Scree Sessions: April 26-May 2

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

IMAG645504/27/15 – 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.

IMAG647804/30/15 – 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.

IMAG656005/01/15 – 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.

IMAG658202/05/15 – 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.

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Scree Sessions: April 26-May 2

What Skyrunning Means to Me

I have evolved into a mountain runner from a scrambler; a scrambler from a hiker; and into a hiker from a precocious kid set loose in the wilderness. Though relatively few have heard of mountain running, the idea usually suggests sprinting up a craggy summit and racing back down again as fast as possible. Although this is occasionally the case, mountain running is often a more casual affair that might include a long subalpine traverse on buff singletrack or a lazy jog up a tame, local summit. But if you ask me what characterizes the coolest, most exciting form of mountain running, I would have to say it is summed up by “Skyrunning” — and Skyrunning is characterized by curiosity, the same kind that comes naturally to a precocious kid.

Although Skyrunning is now a brand name for a particularly alpine style of mountain racing born in Europe, its genesis and central concept is simple. Looking up at a great mountain (the bigger, the better) from down in the valley or the center of town, one asks: How fast can I reach the summit and return here again? What is the most aesthetic line I can draw? How can I exalt the majesty of this mountain through the motions of my body? How can I merge myself in this movement so that no movement exists, no mountain and no me? Skyrunning is birthed from the collision of big mountains, alpine trail running skills and a huge heap of curiosity.

In Skyrunning, the town or valley is as important as the mountain summit — it provides context and contrast. The epic thing about Skyrunning isn’t just the alpine running, it’s how the remote, bleak and brash quality of the alpine is bookended between the comforts of civilization within a matter of hours. Kilian’s FKTs on the Matterhorn or Mont Blanc wouldn’t be what they are without his starts or triumphant returns to Cervinia or Chamonix. When I returned to my car at Moraine Lake parking lot after summiting Temple (a trip that takes most people all day) and it wasn’t 10am yet, I cried.

Skyrunning is about creativity and aesthetic, about exploring not just what’s obvious, but what the mountains have to offer. Skyrunning differs from mountain trail running at the outset as it doesn’t concern itself with preexisting trails but naturally occurring routes chosen for their own value, often to achieve a balance between technicality and runnability. Gazing at a map or at mountain ranges for a few hours will cause a complacent mountain runner to start dreaming of circumambulating; entraining; zigzagging; traversing; crossing over the top, then back again; scrambling shit never intended to be climbed in sneakers and short shorts; and last but not least, blasting up and down a mountain in as fast and direct a manner as possible, that’s Skyrunning too.

Lastly, Skyrunning is about alpine character. Skyrunning is defined as inclined running above 2000m but that doesn’t mean jogging up a dirt road in Leadville, CO. Skyrunning is about steep, technical singletrack; ridge running; scree skiing; snowfields; ridge running; hands-on-rock scrambling; via ferrata; boulder-hopping; and definitely lots of ridge running. Many forested trails will take you up to and beyond 2000m, but to me, it isn’t Skyrunning until I burst out above treeline and race across some ridge where the earth meets the sky.

ppI once saw Skyrunning as the Olympics (or better yet, the X-Games) of this grueling niche sport I happened to fall in love with, with races in exotic locations, in majestic landscapes, which I would never be a part of. Now the Skyrunning Federation exists in Canada, I have already run Canadian Skyrunning events and am presently registered to participate in a Skyrunning race in an exotic location, in a majestic landscape, which typifies its genre entirely. All of this is much for me to be proud and grateful for but this is not what Skyrunning means to me. Skyrunning isn’t about a particular organization or brand, as much as I love what that organization does, and it isn’t about a particular race series in any location in particular. Skyrunning is grassroots, DIY. Skyrunning is about curiosity and discovery.  Skyrunning is about some dirtbag kid in short shorts and sneakers looking up at the mountains asking, “How much? How fast? How far?”

I’m proud to be able to call myself a mountain runner, but on my greatest days, I am a Skyrunner.

What Skyrunning Means to Me

Scree Sessions: March 28-April 4

“No apparent detriment”? Oh, you mean like a sac-full of fluid sloshing around on my kneecap? This week was marked by the appearance of mild knee effusion, probably not so much from running, but from powerslogging thousands of metres vertically with my hands death-gripping my thighs. A strategic recovery was first tempered by denial and not wanting to rest (skills I’m actually getting better at over time), then a visit from Mountain Stride Fitness athlete Sean from Edmonton who was eager to do some peakbagging. He really had to twist my arm on that one. Although there’s zero pain associated with this inflamed knee, it’s obvious I can’t expect to go hard on it without a strong potential for further injury. A couple days sitting around with a bag of ice on my knee and tearing apart my quads and ITBs with a lacrosse ball has already shown improvement and I’m looking forward to givin’ ‘er a test-drive next Wednesday.

Weekly total: 9h36m/43km/3548m

Sundanceee03/30/15 – Sulphur then home – 2h21m/16km/810m
Ran up Sulphur after work, then back home. The fact that I was able to go up Sulphur after work, shirtless, just wearing sneakers and a pair of shorts, while not impossible at any other point, somehow signifies to me that spring is here!

