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Saturday, September 30, 2017

Vulture Bait 50k Training Update #2

Just an update to my earlier post on my 50km trail run training.

This is a bit of navel-gazing so feel free to skip!!!

The Heat

The temperatures have finally subsided here in the Toronto area - from around +30C (in late September - whyyyyy???) to something more seasonal - +10-15C.

I got in my last long run yesterday in a bit of sprinkling rain and cool weather.

It was fantastic.

It's amazing how much of a difference cool weather can make - I finished over 26km in about 3 hours, and felt like I could have gone a lot longer (finally!).  Not dying at the end of my long training runs is a big plus, my confidence is finally there!

Just in time.

The Terrain

The other thing I did was to try better match the race day terrain.  This is a bit difficult as everything with a trail around here is also very hilly - not much I could do about that.  But I did throw in a bit of road (just like the race) and some gravel, and cut back on the winding single-track.

It was still quite a bit more difficult than Vulture Bait... 521m of elevation gain yesterday over 26km vs 218m of elevation gain I recorded when I did the 25km Vulture Bait.  But at least a bit easier/closer.

The Pace

I'm much more confident now that I can be in the 7:00/km range, maybe quicker.

I ran the 25km Vulture Bait in just over 6:00/km pace back in 2009... I was lighter, so add 20 seconds per km for weight, another 30 or so for pacing for 50km instead of 25km.  I'm also in much better run shape than I was back then (I had just done my first marathon and Ironman, but was a noob).

Ran 6:47/km in my last training run, which I wasn't pushing much and it was harder than the race (as noted above).

So everything is finally lining up for a good day!  Just hope the weather cooperates.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Mountain Biking Crash

My colourful bicep.

Knees bloody.  Right hand was puffy and super painful at night...

Dumb accident - clipped a little sapling with my handlebar at the end of a long ride.  Sent me straight off the trail into a log/tree/bushes - no chance to stop (or even slow down).

Not sure what hit where, I just went over and everything kind of hit stuff at once.  Found myself and my bike entangled in branches and stuff.


Worst crash I've had in a lonnnnng time.  Maybe ever.  I fell earlier this year and bruised my ribs quite badly, but it was just on the trail, straight fall... this one was way freakier.

The bright side - I didn't hurt anything so bad that I can't run.  My hands hurt quite a bit but should be back to biking in the next day or two.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Vulture Bait - 50km Trail Race - Training

I signed up for this months ago in the excitement of following Gary Robbins and his Barkely Marathon attempt.

I don't know why his agony and pain would inspire me to want to do an Ultramarathon, but it did.  I figured 50km would be a good introduction.  It's not so crazy, right?  Just a touch longer than a marathon!

My Training

I have been trying to do a lot of hill running when I'm on the roads, and getting in the trail runs as much as I can.

Unfortunately the conditions just aren't similar enough to Vulture Bait.  It's been stinky hot and humid, which really shouldn't be even close to the race conditions in mid-October in Ontario Canada.  When I did the 25km version of this it was barely above zero.

Last night I ran 24km in Durham Forest.  At least I think I did... I don't have much confidence in GPS in the forest, it doesn't seem to capture all the curves and hills as distance!

It was hot, humid, and hilly.  Vulture Bait will likely be cool.  And the course is nowhere near as hilly as what I'm doing in training.

Vulture Bait 25km - Elevation Gain (per Garmin 305): 218m
Last night's 24km - Elevation Gain (per Garmin 910xt): 487m

I don't really have flatter trails around me, although I could make a more conscious effort to avoid some of the steeper stuff... but I figure training harder terrain than race day is probably of benefit, not detriment.

... but it's not helping my confidence so far!  I'm struggling with these 3 hour runs.  Yesterday I only managed 7:21/km pace - that is with walking some of the steeper hills and such.  And I'm still thinking the distance isn't right, so the speed probably isn't either...

Vulture Bait 25km in 2009 I did in 6:03/km.  So I think it's quite a bit easier.

