Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Athlete's Corner: Adventure run

The Sunshine Coast Trail

Matt Barry, Graham Perkins, and Alexa Laidlaw set out to run the Sunshine Coast Trail from Sarah Point to Saltery Bay in one go (110 miles) last weekend.

Chloé: Tell us more about this trail and why you chose to do it at this time of year?
Matt: This was all Graham’s baby. He pitched the idea to Alexa and then I just sort of shoe-horned my way into it. To be completely honest, I had no idea this trail even existed before Graham had mentioned wanting to run it. I think it may have been at VIMFF this year that the idea popped into his head after a chat with current FKT (fastest known time) holder Ean Jackson and trail builder Eagle Walz. I didn’t know where it started or finished, or anything else about it. All it took was hearing there was 110 miles of trail I hadn’t touched yet, and I was onboard.

We chose this weekend because the three of us are doing Rainshadow Running’s Sun Mountain 50, in one distance or another, and I wanted to be somewhat fresh again in time for that.  That, and Graham is leaving for Nepal almost immediately after Sun Mountain. 

As far as what I know about the trail now, is that it is absolutely beautiful. It wasn’t very far in that we had almost unconsciously made the decision to slow things down and soak in as much of the trail as we could.            

Graham and Alexa packing ...

Chloé: What was the plan in terms of the logistics, and now knowing what you know, would you plan anything differently?
Matt: We headed over the day before to stash some gear, and then drive up the 4x4 road to Sarah Point, get some sleep, and then hit the trail in the morning.
It looked like it would be smart to break the trail into four sections. The first leg would be from Sarah Point to the bridge that crosses Powell River, which is about 50km in. The trail basically spits you out into the parking lot of a pub called the shingle mill. We cached some gear just before that point, with the intention of grabbing it, reloading with some food, change of clothes, and then hitting the pub for some refreshments.

Dealing with Cut Blocks

“Aid Station 2” was somewhere near the 95km mark where the trail crosses a logging road. There we decided to set up a tent with some sleeping bags and clean clothes, cache some food in a bin, and use that as a spot to take a quick nap if we needed.  We then left Graham's car down at the Dixon road crossing, which would be around the 135 km mark, to serve as aid station 3. Then that was it until the finish, with the assumption that either one person would end up dropping at that point, and take the car to the finish, or we’d just hitch hike back to the car.

Aid Station #2

Chloé: How did you work as a team, like, what different skill sets did you each count on would benefit this adventure run?
Matt: If there is one thing I had to pull out of the whole adventure, it’s that I found two other people I can be with on a trail for 40 hours and never have the smile leave my face. Even as time went on and the jokes got darker, and darker, we were all pretty much laughing the whole time. The only person who had ran longer than 10 hours was Graham, and he was basically our skipper through the whole thing, except for when he kept missing switchbacks. Graham bestowed a lot of knowledge on us on how to deal with endurance running, the versatility of butter, and the irresistible powers of the trail robe.

Graham thinking this is good training for Barkley Marathon ...

Chloé: What were the highlights, what went well, what did you enjoy most?
Matt: The first 50k of this trail went, to the second, according to plan. The trail was clear of blow downs and overgrowth, and it mostly lacked cut blocks and logging road. It was perfect. 

Hard to pick any specific highlight as the whole time we were either joking, laughing, eating, or just appreciating how beautiful those forests are. If it had to pick one, about 23 hours into the run we dropped down from Tin Hat Mountain. We hopped on the logging road, (as per Ean Jackson’s route, and not actually summiting Tin Hat) and headed to where the trail picks up again. It was probably about 5 in the morning and the sun was starting to come up, and Graham started picking the pace up a bit. We were eventually just hammering this descent, and somewhere in that strava file is a little burst of a 5:00/km pace 23 hours into a run!  The final moment of joy was that first beer after finishing.

