Wascally Wabbit 82k Race Report and Beyond

Yes… I know this is overdue, but Ive been BUSY!


For some reason or another this racing season I wanted to test the limits of my body both mentally and physically by signing up for a string of races, with short recovery windows in between and no opportunity to actually train for them.

Let me explain… A month prior  to Wascally  I ran my “A” race of the year the Fredericton Marathon (you can read that race report HERE). I trained all winter for this race and gave it everything I had. Shortly following this race I ran the cabot trail relay, where I ran 2 legs (30k total and a ran much harder than planned) of the race and wrecked  my body pretty good requiring another full week of recovery with no running. Following Wascally  its 1 month to SONOFA GUNOFA (149k) and then another 3 weeks till Brookvale (50k). 1 month following Brookvale if my body lets me I’ll be shooting for 160k in Cape Chignecto. So now you see this ridiculous schedule I’ve set out…

With one week left before Wascally, not an ideal time to start training for your first Ultra of the year 1 week before the race, so I opted to embrace the taper and rely purely on past experience with a focus on nailing my nutrition and hydration. I knew I wasn’t going for a PR, but the challenge here was to prove to myself that you can race a distance of this magnitude based on mental strength and proper nutrition.

The Plan

In most of my previous races my stomach has been my limiting factor and this time I was determined to to make some serious headway on this issue. Being an engineer I decided it was time to isolate all of the variables to give me the greatest control over the outcome. What do I mean by this? Previously for my races and training I heavily relied on drink mixes containing both electrolytes and carbs, or just electrolytes and took this in consistently with my water. I supplemented this with real food in longer races 50K +.  The end result though, no matter the proportions was a an inability for my stomach to process what I was putting into it.

With out time to test anything prior to the race I decided to through my #1 rule “nothing new on race day” out the window. The new nutrition plan was as follows (with the bulk of calories coming from numbers 1 to 6):

  1. Digestive Bitters (15 mins prior to breakfast)
  2. Water: as required, but shooting for 750ml per hour
  3. Salt pills  1-2 an hour (I still love my NUUN, but I didn’t use it for this race)
  4. Homemade gels (quinoa, apple juice, beet juice, sea salt, almond butter)
  5. Boiled potatoes tossed in salt
  6. strawberries
  7. bananas
  8. cookies
  9. cinnamon buns (judge me if you will, but this was not vegan… contained eggs & milk and I ate one)
  10. Oreos (yes these are though)
  11. cliff bars
  12. Plain chips

The goal amount of calories was roughly 250 cal/hr.


For the actual run it self, I actually went into it with not much of a plan, other than listen to my body and have fun. Also unlike me, I normally plan out things in pretty great detail, knowing all of my predicted splits. I don’t recommend this approach unless you a purely just going out to have fun, and you are not attached to the outcome of the race at all.

The Race

The night before

The night before the race we packed up the van and headed down to camp ant the race course. It is always nice to wake up at the race course! I must say that we were lucky to be camping in the van though as the weather was not very nice. It was quite windy and torrential rains! When we arrived someones tent had been blown off its pegs and into the trees! Lucky for them the snowmobile club has a building there and they were able to keep dry and sleep in there for the night. It always fun hanging around the night before the race and getting to see some people that you have not seen since last year and get caught up!

We got set up I hung around a bit and chatted, but I do like my sleep, so It was lights out by 9:00pm for me. With the race starting at 8am even through I wasn’t going for a PR I still like to get up nice and early (4:30am) to make sure I am up and breakfast has had lots of time to digest before the start of the race.

4:30 am

I slept well and woke up before my alarm around 4:15am. I had my bitters, oatmeal and chagga tea and just relaxed in the van for a while. I was happy to see that the rain had stopped, and it looked like it was going to be a pretty nice day, although I knew it was going to be a wet mud-fest out there!

That being said, and knowing that I did not have any ultra training under my belt, I opted to use my trekking poles for this race. 6 am came soon and it was time for the pre race gear check and before I knew it we were lining up for the start. I had no pre-race anxiety but I was pretty unsure about how this day was going to unfold.

Loop one – The fun loop

The course start out with a pretty steady long climb up a dirt road. Its hard not to get caught up in the start of the race and run this first hill slow starting with all of the runners who are running 1 and 2 loops. So yes I happily chatted along and ran this first hill a bit too fast.

Once we turned off into the trail it didn’t take long to be into the wet and the mud. Our first dealings with it were knee deep thick sloppy slippery mud. Some people were going to great lengths to avoid it, but I knew what we were in for and it would be a very long 3 loops if I was going to be concerned about staying out of the mud. Shortly after the first mud section I had to stop and empty some rocks out of my shoes (this becomes an important point later on so stay tuned).

No where on this loop did I feel like I was running beyond my limits. I was running pretty easy steady pace, eating my potatoes  and gels and staying on top of my hydration and salt. I know not having the specific ultra training my specific systems were not fine tuned to go all day long, but things were feeling good.

