The Limberlost Challenge 56km Race Report


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.

We hoped this wasn’t an omen as we headed up north. I wasn’t going to bother running if I received bib 460.

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.

Special medal, for being silly enough to take on the Ultra Challenge Challenge.

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.

One last stop before heading back south!

Planned Mileage: 79km
Actual Mileage:
Days Run: 2
Excuses:  See above.

9 comments on “The Limberlost Challenge 56km Race Report

  1. Ann & Gaz says:

    You are one incredible lady ! so proud of you ! xxxxxx

  2. Steve Stewart says:

    Good job. Glad you didn’t really DNF!

  3. Mom says:

    You are amazing…when you set your mind to something you do not give up! xoxoxo

  4. The Running Dude01 (aka Alex Campbell) says:

    NIcely done. I bombed on this one with a DNF. Too fast, too hot and found it a very challenging course but beautiful. Congratulations on continuing into lap 4. Enjoyed your race summary. Maybe see you at The Toad 🙂

    • raceinpieces says:

      Thanks Alex! At least you toed the line and got to enjoy the food! I wont be at the Toad this year (running my first 100 miler that weekend, eek!) Best of luck to you there, hopefully it will be a litte cooler!

  5. Les Walc says:

    Hi. I thought I would share this with you.

    I was a little nervous at the start wondering whether or not to wear my new spandex pants that are supposed to prevent groin chafe. I was alomost shitting my pants when looking at the predicted temperature for the afternoon, which was about 32C! Long port-a-poti lines too. Well, I have never done an ultra before and have not done a marathon since 2008. So I had lots of reasons to be anxious.

    There were many ultramarathon veterans around with great gear and many wearing the spandex pants so I did a quick change at my running dude truck, and exited sporting the tightest black spandex UnderArmour underwear I have ever put on. Great support for my junk and I felt there was no way I could chafe anywhere since all skin surfaces in the groin area were covered in protective stretchy black. It was a little shiny too, since they were new. Maybe a little too revealing?

    So I eased up the start line after a few words from race director and medic on site. 87 runners started this distance.

    20 seconds to start. I figured what the heck? I’ll be back here in 14k no matter what happens and can readjust things if necessary. I’ll feel better once I am running. One always feels better when running.

    Lap one

    START! Cheers, claps, footsteps, voices around me and that comfortable feeling of running with a pack soon gave way to the bush trail. The gravel road here was the only stretch of truly flat terrain. I think I entered the trail third, but we were all close.

    Great well maintained trail with still cool temps made for an easy run.
    1km in 5 minutes. Geez that seemed slow. Funny to say that now.
    We scaled a technical climb at around 3K that I walked up and soon the lead pack had 4 people in it including me. We chatted: names, place of residence, how do you like those 5 finger shoes? I wore Saucony Peregrine 2.

    Aid stations 1: Cheers. I stopped to fill my water bottle while the others quickly ran through. I caught up in no time. Same at the next station.

    I felt that the pace was just a little slow for me. *Like I have any experience at all at running this far*, so I took the lead and said, “So let me take over for a bit and do the work.” I picked up the pace just a little, not really that much I thought, and I heard them right behind me for a bit. But soon, I was alone. There was no one behind me. My gps still did not register any blazing fast splits, but no one came with me. I thought well, I’m really foolish or something, but by this time I was really well warmed up and having a blast. This trail is really a great trail. There were great descents over roots and rocks that I could skip along and float over the logs. The surface in lots of areas was that worked in pine needle stuff that is so great to run on. There was some sun coming through the trees and shining into the bush reflected off the lakes. There always seemed to be a lake just through the trees. The air smelled of fresh pine, lake, and Group of Seven. Shit, I was having a great run.

    I thought well, if someone makes the effort to come across to me now, then they will have reigned me in and I’ll be in the pack again. I was having such a good time that I made the decision to run a little quicker now. I flew some of the downhills and skipped over obstacles keeping a straight tangent on twisty trails. I darted between trees. Very short stop at the next aid station.

    The photographer popped out of a secluded spot and snapped a few of me running across a wide boardwalk. I waved and wished him a good day.

    Soon I was thinking of catching Azalea who was starting her 14K one hour after I started. She would run the same lap as me, only start it an hour later and only run it once. At that time I still had a few km to go on my first lap. I had to do four laps. I finished lap one, drank cold gatoraid and headed off to catch her. She had a 16 minute lead. I don’t really know what to call this, I guess, it was a race inside a race. I just wanted to see if I could get up to her. She had said she was just going to do a slow run, but still, I wanted to see her on the trail.

    Lap 2

    SO I went off a little harder to start the second lap. Still in control and at comfortable pace. I was feeling great. However there was some trail traffic coming up and I knew I would have to be quick about getting around them to maintain distance on my pursuers.

    Soon I passed an injured runner with an assistant at her side. Then I passed some slower 14k runners. They all sported really good gear it seemed to me. I whizzed by compression wear, fuel belts, and fanny packs all from very courteous runners who moved aside as I came through. No Azalea yet.

    At 7k I passed a large group. I shouted out, “Hey half way there, where’s the celebration?” I got a fainthearted hooray. “That’s it?” I said. Then I got a lively response. There was a scramble up right at this point and I said its all down hill after this next hill. No one was impressed.

    No Azalea yet.

    The photographer was in a different spot. I gave a big grin and kicked up some dust.

