Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Sulphur Springs 50K 2013 Race Report

I was a bit nervous about this race. I had to go to the well at Bear Mountain, so I was wondering how I was going to do since I wanted to run it reasonably hard. I hadn't run a 50k since Pick Your Poison 2011 and I mean run, not race. Can't even remember last time I actually started a 50k with the intention of running hard. That's the thing with training for 100 milers, it takes the fun out of everything else. All the other races end of leaving a bit of a sour taste in your mouth because you know you could have done better.

Not this time. My plan was to run my best trail 50k ever. My fastest 50k will always be Niagara, which was on road. I will never beat that time (4h46) because I will never run a 50k on road again. Of all my other races of that distance, my best time was at Creemore in 2009 with a 5h45. Sulphur is an arguably easier course so beating that time should not be an issue, especially if the weather cooperates.

The mental aspect of my running is not going great this year. I'm working hard at my job and it's hard to be 100% commited to both. You have to cut the apple somewhere and this year, the working piece is bigger than the running one. It's especially hard when you see your friends pulling 50 or 60 mile weeks. So I have to be reasonable and I will only run one 100 miler this year so Sulphur had to be a shorter distance. By the time I decided to run Sulphur at all, the 50 miler was full so I decided I would run a solid 50k.

All week I dreaded the race, even though it looked like the weather would be perfect for racing. I didn't even look at the web site for the start time until Friday afternoon. I got up at 4:30AM, got dressed and drove off to Ancaster. A huge full moon hung just above the road. I got there too fast. I really didn't feel like running. It was freezing but I had dressed warmly. It was weird. Even though I didn't want the race to start, there was no way I was going to run easy. A few people mentioned I should just go easy and enjoy the race, if I didn't feel like racing. It somehow felt wrong. If I started, I wanted to give it a good effort. Talking with Chris H, who was running his second 50k, he mentioned that he'd be happy with a 6 hour time. I told him that my plan was more something under 5:30. I knew that anything under 5:00 was basically not realistic. Under 6:00 should not be an issue. I wouldn't be unhappy with 5:30.

I hadn't raced since the new location and I didn't know that the start was not at the finish line, so I almost missed the start. I rushed to the small road with maybe a minute to space. Quite frankly, the race went almost perfectly, so I don't remember much. The first short 10k loop went by really quick. By the time I got back to the start/finish, I was hot as hell so I left my long sleeve shirt at my chair and kept only my cinglet on. I raced with my hydration vest but only filled it half way with water/Nuun. It was so cool that I didn't need to drink too much. I ate a gel every 30 minutes. Those 30 minute chunks give me a nice feeling of time moving forward. Eating a gel become kind of disgusting so knowing you have to eat another one in 30 minutes somehow makes 30 minutes feel shorter so time passes faster. Some people run aid station to aid station, I run gel to gel. I didn't stop at a single aid station except one to talk to Russell B., who was volunteering there.

Second loop, I can't remember a thing. I ran a solid pace. Power walked the bigger hills. Swore internally when relay people blew by me. There's something depressing about those guys being so fresh as the race goes on. After the second loop, I have 30k in. I drop my vest, take two Excedrins because my right foot is barking pretty hard. I start running and just as I start going down the big hill I notice that I forgot my hand held. Fuck. I consider fuelling at the aid stations but decide to turn around and grab my bottle.

That last loop is identical to the previous one, except more painful and a bit slower. Still, I know I'm doing well. I pass Chris and Morgan, who are doing the 100 miler. They looked good. I get to the lollipop, up to the field, down the long hill. I see Chris and Morgan again. I'm on the home stretch now with about 4 km to go. I see Chris H. and he seems a bit tired. He still has almost the full lollipop ahead of him. I'm so happy not to be him. Yes, I admit it. I took pleasure in the misfortunes of others. I'm not proud of it but still, whatever works! I feel energized and get a burst of energy for the finish ... until I get to the big ass hill about 500m from the finish. I power-walk that.

As soon as the incline becomes reasonable, I sprint to the line and I'm done. Time on the clock is 5h20m, well at the top of my expectations. I'm spent but I feel great. I remember thinking that I couldn't have gone much faster. Sure, maybe I shouldn't have slowed down to chat with a few friends, or stopped at the aid station to talk to Russel, or maybe I shouldn't have forgot my damn bottle, but as a rule, I ran as fast as I dared in the first 30k and as fast as I could stand in the last 20. I've had very memorable blow-ups in 50k races (CVC 2010 and Seneca Creek 2009) and I know shit can happen in shorter distances too.
So a most excellent race. It's nice to to be completely thrashed after a race. I have to admit that I still have some reservations about whether I can actually finish Leadville. I was very tempted to sign up for a 100 miler before Leadville, just to make sure I can still do it. A stupid idea, to be sure, akin to the "in order to save the village, we had to destroy it" logic. I'm happy I resisted. I won't run anything longer than 50-ish km until August. Then, I'm going to give her all I got.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Bear-rely made it

Get it? Barely, bear, bear-ely? Riiight...