Chloé: What were the low points and what was going on?
Matt: At about 60k in, my right knee bailed on me. It’s the second time this year I’ve experienced this. The last time was when I was sweeping Orcas Island 50 km.  That time, it went away as soon as I had a chance to open things up to catch the next last runner. I assume it’s from running at a much slower pace, with a lot more gear on my back. Problem was that we weren’t all of a sudden going to start running at race pace. I pretty much knew I wasn’t going to finish the whole trail at that point, but that didn’t end up being a factor anyway. I wouldn’t say it was a low point, because that’s when we got to Confederation Lake. Someone had left a fire going while they were out on the lake and we must have hung out there for a good 10 minutes around the fire.

One moment that was particularly heartbreaking was realizing that the tent we had dropped wasn’t really where we thought it was. We had left it up near Lewis Lake at an earlier junction almost 3k from where we thought we left it. 3k has never felt so far away.  It didn’t really seem to shake Graham all that much, but I had a real hard time pushing through that point. It all seems really silly in hindsight, but at the time it was tough.  I’m pretty sure that’s the only moment that would classify as a low point, one in which I still don’t find very funny. I’m sure the humor will bubble up one day.

Somewhere here is a trail marker ...

The last kilometre marker, Matt was ready for it!

Chloé: How would you sum up your trip, and what’s next?
Matt: This was all uncharted waters for me, having never ran farther than 50 miles. It’s a different beast in that 20-30 hour zone. I loved it, maybe because of the people I was with or because the trail, or any trail for that distance, forces you to feel humbled.  I don’t think it’ll be too long before we are back on the Sunshine Coast Trail. The Powell River Parks and Wilderness Society have done an amazing job building an incredible trail, although it was maybe a little too early in the year to try to run the whole thing. There was still a good amount of snow on some of the peaks, and a lot of overgrowth and blow downs. We made the wise decision to pack it in after 135 km, as a storm was coming in and there was still one more peak (the aptly renamed ‘Mt. Bad Idea’) to hit over the next 45km.  It was almost all type 1 fun out there! There won’t be one tear shed by any of us for not finishing the trail as we had such a ridiculous, hilarious, adventure out there. 

Graham standing in the shadow of Mt. Bad Idea
on the way home (with snow at the top from the night before)

As for what’s next, I’m the only one out of the three of us that still feels sore. I’m resting up for the rest of the week, and then getting back out there! We’ll all be at Sun Mountain in a few weeks. After that, Alexa is running Knee Knacker and Squamish 50, Graham will continue his madness at Fat Dog, and I’ll be running Cascade Crest 100.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Going there

Photo by Erin Donnelly 

The mountains for me are like good wine    or a fine kiss, one tends to want more after a taste. Alluring, intoxicating, can blur your reason and stir on courage where dumb risks potentially result in injury to body, to pride. The mountain teases or can plainly break your heart with lingering abstinence. All day, every day my mind wanders off to twisty trails, what lays past this next berm? I can almost smell wet dirt until the foggy air cools with promises to uncover a grand plateau or an imposing snowbowl. I yearn in spirit until I can at last go there.

Clean shoes 'in waiting' on the dryer

Less daydreaming, more doing

The ache of longing soon turns to anticipation as the work day ends and I can finally jet off to the North Shore. During the evening runs, my imagination cranks-up with talk of adventure plans for the weekend with my companions. I might just burst. 

Wednesday. In the company of like-minded.
The iRunAmok relay team for Trailstoke

Wednesday. Flint & Feather on Grouse with Aran and Graham

Hazards for the curious

The main adventure of the weekend was an attempt up Coliseum on Saturday. We were aware of the hazardous conditions with heavy wet snow covering very steep gnarly terrain. Also there was a threat of fickle weather, which can kill you or ruin the day if unprepared or neglect to reassess with your trail-mates as the run progresses. It's important to 'check-in' during group runs, see how all are doing.

Saturday. Poised to move light and fast

Four of us set out that morning: Shauna Connaughton, Erin Donnelly, myself, and Spring McClurg. We wore running shoes and packed the usual long-run staples such as fuel, extra layers and safety gear. 

