Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Hot One at Sulphur Springs

Going up the "mulch" (or something like that, it's an infamously nasty climb about 5-10 minutes from the finish) for the last time, I can't believe this ordeal is nearly over. Because, my friends, there ain't no such thing as an easy 50 miler. I'm remembering how close I came to quitting with 10 km to go. Even the decision to actually go back for that last loop was difficult. I had to just stop thinking and go. I remember how I felt when it became clear that it wasn't going to happen today, that I wasn't going to break 10 hours, or even last year's 10:06. It broke my heart.

The day started well. After meeting with the usual suspects and talking about nothing, we took off in relatively cool weather. I have to admit that the whole day is a blur. I ran with Chris and Jamie for big chunks of the first two loops. I knew I was running a bit harder than I should, but it's hard to know. Anything slower than a 2:15 for my first loop would be too slow. As per my plan, I was going right through the aid stations, not even slowing down. On that first loop, crossing a bridge and chatting with the guys, my left foot caught on a board that was maybe 5 mm higher than the others and I fell hard. I saw stars, my jaw hurt, my head hurt. We ended the loop in about 2:05, which was too fast. I figured I would slow down on the second loop.

The second loop was more of the same. It was getting warmer but nothing too bad. I took off before Jamie and Chris and ran quite a long time by myself. I don't remember much. I felt good. They caught up after the midpoint and we finished that loop pretty much together in 2:15. Damn, still a bit too fast. Those two guys are stronger runners and I got caught up.

Third loop, I pop an Advil and I go by myself but pretty soon, I know I'm in trouble. It's getting warmer still. I lost my bounce. At the 50km mark, I look at my watch and it says 5:47. I'm starting to suffer. I can feel myself slowing down and there's nothing I can do about it. I drink as much as I think is smart. I eat some of my gels every 30 minutes. I walk the hills, which are growing steeper after every loop. And then all of a sudden, I'm wondering if maybe I should just not do the last loop. I'm seriously thinking about it. It's the first time ever that I've questioned whether I was going to finish. I decide that I'm going to ditch the vest, put a cinglet on to feel a bit cooler and go with a hand-held. Maybe that's going to help. Finishing the loop, I can't even summon the energy to run. I walk past Jamie, who tells me he's not sure he is going back out. I walk though the mat.

At my home base, I get changed, grab my bottle that's already filled with Accelerade, stop at the aid table to get some ice put in it and I go. As I run past Jamie's chair, I don't see Jamie and his wife confirms he did go back out. My mood is dark. My race goal is within reach but I feel it's getting away from me. Kinga runs with me for a few minutes but I can't keep up. I'm walking a lot now. On top of hills, I keep walking longer and longer to recover. I feel like I'm drinking a lot, maybe too much. I can feel the liquid slushing in my stomach. When I start to run, it's doesn't feel good. I decide to walk for at least 20 minutes to let my body find some kind of balance. I see the 10k mark coming soon and I need at least 90 minutes after that. My watch tells me it's not happening, that those two first laps were just too fast and now I have to pay the piper. This was the lowest point of my race. Maybe I should just ask for a ride at the gate house aid station. It's hot. I can't run for more than a couple of minutes straight. I get to the aid station, I don't ask for a ride and I keep going. It's now official, I'm not going to make my A and B goals. But I'm going to finish. The thought of quitting 70k into an 80k race just rubbed me the wrong way.

From that moment on, without the pressure of trying to go at a pace I just couldn't sustain, I started to feel better. My mood lifts a bit, but still, I start questioning my toughness. Do I really have what it takes to run 100 miles at Haliburton? Do I have what it takes to train for it? You think a lot during those races. You think about things you don't want to think about. You have feelings you don't want to feel. Finally, I get to the last aid station and I see it: the 15k sign, only 5k to go. My body has been slowly feeling better and I'm running more now, but not enough to make it in time. Still, I run in the dead, hot air along the field, trying to find as much shade as I can. Than, it's the long down hill. I'm careful, afraid to catch a root with the shadows playing tricks on the trail and making the rocks harder to see. I actually pass a runner (not a walker) who seems to be in worse shape than me.

