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Clay Williams Ultra Runner


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Vindication at Conquer the Canuck

Posted by Clay Williams on June 12, 2017 at 4:05 AM Comments comments (1)

When I registered for this event (50 km Saturday, 42.2 km Sunday), I wasn't sure I would do very well because it was to be two weeks after I ran 200 miles. But it turned out to be not quite so. It was two weeks after I crashed and burned at Sulphur Springs and ran only 150 of the 200 miles. And four weeks prior to that I had run only 71 miles of my 90 mile target distance at O24 in Ohio. So by the time I started the Ultimate Canuck, I was feeling far less than confident that I was much of a runner any more. I suppose that sounds extreme, but I had started to think that I was just getting older, and getting slower was just the result of aging, and maybe I just didn't have what it takes anymore.

When I started the run on Saturday morning, I really wanted to know if my poor performance at O24 was really due to my back pain, and at Sulphur was due to my cold, because those were the excuses I was using. In the first 50 km stage I ran solid for the first 25 km, uphills, flats, everything, because I knew that when I started to walk my back would start to hurt. And I felt great. I walked a few hills in later laps, and a few flat sections due to back pain, but stopped at the aid station during a later lap to stretch and massage my back with a lacrosse ball. Even though it was a slow 50k, I still felt pretty good at the end of the day.

Day two was really my vindication. I HAD TO keep running as long as I could, not so much to record a good finishing time, but more to really see how far that was, and keep up the power walk thing when I became too sore to run. The heat definitely slowed my metabolism down, but I kept the slow loping run going for the first 25 km, and power walked the hills, and stayed moving without overheating. By 35 km or so my feet and lower legs were getting sore. I took this as a good sign, I was pushing hard enough that at least SOME muscles were getting overworked. The day was beautiful, sunny, warm, light breeze, and I was so happy with my run that I had my headphones cranked up high and was signing out loud most of the last lap. (sorry for that image) It felt REALLY good to be thinking only of the finish line, not mentally exploring excuses to quit. It just felt really good to be able to make my body do what I wanted it to do.

As I ran across the finish line, Thunderstruck was blaring in my earbuds, and I was waving the Canadian flag. I was in my happy place and I thought: "yeah, I'm a runner."

Sulphur Springs 200 mile run

Posted by Clay Williams on May 29, 2017 at 6:35 AM Comments comments (0)

