Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Running of Vulture Bait '10

N, G and Me Before Vulture Bait Begins

The run was just over a week ago, so I feel I better get some thoughts down before I procrastinate to much more. It has been a week of trials and tribulations, so finding time to sit down and write about the highs and the lows of this run (or walk) into the world of Ultra Running has been difficult, but here we go.

N & G signed up Vulture Bait, it seems like years ago (reality it was probably June), and I was intrigued enough and thought it would be fun to try, so I registered in July. It seems like so long ago, but that just shows you how much we were looking forward to this challenge. Lets just say it did not go in any way like any of us wanted it too, not one us finished for a variety of reasons, which I will quickly dive into when I start the next paragraph. Don't get me wrong we were all disappointed in the final outcome, BUT, we all had a blast getting to where we got and the experience was well worth the journey, and look out ultra world for next year, because you have not seen the last of us.

Now that I have stood on my soap box and waggled my finger in anticipation of next year and successful results, I will now dwell into the individual reasons why we did not finish this race. I do not offer these as excuses to why we did not finish, but reasons that will not deter us from our goals next year.

I will get right to the point, G had developed pneumonia the week before the run, and was put onto antibiotics 5 days prior to the run. Needless to say, running 50 kms or even 25 kms is dangerous with any type of illness, but with pneumonia it could be deadly. So G not wanting to miss out on the experience decided to run at a slower pace to the second aide station, which was slated to be about 10 kms (which ended up to be about 13.5 km), so she could at least partake and not feel like she missed what we had all been looking forward to for months. Plus this was her opportunity to test that cool running dress that she had the opportunity to critique, and damn did it look good on her, so good I thought I was seeing double (there was actually another runner that was wearing the same dress there as well, what are the odds.).

N, finished the first 25 km loop, and she was pulled off the course by one of the run coordinators because she did not make the cut off split. This happened for a variety of reasons. N, being N, was concerned about G and wanted to make sure she was ok until she pulled herself, therefore she was not keeping an eye on the time, thus they took some longer stops at the aid stations, stopped to take pictures, etc. This being said she missed the cutoff time that she would of typically had no issue making to carry on with the second loop or the final 25 km of the 50 km run. Needless to say she was a little disappointed that it worked out that way.

Now my story was a little different, I pulled myself out at the 48 km mark of the 50 km Ultra, now most people would say, why would you do that? You were almost done, why didn't you crawl to the finish line? Well, simply, at the time I didn't think I could go any further without doing some major damage to my already pulled groin. I have been involved in sports all my life, and fortunately I had never pulled my groin, and knowing some friends that have pulled theirs and carried on doing some serious damage and they have never been the same. At the time I didn't think it was worth it, so I decided it was time to stop. Now that I have gone over and over the circumstances in my head, I am kicking myself for that decision, because I think I could of finished, but what is done is done, no regrets. At the time I had just finished a combination of 14 kms of walk/runs post groin pull, after running 34 km of real trails (not your typical Manitoba defined trails), that included lots of hills, switchbacks, creek crossings, lots of leave covered rocks and roots and a variety of running surfaces and some of the most gorgeous scenery that you can witness on this type of run. We also had to dodge mountain bikers and hikers coming from in front and behind, which at times was a challenge in itself on some of the narrow and cliff edge trails, where there was barely enough room for one runner at times. Let us not forget I ran the first 34 km barefoot and wearing a kilt, and I had the time of my life.

On to the run report:

It was a perfect day for a run, blue skies, temperatures sitting around 4 degrees Celsius at start time, and barely a breeze blowing, just enough to not allow the air to get stagnant. N and I arrived at the Fanshawe Conservatory Park at around 8:10 am to meet G who had drove down from Toronto that morning with her husband. After a bit of coordinating to find each other, we headed to the starting area to pickup our timing chips and get ready to partake in the day of fun to come. I will be honest I did get some looks as I was walking around in my kilt and VFF's , and the only thing that was coming to my mind, was "What are they going to think when I take the VFF's off and start running barefoot?" This kind of brought a smile to my face, and I just carried on doing what I usually do before a run, a couple of stretches and just trying to loosen up a little. Here we were, 3 odd ducks( a girl in a pair of VFF's (N), another girl in a dress (G) and a guy in a kilt and soon to be bare feet (yours truly)), standing among some really serious ultra marathon runners, were we nervous, not really we were there to have some fun. It was a little nippley out so we decided to go into the pavilion to warm up, they had a couple of wood stoves going, perfect for warming up the feet.

