Friday, June 1, 2012

Sulphur Springs 100 miler race report

Here is my take / race report on the Sulphur Springs 100 miler that took place on May 26, 2012. This race ended up being a really messy one, at least for me but this is how it all unfolded as far as I can remember.

Disclaimer : All subsequent claims may or may not be factual in nature. The author can not stipulate to the validity of anything written here based on foggy memories and perceptions that may have been influenced by extreme exhaustion, heat, sleep depravation, nausea, vomiting, dehydration and nutritional deficits.

Going into this 100 miler I had one big goal and a bunch of smaller things that I wanted to work on. After a lousy second half last year all I really wanted to do was make sure I finished this one. With my goal race being Leadville in August mentally I needed a successful finish to get myself in the right frame of mind for later in the year. I figured I might be able to run around 24hrs if all went well but if not something in the 26hr range would be just fine. Just as importantly I wanted to try and stay on top of my refuelling and minimize aid station down time.

Kim planned on running the 25k and then crewing me and I had JD and Chris coming out to pace me during the night. My taper went well and everything seemed good to go by race day. There was a brief scare on Tuesday when they were predicting 33 degree weather but by Friday that had changed with an expected high of 24 and sunny.

Saturday morning we picked up fellow Longboater Rob Hanks and drove out to Ancaster arriving a good five minutes before the race. Talk about some good planning (sarcasm don't you know). There was just a little bit of scrambling around to make it to the start line on time but I was there at least 30 seconds ahead of time so all was well. Then we were off.

Loop 1 (0 - 20k)
The race starts off on dirt road with a steep long downhill before quickly turning into the woods and onto the trail. Things start to spread out right away and after running alone for a few kms eventually I find myself running along with Stephan M. I think this is about the 4th or 5th time we have run together at the beginning of a 100 miler. Eventually he will end up dropping me but its great to run with someone for awhile.

Things go well, its warm but not really hot and we keep an even pace running the flats and downhills and power walking the uphills. Course conditions are good, no water, no mud, no problems. One of the great things about Sulphur is there is no chance of getting lost for me. I have run the course many times in training and this is my third time running 100 miles here so I know every twist and turn.

The loop goes by quickly and smoothly. I feel strong and stay on my schedule of gels and salt tabs with the gusto of a religious fanatic. I have great hope that if I stay on it I can avoid the stomach issues that have plagued me in recent races.

As we head out on the "lollipop" loop the leaders of the 50 miler pass us going the other way and are quickly followed by Glen Redpath who is leading the 100. I am 13k into the race and this guy is already 6k ahead of me. Wow, pretty impressive.

Soon its back on the road and headed towards the big hill climb to the start finish. I see Kim go by the other way in her 25k race. She looks good so far. Its up the hill and then the first loop is done. I end up right on pace doing the first 20k in 2:16.

Loop 2 (20 - 40k)
Okay so I just need to swap bottles and then .... Ah crap. I have no idea where my cooler is. Since we arrived 30 seconds before the start I have no idea where we have set up our stuff. First glitch of the day but not a big one. I look around for a minute or so but with a thousand people running its coolers and chairs as far as the eye can see. I decide not to waste time looking for ours and just get refilled at the aid station and get out of there.

Most of the rest of loop 2 appears to be lost in the sands of time which is actually a good thing. It means all went well and nothing stands out. I was still having fun. I stayed on pace occasionally running some with others but mostly alone. I downed those gels every 30 minutes, regular timely gifts to the alter of the god Vomitous in hopes that he would spare me and not feel a need to make his presence known.

At some point during the later part of the loop I passed Kim and get directions to the cooler. Hey a guys got to always be aware of just where his beer is. She was still running really well and would be done her race soon. Before I knew it I was back up the giant hill and into the start finish. Second loop came in at 2:31 for 20k, thats a couple minutes slower then planned but still almost right on pace so no problem.

Loop 3 (40 - 60k)
I find the cooler via Kims excellent directions, swap bottles and head back out. I catch up to Ron Irwin who is running the 50 miler so I hang with him for a few kms and chat. Everything is going great so far but I know that there is a long way to go. There is no counting your chickens in the 100 miler but I am optimistic. Why are these races so hard? I am still at the don't remember the pain stage of the race. You know the "this isn't going to be that bad" stage. I may not be counting my chickens but I am definitely herding them all together into a big group.

