And so began my day traversing the hills of Horseshoe Valley.
For a number of years I'd heard about, seen and wanted to participate in the Pick Your Poison Trail Run. As a backyard event (only about 20 min. away from my house) it always seemed like it would be a natural race for me to take in ... but because of its placement on the calendar it always seemed to conflict with my intentions of getting in a strong spring marathon. However, with my resolution to not race a marathon for myself this year the month of April was wide open so it became one of the first events to be plotted on my timetable.
Initially my thoughts were to just get out there and run this course to enjoy it ... but alas the competitive side of me usually commandeers the best of my intentions. In any event, I've spent the majority of my spring training for shorter, faster races so I basically had just over two weeks to try to ensure that my mileage was sufficient to not require an evacuation off of one of the ski runs.
In terms of the pre-race communication there wasn't much by way of direct emails - it seemed to be pretty much left up to the individual participant to check in on the website or the Facebook page. In fact, I wouldn't have even known about the pre-race day packet pick-up had it not been for my friend Mariana letting me know that she had spied an update regarding that option on the FB page.
Communications aside, the actual nabbing of the kit at the 'expo' was a piece of cake - I would have been in and out with my bib, t-shirt, complimentary jar of honey and running magazine in a matter of seconds had I not run into Mariana, Crystal, Cher and Nancy who were all there at the same time collecting their goodies.
I gotta say that leading up to race day I was feeling really good - like I could be competitive in this event, at least given the results posted from last year's race. And since distance running is such a mental game I felt like I had an edge, perhaps for the first time in a long time (ever??). That had me raring to go.
The race I arrived my customary 60 min. prior to gun time partly to ensure that I secured a decent parking spot but also to try to connect with a slew of people who I'd known were going to be running the race. A good number of my RunNinja mates, ENDURrun comrades, Barrie Trail Running Clubbers and some folks reppin' my former Team Running Free colours were all going to step up to tackle the ski hills with me, and I was excited to say "hey" and offer some words of encouragement and support. It also helped me to chat with several of them who knew the course, and even to check in with them on what they planned to wear as I was somewhat indecisive as to how many layers to don (the temps were just above 1°C with the windchill at the start).
We RunNinjas run these hills!
Being that I wanted to not get caught in any kind of conga line along single-track early in the race (hmm ... fatal error #1 perhaps ...?) I lined up near the front of the mass start. I should have kept in mind that all three distances - 12.5k, 25k and 50k - were going out at the same time, so there would be people gunning at paces that would be sustainable for one loop, but perhaps not so much for four.
Alas, I did not pay much heed to that.
[ Loop 1 ]
Since the course starts out for a pretty flat 3k or so I went out at a pace that felt strong but sustainable. However as anyone who's race a marathon knows that 'early feel good' pace is almost certainly faster than it should be - and sure enough I bumped out a 4:03 first kilometre, just about 90s faster than my planned per-kilometre race pace. Things slowed after that as we were winding through single track ... and somewhere around 2.5k as I was staring at the shoes on the person in front of me I wondered why my feet were feeling so sloppy in my Skechers GOTrail shoes. I know I'd selected these so that there'd be a bit more space for my feet to swell (I'd swapped in a thinner pair of insoles) but I also laced them up to take advantage of the heel-lock holes at the top ... but you know what I saw when I looked down?
That I'd forgotten to actually tie up my laces.
So just before the trail started to climb up I stopped in a double-track area to stoop over and properly secure my shoes to my feet. Now of course having stopped and watched several runners pass me by while tying my laces I felt that inherent need to make up some ground. #Imadoofus
Aside from one patch of muddy trail that extended for about 500m or so - an obvious area of spring run-off halfway up the side of a hill - the trail was in really good shape. I power-hiked most of the significant climbs, but felt good enough (yeah, at that point!) to jog up one of them in order to try to claim a few extra spots. Please kids, don't do this at home.
Time: 1:09:02 (24th spot out of all runners, all distances)
[ Loop 2 ]
Having felt significantly warm at points during the first loop I made the decision to shed my t-shirt layer as I paused to collect more gels from my drop-bag on the other side of the start-finish line. That left me with just a singlet and arm warmers on top which ended up serving me just fine (although there were still some really chilly winds to contend with plus a UV factor that I hadn't accounted for ... #firstsunburnof2017).
I continued to feel strong through the second loop, running sections of it with another guy named Sean, a long and lean runner with an effortless stride. We played 'leapfrog' in various sections as he'd stop at the aid stations while I decided to power through (mindlessly forgetting to take in electrolytes just about all day). One of the best parts of each loop was passing cheerleader/drill sargeant extraordinaire Mary Mitchell who hollered encouragement while strategically placed at a viewing point where she could observe runners climbing two incline sections. Her energy definitely provided a mental boost while at the same time providing sufficient motivation to get beyond her field of vision just so you could return to a powerhike/walk stride. :)
Time: 1:13:14 (totalling 2:22:16 for two loops, which would have been good enough for 12th overall in the 25k division)
[ Loop 3 ]
I began to worry about Sean as we started the third loop as he was out of sight in front of me when I passed through the start/finish/lap area but I caught up to him walking at around the 28k mark. He indicated that all was good so I passed by him expecting that this would be just another leapfrog moment - except that I would not see him again until after I finished my race.
