Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Racing Disasters

In my personal race history of1000's of races (xc ski, running, ultra trail runs, Triathlons, skimo, etc.) I’ve only dropped out of 3 races. The first one was an XC running event in high school. I wimped out. I felt so ashamed I vowed to never repeat the dishonourable act. #3 occurred this week in the Pierra Menta skimo race. An event I’ve dreamed of, trained for, schemed, watched countless Youtube Vids for years, etc.. As I write this I’m still very emotionally raw from the  DNF. What makes this so much more difficult is that this race is a partner race, and when I quit, my partner quits. Every bit of money, time, planning, etc. I’ve invested...he’s invested. And when I absolutely (I believe) had to pull the plug and see all that go down the drain, he had to watch his efforts and resources also pour down the drain. That’s what makes it smart the most. It isn’t just me.

The reason for the forced DNF was 3 totally sleepless nights. The race provides housing (part of the package) and the “bed” I was forced to use was basically a cot with a 40 year old foamy over a thin plywood sheet. Easy to see why the first night, combined with race nerves and intercontinental travel, conspired to block any sleep. For the first day’s demanding leg, I felt I bravely soldiered on despite the fatigue. I certainly would have been much faster, as measured by some other skiers I knew in the race, but got through it and was looking forward to the next stage. Now, realize that these stages are 4-5 hours long and an absolute full out effort the entire way. So you obviously need to be at your physical peak. Night number 2, probably because of the fatigue from the first day, was a repeat of night #1.....no sleep. None. I lined up for the days race feeling about the same fatigue that I’d usually feel at the END of the race...not the starting line. It was a tough day. I got towed a lot. But I actually picked it up a bit at the end and was pumped and proud to be half way through the 4 day stage race, albeit on absolutely NO sleep. However I was desperate now.

So in this desperation entered  help from my friend that brought along his sleep aid and absolutely swore to it’s effectiveness. With very specific instructions I took the little pill. It worked... for an hour. Then my roommate came in and woke me up. Bam. Back to yet another night of sleeplessness. I couldn’t believe it. I did fall asleep for maybe 1.5 hours just before wake up time. The even more unfortunate part was the massive hangover from the pill. I was weak, shaking and couldn’t think straight. There was no way I could even drive to the start. I had to get my race partner to do it for me. I lined up fearing what the day would bring with how I felt. The start actually went ok. I went conservative on the up, passed many on the down then settled into a pace, yet had to be towed again. What a bummer for my partner. He must have been thinking what a loser I was. The first climb was really long and after awhile just didn’t have the brain power and function to push my body. When we got into the alpine, my weakness wasn’t enough to keep my body warm and we were in a very remote place. I was getting nervous.

My poor race partner went ahead, but my pace slowed to an incredible turtle crawl. In all my marathons, Ironmans, various ski races, I’d never died to such a pace before. We were hopelessly behind any respectable racers. I felt such despair, “How could this be happening” I wondered.
With the remaining last bit of the 3rd climb and the 4th one still to come. We made the obvious decision to pull the plug. The course Marshall commented on how white and milky my face looked. I was incredibly exhausted. More than any race I’ve ever done (of the 1000's previously mentioned).
As I reflected the next day, I wondered if perhaps I could have sat down, ate and drank some calories and try to at least finish so we could take part in the best stage of all, the final one with it’s massive party at the top of the mountain. But I know that in the condition I was in, it was probably impossible to do that. I think I’m a pretty tough guy, a history that goes back to when I was all of about 110 lbs in grade 7 on a bike trip where a bunch of us got food poisoning. I got it the worst, but kept soldiering on with 100 mile plus days despite continual puking and dysentery. From that experience I always believed I could tough out the worst of situations.I had at least one friend (who was in the race) that commented they couldn’t believe I got as far as I did. I don’t know.  But this I do know...I felt so gutted emotionally that I just wanted to crawl into a hole and never come out. Never race again. Never face any friends and family again who were witnesses to this failure and especially my race partner for whom I just want to die and never have to face the embarrassment of letting him down.

