Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Seaton Trail Race Report - off the roads and onto the trails

On April 18th with spring finally here and the snow gone I headed out to Pickering Ontario to attempt to run my very first official trail race. At some point last summer while doing the usual Saturday morning trail run workouts with Longboat I got it into my mind that racing trails might be a lot of fun. I did a couple of 5k cross country races in the fall and was hooked. Over the winter I found a bunch of different races online and decided that this year I would do a few OUSER races. I decided to start with Seaton and after some internal debate signed up for the 26k version of the race. I was tempted to try the 52k version (didn’t even think about 78k) but figured that maybe I should get a feel for trail racing first. As it turned out this was a very wise decision after all.

What I discovered was that yes trail races are indeed really fun. They are also really really hard.

Pre Race
I got up super early grabbed my racing stuff and headed out to catch the GO Transit to Pickering. Kim was sweet enough to give up her Saturday morning and come with me to the race. I was really happy about this. I tried to talk her into running it but she told me there was no way she was going to do it so soon after a marathon. I also I think I remember something about not everyone is as crazy as you but I am not sure (I have been known to blot these kinds of things out). To be honest I was a little bit nervous about doing this race for a number of reasons.

Unlike most races I didn’t know anyone else that was running this one. I also had no point of reference at all. No idea how hard / easy the race might be or what to expect. It was definitely going to be a case of rookie on the course and I knew it. With Kim there at least if I blew up and had to limp home I would have someone to help me.

The other problems that were foremost in my mind were my training and my legs. I was still recovering from the Paris marathon and had not run much at all since getting back due to a really bad cold. I was sure I could cover the distance but how strongly was a totally different question. My winter training had been all geared towards the nice flat Paris marathon course with almost no hill training and no trail running. I knew my legs would take a beating because of this but hey it’s all in fun so what the hell.

The race was really easy to get to by transit and we were there in lots of time. I picked up my bib and race kit which included a pretty nice T shirt and made my way to the start area. I talked to a number of other racers at the start line including Helen Malmberg, the race director of the Haliburton Forest race. It turns out she was a member of Longboat at one time. People seemed pretty nice and a bit friendlier then you usually find at road races. I am not sure if that’s more a function of people that run ultras or the smaller sizes of the race but it was kind of cool. We got our final instructions from the race director, including a warning that it was pretty muddy out there today and that this was a really hard course, lined up at the start and were off.

The Race
The course was 26k out and back starting at the playing fields of a Pickering school and heading off into the woods. Runners doing the 52 and 78k version of the race repeated the out and back multiple times.

I started out at a decent pace and stayed with a small pack of other runners for the first few kms. This part of the course was pretty flat and was fairly runable and mostly dry, although you had to keep your eyes on the trail at all times as much of it was washed out and required you to switch from side to side often. It followed along the side of a river for the most part. I will call this part of the race the “lull you to sleep” stretch. I began to think that the course would be much like my Saturday trail runs for the most part. I checked my HR monitor and saw that my heart rate was way too high even at the slower pace that I was running. I made a mental note to slow down and then proceeded to file that note under things I will not think about right now and kept going.

At about 3k we hit the river crossing. The water was about 2 feet deep and pretty cold with lots of jagged and slippery rocks to trip over making you have to wade through it pretty slowly and carefully. Soaking wet feet and only 23k left to go… excellent.

It was still smooth sailing for another km and then around 4k we hit the first major uphill. It seemed to go on for a long time. I chatted with a runner that was just behind me for awhile. He had done a bunch of other OUSER races but it was his first time doing Seaton as well. As we finally crested the hill he said he was going to fast and was going to slow his pace. I checked my HR saw that it was waaay to high and decided to ignore it (again).

Instead I raced down the other side of the hill which was long and pretty steep. I remember thinking ... crap I am going to have to come back up that later. At the bottom of this hill was a boggy field area. I could see that the whole area was really deep mud. I hit the mud full speed figuring that my feet couldn’t get any wetter and I was going to get muddy anyway. What a rookie mistake, the next thing that I knew I was standing in deep mud with only one shoe on. I retraced my steps and dug out the shoe that the mud sinkhole had ripped of my foot. There was nowhere stable to put my shoe back on so I was forced to run about 100 feet in one shoe until I got out of the mud. I finally got my shoe back on meanwhile about 5 people passed me.

