Friday, May 29, 2015

Sulphur Springs 50k Trail Ultra - May 23rd, 2015

Well, that went better than I had any right or reason to expect.

 Race day rolled around after a week of almost no sleep, with the worst night being right before the event - I didn't get to bed until 11:30pm, woke up at 1am, then again at 2:30, and one last time at 3:30am before climbing out of its coziness to munch back a bagel. My right calf had been feeling tight and sore since Thursday evening's run, which was one of only two I'd done in the prior 8 days between backpacking for the Victoria Day weekend and intentional days off for date night and tapering. Having been whacked between the eyes with the worst case of race nerves I can ever recall experiencing, I gave up any hope of performance and focused on just trying to finish the damn thing and have a good look around to enjoy the trails.

 Relaxing wasn't happening. As I downed my pre-race coffee on the ride down to the Ancaster Community Centre, I was driving Tanker insane with my constant vibration and keening sounds. He repeatedly assured me I'd be fine - that I'd make him proud no matter what. I don't know what I'd do without him, even though I didn't believe him for a second.

Skepticism. I haz it.

Still being of the "large surface area" persuasion (read: chubby) and having had major issues on some hot weather runs in the weeks leading up to the event, I had joked with someone that I was hoping for frost on race morning. So yeah, everyone that was freezing to death at the start line can blame me for that one. Trying to figure out what to wear was ridiculous: the temperature that afternoon was supposed to reach 22c/72f, but it was below freezing as we drove through the sunrise to arrive at the venue around 6:15am. I'd either have to ditch a bunch of gear along the way (and I wasn't sure there would be a place to do so where I could recover it), carry extra weight as I removed stuff (NOPE), or just TRUST THE CHUB.

Yep. You know what I ended up doing.


Before all of this, though, I actually managed to find a way to chill out in a more figurative sense. I'd had a Beck track stuck in my head all morning, and I had it on my phone, so I played it after doing my ankle circles, leg swings, and other silly motions in an effort to loosen up. Once the song I'd wanted to hear was done - and I can't tell you how encouraging it is to have a chorus that goes "more dead than alive" lodged in your brain before a 50k - I decided to keep the funk rolling by throwing on another of Beck's older cuts.

And then it took over.

If you really want to laugh, here's the video Tank shot.

While the portajohn lineup grew to epic proportions behind me, I shook my tiny-skirted booty to the swingin' beats. I'm sure I looked like the biggest knob in the world and everyone probably got a good larf out of the crazy chick gettin' funky for NO APPARENT REASON (since I could barely even hear my phone in my hand, I'm sure noone else could hear it at all), but for the first time in at least 36 hours I felt happy and relaxed.

Best pre-race warmup ever.

Let's do this thing!

Shivering and thinking I could really use one more pre-race pee (which was impossible with the huge lineup for the facilities), I got a final good luck kiss from Tanker and lined up at the top of Martin Road with all the other 25k & 50k participants in time for the horn to sound at 7:30am. The deal was one 10k spur followed by two 20k loops, and I figured that 2nd 20k was going to be messy as my longest training runs had been just twenty-five measly kilometers.

Ah well. Suck it up and give'er.

Course map. See a larger PDF version here.

The mass start of people on the trail meant that I was stuck in the general conga line with few opportunities to pass for the first while. Since I was just planning to tourist the race, I was totally fine with this, but the crowds ahead of me thinned to almost nothing as we reached the turn-around point for the 25k runners (who did a 5k out-and-back section plus a single 20k loop). Continuing on the Headwaters trail with a lot more space, I reveled in the brilliant sunshine and the lush, verdant trails.

Oddly enough, I felt great. I mean seriously awesome. I couldn't feel my hands for the first half hour and I got a slight ice cream headache from not covering my ears against the chill morning air, but I was enjoying the hell out of myself. I frolicked. I romped. I felt like a baby deer prancing through the forest, though I'm sure I looked like some kind of malformed hippo plodding my way along. I could barely contain the joy that welled up inside me simply because I was alive and surrounded by nature on a beautiful day.

I didn't even mind climbing the huge hill on the Headwaters Trail, thinking I'd only have to do it once. This proves that I'm bad at interpreting maps, as I was under the impression the 10k spur was separate from the 20k loop. Nonetheless, I moseyed my way to the top and came hauling back down to the foot of Martin Road again, then marched back upward again to come through the finish line for the first time. Apparently I would have been able to ditch a pair of gloves & earband with Tanker after the first 10k. Oh well - I was still too happy to care, and had long since warmed up enough to be comfortable.

Oh, and start T-rexing like mad.

10k split: 1:02:36 @ 6:16/km

Running is way easier if you just don't let your feet touch the ground.

Yes, I really was that ridiculously happy.

Back down the giant Paris to Ancaster finishing hill, I hit the right-hand turn to head out on the 20k loop and hoped I'd find a portajohn, since the urge to pee hadn't really gone away. I'd started in on a flask of EFS Liquid Shot at the 30min mark, and continued to take a swig every 30mins while sucking back water from my hand bottle until I finished off the 400cal at 2h30m. I also finally hit a portajohn around that time - I'd found them originally at around the 1h30m mark, but at that time for some reason I didn't seem to need one. Just my luck. At least, when I finally did stop at the trail centre, I didn't have to wait since there was an unoccupied loo. Score! As I was about to exit, though, I discovered I'd lost the bead to one of my lip bars. D'oh!

