That Dam Hill, 24 hour Canadian Championship – 17th Sept 2016

Trek and Run were supported during this event by;

Salba Chia 

Brooks Running

&

Helly Hansen

All images by Emrys Halbertsma, Adam Stevens and Brian Cripps  (the official photographer for That Dam Hill)

That Dam Hill is an event with several choices of distance/time – a 3 hour race, a marathon race, a 12 hour race and a 24 hour race. It’s a certified Boston Marathon Qualifier and for the following distances – Half-marathon, 25km, Marathon, 50km, 50 mile, 100km, and 100 mile. This year it was also hosting the Canadian 24 hour timed race Championship.

Pamela, Tim, Jason and Dave from the Trek and Run Canadian team took part in the event, whilst Adam Stevens crewed and made a brilliant film and Emrys Halbertsma crewed, paced and kept everybodies spirits high.

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Pamela was aiming to complete 100km in the 24 hour, Tim was taking part in the 12 hour, Jason wanted to complete 3 marathons in the 24 hours and Dave was looking to podium in the 24 hour. Here’s the short film that Adam made to give you an idea of the team and their race experience.

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Pamela – Heading up to That Dam Hill in London, Ontario, my life was the usual mix of packing school lunches, seeing clients (I’m a registered Dietician), teaching and fitting some training in where I can. And, trying to do it all with a smile and a hug – because that’s what moms are best at, right?

I caught the vibe from the website that this race was going to have all the elements that I love about ultras: the personal connection and positivity from the athletes and volunteers, aid stations stuffed with real food and a truly challenging 24 hour experience. Sounded good to me!

I loved being part of the Trek and Run team and it was great to have breakfast with our team on the morning of the event, talking strategy and enjoying our last hot (vegan!) meal before the race. We all spoke about the gear we was going to take, and since the organizers had sent out an email warning us it was going to rain (so thoughtful of them to do this!) we were making space for waterproof kit/shoes. And wow, did we ever need it all!

It was a beautiful course, set in a picturesque park in London, Ontario. It was essentially flat, with one small hill for interest. I enjoyed the flowers, the river, the trees and the green so much. I enjoyed looping past a real washroom every 2.25 km even more! And our athletes kept it clean, which was great to see.

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2.25 km is a pretty short loop and I thought that I might have prefered something a little longer but, as the night wore on, it was lovely to know that I would be looping back past my crew and the aid station so often. I felt completely safe and the beautiful full moon meant it was bright enough for me to see the course, even without a headlamp. Each time we looped past the finish line we saw a big screen with our stats, so it is easy to work out where we were in the race, and how our pacing was going. Every single time I went past the volunteers they were full of encouragement; it warmed my heart and gave me a burst of positivity and energy!

This would be a great place to try out your first ultra because of all of the support and safety, and the not too challenging course. Many people also ran a marathon distance, and while that meant we had a lot more athletes on the loop for the first 4 hours or so, it never felt crowded. I loved the range of athletes participating from seasoned pros to have-a-gos!

I’m not much of a bling girl so I don’t pay much attention to medals, but the one I got for this race felt legit! The hoodie that came with the race entry was cool too. I’m impressed that they pulled that level of quality off for a small-ish event. The race kit also included thoughtful extras like painkillers – which I did take advantage of during a low point, 12-hours into the race.

We didn’t get lucky with the weather. Rain is my kryptonite, and we had lots of it. Nine straight hours to be exact! By the time it ended my feet and my spirits were soggy. We did get blessed though with a beautiful sunset and a breathtaking moonrise. That raised my spirits again and gave me the energy to keep going. Honestly, I came so close to giving up at 12 hours but I am so glad I didn’t, because I discovered new mental and physical energy reserves I didn’t know I had. Or maybe that was just the caffeine talking? During the first 12 hours I stuck to my race plan of fueling with my own, homemade energy drink made from freshly-juiced ginger, turmeric and lemons mixed with coconut water, maple syrup and a shot of hot sauce. That recipe is incredible and, along with some bagels and bananas it provided some healthy, clean fuel for my body to run on for 12 hours. I told myself that after 12 hours I would have a coke, and man – did I need a coke! I never drink that stuff, but during an ultra there comes a time when caffeine and sugar have a place (for me, anyway). I found new reserves and a slower, but steady pace, and kept pounding out the kms into the night.

