Monthly Archives: January 2016

Does this mean I’m a real skier now?

Last Sunday I skied the Lake Louise to Banff Loppet.  A 72km classic cross-country ski which was (thankfully) mostly downhill.  The event got off to an inauspicious start.  I didn’t realize that participants were expected to come to the pre-race meeting ready to ski, so I left my stuff in the car thinking I would have time to get ready after the meeting.  During the meeting they described the race start location, but not being super familiar with Louise or the event, I didn’t really understand where they were talking about.

I was standing on the shore of the lake, getting the last of my gear ready when the racers took off.  The race began in the middle of the lake so I hastily began to ski across the lake in an attempt to get to the start line and catch up with the rest of the participants quickly.  Unfortunately the route I had chosen was through deep snow, my skinny skis bogged down and it was a slow trudge to the start of the race.  I reminded myself that a few minutes lost at the beginning of an 8hr race weren’t going to make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things.  Eventually I made it and began skiing down the course.  I was surprised to find another tardy skier (bib #75) racing up the tracks towards the start line as I headed down the course.  This meant I wasn’t in last place!  #75 looked like he knew what he was doing and I was sure he would pass me soon.

Loppet Start.jpg

Hanging out on the shore of Lake Louise just before the race start.

I was hoping the downhill on this section would be screaming fast, but I found it quite gentle.  I think the fresh snow on the track slowed the track down a bit and I had to double-pole to keep up speed.  I soon began to pass other skiers. There were two sets of tracks so it was easy to pass for the most part.  #75 cruised past me easily.  I didn’t even entertain the thought of keeping up.

There were two occasions where participants were skiing side by side and wouldn’t move out of the way when asked.  Instead, they needed to have the full explanation of why it was not only rude, but a hazard to take up the full track.  It was a little annoying but I got over it.  It was a long race and a few seconds explanation weren’t going to make a big difference in the grand scheme of things.  I did feel bad for the one lady who fell over in a failed pass attempt though …

I was surprised to find that there was an aid station half way through Leg One.  It was well stocked, complete with hot tea and brownies.  I had brought my own munchies so I didn’t need anything, but if I do this race again I won’t bother bringing any of my own stuff.  After the aid station the course navigated an underpass with a steep hill.  This is where I discovered what my nemesis would be for the rest of the day.

It was quite warm (around 0C ) and my wax didn’t have a ton of grip.  It worked well on the flats but didn’t help much on the hills.  I wasn’t too concerned about the lack of grip as I could fish tail as needed.  I usually use my poles to hold most of my weight when I fish tail and it helps me get up the hill faster. This time however when I went to push up the hill with my poles they just sunk deeper into the soft snow.  My baskets weren’t big enough to support my weight against the snow.  I could barely maintain my balance, never mind get up the embankment.  I never really solved this problem and I was a total spazz on every hill for the rest of the day.

The rest of that leg (and most of the rest of the race) was single-track trail.  I was faster than most of the skiers but it wasn’t convenient to pass, so I would just try to wait patiently until I got an opportunity.  #75 and I leap-frogged again.  He was a better skier, but he had an unfortunate run in with some gravel so I wound up in front.

The end of the leg came quickly, the downhill had been deceptively fast and it was hard to believe I had skied 21km already.  Alan and Arielle met me at the aid station with a chocolate hazelnut croissant.  It was delicious.  I grabbed a fresh water bottle and took off for Leg 2.  I was well ahead of cutoff and I told myself to relax.

A funny thing happens when you’re in a race.  It becomes impossible to move at a relaxed pace.  I found myself constantly pushing to pick off the next skier.  Lucky for me, I don’t know how to ski fast so I wasn’t actually able to push very hard.  I probably was at a 65% effort level, simply because I don’t know how to go faster.

Arielle and Alan magically appeared at each of the road crossings.  They would crank up the tunes, cheer and take photos.  It’s pretty awesome to have your own cheering section.  The sun was now fully risen and the scenery was spectacular.  I found myself wishing that I wasn’t skiing so that my hands could be free to take photos.  My competitive drive wouldn’t allow me to stop and take photos so I just kept on skiing.

Leg 3 ushered in the start of the “adventure” skiing.  The trail became bumpy and icy, with a thin layer of snow over the ice.  I struggled to maintain balance at times and I slowed down so that I wouldn’t break anything.  I pushed with my right pole and my basket broke though the top layer of crust down to deep snow.  I stomped my left ski down to regain my balance and accidentally stomped my other ski pole.  It now has a significant bend. Note to self – it might be a good idea to bring a spare set of poles next year.

