Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Bow Corridor XC Ski Race (Canmore) – BVH Takes the Season Opener (Master’s) Classic Style Sprint Relay

By: Blaine Penny

 Just 3.5 weeks ago I was running along the hot pavement in the desert of the Las Vegas Marathon. Transitioning from long distance running to Cross Country Skiing Sprints in 3 weeks is not an easy thing to do I learned today. I managed to convince my good friend Kirk Howell – an ex xc ski racer from a previous life - that we should do this race and team up since it was a team relay sprint.  Each skier skis 3 laps of the 1 km loop.  How hard can it be….right?  Carl Pryce and Brendan McCracken teamed up, as well as Carl’s 3 kids.  Carl’s wife Rosie was on course cheering louder than anyone and definitely gave us all an enthusiastic advantage.

Running provides good endurance and fitness, but racing fast on cross-country skis requires a lot of upper body strength and speed on top of that.  I am definitely lacking the strength and the speed and was quickly reminded of that today.  Kirk on the other hand had managed some good strength training through the fall, but was lacking the endurance.  Together, we made a decent team to muster through this.

After a week of fine-tuning the nutrition over the Christmas holidays through eating copious amounts of turkey and chocolate, a few too many beers and wine, I was feeling like I had the energy to toe the line and light the afterburners.  (You sense the sarcasm I assume).  With Kirk having a history of pretty much never losing a sprint finish in his olden ski racing days, we decided he would anchor and I would start.  We registered in the Master’s category (30 years +) to avoid being embarrassed by the young guns in the open men category.

The 1 km loop consisted of a climb off the start, downhill, then slight up, down again to the stadium and slight up to the finish. There were approximately 20 to 25 teams and I bravely started in one of the front lanes.  We blasted off the start and I went as hard as I could and realized I was out in front – now the hard part was holding it.  About a minute later it hit me and I was a flailing carcass of lactic acid.  A couple times I got tangled up in myself and missed a few strides, but luckily didn’t fall.  I managed to double pole as hard as I could to complete the first lap, but was overtaken by one other skier in the last few meters as I tagged Kirk.  As I came into the tag zone Kirk started accelerating as I ran out of gas and had to ask him to stop so I could tag him. Ouch! Not bad I thought, but I was seriously hurting and already felt like I had burned a hole in my lungs. 

Kirk started cautiously on his first lap and then decided to light it up when he got to the first hill and overtook the lead skier (Charles – another east coaster from days past).  By the time Kirk finished his lap he had a good gap.  We kept building on the gap throughout the rest of the race and managed to win by about 45 seconds.  Not bad for a couple of old school ski dads I guess.

The only downer on the day was the unfortunate incident of a skier who went down on one of the down hills.  Apparently he was unconscious for 5 min and was rushed off to the hospital.  I sure hope he is OK.  Not what you expect in an old guy masters race, but you actually get going pretty fast on some of the down hills and a fall can actually do some serious damage.

We had a quick look at the posted results and our time of 16:44 for 6 kms, which would have put us about 15th in the open men category, just a mere 1 min behind some Olympians who raced in Vancouver last year. Most of our Canadian National Team were skiing the race and it was pretty cool to watch those guys go.  Carl and Brendan came in the bottom 3rd of the pack after making up some ground on the last few laps with a solid finish.

I know the BVH is mainly a running club – unofficial of course – but one of my goals is to get a few folks out for some of the local xc ski races for some cross training.  Here’s a list of a few great local races for anyone interested in challenging yourself on the skinny boards:

-    Bow Corridor Regional Race (Jan 8): Canada Olympic Park 9 km Skate Race -

-    Canmore Ski Fest (March 26&27): 12/24 Hour Ski Challenge – solo or relay teams.  It would be great to see a BVH / MitoCanada relay team entered.  I am going to give the solo a go and would love to have some pacing from anyone interested.

