That Dam Hill 6-Hour


The last race of my 2013 season would be the Inaugural “That Dam Hill” 6 hour run in Springbank Park in London, ON.  I felt a certain pull towards this race before signing up for a few different reasons.  First of all, my budget for race fees and travel was substantially less than it had once been.  This race being local made it very appealing.  I also hadn’t tested myself with a 6 hour race since my first, back in the summer of 2009 in Kingston.  I felt like I needed to find out where I stand, now that I have the experience of running for longer periods of time.  The last thing that drew me to this race was its date, September 21st.  It is a bit of a superstitious thing, I know, but I have always favoured a race on the 21st.  My first and soon to be second Boston appearances are both on the 21st, along with when I ran Amsterdam, and a couple others that are less significant.  I figured luck was on my side so I gave it a shot. 

After training all summer with this race in mind, I felt rather confident going into it.  I wasn’t at all concerned with the Canadian Championships or what anyone else there was planning to run.  I only had my own personal goals in mind and even those were fairly flexible dependent on how I was feeling.  I look back at this now and see how I’ve really grown in regards to the demands I make of myself and how I choose to listen to my body more than to try and blindly force myself into a goal that I might not be ready for.  My only reservation on race morning was that it was raining and looked to be sticking around for most of the day.  I was not overly excited about running for 6 hours in the rain. 

After picking up my bib in the morning, doing my best to stay dry, I set up my small container full of salt and potatoes and my emergency goody bag at the aid station.  My strategy for nutrition was to keep things as simple as possible.  I would only eat potatoes and bananas and alternate between sports drink and water, reserving the latter for washing down food when I would eat.  I had tried something similar in the past and it seemed to work fairly well.

After meeting a few new faces and seeing some more familiar ones at the start line, we commenced the run, with several guys jumping out front right away.  I knew to play the long game so I held to a pace that was comfortable and finally settled in with Neil, a London business owner hoping to complete his first Ultra.  We bonded fairly fast, as you tend to when enduring through hours of jogging.  Talking helps to the loosen the mind from the daunting task at hand and helps you relax.  The process is accelerated when one person has lots of experience and the other is eager to learn about the ins and outs of ultras.  I remember spending more time on the eager rookie side than the elder authority but it seems to have shifted over the last couple years. 

Neil and I ran together for the first 3 hours, sharing stories and getting to know each other.  We would take a walk break twice on every loop in addition to walking the aid station if we needed something.  These walks would only be 100m or so, but because they were frequent, they kept us feeling fresh.  This was a key part of the strategy I told Neil. 

Neil planned to change his shoes after half way so I gained a little bit on him but he stayed close behind.  For the last 3 hours, I would be focusing on my own race and really tuning in to what I needed as well as what I could afford to expend in energy.  The rain had let up and now only a brisk wind was present.  It kept us cool along the top of the loop and pushed on our backs along side the dam. 

My key for this race was consistency.  I did the same thing each lap and just repeated the process.  I turned one 6 hour run into over 100 short manageable jogs.  My nutrition was working well and I felt relatively fresh moving into the last hour.  I had not been paying much attention to the total mileage I had been running up as much as my splits for each lap, trying to keep them similar.  As we got closer to the final minutes, John Ferguson began shouting my distance to me as I passed by the timing line.  Even still I had no idea where the rest of the field stood.  I had still assumed there was at least a couple guys ahead of me since the very beginning.  It wasn’t until the awards presentations that I would find out I was actually in first place!

But before I get to that, I need to explain why I didn’t stop at the end of the race.  Contrary to instinct, I pondered the thought of continuing on and posting an official time for the 50 mile distance.  A very neat feature of this race is that they offer to keep the course open to anyone hoping to finish a specific measured distance, and also serves as a Boston Qualifier.  In the last hour of the race, I had made a deal with myself, pledging to go for the 50 miles if I felt I was within an hour of completing it by the time the horn blew. 

I was on my last partial lap and knew I was less than 10km away, so when I heard the horn, I dropped my distance marker in the grass and continued down the path.  Little did I know that I would be the only one opting for such an opportunity.  I had about 4 laps to complete, and they were probably the 4 toughest that day.  What had helped to make them easier to bear was the fact that I had the rest of all the runners and supporters cheering me on every time I went by.  I felt like I was going faster with each lap, but the splits would later show I was slowly loosing a bit of time on each split.  Regardless, I came around the final bend, ran through the line with lots of cheers from everyone else and was so glad to be done.  It was far from a spiritual experience this time around, but definitely a reminder that the more we wear ourselves down, the more you appreciate the rest that follows. 

Once I was done, they were able to distribute the awards, which I was blown away to have received one.  I was so happy to not only exceed my own personal goals, but also end up the winner of the men’s race.  The female winner actually ran a couple hundred meters further than I did in the 6 hour time frame. 

Overall, I had a great experience at this race and will be proudly promoting it to many of my running friends over the coming months.  It was really well organized, reasonably prices (which is hard to find these days) and there was so many great people that helped to make it a great success.  I hope that next years race will be even bigger and there is rumour that they might be a 12 and 24 hour option leaving the door open to pound out over 100 miles.  I can see it being hard to resist if that is the case.  At the very least, I feel like I should be present to defend my championship.  I doubt that I’ll ever get used to the idea that I am a Canadian Champion.  I’m just grateful to be able to complete these types of events and hope that I’ve got many more years left in me. 

© Brian Groot 2016