Tuesday, June 6, 2017

2017 - SULPHUR SPRINGS 200 MILE RACE REPORT

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'.


Pacers/Crew

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

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.


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.

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.

4 comments:

  1. Congratulations Alex!

    I loved reading this. I ran the 100 miler. I remember seeing you many times while on the course. I know I was one of the struggling people you ran past. I remember the buddha at the bottom of the three sisters and smiled as you wrote about the offers which changed through the race. So many things you write about here are things I went through during my time on the course (except the rain) and during the recovery.

    It was always inspiring to cross paths with the 200 milers. Thank you for helping all the rest of us through our own races.

    Again, Congrats. I look forward to reading about Fat Dog.

    Rob

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  2. Hi Robert. I looked up the 100 mile finishers and found your result. Congratulations to you also. It was nice of you to reach out and say hello. I hope you have some more awesome races this summer also and that with two weeks since Sulphur, that your injuries or niggles or just being tired, are behind you. Fatdog is going to be a beast but it looks so beautiful I couldn't resist. I hope we cross paths again and all the best Rob.

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  3. Hey Alex!

    Olga from Run Guides here.

    We've added a new feature on Run Guides on race pages to include race reports from local bloggers. I was doing some research to find Ottawa area race reports and noticed that your team has some fantastic blog posts up. Would we be able to link back to them on the race pages? It would look something like this:

    - http://www.runguides.com/vancouver/event/seawheeze-half-marathon
    - http://www.runguides.com/vancouver/event/bmo-vancouver-marathon
    - http://www.runguides.com/vancouver/event/diez-vista

    Hoping we can include some of your race reports!

    Thanks!
    Olga
    www.runguides.com

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  4. Hi Alex, that is quite the story. I've been meaning to read it for a while and finally did now. It is quite interesting how everyone has a different story over the 200. (320). I run with Rich and Wade and they had done a lot of thinking and planning. Our friend Christa was crewing and she was extrodinaire. I was pretty much doing my own thing but it is not a solo effort. Christa was incredible. My wife Elise, my kids, and my parents were amazing support. It was so important to have help from friends as you describe with Lisa and Tina. We crossed paths, and our tents were close, though i found sleeping in the minivan is great so that is where i was. My son used the tent. I crashed after i finished and my wife and dad thankfully decamped for me. My wife drove me home and I slept. The race was amazing. Tim and Andrea really worked hard, but i bet the number of core volunteers was dozen or dozens and they were great too. I had some slow walking laps and some faster ones too. It is funny how you have so many highs and lows, fasts and slows. It is quite the experience. You would have learned a lot too and i hope your Fatdog 120 is really successful. i am sure you are all recovered now. hope you keep at it. Chris d

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