Friday, June 30, 2017

The first half

..of 2017 is done, and it has been rather eventful.

From RUN4RKIDS and Frosty Trail back in January, through Pick Your Poison in April and then Sulphur Springs in May, I have done a lousy job of racing less this year.

A commitment to ultrarunning in 2017 means I've put in less cycling and swimming than I have since I started endurance sports in 2009, but more running than I ever have before. As of yesterday's 7.5km jaunt through the dripping humidity, I have posted my highest-ever 6 month mileage total at 1,603km. Not quite a thousand miles - there was no way I was getting the extra 6-ish kilometers in - but close as makes no odds.

And some of it - like last night's sweatfest - in the best of company.

 I've also just completed the last of my pre-Limberlost build, and have never been so ready for a taper in my life. It's not that the mileage has been that high, but it's still only been 5 weeks since the Sulphur Springs 100k and I'm finding the fatigue hard to shake.

While still putting in enough running to make the podium on the Slowtwitch leaderboard for the past 7 days.

I did take a week off running after Sulphur, but in the 26 days since my return to the trails I've posted 229km - an average of 8.8km/5.5mi per day, which doesn't sound like a lot. when I take out the 3 scheduled rest days (FRIDAY WOO) it becomes 9.95km/6.18mi per day on average. While I'm sure that's a paltry sum for many of you, it has me feeling pretty worn out (and rather whiny) with just over a week to go before a 56km race.

Though I saw some beautiful things along the way.

Fortunately, though, it's now taper time! I have a long weekend to get some extra sleep (I hope..), and some shorter bits of trail that I haven't seen in awhile (or ever) that I'm looking forward to running as I drop the mileage back severely.

I'll be far from bored, though - which I'm sure is better than anyone who read through all that nonsense - since it's a festive weekend in these parts!

Happy birthday Canada!

While we don't have big plans for the sesquicentennial, we still intend to walk down the hill to watch the fireworks at Riverside Park tomorrow night, then celebrate a friend's birthday with wonderful people we haven't seen in far too long on Sunday. I may not even set an alarm on Monday, as I think rest is probably the best Canada Day present I can give myself right now.

Hope you all have a safe, enjoyable weekend whether you're celebrating or not!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Sacrifice or stupidity?

I haven't been in a great place lately, and I'm second guessing a lot of things.

Part of it has been brought on by a total inability to shed the pounds I put on after Pick Your Poison. In the spring I was actually making decent progress at shedding my winter insulation, with even April going well despite a week off and reduced training throughout the month due to injury. Since the end of April, though, I've gained about 4lbs that don't seem to want to budge.

Which makes #sportbrasquad running in the recent hot weather something no-one really wants to see.

While I know that some of it is due to a week of "eat whatever I damn well please" after Sulphur Springs - which was my main race for this season - I'm chubby enough right now that I'm putting myself at risk for injury as I'm ramping up mileage again. I have a certain weight that I know from experience is a break point: below it and I'm generally ok, but above it I'm more likely to get hurt from the extra strain on my bones and joints while banging out miles in training. I'm only a pound or so above that, but I'm also pushing to get some decent training in before Limberlost and ultimately for the Haliburton 50 miler in September, and one pound multiplied by 65+km per week can definitely equal injury.

I'm actually back on the Slowtwitch 7-day leaderboard as of last night's run.

Despite a couple of weeks of trying to make better decisions (no more ice cream, trying to reduce sugar intake and snacking in general), generally healthy food choices (I have a sweet potato with almond butter for breakfast during the week, a salad every day, and bring leftovers from the dinners I make from scratch as lunches), and increasing training volume the scale refuses to move the way I want it to. I'm actually a bit heavier than I was last week, which is bloody depressing. I'd love to believe it's muscle mass, but the way my clothes fit tells a different story. I'm theoretically doing the right things: I strength train four times per week, make vegetables the focus of my meals and try to only consume the few sweets I do eat (medjool dates, apples, bananas, Larabars or protein bars) immediately before or after workouts. It's just that nothing seems to work at the moment, despite success in the past. So, I plug on and hope..

Last night I went out for a run, and was lucky enough to have Tanker follow along on his mountain bike.

He's wonderfully accepting of my jiggling.

It was hot, VERY humid and rather unpleasant to run through, but would have been perfect conditions to just sit out on the driveway (we don't have a porch) and enjoy a summer evening. I told Tank as much, and he fully agreed.

Instead, I went to the pool and thrashed my way through 1,200m of what a friend of mine calls "drowning with direction". Honestly, I'll be lucky if the water doesn't sue me for sexual assault.

"Please just let me make it to the wall alive.."

