Haliburton 100 Forest Ultra
After wrapping up things on Friday at the Nursing Home, I made the 4 1/2 drive to Base Camp at the Haliburton Forest Reserve. I checked in for my campsite, not far from the start line, deposited my 3 drop bags, and picked up my bib number and hoodie. That gave me enough time to set up my tent before the 6pm mandatory dinner.
At the dinner, everyone was asked to introduce themself and say a bit about themself. The organizers went through a number of housekeeping items, and then detailed instructions on how the trails were marked. Basically, a small orange flag on the ground about every 35 paces, with alternating orange and yellow bunched together where a turn was coming up. Going out, all the flags would be on the right. Coming back, on the left. There is one loop around MacDonald Lake that is a bit confusing, because you have to run it in opposite directions depending on if you are going out or coming back. No matter - I nailed it. Not everyone did.
After that, I retired to my tent, set out all my running gear, set my alarm for 4:15am and went to sleep. I woke up just before my alarm, and was on my way. Coffee, morning prayers, lube, gear and go. There was a role call at 5:45 and then we were piped to the start line about 100 yards away. The 6am start was for both the 50 milers (out and back) and us 100 milers who would run the course twice. There were 63 running the 50 miles, and 53 of us in the 100 miler. So, 116 head lamps piercing the cool darkness. It was 10C/50F, but I opted to run in short sleeves and shorts. I ditched my fleece jacket just before the start. I was running in Salomon Trail shoes, with Injinji toe socks and calf compression sleeves. I wore fingerless grip gloves, not for warmth, but to protect my skin if I fell. With 10 seconds to go, there was a collective count down and we were off. Man, were we off! You just gotta be "off" to do this!
CHAPTER ONE: Nutrition, Hydration, GI ... Oh My!
My plan was to run exclusively with Tailwind. I had used that in my 24 hour 100 miler last year, and it was all I needed. I trained with it and it seemed to sit well with me. Still, as a precaution, I took a couple of Immodium at the start, then two more about 12 hours in and popped Pepto Bismol Chews as needed along the way. That didn't actually work the way I wanted, and I took 2 more Immodium around Midnight.
I had the nutrition down to a science. The human body can typically process about 300 calories/hour. I trained with that amount on all my long runs. I was wearing a running vest. In it, I carried a small rain jacket that would double as a wind breaker if needed. I carried the Pepto Bismol and Immodium tablets, along with Ibuprofin. Also a small flashlight in case my headlamp failed, some t.p., lip balm and two hand held soft flasks that each held 17 ounces of water. Then I wore a fanny pack that carried 4 small tubes of Tailwind, each worth 200 calories. That is the "perfect" mixture of water, nutrition and electrolytes when mixed in the 17 ounce flasks. I stashed tubes at Aid Stations 2, 5 and 7. As I finished the flask, I dumped new powder in as I ran and then just filled it with water at the next Aid Station. My plan was to spend almost no time at Aid Stations. I would restock my Tailwind at my Drop Bag sites and carry on. I packed 9,400 calories worth of Tailwind. Enough to last 31 hours. I actually used just 2,800 calories worth - 100 calories/hour. Something, obviously, did not go according to plan.
Surprisingly early on, the Tailwind was not sitting well. I found I was unable to sip it the way I had in training. I was forcing myself to take it, but my stomach was protesting. Some hours in, I found myself incredibly thirsty, because I wasn't able to handle the mixture. So, at the next Aid Station, I filled my flask with just water and gulped it down in one swallow. Then did that again. Then a third time. Incredible. The water tasted SO good, and the Tailwind was just awful. So, from that point on, I ran with mostly water. I knew I had to take in nutrition, so I started eating the boiled potatoes and watermelon that was offered. Those tasted great and sat well with me. On my second time out at Aid Station 4, I ate a cup full of their famous Peanut Butter Soup. I won't say what it looked like, but I will say it was amazing! That was the same Aid Station on my final time through where I ate a grilled cheese sandwich. Man, was THAT GOOD!
So, the nutrition was a bit of a bust. I had to improvise as I went, because now I was really hungry, plus I knew I needed the calories. So, I took what was offered at the Aid Stations and spent more time there than planned.
CHAPTER TWO: I'm Tired
The volunteers at the 7 Aid Stations were superb. They kept their camp fires going through the night and offered a wide assortment of food, as well as enthusiastic encouragement. They were also responsible for recording us runners as we passed, and given the technical mix ups in my last 2 races, I made sure they recorded me. "NUMBER 20" I would yell as I approached, and then I made sure they said my name as a verification that all was good. That was because earlier on, I yelled "NUMBER 20 in" and I heard the recorder repeat "number 28".
