Friday, August 22, 2014

Running Dirty Girls 2014 – 48 hours of bliss, hell, tears, and total absolute joy.

As I sit here in the comfort of my home I can’t help but reflect on the fact that 2 weeks ago at this time (it is 9:30 am Aug 22, 2014) I was completing the first 8km lap of a race that would see highlights, lowlights and almost all conceivable emotion in between. Let me take you through a walk in my mind of that fantastic weekend.

I don’t know when I decided I would do Dirty Girls 48 hour, but like most race signups it was preceded by anticipation and excitement and followed by fear and self doubt. Could I train for this event? How would I feel after 24 hours of running – the longest I had run to that point? How would my stomach handle the running? What about using a light at night? And on and on when the question. At the same time I am a logistics …sorry for the language…slut!!! Planning and organizing is a high better than any drug. Even mapping out the relatively easy drive from my home in Orleans to Mansfield Ontario, the race site was exciting. And this planning and organizing went on up until the fateful weekend…….wooooowwwwwww!!!! I guess I should at least let you know how the training went…Now read this together, all at once..CRAPPPPPPPPYYYYY. Yup. In the lead up to the race, for the purposes here lets say the six months before, I had done one 40km training run, one half marathon race and averaged in March 33.9 km’s, April 123.4 km’s, May139.07 km’s, June 162.36 km’s and July 201 km’s.

 One of my rare running moments in 2014

For a recreational runner doing 5 and 10 km events or the odd half that type of training is fine. But for an ultra, well it sucked the big lemon. But I was committed to going so on Thursday August 7th, the truck was packed and I was on the highway heading for Dirty Girls.

Thursday Aug 7
Sleeping bag, two sleeping mats, tent, dry cooler, cold items cooler, clothing for cool and wet weather, running gear, change of clothes….all ready to go…oops forgot the running shoes. Now all ready to go. A few stops in Orleans, one last e-mail to Joanne (group sigh for me…I was going alone without Joanne) and I was on the 417 then the 416 then the 401 to Toronto. BING Bing…what the freeken hell now…battery light..ignore this and what could happen. Ok I am traveling along Canada’s busiest highway, passing towns and gas stations all the way to Toronto I am going to ignore this for now…as long as I get to the race site, that’s all that matters.

5.5 hours later and two stops on the way for lunch and milk for my tea and coffee, I see the sign to the Mansfield Outdoor Centre and pull into the driveway. Finally there. My first order of business is to call Joanne and tell her I made it and everything is fine. She asks see anyone you recognize???? Yup there is Kimberly (Van Delst), we had run a number of Ultra’s so was one of the few Southern Ontario based runners I knew. After finishing my call with Joanne I was given a warm hello from Kimberly and Joe….now I am going to tell you more about “Irish Joe” in a bit but for now meeting Joe was like meeting an old friend, even though this was our first into.

 Kimberly and Joe pre race

I set up right next to Joe and Kimberly and my little home for the next couple of days was set.

Supper that night was a huge heaping plate of pasta followed by a nice cup of tea and cookies. Gear was set out for the following morning and I crawled into the tent for the first time in over 10 years for a nice quiet nights sleep.

Friday Aug 8
Race Day….6am wake up without the alarms going off. A hot cup of coffee followed by a bowl of cream of wheat. Not a lot to start but an 8km course with an aid station at the 4km mark makes for easy food pick up if needed. I also decided that for the first day anyway I would run with one single handheld bottle and go to the hydration pack for the evening if needed.

“Group of 48 hour runners please come to the start for pre race briefing” …crap I am not ready….run around like a crazy man…ahhhh now I know Joanne’s real reason for not coming to the race!!!! I am only slightly manic when I feel rushed…. Some last minute instructions and then the count down 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Go…and off we went at a trot. I had thought I would fly to the first corner to say I was in the lead of a race but looking around at a few of the runners I know they might not see the humor in this so left dead last.

I settled in behind Kimberly and Joe. Up the fist sandy climb steps from the start line we where all soon walking then onto a bit of beautiful single track followed by about 1km of bush trail wide enough to run side by side. I moved up to Joe and thus began my education.

Let me tell you about Joe or Irish Joe as his vanity plate reads. This young man, Mr. Joe Cleary, is a truly historic figure in the Canadian Ultra scene. He recently completed his 500th race and has run many of the great races over his running career…Oh and I should mention that Joe is a youthful 73 years of age. And before you think anything to that just remember he could kick most peoples butt on any long distance trail event. While he isn’t speedy compared to some of the racers that day (he did leave me in his wake on a couple of occasions though) his ability to withstand the time on your feet and think through a race makes him a master at the Ultra. Joe and I would spend then next 9 hours running together and I learnt more about running in that time than I could have from any number of races or books in a lifetime.

