Sunday, June 19, 2016

Niagara 50K Race Report: DNF

As per my Kingston RR, my training will not support 2 ultras in as many weeks.  It's funny how you know all about these maxims, write about them, but that still doesn't stop you from signing up...

For those who have yet to run the Niagara ultra, it is an almost ideal race for road runners.  There is a 10K, half, marathon, 50K and on alternate years, a 100K.  The course follows a paved trail that runs parallel to the Niagara Parkway, along the Niagara river.  An old pal of mine Winston Churchill once called it the prettiest Sunday afternoon drive in the world.

The race starts in Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL) and travels south to Niagara Falls.  The various races turn around at their respective halfway points, although the 100K travels along the 50K route twice.  The 25K turn-around (for the 50K and 100K) is situated right at the Canadian falls.  Lee Anne and I use NOTL as our "go-to" weekend vacation, so we are familiar with many of the tourist sites.  These include the Botanical gardens, Floral clock, Butterfly Conservatory, whirlpool and of course, Niagara Falls.  Something I should not mention, there are also a happy dozen wine tasting stations along the course...  Hold my wine glass!

Why is it ideal for road runners?  The course is almost entirely flat, with few road crossings.  Elite ultra runners use Niagara to attempt record breaking runs.  Back when I could muster up a semblance of speed, I was surprised to see Elizabeth Ruel blast past me when I was at the 23K point.  When I first noticed how fast she was running, my thought was that she was some elite 5K runner out for a training run.  Then I noticed the bib.  She was at the 27K point and running a 50K race at almost a 20 minute 5K pace!  Her 3:29 is still the Canadian 50K record.

Yesterday (June 18) was not a day for records.  It reached 32 degrees (90F) by 1:00 PM.  In fact, yesterday was not a good day for racing.  Most runners either pulled the plug early as I did, or settled down into a death-avoidance jog.  The 100K was a fine example of the carnage.  47 runners started and 26 finished.  The splits (relatively cool morning first 50K, scorching afternoon 50K) showed the impact of running in bright sun and heat.  One notable exception was Julie Hamulecki, who ran the 100K in 8:41.  I think she was running too fast for anyone to tell her it was a hot day...  Julie was an hour and 21 minutes ahead of the second place finisher, also a woman.

Was heat the deciding factor in my DNF?  Not at all.  Nor did injuries, old or new, play a role.  Simply a lack of training.  I was hoping to be recovered from running for 6 hours in Kingston 2 short weeks ago, but no such luck.  And it was a bit frustrating.  I ran 15K of hills on Wednesday, without an issue.  I could have gone longer, but I had a 50K in 3 days.  From the start of the race, I kept my pace leisurely.  I had no illusions about running a fast 50K.  I knew I would be struggling before 35K, but was surprised that at just 10K, my legs already felt like they had 30K on them.  Feeling tired at 10K is a serious wake-up call, so I focused on hydration, nutrition and salt intake.  I had gel at 5K and 10K, Ibuprofen at 5K and salt at 10K.  I was ready to push steadily for the next 15 - 20K.  Or so I thought.

At 18K, I could no longer run without walking breaks.  Excuse Me?  Not even in the back of my mind did it occur to me that my race was over.  Obviously, I was not hydrating enough or my nutrition was off.  I had just taken salt at 10K, so that could not be the issue.  I took a hefty slug from my gel flask (it holds 6 gels) and drank half of my water bottle.  At the 20K aid station, I drank a full bottle of ice and Gatorade.  I was confident I would get my mojo back and be running smoothly by 25K.

When your race is not going well, it is amazing how much mental dialogue floods your brain.  This in itself is counterproductive to having a good race.  All the internal analysis and second guessing crowds out the calm and positive thoughts that produce an ideal state of mind for racing.  It is also difficult to stave off the negative thoughts that can end your race.  After running for 41 years, I understand this, but in the middle of a race, it is difficult to calm your mind when nothing is working.  After struggling for 7K, I realized it simply wasn't my day to race 50K.

