Wednesday 23 April 2014

Professor Fail

My GPS file. Check out that elevation profile! 
I had planned my most epic adventure to celebrate my 40th birthday. I'm not usually one to celebrate birthdays, but a big part of the adventure was to simply test myself more than to prove what I can still do at 40. Age means nothing to me, it's more about continuing to challenge myself and grow. Instead of an incredible 3 day journey, I spent the day in Professor Fail's classroom learning more than I expected. 

It's now two days later and I'm back on my feet again. Pushed out a 30km run for my birthday with the aid of an ankle brace and lots of trainers tape. Wait a sec! I haven't even told you what happened to my "mini expedition" yet. Let's take a step back and return to Monday...

My wife says this looks like a "Missing Persons" photo
It began as planned at about 5:30am in Grimsby at the Start of the Iroquois section of the Bruce Trail. I had already made mistake #1. As a facilitator for an ultralight trekking course, I should have known better, but the day prior I had added a "few things I might need" to the pack. As well to save time that morning not filtering water I decided to fill up both my extra water bottles. One I use for scooping water from natural sources, the other is for mixing up meal replacements. All in all with the water bladder in the pack and the bottles I added 8lbs. My pack was way over it's "training" weight and I could feel it.
All smiles at the Lookout

I started slowly up the escarpment and finally reached the lookout in approximately 30 minutes. I was feeling confident and enjoyed the sunrise for a moment. I left Beamers Falls Conservation area to discover I had about 6km of road. Taking advantage of the opportunity, I ran a good pace until I found the trail head to the next section. From here it was really technical. Rocks, roots, mud, more rocks and more roots - all camouflaged by fallen leaves. It was only a matter of time. I caught the edge of a sneaky little rock hiding away and felt my ankle roll. My right ankle is notoriously weak in general and it didn't take long for a second ankle roll to strike. As if that wasn't bad enough, hours of this up and down terrain created hot spots on my left heel. I stopped numerous times, but the "blister" bandages kept coming off and the trainers tape I had was only exacerbating the issue by causing more rubbing. I was still confident and in a good place mentally as I did expect issues.  

My toes were now becoming inflamed. I stopped to tape them at the border between
It's almost all powder, but it adds up quick!
Hamilton and Stoney Creek and watched as a train whipped by. At this point I felt like things were back under control. I had been eating a little, but what I had scheduled to eat throughout the day was proving too much for my working body to handle. Mistake #2. I had planned on 3800 calories per day and even at that I would be going into a calorie deficit. That means I'm burning more than I'm returning. What I didn't expect was that my body couldn't digest much while working hard. I was basically nauseous all morning and into the afternoon. I had brought more food than I could consume and all that extra weight had been slowing me down while also forcing my body to burn more calories. 3000 calories per day will have to do next time and just like that, I can save nearly 2lbs. Oh and I did say NEXT time. I'm already planning a second attempt in the fall, but we'll get to that in a bit.

With all this extra weight, my weakened ankle was sure to have more issues. As I started into Hamilton the third ankle roll hit. This was a pretty bad one. Now my tendons and ligaments are so stretched that it only hurts for a few minutes, never swells and never bruises. The problem is that once it goes, it just feels like a wet noddle and has no strength for a few days. I stopped to fill up on water again, of course making the same mistake of filling every available container I had. I was going to stop for lunch in about 30 minutes so I just filtered extra water as it was a good clean source and I would consume most of it soon. I hadn't even made it 500 meters when coming down a hill the fourth ankle roll happened. This time I felt the outside of my ankle hit the ground, followed soon after by me and then my big, fat pack body slamming me. I could hear a girl screaming and quickly felt my face to turn red with embarrassment as I realized it was myself screaming. I called my wife in a panic and explained what happened. After calming down and standing on it I decided to continue on, but have her bring me an ankle brace and a blister bandage restock. I was already feeling guilty as I wanted to do this truly unsupported and by taking help for any reason broke the rules. The official rule of unsupported running states: 

  • Unsupported means you have no external support of any kind. Typically, this means that you must carry all your supplies right from the start, except any water that can be obtained along the way from natural sources. This approach has also been termed "alpine style". The longest trip I'm aware of using this style is Coup's 20-day thru-hike of the Colorado Trail. For most people, carrying enough food for more than a few days to one week will be prohibitive. Unsupported also means unaccompanied!

