After finishing my first 50 mile race at Haliburton last year, I knew I had discovered a magical distance. As running for 10hrs and 50 miles gave me such a rush of accomplishment and satisfaction, I was itching to run another. So, I started laying plans for a spring 50 miler. However, if I was going to run another, there would be a purpose. For a number of years I have flirted with the idea of running the Granddaddy of 50 mile races, the JFK50. Thinking back to last year’s registration qualification times, I remembered seeing for 50+ yr old males the qualifying time needed for a 50 mile race was sub-9hrs, the goal had been set. I let Derrick know what I wanted to run, so then the question became where? I put my name in the lottery for the Bull Run Run, but was not picked; I thought of Seaton but having never run it and rumours that it was tougher than Haliburton had me re-thinking it, so I settled on Sulphur Springs, whose course record is very impressive so I knew it had to be the perfect race to attempt the 9 hour goal.
Fall, Winter, Spring training went well. Derrick had me focus on a lot of strength building, along with gym time and Physio to help correct some “weaknesses”. I managed most of my training uninjured, and had rediscovered some foot speed that I had lost. I did two pre-races; Chilly Dog, a 40km freezing rain snowshoe slush-fest and Seaton Trails, a 55km freezing rain mud-fest. Both races were tough outings, but I learned a lot about Gear, Mental, and Nutrition that I would not have discovered any other way. So, they were well worth it.
Leading up to Sulphur, my hopes for a 9 hour race were starting to wane, with all the rain, the normally fast and dry trail of Sulphur was becoming a slow, wet, slippery pathway. Still I never discounted the goal and headed to the race ready to do what it would take. My plan was simple: 4 loops with a 10min increase in time for each subsequent loop, so 2:00 / 2:10 / 2:20 / 2:30 for a total of 9:00.
Race morning dawned, cool, damp and foggy, but no rain thank goodness. I decided to go with a long sleeve shirt for the first loop and change after 20km. I set up two plastic totes just after the turnaround, one with my nutrition refills and another with equipment.
Race started quickly with a 400m that spread everyone out nicely before the right turn onto the trails. I settled into a comfortable pace, not really focusing on anything but trying to get a feel for what the trails were all about. After about 5kms, I was pretty confident that even though they were muddy and wet, when compared to my two previous races this year, they weren’t as tough. I found my pace a little quick, but also had the feeling that for the most part we were running downhill and having a little time in the bank is a good thing. I jumped on top of my nutrition from the start, something that Derrick had drilled into me. Things ticked along nicely with my pace just under my 6:00/km goal for the first loop. Heading into the last 7km, we met up with the 25km racers and the course started to get a little crowded, but nothing crazy. Still not knowing what the course was all about yet, I kept my pace up and when I hit the ridge at about 15km, I was still under my pace goal. Then guess what happened? The course headed downhill, w00t! More time in the bank as I made my way back to the aid station, on to the road and hit that ever so lovely 400m climb up to the turn around. Hit the turn, stopped at my totes to restock my Gels and Food, switched shirts, and headed back down the hill for the 2nd loop. Done #1 in 1:55, nice, 5mins ahead.
On to loop 2, down the hill and into the trail. Now, I knew what I was in for and there was nothing surprising or overly challenging, just a nice trail of constant up and downs (I believe the net elevation change on the course description now). Feet were soaked, legs were muddy, body was just starting to feel the distance, and nutrition was ticking along nicely, just a day at the office. I was able to maintain a slightly faster pace than planned without pushing too hard. About ½ way though the loop, my Morton’s Neuroma on my right foot started acting up (it is a pain on the ball of the foot between the 2nd and 3rd toes). I tried various foot positions to help relieve some of the discomfort, and it would fade in and out. I had been having issues with it on and off for the past month, and I was figuring the wet shoes had compressed my metatarsal pads in my orthotics and I wasn’t getting the support that I needed. So I figured I would switch shoes at the end of the loop to get some relief. I found myself running across the ridge again, just ahead of goal pace (which I knew meant I could make up some more time on the downhill stretch). When I started on the descent, the strangest thing happened, the pain in my foot all but vanished. I could feel some lingering tenderness, but it felt mostly good. w00tx2!! Climbed the hill to the turn and chomped down some ginger as my stomach was starting to go a little south on me. Kim was there this time, looking quite fresh after her 10km race, restocked and NO shoe change out for Loop #3. 2:03 for the 2nd loop, so 12mins ahead overall.