As for my race partner, we just met for this race. Didn’t prepare together, didn’t have a previous friendship or  emotional bond, etc. He has been incredibly gracious. I can tell on the inside he’s seething though and I would be too. He’s a really cool guy and I feel so blessed to have gotten to know him in the days leading up to the race, yet now I can only think he wants nothing to do with this loser that totally screwed up this incredible opportunity. He’s young. He’ll be back to France and  race with a fast partner and he’ll do well. Even take this broken effort’s lessons and experiences to the next race. As for me I probably was looking at my only kick at the can in this event that in some ways would have completed my skimo race career experience. Never say never, as you never know.

I had an interesting talk with one of our roommates, Rory, a very fast Cat 1 bike racer from CO. He related how there were times when he was completing a bike race disaster where he was mulling over in his mind during the final miles how he’d sell all his bike stuff and never race again. But of course, here he was, racing, hammering and still putting it on the line. For myself, I too was planning on never, ever racing skimo again. How could I face the skimo race community? I feel such failure and embarrassment that I didn’t want to weather the shame. But it turns out that it’s been this community that has really given me the most encouragement and affirmation. Especially my friends Stano and Michelle. The latter commented on how she couldn’t believe I got as far as I did, given the sleeplessness and intensity of this 4 day multi stage event. I don’t know, but the next day I made a decision. There was this super cool Karpos race suit in one of the ski shops. I began to contemplate buying it as it would give me just a glimmer of hope and desire, maybe even a reason to race again. Our sport is so gear intensive and it’s the gear part that enhances the fun.

So yeah, I pulled the trigger, got the suit and I’m thinking about our final skimo race of the year in Lake Louise. But I need some healing time. I plan on going to the mountains a lot when I’m home. Find the joy in skiing and being in the backcountry. Another consideration is my daughter. She just returned from the World Jr Biathlon champs where she had the most unbelievably bad shooting. Only a couple gals in the field shot worse. So I ponder, what kind of example will I be to her. She’s obviously watching me and I don’t want to mess up. She actually has bounced back already, medaling at Canadian Nat’ls just this week while I’m away. She’s mentally strong, and sometimes it seems she handles these storms better than her father. I want to make sure I’m leading by my example here and showing her how to have hope, learn the lessons that are supposed to be learned and bounce back with a positive attitude.

So then, what exactly are the lessons I’m learning? The first one is to meet with my doc as soon as I’m home and dial in an effective sleep aid. One that I’ve used, know well and have a track record in using it. Even just having this back up plan will probably contribute to my sleeping better. I’ve raced in Europe a lot. XC marathons, AIA sports tours, skimo major events, etc. and I’ve always been able to dial my sleep in usually within 5 days. I’ve got several personal tricks I use, none of which helped me this time. So I need to have a back up “sleep aid plan”. I’ve also learned that skimo is really about only a couple core things. One of them is the skiing. It’s all about the skiing.....finding the joy on the boards, learning to go faster and be bolder. Skimo is also about the people. Though I’ve commented on how letting people down has made this experience far harder, it’s also the people around me that have helped and encouraged me unbelievably. One glance at the many messages on my FaceBook page when I shared what happened totally makes me realize that I’m one of the richest men on the planet. That is if you measure riches by the number and quality of your friends.
I suppose that eventually the pain will subside and be replaced by other goals, but for now just thinking about this disaster produces such an intense emotional cringe. It’s painful. Also embarrassing. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fully forgive myself for what I did to my ski partner, and that’s what probably hurts the most.

