Disclaimer – This post contains a lot of whining. I apologize beforehand, just trying to keep it genuine…
I had a lot of trouble getting myself pumped up for this race. Blackfoot is a flatter (3600ft of gain), loop course – which meant that my training leading up to Blackfoot also involved a lot more flat than I’m used to. By the time I got to race day all I wanted was to get back to some steep mountain climbs.
I signed up for Blackfoot because I wanted to test out my nutrition prior to my 100 milers this summer. I’ve been training on 120 cal/hr, but I know that I will need more than that to last for 24hrs+ on the trail. My coach suggested that I try taking a gel every 30 minutes, sip water every 10, and eat a salt tab every hour. I was a little nervous about doubling my calorie intake because of my puking issues from last year, but this was not a focus race so I gave his plan a shot.
At 6:30 am I found myself standing on the start line for the 50 mile race. (The race had multiple distances and each distance start was separated by 2hrs). I felt lethargic and sluggish. We ran an out-and-back along the trail for 5km before running 3 x 25km loops. I jogged slowly and I had no desire to go any faster. I was not feeling it. The lead ladies came sprinting back, leading all the men. They looked like they meant business and I wondered how they could possibly maintain that pace.
I finished the first 5km in 28 minutes. All I had to do was maintain that pace and I would come in sub-8hrs. I laughed silently to myself, I was already fighting the urge to walk. The trail rolled up and down, left and right. It was really difficult to get any sense of flow. I thought about walking the hills, but they were so short that I just kept running. Another runner pulled up beside me and we ran together for the next 5km. It was his first 50 mile run and he was aiming to finish sub-12hrs. His plan was to run until he was tired, and then walk after that. I wondered aloud, how do you know when your tired? I was tired from the first step of this race and yet for some reason I was still running.
I blame my sluggish start on a lack of coffee. I had spent the night at a campground and I wasn’t able to pick up my traditional McDonald’s pre-race coffee. I won’t make that mistake again.
No coffee meant that I had a sluggish start to the day and it also meant that I wasn’t able to fully clear out my bowels pre-race. 90 minutes into the run I said good-bye to my RB and ducked into an out-house to take care of business.
The rest of loop 1 went by without incident. I passed my RB at an aid station and ran the rest of the way on my own. I was still grouchy and wondering why I was doing this stupid race on this stupid course. I’m a mountain runner, not a flat runner. I fought hard to combat my negative emotions. I smiled and greeted every runner and/or volunteer I passed. I focused on my nutrition and just kept my legs moving. I would allow myself to walk when I was eating a gel, but as soon as the gel was down the hatch I was back to my slow jog.
There was a short out-and-back at the end of each loop and as I ran towards the end of the loop I saw one of the leading ladies heading out on her second loop. She looked so strong and fast, it didn’t even cross my mind to try and catch her. I came through the first loop in just under 3hrs. I was still on pace for sub-8hrs but I had no faith in my ability to pull it off. I knew I would have to start walking the hills eventually and then my pace would drop. I grabbed a handful of gels from my drop bag and went back out for loop 2. I forgot that it was probably time to refill my camelbak …
6km into loop 2 I ran out of water. It was a warm day and my bowels get upset very quickly when I become dehydrated. A few kilometres later I was back in the outhouse. After that I picked up the pace a bit so that I could get to the next aid station without having lost too much time on the loop. It only took a minute to refill my pack before I was running down the trail again.
At this point I was still running all the hills and I wondered for the umpteenth time when my legs would tire enough to allow me to walk. Towards the end of loop 2 I was joined by another runner and we spent the rest of the lap running together. He was doing the 100km race so he was 20km ahead of me. I admired how smooth and fast his stride looked, how was I keeping up? When we hit the out and back I saw the speedy lady again, this time headed out on her 3rd loop. She still looked smoking fast, but I did notice that I had gained on her a little …
Loop 2 finished, still on pace for sub – 8hrs. I felt exactly the same as when I started – sluggish, lethargic, but not really any worse. Scott (my new running friend) and I ran the first few kilometres of Loop 3 together, but I was finding the talking exhausting. I slowed to a walk on a hill and let him go ahead. He was the only person to pass me all day from any race distance. Unfortunately, he took a break at the next aid station and I wound up surging ahead.
In a day of almost continual lows, my lowest point was from miles 40-45. I was continually passing runners of various distances and they all looked like zombies. It was not motivating. I needed someone to chase, but the race course was constantly winding and I could only see about 100m ahead at a time. At this point the only thing that was motivating me to keep moving was that magic sub-8hr finish time. I watched the clock closely and I knew that as long as I didn’t fall apart that I would make it.
There was no finishing kick, but I kept steady and crossed the finish line in 7:56. I was ecstatic! It was the perfect ending to a gruelling day. I came in 3rd lady and 4th overall. The top lady also chicked all the men in a time of 7:2x. Second place lady finished less than 2 minutes ahead of me.
I’m very happy with my mental toughness during this race, but I’m a little annoyed with myself that I didn’t push harder to catch the second lady. She was obviously struggling just as much as I was but she employed a great race tactic with her speedy out-and-backs.
Based on my even splits and lack of stomach issues I would say that the nutrition strategy was successful. I will continue to work on drinking more water. I was very stiff post-race and for me that usually is a sign of dehydration. I’ll rest for the remainder of this week, and then I’m back to my mountain running! I cannot wait!
A few photos taken by friends:
Coming in from Loop 2
Headed back out for another loop. So many gels …
The Calgary crew