Home > recovery, Ultras > Race Report: Niagara Ultra

Race Report: Niagara Ultra

Yes, yes, this race was back in June… I still wanted to do an official write-up of this race before I wrote about the 20in24.

The Niagara 50k:

This race was on the Ontario side of the Niagara River on Saturday June 26th. I took a long weekend and left Philadelphia Thursday after work. I hopped up to Bald Eagle State park and set up my tent for the night. I got there at 12:30am or so. Fortunately, my new tent is super easy to set up alone. (I love my tent. It’s a Marmot Limelight 3, so I can use it for backpacking or bike camping if I ever get around to doing that, and it’s perfectly roomy for a 1 person tent, especially because I am 5’2″.) On Friday, I hopped up to Four Mile Creek State Park in New York. This campsite was only about 30 minutes from my race destination. The race started at 7:00am on Saturday. I left the campsite at 5:30am, because I was worried about the border crossing. The lady who checked me out heard about the race, and when I said I was doing 50k (31miles) said “I would never run over a half marathon!!”. The course was an out-and-back course which started at Niagara-on-the-Lake and followed a bike path up to the turn-around just above the falls (for the 50k). I got to the start early enough to get a decent parking spot. The lady who directed me to the spot was super nice and encouraging. When I walked by her on the way to registration we chatted a bit more, me mentioning it was my first Ultra. Check in goes smoothly, the race shirts are amazing red sweatshirts! I can’t wait until it’s cold enough for me to wear it. The starting line is pretty nondescript, just a timing pad to go over, heading into a grass field. Everyone at the start is pretty chill, there aren’t that many of us. The race director starts us using a megaphone. We get to the bike path after a mile. At about mile 2, I’m thinking “What the freak is wrong with me? I’m on vacation and I chose to get up at 5am this morning, and I’m trying to run 31 miles. What the hell?! I could totally quit now, and no-one would care.” Then I reassured myself that I was not warmed up yet, I would feel much better by mile 5, and I can’t quit now that I’ve started. I’m trying to run slowly because I’m treating this race as a training run. I started to mix in walking after 20 minutes of running. One guy who passed me while I was walking commented “Lady Death Strike, that’s scary!” he’s barefoot. When I pass him when I picked up the pace and was running, I reassure him that Lady Death Strike is merely the name of my Ultimate team (I was wearing the white version of the jersey). At kilometer 12, there’s a sweet hill. I love hills! I try to jog up it, over taking some people, but do walk for a minute or two. The lady from the parking lot is cheering at the base of the hill, and she recognizes me and says how strong I look. I think this will be a good hill to run down at the end. All along the road we are following are some ice wine vineyards. I note the interesting ones to perhaps visit after the race is over. We pass between the giant power plant building and the river gorge, which is awesome. The building is covered in ivy, and the view of the turbines is pretty decent, though there is not shade. We pass the botanical gardens. Somewhere around the power plant, I think, the leading guy in the marathon passes me. They started at 7:30am. I’m excited to see the first few women who pass me for the marathon and try to cheer them all (women and men) on (until there were too many to guess what place they were in). Even though it’s getting later in the day, the heat isn’t too bad. The course is pretty shady except at a few sections. When I pass the marathon turn around point, I feel proud to be one of the crazy ones who’s doing the 50k. There are suddenly fewer people on the course. The ones who have already turned back are really encouraging “You look great!” “You too!” “You’re almost at the turn-around!” The turn around is in the midst of the tourist section, so it’s time to dodge tourists who are more focused on their cameras than a few crazy runners with numbers on them. One lady asks how far the races is? “It’s about 15 miles up ahead when I turn around, then I get to head back for a total of 31 miles!” Wheee! I feel really awesome now. The falls are freaking beautiful. The spray from the falls is cooling. The turn around is literally at the top of the falls, so you get a great view of everything. I reach the turn-around at exactly 3 hours. Now just to maintain my pace for 15.5 more miles… some of the people behind me are really struggling. We only have 7 hours to finish the race, I’m pretty sure some of them are not going to make the cut-off. When I get back to the marathon turn around, I catch up to some of the slow marathoners who I’m able to pass (Score! Motivation!). I’m worried I haven’t consumed enough calories because I haven’t really eaten any of my gels, I tasted one and threw most of it out because that was NOT what I wanted at that moment. I get some ginger ale at a few of the rest stations, and it’s good ginger ale, not the weak version Seagram’s and Canada Dry have become recently (I’m totally writing a letter of complaint: Dear Seagram’s, why does your ginger ale verge on tasting like 7up? I need more ginger!). I pass the power station, and am ready for the hill! I think I can run the whole way down, but the experts don’t lie when they say going downhill is hard on your quads. I have to stop for a bit to give my muscles a break from the pounding. Two people I hoped to stay ahead of pass me at the bottom of the hill. Damn. I keep running relatively strong. Lots of walking breaks. I am around a group of people when we pass the marathon mark (42k), and get excited to be still running! Officially the longest I’ve ever gone! Soon though it gets as painful to walk as it is to run. WTF? I was leapfrogging with two guys and one says about my observation that walking hurts as much as running: “It’s so painful because we are so close to the end!” The final mile marker was ahead, and I managed to run the whole last mile (and stay ahead of the people who I was leapfrogging with). I try to smile at the camera as I turn down the final 100m dash. I think I pick up the pace again, and make sure to pass over both timing mats. Slowing to a stop, I get my medal and some dude takes the chip off my shoe. Success!! I didn’t see the exact time, and I forgot to stop my watch when I stopped running, but I know I finished at about 6:15. I was aiming for 6, but I am happy with the time. When I check later, the official time is 6:16:17. I stagger into the food location, grab some pizza and coke, and go outside to cheer on more people. Eventually I decide it’s time to shower and move along, and on my way back to the car, the lady from the beginning of the day spots me! She says I looked really strong at the finish, and congratulated me, and asked about my trip in general. I think she was impressed I came all the way to Canada by myself to run a 50k. Talking to her was a great way to finish off my first Ultra, especially one in a different country when I knew no one. The shower unfortunately was not right next to the food. I managed to stay upright and get clean. Fresh clothing and no dried salt on my face made a world of difference. My plan for the rest of the day was to go some place along the Niagara Gorge and rest in the shade and finish my book. Getting back into the car was nice, and I drove along the road where I just ran to get to one of the parks. It was interesting to see where I just ran from the perspective of an air-conditioned vehicle. I passed one winery I had spotted on my run, and made a quick decision to stop in. Instead of spending money on any touristy stuff (I had been debating trying to do the Maid of the Mist in the afternoon if I felt alright) I was going to buy the region specialty, ice wine. The wine was phenomenal. If you haven’t had ice wine, you gotta try it. The grapes are left on the vine to freeze, which concentrates the sugars and adds lots of complexity to the flavor. With the ice wine successfully purchased, it was time to find a place and be horizontal. I found a sweet spot I had noticed while running which was right on the gorge and far enough off the road so the cars didn’t dominate the background buzz. I noticed there was an entrance to a trail that lead down into the gorge, and I played with the idea of talking a nice slow descent to the river, but ended up just reading. I talked to my mom and she thought I was crazy to even consider a trip down into the gorge. I guess that’s just something to do next time I go to that region.

