Racing in the Depths of Winter

Racing in the depths of winter is not for the faint of heart. You need stuff, you need other crazy people to race, and you need guts.


You Need Stuff:

  • Gloves – you head out the door with thin gloves but pack thick ones just in case. At the start line you wish you had not left the thick ones in the car. At the 1 km mark you can’t feel your fingers. Good thing you don’t need fingers to run. After bunching your fingers up inside your gloves at the 5 km mark the feeling starts coming back. At the 7 km mark you have removed the gloves and are carrying them. The crowd (ok, there’s no crowd except for maybe five frozen spouses) thinks you’re crazy for running with exposed skin. Good thing these races tend to be short – our local winter running series are about 8 km.
  • Toque – you know “toque” – that knitted cap your grandmother gave you last Christmas. Usually the toque is too warm but with no toque you are sure to get frozen ears. Toque on – Toque off – Toque on – Toque off. Craziness ensues.
  • Thermo layer – Need a thermo layer for both your top half and your bottom half. Bonus if the thermo layer has odour reducing qualities (definite necessity if you don’t want to be washing every single run).
  • Parka (just for the start line). A wind resistant winter running jacket underneath.
  • Socks – 2 pairs. Depending on how high the snow is and how long your tights are you are probably going to need longer socks than you thought.
  • Shoes – not just your cool summer shoes. If these aren’t semi-air tight and hopefully water / melted snow tight you’ll have wet feet. And wet feet are cold. Cold feet are not fun.
  • Face mask – to keep that nose and chin from getting numb. Face masks end up being about the grossest things hanging around a winter runners racing stuff. Just think frozen saliva, sweat and snot. Yup, never borrow another runner’s face mask.
  • Tech – NOPE – Don’t even bother with a phone / camera  / GPS watch – The battery will freeze up on you and you will just be frustrated. Plus your gloves are likely not touch-friendly.

You Need Other Crazy People to Race

  • Sometimes other crazy runner people are the hardest people to find in the depths of winter. Most runners are either curled up on the couch for a few months, or are on a treadmill. But crazy people are drawn to each other, I’m sure. The few that there are seem to all show up at these crazy events. Great place to find winter running partners after the race.

You Need Guts

  • Runners have guts.

Oh and don’t forget hot chocolate. You always need something to help warm up after.

Don’t let winter scare you off. Just be prepared.

New Year – New Races

The new year brings new races. Time to sign up. Keep those resolutions going with some goal races.

Whether it is in Calgary or wherever you run, races can be great goals. Pick one race in the next couple months and another further into the summer.

Start this year off right!


11 Years of Wearing Out Running Shoes

Running my shoes off over the last 11 years.


2005 – 400km

2006 – 1600km – Vancouver Marathon, Emporer’s Challenge (21k)

2007 – 500km

2008 – 1600km – Calgary half marathon + Footstock marathon + first triathlon

2009 – 1600km – Calgary marathon + Sylvan Lake half iron

2010 – 1600km – Vancouver marathon, Calgary marathon + Calgary half iron

2010 Vancouver Marathon

2011 – 1600km – Calgary marathon

2012 – 2800km – Calgary marathon, 50k (Frozen A)

First time Boston qualifier!

2013 – 3000 km – Boston marathon, Calgary marathon

Boston Marathon

2014 – 2700 km – Lost Soul 50k, Calgary 50k






2015 – 3161 km (biggest year by 5%) – Iron Legs 50 Miler, Daughter’s first half, Vancouver Marathon



IMG_20150504_190919448_HDR (1024x576)


What a journey it has been so far. Hopefully it is far from over.

And just because I like summaries, graphs and trends…


XC Race … in the fro-sty air

Lots of beautiful snow, frost, and sunny skies during the cross country race today.

I had to go back on the trail after the race for the photos so I didn’t get any runners unfortunately.


7.5 km of single track makes for a great race.





On this trail there was not very many passing zones so if you get stuck at the back during the race start it’s a tough slog to work your way to the front. I didn’t succeed in getting back to the front. I should have pushed harder in the first few hundred meters. I could have gained probably 20 finish places at least.


Footprints from 100 runners.

You know you haven’t tried hard enough if you don’t at least nearly wipeout. I landed on my butt 3x during this 40 minute race.

Treacherous cross country can be a blast.

That Looks Like Fun!

It not only looks like it was fun, it was fun!


When we say cross-country, we mean serious cross-country. None of this groomed, cut grass on level ground. No, we mean mud, ice, and even blood sometimes.


8 km through thick and thin with 100 other runners with the only prize being a high five from my family if I’m lucky. These races are my hill / speed work through the winter.

No pressure, no schedule, no training regime. Just give’r!


I wiped out twice in this race, and had blood streaming down my legs. Once right in front of the camera. I looked up at the wrong time trying to smile for the camera and twisted my knees, slamming into the mud at the bottom of the hill. But it couldn’t have been that bad since I still finished with a smile.

This race was a month ago, so the mud is long gone. It has been replaced with ice and snow. I’m sure our footprints are set in the icy mud now for the winter.

Calgary Road Runners – Winter Cross Country Race Series. It’s a blast.

More craziness and photos here and here.

General info about the Grand Prix Series here.

Next up: Silver Springs – Dec 12



How to Pick ‘A’ Races

I’m going through the process of picking some ‘A’ races for 2016. Those would be my goal races. The ones that I would like to build my training around. I will have other races, which I call my ‘B’ and ‘C’ races. ‘B’ races are those that help build up to my ‘A’ races. And ‘C’ races I do just for fun.

