Abusing my body, exalting my spirit, and trying to wring performance from weeks of playtime with pain. This week saw me tackle a “big day” intended to familiarize me with the distances of the Mont Blanc 80K, now four weeks away. Normally I would have done a Triple Crown by this point in the season — this year a Quad — but complacency’s kept me in Banff doing laps on “boring old Sulphur” like Leslie Gerein told me to do. While I’d started feeling pretty proficient running up to 30km and climbing ~2000m — only one-third of the Mont Blanc race — I was unsure of where my endurance lay beyond that. A 70km/3800m run on Wednesday shed light to uncertainty and revealed an extension of the relative ease experienced on other “routine” long runs (Sulphur double crossing, for example). A major confidence-booster leading up to the race, with a couple weeks left in the Rockies to sharpen things up a bit before flying to Ontario, then to Chamonix.
Weekly total: 12h26m/85.5km/5229m
24/05/15 – The Banff Burner (1st place) – 35min/4.5km/666m
Ran The Banff Burner, the first edition of some kind of not-too-competitive race up Sulphur Mountain. My friends told me about it and I figured I would give it a shot. The race began at the trailhead sign near the parking lot and finished at the platform beside the gondola station. This is by far the fastest time I’ve ever done this section of Sulphur and, as far as I know, is an FKT for what it’s worth. (I don’t go around trying to set “FKTs” on any old mountain, but important mountains or ones with a precedent, sure.)
27/05/15 – Sulphur x 4 – 10h13m/69km/3863m
A long-needed “big day” before tackling the Mont Blanc 80K. From home, I ran up the front to Sanson’s Peak, then down the back to Sundance Canyon junction; then up the back to Sanson’s and down the front to Bow Falls where I met Glenn; then up the front, down the front with Glenn; then up the front to summit #3, then Sanson’s Peak, then down the back to home.
The initial “double crossing” was a breeze as I’ve become quite comfortable with exactly that horizontal and vertical distance of running; my nutrition was regular and my movement streamlined. At the top of Sulphur the second time, I chatted with Glenn on the phone and invited him to meet me for my next lap up the mountain. Glenn hadn’t climbed Sulphur in six years, since the day after his wedding when he puked brunch all over the trail… While Glenn’s fitness has surely improved since 2009, his pace is a bit slower than mine, but I saw the mellower pace on my third lap as an advantage — forced restraint where I’d otherwise be powerhiking madly and compromising my ability to last a longer distance.
After my third lap up and down the mountain accompanied by Glenn, we parted ways at Bow Falls and I still felt fresh enough to go back up and over the mountain one last time. While relatively fatigued, the idea of jogging over and tagging S3 in the sunset made my tiredness fade and soon I was scrambling up the various gullies and ledges to plop me on top. I lingered for awhile — the ambiance was incredible and the fact that I’d travelled over 50km and climbed more than 3500m at that point was like a half-forgotten memory. This is one of ultrarunning’s miracles, that one can feel alternately like complete shit or glowingly incredible at any given point during a big run. I eventually pried myself from the summit and jogged back towards the gondi station and tagged Sanson’s for fun.
The run down the backside was slightly more conservative than normal though my footing was still pretty precise in my new 110s. And because my phone was dead and I was also out of food, I completed the whole run from Sanson’s back to my house without stopping. This kind of day on Sulphur was something I’d conceived of to train for CCC last year but other, cooler mountain projects filled the need. I’m content with the relative comfort I experienced on a run which equals more than than two-thirds of the vertical and horizontal distance of the Mont Blanc 80K, now four weeks away.
30/05/15 – Tunnel x 2 – 1h38m/12km/700m
A little fartleking around on Tunnel. I never really understood the idea of “speed play” as speed in the context of running for me equals pain and stress, the opposite of “play”. Today I set out expressly to “play”, not “train”, and willfully took on many speedy bits of running up, down and on the flats. My route was up the main trail from home to the summit, then down goatpath on the north side of the mountain to Tunnel Mountain Drive, then around the base of Tunnel to catch the SW goatpath up to the top again, then home via the main trail. Got lost (yet again) on my descent through the narrow, forested singletrack on the north of the mountain and downclimbed a few third-class moves, which was fun. My descents, from Tunnel Mountain Dr. to the river for example, were wild and uninhibited and the flat bit along the river to the start of the SW goatpath up Tunnel was noticeably swift and cruisy. The ten minutes or so of tilling scree in my sneakers up a 50-degree pitch went by without notice, my ears filled with the raucous clamor of John Dwyer’s “positive destruction”, a concept I can relate to. Tagged the top, sweaty and half nude, amid a swarm of weekend hillwalkers, then raced home.
