50 Miler Sulphur Springs Ultra Trail Race

30 05 2010

Sulphur Springs Ultra Trail Racing May, 29th, 2010 

 50 MILES   10 Hours and 08 Minutes!   81.256 kms of running non stop!

It appears there is an entire sub-culture of somewhat crazy people living here among the rest of the planet of which I didn’t know existed.   Everyone knows one of these people, but probably don’t know just how insane they are.  Like me these people are probably driving their friends and family crazy with constant reminders and comments about training, nutrition and or running.  Trail running and other Running magazines lying around the house are tell tale signs.  Resetting the odometer when out on a drive to measure distances in case of needing a new running route.  Staring affectionately through Running Room and Mountain Equipment store windows at the latest running shoe, energy gel, or hydration kit!

Ive been running for sometime now but more and more have been enticed by the Trails through scenic forests and hills rather than the stark concrete mess of cities.  My feet craving the padded, “crunchy” trails to the never relenting concrete and asphalt.  

My training for the Death Race in Grand Cache Alberta peaked this week.  9 weeks from the race and I logged 140 km this week.

My body feels it!  I feel a bit like I was dropped on a rockpile from 3 stories up.  Instead of trying to determine what part of me hurts this morning it is easier to decide what doesn’t.

I arrive in the beautiful town of Ancaster Ontario, just North of Hamilton the night before the race, to pick up my timing chip and bib number.  Theres an interesting collection of “Hard Core” runners already camping in the small field adjacent the starting line.   I mill around a bit and chat with some seasoned veterans and then head to my hotel for an early nights sleep.  I actually fall asleep by 1000 regardless of the wedding party going on next to me.  Up at 400 AM and drive to the start by 520AM

Its one of those things you plan for a long time and it’s suddenly upon you.  Nervously toeing the line with several hundred others I am frantically doing a check list in my head.

As I don’t have a “crew” with me I have written a detailed note on what I should do (eat, wear, shoes, socks etc) for each stage of the race.  The race passes by the finish line every 20 km so I will have 3 stages of the race.

Its 6 Am and 19.5 C.  Blue skies and sunny!

I set off at my normal pace and am shocked by how fast some of the runners take off.  Especially the runners doing a 100 MILES……….100 Miles!  165 kms!  That is a long drive let alone a run through the hills!

A local young man blisters by at a crazy pace!  Hes wearing cotton shorts and t-shirt……..more on him in a bit!

Im running alone in a crowd and chat a bit with people passing me or me them.

As we hit the first hill I realize that this is going to be a lot hillier than what im used to and a good training for my race in July. 

At 10 km im a bit slower than my planned time and I join a 100 mile runner.  She is an awesome runner with some serious distance running under her belt and only in her mid 30’s   the time flies by as she shares some of her Ultra running adventures with me.

My left (injured foot) is sore but the Brooks Cascadia shoes have heavy cushioning and feel great.  Their deep tred is a big help on the up and down hills.

I arrive back to the start at 2 hours and 10 minutes, not remarkable for 20 kms but satisfying.  My legs feel fresh and my spirit is high.  I get rid of a layer of shorts and munch down some race gel and some walnuts and a banana.   The trick is to eat and drink BEFORE you get hungry or thirsty otherwise it is too late.

Im back on the trail in 5 minutes and have lost my running partner some wear in the transition.  I lock in a slightly faster pace and this lap seems to go by so fast.     Remember the young man who blazed by me in the beginning?  He is here now at km 34 puking by the side of the trail…trying to walk a few steps and looking like a cowboy.  His legs are RAW from the chafing the cotton shorts gave him!  Hes done!   I seem now to be passing a few other 50 mile runners who may have went out to fast.  Running an ultra race is a game of strategy, about pace, nutrition, and hydration.   So far it seems I am doing well on all counts.  At 38 km there is a big STEEP hill.  I feel the first complaints from my Quads here and my toes are complaining from the slamming they are getting as they strike my shoes with every step down hill.

