Sunday, 31 May 2015

5 Peaks Ontario Race #2: Heart Lake Enduro 16km

The sun was shining, the rain wasn't scheduled to hit until the afternoon, and I felt good and ready for a nice run through the trails. Oh how looks and feelings can be deceiving.

One of the nice things about the 5 Peaks series is that the races don't start too early. For me, the race began at 10. I normally like to get there an hour before, and it takes an hour to drive there from my place. I started my day off with the usual routine:

  1. Dog jumps on bed at 6:30am and wakes me up.
  2. Dog lies down on bed and sleeps until 7:00am
  3. Dog gets up again and whines loudly until I get up and let her out.
I left for the race around 8:10. Traffic on the 401/410 was non-existent (thank goodness) and I got there in pretty good time, just before 9. Lots of people were already there, and the kids 3km race had just started as I pulled up. One of these days I will get my boy (and maybe even the girl) to run one of the kids races. I grabbed my bib, and picked up my race swag. One thing I absolutely LOVE about 5 Peaks is the swag. They really like to mix it up. At the first race, I received a Buff, a cool head covering that can be worn in may different ways. This race, it was a choice between a silicone pint glass, or a mug. Being the ardent coffee drinker that I am, I picked the mug. 
5 Peaks race swag
I headed back to the car to go through my pre-race ritual. It was already hot at this point, and I decided to go with my bottle belt for the race. I also remembered to bring some gels this time. At the last race, towards the end, I ran out of gas, and figured with this race being 3-4km longer, I'd need something for sure. There were two water stations on the course, and I'd be hitting them twice during the race. Still, I wasn't sure whether that would be enough, so the decision was made to wear my hydration belt. 

I loaded it up, and went for a warm-up run around the parking lot. Half way through I noticed that on the right, the side strap was hitting me in the arm, in a way that I don't remember it ever did before. No biggie, I'll fix it when I get back to the car. When I did stop and look at it, I saw that it was actually RIPPED! 
My very first bottle belt, and it's ripped!
I wasn't sure if the remaining stitching would hold up to the bouncing on the trails, so I opted to go with my other belt. No water pouch, but I'd just take the gels when I hit the water stations. 

I transfer all my stuff to the other belt, and go to attach the bib. This belt has two strings where you can easily attach the bib. I love this feature, as I don't have to safety pin the bib to my shirt. Only this time, one of the attachments is missing! 
At this point, it's about 9:38am, the race starts in 20 minutes, and I need to find some safety pins! Back to the bib pick-up I go, and grab some. I pinned the bib to my shorts, which worked out pretty well. 

Belt pouch packed, bib fastened, sunscreen applied, I was ready to race. But, with all these equipment problems I was not in a good frame of mind. Ever had something really minor and seemingly inconsequential really bother you, like a sliver in your finger, or a rock in your shoe? Yeah, that was what this was like. It sounds silly now, but that missing fastener on my belt REALLY pissed me off. Not a good way to go into starting a race. 

I mingled around the start, waiting for the race to begin. The Sport and Enduro races start in waves, about 3 minutes apart. With the trails being double- and in some places, single-track, it's a smart thing to do. I put myself in Wave 5, the last one, knowing I was going to be one of the slower people. The organizers combined waves 4 and 5 since 5 didn't have that many people. I saw my friend Axel up at the front, looking all twitchy and ready to kill the course. Good luck dude! After some last minute instructions from the race director, she let us loose on the course.

This course was two loops of approximately 8km, around Heart Lake. We started off running on a gravel road directly next to the lake. I tried to settle down, and lighten up. I even hammed it up for the photographer taking pictures on the road. Soon, we were into the trails. I felt good at this point, happy that I'd taken the time to warm up a bit. I'm trying to take the time to do a proper warm up before races. I didn't always do this; in fact, I almost never do. Not sure why. Normally when I run races, I always feel like crap for the first 20 minutes or so, until my legs kick in. Why I never warmed up before, is beyond me. 

The humidity at the start of the race was stifling. Man, was it HOT! In the trails, with the air being still, it was like a sauna. I've run well in the heat in the past, but I guess it's been a while because I started to get very uncomfortable. I felt tired, more tired that I should. I managed to slowly run up some of the hills, but before long, I was walking them. By the time I hit the first water station, I was DESPERATE for a gel. I sucked it back, with some Gatorade and water, and soldiered on.

