Trying to Overcome an 11+ Year DNF at Pick Your Poison X11


The Great American distance runner Frank Shorter once said: “You have to forget your last marathon before you try another. Your mind can’t know what’s coming.”  New research suggests Shorter is correct. Published in the Journal of Pain Research through Pub Med Central, the study found “that runners forget the pain of a marathon, which allows them to sign up for another”. The researchers explain that memory is reconstructive, which makes it less accurate, and both acute and chronic pain are often misremembered. This is particularly true when pain is induced by positively-valued experiences, such as giving birth. Or running a marathon.

I can’t say I’ve ever had the experience of giving birth. But I have watched my wife. Her labors are super grueling. They are like the toughest ultramarathons of giving birth. We’re talking well beyond the cut off time for most 100 mile ultramarathon races here. She finished. She gave birth. And it was like a year later she was ready to sign up for another one (she wants another baby).

The “famjam”. Taken near Warkworth, New Zealand in 2005.

As her pacer, I remember how long and tough her previous events were. It took so much out of her. It took a lot out of me. Lots of heated blankets, ice chips, back rubs and endless hours of helping her breathe properly through each contraction. When she was ready to sign up again, I tried to remind her of that, asking, “Are you really sure you want to go through this all over again?” Once my wife made up her mind, no amount of reasoning could change that. It was like she couldn’t remember the pain. When our fourth child was born, my wife’s ultra child delivery days were finished. Her bucket list item (which I knew about even when we were dating) got a check mark.

Blessed with a great family

I haven’t given birth, but I have run a big family of ultras. Many ultrarunners regard Pick Your Poison Trail Run as one of the tougher 50k’s in Ontario. All on trail with 1,386 meters (4,587 feet altitude gain). For whatever reason, runners will return for their second, third, fourth or more time. The 2022 Pick Your Poison 12 was my 5th consecutive time. Because of COVID, it has been 3 years since it was last run. Maybe that’s a good thing as it was longer to forget how tough the conditions for the last race was. Due to the fresh snow the night before.

Fresh new snow the night before the 2019 Pick Your Poison race. It was challenging, but so much fun. Photo credit Joe Smith.
Lots of elevation at Pick Your Poison. Photo taken by my wife at the 2017 Pick Your Poison with me (in mid-center of the photo) coming down the ski hill my 4th and final time.

Every year there is something I need to overcome to get to that finish line. Because it is so early in the season, most years it is insufficient training. Thanks to a Run Streak I started at the beginning of the year, this year I had better physical conditioning. But mentally I was struggling so badly. The church that I was lay pastor of for the past 11 years and 4 months (and over 500 sermons shared) was closing in less than a month after Pick Your Poison. The church was established an incredible 171 years ago in 1851 (16 years before Canada became a nation). And 16 years before Hillsdale had a post office. That was all weighing so heavily on my shoulders.

Every year Pick Your Poison has some kind of challenge. Photo was from 2018 when there was so much snow remaining on the course. Such amazing views from that ski hill. In the distance you can see the ski hill of Mt. St. Louis. The course in 2022 was bare and dry. The challenge I faced was more a daunting mental challenge.

During Covid-19, the church ended up closing and reopening 3 times. But when the announcement of a permanent closure came, it shook my foundations to the core. Leaving me feeling extremely defeated. I lost a lot of interest in running long distances and had no desire to run Pick Your Poison on April 30th. Despite the fact that it is by far my favourite race and had been cancelled the previous two years due to Covid-19. It took a couple of runner friends to encourage me to just show up. Get out there and enjoy the beauty of Copeland Forest. Let the forest give you strength. And go from there.

Extremely dear congregation at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church Hillsdale, I preached over 500 messages there over 11+ years. My heart’s desire was to have the church return to it being a central part of our community. Having it close felt like a DNF and took an enormous toll on me.
The church was involved with some amazing causes, such as twice being one of the aid stop locations for Tour for Kids. A cycling tour supporting children fighting childhood cancer. Around 350 cyclists would drop by.
Great advice from running friends. I always come back from Copeland Forest strengthened and renewed.

