Sunday, September 30, 2012



Welcome back. If you were at the Toad this year I hope you had a great race. I think we can all agree that the organisation is extremely good. The volunteers were plentiful and couldn't help enough - just catching their eye and they were asking if they could help direct you. Peggy & George do an amazing job and I think it's a race where you get excellent value for money (a lovely medal, great organisation with all the volunteers, nice sports bag, some yummy goodies in the grab bag, the Gatorade and nibbles at the aid stations and of course the delicious food after your race). I think my 50km race was $80 - compare that to the Niagara Falls Marathon which after 1st October is $120! I think that is outrageous and won't be running it this year for that reason. .

Course Map (12.5km loops - 4 for 50km route)

Course map - very useful

The Drive and Race Course Set-up

The day was dry and sunny. I left my house at 6am and managed not to get lost this year -and was at the parking lot by 7:30am. There were already many cars present but I still got one of the last places closest to the marquee. I got out, had a stretch and wandered over to the huge marquee where they had Tim Horton's and a number of booths selling goods for all your running needs. There were long parallel lines of tables with chairs in preparation for all the hungry runners and their guests and at the very top the organisers were giving out the goodie bags and your timing chip.

Oddly, you picked up your running number at the other end of the tables - I thought it would  make more sense to get your timing chip with your bib number and actually I forgot to pick up my chip the first time. I like the bibs where the timing chip is on the back. Anyway, I remembered to head back to get my chip. By then there was a longer line of keen runners. Oh, and while I remember, all the bibs were the same. I like races where they distinguish between race distances - perhaps it's a minor consideration but I think for the runners out there it can be nice to know who you are competing against and as it is a loop course and the majority of the spectators are at the start/finish they too would like to know.

I walked around with a camera and snapped some photos of the marquee and the start line and the facilities which I'll post in the next few days. It was sunny as I said and around 16 degrees and perfect for running. I headed back to the car where I had a few duvets and a pillow and got comfortable and lay down, listening to the commentator back in the tent. I saw lots of runners by their vehicles, getting ready attaching bibs, etc.

Start/Finish matts. We all line up behind the fence. Lake is to the right of this photo - bleachers/marquee to left
Bandstand where race announcements made and where my trophy awaits! Er, maybe next year. . .

Some personal touches which make this race special - a real Fall theme

Pinehurst Lake - we run by this at the start line and head into the trees - one guy I spoke to after race had jumped in. Brrr

Alex fresh and ready for the challenge

In the marquee I saw a number of sweatshirts from the Niagara ultra and struck up a conversation with a few runners. Everybody seemed in good spirits. The setup at the start/finish was slightly rearranged this year with the bleachers moved to the other side and a big bandstand where the race directors made their speeches before the start.

I was still in my car at 9am when they sang the US and Canadian National Anthems and the bagpipers began but I took a few photos of them while they rehearsed in the parking lot.

Bagpipe band preparing in the parking. They were great. Another nice touch

After checking out the toilet facilities I got my caboose over to the starting area 15 minutes before the start wearing shorts and a singlet but I was not too cold as long as I was in the sun - in the shade I found myself shivering a bit but no doubt some was due to the nervous tension I feel before the start.


At the car I had applied sun screen on my arms and head/ears/nose and sun factor lip gloss. I wore my Nathan belt with two bottles, one filled with Perpetuem and the other just with powder. This race I decided not to use the Enduroyte powder hoping I would not throw up - more on that later. . . . In the pocket I had 4 Hammer Gels and some toilet paper in the other compartment just in case. I've never had those problems but you never know. Then I had my handheld water bottle which held my car keys and a lock of hair from someone special to me. Last year I wanted to run well for her and DNF'd so I meant to make amends this time and let her run with me so to speak. 

I wear an Under Armour black shirt which I like very much although damn it gets stinky!  Maybe it's just me or maybe after hundreds of miles it doesn't matter how much you wash them, you just can't get rid of all the perspiration scent. I wore my skimpy shorts and my shoes are the purple Asics lightweight trail shoes. I put a heel gel in each to help with my Achilles issues. These things invariably move around by the end of the race but I like the extra cushioning.

