Pick Your Poison 2014

I think I went out to fast.  My objective is to push my boundaries, stop dreaming, get off my ass, just do it.  So in that spirit I run hard, I set ridiculous goals padded by some goals that aren’t so ridiculous, both challenging and rewarding.  This is my path to self discovery.  You may wonder what I am trying to discover.  The answer is a question, am I being the best that I can be?  While the answer to my question can be a binary answer, I complicate the answer by approaching each race looking to learn something new.  Which I suppose implies that I am not being the best that I can be because I am still (and always will be) learning.  At Pick Your Poison (PYP) 2014, I wanted to find out how hard I can run a 50 km and I wanted to place in the top 10, preferably the top 5.

PYP is a nice course that takes you around and across a ski hill at the Horseshoe Resort, which is situated just north of Barrie, Ontario.  The start is a teaser that runs across 3 or so km of relatively flat terrain where you can ‘kick it’.  Then the ‘back half’, I heard one fella refer to it as, brings you along hilly trail where you find yourself taking on some serious climbing (for Ontario standards).  Since Ontario has seen snow day after snow day, it was really no surprise to find the ski slopes were still blanketed in snow and even some of the single track trail had packed ice on it.  The packed ice wasn’t really a challenge, but the spring skiing type of snow made it very difficult to run on. If you had the pleasure, you would be moving at a snails pace redlining it to cross the glacial covering.  I have one word for it: sucky.

So my first lap taught me lesson one.  My heart rate is capable of beating faster that I previously thought. Yessir, 192 BPM.  Captain obvious here, that means that my 88% max heart rate pace is higher than I previously thought.  And this is exactly what I surmised while I was barreling up the first monster climb on the first lap at PYP2014.  So I figured that my safe 164 BPM average was now 170 BPM.  Which surprisingly enough, it is.  Why is this surprising, I didn’t calculate it or anything of the sort (which I couldn’t have done while heart rate (HR) was bumping at 170), I just figured it.  Why was this a mistake, I changed my game plan to be more aggressive too early.  My intention was to try to hit 1:06 on the first lap and then settle into a pace.  Instead, I upped the ante.  It wasn’t until midway through the third lap that I considered slowing down to make sure I had reserve for the final lap.

PYP has 3 races.  There is a 12.5 km, 25 km, and a 50 km race.  It’s great because it encourages all sorts of people to come out and run the trail.  What isn’t so great about it is that you (um, I) need to focus on your (my) race.  As the saying goes, don’t judge a book by it’s cover.  Or don’t assume someone is racing a 50 k’er when they are really running a 25 k’er.  I got so excited everytime I would be approaching someone.  I’d take a stab at what race they were in and go from there.  If the runner didn’t have a bottle, then I figured them to be a 12.5 k’er.  Another dead give away is when someone asks you what the distance is on the first lap.  The difference between a 25 k’er and a 50 k’er, come to think of it, I am not sure how to tell the difference between a 25 k’er and a 50 ‘ker – so therein lies the problem.  Nearing the end of lap 2  I thought I spotted a 50 k’er and that I was starting to catch up to the front of the field.  I managed to pass the fellow as we came down to the start/finish/drop area, I peeled off to swap my food bottle.  When I turned around to get back on the course and start my third lap, the guy congratulates me as he put his fist out for a bump.  “Damn!” I thought to myself.  Yeah, lesson 2.

Back to lesson 1, in the final lap and after I finished stumbling through the glacier at the bottom of the ski slope I peeked over my shoulder for the reassurance that nobody was catching up to me. Except that there was no reassurance this time.  Chantal was barreling forward and she impressed upon me that she had a full tank.  Immediately I started contemplating what this meant for my race.  Was she the only one that was catching up, was I loosing that much steam? My thoughts had me spinning out of control.  Crap, another climb.  So I did what any other hard headed person would do, I carried on regardless. She did pass me and as she did I couldn’t help but be jealous of her pep.  Coming up to the final stretch I realized that two more runners were on my tail.  I knew that there wasn’t even a kilometre to go. So I pushed it up the final stretch; a short rise to the peak of one of the ski slopes followed by a quick decent down half the slope, then an epic glacial crossing.  I learned that I was able to hold on to achieve my goal (not the ridiculous one), top 10 (at 10th).

Looks cold doesn't it?

Looks cold doesn’t it?