Part of their job is to evaluate the runners to make sure everyone is safe, and so I was constantly being asked how I felt. My response: "For some reason, I feel really, really tired". Most got that as a joke, although some got concerned and asked if I wanted to sit down. Beware the chair! I never sat.
As expected, all the aches and pains kind of melded together at some point. I was primarily concerned with the three pains I started with. Of those, only the left foot was much of an issue. The right groin pain faded away and the right achilles tendon pain never really threatened anything serious. That left foot, however, screamed at me whenever I torqued it by landing a certain way on a root or a rock. And there were a LOT of those! I took to being extra cautious with that foot landing, but there is only so much you can do on such a technical course. Fortunately, as painful as it was, the foot pain actually seemed to decrease as I went. Or maybe it was just that melding of all the pains together that made that one pain less noticeable. Either way, there WAS a lot of pain just about everywhere, but no injuries. And no falls. I came SO close any number of times with stumbles and slips, but managed to catch myself every time. I would say the quads were the most beat up at the end. It got to the point where running downhill was nearly impossible. I took the ibuprofin as needed, and it took the edge off.
It was obvious that many runners were struggling, and were dropping out at a high rate. The Aid Stations were in constant communication with walkie talkies, and while eating something at Aid Station 3, I heard Base Camp announce two runners that had just dropped out. Dropping out was not an option for me, although I had to constantly push that idea out of my mind. I think the worst part of that mental game was when I starting to hope for a serious injury that would force the organizers to pull me off the course. I would object, of course - 'hey, I can finish with a broken leg - I'm tough'. For sure the mental battle is a huge part of an Ultra, but going in with the attitude that "I AM going to finish" is a huge help. It turns out that of the 53 of us who started, only 24 finished. 29 dropped out.
I think the most challenging point in my race was the most technical section between Aid Stations 4 and 5. On my return leg, that section brought me to the verge of collapse. I was over heating and thought I was running a fever. I took my hat off to help dissipate the heat, but was feeling nauseous, headachy and a bit dizzy. I fought through to Aid Station 4, and after that was on an upswing with a second wind that carried me to the 50 mile turn around. Good thing, as that section saw the weather take a nasty turn.
CHAPTER THREE: A Flash and a Boom!
Rain was predicted for the afternoon and through to the evening. It started right on time, and when it was done at 10:30pm, sections of trail were turned into a muddy mess. Not nearly as bad as Sulphur Springs in May, but still a slippery soup of mud, roots and rocks. The worst of it fell when I was on the East Road heading back to the turn around at Base Camp. At one point, it was coming down so hard I could not see the runners just in front of me. And the thunder, having been moving closer and closer, arrived in full fury. At one point I was shuffling over the crest of a hill with my head down and there was a brilliant flash just ahead, where a couple were walking ahead of me. I looked up thinking it was a camera flash from the photographer, just as the explosion of thunder resounded. The couple in front of me jumped. It was SO close.
I think the rain was a key reason why so many dropped out. A lot of runners would have been within striking distance of Base Camp when it hit, and I'm sure the mental and physical fatigue at that point was such that the storm pushed many over the edge. When I came running into Base Camp, there were a number of 50 milers with their arms raised and medals being hung around their necks. As I came in, the Race Coordinator said to me "Good work - now get your *ss back out there and do it again!" I did. I had run the first 50 miles in 10:52:33. I felt confident of coming in under the 30 hour cut off.
Knowing that the rain was predicted to continue off and on until around 10pm., I decided to stay with what I was wearing. I figured I'd be at the 75 mile mark around Midnight. I had a drop bag there with a change of clothes and a jacket. I would get dry then and try to stay warm over night. As it turned out, the final rain came shortly after 10, as predicted. By Midnight, however, I was completely dry and decided to continue on without changing anything. I hoped it wasn't a mistake, but I never felt cold during the night. On the contrary, I was still battling that feeling of being nauseous and overheated.
