100 Miles of Hurt

Here I am again, two days out. The Haliburton Forest 100-Mile race is less than 48 hours away.

I went shopping last night. Bought E-tabs, Wet-Ones, Bag Balm, batteries for the headlamp, gels, Clif bars, Advil, yams, energy drinks, fig newtons, yogurt-covered raisins…

Drop bags all packed

Drop bags all packed

When I got home I packed my gear. Sleevies, compression shirts, windbreaker, fleece, long tights, toque, gloves, two pair of shorts. Rain is expected, so I packed extra shoes and socks. Body glide to help with chafing.

The race starts at 6 a.m. Saturday. By the time you’re eating breakfast, I’ll have run 15 miles. By the time you sit down to dinner, I’ll likely have run 50. When you go to bed, I’ll hopefully be closing in on 75.

Last year I broke 22 hours and placed third. It’s unlikely I’ll do so well this year. Frankly, I’d be thrilled to break 24 hours. That’s the closest thing I have to a goal.

So why am I running; if I don’t have a goal?


I want to leap off the on-ramp to my normal life and float around in a parallel universe of pain. I want to be reminded what it feels like to hurt. To feel photon torpedoes of agony rip through my quadriceps and calves. I want that woe-is-me feeling you get from grinding up Poachers Trail at 3 in the morning, when it’s pouring rain and blacker than charcoal, and wolves are howling in the forest to your right.

Some people go clubbing, others leak state secrets. Some folks join terrorist groups for fun.

Me, I like to run until it hurts. Until my muscles feel like steaks sizzling on a Hibachi.

364 days a year, I lead a quiet, contented life. But one night a year, I need to dig deep.




Rise and Shine!

Looking for some inspiration to get out and run this morning? This oughtta do the trick:

As Bill Bowerman, co-founder of Nike says: “If you have a body, you are an athlete.” And, at the risk of turning this blog into a giant billboard, here’s another of my favourite running shoe ads:



Real Life Superhero #7: Garrett Bobowski

Last year I wrote a book about a 13 year-old kid who, for all sorts of personal reasons, runs 100 miles.

It was a complete and utter work of fiction. No part of that book actually happened.

But as you know, truth is often stranger than fiction. And this is one of those times.

garrett 1_0

See that crazy runner? His name is Garrett Bobowski. He’s 8 years old. And as you can see, he’s got textbook running form.

He’s also got amazing endurance. See, this young athlete from Johnstown, N.Y. is that close to having run 100 miles in 100 school days.

It’s a goal he set for himself back in September. He’s run 95 miles so far, with just 5 left to go.  He’s got exactly one week to finish the job. The 100th day of school is February 25th.

So why is Garrett doing this crazy thing? To raise money to help kids who are fighting leukemia and lymphoma.

Garrett and his Mom

Garrett and his Mom

You can read more about Garrett’s quest, and contribute to his fundraising goal, by going here and here.

(Click now! Superheroes need your support!)

How Writing = Running (Part 17)

Number of seconds left until spring: 3,884,927.

Oops, make that 3,884,925. I mean 3,884,923.  

Of course, anybody who’s ever spent any time outside knows that there’s no such thing as four seasons. There are actually 365 of the things, each one a tiny bit different.

That said – oh my geesh! – winter is NEVER going to end! There’s four feet of snow outside my house. The concession looks like a white tunnel, with 12 foot windrows on either side.

The skiing is pretty good mind you —

Glenelg Forest

Photo credit: Shawna Watson

As for the running, I’m still logging my miles. Not as many as I’d like though.

A couple of months ago I made the painful decision to scale back my running so that I could finish writing my second novel. I’m still managing to squeeze in 60 kilometers a week, but it isn’t enough to keep me sane and balanced. Usually  I’m running closer to 100k. The shorfall is making me pretty, er, spazzy.

On the bright side, I’m nearly finished the book. I’m hoping to finish it by Valentines Day.

I should actually be working on it at this very moment. Instead, I’m writing on this blog. I’m procrastinating. You’d think that writing would get easier with experience, but it never does. There’s always that moment, each and every morning when I drag myself to the computer with that fresh cup of coffee, when I have to kick my own butt, and say: “It’s game time…you can do this! Now sit down and WRITE!

Those first few minutes are always painful – just like stepping outside for that morning run. Your muscles complain and your bones feel like they’re made of glass. You want to turn around and slide back into bed. But after a few minutes of jogging, your muscles loosen up, and you find a comfortable pace, and you remember why you love this crazy hobby.

