The Golden Ultra – 2017

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

VK top ten


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.

60km results


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).

Golden 21km

And, the final standings for the stage race, 6th overall.  (Not sure why it says 21km)

Golden Results

 

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!

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LSU 2017 – the race that wasn’t

LOST SOUL ULTRA – PRE-RACE RAMBLINGS 

 

I have this dream of running the perfect 100 mile race.  A race where I stick to my plan, adapt to obstacles, listen to my body and cross the finish line knowing that I have left it all out there on the course.  So far that perfect race has been elusive, but I’m still dreaming.  Run enough of these things, and it has to happen some time, right??? 

 

The Lost Soul Ultra is often a hot race, but this year was particularly scorching.  Environment Canada forecasted a high of 35 degrees on race day (that equates to roughly 40 degrees in the coulees), making this officially my hottest race to date.  But more than the heat, the real x-factor for this race was the smoke.  With forest fires raging in Montana, Southern Alberta and BC,  the Air Quality Index (AQI) on race day ranged from 8-10+.  Environment Canada warned people to stay indoors, and that the air pollution would particularly affect people with asthma (such as myself). These were not the best conditions for chasing my elusive perfect race but still, I was curious.  I wondered if I could manage those conditions. Obviously I wouldn’t be able to go for a “fast” time, but maybe I could still adapt to the challenge and have a good race.  Maybe if I ran conservatively, paid attention to my nutrition/hydration, took my asthma medication and listened to my body I would be okay. 

 


QUICK COURSE DESCRIPTION 

The 100 mile race consists of 3x54km loops.  The 100km course is 1x54km loop + 1x46km loop.  There are 3 aid stations: Headquarters (also the Start/Finish), Peenaquim and Pavan.  You visit each aid station twice during each 54km loop. 

 


RACE DAY 

 

The race began innocently enough.  I ran most of the first loop with Brayden and Stan, a couple of 100 mile veterans.  In 2015 Brayden had run a very fast hundred at Lost Soul in similarly scorching conditions, so I was hoping to somewhat emulate his splits. We jogged through the first 7km leg at a relaxed pace, finishing only 2 minutes ahead of his 2015 splits. 

For the next leg Brayden ran ahead, and I stuck with Jessica and Stan.  Jessica was running a little slower than I would have on my own, but she was experienced on this course and warned me not to blow myself out on this section.  I decided to listen to the voice of experience.  

Roughly 11km into the race I had my first signal that something was wrong.  I was running down a hill behind Jessica when I felt like I had to burp, but instead of a burp I was surprised by projectile vomit. I’m just happy I didn’t hit her!  I have never puked mid-stride before, and the puke was so unexpected it was comical. I didn’t feel nauseous, so I didn’t know what to make of it.  I decided to just keep fuelling as normal.  No need to panic. 

I was in and out of the Peenaquim aid station quickly, and Jessica and I continued to run together.  At least I think we did … this is where things start to get blurry.  I slowly began to clue in that I was not feeling good. My legs hurt. My quads felt like wires that were strung too tight, ready to break on every downhill.  I am used to running TONS of steep downhill, and I had been running very conservatively up until this point.  For my quads to feel this tired only 20km into the race was a new and unexpected experience. It was very disconcerting , but I decided to keep the issue to myself for the time being.  Maybe I just had some kinks I needed to work out… 

I met Matt at the Pavan aid station and took a few moments to get myself together.  As soon as I stopped running I realized that I was not feeling very good at all.  I gave myself a pep talk, it was still very early in the race and things could turn around, I just needed to take my time.  We loaded up my hydration pack with ice and I wore an ice bandana around my neck to keep me cool.  I took my puffer to help me cope with the smoky air.  It was time to head out onto the hottest part of the course. 

The smoke was so thick that you couldn’t see the sun.  With everything shrouded in a grey haze, it was hard to understand how it was so hot.  The only clue to the heat was the fact that everything which I had wet down with water at the aid station was dry within minutes.  Even the ice in my bandana completed melted within a few kilometres.   

I ran with my friend Kerri for a bit.  She commented on how freaked out she was that I wasn’t far ahead.  I didn’t know what to say, this was as fast as my body was willing to move.  Another friend, Patrick, was out for a run around the course and joined us for a bit.  He asked how I was and I told him I felt like crap, but I was hoping things would turn around at some point. Soon Kerri ran off ahead and Patrick headed back to the Pavan aid station.  I didn’t feel good, but my spirits were still high.  I was enjoying being out, and I was having fun even if I was moving very slowly. 

The smoke thickened and I began to feel extremely short of breath.  I would walk 10 steps and then take a break.  Don’t panic.  I forced myself to breathe through my nose on the hills.  If I had to breathe through my mouth I was moving too fast for the conditions. Unfortunately, nose-breathing Joanna could only take 3 or 4 steps before needing a break.  I began to cry.  

30km into a 161km run, and my body was already shutting down.  I felt that I had done absolutely everything right up to this point.  I had not started fast.  I had listened to my body.  I had kept myself as cool as possible, I was eating and hydrating.  I had taken as much medication to manage my asthma as I dared (I’m allowed 8 puffs/day and I was at 4 puffs only 3 hours into the race).   

I turned a corner and saw my friends Greg and Jay up ahead.  Both those guys are speedy, so I knew something was wrong.  My first reaction was a sense of validation;  

I’m not the only one who’s falling apart!  

