Category Archives: Race

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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Jimmy Keen Survival Club – The 2018 Ute 100

The race began at 3am in a dirt field on the south side of the La Sal mountains.  I didn’t bother with breakfast and fueled on coffee instead.  I think I was still half asleep as we began our slow jog down the gravel road.  The road transitioned into a jeep trail and finally into rocky, somewhat overgrown single-track.  We were climbing, the grade got steeper and the slow jog became a power-hike.  I love long, sustained climbs so I settled into my rhythm and soon found that I had passed all of my nearest competitors. The narrow trail switchbacked down a slope before climbing back up through open meadows.  The sun rose, and I could feel my body come alive as the mountain valley came into view.

At 14.8 miles there was a short out-and-back section along a jeep road to reach the Medicine Lakes aid station. I thought there were a few ladies ahead of me, but as I ran into the aid station the volunteers informed me that I was in first. I hate being chased so I wasn’t particularly happy to hear this. I didn’t want to be in a racing mindset this early in a 100, but I tried to convince myself to relax and just do my thing.  Normally I don’t eat much from aid stations, but as I was leaving a piece of bacon called out to me.  I couldn’t resist.  I walked back up the road savouring the delicious saltiness and congratulating myself on such a tasty choice of snack.

I had just started to jog back up the jeep road when I projectile vomited mid-stride.  I looked around to see if anyone was watching, but no one had seen me.  I puke in nearly every ultra I run, so I’m not sure why I was so self-conscious about it.  I puked again and decided that maybe I should walk instead of run.  I’m not sure what brought on the nausea, I can’t imagine that a single piece of bacon would cause such havoc, so I think it was the altitude. I formed a strategy, I would stick to pure sugar, and eat only in very small amounts until I got back down below 9000ft. As these thoughts were forming in my head, the 2nd place lady came running down the road towards me, big smile on her face. We high-fived as I turned off the jeep trail onto some cruisey single-track.

The next section of the course should have been fast, and it took all of my self-control to dial back the effort and allow my stomach to settle down.   I fully expected the 2nd place girl to pass me at any moment, I didn’t feel like I could move much slower and she hadn’t been far behind, but she never appeared.  I ran past herds of cows and a cowboy with his sheep dogs.  The dogs were clearly having the time of their lives and I found myself smiling as I hiked along the rocky trail.  Despite the puking, I was loving the wildness of this race.

When I reached the Utah Trust aid station (26.4 miles) I was in good spirits.  I may not have been able to eat much, but my legs were working fine and I was doing what I loved.  I filled a soft-flask with ginger ale and began to hike up the gravel road.  The next 6 miles were run entirely on gravel road, but we still had mountain views and I was grateful for the opportunity to run a bit.  My stomach was settling down and I even managed to swallow a chocolate gel.

At mile 32.4 we were able to access our crew for the first time.  Matt was waiting for me and I sat down and sipped on some ginger ale while doing a full shoe/sock change.  I had been running in my preferred shoes (Icebug Oribis) which have great traction, but very little cushion.  I needed to switch into more cushioned shoes (Salming Trail 5s) as I was about to head up the very rocky trails of 12,200ft Mann’s Peak.

The next section of course was some of the most scenic of the entire race. The alpine meadows were filled with flowers, the birds were singing and the butterflies were putting on a show.  I was in my element and loving every minute of it. Even when the trail became steep and my body seemed to be moving through molasses, I was loving the adventure.  Not wanting another vomit session, I was careful not to overeat or overexert myself.  I crested the ridge to discover the Beastie Boys playing on a ghetto blaster and I took a moment to soak in the views.  What an incredible day!

The descent off Mann’s Peak is not really a trail, it’s really just a bunch of ankle busting rubble.  I took my time, feeling like I was on one of my scrambling adventures back home.  The trail became more defined and the last few miles to the aid station were very runnable.  As I ran into Warner Lake signs lined the trail. “We. Love. You Jimmy.”  I knew I was coming up to the Jimmy Keen section of the trail and I wondered what was so special about it.

At the aid station I enjoyed a Freezie and prepared for the heat by putting on a cap with ice under it.  The course had not been too hot up to this point so neither Matt nor I were too concerned about heat.  We neglected to put on cooling sleeves and I didn’t bother with any ice down my bra.  I’m not sure what I was thinking, I knew the forecast was for 100 degrees in the valley …

After Warner Lake the trail drops down towards Moab on the Hazzard County trail.  This is where my love for the course reached an all-time high. The trail was super fun with just the right mix of technical and cruisey bits.  The views of the valley were expansive, showing off the red rocks of Moab in all their glory.  I was on the highest of highs, and I was about to come crashing down to the lowest of lows.

