Breaking the 48h Canadian record
What a season I had! This race again was something unplanned that I decided to jump into last minute. I heard about the One Track Mind Ultra from my Canadian team mates at the Backyard Ultra. The event raised money for the Help Fill a Dream Foundation and was put on to accommodate Jerry Hughes' record attempt to break the 6-day Canadian record.
My main reason for jumping into this event was that I have the time now and there is nothing in my racing calendar that would interfere. My first race of next year, which would have been the Boston Marathon has already been postponed indefinitely, and I'm not convinced that the 24h World Championship ultramarathon in May will go ahead as planned.
So instead of getting the well deserved end-of-season break, I decided to push it for one more - a 48h ultramarathon. It gave me the perfect opportunity to test a few things I wanted to, as well as break a record or two again. The event being on Vancouver Island in BC, rain was pretty much guaranteed - I just had no idea of the extent to be honest.
I had 4 goals going into the event. In order of importance:
1. break the Canadian 48h record
2. figure out blister prevention and treatment
3. figure out optimal liquid amount and nutrition in general for ultramarathons
4. break the Canadian soil 24h open record of 214.4 km (I hold the Canadian record for Canadian soil at 213.8 km)
I accomplished Goal No. 1 and Goal No. 2 100% and I'm very happy about it. I failed at 3 but learned some things which will hopefully get me closer to a solution and I failed at 4.
It was raining for the first 13 hours straight. I knew this was going to be the case the night before the race. It brought on two things: the perfect opportunity to accomplish Goal No. 2, but it washed away the possibility of accomplishing Goal No. 4.
My obsession with trying to figure out blister prevention and treatment comes from the Backyard Ultra a month ago where a blister problem ended my race. I don't blister easily and if it wasn't raining for 11 hours at that race, I most likely wouldn't have had any blisters. But this is also the reason it is hard for me to find a solution and test what works - I need extreme conditions for that. Oh well, I got what I asked for!
Since the Backyard Ultra, I read a book about the problem specifically aimed at ultra runners and ordered a bunch of different products to test, as well as waterproof shoes and socks.
I was very happy that in the first 13 hours I was able to troubleshoot all the blister issues with success, although it took a lot of time. One time I came in, treated the blisters, taped my feet, it took about half an hour, then went around the track just once to realize that that kind of tape doesn't work for my feet. I came back in and spent another half an hour doing the same thing with a different tape.
Next time if I know there will be constant pouring rain, I will pre-tape, it makes more sense than spend 30 mins taping mid-race. There is also a much better chance the tape will stay on that way. All in all, I think I spent a good 2 hours total with blister treatments - you can't break a 24h record if you only have 22 hours to do it.
My dry clothes got soaked several times unfortunately. The full wardrobe changes also took up a lot of time - my guess is another 60-90 mins out of the first 24h. Take timing chip off, take watch off, take rain jacket off. Change tights, shirt, socks, shoes, wipe rain jacket dry, put rain jacket back on, timing chip back on, watch back on. 10 minutes if lucky each time, but likely closer to 15.
The first disaster happened because my soft sided suitcase was on the floor in our canopy, so directly on the track. We didn't realize that the whole track was covered in water at that point. So I came in for dry clothes and they were all soaked. My friend, Andrea, who was crewing me, went back to the Airbnb and put everything in the drier but it took 2 cycles, so 2 hours to dry them.
Meanwhile I'm freezing and running in soaked clothes, shoes and socks. A few hours later the top of the canopy collapsed on us from the weight of the water, soaking all the dry clothes again. Same thing, 2 hours in cold wet clothes, just freezing. No smile on my face at that point!
Once when I came in to deal with the blisters, I was shaking so badly from the cold and wet as I was trying to poke the blisters with a needle that my friend (a nurse) was horrified that I will poke myself all over because I was just unable to hold my hand straight. It was all pretty bad.
After my clothes got soaked the second time and the organizer, Josh came to fix the canopy over our head, I told him they wouldn't need to bother with measuring the 24h split. There was no way I was going to make it.
The forecast was calling for 90 km/h (56 mi/h) winds just as the rain stopped. Great, that's what we all need when we are soaking wet! Luckily other than a quick blow that sent all my bottles flying off the table, we didn't get the promised storm.
My original plan was to push the first 24 hours as hard as I could because I wanted to see how far I could get on a flat course in ideal conditions. Well, as we can see, the conditions were far from ideal so that plan was scratched before the first 12 hours were up.
I quickly changed the plan and decided to focus on the 48h record. That meant that I wouldn't push the second 12hs as hard as I had originally planned. It also meant that I would need to work really hard to make it at all for the 48h record and fight until the very end.
The rain stopped around 13h. Night came and it got quiet, uneventful and peaceful. I was happy it wasn't raining at night. It started up again around 10am the next day, so about 25 hours into the race and lasted 7 hours this time.
This is where all the knowledge from the blister book could be thrown out because at this point there was nothing that could have worked. Luckily I had talked to one of the World's top 24h runners before my race, Zoltán Csécsei, he is on top of the world rankings for 2020. He said to me he just runs through the pain. It sounded like a painful and dumb idea when he said it. Little did I know...
