Found at Limberlost 2014

When I started running I never thought about why I wanted to run, I just felt I had to. When I first learned of the existence of the Canadian Death Race (CDR), I remember feeling compelled to taking on that challenge. I never gave thought to how I would get to where I was going or what I was going to discover about myself. On my journey to Ultra last year, my first step was The Limberlost Challenge (TLC). It was here that I thought I would learn a thing or two in preparation for the CDR.  What I rediscovered this year is that TLC is that it is one of those events where after the event, you leave having found something.

The event is a true trail and a real grassroots experience. You have a field in which volunteers, racers, and friends and family can camp out the night before and after the race. Of course there is the race itself which hosts in the neighborhood of 400 or so runners. Distances include 14k, 28k, 42k, and the Ultra at 56k.

I was finishing up in my basement where I was cleaning up the mess left over from updating the floor and painting the walls.  My plan was to get out of the house by noon.  11 o’clock swiftly presented itself and I realized that I needed to get some purchases out of the way and I needed to pack up my gear for the night of camping and running.  The thought was that I would get to the Limberlost reserve around 4 pm or so, well ahead of the majority of the campers.

After the 4 hour drive I pulled into the field where the tents were pitched and quickly realized that I underestimated what ‘early’ meant to other folks.  I drove around the field and finally decided on a spot in between 3 young bucks and what turned out to be a husband and wife couple.  I setup my tent and started and settled in.

I went over to the BBQ to cook my hamburger when the woman of the couple was looking around for water.  She asked:

“Do you know where can I get some water?”  I replied saying that she could find it the Gatorade coolers.  The next thing that came up, and I am kind of hazy on how was that this woman mentioned that this race was a training run for her.

“Oh, what are you training for?” was my immediate question.

The Grand to Grand” she said expecting to have to describe it to me.

“No shit!” I responded with an exuberance that clearly indicated that I knew of this one – a seven day, self-supported race through the Grand Canyon.  Something I swear I will do – someday.

As our polite banter continued her husband strolled along and joined the conversation.  Turns out he is running the Canadian Death Race this year as well.  It really is amazing how small the world becomes day after day.  So a real connection is made.  We made it back to our camps and continued chatting.  Low and behold I met a Canadian Champion boxer.

Last year I finished this race after 8 hours and 45 minutes. I remember running with this Irish dude and he called the trail a “grinder”.  While the trail bed is nice and soft, a combination of rich soil and fallen needles, it challenges you because it is laden with tree roots and rocks.  Always climbing up, running down, side step to the left, shuffle to the right.  If your not shuffling, you are balancing on logs through boggy mud that you discover is more than knee deep if you misstep.  On this trail run you never really get an opportunity to establish a steady pace.

As I have been getting more confident I started the race at the front of the pack instead of back. I could even count a few people I was on a first name basis with.  I also realized that I have a nickname that seems to have stuck with me. It comes from a scene at the Creemore Vertical Challenge: I am endearingly known as “King Idiot” to some.  Well, 8 am struck and we were off running.  The first stretch of about 500 m is a dirt road and on this day we were a pack of about 5 or 6 people who made up the front runners.  Then I noticed a guy that didn’t really appear to be an experienced Ultra runner,  he didn’t sound like one either.  As he passed me I heard him huffin’ n’ puffin’ and at that point I couldn’t help but think that the race just wouldn’t end well for him.

Coming up on the first kilometer I checked my heart rate and pace and decided I was going to settle in and try to hit my goal of 1h 30m per lap.  No sooner than I decide to settle in and the longest and steepest climb was before us.  Bye bye huffer n’ puffer.  Likely a hard learned lesson for him, slow (breath) and steady (run) wins the race.

As I came up to the 1st aid station manned by youth volunteers representing the Trails Youth Initiatives  which is supported by the proceeds from the race I knew there was a guy on my heels.  It was early on in the race so I focused on keeping a steady forward pace.  I kept reminding myself that if you are well trained (i.e. have been running lots in representative terrain) a simple strategy can get you in the top 10%. It is summed up in a few basic points:

  • be patient
  • people are their own worst enemy

Guy on my heels caught up to me and started chatting with me.  He was quick to point out that he was happy to run with me because I was running at what he felt was his pace. I noticed at some points I found him pulling me forward as he got in front of me, then we would switch spots and I would slow the pace a little. We ran together until we caught up to a fellow that I think was one of the guys I let go early.  I hopped up on a 3 foot ledge leaving the two competitors behind me and never looked back.

