When a 56k race allows a full 10 hours to complete it - basically a decent walking pace - you know the course will be something beyond the common trail race. Limberlost did not disappoint!
|Roots and rocks and lakes and forest.|
We arrived on Friday evening after a hot, interminable drive through horrible traffic. We found the wildlife reserve and the group camping area for racers, grabbed ourselves a spot, then set up our gear in the middle of the big field near the start/finish. Our friend Catherine pulled in just as I was getting set to make dinner, and flopped out her pop-up tent just in time for it to start raining around 8pm. We all sheltered under the canopy and Tank and I chowed down on some chicken fried rice as the thunder and lightning started around us.
|Hanging with Catherine on Friday evening, during a period of lighter rain.|
Around 10pm it was clear that the rain wasn't going to stop anytime soon, and since we had a somewhat early morning we decided to turn in for the night. Catherine wisely slept in her truck instead of the little pop-up tent; it was more of a bathtub by morning.
The thunderstorms raged through most of the night. Tanker and I awoke to a crash and the top of our tent bowing in a bit - I thought it was under a massive gust of wind, but we'd find out differently later. Fortunately our awesome Punk Rawk Cabin held up to the assault an despite the torrential downpours we only had about 2 drops make their way inside - most likely when the top bowed in, letting the fly touch the mesh tent body near the apex. I dropped back into a fitful sleep until a bit before 5am, when I got up to make myself a bowl of oatmeal...and discovered that while the rain had stopped, our new canopy had tried to murder the people in the tent behind ours!
|I haven't had my coffee yet, but I feel like something's missing here..|
Fortunately noone was hurt when our pop-up shelter took flight. We had staked down the footplates with 12" spikes, but apparently a gust had lifted it right off the ground regardless - it hit our tent (which is what woke us up just after 1am), then landed on the big 8-person Coleman tent behind us. The occupants were able to pull it off their tent - which luckily sprang back up, though they understandably chose to go sleep in their truck after that - and release the corners of the canopy so it wouldn't catch any more wind before setting it in a clear spot near the white canopy behind Tank & I in the photo above. I collapsed the frame to make it easier to carry and retrieved it, surprisingly only finding a couple of minor bends in the tubing in one spot on the outer edge. Apparently our new shelter was built pretty tough - we just wish it wasn't quite so homocidal!
After scarfing down my little pot of oatmeal and braiding my hair, I went back to bed for an hour - the luxury of camping at the race site! - then got back up and ready to go. Picked up race kit, drank the excellent coffee that Tanker brewed up for us, said hello to everyone I could spot that I knew (including getting my straw from Ron), swung my limbs around, hit the portajohn to "get down to race weight" with 10mins before the start, and just generally dorked it up.
|Business as usual.|
Right on time at 8am, the horn sounded and we all set off...some of us obviously in much more of a hurry than others.
|I see fast people.|
I was perfectly content to hang near the back as we started by running up the flat dirt & gravel of South Limberlost Road to reach the trail access.
|I guess I can't blame my goofiness on race fatigue in the first 50 metres..|
Turning onto the trails, we immediately began skirting around beautiful Solitaire Lake. The singletrack was very runnable in this section, with only occasional rocks or roots to look out for. Everything was incredibly well marked - including a sign to indicate each kilometer - and you couldn't ask for a lovelier way to start your day.
|Lots of this, please.|
Within the first mile, though, you come to the biggest single climb on the course - a steep, multi-section ribbon of dirt that gets more and more technical the higher you get. Fortunately it had reasonably good drainage so there wasn't much mud, but it was murder on the calves and quads and required quite a bit of attention for foot placement.
|Around a turn and up you go|
|Keep on climbing|
|Hmm - getting a bit rooty and rocky now|
|Um ok watch your step..|
|Turn right into a patch of mud then up some more..|
It actually has another section to it, but my photo of that bit is terribly blurry. I'm pretty sure I was terribly blurry by the time I reached the top - I knew right away that it was a good thing I'd brought my trekking poles along to the race, as I'd need them later on. This became particularly obvious as I came across the top of a ridge and faced a steep, rock-strewn downhill surfaced in slippery, claggy mud that took you past the 2k marker.
|Looking down upon my imminent demise.|
With a bit of prayer and sliding feet, I made it down and was on my way again. It may have been here that I decided the camera was coming out for the 2nd lap so I could use my trekking poles for balance and support through the last half of the race. I had already seen a lady starting off her first loop wearing a 56k (blue) race bib, so I knew they were permitted. I planned to take advantage!
