I've always felt that to use the word "epic", you needed to have accomplished something that goes beyond being merely "hard". Well, I'm using that work today. My Sulphur Springs 50 miles race was friggin' EPIC!
For the first time ever before a race, I actually had trouble sleeping. A 50k run is only a bit over a marathon. Going another 30km beyond THAT had me a bit worried. I had done the training but I was very aware that other factors would come into play. Weather, nutrition, hills, paceing, to name a few. I got up at 3:45am and performed my morning ritual: Cliff bar, lube, tape nipples. I replaced my traditional double expresso with two Excedrins. I read that cafeine from a cup of coffee is not very effective as a sport stimulant. Excedrin has caffeine, ibuprofen and acetaminophen. I was worried about my Achilles tendon so I decided to do some pain management.
I loaded the rental car and drove to Ancaster, a small town about an hour from Toronto. When I got there, I met Marty (http://42at42.blogspot.com/) who was running the 10k. We grabbed out bibs and shot the shit for a while and then it was time for me to go. I put on my Nathan hydration vest, hat and sunglasses (with yellow lenses) and lined up. The 6am start was for the 50 and 100 milers. There were about 50 of each and we gathered at the start line. AT 6am sharp we got going.
I don't know how to relate the race. I don't want to go into a minute by the minute description, but I will described flashes that I remember from the event.
The course was a 20km (12.5 miles) loop. We were to run 4 loops, the 100 milers 8 loops. The couse has a 1633 feet elevation gain per loop. That over a MILE of gain over the 50 miles. Very little of the course was flat. I walked evey single hill. I ran down the hills as fast as I dared, which mean gradually slower as I stopped trusting my leg muscles.
I lost count of how many times I stubbed my toes on roots. My big toes would get crushed in the front of the toe box and that hurt like hell. I'm pretty sure I will lose my right big toe nail. I might keep the left one, which just finished growing back. I fell only once, just as I started loop 3. I have no idea what happened, the root was sticking out, in plain sight. I got a pretty nasty scratch on my right arm but it wasn't bleeding much. I cleaned myself with some baby wipes and kept going.
I found the second loop annoying because by then, the 10km, 25km and 50km runners were on the course, passing me like I was standing still. By loop 3, it was pretty much only the 50km and up runners and that pretty much ended, except for the occasional 100 mile-relay runner just motoring down the course.
I'm always amazed by the volunteers. Some are not even runners, but they stay there all day and night, cheering more and more as the runners get tired. During my 4th loop, a volunteer had just come back from buying freezes. I've never had anything better during a race. So cold and sweet! At the time, that was just what I needed and those 2 freezes just made my day.
I found it weird to run 50 miles at the same time as the 100 milers because it made me almost feel lazy for running only 50. Early in the race, I ran with a few 100 milers but after the first loop, no one is willing to compromize their pace and most people end up running by themselves. My pace was similar to a woman who was also running her first 50 miler and we ran about a third of each loop together and then somehow one would fall behind for some reason.
I didn't experience any race-threatening events. My feet got increasingly sore, as I expected, but my Achilles was never an issue. After the third loop, I went to my chair and popped 2 more Excedrins. They never got rid of the pain completely but they helped. The constant pounding, especially when running downhill, becomes a bit overwhelming. At the very end, my lower back was a bit achy, possibly as the result of my face plant earlier, but nothing dramatic. No blistering to speak of. I had taped my big toes and the arch of both feet.
I think I did well with my nutrition. I ate a few gels early in the race because most of the aid stations didn't have the good stuff available until later in the race. Starting with the second loop, I survived on a diet of potatoe wedged dipped in salt, pretzels, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, watermelon, coke, ginger ale and yes, the occasional freezy. I did force a Cliff bar down during the 3rd loop but I could do it after that. I had a few Honey Stingers and Jelly Bellies as well. The last loop was the hardest because you are so sick of eating and drinking. The end is near and you think you can just power through those last miles. I don't think you can. After the first two loops, I felt like my body found some kind of equilibrium that allowed me to expand a limited amount of energy over a long period of time. At time, you can feel that you are getting close to crashing. Halfway through the last loop I got a bit queezy and had to force myself to get eating again. This is a time where you can't listen to your body, because all it wants to do is stop. You just want it back into the zone again.
