Welcome back and thanks for looking in. It’s the day after my fifth Niagara Ultra race and fourth 50km race distance here. It’s almost my back yard and I know the route very well.
This was my second OUS series race in 2016 and came 3 weekends after my last one at Sulphur Springs. That race was hot as stink and this one shaped up to be the same, well into the 30 degree mark with baking sun. For me, it sucked out there! Damn I hate heat extremes. It was my worst performance at this distance at this race but I can’t complain, both for the fact it was so hot, and that I’d only completed two 10km training runs since SS due to an 8 day layoff with a severe cough. Poor Alex.
Until the afternoon before the race I was not going to even go. However, realizing how sorely I’d be missed I decided to cheer everybody up. . . Ok, so that wasn’t the reason. Try again. . . Um, sitting at work, having registered, I realized I’d like go out and see friends and maybe just have a nice social run and enjoy the pizza and beer at the end. Better?
Also, I can’t very well go and get my hoodie and wear it with pride if I didn’t earn it. I like the atmosphere at this race and know a number of runners so it’s great to cheer them on. That evening I went to collect the usual runner paraphernalia at the Kinsmen Scout Hall in Niagara-On-The-Lake and while there chatted to Diane and Henri (the RD). I stuck around for an hour or so and helped get people their timing chips and numbers and then headed home. According to the lists I saw, 200 were entered in the 50km event.
|Minutes before the start, listening to race instructions. Photo by St. Catherine Road Runners|
|Seconds to go - checking watches. I'm right in the middle. Shirtless Jack is here along with John McAlister (beside Jack) who won this race. Photo by St. Catherine Road Runners|
|Fort George to Left - passing through open field to the Niagara Parkway. First 1km of race. Photo by St. Catherine Road Runners|
|Myself and Jack running together. The other guy/gal were with us for 10km. Photo by St. Catherine Road Runners|
|I believe this is the 10km aid station. Paramedics present along with volunteers supplying water, Gatorade, and various tasty morsels. Photo by St. Catherine Road Runners|
I saw many familiar faces milling about and chatted to 'shirtless Jack' Kilislian. I saw Kimberley, bubbling with enthusiasm and good cheer for everybody. There was Henri, RD, with a wide brim hat who gave a quick overview of the race and then there was only 30 seconds left. The 'go fast' brigade were all at the front, raring to go, and I made my way back from Jack and John McAllister (who won the 50km in a smoking hot time) to the front 1/3 and had every intention of starting slow, and finishing slower!
Off we headed on a short grassy section before reaching the paved path with the sun shining down, the birds chirping and feeling in good shape. My race prediction was to hopefully squeak in under 5 hours. I've had two times of 5:01 and 5:11 and one awesome time on a cooler day when I was in better condition of 4:07.
I caught up to shirtless Jack going past Fort George and decided to stick with him and we had a few words and then settled down running side by side. Behind us I could hear Kimberley chatting away to someone and then as we got about 2km in an Asian fellow and a woman came past chatting and Jack and I sort of hooked onto them and we stayed this way until the 10km point.
Up until this time there were two occasions where a red van had stopped by the side of the road and a guy and two women were kindly offering Mr. Freezies for runners which I would have been hugely grateful for slightly later in the race but I lost my chance and declined the offer as I wasn't burning up yet. There was no real breeze but there are quite a few shady sections this time of morning for the first 10km. Things were ok but I had very little running fitness left after 3 weeks of hardly any training and even 10km without stopping was probably too much but my intention was to get to the big climb and walk that so Jack said he would carry on past the 10km aid station and I stopped to top up.
Up until now my plan had worked and I was at 5:25-5:45km/min pacing and on pace for a 5 hour finish. I didn't want to waste energy running the hill and walked the majority of it and was surprised when the field didn't come whipping by me. I got into a running groove past the hydro plant in the open sun and knew by the time I hit this coming back it was going to be scorching but I got into the 15km aid station and topped up and was out but after this station I quickly went downhill and was having walking sections every km and it was getting hot. I think by this point I'd passed a few of the 100km runners and there were certainly other morning joggers out coming towards me that had no race numbers and were enjoying the day.
It was a relief to get to the 20km aid station and I was mentally focusing on one aid station to the next. I was really paying attention to taking salt tablets and having my chewy orange blocks and drinking almost a full bottle between stations. I'd pour the small amount left over my head, top up at the aid station and drink one of their cups and another of ginger ale and usually popped an orange wedge or two before carrying on but didn't waste a lot of time at the aid stations as I was walking anyway. One of the aid stations, I think it might have been this one, had ice cubes which I popped inside my had and this gave me some relief for a few km.
It's after 20km that you start the rolling hills into Niagara Falls and there is a lot of exposure to the sun and it is sidewalk and road running from here until the turn-around point. By now more 100km racers were coming by and I gave them all kudos and carried on running and walking. By this point I'd stopped looking at the watch for pace and had no intention of looking at it again until the 1/2 way point. I lost a few places but far fewer than I expected and I guess everybody was feeling the heat.