Eroding resistance between me and the mountains; occupying my mind with the passage of the wind; leaving my humanity hanging on the trailhead sign and becoming nothing other than the movement of my limbs, the sound of my breath and the patter of my feet. What the previous weeks have lacked in gnarly sufferfests, they have made up for with lots of hard breathing, sunburns, slogging, scrambling and loving life. While I feel the need for a “big day” soon (i.e. <3000m of vert), I can’t be upset with where my current level of tan — I mean, fitness — is at. Running up to 40km and climbing 2500m has become almost mundane and I feel myself transforming into some sort of mountain ungulate, channeling the spirit of my inner chamois. Hopefully the coming weeks see a couple massive days before I fly to Ontario and then taper for my petite jog around Chamonix the week after that.
05/11/15 – Tunnel x 2 – 38m58s/7km/320m | 1h07m/7.5km/320m
Up and down Tunnel from my house and back, twice. First lap fast, second lap casual. Ate a ton of yummy Singapore egg noodles right before running and it felt like I was going to poop my pants the entire time. Also, I wore my bald New Balance 1400s, which is a pretty novel concept for me, but they were really comfy and enjoyable. The first lap was a PB to the summit and back (21m to summit, 38m home), which was the objective, to push hard anaerobically and beat my previous time. I got home in such egg noodle-induced misery that I said one lap was enough, but after literally a minute or two I decided I was game for a second outing. So I switched my shirt, trotted across town, got my ass back up the mountain, took a bunch of pics (the sunset now even more sunsetty and alpenglowy than the first time), then descended yet again in diminishing light. It seemed the egg noodle demon burrowed its way even deeper into my gut and the run from the lower parking area/trailhead to home was downright painful. Fast and very pretty but uncomfortable.
13/05/15 – Tunnel – 50m33s/5.5km/368m
From home, ran up the SW shoulder to the summit, then down some goatpath on the north of the mountain which I intended to take me more directly down its north ridge to Tunnel Mountain Drive but took me pretty much staight down from the saddle to the first switchback of the main trail. Okay, I’ll take it. Great running on the approach along the exposed (literally — you trip, you die) singletrack paralleling Buffalo Street going up to the Banff Centre, with 100m of sheer drop to the whitewater of the Bow River below on your right. This is trail I used to run often when I worked at the Banff Centre which definitely forces you to concentrate on your footing. I caught the SW goatpath up Tunnel and jogged much of it, then slogged sweatily to the top. Tagged the top then pleasantly got lost on the descent and pretty much skiied scree down to the start of the main trail, where I burst out of the bushes half-clothed amid a gang of elderly, picture-taking tourists. Bombed the trail back to town and retrieved passport pics in preparation for going to EUROPEEEEEEEEE.
14/05/15 – Sulphur Double-Crossing – 4h47m/~35km/1900m
Big Sulphur “tick-tock”: From home, ran up the back, tagged Sanson’s, descended the front to the confluence of the Bow and Spray Rivers (i.e. Bow Falls) then ran back up the front to Sanson’s and down the back of the mountain to my apartment. It was pretty poor weather outside so it was easy to stick close to home today. This is the sorta thing (LSD) I said I wouldn’t do again any time soon but today’s run served the specific purpose of instilling streamlinedness to my longer efforts; to focus single-mindedly on forward/upward travel until I hit the summit, then taking a few seconds to recover mentally and dropping like a stone back down, whilst trying to utilize the descent to continue to experience some degree of recovery. Hit the bottom; recover quick; then back up again. It’s easy on big hill repeats (CCC for example) to waste minutes amounting to hours during breaks at the top or bottom relishing the comforts of not moving. I’m specifically trying to break the desire to lollygag, procrastinate, linger, take pictures, eat more than I have to, screw around in my backpack, sit on a rock with my head in my hands questioning life, or the desire to simply curl up on the ground and go to sleep indefinitely, and just get on with it.
