Ultra Truths


To say that this summer has not really gone to plan with regards to racing would be somewhat of an understatement.  My training for the most part has been spot on, clicking off the distances I had prescribed for myself and over all feeling great, ramping up when I felt good and enjoying ‘bonus” runs with friends, and on the days where I wasn’t feeling at my best I would dial back, but on average always hitting the KM’s.  Races however have been a different story….

I came into the ultra season feeling strong, my winter training was focused on speed and shorter races.  With each week and each race, PB’s seemed to tumble with easy, 2 mins off a 5k, over 20 mins off a 30k, my basic 5k track workout was faster than my previous PB.  The transition to an ultra training program was smooth, factoring in more trails and adding in a second long run on Sundays.  The first trail race of the season was PYP 25k this too went great, and then immediately after racing went south….

Some of this will be a rehash so apologies, but as much as anything else I want this posting to help give me some much needed introspection.

Next up was Bear mountain, a race I had been thirsty for all winter, I had some lofty ambitions about improving on the previous years performance.  But the week before I was struck with a random injury, stepping out of bed I had shooting pains radiating from my foot to my hip, this subsided somewhat before the race but my foot was still in pain, still I decided to toe the line, quickly it became apparent that the goals I had set were not going to be realistic and I timed out at the first hard cutoff.  Now here is something that I have not discussed with anyone to this point including Heather – I was in pain, I did sit down and wallow in self-pity at an aid station gathering my thoughts, I was happy to have missed the cut-off, but here is the thing I have not admitted to myself or anyone else, I could have made that cut-off maybe not by much but I could have done it, I let myself be timed out of that race.  The pain was a factor, worrying about more damage that I could have caused also factored in there, but more than anything there was over riding sense of vanity and entitlement.  I did not want to go on if this wasn’t going to be the race I had planned, I deserve better, I will get the “planned” later, but will address the deserve now.  Quite what gave me the delusion that I deserve a given result or time is beyond me, I am still a relatively inexperienced ultra runner, but what strikes me the most as I look at this, is the notion that the race owed me something rather than the other way around.  I owe the race and myself my best effort; the race owes me nothing (well a tee shirt is nice).  I wouldn’t have finished this race and ultimately stopping was probably the right thing for my leg, but I could have maned up made that cut-off and called it quits having pushed as hard as I could to that point, leaving the best of what I had on course, instead I let the clock tick down to take that decision out of my hands.  Key Lesson = Vanity has no place in ultra or any other type of running.

Next up was the Niagara Ultra.  Here again I went in with an expectation of what I was capable of.  However this is a good news story, I set out to sub 5 hour this, despite being on pace up to around the 30k mark the heat kicked my ass, and I ended up far far slower.  The difference here was I acknowledged that I am not a good heat runner and was able to adjust my expectations.  I realigned my goals mid race, resetting my watch and in essence starting a new race mentally.  I crossed the finish line, and didn’t give a toss that my goal time had been chucked out of the window, I was happy to have adapted.  Key Lesson = Mental strength and adaptation = medal.

Limberlost, “lost” being the key part of this race, so a few things went wrong on this one.  Physically I was A-ok but I did get lost on lap one and later lost my race bib, these things added a few kilometers to my race.  After getting lost on lap one I automatically gave up on the race, I decided I would lounge around wait for Heather and then go out for a lap with her and call it a day.  I waited the better part of an hour for H before we went out together, then after some miscommunication I lost her half way around, I came in from that loop and flopped down, justifying that with my detours I was not that far off 42k anyway.  The reality is I had hours and hours to do one more lap, but again it wasn’t going to be the race “I wanted” so why bother.  So here is that vanity again, but also I think it shows a lack of respect for the people who did finish the marathon in 8 hours,  somehow I put myself above them, yet they were the ones with a medal at the end of the day not me, so who is the better runner? Key Lesson = Respect the race, respect the racers

Dirty Girls, now this one is something different again (look at me learning lessons).  The 24 hours at last years race was my A race, I loved it I got my first belt buckle and my first hallucination, so was excited to hit up this race again.  This time was the 12 hour race, run over night, I love night running so it was going to be a good time.  As we know I had a slight mishap putting a hole in my knee that required stitches and subsequently got infected.  For the infection I was given a 10 day course of antibiotics, which I was told may upset my stomach, I explained the race to the doctor and he suggested I stop taking the antibiotics the day before, I hadn’t explained it was a night race so I figured I could just stop taking them 8 hours before the race.  The running felt great and I had some great company but by the third lap I had stomach cramps and some kidney pain, I called it quits at 24k.  This time I absolutely did the right thing stopping, I was putting pressure on my body that it wasn’t up for, in essence I had done my best.  It did not however feel that way, especially not as I was shivering in the car under a picnic blanket, with thoughts of not toeing the line at Haliburton or reducing my distance running through my mind.  What I should have been doing was acknowledging on this day under these conditions I had given my all that I could/should give and far from being a bad thing that was something I should celebrate.  What more can I expect than my best on a given day. Key lesson = My best is good enough.

