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Hello Spring! March in Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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Brrr, My February Recap

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

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


A few highlights:

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

 

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

Happy Trails!

Getting Back to My Roots – January Recap

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

2018 – A year of learning

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

 

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

 

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

20180415_121150.jpg

Spring training on the roads with Philippe

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

 

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

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

elevation

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Up next: Some goals and plans for 2019 ūüôā

 

Happy trails!

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‚Äôt 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‚Äôs Peak is not really a trail, it‚Äôs¬†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. ‚ÄúWe. Love. You Jimmy.‚Ä̬† 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‚Äôt bother with any ice down my bra.¬† I‚Äôm 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 ‚Äď 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‚Äôm 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‚Äôt know how to move slowly.¬† In the first half of the course, I tried to move slowly to allow for digestion but I don‚Äôt 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‚Äôt overheat. I definitely didn‚Äôt 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‚Äôt 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‚Äôt 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‚Äôm 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 ūüôā

Sphincter Level 5 – Mount French

I’m not really into writing trip reports.¬† There is tons of info already on the internet if you take the time to look for it, and I’m always happy to share a GPX track if someone requests it.¬† That being said, I go a lot of places where I don’t really recommend other people to go.¬† I end up off route and bushwhacking on most of my solo trips.¬† It’s rare that I finish a trip where I don’t have at least a few cuts and bruises.¬† I don’t feel the need to inflict those wounds on other people.

Today I will make an exception to this rule.  I had such a good time on Mount French that I feel the need to share my joy.  This was easily one of my favourite mountain outings ever!

(Small caveat here, I went through a bit of a mountain withdrawal while I was working on my road running, my joy at being back in the mountains is definitely exaggerated right now.)


One week out from my Trans-Alberta adventure, I wasn’t sure if a big scrambling trip up Mount French was a good idea.¬† However, I had been eyeing this mountain for 3 years and if I was serious about it I likely wouldn’t have a better opportunity: the weather was perfect, the trip was being lead by experienced peakbagger Brandon Boulier, and we would be moving at a hiking pace so it shouldn’t be too intense.

I messaged my friend Philippe who always seems to be up for crazy adventures and he agreed to tag along.  Brandon brought along Sheena, another scrambler, which made our party a team of 4.  We arrived at the Burstall Pass trailhead at 5:30am, just as the sun was rising.  The views were already breathtaking.

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The trail up to French glacier was recently maintained, with fresh flagging and much of the deadfall cleared.  It made for a very pleasant walk in the crisp morning air. 2 hours into our hike we had reached the toe of the French glacier.

The snow was frozen hard and I’m a chicken so I immediately put on my microspikes.¬† Brandon is more confident that I and he was able to hike up without spikes and no issues.¬† The views opened up as we climbed up to the pass and when we crested the top I was blown away by what we saw!¬† The Haig glacier had been groomed for cross country skiing and there were about 20 skiers out for their morning workout.¬† I knew this facility existed, but seeing it in person was a whole new experience.¬† I would highly recommend¬† this hike to anyone who cares to put in the effort, just make sure you get there early before the snow gets slushy so that you can see the skiers. I promise you won’t regret it!

 

Now comes the part of the trip which I would not recommend to most individuals.  This route has a lot of hazards, and is only appropriate for experienced scramblers.

After ogling the skiers for a few minutes we began our ascent of Mount French.  The slope is very steep and loose, so we had to be careful not to kick rocks on each other.  The scree up to the summit ridge is horrible.  We did not find a good line and there was a lot of treadmilling going on.  At one point Sheena wondered if she was even moving at all.

Just as our frustration level with the scree was reaching a maximum, we crested the summit ridge and all of our effort was worth it for that view!

The summit ridge is narrow and very exposed at times.¬† The rock is loose and you must be careful to always push into the mountain instead of pulling on the rocks.¬† Route finding is very simple, in most cases you only have one choice for where to go.¬† The entire ridge is over 3000m, and I have not been in the mountains as much as usual.¬† I could feel that my heart rate was much higher than normal, but it’s hard to say if that was due to the altitude, or just adrenaline from the exposure.

I felt surprisingly comfortable for most of the scramble.  Everything appeared worse than it was.  My least favourite section was not the narrow ridges, but rather a loose, narrow ledge we had to walk along.  I felt like someone should come up here with a broom and sweep all the loose rocks off.

The final challenge during our summit ascent was a short chimney.¬† We weren’t sure if it would be filled in with snow and ice, so we were happy to discover that you could ascend it by climbing on dry rock.

After snacks and photos on the summit block we made our way back. We were elated to have successfully navigated the ridge, but a little apprehensive about having to do it all over again in reverse.  The return trip on the ridge proved to be a little tougher Рexposed downclimbs are always scarier than exposed upclimbs Рbut we all managed by taking it very slowly.

The scree route down was much easier, and the rest of the trip was just a very nice walk down through the valley.  It was a hot day, and the mosquitoes were out in force so we did not lollygag. 12 hours after we started we were back in the parking lot, sunburnt and high on life.

