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“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.”

~ Lao Tzu ~


On the Job Training as a Pacer at the Prairie Spirit 100

This past weekend I was given an amazing learning opportunity. I paced a friend who was running in the Prairie Spirit 100 mile race. If you need help picturing what these runners accomplished; get a map of Kansas and find Ottawa and then find Iola and then return to Ottawa. Since I had never paced anyone before I had little idea what to expect or what was going to be required of me to get my friend across the finish line. After all, his only request was to help him get a finish. Luckily for me he is an experienced runner and was a great teacher during this adventure. I would also be remiss if I did not mention my gracious wife who after working a full day on Saturday drove to where I was meeting my runner and then throughout the night from aid station to aid station making sure we were alright and had what we needed.

After two days of making lists and doing calculations and all the rookie stuff, we headed out to Colony, Kansas to wait for Carl (who started at 6am) to come in at mile 61. This is where I would start and that was all I knew at that point. I didn't know what shape he would be in or how many miles I would end up getting by the end of the race. As we went it was decided that I would got two legs with him which was 16.5 miles and rest for the 9 mile section. I was hesitant to send him on the trail at night by himself but I knew by then that he was going to need me more towards the end; it was a calculated risk we would have to take. I picked him back up the Richmond, KS aid station and set off for the next 14.5 miles to the finish line. Along the way we talked about a range of topics from the deep and meaningful to the ridiculous and everything in between. Other times we went on silently except for a groan here and there. For a good part I stuck to a strategy of using my watch timer for intervals, when it beeped it was time to run at the next beep we walked and so on…it was a good way to stay focused, stay warm, and keep moving without running out of gas completely.

At the glorious finish line; he had completed 100 miles with two and a half hours to spare before the cutoff and I had traveled 31 mile. This was more than twice as far as I had done before. A mixture of running and walking but it was still 31 miles; which tells that I can push myself more than I thought and I am going to complete my Cool Impossible 50K trail race this fall. Even more important and the most satisfying part of the whole weekend was after he received the beautiful belt buckle at the finish line and he looked at me and said “this would not have happened without you”. The truth is I was not concerned at all with myself during this whole thing, my only concern was letting him down; and that was not going to happen.

In summary; I can say that I am very pleased with how I feel this morning, and my body is recovering nicely. I think I have found a way to utilize my passion for running and coaching and personal training background. This is not the last runner or the last race that I will pace!     

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My road (trail) to running 100 miles.

100 miles.  I don’t know where to begin.  The experience of running 100 miles within the space of 24 hours has changed me forever.  Running my fastest marathon in 2008, or completing the Boston and NYC marathons are some of my greatest race memories, but without a doubt, finishing theHaliburton Forest 100 has taken the number one spot on my list of greatest achievements.  

My entire running career, from my first Watford Road Race, all the training and many races (and injuries) that followed, prepared me for what I was about to undertake as I toed the line for my first 100 miler at 6am on September 11th, 2010.  In the following blog, I will recount the moments that brought me to the finish line, although, it’s a story shared best during a three-hour long run, to help pass the time.  

It all started with a small seed.  The seed was an idea that I was capable of doing anything I set out to do, and had the determination and discipline to prepare my body for.  In the spring of 2009, I was going through a period of growth with my running, where I was starting to explore my abilities beyond the marathon distance.  I had felt that I had tested myself with the marathon, and that there had to be something more than just running 42.2km really fast.  After the experience of completely falling apart only 5km from the finish line of my first 50k Road Race in Canberra, I realized I needed to train my body and my mind to go further.  

Only 8 days after returning to Canada in May 2009, after pushing my limits on the Great Wall of China, I decided to run the Ottawa Marathon for a second time.  Not only did I pace my friend, John Brennan, in for a marathon PB in the neighbourhood of 3:17’, I continued to run the course in reverse until I met my friends Danielle and Lorraine, and then ran with them for the last 6km of each of their first Half-marathons.  Running so far didn’t seem so bad as long as I had some good company to run with.  

I ran the extra miles in Ottawa in order to prepare myself for the 6-hour Self-Transcendence run in Kingston.  This race was pivotal for me as a runner.  I was able to meet a whole crowd of people that tested themselves by running ultras on a regular basis.  I also realized after a few hours of running, that a lot of the limits we set on ourselves are rooted in the mind, rather than the body.  I noticed that although fatigued, my body was working well, and it was my mind telling me that if I had been running for X number of hours, I should be experiencing pain.  I looked for the pain, and there simply wasn’t any there.  Was there something wrong with my perception or did I need to shift my beliefs on the relationship between time running and pain?

Not long after Kingston, I raced another 50k road race in Niagara, this time without experiencing the meltdown during the final miles.  My body was starting to adapt to a different way of running.  After a couple more ultras and getting to know the regulars of the Ontario Ultra Series, the idea surfaced in my mind, “I will run 100 miles!”

I was doing a lot of personal development as I began working at lululemon.  I became really excited about writing down my goals, creating a vision board and things like that.  I had revised my goals in late 2009 to include running a 100mile race in under 24 hours, sometime in the next 5 years.  That was big!!!!  I figured that I would keep on doing the races I was doing and eventually build my way up to 100miles, just like I built up from Watford’s 8km to my first marathon, slow and steady.  One thing many people might not realize about the lululemon spirit, is that along side their easy going, yoga/love for fun and health image, they are really all about pushing to always do more and expand you comfort zone by confronting your fears head on, on a regular basis.  

