Sunday, April 30, 2017

Pick Your Poison Race Report

I feel sorry for the 70 odd people on the PYP waiting list.  Not to rub it in, but you missed a great race!  The weather was almost perfect for running (cool for the volunteers), the trail was mainly dry and swept clean of leaves.  The only complaint is the lack of snow on the ski hill traverse and the final ski hill descent.  There is something iconic to pushing through a foot of snow at the end of a punishing 50K hill race!

I feel envy for those who ran the 12.5K.  With ideal weather and predominantly dry trails, it must have been a thing of wonder to dash along a tough course and complete the race tired, but happy.  No nutrition mistakes, injury triage, chasing cut-offs or a generous sampling of aches and pains.  Just run fast and strong, and finish in good form.

Yesterday's lesson (and all races are a lesson - you never reach a point where you "know" everything there is to know about running and racing) was what I would like to call a study in causal chain reactions.  When you are young, or new to running, the chain reaction is primarily positive.  Your learning curve is on the offensive.  If you are diligent about your training, and especially your rest periods, training translates into positive results during a race.  You quickly learn the importance of hydration and eventually the pivotal role of nutrition in longer races.  Dialing in both these components allows you to leverage your training to an optimal level.  Injuries are always a complication, but you learn to manage injury by adjusting your training schedule.  No, you don't want to ignore injuries (unless they are something you savour) but you don't have to give up running because you sprained your ankle.

As you get older and especially if you enjoy running long, chain reactions take on a more defensive feel.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is something you need to embrace, if you want to continue running long.  Perhaps I should define "running long".  Firstly, running long is relative, and different, for different people.  For argument's sake, let's call anything over a half marathon "long".  Some runners consider a 25K trail race to be at or near their limit.  Others enjoy the multi-day races, such as a 3 or 6 day race.  The length (or duration) is not overly key, as they all take considerable management as you get older.  You will note that there are few women over 60 in a typical 100 mile race.  This is because most F60+ have difficulty finishing in under the 30 hour cut-off.  People that have been running for 30+ years have a long list of injuries, which tend to pop up at intervals.  So, the management component of training takes on a more defensive role.  They need to understand that ramping up is problematic.  In fact, most older runners simply maintain a higher mileage year round, so there is no need to ramp up.

Get the picture?

Pick Your Poison RR:

Before yesterday's race, I was undertrained.  I have been running ultras for about 15 years and I know that without two or three 30K+ training runs, I am going to experience nasty surprises during a 50K.  But let's make this interesting, and focus on a hill race.  Better yet, make it the first race of the (Ontario Ultra) season.  On my long list of excuses (a list we all have) is that I make maple syrup in March and early April.  Many mornings, I have the option of going for a run, or getting to the sugar shack before the sap freezes solid, and I can't start the evaporator.  This has little to do with priorities, but more a question of preemptive choices.

So, how do you run 50K without proper training?  You run slowly, cautiously and pay attention to your hydration and nutrition.  You dance that fine line between being too slow (chasing cut-off's) and hurting too badly to finish.  My plan for the four 12.5K loops:

Loop 1:  1:35  1:35   Walk the hills
Loop 2:  1:45  3:20   Walk all the hills
Loop 3:  1:50  5:10   Short walking breaks
Loop 4:  Get it done  Run / walk

Typically at PYP I have big trouble starting the 3rd loop.  This is mainly the psychology of being overly tired and having 2 more loops.  The trick is not to get sucked into starting too fast and using up all your resources in the first 2 loops.  Loop one was completed in 1:35.  This made me feel great, to be on schedule, but in the back of my mind, I had this small misgiving.  Not sure why.

On loop 2 I focused on deliberately walking all hills and eating at every aid station.  I spoke with a fellow runner (I am very hazy on who I ran or talked with during the race) who had severe cramping last year, and was now using Nuun (electrolyte supplement) to counteract the cramping.  Funny I thought, I used Nuun the last time I ran PYP (in 2015), but I was relying solely on water in my bottle and electrolyte from the aid stations.  When I remembered to drink at the aid station...

