On June 22, 2013 I competed in the Niagara Ultra 50k. The following is my story. And that story got me an interview on the July 6 episode of iRun: The Running Show. I come on at the 29:03 mark; here’s the link:
And here’s my story:
My First Ultramarathon
It’s dawn on the first full day of summer. The first group of racers, the 50km group, pick up their race kits and mingle while volunteers set-up and Adele’s “Rolling in The Deep” plays off the speakers. It’s already starting to swelter as I pin my bib number on and tell my friend where to find my health card if God forbid it’s needed. By the end of the day several will have their hopes dashed, succumbing to the elements and being taken away by ambulance. This is the Niagara Ultra.
Shaking off my nerves as best as possible I take to the start line in hazy humid conditions. The only runner in the field not carrying water. There is a bag drop-off for the 50km racers, a lifeline if you will that you can access at the halfway mark. In there I’ve placed a water bottle, a change of clothes, change of shoes, and energy gels. For now I’m on my own. Many others however have backpacks with water to help them conquer the 50km that lay ahead of us. I went out slowly with the aim of conserving energy at this new distance. I was passed. I was passed again. And again. And again. I can’t be in last. Am I in last? A steep climb between the 11 and 13 kilometre marks leaves me adopting a commonplace strategy among the ultramarathon crowd………I stop for a minute at each aid station situated every 5 kilometres to catch my breath. As we journey on I can hear snippets of conversation. The merits of a 50 mile versus 100 mile race are debated. The former allows one to enjoy sleep in their own bed at the end of the day while the latter offers more time for introspection.The lead marathoners who are released half an hour after us start to pass me as I approach their turnaround point 21.1 kilometres into the course. The camaraderie intensifies as we reach our own halfway mark at the 25 kilometre mark – Niagara Falls. High 5’s and encouragement are shared amongst elite and mortal alike. The heat is devastating. The humidity humbling. Despite my slow pace I’m now picking off runners, many of whom have been reduced to walking in their hopes to finish this great race. We reach the 40 kilometre mark and morale starts to flag realizing that there are still 10 kilometres to go. But at this time it isn’t about 50 kilometres anymore. It isn’t even about 5 kilometre aid station installments anymore. It’s “Can I get to that tree?”, “Can I get to that bend in the road?”. I check my watch. I make my calculations. I can walk and still finish this before the 7 hour cutoff. Don’t be a hero Rod. You are an ultramarathoner. Just get yourself across that finish line. Keep going. At the 45 kilometre mark a volunteer douses me with cold water to fend off heat stroke. Another runner is seated in a lawn chair. A nasty blister angrily plaguing him. He asks me about my shoes. We wear the same brand but thankfully my models are helping me more than his are. I gamely make my way as supportive strangers clap my efforts.I see the soccer field and know that the finish is now a kilometre away. Normally a 5 minute focus and I’m done. Today more like six and a half or 7 minutes. Stay focused Rod. I’m the only runner coming in. No one before me. No one after me. The last 100 metres is all mine. The announcer sees me and rallies the crowd to encourage me. “We have another runner coming in. It’s one of our 50k runners. Let’s give him a hand.” My pace quickens with adrenaline. A smile comes to my face. All these people are cheering for me. I can hear distinctly….“He’s smiling!”; “He’s still got a lot of energy!”. And just like that I’m across the finish line. Five hours, 20 minutes, and 38 seconds after I started. After months of training and goal setting. Months of dreaming and anticipation. My first Ultramarathon.