-    Cookie Race (Feb 26): a.k.a. Kananaskis Ski Marathon

-    Canadian Birkibeiner (Feb 12): Edmonton, AB

Matt had the idea last year to ski all the trials in PLPP, which has now turned into an annual 100 km ski tour it appears.  If anyone is interested in joining us on Jan 2 for the 2nd annual tour, email me at or check out the Facebook page Tony Smith of SMITH EVENTS has set up

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sacramento Marathon Race Report

by Duncan Marsden

Sunday, December 5 was the California International Marathon in Sacramento so while Blaine was pounding the pavement in Vegas, I headed slightly further west to take on what was billed as "the fastest marathon in the West".  I had heard a lot about the net downhill of the course in the Sacramento Marathon so I was keen to see if I could put this to good effect.

I headed down to San Francisco with my family on the Friday before the marathon and then we drove to Sacramento.  We stayed in the host hotel which was right next door to the Expo and only a few blocks from the finish line.  I always wonder what the hotel staff think when they host these events; in the days leading up to the marathon the bars are full of people drinking water and the restaurants are full of twitchy racehorse type personalities who want "a double portion of plain brown rice, no sauce".  Everyone has their foibles!  And on race day, reception is filled at 4 AM with skinny people trying to eat their own weight in porridge, bagels and energy bars.

The Sacramento Marathon is a point-to-point course, so you need to take a bus to the start.  It takes about an hour and was a chance to me to catch up on sleep.  The race prides itself in having more portaloos per person then any other race and I've never seen so many people taking pictures of toilets before - there really were hundreds!

I got off the bus in the dark but very quickly it became light and was the perfect day for marathon running; cool, no wind and no rain.  After a few strides and a little bit of stretching, we were off.  I was pretty near the front but I was determined to take it easy in the first few miles, particularly as the first one was downhill and could lead to too fast a pace from the outset.  I put myself in with a group of lead women for the first mile and wondered if I should stay with them, given that they were likely to pace the race far better than I was, but I decided that the pace was slightly too slow and pushed off, running the first 6 miles at an average of 5.45 per mile.  Right on pace for my 2.30 goal.  Miles 6 to 14 were definitely hilly.  It's true that there is a net downhill on this course, but it is by no means downhill the whole way - the first half is undulating (albeit with more down than up, but there is definitely some "up").  The pace dropped a little bit at this hilly stage but I was not concerned and I wanted to make sure though I got to about mile 16 or 17 feeling good, so that I could push on from there.  I went through the half in about 80th place and was 76.38.

Around mile 14, I heard some footsteps catching up with me at a serious rate of knots and I turned to see the two lead women, ready to pass.  It was clear that they were going at a good pace and I thought that it was the ideal opportunity to run with someone for the second half so I upped my pace to match theirs.  I didn't feel right tucking in behind these two women and so I lead the two of them in their battle.  It was really interesting to watch the race unfold and the miles dropped to about 5.30 per mile.  They must have thought it was a little bit weird because they called me up 14 and then I stayed with them right to the finish - it was almost like I had been planted there as a pacemaker for them!  The lead woman dropped second place at about mile 18 and then the two of us ran the rest of the way home together.  It was really good running with her although I didn't get another cheer the entire race - everyone was cheering for her!  We kept running in the 5.30s until about mile 23 and then we both slowed to 5.50s.  During this time we must have passed about 30 guys - some looking really tired, obviously having gone off too quickly, but they all cheered us on.  I'm pretty sure they all thought I was her pacemaker too. 

I finished in 2:32.09 which was good for 35th place.  A negative split and I'd passed at least 30-40 people in the second half.  No-one overtook me in the whole race.

As I crossed the line, my initial reaction was disappointment.  I had wanted to hit sub-2.31 so that I would achieve sub-elite status for the Chicago Marathon next year and I had missed it by 69 seconds.  Worse still, it meant I had to run another marathon in spring!  However, you can't be disappointed with a personal best and I had run 1 min and 50 seconds quicker than I had previously, so all in all I was pleased.  I'm no longer scared of 5.45 mining and I'm hopeful that 2011 has a sub 2.30 marathon in its plans for me!

