This was my third time lining up for the Mountain Masochist Trail Run 50 miler with my last run being in a time of seven hours flat for 3rd overall in 2009.
The last time I lined for for a 50 mile race at all was 18 months ago during my short recluse from crutches. I was really excited for this one for after being sidelined for so long it was one of the few races I could use to really gauge where my fitness was. In the end hurricane Sandy removed any chance of fast times though as the upper portions of the course were blanketed in a decent amount of snow. I figured this could only play to my favor though, being Canadian and since we live in igloos up here.
This was the 30th rendition of the Mountain Masochist and it also involved a few course changes. The first six or seven miles used to be on the relatively flat paved Blue Ridge Parkway, now there was but a few miles of paved surface and a bit more climbing on trails.
I was happy to follow the leaders but given the first hour was by headlamp and my Princeton Tec Apex was casting shadows over other runners legs as the brightest light, I got pushed back to the front. Eric Grossman joked,
"Is that some kind of crazy Canadian light you're wearing there?"
I think someone else piped in with,
"Yeah what is that a metric light?"
We clicked off the miles with occasional banter. Having run the race twice before I was surprised that our lead group was so large.
As we hit the first climb people laid into it. I'm a decent climber but my bread and butter is my descending so I slowly slipped back in the pack. I quickly found myself in 6th, from 1st and it always amazes me at how much this can affect your perception of how you're running. I immediately attempted to stifle my inner voice which was freaking out
"DROPPED! What are we five miles into this thing? You're dnf'ing for sure today"
I just kept reminding myself that the placings weren't accurate until after the equivalent descents. Sure enough as we crested and I let my legs roll out I found myself back in the lead within a mile.
A longer climb ensued and I found myself in 7th
"D-N-F. You're not a runner anymore. It's been too long and you haven't had a good race since getting back at this. You can't keep pushing like this and make it to the finish line today."
"We'll see what happens on the next descent!" Says positive me to negative me.
We topped out at an aid station where half the group stopped to grab fluids. My one handheld still had enough to get me to the next aid so I rounded the corner behind two others. It was singletrack and a bit rough and once I hopped back into the lead I was actually able to open up a decent gap. I figured it best to capitalize on this since I knew I'd be yo-yo'ing with guys in this fashion throughout the day.
Confirming my fondest memories of Masochist the sun rose, right on cue, as we were on a gravel road that allowed for relatively open views. Though a brisk wind pervaded and some cloud cover lingered, it was a beautiful morning.
"What are ya gonna do now that the suns up headlamp boy!?" Grossman jokes.
The pack had closed the gap and went about putting some distance into me on the long strung out gravel road climb.
The following descent was steeper and rockier and I managed to get myself up into second, just behind Eric. An obvious pattern was unfolding and it wasn't until about fifteen miles in that our pack started to thin. I was shocked to see that Brian Rusiecki was no longer with us as I considered him the pre-race favorite given the year he's having.
We eventually settled into groups with Eric leading and Hryuniak off his wing, third and forth paired off together as did sixth and seventh. I was in no mans land without a dance partner. No one spoke fluent Canadian though so I wasn't completely surprised.
At about twenty four miles in Rusiecki comes storming up out of nowhere,
"Man they were hot outta the gates weren't they"
"Yeah I was surprised by how many people stuck with the lead group"
and with that he was gone. I knew then and there that he was going to win. It wasn't even a question in my mind. It was almost the same spot where Geoff Roes pulled away from me in 09 to smash the CR. Geoff had apparently just warmed up that year while I was running to my capacity.
My good buddy Hays Poole and his wife Kathy and son Will who reside a few hours away in Raleigh NC had driven up to crew for me. It was Hays's third time doing as much yet the first time his wife and son could join. The long story short is that we met through NHL hockey as his Carolina Hurricanes defeated my Edmonton Oilers in seven games to win Stanley's Mug. This is relevant information because we're die hard fans. I came into the twenty six mile 'half way point' and while looking for Hays, Kathy and Will in the crowd I spotted an Edmonton Oilers shirt screaming at me like a beacon. Quality move, for not only did it allow for a flawless transition but it gave me something to laugh about for the next hour.
Right after the half way point you get into the largest climbs of the day. In my previous runs I had predominantly power hiked these areas I wanted to alter that to predominantly running them this year. My goal in 2009 was sub seven hour race and i missed by twenty nine seconds. I locked into a rhythm and started doing what I had not in these past races. This combined with the fact that I felt really good while doing so was showing me that I was outperforming my previous best run on the course. This is what I came for. This was the test I wanted and even though we all knew the course would run slower with the snow I was at least confirming to myself that my training has been paying off and I'm close to, if not finally back to where I was before my injuries derailed me.
I picked up fifth within a few miles and then snagged fourth as we headed into 'The Loop' at mile thirty three. The Loop for me has been one of my favorite sections of the race. It's five miles long, all on singletrack and with a decent level of technicality to it. It's the closest section of MMTR that feels familiar to my home terrain. As I grabbed fourth heading into The Loop Horty tells me that third is only three minutes ahead and the leaders are fifteen minutes up. Immediately we get into the snow and Clarke's pre-race proclamation of
"It's like two different courses out there" in regards to the front half vs the back half is showing itself to be as literal as he intended it to be.
I went to work with the knowledge that from there to the finish is predominantly downhill. I liked where I was and had told myself throughout the day that I simply had to be within striking distance by this point in the race. The first half works a bit against my strengths while the back half aligns with them perfectly.
