Monday, June 4, 2012

Sulphur Springs 100mile Race Report

I remember a few years ago after I finished my first 50km race, someone asked me if I would ever attempt to run a 100mile race. My response was “Not a chance, those people are nuts running all day and night”. Well that came back to bite me.

This adventure actually started 2.5yrs ago when I paced Derrick for the last 30kms of his sub-18hr 100mile race at Haliburton. The experience and thrill of the night trail running and (as Derrick put it in a recent interview) the absurdity of running 100miles buried itself deep under my skin and once there, I found difficult to shake. As with every other “new” distance that I have attempted, I have approached it with caution. I just don’t want to’ just RUN X’, I want to run it well. If I was going to try to run a 100miles, I first had to learn how to run 50miles. And so the adventure began. It was at this point that I enlisted Derrick as my coach, knowing full well that I would not be able to tackle this on my own. So over the next 2 years I ran 3 50 mile races, with the last being the JFK50 last fall which was one of the best races of my life. It was then when I knew that I was ready to take the next step and attempt the 100 mile distance. I chose the Sulphur Springs 100 as my first for a couple of key reasons. The first was that as I ran the 50mile there last year, I knew the course and what to expect. The second was that it was a 20km loop course that I would have to run 8 times which would allow for much easier crewing logistics.

So with the decision made, it was time to begin the training. I ran the Yukon Arctic Marathon in February, and was pretty sick during and afterwards, but I was fortunate that I was able to finally get better with 12 weeks of the race. This didn’t provide a ton of time, but my base was solid and by the end of March was finally able to get in some solid runs. It was decision time. I talked it over with the family (needed their support) and Derrick, got the green light and registered for the race. Here we go.

Training went very well. I was able to keep on top of all the aches, pains and niggles. I set myself up for alternating Physio and Chiro appointments, made sure I got the sleep I needed, basically keeping on top of everything. Training time was limited and I needed to make sure that I had no setbacks (I did have one really bad ankle roll, but fortunately got through it).

Imagine having to do 4-5-6 hour runs by yourself. The voice in your head that keeps you company gets a little boring after a while. I started doing something I have never done before in training and that was listening to Podcasts, specifically Little did I know at the time what a huge impact this would have on me. Not only did it keep me company for many hours of training and allow me to just keep running along, it provided me with a wealth of information and inspiration. Being able to listen to so many incredibly experienced people and their advice, the lows and the highs that even the elites encounter you can’t help but be inspired and absorb that wealth of information. After my runs, I would make sure to summarize what I had listened to, to myself, mentally filing away little tidbits of information that could/would be useful.

So enough about race prep, but suffice it to say it went as well as it could. Derrick said I was ready and I have learned to trust him. One of the nice things about having a coach is that you don’t have to 2nd guess yourself as that is his job while yours is to execute and that was what I was getting ready to do.

As I said Sulphur is a 20km loop which may sound like it could get boring, but it really doesn’t. There are enough twists and climbs and variations that it stays pretty fresh. Kim and Justine both had signed up to crew and be there for me at each loop. Kim, because she is just the greatest, and Justine HAD to be there for Dad’s first 100mile race, and Kim needed some support to keep her sane through the long day and night (and she is the greatest too).

My Crew

Okay, so on to the race itself. We drove down to Hamilton on the Thursday so that I could spend Friday with my feet up, hydrating, watching movies and just relaxing; getting ready for the big day. It was wonderful, one of the most peaceful days we have had in a while. Friday night, we went to the Pasta Dinner, mandatory for the 100mile runners (it really was one of the best pre-race dinners I have been to). We met up with Eric and Marc, fellow Gatineau Park Trail runners. Then, back to the hotel nice and early for a little more R&R and to do a final gear sort and check for the early morning start.

Dinner Bib display

 Friday night’s sleep was restless, but I did manage to get some and woke at 4am to start what I thought would be one of the longest days of my life. Pre-race routine went off like a well oiled machine, only change was that I ate more than I usually do. Kim and I got to the race site with plenty of time to get my gear and nutrition totes organized for the day. Weather looked like it was going to be warm, but luckily not the +30 that had been predicted the week before. This last 2.5yrs had come down to this day; at this point all I wanted was to get started. I had trained and learned everything I could and I now wanted to see if I could execute.