So much of the first half of this loop was a slog through the mud, and “lakes” where the trail should have been, but thats all part of the adventure. It was a welcome site to finally get to the steep 2k decent down into Gerry’s Place around 13k and the only aid station out on the course. The decent down was quite steep and was very slippery and muddy in places, I was glad to have my poles for stabilization. Getting there and stopping was my first realization of just how bad the bugs were out there. Hats of to the volunteers out there spending all day out there, man you guys must have gone to your zen place.

By the time we got back onto the first road to run the final 5k back to base camp I had caught up to some friends and was happy to close out the first loop with them. I was running a bit short on water at this point as things were heating up, but at no point was a feeling desperate. During this time a ran a body check, stomach good, quads good, hamstrings good, IT’s good. No worries closing out loop one feeling good.

I was in no rush back at base camp, filled my bottles, ate a tone of strawberries, some banana, refiled my gels and stocked back up on potatoes. I did not however gab extra water carrying capacity…. oops. Amanda was awesome, she was there, took care of my, re-stocked my supplies and helped be get ready to head back out onto the course.

As I was about ready to head back out, I ran into a knew friend Mike, i decided to wait a few extra minutes for him and we headed out on loop 2 together.

Loop 2 – The decent in dark despair

I was pumped to be heading out onto loop 2 with Mike. We again chatted away and ran up the first road climb out of base camp. It quickly became evident that he was running stronger than me, but we stuck together for a while and had fun slogging it out through the mud, trading stories, talking about eating plants, training and running.

Again I had to stop and try to get some rocks out of my shoe, I shook them out good but it didn’t help. I was really starting to get some pain in my right foot near my small toe and under my ankle. I knew in order to finish this thing I needed to slow down and and run my own race.

Its amazing how your mindset can shift so quick when you end up on your own. The pain in my foot was getting much worse and being out on the trail all alone things started to get a bit dark. It seemed like I should have made it to Gerry’s Place hours ago but I never seemed to get there….. every turn I thought it was time to start that decent, but it was never there. Man this was taking for ever, time was standing still. I still kept moving forward though. Things were heating up and I took the time to stop at a river crossing and thoroughly cool off. I felt like a new man! And wouldn’t you know it there was to trail down to Gerry’s things were looking up.

Arriving into Gerry’s I was starting to come out of that low I was experiencing I actually passed quite a few people on that downhill, maybe I wasn’t moving that slow after all?? I passed even more on the steep climb leaving the aid station. Things were looking up.

Reaching the road again, I was still running low on water, why didn’t I bring more with me on this loop?? I knew this was going to be a problem. I saw lots of friend faces heading back out onto loop 3 and for the most part it was a pretty nice downhill run back to base camp, although I knew loop 3 was going to be a battle with these foot issues I was having.

Finally getting back to base camp Amanda was no wheres to be seen, can’t blame her I was an hour slower than I was on the first loop, can’t expect her to hang out at the start finish area all day. I wondered over to the van to find her and sat down, and preceded to eat all of the food. This is when it hit me, my stomach was still feeling great!  I knew loop 3 was going to be a slow loop given how my foot was feeling, but now having a solid stomach and feeling great otherwise I knew  could do it. I grabbed a larger water bottle and also put a bladder in my pack to make sure I had enough fluids for this long adventure that was to be loop 3.

Loop 3- The lowest of lows, the climb out and a new friend

Heading out onto loop 3 on my own I guessed it would likely take me 5 hours. I was ok with that. I just wanted to get it done.

Remember that first road hill I ran up on the first 2 loops… ya that was not happening this time. It was hot, I knew it was not going to help me to run it, so I power hiked the whole thing.

Turning of into the trails it seemed as if the mud had gotten deeper and and more slippery. The bugs were now relentless at this slower pace. After getting though this first mud section I was getting pretty frustrated, it really felt like there was something very hard in my shoe. I sat on the side of the trail took my shoe of and no rocks came out… It would seem the rock feeling was just a symptom of my foot pain. I sat here a few minutes feeling sorry for myself getting eating by bugs and wondering why I was out here. Yup that happens in ultras. Its just about getting up and pushing though the lowest of lows having faith that things will turn around. There was no good reason not to keep moving forward so I did.

Soon after this giant pity party I heard someone come up behind me. It was Blair. Just having him catch me and start talking with me things instantly turned around for me. I didn’t feel any better but my mindset shifted. I stayed with Blair, we chatted and we were both having a rough go at it. We ran when we could and hiked when we had to, but the twoof us were working well together to keep moving, and that is what you have to do to finish these things, Just keep moving.

Reaching Gerry’s things really hurt, although it hurt more to hike than it did to run so I guess that was a bonus. I ate a ton of Oreos  and some of a cliff bar. Thats when I noticed Blair was not eating. Shortly after I learned his stomach had turned and he was not able to really eat or drink anymore.

We made the long climb out of Gerry’s together, however after reaching the top he told me to go on with out him. I had gotten so much strength from having him with me it was hard to strike out on my own, but it felt better to manage a shuffle of a run then to hike.

Later Blair would catch and pass me while I was having a bathroom break (side note, I have never seem so many mosquitos swarm in one place before…. that really sucked to stop). I would eventually catch and run with him for a while, and then continue on my own.