I powered through the snow anticipating doing The Loop as in previous years. I follow the flagging through the snow and eventually see Brian and Eric running together and towards me,
"Waaa. What's goin on?!"
"Out and back"
Oh right I think to myself, I remember reading about the out and back section this year. I mark the spot where I crossed paths with the leaders and take a time check. A few seconds later I spot Frank a switchback ahead of me and as I close the gap we reach the top nearly in unison. There's an orienteering punch that you clip your bib with to show you've gone up. I was distracted by the views for a second and actually said to myself
"No you're racing, you can't hang out here and fully appreciate this"
"But, but, but...I hate racing, you suck" Again these are the internal conversations I have with myself when I run.
Hats off to Clarke though, the view from that perch was beyond anything the original course ever presented. It was the highlight of the entire race course for me.
The snow obviously became deeper as we climbed and near this high point it was shin deep in sections. Given that only the four of us runners had been through we were in essence breaking trail (Clarke and crew had been through so it wasn't 100% breaking trail)
I laid into the descent and having plenty of experience in the snow Frank graciously stepped aside and cheered me on. I time checked where I'd seen the leaders and was pleased to know that I had gained two minutes on them. I had flirting visions of maybe closing in on one of them by the final three to four mile long descent that takes you into the final mile of the race.
I flew through the snow and was buoyed mentally by the fact that I knew I'd at least crack top three unless something completely unforeseen arose.
"You're going the wrong way!"
"No I'm not, it's and out and back!"
"You're going the wrong way!"
"No I'm not, it's and out and back!"
"You're going the wrong way!"
"No I'm not, it's and out and back!"
Couple that with my own recognition of where I was by thinking
"Its weird we're not doing the full loop this year. I wonder if there was just too much snow on that side?"
"You're going the wrong way!"
"No I'm not, it's and out and back!"
I had this exchange so many times that shortly before arriving back at the aid station (which is in fact the same aid station you hit after the loop) I wanted to say to Horty and Clarke,
'Can you please tell people it's an out and back this year. No one seems to understand this' (yes I'm a complete moron)
Instead I just look for my crew as I'm in full on race mode and feeding off of the slim hopes of catching 2nd.
"Hays! Hays! Hays?"
Clarke and Horty look like they're staring at a ghost as the approach me,
"What are you doing?'
"I'm looking for my crew. Hays!"
"No what are you doing here?"
"You're supposed to come in from over there" As Horty points to the exit from the loop about a hundred feet away.
"No it's an out and back" I say, still not clicking into anything around me. Then it hits me. Then my eyes open as my racing goggles are ripped from my face, as the horse blinders are lifted I see twenty volunteers all stating at me with remorse. That look of "oh no" "I feel terrible for him right now" is just emanating off of everyone.
My brain snaps back into reality and I'm overwhelmed by the flood of emotions coursing through me. In my head,
"Are you f#@king kidding me! I did what!!? Don't speak Gary. Count to something. I don't want to f#@king count. Walk. Walk away and compose yourself dammit."
Out loud to Clarke,
"I'm just. I'm just gonna go over this way for a bit."
I walked around the corner and sat down in a pile of snow in front of a truck that put me out of sight. I slumped my head into my hands and started processing what had just occurred. Clarke found me a few minutes later.
"I'm sorry man. How ya doin?"
Both of us knowing it wasn't his fault of course.
"What are ya thinkin?"
The serious thought of being a poopy pants and not closing it out never crossed my mind. I just needed a few minutes to basically tell myself that a result on the day, whether 3rd or 30th, wasn't going to change how I ran, how I felt, how happy I was with what I had done up until that point. Yeah it sucked that I was no longer in the race, but there were exactly zero reasons not to finish. Couple that with the fact that I was staying with JB Basham who'd done a 112 mile version of the Hardrock hundred miler back in July and I really didn't even have a choice in the matter.
Five minutes further along and I started cooling off in the breeze and realized if I didn't get moving that I might end up with an actual reason not to continue. I said thanks to all the aid station crew and walked back out on course. Having absolutely nothing left to fight for I ambled my way along letting my body temperature determine when I'd actually start running again. I sauntered for a mile before the wind on my body coupled with the snow at my feet had cooled me to the point of needing to generate my own body heat.
A few miles in and I stopped at the intersection where I'd gone wrong. I distinctly remembered my thought process as I ran through the first time, which only strengthen my resolve in my ignorance.
There was a ton of flagging there and while running out it really stood out as being heavily marked. My eyes instinctively followed the majority the flagging towards the right and I never even noticed the additional flagging to the left that would guide us back around the loop. My thought while running through the first time,
"There's a ton of flagging here, they must really want to ensure we don't go left by mistake"
After I digested all this I proceeded to close out the final twelve miles of the course. I alternated between running walking and chatting along the way. Given that I've never been able to chat up the aid station workers while racing MMTR in the past two runs I spent a few minutes at each of the remaining four stations joking around with everyone. When I spotted watermelon at an aid station it necessitated a lengthier stop to help lighten their eventual pack down load later in the day. A runner I had passed came into the station while I was owning the watermelon and I looked at him with a piece hanging out of my mouth and deadpanned
"Don't f@#king touch the watermelon"
Thankfully he got my sense of humor.
I ended up finishing with what my Garmin showed as fifty six miles in 8h55m for 19th place. Top Twenty!