May 29, 2017. The day after the race. I’m not sure I have the words to describe everything that went on this weekend but I’ll try, in Bullet form. Had a cold, worse than I thought. Registered for a 200 mile race, only brought enough equipment and supplies for a 100 miler. Set up Wednesday evening, slept in the RV the night before the race. Up early as always, finished setting up. Rain. Raccoons ate some of my energy balls, and my breakfast bagel, frickin’ raccoons. I always have a bagel for my long run. Dang. Jennifer-Anne arrived, we reviewed the “Champion Inspired Race Plan”. Rain. Race started at noon. Rain. Ran first loop (20 km) with Debbie and Gar, good pace, felt strong. Ran second lap alone, lungs failed me, heart racing and gasping for air on every hill. Stupid cold virus! Legs are strong, minor back pain, can’t breathe. Ran lap 3 alone, fast as I could, still slow. Still raining. Ran lap 4. Still too slow, by now I know I won’t finish 200 miles by the cut-off. I cut the course, skipping the “lollipop” loop and head up the hill to quit. Eat, sleep, dry clothes, crew says keep going. I agree, if I can still do a lap in 4 hours or less I still have a chance. I confess to cutting the lollipop, go out and run the little loop before Lizzie joins me a for loop. I push hard, work, misery, pain, 4:40 loop. Not enough. Not nearly fast enough to get in 200 miles. I’m defeated. Destroyed. Done. I shower, I even forgot to bring my toiletries kit, change into my jeans, cotton instead of spandex, ready to help crew for any other runner who needs. It was after my defeat, after all my own expectations, my own plans had failed, that magic started to happen. Clay to Race Director Tim: “A 100 km DNF is the same as a 280 km DNF”. No, it’s not. And Rhonda’s speech. Practiced and prepared? Not sure. Effective and heart wrenching? Absolutely. I had been carrying, in my backpack, a flag. THE flag. With a couple hundred signatures of people who were counting on me to help carry just a little part of their burdens. I have been and continue to be a strong advocate for mental health, and have made a commitment to be an example for those who are struggling, even displaying the Defeat Depression / Canal Pursuit banner on my backpack. And after many many discussions with RMA about running as work or for a cause or out of duty, she suggested maybe I could just run for me, for fun, and find the beauty in all that’s around me, take pictures, talk with people. I was going to earn a DNF, but maybe I could still have some fun, run, the sport that I love, the activity that I love, with friends. She made me cry. She’s the biggest bully I know. Rain stopped. Got dressed to run, brought my camera. Ran lap 6 with Lizzy, talked with everyone I saw, took pictures, selfies, ran comfortable. Finished the lap in 3:45, only 5 minutes slower than my last “misery” lap. Lap 7 with Lizzy. Lap 8 with Jeff. Lap 9 with Keith. Lap 10 with April. Lap 11 with Adam, joined by a young lady named Erica for the last half. Sleep, good sleep finally, warm, mostly dry, solid sleep. Sunday morning up at 6am, dirty running clothes on, I had run out of clean clothes. Oatmeal, energy drink, coffee, pack ready, who are my pacers? April and Melanie Boultbee, and Charlotte Vasarhelyi. Wow wow wow! Charlotte, who has been my inspiration for years, representing our country internationally, doing multi day races, a tough young lady. And the twins April and Mel, fast and furious without cars. We ran my last lap together and it was totally magic. My 240 km lap (in spite of what the corrected incorrect timing chip results say). I still couldn’t breathe going up hills, but I hauled butt on the flats and downhills. I felt GREAT, HAPPY, BLISSFUL, it was an amazing loop. Part way through the lollipop I heard that Rhonda was running with Steven on his last loop and I cried again. How perfect is that, Steven’s huge success, huge conquest, and in his moment of victory he is with his soul mate, “love you to Pluto”, I was so happy to hear that. On the last loop I passed every runner that I saw ahead of me. The steam roller, slowly overtaking and moving them down. I saw Gar and David on the loillipop, still going, plenty of time to finish. So happy for them. Ran the entire downhill side of the lollipop, on a roll, on a mission. If I’m going to try to be an inspiration I have to do something that people will take note of and remember. Bottom of the Martin Road hill, I’m going to run this hill. I’ve never run this hill, NOBODY runs this hill on their last lap, and some people never run this hill at all. I ran the full length of the hill, and recorded my fastest loop since loop 1. Negative negative splits. Connors runners, ALL of them who were still at the site, walked down the hill to cheer me on. I cried. I rounded the corner to run the lane into the finish line. 240 km. No buckle. No medallion. But huge cheers, I cried more. 7 loops running FOR ME. 7 loops of bliss, not self destruction, not a single blister, legs feel amazing, looking forward to a very short recovery and my next race. Words are not enough to express how grateful I am to Jennifer-Anne for being just amazing, styling with the rolled down rubber boots, and appropriating appropriate supplies. Rhonda-Marie for knowing me so well and being able to reach me. Joan Van Hilton to coming all the way down to crew for me, I’m so sorry that I thought Jennifer would need some backup. And the pace runners, Lizzy “FREEDOM!!!”, Jeff, Keith, April, Adam, Mel, and Charlotte, it was awesome to get to know each of you a little better, some of you a lot better. This past weekend, with rain, then sun, sleeping on a blanket in the ants, screaming knee pain, Rhonda’s elbow to my butt (um back), and an amazing victory lap has brought me more joy than I’ve experienced in a long long time. I had packed a post-race bag with jeans and a belt without a buckle. I didn’t earn the buckle, but I lived a once in a lifetime weekend with amazing friends and saw some of those friends accomplish amazing things. Life is so good.


