“The WAM 100 mile race is hands down, all at once the most stunning ultra in Canada and the most challenging race in the country, in fact it ranks right up there as one of the toughest 100’s on the continent.
167 kilometers of incredible terrain, up and down the two major mountains on the east side of the Whistler valley: Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain…while doing Whistler Mountain twice! All while covering over 9500 meters (31,000 feet) of climbing and descent, and skirting no fewer than a half dozen alpine lakes along the way, including Jane, Jake, Logger’s, Cheakamus, and more. We’ve even thrown in three suspension bridge crossings for good measure.
This is as much an adventure as it is a run. The course is unrelenting, but it has a high “reward value” in that we don’t have long sections of suck while you’re waiting for the few highlights to present, rather the highlights are plentiful and you’d have to close your eyes to eliminate the beauty of the area from constantly coming at you.”
~excerpt from the WAM website~
I came into this event ready and excited to race. Last year’s running season did not go particularly well, and my opportunity to truly race at Bighorn earlier this year went up in literal smoke when I hit a buck during our drive down to the event. Standing on the WAM start line I felt fit, healthy and rested. I hadn’t felt that good in a very long time and I had to work hard to temper my enthusiasm.
Standing at the start line, not sure what’s up with that expression 🙂 PC: Scott Roberts Photography
Meadow Park to Alta Lake – 14.5km, 733m ascent, 696m descent
I ran most of this leg either with Jessica (a strong runner from Edmonton) or on my own. The leg began with a climb and Patrick and Chris went on ahead. I was trying to keep my effort very easy, and keeping up with the boys on the climb would have taken me out of that zone. The leg finished with a very cruisey downhill section with 27 switchbacks. Anyone who has ever run trails with me knows that I like to corner, so this was right up my alley. I let my legs go, passing several runners and catching up with Patrick and Chris in the aid station. The aid station was a few kilometres sooner than advertised (and I was moving faster than expected) so Matt wasn’t there. I grabbed some candy from the well-stocked aid station and began to hike up the hill on the next leg of the course. As I hiked, I sent Matt a quick text so that he would know that we had missed each other. It was a nice luxury to have cell service on a race course.
Views over Whistler on Leg 1. I think that might be Sean Blanton hang gliding!
Alta Lake to Function – 11.5km, 632m ascent, 711m descent
Chris hiked up ahead, while Patrick soon caught me from behind. Patrick ran with me for awhile, and then all 3 of us were running together through the Function Junction section. I was surprised that we were all moving at the same pace, but I enjoyed being part of a “team.” Soon we were at the second aid station. The distance for this leg had been correct, but we were still running much faster than I had anticipated. Matt was there to help crew me and I had a rice ball (rice, egg, cheese, soy sauce) from our cooler. It was nice to have something other than candy. The 3 of us left the aid station in close succession but I took it super easy on the crushed gravel path, falling behind the rest of the Team. I was very concerned about all the running we had been doing this far into the race and I thought that I needed to figure out some sort of walking strategy to slow myself down.
Running along a raging river as we head into Function Junction.
Function to WAC – 19km, 1071 ascent, 1061 descent
The course turned off the crushed gravel path and onto an ATV road. The ATV road angled uphill, and the grade slowly got steeper as the path got rougher. I made a conscious effort to slow down and just focus on being relaxed, eating and drinking at regular intervals. Jessica caught up to me and we talked for a bit before I found myself moving ahead again. I really enjoyed this climb because it felt like it gave me a chance to reset from all the running we had been doing. I was a bit sad when the climb ended, but I didn’t mourn for long because the course turned onto what looked to be a brand new mountain biking trail. The trail was cut into the mossy undergrowth of the forest and traversed between a couple of picturesque mountain lakes. It was gorgeous! This is where I met my new friend James, a runner from Squamish who had wandered off-course and just made his way back. WAM was his first hundred, but he had plenty of leg speed having just run a 34 minute 10km the previous weekend!
I loved this forest section. I had good company to run with, and the route had taken on much more of a wilderness, mountain feel. I no longer was fighting to force myself to slow down, I simply had a big grin on my face and was fully embracing the forest bathing. The forest section ended with a downhill mountain road before turning back onto some rockier single-track. The good vibes continued and I broke out a bag of Cheetos to celebrate as the trail came to a lookout over another mountain lake.
Shortly after the lake I ran out of water. This leg was definitely longer than advertised, but I wasn’t overly concerned. I knew we were going to have to make up for that short 1st leg at some point. Eventually we came to the top of a climb and began a technical descent down towards what I assumed would be the aid station. This descent was where I saw the first of the “DANGER SLOW” signs. I chuckled to myself, how many more of those would I see today? A kilometre or two later I ran into the WAC aid station and Matt was there to crew me. I had a rice ball and a yogurt tube before heading back out. Patrick was just ahead of me and I caught up to him as he was finishing off a bottle of Coke.