I'm going to keep plugging away - running the trails, the hills, and just keep trying to find that "go all day" pacing.


When I signed up, I figured I'd be dropping weight through the season.  I haven't been - or at least not much.  I'm maybe down about 5 pounds, just a touch under 200.  I'd love to be in the 170's, but at LEAST I want to be in the 180's!!!  I won't be.  So that's an extra burden - like carrying around a few extra sacks of potatoes.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Race Report: Muskoka River X 80k (Canoe Race) 2017

We were back for our second year of Muskoka River X - the hilariously named "Sprint" distance of 80km.

This race is amazing - it's a true paddling adventure, with some remoteness and just stunning beauty throughout.
2017 start on Fairy Lake at sunrise


Our 2016 attempt was pretty much hell.  Awesome adventure hell, but still hell.  It poured rain, the lake was rockin' and rollin' from strong wind, and we screwed up pretty much every portage.  We spent a staggering 2h18m portaging.. oh and we flipped in the rapids... I don't use the term "shit show" lightly - it was a shit show.

The Start

This year we thought we did what we did last year - hang back a bit and avoid the chaos.

Except we didn't avoid the chaos - instead we found ourselves in the swirling wash that follows the lead boats when they all make wake at the same time... we kept our whits about us and managed to get to the bridge in one piece (and with the boat right-side-up!).

... and then someone smoked us from behind.  Completely spun our boat so we were now pointing across the river instead of up it... at which point we collided with another boat trying to shoot up the gut.

Fortunately neither of us went over, but the boat we hit had a little spazz (presumably assuming we had steered there incompetently!?).

So that was the start.  I don't know what to do differently last year other than hang on and hope we don't flip, again.  You can't win the race in the first 5 minutes but you sure can mess it up!

Fairy and Pen Lakes

These lakes we knew well, and just settled into our normal stroke rate.  Other than being beautiful there was nothing all that remarkable about our trip across the lake - passed a bunch of boats.

Portage #1

This one is long - 1.7km, the majority of which is uphill.

One of the things we messed up last year was we tried an experimental strap approach to carrying the boat.  Basically we had luggage straps on either end of the boat to carry it.

It was horrible, the boat kept smacking in, the strap didn't distribute the weight well, and we were both struggling the whole day with it (especially on the long portages).

This year we attached pads with bungee cords to the bottom of the boat and shouldered it.  It worked much, much better... we still got passed, though, by boats using the yoke (where the partner carried the contents).  But the top teams seem to carry it on their shoulder without removing anything from the boat... so I'm not 100% sure what the right way to go is.

It was definitely an improvement - we went from 24+ minutes to 19 minutes.

Lake of Bays

Last year this was a bubbling cauldron of frothy hell.  The wind was so strong, the waves were huge, we were fighting the boat and chop the entire lake (3h25m to cover the ~24km!).

This year - calm!  Perfect!  I think we even had a tailwind at the start.  We easily navigated in and out of the mandatory bay checkpoints, and could actually soak in the surroundings.  Remarkable.

We actually caught and passed the team in 3rd in our division - on track for a podium!  Yay us!

... except we eventually had to stop for our planned water replenishment break.  I don't think we saw them again the rest of the race (and they ended up beating us by 7 minutes - damn).
Leaving Baysville, feeling great!

2 hours and 43 minutes, we were in Baysville for the Portage #2 - we had shaved 42 minutes off of last year's Lake of Bays misadventure (and 53 minutes overall time quicker to this point).

Muskoka River - Portage-a-palooza

Portage #2 we did in 5 minutes rather than 9 minutes - and that was a straight-forward portage (that one was more about our confidence than route knowledge!).  Last year we were so dainty about getting our feet wet - this year we charged right in.

The portages are rough.  These aren't your provincial park marked take-outs and put-ins, all cleared and pretty.  There is the odd trail, but mostly it's just where people have trudged enough to make a path.  The put-ins are often rocky or muddy, sometimes in water still moving quick.

