I’m not really in the business of doing product evaluations. I just don’t have the patience that reviewers like DC Rainmaker appears to posses. These guys are so thorough it almost makes me sick.
It turns out that I should have waited for their review of the Fenix 2 to make it to the web. At the time (pre March 20), I was considering the Suunto Ambit 2 and the Garmin Fenix 2. The Fenix 2 won because like the Suunto, the claim was it would operate for 50 hrs of battery life and the watches have a comparable feature set. I don’t often run for 50 hrs, but most watches will barely get you 8 hours, and from time to time, I will be out running for 8 hours or more. The second reason I picked the Fenix over the Suunto was because I already owned a Garmin HRM that is compatible with my very nice Polar strap (no chaffing).
When I first started running, I only focused on running pace. That after all, is a measure of how fast you are going, and the faster the better right? Well not in all cases. Heart rate tells you much more. The more you can relate to how hard you are working your heart, and how quickly your RHR recovers, the better off you are. You don’t want to be running 125 km at 90% HR. Well if you physically could sustain that, I guess there is nothing wrong with that. But many folks fatigue long before 125 km is reached if that is how hard they are pushing; just sayin’.
Anyway, I am here in Grande Cache getting ready for the big day. I am have been reviewing my time goals, my fueling plan, and last but not least, my equipment readiness. Since owning the Fenix 2, I have had some serious trouble with it. At Seaton it froze and failed to record the whole race. Similarily at Limberlost, I have a full summary, but an apparent lack of data points. Suffice it to say I wasn’t coming to Grande Cache with just one device. Good foresight (or just paying attention to the signs).
As I ranted earlier, I bought the Fenix 2 on the assumption that I could use the HRM and GPS for 50 hours of battery life. You’d think you could safely make the assumption seeing as how you’d be hard pressed to find anything that mentions otherwise in the literature that Garmin offers. In fact, in the little ditty that they have on Ultratrac mode, the method by which you supposedly attain the 50 hours of operation, there is no mention that the ANT+ sensor is disabled.
So what is the significance here? ANT+ is the protocol that the Fenix 2 uses to have nice polite conversations with your HRM.
Fenix 2: “That is 90 bpm, thank you.”
HRM: “You’re welcome. Oh by the by, I have another update for you, add 10 more bpm. It appears that he may be running!”
Fenix 2: “Copy”
You can imagine my surprise. The manual only tells you have the truth. Please prove me wrong and find the note that informs you that Ultratrac disables ANT+. Manual is found here.
So this is the straw that broke the camels back. I will hang up the Garmin and I will be going back to the Polar which was able to record my GPS points for 21 hours of the nearly 23 hours I was out there. To add, it was also capable of recording my heart rate for the entire race.
When I started running I never thought about why I wanted to run, I just felt I had to. When I first learned of the existence of the Canadian Death Race (CDR), I remember feeling compelled to taking on that challenge. I never gave thought to how I would get to where I was going or what I was going to discover about myself. On my journey to Ultra last year, my first step was The Limberlost Challenge (TLC). It was here that I thought I would learn a thing or two in preparation for the CDR. What I rediscovered this year is that TLC is that it is one of those events where after the event, you leave having found something.
The event is a true trail and a real grassroots experience. You have a field in which volunteers, racers, and friends and family can camp out the night before and after the race. Of course there is the race itself which hosts in the neighborhood of 400 or so runners. Distances include 14k, 28k, 42k, and the Ultra at 56k.
I was finishing up in my basement where I was cleaning up the mess left over from updating the floor and painting the walls. My plan was to get out of the house by noon. 11 o’clock swiftly presented itself and I realized that I needed to get some purchases out of the way and I needed to pack up my gear for the night of camping and running. The thought was that I would get to the Limberlost reserve around 4 pm or so, well ahead of the majority of the campers.
After the 4 hour drive I pulled into the field where the tents were pitched and quickly realized that I underestimated what ‘early’ meant to other folks. I drove around the field and finally decided on a spot in between 3 young bucks and what turned out to be a husband and wife couple. I setup my tent and started and settled in.
I went over to the BBQ to cook my hamburger when the woman of the couple was looking around for water. She asked:
“Do you know where can I get some water?” I replied saying that she could find it the Gatorade coolers. The next thing that came up, and I am kind of hazy on how was that this woman mentioned that this race was a training run for her.
“Oh, what are you training for?” was my immediate question.
“No shit!” I responded with an exuberance that clearly indicated that I knew of this one – a seven day, self-supported race through the Grand Canyon. Something I swear I will do – someday.
As our polite banter continued her husband strolled along and joined the conversation. Turns out he is running the Canadian Death Race this year as well. It really is amazing how small the world becomes day after day. So a real connection is made. We made it back to our camps and continued chatting. Low and behold I met a Canadian Champion boxer.
Last year I finished this race after 8 hours and 45 minutes. I remember running with this Irish dude and he called the trail a “grinder”. While the trail bed is nice and soft, a combination of rich soil and fallen needles, it challenges you because it is laden with tree roots and rocks. Always climbing up, running down, side step to the left, shuffle to the right. If your not shuffling, you are balancing on logs through boggy mud that you discover is more than knee deep if you misstep. On this trail run you never really get an opportunity to establish a steady pace.
