Al Wong photography

 

Al Wong photography

 

They were lofty goals but so is running across Canada in record time. The Lord hates a coward and I was asking for collective support from all the running gods to see to a good race this week in Glendale AZ.

This was my first crack at the historic six-day race and the first to admit I had no bloody clue what to expect.
The race started at 9 am on Dec. 28th. The race course has very few but noticeable undulations around a 1.04-mile loop around pretty baseball diamonds and a pond. The majority of the surface is packed dirt with gravel and few spaces of asphalt, concrete and new to this year a super shitty section of loads of pea gravel. I started running with the lead group of runners that were entered in the 24-hour race. Most runners start a 24 hour way too fast and just as suspected within a few hours I was leading out the entire race altogether. Now my distance for 24 hours is 160 miles so my goal of running 125 miles on day one was a very conservative one but that didn’t stop the comments suggesting that if I knew what was best for me I best slow down. Sharon as always was standing trackside every 10 or so minutes to hand me food and drink. Now you have to understand that if you think running for six days is exhausting, try crewing! Sleep deprived you need to think ahead to solve problems and manage your runner. Outside terrible midnight math Sharon made few mistakes and was direct with her messaging and directives. Being direct is hugely important as this shows confidence and control and when she displays this it gets mirrored in my running. Alongside her, my parents Nancy and Randy Proctor came by every day to help. I’ll be honest, I was a bit concerned about this as my mother tends to be a constant worry about my wellbeing. If she sees me go south I thought she might lose it but on the contrary, she witnessed me in turmoil a few times but stood tall and busied herself creating solutions like making me avocado sandwiches. My dad was a pillar of strength with two things: he was in charge of tracking data and was meticulous with it; second he was the loudest man on the track chatting up everyone telling them that he is Dave Proctor’s father. He was very proud and what boy doesn’t stand on the edge of the diving board saying dad look at me, look at me. This made me glow and only run better. The two things that stood out about day one was how hot the day got given me being Albertan I wasn’t acclimatized to the 25-degree temperatures. And how very much I hated that damn pea gravel section and the fine Arizona dust that got into everything. Having never been concerned about blisters before, I felt a fluid-filled monster forming on each of my big toes giving me great concern. I shut it down at 3:30 am about 115 miles into day one. Then woke up to Sharon’s alarm at 7 am,  disorientated I rolled out from an RV generously loaned to us for the first 2 days from Nicole Foster, one of the 48-hour runners. After hammering a coffee I finished up day one in the nice crisp desert morning with 125 miles – very happy with the first 24-hour’s work.

After pulling myself out of the warm RV early in the morning, I remember telling myself “This is what this looks like and breaking records ain’t for the sleepyheads.” At 9 am a new group of eager misfits started with dreams of grandeur. Today was the day I was to break the Canadian 48-hour record held by Trishul Cherns from 1995 of 355.8kms. The morning rolled as planned with a heavy focus on eating a lot. When high noon was upon us the 25-degree weather beat down on us but knowing we only had another 5 hours of daylight reminded me to not waste any valuable hours to run in the sun and put up more mileage. I remember around 2 pm for the first time needing to stop and remove the laces from my top loop on my left shoe in order to accommodate my swelling foot. At the time I remember thinking that this must be a tendon swelling or something. There was a manageable pain in the foot/ankle at that time. Throughout the day my pace was very steady and I felt very much in control. The comments from other runners from before of concern of pace now shifted into positive messages and a lot of ‘that-a-boy’. When the night hit the cool felt nice on my body but the thoughts of running deep into the morning left a sharp taste. This was the first time I plugged my music on to tune out and ride the midnight train. The night ended for me at 3:00 am with a total of 212 miles. After caring for the monstrous blisters that looked like 2 extra big toes, I got 3.5 hours of sleep but slept terribly! I was in a cold sweat most the night. In hindsight, I now know this was an infection and my body’s response to it. Sadly I woke up not rested at 7:00 am to run 2 hours before the official 48-hour bell sounded. The record was only 9 miles away. The mornings in Arizona are a beautiful time to run especially knowing within hours I would break the Canadian 48-hour record and be able to cross one of three goals off this week’s list. After resting my legs for the night my pace was solid and was able to complete the 48 hours in 360 km –  a new Canadian record!