Pretty soon after we started, I also realized that due to the gear issues, and last minute belt switch-over, I hadn't done my usual pre-race bathroom stop. By the time I'd reached the first aid station, I really had to go. Not that big a deal on a trail race right? Just step off the trail, find a nice secluded tree, and go. I ended up going to an outhouse in one of the campsites we ran past. Just another thing to eat away at my mental fortitude, which was starting to get really low.

Between the heat, my feeling of exhaustion, and still dwelling on the gear problems, I wasn't a happy camper. Pretty soon I was walking the flat parts too, and before long, those really bad thoughts started to creep in. Why am I doing this? Why did I sign up for this torture? I could be at home relaxing with my coffee instead of killing myself out here. I should just quit. Who cares anyway?

My biggest problem is that I have such high hopes for myself, but forget that to achieve glory requires you to put in some hard work. I haven't been training particularly hard these last few weeks, and it really came out in the race. All the hills, and trail runs, that I'd told myself that I would do in training, simply didn't happen. You can't just show up for a race and miraculously have a great result. 

I have all the excuses down too. I'm too busy to work out today. I can't get away from work to do my lunchtime run. It's too dark/cold/wet/warm to run today, I'll do it tomorrow. There's a bunch more but I'll spare you, the reader. It comes down to laziness. I was too lazy to do the work required, and now I'm reaping the rewards (or lack thereof). 

Despite my extremely negative thoughts (I even contemplated a short swim in Heart Lake at one point), I soldiered on. I've never DNFd a race (DNF=did not finish), and to do that would probably be the end of running for me. I was too stubborn to quit. Even if I had to walk the rest of the course, I would finish it. I tried to think of the race as just another Sunday run through the woods, that it wasn't really a race. Tried to make it fun, and enjoy my surroundings. I started to pick up the pace a bit, and was feeling a bit better. Around the 12km mark, my right calf started cramping up. Awesome. More walking, some stretching, some running. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Towards the end of the race, some dark clouds started to roll in, and a few sprinklings of rain began to fall. I love running in the trails in the rain, so this made me feel better. I walked and ran and walked and ran some more, and before long, the finish was in sight. A short run up the dirt road, and I was DONE!

So. Where do I go from here? There are 4 more races in the series. Are they all going to feel as bad as this one? No, they aren't. The next one will be better. I will work harder than I have, and have a better day. I'm putting it out here on the blog, for all to see. I'm tired of having bad races. I'm not looking to win, or even place. Just to not feel so exhausted and lifeless during the race. I want to enjoy myself, and tell myself at the end that I did my best that day. In 3 weeks time, we'll see. 

You can view my race results here. They aren't pretty.

Thanks to Sue Sitki Photography for the pic!

Sunday, 17 August 2014

ENDURrun Ultimate Stage 7: The Marathon

My alarm went off at the ungodly hour of 4am. I groped blindly in the dark for it, then hit snooze. A few more minutes. I need just a few more minutes of rest, or sleep, or something. A delay, anything would do. Unfortunately, I needed to get up, have breakfast, and get out to the start line by 5:30am. The last stage of the ENDURrun, the marathon, officially starts at 7:30am. But this year there's a cut-off time of 4 hours and 30 minutes, and anyone that thought their race would be longer needed to start at 6:00am.

Normally, I'd have been a 7:30am starter. The last time I did the Ultimate, I ran the marathon in 4:25. But this year my training was very inconsistent, and judging by how beat up my legs felt, I decided to err on the side of caution, and start early. I was not the only one; a total of 17 people showed up to start at 6:00am, mostly Ultimate competitors and a few single stage runners. 

The start line at 5:30am
It's pretty dark at that time of the morning. I'm not a morning person, and am never up at this hour, but I must admit it was kind of cool. Everything is quiet, dark, and very peaceful. Nothing is stirring. Also, since we were out in the country, we could see a lot more starts than you can in the city. The skies were clear, and Jupiter was clearly visible. 

Just before start time, Lloyd gathered us all together and did a roll call. Some quick last minute words of encouragement, and we were off! Despite the early start, the course was clearly marked with kilometre signs, and full service water stations. Even the photographers (Julie Schmidt and Jeff Wemp) were out on the course, taking pictures of us slow pokes. Did I mention that the volunteers were THE BEST? One volunteer, Carol, and her family, even went around and put up motivational signs on street posts along the route. They were hilarious, and certainly took my mind off my troubles albeit momentarily. Throughout the course, they'd drive by the runners and she'd hold out a funny sign for us. Talk about the personal touch!
This one in particular made me laugh out loud.