It will be hard to top this trip, and I enjoyed it so much that I am pretty sure I will do it again.  Maybe as a point to point trail run via Turbine Canyon, just to keep things fresh.  Who wants to come with me?

Happy Trails!

Not Running Across Alberta

If you followed along on any of my social media feeds, you will know that I did not make it across Alberta.¬† On the plus side, I did succeed in setting a new personal distance best of 210km.¬† I started to write a novel of a blog post outlining everything that happened on this adventure, but it was bland.¬† Instead, I’ll highlight some of my observations.

  1. Dave is superhuman. I am honoured to have been able to join him for just a glimpse of his journey, even if I was only able to keep up for 68km ūüôā
  2. It’s hard to quit when it feels like the entire ultra-community is willing you on to succeed.¬† I was incredibly touched by the amount of support I received, either through social media, text messages or people meeting me on the side of the road.¬† Thank you for all your support.
  3. When choosing a pace, always listen to your body. Don’t look at your watch. Don’t follow someone else’s pace.¬† Don’t set arbitrary timelines. The more you can follow your own internal clock, the more successful your adventure will be.
  4. Ice Caps are right up there with beer for magical ultra fuel. Thanks mom, you made my day!
  5. Along the same lines, milk is the ultimate recovery drink.  After my second long day on the road my muscles were in pain and I was having difficulty even lying down to sleep.  Matt gave me a large glass of milk and 30 minutes later the pain was gone!  I was ready to run again.
  6. I have a pretty wonderful partner in crime. Our last 3 wedding anniversaries have been spent staying up all night at Sinister 7.  This year was not much different, as Matt spent the night following behind me in a car as I ran through the night to try to catch Dave in Chestermere.
  7. If you are repeatedly puking, take the time to stop and reset.  Continuing to run depleted will just dig yourself into a deeper hole.  I was puking on the morning of day two for no obvious reason, although I think I was still recovering from the heat on day 1.  We stopped, ate some food and then sat there for 30 minutes to allow the food to digest.  After that, no more puking!  I was able to eat and run again!
  8. The human body is incredibly resilient IF you have the patience to let it adapt.¬† In 2010 I had a metatarsal stress fracture in my foot which occurred while running a marathon, I thought my body couldn’t handle long distances.¬† This past week I ran 210km and I got really tired, but suffered no injuries.¬† This resilience has been built up through years of consistent training and fueling my body with the nutrients it needs.
  9. Know when to call it quits.  After running for 210km, including a 4.5hr stretch through the night, I was exhausted. I needed to regroup and have a nap.  Upon awaking from the nap, Matt and I did the math.  There was no way I could make it to the Saskatchewan border before I had to get back to work.  We decided to cut our losses and head to the woods for some much needed R and R.
  10. Gratitude. These endurance attempts are not a solo project.  I would not be able to chase these dreams without the support of so many people:
    • To Wayne, Trish and Dave.¬† Thank you so much for letting us tag along.¬† I’m so sorry we weren’t more helpful.
    • To my sister Ellycia.¬† Thank you for taking care of Moxie for us while we attempted to this ridiculous stunt.
    • To the staff at the Canmore Hospital.¬† Thank you for assessing me and giving me the confidence to know that I could continue to push myself without worrying about permanent damage.
    • To Salming, Altra and Spry.¬† Thank you for your support, without which I would never have even began this journey.

Gear and fuel (because people always ask me about this stuff).

  • Climb On¬†bar for anti-chafing.¬† I applied this to my feet and other typical problem areas a couple of times a day.¬† I had no blisters and no chafing, which is amazing because I chafe more than almost anyone I know.
  • Salming Speed 6 for the first 53km.¬† When we left Lake Louise at 5am it was low light and these shoes are super reflective.
  • Altra Escalantes for the last 157km.¬† These shoes have a nice, wide toe box and cushioned ride.¬† They feel like slippers on my feet.
  • Swiftwick Socks – These socks never bunch or slip, are seamless and incredibly durable.¬† By far my favourite socks.
  • Ultraspire Spry 2.0 vest – This is the lightest hydration vest I own.¬† It was perfect for holding 1.5L of water, my phone and a few snacks.
  • Smithbilt Outrun Rare hat – I highly recommend wearing this hat on hot or rainy days.¬† It is very comfortable and you can throw a handful of ice in the top.¬† The cool water will melt down your head as you run.¬† Not recommended for winds over 50kph.¬† A portion of the proceeds go towards the Rare Disease Foundation.
  • Jujubes, Sour Dinos, Timbits (various flavours), Doritos, Iogo drinkable yogurt, Clif Bars, Oreos (various flavours), diluted Gatorade (lemon lime), Tim Horton’s Iced Cappucinos, Miller Genuine Draft, Gu Roctane electrolyte tablets, water, coffee with lots of milk and sugar.¬† Twice I attempted to eat a sandwich, those instances ended badly.

And now, I will head back to my home in the mountains.

Please follow along as Dave continues to run across Canada at http://www.outrunrare.com

Happy Trails!