Pre-Race Speeches and the Line-Up

I heard from the race director that there was some competition going on between Canadian and American relay teams this year. Having looked at the entries last year it was apparent that this year there were quite a few less runners entered in the 50km race. The post race stats were:

             Entrants         Finishers
Total         210                145
Male          132                 87
Female        78                 58

            Entrants          Finishers
Total         149                111
Male          104                 75
Female        45                 36

All the competitors were lined up in front of the bandstand and then with 7 minutes to the start the race director suggested we all line up. It is always interesting to see where people place themselves. I did my usual placement, arranging myself around 1/4 of the way back. People look around, some nervously, others sizing up the competition, others looking for a familiar face. I felt good and stood next to a older French woman who had run the 50km 13 times I believe. We chatted good-naturedly and ahead of me I saw two women who I'd seen the year before. They are sisters (I found out later) and were wearing bright pink/purple knee-high socks with matching hyra-packs. George walked through the runners shaking hands and I was pleased to be able to thank him personally. That was a nice touch. I saw this volunteer who was tall and dressed with this big weird had and funky coloured clothing - I guess he was supposed to be 'the Mad Hatter'. We saw him a number of times around the course shaking this big cow bell and encouraging us.

There is no whistle, shot-gun, gong, or whatever. A minute before the race people move to the starting line, crowding together for the first time and then there is just a 'ready, set, go' and we're off. . .

Lap 1 (Steady Does It)

Time for lap: 1:05:30 (last year lap one was 1:03:03)

If you read my lead-up to this race you'll know I had no great expectations. I've had enough failures this summer on ultras to temper my hopes and I knew with my Achilles problems and lack of training (one 22 mile training run on pavement 2 weeks prior), most of my running done on a gym treadmill and fewer miles than I'd have liked, that I'd be lucky to finish this run and certainly would not be placing as well as say, Niagara 50.

Anyway, I was not thinking that as I ran over the timing mats, listening to all the well-wishers and spectators who were clapping and taking photos and looking for their friends and family members. You have to enjoy those moments and savour them. I think it's really nice people coming out and cheering you all on. It was a comfortable temperature and the sun was out and here we all were entered in a tough physical and mental challenge and enjoying the moment.

We ran past the lake on your left and then entered the trees and there are various patches of pavement, a few more trees and then you are steadily on pavement that takes you past camping sites for probably 1-1.5km. You hear a busy road on your left at one point and then there is a sharp left and then you are into the trails properly. We all begin to stretch out over the first bit, getting into our various paces and at some point along the pavement stretch I found myself with who I came to think of as 'The Twins'. I remembered that they had blown me away last year. Watching them from behind I could tell their rhythm and pace were excellent and felt it was a good pace for myself so I tucked myself in. It felt like 6.5-7.0mph that we were doing. There wasn't any talking going on but even as we entered the trails it felt good. We flew down the hills and ran up the hills. There was another lady that had joined our little group. I didn't get a good look at her or catch her name but she said she tries to keep up with the Twins for 2-3 of the laps. She is obviously familiar with them and respects them.

I honestly don't remember much about the lap. It went smoothly, the pace felt good and we all got through the lap comfortably. There were a few runners that came flying by who were obviously the lead 25km runners but I don't think any of the 50km runners came by. Our pace was excellent - some people just have that and I don't. If it had not been for the Twins I would have blown it I'm sure. The lady behind me or myself would call out 'runner on the left' and the Twin on that side would move over so it was a good little arrangement and I was going to be sad when our little group fell apart as I knew it would at some point or another.

Lap 2 (Repeat of Lap 1)

Time for lap: 1:07:08 (last year lap two was 1:07:38)

We passed through the start/finish line and I was surprised to see the clock. I was only 2 minutes off last years time and feeling quite fresh. I remember last year I was pretty winded even after 1 lap. I guess knowing the course helps allot. This course is very deceptive. It is well groomed and there are only a few spots which are single track and these are not technical. There are hills - lots of them. They are not grand affairs except the one at 11.5km which on the 3rd and 4th laps become a dreadful thing to experience. The hills come frequently, they are constant and while they don't seem much the first or second lap, they 'grow'. I swear, they do! I'll be getting to the 4th lap story soon enough but as I'm describing the course I want you to have an idea.

The 4th lap, unfortunately was a death march with perhaps 3km actually 'run' in total. The rest was walking and holy crap there are allot of hills. I determined that I'd walk all the hills and try to run on the flats and down sections but I was walking a hell of a lot and it seemed one moderate hill after another and when you are fresh the hills don't seem that bad but when you are 'spent' they are there, constantly. So be aware. If you are going to do this course for the first time, it is lovely. You definitely should come. But take the first lap gently, ease into the race and don't blow up.

