Monday, September 28, 2009

Slow Boat to China

I am four days into a Pacific crossing to Japan and my running is going really well; I think my left leg and ankle are finally at about 85 percent.

I have never run in near gale force winds...until yesterday. I truly feared I would be blown off the deck never to be seen again! (See Photo - Cheryl had trouble standing to take the picture.) For the last few days, I've been running on a postage-stamp sized track on the top deck that takes 45 seconds to circle. You may ask, "Why are you running in little circles, Mark, especially since there is a beautiful and wonderfully long lower deck?" Well, because there are signs everywhere saying, "JOGGING IS NOT PERMITTED ON THE LOWER DECK". I do not understand this. Jogging died off at the end of the seventies, did it not? And I run sans terrycloth head and wrist bands. (Hey Jack, can you get me some of those? They could come back.)

Maybe my "jogging" could frighten some of the older passengers. I am already getting looks that say, "That punk is obviously up to no good. Let`s get him when he comes around again..... What were we talking about?..."

Some observations about life on the ship:

When a ship is really rolling, the treadmill takes a lot of skill. Do not bother setting the incline since it already feels like you're running up and down big hills. When the swells are at 12 feet, it's like like running on a roller coaster.
I estimate the average age on board to be at least 65. In the fitness center, they all are wearing New Balance shoes. I am a "mature" runner. Jack has put me in New Balance shoes. Hmnnnnnn........

I am liking this day-to-day routine. I have a toasted bagel, fruit, freshly squeezed orange juice, and coffee delivered to my room at 6:30, and am running at 7:30. By 9, I am at the thermal spa. Then, around 10, it`s breakfast, which consists of bacon, bacon, and more bacon. The rest of the day is a combination of yoga, napping, reading, and more eating. At 8pm it's time for dinner - a four course gourmet masterpiece paired with fabulous wine. This routine will continue until next Sunday when we arrive at Hakodate, Japan...and I will weigh in at around 350 pounds.

BTW - Since my running partner, Jon, posts pictures of his Whippets, I can post a picture of my Blue Point Siamese, Eva, with her new friend courtesy of Jon's wife Liz.

'Til next time,


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Mountain biking stupidity and being a spectator at the Rotary Run

Where do I begin....

It`s been an interesting time since the Canadian Death Race.

I took fifteen days off to allow my ankle to return to a semi-normal state, with a gradual return to running. In no time, things were almost normal and I had resumed my speedwork. It was then that my good friend Shawn offered me an unbelievable deal on his DH mountain bike. I used to race motocross a long time ago and have a thing for bikes and dirt. Unfortunately, this combination tends to hurt me.

It`s a beautiful bike that I have lusted after for some time. Everything on it is upgraded and premium. And my mountain bike was, well, old. I had no choice really and handed over the cash.

I have been riding with Shawn for awhile and he is an expert. I am not. But, on my awesome new ride, maybe I could be...

We ride the extreme river valley trails in Fort Saskatchewan which are maintained by Shawn and the local club he rides with. To keep the story relatively short, I crash in exactly the same spot twice in two weeks. Over the bars both times. The first time we have a good laugh; not so much the second time. After I connect the ground, my beautiful new bike betrays me and slams into the back of my left leg. It hurts a lot. I manage to ride out, cursing my stupidity. Stupid brain, how did you get me into this!? Needless to say, this has put a damper on my running. I also leave on a Far East holiday in mere days, not returning until November (Cheryl is not impressed and I'm not getting a lot of sympathy on the home front...).

This is why I was only a spectator at the Rotary Run in Stony Plain this morning.

Life is a contradiction; I hate watching other people run, but I like it too. They are hurting and I am drinking coffee whilst criticizing their form, speed, clothing, hairstyle, social status, and choice of friends.

As usual, Team Fasttrax crushed the competition in the "looking smart category" and the "running category". Kurt and Brian in the 10K, Jonathan (Mr. Jon Than when in Stony Plain), and Greg run with ease...

It is at this point I should mention my friends A.J., Stephen, and David. A.J. and Stephen are preparing for Fall marathons, and David is just continuing his habit of running fast races. A.J. runs pretty well, even with his recent mixmaster injury. Always the optimist, he makes efficient use his tensor bandage by turning it into a straw holder. (see appropriate photo now)

I was drinking coffee at a pace no one else could even remotely approach. In your face, Grandma! (I sincerely apologize to all grandmothers, past and present for this comment.)