Summer Day

Summer Day

Picture yourself running through a Tom Thomson painting. You are running through the grandeur and serenity of the Muskoka. You are beneath the canopy of the black and white spruce, jack pine, tamarack, poplar, and white birch trees. You are by yourself, isolated but feeling no need to talk to anyone. Your worries melt away and stresses are behind you. As you run, the breeze teases you. It embraces your body. You feel it all over as it cools you off. You suddenly discover that you are aware of every inch of your body. Every nerve ending is celebrating. You stop thinking about your footing, your pace, your heart rate. Just run and loose your self in the moment. You discover what it feels like to free.

I would step out of the painting and back into the reality I was in: I am racing and I knew I was keeping a steady pace. Each time I came into the start/finish I would pay close attention and on the completion of the 3rd lap I was 4 hours and 30 minutes in, and average of 1 hour 30 minutes per lap. My split times were a mere minutes apart from each other, which I figure to mean that I found my stride. It was on this 3rd lap that my strategy rewarded me by the reality of me passing one of the runners I knew was ahead of me. I continued to focus on making haste slowly so that I would stay in front of this capable competitor. So I used every downhill to propel me forward a little faster. At every uphill I would remind myself “this is your strength” and I would power my way up never minding my heart rate.

 

I was on my final lap. I broke the last 14 km down by aid station.  Trails Youth Initiatives, the one after a road crossing, the one with Coke, and the start/finish line. As I passed through each aid station, I knew that I was that much closer to the finish. I just needed to keep up the pace. I remember seeing the markers for 11km, 12km, and finally 13km.

With just one kilometer to go, I picked up the pace. I couldn’t see anyone behind me and I intended to keep it that way. I crossed the final footbridge knowing that there was literally 300m to go. Pushed a little harder and made a speedy dash across the finish line. 1st place guy shouts out:

“Congrats your 2nd in!”

I actually couldn’t believe it.  Loudly and in my natural way I blurted out “No SHIT!” then flopped on the ground. Which by the way, the act of flopping on the ground actually worries people. Don’t do that unless you are actually in distress and  you really can’t keep yourself on your feet.  Being on the ground and having realized that some folks were concerned I let out a “Wooop” and stretched out my arms and legs to indicate that I was enthusiastically aware that I finished the race and in no need of medical attention.

Top 3 men at Limberlost 2014

Top 3 men at Limberlost 2014

It turns out that I finished 2 hours and 38 minutes ahead of my time from the previous year.  A very gratifying result, but this event wasn’t just about the running. Here at TLC I fostered new friendships, nurtured existing ties with my fellow idiots and rediscovered the spiritual side of running, again.

Creemore Vertical Challenge 2014

I was looking for every excuse I could think of not to register for this race.  I emailed my coach hoping that he would be disappointed by the elevation gain, but he was OK with it.  If I raced it, I figured I could complete the race in about 5 hours, 3 hours short of my planned training for the day.  Coach said make it up before or after the race, maybe run as opposed to race then do an additional 2 hours after the event.  I tried looking for outs by seeing how far behind the OUSER leaders I was, only 12 back from the leader having completed only 3 of the 6 races.  I waited until a week before the race and emailed the race director hoping there were no camping spots left, but there was one for me.  I just couldn’t come up with an excuse that I would feel good about.  So I gave in, registered for the race and on Friday evening I packed myself up and left for Creemore.

Once I was there I setup the tent and got cozy.  I found some course maps on the exterior wall of the garage and tried to figure out my first run of the day.  Pierre, the race directory, was doing some final prep work and as he came by I asked him about the course.  I knew right then and there that this was going to be a great experience.  He explained the course then took me on a quick tour of his property to show me where I could head off in the morning to get some climbing in.  Later that night, a few more campers showed up and Pierre gathered us up, cracked one of the kegs that was donated by the Creemore Springs Brewery and light a bonfire – a perfect way to relax ahead of a busy day of running up and down the Niagara Escarpment.

