Wow what an incredible weekend!
Ellie Greenwood, Rune Melcher and myself just got back from the 7th annual 'Run For The Toad' 50k in Cambridge Ontario. As the slogan says "An event that is focused completely on YOU. An unforgettable 25/50k trail experience". Ummm, yeah, couldn't have put it better myself!
Just to clarify, this is not some kind of fund raiser for rare and endangered Ontario Toads, the RD's Peggy and George are the creators of the animated children's show 'Toad Patrol'. At 1100 people this is BY FAR the largest trail race in Canada and with over 100 registered racers in the 50k division it makes it one of Canada's largest ultra races as well. The course is a 12.5 loop and we all decided to head out and pre run the trail the day before the event.
The first people we met were George and Peggy and they made us feel like family within minutes. It's rare in life to meet two people as genuine as them, and it truly shines through in everything that they do. They take over a week to set up and tear down the race course and accompanying tent city!
We laced up our Montrails and proceeded to check out the course, Ryne having run the race twice before, both times finishing second. In his description to us on the flight out Ryne made it sound like it was pancake flat with one tiny hill towards the end. If you were directly comparing it to a B.C. ultra, then yes, it's pretty damn flat. However there were plenty of undulations and small hills in the loop and what I took away from our scouting trip was that I might actually have a shot at a decent time and placing within the race. Having never run a marathon I simply do not possess the foot speed to do well on flat terrain...yet! If I were to compare it to an ultra in B.C. I would say it is actually slightly harder than the Club Fat Ass, New Year's Day 50k, but without the hangover!
Ryne had told me that the locals to watch out for were three time winner Giles Malet, and local speedster Clayton Sloss. There was a big ceremony before the race started complete with the National Anthem and bagpipers. As we approached the starting line I recognized a face off the cover of a recent edition of Canadian Running Magazine, Reid Coolsaet. He is one of the top runner's in the country and if not for an injury would have been representing The Maple Leaf in Bejing. With personal bests of a 13m21s 5km and 27m56s 10km, I was glad to see that he was out to blaze the 25km route!
In the weeks and then days leading up to this race I would learn that numerous friends and even a close cousin were all within driving distance of the race and most of them would make it out to cheer me on! The day prior I managed to catch up with a good friend from Banff and her newborn son Max...she said I could call him Maximus if I liked. I had not seen Jessie in about eight years, it was a great start to my race weekend!
As we were awaiting the countdown till suffer time, my teammate from last year's Raid The North Extreme, Christiaan Piller managed to find me in the pack! He was running hung over and for fun, but it was great to catch up with him again and once the race began we ran the first 5km together.
Off the start Melcher bolted, as we expected he would. In fact I earned a beer with his first lap time going almost a full minute faster than he 'guaranteed' me he would run. I started at a steady pace and then started to move after about thirty minutes as we got into the guts of the course where there were some hills to take advantage of.
Another friend from Banff, Trevor Richmond, who I only reconnected with a few months ago after a gap of years, met me prior to the 9.30am start and offered to be my support crew. I would see him at the 9km point in the race and on each lap thereafter. The course was great for spectators as the 6km and 9km points intersected each other, and the start finish was but a three minute walk away. You could very easily follow your favorite runner and see them a minimum of twelve times during the event! It was very much like a cross country race, or so I was told.
Trev cheered me on, threw a bottle at me and collected whatever piece of wet smelly gear I peeled off with each lap as I passed by...did I thank you properly for that Trev?
I clocked a first lap time of 55m27s and was holding down second place, three minutes back of my Montrail teammate Ryne Melcher and just 17sec ahead of three time winner Giles Malet. I was feeling strong though and continued on with my set pace.
Where'd This Pavement Come From?
The course in a nutshell, from what I remember, flat start, small climb, pavement for one mile, undulating trail, short climb to nice vantage point, cross country grass running to the 6km aid station, a three km forested yet grassy loop back to 9km, some muddyish (but not really) forested running till 11.5k, the biggest climb of the event, and although not large by any means they did manage to somehow make it longer and tougher with each additional lap, followed by a pretty much downhill km to the finish line.
(the big hill)
I was hating the pavement by the second lap and could really feel it pounding on my IT band. The good part about this race however, was that for the first time since running Stormy in August, I knew before the race began that I would at least be finishing it. Something that was in question, at least in my own head, before my last two events. As I was power hiking a climb around km sixteen I glanced back to see Giles just down the slope behind me. I did not panic, but was well aware of the fact that he was a very smart and experienced racer. I knew that if I made one mistake in my nutrition or pacing over the next 34km that he'd pass me like I was standing still.
As I rounded the corner toward the now 18.5km aid station, I heard my name being screamed and it jolted me with energy. My good friend Stephanie Price, who I had not seen in a full decade informed me a few days out that she would be at the race cheering me on. Her boyfriend was in town visiting from Calgary and for some reason she could not make it to the 9.30am start...