So, where was I? Ah yes, lap 2. Well, there is not much to report, again. It went by much like lap one. Yes, there was the beginning signs of fatigue at some points but thanks to the Twins and their steady comfortable pace we were all still there although there had been one change. The lady that was behind me began to breath harder and harder and it was obvious she was struggling which is a shame. I know that feeling well. The Twins I could never hear and I breathed hard for awhile on the first lap but then seemed to find a comfort level where I could breathe easily. I turned my head and saw the woman back around 50 feet and then she was gone. Oh, I'd almost forgotten. On lap 1 there was a guy also with our 'pack'. He had really long hair and a baseball cap. I didn't catch his name but he was with us about 3/4 of the first lap and then off he went ahead. The first time he went ahead we almost caught up. He had obviously run into the bushes to relieve himself but even as he came back to the trail he took off. I don't remember passing him but at some point we must have because I think on the 4th lap he came by me again. I never got his name.

Having been together quite a while by now we introduced ourselves. Hi, I'm Alex. The left Twin was April and the right Twin was Melanie. Looking at their results they are April and Melanie Boultbee. It was nice to meet you both :) They placed 1st and 3rd for their age groups so congratulations. One of them had bowel problems on the 3rd lap but she got through it. Their times were 4:46:18 for April and 4:42:30 for Melanie. Had I not fallen apart on the 4th lap I could have realistically anticipated a time of around 4:40 but I'm not begrudging my results. I did the best I could on the day. It would have been lovely if our group could have finished together but you enjoy the camaraderie while it lasts and you see those familiar faces in future races.

Melanie, April and I about 1/2 way through lap number 2

As some point on lap 2 I tripped up on a root. I was probably too close on the heels of one of the Twins and missed it and landed palms down. No harm done and I received the usual calls of 'are you alright?' I got up, dusted myself down and resumed my place. We all got through the lap much as we started. Last year, after 2 laps, I knew I would not finish but struggled on for another lap. I was getting tired by this point, as you'd expect after 15.5 miles, but I didn't feel 'wasted'.

During the second lap you begin to have to navigate your way around the 25km walkers. They are giving it their best also but it can be frustrating those that wear earphones and don't keep to the right. They are very apologetic when they get in your way but if they were more aware of their surroundings they wouldn't have to be sorry in the first place. But for the most part it was all good and some would yell out to others 'fast runner'. That made me laugh because I didn't feel very fast by that point and you try to pick up the pace just a bit so at least it feels like you're going by quickly. ha ha.

By this point it was getting very warm out. I'd guess 24 or so. The sections in the sun it beat down on your head. I had decided not to wear a cap and had sunglasses mounted on the top of my head which I never wore. They would slip down sometimes so I was constantly adjusting them and it was silly to have them really. They are Bolle's I got in the UK and are ancient. One of the lenses was broken and I glued it together, the nose guards are almost chewed off, and they really look like they've gone through the wars but they are sentimental to me, having been all over the world and in many races so they came along for the ride.

During lap 2 we had picked up a new runner who tucked in behind me; a guy. I didn't catch his name but I think he was wearing a red top. So that is how lap 2 finished.

Lap 3 (The 'Pack' disintegrates)

Time for lap: 1:10:23 (last year lap two was 1:24:46)

We all got over the timing mats and I was really surprised to see that the pace was still very good. I have a watch but I don't like to look at it and save the 'surprise' for the clock at the next cycle. We carried on around and then got on the pavement part in amongst the camping ground and it's here that it all fell apart for our group. One of the Twins moved away from the other and seemed to be struggling and slowing down. Sometimes it might be a way of breaking up the pack or sometimes it's a way of saying, OK, someone else take the lead. Either way, it happened pretty suddenly and I was concerned. We were all over the road and so I decided to forge ahead, going a bit slower to see if she could recover.

I found myself going into the trails alone and so just put my head down and carried on. I was very worried I might go too quickly but tried to be consistent and sensible and I think the guy came with me for a bit but then I was alone again although I looked back a few times and saw the red shirt not too far back.

There is a part that has a sharp left up 4 or 5 rudimentary 'stairs' which after the terrain comes as a nasty surprise and you are not used to having to actually lift your feet. So of course I tripped up there and was lucky not to hurt myself. At the top there is a very tempting white bench with a glorious view into the distance. A guy happened to be there when I tripped and said he'd really hurt himself there in the past, pulling a hamstring I think.

I was starting to feel it now, getting tired but still didn't walk anything but the huge hill and maybe one of the larger small hills. Besides the two tumbles which go with trail running I was feeling remarkably well. The Achilles was not hurting much but the calves were getting tight with all the steep downhills and then ups. This is much tougher on your calves than a treadmill or paved footpath and I think they were letting me know they were getting unhappy.

I'd fully expected to see the Twins again during the lap but I wasn't looking at my watch and was not sure my pace. I just remember passing a number of people. Oh, I do remember we had stayed with a tall guy earlier on who had a 'radioactive' black T-shirt on. He stayed at our pace for awhile and then the Twins passed him on one of the uphills.

