Monday, October 28, 2013

Horror Hill 6-hour Ultra - Saturday, October 26th, 2013

It had looked like the day was going to be fat with suck, but I had no idea how bad it really would get.

Arriving. This was not in the brochure.

Starting line.

The long gravel driveway down to the aid station.

Erhm, at least it's technically above freezing.

So what do you do when you show up for a trail race and discover un-predicted snow? You skirt up anyway.

We'll call this choice "optimistic".

It was supposed to get up to 6c/43f and the snow couldn't last forever, right? The forecast had been for rain showers, so a little on-and-off moisture should be ok. I went through all the pre-race yadda yadda stuff (including getting my straw from Ron Gehl), but inopportunely had to use the facilities with just 5mins to go before the start. Since they'd closed the indoor washrooms just prior to me getting my skirt on - well timed, that - I had to scoot out to the portjohns in the parking lot and stand around in the snow and 40kph/25mph wind while I waited in line. I sorted myself out, jammed back through the Rehkopf building to do a dynamic range-of-motion ankle, leg & hip warmup inside, then ran out to join the back of the start just after the horn sounded at 9am. Pretty sure I was the last person across the line.

No time for second guessing now.

I had packed a small running store's worth of clothing, but opted to start in my skirt, the same long-sleeve merino shirt I wore last year, the Mizuno Breath Thermo gloves that have got me through a ton of cold, wet runs and a Brooks LSD Lite II jacket I bought the night before at a warehouse sale. Yes, once more tossing the "nothing new on race day" advice to the howling wind; it fit well and was feather-light, plus I could keep my beloved LG Power Block jacket dry as a contingency plan if things got really awful. I had a couple of heavier pairs of gloves in Tanker's backpack as well, along with my cooler bag full of water bottles, gel flasks and cookies. Lots and lots of cookies.

Pecan shortbread! Fudge sandwich creme! Chocolate chip! Oh my!

Down the hill, around the pond and into the woods - even the first lap made it clear that this year was going to be as bad as, if not worse than, last year's mudfest. The big stinkin' hill was impassable from the get-go; we had to use the left side, where there are some fallen branches and lots of leaves to provide some traction rather than the bare mud face. That's right - wet, fallen leaves actually provided more grip than the proper path. I did see some people make it up the main trail here, but they were few and far between. By the second lap the mud was as bad as it had been by the 3-hour mark last year, and I resolved that my best approach would probably be to run every single inch of the course that was runnable now in order to bank as much mileage as I could for when it became impossible to do anything but walk later on.

The small hill on the other side of the building was slick again, too, and despite the decent grip of my New Balance Leadville 1210s I was forced to use the same path up the right hand side that I'd taken to after falling face-first at that same spot last year. In the name of staying on my feet I picked my way cautiously, and wondered what kind of effect the conditions would have on my ability to hydrate; while I was carrying my hand bottle as per usual, the trail was so treacherous that I didn't feel safe drinking while I was running in the woods. I'd take a good honk off it at the bottom of the big hill and maybe another at the top, then grab another sip or so as I crossed the parking lot to the Western loop behind the building. Even the long downhill past the starting line to the aid station got iffy fast; the grassy section turned squelchy almost immediately, and there was a small stream running down the wheel tracks of the gravel driveway to the aid station pavilion. Just ducky.

And it kept snowing.

A lot.

As the day wore on, the trail only got more terrifying. The passage of feet dug deeper and deeper into the dirt, blending it with the relentless snow into a slippery glop that coated my lower legs. The woods provided a break from the freezing gale, but the temperature hovered near the freezing mark and everything became soaked. My new jacket did an admirable job of trapping body heat and keeping the worst of the wet off me while still breathing nicely, but there's nothing that will prepare you for looking down and seeing chunks of ice stuck to the bare skin of your legs. I had completely lost feeling in my toes, and was only in intermittent contact with my hands; I contemplated putting on warmer gloves on several occasions, but they'd always warm up to a tolerable level on the sections where I was able to run, so I never quite pulled the trigger on the change.

Trying to manipulate a zipper & gel flask with frozen hands.

Nutrition and digestion went ok - I was unfortunately dealing with some gas, and feel awful for having cropdusted some other runners on the trail. I'm so, so sorry you had to be exposed to that smell on top of all of the other challenges the day held! I think I really need to find myself a new pre-race breakfast, because I suspect having cut dairy out completely has lowered my tolerance for the milk protein in the meal replacement shakes I'm currently using, causing some flatulence. I'm sure my fellow runners would appreciate it if I worked out something that sits better for 2014! In-race, I started with a couple of slogs of EFS Liquid Shot at 35mins and 1h10, had a peanut butter Gu at the 3-hour mark, another shot of EFS Kona Mocha later on, and hit a power-up of Espresso Love Gu at 4h30 in hopes the 40mg of caffeine would see me through before taking one last, small swig of EFS around 5h30. The rest of my calories came from my gluten free cookie buffet: I started with a chocolate chip at 1h30, then had shortbread around the 2h15 mark, a fudge creme around 3h30, and one more chocolate chipper at 5 hours. Those cookies really were a ray of sunshine on a cold, wet day! My actually gut felt fine the whole way through - I was just farting a lot and I ended up hitting the portajohn to lose some ballast around 1h45, then again around 4h10m. The second time I needed to pee, too; it's tough for me not to over-hydrate a little during a long, cold race. 

Wheeee! *prrrrrpt*
 The situation in the woods just kept getting worse. The stairs (chunks of wood pounded into the dirt) on the second section of the main hill began to disintegrate and the mud on each step got soupy, making them hard to get up. I was trying to favour my niggly right adductors (having damaged them at Run for the Toad 3 weeks prior), so was stepping up almost exclusively with my left leg, leading to one rather sore quad the next day. My left ankle found a rock hidden in the mud and rolled a bit - while I was able to continue without pain at the time, it got sore when dorsiflexed (a requirement for running/walking uphill) later in the race and continues to be a bit puffy and sore now 2 days later. The ever-deepening mud did nothing to help; at times I was forced to almost swim my way through it, just keeping my feet moving as fast as I could to try to preserve some forward motion. My toes even hurt afterward from trying to dig into the muck and pull myself up little rises covered in squelchy slop, then my hamstrings tried to cramp on me a bit around the 4 hour mark from trying to push through the goop. Fortunately, other than a really weird sort of zing through my right psoas in the last quarter of the race, I was able to prevent any pain from flaring in my right groin by paying some careful attention to my stride.

