Zion 100 mile

Where do I start? Months ago, when I asked a complete stranger to pace me at my second attempt of the 100 mile distance?  Or, at the start line where I was shivering in the desert? Perhaps somewhere in the middle? Well… here goes.  I will include my pacers brain dump (in italics) as it makes for more fun.

For just about every past race that I signed up for and ran, I played it by ear.  Sure, I had time goals, and there were a few races where I was competing for the second or third time.  Others, both my coach and I knew the course, so it was easy to know what to expect.  Preparing wasn’t high on my list of must do’s ahead of a race.  Haliburton was my first real attempt at planning for a race.  I didn’t finish that one because my body stopped working, not due to the lack of planning.  Anyway, all this to say, I hadn’t learned the value in preparation.  There are so many details, so many variables that can end you, or more appropriately, end your race.  How do you really anticipate them?

A while back, it is probably November, I asked a stranger, Jody, to pace me.  For some crazy reason, she accepted the challenge and that was that.  As the race approached, she would ask a flurry of questions to which I had one answer, “I don’t like to think too much about the race ‘cause I don’t want to freak myself out.”  She, probably a little disappointed, would say something along the lines of “OK that’s great that you don’t let yourself get freaked out.”

Time passed and we Skyped on three occasion.  We talked mostly about nothing, I guess we were more or less just getting acquainted with each other.  The last time we talked, it dawned on me that that the race was about a week or so away.  I got a little freaked out and decided it was time to really study the map to try to estimate how long it would take me to finish the race.  There are so many aid stations at this race that I decided that I would depend on those for nutrition.  They were fully stocked with food and would have Tailwind as the electrolyte drink.  I decided that I would rely entirely on the aid stations with the exception of a few staples, Hammer Gels, Salt Stick, and a canister of Gu Brew as a backup in case Tailwind didn’t agree with me.

I arranged all the flights so that Lindsay (my gal) and I would meet Jody in Vegas.  My friend Donna, who was taking on the 100 miler solo arranged to meet us in Vegas.  I offered her the option to stay and drive to Utah with us.  Two days before we were flying out, we discovered that she asked her husband to join her and offer his support as she prepared to run her first 100-miler.

We all arrived in Vegas two night before the race.  First Jody from Omaha, then Donna, then Lindsay, Mark, and me on a flight together.  I arranged for Jody to be able to check-in to the Hard Rock Hotel since she would arrive first.  We surprised Jody when we got to the room where she was patiently waited.  We all walked in and introduced ourselves, and then there was Mark.  I was surprised because the room was pretty small, and it was against fire codes to add a cot to the room. Donna and Mark tried to get another room, but the Hard Rock claimed it was sold out, which seemed unlikely. Jody took the floor after we called on guest services three times to get more blankets and pillows. I guess it wasn’t too comfortable, because she spent most of the night roaming the casino. I don’t know that she tried her hand at any of the slots, but she napped by the outdoor pool and worked out when the in the gym opened.

In the morning we picked up the car, which needed an upgrade to fit the five of us and our stuff. We were scheduled to pick up a Sentra, but upgraded to a Ford Exploder.  I took the driver’s seat and you’d think it was the first time I ever drove.  I was privileged to get lessons about keeping my eyes on the road, but I was so excited to see the mountain ranges and outdoor scenery in the states of Vegas, Arizona, and Utah. I was a little distracted.

Despite the need for all of the lessons, we made it to Springdale to check in at the Cable Mountain Lodge, just outside of Zion National Park. (It was very nice and worthy of a second trip even without ultra).  We all settled in and made it to race registration and the prep meeting at the Virgin Town Park.  We chatted with Team Ontario (not a formal team, just all the folks that run OUSER races and happen to be at Zion) and other runners with the same coach.  After the presentations, we all headed back to the lodge to eat and get our stuff ready for the big run.

Jody pulled out her binder of maps and crew plans. She knew it all – the distance between each aid station for the runners, the directions the crew would need to get to aid stations, how long (miles and kilometers) each drive was, what the crew would need, etc. I was blown away. So much work!  My planning, or lack there of, got us to the hotel, and now that I look back, it appears to be very last minute. This poor planning did not give me or my crew enough time to rest, especially with the time change, the long days of travel, and short sleeps before the race. We discussed what my needs were, firmed up the change of plans as certain aid stations were more or less inaccessible (as we learned at the pre-race meeting), and prepped the gear for the morning.

<jody>
The night before the race, I’m packing the magic bag with Lindsay and working on the spreadsheet and crew calculations. Our plans have changed drastically, complicated by having to crew two runners of differing speeds from one vehicle, and also eliminating an aid station from our plans. Byron tells us stories of his shoes, their history, the love he has for them, but decides to start with the Inov8 245 shoes that I brought for him. We promise to bring the shoe bag with the others. We also have a conversation about pooping that grosses Mark out and so we stop. Everyone eats Kraft Dinner (not called that in the US, we just call it Mac & Cheese from the blue box) and goes to bed. I’m on a cot in the kitchen reading the race (Ultra Adventures) website/ twitter/facebook before falling asleep for a few hours.
</jody>

Final prep
Final prep

4 am came all too early and it was time to try to get the machine running.  I ate my normal breakfast of bacon and eggs, and got suited up.  We drove to Virgin and froze as we waited for the start.

BAM – we were off.

And we're off
And we’re off

<jody>
5am- We leave for Virgin in the dark with Mark driving and arrive at Virgin Town Park to a small crowd that gets bigger and bigger. Lindsay hands me a cup of coffee. It’s cold and gross so we toss it. We take some pictures, Byron is chatting with running dudes, everyone’s using bathrooms, composting toilets on trailers, and then it’s time to line up for the start. Something that is funny is that RD Matt Gunn is wearing his little Chihuahua, Nacho, in a satchel. Everyone starts to move so I head to the start and I’m the first person just to the right side of the starting line. I take a video of the start and manage to call out to both Byron and Donna as they embark on their journey. Me saying “Go Byron!” makes it so “Work the shaft” (referring to his method of administering a Hammer Gel into his mouth spill-free) is no longer the last thing I say to him before his race.

6am- After the start of Zion 100, The Crew (me, Mark, Lindsay) drives back to Springdale. Mark takes a nap on the couch and the girls go to the market to buy coffee filters. We make coffee, pack a few things we think may be useful, relax for a few moments, and then wake up Mark to head to the first aid station. The sun has come up and it’s a gorgeous day in the desert.
</jody>

At the start I tried to keep my pace conservative.  I knew I was in it for the long haul.  My legs were screaming at me for the first 4 miles and that made me nervous.  My training runs this year never presented this problem (I had ongoing issues with tight calves last summer).  So I tried slowing down a little bit more.  People were flying past me, and my new pace didn’t seem to help my calves.  At the 4 mile mark, we started the first climb up the side of the mesa, and I never thought about my calves again.

Looking out from Flying Monkey mesa
Looking out from Flying Monkey mesa

At the start I tried to keep my pace conservative.  I knew I was in it for the long haul.  My legs were screaming at me for the first 4 miles and that made me nervous.  My training runs this year never presented this problem (I had ongoing issues with tight calves last summer).  So I tried slowing down a little bit more.  People were flying past me, and my new pace didn’t seem to help my calves.  At the 4 mile mark, we started the first climb up the side of the mesa, and I never thought about my calves again.

 

When I got up to the first aid station atop the Flying Monkey mesa I switched out a bottle that had my GU Brew in it for some Tailwind to see what this stuff was all about.  It seemed to be a pretty popular brand in the US, so probably pretty good stuff.  Well, as I was running the around the top of the mesa I got the chance to drink it… and you will never catch me drinking that shit again.  Case in point as to why you ALWAYS plan your hydration and electrolyte strategy.

On completing the loop I started my descent down Flying Monkey mesa where I caught up with Melanie, she was a little nervous heading down.  We were alongside terrifying cliffs, amazing views, and if heights aren’t your thing, the section would have you dropping bricks, a lot of them.  I tried to help her out by just doing what I do best, talk and talk and talk.  Once we made it down we continued talking about our race experiences and the strategy she used to finish Haliburton when a sun-beaten lady took her circa 80’s headphones off and said, “that’s not the right strategy”

Melanie turned to the woman and asked, “Are you Pam Reed?”

“Yes”

“You’re a legend!”

Well I didn’t know who this legend was, so I apologized for my ignorance, and was filled in on ultra running history.

“So can you give me some advice” I asked the legend.

She was happy to talk about the 100-miler and here is her advice: “The first 50 miles shouldn’t feel like work. If it does, then you need to slow down. Never use speed bursts to pass people. If you can’t pass them in your cruising gear, then don’t.”  We chatted with her for a while, but Melanie and I picked up the pace a little, and before we knew it we were at the second aid station, first one where I’d see my crew..

 

Melanie and Me strolling into Dalton Wash AS
Melanie and Me strolling into Dalton Wash AS

As I was coming in to the aid station (AS), Jody was out on the trail a bit, ready for me, and asked if I wanted Tailwind or Gu Brew.  I put my order in and she bbm’d my wife so that my bottles would be ready with upon my arrival.  I got the royal treatment, actually, I thought I was in the ring.  I was getting wiped down with wet wipes to clean the salt off my skin, and getting a cool cloth on my neck, I changed my socks, and got whatever food I wanted. Then after a 5-minute stay, they sent me off to climb up Guacamole mesa.

