By Blaine Penny
Both Carl and I were not feeling terribly confident going into the race given our lack of mileage and were mentally preparing ourselves for a long day. When racing 50 miles, it’s not a matter of ‘if’ you will have some low spots and challenges, it’s ‘when’. With a warm day in the high 20’s forecast, this was another element to deal with.
Training for ultra marathons while balancing family, work, and all the other things going on in our lives is a challenge. Both Carl and I are on the family plan, which is definitely a much higher priority than fitting in long training runs. Most training tends to happen over our lunchtime runs or early/late in the day when. That means it’s difficult to get the long hours of continuous training runs that one needs to prepare for a run like this. Our longest run coming in to the race was the PowderFace42 marathon a month ago. Other than that, I didn’t run longer than 2.5 hours in the last 6 months.
After last year’s debacle of going off route, one of my goals was to have a ‘clean run’ and just stay on route. My next goal was to go under 8 hours, and if the stars aligned to run 7.5 hours.
Leg 1 (0-25 km) - I pretty much went off the front in the first few kilometers as I was running my own race and going with the flow. The first 23 km went really well and I was feeling quite comfortable. I saw a grizzly bear about 20 m off the trail at about the 9 km mark - nice adrenalin boost! About 23 km in, I stubbed my toe on a root and took a nasty fall. It was one of those falls that when you pick yourself up and let it hit you, you think to yourself “I think I really did some damage and my toe could be broken”. I started walking - it hurt a bit, but was not incapacitating, so I started to run and it seemed OK. I thought to myself, “Phew, it would be a real drag to have to drop out because of a toe!”
Leg 2 (25-49 km) - After the 25 km aid station, we had a really tough 24 km section ahead that included climbing to the top of Jumpingpound Mountain, followed by Jumpingpound Ridge and then Cox Hill climb and descent. My plan was to take it easy up Jumpingpound, and then turn on the afterburners along the ridge and the descent.
For some reason I just couldn’t find the gear I needed along the ridge and this was the beginning of my struggles for the day to keep the speed going. I trudged along feeling pretty flat, and then hoped to fly down Cox Hill. I began the descent by stubbing my bummed toe and remember being in so much pain! It was the reminder I needed that I had to very careful on the descent. Then I took another fall, which was something similar to picturing Superman flying into home base! I slid on my stomach and 2 hand bottles and luckily didn’t hurt myself other than scrubbing up a few fingers. “OK” I thought to myself, “Let’s safely get down off the mountain and get to the next aid station in one piece”.
I pull into Aid Station#3 (Dawson), which is 49 km in, and grab my drop bag, swap bottles and take a seat. One of the volunteers asked me, “What does it feel like to be winning the race?” I said that it was feeling kind of lonely (having run 47 km alone), also a bit flat and glad that I had my watch to keep me company! I have to admit I wasn’t too motivated to head out for the last 31 km and knew there were going to be some tough times ahead, especially with the temperature rising quickly as we approached mid day.
Leg 3 (49-80 km) – I remember last year coming out of the Dawson aid station and laying down some serious speed. This was my plan again this year. I struggled to get the legs moving and managed an OK steady pace, but not as quick as I would have liked. I could see my average pace slipping and my sub 8 hour time goal slowly slipping away and I knew today was not going be the day to crank out 7.5 hours. I was bummed, but happy to be doing as well as I was (all things considered).
I pulled into Spruce aid station at 56 km, which was a 600 m out and back. This was a good place to see if anyone was hot on my tail. There was one runner in sight, so I knew I had to keep pushing if I was going to stay out front. The problem was, I was now feeling horrible – stomach, legs and mentally. I hit a new low and was running 7 min/km on flat terrain with spats of walking. I really wanted this to be over - I was suffering. I couldn’t eat anything solid and I was seriously fading. I didn’t know how I was going to finish and wanted to throw in the towel. I kept slowly plodding along and expected runners to be coming by any second. I then have myself a pep talk and decided I was going to salvage what I could.
With about 18 km to go I thought about Sarah and the kids being at the finish line, waiting for me (and how excited they would be to see me). I was so excited to tell Julia about seeing the bear and to see Evan’s smile. This was all I needed to get a little jam back in my stride to bring it home. I picked it up and was now back on track and feeling a lot better mentally. I pulled into the 70 km aid station knowing I could get through the last 10 km and that this was doable. A glass of Ginger Ale was what the doctor ordered, and I took off anxious to finish this thing off. The last 10 km were uneventful.
Julia was waiting for me about 20 m from the finish line and ran it in with me. I finished in a time of 8 hours and 14 minutes. Evan had a big smile for me and it was so nice to see Sarah, who was also smiling proudly. My stomach felt horrible, so I was very cautious about eating anything - just had a bit of coke, water and orange. I then pulled off my shoes and socks to see the damage to my toe. Yikes – not pretty. Likely broken. (Difficult to walk a day later).
Simon was next come in, followed by Carl a while later. Great runs all around for the boys and I think they were quite happy with their finish.
On the drive home I felt the urge to vomit and had to get Sarah to pull over. It all came up, which was a real bummer because I knew I wouldn’t be able to get that tasty milkshake I was so much looking forward to in Bragg Creek. I wasn’t able to eat for another 5 hours!
You must ask yourself, “Why would anyone want to run ultra marathons?” I know I am asking myself that same question right now. I have no desire to race an ultra anytime soon and I question whether I have it in me to race them in the future. The one positive thing about having done a few ultras, it makes the marathon seem like a piece of cake! Looking forward to the Chicago Marathon in October.