Running

Road and trail running fun.

“I hate running”, its something I hear whenever running comes up in conversation.  I get it, there are no goals to score, its not team based, its repetitive, its something gym teachers make you do if you misbehave.  I love running, but I get that others don’t necessarily share that enjoyment.  So when a conversation with my buddy Erik (whom I’ve known for since grade 7) turns to trail running, he mentions he’d be in for going for a run.  Erik is a super fit guy, so no issue with ability, but I figure a shorter, quick morning trail run would be perfect to get him more interested in the sport.  Boy did I screw up.  

We (I take responsibility for choosing the route) decide on a relatively short 22km run on the Mount Allen loop just outside Canmore.  I looked on the map and looked like a great ‘welcome to trail running’ circuit up Mount Allen, over the ridge to Mount Colembola and back to the starting location.  What I didn’t properly asses was the 1800 meters in elevation that was required to climb.  What we (I) calculated as a 5 hour run, would end up taking much longer…

The day started in the Wind Valley parking lot just outside Dead Mans Flats.  When we arrived it was pouring rain and cold (8C).  It didn’t deter us, but did make me consider just how enjoyable this is going to be.  We agree to just go and see what happens.  Erik brought his dog Toothless who would turn out to be a perfect running companion.  

As we hit the trail the rain started to subside.  The first 8km are a steady climb up a side, yet rugged trail.  At about the 8km mark you clear the treeline you reach the base of Mount Allen and start to get a stunning view of the mountains and valley to the northwest.

The sun came out and it started to warm up, the climbing gets steeper and you can start to see the peak of Mount Allen.

Looking back you can see Canmore in the distance.

   

Toothless was doing awesome, just powering up the hill.

There were a few sections of scrambling here and we had to start getting creative about how we get Toothless up steeper climbs.  

We stopped for a break just before the summit climb to give Toothless some water and food.  As I was taking a photo I noticed my phone had full LTE coverage.  Remembering it was our buddy Matt’s birthday, we called him on Facetime for some birthday wishes.  Matt turned out to be in Amsterdam, and we chatted for a bit, gotta love technology.

As we pushed for the Mount Allan summit, the wind picked up, the temperature dropped and it started to lightly snow.  Like my underestimation of the time this run would take, I also underestimated just how unpredictable the weather can be on a ridge.

View of the ridge we will take between Mount Allan and Mount Colembola:

 

Looking back along the ridge line we came up on:

Looking back:

Mount Allen summit ahead:

On the summit of Mount Allen looking east into Kananaskis:

We wrapped around the right side of the summit and approached the ridge that connects Mount Allen and Colembola:

On the ridge looking into the alpine bowl we loop around:

The end of the ridge looking up to Mount Colembola:

Just before the summit of Mount Colembola there is a section that requires some scrambling around a rock tower.  We poked around for quite some time looking for an ideal place to drop in knowing that Toothless will have to climb the same decent:

Reaching the back side of the rock tower:

Looking east down at Nakiska ski hill:

Approaching the summit:

Looking back at Mount Allen, and the ridge we initially came up:

Summit looking back:

We took another break at the summit of Mount Colembola.  Looking down with Canmore in the distance.  I assumed it was all downhill from here and would be a cruise back, but I was very wrong.

We encountered some technical scrambling sections that were not too difficult, but required some though around how we get Toothless down.  Toothless did an amazing job, although pretty scared in some sections, he was willing to let us help him down. As we left the summit of Mount Colembola we ran into a sheer cliff.  With no clear route down we started to explore for a safe/easy route down.  I was glad I brought a GPS what gave us some indication we were on the right path, but there was nothing that looked obvious.  What I didnt want to do is climb half way down only to get stuck.  In hindsight the route was on the right (east) side of the the decent.  Although not trivial, we found a route and managed to scramble down with Toothless:

Pointing to a climb down we did with Toothless.  We were all happy to reach a flat spot.

Looking back at Mount Colembola and elated that we made it down and past the last sketchy sections. 

The ridgeline down Mount Colembola.  Ready for the knee slamming decent:

The decent was a steep grind down Mount Colembola ridge and into a thick forest where we bushwacked down a few more kilometers before landing on the trail we originally came up.  We cruised down the last 6km before hitting the parking lot.  The day was hot and sunny by now and I had stashed a couple beers in a cooler with ice before we left.  

It ended up being an 8 hour day, covering 26km, but it was awesome.  I felt horrible for turning what I thought would be a 4-5 hour morning run into a full day excursion.  Toothless proved to be a perfect companion and Bakke knocked out his first trail run with ease.

 

After this escapade we’ll see if Erik agrees to come out trail running again.

