Friday, October 31, 2014

Surviving the Whistler 50 miler

Two groups of ultra runners, departing an hour apart, left the start of the Whistler 50 Miler, while it was still dark in the early hours of Saturday morning, October 18th. I was part of the second group, comprised of the faster runners. Since the cut off time was 5 p.m., eleven hours from when I would leave, I figured it would give me plenty of time to finish (my last 50 miler, the Elk Beaver, I completed in just over nine hours). But this was my first time attempting the Whistler 50 Miler. It had steeper hills, and more of them. The aid stations were set up with, what for me was an untested hydration drink, called ELETE. I couldn't foresee the stomach upset, and painful whack that would later hit me.

The Whistler 50 Mile Ultra course follows a 20km loop, run four times, consisting of paved and gravel trails, beginning and ending in Whistler Village at Olympic Park. The first loop was mostly done in the dark. I had my head lamp on so I didn't see much scenery. It went fast, as I came through Olympic Park in just over 2 hours. I wore my camel pack for most of the first loop, and switched to a Nathan drink belt at the 16km aid station, where I had my drop bag. It would be 14km from there, before I made a return to my drop bag again, and this is when the problems began. I started to refill one of my Nathan bottles with ELETE, which I didn't know was highly concentrated. I drank quite a bit of it up until the 30km mark. My stomach didn't like this, and fought back. I pressed on in the hills, and switched out my drink bottles again at the 36km aid station. Getting some CYTOMAX, which I was used to back into my system settled my stomach somewhat, but my pace started to drag. I came through the end of the 40km loop around 4:25, feeling like I wanted to drop. The large crowds there, some ringing cow bells, cheered me on though, and I was encouraged by the idea that I was over half-way done. I tried to drink more water to flush out the ELETE as I came approached the 50km mark. I rewarded myself with a SNICKERS bar and some Coke at the aid station before heading across the narrow river bridge, up the steep hill to the gravel forest trail. As I continued, the sun broke through the clouds, and I took appreciative glances at the passing lake and mountain views. I thanked God for his amazing creation, and prayed that He would renew my strength. Relay runners, with much fresher legs, overtook me, speaking encouraging words. This did spur me on. An oatmeal raisin cookie grabbed at the 56km aid station helped to settle my stomach, as I made my way back to the start/finish.

When I came through Olympic Park, having completed 60kms, my race number and name was announced, along with other details of my ultra running history, and my home town (He must've been reading my blog). The crowd by this point was quite large there, so their cheering gave me a big boost. I was now started onto my last loop, only 20kms more to endure. Making my way out of Whistler Village I thanked some of the volunteer street crossing guards, giving them a high-five, as it would be the last time I would see them. When I reached the 67km aid station I took another oatmeal raisin cookie and refilled my Nathan drink bottles. A lady warned me to get moving, because I only had an hour to make it to the cabin check-point in the hills before the cut off time. I pressed on, power hiking up the steep hill, munching on the cookie. My pace picked up as I leaned into the downhills of the forest trails. I made it to the cabin check point with fifteen minutes to spare. A large group of enthusiastic relay runners were there, and they cheered me on. Running on adrenaline, I made my way to the last aid station, where I reported the good news. I had fifteen minutes on the cut-off time. They offered me some Coke, and told me not to get too excited, giving me the news that I only had half an hour to make it to the finish before it closed. With 4km to go, I pushed the pace on the flat paved trail winding back into Whistler Village. The last official finisher for the relay runners passed me just before Olympic Park. With a time of 10:56 (four minutes to spare) I crossed the finish line. I had no idea where I was placed as an ultra runner, but since I left an hour later than the first group I figured I probably beat some of them.

Unfortunately, back at my hotel in Whistler, I became sick to my stomach (caused by drinking too much ELETE), and I was unable to make it to the awards ceremony. I took a quick shower, sipped on some water, and then crashed on the bed until 10 p.m. when I woke up hungry. I hobbled down to the grocery store, across the square and bought some beef barley soup, a bottle of Ensure, and a liter of drinking water. Thankfully, I was able to keep this down, and regain a bit of strength.

It's been two weeks of recovery back in the Comox Valley for me, and my stomach is still a bit sensitive. I've eliminated highly acidic food, and most sweets from my diet for the time being. The race results showed that I had finished 25th overall, and surprisingly I managed to just make it into the top ten for the men's masters category.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Training for the Whistler 50 Mile Ultra 2014

I decided the 2nd week of September that I would enter the Whistler 50 Miler scheduled to take place October 18th. I was encouraged by Armand Leblanc, president of the Association of Canadian Ultramarathoners, who happened to be in the Comox Valley on business, working for a couple of weeks at the same Air force Base base where I am stationed. While he joined me on a 16km hill training run in the Cumberland forest, he shared with me some of his experiences running ultramarathons since he began racing in the late 1980's. The first competitive race he ran was a 100km one in Europe. Before that the furthest he had gone was 10km. Since then he has run over 100 ultras of various distances. He told me the upcoming Whistler Ultra was a Canadian championship this year for the 50 Mile distance.

Since I hadn't trained intensely during the month of July while I was in Hawaii this year, I wondered if I still had the stamina for a 50 Miler, so the 2nd last weekend of September I had Olivia, my wife, drive support vehicle for me on a 44km early morning run to Campbell River. My pace ended up being faster than I had ever run that route before. The cooler temperatures and rain that day probably helped. You can watch a video blog of the training run below.

I've been doing much more mid week hill training, and have been feeling good results from it with increased leg strength. It is sort of risky running alone on these forest trails this time of year because the bears and cougars are active. I wear a bear bell most days to ward them off. I haven't seen any of them so far, but I did cross paths with a majestic elk, around 12 feet tall while running the pipe line trail up to the hydro station. Just as I reached into my Camel Pack to get my camera the elk took off into the thick woods.

I feel I've had a good base of ultra training this year, so it will be interesting to see how things go in Whistler.