What’s in your Pack? Running with Weights

Yes, some people do run with weights. And yes, it is hard. But no, they don’t die, they just get a lot more tired and don’t go as fast. But they do develop bigger leg and core muscles.

This is not something you would want to do on every training run. Unsurprisingly, most people don’t want to do it on any run. Are they missing out?

I was feeling sorry for myself on my last stair repeat workout, when I noticed this other guy wearing a weight vest. I realized, there are harder things in life than just doing stair repeats. You can do them with weights.

There are a bunch of different types of weights you could use. A running vest, like the one worn by my stair-running friend fits snug so it doesn’t bounce around. But the weight is the weight. It is hard to increase or decrease. And the one he had wasn’t very breathable. Definitely not breathable like a running shirt would be. So be prepared to do heat training as well when you wear one of these.

There are weights you put on your ankles or shoes. But you need to be careful that your ankles do not get stretched too much since feet are not used to being pulled down on every step. A cheaper way to do shoe weights is to go for a run in the mud. Yeah, that sticky gooey kind of mud where your shoes getting bigger with every step. But again, you can’t control the weight, but it can be fun.

You could just wear big heavy boots, but beware of blisters. Not recommended!

Filling up your water bladder fuller than it needs to be is a great way to increase the weight you were going to wear anyway. Liquids are heavier than you’d think. It doesn’t take much extra liquid to come to this realization.

My favourite is just a plain old backpack. Whether it is a small snug running back pack, or a big ill-fitting backpack, just use the one you’ve got. The weight inside it can be adjusted to suit how masochistic you feel, and is only limited by your creativity. If you find it too heavy, you can always remove stuff. Sometimes that might be in the middle of a run so bring stuff you don’t mind getting rid of.

But stuff bounces around if you can’t zip it up tight. I tried putting my work shoes in my pack on my run home yesterday and they bounced all the way home since there wasn’t sufficient straps to tighten it up. Annoying! And then the zippers started making a racket right next to my ears. So packs are not always the best solution.

Of course if you are one of those the hard-core masochists you might be tempted to carry rocks in your pack. Rocks are heavy. Heavy things makes running harder. Harder makes you stronger.

Bonus: Pulling rocks out of your pack after a group run can be used to full effect as an intimidation factor.

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But take it easy. That weight really adds up with every step. Don’t go far, don’t go fast, even if you think you can. Work your way up by slowly increasing weight. It is super easy to injure yourself. And injuries would just sideline you. No fun in that.

The reward of all this weight training is the amazing feeling on that first run after you have run with weights for a week. You feel so light on your feet you could run forever. And you feel fast. And you are fast. Wee!

Any other ideas for weight training?

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.

Prairie Link Loop – Places to Run

I have run this 12km loop once before, maybe 5 years ago but I had run it clockwise. When I ran it last week, I decided to do it counter-clockwise. Well my memory wasn’t quite as good as I thought and I was second-guessing a little too much. I had neglected to take a photo of the trailhead map since I was sure it was on my phone somewhere. But when I needed it I couldn’t find it. So I was within 100m of turning around at the half way point when I came across the bridge to assure myself I was still on the right trail. There weren’t many people on the trail to ask, and definitely no direction signs. That was very close to a disappointing run!

Then within 500m of the bridge I missed the next turn even though there was a trailhead map right there. So I did an extra 1.5 km in the wrong direction before my brain kicked in with its internal GPS to override what looked right on my actual GPS.

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I love these bridges

So going counter clockwise, in mid-April I found some ice on the trail at the very end for several hundred meters near the parking lot. But overall, the trail was very dry, especially for April. I don’t remember any mud. We’ve had a very dry winter / spring.

There were maybe 10 others on the trail that I ran into over the 2 hours out there, on a weekday morning. On the weekends, it is full of mountain bikes and there can horses too. But this was a great time to be out there. I don’t get many weekday mornings to get out there.

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Hoping there’s no bears or cougars around the corner. The bear spray is buried too deep in my pack for that kind of surprise.

 

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Rocky Mountains as a backdrop
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Unfortunately, all the sections of trail that were this smooth had incredibly steep or were long hills

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Now that’s a cold river but it felt great on the feet (for the few seconds it took to take the photo).

 

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Can you tell where I lost the trail? Yeah, I didn’t read the sign and assumed I knew the way. Good thing my internal GPS kicked in eventually.