Brian won in 7h30 which many believe would equate to a low 6h50'ish time without snow and Eric was second in 7h45m. Local rockstar Frank Gonzales snagged third in a time 8h07m. Outside of my folly I had a fantastic weekend in Virginia.
Thanks as always to Clarke and his amazing team of volunteers. David Horton, for nothing more than his comment to me post race,
"That was impressive what ya did out there today. STUPID, but impressive that you stuck with it."
Hays, Kathy, Will, best crew ever!
Hilary and Jonathan Basham for adopting a Canadian stray for the weekend and then allowing their friends to endlessly mock me for the rest of the evening over our post race drinks.
I ran the Carkeek 12hr today in Carkeek Park, Seattle. Race Directors Brock Gavery and Sam Thompson have been organizing the fun run for six years now and all proceeds go to charity. Couple that with it being a Halloween run where plenty of people show up in costume and it's one fun day out on the trails.
It's a looping course and at just 1.93 miles it might not sound like much but checkout their website and know that their claim to it being one of or indeed the hardest 12hr out there is legit.
Each loop has 430 feet of climbing and descent, and on this day in particular weather was a slight factor as it was rainy, windy and freezing to start in the dark and though the rains eventually subsided the trail became slightly more slick with each passing loop.
I never thought I'd draw this comparison but it really does run like a mini HURT course, though it certainly lacks the level of technicality that HURT has become famous for. The similarity starts with the fact that it's a looping course and continues with the fact that there are pretty much three climbs over the 1.93 miles, and of course the first is the longest, exactly like HURT. In fact if you were to complete a hundred miles on the Carkeek course you'd end up with 22,278 feet of climbing and descent, which is pretty damn close to the 25,000 that HURT presents.
The 12hr starts at 6am. We were late getting outta Tacoma and ended up arriving at 6:03am, which of course meant everyone but the RD's were gone, and even they were still setting up camp.
Given that we were in our Halloween costumes and not 100% ready to run anyways we were quickly sucked into the fire to help sustain our falling body temperatures. After a good thirty minutes and watching the lead crew come through I realized that if I didn't get my ass in gear that the nasty weather was gonna win out and I'd be ridden with guilt at cowering to our standard fall precipitation.
At 6:45am I headed out with the intention of simply trying to warm up sufficiently enough so that I could kill another mug of coffee by the campfire pit after one loop before actually getting on with my run shortly thereafter. Of course once actually running everything starts to make sense again, the body heats, the rain seems like a compliment rather than a hindrance to your day and the mind settles into a relaxed state that makes you wonder how you ever could have considered not running because of a few measly rain drops.
With one lap down I knew stopping would be a terrible idea and I found my groove and started to roll. Roxy was along with me and of course in costume herself. It wasn't going so well for either of us and after numerous stops to address her outfit I ended up stripping it off and carrying it along (she ran the rest completely naked).
After lap two I changed out myself and will point out for sake of accuracy later in the post that I in fact paused my watch for the few minutes it took me to switch outfits. Carkeek doesn't keep times, just laps, and I had a time goal in mind as a test of where I'm truly at right now.
After lap three I passed off Roxy to Linda as she was also running and typically Roxy prefers Linda's pace on long runs.
Lap four and I was on it, I felt good. I was on top of my calories, my electrolytes, and my fluids. I decided I would in fact shoot for my pre-race goal of the equivalent of a sub five hour 50km run. Due to the looping nature though it broke down to attempting to run 17 laps or 32.81 miles or 52.8km as a 16 loop run would only equal 49.7km. Blah blah blah
Over the next 13 loops I was really happy with my consistency. There were obvious highs and lows but a few other things I really wanted to test out on the day were my mental game, and my ability to really fight for something I had set out to achieve on the day. This race toughness has been lacking for me lately. I've fought hard to reach numerous finish lines this year but most of those were made more complex by my mind being months ahead of my fitness levels. I never set out to just finish the CSP115 in March, but that's what it ended up being. I never set out to finish 53rd at UTMB in early Sept, but that's all I had in me. Obviously Carkeek is a fairly low key event and for me I desired nothing more, for if I blew up at least I'd know where I was at right now. Heading into Mountain Masochist 50 miler in Virginia next weekend and then finally returning to HURT Hawaii again in Jan, I was really setting out to hopefully confirm what I'd been sensing as of late. This is the best I've felt since pre-crutches, since August 2010.
(Managed one slip during the race. Never suffered from road rash in a trail race before)
The highs were so beautiful. I was forced into a reminiscing phase that lasted hours. The repetitiveness of the terrain and the certainty that an aid station was always less than a few miles away allowed the mind to wander while the body did it's job.
One year ago at Carkeek I very tentatively walked two loops, a mere 6km, and it was a victorious day. I'd been out of a walking boot but a few weeks and off of crutches just over five weeks. The doctor advised that it was potentially doable but to stop at the sign of any pain. Every step was a struggle and yet I refused to stop because the only thing that scared me more than potentially breaking my foot a third time was having the inability to walk six bloody kilometers.
It was January before I was allowed to run ten kilometers. I have spent far too much time this year staring off into the distance at where I want to be with my running and racing, longing to simply match where I was in 2010. I've forced my body to do things it wasn't conditioned for and then been frustrated by my lack of ability to achieve my racing goals. I've never been completely fair with myself throughout this process and I've never properly celebrated what really boils down to some of my best race results when the entire journey is put into perspective. I had completely lost perspective on this, and thankfully today it hit me full force...of course the fact that today was the first time in this lengthy journey that I felt like I had glimpses of my previous running levels certainly helped the positive mindset and awareness along.