Somewhere before the 3k mark I realised I'd forgotten to take my wedding rings off, so I carefully worked them off my already-swelling hands and put them in a velcro pocket of my vest for safe keeping. I always worry about cutting off circulation as my fingers turn into sausages when I run long, and I'm clumsy enough that falling and breaking something is always a possibility, so removing my (titanium, thus more challenging to cut off) rings is just good policy.
The course gets very rocky - big boulders and twisted cedar trees - around 3km in, then you pass over a boardwalk along the edge of Solitaire Lake that passes by an impressive rock face.
|Winch your shoulders in..|
There was a photographer in a boat on the lake taking pictures of racers on the first lap, but of course they missed me. The view is quite spectacular from the water, though, so I'll include one of her photos of some random runners for reference.
|Photo by Paige Philips posted to the Limberlost facebook page.|
Up a hill past a cabin, then into the aid station just before 4km. I made sure to refill my hand bottle as the race directors had thoughtfully put a sign indicating it would be another 4.8km to the next aid station (there was also one at the aid station near the start/finish showing 3.8km to aid station 1). There were volunteers out by the cabin who sang songs and clapped for the racers all day long - such wonderful spirit out in the woods!
|The volunteers at the aid station itself were wonderful, too.|
|Look at all the opportunities to sprain my ankle!|
The middle section of the course has another decent bunch of climbing from about 4.5km until the high point around the 6k mark. Lots of mud, boardwalks, rocks and trees along the way.
|And footbridges that lead to muddy messes.|
Having developed massive blisters at the front of the balls of my feet at Sulphur Springs due to splashing through mud puddles, I initially tried to avoid stepping into the mud at Limberlost. Unfortunately, it rapidly became apparent it wouldn't be possible to get around plunging my feet into the mud churned up by the thunderstorms overnight - in some cases up to my calves.
I didn't try to run through it, though - partly because I didn't want the same blistering, and partly because it was difficult to stay upright even while walking as my feet would slide and shift below me. If I even tried to move quickly, my damaged left ankle would find a submerged root or rock and tweak just enough to tell me to slow down and pick my way carefully lest I be unable to finish at all. I knew I was in for a long day, and started to wonder once again about my ability to make the 10 hour cutoff..
I did try to keep on top of nutrition with a pretty simple strategy: have a serving of gel on the half-hour and some real food at the top of the hour. I started with a flask of EFS Liquid Shot that lasted me my first 2 laps, interspersing with a Bounce energy ball and a homemade maple vanilla sea salt crisp rice square. I also tried to get an S!cap into me at least once per hour starting from 45mins in, though I faltered with that later in the race. Still, I had no issues with cramping, low energy, nor any GI distress despite increasing heat throughout the day.
|Watch your step on the damp, slippery rocks.|
There was fortunately lots of shade on the course, though that made the mosquito situation much worse with all the mud. It wasn't too bad if you could move at a fair pace, but the moment you slowed down below a brisk walk they would descend upon you. I had sprayed thoroughly with repellent in the morning, which did help, but time and sweat dissolve all things. The few open, sunny spots on the course were fairly insect-free but you could practically feel your skin fry when you emerged from the shelter of the forest.
|Like on this parched climb.|
There were lovely views from the trail along the way, though, and as the wind picked up through the afternoon you could catch a delicious cooling breeze off the lakes as you passed.
|Pretty Helve Lake just past 6k|
I saw two loons swimming peacefully here on my first lap.
A good portion of the course runs past little streams where you can hear the rush of falling water, and even catch glimpses of it along the way. While absolutely beautiful, many of the streams give off trickles of water that cross the trails and turn them into squishy masses of mud.
|Muddy feet ahead.|
Even where there were boardwalks, water levels were so high that they would either splash down into the surface as you crossed them, or in one memorable case actually had a small waterfall submerging a corner of them.
|Where that runner is up ahead was wet most of the day|
|Looking back after turning the corner - such a beautiful spot.|
More big chunky rocks, more boardwalks, then a set of stairs formed by 4x4 studs pounded into the ground and held in place by vertical pieces of rebar.
|The trails keep you guessing - what could possibly come next?|
You hit aid station #2 - the only other one on the trails, and of which I did not get a photo - just before 9km, where you'd best fill your water bottle as you'll start to climb up onto another ridge for some roller coaster-like bits, including another steep, technical climb around 10k that is shorter than the first major one but made more difficult by being covered in slick mud.
