Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Storm

I've spent my whole life trying to outrun my fears.

Dodging around rain clouds of doubt, anxiety, darkness, insecurity; always trying to fight my way toward patches of sunshine. 

Then I encountered a storm that was too big, too dark, too powerful. I could see it on the horizon chasing me down. I knew every time I saw it coming that I was so fucking doomed. So I ran harder than I ever had, driven by my quaking fear. 

But there was no outrunning it; grief storm had me cornered. Wearily I turned to face it as I crumpled to the ground. In my surrender it raged over me and turned me inside out. 

The storm re-calibrated me like mountains have done to the hills I run at home, the north did to our winter winds, and my ultras have done to my ability to endure all that fear.

Now the sky is clearing, the winds are subsiding and the sun is starting to warm the ground I rest on. I am sensing a calmness and a trust rising up in me. I know I'll never be the same. 

I would give it all back a thousand times over to have my mother back. With her passing she left us each some of her mighty courage. We need it, and I don't intend to squander her gift.

I'm through with running away.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Rest, Regroup, Redirect, Share

After a bumpy and stressful first half of 2015, I’ve been enjoying a period of rest through the summer, feeling my energy seep back in a healing way and experiencing a good reset. As with benefiting from a training effect after a hard workout, now that I’m feeling recovered I’m emerging a stronger person. From that place it is possible to see forward with more clarity. I’ve switched up my training to get back to doing a lot more strength work at the gym. Yoga has been great for base strength and injury prevention, but I’ve lost some functional, dynamic strength and it is fun to get back to having a dedicated time and place to re-develop it. 

From a place of starting to get more excited about the direction my training is heading, it follows that lining up some races is next. It has been a quiet year in that regard, and I hope to make up for lost time now that my enthusiasm is back, and just in time for some cooler weather.

Coaching and Workshops

Something I’ve long-known about running is it is sometimes best when shared. I’ve recently formalized what I’ve been doing informally for a few years, and started working as a coach with Spafford Health and Adventure. I have current openings for a couple of athletes if anyone is interested! Full details can be found at

Also, later this year and into 2016 Derrick and I will be putting on a series of trail and ultrarunning workshops. This was something we were hoping to have off the ground for earlier this year, but it has taken longer than expected to get them rolling. Stay tuned for more details! With the rapid growth in the sport our goal is to introduce participants to every aspect: tons of practical information, guidance geared to every level, inspiration, and direction. We also want to pass on a sense of the ethos and culture that has historically been aligned with the sport, to help preserve some of the best aspects of trail and ultrarunning as things evolve and grow in exciting new directions.  

I think the sport has taken off because people are looking to it for something authentic and life-affirming. We live in a time where it is overvalued to be perfectly polished. Individuality is stifled in favour of trying to be just like everyone else. It is refreshing to come back from a trail run with dirt-caked legs, oozing scrapes, bug bites, dripping sweat and disheveled hair, raw-yet-empowered from pushing our limits. it brings us in touch with our natural state of being. It's also a visceral reminder to bring to other areas of our lives the courage to make our own decisions, to risk making mistakes rather than always playing it safe. 

Some photo highlights of the Summer

On Whiteface Mountain, New York (photo by Joe Azze, Mountain Peak Fitness)

Ray Zahab of impossible2Possible dazzling us with his keynote for our work conference in June

Playing on the trails at Gould Lake Conservation Area

Frisbee with my mom! 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Perfect Run

Just over ten years ago, Derrick and I attempted to fastpack the Rideau Trail from Ottawa to Kingston for our honeymoon run. We fell short of that goal, but when I wrote of the attempt for a Trail Runner article I rationalized that we'd someday finish up the parts of the trail we had missed. To be honest I didn't even believe myself because I thought we had already seen all the good parts of the trail, either on our training runs through the years, or in the four days we were on the trail for that fastpack.

This weekend we were running the Foley Mountain section of the RT, and Derrick was keen on checking out a trail segment that headed west from there. We had never noticed the trailhead before and weren't expecting much, so we were thrilled when it turned out to be a total gem of a trail. It was everything that I love about trail running in the Canadian Shield: lots of steep ups and downs and very rocky. Some sections were flat rock along ridges and others were littered with smaller rocks where you have to focus on every step. I love how the constant changes keep you in the flow of the moment.

Lately I've been feeling stale and finding it hard to muster much excitement in my running. When I'm in a phase like this I inevitably find I start looking too hard for satisfaction from running in the wrong way. By wrong I guess I mean backwards, because I'm looking for elusive outcomes to make it all better. Things like insisting on certain times, splits, placing, and workout paces, arriving at goals, and even that good old buddy BMI, are all simply outcomes. They usually stem from the inputs of finding peace, joy and solitude in nature; de-stressing via a good workout; being inspired by the pull of adventure; sharing miles and encouragement with others; choosing meaningful goals to work towards; doing work solely for the satisfaction it brings; and of course, playing just for the fun of it. 

