Friday, December 2, 2016

The long and short of it

An anonymous reader made a comment on last week's blog post about my intention to run 100 kilometers at the Sulphur Springs Trail Run next spring:

"This may be heresy, but what about challenging yourself to race SHORTER distances (but faster & more intense)?
I respect all events, but it makes me a little sad that people seem to glorify only the longest events and look down on the short stuff. everyone wants to "run" 100 miles; few of those people will ever test themselves with an all-out 1 mile.

Food for thought."

I left a response to the comment, but I'm going to address it more thoroughly here, because a) I didn't actually cover all of my reasons in the response and b) it's actually something I've been asked before, and even asked myself.

Often in the context of "WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING?!?"

Now, those of you who have known me for awhile will realise that I'm no stranger to short races. As I told my anonymous commenter, I have actually run an all-out mile - the Cambridge Classic Mile in June 2013. It's one of the hardest things I've ever raced, and I spent at least 30mins afterward practically coughing up blood - I swear there was nicotine from cigarettes I'd smoked in my teens coming out of me. I've also raced short course duathlon and triathlon as recently as two and a half months ago, and even ran a 5k trail race last June that had me deep in the pain cave.

In 2014, when I first became a Vanderkitten VIP, I actually challenged myself to take a year off from long-course racing to focus on speed. That plan developed a large kink when I was hit by a car in May, but I actually managed 3rd woman overall at a trail 5k in June, and by mid-July I actually put in a decent showing at the Belwood Sprint Triathlon - I clocked a faster run pace at the end of the race than my best open 5k time. Based on that, I decided to go for a 10k PR in November - unfortunately I missed that by about 30sec (just 3 stinking seconds per kilometer!), but I put in the focused quality runs and track workouts beforehand that let me get close. I deeply respect the intense work required to maximize your speed and push your VO2max to its limit.


I WANT TO COLLAPSE INTO A HEAP AND DIE

My annual "let's go wander around in the forest to have fun with awesome people" at Horror Trail that's happened each fall since 2010 notwithstanding, I'm actually a relative newcomer to true long-distance racing. Sure, I've done a couple of half-iron distance triathlons (2013 being the most recent, and also the introduction of the stupid crayon art that now litters most of my blog entries) and ran my first 50k that same October, but I don't feel like I really arrived as an ultrarunner until just this year with my audacious entry into the Dirty Girls 12-hour. I never had any inclination to try a full iron distance triathlon - I simply don't have the time to train properly for one, because cycling and swimming are both very time consuming - and even last year was really supposed to be one of shorter-distance racing for me. I wanted to try some races I hadn't done before, but keep things fairly easy on the long-haul training. I entered the Seaton Soaker 25k in that spirit, plus the wee little Ontario Women's Triathlon, and was only going to race the 25k at Conquer the Canuck. Then, in early April, I went for a run with friends and found out that 2016 would probably be the last year for Dirty Girls. It was only then that I made the decision to try to run twice as long as I'd ever gone before, and changed my registration to the 50k at Conquer the Canuck to use it as a training day.

"Fifty kilometers is a training run now?"
- My Mom

There's a difference between the kind of pain one endures in short, fast races and the drawn-out suffering of going long. The former will make you feel like you were shot in the chest and turn your legs into lactic acid flavoured jello - the latter is more like being pummeled to death by a small but determined child. Both are admirable demonstrations of human fitness and determination - it's impossible to say that one is harder than the other, because they're both incredibly difficult in their own ways. More importantly, both will take you to deep, dark places within yourself where you have no choice but to face down the worst things about who you are as a person in order to continue and show the world the strength you carry within.

If you're really pushing yourself to your limits, you'll get to that place by either road - one is just much longer than the other.

"What's in there?"
"Only what you take with you."

I applaud anyone who makes an effort to train for and race at any distance - it's a challenge that a relatively low percentage of the population will ever take on, and holds rich rewards at every level of competition. Whether you're chasing a particular time, have your sights on the podium, or just want to see if you're capable of finishing what you've started you will benefit in many ways from the experience. The personal draw of ultrarunning for me is fourfold:

Assuming anyone is still awake & reading at this point..


1. Return on Investment

I'll use this to encompass both financial and logistical concerns. Flatly put, long course events tend to be more expensive to enter than shorter events, but cost fewer dollars per hour/kilometer of racing. Similarly, despite Southern Ontario being a hotbed of endurance racing, you tend to get a better ratio of time spent racing to time spent travelling for it. I still can't believe we spent 3.5hrs on the road to get to and from Ontario Women's Tri for just over an hour of racing - the 6hr round trip to Trenton was much better balanced by 6hrs of running up & down Batawa Ski Hill at the Fat Ass last month.