Coming back into the 9km aid station at the gate house I notice that it has gotten a great deal hotter. It must be around 28 degrees already and humid. Its only noon so its going to get worse. I decide to play it safe and slow down just slightly. I feel good now but I don't do well in the heat so caution is in order.

I try to run smart for the rest of the loop. Just keep a steady pace. I can hear another runner just behind me but its a girl that don't know so I just keep grinding along. At 13k someone grabs me by behind. Its my friend and fellow Longboater Gregoire Bonhomme. He is doing the 100 mile relay with a bunch of other club members. He runs with me for a few minutes but soon speeds up on those nice fresh legs that he has under him. Damn those relay guys.

I finish the loop in 2:45 slightly slower than planned but still in great shape for a 24hr day.

Loop 4 (60 - 80k)
At the start / finish area its hot, real hot. I see Johnny M. who has just finished his 50 miler (4th place I think). He asks me how its going. I tell him not bad but its getting hot. He tells me to make sure to take it easy in the heat and wait for the cooler night running. It is good advice and was already my plan but the reinforcement is helpful.

I start out at a decent pace but by the time I hit the gatehouse aid station 3k later I begin to pull back even more. The heat is really beginning to get to me. It is not really hot by mid summer standards but for late May its scorching and very humid.

The next section of the course is a really runnable 6k loop bringing you back to the gatehouse again. It begins well but once I hit the open orchard section things really start to heat up for me. Somewhere along here I begin to feel the first signs of stomach issues. My breathing becomes much heavier for the effort level.

I dont know how it is for others when they get sick in races but for me the symptoms are always the same. Its a slight queasy feeling with elevated HR and increased rapid breathing. I know where this is going, the destination is always the same.

I arrive at the gatehouse at 9k where Kim is waiting for me. I let her know that I am starting to have stomach problems. I stay long enough to get a popsicle into me (even sick it was awesome) as Kim refills my bottle. When I hand it to her I notice that it is way to full still, it should be near empty. I have not been drinking enough. Which came first the not drinking or the nausea? I am not sure, I suspect it was a tag team effort. Sick from not drinking / not drinking because I am sick. Damn things can get complicated out here.

I work my way around the rest of the loop in the 4 - 5pm heat. I keep it really, really slow but it doesn't matter I am screwed. Early on the lollipop loop I catch up to another runner, Garth. He is also struggling with stomach issues. We run most of the rest of the loop together because as we all know misery loves company. I roll into the start / finish finishing the loop in 3:32 which is way off pace.

Loop 5 ???
I am done the first 50 miles in 11 hrs which is 40 minutes slower then planned. Its also slower  than the last 2 times I have run this race. That said time is not the problem I have plenty and my slowdown has nothing to do with my legs. I am in real big trouble.

If you have read this blog before you know that last year for the first time I had puke issues, big time. I also had major heat issues which caused me to DNF. Well in this race I now had both. I sat at the start / finish soaking my head and trying to get both my breathing and nausea back under control. I told Kim that this was the sickest I have ever been in a race. Maybe thats true, maybe not but I think its true.

The plan was that if I got sick I would just keep walking and see what happens and that seemed very doable before the race. It was not a possibility at all. Sounds good but not going to happen. I sat as 5 minutes became 10 which became 15. To be honest I really didnt think I would be able to go out again at all.

My breathing was still heavy, my stomach lurching and my calfs were both doing a crazy involuntary spasm dance. Kim was a great help taking care of me and Charlotte Vasarhelyi showed up on the scene to give me some magnesium tabs and helpful advice.  I sat for a long time, I know there was lots going on around me but I was mostly unaware. I have entered zombieland.

Finally I thought I really needed to go or quit so I stood up. Well that did the trick immediately causing me to puke. I sat back down and hung on for the follow up evacuations. This racing thing was not as fun as I had remembered. I waited for a while longer just to make sure it was over and stood again. Nothing bad happened so I headed back out. I have lost major time here but I am moving forward again.

Loop 5 (80 - 100k)
I lose it a couple more times just going down the first hill. Now everyone says that once you clear out your stomach you will feel a lot better. Well thats true but only kind of. For me I will feel slightly better but the key is the rebuild. If I can get fluids and later food into me and keep it down I will feel better and bounce back but thats the trick. If you cant keep it down it will not help.

