Bighorn 2019

Let me start off with an apology.  This is going to be a very long race report.  You’ve been warned. 

 

Bighorn 2019 was a race that almost didn’t happen for me.  On the morning of June 13th (the day before the race) I woke up with the sun, walked the dog and began the last part of our drive down towards Sheridan.  We had spent the night sleeping in our van at a rest stop, and Matt was still sleeping in the back of the van when I drove around the corner and came face to face with what is quickly becoming my least favourite animal. The deer was standing in the oncoming traffic lane and I had a brief second of hope that it would stay where it was before the young buck stepped in front of the van. I didn’t swerve, I barely had a chance to brake, and in an instant our van was demolished and the deer was lying in a heap on the side of the road. 

 

In shock, I pulled the van off to the side of the road and stepped outside to survey the damage. The front end was crumpled from the impact and leaking radiator fluid was steaming in the cool morning air. I sat down on the road and began to cry. We only had liability insurance on the van and we were in a foreign country.  At the time I wasn’t sure of what the ramifications were of getting into an accident in the US vs Canada, but I was pretty sure we were headed into a logistical and financial nightmare. 

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Matt came out of the van, took one look at the damage, and asked me what we were going to do. I normally like to be in control and have the answers, but I had no clue.  A truck came driving by and I waved them down.  They immediately came to a stop and offered to drive me to an area with cell phone coverage so I could phone for a tow truck and report the incident to the police.  My phone wasn’t working so they kindly let me use their phone as I arranged to get help.  Then they dropped me off back at the van where Matt and Moxie were so we could wait for help to arrive.   

 

We waited and waited, 2hrs later a police officer eventually showed up. When I had reported the incident, I’d said that we were at about mile marker 10, but we were actually at mile marker 9.  The officer had been looking for us for an hour. The waiting game continued and the tow truck still failed to show. The officer drove me to cell range where I was able to contact AMA to ask them what was up.  It turns out they had sent the tow truck to the wrong location, about 500km away from where the accident took place. 

 

3.5hrs after that initial phone call, the tow truck finally arrived and we were on our way back to Great Falls, Montana.  The tow truck driver suggested that we look on Montana Auto Trader on Facebook to see if there were any cheap cars for sale.  A 2001 Ford Focus had just been posted 10 minutes earlier for $1200.  I sent a message to the seller. 

 

At the junk yard, Matt dealt with the vehicle while I made endless phone calls hoping that we might be covered at least partially by insurance. Insurance was a dead end, so then I called Enterprise hoping to find a reasonably priced rental vehicle that could fit all our stuff and get us back across the border. There was nothing available.  I tried to get a vehicle that could take us from Great Falls to Sheridan, in the hopes that I could ask our Calgarian friends in Sheridan to drive us home after the race.  Enterprise quoted me $600 USD, it would be cheaper for one of us to fly home and then drive back with our other car. At this point I was ready to give up hope. I got back in contact with Jeremy, the guy who was selling the Ford Focus, and arranged to meet up.  He showed up at the tow truck shop, and Matt gave the car a short test drive.  I contacted my insurance company and they told me I could swap the insurance on the van with the insurance on the car. I would have 14 days to get the car registered in Alberta. Things were starting to look up!  Matt bargained the price down a little, and then Jeremy and I went off to the bank to wire him the money.  We didn’t realize that you can’t wire money from Canadian to US banks while you’re in the US, I would have needed to initiate the process from my bank in Canada. I won’t bore you with all the details, but eventually we found a solution at an ATM which allowed me to make multiple withdrawals of $300. We signed over the wreck of our van to the junkyard and finally we were off to Wyoming! 

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We had been planning to sleep in our van for the weekend, but now that we were without a van our friend Leo invited us to stay with him at his Air BnB. Leo also spoke with the Bighorn RDs on my behalf since I had missed the mandatory pre-race meeting. His help was key in lowering our stress load to something a bit more manageable.  Having missed the pre-race meeting, I wasn’t able to set up drop bags.  It is essential to have crew or a drop bag at the Footbridge aid station, but Matt would not be able to make it there without a high clearance vehicle. Thankfully another friend from Calgary, Jamie, offered to shuttle a drop bag to Footbridge for me. Everything was set, now all I had to do was run. 

 

 

The snow level on course was reported to be higher than normal, with some of the minor aid stations being inaccessible to the volunteers.  As a result, the race start was moved up an hour (giving us an extra hour to finish), and mandatory gear was instituted from Footbridge to Jaws.  Matt planned to meet me at the Dry Fork and Jaws aid stations, and I would have access to my drop bag at Footbridge.  However, I knew from experience that none of these scenarios were certain and it was very possible that our junker of a car would break down somewhere on the highway, or that Jamie would not be able to access Footbridge. As a result, I decided to carry all of the mandatory gear with me from the start, as well as a couple of headlamps.  Knowing I was running with extra weight and that I had depleted my mental energy with the effort of just getting to the start line, I forced myself to give up on my competitive goals and lined up in the back half of the pack.  I knew that the trail would bottleneck, but I thought the forced slow pace would enable me to let go and just enjoy the adventure.  Leo joined me, and we ran together at a relaxed pace for the first several hours.  Along the way we met some friends including Beat and Stephen, two seasoned ultraveterans.  The energy in the group was fantastic, and I enjoyed learning about the other runners’ goals and past exploits.  Beat introduced us to the concept of the“Freedom Step”. Early in the race we were carefully tip-toeing around puddles and muddy patches, trying to keep our feet dry.  We knew there would come a time when wet feet would be unavoidable. That moment, when your socks and shoes become fully saturated and you no longer have to worry about avoiding the water, that is the Freedom Step. 