For the first time ever, I didn't wear my Garmin Forerunner GPS. I wore a watch and I almost regretted wearing that because at the end, I got close (or I thought I did) to running under 10 hours and I spent way too much time trying to make myself go faster, which was simply not in the cards. In other loop races, I might consider not wearing a watch at all.
I did not experience any great revelation or hidden wisdom. Toward the end I did doubt about my sanity for doing something like this. Then I would see a hundred miler (they had the bib numbers 1 to 50ish) and I knew I was at least smarter than him (or her). Listening to music left me wanting to scream or cry as my emotions got a bit out of control, not that I was elated or anything like that. It was more like I had difficulty controlling them. At some point, I felt like if I had a good cry (alone in the bush), everything would be all better.
The finish was at the top of a nasty hill, which I had walked on previous loops but decided to run this time. I was happy to be done.
I finished 25th, out of 46 50 milers. I was 9th out of 16 in my age group (40-49).
My finish time was 10:06:22, which is pretty much my A goal (close to 10 hours). I might have been a bit too fast on the first loop, but other than that, I don't think I could have improved anything else. You just feel so strong on the first loop.
Now the hard question is going to be: what next? I'm not sure. I will probably run other 50 milers, possibly go for 100 miles, but I'm not sure when. I need to see how long it will take for me to recover. I am switching to triathlon training and I will see how much running my body can take.
One thing I hate about carbo loading is the bloated feeling that comes with it. It makes me feel fat. Eating 600g of carbs per day for 3 days is difficult and requires eating more than I'm used to. Also, for each gram of cabs that you store in your liver and muscle, 3 grams of water are needed. So for a guy my size needing to add about 600g of glycogen, that's a total of 2.4kg or more than 5 pounds!
I haven't been on the scale in a while but I can feel it. This is probably worth it though, as this will be free energy AND free water tomorrow.
I rented a small car for tomorrow. My wife needed a car and I'm not sure when I'll be done. I'm also renting a tent from MEC in case I decide to sleep there. I should be done between 5pm and 7pm tomorrow. I'm not sure if I will be up to the drive home after a gruelling day like that. I had recurring hamstring cramps for a while after my first 50km race and I wouldn't want that to happen while going 60 mph on the highway. I'll probably just stick around, eat and crash in my tent early.
The plan tomorrow is to get up at 4am. I will take two Excedrins, tape my nipples, eat breakfast, pack the rental and go. I should get there around 5:15, plenty of time to get my packet and put up the tent.
I have packed so much crap in my bag, it's not even funny. As of right now, the weather forecast for tomorrow looks pretty darn good, with a maximum of 23C (73F).
That's it folks. I'm going to go get my rental tent, try to put it up in my gigantic back yard (if there's enough space) and get my stuff ready. Next thing you read from me should be mthe race report. Of course, I will try to update Twitter once in a while (I'm TriJD).
As Owen Wilson's character said in Armageddon: "I'm 98% excited and 2% scared! Maybe it's more! It could be 98% scared and 2% excited!"
Only 3 days before I put on my shoes and attempt my first 50 miler. The last week is difficult. My training plan calls for basically no running. Today I ran 2.5 miles. What am I supposed to do with that? Most of it slow, too except for 4 short strides. Maaaaan! I have one last run on Friday, similar to this one. It might be even shorter.
I. AM. GOING. NUTS. Thank God work is busy as hell, so at least I can concentrate on that.
I went to the Mountain Equipment Coop this after noon (kinda like a Canadian REIT). Grocery shopping. I bought a whole bunch of gels, Cliff Bars, Jelly Belly beans, bug spray (I f@cking HATE mosquitoes), sunscreen and two extra pairs of Injinji toe socks. Cost me a fortune. I walked by the trail running shoes. Fondled a pair of La Sportiva Wildcats. My Crosslites are getting up there and I will need new trail shoes soon. Anyway I didn't try anything because I cannot be trusted right now.