2012 has been one of the best years of my life and it's been capped off by asking the love of my life to marry me while we were in France AND she actually said yes!
I have nothing to complain about and I know this. Today was still an extra special day though as although I just missed out on my sub five hour 17 loop goal, running 5h01m24s, I was well over 50km by five hours as I closed out the 52.8k version of my own personal race today.
18.59 (Roxy left Linda and caught up to me. I had to hold her up:-) )
I'm salivating! The new 2012 Montrail catalogue just found its way to me and on top of the plenitude of rad new colors, there are THREE brand new shoes, AND the debut of the long awaited OutDry on five others. Oh, and I have to ensure that I mention these won't be available until Feb 2012.
The highlights are definitely the three new kicks. Starting off with an even lighter version of a Rogue Racer called the Rogue Fly
Then The Badwater, which is being billed as a neutral, cushioned, hybrid.
and the third newbie being the Bajada in which Mr. iRunFar ran to a successful 31st placing at the Western States 100 last month in a time of 19h24m. Neutral, cushioned, and superior traction.
Check out the full 2012 catalogue below and let the countdown to Feb begin!
We will return to your regularly scheduled program after OR in Utah in a few short weeks...until then here are some pics of the newbies plus the latest colours for the MM:
IT'S GOOD!! Mr. Jones Fracture has officially been put to rest.
(How I felt after seeing the x-ray yesterday morning)
Finally, finally, finally there is X-Rayed proof that my foot is 100% healed and ready to start taking a proper beating once more!
When I left the hospital on Feb 1st I was told it was 80-90% and that I could start back at things as long as I "Didn't Do Anything Stupid"...Who ME?? NEVER!
Those exact words played out in no fewer than a dozen different scenario's during my constant foot tweaks over the last seven weeks. I have finally had the weight of my own mind removed from my shoulders...wait a second, there's many different ways to interpret that statement...anyways, no more stressing out because of foot pain, it's all good pain from here on out!
The worst mental tail spin I ended up on was for a week while I was experiencing direct pain in that exact portion of my foot.
"I'm done. This sucks. I'm soft. I'm broken again."
I blogged about my 10k treadmill run, but I never really mentioned how much of a price I paid for that stupid move. The fact that I ran 10k wasn't the issue, it was that I did it on a treadmill and simply kept upping the speed and attempting to hang on. In the end I felt great, for about an hour, and then my right ankle felt like it'd taken a bullet. I was unable to even walk without a limp, let alone run. The only beneficial thing that subsequently transpired was that I got sick and ended up having to take nine full days off anyways. By the time I had gotten over the flu my heal/ankle had come around and my lesson was learned. On the advice of Curb Ivanic I hit the track and ran in fully self propelled circles, instead of a treadmill assisted speed workout. In the end I am undecided as to what sucks more?
I Ran A Marathon
Over a span of six days that is...and I couldn't have been happier to have knocked down a six day mini running streak!
But whatever, it's all about the small victories right now right!
My First Trail Run In Almost Five Months!
With the news of a healthy foot yesterday I finally got back onto the trails for the first time since Oct 26th! A 14km jaunt out to Norvan Falls and back felt like an ultra but for all the right reasons. (1h23m)
Thankfully my body was ok with the distance, pace, and terrain I covered yesterday and I managed another trail run today of 12km in 1h08m with the first 5km being all uphill. It was a fantastically beautiful day by all definitions and as I sat in the sun at the top of my climb I couldn't help but smile from ear to ear. It's been a long journey back to the trails but all things considered the timing of it all could not have worked out better. There's still a long road ahead before I manage to get into race shape, and I know it won't be an easy process, but, mark my words. I'll be 'Showing Up' at Western States and I'll definitely be 'Showing Up' at UTMB!!
Songs o Da Week (I saw these guys in concert with Bon Jovi in 97)
While recently attending the Montrail / Mountain Hardwear Fall Sales Conference an athlete inspired video debuted under the name "Hard By Choice." I missed the first thirty seconds or so but as soon as I realized what we were watching, I recorded it in high def on my handheld. I think it came out alright and I was then surprised to see that I'd 'made the cut' and even got a few quotes in there myself.
One of the highlights of the week for me was meeting Ueli Steck, 'The Swiss Machine'. He had a pretty inspiring presentation that left just about everyone with their jaws hanging on the floor. His next grand vision is to start trying to lay down insane speed records upon the 8,000 meter peaks. Here's a video that chronicles some of his recent accomplishments and gives insight into what he's all about. Enjoy.
and I had covered over 100 miles of ground for the first time in my life. The sun had risen on my second day only to reveal terrain that was completely overgrown and impossible to run. Navigation was not an issue, but I was down to a bushwhack hike of about 4km an hour. I was wearing running shorts and my primary thought, outside of reaffirming every curse word I'd ever learned before, was that I only wished I had enough foresight to pack a pair of running tights. Every step through the harsh overgrown Newfoundland brush was like grinding on a heavy grit sandpaper, and I truly wanted my legs to bleed more than they actually were so that I would at least have visual justification for all the frustrations I was dealing with.
