Sunday, August 21, 2016

Komoka Provincial Park: The Other Side Of The River

   Yesterday, I decided to make yet another foray to my newest favourite place to run trails and headed off to Komoka Provincial Park.
   Once again, I decided to bite the bullet and pay to use their new parking lot. There were already a fair number of cars there so the new fee doesn't yet seem to be scaring people away. This time, however, I brought along a $5 bill, only to discover that there is no way to use bills in the new parking machine---it's either coins or plastic. I had neither of these but fortunately there was a family in the parking lot who graciously wrangled up $5 in change in exchange for my bill. Whew!
Some of the scenery near the beginning of the trail. The pond
is way off in the distance
   The temps were near 30C and I suspected that my little armband water bottle would not be my plan was to run east as far as I could and then turn back toward the parking lot. At this point I would take advantage of the brand new washrooms they've installed, re-fill my water bottle, and then head west. 
   By the time I got back to the parking lot, my bottle was empty and I was congratulating myself on my amazing re-hydration plan---right up until I discovered there was no running water in the washrooms. All there was was a toilet seat in one corner of the concrete room which then emptied into a pit down below. Basically an outhouse (but the best kind of outhouse in a tornado!) 
   At this point, already tired from my hilly run and the prospect of no more water, I decided to call it a day and started to leave the parking lot, for home.
At the last minute, though, I remembered that there was another entrance to the park 2 or 3 kilometers away and thought that I would at least go and investigate.
Getting closer to the pond now, but not much protection from the sun!
   Komoka Provincial Park is intersected by the Thames River, with the much larger part of it being south of the river. I headed off to the part of the park north of the river. Shortly after crossing the bridge, I came to the other entrance. It, as well, had a parking permit machine but fortunately I still had tons of time left on my stub. 
   There only seemed to be two different trails to follow so I picked the one right in front of me. It soon had me out in a fairly open area, walking alongside a huge pond (almost a lake) which I think at one time had been part of a quarry. Komoka is rather well-known for its handful of little lakes. I walked for several minutes and ran across a couple and their dog, who assured me there was quite a bit of trail left.
Better view of the pond---quite pretty!
   I walked until I got to the far end of the pond and then I began to run into "NO TRESPASSING" signs. The signs were a little vague about what parcel of land they actually referred to so I kind if ignored them (and planned to feign ignorance if it became somehow an issue). At the end of the pond was this gravel roadway which ran more or less at right angles to the path I'd been on. The path also ended there so I headed off to my left, walking.
   I forgot to mention that when I got to this new area of the park I had just decided to hike it, rather than run anymore. Water, at this point, was still an issue and I was really only interested in a little exploration. As I walked, the sun beat down even harder on me. The part of the park I normally run in is very shaded but in this new section, there seemed to be very little tree cover. I had forgotten sunscreen to top it all off and I very quickly became uncomfortable. I decided to head back.
Feeling less wanted, all of the sudden
   When I got home, I got on the laptop and did a bit of a satellite exploration of this part of the park. One of the things I discovered was that gravel road I'd been walking on actually had a name---it was called "Queen Street". I can only imagine that at one point it had been much more well-traveled because, honestly, it was just a wide gravel path. The satellite images didn't make this new section of the park seem like I'd want to spend a lot of time running or hiking there but it might be good for one more go-round, we'll see! 
This was "Queen Street"...

Interesting plant life along the way
Very pretty!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Quick Little Wet Trail Run!

   In between thunder-dunders this afternoon, I took the opportunity to head over to Komoka Provincial Park for a quick little trail run.
   This would be my first opportunity to use the new entrance and pay the new $5.25 fee. I wanted to at least experience this new system but, honestly, the Twitterverse tells me there are places nearby to park for free, if you don't mind a little walk....
If you want to park your car in
the new parking lot at Komoka
Provincial Park, first you take
some of THESE....
...and put them in THIS.
   The new parking lot is a vast improvement over the one I used to use, on Gideon---no giant potholes! And there is a washroom now, to boot.
Freshly-cut (I think) path taking you to...
...very wet trails. Basically, just
follow the river...
   I had kind of been wondering how they would access the trails from this new location but they solved that by taking a giant lawnmower (I imagined) and plowing a path right through what used to be a wide-open field. this, a wet, rocky, and slippery
little downhill. Much easier
on the way back.
Finally, you get to the end of the
trail, at what used to be the old entrance.
From there, just enjoy the scenery!
   At the end of this path you are able to hook up with trails you are familiar with and then take it from there.
   Due to the thunderstorms which had just been through, it was pretty wet in there. This just served to make the footing, especially on the steep and rocky downhills, that much more treacherous. After about a kilometer and a half, I made it to one end of the park and then headed back. My plan was to run past the parking lot where I'd left my car and explore the other end of the park but then the thunder started up again, I really didn't want to get caught out in a thunderstorm in the forest, so I stopped the run short. I did manage to exhaust myself a couple of times so....Good Work, Brian!

