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Winning the raceIn this 4 part series, I want to share with you what it was like to attempt to run my first 100km ultramarathon in Guatemala this past November….

Rivers of sweat poured down the channel in the small of my back, straight into my running shorts, which made them clammy and uncomfortable. As I ran past row after row of gleaming new Peugeot cars at the Talbot factory in Ryton-on-Dunsmore, all I could think of was the exciting smell you experience with a new car. It was thrilling to get into a shiny new vehicle when I was a child, dreaming of being old enough to one day drive and access a new freedom.

Sadly the Talbot factory no longer exists!

At the time however, looking at all those expensive new cars took my mind off the drudgery of running and helped me think happy thoughts of one day driving everywhere, and no longer running!

I knew the exercise was, generally, good for me. At 13 years old, I had already figured out I felt better when I ran. Back then we didn’t have the internet as a resource, but if we did, I probably would have found an article saying something about the benefits running, or, of wearing a plastic garbage bin liner under my t-shirt. I am not sure where I found that article then or even if it was true, but somewhere I heard a rumour which sounded cool and so I stole a bin liner from my house and carefully cut out a hole for my head and one for each of my arms. As my Mum and Dad looked on quizzically, I probably made up some story about the benefits of wearing such a device during periods of exercise but in truth I knew nothing about the physiological benefits to wearing plastic bags when you run, it just seemed like a good idea.

I don’t want to mislead you, I was athletic, but my sport was Fencing and running was just a way to stay somewhat fit and be a somewhat good Fencer! So I didn’t take running too seriously. Only seriously enough to choose to wear garbage bags over my head, which apparently was ahead of my time, since the trend in the 70’s with Punk Rock was to, in fact, wear green garbage bags, but they would wear them on the outside and generally didn’t run with them.

I never took anything too seriously. In fact, in my humble opinion, children under the age of 35 are forced to take many things far too seriously and make decisions well beyond their years. I chose to deal with each day at a time, much like today.

So it was, when, one evening in a pub somewhere, a friend cornered me and said “You look fit” and added, “How would you like to do a half marathon tomorrow?”. “Great, I said, count me in” as I ordered another beer. With the beer in my hand I quizzed him about exactly what a half marathon was. I was 17 at the time and after he explained it was a 13 mile run, I wondered how bad it could be? The next day, I packed my car, a 1957 Morris Minor with my dog, Polly, my girlfriend Jackie and a pair of shorts that were later used by Simon Pegg in Run Fat Boy Run and registered myself in the Warwick half marathon.

At the end of my first half marathon… never to be repeated for about 30 years!

It turns out many of my former school mates and other friends already knew what a half marathon was and had chosen to do the same thing, and probably, like me, had decided the previous night in a pub somewhere in Leamington Spa. We all had a habit of doing thinfs spontaneously and wanted to have fun. I remember that day being not much fun until it was over… my time was a pretty slow 2 hrs 12 minutes, but I was proud, I had not trained. The night before I didn’t even know what a half marathon was and yet here I was, running 13 miles.

My recent adventure in Guatemala unfolded in almost the same manner, except now I take things a little more seriously and I don’t spend quite so much time in pubs. Last week, as I ran the Cabrakan 100km Ultramarathon, I couldn’t help but wonder why my disturbed mind had, at some point in it’s existence decided running could be fun. Then I found the answer. Run as an advocate, on behalf of someone else. So, I did exactly that on November 17th 2012 with a team of 8 other people running also.

A little over a year ago, I met Matt Blacklock for the first time. I had known of Matt for some time. He was the Base Director for FeViva at their Guatemalan operations. Jackie, my wife had previously visited the childrens home and our charity supports them. Matt is an advocate for our charity, Rally4Life, because he runs so many ultramarathons. I am not sure quite how the conversation went but in listening to his stories of running  I do recall my mouth saying at some point “I would be interested in running an ultramarathon” as my brain screamed “NOOOOOO, DON’T DO IT”.

Matt looked me straight in the eye and said “You should do the Cabrakan 100km in Guatemala, it is a pretty straightforward race”.

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training for successI started training and telling the press and friends what I was going to do… slowly and surprisingly, people started asking if they could join me and then asking if they could run too, so we ended up with two complete 4 x 25km teams, John, Kim, Jackie, Matt, Janet, Brady, Kristen and Petra…most of whom had never run much before. I was surprised, and excited at the same time because we now had a group of 10 people raising funds for the charity rather than just me.

Training for the ultramarathon

We trained, sometimes individually and sometimes as a group. I remember the first few runs with some of the new runners and 3 to 5km was a really challenging run for them. In the fall I entered the Kelowna Marathon and had an excellent marathon run with my youngest son Leagh, which I really enjoyed and then I ran a 50km training run  a few weeks later which I did not enjoy. I was dehydrated, my achilles tendons, which had been playing up for most of the year were now so angry that I had a hard time walking most of the time, but I put it to the back of my mind and just did as much rehab as I could to help them recover…. that was three weeks before the race and I decided it was time to taper and let the body heal.

Everybody impressed me in their commitment to go the distance. Of particular note was Kim Weiler, the founder of FeViva who we were supporting. Kim is a little older than me and was challenged by a good friend, John Jansen to join us on the run. John thought it was a pretty safe bet to challenge Kim because he would say no and John would be off the hook. Kim laughed initially at the suggestion, took another gulp of coffee and then said “Yes”. I had known Kim for a long time, and he is an amazing man, a man of faith without a doubt, but this may be a stretch.

Kim launched headlong into a training regime and pushed everyone around him. I think he may have lost 30lbs in the fall, and we often went for 15km or 20km runs as he prepared for the Guatemala run. Kim had a naturally fast pace and so keeping up with him was good training for me and John as we went running together. Whenever the running was a little arduous or difficult, we just started talking about how much we would be able to help the children of Nicaragua and Guatemala and put our focus right where it needed to be.