The Iron Legs Trail Race in Bragg Creek has become one of my favorite events of the year.  The course is challenging, the weather is usually great and its very well organized.  Two months prior to the start of the race I hit a benign looking pothole on the cycle path and rolled my ankle.  I’ve never broken a bone before, but as soon as I rolled over on it this time I knew the *snap* and *pop* indicated something was more wrong than a simple sprain.  Within 5 minutes my ankle was the size of a grapefruit.

Of course I wasn’t running with my cell phone as it was a quick loop close to my house, which meant when my ankle rolled I was stuck laying on the path waiting for someone to walk by so I could make a phone call.  After a few hours of waiting, my wife picked me up and I took myself to the hospital for a xray.  People complain about the health services we have here in Canada, but my time in the hospital was less than an hour to check in, wait for triage, get an xray, talk to doctor about xray and get fitted for a cast.  Amazing!

Below you can see the tiny bone that broke on the inside of my ankle.  The bone break was minor, it was all the tendons that tore on the outside of my ankle.

Innocuous pothole that put my running on hold for 2.5 months. 

I got my gear together the night before, which meant I only got about 3 hours of sleep prior to the race.

At 7:00am the sun was just coming up at the start.

The air was thick and smoky which kept the temperature down, but destroyed all the views.

     

I felt great at the 55km turnoff.  But soon after hit a complete wall with a knot in my stomach.  Eating gels and sugar intensive foods during the day caught up to me.  I struggled up moose packers switchback, but was given a ginger candy at about km 65 which completely fixed my stomach and gave me a second wind.  The trek up moose mountain was smoky, yet enjoyable.  Its just the right grade that you can bomb down after the turn around point.

  x

Top of Moose Mountain:     

At the turn around point.  I had to take it easy on way down as my ankle still didn’t feel 100% stable:

 

 

I didnt take many pictures during the day as the air was smoky from all the forest fires.  It also didn’t help that I finished just as the sun went down.  I felt great at the end, actually much better than I did after running the 60 last year with the intense heat.  My ankle was fine, no pain, yet I did take it easy on it, especially on the downhills.

From crutches a few months ago, to finishing the race, I’m happy with the results.

The great thing about the Grizzly ultra is that its a 5 loop circuit, each loop unique, yet finishing at the same central hub.  This makes it really easy to have a single drop bag and drop gear as the day warms up.  The course follows the Olympic cross country ski circuit at the Canmore Nordic Center. 

Its late in the year so the weather isn’t ideal, but it was quite pleasant once you get moving and the blood flowing.  

  

I had arrived early to the race so I waited around while the sun came up and people started to arrive:

   

Although leg 3 is the longest leg and rated as the most difficult, I found leg 4 the most challenging as it had quite a bit of elevation and I was already spent by that time.  I loved being able to dump gear and use a single drop bag during the race.  The course is primarily double track with a bunch of single track in leg 3.  I ran with some minimalist shoes which worked fine as there is minimal technical sections.

The best part was the finish where my wife brought out our kids to greet me at the finish line.  Hopefully one day they pickup the sport and we can all run together.  Until then they are the best support crew I could ask for.

 

Years ago I couldn’t run more than 15km without my IT-band seizing and getting a severe pain in my knee.  5 years ago I ran the Calgary marathon and tried to run through the pain.  I ended up really damaging my IT-band and was out for 6 months recovering.  I had come close to resigning myself that I may just not be able to run more than a half marathon.  On a shot in the dark I went into a physio clinic and signed up for a running assessment (I was actually trying to burn leftover heath benefits).  The verdict was that I was a habitual heel striker.  Recommendations were simple:

  • Run in minimalist shoes
  • Run with a cadence of more than 175 steps per minute
  • Change up runs with tempo, long, intervals
  • Ramp up miles no more than 10% a week
  • Use walk-run while ramping

To be honest the biggest change I felt was increasing my cadence and being conscience about smaller faster strides.  The result was I could run as long as I wanted with absolutely no knee pain.  I did suffer extremely sore calves which I attributed to the new stride, but that faded as the new muscles got use to the new stride.

With this new found ability I decided to see if I could run a marathon.  I signed up for the Calgary marathon and took it easy.  My humble goal was to at least finish, in under 4 hours.  I completed it in 3:45 and felt great the whole time.  With this momentum I registered for the Banff Marathon and ran it in 3:31.  I was feeling so good after I kept running for another 8km.  50km was the longest I had ever run and I felt great.

2017 Calgary Marathon @ 3:46:45

2017 Banff Marathon @ 3:31:41

 

Getting bored of road running, I decided to look into trail running options.  There is actually quite a few world class runs in the Alberta Rockies and I signed up for the Iron Legs 60km Ultra to see what would happen.  At this point I was still gunshy about injury, but I had been running for a year with absolutely no issues so I put in some training miles and showed up.