Followed by an immediate sense of guilt for taking joy in someone else’s misery.  I talked with Greg for a bit, but he was even more miserable than I was, so I slowly moved ahead.  Eventually I was back on my own.  There was no running now.  I had finished the hills and was onto the flat portion of the course, but whenever I tried to move faster than a walk I would have to stop to recover.  I gave up on running. 

Another friend, Anna, ran past me.  She asked if I was okay and I burst into tears as she gave me a hug. As shitty as I felt, I also was incredibly grateful to be surrounded by friends.  Anna ran on, and I continued my hike.  The heat was oppressive, and I noticed that my shirt was totally dry.  I took it off so that I could wipe my damp bandana on my stomach and lower back. It was amazing how good that little bit of cooling felt.  I ran out of water, people ran past and still I walked.  I texted Matt to let him know that I was okay, just moving slowly.  It’s nice to do a race with cell reception. 

Matt met me just before the Pavan aid station and walked me in.  Pavan was filled with people who had decided to call it a day, I’ve never seen so many drops only 40km into a 100 mile race!  I had a seat on the grass while volunteers and friends swarmed to help me.  Within minutes I had a popsicle in one hand, beer in the other.  My ice bandana was back around my neck, wet buffs on my arms and legs, and Dennene’s cooling sleeves on my arms.  

I’m not sure how long I stayed there, maybe an hour.  Matt told me that the smoke was forecast to get better, and that we were in the worst of it right now.  I felt encouraged, I knew that with conditions how they were I would not be able to move quickly.  However, if the smoke cleared out in the evening and stayed away, maybe I could negative split the race???  I don’t think I know of anyone, ever, who has negative split a hundred miler.  But if the smoke cleared I believed I could. 

My friend Greg had wandered into the aid station while I was getting myself back together.  He was feeling rough, but I convinced him that we should do the next leg together. 

It was great to have a friend along for the journey, especially since we both felt so terrible that we weren’t worried about holding the other person back.  We shuffled along for a bit, walked for a bit, took breaks when we needed, and soon found ourselves at the Peenaquim aid station. 

Greg and I were moving well (relatively speaking) and arrived before Matt was expecting us.  That was okay, because Peenaquim was filled with lots of friends and volunteers.  Susan was there to get me ice, Dennene wet down the arm warmers, and Matt showed up in a few minutes with a beer for Greg and I.  We stayed at Peenaquim until I finished my beer and then made our way back to Headquarters – the finish of our first 54km loop. 

Greg and I continued our walk/shuffle and I think the smoke cleared a little because I started to feel better.  My legs still felt terrible but my breathing was not as laboured.  I felt that I could ignore leg pain so long as I could breathe.  We finished the loop in roughly 8h20min, my conservative pre-race estimate had been a 6.5-7hr loop .  Oh well.. 

Greg and I split up at Headquarters since he was running the 100km course and I was doing the 100M. I was feeling optimistic – my breathing seemed kind of okay, the temperature was going to cool off soon and the smoke was supposed to get better.  My legs still feel terrible, so I decided to lengthen my stride a bit in an effort to alleviate the pain.  Sometimes running faster feels better than running slower, or at least that’s what I told myself. 

I put my headphones in and enjoyed zoning out as I shuffled my way along the course.  I caught up to my friend Rob, and What’s Up came on through my earbuds.   

“Hey Rob, want to sing?”   

What’s up has got to be my all time favourite tune to belt out during a trail run.  This was the best part of the whole race. It lasted about 10 minutes… 

Towards the end of the loop I caught up to my friend Georgie, and then local trail running legend Larry.  I got greedy and passed Larry when I probably should’ve stuck with him.  Back at Headquarters I had another half beer, a few sips of a nasty electrolyte beverage, and I changed my shorts which were causing some serious chafing. 

Once again, I felt optimistic as I left I Headquarters.  I was resolute in my decision to ignore my leg pain (it had not diminished) and I jogged as much of the flats as possible.  The vomiting came suddenly and without warning.  I managed to step off the trail this time, but the puking was also much more severe .  I puked until I thought my stomach was inside out.  There was no lingering nausea, so after the puke I just went straight back to eating and drinking.  I told myself that maybe I could recover … but I think deep down I knew that my race was over. 

I continued to shuffle along the course, ignoring the razor blades which seemed to be slicing into my quads on every step.  WTF was up with that?!  Why wouldn’t my quads just shut up?   

I made it into Peenaquim just before dark with acid running through the blood vessels in my legs.  I found a spot where I could do legs-up-the-wall in the hope it would reduce the burning sensation.  Once I’d had enough of that I drank some soup, and a cup of ginger-ale, ate a rice ball and had more soup.  It was still 25 degrees out, but I was shivering so I put on warm clothes and Matt brought me a blanket.  

There were lots of friends at Peenaquim – Carmen, Martin, Melody, Patrick – they all pushed me to go on.  Rob came through the aid station, as did Georgie and Larry.  I wanted to leave with one of them and team up like I’d done with Greg, but it wasn’t happening.  My quads were so shot it took me 3 tries and all my arm muscle to get out of my chair.  Without my blanket I couldn’t stay warm, and with my legs like this I knew I wouldn’t even be able to job. 

After lots of deliberation I decided to quit.  I was over 12hrs into the race and I’d only managed to travel 65km.  It was obvious that my body had strongly revolted against the conditions, and trying to push further was an exercise in futility. 

