Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Horror Hill 6-hour Ultra - Saturday, October 27th, 2012

Maybe I should have, but it wouldn't have been half as much fun.

To say that it was raining would be to miss a perfectly good opportunity to use the word "pelting" - a few moments outside would suffice for a drenching, and there were no signs of it letting up anytime soon. The forecaster (rhymes with "idiot") taunted us with hollow promises that things might clear up around noon, but I'd already be halfway done and probably halfway drowned by then. With a high of 8c, you can add half frozen to that as well.

Ignoring better sense, I downed my bottles of Boost and gathered the mountain of crap I'd be hauling along with me. Check that - Tanker did the hauling, because even though he was doing the 5k, he's freakin' amazing and relentless in his sherpa duties. He sherps, therefore he is (awesome).

No issues getting race fuel (Tim Hortons cafĂ© mochas), making our way up to Camp Heidelberg or picking up race kits. I had plenty of time to get ready, hum and haw over wardrobe choices, actually get BodyGlide where I needed it, and finally declare myself ready with about 5mins left before the gun. While sticking with the same skirt I've used for all three Horror Hill 6-hours so far, I did make an unprecedented swap - ditched my usual lightweight short-sleeve for a heavier, long-sleeved merino wool shirt. I would want my arms covered in the cold rain, and while the long-sleeve would hold more water than my Moeben sleeves it would also keep me warmer while I was wet and provide more core warmth due to the thicker fabric. I knew I wasn't going to overheat, so I wouldn't need removable sleeves. I'm pretty sure this substitution, combined with my Louis Garneau Vent 2 vest to keep the wind off my chest, were the only things that saved me from hypothermia on the course. Completing my stylish ensemble: my Saucony Velocity rain hat, Mizuno Breath Thermo gloves and earband, a much-worn pair of New Balance WT100 trail shoes (with just shy of 700km on them already..), my Dirty Girl gaiters, a pair of Merino TRL Wrightsocks, and my old battle-worn Endurance Junkie edition Compressport R2 calf sleeves.

Heading out with Tanker by my side for the first two loops, the trail was actually ok - the dirt was pretty hard-packed and hadn't been churned up yet, so there were only a couple of slippery bits on the hills. Poor Tank ended up with his leg covered in burrs from something on the side of the trail, and had to stop during his first lap to pick them out of his leg hair as they were pretty painful. He was also having trouble with an ingrown toenail - the same one from Tour de King. It had actually healed up, then he smoked it off the bottom of the pool on Tuesday before the race. It had recovered and was feeling ok again, then he stubbed it off the dresser on race morning. Apparently my luck with stupid injuries is contagious - RUN AWAY TANKER!

Trail map with some colour commentary.

Despite having every reason to quit, my sweetheart toughed it out through both of his loops to finish the 5k, then gave me a kiss and headed in to get into dry clothes and grab something to eat. I made it most of the way through my 3rd loop before having to visit the portajohn to adjust hydration levels right around the 1 hour mark - I hadn't drank much so far, but the rain and cold must have got to me! I had started in with taking a slug of EFS Liquid Shot every 30mins (approximately) as well, as a race of this length requires you to start taking in calories long before you get hungry. The crowd thinned out as the 5k and faster 10k runners completed their races, leaving only the 3 and 6 hour participants still going in circles.

Trail conditions worsened with every passing minute as the rain continued. After the first hour, every subsequent loop showed appreciable deterioration, and the amount of runnable terrain in the woods diminished - we were quite literally stomping a mudhole in the forest. I thought about my odds of making it through the whole race upright as my feet tried to skate away from underneath me with each step, even while walking. I actually practiced pulling my damaged wrist into my chest, trying to program myself to do so if I lost my balance. All for nought - I believe I was just finishing my 5th loop and trying to ascend the "small, nigh impassable hill" when my foot lost its traction and I went pitching face-first, landing squarely on my outstretched broken wrist.

Artist's conception.

I couldn't even get up. With my hand bottle in my right hand, I couldn't grab a handy tree with it to pull myself out of the mud, and I certainly wasn't in any mood to try anything with my left hand. Fortunately a very kind gentleman heard me go down, walked back from the top of the hill and offered me his hand. I thanked him and said I just needed a minute, explaining that I'd broken the wrist I fell on a couple of months earlier (it was actually 2 months and 1 day) and it was quite sore. He waited, hoisted me to my feet, and even towed me up the hill that had been my undoing! I owe this man a great debt of gratitude.

Having been tugged to my feet and up the climb by my left hand, I knew it wasn't re-broken - I'd felt a click when I fell on it and it was quite sore, but seemed mostly functional. I made my exit from the woods, hit the grassy section down to the gravel road ("long, pounding downhill") and started running again. No complaint from the wrist, even with the jolting. Hmm..

