Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Ultra Trail du Mont Albert 100 km Ultra Sky Marathon - my third novel :)

My first novel, the Vermont 100 was a happy ending. My second novel, the TARC 100 described lessons learned in the agony of defeat. My third novel, Ultra Trail du Mont Albert was a combination of both :) It was a long day and then some (literally) - however it is probably the race I am most proud of and an experience I will not soon forget.

UTMA 100 km was not on my running map for the year. It was tentatively penciled in my calendar as a nice to have, but in reality, I knew I would not have the time or financial resources to go. I really wanted to go since there was a large contingent of East Coast runners heading to Gaspe for the weekend Sky Running festival. However, my main event for the year was going to be the Fat Dog 120 in BC. The Fat Dog 120 is a race I have wanted to run for quite some time and it also would act as a qualifier for WS100 and HardRock. I envisioned an epic journey crowned with entries into 2 dream race lotteries.

This year we decided to take a family vacation to BC for 3 weeks. The dates lined up with Fat Dog 120 so of course, my name made it to the start list. However as the start date approached and became closer to reality, my family urged me to not mix epic 48 hour 120 mile runs with our family vacation.  I don't get it either, but I could sense their distaste growing :)  It came to a decision point when they offered me a two for one deal: UTMA and redemption at TARC 100 in exchange for not running Fat Dog. I reluctantly agreed and scrambled to withdraw and prepare for UTMA in less than a week.

My Fat Dog 120 training program had a 100km effort slated for the same weekend anyway, how perfect. In hindsight, however, UTMA is not your typical 100 km effort. It is a true mountain ultra with tough, tough technical terrain, steep climbs and descents, snow capped peaks all coupled with stunning beauty. It would turn out that I would get lots of what I wanted from Fat Dog in the end from a scenery and mountain perspective.

To minimize cost, I converted my van into a camper for post race crashing, booked a hotel room for Friday evening and left Friday morning for Gaspe, Quebec.

If you have never been to La Parc Nationale de la Gaspesie, you need to put it on your list of places to visit. It is the most beautiful park I have ever been to, with the exception of Lake Louise in Alberta.

I was born in Campbellton, NB - so the drive was a fast trip through memory lane. The entrance to the park also routes along the Cascapedia river with loads of Salmon fishing along the way - which reminded me a lot of growing up in a boat fishing salmon on the Restigouche and Matapedia with my dad and grandfather. I even saw a moose and deer on the way to boot! This was going to be fun!

I drove 6.5 hours straight through. I was surprised to have gained an hour on the drive which allowed me to register upon my arrival. So, I was completely bilingual upon graduating high school, but have not practiced speaking French in years after living in Halifax, Saint John and Moncton. I quickly realized I would have to give it a go since 90 % of the runners and volunteers spoke one language. I was very hesitant at first, but by the end of the weekend and during the race I was even thinking in French - it was pretty cool.

I checked in to the hotel but realized there was no cell service. I could get WIFI near the hotel and race start/finish (Sky Village) but cell service was reserved for the mountain tops. This made it hard to stay in touch with the other East Coast runners who were scattered between camp grounds and hotel rooms. I ate alone and met up with others at the start of the Vertical KM course. It was good to see some familiar faces (all wearing NS Trail Running trucker hats) which made finding them in a crowd much easier.

I could not sleep the night before travelling as my mind was racing wondering if I had packed everything I needed. This I knew was not good as I never sleep well the night before the race which meant this night should have been my good night sleep.

I was tired and decided to try and nap before the mandatory race briefing at 6PM. I was almost asleep and realized I had forgotten my Altra Lone Peaks at home. The shoes I had planned to wear for the entire race if possible. Luckily I had 2 other pair with me for drop bags, but still not a good start to the weekend. That rush of distress ended my attempt at a nap. Time to hit the race briefing. I noticed Jodi, Karine and Nancy from our Maritime contingent dining at the bar and joined them before the briefing. It was good to talk to someone. It had been almost 11 hours of solitude till then.

We hit the mandatory briefing. It was good to catch up with a boat load of maritime runners. I think we had 13 runners from the region there! The briefing really hit home as it talked about wild life encounters and the remoteness of the course. There were only 2 major aid stations, otherwise it would be Park Ranger or helicopter extract if things went south beyond those 2 points. I was also quite worried about the 24 hour cut off. I didn't care about the UTMB points, but I did want credit for finishing if I crossed the line. A fast and hard runner from NB, Nat Couture was the 2nd of 3 finishers from last year's 100 km course and he was just under 18 hours. He is fast. To put it into perspective, I think his Vermont 100 mile time was pretty close to his finish time here. He also ran an 80 km course earlier in the year in under 7 hours if I am not mistaken - I pushed it and it took me 10:20! I was very concerned with the 24 hour time limit. I asked Nat what took so long, he said it was just the terrain - its a slow course. He also said it would be tougher than the VT100 - the toughest test I would face to date. The RD assured us that if we crossed the line we would get a medal and be recognized as finishers, but would not get UTMB points or Sky ranked - neither of which I cared about - cool. It was all about finishing. I did not want another DNF after the TARC 100 last year.

As usual, I did not sleep well race night. I only managed about 4 hours totalling 8 hours over the past 2 nights. The forecast looked good, high of 18 and sunny for both Saturday and Sunday - perfect running weather. Turned out to be much hotter. I heard 26 degrees from someone afterwards - I don't know for sure but it was cooking in the forest with no breeze. Ridges and peaks were a bit cooler but exposed to the sun.

My plan from the start was to go out easy, 11 hours out, 13 back? I figured I would try and stick with another NB runner named Bruno, he is typically faster than me in long events. Usually about an hour or more, however I figured I could hang with him for a while to pass the time. That lasted less than an hour along the Cascapedia river. My heart rate was up too high too early. I backed off knowing I gotta start slow.

I was immediately stunned by the beauty of the course. It was rugged. I was stoked to get above tree line for the first time in my life. Also to cross a snow capped peak. I could not stop taking pictures of the surrounding mountains, rivers and lakes. It was astounding! But I knew I had to stop taking pictures - I needed to have my phone through the entirety of the race for emergency as well as a clock. My Garmin would die in about 10-11 hours. As beautiful as it was the terrain was tough. I could immediately see why this course would take a while. The rocky rooty terrain morphed into boulder hopping and eventually to a snow capped peak traverse. It was awesome! All I could think about was how cool it was going to be if I could make it back here in the dark to see the stars! It would be like being on top of the world with my head poking up into the universe. The stars would become important to me later in the race :)

I felt good on the plateau and was moving well. I met another runner from Montreal doing his first 100km course. He picked a tough one! I realized it was my first 100 km race as well. I had done 50 miles and 100 miles but never 100 km.

There was very little flagging along this section and I knew it would be hard if we crossed this again in the dark to find our way. Luckily the RD said he would be dropping glow sticks after dark to find our way back. I noticed Bruno ahead in the distance, I was catching up - maybe I would be close enough to him that we would be at the aid station together and I could run with a familiar face again for a while - however I wasn't going to get my heart rate up high again to catch him.

I ended up running for quite some time alone once we descended back into the wooded forest. There was really no where to take a wrong turn but there were no markers whatsoever in this section. After running for an hour or so I started to think I might be off course. I waited a few times in hopes another runner would appear behind me, but nothing. I contemplated turning back until I noticed a red shirt up ahead. I was very relieved! I passed this runner and was moving now with confidence I was on the right trail. I spotted a group of 3 runners ahead, as I got closer I realized Bruno was one of them. We ran together to Cacapedia - our first crew access and drop bags. I had no crew, but was very hungry - so the aid station and drop bags were a real high.

I wanted to get in and out fast, but at the same time there weren't many aid stations - so I vowed I would be sure to get everything I needed and to take the time to take care of myself before continuing on. This was a turning point in the race for me as I was very hungry and I ate too much. I downed a Boost, a donut, a bunch of chips and pop and other stuff too that I can't recall. Bruno and I left together, but shortly after I stopped to snap a picture and told him to continue on as I felt I was pushing too hard too early again. That is the last I would see Bruno.

I am not sure how much further I went but it wasn't far when I started to feel very nauseous. Also my back was very sore from either the weight of my pack or heavy use of trekking poles on the climbs. I found a lookout area and had to get my pack off. It was too early to be feeling this bad! I took off my pack and I laid flat on the ground. I was only 22 miles in and I was in a bad state already. I decided I would have to take a couple tylenol to see if I could shake the back pain. My pack was heavy since the list of mandatory gear was long. I needed a shell, hat, mitts, headlamp, poles spare batteries and foil blanket. I also opted to have a warm long sleeve, bug spray and sawyer mini in case I had to drink from streams as well as a 2L bladder. I didn't lay down too long - I got up and continued on. Shortly after that we hit a really nice trail along a series of cliffs, it was wild to see other runners ahead snaking along the cliffs - the views were fantastic! It was a section of trail you would see in a trail running magazine.

