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Running The Rut Mountain Run 50km

December 26th, 2015

The singletrack disappears into a mountain of scree, from here on up small coloured flagging attached to what looked like clothes hangers lead the way. My pace takes a marked dive as I run into the first 45% grade climb of the day. I’m only 22km (13mi) in – the last two hours have been a warm up on excellent singletrack. I pass a fellow runner that says he’s bonking, I hand him a couple emergency gels. Moments later, a baby faced member of the the Team Salomon rips by me charging up the climb with a set of poles. Where did he come from? It’s still cold, there’s frost and a light skiff of snow in the shadows. The sun has only been up for an hour now and I was able to leave my headlamp at the last aid station. I keep moving – often on all four. I crest the hill and I’m intrigued to see a fixed rope to assist on a downclimb. I make my way along the ridge, down the chute with the rope, back up along the ridge and onto another rustic trail obscured by the shadows of the morning. By now a small pack of us have formed, the footing has improved, and we’re charging down the hillside. I’m trying to keep one eye on the trail and the other eye on the sparse flagging tied to the tiny alpine trees. We round a corner just in time to watch three runners tumble down a slippery grass meadow covered in snow / ice / frost. They try to stop, but slide into the rocks below. The group I’m in dials it back, we get down the slope – some of us sliding on our butts – we check on the runners and keep moving. By now we’re 25km into our race with three more substantial climbs remaining and we’re only halfway through The Rut 50km.

The Rut packs a punch! The 50km event is just over 51km with 3,500m (11,000ft) of climbing / descending. It boasts some high elevation with a peak that tops out at 3,500m, sections that require all four limbs to ascend, lots and lots of singletrack, and some gnarly / sketchy / rustic sections that require choosing your own adventure – some sections have no trails. It’s an exciting race with a deep field that will certainly test your mountain running chops. It’s also part of the Skyrunning series that are tremendously popular in Europe. When I ran it in 2014 I was floored with how difficult the course was (some reconnaissance on this course is a good idea if you can). I expected the race to fall inline with what seems “standard” to North American trail races. I expected: a small amount of single track, runnable climbs, lots of double track / fire road, and cruisy descents. This course turned all my expectations upside down. It was a complete brute. Upon finishing it I was mildly disappointed with my performance, because… well… I knew I freaked out / was overly cautious on a couple sections – notably the dinner plate size scree (talus?) field with no trail and the snow / ice covered descent where runners were hurting themselves as they slipped and bounced down the rocks to the bottom. Interesting though, today this race lives on as an epic and I really want to do it again. Here’s my track.

“runners tend improve their performances on the same ultramarathon course once they become more familiar with the exact details of the route.” – Lore of Running (658)

It’s fair to note that in addition to an amazing course, this event is also phenomenally well organized – great food, great environment, great accommodations, and great after party.

Author: Adam Kahtava Categories: Review, Running Tags:

Running The Harriers 2:18 Run Elk / Beaver 100km

June 8th, 2015
The Elk / Beaver 100km

The Harriers 2:18 Run Elk / Beaver Ultras take place just outside Victoria, BC. The race distances range from 40km, 42km, 50km, 50mi, to 100km all of which incorporate 10km loops around the Elk Lake and Beaver Lake. The course is mostly gravel, a couple short dirt double track sections, and one glorious fast short paved section. The course is pretty flat and fast overall, it’s rated as one of the faster ‘trail’ races in Canada. The Canadian 100km National Championship occasionally uses this course. This year (2015) was a Championship year and I ran it. Here’s my experiences.

