Thursday, October 10, 2013


Here we are. The FINAL 2013 OUS (Ontario Ultra Series) race of the year is 1.5 weeks away. I can't do anything to improve my chances at the race now - all the hard work is done. To be honest I'm finding it a struggle just to keep getting in those regular training runs. Every part of me seems to have niggles - shoes rub where they didn't before - I feel sluggish with no speed that I can sustain - I get winded easily and a 1.5 hour training run which at the beginning of the season felt like a piece of cake now leaves me stiff for a day. It is quite dis-heartening and to be honest I just want to finish this final race and then take a month off just to let things rest. 

I had a poor 24 hour Ottawa result, only getting to 51 miles and calling it quits after 12.5 hours which having seen the results left me 4th from the bottom on that particular race. I was pretty disappointed with that but I guess ultra running has it's ups and downs and you have to regroup and learn from the experience and see what you need to do differently. 

This race is close to London, Ontario and is held at Fanshaw Reservoir where you run 2 loops of a 25km course around the reservoir. There is a good mixture of single track and some road sections but overall, compared to many of the OUS races, it is relatively flat. I have read some bloggers say the course seems fast and that good times can be achieved but I've looked at past years results and checked out runners that I now know and looked at their times and I think this course, based on those times, is not a walk in the park. I am looking forward to it as it is another new course for me. It's a civilized 9am start and at this time of year conditions will be cooler which for me I appreciate.

My goal at this race is to take it easy. I am going to TRY to contain myself and not go out fast because I know, based on how I feel, that I'll last for about 1.5 hours and then be walking which really isn't the goal. I'd rather go slower and feel good and have energy for a faster second lap and be passing people than loose it all within the first 15km. 

I did a quick calculation of my total mileage racing this year and was quite shocked. Assuming I complete Vulture Bait I'll have raced 457 miles this season! Holy crappola. Before I started ultras I'd run 5 marathons in about 5 years with of course 1/2 marathons and 10km races each year but what a leap - no wonder I'm feeling knackered! That's about 17 marathons in one season. My goal when I started the season was to complete 8 ultras to hopefully get the Norm Patenaude Award and in doing so get a good feeling for the cross section of ultras available in Ontario. 

I have definitely had some varied races and met some incredibly talented runners along the way. The ultra running community is smaller but there is a definite bond there. The race organizers are passionate about their sport and are always looking at ways to make the races better and they always have such wonderful support. I am grateful for all the people I met and those behind the scenes also. 

At the end of the day this is a sport and is about competition as well. Often it is a personal competition - a goal of finishing an arduous course or setting a PB. Some people are out to do as well as they can but have no expectations of placing or finishing highly and might be out there to enjoy a good long training run with friends and fellow runners. I know there are a number of races this season where I have felt out of sorts and have just plugged away with a goal of finishing, and others where I wanted to push things hard and see how I did against others, those who I would classify as decent to good club runners. I'm never going to be a top notch runner, winning trophies and scooping up the winnings, but I enjoy the competitive spirit and feel that I can improve still and I get a great deal of satisfaction from cheering on others out there, helping to motivate or sharing in the experience. Ultra running brings a unique set of challenges and I have learned allot this season and hopefully can use some of that knowledge over the training throughout the winter and come back stronger and energized.

After the first several races of the season I started paying more attention to the 'leader board' and began to analyze other runners and see who was signing up and I got a bit carried away with doing as well as I could and maybe even placing by the end of the season. It was good fun to wait for the race results to be posted and look down the list of where I was, who did better or worse and remember the particular race in more detail. 

By about 1/2 way through I had a much better idea of who the big hitters were and who was right around my ability and that was cool. With one race to go I'm currently in line for a 3rd place finish in my age group of 40-49 if I'm reading the stats correctly. I won't place in the top 5 men overall for the series this year but I have had fun seeing them vie for the positions. Now, I'm not saying I'm the 3rd best ultra running dude 40-49 in Ontario! Wouldn't that be cool. There are guys out there who are WAY faster than me but this series requires dedication to enter up to 12 races - all the costs associated with that as well. There are many runners further down the list who could kick my butt on any particular day but perhaps only entered 4 of the races, or 1. I just wanted to give it my best shot and if I get an award to remember my first true foray into ultra running I would be well chuffed. 