Today’s run featured a few near-mystical moments on both the uphill and downhill, literally losing consciousness of “myself” and becoming only my experience of the wind passing my body, the sound of my feet hitting the ground or my hands occasionally gliding into my visual space. Thoughts like, “Tom’s tired” or “Tom’s thirsty” would bring me back to the reality of burning muscles, hard breathing, sweat and fatigue.
15/05/15 – Tunnel – 37m/7km/320m
Up and down Tunnel from home in bald 1400s. Aiming to break my previous PR, which I matched on the ascent to the specific second (21m30s). Meant to turn right around and freefall back to town (even though I was dying) but got caught chatting and taking pictures for some girl on the summit visiting Banff. The backside of Tunnel Mountain is closed right now due to a grizzly munching on an elk carcass, prohibiting me from doing a loop around the back of the mountain, if I wanted to do that sort of thing. Today’s objective was simply up and down, as fast as possible. I flew back down to town and sprinted to my apartment in a definite round-trip PR in 37m30s.
Weekly total: 7h59m/62km/3228m
18/05/15 – Tunnel – ~1hr/7km/320m
Up and down the main trail with my buddy Matt Wade, who used to live and work at the climbing gym in Banff but now lives in Saskatoon — boggles the mind, I know, but soon (10+ years) he’ll be a brain surgeon. At any rate, I jogged up to the Banff Centre to meet him, then we powerhiked to the top and descended quickly back down. I did a bunch of cool runs with him in the summer of 2013, namely the Cory-Edith Loop with a scramble up the north peak of Edith. I think he’s trying to make it out to Golden Ultra in September, hence trying to get more vert in his running diet.
19/05/15 – Tunnel x3 – 1h56m/14.5km/857m
I’m not sure why I thought this would be a good idea, but proved to be a banal but pleasant evening accumulating vert on a tiny mountain. I reasoned that I needed to work on repeats, specifically getting used to the feeling of climbing after descending. I can slog 2000 vertical metres in one go, no problem. But break that into 500m ascent/descent repeats and guaranteed my legs are gonna feel extra pooched on the final laps — the difficulty seems improportinate. Three 300m repeats on Tunnel doesn’t really make a dent, sad to say. I set out feeling stiff and my knee felt wonky and I was doubtful about the practicality of the outing. By the end, having slogged and descended 900m, I said to myself that I simply felt “normal”, i.e. no longer stiff, but warmed up and a little fatigued. You know, “normal”. This run didn’t push my limits in any way but served up 900m of vert without detriment on a pretty night. Plus it provided heaps of comic relief/bewilderment for other people hiking up the mountain as they watched me whiz back and forth. Probably won’t be doing this again :S
20/05/15 – Birthday Hike: Stanley Glacier – 3h25m/12km/401m
A heartwarming birthday hike (for me!) with peeps from work. I can’t remember the last time this many of us got together outside of work, besides maybe once or twice in the bar… We hiked up to Stanley Glacier viewpoint. Highlights include rockfall hitting and exploding chunks ice and snow off the headwall (!!!); big, wet cliffs and wispy waterfalls; sunburns; amazing views of sunbaked spring snow coating big alpine pinnacles; lots of jokes and laughter and lotsa mud on the way out. A stellar summery day doing easy hiking with friends in a beautiful mountain location.
21/05/15 – Sulphur Traverse – 6h13m/30km/1946m
I’ve been waiting for this for awhile, for the ridge linking Sulphur’s boring “tourist” summits with its more scrambly, rarely-explored western ones to thaw free of snow. There was never enough snow to ski beyond the gondi station this winter, and post-holing isn’t my style, so I’ve waited till now for my go-to, backyard mountain to become a little more interesting.
Today was a day I desperately needed: to be out getting sunburnt, with my hands gripping talus and the wind in my hair. Personally I’d grown irritable seeing all the snow melting off the surrounding peaks and not foreseeing a chance to get out and bag something, until the opportunity arose and I seized it.
