Sunday, May 25, 2014

Blackfoot Ultra 2014 National 100K Championships

Andy and me after 50K
      The race weekend started with a prerace dinner with friends Joe and Karon Huising. We ate plenty and over dinner we discussed my game plan for the ultra the next morning. The Blackfoot Ultra attracted a very fast field this year given the fact that it was designated the 100K National Trail Championships for 2014. A couple of the top runners Oleg Tabelev and Andy Reed had raced hard only two weeks prior. Knowing that it takes me longer than two weeks to completely recover, I thought my best strategy was to push the pace early in hopes they would follow and eventually wear out. This was a risky plan knowing I could bury myself instead.

John Hubbard, Joe Huising, me and Oleg Tabelev
       Saturday May 24th 5:00am the gun sounded and my plan to push the pace started immediately. The temperature was 12 degrees Celsius at race start and we ran out into a very rolly 25K loop in beautiful Elk Island Park eventually running 4 loops, each one proving to have their own challenges. A couple K into the race I noticed that Andy was the only chaser and boy were we moving. At times running 4 min/km our opening splits were crazy fast: 10K (0:43:30), 21K (1:31:00). At this pace a blow up was sure to happen but was it gonna be me or him. Around the 42K mark (3:11:00) there is an equestrian section of the course that my ailing ankle just hated. The pain set in, my lower leg started to tighten and my pace started to drop. Sensing an opportunity Andy blew past me. It took everything I had to keep pace with him to finish off that loop all the time telling myself "All I need to do is make it to the third loop, Sammy's loop."
New Balance 1400's
       In my last blog post I wrote about the four loops at the Blackfoot Ultra and how I was dedicating each loop to my wife and each of my kids. Two years ago the third loop was when I really suffered. This time around I knew that thinking of Sam would help me a ton. Upon finishing the second loop I was in big trouble and the pain in my ankle was getting worse. I was thinking while I run away into the third loop, I would stop and walk back to the start but the opposite happened. I sprinted out onto the course and said "Sam." My pace picked up, my pain diminished, spirits rose and every couple minutes repeated my son's name "Sam."
Me and Philippe Legace
       The dude that was winning the 50M at the time Mack Kont was back and forth with me and when I looked back, Andy was nowhere to be seen. Awesome this was the gap lap. I loved running past spots I remember suffering at two years ago, now breezing right past. The heat of the day was setting in and Mack was having stomach issues which made his pace drop and for the first time in the race I was all alone. Alone with Sam.
       For the third time that day I ran through the damn equestrian section of the course, once again putting more torque on the ankle. The mood started slipping yet again until I heard a familiar "Whoop whoop!" behind me. My buddy John Hubbard, who was
running the 50K, had caught up with me. He mentioned he was already suffering and we should run together…done! John and I ran the remaining third loop together and I have to admit, finishing 75K with 25K left to go I felt pretty bloody good.
       I learnt I had a solid 12 minute lead over Andy and knew a solid first half of the fourth loop would solidify the win. The fourth loop was different than all other loops since all 100K, 50M, 50K and 25K runners were now out on the course. Running with all the other runners was uplifting. Ultra runners are cool people and everyone was so positive. John and I ran the 
Me and Any Reed
Me and Gary Poliquin
Blackfoot hills (which I swear get taller every lap) and put out a solid 14K when I saw my friend and killer ultra runner Joe Huising on the course. He told me if I pick up the pace a huge course record could be set and I could squeeze under 8:30. The CR was 8:49 set by Richard Webb in 2007. I picked up the pace and felt good doing so but as I started really striding out my hamstrings started cramping. I took some salt tabs, started to run faster again and the cramps crept back. I decided at this point to hold back the speed and with now only 6K left coast into the finish for the win.
       With a mile left to go, my friend Oleg Tabelev met me on the trail and ran me into the finish. Unfortunately Oleg dropped out earlier after 50K due to hip issues. I'm proud to say we've become very good friends in the past year and it was great running the remaining bit with him. 
        I finished at 8:38, ecstatic I whooped, raised my arms and most importantly kissed Sharon. I am the 2014 National 100K Trail Champion and proud owner of my first course record! I raced in the New Balance 1400's road racing flat, not a trail shoe but 5.3 oz of true running bliss.