So our brilliant plan after the Disastrous Portaging of 2016 was to paddle the river beforehand to familiarize ourselves with the portages- really think them through and have a plan.

Route knowledge made a huge difference.
Muskoka River - Fall Colours Already!?

Now I wasn't religious enough about hitting my lap button on my Garmin, but I'll go back and check them all out at some point... I know for sure we shaved a massive amount of time off here.  No messing around, no choosing the wrong side of the river... I didn't slip and bash my shin on a rock.  We didn't flip the boat on the fast rapid section.

Everything we screwed up in 2016 we nailed in 2017.

Portaging Technique

We shouldered the boat, using home-made padding on longer portages.  This worked well - mostly because you don't have to empty it and flip it over.

But... we got passed.  A lot.  Some teams were using the yoke, some shouldering it (but managing to find speed we couldn't).  I still think we are carrying just too much weight - when we looked at the top 2 teams in the 130km, they were lean and mean with the water - one small bottle?  Or a 2L each.  We were carrying about 4L each - that's 8kg, or almost 20 pounds - in addition to all the other mandatory equipment (and non-mandatory).  It's too much, getting weight down is going to be a big thing for next year.

River Continued

The only bummer this year was the current.  We had been out the weekend before as I said, but the current had dropped significantly since then.  Where last weekend we'd averaged 10+km/h without any effort, now we were averaging 8.5 even with trying... and near the end the headwind definitely made a difference, it mostly canceled out the current on the longer stretches.

Early River Portages

These are mostly short, quickly in and out.  We made pretty quick work of them (unlike last year!).

After the first river portage there's a swift river section - last year we hit a rock and flipped, then were carried downstream... so this year we stayed closer to the center/center-right, and no trouble at all.

Portage #8

This is where things went really bad last year... it's longer and around a waterfall - and last year I slipped, dropped the boat, and crashed my shin into a rock opening a huge gash.  Oh and before that we went too far down a trail, missed the put-in.

It took us over 15 minutes last year - this year it took us just 7m30.  No calamities, we had the right route down to the put-in, yay!

Portage #9

This one is on an island and it's remarkably straightforward... for some reason last year we took out on the right bank instead last year (stupidly following another team) - and screwing around there cost us 16+ minutes.

This year - closer to 8 minutes (and that included several minutes to make some extra water!).

Portage #10

2016 - 9m42s
2017 - 6m30s

This improvement was mostly technique... I remember we had trouble getting out at the take-out last time, this time we didn't - and our carrying technique was great.  Oh and I stopped to pee, otherwise we'd have been even faster.

Portage #11 - Matthiasville Dam

2016 - 9m45s
2017 - 7m

The put-in here is rocky and to get down to it requires a crazy back and forth twisty motion - which 18 foot canoes don't exactly excel at.  It would have saved us a minute or two if it were on our head, but not sure that's the best overall strategy for all the portages... gah.

Portage #12 - Threthewey Dam

Last year we got out too early and had to bushwack!  This year we went right up to the bridge (which is where the sign actually is).

(I think in general last year we were too tentative around the dams - they're actually very well marked as far as where the danger lies, this year we knew where to get out so no tentativeness)

2016 - 9m08s
2017 - 6m20s

Portage #13 - Muskoka Falls

This is a big one - 1.4km

2016 - 20:14
2017 - 17:30

I'm surprised we didn't make up more time on this one... we were fast, efficient, didn't have to put the boat down.  But last year we were fighting for position right through this portage - we lost a place and made one up!  So I think we had the bit between our teeth more and pushed, this year we strolled along purposefully but not race-fully.  We knew everyone was too far ahead to catch, or too far behind to catch up.

The Finish!

Fast final half hour downstream (in great current and no headwind!) and we were done!

10h27, compared to last year's 12h14!  7th fastest overall for the 80k (out of 29).  Our team of 2 male stock category we finished 4th (again).


Most of our time saving was NOT conditioning... we're not any faster at paddling (and we paddled less this year).  It was the weather on the lake, and the awesome improvement in our portaging skill.  We were just smarter and better prepared this year.


