Saturday, December 19, 2015

From the Better Half

Hi, my name is Sharon and I live with an ultra-addict who goes by the name Dave Proctor. This is a man who does nothing in moderation; he does not understand the meaning of enough. He is obsessive, a control freak, and worst of all…no, best of all he thrives to push further stripping the idea of limitations.

And I love him for it.

Many have said they admire Dave for his running efforts and are inspired by him. Truly he is an amazing athlete deserving of recognition (Dave’s head just got a little bigger right there). However I am humbled and have felt sheepish of also being told I am admired for what I do for him. Being the supportive wife, encouraging his passion of running, being a faithful and ruthless crew by his side. As his best friend and better half, I can’t see myself being any different. I do my best to keep him balanced in life, as he can either have the blinders on obsessing on one thing or suddenly be random and off chasing a squirrel. I do enjoy getting to experience the excitement and fun at ultra-races without having to run and put myself through stupid pain.

First and foremost our kids are our priority and Dave makes no exception to that. Dave tries his best to maximize time with the family by training generally when the kids are in school or in bed. There is no lack on his part when it comes to helping out around the house and with the kids. This hipster may wear a fancy scarf and a ‘murse’ (don’t get me going on his thrift shop pimp jacket) but his cooking and cleaning make him a real man. Dave nearly cooks all meals as I loathe cooking, so I consider myself a lucky woman! Even when Dave is logging 160 km a week, he still manages to find time for just him and I. Netflix nights are just as essential as date nights are. But I hate that he’s skinnier than me and can eat 2 bowls of ice cream in one sitting.

Dave is the ‘move now and get things done’ kind of guy where I am one to stay organized and do logistics - together we make a great team. I’ve got spreadsheets laid out for the 72 hour ATY, gear lists, packing lists, scare tactics, etc…and Dave says, “I like running.” Dave calls me a ruthless crew, well with him I sometimes need to be because if I wasn’t it would be like, “SQUIRREL!” I remember at Sinister 7, Dave came into an aid/transition station and a group of the Bow Valley Harriers were there waiting for their teammate. Dave came running in, cowboy hat on, mud caked to his face, whooping and hollering like he was ready to have a party with the guys. I could tell he wanted to hang out and just talk ultra-shop with each one of them. I had to grab his face to get him to look at me and with a stern voice I said, “Dave! Focus, what do you need? Get it and get out of here!”

My hard love will come out again at ATY when Dave has his 1 hour naps. When it’s wake up time I will be giving him a 1 minute warning before I zap him with a special ordered electric wasp swatter. Not only that I will be videoing his wakefulness leaving it up to him if it will be a post I make of shaming or heroism. Now how’s that for motivation?

There is so much I get out of from Dave’s races just like the aforementioned. I love seeing him come in at a station, helping him out, and best of all watching him finish. When things blow up, like in Run Rabbit Run, back in Colorado, I am just as indebted and appeased to be there by his side at these mad ultras.

With the 72 hour ATY quickly closing in I am so much more excited to be Dave’s crew in this particular race. Our kids and all of Dave’s family will be there to cheer him on. We will all stand proud watching him on the sidelines in our Care for Rare shirts. It has been an exciting time putting focus on raising awareness and funds for Care for Rare plus break a 134 year old record, I couldn’t be more proud of Dave as a father, husband, friend, athlete and advocate for our son Sammy and other children affected from rare diseases. There is no better half, just better whole.

Arizona…the Proctors are coming!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

History of Pedestrian racing

The first Madison Square Gardens, New York
Imagine, it's February 1883 and you are standing shoulder to shoulder in a sold out crowd in the first Madison Square Gardens. The smell of cigarette smoke and whisky loft in the air while upbeat tunes of a brass band play in the musical section. Vendors are busy selling roasted chestnuts and pickled eggs while the celebrities of the day alongside the average folk to watch the spectacle before them. Wagers are made and hundreds of thousands of dollars trade between hands as the spectators urge on there favorite athlete to achieve athletic brilliance. The collective tension builds as the clock ticks; it's now noon on a Saturday and there is only 12 hours remaining.

Edward Payson Weston
Fact is, the race started on a Sunday at midnight and these athletes have been running and walking for the past five and a half days around a 1/8th mile dirt loop emulating essentially a 6 day Nascar race on feet. Races never exceeded 6 days as public amusement was illegal on Victorian Sundays.  The sport was called Pedestrian Racing and in the 1870's and 80's it was a worldwide craze. Some say the mass urbanization following the American Civil War left people with too much spare time while others say the sport had everything a sports lover could ask for. Either way the Western world fell head over heels for Pedestrian Racing.

Pedestrian Racing got the spark it needed from a lost bet. Edward Payson Weston lost a wager in regards to the outcome of the 1861  American presidential election. His penalty was to walk from Boston to Washington D.C. to view the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln. The terrible weather and deep snow slowed his pace whilst averaging 51 miles a day over a 453 mile distance just wasn't enough and Weston missed the inauguration. All was not lost as news spread quickly of this impossible task and Weston found himself a major celebrity with the newspapers eager to document his next feat. A $10,000 wager in 1867 catapulted Weston's career to the next level which saw him walk from Portland, Maine to Chicago in 25 days, not walking on Sundays. Along the 1,326 mile stretch fans, marching bands, and local politicians would greet him from town to town showing him hospitality. Across the early 1870's Weston attempted a series of walks against time. Yet the year 1874 brought about the w
Daniel O'Leary
idely regarded, impossible feat of walking 500 miles in 6 days. At this point other pedestrians were attempting this great task but on the 14-19 of December, 1874 Edward Weston finally achieved that distance. The incredible publicity immediately stirred up interest from many new athletes to the sport and not soon after did competition get fierce. One of those new to the sport was Daniel O'Leary, an Irish door to door book salesman. O'Leary very quickly compiled an excellent list of accomplishments. In 1876 Weston and O'Leary travelled to compete in Britain where Weston proved victorious the previous year. In front of 70,000 onlookers O'Leary emerged the winner. The promoter Sir John Astley was so enthusiastic that he chose to promote a whole series of similar races called the Astley Belt and due to the differences in opinion about the fairness of Weston's walking action, the events were labeled 'go-as-you-please' which was open to both runners and walkers. The new labeling of these

