Sunday, January 8, 2017

Running the Wonderland Trail in 3 days

"The Wonderland Trail is an approximately 93 mile (150 km) hiking trail that circumnavigates Mount Rainier in Mount Rainier National ParkWashingtonUnited States. The trail goes over many ridges of Mount Rainier for a cumulative 22,000 feet (6,700 m) of elevation gain. The trail was built in 1915. In 1981, it was designated a National Recreation Trail. An estimated 200 to 250 people a year complete the entire trail with several thousand others doing shorter sections of it. The average time taken to complete the entire trip is 10 to 14 days." Source: Wikipedia

This write up is not intended to be a trip report, but rather a collection of useful links and information for anyone planning to tackle the Wonderland Trail in 3 days.

The trail has 3 major trail heads that are car accessible and somewhat evenly spaced. If you are willing and able to finish the adventure in 3 long days you will be able to stay in front country campgrounds and you will not have to apply / compete for back-country campsites. You do however need a national park pass for your party. You will also need a kind soul who is willing to move your vehicle and the camping gear around the mountain as you run. Each day will require approximately 2-3 hours of driving - longer if your timing is off and you get stuck in a lineup upon re-entering the national park.

We decided to do our circumambulation of glorious Mt Rainier in a counter-clockwise fashion although the opposite direction seems to be somewhat more popular. Two main factors influenced this decision. The climbs are steeper and the descents slightly more gradual on average if you choose to go counter-clockwise. Personally I don't mind steep climbs and my knees and ankles appreciate a slightly more gentle grade on the descents. Also, starting from Mowich lake in a counter-clockwise direction makes for a longer and tougher first day followed by 2 slightly shorter and easier days.

Our itinerary:
One Day before the start of the adventure:
We drove to Mowich lake from Vancouver B.C. with a short stop for some grocery shopping along the way. Upon our arrival we went for a short hike. The road to Mowich lake is gravel for the final 24 km. There are some sizable potholes, but you will not require an all wheel drive vehicle. Just take it slow and you'll get there eventually. We were lucky enough to be traveling in a camper van and we just slept in the van in the parking lot. I am not sure whether or not this is technically permitted, but it seems to be fairly common for people to spend the night in their vehicle. The camping spots at Mowich lake are non-reservable and are allocated on a  first come first served basis. I would have felt bad if we had pitched a tent and taken a spot from a hiking party that had no other option, but to tent.

Nice day for a run. Crossing the South Mowich River.
Day 1: Mowich lake to Longmire (Cougar lake campground)
53.8 km 2726 m of elevation gain according to Strava
Cougar Lake campground is right along the Wonderland trail a couple of kilometers past Longmire.
Tahoma Creek Suspension Bridge.
Watch for missing boards (unlike me).

Indian Henry's Hunting Ground.
Day 2: Longmire to Fryingpan Creek Trailhead
44.2 km 2379 m of elevation gain according to Strava
When following the Wonderland trail you reach the Fryingpan Creek trailhead after the long descent from Panhandle gap. This is the highpoint of the Wonderland Trail. Make sure to check snow conditions and consider crampons.
One of the Reflection Lakes.
From Fryingpan Creek the trail parallels White River road for about 3.7 km before one reaches the White River campground. This campground is non-reservable however and we therefore decided to stay at the Silver Springs Campground just outside the National Park. It is about a 15 min drive from the Fryingpan Creek trailhead. We had to make a reservation for 2 nights since our stay was on an August weekend. Upon our arrival at the campground a custodian also informed us that he was about to give our spot away to another camping party since we had not informed them of our late arrival (the reservation was from Fri to Sun and we arrived around 6 pm on Saturday).

Snow remnants around Panhandle Gap.

Glorious views upon reaching Summerland.

Day 3: Fryingpan Creek to Mowich Lake
approximately 44 km 2850 m of elevation gain according to Strava
The Strava file is missing the first 3.5 - 4 km of the day (from Fryingpan Creek to White River due to a user error aka me forgetting to start the recording).
Spray Park. So worth it.

We opted for the Spray Park alternative route on our last day back to our starting point. This adds a fair bit of climbing to your day, but gives you a chance to experience another glorious stretch of alpine scenery. Due to the high elevation, snow also lingers here until later on in the summer. This was also the busiest stretch of trail since we came through there on an early Sunday afternoon in mid August when a lot of day hikers are out and about. Overall traffic along the trail was not an issue at all. Everybody we met was happy and respectful and it never felt too crowded overall.

