I still can’t quite get my head around the fact that I completed a 12 hour race. I would find it hard to believe even if it was done on a nice even surface with rolling hills and gentle sunshine. The fact is, it was done on the most technical, muddy, swampy, rocky, rooty, single track I have ever done. And there was over 6000ft of elevation gain based on my Garmin “enabled” feature, way more than that if the feature is turned off.
Really, this is a case of letting the pictures do the talking, though I don’t think even they do the mud justice.
When I originally registered for the race, my main hope was to get past my longest distance of 52k. My other goal was to go for 10 hours and if need be stop then. The truth is, had the event offered an 8 or 10 hour race that would probably have been what I would have signed up for.
When the route was posted I went out a couple of weeks before race day to check out the trails. That was easier said than done since the trails were still covered in snow, and I just couldn’t find some of the trails. I did, however, do enough of the 5k loop to know that I was in for one heck of a challenge. Enough of a challenge that I also adjusted my goal to “just” trying to complete a marathon. My experience on highly technical trail is limited at best and I knew I had to come out of this injury free to fulfil my pace bunny duties at the end of May.
By the time race day came along I was thinking I would have to adjust my goals even further. Ottawa had just received a month’s worth of rain in a week. This was following a very rainy April and a large snow melt. To say things were going to be wet would be an understatement. And race day was not going to be better – rain was shown for every single hour.
First challenge of the race was going to be the start time. I am not a morning person. Races kind of conflict with that aspect of my personality. This race was an hour away and I needed to be there by 5:30 a.m. Whaaaat??? Ends up I was wide awake by 2:30 anyway. Anxiety can have some advantages.
I had spent a good part of the week prior to the race trying to figure out what to take in my drop bag. While a looped course may not offer much in varied scenery (trust me, in this case it didn’t matter because I never took my eyes off the trail), it does mean easy access to a bag. But the question was, if you were going to be soaked all day, was there any purpose in having changes of clothes? In the end I packed a little of everything, almost none of which was actually used. Of all the things I packed, the most useful ended up being a Dollar Store red poncho. It looked ridiculous and I had every intention of taking it off after one lap, but that thing stayed on me the whole race. It kept in just enough warmth for the top of the ski hills where it was windy, but let in enough air that I didn’t over heat on the up hills. Part of that may simply have been because of how slow I was going, but I digress.
So with bag packed and layers on I headed out to Gatineau, Quebec in the early, rainy hours of the morning. To say I was nervous would be yet another understatement. Yet somehow the nerves got worse when I entered the ski lodge. I always find it amazing how quickly you can lose all confidence in yourself, in your choices, in your plan. I immediately felt like a 9th grader who was in with the completely wrong group of kids. I will stress, this is not because of anything anyone else said or did. This was just my looming self-doubt taking over. Somehow, everyone else just LOOKED the part of serious trail runners. I don’t even know what that means, but these people looked the part. I do know some of them appeared to have quads that I will never have in this lifetime!
A little before the race one of the 3 Beavers, ultra runner Ray Zahab, did a briefing. The main quotes I remember:
“Brian’s Descent Trail is gnarly with a capital GN.”
“There is a high risk of injury.”
“You guys are all experienced trail runners or you wouldn’t be signed up for 12 hours.”
Ok, that last quote was from me. What the hell had I got myself into???
I have been running enough now to now that the talk inside my head has a direct effect on what my body does. So I placed myself right at the back and reminded myself that this was for me and me only. I went in knowing I could finish with the least number of laps, so I tried to take any pressure off myself to pick up any speed. The fact is though, with my limited experience on really technical trails, speed wasn’t going to be an option. As I pulled over and watched other runners go flying down the hills of the first loop, I felt more than a little out of my league.
I could give you a loop by loop account of the race, but since that would be boring and, quite frankly, the loops are mostly a wet, muddy blur to me, there really is no point. In no particular order, here are some of the things I remember:
- Thinking that it was the most mud I had ever seen. Little did I realize it was going to be a whole lot worse after 12 hours.
