Saturday, June 16, 2018



Welcome back for another ultra (OK, not an ultra this time) race report. How long has it been since I raced in a 1/2 marathon? I think about 14 years! This is my first race of 2018. There are several reasons for that but I'm glad I got out the door for this one.

I was very late confirming entry but made a request with Henri, the Race Director, and he was kind enough to make a spot for me. I thought it might be interesting to do a shorter distance here after having done the 50km three times and the 100km distance once.

Interestingly, I lost more sleep with this one than the 200 mile at Sulphur Springs last year. I think the reason for that is that I'm so used to races that last, well, many hours, or even days... so thinking about a race that required getting my heart rate up quickly and maintaining that discomfort for the duration was a new sensation.

As many of you know from previous postings, I live very close to the race start and the forecast was 26 degrees for the high, but our 1/2 marathon start at 8am it was about 21 with some cloud cover in places but lovely sunlight and a beautiful day.

Kinsmen Scout Hall, Niagara On The Lake - Race Start/Finish. Photo by Michael Cheliak

I drove down the night before and picked up my bib, lucky 533. Home to what else but a pasta dinner and then in typical race fashion, start preparing at 10pm. Duct tape to the back of the shoes to patch some worn out spots on the heel I didn't want to rub. Shoes of choice are cross country but very lightweight Innov's. It always makes me feel 'faster' when I pop on a pair of lightweight shoes.

Breakfast comprised of a banana and slice of toast 1.5 hours before the start and I made my way down and got a glimpse of the marathon start which began at 7:30am. Not as many in that race as I'd have imagined. The 50km and 100km runners were already out and it was just our race and the 10km one to begin.

Not having raced a 1/2 in so long, I Googled some advice and took onboard the concept of running in your warm-up for about 10 minutes and then getting to the start with about 10 minutes to spare. I think this was very helpful and I wasn't gasping or feeling tight when the race began and I could start with a healthy pace. A far cry for ultras where the pace start is usually quite sedate and hell, you have 50km or more to ease into things.

I sometimes do a 10 mile loop from my house on local roads for a workout and about a month prior I'd done it in 1:16 and felt pretty good about my almost 8mph pace. It was cooler out, but then a week ago did the same loop on a hotter day and it spanked me so my confidence went. I really didn't know what to expect and had hopes but was really worried about my usual 'rocket up the ass' scenario with a huge bonk after 5 miles.

Google came to the rescue again and the advice was negative splits and take the first 3 miles about 20-30 seconds slower and then make it up. I had to decide what kind of time to try for and decided sub 1:45 and if I cracked 1:40 it would be icing. You have to remember, I'm not a speed merchant these days and my training is all geared for the long haul. Being out on the trails for multiple hours. Saying that, I have done a 4:07 at this course for the 50km but that was years ago. And my best 1/2 was 1:27 in the UK, but again, back in the days when I was road marathon training.

After a 10 minute warm-up everything felt good. I'd applied sunscreen and was wearing a belt pack with water. With 8 minutes to the start I inserted myself at the front with some familiar faces. I knew Dave Rutherford was going to smoke this race and he didn't disappoint although speaking after he said he had a major blowup.

M/C wearing jester hat, Canadian Army Personnel and Medical Support. Photo by Michael Cheliak

Di (Dirty Di) as Co-Race Director, giving instructions, Photo by Michael Cheliak
The lady with the microphone (was doing a fine job of keeping us amused and suggested we high five those around us which many of us did. Then it was show time and although I started my watch, I'm sitting here now and damned if I can find any data. Maybe I forgot to stop it :( Anyway, this year they have mats at the 5km (and 10km?) locations so when the race results are posted online I'll be able to post that here. I have my watch set on miles rather than km and was looking to maintain sub 8 minute miles, getting down to 7:30 for the faster ones.

We headed through the arch. Lots of beeping as the timing mats collected their timing chip data, over the grassy section for about 100 feet and joined the paved path which we would continue to follow past the Fort with a sharp right along the Niagara Parkway, and then turn back to the start after 10.5km. I heard that the start of the 100km race went awry almost immediately with a course deviation, but they got themselves sorted out pretty quickly.

1/2 Marathon Race Start. Eventual winner on left in green. Lady in middle beat me by 7 seconds. Dave Rutherford on right. Photo by Michael Cheliak
Entry for the 1/2 marathon was in excess of 300 and after settling in, after the first mile I had about 16 ahead of me.

That sharp right onto the Parkway is at the 1 mile mark and my Garmin beeped, indicating agreement. I looked at the display, registered 7:30 and cursed myself a bit but you can't help feeling perky at the start of a race, right? I was with one other runner and he was my 'carrot'. The 'stick' was the thought of 300 odd souls behind me who I always felt were breathing down my neck. Our pace was similar and although a bit fast for me, I wanted to keep him with me as long as I could. The next few miles registered 7:23 and 7:32 and I knew I needed to slow down the ones after that a bit. Getting to the 5km mark was nice as Lisa and Tina were there (my crew and pacers for the 200 mile Sulphur Springs race last year) and cheered me on.

Looking fresh at 3km mark. Photo by Michael Cheliak

Shadowing Stephen Connor (545) who outpaced me from about 8km and took 13th place in 1:39.
Looking tired: 3km left. Photo by Michael Cheliak
I remember a lady in her car driving past on a number of occasions shaking a cow bell and yelling encouragement. As we got further along we began passing some of the slower runners of other races but encouraged them. My compatriot patted some on the back as he went by and voiced encouragement and I hope it lifted their spirits. Not so long after that I was buoyed up by the encouragement of others when we turned around. I have no idea what my time was at the turnaround but I was feeling like the wheels were digging in and my form was degrading. Only 6.5 miles left. You can do it!

The other runner was slipping ahead and while still in my sights I knew I wouldn't catch him. I wish I had more interesting commentary about the passing and being passed but truthfully I passed no one and only two passed me so I guess I choose the correct position in the starting gate. During the outward part there was a group of about 8 runners ahead of me and my 'carrot' close by and then ahead of them a big gap to the real speedsters.

I was glad for my water bottles as my one attempt to grab water on the go at the 15km aid station was a disaster. After grabbing the cup from a volunteer on the go, I had about 1/5 left after splashing it everywhere, and ended up throwing the remainder in my eye accidentally when I forgot where my mouth was. Duhhhh.

It was really interesting to turn around and come back and see all the other runners and see where everybody was, what state they were in and give and receive encouragement. Lots of runners wearing ear buds, getting through it with the aid of tunes. I prefer hearing the outside sounds and monitoring my effort level. The paved path was shared with the public and there were some cyclists and other runners not in the race, out enjoying the day.

The trees on the river-side provided a good amount of shade and I was thankful for them. With 5km to go I was hurting. My breathing was pretty ragged. While I hoped to find a reserve and put in one or two sub 7:30 min miles it just didn't happen. I felt like a slug and was sure wave after wave were going to run me down. I did stop twice to walk on the return, but only for about 15 seconds and I kept telling myself you are better slowing down than walking and convinced my body to carry on now the end was something tangible.

I didn't turn around to take a 'sneaky peak' as we took a left off the Parkway and headed into the last mile. I just wanted to keep it together and not walk - not easy. The sun was beating down in this open stretch past the Fort and there were many racers walking who were likely on their way to the finish of their 10km efforts. It is even more tempting to walk when you see others doing it.

We crossed the final road and had the final short stretch and I could hear the clapping from the finish line. I rounded the last bend and made a last gasp sprint (probably didn't look like much) along the grass and the little cones and crossed the timing mat in 1:40:46.

Not the most graceful finish but got it done. Photo by Michael Cheliak
 After that I walked away from the crowds and sat on a tree stump until I'd collected my guts and breath and quaffed some water. I headed inside, grabbed a beautiful glass of beer and toted it outside and made my way to the shade along the finishing chute and clapped and cheered runners finishing their races. That's one of my favourite things to do after a race (besides the beer). It's inspiring seeing everybody and every once in a while seeing a battle to the finish line is cool. I chatted to other racers and we discussed where they were from, how it went, etc. One lady had come from Ireland (Eimear O Leary) and had finished and was waiting for her husband. She came in 8th place in the 1/2 marathon in 1:35. Great time. 

