Like all of my races, this one begins several days before the actual event. Tapering, carbo loading, trying to sleep, and a large amount of planning and strategizing all take place in the days leading up to the race. In my case, because the decision to race was last minute, none of it went “perfectly”, but nothing was seriously wrong.
Why last minute? I was (and still am) following a marathon plan, in order to try to run a sub 3:00 marathon in Victoria in the fall. I was worried that this would disrupt my training too much. Not to mention pose a massive risk of injury. But in the final days, the appeal of doing the race I was already registered for was simply too much! Despite having moved the race twice due to snow, I decided “to hell with it” and committed to doing it, about a week prior.
I had no excuses. I was feeling fit, more or less injury free, and quite excited. Because of a busy week of moving, it was Saturday before I knew it.
Race morning meant a 3:30 AM wake-up… I got up at 3, took the dog out, and packed the car. The g/f got up later, got ready slowly but steadily, and we were off. I ate a Gu gel at ~ 3:15, roughly 1.75 hours before the race. Not as early as I would have liked, but whatever. I ate nothing else, and forgot to drink anything.
We got to the start of the race at 4:40. Everything was more or less ready to go. I pee’d in the woods, didn’t manage to take a dump, but felt ok. I was pretty much resigned to pooping in the woods anyway, and was equipped to handle it, so didn’t let it stress me out.
I signed in, put a headlamp on… Realized I was the only person with a headlamp and took it off. I knew the start of the course from the earlier training runs anyway, and figured the sun would be up before long. The g/f was stressed but I felt good.
There weren’t many people, and I actually barely even looked at them anyway. A few guys looked fit. I recognized none of them.
5:00 AM (0 hours) 0 km. Start Line
Then the countdown, and we were off. 5 AM, 80 km to go.
I immediately ran to the front. I wanted a 5 minute per km pace (8 minutes per mile), and planned to run the first half of the race very quickly, because I knew most of it was very flat. One guy stuck with me, a step or two behind, the rest fell back immediately. We ran on through the dark trail, the markers almost impossible to see.
The guy starting talking to me, introduced himself, said he was up from Portland. We talked about our running experience, and he said he’d been running a bunch of ultras. Seemed like a nice guy. He referred to this as a “good training run”, and I thought that was funny. I chatted a bit, but found myself talking too much, so I just shut up and concentrated on slowing down my pace, relax and stay focused on route finding.
Though I had run the first half (almost) of the course earlier in the spring, it was still hard to follow. Especially in the early morning light. I actually took a wrong turn, ended up on the wrong side of the river, and had to run across a train bridge. With this guy following me! It was a very minor detour, no difference in distance, and some markers reappeared and we were back on track.
I realized this guy was benefitting enormously from my knowledge of the course… He just had to hang behind and watch me figure out the trail! It kinda started to piss me off after a while. Not that I wanted him to get lost, by any means, but when I had to stop or slow down to figure it out, he was catching up to me, so he was really able to run a slower pace and still keep up.
Fortunately, my pace, just under 5 min/km, often as fast as 4:50, was uncomfortable for him. Either he was being conservative for the later stages of the race, or he had been doing so much slow running that he wasn’t happy at that speed. Either way, I eventually started to drop him.
When the trail veered a few odd ways, and then flattened out into a steady paced section, I had gained probably 400 m on him. And then, before you know it I pop out onto a road, and there’s Kaila and the truck. Aid Station 1!
6:10 AM (1.2 hours) 14.1 km. Station 1: Alice Lake Road
The station was early. I had written the distances and times to each station on my arm. 10 miles (16.1 km) in 75 mins was the plan, but I came in at only 14.1 km. Oh well, I chalked it up to Garmin accuracy. Sweet, that much closer to the finish! G/f was there, bottles in hand. I was still in early race excitement mode, so just dropped my empties, grabbed the new ones, and kept going! The whole thing didn’t even register on the Garmin, and the station crew had to ask for my number I ran by so fast. You’ll have to be quicker than that, people..
As soon as I left the aid station though, I felt horrible. The g/f just waited in the dark for me for an hour, and I barely said thanks! I was wracked with guilt. I was a horrible person. I wouldn’t get to see her again for another hour, or longer! I wanted to say thank you, so badly. I promised myself I would be more thoughtful next time.