Where am I going, and why am I in this handbasket?
My bib number gave up long before I did.
Surprisingly enough, I actually managed to stay upright through the whole thing! There were a couple of near-falls as my feet slid sideways on slick downhills, but I was able to windmill my arms like an idiot and keep from actually falling - my mid-back almost seized up on me later that night from my bizarre contortions to preserve verticality. I did have to reach down to pick up my straw at one point, though - a low-hanging branch kept catching on it as I came out of the Western woods loop and I kept thinking I'd lose it, but it hung in pretty well for the first hour or two. Then as I emerged once more, I felt for it and it was gone! I worried that I'd have bad luck from losing it, when suddenly I spotted it on the ground just in front of me; I guess I'd lost it on the last loop, and it had miraculously not been squashed into the mud by anyone. I managed to get it tucked back into my earband, and there it stayed for the rest of the race. I still caught crap from Ron for dropping it, though - he'd spotted it sitting on the ground before I managed to pick it up!

As bad as the trail got, I actually wondered around the halfway point if they might just call the race for safety reasons; lots of bits of me were frozen, the snow had progressed to near-whiteout conditions, there were deep puddles of standing muddy water on the path, and it was all I and other runners could do to keep our feet under us. I had even landed a bit heavily in some muddy slurry at some point, splashing it up high enough to coat my inner thighs, just at the point where "chub rub" is an issue. The chafing possibilities of this development didn't bear contemplating, since I didn't think there was anything I could do to solve the situation. I'm told I wasn't the only one who had qualms about continuing at this point; Tanker tells me than Karin McMillan (who was helping organize the race in the absence of its usual director - super nice girl and incredible runner!) had tried walking some of the trail and had nearly fallen several times herself, so speculated about calling an early finish. However, that's not the Horror Hill way - if we could run the inaugural Frosty Trail on the same course at -15c/5f and deal with 6 solid hours of rain at Horror Hill 2012, we could damn well finish 2013 with a bit of snow and slop!

Just a little.
This used to be a gravel path.

Despite all the whining about the weather I'm doing here, I was actually really pleased with how the day went: I kept eating enough to keep me from having any of those dark, grouchy patches that make for a miserable race (though I did grump at Tanker a bit for taking photos when I needed him to be handing things to me or taking them away from me - sorry babe!), and the time really seemed to pass quite quickly out on course. The first half gave me some cause for optimism - I was feeling strong and hit the 20k mark (half of what I'd managed in the rain last year) in 2h30m, which meant I could probably take a solid stab at passing 42.5km (17 loops) and actually making it an ultramarathon day. By 4hrs it didn't seem like the trail could get any worse, and I'd managed to put in 30k - I started to feel like I might even be able to hit 45km for the day, but anything can happen past the 4-hour mark in a race so I didn't want to hang too much hope on that and risk disappointment.

I didn't even know if I'd be able to see for much longer.

The snow did eventually tail off around 4h30 (1:30pm), and eventually after 5 hours the trail started to dry up a tad. It was still horribly muddy and slick, but the puddles of standing water disappeared and things got a bit stickier. The most petrifying downhill on the course - just before you emerge from the main woods loop and head up toward the Rehkopf building - got slightly less hair-raising, though I was still using the rock near the bottom as a pinball bumper to make the sharp right turn (much to the later chagrin of my damaged left ankle). I think the slippery conditions on the downhills may have worked to my advantage in some ways; because you couldn't really run down them with any abandon and the surface was so soft and squidgy, my quads didn't take anywhere near the pounding that they usually do in an even near the end my legs felt pretty good! Uphills I'd never been able to run past the 4 hour mark seemed runnable for the duration, though I can't claim to have been moving quickly - while they didn't really hurt, the ol' legs wouldn't respond with quite the vigour they had in the first few hours. Still, my lap times stayed quite consistent throughout, with a couple of aberrations where I needed to pause for various reasons.

The worst issue I really faced didn't come about until the last hour. As the trail dried out and my feet weren't being bathed regularly in ankle-deep puddles, I felt what seemed to be my socks bunching up behind the balls of my feet on the inside of each foot. As I came into the aid station for my final cookie around 5 hours, I stopped for a minute to try to sort them out, but it was clear as soon as I started running again that I hadn't succeeded in solving the problem. It turned out later that I had built up pucks of mud inside my shoes that were chewing away at my feet; I don't know if the puddles had helped keep it sloshing around instead of building up for the first 5 hours, or if my feet had just been too frozen to notice! It did warm up a few degrees toward the end and feeling did start to return to places that hadn't reported in for awhile. I was starting to hate the dual collars of my jacket and my shirt being zipped up around my neck - I considered ditching the jacket as I was feeling very warm, but I knew the wind was still bitterly cold and the dampness would cut right through me, so I stuck with it and just ran on.

This is after using a garden hose to spray as much mud as possible off my shoes.
I don't know if those socks will ever be clean again.

More chunks of mud that survived the hosing inside my gaiters.
The backs of my calves were covered about 3/4" thick with glop.

Coming through 40k with 5:17-ish on the clock and knowing I was averaging a bit more than 20mins per lap, I figured I might actually be able to break 45km if I was careful and applied myself. I had originally intended to grab the camera from Tanker after the 17th lap (42.5k) to get some snaps of the quagmire in the woods, but with the carrot of beating my 2010 distance (44.1km - my 1st attempt) dangling before me I put aside my photographic plans and decided to drop the hammer. I knocked back a last swig of EFS Liquid Shot to ward off the growing fatigue and focused on keeping my stride as efficient as possible, telling myself any time I felt like walking that it might make the difference between crossing the line and falling short. I got through 42.5km with 5:38-ish on the clock, picked up my bag of macaroni to mark the spot where I would stop when the horn sounded, and managed to juggle it into my jacket pocket while removing my gel flask. As I passed the aid station I handed off both my water bottle and the flask to Tanker; I wanted my hands free so I could have maximum balance and dexterity in the woods, plus bare minimum weight to carry, since I'd be cutting it pretty fine to get another full lap in.