George Littlewood with Astley Belt
pedestrian events created a stir in the pedestrian community and allowed the athlete to take it into his own hands on how to travel as far as possible in 6 continuous days. The next years Astley Belt race was won again by O'Leary with his relentless dog-trot setting a new world best of 520.25 miles. O'Leary returned to America and like the champion he was consistently defended his belt against his strong opposition. In 1879, O'Leary defended his title in Britain against a tough British new comer Charles Rowell. O'Leary emerged victorious with 500 miles and pocketed $20,398. Preparing a comeback in 1880 Weston took on a running coach and was training at a feverish pace. Using his wife's inheritance he entered the fourth Astley Belt race to be held at Agricultural Hall in London. After a back and forth battle with the Briton Henry Brown, Weston pushed hard for the final three days and won the race. Weston was not only declared the winner he also completed 550 miles setting a new world's best. Over the next few years Pedestrian races gained a lot of momentum as more and more races popped up all over the English speaking world. Variations of the traditional 6 day race were held across the East coast of the United States and Britain, including the popular 6 x 12 hours and 6 x 10 hour races, designed to optimize the athletes activity while the paying public were awake and able to view.

The Agricultural Hall, London
With now so much talent and a tremendous amount of prize money available the 6 day record kept creeping closer to the once thought impossible 600 mile mark. In 1881 Americans Robert Vint, Patrick Fitzgerald, and John Hughs flirted with the elusive 600 mile. In February 1882 an epic show down happened at Madison Square Gardens in New York when Rowel had an early surge crossing the 100 mile mark in 13:26 and reached the 300 mile mark at just 58:17:06 setting a record that still stands to this day. Unfortunately, during a rest stop Rowen accidentally swallowed some vinegar causing him to drop from the event and eventually lead to his retirement. George Hazael following Rowen's earlier lead ended victoriously and became the first to run 600 miles in 6 days. With the pedestrian era on the decline American Patrick Fitzgerald set a new world's best of 610 miles in 1884. In 1888 a newcomer to the sport James Albert became the first man to crest the 1000 kilometer distance with 621.75 miles and George Littlewood raced brilliantly in New York capturing the world's best title by running 623.75 miles.

Cycling events emerged quickly becoming the craze and the new sought out event to watch, while pedestrian races would still pop up from time to time the continual downward spiral was inevitable and by the early 1900's the sport was essentially buried.

Yiannis Kouros
A revival of the sport took place in 1979 when American Don Choi worked hard to regain the glory of this old sport by creating and promoting the modern multi-day race. The tables were turned in 1984 when George Littlewood's record set in 1888 was shattered when Greek Yiannis Kouros ran a mind numbing 635 miles /1022 km. Instead of this new record drawing attention to the multi-day events, for what ever reason the interest in the sport subsided again.
Jean-Gilles Boussiquet

A second revival took foot again in the late 1980's and early 1990's when Australian Bryan Smith and Iranian James Zarei exceeded 1000 km. A new leader took hold in 1992 at an indoor race in La Rochelle,France by Frenchman Jean-Gilles Boussiquet surpassing Kouros' record with 640 miles/1030 km. For 13 long years Boussiquet's record stood until 2005 Kouros took back what was previously his by running 644 miles/ 1036 km in Colac, Australia and is still to this day the current world record holder for the 6 day. Many runners have emerged since such as German Wolfgang Schwerk, Brit William Sichel, and Americans Joe Fejes and David Johnston. However no one has come remotely close to equalling the Kouros' 2005 record.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Fear and loathing in Arizona

"We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light." - Plato

Leah Hennel - Calgary Herald
That said, it's fair to say I'm scared shitless. Not just because of the heavy goals I've burdened myself with but mostly cuz this is uncharted territory for me. The longest duration I've spent running to date is 24 hours; in Glendale, AZ over the turn of the year I'll be tripling that to a whopping 72 hours. I think I peed my pants a bit just writing that. The Across the Years Ultra Marathon (ATY) is host to runners from around the globe running 24, 48, 72hr and 6 day time duration's. The spotlight on the 6 day runners as they rack up a stupid amount of miles over one day short of a week. Essentially I'll be running the half marathon equivalent of the multi-day ultra events. Thinking of it in that context will put me at ease, maybe...not really, not at all...crap this is gonna hurt like hell! The thing I have going for me is I think I'll be really good at this multi-day running thingamabob. I mean, I didn't suck at the 24 hour race and looking around me at other runners during my last 24 hour race I don't think I was hurting as bad as they were. So with seven weeks to go before the dance I want to take this time to discus the good, the bad, and the downright ugly sides of fear.

Fear of the unknown is probably the most common reason why runners don't push past their familiar borders to attempt new feats. The blame is normally cast on time restraints, other commitments and other socially acceptable reasons that are easy to discuss with others whereas if the reason for not signing up for your first marathon was fear it would most likely be frowned upon and make you look weak. We all have fear, it has its place in our sport.