From here the course went through some crazy trails. Tiny overgrown tracks in the middle of nowhere, barely visible. I had my head down, plunging headfirst through the heavy brush. I felt like Rambo. Or Arnold in “Predator” at the beginning, before they all die. I didn’t get scratched up at all really, which was good. I had a pretty good idea where I was going and the course was marked well enough, although the trail was barely discernible. Very different from when we ran the first training run in April! Finally I made it to the first hilly section, at Brohm Lake. And it was time to slow down…
I was in the unfortunate position of maintaining a lead, now. Should I stick to the plan? Or push harder? I figured the best strategy was: go only as hard as I could on the hills such that at the top of the hill I could immediately hit a 5:00 pace. If that meant walking, then so be it. If it meant a slow jog, then great. It worked out really well, actually. I made great time over the hill. I knew this part of the course well, even the unmarked left turn! I finally made it to the boulder field, and quickly hustled down. I did not fall and break an arm, thankfully.
On my way out of the woods, I remembered that I rolled my ankle so violently right about… OW! I stepped on the exact same root, with the same foot. Luckily I wasn’t sprinting this time! I looked back, and laughed. “you little bastard…”
Now I was back on the road for a short paved stretch, which I enjoyed. I was getting kinda tired, but maintained 5 minute pace. The aid station was just up the road, and I was feeling great.
7:18 AM (2.25 hours) 24.5 km. Station 2: Midnight Way
The g/f was there, ready to roll. I got her to run with me, and we traded off the bottles. I had time to say a more heartfelt thanks, but still felt guilty after the station. Damn! I hoped she would understand my selfishness. I looked back and she waved to me, and I was encouraged. The race director was at the station and cheered me on too, and seemed excited. Must be quite a relief to see things finally happening on race day!
The next section was rough, mentally. A long, long stretch of gravel road. Slow to run on, with potholes and those little ridges.. Lots of gravel. Felt slow. I was starting to struggle a bit to maintain 5 min/km. I wondered if I should slow down?? I figured fuck it, I can slow down when I get tired and it gets hilly.
(31 km) Soon the trail started climbing out of the valley. I didn’t get lost, and recognized most of it from the 2nd training run. The hills were less steep than I remembered, so I made great time. And I started seeing other runners! They were the 50 km group. They were all encouraging as hell, and they made me feel like a badass with their “you’re a 50 Miler? Right on, kick some ass!” and all that. It was nice to not be running completely alone, although whenever I did meet one I was hammering past them and only saw them for a few seconds. I wondered how long the race would take them…
(35 km) Finally the highway at the peak of the trail. and a long smooth downhill. Here I made one of my few (in my mind) big mistakes, and I blazed down the hill! I ended up running a 4:16 km! A large part of this was due to passing a group of 4 or so of the 50 km runners. I was showing off, frankly. Luckily it was only for a few minutes until I asked myself what the fuck I was doing, and the incline lessened. I have no doubt I strained my hamstrings a bit though. Don’t worry, I would pay the price later.
(37 km) The trail cut into the woods for an awful section about a km long, then back out onto the highway. I appreciated the effort to get away from the pavement, but there was no trail! It was just running through the woods! It was neat, but knowing the road was like 20 yards away and SO much faster made it tough to enjoy. It did get better, and a small trail appeared, but then we popped back out onto the highway.
Another long stretch of road (longer than I remembered… But I anticipated that!) and then the Chance Creek aid station appeared.
8:46 AM (3.74 hours) 39.8 km. Station 3: Chance Creek Bridge.
G/f’s notes say I said I was tired, but I looked strong, and asked for more water. It must have been heating up. I know I was definitely starting to feel whiny and weak. I was definitely getting tired of pushing the pace so hard. I think I might have grabbed my hat at this point. The sun wasn’t out much yet, but I didn’t need a sunburnt skull.
From here I still knew a few more miles of the trail, but when the marking faltered, so did my memory. I met a 50 km runner in the woods, who I helped (by sheer luck) find the course. I got totally stumped at the one point (the 911 sign) and made a few false starts down the wrong paths (I tried all of them!) and he caught up. Finally I concluded that we should run around the back of “Shadow Lake”… So he followed me. I felt convinced that even wrong turns would all filter North, so I ran quickly and left him behind again.
