Friday, November 6, 2015

Horror Trail Run 6-hour Ultra - Saturday, October 31st, 2015

My goals for this race were pretty modest, what with having a messed up knee/IT band from Vulture Bait 2 weeks prior. Not that just having run a 50k a fortnight beforehand would possibly be enough to slow me down or anything.

Still, I wanted to give it a whack, so I rolled out of my nice, warm bed and slapped a bunch of tape on.

Plus incredibly stylish slippers.

Then Tanker and I headed up to Camp Heidelberg where I made an attempt at honouring both it being Halloween and the absurdity of even starting a hilly ultra while already injured.

The devil made me do it.
I said hello to a few people, got my straw from Ron Gehl, and moseyed out to the start line. I was far from the only person in costume, though of course that's just Batman's regular apparel.

Robin shivering in behind us - nice to have both you and Chris on course!

Start running down the hill to the pond, around and back up halfway, then into the woods. The knee feels ok - maybe I've been worried for nothing? Up the giant hill and its little brother, then through the woods, back down the very steep descent, and up to the gravel driveway.

So far so good.

Run up the driveway to the building, then into the other bit of woods. The knee is already starting to complain. 


Down the long grassy section and back onto the driveway, through the timing mats. One lap down, which puts me halfway to my jeez-I-gotta-be-able-to-make-it-through-at-least-5k goal.

Good deal!

I'd also pinned my race bib onto my regular running skirt underneath my costume, which had partially been chosen for its ability to be donned and doffed fairly easily. I wasn't sure which was going to give out first: my knee, or my tolerance for prancing around in something designed to be worn with a pair of stiletto heels instead of trail shoes and gaiters.

Back around, and yep - the knee is definitely not in great shape. But I'm still rolling along ok, and came to see how much I could do. I decided I'd wait on getting any nutrition into me until I knew whether or not I'd make it past 90mins, and while I had to pee (having missed my chance to visit the portajohns one last time before the race start) I figured I'd wait until I either had to drop out or was over an hour - whichever came first.

As things progressed this downhill was all I'd end up running.

It ended up taking me an hour and 13 minutes to get through 10km, including a washroom stop around 1h5m. The knee was sore, but it would ease off at times - either after I stopped to stretch (which was happening multiple times per lap) or sometimes after running uphill. Still, it was definitely worsening with each loop.

And I was walking a lot more.

Nonetheless, I continued on. Once I got through 90mins I ate a peanut butter Hammer gel, then had a chocolate maple pecan cookie at the aid station around 2 hours, because the only reason to run long is so you can eat cookies on course. By this time I knew I wasn't going to make it through the whole thing running, as it was getting really painful and I couldn't run uphill at all anymore. I could feel that it was the downhills that were doing the damage, but the knee was really whining a lot when the trail went up.  

By the time I'd got through 8 loops / 20km, I'd been out there almost 3 hours. I ran down the long hill to the aid station, had myself a cookie, and that was the last of the running.

My smile is the only part of me that still works properly.

Tanker suggested I go inside and get the massage therapists to work on me, but I didn't want to tie them up since there were most likely 25k runners who needed them more than I did at that point. He and Manuel (who was working the aid station instead of running because he was injured, making him much smarter than I am) tried to convince me that actually being injured gave me a decent claim to some help from the RMTs, but since I came into the race with the injury I figure that made my soreness all my own fault. I also figured if I went inside and stopped for more than a couple of minutes I'd probably never get going again, and my knee felt better (walking) if I kept it moving. I wondered if I'd have the discipline, tenacity and general stubbornness to hang out and walk for 3 more hours. Only one way to find out..

Now let's take you on a journey through the Horror Trail loop, since I took my phone out with me for a lap and took some photos. We'll start with the same annotated map I've been using for years:

Looks simple enough.

Looking back up to the pavilion on the way to the pond

Two-way traffic as runner round the pond

Back uphill

Left into the woods

Down a steep, rooty descent

Up & over a wee rise then down, down, down to the pallet bridge

The big stinkin' hill.

Around the corner then up the second part of the hill

Less-steep uphill through the forest

Lots of roots and rocks in this section

More roots and rocks as you wind your way along

After a major turn and flatter section, this downhill is much steeper and more technical than it appears

Looking back from the gravel driveway to the base of the steep descent

Up the driveway to the building

Around the building, through the parking lot and into the woods again

The second hill in this section is short but steep

Right turn, then through the rocky mud pit and onto the grass

Down the loooooong hill past the building to the pavilion.
The orange cones are the timing mats and start/finish line.

Having made it past 3 hours - further than I could possibly have imagined my knee holding up - I could have been content to just quit at that point, but something kept pulling me along despite my inability to run. I was still able to walk ok, so just kept myself moving and tried to be mindful of just how beautiful the woods are with the colours of autumn just beginning to fade.

As I hiked my first full loop, my knee decided it was time to start complaining while walking, too. By the second run-less loop it was painful, and I still had 2 hours to go. While not totally unexpected, I'd really hoped it would hold up better. I had no idea how many laps I'd done, and there was noone near the timing mats to ask when I came through. I talked to Tanker the Wonder Sherpa down at the pavilion where he was being his amazing self and helping out all the runners on course, and he said he'd try to find out for me. I figured I was probably at 27.5k, which meant I could lurch my way through one last loop for 30k and be done with it. There was a 25k race (as well as a 5k and a 10k, plus a 50k) as an option for Horror Trail this year, so I wanted to make sure I did more than 25k...otherwise I could have registered for a lower fee. I was very happy I hadn't signed up for 50k; at least the 6-hour is a finite amount of time, so I could just fool around eating banana and orange chunks (plus more cookies) at the aid station to reduce the amount of time I had to be in motion.

