There’s something to be said for a race that begins with the sighting of a bald eagle…
As the small crowd of runners gathered for the start of the Vulture Bit 50K trail race, someone called out “There he is!’, and we all turned to watch a bald eagle swoop low and slow over Fanshawe Lake, near London, Ontario. It seems that seeing one of the pair of Fanshawe’s resident eagles each year is a tradition at the event.
It was a memorable start to a memorable event. Lots of adventures, lots of weather, lots of rewards.
First, this was my first real test of the new Vivobarefoot Breatho Trails. I’d only run in them a couple of times on some trails near my home in the weeks before the Vulture Bait, so this was a big test. They passed with flying colours! I wore them with an old pair of Injinji socks, and had no problems at all with either fit or support. Given the conditions of the race, and the fact that they were essentially an unbroken-in pair of shoes, I think that’s pretty remarkable.
My choice of kit was typical for this time of year. 3/4 length tights, a long-sleeve t-shirt, a Buff, and cheap cotton gloves worked well for temperatures that started out cold (8C) and got colder (6C) by the end of the race. As if that weren’t enough, while the day was cloudy at first, the rain that had been forecast started about two hours into the race. And then it rained heavily for the next four hours. Cold rain certainly isn’t my favourite for any kind of running, particularly for an ultra, but you take what you’re given.
The course, a combination of a few grassy open spaces and a lot of rocky, rooty single-track, soon became interesting. The mud was over my ankles in many places, and there were two ice-cold, mid-calf deep water crossings to contend with which chilled my feet to their centers.
I tripped twice, once about 7K into the race, and once about 4K from the finish. The second time was a doozy. I fell hard and, after rolling over onto my back, lay for a minute or two, trying to catch my breath and wondering if I’d broken a tooth. Fortunately, I’d only split my lip.
In typical trail/ultra fashion, a fellow competitor came back to make sure that I was alright before going on his way. The fall cleared my head and gave me a much needed shot of adrenaline (I’d been walking on and off just before it happened), which helped me cross the finish line with a little bit of speed and some dignity.
Trail races are amazing things. For all the seeming downsides – cold, wet weather, two falls, rough terrain, and a lot of elevation changes – I not only had a wonderful time, but I managed to improve my 50K PB time by about 2 minutes (the last one was set at my first ultra, a road 50K I did in 2009).
After the race, I gave a pass to the huge amounts of food on offer (I don’t do grains or sugars, and the well-stocked tables were all about pasta and sweet desserts). Instead, I quickly went to my car and changed into dry clothes. Then I turned the car’s heater to full blast and set the heated seats on high. Then I wolfed down a big bowl of home-made nut porridge and a couple of coconut flour-based cupcakes. Then I began to thaw out, and I was simply sore and happy.
And I got thoughtful. I’d been through a lot, I’d done well, and I began the journey of processing the thoughts, emotions, and experiences of the race. The fact that it’s taken me so long to write this report speaks eloquently of what an impact the Vulture Bait had.
Usually, I chuck race t-shirts directly into the recycling bin. But the shirt from the Vulture Bait is purple. And it has this on the back. So I may actually run in it.
When I began running long distances, I used to joke that it offered the only glimpse I’d ever get of enlightenment. When I started running ultra races, I started saying it seriously. It was, I guess, a combination of the euphoria of an ongoing runner’s high and the depths of the dark places that inevitably come with physical and mental exhaustion. Reflecting on the Vulture Bait, and doing a lot of reading in the field of neuroscience, I now take it very seriously.
This passage from Power Up Your Brain: The Neuroscience of Enlightenment, by Dr. David Perlmutter and Dr. Alberto Villoldo, provided a real taking-off point for me:
“In the language of neuroscience, enlightenment is the condition of of optimal mitochondrial and brain functioning that allows us to experience both well-being and inner peace and the the urge to create and innovate.”
I’m now in the process – rather ambitiously, I’ll admit – of working up a theory of how and why running offers me a path to enlightenment. For the moment, I’m calling it “The Four-Brain Circuit.” Once the concept gets clear enough, I’ll write a post about it.