Yes… I know this is overdue, but Ive been BUSY!
For some reason or another this racing season I wanted to test the limits of my body both mentally and physically by signing up for a string of races, with short recovery windows in between and no opportunity to actually train for them.
Let me explain… A month prior to Wascally I ran my “A” race of the year the Fredericton Marathon (you can read that race report HERE). I trained all winter for this race and gave it everything I had. Shortly following this race I ran the cabot trail relay, where I ran 2 legs (30k total and a ran much harder than planned) of the race and wrecked my body pretty good requiring another full week of recovery with no running. Following Wascally its 1 month to SONOFA GUNOFA (149k) and then another 3 weeks till Brookvale (50k). 1 month following Brookvale if my body lets me I’ll be shooting for 160k in Cape Chignecto. So now you see this ridiculous schedule I’ve set out…
With one week left before Wascally, not an ideal time to start training for your first Ultra of the year 1 week before the race, so I opted to embrace the taper and rely purely on past experience with a focus on nailing my nutrition and hydration. I knew I wasn’t going for a PR, but the challenge here was to prove to myself that you can race a distance of this magnitude based on mental strength and proper nutrition.
In most of my previous races my stomach has been my limiting factor and this time I was determined to to make some serious headway on this issue. Being an engineer I decided it was time to isolate all of the variables to give me the greatest control over the outcome. What do I mean by this? Previously for my races and training I heavily relied on drink mixes containing both electrolytes and carbs, or just electrolytes and took this in consistently with my water. I supplemented this with real food in longer races 50K +. The end result though, no matter the proportions was a an inability for my stomach to process what I was putting into it.
With out time to test anything prior to the race I decided to through my #1 rule “nothing new on race day” out the window. The new nutrition plan was as follows (with the bulk of calories coming from numbers 1 to 6):
- Digestive Bitters (15 mins prior to breakfast)
- Water: as required, but shooting for 750ml per hour
- Salt pills 1-2 an hour (I still love my NUUN, but I didn’t use it for this race)
- Homemade gels (quinoa, apple juice, beet juice, sea salt, almond butter)
- Boiled potatoes tossed in salt
- cinnamon buns (judge me if you will, but this was not vegan… contained eggs & milk and I ate one)
- Oreos (yes these are though)
- cliff bars
- Plain chips
The goal amount of calories was roughly 250 cal/hr.
For the actual run it self, I actually went into it with not much of a plan, other than listen to my body and have fun. Also unlike me, I normally plan out things in pretty great detail, knowing all of my predicted splits. I don’t recommend this approach unless you a purely just going out to have fun, and you are not attached to the outcome of the race at all.
The night before
The night before the race we packed up the van and headed down to camp ant the race course. It is always nice to wake up at the race course! I must say that we were lucky to be camping in the van though as the weather was not very nice. It was quite windy and torrential rains! When we arrived someones tent had been blown off its pegs and into the trees! Lucky for them the snowmobile club has a building there and they were able to keep dry and sleep in there for the night. It always fun hanging around the night before the race and getting to see some people that you have not seen since last year and get caught up!
We got set up I hung around a bit and chatted, but I do like my sleep, so It was lights out by 9:00pm for me. With the race starting at 8am even through I wasn’t going for a PR I still like to get up nice and early (4:30am) to make sure I am up and breakfast has had lots of time to digest before the start of the race.
I slept well and woke up before my alarm around 4:15am. I had my bitters, oatmeal and chagga tea and just relaxed in the van for a while. I was happy to see that the rain had stopped, and it looked like it was going to be a pretty nice day, although I knew it was going to be a wet mud-fest out there!
That being said, and knowing that I did not have any ultra training under my belt, I opted to use my trekking poles for this race. 6 am came soon and it was time for the pre race gear check and before I knew it we were lining up for the start. I had no pre-race anxiety but I was pretty unsure about how this day was going to unfold.
Loop one – The fun loop
The course start out with a pretty steady long climb up a dirt road. Its hard not to get caught up in the start of the race and run this first hill slow starting with all of the runners who are running 1 and 2 loops. So yes I happily chatted along and ran this first hill a bit too fast.