Hazzard County connected with Jimmy Keen and the trail flattened out.  I began to notice the heat, but I wasn’t too worried; the water drop aid station was only a few miles ahead.  By the time I reached the water drop I was feeling pretty warm. I soaked my head with sponges and enjoyed a Freezie before the 9 mile stretch to the next crewed aid station.

Jimmy Keen is the most runnable trail on the Ute 100 course. It is nearly flat, smooth, and has almost no shade of any kind.  It would be a great trail to run on for a sunrise run but I do not recommend running it in the heat of a mid-summer day.  As I shuffled along I recognized that I was likely running too much for the heat, so I slowed to a walk.  I am not a good at walking slowly, and I think I was walking too fast because I could slowly feel my internal temperature heating up.  I sipped on water, but it was hot and made me want to gag.  I tried to move slower as the heat nausea gradually set in.

Baking in the hot sun, I began to vomit.  I lost track of how many times I puked.  Puking turned to dry heaves as my stomach completely emptied.  My hot water was repulsive.  I nibbled on a Cheeto, it seemed okay but I couldn’t bring myself to eat another one.  I sat down under a bush in an attempt to cool off.  It didn’t seem to help much so I got up and walked a bit further before sitting down again in a small patch of shade. More vomiting.  I wondered if I could just stay here until sunset. Miner’s aid station was visible 3 miles away, but I wasn’t sure how I would get there. Several guys passed me, all of them suffering as well.  An aid station volunteer came walking down the trail with some bottles of Gatorade.  I had a few sips, it was hot but better than my disgusting water.

Somehow, I made it to Miner’s aid station where Matt was waiting anxiously for me.  They had ice there and I was able to cool my body temperature down while Matt served me the most delicious ice-cold milk.  I stayed for 90 minutes; drinking cold milk, ramen noodles, a little beer, anything that would stay down.  The medic let me lay down in her air-conditioned car and I watched as lady after lady came and went.  It was okay. This race was no longer about winning, I just needed to finish. I thought about quitting, but I was at Leo’s aid station and as such I wasn’t allowed to quit.

When I finally left Miner’s aid station I did not want to continue, but there was nothing else to be done.  I was still nauseous, and I wasn’t sure if I could emotionally handle another puke session.  The sun set as I slowly made my way around the 6 mile loop. With the cooler temperatures my spirits gradually lifted.  I decided that even if I wasn’t going to be competitive, I could at least finish this race in style. It was time for the tequila shot-ski.

Back at Miner’s I had a cup of ramen with the most delicious bone broth I’ve ever tasted in my life. We got out the shot-ski and celebrated the ridiculousness that is ultrarunning. I chowed down a couple of Rocky Road Oreos and began the long hike back to the Hazzard County aid station.

While I was running on the sandy Jimmy Keen and Miner’s Basin trails I had switched back to my very comfortable, but minimally cushioned shoes.  I was still wearing those shoes during my hike back up to Hazzard County, and this was a mistake.  The trail was extremely rocky and my feet were taking a beating.  There was nothing I could do about it so I told myself to suck it up, I could change shoes once I got to the aid station.

I got to the aid station but Matt was nowhere to be found.  I sat down, had a cup of noodles and some hashbrowns, but still no Matt.  It didn’t make sense to wait any longer, so I got back on the trail.  The forest was filled with the sounds of herds of cattle, their eyes shining out at me from the abyss.  It was more than a little terrifying, and I made an adrenaline-fueled push to the Trans La Sal aid station.

When I got to the aid station I was informed that I was first lady.  How was this possible???  I had long ago given up on competing and I was solely focused on just making it to the finish line.  I didn’t want to be 1st, I didn’t want to race at all, I wanted to just be. Matt urged me to hurry in and out of the aid station to maintain my position, but I just didn’t have any competitive spirit left.  We changed my shoes; my sore feet had swollen and putting on my cushioned shoes felt very tight.  I could feel every seam pressing against my feet and I had a feeling this race was going to end with a hobble.

The 2nd placed lady, Amber, arrived while I was sitting at the aid station and we left the aid station together.  I decided I wanted company, and Amber and her pacer were gracious enough to let me tag along for the next hour or so.  They were super cool ladies and I hoped we could maybe push each other to faster times.  Sadly, Amber was feeling super nauseous so I went ahead as her pace slowed.

