Sunday, December 29, 2013

Why the Haleakala did we do that?

Our run up Haleakala, a 10000 foot high volcano on Maui, was ultimately successful, but our adventure was certainly not without some bugs and hiccups.

The Trail Effect Blog - Sea level in Paia
Chris trying to touch the ocean in Paia.
We started out at sea level in the town of Paia at 6:25 am. It rained the night before and is just clearing up as we are starting. The puddles however are still able to claim a victim as my dad (Brad) soaks a shoe before we even get going, oops! Anyhow, the starting conditions are nice and cool, and it's just getting light enough that we don't need to bring a headlamp for the portion before sunrise.

The first bug I encounter is at about mile 1, when I actually inhale a bug... immediately after my dad warns us about the swarms of them under the street lights! The bug gets lodged in my upper throat and I begin coughing and heaving as I'm unable to get it out. In a near panic at the inability to breathe without extreme irritation of my throat and the thought of having to pull-out of our run up Haleakala, I try drinking, eating gels and clif bars, and we even try flushing water through my nose (seemed like a good idea at the time). That still doesn't help! The darn bug is stuck in there for good, I'm sure of it! Eventually, after about 2.5 miles and 45 minutes of having this bug in there I manage to get it loose and cough it out. Turns out it's a beetle, no bigger than an ant! Of course through all that my throat ends up terribly irritated, something I dealt with for the rest of the run.

The Trail Effect Blog - Beautiful rainbows while running up Haleakala
Beautiful rainbows!
Between the bug incident and mile 13 there really isn't too much excitement; we see numerous rainbows, have some great views of the ocean beyond the farmlands, we run through the town of Makawao, refill our hydration packs with a hose at the Kula lodge and restaurant, and finally reach the turn up Crater road toward Haleakala summit.

From here we only have 22 miles to the summit (which were all conveniently marked so we could count down to the top!). Although the climb so far has been steady, the remaining section will prove to be the toughest as it is exclusively switchbacks up the mountain side. Reaching 4000 feet elevation we are engulfed in a misty cloud, though we quickly climb out of it and get back into the sun. We’re all still feeling pretty good at this point, but by the 6000 foot mark Jenna is starting to have some difficulty with lactic acid build up in her legs. We catch this fairly early on and get her eating and drinking, and she takes some tums to help buffer things. With a quick recovery we continue our slow but steady trek up to the 7000 foot mark where we enter the national park.

The Trail Effect Blog - Turn to Haleakala Summit
It's daunting when they warn vehicles of 'No Food'
After refilling our packs again at the visitor center we hit rain! Blowing, cold rain! Obviously we all put our jackets and gloves on, but by 8000 feet we are all getting pretty cold (I’m pretty sure my dad’s lips are blue). Luckily, my mom and sister (our ride down) pass us here and are able to give us a change of clothes and some extra unexpected candy (THANK YOU!) to power us until the rain ends at 8500 feet.

At 9000 feet it clears up and we can see the observatory and the visitor center at the top of the mountain. Only 4 miles left, not too tough! Except that we’ve already went 31 miles (50km) and climbed the equivalent of 3 Grouse Grinds back to back! Not surprisingly Jenna develops an exertional cough over 9000 feet that makes it really difficult to breathe deeply, so her and I walk the last 4 miles while my dad 'runs' the last bit to get the pain over with. We finish the ~35.5 mile trek in about 8h45m (that includes my time inhaling bugs).

The most surprising post-run revelation is that we got sunburnt despite the cloud and rain for most of the day! Jenna’s legs and the backs of her arms and hands are quite red, while my calves are. The sun must have been pretty strong from 9000 to 10000 feet.
The Trail Effect Blog - Switchbacks up Haleakala
Insane switchbacks on the way to Haleakala National Park

After all that, I would still have to say the worst part was the car ride down! Although it was amazing to see how far we’d gone (seriously, why would anyone run that far uphill), those switchbacks sure made us nauseous! 

Run Highlights:
-Running through a lavender farm – smells delicious!
-Intermittent signs spray painted on the road that reminded us to breathe
-The nice family of a man biking up who offered us food and drink as we powered up the hill
-The changes in scenery – from luscious grasslands to the barren rock atop the volcano
The Trail Effect Blog - Elevation markers up Haleakala
Paint Run by numbers, all the way to the top of Haleakala at 10,023 feet.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

T minus 4 days to Volcanoland!