 


THE AFTERMATH 

The next day the smoke cleared out a little bit and the sun rose blazing hot.  The afternoon brought with it more dense smoke.  The smoke was so bad that we decided to drive back to Calgary instead of staying for the awards breakfast on Sunday like we had been planning. (We were sleeping in our van for the weekend so it was impossible for us to get out of the smoke).  I thanked God that I hadn’t attempted to finish the race.  I would not have been able to survive a second day of smoke. 

I had hoped that the quad soreness was just a symptom of dehydration which would disappear as soon as I rehydrated, but that has not been the case.  I am writing this report 5 full days after the race and I still can’t squat properly.  I think the quads are a reaction to the smoke, and that by continuing to run on them for so long I was tearing them up.  Again, I am so thankful I stopped when I did … I kinda wish I had stopped sooner. 

Matt and I have made a deal that I will not attempt a smoky race again.  It has been a bad year for hundreds; I have attempted two of them and after the first one I swore I’d never run that race again if it was raining, while after this one I’ve decided to never run another smoky race.  I’m getting picky. 

 


FINAL THOUGHTS 

Congrats to Anna and Dave for winning their respective races.  Dave smashed the course record after a 170km warm up (read about it here) and Anna ran a smoking fast time in some of the worst conditions imaginable.   

Thank you to all the friends and volunteers who helped me to stumble my way around the course.  You made it very hard for me to quit, and I mean that in the best way possible. 

I’m down, but not out.  I’ll be back, chasing that elusive perfect race.  

Happy Trails! 

 


Gear: 

Random buffs 

Ice bandana 

Ultraspire Spry 2.0 pack 

Sugoi cooling arm sleeves (thanks Dennene) 

Lululemon singlet 

Lululemon sports bra 

Wal-mart shorts 

Adidas shorts 

Swiftwick socks 

Icebug Oribi shoes 

Meet the Minotaur

What is Meet the Minotaur??? 

I must have been asked this question 50 times during the lead up to this race (which was in its inaugural year).  I didn’t know anything more about the event than what was posted on the website, so my answers were pretty vague.  I knew it was off-trail, that the route was a secret, and that there would be plenty of climbing.  I’d been out with the race directors on a couple of runs so I had an idea of what kind of bushwhacking they preferred. Mainly, the most direct line possible. 

I was excited for the adventure side of this race. I love long steep climbs, I enjoy bushwhacking, and I found the “mystery” of the course to be intriguing.  I wasn’t so keen on the competitive side of this event.  I felt a lot of pressure (completely self-imposed) to do well. I was the poster athlete on the Meet the Minotaur website, and Icebug was the primary sponsor of the event.  Plus, I feel like I have a reputation as a tough mountain chick, and I didn’t want to let that reputation down.  There was no entrants list to give me an idea of who my competition was, but I knew that the local athletes would be very strong. I had gone out with a Meet the Minotaur training run back in May, and I had been impressed with how strong all of the runners were.   

 


The night before … 

Arielle and I gave a slide show presentation on our Spray Valley 10 adventure during package pick up.  We talked for about 45 minutes, describing the ups and downs of our adventure and answering any questions.  If I wasn’t feeling enough pressure before, I sure was now!   

We followed up our talk with pizza and beer at one of the local restaurants.  I always drink beer before my races and getting back into my carb-loading routine had a calming effect.  I couldn’t control the competition, all I could do was take care of myself and see what would happen. 

 


Race morning … 

Race start wasn’t until 10am, with a mandatory pre-race meeting at 9am.  I normally stop eating 3 hours before a race to prevent any stomach issues.  Since most races start at 6am this means I will wake up at 3am to slam back a Clif bar or two before going back to bed.  With the 10am start, I was able to have a normal breakfast!  I have decided that I am a big fan of late race starts. 

The mandatory meeting covered all the relevant race information for the day.  Since this race was entirely off-trail there were more items to go over than in a typical race: helmets were mandatory from checkpoints 2-4 (there would be signs), gloves were highly recommended for the entire race, if you don’t see a flag you’re off-course, don’t kick rocks down on other runners etc. They also added a fun twist to the course where you would have a choice of which route you would want to take.  One route might be tougher but more direct, and the other route easier but longer.  They called these options “labyrinths.”  Lastly, there was no food or water on the course.  If you accepted aid from a race volunteer then you would be recorded as a DNF.  Aid from other racers was allowed and encouraged. 

 


Race start … 

The race began with about 10 metres of flat before we hit a steep slope up through the bush.  Essentially it was like running into a wall.  My friend Arielle got a video of it and it’s hilarious!  Racers were pushing on each other’s backs to try to boost them up the hill. 

The course was a little backed up for the first few minutes as racers settled into their pace.  I tried to be patient and not expend too much energy passing people.  The race would probably take around 4 hours, I couldn’t afford to redline from the beginning.  I took the shortcut through the woods at the first labyrinth as the bushwhacking didn’t look super dense, the other option was to go around on a trail.  I was following a couple of other guys, so I was able to just concentrate on my feet while they looked ahead for flags. 

The two branches of the labyrinth joined back up and I found myself running in a group of local guys and a lady named Christine who I had heard rumours of being a very strong mountain athlete.  I decided that I would try to stick with her for as long as possible.   

I wasn’t paying much attention to the flags, assuming the runners around me were doing that job for me.  Suddenly we realized we were not on route.  We had been power hiking up a steep slope, but the race route had taken a sharp right at the base of the hill.  We quickly got back on course, losing only a couple of minutes and adding 20 or 30 metres of climbing to our race. After that mishap I was paranoid about getting off route, and I didn’t trust anyone to find it for me.  With no trail to follow you couldn’t just put your head down and run, you had to constantly be scanning ahead. 