This unexpected section of trail, discovered a decade after I thought there was nothing left to see here, with just the perfect person on a perfect summer day, reminded me to shift my mind out of reverse, and instead just go with the flow.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Training for Vertical when all you have is Horizontal

Post-Race Notes:
-Got through the VK, but was unprepared for how steep Whiteface is; I was happy to finish it and enjoy some gorgeous views and shared stories and laughs with fellow racers.
-Poles would have been helpful. 
-Treadmill not adequate for such a steep grade. Good for uphill races in the past that weren't as steep, but this time around it didn't really translate as I had hoped.
-Hiking at these grades very different than more runnable uphill running!
-Super impressed by how fast some people can climb! 
-Interesting time being in the Adirondacks with the huge manhunt going on for the escaped convicts.
-Totally recommend this race weekend for people looking for a fun challenge. Very well-organized and a fun, inclusive atmosphere.


We live near the shores of Lake Ontario, which I sometimes call a 'big old stupid lake'. I call her that affectionately because I love lakes, and I know I take for granted how fortunate we are to have so many of all sizes in Ontario. It's just that sometimes I would trade in a few lakes for even one modest mountain. In that respect we're a bit lucky too because we can drive 3 hours in pretty much any direction and find lots of nice mountains or really big hills. For everyday training though, we're left to find other ways to get vertical.

Since March I've been hitting the treadmill and hills in preparation for the Whiteface Vertical Weekend coming up June 27 and 28 in Wilmington, New York. The VK is about 1,000 m vertical over 4 km, so a grade of 25%. The SkyMarathon is around 30 km and 2,920 m of vertical. 

I've done phases of treadmill uphill workouts in the past, and I find they have a dramatic effect on uphill stamina over the weeks of workouts. We'll have to see how it goes, but really my main objective is to enjoy the challenge of the two back-to-back races and use it as training opportunity and launching point towards increased training for my fall goals. It is exciting to have this event come to the beautiful Adirondacks. 

Below are the hill workouts I did along with the usual mix of increasing long runs and overall volume, lots of yoga and some plyometric and strength sessions.  

Some notes:
- It is really important to take recoveries at flat incline at the beginning to let the calves, achilles and plantar fascia get used to the strain. (It would be helpful to use a higher drop shoe as well.) I only had to do this for the first week, but in the past I've done it for the first two or three workouts.
- I don't often make a note of the pace because finding a sweet spot of sustainable effort is more the point. Treadmill calibration can be off anyway. 
- Gym workouts provide great heat training too. I looked like I came out of a pool after. I didn't find I suffered nearly as much in the transition to warmer outdoor running this year which was a nice side effect.
- The workouts are intense and require adequate recovery. I noted feeling a bit woozy/dizzy near the end of some of them, which was my choice to push that hard since I wasn't racing at all during this period and I wanted some intense efforts. 
- I spaced them at least a week apart, sometimes more.
- On the outdoor hills I used the opportunity to push the downhills a bit to get used to the leg pounding.
- For the treadmill workouts I resisted switching to a hike even when the incline was considerable and my running pace slowed to a crawl. I feel that hiking practice has its place if you have big and steep enough outdoor hills, but shorter hills are better spent running. On on a treadmill the moving belt prevents the right muscles from doing the work, at least for me, so the treadmill is just for the cardio element.

Mar 13 - Treadmill uphill tempo (52 min total)
20' w/u
4' @ 5%
1' flat
4' @ 6%
1' flat
4' @ 5%
1' flat
1' @ 5%,6%,5%,6%
13' c/d

Mar 20 - Treadmill uphill tempo (55 min total)
w/u 20'
5' @ 5%
5' @ 6%
5' @ 7%
5' @ 8%
c/d 15 min
Vertical 210 m

Mar 27 - Treadmill uphill tempo (60 min total)
20' wu
30' uphill at 6:31/km
5' @ 6%
5' @ 7%
5' @ 8%
2x(1' each @ 6%,7%,8%,9%,10%)
5' @ 6%
10' c/d
Vertical 335 m 

Apr 3 - Long Road Hills (71 min total)
20' w/u
3 x entire hill (distance 960 m, varying steepness)
1 - 5:42 up (5:09 down)
2 - 5:38 up (5:04 down)
3 - 5:41 up (5:04 down)
20' c/d

Apr 11 - Long Road Hills (84 min total)
wu 20
up 5:40 down 4:55
up 5:37 down 5:01
up 5:43 down 5:09
up 5:47 down 5:03
c/d 21'

Apr 23 - Very Steep Trail Hills (88 min total)
Wu 32'
Started from top:
1 - 1:44 down, 2:22 up
2 - 1:48, 2:21
3 - 1:40, 2:22
4 - 1:40, 2:19
5 - 1:37, 2:20
6 - 1:35, 2:17
Cd/ 34'.