I question my resolve briefly as I transition into the 3rd lap.  Now I see that having a crew would be very helpful as I cant concentrate very well and disregard my detailed notes I wrote out for myself.  Im 10 minutes off my pace but really don’t care about a time.  This is a learning experience for me and I want to finish in one piece.  I made a mistake in strapping on my BELT which weighs 2 kg as it feels like 10 kgs!  There are enough aid stations that I really only need to carry a bit of water in a hand held.

I change my black hat for a white one and forget to apply sunscreen as I had planned.   The route is mainly covered forest canopy but there is about 4 km of the route out under the bright sun by farmer’s fields.

As is set out on this lap I feel it to be sooooo far from the finishing line!  Much further than the first lap.  Every one knows the third lap of any race is the hardest.

First lap you are caught up in the excitement of the race and the company of others.  The second lap you settle into a pace and take in the surrounding beauty of the course.  The third lap is just there!  Sitting directly in the way of getting to the final lap!   I use the tools I have learned from reading, and others experiences and break the lap down by aid stations….”OK Stefan, 2 more km to the next aid station”, Or, “ OK man, 1 km to that small creek” and so on, but im definitely starting to hurt.

Due to the intense sun, (its now 33C in the direct sun!) some of the course Marshall’s have left their stations and some how at 51 km I take a wrong turn!   I run about 1 mile (1.6 km) the wrong direction!!!   Finally another 50 mile runner tells me!  At first im pissed off, then I quickly laugh at myself…………….what the hell else can I do as I run back the way I came to get back on track.   This little incident puts me another 20 minutes off pace.  It’s now virtually impossible to reach my finish time of 9 hours and 35 minutes.   It’s OK, im here to get in my first sanctioned ULTRA event.  No worries.

Everyone wonders what you think about when you run.  Especially those of us who don’t wear an I pod.  Me I thought about and contemplated for a good 20-30 minutes the merits of changing my socks and shoes at the next transition!?  Will it help my blisters or make them worse?  I am also arguing with myself that I really do not need to finish the race.  My ankle is in bad shape now and starting to swell, my toes are a mess of blisters!  I keep saying, “You’ve got your big race in 60 days, you don’t want to mess that up after 18 months of planning!”  I know I won’t heed this inner voice but it persists at every lapse in concentration.

The local people and volunteers are the best I have ever come across.  The aid stations are awesome with Watermelon, Cantaloupe, Bananas, baby boiled potatoes, chips and pretzels, ice cubes and a veritable buffet of Jelly Beans, M and Ms, and other munchies.  There are even cold sliced cucumbers in sugar and vinegar which tastes like the best thing on earth!  I feast on watermelon at every chance like a dying man in the desert!  My tastes are heightened and my body starved for calories.  I pour ice water over my head every station along the way now as it is HOT for me!

By now I am gingerly running, hiking down the down hills, as my Quads and feet are killing me.  Im hiking the up hills and see that I am a much better hiker than most as I do most of my passing on the up hills.  I definitely am faster than most on the short technical down hills as I rip down them.

I arrive at the final transition and decide to change shoes and socks.  The socks are stuck to me blistered toes and I have to peel them off.  That’s why many veterans advice against changing socks.  I pull on a pair of Saucony road shoes which are stabile and light.

On setting off from 60 km heading to 62 I realize that im about to exceed my maximum running distance I have ever done!  It’s exciting.  The new socks feel sooooo good and the shoes so light!

Now I have to chop the run up into manageable chunks as it’s too overwhelming to contemplate in its entirety.  Now I am saying Break 10 hours and it seems doable.  Im surprised at how much my pace has slowed and am having difficulty breathing as the air is thick and my body can’t get enough oxygen from its blood.  Even with a heart rate of 135 BPM I am feeling winded.  I often run marathons where my heart rate is 160 BPM the entire way.  Im hurting now and even the smallest hills a challenge.  It’s easier to run up the hills then hike them as the calves are so tight they get a stretch this way.  Down hills are brutal.   Im mumbling to myself quite frequently now as there are large distances where you don’t encounter another runner as the 10km, 21 km and marathoners are finished now.  A lot of 50km and 50 milers still out and the determined completely focused 100 milers are marching ever forward.  