Yeah, I can be a lazy bugger sometimes.

When Tanker told me as I emerged from the woods that I had only done 25km in the four hours I'd been out there, I wasn't very happy. As much as I was sore - and not just my knee anymore, but all the other things that get beat up when you're on your feet for hours on end - I knew I couldn't let it go with what I'd managed to accomplish so far. I had another cookie and got on with it.

Conditions were actually pretty much perfect for running. The overcast day was a cool 9c/48f, and despite some heavy rain earlier in the week the trail itself was mostly hardpacked with very little mud. There seemed to be more roots to catch toes on (which I thankfully did not do this time). The weather seemed to be following the usual Horror Trail Run pattern, too:

  • Start off chilly
  • Warm up as the day progresses
  • Get colder again in the afternoon as the wind picks up
  • Warm up again a bit just at the end
By this time the wind had picked up and I wasn't physically capable of working hard enough to keep myself warm. I stopped at the pavilion during my 11th loop to put my wind vest on under my costume, which proved a little complicated when I was somewhat braindead from wandering around in circles for hours.

Rawr I'm on fire
Eventually I got myself sorted out and threw my gloves back on, then strolled off back into the woods. I said again that this might very well be my last lap, as I wasn't sure if the vest would be enough to keep me from going hypothermic.

Off for a mosey..

What really never ceased to amaze me was the incredible respect and encouragement shown by the other racers on the course. It seemed like everyone had a kind word for me, despite the fact I was just some silly girl out meandering around in the woods on a bum knee because I'm too dumb to quit. I tried to make sure I said something to cheer on everyone around me, and did my best to stay out of other people's way - I actually felt a bit bad about continuing to hike around the course as I'm sure I was a bit of an impediment to other runners despite my efforts to get off the trail to let people pass as soon as I heard them coming.

By this point I was actually having to limp my way up and down the steeper sections, and my knee was a constant source of pain. My 11th loop took me over 40mins, bringing me to 4h42m for 27.5km...but since I'd only have time for 2 more laps, I felt like it would be stupid to quit just then. I also didn't want to pull Tanker away from the aid station, because he really is a huge asset to everyone on course - filling bottles, fetching snacks from people's coolers, and generally making everybody's life a bit easier.

So, onward. I finished 30km in 5h15m, picked up my bag of noodles to mark where I stopped at the 6-hour horn, and needed a portajohn stop - the huge problem with walking is that it takes so freakin' long to reach the thing once you realise you need it! I figured with having to pee I'd probably end up coming through the timing mats right as the race ended, as I knew I was slow as hell.

Not, however, slow enough. Maybe it was Robin calling me a rock star or Chris telling me I'm tough for sticking it out (if you're gonna be dumb, you've gotta be tough), but I seemed to move a little quicker through my 13th lap. When I came through the timing mats with just over 10mins to go I knew I couldn't just stop there - I even tried to run a little bit (making sure Tanker got a shot for posterity) once I got onto the sort of flat grassy section that leads to the pavilion, but only made it about 10 feet.


I tottered my hurty-squirty way down around the pond one last time, then back up the hill and into the woods, checking my watch all the while. I came to the bottom of the big stinkin' hill with a couple of minutes left to go, so limped my way up it once more just before the horn sounded. I can't be sure whether that was the one or not (because of partial loops in the past), but at some point that afternoon I made my 100th lifetime trip up that damn hill - took me 6 consecutive years of running Horror Hill/Horror Trail, but that dubious accomplishment is now mine. 

Fortunately there's a side trail that cuts across from the turn between the two climbs out to the short hill up to the gravel driveway, so I didn't have to pick my way back down the big hill - walking down anything steep was virtually impossible at this point. I managed to hobble my way over to the pavilion and back up to the building to get some post-race hot food and some attention from a massage therapist.

Official distance: 33.34km
22/24 O/A - 3/4 Women

Annotated lap summary

So a personal worst result (though I did get on the overall women's podium by default - the 4th place lady stopped at 32.5km after 4h12m) and I didn't technically complete an ultra, as I didn't manage more than a marathon distance. It would also appear that I still don't know exactly where my breaking point is, but I did learn that my stubbornness extends to walking around in circles for 3 full hours just to get a little medal and hang out with the wonderful, friendly and supportive ultrarunner folks. 

I think I'm ok with that.

Many thanks to all the runners who had a kind word for me, especially Ron Gehl for talking me out of quitting and making me laugh when I was having a rough time around 4.5 hours - he knew I'd hate myself if I dropped out (and I still have a 100% finish rate when I get a straw!). Special thanks also to Hans Maier who had passed me in those last, horrible kilometers of Vulture Bait two weeks prior and gave me a hearty handshake both before the race (for not quitting at Vulture Bait) and then after the 6-hours was up for not quitting at Horror Trail. Coming from a man who was finishing his 311th (yes, three hundred and eleventh) ultra, I'm honoured to be shown such respect and camaraderie.

The biggest thanks of all go to Tanker the Wonder Sherpa, though. You're the best, babe, and I couldn't even attempt these stupid human tricks without you, let alone pull them off.

1 comment:

  1. Loved this entry and all the course photos. You are a rockstar and tough and i hope your injury goes away quickly. Take your time to heal and you'll be good for next season.


Go on, have at me!