I was pleased to discover that my legs were still ready for the challenge, and I actually started passing some of the people who are much faster than I am, but were suffering more. I felt fantastic as I trotted through the splurpy mess in the forest, happy to be climbing the horrible hills for the last time and confident I'd already soundly beaten any expectations I had for the day. I pushed into a higher gear than I had so far, panting as I chugged out of the woods and up the long hill toward the building. The clock showed 6 minutes to go as I headed for the parking lot, legs protesting that they'd had enough and just wanted to rest, but still hanging in there. Carefully through the slick parts, walk up the nasty little hill, trot around to the mud pit with the hidden rocks, then back to as full a stride as I could manage down the hill to the line, crossing with 2 minutes to spare!

Nothing else for it - down the driveway and past the aid station, this time I really did pick up the camera from Tanker to get a couple of snaps after the horn sounded to end the race.

O hai!

Minus one race bib; plus one leaf.

Still standing!

I had every intention of walking into the woods to get some pics of the wreckage they tried to pass of as a trail in there, but there was a problem: as soon as I stopped, my right knee flared into a gigantic ball of pain! It is definitely originating from my IT band, which I can only assume underwent stress as I tried to spare my damaged adductors on the slick, muddy surfaces - it had felt completely fine while both walking and running during the race, though (for which I'm very thankful!), and now it was all I could do to take a step! I have to wonder if my turn-and-burn on the last lap may have simply pushed it over the edge, as trying to hobble up the hill to meet Tanker at the aid station was excruciating. Now 2 days later, it has settled down quite a bit, but still grumps a bit when I try to walk up or down a hill. Edit: 3 days later it feels fine, though my ankle is still a bit messy.

I did finally make it up to the building to hose myself down and head inside for a post-race massage (from the same folks who offered them at Run for the Toad - they remembered my calf seizing up there!), food, awards and dry clothes. Of course the sun chose this time to come out - what right did we have to expect a nice day?

Official distance: 45.2km
4.8km more than 2012 (in worse conditions)

5/6 Women - 13/15 Finishers
Official results here.

Really satisfied with this!

Happy K is happy!
I'm super pleased with my performance here - I had no idea what to expect with running my first 50k only 3 weeks beforehand, but it seems to have worked out marvellously. Apart from my left quad being a little sore, my legs hardly even hurt - if not for my beat-up left ankle and the remaining niggle in my right ITB, I would have happily run the next day. Given that these were the toughest conditions I've ever seen at a trail race and I came within 1.3km of my Horror Hill PR (46.5km in 2011), I know I'm reaping the rewards of putting in my biggest year ever of run training - Saturday put me 186km over my prior highest annual total, and I still have 2 months left of 2013! I hope I can keep this rolling through the winter (after some appropriate recovery time for the damage I've sustained lately), as I have high hopes of making a solid attempt on Around the Bay next March.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm not quite done stuffing my face yet..

Friday, October 25, 2013

I'll have the hypothermia with a side of mud, please.

Last year, I spent the day before Horror Hill whining. Apparently it's a theme.

Somehow, the weather that was absolutely awful in 2012 has managed to contrive to be even worse this year.

On the bright side, your legs only hurt if you can actually feel them.

That 40kph (25mph) wind would be brutal even if it was supposed to stay dry, but with rain in the mix it's going to be tough to ward off chills even while trying to drag my sorry butt up the relentless hills. It was 8c with 20kph (12mph) wind last year, and I had trouble staying warm when the trail turned to mud as I was forced to walk large sections of that diabolical loop.

From last year's race report. Probably still accurate.

Despite there only being about a third of the rain predicted this year vs. 2012, I may still very well be doing a lot of walking. While my legs are feeling ok after running the Toad 50k just 3 weeks ago, I'm certainly not in tip-top condition and have only been running quite lightly since - longest outing was a little more than 15k on a washed-out riverside trail last Saturday, picking my way through the stones and puddles. Being only the second time I've run in my new trail shoes, it highlighted that they're not that grippy on muddy side-slope or wet rocks. Since there's some of each at Horror Hill, I'll most likely take things easy rather than risk an injury; I've still got a bit of a niggle in my right adductor magnus from the Toad, and I don't particularly want to take another header.

Last year - right onto the broken wrist.

Moving slower means being even colder, so I have to face the very real possibility that I won't be doing this race in the Skirt of Ultra Awesomeness. Bare thighs, rain and biting windchill seems like a combination so ill advised that even I am forced to raise an eyebrow and say "Really K? Really?" the trusty skirt that has seen me through so many other long, arduous races (including every prior Horror Hill outing) may have to stay at home in favour of something warmer.

That presents a problem, since almost all of my tights and knickers have forgotten how to tight. I'm thankful to have reached a lower weight this year than I have since 2009 - I'm doing Horror Hill tomorrow at the lightest I've ever been in my 4 years of running it - but damnit I really wish I could stay the same size (this one or a bit smaller, please) for 2 years together! I may have to do something ridiculous like go out and buy a new pair of knicks just to wear for the stinkin' race, tempting fate once more.

Probably not to scale.
As it stands right now, I'm basically wondering whether I'll freeze to death, chafe myself away to nothing, or become irrevocably mired in freezing mud first. I've already gone to the extent of packing my race bag and laying out most of what I plan to wear, because if I leave myself any choice in the matter when I wake up tomorrow, I may just roll over and go back to bed. Even at that, I should probably get dressed in race kit and slam my meal replacement shakes before I look outside, because there will be almost nothing that will entice me outdoors to run for 6 hours if I see snow on the ground, howling winds and rain falling first. I'm going to have to rely on warm thoughts and sheer bloody-mindedness to get me through this...if I get through this.

Tanker is the smart one - he's decided he's done with running, so won't be doing the 5k this year (3 years was apparently enough for him). He's going to hang out at the aid station, make himself incredibly useful as always to all of the runners on course, and secretly laugh at this bunch of idiots swanning around in the woods in the freezing cold rain. As for me? Well, I've got a staggering number of cookies in my aid station bag - the only real reason to run for hours on end.

Just focus on the cookies.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Campsgiving Triathlon

Both Lake Huron and the air temperature were a bit chilly for a swim, so instead at Pinery Provincial Park I ran, cycled and paddled! Plus, of course, a ton of hiking - we did 7 out of 9 interpretive trails (one of which I ran), tried out a tandem bike on the 14km Savannah multi-use trail, and got our new-to-us canoe in the water of the Old Ausable Channel for a couple of glorious hours.