Although I was still feeling reasonably good I definitely was powerhiking longer sections of each incline and the downhills were being tackled with a little more hesitation. This would be a precursor to what was going to follow, but in my head I was still on track to nail a sub-5 hour time and I wanted to keep that frame of mind going as long as possible.
The mud bog run-off section of the course was now becoming something that you'd expect to see in a Spartan/Warrior Dash kind of obstacle race. Even trying to catch the most solid-looking of paths my shoe was nearly suctioned right off of my foot twice during this pass, but again I was grateful that the Skechers GO Trails shed the extra moisture and mud weight quickly.
One of the biggest victories during this lap was that I didn't let anyone pass me - I knew that we would all be slowing down to some degree, and I just hoped that I could keep my placing as long as possible.
Time: 1:21:27 (still 13th fastest for this loop)
[ Loop 4 ]
Annndddd here's where the wheels came right off.
The flat section was still quite manageable, with opportunities to start to lap some of the slower 50k runners. This also provided a tremendous ego lift, which lasted until I started to ascend the hills.
My quads were all but done. I was reduced to shuffling speeds on any positive or negative grade. I'd managed my fueling reasonably well (missing electrolyte drinks aside), taking my Endurance Tap gels about every 25 min., one salt tablet each loop and using a full handheld Nathan waterbottle over each 12.5k. I felt as if my cardio was still strong, but them stubby legs of mine were not strong enough to keep up a running pace. It was humbling to start getting passed by other runners, dropping spots that I'd hoped to hold on to. There was even a moment when someone yelled my name from about 200m back (and 60m below) - it was Chad, who had jokingly said that he would try to just tie a rope to me and try to keep up over the 50k. Well, sure enough at 46k he caught up to me and was still prancing along fresh enough to out-stride me up the last few climb sections. If neither speed nor strength nor strategy are part of my arsenal I can claim that sheer force of will certainly is, and that is what got me down the final ski run and across the finish line.
Time: 1:37:16 (total time 5:20:59, securing 17th spot overall)
[ Photo credit: Rhonda Stickle ]
After being handed the much-renowned finisher's socks I collected my drop bag and donned some warmer clothing from my car. Heading back to the chalet and past the start/finish/lap area I spied Sean who'd finished a mere six minutes behind me, and just let him know that I was glad that he'd not been taken out by the course.
There was a small meal available for all of the competitors and I took advantage of nabbing a vegan burger (which was super yummy and surprisingly palatable after a day full of maple syrup gels) and a giant oatmeal cookie which got tucked away for later. I spent a little bit of time in the chalet chatting it up with some of my Barrie running friends before calling it a day and heading back home for a much needed and long awaited ... chore of taking down all of our exterior Christmas lights.
There were a number of takeaways from this day's event for me:
- No matter how much experience you have you're still susceptible to rookie mistakes: Yes, I shot out of the gate way too fast. Even though my friend (and formidable ultramarathoner) Bill Lovett expressly advised me to take the first loop easy I let ego and adrenaline get the best of me. Anyone who knows anything about ultrarunning knows that the smartest runner in an event like this is the one who slows down the least, and today that was not me.
- Tapering makes a difference: And had I actually tapered I might have benefited from it. I wandered into this race off of a 105km training week, a total of about a 4.5% taper from the week before and about 12% less than my highest training mileage over the past few months. As much as I would like to think that I can be Yuki Kawauchi, there can only be one Yuki.
- Respect the downhills more: On the first two loops I basically bombed down each hill, and by the fourth loop I felt like I had been bombed by every hill. Even though time is available to be made up on the descents I need to be a bit more conservative knowing that my legs are not strong enough to take that kind of continuous pounding. Again, Kilian Jornet I am not.
- Mental toughness can only get you so far: It's definitely something that I pride myself on, and that I feel I develop by training throughout the dead-of-winter months here in Barrie, Ontario. But I think of how I'd passed up at least one opportunity to run the PYP trail in the weeks leading up to the event and how that could have gone a long way in helping me to anticipate how to tackle the various segments of the loop. My almost complete ignorance of the course itself may have just one more variable contributing to a less-than-desired outcome.
Race gear used:
- Skechers Performance Division racerback singlet and split shorts
- Skechers GOTrail
- Polaroid PLD 3011/S sunglasses
- Running Room no-show socks
- Zensah compression calf sleeves
- Garmin Forerunner 305
- Endurance Tap energy gels
- Nathan Quickdraw Elite handheld bottle
- Original SPIbelt