Wouldn't want to be caught in the hot seat!

Wouldn’t want to be caught in the hot seat!

I woke just before 5 am – I got out of my sleeping bag and got ready for my pre-race run.  One of the racers I met the night before was looking to log some more km’s and joined me for the the run.  During our run, Shane would talk about how he had “only” run 8 marathons in his lifetime.  It was as if he felt he wasn’t worthy.  1 is more than none, and 8 is more than 1, so all good!  We ran for 1 hour 35 minutes, clocked 10 km’s and we were feeling good.

When I got to the property, I was looking forward to the post race dunk in the Mad River.

When I got to the property, I was looking forward to the post race dunk in the Mad River.

It was 7:30 am and the rest of the party showed up.  Every time I run another race in the OUSER series, I meet another person and recognize more and more people.  I had my pre-race chit chat, met 2 more folks, then we were called to the start.  Pierre had his shotgun, and probably bruised his shoulder to mark the start of the 2014 CVC 50 km race.

Since I have been gaining confidence in myself this year, I have started to line up near or at the front of the pack instead of modestly lining up at the back.  Seeing as my plan was to run this race at a nice steady pace and clock 6 hours, I don’t know why I didn’t move to the back of the pack.  At any rate, we were off and about 3 km in I counted the heads in front of me: 10.  Ok, time to be competitive.

The group started in on the first climb.  Though, this one would prove to be a very modest slope.  Still, my repeats at Blue Mountain and the hill training on the treadmill paid off here.  I was able to keep a good pace while some of the pack leaders needed to slow down or walk.  I remember red shirt guy I haven’t met at about the 5 km mark.  He was still a fair bit ahead, but the real climbing started now.  During this early stretch of single track we seesawed along.  This was frustrating me because it is difficult to pass people on single track.  As the course change from single track to mowed long grass over rolling hills, my competitive ego wisely advised me to bide my time.  We were nearing the kilometre long climb (KLC), I figured I would loose him there.

About half way up the KLC I did pass red shirt guy I haven’t met and my sights were set on grey shirt guy I didn’t know and 2nd place guy on the OUSER leader board, an ultra runner from Kitchener, who, I met earlier that morning.  Once I crested the KLC, I noticed I actually gained some ground on them.  The course brought us through some nice trail that had some gentle ups and downs and then a final hurrah up, and that moment at the 10 km marker was the last time I saw grey shirt guy.

Following that quick trail sequence, was a easy boot down a dirt road to a valley that made me think of the the beloved saddle between Flood and Grand Mountains at the Canadian Death Race.  Trail looked like it was for a quad and it had all sorts of loose rock and troughs created by gushing rainwater.  I was careful going down the valley to make sure I didn’t loose my footing and then climbed up.  As I approached the aid station at approx km 15, 2nd place guy on the OUSER leader board was grabbing some water or something and so I kept on knowing that I was now placed 6th.

That was short lived.  2nd place guy on the OUSER leader board caught right up to me.  I decided that I would pace with him for as long as I could.  And that was OK for a while as we ran along one of the long dirt road stretchs.  As luck would have it, we came to another climb.  Here I gained some distance only to loose it on the flat road.  Around the km 17, I found his pace relentless and pulled back saving energy for the climbing that I would have to face a second time.  2nd place guy on the OUSER leader board gained some distance on me and that was OK, or at least I was trying to convince myself of that.

I crossed the 25 km mark to complete the first loop and as ran by all the parked cars, there was 2nd place guy on the OUSER leader board and orange shirt guy that was in front of me but is now behind me – 4th place now.  I was excited!  I have never been in 4th place.  Time to kick it up a notch.  I pressed on trying not to jinx myself by looking back.  Instead I focused on maintaining a steady heart rate and consistent pace.  I passed the 10 km marker and proceeded down the valley and then the German kid with a scholarship for cross country skiing and run ultras for entertainment comes barreling along.  As the hot seat burned the night before, the German kid sat beside me and we chit chatted.  I remember him telling me that he logs something around 25 hours of training compared to my 13 hours (at my peak, about 10 otherwise).  Anyway, once he realized he recognized me, he says “Oh, your pretty fast!” Yes his toned was pragmatically shocked.  I tried to keep up with him as long as possible, but I don’t think I could even pace him for a km.  He was nothing but a memory at about km 16.

