22 June 2009

The MOOSE Ultra - Aug08

So holy's kind of embarrassing that I haven't posted anything here since last August. More like a "blintermittent" as opposed to a "blog". Hearing about Krissy and Ellen run the Wonderland Trail recently made me recall that same awesome trip Sue and I did about this same time last year. And that was my last post. Criminy, with no blog posts, my mom has no idea what I have been doing since then! ;-)

OK, so here's a redux series before I get into a post on this year's Hardrock race, starting with the MOOSE Ultra stage run from last August......

The MOOSE Ultra (Aug08: 6 days, 300km stage run on the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario)
This was my first formal stage race, although I have run multi-day camps at Coyote4Play in the past where we did 200+ miles in six days - the same, but different. I was really eager to try this one out, and the fact that it was on home soil made it a no-brainer to go out for. Logistically, it wasn't quite as challenging as MdS or similar, in that breakfast and dinner would be provided - meaning that I only had to pack clothes, sleeping gear, and only the race food I would need, instead of packing all the food I would need during the race. The Moose was five weeks after Hardrock, so I figured the timing would work out quite well. The field looked small, and I ended up being the only North American racer, with the remainder coming from the UK (all of it: Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales). Our first night in town before the race was to share a hotel room with another racer, and coincidence put me in with
Rhodri Darch, a Welsh guy living in London. Rhodri seemed a very nice fellow, although a bit shy and reserved - kind of like me. We hit it off pretty well together at any rate. Good thing, as it turned out....we'd be sharing a tent and a whole lot of running time together over the next several days.

Day one (50km) kicked off with a lot of enthusiasm, as I headed into what was, for me, the unknown realm of stage racing. I will be frank in stating that despite being a stage race newbie, I intended on placing well at the Moose. After some early group running, I took off ahead of the field on some technical downhill, and found that I created a fair gap. A gap that was lost as soon as I hit the rocky beach of Georgian Bay and lost the trail! After muddling around in some bushes, a couple of others, including Rhodri, had caught up to me and we set off in the right direction. The trail proved to be quite technical and challenging in this early phase, with lots of climbing up rock cliffs, down dirt chutes while hanging off trees, and beaches pebbled with 10-20cm rocks. After a while, I was able to create another gap behind me, except one - Rhodri was still tailing me a short space back. Eventually the technical section spat us out onto a gravel road leading to the first water station, and Rhodri and I were running together. As we ran up the hill, I felt him surge and I pushed back to keep shoulder-to-shoulder with him - both of us chit-chatting along the way, of course. We had a couple of these over the next hour or so, me pushing the pace and then him, and eventually we seemed to silently declare a truce and run along together. It ended up being a lot more enjoyable anyways, having someone else interesting to talk to. We finished side by side, shaking hands as we crossed the finish line in 6:24.

Day two (57.3km) Depite being not too much farther than the previous day, Day 2's journey was to prove very difficult for all the competitors, resulting in a very long time on the trail. The
rather nasty footing of the Bruce Trail's rocks took a heck of a toll on all our feet and ankles, and we ran in some very exposed areas during the heat of the day. Rhodri and I headed out together once again, taking a "we'll see how it goes" attitude as far as sticking together. It didn't take too long to see that we were still pretty much stride for stride, and we both enjoyed the company. We also helped each other out tremendously since we respectively had our own down points where the other fellow slowed and helped that individual along. I got dehydrated during the middle of the day and suffered along a very open road section, but eventually bounced back once we got into the trees again. Rhodri had his own turn at being dehydrated towards the end of the stage, which unfortunately resulted in a bit of a puking session. I helped him recover in our tent with a couple of bottles of nuun in order to get his electrolytes and hydration back in order. With that in place and a late evening meal, he was good to go the next morning. I was really feeling for some of the other competitors this day, as some of them finished quite late or after dark. I really admired the perseverance and spirit of all my colleagues out there, although unfortunately the day took its toll on three runners who could not carry on the following day. I also really have to stress just how spectacular the scenery was that we ran through - the time passed a bit quicker with the fantastic lakeshore views, rocky beaches, and winding trails through the woods.

Day three (43.5 km) was one of our shortest days, and proved a bit of a recovery for the remaining runners. The trail continued its lovely variety of surfaces, although we did get a section of rocks that was quite a maze to get through. I had an altimiter that recorded the day's elevation change, and generally it read out about 1500' of climbing per day, plus or minus a couple of hundred. That's not much in itself, but what the altimeter did not include was the step-ups and down onto rocks each about a foot high, several thousand times a day. Next time I won't train for hills, but will just practise single steps up and down. The day finished near a beach in Wiarton, which seemed like a good idea with all the heat, but the wind was so strong that it made it quite cool. My lovely wife Martha also joined the race crew and met me at the day's finish, which was a wonderful treat. She was across Georgian Bay visiting with relatives and came around to see the race for the last few days. One of the most striking pictured for me this day was seeing fellow competitor Chris Macmillan hobbling to the bathroom on severely blistered feet. His feet ended up being infected, requiring a trip to the local hospital, but I'll not soon forget his strength, perseverance, and refusal to whine through the agony he must have been feeling.