Since I don't have any interest in triathlon anymore, the only reasons I still swim are for the recovery benefit, some full-body conditioning and to try to burn my chub off. I could probably have got almost as much recovery benefit (if not more) by sitting with Tanker with my feet up and watching the heat lightning roll in. I didn't want to go to the pool and didn't enjoy my fistfight with the water (though I do admit that stretching in the swirlpool afterward was fairly pleasant), plus it meant another night of getting to bed past midnight. Worse still, I woke up half a pound heavier today than I was on Thursday morning, so even the whole "at least I burnt some calories" argument falls rather flat.

I'm brought to a point where I can't really say whether I made a reasonable sacrifice for my sport or simply being stupid by missing out on a nice, relaxing evening in pursuit of foolish goals. Ultrarunning is not going to bring me fame or fortune, and my sweet husband luckily doesn't care if I have an extra inch or two 'round my middle. Much as I'm loath to miss a workout - I always feel like it'll set a precedent and lead to me skiving off more in the future - I can't help but think I could achieve some better balance. I waffle between just saying "screw it" and eating whatever I want since the fat isn't coming off anyway and hating being so pudgy.

Pretty sure the neighbours would rather I kept trying to lose the belly if I'm going to run around half naked.

It's also quite possible I'm just still feeling the effects of a lot of racing recently - between Pick Your Poison and Sulphur I ran 23.5hrs of hilly trails in a 4 week span (not including training), plus I've put in another 156km in the slightly-less-than 4 weeks since...including a full week off after the 100k. I may very well just be heading toward overtraining and need to eat some more starch. All I can say for sure is that I've been a bit miserable, and I really hope I can make some progress - both physically with fat loss and psychologically - soon.

On the bright side, it's my day off. No tough decisions about whether to train or just kick back today - this evening is just for Tanker and I. With a bit of luck, I'll get a second chance at sitting out on the driveway on a warm, summer evening and watching the clouds float by..

Friday, June 16, 2017


I love racing, but I absolutely hate the recovery process from ultras. I never feel quite so weak, rickety and out of shape as I do in the days and weeks following a long race.

"No, really...I can run for hours...I just need a nap after this little walk right now.."

I try to do the right things to help myself get back to normal. I take some time off running to let my damaged legs (and whatever else) rest. I go for some walks to keep blood circulating and clear waste products from my muscles, and eat lots of calories (probably too many, really) to make sure my body has lots of fuel to repair itself. I wear compression socks for a few days, get a massage, or even get down on the floor and use the Devil's Pool Noodle.

Also known as a foam roller - a runner's best friend and worst enemy in one.

Despite my best efforts, though, it's just impossible to drop the accumulated fatigue from almost 16 hours of near-constant forward motion in a hurry. For a couple of days afterward I was exhausted just from existing - having brunch with friends, grocery shopping, or sitting at my desk at work would turn me into an over-tired toddler by the end of the day, incapable of handling the slightest bit of adversity and whining in a way I'm shocked poor Tanker could tolerate. I was also useless for any sort of physical tasks; even walking up a gentle slope would leave me utterly winded.

And my cankles were out of control.

The damage takes its sweet time fully declaring itself, too. While its generally my feet and legs that are terribly sore in the first 24hrs after finishing - particularly if there are any nasty blisters or fleshwounds - other things crop up over the next few days. The plantar fascia in my left foot became horribly painful on Sunday evening, leaving me with a nasty limp that lasted until Wednesday afternoon. My upper back and shoulders cried foul on Monday despite not having used poles in the race, and my lower back whined a bit as well. My left ankle piped up about its mistreatment on Tuesday, but my hamstrings waited until Wednesday to really start complaining about their working conditions. It took about 5 days before fresh aches stopped appearing - by Friday I finally decided to try walking the 3km from Tanker's warehouse back to my office, and even that felt like a bit too much a couple of hours after I'd done so.

Yep, from running 100km to being wiped out by a 3km walk. That's exactly what kills me: I put in so much time and effort to become strong and build my fitness and endurance, only to end up feeling so very feeble and fragile. It's like getting hit by a car all over again, and it seems to go on forever. My rule of thumb is that it takes about one week per hour of racing for me to feel 100% ready for another hard effort, but my brain tells me that it thinks Sulphur was so long ago (almost 3 whole weeks now) and I really should be over it. I just get tired of being tired.

When I finally return to running - in this case after 7 days off, the same as I took after Dirty Girls last year - it will be a painfully slow, sad affair now matter how ready I felt before I began. My legs are leaden, minute rises in elevation will feel like mountains, and I'll swear I have an invisible cinderblock sitting on my chest.

Not to mention one tied to my arse.

Afterward, that wheezing 5km plod will feel more like a 50k - I'll be totally wiped out once more. Even non-running workouts will wreck me; I cycled with Tanker and then down to the farmers' market in the week after Sulphur, and I've never got so much use out of the largest cogs on my mountain bike. I did a half-decent lower body strength workout on Tuesday of this week - a full 10 days after the 100k - and my legs were practically useless until Thursday evening. My first few runs left me as exhausted as my peak training weeks did before the race. It wasn't until last night that I finally started to feel like a halfway capable runner again, though I've now put in almost 90km over 11 workouts since Sulphur Springs.