To get there from Calgary, head through Bragg Creek to Kananaskis Country, and park at Elbow Falls. Before mid-May the road is closed beyond this point but it is only 500m to the trail head. In the summer you can drive right to the parking lot for Powder Ridge Trail. That’s an amazing trail too. So is Prairie Mountain. So much to hike and run from this one parking spot.

Praire Link Loop – 15km with the wrong turn (12km otherwise), 360m elevation gain

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

 

Winter Running in the Rockies – Lake Louise

We did a quick stop on our drive through the Canadian Rockies on the way to see the relatives for Christmas. We just couldn’t help ourselves and had to get out and run a bit. Beautiful.

We followed the trails groomed for skiing in Banff National Park in the town of Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies following the river upstream.

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I would love to get out here a bit more. Even though it is only 1.5 hours from home we don’t get here enough.

-15C, snow in shoes, wet socks, frozen fingers and nose. But super fun.

We kept it really short (2k) so we could get back to the road.

Day 33 run streak

Elbow Valley Trail – Places to run

Today I ran with an avid group of trail runners in the foothills between Calgary and the Rockies. There sure are some amazing trails, even in winter conditions.

There was uneven hard packed snow the whole way which made the trail very difficult. Cleats were absolutely necessary today. My ankles will be sore for a few days.

But the views were amazing.

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Mostly single track with a little double track (5 minutes max). Only two bikes, three horses, 8 hikers and no other runners – for 3.5 hours! You don’t get that kind of loneliness on a lot of trails.

Fresh bear tracks only once although it was right beside a fresh kill. We definitely keep the adrenaline flowing on these runs.

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Bragg Creek is 20 minutes west of Calgary. Go another 15 minutes along highway 66.

We ran Elbow Valley Trail starting at Station Flats and turning around at Prairie Mountain.

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It was a great way to start off a Saturday.

21 km – 700m vertical (ie lots of hills!)

Run streak day 15. 26 to go.

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.

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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.

Flying down the hills

We had a blast a few days ago flying down a mountain. It was a long slog to the top, maybe three quarters of an hour, but the return trip down the single track was fantastic.

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Most of trail was snow covered and icy in some spots. There were shoe sized rocks to dodge. The very solid looking trees right off the trail made sure we didn’t stray off the trail. This was especially crucial at the sharp corners. And to top it off we hadn’t brought any spikes with us so it was even more treacherous than it should have been.

I can’t quite remember the quote from my 14 year old as we were hurtling down the mountain, but between all the heavy breathing it was something to do with the snow, ice, and rocks making this so much fun, especially at high speed. And she made sure she wasn’t always following. She wanted some of the best of the fun too by being up front.

Despite all the sliding and racing at break neck speed, we didn’t wipe out and maybe that is why we are remembering the run so fondly. To top it off the sun was shining on a weekday afternoon where neither of us had to be at work or school. Couldn’t ask for more.

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That’s one run we will have to do again.

9.5km, 1hr 10 m
Snagmore trail starting near Allan Bill just west of Bragg Creek in Kananaskis.

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One Year of Blogging (& Running)

I love sharing photos of the places I run, hoping to inspire others to keep up this crazy addiction we can running.

Over this last year I have enjoyed sharing my running adventures and along the way I learned a lot about blogging and writing in general.

It has also been a good record of my running journey. Keeping track of it this way is a whole lot better than just a bunch of stats of my times and distances.

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Here is one photo from each of the 12 months of blogging that was taken while I was out running. It was pretty hard to pick out just one good one.

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August 2015 – Ironlegs 50 miler, Kananaskis, Canadian Rockies
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July 2015 – Lots of hills training in the Rockies

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Blogging stats for year one:

8000 views on WP over the year plus the unrecorded “tons” of viewers by email, rss feeds, Facebook and G+

By far the most popular post 328 views – Surviving the whole half which was my race report of the half marathon with my 14 year old daughter

Second most popular 240 views – Trail Running in the Canadian Rockies. Places to run. Inspiration for anyone who lives the mountain trails.

My first blog post (short and sweet) that kicked it all off: Too Many Trails, Too Little Time.

Running while blogging: 3300 km over 12 months in 4 countries

Thanks for joining me on this journey. We’re not done yet.