Race Report: Glacier Grind 2015

4It was a dark and stormy, err, morning. I sat inside Denny’s pondering the eternal question: shorts or tights? Shorts or tights…

I was in Revelstoke for Glacier Grind, a forty-three kilometre mountain race hosting its inaugural edition that September. The first ultramarathon to be held in a Canadian national park, the race was moved from Rogers Pass due to unusually active grizzlies in the area. The revised course scales Mount Revelstoke and climbs to Jade Pass before plummeting back to town.

The race started at seven. Runners gathered loosely and hesitantly pushed forward to form a group. It was the least energetic start to a race I’d been to — almost solemn — but I could dig it; we were all a little tired and concentrated on the challenges to come.

The course began with a 5K loop of rolling hills before earnestly cranking its way up the mountain for over a vertical kilometre. I stuck to the back of the leaders, trying not to tire myself too early; flat, fast running isn’t my strength and I hoped to catch a few people once we hit the big climb.

7I was jamming along with Vince Bouchard, Ellie Greenwood and a couple others when suddenly there was doubt whether we were going the right way.

“Guys, we’ve already been here before,” said Ellie and we all came to a halt. “We’ve already done this.” We turned around and backtracked to an ambiguously marked junction where we had made our error. Ellie, Vince and I rejoined the main pack only to try to recover the places we’d lost. After a few minutes, I was surprised to see a short European-looking guy running alongside me. Then I realized it was the race’s strongest competitor, Adam Campbell.

“I thought you were way up there,” I said, but Adam had taken the same wrong turn we had and was potentially set even further back. “How many are ahead of us?” he asked.

“I dunno, maybe ten or so” I said, admittedly disoriented since re-entering the pack. At that moment, however, we passed the lead runner and stepped into first and second place.

So began The Climb. Adam jogged up the steep incline as I hiked powerfully behind him. The pursuit proceeded into the alpine where dense forest became punctuated by isolated meadows that looked like unkempt golf greens. Adam disappeared into the mist as the inky pool of Jade Lake appeared below, rimmed by what looked like a huge crater.

8 Adam came whizzing out of clouds towards me. Having tagged the top of 2192m Jade Pass, he was now halfway done and headed for a brief sidetrip to Eva Lake before descending back to town. I continued slogging into the mist, beads of rain falling off my cap, until two dudes appeared huddled in a sleeping bag on a tiny patch of grass in the immense ocean of gray. I munched two gummies, turned around one hundred and eighty degrees and headed back the way I came.

My muscles were getting tight during the hike up there but were now in active rebellion:  calves, hamstrings and achilles all collectively teetered on the brink of seizure as I pleaded for them to cooperate. Second place finisher Matthew Fortuna came striding down behind me and we soon encountered the rest of the racers making their way uphill in the rain.

11228140_1133607019997622_7829907251956139459_oAfter leaving the checkpoint at Eva Lake, Matt and I took a wrong turn — me for the second time — descending needlessly to some lakeshore before realizing our mistake. We trotted back up the hill again, having lost no places but maybe a little momentum.

I just wanted to reach Heather Lake where a concerted descent back to town finally began. Jogging through the meadows was more troublesome for my body than going downhill and I consumed every calorie I’d brought in pursuit of relief for my cramps. At Heather Lake I filled up a bottle with electrolyte drink and departed, spotting third place finisher Mevlut Kont coming up behind me from across the pond.

3Somehow I managed to remain vertical whilst descending Lindmark, a twisting rivulet of jumbled stones half the width of singletrack, dropping precipitously beneath one’s feet. My shoes skipped from rock to rock but simply slid across the surface of each. Mevlut came barrelling down behind me as we cruised into the lush interior rainforest that is unique to Revelstoke. “This is fucking cool!” I said to my opponent, and he agreed.