2. Venues

Short, intense races are usually held on road courses instead of in beautiful forests. Part of the reason I've decided that I'm setting aside triathlon for ultrarunning is that I'm sick of riding my bike through cornfields and running past a bunch of houses or buildings - I'd much rather lose myself (hopefully not literally) on a trail. Even if I was to do shorter runs on trails, it wouldn't be the same - I love to see the changing qualities of light throughout the day - it was something I delighted in at the Fat Ass last month, as the trail looked a little different every loop. The training offers more chances for adventure and exploration, too: you can't really do proper interval training on any interesting terrain as it tends to impose its own shape to the workout, and running tracks are seldom very picturesque. Shorter races also mean shorter long runs - it's highly unlikely I'd spend 4+hrs exploring all the Hydrocut trails for a fast 5k, and I quite enjoy spending hours in the woods.


This will always be more alluring than a stretch of pavement, cement or cinders.

3. Vanity

I'm not going to lie to you - there's a part of me that, no matter what other goal I may be chasing out there, still wants to place decently in the results. It's highly variable because you can only race whoever happens to come out on that particular day, but I know that I will never be fast enough due to my lack of physiological aptitude (combined with various other factors, like 19 years of smoking) to place well at short, intense races. I can, however, be stubborn enough to do ok at longer course racing...which is undoubtedly helped by the fact that ultrarunning fields tend to be much smaller than 5k and 10k races. Many more people are comfortable competing at race distances up to marathon length than beyond it, and it's way easier to be 3rd woman overall when there are only 5 women racing instead of 5,000. While I can honestly say I've never tried to cherry pick a race just because I thought I could podium at it, it certainly is a nice perk when I see my name near the top of the results sheet.


4. Discovery

I feel like there's not much left in the way of new experience with intensity: when I go to the well, I feel the same lung-busting, kill-me-now horror as always, because (with very few exceptions) I have always gone all-out in short races. Drenched in sweat, snot streaming down my face, legs screaming, heart trying to hammer its way out of my chest, wide-open mouth tasting pennies as my view narrows to just one small point and I try to pull the finish line closer by sheer will alone.


Oh yeah, baby - I'm a vision in spandex.

I know who I am when I'm pushing through the red haze, trying to wring every last ounce of speed out of my haggard, chubby arse. What I don't yet know is who I become after watching the sun rise as I run, then seeing it set again while I'm still running.

But I may very well find out..

Will I always feel the same way? I don't know. A friend of mine who used to race ultra distances found himself unhappy with all the training drudgery this year, and has found his mojo again by running 5ks throughout this year. Another friend who similarly was a long distance runner has decided in recent years that the best kind of racing is the sort that lets you get home in time for a nice, relaxing lunch, if not elevenses. I may look back on this post and laugh at my own foolishness at some point, but the beauty is that short course racing will always be there to come back to if I choose.

The short road to the pain cave is always open.


Friday, November 25, 2016

Goals

I did a lot of thinking after the Horror Trail 6-hour this year. Having come ever-so-close to reaching my 50km goal only to fall short by a matter of minutes stung, but rather than dwelling on what might have been or beating myself up for failing, I'm choosing to use it as an affirmation.

Pardon me while I get a bit abstract for a moment..

You see, if you're setting the right goals, they should be hard to reach. Not completely out of the realm of possibility - I'll never set my sights on a sub-3hr marathon, because I know that's never going to happen no matter how I train - but achieving a properly-set goal is difficult. Unless you're sandbagging and selling yourself short, you're likely going to fail sometimes.

I'll say that again:

You are probably going to fail sometimes.

Even if you wish really hard.

Your goals should even go so far as to scare you a little - maybe even a lot. I was petrified before I raced the Dirty Girls 12-hour back in July; unsure that I'd even last the full 12 hours, let alone manage the full 72km that I desired to accomplish. I doubted it would happen as the race progressed, but managed to pull it off in the end.

I even felt like I had another lap in me if I'd had the time, which would have been 80km (or 50 miles).

Knowing that, I started to lay some plans for the Sulphur Springs Trail Run's 25th anniversary in 2017. Having realised that triathlon is utterly failing to float my boat anymore because I'd rather just go frolic in the woods, and having raced my best ever 50k (not to mention one of my best races of all time) at Sulphur Springs in 2015, I resolved that I'd run my first 50 miler there next spring.