I went with the Ultimate Direction Mountain 3.0 vest and its been one of the vest purchases I’ve made.  Unbelievably comfortable and has pockets at all the right places.  Expensive, but worth every penny.  I went with heavier shoes than I normally would run in, but it turned out to be a good decision with the really rough terrain I would encounter.

Race day was a perfect summer day without a cloud in the sky.

The race started at sunrise with an easy 10km cruise along Elbow Valley train towards the Powerface staging area.  It was a mass start on single track so the pace was very regulated and slower than I would have started, but I followed the lead of others.  Walking up steep hills and taking it easy for the first 10km seemed the norm.  The sun was rising by the time we hit Powderface Creek Trail and continued on a gradual incline for another 10km.

At this point I was 21km into the race and feeling great.  Lets were fine, early pacing meant I had lots of energy and the weather was amazing.  Reaching Powederface Ridge Trail was a very steep switchback heading up to the ridge.  Running turned into power walking until we crested the top.

Once at the top I followed the ridgeline waiting to see the next marker.  I could see another runner out in the distance so assumed I was on the right track.  It turned out someone had removed the red marker tape the night before and about 10 of us ran past the turnoff, running to end of the ridge which came to a steep drop.  Realize I made a mistake I ran back about 2km until I could find the last marker.  There was a switchback leading down the backside of Powerface Ridge, but with no markers it was a drop of faith that it was the right way.  By this time we had 10 of us bunched up and the drop from the ridge was a fast pounding potential ankle destroying journey down to the bottom aid station.  Frustrated with the wrong turn I just let gravity take me, and the trail was perfect for a quick descent. 

  

30km in to the race, and feeling great lead me to my first inexperienced decision.  I blasted past the aid station grabbing nothing but a quick refill of water on one of my bottles.  The race had been relatively easy, weather nice and cool and I was feeling good.  The decision was made to just keep going. 

I would end up in the most grueling section of the course: Ford Knoll Trail and Ford Creek Trail.  I was not expecting steep incline after incline.  The declines were too steep to run, so they took just as much energy as the inclines.  By this time the mid day heat arrived and the temp was getting close to 30oC.  By the end of the trail I was getting mentally pounded and running out of water.  The third aid station couldn’t have come soon enough.  I loaded up on water, fruit and anything I could get down.  My stomach had rejected gels after the 3rd or 4th so I needed another mechanism to get electrolytes and sugars back in my body. 

Hooking on to Prairie Creek Trail would provide a great yet technical route back to Elbow Valley Trail.  It was smooth and provided a good opportunity to stretch the legs.  The way back we hooked onto Sulphur Springs Trail, which would normally be a great easy way to finish, but by this time the sun was in full force and the trail was totally exposed to the sun.  I was baking and started to feel the effects of heat stroke.  At the top some saintly volunteers were handing out freezies.  I ate it so fast it gave me a crushing brain freeze, but I was dying for a way to cool down. 

The Sulphur Springs trail back side was in the thick forest and smooth trail which made for some easy cruising back to the end.  Getting sloppy I stumbled on a tree root and in an attempt to stop myself from falling on my face did a quick stutter step. Immediately my legs felt like a jolt of electricity went through them, my calves instantly seized up and I slammed to the ground.  Rolling around, screaming on the ground like and idiot as my my legs felt like my achillies had snapped, one of the runners up in front of me heard and came back.  By this time I was laying in the brush with both legs stretched out straight, pain was slowly starting to fade and my embarrassment urged him to continue on. I lay there for another minute, absolutely gutted that I would injure myself this close to the finish.  I got up, started slowing walking, then into a slow run and after about 500 meters was feeling 100% again – strange. 

Feeling great and day dreaming I missed the last turn and ended up coming out in a field by the highway.  By this time I was just done, yet doubled back a kilo to the trail and took the right trail back to Station Flats and the finish line.

(below pictures are not mine, but are of the optional 80km route up moose mountain) 

It was nice to see my wife and little kids had come out to greet me.  My oldest was dressed up as a ninja and wanted to play flight with me, yet I just laid down and tried to recover.

The high of finishing subsided in about 15 minutes and the reality of heat stroke kicked in.  I wasn’t feeling tired, but the constant ingestion of gels and sugars was putting me off.  About 20 minutes after finishing I puked my guts out, then felt back to 100%. 

My total time was 9:38:02, my goal was to beat 10 hours so I was happy about that.  It wasn’t the distance that was hard, it was the elevation and heat.  Just under 2700 meters for the day.  

Overall it was a great day, very well organized event and one of the most enjoyable activities I’ve done in a long time.  With 60km under my belt I’m interested in the 80km next year, but lets not get ahead of ourselves.

Check out my relive.