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.

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).

Capture

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.

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

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.

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Continue reading “Running in Calgary and the Rockies”

Trail Feature – Ranger Summit to Strange Brew

Starting in West Bragg Creek in Kananaskis are a ton of trails. If you go on a Tuesday night like we did or a Saturday you will realize that the mountain bikers just love these trails. Well, the trail runners do too.

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A long way up
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Whizzed past this rest area on the way down
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A maze of trails

Our group of 25 trail runners started up Ranger Summit. This is about 5k mostly up hill. Maybe half of it is runnable, the rest is runnable if you really push it. At the top you can go longer going down another hill, or your can double back along Strange Brew. Strange Brew is almost all downhill. It is fun downhill. You can go really fast. And there aren’t too many roots to trip you up. But there are a few as the runner behind me found out the hard way with scrapes and blood to tell the tale.

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Fast, curvey trails
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No wet spots today
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Snow shoe trails in the winter

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Tonight the bikers were mostly going our direction. So we passed them in the uphills, and they whipped past us on the downhills. They were having a lot of fun too.

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10k loop

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This was a 10k loop with about 350m of elevation.

Lots of fun for an after work run with friends from the Calgary Trail Runners Meetup group.

Trying to Smile for 50 Miles

Well we found the start line easy enough even in the pitch dark. We just had to find all the head lamps lined up listening to the final instructions. There seemed to be lots of nervous energy, me included.

The start of the Ironlegs 50 Miler race was in the rain and it rained for much of the race. It made for some parts to be very miserable but luckily rarely was it a down pour. Despite the weather, there were smiles and joking everywhere, throughout the day. Everyone was in the same boat (or maybe in the same flood).

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We only needed head lamps for the first 5 minutes of the race so many of us just relied on other people’s head lamps for that first bit. It made for a tentative slow start with everyone bunched up but it spread out soon enough. When there are so many hours to go it is not worth getting stressed out what part of the group you are in. Within several kilometres the amount of passing slowed down considerably as we found our place and as our legs woke up to the realization that this was going to be a long day.

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At first we were dodging the puddles until someone chided us that our feet were going to be sopping wet pretty soon any way. What were we doing? We had lots of creeks to cross yet. And yes there were a lot of water crossings and puddles throughout the day. And we soon remembered that getting wet when you are wet already is a lot of fun. And it didn’t take long until we couldn’t get wetter.

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Those of us who had done reconnaissance on the trails at least knew what the views were supposed to look like without the fog and rain. I felt sorry for those who hadn’t seen the area before that day. They missed out on a lot of mountain scenery.

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The hills were relentless. They just kept coming and coming. On average, half the race was 10% uphill and the other half was 10% downhill. That’s 4200m up and 4200m down over 87km. It felt like it would never end. There’s a reason it is called the toughest 50 miler in Canada.

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Well it did end. 13.5 long hours later. I came in 20th overall out of maybe 80 runners. So I am pretty proud of that. I didn’t smile all the way, but it is pretty amazing to be out there and to prove to yourself that you can do this.

Thanks for the amazing volunteering and aid stations in that drizzling rain all day. And my amazing family who came out to a couple aid stations and to steady me after the finish line.

Don’t ask me if I am going to do it again. The pain is still pretty fresh and the couch will be aiding my slow recovery for a while yet.

Running Reconnaissance in the Mountains

In the last 2 months I have run most of the sections of the 87k trail race that is coming up next week. It is helping my confidence knowing that I can visualize most of the trail. I think there is only about 25% of the trail that I haven’t done. And the parts that I haven’t done aren’t a big mystery – I think they are similar to other nearby sections.

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Elbow River
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Powder Ridge Trail

Just the training for these races helps me become an expert of the local trails. I can now talk with confidence about trail names such as the ones on the Ironlegs route: Sulphur Springs, Elbow Trail, Powderface Ridge, Ford Creek, Pneuma, Moose Packers, Moose Mountain, Ridgeback.

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Knoll / Ford Creek
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Sulphur Springs Trail
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Base of Prairie Mountain
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Moose Mountain

I don’t know what it would be like if the race was further from home where you can’t do any reconnaissance.

As long as the weather holds, it should be an amazing route. And stunning views. Stay tuned.

Ironlegs.CA in beautiful Kananaskis country in Alberta

Moose (Not Mouse!!) Mountain

Mouse mountain? I don’t think so. My legs told me it was definitely bigger than mouse-sized. My auto correct in Strava changed it from Moose to Mouse Mountain. I didn’t see this understatement for several hours and then quickly changed it. However even though my friends thought I had climbed a mouse-sized mountain they still kindly gave me ‘kudos’. Thanks guys for the encouragement.

Moose mountain is a significant climb and a beautiful view from the top. You can just make out Calgary 50k in the one direction. And facing West, you can see we are on the doorstep of the Rockies.

A forest fire warden station is at the very top (with a friendly real live warden who sometimes comes out to chat with the climbers).

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The morning was overcast so it never got too hot and bonus that we didn’t get wet.

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And it would not be a trip up moose mountain without seeing a moose or two. Thanks for posing, Mr Moose.

Prairie Mountain – don’t be deceived by “prairie”

Prairie Mountain is one tough climb but the view is amazing at the top. There is about 700m vertical in 3.5 km (20% average) with lots of roots and rocks. I have no idea where “prairie” came from except that it is so high you can see the flat prairies to the east.

The top has a 360 degree view where you can see the Rockies in one direction and prairies on the other. Standing up there I was inspired to also climb the nearby Moose Mountain, Cox Ridge and Powderface Ridge (but on another day). And on clear days you can make out Calgary surrounded by fields and pastures.

It is a popular climb for locals, especially for anyone doing hill training for trail races. Great for technical terrain training too due to the roots and rocks.

It gets relatively busy on the weekends unless you can finish before 10am. A round trip for me was under 1.5 hours. This was with a hard hike up and with a moderate running pace down.

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Only 45 minutes from Calgary this area is a mecca for trail runners.