Recap of the past little while, including my race report for my first DNF – Sprucewoods Ultra 50k

Hang on, this is going to be a long one…

So where to start?

It has been quite a while since I have had a chance to post and I have run a few races in that time and there are definitely some stories to tell!

I think I will start with the Winnipeg Police Service Half Marathon on May 1st. This is the event I set my half marathon PR at back in 2014 (1:46:00) and I was a fair bit slower this year. I definitely hadn’t been training for speed work for the half distance and it showed. I still hit 1:59:55 so a sub 2 hour half was quite respectable.

My wife ran this one too and did great!

It was a really great day to run too – sunny and just a little cool. Since I knew I wasn’t trying to kill any PRs, I was able to take it easy and just enjoy myself and the run.

Thanks to all the organizers and volunteers for this race!

Next race was 2 weeks later – the Sprucewoods Ultra 50k, my first real trail ultra. Before I get into that one I want to go back a few weeks and set the stage…

On April 16th (2 weeks before the WSP Half) the organizer of the race (Dwayne from Trail Run Manitoba – had set up an event out at the race venue to help familiarize people with the trails and route of the race.

The event is at the Sprucewoods Provinicial Park a few hours outside the city. I haven’t been out there since high school and I figured hitting the familiarization event would be a good idea. The park is fairly unique – it is home to some real hills, not mountains but definitely some pretty steep slopes and unique terrain.

The meet up was to start at 8:30 out at the trail head – the same time the 50k was scheduled to start on race day so I thought that was pretty cool as I could use the drive out to judge how much time I would need on race day as well.

The weather was interesting as well – windy (although not too bad in the forest) and chillly (hovering just under freezing). There were also weather watches out indicating that some rain that was coming could turn into a major snowfall. So I dressed warm and dry!

The organizer had plans for 2 running groups – one doing the full trail once at around 25 miles and a shorter run at about 10-11 miles. I planned to do the shorter one as a test of some of my equipment and then head home. So that is what I brought liquid and fuel for.

…but I ended up starting out with a group that headed out a few minutes early and found out part way in that they were planning to do the full 25 mile loop. So I figured I would head out with them for a bit and then turn around and head back to around a half marathon distance.

I was doing fairly well and feeling pretty good so I decided to keep going with the group for longer than I expected and I eventually got to the point where it was shorter to keep going instead of turning around and heading back. So I texted my wife to say I was going to be later than expected and kept going. (unfortunately absolutely no cell service out there so she didn’t get that text until much later in the day)

Definitely some pretty interesting terrain – some lovely hills, some great cliffs to look out over and at least one tree across the path that we had to get around.

So about 13 miles in it started to rain with ice pellets (which were fun) and it rained, and rained and rained. Even though I was wearing some decent water resistant gear I got damned soaked. The rain started to mess with the trails near the end too – slick and slippery. There is a lot of sand in the area and when it was all wet it got a bit messy here and there.

About 15 miles in I was out of solid fuel though and running low on liquids and I started to slow down. The rest of the crew continued on as I took my time and started to conserve my energy in case I hit the wall. As I slowed down, I got wetter and wetter. I got to the point I would regularly squeeze my fists and force a huge amount of water out of my gloves to lighten the load a bit – this unfortunately had the effect of pushing out the water that my body heat had already warmed up and my hands would get instantly cold for a while. At about mile 20 I put on my second set of gloves while I was in a cabin along the route trying to warm up a bit.

With the rest of the crew off on their own I had to find my way back on my own – luckily I was using a GPS running app on my phone (and a battery bank with my so I had lots of juice) that I would stop and check every 10-15 minutes and at any trail intersections to make sure I was still heading toward the trail head and my truck. (oh yeah – I got a new truck replacing my 8 year old van a few weeks before this run)

So I made it back to the trail head in the end – a bit slow, quite wet and a bit cold. But in the end with some turn arounds and detours I ended up accidently doing a trail marathon in the freezing rain fuelled by 2 bottles of 0 calorie electrolyte drink, 4 oatmeal cookies and a small bag of M&Ms. OK…so definitely fairly confident at that point that I could do the 50k without any issues, especially if it was decent weather that day.

The stage is now set – feeling strong and healthy and confident that the 50k should be doable. I have done two 12 hour Lemming Loop events before and hit 50k in each of those at the 6 hour and the 6 hour 25 min mark respectively while still conserving energy to pull out another 18-19 miles over the next 6ish hours. So I figured balancing with the hills I should be able to hit near the 7 hour mark which I figured would be more than respectable.

I spent quite a bit of time in the days leading up to the race making sure my plan was solid and I had my gear all sorted out. I was especially certain that I had a method of cleaning up after the race as I didn’t bring 50k of trail dust and sweat into my new truck!

I had my hydration backpack ready with 2 litres of liquid and lots of solid food and a belt pack that holds 2 bottles ready to go with another 1.5 litres of liquid that would also hold my phone for my gps app as well as a second device for taking pictures.

