If I think back to the beginning of my last three years of trail running, they have all been markedly different. Three years ago, 2013, was the first year that I began to run every day consistently, and was the year that I began to run ultras on a regular basis. The winter and spring of 2014 was marked by my move to Vancouver from Calgary and the development of my technical trail running skills on the North Shore proving grounds. This year, I hit the gas in early January with the focus of getting some early season races in the bag. With the past two years of consistent daily training, I was able to easily adjust to the training load required to perform well in the early season/winter. The mixture of fast and short races brought about strong early season gains, and have complemented my springtime build towards my primary goal for the year, the Bighorn 100 miler in Wyoming.
Each year along with progressing in speed, volume and consistency in my training, I have raced a longer distance as well. In 2013 I raced up to the 50 mile distance, in 2014 a 120km race, and this year I am stepping up to the ultra test-piece, the 100 miler. When I first started running I thought that the ½ marathon distance was perfect for me. I could train while working full time, I wasn’t too beat up after races, it was the optimal distance. As I started trail running, I thought that maybe the 50 mile distance would be the max, 100 k or longer would ruin me. With the completion of the 93 mile (150 km) Wonderland Trail last fall, I am confident that I can complete the distance this June. It will just be a matter of how fast I can run the distance while avoiding the many pitfalls associated with a 100 miler.
So this winter I spoke with my coach, Joe Grant, and we came up with a plan that would allow me to toe the line of this race with of complete of a package as I can prepare between January and June. Namely, this would involve building up a strong base of training, peppering some races of increasing distance towards the race, all while modifying training to fit with the new variable in my life….school.
In January I embarked on what will be an intensive and rewarding path as I take my schooling to become a Registered Massage Therapist (RMT). British Columbia has some of the strictest requirements for schooling in the world, and as such I will be attending school 5 days a week, 40 hours per week without summer breaks for the next 20 months. So far, almost 6 months in, I can say that the school is both the most intensive and rewarding schooling that I have done in my life. The human body is an incredible machine, one that as a runner I am beginning to appreciate more and more, and learning of it’s intricacies has continued to impress this point upon me during this time. I look forward to applying my knowledge not only to athletes like myself, but also to the diverse set of problems which we learn to treat on our way to achieving this accreditation.
With the knowledge that I would be out the door for school at 7:30 each morning, and back around 4-5pm with additional study each evening, Joe and I have attempted to make a training plan work which will get me very strong and fit without requiring as much volume and time as was spent in the past when I was self-employed and could coordinate my work and running schedule. The plan was to keep my weekday runs shorter in the 1hr- 1: 30 hr range, but with 2-3 days of hard sessions ranging from fartleks, to intervals, to hill repeats, and to have one long run each weekend and another weekend run that was longer than the weekday runs, but at a slightly higher pace than my long run for the weekend.
To start off the season, I had two very different races. At the end of January, Jill and I were headed down to Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands across the border in Washington. This 25km race would have a significant amount of climbing and descent, and then two weeks later I would toe the line at a road ½ marathon where I would be looking to PR at the distance, an attempt to get an infusion of early season speed in my legs.
Down at Orcas Island, I entered the race confident that I would be able to race hard and for a podium spot as the field didn’t appear to deep, and my hard track training and road speedwork would leave these “slow trail runners” in the dust. I had been training hard on the road for my road 1/2, headed to the track or road for 3 focused session a week under the guidance of road running coach and guru Jerry Ziak. I felt as fast as I ever have in my life and felt ready to throw down on Orcas. Very early on, in the first two km, a group of four of us broke away and set a hot pace through 10km and I quickly began to realize that many trail runners are pretty fast at short distance too. The rude awakening happened during the following 900 meter climb over 10 km where I watched 3 runners disappear from me up the hill, and I cursed my lack of training on big hills....hmm not what I was expecting. Mid-way through the climb, there was a section which slightly levelled out, and I realized I needed to make a move or settle for 4th. I hammered this section, and climbed with focused aggression to the summit of Mt. Constitution passing one runner, and knowing that the final 5km descent back to the finish was steep and technical. My plan was to dust off my North Shore descending skills and get back in the game. I redlined the descent back to the finish, moving into 2nd and finishing 4 minutes off the lead for a solid first race of the season. Happy with my effort, I eagerly awaited what must surely be a big PR in the road ½ in two weeks time.
