Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Seaton Trail Race Report - off the roads and onto the trails

On April 18th with spring finally here and the snow gone I headed out to Pickering Ontario to attempt to run my very first official trail race. At some point last summer while doing the usual Saturday morning trail run workouts with Longboat I got it into my mind that racing trails might be a lot of fun. I did a couple of 5k cross country races in the fall and was hooked. Over the winter I found a bunch of different races online and decided that this year I would do a few OUSER races. I decided to start with Seaton and after some internal debate signed up for the 26k version of the race. I was tempted to try the 52k version (didn’t even think about 78k) but figured that maybe I should get a feel for trail racing first. As it turned out this was a very wise decision after all.

What I discovered was that yes trail races are indeed really fun. They are also really really hard.

Pre Race
I got up super early grabbed my racing stuff and headed out to catch the GO Transit to Pickering. Kim was sweet enough to give up her Saturday morning and come with me to the race. I was really happy about this. I tried to talk her into running it but she told me there was no way she was going to do it so soon after a marathon. I also I think I remember something about not everyone is as crazy as you but I am not sure (I have been known to blot these kinds of things out). To be honest I was a little bit nervous about doing this race for a number of reasons.

Unlike most races I didn’t know anyone else that was running this one. I also had no point of reference at all. No idea how hard / easy the race might be or what to expect. It was definitely going to be a case of rookie on the course and I knew it. With Kim there at least if I blew up and had to limp home I would have someone to help me.

The other problems that were foremost in my mind were my training and my legs. I was still recovering from the Paris marathon and had not run much at all since getting back due to a really bad cold. I was sure I could cover the distance but how strongly was a totally different question. My winter training had been all geared towards the nice flat Paris marathon course with almost no hill training and no trail running. I knew my legs would take a beating because of this but hey it’s all in fun so what the hell.

The race was really easy to get to by transit and we were there in lots of time. I picked up my bib and race kit which included a pretty nice T shirt and made my way to the start area. I talked to a number of other racers at the start line including Helen Malmberg, the race director of the Haliburton Forest race. It turns out she was a member of Longboat at one time. People seemed pretty nice and a bit friendlier then you usually find at road races. I am not sure if that’s more a function of people that run ultras or the smaller sizes of the race but it was kind of cool. We got our final instructions from the race director, including a warning that it was pretty muddy out there today and that this was a really hard course, lined up at the start and were off.

The Race
The course was 26k out and back starting at the playing fields of a Pickering school and heading off into the woods. Runners doing the 52 and 78k version of the race repeated the out and back multiple times.

I started out at a decent pace and stayed with a small pack of other runners for the first few kms. This part of the course was pretty flat and was fairly runable and mostly dry, although you had to keep your eyes on the trail at all times as much of it was washed out and required you to switch from side to side often. It followed along the side of a river for the most part. I will call this part of the race the “lull you to sleep” stretch. I began to think that the course would be much like my Saturday trail runs for the most part. I checked my HR monitor and saw that my heart rate was way too high even at the slower pace that I was running. I made a mental note to slow down and then proceeded to file that note under things I will not think about right now and kept going.

At about 3k we hit the river crossing. The water was about 2 feet deep and pretty cold with lots of jagged and slippery rocks to trip over making you have to wade through it pretty slowly and carefully. Soaking wet feet and only 23k left to go… excellent.

It was still smooth sailing for another km and then around 4k we hit the first major uphill. It seemed to go on for a long time. I chatted with a runner that was just behind me for awhile. He had done a bunch of other OUSER races but it was his first time doing Seaton as well. As we finally crested the hill he said he was going to fast and was going to slow his pace. I checked my HR saw that it was waaay to high and decided to ignore it (again).

Instead I raced down the other side of the hill which was long and pretty steep. I remember thinking ... crap I am going to have to come back up that later. At the bottom of this hill was a boggy field area. I could see that the whole area was really deep mud. I hit the mud full speed figuring that my feet couldn’t get any wetter and I was going to get muddy anyway. What a rookie mistake, the next thing that I knew I was standing in deep mud with only one shoe on. I retraced my steps and dug out the shoe that the mud sinkhole had ripped of my foot. There was nowhere stable to put my shoe back on so I was forced to run about 100 feet in one shoe until I got out of the mud. I finally got my shoe back on meanwhile about 5 people passed me.

The course then made its way back into thicker woods where it became a relentless up and down hills from gully to gully. At one point we headed down a long steep staircase made out of what looked like railway ties. We popped out on a road briefly somewhere around the 7k mark where there was an aid station. I grabbed some water and eload, chugged it, headed back onto the course. At this time I was still thinking that I might be able to put up a decent time. I checked my HM and pace, ignored the information that screamed at me to slow it down and keep going.