Back to the race….Kimberly eventually took off and Joe and I settled into a fast pace walk/run for the laps to follow. Most of the course is an absolute trail runners dream. Almost all of it is tree covered so even in the heat you do not suffer from the added joy of a sun burn. The trails where dry and fast and the RD’s trail team had ensured any branches that would hit you in the face where removed. A beautiful 8km trail….but as with anything, moderation is the key and by lap 10 those nice little hills had turned into miserable slogs with hands on knees and heart rates jumping up to near head popping proportion.

Let me give you a coles notes version of the course. Please consider this was a dry course so with rain and wet surfaces it likely would be a whole different monster…. Now close your eyes and picture this course…..Ok open and read first……

Map from Dirty Girls web site

Start line is in a nice field with decent footing. The first 25 meters passing families watching and cheering on the runners. Then it all goes to hell for the first climb up a narrow gap in the tall grass and trees. Trudge up to the top of this short steep and sandy hill to a single track. Right, then left, miss the tree, then left up another little incline then down then up then down then around a tree and oooph, first 150 metres done….ok I am exaggerating but what seems like an easy fun trail on the first lap becomes a growing monster. Then you run along a small two lane bush road that has just a slight incline so is runnable until you get to the first big hill. Then only the strongest continue the run up, most will walk. A little further along this road then off to the left back on single track. The bush up here is really open so you see runners ahead and behind through the trees. At night this area was my favorite spot with flashlights and voices all around yet you still feeling like you are alone.

2km sign. Now the fun begins. From this point to the aid station the trail is a bit more technical and the bush seems to close in on you with the exception of one small area through a jack pine plantation which was a moment of reprieve to watching your feet. The ups and downs also get a bit nastier along this part of the course. Not long ups but they seemed more severe. Finally you see the aid station and a moments rest. I should mention at this point the quality of volunteers at this race. Not to say other races are not as good, but there seemed to be a special quality to the folks helping out at this race and I think a lot of that had to do with the Race Director. People like to help out nice people, so the saying goes and at Dirty Girls that saying as apropos.

Following the aid station is a nice run, probably the nicest part of the whole race which follows a ridgeline looking down to the valley below. There is a nice lookout point just off the course which proved to be a good spot to sit and rest a few times. But just as you get comfy in the trail you start a 1km or so downhill. Fast and fun till you look to your right and realize that you are going to be going back up in a moment. Now if Diane Chesla, Dirty Girls Race Director, was feeling her ears burning at numerous points during the race, it was likely here on the up run to the 6km mark where most runners, well lets just say made a disparaging remark or two to Diane and the course designers. So from the base of this long dirt road uphill to the last km is again less than enjoyable with a lot of switchbacks and little twits and turns, ups and downs. In fact, and I think others who have run here might agree, this one km or so stretch really feels 3 times as far. I just couldn’t find a good pace or feeling through this last bit. Then again a longish downhill to the final bit of wide trail that leads back to the field and the start finish line.
 Photo by GarChun Low – Note the Skechers GoBionic Trail shoes!! At least I looked and felt fast.

Friday Night 2330 hrs Aug 8
First runner “Whats that noise….sounds like a moose giving birth”
Second runner “Nahh it might be a Sasquatch with cramps after eating beans and brocolli”
First Runner “ Could it be an animal dying?”
Second runner “ Maybe….look ahead a light….Oh I know who that is…it’s Peter having a puke by a tree…yah I heard him do the same thing a year or so ago…lets just go by him quietly maybe he won’t notice us!!!”

Yup, I laid out my tummy for the forest and then find another spot beside a tree and had a 30 minute snooze in the bush. At 2am on Saturday morning nearly 3 hours after I had started lap 9 I arrived at my tent and crawled in to sleep.

Saturday Aug 9
Woke up at 6am. A bit cold but not terrible. Grabbed my cup and a packet of Starbucks instant Columbian coffee and headed over to the food station in search of hot water…..ahhh hot coffee never tasted so good….wow no sugar or milk, Joanne would be impressed.
Back at the tent some food in my stomach, a mix of red bull and water in my handheld and I was off for more fun…$%#%#$%^ Diane%#^%## Course^#%#^@&% Running!!!