Saturday. Shaking out the legs and adjusting gear
before the trailhead toward Norvan Falls

Some had brought microspikes though later proved unnecessary, as the snow was mostly deep slush, and best to just step and glide. We had water for approx 4 1/2 hours and the determining factor for our turnaround point.

Saturday. 700ft root gnarl ascent below the snow line 

Saturday. Cresting to a wet slop snowbowl.
Using toes and fingers as snow-picks for purchase up to 'false summit'

Here’s a summary written by Spring: “We climbed for about 1/2hr before we hit the snow line, and when we did it didn’t let up. Following some old tracks from previous visitors, made for easier travel, but there was still some serious postholing. We slipped and slid our way through the forest and up towards the ridge. On top of the ridge we decided to call it our 'summit' and turn around. After a quick group shot we made quick work of the descent and enjoyed a fast paced run once back on the snow free trail. The total for the day was about 27km with 1100m of elevation thrown in for good measure.”

Saturday. We didn't linger, swirled in mist on a hesitant clearing

The descent took its toll, my legs were ugly beat-up the next day from postholing. So, I changed my Sunday plans from running the 5peaks’s Golden Ears course orientation (organized by the RD Solana Klassen and Jude Ultraa –thank you!) to staying local for a super fun 2hr recovery run on my favourite trails with Graham Snowden, Jackie Muir and Ashley Wiles.


Sunday. Bridal, Powerline, Forever After, Mushroom,
Ned's Atomix Dustbin, Bottletop, and so on

Sunday. Graham not having any fun on Forever After

A few more pics on Instagram.

Next up: Special posts on Athlete’s Corner, and I’m thinking HSB up Black Mnt to Cleveland Dam on Saturday as a point-to-point.

Monday, April 21, 2014

In the stillness of remembering what you had

Monday. Secret pool, Lynn Canyon

You know those long runs with a friend, when the conversation just flows like your feet down the single track. That’s how it was, telling Jackie how in my Adult Learning course, there was a section on cognition and, I don’t recall the exact statistic but it was a staggering number just how many people were born with a psychotic gene. “All you need is a trigger to activate the gene and it turns off your empathy! That’s how some people loose their sh*t.”

Work being exceptionally busy, I didn’t get to play all week until Friday morning – why I worried my trigger could be on the verge of being activated … being cut off from my capricious mountain habit drives me mad. 

Friday. Jackie, to Norvan Falls

You say you want your freedom, who am I to keep you down

Yet there was much in stow to compensate for my glum disposition. Firstly, I had plans of a jaunt up the Chief and a picnic by the Spit, except this plan didn’t pan out … the icy downpour wasn’t too appealing that Thursday night anyway. 

Ah but the next day, Friday morning, Jackie and I were rewarded with sunrays, spraying falls, a view, and essentially a perfect 4 hour run with lots giggles along the way. Freedom, yeah feeling it.

Friday. Making my way up to Lynn Peak

Friday. Jackie in the sun, giggles by the falls.

It's only right that you should play the way you feel it

Saturday was the second of the SQ50 orientation runs, starting and finishing a 30K loop from Escape Route, an outdoor retail store on the strip mall near Starbucks. The owner opened early to receive the 70+ runners for sign-in, really a ploy to taunt us – sidebar: as a note for ladies, they have hard-to-find running-specific apparel in attractive models with pricing comparable to MEC. I made out like a bandit with my post-run shopping!

Saturday. In front of Escape Route, post run.
I'm totally busted checking my phone - Photo by Dianna Christopoulos

Geoff  and Dianna looked after us with an aid station at the 18k mark, and Gary had marked the way with white chalk arrows on the ground. Many agreed the chalk is as efficient as any course marking, nonetheless we could buy the TrailMapps App for 10 bucks or there were paper maps on hand, in case. Gary asked us to provide feedback on a modification to the course, which I’ll attest will be a delight to all on race day.

