You’re a Strange Animal, Haliburton

Starting line, 5:58 a.m.

Starting line, 5:58 a.m.

Sometimes I don’t know what to make of this crazy sport. Why we’re drawn to take part in such an extreme activity.

Blisters, fractures, torn ligaments, twisted ankles, dehydration, hypothermia, renal failure… Sounds like a fun weekend, right?

We could join a book club. Take tango lessons. Help out in a soup kitchen.

But no. We run through a forest for 24 hours. A forest crawling with bears and wolves and bone-grinding hills.

Haliburton Forest race (13)

This year, I promised myself I’d run Haliburton for fun. Not to podium, Not to P.B., not to beat some random number on a clock. Of course, when I learned, after 35 miles, that I was running 4th, something primal went CLICK inside my brain.

Me, after 57 miles

Me, after 57 miles

Suddenly I HAD to maintain that position! It seemed the most important thing in the world.

Palestine/Israel? Don’t waste my time.

Melting ice caps? Sorry; can’t hear you!

4th place – now THAT’S worth fighting for!

It always shocks me, how self-absorbed I become on the trail. I turn into this weird creature. A strange animal.

Trail races can be frustrating because it’s impossible to see your closest competitor. They could be ten kilometers behind you, or they might be 100 paces back. There’s no way of knowing. The only thing you can do is run as fast as you can.

Forest race course (1)

I ran hard through the afternoon and banked some good mileage. Sunshine slanted through the trees, and then it got dark and I pulled on my tights and jacket and headlamp. At a certain point, my stomach gave out. I couldn’t get any food into me. Finally I realized my problem. I needed salt! I gobbled a bunch of e-caps and drank gallons of e-load, and a few minutes later my appetite returned. Suddenly I was ravenous! I snorfed down bananas, sweet potatoes, pressure-treated lumber, Uniroyal snow tires…

At 9 p.m. a full moon rose into the sky. It was blood orange at first, and then it turned white. Every time I looked up, it was in a different place. Wind blew through the trees. The forest felt haunted.

Moonrise (2)

My favourite moment occurred at Aid Station #6. After force-feeding me some of his world-famous burritos, Gary Black turned to me and said, “So Dave, how do you feel about bears?”

A bear had been spotted nearby on the trail. I put on my brave pants and jogged back into the night, singing Katy Perry tunes at the top of my lungs.

An hour later, I stopped to pee. I was happy to be peeing. It meant my kidneys were still working.

And they're off...

Eventually I got to the 75-mile aid station. The volunteers cheered and banged cowbells and plied me with food. I was mostly animal now, but I still remembered some English, so I thanked them and gave the luckier ones a sweaty hug.

As I stood there chatting, I was reminded what makes this sport so great. Ultra-running is probably the only sport in the world where the participants are constantly told that they are awesome. It doesn’t happen in bowling. Probably doesn’t happen in the NFL either. But in ultra-running you hear it all the time. You are awesome. The volunteers kept saying it to me, God knows why. I’d done nothing to earn their praise. Quite the opposite. They were the awesome ones! They could’ve spent the day relaxing on a verandah with a book, but instead they were out here in the middle of a forest, being abused by cranky runners, filling water bottles and swabbing blisters and picking paper cups and sticky gel wrappers off the ground!

Haliburton Forest race (11)

And then there were the ultra volunteers; the ones who’d sacrificed their entire vacations to make this race happen; the ones who’d planted 100 miles worth of flags, couriered supplies, negotiated sponsorships, and dealt with the finances. I’m talking about the Helen Malmbers and Don Kuzenkos and Gary Blacks and Merle Tubmans of the world. The people who sweat this race into being year after year. There are others, of course, and you know who are. Please know that your tireless work does not go unnoticed. You are awesome.

One of the aid stations along the course

After the 75 mile aid station, the trail doubles back on itself, which means you get to pass the people behind you. After running 2 kilometers I passed my closest competitor, who was still on his way out to the turn-around.

You are awesome!’ he shouted as he flashed by.

“No, YOU’RE awesome!” I called back. And he truly is. A lovely guy.