That`s all for now. Check out the photos.

Thoughts inside my head: I wonder if Jack is regretting putting me on the team and having a blog on his website after reading all my wacko posts! But then, nobody is reading this..

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Canadian Death Race - August 1 to 3 2009

It's Sunday night of the Labour Day long weekend and still 22c outside. I'm on my deck, sharing some Spanish wine with Cheryl, and trying to recall the craziness that occurred about one month ago at the Canadian Death Race. So much to tell....

To quote the Death Race website, "It's a killer". I liked to mock that but changed my mind after I actually did it! "For nearly a decade, elite racers have come here to cheat death in one of the world's toughest adventure races." Who actually thought this was true!

I was privileged to be part of Team Quikcard/Norden Auto Haus/Aman Building Corp/Fasttrax/Go Backpackers Hostel. - defending champions. The team consisted of:

Leg 1 - Petra Graen - Internationally ranked ultra marathoner
Leg 2 - Gary Poliquin - Former Canadian Death Race Solo Winner
Leg 3 - Steve Baker - Team organizer, leader
Leg 4 - Jonathan Withey - Elite runner, Death Race leg record holder, (Correct me if I`m wrong but I think he`s not from around here)
Leg 5 - Little ole`me

Naturally, I was feeling pressure to perform.

July 31, 2009 - Steve and Jon pick me up in a beautiful silver Porshe Cayenne, courtesy of Norden Auto Haus; I am not accustom to this level of sponsorship.

For five hours, Jon and I listen to Steve talk....I laugh solid the whole time! We arrive for the pasta dinner (which is actually pretty good), hook up with Petra and Gary, then head over to our accommodation for a pre-race briefing (which involves eating Lays baked potato chips).

August 1, 2009 - Saturday greets us with an unusually warm morning; a sign of bad things to come. Petra`s up first and full of positive energy; I`m envious. She goes for a run before her run. The rest of us stumble to the start to see her off and see running celebrity, Dale Karnazes. He`s smaller than me! Who knew...

The gun goes off and Dale Tuck blows out of the gate as per usual. I suspect it has to do with his compression tights. Petra is in close pursuit. The course has them loop back past the start within a few minutes. Some young guy wearing a University of Saskatchewan shirt whips by first, followed closely by Dale and Petra. Bets are on - how long before Sask boy crashes and burns. Surprisingly, he wins the leg. As usual, Petra runs a great leg and sets us up in a good position.

Leg 2 - Out goes Gary. It`s hot, very hot, and getting hotter each minute. The heat is intense and all leg 2 runners do their best. Most runners come into transition in distress and require urgent medical attention; Gary is no exception. It`s amazing he finished the leg. Some teams drop out; Jon and I assist in the transfer of the chip and coin to Steve. Gary cannot stand and cannot breathe; we are scared.

Leg 3 - Although worried about Gary`s condition, Steve takes off. Gary fought hard to stay in this race and Steve`s not going to let him down. (After significant attention from the medics, Gary recovers and is ok.) Its 27c. I wonder what Steve thinks about during his 19km run....the toe nail clippings in the ashtray back at the house; is the Porshe clean enough; maybe Ella, his sweet little girl....

Leg 4 - Jonathan is up to bat. Before he takes off, Jon says to me, ``I`ll gain back a half hour. You gain 15 minutes and we`re back in this thing.`` I say OK. Jon proceeds to destroy the course and all the competition. He puts us back into second place; only three minutes behind the first place team. A run beyond imagination....

Leg 5 - I`m full of confidence, ready to eat up the competition and the course. This is unusual for me! My plan is to catch the first place guy in the first 5 km, then run in easy.

Mistake 1 - I take off like I`m racing on a road course. After a brief, steep climb, I find myself on an off-camber, slightly downhill, twisty, rooty, over-grown, trail about a foot wide. I am running way too fast for this terrain (hindsight is a wonderful thing). Within 10 minutes, I mildly roll my left ankle. Five minutes later, I mildly roll my right ankle. My brain says ``this is bad``; my body says ``it`s not too bad, yet``.