Then what?

Posted by Clay Williams on September 28, 2016 at 6:45 AM Comments comments (1)

I was lying on my back on the living room floor around 4:30 this morning, wondering what to do next. I had just finished a few dozen crunches and bicycle crunches, stretching out my lower back, and rolling on a lacrosse ball to loosen up a knot in my upper back. I'm on a break from running for a while, an undetermined length of "while", and my training calendar is wide open from Sep 23rd onward. I promised my wife that I would stick to shorter races like marathons, but I haven't thought out the details of that yet, and I'm kind of drifting in the wind. I also know that I should work on a better level of "overall" fitness; although I may have legs like a clydesdale, I've got the upper body strength of a third grader (a STRONG third grader, mind you). I've got a membership at a gym that is only 900 meters from my house and I haven't used it for a few months. Sounds like I have the means, the motive, and the opportunity, but I need to make a plan. I've done very few things in my life without having a plan in place first. Some plans have been pretty sketchy, but there have been plans. And anyone who has been to the gym will know that unles you have a goal or target toward which the plan takes you, then it's pretty tough to keep motivated enough to keep at it. And I love planning, I love putting together the little steps, the little feedback points, quality checks, minor course corrections along the way, timing, tracking, and investigating all of the little things that will have an impact on the plan. Things like the OUTRace schedule, timing of local races, statutory holidays, adventures of friends that I want to join, outside temperature, and business trips. SO I've come to the conclusion that I need to figure out where I want to be next year, what I want to do next year, then figure out what I need to do to get there, then how to do what I need to do. Looks like I've got a good couple of weeks of planning ahead. And I love planning (did I mention that?). Time to get off the floor and get moving.....

Back to work after Canal Pursuit 2016

Posted by Clay Williams on September 26, 2016 at 9:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Sep 25, 2 days after. I woke up around 5 am, before the alarm went off, and couldn’t get back to sleep. I took the entire morning to clean my office and finish unpacking the RV. All the while I was feeling a little on edge, constantly checking my phone for social media activity, feeling a little hungry the entire time, a little like there was something missing. I had a few small meals, a cup of soup, some tuna salad, maybe too much coffee. My muscles felt great, no soreness, no stiffness, just the usual lack of range of motion that I always have from not stretching enough. I take a break after every few trips back and forth to the RV, the stairs seem a little higher than usual today and I'm winded easily. I made pasta and sauce for dinner and we settled in to watch a movie while we ate, then I ate chips and cake and seaweed chips, and I had to force myself to stop eating, I was voracious. I headed to bed at my usual 7:30 bedtime, and as I checked social media and played a little solitaire, I had a strong feeling that I was missing something, missing the simplicity of the road, the habits that I had formed over the previous two weeks. Checking my gear, posting media, running, left, right, left, right, beathe, breathe, eat. Long straight stretches of pavement, loose gravel shoulders, stones in my shoes, anticipating seeing the sign for the next lock, conversation about important things, about meaningless things, funny things, sometimes running alone with only my own thoughts and doubts and fears, minor body pains for ten minutes at a time, hot skin as the sun comes up, the smell of sweat and insect repellent and sunscreen, taking pictures of anything unusual / funny / interesting / beautiful, looking forward to the night’s meal, where will I be able to shower, how cold will it be in the RV tonight, Julie-Anne patiently correcting me or completing my sentence as my tired mind draws blanks instead of word pictures, no idle time, always doing, doing something, planning something, preparing for something.

Sept 26, This morning I find myself preparing for work, hectic busy stressful rewarding, maybe a good temporary replacement for long hours of physical demand. Maybe a busy work day is the best way to shake this addiction to the high of the daily challenge to run far. I definitely need activity; sitting on the sofa didn’t feel right at all.

