Friday, July 13, 2012

Creemore Vertical Challenge 50k Race Report

Last Saturday Kim and I headed north of city for the Creemore Vertical Challenge. I last ran this race 2 years ago and without a doubt still consider it the biggest blow up I have ever experienced in a race shorter than a 50 miler.  Don't believe me you can see the race report from 2010 here.  I was hoping to have a much better experience this time out.

So there are things I know about Creemore and things I wonder about. I know from past history that it will be stupidly hot. Most likely fry an egg on the brim of your hat hot. The kind of hot that makes you question why you decided to run the 50k with a perfectly good 25k race happening at the same time. Luckily there are lots of sections on country road that are unshaded and totally exposed just in case you figure that you might not be getting enough sun.

I also know that it will be hilly, really, really hilly. It isn't called the vertical challenge for nothing. My garmin tells me about 6700 ft. of ascent in the 50k and since its a 25k loop that means 6700 ft. of downhill as well. Not to worry tho as the RD insists that there are only 4 actual hills on the course. Take a look at the elevation profile below and feel free to decide for yourself.

Finally I know that there will be beer at the end which you can enjoy while sitting in the Mad River soaking your tired legs. The river is conveniently located just steps away from the finish line.

I also had questions. I wondered is Race Director Pierre M an evil genius? Does he have the power to control the weather? Are there any hills in the area that we don't run up? If I suck as bad as 2 years ago should I just quit after one loop so that I can drink extra beer?

Race Day
Sharon came to pick us up bright and early Saturday morning. I checked the weather forecast on the way out the door and was amazed to find that it was suppose to be a high of 32 which by Creemore standards is almost Arctic like conditions. There was also a chance of thunderstorms, maybe Pierre doesn't control the weather after all (I was still skeptical about this).

We made it to the race site an hour early just as ominous dark clouds rolled in. By the time we had our race kits the rain was starting. Kim and I sat in the car for the next hour as huge thunder and lighting storms rolled through. There was a lot of rain coming down and by race time it had not really let up at all. This thing was going to get ugly.

Loop One 0-25k
The first 2k of race start off with some nice single track trail. I started slow and stayed back some to give my legs time to warm up a bit. This section was already muddy from the rain so it would be slow going anyway. I planned to run the race at a decent but moderate pace so as to not mess up my training for Leadville. So not racing it full out but not taking it to easy either.

After the first 2k you run on paved road briefly and then its onto country road until you get to the 5k aid station. I started to settle in here and got into a comfortable pace as we hit the woods for some steep downhill then across the beaver dam and back up. If I had any question as to how the rain was going to effect the course they were answered here. The climb was a mudfest and it was raining even harder. Clearly Pierre really does control the weather.

I didnt carry a camera so I don't have pictures of the conditions but you can see some good shots at Stacey P's blog. Seriously go take a look here.

Even with the rain and mud things were going okay. I felt good and was moving well but you had to be careful. It was slippery and some of the trail hills had become drainage ditches for the rain. At 8k I discovered a new course feature, a knee deep river crossing where there was never a river before, how quaint.

After crossing the river I caught up with a pack of runners just before the 12k aid station so I decided to stick with them for a while. Just up ahead I saw Laurie McGrath and eventually caught up to her.  We ended up having a nice chat over the next 12km. Usually I see Laurie at the start and at the end of races as she is way, WAY faster than me. We talked about upcoming races, the season so far and of course puking (a shared problem). She also tried to convince me that I should get into the lottery for HURT although I question whether I am strong enough yet to go after that one.

We made quick work of the big trail climb back up to the top of the escarpment and the long country road back to the 12 / 17k aid station. I was still feeling really good along this stretch and at some point we caught up to Wendy P. who I had run with a few times in High Park. We had collected a nice little pack by this point which more or less ended up staying together for the rest of the loop.