Pre Race Predictions

Honestly, I feel unprepared. My training runs are never pretty these days and I often have to drag my ass outside. I make a point of going out on Sunday with the St. Catharines runners wherever they meet up to get in a 1.5 hour trail run but I only have a bout 2-3 more runs before the race. As I mentioned earlier I'm not really that bothered about racing this one as finishing in a decent time and not feeling like road kill. With that in mind I would say a 5 hour 30 minute time and if it goes well 5 hours 15. 

Oh well, watch this space! Happy running to all of you.

Post Race Report

Welcome back. Thanks for taking the time to see how I did - or maybe you just want to know more about the course. That is fine also. Always glad to inform those that may be considering a particular race.

The forecast the day before the race was for London, Ontario to be 10-12 degrees which is comfortable for me, but with periodic rain. The weatherman got the temperature right but the periodic rain - not so much. It started spitting/raining from about 1/2 way through the first 25km loop around Fanshaw Lake and as I began the second it became constant downpour. As I proceeded into the second lap the trails became a wet, muddy mess. The leaves of varying hues also mesmerized your eyes over time. You are constantly looking at the trails, what is ahead or what you are about to step on. I don't know if it is the effect of wearing contacts but over many many hours I was getting light-headed sometimes, even tingly, and I think it was a combination of being tired, wet and cold with the strain of vision.

The Course

The course. What can I say. This is MY KIND OF COURSE! Of all the OUS races I did this year, I think Sulphur Springs and Vulture Bait are the two that suit my current running abilities best. I think I liked this course the best overall. It has some lovely single track trail. Much of it is run through wooded areas around the lake and a number of times you can see Fanshaw Lake below you. It is very pretty and at this time of the year with the Fall colours it is stunning.

The trails are mostly hard packed dirt and elevation change is pretty negligible. There is one incline as you climb the gravel road to the dam top, but It certainly does not have any of the hard-core hills of some of the other races. There are lovely sections where you are changing directions constantly through the woods and others which are just a constant groove of single track. 

It is difficult to pass others, as Steven Parke found out. Within the first 4-5km of the race I heard him behind me calling out he was passing Jack Kilislian but there was some mis-communication and Steven turned his ankle badly which affected his entire race and where he normally would have killed the race and beat me soundly, I was able to keep ahead of him to the end. I saw him at the end of the race and if it had not been for the goal of getting his Norm Patenaude Award (completing 8-12 of the OUS races), he would have called it quits where it happened. If you are doing this race be aware of the narrowness of the trails and yes, there are quite a lot of roots which because of the leaves makes footing tricky sometimes. Certainly I saw a number of mud-spattered shirts where people took spills.

I think any cross-country runner would love this course. I hope you will give it a try next year. There is a 25km and a 50km option so if you are new to trails I can't recommend this one enough. It's a good challenge but will leave you wanting more. It was fun as you got close to the end of the first loop and those who you are approaching/passing get really concerned and try to pick up the pace. You can tell they are doing the 25km course and don't want to loose any more places. I told one guy not to worry, I was doing 50km, and he visibly relaxed. As we came into the finishing straight, 25km runners were directed over the timing mat while 50km runners were directed to the other side of the building. I saw my guy in the finishing chute and told him to race it to the finish - "GO GO GO GO", I shouted at him. I'm sure he was thinking I was a crazy idiot and deserved to do the damn thing again!

Going back to the morning of the race, I left the house early and it was a fairly uneventful drive along the 403 to the 401 and then North. The only confusion came upon getting through the park entrance and going across the dam. I didn't realize how big this park is and there are huge areas with camping trailers and being dark still I really had no idea where I was going. Another car must have figured I knew where I was going and when I finally reached a dead end he pulled up beside me and it turns out he was a runner also so we turned around and at a main road I saw a small sign for the race and off we went again. Eventually we got to the place and there were a few cars parked outside the main gate and I made my way into the big building which was race HQ and there were volunteers milling about getting things prepared.

Milling about after collecting your race pack - with backs to you on left are Ron Gehl (always wears that wacky hat) and Karin McMillan in the pink socks who won the overall OUS series for women

Additional runners getting their kit at race HQ

Out this door on left is the finish timing mat. After we got back the tables were filled with a delicious assortment of food for cold, wet, hungry runners

I picked up my bib and the goody bag which contained a nice purple race T-shirt, a tube of travel toothpaste and a toothbrush, a Hammer Gel, some gum and I think it is dental floss. What are they trying to say about ultra runners? I saw a few familiar faces and we'd shake hands or say hello. They had about 8 port-a-potty's outside but I headed back to the car with about an hour to spare and shoved the driver seat forward, climbed in the back and started preparing my kit.

