Wearing in my shoes – Topo MT2

I was desperately in need of some new shoes. The old ones had split on the sides, and the even older ones felt like they had flat tires. So I went into Gord’s Running Store in Calgary, tried on a couple pair and walked out with Topo MT2 trail running shoes. I had never heard of Topo before but I have been very happy with them. They were strongly recommended if I wanted something between moon shoes (think Hoka’s) and tight fitting trail shoes (my most recent New Balance). Maybe something like my old Pearl Izumi’s but something that didn’t blow through the toes so quick because of all the downhill I do. I don’t have a good sense for what makes good trail shoes, just for what has not lasted very long for me.

The Topo’s I purchased are very wide at the toes (like Altra’s), but they don’t have the arch like Altra’s do. They are light like Hoka’s, but not as wide. And they dry quickly. They have decent enough traction but not so aggressive you don’t want to use them on the road occasionally. I’ve always struggled with laces coming undone, but for some reason, these laces seem to just stay tied. Nothing worse (almost) than laces that keep coming undone at inopportune times. And the 3mm drop works well with me. No blisters, no problems with the toenails, and no hot spots.

So this morning as I was walking around indoors it suddenly felt a little lower on the outside of the heel. Both heels. Was it my imagination? On closer inspection I noticed that the grip was starting to wear on the heel. Have I overused them on sharp rocks? Has my family been sneaking them into their runs? Has our cat been gnawing on the rubber? Then I calculated backward and realized that I already had 400 km on them, and much of it on tough gravel. Maybe shoes aren’t supposed to last forever but I’d love these ones to last.

On the trail I don’t notice the loss of thickness in the grip at the back so I plan to keep using them much longer this summer. I’m sure I will put another 400km on them before anything else wears out on them but I was a little disappointed. I mean, I just bought them 5 weeks ago. But 400 km in 5 weeks is a lot, I guess.

I guess Gord will be seeing me a couple more times this summer.

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The Plan (as it is currently unfolding)

My training has begun for the Lost Soul Ultra which is a 100 km race in early September in Lethbridge Alberta. I have been ramping up my training this last month which I admit might be a bit early but at least I am starting to take it seriously already. I have a lot of running and elevation to do this summer and I don’t want to leave it all to the last couple months.

This week I have backed it off a bit as one of my step-back weeks. In the weeks going forward I plan to push 100km weeks for the next 3 weeks before backing off again. I hope to keep up this general weekly schedule total through June, July and start of August. The plan is to increase the amount of elevation, trail time, and weight of my pack each week or two until August. Also, I hope to keep about half of my kilometers to be over two runs on Saturday and Sunday. This will keep my legs tired on the weekend and fresh enough for shorter distances of harder hills or speedwork during the week.

This plan isn’t that different than what I did last year and it seems to have worked. I just need to execute it again.

Time to hit the trail!

Weekly total: 45km (April 17), 70km, 77km, 86km, 102km, 75km (May 21)

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Big Hill Springs – Places to Run (or not)

I’m not sure if the “Big Hill” at these natural springs is the hill that I ran since there are bigger hills around, but the hill that I ran was big enough for this short loop. At least it was steep enough. It was definitely a “hiking only” hill.

The park really is very small, with the looped trail only being 2 km long. I hadn’t realized how short the trail was when I planned this run. So I did the loop 8 times to get in 15 km and 400m of elevation gain. My legs were definitely feeling the downhill by the time I ended.

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The park is often very busy with 20+ cars in the parking lot, especially on sunny weekends for the picnic’ers who don’t want to go far from Calgary but want to experience the outdoors. Running the trail then would be very frustrating. On the sunniest days, the kids wade in the water and every open space is used up for picnics, baby strollers, and dogs.

But I had picked a Friday after work when the rain was threatening at any time. So there were only 5 cars in the lot making the trail very quiet. I had lucked upon a good time to go and I even stayed dry.

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The first kilometer of the loop is along this creek that pops out of the ground at several mineral springs. The water isn’t warm, but it is full of minerals and used to be very popular with those seeking the health benefits of mineral baths.

I loved listening to the quiet, to the creek, and being out of the wind in this protected valley.

I’ve noticed that other runner and biking bloggers talk about following the creek from this park for the 20 km downstream to Cochrane. Unfortunately, even though there is a truck trail, it is provincial road allowance, the adjacent landowner has been grumpy for many years and is insistent on the “No Trespassing” through that general area including the road allowance. It looks like it could be a great place to run but alas, I didn’t go for it this time around giving the “crochety farmer” a wide berth.

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I only went off the trail on one loop and went across this make-shift bridge (and stayed dry)

I can’t say this is normally a great place to run. I was lucky that there were no crowds, but that doesn’t happen often. And the loop was only 2 km with not much else in the area to extend it. But the serenity, the creek, and the trees made this a great run for me this time.

Located 1/2 hour west of Calgary near Cochrane at Big Hill Springs Provincial Park

Grassi Lakes – Places to Run

Grassi Lakes Park in Canmore makes for a great hike and a tough run. The main loop is 4 km starting at the parking lot with a lot of elevation gain – maybe several hundred meters or so. At the far end of the loop are these two incredibly clear small shallow lakes. They are a great place to take a snack break as you wonder at the beauty.

