Jennifer takes the ultimate challenge tackling a dangerous 50K trail race and learns that it's not about the racing after all.
After finishing strongly in the Tread 6-hour Trail Race
, I was tired and swore I’d never attempt a long distance trail race again. After all, I’d just finished running 45K in a little over 6 hours and for me, that was enough. At least I thought so.
But over the summer I met more runners from the Ontario Ultra Racing Series
and ran with several of them in Haliburton Forest in early August. Their enthusiasm is infectious, and everyone encouraged me to give the 50K Haliburton Forest Ultra Trail Race
a try (instead of the 26K that I had registered for).
As a newbie to the sport of trail and ultra running, I couldn’t believe that these uber runners actually thought that I could pull off a 50K. For the following weeks I wondered if I could, and when the weather forecast for last weekend looked warm and sunny, I emailed the Race Directors at the last minute asking to switch my registration to the 50K so I could finally call myself an ultra runner.
As the weather forecast for September 8 changed from sunny to stormy, so did my mood. Nevertheless, I lined up in the pouring rain with 150 other runners and a bagpiper on Saturday 6:00 a.m. In my favourite running gear
(skirt, arm warmers and barefoot shoes), I figured I’d heat up quickly, despite the poor weather conditions. The hilly trails were a shin deep mess of wet roots, rocks and mud.
I loved the first 34K. But after approximately 5 hours of running, my ankles were sore and I was starting to get cold. I tried so hard to run, but my IT band and ankles had done as much work as they could. I bargained with my body and ran 10, then 20 seconds at a time. It worked for a kilometer. After that I started walking. My body temperature continued to drop and I started shivering and couldn’t stop. I knew I had mild hypothermia and started to get scared, worried that I might have to quit or be pulled off the course. Other runners and even tourists who cottage in the forest stopped to check on me (did I look that bad?).
The rain and winds were relentless. I shivered uncontrollably and limped with my arms tucked into my armpits to try and conserve a little bit of body heat. Finally, I lost my appetite but kept drinking knowing that dehydration for sure would kill my race.
Despite some dark times (literally at 3:20 a.m. driving to the race site, and figuratively when I walked alone in the rain for four hours), I got passed by so many runners and I didn’t care. At one point I sat on a rock on the side of the trail, cleaned my shoes with a stick and pointlessly washed my feet just to stop moving. But I never wanted to quit because I no longer considered my race a “race” — which is a first for me. I wasn’t out to win an award. The only person I needed to prove anything to was myself.
Trail and ultra running are so very different from racing in an urban running event, where the race clock and pace charts rule. On the trails, it’s the athlete versus herself and the terrain. You can choose to surrender or refuse to listen to that voice in your head that sabotages your race and your chance to achieve what you always thought was impossible.
And that’s my challenge to you — step outside your comfort zone. It doesn’t have to be running, but it does have to be outside. Climb a ridiculously tall tree, take off your shoes and go hiking with your kids, pedal your bike faster than you ever have before. You are more amazing than you believe you are.
Thank you to Haliburton Forest Ultra
organizers Helen, Don and Gary, the volunteers along the course (especially at the final aid station where they brought me into a warm tent, cursed the weather, rubbed pain relief ointment into my aching filthy legs and fed me chowder, pretty much saving my bacon) and my friends, especially Rick
for helping me after I crossed the finish line with food and a warm towel and Rhonda
for your supportive texts during the race.