Canal Pursuit Route and Pace Runners!!

Posted by Clay Williams on June 25, 2015 at 12:00 AM Comments comments (0)

The route is pretty well finished now with a few tweaks to be made over the next few weeks. We will be in touch with pace runners about our expected timing and locations to meet at. We can still use a few more pace runners during the week so if you would like to be part of this epic, historical run, just let us know and our crew chief will be in touch. Thanks!


Tuesday Mornings

Posted by Clay Williams on January 6, 2015 at 12:40 AM Comments comments (0)

Tuesday has been a special day for me for the past eight or nine years. On Tuesday evenings, through most of the year, I help organize and support a small group of people who are taking the Alpha course at my church, a program for new Christians and seekers. And just during the past year, Tuesday morning has become an equally special day. Since I usually go for a long run or two in the weekend, I often find myself making an excuse not to run on Mondays. I’m sore, I don’t want to get an overuse injury, I need recovery time, I need to catch up at work, ow my Achilles tendon hurts, oh is that knee pain, I don’t FEEL like getting dressed to run. So Tuesday morning is a MUST day for running. I face the same doubts and pains and excuses on Tuesdays, but there’s much more of an imperative to get out because I can’t fool myself into thinking I’ll go for an evening run. I’ve run the same route for almost a year now, and have a routine that seldom varies much…..

The alarm nudges me out of slumber, like someone in a distant conversation saying my name. Confused I wonder what the issue is. The alarm gets louder, slapping me to wakefulness, commanding me to move my limbs to make it stop, reach, push the button. Deep breath, roll onto my back, gently push the blankets aside so that I don’t disturb my sweetheart. In a ritual that I've repeated thousands of times I bring my left knee to my chest, hold for 30 seconds, pulling up my pelvis as much as possible. Then do the same for the right. Then a slow rotating lower back stretch to the left, hold for 30 seconds, then the right. Then flat on my back, pull both knees to my chest tighten the core, hold for 30 seconds, slowly, carefully straighten up, then sit up, stand up, hope for no back pain. My knees and ankles snap and crack as they start to bear my weight after the long rest. I close the door as quietly as possible as I leave the bedroom, and go across the hall to “my office”, the place where all my stuff is. My business, by clothes, my running things, my computer stuff, photography stuff, my stuff. I pop my pills; glucosamine, multivitamin, vitamin D, bitter cherry, and wash it down with a power drink. Turn on the laptop, enter the password then visit the washroom with Playbook in hand (Blackberry Playbook, not Playboy). There’s just enough time to start loading podcasts to listen to during my 70 minute drive to and from work. CBC As It Happens, Urban Christian News Network, Food Channel, BBC Biz Daily, TED talk, Beachbody coach podcast. Then I spend as little time as possible checking Facebook, Twitter, email, Linkedin, trying not to get sucked into a funny cat video or treadmill fails series. Most important, check the Weather Network so I can run into the wind for the first part of my run, and have the wind at my back for the last. Mix a quick protein shake, and drink it as I’m getting dressed. Base layer, tech layer, cotton layer, windbreaker, reflective top layer, house key in my left pocket, cellphone in my right ready to start my running app. LED light in my left hand, I head out the door, set the target distance to 16 km and press Start. Running west, slowly at first, loosening up, shaking out the cobwebs, I remember to take care just past the next door neighbor’s driveway, there’s a raised sidewalk block where I tripped and fell once. Feet lifted high, slight incline, not breathing yet, remind myself to breathe, breathe more! A couple hundred meters and I’m out onto the main road, overhanging branches, keep my head down, standing water on the sidewalk keep my feet up, watch for ice. When it’s bad on the sidewalk I’ll run on the street, it’s safe on the street except for the cars. Getting close to the first church, running app says “one kil-o’-meter in 6 minutes xx seconds, expected finish time 1 hour xx minutes”. Yikes, I was a little slower than I thought, I should pick up the pace. Turn right at the lights, watch for drivers running the red light, another slight uphill, breathing better now. Second church, two kilometers, that’s better, this is going to be a good run. Going past the next tree, watch out for the raised sidewalk block where I tripped and fell once, 54 year-olds aren’t made for falling down.