On November 14th, the team were so excited to be boarding the United Airlines flight from Vancouver, high spirits, coupled with a healthy dose of nervousness permeated the teams spirits. We all had certain fears and limitations which kept us pensive and quiet for much of the time.

Despite the fears and anxiety, the overall anticipation and excitement was in regards to seeing the Casa Kids. They are a very special group of children. Kim and Lyn Weiler, founders of Fe Viva, run a Children’s home which is part of their Guatemalan operation. It has been very successful and highly admired for the way it operates. Looking after somewhere close to 40 children. Feeding them, clothing them, teaching them and above all loving them is critical to their successful development. One of the most recent admissions was three children from the same family who were found tied to a post, badly abused and severely malnourished. Kim and Lyn were asked to look after them but the children were in such a bad state of malnourishment that they needed a three month residential stay in a hospital just to get them physically healthy.

Petra reading enroute to Guatemala

My philosophy has always been that it is harder to quit when you are doing something for someone else and the rest of the team had risen to the challenge admirably.

The flights to Guatemala City went very well and we were met at the airport by Kim and Matt who were shuttling us back to Casa Esparanza near Chiquimulilla. Once assigned to our rooms at around midnight, everyone disappeared to attempt to get their first Guatemalan sleep.

Guatemalan sleep is like none other. The first thing you learn is the Roosters don’t crow at dawn, they do it all night long, apparently because they are hungry. You also find out that mangoes make a very loud sound, much akin to a hand grenade going off, when they are blown off the tree and land on a tin roof. As if that were not enough, you will find out that Guatemalan’s start their day very early, lighting their aromatic hardwood fires and preparing to cook copious amounts of Tortillas. Then, if you are not accustomed to creepy crawlies, the sounds of tiny scorpion feet, buzzing mosquitos singing lizards are likely to keep you awake.

None of that seemed to bother me, I travel very well, had just spent three months sleeping in the Australian bush in a hammock, so why when I woke up did I feel like I had a massive hangover? I was awake around 7am and breakfast was at 8am and I was already looking for the bus that had so obviously run me over in my sleep! It was going to be a rest day for us thankfully. My body was present for the whole day but for some reason my brain never showed up. My wife could not understand, she had not seen me like this before. It was as if I had been awake for 36 hours.

Installing the stoves

Thankfully night fell, and off to bed I went after convincing someone to give me a pair of their ear plugs, just in case I had not slept well. Thankfully, I had a good nights sleep and ended up feeling rested. It was a good job because this was a work day. We were off to install two clean burning wood stoves for cooking in some remote homes to help families reduce the chances of child mortality and bronchial infections.

The Guatemalan’s have one of the highest rates of child mortality due to their terrible cooking conditions. Children are burnt, scalded or die of severe bronchial conditions. Their kitchens usually have an open “three stone” fireplace with no chimney so the whole building fills with smoke. The new stoves that we installed burnt far less wood, had a flue to direct the smoke over the roof tops and were safer for pots and pans that would not accidentally fall over. It was hard work for the afternoon. First we installed the new stoves on freshly installed concrete pads and then dismantled the old stoves to remove any temptation to go back to old habits.

Playing with some of the “Casa Kids”

We were tired, hot and happy. Many of the team had not been to a developing country and took to hugging the poor people incredibly well. Everyone was discussing tactics to remove hair lice and fleas once back in Canada and talking about the chances of getting Chicken Pox again which seemed to have affected many of the children, but not one person was cautious about giving a big hug to a child or elderly person, knowing that it meant so much to them.

Smoky kitchens cause all kinds of problems for Guatemalan’s

Back at base we had a fabulous pep talk from Matt and Kerry about the run. They had so much experience and willingly shared it with the team. Even as far as to talk about the dynamics inside an 11 passenger van. Many of the team would be in the van for almost 24 hours with very little time to get out, other than for their leg of the run. The discussion ensued about changes in personality with enforced sleep deprivation. It was obviously going to be a very interesting evening.

What did become obvious during that conversation was the “team spirit”, the Esprit de Corps as the army calls it. The willingness to give whatever it takes for the team. It was clear that the one thing that would not be missing was encouragement. In all, we would be 15 people. Matt and Kerry had agreed to drive the passenger van that would follow and support the relay teams, Edwin, a partner with Fe Viva had agreed to drive a support vehicle following me and Grant, Anthony and Shaun were going to be “runners” between the two teams with the purpose of filming a documentary, iRun, which should be ready for viewing early next year.

With all of our gear packed, food organised and strategies at hand, we set off at lunchtime the following day to drive almost to Antigua, the oldest capital city in the America’s. This would be the starting point for our epic overnight adventure.

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ultramarathon adventureThe following day, the day of the race, we took things easy, packed our personal supplies into marked bags or boxes and by noon we were on the road to the start line.

Originally, we were supposed to be starting in Guatemala City and running to the coast, but a few days before the start we heard of a change in route. We were now starting close to Antigua, the oldest city in the America’s, and running to a different part of the coast.

I had always known we would be running downhill and I knew I had to be cautious about my approach to the start… without realising it, a runner who has not trained specifically on downhill terrain can tire very quickly as the quads, soak up all of the additional compression on every step. I had already resolved I would walk a significant amount of the first 25km leg because of the descent. Driving up to the start line only confirmed my fears that we had a big descent ahead of us!

Driving there, I have to admit, I was a little anxious. I looked at my altimeter watch and realised that over the first 25km we would be descending 4,500’. To say I had not trained for that exactly would be an understatement. I made a mental note of the steepest parts of the descent as we drove uphill to the start line past angry, steaming volcanoes. The red lava flows would be visible to the runners as we started among a triad of tall Guatemalan fire breathing monsters. In my mind, I was having a difficult time as I wrestled with the concept of attempting to recogise certain parts of the road in the dark. While certain sections looked really steep during the day, at night I knew they would be hard to distinguish.