It was a shame that I was going to have to crush him.

I thought about him often as I ran, and the fact that he was a mere 4 kilometers behind. It didn’t seem like much of a cushion, considering I still had 40 kilometers left to run. Every time I slowed down to walk up a hill, I imagined him bounding over the hills behind me like a gazelle. He was steadily gaining ground, I felt sure. That’s why I did what I did.

What did I do? Something I’m not proud of. At 3 a.m., and with five kilometers left to run, the animal inside me took control. I doused my headlamp and ran in the dark. It wasn’t easy, but the full moon helped, and the logging road was fairly smooth and easy to follow.

Why did I do this? So my pursuer wouldn’t see my light. If he saw my light, he’d be filled with hope, and doubtless would try to pass me. I couldn’t let that happen. I needed to extinguish all his hope. That’s right – I’m the hope-killer.

The hope-killer

The hope-killer

See that face? Looks friendly, doesn’t it? Don’t be fooled. It’s the face of a beast.

Even though I’d been determined to run this race just for fun, I couldn’t, in the end, allow my pursuer to claim fourth place. To that end, I became conniving, fox-like. I truly did become a strange animal.

That’s the thing about the 100 mile race. You think it’s going to be an adventure. You think you’re going to Hogwarts or something. But when you get there, you find you’re in Mordor instead.

It’s not Disneyland out there; it’s Lord of the Flies.

That’s what makes the sport so great. After 30 miles, and mountains of pain, something goes CLICK inside your mind. You’re still human, and you’re awesome, but the animal is off its leash. It’s not something we get to see very often.

Morning at the lake

Photos by: My talented brother Andy

7 thoughts on “You’re a Strange Animal, Haliburton

  1. Dear Hope-Killer, I love your brave pants. Your husky bear voice made AS2 Laugh for hours. Your bounding spirit always inspires. And I am happy I was on your team along the Bruce, not the next competitor. I love that not seeing them coming is the thing that eats you up… That’s my selfish note. That’s my reality every day. Dodging danger more than competitor however. (you know, parked cars, mailboxes, dumb drivers, dogs, recycle boxes) David you are an inspiration to us all. Your family was wonderful to meet along the way. I’m so proud to know you and call you a hope killer… Someday I promise you this… I will chase you through haliburton forest, in the dark, with the bears, miles back, yelling… MARCO!!!!! oh and one last thing…. YOU. ARE. AWESOME!!!! much love, rm

  2. So very well expressed Dave – pressure treated lumber, Uniroyal tires and all 🙂 You made me laugh out loud you beast! 😀

    Congrats on an amazing finish. If it’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, you can never take ANY finish for granted – let alone a 4th place!!!

  3. David, I have had the privilege (and I sincerely mean privilege) to be at the Haliburton Forest 100 mile finish line for the past two years to welcome runners home. At the finish line no one finishes expressing better the joy of the 100 miles as you do. And incredibly after 20 hours of running at a exceptional pace! There is a buzz around the fire ( a fire not only to keep crew warm over night but to have a beacon of light at the finish line at 2AM for finishers to see) when we anticipate your arrival ! The crew loved when you told us of your tactic of turning of your light….the beast at its’ best ! Congratulations from a trail runner who has yet to venture on a 50 miler let alone 100 miles but is in awe of what you do exceptionally well. You produced an outstanding Haliburton Forest race. Thank you for taking us with you in your blog.

  4. Great read, yes we are a strange animal. I have shared your thoughts many times at Haliburton and it was great to read them again, congrats you animal, Jim Morrison.

  5. that was me you crushed 🙂 and I enjoyed it! awesome race David… I’ve signed up for Fat Dog 120 in BC so I’m unsure of my participation at Haliburton in 2015 but hopefully can see you there in 2016! I tell all my friends that the guy I met at mile 73 is the nicest dude I’ve raced with!! you rock. I didn’t bother turning my light off because I walked the last 40KM … you crushed me! Another runner did yet again try to crush me at mile 99.9…this time it didn’t work 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s