Friday, July 13, 2012

Creemore Vertical Challenge: Race Director Report

Creemore Vertical Challenge

Race Director Report

It has been 5 days since the race, enough time to reflect on what went well and where improvement is needed.  For 5 of the 6 years, the weather could have been better.  Not quite in my control, but there are opportunities to make improvements that can mitigate the impact of severe weather.  This year, sponge stations were added to the aid stations, for the typically hot weather.  Not of much use in a downpour, at least they could be used to clean the mud from hands, before holding and eating fruit!

Starting a race in thunder and lightning presents a challenge.  The forecast indicated the rain would move out of the Creemore area before noon, but that was of little consequence at 08:00, when the race was supposed to start.  With almost 80 runners shivering in the rain, and factoring in volunteers at the aid stations, a short delay seemed the most reasonable course of action.

One area of improvement is the handing out of race kits.  The bib and name stapled to the bags got wet, making it difficult to hand out race kits promptly.  Perhaps handing out bibs and the tech T-shirt instead of a bag would be faster and less prone to impact from the weather.  Runners could then pick up the promotional material that they want, resulting in less waste.

Race Prep

The 25K course is comprised of about 12K of trail (some of which is on road allowances) and 13K of dirt road.  Preparing the 12K of trails requires considerable effort and at least four passes to remove downed trees and branches, cut the grass or whipper snip the weeds, then add trail flags and signs.  Ken Moon (2010 OUS champ) was instrumental in helping prep the trails, reducing what is normally a 4 day effort into 2 days.  Ken also helped to stuff the race kits, a laborious job at best.  Thanks so much for all your help Ken!

Race Day

After eight full days of prepping the course and race site, Saturday dawned cloudy and cool.  Some last minute activity, to post signs in high traffic areas and we were ready for race kit pick-up and to start the race.  Then the rain came.  So much for smooth registration!  The timing equipment (clock, computer, printer, etc.) had to be quickly moved to better shelter.

The rain came down so fast, everyone’s shoes were wet and any paper became damp or eligible.  The lightning strikes, at first far off, came closer and closer until the storm front was overhead.  At what time do you think this occurred?  Yes, 08:00, the planned race start!  Delaying the race was a wise precaution, but delaying the start for too long would affect both the runners, who were starting to shiver, and the aid station volunteers, many of whom had to leave directly after their AS was to be shut down.  At 08:15, the lightening stopped and the rain reduced in intensity.  I thought, let’s get these people running!

So, heat at Creemore is tough on you?  Those long uphill slogs make controlling your heart rate tricky?  All you really wanted was a bit of rain, to cool the air and make running easy as pie?  Do you now know what it is like to run in mud?  I actually had one runner mention that he hoped next year would be hot and dry!

Fortunately, most of the runners laughed off the slower times, mud-caked legs, arms and faces, and soggy shoes.  One woman in the 25K was incensed that she had taken the wet option and her friends had not bothered to point out there was a dry option (the suspension bridge near the end).  For some unknown reason, she was blaming her friends instead of the jerk (me) who had created the option in the first place.  The reasonable side of my brain (it is small and atrophied) was screaming to back away slowly and then run…  However, I couldn’t help but mention to her that she was by far the cleanest of her group.  As the saying goes, if looks could kill…

Did the rain affect the top runners?  In the 50K, Corey Smith blasted the course in 4:06.  I cringe to think what he would have done, had the second loop of the 25K course been dry.  4:06 stands as the record, as the course was lengthen this year, but I have to think he would have had the best time regardless, on a dryer day.  In the 25K, the rain added considerable drama.  I may not have the story straight, but I believe that at the 24K point, Kyle Aitken was just in front of Mike Tickner.  Kyle did not see the first rope that helps runners up the small cliff, when it is slick with rain.  In retrospect, perhaps Kyle had never used the ropes before; the course being bone dry in all previous years.  Kyle used hands and feet in an attempt to reach the top of the small cliff, and then proceeded to slide back down to the bottom!  Mike grabbed the rope and the lead, holding off Kyle to win by 11 seconds!  Of note, the new course record of 1:42:46 set by Mike and Kyle’s time of 1:42:57 would have both eclipsed the old record Kyle set in 2011 – 1:41:42, as the course was lengthened by about 250 meters.

I can only imagine what people who were running Creemore for the first time, were thinking of that #^%@ who designed the course!  Paraphrasing Bill Wheeler:  Most years it is the long uphills that are cause for concern.  This year, it was getting down the steep descent intact that took so much energy.  So the newbie’s would be thinking of me:  Trying to kill us on the massive-long uphills is not enough.  The downhills are even more treacherous.

Laurie Mcgrath, holder of the previous course record (F 50K) told the best story.  Laurie ran the 50K with her dad, Ron Gehl.  At the 47K mark, Laurie and Ron hit the “swamp” for the second time.  Laurie had trouble telling the story without breaking out into laughter.  Ron mistepped just before the narrow 20-foot bridge that offers some relief from the swamp.  He sank knee deep in the bracken water.  His other leg also went awry and before he could react, Ron was hands and knees in the muck.  With his face only inches from the water, he called to Laurie for help.  As Ron said, no luck there, Laurie was bent over laughing so hard, he was on his own.  Then the leg cramps struck!  By this point, both Ron and Laurie were thinking that Ron was about to die in a swamp in the wilds of Creemore!  Ron proceeded to crawl 20 feet through the swamp (he could not climb onto the bridge with cramped legs) and thence safely onto solid ground.  Both Ron and Laurie chuckled about the incident, but if I were Ron, I would be re-writing my will!


