November 07, 2010

Running 100km

Here is a race report on the Haney to Harrison 100km. I intended it to be short but it's a long way to run so there's a lot to tell.

Twenty ultra runners set off from Haney at 4am (another started at 3am and ended up taking a wrong turn to outrun us all by completing 114km). Everyone was wearing reflective gear and headlamps. As planned, I started at the back, determined to begin at an easy pace and soon started chatting with two runners next to me, before another runner joined us.

It was dark underneath the clouded skies, but we still had plenty of light in the residential area of Haney. From the start the course was very well marked and marshalled. Each solo runner had to have at least one person to crew for them, so there were several cars that pulled up at different intervals with spouses, friends and family holding out gels, drinks, bananas and whatever else can carry a pedestrian through a centennial run.

I carried a 500ml bottle of water and two energy bars. Tim stopped several times without me needing anything until I reached the first of seven exchanges, where our times were recorded. This event is done as a relay too, with the first of 200 teams starting two hours behind the solo runners.

By the time I came to Exchange 1 I was running and chatting with a woman named Susan. I was timed at 55:14 for the first 9.57km, which worked out to a pace of 5:47 per kilometre.That was a bit slower than I had planned but the pace felt right and I knew that erring on the side of caution at the start of a race is rarely a bad thing. My time shows up as 16th out of the 21 runners.

I kept running with Susan, and we covered the next 13.51km mostly together. As planned, I took regular short walk breaks, which I had started doing after 25 minutes of running. Susan stopped when her crew handed her nutrition and drinks. So between her stops and my walk breaks, we stayed close to each other and talked about how we each got into running and triathlon and ultras.

It was great to run with her and we both enjoyed the company early on in our first 100km, especially since it was still so dark. My time for the second leg, for a total of a little over 23km, was 1:21:29, or a pace of 6:09 per km. My time for this hilly stage shows up as 11th.

By this point we had left the residential area. Street lights became scarce, until we reached a long stretch that had none. It was pitch black on the narrow road through a mature forest with trees the height of a five-story building on either side. Combined with a fog, our headlamps and the occasional car, it was spectacular.

Like other crews, Tim waited for me several times, ready to hand me anything I needed. I'd finished my first 500ml water bottle shortly after the first hour, and got a new energy bar from him, as I ate one in the first hour. And a second bar before the second hour was up, along with a second bottle of water and a couple of Lava Salts tablets.

An easy start, with good hydration, nutrition, and electrolytes would provide a good base. Susan and I talked as we ran, joining a couple another runner briefly too. During the third stage I was keen to pick up my pace a little. Each runner was by now settling into their rhythm and interaction with the crew.

I took my walk breaks and only needed a new water bottle and another energy bar from Tim. I preferred to carry my bottle so I could sip regularly and whenever I wanted to, rather than wait for Tim to stop. I also was conscious of the fact that it would be a very long day for him and, as I had told him, I expected to need him more often in the second half of the race which would no doubt be a lot more challenging than the first half.

Soon I was running by myself. It was still very dark, and the fog gave an eerily gorgeous feel to the light of my headlamp. I knew there were runners and crew everywhere, and Tim made sure to stay a little closer during this stage. It had been a hilly section, so I had plenty of opportunities to take my walk breaks. It felt like a long time before I made it to Exchange 3 at 38km.

Shortly before reaching it, my headlamp was no longer necessary as the twilight provided enough visibility. It was nice to remove that weight from my head. By then I'd begun taking gels, after eating one bar for breakfast and another 3 1/2 bars on the run.

I reached Exchange 3 after about 3 hours and 45 minutes of running. By now the timing tables (rather than mats) were set up so I needed to swipe the chip around my wrist across to record my time. This 15.12km had taken me 1:27:59, for an average pace of 5:50 per km. My time for this stage was 9th.

I knew I'd passed a few people in the previous stage when it was still dark. Because it is a point to point course I had no idea where I was in the field, though I knew for sure there were several runners ahead.

After a very brief chat with Tim at Exchange 3, I was again on my way and excited to soon complete my first marathon of the day. Before I did I noticed another female runner up ahead. I passed her shortly before I was due for another walk break, so she passed me again.

When I resumed running we had a brief chat before I moved ahead somewhere between 40km and 42km. We were about to hit one of the steepest downhill sections on the course, which also marked the start of a long section of flats.

Once below, I asked Tim for my iPod at about 46km. It was such a treat to listen to the selection of music I'd compiled earlier this week. I still felt OK, but by now I'd been running nearly 4 1/2 hours on the road with plenty of climbs and descents. It was almost 8:30am. While the sun was up, it was hidden behind clouds and light rain.

I enjoyed the music, the flats and the solitude. We passed another solo runner who was on the other side of the road with his crew vehicle. It looked like he was changing his shoes. I was almost done with a walk break and was running again before he did.