It was getting very hot - I knew we were well over the 18 degree high we were supposed to hit. The heat was starting to take its toll on my stomach. To top things off I took a very hard fall on some rocks and roots. I didn't stay down - I bounced back up before I could fail any pain and kept moving. A good fall or near fall always gives you a temporary adrenaline boost :) I recall being very tired when I hit the next minor aid station that had only water. I filled up and headed along. I was hurting but still moving. Somewhere shortly after the aid station, I saw a mother moose and baby. The element of the baby worried me, but I was a good distance away, they made eye contact and stayed put. I banged my trekking poles together and they ran down the hill away from the trail. I am not sure how long I was getting to the next aid station but I started really feeling sick and not moving well. I was still probably a few miles away from the next full aid station - Lac Thibault when I pretty much had made up my mind I was dropping at the turn. I was going to get my drop bag and lay down. I hadn't eaten since Cascapedia and didn't feel like eating or drinking - I was tired, weak, dehydrated and sick. It had been a long while since I had drank anything significant. I was hoping I would not see any other runners I knew dropping here as I thought it would make it easier for me to do so as well.

When I arrived at the aid station I had already made up my mind I was done. I immediately heard a familiar hello from Jodi Isenor, a good friend and runner from NS. He said he was going to wait for his wife Karine and her friend Nancy to see if they made the cut off. If they did, he would continue with them. We were both blown away by the difficulty of the course. He was very helpful in getting me some cold soup and my drop bag. He also helped me cut my timing chip off my shoe so I could change all my clothes and shoes. We both took a bed at the cabin. I feel asleep and didn't set an alarm - I was done and didn't care when I woke. I don't think Jodi slept as when I woke he was outside. I don't recall how long I slept but I was a bit chilly so I went outside to lay in the sun next to Jodi and some others. Lots of people were dropping here. I laid down to nap some more in the sun and somehow an alarm went off in my head. I don't want to end here. I want to see the stars on top of the mountains. I hadn't laid down for more than 5 minutes when I popped up, filled my bladder and off I went.

I was quite proud of myself since during the TARC 100 last year I was in this state (albeit much worse) at an unmanned aid station where I didn't have the luxury of taking a bed and quick nap to gather myself. I thought had I had the opportunity to do so I could've got myself together and pulled through. Here I had the opportunity and managed to fix myself up somewhat - at least enough to continue.

I was glad I continued as the trail was much easier for a long stretch - pretty much ATV trail. However, I was not an hour down the trail when again I figured I was lost due to very few trail markings. I thought to myself that there had been no where to turn but it has been a while since I had seen a pink flag. I convinced myself I had seen a UTMA white sign on the road earlier - did I miss a turn? I decided to turn around and back track to the sign. There wasn't one - my mind or my eyes playing tricks. I had now just added at least a km back and now I need to turn around and re-run another - adding 2 more kilometers total. Great! To top it off about 5 minutes after getting back to where I started, my stomach decided it had had enough and turned itself inside out. A waterfall of cold soup, water and dry heaving. Well, I did feel better. Time to start moving again.

I looked forward to the next minor aid station as I knew I was now running on total empty and would need to get a full bladder to make it to Cascapedia before dark. When I reached the Pic De L'Aube (?) where the minor aid station was on the way out, was not there on the way back. I did recall an ATV rolling past me on the trail with what looked to be an injured or runner who had dropped being driven back to Lac Thibault. However, I would have expected at least water to be left there for the taking in the mean time. Not sure why this station had closed so soon. Anyway, I was not drinking a whole lot - I figured my 2L bladder would get me through to Cascapedia at the rate I was consuming water - infrequent sips to wet my mouth. I continued on.

It was this point in the race where I became quite confused with the remaining distance. I was told that Lac Thibault was more than halfway - 55 km. I continued on for what seemed like forever and only arrived along the cliff I recalled running along earlier in the day at sunset. It was beautiful, I stopped to take in the sunset and rest for a bit on the ridge. I was quite tired and recalled I still had quite a hike to get back to Cascapedia, it was going to be close getting there before dark. I remembered there was a bunch of technical up and down terrain and then I would get close to some flat smooth running near the campground. It took a long time to get there, I had to turn on my headlamp as I was approaching the campground. I had a wave of exhaustion come over me as I walked through the campground. Families were relaxed around camp fires and tents roasting marshmallows and hotdogs - and I had been running for about 17 hours - I wanted to crash at a campsite for the night badly. I couldn't recall seeing markers and wandered around the campground for a bit looking for the aid station. The washroom shower building looked to be about the same size and location as the aid station did in the daylight, but I couldn't seem to find it. I was confused. I was about to start yelling where is the aid station out loud when it appeared around the next corner.

There was only one volunteer when I got there. At this point I had not eaten anything since I was here the first time earlier in the day - other than the cold soup I had thrown up from Lac Thibault. That is a long time to go without calories and only a bit of water while hiking through mountains and technical trails for this length of time. I was tired and weak. All I wanted was ice. I asked for ice - none. I asked for ginger ale figuring it might settle my stomach that was feeling like turning inside out again - none.  I tried some 7 up since it was somewhat cold. I needed to lay down and take a quick nap. I asked if there were beds inside like Lac Thibault - nope. I laid down on the ground and asked the volunteer to wake me in 20 minutes if I fell asleep. It was much cooler now, I started to shake. I had been hypothermic before after Vermont - scary feeling. I jumped up and put on a long sleeve from my drop bag, my long sleeve from my pack, my shell from my pack, my hat and mitts and even my tights. I was still shaking, I took out my foil space blanket and wrapped it around me. Man, those do work well - first time using one. Reflects 90% of your body heat back at you. I covered myself in a blanket, drank some hot broth that another volunteer who appeared from nowhere brought me. I laid down again with all those clothes, foil blanket, sleeping bag and another blanket and a sleeping pad that the volunteers gave me as well. These two ladies were very helpful and kind. When I laid down this time,  a tall figure appeared and mentioned my name, it was another runner from NS - Kris Syliboy. Its odd how just seeing someone remotely familiar can give you a boost - it was nice to see him. I remembered him from a few local races and asked him how he was doing, and how his race went. I remembered he said he hurt is leg in his half marathon earlier that day and was not sure if he could run the marathon tomorrow. He must have been camping at the campground. I asked them to wake me in 20 minutes and tried to sleep. I was done .... again!

In 20 minutes, which felt like 5 minutes, they asked if I was ready to go. I responded that I was most likely going to drop since if I continued on from here there was no way of getting off the course other than the Park Rangers or helicopter evac. If I went hypothermic again I would be in trouble. Then something very odd happened. Two other men were standing over me and offered to run with me if I continued. Huh? Two runners hanging out at an aid station in the middle of the night offering to run with me to the finish. I thanked them but explained I was about to throw up again. Not wanting to throw up on the blanket and sleeping bag the volunteers had given me to warm up, I walked away from the aid station and throw up for a long time. I threw up to the point of dry heaving and nothing at all was coming up. Ultra running volunteers are a special breed, they didn't shy away, in fact they all came over to help me throw up - wow. In fact, the two dudes who volunteered to pace me to the finish asked if I was feeling better and ready to continue. Well, I was up now, I was not shaking and my stomach did feel better, but I had not eaten or drank anything that I could keep down in about a day. Since mid day really - and it was approaching 11PM. Wow, the body is an incredible machine.

I remember explaining to the volunteer when I first arrived that all I wanted to do was see the stars on top of Mont Albert - as I laid down and began to shake. She said I would. I really really wanted to see the stars from above tree line. A wave of hope shot through me and I figured all I had to do was get my butt out of this aid station and I would have no choice but to finish. Don't quit! I said to the guys if I could get down 3 small cups of water I/we would go. I got 2 down and told them to go get ready! I paced back and forth waiting for them to return for fear of going hypothermic again. I managed a few more cups of water. They returned and we were off.

I took the lead and we moved swiftly, we chatted and got to know each other. Although, we weren't 5 minutes up the trail and I had to stop and strip off all the layers I had put on to keep warm now that blood was flowing again. The runners were Pierre-Luc (I hope I got that right) and Francois from Trois Rivieres. I think they were the RDs for La Chute du Diable. An ultra running event in the region. Francois wanted to speak english to practice but Pierre-Luc spoke in French. They felt I was moving well for someone who had been running all day. They had run the half marathon earlier in the day. My guess is they had not slept yet and would now be up the entire night. They were very generous - so typical of the ultra running community. A sport like no other. We soon passed another runner, who was moving quite slowly but seemed fine. Francois chatted with him a bit and figured it was a good idea to split up. He would hang back to ensure the other runner made it in and Pierre-Luc and I would continue together. It was not long after this, and maybe even before that I stopped again to throw up all the water I had drank at the aid station. Not good! It is a horrible feeling when your body rejects water. I can understand it rejecting food, salt tabs, caffeine pills, etc - but not water.

We put some distance between us and the other runner with Francois. We actually got to a point where we thought we were on the wrong trail yet again. Pierre-Luc thought we were heading back to the camp ground but I was somehow sure we were heading toward the Grand Traverse. It was hard to tell without markers again. I remembered this stretch where I thought I was lost earlier in the day and explained to him that there were no markers here. After a period of time though I thought too that we were lost for sure. I thought my day was done, we woud soon arrive back at the campground. I was frustrated in a way since I rose from the dead again only to take a wrong turn and would not be able to do this all over again. However I was so tired, if we hit the campground again, I had tried and it would give me a good reason to quit. In fact I think I welcomed a bear attack as a reason to quit at this point :)

We arrived at another intersection and there were still no markers. I wanted to go one way and Pierre-Luc wanted to go another. I thought I was right, but couldn't be 100% sure. After a long hike, I started to think we might have to turn back. Jodi had convinced me to buy a map and put it in my pack night before the race - I bought one just before leaving the hotel for the start line that morning - I had noticed it on the desk. Pierre-Luc took it out and had a look. The good news was we were on the right trail, the bad news was we had 15.5 km to get to the plateau to go down the mountain. We had been moving for what seemed like and I believe really was 3 hours and we still had 15.5 kms to go to the plateau.

