Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Haliburton 100: View from the Crew

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.



Derrick said...

"Man dates!!!???" I knew you couldn't resist putting that in there!

It was tough seeing you pull out, but it was definitely the right call. I'm looking forward to you getting back on your feet and working towards your next goal...whatever that may be.

Thanks so much for all the help and the race and otherwise. Always!

Love you!

Aaron said...

Sara we will run together for sure and never worry about losing your identity, you will always be a true ultra trail runner. I saw Martin when I was on my way back in alone on the trail and what you wrote really nailed it!

Anonymous said...

It was so much fun to spend the day together...I really had a good time :) I get lonely out there sometimes and it's nice to have somebody to joke with throughout the long day...

You were a great crew to Derrick and you're such an inspirational make me want to run better :)

I like "Bromance" it's got a nice ring to it ;)

Jenn (Team Iskiw crew leader) XO

EJ said...

Hey Sara, I was sad to hear thay you had a bad spell at Haliburton after you pulled from your race. To me you have always been that amazing girl who rented my cottage in the woods through the winter so she could ski on the lake and enjoy the snow and the seclusion of the land. I also remember that you were not fazed at all by the crazy french guy with the rifle who was your neighbour. You really opened my eyes to another way of living beyond the comforts of the material world. You were living your life without fear and with gusto and I remember that to this day and have tried to open my life to new challenges ever since. I know that no matter what you choose to do that you will remain an example of a strong woman that we can all look up to.
PS I also remember that you liked the hot tub alot:)

EJ said...

I just wanted to add that even a strong woman is entitled to her moments of weakness and perhaps your entitled to even a few more then most.

David said...

So many things to comment on

Your race - I think your body is telling you something. Take a month off - Bike, walk, swim, relax - go out west and enjoy the rockies with no pressure than to be a tourist. Then slowly return to running - find a goal or two and start back - Something short like the Peterborough 1/2 - then maybe the Ottawa Full and then Haliburton 50 Miler :) (like how I threw that in)

Crewing - You are amazing - dedicated partner - your caring and efficiency play a HUGE part in Derrick's race - the un-sung hero. I applaud you - Job VERY well done

You - Yourself - Kim and I had so much fun out there, you are a cute and caring person - no barriers. You are who you are and we loved it. Thanks for letting us be part of it all.

BIG Hugs, and I can't wait till the next adventure, or at least coffee - David.

Sara said...

Thanks for the very nice comments you guys. I really appreciate all your kind words. :)

JD said...

I found your comments about the fears that come with taking a break are right on the money. We are what we do, and after a while we come to identify with running (and the lifestyle that comes with it). I decided to pull back on my training for a while to give my body (and mind) a break and I'm struggling with it.

The weekend was bigger than life and it was great reliving it by reading your report. Thanks for writing it.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful, insightful, inspiring words.

Kimberley said...

Dear Sara,

Thank you very much for sharing your experience in such a thoughtful, expressive and inspiring way as I'm sure that it must have been difficult to write. I love your description of Haliburton Forrest and I totally agree with how special it is.

I am truly sorry that your race didn't go as planned or hoped and I am especially sorry about how much you were hurting and your wheezing. Hopefully, you will solve the mystery soon. I am confident that you will feel better in time and that you'll have many more wonderful experiences in the forrest.

I remember thinking how amazed I was at your attitude when you picked us up. You are such a strong and wonderful woman. It was incredible to see your attitude adjustment and shift of focus to Derrick's race and crewing and supporting him. You are very lucky to have each other!

I loved spending time with you, unloading and loading, anticipating Derrick's progress, sharing life stories and ultimately witnessing Derrick's achievement with David by his side. It was very special and I will treasure that time always.

Thank you for your very kind comments and for letting us get to know you and Derrick better and for letting us share in your journey.

To quote a very inspiring person 'Haliburton is about the people, and it attracts a very special breed.' YOU my friend are one of those. :) And Derrick too, of course.

Keep smiling.

Sara said...

Thanks again for the comments everyone. So thoughtful, and I appreciate every word.

Kimberley - I sent you a message on RM as I don't have your email.