I arrived at La Sal Pass in 1st place and feeling like a complete imposter.  I had spent so much of the day puking and sitting on my ass.  I did not deserve to be here in this position.  I decided to practice some self-sabotage and hung out at the aid station to allow the trailing ladies to catch up.  I don’t really understand what was going on in my head at this time.  I had 16 miles left, I should have been pushing to the finish!

Amber arrived, and then the 3rd place lady, Lee.  Lee left the aid station first so I figured I should probably get my butt moving as well.  My feet were very sore and I could barely manage a shuffle, but I was moving forward.  10 minutes later Amber passed me with her pacer. She had managed a rally puke and was moving super well!  I cheered her down the trail.

I hobbled along as the sun rose, stopping once to try to tape my feet but it did not seem to help.

I puked.

I puked again.

I had no explanation or solution for the puking so I just kept putting one foot in front of the other.  The last climb of the race was super steep, but my feet didn’t hurt on the uphill so I actually kind of enjoyed it.    The final descent can only be described as slow.  I was so sore, I could not run a step.  The sun rose higher and it got hotter.  I did not want to suffer through another scorcher, I needed to get to the finish line. I knew there was one last water drop before the end, but it was nowhere to be seen.  In my sleep-deprived state I thought the last water drop was 14 miles from the finish.  As time went by and the drop failed to appear I became panicked. My feet were so sore!  How could I still have more than 14 miles to go?!

When I saw the white tent of the water drop I breathed a deep sigh of relief, and then when I saw the sign that said 3.25 miles to the finish my eyes swelled with tears.  3 miles.  I could do that!  I had my music playing so I told myself I just needed to walk for 15 more songs, 5 songs per mile.

Worried about how long I was taking, Matt had driven up the road to see where I was.  I told him I was fine and he went back to the finish line to let them know I was on my way in.  My friend Leo ran up the road and paced me for the last mile.  It was nice to see a friendly face, but then he mentioned that there was a runner coming up behind me and that I had to run.  This was the last think I wanted to hear and my feet screamed at me with every step, but his scare tactic worked. I managed to shuffle the final 100 metres to the finish line.

Final stats – 159kms, 6100m, 31 hours, 3rd female. Tired and sore, but thankful for the opportunity to experience this beautiful part of the world.

 

What did I learn?

  • Altitude messes with race nutrition.  If I make it into Hardrock I need to hire a sports dietician.
  • I suck at heat.  I’m at the point now, where I think I will actively avoid races with a reputation for being hot.
  • My feet seem to be growing.  A couple of years ago I was wearing size 8 shoes, now I ‘m moving up to 9.5.
  • I don’t know how to move slowly.  In the first half of the course, I tried to move slowly to allow for digestion but I don’t think I ever really slowed down enough.  I got a little food down, but I always felt nauseous.  Later, when I was on the hottest part of the course, I tried to move slowly so that I wouldn’t overheat. I definitely didn’t slow down enough, as I was a total disaster by the time I got to the aid station.

 

Thank you:

  • To all of the race course volunteers, you put a smile on my face even when I wasn’t feeling it.  The hashbrowns, bone broth, grilled cheese sandwiches, ramen noodles and everything else I ate was delicious!
  • To Sean, The Ute was a true adventure and I loved (nearly) every step of the course.  I am truly looking forward to watching this race evolve, and I may even come back one day when the pain isn’t so fresh.
  • To Leo, thanks for the endless supply of Oreos and liquor.  And thank you for being a friendly face to drag me out of my self-pity.
  • To Matt, for being the ultimate crew.  I’m not sure I could have reached that finish line without you.
  • To Spry, thank you for all of your support.  I will be back to get more shoes, as it appears my feet have grown 🙂

The Golden Ultra – 2017

Recovery from Lost Soul was painfully slow.  My quads were exceptionally sore and despite my best efforts to give my body the nutrients and rest that it needed, it still felt like I was barely making progress.  In the week after Lost Soul I did absolutely nothing.  No walking, no running, no biking, no stretching. I did try yoga one day … but that was a bad idea.  It felt like the slightest exertion would rip my muscles in half.

Heading into LSU I was really excited to race.  It had been a long summer and I was looking forward to the off-season.  But before the off-season, I wanted to put in one really good, hard effort to see where I was at.  I feel like the smoky air stole that opportunity away from me.  There was no racing at LSU – it was just 12 hours of battling against the elements before finally admitting that I could not function in those conditions.