This is again where I was very confused about distance. They told us when we left the aid station we would have 25 km to the finish but I don't think that was accurate. We must have had about 35 - I think. We were also supposed to hit another minor aid station that was open earlier in the day (Lac Menard) but had now since closed for some reason. Not sure why they did that for the second time. I was devastated that we still had 15.5 kms to the plateau - it was a real downer - but there was no way out but to finish - and at least we knew we still had a shot and weren't lost. Off we went.

The moon was brilliant, but I soon realized the stars I wanted to see on the plateau would not be there. I can't recall how many times I threw up after this, but it was frequent and starting to get painful. Eventually the dark dissipated and it started to get light out. We were getting to the plateau - yes! Downhill from here. I could not climb anymore! I could move well on the flats and downs but not on the climbs. We could see the RD Matt Nelson the top of the plateau waiting for us. He must think we are the last runner since he was going to lay glow sticks as far as the plateau and sweep the last runner to the finish picking up the glow sticks along the way.

He said - Hello Blair, you are the man I have been waiting for. You are one tough dude. How are you feeling? I said I was very tired and dehydrated. I explained the pacer situation. You weren't allowed pacers but I said I didn't care about anything other than finishing. He said he knew about them leaving with me and that it didn't matter. We did explain though that we had passed another runner and he would be sweeping him in. I asked if it was all downhill from here. I knew we would be going down the vertical km race course, not the same way we ascended so I knew it was at least 5.6 kms. He said there was still 11 km left and 1km was uphill - the last climb, but it would be a tough one. I wasn't sure I could climb anymore.

We went down for a bit into the valley below, it was at this point that I could see the flagging going up the mountain beside us - Mont Albert. I asked Pierre-Luc if that last climb (1km) was all the way up Mont Albert. He said yes, he had done it on the half marathon course. Again, despair. I could not climb it, it was straight up, rocks and boulders. There was no other way out. I think I threw up again about mid climb. I was astounded that I was still climbing. There were many false summits. You would think you were at the top over the next set of boulders, but then there were more. I sat down to take a break a couple times. We could see Francois, Matt and the last runner climbing now behind us.  We eventually made it to the top. It was without a doubt the hardest think I have done physically in my life. Pierre-Luc congratulated me at the top of the climb. I felt relief that there was no more up, only down to go. A peace settled over me. There was a very long board walk to the summit, the sun was rising and there were 3 caribou on the summit to the right - it was one of the most beautiful sun rises I have ever seen. I'm sure it had a lot to do with the way I was feeling and what I had just accomplished. I walked slow to take it in. This was the first moment I knew I was going to make it to the finish.

We eventually arrived at the top of the vertical kilometer course. There was an aid station with water and 2 volunteers - this was not mentioned on the course map or briefing. My mind and eyes were playing tricks on me again as I was convinced it was Jodi and Kris who came out to see me finish. I yelled their names and they even waved and yelled back, but as we got closer I realized it was not them. I asked to borrow Pierre-Luc's water bottle to drink from - for some reason drinking from the bladder tube was making me sick. The other group of Matt, Francois and the last runner were catching up. I am not sure when but I just decided I needed to get off the course and finish. Pierre-Luc and the other volunteers were chatting and I think the others had reached the checkpoint. I just waved and started to descend. I figured they would catch up shortly.

I immediately noticed how difficult and steep the descent was. Jodi had won the vertical km race the day before. It would have been an excruciating climb to hike let alone run. It was hard to descend. I was going at at snails pace. It went on and on and on. It was getting hot again. I had to stop and throw up yet again - absolutely nothing was coming up - my stomach was just convulsing. I stripped naked and took off my tights - that would have been a sight had the other group caught up :) I didn't care much, I was hot and needed to get cool.

I started contemplating what I was going to do when I finished about my state of dehydration. I could not drink much without throwing up, but my mouth was like glue. I thought about getting someone to take me to the hospital to get an IV - that would probably be the smartest course of action. I was worried about my kidneys. However not long after I stopped to pee and it was not 'coffee'. I had peed darker in other races. The body is a strange thing indeed. The balls of my feet were now getting blistered from the steep descent and from being wet for most of the day. I kept seeing the bridge that would take me across the river to the finish around every corner, but it was just trees criss crossing over each other in the woods. I came upon another large moose, it moved along as it heard me descending. The descent went on and on and on. It was frustrating as I could see I was still high up on the mountain and knew I had to reach the very bottom to cross the river.

Eventually it was the real bridge, I didn't believe my eyes until I was actually on it. This meant I was less than a kilometer from the finish. I wondered if it was shut down. I knew I was well over the 24 hour cut off. Maybe there was nobody there. To my surprise (although I didn't care if there was anyone there at all), the clock was still running, there were volunteers and people around. I crossed under the finishing arch - they gave me a medal. They thought I was the last runner as well since I was the last to leave the final aid station. I explained the others were all coming together shortly behind me. I asked for ice again and this time they had some! I was so happy. I sat by myself for a long time and cried with my face in my hands. I had never cried at a finish before. The volunteers were amazing, they offered me everything but all I wanted was ice.  Must have been quite a sight, my physical state sitting there crying with a mouthful of ice.  :)

I hugged Pierre-Luc and Francois and thanked them from the bottom of my heart - without them I would not have continued and finished. I congratulated the last runner. A volunteer was kind enough to go to my van to get my bag of dry clothes. I changed and laid down on a cot with a sleeping bag and slept for about an hour and half as the black flies feasted on my face and feet. I would wake every so often to hear a race brief of some sort for the marathon starting later that day. That must have been a sight as well -  a dirty, dehydrated corpse laying on a army cot beside the seating area as the race briefing went on. I think they may have mentioned me at some point as I heard chuckles and saw them looking my way. I was amazed that my body was fatigued but not at all sore. Even the blisters on the balls of my feet were just hot spots - not full blown blisters. I am truly amazed by the human body coupled with the human will. I had not eaten or drank anything significant that I had not thrown back up in about 18 hours. After hydrating for a day and a half, I weighed myself at home and I was still down about 11 pounds - I am guessing I was down at least 15 pounds or more upon finishing. After checking into the hotel to sleep, I went to put on my underwear after showering and they fell off! My wife said I looked like a bobble head :)

Advice to pass along to anyone wanting to run this race:

Be in 100 mile shape for this race, not 100 km shape.
Bring trekking poles.
Be prepared for heat.
Be prepared for the cold.
Be prepared for rugged terrain.
Be prepared for wild life.
Be able to support yourself.
The beauty is stunning.
Take time at the major aid stations to care of yourself
Course marking could've been much better.
The volunteers are awesome!
This event is going to grow exponentially - it will sellout next year.
Don't quit, have a strong will and the body will follow- you will make it.

I am extremely proud to have persevered and crossed the finish line. Hats off to the super human winner that was sub 14 hours! Hats off to those who finished sub 24 and to anyone else that toed the line. It was a epic adventure that I will never forget.

Huge thank you to Jodi for fixing me up at Lac Thibault. Extra huge thank you to Pierre-Luc and Francois for pacing me in. And of course the biggest thank you to my wife and family for supporting all the training and worrying about my well being while being off the grid for 25 + hours in the mountains of Gaspe. I love you and I know its a hard thing to understand but just know somehow it makes me happy and brings peace.

I told my family I would take the remainder of the summer off. I would be lying if I told you I wasn't already thinking about redemption at the TARC 100 in the fall :) Sorry family, it was part 2 of the Fat Dog 120 swap after all ;) Only time will tell.

Happy Trails

Friday, June 13, 2014

TARC 100 2014 Race Report - My Second Novel

Well it has been almost a week since I returned from the TARC100 - my DNF at the TARC100 rather.  I was initially ok with my result in the immediate aftermath because I could still remember the state I was in when I decided to drop.  However, if you have ever DNF'd as time passes you forget the anguish and it begins to eat away at you.   Was there something left in the tank that you couldn't conger up?  Are you getting softer?  Are you getting too old for this?  And I presume it will eat away at me for quite some time to come yet.

I wasn't going to write a report at all until I received a message from fellow ultra runner Bernie Doucet – 'Still waiting on your race report bro'. I responded that I was not real keen on documenting failure.  He said you made it 65 miles, you could have some valuable insights for others – write the report.  

He is right, race reports are very valuable and where this race is so young it might help others and keep me from wallowing in despair – therapy for idiots so to speak.  The TARC100 is only in its second year and only the first time for this course and location – last year's was moved since it was a gruelling mud fest.  I personally would have benefitted from being able to google reports to get an idea of the terrain, etc – which could've been invaluable as it was to my successful run at the Vermont 100 in 2012.  Thanks Bernie I think I need to get this out of my head on paper regardless of its merit :)

So where did it all go wrong?

In hindsight, I would probably have to go way back to Wednesday evening prior to the race.  The plan was to leave Thursdaymorning after dropping the kids at school.  My pacer/crew Scott Dorcas had texted me he would drop off his gear in about 15 minutes so we would be ready to roll bright and early.  He hadn't arrived so the kids and I waited in the sunshine on the front steps.  I was crazy excited considering the amount of time, effort and training that is channelled into a 100 mile race.  I felt I was ready – I had a 11 hour up and down a ski hill effort in the middle of winter in February, a 90 km effort in April and 9 hour trail effort with 6k of climbing in May all under my belt with loads of miles littered in between.  I was better prepared than my last 100 mile effort. Right?

