This year, I decided to return to the Blackfoot Ultra, primarily as it was the Canadian 100km Trail championships, so there was guaranteed fast competition. It's been a couple of years since I've raced here, and it was actually my first ever 100km race, so I was keen to see if I'd improved! It's a friendly, well organized race, and the terrain is fun. It's a good early season test piece.
In 2011, I finished in third place in 9h 56mins behind local legends Carl Pryce and Oleg Tabelev. The race is 4 x 25km loops around the XC ski trails of Cooking Lake Provincial Park. It's a beautiful park when the weather cooperates, which it often doesn't this time of year! I was lucky enough to race on a dry year in 2011, and this year we were greeted with spectacular weather. By all accounts last year's mud-fest made for pretty miserable and challenging running.
Going into Blackfoot, I really had no idea if I had fully recovered from Transvulcania, only 2 weeks earlier. My legs were feeling reasonable, but I hadn't tested myself on anything other than a few short tempo runs around Canmore. Dave Proctor, Oleg Tabelev and a couple of other names caught my name on the start list, so it was guaranteed to do a doozy.
I travelled up with good bud, Wade Jarvis - who incidentally, has run all twelve editions of Blackfoot 100km. Wade paced me at Pine to Palm and at Leadville, and is somewhat of an ultra expert in these parts. He predicted the course record would fall - 8h 49m held by Richard Webb, since 2007.
The start line was a laid back affair, and a huge contrast to Transvulcania. I shook hands with Dave and chatted with the previous year's winner, Vincent Bouchard. A few brief words from Gary, then the briefest of countdowns, and we headed out on the first lap. Dave Proctor immediately put in a hard effort, and somewhat to my surprise, I found I was the only one chasing. It was obviously an obviously quick pace - I glanced at my watch as I chased Dave - 3.33 min/km. Crazy fast, and it would soon settle to a more leisurely 4 min/km pace, but by then we'd put some distance between the rest of the runners and ourselves. I kept Dave in sight, purposely running 20-30 feet behind him. The pace was blistering for a 100km trail race and I did not want to talk. Dave looked good, especially on the downhills, but I found myself gaining on the early climbs. A few times, I was right on his heels, and it felt good to back off. I didn't want to pass.
Soon, we were completing the first lap, with the split around 1h 49m. Dave was super fast in and out of aid stations, but I stopped, refilled my bottles, and ate at each aid station. Every time Dave blew right through, I wondered if that would be the last I'd see of him, but each time, I'd slowly catch him again. I was eating well, 2 gels an hour plus snacks from the aid stations, and I stopped to pee early on lap 2. This was a good sign, and my stomach felt good. My legs, so far, were not feeling any residual fatigue from La Palma. At around 40km I noticed that Dave seemed to have slowed noticeably. I had been running a few metres back, and all of a sudden, the intensity was gone from Dave's stride. He looked a bit awkward, and certainly less fluid than he had, and as we dropped down across a small bridge, and were greeted by a steep climb, I moved by him. I really didn't put in much of an effort but all of a sudden there was a reasonable gap. Dave pulled up with a cramp, to stretch. I put on my iPod and the tunes encouraged me to keep the pace high. Glancing back occasionally, I could see Dave a few hundred metres back.
I stopped to fill my bottles at the last aid station before the start/finish, and Dave was there again, looking good again! We left the aid station together and Dave commented that we were well below course record pace. We ticked off lap 2 in under four hours.
I spent a bit more time fuelling up before leaving for lap 3, Dave left ahead of me, and this was the last I would see of Dave Proctor! He was on a mission, and he later told me he suspected there would be fatigue in my legs having raced hard just 2 weeks earlier. He purposely pushed the pace hard in the hope that I'd blow up, and that's just what happened! Lap 3 was a sufferfest! The day was getting pretty warm, and despite fuelling and drinking well, I had a bit of a bonk. I found myself walking a few of the steeper climbs. My HR was had been sitting around 165 for the first 2 laps, dropped to 143 (incidentally, and not surprisingly my MAF HR).
When I realized the tank was getting empty I purposely stopped and gagged back 3 gels. I did this twice, and was revived somewhat, but at each aid station I asked for Dave's splits, and he was running away from me. At one point I had been passed easily by Calgary runner, Mevlut Kont. He blew by me, and mistakenly I assumed he had caught me and was now hunting down Dave - I later found out he was running the 50 mile race! Then a few other 50 mile and 50 km runners passed, and I assumed that they were all 100km runners - ** Gary - you really must give us some indicator of which race folks are in! **
As I reached the second to last aid station on lap 3, I sat for a few minutes, feeling a bit dejected, and ready to drop.
"What position am I in?" I asked one of the volunteers.
"Oh, you're still in second" came the reply.
"Really, you're sure? What about Mevlut?"
" He's not in your race." And with a renewed sense of purpose, a chug of coke and some soup, I headed out.
Oleg Tabelev had dropped after 2 laps - a planned drop, I think. He had some hard racing in his legs, and was happy with his 50km on the day. He told me Dave had 15 mins on me at the end of lap 3 - "You'll just have to run faster, Andy!" he joked.
Lap 4 was a blur. I raced hard, as hard as I could with 75 km in my legs. I ran every climb, and felt good. AC/DC spurred me on. I was breathing hard, and it felt good. My legs were cooperating - no cramping at all, and I was having no stomach issues. My diet consisted of salty soup and coke at the aid stations, gels in between. I knew by now that Dave would smash the course record, and my new aim was to break 9 hours. I knew that the previous course record was out of reach, but 9 hours was possible. Unfortunately, I dawdled a bit long at the final aid station, trying to knock back as much food as I could for a Herculean last 5km, but it wasn't to be. 9 hours ticked by with the finish line in sight. I finished strong, and was happy with that.
Dave greeted me with a cold beer as I crossed the line. A new course record of 8h 38mins. Bloody marvellous effort Proctor!
I assumed I was in second when I crossed the line, but in fact I'd been passed late in the lap by a guy called Philippe, that no one seemed to know! We all know him now though! Great effort.
I also forgot to stop my watch, so I'm not certain of my final time - a minute or two over 9 hours - it doesn't matter now; I gave it my best shot and I'm proud I was able to run strong for 100km, only 2 weeks after I limped across the line at Transvulcania.
Proctor's beer was great, by the way - check it out - the lemon variety of Shock Top - http://www.shocktopbeer.com/s/index.php/age-gate/
And it was sweeter still that it was Dave Proctor's beer ;-) The new Canadian National 100km trail champion.
The camaraderie at the end was a blast, although Proctor was somewhat reluctant to let a Salomon runner under his New Balance tent. Joking aside, it's good to shoot the shit after a long run, and that's what I love about ultra runners - no pretences, no BS, no prima donnas.
Great race Dave and Philippe, and everyone else who finished their respective races. A special thanks to RD, Gary. Awesome job. And a huge thanks to all the volunteers who continue to make this one of Canada's finest ultras!
Race Uniform - Salomon
Shoes - Salomon S-LAB Sense 3 Ultra
Bottles - Salomon Soft flask, 500mls x 1 - water only
Recovery - Compressport R2 calf sleeves and Q quads; Muscle Milk & Dave's beer
Nutrition - 2 gels per hour, a few pieces of fruit, Coke and soup last 40km