Stephanie and I stepped out of the Victoria airport into the sweet smells and warmth of summer. Steph would be crewing for me – giving me a hand with hydration, fueling, and moral support through the race. Our first order of business was to grab my race package downtown at the 2:18 running store. At the store I chatted with a number of participants and veterans of the course. Some of the veterans spoke of the difficulty this course presents – it’s flat, the pace is constant, there’s no chance to change gears. The reality of the distance I would be running along with some doubts about finishing started creeping in. I continued with my carb loading rituals: lots of rice, fruit, some pasta, water, and loaf of local focaccia. Then for the remainder of the day we kept things low key with lots of park time and reconnected with some old friends – I’d worked and lived in the area for a year while saving to go to Japan. Around noon I noted the temperature had hit a high of 27C (80F) – temperatures a lot higher than I’d been training in. That night we checked in early. The wake up call went off (4am), I was feeling rested, confident and a bit apprehensive. We made a quick stop at the closest coffee shop (Tim Horton’s). I sucked back an extra large coffee diluted with cold water to aid in chugging, and we were off to the Elk / Beaver Lakes where I’d be running ten 10km loops through the course of the day. I nearly arrived late, with just enough time to get through my pre race ticks: tie shoes, test the fit, retie shoes, retie shoes, jacket on, jacket off, retie shoes. Should I wear arm warmers? We toed an imaginary line in the grass, the race director started the countdown, and we were off!

The race was on! A small pack or runners formed a gap and took off from the start – all race distances start at the same time, some of these speedsters were in the shorter distances. I lingered behind sticking to my plan of 45min laps. For most of the first, second, and third lap I studied the course and chatted with any runner that would talk. Steph was doling out the snacks – one gel every 30 mins – and water at the primary aid station. I continued to trail behind the pack. Steph reported that I was gaining time and by my fourth lap I started passing runners. At 60kms I was leading and now banking time. I was still feeling pretty good and felt like I was running easy. My seventh lap was coming up, this would be the special ‘no man’s land’ lap – I’ve never run beyond 60kms. Around this time we were also entering the heat of the day and the trails were quickly losing their shade. The temperature was hovering around 25C (77F). On this seventh lap I grabbed a handful of candy in place of my gels (possibly a mistake of not sticking to my nutrition plan). I clipped through 70km just as a familiar and very unwelcome twinge in my right inner calf hit me. Calf cramp! NO GOOD! My calves and I have a rocky history. I bombed into the aid station, downed some salt, more water, and potato chip (chips yum!). Steph thought I looked frazzled, so she jogged with me for a bit. 500 meters into our jog and my calves flat out seized. Toes pointed downwards, unable to balance, I stretched them out. I started trying to run, they cramped again. We stopped, I took a bio break (my hydration was good). I mumbled to Steph that I wanted to stop running now. We were only 500 meters from the aid station and 600 meter from the car. Being so close to a comfy seat was mentally difficult. Steph slapped me on the back, gave me a quick pep talk, and we jogged a bit longer. My calves continued to cramp. I made it two more kms into my 8th lap (82km), then told Steph I needed to plod through this alone. I made it another 1000 meters to an unmanned water station on a picnic table. Both my calves were still spazzing uncontrollably. I sat on the table pinching and kneading my muscle in effort to release cramp. I started doing some math – another 17km at calf cramp pace might take three hours! I started making deals with myself. I thought “if I get passed while sitting here then I’m walking back to the car”. I spent 20 minutes sitting at this unmanned water station downing water. No one passed. Weird thoughts were rolling through my head, but one comment I had heard at race from a fellow who gutted out a terrible race stuck out. His comment was something along the lines of: “those front runners don’t know how to suffer, they won’t think twice about dropping when they aren’t making their time goals or when it gets tough”. My time goals were slipping, but I thought I’d try to gut it out. Besides I had made it 83% of the way. I was so close – 17km is roughly one loop of the Calgary Reservoir. I stood up and started shuffling. I made it 500 meters just as second place passed me – now I was the hunter, one of my favourite place to race. Another 750 meters and I was good. I tried to run, no cooperation, back to the shuffle, but I wasn’t losing too much ground to the new leader – it felt like we were two turtles racing. Another 1000 meters of shuffling and my calves started cooperating! Although my stomach was sloshing uncomfortably from all the water I had drank. By the end of 8th lap I had regained ground. I was back in first, and the legs were cooperating. Well… cooperating enough. I passed through the aid station for the last lap just as my watch died. This lap would be in the dark, based completely on feel. I was being chased and knew I had to make this lap count and also knew my calves might not cooperate. I ran through this final lap faster than my previous three (factoring out the aid station stop). I continued to regained time and crossed the finish line with a smile. I was happy to have completed the whole thing, happy to be able to sit down, and being the Canadian National 100km Champ for 2015 was a nice added bonus.

