I had been looking forward to this race for a while. Actually since 2013. The problem is that it never fit into my schedule. Odd thing is that while I have run 100 milers I have never run a 50 miler; this was gonna be sweet.
I found out that I was going to California. Work was sending me on a mission, for 3 weeks! Hot damn! Instantly I hopped on UltraSignup and started looking for races. I found a couple; some looked pretty easy or weren’t really trail runs. I came across Nine Trails Endurance Run. It’s part of the All We Do Is Run series of races and directed by Luis Escobar. Cool.
Before the run, I had a one on one with Gary (my coach) and I was emphatically telling him about California, Zombie Runners, nice weather, trails… While we were going some details about the upcoming event, I told him I bought some Tailwind and thought I would give it a shot.
“Have you ever used it before?”
With hesitation and knowing that I was going to be told not to I replied “yeeeeess… Zion…“
“Did you like it?”
With more hesitation “No I hated it”
Gary is confused….
I figured it was mixed badly and the water was tainted by the containers from prolonged exposure to plastic containers.
We resolved that I would seek out the nutrition that I was used too. He noted that this run was gonna be a hard one and 9 or so hours is not the kinda run you wanna be testing things. Good advice.
Check in – I introduced myself to Luis. We talked about the race. He emphasized that I should have lots of water. I confirmed that I have the 1.5 litre bladder and 1.5 litres of bottles. He felt that was adequate and mentioned that there are only two aid stations, one that you see twice and two water stations, of which I should only fill up on the way back from the turnaround point.
Moving along to Saturday morning. I ended up betting on getting breakfast at Denny’s because I didn’t plan very well for this trip. It was 5 or so in the morning, the doors were open. I look around and a guy comes out of the kitchen and says:
“Thought you were a 24 hours?”
“Yeah but we are doing the 2 month cleanup…”
I didn’t know what to do. I started looking for alternatives, but couldn’t find anything, not even a damn coffee. I decided to head to the race and wait for the start. I was hungry so my breakfast was one of the energy bars I grabbed for the morning part of the race. I wasn’t worried because I tend to over pack. I’d rather run with too much food than not enough food.
I didn’t have a target time. I had no idea what I was in for. They said this was a 35-mile race that ran like 50 miles. When I first told Mel about it, her first impression was this was a hard race. I guess 10,000 feet of climbing over 56 km should have tipped me off. It didn’t.
It was no surprise that during the pre-race meeting 15 minutes before go time, Luis said,
“This is a triple black diamond race. If this is your first Ultra, YOU SHOULDN’T BE HERE.”
OK! Message received. This was going to be tough.
Luis was adamant that we all were at that pre-race meeting. So much so that he called the potty line over.
“HEY GUYS! GET OVER HERE, YOU CAN GO TO THE POTTY AFTER. I’M SERIOUS! GET OVER HERE.
Here is the list of rules, they are all “NO” rules, no pacer, no drop bags – you have to carry everything with you like a REAL ultra runner, no crew. You can wear headphones if you wanna be like that.
Be nice to the volunteers, without them the race wouldn’t be on. If you want to complain, you can complain to me. I can tell you now what my answer will be if you want…”
He continued to tell us about a guy that really wanted to do the race but wasn’t confident that he would be able to do it within the cut off. His resolution was that he would let the guy have an early start, like 4 am. That wasn’t good enough, he suggested 2 am, but that still wasn’t enough time. Unable to satisfy the guy, he asked him what time he wanted to start, he said 10 pm Friday (yeah the day before). The group was supportive of the fellow, though, we all chuckled.
We walked to the start line and this is where we all had to raise our right hand and give the famous ultra runners credo “…and if I die, it’s my own damn fault.”
We were off.
I planned to take it easy since my friend Lucy infected me with the 48-hour flu that left you with a persistent cough. I had the damn cough for 3 weeks by the time I arrived in Santa Barbara. Hers lasted 5 weeks. I was wheezing, this wasn’t going to be a heroic effort. But seriously, I don’t think there was all that much climbing…
NOT A JOKE.
Holy hell. I thought I was on the stairway to heaven. I mean Fat Dog had lots of climbing, but this race, this race was either an incline going up or going down. I wasn’t really ready for it either. The winter didn’t ever give me a chance to train for down-hilling. Stupid southwestern Ontario.