I ran into David Vaarty who was one of my fellow runners in the 200 mile last year. He's had a full race schedule this year and is gearing up to do the Sinister Seven, a tough Canadian race. I chatted to Dave Rutherford and the female 50km winner, Neela D'Souza. She got an awesome time of 4:02! Brilliant.

I headed over to the board to see how I'd placed. In the last 3km one guy told me as I ran by that I was in the top 20 and he is a good counter. I placed 18th of 258 finishers so I can't complain about that result. I didn't bonk and it's a respectable finish and it was a beautiful day.

That is a 4:47/km or about 7:45/mile. My 5km split was 23:07 and 10km in 49:20.

Splits Time Cumulative Time Moving Time Distance Elev Gain Elev Loss Avg Pace Avg Moving Pace Best Pace Avg Run Cadence Max Run Cadence Avg Stride Length Calories
1 7:30.6 7:30.6 7:29 1.00 -- 10 7:31 7:29 4:21 181 189 1.18 133
2 7:22.6 14:53 7:22 1.00 13 -- 7:23 7:22 5:47 183 191 1.19 131
3 7:36.1 22:29 7:35 1.00 -- 31 7:36 7:35 6:12 179 190 1.18 132
4 7:23.3 29:53 7:18 1.00 39 -- 7:23 7:18 7:03 179 190 1.22 130
5 7:35.5 37:28 7:35 1.00 14 47 7:36 7:35 7:06 178 187 1.19 132
6 7:39.6 45:08 7:37 1.00 27 -- 7:40 7:37 7:19 177 186 1.19 131
7 7:36.8 52:45 7:34 1.00 6 -- 7:37 7:34 7:10 176 183 1.20 131
8 7:50.9 1:00:35 7:46 1.00 -- 36 7:51 7:46 6:20 175 183 1.17 133
9 8:00.6 1:08:36 7:59 1.00 47 18 8:01 7:59 6:55 173 193 1.16 132
10 7:52.1 1:16:28 7:49 1.00 -- 28 7:52 7:49 7:23 175 179 1.17 133
11 7:43.4 1:24:11 7:38 1.00 12 -- 7:43 7:38 6:04 175 181 1.19 131
12 8:05.1 1:32:16 8:04 1.00 20 27 8:05 8:04 7:11 173 183 1.15 130
13 7:48.6 1:40:05 7:46 1.00 -- 7 7:49 7:46 7:20 175 181 1.18 131
14 0:44.0 1:40:49 0:43 0.11 -- -- 6:42 6:33 6:57 181 189 1.33 13

I wrangled some pizza slices and another beer and after cleaning off some of the sweat and lotion and hanging out a little more, navigated the maze of cars and drove home along the route and waved to those runners in the longer races. Good on them as it was getting toasty out there. Congratulations to all.

After a shower and a snooze I feel pretty refreshed and my body is not destroyed like it would be after an ultra so that's a plus.

Next race?  I signed up for the Peachbud 10km in Grimsby which is Tuesday evening at 7:30, on the 26th June. Again, I've not run a 10km in 15 years. Based on my 1/2 today I'd think a 45-46 minute result but be possible but we'll see.

Thanks for hanging out with me and reading my 'ultra' report on a shorter race.

Happy running.

Alex, aka The Running Dude

Monday, June 26, 2017


Before I say anything else, I'll say this first. . .


Good day to all you ultra runners. Alex here again and I thought I'd write my race report of this inaugural event which I participated in two days ago (23rd June) in New York State, within the confines of Letchworth State Park. This park encompasses the Genesee River (hence the run's name, 'Many on the Genny") and the text below is from the Letchworth State Park website and here is their cover photo to give you an idea of the terrain which is pretty bloody spectacular.

"Letchworth State Park, renowned as the "Grand Canyon of the East," is one of the most scenically magnificent areas in the eastern U.S. The Genesee River roars through the gorge over three major waterfalls between cliffs--as high as 600 feet in some places--surrounded by lush forests. Hikers can choose among 66 miles of hiking trails."

How about that view! We ran both sides of this
Taken during the Fall by someone but gives you an idea of the views
I entered this race in the winter months and planned the O24 race in late April which was a 24 hour 1 mile looped course close to Cleveland, Ohio. After that was the first Canadian 200 mile trail race in May at Sulphur Springs. This was 16 laps of a 12.5 mile looped course. A follow up to that was this race in June as a good training run for Fatdog 120 in mid August.

This race almost didn't happen. Sulphur Springs 200 miler took it's toll. It was 3 weeks before I was able to jog again. It took 4 days before my feet stopped looking like sausages and the ass chaffing subsided. The big toenail on my left foot was a lost cause and took almost 4 weeks before finally coming off, but the big worry was my right kneecap. I had problems during several loops at SS200 but many loops there were no symptoms at all. Three days after completing the race it got very sore and I could barely hobble up or down stairs. Finally it began to improve but even on gentle 9-13 mile runs it began to hurt after a while and I thought there was no way I wanted to injure it further and that 40 miles was likely too far to attempt.

Being stubborn and realizing that if I had any chance to continue on my plans for Fatdog that I really needed this longer run and feeling the knee was improving, I decided to go and treat it like a long training run. I love doing new courses and the thought of just sticking around here doing big miles on routes I'm very familiar with was depressing.

Even then this race almost didn't happen. My best friend and business partner Ruth was rear-ended in her car in the rain which gave her whiplash 3 days before the event and with facial numbness, shoulder pain, ringing in the ears and headaches I almost figured that it was a sign that it was not meant to be. Over the following several days she improved and wanted me to go so I got home Friday after work and did a very quick pack.

I went to bed at 9pm and woke at 12:15am, got ready and was out the door on my way by 12:45am. The border crossing took about 15 minutes as there were only a few gates open and my only delay was having to give up my two oranges which were no-no's. The drive was pretty uneventful. I passed a few very large buildings all lit up where cows were either being milked or just standing in stalls. I was not tired and the temperature was comfortable. There were rainy spots along the way and as I got further into NY State the countryside became more rolling. My ancient GPS, closer to the location, somehow got me to a dead end street with a chain crossing it and fortunately when I backtracked and took another turn it got me to where I needed to go. Total time from my home in Niagara-On-The -Lake (NOTL) to the Park was under 2 hours so it is very close by and I attend races in Ontario which take double the time to get to.

The parking lot was fairly small and there were coned off spots which we were not allowed to use. Remember this is a State Park and I think the organizers did a brilliant job of co-ordinating this race. Their names are Eric and Sheila Eagan and you can read about them quickly in the section below so you see how this race came into existence. 

Race Directors Eric and Sheila Eagan
'Who are we? Eric and Sheila Eagan have been directing events for #TrailsRoc and Trail Methods for 5 years. With numerous ultra races completed, and dozens of trail races on their directors resume, rest assured all of your needs will be met on race day. Both spent time visiting, exploring, and falling in love with Letchworth as children. Eric lived at the entrance to the park  for 2  years scouting and running trails in 2003-2004. The couple then spent an entire week covering every single mile of trail on both sides of the Genesee River in the summer of 2014.'

Upon arrival at the finish line it was dark but there were brilliant floodlights in the parking lot so it was easy to see what was going on. I was the second car there and I had a quick pee and then jumped back in the car to sleep/rest for 2 hours with my duvee and pillow while the rain came down heavier and then dissipated as dawn approached which was perfect timing.

The Route
This race is a single loop which goes 20 miles SW down the West side of the Genesee River, crosses over and then follows back up, NE, along the FLT (Finger Lakes Trail), to the Finish Line. So for those people that didn't have crew or friends along, like me, I parked at the Finish Line, and then we were bussed to the Start line, which was literally across the deep gorge on the other side. It made a nice change to do a longer race which is not loops. The two buses were to take runners from the finish to the start at 5am and the race began at 6am on the other side. They organisers say there is upwards of 7,000 feet elevation change. My watch indicated about 8,300 so it is hilly, or more precisely, undulating.

Elevation profile

The course

I roused myself at 4:10am and used the bathroom (don't forget your headlight) and then got ready by the car as other cars arrived. I was the only Canadian runner at this event which surprised me so it was a bit strange to see lots of new runners. The ones I chatted quickly with were friendly and it was obvious many of them knew each other from other NY ultra events and I heard them talking about 'such and such' race. So no different than races I attend in Ontario where I know many of the names and runners and it's like catching up with old friends.