As I have been getting more confident I started the race at the front of the pack instead of back. I could even count a few people I was on a first name basis with. I also realized that I have a nickname that seems to have stuck with me. It comes from a scene at the Creemore Vertical Challenge: I am endearingly known as “King Idiot” to some. Well, 8 am struck and we were off running. The first stretch of about 500 m is a dirt road and on this day we were a pack of about 5 or 6 people who made up the front runners. Then I noticed a guy that didn’t really appear to be an experienced Ultra runner, he didn’t sound like one either. As he passed me I heard him huffin’ n’ puffin’ and at that point I couldn’t help but think that the race just wouldn’t end well for him.
Coming up on the first kilometer I checked my heart rate and pace and decided I was going to settle in and try to hit my goal of 1h 30m per lap. No sooner than I decide to settle in and the longest and steepest climb was before us. Bye bye huffer n’ puffer. Likely a hard learned lesson for him, slow (breath) and steady (run) wins the race.
As I came up to the 1st aid station manned by youth volunteers representing the Trails Youth Initiatives which is supported by the proceeds from the race I knew there was a guy on my heels. It was early on in the race so I focused on keeping a steady forward pace. I kept reminding myself that if you are well trained (i.e. have been running lots in representative terrain) a simple strategy can get you in the top 10%. It is summed up in a few basic points:
people are their own worst enemy
Guy on my heels caught up to me and started chatting with me. He was quick to point out that he was happy to run with me because I was running at what he felt was his pace. I noticed at some points I found him pulling me forward as he got in front of me, then we would switch spots and I would slow the pace a little. We ran together until we caught up to a fellow that I think was one of the guys I let go early. I hopped up on a 3 foot ledge leaving the two competitors behind me and never looked back.
Picture yourself running through a Tom Thomson painting. You are running through the grandeur and serenity of the Muskoka. You are beneath the canopy of the black and white spruce, jack pine, tamarack, poplar, and white birch trees. You are by yourself, isolated but feeling no need to talk to anyone. Your worries melt away and stresses are behind you. As you run, the breeze teases you. It embraces your body. You feel it all over as it cools you off. You suddenly discover that you are aware of every inch of your body. Every nerve ending is celebrating. You stop thinking about your footing, your pace, your heart rate. Just run and loose your self in the moment. You discover what it feels like to free.
I would step out of the painting and back into the reality I was in: I am racing and I knew I was keeping a steady pace. Each time I came into the start/finish I would pay close attention and on the completion of the 3rd lap I was 4 hours and 30 minutes in, and average of 1 hour 30 minutes per lap. My split times were a mere minutes apart from each other, which I figure to mean that I found my stride. It was on this 3rd lap that my strategy rewarded me by the reality of me passing one of the runners I knew was ahead of me. I continued to focus on making haste slowly so that I would stay in front of this capable competitor. So I used every downhill to propel me forward a little faster. At every uphill I would remind myself “this is your strength” and I would power my way up never minding my heart rate.
I was on my final lap. I broke the last 14 km down by aid station. Trails Youth Initiatives, the one after a road crossing, the one with Coke, and the start/finish line. As I passed through each aid station, I knew that I was that much closer to the finish. I just needed to keep up the pace. I remember seeing the markers for 11km, 12km, and finally 13km.
With just one kilometer to go, I picked up the pace. I couldn’t see anyone behind me and I intended to keep it that way. I crossed the final footbridge knowing that there was literally 300m to go. Pushed a little harder and made a speedy dash across the finish line. 1st place guy shouts out:
“Congrats your 2nd in!”
I actually couldn’t believe it. Loudly and in my natural way I blurted out “No SHIT!” then flopped on the ground. Which by the way, the act of flopping on the ground actually worries people. Don’t do that unless you are actually in distress and you really can’t keep yourself on your feet. Being on the ground and having realized that some folks were concerned I let out a “Wooop” and stretched out my arms and legs to indicate that I was enthusiastically aware that I finished the race and in no need of medical attention.
It turns out that I finished 2 hours and 38 minutes ahead of my time from the previous year. A very gratifying result, but this event wasn’t just about the running. Here at TLC I fostered new friendships, nurtured existing ties with my fellow idiots and rediscovered the spiritual side of running, again.
I was looking for every excuse I could think of not to register for this race. I emailed my coach hoping that he would be disappointed by the elevation gain, but he was OK with it. If I raced it, I figured I could complete the race in about 5 hours, 3 hours short of my planned training for the day. Coach said make it up before or after the race, maybe run as opposed to race then do an additional 2 hours after the event. I tried looking for outs by seeing how far behind the OUSER leaders I was, only 12 back from the leader having completed only 3 of the 6 races. I waited until a week before the race and emailed the race director hoping there were no camping spots left, but there was one for me. I just couldn’t come up with an excuse that I would feel good about. So I gave in, registered for the race and on Friday evening I packed myself up and left for Creemore.
