Beast of Burden 100 Race Report
The first question to be answered is how did I end up in this race? I had originally intended on running 48hrs at Dirty Girls which is held the same weekend. Unfortunately crushing my ankle at Limberlost derailed those plans. I could not run for the next 2 weeks and after that I could only run flat. DG is very hilly and I knew that there is no way the ankle would last for 2 days of running on a tough technical course.
Problem is after getting my Western States qualifier at Mohican my main season objective was done so I came up with a new goal. I would attempt to run four 100 mile races in 4 months, kind of my own secret slam. I really wanted to see how my body would react as I was considering racing the mid Atlantic slam next year if I didn't get into WS.
A quick look at other 100 mile races in the area led me to Beast of Burden. The good, course is flat, on a towpath so not technical and less than 2 hours away. The bad, course is flat, not technical and totally exposed to the sun. Given my training had been aiming at hilly, technical runs I knew this would be a challenge. I figured I would either put up a really good time or I would struggle to finish, there would most likely be no in-between on this one.
Kim and I drove down the morning of the race and arrived in plenty of time. This race starts at a weird time for 100 milers, 10AM. Good as we could drive there the same day, bad because if I ended up being slow I would be running in the midday heat twice. So far the summer had been unusually cool but forecast was calling for very hot temperatures all weekend.
I picked up my race kit which had a huge amount of swag in it and headed for the start line where I chatted briefly with fellow Ontario runner Brian Groot and then we were off.
It didn't take long to discover what I was in for as it was already hot right out of the gate. The course is a simple 12.5 miles out, 12.5 miles back along the Erie Canal. Just complete it 4 times and you're done, that’s all there is to it, easy right? Yeah not so much.
The race was as advertised completely flat (I got 36 meters of elevation change over 100 miles) and there was not a root or rock in sight to trip you up. The running surface is a bit of pavement and a lot of finely crushed gravel on the towpath. Actually a very comfortable running surface which should lead to putting up a great time. Yeah not so much.
From the start line you run about a mile, cross a bridge to the other side and run back in the opposite direction so that you pass the start line but on the other side of the canal at about 2 miles. From there you keep going along the canal in the same direction to the next aid station at 6.5 miles.
I run along with a guy from Florida for the next 6 miles or so and things seem to be going okay. My plan is to run faster than I would on trail and see what kind of time I can put up. It’s either crush it or be crushed and just end up finishing. There will be no in between in this race. I figure since there are no hills to walk I will run 25 min, walk 5. I mull this plan over for a week before the race and promise myself to stay with the plan. A mere hour into the race I end up off the plan. I feel great and am enjoying the company so I start skipping the walk breaks. It’s hot but not crazy hot so I kind of just go with it.
I end up losing Florida guy at the 6.5 mile aid station and back out on the course I run into another couple of Ontario guys at about 10 miles and run with them for a bit before letting them go. Its gone from hot to stupid stinking hot and its only noon. It is clear that this is going to get tough. The course is completely exposed to the sun and that is sure to spell trouble for me. By the time I hit the turn around aid station at 12.5 miles I am still hopeful of a good time but mildly concerned.
Kim is there and helps me get in and out fast. I pack some ice in my hat and bandana around my neck in an effort to stay cool and then head back out. It hits me right away, a wall of heat as soon as I turn back onto the canal to head the 11.5 miles back to the bridge crossing. There had been a nice breeze earlier but now that is gone and it is hot. I see a lot of people passing me outbound and many of them don't look happy.
This race is hard. I am roasting like a chicken on the spit at a Kenny Rogers restaurant. I stay on my drinking, take my salt and try to take my gels. The sun has converted the contents of my gel flask into a hot chocolate fudge sauce. It is disgusting but I manage to keep it down. It is so damn hot and at 20 miles I feel the wheels starting to come off already. What the hell!
I begin to see why this race can be so tough particularly for someone who does not run well in the heat. You often see a good mile ahead along the towpath where small ant size runners are making their way along the course well ahead of you until the path disappears around the next bend in the canal. Everything looks the same under a blazing sun, you can see the heat shimmering off the path ahead and the worse thing of all is you can see there is no shade. No shade just ahead, no shade for the next mile, no shade coming at all.
At 23 miles I pass the start/finish point which is still across the canal and 2 miles away. These next 2 miles seem to take forever. Finally I am in at 25 miles but things are a mess. My nutrition has been okay but I feel completely destroyed. The heat has already sucked most of the life out of me. I sit in a chair in complete disbelief as Kim gets me some food from the aid station. As far as I can remember I have never been this messed up this early in a race. Maybe at Creemore a few years back when it was crazy hot but that was a 50k, I didn't have 75 miles still to go.
I sit for a few minutes and rehydrate a bit. Kim brings me a snow cone from the aid station. Yes a snow cone and it is the best damn snow cone that has ever been made. I tell her I am no longer racing for time. I just got to make and effort and try to finish. I get ready to head out but first I pop into the aid station for another snow cone. I have to check and yes still the best snow cones ever made.
I am back on the course and moving, slowly but moving. I begin to feel a little better but not much. I run with an number of different people including a girl for Texas who was attempting the winter/summer Beast. She had done the winter version earlier in the year where there was no problem with it being too hot. I also ran a good deal of the leg alone which may have been good as I remember being tired and grumpy but slowly starting to come around.