We came into Dry Fork (13 miles) well back in the pack and Matt commented that I really was taking things slow.  I wasn’t concerned.  I was feeling good and I wasn’t near the cutoffs.  Our group splintered at Dry Fork as we all stopped to take care of our individual needs, and when I left the aid station I was on my own.  I normally enjoy running on my own, but I quickly discovered that on this particularly day I was craving social interaction. Oh well. I got into a rhythm and the brief pang of loneliness quickly dissipated. Eventually I caught back up to Beat, and then to Leo, but I was now running at my own pace and I found I wanted to go ahead a bit.  I kept the pace easy, but I seemed to be handling the muddy sections much better than the other runners and I began to move up the field.  The trail got muddier as I got closer to Footbridge, and at one point I lost a shoe in a deep bog and had to fish it out.  I wasn’t upset or frustrated, I just thought it was hilarious.  Freedom! 

 

The fields of wildflowers on the descent to Footbridge were as spectacular as I’ve ever seen them. Sadly, I don’t have photos because I had put my phone away earlier in the run to protect it from the intermittent thunderstorms.  The descent was very eroded with alternating mud bogs and rock steps.  I passed several runners.  I wasn’t running hard but I was running with a heart full of joy. 

At Footbridge (30 miles) I took the time to wash my feet, re-lube, and change into my Goretex Icebug Oribis. Jamie had successfully delivered my drop bag and I was very happy to have the fresh shoes and socks. The upcoming trail was supposedly muddy and snow-covered and I thought the studded shoes would help my traction.  I also ate a napkin full of pretzels and drank some Ginger-ale.  I was so proud of myself for actually taking the time to take care of myself! 

 

I left Footbridge feeling optimistic. My legs still felt great and I was happy.  The trail was quite rocky, but the studs on my Icebugs did not bother me at all and I found I was once again passing runners.  I didn’t bother filling any water at the next aid station and instead ran straight through. I was on a roll.  Shortly after the aid station I caught up to Colleen and Enrique.  This was Colleen’s first 100 and Enrique was pacing her until she could get up to Jaws and pick up her actual pacer.  They were moving very well and I stayed with them for quite awhile, enjoying the conversation. 

 

At some point I decided to move ahead.  We had been walking the flats, and my legs felt like they wanted to jog so I decided to listen to my legs.  2 miles out from the next aid station I ran out of water. Every time I run out of water, I wind up with GI issues and I gave myself a mental reprimand, I should have filled up at the last aid station.  I caught up to a few other runners, they were out of water as well. Eventually I made it to the next aid station and I was pleasantly surprised to see that they had lots of goodies in addition to water.  Apparently, the aid stations were more accessible than expected!  I filled up my water and enjoyed a few pieces of beef jerky before continuing up the trail. Up to this point the trail had not been particularly muddy and there was no snow, I was beginning to wonder if I was wearing studded shoes for no reason! 

 

As a result of my dehydration, I was now feeling a bit nauseous. I lowered my effort level and continued my steady hike. I could see other runners were suffering on the climb as I slowly reeled them in, even at my reduced effort.  The next aid station was fully stocked and I enjoyed a couple of pickles and a cup of ginger ale. As I ate, I gazed across the valley at the most amazing rainbow I’ve ever seen.  What a spectacular day!  I was truly loving this experience. 

 

I was now only 5 miles away from the turnaround point at the Jaws aid station (48 miles). The mud began to become more consistent and soon I found myself wading through deep puddles.  I was in a good mood and I truly didn’t care. About a mile or two outside of Jaws I saw the first lady on her way back.  She warned me that conditions ahead were really bad, but I wondered how bad could they really be? That’s when the snow started.  

 

To be honest, I didn’t find the snow particularly terrible. I post-holed in a few sections and the water flowing underneath was very cold, but there was no sustained post-holing.  It was much better than I had mentally prepared myself for.   I reached the road and shuffled towards the Jaws aid station. It was getting dark, but I had managed to make it there without a headlamp. I gave myself a mental pat on the back. 

 

I knew from experience that I had to get in and out of Jaws as quickly as possible.  The temperature drops very quickly up there, and the possibility of hypothermia is likely. I started shivering as soon as I sat down in the tent next to the heater.  Matt got me coffee and broth while I put on Goretex pants and a jacket.  Then I switched out for an even warmer jacket.  I was freezing. 

 

Toque on, headlamp on, gloves on.  I did a quick interview with the medical staff so they could determine that I was coherent and paid a quick visit to the bathroom before heading back down the trail.  A storm had moved in and it was raining steadily.  My energy level had dropped but my spirits were high.  I was still fighting waves of nausea but I tried to trickle in calories. Back on the snow field, I crossed paths with Leo, Derrick and Beat. They seemed to be doing well.  

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Leaving Jaws in the pouring rain.  It was cold.  Photo credit – Mile 90

The snow was much more difficult to navigate in the dark and I felt bad for the people who were still on their way up, it is definitely an advantage to get to Jaws in the daylight. As the rain poured down the mud got worse. I continued to view it more as comedic relief than as something to get frustrated about. The studs in my shoes provided excellent traction and I only slipped twice in the entire race.    

