Sunday, April 17, 2011

Seaton 50 Mile Race Report - My First DNF Ever

Seaton 50 mile race report
It was bound to happen. If you run Ultras sooner or later your going to end up seeing those dreaded 3 letters, DNF, next to your name. At least if you are just a mere mortal like me. There comes a time when circumstances that you can not control, things like injury or weather, come into play and thats all she wrote. The running gods can be oh so cruel on any given day but did they have to save all there wraith for a single ass whipping? Yesterday was either a get all your pain for the season at once or a very bad omen of things to come. One of the 7 signs of the trail runners apocalypse.

Cancel that Pity Party
Okay before you get all bent out of shape you can just cancel that pity party. I don't need it. I feel absolutely no shame at this DNF at all. Zero. Zilch. Nota. If you were part of this 50 miler and are reading this you shouldn't feel bad either. Ran the 52k, same thing, don't feel bad, when the crap hits the fan almost everyone gets splattered by the debris.

Why don't I feel bad? Well the running conditions on what is a tough course to begin with were not optimal for running or walking although they were pretty good for falling, swearing and taking a bath or a mud facial. In the 50 miler 47 people toed the line. 3 people finish. Yes you read that right, 3 people finished. I wasn't one of them but I had 43 other people to keep me company. Lots of DNFing in the 52k as well but not sure how many as results are not posted yet.

How the hell did I end up not finishing, what mistakes did I make that I can change so that I dont have this happen again. The main and only culprit and cause of the not finishing was weather. Not much I can do about that. I am just not in good enough shape to control the weather yet but I am working on it. Now it is true that I didnt make a live sacrifice to the god of running Saturday morning but we were in a hurry and that puppy was just so cute.

If I could redo this race I would change nothing with one exception. I would switch to the 52k which had been my plan right up until Thursday. Other then that everything when wonderfully. I had fun for more then 6 hours, not so much for the other 2.

The weather was bad, Ted Bundy or Freddy Krugger bad and just plan Charles Manson crazy. How crazy bad? Just keep on reading.

Almost a full week ago I decided that I would not run the 50 miler at Seaton. I have been training heavy mileage for the past month and a half and felt that at this point running 50 miles might hinder my training. The last thing I wanted was to not be able to train the following week as my target race is a 100 miler in 2 months. I had also signed up to do 50 miles at Bear Mountain in May so I figured it might all be too much. I would be run the 52k instead, definitely, definitely the 52k.

Then Wednesday arrived and my morning run felt really great, so great that I began to reconsider. Thursday on the trails for 18k and it was another feel good run. Screw it might as well just run long on Saturday. I saw the dire weather forecast for Saturday, 100 % chance of rain 25-35mm. For some reason this was less of a detour-ant and more of a challenge. No way was I going to let a little bad weather factor into my decision making process.

Saturday morning we were up at 4am. The weathernetwork said 100% chance of rain from 8am to 4pm non stop, high winds, and 4 degrees. I think that it should have said "Danger Crappy Alert" in big bold red letters because somehow I managed to ignore the message I should have been getting.

Kim and I picked up the Zip car and then JD just as it started to rain. We arrived in Pickering with lots of time to spare, got changed and headed out to the start line. Kim would be running 29k, JD was up for 52 and would not fall for my you should go longer spiel, I was stuck with 50 miles. As we stood waiting for the race to start the wind and rain began to pick up in intensity.

The Race
Right from the start I felt really good. It seemed like it was a much bigger start then last year with around 100 runners doing the longer distances ( the 29k started later). As we headed down a field and into the woods for some single track running people started to spread out a little. I have run this race twice before, the 26k version in 2009 and the 52k in 2010 so I have a good grip of most of the course with the exception of a few changes. Things tend to sort out soon after the river crossing and open up a little so no need to press it.

The race plan was simple, run by feel around training pace with the idea of maybe picking it up in the second half just to see where my fitness level was at. I was hoping to run just under 10 hours if all went okay.