Two runners named Mary and Jill both have run a number of marathons and both share the desire to extend themselves and attempt a 50 mile ultra marathon. They have heard the same stories told in their running group on struggles of ultra racing. At 16 weeks before the race they decide to sign up for an ultra. The fear sets in. They read the same web sites, blogs and pretty much anything else they can gather to get advice on how to do this. Mary processes this fear and decides to get to work and let fear be the fuel to drive her through training. Jill struggles to adapt to her fears and quickly finds herself falling behind on training that is now fueled by self doubt. With 5 weeks to go before the race Mary worries about the enormity of this task she is about to embark on so she dials in her training. Jill's fear is coupled with the realities of being under trained as the day approaches and curbs what's left of her deflated enthusiasm, making it all too easy to repeatedly hit the snooze button thus shortening her much needed long runs. On race day Mary uses her fear throughout the day to propel her and surprises herself with a podium finish in her age group. Jill's day never happened. The fear of the pain and suffering due to her lack of fitness was all she needed to not drive out to the race start. Mary goes on to run many 50 mile races and one day completes a 100 mile ultra marathon. Jill upset, vows to steer clear of disappointment and never entertain a silly idea like that ever again. Both Mary and Jill had a similar fear but what they did with it ended very differently. When fear is present so is the coward and the courageous. Do you let fear hold you back or do you use it to push you further?
"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear." - Nelson Mandela

Some falter, some succeed. Many crumble at first thought while a few soar higher than first dreamed possible. I'm sure someone much smarter than I could give a synopsis of the inner workings of the mind and why we all seem to adapt to fear differently.

At my first 72 hour on Dec. 29- Jan. 1 there are many specific things I could fixate on that should scare my socks off but I must say the biggest fear is the fear of not having reaching the true limits I know I am capable of.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Checkin' In

I am about three weeks into training for my 72 hours at the ATY and I've gotta say things are looking up. My friends tell me I don't update my blog enough so by writing this I intend to silence them. Three weeks ago I got a last minute text to be a part of the MitoCanada team at the Grizzly Ultra in Canmore. The Mito team has been doing incredible work raising funds and creating awareness for families with children battling this debilitating disease. Simply put by my friend Blaine Penny, "We run for those who can't". Not only did I have a blast that day hanging with friends at the Nordic Centre but we also won the race setting a new CR despite the slowpoke on the lead leg (me). The rest of the week I put up some descent mileage trying to slow my pace as I get ready for the painfully slow shuffle commonly used in these multi-day races. Saturday Oct. 17 my friend Misti suggested I run the MEC marathon the next day. Truth be told I was planning to run 40-50K anyway so I told her sure, what the hell. I
showed up race morning to register, the cost was $30, yeah that's right 30 BUCKS and that's the cost to us last minute folk. I later found out it was $15 for those with better planning skills than Mr. Proctor. The gun went off and my plan went to pot right away. I got talking with the lead group and my plan of holding a 4 min/km pace throughout turned into a 4:20 min/km first half simply due to the excellent conversation that we all were having. Half way in I picked it up to 3:45 min/km and came in around 2hrs 53min. I was very happy with the effort and how I felt at the end. Oddly enough this was my very first marathon, weird huh? Costing $30 I thought the race would be dodgy at best but I was pleasantly surprised with the race markings, aid stations, fuel provided, and start and finish line. I will totally be doing another MEC race again. Only two days later I ran at the Miles for Microcredit fundraiser who's intention was to gather as many
Calgarians as possible and try to collectively run, bike, or walk the distance from here to Guatemala to deliver much needed micro-credit to women in need. The week prior I was contacting as many runners I could to get them out to the Prince's Island Park in Calgary to join me in the attempt. I spent the whole morning and early afternoon circling back and running with friends. Problem was that all my fast friends showed around lunch so there they were ready to giv'er while I was already 50-60K in. Sheesh who needs enemies when you've got friends like these. The day came to a close with me running 67K. Since then I've run a few longer runs and am generally feeling great. Sharon's support for my questionable sport has been unwavering, thanks Sharon! The monkeys are busy having fun at school and the funds collected for the Care4Rare fundraiser are quickly approaching 5G's.

The closer I get to race date the slower my pace will get in order to prepare my body for the task at hand. In my opinion, the slower the pace the more collision takes place with every hit so an obvious adaptation must slowly occur between now and then to ease my tissues into the plan of impacting the ground 600,000 to 700,000 times in the three days. Now that I've put it that way I'm not so sure this is a good idea...

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Across The Years for Care 4 Rare

In Glendale AZ from December 29 through January 1 I will be racing my very first multi-day race at the renowned Across The Years ultramarathon. The race will see runners run 24 hr, 48 hr, 72 hr, and 6 days straight with the objective of accumulating as many miles as one can travel within the time allotted. The rules are simple: run, walk or crawl. Sleep when you want, stop when needed and when stepping off the track one must re-enter where they exited. It's a flat course, incredibly well supported, and has stiff competition making the race a perfect venue to rack up a huge amount of miles. Sharon and the kids will be track-side along with my brother Dan, sister-in-law Laura, and my Mom and Dad kindly offering me their support as I attempt my largest running goal yet. The lofty goal has two parts, one of far more importance.

One goal is to break the 48 and 72 hour Canadian records. The 48 hour record is currently held by Canadian running legend Trishul Cherns set in 1995 when he ran 355.875K. The 72 hour record is 496.482K held by a pedestrian racer by the name of Richard Lacouse, completed in New York city in December of 1881. Yes, that's right, 1881! That's a 134 year old record!!! In a future blog post I'll write about the fascinating pedestrian racing history in the late 1800's and I promise you it'll blow your mind; the truly amazing athletic feats our ancestors were achieving well over 100 years ago. After setting a new Canadian 24 hour record in April 2015 of running 257.093K, I feel these two goals are lofty but yet obtainable. I hope to only sleep 2-3 times for a maximum of 90 minutes per sleep session. Should get interesting.

My other goal, and by far the most important of the two, is to create awareness and funding for an organization that has grown near and dear to us Proctors called Care 4 Rare. This is a wonderful group of scientists, clinicians, bioinformaticians, and researchers with the goal of improved clinical care for patients and families affected by rare diseases.

