I forgot my underpants.
That was me at 6am after a terrible nights sleep in a hotel in Huntsville. After last weeks race at Creemore, Dan and I both managed to come down with…well I don’t really know what we had, but Tuesday we spent the day sleeping, seriously. I went to bed Monday at 8pm and couldn’t open my eyes Tuesday morning, barely managed to get a message off to work before I fell back to sleep, and I slept and slept pretty much straight through until Wednesday morning. I still felt sleepy Wednesday and Thursday, but managed a really crappy 15km Thursday evening. Thursday night we decided since we had been so tired, to splurge on a hotel in Huntsville, except booking a hotel last minute in Huntsville turned out to be tougher than expected and we only managed to get a smoking room, but we figured that was better than waking up at 3am and driving nearly 3 hours to run 56km.
To save time Friday I met Dan out by his office (much easier access to the highway) so I packed in a rush Thursday night. Apparently I forgot to pack my running underwear. To be honest the way my week had gone, I was sort of impressed that was all I forgot. Thankfully the post run underwear I’d packed were adequate to wear.
So we headed to the start line, with the windows down trying to clear of out the smoke smell (when will the rule makers just make smokers go outside all the time?). It was sunny and the temperature was already at 28 Celsius. We grabbed our bibs, set up the cooler and drop bags under the designated tent, and headed to the start. The 56km set off at 8am, with the other distances setting off in 20 minute increments after us.
The course is a 14km loop of mostly single track, through beautiful forest, passing lakes, and just general trail running goodness. I remember gushing about this race last year and here I was running it again (except a little further this time). Within the first 4km the 87 of us running had started to spread out and settle into our grooves. Dan and Geoff were running together, so I was going to do my own thing, which of course translated to going out maybe a little too fast.
Half way through the loop I caught up to a group of runners I recognised from other races, many of whom usually beat me, so I smartened up and stayed put at the back of the conga line and just paced off them. As we passed one the HAM radio operators in a truck and he warned us to watch out for the bear. I smiled, a bear really? He replied “yeah down by the beach having a bud” I laughed and ran on thinking he was completely kidding about the bear. Apparently not, I few minutes later we heard his truck horn blaring. Everyone got really quiet looked behind, basically to make sure they weren’t last in the line, nope that was me, I asked if anyone wanted to trade positions but no one was interested. I just stayed close and chose instead to have confidence in Truck Man’s ability to scare away bears. The rest of the loop was uneventful except for the feeling that 10-11km is a really long kilometer but the course measures perfectly on the Garmin so I know it was in my head (I would end up thinking this was one long kilometer 3 more times). I finished loop 1 in 1:45.
I was pretty happy with that, so happy in fact that I forgot to pick up my food for the next loop. Oops! (I wish that was all I had said) Well I couldn’t really do anything about it, I certainly wasn’t going back! Loop 2 was pretty good, I met a nice guy named Chris who had run the week before as well, we chatted about the course and life and the weather (you know typical trail fare) it was good to have the company, but at aid station 3 he caught up with another runner he knew and they were lingering in the aid station so I set off to finish the last 5km. This was the same section of the course that I fell on last year and I was actually congratulating myself for successfully climbing over a large tree trunk across the path when I tripped on a root, but I caught myself! Yes, I’m an awesome trail run….slam! Huh?! I’m on the ground, face down, eating leaves, but I think I’m okay. Pick myself up, look around (nobody around, phew) try to clean myself up with the water from my handheld water bottle and carried on. When I got to the next on course turn the volunteer there, was a little concerned with my appearance, after confirming that I was in fact okay, he helpfully told me how quickly I’d find the next lake on course and that I might want wash the left side of my face. Thanks Mr. Volunteer!