Mistake 2 - A couple minutes later I roll my left ankle again. This time, even my body says ``it`s freakin` bad``. I roll it so badly, I collapse into the bush screaming. After I manage to stand, I have to hop on one foot until I can put weight on the other. I hobble down the trail, progressing from a walk to a slow jog, then to a run. I have to completely modify my form to run on one leg. Every step, I try to place my left foot on a level surface to avoid rolling it again; if that happens, I`m done and will let the team down.

I have 17km left to go. Wonderful. I wanted this to be a moment of triumph and it`s going to be a disaster. I can`t believe I let this happen....

I make it to the river crossing and am greeted by Jon and Steve. Jon yells, ``believe, believe``. It reallys helps me a lot.

The boat has to come from the other side of the river to pick me up. The Grim Reaper sips his Budweiser as we wait. He tells me first place is only minutes in front. After I get across, I climb a big GD hill while nursing my ankle. Finally the course levels out and I manage to run at a reasonable pace. I emerge from the woods with four km to go and a big climb into town. I see Gary and Jon; they tell me I closed the gap to less than two minutes. I`m in pain.

When I get onto the gravel road, I see the first place runner and he sees me. He picks up his pace enough to hold me off. Bastard. I run the leg better than I thought, but not as well as I`d hoped.

Although team North Face finishes first, the overall winner is in doubt. The river crossing time is the factor. After both leg 5 runners are interviewed by course officials, my ankle has a date with a garbage can lid full of ice.

Mistake 3 - I pull off my shoe and my ankle swells to the size of a tree trunk. The medics want to take me to the hospital; no way, I`m not missing leg 6!

August 2, 2009 - Leg 6 - I witness many things but what happens in Grande Cache stays in Grande Cache... Right Jack, Steve, Jon....

We also find out the official results - we place second.

August 3, 2009 - On Monday, Jon and Steve drop me off at U of A emergency. I get an x-ray and call Cheryl. This is not the first time Cheryl picks up the pieces. Turns out my efforts result in a grade two strain and cost me my full marathon in Regina and half marathon in Edmonton.

I regret nothing.

Addendum: - After running leg 1, Petra, in her usual kindness, volunteers to lead a blind runner on a 3 hour leg so she can experience the Death Race. What a amazing lady! - My lips aren`t completely sealed about the ``what happens in Grande Cache`` thing. Buy me a martini and I`ll sing like a bird....
Many thanks to my good friend Jonathan for helping me have my best year ever!


Friday, September 4, 2009

Sinister 7 - July 5-6, 2009

Sinister 7 Team Relay - "You can expect to run from 12km to 30km on rugged trail, depending on which leg you chose. Each of the seven stages is different and you can see the descriptions of the legs here. Unless your team can complete the 146km course in 14 hours, you may also be running in the dark. Each leg is a little different and you should expect to be far out in the wilderness, at least for a short period of time. Although you are on a team, the help you receive on course is very limited."

From the Sinister 7 website

Our team, Team Fasttrax/B&B Demolition, defending champions, consists of:

David "The Legendary" Livingstone - Leg 1

Petra "Super Woman" Graen - Leg 2

AJ "Super Man" Rankel - Leg 3

Michael "Machine" McBeth - Leg 4

Glenn "Unstoppable" Mack - Leg 5

Steve "I Get Things Done" Baker (Team Lead) - Leg 6

Fat-Ass Armstrong - Leg 7

It's 7:00 a.m. David is at the start line and Petra is on the bus. The horn blows and David is off like a shot. Leg 1 is revised from last year and has newly added wicked downhill. David is strong and gives the team a great start.

Leg 2 - Petra heads on a 16 km, single track, ATV trail. Better her than me. Petra is an elite ultra-marathoner (actually national level) and is not to be messed with, anywhere, by anyone.

Leg 3 - AJ's up. The man is amazing. If you've never met him, you're missing out. 33K with a 1237 elevation gain. Truly the hardest leg of the race and AJ does it in a freakishly fast time.

Leg 4 - It's all about Michael "Machine" McBeth. 32K straight up and 30C. The heat is oppressive. Cheryl, Steve, and Michael's wife Dorothee catch up with Michael about half way into the run. Michael is in a zone; very focused.

