This race turned out to be full of many “firsts” for me.
To start with this was the first time we ran the Creemore Vertical Challenge. It’s a 25km loop, which is hilly (I think the name sort of gives that away), what the name doesn’t give away is that this is a wonderfully run race, by a fantastic couple. The start/finish is actually in front of their house, the course is well-marked (as far as I’m concerned, apparently some people got lost but I don’t really understand how) and well aided. What a fabulous race.
Dan and I set off from home at 5am and arrived just after 6:30, we were a little concerned about the menacing looking skies above and even saw a bit of lightning on our drive, but still held out hope that rain would pass quickly. Just after we picked up our race kits the heavens opened and we had to re-treat to the car to ready ourselves for the race (very happy that we have a hatchback with fold down seats, I was able to access everything without getting wet!). However as 8am (race start time) approached, the rain had not let up, in fact it had gotten worse and there was now thunder and lightning. Anyone who knew me as a kid might remember that I was deathly afraid of thunderstorms, well I’ve never grown out of that, so I wasn’t happy when Dan told me to get of the car, it was time run.
We ran to the start line, which had a tarp overtop and gathered with all the other runners. I was actually feeling a bit cold, but figured I’d warm up, if the torrential rains would let up. Pierre, the race director, announced we would delay the start by 15 mins to see if the rain would let up or at least the lightening would stop. After 15 mins the weather showed no signs of easing up and we were now a group of shivering, wet through runners, Pierre bit the bullet and told us to get ready to go. We moved out to the official start, shot gun was fired, and we were off.
Within a few hundred meters we were on single track, slip sliding around, I had actually started near the back and was trying to take it easy, I’m a wuss when it comes to running on slippery surfaces and the thunder was still freaking me out. This was the first time I had run a race in this kind of weather, and it made me overly anxious for some reason.
This course is 50% trail and 50% country road. Once we hit the first road section I caught up to Dan and Geoff, we chatted for a bit but then the road started going up and the boys opted to walk, while I felt it was pretty runnable, so I plodded on figuring they’d catch me up at some point (that would be the last I saw of Dan). First aid station is at 5km, I downed a cup of Heed (like Gatorade) and headed back on to a trail, it was mucky and water was pouring across the trail, it lead me down a hill where at the bottom was a beaver dam, with a ladder/bridge that we were to use to get across, the water was flowing so fast over this bridge I wasn’t sure if I should wait for someone to come along and help me (or at least see how they were going to attempt it), to get down to the bridge was steep and wet and to get up from the bridge was steep and wet. But then I decided I couldn’t be a suck about this and these are the type of obstacles I could find in Arizona, so I went for it! And shockingly I made it across in one piece, the rain was really coming down now, and I had to climb up a hill for a few hundred meters, my mantra was “please don’t slide back down, please don’t slide back down”, eventually the trail flattened out but it was still slick, it was fun/scary. Then it’s across a field (there is a lot of field running) and out on to a road with a sign that declares this is Hill #1. It was back on the road and yes a good climb, I caught up with a runner, named Jesse and we ended up running together for a bit. It really helped me. I was having my first bout of stomach distress, this never happens to me, but I was really struggling. I don’t know if it was “true” GI distress, but I just felt off. When we reached the 8km aid station, I couldn’t believe how crappy I felt, I drank some more Heed and then Jesse and I headed back on to a single track trail. I was glad for the company and just happily let him talk at me for the 30 mins or so, we popped out onto a road for a bit and then we hit a section called the Gully. Jesse loves this course and especially this section so he took off. I took my time descending and quickly realised it was faster to just run down through the water that had formed a little river than try to get down around the water, of course what goes must go up, Hill #2 had us climbing out of the Gully, which again I just marched up through the stream of water. This got some strange looks from the people I was passing, but hey, I was passing them, whatever works, right?
Popped out onto a road and the 12km aid station, where the lead 50km runners were heading back towards us, they didn’t have shirts on, and they had really nice abs, it gave me a little boost! The next 5km was mostly road, with a really long descent, which of course led to a big ascent, the steepest climb was back on a trail labeled Hill #3, then back onto a road that led us back to the 12km aid station (now the 17km aid station!). Then came a long stretch of road running that also included Hill #4, through a field which led to the Valley, where the mud finally got me and I fell over, it was so slippery that I went with it and descended faster than I ever have! In the Valley was a really boggy area and another sketchy bridge, I thought I might not need the bridge but my first step into the bog sunk me past my knee and I realised I needed the sketchy bridge! Then you climb out of the Valley (of course) and you are spit out onto someone’s driveway, I was a little confused and worried that I’d gone off course but I hadn’t and I could see the next aid station. I still didn’t feel right, I had stopped drinking the Heed after the 12km station, had nothing at 17km, and now here at 21km I thought I’d try ginger ale.
Now we ran back down Hill #1 (the lead runners were on their way back up and I may have made another comment about their abs) back through the field, but then we branched off onto a single track. This section was fun and included two crazy steep descents into little ravines that had rope ladders to help climb out of the ravine. At ravine one, I managed to get down alright and pull myself up the rope, on descent two I fell on my ass and nearly knocked over the man already at the bottom. This ravine had a stream so I took time to wash off my arms and hands, and then proceeded to fall getting out of the ravine, I resigned myself to being filthy for the rest of the race. Lastly we get to a fork that offers a “wet option” or “dry option”, I went for the dry option which took me on a bridge over the Mad River, and thank goodness too, the river was swollen and rushing from all the rain, and it’s wide. The guy behind me took the wet option, he was in up to his waist and fighting the current! The bridge bounced a bit, I definitely took the easier route!
