Recovery from Lost Soul was painfully slow. My quads were exceptionally sore and despite my best efforts to give my body the nutrients and rest that it needed, it still felt like I was barely making progress. In the week after Lost Soul I did absolutely nothing. No walking, no running, no biking, no stretching. I did try yoga one day … but that was a bad idea. It felt like the slightest exertion would rip my muscles in half.
Heading into LSU I was really excited to race. It had been a long summer and I was looking forward to the off-season. But before the off-season, I wanted to put in one really good, hard effort to see where I was at. I feel like the smoky air stole that opportunity away from me. There was no racing at LSU – it was just 12 hours of battling against the elements before finally admitting that I could not function in those conditions.
Lost Soul left such a bad taste in my mouth that I jumped at the chance to compete at The Golden Ultra 2 weeks later. It didn’t matter that I registered for the race when I could still barely run a step, I had belief that my body would eventually come around. I knew that I would not be in ideal shape to actually compete with the top ladies, but I was okay with that. I could still race to the best of my ability and finish the season on a high note, knowing that I had left it all out there on the trail.
My friend Steph was also running Golden, so she let me tag along – chauffeuring me out to Golden and letting me crash at her “swank” motel room at Mary’s Motel. I felt very spoiled. Friday afternoon came around and it was time to run the Vertical Km, aka “The Blood.”
The Blood – 4.7km, 1040m
I went into this stage hoping to have learned from my experience last year, when I pushed too hard and imploded 3/4 of the way up the mountain. This year I pushed hard, but kept myself in control. I was breathing heavily but there was no blood in my mouth and my heart was not pounding in my ears.
For the first 2/3rds of the race I was accompanied by a 9 year old kid. He would sprint ahead of me, then slow down until I caught up, only to sprint ahead again. As he got tired he would do a little less sprinting and I found myself hiking behind him as he powered his way up the mountain. It was a super impressive performance and it took every ounce of effort to eventually overtake him.
I reached the rocky trail which marked the final portion of the course in good shape, and I told myself it was time to start red-lining. I upped my effort and my breathing became ragged. I caught up to a lady in front of me, but the trail was narrow and she had poles. I tried to stick close to her so that I could squeeze by when there was space, but the trail was steep and her poles were dangerously close to eye level. I was forced to back off or risk losing an eye. After a few minutes of playing chicken I decided it was time to stop being so polite. This was a race, and if she wasn’t going to let me pass I was just going to let myself by. I put in a surge of effort and squeezed past, channeling my frustration to use as fuel for the final push to the finish line. I reached the finish line totally gassed, but feeling like I had executed the race nearly perfectly.
I finished about a minute faster than in 2016. The difference was not a reflection of my fitness, but simply a better pacing strategy. I was trying to race hard and smart, so I was super pleased with that.
Fuel – none
Gear – Icebug Oribis
The Sweat – 58.5km, 2500m
I was under no illusions heading into the ultra stage – I would not be competing for a podium position. This is a very runnable course and I had done almost no running in the last month. I was trained for hiking and time on feet. I knew that my legs were not used to running, and I was worried about blowing them up, so I kept the pace very manageable. Still, after about 5 or 8km I found myself slowly working my way up the field. Eventually I reached the junction where the 30 and 60km runners split. The trails became much more peaceful and I got into a zone.
Steph went ran past me and I was torn between wanting to chase after her, and sticking to my own pace. I stuck to my pace. As the trail got steeper I transitioned to a power hike. This was my happy place and soon I found myself passing people at regular intervals. I embraced the climb, the steeper the better. I passed one girl who was obviously not enjoying the change in terrain and continued to hike with purpose. The trail leveled off as I approached the 25km aid station, and I could see Steph and Todd up ahead. I passed Todd at the aid station, but Steph didn’t stop and was pushing ahead. The trail was climbing and I could tell I was gaining ground, but then the trail turned and we found ourselves back on runnable single-track. Steph vanished out of sight.
