I had no real expectations heading into this race. With ~75km in my legs in the 7 days prior and precious little sleep (ever), I was really just going to see what all the fuss was about at this highly spoken of event.
I was also taking the opportunity to try a new pre-race breakfast, because my habitual fare won't be terribly manageable at Dirty Girls - I don't forsee easy access to a toaster for my customary bagel while we're camped in a field. So, at 4:30am, I stood in my kitchen and cooked up some rice porridge with almond butter and a generous dollop of maple syrup, then blended some cashew milk with chocolate-caramel syrup (!) to dump into a cup of coffee we'd pick up along the way.
By 5:10am, Tanker the Wonder Sherpa and I were on the road, arriving WAY BEFORE Google Maps said we would - I wanted to be there by 7am to give me an hour before the start to pick up kit and get ready, but we were at Pine Ridge Secondary School by 6:30am.
|Unfortunately, the weather beat us there.|
I said good morning to some friendly faces while the rain fell in fits and starts, availed myself of the facilities to get into my race kit, swung my appendages around a bit in an effort to loosen up, and waited for my cup of delicious sugary coffee to work its magic on my digestive processes so I could "get down to race weight".
This did not happen. I was not pleased. I foresaw poor things in my future, especially since I didn't know if there were any portajohns on the course.
|At least I managed to get my calf sleeves, socks, gaiters and shoes on in the correct order...both times!|
With about 10mins before gun time I loaded my gel flask into the pocket of my vest, donned a pair of lightweight gloves because my hands get cold easily in wet, windy conditions, and grabbed my hand bottle. With a straw in my hat from Ron Gehl (who gave me crap for doing the 25k instead of the 50k) and a kiss from Tanker (who is wonderfully un-judgmental about my poseur status), I was as ready as I'd get for the start.
|Ooh, look at all the soggy skinny people.|
After a few words from the race director - who stages this event as a memorial for his brother, who holds a course record at Seaton - we were off. We'd been told that beavers had flooded the course around the 2km mark so to slow down and be careful as there were pallets placed to help us over the worst of the mud (and wet wood is teflon-like in its slipperiness), I'd heard that there was a set of stairs somewhere along the way as well as the river crossing, but someone in the Run Trails Ontario group on Facebook had said it was all quite runnable. I was hoping that with all the trail running I've been doing lately since I got my Garmin fenix 2 I'd be in decent shape for this and be able to cross the line of the out-and-back course in less than 3 hours.
|From the race director - see further details here|
We started off along a paved pathway through the school's athletic fields and Beverley Morgan Park, then ran up a small incline to Valley Farm Road and across the stream before diving back into the trails. Reaching the 2k point things started to get muddy, and turning a corner I found the pallets in the mire. I managed to get through them without falling (though someone near me wiped out just trying to make the turn), and then we were trotting along into the forest on the Seaton Hiking Trail.
|Photo from race site's gallery|
All was pretty much well and good for the first 4km or so - there were some undulations, but it was all looking as runnable as described. I was feeling pretty tired and weak, though: I couldn't keep my breathing under control, and I found myself really wanting to walk despite the terrain not being that challenging. I managed to keep running, though, and chalked it up to accumulated fatigue from over 200km in the 3 weeks prior to raceday plus the fact most of my recent long Saturday runs have included either walk breaks up significant hills or pauses to check routing/take photos/kiss Tanker within the first 4km. I kept pushing, hoping that my legs would warm up after awhile and I'd be able to settle into a comfortable rhythm, as had happened after about an hour the week before while running at Dundas Valley Conservation Area.
Then, nearing the 5k mark, the first of what were described as "two major climbs" hove into view.
Whoever it was that said this whole course was runnable is either a mountain goat or a jackass. This thing just kept going up - a singletrack washout littered with loose rocks, roots and sweaty, panting runners tottering somewhat unsteadily toward the rain-washed sky. I became very happy I'd worn my compression sleeves as my calves began to protest this treatment, threatening to go on strike by cramping.
