Friday, November 4, 2016

Horror Trail 6-hour Ultra Trail Race - Saturday, October 29th, 2016

I hadn't really mentioned it before, but I harbored a secret stretch goal going into Horror Trail this time: I've always wanted to break 50k there for the 6-hour, and I thought this might be my year. Between the changes made to my training and the long, technical racing I'd done, I thought I might just have the fitness to pull it off, despite my lack of long runs recently.

Strangely enough, running this kind of stuff weekly is better prep for trail racing than road or rail trail runs.
Who would've thought?

That said, running 58km the week before the race (taper started 7 days out) and not getting more than 6hrs of sleep any time in the week leading up to race day wasn't my best plan of attack. The evening before the race was plagued with soreness in my hips, some cramping in my left hamstrings and right lateral calf, and a bout of inexplicable stomach trouble. Instead of my usual homemade chicken fried rice, I settled on a pre-race dinner of a couple of slices of toast with runny eggs, eaten just because I knew I should have something and figured it'd be easy to digest. It stayed down ok, but I wasn't feeling well at all; I wasn't even sure I'd be able to make it through the race. Even if I'd been super energetic, I was also trying to keep from burning myself up too much as I'm in for another 6 hours of running up and down a ski hill (well, running down it at least..) just 15 days after Horror Trail: anything I took out of myself now would not be replaced in a fortnight.

In an effort to remind myself it was supposed to be just for giggles, I even had a costume. As I got ready at stupid o'clock in the morning after a bowl of porridge with almond butter and maple syrup (that was fortunately sitting decently in my still-fragile-feeling belly), I decided I'd complete the outfit with some makeup...then went and woke up Tanker the Wonder Sherpa looking like this:

I was feeling a little dead before my coffee.

Instead of freaking out, he just thought it was pretty cool, which goes to show how compatible we really are. On the road just after 7am, a quick stop at Tim Hortons, then up to Camp Heidelberg on a strangely warm and breezy morning. It was 14c/57f with an hour until race time - probably the mildest it's been in the 7 years I've raced Horror Trail. I greeted and chatted with quite a few friends who'd come out to run, hit the portajohn (which was much more pleasant than usual due to the unseasonable warmth, but didn't smell any better), got into my full running kit, flailed my appendages around a bit to try to loosen up, and had a bunch of people give me weird looks.

I can't possibly imagine why..

I made a few people laugh a bit with stupid jokes about my costume - how I was "feeling a little dead this morning", or that "I finally got down to race weight!" - and went for one last pre-race pee. I managed to get through the portajohn line with just a couple of minutes left before 9am, when we all gathered loosely on the driveway behind the Rehkopf Building for the race director to shout at us a bit, then sound the horn to send us off down the hill.

Many people came in "fast runner" costumes and did not break character all day.

It became rapidly apparent that the trails were in the best shape I've ever seen them - all dry and hard packed with only one mildly damp patch (a far cry from the slippery mud of 2012 and 2013), and race director Patrick had done a lovely job of raking all the leaves off the course so we could see the few roots and rocks along the way. My stomach had settled, my legs felt pretty good, and I had some confidence in my training.

So, of course I went out too hard. The only walking I did in the first two loops was up the 2-part hill just before the 1k mark, and I commented to Tanker on my way past the pavilion (where he was already busy helping out all of the runners on course like the total rockstar volunteer he is) that it felt like someone had come along and flattened out the trails. That being said, by the third go 'round I already knew I was setting myself up for disaster, as I could feel the muscular fatigue in my quads beginning to take root. I laid down my 3 fastest laps ever at Horror Trail, but I'd burned some valuable matches. I tried to settle down a bit and remind myself I was going to take things easy.

Everybody conga!