I had tried to keep the drinking/hydration/gels going and it had seemed to work until now but I was forgetting to take the gels and I'd finished my powder drink and kept forgetting to fill the other one that had powder waiting to be mixed, so I was soley on water now.

It had been fun being with the Twins. Because they stand out people really cheer them on and of course I soaked up the encouragement. 'Go Charlie's Angels'! Hey, weren't there 3 Angels? I hope they were not confusing me! sheesh. There were a few places little boys and girls were waving and cheering and that was nice. I always make time to wave or say thanks to those people and a little boy I told him I hoped I'd seem him at this race in a few years. He seemed to like that.

I want to thank one of the volunteers in particular. He was within the parking lot area at around 12.2km steering you to the right and every lap he was clapping and being encouraging. I thought that was really nice of him. His hands must have done a marathon themselves.  I also ran by Henri a number of times, the race director from the Niagara ultra. He wasn't running but I said hello and said thanks for your race.

So I finished lap 3 and was getting pretty wrecked. I was not quite 'done' but I had run 37.5km without stopping which, considering my 22 mile training run on pavement 2 weeks prior when I'd walked lots, I was quite encouraged.

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end as they say, and it was just into lap 4 where it all fell apart. . .

I think this is me completing lap 3 just before the 'meltdown'

Definately looking less 'chipper'
Lap 4 (Here Comes The Barf Monster)

Time for lap: 1:42:28 (last year lap Four was DNF)
I got through the start/finish line and wanted to walk for the first time but didn't want to do it right by the cheering section so carried on to the aid station about 100 feet further when that familiar sensation came on that heralds the emergence of the 'barf monster'. I choose a big tree out of the sight (but not the hearing I'm afraid) of the aid station volunteers and up it came. This really annoyed me but it usually comes on in these ultras when my pace is too fast for too long or I'm pushing myself too hard. I just can't seem to get the gels/powders to work with me or maybe forgetting to drink enough was the problem. I don't know but it is very frustrating.

I got that out of my system (so I thought) and carried on and unscrewed the cap to my hand-held and had them fill it up. Unfortunately my 'end' came on very suddenly and I found myself walking at around 1km along the pavement before you get back into the trail. From there I really don't remember much running because every time I put in an extended effort (which by that point was not very extended) the barf monster put in another appearance. In total I yacked 5 separate times and some I must say were quite impressive shows. Sorry for the graphic picture but wanted you to get an idea of the whole race - the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I shouldn't be that surprised really. The training isn't where it should have been and I am happy I kept it together as long as I did. I'm just disappointed that I couldn't keep it together a bit longer, maybe get to 7km before I felt rough, and then soldiered through it for the last 5.5km. It was on this lap that I realised how many damn hills there are and I was frustrated to see people passing me. After a while one of the Twins came past, I guess Melanie as she finished first. I wished her well and then 'red shirt' came past, and then April came up. She stopped to say hello and encouraged me so thanks. I told her not to wait and off we went but I quickly realised her pace was more like mine on lap 3 and I just couldn't do it and keep the barf monster at bay so I began walking and wished her well. After that some more women came past and the radioactive dude. I mean, it was not a 'flood' going by me but in total I'd guess 25 came by over 10km.

I never got to experience this final lap last year having given up after 3. By this point it is much quieter. You don't pass the walkers any more and you are by yourself for long periods. I would have liked to be in a 'pack' again and don't always do well on my own when I'm exhausted. Some points I put my hands on my legs and just zoned out for a few minutes and at one of the picnic benches I sat down for close to 5 minutes just to try to get a second wind as my heart was pounding in my chest just from walking.

My calves and quads were shot and walking was an effort. I just wanted it to be over with. I got to the top of that nasty hill at 11.5km and at that point there were two walkers and one runner. It was a girl and after a tiny recovery at the top she ran on and after gaining 20 feet I decided I'd try to grab onto her for motivation. I'd been passed so often over the last 8km and being almost finished I wanted to try to 'compete' again.

I caught up to her and then there was a little hill which winded me and she got away. Then I recovered enough to carry on and caught up to her. We both knew we were getting close to the finish and it was turning into our own private competition. I passed her just before you get to the main gate house and saw my faithful volunteer clapping and encouraging us, even now after 5 hours. About 50 feet past him I had to stop again and she came by and I was almost ready to call it quits but then the competitive spirit arose in me again and I sucked up the last reserves I had and gave chase. She had definitely picked up the pace and I was cursing her under my breath for making me work so hard. ha ha.

