A 21k Relentless Pursuit in the Woods

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I can honestly say that I didn’t think I’d be writing this blog post today, yet here I find myself once again writing up a race report. What’s that you say? A race? I thought you were spending some time recovering or transitioning to winter sports and healing your foot? Well, you are right, but I had an itch. The plan was for the 125k UTHC to be my last running race of the season, but after a 2-week vacation, and not feeling completely exhausted yet, I opted to show up on race day and sign up for this race on a whim. Yes, I literally didn’t decide to race until about 2 hours before the starting line! I had been toying with running the 10k, which started at 10am, but when I realized the 21k race started at 8am, I figured that would give me more free time later, as I’d finish sooner. Odd logic, isn’t it? Read on for a quick re-cap.

You may be wondering what race I’m talking about, but the title gave it away. I was competing in the Mad Trapper ‘Relentless’ trail race. This is what Mike calls his ‘hardest’ or ‘worst’ race of the year. Who wouldn’t want to race it, right? If featured a 3k, 5k, 10.5k, 21k, and even a 50k event option. The race entry fees are quite reasonable (between $50 and $60, depending), and all feature the same post-race feast and free beer at the finish (well, near-beer in this case, but I’ll get to that). Seeing as just over 3 years ago I got married there, and the fact that we hadn’t been out too often this year, I decided it would be fun to wander out there for the fun!

The day before, the forecasts were looking rather dire. I had spent all day working on a house project (as usual, a reno project I estimated at 3 hours took me 7 hours once I sorted all the ‘surprise’ challenges), and was pretty pooped by 7pm when I finished. The rain forecast kept shifting, and by the time I was heading to bed, it now looked like *maybe* it would only rain a little bit. I decided to make a game day decision when I woke up as to whether I’d race the 21k, the 10.5k, or skip it all together.

My alarm started yelling at 6am, and I decided right away, what the heck! Let’s do this! It’ll be fun, and you’ll see and hang out with people you haven’t seen much. Lucky for me, Deanna wan’t surprised nor grudging about the decision, and came with me to hang out. We were running just a touch late, and pulled up to the Ark during the final race briefing (<10 mins to go!). Mike asked if I was running the 21k, I said “sure!”, and went in to grab a race number before toeing the line. I didn’t even officially register before the race, just grabbed the number, and started with everyone else. Talk about low prep and low pressure, right? That was the whole idea.

Waiting for the Start

My race strategy was non-existent. There were under 30 people in the race, and I didn’t recognize a ton of faces, so I had no idea what the field would be like. In addition, my foot is obviously not healed yet, so anything could happen. The real plan was just to push myself into a high pace and hold on, treating it more like a hard long training run than a race. In my head, I decided a time of about 2:15 would make me happy. Coming out of the gate, I was near the front runners, sitting in what I’d call the chase pack, just off the lead pack. Not having warmed up at all might have been an issue, particularly since the race starts on a hard couple of uphill climbs, and then just rolls up and down ‘relentlessly’ over the 10.5k loop which we ran twice. There are NO flat run-outs to get your breath or mentally re-group. So it was 100% the whole way!

Terrain Profile

For the first kilometer or so, we kept the lead 4 in our sights, and I was hopeful that maybe we’d keep that distance, and potentially make up distance near the end. However, after that opening km, the leaders slowly started gapping us, and I found myself slowing  a bit due to runners ahead of me. Perhaps unwisely, I jumped off the ‘beaten path’ and more into the side of the trail to pass a few runners. A risky move given that under any fallen leaves could be an ankle-mangling root or rock. For the most part, Mike had used a leaf blower on the actual track, so we had pretty decent visibility of our footpath. I got lucky, and made my passes safely.

After the passes, I tried to form my own gap to the chase group to put myself in the all-too-familiar no man’s zone I seem to find myself in. More or less running alone, constantly fearing someone passing from behind and peering hopefully in front of me. A couple other runners had joined me in the passing, so I had a revised pack of runners with me. Eventually, I was passed by 2 others myself, so was guessing I was around 6th. I held my pace and chose to run through the only aid station on course, instead relying on my litre of Nuun and my 2 Fruit2 bars to sustain me for the entire race.