<jody>
8:40am- We arrive at Dalton Wash, park along the road, and walk up and find a spot across from the AS. Lindsay sits and waits for me to find out if Byron wants to continue with Tailwind or have her mix up some GU Brew. I head up where the runners come down Flying Monkey Trail. I actually hear Byron before we see him – he’s talking to Melanie and the first thing he says when I ask what he wants to drink is “GU BREW!! Tail wind tastes like SHIT!!” I bbm the message to Lindsay. She says she could see Byron from a mile away because of his unique running form.

Mile15/24 KM: Byron comes in to Dalton Wash for the first time. Time is approximately 9:10am, his expected time. Lindsay fills 2 bottles with GU Brew, I take the trash out of his pack, replace a few Hammer gels, spray him with sunscreen, and he takes off toward Guacamole. He takes a glance at the aid station table and sees the sweets, not sure if he took anything. This exchange is very quick and easy. He’s within minutes of his projected 21h finishing time.
</jody>

It was a long haul along a dirt road.  I was fully saturated by the strong sun.  I kept up a decent pace, I was passing some folks and generally greeting and chatting with them briefly.  As I was catching up to this one woman I asked her, “How many 100’s have you done?”

“I’m not much of a talker” she replies.  I was in a good mood and I understood where she was coming from so I laughed it off and told her that it was no problem and focused on moving right along.  Maybe she felt bad about being short with me because all of a sudden I hear the word “18”.

“Sorry?”

“I’ve done 18 100-milers”  she confirmed.  We chatted a bit more and asked a couple of questions, the basics, you know.  “Where are you from?” etc etc. I carried on.

Upon getting to the top of the Guacamole mesa we met the next challenge, slickrock.  As we booted around this mesa, I overheard other runners mention that people used to have to run this section at night; poor fuckers.  I couldn’t imagine running around on that mesa at night.  For the record, slickrock ain’t slick.  It’s kinda like granite.  I liken it to Peggy’s Cove, if you’ve ever been there, then you’ll know what I mean.  The coast is all granite with major cracks, it is eroded by the powerful and angry ocean pounding relentlessly.  As a result, there are weird shapes and pools all over the somewhat smooth (though not polished smooth) rock surface.  As I child, I remember running along the massive rocks, hopping up and down from one rock to another. The comparison came to me as I was bumping along, climbing up 4 or 5 feet, then jumping down, hopping over a crevice, short step, long step, up step, down step, it was fun, but tiring. Running on the slickrock is challenging, but even more challenging was following the “trail”.  As we were literally running on a massive rock, there was no beaten trail in the dirt.  Instead it was a series of spray painted dots, sometimes arrows, the occasional pink flag, or a cairn.  More often than not, I found myself coming to a complete stop as I needed to look around for the next marker.  Runners were catching up to me, and while it was nice to be able to follow people rather than looking around for the markers, this proved to be a little demoralizing.

I finished my tour of the mesa and started back to the Dalton Wash AS for the second time.  I noticed my heart rate was in the mid 150’s, which wouldn’t have raised eyebrows if it wasn’t for the fact that I was running between 7- 8 minute/km.  At that pace I should have been around 130 bpm, sometimes even lower.  I wasn’t the only one trying to figure out the heat and dryness.  I came across this tall dude, he was trying to keep up a good running pace but would have to stop and walk, and sometimes even bending over.  I think he mentioned he had a cramp.  I had extra fluids, and knowing we were approaching the AS, I offered him salt or fluid.  He thanked me but declined.  Funny thing is that I was coaching him to stay hydrated, slow down, and take it easy.  As it turns out, he had a little more experience than I do.

<jody>
Mile 30.5/48.8 KM: It’s hot now and it’s full on sun. Byron comes into Dalton Wash for the second time at approximately 12:20pm.  The first thing he says is “I need to take a shit!” so I grab his pack and take it back to the crew and he heads to the composting toilet. We fill 2 bottles of GU Brew, fill gels, place salt tabs in the bitch pocket, we wipe his body with the wet wipes, and spray him with sunscreen. He decides to change socks but keeps the same shoes. I give him my GOATz buff and a small Brooks towel for a cooling device because it is hot. He’s a bit of a diva as he sits there as we take care of him and he orders us around. We are very entertaining to some of the other crews nearby. Byron is doing well and takes off towards Virgin. We know we won’t make it to him in time to see him at Goosebump AS the first time, but we know we’ll see him the second time through after he gets to see the beauty of the view from Gooseberry Point.
</jody>

 

Jody getting the inside scoop before I get to my diva chair
Jody getting the inside scoop before I get to my diva chair

I made it back to the Dalton Wash AS,  I cleaned up and after 10 minutes I started my journey to the Goosebump AS.  I was feeling great, things seemed to be moving well, I was on track for my 24-hour completion.  I was in the zone and running down the highway.  There was a section that was being fixed up and only one lane was open.  A pacing truck was leading cars in either direction and when the driver of the truck noticed me he honked at me.

“Hey – you missed the turnoff back there” he said to me.

“Ah shit” I blasted out.

“Sorry man” he said as he left me in my shame.

“Not your fault. Thanks for letting me know.”  I turned around and headed for the turn.  I lost a solid kilometer.  In the long run (ha ha), I guess one kilometer isn’t a big deal.  Still, it was just another time that I went off track and spent precious energy unnecessarily.

I crossed the desert floor and made my way to the steepest and longest climb of the race – up 1154 feet over a 2 km stretch to the Goosebump aid station.  At first, I was taking the hill too aggressively and my heart rate would spike.  The sun was pounding down on us and it made that much more difficult.  I met Josh mid climb and then left him behind as I got into my groove; slow consistent and minimalistic steps. I kept an eye on my heart rate to ensure it was steady in the high 140’s.

The climb to Goosebump AS
The climb to Goosebump AS

We were informed at the pre-race meeting that the drive from Dalton Wash AS to Goosebump AS would actually be longer than the run.  As planned, I check-in at the Goosebump AS, and since there was no crew, I grabbed a couple of bites and some Tailwind (did I mention that I think this stuff is completely disgusting?) and I was on my way after 2 minutes.

Just about at Gooseberry Point, glimpse of slickrock
Just about at Gooseberry Point, glimpse of slickrock

<jody>
Mile 35.5/56.8KM: From what I read off the volunteer’s checklists, Byron came through Goosebump AS1 at 1:49pm. We are not at the location at that time. On route to Goosebump, the crew makes a few stops: to check race headquarters for GU Brew for Donna, to get gas, and to pick up some lunch at ALbert’s Mexican in Hurricane UT. I order rice and also a chicken enchilada, which I decide not to eat after looking at it (not a good pre-run meal). After an hour-long, bumpy, slow, dusty drive, we finally arrive on a road with a ton of vehicles at 3:50pm. We end up parking far away and walk up to Goosebump AS carrying as many items as possible. We of course, don’t even think about bringing Byron’s giant grocery bag of shoes…
</jody>

I was getting tired and my legs were much less responsive than when I started (pretty obvious eh?).  As I was running along, I noticed that we were running along the edge of the cliff.  I joked with others by saying “don’t trip”, but it is honestly a very serious warning.  I heeded my own advice and switched to a power walk when the trail brought us right along the edges.  I couldn’t and won’t complain about this.  It was along these trails that you had the opportunity to take brief moments and absorb the vast valley in between the mesas.  I don’t know how to articulate the feeling of looking out over the desert floor except to say that it has some power over you.  Is it spiritual? Who knows, I guess it makes you feel like you are looking over something very special and unique.

As I was getting close to completing the loop back to Goosebump, I started running and chatting with another Pam.  Talking with her was a nice distraction since most of the loop was on slickrock.  So we had two pairs of eyes looking for markers.  It’s so funny because I will see her again at Fat Dog in August.  Turns out she was in the Zion 100k race and was testing her fitness in preparation for the 120 mile challenge in BC.

My run was slowing down, when I started to hear people, and, it really seemed like the aid station was right around the corner.  At one point, I knew it was about a kilometer away and my pace just picked right up.  It’s amazing how, provided the right motivation, you can get your body to move no matter how badly you hurt.  In this case, I was motivated by seeing my crew and sitting my ass down.

I was anxious to swap out my shoes because my feet were aching so badly.  Jody was out on the trail waiting, so I handed her my pack and parked myself in the chair.  I followed up by demanding for a change of shoes.

“Which ones do you want” Lindsay asked nicely.

“I’m not going with the centerfolds, I need the special edition girls on my feet.” I said.

“The shoes are in the truck” mentions Mark.

I was pissed, I snapped right back at them “What the fuck are they in the truck for?”

“What do you want to eat” asks the sister wife, Jody.

“Just get me a plate of food! Can you take my shoes off? I can’t bend the fuck over.” I reply.

After a nearly 40 minute break, I got up and started to walk slowly to get the legs moving.  Jody walked with me for a bit and offered support and we covered the the distance to the next aid station, distance to next crew point, and when I would see her next.  The next time I would see her would be when she would actually accompany me on the trail and start pacing me.  We snapped some selfies and then I was off to Grafton Mesa AS.

