Marshalling Report: Five Peaks

Sunday Runday and rather than lacing up to run this morning, I instead bundled up warm and packed my lawn-chair down to the local dog park where I’d signed up to volunteer to help out with the sixteen kilometre-long 5 Peaks Trail Race.

The 5 Peaks series is a race that I’ve tackled myself multiple times in the past, particularly the edition of it that happens to run through the trails of the dog park that is a five minute drive from my house.

This year, with a couple friends opting to run it and a couple others choosing to do their part for the local running scene and volunteer, I sided with the volunteer crew and held down a station about three kilometers into the course (and at the top of a grueling hill) waving runners around a detour and cheering them on by clapping until my hands were numb.

I admit I don’t volunteer often enough… though that frequency is greater than zero.

As simple as it is, even a little race like this one for a few hundred people took (according to the thank you email that came to my inbox this evening) seventy five volunteers, each working about six hours to make the race come to life.

I’ve plodded through many courses myself and waved and thanked hundreds (if not thousands) of volunteers who’ve stood beside intersections or manned water stations or handed out swag or helped me find parking for my vehicle.

It makes me realize that in a year where I’m still a little less than keen to run a heap of actual races, it might make a lot of sense to find ways to participate without sneakers and a bib and to bring that volunteer frequency number up a lot higher in relation to my finisher medal count.

It’s about keeping the sport strong and vibrant.

It’s about giving back to something that has given me a lot over the years.

And it’s a warm and fuzzy feeling all around, too.

Three Cheers for Traction

Having run for well over a decade in the ever changing seasons of the Canadian prairies I have fought many battles with the hardened warrior otherwise known as winter trail conditions.

Ankle-deep fresh snow. Ice-slickened asphalt. Road slop like oatmeal or worse, dirty slush.

It is only November yet already the paths have become an assortment of challenging terrain …

… except that back in the late summer I bought a pair of trail shoes.

They haven’t been a perfect winter shoe, but they have made tackling the traction obstacles a formidable challenge rather than an impassible barrier. Unlike my summer sneakers or even previous winter runners I’ve owned, there is a remarkable surefooted stability to be found even in deep snow and icy patches on the sidewalks that I’ve struggled to find elsewhere. I’m sold, and even pullover spikes or other traction offerings that I’ve used over the years don’t seem to fall into a comparable classification as having tested my trail shoes through the abrupt arrival of winter weather this past week.

So I ordered a second pair yesterday.

Kinda. Sorta. Almost.

The summer version, which I own, is a light and responsive shoe meant for muddy paths and navigating narrow gravel trails.

The winter version, that second-ish pair now en route to my house, is a waterproof, insulated version of the same shoe but with grippier soles designed to take on those cold and epic winter conditions and a warmer approach to footwear.

Ice and snow will become far less of an excuse this winter.

I mean, I say that now… ask me again when it’s dark, icy, and minus forty degrees outside this January.

It’s All About the Trail Shoes

Sunday Runday and with less than two weeks until my first in-person race in over a year and a half I found myself facing a morning run dilemma.

New shoes.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining about new shoes.

Quite the opposite.

While on vacation in the mountains a few weeks ago I finally found a pair of trail shoes in my size and splurged. The next morning I broke them in with an (a previously blogged about) eight kilometer trail run up some steep incline and early morning terrain in the wilderness beauty of our National Park system, and then …

… well … that dilemma I mentioned a couple paragraphs back compounded itself: I haven’t run any trail since, and the shoes had been sitting by my front door looking more forlorn than the dog when she needs her morning walk, and that other thing I mentioned in my opening sentence about an upcoming trail race kept nagging in the back of my mind.

In two weeks I’m headed back out to the trails we visited last month for our little adventure with the wasps. Apparently the wasp situation has cooled alongside the weather, but neither of those things cooling off negates the fact that I’m signed up to run a roller-coaster single track trail half marathon quasi-ultra later this month.

And as of this morning I’d run a mere eight kilometers in that brand new pair and brand new style (to me) of shoes.

I tossed them into my backseat this morning on my way to meet my running crew and humbly suggested that we maybe, possibly, if anyone was interested run some trails as our Sunday route.

There were some hefty dark clouds lurking to the west and the forecast (though cloudy and dry as we left) was for some light drizzle after a good soaking overnight.

We decended into the river valley and into the rain-soaked single track weaving through the forests. The leaves are starting to yellow as the days shorten and fall creeps ever closer.

By the time we exited that first stretch, my new shoes were clumped with mud and each weighed about a kilogram heavier than when I had entered.

I was also dragging a small branch clinging to my heel, and I pulled off to the side of the path to clear the worst of it into the wet grass.

A bit further down along we turned upwards towards a short ascent and into a utility corridor between the highway and the neighbourhood where the ankle-deep grass was still sopping with last night’s rain.

Onward looped us into more single track and by the time we found our exit back into the asphalt of the nearby suburban streets not only were all our feet soaking wet and muddy, but the rains had truly arrived and would not let up again until we were well done the other half of our morning run.

Soaked. Dirty. Tired. Epic.

All for a pair of trail shoes…

…and, oh, of course, the mental confidence that goes along with logging another medium-length trial run using those shoes, breaking them in, trialing them out, and generally assuring myself of their fit and function leading into that upcoming race.

Hobbling and Hurting

Sunday Runday, and it’s been a couple weeks since I sat down to write a post. It is a summer break for me, after all, and I’ve been out on the road, in the mountains, on the lake, and … as the topic of this post will soon reveal, running through the wilderness.

In fact, a few interesting things have happened in my running career since last I checked in. In particular, I may have spent some money on race registrations. In person race registrations.

The BIG one I’ll save for another post.

The little BIG one ties back to this morning’s Sunday running adventure that was had, all resulting from a spontaneous decision to sign up for a local (quasi) ultramarathon and the opportunity to do some practicing for that.

And again, in fact, I wrote in passing about my intention to do just that a few months back when I wrote about a nature sanctuary we had visited west of the city.

The River’s Edge Ultramarathon is an honest-to-goodness ultra marathon race through challenging terrain hosted on a large chunk of private land at the edge of the North Saskatchewan river. (Adult) distances range from a short 12km sampler run to a full 100km solo looping race of insanity.

Last weekend I signed up for the half marathon “koda” distance, twenty-one klicks through rolling riverside terrain (and even some wet crossing to a small island, I understand).

As the race host prepares the course and readies for the event, he invites some interested locals (ie. us) out to the start line to help clear trails, trial the trails, or just run the course. So, Sunday Runday and seven of my crew found themselves driving thirty minutes west of the city to spend three hours in the wilderness for one of the permitted practice runs on the “homestead” loop.

Across a little more than three hours, we pushed through nineteen klicks of grinding hills, mucky soft peat, cliff-side crags, cow pastures, grassy stretches, ambling over barbed wire fences, and stumbling down rope-supported descents.

On top of the regular running pain, the wasps had taken over the landscape. I didn’t count but I would confidently say there were well over two or three hundred nests along the length of the trail, and I was stung at least twice… which was about average for me and my fellow participants. Ultra-style trail running with a hot, burning, muscle-spasm of wasp-sting pain in your calf is nothing to shrug off.

In about six weeks we’ll be back out there for the real race, trudging through similar loops on a (hopefully) cool September day, and my in person race career will have seemingly resumed with a challenge I wouldn’t have expected to take on again so soon.