I usually don't ramble on about my race reports, but figured that the Ultimate XC deserved one since it was such as wild race! So get comfortable, 'cause it's a long one. Here we go...
"Damn...That was short!" I was talking about my sleep...With a late night of equipment prep for the day's 56km 'adventure', the 4hrs of restless sleep I got had left me wanting more...oh well, I'm sure it's the same for everyone! A quick bite to eat, one last check of my gear-drop bag (to be left at aid station 14.5km/25.6km), a bit of pre-race socializing, some last words from the RD and we were off!
Km0 - Km14.5
As I lingered in in the pack of runners, I couldn't stop to think of my lack of preparation for this race...Would my achilles hold? Would I really drop out if I felt pain come back? Will this be another DV50? Will my stomach take in the required calories? Who are the strong runners here? Will my quads hold up to the 6,000m of +/- elev change? So many questions...
"Come on Phil!" I stopped myself - I picked up the pace and took off after the leaders...
A quick run through Mt Tremblant Village and onto the trail we turned...After a few kms, the pace settled, and I found myself around 6th place, content to stay around 160-165HR, a pace I knew I could sustain over long periods. With 35km runners in the mix until the 14.5km mark, I wasn't sure where I stood in the rankings - I knew I would figure it out eventually.
Aside from my left knee cap (which I bruised hard in a photoshoot last week - fell on a sharp rock!), my body felt great - my achilles was loose and that made me smile...I was cruisin'. After a bit of climbing, the trail took a hard right onto a 'bush' trail and the fun began! It must have been an old guiding or animal trail as it was barely broken in, with lots of forest litter, stumps, rocks, dead leaves, angled terrain, bumps, jumps...Simply - It was awesome! I was moving well and quickly caught up to a few runners that were struggling with the technical terrain - Before I knew it, I had moved into 2nd, and ran with one of the 35km runners - He saw how much fun I was having and quickly pointed out: "Oh, you just wait..."
Around the next corner, the trail took a sharp turn, and we found ourselves running straight into a creek! With no hesitation I jumped in, only to keep sinking to my chest!
This is the only photo evidence I have of the 'creek' section...a photo from one of last year's participants as he wades through one of the deeper sections. No wonder the average race time is so slow in this race...Crazy! (photo credit: Ultimate XC)
For the next 4km, we ran, crawled, walked and waded through varying levels of creek water, climbing over beaver dams, over/under sweepers (fallen trees in water)...and as we moved on from the creek to the river, the terrain switched to extremely slick rocks! (Note: In the pre-race meeting, the RD warned us to follow the markers and stay in the river as running on the shores would result in a 1hr penalty!) The river section seemed endless...the aid station was a welcome site...1.5hrs and 14.5km done!Some of last year's participants enjoying (surviving) the slick rocks - I took a few good biffers here as well but managed to come out without too many damaging bruises! (photo credit: Ultimate XC)
Km14.5 - Km25.6
As I changed my socks and rinsed the sand out of my Speedcross', I noticed the lead runner (who I thought was a 35k-er, take off on the 56km course). "Who's this guy ahead of me?"
"Oh, he's the leader of the 56km!" A volunteer replied
"Shit" I grabbed a protein bar, and ran after him...
David Le Porho (I would learn after the race was over) was cruisin' about 30sec ahead...He disappeared around a corner heading uphill, and that was the last I would see of him for the next 30+kilometres!
This next section involved the first of 3 climbs up to the summit of Mt Tremblant. I felt good and kept a steady pace, trying not to push it too much, but also trying to close the gap on David. The body felt good, my feet were happy and most important, my achilles was doing great! As I reached the summit, the views opened up, exposing the surrounding hills - I took a quick peak...Beautiful! I reached Aid Station 3 (21.3km), and was told that I was 4min back of David...He was climbing well. I didn't linger, took a few sips of water, a banana, a potato and took off down the slope - only 4.5km back down the hill to the bag-drop station. But as I left the summit, I got confused by the signage and had to double back and recheck my direction...an arrow pointing one way, a flag in the other...hmmm, where to go? I figured we had to go downhill, so I took the obvious route, down it is!
What should have been a fast downhill, turned into a painful slog as my stomach started giving me issues from all the pounding. I contemplated taking a 'pit stop' along the way, but hesitated..."I'm losing time" I thought..."Do I stop now, or later"...I rounded the corner to find the Aid Station and a crowd of runners - I guess it will have to wait!
"You're 6 minutes behind the leader" I was told - ugh.