This is the table that we felt was meant for us, we almost missed the starting gun as we had to get a couple of pictures off the start.

N and I warming the toes up next to the big wood stove

And the gun goes off and we are off (can you spot any of us in this picture)

Final warning for the start of the race was called as we were still scrambling around trying to get last minute pictures, gee who would of guessed, as about 30 late comers (including us), high tailed it out of the pavilion and down the hill to the starting area. There was slightly over 300 runners total between the 25 km and 50 km distances, so it was a good variety. Of course we moved towards the back of the pack (one of these days I will have to position myself better), and I proceeded to get a couple of comments about the kilt and the VFF's, so to add to the drama, I bent over to take the VFF's off, to a hushed chorus of, "He's not really going to run bare foot is he?" Yes, Yes I am, I was bound and determined to complete at least half of the 50 as bare as can be (insert dramatic music for effect here). The grass at the start area is longer, and still moist from the morning dew, actually quite a pleasant feeling on the bare feet, not to cold, just right, I had a feeling this was going to be a great day for a run (boy was I in for a shock). I turned my Garmin on (so I thought), turned my I-pod on to get focused, and waited for the mass of runners to start moving to facilitate the start of the race. I didn't have to wait long, I got moving into a good pace setting myself up behind a couple of runners who were slowly slicing through the crowds ahead. This worked very well, until the pack thinned out, and I was able to settle into a 6:30 min/km, not to fast but a good pace until I figured out what type of terrain I would be facing.

The first portion of the trail started with some open areas to allow the runners to position themselves a little easier before the break into the more restrictive trail portions of the course. We ran towards the camp ground areas (this was where I realized my garmin had not started after almost 2 kms, which I quickly rectified) and thru some quick trails and out onto the access road prior to heading down some old tractor trails. By this point the runners were thinning out as the quicker runners distanced themselves from the intermediate runners (more my speed) and the slower runners. By the time we hit the first aide station at the 5km mark, I had fielded numerous questions about my bare feet from runners and volunteers alike.

My favorites were:

Aren't your feet cold? Response, No they are quite fine, how are your feet in those wet shoes of yours?

Your not going to run the whole 25 kms like that are you? Response: Nope, I am running 50 km.
Is there something wrong with your shoes? (I was carrying my VFF's in my hand) Response: Nope, I just don't want to get them dirty.

And my absolute favorite response to the typical question as I am running over gravel was, Doesn't that hurt? Response, Not really it just like a good foot massage or a pedicure. (I actually had one person stop in their tracks to think about it for a second).

Overall I had a lot of comments like you have to have tough feet, or wow that is crazy I wish I could do that.

The aide stations were nicely stocked with water, a electrolyte type drink and lots of goodies like licorice, coke, oranges, choc. chip cookies, gummies, etc. and if you asked for it there was some Gu. I was really impressed with all the volunteers they were excited to see you arrive cheering you on, and getting you what ever you needed. I will say I did spend a little to much time at each of the stations fielding questions and trying to answer them as best as I could, I must try to find some way to defer this to later in the future.