Day four (69.2) was The Long Day, which I was looking forward to. The early start group of runners left against the most spectacular sunrise and headed off into the morning. Rhodri and I took off an hour or so later and promptly got our butts lost in downtown Wiarton. Wiarton isn't a big place, but it is a pisser adding a couple more kilometres onto an already long day. The signage on the Bruce Trail is overall very good, but like many trails that pass through urban areas, it is more challenging labelling street signs, walls, posts or whatever is available within the city setting. I can't remember if I found out this day, but it came out that the other racers were calling Rhodri and I "The Robots". It was a good-natured title, and seeing pictures or video of the two of us later on, I can see why that name was chosen! We did seem to be running stride for stride and never farther than three-to-five metres apart for the entire race. We also had very little variance in our pace, it was pretty consistent throughout. I think there was something to how we always started later than the others, but invariably caught and passed them along the way, except James Adams on Day 4. (Sorry about that, guys and Jo, we were just going our pace!) As we headed south, the trail gained more road sections as we got into more populated areas. This was a change from the first couple of days that were mainly in National Park, but it did provide variety for us. The roads varied from rough gravel to paved farm roads to highways (just crossing the latter), but were still interspersed with trail sections in between to keep things interesting. While I enjoyed the longer distance today, I distincly recall wondering When The Hell This Was Going To End as we approached Owen Sound and ran along a rocky bluff that twisted and turned and never seemd to take us where we though we were headed. [note to Rhodri - Was I getting cranky then? Sorry about that if so :-)

Day five (59.1km) This was another long-ish day, which was predominated by farmland as the Bruce Trail headed away from the coast. We ran road around farm fields, but also climbed over fences (what are those ladder thingies called?) to run the perimeter of corn and soybean fields. Running a farmfield isn't as cushy as it sounds, the surface was pretty rough. Still, with the roads and flatter trail sections - not so many rocks in these places - the pace was a bit quicker for all the runners. It was good to see that a couple of the guys who had dropped earlier, Justin and Paul, chose to drop in again to continue running all or part of this stage to the finish. Rhodri and I continued to "robot" along our way, I can't say how much I enjoyed running with him. The finish for today's stage was on the yard at a beautiful farmhouse placed along a riverfront. The race directors approached the people there, and they just let us camp and set up on their yard - what kind people! It was wonderful stripping down into our shorts and hopping into the river once we were finished running, although less pleasant were the fish that insisted on nibbling the loose skin on my blistered feet - ick.

Day six (21.0km) The final day was the only one that had the cloud and high humidity which is more characteristic of the region, and it was really uncomfortable. I'm glad the weather was so good in the preceeding days, and not like it was this final stage. The runners headed off in a couple of waves, with Rhodri, James and I in the last group. The last day was both exciting and anti-climactic: it was nice to think of the running being over, but the comradeship of the racers and support crew had become so strong over the past several days that it was a shame to think that things would soon be different once we reached the finish line. Regardless, there were 21km still to run and enjoy before anything else. The route for the day was composed of an arrow straight, 10km gravel road along a gradual uphill, and then 10km of undulating trail before a 1km downhill through a ski resort to the finish in village at the bottom. I think there was some humming in camp about the prospect of a showdown race between Rhodri and I for the overall win, but the two of us were quite committed to finishing together after sharing so much of the journey together. We started running the road with James, but pulled gradually away from him towards the end of that section. Once on the trail, Rhodri pushed the pace in anticipation of a quick section into the finish, but it proved longer and more challenging than we figured. Along the way, we caught up to Paul and Justin, and had a chance to chat to them on our way to the end of the journey. Finally, we turned downhill and rolled towards the finish line where we were greeted by RD's Richard and Barrileigh (with new son Owen), the other racers Jo, Andy and Chris, and the rest of the awesome support crew. Rhodri and I crossed the finish line arm in arm and shaking hands, just as we had finished every other day of the race. Richard did a hell of a job with the overall race organisation, but to his immense credit, he shook our hands and took a beer order, and had a cold pint of local Mill Street microbrew in our hands within minutes.

Overall, Rhodri and I tied for the overall win in the race. We were both very happy with that, and I would not trade it for anything. He was an excellent running partner, and our paces and personalities were very compatible; more importantly, we became good friends along the way. I have had a lot of questions along the lines of "Do you think you could have beat him?" and statements even more complementary, that I was the stronger runner and definitely would have won (although I am sure Rhodri's friends and associates have said the exact same thing to him!!). While I appreciate the support from those who thought that, Rhodri and I each had stronger moments and weaker sections throughout the week, and we worked together to pull and encourage each other along. Perhaps I could have come out on top, but it would well have gone the other way. I will be honest and say that I went into the race with the intention of winning or placing very well, and I achieved that goal. That I came out with a richer experience overall from Rhodri's company was an added bonus. My only apology for tying with Rhodri was that it kind of screwed RD Richard up since he only had one first-place trophy :-)

Thanks to Richard and Barrilegh for putting on such a well-planned and fun event, I abolsutely enjoyed every minute of it. To all the other runners - Andy, Chris, James, Jo, Justin, Paul, and of course, Rhodri - thanks for your comradeship and cheer along they way. I enjoyed your company and respect your accomplishments on the trail, and look forward to seeing you at another race sometime.

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