Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Haney 2 Harrison Ultra Race Report (Part 1)

“Three, four, five six . . . okay good. Walk!” I slow to a lumbering walk, a death march. The rain was beating down. My thin “weather-proof” grey nylon jacket was now saturated black with the day’s rain. My fleece gloves were doing their best to keep what heat remained in my waterlogged hands. It was 12:30 and I was 65 km into a 100 km ultra. I had been running for 6 1/2 hours and by all accounts I had another 5 hours to go. I was getting colder from all the walking but I couldn’t maintain a run because my hips were hurting from being so cold. This bitter Catch 22 was sending me spiraling to my demise. I was relegated to counting power poles. I would run six and walk one, then run seven and walk one. “Okay run!” I would yell at myself hoping my body would listen. “One, two, three . . .” Five more hours?!

The day had started early enough. The alarm on my wristwatch was set for 2:15. All the planning, pre-planning and training would come to a head at 4 am, the start time for the 13th running of the Haney to Harrison Ultra Marathon. The H2H is a 100 km road ultra passing through some of the most picturesque scenery in the Fraser Valley. I had been thinking about doing this race for as long as I’d been thinking of ultramarathons. For years a route map has been tacked to my running wall. I call it my running wall because its where I hang my marathon plaques and finishers medals as well as the coat rack for all my running gear to dry out. This was my room with a door to the outside. It made a convenient point of egress for my escape to the running world. Every time I laced them up I would have to look at the route map of the Haney to Harrison Ultramarathon. Today I was going to finally run it.

At 3 am even on the best days my brain is kind of foggy. Sandy James, my early morning race crew and I set off for the start. It’s a twenty minute drive from my house so after laying out all my gear the night before you would think I would have my act together. No such luck. As we pulled up to where the start was I realized I had left the Mandatory Runner Information Waiver and Crew Information Sheet. They had extra copies of the Crew Sheet but I had to write my name on the bottom of someone else’s waiver

3:50 am- we all listened very carefully to the Race Director (RD) Ron Adams giving us the pre-race talk. By this point most of us had been standing around in the rain for the better part of a half an hour. We were cold. The wind just started to pick up but would occasionally blow away the rain so there was some relief.

The gun went off at about 4:02 on my watch. I had been so involved in filming the start scene that I had almost forgot to turn on my Garmin. I was trying to save power on my GPS because I knew it only had a battery life of 11 hours. Luckily the synching of the satellites only took a few seconds because we were off. Everyone seemed to be going so fast, I knew right away that this was not my pace. I watched as the whole field went by me right from the start. This year’s race was the national 100K championship so I also knew the field would be faster than usual. By the first set of turns the leaders were nowhere to be seen. But I wasn’t last I could hear voices behind me and the blinking red lights of the runners ahead of me were not the far in the distance.

For the first part of the race we ran around the city streets of Maple Ridge winding away through some arterial roads and eventually heading back on to Dewdney Trunk Road. The turns were well marked and there was always a volunteer. Thank you to all the wonderful volunteers! I couldn’t imagine standing out in the dark, cold and just pointing the right direction to go. Volunteers make a great race.

By the time I made it on to Dewdney Trunk Road my pace was set and I was running comfortably. The wind and rain had let up for now and I was actually overheating with the amount of clothes I had on. By the time I met Sandy James at checkpoint 1, I had to take off my fleece vest which was underneath my Hi-Vis vest and windbreaker. I rolled into the first checkpoint in 56 minutes. There was still a bunch of us fairly close together but for the next stretch of road between Garibaldi High School and Stave Falls we would most certainly stretch out. The road is very straight and a bit hilly and still with another 1 ½ hours before sunrise there wasn’t much to look at except the distant glow of red blinking lights from runners who past me.

