In fact I wish I was in Hell... but more on that later.
You know there are days when you get up and you feel a bit off and then the day just gets worse? Well on Saturday, I had one of those days. Unfortunately, the fact I had planned to run 22.5K up a mountain over technical trail didn't improve matters either. Not that it would. I mean, what sort of insane person thinks that running a race like that is going to improve your day. Perhaps rolling over and switching off the alarm at 5:30AM would have been a better start to the day.
So I turned up at Bluntzen Lake, South beach at 7am for packet pickup. This was probably the first mistake I had made. In my mind I was envisioning hundreds, nay, thousands of people clambering for parking spaces whilst road rage manifested itself in the only 70+ runner hitting another racer to get a disabled spot. Okay, maybe I should have not had the glass of wine the night before, but in my nervousness I ended up being perhaps 1.5 hours early for packet pickup. So here I was trudging in the cool, damp air waiting for any other racers to turn up. This mistake although I didn't realise at the time was going to cause me serious trouble later.
The early start also meant that I had an early breakfast. I had intended on taking some rice-crispy squares to eat before race start, but when I came to look for them, I couldn't find them. The only offering at the race start was some form of protein bars. I didn't want to chance potential stomach issues, so I declined. Mistake number 2! By the time I hit the race start I was hungry and my energy levels were low before I even made it up the first ascent. I know I had "Swedish fish" as my race fuel, but there is only so much the power of "Swedish Fish" can accomplish!
I grabbed a cup of coffee, (mistake number 3 - I don't drink coffee before a race) and waited. Slowly but surely the 50 or so other racers turned up. I rather eclectic mix of punk styling, serious racers, older races but everyone looked like they all knew what they were doing. I didn't, as it became apparent.
As a side note. I saw my first ever racer wearing VFF's. I went over all excited - another Canuck wearing VFF's for running. Yippeee!! Nope, he was from Oregon. He and his wife were telling me how he couldn't understand how hard it was to find VFF's here in Canada. I had to inform him, that there was only really one place in Vancouver that sold them and they only sold them for 6 months of the year. I think he went away think that Canada was more antiquated than they first anticipated. I had a feeling that they were going to contact their state senator when they arrived home to arrange aid and a shipment of technology.
Anyway, race start was pretty uneventful and as we raced into the trails my first mistake came back to haunt me. The cool, damp air combined with the hills produced a rather sudden and severe asthma attack. My asthma is always susceptible to the changes in the seasons, and September is one of the worst months for me. I have had asthma since I was a kid, so the sudden asthma attack didn't upset or worry me. I couple of puffs of medication I was good to go, but the damage had been done. From here on in, my lungs weren't going to operate as the should. They were sore and full of gunk and no matter how hard I would try I wasn't going to get the air I needed to climb the hills. No matter how I tried I was gasping like a fish out of water. (And not "Swedish Fish" either).
I had to cut back the pace, which combined with the stop I had to make as the medicine kicked in, meant I was pretty much on my own. The reason I like running races is for the fact that I like being in the middle of the pack. I like the energy, I like the pace I can pull from others. I wasn't going to get that. For the next 17K I was going to be on my own. Damn, I hated that.
Over the previous 24 hours a decision had been made by the RD to change the course. We have had a lot of rain over the previous week and the lake itself was very high, cutting off the floating bridge. Also, the forest trail was too dangerous, so we were switched to the multi-use trail instead. Multi-use meant gravel and rocks. Not the best environment when you are wearing VFF's. I also suspect that although the altitude we were reaching wasn't as high as the earlier course, the gradient on some of the ascents was worse. I had to power-hike the ascents and the descent had to be taken carefully as the gravel and rocks were very slippery. Wearing my VFF's had some benefits, I had more grip as my feet were able to "mold" themselves around the rocks, but it also meant that if I slipped I was in danger of bruising my feet. This happened before I hit the first aid station at 12Kish. On a descent my footing grave way and as I slipped my feet slid over some stones causing bruising over the arches. This was painful, but as I continued on, I could feel the bruising every time I placed pressure on my right foot. I had to go the next 10K feeling every step. I seriously cursed the increased cadence minimalist runners adopt when running. OWWW!
