Tuesday, 11 September 2012

The 2012 Meet Your Maker 50 mile: An ultra report for the ultra race.

My first 50 mile race was and effort in:

1. Determination
2. Patience
3. Discipline


4. Running slowly.

How else would one approach a race that you were forced into by your brother-in-law? On September 2nd, 2011, I attempted to complete the first ever Meet Your Maker 50mile in Whistler. Going out too fast, I could possibly be crippled by the course with dehydration, cramps, a crash, or any other type of ailment that goes along with ultra-marathons along the way. However, going out too slow, and I ran the risk of not making time cuts and getting pulled from the course. Sean and I were victims of the latter rather than the former.
The profile is daunting.

Wake up call at 4:30am, Sunday morning. I tried to organize everything the night before: clothing, hydration pack, breakfast, electronics, and shoes. All I had to do was meet Sean in the lobby of the Marquise, and we would be off to the Olympic Plaza to begin our day. Instant oatmeal down and a bottle of Skratch for breakfast was all that I needed to fuel my morning.

At the start, I bumped into Mike Murphy, my old cyclocross competitor from last year's Aldor Acres CX race, and wished him luck on the run. He had just finished 2nd to Adam Campbell at the Squamish 50 21km event, and I had hoped that he would be fast for this day. I told him after the race that I would find him and kick him in the crotch for bringing this race to my attention. With a pre-race pep talk from Chris Colpitts about the course and the day, and the lead first aid attendant who asked the racers the question "What would your grade 8 P.E. teachers say if they could see you now?", the countdown was on, and we were off.

Looking fresh at the start

Start slow and then back off--words used by my father-in law when running marathons. We knew that the race was going to be long and steep with 3637m of climbing, 2000m more climbing than we had ever done in one single go. We did not expect the grades to be as steep as they were, both climbing and descending.
Below is a recount of the stages of the race. The time limit to complete the course was 13 hours.

Stage 1: Olympic Plaza to Wedge Parking Lot, 10kms

Within 5 minutes, Sean peeled off the trail and headed into the bushes to have a nature break. We lost almost 20 or 30 places in that break, but I justified this by thinking that everyone was going to blow up on course and we would be fine. This section of the course was relatively easy. Not much climbing, not very technical, kind of like a run in the Delta Watershed, save for the rare steep rocky descents on fire road. We made it to the aid station in just over an hour, taking our time along the way.

Stage 2: Wedge Parking Lot to Base 2, Blackcomb, 21kms

A gorgeous day in Whislter for a run

This section of the course was run on a shorter version of the 25km Comfortably Numb trail. I thought of my son Noah while running this mountain bike trail. One time he mentioned, after seeing celery for the first time, that he had never eaten it before. After trying it, he proclaimed "You can't eat that, it is not food!" My feelings were the same about this trail. Mountain biking on this trail would be arduous, slow, and painful. Crashing would be inevitable due to the extreme technical nature of it. It seems next to impossible for someone to clean the whole trail on a bike. Rock descent, stunts, log bridges, and steep pitches litter this trail. I thought we could complete this section of trail in two hours. It took us nearly 3. We passed a gentleman whom thrashed his hand during a crash and sliced up his fingers (therefore deemed "Bloody Fingers for the rest of the race), met Vicki and DK, Minimalist Lee, and East Van who did not want to pass her ex-boyfriend up the trail. Sean, Lee, and I ran into Base 2 together, where we met our families there and took pictures. It was a huge morale boost.

Base 2 support crew. Parenting the kids around the aid station was difficult as they thought is was a buffet for them.

Stage 3: Base 2 to Peak to Peak Gondola, 10 kms

This had to be one of the cruelest section of the course--straight up Blackcomb mountain until the service road, and then wind our way up to the singletrack, over the top and then descend on the Peak to Peak. What we thought would take us and hour took us closer to two. Some first aid for Sean's blisters, a change of shorts, some lunch, and a refill on Refresh and we were on our way across Fitzsimmons Creek in the gondola, spanning the two peaks.

Straight up Blackcomb!

Peak to Peak. 

Panorama of Whislter

Stage 4: Whislter Peak to Peak to Creekside. 8km Descent

This quad thrashing downhill had us run one of the slowest legs on the day as we were cautious to not crash. Perhaps running with a bit more reckless abandon would have been good, as we could have made up some time, but we were not willing to give up safety for time, and manage to walk some of the hairy-er sections of trail. Making it into the Creekside aid station by 2:30 pm, it gave us only an hour to make the cutoff at aid 5, and thus, we had to run the next 12 kms in one hour. Something that, 50kms into the race, would be asking alot of Sean (and I) with the state of his blisters. The Creekside attendants taped up Sean's heel and toe blisters and managed to get us running. We lost some time here due to the first aid.