We ran along the river bank and in less then 3km we were at the river crossing. The river is around 30-50 meters wide, about a foot deep and colder then an ex wife in divorce court. The steady rain was already making the water muddy so it was hard to see where to step amongst the large rocks beneath the surface. You had to take it nice and slow, hurrah!

Back onto the trail it was some decent forest running, a few big hills and some mud. The trail was actually in decent shape at this point and I made good time. Somewhere along here I began running with Alex who I had seen around at races before but hadn't met. We ran the next 7 or 8k together which made the time pass quickly and we kept a decent pace. As planned I blew through the aid stations as quick as possible on my way out to the 14.5k turn around. Soon I began to see other runners coming back the other way. I counted maybe 8 50 mile runners before I hit the turn around so I was in decent shape.

Then it was back the way I had come. The wind was picking up and was it actually raining harder? I think it was. The temperature had also seemed to drop maybe because of the wind. The next 7km went well but the trails were getting really muddy although you could still make decent time in most places. With 5km left to the end of the loop I started to see the 29k runners on their way out. My hands were starting to get really cold in my rain soaked gloves, I tried to take a gel but had a hard time convincing my fingers to fish one out of my fuel belt.

With the extra runners on the course I was beginning to see that the trail conditions were degrading quickly as the mud got deeper and slippery. Suddenly as I entered a flat low lying area it was like wow what is this. Where the trail had been there was now a small pond about 3 inches deep that had not been there before. No choice but to run right through it and then down the flowing river that ran out of the pond and down a good section of the trail. Man was that cold. Soon it was on to the next smaller pool of water and then the next. If the trail was like this I wondered what river crossing was like.

I didnt have to wonder long and after some sloppy mud running I was back into the river. The current had really picked up and it was up over my knees now, dark and very muddy. Soon I was back on the trail then out of the woods and around the schools track that marked the end of loop one and 29k.

So far so good. I came in 3 hours 20 minutes right on track for sub 10 hours. Only one more loop of 29k and then a shorter run out to the aid station and back for a last leg of 22k. My legs felt great but my hands were frozen. I downed an Ensure, loaded up on gels and then tried to get into my drop bag to change gloves. I knew it would be cold and raining so I had brought 4 pairs of gloves. Now just to get them... crap. My fingers would not work. It ended up taking me almost 5 minutes to get my bag unzipped, my gloves changed and my bag re zipped and into its protective plastic bag.

Loop 2 - Theres a trail under that there water
As I made my way back through the woods and into the river the rain seemed to let up. A large rock that had been well above the water line was now completely submerged. The current was really swift now. Back on the trail the mud is growing exponentially. My shoes and socks are full of mud that is balling up below my toes. It is mildly painful and really annoying. I know that its only going to get worse.

Most of the out portion of this lap is kind of a blurry mess, much like the trail. The rain became only a light drizzle for awhile and the wind died down some but that didnt help fix the never ending mud bog I was sloshing around in. On a long steep downhill of mud I watched another runner headed back in the opposite direction do a face plant. I ended up kind of mini skiing down the last part of the hill. The ponds at 4k were now deeper with the biggest taking on the features of a lake.

I saw Kim on her way back in just before I hit the 10k aid station. She told me that there was a huge tree down across the trail ahead so when I didnt see the next trail markers just go around the big fallen tree. Sure enough I came to a place where the trail just disappeared behind a massive downed tree. Soon I was detouring around a second fallen set of branches.

I was also beginning to wonder where the heck everyone was. I had not been passed by many 52k runners going back in and so far I had only seen Ken and Laurie out of the 50 milers headed back. Somewhere close to 2k from the turn around 3 other 50 mile runners passed me going back. The rain and wind picked up again and then I was at the aid station.

The volunteers asked me if I though there were more runners behind me as they hadn't seen very many in a long time. Man what the heck was going on. I turned around and headed back in. A quick check of the watch told me 45km done in just over 5 hours. I was right on pace even with the weather and lots of time left to finish. I figure even a slow walking pace will cover each 10k in 1hr 45 minutes meaning I will have lots of time to spare and thats walking. I can still run no problem. My legs felt great. I was still having fun, screw you weather network.