So lap 1 done. I still felt crappy. Forced myself to finish what was in my gel flask, used the bathroom, but didn’t linger much longer for fear that I wouldn’t go out again, the rain had let up for the last 10km, but started again when I headed out on my second loop. Great. Ok I needed to get myself together so I tried to be positive, the rain was much cooler than the sun…that’s all I came up with. As I popped out on the first road section, I actually thought about quitting at the next aid station, but the stubborn part of my brain pointed out that this was a terrible reason to drop out and at some point on your 100 mile run you will feel like this. So I had some water melon and ginger ale at the aid station, then headed back on to the trail. The rain had eased up a bit but the water was still gushing over the beaver dam and now the bridge was slick with mud from all the 25km runners having passed by, but I was beyond caring, I fell into the muck twice. Then I literally crawled up the hill grabbing onto branches, plants, whatever to make sure I didn’t slide back even an inch. Once it flattened out I found a stick and ran with it as a support until I was up the last hill and into the field. Up Hill #1 again, covered in mud the lead 50km runner was coming back down it (what!?) he was all by himself now, this was when I realised how terrible I must have looked because he was concerned that I wasn’t smiling and making comments about his abs! I was surprised and thought it was really nice that he took the time to talk to me and try to encourage me when he was clearly on his way to setting a new course record.
At the next aid station I had some more watermelon and ginger ale because I had pretty much given up on gels and knew I had to keep taking on calories. When the volunteer asked me what I needed, I explained that I’d like some watermelon but showed him my hands caked in mud. This is why it’s important to have amazing volunteers. He said no problem, took me over to where they had a “sponge station”, told me to put out my hands and he squeezed out sponges of water until my hands were clean. A simple solution but at that moment I thought he was the smartest person on the planet.
Made it through the next trail bit unscathed. Back on to the road to the Gully, when I reached the turn off the volunteer who was directing us there had obviously been bored and had now decorated the trail head with yellow balloons with smiley faces, and you know what? I smiled so wide for the first time that day I actually thought I might cry. I think I surprised the guy by giving him a hug and telling he’d just made my day.
I threw myself down the Gully and back up again (Hill #2), when I came out I saw the leading woman go by, that motivated me to get going and to stop feeling sorry for myself. Down the road section and back up the Hill #3. At the next aid station I had to re-fill the water in my pack (I had been bitten by a deer fly and killed it while it was still eating and it exploded everywhere, so I wasted some water cleaning my arm up, plus it was soothing). This was my fourth time through this aid station and each time I kept thinking that I recognized the women helping out, finally I think I had it figured out and asked her she was the current course record holder for running the Bruce Trail. She was! It’s so awesome to me that Charlotte Vasarhelyi would be volunteering at a local race! She attempted to beat her own record this year but had to pull out with a hip injury, I told her I believed she’d get a new record next attempt, she told me to stop wasting time with only 8km it was time to get going!
Off I went, happy with the news that there was only 8km left (which I would have known if I just consulted with my garmin). Up Hill #4 and along the really long road section, the sun had come out now and it was hot but thankfully there was a nice breeze. Through a field and down into the Valley, it was already starting to dry up so I didn’t fall over and across the sketchy bridge, I still managed to sink up to my knees!
Climbing out of the Valley I caught up to a guy named Steve. He was struggling, I’d been following for a while and I think the thing keeping him going was staying ahead of me. We talked and kept each other going. Again he looked somewhat familiar to me, I asked him if he’d run Niagara, he said no, but explained he’d been there supporting his cousin who was running her first marathon. He had run with her to 10km and then waited for her and ran the last 10km. Then he asked what distance I had run, I said the 50km and he said “I was the guy with the free hugs sign at 40km!” I burst out laughing, that’s it! I had taken one of those free hugs!!! He said he was sorry that he didn’t remember me but that he hugged a lot of people that day!!
We hit up the last aid station and headed down the Hill (#1), we only had 4km left. At this point I was experiencing chaffing for the first time (all my firsts seemed to be unpleasant toady), I’d been running in wet short for nearly 6 hours, I reminded myself that I should really invest in some compression shorts to avoid this on rainy days! Steve and I ran together for those final 4km, I entertained him with my methods of descent to the ravine, bum sliding and he helped me maximize the rope ladders. He picked up speed on the final approach, I had nothing left but was totally shocked to find him encouraging me to keep up, that we were finishing this thing together.
Dan cheered us in to finish in 6:06:19. I was very proud to receive my beautiful handmade clay finishers medal. Dan got me a beer and some pizza and I submerged myself into the racing Mad River.
I’m still on the fence about this race, there is a lot of road running, but the trails were pretty fantastic. The people and organization are what put it over the edge to amazing.
I can’t believe how I was able to push myself for 5 hours of feeling crappy, my splits were decent all things considered. Dan thinks I placed in the top 10 females but we wont know the results for a while, time keeping involved a man with a clip board and this race doesn’t even have a website…I hope it stays that way.