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.
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 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.
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.
Ultraspire Spry 2.0 pack
Sugoi cooling arm sleeves (thanks Dennene)
Lululemon sports bra
Icebug Oribi shoes