I finally reached the road, 5 k to go. I was moving slow but still moving. My friend Jo caught up to me while i was hiking up the last climb on the road. I was happy to see her and have some company. I am glad she didn’t catch me until the last climb was over, as she would have past me for sure, but I was able to keep up on the down hill the rest of the way back. Big props to Jo, who was last coming through Gerry’s on this 3rd lap but continued to run strong catching a passing manny runners on the last half of this lap!!

We crossed the finish line together and I was pretty close to my 5 hr prediction. 4 hrs and 45 min for that last loop. It felt great to finish though!

The Veggie Burgers!

This race was a big victory for me. No it was not my fastest time, but I did what I set out to do. I finished with a solid stomach!

Jodi (the race director) even had veggie burgers on the grill ready to be eaten, like it was meant to be as a reward finishing and still being able to eat! Man did those taste good!

Post Race Recovery

Initially I was pretty stiff and hobbled around for a few days as one expects after running a race that is that long. The stiffens passed quickly but the pain in my foot remained.

Into see Rob a Nova Physio I lean that it is my peroneal tendon leading to my foot pain and he treats it.

The next week Amanda and I headed off to Baxter State Park for some hiking in the mountains. This trip was a lot of fun, but I was constantly working damage control on my foot. We’d go out for a hike and by the end of it I would be in pain again. I’d work hard after to manage the pain and get my foot back to a place where I could hike again the next day and then repeat the cycle. No regrets here this was an awesome trip!

Oh and I forgot to mention that I found out on this trip while hiking what caused my injury! I was experiencing pain again while hiking and I took my shoe off and no rocks. Fed up I took my insole out to find that there was a large lump of hard mud caked on it right under my outside to toes…. thats what did it. So if you are running a muddy race, it may be worth taking you insoles out to see if there is any mud build up in your shoes!

Coming back from this trip my foot was actually feeling ok so I started to run again. After a few runs a came to terms that I was just aggravating the issue every time I ran, so It was time to take this recovery seriously. With I had 2.5 weeks to go before I would be attempting my longest run ever at the SONOFA GONOFA. I needed this to get better.

I call up Active Approach and they are able to fit me in that afternoon for an appointment. We decided the best course of action is no running until this thing is better. Its normally a 2-3 week recovery! Not good.

Where I am at now

It is currently 1 week out to SONOFA and still no running. Ive been for many appointments at both Nova Physio and Active Approach and working with them my injury is healing but its still not there yet. With 1 week to go I am not chancing going for a run. All of my energy is going into recovery. I have no idea if am going to be able to pull this off. But next Saturday I will line up and see just how far I can make it.



Let’s talk about Recovery (Stress)

It is June now and spring racing season is over. Most people have a race or two under their belt and everyone targeting summer and fall races are well into their training. It seems like it is an appropriate time to talk about recovery.

As runners (or cyclists, or triatheletes, or whatever sport you choose) we all know how to train hard and we know how to break down our bodies to get stronger and faster. We also hear a lot about the importance of recovery after we do that. But the thing is, I don’t think everyone puts a much work into recovery as they do into training. And you know what? Recovery is often more important (and more difficult) than training.

We expect our bodies to put up with a lot of stress. We are stressing our cardiovascular system to get more lung capacity, we are stressing our muscular skeletal system so we can stay on our feet longer and go further. We are stressing our nervous system, it raises your cortisol levels and stimulates the “fight or flight” response. And while we are doing this we are also still going to work, raising a family and dealing with all the every day ‘normal’ stressors we have in out lives. Let’s call these last ones mental stressors.

Well you know what? Our bodies can only handle so much stress. We all know that, but we also put so much importance on training hard and performing at our best be it at work, in sport, or with our families, we don’t make time to recover.


What do I mean by recovery?

  • sleeping enough
  • nourishing your body properly so it has the right amount of vitamins, minerals and building blocks to replenish its self
  • giving your legs the time they need to bounce back after that long run (not too much time mind you, just enough) so you are ready for your interval workout 4 days later
  • recovery runs, and taking them seriously and at a recovery run pace.

Do you know how many athletes say they are out on a recovery run, but in reality they not even close to recovery pace? The answer is most. A recovery run not done correctly just causes your body more stress and damage. This may be a whole separate blog topic. Recover like you mean it. It’s important!

What Does Over Training Look Like?

Over training can cause you to have some funny reactions. The easiest one to identify is the dreaded injury, the sore knee, oblique or foot. They kind of smack you in the face with your body saying “hey buddy, what were you thinking, that’s just too much for me!”. But there often lots of signs that happen before you get to that point that we just don’t hear (or see) and listen to.

Do you need a nap after your long run? Think that is normal and it happens to everyone? Well think again. You can go run that 28k at XXXX pace, and come home have a good meal and mow the lawn and play soccer with your kids. If you can’t there is a good chance you just aren’t feeding yourself enough food, or maybe the right food. If you give your body the appropriate amount of whole, real food, you will be able to go through your days without having a 3pm slump or bonking after your big training efforts. That might be a whole different blog topic though.

Digging a little deeper into some signs, stay with me, here and be warned, this is going to get personal.

