So the big question I am getting asked. Is the 50 miler harder than an Ironman? After thinking long and hard, I have an answer to this but I will wait to the end.
I went into this race hoping to land a time around 9:30 – 10:30. Having never ran the distance, I was not sure what to expect. What I did know, was that Haliburton is not a course to take for granted. There are a lot of climbs and some very, very tough technical sections that require full attention. The course is an out and back, so everything you may breeze though going out could get you coming back.
1) I sent my drop bag to Aid station 6 ( ~ 30K ), this would give me access to it twice. Once on the way out ( ~ 30K ) and once on the way back ( ~ 60K ). In it, I placed extra gels, a couple of natural energy bars, my extra clothes, an extra water bottle belt and an extra buff.
2) At the start of the race, I planned to run quick and create a gap ahead of the main group. I did not plan to stay with the leaders, but I wanted to have free movement on the trail when I entered it. I planned to run/race hard for the first 50K, and then see what the legs had left. I was fully expecting, and was fully prepared to have the wheels come off at some point. I purposely wanted to give myself a full test of physical and mental capability in this race. This may sound strange but I was looking at this as a culmination of the last 6 years of training. This was what I was considering the end of the first period in my training and a start of a new one.
3) From an nutrition angle, many people with experience kept telling me to keep eating. I am used to this for my Ironman races, but a reminder is always welcome. I figured I better keep eating. I was targeting to consume gels, fruit bars, Larabars and then some goodies at the aid stations. Typically, once every 45 minutes.
4) For liquids, in my Ultraspire vest ( review coming soon ) bladder, I carried 2 liters of Heed going out and also a 650ml bottle of water. Refill as needed.
“…Well I woke up to the sound of silence , The cars were cutting like knives in a fist fight..”
The First Half
The race began on Saturday morning at 6:00 am. It was dark and cloudy so I chose to wear my headlamp as I was very afraid of finding a pothole early on and rolling my ankle. As some of you know, I spent a great amount of time with my PT Jenn Keller at Podium Sports rebuilding it all winter. The ankle has been holding up, but it is not 100% nor will it ever be again.
The call to the line went out and the Bag piper piped us to the start line. Something beautiful listening the pipes that early.
The start came quick and off we went. The first 6K or so is all road and rolling. I stayed with the lead group for the first 3 or 4K, and then backed the throttle down bringing myself closer to where I wanted to run. When we went into the trail around Macdonald Lake, I could see two guys in front. Both disappeared within the first 10 minutes and that was the last time I saw anyone for a while. It was cool on the road, but the humidity inside the forest was high and it was not long before I was sweating. The first 17K seemed to fly but suddenly I got a wave of self-awareness. The enormity of the run in front of me went from being a post or two on Facebook to one long bitchin’ day. I swallowed some anxiety , put my head down and adjusted my form. I promised myself that regardless of what would happen, I would try my very best and never give up.
To quote a friend of mine. “Quitting is not an option”
Running across the trails, deep in the forest is both humbling and enlightening. When you get into “flight mode”, you feel like you are flying along the trails and its magical. But the enormity of the forest can be overwhelming at times and being alone inside it is not like running or riding on a road. On the road, you’re rarely more than a minute away from a car, or a house. In the forest like Haliburton, you are not accessible to other people and can run for long periods of time without seeing people. Your foot fall can echo and branches snap loudly.
One of the other things about running on trails, is that it’s much harder than road. For example, a hill on a road has been smoothed and levelled to reduce it’s grade, but not so much on a trail. Walking is a normal part of a race and there are some hills you cannot climb while you run. It requires much more concentration because zoning out with loose rocks could give you a broken ankle. At about 35K, I lost focus and went over hard on my ankle. I yelled, grimaced and had to stop. I quickly started doing the self-analysis and tried to determine how bad it was. This hurt and I knew it was going to impact the rest of my race. The question was, would it stop me? I had no choice but to walk a little bit and during this time, two runners went by. Both asked me if I needed help. I was about 2K from the nearest aid station. I told them to go on and decided that there was only one way for me to figure this out. It hurt, but I slowly started gaining momentum again and it subsided slightly.
The biggest piss off, is that this was very early for me and I now needed to uber careful. My ankle had nothing left to protect me from another roll. I had no choice but to pull back and take no risks.
