Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Sulfur Springs 50 Mile Race Report: Frolicking through the Forest

First off, the biggest most heartfelt thanks to my brother who helped me immensely over the weekend. I cannot thank you enough for everything that you've done.

This race and past weekend was absolutely amazing and incredible in many ways. It all started friday night, when, after the hockey game (a beer), dropping another brother off, my brother and I headed to Hamilton to get to the race site for the following morning 6am start. On route, at about midnight, we decided that we'd sleep in the van as the race started at 6am, and there'd be no real point in renting a motel room for only 4 hours. After inadvertently taking the scenic route (getting lost), we finally found the race site and promptly settled into a rather dubious sleep for the night. My brother curled up on the passenger seat and was promptly snoring in 5 minutes. I curled up on the floor of the van (the middle seats and back bench were removed) and tossed and turned all night long. I figure I got maybe 2.5 hours of sleep. Sleep is over rated anyway, right? At 5am I went and registered for the race then spent the next 45min getting ready for the race.

 The morning was foggy and cloudy, having rained the night before, the air was thick with mist, and the ground was wet from the rain. The rain the day before made for some interesting (read: REALLY friggin muddy) trail conditions. Having been used to racing triathlons I was expecting for an air horn or some other loud noise making device to be used to signal the start of the race. Rather, as about 70 runners milled around the start line (a dude with an arrow sign) the race organizer made his final announcements before calling out "Go!" after a 10 and 5 second warning. The first thing that we experienced in the race was about an 800 meter decent down a country road that had a 20%+ grade. Running in Vibram Five Finger KSO Treks, I decided to allow myself to drop down the hill and let gravity do all the work. After bombing down the hill the course took a quick right turn and onto the trails we went. In order to try to deal with my cranky left hip, I decided to start the race wearing my compression sleeves, which would come off by the second lap. The first lap of the race was not the most pleasant 20k I've every run. My body didn't seem commited to running with my stomach acting all gnarly, my legs not fully settled and my breathing not fully connected. The stomach issues resolved by several bathroom breaks over the first lap. I pulled off my calf sleeves after about 23k and shortly felt MUCH better. I've used compression to great results as a recovery tool, but it never quite works out in the actual activity. Needless to say I will no longer be wearing compression while racing.

Once I hit the 25k point, my running seemed to connect and I started to go. I quickly started passing people and just ran at my own rythym. There were several points where I wondered if I should just let some others racers pull/pace me through the race, but decided that I'd run as I felt and explore how that would work. The next 20k went super well as I just flowed through the course, walking the ascents, bombing the descents and just thoroughly enjoying myself. At about the 50k mark I hit my first wall, fatigue started to settle in and the legs started to protest a little. Surprisingly it was my "good" leg that started to go on me. I soldiered on and finished the third lap in solid standing.

At the beginning of the 4th and final lap I flowed through that wall and started to feel  better. I resolved to run as much as possible the final lap, and try to average 10kph. Quickly as I pushed on I hit a second wall and started to walk more often than I would have liked. As I ran into the final aid station I grabbed some smarties to eat and chatted with some of the volunteers about my foot wear choice. "How's the traction?" "How do your feet feel?" While a nice distraction to the pain and fatigue, this was probably one of the bigger mistakes I made in the race (besides running too hard too early). When I bought my five fingers, I sized them to fit me perfectly while standing around. The sizing is perfect for shorter runs, but as I learned the hard way, your feet swell quite handily in an ultra. The standing around in the aid station allowed my feet  to swell just enough to pinch a tendon in my left foot. My shoes were too tight. About 30ft out of the aid station I was reduced to walking along, as my arch was refusing to take any weight. The next 8k were the most painful I have ever experienced. Hobbling does not afford any range of motion within the muscles and I quickly seized up. This 8k was also the most amazing experience of the race. Every runner who was soloing would ask if there was anything that I needed. I had runners in my own race offering my their gels, water, salt, tylenol, you name it. Also what it was they were offering was often all they were carrying on them. This in it self blew me away. In all the training and racing I did not once did I have anyone offer me help when I was in trouble. Even at the Ironman when I was bleeding under a toenail and couldn't run, people would offer words of enouragement (which don't get me wrong, I appreciated), but it never extended any farther than that. Mean while as a kid in his first ultra with a bad sense of pacing, I had about a dozen people offering all that they had on them to help me along. It was in the midst of a LOT of suffering that I realized that I'd found my home within the realm of athletics, and felt at peace with what I was doing. It's not the results, the fan fare, the bling or the achievements that are important. It's the people around us that matter the most, helping out those in need regardless of who they are or what they are. I ended up crossing the line feeling rather good (some older runner gave me some ibruprofen, the first and last time I plan on taking drugs to get me through a race), and felt that something profound had happened in those last 8k. I'm not sure exactly what the future holds, but I will forever remember this race, as I feel it has and will be, a turning point in my life. I am really proud of my accomplishment, finishing my first 50 mile ultra marathon. I know I made many mistakes in the race: poor pacing, wrong fitting shoes, compression sleeves, risky nutrition (I need to play with that a little more to find the right balance) and allowing myself to walk when I should have kept running. On the other hand I have learned so much from the other runners on the course, from their care, generosity and sense of humour. I hope that every run that I go on from now on, be it the biggest race of my life, to the most airy-fairy training run that I can help give back what was given to me that day in those 8k of purgatory.

I know I never mentioned numbers or times throughout my report, so here are the splits and final times for those interested. 17th overall with a time of 9:27:04. 4th in the under 39 age group, with an average pace of 11:21 min per kilometer. The splits are as follows: 1st 20k - 1:50:27, 2nd 20k- 1:44:50, 3rd 20k- 2:07:09, final 20k: 3:35:44. At the 60k mark I was sitting in 5th place OA, only 11min down on the leader. I definitely feel that for my next 50 miler I can go much faster, if i can address the mistakes that I made. But now it's time to rest, recover, drink beer and enjoy the amazing fact of being alive.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below, and I'll try to respond in a timely manner. Thanks for reading!

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