Our story began in March of 2010 when our son Sam was rushed to the hospital with flaccid paralysis. Terrified, Sharon and I looked on as our 13 month old perfectly healthy son was now hardly able to turn his head and blink. After numerous tests the doctors at the Alberta Children's Hospital informed us that there was nothing they could find that caused this episode and it was most likely a virus that attacked Sam's brain and that he will most likely recover quickly and this will be just a bad memory. Sam's recovery was swift,  all except we noticed he was all wobbly and wibbley. In March of 2011 our world was shaken when Sam was hospitalized yet again with the exact same symptoms that crippled him one year prior. This round the recovery was slower and the worry deepened as Sharon and I came to grips that this was a serious ongoing issue that needed serious
attention. A team of neurologists, geneticists, and countless other doctors combined efforts. A trip was made to the Mayo Clinic and test after test were performed to identify what was ailing Sam but nothing was found. In the past 5 years, we received over-the-top support from government agencies, organizations like Cause And Effect, physiotherapists, OT's, and most notably Sam's CDF (Child Development Facilitator) Nicole Lightfoot. Sam will be turning seven this coming February. He finds all gross and fine motor skills challenging such as walking, feeding himself, writing, and everyday things we all take for granted. We've been spending the past few years coming to grips with the notion that we will most likely never have an idea what is causing our son's ataxia (lack of balance and coordination) and better preparing him for a life of challenges...

...That is until three months ago when we had a meeting with geneticist Dr. Micheil Innes from a group called Care 4 Rare. He explained a study called whole exome sequencing in where they could investigate Sam's entire genetic data in search for the glitch that causes Sam's ataxia. This is the latest and most detailed genetic investigation method. It was music to our ears when he broke the news that Sam and 499 other children with undiagnosed diseases and disorders from all across Canada will partake in this $11 million study to identify new genetic diseases. Any parent will tell you that the feeling of not having answers and being unable to help your child is one of the lowest and most helpless feelings but now thanks to Care 4 Rare we have a renewed optimism and new found hope. Dr. Innes explained that given recent studies similar to this one there could be a 30-35% chance of a diagnosis upon completion of this study. THIS IS HUGE!

Currently, 25% rare disease patients wait 5-30 years for a diagnosis; 40% initially receive a misdiagnosis; and half will never receive a diagnosis. Securing a clear diagnosis means that patients and families can make future projections about their healthcare, tap into best practice guidelines, seek reproductive counseling, and potentially start therapies.  

In the past 5 years of parenting a special needs child we have found it astonishing just how many special needs children are undiagnosed. This baffled me, until I realized that scientists have just scratched the surface of the underbelly of diseases and dysfunctions science has yet to understand. What upsets me the most is that while Sharon and I are celebrating being part of this study there are thousands of helpless and hopeless families, many of them worse off than us, still left wanting an answer about their child's rare disease. This is especially disheartening knowing that the technology is ready and available but the only thing lacking is funding.


Some say the reason why rare diseases don't receive the attention and funding that known diseases get is because people don't identify with things they don't understand. We can all put a face to Down syndrome, Cerebral Palsy and Autism. Here is the face of a rare disease...and he is beautiful.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Quick Update

A lot of you have been asking me how I've been feeling since my major and premature crash and burn at Run Rabbit Run only two weeks ago. The simple and honest answer is that I feel great. I've gone for 8 runs since and all's good in the hood. I haven't been pushing the pace or distance but I feel a bit of conservatism is necessary during the weeks following a hospital visit. The doctors agreed it wasn't my heart that failed only 2.5 miles into the last race but a number of other circumstances that led to my collapse on Mt Werner. The possible reasons I've had explained to me were exhaustion (16hr drive to get there), electrolyte deficiency, over training, altitude, low body fat, and a minor virus I became aware of 24 hours prior to racing. All things considered the one certainty is that I've gotta start taking my sport more seriously and it turns out that racing 100 miles is a damn hard thing to do.

So I'm gonna continue on with my race schedule with a focused effort of all the peripherals that are essential to ultra running. Any sign of chest pain, my season is done, like a midget at a urinal I'll be on my toes.

Yes I'm disappointed but self-loathing is so pathetic. Instead all guns are pointed at the next race and believe me you, it's a doozy. I'll be announcing my next goal later this week and not to hype it up too much but it'll be the most important endeavour yet.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Well that didn't end well

Me and Andy at race start
It's 6am Saturday morning in Steamboat Springs CO and instead of running the home stretch of Run Rabbit Run 100M race I'm lying here in the Yampa Valley Medical Center being tested for chest pain and after passing out only 2.5 miles out of the gate in yesterday's race start. The gun rang at noon announcing the start of the RRR100M and immediately started the trudge up Mt Werner. Within minutes I felt like I was working harder than what I should be. I blamed this on the feeling of a tickle in my throat I felt the day before, maybe coming down with a cold. I pressed on hoping I'd fall into a groove. Around 2 miles my pace started dropping and I found the effort I expended was way too high for this climb given it was this early in the race. Only a half a mile later my chest began to hurt coupled with a significant back pain. I remember dropping down to my knee and many runners stopping to assist me. Being my usual self I
told all the racers don't worry about me and run on. A concerned friend who happens to be a doctor Andy Reed had stopped. I nearly needed to beat him off with a stick to get him to move forward and go on with his own race. Shortly after that all I remember was waking up on my back with someone holding my feet in the air and the Race Director (RD) standing overtop of me. If there was one positive at least it happened there and not some distant secluded portion of the course. The RD Paul was extremely helpful and concerned. Next I remember the mountain patrol staff arriving and arranging a transit vehicle to rush me down to the gondola where an ambulance awaited. Thank you to everyone involved for your concern and swift actions I am very grateful. Super disappointed and embarrassed but mostly concerned about my health of course. I've had the most comprehensive exams here at the hospital headed by Cardiologist Dr. Saef. So far he is confused as most tests have returned negative and show a healthy heart. My blood work repeatedly showed a heightened enzyme called Triptonin indicating there was trauma in the heart organ.

I'm labeled a "fall risk" :(
I'm a father of three and that is the most important thing in my life by far, so I need to do the responsible thing by playing safe and have everything checked out. So as it stands now I'll compile all the data we've discovered here and continue the journey with our doctors in Canada to try to unravel what happened or maybe it was just a one off. I will keep running without too much strain and effort until I feel comfortable to pick things up again. It just wasn't my day for Run Rabbit Run...

