Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Beast of Burden 100 (summer) Race Report

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.

Pre race

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.

Post race

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.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Western States Entry, Time for a Slam, Pacing at the Tannenbaum 10k

Western and the Grand Slam

So for the fifth year in a row I rushed home from my Saturday morning run, booted up my computer and watched the Western States 100 lottery live online. Early on I was hopeful given all the tickets that I had in that big spinning drum but as the 270 spots for runners began to fill up things began to look grim again this year. By the time they had gotten to 200 runners picked a number of Ontario runners were already selected including Iris Cooper and Ken Niemimaa.

I had already begun to ponder what race I would run in 2015 to get my next WS 100 qualifier when I could have sworn I heard my name called. I actually thought I might have been hallucinating so I waited to see it posted in the list and sure enough there I was #219. I would like to say I was happy and I was very, very happy but also I think I must have been in shock because it took me a good hour to realize that I was actual going to be running this thing.  

I spent the next few days thinking about what I was going to do. You see I had told myself that the only way I would go back to try and run Leadville again is if I got into Western and then I would attempt the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning. You see since I figured I was never, ever getting into WS I was in no danger of going back to Leadville and being stomped on by that altitude anytime soon.

Finally I figured heck I may never get another chance to do this with it being so hard to get into WS that I might as well go for it. Am I biting off more than I can chew, probably but it would not be the first time and hey sometimes it all works out. I have never regretted trying so no matter what happens I will not end up sitting around crying about what if I had taken a chance and just gone for it. I mean really failing and not trying both have you ending up with the same result.

So the big races for the season are set, Western States 100 on June 27-28, Vermont 100 on July 18-19, Leadville 100 on August 22-23 and Wasatch Front on September 11-12. Throw in a bunch of trail races in the spring to get ready such as PYP, Seaton, Sulphur, Hynerview and NFC Bear Mountain and we should be good to go.

Elf Sighting

On Sunday fresh off of my Western States delirium I headed down to the beaches to pace the Tannenbaum 10k. I had a number of runners that I coach running it so I wanted to be there but with my ankle still a bit tender from a trail “mishap” I was not going to be able to race it. Instead I volunteered to be the 70 minute pacing elf.  

I knew this would be a bit of a challenge as going that slow would force me out of my natural gait making it hard to keep a consistent pace. I figured a good start was to run with slightly tired legs so I ran a double on Saturday and then ran the 19km to the race start Sunday morning.

I have to say I had a lot of fun. The weather was really good for a December race and the course was ice free. I started with a fairly big group of runners and just tried to stay as close to 7 minute kms as I could. We ended up hitting the 5km mark just slightly ahead of schedule, 15 seconds fast overall, not perfect but acceptable. The section between 4-6km the group somewhat split up with a bunch of runners actually taking off ahead. From 6-9km I managed to keep a very consistent pace and chatted with the runners that were with me. It turns out that at least 4 of them were running their first 10k race which was very cool and they were all working really hard. When I hit 9km all my runners took off ahead of me and I was running alone but still stuck to the pace just in case anyone was trying to catch up from behind. At this point I was 20 seconds ahead of schedule so still pretty good. With about 500 meters left I passed a girl that was struggling. She asked me if I was on time, which I was, as she really wanted to break 70 minutes so I paced her / talked her into the finish with plenty of time to spare. Final time for the 70 minute pace Elf was 69:33.

Some of the runners that had gone ahead came and found me after to thank me which was nice but really they were the ones that did all the hard work. I think pacing at a race is one of those things that ever runner should do at some point, not only are you giving back but it can be a lot of fun as well.

Race day was not quite over though as I went with the rest of the C+C runners up to Mackenzies for brunch. I felt that it was part of my coaching duties to make sure my runners knew the proper way to consume beer with their breakfast.

Next up: Flash back - Beast of Burden 100(Summer) race report

Thursday, December 4, 2014

I'm Back .. Western States Lottery and becoming a pacing Elf

I'm back! At least that's the hope anyway. Would like to make some kind of guarantee about that but I seem to remember promising to start posting regularly again a few times before only to follow that up with the greatest impression of Houdini ever.
I have not died, okay maybe just a little bit inside. I have not been institutionalized in a State Hospital which is actually pretty surprising to some people and I did not decide to swear off technology and move to a remote cabin like Ted Kaczynski.
No I just got real busy and real lazy all at the same time. Yes it is possible to be both at the very same time. Looks like I am not going to fix the busy part so I will try to at minimize the lazy part. So what has dragged me out of my summer slumber? Well first came the realization that if I don't write this stuff down I am bound to forget that it happened or at least exactly how it happened. That's old age for you. Even the stuff I would much rather forget should be written down somewhere. Then there is the wife who likes to remind me that I once had a blog that some people actually read once and a while and when am I getting back to that. Lastly there was this encounter at Oil Creek as my wife ran me in to the finish. HaHa ran, who am I kidding, try slowly walked me in at a zombie death shuffle pace.

Runner passing me “Hey I know you” says the guy I don't think I have seen before.
“Yeah, I used to read your blog” he says.
Ouch!! I mean he meant it in a nice way but all I heard was used to read your blog which kind of translates into what ever happened to your blog. I just got lazy seems like a wildly inappropriate answer to that. 

Turns out I have lots to write about that is going on right now and lots of stuff coming up. I also have a pile of unfinished oh so last summer race reports. I will try to keep up on the new stuff while revisiting this past summers racing with a few untimely race reports. Nothing like reminiscing about a run in a heat wave while the snow is falling outside.

Western States Lottery
Here we go again, names in for the WS 100 lottery. Drawing is this Saturday and I will be watching it online which is some kind of sick self torture. This is the 5th year of attempting to get in and the chances are 54% according to the website. All my previous failures give me 16 tickets and it looks like a good chance but I am not holding my breath. The lottery gods hate me so I think it will be another 2 or 3 years before they honour me by agreeing to take my money.

Tannenbaum 10k
Will be heading down to the Tannenbaum 10k on Sunday. I am not racing but will be a pacing Elf for one of the pacing groups. That's Elf not Alf. It should be a lot of fun and there are about 6 runners I am coaching racing. Here's hoping for no snow between now and then. Check back next week to find out how it went.

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