Typical of Ultras, I ended up listening to these two guys bantering about food. It was obvious that they were buddies out for a good run. Having not really had a breakfast I started to complain to them.
“Guys – it’s too early to be talking about delicious food….”
They appreciated my point of view and I joined their conversation telling them how much I was loving Cali as there was no hiding the fact that I’m Canadian eh? I’d play leap frog with Tom and Chris for the next few miles. Every time I’d catch up Tom would jokingly mention to Chris that they needed to pace themselves. A little further ahead I got to a marker that marked a left turn (stripped flag on the left). I turned left and continued to climb. Tom and Chris caught up and called me to the right. After a friendly debate Tom says “Hey, I’m not a hoser eh? This is the right way, we trained on these trails.”
I guess there is no arguing with that logic.
I reached the aid station and refuelled. Checked my watch, 2:15 hours. I figured that I might be able to pull off an 8 hour run. I continued downhill. The trail past the aid station was probably my favorite. It nice single track that zig zagged down the side on the mountain. The footing was good and allowed me to cruise. In this section I was in control just enough that I was confident that I wouldn’t lose my footing and nose dive off the side of the mountain.
I had about 5 miles to go before I got to the turnaround point. As I continued to climb I bumped into a guy named John. Started the usual trail chatter, blah blah, I’m from … where are you from… It’s pretty hilarious though, every time I visit the States I get asked if I know Mike or Jim or Jane from Canada. I never know them. However, when an American ultra runner asks a Canadian ultra runner where they are from, and then they ask you if you know someone from the same region of Canada, there is a good chance you know them. Well he asked me if I know this crazy girl called Elise – certainly do.
Since we started downhill again, I left Jim. At this point I noticed my low back started to feel it. I focused on engaging my core to minimize the jolts and what not. I started to occur to me that Luis WAS SERIOUS ABOUT THIS BEING HARD.
I got to the turnaround in a little more than 4 hours, something like 4:10 I think. It was starting to get hot out there. It might have been 26 C at that point and the sun had made it way around the mountain. I suddenly realized that I was going to be in direct sunlight for my way back. John had told me that he thought it would take him at least an extra hour to return to the start/finish. I finally set a target- 9 hours.
I was pretty sure the second was going to be tougher, and it was. The noon hour sun was beating down on all of us. Over the first 4 miles back I already drank more water than I did on my previous intervals and stopped to fill up at the first of the two water only stations.
I continued to climb. Being in the sun and heat of the day, looking at 32 C now, I was paying close attention to my heart rate. It was running high no matter how easy an effort I tried to maintain. I kept trying to remind myself it was OK to slow down a bit, try to catch up on the downhill.
This strategy seemed to work, but as I was closing in on the finish, my legs were a lot less nimble. A lot of the trail ran along cliffs edges, I remembered the credo (…and if I die, it’s my own damn fault). It made sense to me that I should probably not push too hard and be sure of my footing.
Upon getting the final water station, one of the volunteers was asking if we wanted a beer. He barely finished saying “BEER” and I said “YES”. I traded him my empty water bottles for a beer. In the time it took them to fill up the bottles I was done the beer and on my way.
Not having thought through the consequences of drinking the BEER, I started to realize why it is best left to the end of the race. I kept burping, my gut was a little bloated; it wasn’t as rewarding as I thought it might be. (I seriously considered keeping that experience to myself)
After a coughing fit about a half-mile from the finish, crossing the finish line was sweet relief! 8 hours and some 42 minutes, wow a long day on the trail. Each finisher was treated to a hug from Patsy Dorsey, the races creator, some 25 years ago.
I loved this race. It was small, and you really felt as if you were a part of a community. Everyone was friendly and the coolers were stacked with water and other drinks. Most importantly, the coolers had plenty of recovery drinks: BEER. I expected that the beer was reserved for those who bought it, but I was pleasantly surprised that it was for everyone.
Although I was sick (stupid persistent cough), the race moved along well. I ended up 26th out of 103 runners, not so bad. Time for some rest so that I can get healthy and prepare for an exciting season: Pick Your Poison, Cayuga 50 mile (where I’m gonna do my damn best to beat Mel :), and my ultimate target for 2016, Grindstone 100.
Strava GPS Track
It’s December, the apparent rainy season for the Cayman Islands. I flew down there December 4th ready to fulfill the second my second obligation as the trainer for the Team Diabetes fund raiser. I was anxious to meet everyone since I had only communicated to them via email. This would no doubt turn out to being an experience of a lifetime.