And back in the parking lot! Not a good
selfie, but someone was just pulling into
the lot and I didn't want to be standing
there, taking selfies. I'm shy that way!


Friday, August 12, 2016

Welcome to "SprintFit"!: Part Two

      Last night I took part in the second (and final) installment of  SprintFit, teaching sessions hosted by Canadian Olympic heptathlete Jessica Zelinka and Western University sprint coach, Derrick Johnston. The sessions were being held at TD Waterhouse stadium and are designed to complement training for any multitude of other sports. You can read about Session 1 right here, if you'd like.
   I got there a little late as I'd neglected to bring along my packed gym bag when I headed off to work in the morning. The other participants were in the middle of stretches and I just kind of joined in. We then actively reviewed a few of the warm-up routines we'd learned last week, this time out on the football field.
Andrew Parr, Jessica Zelinka, me, Derrick Johnston and Paul Whitty. Lots of knowledge here, folks!

   I thought this was cool, being out in the same field that the Western Mustangs use. We would do these sprint exercises out to various yard-lines and on the way back I'd imagine running pass patterns....but I digress.
   This was the fun part, basically just running. After a bit of a rest, Jessica and her cohorts then started us in on plyometrics. If you're not sure what "plyometrics" are, you can Google it or you can just think "jumping", in various forms. 
   At this point, they took us off the field up into the stands. The first plyometric they had us practise was something called a "depth drop". Now, at my age, the hearing is going just a touch and the first couple of times Derrick said "depth drop" I was pretty sure I'd heard "death drop" and I was somewhat steeling myself for what lay ahead.
   As it turned out, a "depth drop" is really nothing much more than jumping off a step and trying to land in a balanced and athletic sort of way. This was fairly easy.
   The next thing they had us do was not as easy. There was a technical name for it that I'm unable to remember but what it entailed was hopping, from a standing position, up the stadium steps, one by one (or two by two, for the younger and more athletic of us). We would do this for about eight steps and then walk back down and do it one more time.
   I saw disaster all over this. I envisioned what it would be like to not quite make the top of the step and it was not pretty---lots of blood and possibly stitches. I made the first eight steps with no major difficulty but then, when we were given the option of jumping two steps at a time, I made the careful decision not to. Or I chickened out, you choose.
   At this point it was back down to the track. We did something called a bear crawl (I think) which involved crawling along the track on all fours with no other body parts touching down. This was hard work, but do-able (and safe!) Then, it was on to hurdles.
   This was not hurdling as you see it in  track and field. What it entailed was five or six hurdles placed close together and all you had to do was get over them, pretty well any way you could. 
   This was possibly the most problematic thing I'd attempted to do in either session. The big issue with me was flexibility and my ability to get either of my legs over the hurdle from a standing position. I almost tipped over a couple of them, almost falling down at the same time. Just a touch embarrassing!
   Finally, the group was introduced to Andrew Parr, a former Canadian pro golfer who is now devoting his time to helping athletes fine tune their performances in whatever sport they're involved in. Andrew and Jessica will be getting together to co-host a "Star Dust Performance Camp" on August 18th. Andrew led a short group session where we all stood in a circle and sang kumbaya with our arms outstretched at shoulder level. The idea was to eventually feel the discomfort of this and learn to work through it, essentially by controlled breathing. This was hard and my arms are actually still hurting today. At this point the evening, and SprintFit, came to its conclusion.
   I had a lot of fun doing this, and afterward picked Derrick's brain a little as to how I might continue to get sprint training, as a Masters athlete. He gave a me a couple of suggestions and I'm going to try and follow up on them. We shall see!
   Finally, a few words about Jessica Zelinka. In my last post, I believe I referred to her as a "sweetheart" and she did nothing last night to disprove this. At one point last night, after we had warmed up and done a couple of drills, she walked up to me and asked me how I'd felt after the previous week's camp. The fact that she had taken even this small amount of time to check in with me only made me feel that much more positive about being there in the first place. With the group of us, she was supportive, playful, energetic, and funny. There were a couple of times when the other coaches slipped into "coach" mode and Jessica had to subtly re-direct them, aware that we, as a group, were not "high performance" athletes and were there to learn, for sure, but to also have fun doing it. Several times, she would perform running drills for us to copy and then, almost because she needed to, would end up way at the other end of the field, doing her thing briefly. It was always sort of strange, to remember that you were watching (in a little bit of a starstruck way) an Olympic athlete in her element. I also found myself wondering what it might be like for her, as an Olympian, to be watching the current Games from a distance. As much as I think we all enjoyed spending a couple of Thursday evenings with her here in London, it would have been just as cool to watch her representing Canada again in Rio! You can read a little about her poignant transition at I look forward to following her exploits in the future and am sure that anyone who has the same good fortune of crossing paths with her will be enriched as much as we all were!