 

I made it back down to the Elk Camp aid station and enjoyed some hot broth, ginger ale and more pickles.  I noticed that broth seemed to have an almost instant effect on my nausea.  Also, ginger ale was continuing to go down very easily. I continued on my journey, mostly on my own but occasionally seeing other runners. I was not moving particularly quickly, but at least I was moving.  I was peeing a lot, which was weird because I wasn’t drinking a ton and I normally don’t pee more than once every 8hrs during races.  I got back down below treeline and I was overcome with a deep fatigue. I had made it through the exposed portion of the course in one piece and now I could relax. All the stress of the last two days hit me at once and it was all I could do to resist the urge to curl up in a ball on the side of the trail and sleep. I don’t think I have ever felt so sleepy in a race. 

 

Still feeling a bit nauseous, I carefully monitored my effort on the uphills, not wanting to push too hard.  The next aid station had broth and I allowed myself to have a seat by the fire and enjoy a cup. The broth worked its magic and I decided to push a little harder on the uphills to see what would happen.  Magically the nausea did not increase, and by the time I made it back to Footbridge (68miles) it was almost gone. 

 

I washed my feet, re-lubed and changed my socks. The only pair of clean socks I had were wool so I put those on.  Something triggered in the back of my mind that this might not be a good idea. But my brain was foggy so I ignored the dull warning signal.  I drank a cup of ginger ale and filled my bottle up with more ginger ale to-go.  I was still feeling really sleepy and not looking forward to the steep climb out of Footbridge, but the sun began to rise as I climbed and the sleepiness slowly subsided. The wildflowers illuminated by the dawn light were spectacular and this time I took the time to get out my phone a capture a photo. 

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Moving slowly, a group of us were hobbling down the trail. We didn’t say much to each other, united in fatigue. The mud was extremely slippery and was of a shoe/pole sucking consistency.  I snapped my pole when I tried to pull it out of the suction.  It seemed that a lot of people were breaking their poles.  My wool socks came back to haunt me and my feet began to hurt.  I kept moving but I couldn’t bring myself to run. I continued to have to pee frequently, but it was tough to find anywhere out of sight in the open meadows.  I was surrounded by guys and I was unreasonably jealous of their ability to pee standing up. 

 

I realize that my last paragraph sound quite negative, but overall I am super happy with my attitude during my slow crawl towards Dryfork.  I was moving slowly and I was uncomfortable, but I was still grateful for the experience and I didn’t feel any of the bitterness that had consumed me during this same section at Bighorn 2017.  

 

Eventually I made it to Dryfork. What a relief! Matt was there and we were able to change my socks and shoes. My feet were a mess and we debated what to do with them.  In the end we decided to clean and lube them, but in retrospect I think we should have attempted to drain some blisters and bandage the ones that wouldn’t drain. Learnings for next time.  I decided to wear my Altra Escalantes for the remaining 18 miles to the finish line.  I thought my feet might appreciate the extra cushion and space.  Now that the sun was up, the trails had dried and I wasn’t concerned about traction on the mud. 

The final 18 miles took me more than 6 hours.  At first I could run a little bit, but my feet became progressively more sore and my hobble more pronounced.  Runners were streaming passed me; a combination of 50 milers, 50km runners, 18 milers and the occasional 100 miler. There were far too many runners for me to step aside, so I opted to own the trail and make everyone run around me.  98% of the runners understood what I was doing, but a couple of runners were quite demanding that I get out of their way. I had to fight hard to contain my frustration. 

 

The last downhill was unbelievably steep, it seemed to have transformed overnight. My feet were screaming at me, and I was unable to compartmentalize the pain.  I sat down beside the trail and tried to apply more lube, but it didn’t help and the tears started flowing.  I had almost had a puke-free, tear-free race, but I guess crying is my thing. Maybe it was good to let some of that emotion out, or maybe I’m a wimp. I’m still not sure. 

 

I made it to Lower Sheep Creek (7 miles from the end), re-applied sunscreen and loaded up on apricots, plums and ginger ale. Beat caught back up to me as I hobbled towards the Homestretch. He was followed closely by Leo.  Leo opted to stay with me as he had, “nothing better to do.”  He helped me to search for solutions to my sad foot situation, rather than just giving into it as something that was unchangeable.  We soaked my feet in some piss-warm water (it didn’t work) and then took time at the Homestretch aid station to get some treatment from an EMT.  The EMT attempted to lance my blisters, but my skin was too tough to be punctured by either needles or safety pins so she bandaged up my feet instead.  I didn’t think the bandages would make much difference, but they seemed to help. 

 

The long slog 5 miles down the road to the finish line was not so bad.  With Leo’s coaxing I slowly began to run more and walk less.  We found a friend and I enjoyed listening to his stories, I was actually kind of enjoying myself.  A blister suddenly formed beneath my middle toe and shooting pain went through the ball of my foot. In an instant I was slowed back down to a walk. Once again Leo coached me to find a different way to run, slightly pigeon-toed this time, and we were able to pick up the pace.  Amazingly, we ran the last kilometre to the finish line. The finishing chute was lined with spectators cheering for us as though we were winning the race. We crossed the line together, smiles on our faces, happy to be done.