The cramping in my legs had now reached its peak and the narrow trail spat us onto a paved section of the Meadows in the Sky Parkway. The moment I hit the pavement, my legs froze up and refused to run. I stood there on the road, driving thumbs into my calf with full force, yelling at my legs, “PLEASE! NO! PLEASE FUCKING RUN! PLEASE! FUCKING! RUN!” as Ellie trotted up behind me and into fourth place.

I thought my race was over, that I would be forced to hobble to the nearest convenient place to drop out. Fortunately, freefalling downhill proved easier than jogging on the flat road and I managed to continue. The dull roar of the train — so loud and harsh a presence in town — I found soothing as it grew closer. “Ah, city sounds,” I said, never liking the idea of getting out of nature more than at that precise moment.

I broke out of the trees, back into civilization, and headed straight for the museum where the race began. I tossed a glance over my shoulder and jogged towards the finish line, feeling pain blossom throughout every cell of my body… And the moment I crossed it, it was gone. I finished the race soaking wet and mildly hypothermic but my internal mantra was no longer a string of expletives mixed with prayers and supplication. I was being hugged and congratulated and chatting with strangers whom I’d played leapfrog with all morning, as though they were friends I’d bumped into at the grocery store.

Four hours, fifty-six minutes after departing the Railway Museum I finished the race in 5th place. Being competitive as an athlete is very new to me; it has always been my tendency to screw off and do my own thing rather than try to perform better than somebody else. I’ve spent most of my career simply trying to survive mountain races and have only recently tried to do well at them. However, I see my performance in races as a direct reflection of my craft; of the machine I’ve constructed, the relationship I’ve developed with the mountains. So it is with great satisfaction that the season ends with my best personal results in some of the most challenging events I’ve undertaken.

Now, coffee.

Race Report: Glacier Grind 2015

Scree Sessions: April 5-18

A relatively unfruitful set of weeks spent nursing a slowly recovering left knee. The “water on my knee” I first noticed evolved into a definite tenderness and lack of strength after continuing to slog on it with Sean; then a couple days blasting up and down Tunnel last week didn’t do it any favors, either. In my short career, I’ve been fairly injury-free, save for the occasional tweaked muscle which tends to recover on the order of days. When stairs in my apartment and standing on one leg became a challenge, I assumed the worst: probably a torn meniscus. A visit to Banff Physical Therapy determined that wasn’t the case and by the end of this two week block I began running up hills again confidently. I’m looking forward to easing back into the routine toward the end of April, allowing me start training concertedly again beginning in May.

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04/07/15 – Tunnel – 46m13s/7km/339m
Ran up and down Tunnel from home. This run was a test of my knee, which didn’t render an obvious result. At first I felt nothing, then a definite tightness in my kneecap during the uphill jog from the lower trailhead/parking lot. I tagged the top, then bombed back down with a very apparent clumsiness to my usually spot-on eye-foot coordination. My brain felt unable or unwilling to keep up with processing the terrain at the speed I wanted to run or am used to running on my downhills (breakneck, that is). Lots of “cuties” on the trail (as @Ridgegoat would say) probably ensured my downhill split was snappier than it otherwise might’ve been. Ran the flats back home at a decent pace, pain-free. A confusing result of my knee test.

04/08/15 – AM – Allan attempt – 1h54m/13km/757m
Had plans to climb Allan from the Canmore side but was profoundly aggravated by the presence of fresh powder snow — about three or four inches of it. I know, I’ve been bagging peaks in “winter conditions” for months, but in reality it’s been closer to spring and now that it’s actually April, it seems I lack the patience to put up with slogging through icing sugar, postholing, wet shoes, and any of the other tediousness that goes with winter peak-bagging. It was obvious I wasn’t going to bag a summit long before I reached the base of the climb proper and ditched the frustrating winter slogging conditions to go find fast summer running somewhere else, lower in the valley.