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Pre Run Rabbit Run

Sleeping in a Hypoxico tent the past
month getting acclimated ...sorry Sharon
This time next week I'll be in Steamboat, Colorado running the Run Rabbit Run 100 miler. It's not my first hundo but it'll be my first big American hundo and that means stiffer competition, more of a spotlight and a whopping 50G purse. To be honest the latter of the two mean very little to me but the thought of running against some of the best hundred mile trail runners in the States really turns my crank. Since December, on two separate occasions when forced to push later past the hundred mile mark I surprised myself by how well I did. The common denominator in both those races was being pressured by competitors to find that extra gear. Turns out I'm one competitive mo-fo with significant control issues.

So my play next weekend is to go out with the lead pack and stick it. One of two scenarios will play out, either crash and burn realizing I am so totally out of my league or a damn successful race. Either way this will hurt worse than a kick in the junk but as odd as that sounds, I'm cool with that. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I think a top ten placement is very doable but if all my ducks line up in a row a top 5 placement isn't a stretch and if doubters would like to warn me how strong the American runners are I'd like to remind them I was the top North or South American at the World 24 hour championships earlier this year in Italy. As my son Sam would say "Booya!"

The race starts at noon on Friday September 18.  My progress can be tracked HERE bib #54

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

God bless the cowboy hat

Influenced by the 19th century Mexican culture the cowboy hat is the defining piece of attire for the North American cowboy. Originally design as a working mans hat to protect from the weather and elements the more modern styles are designed with more fashion in mind. You don't have to hang around the Calgary Stampede too long to notice by simply wearing the hat makes everyone look and feel sexier.

My question to you is if a major portion of ultra trail running is about dodging the elements, then isn't the perfect trail running hat obviously the cowboy hat? The tall crown provides insulation, a place to store ice, the wide brim for shade from the sun and cover from hail and rain. The light weight designs of some of the new straw hats feel like it's not even there.

At Sinister 7 last July the hat saved my ass on leg 3 when the heat of the day rolled in and later protected my melon from the hail storm that blew in on leg 5. I'm not telling you to start running in a Stetson but I am asking all us runners to stay true to the kit that we have found best works for each one of us. In the comment list below post what item you love best in your race kit. Might be unique, functional, humorous, or has simply made a world of difference to your racing.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Alissa St Laurent's Sinister 7 Race Report

Spoiler alert, I ran Sinister 7 100 miler in 18:37. Faster than any woman so far, and by a fair bit. 2 hours 34 minutes actually, and faster than the old 148km course too. In less than ideal conditions. I know…I’m just as surprised as you are. And you might say I’m lucky. I wouldn’t disagree, I’m always saying that too. But when I say that it’s because I really just dislike the notion of having bad luck and I believe in being positive. So…here is how I set some big scary goals to be the first place female at my one of my very favourite races and to break the women’s course record. Oh and I crushed those goals. And in truth luck really had nothing to do with it.

 The start…hey there’s my buddy Eric in the yellow!
My day started out calm. Waking up was easy, breakfast of muesli, almond milk, and banana was simple and I washed it down with a coffee and a coke. I was relaxed and joking all morning, as I had been all week. In the past I’ve struggled with pretty severe anxiety before and even after races, to the point that I get anxious about getting anxious. Maybe it’s the support system I’ve built up around me, or a familiarity that’s settled in over my short little racing “career” I’m not sure. But I think it’s a confidence thing, I’m learning to trust my training, my planning, and my abilities.
I didn’t feel overly chatty at the start line. So I didn’t give myself much time just to stand around, I got there just in time. The crowd started moving and we set off for the first section of easy ditch and road. Effortless floaty kilometers. Not thinking about anything but the freshness in the air. I settled in and chatted easily with a few runners. My usual teasing and making plans for beers at the finish line. A little trash talking, I couldn’t help myself! I want to publicly apologize to the random relay runner who I asked if he minded being chicked by a soloist. I’m sorry, sometimes I think I’m funnier than I actually am. And I really did like your tights I wasn’t being sarcastic. Actually, maybe I wasn’t as sorry as I say because I then did it again to my good friend Steve Baker on Leg 2. Sigh. Sorry Steve.
 I had my eye on my watch and the spot I knew the 1st transition would be as we worked our way up into single track and trees. Still effortless, I didn’t walk a step on Leg 1. I popped out at the transition a minute or so ahead of my planned pace. My one man crew, Ryne Melcher was the first and kind of the only person I really saw there, he switched out my soft flask filled with Vitargo. I had met Ryne earlier that spring in France when I’d ran the World Trail Championships in Annecy. Despite my somewhat mediocre performance there I was beyond excited when he offered to come out and crew me at Sinister 7. He’s a very accomplished runner and has more experience crewing than anyone I know. I knew his personality and style of crewing would suit me and I could learn a lot from him and trust his judgement. Although I had laughed at him when earlier that week he told me he thought I could run the race in 18:45. I also admit to rolling my eyes a few times when he kept telling me to eat but he was so great all day. I have to start off by giving him a huge amount of credit for making me look good in the transitions and keeping me on track, it was a game changer.