It was not raining at this point and it was just a cool, fresh morning but lovely for running, at least for me. Some people love hot weather running, but I'm not one of them and I think if all my races this summer had been on a day like yesterday, I would have done better overall. But this is Canada and the summer does get hot and we all have to face the same conditions and if you train in those conditions you will always be better prepared. 

For the race I went with my Injinji socks and heavier Asics trail shoes which have more cushioning. I think it was a good choice as my feet have no blisters and are unscathed. I wore my skimpy shorts and my usual black tight-fitting Under Armour short-sleeve shirt. Others were more bundled but that is a common mistake people make. You feel cold standing around of course, but you warm-up in no time and then you'll wish you were not wearing that heavy jacket and long-pants and gloves and hat. If it pours rain you are not going to stay dry anyway and are probably going to be more uncomfortable than if you wore something lighter. Anyway, that's my opinion. 

I rubbed some Body Glide on the bottom of my feet also, applied on my thighs and I was good to go. I was wearing my belt with two bottles, one with Hammer Gel and one with Perpetuem/water mix. I also took my hand-held just containing water. My belt bag I took one Advil and 3-4 salt tablets. About 15 minutes to the start I applied Voltaren Gel on the right hip and popped an Advil. I took the photo of my good luck charm and made my way back to the building which by now was a-buzz with activity. More hello's and hugs were exchanged, introductions made and the anticipation built. I'd seen some guys running back and fourth outside and pegged them for the fast 25km racers. I do no warm-up at these races. I figure start slow(ish) and get warmed up that way. The race director was telling us there was about 4 minutes to the start and we better start making our way outside so we slowly trailed out through the doors at the back which took us to a steep hill which we took in single file down to a wider area of grass with the lake on our left. 

Yup - my good luck charm - no photo of me today - I look crap and by now I'm sure you know my ugly mug!

Well-wishers stayed at the top of the hill and waved, took photos and cheered on their loved ones and everybody made their way to where they were comfortable in the line-up. I like to see this for some reason. I like to look forward and back and see the anticipation and nervous energy. I like to see people greeting one another and wishing one-another well. I am happy that I've gotten to know some of the people that run these races, some that have been doing the series for years and years (Ron, Gord, Hans, etc.). I started within the first 1/3 of runners and happened to be standing with the Boultbee sisters, April and Melanie. I had not seen them at a race since the Run for the Toad in 2012 in October. I find them to be excellent pacers and while they beat me then, they do help me along, keeping me in check and I stay with them as long as I can.

The race Director had a megaphone but it didn't seem to be working and I only heard 5-4-3-2-1, GO. And then we were off, a slow, steady stream of people jogging slowly, trying to get some leg room. We made our way along the lake and the hill to our right and then climbed up. 

We were then into some single track, nothing difficult, and my intention was just to stay relaxed and enjoy, not get carried away. I know by staying with the Boultbee's that if I did stay with them it was going to be a race, not a walk in the park. Melanie was only doing the 25km because of a Hamstring pull she suffered earlier in the year which had sidelined her and April had only done one 15km run in 3 weeks so her goal was 50km but really just to see how far she could do. I think both of the are going to take the winter to get back to full strength and come back next year and do some OUS races, but also take on some big 100 mile challenges like Eastern States. Even not up to full strength these ladies are excellent runners and know how to dig deep. They were both wearing bright green tops and matching socks and hats. Oh yes, I also wore a visor ed hat which was useful when the rain made an appearance.

There are about 3-4 road sections that I recall. The first one comes up fairly quickly and is the dam we drove across when we entered the park. You follow it on the left hand side and then go a bit further past a parking lot and cut back into the woods. Oh, I love the woods. There were sections with pine needles and the scent that day was so fresh and clean and 'woodsy'. I love it. 

The second road section is a bit mind-numbing but it's all flat. You come into an aid station and then carry on and a sharp right takes you to more road and it's arrow straight. You go about 1/2km down here and then again veer back into the woods. That road section demoralised me the second time around. After that you have I think the longest road section where you come out of the woods and follow a road down to a major 2 lane highway where you turn left. There is no real verge and the traffic can come pretty close and there is a hill ahead of you. You see the lake fully to your left and I think this is the part that is the very top of the course. You get part way up the hill on the road and then back in the forest. 