Around this time I zipped my vest down a bit and ditched my gloves in my pocket, as I was getting quite warm despite the damp and occasional gusts of wind. I bypassed the first aid station at around 4km in as I still had plenty of water on me. I had a sip of EFS Liquid Shot from my flask around 40mins in and kept drinking from my bottle, but things didn't seem to be getting any easier - effort level was still very high while my pace remained distinctly uninspiring. I tried to console myself with the fact I'd seen that the course was a net downhill on the way back and kept plugging away. At least the trail was beautiful - lots of rooty sections of conifers with patches of hardwoods carpeted in trilliums.
|Ooh, a flat bit! |
Near 7km in.
Coming down a long, paved hill on Whites Road (that I knew I'd just have to get back up on the return trip) I hit the Bridge aid station - which marked the turn-around point for the 15k race - and got my nearly-empty bottle topped up with a couple of cups of water. As always, I made sure to thank the volunteers, as I had been doing all along the course. The rain continued on and off and the course marshalls and aid station staff tended to be in less-sheltered and thus windier areas, so it was extra wonderful of them to put up with the miserable weather just to help out a bunch of smelly people out trotting around in the forest.
|The folks at the Bridge aid station were mucho festivo, too!|
If I'd known there was guacamole and tortilla chips on offer I might still be there eating..
Back onto the trail, we ran past the top of a staircase that was cordoned off with caution tape and I wondered if they'd taken the steps out after all. No such luck - I would discover there was not one, but SIX flights of stairs to be climbed on the way to the turn-around.
|Example from Stu Hall|
Oh, and I nearly bailed stepping on a wet, muddy root that sloped sharply down to the left on a heavily side-sloped bit of trail. By just past the 8k mark runners were starting to come back the other way on the trail, and in an attempt to stay out of their way I ended up sliding violently sideways and wrenched my back a bit contorting myself to stay upright. Yes, I achieved my goal, but now my left mid-back was grumpy. And it was starting to rain some more, and the wind picked up just as I was running on a more exposed section.
Somehow, though, I was still kind of enjoying myself...despite getting an inch taller and five pounds heavier with every step at some points in the sticky mud. If you'd like an impression of what the morning was like, you can check out this video from Get Out There Magazine.
At an hour and 20mins I slugged back another ounce of EFS Liquid Shot from my flask and just kept trying to use my glutes to hoist myself up the climbs - that huge arse has got to be good for something, right? - while being cautious and using the upslopes to stretch out my grumbling, mutinous calves. I finally made it to the turn-around at Whitevale Park and got 2 more cups of water for my bottle at around 1:29:xx, then began the arduous journey back to the finish.
Net downhill. Net downhill. Just keep telling yourself that. Ignore the fact that some of the descents have been tricky as hell due to tangles of roots and loose rocks.
On the bright side, I wasn't feeling any ill effects from my uncooperative digestive tract. I was a bit gassy (and my sincerest apologies to any and all of the runners whom I inadvertently crop dusted), but my belly wasn't causing any troubles. What was less encouraging was the rain, which continued to conspire with other runners' feet to churn the trail into a quagmire of slippery mud.
|Near the 18k mark|
Back I toiled, surprised at the number of people I managed to outrun on the way to the turn-around, but having to be extremely cautious on the steep, technical hills so I didn't end up sliding or just rolling down them in a broken heap of flailing limbs. I once again had to resort to interpretive dance in order to keep my clumsy self upright, and there were some flat sections on the return trip that had got so muddy I had to walk them because even my wildly windmilling arms were not going to be enough to prevent me from falling on my face.
|I will do you the dance of my people!|
From the looks of a lot of other runners on course, I made the right moves - lots of muddy legs and bloodied knees out there, and a couple of people fell quite hard in my vicinity (all of whom I made sure were ok before continuing on my somewhat merry way). I was seriously pleased at one point that I make it a habit to ensure my shoes are tied securely - there were two short patches of ankle-deep mud that threatened to pull them right off my feet! My back was still grouchy, but I had to ignore it and just shuffle on, scarfing back a packet of vanilla spice-flavoured Gu Roctane around the 2 hour mark.