I had made the decision that I was going to "carry" my normal runners in my hydration pack, just in case. I shouldn't have done this. One, they were heavy and I had to carry them for the entire time. Also, it turned out that during the run, they had "slipped" in my pack and unfortunately had put pressure on the value of my hydration pack. This stopped the flow through the tube. I didn't realise this at the time and I should have stopped to check. But I don't think I was really in the right frame of mind for constructive reasoning. I had to rely on the aid-stations. This in itself is not an issue, but at this point, my morale was starting to wain and I was seriously wanting to pack the whole race in.
As I hit the check-point at the "start/finish" at the 15K point (the course was like a big figure 8), I had determined to call it quits. As I passed the check-point, the marshals signaled for me to go straight, which I did. They were correct, I hadn't finished. For me though, it meant they had sent me back on the course to do my last 7K. At this point I really did not want to be there. I was alone, I was thirsty, my feet hurt, my chest was sore, I was carrying a heavy hydration pack and my back/legs were starting to cramp. No matter how fearless I wanted to be, this was not something I could laugh at. I hated the run.
The pains in my legs and back proceeded to get worse. I was having difficulty even running the straights and was having to count every step to 100, just to keep going. At one point, I was running on a trail that looked so derelict I was convinced I had taken a wrong turning. I had to backtrack a little to find a trail marker and confirm I was on the right route. The relief I felt when I found the aid-station was immense. I couldn't help but laugh. Just to know that I was on the right path, that I wasn't lost in the middle of nowhere and that they were providing water. Well, if it wasn't for the fact I smelt, I would have hugged them. I had 3K to go, and I pretty much wanted to cry. It turned out that in the middle of the race, I had an early visit from "Aunt Irma" (google it). I mean could anything else have gone wrong? Well yes, world war - but at this point, I wouldn't have cared.
I plodded on for what felt like ages and I met the final volunteer. I asked how far to the end and she mentioned 2K. 2K!!! I had only run 1K since the aid station. She asked if I was okay and commented that it was all downhill from here. I picked myself up and tried to run. She lied, thankfully, she lied. After a couple of minutes I could here the after-party and very soon I was heading towards the finish.
As I rounded the last bend, I saw a sight that made my heart sing. My two running friends were there. Even though I told them not to, they had ignored me and had waited over an hour to see me come in. They were dancing and screaming as I rounded the last bend, and I don't think I have ever seen a most wonderful sight at a race.
I crossed the finish in a horrendous time of 3 hours 15 mins. I had actually predicted about a 3 hour finish. I was aware of my lack of training and I had felt that 1 hour for the mountain ascent/descent and then 2 hours for the rest of the course was about right. I was about 1 hour behind the main group, but I am glad just to finish despite all the disasters. I also ran the whole race in my VFF's. I stuck to my guns and I ran as minimalist as I could get away with.
In the respect that this was a reconnaissance mission, it served it's purpose. I know now what I need to do before I attempt the 50K next year. I know what I should and shouldn't do. I know what I need to work on. I made a huge amount of mistakes, but I have 6 months to rectify them and I hope that the 50K next year will be an event I have actually prepared for. It would be unusual; I mean me being prepared but I sometimes the universe needs an occasional shake-up.
As for wanting to be in Hell. Well, I wish I was this weekend. Hell, MI that is. A really good friend of mine, Jesse Scott, ran a 50 mile run here on the weekend. He was crewed and paced by some fellow barefoot/minimalist runners. He won the 50 miler in 7 hours 3 minutes; beating the next runner by over an hour. Nothing can express how proud I am of him and what an awesome runner he is. He has such a great running future ahead of him and I hope he has the guts to go out and achieve it. He deserves every accolade. *HUGS mate*