After the 17k aid station it was more hills. Yes Pierre I know you claim that there are only 4 "real" hills. We made the long climb up the gravel road to the top of Top Hill and down the road which some were calling pig shit road due to the smell from the nearby farms. Soon it was across a field and down a super steep long downhill on trail. Usually I would hammer this but it was muddy and slippery so I was braking all the way down until you get to the marsh. So needlessly hard on the quads.

There is a small homemade bridge in the marsh made out of logs. If I had to guess this bridge was made by leprechauns or the underpants gnomes. As I went to step up onto it with my left leg my right foot slipped in the mud causing me to veer sideways. My left foot made the bridge but my right foot had nowhere to go but down. Just like that I was in the thigh deep water. Crap. I waded across the small pond. I think Laurie got a good laugh as the muddy bottom tried hard to suck my running shoes off my feet. My shoes stayed on and I didn't face plant into the water so I count myself lucky.

At this point you head back up another "not real hill" and into the last aid station. The last 3k take you down a very long gravel road across a field and into the woods. The final km is single track that takes you down into 2 deep ravines. The banks are so steep that ropes have been strung so you can actually get up and down. This area was a mess of mud and you could see the skid marks of many who had struggled to get up the embankments. Its funny but this is just the kind of crap that I love most about trail running.

At the very end of the loop you cross a crazy bouncy bridge before the start/finish line. I took my first big fall here. The wood was wet and it was like walking on ice. I was careful but it didn't matter as I hit the ramp going down off the bridge my feet flew out and I was on my ass. I was lucky, my ass was not broken at all, my ego was bruised badly though. It was a pratfall that would have made Chevy Chase proud.  Total time for the loop 2:45.

Loop 2
There is not much to say about this loop as it was much more of the same. I could have sworn that I already ran this part. I had a quick refuel at the start finish downing an ensure and headed back out. I ended up running most of this loop alone eventually dropping the group of 5 or 6 runners that I had been with.

The course was really muddy now having been chewed up by so many runners. On a rocky downhill with a lot of loose shale I took my second spill as the rocks under my foot slide out from under me. I came down hard on my hand and it really hurt. The good was that my thumb still worked so no break but the lower part of my palm started to swell right away.

It was also starting to get hot. Hey what do you expect its Creemore after all. I just kept a nice steady pace for the rest of the loop. I was soon back in the ravines and headed for the finish feeling tired but good. No big blowups, no meltdowns, no going postal and no puking. Sweet.

Finishing time 5:50:37

Post Race
I had a great deal of fun, maybe the most fun I have had at a race this year. I got a beer, some pizza, another beer and eventually made it down to the river to soak my feet and legs. I also won a door prize, a great pottery bowl made by Leah Anne (Pierre's other half).

I can't say enough about what a great race this is and it is no wonder that it is a staple for most of the regulars in the Ontario ultra scene.

Next up Limberlost 56k this weekend.

Oh and the verdict is in. Pierre M is an Evil Genius.


  1. ahaha! hilarious! i can't wait to get to leadville with you!!!

    great job chris!!

  2. All races should finish by a river, with the beer keeping cold in the river next to you. Such a nice reward for the body after a long run! Glad this was a good one for you.

  3. Every race report I've read from Creemore has a story of someone falling into the bog (myself included). I'm sure some of those skid marks in the ravine were from me - I was tired of watching other people not want to get dirty that I slid down on my arse. Because if they weren't muddy by that point they were doing something wrong.

    Awesome report and race Chris!

    PS: The 25K is perfectly acceptable, at least in my books.

  4. Congrats, that looks like quite the course. Funny about the fall in the water (things like that make me laugh too), but sounds like you had a good day at the end is nice also! Well done.

  5. Great results Chris, looking forward to the Limberlost report.

  6. Great to see you again Chris :D

    Stellar performance...... Kudos!

  7. I have to admit that I hate to run when things are pretty damn hot. I can do it. I don't know someone can actually run like that.


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