I hadn't been training specifically for this event, but have been running a good bit as part of my normal regimen. On the last possible day to sign up, about 10 days prior to the event, I decided to go for it. Had I been anticipating this event for months, my training and mental approach might have been quite different. As it was, I decided I was capable of doing the event and my main goal would be to finish before the cutoff time.
My running buddies thought I was nuts, largely because of the short notice. My biggest struggle before the event was planning the logistics and finding people to man my support team - a chore that required showing up at the start line at 3AM. Since my birthday is today, November 11th, I was able to use that trump card to leverage my wife into accepting crew duty for the last half of the race. She was not excited about the prospect of having to drive, navigate, tend to my needs and worst of all, wake up at ridiculous o'clock.
Posting up a plea on my RAA meetup group for crew members was fruitful. Here is the plea. Noel and Maxine stepped up graciously and told me they would be up for the job. Bless them. I owe them bigtime. Danielle, my wife, was even more happy than me as they stepped in and took over the whole thing. She was off the hook.
Talking about logistics over a big carb-filled pasta meal.
My list of things to bring was pretty long. I sorted everything out in our hallway and got everything organized in bags, boxes and tubs. I was as prepared as I could be.
Included in on my list of crucial ultra marathon food necessities was:
- Salt pills
- Endurox (a protein based recovery drink)
- Carbo Pro 1200 (carb/nutrition drink mix)
- Carbo Pro Powder (mixed into electrolyte drinks for more calories)
- Refresh (electrolyte drink)
- GU20 (more electrolyte mix)
- Glucosamine pills
- Grapes (a lifesaver)
- Tiger Protein bar
- Power bars
- Power Gels
- GU20 energy gels
- Potato Chips
- Red Bull
- Salted boiled potatoes
- PBJ sandwiches
- Granola bars
- Cheese string
- Landjaeger sausages
- 20 bottles premixed electrolyte and carbo drink
Much of this stuff was in the back seat of the car.
I also brought all the clothes I might need including:
- 5 waterproof jackets
- 3 pairs of tights
- 2 pairs of sweatpants
- 3 pairs of shorts
- 12 sets of socks
- 5 pairs of underwear (why is this a 'pair' BTW?)
- Running hat (to keep rain out of my eyes and serve as a place for my race number)
- Reflective vest (obligatory for night running)
- Red flashing light
- 4 sets of running shoes
- 1 set of shoes with the toe box cut off - in case of blistering toes
This stuff all fit into the truck - each item in its own bag and ordered according to preference.
Noel and Maxine came over at 2AM. I'd just started on my bowl of oatmeal with dried cranberries, toast and a banana. We reviewed the gear and loaded up. The final miscellaneous items I brought were:
- Newspapers - to stuff into shoes etc. after getting fully wet
- Pins - to pop blisters if necessary
- Band aids
- Blister ampoules
- Chafe guard
- Still camera
- Video camera
- Toilet paper
- Sunglasses - optimists must be the only ones entering Ultras, I think
- Folding chair
- Stage maps
- Directions to start
My crew, amazingly, were smiling with totally chipper attitudes. They rocked.
I picked up my number and got prepped wearing three layers underneath my reflective vest. Everyone listened to the quick pre race briefing and ambled in a pack to the start line. There were several of us there who were attempting their first Ultra. I knew two North Vancouver people in the race, both of whom are contenders in any race they enter, Sammy and Nicola.
All the reflective runners made the starting pack look like Tron castmembers.
After a simple countdown, everyone shuffled off into the darkness at exactly 4AM. I fell into what I thought was an easy stride next to Nicola and was somewhat uncomfortable to find myself running along in third place for the first few miles. Certainly, I didn't expect to run in this position for the race. Sammy had checked out with another runner, who was wearing a trash bag dress underneath his vest. They were quite a distance ahead and gapped us quickly. As expected, I didn't see them again for the rest of the day.
My Garmin GPS/heartrate monitor was bouncing around a little bit, which gave me some concern because I felt like the reading was not accurate. I had decided that my tactics would be to keep my heartrate at 140 or under, but it was creeping up a little bit, so I rolled back the speed - though it felt like I was running very easy. A little group of four runners came up behind Nicola and I and several of them, Matt and Ron loped off ahead at a pace that was faster than I wanted.
My plan was just to run this race at a pace I thought I would be able to sustain for the duration. Without experience at Ultra distance, I just wanted to finish under the cutoff time, (getting to the 7the relay exchange area by 4PM). My finish prediction provided I didn't run into unforeseen issues was 10 hours, give or take half an hour.