We've been in Hawaii for 4 days now.
It's hot, humid, there is little water to be found.
It feels like we've been stuck out here for days.

Alright so its not quite like that...
It's beautiful and sunny here, and we wake up to the sounds of birdies outside our window.
In four days, we will be taking on the epic 34 mile run up Haleakala. (We had to push back the run by a day due to a change in the 'free maitais by the pool' from the 25th to the 26th)

The Trail Effect Blog - Haleakala Volcano
10,000 feet up to the top of Mount Crumpet (Haleakala)

Yesterday we got up and ran for an hour bright and early in the morning. By 8:00 am it was already warm and humid enough that we were dripping sweat.
Consider me a little skeptical at this point.
We only ran for an hour, and I was sweating like crazy and had some trouble setting into a comfortable breathing pattern.


So I leave today for a short run to see if I can control my breathing a little better as to survive an 8 hour trek uphill!


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

There and Back Again, A Runner's Tale

On Saturday, we planned to hike to Elfin Lakes and stay the night, taking on our first winter camping adventure together. We chose this route specifically because there is a hut you can stay in overnight. Since neither of us have much experience camping in the snow, (except one long weekend that involved -30 degree weather, little sleep, nausea, and some frozen Pepto Bismol, but perhaps I'll save that story for another day) we felt this was a good place to start. We figured there would be a decent amount of snow given the recent weather, and double checked webcams from similar elevations. All packed and ready to spend a night, we drove up to the trail-head just north-east of Squamish expecting a winter wonderland. As we drove higher and higher we began to question how much snow would really be at the top. We reached the lower parking lot only to be greeted with... RAIN! Rain, rain, rain! It was supposed to be snowing, not raining! After a lengthy debate and a short (and very icy) exploratory hike, we decided it wasn't the wonderland we had hoped for, so home we went. We wanted real winter camping! Plus, snowshoeing on ice doesn't sound all that fun.

As we didn't get to do the planned 22+ km snowshoe, we had to switch gears to get in an appropriate amount of training. This is when Chris told me that the run up the Volcano is 36 MILES! Now, I'm sure he had told me this before and I just wasn't paying attention, but I was so worried about the elevation gain I wasn't even thinking of the distance! So, the new plan was to run (with some walking) to Grouse Mountain from UBC, do the BCMC trail, then run home after taking the Skyride down (to save ourselves the pain from such a nasty downhill). This would get us approximately the distance of a marathon, with some grand uphill in there for kicks! Am I the only one blown away by this?! Who just goes out one Sunday afternoon and says oh we're just going to run a marathon today?! Bunch of crazies! I wasn't quite sure I was in the right mind set to make the distance, as I wasn't having the best week ever, so of course we headed out anyways. We had gone to see the late night showing of The Hobbit, Part 2 on Saturday so I must say I was a little sleepy as well.
The Trail Effect Blog - Run to Grouse Mountain
Looking back on our accomplishment!
Despite leaving the house as two of the seven dwarfs (grumpy and sleepy), it didn't take long before the glorious sunshine cheered me right up, and I replaced those two dwarfs with a third, happy!

We managed to accomplished more than I expected, making the 13.6 mile run to Grouse in just over 2 hours. This included some planned walking to make sure we could complete the distance, having not really trained long distance for a while. The road up to Grouse is always surprisingly steep, but we were able to run the whole thing, which felt amazing, but made the climb up the BCMC that much harder. When we started the BCMC, I felt like I may as well have been crawling. Food and water helped a bit, but it definitely felt like we were going slow. The trail was fine for the first three-quarters, and then it got slippery! This was as expected, having seen the conditions only a week prior. As we reached the icy section, we ran into several people on an unexpected trek down the mountain. They informed us that there was the crazy line-up at the top of Grouse, likely a couple hours wait to get down. Apparently the red gondola was having issues, and the line-up was all the way out the door and past the skating rink! We chose to tough it out, figuring we could stop for a well deserved bite to eat at the top and warm up a bit. We realized fairly quickly that with only our light running jackets and now wet gloves, we were ill-prepared to wait in an hour long line outside on the top of a snowy mountain. We noticed they were starting to send people down the blue gondola, so this is when I started to try and bribe people. I worked my way up the chain of employees politely asking if there was a way we could hold our place in line without waiting outside. I'm not sure whether the nice man just took pity on us because we were dressed so stupidly, but we got down in the first load of people they sent on the service gondola. To whoever the nice man who helped us get on that gondola is, THANK YOU! Really. You may my day.

