Sunday, October 6, 2013

Run For the Toad…My first 50km Race Report

At the start with Bathrobe Guy behind me
“Hey you're DFL”, the bushy faced older gentleman sporting a colorful bathrobe called to me from the sidelines approx.100m passed the finish line where I had just completed my first 50km race. “D.F.L.”, I thought to myself. I had heard the acronym before, now how does that go? Oh ya, “Dead F#$%king Last”. Unfortunately as I unravelled the letter puzzle in my mind the words took control of my tongue and I blurted it out loud for anyone near to hear.  Luckily there were no children around and only a few post race stragglers along with the the oddly dressed man who appeared to have just stepped out of a shower. But I knew he wasn’t wearing that robe as a result of cleaning up after a hard 50km run. I had seen that eyesore of a wardrobe before, earlier today at the starting line and also a few months back at the Sri Chinmoy 6hr race in Kingston. The eccentric ultra runner, who’s name eludes me is somewhat of a staple fixture on the Ouser circuit (Ontario Ultra Series Events Races) and Ontario ultra scene and I was amused to have actually made it on to the cantankerous coot’s radar. “Well at least I didn’t “DNF” I called back jokingly, which I immediately wanted to take back just in case he himself had DNFd. I know there are all kinds of reasons why people don’t finish a race and I didn’t want to offend anyone especially someone with the chutzpah to don bathroom attire in a public venue. As I headed towards Aid Station 1 to retrieve my gear I could hear a friend of his tell him that shouldn’t have said that and then they both had a bit of a muffled laugh.

50km Race Start - Of 1250 athletes only 169 were in the 50km
I was doing that a lot today it seemed, hearing conversations going on regarding me not intended for my ears. Like back at the last couple of aids stations catching wind of the attendants radioing in my position and progress, “Runner 162 is heading into Station 2”, “Runner 162 has left Station 4”. Then there’s the time that keeps echoing in my head at the last road crossing, with 250m to go and only a short final stretch of forest remaining the volunteer radioed as I passed by, “Last runner heading home”. “LAST RUNNER”, “Did I just hear that?” I thought to myself, “Last runner?”, “Am I really the last one?” I have to admit that a few tears came to my eyes, my lower lip quivered and I am sure I was sporting the most pathetic sad face you have ever seen. “People must have dropped I thought to myself but still I’m last, Last!, LAST!!”. “It’s my first 50km and I’m LAST!”. “Who cares if I'm last” the one way conversation with myself continued, “I’m last and there are people waiting for me and I’m happy just to have finished and hey I beat the muscle cramping demons, I'm still running and never gave up hope”. “I deserve last, LAST is GOOD”. There were no cowbells leading me in this time around and as I approached the finish I guessed the rain had chased everyone home early. The cars were all gone and my spirits slumped a bit. There was one lonely paramedic huddled in her truck as I made my way towards the archway I had already passed under 4 times today. I raised my arms in victory and let out a little holler (hope that pictures turns out well) and a few officials and the photographer were waiting to greet me under a shelter with a few last cow bells to seal the deal. Still as they placed my finisher’s medal around my neck I held out hope that maybe just maybe there was another runner on course but I dared not ask. I just really didn’t want any confirmation at that point that I was indeed last during this final celebratory moment of a race that had begun 7 hours and 20 minutes earlier on a cloudy and humid day.

They had been calling for rain all week plus lightning to boot. It was a chilly fall morning when I poked my head out of my first floor motel room’s back sliding door. I was heading out for some early morning pre-race food and the rain was misty but nothing like what had been forecast. Unfortunately due to the weather predictions, my crew of my Mom and her two dogs had opted out of joining me at the race. I didn’t blame her for not wanting to sit around all day in the rain with two wet border collies. So after a bagel, eggs, banana and a coffee I headed off to the race with a cooler of premixed Vitargo in 5 water bottles, enough gels, blocks and salt tabs to fuel my race  and a couple changes of clothes and shoes in preparation for a long wet and stormy day in the Pinehurst Conservation Area. The line of cars heading into the park seemed endless and we weaved and snaked our way through the forested race venue until finally I was directed to park in some obscure field. I was impressed with the organization to it all and the volunteers did their best to stuff over 1200 athlete’s vehicles into every nook and cranny they could find. I made my way to the Start/Finish area and Aid Station #1 which was also the dropbag area for the 50km runners where I surveyed the land and met some of my fellow runners. We were all busily preparing, trying to figure out what to wear etc. when the bagpipes began to play signifying the beginning of the opening ceremonies. It all happened so fast after that. I was there listening to the music of the Royal Highland Fusiliers of Canada (RHFC) and they called for the 50km runners to line up where I found myself behind the arch I would be running through for a total of five times throughout the day. The course was made up of a 12.5 km loop which you ran 4 times for a total of 50km. The 50km runners lined up and started first, to be soon followed by the 25km runners and walkers. The gun went off and everyone began to move, I kept to the back and dropped off my raincoat at the aid station and upon my leaving realized that I was in fact in last place. The mob disappeared ahead of me and I fell in behind a few other slow moving brethren.

I don’t like to say that I wasn’t prepared for this race as that kind of talk only sounds like I’m making excuses. But I had been very ill for 2 weeks straight, not being able to run at all during weeks 13 and 14 of my 16 week training program and not being well enough to run a true long run since week 11. When I finally was able to run at the beginning of week 15 it then took me all of those 7 days to get my running legs back and culminated with a nice 10km run in the woods. It was then time to taper. It really didn’t make sense for me to do so but not knowing what else to do the week of a race I kept to the schedule and taper I did. Well we have all read the studies that say you don’t lose that much fitness in the course of a month's time so I figured I’d run the race and see just how accurate those accounts were.  My “A Plan” was to finish running, “B Plan” to finishing walking, “C Plan” to finish as many loops as possible without damaging my body. So finding myself at the back of a pack of many veteran and talented ultra runners including David Riddle, Cleve Thorson and Stacie Carrigan to name a few, didn’t worry me a bit, in fact it was comforting to know that I hadn’t gone out too fast and I felt ready to settle into my own rhythm and a comfortable pace. Unfortunately the muscle cramping demons in my legs had other ideas.