The Elk / Beaver 100km

It’s fair to note that this is a small event. I was competing against twelve other men and my primary competitor was likely beat up from his marathon the weekend prior. My goal was to finish in the range or 7.5 to 8 hours. I finished in 8 hours and 8 minutes. My average pace ended up being 4:53 min / km. I lost 19 minutes during my calf cramp lap. Aside from the cramping I enjoyed racing the longer distance, but I was VERY surprised at how difficult it was to self pace – after five hours and leading I had a hard time talking myself into working harder. In a National Championship year they do not allow pacers on this course, I’d love to run a flat 100km with a pacer or in a pack with similar goals. It’s interesting to look at the course results and see how they differ between the years that allow pacers and the years that don’t. Overall the event was really well organized, the camaraderie was fantastic, the trails were great, and the eight hours of running went surprisingly fast. I’d run this race again and will definitely be running another 100km event. In retrospect I should have stuck to my nutrition plan, I need a watch with a longer battery life, and I’ve already started with the calf raises. Also, I need to be faster in the aid stations in the later stages of the race.

Here’s my track and an official race report from the Prairie Inn Harriers Running Club. Special thanks to Stephanie for her fantastic crewing!

Author: Adam Kahtava Categories: Review, Running Tags:

Running the Lost Soul Ultra 50km

February 25th, 2015
The Lost Soul Ultra

The course for the Lost Soul Ultra meanders along the Old Man River pulling runners over the undulating coulees surrounding the prairie town of Lethbridge Alberta. The Lost Soul has a manageable amount of climbing (1,300m over 53km) on the main loop, but conceals numerous insults and packs quite the punch for a prairie run. It’s a challenging course and a phenomenally well run event. It easily has the best stocked aid stations and volunteers. I definitely plan on running this event again.

When I ran this race in 2013 it was my first run over five hours. After glancing at the course profile online I planned to put most of my effort in the hilly section (the first 33km) then cruise the flat section back to the finish. This was great in theory, but I had never actually seen the terrain. I had no idea what kind of surface I’d be running on, nor had I been acquainted with a coulee, or even been to Lethbridge! The easy flat return section that I had banked on, just did not exist. Instead I encountered: sand, wet slippery grass, sticky mud, bushwhacking, and tiny flying bugs everywhere. What a surprise! My poor hydration, overly enthusiastic pace, and the accumulation of the steep descents finally caught me around the marathon mark. Cramps in my inner calves started alternating between legs. My friends at the final aid stations giggled afterwards about my degrading running form in those final miles – I felt like Frankenstein and apparently I was running like him too. Most of the last 15km was spent managing cramps and on the final steep descent I awkwardly descended backwards for fear of a calf cramp locking my feet pointing downward and sending me tumbling through the cactus, down the steep bank, and into the river. I finished the race in five hours and change (first place), but was running scared those last couple miles. The finish wasn’t satisfying, it wasn’t a good race, and I realized that I had a lot to learn for these multi hour trail events.

In short, the course is more difficult than it looks. The coulees are great fun, but the descents are steep and abrupt. It was quite an insult to nearly tumble back into the river valley after a nice gradual climb, but every great course contains insults – that’s what makes them so great. The running surface of the Lost Soul ranged from narrow well worn trails, to matted paths through fields, to bushwhacking, to very small sections of road. If you’re planning to run it, then practice steep river bank descents, running on grass, and make sure you get your hydration right. Here’s my track.

Author: Adam Kahtava Categories: Review, Running Tags:

Success Traits, Being Your Goals, and Recovery

February 11th, 2015

I forgot what a gem Going Long: Training for Triathlon’s Ultimate Challenge by Friel, and Byrn is. While this book is targeted towards the athlete training for an Ironman distance triathlon it has a lot of overlap with long distance running material and endurance athletics in general. Here are a couple sections and ideas I liked.

