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Finding Motivation

The rains are back in these parts and with that comes decreased motivation to train along with the coinciding increased personal guilt trips to get my body to move out the door.

Today was the first truly wet run that I've embarked upon in months, in fact I struggle to remember the last real weather challenged run I had to overcome. Off the top of my head it was likely a pre-UTMB exploration in France, though there was no lack of motivation to run in the Swiss Alps on that day.

So the question I'm posing is, where do you find your motivation? What are the most challenging days and/or weather conditions that you have to overcome to get your sweat on?

One of the biggest things I've learned over the years is that lack of motivation can come in many different shapes and sizes, though the vast majority of a lack of motivation exists entirely in our own heads. Being mentally fatigued is far more difficult to get past than simply being physically fatigued. As an example, if you're fired up for a run, let's use the Grand Canyon as an example, you're going to make that run happen no matter what your body might be physically telling you. If however you find yourself at the peak of your health and fitness but are not excited by the terrain you're covering that day you're run is going to be a challenge to complete. The mind controls what the body will and will not do more so than the body controls the mind.

Back in 2005 I was training for my first ever expedition adventure race, that being the 2006 Primal Quest, Utah. I was then residing in Squamish, BC, the aptly named "Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada." I was months into my training for a goal that was so daunting that the fear alone got me out the door each and every day. I wasn't feeling necessarily physically beaten down, but everything just became more of a challenge to complete. Day in and day out for weeks on end was an absolute slog. My motivation was nearing zero, I wasn't having all too much fun and I started to wonder if I was experiencing some underlying health issue.

Seven years on I forget what lead me to the following recognition, but as I assessed my training routine I came to terms with the fact that it was exactly that, a routine, completely repetitive. On my scheduled three hour ride day I'd take my mountain bike out on the three hour route I knew. On my two hour paddle day, I'd lug my kayak to the river and paddle down into the sound and back. A two hour run was always completed over the same known two hour route. There was a 90 min loop, a 60 min loop, etc. The adventure was gone and the whole reason I had even been enticed by the sport to begin with was because it was called ADVENTURE RACING.

I metaphorically threw out all of my known, set routes and went about exploring and embracing the unknown wilderness surrounding me. Like an overdose of caffeine, I was wide awake again within days. I started paddling the waters further south of town and quickly discovered hundreds of years old native rockwall art on the sea exposed cliffs near Furry Creek. On foot I found a whole new access point to get up The Chief via a gully scramble. On my mountain bike I learned new trail linkages and started discovering old logging artifacts. I couldn't wait to get out the door and to see what I'd find next. I had to remove the structure to do so though. I had to embrace the unknown and keep the adventure within what I was doing. I met one of Canada's most experienced adventure racers at the time and I was asking him for some training tips, he responded with,

"Training? I've never trained a day in my life."

"Excuse me?"

"I play everyday, but I never go out to train. I go outside to play in the woods and to interact with nature. When I stop enjoying it like play then it becomes work. Work, no matter what form it may take, will always feel like work."

So as I sit here after a successful run on a day that's calling for 80mm of rain it is with an awareness that I consciously went onto a trail system I am less familiar with. I woke up early and was struggling with the mental image of where I wanted to run today. I started rifling through areas in my head and as soon as I thought my way to a trail access point that felt like it excited me I packed my bags and headed straight there. My run, and day of play was salvaged because of this.

Tracking back to the point of this posting, here are a few things I realize I use to motivate me when I know it is nothing more than my own head that's preventing me from getting out the door.

1) Remove The Blinders: The aforementioned day of exploration. Remove all expectations from your day and simply take every new trail turn you can find. Your current favorite routes were once completely unknown to you. Never lose sight of that.

2) Socialize: Training partners are great at keeping you honest. Like most I embrace running as a primarily solo pursuit, but there's nothing better than a planned group run to prevent the snooze button and to make the miles fly by underfoot

3) Mission Possible: In the true doldrums of our longest months which contain the least sunshine I create mini-missions for myself. Taking last winter as an example, we experienced an early and unexpected low snowline that refused to recede. One of my mini-missions was to grab my snowshoes and run from home to the snowline on Mountain Highway. I'd then start snowshoe running up to the tracked high point in the snow and go about breaking trail for 1/2 - 1km further uphill. The snow usually being hip deep while doing so. Once I completed my mission I'd turn around and retrace my steps home. By the end of this I'd have been on my feet for multiple hours, climbed 5-600 meters in elevation, and most importantly not once thought about the run itself. Creating a mission for yourself removes pace, distance and elevation expectations and allows you to go through the motions without over-thinking the going through the motion process.