I wasn’t wearing a watch of any kind so I was fueling by feel.  Drinking when I wanted and eating as much as I felt I could handle.  We reached the first checkpoint, and I had already eaten 3 sour dinos and an Oreo.  The volunteer told us our time – it was only 36 minutes into the run!  I don’t think I’ve ever eaten that much so early in race, but I was working hard and I was worried about bonking.  Thankfully my stomach seemed to be handling the food just fine. 

Helmets were mandatory after checkpoint 1 due to rockfall hazard.  I stopped to put mine on, but Christine had been wearing hers from the start so she passed by me.  The route turned up a steep, grassy mountain slope.  You could see runners snaking up the slope for what seemed like forever!  I gave myself a pep talk – this was my opportunity, and now was my chance to start catching the other ladies. 

I focused on small, quick steps; trying to be as efficient as possible.  The climb became a grind and I began to pass competitors.  Christine was ahead but I could see that I was reeling her in.  Halfway up the slope I finally passed her and I made sure to keep up the pace.  I didn’t want her to try to tag along as I wasn’t sure how long I could sustain this effort level.  Another lady was further up the hill, but she looked tired; taking large steps and resting for a second between each one.  I caught up to her just before the top.  At this point I didn’t know how many more ladies were in front of me, but I was running scared, terrified of being caught from behind.   

The route plummeted down a scree slope before turning straight back up a very steep and rocky slope.  I pushed hard, but half way up the hill I had to pause for a few seconds.  My body was hurting and I needed to give my glutes a break.  I allowed myself a brief look back to see if any ladies were on my tail.  I didn’t think I saw any, but couldn’t be 100% sure since everyone was wearing helmets. 

The climb continued and I put my head down as I pushed up towards the saddle.  Whenever I looked up the sun was shining right in my face and all I could see was the silhouette of a volunteer waiting at the top, so I aimed for the silhouette. 

The silhouette turned out to be Ian (one of the Race Directors) and he pointed across the valley to the next section of course.  There was a steep scree run down, a long traverse, and then a grueling climb back up to another saddle.  Once you leave checkpoint 3 there is no turning back, as there was no way you would want to climb back up that scree slope.  I downed a Honey Stinger gel and threw myself down the scree slope.  The run down was super fun! 

MTM me slope 2

Slogging up the 2nd steep climb of the day. PC: Ryan Peebles

MTM scree down

The scree run down. PC: Ryan Peebles

I felt so slow during the traverse across the mountain.  It was a lot of side sloping, something I try to avoid when I’m out scrambling on my own since I find it tedious.  I was leading a group of guys, but none of them seemed to want to pass. It was impossible to push hard on this part of the route, mostly because I was too focused on trying to stay upright and on course.  After what felt like forever we began a steep grind up a scree slope to another col.  The climb was hot and relentless.  My glutes and lower back were letting me know that they wanted to be done, so I ate some Sour Dinos and drank more water in an attempt to get them to shut up.  That seemed to do the trick as the second half of the climb felt much better. 

We reached the top of the grind and now it was time to follow some fixed ropes down a small cliff band before our final descent. The scrambler in me loved this section and I found myself wishing there was more of it.  The rock was solid, and the rope was mostly unnecessary, but it was good reassurance if you weren’t used to this type of terrain.  The rope section was followed by our last scree run of the day. Wheee! 

MTM ropes

Runners headed down the rope section from CP #4

I was excited to run downhill, and I was hoping to push hard to the finish, but that wasn’t to be.  The scree run was followed by a bushwhacking traverse with very tricky footing.  I couldn’t run this section without feeling like I was going to break my ankles, so I just hiked as fast as I could.  Several guys passed me, apparently traversing is a weakness I need to work on.  With so many guys passing me I kept thinking that the ladies were going to catch up to me too, but that never happened.  I found myself in no-man’s land, with nobody to see in either direction. 

There was a 2nd labyrinth  – up and over, or contour around. I chose the most direct line, up and over the hill. From there the course angled back to the first checkpoint and I knew I was getting close to the finish.  With no racers to follow I found myself taking extra care to stay on route, following the flags but never able to really open up my stride for fear of missing one.  (There were flags every few metres, I really shouldn’t have been so paranoid). 

I passed my friends Arielle and Jessie who were hiking part of the course as I raced back to the finish.  They let me know I was first female and now I knew it was my race to lose, so long as I could stay upright and not get lost. 

I crossed the finish line in 3:20, exhausted and happy. I felt like I been able to sustain a good effort throughout the race, and I hadn’t imploded under the weight of my self-imposed expectations. 

 

MTM finish

Happy to be done 🙂

 


Post-race … 

After the race we hung out for a few hours.  There was kombucha, a barbecue with hot dogs and corn on the cob, baked treats from the Stone’s Throw Café, fruit and chips.  It was a great atmosphere to sit and cheer on the other runners as they came in. 

I’d highly recommend Meet the Minotaur to anyone who is curious about it.  I loved the challenge of this event; the secret route, the steep climbs, the exhilarating scree runs, and even the tedious, side-sloping traverses.  Next year there will be a new course, and I’m sure it will be even better. 

 Here’s an awesome video of this year’s event.