Achievable but tough goal: set.

Cue chorus of angels


Then all hell broke loose.

Whaa..?

I knew I had no choice. If I had another loop in me at the hilly, technical and insanely hot Dirty Girls 12-hour, then a 50 miler on the beautifully uncomplicated trails at Dundas Valley Conservation Area as my "big goal" for 2017 was definitely sandbagging. It was only another 8km beyond what I'd already done, and on an easier course! But 28km more? That was a challenge.

So, while still in agony from the mere 45.5km I ran at the Fat Ass Trail Run BadAss 6-hour three days beforehand, I registered to run a hundred freakin' kilometers 6 months and 2 days from now.


But who's counting?

Goal that scares me: set. Oh my, yes.

But, I figured I shouldn't freak out too much. I'd done 3 trips up Martin Road during the 50k I ran at Sulphur in 2015. The 100k would only entail 2 more on top of that (as the course is a 20km loop), and I could always use my poles for the last lap or two if I needed. I knew how much of a help they'd been with the climbs at Dirty Girls and (much more recently) the Fat Ass, so no worries, right?

Then, just 6 days after I registered and one day after my first post-Fat Ass run, this happened:


WHAAA..?!?


No poles. Nothing but my poor, quivering legs to drag my butt up the monster that is Martin Road after 99.5km (not to mention the other 4 times) to reach the finish.


This is only a third of it.

Between that and the fact I'll have to put in a huge amount of mileage over what is predicted to be a much harder winter than last year, I think I need to spend some time getting comfortable with the idea that failure to achieve just means that the goal you set was the correct one.

In the meantime, if anyone needs me, I'll be here:


Considering my life choices.



Friday, November 18, 2016

Fat Ass Trail Run BadAss 6-hour Ultra - Sunday, November 13th, 2016

This wasn't just about the race - this was a whole weekend full of fun!

After an early wake up, lightning trip to the market and a quick brunch, Tanker the Wonder Sherpa and I got on the road to Trenton on Saturday morning. Our first stop was Tri & Run Sports to pick up race kit, which was pretty heavy on the swag: a ceramic Fat Ass Trail Run mug with spoon, a knit scarf with an embroidered BadAss logo, a Headsweats hat with the BadAss logo, my bib, a tube of 15 effervescent electrolyte tabs, a salted caramel Gu packet, a travel bottle of body wash (are they telling me I smell?), and a mini Wunderbar that I gave to Tank.

That's one angry looking donkey.

Then we rolled down the road a bit to beautiful Centennial Park, which I'd spotted on the map when laying plans for this race. Tanker went for a stroll in the lovely sunshine, and I jammed out for a windy run along the shore of the Bay of Quinte.

That's what I'm talking about.

Little too chilly to go for a dip, though, especially with the sun that low at 1:30pm.

It was only a 21min jaunt to shake my legs out after 3hrs in the car, but I managed to run basically all the paths through the park and thoroughly enjoyed it. I had a quick snack as I cooled down at the park, then we continued east past CFB Trenton to our motel, where we checked in and I got changed out of running kit before heading right back out again.

To go see this.

Despite being a bit short on time - we didn't arrive at the museum until 3:15pm, and they closed at 5pm - we had a wonderful visit.

Outdoor displays in the Memorial Garden

Other countries are represented, but Canadian aircraft predominate, like this CF-116 Freedom Fighter

This WWII Halifax bomber is completely restored after sitting under 750ft of water in Lake Mjosa for 50 years 

Tanker tries out the CT-114 Tutor (Snowbird) simulator

When they finally (very politely) chased us out to close for the day, we headed back toward our motel to shower up and relax for the rest of the evening, with just one more stop along the way at Bain Park.

The Afghanistan Repatriation Memorial is heart-wrenchingly beautiful. 

Back to our room with tears in our eyes, we settled in and I hopped in the shower. Some prep work done before we left and the "kitchenette" in our room (read: tiny counter with a sink, tiny table with 1 chair, plus a fridge, microwave and coffee maker) meant I could make us my usual pre-race dinner so we didn't have to fuss around with restaurants.

Not pictured: a couple of eggs

Can you really call it chicken fried rice if it's made in a microwave?