Still feeling absurdly good regardless of collateral losses, I found the course extremely runnable - there were a couple of technical sections and a few hills that were either steep or long enough to warrant walking, but the trails were in excellent condition and I could run most of the undulating sections without redlining myself. Even on the parts I walked, I'd force myself to start running just before the top so I could power up and over into the flat or downhill on the other side. While both calves and hamstrings gave some warning creaks while walking up very steep sections (perhaps not fully recovered from backpacking just a few days beforehand), they loosened up as the day warmed up and the cranky calf I'd feared might cause problems never became an issue.

Of course, I made sure I had enough breath to wish other athletes well as I passed them or they passed me. Having expected to be alone on the trail for much of the race, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the nature of the course meant there was two-way traffic in several places. I got to see a lot of friendly faces in the ultra community and pass some kind words with acquaintances old and new. I never seemed to be at quite the same pace as anyone else for long, though, so didn't really end up chatting much with anyone. I had plenty of time to absorb the stunning beauty of the trails themselves - the lively streams and gorgeous stepped falls; the awe-inspiring rock formations; the pockets of phox, forget-me-nots and lily of the valley deliciously scenting the sunshine-dappled woods.

Hitting the Headwaters Trail again at the end of my first 20k loop, I was a bit chagrined to realise I'd have to climb both the huge hill on it AND the big sucker at the finish 3 full times before I'd be done, but I was still feeling great and having fun. The trails were open to the public, too, and I'd seen a couple of people out walking and riding mountain bikes, plus some very distinct evidence (ahem) of horseback riders along the way.

Of course, you had to know my clumsiness would eventually come into play. As I came to a bit of a bend in the trail and got stuck behind a clump of runners in some two-way traffic that also had a mountain biker in its midst, I was trying to process all the sensory input and still give those around me a kind word or two...and failed to pick up my feet sufficiently on a rooty section.


I felt my toe catch and my body pitch forward, everything shifted into slow motion. I knew I was going down. I knew I was doing so in front of a whole pack of people. I was utterly helpless to change any of this.

Sprawling on the ground on knees, hands and my right elbow, I inspected the trail at close range. I bounced back up almost immediately and started brushing dirt off me as I looked for damage & tried to assess how I felt (other than like a complete idiot - that was a given). Other racers kindly asked if I was ok and assured me I wasn't the only one going for a brief dirt nap; one girl said she'd done the exact same thing not 20mins earlier. Fortunately I had lucked out big time: rather than yard saling myself in one of the many sections of the course covered in pea gravel, roots or rocks, I'd managed to biff into a pile of fluffy leafmould & dirt. I had a scraped up right elbow, a dirty mark on my right knee, a spot that I knew would become a spectacular bruise on the outside of my right thigh along with some minor scratches, and the palm of my highly swollen left hand (which happens whenever I run over 2hrs) looked like I might have popped a couple of tiny blood vessels. My right hand had been cushioned by my hand bottle, which escaped with a bit of scraping only - both it and I still seemed to be completely functional, which was rather a good thing as I still had at least 23km left to go.

Back at it with merely a creak or two from my knees, I made it up the Martin Road hill again to come through the 30k mark in about 3h20m.

"Hey, guess how dumb I am!"

1st 20k split: 2:17:15 @ 6:52/km

Still illin'
(The clock started at 6am for the 100 mile race)


I'd helped myself to a small cup of eLoad drink from an aid station around the 3hr mark, but didn't take any gel until snapping into a salted caramel Gu packet around 3h30m. Oddly enough, I had a nasty almost-barf burp after the eload that scared me a bit; I hoped my gut wasn't going south on me. Fortunately, it was my only real moment of GI distress - even the caffeine in the Gu sat fine. I figured (erroneously - I should know better than to attempt math during an ultra) that I might be able to finish in around 5h30m, and had 2 caffeinated gels with me, so one per hour for the last 2hrs of the race seemed reasonable. Unbelievably for this stage in the race I was still feeling really strong and enjoying the hell out of myself; I didn't experience any low, grumpy points in the whole race, remaining quite chipper throughout. I trotted along, sniffing the wildflower and pine scented air, taking another swig of EFS Liquid Shot from a second flask in my pocket at the 4h mark, and trying to stay upright.>

Image from Lauralyn Welland Taylor on facebook

By this time I was finding the course almost annoyingly runnable. The long stretches of near-flat trail had slight rises that were just enough to take it out of your lungs and legs without being major enough to warrant walking - it's a race that almost seems custom designed to make you keep working hard throughout. I kept my effort level up, still passing people and running over the tops of hills, and letting my legs go a bit on the downhills. My left hip started to ache a bit and my left lateral quad got a bit snarky (like my right had done at Pick Your Poison last month), but I was well into the last 10k before my legs started to get that heavy, wooden feel that I'd expected much sooner given my lack of long runs. I did almost take another header that would have been much more catastrophic, as I caught another root on a narrow, side-slope technical section that fell away to steep, rocky, tree-filled certain pain on the one side, but I was able to stick the landing at the last moment. I chided myself to pick up my damn feet, and set out to run this thing home. My shoulders and upper back were feeling sore, too, from my earlier tumble and carrying my hand bottle all day.