Thank you…

  • To the Meet the Minotaur organizers – Andrew, Erin, Ian, Susan and everybody else behind the scenes.  This was the most fun I’ve ever had at a race.
  • To Icebug – for supplying me with shoes for all my mountain adventures.
  • To my husband Matt – for enabling my serious mountain addiction.
  • To Arielle – for being such an awesome adventure partner and for pushing me to have more confidence in my own ability.

 

Happy Trails and I will see you all next year for the 2nd annual MTM!

Spray Valley 10 – The Conclusion

Part I and Part II


We gave ourselves the luxury of an 8 hour sleep on day 3.  Neither Arielle nor I could stomach the thought of another 4am wake up call.  Both of us were feeling the effects of the last two days, and we took some extra time in the morning to tape up any hot spots on our feet and massage our sore joints back to life.

We left the campground at 8:30am and 10 minutes later we were hiking up Rimwall.  Oleg led the way up the mountain, and with his expert route-finding we made it to the summit without issue.  I was impressed with the efficiency of our movement, maybe it would be a short day!  I began to dream about a shower and a soft bed.

The scree run down Rimwall was super fun and we were laughing as we flew down the mountain.  It was the calm before the storm.


 

20170723_102832

Fun times running down Rimwall!


I don’t remember exactly when it started, but at some point Arielle began to complain about some pain on the inside of her knee.  As soon as she described the pain in detail I knew what it was – pes anserine bursitis.  I have had this condition a few times and it is very painful.  The only way to relieve the pain is with ice, but we had none.

The condition is aggravated whenever you have to lift your leg more than a few inches off the ground.  Seeing as we were scrambling over boulders and up steep mountain terrain, this meant it was aggravated with every step.


The route up The Orphan begins in a dry creek bed which is littered with flood debris. Normally this kind of boulder hopping would be fun, but Arielle was soon in tears.  Every step was agony.  We found a cold stream and took some time to ice the knee.  I tried to comfort Arielle by telling her that this was not a long term injury.  My experiences with the same condition had never lasted more than a few days. I’m not sure that my words helped.

Arielle soldiered on up the steep slope to the summit of The Orphan.  It was our 9th mountain of the weekend and we were both ready to be done.  One more to go, we told ourselves.  We could do it.

The steep downhill was agony for Arielle and she would break the silence every once and awhile with a scream of pain.  If this was her coping mechanism, that was fine with me.  Just let it out!

We stopped at another cold stream to ice.  Arielle looked so determined.  I would have been totally okay if she had thrown in the towel after hobbling down The Orphan and called it quits, but she never mentioned stopping.  Her determination was so inspiring.  I thought about all the times that I’ve given up when things have gotten harder than I’d bargained for.



I was apprehensive about going up Big Sister.  Big Sister is not an easy mountain.  It is relentlessly steep with tons of slab and Arielle’s knee was going to hate her. Not only was Arielle moving like a peg-leg, but I was also having my own issues.  My mind was completely spent.  It was like I had used up all of my emotions and now I was reduced to a walking zombie.  If shit happened I didn’t trust myself to make any rational decisions.  I kept these reservations to myself, trusting Vlad and Oleg to make the rational decisions for us.

We followed Vlad and Oleg up the mountain, with Oleg keeping a careful eye on Arielle and acting as the ultimate pacer.  Thunderstorms swirled around us, but Big Sister remained dry.  It felt like we had some sort of higher power watching over us.  Eventually we made the summit, and enjoyed a muted celebration.  We weren’t done until we made it down.  We all knew that the down was going to be ugly, but at least we also knew that every step was leading us closer to the finish line.

I must have fallen 10 or 20 times on our way back.  They were controlled falls, but still … my coordination by this point was completely deteriorated.  I felt stoned and drunk.  I could only imagine how Arielle must have felt.

As we neared the bottom Oleg asked me how I felt about completing this adventure.  The truth was, that I didn’t know.  At the moment I didn’t feel anything.  And to be honest, I rarely feel much of anything (besides relief) when I reach a finish line.  I am so process oriented that I get nearly all of my joy out of the hard work and preparation which goes into eventually (hopefully) succeeding at a goal.  To borrow a quote I recently read on Amelia Boone’s Instagram “If you love the process, the results will follow. And if the results don’t follow, it doesn’t matter because the fulfillment and joy was always in the process itself.”

In the weeks leading up to this event I loved mapping out the route, scouting out the trails with Arielle, figuring out what gear we would need, putting together a team of committed friends, and getting as much vertical as possible into our legs in an attempt to make them unbreakable.  During the SV10, I loved the problem solving Arielle and I had to do as we ran into unexpected road blocks.  I even value the mistakes we made, such as not going back to the campground to get the right equipment or my epic bonk on the first day, because those mistakes are learning experiences for future adventures. I didn’t enjoy seeing Arielle in pain, but I loved seeing her unshakable determination.

After some reflection, I would say that I feel pretty good about this adventure.  It has been a great learning experience which can be used as a stepping stone for other projects.  It is another part of the process in the push towards finding my own personal limits.


The rain began to fall a few minutes before we reached the parking lot.  It was a refreshing way to finish our journey.  Vlad and Oleg went ahead, while
Arielle and I reached the parking lot together.  We were too tired for a  jumping photo, but we did manage a synchronized handstand shot.

Total Distance – 135km

Total Elevation Gain – 12 000m

Total Time – 13hrs + 18hrs + 12hrs = 43hrs of moving time.  65hrs elapsed.  Just a little longer than planned 😉



Thank you to everyone who has supported us throughout this journey.  We could not have done it without you!