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04/08/15 – PM – Tunnel – 1h53m/8km/400m
Up and down Tunnel from home; up main trail, down south shoulder. Needed to get out and run in the sun on some dry trails, dressed for summer, carrying little and moving quickly. Deliberated for ages about the condition of my knee (really hard to gauge it) but decided I needed to get out and enjoy the beautiful weather for its own sake. Felt pretty good throughout most of the run; both aerobic performance and my mental sharpness were better than the previous day. Came down the south shoulder “goatpath” — lollygagged for a while taking pictures and scoping out 4th class scrambling terrain. Booted back home in the warm sun and cool breeze, my favourite combo. A beautiful day; felt great physically.

*Then a week of nothing, after it became obvious the previous couple days didn’t help my knee at all.

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04/15/15 – Physio @ Banff Physical Therapy
After a week off my left knee, I finally bit the bullet and saw a physiotherapist for the first time in my life. The knee had improved steadily throughout the week but strength and stability still seemed fundamentally compromised and I was tired of its back-and-forth condition, the sluggishness of my recovery and general uncertainty as to what the injury is. My guess was a torn meniscus; luckily the diagnosis was a “blister” under my kneecap — rawness and irritation rather than the carnage I’d envisaged. She gave me ultrasound and stuck some needles in my knee to break it up and showed me a couple resistance-band exercises to strengthen my hip on that side. She also remarked that the rest of my body (i.e. hips and legs) were remarkably balanced and flexible given my chosen hobby… One of the reasons I feared ever going to physio was the expectation of shock and scolding over the state of my body. The doc gave me a bill of good running health, save for my knee. I’ve just gotta take care of that.

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04/16/15 – Tunnel – 7km/340m
My first run of any consequence since last Wednesday the 8th. Ran up and down Tunnel from home. Took a switchbacking route through town and up through the Banff Centre to maximize the amount of gently-graded running terrain before hitting the trailhead proper. Stashed my shirt in some shrubs then jogged to the top; took some pics along the broad, open saddle and then ran back down. “No apparent detriment”. I can tell there is something in my knee (hopefully just scar tissue) but it doesn’t feel raw or inflamed. A beautifully warm day running around town partially clothed.

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04/17/15 – Stoney Squaw – 1h57m/~15km?/500m
I considered driving to Canmore to bag a more alpine-style summit but decided to enjoy the sunny morning out and back from my apartment instead. Jogged across town, got cat called by Glenn testdriving a car, then started slogging up the old Norquay ski-out which starts at the Juniper. This is a more direct way of reaching the Norquay ski area trailheads than running up the endlessly switchbacking road. I continued to the “summit” of Stoney Squaw (lacking views worthy of being called a “summit”) and then down the backside to the ski area. Here I spotted fresh cougar tracks heading in the opposite direction. I jogged out through the ski area and chatted with a Parks Canada dude who’d just seen a cougar heading up the mountain shortly after I did. I know cougars frequent this little promonitory but didn’t think my jaunt would bring me within such close proximity (or at least, knowledge of proximity — I’ve surely been spied on by a cougar or two before). The slippery slide back down the muddy no-track of the ski-out was epic fun, fell-running style.

Oh yeah, this happened last night.
Oh yeah, this happened last night 🙂
Scree Sessions: April 5-18

Race Report: CCC 2014

In August of 2014, I ran and completed CCC, a 101km ultramarathon through the mountains of Italy, Switzerland and France. This race is part of the week-long Ultra Trail du Mont-Blanc, one of the most popular and prestigious long distance trail-running series in the world. This is my report.

Kicking into high gear after exiting Arnuva at km27, about to start the climb up to 2500m Grand Col Ferret.

I come rushing in from the dripping rain, grab a bowl of chicken soup and slump onto a wooden bench. I’m cold and wet, tired as shit, and mud is smeared all over the place. It’s been raining for several hours and the trails have turned into little brown creeks burbling down the hillsides. Cows graze silently sentinel to hundreds of headlamped coureurs traversing the ridges surrounding Chamonix, its warmth and comfort radiating upwards from the valley below. I really don’t feel like going back out there, but I’m so close to being done.