Up to this point I was expected to, and I was for that matter I was sending a weekly email to a group of twenty or so fundraisers. I’d focus my messages on subjects that people would hopefully find useful during their training program. Simple things like hydration, heat training (Cayman Islands is hot when considering we all live in Canada), and other “helpful” subjects. Sometimes it doesn’t matter if it’s your first rodeo or not, it’s good to have the reminder. My coach regularily is on me about making sure that I keep up my hydration and nutition regiment even though the cooler weather makes me lazy.
As we waited patiently for the plane to take off, my wife was asking me over BBM if there were others on the plane with me. I replied to here saying that there probably were but I didn’t know who they were. I mentioned that I heard some folks saying they were from Saskatchewan and I figured they were part of the team since we had a strong showing of Saskatoonians.
We landed and the race organisers made sure that entrants had a sorta red carpet appeal. They worked with Customs and managed to give us a priority line. Instead of waiting in a line of 200 or more people (a couple of planes landed within minutes of each other), we were able to bypass the long line and make our way to the van/bus taking us to the hotel.
During the check-in process I met up with Donna, the National Director for Team Diabetes, and she introduced me to Joe, the event planner. It wasn’t long after us meeting and he asked me:
“How do you feel about coming in last?”
“I expect to” I replied. As far as I was expecting, I wasn’t there to prove how fast I could run. I was there to help people out. To make sure that the last person made it across the finish line safely.
I got the chance to meet everybody that night. Joe had organized a meet and greet with delicious finger foods. It was a great opportunity to really get to know the stories. No doubt, it is an attractive proposition, fund raise x number of dollars and get an all expenses (within reason) paid vacation to Grad Cayman and run or walk a marathon or half-marathon. Think is, that most people don’t do it, so to find out why these 20 people were, was a pretty moving experience. I feel bad, cause while I learned about some, I really didn’t get the opportunity to understand why each and every person was doing it.
The race itself was an early start, 5 am. At 4:17 am I got a call from the front desk. It was Joe.
“Are you coming?” We needed to board the bus to the start at 4:20 am.
“Yeah, I’ll be there in two minutes.” I wasn’t going to be late. I was going to be exactly on-time. Just like I am for my own races. But “some people” get nerveous about my precise time planning. Maybe they have right to be. 🙂
This race really appeared to appreciate the support from Team Diabetes. I noticed that there were other teams out on the course, but ours was the only one to be called out by the race announcer. We gathered together and found our places in the crowd at the start. Team members lined up according to their respective time goals and I found the walkers at the back.
I don’t even remember, was it a gun? Was it just a count down? I was busy chit chatting and looking around. At any rate, the race started and we were off. I was walking with Wendy. Such a sweet lady. Her mom had passed two weeks prior and suffered greatly from diabetes. So much so that she was bedridden and blinded from it. I figured that was her motivation. She wasn’t going to be fast, but that didn’t and still doesn’t matter. What matters is that she was there and she had raised the money to help the Canadian Diabetes Association. Not only that, she had a smile on her face the whole time.
I walked with Wendy for about 2 or so miles. She knew that I needed to touch base with the rest of the team and so she insisted that I run ahead. I sped along and caught up with some of the team members. Each time given them a high five and checking in with them. I wanted to make sure they were hydrating well and that they felt good. I passed Betsy, she was with her 13 yr old grandson. He was a little young and so was asked to stay with his grandmother who was walking the half-marathon. Like a good sport, he did that, but when I saw him I asked
“Wanna run?” His eyes popped out of his head. I took that as a yes.
“C’mon then, I’m trying to catch everyone.”
We ran together from about mile 2.8 to mile 5.8. I think we caught up to about half of the team, which I thought was pretty good. I decided that we need to head back. I had to check in on Wendy. As we ran back, everybody was cheering us on. I was a little confused but soon realised that everyone thought we were among the leaders of the marathon. I tried to tell people that I was just running to the back of the pack, that was futile though. As if they would understand what I was doing.
Once I rejoined Betsy I left her grandson with her and found Wendy, she was doing well. I walked with her for a couple of minutes and then I got the text message:
Leave the halfers catch up with Kathy.
I motored forward. My mission wasn’t to find Kathy, but instead to find Janice. A mistake that was cleared up somehow. Each time I’d catch up with a Team D runner I’d give them a high five, check-in to make sure all was ok and then motor on up.