Do you ever have a moment of anxiety over something, like blow it right out of proportion. Like say when your spouse leaves their dirty running socks in the middle of the kitchen floor (I know, who does this) for the umpteenth time. And it causes you to go into a blind rage and throw all their socks and shoes into the yard. Then you pick them up 20 minutes later when you realize that was a bit of an extreme reaction and are embarrassed and don’t want them to see what happened).

If you don’t’ relate to that one, how about you are at work and someone throws you a curve ball for the project you have a tight deadline on. And your reaction is frustration, anger, and throw some panic in there for good measure. You waste quite a bit of time on this reaction, when really you should just be acknowledging it, processing and moving on and getting to the task at hand, but you just can’t….. its caused you some disruption and you are just going to give it too much time and spiral a bit.

Now getting even more personal, how is your digestion? By that I mean, do you get an upset stomach, gas, bloating, or interesting bowel movements? I’ll leave that there without going into more detail. But I do want to remind you that your body can’t digest food when it is in ‘flight or flight mode’. We can dig into this further at a later time.

Let me tell you a secret, these symptoms are all a product of stress. Your body doesn’t know the difference between physical stress and mental stress, and its reactions to physical stress might be mental, and its reactions to mental stress might be physical.

Recovery practices

I’ve asked around, and here are some key things runners say they do to recover:

  • Eat after your workout (the all important within 15 minute rule)
  • Drink beer (carbs and electrolytes and pain killer)
  • Stretching
  • Foam rolling
  • Ice baths
  • “Protein” shakes
  • Active recovery, slow running, walking, ect.
  • Epsom salt baths
  • Volteran or ibuprofen
  • Compression gear

Anything you can think of I missed? Everyone has his or her own rituals and beliefs when it comes to recovery after a hard workout. I’m not here to say any of these strategies are no good, they all certainly are and I do a lot of them. However I would like to unpack the how and why behind some of them, and add a few more you may not have thought about.

Salt Baths

Baths with Epsom salts are generally said to be detoxifying and soaking in the epsom salts allows your body to absorb magnesium.

Did you know that you need to add 4 cups of Epsom salts to your bath to realize these therapeutic benefits? That is a lot of salt.

Magnesium is a very important mineral for athletes, and we often just can’t get enough of it in our diet. If you are training at high mileage and high intensity you might want to think about taking a magnesium supplement instead of those salt baths. Magnesium is so important for muscle recovery, and it help’s you sleep!

Now to address the detoxifying benefits of that salt bath.

There are a couple of bath salts that we use on the regular, dead sea salt and celtic salt. The dead sea salt is soooo relaxing, its wonderful for relaxing your muscled and your mind. The keltic sea salt is the most detoxifying of the salts and works effectively on your muscles. You can use either or, or mix them together depending on what you are looking for in your bath.

When using these salts, you can use about 2 tbsp per bath and see the same detoxifying benefits as that large amount of Epsom salts.

We also add to that 2 tbsp of dead sea salts 2 drops each of lavender and grapefruit essential oil. Put the oil in the salt and stir until its dissolved before adding to the bath. Grapefruit is an amazing liver detoxifier, and lavender is going to help de-stress and does some work on reducing inflammation. I find this combination is best used 3-4 days after a hard race effort, or the day after your toughest training effort of the week. Part of training is teaching your body to heal from these efforts so you have to give you muscles some time to heal after the breakdown they endured. Salt baths can be a gentle way to support that healing when used at the right time.

Notes on Essential oil Safeties

Since I have not written about essential oils here before I need to add a few notes about how to use them. Essential oils are strong plant medicine, and should be use sparingly and with respect. Here are some rules to follow when using essential oils:

  1. Do not apply oils neat to the skin, they should always be diluted.
  2. Do not add oils directly to the bath water, they are not water soluble. Always dissolve them in salt, or add them to oil before adding into the bath water, otherwise they will just float on top fo the water and come into direct contact with your skin (see safety #1 listed above…)
  3. Use between 3 and 5 drops of oil in your bath. Remember more is not always better. Essential oils are a concentrated form of the plants volatile oils. When using them remember that one drop of peppermint oil has the same amount of volatile oils as approximately 1000 cups of peppermint tea.
  4. Not all oils are suitable for everyone. If you are choosing to use essential oils make yourself aware of the safeties of the oils you are using to avoid any side effects. If you purchase your oils from a reputable company they will come with an information sheet telling you what the oil is effective for and what safeties you need to be aware of before using it.
  5. Some essential oils are phototoxic and can cause irritation, inflammation, blistering, redness and/or burning when exposed to UVA rays. Grapefruit (and all oils expressed from citrus peels) is one of these oils. So be mindful when you have your grapefruit bath you should do it at a time when you will not be in the direct sun for 24 hours.
  6. Store your oils out of reach of children and pets, and consult with a qualified aromatherapies before using oils on children and pets.
  7. Do not take oils internally.

