Friday, October 23, 2015

Vulture Bait 50k Trail Race - Saturday, October 17th, 2015

The two 50k ultras I've run this year are almost polar opposites. While Sulphur Springs was a huge PR and probably the most enjoyable race I've ever run, Vulture Bait turned out to be a sufferfest with some lingering craptastic consequences.

It could have been much worse - the forecast was calling for snow squalls the night before the race, with up to 15cm possible overnight. It looked like the race's 13th anniversary was going to be a little unlucky for everyone!


I packed about a million clothing options to muddle through on Saturday morning, given a starting temperature of -2c/28f with a predicted high of 5c/41f, strong winds and more rain or snow showers throughout the day. Since the race is just two 25km loops, I wouldn't have the luxury of being able to pick up or ditch clothing as the day went on.

Race morning was the usual rigmarole: out of bed at an ungawdly hour, scarf back a honey-and-almond-butter-anointed cinnamon raisin bagel, drag poor Tanker out of his warm, cozy blanket burrito (while resisting the powerful urge to climb back in with him), and down a coffee with cashew milk and chocolate syrup. Oh, and whine a lot about how I have no idea if I'll even be able to finish this damn thing as I've only got in two training runs over 2hrs long. Stupid injury.


We get to the race site in plenty of time for the 9am start, and it's decision time for apparel. I have no idea why I brought extra clothing, as I did basically the same thing I always do for spring and fall trail races - I saw a few men in shorts, but I was the only one dumb enough to go run for hours on end in a skirt.

Decision making isn't my strong suit...or skirt.

Just after I get myself slathered in body lube and into my kit, the first of the snow showers starts. There was nothing on the ground, though, so at least the day wouldn't start as a chilly mud bath. I also spotted Ron Gehl in the crowd and got a straw from him, so I had my talisman for the race - I've never DNF'd an event where Ron gave me a straw.

Need every bit of help I can get..

Portajohn stop, then down to the start line at -2c/28f to huddle with all the skinny, fit-looking people. I'm sure I was providing more than my share of body heat as we all tried to stay warm during the few pre-race announcements that I totally didn't hear. A few minutes past nine everyone perked up and started to move, so off I went behind them like a good little lemming.


In the past, Vulture Bait has started with about a 50m run along the shore of the reservoir followed by a conga-line walk up the first short hill. This year things seemed a little more open (or I was further forward in the starting pack), and I actually ended up running solidly for the first hour or so - I think I may have made it all the way to the 2nd aid station at 11km before having to stop to get my bottle filled. The course was much more runnable than I remembered; very few hills and very little truly technical trail. There were several very rooty sections and some washed out climbs and descents where you needed to watch your footing so you didn't trip or go sliding, but the only sustained climbing was fairly gentle and either on dirt or paved roads. There was more pavement than I had remembered, too, running through laneways full of cottages and permanent trailers. With the chilly weather and the hard-packed dirt conditions that morning, it would've been an excellent day for a PR shot if I'd had the fitness fitness such a thing. As it was, I figured I'd just run for as long as I felt decent and then go into damage control mode when my lack of training started to break me down.


I ran for a bit with a fellow who had apparently read my race report from the 10th anniversary 25k edition I ran at Vulture Bait in 2012. He said this was his first ultra and he wasn't terribly fast, but I was getting winded trying to keep up with him and converse and so had to let him get away in order not to burn myself out. Since he said he'd put in training runs up to 40k in preparation and I'd accomplished a meagre 28k before buggering off into the woods for the two weekends prior to race day, I figured that would be the last I saw of him.

Having run out of EFS Liquid Shot and been unable to procure any in time for the race (seriously - is there any left for sale in Canada? What the heck is going on?), I was rolling with whatever I could get my hands on for nutrition. I started at 35mins in with an Endurance Tap gel, followed by another around 1h15mins. I've used these maple syrup-based gels a few times on training runs and found them pretty easy to get along with, even if I do somewhat despise their packaging (I try hard not to litter, which means I have to try to hang onto the little cap from the package while I get the gel into me, then put it back on before putting the empty pack in my pocket...all while running with gloves on and my hand bottle in the way).