I was falling asleep in front of a movie around 10:30pm, so we called it a night. I had to be back up at 4:15am to make myself a bowl of oatmeal with maple syrup and almond butter, but grabbed another 3/4 hour nap after breakfast before waking Tanker up around 5:20am. I got myself ready while he made coffee - hand grinding beans for our own French press because everyone knows motel coffee is terrible - then we were all packed up and on our way by 6:20am. Stopped at Tim Hortons to get my Wonder Sherpa some breakfast and another coffee, then we were off to chase the bank of the Trent River up to the race site.

Just as the sun was rising.

We arrived with just a few minutes to say hello to some friendly familiar faces before the pre-race meeting at 7am. I got myself into my chosen kit for a day that would start at 5c/41f and was supposed to climb to 10c/50f, hit the washroom for the usual race morning meditation, swung my appendages around a bit, then headed outside when the race director started herding us toward the start.


Dafuq?

We were told that, while there were a couple of patches of snow where the ski hill had been testing their snowmaking equipment, the trail itself was in great shape. With little ado (or, for that matter, warning) the race director said go.


So we did.

Off like a herd of turtles!
(The 4 green capes you see are a bunch of ladies dressed as ninja turtles)

Run along the bottom of the ski hill, then turn left and abruptly grind to a near halt when confronted with this:

Well at least you can see the end..

Aww crap it keeps going

AND GOING

So I'm less than 5mins into a six hour race and my hamstrings are already complaining while my calves try to cramp, plus I'm stumbling a bit on the loose stones underfoot. I finally made it to the top without actually falling, then hooked right and up just another few feet as we plunged into singletrack trail through the woods.


Which were absolutely stunning in the morning light

Running on top of the world

I'd heard one of the other runners mention that the ridge trail along the top of the hill was really the trickiest part, as the thick covering of leaves effectively hid all the ankle-turning roots and rocks on the forest floor. Wrenching my poor, damaged left ankle twice within the first few minutes confirmed this, but that was certainly not what I'd call the most treacherous bit. After running about a kilometer across the top of the hill, we made a hard left turn onto a descent that I swore would be the death of me.


Note the few visible rocks sticking out, far outnumbered by the invisible ones buried in the drifts of leaves.

While it looks incredibly innocent in the photo, this was basically a rooty, loose rock-strewn washout covered in at least a 6" deep layer of slippery, shifting dead foliage. I managed to pick my way down at a pace usually associated with geology rather than running, then made the hard left at the bottom to head across a bit of hard-packed doubletrack through a hydro cut line, and then onto a grassy bit that led back into the woods.

The course was very well marked

Back uphill a bit on more leafy forest trail

A right turn brought us back out through a very deeply rutted bit of doubletrack to a gradual climb out in the open. Everything was runnable after coming down the sketchy descent.


Though I will admit to walking some of this on some loops.

You follow a winding path of doubletrack trail through the hydro cut line for awhile before coming down to the aid station, where some really wonderful volunteers waited with water & cola.

This was one of only 2 places where you'd see runners coming the other way

Hard right at the aid station, through some more rutted doubletrack and into another section of forest.


Sun still quite low in the sky

And up another decent-size hill

At least the view is quite nice.

I took the opportunity while hiking this one to start taking in nutrition, beginning with swigs off my flask of slightly dilute (4:1) EFS Liquid Shot at around the 30min mark. There's a runnable descent on the other side of this hill, but the trail is once more strewn with rocks and roots hidden by fallen leaves, and I did a bit more damage to my left ankle. At the rate I was going, I wondered if I'd even make a second lap! Fortunately I soon emerged into more of the winding, deeply rutted double track.


Or maybe triple track?

Then there was a really neat section of trail that ran across bare rock, made only slightly terrifying by the sound of gunshots and two guys in hi-viz orange hats and camouflage jackets emerging from the woods looking like they were searching for their kill.


PLEASE DON'T SHOOT ME I'M JUST A DUMB TRAIL RUNNER

Onwards through more dirt trail, then almost a u-turn onto a section of rail trail that ran parallel to the Trenton-Frankford Road for almost a full kilometer.


It felt like way longer

Since everything after the last section of forest was essentially flat, this was the longest stretch of runnable ground on the whole course, and the rail trail was one of the only places I didn't feel like I needed to be scanning the ground just in front of my feet out of self-preservation.


Straight, basically flat & stretching on to freakin' eternity.