CHAPTER FOUR: The Garmin
I knew the battery in my Garmin 35 would not last the distance. Initially, I was going to run the first 50 miles with it, maybe 75, and then switch to a regular watch. But at some point, I read about runners recharging their devices with a portable charger, and that's what I ended up doing. I found one for less than $10 at Staples that would provide enough juice and fit in the palm of my hand. My plan was to pick it up from my Drop Bag at Aid Station Two and run with it while charging my watch until I had run the Normac Trail Loop clockwise, through the Base Camp halfway point, and then through Normac again counterclockwise. At that point, I would drop it off back at AS#2 and have a full charge for the final 43 miles. Good plan. Didn't work.
It did work for a while. The watch was charging. After finishing the Normac, it was close to full charge. But that's when the storm really opened up. I think the rain killed my charger, because at that point, there was nothing I could do to get it powered up. I was pretty sure it wasn't drained, and I verified that after the race. Once dried out, it had plenty of charge remaining. It just gave up in the rain. Still, I hoped the charge I managed to get into my Garmin would carry me to the end. But it didn't. Shortly after mile 85, my Garmin was done.
Up until then, I had been doing the math in my head. My "wouldn't that be an incredible finish" goal was to come in at a 15:00/mile pace (25 hour finish). Unrealistic on this course, but one can always dream. My "you better not run ANY slower than this" goal was 18:00/mile pace (30 hour cutoff). I would happily have taken that. But my real goal was somewhere in between. I just wasn't sure where, until the halfway point, when I set it at 16:00/mile pace (26:40). At the 25 mile mark, I was averaging a pace of 12:30/mile, or just over 5 hours. But I could already feel myself slowing down and I watched the average pace click upwards. At the halfway point, I was running an average pace of 13:03/mile. It had taken me about 45 minutes longer for that quarter. Given the struggles I had in that quarter, the weather, the pain and the descending darkness, I figured a finish in the 26 - 27 hour range would be ambitious, but possible. Yes, it was arbitrary. But it gave me a goal. I would aim to run the second half in about 15 1/2 hours. I hit the 75 mile Aid Station #7 around Midnight, so I was running at an average pace of about 14:25/mile. I was hurting. The darkness had reduced me to a trudge. I was alone. But I was confident I could do it. I had nearly 12 hours to cover 25 miles, after all. Barring a big surprise, I had this.
So, at mile 85 when my Garmin gave up, I was okay with that. I had been watching my progress, and I was keeping a decidedly slow, but consistent pace. I didn't even bother (or I forgot to ask) the time at the three Aid Stations remaining. So, I was pleased to see my final time. It worked out to an average pace of 16:04/mile. Would I have been able to run 400 seconds faster just to come in at 16:00/mile, had I known how close I was? I don't know. At that point, I was pushing really hard. And, quite frankly, I don't think I would have cared. Besides, I was still hallucinating something fierce, and I'm not sure there was anything I could have done to move faster.
CHAPTER FIVE: Meerkats, Birds and Deer in the Night
In my 100 mile event last year in London, I saw people in the night that were not there. I wasn't sure if it was hallucination, or just the play of shadows thrown by my headlight. It didn't add up to much in any event. It sure did in this race. It started at some point on my final 25. I began to marvel at the incredibly artistic signs that someone had put up - all sorts of wild and creative creatures painted on billboards. Except they would disappear as I got close, or melt back into the trees, shrubs and ground vegetation that they actually were. Once I clued in to the illusion, I started to enjoy it. I just assumed it was the interplay of my light and the shadows it created. I wondered if other runners would see the same pictures, or if their minds would perceive something else. I saw a very dangerous mound of sharp knives on the trail which I nearly stepped on. I was angry someone had put it there - would seriously injure a runner. When I went to carefully move it, the grass just slipped in between my fingers. Wild. So real.
That basically continued right through that most technical section leading back to Aid Station #4. By then, however, I was beginning to see various animals that were not there. They were crossing in front of me and causing me to step aside so as to avoid them. I was seeing all sorts of benches that were not there my previous 3 passes. I forced myself to shuffle past them. Do NOT sit down, I told myself. Just before AS#4, there was a couple sitting on one of those benches. They surprised me. As I ran by, I nearly made a comment to them about sitting way out here in the dark. But then, I figured out they were not real. They just stared at me as I went by. Wild stuff. But it got more interesting.
At AS#4, I asked about an outhouse. They said there was one I could use about 100 yards down this lane. Honestly, I still don't know what it was I saw down that lane. I think I used an outhouse. Beyond that, it was a wild trip. I did eat that grilled cheese sandwich though, and it tasted SO good (at least, I think it did).