<jody>
Mile 47.5/76 KM: The crew is still at Goosebump when Byron comes in on the edge of the mesa around 5:00 pm. This was way longer than expected, but it was as tough as I had read about, and all novice runners on this course underestimated how long it would take to run the loop at the top of Gooseberry mesa. He comes in exhausted & hot and knows he has to cool off before leaving. Byron checks in and finds our spot in the shade. When I ask him what he needs besides he makes a gesture with his hands and says, “I want a big plate of food!” I went into the tent to raid the aid station. They don’t have plates, but I grab a few cups and fill them up with ice, sandwiches, fruit, and all sorts of snacks. I wipe off his legs, arms, neck and applied sunscreen. Luckily for us, he ices his own balls. The funny thing is he takes the neighbors cutting board and spreads out all the food on it. He wants his North Face shoes and is pissed that we don’t have the pageant bag of shoes. Mark runs to the car to get the shoe bag, and he makes Lindsay take his shoes and socks off his feet. When she can’t get the clean socks back on his feet, she hands the job over to me. Anyone who knows me knows I am a hater of all things feet, but I am called up to bat. With slight hesitation, I grab the socks and pulled with all my might. I get frustrated and yell, “Do these socks even fit on your baby man feet?” Byron yells back something to me about how great his feet are. It is a funny banter and I am glad that he is still himself and in good spirits. I think this is when he wipes his own face and gets the fuzz from the wipes stuck in his stubble. There are so many humorous things happening in this transition. After a few moments of pace/distance calculations, I decide to stay at Goosebump AS in case the crew can’t (crew Donna at Grafton Mesa and) get back before Byron can. We also plan for him to carry everything he needs in case it gets dark before he can see the crew again (in case Donna is too late coming into Goosebump and the crew misses Byron at Grafton Mesa AS his first time through). We pack his long sleeved shirt, gloves, headlamps and extra batteries into his pack. We put ice in all the bottles (he ended up taking 3 bottles and was weighed down), refill Hammer gels and salt tabs. I run him out of the aid station and we head down the road together towards Grafton Mesa. We take a selfie of us between the cars on the side of the road and it seems to be getting cooler. He hands me the wet towel and heads down the road. The next time I would see him would be when my pacing job would start.

When I run back to Goosebump AS, Donna is in and Mark and Lindsay are crewing her. I don’t remember any details, but I walk her out of the aid station and down the road and do the run down with her about the crew and upcoming aid stations. When she’s out of sight, I get to the vehicle and get the things I need to run with Byron. I change into my Brooks Pure Grit shoes, take my hoodie, hat, gloves, gaiters, buff, water bottle, Garmin watch, and two headlamps. Mark and Lindsay come to the car while I’m getting ready and tell me they left a bag of food and my camping chair in our spot. I do some final calculations and leave them with the paperwork. They tell me to wear pants, so I grab my Lululemon Studio Pants (not running pants). It feels weird to separate from the crew, but if Byron is moving too fast or Donna too slow, it’s the best option. They take off in the car and I don’t plan to see them until Virgin Aid Station hours later, when I’m with Byron.
</jody>

It was a long road, a dirt road.  It was dry, dusty, and filled with plenty of traffic.  My nose got plugged with dirt.  I was picking the cement-like snot out of my nose so I could breath.  I noticed that the dirt caused my nose to bleed a little since my boogers were slightly bloody.  I was losing my mind.  The drivers of the cars had no concern for the dust they kicked up.  What was more baffling was that most of the cars contained crews for the runners. I should have listened to Matt Gunn (Race Director) and taken something to filter the air, like a buff or something similar.

I finally made it to Grafton AS where I got some food and took another break.  I mean, I was about 85 km in and really slowing down.  My mental state was suffering. I was thinking:

What the hell am I doing here?

Why am I doing this stupid race?

Why am I signed up for Fat Dog?  I will never be able to do that!  I can barely do this stupid race.

What the FUCK!?

Well after feeling sorry for myself for 12 minutes, I got up, pushed those feelings aside and pressed on.  I focused on getting to the next AS, Cemetery AS.

At this point I was mostly running again.  I caught up to Andi, the woman who wasn’t so chatty on the road up to the Guacamole mesa.

She called out to me “Is that you Ontario?”

Andi, as it turns out, really does like to chat.  I think when I first bumped into her, she may have been in a rough spot.  But I can assure you, that provided the right conditions, you are happy to talk to just about anyone, and now it was my turn.  I was grumpy considering we were only half way through this beast of a distance and I felt like there was no end in sight.  I didn’t really feel like talking at this point, but she was helping me move forward.  We got to the start of the descent to Cemetery AS.  We could see it on the valley floor, it seemed so far away. so far out of reach…  “WHAT THE FUCK” – this race is never going to end.  “FUCK MY LIFE!”

The Cemetery AS had the best food of them all. I didn’t want to leave, but Andi had different plans.  So after a 9 minute break I got out of the chair and we started back to the Grafton Mesa.  About a quarter of the way up, we had to get our headlamps out as the sun fell.  Atop the mesa again, we twisted and turned through the dry vegetation and wondered how much longer it would be until we got to the AS.

We were a group of runners with a couple of miles to get back to Grafton Mesa AS.  We were all very anxious to get to it so that we could recharge.  This time I was 12 minutes in the seat. I was in a better mood than the last time.  I got some food, cursed, but was anxious because at least I knew the road back to Goosebump.  It would be a good distance, but a familiar one.  There would be no wondering how much longer.  There would be no wondering where I was going.  I knew I would just walk up the road to the top of the hill, turn right and it would be a “fairly flat” run to my pacer.

<jody>
Mile 62.5/100 KM: Lindsay and Mark are still at Grafton Mesa crewing for Byron and Donna. Byron got to Grafton Mesa for the second time at 9:48 pm because my phone has a bbm from Lindsay that reads “9:48. He’s on his way. He’s tired. But body seems good.” My phone is dead so I don’t receive it. I’m still at Goosebump, so I’m not going anywhere.</jody>

I got back to the Goosebump AS after cursing about a truck that was pacing and muling for one of the runners. I considered informing a race official, but I didn’t say anything about it. Really, if you can’t do it without a car, then that is on you. Whatever… I stumbled in and sat down in a chair in the food tent. It was dark and getting cold. The tent had delicious food and it was heated. I think I apologized to whomever the chair belonged to, but they let me stay there.  Jody found me and crouched beside me. I was in pain and a little delirious.  ‎ I thanked her for pacing me and started petting her face with appreciation for her sacrifice. I got some more ramen and ate as much as I could stand. My quads were killing me. I couldn’t imagine how I was going to go down the 1154 foot descent down the mesa. I was not in any hurry.

Lindsay and Mark appeared out of nowhere, I was shocked.  That meant Donna wasn’t far behind. It didn’t make much sense to me because I was looking out for her as I climbed up the mesa but I never saw her on any of the pathways where there was two-way traffic. We must have passed each other not realizing it.

<jody>
Mile 68.5/109.6 KM: I was at Goosebump AS for 7 hours total, alone for about 5.5 hours. During this time I sat and chatted with the Folsom Trail Runners from California, watched the most beautiful sunset from Gooseberry Mesa, hung out with some dudes that were making videos with drones, checked out the top part of the trail that we would descend into the Virgin Desert, sat and stoked the fire, helped out in the aid station with Matt Gunn’s mom, and waited and waited for Byron to show up. It was so dark and I expected it to be him each time I saw a runner’s headlamp. I was in the aid station when in stumbles a runner. I don’t notice that it’s Byron until I read his bib number to the volunteer “162”. The time is a little after 11pm. Zombie Byron stumbles into the tent and plops himself down in the middle on a camping chair that was the check-in volunteer’s chair (she had just gotten up for a minute). He is tired and cold. I start massaging his quads and they’re trashed. He wants ramen and broth, he tells me what to do with the bottles and replace one bottle (Lindsay mixed before she left) and mix the leftovers from two other bottles into just one. I put a ziplock bag of GU Brew powder mix into his pack. I want to know what I should wear for this pacing gig because I normally run in shorts. He tells me he’s shuffling and walking so I decide to keep my hoodie, but leave the pants. As I’m running around doing things for Byron and stripping off my clothes, Mark and Lindsay show up in the aid station. Boy, am I happy to see my sister wife! They help me get Byron moving, as it seems like he could stay forever. I know that we start out of the aid station together at 11:42pm according to my Garmin.
</jody>

I guess I was kicked out or dragged out of Goosebump because I was on my ass for a good reason.  I was on my butt for 20 minutes and I bet you I could have stayed there all night. As we walked to the trail down to get off the top of the mesa, Jody called out to a runner that missed the trail but was looking for a way down.

“Who are you” It was Andi.  She had an unmistakable Tennessee accent and had a feisty way of talking.

“Jody.”

“Are you the one I was mean to?” She got it right, apparently Jody handed her some soup that was way too hot to drink.  Jody hadn’t tasted it, and was just lending a helping hand, she wasn’t one of the volunteers.  Andi joined us as we were stepping carefully down the trail.  She heard my voice and put it all together.

“Your pacer is a guuurl!?”  bewildered.

Nothing wrong with that I thought, and there shouldn’t be right?  I continued down the path, sidestepping, it was the easiest, and slowest way down. My legs just weren’t moving no matter how hard I wanted to run.  Once we were down the mesa we started to ‘run’, until I realized that Jody was walking while I ‘ran’. I blurted out a “Fuck this‎”  and continued to “power walk”.   No sense in wasting energy if I can’t even run faster than I can walk.