We drove back home almost immediately after finishing the run. I was very grateful however that I was not the designated driver, since I was very knackered after running just under 30 hours in 3 days.
Singletrack paradise. Spray Park.
Water availability along the trail
Water along the trail is relatively frequent. Most back-country camps have a water source nearby. I carried two water bottles and a small filter with water treatment pills serving as an emergency backup. If there is an extended dry period / drought things might look different though. The longest stretch without water was the climb out of Box Canyon (where there is an actual water fountain by the road) to Indian Bar campground (12.2 km).
Reaching Indian Bar ... and Water.
Useful links and additional information
The Wonderland Trail is relatively easy to follow. Mostly there are signposts at any intersections or campgrounds. The only place where I got slightly tangled up was while crossing through the White River Campground. It's essentially a straight shot and the trail starts gaining elevation and disappears into the forest  after you pass to the right of a wooden patrol cabin. You will still want to carry a map to help you get your bearings when you are second guessing which way to go. I personally carried this National Geographics map and my friend used some of the more detailed maps taken from the Hiking the Wonderland Trail book by Tami Asars, which is also an excellent and complete resource if you are interested in embarking on this adventure. It contains a wealth of information and maps even though all the trail descriptions are for travel in a clockwise direction. A third option could be to use these printable topographical PDF maps (full disclosure: I have yet to test these personally).

Here is a link to a trip report with stunning photography to get you psyched about visiting Mt Rainier.

National Park Service info on Mt Rainier and the Wonderland Trail. Closer to your departure date you will also want to make sure to monitor both the weather forecast, road closures and trail conditions to find out about washed out bridges, lingering snow and other problems.

More lodging options aside from the car campgrounds and the 2 lodges within the park.

Here is a nifty custom Wonderland itinerary planner that let's you choose a starting and end point and the number of days you are planning to be traveling.

Happy Trails,


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Three Awesome Free Phone Apps For Navigating And Trip Planning

Posts of this nature have to be prefaced by a disclaimer these days, since common sense is unfortunately not always very -well- common. No Navigation or Route finding App will ever be 100% accurate, fail-safe, replace common sense or make the usefulness of being able to navigate with a paper map and a compass obsolete. Trails wash out or get overgrown or rerouted and new ones are built all the time. Always ask yourself if you will still be able to get back home safely in the event that your GPS device fails you.

Having said that, there are currently 3 apps that I love for trip planning and route finding that I want to share here. They all have different strengths and functionalities that make them very useful.

I am not much of a geek and will try to describe their advantages and limitations to the best of my abilities.

1. OsmAnd  free for iPhone and Android

Elsay Peak Screenshot on the OsmAnd App
This app is based on Open Street Map which is an open source map meaning it can be updated by the trail users themselves. Therefore the quality of the map in terms of being complete and accurate varies from region to region. As for my neck of the woods - Vancouver's North Shore - the detail of the map is excellent thanks in large part to a few dedicated local adventurers. I have traveled in other areas that were not very well maintained at all. The basic version of this app is free on Android and iPhone, but the pricing strategy beyond that seems to be different. The basic version for Android is free and includes ten map downloads, which are usually grouped by state / province. The maps are very detailed and can easily add up to a couple of gigabytes on your device, so you want to make sure you have storage space for that. A useful plugin are the elevation contour lines especially when you travel in the mountains. The plugin costs $ 1.99 on Android and is free on the iPhone right now. The upgrade to the full Android version of the app will set you back $ 8.99 and it gives you access to unlimited map downloads and offline Wikipedia articles. The iPhone version of the app is free the map files however need to be purchased. The files for North America will set you back $ 3.99 and the available files for the entire world cost $ 8.49.

The app is also awesome as a full fledged turn by turn navigation for driving in areas where your data plan might not cover you and navigation through your phone would therefore be too costly.

Although I found the interface and navigation of the settings takes some getting used to the screen is fully customizable and you can display all the info you could wish for.

2. Trailforks free for iPhone and Android

Example of a trail in the Trailforks App

This is a mountain biking app and it gives you the difficulty rating, length and elevation profile of the trails within a given geographical area. It shows your position on the map via GPS, so it is helpful to get your bearings if you are in an unfamiliar place or to check for the availability of trail networks if you are visiting a new region whether you are biking running or hiking.

