Growing up in Collingwood, Ontario was like an amazing adventure with so many active things to do. With the ski hill formed by the Niagara Escarpment and it’s huge network of hiking trails, Georgian Bay and all the other opportunities for fitness it was and is a great place to live. So when the North Face Endurance Challenge rolled into town for it’s only Canadian stop I jumped at the opportunity to run on my home turf where I knew pretty much everyone!
On the Thursday before the race I had the pleasure of joining the group who did a quick 5k trail run with Dean Karnazes! For those who may not know, some of Dean’s amazing feats include running 50 marathons in 50 days across the USA, finishing the Badwater ultra marathon across Death Valley – the hottest place on earth and a 3 day run that saw him sleep running on the 2nd night!
We set off on the run and I had a chance to talk to Dean who for all his fame is a truly humble ambassador of the sport. He actually remembered me from our talk last year which I find incredible given how many people he meets each year. We ran down “the Grind” which is a trail that we would be running up on the Saturday morning, twice in the case of the 50 miler. So great to share running stories with a great runner like Dean. I hope to see him at the Sinister 7 race in the summer of 2016 which he said was one he would like to do.
The day of the race came quickly and I was ready. I was sure my training was in place and taper had gone well. The only concern I had was the severe heat and humidity warning issued by Environment Canada for the day. That plus the remnants of a stomach bug I had gotten Wednesday before the race.
The alarm went early at 3:45 am and I was mobilized getting my peanut butter and honey toast eaten and already drinking fluids. The cooler and my war chest of stuff I need like fresh clothes, alternate hats, shoes etc was ready and my wife was ready to crew me.
Start to 12.5k
The start of the GoreTex 50 miler came in two waves at 5 am and 5:02 am to try and reduce crowding on the trails. I left in the 5:02 am wave and picked my way across from the Blue Mountain Village to a trail called “The Grind” which climbs the ski hill to the top. At the top we traversed to the Bruce trail Mission road segment and up the 6th st. extension. After passing the 1st aid station the heat of the day was already above 25 C. We continued through the forest trails as the first light of day highlighted some of the trees in a ruddy reddish hue. The sunrise in the forest was truly spectacular!
We descended through more winding forest trails that took us to the top of Southern Comfort trail where aid station #2 was located. I saw my cheering wife’s face and she looked happy to see me but also concerned. She knows me well enough to see when I’m not 100%. Sure enough I was trying to hide it but was feeling really queasy from the stomach bug I had contracted 3 days earlier. I forced down my magic mixture of puree potatoes mixed with copious amounts of sea salt knowing that soon I’d be sweating even more and it was getting hotter!
12.5k to 25k
After running across the ski hill dipping down and up to add elevation gain we ended up ad aid station 3 which had a port hottie much to my relief. At that point I was doubled over with stomach cramps and needed relief. I loaded up with ice water and gels and continued down the road.
After a brief road section we dipped into the forest and ran the Bruce trail into the Beaver Valley sections. I was still queasy but pushed through it. Emerging from the forest we followed a road that twisted back to the north to the 25k aid station. At this aid station the temperature was already over 30 C. I fuelled up on bananas, lots of flat coke to settle my stomach, and filled my hand bottle with the Clif lime electrolyte drink rather than water. This was a crucial decision that kept me in the game later.
25k to 40k
This section is exceedingly difficult for many reasons, the first of which was climbing steeply on exposed pavement followed by climbing a gravel road into the Loree Forest. Once in the forest there was lots of cover provided from the sun and the trail becomes less technical and easier. On the 2nd half of the Loree loop it gets very rough and technical with tons of exposed rock and roots.
After emerging from the Loree Forest you descend a steep ravine into a valley, cross a stream and climb right back up only to descend again into another ravine. The climb out of the 2nd ravine is a mud staircase reinforced with 4×4 lumber and has a rope railing because of the steepness. After a jaunt through the woods I was back to the 3rd aid station.
From there the course takes the lower set of trails and meanders down and up adding yet more vertical to the run. By the time I returned to aid station 2 heat was a huge factor. the temperature was reaching late morning/noon highs of 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 F)! Humidity was now so high that the Humidex was nearing the mid 40’s (114 F).
At this final aid station on the loop I took another portion of my salted potatoes and careened down the wild descent called “the Cascades” through mud and over the bridges. It’s at least cooler in the forest and I was able to drench my hat in the stream. After this section you come to the 40K turn-around station and brace for the second time up the Grind!
The second Lap to 80k (Finish)
Without describing the course all over again I’ll simply note some interesting things about the 2nd lap.
I had an ice shower at the 46 km mark thanks to the spectacular aid station people at the top of the 6th street extension. I’m now putting ice in my hat and the Buff around my neck at every station.
I had some relief at the Southern Comfort aid station after the cramps in my stomach had gone away! Drank copies amounts of water plus electrolytes and continued on.
No problems through to the 2nd time climbing the road to the Loree Forest. Approaching the aid station at 67 km my legs began cramping in the groin and tops of the calf muscles. I was well trained but the heat was causing the problem with cramps. I filled my entire bottle with electrolyte and ate some salty snacks.
While at the 67 km station a big localized rain storm moved through the Loree forest lasting about 10 minutes then disappearing. Not one cooling drop fell on me but the rain turned the Loree Forest trails into a muddy quagmire making it nearly impossible to run without falling.
The climb into Loree was on pavement that had been drenched and now was exposed to the beating sun which was evaporating the road water into steam! I ran out of my hand bottle water at the 70 km mark and survived to the 72k mark where my friend John Smeh, one of the race organizers was located.
I placed my hands on the aid table to prevent collapse. I was super dizzy and could not catch my breath at all. Core temperature was dangerously high. The amazing volunteers put a huge bag of ice on the back of my neck and put ice in my Buff around my neck and into my hat. I got a cold water shower and drank a litre of ice water. As soon as my core temp came down I was back to normal breathing. I told John thanks for the pep talk and that I would never quit unless a doctor forced me to and continued on my way to the finish.
After all the climbs and descents coming across the ski hill I climbed the last hill to the final aid station. A volunteer was yelling at me to lift my head and put my shoulders back and open my diaphragm. He yelled this about 10 times and although he meant well I assured him he wasn’t helping and that I’ve been running these hills for 42 of my 52 years and was getting plenty of air!
One more dive down the Cascades with 1.6k to go and I’m tasting the finish. Passed 3 people on the run across to the finish chute! The best feeling in the world was crossing the timing pad and seeing my beautiful Susan waiting for me. These are the moments of pure joy in running races that you remember.
The extreme conditions made for a 1.5 hour slower (12.5 hours) than personal record time (11 hours). Still I’m super happy to be included in the finishers and 3rd for my age group on a day where there were many DNF results. I was happy not to drop out and look forward to the Halliburton 100 mile race!
Remember that 52 is the new 32 and that anything is possible at any age if you put in the work, never waver from your goals and then have the resolve to never take the easy way out and drop out. You will know more about yourself every time!
I ran this race to raise money and awareness for our local shelter for victims of domestic violence called My Friend’s House. Thanks to all who donated!! My Facebook page for this: https://www.facebook.com/run50milesinmyshoes
Thanks to my incredible wife Susan for crewing me. Thanks to the North Face crew for organizing such a top notch race! Thanks to #2XU #2XUXTRM #2XUCANADA for supplying all my running clothing and compression garments. 2XU is truly a supportive company with the most comfortable and functional running wear and compression on the planet!