4) Music, Podcasts and Audiobooks: My necessity for noise distraction to overcome lack of motivation goes in this order. A) no noise, I like to run in my own head as much as possible B) music, nothing distracts my mind on the 'I'm about to over think this running in the rain' days quite like music C) podcasts and audiobooks, on the days when I know I need an entire distraction of the mind to get out the door I fire up a good book or my favorite podcast. I haven't looked for research saying so but my own anecdotal experiences tell me that having to actually listen to a voice and process what it is saying, rather than just humming along to a song, takes the mind into a deeper state of distraction and concentration. My worst weather training days have a great audiobook on standby to conquer them. It has yet to fail me.

5) Dream Big: Throw down for that big race you've been dreaming of. Just because you aren't fit enough to attempt it today does not mean you can't and won't be ready to do so in eight or nine months time. A big-ass scary-as-shit goal will make short work of your alarm clock. I used to be the captain of the under-motivated, then I signed up for the biggest adventure race in the world in 2005, for the 2006 event, and my life has never quite been the same for it.

6) There's More To Running Than Just Running: IE cross-training. Having recently gotten past some neck and back issues I'd been dealing with I've really attempted to get to know some of other sports that I love once again. Primarily this involves gym work, squash, skiing and likely some hockey again, albeit the floor version instead of the ice version, but I find all of this exciting, and fresh and familiar all at once. This guy had it right, way back when.

There are very few people who can train in such repetition so as to pound out the miles five, six and seven days a week, week in and week out, month after month and not suffer through injury in doing so. Personally I am fortunate to be able to log heavy mileage without the standard issues a lot of people attempting high mileage may encounter, however there is not a single one of us who wouldn't benefit from cross training in the form of gym work, cycling, etc. You know that guy Kilian who seems to be a pretty decent athlete, he uses a road bike as cross training, in fact most European mountain runners spend a decent amount of time road cycling. It's interesting to me that we don't see that same mentality on this side of the pond. When you're mind and body start to feel the impact of the pounding of repetition, mix it up, stay healthy and continue to get stronger instead of being forced to the sidelines.

7) I Do Not Want To Suck: For me at least, I find motivation in competition. This is touched upon in five, but that's more in reference to the fear of not being able to finish a certain goal. Whether your goal is a podium finish or a personal best time, competition can be a great motivator. I attempt to pick the most competitive races I can find so that it keeps me honest. There is nothing quite like day dreaming about the best ultra runners in the world and how hard they themselves train to help me get past my rolling mental excuse list.

8) Talk It Out: Conversations ongoing in my head;

"I don't wanna." and be sure to say this in the most childish pout mouth you can.
"Why not?"
"Cause it's wet outside."
"You've gotta be kidding me."
"It's weally, weally wet outside." an Elmer Fudd voice will suffice here
"Yeah that's called rain, it does that here sometimes."
"It looks poopy outside."
"Listen are you injured or severely fatigued here?"
"No. It's poopy outside."
"Yeah, I'll pack a diaper for you, get you're ass out the GD door you pansy."
"But, but, but...."
This is where I put myself in a headlock and it becomes incredibly violent until the stick a soother (Salomon flask bottle) in my mouth and get on with it.

Giving it a voice can give it meaning. Most of our excuses not to do things are entirely trivial and they feel even more trivial when reviewed internally or even spoken out loud.

9) Give It Twenty: That's it, give it twenty minutes. That's my only rule on the days where I'm really in doubt of if running is a good idea. By the twenty minute mark things usually make sense again and I can't believe I fought so relentlessly with myself to begin with. I think in all the years I've been enforcing the twenty minute rule I've only turned back once at twenty five minutes. That day it was the absolute right call, but the other 100 times I've instituted this rule on myself I've ended up with some of my best, some of my longest and certainly some of the most rewarding days of my year.