 

Final thoughts: 

Despite the tears and blisters, I am very happy with how this race went.  It wasn’t fast and it wasn’t pretty, but I ran happy for about 80% of the race, in zombie mode for about 15%, and was only unhappy for about 5%.  That is an excellent ratio.   

 

I did not get to scratch my competitive itch, so I am now more motivated than ever to have a strong run at WAM. 

 

I should probably get a pedicure. 

 

The people of Montana are extremely kind and helpful. 

 

I am retired from Bighorn … I think. 

 

The next 3 months are dedicated to mountain adventures and chasing my 1 million feet of vert. I couldn’t be more excited! 

 

 

Happy Trails! 

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In Search of Dirt (May in review)

May was an interesting Month.  It started with snow, continued to snow with some intermittent patches of sun, and finished with intense smoke.  I refused to let the snow get me down, so I escaped to the sun with a backpacking trip, a camping trip, and a backcountry ski up the highest mountain in Alberta.  Each of these adventures could have been a blog post in and of themselves, but I don’t have time for that so here is my synopsis.


  1. Minotaur Thursdays Continue! I am loving these group mountain run/bushwhack/scrambles. The number of people coming out has been increasing and everyone has really embraced the sense of adventure.  In May we climbed up Limestone Mountain, Engagements Mountain/Razor’s Edge, Nihahi Ridge, Mt Kidd Lookout and Wasootch Ridge.
  2. Solo Backpack in Crowsnest. The weather was nice for a few days and I decided I needed to take advantage. Unfortunately Matt couldn’t join me, so I went out on my own for a solo backpack exploration in the Crowsnest area.  I was stoked to try out my new sleeping bag and pad from Spry, and I’m happy to report that it was a super lightweight, warm and comfortable set up. I didn’t really know where I was going so I downloaded a topo map of the area and tried to keep my route to the sunny slopes where the snow had melted. At times I did well with my route selection, but I wasn’t perfect and I spent a couple hours doing some extreme bushwhacking.  I also did a lot of post-holing/crawling in my determination to spend my first night camped on top of Tent Mountain.  Alas, I had to give up on my quest only 100 vertical metres from the summit.  The snow was simply impassable.  On the bright side, I found a lovely snow-free spot to pitch my tent and I got to watch a spectacular sunset.  The next morning was spent wallowing in snow as I made my way back down the mountain and then followed a snow-mobile route back north to the sunnier trails.  At least I was moving a little easier than the bear I was following (see photo).  On the afternoon of my 2nd day I scrambled 1000m up the ridge of Ptolemy.  The scramble was super enjoyable and I sat on my perch sipping wine, watching avalanches and feeling like the luckiest person in the world.  On day 3 I returned to my car, dropped off my camping gear, and then scrambled up Mount Sentry.  I knew nothing about this route, but it wound up being super enjoyable.  The top section had some exposed scrambling with a little ice still clinging to the rocks, which made route selection a bit spicy.  From the summit it was obvious that there are multiple routes up/down this mountain, so I opted to avoid going over the ice again and take a massive scree run off the top. It was the perfect end to an excellent weekend.
  3.  Mount Columbia! My third big adventure in May was a backcountry ski trip up Mount Columbia.  I had never camped on a glacier before, and I hadn’t been on my skis in a month so this was a very novel experience for me.  The weather was about as good as it gets, with hot temperatures at the lower elevations and bluebird skies.  Hanging out at our glacier camp was absolutely stunning and I had a hard time going to bed. The morning of our summit attempt was freezing cold, but we soldiered on regardless and the temps were much more reasonable once the sun came up.  The summit block on Columbia was wind blasted and the bootpack up was a bit intense. Thankfully the summit ridge was sheltered from the wind and we were all able to collapse on the snow and catch our breathe. This was only my 3rd time using crampons and it was the biggest snow slope I’ve ever climbed.  We celebrated with a little prosecco on the summit, and then a bit more when we were in safer and more hospitable conditions. What an incredible experience!
  4. Camping in BC. The weather at home sucked, so I booked Monday off work and drove out to the BC side of Assiniboine (near Nipika Mountain Resort) where the sun was shining. We had never been to this area before, but I had been looking at maps and considering backpacking out this way in the summer.  We found a fantastic camping spot along a creek where Matt could cook a roast, Moxie could play with her rocks, and I could explore the trails.  It was warm down in the valley, but I soon found the snow line about 500-600 vertical metres above camp.  There was also a ton of avalanche debris on the trail and I spent a lot of time bushwhacking.  Every time I came back to camp I would have fresh scrapes and bruises.  It was a successful training weekend in that I spent a lot of time on my feet, but I wasn’t able to get in as much vert as I’d hoped.  This shoulder season is endless.
  5. Not Winning #Capravert. Capra Running store in Squamish was having a vert challenge for the month of May.  I was leading the field and feeling pretty good about myself, especially considering the amount of snow I had to deal with in May compared to all the other runners out in Squamish.  On May 31st I knew I would have to put in a big day, however the smoke from the fires in Northern Alberta blew in and the air quality was terrible.  Some people seem to be able to handle smoke, but I am not one of those people.  I decided to take a rest day instead of pushing for the win.  I felt good about that decision.  I feel like I’m growing up 🙂

As I write this, Bighorn 100 is less than 1 week away!  Despite my relative lack of running I am feeling fit.  I have a lot of time on feet, and I’m banking on the fact that being able to run fast really isn’t that important in 100 mile mountain races.  My stomach feels better than it has in years and I think (hope) I have a good mental mindset.  Competitive goals seem to make me anxious, so this year I have decided to focus on celebrating my ability to participate in these ridiculous events.  I aim to run with gratitude, to embrace the pain as an opportunity to explore my limits, and to enjoy the community that surrounds this event.

