Trailing Off for 100km

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Good day all. An interesting thing happens when you start to do more and more endurance events. You can’t stop. If someone dangles a challenge out in front of you, you snap it up. You don’t do it for prizes, awards, or glory. You do it for you. You do it because you love every moment. The pain, the suffering, the elation, the views, the awaiting cold beer when it’s over. It weaves its way into becoming a part of who you are.

I have fallen squarely in to the camp of endurance athlete if you will. Distances and durations have begun to lose meaning. When I started, a 21km run on roads seemed daunting. Now, these things barely register, and I nearly forget how incredible the events I take part in may seem to others. I’m surrounded by like-minded people, so it seems harder and harder to do something I qualify as ‘impressive’. Regardless, every now and then I sign up for something that just might make me wonder.  On a whim, I signed up for the 100km i2P Trail Run organized by Impossible2Possible. I did mainly because I had the time, I knew the organizers, and it just seemed like a great idea to support the cause.

Well, 2 weeks prior to the event, I raced in another 100km race, but that was a multisport event where I kayaked, mountain biked, and trail ran. At the end, after putting in a very hard effort, I crossed the line in 3rd place overall, elated.  At that point, Deanna congratulates me, then says “and just think, in two weeks, you’ll be covering the same distance, but it’ll ALL be on foot running!” At that exact point, it occurred to me that running 100km in one outing, all on trails, might be harder than I imagined. Add to that the fact that I did no special training or tapering (I don’t think beer sampling for 3 days straight on the preceding weekend would count!), and you’ll understand why I was a touch apprehensive.

Ultimately, I decided that it really shouldn’t be a big deal. We’d be running pretty darned slow, and I’ve done events much longer and more challenging over longer periods of time. Also, this was not an official ‘race’, as they wanted to encourage as much participation as possible and it was on NCC land, where races are not typically allowed. So really, it was a celebration of running more than anything, and a chance to try something new.

Over the course of the event, there was actually a 100k event, a 50k, a 38k, a 23k, a 15k, and a 10k run. For the 100k participants, we started the night before from the Ark, and spent the first 50km of the run covering the ground as a group. From there, we had a break of about 1.5 hours before starting out second 50k run with all the fresh runners from the other distances. This was all designed on purpose to simulate the kind of conditions the youth ambassadors experience when they are on an expedition with i2P. They typically cover 2 marathons in a day, with a break between the two, which makes things more challenging, as your legs will stiffen up between the two efforts.

So, how did the event go for me? Well, the mere fact that this wasn’t a race made things very odd in my mind. I showed up at Breton Beach, where we were shuttled to the Ark, at 6:30pm Saturday. I knew very few people there, only Ray (Zahab), Mike (Caldwell), and Ryan (Grant). Chatting with people was fun, and once we arrived at the Ark, the group of runners all sort of got to know each other a bit. However, I found it all a bit awkward, as it was devoid of the typical ‘pre-race’ jitters and feelings. Instead we had little speeches from Ray and some of his friends, then we got to tuck into a meal of salmon, pasta, quinoa, and potatoes, before grouping together for some pictures, and heading out for the opening 7km of trails, which were on Mike’s property.

The awkwardness continued for the next 7k on these trails. Mike was leading the group, and due to the darkness, and technical nature of these trails, coupled with the fact that some runners were uncomfortable on this terrain, we basically hiked the entire first section. I’m used to going all out on these trails, redlining and trying to win. I knew I should go slower, but honestly, this was demoralizing to me, and had me worried whether or not I’d enjoy myself.

Luckily, from there, we headed out on the trans-canada trail, which is actually just the gravel road that runs between the Ark and Wakefield for the next 23km. Although we were all staying near each other, the pace was at least more of a running pace rather than hiking. We started spreading out a bit more, and would just all wait for each other at the water re-filling stops, which were spaced out every 7 to 10km on this section. Here, I got a better feeling of actually running, and was trading leads with a few of the other stronger runners in the group. Stories were swapped, embellishments shared on past races, and I was now having a good time (well, apart from my 2 visits to the woods…).

The event was very well run by the volunteers which themselves were among the running elite of the world, since they were all Ray’s friends from past expeditions. Before the 30k mark, we were even treated to pizza from the trunk of one car, and most of the runners also enjoyed a warm cup of coffee sometime around 3:30am outside the Wakefield Inn. By the time we hit the 40k mark back at Breton Beach, we were a single group, all having fun, nervously anticipating the next 60km of running. Ryan led us out on some trails from there for the next 10km, which again we spent at a jogging pace for the most part, mixed with a few little walking sections. It turns out, for the most part, 100k runners don’t really ‘run’ the whole way.

The promise from Ray on this idea of running as a group for the opening 50k was that those who wanted to could then really open things up on the next 50k, when the fresh legs showed up. I decided this was probably a sound strategy for my first-ever 100km run! By the time we trotted back into Breton Beach again, we had over 50k under out belts, and the sun was up, as it was after 6am. The next section wouldn’t start until 8am, so we had time to refuel with boiled eggs, boiled potatoes, cold pizza, and water. We also had a chance to get whatever clothing or food we might need from our cars, which had been left there the night before.

