ultra

Race Report: Run4RKids 8 Hour

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Above is an image of the indoor track at the Toronto Track and Field Centre at York University. My plan last Saturday was to run that track for eight hours at the Run4RKids 8 Hour Ultra. The reality was that I bailed at about five hours, having completed approximately 38K. I was still feeling good, had no aches or pains, and was pretty much on target pace.

So what happened?

Long story short – Asperger’s.

As I’ve explained in a previous post (“Running and Asperger’s”), I have Asperger’s Syndrome. Two of the primary manifestations of that are social isolation and a sensitivity to sensory overload. That means I don’t function well in groups of people, and that I don’t function well when there’s a lot of sound or movement around me.

Think about that for a minute, and you’ll understand why I always run alone, and almost always without music. And why running in races is somewhat problematic. Sometimes I can manage races, sometimes I can’t. When I can’t, I simply can’t.

Last January, I ran the Run4RKids 6 Hour successfully, and had a wonderful time. I met a number of very friendly and supportive people (ultra runners are like that), and completed a respectable 52K. So I was looking forward to this year’s 8 Hour. In fact, I’d worked out some specific strategies, building on solid feeling, pacing, and psychological learnings gained in the past twelve months.

Some days you’re the bug, some days you’re the windshield. On Saturday, it was my turn to be the bug.

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Above is a pre-race photo of the full field of runners. About 25 people were in for the 8 Hour, a few for the 6 Hour, and the rest for the 30K, marathon, and half marathon events. That’s yours truly in the back row, wearing a white shirt (and looking as apprehensive as always when in a group of people).

The five hours I ran went according to plan and were smooth sailing. I followed my usual drill for the race. Minimalist sandals and compression clothing, a short breathing exercise/meditation before the race start, an easy pace going out, low-carb high-fat fueling (a couple of handfuls of macadamia nuts, a couple of small pieces of salami, a couple of pieces of 89% cocoa chocolate, and water were enough for the five hours), and a Morton Stretch every two hours. For this race, I also added power-walking breaks of 400m every 90 minutes.

No problem. Everything felt good physically, and I was well on pace. But the feeling of dissonance was there from the start. And that soon grew into a familiar feeling of disassociation. Too many people, too much interaction, too much sound and movement around me. It’s hard to explain to neurotypical (i.e., “normal”) people, but, if you read though my ““Running and Asperger’s” post, you’ll get a sense of what I was going through.

So I decided to call it a day. I sat down at trackside to think it through, made my decison, and headed for the door. No regrets.

None of that took anything away from my appreciation of the race itself, nor did it diminish my appreciation of the friendliness and support of the other participants. I simply knew I shouldn’t be there.

I’m not sure what to do about my upcoming race calender. I’ve got two ultra races scheduled. One’s a 100K road event in June, and the other’s a 24 hour event in September. For the time being, I’m going to leave the calendar as it is. But I may revise my thinking, opt out of all organized events, and explore long-distance running on my own. I’m still passionate about running, but I need to do it the way that makes most sense to me.

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Spoiled for Choice

I have a very good life. Sometimes I think I’ve got it all.

Right now, part of “got it all” is that I’m testing two great minimalist sandals – the Earth Runners Alpha X and the Bedrock Gabbro 2.0. I’m truly spoiled for choice.

It’s a great opportunity, because, while the Alpha Xs and the Gabbros are similar, there are enough differences between them to make it interesting.

Upper comparison

A top view of the sandals shows some of those differences. Most obviously, the strap methods are different. So are the strap materials – the Alpha X features leather straps, while those on the Gabbro are nylon. The footbeds, too, are different – the Alpha X footbed is suede leather, while the Gabbro is ballistic nylon. They weigh about the same – each Gabbro sandal comes in at 119 gm (4.2 oz), while each Alpha X weighs 141 gm (5 oz.).

Sole comparison

Underneath, it’s again a story of “like but different.” The sole thicknesses are very close – the Alpha X sole is 11mm thick, while the Gabbro sole is 10mm. Both sandals are made with Vibram soles – but those on the Alpha X are a pattern called “Birkenstock,” while the Gabbro soles have a more aggressive technical tread pattern.

No wrong answers here, obviously. I’ve run (and walked) in both of them, and can confirm that they’re both high quality, performance-oriented products. I’ll soon post full reviews of both. Separate reviews, not a comparison – each one of them deserves its own treatment, and I don’t think there’s anything to be gained by putting them mano à mano (not quite the right phrase, but you know what I mean).

