After seeing Dan off on what would turn out to be a less than stellar run, I had 2 hours to kill before the start of the 50km race. Thankfully I found a couple of other Canadians, Melanie and April, who had to see off their runner at 5am too. They’re also from Toronto, it was the first time we met (I did recognise them but really only from the back as they are WAY fast and are usually running quickly away from me) and it turns out it wont be the last as they are also running 100 miles at Sulphur Springs, it was nice to have some company. Finally the sun came up, it started to warm up and before I knew it I was lining up at the start line receiving some parting words from the Ultramarathon man, Dean Karnazes.
Everyone in the ultra community knows who he is and it seems you either love him or hate him. I’m not really in either camp, but I have read all his books, so I’ll say that I like his writing.
At 7am I set off with 335 other runners on the 50km course, I was pretty confident since a good chunk of the course is the same as the 50 mile course. However as I made my way up the first incline of the day I didn’t recognise a thing, mainly because last year I ran this part in the dark (sometimes running in the dark is really a blessing). Anyway it was the usual jostling for position and conga lining for the first little while, I was a little disappointed with how rude some people were being, literally shoving pass on single track. Hey, first of all I’m a nice person say “on your left” and I will step to my right and let you by, second what is the rush? If you are behind me you are not winning this thing so simmer down, be polite, and sprint like hell way the trail opens up! I know I sound a bit harsh but most of the people who shoved their way past me, I passed when I ran through the first aid station (we had only run 6 km you shouldn’t need to stop yet) and never saw again, so what was the point (other than to agitate me)?!
On the next leg there was a longish stretch of uphill on the road so I decided to just hammer up it and get into a spot where I’d be happy and I was, until we hit the first little rocky section we had to skirmish over, hmm had forgotten about that but, onwards (down a technical descent) into aid station 2, which I once again blew through. I was quite proud of myself for not stopping a. because I didn’t need to and b. I waste so much freaking time at aid stations, this is something I’m truly trying to work on. Two aid stations in and I was doing great.
Third leg was longer at 8.5km and this is where I started to see the carnage, the first 3km are nice and runnable on a fire road and then we go up and across a ridge. This part I remembered and was ready for, so I ran every runnable section and power hiked what I couldn’t and then was thankful for my boxing classes as I easily scaled up the big rock section, sadly getting down is still tricky, but I was really pleased at how much I was running, so were some other runners who tagged on behind and I found myself the (unwilling) leader of a conga line into the next aid station.
Aid station 3 is where the 50km separates from the 50 mile so it was new territory for about 6km but then we merged back into the 50 mile course. It was getting hot now so I did stop briefly at the aid station for some straight up water (I was carrying two bottles of Vitargo) but I made my stop quick because I didn’t really like leading a pack of men through the bush, so I set off down the a 1 mile road section being sure to run and appreciate the pavement.
Once back in the bush the trail was pretty runnable but really over grown and the brush was scratchy, although it was hot and I didn’t need them, I kind of wished I’d worn calf sleeves. But hey, nothing says trail running season is in like scratched up legs! This is where I caught up to a lovely young women who had fantastic hair, I mean it looked stunning, perfectly in place, her pony tail swaying side to side, blonde hair glistening in the sun, sigh. Why can’t I look this effortless whilst running? Anyway I told her her hair looked fantastic and we got to talking, turns out last year on this section she had seen a rattlesnake, so that settled that, I was sticking with blondie until we were out of the bush. We made it to the 50 mile merge without any snake sightings, but we did have a star sighting, we could hear one single person clapping and cheering and figured it was a hiker who thought we were crazy and decided to cheer for us, but nope as we came around a corner Dean Karnazes was there giving out high fives. He told us we looked great “fresh as a daisy” apparently (I’m pretty sure that comment was for blondie but I’m taking it too). The star sighting kicked blondie’s butt into gear and she eventually pulled away from me, I was sad to see her shiny hair go but was pretty happy I was still moving along. I was even passing some people, which made me happy until they tried to tag along, I kept asking if anyone wanted to get by, but they all seemed happy to follow on (I did have to eventually tell the guy behind that if he wanted to pace off me fine but that he had to back off a couple of feet, I felt like he was going to step on my heels). Finally we hit a climb that I decided to walk thinking I would lose the posse behind, sadly no, the guy behind me asked if I was aiming for a sub 7 hour finish, I told him nope this is just a training run I’m just doing whatever. And then it hit me, if I was on pace for a sub 7 hour finish I was going to fast, and things were probably going to get ugly soon.
