I’ve just registered for the Run4RKids 8 Hour, which will take place on January 3, 2015, at the York University indoor track in Toronto, Ontario. Another timed track ultra – but this one’s on a 200m course!
It’s been a week since I ran the Ottawa Self Transcendence 12 Hour (see my race report in the post below). It was a remarkable experience, and one that I’ve been thinking about a lot.
Though some specific learnings come to mind (train better, walk better, be more gutsy), it’s the “softer” lessons that have more meaning. In some ways, I feel like I’m a different person since running the 12 Hour. Still not quite sure what the difference is, but I’ve begun to get a sense of it.
First, I’m surprised that it’s not a sense of accomplishment that stands out above all else. Sure, running for 12 hours and 71K is a big deal – I’ve never done either of those before. But what’s significant is that I feel more complete than I did before.
Second, I’m happier. Not that I didn’t feel happy before last Saturday. I have a very good life, with little stress and lots of joy in it. But, since running the 12 Hour, I’ve been generally more at peace, more optimistic, and more calm. Something changed because of last Saturday, that’s for sure.
Third, I feel stronger. Not only physically (I’ve been running well all week), but psychologically and emotionally. I’m facing the world differently, and am a better person for that.
The outcome? Well, you may not be surprised to hear that I’m considering running the Self Transcendent 24 Hour next year. Something’s going on here, and I want more of it.
Once in while, I like to make a list of races I’d like to run. Not saying I’ll get to all of them, but it’s nice to keep them in mind. Here’s my current bucket list:
A 100K ultra along The Ridgeway, a 5,000 year old path in the UK. The course passes Iron Age forts and ancient burial chambers, crosses the Thames and the Salisbury Plain, and finishes at the 3,000-year-old stone circle at Avebury.
I plan to run The Race to the Stones in July of 2015.
Billed as “the world’s most beautiful marathon,” this is actually an ultra, not a marathon. It takes place in Cape Town, South Africa, and runs 56K from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean.
I was born in South Africa, so doing Two Oceans would be a kind of homecoming for me.
Back to Canada, in Quebec’s Charlevoix region – remote and wild, with rolling terrain, fjords, and wide bays. The Harricana 65K is a true wilderness ultra, featuring 1,800 meters of elevation gain.
This would be my first wilderness ultra.
Lesotho is a small, mountainous country, completely surrounded by South Africa. Over 80% of Lesotho lies above 1,800m (5,906 ft). The Lesotho Ultra Trail is only 50K in length, but is a Skyrunning Ultra, featuring 2621m of vertical ascent and 2437m of vertical descent. The course consists of dirt roads, jeep tracks, rocky trails (the greater part of the course) and short sections of open grass. Stream crossings and loose rock are also featured.
This one’s The Big Dream.
Distances range from 10 km to the marathon, on both roads and trails. Runners can participate in the Ultimate category (all seven stages), the Sport category (the last three stages, comprising a 25.6K trail run, a 10K time trial, and a marathon), and the Guest category (any one of the stages). Seven-person relays are also an option.
This year, I’ve chosen to enter as a Guest (though I can see a future attempt in either the Sport or Ultimate categories). On August 12, I’ll run Stage 3 of the ENDURrun, which is a multi-loop 30K cross-country course. According to the event website, it comprises mostly grass and wood chip paths, mostly through forest trails. It sounds interesting and fun, and will give me a chance to suss out the organization and locale a bit.
Looks like I’ll be putting in some trail and hill training in the next few weeks!
I’ve decided – reluctantly, but probably wisely – that I won’t attempt the Niagara 100K on June 14.
That’s a huge disappointment, of course, as I’ve really been looking forward to it. But my feet haven’t healed enough yet to do a 50K, never mind a 100. I lost almost all of the skin from the soles of my feet after running 40K of rough gravel at the Elk/Beaver 50K on May 10, and the new skin is too soft and too tender to run anything long. (Though I did manage almost 30K last Sunday, and am getting in between 6K and 18K on other days.)
Bummer, as we used to say back in the day.
I’ve learned, though, over that past few years, that it’s better to be sensible in cases like this. I’d rather DNS Niagara than try it and damage my feet any more. I’ll spend the next weeks running progressively longer distances, and I’ll pay careful attention to how things go.
And no foolishness along the way. I promise.
Question: When does a DNF count as a success?
Answer: When it involves winning.
“DNF” and “winning” don’t usually go together – but sometimes it’s just the right thing. Consider the following quote from elite ultrarunner Kilian Jornet:
“Winning isn’t about finishing in first place. It isn’t about beating others. It is about overcoming yourself. Overcoming your body, your limitations, and your fears. Winning means surpassing yourself and turning your dreams into reality.”
