Monday, September 9, 2013

2013 Haliburton 50 Mile Race Report

My brain was creating tension by saying, 'How long is this going to go on? Why? Why? How long?' Once I accepted what was, at that moment it released the tension. I started to feel almost instantly better. ~ Tom Shadyac
What a great feeling to be proven wrong. I've only ever caught rare, fleeting glimpses into the enjoyment of the ultrarunning mindset. For the number of longish races I've done, decent amounts of consistent training over many years, studying of the sport, figuring out my nutrition, working diligently on my structure, and just plain putting in the various pieces of the puzzle, the whole 'being an ultra runner' thing was feeling more elusive than ever. After a summer where things were really coming together with not having hip or foot pain, and finding fuel that works for me, I still had a horribly painful race at Wakely Dam, and my last long run was equally a sufferfest both physically and emotionally. I was starting to believe I just wasn't cut out for running the more ultra of the ultra races, that for some reason it was just never progressing for me and never would. I was dreading my race at Haliburton this year because I had very little faith that things would be any different. I'm relieved I was wrong, because things turned out very differently indeed, and I couldn't be happier about it.

The week leading up to the race I was uncharacteristically frazzled by pre-race nerves. I was freaking out about the forecast of high humidity levels and my own bad hormonal levels that were plotting themselves annoyingly right smack onto my race day. My already low level of confidence was plummeting. It was a relief to just get there and get the race underway. I started out with a 100% commitment to keeping my heart rate low, and I managed that by walking up almost every single hill for the first two hours of the race. It was hard to do, I kept having to fight the urge to pick it up, but I was strict with myself and kept the effort appropriate and my body relaxed. The best part early on was on the Normac Trail where I enjoyed chatting with Iris Cooper and picking up some good advice from her.

Between aid stations 2 and 5 are the toughest sections of trail, and I continued hiking the ups. Once I got past the turn for the 50k runners, instead of starting to feel better due to this careful preservation of energy at the start, I actually started to feel worse. What the heck? Talk about frustrating. This was a big low point. My legs were stiff and heavy and I was finding my breathing to be difficult. I told myself I just had to let my body 'work through the hormones' (whatever that even means) and it would get better. I thought a lot about Derrick's perseverance to finish the Yukon Arctic 100 earlier this year, and about my Mom's courage facing cancer treatment and her awesome ability to re-frame the horrible as 'unpleasant but not unbearable'. Inspiring stuff and it helped me to put things in perspective as not being too bad. Still, it was so early in the race, and the thought of feeling miserable for the majority of another long race wasn't appealing. I've simply never bounced back after my low points like every ultra runner says happens all the time; it just never seems to work that way for me.

I knew Derrick would be at the turnaround, and that kept me going and I started running up the mellower hills which felt good. When I got to the turn, my legs were feeling like concrete but otherwise I was doing okay and my breathing had improved. It was good to see Derrick as well as Rochelle who had come out to meet John. I set back out knowing at least each step was bringing me closer to the finish. I tried to focus only on the present moment, and getting to the next aid station. When my thoughts did drift I found them drifting into constructive realms, mostly thinking of the people in my life and how important they are to me. I was wearing my iPod and that was helping me stay present. Somewhere along the way, I realized I was actually turning it around. My legs were feeling better and I was starting to enjoy it all, just the whole feeling of being out there in the woods, immersed in this ridiculous, amazing idea of running all day on the trails, and just simply being along for the ride on my own two feet. The sections started to click away and the farther I got the better it was starting to be.

At aid station 5, with 24 km to go, I saw our car and was surprised. Rochelle told me that someone up ahead had broken their leg, and that Derrick had gone into the trail to help out. Wow, I was shocked and felt terrible for that runner. I was happy that Derrick was helping but also very concerned about his injured ankle. Rochelle filled a bottle for me and I set out, anticipating coming upon the situation soon. It definitely put into perspective how trivial a race is when someone is in need. I finally came upon the guy who had hurt himself, and he had a couple of people there with him. They told me Derrick might be coming from the direction of the next aid station. I offered them anything I had on me that might be useful, and they took some gels and electrolytes. I was happy to see that the runner was under a space blanket, had his leg in a splint, and seemed reasonably okay. I felt bad leaving them there, but they seemed under control so finally I wished them well and continued on. Within a few minutes I saw the wonderful sight of a man coming up on the trail on a yellow ATV to evacuate the injured runner. I gave him a huge grin and thumbs up, and he grinned back something about being glad to help out. Derrick told me later that he met up with them right after the runner was loaded on, and followed them back off the trails as they carefully negotiated some of the sketchiest sections of trail. Crazy. I shudder to think of this happening in conditions like last year, where cold rain and muddy trails would have made things even more serious.

I was still concerned about Derrick, but for the time being I just focused on continuing, and I started feeling really great. There had been a woman right ahead of me before all of this, but she was long gone now. I think that was a blessing because now I had no one around me and I could just enjoy the rest of the race in my own head-space without the stress and distraction of trying to stay in contact in a competitive way.

On the last loop around MacDonald Lake I thought back to my first 50 miler here two years ago, and how I had been reduced to a very, very painful shuffle by this point. I had learned a lot since then, and it was a huge sense of satisfaction to feel so much different this time around. I knew I'd be a little off of my time from two years ago, but was happy to be in the same ballpark and feeling so much better. Once I got back to the last checkpoint, it was great to see Derrick, and then it was just a short jaunt to the finish where I was greeted by some of the amazing volunteers that work at this race every year, and Derrick had driven ahead and was there for a big hug. It was awesome to see Jenn and Toby and their cute dogs and celebrate Jenn's very strong race in the 50k. We all cheered as Kelly finished her first 50 Miler looking fantastic.

It was the 20th year for this race, and it gets better all the time. Thank you to Helen Malmberg for the special race you put on for us each year. There's no other race we seem to keep going back to, but this one is very close to our hearts.

Last steps to the sweet finish.


Not quite sure what I was going for here! Thanks for capturing the silliness, Toby!

For fuel I used Vitargo throughout, plus a handheld of water mixed with Coke on the longer sections. I had one date, two Lara bars, and quite a few S!Caps.

My gear rocked:
Shoes the women's La Sportiva C-Lite 2.0
Drymax Lite Trail Running Sock
La Sportiva Pace Short
La Sportive Skyline Race Tank
UltrAspire Nerve single bottle holder and Race handheld
Arm sleeves for most of the race; I kept pulling them up or down depending on the wind.