Sunday, June 21, 2009

Niagara 50k Race Report

Well, it is done. Yesterday, my youngest daughter and I got up at 4am for the 2h drive to Niagara-on-the-lake, where I participated to the Niagara 50k Ultra. I ran this race on a whim. Last weekend, I was looking at my training journal and figured that if I didn't up the running volume soon, I wouldn't be able to run longuer distances soon. This is silly, because that was supposed to be the plan all along: switch to triathlon training, lower the running volume, rest a bit. The problem is that I LIKE running long and the Ultra season is NOW.

Anyway, I decided to sign up if the weather looked nice. All week, the long term forecasts agreed on one thing: Saturday would be wet. Finally, I broke down on Wednesday before the online registration closed and signed up anyway. I told my wife that as a father's day present I would be racing a small race on Saturday morning but that I would be back for a family dinner we had that day. Gulp!

So here I am, on the starting line of a 50k. My daughter is volunteering somewhere on the course. The course is out-and-back, paved (asphalt and sidewalks), and goes along the Niagara river from Niagara-on-the-lake to Niagara Falls. The views are nice. Of course, the 50k turn around is right in front of the Falls and THAT view is quite impressive. Because it was so rainy, we had the place pretty much to ourselves and it was great. Apparently in previous years, some people missed the turnaround because they got lost in the crowd.

I started the race at a comfortable pace, around 5:20/km (8:35/mi). Felt like I could run like that forever. I started with two girls (women, ladies, chicks?) I had run with at previous ultras, Kinga and Lee Anne. After a few km, Lee Anne decided that the pace was a bit too fast for her and fell back a bit. Kinga and I kept going. The course is not too hilly. They call it rolling hills. The only problem with that description is that one tends to imagine short gentle hills. Reality is that the ups and downs are looong, so on the way back, I felt like I was going up almost the whole way.

There was no rain until we were about 8km in, then there was a light mist for a few minutes. After that it was just plain raining. I didn't mind the rain, but the puddles became quite large and going around them became impossible so my shoes and feet were completely soaked for the whole second 25k.

There were aid stations every 5km or so. They were well stocked and the volunteers were very nice. They had Heed instead of my usual Gatorade but it got the job done. I just find Heed not to taste sweet enough and I don't get the same psychological boost of knowing I just got some carbs in. Know what I mean? I walked the aid stations but other than that I ran the whole course even the uphills, one of which was substancial (in my book).

21.1 km in, we passed the marathon turnaround and kept going. What's an extra 4 km between friends?

At the 25k turnaround, I felt really good although my feet were starting to hurt. I had taken two Excedrins at 6am so I decided to wait and see. My feet always get sore when I run long distances and it's worse on road because on trails, I run slower and walk the hills. This continuous pounding was getting to me. After the turn around, I don't think anybody passed me and I was slowly passing people. Most were probably marathoners but I did recognize a few ultra runners as well. My pace for the first 25km was 5:39 and it was 5:38 for the second one. Even splits! Of course, the pace varies quite a bit with the long up and down hills.

By 35km, my feet were a distraction and I have two sore spots that I have never experienced before: my left hip and lower back. The faster pace on hard pavement is doing me in. I broke down and got my pill box from my mini-fanny pack. I took one Excedrin before I got to the aid station and washed it down with Heed once I got there. I knew I had this major downhill coming and hoped that would help numb my feet a bit. I think it did.

Despite the discomfort, going down that hill fet great because that meant I was getting close to the finish. Close is a relative term. What felt close on the way out, feels a lot further on the way back.

With about 10k to go, I'm running hard now. I'm back to a 5:20/km(8:35/mi) pace or better and it doesn't feel so easy anymore. My biggest problem at this point is that I'm bored out of my mind. I have no one to talk to and probably wouldn't be much company if I did. Almost 4 hours in and close to an hour to go. That spot, between 35km and 40km, was my low point mentally. Sounds like a cliche, but it works: "aid station to aid station". The end of the race may feel far away, but the next aid station is much closer and it's nice to have a milestone to aim for.
Anyway. That last 10k lasted forever (like this race report). The rain finally stopped, but my feet never dried because I was too tired to run around the puddles and just ran straight through them.

I got to the finish with a time of 4:46:20, about in the middle of my best case (4:20)/worst case(5:00) scenarios. I wasn't sure how recovered I was from Sulphur Springs and the race turned out allright. I got my medal and got my shoes and socks off to change into my sandals. Despite the wet run, not a single blister. Awesome! Got me some food, didn't get my free beer because of my long drive. I got a large Iced Capuccino at Tim Horton and drove back home with my daughter snoring away in the passenger seat.

Chip Time: 4:46:20
Pace: 5:44/km (9:13/mi)
Rank (overall): 38/148
Rank (gender): 35/101
Rank (M40-49): 17/35

Later at the family dinner, which was at my brother-in-law's and had people from both his and his wife's side of the family, I got some strange looks from a few people (and my wife) when it became known that I had run 50km in the mornings. "WHY?" Why indeed? The person who asked was almost aggressive in the way she asked. I just smiled and said I didn't have an answer to that question. To a non-runner, there is no acceptable answer to that question.

Doesn't matter why. Maybe I have deep psychological scars. Maybe I'm over-compensating for some perceived weakness. Ah, ah, ah! Really, who gives a shit? I'm all growed up, I like to run and I will run as much as I please.


Denis said...

Great race report. Sounds like a great way to spend a Saturday morning.
Good call on not trying to explain yourself to your non-running friend. Satisfactorily explaining all the reasons we run to a non-runner is a fool's errand.
Looking forward to hearing more about your running exploits.

Caroline Novak said...

Love how you ran the race on a whim!! Great splits, and neat how you still made it to the family dinner.

Your pace was super fast with all that rain! A guy I work with said his shoes felt like a ton of bricks by the midpoint.

Anonymous said...

Hey great race report. I also ran the race #30 overall. Your description was almost exact to mine. NICE!! I really like your non-explanation to "WHY?"...I think I'll borrow it...Enjoy and have a quality day!! Mark