Haliburton Forest Trail 100 Mile Race Recap
This past weekend I entered the world of the unknown, toeing the line for my first 100 mile (161km) race. Prior to this, the longest distance I had raced was a 6hr timed ultra where I completed a little over 65km in that time frame. I had put in a great training block until I got injured in April, and after taking some time off, my CTS coach Max came up with a new plan to build back my fitness, get some long weekends (about 10 weeks, with a 2 week taper, peak week was 160+km, and most weekends had long back to backs totaling 50-80km for the weekend). We also did a fair amount of steady state effort (roughly marathon pace) to prepare quads etc. for the pounding. While my fitness was not as strong as pre-injury, I put in a solid block and felt good moving into the race. We built a race plan with some help from some Running Free team mates, including a nutrition plan, and I studied prior race reviews, maps, charts as well as attended a training run where I ran ¼ of the course (the course is an out and back x 2, so 40km gave us a good view of the whole course). I did a number of trail runs, whenever I could, as well as some trail night runs and runs in my planned race day gear. All the while I ate everything I could during my long runs to test out nutrition strategies. I maintained a healthy dose of respect and fear for the distance, knowing I would endure pain and low points at some point, and while the plan was sound, it most likely would need to be adjusted on the fly. As Coach Max put it “The only advice I have for you is to expect it to not go according to plan. Avoiding negative thoughts is only done when we let go of expectations and run free. Live in the moment out there. Pace off? So what? You are going after a 100 miler. It may come back. Assess your whole body feel throughout. That means accepting it when it seems too hard and loving it when things seem easy. Moments come, good and bad. They are replaced soon by brand new moments. This is not really a running race. It’s a time spent within yourself and exploring boundaries both mental and physical”. Wise words indeed.
I got up to the Forest mid-afternoon Friday, checked in, talked with a few trail friends and some of the volunteers, then went back to the van (my hotel for the weekend) and grabbed a nap. The bed I fashioned in the back was pretty comfy and I slept pretty well for an hour. I got up, met a few more friends, and checked my drop bags at the aid stations (I went with a bag at AS2 and AS6, which gave me lots of chances to pass. Both bags had some warm weather gear, headlamps, food packets, dry shoes and socks, various first aid needs, and extra gear. After some more chatting, it was time for the dinner and mandatory dinner, where I met some more runners, caught up with friends and listened to instructions. The race atmosphere is awesome, they have everyone introduce themselves which makes everything that much more friendly the next day when we are passing each other on the trails. After that, a quick running free picture, and I retreated to the van to finish my gear prep for the morning, read a little and get some sleep.
The Alarm went at 4:30. The weather was calling for clear skies with warmish (17 degrees C) temps during the day, however it was 3 degrees when we got up. The camp was buzzing. After eating a bit, getting my running clothes and some warm gear on, I walked up to the restaurant to grab a hot coffee. There were lots of runners milling about. After a while, I headed back to the Van to put my race shoes on, hydration pack, headlamp and get ready. At 5:45, the runners were called in (including the 100 milers, 50 milers, and 50k racers) where last minute instructions were given, a prayer was said and we walked towards the start line. After a few minutes we were off.
My plan was to run the first road section (around 7k) hardish, but in control and comfortable, sub-5 mins per km for me (Sub 8min/mile). I did, if but a little fast, but it felt great and smooth. I ran with what turned out to be the eventual 3rd place 100 finisher, and the first place female/2nd overall 50 miler. Eventually we got dropped, and it was just Alex the 50 miler and myself. We ran, chatted, and enjoyed the nice sunrise over the lake around the Normac Trail. We moved quickly through the Aid station and onto the next trail section (Poachers) and hiked many of the steep uphills, but generally ran well. Eventually, about 10 miles/15km in we got passed by a 100 miler who was moving very quick. Most of the rest of that section went well, where Alex and I mostly ran together, ran well, including some 5min/km sections on the logging roads. The Aid Station volunteers were awesome, though we moved quickly through them, only grabbing the odd food item and filling up bottles/hydration packs. We made it through the first 40km/25miles in under 4 hrs (3:54) and were moving well, and on target.
After hitting the next aid station, I hit my first “low point”, really just a bonk, my calorie intake had slowed a bit from me losing concentration. Alex charged ahead (eventually rocking a great time and 2nd overall in the 50 miler). I downed some calories and after a while was back in the groove, at that point in 3rd place. I started moving well again, and eventually at around mile 40, caught the 3rd place runner and passed him. At that point he was moving a bit slower. A couple miles later, on a downhill on Poachers, the eventual winner (Brian) caught me, passed me, and I tripped on a rock and bailed, total yard sale. Brian stopped, came back to make sure I was ok. For a brief moment, I thought my day was over, but I got up, and started moving, and the pain in my knee subsided. I told Brian I was ok, and to get moving, to which he did. I was back in 3rd. I caught up to Brian at the next Aid Station (#2) where he was slightly confused as to which way to go to do the clockwise loop on the Normac trail. I told him which way to go, we hiked the first hill together, he thanked me and took off.