In the woods
OK I expected that I might have to deal with some muscle cramping issues sometime in the race, like on loop 2 or 3 or 4, but loop 1 at 6km, no way!! I still find it hard to believe that only 6km into the race my legs began to cramp up. From the bottom of my feet to the tops of my thighs, I had spasms upon spasms. It could not have been the distance, it could not have been the hills(I had walked almost all of them), it could not have been my fueling. I didn’t know why but all I could do was deal with it so from that point on, with 44 km in front of me to go I began the process of cramp management. Whatever it took to keep my legs from going into full spasm I did. Mostly that meant running with straighter legs and walking the hills, sometimes sideways so the shins were happy. It seemed that anytime one muscle was stretched the opposing muscle cramped so I couldn’t stretch or contract any muscle too much…for hour upon hour. It was a constant mental battle to figure out the rubrics cube like solution to keep my legs functioning. But lap after lap I succeeded and really from the waist up I was in as good of spirits as anyone in the middle of a 50km race could be. In some ways I was the lucky one because I wasn’t taxing my anaerobic system at all. My heart rate was steadily between 130 and 140, exactly where I would have wanted it to be with or without the cramps. So perhaps in a way the cramps forced me to slow down and may have actually saved my race.

 As I pulled into Aid Station 1 for the last time to refuel I noticed a gentleman a bit older then myself follow me in. “One more lap for me” I told him, “Me too he replied” and I was off. Funny thing but I suddenly realized that the muscle cramping demons had mysteriously disappeared as fast as they had arrived 6 hours earlier. I was moving freely and felt strong. “Dare I ?” I thought to myself, “Dare I push the last lap of a race distance I have never run before”. The furthest I had ever run was perhaps 28km and as I entered into lap 4 I had already surpassed that mark by10km. Well I went for it. I ran every hill in the early going. Finally I was able to put to use all of hill repeats and hilly tempos I had been running previous to getting sick. I did notice that my foot was hurting me, an old cuboid problem I haven’t felt since hiking the Cataraqui Trail pulling a sled this past winter. But I wasn’t going to let a foot ache slow me down. Heck it was probably the pain from the foot that had in fact caused the cramping to so suddenly stop. I do know that the body has a short attention span and that diversions like sour pickle juice or a pinched lip has been known to stop muscle spasms. I actually tried using that tactic earlier in the race by breaking my salt tab on my tongue every hour hoping for that very effect. But alas I do believe it was the foot that finally did the trick, but how long would it last. Well not that long.

The finish
 One particular quad, the right one was determined to keep on cramping which forced me to run or walk sideways up every hill but undeterred I kept moving forward, every sideways hill climb carrying me closer to the finish. BTW, that rain I mentioned earlier that was suppose to make the day so wet and miserable, well it finally hit halfway into the last lap. I laughed, I had to laugh, no rain was going to stop me, as long as I didn’t tumble down a slippery hill and hit my head that is. But I didn’t and I rolled through each aid station, hearing my number being called ahead to the finish line as they awaited my arrival and I thought about the guy who I assumed was behind me and how he was making out in the rain. “Last runner heading home”, is what he said, and I crossed the finish line, received my medal, was chided for being DFL from a cantankerous "bathrobe" guy and as I made my way to the drop bag area I fully expected it to be empty and deserted, but it wasn’t. Hey maybe I wasn't DFL after all I thought to myself. Just then Peggy, the race director came to check on the area and I pointed out 4 lonely bags to her to which she replied, “Yep, they're still out there”.

 As of now while I write this I still don’t know when or if the others made it in. I wish I could have stayed to wait for them but it was a long 4 hour drive home alone in the dark and rain with a pair of cranky legs to contend with. I wish I had stayed, they deserved that. So to whoever you are, congratulations on a great race and if you were the one to finish last then CHEERS TO YOU and your well earned title of DFL!!

Lap 1 1:48:05 avg. hb 136 bpm
Lap 2 1:51:13 avg. hb 137 bpm
Lap 3 1:54:26 avg. hb 135 bpm
Lap 4 1:47:50 avg. hb 143 bpm

 Of course I have to thank the RDs Peggy and George and all of the great volunteers who encouraged all of us runners and provided everything we could possibly need during the race. Kind words, drinks, food, a good laugh and endless clapping, cheering and cow belling. Also congratulations to all of the winners and finishers of this 12th Annual Run For the Toad event. See you all next year:-)

Update: Results are up and I was officially 143 out of of 147 finishers. Cheers to finisher 147 Peter Bromley. Way to get 'er done!! Although I lost my title of overall DFL to Peter it turns out that I was DFLF. I'll carry my title proudly(after a good tear up and lip quiver that is):-P
…hopefully some pics to follow :-)




Derrick said...

Huge congrats! Way to get that first one under your belt. Looks like you paced it very wisely to be able to finish...especially after being so sick.

Sara said...

Congratulations, EJ! Amazed at your splits. I bet you were one of the very few who ran the last one the fastest! Awesome job. What's next?

EJ said...

You are right Sara, I think I was only one to pull that off.

Next is some rest time and most importantly staying healthy while my body recovers. My legs are pretty sore today but structurally I'm feeling good otherwise.

I think I'll probably focus on training for the snowshoe series for now anyways.