Including some redemption at Shade's Mills after injuring myself there in April.

It's just frustrating to feel so limited by my recovery when I'm used to being strong enough to run any place or distance that I choose, especially when it's already been weeks since the race and I'm aching to return to multi-hour explorations of the trails and woods. For all of my whining, though, I feel grateful that I have the health and fitness to participate in these silly events at all. As time goes by, I know I'll get stronger - not just after this particular race, but as the years pass and I accumulate more experience at longer distances. I can already feel that I'm recovering faster this year than I did after the Dirty Girls 12-hour last year (despite having raced both more time and distance), so I have high hopes for the future! In the meantime, I'll just keep on trying to balance training and rest to be ready for the next adventure. Just 3 more weeks to Limberlost!

Friday, June 9, 2017

Turning the tables

With Sulphur Springs having been the 101st event in which I've participated, it would be impossible to say how many wonderful people have helped me along the way. At every single race there are friendly folks packing race kit bags, handing out bibs and safety pins, directing us along our way (so lemmings like me don't get much) and providing nourishment in the form of food, drink and cheering at the aid stations. Another kind soul will brave the odours of hordes of sweaty runners just to put a medal around your neck, and still more fabulous people will usually have spread out a table full of delicious post-race food upon which the racers descend like a pack of spandex-clad vultures.

Running for hours on end is hard, but volunteers make it easier for all of us on the course by working even harder to keep us fed, hydrated and on track. Without those volunteers, there is no event - we're just smelly idiots running around in the woods. This is why I try to make a particular point of thanking all of the wonderful people who turn a trail, a jug of water and a bunch of bananas into an event that draws racers in and keeps them coming back.

You guys rawk!

Thanks aren't really enough to pay the debt we owe to the excellent human beings who donate their time to making the fun happen, though. Therefore tomorrow and Sunday, Tanker and I will be heading down to Shade's Mills Conservation Area to volunteer in any way we may be needed at Conquer the Canuck. It's our chance to give back a little bit to the local ultrarunning community that has always been so friendly and welcoming.

Having done some volunteer work at triathlons in the past, I know it can be a really fun and rewarding experience, and I'd really encourage you to offer your services at a race sometime if you possibly can. It's good for your soul to be on the other side of the table from time to time - you may just learn to be a little kinder to the person offering you a cup of water and a friendly smile.

It's bad form to eat all the aid station goodies, though.

So to all those racing this weekend, I wish you swift feet and a light heart! Tank and I will do our best to make it as easy for you as possible to reach your goals.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Sulphur Springs Trail Run 100k - Saturday, May 27th, 2017

It was a long day.

Out of bed at the absurd hour of 2:45am - much more accustomed to still being up when I see that time. Bowl of oatmeal with almond butter, maple syrup & sea salt; get dressed; wake up Tanker the Wonder Sherpa; finagle the war braids and then off into the night to discover that it's impossible to get my long-suffering and sleep deprived crew a stinkin' breakfast sammich at 4am in Cambridge. We made do with coffee and drove through the fog down to the Ancaster Community Centre, arriving long before the sun.

At least I got a preview of what it would look like when I finished.

I felt like rubbish - lower back sore, and some unpleasant twinges from my legs - but that's not terribly unusual. I'd taped up my feeling-really-good-lately-but-still-not-totally-healed left ankle, my left big toe and joint (which are prone to blistering, and had recently been abraded during a wet run), plus the 2nd toe on my right foot. I call it my alien head toe, because it's been a bit deformed ever since Vulture Bait back in 2015 and is also very prone to damage at its tip.

I taped up both sides of my glutes as well, but I will spare you a photo of my bionic butt.

I picked up my race kit as soon as it was available at 5am, and was delighted by the incredible swag included - a distance-specific long sleeve tech shirt, no less than TWO stickers (one with the new race logo and an oval 100k Sulphur Springs sticker), a drawstring backpack and an awesome Buff with the course map, race logo and the Burlington Runners logo. 

Swaggity swooty!
Love the "Lost in the woods since 1992" to mark their 25th anniversary.

Once I figured out I needed to take my trousers off before I put my shoes on (hey - it was 5am and I'm a bit dim at the best of times), pre-race stuff went pretty smoothly. The sun came up, but not out - it remained overcast, damp and mild while I grooved to some Operation Ivy and chatted with lots of familiar, friendly people. With a half hour to go I flailed my limbs around for a pre-race warmup, had to dodge into the woods to pee about 10mins before the gun because the portajohn lines were too long, loaded up all my crap for the first 20km loop and headed toward the back of the pack at the start line.