I decided to take their advice and show up. To avoid crowds I picked up my bib the day before. On race day I just waited in a quiet spot outside until it was time to start. There coming up to the start line I saw my 81 year old ultrarunning legend friend Hans Meir. It was so good to see him again. I learned Hans had prostate surgery only two months prior. Without much training and still healing it was uncertain if he was going to make it. But here he was.

My 81 year old ultrarunning friend Hans Meir.

Hans and I started off together. After a few hundred meters Hans encouraged me to go ahead. Already the surgery was causing issues and he needed to let up a bit. I was torn, but this was what he really wanted. So I went on ahead. Having run this race previously four times, plus with some training on the course it felt like I was running it on autopilot.

Near the beginning of the race, Hans is 2nd from the left. Sue Sitki Photography.

On the third loop I ran a few kilometers with a kind teacher named Stacy. It was really wonderful to have her run with me and have conversation with to pass the time. At the end of the third loop I took my merry time at the aid station. Such great volunteers and I really enjoyed chatting with them. Stacy went on ahead and I never saw her again until the end of the day.

Picture taken with Stacy at the end of the race.

At the next aid station on my final and fourth loop, I asked how Hans was doing. Sadly he didn’t make the cutoff, which meant his race was over. Knowing Hans, I know he will be back next year stronger than ever. For myself I was so grateful for the new race directors who changed the final finishing cutoff to 9 hours from 8 hours. It took an enormous amount of pressure off of me. In the end, of the finishers that finished, I finished 4th last with a time of 8:08:16. It was my 16th ultramarathon finish.

Photo taken just past aid station #3. Sue Sitki Photography.

It was such a wonderful well run event. But strangely enough, I never felt any of the the usual emotions of euphoria after finishing. Nothing. So I decided to head to the car and go home. At the car I changed my mind and went back to redeem my food voucher. In the chalet I met Julie Vallieres, whom I ran with in the 2019 Monarch Ultra relay. It brought me so much joy to see her again. Julie ended up running the 4th loop with Stacy, the lady I ran with on the 3rd loop.

So nice to meet up with Julie again.

For me, a highlight of the day was hearing about a young man named Luke Raz winning the 12.5 kilometer distance and breaking the course record. I ran with Luke’s mom Kristi back in 2018 in the super tough 150k stage race Bad Beaver Ultra. The cool thing with that race was I was able to take the train to Ottawa. Though the train station was a long distance to the start line, Kristi and her husband Michael very generously drove me to the start line. They even kindly hosted me in their home before and after the race.

Sixteen year old Luke Raz won the 12.5 kilometer distance. Plus he broke the course record.

It’s been a strange year. Although I am running regularly, I just haven’t the desire to go to races. Perhaps with our planet facing a climate emergency, I just cannot justify driving long distances to races anymore. Plus I have been experiencing a lot of climate anxiety these days. Fortunately Pick Your Poison is an extremely close drive for me. It was the 1st ultra I ever ran and holds a very special place in my heart. I do however have a 96k on August 6th at a Provincial Park 60k away. I know driving that distance might be nothing for a lot of runners. But for me I am really struggling with this.

Infographic provided by my cycling friend from Mexico, Jesús Guevara. Twenty five years ago, Jesús gave up his own car to lower his carbon footprint. For the past 25 years he has been using his bicycle for transportation in and around Mexico City. Each kilometer a person drives spews 229 grams of C02 into the atmosphere. To run a race that is car dependent, that is a lot of carbon monoxide produced when everyone has to drive.

On Thursday July 28th our planet reached what is known as Earth Overshoot Day. Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity’s demand for biological resources has surpassed what the Earth can regenerate during the entire year. After July 28th the remainder of the year is sadly lived on borrowed time from future generations. Back in the 1960’s there was no such thing as Earth Overshoot Day. Humanity lived within the resources that were generated.