I made a spreadsheet that calculates finishing times accordint to run/walk paces for a 13 minutes run/2 minutes walk ratio. That's stupid because in a trail, I find it very difficult to control my pace. In training, I use my GPS to control my pace. In a race, I like to use it at the very beginning to confirm that, yes, I'm running WAY too fast! Once that initial rush is over, the GPS becomes a witness and I rarely look at it. It will probably run out of batteries anyway, battery life being around 10 hours. I doubt that I'll run faster than that.
Goal wise, I'm slowly refining them. I think that my C goal will be less than 12 hours. Barring any injury, I feel comfortable with that. I would be really happy with less than 11 hours: that will be my B goal. My A goal would be anything close to 10 hours. That would be amazing.
That being said, what little ultra experience I have tells me that anything can happen. In my first ultra, I screwed up badly by starting way too fast and not slowing down until it was basically too late. I probably didn't eat and drink quite enough either. In my second 50km race, the course was harder but I had a more controlled race. At the end though, I had some difficulty eating. I just didn't feel like it. I will have to keep eating on Saturday, or else.
So that's it. I thought I would relieve some "arousal" (as they say in the books) by blogging a bit. I've warned people not to talk to me about running because they don't want to get me going. When it happens, it's not pretty. Most people obviously believe I'm deranged. They try to help me by explaining how it's not "natural" to run such long distances. What the fuck are they talking about? Of course it's "natural". Man, I got MYSELF all worked up!
Ok, time to watch some TV and try to numb my brain by looking for ONE good program in a 500 channels universe. But that's probably too much to ask.
The last two weeks just flew by. Usually, I find that two week off is just right, but I have to admit that I could have stayed in Sedona one more week. Running in the red rocks just blew my mind. There was something primal about running the trails in the dry heat. The altitude, although not dramatic (4000 feet, except when I went to Flagstaff, which was 7000 ft) made the runs even more challenging.
My last run on Friday was supposed to be 23km, or about 14 miles. To make a long story short, I got a bit lost, got back on track using the navigation feature on my Garmin Forerunner 305 which added a couple of miles to the run. I didn't eat enough because I don't usually eat much on "short" runs; the problem was that on a rough trail, 23km takes almost as long as a frigging marathon. So I proceeded to bonk, hard, at about 12 miles (by that time I had been running almost 3 hours). I can feel my hydration pack, which contained water, getting lighter. I haven't been this tired since my first 50k race, where I crashed and burned at 25 miles. And this is just 12 miles in. I popped a few salt tablets and eat a bit but I never really recovered. I ran out of water about 2 miles from the house. The temperature by then was probably about 90 degrees, humidity was nill and the sun was HOT. When I got home, I made myself two huge glasses of Gatorade and tried not to drink them too fast.
Lessons learned regarding trail running:
Carrying a GPS is a good idea. That "Take me home" function is just great.
Bring more water than you think you need. Why didn't I just fill my hydration vest to the max? To save half a pound?
Carry an LED light. In a previous run, I almost didn't make it before dark and I was kicking myself because I didn't have a light. If you get caught by darkness in trails, you are fucked and you WILL sleep in the bush. I'm now the proud owner of a small Petzl lamp and it's a permanent resident of one of my hydration vest's pocket.
I still have a long way to go. Hilly trails just kick my ass every time and make me want to cry like a little girl. Despite what I would like to believe, I'm no trail runner.
Only 6 days until the big day. Sulphur Springs is only days away. 50 miles!!! I'm scared and excited. Of course, I have a hard time believing that I can do it. I just have a hard time imagining running another 20 miles after a 50km race. I know I've done the training, but I have no frame of reference.
I'm a bit worried about my right Achilles tendon. It's been giving me grief for a while now. I think it will be ok, but I will probably be walking funny for a few days afterward.
I'm now in the last days of my taper. I have lowered my mileage quite a bit for the last two weeks, even lower than my training program calls for but I didn't want to stress my tendon any more than I needed to. I've been maintaining and this week I will run even less. Basically a few short runs doing intervals to keep the legs alive.
I don't really have a time goal for this race. I ran the 25k last year in 2:17 (5:28/km). I will probably do the first two laps at 8:00/km and see what happens. That pace would give me a 10:40:00 finish, which might be ambitious. I have to think about this some more.
After this race, I have some decisions to make. Am I running a marathon this Fall? Am I going after longuer distance? Am I going shorter in the hopes of getting faster? I will think about all this over the next few months. A few triathlons should help me get some distance and make a smart decision.