I kept nutrition fairly simple through the first couple of hours, downing a swig of EFS Liquid Shot from a flask (that I was rather inconveniently keeping in the rear pocket of the shorts I wore under the tutu - I missed my usual tri top back pockets) every 35mins or so, adding an S!cap every 50mins as the temperature climbed and I sweated buckets. By 2h30m I had polished off the 400cals in the flask and my belly was feeling good (which is not to say there wasn't a bit of cropdusting: sorry everyone!), but I was starting to get a bit tired already. The lack of long runs (nothing over 2.5hrs) since Iroquoia Trail Test all the way back in August was starting to become a factor. My lap times were climbing steadily, and having taken just over 2h50m to make it to the halfway point of my 50k stretch goal I knew there was little chance I'd actually achieve it; pace decay would make it nearly impossible.

Still running, though.
Photo credit to Christopher Giesler

My body was starting to get a bit whiny, too, as I scarfed back a chunk of banana and a peanut butter Gu packet just after the 3-hour mark. First a sore muscle in my left upper thigh - pectineus maybe? - then my hamstrings (biceps femoris), which got rather worse on the left side after I tripped a bit on a root. Not enough to send me sprawling, but there was a bit of interpretive dance to stay upright and a bit of tightness in the leg that I caught. No es bueno.

I was moving more slowly at this point and walking a fair bit of each loop, so I left off the salt tabs, but I was still sweating quite a bit in the summer-like air, and pounding back a 20oz hand bottle of water every 45mins or so - Tanker was awesome about keeping my 2 hand bottle system working: filling the empty when he passed me a full one so I always had water ready to go. It turns out the satiny inner skirt of the tutu behaves exactly like my regular running skirt: it channels all the sweat from my back down to the bottom hem, then rains down on the back of my legs while I run. Lovely.

Almost as lovely as me trying to smile with a face full of banana chunk.

Speaking of my legs, as I progressed past 3h30m, they got whinier. My left piriformis - which I damaged last year during the Vulture Bait 50k - started kicking up a little, but I've fortunately learned how to do some self-massage on it while I hike uphill. I could stop it from moving down into my IT band and messing up my knee, but all of my glutes on both sides were starting to feel the strain and make my hips ache from the pounding. My calves were just barely holding up, but I was making sure to give them a good stretch as I walked the hills because it felt like they were threatening to cramp at any moment. Even my left medial quad (vastus medialis) decided to get in on the action by giving me some grief, and the rest of my quads were starting to weaken from my far-too-aggressive first few laps. The weirdest part, though, was the way my upper back tightened up on me by the halfway point - I spent the whole rest of the race periodically trying to stretch out my shoulders and the back of my neck. I wonder if it was a result of trying to finagle my gel flask in and out of a pocket just above my butt.

All while negotiating this.
The two-way traffic on the driveway isn't shown very accurately, but you get the idea.

At one point a fellow runner came past and said it wasn't fun anymore. I disagreed - despite being sore and tired, I was still having fun. I told him my ass would agree that it wasn't fun anymore (my glutes and hips were hurting quite a bit by this point), but who wants to listen to an ass?

Apparently you, since you're still reading this.

What I did need to listen to was my stomach: I wasn't keeping on top of nutrition very well, and knew I needed to get some calories into me. Coming through 35k in just over 4 hours, I grabbed another chunk of banana and an Endurance Tap gel, then had a single mini chocolate chip cookie on my next pass through the aid station for good measure. I still say the only reason to run for more than 4.5hrs is you get to eat cookies on course, so eating one (the only one I'd have during the race, it would turn out) around 4h28m was pretty much perfect. What was even better is that the hot spot that had started to develop on the bottom of my left big toe within the first 90mins had apparently decided it was being ignored, so went away - I didn't have another moment's grief from it past 4 hours. I don't understand it, but I'll take it.

That second board there was a little unstable, which makes 2 things in this photo that answer that description.
Photo credit to Christopher Giesler

Miraculously, I managed to escape with only 1 minor tweak of my left ankle, which I'd managed to wrench soundly during basically every single long trail run since about mid-August. As the clock ticked toward the 5-hour mark, though, it was starting to feel very weak and a bit sore - I knew I'd have to be extra careful about where I placed my feet, as rolling the ankle at this point would probably have devastating consequences.

If it sounds like I was all business out there, I'll disillusion you. Not only were other runners very kind with their praise for my costume, a spectator even got in on the bad joke action by asking if I was doing ok, because I was looking a bit like death.

