For the second year in a row I decided to head back to Goderich, Ontario to race the Bad Thing 50K. I will spare you all the logistics details as I did write about them last year HERE. But Instead I will tell you about my race strategy and how my perfectly laid out plan was a fail but in a great way 🙂
I had major plans and goals for this race. Last year I ran the race blindly and found the terrain, weather and overall race route very difficult. I trained really hard this summer taking on large portions of the bruce trail, tonnes of elevation all summer, and really working on my power hiking and navigating technical sections of trail. Running fast while still paying attention to trail markings was also a huge part of my training this summer. I wanted to come back this year and win, and also take a half an hour off my time from the previous year. 6 hours was my goal.
Race morning was glorious. I had a restful sleep (thank you Gravol!) and was up early and able to stomach my breakfast of Oatmeal and a Banana. I arrived in Auburn at the race finish to pick up our swag bags (An AWESOME Hoodie this year!) at 5:30am. I chatted with some of the other racers and before we knew it it was time to load up on the Bus and head over to this years Mystery Start line.
I was kind of nervous about this mystery start line. I had laid out a strategy for the first 3K as I knew we headed into narrow technical single track pretty soon after the start and I wanted to make sure I got ahead of the bulk of the runners for this. I got stuck behind a few walkers in this section last year and in the dark it was tough to find a safe spot to pass in here. We ended up being bused to the Old Town Jail! What a cool place to start! We had enough time to hit the bathrooms and after a few announcements and a couple photo ops they counted us down and we were off!!!
We had a short but quick section of road through town. I picked up my pace here as I knew it wouldn’t be long until we were on the single track. About 7 guys sped ahead of me and I was running with another girl. We were pretty much the same pace and entered the single track section together chatting about the race and our training. I found myself in a really good spot on the trail and was running a nice comfortable pace. After a couple hundred meters I picked up the pace a bit more…remembering the words of my training partner “run comfortably hard!!”. I knew it was early in the race but I felt good and the pace felt easy.
The temperatures were slightly cool and with the weather expected to warm up later it was slightly humid as well. I find with the cool morning temps and keeping my line of vision firmly on the ground that my eyes were starting to water a bit. I kept on blinking away the tears and then my contact popped out!!! I was half blind and with only the spotlight of my headlamp guiding my way through the dense single track everything was super distorted looking. I found myself stumbling along and had to slow it down a bit. The other female caught up to me then asking if I was alright and I told her about my setback. Thankfully I knew we would be hitting the gravel rail trail shortly along with a trail marshal and I was hoping they had a vehicle there so I could use the mirror to throw a spare contact in (Good thing I am always prepared!!!). Thankfully this was the case and I stopped for a few minutes to throw in the contact. My lead was lost, but it was early, no need to kill myself catching her. While I was stopped my friend Alison had caught up to me and we re-started the race together. I found this year that the route was extremely well marked. We were following white blazes on trees, roads etc as well as little blue flags. My long hauls on the Bruce trail trained me for this and I was always looking ahead for the next few blazes to keep me on track. I made a wrong turn the previous year but this year I ran a perfectly executed race…and if I ever did doubt the trail I was able to quickly find the correct route without wasting much time or energy!
We made quick time through the first aid station, filling my water and grabbing a quick snack on the go, and made our way back onto the Maitland trail and to the famed “Bad Thing” hill. I really didn’t find the hill as bad this year and power hiked it quickly. On my way up the hill I saw the 1st place female heading down. Good. She was not far ahead, which meant we were probably running very similar paces. I had some work ahead of me! Just after the hill the worst happened. My CONTACT FELL OUT AGAIN. SERIOUSLY!!! I did NOT have a second spare and thankfully it stuck to my eyelash so I was able to salvage it. I blindly put it back in for the last time and cursed the darn things. Laser eye surgery here I come!!!
We hit the second aid station where we were able to drop our headlamps and fuel up again. The volunteers were super helpful and the aid stations were stocked with all the usual trail race goodies (including pickles…which are the best trail fuel of life!). We fueled up and headed out quickly, noting that the next aid station was about 13K away. Are around 20k We hit the village of BenMiller and a short stretch of road. Alison was experiencing some tightness in her hip and needed to stretch so we said our goodbyes and I headed off on my own. I would not see another runner for about 25K. It was a lonely stretch and I had wished I did more long solo trail runs in training for this.
I reached the 3rd Aid Station feeling tired but still in good spirits. They noted that the 1st place female was about 1K ahead of me which made sense with the contact lens stops and a couple bathroom stops. It would be hard to catch her but I knew I still had a lot of energy left in the tank and that my back half of the ultra would be strong. Its what I trained for. Then we hit the section I like to refer to as “Hell”. The trail between 31K and 37K was wayyyyyy harder than I remembered. It was constant Climbs, and descents, with little short bursts of runnable trail in there. It was mentally exhausting and my legs were burning. During one of the million sharp climbs I took out my phone to give my husband the heads up that I was 14K out from the finish, I also saw messages from my trail sister Gemma and my friend Celia. These all lifted my spirits as well as my husbands “Move your ass” motivational words. Ha!
I focused on my power hiking and got myself to the last manned aid station at 38K. The girls there had such great energy and pumped me up by letting me know the 1st female was SO CLOSE. Damn. Now its time to work hard.
I remembered the last 12K being a bit easier with runnable trails and country gravel roads. I was catching some of the 25K racers through here and eventually another 50K racer who ended up being my buddy Phil from last years race! He was having some issues with the warm weather and was feeling light headed and nauseated so I gave him some chewable Ginger I had, made sure he was alright and continued on my way. I could see other runners down the road and hoped one of them was the other female I had been chasing this entire race. We made a few more turns and finally I was on the last stretch of trail before the water crossing. I was trying my best to haul ass through here, hoping the other girl had slowed down. But I saw no sign of her and by the time I made it to the water crossing I was almost on the verge of tears I was so happy to Podium again with a 2nd place finish AND getting my time goal!!!
The water was SO REFRESHING! But the current was strong. I felt like I was going to be swept away at times my legs were so jiggly. I could hear the race organizers yelling at me from the other side of the river but couldn’t hear what they were saying until I reached them.
I was first female. WHAT. HOW. I knew I passed some runners but don’t remember the other female? I was in complete denial and told them they were mistaken and probably just missed her or confused her with a 25K runner and happily made my way, 500M on road, to the finish.
The small crowd at the finish was cheering me in. I saw my husband at the finish and let out a small cry, he FINALLY made it on time to see me finish!! ha! I crossed and he gave me the biggest hug ever. I was exhausted and so happy with my race.
I finished in 6 hours 7 minutes…A huge course PB for me and I had to ask…I was 2nd female right?? NOPE…1st!!! I didn’t find out until later that the other female had in fact made a wrong turn late in the game, allowing me to pass her. I felt awful for her, I know the feeling of making that error in this race. But at the end of the day its also part of the race, the mental game of following the trail and its markings, being alert that late in the game. She was still in great spirits though and ran a fantastic race, really pushing me hard to catch her the whole time. Congrats on an amazing race Karen!
So there you have it folks. My first ever 1st female overall podium finish. Every race has it setbacks, and this one was far from perfect. I still have a lot to work on when it comes to the 50K distance, especially my mental game when running solo for long periods of time. But for now I am going to enjoy some easy trail runs finishing up the Bruce, see a couple folks from my trail community get hitched this weekend, and get my calendar ready for another year of stronger and better Ultra Running.
Thank you to Race Huron for a wonderful race with fantastic volunteers! All photos courtesy of The Bad Thing race photographer volunteers!