Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Are GPS Tracks Proof for an FKT?

I used my first GPS unit in 1991 as a student, and later in my job as a GIS programmer I built software to plot the locations of fleet vehicles on maps of their service areas - both in real-time and playback versions of  'breadcrumb trails' showing where they had been. The stored 'breadcrumb' data files would have been easy to manipulate by changing the latitude and longitude of the points, or by changing the date stamps to speed up the route. It might be tedious to do, but it wouldn't be difficult. But why would anyone want to?

We've been hearing a lot more about the popularity of FKTs and how having a GPS track as proof is important to verify what has been accomplished. Recently Ueli Steck was criticized for not having GPS proof of his record-setting climb of Annapurna. When asked how he felt about the criticisms, his response of 'I don't care' made me smile. He's doing what he loves for the right reasons. Along with high-profile FKTs is a swell of online training sites where pitting our efforts against others has turned training itself into competition.

I don't use Strava. I rarely use a GPS watch. I totally get what Steck said, because I don't care either. I personally prefer my training runs to feel nothing like my work and nothing like a race. That's just me.

I do care about integrity however, and downloaded GPS files are not the proof that a lot of people think they are. Any data that is contained in a downloaded file can simply be overwritten to show something completely different. The files contain a long list of coordinates that make up the route, each with a time stamp. If you change the coordinates, you change the location on the map. If you change the times between points, you change the speed.

If GPS is to be used as a true 'witness', it needs to be via a live tracking service such as SPOT, or the unit should be passed off to a third-party to download and verify the data. Both of these approaches eliminate the opportunity for data tampering. This wouldn't verify the mode of movement or the actual person doing the movement, so it would still need to be augmented with other evidence. In many cases a person's reputation and known ability is the only proof that really matters.

For kicks I just opened a Strava account (noting their motto: Prove It) and uploaded a GPS file of a route (to max out my nefarious ways, I stole it from Derrick). A few minutes later I uploaded the exact same route, but at a significantly faster pace.

Original File showing 5:20 per km pace.

Significantly quicker at 3:34 per km. Look at all those awards!

It's just as easy to change the locations of the points. Here I shifted a run out to the Atlantic Ocean. It could just as easily have been anywhere, over any type of terrain.

4.7 km in the Atlantic
To combine those two manipulations, it is possible to create a partly- or completely- fictitious run from the comfort of your own desk chair.

I'm not saying anyone is actually doing this, but as the sport changes and grows it's good to be aware of what the limitations are to certain types of technologies. When it comes down to it, a person's reputation and integrity are sounding better than ever.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Arney Mountain and Welly Smith

Arney "Mountain", according to, is the 618th highest mountain in Ontario and the 13,053rd highest mountain in Canada. They say, "Arney Mountain is actually a modest but distinctive hill. It features open pink granite rock faces (not steep) veined with milky quartz." lists a description of how to get to this out-of-the-way location, and a couple of weeks ago we couldn't resist checking it out. The result was a beautiful early-spring run.

Otters hanging out on beaver dam...

...and sliding down the bank

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Winter Exploration

Some of the nicest winter runs are in areas that aren't easily accessible in other seasons. Last week we had a run like this, where we followed snowmobile trails north of where we live into an area that we'd never been before. The trail meandered through woods, over numerous marshes and crossed lakes, so we were always discovering new landscapes.

As I write this a storm is raging outside with bitter wind and sideways snow, but despite this immediate evidence to the contrary, winter is winding down. Hopefully we'll have a few more weeks to enjoy some more runs like this one first.


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Red Barn Snowshoe Race

The final race of the 2014 Dion Eastern Ontario Snowshoe Series was the Switzerville Red Barn race on February 23rd. It is always my favourite race in the series, and this was my first year to run it which made it even more fun. Derrick's parents, Jack and Rosemary Spafford, host the race on their beautiful property and have a welcoming bonfire area set up for everyone's comfort while watching the race or hanging out after.

The day truly has a family feel for us with Brennan, Heather and Tasha doing a ton to help with the logistics, Paul taking care of the race timing, Matt and Michael providing the live music, friends and relatives showing up to watch or run, the many racers we have gotten to know over this season and past coming from near and far, and generous neighbours helping out, taking photos, allowing the course to run over their properties, and grooming the trails multiple times. This made for a memorable morning.

My race went pretty well, I took advantage of the short single-track sections to try to gain ground, but the course was generally very packed and runnable so I just tried to chop away the best I could. Emma Saaltink won decisively again, while I worked on trying to gain a bit on Deborah Berry but she remained firmly in second, and just behind me was Katy Murphy getting the feel of the sport with her first snowshoe race. Next was Jenn Ross as first master. The men's winner was Katy's husband Charley Murphy, followed by Mark Williams and Graham Ross, with Erin McDougall as top master.

Full Results and more photos

All photos by Sean Scally Events Photography. Full set here.

The Cabin, a highlight about two-thirds of the way along the route.

Race Start

Up the last hill

Loving the woods

Jack and Rosemary

Matt performing his tunes

The cook's not eating

Race director not too stressed out

Great day for a great couple: Graham and Jenn Ross 3rd overall and 1st masters woman
Fun in front of the Red Barn

OMG (Oh Me Geeky)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Westbrook Snowshoe Race


OUT past the streets
Off of the asphalt
CAN'T run the same old route THIS TIME
WE ARE the ‘Shoers
WE ARE all tired of that grind
No one even thinks we’re all that strange
Running out into the woods ‘til no street lights remain

ALL WE WANT are snowy trails at
Westbrook DOME

WE CAN just play ON
SOMETHING BETTER to give this long winter a lift
Snow and exertion
Come try out our version
Without snowshoes you’d be headfirst in a drift
No one even thinks you’re all that strange
Running out into the woods ‘til no street lights remain

ALL WE WANT are snowy trails at
Westbrook DOME

When we loop back to the start
With a quickening pace
Or maybe just our heart rate

ALL WE WANT are snowy trails at
Westbrook DOME

~ Tina 'Deep Cleat' Turner

Scally Event Photos

Scally Event Photos

Scally Event Photos

Sean Hickman/Low Light Photography

Scally Event Photos

Scally Event Photos

Sean Hickman/Low Light Photography

Sean Hickman/Low Light Photography

Sean Hickman/Low Light Photography

Scally Event Photos

Scally Event Photos

Monday, January 13, 2014

Kicking off Another Year at the Summerstown Forest Snowshoe Race

On Saturday we traveled to the Cornwall area for the second year of the Summerstown Forest Snowshoe Race which kicked off the Dion Eastern Ontario Snowshoe Series for 2014. Thanks very much to Gilles Parisien and all of his volunteers for putting on another great race. The trails were in great shape, and it was a very fun and pretty course. Rain eventually started falling on us, but the super delicious chili at then end kept us warm. 
Derrick handing out demo Dion 121 snowshoes for racers to use

Race start
Cool finish line rocks

Talking snowshoes with Deborah Berry (3rd master)
With Emma Saaltink (1st) and Lise Meloche (2nd) for the awards