Not my finest moment...
During this entire run my right calf had become seriously swollen and a giant vein began to appear. I was to the point where I couldn't even massage it due to the pain. I had never experienced so many issues or so much bad luck in one run. When I finally appeared on the far side of Hamilton I had covered 38+km of truly difficult single track hiking trails in 8 hours. I was broken physically, but mentally I still felt I should go on. As I sat with my wife contemplating the nearly 20km more I needed to travel to reach camp for the night I knew I was beaten. I could probably limp my way there, but I mostly likely wouldn't be able to continue running the next day. I had also, through my own miss-planning. not included enough bandages and not brought my ankle brace. This offering of help from Christine that I accepted had technically voided an "unsupported" attempt, which to me had been a huge part of the challenge. After some common sense kicked in I decided to call it quits and live to run another day. 

This brings us to Mistake #3 and for me the most important one. I underestimated this challenge and overestimated my capabilities. In a way it was almost satisfying. I usually accomplish what I set out to do. This challenge had humbled me, but in the process had shown me what a worthy challenge it was. You can see my GoPro video of the trip on youtube.

I have a few thoughts on a re-attempt:
1. Less weight. This means no GoPro next time and I'll have to deal with less calories per day. It also means a 2L cap on the water I can carry at all times.
2. Lighter means faster and easier. I am now also considering carrying only enough food for 1.5 days and attempting to do it with only one night out on the trails. My pack weight would be less than 20lbs so covering 65km a day is possible with more training.
3. Longer days on my feet. A slower pace, but longer duration. This means less time for recovery and setting up camp in the dark by headlamp, but also means less demands on my body at any one time.

I will, of course, keep anyone who is interested posted with the progress of a reattempt. I will continue to train throughout the summer with the pack and weigh my options. At least Professor Fail's classroom has left me wiser for the process and with a greater sense of respect for a good, hard challenge.

Tuesday 22 April 2014

Athleteintransition Podcast 4 (03-22-14)


Open forum podacst on endurance sports, specifically trail running. Ryan & Jay discuss their gear obsession. Chris and Elles are in the peanut gallery.

Check out this episode!

Athleteintransition Podcast 3 (03-22-14)

Time Management

Open forum podcast on endurance sports, specifically trail running. Ryan, Chris, Jay & Elles discuss time management.

Check out this episode!

Sunday 13 April 2014

The Mini Expedition

Winter Training with the pack
Last spring I began trail running pretty seriously and my love affair with the woods has only grown stronger in the last year. It's the feeling of belonging to a smaller, more exclusive club than just the running community as a whole. It's peaceful. There are no stoplights, no traffic, no pedestrians, except for the occasional hiker. There's a feeling of adventure and exploration inherent in trail running, but I want more. Unfortunately I don't have a mountain range to climb and explore here like my running heroes Kilian Jornet and Anton Krupicka. I do however have the Bruce Trail system and a creative mind. 

My 40th Birthday is only a few days away now and although I'm not one to pay attention to age or really even celebrate the anniversary of my birth, this year I wanted to do something different. Something memorable and something I'm not sure I can do. I already had some vague ideas in my head when a podcast from The Dirtbag Diaries solidified it for me. It was called "The Sufferthon" and the concept was simple - you can have an adventure anywhere. You don't need to spend $60,000 to summit Everest or travel to far off locales. It can happen in your own backyard so to speak. A few months prior to all this my running partner Jay brought up the idea of run touring. Multi-day, self supported trail runs. I loved it. I couldn't stop thinking about it and immediately began putting the ultimate lightweight gear list together in my mind. Being that I work for an outdoors retailer it wasn't long before I was scrutinizing every piece of gear in the store for weight and quality. Notice I put weight first. I was planning to run or at least fast trek large distances day after day with this stuff on my back. It had to be light and multi-functional. I went through several packs in the testing phase as it had to fit right and move with my body. Slowly the bank account drained and the gear began piling up. Titanium cookware, mini water filter, super-light rain gear, ultra-packable sleeping bag and a back-country hammock. 