The 50k race was set to be a 25 mile loop that takes a detour at about mile 19 that is 3 miles out and another 3 miles back to bring the runners up to the full 50k once they finish the loop. The race also has options for 100 miles, 100k (starting at midnight! Way to go Anthony!) and a 50 miles. They also have a trail half marathon event and 10 mile plus 10k kind of challenge – the one occurs at night and the other the next morning.

It is a fantastically organized event!

Now, since this was a trail event the weather did have to play a factor even though it was forecast to be nice out. Since the rain during the trail test event, there had been rain at all at the Park and with how sandy the terrain is the risk of fire was pretty big. Manitoba Conservation (the government body that runs the parks) put out a fire hazard warning which meant that the organizers couldn’t take vehicles out on the grass service roads to set up the aid stations out on the trail. The warning came out on Wednesday / Thursday with the 100 milers set to start at noon on Friday.

The organizers did a mad scramble and worked with Manitoba Conservation to change up the trails and find spots where the aid stations could go. In the end instead of a 25 mile loop they changed to a 20 km loop that would have 2 aid stations. The first leg would be about 7.5 miles through some of the original trails and then on some gravel roads – then more roads and back on the trails before hitting the 2nd aid station at about 10.5 miles and then another 2ish miles to get back to the start.

The 50k runners would do 2 laps and then after the 2nd lap run back along the trail for 5k to a marker and then turn around and head back to the finish.

Phenomenal that the organizers managed to pull this together as fast as they did – especially as they had already started moving their race headquarters out to the trailhead (with extremely limited cell and internet service) when the fire ban came up. Again – major kudos to these folks!

Ok – now race day. Like I said, I was feeling confident, I had my gear ready, weather was set to be great and I was ready to go. I literally had no race day jitters which is so strange for me.

I got out to the race – checked in at the race tent and got my timing chip, chatted with some folks (ironically about hydration – but I will get to that in a minute) including Dwayne the main organizer who recognized me from the Lemming Loop races, had a last bio break and we were off at 8:30.

Very sunny morning and just great to be out there. The runners spread out fairy early on and if you were wanting to run with no distractions from others it was possible very early on.

On my 2 previous 12 hours I used run/walk cycles of 5 min / 1 min to conserve energy but I couldn’t do that here – so my plan was to walk the hills and run the rest of the time and the hills were frequent enough that there were plenty of walking breaks.

It was a bit warm in the sheltered areas but in the open it was a touch cool with the wind but mostly I was happy with my gear choices.

I was feeling great – having a few snacks and at about an hour and 15 minutes in I hit the detour from the original trail onto the gravel road – it was fairly sandy and loose but it was mostly downhill (at least at the beginning) and I was able to really feel like I was moving – it felt great! I looked down at my Garmin watch to see how fast I was going and saw that it said I was only doing 3.4 mph…huh? Damned thing locked up during one of my walk breaks and now it wouldn’t even power off so I could reset it. Damn…I eventually pulled out my headphones and put one ear in so I could listen to the pacing info from my GPS running app.

Made it to the first aid station feeling really good. I had a quick drink of water and some chips (phenomenally well stocked aid stations – just amazing) and kept on moving. I would occasionally pass some of the 100k and 100 milers still out there pushing – just amazing as well.

After a mile or so more of gravel road (and a wickedly awful hill) we eventually got back on trail and into the woods. And I just kept pushing to get to the second aid station which was just as well stocked as the first.

Then more trail with a lot more hills, they weren’t long hills but maybe undulating would be the best word to describe it – up, down, up, flat, down, up, up…etc

The near the end of the first lap I came around a corner, heard a horn and saw a crap load of speedy runners barrelling towards me – the 10k trail race had begun hammering down the trail towards me.

I kept to the one side and kept moving but made sure they had room to pass. I cheered them on and got a lot of encouragement from them as they went past.

That was interesting.

Finished the first lap (at about 2:25 in or so), had a snack and small drink and then headed out for my 2nd lap figuring I would break out the camera on this lap, take it a bit easier and just settle in to it.

I did take some shots of a bridge over a creek (which apparently on the race in previous years used to be an old beaver dam you had to ford) but they didn’t turn out very well when I looked later so I won’t bother to post them here.

On the hills I was starting to feel my heart race a bit but I figured I just needed to be a bit more careful and slow down more to make sure I wasn’t pushing too hard.

At this point I did settle in comfortably, I could hear runners behind me chatting but they didn’t seem to be overtaking me and there was a runner ahead of me that I had swapped positions with a few times that I was starting to slowly gain on again. I was still confident and felt decent in my legs so I wasn’t feeling particularly concerned at this point.

Then I hit this long slow hill with a sharper incline at the end and my heart was racing pretty decent and it started to get dark…I started breathing a bit deeper and frankly got a bit spooked…then realized that it was just a cloud going over the sun and not me getting to pass out…phew.

At this point I did take a bit of extra time walking though and let some chatting runners get by and then did a bit more running but my hydration backpack was starting to feel pretty heavy and I was looking forward to ditching it once I got done this lap…it never occurred to me to wonder why it felt heavy though…

I ended up walking some more and having some more snacks. I popped some english mint candies as well which seemed to clear my head and I did a bit more running and resolved to walk a bit more until I got to the detour onto the gravel road again and then I would push and get myself sorted again.