To add to the anguish I was suffering through I had under budgeted my food and fluids for this section and I had completely run dry hours earlier. My left hip, which had been an on and off issue for months on end had started flaring up after just the first hour and a half of my journey and since then had gone completely numb. As painful as it was it had not spiked in pain in hours and I felt like the worst of that issue might be behind me. Over the years experience had taught me that if you ignore your own body's sensory perceptions they will eventually start to questions their own sanity. Which is of course directly in line with the conversation you will inevitably have with yourself at some point as well.
"Listen I've been telling him for hours that he's all messed up but he just ain't hearing it."
"Really? You sure we're right about sending out those pain signals?"
"I dunno. I just do what what comes naturally but if the big boss man is telling me to shut up I guess I might as well listen to him. He can deal with the consequences himself later."
Truth be told, had I registered for any race on that same weekend I would have pulled the plug, DNS (did not start) without question or any feeling of remorse whatsoever. Since early summer I felt like I was just hanging on. I managed a successful Western States in June yet I still had two major pursuits on the schedule that I'd made very public in March. There was a fundraising campaign for Right To Play that was gaining momentum and I had somehow been able to fight my way to a slightly better West Coast Trail time than ever before, just two weeks prior. Though three quarters of the way through that West Coast Trail attempt I found my mind on the opposite side of the country, in Newfoundland. I was wondering how in the hell I was going to pull off a 215km run just fourteen days after running the 75km WCT. Those thoughts lasted all of a few minutes before I realized I had to be present in that moment in BC before shifting my sights towards the next run in Nfld.
The weeks between runs had evaporated and I now found myself in a whole other world of hurt. I had once covered 200km in a weeks worth of training and it completely shattered me. I had never attempted a distance greater than 160km in one go, and I had never had the 'good fortune' to run into a second sunrise before. This was all new terrain for me, and none of it was going according to plan.
Ray Zahab had been kind enough to send me fourteen maps that made up the entire route, and in hindsight these maps were integral to our success as a family. Though the terrain had now slightly eased, at least in terms of the overgrowth, I found it impossible to run more than a few steps at a time. I would guilt myself into a trot of about a minute before my body would shut down on me. I continually repeated this process like a scratched LP stuck in a record player. Over, and over, and over again. Try, fail, walk, try, fail, walk, try, fail, walk.
I knew the direction I wanted to travel and I couldn't help but notice that I was getting farther away from my next town and what would end up being my saving grace of seeing my family and their rolling support vehicle again. It was already four hours beyond my predicted arrival time and though the sun was now shining bright upon a beautiful Sept day I was being bombarded by coastal winds that would leave my face wind burned by the end of it all. I pulled out my maps, careful not to let them get caught in the breeze, and I confirmed that I was indeed still on course. It just happened to be the long way round to my next intersection. It was blatantly evident why the trail meandored out to sea and not towards the safe haven community of Petty Harbor. The scenery was endless and this trail was designed to take in all the fantastic sights and sounds that help make the route such a rare gem. I however, no longer gave a shit about the sights, sounds, and vantage points, and in fact I was actually starting to loath all of it. My two cameras felt like dead weights that I had to carry to document the damn trek and I was sick of feeling the need to stop and capture beauty on film.
I glanced into the distance and could just make out what appeared to be the end of the inlet I had yet to turn towards. My next 'aid station' was all too far off and I very literally had thoughts of just laying down and shedding a few tears. I was a defeated man, completely deflated and devoid of motivation to continue onwards. I had always wanted to find my breaking point through my endurance pursuits and I was now being confronted by something I had never truly dealt with on such a low level before. I wanted to quit. I just didn't care anymore, about anything. Knowing that quitting simply was not an option was all that kept me moving, one step at a time. Then it happened, I started to hallucinate.
As I crested a small knoll I thought I could see my brother off in the distance. Part of the beauty of The ECT is the solitude of the experience, and after covering nearly 185km, and being on my feet for over 29 hours I'd seen but two other people. One was camping in the night as I ran past, and the other was enjoying breakfast (while I still had food and fluids) many hours earlier, and nearly fifty kilometers away from the first hiker.
I blinked a few times to get a grip on myself and when I rubbed my eyes open I could not believe what I was seeing. My brother Bryan had hiked in 4km to find me and he had huge smile on his face and simply extended a handful of tinfoil towards me,
"I thought you could use some breakfast."
I found those tears I fought back just minutes earlier now starting to form by means of sheer amazement and excitement. I felt like he'd saved my life, and more importantly, my run...and for the second time in the last twelve hours no less.
East Coast Trail 215km
The first twenty nine hours of the run had itself brought many a high and low, and much in the way of mental anguish and doubt, but all in all my Father's rough time estimates were proving to be incredibly accurate.
The biggest issue that I simply had not prepared for was that of being completely wet for nearly the entire effort. Though we did not really get rained on too badly at any point, it did rain fairly hard the previous night and with so many overgrown sections of trail I rarely went more than a few minutes after changing into dry clothes without getting soaked again. In fact in the first 24hr my feet were dry for fewer than two of those hours. At one point my Brother even utilized a laundry mat in a small town we crossed through to 'refresh' my clothes for me and it took him nearly an hour to remove all the moisture from everything
I was also not expecting The East Coast Trail to have so many steep climbs in it. This may sound foolish to say, but it is a coastal route and there are no mountains in the region. This did not stop my GPS from recording almost 20,000 feet of climbing, and that's after the data corrections have been applied to the file. I'm always weary of inflated elevation data from a GPS watch, but I'll confidently say there was over 15,000 feet of climbing for sure.