Since I didn't have a drop bag (although you had that option) and I knew this was it and there was no coming back to the car, I double checked I had everything I needed and jumped on the first bus that arrived promptly at 5am. The driver was obviously hired to pick people up at that early hour and transport them to their destination and she asked me what we were doing. Upon telling her I know she thought we were all mad but she was quite curious and was chatting away to a runner closer to the front as we made our 15 minute journey.

The rain had stopped, the clouds were dissipating and it was a very comfortable temperature. I remained quiet in my seat and watched the scenery unfold around me as we drove; sighting a deer peer at us from the verge of the forest, and then passing through a sleepy little town which is alike, and yet unlike, some rural Ontario villages. We crossed over a road which cuts across the Genesee River and headed to the start location of the race where there were many runners and cars.

Out we got and I headed over to the table outside by a pick-up truck where our race bibs were located along with a double sided map/directions which was rugged (i.e. in case it got rained on it wouldn't fall apart - not laminated but like your race bib in texture). After getting this and affixing it to my body I used the bathrooms on this side of the river and then sat apart and watched the runners mingling and preparing.

A lady called Sarah came and sat with me quickly before the start. She was covered in tattoos which I would have loved to check out in detail and it was obvious she does Cross-Fit as she had muscles everywhere. She is fairly new to the sport and her husband got her into it and it was nice to pass a few minutes with her before we were instructed to head over to the marquee where the race was to begin.

Eric had us line up and gave instructions which were that we would be heading 1 mile away from the start, along the road on the grassy verge, then cut back up into the trails to pass by the start again and then head down along the river where we'd cross some steep, slippery stone stairs. The first 20 miles down is the more accessible part and there were a few long road sections which we were instructed not to run on and in some cases it was ok to run on the very well maintained grass beside the road, but in some cases not so practical as there was a fairly steep grading which could potentially hurt your ankles so everybody was running on the wide median off the road in some of these sections, and as it was still only about 8am the road was almost completely empty except for crew who were going by. The temperature was lovely.

I began about 1/3 of the way to the front and checked out the front pack (as you do) and looked back at the people around me and behind me (as you do - ha ha). As I mentioned previously the 'plan' was to go nice and easy so I did that and leisurely jogged along the grass, staying with some people for a short period and then deciding that I'd catch up to the next person or group a few yards further along.

After the mile we turned into trail and it was very easy. We were still pretty closely packed and I kept advancing periodically until I was with a group of about 5 runners who I would guess were the second leading group behind the leaders and the pace was more 'healthy'. We then got into more technical trail and I was maintaining a gap so I could see any roots or obstacles in time and there were small pink flags sporadically indicating any changes in direction or that you were in fact going the right way.

The organizers made no apologies for this and indicate on their site that this is a grass roots trail run, not with lots of fancy medals and that you have to be prepared to take care of yourselves for up to 9 miles between aid stations and that the markings are basic and you need to pay attention. The leaders of our group within the first 4 miles dipped down a trail which went steeply down the gorge and we all came to a halt as it seemed a crazy path to take and there were no markings. After some faffing about we back-tracked up the steep banks to where we went off and saw runners passing by on the correct trail. Grrrr. I was tired from the climb and a bit demoralized to think so early I'd messed up and that who knows how many runners were now ahead of me. Hey ho. Say la vie.

I carried on and there was a lot of diversity in the nature of the trail which was awesome. It was pretty technical when you were not running a few long stretches by the road and you had to keep your wits about you. There were also a lot of muddy sections from the rain early in the morning and the day prior and it's amazing how only 120 runners (and only I guess 40 ahead of me at that point) can churn up a section. We were all a bit more spread out now and the groups were smaller. I was passed occasionally and passed a few occasionally. 

There was a section early on that was a proper river crossing where you had no hope of keeping dry and so we crossed over the big and small loose rocks with a faster flowing water and I didn't do so well and fell forward a few times but didn't get soaked head to foot.

I could be wrong but it was something like this where we crossed the river
This race seemed to have quite a few women in it as well which was nice to see. I followed people as I could or as I felt comfortable with and there were many sections with long descents and long climbs. I tenderly took the descents as many were grassy and muddy and there was one poor bugger who had chosen the wrong type of shoes for the terrain and was slipping all over the place. I was thankful for my Salomon Speedcross 4's which have s heavy lug pattern. We finally ended up on a very long road section which climbed up for a long time but the gradient was reasonable and I could see for 1/2 mile ahead the runners. There were about 9 in different groupings and I caught up to a Father and Son doing the race together. The son was 13 years old! Awesome. I chatted to them about their races and told them about mine and then went ahead and ran with a woman for a little as we ran into the first aid station which was in a parking lot off the Park Road.

I grabbed some water melon and coke and quickly headed back into the trail and some pretty rugged sections but also some absolutely stunning sections where you were at viewpoints overlooking the gorge and had amazing views up and down and across. It was at some of these amazing views which had steep staircases going down or up that my knee really began to hurt but fortunately I'd packed my Voltaren gel and reapplied as my progress going downhill was painfully slow and ungainly. Runners passing me were asking if I was ok. I slowed things down and for a long time was completely alone.

At a few points I was wondering if I'd missed a trail marking but I think at this point it would have been pretty hard to get lost as the Gorge was laid out to your left and it was obvious which way we were going but when you are tired it's easy to second guess yourself and a few times I came to a walk and wondered if I should wait until a runner would hopefully come up from behind me but I didn't and eventually a little pink flag would turn up.

It's hard to remember all the run but it was a beautiful day. The sun was out and it was not too hot and there was a lovely breeze as well. I was wearing my Salomon shoes, Asics socks, calf sleeves, running shorts, a black Under Armor tight fitting breathable T-shirt and white UV long sleeves, a hat and my Salomon vest with a 1.5L bladder. I had in the compartments some salt tablets, Advil, Voltaren Gel, tissues and Shot Block gels. I had two separate water bottles, one was a 200ml and the other smaller and I filled both of these up and only had about 300ml of water in the bladder. I wanted to wear this in a longer race to see how I might get on with it at Fatdog120 which has a compulsory list of things to take which means carrying a fair bit of weight.

Eventually we ended up at the furthest point and went down some steep, slippery stairs to cross the river. It was at this point where I made the second directional mistake. There was a little pink flag on my left and I followed it along the trail until I came out to a pretty and wide cascading Falls with mist and the trail further seemed to have foliage and a fallen tree and there were signs that it was unsafe and closed.

Several other runners came out behind me and we determined this couldn't be right and backtracked and met several others and when we got back to the last pink flag it took a sharp left down another trail where we were to cross the river so I think that was the only poorly marked section (but then of course, others probably had no problem and it's always the people that go off course and bemoan the lack of 'proper' flagging when perhaps they were just not observant enough). Anyway, in total I guess I got about 1/2 mile of 'free' mileage. ha ha.

Crossing the Genesee River at the SW point, approx. 20 miles into the race
Some of the stairs heading down to the river crossing
I can't remember this Falls but it's there somewhere
Another view of stairs and bridge and the view up the Genesee River

 We were now on the East side of the Genesee, having completed 20 miles of this 40 mile race, and this is the more rugged side which is more remote as well and almost the entire length back to the finish is a single trail called the FLT (Finger Lakes Trail) which is blazoned yellow on trees and if you see blue you ignore it as it's a side trail.

It was beautiful and I felt extremely alone in sections but in a good way. It is deep forest and it was beautiful with steep hills climbing away ahead of you or on each side and the sunlight filtered through in spots. I had been trying to take salt tablets and it was here that I took two Advil as I was struggling and my quads were screaming at me and the knee was beginning to complain again. My water intake had gone up substantially and at one bathroom area, perhaps earlier than at this point, I had filled up my 1.5 bladder and both handhelds and was really drinking a lot. I only peed once in the race and at one point my fingers felt a bit puffy and white so I was conscious of trying to get the balance right between salt and water.

I think this is one of the very few races where I didn't throw up. At one point I did step off the trail and bend over and 'think about it', but I was able to carry on so that is a 'win'. A few of the aid stations didn't have what I really wanted earlier so I was supplementing my calories with the Shot Blocks.