Success Traits
The successful traits of an athlete are listed as: confident, focused, self-sufficient, adaptable, quietly cocky, and mentally tough. Confidence is loosely described as balancing respect for yourself and your athletic abilities. Self-sufficiency by taking full responsibility of your actions, and taking calculated risks to try to win rather than trying not to lose. Quiet cockiness because “[they] know they have what it takes physically to succeed [but the] most successful ones never brag about this … their assuredness is obvious to anyone who watches … they don’t talk about how good they are … they are afraid it would come back to haunt them.” That last trait really resonates and follows the behaviour I’ve observed in world class athletes.

Being Your Goals
The section on being your goals expands on the success traits. It’s suggested that in order to be a champion we need to eat, train, recover, behave, and become a champion. By becoming a champion we’re striving to be the best we can. In our diet it’s suggested that we: eliminate processed foods, get our energy from whole sources, limit starchy and sugary foods to during and after workouts. Champions know that “success does not imply arrogance”. There’s also mention of how “athletes have a fear of truly committing to their goals” and I can certainly relate.

In addition to these broader soft ideas there’s a lot of good technical information on training plans, workout phases, breakthrough workouts, recovery, etc… All of which share a lot of commonality with ultra marathon / marathon training plans. I’m always amazed at the time commitment these Ironman level triathlons require – 15 hours weekly to just complete one! Imagine what a runner could do with 15 hrs or running per week.

A couple thoughts on recovery from Friel, and Byrn:

Remember that there is no such thing as a ‘recovery run.’ Recovery sessions should be non-impact oriented

Your mind will try to convince you that you are different from everyone else, that you need less recovery. History has shown that almost everyone is best served by resting.

Rushing recover is a false economy. When your body needs rest, it will take the rest that it needs by any means necessary. Fatigue, illness, burnout, and injury…

If you’re wondering, Friel, and Byrn suggest recovery should take four to six weeks following a full effort race. This is definitely a book worth picking up.

Author: Adam Kahtava Categories: Book, Review, Running Tags:

Book Reviewed: Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

May 27th, 2010

Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson has been on Amazon’s top ten list for a couple months now and for good reason, it’s captivating, easy to read, engaging, and fun. However, I was disappointed with the lack of references. If the authors had included references to texts that back up many of their opinions (books like the Mythical Man-Month, Peopleware, etc…) then Rework could have more impact on corporate decision makers. Unfortunately, without the external references this book is easily passed of as highly opinionated and subjective.

Author: Adam Kahtava Categories: Book, Review Tags:

Book Reviewed: Pragmatic Thinking and Learning: Refactor Your Wetware

October 26th, 2009

Pragmatic Thinking and LearningAndy Hunt’s Pragmatic Thinking and Learning is fun and interesting, but the topics within often leaned on the obvious. The central theme throughout Pragmatic Thinking and Learning revolves around harnessing brain modes (linear mode and rich mode), self improvement, and the Dreyfus Model – a model, where skills are ranked by five stages (Novice, Advanced Beginner, Competent, Proficient, and Expert). Throughout the text Andy works through the stages of the Dreyfus Model within the context of the software realm. He offers advice on how we can progress as developers, and discusses learning techniques that have worked for him.

Andy offers many interesting tips, stories, and draws in external research. For example, did you know, that research suggests that: “if you constantly interrupt your task to check email [Twitter, Facebook] or respond to an IM text message, your effective IQ drops by ten points” or “the leading predictor of a tendency for road rage was the amount of personalization on a vehicle”?

However, I felt that many of the concepts discussed have become common knowledge (part of popular developer culture) and were somewhat obvious. To borrow from the Dreyfus Model; this book is probably best suited for Novices or Advanced Beginner. It’s also fair to mention that I thought Andy’s other book The Pragmatic Programmer suffered this same problem, but also keep in mind that “the obvious … is never seen until someone expresses it simply” (Kahlil Gibran). In the end, I do recommend this book. It’s a fun read, excellent for those who are new to the software industry. It would make a great addition to College / University programs.