I did not get a time at the end of loop 2, which is fine.  I felt I was near my plan and did not want the mindset that I was "5 minutes behind schedule" or some such nonsense.  I refilled my gel bottle (it holds 5 gels) and started loop 3.  On loop 3, I planned to stop briefly at all aid stations, start drinking coke and take short walking breaks to prolong the time in which I could continue to run steadily.  On this loop, my left knee started acting up.  I have no cartilage in my left knee, so when it flares, it can be rather spectacular.  I almost fell twice.  Of greater concern, I could no longer put much weight on it, so the quads on my right leg were taking the brunt of the downhills.  And there are several downhills at PYP, which become nasty if you try "braking" with only one leg...

I had a surprisingly good third loop.  Yes, I was slow, but was still running well and aside from my left knee and right quads, felt good.  This filled me with dread.  No tangible reason, simply watch your favourite horror movie to figure out why.  My stomach was also starting to act up, which is normal and I only mention it because (I realized this in retrospect) it affected what I drank at the aid stations.  I was now limited to a choice of drinking coke (helps to keep me going forward) and electrolyte.  I was also having a few twinges in my calves (this is also normal) and the hamstrings of my left leg (this is not normal).  I should have seen the signs!

My time at the end of the third loop was 5:18, which was fine with me.  I was now quite tired as 37.5K was the longest I had run all year.  I also realized I had only taken salt once.  Yes, I had pretzels and chips at the aid stations, but no significant source of salt.  I was less than a kilometer from the start/finish when my left hamstrings started cramping badly.  I was forced to a walk and (since I had the time) took salt, a calcium tab and increased my water intake.  For the next 6K, every time I tried to run, my left hamstrings would start to cramp.  During this forced 6K scenic hike, I started the relatively novel process of calculating the cut-off.  I have never been a podium ultra runner, although I have on occasion done well in my age category.  But with 2:42 until the race cut-off, and forced to walk, I wasn't sure if I could finish in time.

After 6K of walking, I felt rested enough to try running.  I found that I could run downhill (my right quads were quite displeased) but had to walk the flats and uphills.  Since I was mostly walking, I cut back on my nutrition intake and only drank ginger ale at the last aid station.  This helped to settle my stomach somewhat, but did little for the speed at which I could run.  Finally I was running down the last painful ski hill and to the finish line.

Time:  About 7:35

Are you Pondering what I am Pondering?

Although I had no delusions of running a sub-five hour PYP 50K, I figure the lack of electrolyte added about 30 - 40 minutes to my finishing time.  Time to revert to adding Nuun to my water bottle!  Recovery so far (18 hours after finishing the race) has been limited to typing, which is not too painful.  Walking and stairs are a different story.  My legs are no longer threatening to cramp at the drop of a pin, but there is about 3 days of pain ahead, before I can try a run.

It was great to see all the familiar faces at PYP.  Ultra running is quite a small and friendly community.  I think this has a lot to do with the lack of competition.  It is mostly a contest between you and the course.  Fellow runners know how you feel and will help you if they can.  Besting you is far down the list.

Many thanks to Adam, Heather, Dawn, Rob and all their volunteers, for putting on "Poison", a great start to the Ontario Ultra and Trail race series.  As a hint to those hoping to attend next year, sign up early.  2018 will be the 10th running of Pick Your Poison and I am sure the race will sell out early.

See you at the Seaton Soaker in 2 weeks.  Hopefully I will be recovered enough to take on the 50K event.



  1. This is such an excellent wrap up Pierre, which I can very much identify as a fellow 58 year old.

    It was wonderful to see you there, and it was so wonderful to see you come in. Trying to stay within the cutoffs with the cramping would have been so very difficult.

    And I love the words you wrote near the end how "Fellow runners know how you feel and will help you if they can. Besting you is far down the list". I find that so true.

    Congratulations on your #1 50k scratched off as your 2017 Outrace Series. All the best at the Seaton Soaker. :)


    1. Hey Carl! Congrats on your fine finish! Yes, it was wonderful to chat with you and other fellow runners. Trail and Ultra people are quite special. Wish you had time to share in the "Norm" sufferfest!

    2. Thank you so much Pierre. I do wish I could do this as well. Would be so cool as a pair of 58 year olds! :)

  2. Way to get it done Pierre ... see you in Pickering.

  3. Hey Ron! I'm beginning to realize just how much a commitment you make to running, with the number of events you complete. Bring on Seaton!

  4. I wish that I had found your blog months ago! I ran six events in the 25K series this year and then had to shut down due to injury (I am 47 and have some injury problems as well). I'm looking forward to reading the rest of this series of blogs.