Loop 2 took me 1:55, I was pretty happy with that, but instead of getting excited and running into loop 3, I took my time and made sure I had everything. I decided to change my shoes (breaking in some new ones, I know something that shouldn’t be done on race day), had my food, PICKED UP my food for this leg, and then headed out. Almost immediately my stomach started gurgling. Uh oh, I was only about a kilometer into this loop, so I put on my “brave face” and tried to suck it up, I talk to myself a lot when I start to feel bad or low, so any one near by would have heard things like “you’re fine just keep running”, “at the next convenient place we’ll dunk our head in the water and you’ll feel like a new women”, “you are not going to be sick”, etc. I finally hit a bridge that I was able to lie down on and dunk my head in the refreshing lake water, of course a 42km runner was coming flying along, first I think I freaked him out because he wasn’t sure what I was doing, then I think he was annoyed because I was laying across the bridge. So play time in the water was over and I hauled my butt up and got moving again, but I did feel like a new woman…for about 10 minutes, then more stomach gurgling. Ugh. When I made it to the 1st aid station I decided it would be wise to use the bathroom, it was. I poured what was left in my water bottle over my head and got a re-fill, but was given the bad news of no more ice, not to worry though they’d have some by time I came back for my next loop. So off I went sad from no ice (I think the heat was getting to me I don’t usually get weepy 32km into a race), and just carried on the best I could. I eventually caught up to another runner who was struggling named Hutch, it was his first ultra (although he had competed in an Ironman last year, so he at least sort of understood what he’d got himself into). With about 2km left in the loop we were lapped by the 56km winner, I’m not going to lie, he looked like crap, but then again he was going to finish in less than 6 hours. He was cramping a lot so he was quite happy to follow me for a while because my (slow) pace stopped him from cramping. I managed to get us through loop 3 in 2:12, blah. I was exhausted and of course pretty much all the other runners were finished up and enjoying themselves at the finish party. I walked over to my cooler, dejected and hot, when I heard “what do you need?” in a very familiar voice. Dan was standing in front of me. Huh? My poor hot, trail focused brain couldn’t compute. “Are you ok?” I asked. “Yes, what can I get for you?” “Why are you in your swimsuit?” I asked. “We dropped Heather, what do you NEED?” I didn’t answer, I was dazed and confused, Dan gave me my food, I ate it and then he tied his “cooling bandana” around my neck and sent me on my way. I wondered where Geoff was, oh there he was sitting in my chair, drinking one of my beers, I waved/gave him the finger as I went by.
As soon as I hit the tiny road section, I wished I had just dropped out, but I wasn’t going back, way to proud for that. Hutch and just flown through the transition so I could see him enter the trail as I plodded along, I started talking to myself again “you are strong not stupid for not dropping”, “you will feel smug for finishing, if you don’t need to be rescued on course”, etc. On route to aid station 1 I caught back up to Hutch, I showed him my trick at the bridge, of practically swimming, oh yeah, new woman again. After aid station 1 Hutch admitted that he was struggling and asked if I would mind if he “drafted” off me for a while. I said no problem, I knew his goal was 8 hours but I started to prepare him for the worse. To his credit he just put his head down and followed me, trusted that I knew when to run and when to walk, happy to not have to think other than where to put his feet. After aid station 2 Hutch says to me: “I think I’ve got this race figured out. Lap 1 you run with your legs, lap 2 you run with your training, lap 3 is run with your ego, and lap 4 is run with your heart”. What a thoughtful and insightful thing for a 20 something year old guy to say. I started to dig now, I wanted to get Hutch his 8 hours but we were going to have to dig. On we went, when my Garmin beeped for 50km I gave Hutch a high five for hitting 50km, if he’d chosen a different ultra he’d be done, but we still had 6km to go, including the longest kilometer ever. Unfortunately it was along that long kilometer that I lost Hutch, we caught a man and woman who were struggling the woman asked for salt, which I had, gave her some and started to run and I heard, “You go Heather, don’t worry I’ll make it”. Slowed a bit to see if I could get Hutch going again but he just kept waving me on, reminding me to run my own race, and quite frankly I was tired of running, which for some reason makes me run faster so I can get the heck of the course. I ran with everything I had left and I will be the first to say I was gutted when I came up the last hill to see the clock time click over to 8 hours, then I noticed there was hardly anyone around, which just made me more bummed, crossed the line in 8:00:34, feeling sorry for myself. Apparently that is what heat and exhaustion makes me do, throw myself a pity party.
After I took my pity party blinders off I realised there were lots of people around still cheering, including people I met earlier in the race that had dropped out. I got my medal for completing both races, which made me feel better as did all the congratulations from spectators and fellow racers. I told Dan I didn’t want to do anything else until I saw Hutch come through, and he did in 8:12. I gave him a big high five and congrats on finishing his first ultra. Then it was off to the lake to clean up/cool down, and on to the amazing food (which they had saved to make sure all finishers got!). We ate our food by the finish line because I wanted to cheer on anyone who came through (and there were a few). This is an amazingly well organised race, there is a ton of support along the 14km loop and the volunteers were fantastic, as were the medical staff (they helped me out with a blister thanks to my new shoes) and all the other race support. I just hope that next year I re-read this post first and sign up for a more reasonable distance, maybe 28km.
Final count had 56 finishers out of 87 starters, that seems like a big drop out rate for an Ontario race, but it was a challenging course with some challenging weather. For one final smack from the race it turns out mine and Dan’s bibs were confused at some point so if you look up the official results Dan ran the whole race and I dropped out. Somehow I think my day would have gone better if I’d just remembered my underwear.
Planned Mileage: 79km
Days Run: 2
Excuses: See above.