<jody>
Coming down it’s dark, steep, rocky and dangerous. We are warm on the descent but it gets super chilly when we hit the rolling hills at the bottom. It is definitely not as flat as we were expecting and we’re moving very slow, not fast enough to generate the heat we need to stay warm. We’re walking as fast as Byron’s quads can take us. His legs are shot. The 8 miles to Virgin Desert AS is super long and cold and we’re convinced us Canadians are going to die of hypothermia in the Utah desert. We decide that we’re going to wait for Mark and Lindsay to pile on our clothes. We get to the aid station we just park our asses by the fire and defrost a bit.
</jody>

We made our way to the Virgin Desert AS, the last AS we would visit, albeit we would visit this AS 4 times! We tried to keep up the pace so that we would generate heat. It was futile! No way this Canadian could figure out how or why the desert was so cold.

We got to the AS and no crew in sight. I didn’t care, I wanted to warm up. I plopped my tired ass in front of the fire. Practically asleep, my wife came about and asked what I needed. “We need warm clothes” at which point we learned that Mark gave Donna Jody’s pants. ” What the fuck did you do that for!”. I was pissed off, sabotage, interference, those were the clothes of my pacer. What the hell!   Thankfully Jody kept her head in the game and suited up with some super fashionable jeans. Luckily for me, Lindsay got me to bring my running jacket which I wore overtop of my Haliburton hoody.  I really didn’t plan for coldness like this and so I didn’t pack any running pants.  I grabbed my Roots sweat pants and rolled up so I didn’t walk on the ends of the legs.  I finished of my chic look with the G.O.A.T.z Buff, left my hydration pack and took my handheld in its place. We left to start the red loop.

<jody>
Mile 76.5/122.4 KM: We get to Virgin Desert AS slow and tired and parked by the fire. We don’t know where Lindsay is but we’re too tired and cold to look. I go into the tent to grab food for Byron (Ramen and a bean burrito). Lindsay finds us and shows me where the vehicle and then brings all Byron’s clothes to him. I see Mark and he says, “Donna is wearing your pants”. I don’t know if I even felt mad for a second. My cold brain turns to my luggage that I have in the back of the Explorer. I start to rummage in the back. Mark feels bad and offers me his jeans. I tell him that I have my own and I pull them out of my bag. I also pull out every single long sleeve layer of clothing in the bag. I pull my jeans over my running shorts; I take off my hoodie and put a long sleeved layer over my tank top and arm sleeves. I throw on my long sleeve zip up jacket, then the hoodie over top, AND then I add the thinnest rain jacket in the world (but I’m all about layering man). I look fucking ridiculous! Lindsay takes Byron the clothes that he wore to the start of the race to see if he wants to layer with those, he ends up wearing his long sleeved shirt, a green hoodie, a black jacket, and his sweat pants, rolled up at the bottom. We were quite the sight! Thank goodness it was dark! But we were freezing and we needed to get warm and start the first loop – The Red Loop. Byron drops his pack and takes a handheld water bottle. I take nothing. My Garmin starts at 3:08am when we leave Virgin Desert AS for the first time. This would be the lowest point of the race.
</jody>

I don’t remember much on this loop.  Jody was pissed off in a good-humored way, and it’s dark out and she couldn’t see anything.  Really, it wasn’t scary or anything, just a total pain in the ass that you couldn’t see anything.  I think Jody was chit chatting with me, but I was grumpy and grunting responses while I tried to stay in good humor.  I stumbled around barely keeping my balance and I hear:

“Maybe we should take a nap” Jody suggested.

Before she could even turn around I found a spot on the ground.  My feet were in the trail.  She harassed me to move them out of the way so I wouldn’t get pissed on or walked on, probably the latter…  “OK – let’s go”  I said as I pushed myself up.  Jody said that I slept for 3 minutes and was snoring and all.  She talked about how she stayed up with the light on as people passed me by.  I guess they asked if I was alright, I was, I was better than alright.  Poor girl, stayed up to make sure I would get pissed on.  If I were the pacer I’d likely have fallen asleep.

<jody>
The red loop is Five Miles of Hell because we are so tired after being up for 24h. I can’t imagine what Byron feels like after being on THIS course for all of this time. I feel like the worst pacer ever because I didn’t take a nap, but I didn’t feel comfortable enough to doze off waiting at Goosebump and I needed to help Lindsay and Mark crew during the day. The course is hard to follow in the dark because everything looks the same. I swear we are on a desert/tumbleweed treadmill. It’s all the same, hard dirt ground, dust in the headlamp, tumbleweed all around, can’t see anything and it looks like we’re just going to go off a cliff. We just can’t get away. It’s so boring and we are doing a death march of about 23-25 mph. I am in front leading and I’m trying my best not to get too far in front. He starts complaining about his legs, and at times he’s barely moving. I don’t really worry until he stops talking. He tells me he can’t do downhills very well. It kills me when he says “I WANT to run so bad…. but I can’t.” He tells me that the “My stomach is fucked up because of that bean burrito!” Things aren’t looking so good. I come up with the idea that we should rest for a bit at the next pass through Virgin Desert AS, but I only have to say, “Maybe we should take a nap…” and Byron is down on the ground ready to nap. By some miracle he’s not lying in a cactus and the ground is soft red dirt. I tell him his legs are on the trail and he moves them ever so slightly. He ends up lying parallel to the trail and within seconds he’s snoring. I’m worried that someone is going to pee on him or trip on him because he’s that close to the trail. I turn my headlamp off and it’s like I’m blind. There is no light. I turn my headlamp back on and shine it on him. In the three minutes that he’s asleep about 8 people pass us. It’s crazy and I’m sure it was real. He wakes himself up and we start moving again, barely though – slow, boring, quiet, and I start hallucinating…seeing tumbleweed creatures, human shadows in rocks & trees, hearing noises (my rain jacket), snakes in cow patties, etc. I know it’s not real, but I’ve never been so tired in my life. We even come up on cow gates that are not closed and we struggle together to close them behind us. We decide that once back at the AS, we will eat and sleep until the sun comes out. I ask Byron what he would wish for if he had one wish. He says, “To be done.” I ask if he wishes: 1) we were at mile 100? or 2) that the race only has 81 miles? He says he can’t answer that. My one wish is that we would be walking on soft cushy grass instead of this hard dusty trail.
</jody>

We got back the AS and Jody and I made plans to eat and take a nap.  As soon as I got to the AS I headed for the cots, found myself a sleeping bag and a cot.  I slept for 45 minutes.

I got up, I think I may have gotten some food, don’t remember, my wife scrambled to get Jody and we started off to complete the white loop.  The white loop was a lot like the red loop, for the most part, dark and cold – just a plate full of shit.   We started out on the white loop and we crossed by Pam Reed on the two way traffic section.

“Oh hikers!” she said a little shocked, I guess that hikers would be out so early.  Jody and I thought it was funny. I guess we must have looked like fools, people that go to the gym in their jeans, or people that ski in their jeans.

We carried along the trail.  I was feeling better.  I must have been because earlier on the red loop Jody asked me, if I could have one thing at that moment, what would it be?  I answered that I would want to be done the race.  For some reason the thought came back into my mind and I offered another answer.

“You know, all I want is to have the sun come up and for it to be warm again.”

We were just coming in on the final stretch of the white loop and by some magic Lindsay was waiting for us with her BlackBerry.  She was snapped some pics of us as we completed, as she put it,  our “walk of shame.”  We spent 15 minutes at the AS this time, as I ate some bacon, and other delicious food.  I shed all my layers and replenished my handheld.  We hit the blue loop.

<jody>
Mile 81.2/129.9 KM: Back at Virgin Desert, Lindsay meets us and Byron walks into the tent with cots, crawls under a sleeping bag. I discuss with Lindsay about who should keep watch and who should go to the vehicle to keep warm up. She is so cold and tired and says Mark is sleeping in the front seat. She tells me to ask him how long he wants to sleep. I go to the tent to ask him but he’s dead asleep, snoring so loudly we can hear him from outside the tent! Lindsay says we’ll let him sleep for 30 minutes and we’ll tell him he slept for 45 minutes (she’s a genius). She says she’ll keep watch and encourages me to get to the car. I crawl under Mark’s reclined seat and it’s so warm. I plug in my dead phone and bbm Lindsay to let me know when Byron wakes up. I fall asleep hard and wake up to a message 9-minutes later notifying me that Byron is up. I head to the AS and grab Byron a pancake, stick two Fig Newtons in a ziplock bag, and fill an empty bottle with some beverage for myself. We leave for the White loop and hope for the sun to come out. Lindsay tells me the sun will be out soon and that it will be rejuvenating. She’s giving me mileage for the loops now, and taking care of the both of us. Byron brings his handheld and we’re still in our ridiculous outfits. I take my almost dead phone and tell Lindsay that I’ll bbm our location before it dies again so she knows when to expect us. My Garmin starts at 6:07am when we leave Virgin Desert AS for the second time.