3. PDF Maps free for iPhone and Android

(Update Nov 2016: It appears that the app has now been renamed to Avenza Maps and the maximum number of free maps is now 3. The links still work though as of right now.)
Fat Dog 120 Course Map on the PDF Maps App

If you happen to have a PDF map of the area you would like to explore you can import it to the application on your phone and you will then be able to see your own location on the map. The hitch is that the file you are uploading must be GPS referenced, which means it has location data embedded in the file. Usually you will not know in advance whether or not this is the case, so just import the map and hope for the best. This App is particularly awesome if you find a race course map for an event that you would like to explore. Just import the file and follow the course.

OsmAnd and PDF Maps will work entirely without the need for a cellular network connection. This will enable you to put your phone in airplane mode while being out and about. This dramatically extends your devices' battery life especially while you are in the back country. With Trailforks you will have the ability to download the actual trails onto your device. These are then layered over a google map and will require a data connection unless you make the area in question available offline in your mapping application.

I am personally using an Android device that still has a removable battery, so I can exchange it on the fly if I run out of juice. Most newer model cell phones will sadly not allow you to swap the battery without the use of tools anymore. There are powerbanks and other options available to recharge on the fly too if you fear that you will deplete your battery.

Be save and have fun exploring,


Friday, January 22, 2016

The Weight Gain Game

After my last post dealt mainly with running for the love of the game, today's post goes a bit in the opposite direction. What can I say? I do have an ambitious side to me in addition to an easy going side that is satisfied by just frolicking in the forest for the love of it. And it's that side that is responsible for the thoughts in this post.

I am aware that even though my weight keeps yo-yoing by about 10-15 lbs throughout the year, I am neither overweight, nor do I have body image issues.  I have just reached a point in my running where performance gains don't come all that easily anymore. The fact that I have been running consistently and somewhat ambitiously for about four years now has allowed me to gradually better my race results along the way. Eventually father time will have a word with me and I will be in the game of minimizing performance losses though. I shall then resign myself to checking any time goals at the door and running further or having the most fun possible in the process.

For now I will try to get a little leaner in the name of (relative) speed, but here is the problem. This ambition alone doesn't seem to motivate me enough to change my diet or restrict my calorie intake to achieve the desired weight loss.

There is an interesting Sweat Science blog post on our body's natural tendency to regulate our appetite, calorie intake and at keeping our weight in a healthy range, as long as we are not totally sedentary. I think the only reason why this (almost 60 year old) research might not be 100% valid today anymore is because all of today's addictive and processed junk food that is getting a lot of us to continually override the natural feeling of satiety.

When it comes to myself, I need to manage to make good clean eating choices and not eat out of boredom or simply because some yummy food happens to cross my path. If I manage to do that the number on the scale will take care of itself and so will the race results. Essentially I have to manage to eat consciously rather than mindlessly, which is always a good idea, but one that I don't always seem to remember. Apparently if I take care of listening to my body's signals, my body will in turn take care of everything else.

Have fun and be healthy.


Friday, December 18, 2015

Lessons from a Year of Running: Resisting FOMO, redefining FKT's

A few of my 2015 races kind of got away from me. In hindsight I would say I probably did too many of them too close together or at least my expectations were too high in too many of them. Looking back on my year in running, I had the most fun while just relaxing and being out for fun or to catch up with friends. Exploratory runs in the back country while trying to bag a peak or explore a new to me area rank equally high. There were occasions in the past where just relaxing and having low expectations actually produced excellent race results, but for some reason I was not able to reproduce that this year. I am mixing up two things here though. Running is fun or at least it should be and for me personally it is - most of the time. Setting goals and working towards accomplishing them can also be fun. Mostly because it is satisfying to achieve a goal that seemed out of reach and inch ever closer to ones' full potential as a runner. There are other times though when training can seem like a chore, even though running is still fun if that makes sense. I guess the idea is to make training feel like play time and have the results take care of themselves.

Racing = Kinda fun ... sometimes (Photo credit: Elaine Fung)

I think part of why I was trying to do too much in the past was the fear of missing out or FOMO and the fact that racing is being hyped and talked about a lot. "What races are you planning to do next year?" "Who's going to run -enter name of event here- next year?" or other questions are very frequent and can lead even the most even-keeled runner to feel like they should get on board and commit to more events.