After a couple of laps I met up again with Joe. We compared notes; he was on schedule for 100 miles, I had decided that my 100 mile goal was not going to happen this year so I would aim at 1km further than my longest run to date of 112km’s. We spoke about the night and figured that my stomach problems, along with a number of factors could have been pushed to the brink by my using a headlamp for the first time to run. You see the bobbing and movement of the light is like being in a boat in rough water or how your eyes deal with driving. I made myself motion sick. At least know I know!!

I stopped for a quick snooze around 2pm and then headed out 30 minutes later for my last push. I knew my feet where blistered, I had not checked them out so far that day in case they ended up being worse than I thought and I would have a mental reason to stop running. Plus the pain in my feet was still bearable at a walking pace. At around 9pm I again met up with Kimberly and Joe who were going to start running together to get Joe to his 100 miles. Kimberly had already reached her 100 miles and was content on now helping Joe. I kept up with the two of them for a bit but soon their walking pace was faster than I could handle and they moved on. The remainder of this last lap, lap 15 is a blur. All I remember is my feet feeling like someone had light a match under them in 5 or so spots and my lower back feeling like I was being bent backwards. As I rounded the last corner that led to the finish/start The light that was used to illuminate the area hit me straight in the eyes and I remember squinting so much I teared up…..Yes that is why I was weepy when I got the the line….no other reason. I had just crossed finishing y 15th lap at around 11pm and completing 120km’s. That is all I need.

I crawled into the tent not taking anything off except my shoes, put on a heavy sweatshirt and fell asleep. My feet would wait till the morning.

“Congratulations 100 miles…how do you feel”…That’s Joe he just crossed the line. 6am. He ran all night with Kimberly. I have to go congratulate them. Now take it from me it must have been very funny to see me trying to get out of a sleeping bag in a small tent, not being able to stand straight or walk without seeming like I was stepping on glass or dog poop. But I made it over to Joe and a smiling Kimberly (she always looks to happy) and shook both their hands.

A few hours later , the truck packed I was heading back home with my finishers medal and a clear plan to be back in 2015 and get the 100 mile belt buckle.

 The final results:
 I ended my race at 39:15:07 with 120.75km’s

Here is the lap breakdown
Lap 1 - 1:27:43
Lap 2 – 1:31:17
Lap 3 – 1:38:19
Lap 4 – 1:41:34
Lap 5 – 1:49:35
Lap 6 – 1:44:50
Lap 7 – 2:40:24
Lap 8 – 2:11:59
Lap 9 – 2:57:20
Lap 10 – 6:36:40
Lap 11 – 2:56:06
Lap 12 – 2:37:40
Lap 13 –2:48:42
Lap 14 – 2:22:35
Lap 15 -  4:10:15

A special thank you has to go out to the following:
  • All the wonderful race volunteers who fed us, counted our laps, joked and even pushed us on our way
  • Two of the many volunteers

  • Diane you are one loco race director!!! You are great!!
  • Joe Cleary simply thanks
  • Kimberly and all the other runners who passed me (Yes I think everyone lapped me at least once) you were all awesome.
  • Joanne thanks for putting up with this, and
  • Skechers Canada and especially Laurent Sirois. You folks are the best and don’t change a thing with the Skechers Ultra..otherwise I will need to hoard about 100 pairs and Joanne would kill me!!!!!

So now when can I sign up for 2015??????????? I am already to go!!!

Please check out for more info on the race and other race reports

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

UltrAspire Omega running pack

An overview:

- Pack volume is a little more than 8 litres
- A 2litre hydration bladder is easily accommodated in the pocket meant for the bladder
- lightweight at just over 450 grams (1 pound)

-light weight
-easily adjusted
-more than enough space for ‘stuff’ on long runs

A great pack for running or hiking. It is extremely versatile and well made. The strap system will allow this pack to fit on almost any body type.

The Review:
I have been promising a review on this pack for some time. So first, thank you for your patience. The delay in doing up a product review means I have had more time with the pack and gotten to know it fairly well. You might say it gave us time to bond! But before I go into the meat and potatoes of the review and explain all the highlights and lowlights (yes there were a few) I want to explain how this pack was added to my pack collection.