Running the Cedar Trail through the oak savannah

After our slightly petrifying ride on the rented Norco Cape Cod tandem bike

She may not be much to look at, but she's watertight and she was free!

The legs are slowly starting to come back, and having set a 7sec PR for 200scy free in the pool on Thursday night, I'm pretty sure I didn't lose much by missing a couple of swims over the weekend, and even if I had, the sunsets alone were worth it.

The best kind of Thanksgiving is one that gives you even more for which to be thankful, and this was certainly the case.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Carpe tempestas

After what qualifies as success at Run for the Toad last weekend, I'm in hardcore recovery mode to try to get myself back up to snuff. Why? Because I'm bad at doing things that are good for me, and terrible at saying no to amazing events.

Tanker just shakes his head.

Horror Hill is probably my favourite race out of all that I've done. I've done the 6-hour every October since 2010 (when I really had no business even attempting it - the longest I'd ever run was 25k/3 hours!), running through sun, wind, cold and even relentless, pissing rain. I love almost everything about it; the people are incredible, the wooded course is beautiful (if a tad repetitive), and having an aid station available every 2.5km - the length of the loop - makes nutrition and hydration easy as pie. Tanker loves volunteering at the aid station, helping other runners out and chatting with people, and if it weren't for a couple of leg-destroying hills in the forest it would be an idyllic event. Even with the hills, it's still a bundle of fun, and at least you have a really good excuse to walk every few minutes.

Having just run longer than I've ever managed before, and with only 3 weeks between Run for the Toad and Horror Hill, I'm sure this will not be a PR year for me. You know what? I'm totally fine with that. I'm really just going to hang out and enjoy, and if I have to walk the last 4 hours that's exactly what I'll do. As long as I come out of it without an injury and with a smile on my face, I'll have got out of the "race" exactly what I want. You should come hang out with me - if 6 hours sounds like a bit much for your taste, they also have 3-hour, 10k (4 loops) and 5k (2 loops) races. It'll be fun; promise!

It probably won't snow.
(Image from Frosty Trail - the January version of Horror Hill)

In the meantime, the business of recovery continues. I've rode my old mountain bike once (my usual Wednesday night ride to my Mum's), got a couple of swims in this week, and have run every evening since Tuesday. Not long, and certainly not fast or flashy, but last night my legs actually felt pretty good. The thing will be not to overdo it, and in order to prevent myself from accidentally training for 3+ hours tomorrow, we're buggering off.


The weather this weekend is supposed to be incredible - I can't recall another Thanksgiving when the predicted daily highs were in the high teens to low twenties (Celsius - high 60's Fahrenheit), with quite moderate overnight lows (5c/45f). Furthermore, we were given a canoe the weekend before Run for the Toad which we have yet to use, and I can think of far worse ways to spend an afternoon than paddling on the Old Ausable Channel. With the canoe on the roof of the car we won't be able to bring our bikes to check out the 14km Savannah Bike Trail, but that's ok - the park store rents them, and we can even try out a tandem! There are also a bunch of walking trails for us to check out, and for me to maybe do a bit of running...but not too much.

Happy campsgiving!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Run for the Toad 50k - Saturday, October 5th, 2013

Done and dusted, even after giving myself multiple excuses to fail.

I was really nervous about this one, though I managed to keep myself from freaking out until the last 48 hours prior to the start. While I'd run so much more this year than ever before, had put in some strong performances and have run a few 6-hour races on much less training, the 50k distance (where "ultrarunning" really begins) was psyching me out a bit. Sporting a longest run this year of 30k (back at Midsummer Night's Run in mid-August) plus one more 29k run a mere two weeks out, I was still carrying some fatigue from backpacking that wasn't helped by running just over 70km ending a week before the race. Oops. Still bad at tapering.

For real.

To further confound any chance of success, I experienced a shoe crisis. I seriously did not have anything in my quiver I thought would do, so actually went out and bought a brand new pair of shoes on Friday night then gave them a 50k baptism of fire. Seriously - I only walked around the store for about 45 seconds in them before I put them on for the race.

Averting my eyes the entire time.
So bloody ugly.

As if that wasn't enough of a departure from the "nothing new on race day" rule, I took a wander around the race expo after picking up my kit and saying hello to a couple of people, and found the exact bit of gear after which I'd been lusting - the AK race vest from Ultimate Direction. I tried it on in both sizes, settled on the S/M (which I wouldn't have got if I'd ordered it, since it claims the upper limit of its size range is smaller than my chest measurement), and was so pleased with the fit and feel that I decided to run in it rather than the UltrAspire Alpha about which I'd had trepidations. Basically, the only things that were tried-and-tested were my actual clothing and my usual pre-race foods (turkey fried rice for dinner the night before; 2 meal replacement shakes + Tim Hortons Cafe Mocha the morning of).

Pinning on my bib.
Whose idea was it to give me sharp objects?

Obligatory pre-race archway photo in new shoes & vest.

With about 30mins until gun time, I pulled all my new gear on after a cursory swipe of BodyGlide on both feet, then headed to the portajohn line to sort out the pre-race business. I also ran into Ron Gehl and got my straw for the race - I couldn't fail now! After emptying myself of all I could in the loo, I proceeded to slather up with the most ridiculous quantity of lubrication the world has ever seen. Seriously, I was more BodyGlide than woman between waist and mid-thigh, and I'm pretty sure I gained a cup size from the sheer volume of lube I used on the area covered by my sports bra and my shoulders. I did some ankle circles, warmed up my calves a bit with some toe points, then leaned on a picnic table while I opened things up with some leg swings and hip circles. I did run about 15 feet down to the edge of the beach for a photo, but the first few kilometers would be the real warm-up run. Oh, and I re-tied my shoes a couple of times trying to figure out the best lace tension for them, what with never having run in them before.

Ready as I'll ever be.

With just a few minutes left to go, I got a kiss from Tanker and headed to the start line to await the 9:30 gun to start the 50k (the 25k starts later). We were fortunate with the weather - it was warm enough that we didn't have to shiver waiting around, but the rain had stopped and it wasn't predicted to get too warm. Cloudy and a high of 18c/64f was about as perfect as you could ask for! After the lengthy opening ceremonies (most of which I'd missed while getting ready, though I did enjoy the pipe band from afar) and a resounding boom from the little cannon brought in by the Royal Highland Fusiliers, off we trotted to begin the long day ahead.