Sunday, October 23, 2016


After spending years as a roller skiing xc racer, it only seemed natural to utilise this method of training for skimo racing. Why is it important for skimo racers to roller ski? There are several. The old adage taught to me by my Finnish xc ski coach Ahvo, “skiers are made in the summer” has been augmented by my speed skating friends that add, “...and tested in the winter”.  Hence, specific summer training on wheels to emulate the skimo stride. Not only do we need to train our muscles in a specific manner, but we need to train the nuero-muscular systems specifically as well.

I’ve heard of research on runners where they’ve concluded that a runner will either naturally rely on a high VO2 max or running stride efficiency. Never both. Of course that would be the goal. To have both a highly trained VO2 as well as an efficient stride, but apparently our bodies will gravitate to one or the other. I’ve head that Alberto Salazar, when his world class runners came to him to be trained at his “Oregon Project”,  even though they were already world class, he de-constructed their running form and started over technically. It’s been said that the greatest USA marathoner, Frank Shorter, really didn’t have that great of a VO2 max, but pull up some youtube vids of his Olympic marathon victories (yes, it’s plural... E. German, W. Cierpenski is posthumously dq’d in my view), and you’ll see the most effortless sub 5min marathon miles run ever.

My personal anecdotal evidence over several years backs this up as well. As a, well into my master years competitor, I’ve seen way younger skimo newbies that are national and internationally top runners, xc skiers, etc... athletes that would absolutely smoke me in a run, bike, etc., struggle to pull ahead of me on the climbs. Given that I’m really no super vert/aerobic superstar, I can only conclude that their bodies aren’t yet trained to efficiently hammer out the skimo stride. In most cases, if they keep up the sport, they often eventually pass me.

So let me share my skimo roller skis with you. As you can see from the picture, mine are mostly homemade. At a small metals super market in Calgary I obtained and fabricated some very sturdy aluminum bars for the shafts and aluminium sheets for the forks. Initially I was going to use some V2 roller clutch bearings put into off road skateboard wheels, but I had a tough time getting the tolerance tight enough to work, so I eventually purchased V2 wheels for the front (one way spinning wheels). I kept the more aggressive skateboard off road knobbies on the back.

As you can also see from the pic I mounted a full binding set up, but eventually took off the rear bindings. I ended up not using the skis to go downhill. There wasn’t enough clearance (I may change this) to safely bomb down the hill. So I took the heel pieces off as they were really getting clogged from the wet dirt and debris. I didn’t want to ruin brand new Dynafit heel bindings.

I wrapped some faux carbon decal stickers around the shaft to make it look cool, but after a month of using my skis they look pretty ragged now.  If you want to save time, and I think I would have done it this way now instead,  just buy V2 Aero 150's. They’re the ski with the pneumatic wheels. You can replace the rears with the skateboard knobbies if you want.

So how do my creations work? Awesome. They’re super heavy though. The weight is as much as my  wide Dynafit Huascarans, but that just adds to the workout. The most important thing is, they truly do feel like skimo skiing. The challenge is finding the right road surface. An overly gravelled road makes it tough, but it’s doable. The best I’ve found is a hard packed dirt road with minimal rocks.
The best workout so far has been the Sunshine ski area access road. My neighbour works there and he drove my bike up to the top for me. After a 10 km vertical ski my bike was waiting at the top for a very fun, fast and safe downhill. As I write this at the end of October though, there’s way too much snow on that road now to roller ski. The real thing can’t be far behind!!

Friday, June 17, 2016


Have you ever personally experienced a miracle? I may have... actually maybe a couple. It’s weird though, you question. You wonder, “Am I just imagining this or making something to be that isn’t?”  This was a big week for me. It’s been 5 months since my shoulder blowout. 3 months since I first met with a neurologist. During that initial visit it was concluded that the axillary nerve to the deltoid muscle was totally pooched. When they hooked me up to the machine that measures both visually and audibly any firing in that muscle, it was absolutely dead calm silent.

