25 July 2014

race report - the 2014 limberlost challenge

i should have posted a DNF.

not that i wanted to - but had i been left to my own devices, that would have been the result.

this is a bit of a different race report compared to other ones that i've posted, partly because i think that as my first trail race and my first ultramarathon i have a different story to tell.

there were three defining elements to my running of this year's edition of the limberlost challenge:
  1. mud.
  2. blood.
  3. jim.
let's first get out of the way some of the ancillary details - my friend jim willett and i carpooled together up to the limberlost reserve (about 1h40min from the commuter parking lot at the north end of my city) before the crack of dawn.  the 56k race started at 8am, and given that neither of us had been there before we wanted to give ourselves enough margin for a leisurely drive and kit pick-up.

i wasn't the only Team RF member there, but i don't think that anyone else wore Skechers!

the start/finish location where we parked was well organized with volunteers, clearly delineated tent areas (for registration, bag-drop, vendor booths) and an adequate number of port-a-potties.  aside from some swatting of mosquitoes, the pre-race routine was rather uneventful - but i did notice that the trail/ultra running crowd seem to be more relaxed and friendly as a group versus the organized road races in which i've participated.  they say that trail runners are a different breed - and i began to get a sense of why that's said.

after some preliminary remarks from the emcee and then the race organizer (neil jefferson) jim and i prepared to be launched from the chute as the first wave of runners (56k @ 8am, then 42k, 28k and 14k in 20min. intervals after that).  we spotted last year's winner and lined up just at the rear of the pack that would take off after him.

the course itself is really quite pretty - with generous doses of elevation changes (the most brutal 35m hill climb coming within the first mile), plenty of shade, very few bugs and lots of scenic running beside and over four different lakes.  which leads me to the first of the triumvirate of key determinants for my race result:


this is really a general category header, but also a very specific one as well.  thanks to a well-watered week leading up to the event there were stretches of mud along the trail that started off as 4m long and 1m wide but ended up (by the fourth lap) being easily 13m long and 4m wide.  

the kind of stuff that will suck the shoes right off of your feet and drag them down to the nether regions below.

not my shoe, and not my image - but you catch the drift ...

i was thankful for the various boardwalks over the lake areas where i could dip my mud-laden shoes into the water in order to rinse off the unwanted several ounces per foot.

all this made a challenging course even tougher.  i knew that in my preparations for this race that i needed to be ready to go long - and so i respected the 56k distance, averaging between 120-138km per week.

what i didn't do was respect the course.

while i'd integrated some trail work into my training plan, i didn't run any long runs on the trails.  on top of that, i should have spent more time acclimatizing to - and planning for - the downhill sections.  i basically jogged/walked the uphill stretches but then bounded down the downhills to make up the time.  what ended up happening was that after 2 laps (28k) my quads were fairly trashed.

had i been more conservative in tackling the slopes i would not have ended up walking most of the third and fourth laps.  i opened with a 1:31:59 first lap and closed with a 3:06:45 final lap.


this had to do more with my nutritional plan (or lack thereof) than anything.  

i'd decided to carry my standard complement of four gels on me, along with a trail mix granola bar and my Nathan Quickdraw Plus handheld bottle.  i packed a drop bag (which i never went to) with additional granola bars, some Clif Shotbloks and loose trail mix ... but figured that with several well-stocked aid stations along the route that i would be well provided-for.

somewhere along the way two disastrous things happened - i failed to take enough electrolytes and my salt intake was too low.  
ah, ultrarunner problems.

the first real sign of trouble happened at the start/finish aid station after lap #3.  my pal jim had been waiting for just about an hour at that spot for me to cross, and had inquired several times with the course marshals as to whether or not i had either (a) passed him unawares or (b) been lost/injured/removed from the race.  as neither turned out to be true, he was somewhat relieved to see me ... but as soon as i stopped to load up and chat with him it all hit.

lightheadedness.  extreme (i mean extreme) fatigue.  tingling sensations in my arms.  a pressure build up in my ears.

the race doc spotted me and immediately came over to make sure that i was alright (which i clearly wasn't) - however, i managed to tell him that i was going to be ok and that i would gauge my ability to continue.  it wasn't until after the conclusion of the race that i found out that he doubted that i would be able to handle another loop of Limberlost.