Alas, that’s not the way the cookie crumbled. I’m not really able to explain what happened during my road race, but it certainly wasn’t what I was expecting. Coming into the race I was feeling like the cards were in place for a great race: As mentioned, I had been completing strenuous speedwork two- three times a week at the North Shore Forerunners since October of last year, I was uninjured and healthy headed into the race, the course was flatter than the course I had PR’d on in November, and there was plenty of fast runners that I would be able to pace off of as opposed to running alone for the whole race in November. But come race day, I only managed to squeak out a 30 second PR, a huge disappointment as I watched my km splits increase and despite digging deep I couldn’t seem to increase my leg turnover! So apparently I wasn’t destined to be a fast road runner! I’m OK with that, but the silver lining was that I had built a good base of speed and volume into my legs so I was ready to get on the trails and get to work.
My next race on the docket was the Gorge Waterfalls 50k. I had raced here last year, and had really enjoyed the course, as it is a great mix of rolling hills, runnable terrain and one big kick ass climb at the end. Following the First ½ Half Marathon, I had 5 weeks to get in trail shape, so I moved to the trails while mixing in some road work after school when school raised its head and demanded my time. Looking back at my training schedule, I averaged about 100 k a week for this period with about 4 000m of climbing per week. That amount seems to be about the sweet spot for me leading into 50 k and 50 Mile races, so I felt that my training seemed to be in order. I spent at least one day per week climbing mountain high (an old service road which climbs up Mt Fromme at a consistent, insidious grade) with intervals or a tempo run, and then would get one interval or threshold run in during the week to maintain my turnover and speed. The weekends consisted typically of two longer runs, one harder with more climbing and another at a bit more of a recovery pace. I also raced the Dirty Duo 25k during this time, and managed to grab another 3rd place in this fun local race. Suffice it to say, I was ready for a good day in the Gorge.
I drove down a day early for the race to cheer on and crew my friends who were competing in the 100k edition of the race the day before. I avoided the 4 am start time, but did arrive at the 50km turnaround to help crew for Alexa back to the start with her boyfriend Matt. It was great to get out on course, and we had a fun time cheering on racers, meeting new folks and enjoying the finish-line atmosphere as the racers came in over the afternoon and evening.
The next morning Matt and I were up and off to the start line in a train of school buses which ferried runners from the finish down the Gorge to the start on this point to point route. After a quick pre-race briefing we were off, 300-ish racers headed out onto the lush Gorge singletrack. I pushed a bit at the start to get away from the large field, and a group of 6 made an early lead pack up and into the hills. The pace however felt hot, and so I backed it off slightly letting 4 guys take off through the trees as I focused on maintain a reasonable pace through the first 15 km section. The trail into the 1st aid is a really runnable downhill and I embraced this as fuel, flying through this section a few minutes up on my splits from last year. The next portion of the race went well, and I picked off a few runners who had steamed off too fast in the early stages. I crewed myself through the 30km mark with some help with my friend Dave who happened to be lounging around after his 100km finish the evening before. The next section of the race killed me last year, and it proceeded to do the same again this year. I put together a couple quick km’s on the road after the aid station, but was stilled passed by some speedsters and then was passed again in the next couple km’s of trail. I felt the life deflating out my legs and in a fun stroke of pain started to cramp through my calves. I did however pass one of the early front runners, and that gave me some encouragement to keep pushing my smarting legs. After leaving the final aid, runners climb up beside the incredible Multnomah Falls with a tough 1300-1400ft (~375m) climb before descending down the other side. This part often breaks many runners, and it was no different this year. I passed another of the early race leaders heading up the hill and another on the downhill, but managed to give up a spot to a wily vet who floated past me on one of the countless switchbacks parallel to the falls. The push down to finish included the usual demons telling me to slow down, and the inner desire to crush out what I had left in my legs. I finished just 30 seconds back of 5th place (the guy who had passed me on the switchback who by the way was easily in his 50’s…ouch ego) and had finished 22 minutes faster than the year before; almost 30 seconds/km faster than last year which was a huge improvement!
So the Gorge was done, with a good result and race. Now it was time to continue stepping up the distances and training towards the great unknown, the Bighorn 100 miler.