Lost Soul left such a bad taste in my mouth that I jumped at the chance to compete at The Golden Ultra 2 weeks later.  It didn’t matter that I registered for the race when I could still barely run a step, I had belief that my body would eventually come around.  I knew that I would not be in ideal shape to actually compete with the top ladies, but I was okay with that. I could still race to the best of my ability and finish the season on a high note, knowing that I had left it all out there on the trail.


My friend Steph was also running Golden, so she let me tag along – chauffeuring me out to Golden and letting me crash at her “swank” motel room at Mary’s Motel.  I felt very spoiled.  Friday afternoon came around and it was time to run the Vertical Km, aka “The Blood.”


The Blood – 4.7km, 1040m

I went into this stage hoping to have learned from my experience last year, when I pushed too hard and imploded 3/4 of the way up the mountain.  This year I pushed hard, but kept myself in control.  I was breathing heavily but there was no blood in my mouth and my heart was not pounding in my ears.

For the first 2/3rds of the race I was accompanied by a 9 year old kid.  He would sprint ahead of me, then slow down until I caught up, only to sprint ahead again.  As he got tired he would do a little less sprinting and I found myself hiking behind him as he powered his way up the mountain.  It was a super impressive performance and it took every ounce of effort to eventually overtake him.

I reached the rocky trail which marked the final portion of the course in good shape, and I told myself it was time to start red-lining.  I upped my effort and my breathing became ragged.  I caught up to a lady in front of me, but the trail was narrow and she had poles.  I tried to stick close to her so that I could squeeze by when there was space, but the trail was steep and her poles were dangerously close to eye level.  I was forced to back off or risk losing an eye.  After a few minutes of playing chicken I decided it was time to stop being so polite.  This was a race, and if she wasn’t going to let me pass I was just going to let myself by.  I put in a surge of effort and squeezed past, channeling my frustration to use as fuel for the final push to the finish line.  I reached the finish line totally gassed, but feeling like I had executed the race nearly perfectly.

I finished about a minute faster than in 2016. The difference was not a reflection of my fitness, but simply a better pacing strategy.  I was trying to race hard and smart, so I was super pleased with that.

Fuel – none

Gear – Icebug Oribis

VK top ten


The Sweat – 58.5km, 2500m

I was under no illusions heading into the ultra stage – I would not be competing for a podium position.  This is a very runnable course and I had done almost no running in the last month.  I was trained for hiking and time on feet.   I knew that my legs were not used to running, and I was worried about blowing them up, so I kept the pace very manageable.  Still, after about 5 or 8km I found myself slowly working my way up the field.  Eventually I reached the junction where the 30 and 60km runners split. The trails became much more peaceful and I got into a zone.

Steph went ran past me and I was torn between wanting to chase after her, and sticking to my own pace.  I stuck to my pace.  As the trail got steeper I transitioned to a power hike.  This was my happy place and soon I found myself passing people at regular intervals.  I embraced the climb, the steeper the better.  I passed one girl who was obviously not enjoying the change in terrain and continued to hike with purpose.  The trail leveled off as I approached the 25km aid station, and I could see Steph and Todd up ahead. I passed Todd at the aid station, but Steph didn’t stop and was pushing ahead.  The trail was climbing and I could tell I was gaining ground, but then the trail turned and we found ourselves back on runnable single-track.  Steph vanished out of sight.

By this point in the race it was painfully obvious to me that my running was just not very good.  Every time there was a sustained climb I would gain ground,, but as soon as the trail leveled off the runners behind me would catch back up.  I wasn’t surprised by this, but it was still a little disappointing.

The ridge climb became steeper and I slowly reeled Steph in.  We were both moving well on the climb, passing lots of guys as we made our way towards the summit.  The views were spectacular and I was happy.

I reached the summit aid station a few seconds before Steph, refilled my water and took a few breaths from my puffer.  We left aid together and I mentally prepared myself for the long grind back to the finish line.  I did a reasonable job of running the steep downhill, but once we got back down to Kickinghorse Resort I knew it was all super runnable trail back to the finish line. There were no more hills to help me make up time, and everyone behind me was going to slowly catch back up.  I put on some tunes and tried to find a rhythm.  Steph passed by me, followed by a gazelle which I would later learn was Adrienne Dunbar.

There’s not much to say about those last 20km.  I kept a steady effort, pushing as hard as I could without falling apart.  My breathing was laboured, but not to the point where I had to walk.  I wasn’t sure if my breathing issues were residual from LSU, or just my usual problem.