IMAG596903/31/15 – Ha Ling via Grassi Lakes – 2h19m/13km/1132m
Planned to go up Mount Allan on the last day before the three-month seasonal trail closure but by the time I got to Canmore, the initially crisp, bluebird morning had begun to deteriorate and it seemed I wasn’t going to get very far up Allan before the rain came. I decided to race up Ha Ling Peak via Grassi Lakes (a route I love), with the added spice of assuming I was going to get pummelled by the weather at some point, probably while on the summit. Ran shirtless up to treeline, then donned a light shirt for the final grunt to the top. Watched the dark, fuzzy rainstorm oozing up the valley toward me, devouring the Sundance Range, then Sulphur, then the true summit of Rundle… I free-fell back down the mountain; blahhhhht-ted at some sheep; slid on my ass on ice or slush or something. Narrowly dodged families walking peacefully on the Grassi trail while bounding back to the car at breakneck speed. Made it back to parking lot and started editing an Instagram pic before the first few raindrops landed on my windshield. Fuck yeah.

sean_slog104/01/15 – Mount Lawrence Grassi – 3h48m/9.8km/1330m
Met up with Sean and his buddy Stu at the Goat Creek parking lot for a trek up Grassi. Moved at a slow but consistent pace to a point just above treeline, then Sean and I made a break for the top despite gale-force winds and stormy weather brooding all around us. Slogged hard for about ten minutes and climbed some great, hard snow on all fours. Almost made the top but comfort dictated we turn back. Gorged ourselves on pizza and beer at the Bear Street Tavern afterwards.

04/02/15 – Tunnel – 1h08m/4.1km/276m
Walked up Tunnel with Sean and Stu. Sean and I are both nursing frail knees so a short jaunt was more than enough. Dressed to run fast and froze my ass off, otherwise a great time all-round.

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“ULTRALIGHT, bitch!”
Scree Sessions: March 28-April 4

Scree Sessions: March 12-20

Turning up the volume and reducing the velocity: that’s been the theme of this week. My mindset has shifted to training more concertedly for the demands of the Mont Blanc 80K which is three months away. Lately I’d been stuck in a rut – of only running ~20km and climbing ~1000m during my “long runs” – which I’m glad I broke free from this week with a sufferfest up Rundle followed by Sulphur. Conditions remain unseasonably mild and relatively dry and springlike, save for a recent powder day which made my ascent of Rundle a little more tiring than usual. Weekly total: 83km/4889m vert

03/12/15 – Sulphur – 1h54m/18.4km/870m
Super fast splits; quickish to TH (24m); then, didn’t seem fast but must have been steady and consistent to summit (44m); then a fairly short break on top (4m); then a steady sprint down the trail and back to my apartment (42m). Felt great pre-run as I’d taken the previous couple days off to rest tight ITBs and felt elated afterwards.

03/13/15 – Grotto – 2h11m/6.6km/860m
Should have done nothing, or cross-trained, but took the opportunity to drive to Canmore and scope out the direct trail up Grotto Mountain, which I’ve never done before. It felt cold leaving the car in my short shorts but was soon slogging shirtless up the steep singletrack. The lower part of the trail was good, the upper part was very loose and braided and a combination of factors sent me the signal that today wasn’t the day to bag the summit. I cut my losses and headed down. Loose subalpine terrain like that is fun (or whatever) but not very conducive for race training purposes as I don’t expect to encounter trail (or lack thereof) like that in Chamonix this summer or anywhere else.

Screen shot 2015-03-21 at 10.12.58 AM03/18/15 – Rundle + Sulphur – 7h14m/39km/2400m
Ran up Rundle trail from home and postholed up the Dragon’s Back to the summit. Snapped a few pics, slammed my knee on a rock buried under deep snow, then stumbled back down the ridge and headed home. Switched into dry shoes and headed up Sulphur. Sulphur slog was labored to say the least. My longest run and most vertical yet this year. Peep the Movescount data for this trip here.

IMAG568103/20/15 – Tunnel/Hoodoos/Tunnel – 2h29m/19km/759m
Ran up Tunnel via main trail, descended and swung around back and ran rolling singletrack along the bench to Hoodoos viewpoint. Then ran back, dropped down toward the river and caught the start of the loose, steep goatpath that ascends Tunnel’s southwest shoulder. Pounded it hands-on-knees to the top, then descended via the main trail back to town and thence to my apartment.

Scree Sessions: March 12-20

1035 – 4810

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Basking in Mont Blanc-ness atop Brevent one week before CCC.

Ten thirty-five to forty-eight ten: the range of my emotions, in vertical metres that is. I’ve long postponed my CCC race report, admittedly overwhelmed with the idea of trying to cram everything I saw and did into one blog post. My week in Chamonix, then taking part in one of the races of the North Face Ultra Trail du Mont-Blanc was a sensorial whirlwind, a rich, multifaceted experience which leaves me disoriented and not knowing where to begin… At the beginning, I suppose. In this post I’ll briefly detail my adventures leading up to CCC 2014 and leave the “race report” (and all the pics from the race) for the next post.