Al Wong photography
Day three at 9:00 am started well running with a fresh new group of runners entered in either 24-hr, 48-hr, or 72-hour races. My pace and energy were solid for the first couple hours until right around 11 am I started noticing my pace was slipping and my lap times were hitting the 13-15 minute range instead of the 10-12 I’ve been used to. I decided on the fly to take a 10-minute lie down break every 10 laps. I was very strict that the time not be longer than 10 minutes as I still had a schedule to hit. Sleep deprivation was hitting me hard and I would tend to fall asleep every time I would rest. This would kill two birds, one I would quicken my pace between rests to 10-11 minutes per lap and number two it gave me something tangible to look forward to lessen the size of bites I’d have to take. This plan of attack brought me well into the night hours. At this point, my fueling had been excellent. I was filling up on smoothies, sandwiches, bacon, peanut butter cookies, protein powder, and applesauce. I was drinking Skratch, iced tea, coffee, and the occasional sip of my dad’s beer. I was regularly taking vitamin B and as well a new natural supplement I have been experimenting with in the past 3 months. In my experience, this natural supplement has made all the difference in the world when it comes to ultra-endurance. Explaining this product deserves its own post which will come soon into the future.
Al Wong photography
Something I learnt about myself during this run is that with sleep I can pretty much do anything, without sleep I am reduced to a rotten pumpkin. At midnight I looked at my daily mileage and realized that if I were to get the 100 miles I wanted I would have to run late into the morning and only get about two hours sleep. With the night I had previous I thought it best to run up to 300 miles and catch some much-needed shut-eye. The miles leading up to the 300-mile mark were run with droopy eyes but as I inched closer to that mark I started receiving countless comments from runners on and off the track. They said they have been running these races for years but this is the first time they have witnessed a runner exceeding 300 miles by day 4. A few mentioned they predicted me breaking Joe Fejes ATY record of 555 miles. This made me smile and when I laid down to rest at 3:30 am I knew I could get 4 hours before waking at 7:30 am to close out day 3 and break the 72-hour record. This night’s rest was better than the night prior but still, I awoke a couple times with a cold sweat.
Al Wong photography
Great Canadian running history was top of mind at 7:30 the next morning to round out day 3. The 72-hour open record was about to become mine. This record was the oldest standing Canadian running record that stood strong since 1881 from Richard Lacouse. Yes, this is a pedestrian record!! This is an incredibly colourful history of running between the 1860’s to the 1890’s more information can be found here and here. Looping the course in the morning I remember imagining what it must have been like to accomplish these feats 136 years ago with subpar footwear, clothing, and nutrition. When I broke the record I realized I have time to run one more lap and that would be my official 72-hour number. Now I know it’s silly but my 24-hour Canadian record is 257.093kms and will be a number I forever will memorize. After running back onto the course for one last loop I started doing the math. The loop is 1.04 miles and there is 1.61 km in a mile so as I started doing the math I got super pissed off! My number that I’d be left with as my new Canadian record will be 499.9 km!!!!! NOOOO!!!!! It was to my absolute delight that upon completing that lap and being terrible at math that my number was 500.1 km. HOORAY!!! Now on to day 4. This day brought a new and enlarged group onto the track as most runners in any distance want to run over the New Year and this day marking the 31st on the calendar is just that day. My pace was consistent and I decided to stick to the 10 laps 10-minute rest schedule. Around 11 am I remember stopping to again further loosen another shoelace loop from my left foot. At this point, my foot was throbbing all the time and I had no mobility with it. For whatever reason, this didn’t strike me as odd and just continued thinking I just had an inflamed tendon. Today I drank a lot of green smoothies and ate a lot of everything. Not once in this race did I ever feel queasy.
Al Wong photography
In the early afternoon, I had a sit down with Sharon and my parents. I told them that I think we need a change in plans. At this point, I was already feeling super tired and sleepy and started realizing that if I were to keep up the pace I was going I would end up with 540-580 miles. I simply didn’t want to bury myself in a hole too deep that it’d take months to get back out of with the Outrun Rare TransCanadian speed record attempt coming up in June. We decided as a group that if we claw back our daily mileage to 75 miles per day that would still put me in striking distance of the Canadian 6-day record of 540 miles but allow for longer nights in bed. With our new plan in mind, we ran into the night counting down the hours until midnight and 2018.