I came into the finish line in 6th place, 7 minutes slower than last year, but happy to have put in another solid effort.  I felt I had paced it perfectly for my strengths, and I reached the finish line completely drained.  Steph and I shuffled back to the motel where I spent the next hour coughing up my lungs, while Steph attempted to nurse her rebellious stomach back to health.  We both wondered how we were possibly going to be able to run hard again tomorrow.

Side note – a quick analysis on of the race splits and Strava shows that I reached the summit one minute faster than in 2016, but I lost 8 minutes on the last 20km.

Fuel – maple syrup (diluted with water, 1 tsp salt). Hammer gels.

Gear – Ultraspire Zygos pack.  Icebug Animas.

60km results


The Tears – 19km, 600m

I probably should have put a little more effort into my warm up for this stage, but I just didn’t have the energy to care.  I ran a little less than a kilometre and called it good.  Everything hurt and I was sore and cranky.

The stage began and half the field surged in front of me.  I shuffled along, debating whether or not I should just hike this stage.  Why did I have to race? The paved road we were running along turned uphill and I started walking.  My legs did not want to move.  Eventually the hill leveled off, the course turned onto a trail, and I began to wake up.  Soon I found myself running more, hiking less, and passing racers.  The downhills felt surprisingly good so I decided to let my legs fly.

Just like in 2016, my body came alive and I discovered that I had another gear hidden under all that fatigue.  I caught up to Steph after about 10km and somehow I knew that she would hang onto me as long as possible.  I told myself to run hard so that we could both finish strong.

The downhills on The Tears course are super fun and I took full advantage of the gravity-assisted speed. Unfortunately, my slow start to the day meant that I had a lot of people to pass and I was forced to keep dialing it back as people tried their best to get out of my way on the narrow single-track.

When the trail joined back up with the road I knew it was just a couple kilometres of flat road running until the finish line.  Flat road is not my strength, but fear is a powerful motivator and I could hear a runner gaining ground behind me.  I pushed hard, successfully holding off the competitor and crossing the finish line in 9th place, Steph was close behind me.

The 2017 Tears course was different than 2016, so I’m not able to really compare splits.  I’m super happy with how I ran the last 15km, but a little annoyed that I didn’t put more effort into the first 4km.  I should have done a longer warm-up.

Fuel – maple syrup (diluted with water, 1 tsp salt).

Gear – Ultraspire Spry 2.0 pack. Brooks Pure Grit (my feet were tired and I needed some cushion).

Golden 21km

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

Golden Results

 

That’s it as far as my 2017 ultra season goes.  I’m really happy that I was able to go out on a high note 🙂

 

Next up The Grizzly Ultra 50km in Canmore, where I’ll be racing with Arielle as a 2 person team!

LSU 2017 – the race that wasn’t

LOST SOUL ULTRA – PRE-RACE RAMBLINGS 

 

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

 

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

 


QUICK COURSE DESCRIPTION 

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

 


RACE DAY 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey Rob, want to sing?”   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


THE AFTERMATH 

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

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

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

 


FINAL THOUGHTS 

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

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

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

Happy Trails! 

 


Gear: 

Random buffs 

Ice bandana 

Ultraspire Spry 2.0 pack 

Sugoi cooling arm sleeves (thanks Dennene) 

Lululemon singlet 

Lululemon sports bra 

Wal-mart shorts 

Adidas shorts 

Swiftwick socks 

Icebug Oribi shoes 

Meet the Minotaur

What is Meet the Minotaur??? 

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

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

 


The night before … 

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

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

 


Race morning … 

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

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

 


Race start … 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MTM me slope 2

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

MTM scree down

The scree run down. PC: Ryan Peebles

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

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

MTM ropes

Runners headed down the rope section from CP #4

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

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

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

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

 

MTM finish

Happy to be done 🙂

 


Post-race … 

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

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

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


Thank you…

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

 

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

Bighorn 2017

Where do I begin?

The forecast for the race predicted some rain showers later in the day.  I made sure to pack extra warm clothes in each of my drop bags and then didn’t think much more of it.  I had survived 13hrs of downpour at Diez Vista 100km, this couldn’t be nearly as bad as that.

The race began innocently enough.  I was nervous and didn’t feel 100%.  My stomach was fluttering and I had to closely monitor my effort levels so that I didn’t feel nauseous.  I stuck to my plan of fueling with a gel or Sour Dinos every 20 minutes and drinking water every 10 minutes.  I would stop to walk whenever I ate to allow myself to digest, and each time I stopped to walk I would get passed by more people.



