Monday, October 8, 2012

In For The Long Run

Yesterday was the 20th Valley Harvest Marathon (hereafter VHM). It was to be my 4th time at the event, one half, two fulls, a 50K Ultramarathon and the slowest winning times on both the Kentville and Wolfville courses. It was an event with a few significant milestones.  It was Dave Nevitt's 100th "career" marathon (a story covered with greater eloquence elsewhere), Mark "The Original Cookie Monster" Campbell's 40th marathon (caveat, inc. Ironman and other associated madness) and my 20th "long run with a dossard".  

As an interesting side-note, Marathon Maniacs recently had this dicussion: how to best tally up your career statistics.  I think we can all be happy not including our Sprint Triathlons in our career 5K count but somehow, intuitively, I'm sure many of us feel a marathon or longer takes a certain degree of commitment and investment above and beyond that required of a 5K. Not to denigrate our 5K-running cousins. The overall feeling was that you should keep three totals; marathons, ultras and total. So I guess I'm 19 + 1 and marathon #20 will be this weekend as the 3:30 pace-bunny at PEI.

VHM was an early start, I mean Ironman early.  The plan was up at 04:00, in the car by 04:45, Wolfville by 06:00, race-start at 07:00,  Anything after race-start was up to the running Gods. To be honest, I think I was more stressed by not getting up on time than the race.

Mike Kennedy entered the ultra on a whim and I agreed to pick him up at 04:50. Even more stress now to make sure I woke up on time.  I set two, independent alarms and la belle graciously agreed to set hers. As it was, I woke up at 01:00, 02:00 and 03:00 and then 03:50. At the latter, I figured I'd be worse off if I tried to squeeze an extra ten minutes of snooze so I just got up and pre-empted all the alarms.

It was nice to have some company on the drive up and we managed to chat about anything but the impending event.  It rained on us as we drove up and it seemed as though the race was going to be a bit damp and miserable, but we piled into Acadia under clearing skies.  The whole ultra-marathon thing only sank in when we go to the sports centre to sign in.

 It was a bit empty at 06:00, in fact there were more volunteers than runners!

Still, we managed to find someone to take a photo before we headed off to the start

Yes, I know. Arm-warmers and a singlet. Again.  I'm running out of excuses, non?

Of course, getting there at 06:00 also had it's advantages: rock-start parking, rock-star bathrooms (two stalls for five guys, compare-and-contrast to two stalls and 900 guys an hour later), and unobstructed  rock-star access to the coffee-pot. 

There was a bit of gallows humour at the start, I don't think anyone there had done an Ultra before! Still, we had a nice personalised chat with the race director and the timing guys at the start. They say that ultrarunning is a different beast and with a whole one event under my belt, I think I would agree. I've never seen so much of a relaxed atmosphere on a start-line. Counter-intuititivily, given that it was likely further than any of us had ever run in a single go, it was chatty and relaxed and very un-intimidating.

When we were given the go, it seemed there was a 500ms pause as everyone looked at each other as if to say "What? Now?  Shall we go". Certainly it would have been bad form to scorch off the start-line to score an early 10m lead.  I think we ran the first few hundred metres together before differences in gait and cadence started to pull us apart,  

As for my own race, I ran the first 10K with Ron "Cookie MacKilt" MacDougal. After that I did about 10K on my own before Denis Choquette caught me. Initially I thought I was caught and dropped as
he went through at about 4:45/km whereas I was trying to keep a lid on it and stay at around 5:00/km. Instead Denis came back to me on a hill and we ran together for the next ten miles.  It was great to have some company and, to be honest, to be in the lead with the lead bicycle was a boon as we were able to follow the correct course, as the ultra's extra 8K loop was not well marked.

 The first twenty miles were possibly one of the best runs I've had in my life, ever. And that's quite a statement.  It was dark when we left and as we wound our way through the dikes we were treated to the sun rising over the Bay of Fundy. The skies were blue, the wind was light, the temperature was moderate: it can't have been more than 15C and there were no man-made sounds whatsoever.

Of course, you have to pay for something like that. At around 35K Denis pulled way from me. At first I thought it would be more plus ca change, plus ca la meme chose and I'd catch him on the next hill, but no; at the top I'd still be a few tens of metres away, and so on and so forth until I was truly gapped. So I settled down to run the last ten miles on my own as the distance started to bite.

It was getting warmer and I didn't peel down my arm-warmers until the 20 mile mark, so all you haters out there, it was the right fashion choice. In terms of thermoregulation at least, if not in absolute sartorial terms.