Once we finally got to the bottom of Grouse, we were pretty darn cold, and took off back down the hill trying to get warmed up. I'm not really sure how to explain the next part of the run. There was a lot of cold, and my IT band hurt pretty bad, but it was cold, so I couldn't stop. Well, I could stop. But I didn't.
Then the french fries we had eaten at the top of Grouse came back to haunt me. I guess my stomach didn't like them as much as I did... but I only ate a few!

In the end, I ran until my stomach wouldn't let me, and then I walked, and ran and walked and ran and walked until my legs started to hurt and I started to go crazy. My favourite part was singing the word OW to the tune of various Christmas songs! It actually helped for a bit. And then I realized why I was saying ow. Then it stopped helping.

But we DID IT! 25 Miles and 5+ hours later.
Mission accomplished.

Keep the bugs off your bumper and the bears off your t(r)ail!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Operation Elevation Simulation

**** Operation Elevation Simulation ****
Target: Simulate the elevation change of Haleakala, min. 10000 ft
Location: Grouse Grind, BCMC
Weather: -2 C; Clear, light breeze, falling snow at higher elevation
Trail Conditions: Frozen but clear at lower elevation; Sporadic ice and snow at higher elevation
Operatives: J.B.Running, UltraChris 

**** Mission Status: Successful ****
Lap 1: 1h02m, Grouse Grind
Lap 2: 1h05m,BCMC
Lap 3: 1h05, Grouse Grind
Lap 4: 1h10m, BCMC
Total Actual Elevation Change: 11200 ft

The Trail Effect: Snow on the Grouse Grind
Jenna hiking up the Grouse Grind in snow.
As we started out on our first lap, we weren't quite sure of the trail conditions we would encounter, especially near the top. We had hiked up this trail just over a week prior and hadn't encountered any ice or snow until the very top. Just to be safe we brought our crampons along for the first two laps. It was a beautiful sunny day at the bottom, however at about the half way mark it began to get chilly as the wind picked up and the snow began to fall. At first we couldn't tell whether it was actually snowing, or just blowing off the top of the trees. By the time we got to the top we were a wee bit chilly, and fully convinced it was snowing, and not just blowing. The ice on the top half of the route (despite being a bit scary in places) made for some incredible icicle displays. As we got higher and higher, the water in the tubes of our running packs began to freeze. This was actually rather convenient, as it forced us to drink often to prevent the freezing. At the top, we took the Gondola down to save ourselves some time, and to save Jenna from the inevitable IT band pain that was still haunting her.

The Trail Effect: Icicles along the Grouse Grind
Amazing icicles along the Grouse Grind!
Lap 2 was just as cold and icy as the first, however there were a lot more people out on the BCMC. We appeared to be the least prepared, with the rest of the hikers carrying large backpacks and poles. All we had were small packs of water with a bit of food, some space blankets, and our pocket knives.

We thought we appeared unprepared, but at the start of lap 3 we saw a guy in shorts and a t-shirt. ARE YOU CRAZY!? I mean some people run warm, but it was COLD at the top!!! We're going to bet he didn't make it too far. Brr! The start of #3 was painful. Jenna didn't drink quite enough water through the first two laps, and was fading slowly. Her legs were a bit shaky, and it left her wondering if she would survive a fourth and final lap (not to mention the rest of the 3rd). After a small bag of chips (Only 90 calories in a bag? Come on, we're trying to hike up a mountain here!), some shot blocks, and a gel, we were on our way! Surprisingly finishing only 3 minutes slow than the first lap on the GG.
The Trail Effect: Sunset from Grouse Mountain
Unbelievable sunset from Grouse Mountain
As we started lap four, the sun was beginning to set. We opted to change into thicker jackets, and we were very happy with that decision! As the sun set, parts of the trail started turning pink and fiery red colours, it looked incredible!
It seemed to take forever to get to the half way point, but once we were there we were both feeling great!
Though the light was fading, we made it to the top and didn't have to dig out a headlamp!
Plus, we got to the top in time to catch the end of the sunset! What a perfect sunday!

Today's accomplishment made Haleakala seem like a much more attainable goal. Maybe it will even be a little warmer :)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

2013 FatDog 120 Race Report - Part 3

Welcome back to the continuing saga of my FatDog experience. I left you last time just after Shawatum aid station. At this point it was just my dad and I as Diane Van Deren had run ahead. This section of the race will be the hardest to blog about for a couple of reasons. The first is that I was in incredible agony because of my feet, and the second is that I simply don't remember all of it. So, this post will be fairly brief.

