It is said that the ENDURrun really doesn't start until Stage 3. This is the stage that sets the men apart from the boys, so to speak. The stage where you can see the results of proper training, or the lack thereof. I have done the ENDURrun Ultimate 4 times, and yet this stage still makes me very nervous. It is the 30km Trail Race.
This stage consists of six (yes six) 5km loops through Bechtel Park in Waterloo. It's a park that has a cemetery, soccer fields, and an off-leash dog park in conjunction with some truly beautiful terrain. Loops are not a favourite race format of mine, but they do have some advantages. You get to see everyone in the race, including the elites, and can cheer them on. It is also easier to manage from a race director's perspective, as the whole race is contained in a park. Logistically it makes sense for a race like the ENDURrun.
However, there is a mental aspect to this race that makes it very tough. The 5km loop is challenging once, let alone 6 times. It also becomes a mental game. For me, this has traditionally been the toughest stage, the one I dread over all other stages.
For the last few days we were all worried that we'd be running this stage in the pouring rain. It usually rains on this stage, at least it has in the last few years. I remember running it one year in the rain, and it was awful. Luckily, the rain came through during the night, and while the course was wet and a bit muddy, we wouldn't get rained on.
I woke up with my legs feeling quite stiff and sore. Rolling them a bit with "The Stick" didn't really help much. For the first time this week, I popped some ibuprofin (Vitamin I) before the race. Maybe it would help take the edge off the soreness and get me through. I'd already told myself that I'd likely be walking up the big hills, and running as much as I could. My goal was to try and do 35 minute 5km loops, while being no slower than 40 minutes per 5km. In hindsight, it was a foolish goal considering how little hill or trail training I'd done before the ENDURrun, but hey. I needed a goal, so there it was. In reality, I just wanted to finish somewhere before 3:45, with 3:30 a dream time.
The first loop went pretty well. I was sore from the start, but after the first 2km it started to fade to a dull roar, and it was manageable. If I could keep this up, I'd be good to go. It's always a bit of a reunion, running the first loop. Having done this 4 times did help with that, and I was picking my spots for my walk breaks; mostly the two water stations and the two big uphill points in the run.
A quick side note about the ENDURrun volunteers. They are the most dedicated, kind, and just all-round awesome race volunteers ever! As I started into the woodsy trail section of the loop, I noticed that there were signs tacked on to every 2nd or 3rd tree along the trail. They were cheerleader signs, one for each of the 46 Ultimate competitors! I started to read them, eagerly anticipating finding my sign, and I wasn't disappointed. Yes, another reason why the ENDURrun is the best race you will ever do. Not only do the volunteers know your name, and cheer for you during the stages, but they MAKE PERSONAL SIGNS AND POST THEM ON THE ROUTE!
I finished the first loop in pretty good time, just a minute or two over 30 minutes. During the second loop I had some gear issues. My right foot started to go numb, and I figured out it was due to the laces being slightly too tight. I attempted to fix them at one point by just pulling to the side and adjusting them, but it wasn't enough. I had to actually sit in a course marshall's chair, take my shoe off, and fiddle with it for a few minutes. I finally got it right, but I lost some time there. I also lost a minute taking a picture of my sign, and the signs of a few other people. No big deal. I'll make it up in the next loop.
Loop 3 is where things started to go south for me. I began to feel tired, and my legs just didn't have any strength in them. Also, at this point, the sun came out and started to turn the course into a hot humid rainforest. It was EXTREMELY humid and uncomfortable, and this was causing me to have some stomach issues. I'd just ingested my first gel, but it wasn't sitting well. Neither was the Gatorade and water I was drinking. I usually drink something at both aid stations, because I don't want to become dehydrated. I don't think I was, as I was sweating profusely, but the heat was doing a number on me, sucking the life out of my body. I started to give in to the almost irresistible urges to walk.
Loops 4, 5, and 6 were much the same. Lots of walking, not so much running. I was running from one tree to the next, then walking any kind of uphill incline. Even the flat portions I was walking, just to try and get some energy. My legs were becoming just useless stumps on which I hobbled along. It really sucks when you get lapped not once, but twice, by the leader. He finished over 1 hour ahead of me!
I finished the stage in 3:43:40 (unofficial), so glad to be finished. On the plus side, I didn't have any blisters or other injuries, other than my sore legs, and my disappointment in not achieving my 3:30 goal. But I did come in under 3:45, which I'm happy with.
My Strava results: http://www.strava.com/activities/179202852