The out-and-back nature of the course was nice in that I had a decent idea of what to expect on the way back, and was excellent for being able to say hi to friends who were also running but at very different paces than myself (read: much much faster). The organization and marking was fantastic, too - I can see why so many Ontario runners return year after year, even apart from the beauty of the trail itself as it winds along the stream.
|On a much nicer day - from oakridgestrail.com|
I never really did manage to fall into any kind of comfortable pace throughout the entire race, though, and spent more of it than I would have though possible death whistling. By the 20k mark I was ready to be done, but I was nevertheless still pushing myself and trying to catch people ahead of me. I also managed to direct a fellow racer who was heading off course to get her back on track - everything was brilliantly well marked with pin flags every few feet and marshals to direct athletes at most intersections, but fatigue is a factor for which it can be impossible to fully compensate.
Down the now incredibly slick, muddy washout that had been the first major climb, I knew that most of the rest of the course was runnable so I tried to pick up my feet and get after it. With my bottle totally empty I paused at the Forestream aid station to get a couple of last cups of water from the wonderfully cheerful volunteers, then made the hard right at the base of a downhill to see the only part of the course that would come as a surprise.
I hadn't been totally sure what to expect from the river crossing - I'd heard the water was typically between ankle and knee deep, and there was a rope strung across to aid tired runners. Unfortunately for me it was on the right-hand side, which meant it was only usable with the hand that had my bottle on it. I have got reasonably adept at working around it, though, and grabbed ahold anyway...only to have the rope dive under my hand as the runner ahead of me nearly fell over and leaned his whole weight on it! He was able to save himself a premature ice bath, and once he was clear I managed to safely pick my way through the ankle-threatening, shifting riverstones. My back even quit complaining, and I emerged on the finish line side unscathed (not to mention slightly cleaner) with 2.5km left to go.
Into the home stretch, I was totally roasted and had to fight the overpowering urge to drop to a walk on the mostly flat, easily-runnable trail. I just focused on keeping my legs turning over, and was rewarded by passing a couple of people just before emerging from the woods into Beverley Morgan Park and heading up a gravel path that I'd noticed on the way out, climbing back up the downhill we run on the paved path to start the race. Knowing I was less than 2 minutes away from the finish I flogged myself to keep running up the hill to the Pine Ridge Secondary School athletic fields, heading straight for the arch and seeing Tanker waiting for me beside the paved path. I was nearly there!
..except I wasn't. When I reached Tank less than 100m from the line, he told me I had to turn left and run a lap around the field! AAARGH NOOOO - what a dirty trick!
I followed the runner ahead of me onto the wet, energy-sucking grass, making a big square as my legs screamed at me for a rest. Finally I was back to the very spot where all this had started, crossing through the arch the same way I had hours earlier.
|Kill it - it's in pain!|
Official time for 25k: 3:01:01
Seeing the clock displaying over 3 hours as I approached the end was a bit depressing - the only other time I've taken more than 3hrs for the 25k trail race was at Pick Your Poison last year, and that's at a bloody ski hill.
|I'll still take the medal, though.|
So, not hugely happy with my time, but I felt quite weak and tired right from the start - no taper and very little sleep might have something to do with that, and I think the wet weather may have been a factor, too. A couple of friends of mine DNF'd at 25k (they had signed up for the 50k and are both super strong ultrarunners) because their asthma was playing up in the rain. I noticed myself death whistling a lot more than I would have expected and suspect that I may have a touch of exercise-induced asthma (my dad was full-blown asthmatic), so that may have contributed to my effort level feeling absurdly high for the way I was running.
|Full results available here|
The results say I didn't really do too badly, though - I know I could easily have found a couple of minutes on the course had it not been so treacherously muddy. I certainly didn't envy the 50k runners who would have to deal with even worse trail conditions and greater fatigue as the day wore on!