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Been beat up and battered ’round

February 14, 2022

I’ve been recapping races and whatnot on Instagram over the past two years but this post was going to be too long for IG. After a big hiatus here is another blog entry…

Black Canyons Ultra 100k was my third ultra and, once again, I learned a lot! More than I thought I would. Plus I got a big serving of humble pie. 

I originally signed-up for BCU as a possibility to earn a Golden Ticket for Western States 100 Mile on June 25th. Luckily Stoked Oats has taken care of my entry into WS and I was able to go into Black Canyon as a training run. Don’t get me wrong though, I had every intention of being competitive at BCU. I just didn’t have any pressure to secure a Golden Ticket and I could take some risks.

The first 4k of the race is predominantly on dirt roads. I felt really comfortable running with the front pack and seeing one guy way out ahead of everyone led me to believe we were on a reasonable pace. Spoiler: The guy in the lead, Trueheart Brown, led wire-to-wire for the win and the pace wasn’t reasonable enough for most of the front pack.

It was cool (5C) at the start but I was nervous about the ensuing heat and probably over-hydrated before the race as I had to pull over to pee before 4k. In order to not get caught behind too many people when the course turned to single track I surged ahead of the pack to stop and pee. At the trailhead I was about 30 seconds down on the lead pack and running with a scattered second pack and happy about my position.

By 21k I caught back up to the lead pack of about 8. Maybe I ran too fast up until this point but I really felt within myself. 

At the first aid station where crews are allowed (around 30k) Buck Blakenship handed me new bottles and I ate my sweet potato + Endurance Tap mix for some solid food. Spirits were high and I was feeling great, running in about 7th place and not far off of 2nd place.

I came through the 50k aid station with a group of 5 including eventual second place finisher Scott Traer. A few kilometres later eventual 3rd place finisher Jeffrey Colt passed me. These two guys ran really smart races by not following the early fast pace and earned golden tickets for Western States 100 Miler. When I had stopped to pee the first time I ended up running and chatting with Scott for a bit. I probably should have slotted myself behind him and been patient. Not that I would have stuck with him the whole way, but I likely would have felt good a little further into the race than I did.

Shortly after 50k my legs started to get really tired and I knew I was going to have to pull back the effort if I was going to finish. I slowed the pace hoping I would feel good after the next aid station.

When I got to the 58k aid station I told Buck I was done racing and that I was going to jog the rest of it. I downed a ginger ale, sweet potato + Endurance Tap mix, grabbed new bottles and I was on my way. 

After leaving that aid station I let it go mentally and the heat was starting to take its toll. I figured the next aid station was around the 70k mark. When I hit 70k and didn’t see the aid station I decided to walk. Then Nate Hayward came by me and we started chatting and I ran with him until we got to the aid station at 73k. I hung out there for almost 10 minutes, re-hydrating and eating watermelon with absolutely no sense of urgency. It was cool to see Ann-Marie Madden, a fellow Canadian, come through the aid station on her way to grabbing 3rd pace and a Golden Ticket to WS.

I was walking a lot by now, getting passed quite often. I caught back up to a runner, Jakob, on an uphill and struck up conversation. When the trail flattened out again he started back into a run and I ran with him until the 80k aid station.

When I arrived at the aid station I had the intention of finishing the race. I grabbed my drop bag, switched out used bottles with full bottles and ate some food.

Here was my train of thought as I was at the aid station:

“My legs aren’t injured. I should finish.”

“At 9min/km it will take me 3 hours. Too boring, just stop.”

“If I keep running it will serve as good toughness training.”

“My big toe can’t take hitting another rock.” (After smashing it hard 3 times even a little tap was painful)

“It might get dark and I don’t have a headlamp.” That was the nail in the coffin. My day was done.

***

Going into the race I expected to run solid through 70k, maybe 80k, and of course wishfully hoping that I would feel good for 100k. In my first 2 ultras even when I hit “runnable” terrain late in the race I wasn’t able to capitalise on it because my legs were dead. For that reason I was expecting some carnage late in the race. It was a little defeating for my legs to fall apart as early as they did on Saturday. But it’s a reality check I’m glad to be getting now and not later. 

Why did my legs crap out? The simple reason is that my legs aren’t tough/strong enough. It’s something I have known since the beginning of this adventure last summer and something I’ve been working on. I think the runnable downhill terrain was more punishing than I had expected. Hence why it hit me earlier than I expected. The terrain at Black Canyon is such that it’s possible to run fast on because it isn’t too technical but because there are sharp little dips, lots of turns and little rocks everywhere once your legs are tired the terrain is punishing.

Just like when I started racing marathons pacing is of the utmost importance. The first 1/3 of the race should feel very easy, not just relaxed. 2 out of 3 Golden Tickets on the men’s side went to guys who didn’t go with leaders. 5 out of the top 10 didn’t go with the leaders.

I also learned I need to wear bigger shoes. I know, I know… everyone knows to go up a 1/2 size or full size for long events. I thought I wanted a snug fit to help with the turns and this was fine for the first couple of hours. Once I smashed my big toe hard a couple of times and my shoes started to feel tighter I was wishing I had 10.5’s on my feet. The good part is that I really like the Salomon Ultra Glide and I’m confident this shoe will serve me well in the appropriate size.

I’m getting better at downhills but still really slow on technical downhills. I was running with Anthony Costales for a while around 42km and when we hit a steep downhill with switchbacks he was gone! And then slightly later on that same stretch of downhill a few guys made a lot of ground on me.

When it’s really hot I could use a third soft-flask bottle to help me stay cool. Overall I was happy with my race kit and my nutrition. It was good to test it out on a hot and sunny day. I know I will need to implement heat adaptation for future races. That will be easier when it’s not the dead of winter and I have a sauna in my garage.

So far everyone I’ve met in the trail ultra world has been really nice and supportive. Chatting with other runners during the races has been a lot of fun. The trail/ultra community is really welcoming. Getting to know people through running has been a highlight over the years and this is no exception.

***

Marie asked me if this experience motivated or deflated me. The answer is both. As frustrating as some things are about the race outcome this is part of the reason why I’m doing this. If I didn’t want big surprises I could remain on the roads where, by now, everything is quite calculated. Going in this new direction is tough on the ego but that’s a small price to pay for the fun, adventure and challenge. I’m genuinely fascinated and interested trying to figure out how to improve in trail ultra races.

***

Race schedule:

Mar 27 – Around the Bay 30k (training)

April 23 – Canyons Endurance 100k (training)

May 28 – Sulphur Springs 50k (training)

June 25 – Western States 100 Mile (goal race)

Sept 11 – Whister Alpine Meadows 50k (goal race)

One Comment
  1. Martin Dixon permalink
    February 14, 2022 4:01 pm

    “”It might get dark and I don’t have a headlamp.” That was the nail in the coffin. My day was done.”

    Sorry but laughed out loud at that.

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