Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Niagara 50K Race Report

Reader's Digest version:  Good race, insufficient training...

Before I get to the skinny on the Niagara Ultra, Lee Anne and I feel honoured that Charlotte Vasarhelyi has asked us to crew and pace for her on the Rideau Trail (RTA).  I'm sure it has nothing to do with the fact that we are retired and are free on any given day!

The RTA is about 330K and Char plans to run it in 3 - 4 days.  After a brief scan of the trail descriptions, I was under the misconception that it was mainly road, with a few trail sections.  Until Char clarified that the description provided the name of the road at the trail head.  The RTA is influenced by the Canadian shield (granite outcroppings, elevation changes) and has a high incursion of beaver related terrain... Swamp.  Can't wait!  This all gets going on Saturday (June 21) for Char - we will join her on Sunday.

Niagara 50K:  Get Out of Jail Free

Training is a huge component of ultra running.  Without training, it is called ultra ruining.  When you are young, it is fine to skip a few recovery runs.  Skipping the longer "time on your feet" runs is not so good.  Doubly so when you head north of 50 years of age.  I can't entirely explain it, but my running was simply not very enjoyable during May and the early part of June.  I think that retiring was a significant factor.  Before May 1, my MO was to crowd the weekend with running, biking, cutting firewood, landscaping, etc. - basically a 2 day attempt to drive myself into exhaustion.  But this was fine!  I could look forward to 5 days, sitting at a desk, to recover.  As Peter Sellers would say "Not any more!".  After a mere 3 weeks of retirement, I was bruised, bleeding, sore, tired and dragging in a way that is hard to fathom, if you have been sitting at a desk for the last 30 years!

After 6 weeks, I have lost about 10 pounds and starting to recover faster.  I think the saving grace leading up to the 50K was a 25K run on the Bruce Trail that took 4.5 hours.  There is no substitute for time on your feet!  I also ran a half-decent trail half marathon the week before Niagara.  Nothing epic, but 2:09 for 21.1K with a few hills and a sprinkling of technical bits.

So, 2 half-decent training runs and I'm about to tackle a 50K?  Yes, I was concerned and worried about the blow-up.  I had 3 goals.  C:  Run to 15K, turn around and run back, for a 30K DNF.  B:  Beat last year's time of 6:29.  A:  Run 50K in under 6 hours.  The A goal meant that I would not be able to take any walking breaks, as my current long distance speed is damn slow.  This was fine with me as I dread walking breaks.  The first few are good recovery, but after a bunch, they don't really provide much recovery and it is a herculean effort to resume running.  I often joke that I am too tired to walk.  It is somewhere near the truth!

So the card you are dealt in running a 50K without much training can range from "Congratulations on a new injury", reactivating an old injury, massive recovery time (6 months anyone?) to, when older, the extremely remote chance that nothing bad happens...  Guess where my race fits in?

I started slowly.  How slow?  At about 2K, I look back to see if there was anyone behind me.  There was!  I ran for a while with a woman from Great Britain (I think England) but let her go when the pace slowly crept up to "uncomfortable".  My plan was to gel every 10K and take salt at the aid stations between the gels.  I had a truly ugly race in 2013, although I just found out it was 33C last year, so perhaps there was a reason why I overheated so badly.  This year, I even walked the hill at Queenston!  I was surprised at how easy the hill really is.  I always envision it as being steeper (as steep as Hill #1 on the Creemore course) and longer, but in reality, it is a very easy-to-run hill.  I walked it regardless.

Predictably, I started to get tired at 15K, but with no major issues, decided to abandon goal C and try for A or B.  It would be really easy to say I nailed the hydration, electrolyte and nutrition, but at the speed I was running, it is not very difficult to do things right.  Conversely, it is really easy to do things wrong at any speed!  I can only imagine how hard it must be for someone running 50K in under 4 hours, to dial in nutrition correctly.

No issues at 20K.  I spent about 2 minutes at the turn-around (25K) and refuelled, hydrated, took Ibuprofen and made sure I was good to go, for another 25K.  Of course I forgot something!  Fortunately it was simply a timing issue.  At 27K, I remembered that I had not taken salt.  The dialogue in my mind was brief:  "I need to take salt.  Should I wait until the 30K aid station? NO!  TAKE IT NOW!"  The words in caps stemmed from my legs.

Just before the 30K AS, I took another gel.  I could no longer make it 10K between gels.  I continued to get tired, but was surprised that I could maintain my slow pace without much duress.  At 35K, the "Circus of Injuries" started.  There is a point in every race where the mind and body join to try and derail your race plans.  I think this because pushing past a certain point is tough, both mentally and physically, and the body rebels.  The mind is bored, so it joins in the fun.  For me, that point came at 35K.  The knees threatened to give out, my back was hurting and my right ankle started throbbing.  I laughed heartily at my body's feeble attempt to make me stop and continued running.  About 38K, I realized I don't have an ankle injury.  Hmm.  The ankle continued to get more and more painful.  I have had ankle pain before at races, almost exclusively at Niagara, about the only race where I run for 50K on pavement.  Since I was getting seriously tired and hurting in many places, the ankle pain was nice to have, since it focused my attention away from the real injuries.

At 40K, I was tired, in pain, but doing well.  At 43K, I broke my rule and took a 30 second walking break.  I needed to take salt, but my fingers were too swollen to unzip my belt and prise open a Ziploc bag while running.  At 45K, I filled my bottle and started for the finish.  It was great to see the single digit kilometre markers go by!  4K, 3K, etc.  With about a mile to go, someone mentioned that if we picked up the pace, we could break 6 hours.  Although struggling, I pushed for the first time during the race and was rewarded with a pace that was (probably) slightly faster than a 6 minute kilometre.  In hindsight, had I know how much time was remaining, there was no need to increase the pace.  I reached the finish line in 5:55:xx.  It felt great to post a sub-six hour 50K!

During the last year, I have run three 50K races.  Niagara (2013) in 6:29, Toad in 6:14 and Niagara (2014) in 5:55.  If I extrapolate into the future, I should break the 50K world record in about 8 more attempts!  I know, don't hold your breath...

A huge thanks to the volunteers and race director Henri for putting on a fine show!  Dawn Hamel (who dragged me out for the 4.5 hour run on the Bruce Trail) ran the 100K in 9:33, which shaves about 22 minutes off the Canadian record for her age category.  Way to go, superstar Dawn!

And now I continue to prepare for the Creemore Vertical Challenge on Saturday, July 5.  There will be some changes again this year:  Chip timing, a new clay body for the awards and finishing medals, better brighter signs and cooling stations (okay, sponges and head dunk tanks) and a new bridge through the swamp!

Dig Deep!

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations Pierre. I watched you cross the Finish Line and you looked really solid and satisfied. Great to see you so successful on the long one.