Author: Adam Kahtava Categories: Review Tags:

Book Reviewed: Designing with Web Standards by Jeffrey Zeldman

July 20th, 2009

The title of Jeffrey Zeldman’s book (Designing with Web Standards) says it all – this book promoted accessible, usable, search engine friendly web design and development through the use of XHTML and CSS while debunking the myths surrounding web standards. Zeldman is a well recognized name among web developers and designers – he’s the the founder of A List Apart, and co-founder of The Web Standards Project (WaSP). His writing is entertaining, witty, easy to read, and insightful – it’s very much like the content we’re used to reading at A List Apart. It’s also fair to mention that this book has been edited by industy experts and influencial writers like Eric Myer. Any developer that works with the web should read this book along with JavaScript: The Good Parts by Douglas Crockford.

Author: Adam Kahtava Categories: Book, CSS, DOM, JavaScript, Review, Web Standards Tags:

Book Reviewed: Domain-Driven Design: Tackling Complexity in the Heart of Software by Eric Evans

June 15th, 2009

Eric Evans Domain Driven DesignIn Domain-Driven Design: Tackling Complexity in the Heart of Software Eric Evans shares his extensive development and consulting experience as he outlines his approach to software development and design using Domain Driven Design (DDD). Evans’ writing style is easy to read as he maintains a comfortable conversational tone while pragmatically guiding us through the many patterns and concepts that encompass DDD. However; be-warned the concepts that lie within are occasionally dense, abstract, but ultimately enlightening as Evans’ forces us to look at development from a new perspective.

It’s also fair to mention that this book has been charged as being just another patterns book, and while I can see this perspective, some of the concepts do come across as being overly abstract without clear implementations (code) to reference, but this books is much more than another patterns book. As a developer you don’t want to overlook this book, it’s an insightful snapshot into the mind of an experienced developer. From my experience the concepts and patterns surrounding Domain Driven Design frequently crop up in Service Orientation, MVC/MVP structured Web Applications, Object Orientation, Test Driven Development, Model Driven Development, and other modern staticly typed best practices. If you do find yourself grasping for more concrete implementations then you’ll want to read Jimmy Nilsson’s Applying Domain-Driven Design and Patterns: With Examples in C# and .NET book too – Nilsson’s book provides many code examples while directly referencing Evan’s text.

I highly recommend this book, it’s a great reference to have alongside Steve McConnell’s Code Complete, Facts and Fallacies of Software Engineering by Robert Glass, and the Martin Fowler blessed books too.

A group of us reread this book as part of The Calgary Book Club. View my review on Amazon.

Author: Adam Kahtava Categories: Book, DDD, Review Tags:

Book Reviewed: JavaScript: The Good Parts by Douglas Crockford

June 7th, 2008

Weighing in at 140+ pages of content, JavaScript: The Good Parts [Douglas Crockford] cuts through the obscurities, pleasantries, and filler found in most technical books. Instead, this book dives straight into the heart of the JavaScript language. It presents the clearest comprehensive explanation of what makes JavaScript a great programming language that I’ve encountered to date. It nails the important concepts, like JavaScript’s: object oriented nature, its classless (pseudoclassical) nature, and functional nature. While covering the fundamentals like JavaScript’s: functions, lexical scoping, lambdas, prototypal inheritance, and functional inheritance.

This book’s size makes it approachable for all audiences, its style is terse and concise. This book has the potential to do for JavaScript, what Richie’s inspirational classic the C Programming Language did for the C language.

JavaScript is the programming language of the web (AJAX), and this book will guide you through the good parts of this often misunderstood language – while this book is an excellent reference, it is not intended to replace JavaScript: The Definitive Guide, you’ll do best to have both these books on hand.

If you enjoyed (or are considering) this book then you may want to learn more of what Douglas Crockford has to say, check out his great JavaScript video series on the YUI Theater.

I highly recommend this book. View my review on Amazon.

The ASP.NET AJAX Framework is for Dummies

April 21st, 2008

The ASP.NET AJAX Framework is an embarrassing server-side centric approach to DHTML / AJAX web development. While most programming languages and frameworks come with both good and bad parts, the ASP.NET AJAX Framework is an example of a bad part – on the contrast the ASP.NET MVC Framework looks to be a good part.