Saturday. The awesome aid station

At the start I asked Jackie to keep me in check, so I wouldn’t dart off and kill myself trying to hold with the frontrunners, knowing there was a lot of weekend left. Adam and Mark led the front alone, as Matt was hanging back using this as a recovery day.

Saturday. Jackie pulling away, bridging the chase pod, my legs are toast

And so, it wasn’t long until Jackie and I bridged-up to the next chase group, maybe 6-7 people in that pod with speedster Sarah in tow. Jackie was keeping good pace with them and I just petered off the back with uncooperative legs. Jackie waited for me at one of the bends with an inquisitive look. I mustered “don’t wait for me, I wouldn’t wait for you." No sense ruining her run with my lousy pace.

Saturday. Alexa embraces the trail

When the rain washes you clean, you’ll know you’ll know

Sunday my plans fell through, again. I felt groggy from an exercise hang-over and it was raining, again. Sometimes you need to build-in space for spontaneity or just accept that life has other plans for you. Sunday was therefore time for introspection (i.e.: errands).

Monday. Top of Seymour Grind, lots of trail work has been done
on the Baden Powell, I imagine fast times for Knee Knacker, though less gnarly

It seems almost a crime to venture on a big North Shore run by myself, as I’m sure a few people would have tagged along if asked … but Monday morning found me disorganized, so I headed from EOL (End of the Line/Lynn Headwater) toward Deep Cove to see how the run and my body would respond.

Monday. Good that I remembered to wear my 'dog tags' since I was exploring
side trails along the way. Mandatory refuel at Honey's for extra joy in my step

Monday. First time up Quarry rock, had always just zoomed past it in eagerness
to avoid this high-traffic area. It's fun to "run tour" and sightsee in your own backyard

I made it back to EOL just under 4 hours, revitalized and sound of mind - if I have any psychopathic genes, may they lay dormant for at least another week ... Thunder only happens when it's raining.

A few more pics on Instagram.

Next up: an adventure run up high and athlete interviews for Golden Ear.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Athlete's Corner: Interview

Salomon Running Canada Flight Crew athlete Jeff Pelletier 

Nepal, 2014 - Photo by Jane Osborne

Chloe: Tell us more about the Flight Crew program, what are the commitments and what do you aim to accomplish in this role?

Jeff: After working with Salomon locally as a member of last year’s inaugural Salomon West Vancouver Shop Team, I was fortunate to have been asked to join the 2014 Salomon Flight Crew which is essentially the brand’s Canadian team of trail running athlete ambassadors.

The Flight Crew is a grassroots team of locally based runners from across Canada who aim to promote trail running through the brand, chosen not just for their competitiveness (although most are very fast!) but for being engaged with and active in the community and for being considered ambassadors for the sport as a whole.

Our goal is to be as active as possible throughout the season both on and off the trails. This will most likely include shop runs and trail running clinics, running in and volunteering at races, and of course being quite active in social media. I think that something unique I can perhaps bring to the team is my photography and video production skills, as I’m really interesting in producing more exciting content for my Instagram and YouTube accounts.

These next couple of years are all about adventure on the trails, and I think Salomon is a perfect fit for that. Trail running has already given me so much and I see ambassadorship as a great way to give back as I continue to improve as an athlete and to tell my story.

Diez Vista 50k, 2014 - Photo by Jay Klassen

Chloe: You’ve been a Salomon Running ambassador for over a year now, what has been your go-to favourite in their product line?

Jeff: The one product that I absolutely could not live without is the Sense Ultra.

When I began running longer distances on the trails, I really struggled with finding the right shoe. Those with too much structure would hurt my feet and cause blisters after a few hours, and yet lighter shoes would start to fall apart on me after less than 300 km – in one case, mid-race.

Going into my first 50 mile race last year, I started to panic about my shoes the day before the race. I actually ended up borrowing a pair of used Sense Ultras from a friend – a pair I happened to have tried out once or twice before, so I knew they fit me quite well - and finished the race with my feet in perfect shape (and the shoes perfectly in-tact). From then on they became my go-to shoe for all of my training and racing.