After leaving the first aide station, you head out of a gravel parking lot and up a gravel road hill to the asphalt road that leads you across the dam. I passed a few more runners that were walking up the gravel hill, deking back and forth to avoid the bigger rocks (I imagine it looked like I was playing a big game of hop scotch) as I made my way up the hill. Once I hit the asphalt I picked up the cadence to pick up some speed, as I knew once we hit the trails again, I would be slowing down considerably. The asphalt road carried on for about a km to the park entry gate, where we took a beeline back into the woods. The trail was nice and wide for the first bit and covered with pine needles at least a inch thick (this felt really neat on the souls of the feet), the trail was well marked, and it was not to difficult to follow at this point. Keeping in mind that I was looking at the ground constantly to ensure I did not hit any tree roots, rocks, etc, I had to take quick looks up to ensure I was still on trail. Once we got into the more dense wooded areas the trails were covered with leaves covering all types of trip hazards, and generally not runner friendly obstacles, this is one great thing about bare foot running because you are constantly looking down to see where your feet are planting, you see all the roots and rocks and your chance of tripping is greatly decreased. Further to this, most people who run with shoes swing their legs in a pendulum motion, which will drag their feet just above the ground which results in catching roots and subsequently tripping. Barefoot runners have a shorter stride and literally pick up their feet like you are running in place, thus further reducing the chance of catching a hidden root and taking a nose dive to the ground. I cannot count how many times I heard or saw one of the other runners tripping over a root or rock that was hidden by the thick coverage of leaves on the trails. I still wince when I think about it, damn some of the spills really looked like they hurt. I can proudly say, I did not trip or stumble once.

The course took us around the lake or reservoir (not sure what you would call it), on numerous trails with hills (both up and down, some steep some more gentle, some filled with rocks, some full or roots), switch backs, bridges, muddy areas, across a creek (that is the great thing about going bare foot, no wet shoes), thru a cottage area, asphalt roads, more gravel, along a cliff edge, etc. You name this course had it, along with some of the most beautiful scenery with the trees turning the broad spectrum of colours that you would expect in southern Ontario. I cannot stress enough, how much fun this run was, I honestly was not worried about my time at all (I must also find a way to balance this with my finishing as well, or I might never finish a race in the allotted time allowed).

I also ran with a number of wonderful people along the way, some interested in my running style, some just wanted to talk, or just to say hello and introduce themselves. I must say though, the dedicated ultra runners that I met were amazing, one lady I ran with for a while just had hip surgery earlier in the summer, and she was out running a 50 km, another just finished a 135 km ultra 2 weeks prior, but she wanted to get one last run in for the season, another gentleman was in his 70's and still running ultras on a consistent basis. I was amazed at some of the stories that I heard along the way, the ultra world is filled with some amazing people and characters and for the most part they are non-judgemental, which for a guy like me is a good thing (not like I would care anyway, because I am a little different, and I am not changing for anyone).

Anyway back to the run, after the last aide station on the first loop, I was running with a group of runners for the last 2 km to the eventual finish line, we traded positioning back and forth, I would let them pass on the down hills (as I don't do downhills very well, this is one area I have to work on), and then I would speed past them on the straight aways or the uphills. The last two kms have some pretty crazy hills and terrain (black diamond and double black diamond mountain bike classification trails), so this was a lot of fun. Another great area along the last 2 kms is this narrow path that runs along a cliff that drops off to the water, only wide enough for one runner, this is where we kept meeting a speeding mountain bike racing the other way. How quick can you jump out of the way into the bush? Believe me you learn very quickly how fast you can when you need too. Anyway as I was saying I was running with about 15 other runners as we headed up the last path towards the end of the first loop or the finish line for the 25km, I suddenly felt all alone again as I veered to the left and everybody else went to the right to the finish line, all I heard is "The finish line is to the right!", all I could think to say was, "Yup, I will be going that way after another 25!" I finished the first 25 km in under 3 hours, and considering the trail and the amount of stopping and talking I did along the way I was very happy with that, and I still felt very fresh, and optimistic that I would finish the 50 km in just over 6 hours.

After a quick facility break and a fill up on liquids and some more quick discussions about the kilt (insert shameless plug here for ), I headed out to start the second loop, and did I mention that I was still bare foot. Things were going so well, I was almost giddy, I quickly took off down the trail towards the camp grounds, with a little slower pace, but still acceptable at about a 6:45 min/km. I was all by myself for the first 3 km before I had to slow down and walk for a bit, as I wanted to pace myself for the last 20 plus kms. This was when Connie caught up to me, we walked and talked a bit (she is one amazing lady, she ran 9 ultras this year for over 600 miles including just finishing a 135 km run 2 weeks prior to this race, all I could say was , WOW!). We ran / walked together until the aide station at the 30 km mark, where I stopped to answer some more questions and fuel up, I stayed here a little longer than I wanted to, and Connie was able to break away a couple of minutes quicker than I. Little did I know this would be the last time I saw her till the end of the run.