Being a complete moron, I signep up for TNF Bear Mountain 50 Miler again this year. This is a stupid sport, so I guess stupid people do it, ergo, I am stupid. So last Friday I ended up in my friend Steve's car, travelling toward New York City. I was supposed to camp with a bunch of other people I know, but due to a last minute personal crisis, Steve just happened to have a spare bed available in an honest-to-god hotel with a shower and a coffee maker. I immediately ditched my ex-friends and Steve became my BFF.

Fast forward to Saturday, 2:30 AM. I'm actually awake when my phone start its wake-up song, volume slowly increasing. I do not want to get up. The thought of running until 6 PM tonight fills me with dread. I know what to expect: total devastation. My biggest training week this year has been about 6h30min. I don't think I've run more than 50km in a week. I've had a few solid long-ish runs of about 4 hours but that's it. On the other hand, the running I did do was sweet. All trails, tons of climbing. I hang on to that thought.

A couple of hours later, I'm standing in the freezing cold with Chris, looking at the first waze go. A wave start! What is this, a triathlon? Anyway, Dean Karnazes, heard but not seen, says go and we do. I guess I'm going to run after all. Damn it. I immediately decide to DNF at mile 20. I think I'm addicted to DNFs. I haven't finished an ultra since this very race exactly a year ago. We run in the dark. Fuck, were there that many rocks last year? That being said, the terrain seems a bit dryer. The race is what it is. Of course, I overdressed and I ditch my light shell and headlamp in Chris' drop bag at the first aid station. Steve was in the first wave, but he decided to wait for us so all three of us are running together. I guess my plan to run by myself and drop quietly is out the window.

We run. It's actually kind of nice. I feel good, but then again it's early. We run.  We drink. We eat. Every 30 minutes my watch beeps and I eat a gel. We pass aid stations. First thing I know, it's a bit before 10:30 and we're at the 20 mile aid station. If I quit now, I'm going to have to spend all day at the start/finish, waiting for these two guys and I don't have any money with me to drink beer while I wait. I decide to keep running. I'm actually feeling pretty good.

Suddenly, a black fly flies straight into my eye. Than one in my ear. From that moment, until late afternoon, we are surrounded by small clouds of black flies. When one gets in my eye, I try to get it out with my finger but then I push salt from my profuse sweating right in there and my eye burns like hell. Did I mention it's also getting quite hot? It's not unbearable but I'm definitely sweating.

One things that is different from last year is that I'm not busting my toes on rocks. I've run a lot of trails in the last few months and the combination of that and my new Cascadia 7s seems to do the trick. When we finally get to the top of the infamous river of rocks, I'm actually in a pretty good mood compared to last year. The race is coming to an end, I've stopped thinking I'm quitting at the next aid station and my feet are in decent shape as far as my toes are concerned. My ankles are a different story. My right ankle is a ball of pain, but I've come to accept it.

We carefully run down the rock pile and get to the last aid station, which is a bit further than I remember. I think that at that point we have something like 2.7 miles to go. The three of us are trying to figure out if we have a problem. Our math skills are gone. All three Garmins are out of juice. I think we have plenty of time to finish but the other two idiots running with me keep getting worried. This is not how it was supposed to be. I was supposed to run faster than last year. I felt I did but I'm definitely going to finish later than last year. WTF?

Anyway, we stop even trying to figure out the math and we just run at what is now a solid pace for us. There are a few heartbreaking uphills but nothing serious. We eventually see the tunnel that tells us we're extremely close. A few minutes later we cross the line, in 13h32min, an extra 15 minutes compared to last year. We drink ou beer and get out of there as fast as we can.

Bear Mountain is definitely the hardest 50 miler I've ever done. There are very few easy trails. Most are covered in rocks and when they aren't, there are leaves hiding some rock spur waiting to trip you. There was even a big rattle snake right by the trail on one of the climbs. I'm sure there are a few tougher courses, but it doesn't mean this one is easy. It's a bitch. I wish I'd had a bit more volume going into it but with work and regular life being what they are, I did what I could. I went into it without having even run a 50k this season and mentally, I felt the strain of wondering if I could finish. Running so long while self-doubting sapped my energy a little but in the end, I did it. It was nice having Chris and Steve there to shame me into finishing. I knew they had no business running as slow as me, but they had raced two 50k races in the previous two weeks and were feeling the strain. I only raced 25k last weekend so I was a model of restraint compared to those two idiots.

As much as I hate to admit it, except for the time and brain farts, the race went perfect. I ate all 25 gels that I was supposed to eat. I salted just enough. My piss was beautiful and plentiful. My feet didn't get banged up too bad, I don't even think I will lose any toenail. Everything went fine.

I don't know if I'm going back next year. I wish I wasn't but this race is really well placed in the calendar. Early May is nice and cool and it's also a good time to give a first big effort so I guess it's possible that I'll be back.