Race Report – Fire On The Mountain 50k – Flintstone , MD

FOTM

Ho-Hum. I’m kinda bored. (IPad opens).

Click (Ultrasignup.com). I’ll just take a peek – I’ve got one more race for 2013 and that’s totally fine don’t need ANY more – just nosing around ya know.

Ya there’s no more races near here ‘till spring. I wonder what’s going on south of the (click), border.

Oh well that looks kinda (click), (click), interesting. See these folks in warmer climes are SO lucky, they can race whenever they want. (Click).

See even JUST 8 hrs. drive south of here there’s a really cool looking (click, click, click) race called FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN 50k! How Bad ASS does THAT sound? (Click, Click)

Man I’d totally crush this race I bet. It’s SO close by!(Click, Click). Hmm…Maryland? What’s in Maryland? (Click, New Tab, Click, Click).

(Click, Click, Click, Click, Click, Click, Click, Click, Click, Click, Click, Click, Click).

“BAAAAAABE, How would YOU like to go to an AWESOME RESORT in The Lush Potomac Highlands of ….  Maryland?@!$?!?@% Awesome right???”

Several weeks later we are booked into the Rocky Gap Resort and Casino for 3 nights and we’re on the road to wilds of northern Maryland.

The 8 hr drive from Toronto was a smooth one with nice views of wooded hills and some changing leaves when they weren’t totally blown off the trees.

One thing we did begin to notice along the way, (about halfway through Pennsylvania) was a lack of….people….outside.

It started with my wife slowly looking around then it seemed she was really LOOKING for something…”What’s up babe?” I asked, as we careened through some very quiet road splitting a town…

She looked back at me, eyes squinting, “do you notice that there’s no…like….no….”

“People?” I asked as we both nodded and eyes widened waiting for some “dum-du-duu-duuumm-dum-duuuummmmmmm” It was true though. Each and every town we drove through sported driveways, small driveways, of small houses, FILLED with cars and not one live person afoot in sight. Creepy folks, Creepy.

SOMEHOW – we made it to the hotel and checked in on the Friday – two days before the race. Nice place if you like casinos:).

RACE DAY:

We pulled into the open field which would serve as parking lot, tailgate party, bonfire locale, campground and finish area. My anxiousness as usual began about 15 min before getting there. I have a problem – I like to get to races EARLY – I’m talking like an hour ahead of start at LEAST. My amazing and supportive wife likes to take things easy and drive me CRAZY during this tender period with a newly re-acquired chillax attitude to deadlines etc (LOVE YOU DEAR!!:).

My fears were assuaged as we rolled onto the grass by the sight of buses lined up to take us to the start line and a line-up of bobbing headlamps making their way to them. Kisses and hugs and “don’t die’s” out-of-the-way and I climb onto the bus for our 45 min trip to the overlook and start area.

The ride was pretty uneventful other than hitting a crazy bump along the way somewhere that shot me directly up, out of my seat and flat on my ass in the middle of the aisle. This would normally be the place for me to have some ridiculous injury that kills my race but I was surprisingly fine and continued chatting with a few dudes sitting around me after some laughs.

Once we arrived, I had the chance to peek at the beautiful overlook view of our terrain in the dawn’s rosy light. Gorgeous is all I can say. The RD had some funny and informative stuff to send our way (Course is broken up into a Red Trail follow red markings, Green Trail follow green marking, Fire Roads – follow roads – hey sometimes you need to say this stuff and finally Purple Trail – follow purple markings).

View of overlook at startline

View of overlook at startline

The  group of us gathered together for warmth on the frosty mountain top and to make some sort of start line.

Red Trail

Starts with a happy mile or two on a forest road.  Not very technical but a nice little warm up for later because – well- she gets technical folks. This is also when I like to find a super comfy pace at what I know is a teensy bit fast but comfy and conscious that I’m not ripping a start that will cause a blow up later. Any of you who’ve raced might know what I’m talking about.:)

Once we really “tuck” into the forest we were met with our first dose of sweet single track. The trail lifted and dipped here and there and soon enough we were faced with our first creek crossing (our – meaning the small merry band of trail freaks I had joined). What I didn’t know was this creek crossing was a foreshadowing of crossings to come. Many. Like – a LOT. I have raced my share of trail races and nothing prepared me for the amount of water about to be introduced to my shoes. Speaking of shoes – GEAR CHECK!!!