This morning Michelle and I were in the car by 6:30am to drive to Flagstaff so that I could join a bunch of runners from NATRA (Northern Arizona Trail Runners Association). I didn't run yesterday to give a break to my poor right Achilles and I felt pretty good. I dropped Michelle off at Starbucks, near a Barnes and Noble bookstore she wanted to go to, and got to the Schultz Creek Trail parking area with plenty of time to spare. Quite a few people showed up, I would say more than 15 and at about 8am, we started running UP.
Did I mention that Flagstaff is high up, way up in the sky? The trail began at 7200 ft and we went straight up. A few hundred feet into the run, I was already out of breath. That did not stop until we reached the top about 50 minutes later. The trail was nice, but it was quite rocky and you had to really be carefull with you foot placement. The group pretty much split in two and I was bringing up the rear of the slower group.
Once we reached the top, most of the people in my group went back down the same way, or ran to a parked car halfway up the mountain, I didn't quite follow. A guy named Scott wanted to finish a longuer loop and I went with him. THe way down was much easier and I was able to hold my end of the conversation.
We reached the parking lot after 1 hour 42 minutes of running. It felt good. Altitude kicked my ass though.
Back in Flagstaff, I picked up Michelle at B&N and we went to a store call Babbitt's, where I proceeded to try some Vibram Fivefingers (see picture). I've been trying to find a pair for a while but the one store in Toronto that sells them never has my size. Babbitt's had my size and I'm now the proud owner of the most ridiculous pair of shoes that money can buy.
After my shopping spree, we had lunch at Charly's Pub & Grill at the Weatherford Hotel where I had an excellent half pound cheeseburger and therefore ingested more calories than I burned, or at least close to it.
Today I've decided to get some rest. I might have been over-working my right foot a bit.
Yesterday Michelle and I did a 5 mile hike in the morning and then I went ahead with a 6 mile trail run at the end of the afternoon. My foot felt a bit achy after and was very stiff this morning, so Michelle went out by herself this morning.
Hopefully I'll be back on track tomorrow because I plan on going to Flagstaff for a group run with the NATRA (Northern Arizona Trail Runners Association) bunch.
Running here is a completely different experience. From the house we're renting, I can just go out the back gate and start running on a trail called "Marg's Draw". That trail connects to other's and I can run far and hard. Hopefully, this bout of trail running will prepare me for Sulphur Springs.
Speaking of which, that race is coming fast. Like always before a new challenge, I feel under prepared. I've done the work though, so it's all in the pacing and the state of mind. My problem is that I remember clearly how tired I was after 50k a couple of weeks ago and the thought of running another 30km on top of that ... Let's just say that it doesn't compute.
So my plan for today: read, eat, read, jacuzzi, nap, eat, read, sleep.
It's been a while since my last post. Nothing much has happened except that I've been working really hard at the office so I could finish a project before I left for my vacation.
What did I say? Vacation? Yes! I am currently in Sedona, Arizona, living the good life. My wife and I are renting a house here for the next two weeks. The house is really nice. It's actually quite amazing. We plan on daily hikes and a few day trips.
I, of course, also plan on as many trail runs as I can, without burning myself out less than 4 weeks before my 50 miler. There is an amazing trail system around Sedona. The views are just ridiculous. The trails can be challenging, with a lot of steep climbs and descents.
I've already gone on 2 runs, a challenging 20km run on Sunday and a shorter but very hilly 11km run today. Put that on top of daily hikes and that's a lot of work. I won't lie to you, my right Achilles is a bit tender, but it's holding on.
I'm trying to be reasonable but running in this environment is just fantastic. I fill my Nathan hydration vest, put my trail shoes on, stick a few gels/Cliff bars in the pack's pockets and I just run. On Sunday, I started my run about 3:00pm and I kept running for about 1.5 hours before turning back. I wasn't too sure at what time the sun went down, specially in the bottom of the canyons where I was running. Of course, I got lost on the way back and I started kicking myself because I didn't have a head lamp. My Garmin 305 saved my bacon. I went into navigation mode, hit "Take me home" and saw that I was pretty close to the trail I was looking for. I love that thing.