Derrick Spafford - Haliburton Forest 100

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Haliburton Forest 100

By Derrick Spafford

Aid Station #5

Aid Station #5

Things seemed a little different going into the Haliburton Forest 100 mile Trail Run this year. Last year was my first 100 mile race and I had a lot of questions. However, getting the first one out of the way in 2008 and having another year of solid training under my belt (buckle) left me in a good place going into this year. You never want to be overconfident before an ultra, as anything can happen, however I felt pretty good that on race day if I ran smart things would go well.

Going into the race, I had a staircase of four goals that I wanted to achieve this year at Haliburton. On the first stair was finishing the race in a faster time than last year of 18:42. After that, the thought of breaking Jeff Simpkins 2006 course record of 18:23. Next, on an ideal day and if everything went well, I wanted to break 18 hours. And finally, on the top step was the goal of winning the race again.

The field of competitors for the 2009 race was proving to be a competitive one. My friend, Keith Iskiw from nearby Kingston has been running really well this year and was going to have a great day. We also heard that an Italian runner named Pasquale Brandi was running. Pasquale is a veteran of many challenging ultras including strong showings in a number of desert races and stage races. During the pre-race dinner, we also discovered that Glen Redpath from New York City was a last minute entry. Originally from Winnipeg, Glen has represented Canada at international ultrarunning competitions; and finished 2nd this year at both the Bull Run Run 50miler and Massanutten 100miler.

Temperatures were mild on race morning, which indicated that it was going to be quite hot on the course in the afternoon. The Haliburton 100 mile course is a double out and back that is a combination of 80% technical trail and 20% forest/logging road, over constantly rolling hills. It was still fairly dark for the 6am start, however the first 6km of the race was on fairly smooth sand and gravel road before heading onto the more rugged Normac Trail where things get technical.

The 50km and 50mile races start at the same time, so there was always quite a few people to run with in the early miles and lots of talk with runners trying to determine who was running what race. I tried not to get caught up in the early race enthusiasm and just eased into the race. I knew that Glen was up ahead, so I settled into a comfortable pace with Pasquale for the first while. Keith Iskiw went by a short time later and looking very focused. Once again, I just tried to relax, take care of the little things like nutrition/hydration and let the first few hours pass.

Much like most ultras, the first 25 kilometers were relatively uneventful. Pasquale, Keith and myself changed our positions a few times, but were always within a few minutes of one another. Keith surprised both Pasquale and I by coming up behind us into the 25km aid station. Keith had been running in front of us and we thought he’d pulled ahead further, but had apparently taken a pit stop and was relieving himself/hiding behind a tree for a little more privacy. Too funny.

Pasquale left the aid station first, and took a wrong turn before I called him back. He assured me that he wouldn’t make the same mistake again after dark. We ran together through the rugged corduroy trail that had vertical logs to navigate over. Having a weak ankle from a previously break; this is always my least favourite part of the course. Thankfully, this section is quite short and we arrived at the 30km aid station quickly. Leaving the aid station, I inadvertently took a wrong turn and now it was Pasquale’s turn to return the favour and call me back. We both had a laugh over that.

The final 10km to the turnaround features a little bit of everything including good climbs, technical single track and a few flat sections where you could really open things up and run fast. It was on one of these flat sections that Keith caught Pasquale and then went by me looking very strong. I wasn’t feeling particularly good at that point, so held back and encouraged him to go ahead and see if he could cut into Glen’s lead. I wasn’t sure how far Glen was ahead at the 40km mark, but he must have been between 5-10 minutes. I knew we were all running fairly quickly as I hit the 40km turnaround in 3:48, which was 14 minutes faster than my split last year.

After 40km, things finally started feeling like they were clicking and I was getting into a good place. So many times in training over the past few months, I wouldn’t start to feel better until later on in a long run, and the same thing was happening now. I took that as a very good sign.