Hat – Sulphur Spring 2012 Trail Race Free Hat/Buff wrapped around ears which dropped to around neck

Top – Long sleeve Nike compression under Sugoi WEST TORONTO PACERS Short Sleeve

Bottoms – Salomon S-Lab Sense Exo M Shorts

Socks – Dry max super thin running no shows

Shoes – Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra

Hydration Equipment – 1 x Amphipod Handheld (the bigger one:))

On Course Nutrition – Genuine Health activfuel+, PowerGel Double Latte (x4)

The trail was fairly well-defined even with some rather leaf covered sections and the larger DRY challenges at this point came in the form of WALNUTS if you can believe it – they were EVERYWHERE. Lots of little sharp rocks etc  too but the walnuts where kind of an interesting obstacle underfoot and I’m guessing pretty unique to races in this part of the world.

There were 2 aid stations in this section that were well stocked and full of nice folk – I’ve seriously yet to meet a jerk at an ultra aid station.

Green Trail

The green trail is not all that different from red but there seemed to be a lot more uphill along here. I also laughed at the fact that we had to follow GREEN blazes on a course in a forest in order to not get lost. Green paint on trees. Green. Couldn’t they have just had “BARK” markers and make it really interesting? The green blazes were pretty darn hard to spot at times but luckily and not uncharacteristically, I wasn’t leading the race so I could follow folks or at least a bobbing head far off in the distance:). There were some really steep grades along here and some sheer traverses. I recall at least one downhill where a fellow in front of me literally had to baseball slide DOWN the hill – that steep. Another instance I recall was running along a shelf approximately 60cm wide looking down at least 300 feet of sheer wall into a forest below. Scary and super fun. This green section is also where we crossed creeks what felt like approximately 4,000,000 times. It felt JUST as my foot was drying out and warming up (always my right for some reason), I would have to perform another unsuccessful leap into the creek. I will say this – the S-Lab Sense Ultra’s REALLY drained well. Brava Salomon people, Brava.

The Oasis

This is the halfway, home away from home, aid station if you couldn’t already tell from its name. It’s a spot chosen by family and friends to gather and urge runner’s on that has another spectacular view of the Green Ridge State Forest. I had a nice chat with a guy named Ryan running his first ultra there and we picked up together from there.

Fire Roads

Running along here was made a lot nicer being able to run with Ryan. He was eager to chat and I was super happy for the company. A tall, slim, smiley guy, Ryan was at a stage of his race where he was a little unsure about being able to keep going. He was a serious athlete – (mountain bike) – but this was his first ultra. He was really loaded down with a big hydration pack that I suspect carried other things and I felt for him. As with most the pack was admittedly his security blanket out in this race but was quickly becoming a penance or burden.

I have been that guy with the big pack and I have chatted with many who’ve been in the same boat. I think we all need to go out as far as we need to in regards to equipment, training, nutrition and work our own way back to what makes sense for each of us. We’re all different. What I CAN say in my experience is NOBODY races faster or more comfortably with carrying more than they need. It appears that for most of us, we get to leave the genius of hydration marketers behind as we discover we really need the trail, trail runners, and, ourselves to have the best time.

De Niro said it best about big hydration packs

De Niro said it best about big hydration packs

 

Purple Trail

The purple trail saw us heading up and into the forest and leaf covered trails in what would be the final leg of the race. I lost Ryan at this point and managed to pick up a fellow by the name of Scott. Scott was a local guy who was running as a personal challenge to himself – a triathlete. We exchanged training stories and I listened eagerly to what he had to say as I believe training within and for 3 different disciplines to be just totally whack. He echoed the same about ultra runners running so damn much so we got along well.;). We could both feel the races finish coming and were happy with where we were until “BOOM”, a gun shot. I’m talking an actual gun was going off. I was shocked and more than a little scared. I explained to Scott that I was from Canada and we don’t really shoot guns and he laughed. We both did. Until – “RAT-TAT-TAT-TAT” . A Machine GUN???? You don’t hunt with a  machine gun!!!! “Do you hunt with a Machine Gun SCOTT??””” I asked. He looked freaked out – we both were. So the pace quickened as we just wanted to get out of the area and away from what was probably a few yahoos, cheap beer and automatic weapons in the Maryland Forest.