I meet Kim and the 37.5 mile turn around. She gives me freezies and beer a near perfect combination for revival. I am starting to bounce back. She tells me that in the 15 minutes she has been at the aid station 7 people have come in and dropped. That is a huge number of drops for so early in the race. I tell her I am not surprised. The reality is there was only one reason that I had not dropped at 25 miles and that was previous 100 mile experience. If it had not been for all the previous races I had done, some ending in DNFs and some ending in finishes I would have called it quits. The one thing I have learned is that if you can hang in sometimes (but only sometimes) you can come back from the edge.
Soon I am back on the course again heading inbound. I go super slow to save my energy in the heat as soon it will be night and much cooler. By the time I get back to the 50 mile mark the sun is beginning to go down. I get a good bit of food into me and then proceed to throw it all back up as quickly as possible.
Back out the course I hook up with another guy and run a bit with him. The sun is almost down and swarms of black flies are out. I end up taking an unusually large mouthful of flies and one sticks in my throat. After a coughing fit I proceed to impress my new running buddy by puking out the flies, some gels and water all without having to stop or breaking stride. He says “Wow, that’s impressive.” I tell him not so much I just have a lot of practice at it.
The night arrives as does the cooler temperatures. I had hoped to pick up the pace but I am having a problem with my hamstring. I have lots of time and know time will not factor into my finish so I opt to run less and walk more. I get to the 62.5 miles turn around in decent time. Its actually cool enough to put on a long sleeve. I head back out quickly and early on I get passed by Brian. He is 25 miles ahead of me and as far as I can tell is in second place which is where he ends up finishing.
Its dark and I run the whole way back alone. For the most part I see nobody. Usually I occupy my mind during night running by watching out for tripping hazards, hills, wild animals and trying to not get lost but there are none of these issues on the course. Outside of one aid station stop all I see is gravel path in the beam of my headlamp for hours. A new problem rears it ugly head during this time as I begin to fall asleep on my feet. I have heard of this happening to others but have never experienced it myself. It is bizarre, I keep almost nodding off and am not able to run or walk in a straight line. I end up spending the next hour wobbling along the trail like a drunken partier just out of the bar after last call on Queen St. West. Finally I can see the start/finish turn around on the other side of the canal. The 2 miles to get there takes forever and I roll in just before dawn.
Kim goes to grab me food at the aid station and comes back with bacon. I have come to the conclusion that bacon is the greatest ultra food ever invented and send her back for more. I swear it must have some kind of magical powers. You can eat it no matter how messed up you are. I am told it comes from pigs but I doubt it. At least I doubt it about this bacon, this bacon clearly comes from Unicorns or maybe a Griffin.
I head back out for the last 25 miles just as the sun comes up. I feel okay but the hamstring is not very cooperative. Kim meets me at mile 2 with a Tim Hortons coffee and a gallon of sugar which really hits the spot. I am mostly walking or running very slow due to the leg.
I have no worries about finishing now but its going to take awhile and I can tell from the mist coming off the water that it is going to be hot again soon. By the time I hit the middle aid station it is scorching hot. I ask them if they know the temperature. The guy checks his phone and tells me 84 degrees, its only 9 AM! Oh crap.
I stagger along to the turn around for the last time occasionally seeing a few runners well ahead of me. I make it to turn around and Kim fixes me up and sends me back from the direction I have come. Much of the final 12.5 miles is a blur, mostly burnt out of mind by the pounding sunshine. I remember seeing Texas girl at the half way aid station. She wants me to run with her but my leg will not allow it, I am into zombie mode now.
Foot traffic has picked up along the towpath some kids run by me and just before they get to me one yells snake and jumps in the air. I look over as I pass and sure enough there is a big ass snake lying in the middle of the path. Probably would have stepped right on it if the kids weren't coming in the other direction. No idea what kind of snake it was, maybe poisonous maybe not, don't think I cared much at that point. Pretty sure it wasn't a cobra or a black mamba but it was freaking big.
Just past the snake I see one of the bridges that cross the canal. I know its just a mile to the 10.5 mile mark from here. I am so happy I try to run some. It hurts but I don't care soon I will be done. I run for a good mile only to discover that the bridge I saw was not the one I though it was. Did I mention things looked the same on this course? When I see the actual real bridge I can't believe it and immediately fall back into the death shuffle.
Finally I round a corner and see the start finish line across the canal. I am literally 300 meters away but still have to run 2 more miles. So cruel, so very, very cruel. Kim meets me here to “run” me in. It is a million degrees out now and every step elicits a grunt, groan or some other sound effect from me.
Some other struggling runner catches up with me and Kim in the last half km. He chats with us a bit and the tags along. I think he didn't want to pass me in the last few 100 meters of the race so I tell him he should go ahead if he can which he does. Somehow this says a lot about what ultra running is about.
Finally I see the finish line and slowly make my way across it. I am slow with a finish time of 28:16:01 but I manage to get it done on what turns out to be the 2 hottest days of the summer. I pick up my belt buckle and sit in front the cooling station which is a giant fan that blows water mist at you. Greatest invention ever. I little bit of cooling and then its time for a beer sitting in the shade.
A couple of final thoughts about this race. I had a lot of fun here, race is very well organized, unbelievably good volunteers and aid stations. Also crazy race swag including 2 shirts, beer mug, almond butter, bandana, sombrero. Even though the terrain is not my cup of tea somehow I ended up signing up for the winter version in January.
PS. thanks to Kim for driving me, snow coning me, beering me, getting me bacon, coffee and helping me to keep going. Sorry for almost throwing up on your shoes. No way I finish without that help.