|The second thing that convinced me I needed my wimp sticks.|
You'll encounter loads of giant rocks along the trail, and some that even ARE the trail. It requires some careful footwork in places, especially with muddy shoes.
|Like no other trail I've seen|
|Shoulder through the boulders.|
The ridgetop tour ends with the jaw-droppingly beautiful descent past Ethan's Shale before the 12k mark. Here you get the best view of a waterfall-studded stream running alongside the trail, gurgling around rocks in the sun-dappled shade of the forest before slipping under another boardwalk at the bottom past the 12k mark.
|Top of Ethan's Shale|
|One of a dozen little step falls along the course|
|Running along the stream|
The final section of the course is almost flat, with just a few little rises to keep things interesting as you transition from boardwalk to boardwalk and emerge along the shore of Clear Lake. Passing the 13k mark - which my Garmin claims is actually about 1.4km from the finish line - you'll find yourself running across near-submerged boardwalks that skirt the lake's shore and splash you with water as you trot along.
|I heard someone took a spill on the wet, slippery wood, too.|
|At least one of the course photographers caught me near the end of my first lap!|
One last bit of forest, then turn right up a short hill and you're approaching the start/finish line.
|One lap down - 3 left to go.|
As I finished my first lap, I wondered if I'd even make it through 3 more. I got the camera from Tank - who had managed to re-erect our canopy while I was out playing in the woods - and told him I'd want my poles for the 3rd and 4th laps. I also stated that "saying it's a bit muddy out there is like saying we got a touch of rain last night", which a look at my feet confirmed.
Lap 1: 2:17:10 @ 9:48/km
I grabbed another crisp rice treat, a full hand bottle, a turkey wrap and a smooch, then was on my way again. The sun was fully up and had burned off the morning overcast, so the run up South Limberlost Road was rather dusty and unpleasant - I was all too happy to dodge into the shade of the Gottarun Trail and then the Solitaire Lake trail.
|And get my own damn photo on the Solitaire Lake boardwalk.|
I had managed to bank about 13mins ahead of 2h30m per lap pace - what I needed to "run" in order to make it through 3 laps in 7.5hrs in order to be allowed to continue on to my 4th lap. The mid-day sunlight streaming through the trees meant I had to stop completely in order to get course photos, though, so I soon found myself losing the little time I'd gained.
|Not that it stopped me from dorking it up out there.|
I kept up with my nutrition strategy, adding in a chunk of banana or watermelon at the aid stations as the fancy took me. I tried to keep up with the electrolyte caps as well, but it was made more challenging since my left hand was occupied with the camera and my right held my water bottle. I had to either stop completely or find a section of trail that didn't require intense attention paid to every step in order to get the caps into me without dropping them or spilling them out of the little pill bottle in which I keep them.
|And there aren't too many spots that answer that description.|
I was still enjoying myself through the second lap, despite being even more unsure of my footing through the muddy sections now that I was carrying the camera. Having already dented it by falling with it in hand at Sulphur Springs, I didn't want to risk doing any more damage to it...or to me!
|Trudging through the relentless mud|
Even the boardwalks were a source of some trepidation: through the first lap a lot of them had been soaked and slippery, and as the day wore on some broken boards began to appear.
The day was also heating up significantly as noon approached. I had started out with a cooling multifunction tube around my neck in the morning, but left it dry to act more as insulation to start the day in just a tank top. As the heat built in on the sun-drenched day my sweat dampened the cloth, activating the cooling and helping to keep me from overheating.
|Until I'd hit one of those parched, dusty, open road bits..|
I was still going through a lot of water, though - I'd generally have some left by the time I hit the first aid station, but from the 2nd lap onward I would run out before I reached aid station #2, and then run out again before I reached the start/finish where I could get a fresh bottle from Tanker. It was never quite enough to make me bring a second bottle along, but I was glad that each kilometer was marked so I could ration my consumption according to how long I'd have to go before I'd be able to re-fill.
|On the way to aid station 1.|
I happily munched down a corn tortilla with a couple of slices of hickory smoked turkey breast and a slather of mustard around 4hrs in, just trying to keep moving as best I could while still getting some photos of the breathtaking scenery. Fortunately everything was cooperating biologically - I did have to pee a couple of times as the race went on (mostly just finding a convenient tree to squat behind), but other than a couple of muscle twinges and ankle tweaks that worked themselves out my body wasn't really complaining. I wasn't fast, but I had no GI distress, no grumpy joints, and nothing I really needed to favour in order to make forward progress.