I had expected and was prepared for the mud upon the trail to be worse than it actually was. This is not to suggest that the terrain was not atrocious because it most certainly was. Mentally though I had told myself I'd swim through quicksand like bogs and ford surging rivers if I had to. Instead I simply felt like a child on hockey skates for the first time in my life. There were hours upon hours that passed where every singular step I took was a fight to stay upright. I had my fair share of tumbles with the worst landing me elbow deep in a mud bath that smelled like a barn yard. I unleashed my anger and frustrations into the universe only to be on my ass again not a minute later.
The trail was turning out to be a lesson in humility. It was not the clear shot run that I had dreamed of and I felt more like a speed hiker than an actual runner at times, yet the goals of both are always the same. Relentless Forward Motion. One step at a time, baby steps if the trail demanded, and all the way from Cappyhaden to St. John's. There would be no stopping until I reached my home, my true home, the city in which I was born 33 years earlier.
The number one concern I had going into the speed attempt was based around my hip injury. It had been bothering me for months and even on the nine hour flight across Canada I would have to continually walk around and stretch off the impending numbing of the area.
I took my first steps upon the trail at 6:15am on Friday August 20th, and by 7:45am that same morning I was locked into a war of wills against my own body.
"This really hurts"
"No it doesn't"
"Umm, yeah, it totally hurts right now"
"Like no it doesn't!"
"Like yeah! It totally does like, really, like, freaking hurt...like"
Yes, I have the internal dialogue of thirteen year old kid.
"Alright fine, it hurts, but you knew it was gonna hurt coming into this thing so how bout a little suck it up princess"
"But I still have over two hundred kilometers left to go...."
"I just started this thing. There's no way I can ignore this much this early...."
"I'm ninety minutes into what will likely be a 36hr run..."
"I hate you"
"I'm not talking to you"
"You'll pay for this!"
"I'm ok with that"
The first 100km of the trail took around thirteen hours to complete, and I fully recall hours seven, nine, and eleven being the most painful to accept. At the eleventh hour, and around 80km, my body screamed at me louder than it had all day long,
"SERIOUSLY ROBBINS WHAT THE F?"
It was a brutal sixty minutes in which I stopped a few times to try to stretch out the pain, but to no avail. I noticed my stride was being compromised in an attempt to alleviate the issues, but again this wasn't making things any easier. I had my first true doubts about my ability to endure, and the mental math nearly debilitated me.
"Eleven hours, eighty kilometers in. Still 135 kilometers to go. Still at least a full day of running left to get me through this thing. I still have twenty four full hours to go...how, just how is all I'm asking you?"
"Honestly I don't know ok. I just don't know. I'm sure you'll figure something out, and besides when you see your family again I know you're going to come around, so deal with it."
That eleventh to twelfth hour on the trail was the most painful I've ever experienced from that specific injury, or any other injury for that matter. By the time I'd hit 90km mark though, it was as if the pain sensors had hit a steady state and simply started cancelling each other out. The hip would no longer make it to the top of my 'reasons to quit list' upon the run. I'd won a small battle, one of many that were waged along the way.
As the kilometers rolled by we got into a pretty smooth rhythm as a family. My Father (Fred), Mother (Gerri), Brother (Bryan), Niece (Kayla), and Brother's Girlfriend (Heather) were all along for the ride, in the form of two rolling support vehicles. The East Coast Trail has fairly regular intersections with small coastal communities and on average you spend about four kilometers running roads through small towns for every twenty or so kilometers you cover upon completely isolated trail.
These communities became our intersection points and my family would continually leap frog me throughout the entire process, always awaiting my arrival into each town. Every few hours I'd pop outta the trail to big smiles, hugs, cheers, and a rolling buffet. From time to time family members would hop outta the car and run with me to the next trail head, or until we hit the first wee bump in the landscape that created a bit of a climb. These moments were pure magic for me. Completely spontaneous and fueled by love. I felt no pain when I was with them and without my family the run would have been completely impossible on so many levels. They had even gone as far as to make signs that they hung on the car while they drove between towns.
In one community a rather large gentleman started chasing me down the road. Survival instincts kicked in and all I could think was,
"How in the hell am I gonna out run this guy right now!?"
Then I noticed he was waving money at me. He was donating to Right To Play!! When I stopped to accept his generosity he just looked at me and said,
"Get going already! Don't stop for us!"
How could you not be moved by something like this. How could you possibly not finish what you'd started. How could you not draw energy reserves from this the likes of which you didn't even know you previously possessed. I felt like I floated on air for an hour after this encounter, feeling no pain whatsoever. Such a simple human interaction, yet so powerful at its core.
Gettin Ruffed Up
As nightfall was approaching, and we were running through yet another small town, my brother hopped out of the car to join me while the rest of the family drove on ahead to find the next trail re-entrance sign. It was to be a ten minute jaunt at most. A 'hey howya doing, keep digging, you're doing great' pep talk run.
We were just passing the second to last home in the community of Brigus South when out of nowhere an overweight Golden Lab came screaming out of a driveway at us. It was brandishing its teeth and left no doubt as to its intentions. The dog gave chase, but unlike every other scary dog encounter I'd ever experienced this beast meant business. He was on our heels in no time and as we turned to face him he leapt up and grabbed my Brother by the leg! The owner was now sprinting down the road after all of us which eventually turned into the three humans yelling at the one dog until he finally cowered behind his master. Bryan was obviously now pumping with adrenaline and for a second I thought I was going to have to prevent him from biting the owner of the dog himself. After a brief screaming match and a multitude of apologies from the dog's owner we were on our way again, my Brother now hobbling a bit from the impact of the bite, which turned out to leave a mark but not break the skin. He'd eventually walk it off but I'm not convinced I could have fended off the dog on my own at that point. We were laughing about it by the time we caught up with my family again.
