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Clay Williams Ultra Runner

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Stories from the trail

Posted by Clay Williams on September 11, 2012 at 4:15 PM

After participating in the Haliburton forest 100 mile trail run for four years in a row as a participant, this year’s participation was as a volunteer. I let Helen, the race director, know in the summer that I would be happy to help out, and was assigned to aid station 5. A.S.5 is located about 24 km from the start/finish for the runners, but only about 14 km by road. I arrived the afternoon before the race and pitched my tent right next to the aid station. My brand new Coleman Instant Tent was very easy to set up, and “guaranteed” waterproof. I should have read the fine print. The rain started around midnight, and by the time I got up on race day, there were already a few puddles in the tent. Rain continued until mid afternoon, took a short break, and then continued until late evening. Fortunately it didn’t rain during the night and we were able to dry the wrinkles out of our hands by the fire. The temperature went down to 4°C overnight, and then the sun came out in full force on Sunday morning.

I started out the day wearing flip flops because I knew that my shoes were going to get soaked in the rain. As the rain continued, my flip flops kept getting stuck to the surface of the mud that surrounded the aid station, and I heard more than one runner say: “Who lost a shoe?” I changed to my running shoes and tied them on securely.

Unofficially, I heard that 54 runners started the 100 mile race, and only 22 finished within the cut-off time of 30 hours. There were also 50 mile, 50 km, 26 km, and 13 km races on the same weekend, same course. My aid station saw the 26km runners once, the 50 km and 50 mile runners twice, and the 100 mile runners four times. Considering that it rained for the first 6 or seven hours of the race, causing a lot of mud and chafing and foot issues, I would characterize this race as a day of victories. Anyone who was able to commit and start the race on that day had already won a victory over their own doubts and concerns. There were so many personal stories that were unfolding that weekend that I don’t think I can remember even the small amount that I was part of, but here are a few of them, just in “bullet” form. I’ve deleted a few names, because I don’t really have permission to write about them, and I’m not sure if they want their names out there, and I’ll apologize in advance for only giving you a tiny glimpse into some very powerful situations.

- - I met Jack Judge when I ran a 92km race called Conquer the Canuck on 2007. Now in his early 70’s (I think), he ran steady for 53 miles, but realized he would be too slow to meet the cut-off. Everyone who knows him was hoping and helping to make this his year, but he recorded his 7th DNF in a row at this race. My hat comes off to Jack for his steadfast perseverance. How could you not respect a man who has pursued this 100 mile belt buckle with such focus?

- - I young lady, running around the same pace as Jack also ended her race around the 50 mile mark because she knew she wouldn’t make the 30 hour cut off. Being soaked by the rain had caused a lot of unexpected and unwelcome chafing. (I’m VERY familiar with this problem after last month’s race). She told me she would almost certainly be back next year to try again.

- - Ibrahim had finished this race in 2011 in about 29 hours, just ahead of his brother. He came into Aid Station 5 looking a little disoriented and moving a little slowly. We helped him remove his shoes and socks so he could shake out the rocks, and put them back on again. It seemed clear to me as he continued on to #4 that he would not make it to the finish line before the cut-off. Don from aid station # 2 joined him for the last 10km, and he finished his second 100 mile run about 3-1/2 hours past the cut-off. No belt buckle, but certainly a victory!

- - Another 100 mile runner walked into our aid station after 85 miles, saying that his ankles were very sore, but only when he put weight on them. He sat for a while, looking very defeated, and we successfully encouraged him to get up, get out of the aid station, and continue on. About 20 minutes later he returned, and let us know his race was over. I drove him back to the base, a very somber, quiet 20 minute drive.

- - Around mid day on Saturday, the 26km runners were arriving and turning around at our aid station. One 26 km runner near the lead ran into the aid station, looked at the two tables full of water, HEED, E-load, watermelon, chips, bananas, nuts, pop, and sandwiches and said in a kind of abrupt tone: “Where’s all your stuff?” Confused, one of the aid station guys simply said: “What do you want?”. He answered “Uh, I, uh,HEED.”, Answer: “It’s right here.”, Runner: “I’ll have water.”. He grabbed a cup of water, drank it, and ran out of the aid station, leaving us a little puzzled about what he had originally been looking for.