|Which is a good thing, because I was not at home to whiners.|
I did have a nasty hotspot on the inside of my left big toe and the ball of my foot, which I had rather expected since that's an issue that seems to crop up every time I run in wet or muddy conditions...which describes all of the outdoor racing I've done this year. It hurt, but it was a hurt I could mostly ignore.
|I had rather a lot to distract me.|
I finished off the last of the nutrition I had on me at 4h30m by slurping down an Endurance Tap gel - apart from the turkey wrap, I'd had the other 2 sips of EFS Liquid Shot from my flask plus a second crisp rice square, averaging out around 200 calories per hour. Energy levels felt ok, belly felt ok, and I was halfway done.
|With my sweetheart there to meet me.|
Lap 2: 2:34:21 @ 11:01/km
4:51:51 cumulative for 28k
Scarfing back a chunk of bacon my amazing husband had cooked up for me and pocketing a second piece with another crisp rice square, I also stuffed a full flask of EFS Liquid Shot and an Endurance Tap into my vest as Tank handed me my pole. I decided to go with just the left-hand trekking pole so I could keep my hand bottle on my right hand and stay on top of hydration, but still be able to stabilize myself a bit and add some upper-body strength to my tiring legs for the couple of steep climbs. I got another smooch from my darling and then trotted off down the dirt road to the trailhead once more.
|Which is worse: sunny flat would give way to shady but taxing hills?|
Knowing that I was now less than 9mins ahead of the pace I'd need to make the 3rd lap cutoff, but since I would be moving consistently through this lap (without needing to stop to get non-blurry photos - you have no idea how many I discarded from the ~240 I took!) I figured I could manage it. I ran as much as I could, mostly holding my pole by its middle in my left hand until I came to a section where I'd need it. I only put the wrist strap on when I knew I had a significant climb coming, otherwise I'd just hold the grip so I could easily toss it back up to grab by its centre again as even my ridiculously light poles cause trouble with my previously-broken left wrist if I try to just hang on by the grip while running.
|This way is much more balanced, even if I'm not.|
The mud was starting to dry out a bit as I made my way 'round the course once more, and the corner of the boardwalk that had previously been underwater was now clear of the surface of the lake. This meant I could move a little bit faster through some sections, but I still ended up stepping in mud above my ankles and even had a piece of bark or some such thing make its way into my left shoe in spite of my gaiters. I would have stopped to get it out, as it almost immediately started to rub up a hotspot, but I didn't think I had time. I'd have loved a change of socks as well, but the clock waits for noone.
|There was trail to tackle.|
I don't know if it was my relative unfamiliarity with the course or simply how slow I was moving, but each lap seemed to take an agonizingly long time - even the spans between the kilometer markers would stretch out to the point where I'd think I would miss one. I was starting to get tired, and wondered if I even had a 4th lap in me. There was serious questioning of my wisdom in signing up for the 56k for my debut as the Limberlost Challenge was definitely living up to its name.
It was also even more difficult to get nutrition and electrolytes into me with the pole now occupying my left hand, but I kept to my schedule of eating every 30mins as best I could. I mostly still alternated gels with real food, but did have a slice of bacon with my EFS Liquid Shot around 5.5hrs. Another crisp rice square plus some banana & watermelon from the aid stations rounded out my intake for the 3rd lap, during which I scared a bunny and spotted a gorgeous vivid green frog along the side of the trail.
Thrashing myself as hard as I could to get through before 7.5hrs passed and I'd be barred from continuing (yet still wondering if a DNF would be such a bad thing, as I was getting tired), I actually managed to pass a couple of people on this lap. One girl passed me back before I eventually made it back to the start/finish, thanking me later for waking her up from just dawdling along. I did make it to the end of the loop with a scant 8mins to spare before the cutoff, and knew I didn't have a second to waste.
Lap 3: 2:29:23 @ 10:40/km
7:20:54 cumulative for 42km
I did have one trick left up my sleeve - I ditched the EFS Liquid Shot flask and picked up one full of slightly watered-down sea salt chocolate flavoured Gu Roctane gel. I was counting on the hit of caffeine to give me a boost through the last lap as I couldn't afford any more fatigue-related pace decay. With one last kiss from my sweetheart; another piece of bacon, a second turkey wrap and one final crisp rice treat in my pockets; plus a tiny glimmer of hope I set off for the last time.