From that point on, I ran alone, focused on keeping a good pace and trying not to slow down too much.  I managed to stay ahead of 2nd place guy on the OUSER leader board and crossed the finish line after 4:55:09 holding on to 5th place. Fantastic, I just needed to find the beer kegs and pizza so I could make my way to the Mad river.

My little North Face tent.

My little North Face tent.

After I soaked for about 30 minutes, I added up my running times for the day.  Then the realization that I only ran for 6 hours 30 minutes set in.  I still had to get out there for another hour and a half.

 

It’s a mental game – Seaton Soaker 2014

Ultra running is like a staring contest.  The successful contestant is capable of tuning out the noise and distraction.  It is this kind of mental focus keeps a runner keeping on.  If no other experience before the Seaton Soaker 2014 proved this to me, then the Soaker makes the assertion undeniable.

After a year in hiatus, the Seaton Soaker 2014 was a new course that had us track across the Seaton hiking trail.  It is an out and back.  You start at 73 m elevation and gradually make your way to 153 m over 12.5 km.  There are 2 noteworthy climbs and three steep pitches.  The return is a little faster since the back is a net elevation loss.  The final 3 km of the back have the runner tracking down an alternate trail to the start and brings the runners through a river; hence Seaton Soaker.

Glorious morning for a run.

Glorious morning for a run.

The morning was perfect.  With such a beautiful morning you’d have thought that nothing could go wrong.  And…  your thoughts would have deceived you.  It all started right at the beginning of the race.  I finished my first kilometre and my calf muscles (especially my right calf) were so tight that running was laboured and forced; not fun at all.  As if that wasn’t enough, my right foot decides that it’s tired and falls asleep.  I tried to regain feeling in my foot by kicking my foot out and shake’n it about.  I must have looked like I was doing some kind of strange chicken dance or… the Hokey-Pokey.  After dancing around for far too long, I thought maybe loosening my shoe lace may help.  The situation did not get any better.  I was frustrated and close to the aid station at KM 7.  I stopped, removed my right shoe and sock and walked barefoot for a minute.  My foot was back in business so I put the shoe back on.  Though that was short lived.  With no other option, I ran with my shoes in my hands instead of on my feet.

By the time I got to the turn around (12.5 km), I had my shoes back on my feet since my city feet don’t have much in the way of calluses.  At any rate, I don’t think I really anticipated running the whole race without shoes.  That said, I was still able to keep an average running pace of around 6:00 minutes per kilometre.  Thankfully that was it for my foot trouble and I was able to maintain my pace much more comfortably.

On my way back to the start (to mark 25 km) there was a point when I was running with a group of 50k’rs.  As I noted earlier, there is a river crossing and at this point all crossings have been over bridges. Since it was an out and back and I had not seen the course map I was disappointed that it appeared there was no “Soaker”.  The running banter of the group made it apparent that they knew the course.  So I asked “Where is this epic river crossing?”  I was assured that we would cross the river twice.

I got to the race track, timed in for my 25 km split time and continued back to the trail.  It seemed like there was a little mix up as someone had picked up the flags that marked the trail that would originally ran on the way out.  Some runners headed back to the river.  One of the volunteers politely let me know the correct direction and so I was off.

I didn’t notice at first, my heart rate monitor (HRM) battery must of hit its end of life.  2 minutes before the split my HRM was reading two dashes, not helpful.  Panic started to set in.  How am I supposed to moderate on hill climbs?  How will I know if I have an even higher heart rate that previously thought (see Pick Your Poison 2014).  A flurry of doubt set in.  This is where the mental game is important.  It is just a piece of equipment that quantifies your body’s feedback.  Since I had run the race with the HRM I started to have confidence that I could moderate based on feel and experience instead of pure numerical data.

