Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Knee Knacker I Bluffed

This picture, by Gary Robbins, at Cleveland Dam, about sums up my day. I felt light and yo yo'ed with Sean "the Run Bum" Blanton from Atlanta, Georgia for a little more than 5 and a half hours.

I'm not sure how, but I feel like I just bluffed my way through 50k of the gnarliest trail running in Canada. But there's no way. I must have done something right, or a whole collection of things right. Either way, I could not have felt smoother, lighter, or more relaxed than I did yesterday, and I ran a PB by eight minutes for a 5:40:07 finish. The first half to Cleveland Dam was run in 2:51 and the second half in 2:49, a negative split by 2 minutes. A nice even pace throughout truly paid off in the last quarter, where I had the 4th fastest time of the day. In particular, beyond Hyannis, up the Seymour Grind.

When I take a bit of stock of all things, it's clear that all that rest I took was a huge bonus. To have trained more would have done me damage considering my soleus issue, which had been remedied by race day. I was able to start Knee Knacker injury free, but with little mileage under my belt; like I said in previous blogs, nothing over two hours on foot. I believe taking some impact off the legs and riding my bike as much as I could kept my cardio where it needed to be and allowed my soleus to continue relaxing. On top of this my trainer, Curb Ivanic, had me stronger than I'd ever been before. Certainly I was more efficient as a result.

Race day itself came together perfectly too. As some of you know, I was up at 3 am walking with a coffee and watching the sun come up. I knew it was going to be a good day. I had my smoothie, coffee, and the best race crew possible picked me up at 5 am for the 6am start near Horsehoe Bay at Nelson Creek Park.

After some banter with Pricey and his crew (Katie Dreschel and Brad DeAbreu) away from the crowds we launched into the first climb where I immediately started into the jokes. A few people giggled, but not for long as breathing took precedence. I climbed up Black Mountain and across the bluffs alongside Pricey and Sean until the snow started. Up top the huge, melting snowpack had me slipping and sliding like a chicken on ice. It was really well marked, but runners still needed to stay tuned for post-holing opportunities, which I took a couple; one up to my knee in water as we ran over some small tarns.

I came into Cypress at 1:38 and enjoyed the smiles of my crew, some coconut water, and grabbed a couple fresh bottles for the run across Holyburn to the chute. This was perhaps the toughest part of the day. The route/root across Holyburn is very technical and mixed up with mud and snow and uncertainty. Every step could land you on your ass before you come out onto the cross country track, which I also hated running on. Running on snow is not my favorite. I didn't get the same feeling Aaron and Adam had. They said they loved that part because they could go so fast, but then they go fast everywhere. Morale improved around the lodge after a handful of fruit gummies and I flew into the chute for a race down the best descending ever. The slope down over Brothers Creek to the half way point at Cleveland is a mixture of rocks, roots, and super loamy earth. You can really fly on this section but I refused to pound out my quads as we hadn't even started the hardest half of the race.

At 2:51 I crossed the dam to see Sean napping on the cement and made my move to pass as I flew over him toward my crew, the jolliest bunch of running elves anywhere. They'd cooked up bacon sandwiches on the Lazy Trail Runners Coleman stove. How could they not be happy? Plus Saje and Lara were there flying a "Run Daddy Run" flag. A few jokes and I was off again. I ran/walked Nancy Green Way to Grouse knowing of the challenging steps I had coming after that to get to Mountain Highway. I'm not exactly sure how long it took to get from half to Mountain Highway, but this was where I realized how great I was feeling and that I was actually going to finish. The thought of a PB didn't even enter my mind however. That positive thought seemed to drive me even harder and I floated down the steep steps to see my crew yet again. This is where I sucked back a couple "just-in-case" advils and some watermelon. Several years ago North Van speedstress Nicola Gildersleeve passed me at this very point so I was quite concerned she'd be upon me anytime. While I was sipping coconut water I said, " I better get going, Nicola's coming, I know it". Then, three momentarily relaxing words, "She dropped out" followed by..."but here comes Lisa". And off I went being pushed by Lisa and still towed by Sean in his yellow La Sportiva singlet.
Through the 3/4 marker I was feeling phenomenal and the time was telling me I might be in the market for a PB. As I'd seen my crew already I carried on down the canyon without stopping. All the while eating and drinking like crazy; to the point where I stopped to pee and it was clear. Eating early was going to be key here with all the climbing I had ahead of me. Not only did I have to climb out of Lynn Canyon but then out of Seymour Canyon, through Hyannis and up the Seymour Grind, where many people have had there self esteem handed to them. Between LSCR Gazebo and Hyannis aid station I hoovered three gels and a bag of Pink Lemonade Stingers (new flavor is excellent). Ran all the way out of Seymour Canyon, to Hyannis, and to the base of the Grind where I mixed up the power hiking and easy jogging. From here I knew I had a PB coming to me. I felt too good not finish fast and keep relaxed. That section from Quarry rock to the end is always a strong spot for me as well and I knew it. Light and fast down Baden Powell to Old Buck, across Seymour Road, where Brad and Katie were egging me on yet again, and onto Indian River Road. Up ahead, I could see a red tank top style jersey. It could only be one of two Knee Knacker legends, Peter Findley or Keith Wakelin, who I'd seen sporting this garb off the start line. Whoever it was, they became my goal. Later on, Keith told me he saw me coming as he re-entered Baden Powell, but he was cramping too badly to give anymore than he already had. I gave him a verbal push on the way by and he did the same before I started hearing the announcer in Panorama Park. Not having looked at my watch since the grind, I had no idea what I was in for and I vowed not to look until I saw the finish line clock. Down the stairs and onto Panorama Road I could see a clock that read 5:39... so i dialed it up a notch to break that 5:40 barrier. Too little, too late though and, still relaxed and calm, I came under the Knee Knacker banner in 5:40:07.