Steve B rightfully looking like he wants nothing to do with me, and long-time blog reader CoffeeU behind the ill advised racing gang sign.

I was far enough away that I didn't hear a horn to send us off, but everyone in front of me started moving so I figured I'd tag along. As I ran down Martin Road, CoffeeU introduced himself before taking off to smoke the 50 miler as his very first ultra - nice to meet you at last, and congratulations! I just focused on trying to take things easy, knowing that the downhills would take the biggest toll on my legs as the day wore on and not wanting to screw myself over right out of the gate. I was in no rush - just wanted to see if I could recapture the same feeling of frolicking in the woods I'd had when I ran the 50k here in 2015. The course had changed slightly since then, but Dundas Valley Conservation Area is incredibly beautiful. I had done a couple of training runs there this year, though not since early March - back when ice still crowded the banks of the streams that run through the valley, and frost glittered like diamonds in the morning light.

New course map.
The sadistic race directors actually managed to add more climbing!

Despite my familiarity with the route, it all looked so different from the last time I'd been down. The faded browns and grey of winter had been overtaken by the vivid green of new life, and as the day warmed the scent of phlox and apple blossom perfumed the air as I ran past countless forget-me-nots and wild geraniums along the sides of the trails.

Phlox and forget-me-nots

Wild geraniums akimbo!

It's definitely not winter anymore!

The other major difference was the mud on the course, that got started with a squelch through a field on the Murray Ferguson Way and would continue to crop up at various points on the course.

Hope your shoes are laced up tight..

It was apparent early on that avoiding the mud on the course wasn't going to be possible, so there were two approaches to take: you could either view it as an obstacle that would impede you all day, carefully picking your way around it and cursing it...or you could splash right on through it, seeing it as just one more bit of fun to have along the way!

I'll give you one guess as to which strategy I favoured.

This also meant I could avoid the long queues of people trying to skirt their way 'round the edges of the muddiest spots - I got a lot of fun cheering from other racers who seemed to get a kick out of the dork splat-splat-splatting through the squelchy bits and giggling like an idiot. What can I say? I'm really 6 years old.


Of course, the mud did also present some undeniable challenges. Descending the always-sketchy-but-now-very-slippery crossover from the Monach Trail to the Sulphur Creek Trail was petrifying. It's my least-favourite part of the course to begin with since I strongly suspect I will die by falling off it into the 40 foot-or-so deep gully to the left, but the mud added extra peril as it slicked the roots and left even good trail shoes sliding sideways on the narrow, side-sloped ridge.

Couple of big, rooty steps down..
I clung to the tree with the pink tape to avoid certain death.

Doesn't look like much here, but scared the pants off me.

Climbing back up from Sulphur Creek on steep, muddy hills wasn't the easiest thing in the world, either. There were a couple of decent lines that would take you most of the way, but still some highly vertical portions where you simply had to plant a foot among all the slide marks from those who came before you and cross your fingers.

Going up...I hope.

Coming down the other side wasn't much better, either - there was a ridge down the left side you could run down (well, except over the rooty bits - I'm too clumsy for that), but the rest was a bit of a quagmire.

With buried roots. It was an excellent opportunity if you like sprained ankles.

Most of the course was in pretty good shape, though, considering the 2 days of rain that preceded the start of the 100 mile/100k/50 mile on Saturday - the poor souls who were racing the 200 miler had been dealing with it since they began at noon on Thursday! It was supposed to stay dry from Saturday to Sunday as well, so I hoped the course might dry out a bit throughout the day with the passage of hundreds of feet.

My goal for my first lap was just to take things easy and feel my way along. I got some crankiness from my calves fairly early on that I hoped would go away, but nothing so severe as a cramp. I didn't feel great, but I didn't feel bad either - I just ran along, walking all the hills (not even power hiking; just walking to try to stave off any issues with my so-recently-messed-up glute/hip). I started eating early and often, taking in some kind of calories at least every 30mins, and drank freely from my hand bottle. I started in with EFS Liquid Shot, mixing it up occasionally with an Endurance Tap or a ginseng-spirulina Bounce ball in the first couple of hours, and adding in chunks of banana at the aid stations when I stopped to fill my bottle. 

You pass the Gatehouse aid station around 3k & 8k - before and after the Main Loop, Monarch Trail & Sulphur Creek Trail.

Despite the day staying overcast, mild and humid, I was sweating a fair bit and started taking an S!cap every hour at quarter-past in order to keep on top of electrolytes. My body slowly but surely got used to the idea that it'd be running for awhile, and I continued to have a good look around beautiful Dundas Valley Conservation Area. The race directors may have added more climbing with the addition of the grassy, muddy G Donald Trail for 2017, but the pine woods were gorgeous and at least the surface was soft on hard-working feet.

Uphill on the G Donald Trail

The initial crowds on the course had thinned significantly so there was plenty of space on the trail up until I got to the turning on the Headwaters Trail, where I met seemingly the entire crowd of 25k and 50k runners all at once! Fortunately I wasn't in any hurry, as things got rather congested heading up the stick of the lollipop toward the three sisters. There was plenty of mud in this section, too, and a fellow coming the other way (obviously a fast dude) told us with a very thick accent that it would get worse before it got better!

My butt also got in some poor soul's way
(Photo credit Karen L)

We were not lied to.

Up the climbs to the top of the Headwaters loop, then back down again to start the first slog up Martin Road. This hill just never seems to get any easier.

Even when you're walking.

I hit the portajohns near the start/finish to - ahem - get down to race weight, grabbed a fresh bottle, more nutrition and a kiss from Tanker, then trotted off back down the hill once more. 50 miler plus a victory lap, right?

Lap 1: 2:40:19

Things started to get a little more interesting on the 2nd lap. I continued with filling my water bottle at each aid station and grabbing a banana chunk each time I stopped. I also started to incorporate more real food - a homemade maple vanilla sea salt crisp rice square and a little snack bag of mini double chocolate brownie cookies that I cracked right at the 4hr mark, because I still firmly believe the only reason to run for more than 4 hours is because you get to eat cookies on course. My calves had settled down, but the mud had made its way into my socks and was starting to wreak some havoc on my feet. I had brought an extra pair of shoes and a few changes of socks, so I'd consider grabbing a fresh pair when I got back to my crew stop.

The course continued to be beautiful.

I got distracted coming off the G Donald Trail by a couple of ladies in flowery Wellington boots with their fluffy little dog off-leash - as I came past them I blew the turn onto the Reforestation Trail, coming down the hill and then having to turn around and walk right back up it to the trailhead to correct my mistake. I also politely asked the ladies to leash their dog, since there were several hundred runners on the trails and they weren't paying any attention to the pup at all - I didn't bother to mention that it's required at Dundas Valley, because if all the signs indicating that was the case hadn't worked, I didn't figure anything would.

The lovely Reforestation Trail

The rest of the lap went smoothly, though things were starting to hurt a bit by now as I approached 40km and 5.5 hours on course. Through the legions of tiny inchworms hanging on their silken threads that would stick to my arms, legs, hat and face, then up Martin Road once more and through the finish line - dodge through the course pylons beyond the arch to the tent city on the edge of the woods, ching for our table of gear and my awesome sherpa Tanker.

He spotted me first!

This would probably be easier if I wasn't carting around that belly.

I dropped off my now-empty EFS Liquid Shot flask and picked up another, plus some more Endurance Taps, a couple of crisp rice squares, a few macadamia nuts, a turkey mustard wrap and a slice of bacon. It was getting real, now!

Lap 2: 2:54:40

I also picked up our camera. I had debated whether to take it with me on the 3rd or 4th lap, since I usually consider the penultimate loop the "tourist lap", but I also knew that anything could happen once I got past my longest run in the last 4.5 months (which was 50k, 4 weeks prior at Pick Your Poison) so I figured I might as well get it done while I was still feeling relatively good.

The sights would be gorgeous regardless.

I had a bit of fun early in the third lap - I had been munching on my piece of bacon and discovered it had a big chunk of fat in the middle that I didn't really want to eat. 

Though I really enjoyed the rest.

I didn't want to just drop the fat, but I also didn't want to have to carry it all the way to the Gatehouse aid station as there are no garbage cans on the trails (which is something I've always thought Dundas Valley should correct), especially since I was already trying to juggle my water bottle and the camera. I found my answer in the form of a gentleman sitting on a bench with a gorgeous English Springer Spaniel sitting in front of him. I asked the fellow if he would mind if I fed his dog a bit of bacon fat, to which he replied "He'd probably love that!". So I held out the chunk of fat, the pup gave it a sniff, then gently mouthed it from my hand and started chewing happily. I gave his or her silky fur a tickle 'round the ears, then went along my way.

And a spectator offered to get a pic of me with my camera, so here's some dork out in the woods.

By the halfway point of this lap - which also represented the halfway mark of my race - the mud in my left sock had rubbed up some horribly painful blisters where my 2nd and 3rd toes meet my foot. I could feel what seemed like gravel stuck in there, too, and asked myself "do you really want to run 50km with gravel in your sock?". 

Which remained despite "washing" my shoes & feet by splashing through this big puddle every lap.

Fortunately, I had some very recent experience with that - I'd had gravel in my sock for the entirety of the Pick Your Poison 50k a month beforehand. I knew that whether or not I bothered to stop and change my footwear, I'd make it through somehow. The day warmed up and the scent of wildflowers began to permeate the still-humid air, and I just tried to enjoy being in the forest.

Finding zen while climbing the Headwaters loop.

I meandered around taking photos (and the occasional pee behind a tree, since I never seemed to be anywhere near the portajohns at the aid stations when I really needed to go), trying to ignore my left foot's protestations, and focusing on climbing with good form through the three sisters so I didn't stress my not-entirely-healed hip & glute. Across the top of the Headwaters loop and then down, down, down on the groomed, gravelly trail toward the stick of the lollipop.

Looks pretty simple to run, right?

I was doing a pretty good clip downhill when my left toe caught...something. I've no idea what, and couldn't spot anything there on the subsequent laps. Apparently it's just something about the Sulphur Springs Trail Run that means at some point just past halfway in my race I will eat freakin' dirt. I almost managed to catch myself as I bailed out-of-control down the sharp decline, but finally realised I was going down and tried to tuck and roll.


 I landed HARD on my right shoulder and knee, rolling right over and basically back to my feet. I tried taking stock of myself, but also figured that I should get moving to see how things responded. Even on a downhill I started at a walk, and while things in my right knee didn't seem too awful there was definitely a bit of soreness. I managed to break into a run down the slope and everything seemed to function, so I got on with it as best I could. I looked at the camera in my hand and realised I'd gone down hard enough to dent the aluminum body.

Still 100% functional - Tough indeed!

I confirmed it was working ok by trying to get a couple of pics of the damage I'd inflicted on myself. I was wearing a new shirt - I'd only done a couple of test runs in it - and hoped I hadn't torn it. 

There's a tiny hole and the mud didn't come out in the wash, but it's otherwise fine.

I tried to look my my elbow to see if it was ok, but all I could see were a couple of scrapes and some puffiness - the bruising wouldn't come up for a day or two yet, but was impressive when it did. I thought briefly I'd damaged my hand bottle because it was leaking water, but it turned out that the lid had just come unthreaded a bit and was fine once I screwed it back down properly.

Then I decided to check my knee, and it was less fine.

The red badge of courage!

 But hey, I only had about 43.5km left to go - piece of cake, right?

I made my way back up Martin Road and through the line, so totally done with lugging around the camera and wondering if I should ask the medical team on site to have a look at me. I figured I was moving ok, if a little slower, and I didn't want to stop too long lest things seize up on me and lead to a DNF. Rub some mud on it and go!

Lap 3: 3:13:49

I think the blood on my thigh is from the safety pin holding my bib on my skirt stabbing me as I rolled.
Photos courtesy of Catherine K

I told Tanker that I'd dented the camera and explained my unsuccessful attempt at flight. He surveyed the damage and asked if I was ok, which of course I was - relatively speaking, having already run 60km and been on course for nearly nine hours.

So, have some more bacon and get the hell on with it.

Photo credit Chris M

My fourth lap was less eventful, but my tumble down the hill had really taken the starch out of me and it was nearly impossible to make myself run the flats. I'd also felt something go twang in the upper, inner portion of my right leg as I ran down Martin Road to start the loop, but hoped it would go away if I ignored it. While I continued to get good nutrition and hydration in - more crisp rice treats, some Endurance Tap, another turkey wrap and more S!caps to keep the salts coming - by the 5.5km mark of this loop I was officially on my second longest run ever

With waaaaay better scenery this time, though.

I was pleased to note that I managed to pass the 72k mark around 11hrs - I might be slowing down significantly, but I was still ahead of my pace from the Dirty Girls 12hr last year (my longest run ever up until this 100k attempt). I know that Sulphur is an easier course than Dirty Girls was, so had hoped to get 'round it a little faster and was pleased it was working out.

Even with the three sisters and Martin Road to contend with, plus all the other little rollers.

The sun also finally came out, burning off some of the humidity and intensifying the flowery perfume in occasional spots along the course. It also sent the poplar trees along the way into a mass dropping of their fluff, which made it look almost as if it were snowing along the trail.

It was much more covered later, after I'd dropped off the camera.

I came to the junction of the Lookout Trail and the Headwaters Trail as shafts of sun came streaming down through the canopy, with reams of fluff falling through the air like fat flakes of snow - it looked like something out of a fantasy movie, and I halfway expected a unicorn to come prancing out of the woods. No such luck, though; not even a deer!

Can't you just picture a horn coming out from around these rocks?

I had eaten another ginseng spirulina Bounce ball to see if it might put some spring in my step, but it was getting rather late in the day so I decided to break out the big guns - I took my first sip off my flask of sea salt chocolate Gu Roctane (with caffeine) right at 11hrs to see if it might sharpen me up a bit, as I was starting to get even clumsier than usual.

I know - you didn't think that was possible.
Neither did I.
( Photo credit Chris M)

It did help a bit, as did warning myself to pick up my damn feet so I wouldn't trip and go sprawling again. An aid station volunteer at the Gatehouse noticed my knee and asked if they could help sort me out, but I just wanted to keep moving - I was pretty sure it had stopped bleeding and I could probably manage to stay upright. Luckily the sun was helping me out by starting to dry up some of the mud on the course; it wasn't gone, but it was getting stickier and less slippery, which was encouraging for my hope of getting through a fifth lap.