Km25.6 - Km31.2
As I started my 2nd ascent of Mt Tremblant, my stomach was really not happy with me...If it wasn't for passing a few 35k-ers, my mind would have wandered. I wish I had been 'fresh-er' at this point as the sweet singletrack would have been even sweeter! Instead, I walked, ran, walked some more...Eventually, my stomach got the best of me, I deeked off the trail to take care of business...
As I plowed through a freshly cut summit ridge trail, Aid Station 6 (31.2km) appeared in the middle of nowhere...a familiar face, some cheers..."How far ahead is the leader?"
Not bad I figured, considering my pitstop. Off I went back down the mountain!
Km31.2 - Km45: Le Cauchemar [The Nightmare!]
You know it can't be good when a section of the race course is called 'The Nightmare'! That said, the section was hard, but not as bad as I thought it might be - I suppose that after the first creek section, I was expecting the worst - but the worst never came. Instead, a fun, freshly cut and very technical descent led us down the mountain, and out for a 14km loop in the 'sticks' of Tremblant's backside. Twists, turns, dodge, jump, hop, sink...this section had it all!
The 3rd and final assault up Mt Tremblant was painfully slow - My energy was ok, but my legs were starting to feel the length of the race. I plugged away at the climb, walking some steep sections, trying to run the flatter ones. I was in no-mans land. There was nobody out there...
I hadn't thought about my achilles in a while and it dawned on me that it was still holding very well - a bit tight - but holding nonetheless...good news. A few more corners, a little less vegetation - My only entertainment was watching my altimeter tick away at the remaining metres... 2,197m... 2,314m... 2,468m... 2,545m...
"Only 300 to 400m to go Phil - Come on!"
Through the thick bush, I reached Aid Station 8 (45km)- a few dazed runners sat refuelling - I knew only 10km remained..."How far is the leader" I asked.
"Holy shit!" I exclaimed "...only 2 minutes?"
I chugged 3 cups of water - and took off.
Km45 - Km49.2: Ridge run to the final summit
"He's cracking" I thought...For the first time in over 5hrs, I thought I could really win the race! I charged ahead, refueling on the go - My body still had energy, my quads were aching, but overall, I felt good. After 3 or 4kms, I caught a glimpse of David through the trees and knew right away - This is it. I can win!
I ran smooth, making sure not to make any noise or spook him into going into a full on sprint...I was as silent as a singletrack ninja! ;) But the track was too narrow for me to pass and so I just waited...Eventually he caught a glimpse of me - he surged for a bit, but there was no way he would drop me. We popped out in the open on a service road to the summit where two very steep pitches remained to reach the final Aid Station - I pulled up beside David, looked at him and said: "Belle journée, heh?" [Nice day eh?]
He shook his head: "Je suis dans le vrac..." [I'm so done]
I pushed on the gas pedal, and ran up the final 2 pitches without looking back - I guzzled a couple more cups of water at the aid station, took an orange, and headed down the final descent - Mt Tremblant village waited below...
Km49.2 - Km56
As soon as I started down, my quads started cramping - my body was starting to tell me that it had had enough...I few stretch stops seemed to help, but I was running scared now - not sure how far back or how quickly David was going to run down the hill. I tried to keep a steady pace, and was encouraged to meet more and more hikers coming up the popular hiking trail - La Grande Brulée - "Can't be far now"
A few more turns and jumps down the fun track and the top of the village appeared - A quick look back - nobody was in sight...
I crossed the line in 6h34:13 besting last year's record of 7h18...Honestly, my big goal at Ultimate XC was to test my achilles, and come out of it without aggravating it more - so mission accomplished! The fact that I was able to pull off the win was fantastic, as any win is always good 'pour le moral'. As for the course record, well, I'll take that as the cherry on top!
Thanks to everyone for the emails, notes and encouragements along the way!
Full Results Here
Salomon Kit: From bottom to top...SpeedCross 2 trail runners, EXO compression calf sleeves, EXO short tights, EXO tank top, Advanced Skin 5 (pack), 2x 1.5L bladders (one on course), 1 extra pair of socks, Suunto T6 watch - Check out my movescount download of the race
David Le Porho, and myself post race...Smiling for the cameras.
Post race - Taking off the Exo is not as easy as you would think...As for my trail shoes, my Speedcross 2's took a beating, and after a solid 300km's of racing (only), I retired them in the local garbage bin!
Nothing like chillin' in downtown Montreal in the nice afternoon sun...Not much else I could do anyways!