After a couple rounds of writing down my goals and having some feedback sessions with lulu’s in-house Goal-Coaches, I had upgraded my five year plan for the 100mile.  I wrote down, “I will run 100miles in 24 hours by September 12, 2010.”  A BHAG if I ever saw one.  (If you are unfamiliar with a BHAG, it means a Big Hairy Audacious Goal, one of lulu’s favourite acronyms)  This upgrade scared me, as it would, without a doubt, be forcing me to push my limits both physically and psychologically without much time to think about it.  

Not long after posting my goals in the store, lululemon started a promotion on their blog about BHAG’s.  Every day they would feature someone new on the blog, holding a sign with their BHAG written on it.  I was Day 14.  Once I was up on the Internet, telling the world my goal.  I had no option but to follow through.  

In between races that summer, I was able to take a couple weeks off work and travel back to Europe.  I had planned an epic adventure with my friend Nick; we would take on the infamous GR20 trail in Corsica and complete the 180km hike from north to south in only 4 days.  This trip was much different from all the races I had been doing, since we had to carry all of our food and gear, and the elevation profile was insane!!!!  On my last day, I knew I needed to make it to the end of the trail in order to catch my bus out early the next morning.  I did not expect that I would be finishing the last 4 or 5 hours in the dark, using only my headlamp to seek out the trail markers.  The number of times I ran the words “Unrelenting forward progress” through my head was countless.  Even though it took me 4 days, I felt much more confident for the 100 mile after finishing the GR20 in one piece.  

There was one last big training race before Haliburton, and that was the Dirty Girls 24-hour run.  A 24 hour run is a little less intimidating since you know you have finished, as soon as you take your first step; it is all about pacing and trying to last.  I started off fairly reserved, and then I picked it up during the afternoon.  As it became dark, my paced started to fade.  My body was holding up all right, aside from some painful chaffing (which was a big lesson I was glad to learn BEFORE the 100).  The biggest difficulty I experienced was staying focused in the dark, as I had been running most of the night all by myself.  I lost my motivation and once I completed 120km, I was done.  I just waited out the last 90 minutes until the race was over.  I struggled through the final hours, but the knowledge I had learned from the experience would prove to be worth it.  

A week after Dirty Girls, I had tightened up so much that I couldn’t move my hips without intense pain.  I was aware that I had some problems with my lower back and hips since earlier in the year, but it just had to get worse only weeks before the biggest race of the year.  I went to see a doctor and found out that I had bursitis in my hips along with ordinary mechanical back-pain.   I was prescribed some anti-inflammatory pills and told to take it easy for a couple weeks.  

I figured at that point, if I had any chance whatsoever at completing the 100 miles, I would have to rest and focus on healing my beaten up body.  I only did one run before Haliburton, and that was 21.1km at the Chocolate Half with Steph.  Not even 5 km in, I was feeling the pain.  I spent the 2 weeks before Haliburton sending a lot of positive vibrations out into the universe, hoping that I could some how arrange a miracle.  I knew that would be what I needed in order to finish.  

Stephanie and I drove up to Haliburton on September 10th, as soon as I was done class for the day.  I can’t remember being so nervous before a race.  I had doubts of being able to do the 70.3 in Muskoka, but this was a whole other set of obstacles.  There was no flat tires or swimming (some might argue) to worry about. I hoped to be able to stay friends with my digestive system and mind, and the real test doesn’t really start until the last 50 miles.  

The pre-race dinner was very encouraging.  Not only did I get to meet some of the regulars, but also many others like me, who were giving it their first try.  I suddenly found myself surrounded by runners who were just as human as I felt.  Remarkably, I slept quite soundly that night (in a tent, there’s no other way to do an ultra trail race).  I think that might have been because I knew there was nothing I could do but try, and that I had all of my friends, family, and just about everyone I encountered leading up to race, supporting and believing in me.  

The next morning, it was time to see if I could find that miracle.  

Twenty-three hours and fifty-seven minutes later, I RAN across the finish line.  It all started with a seed.  A thought, that I could do more.  A goal.  There are so many people that contributed to my success and I am deeply grateful to all of them.  Once I knew that I had made it, I couldn’t help but break down into tears.  Even as I write this, more than a year later, my eyes still well up.  I still don’t know the exact combination of emotions, which evokes that reaction, but I know there were many indescribable things going through my mind, and at the same time, wasn’t thinking anything at all.  It is an experience I will never forget.  

I learned more about myself in 24 hours than I did in countless other races, yoga classes and life experiences.  Over those 100 miles, especially the last 30 or 40 in the dark, the layers of my mind slowly peeled away.  By the finish line, I was left feeling everything in its pure, raw form.  Whether I was delusional from completing the task, or I did indeed experience some type of clear mind, I’m not quite sure.  All I know is that the experience has stayed with me as a symbol of what we can accomplish if we keep our eyes focused on a goal and believe. 

To see my website with the original post click on Mindfulness Running.

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