 As a result they set me up for this week’s “clinic”.  In the clinic, you meet with several Drs, physio people and a surgeon (or 2). The first doc was a residence rookie, that was impressed that I knew Killian Journet. I was impressed he knew who Killian was and what skimo is! He contradicted what my physio had reported, that my deltoid actually seemed to be working. After that first nuero doc visit I’m quite sure they didn’t expect that nerve to come back, such was the damage originally done. I’d just assumed that all my strengthening work on the surrounding muscles was working and that’s why I was able to do so much recently.

Then came the electro hook up. When they stuck the needle into my deltoid you could both hear and see little dots that indicated nerve firing. They gave me some resistance against my arm and said to push against it. When I did the machine lit up. Everyone was amazed.

The docs then left the room and I wasn’t sure if I was done or what. They were probably having a quick pow-wow, then Dr. McNeil explained to me that I was good and didn’t need to wait around for the parade of nerve specialist to come by and evaluate. I could barely hold back tears of joy.
 Seriously, I held it together, but once I was reunited with Deb every time I tried to speak nothing came out but tears of joy. I was pretty much a blubbering mess the rest of the afternoon. As we walked across the parking lot to meet a friend for lunch we wanted to pray a prayer of thanks for all the answered prayers for my shoulder’s healing. However, I knew I couldn’t do it.... too much emotion, so she led us in prayer. It was an awesome moment.

One of my first thoughts was to the races I’d now get to do this summer and some of the work things I’d been putting on hold. But all that seemed pretty insignificant because the most important thing going on was that we’d personally experienced the power of God and His presence. Earlier in my training log during a time when my faith was waning I’d written down a Bible verse from Mark 11.24; “therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be done for you”. I’ll admit that for the most part I struggled to believe these words of Jesus. And as a result was mentally and physically preparing for the nerve surgery and the long recovery. I will say now though, my faith is stronger. I guess that’s what happens when you personally experience God’s presence in a powerful way. Even if I’d have the chance to go back and not have to go through all I’ve been through the last 5 months, I wouldn’t take it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Steve0's last run Update #7

4 months. That’s how long it’s been since my ski season ended with a crash and severely dislocated shoulder. Although a few of my skimo friends are still sniffing out snow, most have transitioned into summer activities. For me that transition took place in late January.

The human body is amazing. Even though the axillary nerve running to my deltoid has seemingly been permanently damaged, the surrounding muscles have stepped in to compensate. It has come with some very intentional work though. I’ve been tugging at physio bands, stretching, going to physio and hitting the weight room religiously 2x a week... all with no breaks. When I first started to try to run, I couldn’t lift my arm away from my body which resulted in a very awkward running style. Now, that arm is mostly able to swing as if that deltoid muscle is actually working (which it isn’t).

Last Saturday I went for my longest run yet, a 4.5 hour jaunt, that turned into almost an ultra race pace workout. Though the shoulder was sore after this, the fact that I could even do it all amazed me.

In 3 weeks I meet with a neuro surgeon, neuro dr, physio, occupational therapist, and maybe others. We’ll make a plan. There’s a very complicated surgery they can do that would move a tricept nerve over to the deltoid. It’s a 10+ hour surgery followed by 4-6 weeks in a sling, followed by rehab, with some re-inervation at 3 months, some strength at 9months and full strength at 1 year.

One of my fears is that they’ll say that I’ve been so good at restoring function, that they’re unwilling to proceed with a radical, complicated procedure. Realistically I suppose I could go the rest of my life in the present situation, but I’d really like my deltoid back. I’m hoping my hard work won’t be rewarded in this manner (this happened to me 3 years ago with a sport hernia. But I’m more than glad as the surgeon has actually done more harm to others I’ve heard about due to the method of his repair. As long as I stick to my exercises and don’t slack off I’ve been ok w/o surgery).