The Second Half
“…If you’re lost and alone, Or you’re sinking like a stone, Carry on, May your past be the sound, Of your feet upon the ground, Carry on…”
I proceeded through the next aid station and ran to the turn around at 40K. I was now one marathon completed, and was going home. My ankle was hurting and my legs were showing signs of fatigue. The pace started dropping and the hills started grinding more. I doubled up on my fuel hoping to get a bit of a boost and ran the next 15K at about a 7:20 pace.
I crossed the 50K mark with a time of 5 hr 25 minutes. That was a best for me and to do it on a tough course like this (with a rolled ankle) I was happy. Small victories right? It gave me a boost for about 10K
Things got dark ( figuratively ) for me around 60K, I started missing and time started slipping. I was tired, grumpy and sore. My knees were bothering me, and I could no longer run down hills. There was no food I was carrying that seemed to be working, so I started taking ginger ale at the aid stations to try and get some sugar. In my head, I started wondering if I could make my goal. Could I make it? My body and mind had gone to a dark room and did not seem to want to come back.
I did a motivation roll over and tried to reboot my thinking process. “Goals are self-imposed, Limits are meant to be broken and whether you think you can or you can’t….you’re right”. I had a very good run up to the 60K, so I should be very happy that I was still moving and was able to finish. Somewhere around 65K, I looked back over my shoulder and saw two friendly faces coming towards me. I can honestly tell you, I felt a huge rush when I saw Dave Yona and Dave Bohn. Mr. Bohn, ever the gentlemen gave me a handshake, a smile and quickly invited me along. “ Come on, we’re finishing this thing together! All of us!” he said. He said it not with authority, but with the tone of someone who had been to the corner and someone who would steer the ship home. I found myself bouncing backing and joined the duo. We were now a GGT trio. Choo Choo Choo!!!!
“…Cause we are, We are shining stars, We are invincible, We are who we are, On our darkest day, When we’re miles away, So we’ll come, We will find our way home..”
That was the last time I struggled during the race. We stopped at the next aid station and I grabbed a mouthful of jelly beans. This gave me more energy and I started resetting my form to conserve energy.
-Swing nip to hip,
-Foot fall under the knee,
-Straight back, head up
– I said head UP!
We ran through Aid Station # 2 and retraced our steps for the second loop around McDonald Lake, the reality started setting in that we would finish this 80K run and we would most likely do it around 9:30. I did not want to get too greedy and banished all thoughts of coming in sooner. We would finish together regardless of how that finish looked. I was still hurting on the downhill’s and my ankle had ballooned, but it was allowing me to keep going. I was in constant “contact” it with it assessing whether I had crossed the line from “hurt” to “injury”. So far, it was only hurt…and that I can deal with just fine. If it crosses to injury, decisions need to be made about potential risks and how long-term the impact could be.
We came out of the forest, and off the last trail for the run. We plodded our way along the roads, talking, distracting and walking when needed. The KM’s ticked off and the minutes rolled by. We stopped quickly at aid station 3, thanked them for their assistance and off we went. No more stopping, it was time to run home. We rolled back through Aid station 2 with a smile, a wave and headed out of the forest.
All of us, all together. The finish line came fast as it always does, and within seconds, we were standing there absorbing what we had just done.
9 hr 21 minutes.
5400 feet of climbing
50 miles / 80 kms
“…May your past be the sound, Of your feet upon the ground, Carry on…Carry on Carry On…”
Is the 80K harder than a full Ironman. The answer is “ There is no answer”. You cannot compare the two of them. The only similarity is that they are both endurance events that test you physically and mentally. That is the end of it. There is no way to compare a 3.8K swim, 180K bike and 42.2 run to a single 80K run on the trails. Sorry..just can’t be done. But both are enduring and to be respected.
My wife – I often forget to mention the most important crew I have. My wife and soulmate who never, ever drops her support and is there at every finish line, whether she comes to a race or not.
My Coach Neil Rosenthal – amazing runner and a great guy. Taking me to places I am excited to go!
Dave Bohn – Dude, you rock. Simply put.
Good Guys Tri – My team and friends, great folks, great support..amazing way to spend a weekend.
My best friend Dale – Dude, we kicked another one in the ass.
My Sport X Family – I took a different direction this time, but you guys supported me as always. Thank you.
Serena, Suzanne and Augusto – Awesome sharing the weekend with you!!! Serena – did you hear those wolves?