Near the top of the ascent, we stopped at a gas station to fuel up and use the toilets when Matt suddenly realised this was the actual start line. Now we had three hours to relax, think, stretch and plan. The excitement usually prevents sleep, yet I knew that sleep was the best thing I could do. I had been up since 6:30am, had not slept during the day and the race started at 5pm with a cut off of 8am the following morning. A daunting challenge to say the least and I wished I had slept more but it was too late now.

Individually we kept reminding ourselves that we were doing this for the children of Guatemala and Nicaragua as we psyched each other up for the start. At 5pm the first runners would be John and Kim and myself. John and Kim would run for 25km then Janet and Jackie would take over followed by Matt and Brady and then finally at around 4am, Kristen and Petra would take the team to the finish. For the entire 100km, I would try and run close to the relay team so as a team we could hopefully all cross the finish line together.

The team was joking and taking photographs and admiring the stunning scenery in the Guatemalan highlands. The weather was hot and sunny but we were assured of some cooler temperatures overnight which would be very welcome.

I changed into my running gear and prepped my backpack with leg one supplies, enough boiled potatoes, fluid and carbs to get through 25km and hopefully be ready for the second leg. On average I needed to consume a litre per hour of fluid and 300 calories per hour to stay nourished. I needed to do that for approximately 15 continuous hours. My first backpack had 3 litres of fluids and 900 calories of food – almost half the average daily intake of food an adult would consume.

In the ensuing time, I started to question my choice of running shoes. I had put on a pair of New Balance Minimus shoes. I had run two 50km+/- runs in them and loved them. I had however brought two other pairs with me. A traditional pair of Saucony’s and another set of Nike 5.0 Free’s, again a minimalist running shoe I really liked.

My thought was whether I could actually benefit from the cushioning of the traditional shoe on the downhill segment, even though my feet were now conditioned to a minimalist style of shoe! At the last minute I switched to the traditional shoe and probably made the first serious mistake. I committed to the decision and joined the huddle near the start line just in time to hear the start had been delayed for 30 minutes because of excessive traffic on the road.

More laughs and nervous anticipation as we high fived each other and encouraged each other to get to the end.

Finally at 5:30pm, we left. There was not a great amount of runners, maybe 50 or so at the most but every single one of them had one or two cars so there really was quite a convoy heading down the road.

John and Kim took off at a strong 25km pace, but I did not want to get sucked in to the competition. I stayed near the back of the pack with about half a dozen solo runners and we gingerly moved down the hill in procession.

I had my headphones on, which I usually don’t wear running because of wildlife in the bush in Canada… it is always good to hear the snarl of a bear or cougar as you are running! Curiously I didn’t enjoy wearing them and unfortunately what they were doing is masking a very bad running form. When I removed my headphones, I was concerned by the slapping I could hear from my shoes. In my transition from traditional shoes to minimalist shoes I had gone from a solid heal strike to a mid-foot landing which felt a lot more comfortable and less tiring. Now, however, I was landing on my heel and felt as though I had no control over my foot landing as it slapped down like a beavers tail. Something was not right, but I put that thought aside and kept running. Several of the solo runners exchanged positions and I recall having to stop for a pee and then mentally deciding I needed to get back to where I was previously, and running past four or five runners to get behind the person I was using as a “pace bunny” originally.

It didn’t take long for me to realise, in the dark, it was not very easy to estimate the gradient of the road and my pace was determined by competitiveness, not common sense… this was only the first 25km of a 100km race and I knew inside I was not running well.

Over the years, I have perhaps adopted a “Chi” running style which stresses a “tall spine”, pelvic tilt and a slight lean forward with most of the body very relaxed. For some reason, I was not doing that now. There were instances where I would remind myself to stand tall, but after a few minutes, I know my shoulders rolled forwards, I slouched and started plodding, not a good omen.

After 15km I realised the shoes I was wearing were not good at all. My feet had definitely become accustomed to a minimalist shoe and the choice of a traditional runner had been entirely wrong. Instead of feeling relaxed, I realised that my feet muscles were seriously growling which was not at all usual after only 15km.

I continued to run in the pitch dark. Occasionally our video crew would drive up and film a conversation for a while or I would listen to some music, all the time, eating my boiled potatoes and drinking copious amounts of liquid.

I was well hydrated, in total stopping to pee about 4 times in the first 25km, and I had consumed almost all of my 3 litres of water by 20km. I kept running past waving and cheering Guatemalans in the dark, all shouting “vamos, vamos”. The occasional dog would run up and faint an attack, but generally only being about 12” tall, they would quickly back off and run off in to the shadows.

At twenty kilometres in to the run I realised that I had run more of the downhill sections than I wanted to. I was already feeling tired. Was it the humidity? The food did not feel as though it was getting to my muscles, yet it was the same food I would eat in Canada.

My driver, Edwin, patiently followed at a snails pace as he settled in for the longest lasting 100km journey of his life! I asked the film crew how John and Kim were doing. They told me the guys had finished very strong and that Jackie and Janet were now out running, but John and Kim were going to keep going to raise more funds. I realised I was further behind that I had originally intended.

I signaled to Edwin to come up to me and decided I had had enough of the running shoes. Quickly I slipped into a new pair of minimalist shoes and some dry socks and topped up my fluid bladder and grabbed a handful of food. I pressed on to 25km, but I knew something was not right. Instantly my feet however, felt at home and more comfortable in the newer designed shoes.

Running at night, I found the hardest thing to battle was the body’s natural chemical. Tryptophan is a chemical that induces tiredness. If I had been running on my own I would have made attempts to sleep later in the day and go to bed later and help my body adjust to late nights, but as a larger group we were all scheduled on some activites which kept me on a normal daytime routine. I was hoping adrenaline would keep me awake, but my eyelids were heavy.