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Near the start of the trail is a fork with a sign for “easy” and “more difficult”, both going to the same location. If you do the loop you would take one up and the other down. I definitely recommend the more difficult for at least one direction. There are waterfalls, views of the townsite and lots of steep stone steps. If you take the easy route you get views too but not nearly as good. We took the difficult route up and the easy route down.

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The trail was way too popular and crowded on the spring Saturday that we were out there so the going was a bit tough. So wait a few weeks into summer, go early in the morning, or go on a weekday for a quieter route.

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To get there go south of Canmore, head past the nordic center for 2 km and park next to the lake.

At the top end of the loop, if you go past Grassi lake (south) you will go past a very popular cliff climbing area as you ascend more stairs up to Spray Lake for another amazing view.

If you head east from Grassi lake you get onto to the High Line trail that follows the mountain range. This is definitely a must-run. We didn’t do that one today but I fully recommend it.

Well, that did me in!

Alternate Title: Thrashing my Quads

After spending two weeks in Africa doing very little exercise and a lot of time on airplanes, I needed to quickly get over my jetlag to get back into the swing of things. What better way than to go for a run. And runs usually work very well for me to speed up up the recovery process. But the run I ended up going on, was apparently WAY too much.

My wife was going out for a hike with her friends the day after I landed so I went out with them to the trailhead and ran from there. One of the reasons I was so excited about this run was that it seemed like such a long time since I had gotten into nature and seen mountains or any other amazing view. A a long time since I had been on a trail run.

From the parking spot, there are many different directions to run. Some are mostly flat, some are not so flat, most are rugged trails, and all are epic. However, I chose the steepest trail to get to the highest elevation as quick as possible hoping for the most epic view of the valley.

All the local trail runners know Prairie Mountain. It is a 700m elevation gain in 3.5km (20% grade average) on very technical trail (roots and rocks). The mountain is used for training by many runners. One ultra-runner I was chatting to judges the difficulty of an ultra-race by how many “Prairie-Mountains” you needed to do in a row before you are ready for that race. For a local 125km ultra she said “To make sure you are ready for that race you need to be able to do at least two Prairie-Mountains back to back and not feel sore the next day.” It’s a serious hill.

Not very much of the uphill is runnable, and the whole downhill is spent with serious “brakes” on. Expect your quads to be hammered. Last summer I tried doing it with very little tread left on my road shoes and quickly regretted it because of all the sliding I did.

Anyway, I was feeling fairly confident to be able to do okay at it because twice last summer, I had done the mountain twice in a row. However, I didn’t appreciate that 8 months is such a long time when it comes to quad conditioning.

I drastically underestimated where I was at physically this Spring. I got to the top okay but by the time I was half way down I knew it was going to hurt significantly the next day. Near the bottom my legs felt pretty wobbly, and I couldn’t trust them very much. It was a slow finish as I wobbled back to the car.

I still had a couple hours until the others were going to be back at the car, so I took a bit of a rest then decided to recover my legs with a flat run. Well, two hours later (3.5 hours total) I hobbled down to the river to cool my legs off and then collapsed in the car.

You can imagine my pain the next day. It was like my first marathon all over again. My quads were thrashed. I needed the railing to get myself down the stairs. I dreaded having to get up to pee at night. And my family and co-workers were not-quite silent in their laughing at my expense. But I probably deserved it.

One of the terrible things about it was that I mostly couldn’t run for nearly a week. I was counting on using the coming weeks to jump straight into a full-on training season. But that had to be put on hold because I could barely walk, let alone run. If only I had not jumped straight into that crazy tough run, I would have been able to slowly ramp up. As it is, I am now already a week behind. But on the bright side, I’m probably wiser for it. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t do it again. But wisdom doesn’t always factor in when deciding about where and how far to run.

When there is epic-ness involved, wisdom is often thrown out the window.

On the Trails

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“Can we go this way?”

That meant along the trail instead of the paved pathway. At this time of year you don’t know what you’re going to get on the trail.

We found a lot of mud and ice. And very slippery mud and ice. And mud that stuck to our shoes.  On the hills it was a little treacherous. We weren’t out for timed run, just to get in our 4 km on something a little more difficult that would get our heart up a little higher.

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We love this trail that leads out from our back yard but usually we have to wait until later in the spring. We probably should have waited a little longer and maybe we will wait another month or so considering what we encountered.

Since we were flying the next day I had to hose down my shoes before packing them. To make sure they were dry I put them over the furnace vent over night and they were quite dry. But they sure stunk the next day. So I found some deodorizer spray and some baking soda. But I had to put them in my carry on. I could smell my shoes all day on both flights. Some of it was my imagination but much of it was not. Hopefully the other passengers didn’t figure out where the smell was coming from.

The joys of traveling with not quite clean running gear. I think I will be searching out some Lysol before heading home in a week.

We are looking forward to finding some new trails on our travels.