I had a minimum goal of doing 100 km and I would have loved to go beyond that, even up to 120 km, but that was not to be on the day. That is ok! My final words to my dad and my husband were ringing in my ears when I decided to pack it in after 100km and go have a sleep. I promised them not to get sick, and that I would pull out if and when I needed to. After getting pneumonia this past winter I finally realized that I do have limits, and that it is wise to respect them. I am an ultra athlete and I am so proud of that, but first of all, I am a mama. I came home healthy, and after a good sleep, I was feeling strong again. I have noticed since I became vegan that I recover so much quicker after a hard effort. Amazing!!

Speaking of being vegan, I loved being surrounded by a vegan team. I’m so appreciative of our crew; Adam and Emrys were never short of a smile, even when they were soaked to the bone and freezing cold! Tim stopped to walk a few hills with me, full of good tips and race strategy, Jason was inspiring, the way he dug deep and finished the race so strong and Dave was truly awe-inspiring. He came there to win, for the animals, and he did it. He was so strong mentally and physically. He ran a beautiful race, and gave everything he had. I feel honoured to be on the same team as him.

I also met some new friends. Particularly Rene, a big boy with a huge heart who got out there and did 94 km in 24 hours. I walked the final few hundred meters with him, and his commitment to the effort brought tears to my eyes. Rene weighs over 300 lbs and if he can be out there, any of us can. I wish him all the luck in the world at his next challenge at the Prince Edward County marathon in October, and with his ongoing journey toward better health. Eat plants Rene!!!

In summary, That Dam Hill is a great race and if you’re thinking of entering in 2017 I urge you to do so, I’m certain you won’t regret doing it. I may even be back myself!

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Tim - If you have considered running this race and haven’t run the course before, you may be wondering about that hill. The hill of the title, ‘That Dam Hill’. I know I was.

The race website does state that it’s more of a molehill, but then again they did name the race after it! So I was very curious on lap one of the race. The good news – unless you’re a hardcore wimp – is that it’s really not a big hill at all. I tend to take ultra runners license and walk up all steep hills in a race, yet even I found myself running up this one quite a bit.

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The course was quite beautiful, even in the rain. On one side of the course you looked forward to the Thames River views, the crazy amount of birds on the river; ducks, geese, cormorants, hawks and what I’m pretty sure was some sort of wild turkey, but I’m no ornithologist so don’t quote me. I even saw a massive red-tailed hawk attempt to do a little hunting about 10 yards ahead of me. On the other side of the course, you looked forward to the well stocked and well run aid station, the finish line where you could see how many laps and kilometres you’d run and what position you were in, and the nice warm washroom building. All these things you passed every 2.2 kilometres. You also had to do a little swerving around geese on part of the course. If the race wasn’t called That Dam Hill, it might well be called Those Dam Geese!

With all the runners starting at 8am, one of my favourite features of the race was the fact that most runners had the race they were running written on their left calf (3, 12, 24 and an M for marathon) and their age on the other calf. This allowed you to scope out the contenders, even if you weren’t one yourself. I quickly pegged a couple of the 12 hour runners as people I’d be getting lapped by several times, and the likely podium contenders. And I was starting to get a good feel for the handful of 24 hour race contenders as well. It’s humbling to be running at a pace you hope to sustain (somewhat) for 12 hours and be lapped by runners in the 24 hour race.

After a quick 8 or 9 hours the rain stopped and the sun came out. I think I might have complained about not wanting to wear sunglasses at that point. My complaint fell on deaf ears with my team. I stayed with my one pair of Brooks Pure Cadence 5 shoes for the full 12 hour race, with a single change of socks when my feet were making squishing noises and a small blister was making itself known. At that point I switched to knee high compression socks, thereby giving myself the advantage of stealth in that other 12 hour runners could no longer see the 12 written on my calf. When you’re slow, you take any advantage you can get.

I elected to use the aid stations for pretty much all of my race nutrition, and that worked out well. Not a single gel was consumed all race. Even for a picky vegan runner like myself, you can rely on the aid stations if you don’t want to bother with stocking your own food. And pro tip for anyone who runs this race in the future: London has a Burrito Boyz, and they will deliver to the park!

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I somehow ended up in 3rd place at around the halfway point of the race. Only 6 hours to hold onto 3rd position and I might get my first ever podium finish. One of the guys lapping me early in the race had dropped after about four hours when his legs started seizing up. While I really did want to hang on to 3rd place, I was mostly doing what I had planned to do and was just enjoying the experience. Knee pain and toe pain would come and go but I was distracted by getting to know other runners and their stories. Ultrarunners are a crazy lot, and they also tend to be awesome people without fail. I got to walk and talk with Pamela several times on her way to 100k, and did some running with Jason and even raced to catch up to Dave at one point to give him some race intel on his competitors when he was in 2nd place. I got to talk to Rene and learned about his weight loss journey (from 400 pounds) and was really inspired to see him having a go at the 24 hour race! I got to meet Steven Parke and Pablo Espinosa, and run with Rhonda Marie Avery, a badass blind runner who has run the Bruce Trail end to end!