The White Loop is the Tumbleweed Maze. We can see headlamps all over, in all directions, mostly in pairs all around us. The trail is flat and in the middle of the desert, utilizing lots of bike trails. Byron retracts his Red Loop wish and says he “wishes for the sun to come out”.  The only drawback to the sunlight is that we’re dressed like idiots. This is when we power walk head first into ultrarunner and legend, Pam Reed, who says, “Oh, you’re just hikers.” This encounter is super amusing to us. We have this kind of conversation: Jody: “I make fun of people who work out in jeans!” Byron: “Me too!” We walk & talk & eat a Fig Newton each. It starts to get warm so we get excited as we prepare to shed some layers next pass through the aid station. He’s wearing what I called, “flood sweats” and I’m wearing “moisture-wicking pacing jeans.” I feel like I’m a mom out shopping in a rain jacket. My shorts are all bunched up in my crotch and we talk about how dudes wear boxers under their jeans (I guess those jeans need to be pretty baggy). Mine are not baggy. We’re in good spirits and the sun is just what we ordered. Our plan for the aid station is to drop layers, go to the bathroom, eat some food, and get going. As we complete the White Loop we see the 50K runners sprinting by, at the same moment, Lindsay yells out “Walk of shame” and snaps one of the funniest photos I’ve ever seen. We look like we’re out for a weekend desert stroll. Our outfits are so crazy and we can’t help but laugh at ourselves.

Mile 87.1/139.4 KM: Not sure what time we get to Virgin Desert AS for the third time In the AS tent, I run into Andi from Tennessee and say hello to her since it she obviously doesn’t know what I look like in the daylight. Her response is hilarious: “I thought that was you….but what the FUCK ya’ doin’ wear’n jeans??!!!” I take off the jeans, lose the winter hat, and remove the top three layers. Mark & Lindsay help Byron delayer & apply sunscreen. Byron grabs some salt tabs & a bottle of water. I refilled my bottle up with water and grab a Carnation Breakfast drink for Byron. We head for the Blue Loop in great spirits. I forget to start my watch when we start this third loop, so I’m not sure of the times.
</jody>

We started the blue loop with a power walk and soon I was able to get in short bouts of running.  It felt good.  Then we got to the top of a little incline…“and we’re done. I don’t know where that came from” I said.  We continued to power walk and finally came across some brilliant scenery.  Don’t know why it didn’t occur to us to snap a pic here, but Jody came to appreciate the humour in my statement, “Be sure you don’t trip”. We literally walked on the edge of a cliff where the drop was straight down, and was at least 200 feet or more.

We came around a corner where we could see straight across a small valley.  We spotted a chick that we were catching up to.  She would be known to us as Run-Walk Girl because we watched her muster up a short bout of running followed by crawling walk.  We maintained a power walk pace as soon as we spotted her, while we may have covered a kilometer or so, by the time we reached a fork in the path, we went left to pass her while she took the right side.  As the pathways rejoined, she was now behind us.

We kept walking along, looking for the path to turn back toward the AS.  We knew exactly where we needed to end up, but it seemed to us that the path was taking us on a crazy milk run – so close to civilization, and then we would switchback and turn to walk farther away from the AS.

Finally the path started to make sense as we took a left turn.  There it was, off in the horizon it seemed.  As we walked towards the aid station, I had the sudden urge and rather urgent need to poop.  I was looking around the desert floor and was hoping that I could find somewhere to grin and bare it.  Nowhere seemed appropriate, there was just sparse tumbleweed surrounding us. Squeezing my cheeks, we finally made it to the AS and got to unload.  Feeling a lot more relaxed, I grabbed a bit of food, waited around for something, (not sure what). Our last stop was 16 minutes total.

<jody>
The Blue Loop is Beautiful Redemption for that stupid Red Loop from Hell. The only downside is that it is neverending and seems like it takes us so far away from the aid station. Byron isn’t a fan of the Carnation Breakfast drink so I hold it for the entire loop. It’s warm and we both finish our drinks and try to conserve our energy. Byron starts to bust out these short burst of run mixed into our power walking. We start to play a stalking game with Run-Walk Girl and catch her quite easily and Byron thinks it’s because she’s the slowest walker on the planet. The single-track loop is really awesome, along the cliff, and has the most beautiful views. We start to hit weekend mountain bike traffic when we’re in sight of the aid station. Byron says, “I need to poop!” We contemplate letting him go, but he refuses my paper towel, and there is nowhere safe (cactus) and discreet (desert) for him to let the turtle out.

Mile 94/150.4 KM:  We get to Virgin Desert for the fourth and final time! Finally arriving at the mirage and we get packed and ready for the last stretch. Byron takes his poop. I am now stripped down to my tank top and I apply a layer of sunscreen to my other dirt-sunscreen layers. I pick up my coconut water for the last 6 miles. Byron stays in his long sleeve, puts the wet towel on his head under his white cap, and decides to use the pack again with the bottles. Mark decides to accompany Donna for the last 6 miles so Lindsay is going to meet us at the finish line and leave Mark behind. Before saying goodbye to the Virgin Desert AS, I pick up two slices of watermelon, wish the best to fellow Omahan, Eric, and set my eyes on the pink flags to the finish.
</jody>

I was so happy to be on our way back to town. I was having trouble though because a lot of this part was downhill or stepping down.  My quads were is such bad shape that I asked (more likely demanded) that Jody what up so I could use her as a crutch to get down anything steep.  We motored along nearly getting run over by mountain bikers.  They seemed to forget that they had to yield to pedestrians anyway, never mind that we were in a 100 mile race.  As far as I was concerned, they could suck it, if they weren’t gonna move, neither was I.  I was already in a world of hurt, so I had nothing to lose.  Actually, most of the time I would just step aside cause it was easy enough to do, but when it wasn’t, I didn’t, that’s when I applied my bad ass attitude.

We were moving along, quite slowly, then we saw her, run-walk girl.  Jody was pissed.  She turned to me, insisted that we catch up.  I agreed with her saying that we could walk as fast as she could, and if I could keep up, I would.  We twisted and turned with the trail and we were gaining ground on her, again.  Then something came over me, like I was in the Matrix or something fucked up like that.  I tapped Jody on the left shoulder, signaled for her to move over, and made another Cobra like gesture as to say, “I got you.” I started to run.  Then we passed run-walk girl, I ran faster, shivers tingled up my back.  Adrenaline powered me up a hill, down the road, passing a family and then another.  They cheered for me.  We continued running up a hill, took a short break, and then back into a run to the top of the road.  We were on the highway back to Virgin.  Jody suggested at this point that I should let my heart rate slow down a bit.  So I did.. 20 steps or something, and then back into a run.  The end was near… just down the road a bit.  Jody was worried that I wouldn’t be able to hold the pace and advised that I pace myself.  I complied, a bit.  We kept on.  I could see my wife – she was waiting to snap a picture of us on her BlackBerry.  I rounded the corner and headed straight for the chute. Done.

<jody>
The Final Stretch: My Garmin tells me we left Virgin Desert at 10:26 am. This part of the course is supposed to be half trail and half road to finish at the same park that the runners started. Byron makes a comment about how “six miles seems so far away”. I tell him it is far away but that we’re going to get there. This trail part of the leg is amazingly scenic and beautiful right along the Virgin River. It has everything for the senses, including the sunshine and the heat. The runners from the shorter races are running past us quickly and encouraging us. We are shocked when we spy the Run-Walk Girl. This time around she keeps turning and looking at us and doing her lame run-walk technique. Byron is in a lot of pain but he’s pushing through it like a champ. With a little more than three miles left in the race, he taps me on my shoulder and passes me. We take off running. He makes the cobra hand signal and he PASSES the Run-Walk Girl! At the same moment that we pass her, I crouch down and scoop up a small rock to mark this move, this is courage. We keep running, uphill and off of the trail, across the road, and uphill to the highway. People in cars are stopping and cheering for him! I tell him we have 40 minutes to get three miles. He doesn’t stop; in fact he picks up speed. He’s determined and he’s listening to me we run along the highway shoulder and we’re both sweating. I’m saying everything I can think of to keep his spirits up and his mind focused on the finish line. It’s almost over. It’s so exciting watching his tired legs gain strength and rise above any exhaustion. We get to 100w and Lovely Lindsay is there in the street. He turns right and heads towards the park and through the finishing shoot. He finishes at 11:40 am with a time of 29:40:10. He finishes strong and collects his Zion belt buckle, which he earned.
</jody>

I imagined that when I’d finish I would cry or something.  When I watched people finish Haliburton, each person that crossed the line, broke down.  I remember that clearly.  But it was anti-climactic for me.  I finished and I felt relieved, and that’s about it. I took a couple of steps, I was happy with myself and then just let myself collapse (in a way that indicated I was OK) to the ground.  Covered my face, but it was too hot. I got up, found a tent and sat in the shade.  A volunteer reminded me to get my buckle. Fuck ya, I darted for the buckles.

There is more – Donna arrived an hour later with her hubby.  That was nice.  Her feet were wrecked.  We got in the cold water.  soaked for a while.  Ate, drank a beer.  Headed back to the hotel, cleaned up.  Went to the very close pub, ate, sorta, not much of an appetite.  Returned to the room, crashed.

There are so many lessons you can pull from the 100 mile.  First and foremost: “Respect the distance”.  You are in it for a long haul, move your body accordingly.  Second, like in life, there are ups and downs, roll with it.  Look inside for the inner strength to come out of your funk, know that you will be in a funk at some point. Third, PREPARE for it.  Know the course, the food plans, the weather (at all times of the day), yourself, crew stops, how to get to crew accessible aid stations, how long to get to each (for crew and runner)…  The list goes on.