My plan for the marathon was to get through it. No time goal this time around. If I were to predict a dream time, it would have been 4:30. But really, any time before 5 hours would have been good. I could tell that this was going to hurt a lot. From the very first steps, my legs were super sore and fatigued. Susan, one of the other Ultimate runners, talked to me and we decided to start the race running together. We ran the marathon together 2 years ago, and had a great time. She was coming off an injury and only had 4 weeks of training, so she didn't know what to expect. She'd made it through the week relatively unscathed, but was nervous about the distance. She said she would walk the big hills, run the rest, and take walk breaks through the water stations and whenever necessary. I liked the plan, so we started together. We also picked up another Ultimate competitor, Jodi, who was also running her 5th Ultimate, and also unsure of what the day would bring. 

The first few kilometres were okay. We managed to keep up a 6:00min/km average pace, and walked through the first water station. At the 8km mark, I was having difficulties with my right leg. The whole quadricep muscle was going numb, like someone had shot it up with an anesthetic, or it was asleep. I slapped it, and I couldn't feel it. Weird. I'd had this happen before, also in the marathon at the ENDURrun, but it didn't happen this past spring. I'm not sure where it's coming from, but my suspicions are that it's due to the fact that my legs are tired. I'm not lifting them anymore, since I have no strength, and I'm pounding them harder into the pavement. As a result, the muscles are going numb from the increased shock. I'm not sure why it's always my right side and never my left, but it's really the only thing that seems logical to me.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Wemp
When the discomfort got to be too much to bear, I stopped for a walk. After a minute or two, the numbness would dissipate, and I started running again. Within a few kilometres, it would be back, and I'd have to walk again. I knew then, that this would be a really long day

The ENDURrun marathon is two identical loops of 21.1km. The course itself is fairly challenging, with it's shares of hills, both rollers and a few steep and long ones. But mentally, I've always enjoyed this course. I think it's because once you do the first half, you know exactly what's in store for the second half. There are no surprises. Also, we've already done two stages with multiple loops (stage 3 with 6x5km loops and stage 5 with 5x5.2km loops), so doing 2x21.1km loops doesn't seem like that long a way. 

Another issue that plagued me on the first loop is a bathroom stop. I think due to the early start, and me sleeping in a bit longer than I should have, I didn't have time to do a full bathroom stop before the start of the race. Thankfully there was a porta-potty on the route, at the 12km mark, so once I reached it I made use of it. Not a big deal time wise, I only lost maybe 3-5 minutes.

The run/walking persisted throughout the first loop and into the second. I finished the first loop in 2:35. If I continued this way, I'd be well on the way to a 5 hour marathon. While my dream goal was gone, I wanted to make it in under 5 hours, more as a sign of pride. Last year I ran the Sport competition under less than ideal circumstances (wedding, 4 hours sleep prior to the marathon), and came in at 5:13. That was by far the worst marathon I'd ever run. I desperately wanted to come in under 5 hours. 

About half way through the second loop, the fast runners that started at 7:30am started to pass me. First two guest runners blew by me very early. Then, at about the 30km mark, the lead Ultimate competitor came by. Still I pressed on, legs getting more and more tired, and the numbness coming more frequently. I resolved to just hunker down and get through it. As long as my leg didn't fall of, or I didn't shatter a bone, I was going to finish the race. 

By now the sun had come out, and it started to get quite hot. One advantage to starting at 6:00am was the temperatures; they were around 13 degrees, perfect for running. But now, they were climbing, and the sun was beating down. More walking, less running. 

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I turned the second last corner. At this point I was using landmarks as markers for when the running or walking would start. Just get over the bridge, and walk to the 5th pole. Then run to the hill, power walk up it, and run down to the sign. Walk to the driveway, then run again to the next sign. That's how it went, until the last hill. With less than 1km to go, I vowed to run it in from there, and I did.

The ENDURrun puts out the finishing line tape for every runner, so you can feel just like the elites do that come in first. Another classy touch. I stopped my watch, and saw that I finished in 4:57, achieving my goal of sub 5 hours. Lots of high fives, hugging, and elation followed. I had completed my 5th Ultimate competition, and I was, yet again, ONE TOUGH RUNNER!

Finisher's swag
Post race ritual is to (a) eat the awesome food the volunteers prepared, (b) sign the posters that every Ultimate finisher receives, and (c) gather for the award ceremonies. I'd mentioned that the swag for this race was excellent, and the finisher swag is no different. We each got a pewter plaque with our cumulative time on it, a finisher's medal, a poster, and a technical t-shirt (yes, ANOTHER shirt) with our finishing time silk-screened on the back! How cool is that?

My Strava stats can be seen here:

5 Time Ultimate Finisher!