 

Happy Trails!

A little bit of everything (April in review)

I’m really enjoying writing these monthly recaps.  They’re good reminders that I am putting in the work, as it’s easy to feel like I should/could be doing more. They also are a fun walk down memory lane, reliving all my adventures from the past few weeks.

April weather was a little mix of everything and I found myself doing all the mountain sports: running, scrambling, and skiing. My monthly vertical is getting closer to where it needs to be, but I’m still about 60,000ft behind schedule if I want to make my goal of 1 million feet this year. I take comfort in knowing that January-April are usually the most awkward, snowbound months for climbing mountains.  It should all be uphill from here!


April highlights:

  1. Minotaur Thursdays have started! Every Thursday Patrick and I lead a group of adventurous runners up a front range peak.  We try to keep the runs (more like power hikes), to around 2hrs and I find it super enjoyable showing local runners obscure routes in their own backyard.  In April we went up Baldy, Wasootch Ridge, Doorjam/Loder and Iyarhe Ipan.
  2. Pincher Ridge to Victoria Ridge to Drywood Mountain. This was my first big scrambling day of the year and it was perfect. Phil came up with the route idea, and Philippe and I came along for the ride. 29km, 2400m of gain and nearly 9hrs of pure mountain exhaustion.
  3.  Almost White Pyramid. This was another long ski day and a good introduction to spring skiing in the Canadian Rockies.  Snow quality in the valley was terrible (crust on facets in the morning, ice or isothermic snow in the afternoon), but the skiing up high was really nice.  Our route took us beneath towering glaciers and we were able to catch a glimpse of the stunning valley beyond before we were engulfed in a whiteout.  The whiteout conditions were not conducive to a summit bid and we turned back only 100 vertical metres from the top.  I had never attempted to ski in conditions like that and I was extremely cautious on the way down the steep slope from the col. Memories of Delirium Dive were still fresh in my mind.  Once we hit the more moderate slopes the skiing became super fun as I learned how to react to the terrain changes in low visibility.  I’m looking forward to working on these skills next season.
  4. 9x Prairie Mountain. This was supposed to be 24hrs of Prairie Mountain, however a significant snow storm blew in after about 13hrs and footing was getting bad. The sun was about to set and I did not want to slip slide my way through the night.  Leo and I were hiking together at this point and we decided to call it a day.  9 is my record number of Prairie repeats, and 6300m of climbing is my new single day record.  My legs felt quite reasonable, my stomach was good and my breathing was okay.  Overall, the day was a success. After 3 attempts at this project, I am totally at ease with putting this particular dream to rest.
  5.  Grizzly Peak the fun way. This wasn’t a big day, but it was such a nice trip that it deserves to be in my highlight reel. Two days after my Prairie repeats I was itching for a shakeout, so Patrick and I went out to Grizzly Peak.  In a spur of the moment decision we decided to take the scrambler’s route up instead of the usual hiking trail. We didn’t have much beta other than a line on maps.me, but I think that’s part of what made this trip so fun. Every time we thought we might hit an impassable line through the cliff bands, another weakness in the rock would appear and we would be able to make our way up.  It felt so good to be scrambling again and we finished the trip with huge smiles.

With another month passed, I’m feeling eager and excited to get out running on the trails.  The snow is melting and I can feel the dirt underneath my feet, even if I can’t see it yet.  This is shaping up to be the best May yet!

Happy Trails!

Hello Spring! March in Review

March has felt like a rebirth of sorts.  The polar vortex slowly relinquished its grip on Alberta, and I’ve found myself filled with a sense of hope and optimism. Not that I was feeling particularly morose earlier in the year, it just feels like the happiness factor has ticked up a notch 🙂  As a bonus, I am pleased to say that I managed to make it through the entire month without spraining an ankle or falling down a mountain.  Winning!

There are few things I love more in life than putting on a pair of shorts and jogging down a single-track trail.  I spent most of February wearing two pairs of pants and I found them frustratingly restrictive.  Shorts are analogous to freedom and I’ve been loving the ability to take a full stride without resistance.

There are so many highlights from the past month, but here are a few of the standouts:

  1. Helena Ridge ski tour followed by a run up Sulphur Mountain (Sanson’s Peak). The start of the tour up Helena Ridge was actually our coldest tour to date.  The temp during the drive out dipped down to -33C, and as we bundled to head up the trail we were questioning our sanity.  Thankfully, the temperature warmed throughout the day and by the time we started running up Sulphur mountain it was a balmy -11C!  Almost shorts weather 🙂  I did not feel particularly strong during the tour on Helena Ridge; my confidence was shot from my fall on Delirium Dive the week before.  In addition, the snow was inconsistent and full of facets, and the tree skiing was a bit dense for my liking.  Still, it was a gorgeous day and the perfect way to build my confidence back up.  The run afterwards was icing on the cake as it felt so good to just let my legs run free on the perfectly packed trail.
  2. Mount Hector. I almost didn’t go on this trip.  My skiing felt so tentative on Helena Ridge that I thought I may have to spend a few days at the resort relearning how to ski before touring again.  I decided to head out to the Skimo night at Norquay on Friday for some practice laps, and discovered that part of the problem was that my boot was broken.  We were able to repair it at the rental shop, and then I did a few very shakey laps down the giant moguls.  By the 3rd and 4th lap I felt a little bit better about myself .  I could at least survival ski down the mountain.  On Saturday Vlad and Arielle gave me a crash course on crevasse rescue, and on Sunday morning I found myself touring up Mt Hector.  The mountain was very busy with a few other groups taking advantage of the perfect weather, as well as a guided group of about 15.  I didn’t care about the relative busy-ness, because the scenery was absolutely incredible!  This tour is in my top 3 mountain days of all time.  If  you have the opportunity, I highly recommend you check it out.