Finally, here I am, at the foot of the Mulch. I'm happy I didn't quit. Memories from the race hit me. I get to the top. The 3 or 4 kids who were cheering at the last lap are gone, probably tired of seeing bone tired people who could barely summon a smile to thank them for the support. I catch my breath and start running down, then I get to merge into the finish stretch and I fucking run up the hill. I hear the mat chirp as my chip registers and I make a beeline for the tent's shade. Someone wants me to give me a medal. That would mean 5 steps in the wrong direction and I'm not happy. I go back, get the medal and head for the shade. I sit. I'm done. Around me, I see some of the guys I saw in the last few aid stations. We're just sitting there, exchanging a few words.

Jamie finished about 20 minutes before me, Chris, who is running the 100 miler, has gone back out. I drink my one cold beer too fast, chat with Jamie and his wife and then go for a shower.

This was one tough race for me. Bad decisions, wishful thinking and hot weather made the perfect storm that sunk my ship. I did learn a lot. I don't even regret doing what I did. At some point, you have to try things for yourself. Lessons like that hurt because we don't get to race a lot of those longer races, so making big mistake in one of those precious events, in which you've invested so much time and emotional capital, is devastating. In my case, I still managed to finish in a decent time and I'm grateful for that. The price wasn't too high.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sulphur Springs - Pre Race

Sulphur Springs will always have a special place in my heart. It's only two short years ago that I signed up for the 25km race there. I had seen the race on the Burlington Runners website and thought it would be interesting to try a trail race. When I downloaded the Participant's Guide, I was disturbed by what I saw on the first page:

10Km, 25Km, 50Km, 50 Mile, 100 Mile & 100 Mile Relay

50 Mile, 100 mile? WTF? Surely they jest? I showed up before 6 to see what kind of super-human athlete would accomplish such feats. At the line, all I saw was a bunch of regular people wearing weird outfits. The one thing I noticed though, is that they all seemed to know each others. In a way I couldn't quite define, it seemed to me that they were there for more than just running. Weird.

So Sulphur is also responsible for introducing me to ultra running. A year later I was on that same line, ready to run my first 50 miler.

This coming Saturday, I will again run the 50 miler. For a while I thought I would go for the 100 miler, but it was not to be. I read somewhere that "the will to race must start with the will to train." This early after Susitna, I was just not ready to put in the training miles. I would probably be able to finish it, but I would wreck my season and probably wouldn't recover in time for the 100 miler at Haliburton, which is my true A race this year. After last year's 50 there, where my body came close to collapse and my spirit got crushed, I am seeking redemption by doubling the stakes.

So 50 miles it is. I've already discussed my goal of beating my 10h06m time from last year. My taper is going good. My big thing right now is to accept the pain that is to come. 50 miles is a serious challenge and I know it won't be easy. This is the first race this season where I'm allowing myself to go hard. Well, you know what I mean... I'll try not to overdo the first lap, and then I'll try not to slow down too much. Obviously, it's easier said than done.

I'm rambling. Talk to you after the race.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

It`s in the Bank

I was reading my entries from last year, two weeks before Sulphur. I was so excited. I obviously didn't know what I was getting myself into.

This year, things are a bit different. I feel more prepared, but also a bit more apprehensive. I still feel that I haven't fully recovered from Susitna. It's as if I left a piece of me somewhere on those trails and it hasn't fully grown back yet. I feel fine physically, although I feel slower than I was last year.

Here's what I think my problem is: I've done the easy stuff. By "easy stuff" I mean that it's easy to sustain the excitement of running while you escalate the challenges. It becomes a drug: the first 50k, 50 miler, 100 miler. You ride the highs and the lows, you use the emotions to push yourself to the next challenge. Well, now I've gone pretty much as far as I'm willing to go, so I have to learn to run for the right reasons, whatever the "right" reasons are. Of course, there are more challenges out there, but I don't want to run just so that I can chase the next even crazier race.

Back to Sulphur Springs. Two weeks to go and that means taper. I know a lot of you crazy runners hate tapers, but I don't mind. As I mentioned before, I'm a lazy bastard and I`m confident that I've done the work. There isn't anything I can do now other than NOT do anything stupid. The only problem this time around is that I feel I didn't have enough time to recover since February. I'm trying to beat my time from last year (10:06) and I have a feeling this is going to be a close call. I think that one key will be discipline. I will not waste as much time as last year in aid stations. I've been able to do that this season at Seaton and PYP and I hope I can translate that into a longer race. If you count the start/finish, there are 5 aid stations per loop, 4 loops, that's 19 opportunities to waste time. If you stop 2 minutes each time, that's 38 minutes where you're not moving an inch. I'm pretty sure I wasted more time than that last year.

Let's enjoy the next two weeks of easy running! What's that I see tomorrow: hills?