Seeing her HUGE smile and feeling her genuine excitement propelled me past her faster than I would have liked, but I knew we'd get a chance to catch up properly after the event.
Again at the now 21.5km aid station Trevor supplied me with a full bottle of fluids and Steph was there bouncing around and ensuring that I could feel no pain as my adrenaline kicked in. I actually had to tell myself to chill out a bit and to not pace faster than I thought I should.
Six Minutes, Are You Sure?
I clocked a second lap time of 55m52s, but Melcher had managed a 53.08 and was now almost six minutes clear of me! Giles was holding strong and still just 55sec back in third. I've only known Ryne Melcher for just over a year, and in that time I've seen him lead out almost every race he participates in. Not once had he beaten me though and I told myself to stick with my own plan. I could stay strong and wasn't sure that he could continue his current blistering pace. We were only half way done and we all knew that the race had just truly begun.
Again I was hating the pavement and my favorite volunteer on the course was quickly becoming the lady in the chair at the 3km point. She wasn't exactly cheering on the racers and she didn't even make eye contact with me once, but every time I layed eyes on her I knew that my IT's were about to get a break thanks to the plush terrain hiding just to her right. Ahhh, trails, I love trails!
Over the first two laps I had paced off with a 25km runner. We exchanged leads with each other numerous times, talked intermittently, and overall really helped each other along. On the third lap I was solo however, and I knew it would stay that way till the finish. Rounding the corner to the now 24.5km aid station I caught my three person support crew off guard sitting on a picnic table with their backs to the runners. I threw my sweat soaked hat on the ground in front of them and kept on running. They yelled as I passed, and of course I thanked them...but did I thank you guys properly for actually picking that thing up and returning it to me after the race!!
Three kms later I could see and hear them calling me on and again Trev supplied me with a full bottle of fluids. They could then walk a few hundred meters down the trail and see me one additional time before I headed out on the final three km of the loop. Steph in particular was supplying me with such energy and enthusiasm that the 25km walkers I was passing along the way all took the time to comment to me on how great my support team was...and it was about to get better...
Maybe He'll Blow Up!
As I crossed the line for the third time I had logged a 12.5km time of 58m34s, Melcher had managed another eleven seconds on me though and as I was given the splits I knew that he would have to blow up for me to have a shot at the win. For a second I hoped it would happen, then realized that I was wishing my own teammate and good friend would crumble in a race on his home turf, in front of his hometown crowd, where he knew everyone, and had finished second in this race twice before...I asked my support to tackle him if they could catch him!!
Coming across the line on that third lap was the highlight of the race for me. My close cousin Robyn Beresford was the first person I saw and heard as she was screaming at me. I had not seen her in over three years! Following Robyn were absolute throngs of supporters as most of the 25km runner's were now finished for the day. Robyn's husband John, a childhood acquaintance of mine that I had not seen since elementary school managed to hop out of the crowd as well. The full Montrail executive squad who were manning the Montrail tent were clapping and yelling, Trev, Steph and her boyfriend were screaming (sorry I can't recall his actual name right now...not cool of me as he is a great guy). There was easily two hundred people there screaming and yelling at me to "go get him", "keep it up", "just one more lap", "You Can Do It!", it was phenominal!! Christian Piller came out of the crowd and ran with me for a bit, telling me that the split was almost exactly six minutes...he then reminded me of my EXACT words to him on the first lap as I watched Ryne disappear in front of us after just 1.5km of running,
"There goes Melcher. I could take six minutes out of him in the final twelve km if I had to!"
I wasn't being cocky, I was speaking from experience...but I had never seen the Ryne Melcher that showed up for this race. Christiaan's reminder to me did what it was supposed to though, it propelled me outta there with a renewed fire in my legs. Anything could happen in the final 12.5km of a 50k and I certainly wasn't throwing in the towel just yet!
As if my race experience had not been complete enough, as I was leaving the start-finish area I heard my name one last time. Standing off to the right, with her two children by her side, was Jessie's sister Paula, who I had met numerous times over the years. She made the drive out with her kids just so that she could see me for a fraction of a second. Unfortunately she was not able to stay until the finish, and although I wanted nothing more than to stop and hug her, I knew she'd understand if I did not!
I was pacing well, yet feeling like I was right on the verge of what I could handle. I had been on top of my Thermolytes and Carbo Pro 1200 all day but the pace of 50k on flat terrain was something I was not accustomed to. I downed a few more salt tabs and tried to maintain my cadence over the paved section. Again I celebrated when I spotted the lady in the chair under the blanket.
In my head I felt like I was flying. I told myself that I was making up the 30s per km that I needed to catch Ryne before the finish line. I thought that I might be able to pull it off if I could just maintain exactly what I was doing at that moment. Then it happened, five km into the final loop I passed some 50k runner's and they felt the need to cheer me on,
"Nice work, you're only ten minutes back of first place!"