After race beverages with friends
25K in

       Upon completion I devoured two Dilly Bars, iced my ankle, drank a cold coke, sat down and reached for a beer when I heard "The second place finisher is coming." I turn around to see this guy I didn't know come barreling down the chute finishing in 8:51 to claim second place. Confusion set in, this is not Andy Reed, not Vincent Bouchard, not Rene Castel. It was Philippe Legace and this was his first ultra! Standing there in amazement (and yes a bit of fear), myself, Joe Huising, Oleg Tabelev, Wayne Gaudet and John Hubbard all taking note of this new threat in the Canadian ultra scene. Andy finished only 9 minutes back of Philippe in third place in 9:00 hours which would have won any other year. 
Copy cat
       The rest of the day was a fun filled, fruit beer drinking day hanging with friends under the New Balance tent. Half lit, watching runners finishing one by one is good for the soul. Many thanks to Gary Poliquin for once again putting on such an amazing event. With all the hype surrounding some ultras I believe the Blackfoot Ultra is the best kept secret in the Canadian ultra scene.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

1 week to go. Dedication.

     I titled this post with an intentional play on words. When you think of dedication and ultra running one would think of the before sunrise grinds, the obscene amount of hours training and the relentless push to build strength and endurance. Somewhere, tucked neatly behind the common conversations we have with our fellow ultra runners are the people that really truly matter in our day to day lives. The people that make us tick, the people that motivate us to be better. It may be your parents, your husband, your kids, a friend. Might be a sad story or a happy uplifting one that drives us. There are many, many reasons to be grateful for the gift of running and no better time than when you are putting it all out there next weekend at the Blackfoot Ultra to dedicate portions of the run to those that mean so much in your life. On a race course, same in life, nothing less than a full and complete effort would do, so here is who I'm running for on May 24th:

Lap 1: Sharon (wife) "I'm lucky I'm in love with my best friend" reads a picture hanging in the Proctor house and I'm glad to say it's true. The first of 4 laps will be the joy of the day, feeling fresh and having fun. Sharon has a smile that will light up a room and during the first lap, so will I. While running I will be giving thanks to her for being so patient with me and as we all know the first quarter of a 100K patience is a virtue. Sharon will be at the finish line and I look forward to seeing her there. 

Lap 2: Adele (daughter 3yrs) Our little ray of sunshine. Her favourite saying is "love you forever" and I hope she remembers that when she's a teenager. Between 25-50K one should keep the ball rolling and that's exactly what parenting a third child is all about. Don't get lazy, keep up the quality but know that with a little girl there are challenges ahead. Adele has a stead fast determination to keep up with her two older siblings, the fact that she is knee high to a grasshopper her spirit makes up for any shortcomings.

Lap 3: Sam (son 5yrs) Words can't describe how I feel about this little man. Sam is stricken with an undiagnosed Ataxic disorder making even simple movements difficult such as walking, feeding himself, writing, verbally being understood…but yet he never once in his life has ever complained about his unfortunate reality. I'm running 100K and complaining all throughout…there is something wrong here. He is my inspiration! Two years ago, on the third loop at Blackfoot was where I suffered the most, that will not happen again. when I start dropping into that dark place I will think of Sammy putting his shoes on, walking up stairs, brushing his teeth. Hell, all I have that's limiting me is lactic acid. The third lap will be a game breaker for me this year and Sam the man will be my driving force.

Lap 4: Julia (daughter 8) From the day she was born this little girl has stolen my heart. Julia is a go-getter  in life and never shies away from taking on more responsibility around the house or with her younger siblings. The day she was born I became a man and the final lap of this race I'll have to man up and get 'er done. Julia has always been eager to show me how fast she can run and on May 24th I would love to show her that daddy killed it!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


This time 3 days ago I was winding my way through the depths of the Grand Canyon and to be honest, I haven't been able to think of much else since. I knew this run would be a mind blowing experience but the term mind blowing seems to just scrape the surface. It was a day of extremes, awe inspiring beauty, bliss and friendship. On the other hand it was also a day of extreme heat(100+F), lung busting climbs and knee quivering descents. 

