Monday, October 19, 2009

Asics Xtrail at Orford

On Saturday, I participated in the Asics Xtrail cross-country half-marathon at Mount Orford in the Eastern Townships with my buddy/running partner Nico. We had been training for this race all summer. Although my training had taken a setback when I sprained my ankle a few weeks ago, I felt that I was in good shape for this race.

Nico had made a secret family recipe "carbo-cake" for us to eat before the race. It was dense but yummy. Alex and Nico's wife Solenne would be coming to the race to cheer us on. Their plan was see us off, then hike up the mountain and greet us at the finish.

The race was 23 km long. The first 13 km would be rolling terrain in the woods, like a typical cross-country race. That would be followed by a steep climb in the woods, then a run along the peaks to a final climb of almost 1 km up the top of the ski hill. The race would end at the top of the mountain and we would come back down using the chair lift. We were told that the race would take about an hour longer than a standard half-marathon, which meant about 2:40 for me.

The temperature was hovering around the freezing mark at the bottom of the hill, so we had to be ready for snow near the top. I ended up buying tights for the race to wear under my shorts, even though I hate tights and think they make me look like a dork. I was wearing a thin toque over a running cap and some thin running mittens, as well as a thick running shirt over a thin thermal top. It turned out my choice of clothing was appropriate for the temperature, as I realized during our brief warm up before the race.

My plan was to try to relax during the first 13 km of the race as I knew all the tough sections came in the last 10 km. We lined up for the start together and headed off with the other 200+ runners in the race. Nico and I had no plan to stay together, as there was really no point in such a long race. We knew I was faster on certain types of terrain (easy surface, long uphill slopes) and Nico on others (anything technical, anything downhill). I tried to keep a comfortable pace where I was relaxed and it seemed to be working.

Running with Nico at the 4 km mark
We crossed the 10 km marker in under 45 minutes and I wondered of I was conserving enough, but I felt fine. We came to the 13 km mark in under an hour and then the uphill sections really began. Still, I figured there were only 10 km to go, and even if I went at a brisk walking pace of 6 km/h, I would be done in 2:40.

Nico pulled away from me and I never saw him again. You could not really run on these first steep sections, as the only available trail was over large rocks placed like steps... big steps, like taking regular steps two by two. I was not doing great on these steps, but not terribly either. After a long uphill section, the trail flattened out for a short stretch and I motivated myself to break into a run again. Unfortunately, I didn't lift my foot high enough over one rock, which caused to to trip and fall flat on my face. I got up and wiped off some mud. My ankle was sore as I had caught my foot on the rock, but I could tell I had not re-sprained it. I continued the climbing section and made it to the open rocky sections where we would begin to run along the peaks.

I now understood why many people were using poles. You cold not really run on this terrain. You had to climb up and down rocks, over and over again. There was no path. I guess it's hard to explain, but people who have been hiking on mountains can understand this. Still, the kilometers were slowly winding down. I was very tentative over the rocks and many other competitors passed me in this long section. They seemed to know no fear, leaping and bounding over racks, landing with one foot on roots or mud or other rocks. All the people I had passed in the first 13 km must have passed me in this section, and more. I was dirty and a bit discouraged. I had thought that the biggest obstacle in the race would be my fitness, but I hadn't expected my lack of technical skill to be such a hindrance. I slipped and fell on my butt at one point, but the only sore spot was my triceps, which had taken the shock as I used my arm to brace the fall. I finally got through the hellish rocky sections and was now surrounded by snow and ice in the brief wooded sections. I could see the peak where the race would end in the distance and it seemed impossibly far away.

Nico on the peaks
After another section in the shrubs, I popped out into the open and saw the final climb ahead of me. To be honest, it completely discouraged me. The run up the ski hill was so steep I wondered how I would complete it at any speed. No one was running here, and it was hard enough just to walk it. I could see almost clear to the finish line and the runners at the top were tiny because of the distance. I crept up the hill, trying no to slip on the frozen ground. What I wouldn't have given for some steps! As I rounded the final corner, I heard Alex and Solenne cheering me on. This helped a lot! I finally finished the steep part and Alex told me to sprint to catch a runner who had just passed me. I gasped that I couldn't do it, but at least I managed to jog the last few steps to the finish line.

The crazy steep section
Finish line
I had completed the race in 2:32.22, 11 minutes behind Nico. I was 75th out of 210 runners, while Nico was 40th. I guess I should be happy, as this was my first cross-country event, but I'm mostly disappointed that I was not able to run in many sections even though I would have had the energy to do so, because of the technical nature of the course. After 13 km, I was surely much higher than 75th. Only a couple of minutes after the race, I was not even really that tired, because I had been running so little in the latter half of the race. I can't really say I regret how I trained, as there was no way to practice for these technical sections in Montreal, or after my ankle sprain.