Leg 5 - We are in a fierce battle for numero ono and the perfect runner is up to bat...Glenn Mack. 22.7K. This leg tries even the toughest of racers and Glenn gains 17 minutes on our competition. We are firmly in first place.

Leg 6 - Sure-footed Steve takes off. The heat is relentless. Cheryl overhears a volunteer on a radio saying "the first place team runner is a couple km away and is coming fast". That's Steve!

Leg 7 - Oh god, here I go again. I manage to run the entire climb (as opposed to last year) and survive the equally nasty, nasty downhill. The rest of the run into town in uneventful except for the %^&* headwind I have to fight. My team meets me near the finish line and, like last year, all run in together. Man, I am glad that's over! I realize I'm feeling the effects of Canada Day (run three days before). Not too bright!

We win by 7 or 8 minutes. Hats off to the second place, 3 man, team consisting of Robin Bloom, Gary Poqolin, and Greg Mieklejohn (sorry for the misspelled names)!

The evening ends with pizza, Prosecco, and tunes compliments of the Mack family. I fall asleep thankful I'm not a soloist running through the night. They're crazy....right Jack? Tracy?

Canada Day Road Race 2009

It's a beautiful Wednesday morning - July 1, 2009. I meet top runners, AJ Rankel and Stephen Toal, at Stephen's house. The mood is light, subdued (my attempt at humor is greeted by obligatory laughter). We do a warm-up run to the legislative grounds and head straight for the porta potty. The long lines force us to use other alternatives....

Start time is drawing near. AJ, Stephen, and I make our way to the front of the start line. Greeting us is Matt Normington, Nial McGrath, and Brian Torrence. Damn, this is NOT going to be a easy race! I stealthily check out my competition; I'm feeling fat in my compression gear....

Once again, I surprise myself and start slowly. AJ and everyone else tear off down the hill at 5 million miles an hour; Stephen and I plod down the hill together. Stephen pulls away from me at about 1K to catch AJ. I pass 1K at 3:30 - a bit fast. It takes me to Groat Bridge before I pull up to Stephen and ask him why we do this! I don't remember his answer, but I am sure it was witty.

Stephen and I stick together until the entrance to Hawrelak Park. AJ and Russell Goeschalk are just a few steps ahead. At this point, I feel a boost of confidence, which I can thank fellow Fasttrax runner, Jonathan Withey, for (Jon and I have spent countless hours doing speed work in the park). It's slightly downhill and I want to take advantage of the grade.

I pass Stephen, Russell, and AJ and start closing on Nial. Near the edge of the park, I somehow succeed. Next comes the cruel climb up Emily Murphy Hill. I feel like I crawl up the hill; at the top is Christine Rankel, AJ's lovely wife (and brilliant photographer). She doesn't recognize me due to my girth and heavy breathing.

Unknown to me, there is a clash of the titans happening for sixth place (which I am glad I had no part of)! Nial and AJ battled side-by-side from Emily Murphy to the finish. AJ edges Nial at the line, but Nial gets AJ on chip time. Very exciting!!

I hold my pace, feeling stronger than I have a right to. I cross the line in 53:51, 5th overall. Not bad for an old, "thick" guy. I think this may actually be the best race I have ever had....

Thursday, September 3, 2009

2009 HSBC Calgary Marathon

My feeling in the week leading up to the marathon was that I was in waaaaay over my head. Again. But I had to show up, as I had new shoes to run in and they are very nice! I was really freaked out about having to run in the heat. I run like shit in the heat, worse than usual! And to freak me out even more, my mileage was not what I felt it should be due to this and that. Mostly mental injuries. You know, the ones that feel really serious and you take a day off and they are completely gone!) And, to top it all off I was feeling really fat.

Cheryl and I get to Calgary just in time Friday night for the free food and booze for the elite athlete`s at the Hyatt. (I know you are wondering why I was there. I lied saying I would run a 2:25 marathon and Jeremy Deere believed me! Sucker!!!!!) I am eating celery and drinking water while there is wonderful, free scotch calling to me. So cruel! And Cheryl is eating wonderful looking canapes and drinking wonderful wine. I gotta get this free stuff sometime when I can take advantage, not now! Well, I have noticed this fellow in the corner who I think looks a lot like Jon Brown.

