Quick update: I'm now 9th in the men's 40-49 division in the Ontario Ultra Series standings after 5 races. Somehow, that doesn't seem right but I'll take it! Now with the race report.
Despite nagging pain in my right heel, on Thurday I finally decided to enter the Creemore Vertical Challenge 50k. There was a 25k option, but hey, why go all the way up there to run 25k when you can run 50? Got up early, picked up my Zip car at 5am and I got there around 7:15, for an 8am start. I followed the route proposed by my Garmin car GPS. You should have seen some of the so-called roads. At some point I ended up in a single track unpaved path, deep in the bush. Their route algorithm can be scary at times.
I get my packet and sit down to put my shoes on. I take my La Sportiva Crosslites out of the bag and wtf? No insoles. I took them out to let the shoes dry, but I FORGOT THEM AT HOME. Thank God, I always bring two pairs of shoes so I decide to run in my Mizuno Wave Rider 12.
There were quite a few people, I would say about 150. We all started at 8am sharp. The course, as described on their web page is "a 25 K hourglass loop with 50% trail, 50% country road and almost no cliffs. The course is hilly (60% uphill and 30% downhill), climbing the Niagara Escarpment twice with about 875 metres (2900 feet) of vertical ascent per loop."
From the start I ran with two runners which I knew from previous races have a pace similar to mine, Kinga and Steve. We ran the first loop real easy, chatting a lot and talking with others. This early in the race, there are a lot of runners around so it's easy to engage in short conversations with another group and then one pack moves on at their chosen pace. There were aid stations at every 5km. I made an effort to spend as little time as possible at the aid stations. I've been known to lose a lot of time there. I just downed two cups of Heed (yuck), grabbed some food and moved on, eating while walking or running.
The course was hilly. Some of the so-called hills were LONG, so since we walked the hills, it felt like a lot of walking. The downhills were much steeper than the uphills, making me wonder about whether my quads would be able to take the punishment on the second loop. I train mainly on flat-ish paved trails, so those steep hills are always a challenge for me.
All along, we had been talking about a finish in the 6:00 to 6:30 range. This was not to be. Kinga, just as during the Niagara Ultra two weeks ago, discovered her competitive streak and saw someone ahead that "she had to pass". We picked up the pace, running under 5min/km for much of the last 5k in that first loop. At the start area, Steve said he would change his shirt, so Kinga and I raced to the porta-potties and took care of business. I ran to my bags and downed half a bottle of Accelerade. I saw Kinga running towards me but we couldn't see Steve so we just took off. It's a race, after all. I noticed that Kinga was still pushing the pace. We had finished the first loop in 2:54, so now she was bent on breaking 6 hours. We then see some people across a field. Kinga thinks Steve is ahead Again, I feel the pace quicken. A few km later, we catch up and yes, this is Steve and another runner. He didn't change his shirt after all and had just kept running.
So we keep moving, at a pace I'm still comfortable with, but which is definitely faster than I had expected to run. Just before the first hills, I pop two Excedrins, because my feet are just screaming. My right heel hurts a bit, but the worse is always my soles which start hurting in the 30km range. After we hit the first hills, Steve decides to slow down and runs with someone he knows who is right behind us. We keep pushing the pace a bit and slowly overtake runners. Our slow first loop is paying off. The hills, barely difficult on the first loop, are getting to me. Some of the downhills are beating up my quads and feet something fierce. Then it's uphill again, cresting a hill only to see that it wasn't the end after all and there's more to come. At 40k, Kinga sees a woman going up a hill ahead and says "I know her" and starts running up the fucking hill. No way. I keep walking. I kept her in my sights up until the end, but I never caught up to her. At about the 35k mark, my Nathan Hydration pack bladder split open and I lost most of my water, so now I'm real carefull to drink plenty of liquids at the aid stations. My nutrition is going well.
At 45k, I'm ready to be finished. The last few km are a bit challenging, with muddy ascents and descents using ropes as well as a section where you have to balance on top of a 30in plastic drainage tube to cross a muddy puddle. Running down a steep incline, my hamstings start cramping and I have to ask someone ahead of me to move over, 'cause I can't break no more.
Then it's over. I finish the second loop in 2:51 for a total time of 5:45, way faster than originally planned. Kinga had finished 2 minutes ahead in 5:43. Then it's time for pizza, beer, more pizza and the long drive home.
Cooling off. I'm on the left.
This has been my most "intelligent" trail race yet. I didn't linger at the aid stations. Easy start. Negative splits. Good pace. Best time for a trail 50k despite the challenging course, thanks mostly to Kinga's pacing. I will remember those lessons.