ENDURrun 2011 - Stage 5: The 16 Mile Cross Country

When the guy says go, you start to suffer - or you might as well not be out there. It’s a small piece of your life, make it hurt. – Aaron Cox, US Mountain Biking Champion

After a relaxing day off running on Thursday, it’s back at it on Friday, and this next stage is the toughest stage of the whole competition. This is where the training (or lack thereof) becomes evident for all to see. It’s where injuries suddenly manifest themselves, or get worse if they’ve existed previously.

The run consists of five 5km loops through Chicopee Ski Club in Kitchener. Start off with 1-2km of some flat trails, then a climb up a service road to the top of the hill, almost 50m of elevation. Then into another small trail section with some switchbacks, then back up to the top, and straight down one of the front faces. You then run straight up the face of the largest hill. Once at the top, again, into the bush for some more trail sections, then down the back hill, around to the front, up some more trails to about half-way up, then straight down the last hill and through the start/finish line.

Overall, I felt pretty good before the race. My legs didn’t hurt quite as much as they did on Wednesday morning before the 10 Miler. I stretched them out and the ache was not as prominent. I didn’t remember this stage last year to be terrible; the one I really struggled with was Stage 3 (30km trail). So I was in good spirits and not to worried. It’s funny how sometimes when you worry about something, it ends up not being as bad, while things you don’t worry about end up being the ones you should have worried about? Well, this run was exactly like that.

It was an early morning for me; I was picking up fellow ENDURrunner Vicki before heading over to the race. I forgot my coffee, which I sorely regretted. Can’t live without the morning cuppa joe. We actually made good time and got to Chicopee before 7am. I forget how close everything here is. The most excellent volunteers were running around setting things up, so we just hung out at the chalet, chatting and slowly getting ready. The sun was shining, and there were few clouds in the sky. Temperature was going to be around 25 during the run, with little humidity. That much was good news.

As we were waiting for the race to start, we were looking with dread up the big hill which we were shortly going to be climbing. About half way up, out of the bushes on the right, came two deer. We all watched while they trotted across the run, hopped the construction fence, and continued on their merry way. It was very neat to see.

Soon it was time. Lloyd did the roll call, gave us last minute instructions, and with a “On your mark, get set, GO!” we were on our way.

From the first step, my legs were so stiff and tight that I seriously thought I was in trouble. Perhaps I should have warmed up a bit before starting. The pack was pretty big at this point, so I just fell in towards the back, brought the pace down, and followed everyone else. Usually my legs take a few km to loosen up. Maybe this year, it would take longer, since I’ve already been running on them all week. Slow and steady was the key. My plan was to do around 3:30, but any faster than that would be welcome.

At 2km of the first loop, I got a twinge in my right knee. The twinge became an ache, right at the base of the kneecap. The knees have been fine all week, so I was surprised to feel this new sort of pain. During the first climb to the summit, I walked a good portion, and the knee felt okay. But the descent down the slope, with me braking to slow down my speed was really making it hurt. All I could hope for was that the pain didn’t get any worse. I could survive the stage, ice it down, and get ready for the next stage.

By loop 3, the downhill descents were so bad that it felt like someone was prying off my kneecap with a crowbar. At this point, I seriously considered bailing out of the race, and the ENDURrun. On the following walk up the front of the “mountain” I decided that if the pain became any worse or intense, then I would indeed quit. I didn’t want to do any irreparable damage to my knee. Fortunately, the following loop and downhills did not get any worse, so I kept at it. My legs had also loosened up and felt better, although they were incredibly tired, and didn’t have much strength in them.

All my wonderful goals from the past stages went right out the window. Run up the hills? Yeah, right. I power-walked to the music I was listening to. I walked a lot. Even the downhills. Injuries suck. The knee was in a holding pattern, getting no better, but also no worse. I think I could make it through after all.

All the leaders started to lap me through the 2nd loop, and I got to wish them well, and talk with them a bit. Some of them were struggling with various injuries and/or ailments, so I knew they knew what I was going through. Nothing to do now but keep moving forward and finish.

I also found my hydrating and fueling to be off. I downed a gel after the 2nd loop, but it didn’t sit very well, and I forgot to take another one at the 4th loop. I drank Gatorade and water; it was very hot out and I did not want to become dehydrated. The water was mostly dumped on my head, the Gatorade down the hatch.

After what felt like an eternity, I came through the start/finish, and Lloyd rang the bell to signal my last lap! I couldn’t have been happier! On the descent down the back face I caught up to Maureen and Bill, two ENDURrun Ultimate competitors. We slogged it up, then started the final descent. I pulled ahead of Bill at the start of the downhill, but soon he flew by me at a full run. Not to be outdone, I followed suit, and the two of us ran together down the slope. When we hit the bottom, he went into a full on sprint to the finish. I attempted to match, and we hit the tape at virtually exactly the same time: 03:32:34. Lloyd gave me 110 of a second edge on Bill, so my time is 03:32:34.0. A great battle to the finish!

The ENDURrun version of “Duel in the Sun”


DEDICATION: This is dedicated to the people I know who are battling injury, or illness, whether it be running, or in life. Keep fighting the good fight.

NEXT UP: A (relatively easy?) 10km road run, with a net downhill, on asphalt. Finish line is at Lloyd’s house. Can you say “cannonball into the pool?”