The second half of leg 3 was very pleasant.  With amazing views, no ice and smooth trail.  I felt like I was flying through the valley.  Alan and Arielle met me at the transition area with a special treat – potato chips!  I had hardly been eating or drinking because my hands were too busy skiing, so the chips tasted like heaven.

Leg 4 began with a climb on a track paralleling the Bow Valley Parkway.  It was very warm, and the snow was slick.  My poles were sinking into the deep snow and I sound myself wondering how I would ever get up this #$@!ing hill!  I briefly contemplated taking my skis off and running up the road.  I could see tracks where someone else had made that choice.  But, I am stubborn so I kept my skis on and somehow muscled my way up.

What goes up must come down, and I thoroughly enjoyed the descent.  Part of it was in the ditch beside the road, I underestimated a sharp turn in the trail and did a full faceplant.  It was exhilarating and I found myself laughing out loud.  Another portion of the downhill had us skiing along the top of the snow embankment which had been created by a snowplow.  The hill was too steep for me to be comfortable bombing down it, but the ski tracks on top were not wide enough to allow for a snowplow.  Again, I thought about taking my skis off and running down the road but I decided that safety is over-rated and just went for it.  I kept one ski on top of the embankment and hung the other one down on the side.  By squeezing the ski against the side I was able to slow myself down enough to maintain control.

#75 passed me in the transition from Leg 4 to 5.  This was officially the furthest I had ever skied and my arms were tired.  I tried to keep him in sight as we skied along the track, but I didn’t have the energy/motivation to push any harder and catch up.  The trail turned off the highway and continued through a meadow into the Backswamp.  The view of Mount Rundle from the meadow was spectacular.  Mount Rundle and Banff are synonomous in my mind and I could feel the finish line calling to me.  Only 15km left to go.

We had to take our skis off to navigate the Sunshine overpass.  Alan and Arielle handed me a cheese bun and I opted to walk and eat instead of run.  I had just one leg left for the Loppet and I wanted to get some calories in me so that I could have a strong finish.

Leg 6 is an optional skate ski.  I don’t know how to skate ski so I continued in the classic style. Unfortunately the classic tracks were in really rough shape. There had been no fresh snow in Banff and the skate skiers and run over most of the track.  I told myself it was okay; the tracks might suck but we were back on solid snow so I could push hard with my poles again.  The first half of Leg 6 had a series of rollers and I felt like I flew over them.  All the fatigue in my arms had somehow been forgotten.

After the rollers the course flattened out onto a wide path with no trackset.  The path was solid ice with a thin layer of snow on top.  Try as I might, I could not figure out how to classic ski on that surface so I decided it was time to learn how to skate ski.  I figured out some sort of movement that seemed to propel me forward and I only fell once.  I’ll call that a success.

The course transitioned onto the river where there was a perfect trackset.  I knew the finish line was around a bend on the river.  I was so close!  I looked at my watch – 7hrs.  I had been fairly sure this journey would take me close to 8hrs to complete, so coming in to the finish line shortly after 3pm was like a dream.  I came around the corner and there it was – a huge FINISH banner.  Alan and Arielle cheered me in.

2016-01-24 15.13.20


Thank you to everyone who has supported me on this journey:

  • My husband Matt for never complaining about the hours and hours I spend training, and for cooking up the millions of calories I need to eat to maintain this crazy lifestyle
  • Arielle for pushing me to try things outside of my comfort zone
  • Alan and Arielle for giving up their day to follow me around the course and for taking photos to document the adventure
  • My mom for buying me boots and being the catalyst that convinced be to FINALLY purchase my own skis
  • Lifesport for their excellent customer service and patiently answering my gazillions of questions
  • All my skier friends for patiently answering my gazillions of questions 🙂


And now, it is time to get back focused on trail running.


Happy Trails!

Lake Louise to Banff Loppet – preview

It all started with a Facebook message.

“Hi Joanna.  Arielle is a new ultra-runner in town.  Would you be willing to show her our trails?”

I love showing off our mountains so of course I agreed.

We ran up Ribbon Creek, over Guinn’s Pass and back via the Galatea and Terrace Trails.  We finished in the dark under clear skies illuminated by endless stars.  As I got to know Arielle better throughout the run I was impressed with her attitude. She has a zest for life that I haven’t seen in many people and she tackles obstacles head on.  I could tell this run was just one of many adventures that we’d have.


We had a bit of bad luck so we didn’t run much after that initial adventure.  Arielle had a sore hip and I tripped on a rock, cutting open my knee.  Once we were mostly healed up we decided to go out for a xc ski.  Neither of us are particularly skilled at skiing, so it was a fun day out with the main objective being not to fall over.