About 3-4 miles into the run, I could feel the footbed sliding back in the Adidas shoes I had selected to start out in. This had been an issue before and I had rectified the problem by putting velcro on the bottom of the footbed. I had taken a couple runs in them and decided that I had cured the problem. Obviously it didn't. I've had several bad Adidas running shoe experiences now, so I won't be experimenting with other brands in the near future. Adidas sucks. Asics are consistently awesome.
I alerted my crew that I wanted to change into the next pair of shoes I'd lined up, a set of Asics Kinsei runners that were pretty new to me. Soon after, they appeared in a driveway with a towel spread out on the lip of the trunk and one of the back floor mats on the ground to keep my feet dry and gravel-free.
I kept the Ininji socks, that look like little white gloves for feet with their individual toe pockets. Having done a little reading about the Badwater 135 race and listened to a talk by Ferg Hawke, who had run that event several times, I knew that socks could be very important. While a pair was performing well and my feet feeling good, I didn't want to swap.
Having pulled to the side, I had allowed the little group around me, including Nicola, to get a little ways ahead. I was drinking a good bit of the Carbo Pro 1200, which I had pre mixed in little bottles. Knowing that I should be able to absorb 250-400 calories an hour, I wanted to keep the flow of nutrition going while I was running - even though I didn't really feel like drinking it.
After a short stretch, I caught up with Nicola again and another runner named George. We stayed close through the first couple exchange points and into the third relay leg of the race. It was still dark and though the ground was wet, it wasn't really raining. However, the parts of the race outside of town meant that we were running in pure dark conditions. It was nice having people next to me as the cumulative lumens of our headlamps made visibility a bit better.
Nicola's support car, with her partner Peter at the helm, had returned to North Vancouver to pick up a bag of equipment that they'd forgotten to bring. During this time, she ran with a camel back, but ditched that as soon as he returned. My support crew kept leap frogging me and providing me with whatever I wanted - food, drink, new shirts, etc.
During the run I had a couple bathroom stops, peeing in the bushes, dumping in a ditch. Because the pace of the run was well under what I normally train at, I was able to talk to most of the people I was running close to. Jason, an ironman triathelete ran with me for a while and then forged ahead as he thought the pace was a bit too slow. George and I talked about the marathons we had run. He was grateful on the third leg as we ascended a long windy hill that Nicola and I were nearby as his glasses were fogged up and he could see very little in the darkness.
I had planned to walk up the longer, steeper hills beforehand to keep the my heartrate down. This would often allow those near me to very slowly put a little gap between us if they kept running. Past the crest of the hill, the gap usually erased as I picked it up on the way down.
Dawn was coming up as Nicola and I left George behind a little ways. Some ways ahead, we could see Neil Waklin, a 61 year old legend running along easily. At the fourth exchange we caught and passed him. We had covered the first marathon length 26.2 miles in 3:53, a slow pace for both of us. Nicola had run the NYC marathon the weekend prior. I had done my longest (and only Ultra specific) training run of 24 miles on the same weekend. It was bizarre to think that after running for four hours, we'd still got another hour of running to do before we reached the halfway mark.
The next person Nicola and I caught up to was Pat. He had a steady pace and he and I ended up passing each other probably 8 times as the race continued and one of us would pull aside to have our crews minister to us.
It was raining on and off and I was conscious of wanting to keep the calories flowing in. I had some chips, some banana, part of a Power Bar, an energy gel, often eaten on the uphill sections where I was easing up. Around this point, the Carbo Pro 1200 potions started tasting rather unpalatable. I'd get a vomity burp or two after drinking it, but forged ahead anyway. I took an ibuprofen each 3 hours along with a glucosamine pill. This was my attempt to minimize any swelling and keep my joints lubricated during the run.
During one of my stops with my crew, Noel and Maxine, Nicola had run away as I changed out of my soaked running tights and into the signature purple/blue tights I use at some races.
On a stretch of plain flat road at about the halfway point, I felt my stomach rebelling against the wicked brew of gels, Carbo Pro 1200, bars and salty potatoes. With the saliva glands going off, I knew puking was imminent. Rather than resist, I just let it flow. After a couple little initial heaves, I let a gush of orange liquid fly out onto the shoulder of the road. For a quick second, I mourned the loss of the calories, but dang, I felt much better.
Immediately, my body felt better and I was able to continue. It was like a little running rebirth. From that point on, I stuck to electrolyte drink with Carbo Pro powder and plain water. This felt much better going in. If I ever do another race like this, I'll know what to use. I kept using energy gels as those seem to be easy to suck down with water; I still needed a little extra, however. THE GRAPES! At the next opportunity, I begged for the grapes I'd packed. They sounded so delicious. The perfect solution to my calorie intake challenge.
