Thursday, September 16, 2010

Haliburton: The Other Side of the Trail

It’s getting near the end of the week and I haven’t even had a chance to post last week’s update yet. Guess I’ve fallen a little behind on the blogging front. I do have an excuse though as it’s been a very busy week and I’m trying to play a little catch up.

I decided late last week that after juggling some things around that I was going to be able to go to Haliburton after all and take part in the festivities…although from the other side of the trail. I drove up by myself late Friday and pulled into Basecamp at about 11pm. It was too late to grab a campsite, and besides, I didn’t want to disturb the runners who were racing the next morning.

The stars were out in full force like they can only be in the Haliburton Forest. It was tonight that I had the biggest pang of wanting to race the next morning. I went for a short walk towards the entrance to Normac Trail and just soaked in some of the feelings of this special race. The howl of the wolves being answered by the song of the nearby huskies, which are waiting anxiously for the dogsled season, brought a smile to my face. They would like to be running just as much as I would tomorrow I’m sure.

I make my way back to the Subaru and curl up in my sleeping bag. I’m not sure if it was the tight quarters in the Forester or the thoughts of being in the Forest, but I struggled to get much sleep.

I awoke at 5:30am with plenty of time to make it to the start line. Part of me wanted to not see any of my coaching clients before the start of their races, but instead just show up at an aid station mid-race to hopefully help boost some morale if anyone was going through a rough patch. In the end I couldn’t help but searching out everyone and giving them some last minute well wishes.

Runners were marched to the start line by bagpipe, as per Haliburton tradition, and then they were off on their 50km, 50mile or 100mile journey. The bustle of runners heading down into the Forest soon faded and I was left standing feeling somewhat lost. Fortunately, Kim was there to crew for David, so we were able to chat and then most importantly work on the task at hand…making camp coffee!

The early part of the day was a blur of activity. I scurried around between aid stations checking on coaching clients, helping out others, cheering on friends, twittering updates, and genuinely enjoying the day…though it certainly felt strange.

The course was abnormally wet from the heavy rainfall this summer, as well as some handy beaver work on the trail. This certainly affected the times of all runners and contributed to what I expect was probably the highest percentage of DNF’s ever recorded at Haliburton.

It was great seeing Aaron finish his 50km so much faster than last year, and seeing David just eating up the trails in his first attempted at the 50mile distance and cracking 10 hours. These were two very solid performances and I was very impressed with how smart and with how much precision that they both executed their races.

I had spoken with my friend Keith and his wife/crew chief Jenn and told them that I could help Keith out with pacing after 8pm if he wanted. Keith accepted and I was pretty giddy to be able to get out on the course and be a little more of a part of the race. I met Keith at 75miles and we ran the final 25mile push to the finish together. Keith was in second place at the time and seemed to be struggling a bit, but I was amazed how well he recovered after having some hot noodles and gave chase with thoughts of seeing how much of the lead we could cut into. We were getting updates along the trail and seemed to be making some headway, but the long day of slugging in the mud quickly made it apparent that it would be very difficult to keep up the pace and make any further dent into the lead. Keith continued to run well to the finish for second place, with the highlight being a bear encounter on the Normac Trail.

After a brief post race beer with Keith, I was given a long ride back out to the 75mile point to pick up Floyd the Forester…thanks Jenn. I was then able to get back out onto the course and check on SHA clients JD and Christy, as well as I was hoping to see how John M was doing too.

I pulled into aid station #6 and spoke briefly with JD who was having a very solid day on the trails and continued to be moving very well. I also saw Christy coming into the aid station obviously in a great deal of pain with very bad feet due to the wet conditions. I was pretty blown away seeing how much discomfort Christy was in, but she was still not ready to quit yet without giving it one last shot. Seeing Christy leave AS#6 had a profound affect on me and brought me to tears. It is truly amazing how powerful the mind is and what it can will the body to do. Christy limped out of the aid station in terrible pain and disappeared down the trail. It was beautiful. Unfortunately, it was just too much and she was forced to stop partway before the next aid station at 82miles…but a huge congrats goes out to her for such a brave and determined effort. JD’s race continued to go well and he kept moving strong right to the finish with a great time.

Reflecting on the race as a spectator gave me quite a different perspective of things in the ultra running world. There were so many incredible efforts that I witnessed over the course of the weekend. I heard of a runner being told that they had to hurry to make it to the 75mile aid station before 4am or she would be disqualified from the race for missing the cutoff time. Then hearing how she was sprinting into the aid station with only a few minutes to spare as if it was the end of the race. Then she still had to run another 25miles. It gets better though when she comes within mere seconds of missing the 30 hour cutoff time at the finish line and once again it comes down to a courageous sprint.

These were just a few of the examples of the many heroic efforts on the trails and my hat goes off to everyone who ran. Sometimes when you are so caught up in your own race and racing, you can miss some of the finer moments in running. I feel very fortunate to have witnessed these on the weekend. Though, I am hoping to be back again next year to play in the Haliburton Forest… possibly for a little longer though.

Congrats again to everyone. There are some great reports of the race at the following links.
David's report
JD's report
Christy's report
Keith's report
John's report
Lots of race reports on Running Mania
Race Results


Training Summary:
~ My training volume was a little skewed on the high side during this week since I ran long on the Monday and then paced at Haliburton on the weekend. Physically, I’m starting to feel great and find that I am beginning to feel a little stronger on longer runs too. This is encouraging, but I still realize that I do have a ways to go before I’ll be feeling back in a good place fitness wise. Rehab has also been going particularly well and structurally things definitely feel the best that they have in the past year.
Total # of hours last week: 17:30
Total # of hours this year: 382:14
Streak (# of consecutive days of running): 7,566
Training Log Details for the Week


  1. It was great to hear such amazing stories from the weekend from your perspective, and I love that you got to see the race from so many vantage points. Powerful stuff going on out there in the forest. Congrats to everyone who toed the line this year.

  2. It was spectacular having you out there. You had a very profound affect on a number of peoples lives and days. Thanks for the surprise, and Kim was so grateful for the camp coffee. Now get racing would you - figgin' solid week.

  3. Great report Derrick
    Was nice to meet you in person.
    Looks like most of your runners had pretty good days.

  4. Nice blog !
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  5. Derrick - cool stuff. One of the most exciting places in the world to me is the start of a race like that. The energy is palatable, isn't it?

    Michal - get lost.

  6. Just want to mention it again.... it was awesome that you were there Derrick! Thank you very much for the yummy coffee and sorry about the mug. Everyone really appreciated your being there. Thank YOU!