The course then made its way back into thicker woods where it became a relentless up and down hills from gully to gully. At one point we headed down a long steep staircase made out of what looked like railway ties. We popped out on a road briefly somewhere around the 7k mark where there was an aid station. I grabbed some water and eload, chugged it, headed back onto the course. At this time I was still thinking that I might be able to put up a decent time. I checked my HM and pace, ignored the information that screamed at me to slow it down and keep going.

The course from 7 to 11k was a lot of up and down single track trails and very challenging. You could not take your eyes off the trail for a moment for fear of tripping over roots, rocks or other forest debris. At one point you had to use a rope to go down the side of a very steep ravine, cross a small creek and climb your way back out again. I have to say as tough as the terrain was it was very well marked. I never got lost on this course at all. Somewhere right around 9k the lead runner passed me going back in the other direction … WOW.

Hit the second aid station at 11k in a small park, grabbed some more water and then it was back into the woods for more of the same. I found this last 2k to the turn around some of the hardest running. It was lots of small steep hills, mud, tight trails through trees, rocky and rooty. I got to the 13k turn around and checked my garmin. I was at the halfway point at 1:27. I was still somewhat on pace. I had hoped for a 3 hour race although this was just a guess with no point of reference. Now all I had to do was run all the way back.

As I headed back to the 15k (previously 11k) aid station I passed a lot of people headed for the turn around. Most of them were going to be pretty close behind me. I still felt okay so just tried to hold my pace. This was easier said than done and by the time I actually got to the aid station I had started to slow some. I also was beginning to have some soreness in my right knee which I knew was a result of all the quad pounding down hills and lack of hill training.

From 15k to 19k my knee slowly deteriorated making my pace slow even more. I left the 19k aid station and headed for the final part of the course. This included going back up the long staircase from earlier which was really tough (harder than running up the hills). Then it was back into the mud swamp / field where I was at least able to keep both shoes on this time and back up the long hill. It actually wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated. My knee was getting worse though. I was getting tired and sloppy.

As I went into the last big downhill, which had been the first uphill, another runner flew past me right at the 20k sign. She was really moving taking the down hill nicely. I was watching her go ahead of me thinking …wow then just like that I was face first in the ground. In the little bit of time I had taken my concentration off my footing I stepped half on half off a rock and rolled over on my ankle and did a pretty nice face plant (even the Russia judge would have given me at least a 9 for that swan dive). If a runner falls in the forest and gets back up before anyone sees, did he really fall at all? I limped back to my feet, my ankle was pretty sore but useable, everything else seemed in tact so I continued on. Ever try limping on both legs at the same time? It's really not that easy. My ankle was manageable but my right knee was hurting bad. I think I may have banged it during the fall... really not sure but it was much worse after I got up than before.

The next 6k became a make it to the finish line instead of a run as fast as you can kind of thing. I was going so slow it was ridiculous. I would not really call it running. I keep thinking don’t I walk faster then this?! At 23k it was back across the river again. The water seemed higher and faster. I almost did a full on fall into the water as I tried to limp my way across but was able to regain my balance using the crazy wind milling arms method of steadying yourself (thanks three stooges movies for the helpful tips).

I saw one of the race marshals at the 25k mark and she asked me if I was alright. “Sure great” I replied. I figured I must be looking pretty bad for sure. As I ran the last half km the runner that I had been talking to early in the day caught up to me. He congratulated me on finishing my first trail race. I told him thanks that I would see him at the finish line to which he replied that he was heading back out for his second loop (he was doing the 52k). Man I was really happy that I had wisely picked the 26k. I made it too the finish line a few minutes later.

Post race
Got a pretty cool finishers metal and when and changed at the school that was being used for the race. Also the race provided a hot meal of lasagna and pasta which was pretty good. I finished in a time of 3:21:02 which was okay considering the knee issue.

This was a really great race. Well organized and a lot of fun. I will definitely be doing a few more of these types of races over the summer. Learned some good lessons to apply to my training and future races.

Hill training here I come.


  1. Sounds like a good time...and a free T-shirt. See you are Sulphur Springs (Hope the shirts are just as nice!)

  2. Way to go Chris. Ouser races are so friendly, it's a very neat community and I guarantee that they will remember you the next time you show up at a race... Well-done, keep it up.


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