I finished the loop and moved through 50miles/80km in around 8:40, turned quickly and headed back out, where I met my wife at AS 2. She gave me some encouragement and I moved back to head counterclockwise around the lake again. At around mile 55, I had my second low point. My quads were pretty much blown, my knee was a bit achy from the and my pity party started. At no point did I think of quitting, but I was in 3rd at that time and I just resolved to walking the rest of it to the finish to get it done. Shortly thereafter, I met up with my wife again, changed clothes as the temp was dropping, got some words of encouragement and went off. I started feeling good again and was running, though the downhills were pretty painful. Again, moved well, the AS volunteers were super supportive, I tried to thank every one as often and as much as I could. It was starting to get dark, but the section was pretty uneventful, except for stopping at one of the aid stations to deal with some chafing. That 50 miles on my own, with my thoughts, with many moments of highs and stoke/flow state were unreal, the trails beautiful, especially the sunset. I had brought my ipod, but never used it once.
Onto the turnaround where I would pick up my pacer Wade, where we shared a few laughs, assessed the situation and moved forward. He reported 1st place (Brian) passed some time ago and was moving really well, while 2nd place (Daniel) just recently passed through and looked like he was struggling. We eventually passed Daniel going the other way near the turnaround, he was ahead by about 5 mins. Soon after leaving the aid station again, we got up to 2nd place, at that point Wade and I were moving well and pushing the pace. Daniel kept up to us for a few kilometers, but stopped and hiked, with some pain in his knee. We kept pushing at that point, though soon after, I hit low point number 3. During the push to catch and pass to move into second, I forgot to eat again, and got a bit bonkish. Wade chastised me, I ate a bit at which point Daniel recaught me. I told Wade that I didn’t care about placing, I just wanted to finish. Regardless, my bonk went away and we started moving again in the dark, through the swampy sections and technical trails. We re-caught Daniel at the next Aid Station and kept moving. I looked back a while later and saw no headlamps following. Shortly after, we rolled into Aid Station 5 where we saw David who was struggling some and had a long night ahead of him. We kept moving, (I fell again, hitting the same knee, again) albeit slowly, quads still blown and feet in some pain by then. Through the next sections, we ran into Jack Judge, moving well, offering him some encouragement. We also ran into Nick, who was lost/confused, again offered him encouragement, made sure he was ok and told him to get after it. Eventually we got to AS2 for our last loop around the lake, about 12ish km to go. At that point I was in second, we tried to push as hard as we could. We ran much of the Normac loop and thrashed the fire road sections, with Wade running ahead to the AS to see how much cushion we had. They said Daniel was 30 mins behind, but leaving nothing to chance we hiked the hill and started to run the final 1.5km to the finish line (it was a good thing, he picked it up, finishing only 15mins behind). I rolled in at 20:44, 2nd overall, and change, to my cheering wife and a select few volunteers and support people that were still awake around the fire at 3am. Wade and I celebrated with a beer, then it was off to get my feet looked at. They were better than I thought, only one blister, a badly bruised baby toe and some numbness, but got fixed up and they sent me on my way. After a brief celebration (talk and stories around the camp fire), we retreated (slowly!) to the van. Everything hurt. After a few hours of tossing and turning, we woke up, got cleaned up and cheered the last few runners, including and emotional sight of David and Jack coming in. After a while it was brunch, the awards and the coveted belt buckle.
This race is more than that. It was an adventure with tremendous support from fellow runners, volunteers and crew. Every runner I passed by, in any direction offered words of praise, encouragement, and in the night hours asked if people were doing well, and if they needed anything. As much as the podium is great, the true greatness is the achievements of each runner. Each person accomplished so much. For the rare finishers (26 out of 47 starters finished in the allotted 30 hours), they suffered, endured, and conquered. For those that did not finish, whether for injury, fatigue or other issues, they put themselves out there, many running further or longer time wise than they ever had before and understanding what other things they needed to adjust for future success. We cheered each other’s successes, and were proud even in defeat. I made new friendships over the weekend, and deepened others that had started, with a share respect, a few laughs and a great adventure. I will definitely return as a runner or as a volunteer.
Final result: 2nd Overall, time 20:44.
Shoes: Salomon Sense Ride (wore) – Hoka Speed Instinct and Hoka Challenger ATR 2 (Drop bags)
Hydration Vest: Salomon ADV Skin 5 with upgraded Speed Flasks
Nutrition – various Gu products, cliff bars, s-caps, and Wade’s fav ritz cheese and crackers
Hydration plan – lots of water. As it got dark, some watered down Coke at the aid stations
Nutrition – a mix of sports food (gu gels and blocks, cliff bars), crackers, and some real food at the aid stations (watermelon, chips, candy, hummous wraps)