Please note, this post is a follow-up to blog entry, ""Running a Marathon and Beyond" just below. You may wish to read that entry first for background info.
I managed to get my training in, including a 2 week taper before September 12 came around. I went up to Haliburton on September 11, excited to be rooming with Barrie running friends, Brenda and Kathleen, and new friends we made at Dirty Girls.
At the pre-race dinner, veteran ultrarunner, Ron Gehl collected a thousand mile buckle for completing ten 100 mile races at Haliburton with everybody rising to give him a standing ovation. Ron had saved me at Limberlost when I started feeling really zapped and unable to take in another sickly sweet gel, he convinced me to eat half of his granola bar or things would get worse for me. He was right. After getting it down, I started to feel better and managed to keep my stomach on an even keel for the rest of the race.
That night, I tossed and turned while having some bizarre dreams that had me traveling all over the place. I didn't even hear when Brenda got up at 3:00 a.m. and although I set my alarm to wake up at 4:30, got up at 3:45, eager to eat and get myself organized for the 6:00 a.m. start in the dark. I vowed to start off slow and keep it slow and steady like a turtle for the entire 50 miles, very much aware of the bonk I experienced at Limberlost and that I had another 24 km farther to run.
As we started, the glow of all the headlamps almost made the road visible without one. It was a cold 8 degrees C outside, but I knew I would warm up quickly and could push down my arm sleeves when I did. The road was so peaceful and quiet and as we entered the forest trails, the morning light just barely illuminated the lake we were to run around counter clockwise on the way out. I was really enjoying the magic and mystery of the forest, it's soft floor and treed views peeking out to the lake. I took my time. I power hiked the hills and knew I had many hours ahead of me so I'd better conserve my energy.
Unlike my previous races this summer, I wasn't drenched in sweat right off the top so I could space out the time between taking electrolytes. I was on a regular schedule fueling with gels starting at 45 mins in and alternating with food every half hour. At the aid stations, I ate whatever I felt my body wanted - bananas, peanut butter and jam sandwiches, boiled potatoes with salt and even tried mint oreo cookies. My stomach was able to handle all of it just fine.
I got to the 40 k turnaround feeling pretty darned good around noon, thinking I had a good chance of finishing around 6 pm, in time for the 50 mile awards presentation and post-race dinner. At the aid station, I went into my drop bag to fetch some Traumeel and put it on areas that could potentially cause me trouble as the race progressed, namely my tail bone and hips. I also mixed up a water bottle of VEGA energizer, knowing it contained anti-inflammatories like Devil's Claw and could potentially help ward off the aching that inevitably occurred after a certain number of kms in every race. I took my huge pack of gels and a power bar so that I could continue to fuel regularly independent of aid stations if needed. I was optimistic and set off feeling decent for another 10 km when I arrived at aid station #6. I had done most of the first half of this race running solo for long stretches so I secretly hoped I'd find somebody to run with for a few hours when things weren't going as well.
It was after that aid station and around 60 km when things started to go south as my GPS watch battery died even though it was supposed to have lasted for 15 hours on the new settings I had made a couple days before. I thought, "Oh well, it's not going to be as easy to continue with my fuel and salt schedule without my watch, but I will try to do it by feel and make sure I eat at every aid station."
At 9.5 hours in, when I'd run farther than I ever had before, my mind started to involuntarily dredge my subconscious for every depressing thing I'd ever experienced in my life and a cascade of feelings overwhelmed me to the point where I felt I could lie down on the side of the trail, curl up in a ball and start wailing. Try as I might, none of the mantras or mental tricks I was trying to get myself out of that headspace was working so I was extremely grateful when Jack Judge caught up with me or I caught up with him and I had somebody to talk to about what I was experiencing.
Jack, an inspiring fellow, was on his 10th attempt to complete the 100 mile race at Haliburton in less than the 30 hours. The year before he finished in 32 and change, but his result was never officially logged because he came in after the cut off.
Jack was able to tell me that this sort of emotional breakdown is a common experience in ultra running, the brain's response to extreme fatigue. Just talking about it made me feel much better. It also didn't hurt that Jack had a monk-like demeanour, being a long-time student and teacher of Zen. Just being around him made me feel more grounded and level-headed.
Soon enough, Ron Gehl entered the fray and his oddball hilarity was just what I needed. He encouraged Jack to tell me a story he shared with him before as he knew it would be long segue that would serve to keep my mind off how I was feeling. Then, Jack proceeded to tell me about a story reported in the mainstream media about the collision of a sailboat with a ship and how it didn't add up. He spoke of how he learned about 16 year old Australian Jessica Watson who was making her attempt to be the world's youngest circumnavigator. That story lasted at least 2 hours with many interjections by Ron to make me laugh as I complained about this or that.
At a certain point, I started feeling really nauseous, like I was going to throw up. Ron then mentioned he had something to share with me, but that I must never tell anybody what it was or I would let his secret out and he wouldn't have the same competitive edge anymore. He reached into his bag and pulled out a fistful of a food I would never imagine I could stomach at that point. The thought of it was revolting actually, but because he got me through Limberlost when I was at a low point, I trusted him and his many years of ultra running experience and forced it down.