Cramping - I had some problems with cramping wrists/fingers - at points it was so bad I could barely unclench my fist... it passed, though.  I have to focus more (and sooner) on keeping a lighter grip on the paddle.  I tend to really clench it, especially when we're paddling harder - this isn't the right thing to do!

My abs also cramped up at one point quite badly, just being in that paddling position (sitting) for so long seems to eventually catch up with me.  That's mostly conditioning I figure, just need to paddle more.

Nutrition - I drank a lot of Gatorade (8L!) and ate some Cliff Gel block things.  I felt flush with energy, even when my muscles started to fatigue I felt good.  So that was spot on.

Weight - we need to get the boat lean and mean.  The boat is fine - it's light!  All the stuff in it though needs to be trimmed right down.

Water - related to weight - I want to get the water carrying down, which means figuring out a better way to quickly purify water.  I'm thinking using just regular water bottles might be the way to go... quickly refill one with a purification tablet / Gatorade that's ready to go while drinking from another, then switch.  I'm just not sure how to get this quick, or how to drink without taking too long of a break from paddling.  Currently we use 2L jugs with straws all hooked up- it's easy to drink from, but so very heavy.

The right technique???  Where's your partner, bro?
Portaging Technique - I really want to figure out what's fastest - we saw everything.  Top teams were shouldering the boat, but some flipped it over and put it on their heads (the winning team did this - with both carrying it, not using a yoke!!!).

To flip it over everything in the boat has to be completely firmly fastened, no tolerance for things to fall out at all.

Other teams had one person carrying gear, the other with the boat on the head.  Again - everything has to be fastened or carried... I'm just not sure which is the best, could be some trial and error (and most of all, practice!).


I was trying to figure out what we could do to challenge ourselves in 2018 - I wouldn't say we've mastered it, but doing the 80km tandem again would be a bit same-old same-old.

My first thought was to do the "Classice" 130km, but somewhere around 50km I realized that was crazy.  At 80km I definitely wasn't thinking "boy I wish there were 6 or 7 more hours of this!".  I'm sure we could do it, but there's a certain level of suffering/exhaustion that seems one portage too far.

My second thought was solo.  It would take longer and introduce some paddling in the dark by the end - something we haven't had to deal with.  More of a challenge, and a different kind of challenge.  Exciting idea.

Then they solved my problem at the closing banquet... they're running the race in the opposite direction next year!

They didn't have full details - but this would mean we would be on the North Branch of the Muskoka River instead of the South Branch for most of the race!  As 80k paddlers we've never seen that part - totally intriguing.  Not only that, it would take out almost all the lake paddling (which can be horrible in the wrong conditions, ie. 2016).  And we'd have to paddle up-river most likely, portaging UP past Muskoka Falls, and the other dams.

Finishing where?  Who knows?  I trust the organizers will come up with something brilliantly exciting and diabolical.

See you next year!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Paddling the Muskoka River (South Branch)

We're doing the Muskoka River X race on this river next week, so we took the day and did some recon (so as not to have a repeat of 2016's fiasco of portage hell).

DAAAAAMMMMM!!! (Matthiasville)
Safety Notes

(1) This is not  a quiet gentle river paddle.  There are several waterfalls, there are rapids, and there are dams.  All of these things are life-threateningly dangerous if you don't know what you are doing or where you are going!!!

So while I'm giving a few notes here and some high level musings, get real maps and real guide of some sort before you set off.

(2) Parts of this river are pretty remote... we're not talking Alonquin remote, but long stretches have to cottages or visible civilization.  We followed the Muskoka River X gear list just to make sure we had what we needed - but that's for a race where people are looking out for you (to some degree).  So do whatever you need to to make sure you have what you need and people know to look for you if you go missing (and where to look).


We started at the dam in Baysville, at the south end of Lake of Bays.  There is a little parking lot there, very handy.