Leg 2
I really love Leg 2. It was the first section of the course I’d ever done when I raced on a team in 2013 and I enjoy the steady climb and the really runnable rocky loop around Hastings Ridge. I was moving well, breathing easily, and just enjoying myself. I stopped for a quick fill up at the midway water station and before I knew it the leg was over and I was coming into the busy field at the transition, happy to be there. Ryne was right where I pictured he would be and we switched out bottles and I filled him in on what I’d been eating and told him I was feeling good. I circled around the timing mat and back to Ryne for some ice down my sports bra and in a bandana around m neck and I pushed him for time goals. “When do you want me back here?” He took seconds to do the math - which I couldn’t be bothered to do myself - and gave me the numbers while I started off up the hill with a honey stinger waffle in hand.
Leg 3 was where I expected it to get warm, and it did. According to my Suunto it reached over 31 on the most exposed section. Before I’d even had a chance to get there though I felt like I was working, for the first time all day. Nothing specifically wrong, just a bit tired, almost lightheaded. I don’t know when it lifted but when I ran passed a handful of relay runners that were walking on the climbs I knew I was back. So I let myself go and I started to have fun again. I got to chat with an amazing runner friend, Kendall Barber, and something about our short conversation made me realize that I was out here in my element, this is exactly where I belong. It was time to work again. Up the climb I spotted a few of the male soloists ahead, Eric Reyes, Timo Meyer, & Ian MacNairn. I realized I still had my hand on the pulse of the front race. I only mildly questioned what the hell I was doing up there with these big guys but I’d worry about that later if I needed to. I was taking this one leg at a time and I was sternly cutting short any thoughts that went past the end of the leg that I was on. Focus on the present.
As I cruised into the transition I felt great, like I’d just snuck through hell and made it though unscathed. Leg 3 is notorious for crushing soloists. I mentioned I had a bit of a soft spot on that section but I was fine, ready to go. “I took in around 900 calories on that leg” I proudly announced as I tossed all my empty gel packets on the ground as proof. Ryne didn’t exactly stop to congratulate me, he acknowledged it and stuffed more gels in my pack. Okay fine. Time to go. We went over times and quick updates on what was going on in the field. Only two men ahead of me and no pressure from the women’s field. I heard it but didn’t feel any sort of reaction to the news. I felt completely independent.
I was grateful for the climb up the ski hill at the beginning of the leg. Climbing felt good, it felt like I was chipping away at some of the elevation on the course while settling in to a good pace. And somehow it felt restful. I was ready to run again when the opportunity came. I slowly caught up to Eric Reyes, the 2nd place soloist. I was happy to see him and we chatted briefly. I told him he was 2nd and he didn’t believe me, said he had ran in with the other guys and they’d surely gone out ahead. We ran into a water station and while I was sponging water over my head I asked the volunteers about how many soloists they’d seen come by. “Just Dave Proctor”, the lady told me. To which I immediately replied “Oh well no one cares about Dave anyways”. Luckily they laughed. But Dave, I really meant that at the time!
“See, you are in second!” I told Eric as I started heading out. “No, now you are!” he shot back as he followed behind. We went back and forth with each other until the end of the leg, which was mostly open and runnable from that point. A few kms before the transition we caught up to a girl not moving well. As I passed I asked her if she was okay and if she needed anything. “Can you help me with my shoes? If I bend down I won’t get back up, I’m cramping too bad.” So Eric took one foot and I the other and we loosened her shoes for her. She was a relay runner and I was mildly amused that two soloists were down on the ground for her but it could’ve happened to anyone, we didn’t think twice about being able to help her. We wished her luck and kept going. Thunder had been a constant background noise by this point and Crowsnest Mountain was tucked deep into dark blue grey clouds that just kept getting thicker. That was exactly where we were headed. This day might change drastically, I thought and I made a note to pick up a second jacket at the transition.
Like every leg I had a nice downhill to come into transition so I put a little extra crispness into my movements, zoomed through, and we got to work. I mentioned the jacket but Ryne said the rain wouldn’t last, I’d probably be okay. Despite a little clunkiness in my stride due to my hip flexors tightening up I was still moving really well and was comfortable with his prediction. The air was still warm and I had my emergency gear. Sometimes it was just better to get wet. I was out and running in under two minutes.
Leg 5
The run along the road for the first few kms was happily uneventful. Just an easy running pace watching the rain move in, a slight steady climb. I turned off from the road as it really started to settle in, puddles forming in the quad tracks. Mud and puddles was the theme of this leg. A beautiful, rolling, evergreen quad track section that alternated roots with giant muddy puddles with steep edges, avoiding them was useless. I have to confess as everyone has been saying that it was too bad about the conditions on this leg…but I loved this part. Sadly this is where I dropped Eric for the rest of the day, he was such a joy to run with. I kept checking my back hoping he’d catch up. But I was feeling good, my legs loosened up and I was plenty warm in just a singlet and shorts. A few times I whooped out loud and danced over the roots, hardly noticing the puddles, just went straight through. I’m sure I slowed down some but I didn’t feel it, and I didn’t look at my watch save once when it beeped into the 100km mark around 11 hours, I celebrated by myself right there on that trail. I didn’t really even consider using the mud as an excuse to slow down or adjust my time goals. I knew it might slow me down. But I can be apathetic to a fault about those kind of things that are out of my control and on this day the mud just didn’t phase me. Stick to the plan and push where you can, I told myself. By the time I joined the road I was paying attention again. I knew this part well and I knew I’d be through there again on Leg 6, but then in the dark. So I paid attention to the conditions and picked out where the best lines on that section were so it could hopefully be helpful later. It did end up paying off, even just in a small way.
·       END OF LEG 5
Ryne at work-Always keeping me on track
End of leg 5
·       RYNE AT WORK – Always keeping me on track
·       ON TO LEG 6
Leg 6. I was ready for it. I’d ran Leg 6 the Sunday before the race and I was glad I did. I knew exactly what to expect, it was now all just doused in water and heading into darkness. That was okay, I was focused. Someone mentioned I’d gained time on Dave on Leg 5 and I guess I wasn’t surprised. But right then I was focused on chasing the light. I knew I wanted to get over the high point on the course and down the washed out rock garden of descent before I needed my lamp. I had ground to cover. Ryne gave me my time goal and I immediately thought it was too generous but reminded myself that it was ugly out there and 36km is still a long way. Still, I had it in my mind to better it.