While some people referred to this portion as a "gift", others apparently nicknamed it the "Corridor of Despair". You could make some pretty good time on it (despite being a false flat uphill - a fact I wouldn't discover until looking at my Garmin data), but it was a tiring grind as I wouldn't let myself do any walking on something so flat and uncomplicated. Upon finally reaching the end, there was a left turn (into the strong, cold wind) onto a flinty bit of doubletrack trail that led to a short uphill.


Runnable, but I mostly ended up walking it.

A hundred feet or so of flat trail beyond, you come full circle 'round to the aid station again before making another right-hand turn down some grassy trail and back into the forest.


More flat stuff. Just keep running.

It was several degrees warmer on the sunny side of the hill.

While most of this section was basically flat, there were a lot more roots and rocks hidden under the leaves than almost anywhere else on the course, so I ended up walking some in an attempt to spare my poor ankle.

Ok, some of it wasn't that hidden.

After a few twists and turns, there's another climb that wasn't too bad - not too steep and decent footing.


It curves to the right near the top.

Then a right turn onto one more flat, mostly runnable section through the woods.


I feel like I'm being shadowed.

More agility course roots and rocks.

I was nearly done my hand bottle of water by this point but I knew that Tanker would have a fresh one for me to grab when I got back to the start/finish, and that I had to be getting close to the final climb over the hill.


As a matter of fact, make that right-hand turn..

..and here we are.

This was a tough slog, not just because it was long and quite steep in parts, but also because it was more of the same shifting rocks and leaves underfoot, with the occasional root thrown in for good measure. I nearly fell on my face a couple of times when my foot would slide on the loose leafage as I put my weight on it. Eventually, though, I emerged at the top.


Halleluja!

Another flat section across the top of the ski hill - wide open this time, with a bit of snark from the race director.


It's moving as fast as it's going to.


Why?

Oh..

The final descent to the start/finish area takes you down an actual ski run - one that's really bloody steep in the middle, and the upper two-thirds of which are covered in loose stones. I'd have to gingerly mince my way down until it flattened out a bit, just as you turned right into the blast of the cold wind.


Here

Then you could really open your legs up and bound down to the tent where the volunteers were doing the timing for the 6-hour and running a really well-stocked aid station: there were jujubes, peanut M&Ms, nut clusters, mini chocolate bars, and broth to go along with the water and cola. Maybe other stuff as well - that's just what I know of.


The little blue pavilion tent down there has all the goodies!


Instead of running a straight line across to begin my next loop, I trotted down to the start/finish area where Tanker had my own personal aid station set up (because food allergies suck). I exchanged my empty bottle for a full one, got a smooch, and grabbed the camera from him so I could take photos of the course. While a lot of them are above and below, the full set is available for viewing here, in chronological order.


There was also a photographer on site, so you'll have to abide the images of me, too.


Setting off for my second lap after about 50mins, I figured I could probably get 6 in on the day, as I was taking things fairly leisurely and would be touristing this loop while I took photos. I trudged up the fire road and into the singletrack across the ridge, where Ron caught up to me and offered to get a picture in the woods.


Such a beautiful morning - still only about 8:30am.

I had settled in a bit, comfortable in my wind vest and gloves despite the rising sun, and was just trying not to hurt myself as I ran with Ron along the top of the ridge. I made it down the first part of the sketchy descent, then my foot slipped out from under me on some shifting leaves and I landed on my butt with my forearms on a couple of roots. Not comfortable, but fortunately I didn't seem to have taken any real damage: my right forearm was a bit sore, as were my hips since I'd come down a bit awkwardly while trying to save myself from falling, but I was able to get back up and continue on without too much delay.


It wouldn't be until I was headed for the shower that I'd discover I'd given blood.

I continued to take in EFS Liquid Shot sips, but was having a little more difficult time getting water in as the second bottle I'd picked up felt a little more slippery in my gloved hand. Since I need to squeeze it in order to get a good shot of agua, I was a bit miffed, as with the camera in my other hand I couldn't even do a double-handed squeeze. As I wasn't in too much of a rush, though - stopping or walking at random points just to take pics, plus zip down my vest as the sun started to warm things up - I still managed to keep up with hydration, even though Ron got away on me.


See ya!

The rest of the second loop passed mostly without incident, though I did give my poor left ankle a couple of good wrenches. At the rate I was going I wondered if I'd even make it out for a third loop as it would hurt for a few minutes after each time I'd tweak it, but then I'd keep on moving and it would slowly feel better. Or, perhaps other things would feel worse: my left leg was starting to complain that the niggles that cropped up at Horror Trail two weeks prior hadn't gone away completely, and my glutes and hamstrings voiced the opinion that they were not great fans of races held at ski hills. I told them to quit whining and get on with it.


