Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Haliburton Forest 50 Mile Race Report

For those of you fortunate enough not to have run anything longer than 50K, let me tell you that 50 miles (80K) is a LONG race.  Imagine running and after 6 hours on the trails, thinking that a spot of lunch would be good just about now, then realizing that it would be more than another 6 hours before you can stop for a meal.  By then, it will be supper time.  At about this point, your stomach should be saying "Hey!  Wait a minute.  Don't I get a say in this decision?".  In reality, your stomach is not too happy and busy trying to process the cocktail of pills, goo and junk food you have been shovelling into your mouth...

With 5 races of 50K or a bit further over the summer, I felt I had a sufficient base to attempt the 50 mile distance for the first time.  At no point did I consider myself well trained for an 80K race.  Perhaps living with Lee Anne can be a detriment when determining what is construed as "sound" training for a long race.  Lee Anne runs 50K (+-) every Friday and 40K (+-) every Saturday.  Unless she is running 100 miles or something "long"...  So I perceived my five 50+K runs as a skeleton on which I needed to hang some meat and possibly an organ or two.  Since my weekly mileage was not spectacular, I figured the best thing I could do is run the 50 miler at a slow and steady pace.  Walk all the hills, slow down for technical bogs, etc. where a face plant could cost more than a few minutes.

Haliburton Forest Trail run takes place in (duh!) Haliburton Forest, a 65,000 acre tract of land owned by one person.  Not a corporation, not "Haliconglomorate", but a person just like you or me, but with enough maple trees to set up 3,000,000 taps.  The word jealous is such a limiting concept.  Helen Malmberg has been running ultras since the earth was cooling.  I can say this because the earth is still cooling, so Helen can't fault me with implying that she is old.  Helen will kill me anyway, but for the record, she has no right.  Needless to say, Helen puts on a rugged and beautiful race, far from the modern world.  I am happiest on trails and prefer technical to manicured, but I must confess that I looked forward to the Jeep road sections, as a break from the constant undulation of the technical trails.  Hali has its share of up and down.  This is apparent in the finishing times.  Only 2 people were under 9 hours in the 50 mile race this year.  I knew that Hali 50M would take considerable effort, but I wanted my first "grown-up" ultra to be on terrain I could enjoy.  Enjoy is another word with limits...

So, not much of a game plan, since I had no experience at the distance anyway!  Simply start slowly, avoid any effort above "easy" and hold on for a long ride.  After the 6:00 AM start, the first 6K is on undulating gravel road.  The hills were "silly easy" from 0 - 6K, but became monsters on the way back, near the finish.  Not much excitement during the first 25K, at which point I would be into uncharted (for me) territory.  My upper hamstrings seemed overly tight from the start of the race and they never did become quiet.  Strange!  Perhaps it was a psychosomatic reaction intended to force me to start slowly?  Not sure.  The first 2 trails (Normac and Ben) were quite technical and required a healthy output of energy.  Since I was taking it slow, there were no early-race mistakes.

Once past the 25K mark, there was a surprising amount of dirt and Jeep road.  Although some had considerable hills, both up and down, I was happy not to be spending energy jumping over rocks and roots.  My game plan was to run to the 40K turn-around, walking only the uphills.  With a few exceptions, I was able to stay with the plan.

One important aspect of an out-and-back race is that you get to see the front runners and friends along the way.  This can be a tangible positive, greeting friends and also realizing the halfway point is approaching.  I passed good friends Stephan and Kinga Miklos near the 40K point and although I wasn't sure, it seems that Stephan was a top five 100 miler.  Stephan went on the place third overall - well done!

After turning around at the 40K mark, where Lee Anne was volunteering and I had changed socks, I was looking at a long and tiring return to the finish.  A small lapse directly after the 50K aid station sent me about 300 meters in the wrong directions.  The course marking was very good, with a flag every 100 meters.  After walking for about that distance, I did not see a flag and retraced my steps to where about 20 flags directed runners onto a side trail.  They should have placed 21 flags at that turn!

Now the truth about roads.  Although they provided relief from the technical trails, my knees are not happy running on hard surfaces.  At about the 52K mark, my right knee sent me a very strange shooting pain every time I tried to run up a hill, or placed my foot on a rock/root that was more than 3 inches above level ground.  This continued until the end of the race.  I tried changing my stride, limping and even off-loading the strain onto my left leg, but nothing helped.  I was no longer able to run uphill.

Lee Anne, although she was supposed to be crewing the 40K aid station, took some time to help me at some of the other aid stations until the end of my race.  I have to admit, it was a highlight to see her, even though I was not spending much time at the stations.

At 57K, the longest distance I have ever run, I was very tired and having trouble running the flats and downhills.  With 8K of the Ben trail (perhaps the most technical) before the next AS, I drank some coke and took a caffeine gel.  The combination was too much for my stomach.  I was not sick, but could no longer ingest any food and could only take sips of water.  Since the next 8K was technical, I was thinking of taking a long walking break.  As luck would have it, I caught up to Rhonda, who had decided that running the Ben trail was too risky, and she would be walking it.  So, for about 4K, I joined Rhonda in a pleasant (okay, some knee pain) hike along the Ben trail.  Although my stomach never settled, the nausea reduced during the walk and my energy levels rebounded slightly.  After the 65K AS, It was time to start running.  This part of the trail (I think it was still the Ben trail) was less technical and the downhills were less steep.  Running was painful, but although my legs were tired, I could maintain a steady jog.

Finally Mark Ishikawa and I made it to AS 3, which is about 12K from the finish.  More importantly, there was only the Normac trail (about 3K) and gravel road to travel.  Mark was able to maintain a steady run and went ahead.  I had some difficulty on the trail, with both knees now emitting a sharp pain on every up or down step.  But I was getting close to the finish and still able to run the flats.  The Normac trail seemed to take forever as I was not moving much faster than 3-5 KPH.  Then onto the gravel roads, whose little undulations had become hills large enough that my knees would not allow much running.

With the sun setting, I crossed the finish line in 12:35:26.  As Kinga mentioned, it is my PB...  I was hungry, my knees were angry, but overall my legs were only stiff and sore, not damaged.  Walking was tricky for 2 days and I did not run until today (Wednesday), 4 days after the race.  I only ran 5K, to let the knee continue to heal.

The jury is still out on whether I "like" the 50 mile distance, or will avoid it in the future.  Part of me would like to try an easier trail 50M, such as Sulphur Springs, in order to see if the knee angst was a function of the roads and overly technical trails, and if I might enjoy something that requires less effort than Hali.  Still, I think trying a race longer than 50K has its appeal, even if the reason is simply a notch in your running barrel.  Perhaps you should not wait until 57 years of age to try it!

The next race and possibly the last for this year, will be the Run for the Toad 50K.  If you enjoy running 25K or 50K on a gentle trail, sign up for this one.  It is how a race should be run (get it?)!  You also get to rub shoulders with some of the better runners in Canada and the USA.  Well, perhaps you get to see the shoulders of these runners, as they disappear after the gun goes off!


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