So back to the FLT... The trail is quite technical and there were muddy sections and the vast majority of it you are climbing or dipping down steeply to cross over one stream after another which obviously feeds into the Genesee. It felt like 50 stream crossings at least, I shit you not! In some cases, getting down to the actual steam crossing was pretty dodgy and you couldn't help but get soaked shoes, and in others it was less perilous. But it was constant and relentless and bloody tiring.

In some cases you'd get into the stream and wonder where the freaking trail was. During this period of about 10 miles I got passed perhaps twice and caught up to nobody. Finally, as I was out of water, I came across a hiker who informed me the aid station was less than a mile away but it seemed to take forever and then I came across 4 people standing on the trail, directing me down to one of the aid stations which was well provisioned and I was so happy to be there.

I was really, really tired. I stocked up on water and had watermelon, orange slices, coke and they even had bacon slices! I only took one and once back on the trail I wished I'd taken some for 'the road' as the salt and bacon flavor was delicious. They were always very helpful at the aid stations, taking both my bottles and filling them quickly and asking if they could get me anything. There was always clapping as runners came in which lifts your spirits too when you are alone for hours and hours in the forest and sometimes think you are the only one out there.

Off I went and there was only one more aid station left at around 35 miles. There was more of the same relentless stream crossings but things seemed to be getting less muddy and there were more runnable sections. I was walking lots by this point and if there was a gentle slope up, I was walking and it was around here that I began to catch up to some people. The first was a guy who said by now he was walking 90% of it and I said he was doing awesome and that we were getting there.

I popped one more Advil and carried on with the salt tablets and trying to drink but also conserve it, and periodically I'd come across another runner. It was kind of fun 'sneaking' up on them and loosing them over a rise only to go over and see you had caught up more. I only looked over my shoulder once or twice but was completely alone as far as I could tell. When I caught someone I tried to make it sound effortless and someone told me once that when you pass someone you should do it with conviction. It prevents them from trying to run after you or keep up with you because you look so fresh. ha ha. The trail had gotten slightly easier and the crossings became less and the terrain had more runnable sections which I tried to maintain a steady pace on, only walking when we got to inclines.

The Advil was helping and eventually I caught up to the Father and Son who had passed me many miles earlier. We were almost at the final aid station and I just filled my two handhelds, grabbed some coke and watermelon and got out of there quickly. I just wanted to get to the finish now and in the last 5 miles I caught almost 10 people. The final guy I caught up to but had used my energy reserves and was running on fumes. I was now walking flat sections and had to keep goading myself to jog in fear that someone I'd passed was going to catch up. The guy I caught up to would slip ahead and then I'd gain on him. There were some stunning viewpoints over the gorge again and I wish I'd had the time to stop and admire it. There was a beautiful breeze and the trail was wider and we then popped out to a small car park with a single occupant and the road was on the right and we headed back into the trail for the last half a mile.

I saw the guy ahead gain ground and then he was out of site and I concentrated and tried to keep the legs moving. It still felt so bloody far away. My watch was giving low battery warnings and according to it I'd run 41 miles and knew I would be there 'any minute'. Finally I heard clapping and knew my fellow runner had made it and that spurred me on and ahead I now saw the clearing in the trees and some volunteers who directed me to take a right, along the parking lot, and right again past the toilet block to the final turn left into a field where Erik, the race Director, was encouraging me to run it in. He high fived me and I was done. Everybody clapped loudly for me and I was so happy to have completed the race. Hands on knees, bent over, I kind of just stayed like that a moment or two, stunned a bit, and looked around. 30 seconds later a woman came in behind me and I clapped and acknowledged her finish. There was no finishing mat with chip timing but people made note of our bib numbers at each aid station and obviously at the finish.

My finish time was 9 hours 23 minutes, 52 seconds, good for 35th place of 120 runners. I was very happy with that result and honestly thought I'd be in about 70th place or thereabouts.

My body was screaming at me ' FOOOOODD'. I heard Erik mention pizza and beer and asked him to point me to the pizza and there, under a big marquee, I could see huge pizza boxes and after a guy handed me my 'goody bag' I wandered over, grabbed two rectangular slices and put them together like a sandwich, sat on the picnic bench and looked at the bounty of food and drink before me, and wolfed it down. Runners already finished were coming in between the benches getting pizza or drinks or Oreo cookies or peanut butter on bread and I just sat there eating and drinking, and sitting, and eating, and watching and sitting. Oh, glorious sitting.

It was a really great afternoon. Everybody in the field was clapping as every runner made their way in and I chatted to a number of runners including Sarah who had come in a good hour ahead of me and looked fresh. Eventually after sitting there and in the vicinity for about 30 minutes I made my way to the car which was right on the final stretch to the finish line. I had moved it so it was under tree cover and there was a lovely breeze. I got freshened up very slowly, washing my body down with water and putting on dry clothes, opened the back and side door and lay down on my duvet with pillow and let my aching legs recover.

My feet didn't fare too badly overall. I had a mild blister on one heel. I'd covered my missing toenail on my big toe with a band-aid and hadn't done further damage but the one next to both large toes I think I'll loose them now too which makes it 5 black, or soon to be black or missing nails. Sheesh. I could feel one being bashed a lot on the constant downhill sections and the cooling water from the streams helped mask the pain. Other than that, I am A OKay.

I have learned that trying to drive home some distance after a big ultra is a bad idea and so I rested there for 2.5 hours in the car, sometimes just resting and turning from side to side, listening to the claps and hearing the runners passing by the back of the car literally 5 feet away. Sometimes I'd sit upright and clap appreciatively and yell out something encouraging as runners finished. The goody bag contained a nice visor with the details of the race and a cool homemade necklace made of wood with a bottle cap again with the details of the race.

I finally decided to head home when I saw big clouds in the distance as I wanted to get home before nightfall. The majority of runners had finished but were still hanging out in the open field and it would have been nice to have gone back and joined them.

I slept well and went to work the next day and obviously have very sore quads from the constant steep down-hills and also had quite stiff shoulders from wearing the hydration vest with water bottles mounted on the front which I'm not used to but there was no terrible rashes or bruising. Going down stairs is a challenge but I'm used to this feeling and in another 2 days I should be walking normally.

Before I finish this blog installment off I really want to recommend this race to Ontario runners (or anybody actually). I've raced pretty much every Ontario Ultra race on the calendar and even a few in the US, but I think this is my number one favorite race to date in 6 years of ultra running. The course is challenging and the views are stunning. It's one big loop and is close enough for anybody to access from Toronto. This was the first time they held this event and I hope it becomes an annual one because you should definitely put it on your 'to do' list. I don't say 'bucket list' because it's not that race of a lifetime type of race, but it is very special and I really hope next year that more Ontario runners check it out and stay some days in Letchworth State Park as well because it is beautiful.

Thank you for reading this extended report and happy running.

Alex (aka The Running Dude)
Ontario based runner

Tuesday, June 6, 2017


The total elevation change over the 2017, 200 miles Sulphur Springs course was about 28,000 feet and each loop is 20km.

Hello friends and fellow runners, wherever you may be. Thank you for looking in. It's four days after this incredible 200 mile journey and I've had friends ask, 'How does it feel? How do you feel? Has it sunk in yet?' For me, this was by far the single most difficult running challenge I've faced since dipping my toes into ultra running 6-7 years ago. It has not sunk in yet and I know I'll relive aspects of it in the years to come and savior those moments. There has not been another race I've participated in that has had such a feeling of community about it and support.

I signed up for this race back in November without hesitation, having no real inkling as to what I was taking on. I wanted to be part of this 25th Anniversary Sulphur Springs race, and part of a Canadian 'first' for the running of a 200 mile foot race (although I'm told there was one other 200 that saw no finishers). We all want a challenge and it doesn't matter the distance. I've had fellow runners say to me, I'm 'only' doing 50km or 50 miles. That's crazy talk. That's still a long journey and I consider 50km or 50 miles a long way, and would never 'diss' the distance or the challenge. On a given day, with a given distance, on a certain course, we all may face failure, or rise to the challenge and I respect every distance and course I do. I have failed in 50km races and yet in this race I found success. I look at it that any failure is simply a lesson learned which can be applied to future races.