There was work to do.

Over the hills and through the woods (though not to Grandma's House of Babes), I was done my second lap in about 52mins for a total so far of 1h40m - if I could keep up that pace, I might just be able to make 7 laps. Hmm. I took a couple of minutes at the start/finish to strip off my gloves, ditch the camera with Tanker, get a fresh hand bottle and munch a homemade crisp rice treat before heading out for round 3.


Up we go again..

While I found I was ok without my gloves on, it was still a chilly morning and my nose was runny - I've never blown so many snot rockets in a race in my life! I scarfed back a peanut butter Gu packet and decided that some salt wouldn't be a bad idea despite the cool temperatures, so managed to wrestle an S!cap out of my little pill bottle and wash it down with some water around the 2 hour mark, having made it safely (if very slowly) down the sketchy washout.

I started to get into a decent rhythm with the course at this point: I had another swig of EFS Liquid Shot on the final climb of my 3rd lap, washing it down with a couple of extra cups of water I got the aid station to dump in my bottle when I came through it for the 2nd time on the loop. With bare hands I was better able to drink, and would be just about out of water after the long rail trail grind, so needed a bit extra to get me up and over the hill. Then I'd get a fresh bottle to start the next lap, stopping to snack on something tasty: a crisp rice treat was the most common, but after my 3rd lap I had a pumpkin spice date roll as well that was freakin' delicious.


I love this photo from the on-course photographer.

Just under 52mins for lap 3 had me coming through the start/finish area around 2h32m: just two minutes after the start of the 1k "Big Bum" kids' race and the 4k, 7.5k, 10k, 17.5k and 25k Fat Ass Trail Runs. Since all of the races seemed to start on the same loop, there was a lot of company out there during my 4th lap!


Including these animals!
I did see them take the costumes off for awhile on the loop, but they put them back on for the finish.


What was amazing was the number of people who powered right up that whole first climb: sure, they were probably running shorter distances than I was, but there were some really strong runners that swept by me like I wasn't even moving.


Which was only almost the case.


I just tried to stay out of the way, until I got into the singletrack and it was conga line time. I made a couple of passes when there was space, but mostly just hung in and hoped that all of these extra feet would kick some of the leaves off the course so my ankle would have a bit easier time of things.


With mixed results.

The damage still fell into the realm of "it only hurts for a couple of minutes then feels ok again", so I just crossed my fingers and carried on. Somewhere along the line I wrenched my right ankle, too, just so it wouldn't feel left out. I tried to offer some encouragement to other people on the course while I got on with my own business of trying not to hurt myself too much to continue, polishing off the last of the EFS Liquid Shot on this lap. It was getting quite warm (though the daytime high peaked at 8c/46f) on the sunny side of the hill - where most of the course was - and my vest was soaked, so I decided I'd ditch it (with the empty flask in the pocket) on my next trip through the start/finish.


Where the sun was finally starting to make an appearance, for which Tanker tells me it was applauded by all the volunteers.

A chilly blast of wind in my face coming down the final descent almost made me change my mind, but I got rid of it anyway and had a couple of sips from a thermos of hot chicken broth to warm me up - salty and delicious! My 4th lap - the one that made me an official finisher of the BadAss even if I didn't run another step - took me just shy of 51mins for a 26km total of 3h23m. It was looking more likely that I'd get at least part of a 7th lap in, unless I wanted to leave 45+mins on the clock. Despite starting to get tired, I didn't think I wanted to quit after 6 laps: I came to run a 6-hour, not five-and-a-bit hours. Tanker sweetly loaded an Endurance Tap gel into my hand bottle harness, I grabbed a crisp rice treat, and then buggered off for lap number 5.


I never said quickly..

There's no denying that I was getting tired by this point, and walking more of the gentle inclines than I had been previously. The sun continued to slant prettily through the forest, but my legs also continued to complain almost as loudly as the engines of the fully loaded C-130 Hercules that took off from CFB Trenton - what an incredible experience to have it fly overhead, its roar filling the valley as its propellers laid a vicious beat down on the law of gravity! I had already started to self-massage my left piriformis on some of the hiking sections, but I needed to work on my left sartorius and vastus medialis as well as things were getting really sore. I wrenched my left ankle again, and this time the whole sole of my foot cramped up - I was able to continue and it worked itself out after a little while, but it was damned uncomfortable for awhile. I still ran the whole rail trail section and most of the flatter parts, though.