Not-quite-Spring-yet trail run

I can’t wait for spring trail running in the mountains so I gave it a shot today. And I discovered that although it was sunny and warm, it is definitely not fully spring yet. This is really not surprising for end of February, but it has been unseasonably warm lately, making it feel much more like April. The ice was treacherous and covered about 90% of the length of the trail, making it absolutely necessary to have yak traks or other ice grips. I had to really keep it slow and walk carefully on most of the up and downhills.

The other indicator that trail running or hiking in the mountains in February is not that popular (or not that safe) is that in two hours of running, I only came across one hiker and his dog. Otherwise it was a very quiet run. I love those quiet runs, but I was wondering if anyone would come across me if I ran into trouble. I was trying not to think about bears waking up from hibernation a couple months early due to the warm weather, or the warning signs about cougars, or the cliffs immediately adjacent to the trail. But alas, it was a quite uneventful run.

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This trail was the Montagne Trail, a single track rolling trail on the north side of Canmore, Alberta. It skirted above the golf course but stayed off the steep parts of Lady McDonald mountain. I will have to head back out here to do the Lady McDonald trail to the peak in the summer sometime.

From what I remember, I think this is a very popular trail in the summer. I have heard it mentioned quite a bit but this is the first time I have been here.

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I had a great view on this sunny day of the mountains across the valley beyond the town site. I was inspired to do some peak bagging just as soon as the trail conditions improve – which is probably not before mid-June.

Just as I got to the car, a storm blew in with new snow. Good thing I didn’t start half an hour later. It would have been pretty miserable. But maybe the trails will be in better condition by the time I have a chance to head back out there for another trail run. Either more snow, or no ice would be great, thank you very much.

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Maybe I will aim for the peaks when summer hits. They look enticing

Montagne Trail in Canmore, Alberta. 1 hour west of Calgary, just outside the Banff National Park gates.

11 km, 1:45 hours – This sounds slow, but the ice made it tough going.

There’s ton’s of trail running in the Canadian Rockies. Check out this post

 

My Introduction to Mountain Races – #tbt

My second ever race was a half marathon mountain race about 10 years ago. I had just run the Vancouver marathon a few months before and felt the need to keep going with this running thing. The closest thing to a race near our small town in northern BC was the Emperor’s Challenge about 2 hours away on the edge of the Rockies. Someone casually told me about it and as I looked into it, I got excited. It sounded crazy. But crazy was good. Basically it was 600m up a mountain following a creek bed and then back down a mountain road. I don’t remember having a good idea how much 600m is but I knew it was going to be excruciating. And I was going to have to do some hill training and learn how to do trails.

So I set about with hill training. Having grown up and still living in the prairies I didn’t really know what hills were. And trails? I didn’t know where to find them. All my marathon training had been on dead flat roads.

By accident I discovered that one of the dead ends near the river valley had a deer trail down to the bottom. So one day I went down it. Straight down it. Then straight back up heaving like never before. Over a matter of months I upped it to three times in one go. This dead end at the top of the hill was one of the romantic lookouts where cars came to park for a while, so I’m sure there were a few couples who wondered at my sanity. I wondered too.

On the way to this hill, I would run pass one of the farms that housed dog sled dogs. In the summer they trained on wheeled sleds on the adjacent road. As I would pass them, it would be very noisy with all the yipping, but all their training worked to inspire me to train harder.

A couple times, I also ran down the highway on a 5 km downhill stretch that was 5% slope for 5 km. And then I had my wife (and 3 and 5 year olds) pick me up at the bottom. I couldn’t contemplate going back up. She is amazing.

I never really got my trail training in except a couple times while camping, but I did a good effort on the hills.

I didn’t really know what to expect for the race, but now as I look back it was not that abnormal from a trail race. Maybe 100 competitors. Very casual start. Very crowded, confusing first kilometer. I wore too much at the start but was freezing at the top and warm again at the bottom. I wore my road shoes since I didn’t know there was such a thing as trail running shoes.

I was quite happy with my finish. I was very encouraged by being able to pass people even to the end, and even after the 14 km of continuous downhill.

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We had warning that it was going to be a steep one!
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My daughter’s first race, and my second race.

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It was a great introduction to trail running. But oddly that was the last trail race I did for a few years. I’m not sure why, but at first it didn’t stick. It took a couple more trail races before trails got into my blood. And now they are in my blood.  I would love to go back and try my hand at that race again.

The views are spectacular (if you notice them between all the huffing and puffing).

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http://www.emperorschallenge.com/ – Tumbler Ridge, BC – Babcock Mountain

 

Objective: Burn Energy

We had some energy to burn on our long drive home after Christmas. It was still light so we stopped in the middle of the mountains at a rest stop and went for a run.

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Couldn’t ask for a better backdrop.

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We were eyeing up a nice virgin snow covered trail but upon closer inspection it was clearly only for skiers. Unfortunately we couldn’t see any other trails at this rest stop, so we had to go on the road. But this little side road had almost no cars on it. It was a significant uphill but that meant significant downhill all the way back.

2km completed

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This was near Field, on the road to Emerald Lake, just outside Banff National Park.

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Activity Objective: burn energy.
Objective completed.
Continue to next objective.

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.

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7.5 km of single track makes for a great race.

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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.

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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.