Stage 5: Creekside to Function Junction. 12 kms.

This leg of the race had us running through Kaedenwood highlands, up fireroad until we made it to the Cheakamus river and some sweet singletrack. Wow!! This part of trail running was gorgeous!! Absolutely fantastic to run alongside the river, dancing off of the rocks, passing 3 runners (one of whom, a relay
team member, who proclaimed "You are my hero" as I passed her. Thank you for that, fine lady). At this point in the race, I had resigned to quit because I knew that we would not make it to aid #5 by the cut-off time. By 3:48, aid #5 was within sight, along with Kathryn Stanton. I saw her and immediately and gave her the double thumbs down. She asked me how I was doing, I said fine, and she told me that if I left that second, she would allow me to continue the race, even though I was 18 minutes past due. I said I would love to, but I had to wait for Sean to arrive. She said "Every second that you wait, your window is getting smaller for me to let you go." She made a deal with me: Finish the race before 7 pm; complete the remaining 21kms of the course in less than 3 hours and 7 minutes, and get back to the east side of highway 99 by no later than 6:30pm. To me, that sounded like a joke. Completely doable. Two minutes after I arrived, Sean came into the aid station. I told him that we were allowed to continue, but we had to leave right then. He refilled his Refresh, and we went off into Function Junction, and to the trails above Alta Lake.

Stage 6: Function Junction to Rainbow Flank Trail: 10kms

Crossing the 99 at Func Junc, Sean peeled off to pee, yelling at me that he would catch up. I power hiked the last 1000m of climbing and managed to lose him, passing Bloody Finger, Visor Man, and another person. They looked toasted, whereas I was feeling solid. A heap of climbing, and great vistas of Blackcomb and Whistler. Amazing singletrack. I got into aid 6 at 5:10, with the cutoff at 5:25. A few minutes there and I was off to the finish.

Stage 7: Rainbow Flank to Valley Trail/ Lost Lake/ Finish Line

I caught up with Minimalist Lee on the Valley Trail with the final 10 kms to go. It was great to meet up with him and chat with the last bit of running ahead. I figured that he and I were going to be the last two to finish, so I made the effort to take off. Those last 10 were deceptive. Very difficult through the Lost Lake trails, especially when I expected it to be more direct back to the Olympic Plaza. Towards the end of the race, my voice starts to waver as you can hear on the videos.

A huge surprise to me was that I bumped into Sean on the trails. We were able to cross the line together, as we set out to do. After pulling himself on leg 6, Kathryn drove him to Lost Lake to meet up with me. 

42 solo racers who started the race. Only 20 completed the full course. I was 19th overall, the second to last finisher in the solo catagory by 2 minutes or so. With the last 3 legs of the event, I saw many people too tired to go on, exhausted, injured, or fed up with running. Invariably, they abandoned the race. Even for myself, going into aid station #5 after the 3:30pm cutoff, I was considering throwing in the towel. I am glad that I did not. I'd say we were in pretty good shape for our post-race interview:

Two days later, my legs and feet are swollen. Usually thin and bone-ey with protruding veins, after this race my feet look full and puffy, my quads lack definition, and walking is not very much fun, especially going up and down stairs. My father asked me today if I would do the race again. Without hesitation, I said "absolutely". In fact, I look forward to next year--to improving my time, pushing harder, and challenging this course, rather than doing it for the experience and just to finish. Until then, I have to wait until the Chuckanut 50, which will be my next ultra in March.

On a side note, something that got me through this race was thinking positively the whole time. I smiled at all the volunteers, people spectating, and other racers. Knowing that the race was 50 miles, I did not let myself give up. Keeping my chin up and staying focused on one step at a time was huge in getting me through this, along with all the well wishes from many, many friends and family leading up to the event. Thank you all for that! 

All the deets from the body, 8000 calories to boot.
A huge congratulations to Mike Murphy for taking the win at this one! The man is a beast. A very thin, small, lightweight, quick beast. (Mike--I still owe you that kick to the crotch!) Thank you so much to all the volunteers, RD Chris and Kathryn, all the 5 Peaks and Salomon crew, Sugoi Brand Champions, and all of the sponsors for such a wonderfully organized event, great food and prizes, and, most importantly, a well marked course.

This race is sure to become a classic ultra marathon. Truly challenging!