So the wrap up: First 15.5 miles in 3 hours, which is about 11:30min/mile pace. Second half in 3:16 which is about at 12:30min/mile pace. Ideally I wouldn’t slow down that much, but c’est la vie. I finished, and I still had energy to contemplate a hike down into the Niagara gorge! An overall success.

The rest of the weekend was spent relaxing at my campsites. I stayed in the same campsite Saturday night, had a sweet fire going. The campground was on the edge of Lake Michigan, so I spent some quality night-time sitting on the edge of the lake, trying to discern Toronto in the distance. I headed back to PA on Sunday, setting up camp at Little Pine State Park, which was beautiful!! Took about an hours easy hike Sunday evening, and got to see a bald eagle and its rather large baby (baby in that it was born this year, it was flying around like a pro). This campground was really tucked into the mountains. I couldn’t get good cellphone service, and the “highways” to get you there were just back country roads. It looked like there were a variety of good hiking trails you could take from the campsite, so definitely a location I would visit again.

On the recovery: I didn’t feel very sore the day of this race, nor during the next few days. I was running slower than when I ran the Philadelphia marathon, but I ran for longer, so why did I recover easier? And I think I was in more pain at moments during the race. All I can say is I didn’t go wrong by laying down on the grass and reading for a few hours, nor by doing an approximately 30 minute meander around my campsite in the evening.Nor by walking a decent amount on Day 2. I want to see how I recover after running another marathon at a similar pace to Philly 2009 because I want to disprove to myself what Hal Higdon said in his recovery week for the marathon training plan I was following. He said to not do ANYTHING for three days after your race, and on day 4 you could jog again. I don’t have the exact plan in front of me, but I got the impression he didn’t even encourage walking for those first few days. In my life of activity, I feel like I recover better after a hard workout when I do light activity the next day. I can only base these findings on how I feel, and maybe I’m wrong, but I think Hal saying don’t do ANYTHING but rest on Monday after a marathon, and rest-rest-rest on the next couple of days might be putting too much value in sitting. I think the guide I need to follow for myself is to make sure I leave more time for sleep on the days after a race, but I should keep moving at different periods of the day. Not sprinting, obviously, but I could walk home from work (3 miles) if I felt up to it.

Categories: recovery, Ultras
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