The trail is nothing but mud. The rain is pelting down and it is cold. I try to drink out of my water bottle. My hands are so frozen that I cant squeeze the water bottle with one hand hard enough to make anything come out. I had to use both hands. I am double fisting it, hilarious. I hit the next aid station which will be the turn around on my next loop. As I have made my way back I have only passed a handful of other runners going out. Where the heck did everyone go. I check my watch again I am 6 hours 15 minutes into the race with about 30k to go. With just under 6 hours to the cutoff I am thinking I am in great shape. 30k in 6 hours I can walk it that fast. I dont have to walk tho, my legs feel awesome, thank you high volume training. My hands are kind of screwed tho, damn.

More mud, so much mud, I try to think of anytime in my life I have seen trail this bad. I come up with nothing. I may live in Toronto now but I grew up on the East Coast where I spent lots of time in the woods. I cant ever remember seeing trail this bad. I plug on, screw you weather network.

Its coming undone
I hit the next aid station where Ken passes me going back out. He is a full 10k ahead of me. I grab some potatoes at the station. They have had to put everything into containers. Even though they are under a tent it is so windy that the hard rain is going sideways. The volunteers are great getting me anything I need. I wonder which is worse running in this crap or having to stand around manning the aid stations. Those volunteers are awesome. I ask them if many runners have dropped out. They say there are lots of DNFs and some 50 milers had switched to the 52k. Man you can do that? Oh well too late for me. I make a joke about it only being a little bit of rain or something along those lines. I wish I hadn't made this joke soon enough. Its probably not wise to poke the running gods with a sharp stick when they are throwing everything at you but the kitchen sink. To be honest I really didnt think it could get much worse boy was I wrong.

I head out my watch says 7 hours 5 minutes with 26k to cover I still got time but somehow I lost 10 to 15 minutes in the last section. Ro Ro Shaggy. No worries I will just pick it up.

The trail is not much of a trail anymore. Its just mud sinkholes and large deep pools of ice cold water. This has become a swampy bog run. There is no avoiding any of it and I got to make up time so I try to run straight through everything. I am working hard but going nowhere fast. The deep mud almost takes my shoes right off my feet in some places. The portion of trail that had become a pond and then a lake is now a good 6 to 12 inches deep. I wonder about the upcoming river crossing.

I turn a corner to head down a hill and see a critter on the trail. At first I think it might be a beaver but as I get closer I see its big rat like tail. Hello mister possum. He sees me and heads off running down the trail. I chase him for a good 100 meter before he scurries off into the bush. He has a good finishing kick and is moving faster then me. I have seen no runners coming back out. Has the race been cancelled?

Finally a km from the river I see Laurie headed back out. I ask her if everyone has dropped but cant really hear what she says her voice drown out by the howling wind as she races past me. I am in big trouble now and I know it. My hand are completely frozen and have become non functioning stubs. I cant eat, drink or take salt tabs without working hands.

I hit the river and it is bad and definitely dangerous. The water is well above my knees and very swift. The current is strong enough to push me sideways and the water is dark brown. There is no way to see the very rocky bottom. One false step and you will be down for sure. I wonder if that happens whether I will be able to get up or be swept away. I am a weak swimmer and don't do Triathlons due to my fear of drowning. This is not good.

Across the river I begin to run the last 2km into the turn around. Only three km ago I was very sure about finishing but not now. My watch says that by the time I reach the track it will have taken me 2 hours to run 10k and I have to run the same stretch two more times.

I might have just enough time to do it but maybe not. The trail will be even worse. If I lose a few more minutes I will not make it. I could try to make the aid station cut off just to see what happens but I have bigger problem. My hands are bad and I know I am quickly becoming a candidate for Hypothermia. I try to trick myself into not believing this but its no use I am border line there is no getting around it. I cant see 4 more hours of this without serious medical issues being the end result. Even then I most likely will miss the cut off.

I have come well prepared for this race and have a full change of dry clothes to run in but it will take at least 15 minutes to change and get warm. That is time that I just don't have. The race is over for me and I know it as I slowly make my way over the last km to the finish. As I leave the woods one runner passes me going back out. I don't think he has enough time but I hope he makes it (he does just making the cutoff).

