“Mat, take this race as a learning experience.” Those were my coach’s, Ray Zahab’s, final words when we talked 2 days before race day.
On Friday the 16th of September 2011, I left Ottawa towards the beautiful forest of Haliburton. Land of the living forest, an ecosystem at the southern edge of a vast and uniform, northern borealforest. Comprising of over 80,000 acres of rolling hardwood forests, with meandering rivers make it a runners dream. The course has been redesigned threatening to be the most challenging course in the Ontario Ultra Series.
Friday evening was pretty cool; a racer’s dinner was organized in a big log cabin. I got to sit down and chat with lots of my fellow competitors. I met some awesome people that evening. Sitting down with a bunch of Ultrarunners with the same passion, drive and desire is a very humbling and inspiring feeling: got to love the Ultra Trail Running community, people are running for themselves and always ready to help others do the best they can. By 10pm I was in my tent, yes we were camping at the race starting line, ready to sleep to be well rested for my 6am start.
THE STARTING LINE
The start was at 6am. It was approximately 5-6 degrees Celsius, clear sky but it was still very dark when we woke up. Meeting was at 530 am at the cabin where the rules and prayer were announced. At 5:55am some music from a live bag pipe ensemble directed us to the starting line. It was VERY cool. My good friends and training partners, Mike Bigelow and Pierre Paquette were starting at the same time as me for the 50k race. Supported by my twin brother, my dad, my buddies Marty, Louis and Alex I was under great hands for a long day.
Prior to the race, I had been fighting an ankle injury for 2 weeks. My biggest concern however, were the stomach problems I had on previous races. I had started to work with a Naturopath a month before the race and had been taking natural supplements and vitamins to regulate my adrenaline gland and digestive systems. I was hoping it would do the trick!
I felt pretty strong the first 40km coming in at 4hrs on the nose. My support crew was there with everything I needed every 7-8kms at every station. In second place at that point, I was 5min behind 1st place. Finally at the 65k mark, I was able to catch up to the leader, even telling myself to slow down a bit because the race was still young. We ran together and chatted for a good 15k until we cross the half-way point, 50miles (80km), together at around 8h35min. I’ve heard that Mike and Pierre both had AWESOME races, even if Pierre got lost for a few kms they both place very well. CONGRATS GUYS!
The day was beautiful. Fighting for 1st place and on pace for a top 3 best times of all time on that course I was sticking to the game plan by taking all my vitamins, supplements, salt tablets, electrolytes; you name it I was taking it! At the 100k mark, my feet were starting to feel a bit tight but not enough to slow me down significantly. I was stopping every 8-10k to stretch them a few seconds and get back on track.
120k, 2nd Place Overall, 13 hours and 30 minutes in…
I arrived at the 120k mark at just over 13 hours and 30 minutes. Still on pace for a very solid time for that course, in second place, 5min behind first, I had a solid lead ahead of third place. My twin brother was ready to run the next 20k with me. My dad was racing in the 26k race that day and just learned he did awesome, WELL DONE POPS, first trail race under your belt; I gave him a high-five and left with my brother towards the last 40kms.
Every 30min my watch was set on a timer that would remind me to take my electrolytes and salt tablets in order for me to remain hydrated on this warm 24-25 degrees day. 10-15 minutes after we left the last aid station my timer beeped and as I reached into my bag for my electrolytes and salt, none were left. I had totally forgotten to tell my support crew that I was out and needed to restack at the last aid station. The next aid station was another 15-20k. We decided to push it through. 30 minutes later it started to hit me. My legs were starting to cramp and seize up. It was getting very dark out there and hard to see. The pain was becoming more and more severe. I was only able to speed walk 2min and run 1min for a while since my feet, knees and hips got really sore and were getting inflamed. Just trying to make it to the next aid station I was starting to have nausea and had a rough time walking in a straight line.
THANKS FOR YOUR SUPPORT
Thanks to my twin brother that who kept me safe and helped me push it through to the next aid station and also to my AMAZING support crew, my dad, Marty, Louis and Alex who also significantly helped. They were all waiting for me in the middle of nowhere, keeping warm beside a small fire camp. Thanks to Mike and Pierre that were waiting for me in their cars at the finish line after a long 50k race.
At the aid station I tried to refuel and change for bigger shoes since my feet were too swollen to finish those last 16kms in my own shoes. I was presently in 3rd place since I had lost a lot of time in the last miles. I tried to do a couple steps after taking 5-10 mins at the station but my feet were in very severe pain I couldn’t handle it. I then decided to lie down in the back of the car for an hour to see if the swollenness in my feet was going to go down. When I woke up from my little nap just having my shoes on was too painful to tolerate. After discussing with my twin brother, we made the very difficult decision that I had to quit at that point for the sake of my health.
It took me a while to accept that I was defeated that day. Before this day, I honestly thought I was physically and mentally unbreakable. I thought I could take on any challenge and failing wasn’t an option. I was very disappointed with myself thinking of all the people that came to support me in the bugs, dark, cold, hot, in the middle of nowhere, and that couldn’t see me run those last 16kms and cross that finish line. It took me more than a couple of days to accept it; it took me a few months actually. It is probably the reason why I stopped writing about my races. I felt like I disappointed and let down a lot of people, including myself. Today and as I write this, I understand everything I gained in experience that day and how this race was a learning AND life experience.
“As I said there is nothing wrong with failing. Pick yourself up and try it again. You never are going to know how good you really are until you go out and face failure. “ -Henry Kravis
LETS KEEP PUSHING FORWARD!!!