The Run for the Toad 50km was a big race for me this year. My longest ever race (and run) and my first “ultra” distance race. I decided to bite the bullet and sign up for it in July, and have focused my training on getting ready for it (as much as I could). I’ve been logging my training in weekly update posts on this blog and based my plan around the one posted on the race website, developed by Montrail runner Ryne Melcher. I had a lofty goal to run 4:10 (5:00 min/km) and was pretty confident I could pull it off even though I had never run this distance before. Sept. 29 was the day I would see what I could do!
The weather on race day could not have been more perfect for late September. I’ve heard stories of this race in rain, cold, mud, etc and I was feeling very lucky for a decent temperature and sun. The race is held at Pinehurst Conservation Area near Paris, ON. I was up at 5:30, and out of the house by about 6:15 for the drive. I got to the race site early and had lots of time to pick up my bib, chip, and Montrail Running Bag (much better than another shirt) and check out the expo tent. George and Peggy are the Race Directors, and they have a well deserved reputation for putting on an incredible race, which includes much more than the great course. The expo tent was huge, combined with the dining/seating area. They had free Tim Hortons coffee and snacks and lots to see/buy at the expo. After killing some time and saying hi to a few people at the booths, I headed out to change and get ready for the opening ceremonies and the race start at 9:30. After the opening parade and speeches, the 50k runners gathered at the start line. George (one of the Race Directors) came over and shook our hands and thanked us for attending. I’ve never been to a race where the RD’s make the participants feel so important! And then we were off…
The 50 km distance was made up of four laps of the 12.5 km course. The course was mostly trail, with lots of twists and turns to make use of all of the Pinehurst Conservation Area. Along with twists and turns there were lots of short hills to go up and down. Pacing was definitely a challenge with very little in the way of flat stretches to get into a rhythm. I spent most of the first lap with another runner who had the same time goal as I did. I was keeping my focus on my heart rate, and was hoping to keep it below 160 for the first couple of laps to conserve energy. I was grateful for the dry conditions because it was very apparent that with rain this course would be even more challenging in slippery, muddy conditions. I decided to carry an 8oz flask of Gu Brew as hydration/nutrition on each lap. I also had gels and candies in my drop bag. I drank my 8oz and had a gel on the first lap. I crossed the line just over 56 minutes – well under my goal pace but I was feeling good and was happy to have some time “in the bank”.
Lap #2 was much the same as lap #1. I still felt good, though my stomach was a little unsettled. I drank a bit less of my electrolytes but took in a pack of honey stinger candies and a gel. I grabbed a bit of water at a couple of aid stations and was happy with how things were going. This one was a bit slower and I finished it in about an hour. Still under my goal pace, but obviously slowing down. At this point I was still confident that I had a chance to get to the finish in 4:10.
As I started lap #3 I felt like I should be slowing the pace a little. The first section of the lap had some paved sections where I was moving noticeably slower than I had been in the first two laps. My legs were definitely starting to feel heavy and my stomach was still a bit off. A few km’s into this lap is where the wheels definitely fell off. I really started to focus on slowing the pace but it was too late! I took to walking some of the hills and stopping at a few aid stations to drink. I found myself really craving water and with about 5km between some aid stations I was wishing I had a bottle with me. The other related problem was that when I got to an aid station I would drink way too much because I was so thirsty! It was strange, and I’ve never wanted water so badly before while running. I was really hoping my family would be at the finish line so I could see them before I headed out on my final lap. While I was daydreaming about water and my family, I tripped over a root 500m before the finishing area! Thankfully I kept myself upright, but the quick reaction from my legs caused both calves to simultaneously lock up with cramps. I had to stop and stretch them and thankfully they quickly released! Close call. I came through the finishing area and heard my wife yelling at me so I stopped, gave her a hug and told her how hard this was! She pointed the kids out to me who were down on the beach with my mother in law… so I decided to run down and give them a hug and a kiss. My wife was yelling at me to get back out there and finish, so off I went!
Lap #4 was brutal. I was struggling, and knew my goal was out of reach. I just couldn’t get the motivation to push. I was working it one kilometre at a time and trying to focus on running the downs and flats, and only walking up the hills. I had received lots of good advice before this race, and I was still enjoying the experience, I just couldn’t push myself to run when my legs were so worked. I kept telling myself that they would feel the same whether I was walking or running, but nothing was getting me going any faster! I was still craving water like crazy, and chugged as much as I could at the 3 aid stations. There were lots of other slow moving people on the course at this point to keep me company and have a momentary chat with to pass the time. When I hit the 11km sign I felt relief – I knew it was so close. I moved through that last 1.5km, crossed the finish line and was overwhelmed to be finished. My final time was 4:39.
The feeling of incredible relief was just like when I finished my first half-marathon a couple years ago. My family was all right there to congratulate me – I was way past my goal time but that didn’t bother me at all. I was so happy to be done, and so proud of finishing that distance that my time didn’t matter at all. I laid down with my family around me and felt so happy, and then the real pain hit my legs! It reminded me of being a kid and getting so cold playing outside in the winter that when you warm up your feet or hands feel like they are in vice grips and the pain is never going to go away. Of course it does, and eventually it did that day too but it was intense.
We hung around for a little while after the race. I checked the results to see that I had finished 12th overall (11th out of the men) and 4th in my age group. I marveled at the times of the fast runners, and even more so at the runners with even pacing! My first lap (56min) was 32 minutes faster than my last lap (1:28)!! I definitely have a lot to work on!
Overall I was happy with the experience. I set a time goal, but wasn’t hell bent on achieving it or doing anything more than finish without hating the experience. This might have been part of my downfall since I just couldn’t get my head into pushing to go any faster on lap 4, but it left me without regrets afterwards. I would love to do this race again, and put some of the lessons I have learned into practice. I will likely write a separate post on what I think went right and wrong, and what I learned from this race (it’s here if you’re interested). This one is long enough already!
If you are looking for a 25 or 50km trail race in Southern Ontario, you can’t go wrong with this one. The Race Directors are totally focused on providing a great experience and it shows. They have a summer training run day, great expo, food, entertainment, giveaways, aid stations, and the list goes on.
Thanks for reading!
Soroud of you Kent. What an endeavour!
….and that says “so proud of you Kent”! 🙂
Thanks Mom/my biggest fan!
Wow! 4:39! Fantastic 50km time. My best is 6:48 and I was stoked with that. Congratulations.
Thanks Andrew – I had the advantage of shoes and no beach sand though!
Congrats Kent. Was great to meet you at the Toad. Sounds like a very valuable learning experience and one that will help you loads for next time. From what you’re saying it might indicate that you may have started a little on the quick side for the first loop and could have benefited from more water between aid stations, as well as evenly spaced fueling…possibly a bit more often. Great first effort though and you should be very pleased with it. Hope your recovery is going well.
Welcome to the wonderful world of ultras!
Thanks for your comments Derrick. I appreciate the feedback from an experienced ultra runner like yourself. I’m writing up a detailed account to find where things went right and wrong so I might ask/beg for more advice based on that.
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