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Clay Williams Ultra Runner

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Still hard for me to believe

Posted by Clay Williams on August 18, 2014 at 10:45 AM

I remember ending last year’s Dirty Girls 48 Hour Trail Run and thinking (and saying) that taking second place male was the high point of my running “career” and that it was a really good note to retire on. At the time I had just started a company and really needed to focus on building something that would be a solid retirement vehicle for me. Isn’t it strange how things change with time? By the end of November my weekly running mileage was nicely ramped down, I had sold my company, and had accepted a very nice offer to start a new service division, Canada-wide, for a company based in Oakville. Then I got an email saying that registration was open for Dirty Girls run “alumni”. And it all started again. But this time with a new goal; I secretly thought that I could train hard enough, and perform well enough on race day to win this thing. If everything went right, if I wasn’t one of the many people who had to pull out due to foot trouble or stomach trouble or the recurrence of an old injury, or, or, or. So I registered again, and felt pretty confident that I could work hard enough to earn a at least a “podium finish”, and kept the first place dream quiet. After all, people in this sport, especially folks who aren’t really the front runners, just don’t talk about winning races. It’s probably not polite, or something. So I put together a training plan and stuck to it. The one enhancement that I made that I think paid off was a lot of hill training. OK, not really hill training, dragging a tire while I ran, usually as my third run on weekends, and for up to two hours at a time. I don’t think it helped me make many friends in the neighborhood because dragging a tire makes dogs bark (go figure), but it got me used to maintaining a running stride, however slow, even while I felt super tired and sore. And I focused a little more on weight loss, dropping another 10 lbs this year.

Three days before race day, I spent a half day running as a guide for blind runner Rhonda-Marie Avery during her attempt to run the full length of the Bruce Trail. During our morning briefing, each of the guides was encouraged to set a goal, something to stretch us a little, and to tell others the goal to give us more accountability. So I shared my goal of finishing first in the 48 hour race, something I had done with very few people, and it DEFINITELY gave that goal more power.

The trip up to Mansfield, the check-in, the pre-race meal, and overnight camping were not significantly different than previous years, with one minor exception: I had rice instead of pasta in an effort to stay gluten free, at least before the run.

I remember early on in the run that I felt really good running up most of the smaller and less steep hills, but still took plenty of opportunity to walk and get off of the running stride for rests. I also remember peeing a lot, so I must have been pretty well hydrated. During the first 8 laps I stumbled a few times and fell once. I remember after I fell the first thing I did was look behind me to see if anyone saw me fall. Fortunately the fall didn’t hurt me and I was able to go on without skipping a beat. Through the first 22 hours my pace was gradually slowing down, but I was also consistently 7-10 minutes faster per 8 km lap than last year. By early morning Saturday I was in third place, and by late morning I was in second overall. As my pace continued to slow, I was pretty sure that the runners who had taken longer breaks would certainly catch up and pass me, but I wasn’t going to give it up easily. Every time I found myself struggling, I would ask myself: “what would the winner of this race be doing right now?” I had never been in a position to even think like this before, but I found it would help me get past the temporary pain or lack of air, or whatever the issue was. I took another break around 3:30 on Saturday afternoon, then Al Storie joined me as my pacer. Christine and Al had showed up around 2pm, and the plan was for Al to take me to the buckle (200 km) and for Christine to take me to the podium, it was definitely going to take a team effort. So I ran, then eventually trudged with Al for 16 km, had a short rest, then another 16 km, completing 200 km around 11:30 Saturday night. Three hours faster than last year. I remember a few times Al asking me: “do you want to run here?” as we came to a downhill section, and the only response I could muster was: “no”. Then it was time for Christine to take me to the podium. I had seen that Jeff was back on the course, and had run past me and up a big hill in front of me (impressive!!) so we stopped at the timing table to see who was where on the course. I was certainly not in full charge of my faculties by then, so Carter and Christine got the status, and decided that instead of my scheduled 30 minute break, I would have to take a 10 minute break if I wanted to continue to lead the men. I remember Maryka saying something like: “Clay, you’re racing with Jeff Ashizowa!”, and I really knew I was racing not just running, it was VERY exciting! So I took a 10 minute break, and when I got up I was cold and damp and shivering, my legs were a little sore, my feet were VERY sore. I refilled my water bottle, and Christine led me into the darkness again. The next two laps (16k) felt ok, I was getting mentally tired, losing my concentration once in a while resulting in a little bit of wandering (ok staggering), but I remained determined to keep moving to stay in the lead. At 216 km, we stopped in at the timing table again to see what was up, and learned that I had a solid lead of the men. Jenn was a couple of laps ahead of me but I was more than ok with a young lady just over half my age being ahead of me.

I took a nice 30 minute break, actually got some sleep, and awoke mentally refreshed, if not physically. I was now very sore almost all over, especially my blistered feet, so I did one more long slow lap with Christine so that I could say I ran further than ever before, and called it quits at 225 km, 46 hours, 30 minutes or so. Before crossing the start/finish, I stopped at my tent, grabbed my Canadian flag, and waved the flag as I always do as I ran across the line for the final time. Diane presented me with my third 200 km belt buckle. It seems so distant now because I was so tired, but I’ve looked at that buckle every day since I got it, and actually wondered to myself how I could keep moving for 200 km….

I slept for about an hour while Carter packed up most of the gear. I’ve done a couple of long solo runs and I know how much of a burden it is to clean up and pack up after an event, so I’m really grateful for his help. I got up around 7:45 am, helped Carter to finish packing the tent and sleeping gear, and said thanks and goodbye to Christine and Al before they headed home, it was hard to find words to describe the gratitude I felt for their help with this adventure. Just as we were putting the last of the equipment into the truck, Andrea brought over the “First Place Male” medal for me, a little pewter square with the words “dirty runner” on the back, and on the front: “1st Place Male 48 Hours dirty girls run 2014”. That was absolutely the proudest moment in my running career. I know, I know, it was a small race (only 15 runners at the starting line), and the big competitors were at other races, and I got beat by a girl (a trend this summer it seems). But I’ve got a plaque that says: “1st place male” from the longest trail run in the Ontario Ultra Series, and I’m pretty happy with that.

 

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