Ontario Summit Trail Race 2016

Last year's version of this race had been burned into my skull.  At a preview run, I rolled my ankle, then trying to make up time fell and tore up my knee bad enough that I had blood soaking through my sock.  At the actual run, I rolled my ankle again on the descent to the Beaver Pond Lean-To, and then paid so much attention to my ankle that I missed that I dehydrated and then heat exhausted to the point that anything faster than a slow trudge would give me tunnel vision.  I ended up coming in a little behind Sonia, who hurt herself so bad at this race that she hasn't been allowed to run for a whole year.  But it is this same race where Dan Lopata showed me his true powers as cheerleader, and Mike Valone burst upon my consiousness as a man of steel.

This year has been planned for two years now as my year for the Ultra.  All my plans were to best prepare me for the Finger Lakes 50k this July (only three weeks, panic, panic, panic).  So, I signed up for the marathon this year planning for it to be a validation of my training thus far, a chance to test equipment and water and food plans. 

But you're here because you're polite and I promised a race report, so one more aside...  I'm a bit of an introvert and find people exhausting.  I love the outdoors and find it invigorating, so races are always a delicate balancing act between the two effects.  I think it was Stephen Wright that has the joke that he likes to put a humidifier and dehumidifier in a room and let them fight it out.  I bring this up because Goose Adventure Racing are a group that I can trust to get the balance right for me.  No giant speaker stacks, respectful-of-the-trail race sizes, and a friendly staff that know me personally and are always kind and professional.

I arrived early and was working on calf raises and squats and run in place things in an attempt to get my legs warm for what I know is a tough run.  There was a delightful wind fighting to keep the temperature/humidity down, and repeated warnings about inchworms on the course.  Lots of nervous chatter about making the cut-off from runners much stronger than I and a joke about only being able to drop at the bottom of the hill, and we were off.

Right off, I knew something was not quite right.  Calves and shins tightened up almost immediately with a phantom rock on my outside left heel was bugging me almost immediately.  I grimaced knowing that this was a mix of jitters and improper warming up.  From experience of running cold, I know its taken me on average of two miles for my legs to give up the whining and get to work.  Sure enough, right before I hit the first aid station, I finally started to be able to move.  Sweat drenched and already with empty hydration, I rolled into what essentially was the #TrailsRoc aid station for this course (although that isn't fair, as all three stations were staffed by people that wear the orange).  So many kind words and help when nobody has any business needing help so early in a race.  Absolutely reinvigorated, I began to run and close the distance and time deficit that I started with.  Prem and Sonia and Valerie saved the day.

I was moving well up and down the short rollers and descended toward Beaver Pond Lean-To.  Deeply aware that I broke myself there last year I was a bit overcautious on the descent, but it was fun and beautiful and I hit the later boardwalks at a run.  Convinced that Ron was the only photographer on the course that day I was surprised to look up and see Lesher just feet from me snapping away, catching me running on a Lesher photo only the second time ever (I always seem to be exhausted and trudging near where he stations himself).

Around the corner, down the road, and over to the Gell Center, I'm moving well enough that I'm going to make the cut-off and get my deeply desired second loop.  At the second aid station, I got some friendly banter a chance to try pretzels and Tailwind during a race, and I was off up the hill.  BTW, for me, pretzels are a no for future races.
The course has drastically changed since last year and "the hill" is now spread over nearly three miles.  So, visually the unrunnable section is a short bit near the beginning. And I died.  Something about the first two miles of the climb killed everything.  I would look and see easy running, and rebel almost immediately.  I look down at my watch (something I try to not do during  race) and realize that my 15 minute cutoff buffer had disappeared.  Push harder, run faster, get to the aid station, then get on the next loop.  Mile 9.5 (where I foolishly was looking for the aid station from last year), I glance down again and more time is lost.  Too much time.  I have to move faster than I have that day and I fight to hold back the tears.  
I drop to that stupid slow trudging pace that makes trails miserable.  To slow to be energy efficient, hard on the feet, horrible pace.  Mentally, I'm living to fight another day, but really I was back in self-extraction mode.  I hear a cry go up in the woods "It's Jeff McBeth, happiest guy at Palmer's Pond!"  The aid station has spotted me, and Colin, my Ultra RD daddy has joined that crew.  I clown around, pull the corners of my mouth up, and I'm happy again.
So, I make another stupid decision.  I'm close to the end, I have to be, so blow through the aid station, push to the end. So, I scorned the love and support of those people, pushed through those last miles dehydrated and without any water.  I pull out  some other experimental food (Perogies) and find them amazing.  I run/walk through the next while in a daze and come into the end content and half an hour over the cut-off.
My heart is filled with disappointment and relief that I wasn't going to be given the option to make the bad decision to go back out.  Trotting through the finish, I high five Mort announce I'm going to beat that hill some day, and am shocked to discover I'm not the only marathoner at the finish line.  So many good, powerful, stronger runners are sitting on benches and the grass tired and done.  I'm not alone.
The next four hours was a parade of victory and effort and delight as people come through the finish line having done something truly impressive.  Chris is jumping ahead of everyone, running the most needed and understated aid station ever.  So many people came in desperate for help, and him there with water and ice and aid.  I ask, how many finish lines have you been at where the attention on you ends the moment they get your bib-tag?  Not here!  Best service ever.
The food was wonderful, the company was delightful, the weather refreshing.  I came out of the day surrounded by people and nature invigorated.  Pleased with the friendships, and memories formed, and determined to make the next three weeks really count.
I've heard rumors that they're worried about the marathon. 60% drop rate today, but if allowed, I'll be back repeatedly until I beat this beast. The beauty, and friends, and challenge, and joy are too compelling.