Bloody hell!
Image from Ryder Photography

1st Loop: Feeling it out

Not a whole lot to say about the first 12.5km loop - I ran along at a comfortable (but probably slightly too-fast pace), realised I remembered almost nothing about the course from racing the 25k in 2011, was rather paranoid about the new shoes, and certainly wasn't feeling terribly energetic. There were the usual jokes within the first couple of minutes - "Ok, I'm tired - we done yet?" and "This is a 5k, right?" I ran up some small rises, and wondered if I'd be able to run them later, or if I should be walking them now. I played airborne caterpillar with a young fellow in orange, wearing a MEC hydration pack; he commented that it seemed like we'd be passing each other a lot (he'd run up hills that I'd walk, then I'd pass him on the flats and downhills), to which I replied "Yeah, until an hour from now when you ditch me and I never see you again" and got a laugh. I took my first couple of swigs of EFS Liquid Shot from one of the two gel flasks in the front pockets of the vest at 30 and 60mins, finally remembering to set my interval timer to beep every half-hour to remind me to take in nutrition - I get dumb after 3 hours or so, and this would help a lot. I got my hand bottle refilled with water at a couple of aid stations along the way, drinking steadily whenever I remembered to do so.

And apparently smiling a lot.
No, really.

Unfortunately, I developed a small hot spot where my left big toe meets my foot around the 6k mark, did nothing about it (thinking it was just the new shoes and I was screwed), then had to stop around the 8k mark to pull up my sock; I'd figured out that it had bunched up a bit and was causing the friction. The safety pin that was holding my gaiter hook at the toe blew off as I worked, so I had to pick it up, bend it back into shape, then put it back on the shoe and hook up my gaiter again. I lost a couple of minutes, but I couldn't run another 3 loops with that sock chewing its way into my foot. As it was, I'd already left it longer than I should have; you really need to nip these things in the bud if you want to survive in ultrarunning.

One quarter down - so far so good.

Still all chipper!

I came through the finish in about 1 hour 25mins, which was slower than I would have liked - if I was going to make 6 hours, I probably needed to be through that first lap in 1h23m or less due to pace decay. When giving me my straw before the race, Ron Gehl advised I'd probably struggle to make 6 hours based on my course 25k PR of 2:47:31, and it looked like he was right. Oh well - the real goal was just to keep moving forward and finish without injuring myself.

Lap 1: 1:25:29 chip time (1:26:02 gun time)

Off I go again..

The good: I felt ok, I managed to get my sock sorted out, and I had a couple of friends running the 25k who made me smile by saying hello as they came past. Also had a bonus cheering section, as another friend had come out to spectate!

The bad: I should have sorted out that sock business right when I noticed the hot spot beginning, and I should have used more BodyGlide on my feet.

Lap 2: Finding my stride

I had another swig off my gel flask as I passed Aid Station #1 (just past the start/finish area by the beach) and settled in for the next loop. You know you've been running a lot lately when it takes almost 2 hours for you to really start hitting your groove! Unfortunately, some rumblings told me that wasn't the only thing I'd need to be hitting - something I'd eaten was knocking at the exit door, and I'd have to let it out or suffer the consequences. I knew better than to think I could hold it for the rest of the race! Fortunately, I also remembered that the course went right past an honest-to-gawd comfort station with flush toilets and all the amenities - I couldn't recall exactly where it was, but the marked trail literally passed 5 feet away from the door. I found it right around 4.5km in - just as I was approaching the 2 hour mark - and took care of what needed to be done. I tried to be efficient, but I didn't rush; taking an extra second or two to ensure I cleaned myself up properly would pay dividends later vs. the chafing and unpleasantness that would ensue if I was too hasty. While I was in there anyway, I also topped up my near-empty hand bottle completely at the faucet - might as well save myself an aid station stop! I got a shot of gel in just as I set off and washed it down with a good sip of fresh water.

I was feeling pretty good once I left the comfort station, despite knowing I'd lost some time. I wondered why I'd needed to take a washroom break at all and hoped it wouldn't be the first of many; GI problems can ruin your day so easily, and I really thought I'd done all I could to prevent them (no solid food past 12 hours before gun time; sticking with easily digested meals in the couple of days up to the race; nothing I hadn't eaten before). My gut felt good, though; it just wouldn't let me get away without that one poop break! I continued taking EFS Liquid Shot on a 30-minute schedule, though I did notice I still wasn't getting a full ounce at a time as there was still about 1.5oz left in my 1st flask after my 5th swig (around 2 hours 30mins) - that should have left it empty. Darnit.

Still grinning away.

Thumbs up for rock'n'roll!

Approaching the end of the loop, I took a mouthful of water and backwashed it into the flask, then sealed it and shook it up to water down the gel inside. I chugged it back as best I could, bound and determined to finish it off before I saw Tanker again - I had a cunning plan!

Finished loop 2.
No, really. I'm having fun.
I was actually running quite happily at this point, despite looking like I want to die in the photos. I was surprised, really - I'd felt like absolute rubbish after running the 25k here in 2011, but I was still feeling good and enjoying myself so far. In fact, I was on my way over to see Tanker to grab our awesome new camera from him, because I was going to use the 3rd loop as my "tourist lap" to take some photos! As a bonus, one of the friends who'd done the 25k (and had blasted past me on my first lap) had hung around to cheer me on, so I had an extra little boost from another friendly face in the crowd (thanks Brad)! At some point near the beginning of the loop - possibly while distracted by thinking about a washroom - I stepped a bit wrong on a root or something and rolled my left ankle a little, but I was able to just run on afterwards and it seemed to be holding up ok.

Lap 2: 1:29:20
Halfway total: 2:54:49 (2:55:22 gun time)

The good: Hit my stride and felt strong through the first half, handled washroom stop efficiently, stayed on top of nutrition, even more bonus cheering section at the halfway mark! Lucked out not hurting myself when I rolled my ankle.

The bad: Still not taking a full ounce of EFS Liquid Shot at a time, don't know why I needed the washroom stop at all. Left foot still feeling some ill effects from the sock bite, and I'm sure I was too aggressive on some of the downhills.

