Rivers Edge Ultra (2021)

Distance
Race Status

Having spent about three and a half hours running an ultra-style half marathon yesterday, the first actual bibbed, chipped, other-people-on-route race I’ve run in nearly two years, I was feeling very tired.

By the time I crawled out of bed yesterday morning, the folks who tackled the much longer distances, eighty and one hundred kilometers, had already been running for a couple hours.

The twenty-one kilometer race was set to start at noon, so I had plenty of time to sip my coffee, make pancakes for the family, do some stretches and prep my gear.

In fact, I got a little bored waiting around the house and drove out to the start line an hour and a half early for our noon gun. This reminded me of one of the best parts of racing, which is the social aspect of hanging around the start/finish zone.

In fact, I lucked out and ended up having a nice conversation (and admittedly a bit of a pre-race pep talk) from one of our local ultramarathon legends who was volunteering in the finish zone.

Regular readers may recall that this was the race I have been planning (and dreading a bit) over the last few months. I bought a new pair of trail shoes for the event and a couple months back we test-ran part of the longer-distance course and came home with few souvenirs in the form of wasp stings.

No matter, the day was upon us. I was as trained as I could have been, and ready to face the wilds of the local river valley.

At noon they called us all over, we peeled off our face masks, and they sent us along our way and into the woods.

And it began.

The twenty-one kilometer course was actually made up of running two of the four mapped loops.

Our first leg was a twelve kilometer lap called “summit” and climbing up a short rise from the start line we vanished into the woods for about four kilometers of rolling, undulating, root-twisted, mud soaked forest trail. Here one of my crew tripped and twisted her ankle, and we thought she was out for the day (though she surprised us and toughed it to the finish adding less than an hour onto her expected time via limp.)

The summit loop climbed up into a mix of agricultural and swamp land. If we weren’t mucking through soft, wet peat, we were stumbing over crop stubble or plugging our noses past a chicken barn. This finished with another hard couple of klicks back through the forest and to the transition/finish area.

Our second leg had earned the name “island” because of the three kilometer lap around a river island plumb in the middle of the leg.

A four kilometer winding run along the river shoreline brought us to a thick, muddy rope that was dangling along the side of a short cliff into the water. Climbing down everyone was met with an ice cold, mid-thigh wade through about twenty-five meters of the North Saskatchewan river where, with numb feet, we climbed another rope back out on the other side.

The fall foliage photo above was taken about mid-lap around the island where I was already starting to feel the fatigue and had long since gotten used to jogging along with drenched socks inside my “waterproof” shoes.

Escaping the island was simply the reverse of crossing over to it, and with a mere two kilometers left in the race one might have thought the event was in the bag. But no. With soacking wet feet we had to ascend out of the river valley up a virtual cliff, hand-over-handing it up another rope before disappearing into the forest for more rolling hills, more mud, a sketchy creek crossing, and a final glorious decent towards the finish line.

A couple years ago I ran a half marathon through the streets of Dublin, fighting the cobblestones and the rolling hills of Pheonix Park. My time was about two hours.

Yesterday I stumbled across the finish line after three and half hours, almost twice that time, and I honestly feel like I didn’t leave anything behind in the tank that would have sped that up much.

After nearly two years without real racing, not to mention eighteen months of work from home sloth and stress, I don’t think I’d say I’m in the prime shape of my life, but that I was able to fight through that course yesterday was a pretty good feeling overall.

…but no, I haven’t signed up for next year.

August 8, 2021

hobbling and hurting
Sunday Runday, and it’s been a couple weeks since I sat down to write a post. It is a summer break for me, after all, and I’ve been out on the road, in the mountains, on the lake, and … as the topic of this post will soon reveal, running through the wilderness.

In fact, a few interesting things have happened in my running career since last I checked in. In particular, I may have spent some money on race registrations. In person race registrations.

The BIG one I’ll save for another post.

The little BIG one ties back to this morning’s Sunday running adventure that was had, all resulting from a spontaneous decision to sign up for a local (quasi) ultramarathon and the opportunity to do some practicing for that.

And again, in fact, I wrote in passing about my intention to do just that a few months back when I wrote about a nature sanctuary we had visited west of the city.

The River’s Edge Ultramarathon is an honest-to-goodness ultra marathon race through challenging terrain hosted on a large chunk of private land at the edge of the North Saskatchewan river. (Adult) distances range from a short 12km sampler run to a full 100km solo looping race of insanity.

Last weekend I signed up for the half marathon “koda” distance, twenty-one klicks through rolling riverside terrain (and even some wet crossing to a small island, I understand).

As the race host prepares the course and readies for the event, he invites some interested locals (ie. us) out to the start line to help clear trails, trial the trails, or just run the course. So, Sunday Runday and seven of my crew found themselves driving thirty minutes west of the city to spend three hours in the wilderness for one of the permitted practice runs on the “homestead” loop.

Across a little more than three hours, we pushed through nineteen klicks of grinding hills, mucky soft peat, cliff-side crags, cow pastures, grassy stretches, ambling over barbed wire fences, and stumbling down rope-supported descents.

On top of the regular running pain, the wasps had taken over the landscape. I didn’t count but I would confidently say there were well over two or three hundred nests along the length of the trail, and I was stung at least twice… which was about average for me and my fellow participants. Ultra-style trail running with a hot, burning, muscle-spasm of wasp-sting pain in your calf is nothing to shrug off.

In about six weeks we’ll be back out there for the real race, trudging through similar loops on a (hopefully) cool September day, and my in person race career will have seemingly resumed with a challenge I wouldn’t have expected to take on again so soon.