Herbal Tea

Another trick we use at New Leaf Endurance is tea. Herbal teas are both calming and can be very beneficial to your recovery and overall wellbeing. Our current favorite is a blend with Tulsi and Lemon Balm that we have in the evenings. Lemon Balm has a bit of a sedative effect so it will help you fall asleep, and the Tulsi is a great adaptogen and will help regulate your cortisol levels. Another great benefit and why we add Tulsi is that is helps your body assimilate oxygen, which in turn helps you increase your endurance. This one is a win win, calms you down and helps boost your training.

Breathing & Meditation

Breathing exercises, meditation. Deep breathing stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system chiefly controls various involuntary organs and blood vessels and generally decreases the activity. It lowers your heart rate and calms your body systems.

We have all herd the expression take a deep breath and count to ten, well this is where that comes from.

If you haven’t already read Coach Rick’s post on meditation, jump on over there and have a read.

What do you do for recovery?

The above tips are a few of our recovery strategies. I would live to hear what you do for recovery. And if you have any questions about what we do reach out and ask.

Letting Go of the Outcome to Maximize Your Training and Race Performance

Letting go of the Outcome

Letting go of the outcome to train and race at a higher level. It seems counterintuitive but if you have read my post Its all in your head: Mental Toughness and Body Awareness then you will start to see where I am coming from. When you are so concerned about the result that you are obsessing over it, losing sleep over it or, it is just an overbearing sense of anxiety, it is just not productive. I am not saying that you don’t have to have goals. Its more about having a healthy relationship with those goals.

The Early Days

Reflecting back on my career as a competitive paddler, I was always obsessed with the outcome. I have to make Canada Games, I have to qualify for nationals or make the junior worlds team. The list goes on, but the mindset was the same. It can’t be very good for your race performance if you have yourself so worked up on the start line that you are throwing up before the gun goes off. That is putting way too much pressure on yourself and in the end it means that you do not perform to your full potential.

So you can see this is a pretty personal topic to me. When I started running, I of course fell into the same thought patterns. I have to finish this marathon, qualify for Boston or make it to the finish of my first 50 miler. Unless you do the work to disrupt the way you approach things, nothing changes and you fall back into the same routine. Even my wife would tell you how nervous I was leading up to the races, or how consumed I was by my training.

How This Works

I have done a fair amount of reading on the the subject of performing at your maximum potential and the most common theme that keeps coming up, is letting go of the outcome. I don’t mean that you don’t care, its just a shift in mindset that takes the pressure off so you can focus on the task at hand.

If your head is not all clouded with anxiety about whether you are going to run a PR then you have more bandwidth available to get down to business and execute. You can be more in tune with what is going on around you and instead of crumbling when things don’t go your way you are more able to adjust on the fly and course correct. Not to mention that all that stressing takes energy.

On the training side of things being 110% into your training all of the time can also be counter productive. If all you think about all day in and day out is “are my splits fast enough, is my heart rate low enough” or “I really blew that workout, there is no way I am going to make my goal now”. All of this over analyzing and negative talk can be quite detrimental. It causes your body more stress.

Yes mental stress is still stress and your body can only handle so much of it. So if your stressed out all of the time about your training or your race, you are actually causing your body to recover slower from the training that you are doing. As a result you are likely not able to train as hard as you could if you weren’t stressed.

Tips to Let Go

  1. Have a flexible training plan, and accept change
  2. Keep you eye on the big picture, look for long term trends when analyzing  your training
  3. Check in on your progress periodically, not obsessively
  4. When you do check in, recognize and celebrate the gains, no matter how small. Its all about forward motion. It doesn’t happen over night
  5. Set smaller process goals so you can gauge progress, so its not all tied to one big goal
  6. Find your tribe, you don’t have to go it alone, surround yourself with like minded people
  7. Don’t compare yourself to other people, this is your own journey. You are doing this for you
  8.  Meditation to help calm your mind
  9. Spend some time and plan your race day…. then practice it, then master it.
  10. Line up on race day with a purpose. That purpose is not to run a PR or qualify for Boston (those are outcomes), the purpose is to get the best performance out of yourself on this day, in these conditions and on this course.

How Is This Working For Me?

First let me be honest and say that I struggled sharing this before I run my BQ attempt in a few weeks. What if I write this and I don’t run a good race, what will people think?

So I am not perfect, I still struggle with letting go of the outcome and worrying about what other people think sometimes, but I am actively working on it and so far with big improvements.

My training has gone great, I have pushed myself harder than I have ever before. I am sleeping better than I ever have, and I am recovering faster from workouts. My overall stress levels are way down. I am actually present at home with my wife while running 100-120k training weeks.

Ive also been able to take a bit more of a laid back approach to training. I am still training my butt off, but it has become more of lifestyle for me. I have been able to incorporate it into many adventures and outings with Amanda which has definitely increased my level of enjoyment. As seen in this picture, we often enjoy camping together, and getting to do my training in new parts of the province or country is always fun!

This has been and still is a gradual shift for me. I can see it in myself mostly at home during training, but I am also noticing changes in myself in the weeks leading up to races and on the start line. I am calmer and more focused, then when I look back at my former self not only as a teenage athlete, but even my self from last year. Recognizing the gains of something as abstract as this can be difficult, but that where practicing self awareness also comes into play.