Loop 3: Shutterbuggery

Having ditched the empty gel flask with Tanker and picked up the camera, I proceeded to take a lot of very bad photos of the course. While it was truly an effect of shooting with my left (non-dominant) hand and the low lighting conditions caused by grey skies and the shade of trees, let's just claim that all the blurriness is due to my incredible foot speed, mmmkay? Except when I stopped to get my bottle filled at Aid Station #1 - the kindly volunteer (whom I think I recognised as a former Horror Hill participant), rather than pouring cups of water into the open bottle, took it off my hand and started slowly pouring cups into it on the table. Another volunteer (and freakin' amazing ultrarunner) suggested that I didn't want to take the bottle off, but now that I had, maybe filling directly from the big cooler jug would be faster. After what felt like an eternity of stopped time, I was on my way again.

In the woods between a couple of infuriatingly long paved stretches through the first two kilometers.

Emerging onto a low pathway between the lake and a pond.

Fall colours around Pinehurst Lake

The pond on the other side.

With one of the large front pockets in the AK vest now free of a gel flask, I was able to stash the camera in there while I wasn't shooting yet easily access it when I wanted. That's not to say I got all the pics I wanted; some came out far too blurry (what you'll see here are cherry-picked as the best, and you'll notice that many of them are pretty lousy), and some I just flat-out missed because I was either too busy trying to stay upright, simply didn't have the camera out when the lone opportunity came up for the shot, or I was too busy trying to get the top off my bottle to get it filled to get shots of any of the aid stations. I was still "racing", so I wasn't going to stop or head back just to get a photo which would end up out of focus anyway. Going 1:29:xx for my second lap meant the last vestige of hope I had of going sub-6 hours had evaporated, but I could still try for 6:05:xx or 6:10:xx. Since I was now past the 3-hour mark, I treated myself to a chocolate chip cookie from the right-hand "electrolyte or valuables" pocket of my vest - I was pleased to be able to squeeze a small zipper baggie with 3 cookies into the stretch mesh pocket, because getting to eat cookies on course is one of the best reasons to run for over 3 hours.  

Climbing back into the woods.

Looking back to tent city.

There's a store up there that sells ice cream cones.
It's probably a good thing I don't carry cash when racing.

Pinehurst Lake

Fall colours

More pavement.
As the miles were racking up, I was more and more appreciative of the cushioning of the new shoes, which actually felt pretty good aside from that one blistery spot where my sock scrunched up. The 2nd toe of my right foot was hurting a bit, but I remembered that I'd failed to apply any BodyGlide in between it and my big toe, which was really dumb - it's a known blister spot for me. Can't blame the shoes for the wearer being an idiot! I also realised I'd forgotten one other pre-race ritual; I was still wearing my wedding and engagement rings, which wasn't the smartest thing in the world. Apart from the possibility of causing major issues if I did something dumb like break my wrist on course, there was the simple fact that my hands tend to swell a lot when I run for hours on end. I get the sausage fingers really badly! I was trying to work the fingers of my left hand (my right isn't as bad, as it carries the hand bottle) to keep the swelling down, but to no avail. At least I couldn't feel any pressure from the rings, and circulation still looked ok. Roll with it! I was having to change up how I carry my left hand, too; the previously-broken wrist has a tendency to get sore from all the jostling whenever I run over 2 hours, and this was no exception. I'd flip my hand palm-up for awhile, or extend my arm down a bit, just to change things up - I'm sure it looked even dumber than my usual Tyrannosaurus Rex limp-wristed arm carriage.

Another hill.

Still smiling...more or less.

Constant forward motion.

Alone in the woods.

The trails aren't really technical at all - just occasional roots.

My quads want to seize up whenever they see those little flags.

Oh look, I found some people...and another hill!

My legs were starting to talk to me now as I passed the 30k - and thus my longest run of the year - mark, and my right hip joint was making some noise as well. While the trails aren't at all technical (it's mostly wide quad trail/double track), there are several portions that slant quite sharply downward from right to left. This means your feet land a little slanted, which then throws everything from your ankles to your hips a little out of alignment - despite all the work I've done in the past couple of years to strengthen my adductors and the muscles that support the pelvis, the sheer volume of work for them was starting to cause some pain. My left gluteus medius was part of that equation as well, but not a huge issue; I've done even more work on strengthening my glutes in the past 3 years or so. I had, however, been a bit reckless about running down some of the hills, and my quads were getting increasingly vocal over their displeasure at my lack of care. Overall, though, I still felt a lot better than I expected at this point!

This little fellow sat near the bottom of a hill.

Through the woods again.

Still having fun!

Yes, that's a set of stairs. On a race course.

The view from the top is worth the climb!

Back down again, just to wreck your quads.

On the way to kilometer 8.

This guy was awesome, ringing his cowbells for us the whole time I was out there!

I swigged away from my second gel flask on my half-hour signals until I hit 4hrs (1:30pm), when I pulled out a little treat from the top left vest pocket - a precious peanut butter Gu packet! I love the stuff, but save it for special occasions as it's comparatively expensive and I really prefer the nutrition of EFS Liquid Shot. It did make a nice change, though, if a bit tricky to eat from a single-serve packet with the hand bottle. I got it in me, though, and stuffed the empty wrapper back in the pocket. I was really pleased with how the vest was working out, and hadn't noticed any chafing or discomfort at all - score! Even bigger lift: I actually managed to catch up to and pass ultrarunning legend Ron "Straw Man" Gehl!

Lovely cooling breeze through the open fields.

Do the hills ever end?

Grasshopper Meadows

Around 8.5km

Still going - Gu packet in my pocket now empty

From the last aid station (shortly before 9k) onward is almost all runnable terrain, with just a couple of hills that require walking (including one rather notable one). I was heading there now, and everything was starting to hurt. My legs had been barking for awhile, my left (previously broken) wrist was complaining about being made to shoot photographs on top of being bounced around for hours on end, my shoulders were starting to get sick and tired of all this arm-swinging business, and I think I even felt a bit of a bite from the new vest. I was getting lazy, too, and almost tripped over a root because I wasn't lifting my feet enough - the pain of banging my toes made me realise I needed to sharpen up, and quick! By this point I was actually begging for a hill so I could take a walk break, but from just past 10k there's a fairly flat, forested section where you just can't justify dropping from a run. Then, just as you're starting to taste the end of the loop around 11.5km, you turn a corner and find yourself staring down the barrel of Skeleton Hill.

It doesn't look so bad..



Made it!

This view is totally not worth it.