Acknowledging these short comings is, I believe, essential for my growth as a runner.  The entitlement and to some extent arrogance I have shown in these races has led me to feel far too much pressure which in turn means that I have not enjoyed the races, which is a shame as they are all fantastic courses run be great RD’s.  Also accepting that the people who finished and finished slower than my planned time still achieved something I did not, to the trail gods I apologise for this lack of respect.   Another question I had asked myself was around my mental toughness, am I softer than I think? The answer I came back with is probably I am, but I am tough enough to run 120k at Dirty Girls and 50 miles at Bear Mountain, so I was tough enough to have run all of these races.  Whats more is I am mentally tough enough to run a 100 miles?

Haliburton race strategy is as follows, run without a watch, run by feel, keep it simple, run happy and stay on course until I either finish or they drag me off.


Dirty Girls 12 hour Race Report

Or how not to do Dirty Girls
I was really looking forward to this race, my training had been spot on (although lacking some quality workouts) my goal was 80km(50 miles) a tough challenge on this course, but I wanted a challenge.  Five days before the race however my body decided to have a melt down.  It started while Dan and I had been hiking/camping, we’d set up camp, had a snack and were now lounging around enjoying the view, Dan asked me a question and my response came out as  a squawk.  I cleared my throat, but got the same noise.  My throat had been a bit sore in the morning but I had put that down to allergies and all the fresh air I was getting, I was wrong.
I ended up losing my voice completely, it felt like I was swallowing razors and had a constant stream of snot coming out my nose.  I was told it was a virus and that it would just run it course, I asked how long this course would be since I had a course to run myself in a few short days.  My doctor enjoyed the joke but just shrugged, “you might feel better tomorrow, but you might not feel better until next week”.   I proceeded to spend the rest of the week trying all sorts of home remedies and by Saturday morning I sort of had a voice, but there was still a lot of snot.  Oh and my period started. Sigh.  I’ve been pretty lucky thus far with my cycles and have only run one race prior on my period, typically I skip all exercise day one and two, great, a new “challenge”.
The race starts at 8pm so we tried to have a relaxing day, ate a big meal at lunch time, then some ice cream at 4pm and a granola bar in the car on the way to Mansfield.  I felt fuelled and ready but I had quickly looked at the website to find out how far I needed to run to get my OUSER points, so 48km (each loop is 8km) became my worse case scenario but I was stilling holding out for a miracle hope.
Wake up Dan we have to run a race now.

Wake up Dan we have to run a race now.

Once we arrived it was fun to catch up with our ultra friends and see some runners in the 24 and 48 hour race go through.  It was finally time for us 12 hour runners to go, I had brief panic as I momentarily misplaced my headlamp (I really did not need anymore challenges), but found it with about 30 seconds to spare.
Ultra friends.

Ultra friends.