The four of us after the finish
The following day, we went hiking on the mountain with the girls. By the end of the three-hour hike, I had seen about enough of Mount Orford. At least I got a chance to enjoy some of the views that I was too concentrated to see during the race. I have to thank Alex for her support of my running habit, as well as Solenne for her cheer leading. Of course, I am extremely thankful to Nico for encouraging me to try this race and for training with me all summer. Back next year? We'll see.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mosport on Thanksgiving Day

Well, it's a bit late to be posting about Mosport last Monday, but I've had a busy few days. The ASE lapping club was hosting a track day at Mosport and it was a great opportunity to get in some useful laps at the track where I never seem to get comfortable. I joined Carl and the others in the West Island at lunch time Sunday so we could head over there in a convoy.

Official convoy meeting spot
One of the club members got a car transporter to carry his and his buddies' cars (2 STi's, an S2000 and a Lexus IS-F) along with a 50's Jeep Willys and some 4-wheelers. The trip down was uneventful and we had some great BBQ after our arrival. I camped and slept in the cold (around 0 degrees) but woke up to a promising looking day, that is to say, it wasn't raining.

I slapped some almost finished Toyo 888's on the front with two of the 888's i used in the enduro in the rear. We would have access to the track for seven 30-minute sessions, a ridiculous amount of track time.

My car was performing beautifully and and by the end of the first session, I was within only a couple of tenths of a second of my best lap time from the enduro. Not too bad considering it was only about 5 degrees out there. One of our more enthusiastic members crashed quite heavily in turn four, but he was not injured and not too worried about the car that got totaled, as he had already begun work on a proper race car.

Lined up in the pits
I was having a blast in the advanced group and playing around with JP and other fellow
instructors. I got into a good groove following a nicely built Nissan 240 SX race car that seemed very close to mine in performance and clocked 3 laps in a row in the 1:43 range, which is a second faster than my fastest lap ever before that since changing to the 1.6 liter engine.

I had the passenger seat and had Jeremie, one of our members, along for a ride. After a couple of fun laps (Jeremie had never yet experienced R-compound tires), the throttle cable broke. Fortunately, for me, after I drove the car into the pits using only idle, Sajan, who was the unlucky guy who had balled up his car earlier, was waiting with the throttle cable from his Civic and managed to install it in mere minutes. That is the type of camaraderie that makes our club so great.

In the final session of the day, I was trying to keep up with JP and a Mustang, but I just couldn't do it, although I managed a 1:44.0 while trying, which is still pretty quick for me. When I pulled in and began to prepare the car for the ride home, I noticed that the two front tires were corded, one of them badly. I guess that means that I was getting close to the maximum out of the car, considering the condition of the tires. All in all, I was more than happy with my driving, as I feel I am slowly but surely improving at Mosport.

Cool cars spotted:
Bentley Arnage
Bentley Continental
Audi R8
Audi RS4
Audi RS6
Citroen Moke
Nissan GT-R
Lotus Exige
Ferrari 328
Aston Martin DB9
Maserati GT
Lexus IS-F
E30 M3
Carlsson Mercedes 190E

Monday, October 5, 2009

Various updates

Well, I haven't really done much car-related stuff lately. JP borrowed the race car for the Tremblant weekend a week ago, finishing 1st and 2nd in class in the two races. I will be heading to Mosport with the ASE gang in a week for the final lapping event of the year, then I will be parking the race car. So far, they're predicting rain, but who knows what we'll get. Still, it should be a fun day at the track, if I can find some rain tires.

I have to admit that I haven't been keeping strictly to the running program... I've still managed to go out 2 or 3 times a week, and did a 24 km run Saturday evening. The big race is in less than two weeks at Orford. Apparently, it's gonna be more like 23 km than 21. I look forward to the challenge of running on a mountain for 3 hours. I hope it isn't too cold though...

The basketball seasons have started up again as well. I will be coaching grade 7-8 girls again and my sister Val has taken over most of my old team, coaching the grade 9 girls. I also started playing again on Friday nights. We lost our first game by 7 points, but we were missing some key players. I missed several easy shots.

It's basically that crazy time of year when the winter activities are in full swing and the summer stuff isn't over yet. Luckily, the condo is not taking up too much time and energy, as Alex had got a bunch of key things done before going to Chicago. Alex has commented that she's getting sick of our old Civic. She also mentioned that she would like our next car to be a bit more "prestige". She doesn't mean enthusiast prestige, like a Skyline or WRX... she means badge prestige. I told her we could get a nice BMW for less than 10 000 $ (which is quite true, I confirmed with a glance at the local classifieds). I told her I would want her to take a winter driving course if we were to switch to rear-wheel-drive, and she agreed. I don't think this "file" will move forward any time soon, but it gives me something to look forward to.

Cool cars spotted:
Aston Martin DB9
Porsche 997 turbo
C6 Corvette Z06
Ferrari 599
Ferrari F430
Lamborghini Gallardo
Maserati Quattroporte
1990 Mazda RX7 turbo II
Audi R8
Audi S8
Audi RS6
Audi RS4