What’s wrong with the ASP.NET AJAX Framework?

1 .NET Developers are DUMMIES!
The ASP.NET AJAX Framework appears to have been designed under the assumption that .NET developers are dummies and can’t learn or don’t want to learn JavaScript. That .NET Developers would rather hobble along with their familiar languages, then to learn something new. I understand that the ASP.NET community’s only real problem is education, so let’s ask: What is wrong with the ASP.NET Community? Then educate ourselves rather than becoming the .NET Developer statuesque. It’s patronizing to use a framework that assumes learning a new language is beyond our capabilities. Many of these other programming languages are more expressive than statically typed languages like most of the .NET languages. 

2. The “don’t write a line of JavaScript” abstraction leaks like a sieve
The Framework is intended to shelter .NET Developers from the JavaScript language. Which, like driving a car across North America without knowing how to pump gas, stops you dead. Either you depend on someone to pump your gas – depend on a 3rd party (vendors or the ASP.NET AJAX Control Toolkit) and their many authors to write your JavaScript – or you stop moving. As Web Developers, sooner or later learning how to pump your own JavaScript becomes a mandatory skill.

3. Client-side programming from the Server-side is a absurd
The AJAX Framework does back flips to translate server-side code into JavaScript, and then requires that you write JavaScript anyway. Save yourself the pain, learn JavaScript. One day The Law of Leaky Abstractions comes into play, the gas station attendant fills your gas tank with diesel – the AJAX Control Toolkit blows requires debugging and you have to learn JavaScript anyways.

4. Bloated, poor performance, bad user and developer experience
The AJAX Framework extends many of the native JavaScript objects as it attempts to turn JavaScript into a staticly typed programming language, and tries to hook into the ASP.NET life cycle, but all these features are unneeded as they are ALL already achievable through the native JavaScript language – if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then… err… could someone remind me why we need typed languages in a web browser? Anyhow; all these object extensions, enhancements, and upgrades, contribute to more scripts that need to be downloaded and increases the number of scripts running in your browser. Then there’s partial-page rendering and Update Panels which do full page post backs under the guise of AJAX. BAD! Client-side scripting is supposed to enhance the user experience not make it worse. Other AJAX Frameworks are built with performance as their number one goal, but in the ASP.NET AJAX Framework adding more widgets to JavaScript seemed to be the first priority, and performance an after thought.

5. Working against the grain is a waste of time
The AJAX Framework works against the grain, it would be nice if it embraced the JavaScript language. Very few of the concepts and metaphors used in the ASP.NET AJAX Framework transcend AJAX techniques or frameworks - your time is probably better spent learning how JavaScript works or how the other AJAX frameworks work.

6. Disconnected from the ASP.NET MVC Framework
The ASP.NET MVC Framework throws the ASP.NET life cycle away leaving more dead weight ASP.NET AJAX Framework script and rendering many of the AJAX Framework techniques moot.

7. The ASP.NET AJAX Framework almost over looks the ‘J’ in AJAX – ‘J’ stands for JavaScript (that’s GOOD)
JavaScript is the glue of the web, even the ASP.NET Framework depends heavily on JavaScript, it is not something to shy away from.

8. Aside from local intranet sites, no one really uses the ASP.NET AJAX Framework.
The AJAX Framework isn’t widely used. The ASP.NET AJAX site showcases 25 sites using ASP.NET AJAX. None of these applications appear to be high-traffic or moderately high-traffic applications. On the other hand, the YUI site showcases 89 sites, out of these sites, 6 sites (flickr, Slashdot, Linkedin, Paypal, O’Reilly, My Opera) could be considered high-traffic. Other AJAX libraries like jQuery, and Dojo compare similarly. Your time might be better spent learning one of the other AJAX frameworks.

If we (as .NET Developers) are going to claim we know AJAX, then let’s focus on the core of AJAX (JavaScript) and stop obscuring it in poor frameworks. Frankly the ASP.NET AJAX Framework is embarrassing, the web development community is laughing at the ASP.NET AJAX Framework and the Developers touting it.