So some of my considerations when picking races:

A Races: These are the bucket list races, or the goal races, or the ones that I want to do a PR in, or ones that I really feel I would be stretched to do. There should only be a maximum of 2-3 of these races in any given year. Any more, and I would start to lose focus on what I am really training for. These are the races I am the most excited about and probably talk about the most. I need to be sure of my schedule before I pick these races so that nothing comes in the way of them once I’ve set my eyes on them. Sometimes this is impossible and I need to pick a backup A race.

One of two A Races in 2015 - Ironlegs Ultra

B Races: These are included in my training schedule for the ‘A’ races. So if I had a marathon on my ‘A’ list, a ‘B’ race might be a half marathon one month before the ‘A’ race. Or it might be another marathon in the months following my goal marathon if that second marathon time didn’t matter so much.

The problem with B races is that it is very easy to slip into making them A races by going out too hard. They are not meant to take anything away from the big races, only either to let you know how well your training is going, or to fine tune some speed, or nutrition or something else you are working on. You are usually in great shape by the time you do your B races so the temptation is huge to go all out. Don’t! Save it for the big ones. Don’t risk injury.

C Races: These lower priority races cannot jeapordize either my A or B races. These would be short and fun, and probably with friends or family. They might be just a cool race that I can fit in on short notice. I wouldn’t be too disheartened if my time was horrible but if I got injured it would be devastating.

Definitely a C race - the Color Run

In 2015, my two A races were the Vancouver Marathon in May and Ironlegs Ultra in August. In the marathon I wanted to get a PR so I trained really hard for it (but I missed it). For the ultra, I wanted to finish, mostly just to finish but also to get a good time.

I had a lot of C races including a half marathon, 8k cross country series in early spring. These helped me stay fit but didn’t push me very hard. Looking back I guess this year I didn’t really have any B races. I had one planned in April that didn’t pan out and another in July. I was training very specifically on the weekends and pushing myself quite hard on those training runs. B races didn’t quite fit in that schedule. And my kids’ A races trumped any of my proposed B races, but such is life. Perhaps I might have been able to squeeze some in if I had been prepared to travel a little further to the races. I have fit them in on other years and I plan to do so again next year.

I am still planning my 2016. My one A race I was counting on (Pikes Peak) probably won’t pan out due to our family schedule so I need to switch gears. Another possible A race (Blackfoot 100k) conflicts with a C race I am coordinating a charity team for, so that won’t work. So I am researching a couple others to see if I can make it work.

The goal is to have this figured out early in the New Year. Planning is half? the fun. Maybe not half, since racing and training is pretty fun too.

Cute to hard core – less than $5

How to turn cute, unassuming, experienced shoes (my daughter’s) into hard core winter cross country spikes with unsurpassed traction.

Maybe you’ve fallen on the ice once too many times this winter already. Or you just want that extra confidence for passing people on the trails. Why not beef up those shoes with cheap cleats you can install yourself?

1) buy sheet metal or wood screws – #8 by 1/2″ X 10 per shoe – a box of 100 is less than $5. Oh yeah, don’t get the ones with the round heads, that might make it worse. You want the flat head screws.

2) experiment with a pattern or use mine: 4 in the heel and 6 up front

3) screw them most of the way in. (From the outside bottom, not from the inside!)

4) you’re done!

Run on them on a hard surface (not the hard wood floor) before the race to make sure the screws aren’t poking through (those can be tough lessons)

Really test ’em out: find a nice icy trail with some sharp corners and downhill. Go hard and hope for the best.

Now you’re ready to race winter cross country.




These may not be a complete replacement for spikes or Yak Trax or Katoola’s but they are a whole lot cheaper.

Have fun out there passing everyone else splayed out on the ice.

Adding Some Spice into XC

Today we introduced 4 youngish (middle school) runners to the world of cross country. Sure they had run cross country in middle school, but this race put much more “country” into the racing. There were live creek crossings where you seriously got wet. And there were some serious hills you had to slog up. It was a relay so we were all in it as a team instead of the pressure of individual efforts. They all came out of it with with huge smiles and promises to do it again in a couple weeks. That’s what we were hoping for.


Building running confidence into these kids can hopefully fuel a life long desire to keep challenging themselves to see what they are made of.


Far Flung Places and Races

I travel to far flung places with my job several times per year but I can’t seem to get any exotics races in. I am constantly on the lookout for races in East Africa and there are a lot of them but my schedule never complies.


I travel through London and Amsterdam but never can I just extend a couple days to include a weekend. In the last couple years I have been in Ecuador, Myanmar, Haiti, Colombia, Ghana, and a bunch of countries in East Africa. Even my trip through New York could have worked except it was in February and too miserably cold for a race.

I’ll keep checking because I think it could be an amazing experience.


Does anyone out there have good success with matching trips and racing?

Running in Calgary and the Rockies

Are you a runner just visiting Calgary and wanting to know what Calgary and Banff has to offer for runners?

Or a Calgarian just getting into running?

Well, have we got a running scene for you. From trails to pathways, big events to wild remote places, running groups to solitude, flat long runs to epic peaks to conquer. This place is amazing for runners.

Where to run

In Calgary

Calgary is full of great running spots. The valleys along the Bow River and the Elbow River offer countless opportunities to experience the trails, and pathway systems which seem to go on forever. Lots of people start downtown and run along the beautiful rivers. Morning, lunchtime and evenings, it is packed with runners, in both summer and winter. And don’t discount actual real hard core trails inside the city limits.



Continue reading “Running in Calgary and the Rockies”

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