My Upcoming Race

So in three weeks time I will line up for the Fredericton Marathon knowing that I have worked my butt off, I am fitter than I have ever been, I have practiced my race day strategies and I am confident. Yes I still have the goal of trying to qualify for Boston, and I have met all of my process goals leading up to this point. On race day its just going to be all about giving it my all and seeing what happens.


It’s all in your head: Mental Toughness and Body Awareness

It’s all in your Head

We’ve all heard the expression distance running is 90% mental. So what exactly does that mean?  it means that running your beast race comes down to mental toughness and body awearness.

Well I am going to try and unpack that as best I can and explain how I relate to this. I will warn you up front that you may find what I have to say a bit out in left field but sometimes if you have an open mind that’s where you find the best ideas.

So anyone who runs knows that there is always a point in a race where things are getting tough and you are presented with a choice. It doesn’t matter the distance, believe me I have run the full spectrum 5k-100k and this point always shows up. For the shorter distance races it shows up fast and furious, lung searing, leg burning pain. In Ultra distances it can take a while, and sometimes it sneaks up on you but eventually you end up in a deep dark cave of despair, you 15hrs in and somehow you have 15hrs more to go?? You climb out of that dark cave, up a mountain, only to end back in it again, and again and again.

THE CHOICE: Do I give in, slow down and let up, Do I drop? There is no way I am going to finish. I have un bearable pain in my quads, I can’t run downhill hill anymore…. should I keep going? If you haven’t read my 2016 re-cap post  you should check it out. I have to face these choices all the time. So I will take any help I can get.

That’s me…. soaked head-to-toe in sweat on a 35 degree day during the Brookvale Ultra. Just keep moving forward…. one step at a time. Literally…..

How do you prepare to make the best choice on race day, or in training? I believe that It all comes down to mental toughness and body awareness. Let me give you a hint… It’s all in your head!

Mental Toughness

So what is mental toughness? Simply put if you have a goal, and it is really important to you achieve it. Just how far are you willing to go to get there? Its your ability to keep moving towards your goal even when it looks like there is no way you can reach it. Everything is trying to stop you, the world conspiring against you, everything is going wrong. Your body is TELLING you not to continue (I’ll get into this later in more depth when I talk about body awareness). But YOU are strong enough, you are mentally tough enough to overcome this.

How do we become mentally tough? That sounds hard right? Well thats a yes and no answer.


Here is the yes answer. If you want to be mentally tough then you need to suffer. Its a simple answer and it makes sense. The more you suffer and the more you overcome you increase your suffering threshold and you become tougher.

What do I mean by this? The more times that you can tough it out the tougher you will get. For example, its -20 degrees C outside, the wind is howling and its 5 am. You have choices, you can go back to bed, you can go do the workout indoors on a track or treadmill OR you can suffer through it outside.

I am not saying that you need to or its good to choose the hardest option all the time (although I seem to just gravitate to the hardest path more often than not). But, think of it as an investment. The more times you accumulate when you overcome a situation when you were sure you were going to have to quite, the more experience you have to draw on in your race when every ounce of your body is telling you that you hurt to much, it’s time to let up, it’s time to quit. You can say It’s ok body, I’ve  been in worse situations than this and we have survived, YOU ARE GOING TO BE OK let’s keep going. Yes I do talk to me self… a lot. Is that weird? I’ll leave that up to you.

So Rick… you’re saying that I need to SUFFER in order to get tough??

Re-train your brain

NO. You don’t have to just suffer all of the time to get mentally tough. You do need to do it. But how do you get to the point of convincing yourself to take the hard way?

Ever notice that sometimes you can have the best plans to change a behaviour but when it comes time to execute you just fall right back into old habits?

Heres an example… I want to be a morning person, I want to wake up earlier and run before work. But when it comes time to get up in the morning you just can’t seem to break the habit of rolling over and going back to sleep. It’s a thought pattern. Just like when you are doubting yourself at the 30k mark of the marathon and you brain is telling you that you no longer care about your PR anymore, it’s ok to walk. It’s all just that… they are thoughts.

So what if there was a way that you could re-train your brain to have different thoughts? Well that one I don’t know it exists, if you can find it let me know!! Ok then so what if there was a way that you could train your brain to process these thoughts, acknowledge them, but be able to mover forward and change your behaviour? This you can do. Its not not a sexy quick fix but if you work at it you can re-train your brain. How?


Meditation. Yup, this is where we take the first trip out in left field. Yes meditation can make you a better runner, and a better person really.

But Rick, I don’t have time to do this meditation stuff, I am way too busy. What if I told you that with 10 min a day you can have profound results. You can learn to acknowledge thoughts, refocus and move forward with the task at hand. Trust me…. Its a game changer. That is how you train mental toughness without the suffering. IT”S PUSHUPS FOR YOUR BRAIN!

Don’t know where to start? Check out headspace. Its a great app to get you started and one that I use frequently. The website also has all kinds of great information about the other great benefits of meditation.

For the record, I am not a perfect meditator. I don’t do it everyday. I understand it’s value, and what it can do to improve my running and my life, and I am actively trying to incorporate as much as I can. The key is not to beat yourself up if you miss a day. Consistency is key, but once a week is better than no times a week and you will start to gain momentum. Give it a try!