I supplemented the Endurance Tap with a bunch of different Gu gels. While I've trained with their gels quite extensively in the past, they make very few flavours (and almost none that I like) without caffeine, and I didn't want to take in too much of the high-octane fuel lest it necessitate my contributing to the fertilization of the woods. Unfortunately, by an hour in I was alrea feeling the call of nature. I hoped there would be a portajohn at one of the aid stations, or that I'd be able to hang on until I finished the first lap and could use the conveniences by the finishing area.

I drank water, plus the one small cup of Tailwind that I poured into my bottle thinking it was water (whoops). I ran a lot. I had to walk through some steep or washed out bits (some of the downhills would be suicide to run, at least for my clumsy self), but never for more than a minute at a time - I'd generally take the opportunity to get some water and/or gel into me, as trying to do so while running through labyrinthine root systems or twisting singletrack trail was probably not good for my health, either. Meeting the ground face-first would not be the best way to beat the 7-hour time cut off, and I already harbored some doubts about my ability to do so even without any additional trauma. I tried to watch my step, having my first caffeinated gel - a salted caramel Gu - around 2h15m in. I also tried to keep taking in my surroundings, because the trails around the reservoir at Fanshawe Conservation Area are beautiful; especially so when the trees come alive with fall colour as they had this weekend. Some leaves had fallen, but most were still on the trees making a gorgeous spectacle rather than obscuring ankle-turning obstacles on the ground.

I love running here.

As I ran through the woods nearing the 20k mark, I saw a sign on a tree informing me of a "Redneck aid station" ahead. Further signage indicated they would not have water, sport drink, gels, bananas, or any of the typical aid station offerings (including a distinct lack of the portajohn for which I was increasingly desperate) - all they had was beer, if you asked nicely. Another sign admonished me to "run faster - we gots banjos!", and let me know "if racing wa easy we'd call it your mom" and that "you're the slowest one so far". Passing a ghetto blaster playing - as promised - banjo music, I came upon a cheerful, friendly crew of folks in camouflage clothing & Billy Bob teeth tending a table laden with tiny cups filled from a mini keg of Heineken. While I didn't indulge, I appreciated their light heartedness as I was starting to feel the worse for wear - my right hamstring was very sore, and it felt like the bandage on the big blister on my right heel was starting to peel off a bit, which wasn't comfortable at all.

I made it to the final legit aid station just before the 22k mark and got my bottle filled while I enjoyed a chunk of banana. The lovely ladies there tried to cheer me and a couple of other people who were also grabbing beverages that we only had a bit more than 3km left to go, then they looked at my bib and saw I was running the 50k, so I'd be back for another loop. I tried to smile about it despite knowing I was already slowing down and starting to fatigue - it was just another lovely romp through the woods, no? I mean I'd made it through the downhill on which I'd broken my right big toe in 2010 doing my first ever long distance trail race (I'd run some 5k events on trail, but 25k was my longest run ever back then), and even got through the stream crossing with dry feet thanks to low water levels and some well-placed stepping stones. I knew there were semi-technical sections that I'd run in the first loop that I'd have to walk in the second half, but I was managing to maintain..

Course map from the race website

..until all of about 200 metres past the final aid station, where I managed to catch the 2nd and 3rd toes of my right foot on a root. I stayed on my feet, but pain shot through my 2nd toe and I figured that good ol' Vulture Bait had broken another one. Still, I was able to run most of the last 3k, though I did walk up the hill to the finishing area. I made it through the first loop seeing the clock turn 2:48:xx, but there was no timing mat for the 50k folks so you'll just have to take my word for that. I was pretty pleased, as I was within shouting distance of my personal best time on the course - I was convinced I'd gone 2:42:xx here in 2012. It turns out my Vulture Bait 25k PR (and overall 25k trail PR for that matter) is actually 2:46:11, so I was only 2mins off my best time. This also meant that I had more than 4 hours before the cut off, and was fairly certain that I could manage to limp my way through in that time no matter how mutinous my legs got. I even entertained the foolish notion I might be able to bring this in under 6 hours..