“One more climb, eight hundred metres. Then 10K down into town. How hard could it be?”

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What possessed me to run 100km around this stupid mountain?

Race day started August 29, 2014 at 7:30am with a flurry of organized transport: first I took a city bus from Taconnaz — a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Chamonix where I was staying — downtown, then a coach to Courmayeur, Italy. The ride was short and mostly spent inside a tunnel beneath the Mont Blanc massive, this being the primary thoroughfare between these two mountain villages. The bus emerged into the Italian dawn and switchbacked down the hill as I peered around wide-eyed and unthinking, just taking in the enormity of my experience. “You’re here, at CCC, the big race,” I said to myself. “You should be so proud. All that preparation. All that training…”

Holy fuck. 100 kilometres? 6000 metres of climbing? What the hell did I get myself into?”

I was genuinely concerned with this most fundamental realization as the bus stopped and I got up like everyone else and marched toward the starting area. The energy was intense — more like some kind of dance music festival than the start of a footrace — with booming loudspeakers; announcers and spectators chattering in various languages; news helicopters high in the air and little quadcopters hovering over our heads. The starting line was supposed to be organized by bib number, but there were so many runners and so much activity, I picked a spot halfway in the pack and snuck in. Since my confidence had apparently evaporated during the busride from Chamonix to Courmayeur, my strategy for the present was to run conservatively, run my own race, and not worry about my position or that of anyone around me.

Once the UTMB themesong, Vangelis’ Conquest of Paradise, started to play, a warm feeling welled up inside. I lowered my shades and tried to hide the little tears in my eyes. The stoke was so high it was electric.

Three, two, one…

“Yeah, I visited Courmayeur once. Took a bus there, spent twenty minutes loitering then ran off into the hills…”

I trotted through the streets of Courmayeur amid an international array of fifteen-hundred ultramarathoners, my aim being generally not to run too fast. It was inspiring to see so many locals out lining the streets, shouting, “Venga, venga! Bravo!”, clanging cattlebells of all sizes and even old bakery ladies slapping breadknives against their cutting boards. We didn’t spend long in town, however, before departing cozy Courmayeur and beginning the first climb of the day up to Tete de la Tronche.

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“Procession” is the word which characterized the first climb of the day up Tete de la Tronche.

Here I was rather rudely awakened as over a thousand runners attempted to bottleneck onto the first bits of singletrack trail that this race utilizes in great quantity. “Procession” is the word which characterized the first part of this race as we slowly plodded or sometimes stood at a standstill in a long queue switchbacking up the hill. Though confused, I was equally content to trickle up the first climb of the day at this snail’s pace while, looking back, what took us over two hours should have taken less than half that time and only resulted in me being out there longer, at nighttime, when I was tired and when it was raining. Lesson learned.

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Top of Tete de la Tronche: this is what UTMB was all about.

Once we reached the top of Tete de la Tronche, the procession opened up and we skirted across wide open ridges with the Italian Aosta Valley falling away to our lefts and a storm-shrouded Mont Blanc brooding to our rights. This is what UTMB was all about. This is why I wanted to run this race in the first place. This is why I came here, to run some motherfuckin’ singletrack on some motherfuckin’ ridge in the sky with some bigass motherfuckin’ mountains in the background.

Hells yeah.

"All You Can Eat buffet"
“All You Can Eat buffet” — I mean, “Aid Station”.

We descended into Refuge Bertone where I was pleased to discover that what’s called an “aid station” in Europe is actually what we refer to as an “all-you-can-eat buffet” in North America. Cheese, crackers, fresh bread, cookies, nutrition bars, dried meat, soup, chocolate, coffee, tea and more were all for the taking by the hungry runner. Thus, I generally spent way too long in these absurdly comfortable aid stations. Second lesson learned: don’t get distracted by the munchies, Tom!

Peace, Italy! Onwards to Switzerland.