I got to the marathon 1/2 way point and one of the guys I regularly run with was there taking bib numbers for that race color. He recognized me and made a comment which pissed me off. A bit of a joker, he's run a few ultras and should have known better. As any of you who run 50km, 50 milers, 100km, 100 milers, etc. knows, your mojo is hugely important. It's all about keeping positive thoughts going as long as possible and believing in yourself and knowing that when you are tired and feeling shit, wanting to quit but pushing yourself physically and emotionally, that any negative thought, once introduced, can eat at you and potentially derail you.
That's why the volunteers are so important at races and the aid stations and why you always hear such great things about them giving up their time and being so supportive of everybody. It's critical. So as I'm going by he quips, 'You've got a looonggggg way to go Alex. No, I mean, a llllloooooonnnnnggggg way to go!' Thanks ass! So I replied, yeah, but I'll get er done! I know he didn't mean it because he's a nice guy but shit man, don't fuck with my mojo.
The last 2km to the turnaround point got busy with tourists but I didn't find it too painful and always found gaps and it was interesting seeing how many were ahead of me and honestly it didn't seem as many as I expected. I finally hit the turnaround point and was feeling pretty rough but damn glad I was at least at the 1/2 way point. Diane offered me one of her home made cookies and I really wanted to oblige as I'm sure they would have been delicious but I honestly couldn't force one down, even walking so I did what I needed to, checked my watch, and turned around to narrow that gap to the finish line.
First half 2 hours 27 minutes. . .
Running back through the crowds there were many runners coming to their 1/2 way point, some familiar faces and many new faces, and I always gave some acknowledgement of their efforts and did my best to run as much as I could but honestly I was pooped. My shoes were Altras and they are trail shoes but very lightweight with minimal support and my feet were really feeling it and I might have been better off with a heavier shoe. I ran the 100km here two years ago with Hokkas and was thankful for their cushioning.
The hills leaving the Falls seem larger and longer on the return and I walked the majority of them. There was a steady stream of runners, sometimes singly or small groups. Many of them looked pretty shattered and I knew I felt this way too and I was trying not to think about the long way back. It's always this section until getting back past the hydro station that drains me mentally. Once I'm heading back down the escarpment it becomes more tolerable.
Jack had left me a long time back and I'd not seen any sign of him until coming in to the Falls but here he was, like me, walking up one of the hills and I'd caught up to him. I asked what was up and he said he was having some issues and I wished him well and said I'd see him again soon, certainly expecting that he'd recover and come past me but I learned he waited for one of his running friends and they ran the rest together.
Not much to highlight in the middle section. It was not pretty and the graph of my pace during this part of the race indicates what it was like; a short period of running followed by a period of walking and this many times coincided with any shady sections. I think at this point I was walking shady sections and running sunny sections but I soon ran out of shade and decided it was far more preferable to walk the sunny sections and run the shady sections. By the time I got down the escarpment I don't think I gave a crap if it was a sunny or shady section, I just walked or ran when it tickled my fancy.
I was relieved to be back on the way down the escarpment but my feet hurt and were taking a beating. I could feel blisters forming on the heels and my toes were getting very sensitive so running downhill was not pleasant but before I managed 1km of running down to the 12km point I spotted something delicious. Either the race director or Parks Canada had arranged to put out at the little round-about at the base of the stairs to the Brock Monument one of their big grass sprinklers. They'd put it on some table or barrel or something and it was squiring out a tight, powerful spray of beautifully cold water, going around and around every 30 seconds or so. I followed that sucker two full circuits, covered my eyes and let myself be doused. I loved every second of cool, refreshing water. That perked me up beautifully.
I ran down the hill with another runner whose name I've already forgotten despite talking with him after the race. Sorry dude! At the 1/2 way point down the hill I needed to walk again and let him go ahead but over the course of the next 8km he was within my sights with me catching up a bit when he walked and then him gaining when I walked. There were others like that too and the final 10km is really about getting it done and usually isn't very pretty. Yes, a few may pass you but everybody is hot as hell, tired, sore, and doing their best to run when they can and sometimes the gas runs out after 50 feet or 100 feet and then you walk some, muster up some energy and give it another go. Stop/start/stop/start. At least that's what it was like for me.
At the 1/2 way point down the escarpment my left calf really began tightening, so much so that it felt like it was going to cramp up badly and I had to stop for a minute to massage it painfully and then carry on down the hill. By the time I hit the bottom it hurt badly and was again on the verge of cramping completely and I was getting pretty worried. There seemed to be some village fair happening in the grounds of the old Laura Secord school but I'm not sure what it was exactly but I stopped again in the shade and took a bit longer to massage it and down two salt tablets, hoping they would kick in soon.