They capped this race at 35, but on the day 28 of us toed the line. Being a small community, I knew about 1/3 of the runners already, and had raced against all of them in the past. There were running legends like Ron Gehl who has an incredible running resume and has introduced many very talented peeps to ultra running. Ron is no Spring chicken (fortunately, or he'd still be kicking my ass!)but he is a character with a wealth of experience and I love his wife Barbara who supports him in every single race and I got a hug from her a few times along the way.

Some fellow Runners

There was Rich Humber who I've trained with in past years when we were both looking to conquer Suphur Springs; him in the 100 mile distance, and me in the 50 mile. On that race I failed but he conquered it, and then the following year he had a failure at the 100 mile distance. Rich has a lot of heart and I was happy to be back at SS with him, in the same event. He always laughs at me, remembering past SS experiences and my tendency to go off like a rocket, and then fizzle. He puts in the training and is a really positive person.

Steven Parke was there and I've admired him for years. He's a solid runner who has improved tremendously over the years to the point where he wins hundreds now. I know that if I'm with him in a shorter race, I'm probably going way too fast. But he puts in the training and the miles and when you do that, you will improve.

Garchun Low has been a regular of the OUS series for years and he's been tackling bigger and longer races, taking on the whole series and getting some great experience. He makes me laugh with his charts and preparation and he's a nice guy and improving every year.

Paul Chenery was there also. Paul has represented Canada in the World 24 Hour Ultra Championships and knows a lot about very long runs and about pacing. I've spent many hours running alongside him and while not that talkative when running, he is a solid presence who I feel comfortable running with. It was great seeing him again.

Ibrahim Ashgar started with us. I remember hours with him at the Laura Secord 100km race when it was cold and miserable and wet and muddy. I was in a bad state by the end and we walked together, sharing company late in the night, getting it done.

There were others as well but it felt amazing being there with all these other runners whom I knew.

Entry Criteria

The criteria for entry into this race was two 100 mile races or one very mountainous 100 mile, neither of which I had, so I had to write to the race directors to put my case forward as to why I should be considered. They approved me and I was thankful for their belief in me and felt I needed to justify that belief.

Winter/Spring Training

Training began shortly after signing up in November and we had a pretty crappy winter and the trails were wet and muddy and not very pleasant. I built up mileage into the 60-80 mile mark for weeks at a time and used my race three weeks prior to this one as my last big mileage push. That was at the O24 (Outrun) race, a 24 hour looped 1 mile course where I came away with 85 miles. I never came away feeling confident or that I had enough miles and that this was going to be a cinch. I was nervous and I actually considered it more of a stage race than a standard race. I think trying to think in terms of 200 miles is too much and so I broke it down in my head into something more manageable and meaningful. Ok, it's 67 miles a day actually. I can do that I figured.

Lisa (L), Alex, Tina. Lots of hours together training. Taken May 2017
My training was often alone but I also spent many days out with two ultra running friends putting in the miles. One of those people is Lisa Roy, who is lithe and slim and tall. She has great form and seems to glide over any surface. She underestimates herself sometimes with her running but she is a really talented runner and is working up from 50km races to 50 milers and she became one of my valuable pacers and crew for this race. She came out with me rain or shine, day and night.

My other training friend who I ran with regularly is Tina Chewmak. Tina is a powerhouse and loves to laugh and has a cheeky smile. We tease each other and the hours go by quickly. She pushes me to do 7 hour runs and when I'm knackered she continues powering up the hills on quads I'd love to have. She's used to being on her feet and puts in regular 10 mile rounds as a postal worker.

Tina has been doing ultras many years and has successes in races that I've dropped in. She knows she is not a speed demon but she is extremely consistent and 60 miles into a race, when those around her are dropping like flies from an unrealistic starting pace, she cruises by them. Tina also signed up for FatDog 120 with me in August so once her race this coming weekend is complete, Worlds End 100, we'll be getting serious. Tina also became one of my pacers and crew for the weekend and became the 'Director of Operations'.


Prior to this race I've never had a pacer or crew and I can't overstate enough the usefulness of having people around you that run and know what it feels like and know what needs to be done to get you to the finish line. Without Lisa and Tina I would not be sitting here with a successful 200 mile race. They never had to bully me, but their presence as pacers when I needed the company or the encouragement to go a little faster was so helpful.

The decisions when I got back to my tent at the start/finish and was dazed and unsure about what I should do next were made for me. Tina or Lisa took charge and removed my shoes, made me eat, made me drink, applied gel on my weary legs or painful knee, got me to lie down for 25 minutes or pushed me out. They looked at the 'plan' and saw where I was, how many laps were left and if I was slipping or banking time.

I would have bled time without them. So I can't thank them both enough. They stayed with me from Friday until Sunday morning and it was our race, not just mine. Tina said she was looking forward to being with me when I was at my 'lowest' to see the real Alex come out and hopefully no Jekyll's surfaced. When I'm exhausted I just get quiet and my concentration was focused on the next hill or aid station.  I only recall getting slightly frustrated at two points. One was on loop 15 with Lisa when our headlights were dying and I couldn't see the definition on the ground and was tripping and falling asleep. The other was with Tina and I was frustrated when she'd tell me how great I was doing and that I was banking time. And then she'd tell me I could wait 15 minutes before going out again and I'd be like WTF! I'm the walking dead and you're telling me I'm banking time, how come I can't take longer. ha ha.

Running is supposed to be such a 'pure' sport. You lace up some shoes and off you go. But when you get into ultra ultras things change. My car was packed to the max with multiple crates, tents, 5 shoes, my favorite dainties, about 10 liters of water, ginger ale, headlights, etc. etc. You know what it's like I'm sure but I am always amazed that packing for an ultra is harder and takes longer than packing for a 2 week holiday.

I finally got all my gear into the car and drove an hour away to the venue at Dundas Valley Conservation Area, or Sulphur Springs, out Ancaster way. This was Wednesday afternoon. I've been there many times in the past and have raced two 50 milers there and a 50km. However, for this year they changed the course slightly and there was more elevation gain and slightly longer per loop. I only went once this year for a training run and didn't do the new course and only did one lap since it was a bog in there back in April. The race was beginning Thursday at noon and we had a mandatory briefing and breakfast at 10am.

New 2017 course

I got there and set up a tent my sister lent me with a big cot and this was fantastic. It was an 8-person tent and it allowed me to stand up, and to put in two chairs and a lot of my plastic bins. Outside I set up a large table for my supplies and got settled but late in the afternoon it started raining heavily and unfortunately this is how it stayed for 24 hours. I had to get out of my tent in the middle of the night when the fly stopped being waterproof and drips began hitting me in the face. I got out some tarps I'd purchased and managed to get one into place. It was at this point that I decided in the morning I'd set up my second marquee beside my tent to cover my table, as I didn't think it would be very pleasant sitting in the rain eating and trying to get comfortable. That was a very smart decision.

A little humor to help me through the laps

Looking to the rainy start/finish

My home for 4 nights

My two tents are top right, to left of the pink tent. Cool pic. Thanks Superman!

A little peak inside

It was a restless night as other people arrived and the generator at the start/finish hummed away and I was thankful when it was time to get up. I put up the marquee and secured it over the following hour, having to monitor where water was pooling and problem solve, but eventually everything seemed to function properly and I now had another dry area to sit, outside. We gathered for our breakfast and I sat with friends and looked about, checking out the other 27 runners and wondering what their stories and preparations were. There were some 'long looks' and I know many were reflecting on what was coming only a few hours away.

Tim made announcements about our race and answered questions and there was some nervous laughter at points. The rain sucked and I didn't envy starting a 200 mile run in the pouring rain. There were two aid stations and the start/finish. The two aid stations on the course we'd pass by twice and for the first 24 hours they were going to be unmanned water stations only. After a yummy breakfast of eggs, bacon and toast for me we got up to make our last preparations and there was a lot of activity about. I was on my own and put on my kit.