The next 9k are horrible. Everything that goes in comes right back out. I try to run some but its still hot and dehydration is becoming a real possibility. I reach the gatehouse and meet Kim. JD is also there and will come out to pace me on the next loop if there is a next loop. I sit at a picnic table well away from the aid station as I don't want to blow chunks right in the station. I do some more puking and Kim brings me some soup. I get some into me and head out with the cup in my hand. I am not optimistic at all.

It is funny how these things go. I manage to get the rest of the soup into me as I walk the short road portion to the woods and by the time I hit the Reforestation trail 1k later I am running again. Not kind of running but actually running at a very good pace. I take more soup at the next aid station and hammer through the lollipop loop as it gets dark and begins to cool off.

I end up back at the start finish which is lit up like a christmas tree. There are reflective cones going this way and that. I see JD waiting to pace me and ask him if they are landing airplanes here or what. I get some more soup and some fruit. We take a brief rest and then head back out.

I have somehow come completely back from the dead. I have no idea how this has happened as I am sure I should be DNF at this point.

Loop 6 (100 - 120k)
I feel great for the next 8k. I am back to my old self. We run everything but the bigger uphills and JD keeps us pushing along nicely. Not fast but still solid for someone with 100k on my legs already. I am drinking and eating well. Things are going great until suddenly the signs of nausea crop up again.

This happened at Oil Creek last year as well and luckily I learned something from that experience. Instead of pushing along at the "faster" pace I made myself drop down to a walk and kept refuelling as we went. Since I wasn't going to go sub 24hr and was in no danger of missing the cutoff I opted for the super over cautious approach.  The big thing was to make sure I finished. We ended up walking a fair bit but eventually got running again.

I grabbed more soup at each aid station and on this loop when we got to the field on the lollipop there was an unofficial aid station where I grabbed some kind of fruity soda which was like heaven in my stomach. Big thanks to whoever it was that set this up.

JD did a great job pushing me to run out the last 4k to the end of the loop and we were done just like that.

Loop 7 (120 - 140k)
Chris Henderson jumped in to pace me for the next loop. He also did a great job. This loop was almost a exact copy of the last one. I ran great for 8k, started to get sick, slowed it to a walk for awhile, recovered and finished it up running.

We spent a good deal of the loop distracting ourselves by thinking up fiendish and devious ways and routes that we could torture the people signed up in the marathon clinic that we were going to be co instructing in June (don't tell them tho). You would be shocked at what seems reasonable at a 130k.

This loop seemed to go by fast and soon I was in to the start / finish getting ready for the last go around.

Loop 8 (140 - 160k)
It was still dark as I headed out and down the big hill for the final time. I would do the last loop alone and the plan was to run as much as possible. Okay make a running motion at least because my legs felt really tired and technically I don't think you can call the speed I was going running. I didn't care, I could smell the sweet aroma of a belt buckle just a little further down the trail. I also realized that I would PB if I just keep moving.

Right after I turned into the woods I started hearing really weird sounds just ahead. I slowed down as I got closer to the sounds and eventually stopped. What the heck? Right beside the trail in the bushes something was thrashing around and making really scary noises. Not Jason or Freddy noises but animal noises. Really loud, really big, really attack you, type noises.

It was dark and I couldn't see anything but it was kind of scary. Now I don't scare in the woods at all. I may live in Toronto now but I grew up in New Brunswick (home of the tree) and have come across just about every animal that lives in the woods at one time or another. I have to say that I never had heard anything like that before. I took a wide berth and slowly walked past the area making sure not to start running again until I was well away from it. I heard later that someone had seen a cougar there just a little earlier, some of the other runners were skeptical but that sounds about right to me.

Soon I was back to "running" and the sun began to come up. I passed a couple of other runners along this section. Kim quickly helped get me some coffee as I came into the gatehouse for the last time and I  headed back out again.

The last 10k seemed to go by fast mostly because I think I was in shock that I was going to finish. I spent the last hour on the course mulling over how it was possible to be so out of it and dead at the half way point and yet end up finishing. It just did not compute. Not only that I was going to PB.

I hit the final big hill climb to the finish and decided I would run it mostly because I just wanted to get finished. Of course nobody witnessed this amazing feet of strength so you will just have to take my word for it. Then just like that it was over.

Post Race
I got my belt buckle and medal from the race director. There were still a good number of other 100 mile runners hanging around and recovering so we stuck around, had a beer and relaxed for a while.

I ended up running 26:45:17 which was a PB. Kim also ran a PB in her 25k so it ended up being a good day when all was said and done. Oh yeah, I now remember why the 100 is so hard.

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