Chloe: Has your approach changed from last season in terms of how you train or select races?

Jeff: Since really having just moved into the longer distance races last season, I have begun to change my approach with regards to how I train and select races in order to better take advantage of my strengths and to mitigate my weaknesses.

I started running pretty late in life at 27 and I’m far from what I’d consider a natural athlete. I’m very cerebral in the way I approach my training and how I connect with my body so a big weakness of mine tends to be on the technical descents where quicker reactions are needed and, I suppose, a slightly less developed sense of self-preservation. This is something I’m trying to really work on this season as I believe it’s a skill I can develop with practice.

Climbing, on the other hand, is definitely something I’d consider a strength, thanks in part to a good strength-to-weight ratio, but mainly because it’s something I can ‘think’ my way through. There’s nothing more motivating than being able to settle in to a good rhythm on a big climb late in a race and having the strength left to pass others who are falling apart!

Nepal, 2014 - Photo by Jane Osborne

Chloe: What are three things you do or swear by in your training?

Jeff: Speed work is a big one. I personally like doing this at the track where it’s more measurable, but this can include hills and threshold work on the trails. I find this important as an ultra runner to keep up leg turn-over, to improve lactate threshold and VO2max, and to develop mental fortitude that can be drawn from late in a race and can make other efforts seems easy. Periodization is important though as it’s hard to build on both speed and volume simultaneously, and I’ve realized that different energy systems should be focused on depending on where I am at in my racing season.

I’m a firm believer in the benefits of strength work, especially for trail runners. This is an area I could see improving on myself in order to focus on more functional work, like explosive plyometrics.

Lastly, I like having a coach. I’ve been working with the Peak Centre for Human Performance here in Vancouver for years, having them design all of my training programs based on regular Lactace and VO2Max testing. I find the biggest benefit specifically for ultra runners of having a coach is not in having someone to hold you accountable, but to have someone to hold you back at times.

Chloe: What are your qualities or strengths as an athlete and what are you looking to improve?

Jeff: I’m very analytical in my approach to running which I think works well as an ultra distance athlete. Endurance sports are almost as much a mental as a physical challenge and a big part of successful racing strategy is being able to pace yourself and to properly plan and execute on your nutrition.

I’ve got a well developed central governor which has helped me to finish pretty well every race I’ve done feeling strong, but it can also hold me back in shorter races where I’m still, on some level, trying to conserve energy for 2, 4 or 8 hours later in the race. For these shorter efforts, I definitely need to learn to just let go and leave it all out on the course. My goal is one day to puke after crossing the finish line – and I’m only half-kidding.

Chloe: How are you feeling, generally coming into the 2014 season?

Jeff: Starting the 2014 racing season, I was feeling faster and stronger than ever. I had a very long and healthy 2013 season and didn’t really take any time off over winter but instead spent a few weeks trekking and running at altitude in Nepal. The time off from structured training gave me a good mental break, but I managed to keep most of my fitness and came back ready to train and race.

Unfortunately, I made the decision to push through what started out as only a minor pain in my ankle during my last race, the Diez Vista 50k in March. This led to a peroneal tendon injury that will have me sidelined for at least a few weeks, but I know I’m going to come back hungrier and determined to work harder than ever – I just need to respect the recovery.

Chloe: What’s on your bucket list in the short and long term?

Jeff: I’ll be running several 50k’s and maybe a couple of 50 milers throughout the year, but the focus will be on doing my first 100 miler in late Summer or early Fall. I’m also hoping to do at least one big backcountry adventure, similar to our Grand Canyon double-crossing last year. As a filmmaker, I really enjoy documenting these trips as well.

Next year I’ll have to re-assess, having then had a taste of all of the major race distances. Longer-term, I’d like to focus more on destination running and adventures, and less on racing. Trail and ultra running has become much more about getting to spend time exploring in these incredible places that I otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to experience.

I would definitely love to set a fastest known time somewhere one day soon too - even if I only hold it for a short period of time - and I think I have an idea of where that might be.