Coaches and participants, milling about after a hard evening workout!
Where we did the "death drop"!

Running pass patterns, in my head!



Saturday, August 6, 2016

Welcome to "SprintFit"!

   Okay, if you have been following this blog really closely over the years (and I mean really closely) then you might be aware that, given a choice, I would actually rather be running fast over a short distance than running slowly over a long distance. If you want to find out just how I feel about it then just read this wonderful post from 2014.
   I did at one point contact the track club at Western University here in London to inquire about sprint training but then the communication sort of petered out and I've only thought about it sporadically ever since.
   Then, this past Wednesday, a golden opportunity to get involved in sprinting landed in my lap. Literally, in my lap as I happened to be reading the London Free Press at the time when I found out about it!
   There was an article about local sports hero, Jessica Zelinka. Jessica is one of Canada's all-time best heptathletes and you can find out a little more about her accomplishments on her website. Please check it out! After competing in the last two Olympic Games, this year Jessica found herself outside of being able to qualify for Rio. She came home and did a little soul-searching and then finally decided that what she wanted to do was share a little of her expertise and put on a clinic for anyone who was interested in learning how to sprint and perhaps apply some of its principles to whatever sport they played on a regular basis. She sat down with Derrick Johnston, Western's sprint coach and devised a two-day clinic (on consecutive Thursdays) that would touch on all the basics of sprinting. The decided to call it, aptly enough, "Sprint Fit"!
The article which caught my eye...
   The clinics were open to all comers---any age group, any amount of experience. When I found out about them, I immediately went into "should I or shouldn't I" mode. It then occurred to me that I can talk all I want about my desire to run fast but if I then go and pass up an opportunity that is almost handed to me, I should probably just forget about it forever. So I took a huge breath, got out the credit card, and registered. I spent five minutes thinking what the hell have I done and then I just let it go. A little later on that evening, we all received an e-mail confirmation from Derrick thanking us for signing up. In it, he mentioned that people as young as 12 and as old as 70 had registered and that made me feel a little better.
   When I got to TD Waterhouse stadium, there were a handful of people just milling around inside the front gate. I started chatting with them, just to confirm that we were all here for the same reason. After about 5 minutes, this young woman comes bounding up from the far end of the track to collect us and it turns out to be Jessica. We then all follow her to the workout area.
Autographed pic from our swag bag!
   Things had already been a little surreal (for me, at least) but as we all sat down to get ready for roll call and introductions, Jessica informed us that the one single runner who was already out on the track and occasionally whizzing past us was Damian Warner. I then had one of those holy shit moments---Damian Warner is Canada's decathlon representative in Rio, won gold at both the Commonwealth and PanAm games and is arguably the best athlete in the world! And he was practising right beside us! As a group, we gave him a little cheer every time he passed us. Then, just to top things off, the Western Mustangs football shows up on the field. The Mustangs are annually one of the top college football teams in Canada and here we were sharing the stadium with them. Yes, just a touch surreal!
   Introductions over, we then started to learn how to do sprint-specific warm-ups and drills. Much attention was placed on leg and foot movement and arm and head position. From there, we headed over to the other side of the field and practised  starting positions and foot placement as you head down the track. 
   So much to remember! It kind of reminded me of taking a golf lesson, having the instructor tell you ten important things, and then trying to swing your club while attempting to remember those ten things all at the same time! Presumably, though, the idea is that in time many of those ten things will become second nature and will only need (hopefully) minor tweaking.
   Jessica, by the way, is a sweetheart. She's one of those bubbly, energetic, funny, and non-pretentious sorts of people who you feel instantly comfortable being around. She and Derrick played well off of each other and it was kind of fun watching them learn as things went on. They were assisted by another athlete named Paul (didn't catch the last name, sorry) who himself had been a champion hurdler as a junior and he as well had all sorts of valuable insight.
   The group of participants was about as eclectic as you could get. The age range was 12 to 70, there were about as many females as males, and the skill level seemed to be pretty disparate (although I was paying way more attention to myself). At the end of the evening, I think we had all had a pretty good time and I know that I, for one, am looking forward to next Thursday. After that, I know that I am still going to want to be sprinting somewhere and will need help with a plan for that. And what better time to ask?!


