One of the big reasons why I’m starting this blog is to give myself a space to reflect on the running process. In the past, I relied on tools like hand written logs, Strava/Movescount, or Instagram posts to provide a space for recording observations. I’m thinking of this blog as an extension of those sorts of tools. So as a second post for this blog, I’m going sum-up my experiences for 2018. Rather than break down the year chronologically, I’m going to talk about different aspects of the year for me. So let’s do that then!
I largely approached training with a similar mentality as last year. Start by building strength for trail races with heavy early blocks involving lots of climbing; then move to speed and endurance work as I close to races. I think, however, that I went a bit too early. January and February ended up more oriented towards speedwork, and there were some particularly intense workouts that might have been overly ambitious. I missed some key workouts through the spring, and it was more inconsistent than what I wanted.
Why was this the case? It might have been volume, but I think the bigger explanation was that I was struggling in my professional life at the time. I was trying to figure out how to fix issues that I was having in my PhD, and trying to balance intense training with a really stressful couple of months wasn’t didn’t work out. I ended up with some very serious insomnia towards the end of my training cycle: and I basically couldn’t train without adequate recovery. I might post more about my experiences during this time, but it’s not the easiest thing to be open about. It’s something I hope to work towards.
I’m glad that I eventually found a solution with my doctor. And I think one of my biggest achievements in my personal life this year is really coming to terms with what leaving the program ultimately meant for me.
For those not familiar with trail running in Ontario, there are a two main organizations that link together series of trail races: OUTRACE and Five Peaks. OUTRACE is a pretty diverse series of longer races, with an emphasis on ultramarathons (any distance longer than 42.2km, but typically 50km, 50 miles, 100km or 100 miles). 5 Peaks tends to have an emphasis on shorter races typically running 5, 12.5 and 21.1km distances.
My goal for the year was to see how competitive I could be in the 25km OUTRACE series. Runners in the series are awarded 25 points for finishing a race, plus a score out of 100 determined by their time relative first place in the race. Any of your scores from eligible races in the series contribute to your overall score, but for age-category standing, your highest 5 scores are used. These categories are under forty, forty-to-fifty, and above fifty.
(Racing at the Beav – cold and rocky! Lots of fun. Photo Credit: Sue Sitki)
Looking at the standings for previous years, it’s pretty clear that the overall series award typically goes to runners who run the greatest number of races in a year. Racing that often was hard to commit to at the outset of the year, so I mainly set my sights on running 5 solid efforts and seeing how things ended up for age group placing.
Here’s a breakdown of my finishing times and placing from series races:
|Pick Your Poison||5th||2:25:40|
|Conquer the Canuck||2nd||1:48:10|
|Sticks and Stones||6th||1:59:24|
|Horror Hill Trail Run||1st||1:55:18|
|The Fatass Trail Run||3rd||2:07:23|
From the seven races, I earned 810.94 points in total, which was good enough for second place overall. The overall winner, Michael Charland, had 975 points from 10 races. For the under 40 category, my best five races were worth 592.98 points, which was extremely close to Justin Poizin’s 600.13 points. I’m very pleased with this result, and I’ve got a bunch of thoughts about strategy and competition in the series that are fodder for future posts.
One fun observation: I find it really amusing that I ran the same time at the Beav and Sticks and Stones. Both races are organized by Happy Trails Racing. Heather, Jeff, and the team are some of the nicest folks you’ll meet in the Ontario trail community, and I’m glad to see them expanding the series and selling out races months in advance.
(Racing at the Horror Hill Trail Run; photographer unknown.)
Highlights included: running the course at Pick Your Poison for the first time, where after an April snowstorm we contended with ice mud, and snowy ski hill descents; pulling off a win at the Horror Hill Trail Run after an early wrong turn; having a great day of running at Conquer the Canuck chasing after Mike Tickner; and the overall positive atmosphere at Sticks and Stones on Thanksgiving weekend. I still have to say that the Seaton Soaker is my favourite race in the series, with a nice competitive atmosphere, happy volunteers and runners, lots of trilliums, and a good mix of climbs along its out and back course.
I was also very pleased to meet and get to know a number of other runners who were in these races. Racing with old friends, sitting around talking running post-race, and getting to know familiar faces as I ran multiple races in the series is something I really appreciated about the experience. Running can be a solitary sport much of the time, but I enjoy the sense of community that trail running offers. If you ever see me post race, come say hi!