 Click pic to watch video
Click HERE to watch video

The day started by pulling up to the South Kaibab Trail head in our rental van around 4:30am. A nervous tension and child-like excitement was the general tone as we checked our gear awaiting the first of many steps through the great ditch. We arrived late the previous night in Tusayan and with just a few hours sleep, plenty of time sitting in the plane and van the day before,  I had thought my body would feel less than fresh. But it didn't, the body felt springy and light. Now as most early mornings when an intelligent decision must be made, I started by towing the party line and once again made a poor choice. I decided to run down from the South Kaibab with Adam Campbell. Hell, that didn't last too long. He was descending as if he was being chased by a pack of zombies and to be honest - I suck at downhill! I stopped, watched the sunrise and waited for the next group to come taring down -- the best decision I made all day. The rest of the morning was an absolute gift from God. I settled into a group of 4 runners: Myron, Mike, Kyle and Trevor. A very accomplished group of runners and as I discovered throughout the day, they are incredible human beings. Surely we looked ridiculous with smiles spread across our faces and giggling like kids in a candy store. It took us around 70 minutes to reach the Colorado river even with stopping every 3-4 minutes to snap a shot. Crossing the river I noticed my quads were shaken up from the 1450m descent in just over 10K distance. Passing through the historic Phantom Ranch and winding through the canyon floor the cliffs would jet out from the earth, extend its red arms up through the sky making a skinny runner feel like an ant in comparison. The cactus flowers were all receding knowing it was still the cool hours of the morning and that there would be plenty of opportunity to bath in the heat when the sun decides to offer it up. Now with a slight uphill and a moderate pace I noticed myself running slightly away from the group, not that I wanted to be antisocial but because I found myself deep in thought. Now this was a strange place I found myself in. At the best of times I prefer staying out of my head but there is something very special about that canyon. My thoughts resolved to gratitude, appreciation for Sharon, my kids, my family, my health and the general good luck and fortune I've seemed to come by all my life. Sad to say, the good luck ended there. Ahead of me was an 1800m climb up the North Kaibab Trail ending in the state of Utah. Half way up the ascent I looked upon my friends' grimacing faces and knew that with strength in numbers we would all arrive atop the north rim and celebrate by collapsing in a grassy patch. Right then, I hear from ahead "Adam's coming!" I know this sounds like a stretch but there blows Adam right passed me with a smile on his face! Yeah, a smile on his face (watch the video if you don't believe me)! We passed through countless ecosystems on the ascend up, all distinctly different then the last. The vision of the cactus covered canyon floor was now replaced with the smells of the familiar fur trees now blanketing the 8000+ feet above see level landscape. The grind ended when the group crested the north rim. I so looked forward to the spoils of chilling and relaxing in the grass but what was unexpected was how bloody cold it was up there. I don't know the exact temperature but what I did know was lying around was not an option. I mentioned to Myron that I needed to get going. He agreed so down we went.

Our spirits were lifted as we scurried down the 1800m canyon wall. Now with a new reference point, descending these narrow red rock cliffs was a very intimidating position we put ourselves in. I can see why they say to keep to the very inside of the trail as one trip may just be your last. Approximately 2 miles from the trail head we ran past the other runners from our group, Blaine, Ryan, Matt, Ed, and Andrew. In all honesty, they looked like they got run over by a car. At that same point of the climb I'm sure I looked the very same. We chatted for awhile, told them they looked wonderful and that the rim was just around the bend. As grade started to lessen and the cactus's appeared the heat came upon us like a swarm of locusts. At this point I felt confident, my body felt good and spirits were high but within 30 minutes of enduring that 100+F heat, my head started to bobble and my vision blurred. I dropped from the group and began walking. With my head in a cloud I made my way, hunched over thinking of a way to overcome this melting heat I came across a gift from the canyon gods. A pipe under the trail must have burst and a man made 3 foot puddle now bubbles up from below…it's my lucky day! I must have kneeled down aside that puddle for 20 minutes splashing myself down with cool, refreshing water. When I began running again I was a new man. I picked up the pace and was able to catch the group before crossing the Colorado river for the final ascent up the Bright Angel Trail. I started the climb with some relative speed but only a few miles in I decided to back right off, hike the rest of the climb, talked a lot with Mike, spoke a lot with other hikers and just take in the day. Now this was a new experience for me. A former self would have grinded it out and put my best effort in but I have to say: being a pedestrian runner, slowing down and enjoying the experience is definitely something I can get used to. Around 2 miles remaining I heard ahead "Adam's aid station!" and there was Adam handing me a Coke and hot damn that tasted good. Adam ended up running a 7:20! One of the fastest times ever ran and here he was, with a case of coke hiking down into the canyon to help out his hurting friends, what a guy! The rest of the day and night we saw one after another emerge from the rim looking like they just had there ass handed to them. Yet when they were handed an ice cold beer the canyon struggles seemed to drift away and laughter ensued. 

My time for r2r2r was just over 12hrs and I'm proud to say that this one running experience trumps any other that I've run before. I've got a new found respect for the Grand Canyon, taking pride in slowing down and smell the flowers and I feel confident in my running abilities going into this racing season.