TEN MINUTES! How in God's name...I didn't say a word, but the wind in my sails started to evaporate. I know how innacurate info like this can be and I tried not to let it get to me. I had one km more till the aid station at now km 43.5 and I knew I'd get a proper split at that point in time.
As I rounded the corner to the aid station I could not believe the support I was getting. My cousin actually ran onto the trail with me and wasn't sure what to do. I thought she was gonna grab me for a second and we kinda gave a half hug as I ran past!! Then I yelled back at them,
There was a delay, "12.50"
Twelve minutes and fifty seconds. WTF, how in hell was that even possible! At that moment, with just 6.5km to the finish line I knew it was beyond over. All I could do was picture Melcher somehow knocking down 3min kms on the final lap...I was in awe. My mental focus shifted towards preserving second place now. I had no idea of where Giles was (he was just 96sec behind me at the start of the last lap!), and knew that I just had to stay smart to pull of a Team Montrail sweep. Ellie had won the wmn's 25km race and was now also a part of the support crew!
I was on the verge of cramping numerous times but kept on top of my electrolytes and as I was trying to mentally process how Ryne could be finishing so strong, it dawned on me...when I asked for 'TIME', they had given me just that...it was ten to one when I ran past them! I was less than five hundred meters from receiving my last fluids of the race from Trev. Again they cheered me in with every ounce of energy they possessed. Ellie knew the mistake that had been made,
"Ryne is six minutes ahead."
Didn't matter, everyone knew it was over and my hat was off to Ryne anyways, he was about to get his first win of the year! That certainly didn't dampen the spirits of my support crew though, sensing that the end of the race was imminent they seemed to put even more effort into their encouragement and I could actually hear them through the forest without even seeing them! I found myself welling up a little bit, I'd never been in a race where so many close friends were on hand to cheer me on. They had all taken time out of their own weekend schedules to come out and watch me run in circles for almost four hours...all the while doing everything in their power to ensure I crossed the finish line as fast as I could, and with the biggest smile on my face.
I managed to kick up my heels over the last five hundred meters and at least give the appearance of finishing strong. They were all there to see me in, they were all as genuinely excited to be there as I was to have them there. It was one of the best race experiences of my racing career! (yes I am finally calling it a 'career', just like it took me three years to actually call myself an 'athlete')
My final lap time was 1h00m43s for a total time of 3h50m34s, Melcher was the only racer to pull off four sub 1hr laps and he stopped the clock in 3h43m11s. Giles finished 3rd in 3h54m20s and Clayton came in fourth in 4h02m19s. Full Results Here
The Social After The Race:
Of course George and Peggy weren't done there as they had more prizing then I've ever seen at an event before in my life! Every finisher received a nicely branded Run For The Toad mug, and for second place I walked off with a branded china serving plate, which I will proudly bring to every Christmas party I attend this coming off season!!
My cousin Robyn and her husband John were gracious enough to host all of us for dinner on the evening. I'm allergic to Gluten, Melcher is Vegan and Ellie is a veggie, not exactly your easiest guests to appease! They didn't flinch however and what ensued was a fabulous dinner followed by numerous drinks and a ton of good stories...like the time John and I nearly died on the way to a hockey tournament in Saint-Pierre Et Miquelon, off the coast of Nfld as eleven year old kids...but that's a whole other story...
A brief blurb on Ryne Melcher, as I think it's fully deserved here. As mentioned I've only known Ryne for just over a year, as have most in the BC scene. What I did not know until recently is the following:
-Ryne has run 124 ultra races, yes I said 124, having competed in his first at 14 years of age! (RFTT was my 12th)
-The Toad was his 39th win!
-His marathon PR is 2h32m!
-He holds the Canadian trail record for 50k at 3h17m!
-His race resume would be a full blog in and of itself. Apparently he burned out a bit after being at the top of the Cdn scene for so long, as is to be expected. I've seen him drop close to fifteen pounds since Miwok, and a few weeks ago he logged 130km of training...in two days. Ryne will be a force to be recconned with in 09 and is only going to make our entire Montrail Canada Team that much better. I can't wait to hit the trails with him this winter in training!!
Mountain Hardwear Team Shirt
Helly Hansen Lifa boxers n shorts
Carbo Pro 1200, one bottle into three water bottles
Shot Blocks, 1/6 of a packet
HUGE THANK YOU to Montrail for taking care of us all season long and George and Peggy of Run For The Toad. This is truly a top notch race and if you are planning to be in the area late next year I'd definitely add it to the race calendar. The fact that there were 1100 runners and walkers on the course, and I never once felt crowded is a testament to how much effort they put into this race. Hopefully we'll be there again in 09 to get those bigs hugs from George and Peggy once again!!