 Soon im chatting to myself.  Mostly to my body parts…each foot fall for a while, “ im sorry right foot, I ll plant you easier next time, left foot behave, don’t flop out like that you’ll hurt Mr ankle, Knee what are you saying?  I don’t have knee problems!  Behave, ok right foot stop it!  I ll ice you later”   I start to fantasize of eating a HUGE piece of protein…..mmmmmmm  Steak!…………..Burgers……………


Im checking my watch often and trying to do the math which has become as complex as astro physics!   I keep coming up with 10 hours and 2 minute finish time!  Try to pick up pace but fear crashing and burning!!!

Farmers field 7 km out….hot as stink……im passing several 50 milers now who mumble something about starting to fast etc.  One guy mumbles “I shouldn’t have run Mississauga Marathon to me as I run past” I inwardly agree that yes I too ran that and also Bluenose in Halifax only 6 days ago.

2nd last aid station and im 6 km out……im 9 hours and 30 minutes………30 lousy minutes….normally I could do this in 30 minutes….normally.  I know its hopeless now as this is the hilliest section of the course!  People are yelling “come on number 168!  Pour it on you can break 10 hours!”    I trot on…..enthusiastically turning up the pace for a couple hundred meters…..this leaves me gasping so I slow back to my plodding jog!

Last aid station   3 km to go!  I’ve blown my chance for a 10 hour finish!  My watch now shows that I have run the 50 miles or 81.25 km due to my off course run of 2 miles!  Im plodding and I mean plodding up the dreaded “Gulch” the last hill.  Legs are screaming.  Mind is trying to focus on the next 1.2 km when my watch sounds off on 10 hours! Simultaneously it sounds off that ive burned 8000 calories!   

 It’s ok now.  Nothing matters now except getting to the finish where there is a chair and a tent and pizza, and can take these shoes off and………………..

Im heading up the last 600 meters.  As usual im emotional.  Choking up a bit.  It’s such a huge deal.  I feel so grateful to be able to participate in something so physically and mentally challenging and complete it.

I run hard the last 400 meters against my screaming legs and feets will.  I cross the mat in 10 hours and 08 minutes and just head over to the nearest chair and sit down……I say thank god I am not running any further and everyone knowingly laughs.  Im spent.  Totally wiped out!  I shudder for a moment contemplating the Death Race a full marathon distance further and twice as much elevation change!  I quickly think of other things.

It is very difficult for me to put into words the true feeling of this event in my life.  It is such a quiet humbling experience.  The people I met today seem so “together” and nice.  Balanced (although a bit nuts)……does running make you a better person?  A kinder gentler soul?  I think so if you let it!  If you don’t force your running like one more task on you’re never ending list.  If it becomes a form of pleasure you do for yourself……..I feel like a better person.   I feel like a lot better of a person once I get another 3 slices of pizza in me and drive the 90 minutes home to where copious quantities of ice are awaiting me and then the hot tub.

The thing that really really humbles me as I awake this morning like the victim of a violent crime……………I have run, driven home, ate, slept and awaken and there are still runners coming in!  Yeah ok, im a real tough guy!   Unbelievable.  I ran without stopping for just over 10 hours.  Others are out there for 28!!!!!!!!!!!!

Another great adventure.  Today I sit by my buddy’s pool, with my blistered stumps of feet dangling into the water.  Eating everything in sight!

Unfortunately there won’t be any video of this as somehow the camera went through the washing machine and apparently that’s not so good for cameras!  Guess I ll have to do another so I can capture on film!

I take back about what i said about no hills in Ontario…..theres plenty out here on the Bruce Trail.   I cant wait to get back out here for a SHORT training run!




3 responses

6 06 2010
Joan Czapalay

This was great to read about Stefan. Thank you so much for sharing your running experiences. You always did tell it like it is! Good for you!

9 06 2010

Stefan, that was a hot day and a rolling course for your first 50 miler, but you did great! Congratulations! Here’s to many more!
It was nice to run with you on the first loop and I hope you make it to a few more trail races in the Ontario Ultra Series. You’ll meet a whole new bunch of weird, but oddly balanced people.
Rest up and have a great time at the Death Race!!

14 06 2010

Thanks Kinga it sure was nice to run with you and get lots of pointers and confidence from you…..we ll get out on some more trails together for sure!

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