Friday, July 16, 2010

The Creemore Vertical Challenge 50k race report - A crash and burn of spectacular proportions

Well here it is. I am finally getting around to writing up the race report for the Creemore Vertical Challenge 50k that took place on July 3rd. It seems like this race was a very long time ago now, but the memory of it is quite literally burned into my brain forever. I would like to tell you that it took me so long to write this because I am really busy (which is true) or that I was not sure what to write here (kind of true),but that would honestly be a lie. The reality is I was not anxious to put any of this down on paper. Nobody likes to write about how they suck. Nobody wants other people to read about how they suck. Then again I run Ultra Marathons so at some level I must enjoy some aspect of beating myself up unnecessarily.

Before we begin my tale of the horror and woe we might as well get the good stuff out of the way. This is a great race, just not for me on this particular day. The organization and race director are outstanding, really could not have been better. I never got lost once which is saying something for a guy that can become confused in his own front yard. Once you complete the race there is a nice river to sit in while you enjoy your race provided beer and pizza. The swag included an excellent technical shirt and a hand painted clay metal if you managed to finish. I highly recommend this race, but sign up early as its capped at 200 people.

Okay so on with the show.

We rented the trusty zip car once again and picked up fellow runner and Blogger JD before heading out of Toronto and towards Barrie. The forecast called for a sunny conditions with temperatures climbing above 30 later in the day so we knew it was going to get hot. JD and I were running the 50k while Kim was “only” running the 25. We made it to the race with lots of time to spare so we set up our base camp and got ready to roll.

The course is a 25k loop that is run twice and consists of a lot of country / gravel roads with fields and trails mixed in. In talking with JD and others who had run this race before I was well aware of what to expect terrain wise. I also knew that this would be a very hilly run after all it is called the vertical challenge. You would think that would have prepared me for what was to come, but knowing and doing are two very different things.

THE RACE (also know in our house as chris's personal 50k fiasco)
Everyone got lined up to go and, at the firing of the race directors shotgun, we were off. The plan for me was simple and basic. Run a more conservative pace for the first lap and then crank it up for the second. The first few K are run on mostly single track trail along the river which helped me keep my pacing in check. By the time we hit the first road section I found myself running along with a number of other runners that I have seen at other ultras and I know are close to my pace. It was warming up, but still not to bad as we cruised through rolling hills and then over a beaver dam and back into the woods. At this point I felt really good and was confident that I was going to have a good day.

Soon it was back out onto the road and up a massively long hill which my garmin said was 2.2k, yikes.

I still felt great as I flipped positions back and forth with a small group of other runners for the next few km. Just after the 10k mark I ended up hooking up with another runner, whose name I do not know, but who was running the same pace so I spent a good portion of this loop running with him.

It was getting hot by 15k, really noticeably hot, and I was becoming aware of the fact that the majority of the course had no tree cover and no shade. I wasn't worried too much as I had been very diligent at hydrating, gelling and taking my salt caps.

The first loop went by fast and I ran it really well as far as I can remember, but holy crap were there a lot hills. I had been told that we go up and down the escarpment twice a loop but, this can't be right. My calculations say its more like 4 times up, 4 times down each loop not including the “little” rollers.

I cruised into the start / finish line at the end of my first loop in 2:30 which was right on pace and feeling great. This was not to last.

You know when you are watching a horror movie and an unsuspecting teen who is alone in the house or in the empty school locker room / shower area hears that noise. You know that distant noise from the basement where for some unknown reason the lights no longer work. You know that teenager that heads down those stairs even though 3 of their very close friends have all been horribly killed and dismembered by some unknown psychopath and yet still suspects nothing.

That was me as I headed out for my second loop totally oblivious to the dangers that were lurking around at the bottom of those stairs. “Hello is there anyone down there? This isn't funny guys.”

I headed out and the first couple of Ks went fine as I sailed through the single track trail and back out onto the road. Soon I was back on the first long stretch of road and it was here that the trouble began. It was really hot, when did it get so hot? A small group of runners that I had been battling back and forth with began to pull away from me. Not one or two of them, but all of them and it wasn't because they were suddenly getting faster. I was starting to slow, but was still okay. Unfortunately that didn't last for long. By the time I had reached the top of the really long hill I had previously visited only a few hours ago I was struggling and in big trouble.

I spent the next few K pushing and trying to make sense of my condition. Yeah I know it's hot but PLEASE. How can I be falling apart at only 32k? I eat 32k for breakfast. From here on out it became a slugfest. I just got slower and slower with every stride. Just before 40k Stephan M. caught up to me and he seemed to be running well. He told me that he had gotten his second wind and was going to try and ride it out. I managed to run with him for 300 or 400 hundred meters and I know that he was trying to get me to latch on so I could get back on track (thanks Stephan it was very much appreciated) but it was not to be. I knew I was crumbling and didn't want to slow him down so told him I was walking the next uphill and to go on without me.

Oh boy the next uphill was just nasty. The sun beat down, there was no shade and the 800 meter trek was steep trail that was semi washed out in many places. A number of runners passed me as I slowly dragged my ass up the incline. Even worse was it was one of those hills that you think you can see the top of, but then when you get further up it, there is just more hill and when you get closer to that rise there is just more hill. By the time I got to the top I was officially Bonking. I was having trouble running even the flats and it was pissing me off. My legs actually were doing fine, but my heart rate was red lined and I was barely moving. I was badly overheating. I began to consider something that I had never considered before, I began to seriously think about packing it in at the next aid station. I really was not sure that I could actually finish this race.

More people passed me as I made my way along what seemed like a never ending, unshaded, country road that was baking in the sun. Up ahead I could see the heat shimmering off of the road. I was no longer racing, I was just trying to survive. This was so frustrating as I had been running really well earlier in the day and I have found myself usually running my best in the last 10k of 50k races.

As I came into the aid station with 8k to go I saw JD running with Kinga heading out in the direction I had just come probably an hour behind me. JD looked like I felt and I wondered if he would be able to finish the race. I knew I must look bad as well. JD told me later that I didn't have my usual look of focus and intensity that he has seen in the past. See what he had to say about our encounter and his race here.

The last 8k are a complete blur of stumbling along and trying not to quit. I didn't want to walk I wanted to crawl under a small shrub or into a gopher hole and just disappear. I was passed by just about everyone and I didn't care (YIKES). Nothing could make me move faster. The roads were hot, but crossing the fields were even hotter as the long grass just bounced the heat right back into your face. I no longer wanted to quit the race. I was now feeling that quitting running long distance might be a better choice. Why the hell do I run these things... ridiculous.

Then I was finally at the finish line where I had to sit down immediately before gravity helped me find the ground with my face. I sat there and tried to rehydrate as both my calves began to cramp severely. Later we moved to another shady spot away from most people so that if I was unable to control my incredible urge to puke that I could be less of a sideshow.

Post Race
I ran a time of 6:08 which is officially my worst 50k time EVER. I spent the next couple of days trying to figure out what happened. Yes it was hot, but it was hot for everyone and although most people's times were slower, they were not that much slower. I did all the little things right and executed right. I have had bad races before, but I have always been able to easily identify what the problem was (I was out too fast or didn't hydrate, etc.). That just was not the case this time. I don't know, maybe I just have forgotten how to run.

On a brighter note Kim ran a great 25k race so at least someone was happy.

Am I going to stop running these crazy ultra races? Not a chance. Will I do this race again? Yeah most likely next year. This Saturday we will be in Huntsville for the Limberlost Challenge 56k. I guess I will get a chance to see if I suck, have forgotten how to run or was just having a bad day. Hey do you think that its too late to switch to the 14k?
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