It is said that long, long running is as much a mental as a physical game. I think I lost the plot a little around the 37K mark. I still had the legs, but I didn't have the mind.  Oh well.  I wasn't thinking in absolute terms but, as we were back on the full marathon course, I was keying off the marathon signs instead; 36km, 37km and so-on, instead of 44km, 45km; one way not to think about the distance.  I think mile-marker watching is a sign it's going horribly wrong and I spent six miles waiting for signs to come up.  Natch. It came together again with three kms to go, but not after walking the aid-stations and half of the hill up off the causeway to the main road. My Garmin clearly shows four dips in pace. I don't think it made to much of a difference in the end.  In absolute terms, my kilometer splits in that six or seven kms slowed down to a 5:20 average from even 5s, so call it two minutes lost, in a 240 minute race; that's 1%.

It didn't help that I felt let down my my Mizunos, for the first time ever. Not that I'm making excuses because of my equipment, but my feet felt very numb after 25 miles.  Physiologically and anatomically I know why my feet were numb, but I don't know why-why. Was it the distance i.e. will this always happen to me, or was it the increasing heat of the day i.e. I do get this feeling on long, hot bike-ride, or was it relatively new shoes and insoles i,e, I didn't put the insoles from the old Mizunos in the new ones but then on the other hand I've never had this problem before with this make of shoes. Idea and counter-idea. One could drive oneself insane trying to analyse this, and there may not even be anything there to analyse.

My goal for the day was 5 minute pace for a 4:10 finish. Officially, I'm 5:03 for 4:11. 0.2% off my goal-time: I think that scores as a hit.  Given that there were only 13 people. placings are a bit ridiculous but I was 3rd overall, and third age-group: yup, 40-49 is the age-group of death for endurance stuff. With another 50 entrants, I doubt I would have placed but there's no doubt the top 20 would have been the almost exclusive territory of Masters, Senior Masters and above.  Denis and I were both between by John DeWolfe, who didn't read the website and turned up for the 08:30 start. His gun time was nearly 5 1/2 hours but his chip-time was an astounding 3:55 for 50 kms.  

In fact I was relegated twice; Mark Sein introduced me as the winner when I entered the stadium:  somehow he missed Denis coming in six minutes earlier. I was really confused when I heard Mark as I did my Paris-Roubaix-esque lap of the track, and had to assume Denis had DNF'd; lots of funny things happen in marathons - you can easily go from lead to stretcher-case in two miles. Then to third an hour later when John came in.  Denis and I were a bit confused at first being introduced as second and third respectively when we were pretty clear that I had been the lead then he was the lead and there was no way we could have been Rosie Ruiz-ed, but we worked it out. Technically, plenty of room for an appeal, but why?  It was the VHM Ultra, not worlds.  The best guy won and with a killer time. The dude crushed it good and proper.

In terms of winning and losing, the event was also pretty low key. Everyone was treated as a winner, but, just like the start, there were no egos here and that feeling of camaraderie from the start lasted until the end.  All the finishers in the ultra got a framed print and a bottle of wine, the same prize as the overall and age-group winners in the other events of the day. The only difference was the top three got two prints; this years print and last years print as well.  I got last years print last year, but I got it in a nicer frame this year.

Thanks Susan!  

That wine didn't last long at home!

Today, one day post-Ultra my legs hurt more than after any marathon I've done for a while.  I think 800mg ibuprofen and some Vitamin P will do it!



  1. It was a great day to run an Ultra and it was nice meeting you!!!

    Dan Buckle

  2. I agree , what a challenge and a pleasure to meet you and Mike.

    Sean Dixon

  3. Hey! Good job on the Ultra! I saw you at PEI, but I was running my first marathon so ran a conservative 4:29. Which Mizunos do you wear? I overpronate so I am training in the Inspire 8 (ran the marathon in them, feet also went a bit numb!) but am going to run in the Musha 4s next weekend for a half.

  4. Hey Sarah. As a neutral runner, I do long runs/marathons in the Precision and shorter, faster runs in the Ronin. The Mushas are pretty minimal for a stability shoe and you might want to be careful going "long" in them (a half is long for these purposes) as they won't offer any cushioning when younstart to heel-strike later in the event when you start to tire.

    The "why"of foot numbness is when the bones of the foot spread under the heat and the load and trap nerves in your feet. You can get around it, with custom insoles. After the four-marathons-in-four-weeks that is my October I'll be off to see my shoe guy and try and find a solution. I'll keep y'all posted via the blog.

    Good luck in your half, let us know how you do