Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sulphur Springs Race Report: The Tank Be Empty!

Well!  The optimism evoked by how I felt after the Seaton race was a tad premature.  Apparently running 50K every 2 weeks catches up to you on the third race.  For this report I will skip the fueling breakdown as I think it is as good as it can get, for me.  I was a bit too fast for the first (10K) loop, comfortable for the second (20K) loop and disaster reigned rampant for the final (20K) loop!

I'm calling this report "The Tank Be Empty", but rather than envisioning a scenario where I simply run out of gas, think in terms of leg muscles, knees and ankles achieving meltdown.  It was ugly to behold.

Sulphur Springs is a 20K loop, which lends itself to having all sorts of ultra distances.  It also caters to the 10K and 25K distances, which is reflected in their numbers, as the race caps out at 1200.  To say the course meanders is an understatement.  This is more of a plus than a detriment as the course is well marked, so going off course takes care and planning.  However, since there are so many distance options, the course portions with 2-way traffic allows one to meet and greet a multitude of friends throughout the day (or night!).  The 10K is a segment of the 20K loop, the 25K and 50K run a 5K or 10K spur before tackling one or more full course loops.  The (take a deep breath) 50M (ile), 100K, 100M, 200M and relay races travel the 20K loop between 4 and 16 times.  With 1200 people on course, shouted greetings ring out every few minutes.

The highlight for 2017 was an interesting frictionless mud, generously sprinkled on a total of more than one kilometer of the 20K course.  I'm not sure how much this special mud costs, but the race directors (Andrea and Tim) certainly got their money's worth!  I decided to wear road shoes.  Obviously my decision ignored the fact that the 200 mile runners would have run through pouring rain for most of Thursday and Friday, chewing up the course.  I envisioned a few muddy spots that I could easily avoid, or "hop over".  Since the average mud track was about 50 meters long, the hopping concept did not fare well.  In fact, circumventing the mud was most difficult.  The easiest method was to run through the mud.  This resulted in a statistical range of results from your foot planting firmly in the mud, to your foot sliding to the right, left, forward or backward, all with about the same probability of occurrence.  This had the distinct benefit of keeping the runners sharp, but the disadvantage was the effort needed to undertake corrective action.  If the times this year seem a bit slower, the mud was a factor.

I mentioned above that I went out a bit too fast.  My thinking was that this was my third 50K in 4 weeks, so I should be "getting used" to the distance, hence I could step it up a notch.  This assumption was horribly wrong.  Factor in the mud and the first loop is a bit fast for me:

Loop 1 (10K):  1:03:12
Loop 2 (20K):  2:37:35
Loop 3 (20K):  3:06:29

Total for 50K:  6:47:28

You should be able to spot the anomaly - almost a half an hour slower on the third loop...

One mistake I made, which probably did not affect my race; I forgot my water bottle.  Before the race started I donned my hip belt, but failed to insert my water bottle.  This was fine as I passed an aid station twice during the first 10K loop, although I drank water, not Nuun.

All went well for the first 30K.  I started loop 3 feeling quite good, although my left hamstrings were tight.  Too tight, it appears, as around 40K they seized up.  Running came to a halt.  Although I had been fueling well for the entire race, my knees were hurting, quads were painful, breathing was ragged and calves were tight.  Although quite frustrating, I was down to a walk, but hoping, as at Pick Your Poison, I would shortly be able to run the downhills.  It took about 5K, but I could then run slowly if the gradient was gentle and downhill.  No matter what the speed, running in a race is always much more enjoyable than a death march.  This is totally cerebral, as the difference in speed between a brisk walk (let's say 5 KPH) and a slow run (6 KPH?) is negligible.  Perhaps I am old school (yes, there were schools when I was young), but my perception of races is that you run them.  I realize in an ultra it is of strategic importance to walk the steep or long uphills, so that you can continue to run longer into the race, but I don't like walking the flats.  I realize my attitude has to change if I ever decide to run 100 miles, but it makes sense to run in a 50K "race".  With just over 3K to the finish, my hamstring started cramping even when walking.  That was not the best feeling!  Fortunately, much of the last kilometer is a long gentle uphill; I did not lose much time by walking slowly.

I had not realized my time for the first 30K was fairly good, so I was worried that I would be last, after my third loop hike.  An interesting statistic is that 9 people finished the 50K less than one minute behind me.  Had I been one minute slower, I would have finished 115th instead of 106th.  This will not impress the podium finishers, but it shows that even under duress, runners should still push to the best of their (dis) ability...

So, I was under considerable anxiety before Seaton, 2 weeks after running Pick Your Poison, and had a good race at Seaton.  I was "comfortable" after Seaton, leading up to Sulphur, and had a tough race.  I now have 6 days before Kingston 6 hour, and have regressed to a state of anxiety.  Not sure if this old body will recover sufficiently to attempt an ultra so soon after Sulphur.  One week after Kingston, I have the Conquer the Canuck 50K.  I will likely pull the plug, should I make it to 42.3K at Kingston, in order to save the legs for CTC.

5 ultras in 7 weeks.  I obviously do not understand the concept of moderation.



  1. You are my hero!! And best bud!! I must admitt it is cute watching you the day after-:))

  2. Thanks dear. I'm glad my Frankenstein lurch has evolved into more of a John Wayne swagger... Ah, the healing process!