The race began with a relentless climb up a treeless slope which is carpeted with wildflowers.  I could see dozens of runners snaking up the slope ahead of me and I was blown away by the pace they were going!  How could so many people be so much faster than me?  I told myself to relax and to be thankful for the butterflies in my stomach that were forcing me to keep an easy pace.  I would start to pass people soon enough.

I began to feel good about 2 or 3 hours into the race.  My legs felt lighter and my mind settled down.  I had no idea what place I was in, but I felt confident that I was moving at the right effort level for me.  I met up with Matt at the Dryfork aid station and then looked at my watch. I was 10 minutes ahead of pace.

The trail from Dry Fork to Footbridge was like butter for me.  My legs and energy levels were steady and I found myself running the ups and the downs.  I was carrying a 2L hydration pak and a 500ml UltrAspire soft flask.  My strategy was to fill the hydration pak at the major aid stations (Dry Fork, Footbridge and Jaws) and just top up the soft flask when needed to at the minor aid stations.  This saved me a lot of time as I never had to take off my pack, and filling the flask at aid stations only took 30s.  I passed at least a dozen runners during this stretch, but no ladies.  I was moving really well while keeping a low effort level, and I was surprised that I wasn’t catching any women.  I didn’t think I could run this section any better so I just satisfied myself that I was racing the best I could and the other women were simply better than me.

I came into Footbridge exactly on my target time and feeling fantastic.  As I arrived they informed me that I was 1st lady.  Oh!  That explains why I wasn’t passing any ladies. At Footbridge I accessed my drop bag and grabbed my long sleeves and rain jacket.  I knew that the rain would have to start soon and that there would be very little shelter between Footbridge and Jaws.

The rain began to fall about halfway up my ascent to Jaws.  At first it felt good, but I started to get cold about 12km from Jaws so I stopped to put on my rain jacket.  I didn’t bother putting on sleeves.  Somewhere along this stretch the 2nd place lady, Amanda, caught up to me. We would meet up at the aid stations, but she would spend more time at them so I would gain a bit of a gap before she caught up to me at the next one.  The rain began to fall more heavily and the trail turned to mud.  With 8km until Jaws the trail was getting very slick and runners were adopting the strategy of hiking next to the muddy trail on the grass, instead of slip sliding through the mud.  I wondered aloud how the trail was going to be once we headed down, the guy next to me said he thought it wouldn’t be too bad.

With about 3km to the turn around I saw Andy Reed come flying down the trail.  He looked energized and I thought he was in about 7th place.  It was cool to see him doing so well.  The last few kilometres to Jaws seemed to take forever and the weather continued to get worse.  I thought about putting sleeves on … I didn’t.

I made it to Jaws at 8:40pm, 10 minutes behind schedule but given the trail conditions I thought it was a very good time.  I was eager to change into fresh clothes and get out of there as soon as possible.  I was feeling good and didn’t want Amanda to catch me. Unfortunately, it was very difficult to peel out of my wet clothes and as I struggled to dry off the beginning phases of hypothermia set in.  Soon I was shaking uncontrollably and I knew that I had to stay at Jaws until the shivering stopped, or risk hypothermia out on the trail.  I sat there for 45 minutes, drinking soup and coffee, often spilling half the cup because my hands were shaking so badly.  Bundled up with multiple blankets and hot packs I was frustrated not to be moving, but I tried to keep a positive attitude.

When I finally left Jaws I decided to bring my poles to help me balance on the slippery trails. I did not know what place I was in but I tried to relax and not think about racing too much.  I attempted to run down the road but I found I had no energy in my legs, and I was breathing heavily with almost no effort.  A lady and her pacer passed me.  I told myself to eat and drink, that I just needed to warm up.  Eventually I started to move better and I even wound up passing the lady while she was taking a bathroom break. Things were coming around … until they weren’t.

Suddenly I began to have explosive diarrhea.  This was extremely awkward because there were very few trees in the area.  I wound up just stepping off the trail into the grass and turning off my headlamp to “hide” from approaching runners.  The cause of the diarrhea confused me until I remembered that I had been fueling almost exclusively on gels for the last several hours.  The only gels that don’t seem to have this side effect on me are Hammer Gels, and I had been using a lot of Gu gels since that was what was supplied by the race.  I had learned this lesson a couple of years ago, but apparently I needed to relearn it.  I told myself not to use any more Gu gels, but I didn’t have any more Hammer gels or Sour Dinos on me, so this wasn’t a very good strategy.