I headed out and jogged up Mountain Ave. towards the trailhead to get to the mountain and into the alpine as fast as possible today. Jogged and slogged to the top, refilled my water, then immediately sprinted out towards Sulphur’s next summit to the south (S3). I got there in quick time (1h30m), then tagged the next summit, and the next one (highest point, 2476m), the only variations being the scrambling on each and routefinding through the trees on the saddles between each peak. I hit S4 in 2h30m then proceeded to the next by 3h10m. Took a bunch of pics then headed back in lollygagging, stopping-to-take-pictures-of-everything-again fashion until my phone died. Hit Sulphur’s upper gondola summit at 5h22m, a little put-off by the noise of chattering tourists while having just spent a few hours listening to the wind and sound of my shoes crunching scree. And Thee Oh Sees, at times. Tagged Sanson’s, then bombed down the fireroad without stopping, arriving at the Sundance Canyon junction in just over twenty minutes. I clicked off the final flat run to my place at a decent pace despite feeling pretty beat up — deliciously so. An awesome route on a mountain literally in my backyard, with lots of quality third-class scrambling and talus-scampering. Booyah.
22/05/15 – Heart – 1h24m/6km/760m Up and down Heart Mountain fast to christen new running toys with blood, sweat and scree dust. I had to drive to Calgary to do passport stuff and stopped at The Tech Shop on 4th Ave on my way out of town. Running-specific shops are hard enough to come by, but ones carrying the kind of stuff that caters to finicky ultra/trail runners is an even less common find. I picked me up a pair of New Balance MT110s (the original version!) — a coveted trail sneaker I wore frequently in 2013 but have had difficulty finding since then — and a Salomon Sense 1L vest. These items will hopefully support me through summer 2015 and get me through the race in Chamonix next month.
I tried to pick a peak close to the highway that I could summit in the quickest time possible and Heart is like a forty-degree ramp of scree-covered slab rising into the sky. The ascent was a sweltering march hands-on-thighs, sweat pouring off my face, while the descent was loose, slidy and hardly in control. Scree-on-slab = the most treacherous type of terrain. My footing in the new 110s was spot-on although my legs were trashed from bombing down the Sulphur fireroad the day previous.
This week, shit got downright primal. Like one-with-the-elements, becoming-the-greenman sorta jive. Last week I achieved and integrated a new octave of mountain running endurance (for me, anyway), slogging away at the vicinity of a vertical kilometre or more every day for five days in a row*; starting to feeling weary, no longer wanting to climb, no longer knowing why I’m doing it and being at a loss for meaning in life in general, yet forcing myself to do it anyway… Perfect. Last week served the purpose of breaking down psychological resistance and putting a hella lot of vert into my bones, but to go back into that regimen would render little result besides probable injury. What I need now are dense, sustained, repeated climbs; blistering-fast speed ascents (and freefall descents) and the occasional long, hot, gnarly, bonky sufferfest peppered in there to maintain my base. Funny what I consider my “base”.
Weekly total: 10h01m/69km/3712m
*100km/5480m vertical between April 30-May 4.
05/03/15 – Sulphur – 2h30m/20km/1000m Up the back, down the front. An awesome run that started out a little rough. Set out alongside the river and up the back of the mountain and wasn’t really feeling it: had a bit of headache, sluggish legs and feeling a little underfuelled. Within half an hour the little bit of food I’d consumed converted itself into energy and I kept a decent pace jogging up the long (at least a couple kilometres), sustained switchback which takes you almost to the summit ridge. Tagged Sanson’s, raced across the catwalk and began descending the front. Although the last two days had seen this trail turn to slush (microspikes not required), I suppose the crisp, clear night had allowed it all to refreeze into sheer ice. So I spent a few hundred metres alternately galloping down the trail or sliding on both feet before the it became mostly mud and slush. Descended behind the Rimrock and took powerline trail paralleling Mountain Ave. back to Middle Springs and through forest to my apartment.
05/04/15 – Sulphur – 1h52m/15km/744m
Up and over Sulphur from the Hot Springs after work at 4pm. Carried little and hoped the day’s strong sunshine had thawed the trail so it wasn’t like my experience the previous morning. It was pleasantly slushy. Tagged Sanson’s amid a stunning late-day sky then bombed down the backside to the Cave and Basin, then home.