I got to the detour and the gravel road and tried to run…and did not have it. I tried a few times but I couldn’t make it happen. Ok, walk some more until get to the aid station, have some more to drink and then get moving again.

Got to the aid station and then kept moving – even the aid stop didn’t do too much for me. Still way too much walking and not enough running.

At this point I started taking big gulps out of my hydration backpack hoping to recover but no dice. By the time I got to the 2nd aid station I was averaging under 3 mph and realized I was done, there was no way to recover. But I was determined to finish out the 2nd lap so I kept walking – at this point it was getting really tough. Heart kept racing even on small hills, legs would cramp if I walked too fast and a headache kept coming and going. I was also damned close to throwing up several times. I have never felt that awful on a run – even on the 2 12 hour runs.

My mood was not helped at this point seeing many of the other 50k runners now coming back down the trail at me as they were on their last 10k leg. An extremely encouraging bunch of runners though – everyone was saying good job to each other and encouraging one another. Fantastic to see.

Some of the runners were pretty funny too – shortly before I hit the second aid station one of them came running around a corner saw me, looked excited for a second and then yelled “F***….sorry dude I thought you were the turn around sign!”, I ensured him it was just around the corner behind me.

I started drinking fairly heavily out of one of the electrolyte drink bottles I had on my belt…again it never occurred to me to wonder why it was mostly full…

I got done the lap and one of the volunteers held up the 50k finishing medal for me, I thanked him and said that I was only at the 40k mark. I then wandered over to my drop bag, took off my backpack (again noticing how heavy it felt but not understanding why), and contemplated sitting down to rest and figure things out. But at this point I was feeling really awful and I needed to just get to my vehicle and sit and rest.

So I wandered over to the check in tent – lifted my leg to take off the timing chip and they lady there said they could take it off for me if I needed. I assured her that my legs were fine – took off the chip handed it in and thanked them for the race.

Dwayne the main organizer congratulated me but I had to tell him that I didn’t finish and I didn’t think it was healthy for me to continue. Hopefully I thanked him at this point. If I didn’t, I apologize! I appreciate all the work that went into the event and that someone is doing that so that crazy ass runners have these events to go to.

My first Did Not Finish – I’m not sure what I thought about that at that point but all I knew was that I needed to go get somewhere where I could sit.

I walked back over to my dropped gear, walked the quarter mile of hell to my truck, popped the tail gate and sat down for a minute and drank a coke.

Once I thought I could stand again, I got my stuff out of the truck and cleaned myself off with bottles of water that I had stashed in the truck for that purpose. I did a full cleaning and full change into non-running clothes and finished my packing up.

I then grabbed a beer and a sandwich I had in my cooler and sat on the tailgate for a while admiring the view. After I finished the sandwich and the beer and I sorted myself out, got in the truck and drove home doing some deep thinking.

I could not figure out what the issue was and what took me down. I thought it could be hydration as it was warmer than I expected but I had a crap load of liquid with me so how could I get dehydrated?

Before the race, when I was talking with one of the other runners, I mentioned that with my size I needed to drink early and drink often otherwise dehydration would take me down and there would be no way I could rehydrate fast enough to recover. Turns out that was a prophetic statement.

I got home around supper time and made sure to drink lots and lots. When I got up the next morning I was still 5 pounds down from what I was the morning before even though I drank a lot the night before. Definitely dehydrated.

Now I go out to the truck to get my junk out of the back and once again I am surprised at how heavy the hydration pack was. It should have been empty – in marathons it lasts me until about mile 25 which is about where I got before I crashed out…

It was over half full still even though I was hitting it hard near the end…and it all clicked…I hadn’t been drinking out of it for the first 2-3 hours of the run….what the hell? I essentially did the first half marathon distance dry…why?

I have a system that gets me through these long races without getting taken down by dehydration – I have a big gulp every mile or 10 minutes depending on how fast I am going and how warm it is outside. I did not follow the system and to make it worse it never even occurred to me that I wasn’t doing so.

On the half marathon race the weekend before I had drank more liquid on a cooler day doing less distance over way easier terrain. Something was not working right in my brain on race day, that’s for sure.

On the positive side, there were really no ill effects once I was re-hydrated. The day after the race I ran around on a steep hill with the pups with no problems at all.

So pretty dumb move on my part and I still can’t quite figure out where my brain was since my hydration ritual is ingrained in my brain, or at least I thought it was.

Every runner makes mistakes, it is just unfortunate that this mistake was a fairly basic one that delivered me my first DNF.

In the end though I am trying not to beat myself up too much about it since I came out healthy and I know that walking off in the state I was in was the smart choice. I am also still confident that I could have finished if it weren’t for that mistake so that says I am still pretty damned strong. Which helps since the Fargo Marathon is in a week…

Well – that was a long story but hopefully it was at least partially entertaining and can serve as a warning to others! Drink you bastards!


PS – thanks again to Dwayne and all the volunteers – fantastic event under tough circumstances!

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