My feet were feeling better, but I was more sore than I should have been. I took a break to walk for a little while and swallowed some Ibuprofen. I passed the 25km mark at about 3 hours and ten minutes. That was actually where I wanted to be after doing some walking downhill. Clearly, many of the solo runners had the same plan since there was a string of support cars ahead of me with hazard flashers on.

One runner behind me gave up at around 25km, perhaps the hill gave her a hard time too! Ahead of me I did notice some cheating. One runner called his car and jumped in, only to be driven further down the road and continue. It seemed pointless, there was nothing to win other than a memory!

I plodded on as the thick, heavy darkness become almost oppressive. My pace was slow. I remember thinking my pace should be slow and fighting the urge to speed up. If I could do the next 25km in a similar time, I would have two spare hours and it would give me 4.5 hours per 25km leg after that, I knew I could walk that pace if I had to.

The hardest part of the run as a solo runner was having nobody to talk to and solitude allowed my mind to play too many games with me. I yearned to be on a relay team. Our teams were running in pairs and I knew upfront there would have been lots of camaraderie and competitiveness. I was left alone, to the darkness and my weary thoughts. I adopted a steady plod and just told myself to focus on the next short stint.

At this point on a marathon I would be full of energy and coaxing other runners along beside me. Now I felt as if my pace was very slow. As I looked ahead, it would appear the solo runners paces were similar, I did not seem to be gaining or losing ground on the gaggle of runners I was close to… if anything I was gaining ground. I am not sure what it was about Guatemalan runners, they never seemed to pee, drink or eat. I was eating as much as I could keep down, drinking litres of fluid and wearing it on my back. By comparison, the Guetmalan runners appeared to chat to people in their support cars, never take a pee break and very rarely eat or drink.

It seemed to take forever to get to 43km, the marathon distance. I knew then I was bagged, but still believed I could run to 75km and then walk if I had to. My feet were very sore, but I could keep pushing to 50km and then change socks, it would help me feel refreshed. Most runners get the same tired feeling in their feet and the run then becomes a mental battle. While the feet may growl a lot, they generally reach a crescendo of anger and then stay the same, it is just something that many runners are able to condition themselves to.

I was taking longer than expected and at about 46km, Jackie my wife surprised me and joined me! The good news was that she had finished her leg with Janet in 2hrs and 27 mins, a really competitive time. Now my son Matt and his friend Brady were running their section.
Brady and Matt had not done too much running. The most they had ever run was perhaps 8km and Brady had the disadvantage of only having a half a foot on his right leg. A challenge with cancer as a little baby had led to an operation that left him with a “special” foot. However, his “special” foot was such a special shape that he had no running shoes, just a pair of plastic ankle boots that had been specially broken in! Who was I to complain my feet were sore…. Brady was such an enthusiastic young man whose confidence would carry him to the end despite what his feet, hips and legs told him, he was an inspiration to many.

Jackie stayed in the car for a while, then decided to physically join me. She realised that something was wrong. My style that I usually adopted to run had long gone. My slouch ensured that I was running heavily and slowly and at times when I walked, I was physically falling asleep and staggering over the road running the risk of being hit by a fast moving Guatemalan transport truck!

She insisted on running on the outside of me to keep me close in to the verge and together we ran and chatted. I really enjoyed the company but I did share that I was not feeling energetic. The food and drink seemed to be gathering in my stomach and not being digested. I had not peed once in the second 25km leg which was a concern. After about 50km, I needed to stop running. I stood on the side of the verge and put my hands on my knees, bending over to take a breath. Jackie’s hand rested on my back in a very caring manner, and I knew that she saw my weakness.

It was then that our running career nearly came to a permanent end. The biggest concern running at night, aside from the rats scurrying under your feet or the snakes crawling out from the grass, was the vehicle traffic. This was a very busy road from Guatemala City to the coast.

As if in a dream, I remembered hearing the screeching of tires. It seemed to go on for at least ten seconds and is if in a chapter of the book “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell, the world almost stopped spinning. I knew something was bad, very bad. Clearly a car or truck was about to smash into the back of my support vehicle we were standing in front of and the length of time the tires were locked up for would indicate some serious speed was involved. I looked up to assess the situation and just as I did, a very tight fist on my bicep pulled me off the road into the ditch. My instinct was to look first to see where the impact would happen and decide where to go to avoid it; Jackie’s instinct was to get away and so in the ditch we went. I managed to get my footing briefly and turned my head to see if the vehicle was going to join us in the ditch but my wife’s clutch was too strong and as quickly as I got some footing, she forced me to join her in the bottom of the ditch.

The car managed to avoid my support vehicle by eventually stopping on the inside, but thankfully not joining us in the ditch. We were heads down, feet up, looking at a starry sky not sure whether to laugh or cry. Whatever we were lying in was tearing at our clothing and like stingy nettles, was leaving a rash. The offending car reversed out of the verge and spun it’s wheels in anger as it re-joined the highway. Edwin our support driver was naturally very worried for us as we had completely disappeared from his view, and we waved frantically from the bottom of the drainage ditch trying to get his attention and let him know that we were OK. I think we laughed, it was a relief from the running, but the short interlude didn’t take my mind off the running enough.

We set back in to grabbing more miles. I would set targets to run to distant signs and then walk for a while. I knew I was walking too much but the walking pace was quite strong and I was keeping up with the group in front so I felt as though the pace was sustainable.

At about 53km, Matt and Kerry joined us. They had heard from the camera crew I was struggling. Matt asked me a few questions, looked me in the eye and then put his runners on and started to run with me. He exclaimed I was in fine shape. He had seen a lot worse in the runs he had done and ahead of me were people who were doing worse than me. He encouraged me to set some bigger goals and try and catch the person in front, but inside, I was feeling empty. I could run a kilometre or maybe two and then I had to walk, the tank was drained, and I did not know why.

