Race Reports

Niagara Ultra 50k

Only a couple weeks after the self-transcendence race, I was headed for Niagara-on-the-Lake to run the Niagara Ultra.  I stayed over night at Carolyn's place and had a chance to catch up with her, after not seeing each other since our yoga training in India.  It was nice to have a beer and some munchies and just relax all night before my second stab at a running a 50k race.  

The morning of the race was cool and overcast with a bit of a drizzle.  I would have preferred cool and dry but it has been awhile since I haven't had nearly perfect weather for a race so I was able to deal with it.  

I was pleased with the nice sweatshirt we received with our entry, instead of the regular t-shirt at most races.  We also got tickets for food and beer after the run.  The thought of this gave me something to look forward to while we were out on the course.  

I decided to start off nice and easy and see how things went.  I ended up running almost 15k with Laurie McGrath, who has represented Canada at the 100k World Championships.   It was great getting to know her a little bit and to hear come stories about herself and her dad, ultra-legend Ron Gehl.  

As the drizzle turned into a light rain, I decided to increase my pace a little since I was feeling good and was warmed up.  The rain continued to get heavier as I approached the Falls at the halfway turn-around point.  I continued on with a bit more speed and tried not to let the rain bother me.  

Getting closer to the end of the race, I figured out that if I could only maintain my pace, I'd be able to not only beat the 4:06' time I posted in Canberra, but break the 4 hour mark!  I charged on!  By now, completely soaked, not even attempting to avoid the puddles, I fought through that mental wall of discomfort and negotiation, powering through the last mile to finish in just over 3:58' and 5th place overall.  I couldn't have been happier to have finished and get into some warm and dry clothes.

The walk to the change rooms was quite slow, but I felt great after getting rid of my soaked gear.  The beer went down all too easy and I chowed down on the post race pizza and other goodies while they presented the awards.   

I called up Carolyn, who was working that morning at the Great Wolf Lodge.  She invited me into the spa at the Lodge before heading home.  She didn't have time between clients to give me a post race massage, but I was able to use the spa's luxury private shower to clean up.  

I felt a lot better after this race, knowing that my problems in Canberra near the end, were all a matter of pacing, and that I certainly could run a fast 50k.  Soon I will start increasing my training in order to get ready for all the fall marathons I have planned to run.   

Self-Transcendence 6-hour

I recently had my first taste of running longer than the marathon distance and after this race, I will have experienced what its like to run a different type of race, best known as a self-transcendence run.  

The concept was started with the guru Sri Chinmoy.   Basically, the runners aim to complete as many laps on a small looped course in a given block of time, which in my case this weekend, was 6-hours.  

I was understandably nervous before the start of the race for a few reasons.  I woke up at 3:30am in order to drive from my sister's house in Guelph, to the race site at the Royal Military College in Kingston for the 9am start.  

In an effort to stay awake while driving, my breakfast was little more than some cereal with a Rockstar to wash it down.  

When I arrived at the site, it was fairly obvious I was the new guy on the ultra circuit, as everyone else seemed to already know each other and be familiar with how this type of race operates.  

It was awesome to see the wide variety of food provided for the runners at the aid station, as well as the race bibs with only names on them, no numbers.  Even though I had reservations about running for this long, I was excited about this new type of race experience.  

Early on in the run, I settled into a gentle pace I thought I might be able to maintain, for a few hours at least.  The time seemed to fly by fairly fast since I was chatting with several different runners while plodding through laps of the 880m loop.  

Much to my surprise, the short, repeated distance was anything but boring.   It allowed for a lot more interaction with the other runners, because no matter what pace you were running, you'd always find yourself close to someone familiar.  It only took 2 or 3 hours to get to know many of the regulars of the Ontario Ultra Series.  

Between two and a half and three hours, I experienced my first "low" when I was feeling tired, sore and began to struggle mentally.  My sinuses seemed all stuffed up, I had a runny nose, and my stomach was becoming increasingly sensitive to anything I consumed.  I wasn't sure if I'd be able to keep up running for another 3 hours.  As sure as the sun rises each day, conditions did not remain the same.  Before long, I was feeling okay again and just kept on going.  However, after I passed the marathon distance, there was much less talking going on.  

Just as I hit a wall around 45k in Canberra, things began to seem much more difficult after four hours.  Another 2 hours of running was starting to seem close to impossible.  

It was soon after this second "low" that I began to experience more of this thing they call transcendence.  I started using some meditation mantras in order to keep my mind from wandering and creating stories.  I came to the realization that most of my difficulties were psychological and not actually physical.  After letting go of my "stories in my head" and simply being aware of everything that was going on in my body, I realized that my mind hurt more than my body did.  

This interesting concept served as my main meditative focus as time went on, passing the 50k mark in about 4:39'.  Don't get me wrong, my body was feeling a fair amount of discomfort and fatigue, but the main source of my struggle was psychological.  

With a little less than an hour to go, my post marathon slump seemed to be easing with this newfound sense of separation of my mind and body.  I have long ago experienced the benefits of an asana practice for running and now I was learning more about how mindfulness practices can be used to help me in a race. 

I have never experienced such a clear separation from the grip of the mind, feeling a sense of peace, while still pushing my body's limits to the edge.  It was a very fine balance between maintaining that peace/focus and simply crashing and giving in.   Somehow, I just kept going as time neared the 6-hour mark.  

I might have pushed harder to run the last couple laps, but there was no sprint left in me.  After the finish horn sounded, I just stood there, maybe stumbled around a bit as the fatigue started to settle into my muscles. 

Surprisingly, my feet felt okay and there was no real pain in my joints, possibly since my pace was much more relaxed right off the start.  My digestion was likely the most discouraging factor in this run as I was unable to eat or drink anything without feeling like my stomach was being tied in knots for most of the second half.  

My official total distance was 62.47km, almost equal to one and a half marathons.  I was surprised at how I was able to complete it and feel as good as I did by the end.  It was most interesting to learn how things change so much in those last couple hours and the power that mindfulness has during those stages.  

Not every runner will ever experience those types of feelings, especially when just starting out, but there is that potential in everyone to test their limits.  When a limit is approached, it can only be push further away using the strength of mindfulness. 

Many of the most powerful lessons on mindfulness can only be learned by experience, but it can certainly help to have a few tools to use when times start to get tough.  Training your body so that when you face those challenges, you will be ready physically is just a common sense form of self-preservation.  

This race was certainly not my fastest running, but possibly the most spiritual experience I have had while running, and has only inspired me even more to build Mindfulness Running into a complete training program so that I can share this sense of peace and joy, in what seems like a physical torture to most people, to anyone brave enough to test their own limits.   

After the awards were given out, I was downing another Rockstar and on the road.  I made it to the Moksha Five Year Anniversary party in Pickering, just in time to get some dinner.  The rest of the night, I took it easy.  I slept over at the Robertson Farm before driving the rest of the way home in the morning. 

© Brian Groot 2020