Scree Sessions: May 31-June 12

6aPolishing the cutting edge of flintstone against alpine rock; riding a serrated arete between peak fitness on one hand and shattering the medium I’m working with. This is me at the climax of months of training in the Rockies, absorbing and integrating its lessons before applying it all elsewhere. My training season began way back in March but an abrupt jumpstart in vert and mileage contributed to a niggling injury in my left knee which reappears occasionally until this day. My most recent weeks have been spent mostly doing laps on Sulphur Mountain in Banff, a tamer mountain than my preference but my workouts have been more structured, consistent and measurable than ever in the past. A trip up Mount Aylmer on Wednesday provided the final dose of adventure I needed before flying off to Ontario for a week, then to Chamonix for the 80K du Mont Blanc. I’m excited to let this machine I’ve built do what it’s intended to do, then coast for the rest of the summer with the fitness I’ve developed, my concentration turned to ticking off personal projects with friends here in the Canadian Rockies.

Week-and-a-half total: 12h51m/92km/5376m

01/06/15 – Tunnel – 35m22s/7km/300m
Up and down Tunnel from home, as fast as possible. Started with a warm-up to Cave and Basin and back, then started my watch and started racing towards Tunnel. By the time I reached the upper trailhead, I knew my pace wasn’t sustainable; I was too out of breath and felt like passing out so I sullenly slowed to a jog to find some iota of recovery. My jog must have continued to be fast but I lost all intentions to push hard and break a PR, content with just tagging the top without losing consciousness along the way. Somewhere just shy of the summit, I dared to look at my watch, which was only thirty seconds or so off my PR time so I full-out sprinted up the last hill, down the rooty dip before reaching the red chairs, then clambered up the slabs to the summit, finding it busy, and immediately dropped off and down for a fast round-trip time. 35min makes that a new round-trip personal best.

IMAG805503/06/15 –  Sulphur Double Crossing – 3h37m/35km/1900m
A pretty demanding run that started out cruisy and resulted in me knocking an hour off a routine 35km/1900m objective. Ran up the front, down the back; up the back, down the front. I am truly getting a little bored of spending all my time on Sulphur when there are so many other peaks coming into shape, but the weather was somewhat threatening this morning and this is probably where I needed to be today, sharpening up splits and racing habits, not frolicking on some random peak that is “more alpine” in character. The initial jog up the frontside of Sulphur was an absolute breeze — I tried to cruise along rather than push, and my relatively quick speed is evidence of speed workouts increasing my overall pace and decreasing my exertion. I tried to concentrate on not stopping, fuelling consistently and eating while running. I felt pretty punished by the end of the final 900m freefall from the top of Sulphur to Bow Falls but will take that as part of the pace required to knock over an hour off this objective. It was only in the last couple years that it would take me almost the same amount of time to go up and down Sulphur once that it now takes me to do it twice.

Splits:
1h14m    Sanson’s Peak
1h40m    Sundance Canyon junction
2h43m    Sanson’s Peak
3h14m    Bow Falls
3h37m    Home

IMAG817205/06/15 – Sulphur (summits 2, 3, 4, 5) – 1h59m/19km/1200m
Messing around along Sulphur’s ridge today. Headed out on my bike to check out Cory Pass but rode for only a couple minutes before I realized my rear tire was flat. Took the bus up to the Hot Springs, dropped off work stuff, then jogged up the front of Sulphur to the gondi station (S2) and started working back towards some of the other summits. Although my legs were super tired from the previous day, once on the ridge I sprinted and scampered my way up slabs, reveling in the batteredness of my body. Reached S4, my goal for the day, looked out towards S5 and couldn’t turn it down. Tagged S5, took some pics, then headed back, tiptoeing along fractured ridgeline, bombing down the saddles and slogging exhaustedly back up the summits. My quads were pooched on the descent, but I was somehow able to relish that feeling of overall fatigue and recognize the benefits I’ll reap from continuing to push when so tired. Descended back to the Upper Hot Springs and hastily constructed a delicious sandwich.

IMAG8067 IMAG8127 IMAG814010/06/15 – Aylmer – 6h40m/31km/1976m
A mighty unicorn slain. The way some people in Banff look upon peaks like Cascade and Rundle, that’s how I look at Aylmer. Just out of town, it rises high above everything around it and possesses a long approach trail frequented by berry-hungry Grizzlies. It has long been on my list of peaks to bag and I have gazed upon its prominent summit from my window for over a year now.

The initial gameplan for today was to do something far more training-specific: I intended to do a variation on the Canmore Triple Crown as a final preparation for my race in Chamonix, slogging lots of steep vertical and continuing to sharpen my ascent/descent splits. However, at the back of my mind, I needed something more alpine, more epic before leaving for Ontario, though I hadn’t overtly articulated these thoughts to myself yet. Yesterday I took a cab to work and the driver said that if he hadn’t been working, he’d be over there, climbing that thing, Mount Aylmer. Aylmer looked so sexy draped in clouds that morning, and the conversation with the cab driver seemed so meaningful, that I immediately texted Sean (who was joining me from Edmonton): “Change of plans. I need to do something more epic. Like this “. Sean had zero problems with the revised scheme and I knew he wouldn’t. After switching the plan, I felt an immediate sense of relief and enthusiasm.