By this point in the race it was painfully obvious to me that my running was just not very good. Every time there was a sustained climb I would gain ground,, but as soon as the trail leveled off the runners behind me would catch back up. I wasn’t surprised by this, but it was still a little disappointing.
The ridge climb became steeper and I slowly reeled Steph in. We were both moving well on the climb, passing lots of guys as we made our way towards the summit. The views were spectacular and I was happy.
I reached the summit aid station a few seconds before Steph, refilled my water and took a few breaths from my puffer. We left aid together and I mentally prepared myself for the long grind back to the finish line. I did a reasonable job of running the steep downhill, but once we got back down to Kickinghorse Resort I knew it was all super runnable trail back to the finish line. There were no more hills to help me make up time, and everyone behind me was going to slowly catch back up. I put on some tunes and tried to find a rhythm. Steph passed by me, followed by a gazelle which I would later learn was Adrienne Dunbar.
There’s not much to say about those last 20km. I kept a steady effort, pushing as hard as I could without falling apart. My breathing was laboured, but not to the point where I had to walk. I wasn’t sure if my breathing issues were residual from LSU, or just my usual problem.
I came into the finish line in 6th place, 7 minutes slower than last year, but happy to have put in another solid effort. I felt I had paced it perfectly for my strengths, and I reached the finish line completely drained. Steph and I shuffled back to the motel where I spent the next hour coughing up my lungs, while Steph attempted to nurse her rebellious stomach back to health. We both wondered how we were possibly going to be able to run hard again tomorrow.
Side note – a quick analysis on of the race splits and Strava shows that I reached the summit one minute faster than in 2016, but I lost 8 minutes on the last 20km.
Fuel – maple syrup (diluted with water, 1 tsp salt). Hammer gels.
Gear – Ultraspire Zygos pack. Icebug Animas.
The Tears – 19km, 600m
I probably should have put a little more effort into my warm up for this stage, but I just didn’t have the energy to care. I ran a little less than a kilometre and called it good. Everything hurt and I was sore and cranky.
The stage began and half the field surged in front of me. I shuffled along, debating whether or not I should just hike this stage. Why did I have to race? The paved road we were running along turned uphill and I started walking. My legs did not want to move. Eventually the hill leveled off, the course turned onto a trail, and I began to wake up. Soon I found myself running more, hiking less, and passing racers. The downhills felt surprisingly good so I decided to let my legs fly.
Just like in 2016, my body came alive and I discovered that I had another gear hidden under all that fatigue. I caught up to Steph after about 10km and somehow I knew that she would hang onto me as long as possible. I told myself to run hard so that we could both finish strong.
The downhills on The Tears course are super fun and I took full advantage of the gravity-assisted speed. Unfortunately, my slow start to the day meant that I had a lot of people to pass and I was forced to keep dialing it back as people tried their best to get out of my way on the narrow single-track.
When the trail joined back up with the road I knew it was just a couple kilometres of flat road running until the finish line. Flat road is not my strength, but fear is a powerful motivator and I could hear a runner gaining ground behind me. I pushed hard, successfully holding off the competitor and crossing the finish line in 9th place, Steph was close behind me.
The 2017 Tears course was different than 2016, so I’m not able to really compare splits. I’m super happy with how I ran the last 15km, but a little annoyed that I didn’t put more effort into the first 4km. I should have done a longer warm-up.
Fuel – maple syrup (diluted with water, 1 tsp salt).
Gear – Ultraspire Spry 2.0 pack. Brooks Pure Grit (my feet were tired and I needed some cushion).
And, the final standings for the stage race, 6th overall. (Not sure why it says 21km)
That’s it as far as my 2017 ultra season goes. I’m really happy that I was able to go out on a high note 🙂
Next up The Grizzly Ultra 50km in Canmore, where I’ll be racing with Arielle as a 2 person team!