The funniest thing I witnessed during the run was about six hours later at 2am. As I came off of another section of trail and into the community of Witless Bay we awoke another angry mutt and up he got and at me he came. My Dad immediately positioned the car between the dog and I, as I watched in shock as my Mother threw open her car door and started positioning herself to defend her first born at all costs.
"I woulda tackled that dog if he'd come at ya ya know!"
"Oh I know you would have Mom, you left no doubt with me or the dog that he didn't stand a chance of getting past you!"
Once the adrenaline from that scare wore off I found that I was completely and utterly drained. Physically and mentally I just needed a break. At 2:30am, after covering approximately 135km in twenty hours of running, I simply came towards my parents car, now set up at the trail head ahead of me as an aid station, and said,
"I need a nap"
They were so focused on the task at hand and our end goal that no one even processed what I'd said. They were straight into filling bottles, offering up clothes, and changing headlamp batteries.
"I need a nap"
"A nap. I'm done. Someone wake me in fifteen minutes please." I then looked at them with a serious expression which was to convey that though we all knew I needed more sleep that this, they were not allowed to let me go beyond fifteen minutes.
Ten seconds later they placed a blanket over me in the back seat of the car. I didn't anticipate needing a nap for the run, but having flown clear across the country and into a four and a half hour time change on Wednesday, arriving in Nfld at midnight, shopping for supplies on Thursday before driving the two hours to our starting point, and only getting five hours of sleep the night before the run began on Friday morning, I just had nothing left. I've done numerous 36hr adventure races and without fail a 15-20 minute nap had always gotten us through.
Nineteen minutes later, after my parents had let me 'sleep in', I was back on my feet. It was a lot like peeling myself out of a self constructed coffin. I didn't really know my name for a few seconds before grabbing my gear and hitting the trail again. Ten minutes later as my mind finally joined my body I found my legs moving better than they had in hours. The power nap had worked wonders. I now just had to make it till sunrise and my body's natural circadian rhythms would take care of the rest.
For the most part this strategy worked well. The sun rose a few hours later, right on time even, and I was awake. But the trail had thrown us for a loop and our time guesstimates for the longest non intersecting section of trail, 32km, proved grossly under estimated. It took a full seven and half hours to clear this section, yet I had carried sustenance for three and a half hours. If my brother had not unexpectedly shown up with the food and water I'd probably still be out there waiting for someone to drag my ass back to civilization.
My savior Brother had lifted my spirits and ripped me from the dead when he showed up with that tinfoil breakfast and two full water bottles. He started running to pace me, asking if he should go faster. I hadn't actually run for the better part of four hours and the fear of loosing him was all that propelled me along,
"No, this is good! No need to go any faster Bryan!"
He helped haul my ass back to my family, still four kilometers away, and upon seeing them a funny thing happened. Their smiles, cheers, hugs, and laughter seemed to caress through my body like pure energy, with it removing every singular bit of doubt, fatigue, and exhaustion that I still carried with me. I knew I'd overcome the worst the trail could throw at me. The worst my mind could throw at me. The worst my body could throw at me. I knew I was going to beat this thing. I knew WE, as a family, were going to succeed. It was noon on my second day of running, the sun was shining bright though it had forecast heavy rain, and I had but thirty kilometers of trail standing in my way. Thirty kilometers between me, beer, and sleep.
Those final thirty kilometers of the run were a bit of a blur,
not because I can't remember them now, but because I was fried and just going through the motions. I very literally had an hour of full on hallucinations, with everything from ski resort chair lifts, to road construction signs in the middle of the ocean and I was almost enjoying the distractions to be honest.
As I hit Cape Spear, The Most Easterly Point In North America, I was finally in my own backyard. I was on familiar ground, playing in my home rink, and that familiarity picked me up as much as the inevitability of completing the task at hand.
My parents called the local news network and gave them a finishing time of 5:30pm. I glanced at my watch and I thought I could do better, but like every good ultra runner I had completely forgotten just how tough the final section of the trail actually was, it being the only real part I had any previous experience upon.
As those final kilometers started to tick away I realized I was really going to have to dig deep to finish by 5:30 so I told myself I was going to leave it all out there.
"No use holding back now Gary, let's see what ya got in there?"
I effectively destroyed the final 15km of my 215km run along the coast. It was very near the strongest I had run at any point on the entire trail in the day and a half that I was out there. The climbs in this final section are long and steep, with technical footing, and rarely an easy or flat step. I ran the entire section minus the one obscene and endless scramble/climb in the middle of it all. I think I would be hard pressed to run all of this terrain on completely fresh legs. I have no idea exactly how this all worked, whether it was adrenaline, the need to be done, simply a newfound focus and motivation, or maybe a bit of all of the above. Either way I felt like a runner for the first time all day and I ended up finishing just two minutes behind my Dad's perfect guesstimate, at 5:32pm on Saturday August 21st.
A news crew, family members, and even some high school friends had turned up to welcome me home. I'd made it. Thirty five hours and seventeen minutes to complete two hundred and fifteen kilometers of incredibly challenging terrain. But beyond that, I'd had conquered doubts the likes of which I'd never experienced before, pain the likes of which I hope I never have to deal with again, and nutrient deficiencies that I will never subject myself to in a racing environment. After all of this I still managed to persevere. I came out on top, I didn't say uncle, I didn't listen to the quit now demons in my head, and I continually fought past all obstacles that were presented to me on the day.