Tim Nelson and Andrea Lynn Sloane - co-race directors for Sulphur Springs 2017. Not taken at the race

My kit consisted of long tights with shorts under, a sleeveless shirt and a long shirt on top covered with a black garbage bag with cutouts for my arms and head. On my head I wore a cap and I decided to wear my glasses the entire time rather than daily disposables. I wore a waist belt with two water bottles and storage for some gel blocks and salt tablets and my bib number, 9, along with another timing chip device we Velcro'd to our ankle.

They were concerned with the rain and the length of time we were on the course there might be some problems with just one timing chip and half way around the course there was a generator with two devices to record us as we went by. The shoes I started with were my new Salomon Speedcross 4's which I'd had difficulty breaking in, finding them very narrow in the forefoot and crushing my little toes, so I was going to monitor that. I applied bag balm to my butt and privates liberally. I was all set to get the party started. . .

We all lined up at the allotted time. I don't know what frame of mind I was in at the time. I had not had a great night with the rain, and had quite a few days leading up to the race thinking about someone who had been in my life, and I found it disquieting and really had not focused on the run.  I honestly don't think I was excited about the race or was even thinking about it like a normal race.

My A, B and C goals were never to do the race in a certain time or come in a certain position. My only desire was to finish. Tim made a few comments to us on the starting line and at 12:02pm on my watch we were away, getting clapped along by friends and volunteers. I moved my way to the middle of the pack and got ready for the ride. And what a ride it was. . .

The Start

The laps were 20km each, with a total elevation gain of 28,000 feet over the 16 laps we had to complete. These loops are mostly trail and nothing too technical. In parts you can run 2-3 abreast and the trails are well groomed. There is a lot of elevation change but the hills are rolling and nothing like the 28,000 feet we'll be facing at Fatdog 120 in August which are true mountains. However, the constant hills certainly beat you up and they are not easy. Add to this the mud from 24 hours of heavy rain and it made things even more interesting. I attached the map for you to look at earlier and I could close my eyes and relate every hill and nuance of the course from the memory of it burned in my head and in my muscles, but I'll spare you.


Photographer being photographed

28 starters. Yup, it was pouring. I'm in the designer garbage bag. No expense spared.

Garbage Bag cover for first 24 hours.

We set off down the first nasty hill from the start/finish and I was going slooowwwwww. When we all turned right into the first trail section I began to realize this was REAL and I was going to be out here for 3 freaking days and nights! The first open field was a bog and already my feet were soaked. People were grouped together and some were chatting while others just kept their thoughts to themselves. There were some runnable sections and then you'd get into some really muddy sections and over the course of the day these muddy sections expanded as the rain continued and people tried to creep around them. Any hills I walked and any downhill's I took gently.

I got to the part of the course that was new and I was NOT happy. There were craploads of hills, slippery grass sections and I knew this section was going to hurt doing it 16 times. The final hill came and up I went, having completed 1 of the 16 loops and I now knew what to expect. By now we'd spread out and over the following loops it became very quiet and lonely out there. Since aid stations only had water and were not manned, the only time you came across people was at the start/finish area. Being such a miserable day with the weather meant there were no runners or cyclists or dog walkers about. A few times I'd cross paths with another racer at a loop intersection but it was very much a personal race.

The laps blurred and the rain continued. My garbage bag and long sleeve shirt kept me reasonably comfortable and the temperature was cool but not enough to chill you if you kept walking or running. At the end of each loop I'd head to my tent, fill in my 'planogram', indicating the time I came in from a particular loop, and grab watermelon slices, or orange wedges, or chips, or cookies, and see what hot food the main tent had.

At midnight we were allowed to use poles and I picked up mine and it's the first time I've used them in a race. Rich Humber who I'd mentioned earlier swears by them so I went and got myself a pair, figuring I'd want them for Fatdog. I've been using them in training and I find them great. To strengthen my arms I'd been going to the gym and with 5lb weights I'd walk around the indoor track and pump them as if I had the poles in my hand, and walk for an hour at a time. I think this helped.

I was wearing gloves and over the whole time of using them with the poles only got a minor mark on the palm of one hand. The poles are great for stability. In the muddy sections where you are hopping from one place to the other and you can place a pole to the side to stop you from falling, or stabilize you while you stand on a slippery log is a useful tool. When you are falling asleep on your feet they help and when you are climbing a steep hill you can apply 10-20lbs of force to your upward thrust to drive you up the hill or use them as a respite and lean over them when your lungs are burning after summiting the climb and taking a moment to get your breath back.

During the Thursday night I also listened to tunes. It really made a difference to keep focused. Every time I got back after completing a loop I'd fill in my time on my chart. I created a 'plan-o-gram' trying to factor in the time per loop, and any rest stops. It made interesting reading after and while it didn't necessarily get adhered to strictly, it was helpful creating it and at least having a guide to follow.

It was useful to create, and compare at the end the actual. It was a guide only for me.
Unfortunately, with all the rain, by the time the night came, I noticed a significant amount of chaffing going on with my butt. Ok, yes, you could say I was 'bummed', etc. but it was unpleasant at the time and I was reapplying my Bag Balm but it was getting worse every loop. I think what happened was the underwear element of the shorts was getting wedged inside and while I'd keep pulling my shorts to keep them out, things deteriorated. By the next day I'd texted my pacers to please bring something to alleviate my discomfort. The following morning, Friday, I had done over 62 miles and was on track to reach 100 miles in 29 hours by the time my pacers arrived. I wanted to be faster than that but was ok with it as it would leave me another 42 hours to complete the second 100.
I had banked a few good starting laps with two guys from Alberta and Manitoba; Bert Blackbird and Jon Paradowski. Bert was a powerhouse on the hills and was generally running them. We passed some good time together talking and it was an honor to meet them both. We seemed to be a good match for pacing and it was great to stick together with them. Poor Jon got turned around at one point and did an extra 3km and was none too happy for it but he made it back and they ended up taking tying for 5th and 6th spots, starting and finishing together. Awesome job!

As I got to loop 8 to reach 100 miles I began to get overwhelmed. I've only completed 100 miles once before in a timed race, The Dirty Girls. It was a 48 hour race and I stopped after 32 hours when I reached 100 miles. Besides that I've had two failures at the 100 mile distance, once at Haliburton Forest, and once at Eastern States.

I was hurting by this point and flagging for energy and was thinking 'Fuck Me! I have to go and do that AGAIN!!!!' To be honest I was ready to call it a day, take a long sleep and go back out to perhaps get 150 miles but give up on the 200 goal. My pacers were due in a few hours and my butt was on fire. I don't keep mentioning this to be graphic but to highlight that small issues can become major issues and while I'd tried to deal with it, it was one of those things that became magnified to the point where it was ruining my race.

Taken after finishing 8 laps or 100 miles, around 5:30pm on Friday evening
All sorts of justifications played out in my head, and alone I probably would have done just that. When I got to the tent I told Ruth I was likely going to call it a day and would probably go out with Tina and Lisa when they arrived for a lap or two. They had come specially for me and I had to do a few laps with them at least to make their sacrifice mean something.

They were due to arrive around 9-10pm. Ruth had brought two pizzas and a tub of KFC Chicken and I dug into the nice warm chicken with relish. When I returned from the 8th lap I was crazy hungry and I was grabbing everything I could lay hands on - chips, cookies, figs, chicken, cold grilled cheese with ketchup. She also brought along some thick diaper rash cream so I disappeared in the tent and started fresh with this hoping it would improve things. The start/finish area was busy by now with 100 milers setting up their tents and Ruth was serving them their pasta dinners. Every 200 miler was required to provide a volunteer to help for four hours during the race.

I rested in the tent for several hours, waiting for Tina and Lisa to arrive and eventually they did. They were excited at the prospect of getting out there and helping me and their enthusiasm helped tremendously. The cream wasn't doing a great job and the damage was getting worse and the pain was intense. I'd also had big problems on and off with my right kneecap and taking the steep downhill's constantly was causing a lot of shooting pains, forcing me to keep things 'locked'. All we could do was put Voltaren gel on it. It was odd. Sometimes it was excruciating and then the pain would just go and I'd be running downhill's with it as if there had been nothing wrong with it.

It was decided Tina would do the first laps with me and into the night we headed. She wanted to help and asked what she could do and what I needed and how I wanted to be paced, to be ahead or behind or with me. I think we just sort of jogged along together and she chatted sometimes and or asked questions but when I got tired we'd just be quiet and forge ahead. She knows the course well but not the new section so when we arrived there I was explaining what was coming.