Fixed time fun to start the new year

I have never run a fixed time race.  Why would you anyway?  You just run around in a circle and you’d probably get so dizzy that you’d just fall over.  Even so, I decided to sign up for the Frosty Trail Run at camp Heidelberg.  It was a chance to see some of the other runners from the OUSER series and it is held around the corner from me.

I was looking forward to the run.  Having compulsively looked at the Weather Networks forecast for the weekend, it was looking to be a “shorts weather” day, a daytime high of 2 C.  On race eve, I was suspicious of the forecast since the temperature was -18 C and dropping.  As if it were x-mas morning a jumped out of bed and went to check the weather outside.    It was shockingly cold!  I checked the Weather Network app on my BlackBerry and sure enough the daytime high was 2 C, but it would be 8 pm before that would be a reality.

IMG_20150117_100839

One of the things I learned last year is that it is a great idea to use shorter distance races as training runs for target races.  As such I convinced a couple of folks from my half-marathon clinic to come out an join the fun.  One of them is looking to start running Ultras this year.  So this was an opportunity to start learning all the good things I did last year.

  1. It’s good to get to know the folks in the community.
  2. It’s good to just get out there and just do it.
  3. Run for fun.
  4. Run because it IS fun.
  5. Run to build confidence.

With last year come and gone, I have set my sights on a new season.  I have set my sights on big target this year: I want to hit the Fat Dog 120.  In preparation for the Fat Dog I have registered for a 100 miler in Utah called the Zion 100 and a 50 miler in June, probably the OSS/CIA Night Run in Virginia.

The year should be fun – hope to see you out there!

Never Give Up

Since my experience at the Haliburton 100 mile trail race I have been trying to find a way to say: I failed. In a year where you experience so many personal successes, it’s a hard pill to swallow. The question at the end of it all is: can you be proud of putting forth the effort but not succeeding?

I think about the Canadian boys and girls, the ones that come together as a team and represent Canada in many different international hockey tournaments. They are expecting to win gold, so too is everyone in Canada. Hockey is our game, and nobody else belongs on top other than Canada.

On the morbid side, a nation doesn’t go to war with aspirations to loose. Whatever the nonsensical ‘reason’ to risk you life, the goal isn’t to go and die.   Lucky for me running isn’t really a life or death matter. The only thing I think I risk by entering a race is perhaps a damaged ego.

Running isn’t a matter of ego for me. Though I am proud to run, and if you know me, you probably wish I’d shut up about it. But it’s deeper than that for me. That is why I surprised myself.

Before the Hali 100, you’d hear me say, I’d crawl it in if I had to. Nothing short of death is going to stop me from making it to the finish line. The last 10 km of my race was filled with, I guess you’d say, soul searching. I came to realize that the painful step forward was in fact, much too slow. I had been trying to muster up a shuffle in an effort to keep up a pace. But I couldn’t hold it.

The thought had entered my mind before I made it to 50 miles – Maybe I should pull the plug. My whole chain from my low back straight through my knee and shins was pretty adamant at each step that I was in for some serious pain. I found that side stepping down the hills would calm the aggravation. Since there was a massage therapist at aid station 2 (AS2), I focused my thoughts on making it there and shut out any thought of calling it quits.

When I got there, she had been out for a run, so I made my way around Norwac trail with a new friend, David. On my return to AS2, I stopped in to have my leg loosened up. Rhonda noticed that I was in bad shape and actually applied dynamic tape (a version of KT tape) hoping that it would help take some of the tension of my IT band (what I thought was the problem). Even after spending 30 minutes (and possibly more) hanging around AS2 I still managed to complete 50 miles in 9 hours 45 minutes and I was holding on to 6th place.

During the introspective hours in between aid stations on my way to the 75-mile marker, a thought pattern started to develop. I would ask myself what it would mean to me if I stopped. As I sit hear a write, I think back onto the several failures I dealt with throughout my life. To me they feel like they were expected failures. They were a result of a half-assed effort at something that I had no desire to succeed at. When I want something, I obsess over it. Practice and practice, learn, develop, succeed. Having let the doubt enter my mind, I squash any thought of pulling the plug as quickly as possible.

It wasn’t until I was hobbling along my last 10 km of my race that I let the thoughts of pulling the plug manifest. I finally came to terms with the fact that I was in no shape to make it to 75 miles, let alone making it another 25 miles back to the finish.

“Are you ok?” A fellow runner asked as he was running past.

“No.” Admission is the first step to recovery.

“Do you want me to send for someone when I get to the aid station?”

“Sure, but I don’t think they will be able to make it back here.”   I was in the wilderness on single and there was no way even 4-wheeler was making its way back here. Thankfully, with about 1 or 2 km to AS7 I turned a corner and I was back on a road, and then a small mercy was offered to me. Greg pulled up, got out of the car and confirmed with me.

“Is it over?”

I had never been happier than at that moment to get in my car.   Greg drove us back to AS7 where there was a campfire going and I sat around it with volunteers and runners for another hour or so before we headed back to Base Camp, cleaned up and went to sleep.

In the morning (4 hours later) I got up and helped myself to some food. I made my way over the finish line and hung around as people continued to cross the finish line. It was actually very moving to see people come across the finish and burst with emotion. “I fucking did it” I figured they were thinking to themselves. Some cried the thought; others expressed it with excitement and enthusiasm.

I saw Real whom I was running with as we made our way out from AS5 to the turnaround.   It was his first 100 miler and he had a sprint finish to keep his 6th place finish, something I haven’t heard of in a 100 mile race.

The brunch and award ceremony had been delayed. Gerg and I decided to head back home since it was getting close to 2 pm. Though it would have been pretty amazing to see this fella make his way in. An older guy, had been there year over year trying finish the 100 mile race. This year on his tenth attempt, he finished it.

Never give up.

Running to the 25 mile mark. That’s Real behind me. It was leap frog with some great conversation. Props to him for holding steady and taking 6th place on his first 100 miler.
Running to the 25 mile mark. That’s Real behind me. It was leap frog with some great conversation. Props to him for holding steady and taking 6th place on his first 100 miler.

 

Change of heart

I finally got down to business.   I had some anxiety about this 100 miler that I signed up for.  I don’t really have anything to forecast performance except to look at racers and to extrapolate based on their results.  As I’m learning, a good way to turn doubt and fear into motivation is to create a plan.

Step 1: Develop general plan – communicate it to pacer/crew

(if you are sensitive to offensive language – don’t read this part)

from: Byron Guptill 
to: Greg
date: Sat, Aug 30, 2014 at 10:48 PM
subject: Haliburton 100
Hey Greg  –

First off – thank you so very much for agreeing to pace me.  Truthfully, I don’t think I would be able to finish without your help.  Over the summer, I have asked many folks about the hali 100 and they all have recommended that the first time you SHOULD have a pacer.  Also, seeing as this is a first for me, I am grateful for your sacrifice (of time, ears, etc..).
So here is how the weekend will go (more or less)…
  • Let’s leave Waterloo at 12:00 pm sharp.  We should get to Base Camp around 3:30, maybe 5:00 at the latest. We’ll head the back way avoiding any possible lock ups on the 400 series highways…. damned 401 AND 400
  • setup tent and stuff (I am paying for the camping)
  • before 6:00 pm I will register for the race, and we will then check-in our stuff (drop bags – I have never used drop bags, but, have one for yourself (extra shoes and socks, etc)
  • 6:00 pm there is a mandatory dinner (I am picking up the bill for this) which includes the pre race meeting.
  • 9:00 pm lights out
  • 5:00 am wake the fuck up
  • 6:00 am race is on!
  • 8:00 pm I am allowed a pacer
  • @ who the fuck knows when I make it to the Turnaround the SECOND time, please join me on this crazy journey!
The “loop” is as such (in m) and the more I look at this I am convinced (realize) that it is 25 miles out, then 25 miles back:
Start – AS2 2090
AS2 – AS3 3807
AS3 – AS2 5858
AS2 – AS4 4094
AS4 – AS5 7511
AS5 – AS6 6121
AS6 – AS7 9998
AS7 – Dutton Rd 98
Dutton Rd – Turnaround 700
Distance 40277
We can have drop bags at any of the AS# except the Start/Finish, though it seems that we can use at most two aid stations.
I am thinking of having mine at AS2 and AS7.
In my drop bag,  I am considering having  a pair of shoes and socks just in case.
In my hydration vest:
  • carry my gel packs (I just bought a box)
    • split into 4 groups of 5 gels.
    • at AS2 1 group of 5
    • at AS7 2 groups of 5
  • carry my carb drink powder (split into single serve) (20 servings)
    • though I am thinking that to reduce weight I will split them in to a couple sets of single serve.
  • I plan to take 1 salt pill every hour,
    • Need 24 salt pills worst case
  • I plan to take 1 BCAA pill every 2 hours.
    • Need 12 BCAA pills worst case.
The ABSOLUTE WORST CASE with nutrition is that I fall back on food from aid stations, of which there appears that there will be plenty!
Time Goal
I am basing my time goal on the results from last year.  Steven Parke is a runner that I think I match up to pretty equally at a 50km.  I am thinking I will set my target at what he accomplished last year.
21:50:00 – though I think that is long time, fuck.
My avg pace at CDR was 8:27 min/km.
That puts me at 22:40:08.  Shit…
That’s a long fucking time.
I’d rather come in around 19 or 20 hours, so a 7:00 to 7:30 min/km avg pace.  Seems fast though – ah fuck – race is on!
So I am PLANNING for 22 hrs, though my target 19 hrs.
From historical perspective, Laura Secord was an 8:00 min/km run -> if I kept that pace, I would come in around 21:30 hrs.
Other things to note
You will likely be hungry during the day.  If there is anything you will need, I’d certainly like to make sure you have it. Send me a grocery list?  I have a cooler to stuff food and beer in.