Chloe: What advice would you give to athletes hoping to join a sponsored team?

Jeff: Trail running can be an expensive sport, when you consider the cost of shoes, clothing, nutrition, travel and race entries. Running with a team or the support of a sponsor can of course help with this as well as many other, less tangible benefits.

As a sponsored athlete, however, you need to be willing to truly act as an ambassador for the sport and for the brand, like a member of a grassroots marketing team. This typically means working hard to represent them in the community by attending and perhaps volunteering at events and by producing quality content for social media on a regular basis. If this isn’t something you’re already active in doing, then your time might in fact be better spent elsewhere. It’s important to consider why you’re hoping for a sponsorship to begin with and it should not be to simply get something from a company without giving back at least as much value in return.

Think of your own personal brand and the story you’re trying to tell. Does a given company or product make a good fit with your core values? If so, then start networking and selling yourself by focusing on the value you can provide.

For more on Jeff Pelletier:

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sticks and balls ... A beautiful thing

It’s very gratifying to indulge on forbidden foods and, well, some liquor when recovering from a glorious effort. Except racing an ultra is not an open license to flood the gates. And so, after a brief celebratory stint of incessant munching and extraordinary sloth with wine on the sofa, it was time to get back to business.

Every day. Sticks and balls: I hate you sorely

Active recovery tends to work best for me. Such as a social run on familiar trails, pretty hikes, and multiple rigorous sessions with the cursed trigger point rollers. Helps to knead and flush the damage out, and a quick recovery means sooner back to serious play on the mountain.

Tuesday, EOL group

My first run back post-race was with Jackie’s End of the Line (EOL) Tuesday group. About 10-20 people usually turn up. We venture on assorted trails in the LSCR or Mt Fromme area to name a few. The pace varies depending on who shows up and it is a “no drop” run. We conclude this cheerful 12k-ish jaunt with sushi in Lonsdale.

Tuesday, EOL group, Matt taking the lead with John in chase
Tuesday, EOL group, a waterfall along that eve's mystery route

I felt fairly spry at the onset, mostly just super happy to be out. Body niggles did creep up on the remaining climbs but thankfully others were also recovering from DV50k which kept the pace on task.

Wednesday, Grouse MTN. Plans to 'chill out' post gym overturned by spectacular weather.
Here doing my best Matt Barry pose (I'm just jealous he runs summits every night)

Saturday was a dizzying array of North Shore trails, some obscure enough that I would never succeed in linking this route together again on my own. Julie Flynn had orchestrated a group birthday run, the “barn burner” in commemoration of her partner’s birthday, Glenn, and also combined with Ward’s big five-0.

Saturday. The "Barn Burners" starting from Parkgate.
Me loving those neon arm warmers from Wendy
Saturday's route: Old Buck, Empress, Bridle, Forever After, Dale's, Picnic Lookout,
3 Chop, Dark Side, Coconut Xpress, and Patty's Special,
with coconut cake and custom treats to sweeten the day

Sunday was simply fantastic high up in the sunshine. We made our third attempt to summit the Swan Falls route and managed to bag Mount Beautiful

Sunday, Swall Falls. Matt Barry, Joel Payeur, Shannon Penway, me, Jackie Muir

We got distracted by the exhilaration of running up a snowy peak under a sky of coasting eagles, and somehow bypassed the junction to DillyDally

Sunday. Joel cresting Mount Beautiful 

Sunday. Shannon running toward Matt's camera
Matt musing: "I race ultras to give me the fitness to cover more mountain"

We intersected with backpackers who informed us that DD was too deep to pass without snowshoes. And since the men were post-holing fairly deep already, we concluded to retrace our steps as we were quite satisfied with our outing so far. We capped the day with a fun tempo run around Buntzen lake to roll out the legs. 

Sunday. Mount Beauty snack time

Sunday. Chasing Shannon's flamingo socks

We’ll be back for sure! Here’s Joel’s strava data.  A few more pics on Instagram.

Next up: see you at the Squamish Orientation run #2!?