The course from 7 to 11k was a lot of up and down single track trails and very challenging. You could not take your eyes off the trail for a moment for fear of tripping over roots, rocks or other forest debris. At one point you had to use a rope to go down the side of a very steep ravine, cross a small creek and climb your way back out again. I have to say as tough as the terrain was it was very well marked. I never got lost on this course at all. Somewhere right around 9k the lead runner passed me going back in the other direction … WOW.

Hit the second aid station at 11k in a small park, grabbed some more water and then it was back into the woods for more of the same. I found this last 2k to the turn around some of the hardest running. It was lots of small steep hills, mud, tight trails through trees, rocky and rooty. I got to the 13k turn around and checked my garmin. I was at the halfway point at 1:27. I was still somewhat on pace. I had hoped for a 3 hour race although this was just a guess with no point of reference. Now all I had to do was run all the way back.

As I headed back to the 15k (previously 11k) aid station I passed a lot of people headed for the turn around. Most of them were going to be pretty close behind me. I still felt okay so just tried to hold my pace. This was easier said than done and by the time I actually got to the aid station I had started to slow some. I also was beginning to have some soreness in my right knee which I knew was a result of all the quad pounding down hills and lack of hill training.

From 15k to 19k my knee slowly deteriorated making my pace slow even more. I left the 19k aid station and headed for the final part of the course. This included going back up the long staircase from earlier which was really tough (harder than running up the hills). Then it was back into the mud swamp / field where I was at least able to keep both shoes on this time and back up the long hill. It actually wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated. My knee was getting worse though. I was getting tired and sloppy.

As I went into the last big downhill, which had been the first uphill, another runner flew past me right at the 20k sign. She was really moving taking the down hill nicely. I was watching her go ahead of me thinking …wow then just like that I was face first in the ground. In the little bit of time I had taken my concentration off my footing I stepped half on half off a rock and rolled over on my ankle and did a pretty nice face plant (even the Russia judge would have given me at least a 9 for that swan dive). If a runner falls in the forest and gets back up before anyone sees, did he really fall at all? I limped back to my feet, my ankle was pretty sore but useable, everything else seemed in tact so I continued on. Ever try limping on both legs at the same time? It's really not that easy. My ankle was manageable but my right knee was hurting bad. I think I may have banged it during the fall... really not sure but it was much worse after I got up than before.

The next 6k became a make it to the finish line instead of a run as fast as you can kind of thing. I was going so slow it was ridiculous. I would not really call it running. I keep thinking don’t I walk faster then this?! At 23k it was back across the river again. The water seemed higher and faster. I almost did a full on fall into the water as I tried to limp my way across but was able to regain my balance using the crazy wind milling arms method of steadying yourself (thanks three stooges movies for the helpful tips).

I saw one of the race marshals at the 25k mark and she asked me if I was alright. “Sure great” I replied. I figured I must be looking pretty bad for sure. As I ran the last half km the runner that I had been talking to early in the day caught up to me. He congratulated me on finishing my first trail race. I told him thanks that I would see him at the finish line to which he replied that he was heading back out for his second loop (he was doing the 52k). Man I was really happy that I had wisely picked the 26k. I made it too the finish line a few minutes later.

Post race
Got a pretty cool finishers metal and when and changed at the school that was being used for the race. Also the race provided a hot meal of lasagna and pasta which was pretty good. I finished in a time of 3:21:02 which was okay considering the knee issue.

This was a really great race. Well organized and a lot of fun. I will definitely be doing a few more of these types of races over the summer. Learned some good lessons to apply to my training and future races.

Hill training here I come.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Back Home .... Paris Marathon Race Report

So we are finally back after spending 2 weeks on our own European Vacation (Chevy Chase would have been proud of all our shenanigans). There was Louvre, Notre Dame, St. Peters, The Sistine Chapel, The Coliseum, planes, trains and automobiles, and Kim’s very first earthquake. OH YEAH and then there was the Paris Marathon of course.

We arrived in Paris on Friday 2 days before race with the plan to stay off our feet as much as possible and adjust to the time change. Yeah great plan in theory, in practice, not so much. I mean it's easy to plan not to walk around Paris when you’re not in Paris but quite a bit harder when actually there. Oh well what are you going do. Okay on with the race info.

We hit the Marathon Expo on Friday and picked up our race kits and timing chips. It was a pretty good Expo overall. I got all kinds of information on other European Marathons, and then realized that they were all written in French... DOH!! Decent race kit with some samples and Saturday Pasta Dinner was included. Shirts were not tech however but were nice, well made T shirts. We decided to break down and buy a couple of souvenir tech running shirts. I thought about buying some gels but decided against it. All the gels were in tiny plastic tubes that reminded me of crazy glue instead of "normal" packets. Oh those crazy Europeans. Although maybe taking nourishment out of a squeeze tube would make me feel more like an astronaut. No problem I had planned ahead and brought some from home.

