Note: Saturday April 25, 2020 was supposed to be 12th running of Pick Your Poison. However, due to COVID-19 it was unfortunately cancelled for the new race directors. I know you’ll be back for next year! I’ve dusted off a race report I wrote in 2015 to help me relive one of my favourite races ever.
Pick Your Poison 2015 – Horseshoe Valley (25k)
Pick Your Poison (PYP) is always held on the last Saturday of April, meaning as far as the weather is concerned you never know what you’re going to get. I’ve run PYP in rain, sun and snow, sometimes all in the same day! Regardless of the weather, PYP is the kick-off race for the Ontario Trail and Ultra Series (Outrace) and everyone is always in good spirits.
Anyone that knows me knows that everything about this race is important to me. I grew up in the area and consider this a homecoming race. From the venue (The Heights of Horseshoe, one of my many jobs as a teenager) to the race director Adam (one of my best friends from high school) to the support of friends and family that still live nearby I consider this a must-do race. Plus, I got my ass kicked last year and wanted to redeem myself!
Beyond the most important goal for me – have fun and be happy with yourself at the end of the race – I do set 3 time-specific goals each race. For this year it was:
- Beat last years time (3:03)
- By 10 minutes if I can
- If I can beat it by 17 minutes I can get below 2:45!
Incredibly, in all respects it was mission accomplished.
The day started by pressing snooze and sleeping 45 minutes longer than I intended, but I still made it out close to my original departure time so I chalked the extra sleep up to ammunition for later that morning. As I drove the 2 hours to Horseshoe I had my eye on the temperature as much as I did the road, and when I pulled up to the hill it was a brisk 2 degrees. Brutal for standing around but great for running as far as I’m concerned. Between the registration table, the port-a-potty line and exchanging pleasantries I had about 5 minutes left for my planned 15 minutes of warm-up, but was able to do some sprints and stretches to get my car-weary body close to ready. The din of the starting line drowned out Adam’s pre-race instructions and the expected horn got the masses moving fairly quickly.
The first kilometre allows racers to figure out their spots before dipping into the first taste of single track. The trails were absolutely perfect, so much so that I was probably going out a bit quickly. A surprise mantra of ‘run where you want to be’ popped into my head and I kept pushing through the flat section before getting to the first uphill section, which after a cute single track switchback turns into running up a ski run to the first aid station. Part of my strategy for this year was to take my hydration pack for the first loop so I wouldn’t dilly dally as I usually do. That said, for some reason the next 4k or so was a bit of a struggle. I was well hydrated but my stomach was a bit queasy and my legs felt weak, which was a bit confusing. However, I powered through with a revision to my mantra to run where you are, which was comfortably at the front… of the main pack. As I’ve said before, I know I’ll never be up with the leaders but I think it’s important for everyone to tests their limits, no matter where they are. At this point I knew I wasn’t going to reeling in too many runners and was happy gutting out the first lap.
After what another runner I was chatting with called a “soul sucking” service road that winds up the back of the ski hill the last few hundred meters are right in front of the chalet, straight down the face of the main ski hill. There is always some fun snow to contend with but for someone with a low center of gravity such as myself my #1 priority is not trashing my quads too hard while the laws of physics do their thing. Coming around the bend Adam told me I was looking good, I changed from a long sleeve to a singlet and ditched my hydration pack in favour of a Fuel Belt, and all that added up to a whole new second loop. Any queasiness I felt was gone, my energy level was great, and I love leaving the 12.5 crowd behind so the trail can open up. I had a new lease on my legs, and the mantra of the day morphed once more into my favourite version – run who you are. We all have points in a race – and even in the training – where we discover who that is, and I find a great deal of comfort in knowing I will never win. What I will do is continue to be a better version of myself, step by step, even if sometimes that step is slower than my last one. Up until the final 3k or so I ran the way I felt going into the second loop: confident, strong, and supported by friends and family. It was great just letting go, and even the aid station volunteers at the 8k mark pointed out I was looking much better. Until….
Bonk time… The service road that was once a joke was now the devil. The light Ontario hills suddenly got a lot bigger, and while my quads were just telling me to stop my head screamed that just wasn’t an option. I found strength and distraction chatting with a few runners for awhile, and when it was time I pushed it up the final hill as best as I could before Isaac Newton pushed me down to the cheers of some friends who ran the 12.5 bringing me in. Looking at my watch I happily pressed ‘stop’, noting that even with a rougher last few K than I wanted I still surpassed my “Oh My God I Can’t Believe I Just Did That!” goal with just under 2 hours and 44 minutes.
For those unfamiliar with PYP here are the quick details on the run: a nice mix of flat service roads, good switchbacks, tree covered single track, and a more than a few hills to climb. The rest of the experience is topped with an always badass t-shirt, a great BBQ, finisher’s socks, and locally-made honey; all for cheaper than most of the races on the Outrace circuit. Adam and Heather do a great job giving the value back to the runners, and as it’s the start of another season the mood is always like that of a reunion. The trail community in Ontario is alive and well, and after a few days hopefully my legs will be too!
Overall Result: 2:43:56 (6:33/k), Place: 33/98