- Getting a little frustrated at pulling over so much when the 3 and 6 hour racers were on course. That is the disadvantage of single track and having people much faster than you on a looped course.
- Being annoyed that my Saucony Peregrines, which are so super comfortable, have one flaw: the mesh is too loosely webbed. As a result, every time I went in flowing water, which was constantly, the water was actually able to wash silt into my shoes, which unlike the water did not come back out. If it hadn’t been for that I would have worn those shoes all day, but instead I changed to my Salomon Speeedcross, which let in very little silt.
- Thinking how nice it would be if Brian’s descent would be shut down because I was getting to a point where the only way I could see getting down it was on my butt. The mud was so thick and slippery, I was at times clinging to trees. I was briefly excited when I saw cones directing runners away from that part of the course only to find out they had decided that the 3 hour racers would be on a shortened loop. The race volunteer looked at my soggy 12 hour bib and said, “Sorry, not you,” while pointing me back up the hill.
- The realization at about noon that as long as I didn’t injure myself I shouldn’t have any difficulty lasting 12 hours. In fact, from that point on it was never a question in my mind that I would go to the very end. Once again, even in rain and mud, time stood still for me. 12 hours just did not feel like 12 hours. Maybe it is the simplicity of it all. Not that it is easy, but ultimately you just have to make the decision to put one foot in front of the other.
- Eating pizza while hiking uphill and holding cookies. I figured at my speed there was no time to stop for food. I did, however, almost choke on the pizza.
- At 8 hours being relieved that we too were being diverted from the toughest part of the course. That gave me some renewed energy for sure!
- Knowing that my “last” lap was going to be before the 6pm finish, which meant I was allowed to do one more lap. I was tired and cold but there was no way in hell I was going to skip doing one more lap!
- Feeling so happy that my family, all of whom had run the 3 hour course (and had done amazingly well!) were still there at the finish, despite having been done for hours. Having them at the finish line of my first 12 hour race meant so much!
When I was done I stood in a cold creek in the attempt to wash off some of the mud from my shoes, then headed indoors, which Camp Fortune had very kindly opened up for us given the weather conditions. While there I had a chance to talk to Ray Zahab for a bit. In the weeks prior to the race I had told him of my original goals (beat 52k) and my updated goal (get in a marathon). While I knew others had done so much more, I was proud to say I had reached my first goal with my Garmin showing just short of 58km. At that point Ray, who has only met me a couple of times, admitted he wasn’t so sure about me doing this race and had wondered if I was up to it. But he was thrilled to hear my results and very encouraging about the possibility of me trying another 3Beaver race in the fall – this one 110km!
In some ways, 58km doesn’t seem like much in 12 hours, given the fact I have done 50-52km in anywhere between 6 and 7.5 hours. But between the footing, the weather, the technical aspects and the vertical work, it was a challenge for me to complete that mileage. And the entire time I was reminding myself to go easy since I have those bunny responsibilities coming up. I really had no idea what others had done given the looped nature of the course, other than knowing that there were many guys and one woman who just kept lapping me. Race results weren’t being posted after the race because of the change of course. The race timers were going to have some work to do to sort out the laps.
When the results were published the next day, I was in for quite a shock. While I was in the bottom half of the results, I was actually the third overall female! If that isn’t proof of what perseverance can get you, I don’t know what is! That third place had nothing to do with speed, just the simple fact that I kept going, quite literally plodding along through the mud with no plans to stop until the time was up. Of any race that I have done, this is probably the one I am most astonished to have completed and the most proud of the results.
Would I do another 12 hour race? Absolutely! Would I do another super technical trail run…hmmmm, I’ll have to think about that one. I watched those fast, experienced trail runners in awe. The truth is I don’t even want to try to run that fast straight downhill over rocks and roots. That said I am quite happy hiking technical trails. Ideal for me is probably a run that has a nice mixture of both, which I think the Midnight Moose 110k just might have. Looks like I know what I will be training for this summer!
Check out a very cool video of the race from Get Out There Magazine at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8k9ckZ-8EI
For more info about 3BeaverRacing check out http://3beaversracing.com/
Follow me on Twitter @AverageRunnerK