Monday, May 10, 2010


Pretty good week of training behind me, although I have to confess I did it kicking and screaming. The week was fairly light, to give me a chance to recover from Pick Your Poison. On Wednesday I noticed a bit of an ache behind the left knee, at the base of the hamstring. I took the day off. There's still kind of a phantom pain there but it's not really bothering me.

Coming into the weekend, with the weather turning cold and rainy, I was dreading my planned runs. I had basically decided not to do it, but I went to bed early on Friday, got up at 5:30 and drove to Dundas to run 3 hours on the trails there. The weather was cold and windy but the rain started only once I got back in my car. The place was packed with people getting ready for the race. On Sunday, we went out for brunch for Mother's day and I spent a few hours dreading my day's workout. Finally I went out around 3:30 and ran 20km. I was out of Gatorade and went out with water only. The last 5km, I felt like I was running on fumes. I'm just not used to this much volume anymore.

So even though I'm happy with my weekend, I feel so depleted right now it's not even funny. The goal now is to let my body heal, rebuild stronger than before and peak on the morning of May 29th (around 6am would be great)!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Pick Your Poison 2010

For me, taking part in races is integral to running. I didn't do too well on the genetic lottery in regards to running, so for me to run long distances, I have to make deals with my body. I don't know if you are as psychotic as me, running really sharpens the line between mind and body. The thing is, the body is not only physical, it also has a mind of its own and sometimes I spend a lot of time negociating with myself. Promises are made and in my case, rarely broken, especially in training. In exchange for our "no surprises" agreement, I'm allowed to do really stupid things in races like running ridiculous distances or running crazy courses.
Well, yesterday was one of those races.

 I picked up Chris and Kim on the way to PYP early Saturday morning and when we showed up at the start and I saw the chairlifts, I knew something was fishy. "I wonder if we're going up there?". Little did I know.
The weather was ok. It was cloudy but the temperature was nice, around 16C. We picked up our bibs, got ready and chatted with people we knew. If you're not familiar with the ultra scene, let's say that few people run the longer distances and after a few races you feel like you know everyone. The distances for the race were 12.5k, 25k and 50k. I had signed up for the 50k, which was going to be my last truely long run before my 50 miler at Sulphur Springs at the end of the month. I promised Derrick I wouldn't run hard, but looking at that ski hill, I wondered what that really meant.

It was a mass start so at 9am sharp we heard someone yell "GO" and we got going. I was running with my pal Steve and one of his running protege Lisa. We were stuck toward the back and it took a few km before we were able to start running freely. The course was a 12.5k loop and it was quite hilly. I saw the top of those chairlifts more often than I care to remember. I would estimate that we climbed up and down the hill 3 or 4 times per loop. The two aid stations were really well positioned, about 1/3 and 2/3 into the loop, timewise. Toward the end of the first loop, it started raining. Then, it started pouring. The trail, which had been fairly dry except for a few spots, became pretty slippery. Areas that had been fairly dry would now be lakes of mud. Good times. There was a little brook crossing, maybe one step in the water, and it cracked me up when I saw a guy go for the logs that made a little bridge. What difference would a step in the water possibly make? It actually washed off some of the mud.

It rained pretty much for the entire second loop. I fell on my ass going down a steep section and my back side was pretty much covered in mud from my feet up to my waist. At the end of the second loop, we somehow took a wrong turn and ended up adding a few hundred meters. I have no idea how we did that. I think we had to step over some yellow tape and some signage. It was definitely our fault. The third loop, for some reason, would be the slowest loop of the race. More of the same, except muddier. By that time, Lisa was a bit  behind. At the end of the 3rd loop as we crested the hill and could look down to the start/finish area, Speve saw someone in his age group and asked me if it was ok if he tried to catch him. I told him it was fine and he took off. The 4th loop was actually not too bad. The only stressful thing about it was that I decided I could finish under 6:30 and once I start thinking about time, I obsess a bit. The course was becoming really beat up, but I still had a good loop and passed a few people. I finished well under 6:30, with a time of 6:21 and change.

I think I could have done better, but then again, I wasn't supposed to. Still, 50km isn't easy regardless of how fast you run, so the last loop was a grind. In many sections of the trail, there's a nasty canter and if you combine that with mud, you have to be pretty careful where you put your feet.

Despite the weather, I had a great time. It's a challenging course, the aid station staff were great and it was just plain fun. Well, you know what I mean...