At 55km I explained to Matt the food did not appear to be working and  as I walked I was falling asleep. We decided it would be good to take a nap. The support car came up, I told the team I was going to take a ten minute micro nap and then carry on. I asked Jackie to rub my feet which were incredibly sore after the bad choice of runners at the beginning.

Ten minutes felt like 30 seconds. But I did feel a little refreshed. As we started to run, Matt was full of encouragement and we saw we were not that far behind the runners in front. Apparently the solo runners numbers had been deteriorating and it felt good to still be running. Matt and I discussed my time and felt as though I could still get to the finish line if we could pick up the pace.

The fight with the Tryptophan was waning.. it was around 2am and I wanted to sleep. I needed to fight the feeling, but it was overwhelming. Matt was absolutely stellar in the way he guided me and supported me for the next 5km and then I finally said “Matt I don’t think this is working! I am not sure I have the energy to get to the end”

The discussion ensued about the fact I had no obvious injury, although my running style had evaporated. If I could eke out some more pace, we could finish on time and I would get more energy at some point if I kept going. I decided to take another quick nap while the team discussed my fate.

The back seat felt so comfortable. I was so tired and yet I could not fall asleep. Jackie kindly massaged my feet and then the inevitable call to action came. I put on a new t shirt, the old one heavy with sweat. It felt fresh, but the Tryptophan was leaping out of every crevice in my body again as I got onto my feet.

With fresh socks, a new shirt and an attitude that I could get another 5km… I put one foot in front of the other. This time, Jackie and Kerry were running with me and being incredibly enthusiastic and kind.

I felt I was walking at a snails pace so I forced my legs to run. Kerry was very complimentary and I could not help but notice I was losing ground on Jackie who was walking! I told Jackie that it was devastating to a guys ego to not be able to run as fast as a woman could walk and so she kindly broke into a run. She had already ran 30km now and this next haul would take her to 35km. She had so much more energy than me! What had I miscalculated?

My sense of humour kicked in again as I told Jackie that the least she could do, out of respect is run behind me and let me feel as though I was running. Deep inside I knew that my energy was waning still. I had been hoping for the point that I had read about so much, the point where an ultramarathoner suddenly stumbles upon a renewed sense of energy and picks up the pace to run better than they had done in the first 25km. Sadly I was not finding it!

I kept going to 65km. We were in an illuminated entrance to some sort of industrial plant. Matt came out of the car to chat. I explained this should be the end for me. I was very rationale. I knew I could continue walking with some running and I had a good chance to making 85km to 90km but I would miss the finish line (the late cutoff). What was more important, I felt, was to support the team who had put so much effort in to getting themselves to Guatemala, training, raising funds and now doing their first ever race… it was my responsibility to be there and cheer them on. After much discussion, some of which I recall sleeping through, we decided if I was happy with my own decision, we would call it a night and drive ahead to find the team!

I expected to be incredibly disappointed, but the sense of relief I felt since I could now be driven around was immense. I had run further than I had in my life and something, I am still not sure what, did not quite work. I had a new experience under my belt and the curious thing was I had already resolved to come back and finish what I had started.

The Cabrakan 100km ultramarathon was supposed to be a one time event. Now I had not finished it, I was confused by the fact I wanted to do it again, I know I can do it, on a different day with different preparation and more experience, I will be able to run my first 100km, for now, my first ultra was 65km which I am proud to add to my resume.

In the last installment, I will share with you how the rest of the team did and how the next day felt for all of us!

This entry was posted in Blog and tagged guatemala, jennings-bates, rally4life, running, ultramarathon. Bookmark the permalink.

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The Accidental Run Part II

I had a crazy thought a few years ago. I was in the lobby of a Church talking to Matt Blacklock. Matt is a friend and ultramarathon runner who has tackled some of Canada’s toughest long distance runs. An ultramarathon is defined as anything over 50kms. Matt was telling me how difficult and mentally challenging ultramarathon runs are and I was thinking how I dislike running.

As the conversation continued a common synapse problem occurred which I am familiar with. The problem has happened several times before. As my mind was processing just how much I dislike running, my mouth started talking as if I were not in control any longer and out came the words “I would like to try one of those!”.

What I do like to do is commit myself verbally and unfortunately many years of programming seem to have allowed my mouth to operate independently of my brain. After a few more minutes of conversation I was further committed to a date, a location and a distance. The Cabrakan 100km Ultramarathon in Guatemala. What had I done?

As it happens, Matt is also the base director for local charity FeViva that our Foundation, Rally4Life supports and so there was a natural charity fit. Later, I admitted to my wife that I might just have made a foolish decision and I was going to run 100km. The furthest I had run up to that point was 21.1km. I busily spoke to other ultramarathoners and read about training plans and prepared to do a lot of running and my first marathon.

As we got closer to the date I asked my wife if we should broaden the scope of the trip and see if people wanted to join us and use the event to raise money for FeViva. We sent out a call and were overwhelmed with the response. In total, eight other people, including one of the founders of FeViva decided to participate in the run, not just come with us.

None of these people had ever run a half marathon in their lives, many had never run other than on a treadmill but what was evident was the mental commitment these people made to the event, the charity and their challenge. They had all decided to run 25km and create two relay teams. At the same time a group in West Kelowna decided they would raise funds and run a similar distance on the waterfront in Peachland on the same day!

This whole accidental run started with one sentence…. “I would like to try one of those”.

After the event, which happened last November in Guatemala, the whole team had raised over $80,000 which was used to provide clean burning wood stoves to poor families in Guazacapan and to purchase a school in a slum area of Nicaragua.

Yesterday, I had coffee with Kim Wieler. Kim is one of the Founders of Fe Viva and at 53 years young and after having run his first race last year, here we go again! We decided to repeat the Run4Life!

FeViva and Rally4Life are partnering to create an annual fund raising marathon in Guatemala. The run will take you up a gentle slope with a beautiful view of volcanoes that guard the original capital of Guatemala, Antigua. After 21.1kms you will turn around and head back down to the Pacific Ocean.