We got past the final 'crossroads' that leads down and then a sharp right for a final small incline on dirt to the finish line. I caught up to her and managed to say 'you're going to make me work for this, aren't you?'. She acknowledged that she was and I smiled and then we both did what we could. I managed to outpace her as we got to the bottom and ran over the finish line. She finished in 5:05:32 and I gave her a hug after we got our medals.

My Finishing Time: 5:05:20
Placement: 13/23 for my age group
Finishing Place: 42nd of 111 that finished
Lap times again: (1:05:30, 1:07:08, 1:10:23, 1:42:28)
Michelle Leduc and I in a battle for the finish line
Enjoying some healthy competition - we're both smiling after 31 miles!
Michelle looks like she is enjoying herself but she made me work for that win!

Post Race

I was wiped and grabbed the closest seat I could find on a picnic bench. I saw the woman I'd narrowly beat and she came over and we sat and talked for about 20 minutes. I found out her name is Michelle Leduc, from Ottawa. She told me about her race and I told her about mine. After we'd recovered I began to feel a bit chilled as you do after a long race. By then we were hankering for some food and fortunately the marquee entrance was close and there were no line-ups. Our walking was as you'd expect after finishing 50km and after having seized up after sitting. We did the two-step shuffle until the feeling came back and as you entered the marquee the temperature went up a notch and it was quite warm and smelled of multiple bodies. Not bad, just maybe a little more stuffy than outdoors. There was a guy playing guitar and a woman doing a dance along with the music. People were seated at the long tables listening to the music and eating and no doubt sharing experiences.

Michelle and I grabbed what caught our eye. I had a chicken breast with some coleslaw and some Asian noodles with a Chipolata sauce, a bottle of water and for dessert a rhubarb strawberry pie. I asked for small servings as my appetite was definitely not high but I knew it is important to get food into your system after such an effort.

We sat down together and ate and I found out more about Michelle. Unfortunately her husband had not been able to come down to see her and she was new to the ultra running but has definitely caught the 'bug'. I'm sure I'll see her again at future races and well done to you. It was a pleasure to meet with, and compete, with you :)

Part way through the meal the Twins sat down at the next table over and I said hello and asked how their races had gone. I thought their times were very good although one had done better the previous year and one had done worse. I remember one saying she had stomach problems so perhaps it was her whose race was not as good as the previous year but last year April had run a 4:33! Pretty impressive and she only narrowly lost to Laurie MacGrath, a runner who I spent a fair share of time with running at the Limberlost with this summer. Last year at The Toad Laurie narrowly beat April to place 1st in her age group; April coming in a few minutes later to place 2nd in her age group.

After finishing my meal I said goodbye to Michelle and wished her well and then headed back to the car where I spent the next 30 minutes organising myself, cleaning myself off and washing off my body and putting on a new shirt. I drove home and reflected on the race and when I got home hobbled into the house. Stiffness had definitely set in. I tidyed everything up, washed my shoes and unpacked my bags and then went for a glorious hot shower. I then came out and crashed for 30 minutes before wolfing down a lasagna and more strawberry rhubarb pie.

Proud to FINALLY be wearing this medal

No feet problems this time and the shoes are relatively clean

That concludes my narrative of the 2012 Run for the Toad. It was great to meet some new people and compete in my fourth ultra of the year. I failed to complete the 2011 Toad and so I can now rest easier. I don't know if the strands of hair helped or not but I was glad to have a part of her with me at this race.

I learned more lessons and hope to come back stronger for 2013. I'd definitely do this race again. It is close enough and is a great course and challenging. If I am fit and injury free and have done the proper training I don't see why I could not achieve a sub 4:38 but I have a year to contemplate and work towards that. I'll post some photos over the next few days and once again thanks to all of you that took the time to read about my experiences. Please do come out and run it next year. It's an amazingly well-organised race.

The Day After

Ouch is all I can say. Calves in agony and stairs a major challenge. Thankfully, so far, no cramps but I think I'll take another shower or maybe an Epsom salts Jacuzzi. Ahhhhh. What's next? I don't know. As I said, there is the Niagara Falls International Marathon but for $120 I have better things to do. I'll see what there is on the calendar of events but I'll keep you up to date. . .

All the best for now.

The End

Post Race Development

I emailed Peggy and George a few days after the race to give them my thanks for organising such a lovely race and offered a few suggestions which they were kind enough to take on board. Chances are they had already determined what they were going to change for 2013 but I thought I'd pass it on to you.
  1. They are switching over to an integrated chip on the back of racing numbers (except the relay teams which will have the chip and that will be passed on to the next runner.
  2. They will have different coloured numbers for the different races.
  3. After two (that I've been there) kit bags they will be looking at possibly changing to something different for next year.