 Looking a little scared before the start

Start – Loop1 
Everything I read, everything I heard, everything I was told, start slow; don’t get caught up in the rush off the start. Derrick told me to lock into my ‘run all day pace’, and in hindsight I would call it my ‘run all day effort’. The race starts with quite the dramatic 350m downhill that also by the loop nature of the course is your finishing climb (8 times). I held back on the descent, took the right turn on to the trail and the day had officially begun. I held back my pace and locked into a steady even cadence that would be my constant friend for the day. Aside from the even effort for the day, the other task for the day was to eat and drink from the start and continue for the duration. Consume calories every 20min (goal of 250+/HR), drink constantly as allowing either of these to slip would ruin the day. I spent the first loop getting comfortable with the day, remembering the course and focusing on getting into the routine that I needed to carry me to the finish. I had forgotten how undulating the course was, and how steep some of the climbs/descents could be. I did realize early on that my feet would take quite a beating today. I completed the First loop in 2:03, admittedly faster that I had planned, but my effort had been low. As I was feeling comfortable and keeping up with everything, I wasn’t worried.

Loop 2 
My awesome crew was waiting for me with what we had rehearsed, so it was a simple matter of switching Gel/Water bottles, grabbing a little water and heading back out. I had thought before the race that I would want to do something different for each loop to make them unique and therefore a little less monotonous. Well this never happened as I never once found the loop structure mentally tough. So, in/out I went fairly quickly and I was back off running again each time. I managed to lock back into the pace/effort of the first loop and just continued on with the day. The trails were a little bit busier now with the 50k & 25k runners but it never seemed crowded or congested. It did feel a little odd to be running a 100miles and passing people running much shorter distances. Again, I thought I might be pushing the pace too much but was feeling quite comfortable and relaxed, so not worried. I was 100% on top of both nutrition and hydration and feeling no real ill effects. Things were just ticking along as I completed the first quarter of the race hiked to the top of the nasty hill and finished the 2nd loop in 2:08.

Loop 3 & 4 
I have to roll these two together because to be honest I don’t remember them that well. I do know at the beginning of one of the two a couple of, I think, college kids asked if they could interview me to which I said ‘Sure if you run along with me.’, and to they did. They were filming and asking me questions for 5 or so mins. I also remember having a Popsicle at the gatehouse aid station which was wonderful. But aside from that, I was just getting the job done, focusing on the theme for the day: Relentless Forward Progress. Splits for the 2 loops were 2:12 & 2:20. I purposefully started slowing on the 4th loop for fear that I had gone out too fast and that I should take a little more recovery time and I spent a little longer at the aid stations and walked a little more after the uphill hikes.

Halfway in 8:44
So my original lofty goal was to finish the first 50miles in 9hrs and here I was a good 15min ahead. So, I took extra time to change shirts and sock and bandage up a toe that had been taking a beating and was quite sore. I decided to bring my little iPod shuffle out with me to keep me company and headed out for loop 5, rocking to the beat.

Sock Change

Loop 5 
So, at this point I was heading out into the great unknown. Every step was a new distance record, further than I had ever run before. Thing was I was feeling good. Sure my feet were sore, toes were getting hammered, quads were starting to really hate the downhills, but my physical and mental strength were unwavering. I felt good. The heat was really starting to bug me, but I kept up on my hydration and that combined with the little heat training I did before, I was able to beat the heat. I ran smiling, enjoying the day, chatting and joking with the aid station crews, just staying as positive as I could. Done in 2:30 (but this also included a little longer at the start/finish before heading out).

Loop 6 
Okay, so now I was getting excited. Thinking back to my lofty goal, I was figuring I would be done 120km by 9pm so that is when I had told Robbie to plan on being there to pace me. Now, it was looking like there was a good chance that I would be there by 8pm. Here it was, 5:15 and I sure wasn't feeling like I was wavering at all. I asked Kim to get hold of Robbie and get him there before 8pm, as I had a feeling we’d be heading out then. Off I went for my last Solo loop. Again, not too much to report except my iPod died ½ way though. No concern because I knew that once finished, I’d have Robbie to keep me company and we’d be starting the last 40km. Completed in 2:36, arriving at 7:50pm and 10mins before 8pm when pacers were allowed to join. Seriously, could I have timed that any better? And, Robbie was there. Perfect.

Loop 7 
So changed shirts, put on my headlamp, chatted with everyone for a bit (had 10min to kill), some pics and finally, the time came and Robbie and I headed out.

The boys are ready to roll

First off, very BIG thanks to Robbie. Couldn't have done it without him! I wasn't sure what to expect or what I would need from him, but from the start, we hit a rhythm that would carry on for the next 40k. Robbie ran a few strides in front of me “pulling” me along. I just focused on him and his pace and kept the forward progress going. Shortly into the loop the realization hit that not only would I quite easily at this point hit my very lofty goal of 22hrs, but I was on track to break 20hrs if all went well. It was nice that we were able to run some of the loop in daylight but soon enough, we switched on our headlamps and ran through the darkness. Everything was ticking along well until the final aid station at the beginning of what is affectionately known as the lollipop loop. At his point, I was surviving on Coke, Ginger-ale and water to keep the calories in and the stomach under control. I grabbed a cup of each and said “I’m walking”, meaning I was going to walk while drinking. Robbie mis-heard me and thought I was going to the Port-a-potty. The result was I ran most of the lollipop solo while Robbie ran back and forth trying to find me. We did finally meet up and got the loop done in 2:41.