At this stage I simply didn't have the mental energy to be running with someone else and I suspect each runner felt the same. I listened to and sang along with my favourite songs, focusing on staying `in the moment', being positive and pushing away the thought I was yet to reach halfway.

This stage follows a flat busy road. We had to run on the left side, against traffic. This road barely had a shoulder so I had to pay attention to the cars and occasional trucks coming my way while also avoiding needlessly stepping into the water puddles that had formed in the rain. My shoes and socks were damp enough already.

Shortly before reaching the next exchange station is where I first remember focusing on getting to a certain point that I could see up ahead. I didn't realize it then but I was about halfway.

The stage between Exchange 3 (at the 38km mark) and Exchange 4 was 14.4km, which I covered in 1:22:21, a pace of 5:43 per kilometre. My time was the 5th-fastest for this stage. I had another toilet break, my fourth since I began running 5 hours and 7 minutes earlier. Before you think, Too much info!, it is crucial in a long race because it is a sign your body is still well hydrated.

Shortly after I left this Exchange I was running at a nice pace, focusing on the music rather than the minor aches and pains in various places, when I suddenly felt a small balloon inflate on my left baby toe, followed by pain as my left foot hit the ground with every step - argh, a blister!

Since Tim had passed me and I couldn't even see him along the highway that stretched at least a kilometre ahead of me, there was nothing I could do except keep running. A few painful steps later I felt the blister burst. It was a painful relief, and as I kept moving the pain subsided.

I wondered if I should do something about that blister now that it had burst, and decided to ask Tim at our next stop, though I wasn't quite sure what and didn't feel like taking off my damp compression socks and shoes. Still I worried that the start of blisters forming could make the remainder of my run extra challenging.

Tim was waiting for me shortly after the course left the highway for a quiet rural flat road. I asked him what he thought of the blister. He said that since I'd felt it burst already, I might was well keep going. So I did.

This next stage was where I slowly but surely found it harder to ignore my increasing stiffness and discomfort. I got a mental lift when Tim told me that I'd covered 62km. I was very excited to realize that I had less than a marathon to go.

The first relay runners caught up to me here, and it was nice to see them moving so fast and easy. Most provided encouragement too.

Tim told me I was doing superb and looked fantastic. He kept me fed and hydrated. Because of this quiet rural road that went on for a while I decided to hand him my water bottle, to give my arms a break from carrying for the past 62km.

Unfortunately we were about to entere a section where he wasn't allowed to stop. Even though I was only 10 or 15 minutes without water, I was very upset about my stupidity of giving up my water bottle. It really wasn't that big a deal, but I had visions of becoming dehydrated in those 10 minutes, a sign of tiredness.

There were very few spectators, other than the enthusiastic and wonderful volunteers at the Exchange stations. It was so nice to unexpectedly see a couple cheering me on. They told me I was doing fantastic and if I needed any water (which they ironically asked just before I saw a sign 'No stopping and realized Tim would be further ahead than I thought, and me without water). I really appreciated their support.

The fatigue of the sheer distance covered became more noticeable as was the fact that I was running on a hard and slanted surface. My lower back was stiff and sore. My feet hurt and I don't even mean the blisters. It was very important now to focus on small goals. Run to the next sign. Run to the car. Focus on what's possible. The next step is possible.

Where's that next Echange station? As much as I tried to not think about how much was left ahead, I became obsessed with distance. Where was I? How much further to go until the finish? Until the next aid station?

I was still moving well. Mentally it was getting harder. I reached Exchange 5 after 6:27 of running. My time for this 13.2km stage was 1:20:04, or an average pace of 6:07 per kilometre, for the fourth-fastest time on this leg.

After I left this station, I could no longer embrace or ignore my suffering. I thought a little cry would help, then decided I was too tired to make that effort. I began walking more, and running less. When I saw a gas station that I knew to be about 72km I quickly did the math: 28km would take me four hours if I walked 7km/hr.

I never thought I would not finish, but I decided then and there that I was going to walk the rest and forget about running. I told Tim about my decision who wisely responded that that was OK.

Soon after that, another of the relay runners passed me. He told me I was doing a great job. I decided to try to speed up to a shuffle. Soon I walked again. Then a car with the window rolled down slowed beside me. It was Ron Adams, the ultra race director.

He asked how I was doing. I said I'd been a lot better 10km ago. He told me that I was at about 75km, so had only 25km to go. I thanked him and said I would get to the finish, somehow. His encouragement really helped and I tried running again, then had another walk break, but now felt that I could and should still do stretches of running.

So I again set myself small goals, until that tree, or the next spot where I could see Tim waiting for me. By now I had given up on the gels and switched to the potatoes I had cooked on Friday. Unfortunately I had made a mistake in putting them in a plastic container in the fridge before they'd cooled down.