A little statue at the bottom of the 'Three Sisters' which people put offerings in.
With her help we finished that loop and she got me in and out quickly and out we went again and I tried to figure out at what point we'd be at for 6:00am on Saturday when the 100 and 50 mile runners were going to be charging onto the course for their attempts. It worked out amazing as we were half way up the final steep hill coming into the start/finish when hoards of runners came charging towards us. Wisely we'd hugged the side of the road and stopped to cheer them on and many cheered right back, acknowledging my efforts. Nobody said 'you're crazy' or 'you're insane' but things like 'you're inspiring' or 'you're incredible'. It really made me feel really quite choked. There were some familiar faces also and it was great to share a brief moment with others. After the dust settled we trudged our way the remaining distance.

I don't recall how much time they gave me but out we went again and on this loop I realized I needed a bathroom break and getting to the first aid station there were runners waiting to use them. I was not used to sharing the course and decided rather than waiting we'd carry on and hit the port-a-potties on the way back. Bad mistake.

We got another 10 minutes along and I realized I wasn't going to make it that far so looked in my bum-bag only to find I'd omitted that 'heavy' toilet paper! I'll never use that. Yeah, right. Damn! I headed into the tree cover but what I stumbled into was a freaking bog with fallen logs and ankle deep water. Damn! I'm not a botanist and I have no idea what kind of leaves were around me but figured it was now or never. After tripping my way into the brush so I was semi private, Tina went slightly ahead on the trail, but I have to laugh in hindsight.

I'd been eating so much assorted junk over two days and nights that I was constipated and my ass chaffing was incredibly painful. I'm a quiet, conscientious pooper. If I'm at an airport or somewhere public, I like to be quiet and find it embarrassing when I hear these poor bastards next to me grunting and groaning but there I was in exactly the same state and I grunted and groaned with the best of them and be damned what Tina or any other runner thought. Ok, maybe that's vulgar but it's funny 'shit' like that that you remember. So after struggling I finally found some leaves and made it back to the trail. After profuse apologies to Tina for the grunt-fest, we were on our way.

Now it was Lisa's turn to try her hand at pacing and it was great. We've run lots together and know each others patterns. At home base Tina was the leader and thoughts of dropping faded from my mind. I had zero thoughts of getting to the finish line at this point. It might as well have been a thousand miles. Every time I focused on the lap I was on, the difference seemed huge and insurmountable. I found it difficult to concentrate on it. 11 laps. Shit! I can't do another 5. That's 63 f'ing miles! A 100km run. And then I'd feel sorry for myself and just walk or run some more.

Somewhere along the way
The trails were really busy now and you were virtually never more than a few minutes before you'd be passed by someone or someone would come flying past you in the opposite direction. The level of support and encouragement I had from all these runners was incredible. I've never felt so much camaraderie in a race. I knew they were each doing big races also and I acknowledged every runner as well. It was tiring but rewarding. There were also times I'd be running into the 200 mile racers with their pacers and it was always uplifting to see them and share a smile or fist pump. Unfortunately, while the rain had now finished, the hundreds of extra runners were making the muddy sections complete pits and there was no way to keep feet dry and some spots were rather dicey.

For shoes I'd changed out of my Salomon Speedcross 4's after 50 miles and then switched to my very old and worn Hoka's which I should have known better than to bring out because there was zero tread on them and it was the worst lap ever with curse words being used constantly and only my poles saving me from numerous wipeouts. It really was like being on an ice rink when you got to the crappy sections. After that I switched into my torn and worn Salomon Speedcross 3's which did still have tread and I stuck with them for the rest of the race. My long pants had long come off and I'd tried several shorts. During the night it got down to about 11-13 degrees which was still fine for shorts and a long sleeve shirt.

Lisa and I returning from a night loop.
Lap 13 came around in the early afternoon on Saturday and I don't know what happened on this lap but it was incredible and bizarre and one of those special moments in running. I'd had one lap up to that point where I walked exclusively, had a few fast starting laps and most of the others were a combination of walking and running when possible. Lisa said she was going to try to get me to move faster when we started this lap and I groaned at the prospect and off we headed.

Heading out on loop 13 with Lisa wearing her shorts. I'd exhausted my supply
The temperature was perfect and most of the shorter distances were now off the course. I'd put on my white, UV protected sleeves and the neck sleeve we'd been given as part of our race pack and soaked them in cool water which refreshed me. Off we went and where everything had been hurting or niggling, somehow everything felt fresh.

We started off down the steep hill and gently ran it and then got into the trails and I wasn't slowing down. In fact, I was starting to run hills I'd been walking for many laps. I didn't feel concerned or tired and life was good. We got to the first aid station and I poured water on my sleeves and neck and off we went, walking the steepest hills but running everything else. We came to the long flat stretch before the sharp decline to the river and I ran the whole thing. We got back to the aid station and ran up the road into the upper section of the trail after 10 fast km and the feeling got better and better. Lisa didn't say anything but I could tell she was surprised and for the first time I saw sweat on her brows.

The endorphins kept with me and I was in high gear. My eyes were taking in the surroundings, my lungs were relaxed and my chest was unlabored, while my legs felt like they belonged to someone else, or that they were mine but were barely connected, moving me along with no effort while I spectated. I was power walking the steep hills with my poles and hungry for the next, and when there was a chance to open up on the flats it was effortless. I was passing 100 milers like they were standing still and many were shocked. Sections which I knew by heart which were taking ages to get to were passing with increasing frequency and by the time we got through the fields on the lollipop and it was time to head down I was loosing Lisa. 

We began the long ascent up the hill and I crossed the mat and headed over to Tina sitting at the tent. I had a huge smile on my face and she was incredulous, not expecting me for probably another 1.5 hours. I sat down, content and the timing guy came over and was wondering 'wtf!' ha ha. I just said to him, 'I did it. My pacer was with me the whole way'. All I can say is that was the sweetest 1/2 marathon I've ever done. It was probably not as fast as all that in reality but it felt like it and I'll not soon forget the euphoria of that lap, or one other yet to come.

After I came back to earth and began lap 14 things were back to normal. It was a slower and more reasonable lap and I felt human again. Tina took me out and this would be her last lap with me. She had to get home and I was extremely grateful. She herself has a huge 100km race the weekend after at Worlds End 100 and there is crazy elevation in this race. The only strategy I had for keeping awake over the 3 nights was willpower, a few catnaps where I could and two 'Monster' energy drinks which I'd never tried in training. I found them sweet but not offensive and whether they helped or not I can't say. I never felt crazy awake as I would have expected from a hit of caffeine. I don't drink any tea or coffee so I'm not sure what it's supposed to feel like but even if it was a placebo effect I'm happy that for two nights I had not felt out of it.

Lap 15, my penultimate lap, was a different story. Lisa and I headed out and my headlight soon died and I had to borrow Lisa's which unfortunately was not very powerful at all. It was around 2am and I was completely shattered. We had decided (I had decided) that this was going to be another lap that we walked everything. Lisa was very patient but I know she was hungry and tired herself and this lap with me would take her to 50 miles, the furthest she has ever run.

We were quiet and the low beam was really throwing my depth perception and I was tripping on the mud that was featureless in the light, cursing the light and my stupidity at entering this race, and weaving to the left or right as I began to fall asleep. I was stopping at numerous intervals to stoop over my poles and close my eyes while my breath was ragged. There were quite a few benches along the course but I'd come to sit on three in particular and I sat on them and Lisa would try to get me moving again.

We made it to the second aid station before it was time to head into the lollipop section and there was a roaring fire and another runner laying down in a sleeping bag with his pacer and two other runners sitting at the fire while this awesome volunteer took care of our needs. Soup anybody? Pirogues? He got us chairs and pacers and runners alike huddled by the fire for warmth and companionship. I don't know how long we sat there. Too long I'm sure but it felt cheery. Somehow we got going again and it was cool to start with but we kept moving at a snails pace and eventually we were summiting the final hill as the third dawn approached.

I tried to lay down, initially with Lisa in the cot with me, but it was not working because my legs were twitching so badly and I felt really bad but had to ask her to take my sleeping bag and pillows and lay down on the floor next to me. She had me set the alarm for 45 minutes and then I was to begin my final lap alone.