 Step 2: Actually put together a plan

I found this to be very difficult and time consuming.  Second guessing my estimates as part of not having any experience on the course.  I settled on a pace a little slower than the pace I had at Limberlost (which was 6:33 min/km).

As part of my research trying and my effort to rationalize my estimates, I found the GPX track of the course on the Facebook page.  This is helpful since it helped put elevation in perspective.

  • 40 km stretch of Haliburton is a 821 m gain.
  • 100km recorded at Larua Secord is 2064 m.
  • 85 km recorded at CDR is 3639 m.

Link to spreadsheet plan since formatting for WordPress is gonna take too much time.

Step 3: Let it sink in

Now that I have a plan, I let it sink in.  I think about whether I have been too ambitious.  Having never run 100 miles, I have no historical evidence to prove or dis-prove how optimistic I am being.  Here I am writing the blog, letting it sink in. Editing, then reviewing the empirical data, then ….

Step 4: Get scared again

Ok – I know when Greg will join me on the course.  Once I hit Publish, I will start thinking that I have over committed. I won’t back down though, I will use fear of failure motivate me.

Step 5: Big picture

Why am I running this race?  Once I finish the Hali 100 I will qualify to pre-register for the Ultra Trail du Mont-Blanc 2015.

Cursing myself

In a little more than a week I will be running the Haliburton 100.  I’m not sure if I am ready for this.

Over the summer a couple of more experienced runners who actually ran this one recommended that I have a pacer, at least for the first time I race it.  So I got myself a good pacer.  Well, I think he is a good pacer, he has never paced a 100 miler before, so he is the same boat as me.  I am taking comfort in that he is a good runner, he’s a smart guy, and he will have rested ahead of joining me on the trail.  So that is one less worry for me.

This race has many drop points and aid stations that are well stocked from what I hear.  So even if I screw up my nutrition plan, I think that my plan B is covered.  At any rate, carb drink, a bunch of gels, BCAA pills and I am good.  I just need to put together a cadence plan for consuming these nutrients.  I am not worried about that.

I think what has me most unnerved right now is the simple fact that I haven’t run 161 km in one go.   If I think about it rationally, I should be able to finish.  Make sure I have everything, show up, pay attention, and run.  That’s as simple as it gets.  I don’t know why I am trying to find ways to complicate it.

I think it stems from my climb up Mount Hamel while I was hating myself.  Thinking that the run should have been easier, though it wasn’t.  I thought about why I even ran this races.  How crazy am I?  I thought, this was my last one.  Forget about all the plans to move forward.  If it was going to be this hard, why would I keep doing this?

I could have easily just not done the Hali 100.  After all I hadn’t even registered for it yet, which is strange.  Usually if I am committed, I commit financially.  I could have, without guilt of throwing away $200, just not run it; quietly delete any trace of commitment from my blog.

I think I am nervous because the race is one month after the last XL Ultra.  I haven’t run much in August either.  A full week off after CDR (basically), then easy 6-8 hour weeks and one week taper that is about to begin.  I’m afraid I have lost fitness.  I’m afraid of setting a goal and not coming with an hour of it (+ or – the goal time).

What am I in for?

Cheating Death: Canadian Death Race 2014

The Build Up

I ran this race last year.  Once I got to the finish line I felt great about my accomplishment.  Many of locals I befriended in Grande Cache asked me if I’d be back the following year.  While I really enjoyed my time in Grande Cache, I felt that I did what I needed to do and sadly I wouldn’t be back.  The days passed and my buddy Donna was determined to go back and prove that she could complete the Canadian Death Race.  And as it happened to her, the race got under my skin.  I knew I could do better, so I set my sights on besting my time and dropping the completion time to 18 hours.

January came along and I registered for the race.  From the registration day on, if I wasn’t already, I was fully committed at that point.  It was just a matter of months and then the race would present its monumental challenge.  The question this time wasn’t “Could I finish?”  It was “Can I really achieve my time goal?”  My goal was aggressive, I was aiming to cut 4 hours 42 minutes of my finishing time.

Many months passed and my training was on target.  As a result, my resting HR dropped a little more (45 BPM), my recovery from long runs was quick, and each race I set a PB.  Things were great, except that I was waiting at the airport in Kitchener for my flight to Edmonton and I was feeling pretty ambivalent about the race; I was burned out from running.

My coach called me about an hour ahead of boarding and reassured me by saying “It’s good that you feel this way, it means that you ready”.  With a week to go before the race and my coach’s reassurance, I started to believe that I would be strong physically and mentally race day.  Then just like that, I was excited, I was pumped.

I spent a couple of days in Grande Cache preparing for the race.  It was a good mental exercise to prepare for the race.  But I was incomplete, I was without crew.  So like planned I made my way back to Edmonton to pick up my wife.  No longer lonely and bored, we putted around town and met the Canadian Death Race legend in the Vegas Liquor Store.  A really interesting man, he left me with a word of wisdom: “you never know what to expect at this race, you never know if you will finish.”

The mandatory meeting before the race provides you all sorts of good information about what to expect out on the course, and in a very entertaining fashion.  Dr. Death came out on the stage performing and was mid-way through reminding us of the “die arena”, when almost as if it was planned, some nasty clouds rolled in and it started to rain a little.  As would happen in the race, a couple of folks bailed.  Then the rain became a little harder, and more folks left.   Once the hail mixed in with the rain and my clothes were saturated, we bailed as well.  I started to worry.

The Race

All week all I had been dreaming about was this race.  I don’t know what exactly was going on in these dreams of mine, but I know that the themes focused around the race.  I guess I was anxious. I do dumb things when I am anxious.  The morning of the race, I woke up good and early and had a normal non-race day breakfast, 2 eggs and toast.  Bad move bud, my normal pre-race meal is nothing more than half a bagel.

The race started in the normal fashion, check-in, ceremony with prayer, walk up the road paced by a quad, RCMP with shot gun, run.  I was up front as per usual this year and I started the race off pretty quickly as to make sure that I wouldn’t be moderated by the crowds in the bogs.

That is, if there were bogs.  I was confused, it had been so cool in Southwestern Ontario, how was it that in Northern Alberta it had been so warm that the bogs were essentially dry?  What did that mean for the rest of the day?  OK, truthfully the second question never really crossed my mind, and to be perfectly honest neither did the first one.  I was running and I was pleasantly surprised that I could run straight through without any balancing act.  Had I been a thinking man, I probably would have realised something, perhaps, that the rest of the day would be a killer!

It should have occurred to me that it was hot out there.  It was an automatic reaction, I was power hiking up Flood Mountain rubbing up against the shrubs trying to get the remaining moisture from the night dew onto my skin.  I was hoping that the technique would cool me down a little. It sorta worked, the relief was so temporary that I don’t even think it is worth mentioning.  I moved closer and closer to the mountain top, one laborious step after another.

As if climbing up a mountain in the heat wasn’t hard enough, my mind’s attention turn to my laboured breath.  I didn’t understand, was this a result of altitude that I wasn’t acclimatized to?  I worried that this may do me in.  I tried focusing on my pack.  I loosened it, unclipped it.  Re-clipped it.  Thought about taking off my heart rate monitor, but didn’t.  The closer to the summit of Flood, the steeper the trail, the harder it was for me to breath.

I pressed on.  I made my way through Slugfest and realized that a theme was starting to take place.  I just didn’t remember this race being this hard.  Maybe it was because I was pushing that much harder than last year that every difficult section seemed that much more difficult. Or as I remember thinking while I was heading to the summit of Grand Mountain, “this road is a lot longer than I remember it being.”  I was relieved to start the Grand decent.  A seemingly never ending hour of trail that headed straight down the mountain side.  A quad thrasher.  This is part of the course that I was most familiar with and still – I didn’t remember how difficult it was.

On my way in to town where the leg 2/3 transition is, I caught up to a fellow K-dubber (a person that lives in Kitchener-Waterloo) that was running the relay.  We had been leap frogging since the beginning of the leg.  He was walking it in when I finally caught up to him near Mountain View high school.  I put my hand on his shoulder and encouraged him:

“Come on man, your almost there, you can do this.”  I don’t really remember how the rest of the short conversation, but he ran the rest of the leg.

“Byron, your crew is over there”, someone called out to me.  A little dazed I fumbled my way over to where my wife and Donna’s husband were setup.  This was the first time Lindsay had to repack my vest – a little stressed she got everything together just as I asked.  I was parched:

“Is there any water?” I questioned.

“Yeah there is” Donna’s husband replied.  He started to pour it on my neck and head, then finally he pour it into my mouth as if I was 20 taking down some tequila!  Funny how running up and down a mountain in the heat makes you feel just about the same way as taking down half a bottle of tequila.