Scott sent me a follow up text - he was holding off coming to drop the gear since he heard what sounded like gunshots and there were lots of sirens close to his house.  I think the entire nation knows now what followed.  A 40 hour manhunt in our very immediate neighbourhood for an armed cop killer.  We were in the locked down perimeter with my 2 young kids to protect.  We stayed in the basement together for the first night as my wife wasn't allowed to get into the perimeter on her way back from yoga class that evening – she had left before the chaos started.  As you can imagine, sleep was not deep or constant for the first night.

We woke optimistic as Andrea was able to make it home early.  We figured they knew his location, how long could this last.  I was assuming he would be caught sometime during the day and packed my remaining clothes, etc.  As the day dragged on, we sat with the doors locked thinking of the slain officers and their families as well as the other RCMP officers still out there putting their lives on the line for this senseless rampage.  We wondered how could this happen to our quiet suburb as the choppers and planes flew constantly over the patrolling cars and armoured vehicles.

I was not at all thinking of the race now as the training, time, effort and destination seemed so trivial compared to the events transpiring around us.  I had no intentions of leaving my family until it was confirmed the shooter was dead or in custody.  

Hours turned into afternoon, when would they catch him?  The reports came that he was surrounded in a building.  I let the kids out in the yard for some badly needed fresh air and began to ready the van for a late departure to Boston.  False lead, he was still out there.  I hurried the kids back in the house and figured they had a few more hours to get him before night threatened their efforts again.  

As the sun set, I had pretty much given up all hope of racing.  When not following the events online, I was googling around for another race that might make sense.  I went to bed around 10 PM pretty down about it all but kept reminding myself how stupid my disappointment would be to miss my race based on the situation.  My family and I were safe and it was all that mattered.

Around midnight, my hair stood on end when I woke abruptly and thought I had heard someone trying to get into the house upstairs.  I went up with my trusty baseball bat to find nothing.  As I calmed my nerves and dozed again, Andrea woke me around 12:30 saying she heard shots or something.  Up we went again – checked online, situation seemed to be the same.  I again went back to get more sleep Andrea stayed up to monitor the events for a bit.  I just dozed off again, when she was calling me intensely trying not to wake the kids.  This scared me half to death as I thought there was a situation upstairs.  She said I think they got him!  The events unfolded over the better part of an hour but it was confirmed they had him now.  

I texted Scott and explained I was thinking of  heading out in the AM but I understood if he did not want to go given the events that had unfolded.  I honestly didn't think he would still be up for it and I could tell Andrea had no intention of letting me go at it alone.  I was stoked when he texted back and confirmed he would be ready to leave at 7 AM.

We left around 7:30 AM, it was strange indeed navigating the crime scenes of bullet ridden police cars, spent shells and police tape driving through the neighbourhood to pick up Scott – it all seemed like a dream.  Every car stopped to personally thank the officer directing traffic that morning.  Thank you RCMP. You are a brave band.

The drive seemed short until we hit the Boston traffic crawling into the city.  We checked into the hotel and immediately went to register.  It was odd to drive through some of the most affluent communities in the Boston area to get to the huge and beautiful nature reserve in which we would run.  I recall some of the locals saying 'I live here and didn't even know this place was here'.  We quickly registered and caught a glimpse of the shiny buckle and finisher's jacket that would be the prize upon crossing the finish line.

Here I have to take a few minutes to portray my expectations of the course.  A huge park in the middle of the wealthy Boston suburbs described as follows:

Welcome to Massachusetts’ first 100 miler!  You will not want to miss the TARC100.  Hosted by the Trail Animals Running Club in beautiful Westwood, MA on the Hale Reservation. About 20 minutes from downtown Boston, the race will be run on a 25 mile loop course: 99.9% trail, 2,500 acres of private reserve land, a cumulative vertical gain of 8,000 feet of climb and 8,000 feet of descent for a total elevation change of 16,000 feet, with aid every 5 – 6 miles.  Start time is 5:00 am, Saturday June 7, for the 100 miler with a 32 hour limit to complete the course. The 50 mile run will start at 7:00 am Saturday with a 15 hour limit.

I had read FB and blog reports that it was about the same as the StoneCat50 course or a bit harder.  I had read reports that it was smooth single track.  I believe I even seen the Garmin data that showed 10 k of elevation gain and loss.  So hard to get a solid answer.  So in my mind, smooth single track with not much climbing would put the race on a difficulty level approximately the same as the Vermont 100.  I arrived at this conclusion by thinking much less climbing, but no smooth country roads.  Man, was I wrong!

I have never been completely blindsided by the difficulty of a course in my life.  The Garmin data doesn't show rocks and roots :)  I found the single track to be quite technical.  I don't mean a extremely technical, but enough that when your legs are tired, you will need to hike many sections to avoid falling.  Now, in my neck of the woods, the extended winter and spring made the trails virtually  inaccessible for quality trail training until mid May.  I could have travelled to NS a bit more had I anticipated the course to be more technical than not. Again in my head I was thinking keep logging long flat miles and you will be fine as there is not much climbing.

We arrived in lots of time the morning of the race.   I was very excited as it had been two years since I had last run 100 miles.  Not to mention,  I really appreciated the fact that not 24 hours earlier I was in lock down with my family with little hope of seeing my efforts come to fruition.  The race started on a sandy beach which was pretty cool, the water was like glass and it was surprisingly bright for 5 AM – I wouldn't even need a headlamp in the tree cover to start.  After a few short announcements, one of the RDs came down and drew a line in the sand and a five second count down and a TARC yeti scream later – we were off!

I was amazed immediately by the beauty of the course and continually baffled how such a preserve could exist just 20 minutes from the vast Boston Metro.  I seen Scott at the first aid station and was pretty excited to tell him how much he is going to enjoy the final lap.  As I alluded earlier,  the course was technical but didn't sink in for the first 10 – 15 miles as the excitement and adventure masked it a bunch.  I had nursed an achilles injury for the last month of my training and after seeing the course I was a bit worried about how long it would be before it started to swell.  Thanks to Advanced Health and Physiotherapy in Moncton NB that was the least of my worries for the day.  

After the second aid station (10 miles), there was a ten mile stretch before the next manned aid station (20 miles).  In between, at mile 15 however there was an unmanned aid station with a bit of food and lots of water.  This was a long stretch for me all day as I kept finding myself weak through here as my stomach gets quite selective about what I eat while running and keeps me guessing.  What I mean by that is for an hour chips might work, after that I can't even look at them and I move on to candy until that ship sails, etc.  So I tried my best to have something in my pack but if that wasn't in agreement anymore and there was only a couple items at the unmanned.  I always felt depleted before I got to the farm at mile 20.

The farm was probably my favourite aid station for a few reasons:  1) Meadows - You have to run through open meadows to get there and I love running through meadows.  2)  Breeze -  there was a nice breeze outside of the tree cover.  Despite the breeze, it was getting hot quickly and the meadow was exposed to the sun which took it toll as well throughout the day – mainly on my stomach.  The farm aid station was fantastic.  They had really great quesadillas hot off the BBQ that I was able to stomach for some reason – weird for me.   The volunteers were outstanding at all aid stations – eager to fill packs, bladders and bottles for you while you rested and ate.  I also liked this aid station as it meant one more stretch to the start/finish where I would get access to Scott and my gear to begin the next loop. 

The five mile stretch between the farm and the beach (start/finish) was brutal.  No other way to describe it.  Even on good legs (when I say good – they were surprisingly trashed already but feeling good compared to where there would be in the coming hours) this section was very technical, long and hard – I had to hike the majority of it.  Most people spoke of this section being very hard and technical and mentioned they hiked 90% of it as well.

I have to say by the time I got to the beach to end the first lap, I was happy to see Scott but concerned about the state of my legs.  Both my IT bands on the sides of my knees were swelling already.  I had started the race in a button down cotton shirt anticipating keeping cool knowing the forecast of very hot weather.  The problem with this approach is that it even though does keep you nice and cool by not wicking away sweat - the cotton keeps the liquid close to your body – not good for nipple tape.  It was coming off already and is hard to get back on well after sweating has begun.  I changed into a technical T and re–taped hoping it would stay.  I was sure to get this right as that type of chaffing is not fun.

On a humorous note, you'd be surprised how many volunteers and other racers were upset I removed the plaid cotton :)  I had compliments all morning and one aid station volunteer was upset I had abandoned it – for the remainder of the race I was 'The plaid shirt guy' from Canada :)

It took me 6 hours to get the first lap done.  I had anticipated 5.  So what, in ultras, plans go out the window quickly and you must adapt to prevail.  I figured I could keep that pace for another lap and have lots of time for the final 2 laps – I mean 32 hours – I should have time to spare- I did under 24 in VT (right?)  :(

It was very hot already at this point and I didn't find I had enough water in my handheld between aid stations so I decided to use Scott's Ultraspire Alpha pack that I had never worn before since it had a 2 litre bladder – mine had a 1 litre.  I find it annoying to have to take them off to fill at the aid stations and that costs time as well.  This was the start of bad decisions that seem to be a trend all day.  Not huge decisions but little ones that continually add up and get at you mentally.  I would be smart and think of what I needed prior to getting to an aid station – such as:  food, electrolytes in handheld, water in pack, lube and put something in my pack to have on the trail.  I would leave with full bottles, no lube and nothing in my pack!  Why this happened I have no idea, but it happened all day – the heat maybe?  Or did I forget just how stupid you can get after running beyond 6 – 8 hours.  Dunno, but it was a trend all day.