We had the best crew you could ask for, as Emrys and Adam (who was also making the film above) were always positive and asking me if I needed anything. In the end I hung on for 3rd place, and was already thinking about coming back to do better next year within hours of finishing.

The last tip I will offer you when you run this race, and you should run this race: don’t leave food out at night…Springbank Park is home to some very bold and hungry (though luckily not smelly) skunks, and hoards of racoons.

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Dave – Those damn skunks and racoons stole all my Oreos. That might not seem a big deal to you reading this now in the comfort of your house, or workplace, or even in your car or whilst on the train, but imagine yourself 14 hours into a race, tired out, soaking wet and thinking, mmm, I know what I need, on my next lap I’ll pick up those Oreos from Emrys and Adam, I’m sick of regular food and I need some tasty calories. And then you get to your camp/aid station and you shout out from afar, so as to limit the amount of time you’re going to spend in camp,

‘Hey, Emrys, Adam, I’m wanting the Oreos now, have them ready for me will you please…’ and one of them shouts back a little sheepishly from the darkness,

‘I’m really sorry but the skunks and racoons had them all, we tried to fight them off but they invaded the camp, we didn’t stand a chance…’

At which point you fly into a sugar-deficit induced rage and shout,

‘For goodness sake, they’re only bloody small, fluffy animals, couldn’t you throw your shoes at them or something to scare them off?’

Ok, I’ll rewind there, scrub that last suggestion, I’m vegan, I’m kind to animals, I don’t condone throwing your shoes at them. Not at all. Never. Even if they’re lousy, Oreo stealing, stinky, mangy furballs with beautiful, black rimmed wide eyes that blink at you doefully like some demonic, sociopathic Cleopatra character on speed…

Yeah, you can tell, I was very miffed about loosing the cookies.

I’d trained hard for this race, running to and from work – about 18kms a day –  as well as putting in a bit of gym work, and came into it feeling on form. I’d set personal best times in every race of varying distance I’d entered in 2016 and for the first time ever had never been injured to the point where I couldn’t run. My diet was healthy plant based and I’d achieved a racing weight I felt good about and since I thought I could put on around 195kms over the 24 hour period I reckoned, after looking at the records of the other runners taking part, ok, if I run well and the best runners don’t do their best, I’m in with a chance of a podium finish here, and possibly even my second win of the season…

The organisers had warned of rain and that forecast suited me, it was going to be warm rain and I do love running with my shirt off in a monsoon!

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My tactics were simply to put as many kms on the board as I could, to ignore what any other runner was doing as best I could and just try to maintain 10.5km per hour for as long as possible, and Emrys had been instructed to give me hell if I dropped off that pace at any point.

‘Don’t have any mercy on me,’ I’d asked him, ‘no matter what I say or how tired I look, shout at me if I slack off.’

That tactic worked for a few hours. But by then my idea of how the race would go had changed dramatically. The 3 guys I thought would be leading me had either dropped out or were so far back they had little chance of catching up and the guy in front who I’d never heard of was running so well, so smoothly, that I was certain he was going to smash the Canadian record of 260kms in the 24 hour period. Crazy stuff.

I got a massive blister after the first marathon and retired to my camp to try to deal with it. I swore to high heaven, it was on the side of my big toe and gave me a shooting pain each time I put any weight on that foot. But I taped it up, changed my socks, plodded on and after a few minutes the pain began to subside. I could carry on, at least.

It was tempting to change into clean, dry socks every few hours but I worried about upsetting the feel of the socks and footwear I had on. All the time it wasn’t unbearable, I decided to stick with what I was wearing, and in the end this tactic seemed to work very well as I only got the 2 blisters all in all. I also had quad pain at one point but there was a kind guy camped near us, Dwight, who was a massage therapist and a couple of minutes with him had me feeling a little better and ready to plod onwards. Thanks Dwight!!!

After goodness knows how many hours (6 or 7 maybe?) I was convinced that I had no chance of winning, all I could do was hang in there and hope for 2nd place in the men’s race. As for an overall placing, a glance at the stats that I could see every time I passed the race HQ showed that I had little chance of that. In the women’s race April Boultbee was running magnificently and was almost definately going to kick my ass. I was sure she was going to get 2nd place overall, she looked so strong and was keeping her form brilliantly. Then there was Sue Lucas who was also running great, she was catching me and keeping her lap times consistent, whereas mine were beginning to fade. But part of 24 hour racing is just hanging on in there when you don’t feel like going on because you understand that anything could happen, and you might even get a second wind that could take you places you’d never have dreamed of a few hours earlier.