So stay tuned. I’ll post the reviews after I’ve put the Alpha Xs and the Gabbros through some serious testing.

Earth Runners

Bedrock Sandals

Earth Runners Affiliate

I’m pleased to announce that I’m now an affiliate for Earth Runners minimalist sandals.

That means that, if you follow a link on this blog and then buy an Earth Runners product – such as a pair of their sandals or socks – I’ll get a small commission.

I don’t often do this sort of thing, but I want to support Earth Runners, because I believe that their products are worth it.

So have a good look at the Earth Runners site – and feel free to ask me any questions you might have.

I’m currently testing a pair of Earth Runners Alpha X sandals, and will post a full review soon.

Transcendent Reflection

Transcendence

It’s been a week since I ran the Ottawa Self Transcendence 12 Hour (see my race report in the post below). It was a remarkable experience, and one that I’ve been thinking about a lot.

Though some specific learnings come to mind (train better, walk better, be more gutsy), it’s the “softer” lessons that have more meaning. In some ways, I feel like I’m a different person since running the 12 Hour. Still not quite sure what the difference is, but I’ve begun to get a sense of it.

First, I’m surprised that it’s not a sense of accomplishment that stands out above all else. Sure, running for 12 hours and 71K is a big deal – I’ve never done either of those before. But what’s significant is that I feel more complete than I did before.

Second, I’m happier. Not that I didn’t feel happy before last Saturday. I have a very good life, with little stress and lots of joy in it. But, since running the 12 Hour, I’ve been generally more at peace, more optimistic, and more calm. Something changed because of last Saturday, that’s for sure.

Third, I feel stronger. Not only physically (I’ve been running well all week), but psychologically and emotionally. I’m facing the world differently, and am a better person for that.

The outcome? Well, you may not be surprised to hear that I’m considering running the Self Transcendent 24 Hour next year. Something’s going on here, and I want more of it.

Bucket List

Once in while, I like to make a list of races I’d like to run. Not saying I’ll get to all of them, but it’s nice to keep them in mind. Here’s my current bucket list:

Race to the Stones

A 100K ultra along The Ridgeway, a 5,000 year old path in the UK. The course passes Iron Age forts and ancient burial chambers, crosses the Thames and the Salisbury Plain, and finishes at the 3,000-year-old stone circle at Avebury.

I plan to run The Race to the Stones in July of 2015.

Two Oceans Marathon

Billed as “the world’s most beautiful marathon,” this is actually an ultra, not a marathon. It takes place in Cape Town, South Africa, and runs 56K from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean.

I was born in South Africa, so doing Two Oceans would be a kind of homecoming for me.

Ultra-Trail Harricana

Back to Canada, in Quebec’s Charlevoix region – remote and wild, with rolling terrain, fjords, and wide bays. The Harricana 65K is a true wilderness ultra, featuring 1,800 meters of elevation gain.

This would be my first wilderness ultra.

Lesotho Ultra Trail

Lesotho is a small, mountainous country, completely surrounded by South Africa. Over 80% of Lesotho lies above 1,800m (5,906 ft). The Lesotho Ultra Trail is only 50K in length, but is a Skyrunning Ultra, featuring 2621m of vertical ascent and 2437m of vertical descent. The course consists of dirt roads, jeep tracks, rocky trails (the greater part of the course) and short sections of open grass. Stream crossings and loose rock are also featured.

This one’s The Big Dream.

No to Niagara

I’ve decided – reluctantly, but probably wisely – that I won’t attempt the Niagara 100K on June 14.

That’s a huge disappointment, of course, as I’ve really been looking forward to it. But my feet haven’t healed enough yet to do a 50K, never mind a 100. I lost almost all of the skin from the soles of my feet after running 40K of rough gravel at the Elk/Beaver 50K on May 10, and the new skin is too soft and too tender to run anything long. (Though I did manage almost 30K last Sunday, and am getting in between 6K and 18K on other days.)

Bummer, as we used to say back in the day.

I’ve learned, though, over that past few years, that it’s better to be sensible in cases like this. I’d rather DNS Niagara than try it and damage my feet any more. I’ll spend the next weeks running progressively longer distances, and I’ll pay careful attention to how things go.

Next up is Stage 3 of the ENDURrun International, a 30K trail race in Waterloo, Ontario, on August 12. Then I’ll run the Self-Transcendence 12 Hour on September 27, in Ottawa.

And no foolishness along the way. I promise.