Sucker for punishment?

I downed another S!cap around the 4-hour mark (after having to make a small off-trail diversion to water the trees), then sucked back the Endurance Tap gel as I climbed the final hill. Looking at my watch gave me a glimmer of hope as I calculated my lap splits and the remaining time on the clock; I might be able to pull this off. I had formulated a plan, and I had to get Tank on board since I'd need his help more than ever. I came down to the start/finish after my slowest lap - almost 54mins, with just under 1h45m left to go - and explained that I wanted my race vest ready to go with a hand bottle (no harness) in one of the front pockets, a crisp rice treat in a zipper baggie in the other front pocket, and my trekking poles deployed and ready to grab when I came in from my 6th loop. I didn't know if I would have time to complete a 7th, but dammit, I figured I'd try.

I picked up a flask of watered-down (3:2) sea salt chocolate Gu Roctane to get some caffeine into me, devoured a chocolate chip cookie (I maintain that the only reason to run more than 4.5hrs is still "because you get to eat cookies on course"), and set about tearing up the trail to the best of my ability.


Illin'

I pushed hard through the 6th lap, running some sections that I either hadn't run in awhile or in some cases yet that day. The passage of so many feet had helped scatter and flatten the leaves down a bit, so I could get a better look at the minute topography of the ground ahead - I think I actually managed to go a full lap without turning my ankle! I'm sure the caffeine helped to sharpen me up a bit as well, which was as I'd hoped: I'd started to get rather stupid (ok, moreso than usual) as the fatigue built and I could feel the residual drag of just having run 6 hours two weeks prior.

A second shot of sea salt chocolate Gu about 25mins after the first led to the only bit of GI distress I experienced all day: a deep burp that brought a bit of acid up into the back of my throat as I bounced along the rail trail. Fortunately I was able to get some more water down and it settled almost immediately. The wonderful volunteers at the aid station gave an encouraging "Way to go! Last time!", but I told them I thought I had one more in me. That got a "Wow, good on you girl!" and a question: did I want them to stay out there and wait for me? I said no - despite having needed 2 cups of water in my bottle at the 2nd pass through the aid station on each loop since my 3rd, I knew that I wouldn't need to bother for the final mile of my 7th lap as I could just drink water after I finished. They bade me good luck, and off I went to race the clock, having one last shot of the sea salt chocolate Gu slurry on the way up the final hill right around the 5-hour mark.


Passing the 3 remaining ninja turtles on my way to the start/finish

My push had worked: I put in my 3rd fastest lap on the day at just under 51mins, which left me just over 52mins to go. I didn't know if I could manage it - I knew that the trekking poles would be a huge asset to faster climbing, but they might slow me down while running the flat sections as I wouldn't be stopping to break them down and it takes a bit of effort to keep the tips up off the ground. Regardless, I wasn't leaving almost an hour on the clock, so after ditching the gel flask, donning my vest and bottle, then grabbing my poles and snack, I was out of there.


Still able to get some air!

The poles made me much faster while climbing, but at a heavy aerobic cost: I was huffing and puffing like crazy by the top of the fire road ascent, but had no time to waste so broke into a run almost as soon as I made the top of the last little rise into the woods.


This wee bugger here.

I was able to keep my pole tips up reasonably well as I trotted wearily across the top of the ridge, and while they didn't make me any faster on my way down the sketchy, washout descent, they did give me slightly more confidence that I wouldn't actually die. Down into the flatter portions through the hydro cut and lower woods, I ran as much as I possibly could, and when I had to walk a bit I'd pull my right pole off my wrist and carry both in my left hand while I drank from the bottle in my vest. It wasn't too easy to get the bottle stowed again, but I managed it, and thrashed myself to run as much as I could possibly stand. I still didn't believe it would be enough to complete the loop under the 6 hour mark - I figured I'd probably make it to the top of the final climb then run out of time - but I kept on pushing. Little did I know that someone had told Tank just as I got out of earshot that only full laps counted; that might have dissuaded me from pursuing what I thought to be a lost cause.

Then again - given my history - probably not. Noone ever said I was bright.

Those wonderful aid station volunteers were still there when I came through both times, cheering me on as I declined any assistance and thanked them for their incredible support all day long. I ran off through the woods with my bottle still almost half full, only taking in one more shot of water before hitting the final climb to the top of the hill.