Running into Stave Falls always brings me home. Our first house is in Stave Falls, our first and second child were born while we were living here. I volunteered at the firehall up here. Such fond memories I’ve run these streets many times. I told Sandy to meet me at the firehall which I guess all the runners behind me were doing because there was quite a few cars in the parking lot. As I approached the hall I could see Sandy standing next to someone. I thought to myself that Sandy makes friends so easily. It turned out to be Bob Gray, my old friend from Station 2. At 6 o’clock in the morning he was doing some work. Always the jovial character he gave me a big bear hug as we chatted for a few moments. Sandy re-filled my water bottles for the first time, I was carrying two and had drained the first one long ago but to save weight I refrained from refilling it ‘til now and I was off again.

The next few checkpoints and the one after went off without a hitch. By this point Sandy and I were working like a well oiled machine. We leap frogged each other though these sections of the course. We would meet up about every 15 or 20 minutes, it seemed he would be sitting there in his big black truck and ask me if I needed anything, then he would hang back for a few minutes and pass me on the road and do a double check. The cycle would repeat throughout the morning. At Hatzic Prairie right in front of Sandy’s parent’s place we would switch crews. Sandy had his daughter’s soccer game to attend and my wife Jen would be taking over at that point.

For years this course has run by the house of Dick James who lives on the prairie on Sylvester Road. And for years it would piss him off that support cars would park on his front lawn. His house is strategically located as one of the last houses before the highway and at the halfway point of the race. There’s a warning in race guide “Watch for fast moving gravel trucks” Dick James’s own a gravel truck company. Not to say that it was Dick who was driving but I think all the tire tracks left by support crews on his lawn were kind of annoying. This year would be different because this year my crew would be his son Sandy and my new crew, being my wife would be parked in his driveway. As I rounded the bend I was passed by the first relay runner and then the second. As they faded into the distance the image was replaced by smaller figures on the horizon running towards me. The rain had started to come down again and by now but the distinct voices of my children gave me an immediate boost of energy which was starting to fade. And there in the driveway was my beautiful wife, my three boys, Sandy’s wife Ilja, their daughter Julia and none other than, Dick James.

“You look terrific!” the shouts all said. The shot of adrenaline from seeing my family and neighbors had masked the reality that I was starting to fade. Off in the near distance was that imaginary 10 foot stonewall that every marathoner knows at mile 20 and every ultramarathoner sees several times. I was at the 50K mark.

As I came out of the checkpoint at Dewdney Elementary School my hips started to ache. It had been raining for the last hour. It was at that point I started to count the power poles.

ONE . . .TWO . . THREE . . . FOUR . . . FIVE . . .SIX and walk.

Then I was passed by the orange guy not a relay runner but an ultrarunner like me. As he passed, Orange guy gave me an encouraging pat on the back like Tarzan Brown and John Kelly on Heartbreak Hill. (You can see him in the background in the picture, right) I wasn’t sure if I was discouraged or encouraged by his gesture. It’s odd what you notice about what people are wearing at 55 kilometers into a 100 kilometer race. The previous two lead relay runners were wearing singlets and shorts in the cold pouring rain. Orange guy was wearing a bright orange rain jacket that had the Boston Athletic Association logo on the back. I’m guessing orange guy or Orange as I would call him had run the Boston Marathon. I’ve always wanted to run the Boston Marathon. Qualifying is the biggest challenge of course. I thought to myself now that I’m 45 the qualifying standard changes to 3:30, my PR is 3:31 . . . hmmm. Orange starts to fade in to the distance, his stride, his gait were light and effortless. I’m discouraged!

ONE . . .TWO . . THREE . . . FOUR . . . FIVE . . .SIX and walk.

Other relay runners are starting to pass me now. One group in their support car are all wearing mullet wigs. They get out of their cars and they all have these long haired wigs, some blond and some black haired like a group of Waynes and Garths from Wayne’s World. Are these guys drunk or just incredibly psyched? They cheer me on like there is no one else on the road or because there is no one else on the road. Their runner passes me and down the road they go.

ONE . . .TWO . . THREE . . . FOUR . . . FIVE . . .SIX and walk.

1 comment:

  1. Wow!! Living in MR, I have always wanted to participate in this. Of course...I am a terrible runner!! lol!!
    I am looking forward to following you as a fellow Fraser Valley resident!