As I write this on Monday my feet are aching, I may have strained a ligament in my right knee, and I’m having a lot of trouble with stairs in both directions. I’m also incredibly sleepy, and keeping my head up would be a challenge if the muscles in my neck weren’t partly seized up. Still, I think I felt worse at this time last year.
This past Sunday was my third attempt at the Comfortably Numb Trail Run. I say “attempt”, because while I’ve finished the race three times now I have yet to run it to my satisfaction. The first year I didn’t sleep the night before because I was proposing to my then girlfriend at the finish line. The second year it was about 35 degrees Celsius in the sun, which is about 15 degrees too many for my plush, winter-adapted body.
This year the temperature was just right (though completely wrong for late June) at about 14 degrees, but the trail itself was soft, wet and slippery. I also had to run it on antibiotics, which have several unfortunate side-effects including not sleeping and stomach pains, but gave me the added benefit of being able to breathe through my nose while drinking from my water bottle.
For some reason I posted my fastest time yet, just breaking the three-hour mark. It makes no sense to me — I trained far less and on far shorter trails than the other two years I raced, I was half asleep at the start line, and came in with extremely low expectations of myself. Given all the circumstances I was just hoping to break three and a half hours.
It took me about 1:40 to get to the middle of the course, and then less than 1:20 to get to the end, which means I actually got faster as the day went on. Big finishes are not what I’m known for. And while the course does start to head downhill at about the 18 km mark it’s not what you would call a gentle slope — the descent is generally steep and technical with slippery rock faces and jagged sections that stab at your feet, designed by and for mountain bikers with five inches of suspension and thick rubber tires rather than runners with maybe a centimetre of padding on their shoes.
This year’s run will go down as a mystery to me, with a few well-earned lessons. I’ve compiled a short list of dos and don’ts for anybody thinking about running this 25 km course next year.
Do not take antibiotics if they keep you awake and the cycle overlaps with the race. Listening to birds chirp outside your window two hours before you have to get out of bed is the worst feeling in the world.
Do not randomly pour powdered energy drink into your water bottle without tasting it first. The one I chose at random on the morning of the race tasted like soap.
Do not bring any food without testing it first. The gels I brought tasted like shots of Ouzo and were tough to swallow, especially washing them down with soapy energy drink. Also you should make sure the packages are empty before putting them into your pocket, otherwise all the leftover goop will seep out and your shorts will stick to your leg.
Do take one last bathroom break before the start. I ran about 5 km with a heavy bladder, while looking for a good spot to pull over and take care of business. You’d think it would be easy to find a secluded spot while running through a forest, but the task was more challenging than expected.
Do bring emergency painkillers. A couple of Ibuprofen at the highest point of the trail made me forget all about my blister and stubbed toes.
Do some stretching before and after the race. I didn’t really and I felt stiff for the first half of the race, and will be stiff for probably two weeks after.
Do put band-aids on your nipples on a cold day. I didn’t do it at the Haney to Harrison run last fall, and learned a painful lesson.
Do wear spandex running tights. I never do, always end up chafing, and have to walk around for days like I just got off a horse. With the limp, it’s just not a good look.
Do not commit to running the race again next year until you’ve had a few months to think about it. It’s easy to get talked into it when you get to the finish line, people are cheering, and you get a little burst of endorphins along with your post-race cookie. You’re not thinking clearly at that point, and are open to suggestion. Just ask yourself one question — are you happy because you ran, or are you happy because you stopped running?
On second thought, don’t ask. The important thing is that you’re happy.