Sunday, May 31, 2015

Sulphur Springs 50K Race Report

Summary:  I had a good race.  There.  Those in a hurry can skip to the bottom and read about the totem pole (Ridiculous Project #201505-32A).

About 12 years ago (age 45'ish) I would consider a 6 hour 50K to be on the margin of disaster.  For years I tried to run the Ganaraska 50K in under 5 hours.  Although long gone, Ganaraska shared some of the trails with Pick Your Poison.  Hills, then more hills, then for the sake of variety, some big hills.  I never did crack 5 hours.  5:15, 5:10, 5:09 and 5:06, if memory serves me correctly.  Today's reality on the modern version (PYP) is shooting for 6 hours.  I always add 15 minutes for the first long race of the year, so my "A" goal at PYP was 6:15.  I ran it in 6:24, which is close enough to be considered a healthy attainment of B goal.  But setting goals at Sulphur gives me heartburn.  Yes, it is a trail race and yes, there is some vertical, but if the trail is dry, it is a very fast trail race, borderline road racing.  And this is good for people who are trying their first trail race, as many do at Sulphur.  I chatted with a young woman who had never run a trail race,  In fact, the weekend before was her first run on a trail.  I mentioned that trail races are tricky, because you don't run based on your "race pace", but on your "race intensity".  This is something that a lot of road runners don't typically monitor.

So, there I was, lined up at the start, when I normally determine my realistic goals.  I can factor in current information on injuries, training, sleep and overall health.  I had no clue what would be considered an A goal!  I was not injured, PYP was 4 weeks in the past, I had slept marginally well and training was on the lighter side, what with 2 weeks of recovery runs.  No idea!  So I did what I normally do when faced with too many unknowns and set an arbitrary goal of 6 hours.

I also decided that I should push for 30K, much more than the 12.5K at PYP.  Sulphur 50K is a 10K "spur", followed by 2 loops of the 20K course.  For me, pushing on a relatively easy trail course such as Sulphur means hovering near  6 minute/K.  The first 10K was completed in 57 minutes, a bit too fast, but not a blow-out.  At 30K, the clock registered 3:13, which indicated an acceptable decay in pace.  Of course as soon as I noticed my 30K split, I started doing the math.  One tangible result of proper training is that you can continue to "dream" about your race result, even after running 30K.  In other words, I was no longer thinking 'the next 20K is going to be carnage'.  I had enough confidence that although I knew I would be slower, I could hope that my pace would not degrade exponentially.

One advantage in having run these silly ultras for so long is that when I encounter a rough patch, I know that there is a good chance things will improve.  This assumes I have trained sufficiently...  At 35K, I was getting tired, but still able to maintain an acceptable pace.  Quickly thereafter, things went south!  When we arrived at the race site, the temperature was 2 degrees.  By the race start, the sun was up, but it was still cold, trending to cool.  I started the race with fingers that I could barely feel!  Nearing 40K, it was starting to get warm, borderline hot.  I was still running, but not moving very fast.  I took another salt tab, increased my fluid intake and took a calcium tab.  The trick is to hold on to your pace and understand that eventually, you will get over the rough patch.

I don't know if it was because the finish line was getting nearer, or a modicum of recovery, but at 45K, I felt a bit better.  I had been having mild stomach issues earlier, which cleared up.  I was able to increase the pace and walk the uphills more aggressively.  About this time, I took a tumble on a steep root strewn downhill section.  I rolled, but hit hard nonetheless.  The runner in front of me stopped and asked if I was all right!  This is significant as he could not of seen me fall, but must of heard the impact.  Maybe it was because I cried out for my mommy.  Nothing more serious than a bruised shoulder, but it is incredible how long it takes to get back your rhythm.  It was at least 500 meters before I was running smoothly again.

Sulphur Springs has an elevation gain of 580 meters over the 20K course.  I would estimate that the 50K has about 1.2K of elevation gain.  This is considerable, even compared to my race (Creemore Vertical Challenge), which has 1.75K elevation gain over the 50K.  A sizeable chunk is at the very end, where you climb a big hill just before the finish line.  The hill is climbed 3 times during the 50K.  Each time, the hill gets bigger.  During the first 2 loops (the 10K and the first 20K) I ran the bottom and very top of the hill.  Walking hills is a good idea, giving the legs a much needed break and avoiding an undue increase in lactic acid.  You might be able to run the hill, but someone walking it beside you will take off at the top, while you struggle to eliminate the lactic acid in your legs and lungs.  On the third time up the hill, I had to walk most of it, which was frustrating.  At the end of a 50K, the ability to rationalize something as simple as walking up a big hill (hey, it won't affect your overall time by more than a minute) goes out the window.  I was worried that the 6 hour mark was fast approaching.  It wasn't!  I crossed the finish line in 5:42, my best 50K time in 5 years!

Well, I found a tree in the river.  It is a 52' Eastern white cedar tree, 20" in diameter at the base.  Cedars in Ontario don't typically get that big.  I have always wanted to make a totem pole, so how could I possibly let this opportunity slide?  Step 1:  Convince friends with drawing talents to help out.  Stephan and Kinga Miklos readily accepted - the challenge is on!  More on the pole later, as it takes shape.



  1. Congratualtions on a great race Pierre

  2. Well done on your race. Hope the rest of the season continues well for you Pierre.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.