About 20 seconds after we started we almost flipped - it was very close.  Why?  Eddies!  I barely noticed them (not being a super-skilled river paddler) - and we had one on one side of the canoe... it was like the side dropped off, and there was no water under my paddle.  Crazy.  We encountered hundreds of them, but after that we were smarter about what to expect!

Waterfalls and Rapids

I'm not going to go through every single portage - suffice to say that between Baysville and Bracebridge we portaged 11 times.  You can usually hear the rushing water and it's time to start looking for the exit.

The added complexity is that some are listed as Private Property, or No Trespassing.  On race day they get special permission, so we had to get a little creative (sometimes with our interpretation of the law, for example).

One section about 3.5km from Baysville is really fast, and there are rocks lingering below the surface.  You could probably portage it, but we didn't look for a trail (since in the race we're allowed to run it!).  We flipped last year on a hidden rock (left side) - so this time we stuck to the middle/right and it was great.  But the water level was higher, so I'm not sure if that was just dumb luck or skill.


The last few portages are at hydro dams - Matthiasville, Trethewey, and the two dams at Muskoka Falls.

They are all pretty impressive when the water is roaring through, as it was on Saturday!  Stay well clear of the buoys - the take-outs are pretty obvious and easy for all of them.  Matthiasville you want to take out on the left near the concrete structure (again, away from the yellow buoys), Trethewey before the bridge.  Muskoka Falls I think it's on the left - but if you don't take out there, you can also paddle into Spence Lake.  (Warning: it's a LONNNNNNG portage.)

The good thing about this section - more paddling between portages, especially before Matthiasville (almost 10km without having to portage), then almost 7km to Trethewey.

We ended at Matthiasville this time, knowing the rest are pretty easy (and we didn't need that long of a day).


The South Branch of the Muskoka River ultimately joins the north branch in Bracebridge.  From there it's portage-free out to the lake if you continue downstream (west), or if you hang a right you can go upstream on the North Branch until you're right smack in the middle of the town.

Big East

One other paddling option worth mentioning - if you go downstream to the lake, you can then hook up with the Big East River.  It's portage-free all the way up for a ways - we paddled it in another area race all the way up past Highway 11.  Pretty and worth checking out!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Paddling the Trent Severn (Beaverton area upstream toward Lake Balsam)

We were looking for a place to paddle on a windy day - wanted to avoid lakes, so we settled on this section of the Trent-Severn.

For those not familiar, the Trent Severn is almost 400km long and connects Lake Huron to Lake Ontario via a system of canals, lakes, and rivers.  It's a pretty incredible engineering feat, originally for industrial use - but it was almost instantly obsolete.  Now it's used by recreational boats, because it's amazingly cool.

Our Route
We started in the town of Gamebridge, then headed North-East (upstream) along the man-made canal.

There are three locks in quick succession - we portaged them all, trying a new technique out (which we are trying to master for Muskoka River X in a couple of weeks).  Basically it involves hoisting the boat onto your shoulder.  It worked reasonably well, certainly better than what we've tried before - and you don't have to empty the boat to flip it.

After this you enter the Talbot River, which is wider and has cottages along it.  Boat traffic was OK at this point...

... until we got to Canal Lake.  A cloudy/rainy/windy day at the end of summer, and by late afternoon it was still teeming with jetskis and motorboats.  We dealt with it, but takes a lot of the joy of paddling and being out in nature out of the equation!

The wind on Canal Lake had whipped it up into a lather - pretty sketchy, but we needed some rough water practice.  We did a loop around the island (bridges you can pass under in a canoe on either end of it).

Bridge to Island!
After this we went back the way we came.

At one of the big locks, we happened to get there at the same time as a motor boat - the staff welcomed us in, so we skipped a portage and went down the easy way...

In the lock, going down!
The water was within a foot of the top of those gates to start!  It was pretty freaky.  That's why my face is like that.
Hold on to the ropes! 

After that it was an easy paddle to the end.  We decided to try an extended portage around two locks instead of one, just to see if our technique was OK.  800m long, all worked well.