Now 4 days in the fine dust on the course filled my throat and lungs and that damn pea gravel section just wouldn’t go away. My feet would ache with anticipation when approaching the bend with the loose gravel knowing there were sharp stings of pain every step across it. At this point, I got to know all the other runners on the course and had some incredible conversations. The runners, volunteers (Ron!), and those working the timing of this event make this the happiest race going. I truly made great friendships and got to know some superhumans. For that, I am so very grateful! By the time 10:00 pm rolled around, I very quickly started bobbing and wobbling, I needed sleep and I needed it yesterday. Sharon saw this from aways out and walked out to gather me. She told me it was night time and even though it was still two hours away from midnight and celebrating New Years I was very okay with that. She told me that with a full nights sleep she suspects I would get up and crush it tomorrow.
This night’s sleep was a disaster! I can still describe to you three vivid dreams I had. I woke up countless times in a cold sweat, kicking and screaming. I remember my left foot pulsating and throbbing and even recall sleepwalking. At 5:00 am I lied there fully awake telling Sharon about my dreams. Sharon asked me what the single number one thing I wanted most in the world was and I told her a hot shower. All I remember is she said okay and quickly jumped into the front seat and started driving the van. When we stopped I looked over as I laid on my back still in the rear of the van and saw a Denny’s sign. I quickly fell back asleep. I awoke when Sharon opened the sliding door and handed me 3 pancakes, 4 eggs, and 6 slices of bacon. She tells me you have 20 minutes to eat all of this. I devoured the food lying on my back. The next thing I know we have pulled up to the condo we were staying at. I rushed upstairs and into the hot shower. Bloody hell that felt like heaven. In this shower, I found motivation where all I could think about is how quickly can I get back to the track. All was good until I looked down and for the first time noticed my right knee was twice the size of my left knee. WHAT?! When did that happen?! I got dressed in a new set of clothes, this felt glorious and we rushed back to the van and back to the track. I lied down in the back to get any extra rest I could but I felt so thirsty for miles that all I could do was fantasize about getting back running. We got back around 7:30 am and noticed the legend Ed Ettinghausen who was in second place used the time I was away to chisel away at the lead I had on him. I jumped out of the van and started running. I was so excited that I realized I forgot my ankle chip reader so I circled back to get it. Chip on the ankle I started looping and looping. I saw 10 minutes, 10 minutes, 10 minutes, 10 minutes like a metronome all at a very comfortable effort. About 2 hours into running I started feeling a burning pain in my right anterior/lateral knee. This was the first time in the past 4 plus days that I felt concern about my body not holding up. The fact that it was more of a burning sensation reminded me of previous tears. I started having the very real conversation with myself about the importance of not leaving this weekend with an injury that’d keep me out for more than 4 weeks. Doing a self-assessment I pegged this recovery if I stopped now at being no longer then 3-4 weeks but if I continued it could be 3-4 months. I had a brief conversation with Sharon about this and decided to stop to see massage therapist Kerri English Wagensveld for her advice. She massaged my hip and leg and it was there I decided to no longer go on. I chose to hand in my ankle chip so I wouldn’t have a change of heart and get back on the course. I left the course 4 days and a couple hours in at 373 miles and in the end was still good for 3rd place in the 6-day race.
Al Wong photography
That night I went to the hospital and discovered I had a major infection in my left toe and foot. The fact that I could run as well as I did with that foot for as long as I did is a testament. After day one blisters that damn sore must have got infected by the gobs of fine dust on the course. My thoughts are that the infection and compensation in my hips created a loading that drove my right ITB and Patellar tendon and brought on the minor tear. I’m now on antibiotics to fight the infection.
Many have asked am I happy with my performance. F* yeah I am!!! My fitness and flow out there on the course brought a crazy amount of confidence into 2018 with Outrun Rare. I have never in a race felt as in control and comfortable with my pacing. The fact that things went pear-shaped on day 5 is a part of the sport and to think I would nail my first 6-day race the first time out is fool hearted. The 6-day record isn’t going anywhere and I am definitely making plans to go get it.
Al Wong photography

 

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