It’s the same thing with writing. It usually takes me ten minutes to find my groove. After that, I stretch out with the words, roll around in the syllables, and luxuriate in the paragraphs.

I really regret that run

Writing and running aren’t the easiest of hobbies. But once you get going, there’s no stopping you!

How to Motivate Your Runner

If you’ve read my novel “Ultra,” you know all about pacers. Pacers are the lind-hearted lunatics who volunteer to “pace” runners for the final 20 or 30 miles of an ultra-marathon.

Being a pacer is a tough job. First, they have to run twenty or thirty miles – on forest trails, in the middle of the night.

They also need to open to abuse. Runners can get mean after 70+ miles.

Most of all, a good pacer needs to know when to push, and when to back off. On that front, here’s 90 seconds of solid advice.

Running Through the “Stupid Wall”

Ever heard the term bonehead?

Ever wondered what it really means?

A bonehead is a guy who puts a can of Diet Coke into his knapsack along with his beloved iPod Nano, and then runs home wearing the knapsack. Later, he is legitimately surprised when the tin of Diet Coke springs a leak, utterly destroying his Nano.

But wait! There’s another type of bonehead!

This second variety of bonehead will, two weeks before a marathon, in an effort to save money, attempt to chop up a pile of used bricks with a sledgehammer, hoping to re-use them as gravel in his driveway. He will do this without wearing any type of leg protection, will in fact wear nothing but running shorts. In spite of this obvious idiocy, the bonehead will still be surprised when a sharp chunk of brick flies with great velocity towards his bare shin, instantly releasing a tide of red.

At first, this turn of events will strike the bonehead as amusing: the blood splashed across the railway ties, the undignified staggering through the house towards the bathtub. But then his thoughts will take a more serious turn. Does he think of the fact that he hasn’t had a tetanus shot in years? Does he pause to consider the carpets that now need steam-cleaning? Of course not! Instead he thinks: How will this impact my marathon?  And: can I still run into work tomorrow? 

knee pain

To answer your first question, yes, I went to the doctor. She looked at the wound, cleaned it, and then peeled me off the ceiling. “The brick sliced through the layer of fat, but it didn’t hit muscle,” she said. “I’ll give you some stitches. You’re lucky, really.”

And my marathon in two weeks?

“You’ll run it, no problem.”

The doctor froze the tissue around the wound. While we waited for the freezing to set in, I decided to show her the weird bug bites on my chest.

“Those aren’t bug bites,” the doctor said. “That’s Shingles.”


“Shingles. Did you have Chicken Pox as a kid? Thought so. Have you been stressed lately? Any reason your immune system might be down?”

Well, ah, there was that little 100-mile race I ran the other day.

“You can tell it’s Shingles because of the pattern,” the doctor said. “It’s only on the one side of your body. The virus travels down nerve axons. Does it hurt? Feel itchy?”

“It itches a bit,” I said. “But it doesn’t hurt.”

“You’re lucky. With older people, it can be quite painful. It’s probably not so bad for you because you’re youngish and healthy.”

Young-ish? Did she say young-ish?

“You can relax,” she said. “It’s on its way out. You’ll be okay. Now, put your leg up here.”

It is a testament to my boneheadedness that, when I heard this news; i.e. that I had a weird strain of the herpes virus, my first thought was not, Oh my God, what can I do to get rid of this foul disease? Instead, I thought: WOW – I ran a 10 k race 3 days ago AND WON… It was the fastest race of my life, and I ran it with a case of shingles! 

I mentioned this to the doctor. I suppose I bragged a little bit. “Just imagine if I’d run it when I was totally healthy,” I gushed. “I might have finished under 38 minutes!”

The doctor snapped on her rubber gloves. “Don’t get too proud of yourself,” she said. “You’re about to get stitches because you were chopping bricks with no protection.”

Right. Point taken.

“Lie back,” said the doctor. “You may not want to watch this part.”

“Ultra” on the Radio

On the off-chance you weren’t up at 7:30 last Sunday morning, and missed my CBC Radio interview, in which I discussed falling asleep while running, running into trees, and running into hallucinations that look a LOT like giant teapots, you can catch it here…  (Follow the link below, then click on “listen”):



What Winning Feels Like

A long time ago, when I was in grade seven, I won a public speaking contest. I wrote and performed a seven minute speech on the subject of…radio. I still remember my shock when the president of Port Dalhousie’s Royal Canadian Legion stood up and read out the lucky winner’s name: David Carroll.

public speaking trophy

I was sure he’d made a mistake. I’d never won anything in my life. No academic awards, no arts awards, and certainly nothing related to sports.  At track and field days, I always got the purple ribbon. The pathetic one that all the kids got. The one that said “participant.”