 I had a couple of ankle sprains this year and as of late I also had to take some time away from running due to injury. Having said that, when I get out on the trails lately, I am having the best time ever. I am really enjoying each and every outing immensely. I have no immediate goals, I am signed up for zero races and I hardly ever wear a watch let alone a GPS these days. I just go out to play and have fun with or without company. I can not remember a time when I enjoyed myself more while running and  that's saying a lot.

It is the season for race registrations and goal setting again though and I have spent a good deal of time mapping out events that I am interested in for 2016 and beyond. A few of those races have opened their registration already. I am just not ready to jeopardize my carefree adventures in the forest by committing to a race.

Exploring: Usually lots of fun (Photo credit: Carlie Smith)

I will judge my year 2016 in running by how many smiles it brings to my face rather than by how many finish lines I cross. I will let the results come to me or not. I will have some great adventures and miss out on others without fretting. I am also going to borrow a term from my friend Andy and aim for setting as many Funnest Known Times (rather than Fastest Known Times) on the adventures I embark on as possible. I will race and I will have goals again soon. I just don't want them to own me along with my training and my mindset. I'm gonna own them this time. I will resist the urge to run a new longer distance this year, because if I am being honest with myself, I don't want to. Sometimes I am simply feeling like I should do certain things since it is a natural progression for many ultra runners. What it all comes down to is really that I will do what I want (which includes finding balance between adventures and family life) and not get sucked into things that I think I should be doing. It sounds shockingly simple, but at least for me, oftentimes it isn't.

Have fun. Run free.


Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Price of Admission

Besides a couple of minor scars that I accumulated through childhood and adolescence, I managed to make it to the 4th decade of my life relatively unscathed. Since then though I seem to be making a habit of periodically breaking a bone or spraining an ankle. I hear that most accidents happen at home or work, but I have not yet managed to bang myself up significantly in either place. Play however, is a different story. I am afraid that this development goes hand in hand with me leading a more active lifestyle than I used to.

My mishaps themselves have not been the result of reckless behaviour however. I broke my clavicle when going over my handle bar while biking at approximately walking speed. I broke my hand when slipping on the downhill portion of a wet run and wrapping my fingers around my hand held bottle. Most recently I broke my pinkie while running an interval on a high school track. I tripped over a protruding piece of a football sled after stubbing my toe on it. The ankle twisting business just happens at random points during runs and the mishaps often seem to go in spurts. On the plus side, I never injured myself in a race or missed one, because of being sidelined.

There have been times when my typing was slightly more efficient

It has been suggested to me on numerous occasions to play it safe and modify my running, biking and exploring ways. My response is usually this: To me the injuries are the price of admission to the lifestyle that keeps me happy, balanced and sane. Although I'd be more than happy to gain access at a discounted rate for that matter. So as I am typing this with a surgically repaired pinkie wrapped in too many bandages, I am happily resting up and mapping out new adventures for 2016 and beyond.

Stay healthy everybody.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Impostor no more - My Squamish 50 experience

By now I have about a dozen Ultras under my belt and although there was some chafing in the first one and some queasiness in quite a few of them, I couldn't help, but feel like an impostor. Why? I never experienced any of the Ultra running "rites of passage", like blisters, puking, debilitating cramping, lacerations and such.

That was about to change during this year's running of the Squamish 50 miler. This was to be my second 50 mile foot race. My first one, last year's Sun Mountain 50 miler in Winthrop Oregon (find my race report here), went shockingly well from start to finish without any issues whatsoever. Now, although there was no one single issue that slowed me down and made my plans go sideways at the Squamish 50, there were a few compounding issues that left me suffering in a fairly dark place for most of day.

Still having fun 20 k into the race (it's a smile not a grimace)

About half way through the race I developed some chafing on my thighs and later on in some other areas that shall not be further specified, but made the post race shower one of the least fun experiences of the day.

Furthermore my shins and calves were on the verge of cramping throughout the second half of the race. My shins on the uphills and my calves on the downhills, which had the added "bonus", that when I tried to stretch one of the areas the other one would immediately seize up.

Although I still didn't have to throw up I got to the point where outside of the aid stations I was hardly even able to tolerate water, leave alone food. Interestingly enough when stopping at the aid station (i.e. not moving) I was still able to take in some calories, although too much food at a time didn't work out so well either.