I made it down to the aid station/shelter and yelled to Tank, who'd emerged from changing and eating to crew for me (and anyone else who needed a hand), that I'd managed to fall on my broken wing like some kind of idiot. His jaw dropped and he asked if I was alright - I told him it seemed to be ok, so my plan was just to keep going until I either finished or wasn't ok anymore. I still had about four and a quarter hours to go, so there was plenty of time for things to get much worse.

Evidence of my impromptu wallow.
Of course, I wondered how the hell I was going to make it up the little hill that had done me in, as well as the enormous hill after the terrifying downhill into the woods from the pond. They were becoming sheer faces of slick mud, and as the rain was only falling harder they certainly wouldn't be improving any time soon. Fortunately, in both cases my ingenious fellow runners had forged alternate paths just to the left of the trail, giving me some hope of making it through the rest of the race without killing myself. While the wrist was holding up ok (despite complaining bitterly when asked to tighten down the strap of my hand bottle), I knew that a second impact would almost assuredly re-break it and end my day. I'd got lucky already, since falling uphill meant that I could collapse onto the elbow as soon as the pain flared on impact - had it taken any more of my weight I might very well have tasted my second DNF.

The trail was doing its level best to ensure that I'd land on my head, while also taking a shot at wrecking both my knees and adductors. Some of the sections had a distinct slant to them, on which I probably slipped more distance sideways than I walked forward, but it was the downhills that truly made me fear for my life; they'd got sufficiently soupy in places that you essentially had to ski down them. I'd call it a "controlled slide", but that implies far more intent of purpose and much less chaos and pants-wetting terror than was actually the case.

Moving right along with nutrition, it was time to bust out the cookies. The only reason to run for such an absurdly long time is that you get to eat cookies on course, and I'd providently put small containers full of Mi-Del Pecan cookies and Wow Baking chocolate chip cookies (which taste exactly like the old Rich'n'Chewy cookies) in the cooler bag with all of my aid station gear. From the end of the second hour onward, I pretty much had a cookie every hour on the hour, finishing with a chocolate chipper with just 45mins left. I love ultrarunning.

Face full of cookie.

Tanker got creative, too - somewhere around the 2.5 hour mark he appeared where we exit the woods by the aid station and handed me a popsicle stick with a chunk of banana smeared with peanut butter. Amazing flavour (this is something I eat all the time), but poor consistency - it took me the best part of half a loop to finally be able to move my mouth freely again and get all the peanut butter un-stuck from my gums. Yep, doing my impression of a dog with a very lonely owner..

On I went, averaging about 4-5 incidents of nearly falling on my head/arse per loop. I was probably somewhere around 3 hours in when I came around the corner to exit the woods by the start/finish line and found one of the rocks hidden in the mud with my left foot, neatly turning my left ankle. I was sufficiently run-tarded by this point that I actually talked myself through self-checking, asking "Am I ok? Yeah, I think I'm ok.." out loud while running down the grass toward the mats. Fortunately the ankle would hold up just fine - I didn't notice it at all until I got out of bed the next morning. Maybe submerging it in mud helped?

"Just a little twisted - I'm still good!"
I pulled into the aid station, had another cookie, visited the portajohn again (apparently drinking to thirst in cold rain means peeing a lot), and got on with it. I had made it through 20km in the first half, and figured on that particular day that anything over 30km would be gravy - I'd started my running season with the 30km Around the Bay road race, so finishing it with 30km of trail would be just fine. Given the time I had, even despite the continually increasing suckage level of the trail, I figured I could probably shoot for 35km.

Odd thing about this particular race - it seems to take forever to get to the halfway point, but after that time seems to accelerate. While both the rain and soupiness of the trail increased (along with my lap times), I was feeling ok and just putting one foot in front of the other. It had got to the point by hour 5 that it actually seemed best to walk or run in the deepest of the mud, since it's shoe-sucking gloopiness was the closest thing available to traction. I heard that some other people had issues with their adductors cramping on them from trying to control the sideways slipping that accompanied almost every step, but mine had been conditioned by months of morning strength sessions and were hanging in there. My knees took a bit of a beating, but the hundreds of one-legged squats I've done this year came to the rescue and I actually managed to stay on my feet for the rest of the day.

Waving to Tanker as I head out for another lap.
Around the 4.5 hour mark, the absurdity of running for six hours dawned on me a bit - I realised I'd started running at 9am, that it was now 1:30 in the afternoon, and I'd still be running for another hour and a half. I was able to laugh about it, though, since I'd done my work with fueling. I have a nasty tendency to forget to eat past 3 hours, and that results in "dark" periods where I have negative thoughts and the voice telling me to quit pipes up (this happened the first time I did this race in 2010). Fortunately, this can be cured with cookies! Having learned something from the past, I kept a steady stream of calories coming in this year and remained pretty chipper throughout.