All in all an enjoyable paddle, and there were definitely options to keep sheltered from the wind.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Sulphur Mountain Loop (Banff, Alberta)

I was planning this as a run, but the 15-20% grades had other ideas.  I think I ran maybe 10-15% of the trail on the way up (and fast hiked the rest).

Very pretty, and a very tough challenge!

Going UP!

I parked at the Spray River Trailhead - basically you drive to Banff Springs Hotel, then keep going past the parkade.  There's a small parking lot for trail users there.

From there I took the trail up the mountain (not the Spray River Trail - this one goes UP from the other side of the parking lot).  I kind of meandered up, there were a few options, I took the ones that went up and eventually came out at Mountain Ave.

At the end of Mountain Ave is another parking lot - this is where folks park to take the gondola up.

We call those folks "wusses".

This is where the REAL work began... up to this point the trail was reasonably runnable and not crazy steep (although it was steep...).

But from the Sulphur Mountain parking lot up, that changed... at first it was reasonably OK, but the further up I went the less running I could do.  I don't think I ran at all for the top 50% of the trail.

Click here for the Strava Segment.  Strava says it's 4.6km, 14% average grade (seems low! ha!), and 658m of climbing total.  The peak is about 7350 feet above sea level... it's just an awesome adventure.  Whether you hike it or run it, it's worth doing.

This 4.6km took me just over an hour.  The course record is 32:42 - that's insanely impressive.

The Top
Waterfall on the way up (trickle this day)
The top!  There's town!  The people look like ants!
Looking out over the descent valley on the other side
Going DOWN!

There are two options - go back from whence you came, or go down the backside of the mountain.  I hate out-and-backs, so of course I went down the other side.

I was shocked at just how much this hurt.  My quads were absolutely exploding by the end - the grade is just so much.  I usually pride myself in my descending, I can up the cadence and fly down.  But that didn't work at all, it was just too long and steep...

Back to the Start

I followed the trail over to the Cave and Basin area - follows a little road.

From there there were a bunch of trail and road options to get back to the start.  The initial plan had been to follow the river then to come back up from Bow Falls to the parking lot - but I was so cooked I just followed the road back to Banff Springs.

Total run length was 18km - but it was so much harder than a normal 18km run.  The air was thin, the climbs were tough, it really killed me!  But I'm so glad I did it... such is the odd nature of running and stuff.  What doesn't kill you makes you stronger!

It was also my first crack at a "real" mountain run.  Respect to those who do this stuff often, it's really tough stuff.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Sugarloaf Loop (George S. Mickelson Trail) - South Dakota Rail Trail

I was vacationing near Lead, South Dakota, and headed out for a run on the Mickelson Trail.

Kirk Road Trail head!  
This particular part is a loop up and down a really big hill.  It's a rail trail so it's theoretically not too steep - but we later went on a 1880's steam train, and they explained these were some of the most severe rail grades around.

Rough Map - I started at the Kirk Road trailhead

The trail - near top of mountain

The George S. Mickelson Trail is 175km long!  So I barely scratched the surface here - and it was amazing.

The trail was really nice - gravel, firm surface, very suitable for trail running and biking.  I really wish I had my cyclocross bike with me!  Someday I'll come back and experience the rest of it.  The Black Hills area is just so beautiful - hills, wildlife, and a really cool sub-culture Wild West feel.

A trestle

View from the top of Lead, SD

Elevation (Counter-Clockwise, Starting @ Kirk)
One of about 20 deer I saw - most scurried off, this one was nice enough to pose
1880 Steam Train
1880s steam train you can take from Hill City to Keystone.
We did.  It was awesome.
If you're a rail buff... this is a must-do.  It's an 1880's steam train that runs on similar tracks to the one the rail trail follows.  2 hour journey, it's just an impressive piece of business.

I've always pictured in my head what it must have looked like when these trains occupied the rail trails - this brought that to life.  The train struggled up those same kinds of grades I did!  And screeched as it braked down the other side... all just awesome.

Book early though - it sells out!!!