I think many of you already know the outcome of this race, but just in case some of you don’t I’ll try to maintain the suspense 🙂
A quick note – I write these race reports not just for entertainment purposes, but also so that I can look back on them and learn from my mistakes. This means that I include boring details such as my eating and sleeping habits before the race. (Sorry, not sorry)
We drove out to the race late on Thursday evening and went for a quick walk through town once we got there. We slept in the van on the street outside Charlie’s place but the street lights were super bright so we both had trouble falling asleep. Note to self – install curtains for the van.
On Friday I picked up some brand new Icebug Animas from Spry (my old ones had holes) and went for a 30min run on the local trails. Leo and I ran together, and he commented that he’d never seen me run so slow. I tried to decide if that was a good thing. After the run we joined a bunch of the CTR (Calgary Trail Runners) crew for spaghetti with meat sauce and a couple of beers.
Matt and I spent the afternoon parked along the Oldman River so that he could fish while I had a nap and Moxie could run free. Then we drove back to town for the pre-race dinner (spaghetti and meat sauce) and a couple more beers. The pre-race meeting contained the usual information (no headphones people!), and then we drove back to Charlie’s place where we parked in the back alley, away from the streetlights.
The rest of the evening was spent hanging out with Charlie and company. Phil introduced us to the most amazing flavoured popcorn (caramel and cheese combo, don’t judge ’til you try them) and then it was time for bed. I slept like a log.
We were up at 5am for a breakfast of white toast, a piece of bacon and a couple spoons of scrambled egg. I couldn’t stomach anything more because I was so nervous. I also had a coffee since I’ve learned over the years that coffee is a key component of a good race.
At 7am the race began and we were off on Leg 1. The first part of Leg 1 consists of flat trail along the train tracks and then a combo of paved and gravel road through the Frank Slide and the town of Hillcrest. In my mind these kilometres are free distance, so I gave my legs license to run as fast or as slow as they wanted to run. If someone cut in front of me on the trail forcing me to alter my stride, I would pass them rather than slowing down to an awkward speed. I felt good and I soon found myself headed up the gravel road towards the single-track that would take me to the Transition Area (TA) for Leg 2. The last two times I’ve run this leg I’ve hiked most of this hill, but this time around my legs felt like running so that’s what I did.
The landscape was stunning, I think this was the most beautiful year yet for wildflowers. I soaked in the beauty and tried not to trip over my feet. The trail was remarkably dry and I made it to TA 1/2 in good time, right on my optimum schedule. There was another solo female runner who got into the aid station at the same time as me, so I was in a hurry to get out of there. In my rush to leave I began to run the wrong way up the trail. Thankfully Susan and Tony were there to yell at me to turn around. Thanks for looking out for me!
Majo passed me on the climb up Leg 2, he was looking super smooth. I stuck to my own pace, a combo of run/hiking, while he floated ahead and out of sight. My legs felt better and better as the climb went on and I soon found that I wasn’t walking at all. Before I knew it I was at the top of the hill and it was time to enjoy the trip down. The trail was very dry, which made it extra rocky and dusty. People seemed to be having trouble navigating the technical terrain, but Animas grip like magic so I just floated down. I knew it was a risk wearing brand new shoes for a hundred mile race, but these were the model of shoes I’d trained in all year and they’d worked so well on this terrain that I wasn’t willing to wear something else.
The relatively “gentle” descent was followed by a steep climb and an equally steep, technical down. Normally the run down this section is overgrown, making footing very tricky, but this year the plants had been cut back and I was able to run with confidence. I passed several people, including Mel Bos, who didn’t seem to be enjoying the steep terrain. I finished the leg right on my optimum schedule, excited and raring to get started on Leg 3.
Matt and the CTR crew were at the TA. They quickly switched out my hydration bladder, handed me my snacks for Leg 3 and off I went. As I left I spotted Helene Dumais sprinting into the TA with Mel Bos not far behind. What a race!
Leg 3 begins with a moderate climb on a gravel road, followed be a steep climb on trail. I found myself running briefly with local legend Carl Pryce. Wow, I should not be running this fast! I let him go ahead and hiked most of the rest of the hill, focusing on keeping an even effort.
