Thursday, September 15, 2011

Haliburton Forest 100 Mile will be added soon

Haliburton Forest Ontario Canada

Friday September 9th 

Hector (my crew man for the race) and I arrived in Haliburton, Ontario Canada. Upon arriving a few minutes late we headed to the "Boiler Room" to get checked in for the race. Once given my bid I was then weighed and medically checked over. This was the first part of my confusion. They informed me that I was 73.3 kg, which I had no understanding of how to convert that into lbs. While being checked over I heard them discussing the weather being 33C to 1C. At this point I stepped back mentally and said to myself, "go on feel and it'll be good." Now the only metric I do understand is meters. So reading over the course map I was able to quickly solve 1.6k = 1 mile 10k = 6.2 miles and so forth. This was the one key metric I knew was critical for me to understand in keeping some sanity during the race.

Race Check-in
After then being checked in; we headed to the dinner. The usual pasta dinner was served and the atmosphere was a bit more homey than other races. Each person in the room during dinner stood up to introduce themselves, where they were from, what distance they were running and one interesting fact about them. This I found to be very moving. The biggest thing I noticed was that some people would say they were "trying or attempting" a specific distance while others said they were here "to do" a specific distance. While in the race I noticed that the "to do-ers" stuck it out while most of the "attempters" opted for DNFs. Interesting how mentally people go into a race and either finish or not.

With dinner now done we headed over towards the start line to set up the tent for the night. I really enjoyed the communal feeling of the runners pitching tents near the start area to sleep. Knowing that I tend to me a deep sleeper I kindly asked my neighbor on the left and neighbor on the right to wake me. Both were very pleasant about accepting the offer and followed up in the morning to ensure indeed I was awake. Hector and I again reviewed the plan for the race; charting out which aid stations to meet at, estimated needs throughout the day and a general overall time schedule. Settling in for the night at 9:00pm I looked up at the sky noting the brightest of the pure starlight sky. I was now relaxed and ready for the race.

Saturday September 10th

Our billion star resort
It is now 4:30am and I had a solid night of sleep under those stars. Taking a few minutes to get ready we then headed to the 5:00 am breakfast where bagels and juice were provided. Knowing that I was about to expend a lot of energy I realized I should have planned out a bigger breakfast. Looking for option b I concluded that I would start food on the course around four miles into it.  Also with eight aid stations throughout the 25 miles I would fuel more often in a "constant snacking" pattern. With breakfast over we headed over to have a brief roll call and short prayer for the all the runners. Helen, the Race Director, then announced it is time to head to the start line. A bagpiper started up and played a melody as he walked us to the starting line. All of us shook hands and wished one another best wishes for the day during the walk. Once the melody was complete and the time now being 6:00 am Helen announced "go" and just as quick as the words left her mouth the crowd was in motion heading towards the forest.

The Bagpiper & Helen walking us to the start
This race has a 50k, 50m & 100m options. Sticking with my plan I watched headlamp after headlamp pass me in the first half mile. With past experience I know that every 100 miler you are really racing yourself; so you need to listen to your body and seize the moments that are best to run. I wanted to cover the first 25 miles aka 40 kms in five hours; so there was no need to rush. Seeing the first 25 miles on the outbound would set me up to know how to plan the remaining three journeys over those same miles. Hitting four consistent splits would give me a finishing time of 20 hours.

Coming into AS #3 (5.6 km) I handed off my headlamp to Hector. He quickly handed me a bag of fresh fruit and a full bottle of cytomax. Once again I was blessed with having crew support that could keep my aid station time in & out under one minute. This course of 32 aid stations and all that time accumulates into a very large number if a runner spends to much time at each one. By the end of the race we estimated that I spent about 11 minutes in total at the aid stations. Enjoying the fresh fruit at brisk pace I took in the morning sunrise around the lake on the dirt back road. After a few kms I turned on to the trail as the course took a gradual long climb. The terrain quickly became rugged with rocks and roots over the next (6.0 km) all with a constant rolling section of hills. Assessing that this term "rolling hills" from the course description to actually being on them I deducted that overall  22 hours would be my best time now and my worse would be 26 hours. Km after km I worked my way through the course. I chose to go without a Garmin and try to adjust my speed by how I felt in the moment. I have been running all year with a basic chronograph watch and the results have been favorable for me.