After Bertone, we began the long, undulating traverse along the Italian flank of Mont Blanc east towards 2500m Grand Col Ferret, Italy’s border with Switzerland. Without any sustained climbs, it was pleasant to cruise along and enjoy the improving scenery and weather. There were lots of enthusiastic spectators throughout every part of this fairly remote course, but as I descended toward Arnuva I passed one who stood out. A little girl, perhaps seven or eight years old, with blond ringlets cheered, “Allez! Allez, Tom!” and nonchalantly gave me a high-five as I passed. This moment infused me with emotion — for little kids getting stoked about mountain, even endurance, sports is inspiring — and I continued to milk it for motivation throughout the rest of the race.

Marching towards Arnuva.
Wow, horrible scenery!

Leaving Arnuva, we began the long slog up to 2500m Grand Col Ferret, one of the highest points in the race. I sprinted along the river flats and soon encountered people struggling to ascend the (only) second climb of the day. I trotted up the moderate grade at a pace I might employ on Tunnel or Sulphur Mountains in Banff — hills I run in entirety — then put hands to knees and powerhiked, passing a couple hundred resentful runners along the way. The masochistic quantities of vert I’d put into my body over the summer had prepared me, and standing on top of the high pass overlooking Italian Val d’Aoste on one side and Swiss Valais on the other, I felt fresh and unfazed.

Looking back towards Courmayeur and the direction we came from.
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Slogging up Grand Col Ferret.
Top of Grand Col Ferret.

Surprised as I was to see people struggling up the col, I was equally surprised to see others hesitant to move quickly down its extremely runnable backside toward La Fouly. It was here that I experienced my only bout of stomach upset, bolting down a hard-packed gravel trail with me and everything inside me (including a lot of gel) being repeatedly hammered by freefall and then impact. I clasped my fingers and pleaded; looked skywards to the ultrarunning gods and prayed for them to save me. Then as fast as it came, my nausea retreated and it was back to snapping pics and putting one foot in front of the other, in that order.

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Swiss Valais, en route to La Fouly.

Leaving Champex, it began to get dark. The temperature was warm but it was drizzling so I made the (perhaps absurd) decision to remove my damp singlet and wear my Gore-Tex shell with no shirt underneath. I did this to preserve my still dry midlayer shirt which I would surely need later when it became colder and wetter. As can be imagined, soon I was damp on the outside with rain and literally dripping with sweat inside my shell, so the waterproof quality of my ~$500 jacket was more or less nullified. Since the race, I’ve reflected on this decision which made me very uncomfortable for the next few hours but ensured I wouldn’t be hypothermic and unable to finish later on.

IMAG1690The sun set as we started the march up to Bovine. No one who has not run a UTMB race — or at least run around these hills after dark — can understand the horror inherent in greeting enormous, munching cow faces grotesquely illuminated by one’s headlamp. The mood was spooky, like some sort of zombie film, with thick mist hanging over the damp soil which hundreds of trail-running sneakers tilled with squishy fart sounds each footstep.

The trail was profoundly wet and rivulets of muddy water followed the path of least resistance wherever it could be found. My descent into Trient thus took on a form of locomotion closer to downhill skiing, or sliding into home-base, than running by any means.

My shoes hit cobblestone and I jogged toward the aid station when I heard someone shout my name. On this side of the world, there was only one person who knew me or my name and I was stoked to see him. Louis Marino, in whose flat I was staying in Chamonix, had been leading a multiday tour around Mont Blanc, and after his clients had wined and dined he waited around in the rain to catch me without knowing for sure that he would.

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I couldn’t tell you where this picture was taken, but I still look clean and happy so it couldn’t have been very far into the race.

I stopped and talked with Louis and some drunken farmer (for these aid-stations were lively social events for locals who lived in the semi-remote pastures) while simultaneously toweling dry the inside of my jacket and donning the midlayer shirt I’d preserved until now.