Once we turned off into the trail it didn’t take long to be into the wet and the mud. Our first dealings with it were knee deep thick sloppy slippery mud. Some people were going to great lengths to avoid it, but I knew what we were in for and it would be a very long 3 loops if I was going to be concerned about staying out of the mud. Shortly after the first mud section I had to stop and empty some rocks out of my shoes (this becomes an important point later on so stay tuned).
No where on this loop did I feel like I was running beyond my limits. I was running pretty easy steady pace, eating my potatoes and gels and staying on top of my hydration and salt. I know not having the specific ultra training my specific systems were not fine tuned to go all day long, but things were feeling good.
So much of the first half of this loop was a slog through the mud, and “lakes” where the trail should have been, but thats all part of the adventure. It was a welcome site to finally get to the steep 2k decent down into Gerry’s Place around 13k and the only aid station out on the course. The decent down was quite steep and was very slippery and muddy in places, I was glad to have my poles for stabilization. Getting there and stopping was my first realization of just how bad the bugs were out there. Hats of to the volunteers out there spending all day out there, man you guys must have gone to your zen place.
By the time we got back onto the first road to run the final 5k back to base camp I had caught up to some friends and was happy to close out the first loop with them. I was running a bit short on water at this point as things were heating up, but at no point was a feeling desperate. During this time a ran a body check, stomach good, quads good, hamstrings good, IT’s good. No worries closing out loop one feeling good.
I was in no rush back at base camp, filled my bottles, ate a tone of strawberries, some banana, refiled my gels and stocked back up on potatoes. I did not however gab extra water carrying capacity…. oops. Amanda was awesome, she was there, took care of my, re-stocked my supplies and helped be get ready to head back out onto the course.
As I was about ready to head back out, I ran into a knew friend Mike, i decided to wait a few extra minutes for him and we headed out on loop 2 together.
Loop 2 – The decent in dark despair
I was pumped to be heading out onto loop 2 with Mike. We again chatted away and ran up the first road climb out of base camp. It quickly became evident that he was running stronger than me, but we stuck together for a while and had fun slogging it out through the mud, trading stories, talking about eating plants, training and running.
Again I had to stop and try to get some rocks out of my shoe, I shook them out good but it didn’t help. I was really starting to get some pain in my right foot near my small toe and under my ankle. I knew in order to finish this thing I needed to slow down and and run my own race.
Its amazing how your mindset can shift so quick when you end up on your own. The pain in my foot was getting much worse and being out on the trail all alone things started to get a bit dark. It seemed like I should have made it to Gerry’s Place hours ago but I never seemed to get there….. every turn I thought it was time to start that decent, but it was never there. Man this was taking for ever, time was standing still. I still kept moving forward though. Things were heating up and I took the time to stop at a river crossing and thoroughly cool off. I felt like a new man! And wouldn’t you know it there was to trail down to Gerry’s things were looking up.
Arriving into Gerry’s I was starting to come out of that low I was experiencing I actually passed quite a few people on that downhill, maybe I wasn’t moving that slow after all?? I passed even more on the steep climb leaving the aid station. Things were looking up.
Reaching the road again, I was still running low on water, why didn’t I bring more with me on this loop?? I knew this was going to be a problem. I saw lots of friend faces heading back out onto loop 3 and for the most part it was a pretty nice downhill run back to base camp, although I knew loop 3 was going to be a battle with these foot issues I was having.
Finally getting back to base camp Amanda was no wheres to be seen, can’t blame her I was an hour slower than I was on the first loop, can’t expect her to hang out at the start finish area all day. I wondered over to the van to find her and sat down, and preceded to eat all of the food. This is when it hit me, my stomach was still feeling great! I knew loop 3 was going to be a slow loop given how my foot was feeling, but now having a solid stomach and feeling great otherwise I knew could do it. I grabbed a larger water bottle and also put a bladder in my pack to make sure I had enough fluids for this long adventure that was to be loop 3.
Loop 3- The lowest of lows, the climb out and a new friend
Heading out onto loop 3 on my own I guessed it would likely take me 5 hours. I was ok with that. I just wanted to get it done.
Remember that first road hill I ran up on the first 2 loops… ya that was not happening this time. It was hot, I knew it was not going to help me to run it, so I power hiked the whole thing.