So I started the lap with with Scott's pack which was very uncomfortable to my slim ultra runner physique (those of you who don't know me - I don't look the part of an ultra runner – moobs and love handles).  I feel like I was wearing a  girdle.  Cleavage pushing up and belly hanging out –  not happy.  But I had neglected to bring my bladder down from the car since I was only going to use my pack for the pockets and use a handheld to hydrate.  Luckily for me Scott could see my scowl and met me at the first aid station with my smaller pack ready to go.

A good point to mention here is that normally in ultras, your crew can meet you at handler stations with a vehicle.  On this course parking was at a premium and the roads were quite narrow so crews had to walk to access aid stations at mile 5 and 10 – after this you were on your own.  They didn't have to walk that far from the beach to get there – only about a mile for one and less than that for the other which we knew ahead of time.  However, worth noting for others.

So where are we?  On lap 2 at the first aid station, swapped the girdle for my own pack, now I was comfortable but shocked at the pain in my knees.  I had forgotten to pack tylenol and drink a Boost at the beach (go figure).  So I asked Scott to meet me at the 10 mile aid station with both.  

I was pretty sore and depleted at the 10 mile aid station but happy to see Scott with pain killers and Boost.  I took both and continued on in the heat.  It was getting scorching hot now.  I had not trained in a single day of heat given the weather to date in Moncton, NB.  However the tree cover helped immensely.  The boost and tylenol sparked me to life.  I was running pain free and with energy.  I met so many others at this point going through the same thing.  They all said the same – I have never felt this low this early.  I told them to keep plugging that I had just come out of a very dark spot as well.  I knew more would come and I reminded myself to reference how I felt now compared to 20 minutes ealier.  

The Boost and tylenol were wearing off by the time I made it 10 more miles to the farm.  I knew at this point I would be another hour slower at least on this lap than the previous.  I started to do the math already – how much would I keep losing per lap, would I have enough time to slog this out.  Not good.  I sat at the farm for a while as I liked it there and they fixed me up nicely – more pain killers (which I hardly ever take during a race), lube, food, water.  I left feeling energized again to be almost half way.  Yikes – knowing my condition – it was scary.  I had to back off and remember the smaller race picture.  Aid station to aid station – one thing at a time.

The last section again beat the heck out of me.  The tylenol had little effect now.  My legs were trashed and a huge blister had been forming on my left heel.  I would need that worked on back at the beach.  It took me 7.5 hours and I would be longer getting started again as I needed my heel fixed.  I finished the lap very low and beat up.  I loaded up on everything I could think of to get me through the next lap – salt tabs, pain killers, caffeine – food, water – I could no longer stomach electrolyte liquid – not good.  I sat in a chair as the medical staff worked on my blister.  I was patched up ready to go.  

Once again I felt energized as it was going to be a nice clear night and I love running at night.  It wasn't quite dark, Scott told me he would meet me at the 10 mile aid station with a boost and headlamp.  Another bad decision on my part, as it was getting dark in a hurry – would I make it 10 miles before dark.  I knew my legs were not going to last a fourth lap for running so I did the math and figured I needed to do this lap in 8 hours to leave enough time for Scott to join me hiking the last one entirely.  I took off pushing hard to run as much of the course as I could before I was slowed by a headlamp and darkness.  Turns out I was fast to the 5 mile aid station – as fast as my first lap.  I had some soup and ginger ale as my stomach was bad and energy starting to dwindle, but I had to push on to have a shot at finishing.  I also knew it was getting quite dark and I needed to get to my headlamp at the 10 mile aid station before I couldn't see without it.  

Scott met me on the road just before the station.  I couldn't drink the boost he had for me as I was starting to feel quite ill.  I put it in my pack to have with me knowing I had 10 miles till next aid after this one.  At this point I was moving well but feeling very ill – heat?  Not sure but I felt like I was going to be sick.  Scott had met me just prior to the 10 mile station so when I pulled in there I sat down and knew I needed to get something in my stomach – water alone was not going to get it done as I had only eaten small bits all day relying on salt tabs and electrolyte drink that I couldn't get down anymore.

I tried some warm soup and iced ginger ale as I did at the first aid station.  I sat for a bit and got up feeling woozy.  I figured I would start running and wait till my eyes began popping out of my head before I started with the caffeine tabs.  I walked out of the aid station.   A few minutes down the trail I became violently ill throwing up everything I had. With my headlamp on this must have been a spectacle.  Having eaten so little all day and drinking well, but sweating a ton – I was shocked at what came out of me.  I have thrown up after many events, but never during.  I have also had many hours where I couldn't eat but could drink water and take salt/electrolytes to power through.  So I figured there wasn't much sense going back to the aid station, I couldn't eat anything there and I was stocked with water and salt tabs.  I would keep moving forward as I felt we would need every minute to finish this thing – especially now.  I hiked a few more miles and started to get woozy and weak.  

I sat on a log in the dark and figured I needed to try and get some of the Boost down.  I took a sip of Boost and a caffeine pill.  My stomach turned inside out.  I got up and hiked about another half mile hoping it would settle.  I got very weak again and sat down – I started to fall asleep.  I knew that would be a bad idea as another runner might think I am unconscious or worse, I might cool off and wake shivering.  I tried water and a salt tab – my stomach again rejected.  I was worried now.  The reality of  where I was on the course set in.  I was 3 miles or so from 10 mile aid.  Going back would mean adding 6 miles to the course – not an option.  The unmanned aid station was of no use as I had water and I couldn't eat.  I was 7 miles from the farm with the two biggest climbs on the course coming after the unmanned station before the farm.  Damn.

I had been running by myself most of the day as many runners (even 50 milers) had dropped due to the heat and terrain.  I now had been hiking and sitting for a bit when I noticed a couple head lamps coming.  They seen my condition and said to follow them to the unmanned aid station, maybe someone would be there checking the stock. Worst case scenario, I could stay there and when they got to the farm they would tell them where I was if I couldn't manage to move on by then.

I thanked them and assured them I couldn't keep pace with them but I would try and keep their lamps in sight.  I went up a big climb and back down and came face to face with the same couple a ways down the trail.  I knew it took me quite a while to get up the climb so I asked if they had already been to the unmanned or still on their way.  (NOTE: a few spots on the course had two way traffic)  You had to be on the ball on many intersections.  They asked how I managed to get ahead of them and I realized I must have took a wrong turn.  Am I wandering?  At least I knew I was back on the right path to the unmanned station.  I got to the unmanned station and tried more Boost, water, caffeine and salt but my stomach kept rejecting.  I finally had to acknowledge this was the end of the road for me.  You run all day on the edge of fuelling and hydrating – it is like running a car on no gas if you cannot keep the cycle going.

After VT, I laid down immediately with exhaustion upon crossing the finish.  I was surprised with such a warm night to end up almost hypothermic, even with dry clothes I trembled uncontrollably as I tried to sleep that night.  Recalling this, I was worried now that I may have a two hour wait at least till the runners could get through to the farm to let them know I am here.  What if they forget – a real possibility – they would be assessing their own needs and with being quite tired themselves after 70 miles, they may forget entirely.  The goal now was to stay warm and awake till I was picked up.

There was a road beside the unmanned station.  I wasn't sure where it would lead, I knew it wasn't part of the Hale Reservation so I thought it would be a bad idea to see where it went in the middle of the night.  I could see houses across the street and cars passing every so often as I sat on a rock.  I figured if I felt like I was in danger of starting to shiver I could approach a house or flag a car.  However, flagging a car close to Boston in the middle of the night was not high on my list of things to do in the state I was in.  What if they agreed to take me to Hale or the farm and didn’t' stop?  I was in no position to defend myself.

After quite a while a runner and pacer came along, I told them I was done and asked them to tell the farm I was here to be picked up.  They pointed out a huge racoon in the tree beside the aid station table.  He would be my entertainment as I fought to stay awake and warm.  He would come down the tree and help himself to the food and scurry back up if other runners came along.  A couple more would come by, I would tell them to look in the tree with their headlamps to see the big fat raccoon and ask them to tell them at the farm I was done and needed a pickup.  Another couple of runners tried to convince me to change my decision but I had tried a couple more times to get fuel in with no luck.  If I left here and they came for me and I didn't make it to the farm I would be in real trouble.  So I stayed put.  I made several attempts to walk in both directions on the road to stay warm and see if I could decipher which way I should go if I had to move.  Even the raccoon got full and called it a night while I waited :)

Eventually 2 more runners came along and decided they were dropping as well.  Then another.  I explained I had been there quite a while.  I was woozy so I didn't know exactly how long but I was starting to get quite cold.  One of the runners sent his pacer along to get to the farm as he was pretty fresh. Just as he left a truck pulled in – it was Bob Crowley and another volunteer.  He said they came to find me.  Runners at the farm told him there was a dude in Zombie mode around the unmanned.  I was glad to see them.  They didn't expect 4 runners though.  I figured we might have to sit in the bed of the truck since we all were pretty nasty from the sweaty slog of a day, but Bob insisted we sit in the truck and he sat in the truck bed.  What a guy.  Good thing, I am sure we would've been shivering pretty bad.  The drive back to the beach took way longer than I had expected.  I realized had I started down that road I would've been lost for sure.  Wow, in reflection, it turns out I made a good decision that day after all :)

I got back to the beach, handed in my bib, changed and sat under the stars by the lake.  Scott came along shortly all stoked to go, but realized I was done.  He took it well and told me to take a seat for a moment and reflect a bit.  What a night, it was a peaceful moment.   I felt I gave it 110%.  It was a struggle from the get go and in hindsight not much went right but I fought though it all day until my stomach ended the run.  With time to reflect, I wonder did I do everything I could?  What could I have done differently?  What if I had've went back to the aid station at 10 miles after throwing up the first time?  What if I had've took Scott up on his offer to run the 3rd lap earlier than expected?  What if I had've pushed on and came back to life?  In the end, I guess it wasn't my day and I am the only one responsible for that – I will take it and learn from it. 