I was directed to the reservoir side of the building that served as race headquarters and a friendly gentleman offered to refill my bottle, which I gratefully accepted. He did advise that I'd have to veer off course to use the portajohns by the parking area, though, as there was no closer washroom available. I thanked him, continued scanning for Tanker (he was around there somewhere, I was sure), and trotted off to the bank of blue plastic boxes that were my own personal version of Valhalla at that point. Fortunately the one at the very far end - the same one I'd used before the race - was unoccupied, so I took care of the matter that had become rather pressing over the last hour and three quarters.

Emerging from the portajohn, I stirred myself back into a run and headed back toward the course, seeing 2:52:xx on the clock as I headed out for my final loop. Apparently Tanker had wandered out of the building just beforehand, and looked to the South just in time to see me departing.

So close..

I crossed the dam over the reservoir around the 3 hour 15 minute mark, knocking back another Endurance Tap after getting my bottle filled at the 4.8km aid station. I was definitely slowing down and it was becoming harder to convince myself to run up even the gentle hills, but I cut myself some slack and let myself walk. The 2h48m it took me to get through the first loop was as long duration-wise as I had run in training since May, so it was understandable that I'd be feeling some fatigue. I also needed to make sure I stayed on top of nutrition and hydration, as I'd experienced the lows and grumpiness that come from the forgetfulness about eating and drinking that sets in around 3.5-4hrs into a long race for me and wanted to try to enjoy the second loop if I possibly could. 

I spent most of the second half of the race all alone in the woods. There was one fellow who seemed to be having some sinus issues - he kept blowing snot rockets every couple of minutes, leading my brain to toss up the nugget "Ah, the mating call of the Northern Snot-Nosed Trail Runner" in its best David Attenborough voice - but he got away from me quite early on and for a good hour and three quarters it was just me and the forest. I don't really mind this; I don't train with music or a partner, so I'm pretty comfortable inside my own head and just absorbing the lovely scenery.

I think that my tired legs or possibly trying to favour my sore right toe led to a change in my stride, as my left knee started to get a bit sore on the outside. I kept on running as much as I could, but the pain started to get worse as I passed the second aid station and got my bottle filled again. I asked the ladies there "This is kilometer eleven point..?" and they told me it was just 11km, to which I replied "Oh, that's...disheartening better than ten." They gave me a smile and told me that was the spirit as I rallied my legs to continue running down the paved road past the trailers. I was 4 hours in at this point, so decided another caffeinated gel might be the ticket - I pulled out a maple bacon Gu and went to town. Hadn't tried that flavour before, but it was pretty tasty!

Snow flurry at the finish area sometime during my 2nd loop

The weather was variable all day. Mostly overcast and windy, but punctuated with occasional snow showers and even a few peeks of sunshine. I distinctly remember the sun emerging from the cloud cover just as I approached a pair of brilliantly coloured maple trees on the course; they had dropped about a third of their leaves, so the whole path ahead of me seemed to glow with a million shades of yellow, orange and red. I felt a little less sorry for myself as nature flaunted her autumnal finery before me. I was also really pleased with my clothing selections; the high for the day only reached 3c/37f, and the only change I made from the way I started my day was to zip down the collars of both my vest and my shirt as I warmed up. I felt a bit chilly at times when the wind would hit or snow would fall, but overall I think I nailed it.

By 4.5hrs in, though, I had two problems: my knee continued to worsen, and I think the caffeine was proving a little too much for my poor GI tract to handle. I needed another portajohn, and knew there was no way I was making it to the finish before what was knocking very hard at the back door was coming out. So, I went off-roading. My sincerest apologies to the very few people behind me; I had no choice in the matter. I know I'm not the only one who contributed something to the fertility of the conservation area that day (there were some less-than-savoury aromas about), but I really had hoped it wouldn't come to that...especially since I was in pine forest and had no toilet paper with me.

Body lube, don't fail me now.

Now feeling pleasantly empty, I managed to get my last Endurance Tap gel into me around 4h45m just before the 16.7k aid station. I thought I remembered it being at 16km, but the map says different and I'll believe it. In any case, I knew I only had to drag my hurtin' self through another 9km to get my finisher's medal, and I was bound & determined to do so. With my bottle filled once more, I set about it.