I hobbled over to my car with my new PYP socks (the finisher prize instead of a medal) in hand.  Pushed through the rigor that was settling in so that I could have dry clothes and hobbled back to the chalet where it was warm and where there was lots of food to eat.  I grabbed a healthy portion of food and sat down.  As a result I got to meet some of the other runners giving me insight into their experiences first hand.  One of the volunteers and someone whom I met is an incredible endurance runner, and it was really something else to hear her talk about what she is learning.  So that is lesson 3, stick around after the race and get to know the community.

I pushed my limits and while I am disappointed that I lost steam on the final lap, I was rewarded with achieving one of my goals.  I have an simple excuse to keep training: get to the top 5.

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Schadenfreude

The night before the race was long.  We stayed at a motel called Canada’s Best Value Inn, never stay there.  The folks above us were tweaking all night playing music, banging about and being obnoxious.  That experience seemed like a bad omen.  I played it cool by chalking up the reason I couldn’t sleep to being anxious.

Dragan  and I got to Camp Wetaskiwin around 4:30 am, sat down in the dinner hall and waited for directions.  I tried putting my head down, but the effort was futile.  What would I get out of 5 or 10 minutes of rest?  A little before the racers started towards the start line where were some Red Coats, which I found a little strange.  The cannon went off to mark the start of the race and then it all made sense to me, the race’s name is the Laura Secord Memorial.

Just as soon as the canon sent us running and it started to hail.  It was pitch black with a bunch of bobbing headlamps.  At one point we were running alongside a lake when I looked back and was wondering what the hell was going on, only to remember that they were other fellow racers.  Sometimes I wonder about myself.

This year my training has been more structured and focused on performance and, as noted previously, under the guidance of a coach.  I have been feeling stronger and as though I was making improvements.  Early on in the race I could see these improvements – There was a half km descent where I was able to break free from the pack that I was running with. 10 km later, somewhere between kilometer 20 and 21, there was a gentle hill and another pack of people.  Most people in trail running walk the hills because it is more economical than running up the hill.  Here I was able to power up the hill and leave the other runners behind me (no dust metaphors, there was none, just mud).

Near the end of KM 27 we passed by some runners returning.

“1st place, no way!” I said.

“No, we went the wrong way.” The incorrectly assumed 1st place guy replied.

I saw another runner and finally I stopped one more runner “How did this happen?”

He explained that they took a wrong turn and they had to backtrack 9 km only to run it again.  I turned to my buddy, “How many people did you count? 8 or so?”

I couldn’t help but think, this *has* to put us in the contention for the top.  Forgetting that there were some 70 km yet to cover, I picked up the pace at the risk of of possibly getting ahead of myself.  Seriously, there were still another 70 km to cover.

After we passed the Rockway aid station and were running down Ninth line, I took a quick look at the race plan: 10 mins ahead of my target time. Sweet! It appeared that things were falling into place.  Though, I knew that the next number of kilometers were going to be tough, I just didn’t realize how tough.  The previous weekend , I was out with Dragan and we covered this section trail.  At that time the trail was mostly mud covered, cavernous ice, most of which was not strong enough to support my weight.  All that ice melted and left us with mud that swallowed your foot ankle deep with each arduous step.

I escaped the mud and I popped out of the Louth Conservation area and made it out to the aid station by the Staff Estate Winery.  I grabbed some sour keys and kept on.  The next little stretch was paved and it served as an opportunity to transition to an easy speed with minimal effort.  Oh look at that, I can see the skyline of Toronto, neat.

We finished the stretch of road and headed for the trails.  It couldn’t have come a moment sooner.  As soon as we entered the woods I had to pee.  As I relieved myself, I made a startling discovery – clear urine – a sure sign of over hydration.  This meant that my 16 oz of water and Hammer Perpetuem mix per hour was still too much for me.  I was worried but I wasn’t going to let it bother me. I skipped my drip for the next four intervals I had set on my Garmin, that combined with a handful of regular chips helped me solve that problem.  Having said that, my goal is not to have to eat conventional food during an Ultra. Clearly, I still have work on balancing my hydration.

Between Mountain Rd and Mountainview Rd aid station I started chatting with a guy from Montreal; let’s call him Montreal Guy.  This was his first Ultra and it was his first trail run. I was really surprised, as it turns out he was in the top 10 and that’s really impressive.  I guess running up Mont-Royal through the frigid Montreal weather really helps. He noticed that at each stream I was soaking my feet, and I gave it up that I like to do that as I think it helps numb my feet and keep them from swelling.  Should have asked for his name; who knows, I’ll probably see him on a trail somewhere and it would be nicer to greet people with “hey {insert name here}, how are you?” rather than “hey man, nice to see you again, how did you do, what’s your name?”