I'll sum up the run from Shawatum to mile 98 as an ever increasing struggle to overcome my increasingly sore feet. At mile 98 I lost. I simply couldn't keep going, and as much as I don't want to admit this, I cried a little. Diane had warned me that ultras make you, and everyone else around you, emotional, but I don't think that was the reason I broke down at mile 98. Sure I had been up for the past 36 hours, and ran the last 33 of those, but I don't think that was the reason either. The reason was that I wasn't sure if I could finish. In fact, for a moment there I totally didn't think I could. And that was when I got to thinking about everyone who had put in so much time and effort to either run with me or to cheer me on. I thought of Jenna who hiked in and froze her butt off for 5 hours before running with me through the night, my mom for organizing everyone, cheering and keeping my pacers alive, and my dad who was right there beside me doing his best not to break down with me. I thought about how I had been looking forward to finishing this race for the last two years. I also thought about how much it would suck to be stuck at the Skyline aid station seeing as it is in the middle of nowhere! But mostly it was how much I wanted to finish so that everyone-else's effort wouldn't be wasted. So, with only a few hundred meters to Skyline aid station, something clicked and I pulled myself together. I'm not really sure what happened, but quite suddenly I was as determined as ever to finish.

Warming up at Camp Mowich. Great photo...
At Skyline aid station I had part of a cheese quesadilla, drank some gingerale and had a coke to go. After this things get fuzzy, but keep in mind that the last 20 miles of this race include some of the toughest climbs in the whole race. Anyway, the next thing I remember was undergoing what I'll call an involuntary gastric reinitialization. Not fun. After that I remember curling up on a space blanket on the side of the trail. I slept there for about 15 minutes according to the flat portion on the elevation profile I posted in Part 1 of this race report. After that, the next memory is of reaching Camp Mowich aid station as there was a nice little fire and hot chicken noodle soup. I'm pretty sure the soup was actually burning hot and I couldn't drink it, but that might just be a hallucination. Next up was Skyline Junction, the last aid station. Upon reaching here I instantly fell asleep on a mat they had there. Supposedly, a few minutes later someone looked over at me and asked my dad, "Is that your son sleeping face-down in the dirt?" To which he replied that I was probably fine, an opinion he quickly changed once he looked over too. What's more, even after righting me, I rolled right back into the dirt!

Thank you Ken!
I do remember some of what happened once the sun was starting to come up. The sweep for that section caught up with us somewhere after (or shortly before) the last aid station. Ken was truly fantastic and kept me moving forward, and eating! A big thanks to him.

The final descent into Lightening Lakes is a mean one given the rockiness of the upper section. Reaching the valley bottom I looked at my watch and saw that I had exactly 15 minutes to get in before 47 hours (the cutoff was 48). This triggered an all out sprint to the finish. The final result was a 47h01m finish, my first DFL (dead last). Though only 18 of 31 registrants complete the race.

I was greeted at the finish by my mom and Jenna, who apparently didn't really sleep at all the last night since they were hanging out at the finish area worrying about me the whole time. So with that, a big thank you to my family and all the volunteers for their tremendous support throughout the race! It really wouldn't be possible without them.

Jenna's Follow-up Comments:
This race report would not be complete with my two favourite parts of the weekend:
1) After Chris finishes the race, we head back to camp to get some well-earned rest. After about an hour of sleep, we both got up out of the tent to use the washroom. As we get back to the tent, I start to crawl in when Chris says "What are we doing?" (As if an hour of sleep was enough after being up for 48+ hours) to which I respond "Well I'm going back to sleep!" and I start to zip up the tent. Slightly irritated, Chris reluctantly climbs back into the tent. Of course, he falls asleep immediately... on my side of the tent!
2) After the race, we went to talk to Peter to thank him for making sure Chris got out alive. I'm so glad we did, because this is the best thing I heard all weekend. Peter was helping out at Skyline Junction - I don't remember exactly how he said this, but it went something like this. "At one point I heard these strange sounds coming through the forest, and I thought to myself : SHAMU IS COMING." Turns out it was just Chris.

As a follow-up, Christine Blanchette wrote this Article (or alternately available here) profiling my FatDog race attempt which appeared in the Sherbrooke Record.