Louis asked how I was feeling and I had to admit I was feeling fine. “Fine?” he said with some skepticism. Not even a little tweak? Strain? Sore spot? He surely wondered which form of hard drug I’d been abusing to get me through this race. Meth? Maybe crack. It was uncanny, and I recognized this, but I felt okay. I was cold, wet, mentally tired and, sure, physically fatigued but for all intents and purposes I felt fine.

“DO WE HAVE A TOM AMARAL IN THE CROWD?” I then heard over the loudspeakers.

For the second time in twenty minutes, my head perked up like a deer in highbeams. Apparently, two people in Europe knew my name. I lifted my hand sheepishly.

“HEY TOM, THIS ONE IS FOR YOU!” said the announcer, then this came on:

The aid tent at Vallorcine was total and utter carnage, with runners sprawled everywhere… Some were slumped head down on the tables surrounded by food from the checkpoint, clearly having lost the battle against tiredness. — Hong Kong Trail Runner

Around 1:30am, I ripped down into Vallorcine like some sort of crazed mountain-running automaton, grabbed a bowl of chicken soup and slumped down onto a wooden bench. I crushed one bowl of soup, then another, shivering, still dressed in shorts. There was only a comparatively small amount left in the race. From here, I had an 850m climb to the top of Tete aux Vents on the Aiguilles Rouges then an eleven kilometre descent into downtown Chamonix. Eight-hundred metres is nothing, I reasoned. I can climb eight-hundred metres in my sleep. In the peak of summer, if I only climb eight hundred metres in a day, I come home all depressed and bummed because I only climbed eight-hundred metres that day. But this climb was the CLIMB FROM HELL.

The stumble up Tete aux Vents/Flegere was hideous. There was a lot of cursing; that last hill is sadistic and makes anything else I’ve ever done in a race pale in comparison of difficulty. – Anton Krupicka

By this point, it was three in the morning. Rain had been falling for over six hours. I’d been awake for nearly twenty-four and running for eighteen. This last climb of CCC — and UTMB — was some of the steepest and rockiest slogging (that isn’t technically “scrambling”) I’ve ever encountered, a borderline third-class staircase of jagged stone steps meandering steeply up the mountain and into the dark.

Once we topped out and passed the Tete aux Vents checkpoint (two guys wandering around with a barcode scanner in the dark), I incorrectly assumed (wishfully thought?) that we were on our way back to Chamonix. In reality, we still had yet to hit the final aid-station, Flegere. The long, slippery traverse across the Aiguilles Rouges was taking so much longer than expected that I’d lost track of where I was or how close I was to being done. I simply kept my eyes locked on the trail, knees high and feet moving. The tediousness of watching the ground was tempered by sublimity in the sky, however: an temperature inversion caused the cloud cover to descend into the valley, revealing the lofty, white summit of Mont Blanc standing guard beneath a canopy of stars.

Finally we hit Flegere and I sat there silently, nursing a final bowl of soup. “Okay, that climb was a little harder than expected,” I said. “But now it’s only 10K down into town. How hard can it be?”

Those cruel and sadistic UTMB course designers, they knew what they were doing when they picked this route. They knew the CCC runners would be suffering: cold, wet, tired and hungry, lacking coordination and wanting desperately to finish. UTMB runners would be the same, only worse. They might have selected some soft, cruisy, runnable trail for the last ten kilometres of this race, something like any number of other trails utilized during UTMB. But no, they singularly opted for the most frustratingly rooty, rocky, almost-runnable trail possible.

Back home in Banff, my girlfriend and others followed along online: “Ten kilometres to go, how hard can it be?” they wondered. As painful as the last ten kilometres were for me stumbling down from the top of Flegere, they were surely as painful for my friends staring at my progress halted on their computer screens. When things began to take longer than expected, they speculated that I was injured or walking, which is precisely what I was doing though I wanted nothing more than to be bounding along gracefully like some agile Chamois.