Of course I completely failed to get a photo of the actual plastic skeleton (in running shoes) that reclines comfortably in a chair at the top, with a sign that says "NO WHINING". 

Ryder Photography did, though.

I didn't actually power-walk the giant hill, or any others for that matter - I used a more normal stride to try to conserve energy, as hiking hard on uphills takes almost as much energy as running, and I didn't want to wear myself out since the whole rest of the course (1km to the end of the loop) is runnable. Down a grassy hill, into the woods again, chase your own tail a bit and then under the banner to do it all again. I spent a good part of the 3rd loop telling myself that the next time I saw any nasty bits would be the last time. Because of some rain the night before, the ground was soft and had got rather churned up in some places from the passage of over 1,200 runners - the good news is that most of them were already done, so it wouldn't get much worse!

Every time you turn a corner you go up another hill.

Oh look, it's the lake again!

Slight uphill to finish the loop, just for giggles.

I gave the camera back to Tanker, as I didn't want a single extra ounce on me for my 4th loop. Up until this point I was pretty much still having fun, but now past 37.5km and right at the four-and-a-half hour mark, I was totally ready to be done with this business. No rest for the wicked, though - off I buggered once more, taking another mouthful of EFS Liquid Shot and getting my bottle filled (more efficiently this time) at Aid Station #1.

Lap 3: 1:35:03
Three-quarter total: 4:29:52 (4:30:25 gun time)

The good: Still feeling strong through the end of the 3rd loop, having fun taking photos, passing Ron Gehl, and Brad was still there telling me I only had an hour and a half to go!

The bad: Legs really starting to break down, missing a few great photo opportunities, not wanting to do a 4th lap at all, relay runners blowing by me like I'm standing still. At least I hope they were relay runners..

Lap 4: I get by with a little help from my friends

I was just coming up to that first hill after running between the lake and the pond when I spotted the young fellow in orange wearing the MEC hydration pack, walking along with a lady in a North Shore shirt. I couldn't help but exclaim "I'm surprised to see you again!", at which point the lady said "Well, there's your pace bunny!". Wait, what? Noone should be pacing off me! I'm starting to fall apart! But, the young man fell in beside me, and we ended up working together for quite awhile. It was really nice to have some company through that final lap, as everything was starting to either lock up or shut down. The horrible spot on my left foot flared again, and I could feel a squishy blister there as I ran along some of that awful, slanted trail - it quieted down again later, likely because the blister burst and removed the pressure. My legs and hips made walking just as painful as running, and by this time even my chest and lungs had started to hurt with the effort of breathing deeply. My right shoulder was sick of carrying my bottle, too - I actually let it just hang for a couple of minutes while I walked, and it was delightful to stretch it out a bit. Mild rises that had seemed runnable even on the last loop became impossible to contemplate tackling at anything more than a hobble. I could see that my companion (whose name turned out to be Mic) was capable of moving much faster than I was, so I encouraged him to go on ahead as he still had a chance to break 6 hours, whereas I did not - he stayed with me, though, laughing and saying that he probably wouldn't run at all if he was on his own! It turns out he was doing his first 50k as well, being mostly an adventure racer, which begs the question; does 1 adventure racer + 1 tri dork = 2 ultrarunners? It looks like we'd find out.

I seriously don't remember being this happy, but there you have it.
It's true: I really do love racing.

We trotted together through the relentless pavement in the first 2 kilometers, finally making it into the woods...but not feeling nearly as much of a reprieve from the pounding as we'd hoped even on the soft, pine needle-strewn forest floor. Passing the 5-hour mark it was time for a little pick-me-up, so I pulled out my other zipper baggie and offered Mic a chocolate fudge sandwich creme cookie, which he gratefully accepted. It's amazing what a lift a simple cookie and a bit of conversation can give you when you're running on sheer bloody-mindedness! After each slow, painful climb we'd evaluate the trail ahead and find ourselves completely unable to justify not running. It would hurt, but at least it would be over sooner! There was still a lot of walking, though, and it got just a little harder every time to convince the legs to stir themselves into a run. Mic would actually stop and wait for me at aid stations as I got my bottle refilled, then we'd run on together - we actually spoke less and less throughout the loop, but one or the other of us would start running again at the start of a downhill or flat section and that would prompt the other to follow suit. Well, not that I was really running on downhills anymore; it was more of a high-speed mince or hobble, since every step was like a dagger in my thighs. Somehow, though, it was still letting me catch up to Mic - he was a little quicker on the uphills but I had no reason to hold anything back anymore, so could actually get up a turn of speed on mild declines and flats. Mic mentioned that he had a few medals and things from other races that really didn't mean much to him, but he was bound and determined to get his finisher medal today. He actually said he might even charge at Skeleton Hill; he had walked it on every loop so far, but thought he'd try running it just to see if he could. I told him he was welcome to try!


Having determined that 6 hours was not achievable, I still held out hope for sub-6:10 as we ran, trotted, stumbled, hobbled and limped according to the terrain. Up and over the second-last hill just past the 10km mark, we ran on for a couple of minutes until we saw a girl sitting on the side of the trail. Calling out to see if she was ok, she replied tearfully that she'd rolled her ankle and was just pissed off because all she wanted was to finish the race. We stopped to see if there was anything we could do to help, but she told us to go on and finish; she said she just needed to "wallow a bit" and then she'd get herself up and limp her way in, despite a scraped and bloodied knee as well as the hurt ankle. She thanked us for stopping but was adamant that we should keep moving and finish - I asked again if she was sure, then wished her all the best as we carried on. I felt really awful for her, and knew that it could have just as easily been me sitting there, especially after my little incident in loop 2. Fortunately, my own ankle hadn't bothered me again since.

A couple of minutes later Mic asked me how far we were from the finish. I told him it was only about two kilometers. He thought this over carefully, repeating "Two kilometers...two kilometers..", then suddenly stopped. I turned to see what the problem was, and in a moment I'm not sure I'll ever forget, he simply said "I'm going back".

That guy there? He deserves your respect.
Me? Not so much.

That, my friends, is an act of heroism. When you're absolutely buggered yourself and still make the decision to go back for someone else who is worse off, you're a gawddamn hero in my books.