Something that had stayed with me since my wife and I had gone on our first back-country expeditions was that she had explained to me that she had done this stuff solo. I'll admit something now... I'm afraid of the dark. Now I don't mean like in my home or out at night in the city, but alone in the woods is a very different. So just like that, it all came together. My love of distance running, the idea of run touring and my desire to face my fears. I would attempt to run the entire Iroquois section of the Bruce Trail, solo and in just a few days. This is "my" section of The Bruce. It stretches 130km from Grimsby to Milton and the plan is to make it in 3 days. It will be just over a marathon each day at 45km, with a 24lb pack. I'll bring all my food, filter water only from natural sources along the route and camp (alone!) each night along The Bruce. My hope was to make it in 2 days, running 65km each day, but a couple weeks ago a 50km test run left me too sore and exhausted to have repeated that feat a second time. Maybe next year I'll be strong enough to pull of those distances back to back, but for this year 45km per day will be my maximum effort. The pack is easy enough to run with, but it does wear me down much faster throughout the day.

Now that you know the plan I'll get into the technical stuff for those of you who are curious. Maybe this trip will inspire one of you to take on your own adventure! I truly love the idea that it can be found anywhere. In fact it's actually created more than it is found.

The Gear:
This section will be a little intense. For you gear junkies out there this will be heaven. I have a photo of the overall pack and exploded contents, as well as each "system" within the pack. I'll just give a brief overview of each system as I'm including my spreadsheet breakdown of the entire pack contents with weights in grams for those truly nerdy "Gearheads". It may seem like overkill, but when you are trying to cover these kinds of distances day after day while running with a pack every single gram counts. You have to shave weight wherever you can. Many serious ultralight trekkers would have a lot to say about some of my decisions, but there is a reason for everything I'm carrying. I'm also filming this and will be "Tweeting" progress updates throughout the expedition so my phone, camera and batteries are necessities at least for this trip.

Yep, that all fits in a 32L pack!

Some of the info in here has changed a bit over the last couple weeks of dry runs complete with trial and error. I have been using trekking poles all winter for stability and assumed they would still be useful for hills. In the last week or so I began running without the poles and find I move well in all situations so I won't be bringing them. The waterproof smart phone case and Garmin Etrex GPS unit in the picture will be coming however. The cases pictured mount to my shoulder straps for easy access. My cell phone doubles as my camera and I will be using it to tweet my progress and post photos throughout the day so I need it to be convenient.

The "Ditty Bag". This is still morphing as I discover things I need and don't need in there. Bandannas are beyond useful and if you don't believe me check this link "40 uses for bandannas". When I couldn't get a bandage to stay on a blister on the back of my heel the other day, I tied a bandanna around my ankle and it saved my run. Also included: Micro pack towel, first aid kit (bandages, ointment, aspirin, Gravol, Anti-Diarrhea meds, vitamins, trainers tape, emergency blanket, fire starter, whistle, mini compass), toothpaste and brush. Sunscreen has recently been added (not pictured). Also in the ditty bag are my electronics. There is my MP3 players full of music and podcasts, spare batteries, a "Power Pond" USB battery for charging a cell phone and headlamp (I'm no longer using the BD Storm or Petzl RXP+, but now carrying a Petzl NAO - 350 lumens of day light power!). Missing from this shot but shown in the overview is my GoPro camera and Gorillapod Tripod. It's extra weight but I will be filming my adventure "Survivorman" style.