10) Give It A Rest: Seriously, shut it down for scheduled maintenance on an annual basis. Training/playing creates stress on your body. As runners/athletes we become incredibly efficient at dealing with this stress and seeing it as positive stress. On a cellular level though your body is just dealing with stress and trying to keep you healthy. Your body does not differentiate between what we know to be healthy and unhealthy stress levels, it just knows a stress response.

Ultra running specifically has grown into a twelve month a year pursuit for many runners. With large money events now taking place in September and December there is little downtime to be had unless it is specifically structured in at the beginning of your year. In 2013 I lined up for seven ultras, three of which were 100 miles in length. All but one of those races went as close to 'according to plan' as could be suggested. When I sat down to plan my year I structured in the downtime and then stuck to that plan. Following each of my three hundred mile races I enforced three weeks of near downtime. Doubt the validity of my statement? I've posted all of my workouts this year to my MovescountStrava feeds. I was not injured following any of these races, I was embracing forced recovery.

Following each of HURT, UTMF and UTMB I shut it down in a big way compared to my regular training loads. Even following UTMB in which I only made it twenty miles I shut it down following the event. Why? The physical and mental stress of the training leading up to a big race is what really takes it out of you. In a five week span while training for UTMB I logged over 1,000km, almost all on trail and while averaging nearly a vertical kilometer of gain per day. Whether I made it to mile 20, 50, or the finish, my mind and body needed the break. Without structured downtime the best of the best have two years in them. By the third year there's inexplicable issues that arise either through injury or over-training. Schedule in downtime and enforce it or your body will do so for you, and it won't coincide nearly as nicely with your personal racing goals.

Newton's first law of motion, though not scientifically applicable certainly rings true when jigged to state that 'objects at rest tend to stay at rest, and objects in motion tend to stay in motion.'

The less you do, the less you'll want to do. The more you do, the more you'll want to do. So get out and do something and make it habitual. Whether your goal is to win a race, to finish a race, or you're just attempting to get/stay healthy, your body desires movement. Don't let your head get in the way of that.

My challenge to you. Go and run a completely new route this week. Take one day, one run, one hour and find something new out there. You'll be thankful you did.


So how do you motivate yourself to get out and get after it?



Trip Report - Wedge Mountain Scramble - A 3100m / 10,000ft Day Out

Wedge Mountain - 2892m / 9488ft

Party: + Mark Fearman

Conditions: Beautiful mid Sept day. Shorts and t-shirt weather with a light jacket as we climbed higher. No snow on the route.

Timing: 13h30m non-stop timing. We spent about twenty minutes at the Elfin Lakes shelter talking to a few campers and about twenty minutes on the summit. Our ascent time was 7h20m and our descent time was nearly six hours, though we were slowed significantly when one headlamp died within five minutes of turning it on. Always check the batteries I guess :)

Total Distance: 15.5m / 25km

Total Elevation Gain: 3125m / 10,250ft

Pace - Easy/Honest/Intense: Honest. We started out with a good brisk pace but as the day wore on my partner who had just flown in from Australia was showing signs of rust on his mountain legs. On the descent we also had one headlamp malfunction and were slowed further as we shared one beam of light. No dilly dallying along the way and only twenty minutes on the summit. It's a long day via this approach no matter how you slice it.

Technicality: The route is nothing but a very long slog with 75% of your time spent on shifting rocky footing. My core muscles were actually a wee bit sore the following day from simply being off balance for the better part of 9+ hours.

Gear Used: Basic trail running gear, collapsible trekking poles, and full emergency supplies including emergency bivy, fire starting kit, headlamps, etc

As a side note you get full 3g phone service from atop both Parkhurst and Wedge. It's worthwhile to pack along a phone as an additional safety device.

To The Trailhead: Drive time from Lonsdale in North Vancouver was 1h45m at 5am with no traffic and a slightly heavy foot.

Access: You can drive right to the Wedgemont Lake parking area in a 2WD. There is a large signboard with full map and bathroom access.

The Route: Straight forward as listed in the Scrambles in Southwest BC. Once you arrive at Wedgemont Lake there is hut, camping and a pit toilet.

As you gaze across the lake in a southeasterly direction you catch your first glimpse of Wedge as it's the distant glaciated summit. Make no mistake that Wedge Mountain from this approach is a long day out. The summit proceeding Wedge is Parkhurst and that's where your approach to Wedge officially begins from.
Circumnavigate the lake in a westerly / counter clockwise direction to cross it at its drainage. If you decide to proceed in a easterly / clockwise direction ensure you are aptly trained and prepared for glacier travel. Your target to gain Parkhurst is the Southwest ridgeline.