    3. Willoughby Ridge. On St Patrick’s day I drove down to Crowsnest Pass to tour with Ian, the owner of Spry.  Spry has been very generous to me over the last few years, helping me out with this “simple and inexpensive” sport. Ian is a genuine mountain man and we have a lot of fun whenever we are able to get out for an adventure together.  The weather was quite warm, and the snow turned to slush and stuck to our skins.  But the pain was worth it, as we were able to find some good snow with smooth turns on north facing aspects.

    4. Weekend in Revelstoke. My elevation gains and quest for a million feet took a bit of a hit with a weekend trip to Revelstoke.  The training sacrifice was worth it as it was so nice for Matt and I to chill out and visit with my brother and his wife. We went to the local hockey game, skied at the resort (slushy conditions) and went touring in Roger’s Pass.  This was Matt’s first ever tour, so he used my brother’s spare splitboard.  The spring conditions were far from optimal but it still was a blast.

    5. Moose Mountain, the fun way. Moose Mountain via Ing’s mine is becoming an annual tradition. It’s a fantastic spring scramble and a great way to kick of the peak-bagging season.  This year there were 5 of us out playing in the snow; Patrick, myself, Svenja, Adrien and Justin.

     

Once again I am finishing the month behind on my elevation gains, but I can feel my fitness building. I’m excited for the snow-free mountain adventures that I’m sure are just around the corner!

Brrr, My February Recap

February 2019 was one of the coldest months in Calgary’s history.  With an average temperature of -18*C, I was unable able to run outdoors very often because the cold air was too harsh on my lungs.  Fortunately, I made the happy discovery that touring is an excellent cold weather sport.  My ventilation rate while skiing is significantly lower than while I’m running, so I was able to spend up to 5 or 6 hours outdoors without issue.  I added it up, and it turns out I ran 12 times in February, and skied 9 days.  There were also a couple of indoor workout days, as I rehabilitated my sprained ankle.

Cold weather often equates to spectacular bluebird days. I love the sound of the snow squeaking beneath my feet and relish the solitude of the trails.


A few highlights:

  1. East Ridge of Panorama.  At -27C this was a very cold day out, but it was also my first ever ski summit and we got to ski beautiful, powdery snow.
  2. Jimmy Junior. At -15C this was a relatively warm ski. My 2nd ever ski summit, with spectacular views and incredible snow conditions.  Getting up the mountain was very hard work and both of us were totally gassed when we got the top, but it was amazing!
  3. Delirium Dive. This adventure is a highlight and a lowlight for me. I have been having a blast learning how to ski.  I have become comfortable with falling and I’m eager to keep pushing the learning curve. Unfortunately, being a new skier there are lots of hazards I am unaware of or don’t fully appreciate.  On February 22nd I skinned to the top of Delirium Dive and attempted to ski down.  The slope is very steep, with lots of cliff hazards.  On this particular day it was windswept and the snow was hard.  We chose the easiest route down and I figured I would be able to pick my way down. I fully expected to fall once or twice but I didn’t see that as an issue; I fall all the time! I wound up falling as expected, but instead of stopping once I hit the ground I began to slide uncontrollably down the steep slope.  I fell for a long time, picking up speed and wondering when I was going to go over a cliff.  I thought about all the people who had told me they thought I was capable of skiing the Dive, I thought about Matt who is so supportive of all my adventures, I thought about all the people who would be emotionally hurt if I got hurt.  It’s fascinating that as I was falling, the only thing that mattered to me was that I didn’t want to hurt any one else by my own poor choices.  Eventually I came to a stop, a metre or so away from the edge of a cliff.  Miraculously, I was intact and other skiers were able to gather my gear which was strewn across the slope. My boot had a minor break, and my confidence was severely shaken, but with the help of some friends I managed to ski back down to safety.  I had to take it easy for the next few days as my lower legs were quite sore from pushing against the tops of my boots. I also had a large bruise below my knee, but thankfully the bruise was benign.

 

I didn’t have any serious injuries from my trip down Delirium Dive, but once again I finished the month having to take a few rest days, and down on my overall elevation gain.  I am now 40,000ft behind pace on my 1 million feet of climbing goal, but I’m not going to panic.  This means that I’m going to have a very fun summer climbing all the mountains 🙂

Happy Trails!

Getting Back to My Roots – January Recap

After a frustrating year of not feeling like myself, I have decided that 2019 will be dedicated to doing what I love most – mountain adventures.  So far it is going well with mild temperatures enabling lots of scrambling and trail running, while still continuing to explore more and more on my touring skis.  My only complaint is that the front range xc ski trails have not been very good, but you can’t have it all 🙂


The month of January was dedicated to getting as much vert as possible, and my friend Philippe set up his annual vert challenge for a little extra motivation.  I kicked off the month with a 5-peat on Prairie Mountain.  This was an intimidating run as I hadn’t done that much vert (3500m) in a single push in many months.