I had a significant issue with the 25K finishing times.  This forced me to tabulate the award winners manually, never an easy task, especially when the ceremony was to take place in 15 minutes.  Some mistakes were made, such as Wanda Ferguson was first in the 25K F 50+, and the results could not be posted until the next day, but most awards were handed out correctly and I think the winners and spot prize winners ended up with some interesting swag.

The 50K awards went smoothly and since the Creemore Springs did not run out this year, I saw and talked mostly with runners who were happy to be finished and proud of completing one tough race.

Many Thanks!

So many people contribute to making a race a success, it is difficult to figure out whom to thank first.  This year, I would like to focus on the volunteers.  Creemore does not have a large running community.  I like to state that with Peter Taylor running Sinister 7, one third of the race community was abroad!  So what do Lee Anne and I do, to compensate for a lack of “runner” volunteers?  Two things:  Import them, and conscript family.  Ken Moon (mentioned above) was not available on race day.  His son had the temerity to get married on July 7.  I know, you question Ken’s loyalty to running, but in truth, Ken gave us 3 days before the race, to help mark trail and fill race kits.  Ken, your sacrifice is truly appreciated!

Running friends:  Kinga and Stephan Miklos, Charlotte Vasarhelyi, Scott Jurek (sorry, Garret), Donna and Herb Broome, and Henri Ragetelie.  The key benefit of having an experienced runner at an aid station (or being a rover, such as Scott’s duty) is that they know what to do in a situation and when a runner is under stress.

Family:  Christine and Tyler Myers, Michel, Conar and Daniel Marcoux, Louise and Terry Phillips, and Marianne Cheney (my sister, who flew in from her home in Florida for the race).  Louise and Marianne are runners, but most have been at the aid stations for many years and sacrifice a day once a year to help their slightly deranged brother with his exercise in pain tolerance…

Other friends, such as Katie Dawson and family, and Dave Kennedy (he showed up with blackened teeth and a shotgun) helped as well.

The course is run through private land.  This happens at other races, but Creemore is unique in that the use of  the land is freely given, by 7 families:  Audrey Tidd, Cliff Weston, Paul Carruthers, Stuart Lombard, Jeanette Poste, Rene Petitjean and Ron Flack.  This is what makes the Creemore course so varied, challenging and provides incredible views!

Sponsors help to keep the cost of holding a race reasonable.  I would like to single out Steve Martin, of Foodland in Creemore.  The regular source for cups and bags fell through in the eleventh hour.  Steve donates all the water for the race, from a water purification machine.  In addition, he provided 200 bags used for the race kits.  Many thanks, much appreciated!  Also of note was Tim Hortons in Stayner.  With almost no lead-time, they donated coffee, bagels and Timbits.  Creemore Springs Brewery has been a sponsor from the onset.  This year they provided 3 kegs of their finest beer, and cups.  Most runners are quick to point out that although the Creemore course is punishment personified, holding a Creemore Springs while sitting in the Mad River is pure bliss.  The sports drink HEED (High Energy Electrolyte Drink) and gels were donated by the main series sponsor, Hammer Nutrition.

Many thanks to all the sponsors, landowners and volunteers.  You (and the severe thunderstorm) made this year’s CVC memorable!

Next Year

I know I shouldn’t say this, but what’s left?  Aside from 2009, the Creemore race has only seen extreme weather.  In fact, those who ran the OUS Spring Warm-up in 2009 (-2C, sleet and gale force winds) don’t believe there is such a thing as mild weather in Creemore.  I assure you, there is!  If we ever have mild weather, I wonder how many regulars would be disappointed?

Dig Deep!


  1. Come on Pierre we all know that you control the weather.
    Fantastic race again this year!

  2. I was one of those first time runners who was sacred to death of Creemore (remember, I was the 'lucky' one whose husband bought her the 25K for Christmas?

    I loved the race! I saw none of the hiccups that you mentioned, and since I had nothing to compare it to (like the water crossing in the middle, I just thought it was supposed to be there), I had a blast. Oh, and that part in my race report where I didn't find the hills too bad. I was just kidding.

    Brilliant race Pierre, I'm signing up next year!

  3. Thanks so much for making this race possible. I love the variability of the course and the weather this year was fantastic and as variable as the course itself. I really appreciated the 15min delay and never felt threatened by the electrical activity except for the race kit pickup. Looking forward to my 6th consecutive Creemore in 2013.

  4. Slower times? Heck, I got an 8 second PB this year.
    My favourite part of the race was hitting the first of the ropes on the second loop. Two runners in the 25k were standing at the bottom of the hill and didn't know how to get up. Maybe they are related to Kyle as they hadn't noticed the rope either.
    Looking forward to see what the '13 version will bring - thanks all!!

  5. Great work Pierre! An awesome race... even if it was my first ultra. I hope to be back next year!

    Rob Tranter