As I was tracking towards the turnaround point, I really started to notice that I was loosing my spunk.  I was following my nutrition routine and taking salt to make sure my muscles were in tip top shape.  Still I felt like I was fading.  From that point I was think about what they had to offer at the aid stations.  I needed a plan B and I needed it fast.  They had Heed, candy, chips, pretzels, and Coke!  I remember reading in the book, Lore of Running, that Coke serves as a great pick me up.  At the aid station at the turnaround, I pounded two cups of Coke.  And we are back.  From that point I stopped my Perpetuem diet and pounded a swig of good old Coca Cola Classic at each of the aid stations.

Not far from the turnaround point I peaked at my watch, 5:25 m/km, good.  Further along I looked down at my watch and I was impressed.  It seemed that for the last 2 km I was holding a 5:25 m/km pace.  I thought that was unbelievable.  Of course, it was unbelievable.  My watch froze, probably where I was on a flat or a slight decent.  My first thoughts were not kind.  I had some practice with equipment failure twice already so before panic set in, with colourful language I took the watch off and tossed it into my pack.  Now I was running au naturel.

As I turned to the river crossing I noticed I caught up to the first place female.  I was so happy to get to the river that I got down on all fours so that I could cool down my legs.  After my impromtu bath we ran together for the last 2 km.  Since it was a race, I figured that one of us should make an effort to pull in front of the other, so I managed to get 26 seconds in front of her.

Soaking at the Seaton Soaker 2014

Soaking at the Seaton Soaker 2014

I crossed the finish line 5th and I was the 1st place under male under 40.  I don’t think I could have done it if I let the obstacles get in my way.  Each time some trouble cropped up, I felt slight anxiety about it.  I never let that be the final thought or an easy out.  It really doesn’t matter where you place, so long as you keep keeping on.  Like a staring contest, focus on the objective and don’t let anything distract you.

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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.

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

New year, new challenges

Last year I ran over 2600 km.  I think it’s pretty cool considering that I started endurance running in January 2010 and I spent the previous 12 years of my life as a very heavy smoker.  My first goal was to run a half-marathon.  At that time my dream goal was to run the New York Marathon.  While I haven’t taken that on yet it is pretty clear to me that running has become somewhat of a passion, if not an obsession, of mine.

My original plan for 2013 was to participate in 6 races.  They were chosen strategically so that I would gain experience that would help me prepare for my ultimate goal for 2013; finish the Canadian Death Race.  Of the 6, I was only able to complete 5 since one of them did not open for 2013.  Even so, 5 races was still more than double what I would have normally participated in.  This year I am doubling the number of races yet again.

My accomplishments last year are as a whole a catalyst for more.  Bigger races, more extreme challenges, more running.  I have been researching the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, Western States 100, Fat Dog 100 among others.  The driving motivation for me to ultra is two fold, to be healthy and to travel.  When considering the travel, I want to be travelling to places I have never been before.

For many of the harder races, I need to qualify.  This is the reason my training started December 1st 2013 under the direction of Jeff Hunter, my coach.  No matter the conditions this winter, I have been out there.  Often I have been trailblazing through knee deep snow,  sometimes deeper.  I was out during what meteorologist’s called the polar vortex.  The temperature dipped to -35 Celcius and I was out there slugging away, one foot in front of the other.

So my race plan for 2014 is as follows:

Race Distance Status Date Result Rank
Laura Secord Memroial 100k – OUS 100k Completed April 5, 2014 13:52 6
Pick Your Poison – OUS 50k Completed Apr 26 5:22:16 10
Seaton Trail – OUS 50k Completed May 10 5:10:50 5
Ottawa Marathon 42k Completed May 25 3:23:44 711
Pelee Island 21k Completed June 1 1:38:30 17
Creemore Vertical Challenge – OUS 50k Completed July 5 4:55:07 5
Limberlost Challenge – OUS 56k Completed July 12 6:07:15 2
Canadian Death Race 125k Registered August 3 17:35:29 15
Iroiquios Trail Test – OUS 34k Did not register August 16
Haliburton Forest Ultra – OUS 160k Registered September 6 DNF
Run for the Toad 50k Registered October 5 DNS
Scotiabank Waterfront 21k Will not register October 19