To the Trail Animals Running club, thank you for an amazing experience.  The course was hard, yet beautiful, very well marked and laid out.  It had some of everything you would want in a 100 mile adventure.  The volunteers were some of the best of have ever seen.  Despite my expectations being very different, the challenge is daunting as it should be.  Don't change a thing – besides manning that third aid station!  That buckle is going to be very coveted if the challenge remains as is.  The numbers don't lie – finish rates and times remain on par with some of the most difficult hundred mile races in North America.

A massive thank you to my amazing wife and kids for putting up with the training and allowing me time away to run this race.  I know it wasn't easy after the events that transpired in our neighbourhood.  I know the countless hours of training  is not easy for you all either.  I know it isn't easy to be home when I am in the woods so far from home.  I know it is even harder to understand why I am in the woods so far from home in the middle of the night.  I am not even sure if I know sometimes. I just know it makes sense to my heart, body and mind.  I feel really bad since I had wrote on my arm one name for each lap:  Andrea, Ellie, Avery and RCMP and I couldn't get the last two done.

Another huge thank you to Scott Dorcas and his family for allowing him to drive, pace and crew for me after the tragedy as well.  Andrea wasn't going to let me go alone so without you there was no race. Thanks for doing all you could do to get me to the finish.  You held up your end of the bargain – I dropped mine.  I was hoping you would at least see the trail.  At least you got to see a 100 miler close up :)

Thanks to the RCMP officers for taking care of the situation in Moncton, NB.  The day will never be forgotten.  You are a brave group who risk your lives every day for our safety.  Hopefully some good can come from this tragedy and those that laid down their lives and were so deeply affected and will continue to be affected by the events that transpired.

Hundred milers have the ability to strip us down to the very essense of who we are.  I guess that is why we run them.  Where else can you willingly bring your body and mind to the brink of mental and physical depletion in a controlled environment.  And don't kid  yourself, you need both the body and the mind to be finely tuned.  You can be in the physical shape of your life, but if you can't get it done mentally that day – they will chew you up and spit you out.  I guess that is why we find ourselves worlds away from home in the middle of the night exercising our will, determination and grit.  This day in age, it is very hard to exercise these intangibles.  You cannot know what you are truly capable of unless you put yourself to the test.

I couldn't help but notice when I read Scott Jurek's book Eat and Run when paging through his legacy that if he didn't win a race, he usually went back the next year and did.  I have no aspirations of winning anything but I do expect to cross the finish line after 6 months of hard training and preparation.  Next year or years down the road, who knows but I have unfinished business with this course and that is a damn nice buckle!

Happy Trails

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

2014 Running Plan

Salomon Wascally Wabbit 
8 hr timed event

TARC 100
100 miles
Westwood, MA, US

Salomon Sonofa Gunofa Run
NEW FORMAT: The 1 Hour Wonder .
-This is a different sort of run, where neither the time, nor the distance is predetermined.
-The race takes place on a 4k-7k trail loop (not finalized yet) beginning at 9:00am.
-A single loop race will take place every hour, on the hour.
-Runners failing to complete a loop within the hour will be timed out.
-Runners failing to make the start in any hour will be eliminated.
-Runners that are able to continue are tied for first each loop.
-The winner will be the last man or woman that is able to complete a loop within the time limit.
-If the race gets to a point where all but one runner wants to quit, that runner must still run one more loop under an hour to win.
Wentworth, NS, CA

Brookvale Ultra Trail Races 
50 km
Brookvale, PE, CA

The Herring Run 10/20k trail race
20 km
Mascarene, NB, CA

Salomon Beat To Snot 
25 km
Wentworth, NS, CA

*** To be fit in the schedule somewhere :)

Fundy Circuit 
50 km
Alma, NB, CA

Fundy Foot Path 
50 km
St. Martins, NB, CA

Cape Chignecto 
50 km
Advocate Harbour, NS, CA

Monday, August 19, 2013

One Moonlit night :)

Setting:  Walking back to our rental cottage from the campfire Friday night.  The moon is very bright.  I have Avery my 5 year old son on my shoulders.

Me:  Wow Avery, that moon is bright.  We don't even need a flashlight.  It would be a nice night for a run - I wouldn't need my headlamp at all.

Avery (5 years old): Daddy, if I was an inventor, I would invent you a never ending trail.

Made my heart melt :)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

My Vermont 100 Experience - a novel

Yes, another race report.  I was never a fan of race reports until I read as many as I could find on the Vermont 100 prior to attempting to make a dream become a reality.  I will try and be as detailed as possible as the reports I read were invaluable to my preparation and visualization of the course.  I will spare you the personal story and relevance if it is only the race details that you are after - if so, skip to paragraph 11 - however you are going to get an earful of background or emotion whereever you go in this report :)

The race was extra special for me because not only was it my first 100 mile race, but it has been a goal I have been gradually progressing towards for the past 3 years.  It started with running a few trails and progressed into some fifty mile races and finally my dream goal this past weekend running the Vermont 100 Endurance Run.

Being from Atlantic Canada, there is not exactly a huge ultra running subculture.  Quite scarce to say the least. Having said that, the group of runners I have had the privilege of running with there are some of the most passionate runners in the world.  The vast majority of trail running that I am aware of in region revolves around The Nova Scotia Trail Running Series directed by Jodi Isenor and Karine Comeau - two fantastic individuals that have a turned trail running into an epidemic in the area.  I also can't leave out their good friend Shawn McCardle who hosts the world class Brookvale Ultra Trail Marathon each summer in Prince Edward Island.  The trio is growing the sport in leaps and bounds in our part of the world and without them I would not have attempted such an endeavor or even had the means or knowledge on how to approach it.

My original plan for the year was to apply to Western States hoping to get in - falling back on running the Canadian Death Race as a stepping stone in the event my name wasn't drawn.  Then Jodi and Karine were leading a group of runners to the Vermont 100 after having a great experience there the previous year.  This made more sense than my plan since it didn't involve altitude, crossing a 4 hour time zone and I could run with a group who had already experienced the Vermont course.

Plans quickly changed as Jodi and Karine opted out since they were going to do the Trans Alps run in Europe in September and wanted to be fresh for it and not risk injury - makes perfect sense.  Several months later I noticed Jodi's name was still on the list.  Since I am always picking his brain when I can for tips and training advice I asked him if he secretly planned on still making a run at it.  He assured me that no he wasn't but he had hoped someone would have approached him about pacing....

!@#$#$% are you kidding me - I had won the lottery!  I ensured him that if he wanted to go, I would be beyond ecstatic to have him pace me! Instant game changer!  Jodi has ultra running, orienteering, adventure racing, endurance kayak racing, etc, etc experience coming out his ears and he is going to be my pacer!  Whoohoo!  It worked out great since Karine his ultra wife - with tons and tons of the same experience would come along as well and pace a friend of hers whom attempted the course but fell short last year.  Other huge plus, my wife Andrea was coming along now to crew for me.  First it was just me, now I had a crew of 3 and the best pacer I could have conjured up in a 'create your own pacer' game.

The drive down went pretty quick for 10 hours as we ended up following a couple more runners from Nova Scotia Canada. Jodi had us all pumped up from his Killian Classik trip stories and pics and had burned some Salomon, UTMB music, as well as Unbreakable tunes.   We stopped on the way into town at the Harpoon Brewery - huge highlight for me, great tunes, fantastic beer and awesome restaurant!  Kind of bitter sweet however since I wanted to weigh in at registration as light as possible - so I opted out of the several beer I wanted to try and the wonderful veggies (onion rings) Mark Campbell had been offering around the table :)

We checked into the Ascutney Mountain Resort at the foot of a beautiful ski hill that I immediately wanted to climb.  I showed some restraint but of course Jodi, Karine and Kevin (Mark Campbell's pacer) climbed it the next morning after registration.

As I mentioned above I had read so many race reports when it came time to register, I felt like I had already  been to Silver Hill Meadow.  It was surreal and my emotions started to fire as we pulled in early.  Jodi had the Unbreakable tunes kicking again which made it even more emotional...almost cried getting out of our Honda space Oddyssey.  Sorry Karine, you can't have it ;)

I opted out of breakfast all together since I was worried about losing too much weight on the course and getting sat or pulled completely.  I weighed in light (for me) at 190.8.  Things were going well.  I really savored the registration and hung around for a bit checking out the finish and start.  Cool to see the horses as well. I walked the last 100 feet or so of the trail leading to the finish - visualizing me actually coming down it at night hoping to see the pink neon in the dark under 24 hours.  Yes, a very long shot for me but one I had hoped would be the icing on the cake if I could finish.  When I say a long shot, I needed a perfect day for this to happen.  Deep down, I thought if I could get to Jodi with enough time to give me a shot at it, he had the experience, drive, fitness, will, determination and personality to get me there.