In the section of forest leading up to the Mountainview Rd aid station, we were on top of the escarpment and the weather seemed cooler than below the escarpment.  Easily observed by running over the ice-covered path and falling on your ass.  Well that’s just a part of the game – you fall and you pick yourself up, then you keep moving.  Assess the damage while you run and push all pain to low priority.

“Hey man, looking good” I said to the racer ranked number 1.  Montreal guy and I were impressed with him.  Friendly and looking like he had just started.  This was encouraging, it meant that the turnaround was near.  It also meant that we could now figure out where we ranked; this is a race, so yeah, your ranking matters.  I counted, two, then three.  We got to the Mountainview Rd aid station where Montreal guy took a repos (french for a rest).  I swapped my bottles and continued to the turning point.  As I ran up the hilly trail I counted 4, then 5.  I finally made it to the  turnaround point where one of the wonderful volunteer was sitting auditing the racers to make sure we actually ran to the pylon then turned around.

“So am I number 6?”

“No, you are the 7th I have counted” she replied.

No way, clearly she made a mistake. I only saw 5 people running back to the finish, how can this be?  Well whatever, before this race started, finishing in around 17 hours was a realistic goal.  Here I found myself running ranking 7th; pretty sweet.

As I was returning to Mountain Rd I saw, let’s call him 5th Place Guy even though he was 6th Place Guy (Yes, foreshadowing at it’s worst).  I ran beside 5th place guy and asked him how he was doing.

“I’ve resigned myself to just finishing” he said sounding a little defeated.

“Ah man, that sucks, why’s that?”

“I’ve had some knee injuries and this is the longest I have run.  Just not sure I can keep up the pace.”

Not that I was happy for his resignation, but I was selfishly thinking that I was I was golden to be 6th place guy. Obviously 1st place is the best rank, but I am a novice on all accounts and top 10 for me is amazing.  So yeah, I was thinking “Fuck yeah, I’m killing it!”  Well, I don’t know what happened, call it what you want, but all of a sudden 5th Place Guy found a second wind and I never saw him again.  Amazing, simply amazing. Ok so I am 7th Place Guy…

Approaching Staff Ave. aid station. Headed to the finish line.

Approaching Staff Ave. aid station. Headed to the finish line.

7th Place Guy until I got back to the Staff Aid station, that is!  I did my bottle swap and moved on, but not without noticing that one of the top 6 (and not 5th Place Guy) was sitting down with whom I presumed to be his wife.  Ok this is it! press on!

Not sure where this fits in to the whole flow of this post, but somewhere around 70 km  in I was thinking “ok I have 30 km to go, I can do that”.  Then I got to 15km to go and I remember thinking to myself “I can run with my eyes closed, but after 85km… well I can do that, maybe I need to keep my eyes open though”. That said, I kept looking over my shoulder, no 7th place guy.

From the turnaround point I greeted each runner with a “Hey man, how’s it going?” or something along those lines.  Each time I got “You’re looking good! Keep it up” or something along those lines anyhow.  The soldiers that were tending the aid stations were simply amazing.  They always wanted to make sure we got what we needed, you know food and such.  Mind you, I’ve learned an ultra runner doesn’t really eat food.  That aside, these men and women were all so helpful and encouraging and they were amazed that we would be out running 100k.  That’s understandable, many people wonder why I am doing this stuff as well.  With that said, what I find more amazing is that these people are helping all Canadians at a moments notice and whenever they are called upon.  I just hope our soldiers realize that all Canadians appreciate what they do for all us and how amazing it is what they do for us.

Anyway, I was finally at kilometer 2 and running along a river with some wonderful waterfalls but really feeling the 98 km that I had just been running.  I came up to the turn where I figure the ten or so runners may have taken a wrong turn where there was an Amry Reservist standing patiently directing racers in the correct direction.

“1.5 clicks to go, and it’s all mud” he mentions nonchalantly.

“Great, just what I needed to hear!” I replied to him sarcastically.

I finally got out of the mud and onto the road, took the last left turn and kicked it into an all out sprint.  Don’t know why, it isn’t like anybody was running beside me; I had been running alone for almost 30 km.  I came flying down the road and crossed the finish line.  Although it didn’t really seem like there was a finish line, so I kept going.  The crowd by the actual finish line called out to me: “You can stop now!”

“Thank goodness!”

 

Interesting Links

Garmin recording