The next several aid stations rolled by as I took in the forest. It felt as if I was completely solo on the course from 25 km to 35km. I was in great spirits with a feeling that just gave me a completeness. Here I was just running along in a remote beautiful forest with the sun shinning down and the temperature rising from 56F to 81F gradually throughout the day. I noticed how the terrain varied along the route from rocky trail sections, grassy sections that hid rocks, to numerous wooded bridge crossings, a log strewn hill section that required focus for every foot strike & some faster pace rolling dirt roads. Some areas of the trail were along side marshes & lakes which continued to give a variety of scenery to enjoy. All of it with a touch of remoteness that is nearly impossible to mimic.

Upon entering AS #6 (30 km) I asked if there was anyone else on the course since I did not see any runners from AS #5 to #6. The guy chuckled and said there are a few ahead of you and several still behind, but yes there were a lot of runners still somewhere out there. I smiled with confirmation now knowing this then inquired what was the course like for the final 10 km to the turnaround. He informed me, "it's very runnable all the technical sections are behind you." Thinking I would now pick it up a bit in hopes of minimizing the gap from the front runners and myself would be ideal. A mere 400 meters into the section I start one of the longest climbs of the day!! All I can do is chant in my head "it's a runnable section, ugh." Well about 2 km later the climb stops and levels off to a truly runnable portion I  feel for the next 8km. Excitement returns as the pace quickens along the trail. Eventually, about 34 km I see runners 50m/100m making there way towards me. I extend some recognition on their hard work being that far in the course. Soon I reach the 40 km in 4 hours 54 minutes and start my journey back to the start line in completion of the first half of the race. I hand off to Hector my mid layer top, more fresh fruit & two new bottles of drink. In addition, I grab an Ipod to plug into my right ear. This forest is loaded with black bear and timber wolves, so I was told to make noise as I travel along the course. Since there were few runners I thought that I would sing out loud alerting the woodland animals of my presence to avoid any unpleasant surprises. So now loaded up I pressed on back to base.

Leg          25 miles actual 4:54 plan 5:00
Total 25 miles actual 4:54 plan 5:00

One of the many beautiful mid day views along the course
Working my way back over the next 40 km towards the start the morning was sailing by beautifully. Shortly after leaving the the AS I found a unopened strawberry Clif Shot. I reached down and picked it up for safe keeping. Just before leaving the AS I had just gotten 3 new ones from Hector and commented that I didn't want any more vanilla ones for the day. The spirit gods of the forest had rewarded me. I keep a steady pace and ran the downhills while power hiking the uphill sections. The few flat sections I would pick it a bit more to stay closer to plan. Plus since I was listening to mostly upbeat music pushing the pace was a bit more natural. Covering the first 16 miles back to the start I was mostly alone and in good spirits.

Suddenly another runner appeared. I looked over my shoulder and vaguely recognizing him I asked, "aren't you from Detroit?" He responded, "yes, my name is Alan and I live in the Northville area." That was so odd I thought, I do a lot of running in the Northville area and now here 400 miles away we are running together. The last 9 miles of the section we ran together discussing all sorts of things. This took away from the distance and rather quickly we were heading down the final leg to the start line. Alan sped up because he wanted to change shoes and such. I held a nice pace into the checkpoint. After announcing my bib and flashing a smile to the volunteers I turned back around heading out to repeat the course.

Leg         25 miles actual 5:31 plan 5:00
Total   50 miles actual 10:25 plan 10:00

Enjoying the journey
Starting the third loop I am feeling good even though my splits are not on the mark now, but with a consistent push I can go sub 24 and even set a new personal record. With the weather cooperating nicely the day seems to be in my favor. The sun is still out and the temperature at this point is beginning to cool at a very slow pace. I work along the dirt road passing through AS #2 then AS #3 before I see Alan rejoining me. He mentions that he knows he will be slowing down once the sun is down. So wanting to reach 70 miles before darkness he presses on a bit faster. I figure if I stay on track I can make some good distance before darkness overcomes my pace. Being proactive Hector provided me my headlamp and mid-layer around 7:00 pm; we figured about 8:00 pm it would be dark in the forest. I was able to cover about 62 miles then the density of the forest required me to turn on the headlamp. Coming into AS #5 (65.7 miles) my toes were now starting blister. I thought on it and decided (making a wrong choice) to ignore the blisters and focus on finishing the race.