WAC to Village – 15km, 755m ascent, 601m descent
The next section is a bit hazy for me. I recall Patrick and Chris moving ahead on the initial climb, but then somehow I caught up to them and I was leading the Team. I was feeling really good and just enjoying cruising along. At one point I was enjoying the view a little too much and completely missed a turn. Thankfully Chris was there to set me straight. The course was impeccably marked, but you still have to pay attention.
Apparently we made good time on that leg, because we arrived at Whistler Village just as our crews were setting up. This was a planned longer aid station break, as we prepared to head up Whistler Mountain and into the night. I ate more rice balls and yogurt, changed my socks and shorts, and re-lubricated areas that were threatening to chafe. I also packed an extra headlamp. We left Whistler Village as a team of 4, having picked Mike up (another runner from Calgary), at the aid station. I had been looking forward to the long walk up Singing Pass to Whistler Mountain all day. It signaled the end of the running and beginning of the adventuring!
Village to Whistler Mountain – 19km, 1720m ascent, 460m descent
My focus during the walk up Singing Pass was eating. I ate a Mars bar, and a couple of slow burning Muir gels. I probably also had a bunch of gummies and jelly beans, maybe some Oreos. It was a constant snack fest. Chris dropped off the back of our train for a bit at one point, while I lagged behind Mike and Patrick on the steeper sections. I was feeling really good on the flats and downhills so I would quickly catch up to them on any of the undulations. The trail became more technical and undulating as we left Singing Pass and went over the Musical Bumps. Technical, undulating terrain is a strength for me, so I soon moved ahead. It was dark out and although the route was extremely well marked, it was still easy to wander off course. At one point I missed a turn, but thankfully I quickly realized my error. I climbed back up to the missed turn and waited at the corner to warn the other guys. But if I’m honest, I am not good at waiting and I soon decided that they could probably figure it out just fine on their own.
Eventually I made to the summit of Whistler Mountain. The volunteers had some good tunes going and the aid station was well-stocked with candy, including M&Ms! I’ve had a bit of an addiction to M&Ms lately so I filled a ziplock with the tasty treats. I asked the volunteers if they had pancakes, but they told me they weren’t cooking them up until the morning. This was a bit of a bummer because I knew Patrick had been looking forward to those pancakes since last year’s WAM.
Whistler Mountain to WAC – 14km, 158m ascent, 1572m descent
All good things must come to an end, so I reluctantly left the aid station and started down the extremely steep and technical descent trail. Having been on this trail last year, I knew what to expect and I was apprehensive. I was fearful my legs might not be able to handle this kind of trail after 80km and 4000m of climbing, plus this time I was doing it in the dark! My shoes handled the rock and mud well, but I didn’t do so well on the boardwalks. After one particularly hard fall on a boardwalk I was extremely careful navigating the rest of my way down the route. There were several of those “SLOW DANGER” signs, but I think they could have just posted one at the top of the trail and called it good.
Eventually I got onto more runnable trail and I enjoyed the easy cruise down, occasionally crossing paths with one of the lead runners who were on their way back up. I counted the men and the ladies as I passed them. The lead lady was in 10th and looked very strong. I was in roughly 20th place overall and 2nd lady, about an hour behind 1st. I took some extra time at the aid station, feeling very sleepy (it was just after 1am) but otherwise in good spirits. I had some coffee, broth and snacks, dropped off one of my headlamps and began the slow shuffle back up the trail. I had spent about 20 minutes in the aid station and was surprised that none of the Team had made it in yet. I didn’t worry for long though, because I ran into Patrick a few hundred metres out of the aid station, and then Chris few minutes later. They both looked to be in very good spirits.
WAC to Whistler Mountain – 14km, 1572m ascent, 158 descent
I was dreading the climb back up Whistler Mountain. It was SO TECHNICAL and STEEP!! I ran into Jessica a few kilometres out of the aid station and we stopped and talked for a few minutes. She had a sore foot and had decided to drop to avoid a more severe injury. Then I ran into Mike who was walking like a zombie. He did not look like he was interested in continuing the torture. Near treeline I ran into a dense patch of fog as I climbed up through the clouds. It made spotting the flagging tape much more challenging. The fog continued above treeline and suddenly I realized I was off-course. I looked around me for any markings but I didn’t see a thing. Thankfully I remembered my watch had a breadcrumb feature and I was able to use that to get back on route. I was borrowing the watch from my friend Katie and I made a mental note to send her extra thanks for saving my race.
