Saturday, October 1, 2022

Ultra Trail Harricana - 80km


View of the Malbaie River valley from the course

Disclaimer: I write these reports mainly for myself, so that I can over time remember the lessons learned.  I am decidedly back-of-the-pack runner, and am out there to challenge myself, to enjoy the journey as well as the awesome community that is trail runners everywhere.


When I didn't get into UTMB on my first attempt in 2022, I had assumed that I will need to"top off" my ITRA points with another more recent 5-pointer race in order to apply again.  So looked for an interesting race in a place I've not yet been and not too far from home.  Harricana came up as a good option, in particular because it takes places on the shores of mightly St. Lawrence, in a beautiful setting roughly in the areas that Louise Penny covers in her "Inspector Gamache" series that I happened to be a huge fan of.  I registered for a 125km option that would be worth the points I needed.

Then came UTMB qualification revamp which forced me to change my plans complete and to chase the so-called "running stones" in Canyons 100k and Speedgoat 50k.  Once those were done, I was faced with the decision about Harricana since technically I didn't _need_ to run it.  It wasn't refundable and the prospect of a Quebec vacation sounded good, so I dropped down to a still "respectable" 😅 80k, which is just a smidge under 50 miles.  The goal in my mind was to have fun and try to run a "faster" (for my abilities) 50 miles given that the course promised not to pack too much elevation.


For the preparation, I focused less on climbing and among other things completed the so-called Boroughs Loop that covers ~30 miles stringing together trail systems of Marlborough, Southborough, Westborough and Northborough.  That effort went pretty well, even resulting in what Strava thought to be my 50k PR.  So I was going into this race pretty confident.

The course - the region

The course starts along the La Malbaie river and stays flat and pleasant for at least 10 miles, then meanders through a typical Quebec forests and meadows, finishing at the Mont Grand-Fonds ski resort.  Point-to-point courses are always more fun for me compared to any sort of repeats or out-and-back, so I was looking forward to the experience.

Brief re-cap of the race

As expected, the first 10 or so miles flew by very quickly, except for being stung by a wasp fairly early on.  It hurt like heck for a few minutes but then subsided and luckily I am not allergic to these stings, so it wasn't a big deal for the rest of the race.  But funny enough something similar happened at Speedgoat just a few weeks earlier.  Best I could tell, I was the only lucky one and other runners around me were spared :-).

In the following few miles after that, the course seemed to weer off from what I earlier explored in the provided GPX track and instead of an easy dirt road we were on a fairly new single track trail that was still very soft from the trail work and full of small stumps from the smaller cuttings.  This definitely slowed me down from the original plan, but those things never hold anyway in a race.

Before starting, I struck up a conversation with a few of local runners that spoke English and we had nice occasional chats in the first few miles before we separated.

In the second half of the race, the going got tougher with a few muddy and technical sections. Banged my big toe a few times and stepped into deep mud a few times. Before the race, I debated whether to take my poles, but did not regret having them and used them heavily in the second half.  I also had spare socks and the Trail Toes cream so I took the opportunity to change the socks a couple of times in the aids.  

As is customary with me, as the effort got harder, the stomach stopped working so I tried to ease off a bit to avoid redlining and somewhat towards the end, especially as the temps cooled off, I was able to feel better and to eat more.

The last few miles were a bit of a slog, especially an ATV/jeep section that was downhill.  I just could not find enough to run over the shifty uneven rocks.  The finish was a bit of an uphill to the ski resort.  

A big bonus was the post-race meal that was a legit nice dinner with salad and a couple of great dish options capped by a delicious pastry.

In the end the race was a lot more technical and challenging than what I had imagined.  So this wasn't quite a fast 50 miler, but it was still a decently paced once for me.

What worked

Changing socks and reapplying "trail toes".  

Managed effort to avoid redlining.

Good call to take the poles.  Hydration was on point.  Nutrition worked ok when the stomach was able to accept food.

What to improve on in the future

Maybe packing even more socks would have been good, but it was hard to predict the amount of mud on the course.

Packing self adhesive bandage? There was a guy with a gash on his leg and I tried as best I could to attach a large band-aid patch there, but it just would not hold.

I should be careful when navigating mud / branches to make sure

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Canyons 100k -- a tour through the Western States course!

Deadwood Cemetery loop -- on the horizon you can see white-capped mountains up towards Tahoe.  
Disclaimer: I write these reports mainly for myself, so that I can over time remember the lessons learned.  I am decidedly back-of-the-pack runner, I am out there to challenge myself, to enjoy the journey as well as awesome community that is trail runners.


My main motivation for running Canyons 100k was getting the three UTMB "running stones" that would allow me to apply for the UTMB lottery in 2023.  My previous attempt at that lottery with just one ticket based on 10 "points" did not result in a selection, and UTMB completely revamped the application system, requiring the "running stones", which, in 2022, could only be earned in two specific races in the USA -- one being Canyons in CA and the other Speedgoat in UT.  

In addition to the qualifiers, the goals were, as always, to finish without injuries and to be fully immersed and to appreciate the experience.  This race is, for the large part, Western States (WSER 100) course being run backwards, so it provides a unique opportunity to preview that course short of running it in the actual famed race (someday, someday!).  Note that being run in the direction of Tahoe, this race is net uphill by a good 4000ft or so.


