Bromont Ultra 55K – Race Report Part I (Training recap + Pre-race planning)

Here goes nothing!

Ideally, I would have started writing race reports after my first ultra but I suppose starting after the second is, well, the second best thing. I guess I’ll end up mentioning my first ultra anyway since it was this very same event last year. Whereas my main goal last year was survival, this year I was there to race. Perhaps not competitively or against other people, but at least against myself. In the end, the day went incredibly well, I used what I learned last time around and I think I gained a lot from it. Hence the need to put some of it into writing.

***I ended up separating this post into two parts because the pre-race part ended up being quite long. In the future I’ll try to write up a training recap before the race so that I only have the actual race report to post afterwards.***


The Bromont Ultra

This was the second edition of the Bromont Ultra, following a rather successful inaugural edition. This year’s event was an even greater success if you take the number of runners as a metric. The races are very reasonably priced and cover a nice range of distances: 2 km, 6 km, 12 km, 25 km, 55 km, 80 km and 160 km (plus team relay versions of the latter two).  Given that the event is now well established, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it grow  further over the next few years.

The base camp for the event as well as the the start and finish lines for all races are located at the Centre Équestre de Bromont, built in 1975 as a venue for most of the equestrian events contested during the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games. The courses for the longer races take you up and down a few mountains in the Bromont area, notably Mount Brome. From those summits and from the few sections of open country roads you can get stunning views of the fall foliage of the Eastern Townships.

Training in review

As mentioned previously, my mindset coming into this race had nothing to do with the mindset I had last year. I signed up for the 55 K last year knowing that aiming for anything more than a finish was unreasonable. My base mileage was not ultra-worthy, I had not put in many vertical km’s and my long runs were sparse and, quite frankly, not that long. The highlights of my training were a 27.5 km run a month before race day (the day I signed up) and a 31 km run two weeks out.

The result was an 8h55m finish, just 5 minutes shy of the official cutoff (being the first edition, the organisers were flexible and added an hour to make it an even 10 hours, which was the official cutoff this year). Despite a reasonably conservative start, I was down to walking even the slightest hills by the halfway point. Soon after, I was having trouble convincing myself to start running after cresting hills and, by the end, I was walking an embarrassingly high number of downhills.

At least the beating taught me a lot, notably:

  1. I needed to start much more conservatively and do a better job at managing my effort.
  2. I lost way too much time walking flats and downhills in the late race. The best way to shave off some time would be to make sure I got to the mid-race country road section in running form and to throw in more running on the last section.
  3. When walking hurts as much as running, it’s really stupid to choose to walk. Sure, walking feels easier since you’re not expending as much energy, but the pain is practically the same. Just run and be done with it sooner.

My plan this year would mainly revolve around putting those lessons into practice. However, being better prepared mentally was only part of the equation. I wouldn’t be finishing much faster this year if I wasn’t in better shape when I lined up at the start.

During the four months leading up to the race I was loosely following a 50 K training plan I found online. I chose this plan mainly because the weekly mileage at its beginning was the closest match to my base mileage at the time. My goal was never to follow it to the letter. I was basically just using it as a list of milestones to hit for my long runs and weekly mileage. However, I did end up adopting the short/medium/short pattern for midweek runs which I found was a good way to put in effective base kilometers while still being in shape for the important weekend long runs. I almost fully neglected the back-to-back Sunday runs in favour of extra rest but I’m sure they would have been very beneficial. In the end, this plan served me well. During the last two weeks of peak training, I was putting in 66 to 71 km per week which included 35 km (trail) and 37.5 km (road) long runs. Most importantly, I was healthy when race day came along.

The bulk of my kilometers were logged on Mont Bellevue in Sherbrooke. While this allowed me to log much more vertical kilometers than running on roads would have, Bellevue remains a small mountain and it didn’t give me much practice at sustained climbing. Luckily for me, I was attending a conference in Geneva in late August and this gave me the chance to spend a week in Grindelwald in the Swiss Alps about a month and a half before the race. Out of my five days there, I spent four hiking for an average of a little over five hours per day. I logged 100 km of trails and 7.3 km of vertical gain. This solo training camp gave me a lot of confidence in my climbing abilities and in my capacity to stay on my feet and keep moving for extended periods.

There's only one way to get in climbing shape.
After Schwarzhorn, Bromont should be easy… right?

All in all, I was very happy with my preparation for the race and I knew for a fact that I was heading into it in a decidedly better shape than last year.

Pre-race

The fun thing about having a Sunday race during a weekend-long event is that the venue is already very lively if you go pick up your bib the day before. If there’s anything that can get you more pumped than getting your race number and seeing the starting line, it’s getting your race number, seeing runners already coming back from a date with the trails and hearing a crowd cheering them on. The venue hadn’t changed much from last year, but it was nice to see it again and to feel the energy.

The pre-race jitters had kicked in a few days before even though this would be the second time around. The fear of the unknown was replaced by the pressure to improve last year’s result. I knew I was in a good enough shape to finish faster even if things went bad, but my goal was to complete the course a full hour faster.

This year’s course was slightly different than last year’s. Instead of mentally draining ups & downs and zigs & zags near the summit of Mont Brome after the torturous final climb, the course went straight down to the finish after said climb. To make up for it, a new section was inserted near the halfway point of the course. It consisted of newly opened trails through sugar bush with a few short but somewhat steep climbs. The total vertical gain of the course wasn’t changed much by this, but it decreased the vertical load in the last 5 to 10 km which I thought would make for a faster course.

My plan was to get through the first few climbs and the sugar bush section in decent shape, to make decent time on the country roads from the 32nd to 44th kilometers, to take it easy from the 44th to the 50th and then to push hard up the killer final climb knowing that it was a short downhill run to the finish after that. I didn’t want to start too conservatively and have to play catch-up later, but I also knew that I had to get to the country roads in a decent shape in order to get the sort of finishing time I was aiming for.

Nutrition-wise, my plan was to rely mainly on Clif bars during the race. For the last few months I had started testing out “real foods” during my long runs instead of gels and gummies. I get tired of the latter rather quickly and there is a point after which you start needing more than just carbs. A carb-centric fueling strategy is probably fine up to 55 km and then some, but if I’m going to be running longer races eventually I figured I should start getting used to more complete sources of fuel. I found that cookies, nuts, granola bars and Clif bars all went down fine without any adaptation needed, which was encouraging. I chose Clif bars for the race because I had them on hand, but, in retrospect, a bit of diversity would have been nice.

That’s all I had to say about my preparation for the race. My race report can be found in Part 2.

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