05/08/15 – Tunnel – 50m44s/7km/320m
Up and down main trail from home. A short run, reasoning that it’s probably easier to overdo it today than the other way around. I ran at a restrained, casual pace and noticed, once I hit the climb, how last week’s effort had seemingly increased my body’s overall capacity for transporting and utilizing oxygen, i.e. jogging hills felt effortless. Contrast this with my (probably) increased resting heartrate and definitely improportionate fatigue whilst in the thick of last week. Here is evidence of the effect of training seeping deep into one’s body. Anyway, my knee felt weird on the summit, fine on the descent, and the rest of the run was pleasant and streamlined in cool spring weather.
05/09/15 – Cascade Subpeak – 27km/4h49m/1648m
A stellar day in the alpine scrambling talus shirtless in the searing sun, then bombing down snowfields in a fraction of the time. Pretty much my favourite things ever. Had various plans for this morning including a lap or two on Sulphur but it was obvious I needed to be scrambling in the alpine and not trying to squeeze past tourists towards a congested summit (it being Saturday and all). I ran across town and jogged most of the actual ascent to Cascade Amphitheatre. Despite this apparent effortless swiftness (which I attribute to last week boosting my vO2max, or something) my mood was tempered by uncertainty as to whether I was doing my knee any favors. Sometimes you just have to go climb a mountain and not give a shit about things like training, I said to myself. Made it to Cascade Amphitheatre in 1h40m, which was brilliantly coated in sunbaked snow, and opted to scramble up some subpeak looker’s left of the Amphitheatre which looked dry and fun, as opposed to the route to Cascade’s false summit (my original objective) and true summit which looked super snowy and postholey. No thanks.
I hopped across the boulderfield at the base of the Amphitheatre then hunted for a goatpath to take me up. Soon I was marching up toward a lounging sheep (who I addressed with a blahhhhht), then realized the probability of ticks hitching a ride, frantically searched my body, found one, tore him off me, tossed him into the wind and cursed his kind with every swearword in my vocabulary. The crux of the day being surmounted, I gained a ridgeline of loose talus which I scrambled to the top, grinning like a dopey border-collie all the while. There was absolutely no wind in the Amphitheatre; the sun was beating down on my exposed skin; I was scurrying up lichen-splattered rock with bare hands somewhere above 2500m; and it was early May. I couldn’t have been happier. I snapped pics on the top for ~20min then turned around to descend.
Paralleling the ridge I ascended was a long snowfield, which upon first glance I believe I said, “I’m gonna glissade the shit of that!” While I didn’t quite glissade it (perhaps unintentionally once or twice), I descended it with Microspikes in about three minutes, hooting and hollering and rudely scaring off Mr. Sheep. Fuck, the mountains can be so fun.
I spent awhile taking pics in the boulderfield at the base of the Amphitheatre but eventually forced myself to head home with a rapid and spot-on descent back to Norquay Ski Area. Here I thought I recognized a bobtailed lynx (which would be pretty amazing) but then thought I saw a bushy coyote tail… Hmmm. Last but not least, the fell-running-like descent down the old Norquay ski-out to the Juniper is always a blast, freefalling through tussocked grass, rutted mud and running water much of the time. Never mind “training”, today was a great fill-up on stoke.
Myself and Patrick Sperling (aka dumpster_diver) are stoked to introduce Mountain Stride Fitness trail running retreats, based in the epic grandeur of the Canadian Rockies. This weekend is intended to take you off the city trails and into an alpine landscape of peaks, ridges and valleys. The retreat will be based at Kananaskis HI hostel, 100km west of Calgary, tucked in the front ranges of the Rockies and close to many great opportunities to experience moving fast and light in the mountains. Also, not only will we show you some sweet trails, but Patrick and his girlfriend Nicole are going to feed you and show you how to whip up delicious snacks that are healthy and 100% made from plants. Crazy, right?
A return to running regularly after spending the month of April initially injuring myself, then recovering from that injury. Conditions in the valley have been mixed — days of blazing sun, others of blizzards and rain. Just spring in the mountains, I suppose. With six weeks until I leave for Ontario (for a wedding) and eight until the Mont Blanc 80K, I feel poised to tackle some pretty dense training over the following month while remaining cautious not to overdo it, either. I’d like to think the base fitness is there for me to slog endlessly through the hills; the best results will now come from sharpening a few particular skills. Six weeks of premature summer is the perfect amount of time to do that.