Go to parts 1 or 2 of the FatDog120 Race Report

Monday, December 2, 2013

I just can't say no to volcanoes.

Chris and Brad atop Haleakala in Maui in 2010
The year was 2010. Chris and his family had taken off on a glorious vacation to Hawaii over Christmas break. And by vacation, I mean Chris and his dad had concocted this grand scheme to ride their bikes 10,023 ft up a volcano. Sounds like what normal people do in Hawaii, right? Haha. Ha.
They did it. Here's some photographic evidence just in case you don't believe me!

Knowing that this is a running blog, I'm sure you've guessed what's coming next. In just three short weeks from now we're all headed off to Maui once again to enjoy the glorious sunshine and beaches. But I didn't just write this post to brag about going to Hawaii. I'm writing it because today we officially started training! Training to run up this wonderful volcano of course. Let me say this now. This was THEIR idea. I will take no responsibility for the Cochrane Insanity. Yes, it's a thing. I, on the other hand, now have a problem. Between my goals to become a strong and confident runner, and my absolute and unparalleled love for rocks, I CAN'T SAY NO!

I want to run 10,000 ft up a volcano!
It's a volcano!
Can I do this?
Shouldn't we have started training for this sooner?
Am I strong enough to make it without slowing them down?
Is this a good idea?
It's a volcano!

So I'm going to try! I'm going to try to survive, I'm going to try not to slow them down, and I'm going to run A LOT of hills in the next three weeks :)

We started tonight with a run simulating a quarter of the elevation gain, or 2500 ft.
Basically we picked a nice hill with a relatively easy decent near it and ran circles for about an hour and a half. We only needed to do 17 half mile laps, which didn't sounds so bad. Until we started running. Three laps in I'm running down the hill thinking "oh no, I have to do this how many more times?!".
After completing the 17 laps, I was surprised how good I felt. We were feeling rather satisfied with our accomplishment until a recalculation on the way home told us we actually should have done 18.5 laps. Better luck next time.

I'm attaching a profile of our run to this post, mostly because it looks like a bunch of Christmas trees all in a row, and that makes me happy.

**UltraChris' addition:

Any idiot can run. It takes a special kind of idiot to run up a volcano.

Modification to my Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultras

You may have read about the issues I was having with my new Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultras staying in place on my Altra shoes in my recent gear review blog post. The problems I was having included: 1) the toe not staying in place and the toe-bar pressing in, 2) heel spikes not secure enough and 3) sides of upper rubber rolling upwards when tightened. I have now made some modifications to them and have solved numbers 1 and 2 above. Issue 3 is still a problem, but it's one I can live with. To allay any suggestions that I'm simply using the wrong size, I tried a medium pair as well and the rubber upper was too tight for my foot, plus the toe-bar issue was worse. An extra-large would have made issue 2 worse.

Issue with toe-bar of Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra
Previous location of the metal bar shown in green above.
Modification to Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra
New location of metal bar on R foot. Notice it's not symmetric.
In regards to issue 1 above, I  moved the front metal toe-bar from the top of the foot to the bottom of the foot. This wasn't all that easy since the metal is quite strong. I ended up having to use vice-grips and a small screwdriver to pry the loop closure open. Once unhooked it was easy to reposition and squeeze together the loop where I wanted it. The positioning of the bar is no longer symmetric (see the second image) as I wanted a perfect fit and that was the only way to get it. If you are trying this, be careful not to bend it too far as the metal may be on the brittle side.

I realize the purpose of the toe-bar was probably to keep the two front chains from moving too far to the side of the foot and allowing the shoe to slide forward, but in my experience they were doing this a little too well. The modification now allows the front chains to spread apart slightly more than before, while still keeping the foot from sliding forward.You can see this change in the pictures on the right.

Modification to heel chains of Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra
1 link removed from heel chains on both sides of crampons
The second issue of the heel spikes/chains being somewhat looser than ideal was solved by removing a chain link from both of the heel chains. This was even more difficult than the toe-bar modification as it required bending of 4 loops for each link I removed. Again, these links seem quite brittle. This isn't a bad thing given their need for strength, but it does make modification somewhat risky!

I still haven't come up with a way of fixing the third problem. It will have to be something that gets fixed with future generations of this product.

So, despite my complaints and the need to make some modifications to the toe-bar and the heel chains, I still really like these. Their traction is fantastic, and they're super light! Highly recommended!