The distinguishing part of this Purple Trail has to be the crazy downhill somewhere around the 40k mark. A steep, wooded downhill that is covered in leaves, under which is nothing but sharp rocks. This hill was quite literally an ankle breaking machine. I didn’t so much run or walk down it than do some weird sliding motion with my feet the whole way down. I got to say it was pretty freaking dangerous and the only way down.

At some point the trail opened up and a familiar feeling came over. I’m sure most of you feel it who have run an ultra. The promise of the finish. It’s almost always at this point my second wind comes and doesn’t let up until I’m done. My “kick” arrived and I warned Scott that my pace was gonna start to roll and he said “get at’r dude – I’ll try to follow”. This was followed by a “dude you’ve lost me” yell behind me. I knew Scott would be fine and I knew I was going to get this done. I pounded out the final 8k passing a few people (carnage), along the way and finally popped out into the clearing. I was heading straight for the finish when I was handed a log of wood and told I got to do a traditional victory lap of what was about 400m around the parking area. I took it and ran, happily. Coming around to the final 50m there was my beautiful wife smiling and clapping along with some seriously happy and enthusiastic folks at the finish which was a big giant campfire that I was asked to place my log of wood on.

Finishing up!

Finishing up!

As it ended up I managed a 39th place over all and top Canadian at the race. I was happy with my race and really hope this race goes on again next year – it’s special.

happy fella and a cool medal!

happy fella and a cool medal!

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Run For the Toad – October 4, 2013

runforthetoad

This is my first published race report so take it easy on me. I promise these will get better. Probably.

Run for the Toad 50k ultra has been runnin’ ultra style since 2002 and has grown into one of, if not THE largest trail race in Ontario with well over a thousand people participating. There is a 25km walk and run and 50k walk, relay and ultra.

The race can boast to hosting such runners as Reid Coolsaet, Gary Robbins and the amazing Elli Greenwood. It can also boast to being one of the richest Ultra races with 7,000.00 in total prize money handed out – 1,000.00 going to the 50k winner. That’s pretty rich for ultra.

At this running – the start was 9:30am – downright civilized by race standards. On this particular wet and dark morning, I was picked up by my friend Greg who was doing his first ultramarathon race. Our wives actually work together and it’s pretty much how we met.

(“Hey your husband runs? Mine too – let’s get them together to have a run-date”. At the time neither of us had even run our first full road marathon. I impatiently upped my race mileage to be able to clock a few ultras before this one while Greg was doing other things..(raising kids?#)..).and now he was finally getting to a big dance.

We eased out into the still dark morning and quickly slammed on the breaks in front of my neighbours cafe to grab some coffee before we hit the highway. Black gold on a morning like that.

Driving there was really easy as the folksy directions from the race website were accurate if not a little hilarious to read. It was like getting directions from some elderly, over caffeinated store greeter (interested click here).
There was loads of volunteers onsite and  all were  instantly helpful. We cruised to stop into our grassy parking spot and quickly met a couple from Ottawa/Gatineau who’s male half was the runner – a bearded gent by the name of Joe-who was doing his first trail race ever. This guy was lit up he was so excited to be there – shaking our hands and telling us how excited he was to meet a couple of “real ultra runners”. My man Joe had an infectious enthusiasm that got a smile from us both and I was glad he was running.

After getting the bearded good news from Joe we ran to the regi-Tent and got bibs and swag (Gym Bag Regi-Gift…pretty cool!).  Straight back to the car to dump our swag and pin bibs and off we went to the start.

Gear Check! I almost forgot, going forward I will give a total breakdown of my gear worn in any race and try to review its performance in the race report.

Top: Nike Compression Sleeveless/North Face Sleeveless BTN top

Bottom: Salomon S-lab Exo M – Shorts Tights

Socks: CEP Compression Calf SLEEVES/Dry Max No Show

Shoes: Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra

Nutrition: Genuine Health – Activfuel+ pre race, Activrecover+ post race, PowerGel Double Latte (4) during

Hydration Gear: None

Me ready to Run for the Toad - what does it MEAN????

Me ready to Run for the Toad – what does it MEAN????