I’m not sure how the conversation started, but somewhere along the way I mentioned to Arielle that I had heard of this 72km race where you ski from Lake Louise to Banff.  I was thinking it might be a fun goal to aspire to.  You know, in a year or two once we learned how to ski properly.

Arielle thought a little differently, she thought we should sign up right away.  It would be a good challenge!  Apparently I’m a pushover, so I agreed.  The race was scheduled for January 24th, and we were at the beginning of December.  We had almost 2 months to train.

We opted to overlook the fact that neither of us even owned skis (we were renting), had never waxed skis (we were using waxless), and the furthest we had ever skied in our lifetime was just over 20km.

Over the next 2 months we both bought skis, learned a little about wax, and spent a lot more time on the trails.  Our longest ski was 45km; an out-and-back from Lake Louise to Lake O’Hara in temperatures well below -20C.  It was during the ski that I gained the confidence to believe that I could actually ski 72km, and also resigned myself to the fact that completing the 72km would be a total sufferfest.  Oh well, I’m an ultrarunner.  Suffering is part of the job description.

2015-12-26 14.24.23-1

Family ski on Ribbon Creek

2016-01-02 09.28.14

Arielle and I skiing from Alberta to BC via the Great Divide!

2016-01-16 16.35.53-1

My car is very tasty

2016-01-15 11.25.06-1

Solo ski in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

2016-01-10 12.21.02

Skiing with my friend Colin on the Bill Milne trail.

2016-01-02 12.59.53

Lake O’Hara!

2016-01-08 14.30.37

The Coal Mine trail in Kananaskis leads to this stunning viewpoint

2016-01-02 12.50.28

Lunch stop at Elizabeth Parker Hut


Unfortunately Arielle is working through a groin injury and won’t be able to do the race with me.  She has decided to join my friend Alan as my crew instead.  It sucks that we won’t be racing together, but it will be fantastic to have her along for support.

Even if the loppet doesn’t go well tomorrow I am incredibly thankful for the journey I’ve been on as we’ve prepared for it.  I feel like I’ve discovered a whole new world that I never knew existed!  Who knew that you could ski from Louise to Lake O’Hara?  Or by extension, from Banff to O’Hara?!  There’s a whole world of loppets, birkebeiners and ski adventure routes that I knew nothing about. I’m already making plans for next year 🙂

Happy Trails!


The Sheiko Journey

Last December I decided it was time to get more focused on this ultra running thing.  I signed up with a coach and cut out all my extraneous activities; no Ultimate Frisbee, no squash, the bare minimum of fitness classes, no strength training (I still did stability work).  The plan worked and I had my most successful season of racing ultras so far.  4th at Diez Vista 50km, 3rd at Blackfoot 50M, 2nd at Sinister 7 100M and a spectacular sufferfest at Fat Dog 120M.

One side effect of this focused training was weight loss.  I think I’m already lean enough so it wasn’t purposeful, but from December to August I lost 10lbs.  I knew the weight loss was primarily from losing muscle mass and I promised myself I would gain it back once the racing season was over.

Some co-workers of mine mentioned a strength training program devleoped by Sheiko.  Sheiko is a world renowned powerlifting coach and I was intrigued.  The program emphasizes high volume, low rep training.  During the course of a workout you will do 15-30 sets of squat, bench or deadlifts and the amount you lift is based on a percentage of your 1RM (the maximum amount you can lift in one rep).  Most lifts are in the 60-80% range, occasionally reaching as high as 90%.

The workouts are incredibly inefficient, consistently taking an hour or longer.  On top of that, you need to monopolize the squat rack or the bench press almost the entire time.  If you do Sheiko, you won’t be making any friends at the gym.

Despite these obvious drawbacks I was still very curious, so I committed to the program.

In late August I tested my 1RMs:
Squat – 155lbs
Deadlift – 155lbs
Bench – 90lbs
I also added in chin ups.  I could do 1 very ugly chin up.

