Monday, August 11, 2014

Urban Trails

I grabbed a run on some urban trails near the Ottawa airport before picking Derrick up from his Gaspe trip, and was surprised by how nice they were. They were located in the Stony Swamp section of the city's extensive Green Belt. I parked at P11 on West Hunt Club Road just east of Moodie Drive.

I was able to enjoy a 90 minute run by doing some beautiful loops, and it left me wanting to explore more areas. While I ran I got thinking about what a treasure this network is, and what qualities it had that make it a successful urban trail. First, it is very natural and travels through a variety of terrain. It winds through forests and fields, with pretty views of marshes and ponds, and an abundance of birds and small animals. The trails had all types of surfaces and were suitable for hikers, runners, and bikers. Many of the loops would be fine for strollers. There was good access via parking, bike lanes on roads, paved bike paths, and transit service. Maps are available online and also at major trailheads. Each trail intersection was well-signed with locational map and distances to the next points.

The trail network is scalable, from very short loops to larger or multiple loops, with easy connectivity to entirely different areas and the ability to connect to much longer trails like the Rideau Trail. It is easy to do one short section or loop, while always having the feeling you could 'go forever' if so inclined. It was well-maintained, with primitive but clean bathroom facilities and garbage cans and I didn't see any trash on the trails. The trails seem well-used but far from crowded. I felt like I had them to myself a lot but I also periodically came across other people which gives a feeling of safety. There were nice points of interest such as an old relic of a lime kiln and designated viewing points on boardwalks, which people can use as destinations for hikes for themselves or their families.

Here are some photos of various points on the trails I ran. The details of the route I ran are on my training log here.




















Thursday, July 24, 2014

Wakely Dam Ultra 2014: Taming the Beast

Last weekend we ran the Wakely Dam Ultra in Pisceo, New York. Last year I had a very tough time at this race because I raced it so stupidly, and I was looking to run it very differently this year.

I had a much better experience this year, and was able to enjoy this beautiful, remote section of trail in the southern Adirondacks which passes no roads for its 52 km length. Being self-supported out there makes this race unique, special and a bit more challenging.

I started out at a very comfortable pace, determined not to make the same mistake as last year. For the most part I felt good, with just a bit of a low point around 3 hours in. By 4 hours I was enjoying the run again and stayed at a very even effort.

During the good points, I was feeling very in-the-moment and almost in a trance where I'd wake up and feel like a bunch of time had passed. Very Zen, very cool. Then in the downs I would be scheming about not racing anymore (training only, yay!), and thinking up fantastic, completely original slogans for the sport like, 'Ultras: Even when they're good they're still pretty bad'. 

Happily those latter thoughts thoroughly evaporated at the finish line. There was a welcoming group of friends there who all cheered me in, and hanging out chatting afterwards was a lot of fun. Kimberlee and Doug Gardiner do a great job with this race, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a July trail race. 



Gear:
La Sportiva C-Lite
La Sportiva Nova Short
UltrAspire Alpha Vest




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.

BEFORE:
Original File showing 5:20 per km pace.

AFTER:
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 waymarking.com, 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."

Geocaching.com 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)