After what felt like an eternity of downhill hiking (something I hate on a good day), the trail mellowed, grew a little wider and allowed me to stretch out my legs and actually run. When I finally spotted the texture of drab concrete lit by the dull, orange glow of a streetlamp, I thought it was a mirage. “Finally!” I gasped cathartically as the rubber on my sneakers left the dirt and met the road. Running on pavement had never felt so good before.

Once off the trail, I had only a few kilometres left to run through the familiar streets of downtown Chamonix. I jogged along, nearing the centre of town. It was six in the morning and everything was quiet. I’d been on the move for twenty-one hours and awake for over a full day. The glow of a new morning was beginning to appear, I was somewhat disoriented and wasn’t really sure what day it was. But here I was at the finale of an event I’d variably lusted after and dreaded; anticipated and trained for; cursed and reviled – the whole spectrum of every emotion – and now it was all over.

Most important to me was the feeling of many years of hard work being examined and me passing the test. I’ve always considered the mountains an arena for challenging oneself, but here I’d travelled to a strange place and set my blend of Canadian Rockies mountain-running against an altogether different grindstone. Summers spent wandering aimlessly in the Yukon, then scrambling in the Rockies in a perpetually lighter and faster manner, had developed into a mature state. The feedback loop I had nurtured between me and my home mountains — the lessons I`d learnt and the machine that had been chiseled out of continual contact with them — was proven to be something that could be exported and successfully applied to epic mountain ranges elsewhere in the world.

I crossed the finish line looking like the embodiment of good running form, then hobbled over to collect my finisher vest – a teal Polartec fleece vest I’ll probably never wear, but of which I’m goddamn proud. I looked back wistfully at the finishing area and iconic UTMB arch like a final glance to a lover one will never see again, then shuffled off alone. Sidewalks normally inundated were vacant and void, save for me in my filthy trail-running garb. I couldn’t wait to brew up some Lavazza, hop in the shower and hit some of that hash I got off that English kid, but I was going to have to find a way home first.

I guess I could run home; it’s only ten kilometres. How hard could it be?

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Screen shot 2014-12-21 at 11.03.48 PMScreen shot 2014-12-21 at 11.01.00 PM

Gear:
The following is a list of gear that I wore or carried during the race. Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc races, including CCC, require several items of mandatory equipment be carried at all times.

All of the crap I had to carry around for 100km.
All of the crap I had to carry around for 100km…
  • Arcteryx wool cap
  • A Buff
  • Julbo sunglasses
  • Mountain Stride Fitness singlet
  • Arcteryx Phase base upper (utilized as a midlayer shirt)
  • Icebreaker Merino underwear
  • Icebreaker Merino glove liners
  • Homemade waterproof gloves (from dishwashing gloves)
  • Lululemon Surge shorts
  • Lululemon Surge tights
  • Lululemon No-show socks
  • Mountain Hardware Plasmic waterproof pants
  • New Balance MT00V2 trail-running shoes
  • Arcteryx Alpha SL gore-tex shell
  • Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest 2.0 + 2x500mL bottles
  • Thermal emergency blanket
  • Petzl Tikka XP headlamp
  • Petzl Tikka RXP headlamp
  • Extra AAA batteries for headlamps
  • Collapsable bowl
  • Platypus bladder
  • Whistle that comes with UD packs
  • Adhesive first-aid bandage sold in droves at pharmacies in Chamonix
  • Tiny tub of vaseline
  • Passport
  • Money
  • Mobile phone that works in France, Italy and Switzerland
  • My North American smartphone, for purposes of taking pictures
  • Hammer Nutrition Gel
  • Hammer Nutrition Fizz electrolyte tabs
  • Some random other nutrition bars I grabbed at the Ultra-Salon which were pretty good…

Things Definitively Not Carried During This Race:

  • Trekking poles 😀
Recovery meal: banana and Nutella crepe. I couldn't finish it.
Recovery meal: banana and Nutella crepe. I couldn’t finish it.
Race Report: CCC 2014

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

Canmore Triple Crown 2014 + A Visit Home

On the summit ridge of Mt. Lady Macdonald, 9 hours after starting the three-peak, 38km, 3500m vertical Canmore Triple Crown.