Let me tell you. Grapes are an amazing carb for this kind of run. They are easy to eat and digest and very appealing to a runner who has been on the road for 6 hours. I shared some of my bounty with Pat, who had continued the back and forth pattern with me.
My heartrate was pretty steady around 140 for the rest of the race. My monitor said my average heartrate for the final 36 miles was exactly 140, in fact. That kept my game plan in effect nicely.
Cruising as I approached the 7th exchange area.
Since Pat had been at a steady pace, a little before the sixth exchange area, I picked up my pace and maintained for the remainder of the run. This was enough to put a good gap between us before the eventual finish.
During the race, I'd been doing calculations in my head about how much of the race remained. One third through, one half, three fifths, etc. Looking at my watch, it was odd to see how much time remained as it was often many hours. It was kind of like a long day of work where you just know that there is a finish to the day - it just happened that my work was running. The easy pace slowly wore down my energy, but I never reached any crisis point in the run.
During the sixth leg, the fastest relay teams started passing me. The first couple teams to come by were just flying at an impressive pace. Despite that, they offered me encouragement with a 'good job' or 'looking strong' as they flew past. This was a nice boost as these guys were smoking fast, but could appreciate the effort it had taken to get to that point in the race. We'd been running for 40 miles before they started their race. The relay started several hours after the Ultra. I'd see some of the top teams before the finish, but most came in after my own finish. Everyone was spread out.
After the last exchange point, I knew the remainder of the race would be flat.
Another thing I was calculating during the latter part of the race was my eventual finishing time. I knew my pace was around 9 minutes and that if I continued at that pace (or at least under 10 minutes/mile), I would better my goal time of 10 hours. That kept me motivated to continue ahead, though I couldn't see Nicola ahead anywhere and Pat behind me had disappeared, too.
Coming into the finish area I always feel good in a race. Knowing the end is close, I let myself run a little bit more. Past the final turn, I could see the finishing area. After thinking that doing an Ultra would be an epic affair, my finish was decidedly undramatic.
Crossing the footbridge just before the finish.
After crossing the bridge I crossed the line in 9:47, in 7th place overall for the race, a better result that I had anticipated at the beginning of the day. I was very happy. My crew, Noel and Maxine were there to give me a nice hug. And I connected with Sammy, who had finished in 8:21 bettering his time from last year and winning the race easily. Nicola was the first woman to cross the line, an impressive 2 hours and 20 minutes ahead of the next closest female finisher.
Nicola crossing bridge.
Pat, Sammy and I at the finish for the awards.
My wife and her mother had gotten lost on the way to the finish, so they missed the actual finish, but appeared shortly after. Amazingly, unlike Sammy and Nicola, I had no blisters at all. My feet felt fine. Legs were tired for sure, but I was in better shape than I had anticipated. All in all, I was very happy with the day's efforts.
We walked to the nearby lake and I stood in the freezing water up to my upper thighs for about 5 minutes shivering to give my legs a cold jolt. Bonnie, my mother in law, took Noel and Maxine back to Vancouver in her car - they had a well-earned nap on the way back after their heroic early morning start.
Danielle and I went to the Harrison Hot Springs Hotel and soaked in their huge spa for a while before checking out the awards (made in the dark just after the last finisher came through the line at about 6PM). I ended up 4th in my age class (over 40); it seems that the fast guys are all old. The final results are posted here: Race Results.
According to my Garmin, I had burned about 9000 calories during the run, significantly more than I had taken in. After getting back home, snacking, stopping at Taco Bell on the way, and drinking several recovery potions, I got on the scale and weighed in at 162 pounds, or 10 pounds under my normal weight. This was a bit of a surprise and I attribute it to being somewhat dehydrated as my weight returned to normal the following day.
The overall pace for the 62 miles was 9:28/mile, slow and steady. It is the equivalent of doing ten 10K runs at just under an hour pace. The GPS reading showed slightly more than the actual run, 62.2 miles, which I would actually trust as the real distance as the GPS usually measures things a little shorter than they are due to connecting the dots with a straight line.
I was sore the next morning. Stairs and getting up and down were not fun. But all in all, I would have to say that running a marathon at that much higher level of output is harder in terms of recovery. The second day after I went out for a couple mile shakedown run to loosen up the legs. The soreness had abated significantly, though my knees and ankles were not quite back to normal at that point.
Right now, I feel at about 80 percent of normal, so I'll head out for another run tomorrow and see how I feel. Several of my other running friends were on relay teams so there will be some stories to swap around.
I'll have to think about doing another Ultra sometime in the future. Perhaps I'll take on a 100 mile race. The H2H for me this year was good validation that I can take something like this on and conquer it - without having to suffer!