I actually caught up with some other folks around this time - two masters athletes (a man and a woman) who were seemingly running together, plus the fellow who'd chatted with me earlier about my blog. We talked a bit more and played some airborne caterpillar with each other, but my toe was hurting and my knee was getting worse by the minute. Running uphill and walking downhill were seriously painful by this time; anything that put a load on my left knee while it was bent. I also ended up walking a rooty, rocky, side-slope-riddled section in the forest with my newfound compatriots, telling them I wasn't nearly bright enough to run them at this point - that really, I was only just barely smart enough to realise I wasn't bright enough to run them without landing on my head.

With 7k left to go the masters athletes left me behind as I struggled to stir myself into a run at all - my knee was just that bad. I contemplated quitting, but there wasn't really anywhere to do so. I'd have to get at least to the Redneck Aid Station at the 20k mark, or possibly the final race-sanctioned aid station at 21.9km...and what would be the point of dropping out there? At 5h15m I pulled the last arrow out of my quiver: a caramel macchiato Gu with double caffeine that I hoped would perk me up enough to get through.

So, I continued as best I could. I limped down the descents too steep or technical to run, ran the flatter bits, and walked up anything even resembling a hill. I had almost drained my bottle by the time I reached the Redneck Aid Station at the 20k mark and had to ration the last couple of sips of water. Even walking was horribly painful by this time, so I engaged the philosophy that has got me through so many ultra events - "If it hurts to walk, you might as well run". Sounds good in theory, anyway. In practice, I did actually manage to run the whole way through the Redneck Aid Station, politely declining the offer of a free hug (tempting though it was to stop) just so I could try to keep my momentum. It didn't last long, though; I was just in too much agony and had to walk quite a bit, even on the flat bits.

I finally emerged from the woods at the final aid station and asked for my bottle to be filled. The lady doing so asked if I wanted it full or just partly filled, as it was just more weight to carry. I said 2/3 would probably be ok, but that this might take me quite awhile, since my knee was buggered and I'd probably broken my toe. I was wished good luck (which I needed), then hobbled off to try to get through the final leg. I can't say enough about the wonderful volunteers at this race - despite the cold, windy day and snow showers, they always had a warm smile and good cheer for the runners coming through. I did my level best to thank them all for coming out, as I know it's not the easiest job in the world and some athletes can be downright arrogant in their dealings with these wonderful folks who give up their day just to help us out.

Having stopped at the aid station, my knee seemed to try to seize up on me - breaking into a run again was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do in my life, and I might as well have had a knife embedded in the outside of my poor leg. I tried to stay vigilant and pick up my feet to ensure I wouldn't catch my damaged toe on anything, but it wouldn't be me if I managed to make it through unscathed.

Same. Damn. Root.

Same. Damn. Toe.

Artist's interpretation.
Totally inaccurate - I'm much chubbier.

I nearly yard sale'd myself, but somehow managed to stay upright while letting loose a torrent of profanity that would make a sailor blush. I had no idea what horror awaited me inside my right shoe - all I could tell was that it felt wet (bloody?) and my sock seemed to be sawing into the top of my 2nd toe just behind the nail. The same nail that had fallen off a few weeks earlier, with just a malformed little half-thickness stub having grown in to make it look somewhat normal. It was the only one that hadn't needed cutting the day before the race..

I was now in just about the worst condition I've been in during a race. My left knee was entirely made out of pain, and my right foot was somehow even worse. Forward progress was the only thing I could focus on, and it happened at a snail's pace. A couple of people passed me as I limped along, prompting my inner Chopper Reid. It wasn't going to get any easier, gawddammit, so I might as well get it over with as quickly as possible.

I ran.

I ran most of the last 2 kilometers.

I ran whimpering like a wounded animal, which was a fairly reasonable assessment of my situation.

Do not approach. May attack without warning.

I even managed to persuade myself to run up the hill to the finish, because fuck it. I saw Tanker at the top, cheering and losing his mind in the most wonderfully supportive way, while yelling at him that my left knee was completely screwed.

This. This is what pain looks like.

I ran all the way through the finish line, not stopping until I came to a volunteer who asked to take my timing chip.

Can you believe I carted that fat arse through 50km of trail?

