Ultra Truths

Dan

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.

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Falling fast to the Death Race!!

Heather

When Dan and I first started trail running/racing I was afraid of 3 things:

1. Falling

2. Getting lost

3. Losing my shoe/s

Number 3 happened during our first ultra at Sulphur Springs, it happen less than 2 km into the race.  I amazed myself by remaining calm, retrieving the shoe, putting said shoe back on and carrying on running. What was I so afraid of?

Number 2 (sort of) happened during the Niagara Ultra.  We over shot one of the last turns, we didn’t get far before I realised our error, but it helped me understand why it’s important to know what race markings you’re following and not rely on other people being in front of you!

Number 1, well that happened today.  We ran The Limberlost Challenge 14km as our final “prep” race for the Death Race.  The course was gorgeous, located between Huntsville and Dwight, in Lake of Bays, we ran alongside 5 different lakes!  Since we were only doing 14km I didn’t carry my bag which means no pictures (sorry), thankfully we did carry our hand-held water bottles as it was freaking hot, it was 33 celsius when we set off at 9am.  We were the last race to start since we only had to do one loop, there was also 28km, 42km, and 56km distances, I felt for these people, did I mention it was HOT?!?!!

This also turned out to be one of the more technical races we’ve run, meaning that it was all single track (not so good for passing, great for bumping into trees), very root covered and rocky, and very undulating.  We like to start at the back of the pack so that we don’t end up starting too fast, but today we misjudged our racing mates and kind of ended up getting stuck for a bit, not that we were complaining it kept us slow and did I mention it was HOT?  At the first aid station (3km) the course opens up when you run across a logging road so we booted it to get around the group we’d been following and actually ran the next few kms on our own and it was perfect.  But we eventually caught up to some more runners, feeling pretty good, we actually started declaring our intention to pass and people politely moved to the side (there is an etiquette to be followed).  We fell instep behind a man whose pace we liked and followed him for a while, but then he took a tumble (after getting him upright and ensuring he was ok we decided to get ahead of him), Dan and I had a few near misses ourselves, but that happens in trail racing.

We refilled our water bottles at the next aid station (9km), it was HOT, and carried on happily through the beautiful forest and then SMACK, fear number 1 realised.  I caught my toe (hard) on a root and fell straight to the ground, thankfully I’ve been listening to people’s advice since my last fall, and I actually put my hands out in front of me and kept my head up, the result? I looked like I was sliding into home plate!!  But like an extremely brave experienced trail runner would, I jumped up checked for blood/breaks, saw none and carried on running!  A few steps later though I had pain in my left big toe from stubbing it on the root, I stopped for a moment to assess and discovered that I had bent the nail back, it didn’t break, so seeing as we only had 4km left to run stepped down on it pushing the nail back onto the toe bed and once again carried on running.  On the plus side the adrenaline gave me a second wind!

We finished strong in 1:42, first page of results and in the first half of finishers, not bad for back of the packers!  It was a great run and we both felt so “on”, we hope that this is how we will feel in Grande Cache.  The only recourse from my fall are some scraps on my thigh and a sore toe, totally survivable!

The race start/finish area was next to a lake so after our run we went for a dip, it was so amazing, as it was HOT.  And then we filled up on chicken souvlaki, pasta salad, potato salad, chick pea salad, water melon, and oranges.  My favorite post race meal yet (all that was missing was the beer!)  Although this race is a little far from Toronto, I would highly recommend it.  But take your swim suit since it’s in July and it might be HOT!

Dan and I are always one number apart, but they always put him first...

Dan enjoying his post race meal in the sun.

Heather trying to enjoy her post race meal, in the little shade she could find, it was HOT!