All in all, a good, well organised marathon and worth doing.  Now I can kick back and enjoy getting fat to Christmas..!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Las Vegas Marathon Race Report

by Blaine Penny

The Vegas trip for my wife Sarah and I was only our second vacation sans kids in the last 7 years. Sarah was running her second half marathon and I was running my 4th full marathon.

It was only 5 or 6 weeks earlier that Sarah mentioned to me that we should go on a weekend holiday get-away. It took a few days before Vegas came on the radar - where we had never been before - and that’s how the idea of making it a running holiday came about. I was thinking all I want is a break since it had been such a busy year of house renovations, running races and charity work. I was all game for it.

The biggest challenge for us in getting away without the kids is having someone to look after them. We have no family in town and have a special needs kiddo, Evan, who has a lot of medications so no easy feat to pawn the kids off. Fortunately our good friends Ian and Anna (who live in Golden, BC) were up for the task of taking the kids for 4 days. They have 2 kids of their own, who are the same ages as ours, so they moved right into our house and stepped in to look after the kids. Fortunately Ian is a paramedic and administering the meds were no issue for him. We also brought in our respite care worker, Dana, who is just amazing with the kids to help out.

We arrived on Friday morning and 2 days before the run. Never having been to Vegas before we knew it was going to be a fine balance between sightseeing and not overdoing it knowing we had the marathon on Sunday. After all, this was Vegas! I swear we walked a marathon on the Fri and Sat.

The race weather was perfect. It was about 5 or 6 degrees with a forecasted high of 15 with no wind. With a gun time of 7 am, we woke up at 4 am for breakfast to allow enough time for food to digest and to catch the shuttle to the start. We spent about 1.5 hours at the start standing around, which is always tough when you are cold and just want to get the show on the road.

It wasn’t long before we were in our corrals and Cher was belting out the National Anthem. Then it was go time. My race strategy was pretty simple. I was looking for a time of 2:42 and wanted to have a consistent pace of 3:50 mins/km and pick it up in the second half if I was feeling good.

The course for the half marathon basically ran down and back on the strip and then the marathoners peeled off with the second half being a little more drab, running mainly through the industrial part of Vegas. The first half was really cool - tons of spectators lining the strip, Elvis everywhere, a band on just about every corner rockin’ it hard, and even 60 couples exchanging vows. I knew it was going to be a lonely second half and that I was going to have to dig deep to keep it going. This was a stark contrast when compared to the Boston Marathon that’s for sure!

There was steady climbing from about mile 6 or 7 until about mile 17 where we cranked around a 180 degree hairpin to look back on the city and I realized the extent of climbing we had done. This was a huge mental boost for me since I had been slowing a bit and we then had a 2 to 3 mile stretch of down where I could crank it out again and get back on track.

Sarah was gunning to go under 2 hours for the half, so at the 2 hour mark when the hurt really started to creep in I distracted myself by thinking about her race and how it was going for her. At about mile 20 I felt my steady Eddy approach was working well and I continued to slowly pick off runners who were fading. I had no idea of how I was doing placing wise, and really just focused on maintaining my game plan and making sure I was taking on fluid and calories at every aid station. I was pretty stoked with 3 miles to go knowing I was still on pace and could actually pull off my goal time. I also knew that I didn’t want to get too excited knowing it could all fall apart in an instant, so I kept taking on fluids and told myself it’s not a done deal until you cross the line. I held it together, but was suffering pretty bad in the final mile (where I got passed for the first time in the entire race) to post a time of 2:42 and change.

I find the marathon is a dichotomy between being focused on your game plan, but at the same time distracting yourself so you don’t dwell on the pain and the lows. The coolest thing about the whole run for me was the effortless downhill cruise between miles 17 and 19 (after climbing for so many miles) – it just felt like the easy lunchtime run pace and didn’t feel like I was in the middle of a marathon at all. Those moments are rare!

I had idea throughout the race what my placing was and didn’t care. I recall looking at last years results and thinking that if I pulled off a top 50 would be good and top 30 would be amazing. It wasn’t until Sarah’s Dad emailed us the results later that night that we realized I had placed so well. To finish in the top 10 and 1st in my age group was an added bonus and one to remember for sure.