At this point I passed a big chap who seemed to be having some issues of his own and certainly wanted the race to be 11km closer to finishing than it was. I knew the feeling but you commiserate about the heat, your issues, tell them 'you can do it', and onwards you go. I was happy to be walking a hill than the flat and was able to make a staggered run/walk to the 10km aid station.
9km mark coming just past the tree cover with the river on your right and pine cones littering the path. . .8km to the little park bench and the split in the path, followed by a yucky camber in the path which messes with your legs, 7km mark after a sharp short downhill followed by one of the last small hills. . .6km mark over 2 of the 4 wood bridges and 5km mark at the final aid station and also the Line 2 Road which goes directly to my house! Hmmm, it's about the same distance to both so lets get this race done! I saw another one of my running friends, Tina, at the aid station and a quick hello and top up and off I went.
4km mark across the road from a farmers market barn, people with bikes in the shade eating their ice creams. Bastards! Many more people about now on bikes and walking by. A few runners I keep passing and being passed by. I have no idea if they are in the marathon or 50km and I don't really care. Just looking ahead at the next tree or sign and trying to run to it, or the next shady section, or whatever, just moving forward as best as I can.
I finally get to the sharp left in the path which takes you across the road and into the grounds of Fort George and this is the only time I ever look back. I hope it's deserted but no, I see a woman not far off and another woman I've just passed is walking. I get into the open sun and it's blazing down and getting to the big group of trees and the 1km mark seems so far away through the open field but I get about 1/3 of the way there before walking again, catch another runner who is walking who I believe is in a different race and finally make it to the trees and the car park before crossing the road again on the final 1km section.
I get across the final road and hit another open sun section before the tree lined path and then the unthinkable happens! That woman, damn her smelly socks, passes me! I'd been aware of her and trying to keep up my blistering 1mph but it wasn't enough. Now if it had been 4km back I would have said to hell with it, but with only 0.5km left I just couldn't let it stand. I saw a flash of red in her bib and knew she was a 50km racer. Neither of us said a word to the another. Normally I'd say you are doing great, keep it up but she went by, huffing and puffing and making a great effort and I was huffing and puffing and I almost let her go. I thought, what does one place matter. Who cares if she or anybody else beats me by 10 or 20 seconds. But then something kicked in and I knew it did matter, that it was a race and that while I would have preferred walking a bit longer before making a last dash for the finish line, I just couldn't let her run past me with only a few hundred meters left without at least trying.
So that's what happened. I jogged and caught up to her and passed her and 20 seconds later I was out of gas and walked and she caught up again. I think she did pass me this time and again I found a reserve of energy and passed her by and again, shortly after taking the lead I found myself walking. 2 more times I heard her footsteps and breathing behind me and then we were approaching the final bend in the path leading to the cones directing you to the finish chute and the timing matts. I didn't exactly sprint although it sure as hell felt like it at the time, but I knew I couldn't afford another walk. I was dimly aware of the people under the trees clapping for us both and then I was just focused on crossing that finishing mat and I was done, just slightly ahead of my rival. I'm glad she pushed me and I hope I pushed her. I feel bad I didn't turn around and give her a hug or acknowledge our little private race at the end but I did find out her name is Gillian Baxter. Congratulations to you on your race.
So there you have it. Final time, 5 hours 27 minutes which placed me 46th of 180 who completed the race.
|30 feet to go! Being chased to the finish just out of picture|
|20 feet to go!|
|10 more feet to go! Finishing photos all by Mike from 'mysportsshooter.com'|
|Happy camper with race medal. 2016 Niagara 50km race done. 5 hours 27 minutes|
After stopping my watch and having my medal put over my head I made my way to the side of the building and just huffed and puffed with hands on legs for awhile and then slowly made my way to a shaded section and flopped down. After about 10 minutes of this I headed inside and grabbed a plate with a few pizza slices and sat down near the back with a cool fan blowing air and the side door open and began chowing down. There I chatted with Paul Chenery who I'd seen in a few races but it was two years ago at this very race where we both entered the 100km and for almost 50km of that him and I were running together. Unfortunately today was not his day and after bronchitis and 2 doses of antibiotics 50km was his limit. I also chatted to Pierre (RD of Creemore) and saw a number of other familiar faces. After about 30 minutes of sitting here and recovering I topped up for another 2 slices and the beer and headed to my car where I got a chair and went back to the finishing chute, set up my chair and cheered runners coming in over the next hour.
I sat next to Jack and Dave Rutherford who is bloody fast. He ran the marathon on this day and placed third. And then John McAlister stopped by and he won the 50km in a very fast time and shared some experiences of the 100 mile Easter States inaugural race from 2 summers ago.
It was really satisfying to be cheering on runners, knowing how they were suffering just as I had, and so damn close to the finish; looking weary, hot, but determined. I'm glad I didn't just not show up to this race. I'm sore now, 2 days later, with 2 toenails blackening, my calf very tender and legs that are still stiff. Every race is unique and I am glad I got the chance to experience this one. Congratulations to everybody that was out there. I look forward to seeing you out there again. Happy running.