Throughout the next several kilometres I kept expecting the speedy ladies behind me to come blazing by, but it never happened. I caught and passed Majo. Then I caught and passed Trevor. What is going on??? I stayed focused on fueling; eating/drinking every 20 minutes while keeping below the nausea threshold.The climb leveled off to a runnable grade and Mel came gliding past me. She mentioned how much she likes the smooth trail and dislikes the technical down. I laughed a bit because I am definitely the opposite. I resisted the urge to stay with her as she ran past because I knew an increase in effort would limit my ability to digest food. We were only 45km into the race and I needed to stay fueled.
I refilled my hydration bladder at the checkpoint (CP) near the top of the climb. I asked the volunteers if they had Coke but they didn’t have any. It was then that I remembered that they only have Coke at the TAs. No worries, it’s not like I ever train with Coke anyway.
The downhill on Leg 3 is not technical and although I was able to keep Mel from pulling further away, I don’t think I made up any ground on her either. I thought about pushing harder but once again I talked myself out of it. Patience grasshopper.
I got to the next checkpoint and the volunteers had 1/2 a Pepsi waiting for me. They had heard me asking for pop at the top of the hill and now they were delivering. How cool is that?! Anna was hanging out at the CP, (I think this was maybe the 3rd time I’d seen her that day on the course??) and she was my biggest cheerleader. It was fun to feel like a celebrity. Thanks Anna!
I maintained my effort for the rest of the leg, slowly reeling Mel in. I could see that I was a little faster on the steep climbs and I was starting to feel optimistic that I could maybe make a race out of it. Never in my wildest dreams had I thought that I could compete with an athlete of her level so I was really excited just to be close.
I came to the top of the last steep climb and started down the descent, I could see Mel was tangled up with another runner and I thought maybe there had been a collision of some sort. Mel kept on running but I soon caught up to her on the gravel road back to the TA. She was in obvious pain and she said she thought her oblique was torn from the collision. We were only 1km from the TA and there was really nothing I could do, so I just kept on running. I felt terrible for the accident and I hoped it was just a muscle spasm that would work it’s way out. Unfortunately this was not the case, and she dropped out at the end of the leg.
I came flying into the TA ecstatic that I’d been able to keep to my optimum schedule. This schedule was really setup as more of a pipe dream than something that was supposed to be reality. I made a quick trip to the bathroom and downed two cups of Coke before grabbing a wrap and hiking slowly up the steep hill to start Leg 4.
As soon as I began the walk up the hill I knew I had made a mistake. My stomach was rebelling. I walked even slower, but it was too late. Soon I was doubled over, emptying out all of my stomach contents onto the beautiful wildflowers. How could I be so stupid?! I had been eating and drinking just fine for all of Legs 1-3, I did not need the Coke or the wrap. In fact, I had just finished eating an Oreo during my run down the road.
I apologized to the relay runners who had borne witness to my spewing and continued on down the trail. Slowly, methodically I nursed food and water back into my system. I took a salt tab and ran very slowly.
I made it through the rest of Leg 4 without any puking. I began to relax and think I’d figured this stomach thing out. My slow pace must have been pretty steady because I passed a few relay runners on the trail and I never saw any other soloists. I admired the daisies and made a mental note to thank Brian for the subtle course changes. There is now less dirt road on Leg 4 and more trail! I was really enjoying myself on this leg and when I got to the ladder which we had to climb over to cross the wire fence I laughed out loud. Thank God this was at mile 50 instead of mile 80!
When I reached TA4 I was only 5-10 minutes behind optimum and still in good spirits. I told Matt about the puking and sat down in a chair while Julia grabbed me some orange slices and a cup of Coke. Once again, why was I eating? I had already been eating!
I didn’t even make it fully out of the TA before I puked up all the oranges and Coke. Looking back on this, I’m not sure if I should blame overeating for this puke because I really wasn’t exerting myself. Maybe the problem was the Coke?? I hope not, because Coke is delicious.