Finally we popped out of the trail and were at aid station 4 (which is also aid station 1) for some reason this aid station was really busy or so it seemed. It was really warm now so I dumped the last of one Vitargo’s (mango flavour was not going down well anymore) and filled that with some icy cold water and was out of there. I exited with a young guy, named Corey who really liked my gaitors, this guy looked awesome, like he was just setting out for run, that’s when I noticed his bib it was orange which meant he was a 50 mile runner and he was in 9th place. Inspiring to say the least, I plodded across the parking lot and watched as he took off from me with the grace of a gazelle and disappeared into the trail. My focus turned to just trying to run, I was getting tired and stuff was hurting now and I had a blister on my toe again, this part of the trail is pretty runnable so I really talked myself into running what I could (quite literally too, I scared a group of ladies out walking with my self chat). Then there was a big climb that I remembered and then a very steep descent that I was scared for, my legs felt wobbly and it was really steep and instead of rocks it was loose dirt and dead leaves. I slowly picked my way down, kicked a stump, cursed, as pain seared though my toe and into the pit of my stomach. As the toe pain subsided I noticed my sock felt funny, like it was really wet all of a sudden, I started to worry that I was bleeding, but then when I started to run realised that the blister pain was gone….sweet I popped my blister! That meant I wouldn’t have to stop at the next aid station to do it! I ran as best I could into the next aid station but I was struggling, it didn’t help that I knew what was coming. Upon arrival at aid station 5, I marvelled at the fact that I was mentally in a good place, last year when I was there a medic almost pulled me from the race because I was in such a state. I ate an orange slice, dumped some water on my head and headed off on the longest 4kms in the world.
The participant’s guide describes this section as follows “This section features several climbs, including the hardest up to the Timp Pass. The Timp Pass Road descending from the Pass turns very rocky.” I don’t think that sounds nearly as tough as it really is and even though I knew it was coming it still beat the hell out of me. The positives that I have come away with is that I stayed positive through this section, everyone around me was falling to bits but this girl soldiered on. The first place female, Ashley Moyer, went by me we had a brief chat, I told her she looked awesome and that it was quite inspiring watching her tackle this, she smiled and told that was exactly what she needed to hear, that gave us both a boost and I tried to chase after her, but decided that was foolish as I would surely trip and die. By the time I hit the last aid station I was giddy, I was also telling anyone who would listen about how I came into that station in tears last year and had to be consoled, this year I was all smiles. I did waste a little time hanging around this aid station, but it was just what I needed, I took off out of there a new woman. I managed to run most of the last 5km and at a really decent clip too. I came through the finish line ecstatic, I was all by myself too, so my name got announced, which is usually exciting as the announcer always comments on what a good running name I have. Not this guy though, this is what he said “And welcome back to number 981, Heather (a pause while he noticed what my last name is….) ‘not so light on her feet’ Lightfoot!” Cheers buddy! I’d like to see what you look like after running that 50km, the volunteer who was giving me my medal looked mortified, the announcer was lucky I could see where he was sitting.
Of course I was then really surprised to be met by Dan upon exiting the finish area, I felt so bad for him after the run I’d just had. Saw Melanie and April too, they were already changed and had eaten and totally rocked the race coming in 14 and 15 female overall! I finished in 7:17:56, good enough for 33rd female and 10th in my age group (I think I can start calling myself a “first third of the packer”).
It was a beautiful day so we basked in the sun cheering other runners in. We met an awesome couple from Philadelphia, you can read Amy’s race report here. This was their first 50km race and first trail race, they are very brave people. We also hung out with James who we met in the morning at bag check, he knew us from this blog, and through out the day I was freaked out by other people who asked if we were Race In Pieces. So hello to readers who aren’t our Mothers!
Big question, will we do it again next year? It’s a fantastically well organised race and in a beautiful part of the world, but I don’t think so. I think we said that last year too.