One other issue I dealt with were my lower abs which got really sore and hurt me quite a bit, especially on the downhills. Now this is an issue I have dealt with in the past, but never got quite as bad as in this race. This really upset me, because for the last 9 months I had been really consistent about adding some weekly strength and core work to my routine, which it seems did nothing to alleviate the problem.

Lastly my mental "fortitude" was such, that I was pretty much hosting an 8 hour pity party for myself. I got to the point where I was about 90 percent certain that I would drop at the 5th aid station about 53 k into the race. This was the biggest aid station of the day with lots of cheering friends and family. I continued mainly due to the volunteers doing a phenomenal job of pushing my sorry butt out of the aid station and back onto the trail. From this point forward there was a lot of hiking involved. My saving grace was that my friend Eric caught up to me at aid station six at around 62 k and we were commiserating for much of the remaining 18 kilometers. In the end I might have finished the race mainly, because I was too proud to ask for a car ride back to the finish line from any of the last 3 aid aid stations. In between aid stations there is not really a way to drop out anyway since you are in the middle of the forest. I violated the "beware the chair" rule and enjoyed a few minutes of chair time at each of the last two aid stations to "contemplate life", which seemed like a good idea at the time. I didn't have too much trouble getting back up either actually, so no regrets there.

I suffered through a 50 mile footrace and all I got was this T-shirt :-)

Overall this was probably my worst race ever in terms of my finishing time vs my initial expectations. It is also the one I am most proud of though, since I managed to stick it out and not quit although my body begged me to. I shed my "ultra-impostor" label and am now able to move forward. I think I still have a ways to go in terms of improving on my mental fortitude. After finishing this race, I have a hard time imagining how people are able to finish -let alone excel in- events of even longer distances. Ultras are all about managing your body, which I thought I was getting pretty good at. It's back to the drawing board now though. I need to take stock of what happened and try to improve upon a few things in my training and preparation.

Taking some time to get sorted out. At least my feet were happy.
Thanks to my Altra Lone Peaks 2.0 and gaiters.

If you are looking for a tough and beautiful 50 mile race with awesome support and course marking that makes getting lost near impossible, the Squamish 50 miler is for you. There are 50 k and 23 k options by the way, which now seem like incredibly appealing, more sane options to me. Co- Race Director Garry Robbins is known for designing  tough courses, but he really outdid himself on this one.

Happy running and racing,


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Finally got my Oomph back - Thank you iron supplement

I usually don`t use this blog for regular training updates, but this quick post is related to a couple of entries I made in the past.

A month ago I took stock of my health and training 3 month ahead of the Squamish 50 mile race which I am scheduled to complete. You can check out the original post here.

These were my stated goals from the post a month back, plus a brief update how I did  on working towards them since then:

Get together with friends for training when possible / return to more structured long runs

Despite my odd schedule I managed to have company on all for of my long runs / adventures I had during the last month. I finally  managed to get out for a Squamish orientation run, ran a reverse Knee Knacker with four friends and did some peak bagging on two occasions. These outings plus some weekday runs with my regular school day running buddies Ryan and Brian made all the difference in my mood and my attitude.

Reverse Knee Knacker with the best company. Training for the legs. Nourishment for the spirit.

Put a spring back into my stride and get my energy levels back up

This point clearly ties in with the fact that I had felt somewhat sluggish due to low blood iron levels. After getting my blood iron levels retested at the beginning of the month (and seeing next to no improvement), I started supplementing iron three weeks ago. I tested low for iron earlier in the year and was determined to make some adjustments to my diet to help my iron levels recover without the use of supplements. In the end my big ambitions led only to minor adjustments and therefore negligible results.  I finally start feeling like my old self again after twice daily supplementation for about 3 weeks.  On todays run I found myself eager to push the pace on several sections and generally feeling great. You can have a look at the original post on my iron deficiency here.

Lose about 4 kg of weight

0.5 down 3.5 to go. Must run more and / or eat smarter.

Have fun

I did that. I am starting to look forward to the challenge that is running a 50 mile race again rather than dreading it. It seems the best strategy is to relax, have fun, get together with friends, go on adventures and enjoy the process. You get good results and training doesn't feel like a chore.

Maintain a good run/life/family balance

I think I do, although I never quite dare to get my wife to confirm that for me.

Get out, have fun and race hard,