May 5 - Moderate Trail Hills (70 min total)
20 wu
Alternated shorter/longer
S1-2:07 (2:03 down)
L1-2:21 (2:03)
S2-2:03 (1:50)
L2-2:18 (1:58)
S3-2:05 (1:47)
L3-2:15 (1:58)
S4-2:01 (1:43)
Cd 19'

May 12 - Treadmill uphill tempo (79 min total)
20' wu
3 x 15' at generally increasing incline, with 2' on flat between
set 1 up to 14%, ~9:00/km, 202m vert, 1.78km
set 2 up to 18%, ~10:00/km, 223m vert, 1.79km
set 3 up to 20%, ~10:00-10:20/km, 238m vert, 1.45km
10' cd
Workout total 5k going up 663 m in 45' (14.7 m/min).

May 23 - Very Steep Trail Hills (46 min total)
20' wu
1-2:14 (1:37 down)
2-2:11 (1:38)
3-2:05 (1:38)
4-2:16 (1:44)
10' cd

June 2 - Trail Hills (61 min total)
21' wu
Moderate Hill:
1-1:30 (1:26)
2-1:25 (1:20)
3-1:24 (1:18)
4-1:24 (1:17)
Ran over to Steeper Hill in 4:33 at tempo effort
1-1:13 (1:02)
2-1:11 (0:58)
3-1:10 (0:56)
4-1:11 (0:58)
13' cd

June 12 - Treadmill uphill tempo (66 min total)
3 x (2' at 10,12,14,16,18,20%) with 5' at flat between. 
Verticals for each were 221, 201, 203 m.
Workout total 36' going up 625 m (17.4 m/min).

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Gananoque Wildlife Area and Waterfront Renewal

Last Saturday I had fun exploring the Gananoque Provincial Wildlife Area trails.


Then I went to visit my parents and we went for a walk around the newly re-developed Gananoque Waterfront. I hadn't even been aware of all the work done in the area, and I was really impressed with how nice it all is.

It was windy down there!

See the baby robin?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Injury as a Lesson in Acceptance

The past year or so has been all about learning to accept a whole bunch of things. I wasn't doing very well at it, but life has a way of showing us what we need to know, nudging us along, if only we'll listen. In late January I injured my back, and found myself flat out for days. I'd keep starting back up training and having repeated setbacks - boom, flat on my back again and again, while my snowshoe racing season went down the drain.

One day, walking back from yoga, when I'm typically rushing rushing rushing to get back to work, this time I was forced by the icy sidewalks to take the most gentle, deliberate movements, slowly navigating so that it didn't tweak my back. Suddenly it dawned on me that getting to where I was going was not important, but how I got there was crucial. It felt peaceful. I was feeling acceptance in a visceral way, and how different that felt than just knowing it philosophically but not actually buying in. We tend to think mental changes happen in the mind, but this time I felt the difference in my body first, and my mind is following along, trying to catch up. 

My back is now feeling good, and I'm starting to get into a training groove again. It was months after I thought I'd be ready to get training hard again, but the happy magic of motivation seems to have its own timeline. It comes on suddenly like an itch that needs to be scratched. I always have to meet it half-way, with it usually appearing during a harder run like a tempo effort. It is a wave that washes over me, and leaves me with an instant desire to run all the time, craving that feeling of strength and freedom.  

La Sportiva Mutants are an awesome new shoe for 2015. They love snow and mud!
My huge thanks to La Sportiva for all the years of support. I'm thrilled, honoured, and humbled to be continuing on as an ambassador this year. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Lakes are Open

And by open I mean closed; as in, frozen over so we can run on them. Every year in November and December I go about disliking the cold and darkness of winter along with just about everyone I know. Then, usually sometime around mid-January I'll have a run that changes everything. One singular, unexpected run that reminds me in spectacular fashion that oh yeah, I'm a winter lover. Winter is prickly and difficult and takes effort to get to know, but with that one run I remember why we're friends and always will be.

This year it happened last week, on a weeknight run just around dusk. Derrick and I ventured out on a local lake just in time to watch the fading sunset. It was a still, serene night, and the sky turned a rich, deep blue above the orange of the last rays. A crescent moon hung right above the horizon, with bright Mercury underneath. The silence on the lake added to the profoundly beautiful evening. It fills me with gratitude for all the best things about our lives on this earth and a longing that I can't explain and bitter-sweetness that I can't put into words. It diminishes trivialities and takes me far away from everything and everyone with just a few steps onto a frozen land under a vast universe.

Experimenting with Vert Panos: