I'm not sure I've ever been so unprepared for a race in my life.
Ok, enough with the incredulous looks - I'll explain what I mean. I was somewhat trained, despite not having run more than 20km or so or 2.5hrs since Horror Trail at the end of October. I just hadn't actually bothered to taper, or adequately supply myself for the race. With 61.5km in my legs in the 7 days prior; a poor night of sleep (kept awake by frozen feet + woken up a couple of times = 4 hours' worth of naps); no tortilla chips, no salted nuts, and no marshmallows in the house to make my maple sea salt crisp rice squares.
Hell, I didn't even have any bacon. How would I survive?
|Did I mention I was also held together with spit and baling wire?|
Fortunately, I didn't really have any goals other than to make it past 42.2km - enough to legitimately call it an ultra. I figured 45k was probably reasonable to expect, with a stretch figure of 50k - I've only run that distance in less than 6hrs once, though, and it was basically the best race of my entire life. So, no pressure. Just go get loopy.
|Which started long before the race did.|
Arriving in the freakin' FREEZING sunrise after oatmeal and coffee in the wee hours, I got myself ready to go without much incident. I said hello to a bunch of people and picked up my race kit: Clif bar, gel & shot block samples, an awesome Happy Trails Racing mug full of deluxe hot chocolate or apple cider mix (for us dairy free/vegan folks), and a slick running singlet with the race logo. Packet pickup went flawlessly - Race Co-ordinator Heather had everything running like a Swiss watch! I used the facilities, flailed my limbs around, and listened to the pre-race announcements in the small room where our aid station and home base was set up, almost directly beside the track entrance.
|Jeff and Heather did a great job of making sure we knew everything we needed to before heading out.|
Of course I needed to pee just as Jeff started the announcements, so had to run off to the washroom (hey look - I did a warmup!) right after he finished. Fortunately for me the Royal Distributing Athletic Performance Centre has plenty of (quite clean and well-maintained) washroom stalls and there were only 60 participants for the inaugural year, so I didn't have to line up for a loo and made it out to the track just in time for the 9am start.
|Off we go!|
In a strange way, it was almost a relief to make it through first lap - all ninety seconds of it. I'd wrenched my right ankle on a trail a week prior and it had been grumpy all week (hence the tape), so I was pleased it was cooperating...though it wasn't super keen on the tight left-hand turns on the track. As usual, I ignored it and hoped it would go away. The kind folks from Defy Sports Performance & Physiotherapy had tables set up in one of the corners near the start/finish line in case anything went fruit shaped on me.
Jeff had got out his treadwheel and measured the inside line of the track at 215m, so even slightly different paces ended up passing one another frequently as we circled. Despite the deep freeze outside, the temperature indoors was a pleasant 18c/65f or so: not so warm that you overheated as you ran, but also not the chill of the York University track from Run4RKids. The surface was much more forgiving, too, being a 4-lane polymer flat track rather than the painted cement I'd hated last year.
|The far side straightaway.|
I ran with lots of different people at all sorts of paces throughout the day, just to chat and catch up a bit after the holidays. Between the friendly banter on the track, the various sports going on in the infield (which transitioned from adult ultimate frisbee through kids' soccer practice to wee ones' softball), and the music that Race Director Jeff had piped in over the public address system, it wasn't nearly as dull as one might expect. There had even been an invitation to post your favourite "power songs" prior to the event so it could be played for you on the track to give you a lift.
I didn't really figure most of my favourite tunes would be welcomed in polite company. There were children there, after all.
I had set a water bottle out on a ledge near the start/finish to grab at my convenience, but to be honest I kind of forgot about food & drink for first half hour or so.
|Too busy getting loopy.|
Finally my thirst got the better of me - in my limited experience, indoor tracks in winter are incredibly dry, and I needed to wet my whistle. I was chatting with someone, though, so it took me another couple of laps before I actually stopped to grab my bottle...by which time I figured I should probably start taking in some nutrition as well, so grabbed my flask of EFS Liquid Shot out of the UltraCooler™ in race HQ.
Of course, they had a wonderful spread laid out for everyone in there, too: potato chips, pretzels, bananas, gummy bears, reese's pieces, peanut butter & jam sandwiches, plus water and electrolyte drink. If it weren't for all my pain-in-the-butt food allergies, I could have feasted! Race Co-ordinator Heather was very sweet and efficient about offering any assistance she could to all the racers who came to the bountiful buffet, even if it was just her delightful smile.
Back on track, it wasn't too long before the 1-hour race - which started at 9am with the 6-hour - came to an end. The track got a bit emptier, but not much - most of the people there were in it for the long haul. About 20mins later I'd finished my first bottle of water (I told you it was dry in there!), so went to get a fresh one from race HQ...only to discover that all the counter-clockwise turns had led to me having a distinct lean to the left from the ankles.
At 90mins the 3-hour race started just as we 6-hour folks completed our first u-turn around a set of cones Race Director Jeff laid out on the straightaway furthest from the start/finish, adding some new friendly faces to the merry-go-round and giving a great chance for some high-fiving of those who'd already been out there awhile. I started to get hungry at this point; not necessarily in need of calories (as I was taking in EFS Liquid Shot every 30mins), but I wanted something I could chew. It had been 4.5hrs since my morning oatmeal and I was missing my crisp rice squares, bacon and tortilla chips, but felt it was too early to break into the sole turkey & mustard wrap I'd brought along. Wish I'd have remembered that I had tucked a Larabar and a Bounce ball in the UltraCooler™, but there was no point in grumbling.
I had to question the placement of Neil Young's "Long May You Run" around 1h48m - it seemed a bit of a cruel joke to play that when I wasn't even a third of the way through the race, and admittedly things were starting to feel a bit cranky - but the music was quiet enough that you could generally either tune it out (hur, hur) or use your own if you chose. I don't run with music, so it was basically just an occasional distraction from the endless loops.
|The straightaway through the start/finish - timing table on the right by the timing mats, with a screen to show your completed laps and clock displaying the elapsed time further on..|
Finally, around the 2-hour mark with my legs starting to get whiny, I took my first walking break (other than leaving the track to obtain food & water). I probably should have started them sooner, but my "long" runs for the past couple of months had all been around 2-2.5hrs, so for some idiot reason I figured I could tough it out until then. Two laps - after a stop to pick up an EnduranceTap and eat a chunk of banana - took me about 5mins to stroll, take in some more calories and water, and relax a bit. When I started running again it was like I had pushed a reset button for my legs - they felt better than they had in awhile!
|Trotting along again.|
Unfortunately, it didn't last. By 2h30m I was hurting a bit again - I could even feel the unevenness of the painted lines dividing the lanes on the track - and needed to walk another lap. I had heard that 238 was the magic number of loops to make 50k, but with only 118 completed in the first 3 hours I knew I'd be hard pressed to make it there. I decided that an even 200 laps was a nice, round number to shoot for, and let myself walk when I needed to.
I finally put it together - having seen a fellow cruise past me absolutely covered in salt stains - that I hadn't taken in any electrolytes yet, though I had finally caved at 3hrs (after turn-around #2) and had half of my turkey wrap. Around 3h15m I jetted off to race HQ to grab an S!cap out of the UltraCooler™, and ended up offering one to another racer who said he was in need. I also grabbed my phone to take some photos while I was out there, but totally overestimated my willingness to carry it. 3 laps (about 4mins or so) later I was dropping it back off, even hating having the additional weight in the pocket of my skirt.
|Not before acting like a total knob, though.|
As the day progressed the sun streamed through the windows and roll-up doors around the track, making it look as though it were a lovely day outside. I knew it was bitterly cold and the wind howled mercilessly, but as my hips, adductors, calves and ankles continued to object to the relentless pounding of the flat track with its tight curves I found myself longing to be out in the woods. I walked more and more - every 15mins, then every 10 laps, then finally having to talk myself into running 5 laps at a time.
I did get a couple of lifts in the last third of the race - first because the 4h mark meant it was COOKIE TIME. I devoured a snack pack of mini soft baked chocolate chip cookies as I walked a couple of laps, later realizing I'd been told in the pre-race meeting that only water was supposed to be consumed on the track.
I'm a jerk. I'm sorry. I didn't mean it - I just get really dumb when I run more than 3 hours.
I also got a little shot of energy around 4h15m when a couple of tracks that I'd actually include on my own playlist turned up on the public address system back to back - first Iron Maiden's "Number of the Beast" and then "One" by Metallica. This is also how I discovered how hard it is to headbang and/or air drum while running. Just so you know..
