After my first experience with an Ultra race, I am hooked! The following is my account of the 2013 Fernie Ultra 50 miler.
Heading into the race, my longest distance run was 43km, and longest run time was just over 7 hours. By all accounts I was very underprepared heading into the race, and as such decided to treat it more as a training run with aid stations. This gave me a great chance to try out my nutrition plan, and learn about any training changes I need to make (apparently there are a lot).
Because this was the inaugural year of the race, it was anyones guess as to how difficult the course would be, and based on the course profile and training runs to date, I roughly estimated that if I really pushed, I could finish it off averaging somewhere around 6 min/km leaving me with a total time of around 8 hours. I (and everyone else I've talked to) hugely underestimated the course, and I didn't expect the technical nature of the trails along the way. The eventual winning time of 9:20 is a testament to that.
Leg 1 Fernie Resort to Island Lake Lodge: 13km, 563m ascent, 269m descent
Staying true to my middle distance background, at the gun I fell into the lead pack, feeling comfortable with the 5:00-5:30 min/km that everyone was running. There were ~12 of us cruising close together enjoying some of the cat-track at Fernie Resort and we quickly passed the lead bike who was supposed to get us out to where the single track started. As a result of not paying attention and following feet, we ended up off course just over 4km into the race. The cat-track we were on petered out and we continued on with the bushes geting more and more dense until finally someone stopped and we all grouped up to figure out the best course of action. After confirming that none of us brought course maps, nobody was a local, and none of us had any idea where we were going, we decided to turn around. Everyone was still in good spirits, joking the whole way back. Eventually we hit the junction we had missed, which was marked by a solitary piece of flagging and were back on track and trying to play catch up. As this point, a few of the guys really started hammering trying to get back to the front of the race. Myself and a few others made the smart call to tone it down a bit, and slowly work our way past the rest of the field. I hit the first aid station in 1:39, 10 minutes back of the leaders having passed most of the runners who hadn't made the detour with us. At this point I was feeling great, and made a quick stop at the aid station to refill my water, and grab a bit of food.
|Working my way up through the field after getting lost|
Leg 2 Island Lake Lodge - Baldy Loop: 10.1km, 687m ascent, 681m descent
The loop up Mt. Baldy was definitely my favorite section of the course, and was quite similar in grade to a lot of the training I've done in the mountains around Canmore and Bragg Creek, so I felt quite at home. The leg cruises up a winding narrow road, all the way up to the summit, then dropps straight down back to Island Lake Lodge. On the ascent I was really starting to feel the heat of the day, as the temperature was already up around 25 degrees. Thankfully there were a few isolated snow patches up high, which I took great pleasure of doing a couple of snow angels in. I really let my legs go on the descent and made great time back to the aid station. When I arrived, I was 15 minutes back of leaders, and still feeling fairly comfortable, the elevation of the last 10km had taken a bit of a toll on my legs though, and I could feel some tightness in my quads and hip flexors.
|Bottom of the descent off Mt. Baldy, super fun, super scenic|
Leg 3 Mt. Fernie: 15.6km, 388m ascent, 738m descent
The descent from Island Lake Lodge was wet, rooty and fairly technical with a slight downhill grade interspersed with a few climbs. I wasn't prepared for this one, and it definitely took a toll on my body. Because of the bad footing the whole way, it was impossible to let your legs go and run fast on the descent (what I usually do). All the eccentric loading and constant braking led to my legs feeling pretty trashed when I reached the end of the leg. At the bottom of the descent, I passed Mike Hamilton, who I had been running with during our detour. He had run out of water and as if on cue, I ran out right after bumping into him. Luckily it was only ~2km until the aid station because at this point the temperature was hovering around 29 degrees. When I got to the aid station, there were already a few solo runners sitting in the grass, having just dropped out. Overall I was feeling not too badly, but my hip flexors and quads were fatigued.
|Running down the rooty trails from Island Lake Lodge|
Leg 4 Hyperventilation: 10.6km, 587m ascent, 539m descent
Leg 4 began with a wonderful flat section that paralleled the elk river, the cool air and shade along the river was a nice break from the heat of the day. After leaving the river, the trail climbed up the East side of the valley, up a well known trail called Hyperventilation. The grade of the climb felt awkward, it was too steep to run in my fatigued state, but hiking felt slow and inefficient. I tried running the first few sections, but ended up powerhiking, and eventually slowed to a plod. After leaving the river, about 30 minutes into the leg, the heat really got to me (34 degrees according to my watch) and my stomach wouldn't let me keep anything in. I knew that I needed to keep fuelling so every 15 minutes, I tried to drink or eat something, but it all came back up. I contemplated turning around and quitting multiple times on the ascent, but continued on and eventually ran into Colin Mathews, who had worked at Gord's just before I started. We chatted for a bit, and ended up sticking together for most of the climb. Every time we thought we were close to the top, we would round the corner and see another switchback, the climb seemed to go on forever! After we finally reached the top, I let Colin go ahead, and ran slowly down the trail. After 10 or so minutes, my legs loosened up a bit and I picked up the pace, passing Colin shortly after. The stomach issues continued for the rest of the leg until I finally made it to the aid station not having had any food or water for just over 1:30. Those white tents were greatest thing I had ever seen, after surviving the never ending leg from hell. When I got there I was in pretty rough shape, and according to the first aid staff had almost stopped sweating.
|Let the sufferfest begin|
|This is the farthest thing from a smile|
When I got to the aid station, I sat down and got checked over by the medical staff, and was advised to stop. After sitting around for ~45 minutes I took off the shoes and called it a day. After a nice icebath in the creek to cool down, we headed back into town to "rehydrate" in the beer gardens at the finish line.
I'm glad I had the first aid staff to help out and tell me to quit, in the end it takes the self doubt out of the equation and stops me from blaming myself. It also prevented me from doing anything dumb and trying to keep going. Hopefully with a bit of experimenting I will get my nutrition strategy figured out and not run into problems in the future.
Although I was very unprepared heading into the race and ended up with a DNF, I had a fantastic experience and will definitely be back on the start line soon!
-Ran 55km in 7:24 with 2154m of elevation
-Learned how aid stations work
-Hammer endurolytes (when I could keep them down)
-Peaches in Syrup
-Cold cheese and potato Perogies
-Toffee covered peanuts
-Gu Roctane gels
-Smartwool toe socks keep my feet blister free all day!
-Met tons of super cool people, and found a few new running partners
-Hammer Perpetuem has worked for me in the past, and was fine at the start, but not after the day got warm
-The Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 12 pack I usually use on solo mountain runs was a little bit too much for the day, and ended up being really hot. The search begins for something more minimal for racing. This pack is great when I need to bring emergency gear with me when heading for long solo runs, but with aid stations is a bit unnecessary.
-Tried some Tums on leg 4, didn't notice a difference
-Definitely need to size up my shoes for runs like this, toes are a little crunched
-Hip flexors and stabilizer muscles need some work
-Definitely need longer long runs
Thanks to Sukhman for driving down and cheering me on. It was great to have a friendly face at the aid stations, and on the occasional patio I ran past
Thanks to Jonathan with Compressport for the race entry, calf sleeves, and trail shirt. I'll hopefully be giving those a try in the next couple weeks and throw a review up on here!
Finally, a huge thank you to all the event staff and aid station workers, you were all super helpful and did a fantastic job! See you all next year!
All photos courtesy of Raven Eye Photography
Time to get back to training!