I don't know how I made myself run the whole way up the hot, sunny, dusty road to the trailhead. I don't know how I kept thrashing myself to run whenever I possibly could, including some sections of the course that had only just dried out enough to be runnable. I know I kept putting food in my face - the caffeinated gel slurry at 7h30m, 8h30m and 9h30m interspersed with my turkey wrap at 8 hours, then bacon and the crisp rice square at 9hrs - plus I took a last couple of S!caps along the way for a total of 8 in the entire race.
|I'm sure without the shade I'd have needed more - I was a salt-stained mess as it was.|
Somehow all of that let me pass the girl who'd re-passed me on the third loop as I climbed the big, multi-stage hill in the first mile of my fourth. We wished each other well, and that was the last time I saw anyone else before the finish line. It was just me and the forest, a bunch of red squirrels, and millions of vicious mosquitoes and blackflies.
|Oh, and the beautiful lakes.|
While trying to move as quickly as I could, I still tried to appreciate the incredible beauty around me. I was even lucky enough to see - and unfortunately startle - a gorgeous, healthy white tailed deer drinking from the stream at Ethan's Shale on this lap. I was starting to fatigue badly, though - it became harder and harder to convince myself to run past the 8 hour mark, and I seemed to be moving depressingly slowly. The mud sucked all of my energy when I tried to move through it; my adductors were complaining about being overworked from trying to keep my feet from sliding out from underneath me; my right hamstrings were whining for whatever reason as well; and the last of the efficacy of my insect repellent was gone, leaving me at the mercy of the bloodsucking hordes. I had also spent a few hours basically only running downhill, and my knees actually started to feel sore from the incessant pounding. As pretty as it was out there, I just wanted to be done.
I'm sure my wimp stick - combined with the caffeine - was the only reason I was able to finish, let alone under the 10hr cutoff. I was using it even while running now, sort of pole-vaulting my way along in many of the rooty, rocky sections and using it to post-turn like a skier in spots. It also helped take some of the strain off my knees on the descents, not to mention saving me from a nasty fall on one or two occasions.
As time trickled away I finally splashed my way over the Clear Lake boardwalks one last time, climbed the sting-in-the-tail hill to the grassy finish chute, and stumbled across the line.
Lap 4: 2:35:33 @ 11:07/km
Official time for 56k: 9:56:35
61/66 O/A - 20/22 Women - 8/8 W30-39
For a bit of perspective, there were 90 who started the 56k - 24 DNFs, though I don't know how many were unable to make the 7.5hr cutoff to begin the 4th lap. I do know that the girl I'd passed twice was the last finisher under 10hrs, but 4 more who had made it through lap 3 under 7.5hrs came in over 10hrs - some more than 40mins later.
I still can't believe it took me that long to cover 56km - though my Garmin actually says it was more like 59km (my workout data can be seen here). However, I'm calling it a win because:
- I didn't hurt myself
- I didn't fall down (yay wimp stick!)
- I didn't go off-course
- I wasn't even last (though I wouldn't really have minded if I was)
Another win? Having Clear Lake right there to go jump in - or at least gingerly wade in, muddy shoes and all - after the race.
After cleaning myself up a bit and eating some things, I retreated back to the Punk Rawk Cabin to change and then spent a gorgeous evening with my darling Tanker. Not a drop of rain fell until long after we'd gone to bed; there were no thunderstorms; the homocidal canopy stayed put until we took it down the next morning; and I'd managed to make it through my first Limberlost accomplishing all that I'd set out to do. We even saw a red fox marauding around the few remaining tents in the field as the light faded on a remarkable day after another walk down to Clear Lake to breathe in the beauty around us.
I would not hesitate to return to this event. The organization, volunteers, aid stations and course markings were all top-notch, and there was even some post-race food I (with my myriad food allergies) could eat! The trails are incredibly beautiful, and while they posed a real challenge to my meagre abilities I know that my clumsiness and lack of any real athletic talent are more to blame than the course itself. With unique wooden finisher medals and 14k, 28k or 56k distances to choose from, this is certainly a race I'd recommend to anyone who loves to get lost in the woods. We had a wonderful time camping there, too (in spite of the weather), and thoroughly enjoyed our whole weekend!
|Not so happy feet.|
My quads were totally wrecked from all the downhill running, so I've actually yet to run since. However, nothing seems to actually be injured and I'm feeling much better, so I think tomorrow might be the day...right before we embark on another adventure!