30 May 2019

Taking a thrashing at the 2019 Sulphur Springs Trail Run (50 mile race report)

I contemplated titling this post "Confessions of a Perpetual Overtrainer".

Whatever you want to call it, this year's edition of the Sulphur Springs Trail Run was nothing short of ridiculously awful.  Still, I lived to tell the tale, and would recommend it to anyone who'd care to give it a shot.

My second ultramarathon-distance race of the year turned out (yet again!) to be not just a test of endurance but an environmental challenge ... last month it was the snow and wind, and this time around it was the thunder, lightning, copious amounts of rain and subsequent pits of mud.  As my friend Tyler (who finished 3rd overall for the 50-mile distance) described it, the course offered up 1/3 of its trail as an experience of running through glue.  I would amend that and say that it was some devious combination of glue and Crisco.  Imagine combining an ultramarathon with mud-wrestling, and you'll understand how I (and about 1200 other people) spent our Saturday.

To be fair, I had a great first loop running with my friend Nick Wagner whom I hadn't seen since the 2016 EndurRUN.  Back in 2016 Nick hadn't yet run anything beyond a half-marathon in terms of distance, but now he was an experienced ultramarathoner with at least one 100k race under his belt.  I remember how strong a runner he was a few years ago, and he's only become fitter and more durable since then.  We had a great 25k or so chatting it up and busting along not-yet-damp footing until I got a pebble in my shoe and had to stop to extricate it - I insisted that he continue forward, and while I was able to keep him within visual distance after starting up again I was never able to catch back up.

It wasn't long after that that the monsoon rains hit in the midst of what may well have been a severe thunderstorm warning.  Of course this transformed the softer ground into tarpits, and while I was able to continue to stubbornly plug away it was at about 35k that I weebled-and-wobbled my way into a groin pull while trying to maintain my balance on one particularly greasy section.  I knew pretty quickly that this didn't bode well.

During the third loop my knees felt wrecked, my inner thighs overdone, and I was walking a significant portion of the loop.  I seriously wanted to pull the plug after 60k but told myself that if I did that then there'd be no way that I'd have any hope of making it through a 100-miler ... so I resolved that even if it meant walking through the entire final 20k I'd finish this race.  Two things helped me to see this resolution through:  (1) the spring roll at aid station #3 was an out-of-body experience at 53k, and (2) the thought that if I could get done by 6pm I'd have a hope of making it back in time for the game 6 tip-off between the Toronto Raptors and the Milwaukee Bucks.

I have to say that having given myself that bit of margin was a real relief, and even though I saw many people passing me by (even the 50-mile winner lapped me with about 50 metres left to the start/finish line) I was content to just to try to pack the training miles in.  I approached each long tract of mud with trepidation as I was concerned about doing any kind of serious damage that might jeopardize the next couple months' worth of running and racing.  Plodding my way along I was also grateful to cross paths with Sherman Lam (a former Running Free teammate) at 73k - his positive attitude and trekking poles helped pace me through the next 5k or so, and I finally finished a shade over 11 hours.

Half-baked ramblings after hobbling my way to the car post-race

The long car ride home was made even longer by torrential rains that brought Hwy. 403 to a crawl between Hamilton and Oakville, so a 90 min. drive had an extra hour tacked on to that because of the weather.  So running or automobiling, the environmental conditions had my number that day.

I've now given myself a few days off of running this week to try to be ready to contribute to the Team Reebok effort at the Ragnar Relay - Niagara event starting tomorrow.  I'll be running as part of the 'ultra' team, so each of our 6 members will have 6 legs of the course to do (ballpark of about 50 km as the total distance from Cobourg to Niagara Falls is 306 km).  The only snag in this whole 'week of recovery' plan was going out last night for an easy trail run with the RunNinjas only to have turned my ankle for the first time all year leading to what quite possibly is a moderate strain of the extensor digitorum brevis muscle.  

Pain cave, once again here I come.

24 May 2019

From PYP 2019 (50k) to Sulphur Springs 2019 (50 miler)

It's T-minus 20 hours until the start of my second-ever 50 mile race ... and boy, do I ever feel underpowered.

Just about a month ago I completed the first ultra on my race calendar for 2019, the Pick Your Poison Trail Run. There's so much to like about it - a hometown race, early enough in the year to keep you motivated for winter training, plenty of elevation changes, scenic trails and fabulous goodies (the jar of honey at packet pick-up and the pair of socks at the finish line) - but this year it proved to be a doozie of a day with wicked winds and snow greeting competitors first thing in the morning.

Feeling like I've pulled into the base camp for an ascent of Mt. Everest!
Yup ... I could just stay cozy inside the chalet all morning ...

Knowing that I was approaching this event as a 'training day' (with my long-term preparation for the Hallucination 100 mile run in view) I wanted to do my best to exercise restraint and hold a controlled and manageable pace throughout this run.  However, the formula of snowy trails + 375 runners equalled major mud + packed ice by the time that loops 3 and 4 (each loop being 12.5k) came around, so it felt more like a "how can I get through this uninjured" type of day.  All in all though it turned out to be quite survivable, even enjoyable given the company along the route, great encouragement from spectating crowds and unbelievable support from the folks who willingly braved the elements to staff the aid stations.  I was happy to walk away with a 6:09 finish time, and four reasonably even split times for each loop.

A quick post-event video rundown!

Now I get to stretch out my trail running legs a bit longer - the last time that I took on Sulphur Springs was four years ago for the 50k distance, so this will definitely be a tougher test distance-wise, compounded by the forecast of thunderstorms.

Got my gels, pizza, cupcakes and cinnamon buns packed - let's do this thing!