If you took the time to read this entire entry I commend you. It's long. Really long. And all about someone else. However, you've gotten the gist of the day I had on Saturday. It was absolutely incredible. I've run a good number of 50k's, a 50 miler, and heaps of 10 to 25'ers, but none have gone this well. Sure I've had good races, but this was Knee Knacker and it felt easy. It's not supposed to be easy and nor am I supposed to be feeling recovered two days following the race. So why?

Things I think learned on Saturday, July 9th, 2011:

  • Never underestimate rest. Sleep well and make sure to take days off. I know we often feel like we should be out there because others are, but if running starts to feel like a job ... it is.

  • Wake up Early. Even better than a cup of coffee, take a walk three hours before your race. They say you should eat three hours before a race anyway. Plenty of time for the illusive race day B.M. too.

  • Be mindful of your heart rate. Know when you'll go lactic. In a race this long, going lactic is BAD. Full recovery is unlikely. Having been injured before this race, I knew I couldn't tax my body to that point or I'd risk re-injury.

  • Race your race. The shirt in front of you may take off because s/he's faster than you, but he also may be the fool who blows up later and you saunter right by with that all-knowing smile on your face.

  • Eat and Hydrate well. It's often tough to eat or drink, but you must. And you have to do it before your body asks for it. Just keep drinking and eating. Even if you have to stop and pee, the time you lose is made up by drinking well and not slowing down due to cramping or fatigue. Of course this starts before race day too.

  • Having meaningful conversations. Perhaps the most important part of my day was seeing my crew, family, friends, smiling volunteers, and trail strangers. My crew was happy and always ready to chat, my family had a "Run Daddy Run" flag, and I got two hugs from people I haven't seen in awhile. Like I've seen Peter Findley do for the past few years, I stopped at aid stations for a few moments without rushing and had conversations that lifted my spirits. You have to smile a lot and say good morning to perfect strangers. The more you give, the more you get back. Thank you to my great crew, Duncan and DarbyKai, to Lara and Saje with the flag, to Kevin, Linda, Rob D., Gary, Kevin H., Phil, Ward, Brooke, Brad, and Katie. To the Japanese hiking group near Mountain Highway, to every volunteer, to Glenn P. for telling I was making it look easy (what a booster coming from you), and to Sean "The Run Bum" Blanton for hollering in the woods. To Pricey for keeping me relaxed with conversation on Black Mountain. Also to Lisa P. for pushing me harder without knowing it.

  • Be light, loose, and relaxed. Part of racing long is being light, loose, and relaxed. You may have noticed that when you fatigue during exercise your shoulders end up around your ears and your neck disappears. Then you get tight. This is using muscles and energy you don't need to waste. Mentally focusing on keep a nice light glide (float) really pays off. If you feel light and relaxed, you probably are and the onset of fatigue is delayed or avoided.

  • Climb smart. Over the years I've gotten better at this but Gary Robbins put it best, "climb with your glutes". You really have to keep upright so to not fatigue the low back and make sure your heels are touching the ground to avoid unnecessary strain on your calves. As well, take short, thoughtful steps. Long, high strides may seem to cover more ground, but they're dangerous in a long race.
I don't want to sound like a big shot or that I'm preaching the science of running, but I think it's important for me to notice what works for me and perhaps you'll think about it and use it yourself.


  1. How do you "know when you'll go lactic"…? I think that may have happened to me...

  2. Sorry that happened. I hope it didn't ruin the day.

    That's a good question. I think there's a whole whack of science that a sciency person could get into, but the way I understand it is that when your heart can't pump fast enough to rid the acid in your muscles it backs up, making muscle contractions harder. That lactate threshold (when lactic acid is not being expelled quickly enough anymore) corresponds with a particular heart rate in everyone. I'm not much of a heart rate monitor guy, but over the years I've been able to figure out when my legs are going to get heavy and useless. Now that I have heart rate monitor, I'm able to know exactly when that's about to happen. For me, it's about 170 bpm's. Whenever I hit that point during Knee Knacker I knew I had to back off a touch and watched it until it dropped.

    Perhaps a more science-type person can frame it all better and give us the really version.

  3. Great job out there Craik! Stoked to see you PB after everything the last few weeks and months threw at ya!

  4. Awesome! I must of just missed you on Indian river Dr where I was cheering some other runners who ran amazing too. I guess you were too fast for me to get there in time! Good job on the PB

  5. Yiiiihaw, Tom! Hope you're having a great summer. Sounds like you're ridin' a good wave.

  6. A PB!!! Not surprised in the least :) Big Congrats...take good care of that soleous.

  7. Mate, just wanted to congratulate you on a great race. I'm so happy the day pulled together for you and from what I read above and know about you, you ran a very smart race. Looking forward to sharing some more stories on the trails this summer.


  8. HEEEEY! I loved your post, truly amazing, and how a race should be done! I also appreciate how your dealt with your injury, and should be a lesson to MANY people... REST is good!! Thanks for inspiring and motivating me to try my first 50 K, I am hooked! Love the feeling, the stimulating scenery, the people, the training, the adventure... triathlon is going to be hard to go back to. What's next up?