My preparations to run CCC — once the “little sister of the UTMB” and now one of the most prestigious 100km races in the world — began two years ago. I don’t know why I thought running this race would be a good idea, but expected it to be epic, scenic and cater to my particular strengths (i.e. slogging up mountains, then running down them). I raced around on fifty miles of ski runs and mountain bike trails at Meet Your Maker in Whistler, BC last summer to garner two qualifying points needed to register. Fast forward six months and by some grace of God I won the lottery and became one of a few Canadians among 1500 others toeing the line in Courmayeur on August 29th.

First day in Cham… the stokage runs high.

Fast forward another six months or so. My first day in Cham; the stokage runs high. I set my alarm for seven but didn’t get up till ten probably because I was so jetlagged. I scrambled out of bed and took the gondola up to Brévent (2525m) for an alpine trail-running traverse to L’Index/Flégère for a panoramic viewing of Mont Blanc’s many glaciers and pinnacles. Along the way I visited Lac Cornu and Lac Blanc, somehow missing Lacs Noirs. If the Aiguilles Rouges range somehow replaced Banff’s Sulphur Mountain overnight, I wouldn’t be a tad bit upset…

Aiguille Verte (4122m) and the Drus, seen from near L’Index on Brevent.


^The crowd goes wild: start of PTL 2014, downtown Chamonix. Before this trip I neither knew nor cared about PTL but now recognize it as the more-badass, more-underground version of UTMB and has risen to the top of my ultrarunning bucket list.

The Promised Land of Chamonix, seen from Signal Forbes on a rainy day.

On day three, I threw on my running pack and headed up to Balme for some Swiss pasture style trail-running. No, I didn’t need more cowbell; there was plenty to be had up there booting around on white ribbon singletrack to all the little knolls and viewpoints overlooking Chamonix on one side, Trient on the other. At last, I hit up the Albert 1er hut at the base of the Glacier du Tour as the clouds cleared to reveal the Aiguilles du Tour and Chardonnet. Tres awesome!

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You know you’re a versatile runner when you can gorge yourself with Indian food, miss the last bus, then run 6km home with a loaded pack (containing all your mandatory equipment), a bag of groceries in one hand and boxed dinner in the other, pausing occasionally to let my meal “express itself”. Casual running at its finest!
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Getting into rest and recovery mode: overlooking Chamonix from Mont Lachat.

One day before my race, I sought out a low-intensity activity to exploit the nice weather and went up the Aiguille du Midi cablecar for sweet views, zero exertion required. After snapping about a million pics of the Mont Blanc massive and surrounding eye-candy, I strolled into a tunnel with my shades on and saw two scrawny alpinists walking towards me. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust and as they passed we gave each other a quizzical stare: it was Kilian Jornet and Emilie Forsberg! I walked past all giddy and awkward, saying nothing, but then thought to myself that I should at least go back and shake their hands, or something. I pulled a U-turn and raced back, searching all the logical places they might be. Nowhere to be found. Puzzled and a little disappointed, I gaze out across the ocean of mountains and what do I see? Kilian and Emilie charging down a steep snow ridge other parties are shuffling along roped together. I was in awe, and felt fortunate that I spotted these ultrarunning idols in action instead of just mulling around town, for example. An auspicious experience which got me super-stoked less than twenty-four hours before my race!

Coming next: my CCC 2014 race report 🙂

1035 – 4810

Assiniboine to Sunshine

BORING! A 57km backcountry trail run from Mt. Assiniboine to Sunshine Meadows through some of the finest subalpine scenery the Rockies has to offer. A cold, cloudless morning at Mt. Shark trailhead turned warm and sunny as we cruised along buttery singletrack, climbed a couple gnarly passes, ran out of water when we needed it most and narrowly dodged thunderstorms, experiencing the full spectacle of mountain weather without bearing the brunt of it. In the course of our trip, we crossed the BC-Alberta border six times, courted a few aches and pains, incessantly made fun of each other, and crushed nearly 60km of Continental Divide eye-candy in one sitting. Like I said, pretty boring…

Assiniboine to Sunshine

Mount Robson 60K

If anything could prepare my eyes for the scenery I’ll see running around Mont Blanc in The Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc CCC next month, it might be this: A 60km out-and-back tour of Mount Robson to peep the Rockies’ tallest peak firsthand.

What was intended to be an “analogue run” two weeks prior to Trailstoke 60K Ultra in Revelstoke turned into a glorious day of warm sun and cool breeze; more roaring waterfalls than I can count on one hand; neon blue tarns with creaking glaciers flowing into them; buttery subalpine singletrack; chossy, exposed ledge running and sprinting up lateral moraines like some dude in a North Face ad; a little hands-on-knees grunting; about three litres of unfiltered mountain water and a near-miss with momma bear and cub. Just another day running around in the Rockies half-clothed 🙂

Splits:
0:31 Kinney Lake
2:45 Berg Lake
5:01 Snowbird Pass
7:57 Berg Lake
9:38 Kinney Lake
10:23 Berg Lake Trailhead

59.85km | 2400m vertical | 10.5 hrs

Peep the GPS data for this trip here.

Mount Robson 60K