I think it is just after you go back into the forest after the road section where you get the only water soaking on the course as you cross a river. You can't avoid it. It's very cold and rocky so be careful but it's easy to get across and after 4-5 submerged steps you are on the other bank, climb up on the right and then you follow the lake all the way back through the forest another 4-5km to the start. I didn't have any blister problems with the combination of shoes/socks I wore but this could be a factor for some. You might want to change your socks if you are doing 2 laps of this course, after you get back from the first loop. See how it goes but if you feel chaffing after your soaking I recommend you deal with blisters before they become a problem and 2 minutes to change out shoes and socks isn't a big deal.

The first lap was mostly spent with April and Melanie. We just stayed together and we did pass quite a number of people. The twins don't talk during the race but will answer if you talk to them. Occasionally they will say something to one another about time/pace etc. but I was comfortable for the moment. I could hear Jack behind me and then he came by and it was probably just after 1/2 way as we were going down a fairly steep, rocky section that one of the sisters said I should go by and I did and that was the last I saw of them until I got back into the building after finishing. Melanie finished her 25km and April decided to stop with her.

Once I was on my own I tried to take it easy. Earlier I'd run passed Kimberly van Delst (she came second overall woman for OUS series this year. Well done!) and Karin MacMillan (placed first woman in the OUS series this year! Awesome job to both you and Gino) and Karin mentioned that she likes to sing and told me that if she can't sing 4-5 words without taking a breath than it is too hard an effort. I thought that was a good idea but would never sing but being able to maintain a comfortable talking effort is what they recommend you do on a long training run or your effort level is too high and you won't be able to sustain it.

I like running alone in the woods in a race but I also hate it! I am always worried that someone is going to come by, how far away is that person behind me, etc. Sometimes I'd catch a glimpse of a runner ahead and that would be my motivation, to slowly narrow the gap and run with them for awhile, and then pass them. This happened a number of times. One guy I stayed with for awhile. I think his name was Roger and he had bright orange shorts on. He stopped to use the toilet at an aid station and I lost him for about 5km before he passed me again. Another guy was walking at the time but obviously got a second wind as he later caught up and passed me on one of my walking breaks.

By the time it started pouring rain and I was about 1/2 through the second lap my energy was flagging big time. I threw up after about 3 hours 45 minutes and had close calls a few other times but I knew, for me, that it is not unusual, but it is unpleasant. I took another salt pill and Advil and was doing OK keeping up with the water, gel and Perpeteum. Funnily enough, on this race, I was using the thought of the finishing buffet to help motivate me and also telling myself I didn't have to see this section again. Every time things got bad I'd concentrate on being warm, eating and it would help stave off the dejection. That isn't to say I didn't walk because I did but there was never a death march. I would walk maybe for a minute and then trudge on again, my feet smacking in the puddles or getting squidgy in the mud. There were only 2-3 really muddy sections which had the tell-tail signs of other runners who definitely looked like they had close calls if the skid marks were anything to go by.

I was cold by now as I'd mentioned earlier and felt numb with cold in the hands and could feel some chaffing in the thighs but they were red and cold also so I didn't feel much there. Sometimes I'd feel some foot soreness but I was not concerned, knowing I only had a few more km to go. I did walk quite a bit and eventually people started passing me. Karin came by, then Roger in the brights shorts plus about 3 others that I didn't know. In the final km a tall woman came past who I recalled passing when I was with the Boultbee sisters on the first lap. I didn't know her name but I was able to hold onto the sight of her until we climbed the final hill and crossed the grass past the finishing mat so I think she won by 25 seconds. I was happy. By that point I was glad it was over and actually quite chuffed with the time although a sub 5 hour would have been awesome.

There was no timing mat for the first lap but I think I made it on my watch that the first lap took 2 hours 20 minutes. The finishing time I believe the timing clock said 5 hours 3 minutes 38 seconds. I was happy with that. The results are not out yet but I will guess I placed about 35th? I'll be curious now to see. If I'd not fallen apart so badly on the second half I think I could have been 15 minutes faster. I really need to work on my endurance because the course is very runnable.

The official results are now out. I took 5:02:51 and placed 22nd of 107 entrants and 76 finishers.

It was just pouring rain now and I felt sorry for the volunteers. It felt much warmer inside out of the wind and rain and I was soaked. I spotted the Boultbee sisters at a picnic bench and went and joined them. They were all cleaned up and dry in warm clothes and I was starving, spotted the food and immediately went and helped myself to a delicious buffet. There were meatballs, several pasta choices, some mac and cheese, a bun, caesar salad and another salad and about 4 choices of desert with Sprite, Coke and Ginger Ale. There was also tea/coffee and two choices of soup which was lovely as it warmed me a bit. I sat back down and began chowing down, listening to how everybody else fared, learning about others, etc. 