Surely I couldn’t have won that trophy.  Could I?

I felt the same way yesterday when, for the first time in my life, I finished FIRST in a sporting event.

cavan hills banner

It was a 10 kilometer run up and down the diabolical hills of Cavan-Monaghan county. Granted, it’s an out -of-the-way race. And more people were running with strollers or dogs or phalanxes of small children than were running competitively.

Cavan Hills 4/10 km Walk/Run, 2013

But still – I WON! Ask anyone in the greater Ida/Cavan/Pontypool business triangle. I was the talk of the town(s). That day belonged to ME!

David, with the shoes

All of the credit goes to my brand-new, Medusa-ugly running shoes. You can see them off in the distance there; slicing through the fog like two butt-ugly neon lasers.

The promise of butter tarts at the finish line probably didn’t hurt my finishing time either. And my finishing kick was ignited (as always) by my family, whose cheering is like an adrenaline shot to my legs.

Gotta tell you though: it was a weird feeling, leading the race. Usually I can relax and enjoy the scenery at these events, but once I found out I had the lead, I was determined to hang on to it.  So I didn’t relax. Instead, I PUSHED. Which wasn’t easy, given the villainous hills on the course. Hills more evil than…Dick Cheney? Yes, they were Dick Cheney hills.

Cavan Hills 4/10 km Walk/Run, 2013

Later, standing on the podium, I grinned and grinned. I wanted to stay up there forever, waving at my adoring fans. But for some reason, the volunteers, who’d been up baking butter tarts and hoisting tents since 5 a.m. wanted to tear things down and go home for a nap.

WAIT A SECOND, I thought, as they tried to sweep me off the podium. How dare you evict me from this hay-bale stage?! Don’t you know that this is my moment? The moment I’ve been dreaming of all my life? No more purple participant ribbons for me! From now on it’s all —

What’s that? You don’t care?

Okay then, FINE. I’ll take another butter tart, please.

first place ribbon

Who told Tyler Heggie about my book?

Truth is stranger than fiction. Younger too.

Recently I wrote a novel about a 13 year-old who runs a 100-mile ultra-marathon. I know what you’re thinking: No WAY could a kid do that!

Wrong! An 11 year-old just ran 273 km – all the way across Prince Edward island!

Tyler Heggie

Tyler Heggie

Prince Edward Islander, Tyler Heggie, spent seven days running the island from tip to tip.  He covered the equivalent of a marathon each day, running with family and friends along the Confederation Trail.

Heggie did it to raise money and awareness for Multiple Sclerosis research (his Mom was diagnosed with M.S. two years ago).

Heggie finishing his run with friends

Heggie finishing his run with friends

Heggie has run long distances before. At age 9, he successfully competed in the Charlottetown marathon. Later this fall, he’s scheduled to run the marathon in Toronto – where roughly 20,000 fans (including me!) will be lined up to meet him.

Aren’t We All Running 100 Mile Races?

“One heals suffering only by experiencing it to the full.”

-Marcel Proust.

Haliburton Forest race (4)

I’ve got a 100-mile race coming up in two weeks.  I’m excited about running it, but I’m psyching myself up for the pain I’ll suffer over 24+ hours.  It’s gonna hurt.

People tell me I’m crazy for running these races; for inviting such discomfort into my life.  But like the Proust quote above, I really do believe that pain teaches us things we can’t learn anywhere else.  Important things, like, how it feels to go hypothermic, and to have the blisters on your feet sliced open with a razor blade and then sealed glued back together with Krazy Glue.

I know that sounds unpleasant, but for some reason, I can’t wait!  I’m a glutton for punishment.  But aren’t we all?  Aren’t we all running our own 100 mile races?

If you’re a parent, you know what I mean.  Parenthood is endless worry and diaper-changing and housecleaning and chauffeuring and heartbreak and sleep deprivation, but whoa! – those moments of beauty…  And the stuff you learn!

Kids are running 100 mile races too.  School, for instance, starts in a week. That’s a 100 mile race.  And whether you’re passionate about gymnastics, or want to play for the NHL, or want to become a rock star, or write novels, or climb mountains, or write computer code, all those things take a huge amount of work and commitment.  All those things are like 100 mile races.

Life is a hundred mile race!  It can be painful but…it’s full of learning and beauty and people who love us and who are hopefully standing by with a cup of hot chocolate and a tube of Krazy Glue.

Haliburton Forest race (1)