In 2021 our planet used overall what 1.75 Earths. We cannot continue this without paying the price in the future. Earth Overshoot Day has been getting earlier since the 1st one in 1971. Notice on the above graph in 2020 we were able to push the Earth Overshoot Day back a few days. Much of this was to do with Covid-19, when people were not travelling. Image Source

In the last 50 years the earth’s population has more than doubled. But we can’t entirely blame our situation on overpopulation. India is one of the most densely populated countries on earth. Yet it is one of 50 countries in the world that have no Earth Overshoot Day. It lives within it’s means. Something that cannot be said for Canada and the United States. The problem solely lies with the wealthier nations where overconsumption and waste from the population continues to be rampart.

My wife Lynne (centre of photo) was born in India. Celebrating her second birthday with friends over a half a century ago.
Including India, there are 50 counties not listed on this infographic because they do not have an Earth Overshoot Day. Sadly, Canada’s Earth Overshoot Day falls on March 13th and is one of the worst countries in the world. If everyone on earth lived like us in Canada it would take close to 5 planets to sustain itself. Image Source.

It wasn’t something that was done consciously, but in 2020 during the pandemic we were able to push Earth Overshoot Day back a few days. Much of that was to do with less travel. We have the capacity within ourselves to push back that day even further. The website Green Citizen has an excellent article titled “How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint in 21 Practical Ways”. There are simple things such as reducing water use, reducing travel and reducing food waste.

Unless I can carpool or travel by train or bus, I am no longer running races that involve a long drive anymore. Sadly this excludes so many ultras I would love to run. As for the race itself, I will do a lot of research on how sustainable it is. Are there alternative transportation options? Is there a lot of waste generated during the race? Are the races “stuck in their ways” or are they trying to become more sustainable?

From Pick Your Poison Facebook, a photo shows the waste and recycling generated from their event. Their post read, “Sustainability and the environment is very important to the PYP team. It was important for us to operate aid stations as safely as possible during these global health crisis times but we’re very proud to say that after recyclables were extracted, we only generated a single bag of garbage. As you can see, a lot of it is cups. Would you help us move towards being a cupless race if we included a reusable cup in kit pickup bags? How do you feel about this idea?” Thank you Pick Your Poison Trail Run for all your efforts to make the race even more sustainable.

Image is part of a 10 slide presentation on resource depletion.

The earth has a lot of stock, so we can deplete earth for sometime. But we cannot overuse it forever. It’s like with money and finances. We can spend more money than we earn for only a certain period of time. Then we become bankrupt.

Has the planet’s climate emergency prompted you to alter any personal lifestyle decisions such as travel and purchases?

Ever had a race where you were just not mentally into it?

Do you know of any ultras in North America where a runner like me can travel to by means of a regularly scheduled train service?

An excellent 56 second video produced by the Aster Volunteers.

Categories: Environment, Running

10 comments

  1. Congrats on your finish Carl! It’s a great achievement and you should be very proud.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well done Carl. Brilliant effort, and as always I love the tie ins you do with everything else in your writing. Great post. All the best for the Rainbow Trail Run tomorrow! That’s a lot of loops! I’m also running an ultra tomorrow and will be sending positive vibes/thoughts your way.

    PS – oops, I replied to another comment above by mistake instead of commenting on the main post 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • lol…all looked after, Sean. I too often reply to another comment by mistake often as well.

      Thank you so much for reading and for your kind words. Pick Your Poison is such a great race. You are amazing and must have even looked up the Rainbow Trail Run. As I didn’t actually include the name in the post. Supposed to be a hot one, 32C with a humidity index of 40C.

      All the best on your ultra as well. Positive vibes/thoughts in return. 🙌🏃😀

      Like

  3. Hola!

    Great work running after time away from running!

    I suggest watching on Climate Town on YouTube. It’s a climate change themed channel that uncovers the a lot behind climate change ‘jargon’. Don’t be fooled by the words carbon footprint. It was basically created by a fossil fuel company to pass the buck on. It’s a huge eye opener. It’s not a climate change denier channel. Far from. He uncovers the dirty business of the larger corporations, green washing etc. You can help in other ways the planet if you have to drive a lot. There are so many ways to help big or small and they all play a role. Here’s the link to the channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/ClimateTown

    Maybe you could car pool to the your next race or a a few races. If you see the same few people on various courses they’ll be some that live close by or a town or 2 away. You can share the ride there! If not, suggest it to the race organisers to set up a car pool/share service!