Five minutes after I ate the stuff, I started to feel like I was coming back to life and my stomach settled. I was amazed. I marvelled at how I could feel so much better after feeling so bad and Ron warned me that I would probably experience more lows as the race went on and that this too was natural. He was right. I got light-headed and asked him why and he said it was because I was getting to the max of all that I could handle, but that I should keep eating, drinking and taking salt. Also, under no circumstances should I try to delay veering off the trail to relieve myself if my body was sending the signals. I found out that when I went as soon as I felt I had to go, I saved a bunch of mental energy I needed to finish the race and would feel stronger physically immediately after.
As somebody who loves the taste of coffee and tea, but has a hard time with caffeine, I find that ultra races are the only time I can consume caffeinated gels or drinks without going absolutely bonkers. So, as I got closer to the finish and started eating more protein-rich food, I also made sure I was drinking Coke at every aid station. I had stopped eating gels a couple hours before, but made myself take a blackberry Roctane GU approximately 45 minutes before I got to the finish. I also waited at the last aid station while one of the volunteers went inside their trailer to get me a fresh cup of soup as I figured I needed the liquids while Ron and Jack kept on running.
Soon enough, I caught up to Jack and started telling him about how Derrick recommended I go for a swim in the lake near Aid Station 2 after the race so that my muscles could start to recover. When I realized it was getting dark and that my core temperature was dropping, I knew I wouldn't be able to do the one thing I felt would really help me. Then, I started balling full-out and lamenting this, repeating over and over again how I couldn't do what I needed to do to feel better! One of the race crew riding by on a mountain bike stopped to make sure he didn't need to pull me from the race a couple miles short of the finish. There was no way in hell I was going to stop so I put my chin up, said I was fine and kept on running.
I kept my pace and soon Jack was behind me a good distance as he had to continue after I crossed the finish to go back out and do it all over again. Not long after I passed Ron and kept chugging along. No stopping me now. Finish or die.
I was so happy when I saw the finish line. When I crossed it, I gave Brenda a big hug and started sobbing for real. So very glad it was over. I paused to receive my medal and then Brenda supported me while I staggered back to the cabin.
When I got in, Kathleen was there and gave me another big congratulatory hug and the two of them took really good care of me ensuring I got my protein drink in as soon as possible and made it to the shower to get clean and warm up. I stood, well, crouched under the water for about 20 min as I shivered away. The post-race lake dip would definitely have been the wrong move.
When I got out, I was still shaking uncontrollably so Brenda and Kathleen made sure I got into bed and layered me with sleeping bags. Kathleen, having medical training, checked to make sure I wasn't going into shock from dehydration, and assessed I needed to get some sugar into me as soon as possible as my blood sugar was crashing. I sat up as best I could while she spoon fed me her home-made berry crumble. Soon, I wasn't shaking near as much. However, a little while after, I started shaking again. Kathleen knew I needed protein to help stabilize my blood sugar and keep it from dipping again so Brenda cut up the chicken I got from my post-race meal. I also recalled that my Dad, who is diabetic, drinks orange juice to quickly boost his blood sugar when he goes low and luckily had a juice box with me so I downed that and then gnawed down a couple chunks of chicken. About 5 minutes later, I stopped shaking and felt like I was finally recovering.
About 20 minutes after that, I had enough energy to get up and dress properly so I could tidy up all my gear. I had next to no appetite so I my dinner went into the fridge. Brenda checked to see if my drop boxes were back from the aid stations as I wanted to start taking a homeopathic formula I take to help me when I'm hurting after an extreme workout or have injured myself. First time, it wasn't there so I just held tight and drank my chamomile tea. The second time she went to check, one box was back. Luckily, it was the one I needed, with the homeopathic tincture and traumeel. I had everything I needed to make myself feel better including two really awesome friends who bent over backwards to help me through.
I was wired after taking in all the sugar and caffeine I had during my race so when Kathleen and Brenda called it a night early, I finally had enough energy to get up and look for my final drop box. I found out from volunteer Gord Englund that there were a bunch of people gathered by a campfire beside the finish line if I wanted to go and hang out there. I was certainly in no shape to go to sleep nor did I have the focus to read so I went inside, layered up and then went out to the campfire. Almost as soon as I got there, somebody offered me chips and then wine while we shared stories from our race. The fire was warm and I was content. I marvelled at all the 100 mile racers who were still out there running and those who had ran incredible races in mind-boggling times.
They say Haliburton is a really special race in the ultra community and now speaking from experience, I whole-heartedly agree. The course is spectacular. The volunteers are absolutely amazing. It's well-organized. Most of all, it has a unique atmosphere and feeling of community. Runners push themselves to their limits and beyond while others stay up all night to support them, doing everything they can to help them succeed. And, when all's said and done, you can go and chill by the campfire, put your feet up and relish the entire experience with a bunch of awesome people.
I believe we can rise to our personal and societal challenges by embracing the spirit of adventure and the enduring wisdom of nature.