This is where my race completely fell apart.  I failed to adjust to the nutritional challenge and threw my fuelling strategy right out the window.  I stopped eating or drinking and for the next 2 hrs all I ate was a Fun sized package of Peanut M&Ms and 250ml of Gu Brew.  The trail was so slippery that I was constantly using my poles just to stay upright.  Even with the poles I fell at least 5 or 6 times.  The lady with her pacer was within ear shot behind me and I could hear her swearing loudly each time she slipped on the mud.  It was hilarious and I found myself laughing out loud as I slowly worked my way down the trail.  I didn’t yet realize how terrible my own situation was about to become.

Eventually my shoes became so filled with mud and grit that it felt like they were 2 sizes too small. I thought about stopping to empty them but I was so close to Footbridge that I decided to just wait and do a full shoe change there.  When I got to Footbridge I made all of the mistakes.  I asked for food, but then I only ate one bite.  I asked for broth and drank 2 sips.  I didn’t know it, but I was setting up to have my worst bonk ever.

For my shoe change, I decided to change from my Icebugs to my Pearl Izumi N2s.  The Pearl Izumis are very comfortable shoes but they have no lugs.  They were probably the worst shoes possible to wear for the next 20 miles, but for some reason I thought the next section of trail was going to be less muddy?!  I really wasn’t thinking clearly.  I should have just rinsed out my Icebugs and put them back on.

I began to shiver so I left the aid station thinking that I would warm up once I got moving.  I should have stayed and finished getting some fuel and fluids in me.

As I walked down the trail it began to rain harder and the mud got worse.  I was headed up The Wall, a steep 3000 ft climb and I thought I would be able to get a good power hike going.  For the first time in my life I found I had no power hike.  There was absolutely no energy left in my legs.  I put on music and told myself to eat and drink something every 3rd song, but I was having trouble following my own instructions.  I have never moved so slowly on a trail and my mind just snapped.  The rain, and the mud, and the bonk … I just stopped caring about anything.  I stopped eating, I stopped drinking.  I had put some Gu Brew in my soft flask because I thought that some liquid calories might help. An hour or so later I was throwing it up beside the trail.  Normally after a good puke I refocus on getting in fluids and calories, but this time I didn’t. I didn’t replace anything.  I just walked, very slowly, along the trail.  Or rather, beside the trail.  The trail was so slippery I couldn’t stand on it without sliding.

Eventually I stumbled into Cow Camp.  They had bacon and hot chocolate there, I had 4 pieces of bacon and 2 cups of hot chocolate.  It was delicious!  I’m lucky that they didn’t have a bed set up or I think I would have stayed there forever.  Unfortunately the bacon and hot chocolate were not enough to get me out of my funk and I walked out of the aid station as slowly as ever.  The trail was still slippery AF and I’m not sure how I would have made it up the hills without my poles.  My attitude was shit.  All I could think about was the idiocy of the whole race.  Why would you continue to battle on through a 100 mile race when you slid back 1.5 steps for every 2 steps you took forward?  Many people passed me.  I did not care.

At some point I made it to Dry Fork.  I was so happy to see Matt, I needed a hug and a good cry.    I was so pissed off at myself; I was so disappointed in my attitude and how I had thrown the entire race process out the window.  I needed a reset button and I felt like Matt was the catalyst for that.

When I reached Dry Fork I ate a little food, had a good cry, changed my socks/shoes and had a nap in the van.  I looked at my hydration pak to see how much I water I had drank since Footbridge – only 500 ml.  No wonder I felt like hell.


Cry

Napping and crying


By the time I left Dry Fork I was feeling much better.  The sun was out and the trails were drying up nicely. Only 18 miles left and I intended to walk every single one of them.  I was going to enjoy a nice hike among the wild flowers.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t finished making mistakes.  I had changed into an old pair of Salomon Speedcross at Dry Fork, and these shoes simply do not fit my feet. I also did not re-lubricate my feet after cleaning them off.  This made the last 5 miles of my walk much less enjoyable as I developed massive blisters under the balls of my feet and backs of my heels.  I guess it was fitting that I should continue making mistakes all the way to the finish of the race.