Saturday morning we headed out to the Breakfast Run which was a fun relaxed 5k put on by the Marathon. It was nice as I was able to run a bit and get the legs loose for the next day. Not much of a breakfast at the end however. Some water, bananas, coffee but no problem I had kind of anticipated this and had eaten before hand at the hotel. I was more interested in getting a short run in than the breakfast portion of it.

We returned to the Expo Saturday night for free pasta dinner. The dinner was okay. I had very low expectations as I know that in big races like this it's mass feeding time, a fattening up of the herd before the slaughter. The pasta wasn't great but wasn't bad so I will give it a tentative / reluctant thumbs up. Also it was FREE which is always my favorite part.

The Race
Got up on time after a pretty good sleep, ate breakfast and headed by Metro to the Start / Finish area at the Arch de Triumph. We spent a good half hour fighting our way through a massive traffic jam of people to get to the baggage check, dropped off our stuff and made our ways back to the starting corrals. I left Kim at her corral and headed further up to my own making it there with 5 minutes to spare. This seemed like being early unlike my first marathon where I was in the porta potty when the starting horn sounded and I had to sprint to get to the starting line (sprinting before the start of a marathon is definitely not recommended).

Weather was not bad for running, around 15 degrees, sunny, no wind to speak of but was somewhat humid.

The gun sounded and we were off….. well sort of. I had never run in a really big marathon before and with 37,000 runners Paris is definitely that especially given many of the streets are quite narrow by North America standards (more about this later). It took over 9 minutes of a slow walk to reach the actual starting line and good thing because the road was littered with hidden obstacles. Discarded runner’s sweaters, pants, water bottles, garbage bags etc. where everywhere and well hidden in the feet of the packed together crowd. I had been given a heads up about this before hand (thanks Sabrina) so knew enough to tread carefully here.

Once I actually got over the start line things picked up. I was able to quickly get up to speed or in this case over speed. I had vowed to not come out too quickly but realized by the end of mile 1 this was nearly impossible. The street was jammed and I sort of just went with the crowd. I mean I felt great so what if I was running a little faster then planned, what could happen (all long distance runners feel free to insert laughter here).

Oh oh, first minor glitch. I had pinned my gels to the back of my shorts as I had seen others runners do this. Less then half a km into the race it was clear that this was not going to work for me. The gels were bouncing up and down, flopping around worse then a freshly caught fish on the dock. A quick check revealed that one had already gotten loose and escaped. I pulled off the rest and decided to carry them by hand before they all got away. Astronaut food tubes now seemed like a much better option, damn me and my mocking.

Course was beautiful as we ran right through the heart of Paris starting just in front of the Arch de Triomphe. I tried to take in as much as possible but with the street jammed with runners you really had to watch the road. I remember almost hitting a barrier separating road lanes as I took my eyes off the street to look at the Louvre as we passed it. Talk about getting you to refocus.

I came into the first water station at 5k feeling pretty good. Water stations were every 5k on the course and were very chaotic with so many people trying to get to them and then back onto the course. Water was given out in bottles instead of cups so you could take the bottle with you and carry it for a while. There was no Gatorade / Eload type drink except at the 40k station which made my tightly clutched gels all the more important. Stations also had dried fruit (no thanks), sugar cubes, oranges and bananas.

Oh… oh. glitch number 2 appeared just after the first water station. I passed the station took a sharp left hand turn and then came to a complete stop behind the runners in front of me… hmmm. Talk about a strange experience. The race had come to almost a total stop. We had turned onto a narrow street that was only maybe 50 meters long and then turned back onto another street this had caused a major bottleneck reducing the speed to slower than walking pace. This cleared up as soon as you turned the next corner but cost around a minute, I vowed to make this up over the next few miles (oh wait wasn’t I already running faster then planned).

Race route continued out past la Bastille and into a large park that took us past Chateau de Vincennes. We looped around the park and then headed back in to the heart of the city again and the half way point of the race. By this time it had begun to get hotter out but still not too bad. I still felt pretty good and was keeping a steady pace. I had hoped that things might thin out as runners spread out over the race course but it was just as crowded at the 21k mark as it had been at the start of the race.

Crowds and fan support were really great along the course with people cheering you on almost everywhere on the route and it seemed that more people jammed the sidelines the farther you got into the race.

Race route continued back into the city passing close to Notre Dame Cathedral and then hugging the bank of the Seine River from the 25k mark for the next 8k. This included passing through 3 underground tunnels. Two of these were shorter and you were able to see the end of the tunnel once you entered it. The other one was much longer and was very hot and humid inside, you couldn’t see the end of it for quite some time. The French runners were chanting something in unison that echoed loudly in the tunnel. Sorry I have no idea what they were yelling but it was very entertaining nevertheless. As I came out of the last tunnel close to the 30k mark I wondered how Kim’s race was going so far. I also noticed that I was starting to tire but was still holding pace pretty well. At 30k my time was a PB faster then my time in any 30k race. That would be great except for the fact that I still had 12k to run.