Lap 1 – 1:07:14
Dan and myself ended up running with friends Pete (met at Sulphur and he too had a bad day at Limberlost) and Carolyn (met at PYP and ran with at Limberlost- have I mentioned I have no business running with this girl?)  We set off at what Carolyn considered a “conservative” pace, I felt it was a little harder than that, but that was my aim, I was still delusional enough to believe I could push myself for 12 hours.  The first lap was fun we all just chatted, took in as much of the course in daylight that we possibly could and found ourselves back at the start in no time.
Lap 2 – 1:10:06
We cruised on through the aid station and headed straight back out on the course.  It was dark now, I have to say that I love my NAO headlamp, I had no issues seeing what was going on around me.  We just plugged away still rolling a good pace, saying hello to runners we knew who’d been out there for hours already, apologising for our fresh legs, near the end of this loop I felt like I could use a bathroom break but I really liked the groove we were in so I didn’t stop and we rolled on.
Lap 3 – 1:07:19
Dan had topped up his bottle at the end of lap two and mentioned that his stomach was feeling a bit off.  Unfortunately for Dan he has had a rough go since he injured his knee, the wound ended up getting infected and he had to go on antibiotics, the doctor told him he could run the race but to stop his medication as it’s hard on the tummy.  Dan took his last dose at 12pm that day, but realistically he should have stopped at 8pm the night prior.  Our little train eventually lost Dan, we could still see him on the switchbacks so we knew he was never far behind.  I hoped he could rally.  Half way through this lap I absolutely needed the bathroom which was pretty much the only thing that kept me hustling back the start (there are indoor bathrooms with running water!!!).  Pete took a ninja like spill while checking out his watch to confirm that we were running way too fast (for us), it was impressive, in daylight I wouldn’t have even known he went down, but he was behind us and it went unsettling dark behind me so I turned to see him roll right back up on to his feet and carry on running!
Lap 4 – 1:36:46
Once back at the start/finish I went to take care of things in the bathroom, I bumped back into Pete at the aid station, we filled our bottles and wondered where Carolyn was.  She had wanted to stop to use the bathroom and eat but we could not find her.  Dan finished his lap and told me (and the RD) that he was going to take a break, his stomach was not good.  This was something we had not planned on doing so we had not brought a tent or sleeping bag.  I reminded him of the picnic blanket in the trunk of the car and told him to keep warm.  It was hard because it seemed quite warm running up in the forest but down in the field it was frigid.   After standing around for what felt like forever (only 10 minutes) waiting for Carolyn it occurred to us that she must have gone on, so on we went.  Pete confided that his stomach was also doing flip-flops, and I confided that I was have some serious lady cramping.  I could tell we’d definitely slowed and were running a more appropriate pace.  Pete had a pack malfunction that we had to stop and fix, then it was my turn to hold us up by doubling over on the side of the trail to wait for some cramps to pass.  At the mid-loop aid station Kinga tried to cheer us up by making us some interesting combinations of food (I had humus on white bread with sliced green grape, not bad, but not my new found race food!) but we looked beat up and we’d only run three and a half loops, oh ultra running you humbling sport of crazy people.  We pushed on, we were actually still moving at a decent pace but we had to stop one more time for me to whimper on the side of the trail (it was a quiet whimper as my voice was losing power).   I finally pulled myself together and decided to get the heck out of the bush, plus I needed the bathroom again.
Lap 5 – 1:40:02
After another pit stop and some broth at the aid station, Pete decided he needed a break, I decided I did to.  Back at the car I found Dan cocooned in the picnic blanket wearing all the clothes he could find (I was impressed he thought to bring a beanie).  I got into the passenger seat, leaned it all the way back, put my coat on and proceeded to shiver.  Dan woke up and gave me a small corner of the blanket and asked what was going on.  I told him we were taking a break, he asked if I told the RD I was doing this, I said no and he said I should because that’s what she had asked us to do at the pre-race briefing (which I had missed looking for my headlamp), oh.  I laid there for about 5 minutes (shivering) before deciding that if I was going to get up to tell them I was taking a break I should just get up and run another lap.  I gave Dan his corner of blanket back and told I was going to go torture myself.  I took his iPod (I’ve never tried running with music or earphones)  and I listened to a podcast on this loop, making sure to pause it and talk to any runner that I would go by or passed me.  I had to keep sucking on lozenges because it was painful to swallow, I started to worry about my nutrition as I wasn’t eating or drinking (lozenges have sugar in them though right?) This time at the mid-loop aid station Kinga gave me a rice cake covered in peanut butter GU topped with a slice of banana and one M&M.  Again pretty good, but not life changing.   On I went just plodding away, running as much as I could because I wasn’t dressed warm enough to walk for long.  Finally made it back to base, used the bathroom again and warmed up with some lentil soup (tasty!).
Lap 6 – 1:30:07
I hemmed and hawed about going out again.  Pierre and Leanne were a little concerned about my voice, it was screechy (worse than usual) and I was getting cold.  I resolved that I had to finish lap six (48km) before I tried to take another break because realistically it was going to be difficult to get going again.  So off I went, new podcast queued up, and a little pep in my step knowing I could rest soon.  I was getting tired and started tripping a lot but managed to keep myself upright.  Had a chat with Maryka (we met at Sulphur) the #1 female in the 48 hour event with 236km, she was moving so well I was so inspired/amazed, I can’t even imagine what that would feel like.  She eventually told me to get going so I did, then I ran into Hutch (met at Limberlost last year) he was death marching his final few laps for his 120km in 24 hours (actually he ended up doing the 122km).  We had a good long chat and I tried to pull him along but eventually he told me to get going and to not beat myself up for not reaching my goal and we can choose to learn from failure (he is still too wise for his age).  Smiling as I came into the mid-loop aid station I skipped the smorgasbord and opted for some icy cold water to soothe my throat.  I helped light the way up the long hill for a 24 hour runner whose flashlight was dying.  I offered to stay with him, but he insisted I move on.  How can one not love a sport where we encourage each other so much? As I ran into the start area I made sure to tell the time keepers I was taking a break.  I hit the bathroom again, had more broth, changed into my sweatpants and shirt and stole half the blanket from Dan.
In the end I woke up at 5:30am and thought about going back out, but I fell back to sleep until 6:30am (race ended at 8am) so we decided to call it a day.  We still got medals which finally put a smile on Dan’s face!
Dirty Girls is such as awesome race, I wish I could have had a better day, but I would encourage anyone to give this event a try, the people you will meet will make it worth while whether or not you reach your goal.
Disclaimer:  We do not endorse running with a virus or infected leg wound.
Super cool medal.

Super cool medal.