Anyway, I knew the drill so I just got back to business. I turned my phone on speaker and alternated run/walk songs. Walk songs were used to eat a tiny bit and sip water. I found I could eat 1/2 an Oreo and feel pretty good. I could also take tiny mouthfuls of gel and feel alright. The salted watermelon Gu was especially good.One step in front of the other, I eventually made it to the point where my stomach and legs felt a little better and I found myself running for longer stretches. A couple of relay runners passed me, but no soloists. Just as I was gaining confidence in myself my foot found a rock and I went flying. I lay there on the trail swearing angrily as my entire body threatened to cramp up. Gingerly, I stood up and assessed the damage. I was bloody and dirty but otherwise okay.
Still feeling grouchy I started back down the trail. “How Bad Do You Want It” came over the speaker phone and I reminded myself that I was there to push my limits. If this run was easy I wasn’t pushing hard enough. It was the most appropriate song for the moment, I forced a smile and returned my focus to putting one foot in front of the other.
20km into Leg 5 I finally reached Leo’s aid station. I knew he had ginger chews and I was hoping they would be the magic bullet for my rebellious stomach. I allowed myself to sit for a moment and savour a chew before moving my ass back down the trail. Leo shouted after me that I was still in reach of my magical sunset on Leg 6, but I had already given up hope.
A rainbow appeared over the trail and it gave me a bit of a mental boost. Then I came around a corner and ran into a group of ATVers who were cheering on the runners. I gave them all high 5s before running down the trail and I could hear one of the girls comment on my “ridiculously muscular calves.” My smile grew. My mood lifted, and the rest of Leg 5 was okay. I even kind of enjoyed The Ditch, although it was intimidating to think I had to run through that thing twice!
I was behind schedule so Matt had wandered down the trail to look for me. He met me about a kilometre from the TA and cautioned me about the steep downhill. I laughed to myself, I don’t think Matt had any idea what kind of terrain I had been running on all day. Steep downhill is my thing!
The transition from Leg 5 to 6 was not what I had envisioned. I needed to change my socks and apply Body Glide to my feet so I sat down. Even though it was 20 degrees outside I started shivering as soon as I stopped moving. The shivering grew worse and soon I had to move over by a fire. We stripped off my clothes, layered me up in long sleeves and pants, then covered me in a sleeping bag, two jackets and a buff. I drank some broth and slowly sipped a ginger ale. I knew that my body was in shut down mode, and I knew that if I puked again my race would be over. I never considered quitting, but I knew I would be reduced to a death march to the finish line.
Eventually the broth and ginger ale felt digested. Just to be sure I didn’t upset my stomach I told myself that I was only allowed to walk the next section of trail, no running. Jay and Majo left the aid station with me but they soon moved off ahead. I didn’t blame them as their bodies were clearly functioning better than mine was.
As I loosened up from my long sit I was able to walk faster. I pride myself in my ability to walk quickly and I found myself making quick work of the climb. The sun set and I turned on my headlamp but I kept the focus. In the back of my mind I realized that Leo had been right; if it wasn’t for that extended hiatus at TA5/6 I could have seen the sunset on the pass! Oh well. I could still see the silhouette of the forest against the twilight sky and that was pretty cool.
I caught up to Jay during a bathroom break and we ascended the rest of the pass together. I wasn’t sure if any ladies had passed me in the TA so I asked the volunteer at the next CP and he assured me that I was still in first. This news lit a bit of a competitive fire in my belly.
Last year I had slacked off on the back half of Leg 6, and that is my biggest regret of that race. This year I told myself I would put in an honest effort all the way to the end of the race. I enjoyed the technical downhill and soon I left Jay behind, I don’t think he was enjoying it as much. My quads were protesting the steep descent but I popped a caffeine pill, drank some water, ate an Oreo, and told myself to keep going. Get to Leo, get to Leo. It was my new mantra. Leo’s aid station was 20km from the finish line and 20km sounded like a perfectly reasonable distance to run.
I dropped my jacket off with Leo and said a quick hello to Patrick and Arielle who had driven all the way out there in the middle of the night to cheer on the race. I felt bad that I didn’t want to hang out, but I had a race to run. It was a great mental boost to see such a wonderful group of friends and I focused all of that positive energy on putting one foot in front of the other.
Soon I caught back up to Majo. I lost track of how many times we leap-frogged during this race. He faded back on the next downhill and I continued my push. Left at the gas plant, straight past the gun range, through The Ditch and down the hill. I came into the TA happy and ready to get this thing over with!
