After greeting Sheila and her friend, Donna, the three of us drove to Youbou to sign-in and pick up our race packages. When we got there, it was evident that things were very well organized. After we got our packages, we drove back to Lake Cowichan and got to bed at 9 am.
I didn't have a great sleep - and how can you when you have to wake up at 3 am? After sorting out my gear, we bombed to the finishing line and caught a shuttle bus to the start line in Youbou. Riding the bus was fun, and everyone around me thought I was crazy to be wearing just my shortsleeve top and shorts. They were all bundled up.
After an agonizing 1 hour wait for everyone to arrive, we were all asked to stand on the start line and sing "Oh Canada". All of a sudden, it felt like we were at a hockey game. At the end of the song, someone over the megaphone yelled, "ready, set, go!" and then we were off.
From what I could tell, there appeared to be about 10 solid runners in the field. 4 of them I knew: Mark Nelson, Rafael Albert, Jackal, and last year's winner, Jason Wellard. As the race began, we all turned our lights on. It was pitch black. All the runners laughed at me having a hand-held flashlight. They all turned their fancy headlamps on. Mark and I headed out infront, expecting the others to join us. They didn't. And so the race began with Mark and I out ahead. This would be the first time ever for me. It appeared as if Rafael and Jason were happy cruising behind us.
Mark and I made good work on the dark logging road. The road had been freshly graded, which may have been great for the walkers, but made it a little too soft for the runners. My light was actually awesome, as it provided some great light. Mark's little headlamp barely shone at all. I realised he probable needed my company, just for my light. As Mark and I came up to the first aid station, I peeked behind us and there was not a sight of anyone behind us. The first aid station was decorated in Christmas lights, and they got excited to see us.
After a quick drink of water, we pushed ahead into the darkness. Not much after that, we entered a clearcut where we heard some animals on the slope. We joked that it may be a bear, but it was more likely just some deer. At the one hour mark, I was quite surprised to hear Mark say that we were at the 13k mark. We were flying along nicely, and it felt reasonably comfortable. I imagined hanging out with Mark for the first 20k, and then letting him go ahead on his crazy pace.
Then one of the craziest things happened in my running life. It sounded like a sudden rushing river upon us. The noise made Mark and I stop dead on the road. With the crashing of branches from the sides of the logging road, we realised that this was an animal making this noise. And then, we stood in awe as about 8 mature elk crossed about 20 feet infront of us. Judging from the noise to our periphery, it was apparent that these were part of a larger herd that had already made its way across the logging road. The last elk took its time crossing the road and stopped right in the middle and then stared at us. I didn't know whether to turn my light off or not. Instinctively, Mark and I backed up a step or two. And then, the elk sauntered off the road, and we continued on our running race.
I felt good with the pace that we were on. I was though, ready to lose my heavy flashlight. It took forever to get light out, and just when I thought about dropping my light, I could tell that we would be needing it up ahead as were went through some serious canopy. However, on the other side of the canopy, I did chuck my light on the ground, and it tuned out to be a great time to do so. (I had prearranged my walking partner, Sheila, to pick up my light when she got to that point.)
We now approached the 3rd checkout at the 20k mark. We checked our watches, and we still were making great time - and we were having a blast. However, I was encouraging Mark to go ahead on his own, as I knew that I was going to go at a slower pace. I also had to make a full stop at this aid station, to hydrate, to take a gel and to take an S-Cap. Mark insisted that we run together, but in a few minutes he was now moving ahead, and I was more than happy for the two of us. It was now time for me to run my own race, and I believed I was capable of doing just that.
At the 28k mark, we actually saw the first kilometre sign marker. This sign marked the half-way point. I was at 2:05, but my pace was certainly slowing with every kilometer. I was okay with this, as I expected to hit another wave of energy very soon. However, this was just positive thinking, as no such wave seemed to hit. My right hamstring was cramping, and when I stopped to pee, my urine was bright yellow. Great. Dehydrated. I needed water badly, and at the 33k aid station I drank 3 cups of water and took another S-Cap. I was hoping that in 15 minutes, the cramping would ease up. No such luck though. The calf would start cramping as well.
As I began the 7 kilometre, 100m climb in the race, I now opted to walk on the uphills. I needed the recovery time for my muscles to get charged back up. At the 35k mark, I would be passed by both Jason Wellard and Rafael Albert. Near 40k, at the top of the hill, another older runner would pass me. I knew that unless I found some energy soon and stopped the cramping, this would be a long finishing stretch. The hill finally ended at the 'Marathon Sign'. 42.2k down, and in a time of 3:40. This would be a crappy time. I was imagining being here by 3:30 at the latest, and I was in next to no shape to even be competing at this point. The only good news is that what goes up, must come down. I was hoping to loosen up on the downhill.
Even on the downhill, I had to stop and walk twice. My muscles were not cramping too badly, and I made it to the 44k aid station in good shape. More water, more gels. Just as ineffective. The good news is that I saw pavement. The rest of the race - the final 12k stretch was on pavement. Worst case scenario, I would walk the rest and hang my head at the end.
The pavement stretch was not much better. It was now a walk/run for me. 1 minute of jogging, 1 minute of walking. Repeat that 60 times, and that was the next 6k. I finally got to Mesachie Lake, and I only had 5 km to go. At this point, I could tell that I was going to finish between 5 and 6 hours. I was gonna do my damndest to make sure nobody else would pass me.
With 3 km to go, a car drove slowly by me and the guy said that there was a bear on the road ahead. He turned his car around and then drove right beside me for a minute. I peered over to the left and saw a large black bear just watching me. He wasn't going anywhere. Sadly enough, neither was I.
I managed the last few kilometers alright, and finished in a time of 5:12. I did hang onto my 5th place finish. I was really hoping for a sub 5 hour performance, but if you were to write a book on how not to do an ultra, this experience would be a highlight chapter. The first half was 2:05, the second half was 3:07. Simply dreadful. However, one must see the positives in all this mess, so here is what I take from this:
I ran around Lake Cowichan. 56k. It is one of the biggest lakes on the island, and I ran around it. I also could have given up many times along the way...and I didn't. I had a couple of amazing wildlife experiences. The elk experience was once in a lifetime. I will remember the first 20k, running with Mark. I will try and forget the rest. In hindsight, I should have taken my Hydropack on this run. I got dehydrated and could not recover. Lesson learned...the hard way.
Now, I am taking 6 weeks off from running. This will be the first period of time I have taken off. My left knee has had tendonitis for the past 6 months. I will spend the time to strength train, cycle, swim and come back even stronger.
I will also take the time to enjoy my family, as Janelle and I await #3 to arrive any day now.