Nerve repair or not, I’m not waiting for a year from now to re-enter sporting life. My hope is to fully have things repaired, but I’m not waiting. My run times are slowly returning to where they were a year ago, even without a full ski-mo race season. When you’re competing at my age, when you lose that high end VO2, it’s pretty much gone for good. I figure I’ve already lost 15-18% of what I had when I was around 30. I’m pretty sure the body again, compensates...whether through strength, technique efficiency or maybe even mental stuff.

I’m not ready to roll over yet.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

An Incredible Privilege... Talking Training with Norway's Head XC Ski Coach

During the Tour Canada XC ski world cup, myself and Ian Murray received a great privilege...talking training with Norwegian head ski coach Trond Nystad. It’s no doubt that the Norge’s rule the xc ski world. In race after race in the 4 day skiing extravaganza podium after podium was dominated by the Norwegian red and blue colors. At the end of the Canmore leg of the tour, the overall xc world cup season globes were awarded and in almost every category it was almost always a Norwegian sweep. So when the head coach speaks... you listen, carefully.

Did Trond reveal their secrets? Absolutely. And it wasn’t merely because he thought these two hapless sport chaplains were no threat, indeed, Trond stated he would freely share with anyone the secret to ski success.

So, as you sit on your seat with incredible anticipation, you’re begging for me to reveal the Norwegian secret to success. Here it is...

“Hard work’

Well duh, you’re thinking. That’s obvious. Be more specific. Trond, in a general sense summed things up in that statement. He must have repeated it a dozen times. “Hard work’. So what does that look like?

For the Norwegians it means 1000 hour training years. Some of his guys (and these numbers are for gals too) go up to 1250 hours. But that 1000 hours was the gold standard. Of course they can’t just be empty training hours with no specificity, strength and intensity, etc.  But in a basic sense there needs to be a lot of volume. What about intensity? That’s what we asked too. No surprise here, just the same basic training method we’ve been using for years and years...2 intensities per week. He said sometimes at certain times per year they go 3, but for the most part 2 intensities per week.

Years ago I sat down with NMU xc ski coach Sten Fjeldheim and he taught me how to train the Norwegian way. Actually it’s just the basic way. A few years later I read the book, “Serious Training for Endurance Athletes”. What Sten taught me was pretty much all in the book. Basic concepts like periodization, yearly phases of training, training zones, yearly emphasis, etc.  If you’re new to training and don’t recognize those terms, get the book. You’ll have the foundation and a knowledge pretty much on par with what Trond does with his athletes, the best in the world.

Even the Norwegians themselves have toyed with straying from this simple formula through the years, and have done so to their detriment. A dozen years ago I know they were doing things like “super intensity blocks” and other such extreme training, but their results really slipped. So, they’ve learnt their lesson the hard way, don’t mess with success! (Or stray from the tried and true methods of winning races).

Funny how athletes and coaches are always looking for the magic bullet that will propel them to success.  Or some coaches want to be the go to guy with the “know all” guru secret, but the message here is...it ain’t rocket science, just get to work, put those hours in and see where it’ll get ya.  Now go do it!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Endurance, Patience and Strength. 3 things I really need right now. Coincidentally, these 3 are mentioned in a Bible verse we looked at during the XC ski world cup pre-race chapel we had last week (Colossians 1.11).  Funny how I often address topics in small groups or speaking events on topics that I really need to personally learn myself. In this instance one of the athletes, when asked of great examples of these 3, mentioned his competitor wife (who was also there). Her setback list included being dropped multiple times from the Nat’l team, not getting named to an Olympic team even though she had qualified, a serious concussion injury, tearing the hamstring completely off the tendon, lyme disease.... wow! And she persevered through it all to earn a world championship medal last year.

I walked away resolving not to feel sorry for myself nor to give up.

Winston Churchill’s most famous speech ever came on October 29, 1941, when he visited Harrow School to hear the traditional songs he had sung there as a youth, as well as to speak to the students. When he was invited to give a speech, Churchill stood before the students and said,
"Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, give up. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up."