- - Another runner, a lady, finished her race at 15 miles, overcome by asthma, very angry about her situation.

- - Another lady runner had to leave the race at 35 miles, physically beat by the mud and rain and hills, and emotionally devastated that her race was over, the dream lost for this year. Her friend consoled her and gave her a shoulder to cry on before getting a ride back to base.

- - Quite a few of the people I saw during the race said something along the lines of: “Oh, it’s Clay, I didn’t recognize you without your running gear on!”

- - Very close to the time when we knew it was going to be really hard to beat the finish time cut off, Frank walked into our aid station. His friends and family were there to support him and keep him supplied at the aid stations, but he was moving pretty slowly and it was doubtful that he would be able make the last 25km in time. Oliver, one of the guys that was taking care of the aid station with me, put on his running gear, and PROMISED to get Frank across the finish line before the cut-off. I stood at the finish line and watched, almost in tears, as Frank and Oliver approached. Oliver stopped a couple hundred feet short of the line, and Frank sprinted across, 4 minutes before the cut-off.

- - Kinga came into the aid station after 85 miles, wearing headphones and listening to tunes. It must have been loud because I shouted a hello and she didn’t respond. As we were filling up her bottles she asked if we had seen the kangaroo mice, because she had seen some on the trail. Then she looked at a table that was under our tent and said: “Is that a mouse? Yeah, THERE”S ONE THERE!! Look! See it!” She sounded a little freaked out, so I looked and sure enough saw a little brown and white Feifel-like mouse standing licking away at something on the table. We both made frantic moves to shoo it away, and it casually walked off of the table. Kinga then asked me to mix her black coffee and chicken soup into the same cup, knocked it back, and ran out of the aid station.

- - The winning runner, Jonathan, lost his brother after a lengthy illness 3 days before the race. His brother had circled the event on his calendar, knowing how important it was to John. John dedicated the run to his brother, and not only finished the 100 miles, but won the race, more than an hour ahead of the second place runner.

- - Paul was unable to finish the 100 mile run in 2010, and then was unable to start in 2011 because he had to attend his father’s funeral. At the pre-race pasta dinner, he told us that he was dedicating his run this year to his father. Part way through the race, he took a wrong turn and missed a 10 km loop around MacDonald Lake, so had to run that missed loop near the end of his run. He came into our aid station after 85 miles, looking tired and sore, and very close to the cut-off time. With family and friends to support him, he finished with 15 minutes to spare, and celebrated at the finish line with a bottle of champagne.

- - A pair of runners came into our aid station after 65 miles, and told us that there was a runner coming after them who was moving really really slowly, and gave us his race bib number. We were more than a little anxious about his safety because it was already well after sunset, and the temperature was dropping. After about 90 minutes, we saw a light approaching slowly, and it was our missing runner. He came into the aid station, happy to see someone, and told us his race was over. We wrapped him in an emergency blanket and let him sit by the fire for a while to warm up, then one of the guys drove him back to the base.

- - Scott ran his 9th 100 miler of the year. He ran into our aid station with Catherine, got a couple fluid refills, and changed batteries in his head lamp and Catherine’s hand held light, but didn’t have enough batteries for Catherine’s head lamp. I had some spares, offered them to him, and when I saw that they were both struggling with dexterity in the cold, helped them make the battery change. I found out later Catherine’s scheduled pace runner didn’t join her for the run, so Scott ran the entire distance with her, walked the last 100 feet so she could cross the finish line alone. He said he felt that he may have been able to go a little faster but had committed to stay with her for the entire run.

- - Joe had run for 24 hours at Dirty Girls, four weeks earlier. I had a chance to talk with him during that race, and was very flattered that he had read my race report from last year’s 100 mile run, and was inspired to make the attempt himself. I saw him in my aid station after 15 miles and he looked great. The next time I saw him, he was sitting at the picnic table in our aid station, explaining that his race was over after 35 miles, he just had nothing left in his legs. I tried to encourage him, but he was certain he wouldn’t go on, and humbly apologized to me for leaving the race.

I really wish I could have spent more time with each of these guys. It takes a special sort of vision and energy to commit to this sort of endeavor, and it really is contagious. Every single one of the runners who set out that day to challenge their limits is a hero to me.

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