I suspect that I may become parched at some point so figured it would be a good idea to bring something to filter some H2O with. Enter the "Sawyer". This little guy is good for 1,000,000 gallons, weighs only 90g and filters out bacteria and protozoa. Unfortunately around here you get manure run off from farms into the creek systems so I use tablets in addition to the filter that kill viruses. I use a bladder system as I like to have my water available on the move. I have also added two 80g cycling water bottles with me. One is for scooping up creek water and the other for mixing up my Creamsicle flavoured meal supplements. These consist of 500ml of water, 25g of vanilla protein powder and 25g of orange electrolyte sports drink powder. Currently I'm using Honeymaxx.

This is just a sample pic of my food. I have been using this during training to have a realistic weight. Sadly after doing the calculations I will need to bring almost twice my anticipated weight in food to maintain even close to 4000 calories per day. Below you can see my meal plan spreadsheet detailing the caloric breakdown per day and percentages of carbohydrate, protein and fat. Most of my diet is coming from powdered or dehydrated foods with some "real" foods like trail mixes and bagels to keep me feeling like I'm eating well. I won't be cooking anything on my trip, only boiling water. I plan to have oatmeal and coffee in the morning and re-hydrating rice and veggies for dinner. Everything else is mixed with cold water or eaten as is. I'm able to carry around 3800 calories in 1kg.

Food Item Weight Calories Carbs Protein Fats
Day One
Breakfast - @ home
2oz Oatmeal w/1oz Honey & 1oz Chia 406 67 4 2
Coffee @Home 0 0 0 0
Peanut Butter Sandwich @Home 420 47 15 20
Protein Shake @Home 329 48 20 8
Trail Mix 150 726 68 21 48
Meal Replacement shake (51g/210 Cal)
*Pea Protein Powder (1 scoop) 25 110 3 20 2
*Orange Gatorade Powder (1 scoop) 26 100 26 0 0
Humus Powder 93 420 48 12 18
Bagel 107 280 43 7 10
Dehydrated fruit 100 243 64 2 0
Trail Mix 150 726 68 21 48
Meal Replacement shake (51g/210 Cal) 51 210 29 20 2
Rice 100 380 82 8 1
Veggies 50 75 13 5 0
Meal Replacement Shake 51 210 29 20 2
Tea & Sugar 10 10 0 0 0
TOTAL (g) 913 4645 635 175 161
TOTAL (Lbs) 2.0 Percentages 65.40% 18.02% 16.58%
Day Two
2oz Oatmeal w/1oz Honey & 1oz Chia 70 406 67 4 2
Coffee 15 0 0 0 0
Trail Mix 150 726 68 21 48
Meal Replacement shake (51g/210 Cal) 51 210 29 20 2
Peanut Butter Powder 96 360 40 40 12
Bagel 107 280 43 7 10
Dehydrated fruit 100 243 64 2 0
Trail Mix 150 726 68 21 48
Meal Replacement shake (51g/210 Cal) 51 210 29 20 2
Rice 100 380 82 8 1
Veggies 50 75 13 5 0
Meal Replacement Shake 51 210 29 20 2
Tea 10 10 0 0 0
TOTAL (g) 1001 3836 532 168 127
TOTAL (Lbs) 2.2 Percentages 64.33% 20.31% 15.36%
Day Three
2oz Oatmeal w/1oz Honey & 1oz Chia 70 406 67 4 2
Coffee 15 0 0 0 0
Trail Mix 150 726 68 21 48
Meal Replacement shake (51g/210 Cal) 51 210 29 20 2
Humus Powder 107 280 43 7 10
Bagel 107 280 43 7 10
Dehydrated fruit 100 243 64 2 0
Trail Mix 150 726 68 21 48
Meal Replacement shake (51g/210 Cal) 51 210 29 20 2
At Home
TOTAL (g) 801 3081 411 102 122
TOTAL (Lbs) 1.8 Percentages 64.72% 16.06% 19.21%
TOTAL FOOD WEIGHT (kg) 2715 11562 1578 445 410
TOTAL FOOD WEIGHT (lbs) 6.0 Percentages 64.86% 18.29% 16.85%

The cook kit I'm bringing is as basic as I could make it. A Snow Peak titanium pot/mug set,
"foon" or "spork", waterproof matches, lighter, Methyl Hydrate fuel and a "pop can" stove. You can find tons of tutorials on how to make these. They weight less than 10g, are very fuel efficient and easy to use. Since I'm only using this for boiling water I don't need to bring much fuel, 4oz is more than enough. The windscreen is made from tinfoil and weighs 10g. I find the cook kit can be a killer in the weight category. The difference in price between aluminium and titanium is not enormous, but the weight savings are. All in all my cook kit is just a hair over 200g. 

