I got into endurance sports through some experimentation with triathlons and quickly realized that I was never going to fit into that scene. Then I moved onto road marathons, which I found to be equally bland and riddled with an unnecessary sense of competition and elitism.
Then I stumbled across trail running, which led to ultra running, which lead to mountain running. And this new passion is what inspired our move to Utah.
Unlike my brief stint in triathlon and marathon running, I've been reluctant to let go of mountain running and I probably never will. But I'll never be a great mountain runner. I'm a "good" mountain runner...maybe even solid, but I'll never be great. And that's OK.
But I can turn circles for hours...even days, and find some success. I know, it's not the sexiest version of ultra running, but it can be a lot of fun if you give it a chance.
I have a connection with Manitoba, Canada and have been trying to insert myself into their trail running scene this year. The Lemming Loop 24 Hour Trail Race was the perfect race at the perfect time of year, so off to Canada we go!
Lemming Loop is one of the trail races put on by Trail Run Manitoba. A great group of people and an amazing RD with a dedicated staff of awesome volunteers. This race is held near downtown Winnipeg on a 2.05 mile trail loop, consisting of native prairie and hardwood forest. It's a great little trail and I had a blast turning circles on it.
In My "Business Attire" Before the Start
To add a level of difficulty, the 24 hour race started on Friday, at 5:00 PM. Late day starts add waking hours to an already LONG event, so exhaustion can become a bigger issue later in the race. Which it did.
Waiting to Start
My strategy was to take the lead right away, create a gap between me and the rest of the field, then focus on maintaining that gap for the rest of the race. Or something reasonably similar...either way, winning was always the plan.
Up Front at the Start
I felt great from the beginning and ran by feel, letting my legs fly. My breathing was steady and my heart rate was low, so I pushed a speedy pace through that first lap, finishing with a pretty sizable gap.
By the second lap, I was passing the back of the field.
By the fifth lap, I had passed the entire field. I was digging deep to keep building my gap.
While I was being deliberately competitive and extremely aggressive, I was having a blast. The trail is a tight single track in most places, and it makes tight turns and winds quickly through the hardwoods. This makes for a slow course for a timed race, but it's exciting to fly through the woods on those trails. I was pushing a burly pace and smiling like an idiot the whole way.
I had to believe that a lot of the other runners expected me to crash and burn early, and I would be lying if that same thought hadn't crossed my mind. But my body was taking all I gave it, so I kept pushing that pace, waiting for signs to back off.
It would be a long while before that happened.
I've written this before, but Canadians, especially from that part of Canada, are some of the nicest people in the world. In the US, trail runners are very kind and generous during races, but it's taken to the next level with this bunch. Supportive and positive comments were flying around that course much faster than I was. It was hard not to feel great while running with these people.
As the only American in the race, I was a little worried that I wouldn't be well received, but those thoughts were quickly banished as soon as the race started. I felt very welcomed and that feeling grew as the laps ticked by.
I kept my fueling simple. I was grabbing a Hammer gel every 2 or 3 laps, while watching my electrolytes. If something looked appealing on the aid station table, I ate it and pushed on.
Hammering Down My Favorite Gel
The weather was PERFECT for running. It was too cold to stand around in shorts and a t-shirt, but just cold enough for a brisk running pace. As night started to settle in, a stiff, cold wind from the south got to be a bit tough to handle and I started adding layers.
Before the sun set, I was beginning to fade a bit, but running at night has always been a strong suit for me, so I was eager for the sun to go down.
I do about 90% of my training runs in the dark, even in the summer, and this gives me a tremendous amount of confidence in the dark. I assume most trail runners will slow a little bit at night, while I'll maintain my pace.
Ready for Night Running
I kept hammering my pace through the night and my gap continued to grow. When I was 20 miles ahead of 2nd place, I was finally at spot where I felt very optimistic about my chances to win. But I remained focused and kept churning out the laps.
While the trail isn't technical, it does demand that you watch your footing. There are potholes, drop-offs, rocks, and roots to contend with. Specifically, there are 4 little pointy, nearly invisible roots that I managed to kick on almost every lap. Even now, they haunt me...
There came a point in the night that the field seemed to thin out. I felt like I was nearly alone on the trail. As it turned out, several runners had pulled the plug and some were napping. But the runners I was competing with were still out there, pounding out the miles. The real race had started and the positions were well defined now.
Jo left for the hotel at 1:00 AM for a nap, with a promise to return at 6:00 in the morning. In her absence, I was overwhelmed by the volunteers that stepped up to crew for me. I was nearly smothered with help every time I came back through the aid station to click off another lap.
Once again, these are just great people.
When Jo returned at 6:00, I was nearly 80 miles into the run and leading by 26 miles. She fed me a hot Egg McMuffin. I was a happy man.
Even with a big lead, I wasn't comfortable with my chances of winning. We still had a lot of hours to go, and I was getting tired. Anything could happen.
My reluctance to find confidence reminded me of my first 100 mile race win. From mile 90, my pacer kept telling me that we had it sewn up. We were going to win! I kept telling him to shut up! Every mile or so, he was whispering that sweet song into my ear and I kept shooting him down. About 1/4 mile from the finish, I turned to him and said, "I'm ready to entertain the possibility that we might win this thing."
Winning a race is something a runner should never take for granted. Shit happens. I know this better than most.
As the sun came up, I was fading pretty quick, but I was maintaining my gap. That was always the plan. I expected to give some of those miles back before the end, but not yet. The miles weren't coming as easily, but they were still coming.
I hit the 100 mile mark at 16:49, which is a long way from a PR, but on that course, I think it's a great time. I took a few minutes to rest and made the decision to back off the pace and focus on managing the rest of the race in a manner to save my body, but still hit my goals.
100 Miles Down...More to Go
As I slowed my pace, my body began to stiffen up and running became even more difficult. As if my legs realized we had hit 100 miles and expected us to be done. Pain really began to set in at 106 miles. And it never got better.
I eventually broke the course record, so I took it as an excuse to be lazy for a while. I plopped on the ground and celebrated with a cold beer.
Not my Normal Beer
At 116 miles in, my stomach began to cramp and I started to feel sick. I walked a few more miles and then conferred with my crew about how to handle the situation. I had wanted to get to 200k before pulling the plug and I was just a couple laps away from it. But my stomach wasn't happy and the slower I moved, the more my body wanted to seize up.
After a long discussion, I decided I had gone far enough at 118.9 miles and I called it a day. I stopped my race at 21:30, securing the win and setting the new course record.
In all honesty, when I started to think about it, any additional miles would have been for vanity. I wasn't going to accomplish anything more than I already had, so it was really pointless to go on. I hung around to cheer for the other runners for a while, then I walked to the car and passed out.
Celebrating with Another Finisher
My 2015 race season has been an absolute roller coaster. I have 4 wins, but I also have 3 DNF's. Even with my level of experience, I have a lot to learn still, and I feel like my time is quickly dwindling.
The most important lesson I can take away from my race season is that I need to fall back a bit and take stock in why I even bother with it. I started doing this for fun, so that's what I want to focus on. I think I might have a few more wins, even if I don't take things too seriously. And if I don't win...I'm OK with that, too.
I still have plenty of racing to do this year, and my only goal is to enjoy the trails and the people I share them with. We'll see how that strategy works out.