This gave me 2 options.  I could slog through another 25K of walking / staggering in 32 degree heat and bright sunshine, or save my legs for another day.  I have been there, done that.  In fact, I have pushed through on a hot day while running 50K at Niagara.  I developed heat stroke and although I finished in some ugly time, I also came close to passing out at a restaurant that evening.  My heart would suddenly speed up for no apparent reason over the next few days.  I would like to give a repeat of this experience a pass...

So I hitched a ride in the supply van back to the start/finish.  On the way back, we stopped at the aid stations, most of whom were out of ice.  I know many of the people who were out there, running in the heat and for the most part, they did not look well.  Even the cheery people, those who always seem to be smiling during a race, were struggling.  I had made the correct decision.

What's next?  We will be camping with the grandkids (they are bringing their parents) the week before Dirty Girls, so I will have to skip that race.  Waiting until Haliburton seems like too long a gap from Niagara, so perhaps Limberlost?  TLC has such a fantastic course, it would be a shame to miss it.

Creemore Vertical Challenge

Well, the new course is set and I am in big trouble.  I had mentioned earlier that I would be adding a hill.  But this is how my mind works...  (Yes, that statement is open to interpretation)  If I need to add a hill, then I should approach 2 people with hilly trails, so that I have a better chance of obtaining the use of one of them.  Sound plan, right?  Both people are allowing me to use their trails.  I don't like choosing as people might accuse me of being partial to one hill over another, so I have added both hills to the race course.  Also, there is this cute little slope that is right beside the race course and should be part of the Creemore experience.  I excluded the slope in past years because it is about 500 meters before the finish and I wanted runners to see the slope and think "Hey, Pierre's a nice guy.  We don't have to run up that paltry little slope"...

The good news is twofold.  Because the course is now a bit long, the trail through the pine trees directly after aid station 2 will be eliminated.  Also, the first new hill will be designated a "pitch", as it only has about 100 meters vertical gain.  Thus the course will only have 4 hills, one valley, one pitch and a paltry slope!  Everybody will be happy...

We're Not Happy Until You're Not Happy

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Kingston 6 Hour Race Report

It is very strange how far we can stray from our race goals.  I think this is a result of having very simple race goals, which do not necessarily fit into the complexities that develop, once the race begins.

My "A" goal for the Sri Chinmoy Self-transcendence 6 Hour race in Kingston was to run 42.3K.  This is mainly due to a lackluster training program, which was due to a late maple syrup season, contracting the flu and lousy running weather in March and April.  Contributing factors were the ice storm, tractor repairs and difficulty with altitude, but I won't go into detail...

So, how hard could it be, to run a minuscule distance above a marathon?  I had forgotten about what happens during a race.  In the tone of the Deer Hunter:  "The complexities, the complexities".  Although a bit warm (people who ran Sulphur are laughing about now), a cool breeze off Lake Ontario provided some relief every lap.  The Kingston course is run around the old Fort  Henry and beside the beautifully restored Royal Military College buildings.  The 1.1K loop is paved, with about 500 meters along the shore of Lake Ontario.  Think beautiful old building and sailboats.

A good friend Elizabeth Hurdman was also running the race and since Elizabeth has very little eyesight, Lee Anne, Stephan Miklos and I would pace her, around and around the 1.1K loop.  I was very concerned that I would not be able to keep up with the Kingston Trio.  I had of course, forgotten about the complexities that evolve during a race.  I did have difficulty with the initial pace.  It was slow, but little of my training was even at that pace, and not very much on pavement.  Within the first hour, my back was complaining.  So, with 5 hours to go, I was already struggling.  However, I was not the only one who incurred early-race issues.  Elizabeth's legs started to cramp just 2 hours into the race.  The heat was a factor and perhaps we were enjoying the conversation too much to focus on proper nutrition?  For the next 2 hours, Elizabeth struggled and needed a few walking breaks.  The breaks and some Ibuprofen helped right my back, and I was able to keep up with Stephan and Elizabeth.  Since there was little point in having 4 of us run in a group, which caused a bit of a road block for the faster runners, Lee Anne went ahead.  Stephan performed the lion's share of pacing Elizabeth.  Stephan never once flagged, which is amazing considering that he ran 50 miles at Sulphur the previous Saturday!  At 5 hours into the race, I asked him if he was feeling even a bit tired.  The answer:  Nope.  I was very annoyed...