As you may recall in the Nathan VaporWrap review back in April last year I am a self-confessed backpack junkie. So it might not be surprising that I added this pack to the collection. However I blame someone else for the purchase!! Yes I was coerced, had my arm bent, compelled, pressured, urged….ok maybe it was just a friendly suggestion from a person who really know's what they were talking about and were providing me with a bit of sound advice, but I had to make my wife believe I was not solely responsible for purchasing the pack…although she did not believe me!!!!!! Anyway this zen master of pack information was Derrick Spafford of Spafford Health and Adventure who is an amazing ultra runner in his own right and along with offering coaching services also is a retailer of a number of running (and snowshoeing) product lines including the UltrAspire line. So in speaking to Derrick about the idea of running the Rideau Trail and using the Nathan pack he suggested that while the Nathan is a good single day product, the length of the Rideau Trail at 320km, and duration of a self-supported run, my plan being around 60 hours, meant that the Nathan would not carry a minimum amount of gear that would be needed for safety let alone any items to make the run a bit more comfortable…ha 320km and 60 hours of running what would be comfortable??? But Derrick’s point was very relevant and his own experiences on running the Rideau Trail as well as other long runs meant he knew what he was talking about. So out came the credit card and within 24 hours the pack was at my door.

Once the box was opened and the pack thrown on my back it was time for a short 20km run with the water bladder filled and a couple of short sleeved shirts thrown in the main compartment to help fill up the space. My first impression was how light the pack felt even with 2 litres of water on my back and another water bottle on the shoulder strap. UltrAspire claims on their web site that the pack is “Feather weight, large capacity pack” and at around 450 grams it is certainly light. But don’t think light is synonymous with cheap or fragile. The material on this pack is very strong nylon and will take a lot of abuse before showing any signs of failure. The other surprising item of note is how easy the pack is to adjust while out on a run. I have experienced many packs that take a bit of time to fit properly. The UltrAspire Omega, on the other hand was easily adjusted on the initial run early on which also meant that putting on a jacket or removing a layer would not result in long periods of re-adjustment by trial and error to get a good fit. Why more pack designers don’t do this I will never know.

Anyway, a number of subsequent runs occurred with the pack and the more I used it the
more I knew Derrick’s suggestion was spot on. The UltrAspire pack is not without its little faults which I think would be appropriate to highlight now. The first is that the Omega is not great pack empty. Maybe it was just me (and in speaking with Derek it seems that he has not experienced the problem so I might consider this as a personal issue and not something inherent with the packs design) but I found the pack likes to be loaded and takes on a bucking bronco persona without any weight. Even a run with full bladder may start out ok but as you drink the water or sports drink the pack begins to bounce. To be fair it was never a significant issue and never resulted in chaffing or discomfort so it may have been more a mental annoyance than anything else. The second nagging issue, and I raised this with the Nathan review as well, is why do companies have running packs with a bottle holder on the shoulder strap and don’t supply the darn water bottle? Again more of a minor annoyance than anything that should stop you from owning the product.

What I liked about the UltrAspire pack is more than would be appropriate to cover in a review blog since most things are subjective so what works for me might not work for you but I think the three big pluses make this pack a clear winner. My first highlight of the Omega is the adjustment. Again looking at the Nathan review, that pack is severely limited by the shoulder strap design and inability for adjusting. The UltrAspire Omega is equally secure when properly adjusted with the added very important benefit that you can add layers or remove layers and still have the pack fit perfectly. Another highlight of the pack is the storage capacity. UltrAspire on their web site does not indicate the capacity of the pack but some other reviews on the web indicate it is around 8 litres. This is a perfect size for most uses and would even be a great pack for someone looking for something that can double as a day pack around town where you might want to carry a jacket, camera and food, or for the runner looking at carrying a bit more than just some water and their id. I used this pack for most of my runs home from work where I carry a number of items including a blackberry, keys, work id, spare t-shirt, rain jacket, iPod and the odd time my kobo electronic reader. All these items along with the bladder fit securely and comfortably in the pack with plenty of space for a few more items if needed. Finally the single water bottle holder, ‘Magnon Electrolyte Pocket’ and front zippered pocked add important easily accessible pockets on the shoulder straps.

So my final verdict is if you are looking for a lightweight, high quality, multi-purpose hydration pack for running (snowshoeing, skiing, snowboarding, cycling, fast hiking, looking overly cool on urban adventures) then you really need to consider the UltrAspire Omega. If you are looking for a first running pack I would certainly recommend the UltrAspire Omega over the Nathan VaporWrap. The Omega will give you a larger range of practical uses and even if you find running with a pack is not really your thing the Omega will still be usable for other outdoor pursuits. The Nathan is a bit more focused and thus would have less value for other uses should it not be used for running. So if you are looking at purchasing the UltrAspire Omega or one of UltrAsire’s other hydration products check out Spafford Health and Adventure or one of the many UltrAspire retailers.