Lisa also had to leave but was coming back later in the day to help me tear down and get home. It felt like I'd not even shut my eyes when the alarm went, and Lisa said I could have 10 more minutes but I knew nothing would help in 10 minutes so I tried to get moving. I went to the bathroom a final time and headed out on the final lap.

The day was sunny and I began my final loop at 6:10am. Again, I don't know what got into me but I felt great. Of course I knew at this point I'd make it and that had not sunk in at all up to that point. I had another 12.5 miles to run and that's all the mental energy I had room for. I got into the trails and was running freely again, feeling strong, and soon came across a 200 miler with her pacer. It was Debbie Bulten. She was still looking good and I acknowledged her as I went by. I think her pacer was keen for her to follow me but I didn't hang around to see and down the steep hills I headed.

I was feeling like lap 13 and things felt good and just before hitting the aid station at the road I came across another runner who was actually in the 50 mile race from the day before. She had completed 3 of the 4 laps the day before but with a cold had stopped to go home and have a meal and rest and then come back the following day to finish the race (she had until noon like the rest of us). Her name is Tomoko Tamaoki. We struck up a conversation and she was great company and we seemed to be ok with each others pace.

We hit the aid station and began our run up the road and there was Steven Parke with his girlfriend Rhonda. I was certainly surprised to see him but I said hello and well done and Tomoko and I continued on. Things got faster and faster and as the certainty of finishing reached me it began to feel effortless again. Tomoko is a good runner and like Lisa on lap 13 was doing a great job of keeping with me but on some of the downhill's I was flying and would pull away but it all felt fun, like one of those training runs you do with friends that are fast and gleeful and you're just happy to be out sharing the trails and the experience together. Talking with her was free and easy. We were laughing, telling stories and eating up the miles. I showed her my favorite bench at the top of a steep hill which had the word 'dopey' written on the side. Totally appropriate. I had a last sit there for a moment and off we went again.

We passed by an Indian statue at the bottom of the 'Three Sisters', a series of three steep hills which has other more colorful names. This hill takes you to the beginning of the lollipop and it's from here that you have about 3-5km remaining. Someone had put in a piece of chocolate in the bowl, an appeasement, and days earlier someone put a bunch of white flowers.

Earlier in the loop we climbed a hill and came across Rich Humber and Wade Beattie at an intersection and it was great seeing Rich, knowing we were both on our final loops and that we'd both be there at the finish line together.

Finally we were climbing the last hill and as we made our way around the steepest section we could see people lined up on the ridge and I told Tomoko that I was going to run it in. There was lovely cheering and I made my way around the final cones and into the finishing chute with people from all sides whistling, clapping and congratulating me and there under the finish line was Andrea with a medal.

She slipped it over my head and was wearing her hat and sunglasses and we hugged deeply and I thanked her and she was crying. She was so happy that I'd made it and she said something deeply personal to me which meant the world and while I didn't cry, I wasn't far off. I kissed her cheeks and hugged her again and it seemed that there was just her and I and it was a really special moment. I want to thank her and Tim so much for believing in me.

My finishing time was 69 hours, 2 minutes and 57 second.

The results were that of the 28 that started, 14 finished in the time limit of 72 hours and of those, I finished in 7th.

Finishing places

I then headed over the my tent as other well wishers said kind words and I sat down at my chair and was dazed for some time. Periodically I'd hear clapping and know that someone else was ending their journey and I was happy to be part of this historic race.

Eventually I wet toweled my body and removed shoes and socks and soaked my feet in a cold water crate and things looked pretty messy. There were virtually no blisters but my left big toe was destroyed. I've had black toenails before, even one on my big toe, but this time it was far worse. The nail had been shoved back into my skin at the nail-bed and there was blood on the front sides of the toe and submerged the nail was completely white and milky. It is strange because I was hardly aware of it throughout the race except for some discomfort taking the steep downhill's.

My feet and ankles were swollen like crazy and looked like some large clown feet with a few rashes on the tops. I got changed and couldn't lay down in the tent as it was baking hot but soon 12:30 approached, time for the awards ceremony and I hobbled over as Tim and Andrea began to assemble us all. There were many friends there, other runners I know, who were pacing 100 milers or in the hundred and it was great to see them. We were informed that there was nobody else on the course that would finish on time and so Tim began to talk about the race and the winner did an incredible time. He flew from Germany and his name is Georg Kunzfeld. Congratulations dude on a smoking time of 50 hours!

Before the awards I'd seen a guy come through the chute looking in really bad shape. His name is David Varty. They took him to the medical tent but when it was time for the group photo he was brought out and treated tenderly and sat down on a chair looking pretty dazed but hopefully on the road to recovery.

The 14 finishers of Canada's first 200 mile trail race which had a starting field of 28. Race Director Tim is far left and Andrea is bottom right. Jon and Bert, the two guys from Manitoba and Alberta I ran several loops with, are directly behind her. The winner, Georg, is wearing his FatDog t-shirt. Debbie Bulten was the only finishing female.
It was cool getting our photos taken. They asked for all 200 mile finishers to please come forward for a group photo and I was one of them!!!! I couldn't believe it. Somehow I was able to kneel down and first the official photographer took his photos and then everybody's phones came out and people gathered around and I was looking out to familiar faces, taking photos of me and my fellow runners. It felt pretty special.

Unfortunately the buckles were not ready but we are all getting those sent to us along with jackets which will have our finishing times sewn in. How cool is that. We got a great mug too. No sooner had we disbanded than I'm talking with identical twins April and Melanie Boultbie about their running. April Boutlbee is representing Canada in Belfast in July at the World 24 Hour Ultra World Championships and her sister Melanie tells me about her race out in BC in August and I tell her about my Fatdog 120 race there. She has raced it herself, placed well and also paced someone in a previous year and she suggested she might be interested in pacing me there! WOW. I can't say at this point if it will come to pass but it would be an honor to have her.

Eventually people headed to their various tents to begin teardown. I saw runners beside me and around me laid out in lounge chairs resting injuries and weary legs. I also saw some who had gone a hell of a long way in this race, but who, on this occasion, didn't make the full 200, but they have nothing to be ashamed about.

After Effects

Eventually I got home, with the help of Lisa and her two daughters, who were rather disgusted by the state of my feet, and at home is where I've been for the last 5 days. For two nights I was on Advil as the shooting pains from my toe caused incredible pain. I almost went to the hospital, fearing a fractured toe, but several days later I think all the pain is from the nail itself.

Does not look too bad but smarted. The swelling got worse
My right knee got incredibly painful and the pain in the thighs didn't really kick in strongly until a few days after the event. I had hip pain and the ass chaffing was horrendous. I would have fit right in with the baboons but thankfully that is soothed. My feet remained swollen and unrecognizable for 3 days and I was peeing like crazy. I think wearing compression sleeves for 3 days was a bad idea and any swelling was trapped. After taking them off I was peeing a lot for 3 days and this was likely my kidneys trying to cope with the fluids. I think you could be very prone to Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) and wearing tight compression sleeves on a race this long may be a bad idea. I'm glad I was not jumping on a plane.

Fortunately I didn't have to go to work for the week and I've been sleeping like crazy, two naps a day and then sleeping right through the night. I've heard a few others say they faired much better and even a few that went out for a very short run but I'm taking things very gently and keeping an eye on the toe and knee.

It has not sunk in but it's a great accomplishment for me and I don't think many races will come along to surpass it in terms of the atmosphere. To everybody I met and shared the days and nights with, thank you. To all the volunteers and especially to Andrea and Tim, an even bigger thank you.

To my pacers and crew, Tina and Lisa, you are both special to me and I can't thank you enough for your generosity of time and spirit and strength over long hours, taking care of me and getting me to the finish line when I never would have without you.

And to all of you who took the time to read this blog, that's a big undertaking too. Thank you. Remember that you are all capable of more than you think. Set goals and work towards them.

I look forward to seeing many more of you out on the trails (but give me another week, ok? :)))

Happy running.

Alex Campbell (aka The Running Dude)

P.S. I'll post another photo of my buckle and jacket when they arrive.

Jacket and buckle. Sweet