I had the not-so-bright idea of trying to fuel with beer, one beer for every summit.  This was my thought process:

  • I planned to do 90 minute laps so I shouldn’t get drunk.
  • Alcohol contains 7 cal/g, as compared to carbs which only have 4 cal/g, so it seemed like an efficient way to fuel.
  • Historically, pedestrians used beer during multi-day races.
  • I like beer.

Unfortunately I quickly learned that beer is not a good fuel for ultras, as alcohol blocks normal carbohydrate uptake. By my 4th repeat (about 5hrs in) I had a massive bonk.  It felt like I was drunk, but looking back on it I think I was just extremely low in blood sugar.  After stumbling down the mountain I had a Mars bar and about 10 Oreos (no exaggeration); instantly I felt much better.  The 5th repeat felt a lot stronger than the 4th and I finished the day feeling successful.


I had another big day on my feet with the French-Haig-Robertson Traverse.  This traverse is a classic ski tour that I’ve been thinking about since I got my touring skis.  The route has also been nicknamed the Majo traverse since he’s done it so many times,so when I heard he was planning a trip out I asked to come along.

The forecast was not looking good and I fully expected the trip to be cancelled, but on Saturday morning Majo and I (and 13 other Slovaks) were in the Burstall Pass parking lot preparing to head up the trail.  The snow was lightly falling, with hardly a breath of wind as we made our way up French Creek.  It was a perfect morning and I wondered if the sky might even clear up. We hit our first obstacle as we reached the basin below French glacier.  The group had split into two pace groups, so we waited for the slower group to catch up before heading toward the glacier.  The wind picked up and temperatures dropped as we approached the glacier.  The snow was windswept and crusty, which made skinning across the angled slopes very tricky.  The slower skiers were struggling to keep up, and the faster skiers were getting cold waiting.  The decision was made to split the group in two, 8 people turned around and 7 of us continued on.

I was familiar with about 80% of the route, and I was fairly certain that following the skin track back would be more difficult than continuing up the glacier to the Robertson col.  Majo assured me I’d be fine on the col so I continued forward on the traverse with the 6 other guys.  This was my first experience in high winds on skis.  The wind would catch my pack, and I got blown over a couple of times as I was slow to react to the sudden gusts.  Every once and awhile I found myself worrying that I wouldn’t be able to ski down in these conditions. This is when the other side of my brain would assert itself and convince me to keep moving; it wouldn’t be windy on the other side of the col and the wind was blowing all the nice soft snow over there so I would be able to ski just fine.  Sometimes when I have these internal debates I feel a bit schizophrenic.  We got over the col, and were completely sheltered from the wind as predicted. The ski down was lots of fun, with soft snow almost the entire way.

The entire traverse took us just under 6.5 hrs. It wasn’t the stunning day with incredible views that I had envisioned, but it was a mountain adventure all about making new friends and learning new skills.  I’m already looking forward to doing it again.


I woke up on January 26th to hail, lightning and driving rain.  It was like an alternate universe had suddenly appeared.  The plan was to scramble up a couple of mountains, but I wondered whether or not I should even leave the house.  Thankfully Leo was driving so I didn’t have to think too hard, and he white-knuckled his way out to the trailhead as Philippe and I enjoyed our role as passengers.

The first objective on our list was Gap Peak.  Philippe and I had been up before, but this was Leo’s first time.  The rain/snow mixture had stopped falling and we enjoyed mild temperatures as we hiked up the steep slope.  In keeping with the crazy weather, a blizzard blew in, and then blew out, treating us to amazing views of the Bow Valley.  We had been a little concerned about traversing the summit ridge with the forecast high winds, but the winds were not bad and the ridge conditions were excellent.  It was the perfect ascent.

The descent was nearly as perfect, but I sprained my ankle a few hundred metres from the parking lot. I felt the pop, and although it wasn’t particularly painful, my stomach felt sick.  I was pretty sure this was going to need some recovery time.

After a few tentative steps I found that I could weight-bear without pain, so we decided that we could still go up a second peak.  I could start my recovery tomorrow.

Another storm blew in, and by the time we made the 10 minute drive over to Mount Yamnuska it was snowing.  Thankfully I could power hike without pain, so I was able to maintain a reasonable pace as we made our way up to the chimney.  The trail had been fairly clear up to this point, but now it was becoming quite slick with snow and ice.  I delayed putting on spikes for as long as possible as I was fairly certain they would aggravate my ankle, but eventually I had to put them on.

Neither Leo or Philippe had been up Yam, so I had the privilege of leading them across the chains and the even trickier section afterwards for their very first time. In a blizzard!  Yamnuska is a much tougher mountain in winter conditions and I was super impressed with their composure as we safely navigated the exposed terrain and made our way up to the summit.

Leo lent me his poles for the downhill, as I was nervous about rolling my ankle again. All was well until the traverse across the scree slope just a few kilometres away from the car.  Snow had balled up underneath my spikes and I rolled my ankle again; the pain dropped me to the ground and brought tears to my eyes.  At this point the path was snowy but not icy so I decided to take the spikes off. Sadly, the damage was done.  I hobbled my way down the path back to the car with Philippe and Leo leading the way.