Far ahead of me across the field I see another runner. Its Kim and she is just about to finish. She has been out there a really long time too. I circle the track to the finish line where she waits for me. I give the guy at the aid station my number and then we just stand there. I realize he is waiting for me to tell him what I am doing. I let him know I am DNFing, it is so surreal. In my mind I am thinking he wouldn't let me go back out anyway. Kim later tells that he told her I wouldn't have enough time to finish as they watched me circle the track. It was very cool that he at least allowed me to make the right choice for myself instead of yanking me right away.

Post race
I go into the school to warm up. Within minutes I am shivering uncontrollably even though I have wrapped myself in a space blanket I have brought from home. This goes on for more then 2o minutes. I dont have Hypothermia but I am really close. Kim is having the same problem and both of us have very blue lips.... not good.

Someone tells me that a couple of runners ended up going to the hospital (I dont know for sure tho). We finally warm up and eat some post race food. JD was able to finish his 52k (see his report here).

I am disappointed but not upset. I always imagined that I would be super pissed at DNFing but I feel okay about it. A look at the finish board tells me many didn't even get 2 laps in and I got an entire season still ahead of me.

Things I am pleased about. My fitness level is good right now. My endurance is much better then last year so the training is working. My legs where never an issue in this race. My feet are fine, no blisters at all. I had a little issue with the same ankle I injured in Haliburton last year. I thought it was completely healed but maybe not.

I have not and can not describe to you just how bad the course and weather conditions were out there. There are no words that I can write to do it justice. Its like trying to describe to sex to a virgin or empathy to a psychopath. Words fail to convey the truth about the experience itself.

For the most part I had fun in this race right up until the last hour or so. Race organizers and volunteers did a really good job under very tough circumstances. I will be back next year to seek my redemption.

Also sorry about the lack of pictures but Kims hands were to frozen to work the camera. If others post some I will try and put them in a future post.


  1. Damn! I have no clue about what to say. But kudos to you for battling Mother Nature for so long and knowing when to bow out gracefully.

  2. Holy crap!!! I can't even imagine those conditions!! Sounds like the wise choice to stop when u did!! Mother Nature can throw some serious curve balls!!

  3. I was literally shivering here at my desk reading! You're a great story teller and I don't blame you for the DNF, you did great!! Perserverance counts for everything!

  4. Brutal conditions, but awesome run Chris. You looked great on the trail. 60k on that course is so different than a DNF on any other course. You ran well and got in a great run that will help for next time.

  5. I'm sorry that those conditions led to a DNF. It's such a struggle sometimes when you are out there and wonder if you can possibly finish without causing any permanent/long-term damage to yourself.

  6. I'm cold just reading this. The river crossing sounds like it just got worse & worse - scary! Pretty sure you made the right call :)

  7. I am amazed you made it that far in those conditions. I don't think I would have even started a 5K in weather like that. You should definitely feel proud of what you did accomplish in that race. Well done.

  8. Amazing that you got to the start line with those conditions. Although my 50 was very muddy, I was blessed that it wasn't this past weekend when we had about double the rain & wind. I know that the trail wouldn't have held up under 344 pairs of feet if it had been any worse!
    The upside is you showed you can get out there in difficult conditions and still do it. With your eyes on a bigger goals DNF really means Dude Never Fails! You are out for the 100 in 2 months that is your goal...this was just a messy training run.

  9. Wow. Don't get to see adults with blue lips that often. Usually they are too smart to have that happen ;)

    I'm cold just reading it..reminds me of LA after the finish (sans mud and possums)!

  10. What's disturbing about this is that we had fun. We learned nothing! Ah ah ah!

  11. Wow. You did an amazing job regardless of the DNF.

  12. Glad to hear you're not too bummed about the DNF. If there ever was one to not feel bad about at ALL, this was it! It was a do-able day for a 29k, a pretty crap day for a 50+k and a downright ridiculous day for a 50M.

  13. Wow, Chris. The conditions sound epically brutal. I'm amazed by the miles you logged under those circumstances. Sounds like you made exactly the right decision and didn't let pride get in the way of the remainder of your season.