Clothing is left to a minimum. I'll be wearing the same running gear every day and drying it in the evenings. Hence why I'll be solo. My sleeping clothes consist of a thermal top and bottom, as well as wool socks. Rain gear is also very simple. A Driducks rain suit, with pants and jacket weighing in under 290g. I probably wouldn't wear it while running, but if it's raining in the evenings while I'm setting up camp it will be useful. It will also act as an additional layer should the temperature drop. This is spring in Ontario after all. Since I'll likely be running in shorts, the thermal bottoms may act as leg warmers early in the morning. I'll have 1 long sleeve tech shirt and 1 short sleeve (both of them are polyester blends). Track shorts, a buff (bandanna-ish), light running gloves and 2 pairs of Injinji toe socks. These are the best thing since gluten-free sliced bread. They keep each toe in its own pocket so they can't cause any friction during the day. I'm running in La Sportiva Anakondas this year. They're listed as a short distance shoe, but as a minimalist footwear guy these are more than enough shoe for 50km+ runs each day.

For shelter I'm using the Hennessy Asym Zip Hammock. I went for this over an ultralight tent for a few reasons and over a ground sheet/tarp setup for even more. 
1. Comfort. For me hammocks are the most comfortable to sleep in. No rocks, roots or uneven ground. Yes you have to know where you will be going to ensure you have trees, but it will setup like a bivy sack in a pinch. 
2. It's also a chair! The asym zip model weighs a bit more that the ultralight backpacker model, but I prefer the side entrance. You can zip open the mesh and sit in it like a chair. Great after a long day of running. 
3. In warm weather you don't need a sleeping pad. Unfortunately, I found out last night during my last trial run, if it's cold and you don't have one it's going to get ugly. My wife Chris and I went out to camp off the Bruce last night. A fellow hammock user had assured me that a simple emergency blanket beneath your sleeping bag will insulate just fine. I tried it a month ago with the hammock hanging in our apartment and fans blowing on the bottom all night. It stops wind, but when the temperature dropped well below 10C last night, I began to freeze. So much so that I had to wake Chris in the middle of the night to pack up and head home in the rain. She was using a Therm-a-rest Z-lite sleeping pad and was perfectly toasty so I'll be taking that now which unfortunately adds 400g to the base pack weight. I've heard it said many time that you learn more from your failures than from your successes. In this case it couldn't be more true. 

I'm using a MEC Aquila 0C down filled sleeping bag pictured in the overview photo. It's light, packs small and has a great price point.

Below you'll find my spreadsheet detailing each item and its weight in grams. This may seem a bit obsessive compulsive and maybe it is, but I firmly believe you have to have a good plan and part of that is knowing every detail. If you don't pay attention to the details things can go off track very quickly.