We got to the start line and who do I see? The Bakers – Chris & Christa. These two are also in my run group “West Toronto Pacers” – they do an absolutely insane amount of races with a lot of them  being ultras and they’re just animals, machines and very nice people:). Greg and I also bumped into a few other people we recognized (Kiska, Jen, etc) from other races. I love this about the ultra community – that you start to get to know faces and people and by most every account – people are really nice and laid back.

Now,finally, the line is toed.

A cannon goes off. Not a guy yelling “GO” on a ladder. Not an airhorn. A real honest to goodness CANNON goes off and we’re – off. As we start out easily the BAGPIPES start playing us through our first steps. Sorry but there are few things cooler for this part-Scottish kid than being played out by bagpipes. Cue feelings of being Braveheart heading out into the heathlands to beat the tar out of the filthy English….I digress into fantasy – let’s rejoin the race – shall we?

The bagpipes gave us goosebumps which I enjoyed very much until we almost instantly hit paved road. PAVED ROAD? WHAA??? Ok I train on paved road all the time b/c I live in the city and HAVE to. WHENEVER I can I’m on trails and this normally includes trail RACES I run:).  More digression. The next 2K I didn’t enjoy very much. Paved road winding endlessly through essentially trailer-park. Not kidding – a trail park.

SIDEBAR: At the start/finish I spotted a guy in tights-shorts that was shirtless. This dude was a DEAD ringer for “Randy” – assistant Trailer Park Director on Trailer Park Boys the TV Show. This was all seen BEFORE we knew there was actual trailer park to run through. It was awesome and disturbing. End of story please see pic below for visual reference.

rand

Eventually we are onto the soft stuff of the pine needle trail. This was a lovely bit of singletrack in the dark cozy wood that quickly saw us on a nice steep hill for our first incline of the day. The hill crested and we were off into singletrack woods which is really some of my fave racing landscape. Soon enough we were in store for another change when we were squeezed out of the forest into daylight atop what was a large group of rolling hills looking out onto the local grass and farmlands. This was seriously pretty landscape and  there was also a nice breeze here which seemed to blow us into our 2nd aid station of the day at about 6.25k into the loop (grasshopper meadow). Aid stations were well stocked with all manner of salty and sweet and lovely volunteers that were all sweet. I didn’t stop at this station for the whole day at this point in the loop but did when you came back across it at around the 9k mark. Something I loved about this station was the crazy selection of music they were playing which ranged from classical to country depending on your timing. After this open air streaking we’re tucked back into the forest for some more single track and deep Sylvan breaths of piney air.

At this point I felt pretty great physically. No issues at all and my gear felt good. I chose to not carry any hydration on this course, for a few reasons:

a) It’s an ultra – yes – but it’s 50k via 4 x 12.5 loops

b) on these loops there are 4 aid station access points fully stocked with food and water – that’s basically an aid station every 3 or so k.

c) dragging around my own hydration would mean carting along a lot of extra weight for absolutely no good reason. For me, hydration packs are for when you’re out in the wilderness with no access to nutrition – not in a heavily supported race. IMO.

Back into the forest and we get our first really good downhill. This zigzagging slope is a total quad smasher but it felt good to grab some speed at this point in the loop I must admit.

After some more flat single track we are popped out yet again into a clearing at the 11k mark or so and BAM – a literal wall is hit. This wall is called skeleton hill – and its ridiculous. My guess is it’s only about 100m if that but total hands on knees climbing. The climbing is made more fun by jokes and jabs of the volunteers at the top (this race has amazing volunteers).

After the hill there’s a little limping and back up to speed and before you know it you are winding through the gravel roads and BAM – The start /finish.

At this point I’m not going to go on and on about each loop and leave the description where it is.

In the end – this is a very well attended and very well run race. There’s a huge tent city pavilion in the midst of it all with exhibitors and food and free coffee and cookies which is pretty darn awesome. I recommend this race for all it’s goodness and also reco it as a great first timer’s intro to ultra distance.

My friend Greg notched his first ultra that day and I do believe he’s hooked.

Next Report: Fire on the Mountain 50k Trail Ultra – Flintstone, Maryland.

Happy Trails Baby!

Pete

Happy to finish with a 5:20 - something and still have no idea why we Run FOR the Toad. No Clue.

Happy to finish with a 5:20 – something and still have no idea why we Run FOR the Toad. No Clue.