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Local Runners Take Part in Ultramarathon

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One of the greatest things in life is taking on a seemingly impossible task and succeeding; tasks that push your physical and mental limits, showing you what you are actually capable of.
On Sept. 14, three Swan Valley residents did just that when they crossed the finish line of the Beaver Flat 50, a 50 kilometre ultra marathon that takes runners across the rolling, sandy hills of Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park, approximately 50 km north of Swift Current, Sask.. Andrew Jones from Kenville, and Joel Mateika and Ryan Boyd from Swan River worked together to train and tackle one of the biggest challenges a distance runner can sign up for.
Spoiler alert! All three of them finished, with Jones crossing the line at 8:25:04.5, Mateika following at 9:33:05.9 and Boyd finishing up at 9:50:24.7.
Boyd’s time was less than 40 minutes short of the official cut-off time of 10:30:00, but the accomplishment is no less impressive, considering the challenges undertaken within those 10 hours and the will to train for it.
Already an experience triathalon athlete, having started training for his first one in 2017, Boyd is no stranger to distance running. His first was a sprint distance which included a 5 km run as part of the triple event. He went on to compete in two Half Ironman events as well since then, which include a 21.1 km run at the end of swimming 1.9 km and biking 90 km.
“Most of my training was focused specifically for these events and I only really started focusing on run-specific training at the start of this summer when I signed up for the Beaver Flat 50 K event,” he said, noting that he was only ever used to running 20 km at a time.
Boyd, Jones and Mateika got together in a group chat with local running aficionado Keith Immerkar, who has tackled multiple ultra marathons including the 100 km Lost Soul Ultra Marathon in Lethbridge, Alta..
“He told us that we really needed to get out and do some proper hill training,” said Boyd. “He took us to a place he calls Paradise, which is a 2 km sandy motocross circuit outside of Kenville.
“Running on sandy, hilly terrain is a lot harder than on regular trails and roads, and on the first time out, I only made it around four laps before I called it quits.”
He continued to meet at Paradise once a week and the individuals of the group would also train on other hilly areas of the Valley, including by Minitonas and on Thunderhill.
“The whole adventure started out as Joel’s idea,” said Boyd. “I always joked about it when we were hurting during the runs. ‘Whatever happens, it’s your fault,’ I said. When you go for events like this, it’s always nice to have some friends to share the experience and pain with.”
Boyd had plenty of support from his family as well, especially when he finally made it to the hills of Saskatchewan.
“To have them there at a time when I needed them the most was very uplifting,” he said. “As the terrain is so extreme, I wasn’t sure if family would make it to any of the aid stations, but there was one out of five that you could get to by vehicle and it was a nice surprise to see them there, as it wasn’t planned.
“At the finish line, my daughter made a sign for me and she ran to meet me with 100 metres to go. I was able to give her a hug and carry her over the finish line. That made the whole thing even more satisfying.”
Boyd stressed that the Beaver Flat 50 – as ironic as the name is – was literally the hardest race he had ever competed in, beyond any marathon which may more often be on flat ground or gentle slopes. Boyd’s description of the course confirms the race’s website claim: the last 30K makes the Dam Hard 20K (a shorter race in the same event) look like a walk in the park. It’s hill repeats in the worst kind of way.
“I knew it was going to be tough, but not that tough,” said Boyd, noting that his confident pace in the first 15 km was humbled by the route later on.
“Walking through deep mud and streams with extreme elevation both up and down. Climbing up hills using your hands. Traversing across steep, angled slopes where you don’t want to misplace your footing. I thought that if I took it easy and just took my time walking at these parts, I would be okay. I was completely wrong.”
Boyd hit the infamous runner’s wall at 20 km, doubting whether he could make climb after climb, stopping regularly.
“I literally had to lie down for five minutes to catch my breath,” he said.
By this point, Boyd and Mateika would still pass periodically, but Jones was far ahead, not to be seen until the finish line at the end of the day.
Boyd was actually seven minutes ahead of Mateika at the third aid station 23 km in, where they rested for several minutes.
“He looked very tired,” said Boyd. “He told me if I hadn’t been there, he might have pulled the plug and was really glad to see me. I wasn’t as bad as him at this point, but things would change later in the race.”
The two departed together for the next aid station, which was another 10 km away.
“It doesn’t sound far, but when your legs are sore, you’re tired and you’re climbing massive hills, it can seem like a lifetime away.”
Between Station 3 and 4, Boyd’s condition deteriorated with leg cramps, dizziness, feeling hot and running out of water supply.
“It’s now when you find out what you’re really made of,” he said. “I kept my focus and stumbled in to Aid Station 4, where my wife was waiting for me.
“Joel was still there so I gave him a quick ‘good luck’ before he hit the trail again. I wouldn’t see him again until the finish line.”
Boyd noted that the remainder of the race – which he walked for the majority – was the most memorable part of the race.
“I did not see another competitor for almost two hours,” he said. “Nothing but you, the race and your mind. You have a lot of time to think.
“Your mind is your worst enemy, but it can also be your best weapon. In the dark time, your mind can wander to all sorts of places, and when you’re focused, it can be the catalyst that overcomes pain and allows you to continue on.
“I made it to the final aid station in good spirits and I knew that I was going to finish,” Boyd continued. “I had 7 km to go and two hours to do it in. When I reached the finish line, my family and comrades were all there to cheer me on. I was absolutely knackered and very glad I finished. It’s something I don’t think I’ll ever forget.”
Boyd noted that, of all the races he’s competed in, this was the only one where there were times he thought about quitting, more than once even.
“I remember lying face down, heart racing in the middle of a tough climb,” he said. “The thought of having to slug out another 30 km was impossible to comprehend. Focusing on small goals and getting to the next aid station where there is food, water and chairs to sit in is what kept me going through those hard times. The thought of not finishing the race haunted me the whole time and I did not want to get a DNF next to my name.”
The idea of putting your body and mind through such tremendous stress in the name of recreation and fitness may seem ridiculous to some, but there are people of all kinds who will distance run, and do it for a variety of reasons.
“Some people are trying to lose weight, others might be trying to overcome addiction, getting fit or meeting a challenge from a friend or spouse,” said Boyd.
When he asked Immerkar why he attempted the Fat Dog 120 – a 120 mile race with 8,682 m of elevation, he replied with, “It’s because when you set out to do a race like this, there is a real possibility that you actually might fail and won’t finish. There’s not many things in life these days that you have more of a chance at failing at than succeeding.”
Boyd added that it is possible to do unbelievable things if you set your mind to it and learn to harness the power of the human body.
“If anyone is interested in doing a race like this or getting into trail running or ultra marathons, get in contact with me and we can add you to our Swan Valley Runners WhatsApp group,” he said. “As of now, it’s a small, niche group of runners and a very motivated group of people that will help you achieve your running goals.
“It’s not about how fast or fit you are, it’s about challenging yourself with a group of like-minded people ready to support you on your journey.”
Boyd plans on taking two months off running to allow his body to heal. His goals for the next year include taking part in two more ultra marathons, including Actif Epica – a 54 km southern Manitoba run in February – as well as the 100 km Lost Souls Ultra next September.

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Jeremy Bergen
REPORTER
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