Your option is to run a half-marathon or a full marathon. This year we will be raising funds to build infrastructure in the school in Nicaragua. The school is already overfull, needs a kitchen in order to be able to feed the children and washrooms as well as some additional classrooms. For only $320 per child we can provide all of the common area facilities they need to get a meaningful and healthy education.

The Run4Life will happen again this year on November 9th 2013. Many of us will be heading down from Kelowna and we will package a trip that allows you to participate in some charity work while you are there, enjoy the run and perhaps even take a few days off in El Salvador on your way home!

While it has been an accidental journey for me and others who participated, there are many grateful families and children around the world who are more than happy that my mouth is not connected to my brain!

For more information contact me

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Time managementWhat a crazy summer it has been so far. I am not just referring to the weather either.

This year I decided to do some training, in fact a ten week course that has taken me away from my home and my family and keeps me away until my wedding anniversary!

It is a chance for me to improve on my personal fitness level, grow in leadership skills and better my ability to work with teams. These are all good traits to work on, but frankly it has been a challenge and continues to be.

Like an adventure (which it really is) you try to prepare yourself mentally and physically. The problem, unlike a physical challenge, is that you don’t know how to prepare. What type of coaches/mentors will you be introduced too? How much free time will you have on the course? What style of leadership will they adopt? How will you get on with a broad spectrum of personalities that you are working with? I didn’t know the answers to these questions so mentally, the course has proven to be challenging, but in a positive way. One thing that I have always believed in is that there is always more to learn. If you don’t believe that, I believe you have given up on life’s journey.

Physically, I am not too concerned, I know my limits now, and I know how far I can push my body and also the signs of when it is starting to break. Let’s face it, I am no good to anyone if something breaks, so occasionally, backing off the physical throttle a little to make sure you get to the end or the objective is the better option.

The course is a pass or fail course. There are a few motivations to get it completed, one of the biggest being the fact that I told my wife I would! Not really a big compromise for me. I have left her with a whole pile of unfinished business, on her own for ten weeks to solve various jigsaw puzzles I started.

So while I may grumble a little about the course I am on, which is physically and mentally demanding, the truth is my wife Jackie is on a much bigger and much more challenging adventure.

Every time I endeavour to do something like this, it is always the same. The unsung hero is Jackie! The constant up-lifter and encourager is Jackie. The glue that keeps the household working is Jackie. As a couple we have spoken about this to a few audiences. The point is that there are people who lead and take on audacious tasks and attack them with reckless abandon (similar to the approach I perhaps take) and then, there are people like Jackie – many of them – who can be considered leaders in their own right, but who lead differently. Their style is to make it easy for their partner/boss/colleague to complete their task seamlessly with as little effort and distracted focus as possible. Often, it is an unrecognised leadership, but it requires a similar skill set to be successful. In my mind, Jackie is a leader.

In an ideal world, my goal is to provide Jackie with the ability to run our charity as seamlessly and effortlessly as possible. That can only be done by overwhelming it with corporate support (which is my goal) so that she can take out a small stipend that does not bear comparison to the work she puts in. I am not there yet, but Jackie faithfully continues to support my efforts to “spread the word” and grow what we have started. Rally4Life Charity will continue to grow and help people around the world. It will grow because of the same selfless determination that Jackie displays day in and day out towards helping other people accomplish their goals, reach their destination, live a life that was never promised to them because of their circumstances or simply live with hope because they now know that someone cares about them.

You see, Jackie is my hero! I have no right to complain. She has constantly devoted her life to helping her husband, raising her children, loving her parents (and  mine) and generally giving much more than she takes.

It is hard to say this on a cell phone, and for those of you who know her or me well, know the truth. For those of you who don’t – Jackie is an unsung hero. She is my unsung hero and I can’t wait to see her again on our wedding anniversary on August 17th when I finally arrive back in Kelowna.

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SUP AdventureAs I come to a close on the army training project for the summer, my mind drifts to the next adventure.

My body is tired. It has not been a physically stressful 10 weeks, but the work that we have done every day has been very different to what I normally do and that has been a good challenge. Rather than endurance training it has been more strength oriented. I seem to have reached a point where my body hurts less when I exercise than it does when I rest, so there is nothing else to do other than to get up each day and keep going!

I have about 10 days rest back in the Okanagan to spend with my wife and preparing for the Paddleboard around Okanagan Lake. I need to get some time on a paddleboard – every day! My total paddling time amounts to less than the first days leg quite frankly. I know, not unlike this course, I will learn a great deal during the paddling. I am paddling with partner Peter Dodenhoff, a very experienced paddler who will likely be out front wondering where I am, but I will be there, not too far behind and at some point on the paddle, my skills will adapt to the new environment.

Through the planning of the project I have made some new friends. Bob Purdy being one of them. Bob is a really interesting guy and has made a name for himself by paddling close to 1000 days straight. Every single day he gets in the water and paddles, come rain, shine, snow, ice. It is an astounding achievement and when you paddle with Bob, you can tell he has a lot of hours on his board, where as, by contrast, I have a lot of time off my board! He was the first person to paddle the length of Okanagan Lake last year and he did it in less than a day!

Bob is not the kind of fellow I would have spent a lot of time with several years ago! You see, I am a businessman, a developer even at one point and Bob, well, he has a charity focused on environmental issues. It is not that I don’t like environmentalists, but I find many of them to be negative. What draws me to getting to know Bob better, is that he is looking for solutions but more importantly for me personally, his interest is in protecting the planets water resources. His mission and my mission tie in well together. My goal is to take some of the planets water resources and give them to people who are dying of thirst and disease. If advocates like Bob did not exist, I would not be able to fulfill my objective.