On to leg 6
I put work into the first 10km, ran like I was being chased. The first half of the leg has pretty much all of the 1100m of climbing on the leg and plenty of rocky wash outs. Knowing it was going to get colder I was pushing in the calories and eyeing my pace constantly. It’s giving me a headache recalling the focus I had through this section! But once I crested that ridge at the highest point in the course I let out another whoop. It was still light enough to see the spectacular view and the gnarly downhill just ahead. I felt like I could relax a little. Still moving well, I ate up the rest of that leg. The slippery conditions required some patience so I focused on taking care of myself before the final push. I came in 52 minutes ahead of Ryne’s projected leg time.
On the surface I felt calm arriving at the transition for the last time. But my eyes felt a little too wide, there was an energy and emotion that was threatening to bubble over and I didn’t know if it would manifest in tears or laughter if I let it out. The crowd was amazing and overwhelming, I kept hearing that Dave was only minutes ahead of me. I was surprised…but I kind of wasn’t. I cracked a sugar free redbull and downed half of it, giggling for no reason. I had to go. Last year’s winner, Vincent Bouchard, had been close by the transitions all day. He was crewing for Eric. “Vincent!” I yelled, “I just crushed your time on Leg 6!” How do I have any friends left?
Ryne gave me 90 minutes to go and said he’d see me at the finish. I knew exactly what was out there, I’d done this leg a handful of times before. Never in the dark but I didn’t even notice that anymore. I started the climb, noticing a headlamp and thinking maybe it could be Dave’s. It was high up on the hill and I felt I had a lot of work to do to get there. The climb felt good, just longer than expected. I was passed by a relay runner or two, they were kind enough to offer encouragement and congratulations. I recognized the turn that ended the climb and was relieved to start running again. And then immediately regretted it. It’s not a good race report without some physical struggle, so this short part was mine. The rocks seemed like impossible obstacles and the grade was too steep for my body to take at that point. I was openly crying, cursing, knowing I was slowing on this section, stumbling over every rock. The gritty mud I’d been carrying from Leg 5&6 dug into my ankles and suddenly my toes were banged up to the point that I knew I had blood pooling under the nails. I tried to calm myself, knowing I was reacting too strongly and needed to stay calm, it would soon get gentler. I could walk it in at this point if I had to. Almost there, deep breath. I started to pick it back up on the smoother single track and by the gravel road to the halfway point I was back in rhythm. Another welcome climb to take the pressure off my hips and feet and I knew the way from there. Lovely single track. The first sign of town and the turn down onto the road. Accelerate. Stay smooth. A light bobbed down the road and as I passed it I realized it was Ryne. I tried to hold back an emotional sob. He recognized me and started shouting encouragement. I felt the words but they fell without any real meaning. Eyes ahead. Smooth downhill and a few turns to the finish. I saw nothing. I felt so much, mostly relief. Definitely pride. I’d accomplished more than I thought possible that day. I dared to put down some goals that scared the hell out of me and then trusted myself when I woke up that morning and knew that day was going to be something special.
This picture makes me cringe a bit, it was
such a personal moment, I forgot everyone
was watching
With my dad and brother at the end. As a born
and raised Southern Alberta girl this race was
pretty special to me
I hadn’t let myself linger over thoughts of the finish line all day. But here it was, now I could savour it. My Dad and my brother were there at the finish line, the first time they’ve ever seen me race. It was such a special moment to share with them. More hugs and congratulations. Finally I saw Dave back in the crowd a bit, the first time I’d seen him since the start. He looked like he’d used the mud as war paint or camouflage, his face was smeared with it and he had that same wild look that I felt. We hugged, had our moment. Dave it really wasn’t about you, but man I was happy to have someone to chase. It gave me something to hurt for on that last 10km and it was totally worth it. You completely earned your win and I was genuinely happy to come that close. 
Finally caught the bugger!
2015 Canadian 100 mile champions at the
awards ceremony
I’ve received the rock start treatment since that day and I really just want to express my gratitude to everyone involved, at the race and behind the scenes and throughout my training. And especially the volunteers and the people who wok so hard throughout the year to put this race together. Your efforts are so worth it and much appreciated. The cheers, the support, and the advice, it has meant so much to me. Let’s do it again soon!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Sinister 7

photo by Raven Eye Photography
The night before S7 I lay there in my tent trailer with Sharon tucked under my arm knowing that tomorrow's race would be a good one. At this point of the season, especially coming off the World 24 hour Championships in April I knew my fitness base was good enough to carry me through the challenging 100 mile course. The forecast called for thunderstorms between noon and five which sounded perfect as it would nullify the heat on the exposed course. The only niggling concern I had was the minimal amount of climbing I've squeezed into my training. To be honest, I hate it. I'd rather go to a One Direction concert than power hike. The other strange little concern I had was I was having a hard time digging up the desire to put out every drop of blood, sweat, and tears into tomorrow's effort. In other words I just didn't want it as much as I've wanted other races in the past. I fell asleep that night hoping I'd find the desire the next morning.

photo by Megan K Koevoet
photo by Raven Eye Photography
The gun rang at 7 am. The relay runners drove swiftly ahead leaving a clump of familiar faces around me. In the mix was the drop dead good looks of Devin Featherstone, the youthful optimism of Eric Reyes, the contagious spirit of Ian MacNairn, and the sexy legs belonging to Majo Snrik. Tucked smartly behind us was the stone cold killer Alissa St Laurent and the "closer" Travis Brown. Around 4K in I peered down at my watch and noticed a 4:45 pace and thought to myself, "Hmmm we could very comfortably pick it up a bit." A couple K's later I was all by myself, no one wanted to play with me and that was when the long, lonely day started. The climbing into T1 saw a lot of relay runners slow behind me as they couldn't keep the pace on the ascent. At T1 I saw RD Brian Gallant where I told him I felt very comfortable and just wanted to ride this flow for awhile. Leg 2 had to be my favorite. It has stunning views and tricky technical descents. I found myself smiling from ear to ear for two reasons. First I was enjoying myself, second I was flying past parts on the course that last year left me wincing in pain when my ankle was not able to take the demands of the course. This year I was in no pain and my effort level was still very low. It was gonna be a damn good day.