Weekly total: 9h53m/78km/4339m
04/27/15 – Tunnel – 35min/6km/300m Up and down Tunnel from home, then downtown for sushi. Aiming to push hard and get a fast time, at least on the ascent: 23m48s to summit, 14min to Sushi Bistro.
04/28/15 – Tunnel – 43min/7km/340m Up and down Tunnel from home. Wasn’t aiming to go fast but rather to feel effortless and comfortable. That being said, I’m not sure if I felt any more comfortable than yesterday although I was exerting myself less. I think my legs still felt the impact from yesterday’s sprint. Not much slower than yesterday, though: 25min to summit, 19min to home.
04/30/15 – Ha Ling – 2h53m/19km/1311m
Took me a while to figure out what to do this morning. Took the bus to Canmore and ran up Ha Ling from town. Not a particularly notable trip except that I felt pretty good and never felt like I was pushing too hard — compare with my previous ascent of Ha Ling, last Thursday. I tentatively planned on doing a Ha Ling/East-Rundle double-bag but it looked like a sheet of bad weather was heading toward me and I wasn’t keen on getting hammered by rain whilst in the alpine (some days I’m down for that sort of thing). Ran back to town via the Grassi Lakes and powerline cut-line trails.
05/01/15 – Sulphur Loop – 2h38m/20km/1077m
Up the back, down the front, from home. I don’t remember the last time I ran every step up the back of this mountain (if I ever have) but today I did. Tagged the Ray Station on Sanson’s Peak then descended down the front, which is drying out nicely. One could probably get away without Microspikes nowadays. Descended through forest to the Fairmont castle then took some sort of horse trail (I hate horse trails) which spat me out at Middle Springs. Continued to link up trail rather than run on the road, descending quickly down the forested back of Middle Springs to Cave Ave. and thence to my apartment.
Sidenote: One thing I’ve learned about myself from running is that I don’t interpret my fueling needs accurately and often associate the need for fuel with uncertainty of challenge or exertion or stressful conditions, as opposed to actual nutritional demand. That is, if I’m not sure how far I’m going to have to go, how hard I’m going to have to push, the challenges I’ll face, I’ll often feel the need to fuel which I genuinely interpret as hungriness. The moment I return to a place of psychological comfort or certainty, the feeling that I need to fuel, am hungry or am even about to bonk all fade and I am left feeling either actually hungry irrespective of my mental state (“Who cares? I’m home”) or not actually hungry or depleted at all.
02/05/15 – Tunnel + Sulphur Loop – 3h04m/26km/1311m A decent-sized run, longer than originally planned, that illustrates well the deranged manner in which my psyche operates when it comes to motivation in the mountains. I left the house intending to do the exact same trip as yesterday but upon arriving at the Cave and Basin (~1km from my apartment), I stopped and marvelled at a wall of snow squall rushing over the top of Sulphur and up the Bow Valley toward me. As I was carrying almost nothing, I wasn’t in the mood to get hammered by flurries for an hour in shorts and a t-shirt on the exposed western side of Sulphur. I turned around and decided to stick closer to home and do something creative on Tunnel instead.
I headed up Tunnel and (of course) as I neared the top I saw the snowstorm beginning to clear over Sulphur. I felt so tricked and deceived by the weather that I decided that I would go bag Sulphur anyway, just out of spite. So I chomped half a Builder Bar on the top of Tunnel and swiftly descended back down to town, across the river, up behind the Fairmont castle and up the Sulphur Mountain trail. The run was pretty cruisy and in fact almost entirely running — err, jogging anyway — as opposed to the slogging I expected to resort to after a series of vertical-heavy days.
I scarfed the second half of my Builder Bar in the upper gondola terminal while warming my hands on my glutes, then sprinted out, tagged the Ray Station on Sanson’s Peak, descended the back of the mountain to the Cave and Basin, then to my apartment. When I returned to the Cave and Basin, I stopped and looked back up the valley just like three hours prior — this time with sunny skies — and asked, “What the hell just happened?” A Sulphur loop of logic.