Base Pack Items
Sleep System
Air Hike 32L Day Pack 768
Pack Cover 78
Hennessy Expedition Zip Hammock 1300
>6m 2mm guyline 6
>2 ultralight tent pegs 32
>Camp Nano beaner x 2 50
MEC Aquila 0C Sleeping bag 985
Compression Sack (OR) 8L 40
Compression Sack (OR) 20L
SOL Survival blanket (90g - Warm weather only)
Therm-a-rest Z-lite Sleeping Pad (410g) 410
Cook/Water System
Pop Can Stove 10
Tinfoil Windscreen 4
Waterproof Matches 11
GSI Foon 8
Snowpeak Mini Solo Cookset (10g bag) 165
Sponge 5
Food 5L Stuff Sack (MEC) (yellow) 36
>7m 3mm cordage 32
Back-Flush Syringe for Sawyer Water Filter 32
2L Platypus Hoser 102g 102
2x800ml Water Bottles (80g ea) 160
Ditty Bag/Emergency/Lighting/Misc.
Ditty Bag (OR Zipbag 39g) (First Aid, Toiletries, Repairs) 500
Note Pad, Word Puzzles, Pen, Ziplock 48
Petzle Nao Headlamp 187
Nao Extra Battery
Rechargeable Spare Batteries for Nao (AAA) 19
Extra Batteries for GPS 53
Clothing (T2 Thermal Top/Bottom, Wool Socks) 358
Clothing 5L Stuff Sack (MEC) (grey) 36
Driducks Suit 10oz (w/Stuff sack) 316
Outside Pocket
Maps (in ziplock) 16
Sawyer Water Filtration with Bags 91
Gerber LST Pocket Knife 35
Ipod (with headphones) 27
Go Pro (batteries, housing, mounts) 227
Gorillapod tripod 43
Powerpond Battery (in Aquapac bag) 104
Sony MP3 Player 56
Food (6lbs) 2726
Water (4.4lbs) (2L) 2000
Methyl Hydrate Fuel 4oz (118g) +4oz bottle 133
Nalgene 4oz Bottle 25g 25
Komperdell Ridgehiker Powerlock Poles (534g) n/a
Etrex, batteries & Case 220
Smartphone & Case 198
Clothes, watch & Shoes - etc. 1000
BASE PACK WEIGHT (lbs) 13.97
CONSUMABLES (lbs) 10.75
WEARABLES (lbs) 3.12
*SKIN-OUT WEIGHT (lbs) 27.84

I know this is a lot to ingest in one sitting. It's been an idea and plan that I've been working on for 3 months now and in just a week it becomes reality. I hope you'll join me on this journey of personal discovery. I'll be "tweeting" progress reports throughout my 3 days on the trail along with a summary blog, podcast and videos to follow. This is certainly not the greatest feat of athleticism in comparison to some of my heroes, but it is the first steps on my journey to follow them.

Follow me at:

Friday 4 April 2014

No Time To Heal

As runners we are injured a lot. It may be from overuse, too much too soon or from a fall. The point is, this is something we have to deal with. I have dealt with the gambit of injuries during my years as a skateboarder and now more so as a runner. I hear these issues all the time from fellow runners which is ok because it's something we tend to discuss. I do not however feel anything for those who do nothing to help themselves. So many people say "I'm not running right now I'm injured" and when I ask "what are you doing about it?" They all have the same reply. "Taking time off". "Aaaaaaand?" Time may heal all wounds, but for me life is too short to wait for things to just heal on their own. Besides an overuse issue will just reappear if you do nothing different.

I recently made my longest distance trail run - 45km. It was an iciy day so I had spikes on my shoes for traction. The only problem was they feel terrible under the sole of the shoe and destroyed my feet during the day. So much so that I went for x-rays due to the pain the next day. I thought I had a stress fracture, but the doctor was unsure of the x-rays. He told me that I had to leave on crutches and stay on them for the next 4 weeks! We argued and I left. All I needed to know was if it's fractured. If not, then I can run on it.

It has been 1 week now. 1 week full of self rehab. You have to be dedicated to healing, but it can be done and quite quickly. If you half-ass it or miss sessions you'll get half assed-results.
My foot is now around 75% and certainly good enough to run on, but it has taken a lot of work to get it here. This is what my week has looked like:

  • 28 icing sessions @ 15 mins14 stretching sessions  @ 15 mins
  • 7 rehab sessions with therapy band @ 5 mins
  • 7 rolling/massage sessions @ 5 mins
  • 5 ultrasound sessions @ 15 mins (I have my own home unit)

11 hours 45 minutes total (approximately 1 hour 40 minutes per day)

Sound extreme? Well maybe it is, but for me getting back to what I love sometimes requires extreme measures. What's that you say? You don't have that kind of time? Well neither do I! It's been a tough week and a lot of things have been pushed to the side. It has also required a good deal of patience from my wife as it's certainly cut into our time together.

I'll leave you with this question: How bad do you want it?