The essential thing in life is not so much conquering as fighting well – Baron de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic Games
Trail Race. 30km. 5km loop. Each loop run six (6) times. Hilly and demanding course, with parts asphalt, grass, dirt, and wood chips. Eight (8) hills per 5km loop, for a total of 48 hills to ascend and descend. This stage separates the men from the boys, the women from the girls, the runners from the casual joggers. It was now before me, and I was not ready. Not in the least.
To succeed in this stage, you need two things. Firstly, you need the requisite training, which is hills (strength) and trails. The trails here are not very technical or difficult, but still challenging for one who has not done enough of them, or any at all. Secondly, you need a mental will of steel, because doing the same loop six times is enough to drive anyone crazy.
We woke up today to a very dense fog surrounding our residence building. The forecast was hot and humid, high of 30 degrees, 37 with the Humidex. Conditions very similar to last year. Just for fun I looked up my results on this stage from last year: 2:53:52, pretty much 30 minutes per 5km loop. Could I do that again? Could I even come close? Without the same level of conditioning I had last year, not likely. But, I would finish it, no matter how long it took me, even if I had to walk it.
Bechtel Park was totally covered in fog. It was so humid and wet, that I could literally see the water droplets hanging in the air. My face and body was damp as soon as I stepped out of the car. Not a good sign. We went through the usual pre-race routine: use the bathroom for the last time, chit-chat with the other Ultimate participants, who were were now starting to know by name, stretch our aching legs, and get ready for Lloyd to start us off. This year we were given timing chips, which saved Lloyd from having to write down our loop split times manually.
Soon it was time to start. We assembled at the start line, did the roll call, got our last minute instructions, and were off!
My legs were sore and fatigued as soon as I started running. So was everyone else’s. I resolved to try and run as many hills for as long as I could, and once that became impossible, to just walk them and run everything else. The first loop went pretty well, and I finished it in around 30 minutes, just like last year. Not bad, I thought. Just 5 more of these and I’m done! Somehow I thought I might be able to do this stage in 3:15 or less.
By the third loop, I was in some serious trouble. My leg pain became a very dull throb, but they also were becoming heavy, and had no strength whatsoever. Any upward incline was becoming a struggle, not just the steep ones. I started walking all the hills, figuring I’d be conserving my rapidly diminishing strength for the last loop. It’s also the point where my stomach became upset. I was drinking 1 cup of water and 1 cup of Gatorade at each of the two water stations on the course. I found that I was sweating a lot, which I usually don’t do, and didn’t want to become dehydrated or get heat stroke. It was very hot and humid and uncomfortable on the course at this point. To top it all off, my right toe started to hurt, on the side. Uh oh, a blister was forming, likely due to the sweat from my feet. Lovely.
Loops 4 and 5 were much of the same; a “suffer-fest”. Legs were getting way worse, almost zero strength now. I was being lapped not only by the front runners, but by the slower folks. A few times I stopped to let them run by, and give them some cheers and well wishes. I loved the stops! The blisters on my toes were really starting to hurt. Stomach was very upset now; I almost threw up a few times, usually after gulping down some water or Gatorade. Towards the end of the 5th lap the sun decided to come out of the clouds, and it got seriously hot on the trail parts that were out in the open. Just what I needed to help me finish.
At the beginning of the 6th lap, my buddy Andy, who’s in the suite with me and Mark, caught up to me. He was trudging along, slow but steady, and said he’d run the last loop with me. He was great; keeping me motivated by breaking the loop into small pieces, and getting me to run when all I wanted to do was walk, or stop. Thanks dude! I would have been much slower without your company.
Pretty soon, the finish line was in sight. I ran across, to the cheers of the runners already finished, and crossed the line. It had taken 3:36 (unofficial time) for me to cover 30km, a personal worst time. But I didn’t care; the torture was over, and I fought well. I limped over to the garbage cans of ice water and soaked my ravaged legs and feet, glad to have survived this most difficult stage.