The trilliums weren't quite done yet, and neither was I.

I managed to come through the Headwaters lollipop unscathed this time, scenting Lily of the Valley in the warm air on the flat section on my way toward Martin Road but unable to spot it. I had one low point where I considered DNFing at 80km (50mi) because my feet hurt so much and I knew I was slowing down badly. I had continued to run through the mud puddles that still littered the course because my few attempts to avoid them (to spare my feet - both had blistered terribly from the mud in my shoes and socks) had proved fruitless, and the cool muddy water flooding my shoes was the only thing that really brought any relief at all. The big puddle on the Sulphur Creek Trail - my foot washing station - offered about a blissful minute of pain-free walking afterward before the climbing forced my weight back onto the balls of my feet.

These dogs are barking.

I took another shot of caffeinated gel at 12hrs, then slogged up Martin Road again telling myself I only had to do it all once more. 

This pretty root well is up on the left-side ridge as you near the top.

I tried running down in my head all the things I needed to pick up for the last lap: my headlamp, as the sun would set before I'd finish; more S!caps to try to keep my electrolytes up; another slather of SportShield to keep chafing at bay as much as possible; and more food. To hell with the fresh shoes or socks - if I stop now I may not get going again, and it'll just mean more stuff to wash anyway. 

Got all that?
Photo credit Chris M

Lap 4: 3:26:28

Tanker asked me when I came in how I was doing, and I answered as honestly as I could: I told him my feet were hamburger and that everything including my eyelids hurt, but the last lap pays for all, right? I loaded up more cookies and crisp rice treats, my last turkey wrap, another Endurance Tap, got my electrolytes, headlamp and anti-chafe sorted, then got a kiss from my sweetheart and buggered off to get this thing done.

Pictured: me with the source of any success I've ever had in ultrarunning.
Love you, babe.
Photo credit Chris M

I took off at a pretty good clip from our crew area - at least for someone who'd been moving for twelve and a quarter hours already - and was just rounding the turn onto Martin Road when I realised how light my hands felt.

Because my stinkin' water bottle was sitting back on the table with Tank.


I stopped dead, then started walking back and hollering Tanker's name. I was at least 100 feet away, shouting over a couple of hundred people plus a sound system playing music, but somehow he heard me and came running with my bottle. I took the opportunity for one more smooch, telling him that was my cunning plan all along (ha!), then vamoosed as fast as my rickety legs would carry me.

Which was not very damn fast, I can tell you.
Photo credit Chris M

My water issues continued due to my ever-increasing idiocy. I was distracted by a couple of friends coming the other way on my first visit to the Gatehouse aid station - so busy congratulating them that I completely failed to stop and fill my bottle. That left me with about 7oz for the whole of the Main Loop-Monarch Trail-Sulphur Creek-Main Loop jaunt, which took me at least 45mins. During that time I also needed to take an S!cap and an Endurance Tap, so I had to ration my water very carefully. I nearly dodged off-course to the Trail Centre off the Main Loop because I knew there was a water tap at the rail trail, but it's up a bloody big hill and I was in total energy conservation mode by this point. Not to mention I knew it was only another kilometer until I reached the Gatehouse again, so I just tried to run as much as possible to get there as fast as I could.

I was not quite willing to risk filling my bottle from the stream.

Of course, that wasn't terribly easy, as running on the fifth lap was only accomplished by the expedient of finding a downhill and hurling myself off it, then trying to flap my legs as fast as I could to keep up. After all, by the time I'd finished lap 4 I was 8km and 15mins past my longest run ever! Things were still functional, but not at all reliable - I'd pick a spot to set my foot down, but it would actually fall somewhere a few inches to either side of that point, nearly chucking me off the side of the trail on a couple of occasions. Oh, the fun I had getting down the crossing to the Sulphur Creek Trail! I told myself it was my last time, though, and tried to savour the beautiful sights along the way.

No, I don't mean me.

I ran out of water again on my way to the other aid station because I was moving so slowly on the hills of the G Donald Trail and Reforestation Trail, and I'm sure that the minor additional dehydration did nothing to help my rapidly deteriorating condition. I kept myself moving forward, though, only stopping to fill my bottle and eat banana chunks at the aid stations. I kept up the caffeine once per hour on the hour, slurping a packet of chocolate coconut Gu Roctane at 14hrs to make sure I got a full dose for the final push.

The amazing crew at the Headwaters aid station.