Amusingly enough, even my Garmin agrees the hills got a little taller on each lap.
Full workout data available here

Once again, the trekking poles proved both asset and curse: while I was much better able to get secure footing in the still-shifting leaves and rocks on the final ascent, the addition of my arms and lats to the muscles demanding oxygen had me puffing and even death whistling a bit. I switched back and forth between regular and double-poling to hoist myself bodily up that big stinkin' climb, with every part of me complaining loudly. I finally made the top, hearing a train horn off in the distance that I thought might have been the clock running out, but kept on working away. I made the turn onto the final descent, determined that I didn't care if it counted or not - I'd finish this thing off as fast as my sore, tired legs would carry me.


Along with half the damn forest stuck on the end of one of my poles.

As I came down the hill a huge cacaphony burst out from the start/finish area as the volunteers and other racers cheered me in, with Tanker telling me I had 3 minutes left. WHAT? I'd managed to lay down my second-fastest lap of the whole day at just over 50mins, and as I was diverted down a wooden stake and trail tape chute between two FINISH flags, I completed my final lap with just over 2 minutes to spare.

I can haz collapse now?

Official time for 7 loops / 45.5km: 5:57:38
2/15 Women - 9/27 O/A


It turns out I was only about 5mins behind the 1st place female, which is a bit of a kick in the teeth as I know I could have made up 5mins by not dawdling my way along through the first few laps. I missed out on a pretty sweet wooden plaque! However, I was quite happy with 2nd as I'd come into this race without any expectations; still carrying the fatigue from the Horror Trail 6-hour just 15 days prior and just looking to have some fun on some beautiful, challenging trails. As it turns out, I was one of only 2 women to complete 7 laps, and only the top two men managed any more (1st and 2nd overall completed 8 loops each).


Annotated splits
Full official results are available here

I'm also quite pleased that I was able to pull off two ultras in two weeks without hurting myself, after the awful experience I had with Vulture Bait and Horror Trail last year. What's even more encouraging is how I was able to push hard through my last two loops - they were my two fastest on the day apart from the first, which would seem to indicate that I was either sandbagging horribly (to which I'll only slightly raise my hand) or I may just be getting stronger. I actually feel like I was able to work harder in the last 2 hours of the Fat Ass than I had at Horror Trail, despite some worrying twinges from my left knee area.

I certainly didn't feel very strong after the race, though. Fortunately the wonderful RMT from BodyMaintenance in Belleville still had a few minutes to work on me. I directed her to my whiny, grumbling left piriformis, sartorius and vastus medialis, plus she did an all-over rub down of my calves and hamstrings before discovering that apparently my right piriformis was also a bit grumpy. I felt much better after her attention, if a bit concerned by her recommendation that I start getting regular massage therapy.

That's her on the left, pictured with some of the other fantastic volunteers at the start/finish and the course photographer.

My ankle, which I figured would have been pounded completely into dust, actually ended up feeling better in the days after the race than it had after Horror Trail, where I only really tweaked it twice (as opposed to "too many times to count" at the Fat Ass). My legs are a different story, though: where I had surprisingly little soreness after Horror Trail, I was an absolute wreck after those 7 trips down the final descent of the Batawa Ski Hill. It's now Friday - 5 days after the race - and the first day I've been able to walk downhill without feeling like my quads are filled with shards of broken glass. I also wasn't keen on spending over 3 hours in the car directly after the race, but with the aid of a tennis ball to work on my hamstrings and glutes as I sat in the passenger seat (plus a stop in Ajax for a pee and to stretch my legs), I made it home without anything cramping up.


Pfft, I could've told you that.

That's not to say I wouldn't return to race here again. The whole event from start to finish was brilliantly staged: the trails are really well marked, gorgeous and challenging (though I shudder to think what that one descent would be like if it were a wet day), and have so many sections with distinctly different characters that it's impossible to get bored. The aid stations are really well stocked, the volunteers are fantastically supportive and helpful, and the post-race chili was one of the tastiest things I've ever eaten! Loved having a cup of hot coffee after the race, too, plus I hear there was hot chocolate as well. From the race kit swag to the during- and post-race amenities, for calling itself a fat ass is one full-service event that made a great finish to my 2016 season!

And I couldn't have done it without my amazing support crew.

So this week constitutes my off season: I've been doing a fair bit of walking (and eating..), and precious little else. I need to take the time to let all of the little niggles and aches heal up, as I have some big plans for the new year.

Stay tuned, and maybe I'll tell you all about them..