Leaving the AS #5 I was walking up the hill and heard a shout from behind. I stopped briefly and peered back at the silhouette with the headlamp. "Hey, it's me Pablo," he responded. Our tent sites were side by side at the start line so the night before we had a chance to meet and chat. I asked him, "how did you get behind me? You have been in front all day." "I had to stop at the last AS to take care of some business," he replied. After traveling the past several miles at a slow pace I was happy to have some company. Here we both were feeling a bit down and exhausted; so joining up made it a lot more tolerable to deal with at this point. Working together we moved along talking about all sorts of things. Taking some time to notice the brightness of the full moon and the wonderful chilling sounds of the timber wolves howling. When wolves howl all I could think about was being along in the forest was not an ideal situation. Walking mostly mile after mile we eventually made it to the final turn around point. With the temperature dropping even more I put on my sweatpants and gloves to keep my body warm.

Leg         25 miles actual 6:06 plan 5:30
Total  75 miles actual 16:31 plan 15:30

Final loop and my mind is focused on knowing I am going to finish it. In the first meeting with Hector I noted I was going to try for 22 hours if it went great & 26 hours if it was about finishing. Now I was evaluating the probability of getting there in 7 hours which would give me under 24 hours and a new PR still. Being an optimist and having Pablo there everything seemed possible. We both wanted sub 24 and agreed now was the time for us to resume running all the downhills and even the flat sections. So without thinking too hard on it the pace was picked back up and we were moving. The pain shot through my toes up into my quads with every foot strike. I knew there would be pain as with any 100 miler so just took it in and continued to run with Pablo. He noted that he too was hurting; so if he was hurting and running I had no valid reason not to run.

Shortly after leaving the AS #8 I realized that I was urinating about every 30 minutes. I decided to stop drinking for an hour to see how much was still in my body. After 50 minutes I stopped to urinate along the trail. It was a normal amount; you could not tell that I had stopped drinking. So I began to drink again slowing down my intake to 10 ounces per hour. Knowing that I still needed to drink but didn't want to dehydrate myself either. The remaining portion of the run my body stayed on schedule. While "pushing the pace" we were able to cover those first 6.2 miles of the leg in 1 hour 29 minutes. Sadly, we were impressed with that pace and knew that pace would get us there.

On to the next AS we continued the running when possible approach to the trail. The only problem was that I now had four blisters (2 on each foot) that were becoming ever more painful. I told Pablo repeatedly to keep running and go under 24 hours. In my head I knew I was at a point that I would not make that goal and didn't want to hold him back from making it. He really wanted me to stay with him to cross the line together. I wanted stick it out also and finish with him. Pablo finally pushed on down the trail and I continued with what I could do.

The night was still getting colder and now down to 41F. With the temperature so low and the course weaving around lakes the coldness just lingered in the air. Every time I expelled a deep breath it clouded in the beam of my headlamp making it hard to see. Mile after mile I became more exhausted. There is one thick muddy section that was actually routed around the edge of it.  While the rest of the course was a straight run down the trail. Well starting to drift in my head I began to notice my feet were feeling even heavier and slower. I stopped and looked down to notice I was in the deep cold mud with no choice but to continue forward at this point was the shorter of the two options.

My energy was draining out little by little as the hours ticked away on the clock. Still trying to give everything I had now heading down one of the downhills I ran smack into a small tree. The tree firmly hit me between my left shoulder and neck stopping me in my tracks. Upon hitting the tree I startled a fruit bat which then assessed me as the fault for disturbing him. With the bat flying around my head screeching I ran even harder up the hill to the flew the area. I just wanted to be left alone to run and now this bat was chasing me making this moment even worse. Eventually I was clear from the bat and had reach AS #4 (91 miles).