I was starting to get tired (in spite of my cookies and the rest of my turkey wrap at 4h30m, just after the end of the 3-hour and the final turn-around), especially when the third sport of the day started in the infield. Fortunately almost all of the people who were in and out of the netted-off centre of the track were very respectful and courteous about waiting for a break in the flow of runners before crossing our path to exit. I wasn't sure if it was them or us, though, that caused the waft of sweaty body odour to flood my nostrils somewhere around the 4h45m mark. I'm guessing it was the ultra folks. I tell you - there's sweaty, then there's ultra stench. It doesn't kick in until you've been running for more than about 4.5hrs, but it's undeniably worse than regular sweaty runner odour.
|Photo by the awesome Sue Sitki|
I broke out the caffeinated sea salt chocolate Gu Roctane for the final hour of the race to try to spark some kind of energy, and I know it helped some. All told I took in about 850cal in the form of a full flask of slightly dilute EFS Liquid Shot, an Endurance Tap, 2 slurps from a flask of mildly diluted sea salt chocolate Gu Roctane, 2 chunks of banana, my packet of cookies, and the turkey & mustard wrap. I had a total of 2 S!caps the whole day - my hands didn't get swelly, but I did discover some pretty dramatic salt stains on my shirt after the race. I had no GI issues all day, and didn't even need to use the bathroom during the race - a testament to how dry the air was, as I went through more than 6 bottles (120oz - a little more than 3.5L) of water.
With less than an hour left I was almost certain that 50k was out of reach, but I was still pressing to run at least 5 laps in between walking breaks. I got to lap 194 and told myself I had to run until I made my goal of 200 laps, and ended up falling into step with Neil Ibey for a bit. He told me I should keep running until I'd done 201, as that would be a full marathon distance. I grumped a bit, but did it anyway - damn peer pressure!
With a fair bit of time left, I started revising goals. I figured 45k was easily in reach, but maybe 225 laps? My hips and ankles were whining a lot at this point, and the arches of my feet had got quite sore and achy - don't know how well that bodes for using the same shoes at the Niagara Ultra 100k this coming June. I didn't really experience any dark moments, but it was getting very tough to convince myself to keep running, and even when I did I had to be mindful of my form. The tight turns gave me a tendency to let my elbows float out, running like I had chicken wings - I kept having to winch them back in as the fatigue built.
|Eventually I got so tired I completely unfocused.|
Tanker actually left his aid station/race HQ duties in the last 15mins or so and even came out and walked a lap with me, stating flatly that he doesn't run. I gave him one more smooch (I'd managed to get one every time I went to get a fresh bottle or something from the UltraCooler™) then set about finishing this thing up. Jeff and Heather were trackside for the last half hour or more, offering great encouragement to the tired bodies still circling and working hard.
I walked lap #214 and wanted at least 220, so I kept running for the final 5...then saw by the clock that I only had 8mins left. Any idiot can run for 8 minutes, right? I managed to get into lap #224 with just over 2mins to go...then slowed ever so slightly so I would have no chance of making another, even if I sprinted (of which I'm not sure I was capable). I'm still not sure if I should be disappointed in myself for letting off the gas, but it is what it is.
|And they gave me a medal anyway!|
Official distance: 224 laps / 48.16km
22/39 O/A - 7/17 Women
All told, I ended up a bit off my pace from Run4RKids last year, but with no taper and some niggles heading into the race I'm pretty pleased with the result. Even better, I had no nutritional issues (other than being a bit hungry for stuff I hadn't had the forethought to bring), only a very minor hotspot under my left big toe from the sharp corners, and much less soreness than usual after an ultra. My calves were pretty beat up and my hips were sore, but with some care and attention from Defy Sports after the race (I love me a free post-ultra massage!) I was actually able to run the next afternoon, and then did a double run day on Monday.
|My race swag definitely helped get me out the door on Sunday!|
The Royal Distributing Athletic Performance Centre is a really nice venue overall - clean and well maintained, and much more comfortable than the only other indoor track with which I have experience. It doesn't hurt that it's only 20mins from home, too!
This was assuredly another successful event put on by the delightful Happy Trails Racing folks, and raised money for two excellent causes - the race itself benefiting ShelterSafe, and sales of t-shirts and hoodies being used to help the lovely wife of a friendly Ontario ultrarunner who is undergoing radical and very expensive treatment in the United States for stage 4 colon cancer.
|The hoodies are awesome, too, even if they let total dorks wear them!|
This event is already scheduled for 2019, and is well worth giving a try whether you want to ensure you can get a solid workout in even during the worst of winter's blast, keep yourself motivated to train through the holidays, or simply to have a chance to hang with all the fun ultrarunners on course. If you'd like to be a part of it, sign up quick! As of today - less than a week after the inaugural event - it's already 30% sold out!