The 2016 edition of Newfoundland and Labrador’s only ultra endurance running race is in the books. I want to provide a short recap of the East Coast Trail 50K Ultra Marathon as I experienced it.
The race started in Pouch Cove at 7:41 (sunrise) sharp. 50 or so soloists and ten relay teams consisting of three runners each were toeing the start line. They have until sundown to reach Quidi Vidi, where the finish line is located inside the Inn of Olde pub. Patrick McIlroy took off like a madman. Caroline McIlroy took of like a madman’s mother, followed by Mark Dillon. In this moment I made a choice that I started to regret a few hours down the trail. I tried to hang on with Caroline and Mark for as long as I could. I had an inkling that I would not be able to hold their pace, but I figured the longer I could run with them in a group, the faster my finish time would be.
Those who have ran on the ECT know that the trail does not really lend itself to running: Too many sticks and stones to break your bones. The trick is to get into a flow, avoid stop-and-go patterns and sort of float along. It requires some coordination, which in turn requires some specific training on that terrain. Running on the ECT is not only hard on your lungs and legs, it is also mentally challenging because you have to pay constant attention to the surface. There was a thin film of ice on some wooden and rock surfaces on race morning as well, which required some additional caution.
Caroline kept pushing without mercy and one hour into the race Chris Jackman started to pick up the pace even more. Jackman, the relay runner from team Rose Between Two Thorns arrived at the first exchange point in Flatrock in 1:32, closely followed by Caroline and Mark. I passed the checkpoint as the 5th runner (4th soloist) in 1:35. By then the steep pace had already taken a toll on me. I was drenched in sweat and my heart rate was higher than it should have been. As I lost touch with the McIlroy Express I had to prepare myself for some alone-time on the trails. I settled into a more comfortable pace, but my legs started to feel tired.
I passed the halfway point in about 2:30 hours. That is an excellent time and still on pace for a finish just over 5 hours, but I knew that this was not going to happen. Not by a long shot. I passed the second exchange point (Middle Cove Beach) as the 4th soloist still (5th overall, as Brandon Sager took over from Chris Jackman and kept the pace high) but by then some runners started to creep up on me. First a few relay runners, then four soloists in short succession: Gary Monaghan, Stuart Ogilvie, Brian Caines, and Jordan Veenstra. I knew that Joonas Plaan was somewhere close behind me as well. My legs were shot. I was empty, with 18 kilometers or so left to go. I thought about quitting. I thought about walking it home. But walking for 18k on the ECT can take a very long time. I ate a date bar and a banana, and slowly some energy came back. I was able to engage in an activity that somehow must have resembled running, because I caught up with some of the soloists that just passed me a little while earlier. It helped to run with fellow Austrian Tobias Laengle, who was picking up runners one by one for his relay team, Three Slow Biologists Strike Back.
When I arrived at the Logy Bay Ocean Sciences Centre the wind was really picking up. The already chilly temperatures dropped down just a little bit more. I’d been running for about five hours. My pace had fallen off by quite a margin and I started to do some math: What pace would I have to run to finish under six hours? Turns out, 10 minutes per kilometer. This sounds like a ton of time, but can be difficult to accomplish on the trail. I was passed by a few more chipper relay runners who cheered me up in turn. I tried to cheer them up too but I think all I could muster at that point was a hoarse croak. I felt cramps coming up my legs and I was worried that I would seize up at any moment. When I first caught a glimpse of Quidi Vidi I felt pure relief. All the pain and doubts I just experienced evaporated. I finished in 5:52 hours, about 20 minutes faster than the year before. Crossing the finish line in the Inn of Olde pub is an experience in itself. One moment I never wanted to run again, the next I was wondering how long I would have to wait until I could sign up for the 2017 ECT.
Patrick McIlroy won the men’s race, beating his hold course record once again by over 10 minutes. Caroline McIlroy won the women’s race in 5:17. Mark Dillon was second male overall in 5:27. Steph Nevin was the second female in 6:30, and Chris Jackman, Brandon Sager, and Don Fagan won the relay. Full results can be found at www.eastcoasttrailultra.com.
Congratulations to all relay runners and soloists who partook in the race. Huge thanks to Caroline McIlroy and Aaron Goulding (Biped). Once again they did a stellar job in organizing the race. The event took place without any glitches thanks in large part to race director Adam Snow, organizational talent Jeff MacDonald, and dozens of volunteers. A special thanks is also due to the Ski Patrol people who kept everyone safe and accounted for, and to the Inn of Olde for their hospitality.