Left turn at the stop sign, country road now, narrow shoulder, watch for cars, the road is flat, the footing is good, my mind can wander now. Step and breathe, exhale for two steps, inhale for two steps, repeat. What’s going on at work today? How can I prepare? Who do I need to talk with? What do I need to say? What’s my sweetheart doing today? Does she need any help? What’s that pain in my foot? Good, it’s gone now. Oh a hill, breathe a little more, slow down a touch, pick it up again at the top, keep stepping and breathing. Right turn at the stop sign, watch for cars coming up the hill too fast, watch for cars turning right that don’t see pedestrians out here. Look for the Mighty Mouse statue, there it is, almost half way. Over one more little rise and 8 km done, half way, feeling much better now than at the start, warmed up, equilibrium reached, tuned, relaxed, time to push a little more, pick it up for the second half, negative splits, push just a little more, a little more. 12 km slight uphill, it feels steeper than it looks, can’t slow down, I can rest when I get to the top. Nice! A Mennonite horse-drawn buggy, if it’s a heavy load I can try to keep up or keep ahead. Wow, they’re going faster than I hoped, try to keep up, push a little more, keep pushing, open up my stride, stretch it out some, feels great! Wow, can’t breathe now, that took more effort than I thought, but I did it for a while, I kept up for a while, I’m good with that. 14 km, two small hills in the last 2 km, need to keep up the pace, finish strong, don’t give in to the urge to walk, the best benefit of this run is in these last two km, keep running, keep pushing, forget the aching, it won’t get any worse than this, it’ll go away when I’m finished. Turn right at the lights, run through the ruts, don’t turn an ankle, keep up the pace, right at the lights again, then across the street so I’m facing oncoming traffic. Two more little hills to go, just keep up the pace, I’m stronger than this hill, I’m tougher than this minor fatigue, I’m the master of this body, this machine that I’m driving. Finish strong! Running app says: “fifteen kilometers”, one last hill, it’s just a little incline, keep running, keep pushing, I can recover when I’m at home, finish the last km faster than the first, go, go, go!! “You have reached your goal” says the small voice from my running app. Yeah baby, negative splits, second half was 4 minutes faster than the first, THAT’S what I’m talkin’ about! I’m alive now, slow to a walking pace for the last 50 meters, I’m ready for whatever the day brings me.


Runner's Injuries

Posted by Clay Williams on December 17, 2014 at 6:55 AM Comments comments (0)

If you’ve been running for a couple of years or more, or if you have runners in your circle of friends, you certainly know that there is a variety of injuries and illnesses that can sideline a runner. I know from talking with people over the years about my running adventures that there are A LOT of people who have had to give up running altogether because of injuries. Injuries like shin splints, plantar fasciitis, achilles tendonitis, knee pain, iliotibial band syndrome, arthritis, and back pain. I’ve had most of those injuries, and have been blessed with the ability to overcome them and keep moving. I’ve often asked for advice about these injuries; asked other runners, asked my chiropractor, my doctor, even a sports physician at one point, asked someone I trust. There wasn’t any sort of thought that admitting to these injuries was going to change the way people would relate to me or socialize with me. It was just me being honest and open about what was going on. And most of the time I’ve received advice that was useful, especially the advice from people who had experienced the same problem or really understood what I was talking about.

I know a few people (yup, a few) who have had bad falls resulting in concussions, and have had to take some time away from running to recover. I know about it because they’ve been ok with talking about it, in person and on social media.