My second go at this masochistic little scrambling endeavour first devised by two buddies of mine in 2012 and reconfigured by myself into a 100% bipedal effort around this time last year. The Triple Crown is a one-day ascent of Mount Lady Macdonald, the east end of Mount Rundle (EEOR) and Ha Ling Peak, a grand tour of the city of Canmore, Alberta totalling thirty-eight horizontal kilometres and over 3500 metres (puke!) of accumulated vertical gain. Assuming I was stronger this year than last, I had definite intentions to beat my old time (12 hours), but both trips certainly involved their fair share of lollygagging, selfie-taking, and sitting on my ass eating sandwiches whilst cursing the mountains.

I crushed my old time, sweltering in inferno-esque temperatures (to me, anyway), chugging back melted snow with my running pack fully prepared for winter-mode if necessary. It definitely wasn’t necessary. I hope to return to this project some day with a lighter pack and a little less time devoted to taking pictures of myself to put up a truly speedy FKT. Until then, I’ma hit up this foam roller and drink some water 🙂

Splits:
(7:45am start from Rocky Mountain Bagel Co., downtown Canmore)
1h03m – EEOR trailhead (TH) | 6.4km | 372m ↑ | 6.4km total
1h12m – EEOR summit | 2.3km | 884m ↑ | 8.8km
0h51m – EEOR TH | 2.4km | 872m ↓ | 11.2km
1h03m – Ha Ling summit | 2.9km | 801m ↑ | 14.2km
0h43m – Ha Ling TH | 2.9km | 808m ↓ | 17.2km
1h54m – Lady Mac TH | 11.1km | 469m ↓ | 28.3km
2h13m – Lady Mac summit ridge | 3.9km ↑ | 1182m | 32.7km
1h02m – Lady Mac TH | 3.3km | 1151m ↓ | 35.5km
0h17m – Bus stop | 2.5km | 118m ↓ | 38.0 km

Total time: 10h20m40s
Travel time: 09h03m54s

Peep the Movescount data for this trip here.

I often do epic things in the mountains right before going home to Ontario to visit so I am somehow imbued with epicness and the spirit of adventure in a place I associate with an almost suffocating sense of banality. I don’t think this practice really counts for much, except perhaps to stroke my ego, but it’s not like I boast about my adventures and once home my focus became firmly centred on visiting friends, spending time with my family and revisiting old hiking haunts in my newfound trail-running style. I also ran a rather flat 10km trail race at Terra Cotta conservation area which, by some stretch of the imagination, serves as a qualifier for a spot in the elite division at the Canadian Mountain Running Championships, a 12km/1200m vertical sprint at Kicking Horse Ski Resort, Golden, British Columbia three weeks from now which I’ll also be attending.

The place that helped me “train” for hiking in the Yukon and the Rockies (not really), Forks of the Credit Provincial Park, Caledon, ON.

Though the Terra Cotta course was a modest one, it was a good, early test of a new dimension of running I want to explore: speed. In the past I’ve always focused on distance, building the overall length of my long runs week after week, trotting along through the backcountry for thirty, forty, fifty kilometres at a pace intended to keep me from sweating too much and prematurely burning too many calories. Now I wanna do the same thing, faster. Misunderstanding how the race’s timing worked, I snuck into the back of the first wave seconds before the starting buzzer and shot off in a high-velocity tiptoe through the winding roots which covered the trails of this course. I finished in a respectable (for me, anyway) 19th place out of 260 runners. Not fast enough to qualify for the mountain running team, but I have different racing plans on my agenda this summer, anyway. Peep the Movescount data for this race here.

Canmore Triple Crown 2014 + A Visit Home