On Sunday, Canadian Olympic marathoner Krista DuChene took the plunge and jumped into ultrarunning with a 54K trail race in Hamilton. While the event was actually not an official race (DuChene says the organizers called it a “supported long run”), it had a set and marked course that featured aid stations. DuChene covered the two-lap route (which included 1,200m of climbing) in five hours and four minutes, which is about double the length of time she normally races in marathons. This was a wholly new experience for her, and while she says she felt good throughout the run, DuChene adds, “I don’t remember when I last felt this sore.”
Diving into ultras
Ahead of her run, DuChene posted on Instagram to write about her “first ultra journey.” She noted that there were “many unknowns and much inexperience” heading into the race, “with rocks, roots, climbing, descending, nutrition, pacing and giving a hard effort for [about] two more hours than I’m used to. [Nineteen] marathons in 18 years but feeling like a rookie again.” With so many unknowns, DuChene says her main plan was “just be consistent with my effort and respect the distance.”
She ran the first 27K lap with Jon Kilmartin, who DuChene says has plenty of experience with off-road racing. For the second lap, she was paced by fellow Olympic marathoner Reid Coolsaet. The run was held at the same location as the Sulphur Springs ultramarathon, but it followed a slightly different route that featured more climbing and more technical trails. “Reid and I had talked about a pace strategy before, but we really had no idea what to expect, just because it was a very technical course.” She ultimately decided to focus on maintaining a consistent effort rather than any paces, which ended up working well for her.
Surviving Race #1
“I had no moment of, ‘Oh, this is terrible,'” she says. “Since it was my first ultra, I was conservative, but I’m pleased with my result and I’m looking forward to learning more.” With the race now behind her, she says she gained some valuable experience during the run.
“It’s both similar and different to a marathon,” she says, “in that there’s less physical intensity at any given moment, but at the same time, since you’re out there for that much longer, it’s physically taxing on your body.” She also notes how helpful members of the ultrarunning community have been. “Even though it was a small-scale race, everyone was giving me tips. It’s just such a kind and warm community.”
DuChene says she is certainly open to running more ultras in the future, but at this point, she doesn’t have any concrete plans. “This is probably the first time in my running career that I don’t have a plan, and that’s because of the pandemic,” she says. While there are in-person races south of the border, she says this isn’t an option she’s considering right now. “I think it’s great that there are some opportunities out there, but since you have to isolate when you come back to Canada, it’s not feasible for me and my family.”
For now, DuChene says she’ll take a week or so off before returning to training. “I’ve been going since March and now my body’s telling me it’s time for a break.”