Last Saturday, I ran my first 50 miler. Before I ran my first ultra in April, I remember thinking that it was insanely far to run farther than a marathon and running two of them in a row was inconceivable. But then after I ran 50km, I knew that I wanted to run farther.
My coach, Chris Mcpeake, said that I should run Haliburton for my first 50 miler so I decided that would be the race. After a summer of training, I felt like I was ready. Chris and I met a couple days before the race to go over the course, my drop bags and a nutrition strategy. Going over all it made it seem way more real than it had previously.
I packed everything on Thursday night and made a last minute run to buy more gels and some other food and then packed everything. I had my drop bag packed with exactly what I had been told to put in it and I had also packed my hydration pack with gels, gel flasks and some other food.
On Friday, we headed up to Haliburton to pick up our bibs and drop off my drop bag. Callum was running the 26k (his first trail race) and I don’t think really knew what he had signed up for. We also drove up a friend from my running group. We got there with no problem, picked up our bibs and I went to go put my drop bag in the pile for AS2 for the next day and I opened the trunk and no drop bag. I instantly panicked about what could have happened and it took a few minutes to realize that it must still be in our living room in Toronto. I made an improvised drop bag because I wanted somewhere to put my headlamp once it got light out instead of carrying it. I threw in a light sweater, a banana, and a pair of socks and decided that was all I could do. Thankfully, nothing too essential had been in the forgotten drop bag.
From there, we went and checked into a motel in Haliburton, got some food and sat around watching TV for the rest the night. A big treat since we don’t have cable at home. At 9pm, I decided I should try to sleep but that didn’t go very well. I think it was almost midnight before I really feel asleep and the 4:30am wake up call came way too soon after that.
We ate some oatmeal, quickly packed everything and started the drive back to the forest. We arrived around 5:30, right when we had planned and I tried out my headlight. I was all ready to go when the final announcements were made a few minutes before the start. And then all of a sudden it was 6am and we were off!
I right away found a friend that I had made at the Blue Mountain NFECS 50k in July and it was great to see a familiar face! It was her first 50M too and she went on to be the first place female (yay Kendra!). The first 10k flew by and before I knew it we were back at AS2 where I dropped my headlamp and took off my sweater and thankfully grabbed the light sweater from my drop bag just in case. I ended up wearing that sweater the whole race and probably would have frozen without it. I continued on my way, still feeling good and religiously taking a gel every 30 minutes like I was told to.
The next little bit is a blur until I got to around 18k and I was tired and mentally having a tough time. I was running at the front of a group and after walking up a hill, I continued to walk because running was seeming really tough. A woman at the back of that group when she ran by said “you were doing so great, just keep running” and that was just what I needed. I ran behind her for the next little while and we chatted and that really helped. Around this time, I also got stung by a wasp in the back of my head and somehow managed to kill it in my hair and then had to pick it out. That wasp sting gave me something to concentrate on that wasn’t worrying about how much longer I would be running though!
From around 20k to 35k was the toughest part of the race for me. I knew that if I could just get to the turnaround then I would definitely be able to make it the rest of the way. There are parts of the trail that look just like places at my childhood cottage and that was a great distraction. For the most part it was a slog though. I just kept telling myself to just keep going and the faster I went, the faster I would get to the finish line. Thankfully, I had been warned that from AS6 to AS7 was the longest distance between aid stations and it was about 10k. It seemed like I was running trying to get to AS7 forever. When I actually saw it, I couldn’t believe it. I was SO happy!
After the turnaround things started to get better mentally but physically my legs got sore for the first time. I just started thinking about running to the next aid station, not to the finish and that helped a lot. I also started drinking coke and having gels with caffeine in them so I’m sure that didn’t hurt my improved mental state either.
I had some soup at AS5 and after being cold for so long, it was amazing. I walked and drank my soup for a little bit and that was a really nice break. Also, I was really happy to consume something that wasn’t just sugar after a day of gels and coke with a few potato chips every once in a while.
After 60k, it turned into more of a hike/walk than a run. There were some people around me that I kept leapfrogging and it was great to know that people were around even if I wasn’t talking to them. I kept telling myself that if I just got back to AS2 then I could put on a dry shirt and I’d be almost done. When I got back there, I completely forgot about wanting to change my shirt and just wanted to be at the finish and stop running. I did get out my phone for the first time and took the above picture and texted Callum to say that I’d be back at the finish line in about an hour and a half, if I stayed at the pace I was going.
The trail section of the Normac loop was tricky and my legs were really not cooperating but slowly the number of kilometers left was falling. I made it to the gravel section and asked the aid station how many kilometres to the finish and they said around 6k, I was overjoyed. I didn’t really realize that the road section of the loop was rolling hills when I ran it in the dark on fresh legs but I really felt it in that last 6k. About 3k from the finish line my Garmin died. Then I saw a fox on the road ahead and wasn’t sure what to do so I walked towards it and it eventually ran away. Then I was at AS2 again and the volunteers nicely cheered me in and asked if I wanted anything and I told them that I just wanted to get to the finish line and kept running. I think what I actually said was a lot less understandable but they seemed to get the just of it.
I was running what felt like an unreasonably fast pace but in reality is probably close to my fast walking speed. And then I was there! And Callum and my friends were there waiting. I crossed the finish line in 11:34:30. And that was it, I had made it 50miles.
I’m so glad to have done Haliburton as my first 50 miler. It was an amazing experience with great people, exceptional volunteers and a beautiful course. I’ll definitely be back next year! Thank you to everyone!