The route from 30 to 35k took us along the river past the Eiffel Tower but on the opposite side of the Seine and then moved father east into another large park. Somewhere along this stretch I began to slow down.

The last part of the Paris marathon takes you through this park and then finishes at Ave. Foch back in sight of the Arch. For me the last 7k became a struggle to try to keep running as I got slower and slower. My early fast pace had finally caught up to me turning my legs into jello and causing bad cramping in my right hamstring. Unlike my first marathon I didn’t hit the wall but the cramping in my leg killed any chance of finishing fast.

Somewhere between the 35k and 40k water stations I saw an extra station. They were giving out some kind of cake (huh?) and cups of what looked like apple juice. I passed on the cake but grabbed the juice in chugged it. ARRGGG it wasn’t juice it all but some kind of alcoholic cider (I think). Not exactly what I needed at that point, that will teach me to take unknown beverages from strangers.

Finally I rounded the corner out onto Ave. Foch and down to the finish line. It was just as crowded at the end of the race as it had been at the start which is pretty unbelievable. It was so crowded in fact that I had to wait in line for about 10 minutes just to get my chip taken off. Here is a picture of me crossing the finishline. I leave it to you to find me.. kind of like the runners version of Where's Waldo

Post Race
I got my finisher's medal, a rain poncho (they give them out instead of blankets) and some food and then found a curb to sit on for awhile. I thought about getting a massage on my legs but the lineup was massive so I took a pass on it. I hoped that Kim’s race was going well and that she was enjoying it. The finishers area was a zoo but very well managed. Numerous and I mean numerous people were sprawled out in the middle of the roadway either being attended to by emergency personal or other racers. I walked past one guy lying on his back, his eyes were cloudy and staring off into nothingness. Some other guy was asking him if he could see him, pretty scary stuff. I was glad it wasn’t me.

I rested on the curb for awhile and then I went up as close to the front as I could to watch others finishing and to wait for Kim to finish her race. I hoped she wouldn’t be in staring guy condition. After watching people come in for a while I saw Kim off in the distance running for the finish line. Way to go Kim on finishing your first marathon. She looked to be in pretty good shape so we got some food (more food for me) and sat down to eat. While we rested we watched some poor guy who was walking along pass out on his feet and smash face first into the road. He was out for about 10 seconds and then came to as other people tried to help him. Poor guy’s face was really cut up. I reminded myself to make sure I sat down if I started to feel dizzy.

The Paris Marathon is a great race in a fantastic city. As with most big races not really a race to attempt to run a PB due to how crowded the course is but besides that an amazing experience. The race organizers have to be commended for how well this race is managed and run. I would do this race again in a second. Great course, great organization, really great fan and city support.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Paris Marathon Here We Come

So it’s finally here. We leave tomorrow for the Paris Marathon (no not Paris Ontario). It seems like only a very short time ago that I got the crazy idea that I should do a destination race. Paris in the spring seemed like the logical choice. This will be my second marathon and Kim my spouse's first time running 26.2 miles.

I started specifically training for Paris in the last week of December. Training in general went fairly well as I didn’t get any kind of serious injury and managed to get almost all my runs in. I only missed two days training due to a very bad cold.

This was no small feat as the winter weather in Toronto was particularly nasty again this year. I still wonder why it is that we had such mild winters here for years until last year when I took up running outdoors again. Coincidence..... I think not. I was forced a number of times off the streets and into the gym on the indoor track or even worse onto the treadmill (sorry George but I still hate the treadmill with a passion).

I can still remember one Sunday long run in particular with Steve where we braved -25 degree temperature and 50km winds. It was so cold that by the time we were half finished our water bottles had frozen solid. Fun times.. fun times.

I also got to watch Kim go from a casual runner, who only started running last spring, to building her mileage up to marathon level. She spent many long evenings running alone in the cold and dark, never complaining. It was amazing to watch someone work so hard and show so much dedication. It was Awesom-O.

Special thanks are in order to George Hubbard for helping us put together our training programs and keeping us, and by us I mean me, honest. Also a big thanks to fellow Longboat Roadrunners, Steve B, Gregoire B, Anne B, Rob C, John L and Susan F for putting in Sunday morning winter long runs with me in Mount Pleasant Cemetery. Thanks for pushing the pace guys. Also a big thank you to Sabrina, Adrian and Mike C for giving me the low down on the race and their experiences running the Paris Marathon.

Now all that’s left is running 26 miles ... LOL. Watch for my upcoming race report on how it went.
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