On Poacher's Trail, my light began to fade. I had used one from sunset until Midnight, then switched off at AS#7 to a fresh one. But I had kept the first light, just in case. I'm glad I did. Some time after that, I was at the next AS. The sky was just beginning to show dawn, and I had just 7.2 miles left to the finish. This is where the hallucinations became more pronounced. And the worst of it in full daylight.
There were birds. Lots of birds. Big birds. Like ducks and pellicans and long necked things I didn't recognize. At one point, running on a road, I actually moved to the other side because I didn't want to disturb them as they walked along. On the trail, however, they were everywhere. And if it wasn't a bird, it was herd of deer. Or fox. Or some other creature I didn't know. I saw a stunning Meerkat just ahead. It just stood there on the trail. As I stepped passed, it turned back into a stick. Shrubs, rocks, branches - they all became something else. It was like running through Disneyland, or Dreamland, except I was wide awake and the sun was fully risen. This continued right to the finish line. It was the most entertaining thing I have ever experienced on a run. When I crossed the finish line and went to my truck to grab a change of clothes, there were a bunch of little 6 armed bugs on the floor of my truck, waving their arms at me. Seriously, I bent down nose to nose with them, and they didn't go away. I swept at them, and they just moved around my fingers. I tried to crush them with my finger, and they just looked up at me with an annoyed frown on their faces. It took the first 3 hour nap for that to pass. Then I went back to look - it was small bits of gravel on the floor of my truck. Wow.
CHAPTER SIX - The Subaru
About 2 miles after the 25 mile turn around, there is a pretty technical trail section. Not an easy run. A runner approaching me said "car on the trail" as he passed. What? Well, around a corner and there it was. A crew member for someone had decided to drive to AS#7 on the trail, rather than on the road. He was seriously stuck. I mean, I don't think a tow truck would get in there to help him out. I'm amazed he got that far. He was working on a tire - not sure if he had blown it, or if he was just jacking it because he was hung up. I know this was not an illusion, because a) it was too early and b) I was with another runner who saw the same thing. I asked the dude if he wanted me to get help for him at the next Aid Station. He said no, he was fine. He was NOT fine. There was NO WAY he was going to get that sucker out without a tow. Oh, also c), I found a picture of that stuck Subaru on facebook just a few minutes ago!
Well, as funny as it seems, that Subaru inspired me. I really wanted to see if it would still be there in about 12 hours when I next came by. Whenever I wanted to quit, I told myself I would never know if it was still there if I did. Funny thing is, I've put the Subaru on my short list as a replacement for my 16 year old pick up truck. I've seen the ads. They are tough and can go anywhere. Ha. Not quite!
Well, I THINK it was gone when I got back there. Honestly, I forgot to look for it. I'm pretty sure my light would have picked it up if it was there. Then again, who knows. Maybe it had turned into a big rock in my mind.
I showered and slept for 3 hours. That took care of the waving bugs. I am grateful I decided to camp one extra night; I was in no shape to drive home. The awards brunch and ceremony was at 1pm. It blew me away that I won the Master's Division. Totally unexpected. For that, besides my 100 mile belt buckle, I got a warm hug from the Race Director, a hearty handshake from the Race Coordinator, and a nice towel. The winner ran a course record setting time of 15:36!!! Amazing kid.
I slept another 4 hours that afternoon, and then grabbed a pizza for dinner. By 8:30, I was back in my tent and I slept 11 hours. After a wonderful breakfast, I broke camp and started home. I made one unscheduled stop. On my previous drives there, I had seen this sign for a viewing tower. I stopped. It is an old fire watch tower they have rebuilt as a tourist viewing platform. For $15, you can drive the half mile up the mountain to the tower. Or, for cheap guys like me, you can pay $5 and walk up. Hey, a good way to stretch things out, I figured. So I walked the steep road to the tower, and then climbed the tower for the great view. Then back down the steep road to my truck and home.
That was actually a good way to take stock of myself. The walk up was easier. My hamstrings were not too bad. I guess walking the uphills in the race was part of the reason for that. The stairs were difficult, as my quads were trashed. That really showed on the downhill - ouch. Blisters - very few and nothing of significance. Those Injinji socks really came through. As of now, no pain in my foot, groin or achilles tendon. Sure hope that continues. Basically, stiff and sore all over, but bouncing back quickly. I suspect in the next day or so, I may discover something that hurts more than it should. For now, I'm basking in the success of the run, eating whatever I can, and looking for tiny bugs waving their little arms at me.