I saw Bonita – she went to give me a high five. I saw her finger brace and opted out. I didn’t want to knock her mangled finger tip off, besides it made for a great communication tool.
I tried to keep an eye out for each of the runners. Cheering them on was my job. I think I was able to give a high five to everyone except our media champion, Rustie, a morning show host in Regina. Instead I heard her say “Hey Byron” and I thought from that moment that all of Saskatchatoon would think fellas from Ontario were to good for them.
R u with anyone
I replied to the text,
Not even 15 minutes later
R you with her
I was thinking, jeez I’m not The Flash. I trying…”
Yet – she put space between us
10 minutes later, I finally caught up with Janice. She told me of hot spots and chaffing. I stopped her immediately and we taped her up and added body glide. Pulled out the sunscreen and applied a new protective layer. Now we were ready to finish the last 15 miles of the race.
Janice was trying to keep her spirits up. The heat was exhausting and I don’t think the weather in Nova Scotia prepared her for what she was subjecting herself to. I checked on her pretty frequently, making sure she was sipping water and her electrolyte drink. Also making sure she was getting some food into her gut. We didn’t want her to repeat the pogo stick attack a fellow runner experienced from his muscles seizing up. The guy couldn’t put his foot down flat and when he tried to he just sorta bounced up and fell down to the ground. On his way down he bounced of a car adding to the hilarity even though it was evident that his situation was serious. I looked over at her, I don’t think the her toes were feeling good, you could see it on her face. From that point I repeated over and over, “Smile”.
When you are feeling hopeless, you have a sorta binary choice. Enjoy what you are doing (or fake that you are enjoying it), or let the world fall apart around you. If you choose the latter, then you are most certainly setting yourself up for failure. The voices telling you to stop what you’re doing use this weakness as their advantage. They repeat over and over, this is too painful, there is no reward in pushing to the end, you will feel better if you just stop. These are all lies. If you actually do stop, when you realize that you could have kept on to the end, all you are left with is regret. It is impartive to smile, it doesn’t matter if it’s fake, this helps generate positive dialogue in your head and staves of the little deceitful devil.
We pressed on. I could tell that the heat was really getting to her and that the pain in her legs was agonizing. I changed up my strategy. We would find smaller goals, run two light poles ahead, then walk to the next light pole. For three light poles we’d run, then walk for one. Short stops at the aid stations would allow us to cool off with some ice and a chilled bottle of water. We persisted forward.
With about 3 to 4 miles left. I started getting pinged by text.
Just checking in
How far out
I didn’t really think much of it, though it did seem like I was being nagged. Like kids in the car saying “Are we there yet?”. As the remaining miles decreased to one single mile, I kept pushing Janice to press forward.
“C’mon lets run this one in from here, you can do this” I said to her. Everytime she’d break into her walk, I was on her to run. I wasn’t giving up. She could do it, she just needed to tell herself that she could. We turned one corner, then another, each time making a liar outta me as I kept repeating that the end was just around the corner, it wasn’t, not quite.
Finally it was in sight. Janice picked up her pace and started to run full out towards the finish. As we crossed the finish line, her boyfriend Dylan pulled out into the corral and one of the race volunteers pulled out a chair for Janice to sit in. I went to the side and Donna said:
“Watch this, this is why I was pestering you,Dylan wanted to be ready.”Dylan got down to one knee, Janice oblivious of what was going on was looking at her medal she earned. Dylan pulled out the ring and with a “Will you marry me?” followed by an emotional “Yes” these tow love birds were engaged.
It was an increadible day. A team of 21 fund raisers, each with their own story making it to the end of the run. For me it was inspiring to see them work so hard in the heat of the Carribean, the second part of their obligation, the first part being the fundraising which I’m proud to say they raised over $130k CAD for diabetes research and othe activities related to diabetes.
For me the story doesn’t end there. The following Tuesday morning, about eight of us had to wake up at the ungodly hour of 4 am to get out on our plane, which was to depart at 6:15 am. Over the trip, you start to develop bonds with people from across our wonderful country. The fun part of the trip home, is that you just want to spend every minute you can with these great people. As we waited to board our first plane, it felt like we were all getting closer byt the minute. Sharing stories we’d been shy to share ealier on. Saying things about each other that we’d been relunctant to say fearing that it may be misinterpreted.