On a 4 loop race, the 3rd loop is always the toughest, but knowing this I forced myself to keep my mental on and not think about where I was at, just push forward. I hit two major obstacles at this point. The thought of food was really starting to turn my stomach. Fortunately I could still stomach gels with water, but any real food touching my lips seemed to invoke a gag reflex. I had been ahead on my nutrition on the first two laps so I was confident that if I kept up the gels, I would have enough in the tank to get me to the finish without seriously bonking. The other issue was my right quad was really starting to give me grief for some reason; tight and sore. As with any race though, if it ain’t broke, run through it, and sure enough the pain in the quad eventually went away. Stomach on the other hand was a battle, but I was getting calories in me, and even better keeping them there. My pace was slowing as expected, but I was staying focused and still ahead of the laps goal pace. Finally I reached my favourite section, the Ridge and down to the aid station, opening the stride up a bit, power walk the final hill to the turn. Whew! 3 loops done, 1 to go. It was warming up so I decided to dump my shirt at this point, and food was useless to carry so I stripped off my zippered pouch from my waist pack. The less the better. On to loop #4, the final one. 2:11 for the 3rd loop, so I had the 10min difference as I expected between the two loops, but I was ahead on goal time by over 20mins.
On a race like this I take nothing for granted. I bled minutes in Haliburton and knew how easy it was to lose time. With this in mind and knowing what the 1st 5km of the loop was like, I decided to ”hammer” it as best I could. I figured the further I got, the less distance I would have to cover when I did start to slow. I was happy to see that after 60km I managed to cover the 5km in just over 30min. More of a buffer, 15kms to go and I was starting to feel confident that I could hit the sub-9hr goal. The next 10km were a mental and physical slug fest. I kept forward momentum, trying to actually run some of the final uphills, trying to save every second I could. I knew when I had made it to the Ridge Line that one last time it would be downhill to the finish and only a stupid mistake would screw things up. With about 10km left, I started to entertain a sub-8:30 time. Just as I was starting the final section up to the ridge line, I calculated that if I ran 7:00/min kms to the finish that I would break 8:30, it would be tough I knew but one final push. So then with 2km left, I hit 2hrs on my garmin for the loop. Excuse me, I thought how does that work? Based on my previous calculation, that didn’t make sense (math and running do not mix). So here I was with 2km and 20mins to cover the distance to run under 8:30. Ha, that was not going to be an issue, now it was time to push to the finish. I ran as much and as fast as I could, but in the end that final hill got me and I had to walk it. Still, once I crested the top, I started running again and finished strong and happy. Lap time 2:13 for a Total time for the 50 miles of 8:22. J A PB by 1:34.
Kim was there at the finish and I gave her the longest sweatiest hug. I was so happy and thrilled with how the DAY had unfolded. I was tired and sore, but I had far exceeded my goals and expectations, and stayed strong to the finish pushing the whole time and never loosing focus. We stood around and chatted with some people as I tried to let the Tylenol do its work and get some real food in me. Eventually, curiosity got the better of me and I wanted to know how I had placed. I was very surprised to find that not only had I placed 10th overall (top 10 finish is always great), but I was also 1st in my age group (50+). Well how about that! I received my first ever plaque, and yes I am still grinning.
Before the race, the JFK50 qualifications were posted and all I needed was a sub-10hrs this year. I knew that going in, but I had trained for the goal and was determined to do my best to reach it.
I am taking the time now to soak in everything and let my mind and body recover and renew before I start back training. I have a couple of goals left for the year and I know that with Kim at my side and Derrick in my corner, they will be reached – not going to be easy though, but what fun would that be? J