Nearing 50km, I caught back up to Keith, who seemed to be going through a bit of a rough patch, but knew he’d get through it and be back in the chase soon. This gave me a little more of a mental lift and I started to press a little harder on some of the more technical sections while feeling like I was waking up a little.

I continued to feel strong coming into the 68km aid station before doing the Normac Trail. I had plenty of gels with me and thought I had some electrolyte tablets, so dropped my second bottle and passed through the aid station. It wasn’t until a few moments later that I realized I was out of electrolytes, so would have to press on for a little further than I wanted to without. The temperature was unseasonably hot now and hydrating/fueling was becoming an issue. I continued to feel good though and saw that I was within four minutes of Glen and a couple of minutes in front of Keith. I hit the 80km (50mile) aid station in 7:57, which was 26 minutes faster than last year. Now it was time to head back out onto the course and do it all over again.

Seeing Glen so close at the halfway point encouraged me to continue to press hard. Heading into the Normac Loop, I knew that my stomach was beginning to go south though. The heat and possibly lack of electrolytes for an extended period had me in a place where I couldn’t keep anything down. For over 90 minutes, I would try to take a gel, then puke it up, take something else, puke it up. I was very worried as I couldn’t even keep the electrolyte caps down for a while. I could feel my legs starting to lose the desire to run at a decent pace and continued to struggle.

Finally, at about the 105km mark, my stomach settled down and I was able to keep some calories down. Once this happened, I could feel my legs come back to life. I had lost quite a bit of time to Glen during this period, but was feeling good with renewed hope and was moving well again.

Getting to the 120km aid station was a huge mental boost as you only have to do one final 40km (25mile) section of trail. It was still daylight out, but I would need my headlamps before the next aid station, so grabbed them and was off. My wife Sara was crewing for me and was quick all day in getting me in and out of the aid stations as fast as possible with whatever I needed. This was such a welcome treat compared to fending for myself for the first half of the race last year. Kimberly and David Bohn also helped to crew, with the plan that David was going to be my pacer after 8pm.

Even though it was getting dark and I was getting tired I did some of my fastest running of the day during this time. I met Keith first on my way back and exchanged words of encouragement. A few minutes later I met Pasquale who was shouting ‘only 42mins ahead, go get him!’. I was told at the next aid station that I had cut 5 minutes off of Glen’s lead, but he was still a long ways ahead. Anything can happen in an ultra though, so I continued to press as hard as I could.

Arriving at the 130km station at a couple of minutes after 8pm, David was ready to go. Last year when I was running after dark, I was in survival mode, but this year was considerably different. I had to walk some of the steep uphills, but still felt surprisingly good on the flats and downhills. David helped to push me when I needed it, especially once we realized that I still had a chance to run a fast time and meet my time goals.

Hitting the 148km mark was another big lift. Now, there was only one more loop on the Normac trail around the lake. The hard day of running and racing was beginning to set in. My stomach was also beginning to rebel once again. Over the final few aid stations I was able to take in some calories, but they never stayed down. I think the worst was halfway on the final loop when I threw up rather violently for four times in one episode. David quietly stood watching me and as soon as I was finished, would get me moving again. That was exactly what I needed.

Once we hit the final 6km sand road section, I was running on fumes, but continued to push hard with David’s help. At least my stomach had settled down again. The hills seemed huge, but I was running them as hard as I could as I knew I still had a shot at breaking 18hrs.

With two km to go, we were left with only one last hill to climb before the final 1km straightaway that seems to go on forever. Cresting the hill, I could see the beautiful sight of flashing headlamps at the finish line. We continued to push the pace in and crossed the finish line in 17:52; good for second place and under the old course record of 18:23. Congratulations to Glen who crushed the old course record with a great time of 17:18.

While winning the race again this year would have been nice, I could not be happier with how my race turned out. I had some bad patches along the way, but learned a lot and finished strong.

Congratulations to Keith for running an awesome race and finishing third in 19:05, as well as Pasquale in 21:30.


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