I had to admit I was starting to feel a little boned.

To make things even more fun, there was some hilarity at the pavilion aid station that lasted through most of the race. On one of the early loops where I exchanged bottles with Tank, I paused to get a kiss from him. The incredible Rhonda-Marie Avery, who was at the aid station helping out and supporting her son Xavier (who ran the 25k) and her sweetheart Steven (who was running the 6-hour), saw that and thought it would be funny to pucker up for a kiss of her own as I came past.

I'm not sure she expected me to plant a big ol' smooch right on her mouth, but I'm not one to back down from a bit of good fun so that's exactly what I did. I ran away promising that I don't have anything contagious, and asked Steven when he came past me a little while later if he'd been told I was stealing kisses from his sweetie.

Knowing full well he's far too fast for me to possibly outrun.

Rhonda asked me a little later on if there was anything I needed, and when I said no she yelled at the "This is where you say 'just more kisses'!" So, the next time I came out of the woods and saw her standing at the top of the short hill to the driveway, I asked if she was waiting there just to give me smooches. She said she was, so I ran up and planted another one right on her lips, only to hear a loud "HEY!" behind me. It turns out Steven was right on my tail and saw the whole thing this time!

She kissed a ghoul, and she liked it!

Into the last hour of the race, Steven came by me again and hung back to tell me about the fun I'd missed: when he next came through the aid station, Rhonda was waiting to give him a big smooch, but he turned his head away drama queen-style, then ran around and gave Tanker a big ol' smacker on the cheek instead! Honestly, is it any wonder I am happy to hang around with fun folks like this for hours on end? I also met a friendly fellow who apparently recognized me from my blitherings here and we had some pleasant exchanges as the race went on, so hooray for my limited fame bringing me into contact with nice people (hope the drive home went ok, Brad!).

Smiling even as I climb the damn hill for the umpteenth time.

Almost into the last hour with 40k down, the wind started to blow a fair bit cooler, despite the sun making a valiant effort to break through the clouds. It did actually manage it once while I was down by the pond - a brief blast of golden light as I puffed my way along. By this time the issues with my left leg were starting to cause a cascading effect through my whole left side: the front of my hip (tensor fascia latae) tightened up, which started to pull the left side of my lower back out of alignment resulting in some soreness. My feet hurt, my hips were complaining loudly, I was constantly aware of my hamstrings and calves threatening to cramp, and my legs were just feeling weak in general. To perk me up, I grabbed my flask with a 3:2 mix of sea salt chocolate Gu Roctane and started swigging on it at about 4h50m. The salt and caffeine (well, not to mention the carbohydrates) were just enough to keep me moving.

I never said quickly.

I continued to take sips of the slurry flask - which tastes like a salted chocolate milkshake - every 25mins as I passed the 5 hour mark. I was finally starting to feel the need to hit a portajohn, but figured it wasn't worth it with only an hour left (yes, ultrarunners are weird); I'd had no GI issues the whole race, which was better than I could possibly have hoped with the way my stomach had felt the day before. Another acquaintance came past and I asked how he was doing - he said he'd be better in 45mins (clock time was 5:15:xx at that point), and got a laugh when I told him "it's just like banging your head against a wall: it feels SO GOOD when you stop".

But looks so pretty while you're out there..
Photo credit to Christopher Giesler

I took my last swig of slurry at 5h30m and dropped the flask off with Tanker as I headed out for my last full loop, and arranged to have him meet me when I came out of the woods so I could drop off my hand bottle (which would be empty by then), then up by the clock to pick up my bag of dry pasta noodles (to mark the spot I stopped when the horn sounded). I wanted to run completely un-encumbered for my partial loop to get in as much distance as I could, despite knowing I would have zero chance of making it to 50k. I still had a PR in the bag as I knew I'd have time to complete my 19th lap for 47.5km - 900m further than I'd ever made it before.