  14. Wow - this makes me cold just reading it. Those conditions sound absolutely miserable, but I'm glad you're cool with it - I know you'll have your redemption!

  15. WOW! Those were some brutal conditions. Sorry about that but I love your attitude about it all! There's other races out there for ya!

  16. The fact that you even started the race is commendable. You absolutely made the right choice to DNF, but you already know that. Thanks for the race report. Good reading.

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  18. Not being a trail runner I have a whole lot of respect for it after this weekend as even though I only did 29k it seemed like an eternity out there in the conditions this weekend.
    As I waited for our start we where informed about the 53 and 80ker's that went out at 7 and all i kept thinking was on course is how unbelievable you people where coming past us going out on your second or third loop.
    There was NO WAY in hell I would have headed out again on SAT. That was a WAR and completed or not the distance you covered is insane! Conditions that would have made Rambo curl.(Ok maybe not )
    Hardest run I have ever had, harder then my Marathons by far.
    As great a Job Chris did in detailing the conditions in this post but you just had to be THERE to really see how insane it was.
    Words sometimes are not enough. I don't know how you kept running Chris.
    Great Job Chris, cant believe you covered that distance on that day. Unreal !

  19. Man, that sounds like hell on earth. I swear I'm colder here since I've read your report. I can't believe you lasted as long as you did.

  20. Way to go Chris! While reading your RR I kept seeing you on a wheel half buried in mud, going around and around, but not really getting anywhere. Dantes race for sure. As you, Spaf and JD all said, great fun! I'm hoping PYP will be as much fun.

  21. Wow...and to think I was whining about my hands getting cold and chapped on my sunny, 50* run this afternoon!

    You did amazing to make it as far as you did and the entire post is just plain....crazy, and inspiring! Definitely a DNF you can be proud of - you covered a lot of grossly muddy ground!

  22. I've never heard those trail conditions! Thanks for the beautiful race report!

  23. I had to get rescued on a training run this weekend, so totally amazed that you were able to even run some of that race! Can't imagine...

  24. good for you to keep the big picture in mind and keep yourself uninjured for your 100 miler.
    I was out there doing my first 50K and I can barely remember it, let alone describe it as eloquently as you

  25. wow and I mean WOW!!!!!!! You are awesome!

  26. Seriously? Wow! All of that mud would have just drained me. Your description of double fisting your water bottle and trying to get gloves out was so vivid! You are hard core!

  27. Making me feel wimpy about my Mesa Trail run last weekend. :^)

  28. Wow. I am so sorry about the DNF but you are a total trooper and I have nothing but admiration for you.

  29. That is some crazy stuff!!! Wow, cannot imagine. Congrats to you on kicking ass in one totally nutso scene. Amazing. Ultrarunners are the ultimate bad asses :)

  30. Those conditions would try any man's soul. And how classy of the volunteer to leave the DNF up to you like that. I'm glad to hear you aren't beating up yourself like so many others do when your mind made the right call.

  31. Fantastic blog and fantastic attitude! I cried like a baby on my first dnf. I can't get over only 3 finishes. Unbelievable conditions.

  32. Great post, thanks for sharing it. Really enjoyed reading it. Unbelievable conditions. You have great determination to keep going in those conditions

  33. Good man, take the good with the not so good and take it in stride, there'll always be firsts whether it's PR's or DNF's. Glad you are feeling good and hope this means your 100 will be amazing!

  34. Hey Chris, Great RR and even better run out there! Believe me, the conditions did not get any better out there on the 3rd loop. Like you, I was happy to head home and be done with Seaton for the year. It was great seeing you and Kim out there and cheering you both on! Cheers!

  35. I'm so glad I didn't start (my first DNS!) This was suppose to be my first ultra and circumstances got in the way and my 3 daughters were going to have to come with me and my hubby. When I saw the forecast I decided last minute to not drag my family through the hell that day would end up being. Hoping for good weather for my first ultra which is now going to be my default race, Creemore!

  36. Great report! Exactly how I felt when I was doing 52K. My first DNF!


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