The ankle is healing well, but I had to take the rest of January off. It was disappointing because I wasn’t able to push to compete for the win in Philippe’s elevation challenge.  Still, I finished the month with over 25,000m of climbing and I’m feeling quite satisfied with my climbing fitness at the moment.  I was already planning to schedule a rest week, so now I just get to start it a few days early. Here’s hoping February ends on a more positive note 🙂

2018 – A year of learning

I had high hopes for 2018.  I was feeling fit and I had big goals. 

 

I hadn’t had any majour setbacks in several years (not since my stress fracture in 2010) and my success led to complacency.  In the spring I got a bit of a sinus infection which I never bothered to treat, and I also spontaneously decided to stop taking my glucocorticosteroid asthma medication.  The medication, which I had been using for years with success, just didn’t seem to be helping that much anymore.  In hindsight, I don’t think it was the medication that was the problem, rather it was the sinus infection.  More on this later… 

 

I trained for the run across Alberta throughout the spring, but my recovery seemed to suck.  I took more rest days in this training block than I ever have, but my body still felt beat up.  Everything seemed to feel swollen and there was no spring in my step.  It was tempting to blame it on overtraining, however I really wasn’t training that much compared to my normal activity levels. 

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Spring training on the roads with Philippe

I tapered hard going into the Alberta run and my body felt a lot better.  By the time I joined Dave in Lake Louise I was feeling pretty good.  That day I lasted about 57km before overheating, and then calling it quits at 70km when I discovered blood in my stool. After getting the okay from the doctor, I decided to run the next day and pushed hard to catch up to Dave. I eventually reached him in Chestermere after an eventful run through the night, but the push to catch Dave left me exhausted and I decided to abandon the run only 10km later. (I wrote a few thoughts about my run attempt here.)

 

After sleeping for a few days I began to feel recovered, and I got out for a few hikes before leaving for a Colorado roadtrip.  I continued to hike and run in Colorado, but I still seemed to have a base level of swelling.  My achilles felt like marshmallows and when I tried to get into a deep squat my muscles and joints felt like they were filled with fluid.  Still I pushed on, strongly believing that the body is meant to move.  I didn’t get better, but I didn’t get worse. 

In August I ran the Ute 100 in Utah.  I didn’t feel great, but I had a good gap on the rest of the ladies’ field until I succumbed to the extreme heat.  I spent 90 minutes wallowing at an aid station before I felt well enough to continue.  Reaching that finish look every ounce of perseverance I had, and I am quite proud to have earned a finisher’s belt buckle.  Some day I would like to return to the Ute and run a respectable time. 

elevation

My next adventure after returning from Utah was Meet the Minotaur, an off-trail race in Crowsnest Pass.  The air was very smoky from the forest fires so I was pro-active, taking my Ventilin, sucking on Halls, and covering my face with a buff in an effort to protect my lungs.  Despite my efforts I wasn’t able to push as hard as I would have liked. I quickly ran out of breath and 15 minutes into the race I had to let the lead ladies go.  Meet the Minotaur 2018 turned into a social race for me, but I really enjoyed the change of pace.   

For the rest of August and September I either rested or hiked.  The air outside was extremely smoky so it wasn’t difficult to take a break from running.  When the air cleared enough to run again I still felt off.  I used to really enjoy running downhill, but the swelling in my legs took all enjoyment out of it.  My muscles did not seem to respond and throughout 2018 I was forced to just trot along instead of using a strong stride. 

 

I tapered hard going into Whistler Alpine Meadows 110km, hoping that my body might respond, but at this point I think my body had had enough.  Throughout 2018, ever since that sinus infection, I had felt off. My body had been whispering to me, but now it was shouting STOP! I vomited only 20km into the race, continued until the 55km mark and called it quits. Everything felt wrong and I worried that I was causing permanent damage to myself.  

 

Following WAM I took 2 weeks completely off running, followed by an additional 2 weeks of nothing longer than 4hrs and no more than 50km/wk.  I went to my doctor and described my symptoms.  She took my concerns seriously and set me up with blood tests, a breathing test, an EKG and a chest X-ray.  The tests were just in case something else was going on, but she seemed fairly certain that my complaints were caused by my decision to come off of the glucocorticosteroids.  I was skeptical that my symptoms could be related to asthma, but my doctor is usually right so I listened to her and went back on my drugs.  

 

The relief was almost instant.  A week after restarting the glucocorticosteroids my symptoms were gone.  I feel like such an idiot for coming off the drugs without consulting my doctor, but I’m so thankful to be feeling like myself again.  There is no squishy feeling in my achilles and I can run downhill with a fluid stride.  When I try to accelerate or bound side to side, my muscles respond.  It’s hard for me to know how much of the recovery is due to finally taking some prolonged rest, or getting back on my medication, but I’m certain both actions play a part. 

I haven’t followed a training plan in a long time, but I’ve decided to go back to some structured training in an effort to avoid a repeat of the last 6 months of frustration.  So far the plan is going well and everything seems to be clicking.  My fitness is coming back and I’m moving through the mountains totally pain free.  A quick glance at Strava tells me that I haven’t caught up to my 2017 fitness level yet, but I am finally trending upwards.  Hopefully I have learned my lesson from 2018, and I’m going into 2019 healthier and smarter.

 

Up next: Some goals and plans for 2019 🙂

 

Happy trails!