Opening the container for the first time at the 72km mark to see them soggy potatoes had been so unappealing that I looked away while taking a bite. The taste was fine, they just looked disgusting. I kept forcing myself to eat them over the next 15km as I resented the taste of my gels even more than the look of the soggy potatoes.

You must keep eating and hydrating in an endurance race. Before I ran the STORMY 50 miler, I'd read in Lore of Running by Tim Noakes that keeping up nutrition remains very important, crucial, toward the end of an ultra.

Reaching Exchange 6 was great again. By now the cheering had gotten even louder for the solo runners as we were at about 81km. My pace had slowed down drastically during this stage, to a 7:24 kilometre pace, for a stage time of 1:36:24 for the 13 km, which was the 11th time among the field for that stretch.

What I didn't know was that I had been second female since I passed that female runner at the 40km mark (and fifth overall since I passed the guy a few kilometres later). It didn't matter since that was about to change. She'd come close enough some time before Exchange 6 that I could see her.

I wasn't surprised that a solo runner was about to catch me, given the slowdown in my pace. In fact I had expected it.

After Exchange 6 the course crosses a bridge, offering spectacular views. By now the sun had come out. It was gorgeous and I soaked up the scenery as I ran a flat stretch of about a kilometre before the start of the final hill. I'd promised myself I could walk up the hill if I ran that flat stretch. Tim had, smartly, parked the car right at the foot of the hill.

When I made it to the car, running, I celebrated by finishing the last of my soggy potatoes and then began walking up the hill.

More relay runners passed and most of them offered encouragement, which was fantastic. Somewhere on this hill the female solo runner passed me. I told her she was doing great, as she moved ahead. I focused on myself, on getting to the finish line as best I could.

Despite the low, low moments I'd experienced in the past 15km, I never once questioned why I was out there. Neither did I wonder whether I would make it to the finish line. I knew I would. The only question on my mind was how much time it would take.

By now it was time for the final downhill. I realized I still had more than 10km to go so I needed some calories. I asked Tim to give me a few of the licorice (Twizzler) packages and started eating them. I was still carrying and drinking water too.

The downhill was painful but no more so than the flats. Of all the body parts, my right shin was screaming the loudest. I ran until it got too painful, then walked until I felt better and resumed running, a process I kept repeating.

Like at many other points along the course, the views from here were amazing. Mountains, clouds lit up by the sun that had come out in the early afternoon and runners stretched out along the road. It wasn't too long before I got to the final Exchange 7, for a time of 1:41:26 for the 13.5km stretch, a pace of 7:32.

The spectators here were fantastic, cheering as if it were the finish line. One group was particularly awesome, it seemed like they were everywhere in the final few km.

By now I'd been out there for 9 hours and 45 minutes. There was 8km left. I resumed my walk-run strategy for another kilometre and had resigned myself to the fact that that was to be my speed until I crossed the finish ... when something really ticked me off.

Amid the adrenaline, I looked for, and found, another gear. I covered the final 7.9km in 44:05, an average pace of 5:37. My time for that final stage was the third-fastest, only 42 seconds slower than the stage time of the overall winner of the event.

I understand where the mental strength came from, though I am still puzzled about the physical response that came along with it given how my body had behaved the previous 25km. Regardless, I managed to squeeze in just under 10 1/2 hours for a total time of 10:29:17, first in the women's 40-49 age group, second overall female (though far behind the amazing Suzanne Evans who ran 8:49) and fifth overall out of 20 finishers.

Sure it was tough but it was fantastic and I am so grateful I got to do it. A huge, huge thanks to Tim who was there for me the entire way, from 2am in the morning, until we got home 18 hours later.

As of next year, a race of 80km held in Whistler will replace the Haney to Harrison relay and ultra. I can appreciate it because this 100km course, with solo runners and the 200 teams of eight, must be a huge amount of work to organize. And this event was absolutely superbly organized.

If this hadn't been the 14th and final edition of the Haney to Harrison 100km, I'd come back in 2011 for sure. Now I'll be looking for another 100km road race to improve my time for the distance.


Lisa McLean said...

You are amazing Margreet! Well done to both and your supporter hubby :-) What a challenge...why am I even thinking twice about a marathon?!? Rest up. Lisa and Peter, Sydney, Australia xx

Margreet Dietz said...

Thanks so much Lisa and Peter!

I think that for every distance we are about to try for the first time we need to really, really want to do it.

It's OK to doubt that you can but there must be no question that you really truly want to do it.

So if you feel that way about the marathon, pick a nice one and sign up! If you don't feel that deep desire and drive yet, wait a little and it will come.

It's always hard but rarely as hard as you'd expected it to be! xx