Sometimes, after I’ve worked very hard to reach a goal, like after training for months to be able to run a race faster than the previous year, after finishing the run sometimes I get into a funk. Is that a running injury? I think so. I know that December is often a tough month for me to stay positive and motivated. I call that my Black Dog, the one that I have to tame and keep behind me instead of in front of me. This Black Dog used to have the ability to convince me that the cold is too cold to run in, that the aching knee is too sore to run on, that it won’t do me any harm to miss a workout, then the next one, then the next one. I’ve had this “injury” enough times now that I know what it looks like, what it feels like. But I’ve never talked about it much. I’m The Guy, the type A personality, the one who puts in the crazy long miles, the one who has enough self motivation to keep a bus moving, how could I possibly let anyone know that my mojo is gone? Over the past couple of years, I’ve been able to talk about it a little more, I’ve been in an environment where it’s been ok to “expose” that part of me. And just like the times that I’ve sought advice about physical injuries, I’ve been able to latch on to little bits of good advice about these emotional injuries, and like my other running injuries, I’ve been able to overcome them. The treatment that works best for me? Get moving, set a new goal, aim at a new target, move towards the light.

The message here? Talk with someone you trust, don't suffer in silence, don't let the problem get worse by not taking care of it.

What did your Black Dog look like? How did you tame him? I’d love to hear from you.

[email protected]


For all you Ultra Runners

Posted by Clay Williams on November 14, 2014 at 4:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Let’s talk about the Black Dog.

In 2011, the World Health Organization ran a depression awareness campaign that included a video about the “Black Dog” named Depression. Many of you ultra runners, especially those who have run 100 miles or more, have seen that Black Dog. Some only during the darkest part of the night during a long run, some on multi-day runs, and some between runs when there’s not an immediate goal or finish line in sight.

I have definitely seen the Black Dog, and I think a significant part of completing a really long race is learning how to deal with it when it arrives. I’m not a therapist or counselor, but I may be talking with a lot of people next summer about depression; I’ll be running a big fundraiser, so I’d like to learn more. And what’s motivating me is the thought that it would be cool to find a way to help new ultra runners to cope with the Black Dog when they see it for the first time. And wouldn’t it be cool if I could learn some things to help regular folks to deal with it in their everyday lives?

With that all said (written), I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours. I’m putting my story out there in public, how a felt, how a reacted, how I received help, and I’d like you to message me with your story. I will absolutely keep it confidential unless you tell me otherwise. Maybe it will give me some insight into the difference between self-inflicted depression and other depression, and hopefully will give me some insight about dealing with it so I can share with others (again anonymously of course). Maybe it will help you to share your experience by making you look at it and analyze it.

My email address is at the end of my story….

As I mentioned, I’ve seen the black dog myself, and not just during long runs. My wife, my daughter, and my sister all suffer from depression, and my two oldest brothers took their own lives. I have been in situations where a negative thought process takes over, self-defeating, energy-sapping, making me want to close out the rest of the world. Sometimes I have reached out for help or advice, sometimes I haven’t. The times that I HAVE reached out and spoken with someone about it, I have NEVER been met with any sort of negative response. Responses have always been encouraging and helpful.