Sharon was the very best crew!
Approaching T2 I found the motivation I was missing and I found it in the strangest of places. To everyone at the staging area I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your cheers and words of encouragement drove stakes through my heart reminding me that I can sure act the spoiled bitch sometimes. There are people that would die to be in my position and here I am dug 5 feet in the ground with my first world shovel feeling bad for myself cuz I just didn't want it bad enough. You've got to be fricking kidding me. Sharon met me with new handhelds and apple sauce and I was off. As I climbed out onto leg 3 as corny as it sounds I had a song in my head 
photo by Raven Eye Photography

and it was set on repeat the rest of the day. It was a song and video Sharon made for me that I first watched in April, the morning I ran 257K in Turin breaking the Canadian 24 hour record and finishing in 6th place. Watch it here. The rest of leg three went seamlessly. I sponged down in creek crossings, slowed on the climbs and sped the downs. I ate a bar I got in my race package called Thoz Barz and it blew my mind, a bar Ill definitely fuel with in the future. The song kept playing reminding me how blessed I am and that life is too short for mediocrity and I am truly the luckiest man I know. I fuelled every 30 minutes, drank RE7 when thirsty and kept my pace well below the dangerous red line. Now 67K into the race I descended into the staging area now with a larger gap on the lead I eagerly awaited Sharon's aid, more apple sauce and the welcome of the crowd.

photo by Raven Eye Photography
Leg 4 was my predetermined GO leg. This was where I thought it best to pick up the pace and lengthen or close the gap on my competitors. With the first climb up the ski hill out of the way I quickened the pace. On this portion of the course I now reaped the benefits of staying cool during the heat of the day. The three things that aided this was my cowboy hat, arm coolers, and an ice filled bandana around my neck. Cowboys aren't just good looking you know. At the next transition station I saw Sharon, Misti, Dan and Laura. Sharon was holding the exact thing I was craving, an Iced Cappuccino. Like Snoop I dropped it like it's hot. Smack!!! Once the flavour hit my lips it was surprising I didn't drink it in one pull. Misti suggested I shouldn't drink all of it as it was made with milk. "That might not end well," Misti said with concern. She was right, I ran the next 10 K trying to not jostle my bowels to allow safe passage as the creamy goodness flirted with a northern passage. I passed by my best friend John
Hubbard through the ditch along the highway who had words of encouragement. He's always been able to get me to dig deep. As I turned north off the main highway the ugliest of ugly clouds swirled closer. Before you could say Adam Campbell, lightning was crashing down left and right. All I wanted was to get out of this ditch and away from the telephone poles. A sign showed a left turn off the road. YES, now I'll be safe. You wouldn't believe it, the course turned directly into an open field
with a row of electrical towers over 200 feet tall, BLOODY HELL THIS IS HOW I'M GONNA DIE!! Adam Campbell's voice was in my head telling me to be a moving target so I picked up the pace and got through that hell hole as fast as possible. By the time I got to the base of Mount Tecumseh the heavy rain turned to vicious hail. The cowboy hat was perfect as my arms hurt from the frozen bullets but my head and shoulders stayed protected. My pace slowed as I tried my best to keep my feet dry. The quad trails acted like a perfect culvert for the water to stream down creating a raging river. Twenty minutes into the climb I realized that the wet conditions will not be improving so I might as well get dirty!

photo by Raven Eye Photography
Into the storm we go
photo by Raven Eye Photography
Mud, mud, and more mud
I might be exaggerating but it seemed like I slipped and fell every 2-5 minutes. As awesome as the NB Fresh Foam Trails are they are lacking on muddy grips and this definitely slowed me for the remainder of the race. I arrived at the end of leg 5 sunken and demoralized. Putting on a brave face for my crew and friends I really didn't want to leave the comforts of that tent. Sharon noticed this, called me on my bullshit and almost physically pushed me out onto leg 6. Thank you Sharon! The first 5 K into leg 6 wasn't bad. My spirit was reasonable, my pace still okay that is until the climbing started. Did I mention I hate power hiking? For the first time in a couple years racing I really started to mentally struggle. Many relay runners passed me with words of encouragement but I was a miserable disgusting mess. Negative self talk filled my head and the feeling of not caring about anything took over. A passing relay runner informed me that Alissa was only 29 minutes behind me at the start of leg 6. I don't know much but I know what happens when you dangle a carrot in front of a race horse and this thought made me get off my ass and get up this mountain. Upon the descent I started struggling again and I found myself making the biggest mistake a runner can make.  I sat in a chair at a remote aid station before T6, covered in a blanket, with a cold fizzy pop kindly donated by one of the 3 amazing volunteers there, and I stayed for ten minutes. All I remember was my head was sunken staring at my feet when something caught my eye. I wrote 257K with a Sharpie marker on my arm in the off chance I'd need a reminder of how strong I can be and that 161K is nothing. I got up and ran. 

The crew: Misti, Dan, Laura, Johnney, and Sharon was taking the pic.
I arrived back at the transition station at exactly midnight. Still not in good spirits but certainly better than before. Sharon asked me what I needed. I said, "To get this F?*$!ng thing done." I hammered half a Red Bull and off I ran on the final leg and still in first place but by how far I didn't know. As I climbed out of the transition area my spidey senses tingled. At the top of the climb I looked back and saw a headlight approaching the climb. ALISSA, that little twerp, it's gotta be her! The remainder of the leg was really fun as most of it is single track slowly winding it's way back down into Coleman where the finish line awaited. The last 800m was asphalt road and it was only there that I turned, saw no light and began feeling safe. With 100m left Oleg Tabelev grabbed my handheld and exchanged it for a cold beer. Cracking the beer and chugging that bad boy through the finish line was certainly worth the suffer...18hrs21min, new course record and 2015 National 100M trail champion!

The predator and the prey

Sixteen minutes later Alissa crossed the line in 18hrs 37min!!!! Crushing the female course record! Un-freaking believable!

Team Proctor
Everyone sees me running out there on the course but what they don't see is the one person behind the scenes keeping everything afloat. Thank you Sharon for being my rock. None of this, I repeat, none of this would be possible without you.