Eating helped but sitting did not and I began visibly shaking and could not even take the cap off a water bottle so I took my leave and walked out in the downpour to the car with my medal jangling proudly around my neck. I jumped in the car, put a towel down on the seat, turned on the engine and cranked up the heat. The changing process was very slow and I swear one shoelace took more I.Q. and brute strength than I had at the time but eventually my slow mind and numb fingers worked it out in true Simian fashion.

I actually began to feel warm and in clean, dry, layered clothing felt allot better. I then made my way back to the festivities and was disappointed to see Gino and Karin leaving with their trophies and plaques. They had family commitments (a parents 50th wedding anniversary celebrations) and had to leave but at least I got to see them and shake their hands and tell them what a pleasure it was running with them through the season). There were 2 large brick fireplaces at each end of the hall and I WISH they would have lit them. I think it would have made the place feel far more warm and comfortable. Maybe I'll pass on the suggestion. I'm sure even if it had not been raining, runners would have appreciated the heat after their exertions. 

I was able to say hello to a number of runners that I already knew and a few that I met properly for the first time but had seen at previous races. I saw Marylou who did a crazy 197km at Ottawa! Wow. Tiny lady but what a runner! Some of the familiar faces I don't know if they came ahead of me or me them. It is a race but it is also a personal challenge and for me, wherever I placed, I was happy with my time. I worked hard and did learn more about my strengths and weaknesses and I take joy in everybody's performance.

Every so often someone would come through the door looking like a drowned rat. Having now sat for over an hour and a half I had to think, what would I have felt like being out there for another 1.5 hours. Allot colder and allot hungrier! I imagined that's what I looked like to the people that were settled as I walked through the door. Some people got claps when others knew them. You really should take up ultra running! These people are so friendly.

Some of the other runners that won awards in the OUS series also had to leave and things were thinning out and still no awards presentation was happening. Eventually it did happen and I was able to maintain my 3rd place ranking in my age group overall and got a nice plaque for it and for the Norm Patenaude Award. With it came a blanket, I think, although I can't find the damn thing now but I'm pretty sure that's what it was, embossed with the OUS series decal.

Kimberley van Delst (Kim) came second overall for women in the Ultra Series and won the 50km Series. She's a very dedicated runner, a friend, and a very positive person. Your husband and kids will be very proud. 
Cameron Lutley came first in my 40-49 age group for the OUS series and 5th in the overall series. After putting away plates of food I"m surprised he was even able to stand to collect his plaque!
Maryka Hladki came first in her age group female 40 below for the OUS series. I have only just begun to know Maryka - she is friendly and very dedicated. Her strength is in the longer races and she can just keep going and going. Well done on a great season.
I have seen Kiriam Thompson at many of the races but only got introduced to her after this race. She has a lovely smile. Kiriam came 4th female in the overall OUS series and second place female under 40.
On the left is Steven Parke. I've looked at his results and he has steadily improved over the years and this year was fantastic for him. He came first male in my age group of 40-49. He twisted his ankle very badly on this race and it was black and blue. And of course the other happy chappie is me, Alex, who placed 3rd male in the 40-49 age group
Another one of me with my warm blanket. I could have used that out on the course today!
And how could I forget Ron Gehl - he's been on the ultra scene for ages and has introduced many runners to the sport who have excelled. This year Ron came 3rd overall in the OUS series and second in the over 50 category. He's passionate about his running, has alot of stories and just goes and goes and goes! And let's not forget all the straws he now needs! I'll leave it at that.

Just a few of the OUS series winners hanging out together - Ron, myself, Kimberley, Cameron and Maryka. 

Out came the cameras and either individually or in groups we had some photos taken and then it was almost 4pm and time to get a move on. We all began to leave and that is about it. The drive home was in pouring rain and I got into the house, had a VERY long and hot shower, had a bit of dinner, watched about 30 minutes of TV and at 8:30pm off I went to bed to wake at 10am the next day! I'm stiff but content and now I can have some recovery.

I hope my blogs will inspire just one person to try an ultra, whether you are just getting into running or have been running road races for years. Try something different. I made the transition and love it. It's a completely different experience and the people that participate, organize and volunteer at these races are amazing. Go to the website and find a race that peaks your interest. Read my blogs and other blogs to see what you may face and sign up! You won't regret it.

Over the next few days I'll summarize my races and post photos of this race. Thank you for stopping by. Happy running!