The pre-race dinner and briefing came quick and it was becoming more real by the minute that I was here to finally execute on 7 months of training.  The meal was fantastic and I was planning to eat as much as possible after weighing in light.  I think my plate weighed 3-4 pounds.  Meatballs, spaghetti, alfredo macaroni, salad, pulled pork sandwich...yum!

After a viewing of Unbreakable, it was off to bed to try and sleep.  I managed only 3 hours, but now it was go time!  We landed the Oddyssey at the start line and what a beautiful morning...crisp and cool! Weather was supposed to be cooler than most years so that was a good sign.  I may have adjusted my equipment a time or two :)  then the countdown was on and over and we were off down the the first hill.

I was focused and did not want to talk early on and I dislike running in packs so I was happy when we thinned out.  I had a brief scare early on rolling my ankle on the first trail in the dark.  My $20 dollar Engergizer bunny headlamp was not so good :)  After the pack thinned it was beautiful to see the surroundings of the Vermont country side as the light started to peek and the morning mist began to clear.  I was lucky enough to get my morning paper work out of the way early at this point - very happy to do so.  Also discovered a little earlier in the pack that you should turn out your headlamp when you step aside to pee :)  whoops, that form of etiquette goes out the window real quick later in the race ;)

Seemed to take a while to get to the first unmanned aid station - had I known it would be this far I probably would have brought along an extra bottle.  Turned out the first station was almost empty.  Enough to carry on and it was early so no harm done.

I had Jodi's splits from the previous year as our benchmark to gauge the day since he had buckled under 23 hours.  However, Jodi is a very accomplished runner and this was my first 100 miler and only my 4 ultra - having done the 50 mile distance 3 times.  In my head, I decided on trying to run 5 miles an hour roughly evaluating at each aid station if I was too fast or slow.  So I tried to average between 12-13 minute miles as long as I could figuring worst case scenario I manage this pace till I burn out and walk it in from there.

The second unmanned station came quicker than the first and I tried to get some Coke as well as fill up my waist bottle with Gatorade.  At some point, on the way into town the first horses passed us - that was cool and a little weird.  It was a very nice surprise to see my wife Andrea, Jodi and Karine among others in town on our way towards the first manned aid station. I only expected to see them at the first handler station - it gave me a quite a lift.

At the first manned station - Taftsville Bridge, I tried to grab what I had decided upon to eat well before getting there - potatoe chips and get out as fast as I could walking while eating.  This would be the trend all day.  All stations where a blur.  The outstanding volunteers always offered to fill bottles so you could pick over the buffet as they filled up.

Really happy to see my wife and friends at the first handler station.  They had what felt like as large a setup as most of the aid stations for me.  I was really glad to see them and hear them cheering my name prior to getting to the station.

In my head I was running little races from aid station to aid station as 24 hours and 100 miles was just too much to fathom for me for the day.  So it is a huge boost to finish each little race and know you are that much closer to finishing and maintaining your pace for another portion of the day.

I believe it was at this point in the day that I started to want to talk to other racers to make the time pass a bit quicker and forget about the pounding my legs were taking.  Some crazy runners out there, folks that had finished Badwater after 40 hours in the heat on Wednesday were there to run Vermont as part of the Grand Slam...nuts!

NOTE:  If this is your first 100 miler.  Everyone who has done this race or others of even greater elevation gains and descents will tell you there are many ups and downs and they are quite long.  You take note and train for ups and downs but rest is way, way, way, way, way more hillier than you will anticipate.  Also, the pre-race briefing will say - "We don't have any mountains, but we have lots of hills...".  Where I come from the entire race is in the mountains.  Long, long, long ups and long, long, long downs.  Okay, I could beat that horse all day and probably will some more later:)

The next part of the race to note is the sound of music hill.  I had heard and read so much about how beautiful this section was and it turned out to be my favorite...well second favorite part of the race.  The sound of music hill has a fantastic view of the surrounding "hills" also known as mountains :)  You also run through and descend the hill in beautiful meadows.  And oh yes, this is where I noticed my quads where beginning to take a pounding already - about 1/4 of the way through.  Yep. Right on schedule Jodi :)

I tried to eat chips and pop at most aid stations and planned to drink Gatorade as long as I could.  Also, I had gels when I could get them down (I hate gels) or honey stinger waffles when I couldn't bear to open the gels.  So far so good, I was eating and drinking well and maintaining my 12 - 13 minute mile pace.  It would begin to slip away on the climbs and I would reel it back in on the descents.

There are not many hills where I live so I had done many long hours hiking uphill on my treadmill's highest grade watching movies late at night to train my body for the uphill hikes.  I thought this might be my downfall since it wasn't really hiking hills. However, throughout the day (the last 20 miles, last 10 in particular were a big exception as you will see) I found I was passing lots of runners on the hills and not getting passed much on the hills.  Jodi's advice rang true in my head all day - walk uphill with a purpose!

The next handler station was Stage Road.  Here I was secretly frustrated as I felt I had been moving good and maintaining a pretty consistent pace.  I was actually worried I was hiking the hills too quickly and it may haunt me later. I remembered asking Jodi how my pace was...too fast?  or too slow?  My memory is clouded of course but I was under the impression he thought I was not going to get it done for the buckle.  This made me make a stupid decision that was going to hurt or pay off later.  I was going to reel back in my time before I saw them again at Camp 10 Bear to ensure I have a shot at the buckle.

The middle of the day was very hot and my crew would have a buff filled with ice to put around my neck. It was a life saver.  It kept my core temperature down.  I would also douse my head with cold water each time I saw them as well as take a bottle full of ice, or ice water, or full of ice with water or 3 quarters ice and no water or 3 quarters ice with water - apparently I was getting specific at points :)  Sorry guys!

Having said that the first thing I did was run out of the handler station and go off course missing the first turn.  Luckily Catherine, the runner Karine was pacing called out to me before I got too far and saved me alot of back tracking.
Thanks Catherine!  All I can remember about this next section of course was that there were 2 of the longest climbs I have ever had to deal with.  They seemed to go on forever and ever.  The two I am referring to were obscene and there were at least a couple more that were awful.  With the elevation gain and loss being almost equal for the course I was wondering when we were gonna start going down.  I do recall alot of nice downhill, some steep prior to getting to 10 Bear.

On the descent into Ten Bear I got a nice surprise.  I seen an adult and kid on the road well before the aid station.  I thought cool someone is going to get a nice surprise when they see their family or friends there.  Then I heard "Blair?"  "Is it Blair?" I thought who knows me out here other than my crew and several other runners from Atlantic Canada - no spectators.  Then I remembered that Greg Jones, another runner who had gotten injured prior to the start of Vermont decided to come to the race and volunteer along with his son Ty.  What a great surprise and awesome burst of wind in the sails!  Thanks Greg and Ty!

This was the first weigh in so I downed the remainder of my bottles and crossed my fingers.  Only down a pound.  Sweet!  I figured the weigh in might be my downfall - good to go.  My crew was all over me and I was all over them.  They were surprised to see me so soon and were super excited which got me super excited.  I quickly realized however that this was only halfway and I had a boat load of work to do.

All went well to the next handler station at Tracer Brook.  I recall some very nasty climbs coming out of this aid station as well. But for some reason I may have mixed up leaving Tracer Brook with Stage Road in my head - not sure why, maybe it was here that had the nasty climbs I mentioned out of Stage Road....hmmm not sure why.

Next stop for the handler stations was Marguaritaville.  Funny, one of my favorite things I read about the course was this aid station.  Corona, Marguaritas, cheeseburgers on a 100 mile course - awesome!  I talked about how I had to have a beer and cheeseburger just to say I did.  I didn't even see the aid station.  I met my handlers on the road beside, they checked in my bib and I continued on.  I remember being particularly spent at this point which probably means those climbs I mentioned earlier were out of Tracer Brook and not Stage Road.  I remember my crew looking at me differently at this station.  I recall them asking how I was doing or feeling.

Next stop was the second trip to 10 Bear where Jodi would join me to run and I was still averaging under 13 minute miles on the day so far.  This meant I was on track for my buckle if I could keep it going.

I remember a ton of downhill to get to 10 Bear the second time and I recall not having peed in a very long time and the last time I had peed it was brown.  This was worrisome as I had to weigh in again.  I started taking in as much fluid as I could descending into Camp 10 Bear.  I was so happy to see Andrea, Jodi and Karine it was ridiculous.  And Jodi was geared and ready to go.  I recall kissing Andrea here. It was always such a boost to see Andrea I can't believe I was going to do this alone in my original plan.  I essentially was running to Andrea each aid station.  Jodi would later use this as well and say '2 miles to Andrea' late in the race between the later stations.

So here we were at 70 miles - this was where I wanted to be.  I believe I left Jodi almost 9 hours to get me to the finish for a buckle. I also knew this wasn't much time as last year it took Mark Campbell who was ahead of me this day and is a much stronger runner with tons and tons of experience in endurance events almost 8.5 hours to do it last year.  We had time but would need all of it.

I left the aid station with loads of energy.  Jodi was like a caged animal let loose.  I have never met or heard of anyone that loves running as much as Jodi.  For him to watch an event of this magnitude that he had run the previous year - to say he was raring to go was an understatement.  Karine was the same waiting for her runner.  They love it!  For me, I think this was a false summit.  I was affraid this might happen.  I had worked so hard to get to my pacer and give us a chance at a buckle it almost felt like the end - but 30 miles to go is a big distance.

