Mike Pinkney – Vulture Bait 50km Trail Run

People Who Inspire Me: Mike Pinkney

I am so happy to bring you this race report. Mike is a friend of mine I met a few years ago as I showed up on his cottage porch, there for the weekend. The thing about Mike, he didn’t flinch. He is always doing something crazy whether it is the 30 hour adventure races or jumping on a bike for the first time in months and pounding out 100km. He never backs down from a physical or mental challenge. I respect Mike’s opinion greatly and thus dubbed him, Coach Pinkney. Here is his impressive tale…

By Mike Pinkney

I decided I would go for it. I decided to skip the marathon and go for the ultramarathon.

In this case it was a 50km trail run.


The road does not appeal to me, I learned this in the 30km Around the Bay held in Hamilton. The road didn’t appeal to me with its hard surface and easy terrain for footing, not to mention the thousands of people around me. This race didn’t go particular well for me, as my hamstrings cramped up with about 9km to go. I was dumb that day. I went out hard and didn’t have electrolytes with me, I had left them in my car in a rush to find a parking place and get to the line. The first 21kms were great, as I mentioned earlier, and the last 9km sucked. I was not short of breath, I wasn’t tired, I just couldn’t go above a certain speed without both of my hamstrings protesting in intense pain. I learned from this, that I dislike running on roads. I thought I would never do a running race again. I ran in a shorter 12.7km race at Rattlesnake Conservation area in Milton, the difference being that this was on trail. I ran the race, and the main thing that I took away from this race was that it was fun. I had fun. I had fun running. I had fun running on trail.

Running lessons learned to date:

  1. I don’t like running on road.
  2. Don’t be dumb when it comes to electrolytes.
  3. I like running on uneven terrain and trail.

Logically, the only thing to do was to secretly hope to one day run 100km on a trail.

Being a father of two little ones under 3 has not afforded me the luxury of the training time required for racing a race of that magnitude. Having already had a full season including the 30km Around the Bay, 2 adventure races over 30 hours, one trail race, and one multisport race, I thought sometime in August, that a 50km race would be the icing on a fantastic season.

I found two races of 50km distance, Run for the Toad and Vulture Bait. The issue of which one to race was resolved by the Run for the Toad being sold out. Vulture Bait it was.

I went about preparing for this race in the same way I did every race since my children entered my life. When the children are asleep, I am able to run. This might be at night or in the heat of the afternoon. These are not the most ideal times, but they are time. I also have the fortune of coaching a high school cross country team where all of our coaches take part in the practices. I tried to get as many long runs in as I could to prepare my legs. I started out with 15km, 18km, working my way to 20km.

I wondered about 50km, could I do it? It seemed pretty far. It is weird, but I have competed in many adventure races over 24 hours long, but the idea of running for 50km intimidated me like no other race. I decided that I would run home from work about one week before the race to set the tone for the race. The distance was 35km. I ran it and it sucked. It was the hottest day in a long time. I ran out of water and I stopped sweating about 12km from my house. It sucked. It really sucked. I watched the speed on my GPS watch spiral down. It demoralized me and made me fear the 50km race, one week away. Luckily for me, my household is busy and I didn’t have a lot of time to dwell on my fears. In the moments where I had spare time, my mind strayed to the 50km.

Self-doubt was abundant. I know that I am mentally strong and one of the only things I can control is my mindset, but there was a nagging feeling of self-doubt. There was an internal battle to drop down to the 25km race or to stay at the 50km. Do I take a chance and risk failure? or do I just run 25km? A distance I know I can do. This conundrum stayed with me up until race time. The course was a 25km loop and all I would have to do is go across the finish line after one loop and no one would know that I dropped down.

Eventually it boiled down to a couple simple facts.

  1. I would know if I dropped down.
  2. I had told my students that I was going to run 50km and to maintain my street cred, I had to.
  3. I told my wife about my doubts the day before the race and her response was one of belief in me. She believed that I could do it and that I should go for it. That more than anything I think helped me to start to rebuild my confidence.

Deep down I knew I had the mental strength for 50km as I have done many longer adventure races, but I didn’t know what I would look like and feel like on the other side of the finish line. Would I still be a useful parent the rest of the weekend? Would I be wrecked for work on Monday? I decided in my warm-up for the race that my mantra for the race was going to be, “Don’t be Dumb”. It was a catchphrase to cover the following scenarios that have led to distress in shorter races. Going out too fast, not drinking electrolytes, taking the race lightly, and not eating properly. Essentially, “Don’t be Dumb” was a reminder to do all the things that I know how to do right.

I and 299 others started on the line. I set my GPS watch, noticing that I had forgotten to charge the watch. I hoped it would last the race, however long that would be. I decided in the car that I would go about 10km/hr and ideally finish somewhere between 5 and 6 hours. I started out at an even pace of 10km/hr. I felt good and kept creeping up towards 12km/hr getting caught up in the pace of those around me. I kept repeating “Don’t be Dumb” and bringing it back down.

About 2km in I noticed that there were two ladies in front of me going more or less my pace. One was a former adventure racing teammate Charlotte Vasarhelyi and someone running beside her (Hinga). I knew Charlotte was an amazing runner owning records for running stupidly long distances (Bruce Trail). I also knew that the other woman, Hinga, had a 100 mile toque on her head and that meant she could run. I settled into a pace of 10km/hr in behind these ladies. A the 5km mark I ran close enough to let them know they were going my anticipated speed for the race and asked if they wouldn’t mind if I ran with them. They said sure.

Charlotte and I caught up on life, and Hinga and I got to know one another. They were very encouraging and had many great stories involving lots of running. Eventually Charlotte dropped off the pace as I later found out her back was injured and that she slowed down to nurse it as to not affect her training for longer races. Hinga and I ran together for another 10km or so until I started to have stomach issues.

At the first aid station they had food and something called Heat (electrolyte replacement). I debated about this product, as I have never had it. I needed electrolytes as “Don’t be Dumb” applied to the rule of having to consume electrolytes. I drank Heat at the first three aid stations. I did not foresee the “Don’t be Dumb” rule letting me down in that I think my stomach issues stemmed from my consumption of Heat. I have a delicate GI tract and it was not up for the task of digesting new things on race day. I spent a great deal of time dealing with stomach issues. I stopped drinking electrolytes and started to eat more bananas, drink my Ensure (that I brought), drink water, and drink supplied pop. The stomach issues eventually cleared up.

At about the 5km of the second loop (30km mark), I noticed that the same guy was behind me for about 5km. I slowed down and said, “We may as well run together.” His name was Bruce. He was a very nice and experienced runner. We ended up finishing the end of the race together. I found out that running with someone really made the time go much faster than running in isolation. We talked about our families, various races we have done, and compared race induced hallucinating stories. He had lots of great advice and was full of many great stories. Running with someone for 20km really helped the time go by. Eventually, I crossed the finish line. I was/am an ultra marathoner. I had done the race in 5 hours 31 minutes and change. I had met my goal  time. I had finished the race.  And I had finished it feeling strong.

I learned a lot from this race:

  1. I have a tendency to jump into things.
  2. I enjoy running long distances.
  3. Don’t drink Heat.
  4. Run with someone with cool stories, as running by yourself sucks.
  5. My wife was right, I could do it.
  6. I love running in the rain.
  7. Running on trails keeps the mind busy and the eyes entertained.

So, what is in store for next year? Maybe 100km, maybe not.

But I know I will be running at least 50km in one race next year.