The second salted caramel Gu at 4h30m was supplemented with a little cylindrical crisp rice snack labeled gluten free from one of the aid stations - how awesome that the organizers made the effort to accommodate those with food sensitivities! Just one more example of how awesome a race this is for the athletes. From kit pickup to aid stations to course layout, this has to be one of the best events I've done. I'm glad I was finally able to fit it into my calendar, and will most assuredly be back in the future.

I filled my hand bottle about halfway at the 5hr mark as I came through the aid station at the split to the Headwaters Trail - the spout on the jug was either problematic or I was just too stupid to make it work properly at this point, so the trickle it was giving me took forever to pour out even that much. Hoping I was only 30mins from the finish line anyway, I crossed my fingers it would be enough. I took one last tiny sip of EFS Liquid Shot as well, just to keep energy levels up. Nutrition was still sitting fine, but my gut was starting to feel a bit sore just from constant jarring as I continued to push hard right to the bitter end.

I had been playing airborne caterpillar with a nice young lady for the latter portion of the race. She was clearly stronger on the uphills, but my long legs and fat butt gave me an advantage on the downhills and we were pretty evenly matched on the flats. Fortunately the last couple of kilometers after the giant hill on the Headwaters Trail were mostly downhill, so I was able to put a bit of time in before hitting the big climb up to the finish. I had run out of water and was well past 5h30m as I emerged at the top, but knew I was in for a huge PR nonetheless.

Still grinning like a fool!

2nd 20k split: 2:23:32 @ 7:11/km

You mean I can stop now?

Official time: 5:43:24 @ 6:52/km
10/50 women, 46/127 O/A
(Official results here)

24m27s PR for the 50k distance!

Trail damage

Even without the bonuses of knocking over 24mins off my first 50k time and the unexpected delight of cracking the top 10 women overall, this has to be one of my best race experiences of all time. The gorgeous day, the superlative beauty of the trails, the friendly people on course, seamless execution by the staff & volunteers and my own fantastic mood throughout all contributed to a thoroughly enjoyable day.

Enhanced by my own personal cheering section

Now it's time to recover hard, since tri season starts in just over a week!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Not all who wander are lost

..but I may be completely screwed.

Last weekend was incredible. Tanker and I had the most amazing time backpacking on the trails through Frontenac Provincial Park. The weather was sunny and warm - even too warm at times - all weekend, and if it hadn't been for the vicious masses of mosquitoes plaguing us at almost every moment, it would have been perfect. Even with all the bugs, it was a truly wonderful time anyway - with spring now in full, raging effect, the woods were filled with the brilliant, verdant green of new life and growth.

Almost fluorescent and studded with phlox

Turtle spotted within minutes of starting off

Boardwalks through the muddiest spots

Bridges over streams

Wildflowers everywhere

Flowing water

Leopard frog


Hiding from the mosquitoes

Lynch Lake before sunset on Day 1

Mist on the water at dawn on Lynch Lake

Filtering swampy water

Bullfrog in Lynch Lake

This rat snake swam right past my boots!


Sticky little leaves

Backpacking trail or goat path?

By yet another beaver dam

The only time you'd catch a breeze was near a lake
Rathkopf Fen

Muskrat chomping on the tender, green shoots at the water's edge

Fire at Devil Lake on Day 2

The perfect trillium, right outside our tent at Devil Lake

Sunrise on Day 3

Headed back toward the trailhead

Incredible rock formations

Soft, pine needle-strewn trail

A quick break in the hot sun by Little Clear Lake

Tangled roots

Old Thor helped build mining & logging roads, but was abandoned 60 years ago

Lively brook

Huge shoulders of rock near the trailhead

One of the many juvenile garter snakes

Peace and contentment

Tuesday's return to work brought reality crashing back, but even that was nothing when compared to the anxiety that's been growing in me all week.

The Sulphur Springs trail races are tomorrow morning, and signing up for the 50k all the way back in December seemed like an innocent enough idea. Now, here I sit with my heart in my mouth, knowing that I've only done one "long" run over 25km and only a single run over 3 hours (my mediocre attempt at the Pick Your Poison 25k four weeks ago). I've also got barely any sleep this week, and feel like I might have caught a smidge of a cold.

I'm undertrained, overweight, and rather petrified.

Fortunately, I have 2 things going for me:

1) Since I've never done Sulphur before, I am reasonably content to just "tourist" my way through this race. My only goals are to finish it, and enjoy the beauty of Dundas Valley Conservation Area along the way.

2) Per the Participant Guide, I have 14 hours to finish.

I may take all of it.

But really, it's just another wander in the woods, right?