My buildup to the race involved a fair amount of climbing, including simple stairs in my work office building in Boston, as well as some local trails.  Up until 2 weeks or so before the race, having read past runners' guide, I had assumed no poles would be allowed.  Actually messaged the race on FB and they confirmed it, and so I trained without my trusty Leki trekking poles.  I mentioned this to one of my ultrarunning friends Jason, and he was curious enough that he read the newest website info before I did and informed me that in fact the poles are now allowed.  Checked in with my coach Greg and he correctly encouraged me to have the poles from the start.  

Got into Auburn a couple of days before and explored the area a bit, joined a run with a local running group from the Aid Station running store on some local trails.  Seeing the famous High School track which is the finishing point of the WSER 100, gave me chills.  Someday I hope to get into the lottery, though I am still early in my ticket-doubling journey :-).

What worked

Legs felt great after the race. No injuries, cramps or even that much calf swelling (which is common for me).  Did active recovery hiking with my wife every day for a few miles the following three days.  This tells me the training was enough for the speed I ended up going at.  I was able to run some flats and downhills even later in the race here and there.  If I ended up going faster, I suspect more muscle fatigue and damage would have resulted -- that's the usual trade-off with these things, but as I describe below, the stomach was the limiting factor.

Xoskin socks with trail toes continue to do the job really well.  I had my feet wet for about 80% of the race if not more.  Altras drain well enough, but that's far from getting to completely dry state.  I took time to change socks twice and shoes once, and I think that helped.  But I feel like I could have skipped the changes and only paid with fairly minor blisters.  Still, as it went, no blisters at all, so I think that was the time well invested.

The night before the race I realized that I left my ginger chews at home and decided to go visit CVS to buy something comparable.  They were out of chews (perhaps scooped up by the other runners?), but they had a ginger chewing gum designed to help with motion-sickness, so I gave that a try.  It worked pretty much as well as the ginger chews did for me in the past races.  I think I will be sticking to this from now on since the gum is easier to manage/chew.

The poles were a huge help, including a couple of the stream crossings later in the race when having changed my socks and shoes I really wanted to stay dry.  The poles allowed that!  I had them folded and neatly attached to the pack until the first big ascent of the race, and sort of thought that I would fold them again at least a couple of times, but decided not to bother, the time and mental effort involved was not worth it.

This was the first time I went substantial distance (about 45 miles) in the new Altra Timps.  They did their job well.  Traction was great, water drainage was as good as one could expect after all the stream crossings.   I felt like there was enough support all around without too much weight, and I was able to lace them fairly snugly and felt little movement of the foot inside.  For the last 15, I had one of my trusty Olympus pairs with only a couple hundred miles in them and they also did the job in terms of providing a bit more cushion compared to Timps, but did feel a bit more loose on my feet (though no blisters, after all).

Nutrition: borrowing an idea from another running friend Julia, I had Babybrezza packets filled with home-made mashed potatoes and mashed carrots, this did work for a bit mid-race until the stomach went south.  Otherwise, I had a few Spring gels, Honey Stinger chews, Honey Stinger waffles, Tailwind early on and then Rocktane offered by the aids.  Rocktane turned out to be a good option, I might try it on my own at some point.  Fruit smoothie pouches also worked for a bit. Later in the race, I had chex mix in my drop bag as a more savory option and it also worked moderately well.  Most of the aid stations did not have ginger ale, but my wife provided a couple at the aids where crewing was allowed.  I also had coke mixed with water in one of my flasks and that worked sort of ok for a while, until it didn't.  Veggie broth worked a lot better than chicken soup, which was surprising, but maybe that chicken flavor wasn't the usual ramen flavor that I am used to.

What could have gone better

At some point after the first half, especially on the longer climbs, the stomach stopped cooperating and for several hours until the evening fell I felt nauseous.  I knew I had to slow down and let it settle a bit, because the alternative was risking a blowout -- one you start vomiting, it is hard to recover.  I slowed down and reduced calorie intake during that time.  Ginger gum that I mentioned earlier did seem to work, but as expected it wasn't a perfect remedy.  I feel like I did not try enough alternatives at the aids during this time.  There were oranges and pickles and a few options for chips that I did not explore.  I heard that pickle juice does wonders for some people, so this was the chance to test it, but I didn't.

Guessing that more intensity in climbing during training might have helped in delaying the onset of nausea. It'll be even more important at higher altitude or hotter conditions.  I should research other means of dealing with this and be ready to experiment more during the actual events.

Thinking back to how much time and effort I spent avoiding the icy puddles in the last 5-6 miles, that was just not necessary.  I should have just plowed straight through, I've been through a lot worse conditions after all, and this was the last stretch before the finish.


Got this done in 18h 28m, which was enough for a WSER qualifier and the 3 running stones that I was after.


As always, hugely thankful for the opportunity to challenge myself in a beautiful and history-filled setting.  Immensely grateful to my wife for traveling with me and crewing, that was a huge morale boost.  Thanks to my coach Greg (AtYourPaceCoaching) who clearly had me dialed in pretty well for the race.  Thanks to the organizers, and of course to the runners with whom I shared some miles and conversations here and there.  Kudos to everyone who toed the line in this race.