I didn’t think it was possible, but I had ascended the mountain too quickly and I reached the aid station well before sunrise. We were above the clouds now and I could see that sunrise was going to be accompanied by a spectacular inversion. I decided to lollygag a bit at the aid station – if I moved slow enough maybe I would get to see the sun. I ate a full cup of noodles in front of the aid station heater, and then I spotted the big box of bananas. I knew that I don’t handle bananas well when I’m racing, but I also wasn’t thinking very clearly. All I could think was that those bananas looked delicious!
Whistler Mountain to Base 2 – 19.5km, 482 ascent, 1772m descent
I scarfed down a full banana and then made my way off the summit towards the Musical Bumps. Not even 10 minutes later I had thrown everything up on the side of the trail. I checked my watch, I had made it 19.5hrs without puking. Not bad! I was sad to see those noodles go to waste, but I felt much better after puking. Unfortunately, even thought I was feeling better my brain was truly checked out at this point and I proceeded to miss another very well-marked corner and wander off route. A few minutes later I realized my mistake, and once again used the breadcrumb feature to get back on track. Now I was back on very technical trail, and I had to be alert to follow the course markings. I was so focused on the markings that I hardly ate during this section and my pace slowed significantly.
The upside to all of this is that the sky started to lighten and I got to see the sunrise! The sunrise was so beautiful, that I found myself full of gratitude for the comedy of errors that had slowed me down. Soon I was shuffling my way back down the Singing Pass trail, smile on my face but starting to feel very stiff and tired. Puking always takes a lot out of me, and I was so stiff by this point I couldn’t manage a full stride. I noticed a tightness in the back of my right calf, and a memory tried to trigger, but I couldn’t quite place it. I ignored the tightness and pressed on. It was around this time that I started to pee constantly. I was thankful that I was on my own because it felt like I was peeing every 10 minutes and I wouldn’t have wanted to have to move far off-trail. I tried increasing my salt-intake to help with some water retention but it didn’t seem to make a difference. I was peeing far more than I was drinking, and I found myself not wanting to drink because I felt like it would just trigger more peeing.
Eventually I made it to the Base 2 aid station. I was very tired and happy to have a seat. I had a rice ball, some yogurt, salted potatoes and some delicious bacon kindly offered by a random bystander. Nicola was at the aid station volunteering, and when I complained about my constant peeing she had said that she’d heard it was related to protein intake. Hopefully the bacon would help. While I was sitting there Patrick and Chis came running in. They said they were tired, but they looked great!
Lost my noodles. I take photos of weird things when I’m tired 🙂
Base 2 to 7th Heaven – 4km, 848m ascent, 6m descent
I walked out of the aid station and began the steep climb up the Blackcomb Ascent Trail. My calf had tightened up to the point where it was painful on every step and I was not moving very quickly. Patrick and Chris soon passed me, and I was happy to continue at my slow and steady state. The trail went up and up and up, but eventually I reached the aid station. I had slowed down but I felt like I was still in good spirits and moving okay considering I’d been running for 24hrs straight.
7th Heaven to 7th Heaven – 12km, 758m ascent and descent
The volunteers warned me that the next section was very slow going. Apparently even the lead runners had taken over 2.5hrs on this section. I think their warning lit a little fire under my ass because I was able to run the next portion of gravel road. From there the route turned straight up a ski hill, it wasn’t even on a trail and I laughed out loud. It was time to Minotaur! I love a little bushwhacking and I took joy in the fact that I probably loved that section more than anyone else in the race.
The bushwhack was short and soon the course turned back onto well-developed trail. I didn’t know anything about the Blackcomb alpine and to be honest I wasn’t expecting much more than random mountain biking trails. So you can imagine my surprise when the trails turned out to have some of the most stunning views on the course! We had climbed just above the inversion and were dancing with the clouds. Marmots whistled, and the trail wound its way around alpine tarns and boulder fields. Glaciated peaks popped in and out of view. I was happy.
Sidenote: I do have one complaint about this section of the course, and this is that we were doing the loop backwards. The best views were always behind me so I found myself constantly wanting to stop and look back, but I couldn’t do this because I was in race and I was trying to move efficiently. There were also a ton of people up there travelling the opposite direction, so they were constantly having to move out of my way. I feel like if I was moving in the same direction as them I could have just hopped on the boulders to move around them, and not make them feel like they had to make way for me. But I digress...
