SpruceWoods Ultra 50km – Race Report

“If I put myself in a position where I have to worry about the law, that’s on me. Choices. I made a choice. My favorite word is choices. It should be everybody’s in this fucking world. You make it, you own it. You reap the benefits, suffer the consequences. You made the choice. Be man enough or woman enough to take the pain as well as the gain.”
– Jerry Tillinghast, from the CrimeTown podcast

My first ultra, the Sprucewoods Ultra 50km race/run was an adventure that I will remember for a long time and learn from immediately.

I will say first of all: I finished. It took me 6 hrs and 56 minutes. I finished 40th. I am happy.  I am an upper portion of the middle of the pack runner. That has always been where I have placed in races. I know, when you attempt races like this you should be thankful to finish no matter what… but I am a little competitive, and am a little disappointed in my finish. My goal was to finish anywhere from 6-7 hours and I did, but I secretly thought maybe I would be closer to 6 than 7 hrs and I was on pace for that finish. But, despite all my preparation I did not anticipate what happened out there.

Three quick side stories (not excuses) before I get into the race:

  1. the creek crossing. In the lead up to the race there were reports from other runners that the bridge that crossed the one creek on the Epinette trail was washed out and the race director refused to fix it. The thought was runner’s feet were going to get wet. I trained that idea out by steeping in creeks to run with wet feet. I even researched the best socks for wet feet and discovered Drymax socks were great, and anything with merino wool was also good as long as they were thin. I bought two pair. The prep also had me developing a strategy for getting to and through the crossing. One experienced runner suggested there might be a backlog at the crossing and suggested getting there quicker than the mob. I also practiced changing socks as suggested. This was my plan. Get there relatively quick. Get through. Change socks and go. Turns out no feet got wet. The crossing was easy enough. No socks were changed. I carried my extra dry pair of socks in my vest.
  2. the damned knees.  On my last long run, a slower 16 miles with a bunch of other SWU runners in Grand Beach I tweaked my knees. I didn’t notice it at the time, nor afterwards. The next morning my right knees started to ache. I had my physio check it out, he thought it would be fine but mentioned something might be up with my left. Sure enough 2 days later my left knee got really sore. I did everything I could to deal with it, went for a shorter long run, 13 miles and felt quite sore afterwards. It was a week to the race and I had a sore knee. Panic set in. I got into the physio and he got me working out an imbalance. I wore running shoes all week, ice/heat/diclofenac/rolling/stretching/physio and did not run. As you might imagine the anxiety was opening and slamming the door shut on my well being. It was at this point my thinking about SWU went from race to run.
  3. the throat of discomfort. In the 7 months of training I can officially say I sustained positive health. There were times when colds, head aches, and fevers were there but I sucked it up and got out and did what I needed to do. I never let it stop me. The two weeks leading up the race I was fighting off yet another sore throat and for several days I could not keep warm. It didn’t help that my oldest daughter was diagnosed with strep throat three days before the race. I remember on Thursday night, I was hoping the race was the next day because I thought maybe I would be less sick Friday then Saturday.

Saturday May 13th, 2017 – race day. I stayed in Brandon the night before and got a good night sleep. I woke up on time and did my usual morning routine before runs and got to the race on time. The only variable (other than the knee and the possibility of sickness) in place the night before and morning of were how to dress. It was 4 degree in the morning with a cooler wind but it was going to quickly warm to 20. Sprucewoods is arid and it is sandy underneath the grass so it is typically warmer in that provincial park, than say in the Whiteshell. I choose my layers (not the best decision) and we were off.

I started a little quick. I knew it; it was part of the strategy, but I was going to slow the pace down after the creek crossing. When I got to crossing to discover I wasn’t going to get wet and that a log jam of runners wasn’t going to happen I put my head down and kept going, slowing only a little. At that point I had dropped back to around 8th place as there were quick runners like Blaine, Riley, and Ty lighting up the trail. This kept going for 10 miles. I picked off another runner and everything was going well. I wasn’t feeling the knee and the throat felt great. I had stripped down my layers and packed them away as I had practiced. I was through the first two aid stations and began running with Bean sprout Dan and the Gorp guy. Everything felt great. I can’t stress this enough. My legs, hips, glutes, and core muscles felt amazing.

I bombed down the biggest descent at Jack Fish lake and began the big climb or “descent”. As I was leaving Aid Station 2, I saw a smaller group of strong runner come in. They stopped for nutrition and to hydrate. I got moving as best as I could at that point which was great. No problems. Mentally I wondered if I had enough nutrition as it was about two hours into the race. As I was climbing the big climb at Jack Fish I heard those runners hit the hill. I thought, “they must have been quick through the Aid Station” and they made up some good time. This was a big hill and I choose to power walk it, but they ran the climb. By the time I hit the top they were closer then they had been and eventually, over the next two miles, pass me.

There is something about losing a big lead in a race. I feel it’s all on me. Was I slowing down? Was I walking too many hills? It is all negative. Never is it a celebration of the strength of the other runner. These 4 or 5 runners were damn strong. We all clustered (about 8 runners in total) at Aid Station 3, the one station I was really looking forward to. I was familiar with the volunteers hosting the runners: Scott, Leslie, and Quinn. Their knowledge was valuable and I was looking forward to asking them a couple questions. But with the cluster, the anxiety, and with the nutrition I had with me, I choose to run through. I second guessed myself and returned to top up my water as the cluster moved out with the couple of guys I was running with. With a slight panic I did not ask those questions I wanted to ask and kept going. Mistake?