  • To the friends who joined us along our journey: Patrick, Ryan, Andrew, Colin, Vlad, Alex and Oleg
  • To our crew who took care of us when we were too tired to take care of ourselves: Matt and Elena
  • To Ian and Susan for supporting us throughout this journey
  • Icebug (shoes)
  • UltrAspire (packs and hydration bladders)
  • Swiftwick (socks and arm sleeves)
  • Veriga (crampons)

 

Spray Valley 10 – Part II

If you haven’t already read Part I, you can find it here.


2:55am came early on Saturday morning.  Who’s bright idea was this again?

I rolled out of the van and turned on the stove.  Today’s breakfast would consist of Aussie Bites and coffee, as we were too tired to think of cooking anything else.  Besides, Aussie Bites are amazing.


An hour later we rolled into the Sparrowhawk parking lot and found Colin already waiting for us.  How amazing is it that two days in a row we have friends willing to get  up at 2am so that they can join us for a sunrise mountain ascent?!

It was great to have Colin along for the journey.  Colin and Arielle have a similar sense of humour, so they could banter while I just settled into the steady rhythm of a steep power-hike.  I do a lot of solo mountain trips so I’m used to not talking.  Even when I’m with a friend I won’t necessarily say much, I prefer to listen.

The climb up Sparrowhawk went smoothly.  Both Arielle and I were moving well considering the 45km of mountainous terrain we had covered the day before.  As was our theme for the entire weekend, the temperature dropped dramatically as we ascended and we were soon bundled up in all of our layers.  The summit block was covered in clouds, obscuring the views, but as soon as we dropped back down beneath the clouds we were treated to a breathtaking sunrise.

We finished Sparrowhawk right on schedule and feeling optimistic about the day.  It was time to empty the rocks from our shoes and head over to Bogart 🙂



The original plan was to do Bogart and then traverse over to Sparrowhawk from the Sparrowhawk Tarns trail.  We changed that plan when we weren’t able to finish the full route on Friday; deciding that it would be better to hike up the steep trail to the summit of Sparrowhawk first, then traverse over to Bogart and enjoy a cruisey run down the Sparrowhawk Tarns trail.  None of us had ever dropped down to The Tarns from Sparrowhawk before, so this route was a bit of an unknown.  Needless to say, there was some routefinding involved, and we took a typical “shortcut” which wound up extending our run time significantly.  The pace slowed, and I got frustrated.

The mental dialogue going on in my head at this point was not very nice.  If we didn’t pick up the pace there was no way that we could finish 5 peaks on Saturday.  I was in the lead and I tried to hike faster in order to influence the others, but whenever I picked up the pace Colin and Arielle seemed to drift further behind.  I didn’t know how to tell them to hurry up without being a jerk about it.

Just then Colin piped up, “wow, look at how late it is!  I wonder what is taking us so long?”

I couldn’t resist, and tried to word my response nicely.  “Well, we are moving at a rather casual pace …”  I immediately regretted my words. These were my friends, we had a huge mountain ahead of us (the biggest of the entire SV10), and I wanted us to move as a cohesive unit.  Now I was risking driving a wedge between us with my impatience.

Thankfully Colin and Arielle are good sports.  They saw the truth in what I was saying and picked up the pace.  We were able to laugh about it and I was relieved that we could move on without issue.  I should have more faith in our friendships.

When we did finally begin our ascent of Bogart it went very smoothly.  We ascended much quicker and with less effort than our ascent of the previous week.  It felt so good to feel like we were back on track.  Unfortunately the descent off Bogart was not quick; it’s simply impossible to descend Bogart quickly (as much as you might want to).  The rock is too loose for reckless movement, and if you aren’t careful with your foot placement your fun mountain adventure will quickly turn into a search and rescue mission.

We got back to the parking lot in good spirits, but 2hrs behind schedule.  Vlad, Alex and Matt were all there waiting for us.  None of them seemed surprised that we were so late – we had been on an ambitious schedule 🙂



We said goodbye to Colin, and after enjoying a sandwich and a Gatorade we began to run down the High Rockies Trail towards the Lougheed trail head.  It was hot and we both had a bit of a headache.  We found a creek to dunk our heads in and immediately felt better.

The trail up to the Lougheed meadows seemed to have more uphills than normal, but we made good time.  Vlad and Alex had gone up ahead of us and were waiting for us in the meadow with delicious fresh cherries. We were happy and feeling good.

The climb up Lougheed went smoothly, even though we were both definitely starting to feel the effects of fatigue.  Vlad led the way and I enjoyed being able to follow his feet rather than finding my own route.  Arielle and I were stoked to make it to the summit only 10 minutes slower than last time we climbed Lougheed.  Not too bad for our 3rd, 10 000 ft+ peak of the day!

We enjoyed some hot tea and cheese sausages on the summit before heading down.  I had brought a wind shell up with me but had foolishly left my warmer jacket at the bottom of the mountain since it had been so hot in the valley.  I soon found myself shivering on the mountain top. Thankfully Vlad lent me a warm vest and I was soon nice and toasty as we began our descent of the mountain.



Arielle began the descent by running down the mountain in the wrong direction and I followed suit by missing an important cairn 15 minutes later.  In both cases Vlad did a good job of yelling at us to get back on the trail.  Getting off route was a good wake up call for me, it highlighted my fatigue and need to stay alert.  My brain was obviously not operating at 100%.