At the end of May, I was lucky enough to get a message from friends asking me to joing them on a relay team for Ragnar Niagara. This is a ~300km relay with 12 runners that went from Coburg to Niagara Falls. Hundreds of runners pile into vans, and race on bike paths ot open roads over a couple of days to complete the relay. I have to admit, this was always something that intrigued me; more from a logistical standpoint than the runners point of view.
As I said, running can feel like a very solitary experience: running with a team, club, or crew can change that very quickly. And a running crew that I have a lot of love for, RunTOBeer, organized the team I joined. This is definitely one of the better things about Ragnar: having team spirit and group support reminded me of running in cross-country. Unfortunately it was a very hot day, and I had my longest leg (10 miles) in the middle of the afternoon. While I ran a reasonable time, it took a lot out of me, and my remaining legs were in the 5km range on routes that were either very flat or a net downhill.
It was interesting to see how fast I could run while fatigued, but I don’t know if it’s something I want to repeat. I think that there was almost too much downtime on a 12 person team for my taste. Maybe a six runner team, or the trail version would be more my kind of thing? I’d definitely be interested in hearing about other perspectives on Ragnar.
One of the interesting things about running in Kitchener Waterloo is a weeklong event known as the Endurrun. It’s a stage race that can either be run as an individual, or as part of a relay team, with a total distance of ~160km. As I mentioned in my introduction, I regularly train with a group based out of Runner’s Choice Waterloo, we meet on Wednesday nights for up-tempo workouts. We usually put together a mixed gender team, and this was the second time I’ve been called on to run for them.
Chicopee is a ski hill in the proper tradition of southern Ontario ski hills that aren’t on the escarpment. This means that it’s small, and relative much of our other running options in the province, steep. The race was 25km long with just under 1km of ascent and descent, and consisted of several laps of a winding course. I love this kind of racing, and I had a very good time at Chicopee. The timing in my season was a little rough, so I went into the race with the goal of it being a check-in before I put in a block before my fall races.
As with other trail races, it’s hard to compare times across years. Conditions and weather play a big role in determining how hard you can go. This year, we had a muggy and hot morning that was as far from ideal as I could imagine. Give me blizzards any day over one hundred percent humidity. Even with the rough conditions, I had a good time of it. I went with the chase group (Rob Brouillette had a commanding lead for the entire race), before realizing that it wasn’t a sustainable pace by the end of the second lap. I didn’t execute perfectly, but I represented well. And, now that I know Chicopee a bit better, I’m going to add it to places for me to train at in the future.
As with Ragnar, it was really nice to have the support of other runners. Runners from the Wednesday night group came out to cheer and support, and it was good to see everyone standing at the top of one of the climbs, even if I was breathing too hard to say thanks at the time.
By the end of both strings of races, I was starting to feel a little burnt out on racing and running. The spring was 3 trail races, with Ragnar in the middle, and the fall was 4 races, with each race being roughly 25km in total distance. While the pounding isn’t as bad from road racing, there were definitely signs of wear and tear on my muscles and my psyche. Aside from Chicopee, each block of races occurred inside of a two-month block. It’s a lot of very similar efforts, in a relatively compressed period of time. I think adding more variation will be good for me, and I want to do things that don’t involve racing in an organized setting.
Also, I had an unusual focus on trail running this year. In the past I’ve had goals that balanced both road running and trail running. I’m fairly strong as a trail runner, but I think I need to pay more attention to the kinds of progress I can make running on road as well. According to Strava, at least, I set PBs on every distance from 10km-21.1km at Sticks and Stones. So I really want to recalibrate what my paces are for road. So I’m excited to get back to this side of things.
Finally, in 2017 I went to Lake Placid for the Whiteface Sky Races. I had a lot of fun on that trip. It was one of the toughest races I’ve ever run: with a little over 2km of vertical ascent and descent in roughly 25km of running. It’s more ascent and descent than many similar length sky races, and it’s well organized. It was ridiculous, and I want more runs like that in my life.
These three considerations are going to shape my goals for next year. I think my next full post will be goals for 2019! It won’t be as long as this one, I swear!