Saturday, July 30, 2016

Komoka Provincial Park: Part Two

   The weekend before last, I made my first real running foray into nearby Komoka Provincial Park. Today I decided I would head there again, to continue my exploration.
Headed east (south?)
   In the parking lot, there was a woman and a couple of kids and two horses, just sort of mulling about. I stopped and talked to them briefly and made mention that their presence there sort of explained the piles (well, one pile anyway) of horse poop I'd encountered on my previous expedition. They smiled a little sheepishly and said they generally try and kick it off to the side. I assured them a little horse poop was the least of my worries and then headed off.
A little beaver action, just off the trail
   The parking lot on Gideon Drive is centered approximately in the middle of the park and you can either head east or west from there (it might even be north or south for all I know) and today I headed west (maybe south!)
   The trail initially takes you through some tall grasslands but then down into forest. It peters out fairly quickly and then you find yourself heading back.
The Stairs! Which take you down to.....
   The other week when I was there a couple of different people I met on the trail referred to "the stairs". I had not seen "the stairs" that day and really had no idea what they were talking about. Well, today I found "the stairs". I knew they were "the stairs" as soon as I laid eyes on the them. Happily, they took me right down to the edge of the Thames River and from there I was able to skirt the riverbank as I ran. 
...the Thames!
   I ran pretty slowly today and was using it mainly as exploration. The park was once again pretty busy with hikers but I did encounter a couple of young runners who whizzed right past me in both directions and were obviously there for the workout. To be young again!
More of the Thames
   Eventually, I ended up on trails that I remembered from my last trip there and these then took me back to the parking lot.
   There is a small amount of bitter-sweetness about all of this.For years now, the people of London have been coming to Komoka for free and it has just been announced that starting August 1 there will be a charge for using the park. This has a lot of regular users up in arms, some claiming they will never return. Part of the problem here is that there are so many places in and around London to run or hike for free that it will be a bit of a hard sell to get people to make a short trip out of town to somewhere where they'll actually be forced to cough up hard cash. Another issue is that there really are no amenities in this provincial park---no picnic areas, no garbage cans, no wash rooms---those kinds of things. Likely the only thing that will keep people coming is if the whole place is tremendously enhanced. At which point, it will lose much of its charm!
Proposed new pricing. Boo! (unless, of
course, it makes the park a lot nicer...)

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Trail running in Komoka Provincial Park (oh...and Ron, too)

