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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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?