I really had to drag myself out of bed for this one. Battling a head cold, and feeling absolutely rotten I supped on a comforting Lemsip type thing before heading to bed early. With best intentions I prepped and laid out my race gear, but in all honesty I wasn’t doing a very good job convincing myself that when my early alarm shredded my dreams there wasn’t a very high chance I’d find myself snuggling back down beneath the covers and promising to run another day.
This race was more than just another 50k though. It was an important scheduled stepping stone at the pinnacle of my training plan on my path to what will hopefully be my longest race yet. The Gorge Waterfalls 100k is now just a handful of weeks away and if I am to have any chance of finishing that serious beast I had no choice than to stubbornly coax myself out from those covers and get some decent miles underfoot at this crucial point in my training. It was now or never. The window for long training runs is diminishing and soon it will be time to embrace the taper.
With this in mind there’s no doubt that it was absolutely my own willpower that got me to the start line of the Lord Hill 50k on Sunday morning. It had nothing at all to do with an eager big black dog propelling me out of bed. The alarm could be silenced and ignored with a bleary prod, but it’s harder to quell an energetic dog who just wants to run. Zennor had seen me prepare my running gear the night before, and therefore knew what was at stake. While I lay in bed running self diagnostics and feeling sorry for myself, Zennor broke out into excited yodel, pounced repeatedly and thrust her bearded muzzle into my face until there was no decision left to make.
Even when I was on my feet and out the door I almost turned around and called it a good effort. My head was stuffy and spinning and the hours drive to get to Lord Hill was a challenge, but somehow Zennor still managed to persuade me that I should at least toe the line, try to run one of the three ten mile loops that make up the 50k course and then reevaluate if necessary. The race was paid for and the dog needed a run.
It was quite jarring how chilly the crisp morning was. After enjoying a delightful handful of mild weather days the thermometer dropped overnight and it was a bit of a shock to find myself de-icing the car and pulling the gloves and beanie back out. Out too came the skimpy Team7Hills running singlet, but this time I definitely had to layer it over a thermal top to keep my core warm. The temperature change also seemed to effect my collarbone plate. It was prickly and irritably making its grouchy presence known. If any day needed a spot of visual pick me up it was today. A last minute wardrobe change was initiated, worrying Zennor who fretted alone in the back of the car as I dashed madly back into the house. Cosy but boring black Mizuno thermo breath arm warmers were discarded in favour of happy rainbow arm sleeves. The morning started looking brighter.
Thus it was that Zennor and I joined the troop of 50k runners who huddled alongside twenty milers in a mass start from a misty parking lot at Lord Hill Regional Park. I had no qualms placing Zennor and I on the front line for this one. As we would immediately head off along a wide gravel track there would be plenty of room for overtaking manouevres and we could happily run at ease from the get go. Added bonus of this being that we found speedy Christopher Barry (Team7Hills) skulking around up there too and got to shuffle around with him before we got down to work.
By the time the pre talk was done and the runners released Zennor was full of beans and wanted to go out hard. We took off and she didn’t even pause to consider wet paws at the first creek crossing a mere couple of hundred yards from the start. For maybe three quarters of a mile we were able to toss jeers back to Chris, and then he got warmed up and left us choking on his dust while I settled my girl down to a more reasonable pace.
Not far down the gravel path the course veers right and begins winding uphill for about a mile before depositing runners at the bottom of what has been nicknamed “Oh Lord! Hill”. Standing at the bottom of Lord Hill looking up you immediately reclassify what you initially meant by uphill. Hands pushing down on quads, ignoring screaming muscles and forcing them to continue forward is the only way to progress, with multiple stops to bend over and gasp for breath, I mean, admire the view. Lord Hill isn’t terribly tall but it has the uncanny ability to make all other hills looks positively flat. The apex of the hill is known habitat for the lesser spotter race photographer, meaning that despite such strain Lord Hill must be conquered with seeming ease and a smile plastered to one’s face at all times. Lucky 50kers get to endure this hill three times.
Going uphill I’ll often get comments that Zennor is an advantage and people ask to borrow her, but she is really no help at all. She doesn’t enjoy hill climbs and will try to avoid them. The lead goes slack and I have to coax and motivate her to continue. Lord Hill even had her darting sideways looking for easier routes that didn’t involve going straight up. Maintaining upward momentum is a challenge even without a wayward dog trying to shoot off course.
The nice thing about Oh Lord! Hill is that it comes early in the ten mile loop. It’s a relief to get it behind you and then be able to head into the woods and get down to business. It’s easy to mentally break the course down into little chunks. Once up the hill it’s not far, maybe 5k, until an entertaining out and back stretch with board walk interest leading to the cheery folks manning the aid station. After which, the six miles back to the start seems like a manageable distance. Six miles is the distance of my go to run around Magnolia, very doable, and when it’s beneath trees and I’m reminding myself that I’m not running the back end of Interbay, it’s much more enjoyable. Along the way my legs might gripe and not agree with me, especially on the third pass, but an ultra is a mental game.