With 2k to go in lap 1, I caught sight of a couple other runners bearing down on me, throwing me in to panic mode, and pushing even harder. My average heartrate for lap 1 was probably on the order of 177bpm. Yeah, it was a redline fest! I held my pursuers at bay, and flew down the last hill to finish lap 1 with my position intact. Only after the race did I learn that those 2 in particular actually bailed at the 10.5k mark, so I had more of a cushion than anticipated. My first lap was done in about 1:04 or 1:05. So far, I was on track. However, I was worried about maintaining that pace given my elevated heart rate. That’s a pretty tough pace to maintain for over 2 hours! Especially given that I’ve ONLY been running races that are 80k and up this year 😉

Race Course

My mantra on lap 2 was simple, watch your feet, lift your feet, run fast. I’d repeat those in my head ad nauseum as the trees passed me by. And what beautiful trees they were. Fall colours were in full effect, but there was no time to lolly-gag and take it in… Why so focussed on feet? Well, this time of year is super-treacherous in technical trails. Wet, slippery and hidden roots and rocks abound. On lap 1 I managed to roll each ankle once, and early in lap 2 I rolled my left ankle a second time, and worse than the first time. I recovered quickly on all 3 rolls, but really didn’t want to have to hobble out a finish and spend the next month regretting racing!

Luckily, to this point (about 16k into the race) the weather had co-operated, but now I started feeling a few drops of rain. At first, just the scattered drops that started and stopped. However, after another 10 minutes or so, the sky decided it really wanted to open up on us wary racers. The showers picked up in intensity and did short work of soaking me through my thin layers of spandex. Luckily, the temperature was pretty warm, so I didn’t get chilled. However, I had opted to race without a hat or buff, so this rain managed to bring a nice river of salt from my brow into my eyes, giving me trail blindness and no way to dry my eyes. I ran through blurry, teary eyes, waiting for the salt to flush out. It was a bit comical.

I kept up the pace, and in spite of seeing a figure behind me at a few curvy points (hard to pin-point, but I was guessing 400m or so behind me), I soon reached the penultimate climb of the loop, and knew that from the summit it would be a pretty straight bomb to the finish. The rain hadn’t yet made a mess of the course, so the footing stayed pretty good up till the finish. I trotted across the finish line, happy with my performance. Glanced at my watch, and wouldn’t you know it, 2:15 pretty much on the dot! My subconscious must have pushed me to that time. I was clearly slower on lap 2, but overall, a pretty solid effort. And yes, looks like it netted me 6th overall.

Pooped but Happy

After the race, I felt remarkably good. My energy levels stayed high, and although my feet were pretty sore, the rest of my felt fine. I’m guessing it has something to do with being conditioned to keep pushing for longer periods of time. I changed out of my now-sopping run clothes and into comfy recovery mode. I chatted with other racers, and enjoyed some great food. This time, burgers that were cooked by Mike over charcoal at the finish line while watching people finish (thankfully he had a tent over the bbq pit). Along with burgers was a maple-squash soup, chips, bananas, cookies, and of course the world-famous post-race brownies. To wash it down, I was a touch disappointed to have my choice of only Canadian or Coors Light. Apparently these were wedding leftovers from an event the night before. Oh well, beggers can’t be choosers, right?

Post Race Chow Down

After another little while, Mike finally came in to do the ‘awards’ or rather ‘recognition’ of the people that won. His races are seldom about the actual winning, with no medals or winner prizing. Instead, all the prizes are determined by games and/or whatever whim Mike has at the moment. Wearing a shirt he likes? You might get a prize, just like the woman in the hoody reading “I’m sorry for what I said when I was hungry” did.

By the time it was all said and done, it was still before noon, so I had 2/3rds of the day ahead of me, giving me ample time to work on other things before hosting friends for supper that night. Considering I hadn’t planned on racing a few days ago, it all worked out quite well. I suppose if I hadn’t raced, I probably only would have gotten productive around the same time, so this way, I managed to get some excellent exercise, and have fun out there hanging with friends! That’s definitely the way to live life, right?

As always, thanks for the venue and the fun race Mike, see you again this winter at the Mad Trapper Snowshoe races! I’m pretty sure that NOW I’ll take some time off from racing, although the allure of a cyclocross race and maybe some orienteering is out there…. Stay tuned here to see if anything else pops up on my radar!

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