On the plus side, I had set up a thermarest, down sleeping bag and pillow in the back of my car to try and get 30 minutes or so of sleep. On the negative, my car keys were actually in a bag that was in a volunteers car that hadn’t returned yet. Oh well. They did eventually make it, but by then, I really only had time to deal with my feet (check taping, apply more lotion, etc), put on a fresh change of clothes, apply sunscreen, and re-pack my bag with extra food. When I finally tried laying down, it was too late, as others were arriving around the car and making noise. At least I managed to lay there for about 15 minutes with my feet elevated to reduce the swelling from the first 50k.

Before I knew it, I was lined up with everyone else awaiting the start to the next 50k, which essentially consisted of three different loops. First was an ‘easy’ 23km loop, then, progressively harder loops of 15k and finally 12k to finish off the day. The weather also promised to get quite sunny and warm, which guaranteed the final 12k would be hard on account of tired legs, tired body, overheating, AND technical terrain. I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Kilometers 51-64 were really fun for me. Now free from the ‘stick together’ small group from the previous evening, I was allowed to run my pace and do as I pleased. Admittedly, I was not a rocket man here, but I was definitely running faster than the first 50k. My only real guiding principal was to make sure I stayed in zone 1 by keeping an eye on my heart rate. I fell in with a number of different friends out on the trail and had a great time chatting with them. Serena, Stephen, Isabelle, Amanda, and others from the normal running crew provided great company on those trails.

Arriving at the beach again, I was slightly disappointed to learn all these folks had really only signed up for the 23k run. That meant I’d be heading out all alone now, and basically ran on my own for the remaining 27km. Normally I relish in the solitude of a hard-fought race, but for some reason, I felt like having company out there. Eventually I got over that and fell into my own little rhythm, and didn’t pass another soul nor get passed for the rest of the day.

Each time I made it to a marshal point, they were letting me know that I was the first 100k runner to come through. Obviously, this wasn’t a race, but it still felt pretty awesome to know that I was in ‘first’ ahead of some pretty seasoned ultra runners that were in the mix. My mantra was really just to keep on running. Whenever I slowed to a walk on steep bits, I’d do my best to kick my own but back into a loping, shuffling run, just to feel more as if I truly was ‘running’ the whole thing.

The 15k loop was really enjoyable, heading out to Lusk Cabin, then following the 73 snowshoe trail back down to Lac Phillipe and winding back at Breton beach. It was probably my favourite segment of the event, as I still felt relatively light on my feet, wasn’t too tired, and was well hydrated and nourished. Finally back at the beach again, a number of folks cheered me into the ‘check-in’ table where I was getting signed off each time through. Some folks mistakenly thought I was done the 100, and were celebrating for me. I coldly eyed them and said “hey idiots, I have another 12k to go. Thanks for making me feel like shit”. Of course, I was only ribbing them a bit, and Ray quickly warned them not to “mess with the beard”. Spirits picked up again, I trotted to my car for some extra gels and chews, and headed back out.

The final 12k followed the 73 snowshoe trail around the backside of Lac Phillipe, and area that is pretty overgrown and tricky in the summer. Here, the previous 80+km and hours started catching up to me. The feet were getting harder to pick up over the roots and rocks, and I started getting a bit of tunnel vision from the exhaustion. I popped a few gels with caffeine to try and wake up, and just turned on my ‘trail running robot’ moves. That’s when I just turn off my brain and let my body use autopilot to keep going. Eventually, I popped out at the far end of the lake to the smiling face of Ryan telling me I was killing it out there and was the first through of the 100k folks. I was elated, as I knew the final 6km were just along the number 50 (gravel road) and a bit of trail 73 for the final bit along the lake.

I dug deep and just kept plodding on, knowing it would be over soon. When I finally cleared the final bend and came into sight of the finish, the cheers went up again, and this time, I allowed myself to bask in it briefly. It was all over now. I had completed the 100km trail run in one piece, and actually felt pretty good. However, I did still pretty much sit down right away and just relax with some good friends that were still around. Lise offered me the best chips ever, sour cream and bacon, and I devoured them happily. I’d been eating very sugary foods, and this was exactly what I had been lusting after during the final loop!

I collected my 100km finishers belt buckle, said my goodbyes, and basically poured myself into my car for the 30 minute drive back home. Later, I celebrated with a feast of greasy, salty Chinese food, and it was AWESOME. Delirious with tiredness, I willed myself to stay up until at least 9pm, since I don’t like going to sleep too early, even after a big effort. I was amazed the next day by the fact that I really didn’t feel too stiff. Within 2 days, I was out running 20k on the trails again, over in Nova Scotia, where I was visiting my dad. Turns out when you run so slowly, the body doesn’t take quite as bad a pounding. So what’s next for me? 160km? 180km? 240km? Who knows. There are a few multi-day staged runs in exotic locales that have captured my imagination, so who knows.

To wrap things up, I would definitely recommend the i2P run next year if you want to get out, support a great cause, and see some of the fun trails in the northern end of the park. If you are thinking of trying a 100k event, this is also an excellent introduction, as there is zero pressure, tons of excellent support, both moral and physical, and the finishers buckles are just plain sweet! So what’s next for me? Well, within 2 weeks of this event, I have my final multi-day adventure race of the season, in Gaspesie at the Raid International! Stay tuned for that story…

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