Toward the end, even sections of the hard-packed gravel leading down to and around the pond had been pounded into ankle-deep, sucking mud. Most of what was I was still able to run in the woods was uphill, but since there was so little and I was doing so much walking it was hard to keep myself warm enough as the rain continued to pick up and the wind howled across the open field between the start/finish and the aid station/shelter. At the 5 hour mark I hit the portajohn one last time (peeing 3 times in 6 hours? Madness!), then whipped out my secret weapon: a chocolate raspberry Gu Roctane packet. I had been pretty good about keeping up with the EFS Liquid Shot ever 30mins or so, but I was starting to get a bit careless with fatigue and I hoped the caffeine in the Roctane would brighten me up a bit.

I saw my friend Dave heading into the building with his gear from the aid station - apparently my merino wool and late-season fat layer were serving me well, as one of the studliest ultrarunners I know had just dropped due to the cold! I had come close to putting on a full jacket myself, but since I was already sodden I didn't think it would be that much use. I was averaging about 25mins per loop, but still trucking and sure I'd manage at least 15 full laps for 37.5km. Eating one last chocolate chip cookie at about the 5:15 mark, I discussed with Tanker that I probably wouldn't be able to make 40km, but it made me wonder.

I'd already done enough walking.
The Roctane had done its job - I was feeling a bit more alert and seeing more clearly. I took one last gel with about 30mins left and noticed that the rain finally seemed to be tapering off a bit. The trail started to improve slightly; we'd stomped a mudhole and were on our way to walking it dry. Coming through the mats at 37.5km (15 laps) with the clock reading 5:47:xx, I decided to go for broke on one last loop and see if 40k was possible. I got my drop bag (a zipper bag full of pasta) and hauled my butt along as best I could.

Knowing I had about 2mins to make up on my recent lap times and nothing to save my energy for, I ran right through the aid station while yelling my intentions at Tanker. I still had to slow down to execute the slide down into the woods from circling the pond and there was no way I could run up the two big hills, but I tried to run pretty much everything else regardless of how soupy it was. A fair bit of walking still happened, since I didn't actually want to die, but I was able to run a heck of a lot more than I had for hours. Just shows what a weenie I turn into when I fall over once!

You should see how much mud there was on the inside..

Emerging from the forest I ran up toward the Rehkopf building and glanced at the clock: I still had just under 9 minutes to navigate the last bit of woods and hit the mats before the horn went. Picking my way through because it would really suck to fall and smash myself right at the end, I emerged from the trees one last time and ran down to the mats...with over 3 minutes to spare! It turns out I'd put in my second fastest lap of the day - had quite a bit left in the tank energy-wise after walking so much all day, and was actually able to get my blood really pumping at last. I felt great aerobically, though my feet and legs were definitely in poorer shape.

Might as well keep going, so I ran right through the aid station again and down the hill to the pond, making it about 2/3 of the way around before hearing the horn at the 6 hour mark. I stopped, dropped my bag of pasta, and had walked partway back when Bruce reminded me that I was supposed to leave my bib with the bag. My hands weren't very functional at that point - insufficient to fiddle with safety pins in gloves - but I managed to tear off a section of the bib that was intended to be used for draw prizes and had my number on it (Bruce had kindly offered to un-pin me, but I didn't want to be a bother). This meant walking about 100m back to my drop bag to tuck in my little coupon, then walking all the way back up the hill to the aid station/shelter to meet up with Tanker. Tell me again why the hell I ran down that hill at the end?

Very happy to have stopped.

The only part that really sucked is that by the time I'd hosed off the mud, gone inside to take off my gaiters, shoes, socks and calf sleeves, hosed off again to get the mud from inside the socks and calf sleeves (really), then got changed into dry clothing all of the burgers were gone. I got a bowl of chili and was told I'd be welcome to come back for as many more as I'd like...then they ran out of chili. On the bright side, this left more room for an enormous bowl of pho - I'd come up with that ingenious little plan somewhere around four and a half hours in and mentioned it to Tanker, who was all over it as well. We packed up and drove straight to Pho Shizzle to get ourselves warmed up, but only after I'd collected my prize (a pair of Wrightsocks) for 2nd place in the women under 40 age group!

Ok, I was actually 3rd, but there's no duplication of awards.

Official distance: 40.4km
3/6 W<40, 5/10 Women, 24/35 O/A

I'm pretty sure I haven't actually stopped cramming stuff in my face since the race ended, either - hooray for off season! It's now four days later and my ankle is feeling way better, so who knows? Maybe I'll actually go for a run tonight..


  1. I picked up your blog late into the season and thoroughly enjoy reading your race recaps.

    Congratulations on an impressive result.

    1. Thanks very much! Glad I can provide some entertainment - appreciate you stopping by!

  2. I've just registered for this race for 2013 and was looking for race reports....This will be my first 6 hour event! Hopefully it doesn't rain...yikes. Congrats on a great performance in tough conditions.

    1. Thank you for your kind words - you'll have a blast at Horror Hill! It hadn't rained the 2 prior years I'd run the 6-hour, and I'm hoping this year will be dry as well as I fully intend to be there for the 2013 edition...assuming I can get through the Toad 50k tomorrow, with the 10-15mm of rain that's predicted.
      Thanks for reading, and best of luck! I'll hope to see you there.


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