The problem was, when I ran the course last time, it was buried in snow! I eventually recognized a little bridge though, and took it. I still hadn’t seen a marker, so I hoped the route hadn’t been changed. Then a marker appeared! I wondered if I should go back and mark an arrow in the dirt for the other runners.. I decided just to draw one where I stood and hope he figured it out. I didn’t have time to help others damnit! I had a race to run!
(45 km) Finally I made it out onto the road, and then back down to the highway. At this point it was very hot, and I was very tired. The pavement was painful, and I found myself avoiding cracks in the road, looking for the smoothest surface to run on. Road cyclists riding by me gave me lots of encouragement. I’m sure I looked like death. I felt so slow, but the Garmin said I was doing ok.
My legs where hurting a lot. Shins, knees, etc. The whole run my TFL (?) had been hurting, and I wondered if it would get worse? And the heat.. I was so thirsty. Not enough water in these little bottles. The Perpetuem was getting a bit hot and frothy and hard to stomach. How I longed for an aid station.. 4 km along the road was pretty hellish in the blazing sun.
9:45 AM (4.75 hours) 50.6 km. Station 4: Brandywine Falls
I ran into Brandywine and saw the station, but not my crew! I was a bit stressed, but I didn’t wait, and ran to the station table and asked them to fill my bottle. Then the G/f showed up and called my name. Our shit was 20 feet away.. I jogged over. I grabbed a new bottle of fuel and she convinced to eat some berries. I did. I was in no mental state to resist instruction. I went back for my bottle, and the cap was missing, and had to run back to the table. Christ. Finally I took off again. I was pissed at first about the screwed up station, but knew it was because she was dealing with the dog. It was bound to happen. I didn’t let it bother me too much. I was too hot and exhausted to dwell on it, anyway.
Notes say “still running fast and looking great” but I felt like death. And all I could think of was being done.
The running from here on in is a jumble of memories, at best. I just remember endless gravel trails that climbed and climbed, and zigged and zagged. A forest trail so rough and rocky I could barely run. I wondered, were people walking behind me? Would I be passed? All the spring was gone from my step, and every downed log was a hellish obstacle of slowness, to be clambered over. Hoping not to fall on my face.
The uphills were painful. Should I run? Should I walk? Mostly I walked, even the gentlest of hills. My legs were lead. I kept thinking to what Dean Karnazes (I just read his new book) and Geoff Roes, and no doubt all other famous ultra runners say: “There are low points, and high points. Being good is about running hard through the low points.” But I was thinking “Where the fuck are my high points?!” It felt to me like just a constant downward spiral. Maybe 80 km is too short to experience some secondary high points…
Up until this point, the aid stations all came way early, relative to the distances on the website. This time however, I ran on, and on, and on. I ran so long, I thought I missed it! I ran out of fuel and water. I stopped to dunk my head in a cold stream. I ran on, awash with pain.
I was on trail though! There were markers. At one point a guy with a number on came running back towards me. He seemed fresh. I was going to ask him if he was going the wrong way. I was sure (well… I was fairly sure) I was going the right way… I eventually saw some buildings, and knew I must be nearing Function Junction. I was positive I hadn’t seen buildings yet! But the wrong-way runner stressed me out.
(65.5 km) Eventually, I popped out onto the road. The course was poorly marked again, and I bobbled a bit, then found the way. Then Kaila was there in the distance! She told me to follow her, when I asked where the aid station was. I was skeptical. I kept asking “are you sure? Are you sure?” and she said everyone was getting lost, and asked if I had been lost? I said no, but she told me other runners were coming from a different direction! She said everyone was getting pissed off and lost. So I felt better, since I was neither.
The reason she thought I was lost was that I had been planning for the aid station at 45 miles (64.3 km) but all stations had been early. The last one was 6 km early! So I ended up running over 8 additional km for this leg of the course! Needless to say, it was confusing and stressful. I was sure I’d been on the right route the whole time, however, so I just figured I’d done my math wrong, and didn’t worry about it too much.
11:30 AM (6.5 hours) 66 km. Station 5: Function Junction
Finally we crossed the highway, after waiting for the light. The aid station appeared, but it was so different, with signs and happy faces and stuff, I still wasn’t sure it was the right one! The lady had a bell, and encouraged me and took some photos. I was a zombie and felt terrible. She said “there’s your buddy!” and pointed to the dog, but I was like “oh, yeah, she is.” and just ran on. (Sorry, dog) Kaila gave me more water, and more bottles. I had started doing Gu gels (hoping the caffeine might help) and so I grabbed one more, and took off. Kaila said “see you in an hour!” and I prayed she was right.
