OK, this is going to be part race report, part cautionary tale. Last weekend, my wife Wendy and I ran the Haliburton Forest 100 Miler together. We both finished the race, but at the end Wendy was in very bad shape and had to be checked out at the hospital. We’ve learnt from our mistakes and this won’t happen to us again. If by telling our story I can keep others from making the same errors than I’ll be happy.
Our training this summer was sub-par. And by that I mean we were severely under-trained, Wendy especially. I averaged less than 50km per week for August and July, and Wendy ran even fewer kilometers. But we’ve both done 100 milers before and knew what we were getting into. We didn’t have any time goals for this race, we just wanted to enjoy the forest and have fun spending a day together. HF100 is a double out and back course mostly on forest trails, with some dirt roads.
We packed our drop bags and left Ottawa on Friday afternoon, arriving at Haliburton just before the pre-race supper. At HF100, everyone at the pre-race banquet introduces himself or herself. We were amazed to see the number of first time 100 milers this year; easily over half of the runners were attempting their first 100. After supper, I realized that I had accidentally packed all of our flashlights in our drop bags, so that night and the next morning we had to get ready in our tent by the light of my cell phone. During the night, a strong thunderstorm passed right over top of us, so neither of us got a full night’s sleep.
At six in the morning, after a cup of tea and some toast, we were off and running. We stayed right at the back of the pack, noticing many of the newbies taking off at a pace far faster than they would be able to maintain. The first few kilometers are on forest roads, followed by a beautiful, technical trail section about 6km long. The first 10 miles of the course has five aid stations, but they are much further apart in the later sections. We ate and drank and each station, and I took some pictures with my mini-camera. Things started to get tougher between km 16 and 25, a very hilly and quite rough section of trail, but we were still in good spirits. The following trail was the section that left the biggest impression on Wendy last year; several 100 meters of the trail is made up of overgrown parallel logs, arranged like buried railroad tracks. You need to have your wits about you on this section, as it is very easy to fall and twist something.
The last 10km to the turn around was fairly flat and non-technical, so we sped up a bit to build a small cushion. The turnaround at 25 miles had a great selection of food, so we ate quite a bit before heading back at a decent pace. The next 20 or so km passed without incident. With 25 km left in the first lap, Wendy started to complain of an upset stomach. We had been taking salt pills and eating lots of salty foods, but at this point her nausea meant that she didn’t want to eat anything. Also, this section in this direction is the most difficult part of the course, and I think that was affecting us. Still, we kept up a good pace before reaching the turnaround in just under 13 hours. We now had nine hours to reach the 75-mile turnaround.
At the 50-mile turnaround, we met up with a runner who was making her second attempt at the 100-mile distance. She wasn’t feeling good, but we encouraged her to run with us for a while. Although she had to drop out 15 km into the second lap, she put in a really good effort and I think it helped Wendy and I to feel better about our own situation. On our own again, we didn’t talk much through the hilly technical sections since we were aware of the cutoff time approaching. I was feeling fine, but Wendy was clearly getting more and more dehydrated and low on calories. It was tough to get her to drink or eat anything, but I insisted that she take lots of small sips from her water bottle to at least get some liquid.
At the 75-mile turn around Wendy lay down for a short sleep by the fire. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to get her moving again. She was still nauseous, was eating only a little bit, and was having trouble keeping pace. At 4 am passed I knew that we would have to run faster than 12-minute kilometers to reach the finish line in time, a pace that would be tough for Wendy to maintain at this time in the race. Nevertheless, we kept moving. Now on our way back to the start/finish area for the last time, we passed a few other runners who would have to drop. We knew that we were in dead last place, and that if we slowed down at all we wouldn’t make it.
The last 40km are a bit of a blur. I used every ounce of energy I had to run and to keep Wendy running. With about 10 km to go, I had nothing left to keep motivating her. I was amazed at that point when she started taking over, telling us when to run and when to walk and urging us forward. She dug deep and found something that neither of us knew she had. We emerged from the forest onto the dirt road with 5.5km and just over one hour to spare. It was going to be tight. We raced through the last aid stations, stopping only to drop of gear that was weighing us down. As we approached the finish line we saw volunteers and many of the other finishers waiting to cheer us on. Most hadn’t expected us to make it. We crossed the finish line at 29 hours and 55 minutes, only 5 minutes under the official cut-off time.
I felt great at the finish line, but could tell that the last 60km had been really rough on Wendy. I asked some of the volunteers to check her out, and they recognized some signs of heat exhaustion and dehydration. A volunteer who works as a nurse for the local emergency clinic thought that Wendy should be brought in to be checked out. I stayed at the race banquet to pick up our buckles and last place finisher award, the “Lone Wolf” hat, while Wendy was taken to hospital. Her blood work found that her electrolytes were way out of proportion, she was severely dehydrated, and her kidney function was quite low. She ended up spending the night in hospital and was given several bags of IV fluids. The next morning she was stiff and sore but feeling well enough to go home.
We both finished the race and got our buckles, but at too great of a risk to Wendy’s health. We’ve learnt some valuable lessons from this race. 1) If we run a 100 miler together again, we need someone else there to crew and/or pace us. 2) Make absolutely certain that we’re trained enough for the distance. 3) Be more obsessive about taking fluids and food at specific intervals, no more intuitive eating. 4) We are both capable of being extremely stubborn, a double-edged sword that can lead to problems if we’re not careful.