The sun had set by the time I hit the lollipop, and the light faded as I climbed the three sisters for the last time. I needed my headlamp just before the end of the biggest climb, but was able to turn it back off while I traipsed along through the doubletrack on top by the open fields. By this point even the arches of my feet were terribly sore as well as my left big toe joint & top of my left foot (from trying to keep my toes elevated to ease the pain from the blistering), plus my left ankle had long decided that we were no longer on speaking terms despite me not actually having rolled it all day. I just wanted to be done, and I also had a bit of fear about coming through the place that I'd taken a header in the dark this time, and with the mist from my breath interfering a bit with my headlamp as the evening turned foggy once more. I consoled myself with the knowledge I'd done the descent of the Headwaters Trail in the dark in training, and at least this time it wasn't snowing.

Nor was it this muddy, though.

Taking my last sip of sea salt chocolate Gu Roctane at 15hrs (the time I'd hoped to finish as a best case scenario), I was also trying to hurry it up since I'd started getting low battery warnings from my Garmin as I crested the second of the three sisters. I wanted to cross that finish line before the battery gave out and I - gasp - LOST DATA!

Yes, I'm a nerd. I'm in a good place with that.

Through pitch darkness I trotted and slipped my way back down toward Martin Road as a couple of raccoons screamed in a turf war off the side of the trail, even managing to pass a few small groups of racers along the way. I was almost out of water by the time I passed the Headwaters aid station for the last time, but I knew I just needed to get up that damn hill and I could have as much as I wanted to eat and drink.

After a seeming eternity of trudging ever upward, I emerged in the bright lights of the finish area and broke into a run.

So fast I was just a blur!
Or so I keep telling myself..
Lap 5: 3:39:23

While it's hard to feel like I accomplished much in light of the amazing things being achieved by those in the 100 mile and especially the 200 mile races, I nonetheless am pretty pleased with my attitude and execution throughout the day. I only had a couple of low points, one of which was just as it was starting to get dark which is psychologically difficult at the best of times in a race. I pulled myself back out of them fairly easily, too, though I still feel dumb for running off without my bottle and forgetting to fill it on the last lap. My final time and splits leave a bit to be desired, too, but I did a pretty good job of staying on top of my nutrition and hydration otherwise - I didn't feel any particular lulls in energy (just a steady decline through the day, with a minor uptick after beginning to take caffeine) and I seem to have got over my habit from years ago of forgetting to eat.

Official Time: 15:54:57

I am definitely ok with my placing, if not my pacing.
(Full results here)
(Garmin data here)

I figured it would probably take me between 15 and 16 hours to finish, and I was not wrong. This also gives me hope that I might be able to finish a hundred miler below the 30 hour cutoff at Sulphur Springs, though I'm not sure that it will actually be my first 100. 

I'm not giving a thumbs up - I'm showing Tanker the only part of me that doesn't hurt.

The best part of the whole thing was getting to hang out with (at least in brief intervals) the wonderful friends I've made in the Ontario ultrarunning community. I love being able to offer some encouragement to these incredible athletes while they're in the middle of achieveing great things (as well as trying to have a kind word for everyone else on course as well), and I'm so grateful for all of the help and support of everyone I know who was either out racing, crewing, pacing, volunteerings or spectating. It's a big old sweaty family out there on the trails, and I feel privileged to be a part of that. We even came back down to the race site the following day for the last hour before the ultimate 50 mile / 100 mile / 200 mile cut-off, and it was a powerful experience to see these warriors finally lay down their swords after doing courageous battle with the course and their own fatigue and soreness through the night (or multiple nights, in the case of the 200 milers).

After I finished my sweet, long-suffering Tank got my mud-encrusted gaiters and shoes off for me, and I changed into some warm, dry clothes (plus a couple of glow bracelets, because GLOW BRACELETS!) to sit in a camp chair and drink a can of cider - my first drink since Christmas Day, actually - and eat everything that wasn't nailed down. When I felt like I could move again, I had to penguin-waddle my way to the car; I'd only brought my Birkenstocks as post-race footwear, and the toe ridge sat exactly where the horrible blisters were! I eventually made it, and Tanker drove us home through the darkness around midnight, having finished just before 10pm.

We made it home and my darling put a cooler in the tub for me to sit on so I would stand a chance of being able to reach my muddy feet to clean them off in the shower, emerging much cleaner (and better smelling) but tired to the very bone. We rolled into bed and I turned off the light just as the clock turned 2:02am - 23 hours and 17 minutes after my alarm had woken me.

Yep, it was a long day.

 I cannot say enough good things about the Sulphur Springs experience. This was my second time racing there, and Race Directors Tim and Andrea know how to run a fantastic event! The course is brilliantly marked - the reflective markers at eye height help immensely after dark - and the volunteers are all incredibly warm, generous and hard working. With distances from 10km up to 100 miles in regular years, there's something for everyone to enjoy, and the beauty of Dundas Valley Conservation Area is just the icing on the cake! I highly recommend it, and will definitely be back again...maybe even to add an extra 3 laps.