An Addendum To Info In The Scrambles Book: which states "From directly below the col, climb a snow slope / gully between two cliff bands. The snow slopes here are steep and have bad run outs; an ice axe is recommended. Above the cliff bands follow a long snow slope / bench that traverses right until it is possible to ascend a snow slope / ramp back to the left...."

We encountered none of this as the near decade since this information was gathered has taken its toll on the glacier. I should say that our Sept 11th approach was near the culmination of one of the sunniest summer's on record. There is the chance that earlier in the season may still hold snow on the route but here's what we personally encountered; The crux of our route was the very first scrambly bits at the far side of the lake as you initiate your climb up to the Parkhurst / Rethel Col. There was mud sliding over the remaining ice near the initial bits of snow on this listed route. It was slick and sketchy but brief with only a few hundred meters to navigate. Once through this, at the 90 degree right turn up the slope to gain the first cliff band, we were through the snow entirely. On our return journey two small sections of this listed crux had slide into the water below. It won't be long before this scramble route will be completely free of all snow in the late fall season.

A note re the top of Parkhurst: After a six foot tall summit rock cairn you expect more of the same along the route, we saw next to none. From this limited vantage point we were nearly deterred from continuing by the incessant and significant rock slides occurring off of Wedge itself. We continued on with increasing doubt that we'd be able to safely complete our route on the day, only to discover that the rock slides were filtering into a large basin acting like a baseball glove. All this to say that there is a very safe route even if it doesn't present itself from the top of Parkhurst.

Assessment: A very long slog of a day in the mountains. Not to be attempted in one push by unfit and unprepared parties. At 2892m Wedge is the highest peak in Garibaldi Park, which in and of itself makes it a very worthwhile target. The views from the top are of course some of the most spectacular you'll get in the area, and you are seemingly surrounded by a sea of glacial ice in all directions. The scramble itself however leaves much to be desired. We guessed that most parties terminate their Wedge aspirations from atop Parkhurst as the views from Parkhurst are plentiful and the summit of Wedge still looms high above. If you're true target is Wedge, be prepared to overcome these thoughts and push onward and upward. Gaining Parkhurst twice, inbound and outbound, is a bit of a bitch though you won't regret doing so in the end.

GPS via Movescount: click here

Summit Video: Since it was three days before I got married we decided to have an improv bachelor party


The trekking poles were packed away immediately following this pic
Alpenglow anyone?
Now if only both of our headlamps were working




Trip Report - Cypress Peak Scramble (near Whistler)

I'm going to attempt to be better at this so here's the first of a few recent trip reports.

Cypress Peak - 2083m / 6834ft

Party: + Paul Romero

Conditions: Unseasonably warm and sunny. Temps from 10 degrees in the shade and nearing 20 in the late afternoon sun. Some snow above 1700m / 5500ft still remained from a late Sept storm system.

Timing: 2h14m to the top and 1h45m down for 3h59m return. We spent approx fifteen minutes of stop time on the summit.

Total Distance: 5m / 8km

Total Elevation Gain: 1050m / 3500ft

Pace - Easy/Honest/Intense: Honest. A steady pace up with a few short breaks. An easier pace down with some additional time spent enjoying the sun and the views from the ridge.

Gear Used: Trail running gear with some emergency supplies

To The Trailhead: Drive time from Lonsdale in North Van to the trailhead was approximately 90 minutes

Access: Though the scrambles guide which was published in 2005 describes the road in as having waterbars and needing a high clearance vehicle one only needs to check their website Cairn Publishing for the addendum which as of 2008 accurately states:

The access road has seen some changes recently. Reportedly the road access is now accessible by a 2wd vehicle. In addition, the road now continues beyond the end described in the guidebook. 

We drove all the way to the trail in a Honda Element with only one small hill near the very end offering any suggestion of needing an AWD vehicle.