I wished Mic all respect and the best of luck, then stirred myself into the fastest run I'd managed in hours - I recalled there was a medic station on the other side of Skeleton Hill, so I figured the least I could do is let the EMTs know that there was an injury on course (there was noone left on the hill itself). One of the two medics was actually coming down the trail toward me as I approached, so I told him there was a girl who'd rolled her ankle just this side of the 10k mark. He took off to find her, and asked me to let the other medic at the station know when I got there, which I duly did. I really hoped the girl would be ok, as I know what it's like to DNF a race due to injury - there's nothing more disheartening. I also hoped Mic would get his finisher's medal after all.

The final stretch.

 As I came in view of the lake one last time, I actually saw the girl with the rolled ankle hobbling her way out of the woods toward the finish area/tent city - I'd forgotten that the course does loops around the conservation area, so there was probably a shorter way. I asked if my compatriot had found her, and she said he had...which meant Mic was probably still out on course somewhere behind me. I looked back, but didn't see anyone - all I could do is keep running and hope that he'd make it ok. I had been feeling like a jerk, thinking that maybe if one of us had got under either of the girl's arms we could have helped her limp in to a finish, but she told me she had only been on her 3rd loop. Well, that answers that - I don't think I could have managed another.

Flashing Tanker the Ill Advised Racing gang sign.

At long last, I finally shambled my way across the timing mats at the finish, seeing 6:08:xx on the clock as I crossed the line. It was over. I'd run fifty damn kilometers.

And I was still smiling.

Lap 4: 1:38:01
Official 50k time: 6:07:51 @ 7:21/km  pace (6:08:24 gun time)
22/27 finishers (33 starters) in W0-39 
32/44 Female finishers (52 starters)
112/147 finishers O/A (169 starters)

The good: I stayed on top of my nutrition the whole way and my gut felt good throughout, never experienced any low spots (usually brought on by low blood sugar), and actually managed to enjoy almost the whole race. My minor ankle roll had absolutely no lasting effects; was able to run on it immediately without pain, and no soreness in the days afterwards - I actually came through without anything I consider to be an injury, which was the overarching goal from the very start. The brand new gear proved not to be half as stupid a decision as it could have been - both pieces performed great! I was able to finish fairly strong, passing people right up until the last few kilometers, and I pushed myself as hard as I think I reasonably could for a first 50k attempt. Also, the weather was absolutely perfect throughout - humid, but no rain and the clouds and delicious breeze kept it nice and cool. I couldn't have asked for a better day, though the mud got a bit challenging in the later loops. Having someone to work with through the last lap was awesome - the camaraderie made a painful experience so much more tolerable! It was great having friendly faces cheering for me each loop, too, and of course my husband Tanker was his usual amazing self, giving me a real lift as he sent me out for each lap, taking incredible care of me after the race was done, and generally making me feel like a rock star. You're awesome sweetheart!

The bad: I felt like a bit of an ass when Mic went back to help out and I didn't. I shouldn't make a habit of using un-tested gear in long races (not the first time this year), and I need to ensure that I get all necessary bits properly covered in BodyGlide before the race. Also need to remember to take my rings off! I might have been able to make up some time if I'd been a bit more careful with my pacing and downhill running early in the race, and I'd like to figure out why I needed that bathroom break at the 2 hour mark.

Overall verdict: While my pace did slow by about twelve and a half minutes from the first lap to the last lap, it seems from looking at the overall results like I was pretty much in line with other athletes' rate of pace decay - the 4th and 5th overall men actually slowed by over 20mins between loop 1 and loop 4, which is a much greater percentage of their lap time. I'm fairly happy with the way I executed the race, and I really did enjoy myself out there on the course - the 6-hour goal can wait for another day!

Post-race: Go jump in a lake!

After waiting a few more minutes, Mic came running across the line to finish just after 6:11. As I shook his hand to congratulate him on finishing, he told me that he'd actually run all the way up Skeleton Hill, but there wasn't a single soul around to see it! I'm telling you, the guy is some kind of superhero in disguise. I literally took my hat off to him.

I also stumbled over to a picnic table to try to take stock of myself and the damage I'd sustained. The new shoes had actually been a good selection, given the lack of cushioning my other two possible choices offered and the fact I only ended up with a couple of blisters. I'm sure I could have prevented at least one of them if I'd remembered to apply BodyGlide between my toes, too - that was dumb. The burst one on my left foot wouldn't have happened if my sock hadn't bunched up, either, so that basically leaves one that might be the fault of the shoes. Might.

That one on the side of my big toe? That's the only one I'm not sure I could prevent. 

Pretty pleased with the Leadville 1210s.
(Left gaiter undone so my timing chip could be removed)

Oh, sweet relief!

I was also really happy with the way the AK vest performed - it turned out later that it had given me a bit of a hickey on one side of my neck, but it didn't even hurt. I found it in the mirror the next day, not by screaming when something touched it! I'm pretty sure some additional BodyGlide would ensure this doesn't happen again, too. Compared with the discomfort I felt wearing the UltrAspire Alpha on just a 40min run - and the way my gel flasks bounced in it - I really believe I made the right decision for carrying my race-day needs. I doubt I'd have had any skin left on my shoulders! The Alpha is a nice pack (Tanker is taking it, and is excited to have his own hydration vest), but it simply doesn't work for me - the AK vest, on the other hand, is almost exactly what I'd hoped for - a lightweight, barely-there set of pockets to hold the few bits of kit I need while racing long distance, saving me from using drop bags or relying on Tanker to pass me nutrition.

Ooh, it must like me!

My legs were a bit of a wreck, but I knew they would be and also had an idea or two that would help them feel better. After removing my shoes, throwing on a hoodie and pulling off my wet shirt and bra (to keep me from freezing to death), I slowly hobbled down the beach and toward relief..

Nature's ice bath!
I also got a bit of a massage afterward, just as the rain started to fall.

This race was a huge challenge for me - I'd been quite fearful of making my first 50k attempt at this particular event, especially since this year they were hosting the ACU Canadian Championships. I was sharing the course with some of the best ultrarunners in the country, and it was a pretty stacked field! It felt great to achieve my primary goals of finishing and coming through without injury, and to remain fairly strong and cheerful throughout the race. That sub-6 goal seems like it may be reachable with a bit more ultra experience - just 2 minutes per loop! For now, though, I'm just happy to have done it at all, and like Mic said I think this will be a medal I'll really treasure.

Exhausted but happy.

Lots of memories wrapped up in that little chunk of metal.