7th Heaven to Green Lake – 17km, 495m ascent, 1420m descent
I find I move quickly when I’m happy and I finished the 12km loop faster than expected, catching back up to Patrick and Chris as they were leaving the aid station. Now there was only 25km left to the finish line with no significant climbs. My energy levels felt good and I was ready to give a good push, but my calf wouldn’t allow me to run. I decided to ask the aid station staff for a tensor bandage to see if wrapping the calf would make it feel any better. It turns out one of the volunteers, Adam, was a bit of a guru at this type of thing and he did an amazing job. The tape job definitely didn’t get rid of the pain, but it seemed to slow the progression down. Up to this point the calf and been getting progressively more painful, but now I was able to shuffle (slowly) down the ski out without feeling a significant increase in pain. I tried to take a full stride, I wanted to force myself to do it out of sheer will power, but I found that I couldn’t. Just like at Bighorn, I found that I have an upper pain threshold and I can’t seem to push through it. But (unlike at Bighorn), I was still moving at an okay pace and my spirits were still good. The road for the ski out was very firm and I found myself wishing for a softer surface. My wish was granted when a minute later we were directed off the ski out onto a very squishy, technical downhill mountain biking trail. This was not exactly what I meant by softer surface. The terrain was steep and slippery, and the going was extremely slow. I found myself cursing Gary under my breathe.
The rest of the race course was just plain cruel. After the downhill mountain bike trail we meandered up and down and around for what felt like hours! Jamil Coury caught up to me and we hiked together for a few miles before he went ahead to finish the race strong. We both thought the meandering trail was ridiculous, especially when it became clear that this was another one of those legs that was longer than advertised. Jamil ran ahead and I hobbled on as quickly as my legs would allow me, eventually reaching the final aid station.
Green Lake – 8km, 275m ascent, 285m descent
I had it in my head that I really wanted to break 33hrs, but if the last leg was actually the 8km advertised there was no way I could do it. I asked the volunteers if the last leg might be short – I was already at 164km on my watch and the race was only supposed to be 167km long. They said no, the last leg was a full 8km. Oh well – I held onto my hope that the volunteers were wrong. I filled up my soft flask with coke and pushed as hard as my legs and lungs would let me to get to the finish line. I left Green Lake at exactly 32hrs and if I didn’t reach the finish line in 33hrs I could allow myself to slow down and walk it in.
I wasn’t able to run the hills so I walked them all. I also wasn’t able to run the downhills particularly well, so I just moved as best I could. The flat sections felt okay. The trail was totally smooth crushed gravel and I was in love with the friendly surface. Why couldn’t the whole race be like this?? I pushed hard, there was a guy behind me and I told myself I wasn’t going to let him pass without a fight. The minutes passed by and it became apparent that I wasn’t going to make it in under 33hrs but still I kept pushing. Something in my mind told me this leg was going to be short. We came onto a road and Ellie Greenwood was volunteering at a junction, “1km to go!” The leg was short!!
I looked at my watch, maybe I could do it …
That last kilometre was the longest kilometre of my life. I ran as hard as my legs would let me, even though Strava says it was only a 6:06km. Whatever, it felt fast !! I crossed the finish line in 32:59:14, less than a minute to spare on my arbitrary timeline.
I think WAM may have eaten my soul. Finish line relief. PC: Scott Roberts Photography
Chris, Patrick, Matt and the crews were all at the finish line waiting for me. Marieve, the ladies winner, was also there to congratulate me at the finish line. I thought that was a very classy thing to do, as I know I am usually too destroyed after a race to think of anyone except for myself. Gary was there with a finish line hug, and I was so happy to be done I forgot to ream him out for making us run around in circles for 10km.
Overall, I am very happy with this performance. I still haven’t raced my perfect hundred miler but I think I’m getting closer. I didn’t puke until almost 20 hours into the race, and even then it was just a one time thing. I took care of myself when things went sideways. I slowed down when I had to, pushed when I could, and when I got hurt I took the time to treat the injury, which definitely enabled me to move faster in the end. I had no blisters and there was no crying. I didn’t take any naps.
There are a few things I could do to improve for next time:
- I could improve by remembering my poles. I think poles would have definitely helped me from Base 2 to the end when my calf quit working.
- I also could improve by not eating that stupid banana. Puking lead to a minor bonk, as well as dehydration and associated muscle stiffness. I was running downhill totally pain-free before that banana.
- I also could improve by figuring out why I was peeing so much. I did seem to pee less after having some protein …
- Matt – for being the best support crew I could ask for. Not only on race day, but supporting me throughout my endless hours of racing
- Patrick – for being an awesome training partner and finding us a sweet place to stay in Whistler. I hope your feet heal up so we can get back out adventuring!
- Gary and the CMTS team – Thank you for organizing this ridiculous race, even if I was cursing you at times. The swag was awesome and organization impeccable.
- Spry – your continued support enables me to pour my heart into this sport and lifestyle I love so much.
- Katie – thanks again for lending me your watch all summer!