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After about 80 miles the guy who was leading dropped out. I couldn’t believe it, he’d been running incredibly well. So that meant that by default I moved into 1st place in the men’s race.

‘The guys behind you whom you thought would be a challenge, don’t worry about them, they’re out of it,’ said both Emrys and Tim to me at different times as the night wore on. ‘It’s Pablo you want to watch out for, he’s moving great and he’s closing in.’ Pablo Espinosa had won the 24 hour Canadian Championship twice before and he’s an ace runner. I spoke to him often during the race and learnt he was a super nice guy too. But I wasn’t going to let him overtake me without a fight. So for a long period during the night when I was going through a time of great exhaustion, whilst Pablo ran and got ever closer to me I walked as best I could, hoping that the few miles I was putting on the board would in the end be enough.

I’d been on solid food of my own making, such as sweet potato wraps and Salba chia seed power balls, for the first half of the race but after the Oreo incident I felt in need of a sugar boost so I fed from the official aid station from then on in. Brownies, salty potatoes, coke, Gatorade, chips and some lovely fig cookies, there was plenty to pick at.

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In the end I totalled 192km and beat Pablo by about 6kms, that’s all. I had 20km on him at one point but he ran incredibly strongly for the last couple of hours. And as expected, April smashed us all with a total of well over 200kms, you should have seen her running towards the end, how anybody could achieve her poise and speed was beyond me. It was great to witness.

I won the 24 hour Canadian Championship, male category, but couldn’t claim the title as I’ve only got Permanent Resident status and you have to be a Citizen to be a champ here in Canada. So I collected the trophy for male 1st place, and Pablo took home the title. Fair enough, I was happy with that. As the Peruvian’s would say, I felt like an Argentinian holding that trophy!!!

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‘Come back next year, when you’re a citizen,’ said Dave Carver, the race director, ‘then you can win the title.’

‘You might not be so lucky next time,’ joked Pablo.

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Pablo was partially right, luck has a huge part to play in any race. I was told that April had faded towards the mid point of the race but a short session with Dwight the massage guy had sorted her out, so you might say that she was lucky that Dwight was around to help her. But that would be a North American take on the situation and being English I’m more interested in being fair than polite. So I’d say that regardless of Dwight’s help, April would have found a way to win. You only had to look at her to know how much training she had under her feet, and what great shape she was in. She was easily the best trained runner on the track. As for me, sure I was lucky in some respects but I’d also put in months of 70 to 100 mile weeks on top of working a physical job that had me on my feet all day, I’d paid really close attention to my diet and motivations and I ran hard and well throughout the rainy first half of the race, using the poor conditions to put distance between me and the bulk of my male competitors. That wasn’t luck, that was toughing it out and repeating time after time to myself push, push, you have to give it everything here, this is your moment, this is when you make your mum and dad proud, this is when you prove to your ex and her family that you’re not the no-hoper they thought you were, this is where you lay down a marker for your future, this is when you have the opportunity to demand the impossible of yourself, so go ahead and do it.

To any runners thinking of doing this race I’d say, go for it. You might say to yourself, oh, how boring is that, running round in circles for 24 hours! But it’s suprisingly exciting. The weather changes, the light does the same, your mental state alters, day turns to night, you see the struggles and the joys of those around you, you hear their stories, they’re all interesting, all inspiring, you meet yourself, your very essence, as one point or another, you ask yourself who you are, and you answer that question with your feet and your guts and hope your answer is one you can live with afterwards. You pass the point of regular exhaustion and you move into a different realm than the one most of us inhabit on a daily basis. And you get to stuff your face with mountains of calories for a whole day and not feel in the least bit bad for doing so. It’s fascinating!

As for the hill, well, Tim spoke of that. It’s not so big and what time you loose on that hill you gain on the couple of downhills, as long as you run them right. The Dam? It’s a little dam you pass each lap. It’s where the geese hang out.

All in all, That Dam Hill has been my favourite event of 2016. The race staff and volunteers are extra friendly and encouraging, the other runners are mostly the sort of people you want to become good friends with, the aid station food is varied, the medals and hoodies that all racers take home are cool and the whole event is very well organised. And as for getting the chance to take part in a national championship, how out of this world was that! It was kind of like a script from a Rocky film. A past-his-prime bum gets a shot at the national title. That doesn’t happen in real life, does it? Well, yes, it does, it did, at That Dam Hill.

To discover more about That Dam Hill, please see http://thatdamhill.ca/

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