Hard to believe that I haven’t run a race since Yukon Arctic Ultra in February. That finally changed this past weekend at the Dirty Girls 12 hour race.
Sara and I hadn’t actually planned on it being this long before racing as we had signed up for the Bear Mountain 50 miler in May, but the attack of the killer chicken left me injured and unable to make the start line.
After recovering from that injury, I got back into a good routine and put in some solid training over the past 10 weeks. I averaged over 2 hours per day during that period and included some good long runs in the 4-6hr range, plenty of hills and some good tempo runs as well. Doing my longer run each day in the heat of noon to early afternoon left me feeling that I am getting quite used to the brutal weather we’ve been having. The only drawback is that it has affected the pace of some of my runs somewhat.
Health-wise, I feel like my body has held up reasonably well. I’ve built in recovery blocks, not necessarily calendar weeks, to ensure that I’m ready to build further. My back has continued to cause some discomfort, which in turn seems to have given me some achilles pain too. Both of these I’ve been able to manage adequately though.
So, back to the Dirty Girls race. This sounded like the type of course that I would like and have wanted to do it for a while. I’ve never done a timed race and was interested to see how I would like it. The new route for 2012 was only 8km long, and as with last year (I believe 2011 was the first night race), would be run almost exclusively after dark, beginning at 8pm.
To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure how it would go and had no big plans or goals. My number one goal was to treat it more like a training run, but I did want to run as hard as I could, for as long as I could. If this meant that I crashed a bit early on and needed to stop after 6, 8 or 10 hours instead of the 12 hours allotted, I was ok with that. Having said that though, as long as my body held up, I did want to test it and aim to go for the full time.
As mentioned, my achilles has been barking a bit as of late, and usually the first 5-10mins of each run had me starting with it being quite stiff before loosening up. I was very surprised to discover that on race morning I had absolutely no achilles pain. What a pleasant treat! Seems as though I might have cut back just enough in the final week to heal (heel) a bit.
The field for the 12 hour race was quite small with only 19 runners starting. Part of me wanted to start out conservatively, but with others beginning at a solid pace, I found myself going a little quicker than I might have to get to the front before heading into the narrow single track trails. I decided to wear my heartrate monitor with my Suunto Ambit running watch to collect as much data about how my race was going. I kept a check on my heartrate in the early loops and was surprised it was a little higher than I wanted it to be. I kept trying to relax to bring it back down a bit, but the combination of continuous rolling hills and the sight of headlamps following close behind kept me pushing at a solid pace.
The course was really quite nice. The 8km loop was sand covered trail with the occasional bit of roots to make for challenging obstacles in the dark. There were plenty of twists and turns, and rolling hills. There were some decent climbs on the loop (approx. 550ft of climbing per loop), but the longest being probably no more than 4 minutes long. I found the terrain very similar to our home trails at the north end of Frontenac Park. The main difference though was that Frontenac features much more technical trails with plenty of rocks, and this was a little easier on the legs.
The toughest part in the early going of the race was after my 4th loop. I came into the end and saw that Sara had decided to stop. She has been having some stomach issues going into the race and wisely decided to call it a day. I’d be lying if I said that the desire to stop then myself wasn’t pretty strong. However, after hearing that Sara was ok, I decided to keep going and headed back out on the course.
My fueling plan on the day was to try and hit gels every 20 minutes for calories, and that seemed to work pretty well for at least the first half of the race. The weather wasn’t super hot either, so I was drinking comfortably to thirst and taking S!Cap electrolytes every hour (or slightly longer).
The loops sort of began blending into one another as the night wore on. It was probably around the 8th loop that my stomach starting going south. This was a familiar feeling, and I just had to deal with it. I adjusted my electrolytes a bit, and tried to keep taking in calories as much as I could. I was beginning to struggle with gels at this point, so was relying more on Coke and gingerale at aid stations, plus bananas, apple sauce and potato chips seemed to help my stomach a bit. I was beginning to worry that I wasn’t taking in enough calories though, so took a little longer at the next aid station and gulped a half a bottle of Ultragen. Ultragen is a great recovery drink, post run, and I’ve used it with success in training mid run before, so I thought this would be a great way to top up my fueling a bit. My stomach thought differently though. Within a couple of minutes of heading back out on the loop, the Ultragen, and everything else in my stomach came back up in 3 violent bouts of projectile vomiting.
I’ve had this happen before, and found that the best thing to do is back off on the fueling for a bit and just sip a little water occasionally for a while. I also sucked on some candied ginger to calm my stomach for the next 30 minutes and found that I was slowly able to start consuming calories again.
One of the things that I like most about trail racing and ultras is seeing beautiful trails in the forest. Strangely, with this being held almost entirely at night under thick tree cover, there wasn’t really much to see. There were a few spots on the course though where you could get a nice view of the moon and had that wonderful feeling of being out in the middle of nowhere…even though it was only a short loop and not far from busy roads.
The strain of focusing on the trail for so long at night tends to make your eyes tired after so long (okay, it wasn’t just my eye’s tired, but you get the idea). I was really looking forward to daylight now and hopefully able to get another loop in.
At this point I started trying to figure out the distance I had gotten in up to this point and trying to do the math to have an idea what I could finish up at. Going into the race I really had no idea what to expect. I thought that if the trail was in good shape and not too hilly, that 100-110km might be a possibility. However, with it being a night race, it does slow you down a bit, plus it wasn’t quite as flat as I had expected and featured plenty of winding turns, so I was ok with the knowledge that I would be less. I double checked with the race director the number of laps that I had done and found that one more lap would get me 96km. I knew that I would be good to do that, so headed out into the final lap without a headlamp for the first time. I felt as though I was still moving reasonably well. I really enjoyed that final loop and seeing all of the trail that I had run throughout the night.
I came into the finish of the loop at about 20 minutes before the 8am cutoff having completed 96kms. I felt that I was done, however I was informed that you could get credit for partial loops too of every 2km. I knew that after running for this long that I would not be able to get 100km, but if I got out of the aid station quickly that I could snag another 2km and finish with 98km in the race. Almost begrudgingly, I headed back out onto the course for a partial loop.
Getting in 100km would have been nice, but 98 still sounded a little better than 96. The final 2km was actually quite enjoyable and for the first time in the race, I ran with someone else for a while. Glen Redpath was crushing the 24hr race going on at the same time. I had passed Glen a few times during the night, but our paces didn’t really match from doing different races, so never got to run together. We both knew that we couldn’t get more than 2 more kms within the time limit, so it was nice being able to finish the last of our races together.
Looking back on DG12, I am pleased with the effort and don’t know if I could have done much or anything differently to run much better. Possibly, a bit slower at the start, which might have helped my stomach, but hard to say. I was happy to have ended up winning the race, and apparently Diane said it was a new course record since it was switched to a night race. In the end, I felt it was a good return to racing and a nice tuneup for Haliburton 100 next month.
A big thank you to race director Diane Chesla, and all of her wonderful volunteers for putting on an amazing race.
VIG (Very Important Gear!):
La Sportiva Vertical K’s: The longest that I’ve worn these lightweight gems and they felt amazing.
UltrAspire Nerve: The perfect waistbelt for this type of race. Lightweight, comfortable and good storage for fuel.
Suunto Ambit: The best running watch on the market. Was nice to be able to keep check on the distance, heartrate, elevation gain, among other things…and to pour over the data after.
Petzl NAO: The reactive lighting is such a cool concept and worked very well, with sensing how much light you needed on the trail. At a maximum of 355 lumens, this is an amazing torch for night running.