I found out that I was going to California. Work was sending me on a mission, for 3 weeks! Hot damn! Instantly I hopped on UltraSignup and started looking for races. I found a couple; some looked pretty easy or weren’t really trail runs. I came across Nine Trails Endurance Run. It’s part of the All We Do Is Run series of races and directed by Luis Escobar. Cool.
Before the run, I had a one on one with Gary (my coach) and I was emphatically telling him about California, Zombie Runners, nice weather, trails… While we were going some details about the upcoming event, I told him I bought some Tailwind and thought I would give it a shot.
“Have you ever used it before?”
With hesitation and knowing that I was going to be told not to I replied “yeeeeess… Zion…“
“Did you like it?”
With more hesitation “No I hated it”
Gary is confused….
I figured it was mixed badly and the water was tainted by the containers from prolonged exposure to plastic containers.
We resolved that I would seek out the nutrition that I was used too. He noted that this run was gonna be a hard one and 9 or so hours is not the kinda run you wanna be testing things. Good advice.
Check in – I introduced myself to Luis. We talked about the race. He emphasized that I should have lots of water. I confirmed that I have the 1.5 litre bladder and 1.5 litres of bottles. He felt that was adequate and mentioned that there are only two aid stations, one that you see twice and two water stations, of which I should only fill up on the way back from the turnaround point.
Moving along to Saturday morning. I ended up betting on getting breakfast at Denny’s because I didn’t plan very well for this trip. It was 5 or so in the morning, the doors were open. I look around and a guy comes out of the kitchen and says:
“Thought you were a 24 hours?”
“Yeah but we are doing the 2 month cleanup…”
I didn’t know what to do. I started looking for alternatives, but couldn’t find anything, not even a damn coffee. I decided to head to the race and wait for the start. I was hungry so my breakfast was one of the energy bars I grabbed for the morning part of the race. I wasn’t worried because I tend to over pack. I’d rather run with too much food than not enough food.
I didn’t have a target time. I had no idea what I was in for. They said this was a 35-mile race that ran like 50 miles. When I first told Mel about it, her first impression was this was a hard race. I guess 10,000 feet of climbing over 56 km should have tipped me off. It didn’t.
It was no surprise that during the pre-race meeting 15 minutes before go time, Luis said,
“This is a triple black diamond race. If this is your first Ultra, YOU SHOULDN’T BE HERE.”
OK! Message received. This was going to be tough.
Luis was adamant that we all were at that pre-race meeting. So much so that he called the potty line over.
“HEY GUYS! GET OVER HERE, YOU CAN GO TO THE POTTY AFTER. I’M SERIOUS! GET OVER HERE.
Here is the list of rules, they are all “NO” rules, no pacer, no drop bags – you have to carry everything with you like a REAL ultra runner, no crew. You can wear headphones if you wanna be like that.
Be nice to the volunteers, without them the race wouldn’t be on. If you want to complain, you can complain to me. I can tell you now what my answer will be if you want…”
He continued to tell us about a guy that really wanted to do the race but wasn’t confident that he would be able to do it within the cut off. His resolution was that he would let the guy have an early start, like 4 am. That wasn’t good enough, he suggested 2 am, but that still wasn’t enough time. Unable to satisfy the guy, he asked him what time he wanted to start, he said 10 pm Friday (yeah the day before). The group was supportive of the fellow, though, we all chuckled.
We walked to the start line and this is where we all had to raise our right hand and give the famous ultra runners credo “…and if I die, it’s my own damn fault.”
We were off.
I planned to take it easy since my friend Lucy infected me with the 48-hour flu that left you with a persistent cough. I had the damn cough for 3 weeks by the time I arrived in Santa Barbara. Hers lasted 5 weeks. I was wheezing, this wasn’t going to be a heroic effort. But seriously, I don’t think there was all that much climbing…
NOT A JOKE.
Holy hell. I thought I was on the stairway to heaven. I mean Fat Dog had lots of climbing, but this race, this race was either an incline going up or going down. I wasn’t really ready for it either. The winter didn’t ever give me a chance to train for down-hilling. Stupid southwestern Ontario.