As we descended Arielle drifted further behind.  This is not typical of her so I knew something was up.  We got down to the meadow and she confessed that her back and ankle were bothering her.  I tried to hide my disappointment, as I worried that she might not be up for climbing Windtower tonight.  My mind was stretched thin and I didn’t have much more positive energy to give her- I felt like I needed to keep it all for myself.  Thankfully the  logical part of my brain was still working and I recognized her symptoms as likely being caused by dehydration.  We refilled her camelbak and she took an electrolyte supplement, as well as an Advil and a Tylenol.  Might as well cover all the bases.

It’s dangerous to take NSAIDs during extreme endurance exercise, so we both agreed that this is the only Advil she would take.  Better to deal with pain that have permanent kidney damage.

Arielle’s pain subsided quickly but my mind was still in a fog.  I tried to express my feelings to Arielle, but I’m not sure that I did a good job.  I just felt empty, and a little dizzy, and all I wanted to do was cry.  I think the attempt to express myself helped, because by the time we got back to the High Rockies Trail I was feeling a little better.  We were both determined to continue on to Windtower.

We reached the HRT, and  found Oleg waiting there with Elena.  They had set up a huge aid station; complete with beer, cheese, homemade chicken noodle soup, coffee, potato chips and banana bread. I wasn’t expecting them, but seeing them was exactly what I needed.  I burst into tears of gratitude, and pulled my hat down low to avoid embarrassing myself.

As soon as I saw the beer I knew it would be the cure for my weird headspace.  Beer during a long run has never failed to make me feel better.  We spent the next 10 minutes sitting and eating and talking.  It was such a great mental reset, I felt like I could do the whole day over again.  We finished our feast, and now it was time to head to Windtower.


Oleg said he would join us for the rest of our adventure.  This was a huge relief for me as I no longer felt like I had to be the leader.  Now I could just follow his feet and he could be in charge!  Arielle was also re-energized and we were able to get up and down Windtower quickly before the sun was fully set.  We finished the day running and singing our way down the trail, excited to “only” have 4 more mountains to climb on Sunday.

Total time: 18:00

Total Distance: 58km

Total Elevation Gain: 5300m


Spray Valley 10 – Part 1

“What about Sunday?”

I look up at Oleg.  Oleg is a bit of a mountain guru.  If he’s asking this question it means that he’s fairly certain that we won’t finish in two days.

“I hope we aren’t still going on Sunday … but if that’s what it takes … I guess we keep going.”   Famous last words …


It’s Wednesday and we have gathered at my place for dinner and a planning session.  We hash out the logistics, and by the time the evening draws to a close Arielle and I are feeling much better about our weekend adventure.  We have drawn up a tentative schedule, and it looks like we will have support throughout the entire journey.  We could not have asked for a better scenario, and I find myself feeling overwhelmed with gratitude towards this fantastic trail running community.


Thursday evening comes quickly.  I work until 6pm, and it’s well after 7pm by the time we’ve finished dinner and are ready to head out to our campsite for the night.  The air smells of smoke from the nearby forest fires and the sunset is hazy.  Arielle and I are concerned about our lungs – I’m not always the best at managing my asthma and smoke could cause it to flare up badly.  We see some massive storm clouds gathering on the south end of the lake and hope that the rain will wash away the smoke.


That night it stormed violently.  It was so loud that neither Arielle or I were able to sleep. When we woke up at 2:55am on Friday morning the air was smoke-free.  All the pieces were falling into place.

We guzzled down some coffee and drove down to the Buller Pass trailhead for a 4am start.  Patrick and Ryan were already there waiting for us, they had left home at 2:30am to meet us there.  Thanks guys!

At 4:12am we said goodbye to Matt (who would be crewing us all weekend from the van) and then headed up the trail.


That morning was dark and chilly.  I could see my breath in the light of my headlamp and my pack felt heavy. In addition to our extra clothing, we were each carrying 2L of water, a helmet, trekking poles and enough food to last us the next 7 hours.  I started to drink water early – the more I drank the lighter my pack would get. We soon turned off the trail and began the steep bushwhack up to the ridge of Mount Engadine. Patrick picked a good route up through an old forest fire burn scar, and we soon found ourselves picking our way along the base of a cliff, looking for a weakness so that we could gain the ridge.  The slope was very steep – at one point my foot slipped and I caught myself on the rocky slope with my face.  Mmmm, dirt for breakfast.

We gained the ridge and discovered that the temperature was so cold that the rubber on our shoes was frozen.  We had to be careful with every step to not slip; Mount Engadine is considered a difficult scramble, and a fall could be deadly. Some of the rocks were coated in ice and a thin layer of snow frosted the top of the mountain.  We were not expecting winter in July, but here it was!  The sun crested the horizon as we reached the summit and suddenly the early morning was worth it.

1 summit down, 9 to go.


We made a hasty exit off the peak.  We were freezing!  The snow highlighted a bit of a trail down through the scree, and we were able to descend quickly.  We decided to take a different (hopefully quicker) route down via a drainage.  I was feeling good and found myself leading the group with Ryan close behind me. Patrick and Arielle were a little ways back but I tried to make sure to keep them in sight.  Ryan and I scrambled down a little waterfall and then descended a little further so we could empty rocks out of our shoes while we waited for Patrick and Arielle to catch up.