I got my medal, I got a bottle of water, and I got photobombed by a volunteer.

Glad one of us has some energy!

Official 50k Time: 6:11:21 @ 7:26/km
38/52 O/A - 10/15 W1-49

Outside race headquarters

So I was 35 full minutes slower in the 2nd half than the first, and the time is a personal worst for the 50k distance for me by 3.5 minutes - my first one was a 6:07:51 at Run for the Toad in 2013, which is a much tougher course. As I said before, with the day's conditions and the lack of significant elevation change, this year's Vulture Bait would have been a shoe-in to beat even my surprising 5:43:24 from Sulphur Springs in May if I'd been properly trained.

On the bright side, though, I did actually manage to finish the damn thing. Even did so under the 7 hour cut-off time, though there are a couple of people who finished after 7 hours that still have official results, so I guess they're not too strict about that. The original injury did not flare up again, I didn't have any trouble from the giant heel blisters I worked up while solo backpacking 2 weeks before the race, and I was able to keep running right up until the end. I also think I demonstrated that I have a wee bit of grit and determination in me, anyway.

Nah, just sheer bloody-mindedness.

So then I go inside to change out of my wet clothes and see what horrible thing I've done to my toe. A large part of me didn't want to look, but someone has to deal with this crap and my sweet husband simply cannot handle anything gross or painful to do with toes; it shuts him right down. So, off with the gaiters, shoes and socks and...ergh...apparently I smashed the toe hard enough to detach the roots of the nail, the rear points of which have rubbed up a nasty blister (which is what was making it feel wet) and are scraping up the raw skin underneath (which is why I thought my sock seam was munching on me).


So I got to go home and use a pair of pliers to remove the poor little malformed nail, actually having to cut it out of the callous I always get on the end of that toe. I slapped some antibiotic ointment on the nail bed, bound it up and wore flip flops for the rest of the day. That I managed all this without hurling or passing out after running a damn 50k earlier in the day still amazes me.

If you really want to see, click here.
I don't really recommend it.

I did manage to get a sock and shoes on Sunday and Monday to do some walking & hiking (and voting). The toe seems like it'll be ok eventually - I'm keeping it wrapped and it shows significant healing just in the few days since the race.

The left knee seems to be a bigger problem, though. I took 4 days off running while I used The Stick and my foam roller, hoping that it's just a result of a tight muscle (hamstring? glute? calf?) pulling things out of alignment. My right knee has also been a bit sore in the same fashion as I recover, though not nearly as badly as the left. I finally tried a short, easy run last night - it started off perfectly well, but by 20mins in (after running up a hill and maybe cornering with a bit less care than I should have used), I was dealing with a lot of soreness again. What's worse is that I had even more pain during a short walk that Tanker and I took together later in the evening, after I'd been to the pool for a  post-run swim and swirlpool stretching session - I had to limp the last few metres back to the house.

It felt better this morning after sleeping on it and has been more or less ok today, but I don't know what any of this means for the Horror Trail 6-hour on the 31st. It was always fairly ridiculous to think about running 2 ultras a fortnight apart; this may be the nail in that coffin.

Nothing for it but to keep on foam rolling and hoping for the best.


  1. Loved your race recap (and especially your drawing), but not the part about the stumble and toe/knee issues...way to push through and finish in a great time. May not be your best but what a great result considering. Hope you are all healed up in time for Horror Hill. I'll see you there (again), running the 50K event.

    1. Thanks so much Robin - look forward to seeing you at Horror Hill tomorrow!

  2. oh I came across this blog as a suggestion on my FB feed, I remember seeing you during the race and loving your cat-vest!

    1. one more thing..I was also wearing a skirt that day.

    2. Glad you had fun at Vulture Bait, too - it's one of my favourite races. Also glad to hear I wasn't the only one to skirt up and run!
      Thanks for stopping by and reading - happy trails!

  3. thanks for the review: will be doing this bad boy in a few weeks. wish me luck!

    1. Thanks for stopping by - you'll have a great time at Vulture Bait! It's a fabulous race from kit pickup right through to the amazing post-race banquet, and the fall colours are always so gorgeous around the reservoir. All the best for a fantastic day!


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