Typical of Ultras, I ended up listening to these two guys bantering about food. It was obvious that they were buddies out for a good run. Having not really had a breakfast I started to complain to them.
“Guys – it’s too early to be talking about delicious food….”
They appreciated my point of view and I joined their conversation telling them how much I was loving Cali as there was no hiding the fact that I’m Canadian eh? I’d play leap frog with Tom and Chris for the next few miles. Every time I’d catch up Tom would jokingly mention to Chris that they needed to pace themselves. A little further ahead I got to a marker that marked a left turn (stripped flag on the left). I turned left and continued to climb. Tom and Chris caught up and called me to the right. After a friendly debate Tom says “Hey, I’m not a hoser eh? This is the right way, we trained on these trails.”
I guess there is no arguing with that logic.
I reached the aid station and refuelled. Checked my watch, 2:15 hours. I figured that I might be able to pull off an 8 hour run. I continued downhill. The trail past the aid station was probably my favorite. It nice single track that zig zagged down the side on the mountain. The footing was good and allowed me to cruise. In this section I was in control just enough that I was confident that I wouldn’t lose my footing and nose dive off the side of the mountain.
I had about 5 miles to go before I got to the turnaround point. As I continued to climb I bumped into a guy named John. Started the usual trail chatter, blah blah, I’m from … where are you from… It’s pretty hilarious though, every time I visit the States I get asked if I know Mike or Jim or Jane from Canada. I never know them. However, when an American ultra runner asks a Canadian ultra runner where they are from, and then they ask you if you know someone from the same region of Canada, there is a good chance you know them. Well he asked me if I know this crazy girl called Elise – certainly do.
Since we started downhill again, I left Jim. At this point I noticed my low back started to feel it. I focused on engaging my core to minimize the jolts and what not. I started to occur to me that Luis WAS SERIOUS ABOUT THIS BEING HARD.
I got to the turnaround in a little more than 4 hours, something like 4:10 I think. It was starting to get hot out there. It might have been 26 C at that point and the sun had made it way around the mountain. I suddenly realized that I was going to be in direct sunlight for my way back. John had told me that he thought it would take him at least an extra hour to return to the start/finish. I finally set a target- 9 hours.
I was pretty sure the second was going to be tougher, and it was. The noon hour sun was beating down on all of us. Over the first 4 miles back I already drank more water than I did on my previous intervals and stopped to fill up at the first of the two water only stations.
I continued to climb. Being in the sun and heat of the day, looking at 32 C now, I was paying close attention to my heart rate. It was running high no matter how easy an effort I tried to maintain. I kept trying to remind myself it was OK to slow down a bit, try to catch up on the downhill.
This strategy seemed to work, but as I was closing in on the finish, my legs were a lot less nimble. A lot of the trail ran along cliffs edges, I remembered the credo (…and if I die, it’s my own damn fault). It made sense to me that I should probably not push too hard and be sure of my footing.
Upon getting the final water station, one of the volunteers was asking if we wanted a beer. He barely finished saying “BEER” and I said “YES”. I traded him my empty water bottles for a beer. In the time it took them to fill up the bottles I was done the beer and on my way.
Not having thought through the consequences of drinking the BEER, I started to realize why it is best left to the end of the race. I kept burping, my gut was a little bloated; it wasn’t as rewarding as I thought it might be. (I seriously considered keeping that experience to myself)
After a coughing fit about a half-mile from the finish, crossing the finish line was sweet relief! 8 hours and some 42 minutes, wow a long day on the trail. Each finisher was treated to a hug from Patsy Dorsey, the races creator, some 25 years ago.
I loved this race. It was small, and you really felt as if you were a part of a community. Everyone was friendly and the coolers were stacked with water and other drinks. Most importantly, the coolers had plenty of recovery drinks: BEER. I expected that the beer was reserved for those who bought it, but I was pleasantly surprised that it was for everyone.
Although I was sick (stupid persistent cough), the race moved along well. I ended up 26th out of 103 runners, not so bad. Time for some rest so that I can get healthy and prepare for an exciting season: Pick Your Poison, Cayuga 50 mile (where I’m gonna do my damn best to beat Mel :), and my ultimate target for 2016, Grindstone 100.
Strava GPS Track