I started up the gravel hill to the asphalt road that leads over the dam, with my feet being a little more sensitive, I was a lot slower than the first time I was up here. Once again I was able to pick up the pace a little bit on the asphalt until I veered off onto the trails by the park entrance gate. I carried through the trials picking my route with care to ensure I missed all the roots, etc, as I was starting to tire a little but overall I was still progressing well. Things were going well, and I was still making good time until I reached one of the good rocky hills at about the 34 km mark. I was watching my footing as I proceeded down the hill, and as I accelerated and tried to go one way, my groin decided it wanted to go another way. I felt a tweak, and the first thought through my head was, "this is not good, I do not see anything positive coming from this!". I hopped down the rest of the hill, holding my groin, until I reached level ground, and stopped to evaluate the situation. I decided I would give my groin a few minutes to rest before I would try it and see how bad the damage was. I tested it quickly and came to the realization that I would not be running to finish this race, but I should be able to manage a walk/run combination and push to finish. I started back out carrying on the trail running for a little bit until my groin started to complain, then started walking. After about a km of this, I realized I would need to put my Vibrams on because I needed to pay less attention to where I was stepping and more attention to keeping from straining my groin further. So in short, I completed 35 km of the run barefoot before I decided to put the shoes on. I was a little disappointed I was not able to finish the entire thing barefoot, but in reality this was still my further barefoot run to date, so I was ok with it.

I carried on towards the next aide station at the 38 km mark, doing more walking than running and thus my pace slowed significantly. My groin was starting to complain a little more as I progressed. I reached the aide station at the 5:15 mark, and would have less than 2 hours to complete the last 12 kms, still possible, but the further I went the slower I was going. I fueled up with some oranges and some electrolyte juice, answered a couple more questions, and was dubbed "The barefoot kilted guy" by one of the volunteers (I would hear this a few times from this point on till I got back to the finish area). I decided, I was determined to go as far as possible for as long as I could, so I left the aide station at a slow jogging pace, it would not be long before I was walking again.

I made it to the aide station at the 43 km mark at about 6:05 mark, thus I had slowed down to a 10 min/km, this left me with 55 minutes to complete 7 to 8 kms (the course worked out to 51 kms by my calculations), which would mean I would have to average just under 7 min/kms to finish in the alloted 7 hours. Knowing this was highly unlikely as some of the most challenging terrain was in the last bunch of kms, but damn it, I was going to go until I could go no more. So I trudged on hitting the trails with a determination to put the uncomfortable feeling in my groin into the back of mind and finish what I could before somebody decided to pull me off the course kicking and screaming (figuritive speaking of course). I passed a multitude of mountain bikers and hikers, saw some confused looks, as this guy in a kilt steamed past them with a determined look on his face. As I made my way along the trails towards the last aide station at the 48 km mark, I was really starting to notice the ache in my groin. I pulled into the last aide station at 6 hours and 50 minutes, with 10 minutes to go, 2 to 3 kms to finish including some pretty nasty hills. At this point I decided it was not worth damaging my self further, so I pulled the plug on my finish.

Yes, I was disappointed that I did not finish, but the more I thought about it a DNF was not too bad either, considering I had finished 48 kms of a 50 km ultra, 35 km barefoot and with a slightly pulled groin to boot. All in all, that was not to bad, and how many people can say they have done that, not to many by my accounts. It also leaves the point of unfinished business, and the promise that not only I, but N & G will be back next year to not only finish but to finish strong with a good time. This was a great experience for our first dive into the ultra world, we met some great people who shared some great stories and experiences and everybody that we met were very supportive and non-judgemental (which is very important with a guy who wears a kilt and runs barefoot).

I have nothing but kudos to give to the great team of people that not only organized this event, but also made sure it ran smoothly. We will definitely be back next year, and I would recommend this run to anyone who wants to experience an ultra to see how the other half of the running world lives.

On On,

That Barefoot Kilted Guy.

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