   From where I live in west London, Komoka Provincial Park is about a five minute drive and I have been eyeing it for ages as a place to do some trail running. My wife and I made an exploratory trip there last year and it seemed as though it would be good for running. We also got lost but that's another story....
   I spent some time yesterday looking at the trails on Milermeter, trying to figure out mileages and which one of the many trails to try out first and today I headed there!
   The recent heatwave has died down somewhat and things have become a little more seasonable in these parts so I was anticipating a nice little run.
   The first part of the run, the trail was very narrow and, basically, you needed to beat the bushes back with your shoulders as you ran. Farther into the forest, though, things got a little wider and it was easier to run. 
   I'm not a particularly experienced trail runner but I would describe the trails as reasonable technical, this due to root systems and rocky inclines, as much as anything else. There are a handful of boggy areas which have boardwalk spanning them and some of the boardwalk is awesome and other stretches of boardwalk are a bit of an adventure in themselves---the occasional rotted board along with sections that spring you upward.
   The scenery was awesome. The part of the trail I was on more or less follows a cliff above the Thames River and occasionally there would be an opening in the forest and you'd find yourself looking down at a beautiful river scene. In between there was simply beautiful forest to look at!
   Due to it being Sunday, the trails were quite busy. Families and couples and their dogs. I had a route set out which took me from one end of the park to the other and then back again along the same trail. Many people appeared to be doing the same thing but in the opposite direction. This meant I'd run into them one way and then about 45 minutes later I'd run into them again, going different directions. Everyone was quite pleasant and lots of banter along the way.
   The parking lot at the other end of the park was about 3 kilometers from where I started and at that point I turned around and headed back.
   Very shortly after I did this, I ran into a gentleman with an English accent who was out hiking today. We stopped and talked briefly about how tricky the trail could be at times and he went on to tell me that he'd been going to the park on a regular basis for about 20 years now, was actually a member of the London Hiking Club and was also responsible for helping to set up many of the trails throughout the park! When I found out how much he walked, I remarked on the good shape he was obviously in. At that point, he asked me if I had any idea how old he was and then he went on to tell me he was actually 87! I would have guessed maybe 67 at the most but there's a pic of him a little later on. He then went on to tell me a little of his life story and at that point I knew I wanted to include him in this blog post so I asked if I could take a pic. He was a little astounded that I would want to do this but was happy to oblige, regardless. I asked if he was on the internet at all and he replied in the negative so no real opportunity to to direct him to this blog. As we parted ways, we introduced each other and I found out his name was Ron. Maybe I'll print a copy of this post and take it with me the next time...
   I then eventually made my way back to where my car was. Somehow or other in the process I ended up returning on a different trail than the one I'd set out on. Not quite sure how that happened, will need to investigate further. 
   The following is basically a photo dump of my day in Komoka Provincial Park. You really could have stopped every 50 yards or so and taken a totally different and just as beautiful a pic

Pretty swampy here, basically up to your ankles

Pretty sure this was horse poop but I thought
of it as bear poop, made the run more interesting

Seemed like there was another trail on the
other side, if you wanted to walk across that log...

Every once in a while, you popped out into a meadow!

One of the more reliable boardwalk sections.

Made it all the way to the other side, and then I....

...ran into Ron, the 87-year-old Englishman!

The Thames River, peeking through!

And back to my car!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

On The Way To The Hills (Pretty Little Pictures Of My Neighbourhood)

   What day is it today? Oh yeah...Thursday. Have been on holidays for a week and a half and have totally lost track of what day it is! What a great problem to have!
   So if it's Thursday today that means on Tuesday I set out on a little trip to the ever-reliable (and close) Warbler Woods to do some hill repeats. Most of Eastern Canada is in the middle of a drought and heat epidemic and London is no different. Because of this I had this conversation with myself on the way to the woods as to whether I should even be venturing outside. It was about 33C (91F) and the humidex was through the roof and I thought that these really were not the ideal conditions to be running in, particularly hill repeats. The headline "Runner Found Collapsed in the Woods" kept passing through my mind. In my defence, however, I have always been someone who was able to carry on performing strenuous activities in high heat. I also knew that the hill repeats would be, for the most part, in the shade of the woods.
   I walked briskly to the woods (in deference to the heat, I didn't run) and this was just under 2K. Along the way, I took some pics of my neighbourhood!
A quick walk to the end of my street
where I then...

...turn left and head up the long incline toward the Woods.
The hill just goes up until you get to....
...Holy Moses! Bullrushes!
Then, MORE bullrushes,  this time on the
left. Beyond the bullrushes, you can see...
...Warbler Woods, an environmentally
significant area!
Aahhh....shade at last!
The first (and worst) hill! Hard to tell
but it's about a 45 degree angle and
about twenty yards long with a
twist to the right at the top of this pic.
From the top, looking back down.
Pic is slightly fuzzy due to
my physical distress at the time! lol

   There were another four or five hills which were almost as tough as the first one but I managed to get out alive just fine! Basically I ran the hills and walked briskly the rest of the time (occasionally, not quite so briskly) until I exited on the far side of the woods. From there, about another kilometer back to my house, and re-hydration!