Perhaps it was because he was keeping his expectations a little too low, but Joren Titus' first-ever ultramarathon went better than he could have ever dreamed.
Competing at the Black Spur Ultra near Kimberley, the former Whistlerite and current Calgarian dominated the 108-kilometre race on Aug. 25, completing the win in 11 hours, 52 minutes and 24.3 seconds (11:52:24.3) and besting runner-up Scott Cooper by 48 minutes.
Titus established himself in fourth place for the first of six loops with a steady pace. He took the lead on the second loop and never looked back.
"You're going at a pretty reasonable pace because you can't keep up a fast pace for 100 km," he said. "You're chatting with people and you're passing people. From about 40 km to about 70 km, I was running with one guy (who dropped out shortly after Titus put some distance between them).
"We were chatting the whole time. It was weird, because you're obviously competing, but it feels like you're out there casually running with a friend."
Titus said he tended to be injury-prone in his high school and college years when he ran track and cross-country and with some pains nagging him leading into the race, that mindset was present in the lead-up.
"I signed up for this back in February, had this crazy thing where I'll sign up and see what happens, but in the back of my mind, it's kind of a negative thing, but I never really thought I'd get to the start line healthy," Titus admitted, noting he had to pull out of the Squamish 50-mile race in 2017 due to injury. "When I got to the start line, I was pretty stoked."
Titus acknowledged he overcame numerous aches and pains throughout the day, but had the mental fortitude to battle through them.
"After an hour, my legs were feeling pretty sore," he said. "I trained quite a bit, but it's tough to prepare for 100 km. In training, you'll maybe be doing, 30-, 40-, 50-km training runs, and then you get to 100 km (in a race). It's a crapshoot as to what's going to happen."
After about 90 minutes, Titus said a past issue with his quad resurfaced while he tackled a steep descent, but he battled through it and the pain faded after about 30 minutes. Later on, he found the flat sections bugged his hip flexor while downhill portions irritated his quad, while he preferred the steeper, technical uphill sections as the shorter strides were less painful.
"You never really feel good in an ultra," he said. "There were a lot of ups and downs, technical trails, and the whole race, there were little things flaring up here and there. You were wondering which pain was going to get worse."
Titus explained the course was two loops that runners completed three times each, which made keeping track of milestones a bit easier.
"You really have to not focus on the fact that it's 100 km, because when you think about that logically, it can be pretty demoralizing," he said. "It's pretty cliché, but you just have to stay in the moment and focusing on what's immediately in front of you."
Titus said the trails' technicality kept him from going into autopilot, as putting one foot in front of the other kept him engaged especially as he ran the last two laps alone.
Apart from the physical effects of covering so much distance, another consideration was smoke from wildfires in the area, and while the air quality index was high on race day, the air quality wasn't poor enough to postpone the race.
"It was still fairly high, but to be honest, I didn't notice anything," he said. "When you got to lower parts of the course, you noticed it a bit, but I had no detrimental effects whatsoever. The smoke kept the sun and the heat at bay, so it was a really pleasant temperature for racing."
Titus has his eye on completing the 60-km Golden Ultra in September in order to garner enough points to qualify for the 2019 edition of the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc in Chamonix, France, which he saw firsthand while on a trip last year.