With 13min and 47sec to go as I came through the timing mats, I let whatever bit of energy I had left in the tank rip, hauling my chubby butt down the driveway to the pond, back up the bit of hill, then plunging into the woods and coming up the 2-part hill faster than I had in the last couple of hours. I made it through most of the main woods loop and was just coming down the sharp descent to the path back up to the driveway when the horn's blast stopped me in my tracks. I dropped my bag of noodles to mark my place, then began gingerly limping down the hill and out of the woods to meet Tanker at the pavilion.

I still can't believe the makeup stayed intact for the whole 6 hours.

Official distance: 49.25km
2/3 W<40 - 3/6 Women - 13/19 O/A

Lap times
(Full results here)

While it's hard to complain about a 2.65km PR - which, at more than a full lap, probably represents about a 21min improvement over my prior best - it stings to come so close to 50k and still fall short. I estimate that I'd have needed about another 6mins to complete the lap, and I can't think of anywhere I could have easily made up 6 minutes. I moved pretty efficiently through the whole race (despite stopping for the occasional smooch and walking through the aid station through the latter half), and can only come up with about a minute or two of "free" time. I believe this was also the first year that I ran up (at least half of) the driveway on every single loop, so that speaks to an improvement in strength despite the lack of long runs in recent months. Also on the bright side, I didn't hate the costume, and the makeup stayed in place - I was a little upset to discover afterward that the black dye had run and stained my favourite short-sleeve shirt, and that the shorts I wore under had rubbed a nasty little crescent of chafing just under my navel (I call it the "grimace of pain"), but overall the costume worked and garnered a lot of generous praise from competitors, spectators and volunteers alike.


I am, of course, pleased to have placed well - I'll never sneeze at 3rd woman overall, even in a small field - but I can't help but feel like I may have blown my best chance at making my long-held goal of 50k for the 6-hour. Hubris may have been my undoing; it's undeniable that I went out too fast, and that may have crippled my ability to keep my pace up through the later hours. The lack of long runs, taper and sleep may also have been contributing factors, or it's simply possible I'll just never quite be good enough to make it. True, there's always next year...but who knows when I might find another day with such perfect running conditions?

In any case, recovery has been going quite well. Whether it was tiring myself out with those fast early laps so I couldn't beat myself up too badly later on, the lovely massage I got afterwards from a RMT student, or simply getting stronger this year, I had very little leg soreness. I was even able to get up off a chair (or the toilet, which is always a challenge post-race) without using my hands by the next morning, and could go down a set of stairs like a regular human being! Unfortunately my previously-damaged left ankle has been a bit slower to recover, but by Thursday it was feeling fine again so I went out for my first short, cautious run since the race. No pain during or after, though my calves did tighten up again and my glutes and hamstrings felt a little creaky. Everything loosened up quite a bit after a swim and a good, long stretch in the swirlpool afterward, and it still feels fine this morning, so I'm feeling optimistic.

Thanks, Lefty!

As always, the race director and the crew of volunteers put on a wonderful race experience at Camp Heidelberg. This is a quality event with tons of amenities: a huge buffet of hot food and free massages to ease your weary body, draw prizes and of course a beautiful, challenging course. If you've even the slightest inkling to try a fall trail race, be sure to put Horror Trail on your calendar!

Just tell 'em the skeleton made you do it.

Now to take things nice and easy so I don't end up hurting myself next weekend...or before!


  1. Great race and great race review. I had a blast. Awesome to see you out there, great smile everytime I saw you on the course! I still say they should have sent a car out to pick us up on the last partial lap. Happy trails. Cheers!

    1. Glad to hear you enjoyed yourself while you were out tearing up that course - congrats on the win! I'm totally down for getting a ride back up from the partial lap; think we can get them to install a hot tub, too? Thanks for reading, and for your kind words - see you out in the woods!

  2. I did Make it home alright!!! albeit i maaaayyy have made a stop at McDonalds to tie me over till I arrived home.
    Great race Kristina, so close to that 50 mark! guess it'll keep you coming back NY, congrats on the PR!

    1. Yay! Glad you arrived safely, and I'll totally fight anyone who tries to give you crap for stopping for some junk food on the way home! Thanks for reading, and for your kind words; I'd be back next year regardless, just because you meet the nicest people at Camp Heidelberg. Cheers!


Go on, have at me!