I really must start off with an apology to anyone who read my training blog. I promised a prompt race report after running Sulphur Springs, and instead here I am 7 months later finally getting it done. But I like to think that late is better than never, so here it is:
As most runners seem to do, I had camped out at the race location the night before the big event. Luckily I was able to sleep, since starting a race that is going to take over 24 hours to complete while sleep deprived is just asking for trouble. As it is I am not a morning person, so getting up at first light had me grumbling before even setting foot on the course. Here is a confession before I go any farther: I have never scouted a race course before a race. I’m sure that it is a good thing to do, yet I find that don’t even want to. I do enjoy the surprises that come with running on an unfamiliar trail, so that probably has something to do with it. This neglect made my life far more difficult than it needed to be when I ran the Haliburton Forest 100 miler as that course was far more difficult than I had been expecting it to be. Luckily for me, Sulpur Springs turned out to be a lovely course. So, for anyone out there contemplating their first 100 miler, I would recommend Sulpur Springs as a good place to start.
That being said, there is no such thing as an easy 100 miler. The Sulpur Springs course is 20Km forest trail loop that has it’s share of hills, but only one sticks out in my mind as being a killer, and it is right at the end. The Gulch, as it is called, is a long, steep, scar in the Earth that is extremely narrow and made up entirely of sand and loose rocks. Luckily, once you are past it on each lap, the start/finish aid station isn’t too far away.
The race started well with all runners showing the kind of camaraderie that you would hope to find among a group of people with a common psychosis. My first few laps went well. I was pushing my pace a bit because I knew that we were in for a hot one and I wanted to cover as much distance as possible before the full heat of the day kicked in. As we moved into the afternoon the temperature climbed above 30 degrees and my pace slowed considerably. My plan was to ride out the heat and then pick up the pace again in the evening when things cooled off. I slowed way down in the more difficult sections and tried to coast and cool off on the downhills. It worked alright, although picking up the pace in the evening was difficult since I was in the full grip of fatigue by that point and heading rapidly towards sleep deprivation. Still, I saw many runners at aid stations who had tried to push through the heat of the day and were paying the price for it. Some of them managed to recover and finish the race with great times. Some were not able to recover and did not finish at all. Both groups have my utmost respect. My goal in this race was simply to not finish last, as I had at my first 100 miler at Haliburton Forest where my goal had been simply to finish. Anyone who goes into a 100 miler and pushes for speed is worthy of admiration, regardless of the result.
Night time was difficult, for all of the reasons that you would expect. Running through the woods at night with only a headlamp or two to see by is a tricky thing to do. Doing it while exhausted and sleep deprived is something else entirely. It is never a comfortable feeling when you realize that you are alone in the forest at night and you might be hallucinating. Running a 100 miler really starts to seem like a terrible idea at that point. On the plus side, that is when the wild life starts to come out. I had recently left one of the more remote aid stations when I turned a corner on the trail and saw a deer on the path ahead of me. I assumed that it would run off and continued to run towards it. As I got closer to it, the deer just stared at me and didn’t budge an inch. That is when I started to think about how much damage that deer could do to me if it charged me. I stopped. I stared at the deer. The deer stared at me. I made some noise. No effect. I began to consider my options if the deer wouldn’t move. Just then the deer sauntered off the trail, just to let me know that it was not intimidated by me, and was only moving because it wanted to. I saw two more deer (off the trail) and some raccoons during the night. No bears. Incidentally, Haliburton Forest has bears.
As the sun came up I managed to dig deep and push my pace for the last 20Km lap. In the end I finished in 28 hours and 15 minutes. Not great, but better than my 29.5 hour finishing time at Haliburton, and most importantly, not last!
I would recommend Sulpur Springs to anyone looking to do a 100 miler (or a 50 miler). The course is beautiful and the support crews are great. I ran into many Team Running Free athletes who were all great to talk to on the trail. Some of them had even read my blog! I certainly plan to return and do it all over again. If I have a regret about the race it is simply that I spent too much time at the aid stations during the night. Stopping long enough to get something to drink and/or eat is sometimes a necessity, but when you are that tired it is hard not to take the excuse and stay longer than required, which is what I did. I’m going to try very hard not to make that mistake again. I’ve proven to myself that I can do it, now it’s time to see if I can do it better.