    Keep running!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hola, Natalie,

      Thank you for taking the time to read and for sharing your generous comment. I really appreciate this. I watched a couple of the Climate Town videos already, One was on gas prices and the other (which was really interesting) was on American suburbs. He is very entertaining and fun to watch.

      Have always had so much respect for your “gentle on our planet” lifestyle. I’ve never liked the term “carbon footprint” because a lot of people’s concept of it is all over the map. The does make sense if the term was created by a fossil fuel company.

      Carpooling is an excellent idea. Though there isn’t anyone I know nearby, but perhaps a town or two away would still be excellent. I will be very diligent to try and make some connections. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hola Carl!

        I’m happy you checked out Climate Town. He has me chuckling every video and really opens your eyes up to corporations. I hope he was able to settle your mind a little. Collectively against the corporations, the media and green washing maybe the masses can come together and say enough. Sadly it’s only when it’s on people’s doorstep they’ll do something. The American suburbs was really interesting. I always like how he gives advise on how you can help and advise on how to help in town meetings etc. The carbon neutral one is also interesting to watch. Depending on how you view it, it’s a load of poop or has usefulness.

        Just do what you can do locally. It all adds up like a snowball to something bigger with more people joining in (like how got into the this mess)! The more people share ideas on how to care the more it makes it easier for people.

        Thank for the respect (I don’t know how to say it or address it back!)! It’s just something I’ve always done or been aware of the planet.

        If you can’t carpool, don’t worry too much. All the other things to you to help will cancel out (like carbon neutral!) or see it as a treat if you get me. Nobody’s perfect yet we do what we can!

        Like

  4. Thank you for this post, Carl!
    I’m glad you took the time to write it because it explains much of what you have been going through.

    First, the feeling of defeat because your church closed after you tried so hard for 11 years.

    Then, the acute, ever-present feeling of climate anxiety. I can relate to that feeling. While I’m trying to limit my impact on the environment by reducing my consumption as far as possible, I always remind myself to put my trust in God. He will not allow humans to make the Earth inhabitable. This gives me peace of mind.

    I’m so happy that you decided to do the PYP. Congratulations on a successful finish! It’s unfortunate that Hans didn’t make the cut-off, but I’m sure that he will be back next year in new strength.
    So cool that Luke Raz won the 12.5k! I love the background stories that you have about the other participants.

    I hope your 96k yesterday went well, too. I’m looking forward to the recap!

    Take care of yourself, Carl. You’re doing a great job in raising awareness for our planet!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your kind words and taking the time to read, Catrina. It took me awhile to get it written. Hopefully the next one won’t be as long to write.

      Thank you so much for all your efforts to limit your efforts on the environment. We have such an incredible planet. Scary to see it heating up like it is.

      We had one of the hottest days of the year on Saturday with humidity index in the 40’s Celsius. In my 96k, had finished five loops of 12k (60k) but some physical symptoms had me hesitant going out for my 6th loop. So I checked in with the medics. Got to hang out with them for the next 30 minutes while they cooled me down with ice and checked all my vitals on me. After another hour of rest in the shade and getting my electrolytes back I felt ready to head back out. The medics said my colour was a lot better by then. Although they didn’t outright say “Don’t go back out”, they suggested I call it a day. I would have been able to run one (possibly two) more loops. But not 3 to get under the 15 hour cutoff. I still had to deal with that drive back home. Boy just to hop on a train sure would have been nice. So I called it a day.

      I had a lot of fun. It was nice to finally get that first DNF. I really wanted it to happen on a tough race. Eleven starters in the 96k, five finished. I was the third who dropped. 😄

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow! What a tough race, Carl! Less than half finished. I’m looking forward to reading the recap!

    Liked by 1 person

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