I can't recall if I managed to get to the next handler station - The Spirit of 76 without fading hard but I honestly can't recall much of that section.  I do remember seeing Andrea at this aid station and wanting to quit.  Yep.  I wanted to hug her and call it a day.  I have never quit anything in my life and I have never dropped out of a race.  I assumed the easiest thing I would do all day is keep plugging till they pulled me due to weight issues or missing a cutoff.  When I saw Andrea at this aid station I am just about positive I would have packed it in if I had any other pacer in the world. Jodi kept me moving without lingering long enough to contemplate it at all.

I think it was leaving this aid station that I began to feel dizzy, heady, woozy, eyes popping out of my head.  I normally can survive on very little sleep and sometimes next to none.  I believed I would get tired by not sleepy.  This was new territory for me.  I wasn't sure what was going on or what to do.  I recall Jodi telling me how sleepy he got last year but much further along in the dark. It wasn't even dark yet.  I was in trouble.  He told me this year he was bringing caffeine tablets and chocolate covered espresso beans - I had said I probably wouldn't take any.  At this point, I was going to fall over so I thought I had better give in and asked him for one.

We had some downhill so that and the caffeine woke me up.  The daylight was fading now as we hit some trails, I got my cheapo headlamp on.  My vision seemed to be fading but Jodi continued on without one long after I switched on mine.  He is part animal.  He was pointing out rocks and roots that I couldn't see with my headlamp on.

It was a struggle to get to Bills, the next handler station where we got weighed again.  I recall being pretty out of it going in.  I mentioned to Jodi that they will see how messed up my eyes are even if I weigh in good and might pull me.  He assured me I would wake up upon seeing Andrea and the aid station.  Good thing, I almost asked him to slap me as hard as he could across the face to make me look awake - not a word of a lie.

I had been drinking well all day but had not eaten very much in the past 5 plus hours I think.  I must have been drinking alot.  I was still peeing this late in the game - a good sign.  I weighed in good again somehow, still only a pound down.  The weigher gave me a long hard look prior to letting me loose on the buffet I never touched.  I think he even watched me stagger around for a bit.

I remember the look on Andrea's face when she seen 'that look' in my eyes.  I wanted to stay again - but far worse now.  I am not sure what I said to her, but I walked away quickly before I got emotional.  I remember hearing her say "I love you" as I staggered away down the trail in the dark.  I was toast physically and emotionally.  Those were the exact words I needed to hear and when I needed to hear them most.  She saves the day again with one sentence.  I asked Jodi if she had any questions for him - he said no.  I figured she might have asked him if I could still do it.

At this point, there isn't much else I recall as far as aid stations other than wanting to get to Andrea at mile 96 again.  As we passed aid stations, Jodi would ask me what I wanted (ice water) and continue on.  He would fill my bottles and catch up to me.  No risk of my taking a chair or quitting if I didn't go into any.  He is a smart dude.

I think it was at this point where we came upon Mark Campbell who was very ill.  He had been dry heaving for a while (both ends I think) and laying in the grass before we seen him walking along with his pacer.  He badly needed some lube and a new stomach.  I gave him some ice water and we couldn't do much to help so we moved along.

Somewhere along this stretch (I think) a very weird thing happened.  We came upon what we thought was a runner sleeping.  Jodi went over to see if they were alright, clapped his hands and this kid jumped up yelling with a plastic sword.  Another kid emerged from the woods and threw something plastic towards me and ran off the other way.  Jodi went to the woods and took their flash light. As we continued on he threw it in the ditch.  One of the kids snuck back up behind us to ask for his flashlight.  Jodi told him it was in the ditch way back from where he came.  I recall it differently, but I was a mess :)

I said to Jodi now that I wasn't sure if I could climb the hills anymore.  I was so slow going up them.  They hurt my back like you would not believe.  I would bend down to relieve my back only to stand up to an awful headrush of dizziness.  He kept me going.  He told me to not look up at the glowsticks marking the course anymore.  Watch his feet.  Problem was the feet were lulling me to sleep literally.  To look up at the hills killed me.  All I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and go to sleep at the foot of the hill.  I no longer cared about a finish or a buckle.  All I wanted was a cot.  I remember thinking I would sleep till we left on Monday.  I was taking caffeine pills almost hourly.  Luckily we had a fair bit of downhill.  The runs would wake me up.

I remember a beautiful meadow at some point that looked cool because we ran about a half mile along and around it with the stars and mountains in the skyline.  I was effed up but still managed to take in some of the beauty of the country side.

Jodi is an amazing person to have kept me moving and awake.  He had humour when I needed humour.  He had optimism when I needed it.  He had stories when I needed them.  He had advice when I needed it.  He was serious when he had to be and used fear when he had to.  He used exactly what I needed when I needed it.  He also would not and did not want me to settle for just enough.  I told him that if we could walk in for 23:59 and knew we could get there I would be willing to do that.  He would have no part of it and I am so glad he did not let me settle.

He got me to Andrea at mile 96 but she wasn't there.  She had gotten lost.  I was worried but not my usual frantic self as I didn't have the energy.  I was just hoping she would make the finish - she has lots of experience supporting my races and usually goes to plan B which is head to the finish if you miss your mark.

I still wasn't sure I would get there with only 4 miles to go.  I thought if I fell I would not get up or would be badly hurt cause I would be too tired to catch myself.  I was going step by step by step.  Running would wake me up - hills were excrutiating and put me to sleep at the same time.  The sight of them made me ill and want to quit.  They are much worse at night since you can see the glowsticks light the entire length if they were straight and the glowsticks were quite high in the trees making them look much higher and longer.

INTERJECTION: People forget how tough being a pacer is because they are not running the whole race.  They need to have the fitness to run a very tough 30 mile course on zero sleep.  And in Jodi's case, crewing all day as well.  Taking care of a runner who is completely spent.  They need to remember to take care of themselves.  He had a copy of the course profile.  He had to calculate mileages on the fly.  He took my orders prior to aid stations so I could keep moving. He would fill my bottles and bring me a bite of food to watch me taste and throw away.  He would have to catch up to me while I had kept moving.  He kept me from spending time in aid stations.  He answered all my dumb how many hills left, how many miles to Andrea?  He kept me moving so well that I can say I believe I ran just about every step of that last 30 miles that was not uphill.  There was only one point that I stopped running on a runnable section and I could hear the concern in his voice as he stopped to come get me and say quietly, come on you have worked and sacrificed too hard for this, you have to keep moving.  With any other pacer I DNF'd without question!  I am glad he has his own buckle cause I considered cutting mine in half - whoops we're not there yet - forget I said that:)

Here we were moving over the last few miles of the course.  I remembered Jodi telling me that last year the finish line was there but not drawing him in.  The same thing was happening to me.  All I wanted was a cot.  At this point, we were looking for the unmanned aid station at 98 miles. I was very frustrated because we thought we should be at it and it just wouldn't appear.  We finally found it and this was it - 2 miles to go.  Another hill.  It was steep and we got off lucky since this year due to a route change we didn't need to go all the way up.

We hit the 1 mile to go sign.  I wasn't even excited.  We came upon the half mile sign on the hill.  I didn't care, I wanted to see the turn off the hill markers.  We finally hit it.  Less than half a mile, we could hear the finish.  I think it was here I took a moment to thank Jodi from the bottom of my heart and assure him, I was done way back with anybody else.

If you recall 10 million words ago, the sound of music hill was my second favourite part of the course.  Well at this point there were 4 liter water bottles filled with water and glowsticks lighting the rest of the course, it was the surreal.  I had read about this and couldn't wait to see it.  It was really, really cool.  As we descended and crossed the finish I forgot to look at the pink neon finish line sign.  I had visualized seeing the finish in the dark under 24 hours for so long and I had forgot to look at it.  I never did see it in the dark - but the volunteer who put the medal around my neck told me I would be getting a nice buckle to go with it later that day :)  I hugged Andrea and Jodi and went to lay down.  I will spare you the aftermath.  It wasn't the most pleasant.

I cannot thank Andrea enough for taking care of me the next 24 hours plus after the race.  I was in bad shape.  She must think we are all insane.  She is still taking care of me as I have a nasty issue in my right shin that bugged me for the last 60 miles. She deserves a medal as well not only for crewing, taking care of me post race, but also for putting up with 7 months of training...thank you!  I am not very capable yet, but was it all worth it....yep.

Hats off to the other runners from Atlantic Canada.  You all did fantastic!  Nat and Bernie - just another day at the office for you guys :)  Tim, well done, hope you had a good experience.  Mark Campbell, there is no way to comprehend your ability to rise from the dead - truly remarkable.  Kevin you deserve an award too for conjuring the dead :)  Steve and Chad, you are two of the toughest dudes I know - I cannot imagine running with that kind of pain as far as you did. I was fortunate enough to have a perfect day, you will have yours too.

A very special thank you as well to Karine whose words of wisdom always stick with me and for crewing and cheering all day when she could have been sleeping waiting to pace for her runner at mile 70.

Thanks as well to my mom and dad for taking care of my beautiful kids Avery and Ellie while I ran.  I would not have been able to run without my mind at ease that they were happy, safe and healthy.

I spoke in length throughout my ramblings already, but without Jodi, there was zero percent chance of my finishing at all.  And I have a buckle, that tells you the great deal of my respect and admiration I have for you.  Can't thank you enough!

I feel very blessed to have made a dream a reality rather than a regret.