Coming in from loop 7 (awesome shot Justine)

Loop 8 – FINAL Loop 

 I’ve got to admit, I was tired. My feet hurt, my quads were killing me, I had to walk a few downhills, but I was still running. This loop was so magical. The trail that I had called home for the last 17hrs was rolling up and down and I was saying goodbye to. Each step was my last time on this section and it became a very exciting feeling. A couple of km’s from the return trip to the Gatehouse aid station, we caught up with another 100mile runner. Robbie had a brief chat with him and then dropped back to tell me he too was on his last lap. Funny, I could tell from Robbie’s tone that maybe he wanted us to pass him and move up a position, but I was fine just to keep ticking along. Once we hit the gatehouse, I stopped to get what I thought was a stone in my shoe, only to find it was a blister, well better now than earlier in the day. This allowed the other runner to put some distance on us. After a couple of minutes, we headed onward and caught back up a few km’s later. This time we were close enough (less than 10k) that I figured might as well, and pushed the pace on a couple of uphill’s to pass the runner, and never looked back. Damn, racing after 150km of running, crazy. The rest was as it had been for the whole day until that final climb. 350meters to go and we/I was done. With 50m to go on the hill, I put my head down and started the final run to the finish. Justine came running down and joined us, and with one final push, I was done. 100 miles in 19:14:19. Holy crap!!.

The boys are done

 I still can’t comprehend what I had accomplished. I was fully prepared to be exhausted at the finish. To hit such a low point in the race that I would want to quit and I would have to pull myself up from the depths of despair. Nothing. I ran the whole distance. My effort remained even all day. Everything worked. Execution was flawless, and looking back I would not change one single thing I did.

 Pure Happiness

Thanks just never seems enough, but I hope everyone knows how much I appreciated everything.
Kim and Justine, my amazing crew, I love you both dearly.
Coach D. You got me ready and I am glad I was able to execute.
Robbie, anytime I can return the favour brother, you know I’ll be there.
Joe and the Sulphur crew, thanks for making it an amazing day.

Final Stats 100 Miles – 19:14 – 5th overall + 2nd in the M50+ Age Group.
Elevation gain – ½ way up Everest. 'nuff said
Splits and placement (thanks to Marc)

Lap.......Lap Time......Cumulative Time.......Position
2..........2:08:25............ 4:11:11..................13 
3..........2:12:20.............6:23:30................. 10 

 Lots more pics at

 Thanks everyone for your support, it really meant a lot


(Follow up post coming with Gear and Nutrition breakdown. This one was long enough)


Kimberley said...

- Repost from Running Mania:
My dear David,
Well, you continue to inspire and amaze me. Each goal that you have reached leading up to this has been challenging and each time, you have mastered the distance. Your 1st 100 mile race at the 2012 Sulphur Springs Trail race was no exception. You planned, you prepared and you executed flawlessly.
And while it was amazing, it was no surprise to me as day in and day out, I witness your drive, commitment and dedication.
Congratulations on smashing your BIG Hairy Goal and owning it. WOW!
What an impressive debut into the 100 mile club. And a small club it is, especially the sub 20 hour 100 mile club. WOW! Have I said that already? And 5th overall? Incredible!
I am so proud of you and so deeply happy that I could be there with Justine to support you. We would not have been anywhere else.
Remember, Believe. I know that you still have difficulty believing in what you accomplished, but you did. Never stop believing in what you can achieve.
Congrats my love.
I believe in YOU!

Sara Montgomery said...

Congratulations, David! Super smart race execution. So happy for you to have accomplished this massive goal, and to have exceeded your expectations! Really enjoyed reading your report.

Derrick said...

Huge congrats again. So great to see you just nail it.You ran it like a 100 veteran. I knew you were ready to have a great day, but what you did out there in on a hot day is that much more impressive. Rest up!

Derrick said... need to change your blog photo ;)

Double Bellybuster said...

Spectacular! Even my dad has told me he is coming to your next area running event to meet the legend!

EJ said...

Great report and congrats. All of your hard work keeps paying off for you and that gives us all some hope that it can happen for us too. You really made it all sound so easy that at the end I was almost disappointed that you didn't suffer just a little bit more;-)

Johnny said...

Great race, David. You ran smart and strong out there and executed beautifully.

So, how about Haliburton???

David said...

Thanks everyone.

Johnny - Nope no Hali for me (maybe pacing). Doing the Squamish50 in Aug and then hitting the roads for a fall marathon with Kim. Looking forward to the San Diego 100 next June.

Robbie-T Runs. said...

Congrats again Strider, just wanted to read it again here to make sure it wasn't a dream ;-) Reach for the sky big man!! Rise up!