I dove into the woods, but right away I arrived at a 4-way intersection, with no markers. There was a big trail sign. I checked it, and thought I recognized trail names from the course description. The trails weren’t signed, so I still didn’t know which way was correct! I debated going back to ask for directions, but instead crossed my fingers and hobbled off, up the hill.
Turns out I chose correctly. I was at the bottom of the last massive obstacle: a 400 m hill. God, was it endless. I couldn’t run up. I had to walk. Mountain bikers raced down. I can’t remember if there were markers or not. I think there were. I was teased with numerous false summits. I looked at my watch. 10 km to go, and an hour to do it and finish in sub 8 hours. If only I could reach the top, I could do it! Alas, t’was not to be. The top took forever to reach, and the downhill was way too steep to be of any use to me. I stumbled down in more pain than before. My kidneys, back and core were killing me. I couldn’t breathe well, my lungs and heart felt weak and ineffective. The clock ticked on. I was barely doing 10 minutes per km.
(74.6 km) I finally popped out at some sort of reservoir on a gravel road. Again, a 4 way intersection that was unmarked. I asked someone about an aid station and he said “I think they’re down there, across the bridge”. Shit, that wasn’t clear enough directions. I found another sign with a map on it, but it was unclear. There were some rocks and logs arranged, directing people back up the hill. On the map it appeared there was a trail, so I followed it.
It turned out (I think?) to be the mountain bike course. I found a guy on a bike and asked him, and he said he’d seen runners coming this way. That being said, I was fairly sure that going straight down would have been much faster. I was annoyed at having to run further, but then I told myself to just not worry about it. “You’ll make it to the end, just try to enjoy the run”. It was a beautiful mountain bike trail through the woods, over a bridge over a crashing river (Twenty One Mile Creek?) and I tried to just relax and enjoy. The pain in my core and back (kidneys?!) made it very hard, but I did feel a bit better.
12:55 PM (7.55 hours) 76.2 km. Station 6: Alta Lake Road
Kaila was at the station, as was a guy wearing a “Club Fatass Ultramarathon” t-shirt. He seemed smug and totally unconcerned with my suffering, which frankly pissed me off. Perhaps he merely couldn’t tell I was suffering, but I felt like his smirking smile said “I’ve done longer, harder runs than this baby race”. (I guess that’s assuming a lot, but I wasn’t in a great state of mind, haha.)
My kidneys were killing me, and I asked Kaila if I should drink more water, or less? More Perpetuem, or less? She wasn’t sure. I ate some oranges, and a glass of Coke. Stupid. Comfort food for the weak, is what that aid station shit is. I just had to burp for the next several kilometers. (I still maintain that random “real” food has no place in a race, although I do admit that using a single fuel for an entire day of running is a terrible plan.)
Kaila asked him how far to the end. He said 6 km, or less. Kaila said “mostly downhill, right?” and I knew better than to believe the response, and he knew better than to lie. He said it was “rolling”. I mentally prepared myself for more hills, but I did latch onto the 6 km “only” idea. Thankfully it was less than 6 km, and indeed mostly downhill.
From here the trail was really tough. Lots of little ups and downs and winding turns, lots of stupid mountain bike bridges and obstacles. Drove me crazy. Was so hard to get a rhythm going, especially with my aching core. (And zero spring in my step.) I knew sub 8 hours was long gone, but I also knew the finish line was so close…
Finally (finally!) I popped out onto the paved Whistler bike path. I remembered reading an old race report, in which the person complained the path felt very long! So I steeled myself for several more km of hard paved running.
People were biking by, lots of pedestrians with dogs, etc. I ran by them, a sweaty decaying zombie. A girl asked “are you running a triathlon” and I croaked back “no. 80 k.” … Then people started to say “You’re almost there!” and I picked up the pace as best I could. I was managing still nearly 5 min/km, and saw a few runners ahead of me, which I focused in on. I fought hard to pass the first, and it turned out she was just a woman out for a run. Damn. The second, going even slower, was in my crosshairs…
But then, the finish line appeared. The classic Running Room red tent and finish line, with the clock and the banner. People milling around. The promise of food! I sprinted, passed the second guy (this I regret doing; No need to ruin someone’s finish line photos for a few seconds of sprinting) and crossed the line. The Garmin read 81.32 km in 8:27:18, and the finish clock read 8:27:40. I had completed the race in 1st place, and beaten my “medium goal” finish time by over an hour!