Kingston is very different than the average race, even trail races.  "Timing" involved running past the start/finish, making eye contact with one of 12 people who are manually recording the time of the every runners' loop, and saying "hello" to your timer!  This gives Kingston a very personal touch, lacking at most other races.  You need to experience it once, to understand.  The aid station is well stocked.  They had small bags of ice, sponges, seaweed, watermelon and the usual ultra fare.  Hydration consisted of water, sea salt water, HEED and a clear electrolyte drink whose name escapes me.

At about the 4 hour mark, I was no longer able to keep up with the group.  This was quite good, as I had expected to start lagging behind the group after 2 hours.  The strange part was that although I lagged behind, I seemed to catch up almost every loop.  The group was taking walking breaks, which did not coincide with my walking breaks, but allowed me to get back in range.

Was I on pace to reach my A goal?  Part of the reason I wanted to stop at 42.3K, was because I have the Niagara 50K race in 2 weeks.  I was hoping to get a technical ultra (technically, more than a marathon) in about 5 hours, then stopped, to save the legs.  From 4 to 5 hours, I was running "alone", although friends would lap me (and I would lap a few) every so often, so there was always someone with encouragement or with whom to briefly chat.  I hit the marathon lap (lap 39 covers from 41.8K to 42.9K) shortly after 5 hours.  I was still "catching up" to the group on almost every lap.  I decided to get my keys on the next lap and grab a bottle of maple syrup for Hladini, the race director.  I forgot my keys!  By this time, I figured I might as well catch up to the group and finish the 6 hours together.  With about 15 minutes to go, every runner is given a small bag of sand with their name.  Along the race course are 3 or 4 cars.  When the 6 hour time limit is reached, the cars all sound their horn.  Runners drop their bag.  Someone with a measuring wheel then walks the course and the distance of your last lap is recorded.  Lee Anne ran 3 more laps than the rest of us, however Elizabeth, Stephan and I covered 45.755K.  Yes, manual timing, but at exactly 6 hours, they provide your distance down to the meter!

So, my "A" goal went right out the window, although I completed my first ultra in 2016.  Hopefully I will not pay too dearly at Niagara for my exuberance.  Pacing Elizabeth was surprisingly enjoyable.  It helped take my mind off the drudgery of running a 1.1K course over and over again.  It was instrumental in exceeding my A goal.  It was also the first time I have run with Stephan, who is also a good friend.  Stephan typically runs the longer distances and at a faster pace.  I see him at the end of the race, so it was great to share a few hours on the course.

This morning, I am stiff and sore.  One drawback to a 6 hour race in Kingston is that it makes for a long day.  6 hours of running and 7 hours of driving.  We missed a fabulous meal that Kingston dishes up after the race during the award ceremony as we had to make the long drive back to Creemore.  In future years, we will sample the impressive B&B's located in Kingston.

Both Lee Anne and Elizabeth made it to the leader board.  This is a board set up near the S/F line and is regularly (manually) updated with the top 7 male and female runners.  A hearty thanks to all the volunteers, who gave up a fine Saturday in order to attend to the runners' needs.  Hladini puts on a top notch race.  I am always surprised that this race has not been discovered by the trail, road and ultra hoards.  Of course, if sign-up reached 500+ runners, it would change the character of the race.  Manual timing would have to be replaced by chip timing, etc.