Friday, May 9, 2014

2 weeks to go. The mental preparation

With now 2 weeks to go til the Blackfoot ultra the doubt monsters start creeping in telling me: I didn't get enough mileage in, that little niggle will hurt you on race day, I didn't do enough hills in training, and that I simply am not prepared for the giant task now only 2 weeks away. Every race I have the same thoughts but yet some how the race comes and goes and everything works out just fine. I'm just as guilty as the rest of you. If ultra running really is 90% mental you'd think us ultra runners would have this mental business down to a tee but why is it that at race after race I see runners failing when there bodies still have gas in the tank? How is it that some train less yet show up on race day and rock it?

There are Two studies I read many years ago that made a great deal of sense to me (sorry I couldn't find them online to link them). The first was a study that hooked runners up to Heart rate monitors and asked them to run for 30 minutes. Like clockwork around the 25 minute mark the runners heart rates would rise. The next week the runners were asked to run 60 minutes. The participants ran right passed the 30 minutes without a spike in there heart rate whereas upon around the 55th minute the runners began to fail shown in a rise in there heart rate. The study went on up to two hours and showed linear results which proves that the body will endure what it needs to and no more. This protective mechanism proved very valuable thousands of years ago when calories were sparse and physical conservatism proved smart, one would only divvy out what one would need to survive, any excess would just be egoic. Now of days it's not hard to see we live in a very different world and we do these crazy ultras for sport, not to feed our families. The second study was a simple one that showed a large number of pro Ironman athletes as pathological liars that passed a lie detector test knowing very well they were not telling the truth. Why is this relevant? Simply because to excel in Ironman one must be able to reason the unreasonable. You take Lance Armstrong, the stories told by his fellow riders tell of a man who showed no pain when pain was excessive and would appear childlike and giddy around the idea of workouts that delicately mirrored death. The very idea that a guy could convince himself of a non truth would be invaluable in an endurance sport.

Point is, if your race day plan is to start running knowing very well you will run be fine for the first half and somehow get through the rest, congratulations, you have just created your reality! Just the thought of going out and running at red line for 9 hours and looking forward to it, most people would think I am stupid or dumb and you know what…they're right, but dont tell me that, Im too busy convincing myself of a false truth.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

3 weeks to go. Transition to taper.

      So now with only three weeks before Blackfoot it's time to have the age old debate. How much rest (taper) does one need going into a 100K ultra marathon? A friend of mine (also running the Blackfoot100) and accomplished ultra runner believes he only needs 7-10 days to feel fresh and spry on race day. He also feels he can race well with only one or two weeks between intense efforts at ultra races. But let's face it, he is an absolute beast and I have always respected his toughness. Myself on the other hand find that I need 2-3 weeks of taper before a high intensity ultra and at this year's Blackfoot I will be running on a 2 week taper. The reason for 2 weeks and not 3 is that on May 10 a group of friends and I will be running the r2r2r (Grand Canyon), an absolute bucket list run with around 2 miles of elevation over 75K. If I can sit back and try not to run with the big boys, but instead coast the canyon then this run should be the ideal training for Blackfoot. Otherwise if I go too hard I risk not recovering in time for race day.

       Upon taper time you've got to just trust your training and know you've taken the necessary means to prepare yourself for the day's challenges. They say in a marathon the taper is uber important but I think in ultra running it's extremely important. Showing up on race day with a full tank of gas and itching to get out there sure counters the nervous emotions. I think the mistake most make when tapering is thinking they didn't get enough in. Anyone who has run Blackfoot knows very well that the hills play a major hurdle in the later half of the race. Two years ago I made the mistake of running too many hills in the weeks approaching Blackfoot. The first two laps went very well, whereas upon the third loop the wheels came off and I bonked big time around the 60K mark (in a 100K race that's way too early to suffer). At the time, I thought it was salt or fuel but later I concluded it was due to too many hills too close to the race. The same happened last year during the Blackfoot 50M. I raced the Elk Beaver 100K and thought I'd be fine for 50M in two weeks time. At the 65K, like a drop kick to the solar plexus I was reminded that 2 weeks wasn't enough recovery time for this old body.

       We are all different and optimally perform on a unique set of variables and I believe we all have this innate ability to sense what our own body needs. Ultra running is a mentally challenging sport but maybe even more so is the tapering process. Listen to your body, learn from the past, be weary of advice you receive but be patient with those who supply it.