The lush, green grass was heavenly, though I could barely sit. I walked around a bit. Stretching was out of the question, as I would cramp immediately. I ate some amazing (oh so amazing) Graham Wafer cereal cookie things someone had made. Holy mother of Christ were they delicious. Kaila brought me a hot dog. I was dropping food everywhere in the grass, and felt bad, but just had no capacity to find a plate, which in hindsight would have made a lot of sense.
I was awarded a 1st place finish bottle of wine, a certificate and a gift card at the running room. I thanked everyone for a great race, and all their hard work. We chatted a bit with the second place guy (who I’d been running with at the beginning) and his wife. He was pissed off about some of the markers missing (he’d gotten lost twice) but the course director said that people had been tearing them down.
Here’s my Garmin Plot: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/104856389
In the end, it was a great experience. It had been my goal since late February or so, and even though the race was moved (twice!) I was very happy to have done it. I guess I wish I’d been better prepared (training for the fall marathon meant almost no recent long trail running) but not because I cared about going faster, only because I wish I’d been in less pain!
I also learned a lot. I’ll point form a few things to save time.
- I felt like my strategy was pretty sound, though I realized afterwards that running a more constant pace would have made sense; the course was not nearly as slow in the second half as I thought. Planning on running 5:30 min/km would have probably served me better? Tough to say.
- Cold drinks, especially the fuel, would be amazing in handheld bottles. Not only were my hands sweaty and overheating, but the Perpetuem was nauseating when warm and frothy. An ice pack, even for a second, at an aid station, would also be very enjoyable.
- Sunglasses are useless on trail runs. I couldn’t see a thing in the woods, and who cares if it’s bright in the sun? Might not be the case for all races, but they were annoying. Any extraneous gear is annoying.
- Black is a stupid colour for a running hat. I need a white one. I need a white running singlet as well. Heat is bad.
- Pre-running the course is a must. Even the slightest hesitation at a fork in the road ruins your rhythm and requires a lot of concentration. Study, study, study the course. Run the course, map the course, and finally, chat with the organizers and find out if anything is different to last year.
- Crewing is hard, and time consuming. Arrange things better in bags. Better yet, have a few plastic bins. Pre-mix fuel if you can. Don’t bring the dog. Bring two friends rather than one. Bring a photographer!
- Man up and leave the real food at home for an 8 hour race, and eat specially designed endurance fuels, if you want to save huge amounts of time at the aid stations. This is one of the things I definitely did right. Yes it was monotonous, but I probably spent a total of 1 minute at aid stations for the entire race!
- Hydrate more. I’m pretty sure I was dehydrated, hence the sore kidneys. (At least, I’m pretty sure it was kidneys, and not just back muscles.) I didn’t have bleeding (signs of a “dry bladder” that can abrade and bleed?) and I didn’t have brown pee (signs of major kidney issues!?) but still… I don’t wanna do long term damage out there. I only pee’d twice, and the first time was before the 1st aid station. The next time was pretty dark. Probably dehydrated.
- Get lots of sleep two days before. Get lots of sleep the day before. Try to stick to your regular routine. This aspect of my race I screwed up big time. My diet sucked, my sleep sucked, my routine was shot.
- Winning 1st place is nice I guess, but meaningless. It’s an ego thing that I am glad to say played very little part in my strategy, or my race. Run the best race you can, for yourself. Run hard, run with purpose, and stay focused. Do this regardless of whether there’s a guy 10 feet ahead of you, 30 minutes ahead of you, or 1 hour behind you.
- More long slow running on trails, and less fast marathon training (tempo runs per Daniel’s Running Formula!) would have been great for me. And a more distinct peak and long taper. I guess I did as well as I could given that I just did the race more or less on a whim.
That’s about all I can remember of my race. I hope you enjoyed reading about it. Thanks to my amazing crew for allowing me to do so well. I couldn’t have done it without you!