In life it is rare that you will feel 100% prepared when faced with a new challenge, but you can ALWAYS give 100% of what you have in you on that day, and more often than not, that's plenty good enough to get you through
Way back in March when I decided to propose this project dubbed 'Conquer The Coasts' I really had no idea what to expect or exactly how I intended to pull it all off. Sitting here now in November I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to say that I achieved all I'd set out to over nine months ago.
Thank you to everyone for their continual support and kind donations towards Right To Play. None of this would have been possible without you.
My Family. Every single one of them were integral towards the success of this project, right down to my beautiful niece Kayla who took care of all of the twitter updates and found most of the nearly impossible to locate trail heads during the night.
Trevor Richmond. I don't know how I would have afforded to pull this all together without your assistance with flights. Your generosity is unmatched and I knew there was a reason I still talked to you after all these years!
Erik Nachtrieb. For offering to take all my raw solo shot footage and to make it into something worth actually watching!
David Papineau. That fantastic logo is compliments of Mr. Broadway Run Club, thank you!
Ray Zahab. Ray was more excited than anyone about my proposed runs this year and he provided me with plenty of insight about The East Coast Trail and the aforementioned invaluable maps
North Shore Athletics. Any other employer woulda fired my ass long ago, yet somehow you still keep me on payroll. Thanks for approving the time off necessary to pursue these things.
Drymax Socks. Of course all sponsors deserver their props but Drymax deserve their special mention here. I have run 4x100 mile races, and in each of them I have battled significant foot blistering over the final 20miles/30kms. I have never run more than a dozen hours without some sort of foot issue. I've learned to accept it and thought it was just a part of the game. Then Bob from Drymax spots me some socks, telling me they're bound to help. 'Yeah Right'. A sock is a sock is a sock. I'd tried no fewer than a dozen kinds so how is yours gonna be any different?
I NEVER GOT A SINGLE BLISTER ON MY FEET! MY FEET WERE SOAKING WET FOR OVER 2/3 OF THE 35HR RUN!
Even my Father, having seen me at WS 09 was completely speechless. These socks are the best. PERIOD!
No Idea Why, But Blogger Not Allowing Picture Uploads Right Now?
It's hard to believe that I'm going to be initiating this run in a little over thirteen hours from now. The last four weeks of my life have been a bit of a blur and though I still haven't posted my West Coast Trail Tail it is about 40% complete.
To be completely honest about stuff right now, I'm nowhere near 100% for this thing, and if it were a genuine race I'd be really concerned about having to pull one outta the hat. Thankfully, though a speed attempt, I know I can suffer through it and still make this thing happen. It is rare that we are ever 100% heading into an event anyways, and with a distance this great it ends up being way more mental than physical.
All I have to do is look back to 2007 when I ran the 130km West Coast Trail + Juan De Fuca back to back. I hadn't run more than 67km in distance or nine hours in time prior to that day. Though I wasn't properly trained for that endeavor my mind was locked in and it wasn't about to let a small thing like inadequate training come between me and my stated goal of a sub 24hr completion time. (23h40m)
On that note, unless things go way better than expected, this will be the first time I've gone over the 24hr barrier while strictly running. My adventure racing background will serve me well on this one.
A Bit About The Trail
If this trail were hard packed and well marked I'd wager to say it could be doable in under 24hr...but that's not the type of terrain I'll be dealing with here in Newfoundland. Though the scenery will be stunning, with sea stacks, sheer cliff side drops, lighthouses, blow holes, and even possible ice bergs and as of late Killer Whales! This will be a true adventure.
Having spoken with Ray Zahab himself and doing some online searching I've been told to expect sections of 'no distinguishable trail', mud and bog potentially thigh deep, and moose paths that often appear as running trails. Hopefully I don't end up running in circles once the sun sets. I've also decided to delay the start by two hours till 6am, as a pre sunlight start might end up being more of a hindrance than a help.
All in all, it's amazing to be sharing this one with my family. My mother has never seen me run before and she's so excited she's been cooking non stop all day long...just in case I decide to stop for a buffet style feed along the way. Dad has already poured over the maps and listed all the best and worst case scenarios, and my brother is nervously awaiting his pacing duties, which will involve joining me for the last 20-30km...he has never run longer than 9km before. My fourteen year old niece is looking forward to trying to stay awake for 30+ hours for the very first time, and my brother's girlfriend is just as worried about him as she is about me!
With support like this, there is simply no possible way that I can't and won't succeed on this journey. Sure I would have liked a few more days to prepare properly, sure I have some injuries that will likely act up, sure I'm about to tackle something I've never even attempted before, but in the end, that's really what it's all about?
It's about pushing your boundaries and exploring your own limitless human potential. For no matter what the obstacles before you may appear to be, they are never quite as difficult or as daunting you can make them out to be in your own head.
I am ready. I am excited. Let's get this thing started!
(please don't forget to click on the smiling child in the top right corner of this blog to help support the third challenge in my Conquer The Coasts attempt)
Coupla more vids till I can get to my run report. I've been working every day since coming off of the trail on Wednesday afternoon so it's been tough for me to get to things so far. I finally have a big day off tomorrow which should allow me to catch up on things properly.