So our missions are aligned very well and as we paddle around the lake starting on labour day weekend, we have two messages to deliver, one is how fortunate we are to have such an amazing water resource in the Okanagan. Our watershed provides clean, sparkling, fresh water year after year, yet if we are complacent we can lose it. In contrast, there are countries in the world that are parched and people are dying.

Bob is hoping to join us for a few days paddling and I am really looking forward to the conversations. He is a world changer for sure, someone who cares enough to selflessly give of his time and resources to spread a message of caution that we should not take for granted what we have today. That our responsibility is to protect those resources for future generations.

My hope is that we can raise $30,000. That will be enough to provide two safe water solutions in Northern Kenya and give approximately 3,000 people the chance to live a life they could not have hoped for. It will be a chance for them to send their children to school, be a little less transient with their wildlife and perhaps even start a business. They will have better health and they will be able to live their lives instead of simply surviving every day.

You can support us by clicking this link. The SUP4Life event has been supported by Naish using the Naish One inflatable line of boards.

How much do we take for granted? More than we care to believe…

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Getting to the endThis morning, I opened up my Facebook profile and was immediately impressed by the feat of British rower, Sarah Outen. She has just finished a mammoth row from Japan to Alaska. A tremendous success, but not without adversity.

Here is a quote from her most recent blog “The final 48 hours to land was huge and exhausting and very challenging. I didn’t sleep for 30 hours but just emptied the tank. Again and again. I didn’t see land until I was less than a mile off – through thick white fog. There was a point at around 6.30 in the morning where I wondered if we could make the final 4 miles in. My muscles had nothing left and the current was taking us away from the original landing waypoint. I sat in my cabin and cried and wondered what to do”

Often times, when we take that first slightly brave step towards achieving a goal, the world seems to transpire to prevent us from getting to our destination. I have often experienced similar emotions whether it is in business or on my adventures and the key thing to always remember is that, like Sarah, there are ways to overcome those feelings.

In a similar vein, I have a couple of friends who are about to accomplish some incredible challenges themselves. I am sure, along the way they have been challenged with moments where they wondered if they were going to make it to their intended destination.

Bob Purdy, Kelowna paddle boarder and conservationist is today paddling for his 1000th continuous day. For the celebratory event he decided to head out to the west coast and paddle in style but make sure you give him a cheer on his facebook page. I don’t think he needs too much encouragement because he has already decided to carry on. I do know personally however, that those private words of encouragement mean a tremendous amount to the individual, just like Sarah who was sitting teary eyed in the capsule of her boat wondering if she could even make the last few “long” miles to shore. Perhaps she received a text or a facebook message just at that time, I know I have on my trips!

I have another good friend in the UK, Steph Jeavons who is about to embark on a life changing adventure. I met Steph in 2008 on a motorbike enduro in South Africa. She was relatively new to motorbike riding at the time and was tested time and again on some pretty harsh South African terrain including multiple river crossings and hill climbs each day, but I saw her time and again dig deep and get the job done. The next time I rode with Steph was in Morocco for some “Dakar training” with British motorbike star Mick Extance. The improvement in Steph’s riding was remarkable and you could tell that she was hooked.

In six months time, Steph departs the UK on a solo round the world motorbike trip. It sounds easy when you say it like that, but I promise you, it will be fraught with challenges, nervous moments, loneliness and sometimes even doubt. But the great thing is, the journey is so rewarding. You can follow Steph’s adventures at

Although these may be examples of “big goals”, many of us live our lives with goals each day and often we may find ourselves wanting to “hide in a corner” for a few minutes.

I would love to hear from you on how you find ways to move forwards from a sometimes challenging moment. Is there a favourite routine you have, maybe the simple act of going for a jog, or preparing a nice meal can be the distraction that free’s up that part of your brain that can help you to find a solution. Send me an email to with your ideas and perhaps we can publish a few ideas on this column to help others!

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Learn how to handle stressFrom time to time, we can all be accused of having a small (or sometimes slightly larger than small) pity party. The “woe is me” conversations that seem to permeate many dinner table conversations at the moment. The man’s version of the discussion is often a little different to the woman’s version. The man is on an adventure and has taken some risk to fix things and the future looks great. The woman knows that there is not enough money to pay the bills at the end of the month and can’t sleep at night because of the sense of insecurity.

There is a natural conflict, not simply between a man and a woman in terms of how their minds work, but also between personality types. A sense of order that is required by one personality type is seen as a burden by another and the perception is the organisation simply clutters the pathway to progress with additional administration.

Learning how to associate with the different personality types is key to your future success and personal development. As a keynote speaker and presenter, I always strive to present a topic to the four basic personality types.

The Choleric or controlling personality doesn’t want me to tell them what to do, they want to know what the options are so they can choose.
The Phlegmatic or easy going personality wants to know what to do. They will willingly follow advice even if they may not enjoy the activity.  Interestingly, their personality is one that makes them want to “please you” so if it makes you happy, they will do it!
The Melancholy personality wants to know that the plan has been thought through… that the numbers prove the point. They would like to see the spreadsheet and the tacit examples before they commit.
Finally, the Sanguine personality wants to know, whatever they do, it will be fun.

Understanding the interpersonal challenges between these types also helps you understand as a leader or manager, how each character relates to stress.

As we continue to evolve our work habits, budgets, personal and corporate planning to reflect the new realities we find ourselves in, it strikes me that perhaps a few people have been here before. We can all talk about the challenges we face as if we are taking on some unique struggle to grow to our next level of development, however, history would tell us otherwise.

I picked up a book from my bookshelf this morning and sat down to read after my daily exercise routine. The first chapter was about a pair of brothers who became successful in the takeout food industry. The McDonald brothers reinvented the way food was prepared and sold in North America and became the darlings of the food industry for a while. Their concept was so popular that they decided to sell the “concept” to other entrepreneurs who with their guidance would be able to copy their success.