digest version of what came next:  i stumbled back onto the course with jim for about another 700m before experiencing a near total physical shutdown.  jim had to check my pulse and then sit with me for almost 20 min. before i could continue any further.  i'm pretty sure that although he was able to get a pulse reading at my wrist my blood pressure had just about bottomed out.  after we crossed the finish line nearly 3 hours later i was assisted to the medical tent and not released for a good 45 minutes because my blood pressure read something like 80/50.  however, thanks to the good care of dr. gribe, stephanie, abdullah and derek (?) who attended to me in the Sportlab station i was able to take in some fluids and finally get things back up to 100/60.  

it was truly like being rescued from the brink ... which brings me to the third and most critical factor to my day.


if you've read this blog at all you will have encountered jim's name many-a-time, not the least of which was in one of my first on the run interview segments.  a high-level extreme ultrarunner, it was an honour to have him accompany me to the Limberlost Challenge as part of his preparation for his attempt at a new record for an end-to-end run of the Bruce Trail.

little did i know that he would literally get me through to the finish line.

aside from tidbits of advice and gobs of encouragement, jim put his aspirations for the day on hold for me when i had my edge-of-disaster moment at the beginning of the final lap.  i was 99.9% sure that i had nothing left in the tank, that my body was in the final stages of hibernation (as a self-preservation mechanism) and that this would be the first race that i would not be able to finish.  it was during these pivotal 20 minutes that jim told me the things that i didn't want to hear ("you're fitter than i am", "we'll walk, then jog, then walk, then run", "i've been exactly where you are now, i know that you can still go") but not in the way that was condescending or impatient.  he really wanted to see me finish - and more than that - he literally knew that i could do it.  i didn't have the wherewithal to process the fact that he had been in races where fellow runners were collapsing, being attended to, and then resuming racing - so he was not simply blowing sunshine up my behind.

but the fact that he was there with me - and would have been willing to take the humiliating walk with me back to the start/finish area in order for us to pull out together - was humbling and simultaneously strengthening.

so after enduring those 20 minutes of mosquito attack (they were merciless on motionless subjects), i got up to stumble forward.

stumbling turned into shuffling.

shuffling into walking.

walking into power hiking.

power hiking into a trot.

a trot back into a run.

all because of jim.

final result - 56km in 9:11:00.

some last notes:

  • i'd made a game time decision to switch from wearing the Skechers GObionic trail to instead work with the GOrun ultra - this was a solid decision.  the GOrun ultras worked fantastically well in terms of grip, stability, comfort (no blackened/lost toenails, hotspots, blisters, or even end-of-run discomfort), draining and drying.  more reasons to love this shoe!
  • i saw a couple of other Team Running Free compatriots at the race - i know that there was a lot of Team RF support at the North Face Endurance Challenge at Blue Mountain on the same weekend, so it was nice that we were able to represent the team at both ultras.
  • my respect and admiration for ultrarunners (especially trail ultrarunners) is through the roof.  this is an entirely different animal ... and in fact jim would find out from the race organizer (neil) that the highest proportion of DNFs at the Limberlost Challenge was in the 42k category.  apparently road marathoners think it's a cinch to make the switch over to running a trail marathon.  i now know better!
  • will i return to Limberlost 2015?  now almost two weeks removed from the race, i'm going to say yes.  we have some unfinished business ... as much as i am able to say that i completed this ultra, i'm not an 'ultrarunner'.  i'm an 'ultrawalker' at best.
have you completed an ultra?  how about a trail ultra?  what are your thoughts about this kind of event?



  1. Inspiring and humbling struggle, well done! I like reading reports like this, but there is very little chance of me ever attempting a trail ultra...

    1. thanks for all of your encouragement anna! it was definitely memorable - and i think that it will serve as an important landmark in my running career, as it revealed to me that even when you think you can run no longer, you can still run.

  2. Patrick, I was waiting for this one as I think the struggle for every runner/person when pushing boundaries causes an internal discovery and this seems to have brought you to a dark place but a bright place as well. Great blog!

  3. Congratulations Patrick! You gave all you've got and crossed the finish line. We all know that running is more about the struggle and find the strength within ourselves.
    I recently finished the Eiger Ultra Trail. And also had a couple of problems along the way. I was very close to giving up after 88km.
    Have a look at my blog if you got a chance.http://runninginlate20s.blogspot.fr/2014/07/eiger-ultra-trail-2014-101km-of-mud.html

  4. You are an ULTRA RUNNER.....welcome....I am new to the club as well, and love it.....looking forward to meeting you again
    Run with Pride

    1. thanks for the encouragement rhonda - you rock! definitely hope to cross paths again!