Sean and I woke just after six though the sun had rose a half hour earlier. We made coffee, hit up Wildflour for snacks then drove to the trailhead, starting at 8:19 AM. The jog along the lakeshore trail was cruisy as we hooted and hollered our heads off to ward off grizzlies. The rest of the climb was uneventful save for some of the worst scree I’ve ever encountered, which took us an enormous amount of effort to ascend and later bombed down at terminal velocity in a fraction of the time. The views from the summit were impressive though I’d read somewhere they wouldn’t be, with many snow-clad 11,000ers visible along the horizon to the west. The valleys of the Ghost Wilderness area were lush and green. And the prairies were brooding with dark storm clouds.

We didn’t spend long on the top, skiing down fine scree with grace at times, and narrowly dodging broken ankles or necks at others. The run out was disproportionately tough — maybe because it was so hot or maybe because of the effort we spent climbing 50-degree scree earlier — but was made worse by a tactical rock strike to the underside of my foot, which was pretty tender and sore and still is. At any rate, I’m glad I did something like this that really engaged me mentally and made me exercise some mountaineering sense, and expanded my heart with stoke with a fresh ascent on a big peak, rather than doing a really long and boring workout. Arguable which would have been more advantageous but I definitely don’t feel like I lost — and definitively feel like I gained — something from our trip today.

Splits:
0h50m    Aylmer Pass junction
1h40m    Ascent gully junction
4h02m    Summit
5h13m    Ascent gully junction
5h46m    Aylmer Pass junction
6h40m    Lake Minnewanka parking lot

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Scree Sessions: May 31-June 12

Scree Sessions: May 24-30

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

IMAG770324/05/15 – 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.)

IMAG783827/05/15 – 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.

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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.

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Scree Sessions: May 24-30

Scree Sessions: May 10-23

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.

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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.

IMAG721513/05/15 – 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.

IMAG729214/05/15 – 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.

Where the Bow and Spray Rivers meet. Also the lowest closest place from the top of Sulphur, seen on left.

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.

IMAG731415/05/15 – 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


matt118/05/15 – 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.

IMAG740319/05/15 – 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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Me in a Salomon vest: unprecedented.

Weekly total: 13h34m/69km/4284m

Scree Sessions: May 10-23

Scree Sessions: April 19-25

This week saw a return to running comfortably again as well as slogging some big vert after avoiding that specific activity for the past couple weeks. This week was fun and the warm, summer-like temperatures made the notion of getting outside pretty seductive. The latter part of my last long run reintroduced me to the delectably miserable side of ultrarunning. Me and it should get together more often; it’s been too long. Weekly total: 53km/3440m.

IMAG637404/20/15 – Tunnel – 51min/7km/340m
Up and down Tunnel from home after work. Summer weather. Felt strong on my uphills though a perceptible tightness in my left knee. Leaning into the first hills after crossing the bridge felt delicious and brought a smile to my face. Spent a few minutes taking pics at the top then descended with usual reckless abandon. Good to feel “back”. Considered doing a loop around Tunnel but as I’d brought no water and was already sweaty and parched, decided to run home. 27 mins to summit; 24 mins home.

11133971_372020733003903_5870013516336235548_o04/21/15 – Tunnel x2 – 9km/500m? (watch wasn’t charged)
Another glorious summer day in April. Powerhiked Tunnel with Glenn, descended fast to lower trailhead, then parted ways and ran back up fairly quickly. Spent zero time at the summit, simply tagged the top and descended again in freefall mode knowing the descent would be interesting because I was out of breath and tired. Ran back down most of the trail until I caught up with my buddy Bre-dog and her friend and I strolled with them back to the lower trailhead. Fast splits on my second run. A bit of tightness across my left knee but more of a superficial sensation and unlike what I was dealing with a couple weeks ago.

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04/23/15 – Lady Mac + Ha Ling – 6h13m/37km/2613m
A long day out, very tiring. Did a “rim to rim” of Canmore, parking my car at Elevation Place then running up Lady Mac on one side of the valley, then Ha Ling on the other. The ascent of Lady Mac was pretty strong and streamlined given I haven’t climbed anything other than Tunnel for a couple weeks. The whole experience on Lady Mac was incredibly smooth, including the awkward scramble up the final stretch to the summit ridge (one of my least favourite bits of mountain, anywhere). I just stuck to solid rock ribs and was on the ridge in less time than I remember. No true summit for me today; the knife-edge ridge was way too gusty for my liking. The descent back down Lady Mac was as quick and streamlined as the climb, save for losing my phone for five minutes and spending another five talking to a local mountain-running dude.

Taking on Ha Ling was a labored effort. The jaunt across town wasn’t so bad; and while jogging up to Grassi Lakes and slogging through the climbing area, I was tired, but still game to take on the mountain. Once I started heading up Ha Ling, however, I felt the effort: my breathing and pulse were much higher than normal, my muscles burned, and I honestly thought I wouldn’t make it to the top. I kept telling myself I wouldn’t make it to the top as I continued to slog, passing people, and soon broke out of treeline and gained the col. No turning back now. I tagged the top, took some pictures, then rigidly stumbled back down the mountain. Running back to my car from the Ha Ling trailhead was a death march. I was probably slightly bonked but too stubborn to take my pack off and eat another boring bar. Glad I pulled off the true “Rim to Rim”. Also probably my single biggest vert day this year on the heels of a few weeks of little vert.

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^Peep GPS data for this trip here.

Scree Sessions: April 19-25

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

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