Through the use of my superior, Hercule Poirot like deduction I figure out it is indeed Jon Brown. (Somebody called him Jon and he answered yes. In a snobby British accent. Those British are sooo damn snobby!)) This is the Jon Brown who finished 4th in two Olympic marathons! (first loser, really) I wander over casually to have a conversation.

It goes like this:

Mark- are you Jon Brown!?

Jon- yes, yes I am.

Mark- cool.

Long, uncomfortable silence followed by me slinking away in a most embarrassing manner.

I spend Saturday worrying, fretting, eating and drinking. Until 7 PM that night when a good friend of ours who is putting Cheryl and I up whilst in Calgary graciously offers to give me a hypnotherapy session to help me with my run. I really suspect it is to stop me from ripping my hair out in clumps. I agree, thinking I need all the GD help I can get! To be truthful, I am a huge disbeliever in pretty much everything. (except the Moonies, that cult`s got it going on!) But I think it helped me. Stopped me from pulling my hair out, anyhow.

I sleep not too bad, and wake up at 5 for my one slice of toast and jam. Cheryl drives to the VIP parking lot. (this is awesome!) We arrive at 6, with plenty of time. I spend the next hour going back and forth to the porta-potty, you know the drill. The weather is perfect for the start, maybe 8 degree`s. But, there is no cloud and no breeze which worries me. I do no warmup. (I can warmup in the race, it`s a freakin marathon!) It`s then I realize how long it`s been since I ran a marathon. I am completely unprepared. I have no bodyglide, and no gels. Oh well, I guess I`m going anyway!

The gun goes off and in the first kilometer I do something unprecedented in Mark Armstrong`s marathoning history. I make a smart decision early. I decide not to run my marathon pace which I have been using in training. (3:53/KM) I decide to try and keep the pace around 4, or just slightly under. I can go for broke another day, I need to get this one under my belt or I may give up on the marathon. (Well, not really)

At around KM 2 I hook up with the Brendan Lunty, and his training partner from Camrose Ian Blokland. When I see Brendan I shake my fist at him and yell "Lunty"! (I stole that from you A.J. I know, but I like it!) At KM three we pass the 1:45 half pacer. He really, really needs to be
fired. His group is dying. I`d be pretty mad if I were one of them, but then again maybe they all ran a 1:25! However, I doubt that happened.

We run together until maybe 5K until I tell Brendan to go away as he is making me run too fast as I just want to run sub 2:50, not 2:43. (on this day. Ha, Ha, Ha!) He trot`s away, like the fast runner he is. Bastard! This leaves me with Ian, who then refuses to shut up. Nice fellow, I like him a lot. But shut the hell up!

The conversation:

Ian-the last k was 3:55, wanna know what I did last night?


I am feeling quite good as we approach the biggest hill in the race around KM 16 or so. Once again, I think I run pretty smart. I tell Ian that I am not running up this hill hard at all and he can do whatever he wants. He stays with me and I run comfortable up the hill doing 4:30`s which feel fine.

We arrive at the halfway around 1:24:45 which I am happy with. Around KM 25 I spot my wonderful wife who asks me how I am doing. I respond with a "not good". I was actually doing quite well, but was thinking of the hardship to come. I am running back down the big jesus hill when I pass 32k and change and realize all I have to do is run under 41 minutes for 10K and I`ve got it in the bag. Any idiot can do that, I think. Not so fast, you idiot.... However, I just keep running and holding my pace without a lot of problem.

At around 40k I am closing on a runner and as I come alongside he stops dead. His friends on the curb yell frantically at him, and I feel no sympathy for him as I push forward. (am I bad?)

When I can finally see the clock I realize things are looking good. I cross the line with clock reading 2:49:56. Home free with the sub 2:50! I think..... They announce me as top master. Hey, I made money! it`s good to be old!

I feel surprisingly good, with no stomach problems or any problems at all. I took water at every 2 stations with Gatorade in between. I took no gels. I carried one that I was given on the course, but threw it away after carrying it for 25 minutes deciding whether or not to take it.

I am very happy, collect my money and Cheryl drives me home.

I really want to thank my friends and Jack at Fasttrax for all their help these last couple of years. I likely do not deserve all the help I have received. Thank you.

One last thing. Never, ever, run a marathon. It`s long, and it hurts a lot.