The Sheiko program is divided into 4 consecutive phases titled  #29,30,31 and 32, each phase is 1 month long.  #29 is a preparatory phase, designed to get your body used to the volume of lifting.  None of the lifts are particularly heavy, you just do a lot of them.  I expected my body to be sore and tired from all the lifting.  I was fully prepared for the soreness to negatively effect my running, but that’s not what happened. Instead, my running felt more powerful and fluid than ever before.  After finishing #29 I retested my 1RMs

Squat – 165lbs
Deadlift – 165lbs
Bench – 105lbs
Chin Ups – 2 (I had been using the assisted chin up machine to build up my strength)

#30 is much like #29, except the lifts get a little heavier.  The increase in intensity is noticeable and it took a couple of workouts for me to adapt.  I also changed up my chin up routine, so now I was doing 5×5 negatives instead of using the assisted chin up.  I missed 2 weeks worth of legs during this phase because I cut my knee open during a trail run and I didn’t want to risk ripping out the stitches.  During the 2 weeks off from deadlifts and squats I worked on balance, hopping, and shallow single-leg squats.  When I got back to lifting it didn’t seem like I’d missed much, I just needed a little extra warm-up to coax the range of motion back into my knee.

Squat – 175lbs
Deadlift – 175lbs
Bench – 115lbs
Chin Ups – 5

#31 had lower volume and heavier lifts.  I found I could do the workouts in an hour or less, which was a welcome change.  I could feel myself getting stronger throughout the month.  I increased my chin ups to 6-8 x 5.  I felt good and it was exciting.

Squat – 190lbs
Deadlift – 190lbs
Bench – 125lbs
Chin Ups – 7

#32 is basically a max strength test followed by a 3 week taper which leads up to the final powerlifting competition.  Three weeks is a long time to taper and most of the workouts in this phase felt kind of useless.  I also applied the taper philosophy to my chin ups, only doing 3 sets instead of 5.  I tried to trust the process, but in the end the retest was as disappointing as the workouts.

Squat – 195lbs
Deadlift – 195lbs
Bench – 125lbs
Chin Ups – 7


The verdict?

I enjoyed the focus that this program required.  I feel my strength gains were very good, especially considering that I was also running 80-110km/wk for most of the program.  My squat and deadlift increased 26%, bench improved 39%, and my chin ups improved 700%.  My running on all surfaces feels way stronger than ever before.  I didn’t think that strength was a limiting for my runs, but evidently it was.


The drawbacks for Sheiko are many, but in my opinion they were worth it.  The program is time consuming, monotonous and requires specific equipment.  I also found that I needed to eat a lot, you won’t be able to successfully complete the Sheiko program on a calorie restricted diet.


I think I will repeat Sheiko in the fall, but I will exclude the 3 week taper.  Tapers don’t work for me when I run, and I don’t think they work for me with strength training either.  In the meantime, I am transitioning over to more bodyweight training.  I am learning to walk on my hands and increasing my hip mobility.  You can find this new program here:


If you’re interested in learning more about Sheiko, this is an article worth reading.  The article also includes a link to the full Sheiko spreadsheet.


Happy Trails!

Hello 2016!

I love goal setting.  I love it almost as much as I love working towards the goals.

January is an exciting time of year because it’s when you set your goals and start working towards them.  The year is full of possibilities!

So what are my goals for 2016?

In 2015 I was inspired by watching Dave and Alissa’s exploits.  They both set HUGE goals and went after those goals without reservation.  I have a tendency to be a bit of a sandbagger, but this year I’m going to try and emulate Dave and Alissa’s strategy of going for it all even if it means you might fail.  It’s only by pushing yourself to your limits that you can find out where your limits truly are.

2015-12-27 12.39.07.jpg

Goal 1 – Complete the Banff to Lake Louise Loppet on January 24th.  This is a 72km cross-country ski race.  I bought skis last week, I don’t really know how to ski with any sort of technique, and until this year the furthest I had ever skied was 22km.  Special thanks to Arielle for convincing me to sign up for this race.  Big, scary goal.

2015-12-31 15.36.27.jpg

Goal 2 – Compete in the Canadian Ultra Skyrunning Series.  This may not sound like a big goal, but consider that this means I will be racing 4 ultras in less than 3 months.  More terrifying than that, is the fact that I will be starting with the Sinister 7 100M.  If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past few  years, it’s that 100s are very unpredictable.  I’m also retiring my sandbagging attitude;  I will compete for the top position and the fastest time possible, not just a finisher’s medal. This will require a huge shift in mindset and that scares me.

Sinister finish.jpg

Goal 3 – Climb at least 200 000m.  Last year my goal was to climb to Outer Space (100k metres) and I completed my goal in August.  I figure this year I may as well double it. This goal doesn’t scare me, it’s just exciting.  All my favourite places seem to be uphill 🙂

2015-08-29 12.12.17.jpg

Goal 4 – Climb another 25 unique peaks. Okay, maybe this goal is not as big as the others, but this streak will get tougher as the years go by. I’m playing the long game on this one – how many years can I maintain the streak?

2015-10-09 12.32.20.jpg

I hope you are having as much fun planning out your year as I am.


Happy Trails!