Body Awareness or understanding what your body is trying to tell you. This takes practice, but time you invest in doing this pays off big.

This is not hard, I am a person, I have a body and a brain I know what my body is telling me. WRONG! Did you know that most people are so out of touch with their bodies that they don’t even know when they are thirsty? If you don’t even know when you are something as simple as thirsty how are you ever going to know when your body is trying to tell you that you are approaching overtraining and you need a rest day, or a recovery week?

This is our next stop in left field. But it starts in a familiar place. Meditation. Doing this inner work puts you more in touch with what your body is trying to tell you. Taking the time to quiet your mind and take 10 min to do a thorough inventory of how you are actually feeling can be pretty enlightening.

Going Deeper

What if I told you there was a way to go even deeper into your sub-conscious and actually influence your autonomic responses. Crazy Right? The mother ship has landed, and we are no longer in left field, we have now left the ball park.

There is a man named Wim Hof who has mastered this. He has climbed up to 20,000 ft on Mt. Everest wearing nothing but shorts. Luckily for us he has devoted his life to teaching others how to have better control over the nervous system. You should google this guy and read up on him. What he has done defies logic. Also check out his website for more information https://www.wimhofmethod.com .

I have been doing the Wim Hof method training now for 5 weeks. When I started I could hold my breath for 30-45 secs. Now I can hold my breath for over 3 min and 30secs. I can also do 80 push-ups without taking a breath. Before starting the training I maxed out at 35 pushups with normal breathing…. crazy. I can also stand in a ice cold shower for 10 min and not get cold or even shiver. I am becoming more in touch with my body and what it can do when I put my mind to it.

There are many other benefits to breath retention exercises and cold exposure that relate directly to performance enhancement for running…. but this post is already getting pretty long so I am going to save that for another day. I hope I peaked your interest enough to visit the Wim Hof website (link above) and do a bit of research on your own, because really thats what’s its all about.

Taking this journey and having a greater understanding of your body you can begin to understand what it is telling you. What pains are ok to run through, or when you need to stop to avoid doing real damage. When you can keep pushing in training or when you need a recovery week. Sometimes you learn the hard way, but if you learn how to pay attention it doesn’t always have to be the hard way. Sometimes you can catch things before they become big problems, and sometimes you can push beyond your perceived limitations with faith that you understand your body.

Take your training beyond the workout

After all of that if you are still reading this…. THANK YOU!

I challenge you to step outside your comfort zone and try something new. Try implementing one small thing this week outside of your normal workout routine to up your game. Weather it’s 10 min of meditation per day, trying a yoga class. Or you could be crazy like me and try holding your breath for 3.5 mins and take ice showers.

The point to all of that is that in order to really take your training or your life for that matter to the next level, don’t forget that IT’s ALL IN YOUR HEAD! So take care of your brain and invest in some mental training!


2016: Success or Failure, It’s a Matter of Perspective

By all accounts my racing season in 2016 did not go well. I failed to meet all of my major goals. I did not qualify for the Boston Marathon, I blew up completely at the Brookvale 50k, and I DNF’d my first 100 miler. Well if all I cared about was results, this would be the time to through in the towel and give up.

If you are trying to push you limits to the absolute max to reach your goals, even when they may be within reach, the chance of failure is quite high. Sometimes you just have to have the courage to try.


A quick 2016 Training recap

Mararthon Training

2016 did not start ideally for me. I was sidelined for 4 months after completing the Vermont 50 miler last year. Recovering came right down to the wire. The first week I was able to run consistently was 16 weeks out from my BQ attempt at the Bluenose Marathon. I remember showing up to my first North End Runners group run in January and being nervous about being able to run the entire 6k without re-injuring my knee. The North End Runners group runs have become something that I look forward to attending every week!

I do find a simple pleasure in running fast on the roads, but my heart truly lies on the trails. While training for the bluenose  Amanda and I did manage to squeak in one trip to Apple River, Nova Scotia, and although I wasn’t running the trails it was a great first camping trip of the year.

Amanda enjoying our favourite campsite in Apple River. No one around for miles and a beach all to ourselves.

Its not trails, but not a bad spot to get that last long Run in before race day!

Amanda and Zephyr enjoying a walk on the ocean floor (the bay of fundy has the highest tides in the world!)

50k and 160k Training

I started ultra training by getting out for my first group run with the Nova Scotia Trail Runners. What a great group of guys! I really enjoyed sharing many miles on the trails with these them, whether it was running in Wentworth, Cape Chignecto, or the regular group Thursday runs (when I could make it out for them they were always worth the drive!).

This shot is from an early spring camping trip I took with my Dad to Cape Chignecto for father’s day. I got up and ran for 3 hrs before he got out of bed!  I spent a lot of time at this park this year. 30+k training runs with the Nova Scotia Trail runners and completed my first full loop of the park with Shawn McCardle (the race director of the Brookvale 50k).


Amanda an I took a trip to Baxter State Park in Maine to climb Mt. Katahdin. Let’s just say that Amanda is part mountain goat and handled the “knife’s edge” trail much better than me!