We had turned a corner after descending the waterfall so we didn’t have line of sight to see up the mountain.  We waited for a few more minutes but still Patrick and Arielle did not appear; I realized I had made a mistake.  Arielle has amazing endurance, but she takes awhile to warm up, and she had been struggling to keep pace on the way up the mountain.  Now I had gotten too far ahead and she probably felt totally abandoned.  I felt like a total jerk, and I’m certain she was thinking that as well.

Soon Patrick and Arielle reappeared and we were able to make our way down the rest of the mountain.  They both let me know that I was an asshat … and then they forgave me. Friends again, we ran back down the trail to Buller Pass where Matt was waiting for us at the trail junction with water and snacks.

Total time: 4:20 (10 minutes ahead of schedule)

Total Distance: 9.7km

Total Elevation Gain: 1200m



The route up Buller was uneventful.  There is nothing much to this mountain, except that it’s really steep.  Arielle had finished her warm up and was moving really well; nothing like a 5 hour warm up to get you moving 🙂

Once again the summit was really cold and we hurried off the peak in search of warmer temperatures.  I slipped and fell on some loose rubble, jarring my shoulder and hearing something snap.  After a few deep breaths to manage the pain, the shoulder seemed okay.

The rest of the trip down went smoothly.  We got back to the van so quickly that we found Matt having a nap.  He hadn’t been expecting us for another half hour!

Total time on Buller: 2:45 (30 minutes ahead of schedule)

Total time on the trail: 7:09

Total Distance: 19.1km

Total Elevation Gain: 2250m



Back at the van, we decided to take some extra time to get in some calories and prepare for the long, route ahead.  We each ate a sandwich, drank a Gatorade and changed our shoes.  We had been wearing very lightweight shoes, but now we were headed out on a more remote and rugged, 3 peak loop so we needed something more robust on our feet.  Unfortunately, when Arielle went to change her shoes she discovered that she had put two right shoes in the van (which meant that there were two left shoes back at the campsite).  Rather than lose an hour driving back to the campsite we decided to just continue on with her wearing the light shoes.  This was a mistake.


The 7km run from Buller to Red Ridge was actually more like 10km, I am famous for underestimating distance. We were both a little grouchy at the seemingly endless trail, but grouchiness at this point was expected.

Eventually we got to Red Ridge, and the infamous boulder field.  Red Ridge has amazing views, and I think it would be a popular hike if it wasn’t for the boulder field slog.   The rocks are very loose, and you have to take care with each step or a boulder may suddenly start falling down the mountain, crushing you underneath. We had been up Red Ridge twice before, but now it felt like the mountain was MUCH taller.  We joked that it must be on steroids.

At some point we reached the ridge and were moving along towards the summit when suddenly Arielle yelled that her shoe had busted.  We had gambled on bringing the wrong gear, and now we were paying for it.  I had brought some duct tape along for emergency repairs, but it soon became shredded on the sharp rocks.  Now we really had to put our creativity to the test.  We had several extra buffs on us, so we used two of them to wrap her shoe like a slipper.  It worked like a charm! Buffs have got to be one of the most useful items to bring up a mountain.  I never go up a mountain without one.

Our friend Andrew had climbed up Red Ridge ahead of us so that he could get photos. Now he met us at the top, where he shared his peanut M&Ms and summit bacon.   Mmmm, bacon.  With Arielle’s new shoe/slipper contraption we were able to run/shuffle back down the mountain to Andrew’s car.  Thank goodness Andrew was there for us, or we would have had to find a way to hitchhike back to the campsite!

When we finally got back to the campsite we found Matt hanging out in the van and Arielle was able to reunite her right and left shoes.  We didn’t have enough daylight left to go back out and finish our 3 peak loop, however he did have enough time to go out and scramble Big Sister of the Orphan.  Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.  Once Arielle had her shoe troubles, I shifted all my focus to her and I stopped eating and drinking.  By the time we got back to the campsite I was in the middle of a big fat bonk.  I started shivering uncontrollably and my stomach turned sour.  I changed into warm clothes, ate some food and tried to recuperate, but I felt like hell.  I worried that I would start puking  my guts out before we got half way up the mountain. Oleg’s voice echoed in the back of my mind.  “Be safe girls.”  “The mountain always wins.”  The decision was made to spend the rest of the day recovering.  We could push hard again on Saturday.

Total time on Red Ridge and the approach trail: 5:50

Total time on the trail: 13:00

Total Distance: 45km

Total Elevation Gain: 3250m



 

Peaks 7 & 8 – Bogart and Red Ridge

I’ve decided to clump Bogart (the highest peak in the SV10) and Red Ridge together because they really are part of the same route.  To ascend Red Ridge we follow a narrow single track trail which parallels a creek.  This trail ends at a large boulder field, which we scramble straight up to gain the ridge.  The ridge route is straightforward and has great views of the Spray Valley.  From Red Ridge we descend to the col and run down a scree slope to the Sparrowhawk Tarns.  The view of the Tarns from the Ridge is incredible!

From the Tarns we begin our ascent up Bogart by climbing through a series of rock ledges on loose scree.  The climb is not technical, but the rocks are very loose and you have to be careful not to be crushed beneath them.  Once we gain the ridge on Bogart the route is fairly simple; stay on top of the ridge as much as possible and skirt to the right side when needed.  Continue to watch for crazy loose death boulders.  Bogart more than makes up for the loose rock with amazing views!  It is my favourite peak of the SV10, although I may have a different opinion when we climb it on Friday 🙂

1800m of vertical in 8.5km.  This will be the crux of our first day.