The first time in a race was during my second 100 mile trail run. After running for about 18 hours on really tough forest trails, it was 2am, it was physically dark, and I was cold, hungry and exhausted. I was walking with a pacer (my pacer extraordinaire, you know who you are), my world was lit only by a little lamp on my head that lit a four foot wide piece of trail in front of me. In between aid stations my world spiraled down into a small prison of pain, exhaustion, unending hills and rocks and roots, and uncertainty that my body could carry me to the next aid station. Even though I had done this same race the year before, and was in better physical condition, the mental “darkness” simply consumed me, and allowed me to convince myself that I couldn’t go on, that it was better for me to quit, give up, and just be a loser. I can only describe the feeling as “dark”, I had never felt that way before, it was just a consuming darkness. I remember spending at least an hour convincing myself that I would feel ok with recording a DNF, as long as I could just stop the race and go to sleep somewhere. But my pacer could see where I was, could see that I was in a bad place. And I think my son, and the folks at the next aid station could too. They all reached out to me, trying to convince me I was going to be fine. I was very adamant that I wasn’t fine. I’ve heard depression described as trying to peel a potato using another potato. And when you talk to someone about your trouble, they say “you really need a potato peeler!” and they just give you another potato. I felt like that, I was being given another potato, and I just wanted to quit and hide. But they kept encouraging me, and eventually I got up from my chair at the aid station to prove that if I stood up I would just fall over. But I didn’t fall, so I walked a little to prove that I couldn’t walk far, then I ran, and after another 15 miles I finished the race feeling strong again.

What did your Black Dog look like? How did you tame him? I’d love to hear from you.

[email protected]

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Still hard for me to believe

Posted by Clay Williams on August 18, 2014 at 10:45 AM Comments comments (0)

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.


Second Place Male

Posted by Clay Williams on August 15, 2013 at 11:35 AM Comments comments (1)

Here’s a little write-up about my experience running the 2013 Dirty Girls 48 hour trail race in Mansfield, Ontario. It’s a trail race on an 8 km loop on a very hilly piece of real estate (there’s a ski hill across the road).

My preparation for this race was a lot different than for last year’s race. Last year I spent a lot of time in the gym, working on leg strength, and I think that really helped me a lot with the hills. But this year, the only training that was beyond regular running was dragging a tire around the high school track next door. But I have to admit I spent a lot of time with that tire; sprints, running backwards, carrying it while doing lunges, and a lot of 5 and 10 mile runs dragging it around. The sound of the tire scraping along the gravel track was like a sound track for exhausting workouts. I put on quite a bit of muscle and took off a lot of fat this year as well.

But I was still uncertain at the starting line if it was the right mix of training to get me past 200 km. I had set a goal in December to finish in the top three in this year’s race. My past experience had told me that I don’t run fast enough to place well in shorter races, but was able to stay awake and moving consistently for last year’s event, and I was hoping to be able to do it again, for just a little longer. However, by the time June rolled around, I lost a lot of hope of making that goal after I looked at the registration list for the race and realized that the folks I would be competing against were much quicker than me, and with proven track records. And by the time race day came around, I had only half the crew that I had last year. I’m a high maintenance guy, so this was pretty discouraging for me. But it turned out that Christine and Carter were all the help I needed, along with the race volunteers. But I’ll get into that a little later.

The weather for the weekend was great, highs in the mid 20’s and lows in the low teens. My sympathies go out to the volunteers who stood and sat around at aid stations through the cold damp nights, I know it’s tough to stay warm when you’re not moving around so much.

So, at 8am Friday morning the race started, 23 of us were starting our adventure. There were a few memorable things that happened during the first three laps. I tripped and fell twice, and stumbled more times than I can count, but fortunately didn’t get hurt at all, except for my pride. And at least three people mentioned how slim I looked. That was a huge boost for me; I had wanted to lose weight so that I didn’t have to carry so much around the track, and this was an affirmation that a lot of the belly was gone and had been replaced by muscle.

By late afternoon, I was starting to have minor stomach issues, and a major chafing issue, and they both persisted for the rest of the race. As the first night came on, I put on my head lamp and a light jacket and kept plodding along, and by the time I was half way through my first lap in the dark I realised my batteries were really low and I could hardly see the trail. Mental note for future runs: put fresh batteries in the light, period. When I got to the start/finish, Carter changed out my batteries, topped up my drink and electrolytes and rushed me out of the aid station. I can still hear his voice: “Get going!” he said it so many times.