Once I was there I setup the tent and got cozy. I found some course maps on the exterior wall of the garage and tried to figure out my first run of the day. Pierre, the race directory, was doing some final prep work and as he came by I asked him about the course. I knew right then and there that this was going to be a great experience. He explained the course then took me on a quick tour of his property to show me where I could head off in the morning to get some climbing in. Later that night, a few more campers showed up and Pierre gathered us up, cracked one of the kegs that was donated by the Creemore Springs Brewery and light a bonfire – a perfect way to relax ahead of a busy day of running up and down the Niagara Escarpment.
I woke just before 5 am – I got out of my sleeping bag and got ready for my pre-race run. One of the racers I met the night before was looking to log some more km’s and joined me for the the run. During our run, Shane would talk about how he had “only” run 8 marathons in his lifetime. It was as if he felt he wasn’t worthy. 1 is more than none, and 8 is more than 1, so all good! We ran for 1 hour 35 minutes, clocked 10 km’s and we were feeling good.
It was 7:30 am and the rest of the party showed up. Every time I run another race in the OUSER series, I meet another person and recognize more and more people. I had my pre-race chit chat, met 2 more folks, then we were called to the start. Pierre had his shotgun, and probably bruised his shoulder to mark the start of the 2014 CVC 50 km race.
Since I have been gaining confidence in myself this year, I have started to line up near or at the front of the pack instead of modestly lining up at the back. Seeing as my plan was to run this race at a nice steady pace and clock 6 hours, I don’t know why I didn’t move to the back of the pack. At any rate, we were off and about 3 km in I counted the heads in front of me: 10. Ok, time to be competitive.
The group started in on the first climb. Though, this one would prove to be a very modest slope. Still, my repeats at Blue Mountain and the hill training on the treadmill paid off here. I was able to keep a good pace while some of the pack leaders needed to slow down or walk. I remember red shirt guy I haven’t met at about the 5 km mark. He was still a fair bit ahead, but the real climbing started now. During this early stretch of single track we seesawed along. This was frustrating me because it is difficult to pass people on single track. As the course change from single track to mowed long grass over rolling hills, my competitive ego wisely advised me to bide my time. We were nearing the kilometre long climb (KLC), I figured I would loose him there.
About half way up the KLC I did pass red shirt guy I haven’t met and my sights were set on grey shirt guy I didn’t know and 2nd place guy on the OUSER leader board, an ultra runner from Kitchener, who, I met earlier that morning. Once I crested the KLC, I noticed I actually gained some ground on them. The course brought us through some nice trail that had some gentle ups and downs and then a final hurrah up, and that moment at the 10 km marker was the last time I saw grey shirt guy.
Following that quick trail sequence, was a easy boot down a dirt road to a valley that made me think of the the beloved saddle between Flood and Grand Mountains at the Canadian Death Race. Trail looked like it was for a quad and it had all sorts of loose rock and troughs created by gushing rainwater. I was careful going down the valley to make sure I didn’t loose my footing and then climbed up. As I approached the aid station at approx km 15, 2nd place guy on the OUSER leader board was grabbing some water or something and so I kept on knowing that I was now placed 6th.
That was short lived. 2nd place guy on the OUSER leader board caught right up to me. I decided that I would pace with him for as long as I could. And that was OK for a while as we ran along one of the long dirt road stretchs. As luck would have it, we came to another climb. Here I gained some distance only to loose it on the flat road. Around the km 17, I found his pace relentless and pulled back saving energy for the climbing that I would have to face a second time. 2nd place guy on the OUSER leader board gained some distance on me and that was OK, or at least I was trying to convince myself of that.
I crossed the 25 km mark to complete the first loop and as ran by all the parked cars, there was 2nd place guy on the OUSER leader board and orange shirt guy that was in front of me but is now behind me – 4th place now. I was excited! I have never been in 4th place. Time to kick it up a notch. I pressed on trying not to jinx myself by looking back. Instead I focused on maintaining a steady heart rate and consistent pace. I passed the 10 km marker and proceeded down the valley and then the German kid with a scholarship for cross country skiing and run ultras for entertainment comes barreling along. As the hot seat burned the night before, the German kid sat beside me and we chit chatted. I remember him telling me that he logs something around 25 hours of training compared to my 13 hours (at my peak, about 10 otherwise). Anyway, once he realized he recognized me, he says “Oh, your pretty fast!” Yes his toned was pragmatically shocked. I tried to keep up with him as long as possible, but I don’t think I could even pace him for a km. He was nothing but a memory at about km 16.
From that point on, I ran alone, focused on keeping a good pace and trying not to slow down too much. I managed to stay ahead of 2nd place guy on the OUSER leader board and crossed the finish line after 4:55:09 holding on to 5th place. Fantastic, I just needed to find the beer kegs and pizza so I could make my way to the Mad river.
After I soaked for about 30 minutes, I added up my running times for the day. Then the realization that I only ran for 6 hours 30 minutes set in. I still had to get out there for another hour and a half.