About a mile out from the station my woes crept in. My muscles felt strong but I had my first cramp. My whole right quad seized up as another runner passed. I kept moving and the cramped jumped from leg to leg, muscle to muscle. At first I was really concerned but it was almost comical. I would run a quarter of a mile  and be fine, then the cramps would attack my legs. In between the big cramps little pinches that were painful but almost tickly lit up my legs like fireworks and then nothing. This continued on until after Aid Station 5, where I had been passed by at least another 10 runners when Caroline Wiebe, a strong 100 miler pointed out after seeing me do the cramp dance that I was losing a tonne of salt by the stains on my long sleeve Salomon shirt I was mistakenly wearing. With a bloody hand from a can of Mountain dew she reached into her race vest and handed me two salt tabs and told me I would be feeling a little better in about 20 minutes. She mentioned I should get more at the next Aid Station. I decided to walk the next 20 minutes with hope this would be the case.

After being passed my another runner (Meg Bargen), I started to feel a little better. Meg was walking faster than I was at that point and I said as soon as she starts running I need to run. She ran. I ran. I kept up her run walk pace until the end of the out and back where I turned around to flip the bird at that section of the course. Meg was gone. It was just me and the killer playlist I had created in the build up to the race. (I never listen to music while running, but in case of emergency I could put it on. The playlist was a collection of my favourite uplifting songs like ‘boy with a thorn in his side’ by the smiths, ‘mirror kisses’ by the cribs, and ‘frozen dessert’ by iseo & dodosound…) I started to feel a lot better as I was building up speed and not getting as many cramps. I kept the one runner behind me and it was relentless forward progress.

I welcome the final aid station. I got more salt tabs and filled up my bottle for the final push. I was sick of the tailwind I had been drinking but I put in 100 calories worth of the caffeinated razzberry buzz, ate some chips, and asked how much further. 5.3 miles. Fuck yeah. 5.3 miles, which actually felt more like 10 miles. This was the most roller coastery part of the course. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. Oh my goodness. All I wanted to do was get back to the creek and when I did, I dipped my feet in to cool them off. From the water coolers I added a bit more water and kept going. I passed a handful of runners, which I had no clue what race they were doing but it felt good to pass people again. But this section of the course seemed to go on and on. At one point I passed a runner, that had passed me much earlier. Now that I was feeling a bit better, I was hoping to make up some time and places. We ran together for a few hills, and I mentioned the end is near and that one of the things that was moving me to that finish was the thought of my girls being their to cheer me on. He mentioned that he had been thinking the same for the last 15 miles. I said “see you at the finish” as I kept going.

Short side story: last year at the last of the summer trail series runs my family came to cheer me on. As I rounded the last turn both my girls were there. As I approached them I gave them a high five and a quick hug and ran by to finish. This haunted me over the winter. Why didn’t I pick them up and carry them with me across the finish line? This wasn’t an option on Saturday. If they were there, they’d be crossing that finish line with me no matter how tired I was. 

As I already mentioned the 5.3 miles from Aid Station 6 to the finish felt much longer. It really did. It felt like a whole other race. Getting to the creek was big, but I made a mistake. I felt when I hit the creek I was done but there was still about 2 miles to go. During the next two miles my cramps returned and I got passed by four runners. The first two early on and the other two after I stopped to take in the view of the finish line and shed a few tears. Wow. As soon as I saw the finish line I broke down. I couldn’t believe I made it to this point. Never throughout the race was I ever going to quit, I was mentally strong throughout the whole thing but it was damn difficult. As I got going again, and saw the final stretch I saw my girls running up the hills and my beautiful wife approaching the finish line. I heard someone yell my name and a loud applause, I raised my arms in the air. Even though I didn’t win. I won. As I got closer to Charlotte and Abigail I bent down and hugged them and as I had been thinking about for the last 9 months, I picked up Abigail and put her on my shoulders (it took two tries). I asked Charlotte to carry my handheld and grabbed her hand and asked her to run with me across the finish line. As we got closer to the finish I saw my wife Catherine, my Mom visiting from Lethbridge, and the Munson Park Thugs: Riley (7th place 50 km) and Nick (2nd place 50 miles) coming to celebrate my strength and looked around to see everyone that has helped me along the way. And done! 50km. Yup. I did it.

After receiving my woodle, wood medal I took a look around. It seemed everyone there was waiting and cheering me on. They knew my pain and my gains and they understood why I ran 32 fucking miles. Choices, right Jerry. You made yours. I made mine. I couldn’t have made mine without you making yours. Thank you.

Thank you to Dwanye Sandall and the SWU crew, Trail Run Manitoba, and all the volunteers and their families for a great event. Thank you to my friends and family that have listened to me talking about running, post pictures and talk more about my training. Sorry. Thanks for the Mikes: Mike Ocko and Michael Anderson for being mentors and heroes. JF. Thanks a million for fixing me and fixing me and fixing me and fixing me and listening to me and of course your insight and doing what you do and then running 100 miles. Brothers you are one crazy french man. Thank you to Nick and Riley, the munson park thugz (not a real crew) for sharing miles, injuries, and late night text strings…your speed is incredible. You made me feel fast and capable. Congrats on your finishes. Much respect, and thank you to my mom for being dragged around for the last two weeks while you were supposed to be visiting. And of course thank you to the silly sisters, Charlotte and Abigail for carrying through this race until I could carry you, for the fantastic door celebrations, the foot massages that were absolutely amazing in all aspects including there creativity, and for allowing me to rest (sort of) after those long winter runs… I love you. And finally to Catherine.

Thank you for all of the support from meal planning, buying groceries, and supporting mysterious packages arriving from places like Tailwind, Territory Run Co, and MEC, to dropping off the girls on time-change days while I am at phsyio, for finishing off the night solo because I am asleep somewhere in the house, to all my highs and lows and anxiety about everything including  _ _ w_ _  movements, to allowing me to do this – you are beyond amazing. Thank you. I love you. And yes you could totally run a marathon.

phew. now the Manitoba Marathon.



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