Turning of into the trails it seemed as if the mud had gotten deeper and and more slippery. The bugs were now relentless at this slower pace. After getting though this first mud section I was getting pretty frustrated, it really felt like there was something very hard in my shoe. I sat on the side of the trail took my shoe of and no rocks came out… It would seem the rock feeling was just a symptom of my foot pain. I sat here a few minutes feeling sorry for myself getting eating by bugs and wondering why I was out here. Yup that happens in ultras. Its just about getting up and pushing though the lowest of lows having faith that things will turn around. There was no good reason not to keep moving forward so I did.
Soon after this giant pity party I heard someone come up behind me. It was Blair. Just having him catch me and start talking with me things instantly turned around for me. I didn’t feel any better but my mindset shifted. I stayed with Blair, we chatted and we were both having a rough go at it. We ran when we could and hiked when we had to, but the twoof us were working well together to keep moving, and that is what you have to do to finish these things, Just keep moving.
Reaching Gerry’s things really hurt, although it hurt more to hike than it did to run so I guess that was a bonus. I ate a ton of Oreos and some of a cliff bar. Thats when I noticed Blair was not eating. Shortly after I learned his stomach had turned and he was not able to really eat or drink anymore.
We made the long climb out of Gerry’s together, however after reaching the top he told me to go on with out him. I had gotten so much strength from having him with me it was hard to strike out on my own, but it felt better to manage a shuffle of a run then to hike.
Later Blair would catch and pass me while I was having a bathroom break (side note, I have never seem so many mosquitos swarm in one place before…. that really sucked to stop). I would eventually catch and run with him for a while, and then continue on my own.
I finally reached the road, 5 k to go. I was moving slow but still moving. My friend Jo caught up to me while i was hiking up the last climb on the road. I was happy to see her and have some company. I am glad she didn’t catch me until the last climb was over, as she would have past me for sure, but I was able to keep up on the down hill the rest of the way back. Big props to Jo, who was last coming through Gerry’s on this 3rd lap but continued to run strong catching a passing manny runners on the last half of this lap!!
We crossed the finish line together and I was pretty close to my 5 hr prediction. 4 hrs and 45 min for that last loop. It felt great to finish though!
The Veggie Burgers!
This race was a big victory for me. No it was not my fastest time, but I did what I set out to do. I finished with a solid stomach!
Jodi (the race director) even had veggie burgers on the grill ready to be eaten, like it was meant to be as a reward finishing and still being able to eat! Man did those taste good!
Post Race Recovery
Initially I was pretty stiff and hobbled around for a few days as one expects after running a race that is that long. The stiffens passed quickly but the pain in my foot remained.
Into see Rob a Nova Physio I lean that it is my peroneal tendon leading to my foot pain and he treats it.
The next week Amanda and I headed off to Baxter State Park for some hiking in the mountains. This trip was a lot of fun, but I was constantly working damage control on my foot. We’d go out for a hike and by the end of it I would be in pain again. I’d work hard after to manage the pain and get my foot back to a place where I could hike again the next day and then repeat the cycle. No regrets here this was an awesome trip!
Oh and I forgot to mention that I found out on this trip while hiking what caused my injury! I was experiencing pain again while hiking and I took my shoe off and no rocks. Fed up I took my insole out to find that there was a large lump of hard mud caked on it right under my outside to toes…. thats what did it. So if you are running a muddy race, it may be worth taking you insoles out to see if there is any mud build up in your shoes!
Coming back from this trip my foot was actually feeling ok so I started to run again. After a few runs a came to terms that I was just aggravating the issue every time I ran, so It was time to take this recovery seriously. With I had 2.5 weeks to go before I would be attempting my longest run ever at the SONOFA GONOFA. I needed this to get better.
I call up Active Approach and they are able to fit me in that afternoon for an appointment. We decided the best course of action is no running until this thing is better. Its normally a 2-3 week recovery! Not good.
Where I am at now
It is currently 1 week out to SONOFA and still no running. Ive been for many appointments at both Nova Physio and Active Approach and working with them my injury is healing but its still not there yet. With 1 week to go I am not chancing going for a run. All of my energy is going into recovery. I have no idea if am going to be able to pull this off. But next Saturday I will line up and see just how far I can make it.