Zennor and I set out with the intention to try to run at a constant effort and aim to take an hour and forty minutes to complete each loop. This should have been attainable, but didn’t quite go to plan.
The first twenty miles seemed amazingly easy and thoughts of quitting and being ill had dissipated. It wasn’t exactly effortless, but I was feeling good and cheerful, just enjoying running with my best friend, clocking off the miles and feeling very encouraged that my miles of training were paying off.
There’s another stiff slope leading down from the trails back to the car pack where the start/aid station/finish paddock awaits. It’s paved and a tough run when you know you have to be careful to save your legs for further miles and probably shouldn’t hammer down it too fast. You’ll be seeing it again and you’ve still got a long way to go. It’s especially difficult to run down with Zennor as I have to run with the brakes on and constantly pull backwards to avoid being dragged down the hill. On our first loop we came in a little under our goal at 1:38, and as we were navigating this descent for the second time we were perfectly on pace to hit 1:40 for the next.
It was here, as we were preparing for our second start/finish line fly through, that we were surprised to pass a familiar face making his way up the hilly road. I didn’t know that fellow 7Hill group runner, Scott Hodukavich, had signed up for the ten miler and it was a boost to see him out there. He pulled out his camera. Zennor and I couldn’t resist. We stopped for an impromptu photo op, and then he gave me an escort back down to the aid station. It was fun to have my own mini crew for a moment as he filled my hand held while I tended to Zennor’s needs. I fed my happy dog some treats and we socialised with some onlookers who were impressed with Zennor’s athletic prowess and then waved farewell to Scott. 3:30 on the clock. Oops, twelve minutes squandered. Time really does fly when you are having fun.
Ascending Lord Hill for the third, and final time, was joyous. Still in good spirits I threw my belly to the dirt and made a big deal of having to crawl up the trail, hamming it up for the photographer, Paul Nelson, who was still perched at the top, clicking away. Zennor was a little confused and not terribly impressed.
My shadow and I sauntered onwards in lackadaisical fashion, being far too leisurely and having a grand time, until I spotted the runner I pegged as the second place lady turning into the aid station out and back as Zennor and I were exiting. She was close, and gaining. The competitive fire was reignited and Zennor and I returned our heads to the game. Time to get back down to business.
Unfortunately harnessing speed and endurance was not our only challenge from that point on. It seemed like the trails became an obstacle course of loose dogs, small children and packs of horses. Just as we really needed to get hustling, we suddenly found ourselves having to navigate a lot more trail traffic. Our third loop was a slow and frustrating stop and start series of difficult encounters.
Zennor did really well with all the horses but carefully halting our progress and walking to pass them was quite excruciatingly slow. Engrossed in chit chat, one group was blocking a junction and we were impatiently waiting for a while before our presence and desire to pass was even noticed. The pressure of trying to stay steps ahead of our rival who was surely charging down the trail without a care was great.
Families were out enjoying the sunshine and I didn’t mind small children obliviously playing in the path and wanting to pet Zennor as she passed. Other dogs were our main problem. Several uncontrolled loose dogs bothered Zennor and aggressively harassed us as we ran. One especially snappy encounter riled her up and just as we had successfully escaped we ran headlong into a little leashed dog who got positioned for confrontation. It was a set up for disaster and a still agitated Zennor sadly went into defensive mode as we passed. I struggled to pull her along and get her focused back on the run. Unfortunately this was on one of the out and back stretches of the route so minutes later we had to return and have a repeat encounter. As soon as he saw us the owner jumped up and down yelling “NO! Oh no! Oh no!”, scooped up his pet, and started running down the trail ahead of us. As the race course followed the same route we really had no choice but to chase him down the path. It would have been quite comical, possibly warranting some scantily-clad extras and Benny Hill music, if it wasn’t so awkward. I felt quite terrible.
The third loop was quite exhausting and took us just shy of two hours.
Somehow, despite all the trials Zennor and I still managed to arrive at the start/finish in the lead. The chase wasn’t quite over yet though, with thirty miles behind us, we still had a mini loop to complete the full 50k distance. With roughly a mere mile and a half to go I discarded my handheld, then buoyed by the bouncy beats being loudly broadcast and smelling the barn, we charged off down the gravel road for the last time. Having also ensured she had quenched her thirst at the pitstop I was not expecting Zennor to suddenly halt and nose dive into the paltry creek for a quick drink. The leash caught underfoot and I crashed to the ground in spectacular fashion. Shaking myself off and ruefully checking to see if anyone had seen that performance, I staggered on, got the legs moving again and pressed on to my date with the finish line bunting.
5:37:48.1 – First place lady, and dog.
Zennor and I enjoyed ourselves and the run was well worth the effort it took to get to the start line. However, while I seemed to shake off my cold and manage the run, it was short lived. The crud returned with a vengeance afterwards. I pushed through to not back out of using this race as a training run, but as a couple of days later I then ended up with real fever, chills, and spending several days skipping workouts, I do wonder if I traded one happy day on the trails for a more protracted malady I should have been able to stave off more quickly?