I had practice drinking like this in my youth. Replace water with tequila!
I had practice drinking like this in my youth. Replace water with tequila!

Having finished the first two legs I was looking forward to the third because from what I remembered, there would some shade on the trail.  It took a little while, but sure enough there was some shade a couple of kilometres in.  Though it didn’t seem to matter.  The heat was beating down on us.  A little less than ¾ of an hour passed and I finished one of my two 20 oz bottles of fluid.  I knew that there should be a couple of creeks.  I hoped that they hadn’t dried up like the bogs on Leg 1.  Last year I used these creeks to numb the pain in my leg and foot.  Each time I came across a creek, my relief could not be described.  I decided that since it was so hot out that I would sit right in creek.  I found this even better than just slashing water on my neck, face, and head.  Cooling off your junk and butt just seems to relieve the heat stress that much more.

At the last stream of the leg, I realized that I had maybe 3 oz’s of GU Brew left and I had 7 km left to run.  I was really stressing out –I didn’t have enough fluid.  I filled an empty bottle with the water from the stream, not to drink, but to pour over my body in an effort to cool me down.  I got to the coal mine bridge that took me across the smokey river to a chip in – with 3 km to go and no more fluid, I was happy that I didn’t have to far to go.   But I was in trouble, I knew I was dehydrating quickly and I was only some 60 km into the race.

I got to the critical transistion 3/4 (the one that takes out most death racers), my amazing wife asked me how I was doing:

“I’m dehydrated, did you bring extra water?”

She did, and I drank nearly 20 oz right there. Grabbed a salt tab and watched her pack my bag.

“How many gels are there?” I asked.

“One bottle, 2 by 2 like you asked.”

“No! I need two bottles.  I need at least four gels, this leg is going to take me at least 5 hours!” I was freaked out, though too dizzy to be angry. Still, how could she mess this up?

“Did you bring the bottles?” I was referring to the 26 oz bottle of Hammer gel.

“No” she replied as she pulled out the instruction sheet to show me that I actually gave her the wrong instructions.

“Shit!” I blurted out stumbling backwards while I was reeling from the feeling of dehydration and disorientation.  With no other option, I put my pack on, thanked my wife (I think), grabbed my poles, took a deep breath, and I started leg 4.

As I made my way up Mount Hamel, I felt beat down.  My memory was playing tricks with me.  I had no memory of this climb being so hard.  I got to what seemed to be somewhat of a plateau and was feeling better; it was a nice reprieve from the soul sucking climb.  I turned a corner and then my jaw dropped.  The majesty of Mount Hamel revealed herself with the final 1300 ft or so, beauty and terror all at once.  It was a familiar feeling that day, I think mumbled to myself “how am I going to keep this up?”

I was so happy to make it to the summit of Mount Hamel in the daylight.
I was so happy to make it to the summit of Mount Hamel in the daylight.

It’s funny though, the clarity you have in remembering certain features of a trail.  Even though the Mount Hamel descent I made last year was in pitch black, I remember a particular hairpin turn in the trail.  Maybe it was because of the situation where this dude was looking for some TP.  Other things I didn’t remember at all like boulder alley.  While I made my way to Ambler loop there are points where there are big pools of water that seemed impassible in the darkness and which I carefully waded through… difference being this year I was in the daylight and I could see ‘dry’ pathways around the obstacles.  The reward of many, many months of training.

From the top of Hamel to Ambler loop my pace slowed down substantially.  I think I was recovering from the heat of the day.  At the aid station at Ambler loop I dropped my pack and ran light for a bit. I felt better because I was running at a good pace and I was passing relay runners.  As I caught up to one girl, she turned back to me and asked:

“Were we supposed to chip in back there?”

“Yeah.”

“Really” she said with complete disbelief.  She continued “It wasn’t obvious, what happens if I don’t chip in?”

“You get DQ’d.”

“Seriously?!” she exclaimed hoping that I was taking her for a ride.  I wasn’t.  They will disqualify you if you miss one check in.

“Yeah – sorry, looks like you have to go back.”  I advised her and kept on.

The day before the race when I was reviewing the race plan with my wife one last time.  I mentioned to her that I thought the way my coach had broken down Leg 5 was off.  I thought that the first 7 km up to the boat would be at a faster pace, and the second section of the leg would be a slower.   When I got to the leg, it was just getting dark and I was pooped, although I hadn’t pooped (ha ha).  I started up the first climb of leg 5 and I had finally come to terms that everything seemed so hard and that each effort was as if I was doing some full tilt training on my treadmill; mind you the views were ‘slightly’ more amazing than looking at a wall in the gym.  Two kilometres into the leg, I was praising the wisdom of my coach.

Relay runners were whipping by me.  I was stepping aside for each of them and then a soloist caught up and insisted I lead.  I guess he wanted some company for a little while.  We chatted and I imparted my wisdom of what lied ahead.  A final crushing climb followed by the Sulphur Rim trail then there is about a 3km stretch that is dirt road and just doesn’t seem to end.  I was preparing myself for the worst and I probably would have been better off not knowing what I was in for.  Truthfully, this wasn’t the hardest part of the race, but because it is the last 15 or so km, it feels a lot harder than it is.  Team that up with a little mental fatigue and you can just about spell disaster.

I did avoid complete disaster, which would have been a DNF.  Instead I finished the race in a power walk switching into a run when I felt I could keep up the shuffle, disappointingly I was mostly in a power walk mode though.  On the upside, I was still moving forward and the end was near.

The last 500 metres of the race I ran, not quickly, but it was a running gait.  I turned the final corner and as I made my way through the corral I could hear the announcer say:

“Here comes another soloist Byron Guptill.  His goal was to finish the race in 18 hours, besting his time from last year which was 22:42 minutes.  Well Byron, you did it!”

Yes I did, finishing the race in 17 hours 35 minutes and 29 seconds.  I ended up ranking 15th of 366 registered runners.  I was happy.  Looking back on the race I am starting to appreciate why at each stage of the race I felt like it was harder and more painful than last year’s experience.  Last year my average pace over the entire race was 10:54 minutes per kilometre and this year I cut that down to 8:27 minutes per kilometre. In training harder, many folks think that running gets easier, I certainly have been fooled by this. I should have thought it was going to be harder. My goals were different, my pace was different, my approach was different, so why would the effort be perceived to be the same?

Donna satisfied with her CDR finish. She placed first in her age class!
Donna satisfied with her CDR finish. She placed first in her age class!

Fail fail fail fail….

I’m not really in the business of doing product evaluations.  I just don’t have the patience that reviewers like DC Rainmaker appears to posses.  These guys are so thorough it almost makes me sick.

It turns out that I should have waited for their review of the Fenix 2 to make it to the web.  At the time (pre March 20), I was considering the Suunto Ambit 2 and the Garmin Fenix 2.  The Fenix 2 won because like the Suunto, the claim was it would operate for 50 hrs of battery life and the watches have a comparable feature set.  I don’t often run for 50 hrs, but most watches will barely get you 8 hours, and from time to time, I will be out running for 8 hours or more.  The second reason I picked the Fenix over the Suunto was because I already owned a Garmin HRM that is compatible with my very nice Polar strap (no chaffing).

When I first started running, I only focused on running pace.  That after all, is a measure of how fast you are going, and the faster the better right?  Well not in all cases.  Heart rate tells you much more.  The more you can relate to how hard you are working your heart, and how quickly your RHR recovers,  the better off you are.  You don’t want to be running 125 km at 90% HR.  Well if you physically could sustain that, I guess there is nothing wrong with that.  But many folks fatigue long before 125 km is reached if that is how hard they are pushing; just sayin’.

Anyway, I am here in Grande Cache getting ready for the big day.  I am have been reviewing my time goals, my fueling plan, and last but not least, my equipment readiness.  Since owning the Fenix 2, I have had some serious trouble with it.  At Seaton it froze and failed to record the whole race.  Similarily at Limberlost, I have a full summary, but an apparent lack of data points. Suffice it to say I wasn’t coming to Grande Cache with just one device.  Good foresight (or just paying attention to the signs).

As I ranted earlier, I bought the Fenix 2 on the assumption that I could use the HRM and GPS for 50 hours of battery life.  You’d think you could safely make the assumption seeing as how you’d be hard pressed to find anything that mentions otherwise in the literature that Garmin offers.  In fact, in the little ditty that they have on Ultratrac mode, the method by which you supposedly attain the 50 hours of operation, there is no mention that the ANT+ sensor is disabled.

So what is the significance here?  ANT+ is the protocol that the Fenix 2 uses to have nice polite conversations with your HRM.

Fenix 2: “That is 90 bpm, thank you.”

HRM: “You’re welcome. Oh by the by, I have another update for you, add 10 more bpm.  It appears that he may be running!”

Fenix 2: “Copy”

You can imagine my surprise.  The manual only tells you have the truth.  Please prove me wrong and find the note that informs you that Ultratrac disables ANT+.  Manual is found here.

So this is the straw that broke the camels back.  I will hang up the Garmin and I will be going back to the Polar which was able to record my GPS points for 21 hours of the nearly 23 hours I was out there.  To add, it was also capable of recording my heart rate for the entire race.

Polar longevity

Failures in track recording

FAIL

 

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.

 

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