When the second patch of constant pouring rain hit running through the pain was my only option left. I just told Andrea, when I changed my socks, don't even look. All the tape came off by that point too. We just dried my feet, put fresh dry socks on and didn't do anything else. I had to put the same wet shoes back on each time too because my feet were swollen enough on the top that any of the other 4 pairs hurt. So for the rest of the race, running through the pain it was.
I couldn't work out the fluid intake. Originally I set myself up with 375ml (1.5 cups) of sports drink per hour, thinking to go down to 1 cup per hour if it is still too much. It was still too much and I have no idea why I didn't proceed with the plan of reducing further, I should have. I guess your brain doesn't work that well when you don't sleep for 48 hours. I will also need to up my electrolytes, especially the magnesium. So I gained some experience and have an idea of what to change, but I haven't found the solution yet.
I usually run my races on liquid only. I lasted on liquid until the 37th hour this time. What I learned from this is that the longest race I will attempt on liquid only is the 24h. Anything longer, I need solid food options ready. I would most likely still get most of the energy from my sports drink, but I need something light in my stomach to not feel hungry.
I had a very low point at 37h and I did a few things to pull myself out of the hole. I think the reason for the hole was that I knew after the first 13h that the 48h record will only be achievable if I push it right to the end instead of what I was originally expecting - to be able to just cruise for the last 4-5 hours, having broken the record already. No, it was going to be very close and that meant going all the way the best I could. And that was really hard to accept mentally.
I had some Ritz crackers which was the first solid food I had had in 2.5 days - this was the first measure to get me out of the hole. The second one was a 5-min power nap. That was a great idea. It is also very promising for my future Backyard Ultras that I am able to power nap for a few minutes the second night.
I was running up until 39.5 hrs. This time it was my cough that ended the running. I'm a very heavy mouth breather and I always pick up a bad cough at these ultras (always meaning 3 out of 3 so far). My muscles were fully capable of still going, so it is another thing I need a solution for. It might be as simple as not race anything longer than 24h under 10C weather.
It wasn't even the cough itself, I just felt that I couldn't get enough air in and my guess was that what causes the cough also reduces lung capacity somehow. I am convinced it is related. So I decided to run/walk, one lap of power walk, one lap of run. This way I was getting exactly the same pace as I was getting just before, with my running, because I could run a bit faster than with the constant running and the power walk wasn't that much slower. I was going at 6km/h speed. I calculated that if I do that until the end of the 42nd hour then I will be ok and even be able to relax a bit at the end. Then when the 42nd hour started, I also realized that my power walk is only 1km/h slower than the run/walk combination and it was harder and harder to do the running part because of the breathing. So recalculating told me that I would still hit the record around 8am with power walking so that is what I did for the last 7 hours.
Around 40h the hallucinations started... I was fully aware that this could happen, but for some reason I had thought I wasn't prone to hallucinations - maybe because I'm such a down-to-earth person. I also didn't expect that 48 hrs were long enough to start hallucinating. From what I had heard, I had expected them to start around 50-60 hours, so not in this race for me yet.
They were quite beautiful to be honest, nothing scary. No tigers charging at me like I've heard others see. Maybe because I have girls and we do a lot of crafts? Glowing unicorn, crafting materials, nice, bright, shiny, sparkling, and the like. I even knew the process how it starts. First you just see normal objects being different than what they are while your mind still knows they are not real. The first one was a leaf on the track that looked like a cockroach. Ok, that was not so beautiful. But all the rest pretty much were.
There were two trees that ended up looking like giant glowing silver broccolis. Very pretty. I had a light blue shiny unicorn. What I didn't know was that once you see something and you look away, or even go around the track, when you look back or come back to that point, it will still be there!
I tried to not look to where I knew I was seeing stuff, but after a while there was nowhere to look! I tried to look down at the track, but then the track became one of those wooden crafting materials with beautiful patterns that we use with the girls. I tried to look just to the side to the grass... it was a shiny glowing yellow fluffy crafting material...
I was wondering if these hallucinations disappear with sunrise. Oh, btw, it started raining again at 43 hrs... Anyway, the sunrise was cancelled that day! The clouds were so thick that the sun simply didn't come up. It just stayed dark. Can you imagine how I was waiting for that sunrise 46h into the race? Like waiting for a miracle... 7am - sun will rise, 8am - I break the record, 9:30am - I'm done. Yeah... no. Once it was a little bit lighter, I did learn that some of the hallucinations disappear, but not all of them, and then new ones appear. So much for that...
I broke the record at 8:10am. I was soaked and cold but first thought I would just push through the rest of it. But at that point I was so miserable that after a few laps I decided to go for comfort. Nobody will care if I break the record by 7km or 6km. That's about how much I lose with a quick 10-min change of clothes. So I put full warm dry clothes on and headed out for the last 45 mins feeling energized again. It is incredible how much comfort means - warm, dry clothes. I ended up doing 201 miles total, 324kms, breaking the old record by 6km. I think given the conditions I'm happy with that, but one day I would really like to see how far I can go in 48 hours in ideal conditions. There was a lot of distance left in this one because of the weather. However, before that, I have a few other records on my bucket list to break.