Matt and I missed each other during the quick transition but Dennene was there, so I left my pack with her and asked her to let Matt know that I had continued on. I ran out of there with just my soft flask and a gel tucked in my bra. As I started up the climb on Leg 7 I heard Matt yell out “see you at the finish line Mamasan!” I pushed a little harder, hoping I could surprise him with how quick I made it there.
Unfortunately dehydration from all the puking took its toll. When I got to the steep downhills on Leg 7 my quads refused to function. I found myself forcefully exhaling with every step as I gingerly stepped down the steep slope. Can somebody tell me why I didn’t grab poles for this leg? This was my third time on this leg, I knew it was steep.
Majo flew past me as I was gasping my way down the hill. It was good to see him doing well but I was also a little annoyed with myself that I couldn’t pick up my own pace. Dennene had put it in my head that I should try to “chick” Majo and Jay, it sounded like a great idea at the time, but I was unable to execute the plan
I passed the CP and now there was just 5.2km left to go. A little uphill and then down to the finish. A couple of relay runners went past me on the uphill and they were so full of energy! I fed off their positive vibes and determined that I was going to try to run downhill.
Unfortunately, with 5km to go my left foot decided it had other plans. Suddenly it felt like a rock was slicing into the ball of my foot and I stopped dead in my tracks from the pain. I sat down beside the trail and took off my sock and shoe. There was nothing there. I examined my foot and the painful area was bright white with swollen skin. I figured this must be what trench foot looks like. At this point Jay caught up to me and I asked him for tape or a band aid. He didn’t have any supplies, so it was up to me to just suck it up. I could hardly step on the foot and I was moving very slowly. Jay offered to stay with me, but at that pace it would take me hours to finish so I was glad when he went ahead.
I was so mad at myself! Is this how I was going to lose the race after working so hard? All because I didn’t take the time to break in my shoes?? No. I decided this is not how it would end. I figured out a way to step only on the outside of my foot, with my toes pointing sideways. This relieved the pressure from the ball of my foot. It made my knee a little sore, but at least I could kind of trot at that pace. I had no idea how far the next runner was behind me and I did not want to get caught.
Ever since I’d given up on the sub-20hr dream I had stopped looking at the time of day on my watch. I had restarted my watch at Leg 6 so I really had no idea how long I had been out on the course. I didn’t want to beat last year’s time by a little bit, I wanted to obliterate it. Last year conditions had been really tough, whereas this year conditions were good and I didn’t want conditions to be the sole reason for my faster time. By this point in the race I was convinced that I was barely moving faster than last year and that the sun was suddenly going to rise at any moment, exposing me for the fraud that I really was.
Matt met me on the road and we ran the last few hundred metres together. When I saw the time on the finish line clock I nearly exploded with pride! 21:15!! If it wasn’t for that f-ing blister it would have been sub 21hrs! I guess I’m getting pretty good at this puking and running thing 🙂
By the numbers:
21:15, 161km, 5687m+
1st lady, 7th overall
Leg 1 – 1:29 (3rd)
Leg 2 – 1:56 (1st)
Leg 3 – 3:56 (1st)
Leg 4 – 2:26 (1st)
Leg 5 – 3:36 (1st)
Leg 6 – 5:55 (1st)
Leg 7 – 1:54 (3rd)
Special thanks to Brian Gallant for putting on this amazing event year after year. It just keeps on getting better! Also to the wonderful community with CTR – I felt like I had an army of runners by my side each time I came into a CP or TA. To my training partners for joining me on my mountain adventures and also for pushing me to aim higher with my goals. Ian and the crew at Rockgear Distribution (Icebug, UltrAspire, Swiftwick); your gear is made for Rocky Mountain adventures and it has enabled me to take my mountain fun to a whole new level!
Lastly, thank you to my biggest supporter, my husband Matt. Ultrarunning is a team effort and I am so thankful to have you as a rock in my corner. Thank you for supporting me through the countless hours of training; thank you for being there for me during the race; thank you for staying up all night crewing me, and nursing me back to health after I finished; thank you for volunteering to do it all over again!
Up next: Iron Legs 86km, Aug 13th. See you there!