Monthly Archives: September 2017

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 

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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!