You probably know the rest of the story but just in case…. Their ability to execute their “franchise opportunity” was limited by their leadership skills. After several years of attempting to duplicate their success, only a handful of restaurant owners had benefitted from their plan.

It was at that time the real power behind the McDonald’s empire entered the picture. Ray Kroc was a supplier to the McDonald brothers and after realising they had become his largest account he visited the business and immediately saw the opportunity in duplicating their restaurants. Ray decided to put everything he could into growing the business.

Ray Kroc was a visionary. In my mind one of the key aspects of leadership is vision. Without vision you can only manage. Ray decided at the age of 55 years old to risk almost everything. He cut back on his lifestyle and put energy, finances and resources in to growing the MacDonald’s empire under a newly formed corporation, McDonald Systems Inc. He borrowed money from the bank, pledged his life insurance policy and gave up golf to fulfill his dream. He sacrificed most of his lifetime success at an age where most people are contemplating retirement. In 1961 he purchased the entire business from the McDonald brothers for $2.7 million. After 8 short years, Ray Kroc had opened 500 restaurants, created a foundation for an empire that today exceeds 33,000 restaurants around the globe.

So today as we worry about having to trim our budgets to afford to enjoy a meaningful life, sacrifice is often temporary and life my daily workout, necessary to advance to the next level of success in your personal life. It is in the troughs of life that we learn lessons, allowing us to enjoy the peaks and surf for a little while.

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How to planThere is the odd occasion for many of us when we are not exactly sure of which road to take. We are not sure how to resolve a particular situation or we may be feeling a little low because our productivity has been poor. Sometimes we are staring so hard at the problem that we are distracted from the solution.

I think it is human nature to react in such a way, but if you want to continue to progress, you need to use the principle of self discipline to ensure that you can process a problem rather than focus on it.

As the heading suggests, sometimes we are so focussed on a problem that “we can’t see the trees for the forest”.  When I used to consult to companies that had problems with lack of sales, it became evident that they were struggling with the same syndrome.

As a consultant you can get a “birds eye” picture of the problem and solutions come in to focus quite clearly. The solutions were always there, but somehow the company or individual is literally blinded by problem.

Personally, I need a distraction from the problem to refocus. It’s a little like looking at the 3D Stereograms where you have to stare at a pattern and change your focus to see a picture within a pattern. Problems are just like that. Within lies a solution but often our focus is wrong. I need to go for a run or bike ride to empty my head a little and return to the situation with renewed clarity.

Remember, next time you are feeling a little overwhelmed, that you have to look at a problem and make sure you are staring past it to find the solution, just like the 3D stereogram.

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Many times, people find themselves wondering why they are feeling a little isolated from their friends or why their organisation has lost it’s “morale”. It is very easy in this situation to point the fingers at those around you. You may have heard that when you point a finger at someone, three are pointing back at yourself?

Yesterday, I was listening to the radio. The host was discussing a particular situation where a caucus had decided to attempt to overthrow their political leader at a time when the leader was out of the country. Perhaps an unusual situation but in reality it is not that uncommon although not usually as extreme. Later in the interview the political leader shared their viewpoints on how this situation arose and calmly said that there were often  times when there was acrimonious debates in caucus and it was normal to have these heated debates. That was perhaps the leaders perspective, but was it shared by everyone at the table?
Learning how to leave people good after a meeting or encounter with you is a skill, but it is one that you must learn to adopt! Many years ago I had a business where I was required to counsel people in my organisation to assist them in their progress. Thankfully, my wife would often sit in on these meetings. I remember talking to a lady in my organisation about how she could improve her performance. I listened to her situation and the many excuses that seemed to roll of her tongue and while I did not use the phrase “suck it up Princess” that was how she received my rather clumsy advice. Thankfully, she had a tough constitution and although tears were welling up in her eyes, she resolved to roll up her sleeves, get stuck in and try and overcome her stumbling blocks.

Obviously, you can see that I may have changed a little over the years and the situation was in actual fact out of character for me personally as I am usually considered to be an “uplifter”. My attempt at “tough love” ended up being an exercise in stupidity. My wife however, pulled me aside after the meeting and indicated that my technique, while perfect for the local football team, probably wasn’t going to be so successful with a single female? As she observed the quizzical look on my face, she also had the answer to my obvious concern and shared with me a book. It was a book about relationships and how to improve them.

At the end of the day, the answer was simple. That lesson taught me a great deal about how to leave people feeling better after their meeting with me than before. I was reminded of this yesterday.

I am helping my sons open a new restaurant, a family business in Towne Centre Mall. It is a lot of fun and reminds me of my early days as an entrepreneur. Yesterday afternoon, a couple walked in to the restaurant to say hello. It was a surprise visit and yet in a short exchange we were left feeling better about the rest of the day. It is possible to add value to someone’s life simply with a smile and a kind word. It is also possible to “fire” your best friend from your business and still be friends, but that, perhaps is another article.

As I have learned from my experiences, I thankfully have been able to pass on some of that knowledge to my children. From an early age, I explained to them that whenever they meet a person, they must remember that when the meeting finishes, you either made that person feel better about themselves, or worse. The interesting thing is that you control the outcome. All you have to do is decide wether you would like to add value to someone’s life or detract value.

Ratan Tata, the Indian billionaire has lived his life by ensuring that when his head hits the pillow, he has done his best to make the right decisions and that nobody is upset by their encounter with him that day… if it works for him, perhaps it can work for you too!

To understand how simple it is to control that encounter, I recall one of my adventures where a partner explained to me that at the end of the adventure, we would likely not be friends because that is just normal. Teams on adventures don’t get along he stated. I countered with my opinion that if we want that to happen then likely that would be the case. Sadly, after a successful trip, three of the expedition members are good friends and the fourth is perhaps not as good a friend.

It is a very unfortunate circumstance and of course as you can see it was a self fulfilling prophecy, but the important take away is that the outcome of any meeting is determined by your desire for the result. You choose.