I first became aquatinted with Gerry’s place while volunteering at the Wascally Wabbitt trail race at Wentworth. Its a pretty steep long decent to get there, and then you have to climb right back out again. I spent a lot of time back here on these trails this year training for the Bromont 160k.

Amanda an I took a few trips to Cape Bretton, Nova Scotia this year, and became well acquainted with Meat Cove Mt. and Franey Mt. One of the funniest conversations I had was with the owner of the Meat Cove Campground. When I got back from running up the Mt. He told me that it was a gruelling 2hr hike up and 1.5hrs to get back down…. you should of seen his face when I told him I got up in 15 min and back down in 8min, then then ran it another 4 times haha!

Amanda logged some serious miles on these trips too! I remember one day after we had just run 10k together (with some decent vert) and then I continued on without her to do some repeats of Meat Cove Mt. and on the 3rd repeat I find her up on the top of the Mt. hanging out in the blueberry patch. That made my day.

After running the 47k loop at Cape Chignecto, I rounded out my first 160k training week by running the Economy Wilderness look with Amanda the next morning. We may have stopped for an awesome swim in the river along the way!

Last but not least we travelled to the Gaspe, in Quebec on the way to my 160k race. This place was pretty amazing.

2016 was truly a great year of adventuring and with over 3500km run and over 66,000m climbed, I feel that adventure was earned. I am truly grateful that I was able to share so much of that time with my awesome wife Amanda and that I met so many great new friends at North End Runners, and Nova Scotia Trail Running.

2016 Running season Quick Recap

Bluenose Marathon

This race was a disaster right from the beginning. Sometimes you can do everything right leading up to a race and the day is just not meant to be. Don’t get me wrong, a race pace of 4:15/km was at the absolute max of what I was capable of on a perfect day. Right from the start the pace felt way to hard. I pushed through the half coming in 2 minutes behind pace splitting a 1:32 and wanting to hurl. The back half of the race was a complete sufferfest. I was reduced to a crawl, but I was determined not to drop. I finished with a 3:22, way off the mark of the sub 3hr race that I wanted, but hey I still got a 48 min marathon PR.

So what did I take away from this race? You really have to enjoy the journey and appreciate how far you have come, even when you don’t obtain your goal.

What will I do different next time? No way I am carrying a hand held water bottle thats for sure, That thing was an anchor. It felt fine in training, but when it came to the race it did not go well. Also I think separating my carbs from my hydration will help to solve my stomach issues I had. Also as it became more evident in the Brookvale race, I need a lot of salt to run!

sonofa Gonofa

This race (or last man standing competition) really surprised me. I had signed up for this just for fun. You had 1 hr to complete a 4.5k loop with over 200m of vertical. Your prize when you completed your loop on time? You get to go again! The race is over with the last man standing or 27 loops, what ever comes first.

I was surprised how much fun this race format was. I finished 10 laps (44k with 2000m of vert.) but I wanted to do more and next year I will come prepared to go the distance! Also Amanda completed her longest run ever that day! The race has such a positive atmosphere, we are both looking forward to this event in 2017!

Brookvale 50k

A race that started so strong… ended in another disaster. This race was super hot (as always), and this was my first attempt at actually racing a 50k (instead of finishing being the main goal).  I finished the first 25k really strong, coming through halfway in 3rd place. 5k after that half things really came off the rails. Severe muscle cramps set in my legs reduced me to crawl. The big positive was that I realized what was going on and fixed it. It took me me 10k, and a lot of salt but my legs stopped cramping. I was able to rally and finish the race in 5th.

What did I take away from this race? I have what it takes to run a fast 50k, but running a fast ultra has a lot more too it than just running. I spent a lot of time dialling in my nutrition and hydration in training, but the race is a tell all of what works. What works can change on any given day depending on the conditions  you have to be willing to adapt.

Bromont 160k

I won’t get into the details too much here, because I wrote about this race extensively in my last post (Bromont 160). Let’s just sum this up by saying 100 miles is a long way to run. You might be fit enough to go the distance, but a lot can go wrong other than just fitness when you are trying to conquer a distance that far.

This race was a rollercoaster of ups and downs. I ran 100k, the farthest distance I have ever run and I learned a lot about myself and how my body works when trying to run far. Something unfortunately you just can’t figure out for sure until you try. It was really hard for me to DNF at this race, I had never trained so hard for anything in my whole life. As it seems it was just not meant to be that day.

What did I take away from this race? When you devote so much of yourself to a goal you really need to enjoy the journey, otherwise whats the point. I truly did enjoy train for this race, and I am looking forward to having another opportunity to finish my first 100 miler sometime in the future. Right now that does not look like its going to be 2017, but 2018 for sure!

The Verdict?

Was this year a success or a failure? Well thats all in how you look at it. Being someone who is used to achieving most of my goals with one attempt I must say it was a very humbling year. I think this was a great experience for me as it really showed me that I truly love running and training experience.

Now the cycle begins again, as I start training  for another BQ attempt at an early spring marathon. I am feeling so much stronger than I did at the beginning of last year, and I am hopeful that I will achieve the Boston Qualifier this year.