Haliburton Forest is made up of 60 thousand acres of hardwood forest, lakes and wetlands that border Algonquin Park. Trails wind through the woods, allowing you to explore for hours on foot or bike. Black bear, wolf and deer are abundant, and the human activity - including cottaging, dog sledding, farm animal areas, trail use, and even a sustainable logging operation - is designed to share the forest with the wildlife instead of driving it away. It fills my soul up every time I go there, and helps soothe my shame over how my species has destroyed much of our natural world.
Besides obviously being such a unique and beautiful place, I always thought that the Forest was special to me because I've had good races there. After this year, I know that the reasons go far beyond my own experiences. I didn't even finish my 50k race this year; in fact, I barely even started it. Yet I still had a magical time.
I don't regret trying to race. It was fun to run the first 6 km or so with Aaron Anderson and feel the excitement of his first ultra. My own race is a bit of a mish-mash in my head, but suffice it to say I haven't been feeling 'on' for awhile now, and asking my body to race felt like trying to drive a car with the emergency brake on. No matter how much I slowed, everything hurt and I was wheezing on the uphills. It was such a relief to stop running.I was sad as I walked back to the car, more about not understanding what was wrong than anything else, and wondering if I'll ever feel better. I pondered the loss of identity if I have to stop training for too long, but much more than that feared the loss of lifestyle. By the time I had walked the mile or so back to the car, I more or less decided I was being dramatic, and just need to give it a while to come back, and take it easy until it does. (Again. Didn't I already do this after Sulphur this spring?)
Anyway, I set the whole muddle in my head aside for the time being, and put on my crew hat. I piled stuff in the car for the day ahead and took off, first stopping to officially drop out at the closest aid station. (Which I realized after I didn't really need to do - it might have been a refreshing change to be a DNS instead of a DNF!) I went out farther on the course, to the turnaround for the 50k, which all of the runners would pass through. I was happy to meet up with Jenn Iskiw there, who was crewing for her husband Keith.
We watched as Adam Hill, doing the 50M, blazed through first, followed by Glen Redpath in the 100. Derrick, Keith and Pasquale Brandi from Italy followed practically together. I assured Derrick that I was fine and was excited to crew the entire race for him from this point. He looked okay, but not great, but I know that in training he starts feeling good in long runs right about the time I'm cooked, usually after 4 hours.
I waited a few minutes for Aaron, who made the turn in great time and looked fresh as anything. I'm usually partially cooked by then, so I was really impressed with how well he was doing. I wished I could have seen his finish, as he went on to nail his first ultra on a tough course and hot day. It will be exciting to follow his running goals in the future, as I'm pretty sure he's hooked on trails and ultras. (Among all the other great finishes, I must mention JD Begin who ran a tough 50 miler, and wrote a wonderful report on his inspiring - and inspired - experience here.)
From here, Jenn and I piled into our respective Crew Mobiles and headed over the dusty road to the next stop. It's always neat to see Jenn and Keith work together as a team. They have a cool dynamic and have a lot of fun together. She's seen Keith through some tough races, and is an expert on what to give him and when. It has been really nice hanging out with her the past two years at some races, and supporting each other as we support our husbands on their epic "man dates".
All day, the crewing pattern was to unload everything possible that might be needed, anticipate the most likely items, and hope that anything beyond that is close at hand. Then pack up, and move on to do it again. It was nice seeing Derrick this way periodically and making sure he was okay.
We continued out on the course in this manner to the far turnaround point at 40 km, then retraced all the way back until we were back at aid station 2. Here the runners would pass four times so I could HQ for a bit. The first time through the station, Derrick flew in and just kept going, which kind of stunned me. I quickly remembered racing (Yoo hoo, Sara. Remember me, Racing?) and that he was focused on trying to catch up to Glen.
When Derrick returned from the turnaround, he mentioned that David and Kimberley Bohn had arrived, and that I should go pick them up at base camp. I was excited to see them, as David was going to pace later, and in the meantime they would both help me crew. We had fun getting caught up and having some good laughs. These two were such a great help throughout the rest of the day, I can't even describe how good it made me feel to have them there. I tend to worry about Derrick, and knowing that David was going to be his pacer for the last 30 km was a huge comfort to me. We were all getting a bit sleepy by the time the sun went down, but David set off on a mission.
Kim and I then progressed back along the last stretch of aid station stops and helped the guys get what they needed. The hours flew by as we chatted and traded stories. Kim is so sweet, and the more you get to know her, the sweeter she is. The guys were making amazing time, always coming along much faster than I was expecting. David sure looked fresh next to Derrick, but Derrick looked a whole lot better than he did last year by this point.
Eventually all there was left was to get ourselves to the finish line and celebrate as they came across the line. What fun, and so satisfying to see. We broke out some Guinness and I felt all the tension of the day melt away. Derrick was all smiles, happy to be done and deservedly proud of his race and grateful to David for helping him break 18 hours. He ended up only about 30 minutes back of Glen, and took 50 minutes off his time from last year. He trained hard for it, as I witnessed every single day, and I couldn't be happier for him.
Not long after, Keith came in for third at around 19 hours. (Such fast times this year, and it was a hot one even.) He came back from some bad patches and finished the last 20 miles so impressively strong, just flying. What a great feeling that must have been to have it come together after some difficult races here the previous two times. Seeing his gutsy finish last year with a horrible leg infection, and Jenn by his side, is an image I'll never forget.
This year it was Martin Mack's finish that made me weepy. There was a good crowd around to watch him finish the next morning. He was comfortably under the cut-off but had to keep moving forward to make it in time. As we watched him come in the last km, we were all in awe of the anguish he was in, yet still willing himself on. Witnessing 100 milers doing their thing moves me in a way that I find hard to comprehend. It is beautiful in a way that I don't understand. Martin had no reserve of energy to pick up the pace even for the very end. All such pretence had long since been whittled away, and the very last step that got his wrecked body over that all-important finish line looked just as painful as all the rest leading up to it.
I'm in awe of Derrick's performance, and just as in awe of Martin's, and of all the 100 milers. To me they are equally courageous and inspiring; they gave everything they had to go a long way in a beautiful, brutal forest. It is a privilege to bear witness to their efforts, and to help surround them with the love of friends. Haliburton is about the people, and it attracts a very special breed.