The Route: The first glimpse of some peaks that you spot on your left seems to line up with the images in the Scrambles Guidebook, when in fact this is the drainage that stares up at Tricouni Peak. You need only assess the water features for a second to realize you're not scrambling up that side. Tricouni is accessed from the Squamish Valley FSR on the opposite side of the range. Continue to the next drainage and there is a small pullout area on the left to park at. There is actually flagging tape on the left side and a maintained trail down to the Roe Creek crossing, which has even seen some very recent chainsaw work. From here you're on rock and in the alpine immediately. There are rock cairns guiding you initially but as they peter out you simply stay to the right of the glacial tongue you first encounter.

Route find your way into the basin above and then stay to the right of the glacier itself to gain the ridge crest. You'll be veering away from your target as you do this. Once you gain the ridge crest you have a straight shot along the ridge and up to the summit. The crux is a moderate 10m section at the base of the ridge. Everything beyond this is pretty straightforward.

Summit views are nothing short of spectacular. The slightly higher Tricouni 2122m / 6962ft prevents sightlines down Howe Sound but otherwise the views are seemingly endless with glaciers in abundance, as is always the case in the coast mountains. Dramatic peaks such as Pyroclastic, Vulcan's Thumb, Cayley and Fee present themselves to the North. As you pan clockwise you scan across Wedge, Blackcomb, Overlord, Black Tusk, Table, Garibaldi, Tricouni, Mt. Tantalus, Pelion, Ossa, etc.

Assessment: A very worthy objective and though you may spend more time driving (from Vancouver or further) than you actually do on your feet, the route is fun and has a wild flare to it as it is without the standard long forested approach that most peaks on the coast demand.

GPS via Movescount: click here





Quick Reflection w/Pics - 1st Season Of Race Course Managing

Late last year I commented to a few friends on how I was looking to explore options for race course directing and design. Amazingly enough and shortly thereafter it all started falling into place, and this year I joined the teams for the Mind Over Mountain Adventure Racing series, the 5 Peaks trail running series, and a forthcoming local Red Bull Divide and Conquer adventure race. I felt as though just being brought on board by these highly successful and established brands was a victory in and of itself.

Basically as the course director/manager I'm responsible for everything from the inception of the specific race course until its completion. Starting with assisting in course design, pre-race flagging, implementing a race day safety strategy, dispersing of volunteers, setting up aid stations, managing volunteers while runners are on course, addressing any on the fly emergencies, and then packing up and making it appear as though you were never there to begin with. It's a behind the scenes job and I truly loved every second of it.

Obviously unforeseen was that I would end up directing all but one of these six races while on crutches, or in a colossal sized walking boot. All in all though I'd consider this to be a highly successful first season from a course directing standpoint, and I learned something new at each and every turn along the way. Being thrown onto the mic as race day MC for the Whistler version of our 5 Peaks race was the most daunting and hence one of the most rewarding experiences of my summer.

Between these six races I saw over 2500 runners and adventure racers (obviously not 2500 individuals as most raced multiple times) and we had ONE person take a wrong turn for the entire season. We're still not quite sure how that person made the wrong turn, but either way, I liked our save percentage (to steal a hockey term). Having raced for several years now myself, there's nothing I hate more than getting lost while on a flagged course (and I'm exceptionally good at this) so it's at the very top of my list of things not to f-up, though 5 Peaks have certainly been leaders in this realm since their inception.

I'm really looking forward to being back on board with all races again in 2012...unless of course they're secretly looking for my replacement as I speak? 

It was a pleasure to be a very small piece in the very large puzzle towards ensuring race day success, and I'll truly miss the monthly meeting of familiar and smiling faces. Our trail running community is as strong as any I've come across and we should be exceptionally proud of this.

Of course our access to beautiful locations certainly doesn't hurt, and as an example, here's how the season finale looked at Buntzen Lake yesterday morning. Thanks to all who frequented these races this year and I look forward to seeing you again in 2012.

First wave start of Sport and Enduro courses

Ghost kids 1k race
Original unaltered shot from top of posting. All pics were taken on an iPhone 4

Flooded beach due to an upper lake dam being spilled

Flooded beach made for spectacular shots

Trimmed and flipped. Otherwise unaltered. Water reflection on top

Trimmed and turned. Reflection on left. Otherwise unaltered.

Trimmed, flipped, and brightened with a filter

Trimmed, turned, and brightened with a filter, plus an added border

And finally, never, EVER leave your car keys unattended