We finally did board the first plane and flew to Kingston, Jamaica. We had a 6 hour layover there. Once we made it through customs, we started to throwing out ideas of what we should do. One of the taxi drivers overheard and started suggesting things we could do, visit the Bob Marley museum, eat at some restaurant. When all was said and done, the group decided to hang back at the airport. We kept each other company and continued to get to know each other.
It was noon, and we had 2 hours and 30 minutes to board. The check-in for Air Canada opened and I reached for my passport. It wasn’t there. In a stop, drop, and roll approach, I looked for my passport frantically and confirmed Rustie’s observation that I was a little scatterbrained. It was nowhere to be found. I walked back over all the places we had been. The group pitched in helping me scan the airport. We went to the Security Post, Customs, the Police station to file a police report (which automatically voids a passport by the way).
Earlier I slipped the taxi driver a $10 cause I felt bad for leading him on about maybe heading in to Kingston. He saw that I was frantic, when I pointed at him to say, get your van, he jumped into action. Kenneth drove me towards the embassy. I was hoping to maybe get a temp passport issued immediately. As we were driving, I finally got through to someone and they basically informed me that I had a 3 day stay ahead of me. This wasn’t good. I needed to be in Ottawa on Friday for my grandfather’s funeral.
We headed back to the airport. I thought I’d try my luck. Maybe it would suddenly turn up. My new friends had at this point passed through security and were worried for me. I got a BBM message from Rustie telling me to get in the airport so they could throw some money over to me. I got into the airport and looked for this glass they’d be throwing money over to me. I headed to the security and tried to negotiate with them. She wouldn’t let me pass, but pointed to the second floor where Mike was standing in behind the glass wall. I rushed over and in a very Hollywood move, he tossed a ziplock back with cash in over to me. My heart warmed.
Earlier on I had also reached out to my wife, Lindsay, thinking that a picture of the photocopy may come in handy, she also sent a pic of my birth certificate. Realizing that I was in a futile situation, I gave in and asked her to help me figure out where to stay. She found the Mayfair Motel, a minute walk from the Canadian Embassy. Kenneth and I became friends. He seemed to be looking out for me. He brought me to the Mayfair and gave me his cell number.
“Call me if you need N – E – Ting mon” He said with a seriously Jamaican accent.
I decided that there was nothing more I could do that day and I retired to my room where I began my bedbug check – all clear. I tried to relax and take it easy, what else was I going to do right? The following day I went to the Embassy. A wild experience on it’s own, you aren’t even allowed to bring in your cell phone, you had to leave every device at the security post. I entered, talked with consular services, filled out some forms and then headed to get some passport photos. I thought maybe I would get my passport that day.
That wasn’t the case. I had to wait at least to the next day AND somehow I would need to book some flights once I got word from the consular services to move forward. I waited around for another day hoping that I would hear back. I didn’t. It got late, so I went to bed.
I woke up the next day, it was still a little dark out, so I assumed it was pretty early. I just hung around and tried to be patient. Time was ticking away and it was looking like I wouldn’t be able to make it to Ottawa for Friday at this point. 9:00 am chimed and with so too did my BlackBerry. It was the consular service letting me know to book a flight for no earlier than Dec 11. My heart sank, there’d be no way I could get from Kingston to Ottawa in time for the funeral, which was to be help at 11 am. I replied back and asked if there was any chance to get a flight that day. The response was positive, but to make sure it was and evening flight because there was no certainty that I would be able to get my temporary passport earlier than 4:30 pm.
I reached out to my network and got an itinerary so that the passport processing was now able to take place. I don’t know if I was as anxious as I was between 10 am and 3 pm previously in my life. I hung on to my BlackBerry and I was checking it every 5 minutes, no message. Finally I got what I had been waiting for “Come pcik up the temporary passport.”
I called Kenneth to bring me to the airport and I flew to JKF, transfered to LGA, stayed up all night, flew to YYZ, walked across the airport and made my way to YOW. When we landed I sent a BBM over to Lindsay.
Landed – come get me – may have to circle
It was 10:16 am and I was stepping into my car. We still had time to make it to the funeral. I couldn’t believe it, I might just make it there I thought. Lindsay drove. We pulled into the church parking lot at 10:40 am. Unreal I thought. I grabbed my suit that Lindsay brought for me and changed in the parking lot. Fully dressed and a little stinky I made it.
Alls well that ends well.