I try to make it up to Canada, specifically Manitoba, at least once or twice every year. It's an opportunity to disconnect from one world and reconnect with another, different world. Having traveled all over the globe for various runs and races, I've come to appreciate all the subtle differences in other running communities, as well as all the commonalities that make it easy for ultra runners to instantly connect.
I've come to love the Manitoba trail running scene because I believe it embodies everything that I love about the sport: The people are amazingly warm, friendly and supportive and they behave like they've never met a stranger. Plus, they have a lot of pretty sweet single track.
I was stoked to be returning to the Lemming Loop 24 Hour Trail Race because I knew I'd have fun, no matter how the race turned out. Although, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't hoping to have a great race.
One of the deceptive challenges with this race is the start time. Lemming Loop begins on Friday at 5:00 PM, which doesn't seem like a big deal until you're 15 hours into the race and realize you've already gone without sleep for more than 24 hours and you still have a long way to go. Late day race starts are brutal!
After a short race briefing and a group photo, Dwayne Sandall, the RD, sent us on our way.
I shot to the front right away and ran a quick, but comfortable pace. It took a while, but the sound of runners chasing began to fade and I was alone in the lead.
The course is a 5.72 Km loop that twists its way through a rolling hardwood forest and out through a short section of open prairie, before bringing us back to the start line where our lap is recorded. For the most part, the trail is smooth, but it has just enough toe grabbing roots to demand your attention.
The weather was ideal for running and I enjoyed cruising through the first loop, getting warmed up and reaquainting myself with the course.
I won't lie though...I don't like the prairie section. Not at all. I've begged the race director to cut it out, but he reminded me that Manitoba is technically a prairie, so it's going to stay. I'll continue my campaign, regardless.
I finished the first loop well ahead of the second place runner, but I was determined to create a large gap as quickly as possible. I blew through the aid station without slowing.
When I came through the finish area after my second loop, Jo told me I had a two minute lead. After the third loop, I was ahead by five minutes.
I was happy to be creating a gap, but I was working way too hard, way too early, so I eased my pace.
Because we started the race so late, I was running on fresh legs and moving well when the sun began to fade. I was looking forward to running through the night because most of my training miles happen in the dark and I'm well adapted for it.
Running in total darkness is another story, altogether. More on that in a minute.
Just before nightfall, I stopped at the aid station for the first time and got some fluids and calories in me. I also grabbed my headlamp and a pair of gloves. It was going to be a cool night, but I was still sweating at this point, so I wasn't ready for a full-on wardrobe adjustment.
And this is where my race went off the rails:
I had slowed down to conserve energy and was just focused on keeping my lead through the night. As I was running, I could hear somebody following me. I kept looking back, but I couldn't see anybody. I thought my mind was playing tricks on me, but I could definitely hear something moving through the leaves that covered the trail. I glanced over my shoulder and finally caught a glimpse of a runner that was tracking me without his headlamp on.
TRICKERY WAS UNDERFOOT!!
I foolishly thought that "two could play at this game" and I switched my headlamp off. It took my eyes a minute to adjust, but we had a decent moon and I was moving along just fine. Now invisible, I hit the afterburners and motored away from my pursuer.
I'd like to take a second to acknowledge that in retrospect, I realize this entire chain of events was really, really stupid.
After a few minutes, I no longer heard anybody behind me. I noticed a flag up ahead and made a left hand turn at a trail intersection. After a few minutes, I began to worry because nothing looked familiar. After a few more minutes, full blown panic started to set in. I began to argue with myself in my own head:
"No We're not…everything always looks different at night"
"Maybe we should flip the light on!!"
"See that downed tree on the right?!?! Where'd that come from??? We've never seen that before!"
"Oh God…maybe you're right…"
Just as I finally flipped my lamp on, I saw a reflective marker up ahead on my left at another trail intersection. I swung left, and everything looked familiar again. Then I realized it looked WAY TOO familiar.
It hit me that I had taken a wrong turn in the dark and the trail I was on had circled me back the way I had came and added over two miles to my lap.
I began to utter profanities as I kicked in the afterburners once again, in hopes of recovering from my mistake.
When I came through the start line, I had this very brief exchange with Jo:
Jo: What happened out there? I was worried!
Me: I lost the lead, didn't I.
I ran like a madman, passing runners that had just passed me while I was lost in the woods. I had no idea who was leading, so I lost perspective of my position. Every time I came through the start line, Jo gave me an update.
I was catching him. Fast!
I finally heard the words I was waiting on when I came through the start line:
"You're leading again!"
Thank God! I was getting tired!
By then, I had figured out which runner had taken the lead from me and I lapped him soon after regaining the lead. Then he seemed to vanish.
The next few hours were uneventful, but I kept a mindful eye on any runners approaching. There were none.
After several hours of running, I finally needed to stop and get some warmer clothes on. My bag was in the warming tent, so I wanted to be in and back out as quickly as possible. A person can get sucked in to spending way too much time in those things.
When I stuck my head in the tent, I saw the former leader, and my earlier pursuer, sleeping soundly on a cot. Another runner was huddled up next to the heater, so I asked how long the dude had been sleeping. He replied,"About 4 hours".
I'd been running my butt off to open a gap between me and a guy that's been sleeping for FOUR HOURS?!
I'm an idiot.
By the time the sun had come up, I had a 28 mile lead on the rest of the field, and I had burned myself up getting it. I decided at that point to focus on two things:
1. Don't do something stupid that'll cause myself to blow a 28 mile lead. Seemed unlikely, but remember, I'm an idiot.
2. Have a decent 100 mile split.
I was toast.
With one lap to go before hitting the 100 mile mark, I looked at my watch and realized how poorly I was moving. It looked like there would be a chance to hit 100 miles in under 17 hours, but I felt like crap and it didn't seem very likely. With no time to kill, I headed out and pushed as hard as I could.
Coming through the prairie, and on my way to the finish line, I heard a faint scream…"Kelly…Six minutes!!!"
I looked at my watch and thought there MIGHT be a chance. If I hurried. So I hurried. It hurt.
100 Mile Split…16:58
I won't lie. The next several hours sucked. I just needed to keep moving forward, but as I slowed, my body began to stiffen and shut down. Running was becoming more and more difficult.
To make matters worse, shorter distance events had started that morning and I was being passed by runners on fresh legs who probably felt sorry for this poor old man hobbling down the trail.
I was feeling grumpy from sleep depravation and pain. I wanted to shake my fist at them and say "Slow down!" or maybe "Get off my lawn!!! Damn kids!", but that would have just confirmed their thoughts of me.
I stopped at 21 hours and took stock of the situation. Here are the facts as I saw them:
1. I still had a 28 mile lead
2. I hurt. Everywhere
3. I was grumpy
4. 2nd place would have to pull off a world class kick to catch me
5. I hurt. Everywhere
6. I was done
I sat at the start line with Jo and the timing crew, huddled around a campfire, while I cheered on the remaining runners. Plenty of people came by to say hello and to congratulate me on a great run, but I didn't feel like it was great. It was riddled with foolish mistakes and the price I had to pay to correct them had taken a huge physical toll.
But…I won the race and despite all my whining, I had a great time. It was a great event with some of the most amazing trail runners I know.
Jo and I will definitely be back.
Molson Canadian…The PBR of The North