    Lots of traffic was here. I felt I was in the main pack of the 14kers. My only small complaint is that the people wearing those earphones with music could not hear me coming, or shouting, and I had to startle some as I passed them. Not big deal. I got a little friendly with someone’s butt as she went left and so did I.

    Aha, Azalea in site. I caught her up at about 11k or so. Ran with her for a bit. Told her I was feeling really great. I was in first place at the time, and had no idea how far back the other guys were. We both commented on the great trail. I didn’t spend nearly enough time with her. Off I went. I passed people the rest of the way to start the next lap.

    Lap 3

    I munched on some dried pitted dates that I have used on long training runs. None of my training runs were longer than 35k. I took gatorade from my drop bag and drank the beverages that the aid stations had. I have to admit the aid stations were very well stocked with pretzels, and gummy bears, and gels. I spent very little time in them. Lots of chatting going on it seemed.

    So I noticed just a little twinge in my quads on the descents during this lap. I guess I hit them a little hard early on. I still felt good though. I passed a few more people. I slowed the pace a little as I eased off on some of the faster sections of the trail.

    Near the end of this lap I was really beginning to feel my quads complain on the descents. I seemed to lose concentration for bits of time and what I could do the first lap (descend and pass a runner) I could not do by the end of this lap. I totally wiped out in a sprawling dust cloud at some guy’s ankles. Luckily I did not bring him down. He paused to check me. I mumbled something. I don’t remember what. I got up and scooted away from him. Mental note to really be careful passing from now on. I tried to brush the dust off me but the fine brown powder stuck to my sweaty body and after a few moments of dusting myself off I realized all I was doing was making long finger streaks along my arms. I now looked like a warrior of some sort with body marking. I touched my face too. Hmm. The white shirt really shows dirt too.

    Entered the sun along a boardwalk and noticed the oppressive heat. When did it get so hot? One final corner and onto the savannah with dry pale brown grass and parched sand and happy people all done their races and sitting under tents and trees. I think I saw the photographer sitting and eating some food. How did he get there so fast? Found my Gatorade still in its icy tomb. I drank the ice and poured the Gatorade down my back or maybe the other way around. Azalea cheered me on. As I was leaving I saw a 56k runner enter the Start/Finnish. I thought I was a gonner.

    Lap Four:

    I ran along the road comfortably. In the trail I was comfortable numb. I transiently noted that as I tick off another km on my gps watch I have now become an ultramarathon runner. It was still a long way to go to celebrate. I now had trouble going down hills with any speed at all. I could still go up pretty well. But what was really getting me was this cramping that started in my calves. I could not shake it. It would get me every time I made any effort at all. I stopped and walked fast often.

    I began to look forward to the steep uphills so I could walk up them. Soon I made all the uphills steep. Soon some of the gentle rises were steep. Some flats were steep. Then the descents were getting steep.
    I could feel the reflexes slowing and I could not navigate as well. I did not skip or float. I grabbed onto trees.

    The first aid station said congrats to me, still first place. I chugged some fluids. I moved on.

    I began to notice the trees lending a hand to my forward progress.

    Second aid station. I took a gel, drank a lot of Heed and tried to move on as fast as possible.

    Where were they? They have to be closing one me now.

    I passed anouther few runners. I had no idea what race they were running or what lap they are on, but I went by them. They looked a little worse than me. I wished them good luck and said something really clever, “Hot eh?”

    I misjudged a root and went flying again. In retrospect I think it might have been where I fell during the last lap. Same root. Same line I followed, I don’t know. Now my arm hurt and there was a little blood off my left shoulder between the warrior paint.

    Cramping got worse after this fall. I think I was about half way done the final lap. I got a very painfull spasm in the left calf. I had to stop. I limped and slowly let the foot down and passively bend as I leaned against a friendly tree. It hurt. As it stretched it did loosen with the stretch but really hurt. I started to walk and the walking eased it up. For some reason, I couldn’t quite bend down far enough to reach my calf. It was like it was someone else’s calf.

    I walked. Totally bonked. But the line “relentless forward progress” was my mantra now. I walked a bit to recover and then ran slowly. I desperately tried to find a pace I could run at, that did not cause cramping. Maybe taking longer walking breaks could have helped. I was too numb to think of that.

    I lost track of the km markers. They seemed so spaced out on this last lap. Near the 11 or 12 km marker (2km to go), I met some very nice people that were moving about my speed. I followed for a bit. I passed them and then immediately cramped and had to walk as they passed me. This happened a couple of times. One of them dropped their water bottle and I was off ahead for good. They had said their goal was not to be lapped by the leaders. Sorry, someone’s chasing me.

    I almost crashed into the photographer along a narrow boardwalk he was trying to cross. I must add here that the wide boardwalks from the first lap were replaced with skinnys.

    About a km to go. Where are those guys?? I spent a lot of time looking back. I wanted to save something in case someone catches me. I was finally feeling confident that I could win this stupid trail race. I turned onto the parched savannah with the sun beating down and ran across the finish in first place.

    • raceinpieces says:

      Cograts Les! Winning your first ultra, that is amazing!! You know the whole “looking like crap” thing was really me just musing at how much that course was making us suffer, right? I would have blocked anymore runners that were trying to come after you 😉

      Hope to see you at so more races, of course I will only ever see the back of you but alas that is the life of a back-of-the-packer!

      Have you got another race planned?

  6. Les Walc says:

    No other races planned yet. still recovering. Legs still sore one week later, even after some easy 10ks. To do another 50k one week later is quite a feat. Congratulations. I learned a lot from that run. Maybe a triathlon later in summer?

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