I did meet a few other 100 mile runners during the long walk to the finish, and I greatly enjoyed the company.  I walked the last 12 miles with Paul from Boulder, Colorado who kept me entertained with stories about his local running community.  We also met a ski mountaineer from Montana with a sore ankle.  I lent him my ankle brace which I had been lugging around in my pack for emergency use, and he was able to run the last 6 miles to the finish.  I enjoyed juicy watermelon at each of the aid stations, and Freezies which were enthusiastically handed out by the local kids.  30 hours and 49 minutes after I began this epic hike, I finally crossed the finish line.


Finish


The upside of walking the last 34 miles of a 100 mile race is that I was able to finish with a happy stomach and no sore joints.  I enjoyed two beers and a burger at the finish line. It was awesome to be able to relax and cheer on the other runners instead of heading straight to the med tent 🙂


With the gift of hindsight, I think this was an important experience for me to have.  I needed to be reminded that ultras are all about the process, and that adaptability is the most important characteristic of successful ultrarunners.  I was too focused on racing, on trying to get to the next checkpoint, and I failed to see the hole I was digging myself until it was too late.  It was also good for me to experience a true “bonk.” I have never felt truly empty before, hopefully this experience will scare me into never allowing myself to get that way again.


Thank you:

To Rock Gear Distribution for helping me out with gear (Icebug shoes, UltrAspire packs, and Swiftwick socks).  Your continued support enables me to chase my dreams.

To the race organizers and volunteers.  The race was impeccably organized, and the volunteers did an incredible job of managing the carnage that was happening on the trails with that relentless rain.

To my incredibly supportive husband Matt.  Thank you for supporting me during the thousands of hours of training and the long day(s) crewing during races.

To my training partners and the Calgary trail running community.  I love that I can always find someone who is up for a ridiculous adventure 🙂


Next up?  The Spray Valley 10!!!  Follow along as Arielle and I attempt to summit 10 consecutive peaks in the Spray Valley.  This adventure promises to be epic!

Bighorn 100M – Preview

I am so nervous about this race.  Just doing this write up makes me feel sick to my stomach.

My lead up to Bighorn has not been ideal, but I’m feeling optimistic because it seems like my mountain fitness has taken a big step up in the last week or two.  Every run since my ankle sprain has felt better than the last one, and on yesterday’s run I felt like I finally had my full stride back.  2016 has been a good year for me (so far), with my body responding well to every challenge I throw at it.  From a fast (for me) half marathon in the spring, to my race at Diez Vista, to my 7x Prairie Mountain repeats and the FKT on the Glasgow to Banded Traverse.  My legs are strong and I feel like my head is in the right place.

Still … my track record at Bighorn is not good and 100 milers are incredibly unpredictable.  There are so many factors beyond my control, and I know that ultimately this race is less about fitness and more about how I respond to unexpected challenges when they come up.  This is likely the fittest I have been going into a race, and it makes me nervous because I know it could all just blow up in my face..


I’m trying to keep a healthy perspective.

More than anything I need a finish.  With two DNFs on this course I feel like I’m overdue for a good race, but maybe I’m just overdue to put my ego aside and shuffle to the finish line.  Honestly, I would be okay with a shuffle – I just need to get this monkey off my back.  Also, I need a Hardrock qualifier.

In addition to finishing I also have more ambitious goals. I’d love to join the prestigious “Rusty Spurs Club“, a special designation reserved for those individuals who run sub-24hrs at Bighorn.  I have broken 24hrs in my last two 100 mile races so I know it’s possible, but running sub-24 at Bighorn is relatively rare for female competitors.  3 ladies managed it last year. No ladies broke the barrier in 2014 or 2015.

My “A” goal is to win Bighorn.  Yes, I  know that sounds pretentious, but I’m putting it out there anyway.  It’s a race, and I want to race as hard as I possibly can.  I want to run as fast as possible, and collapse in exhaustion at the finish line.  There is a very quality women’s field this year, and I am choosing to count myself among them.

My “A+” goal is 21:14.  This would be a new 100 mile personal best for me.  It would also be a course record, so I should probably forget about this goal all together. But, I can’t help but think that 21:14 might be possible.  When I work out the splits that seem reasonable (assuming no puking and decent weather) they come out to 20:59 …  Unfortunately, I’ve never run 100 miles with good weather and no puking so this is probably a goal to aspire to, but not necessarily achieve.

If you want to follow along and watch the carnage unfold, I think you can do so here.

In the meantime, here are a few photos from yesterday’s mountain adventure up Head Mountain!  You know it’s a good mountain adventure when it takes 7hrs to cover 22km 🙂