I knew some of the other runners had planned to spend several hours sleeping during the nights, so I felt really good about continuing to plod along as they slept. Anything to give me some small advantage because I didn’t have the speed. I took my first short 30 minute nap on Saturday morning, then three 20 minute naps during the day and Saturday night. By late afternoon, Carter told me that he had spoken with the race officials and found out that there were only six serious contenders left in the race, and I was one of them. That was a HUGE boost for me. I had never been a contender before. It felt great and was a real energizer.

As I was getting really really sore on Saturday evening, Christine arrived and started to run (ok, mostly walk) with me. My quads and shin muscles were pretty sore, my chafing and stomach trouble persisted, and the bottoms of both feet felt like they were bruised. But Christine is a great encourager, and kept me focused and moving forward and kept talking about how good it was going to feel to have that podium finish.

At some time around midnight Saturday night we crossed the start/finish line to start another lap and my name was on the leader board. I really couldn’t believe it! I asked the time keepers if that was right, and they said yup, you’re in third place right now. It just seemed incredible to me, but Christine simply said “That’s why you’re here!” And she was right, and it was another huge boost to help power me through the night. But there were still 8 hours to go, and it was definitely the toughest part of the race. By the time I got to 200 km (my goal was 240), my quads and shins were super sore, making the down hills really painful. This slowed me down a lot because I had to walk up the hills, I only had enough energy to run on the down hill sections, but couldn’t because of the pain. Since I had finished 200 km more than 2 hours sooner than the previous year, we decided it was safe to take a 30 minute nap before pressing on. And I have to admit that I was seriously thinking of not getting up from that nap, the pain and nausea was more than I was willing to put up with.

But when Carter woke me from a dead sleep, most of the pain was gone from my legs, and I actually felt ready to go. We were able to finish two more laps by 6:15 am. By then I was moving really slowly, and my mind was almost dead asleep as I was walking. I remember being so sleepy, and focusing on the little patch of ground that was lit by my head lamp, that I would actually go into a dream state and not even be cognizant of where I was walking, and snap back to reality still upright and walking and on the trail. I had no idea the human brain and body could do that. So by 6:15 it didn’t look like I had time to do another full lap, I was in second place, and the runner in third place was a couple of laps behind and sleeping in his tent. So we decided that it looked like my standing was locked in and it was ok to call it quits.

I slept for about an hour while Carter packed up most of our stuff, then helped with the last bit of packing just before the official end of the race at 8 am Sunday morning. And just seconds before 8 am, I saw Jeff Ashizowa bolt across the finish line. My first thought was, “holy cow, how can he run so fast?”, then “yikes, was he able to get past me?” So right away I asked Dian if Jeff’s last lap affected my standing, and she simply said “No, you’re second dude!”

The final result: I was second male, third overall, with a distance of 216 km. My first ever podium finish! It’s still hard for me to believe.

Memorable images: Elise, the crazy megaphone lady at the 4 km aid station, hitting the siren button every time a new runner came into the aid station. Feeling nauseous for 6 solid hours, but having to eat to stay moving. During my only shoe change, seeing a giant blood blister on my big toe that I didn’t even feel. Seeing Maryka before the race with a taped knee because of a fall the week before, and then seeing that she had finished as first female, second overall ahead of me, an awesome run! And Carter and Christine never giving up on me.


I estimate that I burned somewhere around 32,000 calories on the weekend, and consumed around 9,000. I had a very welcome 90 minute massage on Sunday after the race (thanks Denae!), which really helped me to keep moving during the next couple of days. As I write this Tuesday morning, the bottoms of both feet feel like they’re bruised, my leg muscle pain is easing off, and for the chafing parts I’ve moved from diaper rash cream to bandages with polysporin. I had set a huge goal for myself, one that I wasn’t even sure I could attain. But I had set the goal, spoken it, shared it, pursued it, stayed focused on it, repeated it again and again in those moments when I felt weakest, and thought about it when I felt discouraged by all of the obstacles. Podium finish: CHECK!



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