Great words from a great man, who really didn’t hit his stride as a politician/statesman until his 70's

Of the 3 I initially mentioned, endurance, patience, strength... I need them. I’ve looked into the axillary nerve graft surgery that I’ll most certainly need. I need to wait another 2 months before they make the final evaluation. After the surgery I’ll be either in a hospital bed or my own with the arm totally immovable and flexed outward for a week. The arm will be in a sling for 4-6 weeks. It then takes around 3 months for the nerve to begin firing at all. 9 months for just a little strength and  1-2 years before you get all your strength back.

Even though I want to learn patience and endurance, I’m not rolling over. I’m trying real hard to train my body to compensate for no deltoid muscle. I do strength 2x per day and I’m noticing a difference. I’m going to try to start running even though the only arm swing I can do is hugging it close to my body and moving it laterally across my mid-section. I’ll be road biking soon, and I’ll probably be able to hammer, as I’ve been doing high intensity spin bike workouts 2-3x per week.

I’m volunteering this weekend at the Ken Jones Skimo nat’l champs. A race I did well in last year, hitting the podium. The first time on skis for me in 2 months. My plan is that my presence won’t lead to sadness at not competing, but stoke the fire and motivate me for a comeback next year.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Steve'os Last Run Update #5... The Good the Bad, the Ugly

Gratitude. It’s an important thing to have. I was reading this morning about a family that was incredibly upset because the Canadian health care system in ON wouldn’t pay for an operation that would save their son’s eyesight. They had to pay 3000$. I thought that was a pretty low price to pay for an operation that would save their son’s vision. On the other hand, in the waiting room before finally getting to see my nuerologist this morning, I talked with an RCMP officer that was in a motorcycle accident in MT. He had a head injury and some other issues. His 12 day hospital bill came to 249,000$, of which AB health promised to pay 1000$ (thanks a lot). Fortunately, he had Blue Cross that I’m guessing came through for him.

I’m grateful for our health care system. I’m grateful for my friend Dr Andy Reed that is not only skilled, but very committed to helping me with my injuries. I’m grateful for my friend Dr.  Denise Hill that took over my nuerology issues. She connected me with a gifted specialist in my injury that is closely connected with the clinic that now may have to operate. Finally,  I’m grateful for what may have been a miracle in my healing.

Andy’s original ultrasound indicated what he believed to be a couple significant tears in my rotator cuff (very common in shoulder dis-location, especially in us older fellas)  with surgery imminent. A few weeks later at the ultrasound clinic in Calgary with a better machine, they  could only locate the one small tear I already had. Andy’s good...I’m sure he would not have read the situation wrong. Did God heal me (a lot of people, myself included, have been praying) I’m not for sure-sure; but I am very grateful and glad I don’t have to endure a painful r. cuff surgery with 4-6 weeks in a sling followed by a slow ~2 months of rehab.

My attention has been so focused on my hand’s improvement that I really didn’t notice that my numb deltoid and tricep muscles really weren’t working properly. I tried some light jogging last week, but my arm just wouldn’t move properly. I figured it was due to the shoulder damage. However, now I know after getting my nerves shocked and jumped and poked with incredibly sophisticated medical equipment, that the nerve running to the deltoid muscle is totally fried and I basically have no working deltoid muscle. This major muscle is key to moving the shoulder and arm.

The plan is to wait 2 months and see if by some chance the nerves will regrow. If not, then a quick surgery. With nerves you’ve only got a small window. Operate too soon and you don’t give the slow healing nerves a chance to heal. Wait too long and the muscle permanently loses the ability to communicate with the nerves. So for my next appointment I’ll meet with the entire clinic team... dr, surgeon, therapist and decide if any healing has taken place and if not, or enough, then a quick surgery plan.

Back to gratitude...the hand is really starting to thaw. Still lots of numbness, but enough progress that it’s full restoration will come, and it seems soon. Good chance my hand will be able to play my guitar for Easter, if only my deltoid has the strength to hold it up.