Last Saturday, I arrived early at the Elk/Beaver Ultras race venue so I could check things out. And got a bit of a surprise… The course, which I’d been told was primarily packed dirt/rocks/roots (eminently doable in bare feet), had been “upgraded” by the Parks Department with fresh gravel a couple of days before. I arrived at 5:00 AM, in time to look things over. The fresh gravel consisted of medium-sized, sharp, pointy stuff, and, as it turned out, covered about 2/3 of each 10K loop. Definitely not good news.
I’d started the day at 3:00 AM, and, over my first espresso of the day, had my usual nervous jitters about the race. I was a long way from home, I didn’t know the course, and I was about to try something I’d never done before. Guaranteed to bring all that existential angst to the fore. Now, seeing all that gravel, the doubts really built up. Still, I was there and I’d set myself a challenge, so what else was I to do but run it?
I had two goals for the Elk/Beaver. One was to follow my ketogenic-adapted regime, which meant running fasted (my last meal before the race was dinner the night before) and with only water as fuel during the race itself. The second was to run the entire 50K barefoot, and not worry at all about my finishing time, much less about getting a PB.
The Elk/Beaver started as do most of the ultras I run – a small number of participants, the edge of a grassy field, and someone calling out “One, two, three, go!” After that, we began the first loop. It’s a pretty course. Mildly undulating (though the official course description had said “very flat”), a bit of mud, with good views of the two lakes we’d circumnavigate during the morning. A total of 77 runners were involved, for five events (50K, 100K, 50 mile, marathon, and 40K walk), so the race offered good company without any crowding. Kind of ideal when you think about it.
The photo above and the one below were taken at around the 30K mark. I felt really good for those first three loops. Lots of steady energy, no trouble moving across the gravel, and feeling sheer barefoot bliss on the packed dirt sections of the trail. My son and grandson were there at the 30K mark (and again at 40K), having journeyed from Vancouver to support me. Seeing them was pretty much the high point of the race and my day. I’ll always remember that.
One of the fun things about this event, which is basically just a local club race, was that two of the three aid stations consisted simply of a flat of bottled water on a park bench, along with a small sign saying “Elk/Beaver Ultras.” The third station was a table at the start/finish, offering fruit, cookies, Coke, and water. Didn’t need or want any of that, though, so I just cruised by.
I started to feel the gravel during loop #4, to the extent that, by about 35K, I was running on the grass verge of the trail if there was one. By 37K, I’d slowed down from the pace I’d kept to for the first 30K (7:10 mins/km) to a really pokey 10:15 or so. I knew I’d have to make a decision the next time I went past the start/finish area, and considered my options – keep on going for what I knew would be a real Death March, or slip on my Sockwa X8s in an effort to minimize the damage and maybe improve my pace a bit. I chose the second. But getting the Sockwas on my feet was difficult, as they were starting to swell. And the bottoms of my feet were bleeding in more than one place.
I soldiered for another kilometer or so, and then found that I simply wasn’t able to go on. In fact, once I stopped and took off my race bib, I found it difficult to even stand. A kindly course marshal gave me a ride back to the start, I crawled to the car, and drove back to my hotel in Victoria.
This is what a 40K bailout moment looks like.
And this is what my feet looked like about an hour after I finished. A little bit of blood (there was more, and it continued for a couple of days); the swelling had only just begun, would get much worse, and would last about four days.
So what did I accomplish? And what’s all this guff about “DNF and winning”?
Well, first of all, I ran 40K fasted and fueled only by water. That proved, once again, that if you’re keto-adapted, you’ve got the fuel you need (fat) in your body, and don’t need anything else. In fact, it shows, once again, that it’s better to run this way, as it results in steady energy levels, with no insulin spikes, no bonking, and no hitting the wall. And, I might add, no ravenous hunger afterwards. Immediately after the race, I ate a few pieces of biltong (for the protein) and, an hour or so later, about 500gm of full-fat yogurt (for the fat). And felt good.
Second, although I didn’t run the full 50K, I did run 40K barefoot, on rougher gravel than I’d ever run on before. I ran the first 30K at my target pace, my form was good, and my spirits were high. I made the right decision (to bail at 40K) at the right time, clearly and cleanly. I learned that I am whole and strong, and that I can accomplish extraordinary things when I try.
Thanks to my wife for her love and support, and to Simon and Malcolm for being there.
Only 17 days until the Elk/Beaver 50 trail ultra!
Carlos Castillo, E/B’s race director, recently sent this video preview of the course:
Thank goodness there are only left turns on the course. As I plan to run the race barefoot, I’ll have plenty of other things I’ll need to focus on.