just wanted to finish the race injury free. And after diving face first into a muddy bog, I stopped worrying about moving too quickly in the really muddy sections. I was tasting dirt for hours after that.

At any rate, I managed to finish third overall, so that’s a decent result given my recent training. If the race conditions had been better and I was in race mode, I would have been concerned about the following:

  1. Aid stations. I took a long time transitioning through. I didn’t have a crew, so I needed to take care of myself. With the military operating the aid stations, they didn’t have much experience catering to runners. As a lead runner, I had to wait while they looked for a jug of water to fill my pack or while they opened a bottle of ginger ale or coke or even to shout at them to come out of the tent and record my number. I’m sure it got easy for the runners behind me and I noticed a difference on my way back. That time adds up.
  2. Course markings. Much of the route used the white Bruce Trail markings on trees instead of flagging. I should have run some of the course in advance as I spent a lot of time standing around trying to figure out where to go next.
  3. Endurance. It was no surprise to me that I wasn’t in ultra shape. This is easily remedied, so nothing serious to worry about here.

Despite the course conditions, the race route was beautiful. Big thanks to Diane Cheslea for organizing the event. We were treated to a number of stunning waterfalls and some majestic soaring eagles on one escarpment. I had to stop a few times just to admire the scenery. I hope to get back on the Bruce and explore some of the trails when the ground dries up a bit more.

Throughout the race, I carried water in my Salomon Advanced Skin Lab Hydro 5L pack and ate a vanilla Clif Shot every 30 mins. I also took an S-Cap ever hour after the two-hour mark.

Race Gear
Salomon S-LAB Exo Zip Tee
Salomon Fast Wing Vest
Salomon Fast Wing Jacket
Salomon Trail Short
Salomon EXO Calf Sleeves
Salomon SpeedCross 3
Salomon S-LAB gloves and Buff
Julbo Trail sunglasses
Suunto Ambit2 watch

The February Challenge

For the past seven years, my friend Ken Niemimaa has challenged himself to run every day in February. Well, he’d probably say, “every damn day.”

As February can be bitterly cold in Canada, it’s often tough to get out the door and run when the temperature drops below the freezing point. By committing to run every day (with an established daily minimum time or distance), it’s easier to keep consistent with training.

In an effort to encourage his running friends, Ken created a Facebook group for those interested in joining in his February Challenge (see

I joined in the challenge this year (I’ve got four days left), and I’ve found it extremely helpful for my winter training. And since February is a short month (only 28 days), it’s been an easy one to keep a running streak going.

There have been a number of days when I didn’t want to brave the cold and run outside. Because of the challenge, I was able to motivate myself into going out for a short 20-minute run (my set minimum) every time. The great thing is that except for one day, I always ended up running much longer than my set minimum (and the one 20-minute day was an evening run after flying back to Toronto from London, England).

If you’ve found this a hard winter to keep running, I’d encourage you try Ken’s February Challenge next year. By signing on, you will receive inspiring quotes, pictures and updates from other runners that will keep you motivated in even the harshest weather conditions.

Thanks, Ken, for keeping us going!