I sat down briefly enjoyed two cups of soup & took off my socks to evaluate the damage to my feet. Sure enough the blisters needed to be popped. With no hesitation I popped them quickly, Hector applied a blister bandage to each one them.  Then fresh socks slipped on and back into my shoes feeling a bit better. The  last 6.2 miles from AS #5 to AS #4 took me all of 2 hours. Now I was seeing worse get even more worse. With less than 10 miles I thought I still got this and it can't get too bad. Hector decided he would keep me company from the AS to the trail head.  So we walked together down the dirt road. Suddenly I asked him, "where are the trail markers?" He replied, "oh my, stay here I will run back and find the last one." As I stood there watching him vanish into the darkness then faintly hearing him yell later, "I found the flags." frustration shot through my entire body.  How could this happen now in the race is all I thought. I found him and we started heading up the hill following the flags along the trail. Not too far into the climb I notice Hector veering to the right and I remarked, "where are you going man?" He realized he was heading off course. Being frustrated, tired & sore I shook my head continuing along the trail away from him. Hector announced, "I am going to head back and see you at the next AS. Sorry man." Those next remaining 3 miles to AS went slow as expected but I was moving forward and that's what I needed to do to finish this race.

Seeing Hector at the AS I grabbed a fresh Clif Shot with caffeine to revive some energy, hopefully. About 30 feet out of the AS I stopped dead in my tracks to throw it up. I just have about 6.5 miles left; screw it I can get there without it I decided. Turning off the dirt road on to the Normac Trail, this was the last of the forest trail section, to run. It climbs up and down along the MacDonald Lake for about 3 miles with some very rough surface. Not more than an eighth of mile into the trail I hear what appears to be the pack of timber wolves again. Focusing my attention I determine that I hear about 6-8 animals howling. Never in any run have I thought I was going to truly die. Here I was in the forest with no other runners around and thinking there is no way any of the volunteers are coming out here to check for runners since we signed a waiver acknowledging the dangers of bears, wolves, & blah blah blah. Weighing out the choice of the pain in my body and being eaten slowly to death by wolves I ran with every bit of strength that my body could produce. My heart was racing and every fleeting moment I became more scared of dying. I was floating over the rocks as quick as possible so not to fall giving them a better chance at getting me before I reached the AS. Again I hear the howls and my fear heightens even more than the previous howl. All I can picture is them gaining on me then hamstringing me from behind taking me down. At that point being unable to run the pack would slowly pick at me while I died a slow painful death over several hours. I pushed again harder wanting to escape this forest and having traveled it three times earlier I realize I have about 15 minutes more to the AS where I will then be safe. Moments pass as I finally make it to the dirt road escaping the Normac trail.

Traveling towards the AS fear is leaving me slowly as I am still running with all I got. Upon reaching the AS I call out my name and volunteer realizing who I am walks over to the car to wake Hector up. As I pass by the car I blurt to Hector, "thanks for leaving me out there to die." I then explained the fear I had just experienced. The volunteer while listening to me remarked, "there are wolves by the lake, but they are in captivity." Wow I went through all of that and there was no real danger. Well at least I was now closer to finishing. I continued to run slowly over the next 2.5 miles to AS #2. I came into the AS announcing my bib number without even slowing down.

With only one mile left to finish happiness was returning to my mind. Running into the finish I pulled out a nice final kicking pace around an 8 minute 30 second per mile. In the final few hundred yards people were along the course cheering me to the finish line. Crossing the finish Helen was there to congratulate me and gave me a finisher's hug.

I truly felt spent and walked over the the fire pit to join some of the other runners sitting down. I pulled up a chair and joined in the conversation for the next couple of hours before heading off to the tent for a short power nap.

Leg            25 miles actual 9:04 plan 6:30
Total 100 miles actual 25:35 plan 22:00

Pablo & me sporting new buckles

Overall, I really enjoyed the journey in the Haliburton Forest 100. Of all the 100 mile races out there I feel everyone should experience this one! You will not be disappointed.


  1. Congrats on a race well run. Bats and Wolves. Yikes!

  2. Way to go!!!! Super race report. I am glad that you were able to enjoy the race and received some Canadian hospitality. Rest up and have fun at your upcoming 50 miler. You're a machine !!!!!