Magic

“Whatever you can do,

Or think you can, begin it.

Boldness has power, and genius,

And magic in it.”  ~Goethe~


 

In life, it is rare to fully commit to anything. We are taught that it is wise to always have a backup plan; that an all-or-nothing approach is rash.  Perhaps this is true, but I think this approach also misses out on the magic.  Dave’s record attempt is bold and full of magic, and I aim to capture a piece of that with my run across Alberta.

 


Running takes a lot of time.  When I’m not running, such as during a taper, I often find myself with more free time than I know what to do with. It can make me anxious and grouchy. I dislike tapering so much than I often just don’t do it.

Going into the run across Alberta, there’s no question that I need to taper.  My last training block left me feeling completely spent, often spending the first few minutes of the day limping around the house until my ankles had loosened up enough for me to walk normally. Likewise, the first few kilometres of any run had me feeling like an elephant lumbering along the asphalt. I am nothing if not stubborn so I kept pushing on. Now that the taper is here, I am happy to take a break from lumbering and spend a week hibernating.

Sadly I’m not a bear, so it quickly became evident that hibernating for an entire week was not a viable option.   To fill my non-sleeping, non-running void I decided to go to the library and get some books.  During my taper I have read:

  • Running on Empty, the story of Marshall Ulrich’s trans-America record attempt
  • North, Jenny and Scott Jurek’s account of setting the Appalachian Trail FKT, and
  • The Perfect Mile, an historical novel about the rush to break the 4 minute mile.

Each book contains fascinating narratives about the strength of the human spirit and the physical limits of endurance.  The characters went after impossibly bold goals without reserve.  Not all of them succeeded, but each runner gave themselves 100% to the task and saw it through to the end.  I dare you to read these books and not be inspired.

At this time next week I will be going after a big, bold goal.  I don’t know that I can do it, but I think I can.  I am chasing the magic.

 

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Training update

My philosophy in training for the Alberta run goes something like this: 

  • Run lots 
  • Don’t get hurt 
  • Eat all the food 

In reality, not getting hurt is the most crucial part of this whole training thing.  I’ve only partially succeeded in this goal: 

  • Several weeks ago I developed a blister on the back of each of my heels from my xc ski boots 
  • I made these blisters worse by trail running on them with the wrong socks 
  • The blisters were lonely, so I decided to develop a second set by allowing ice to build up on the inside of my hiking boots. 
  • I made these blisters totally raw by post-holing along a ridge for 8 hours. 
  • These blisters refused to heal until Gord sent me to Kenron pharmacy, where they sold me a magical bandage called MeFix. 
  • The blisters are now 90% gone, but limping around for weeks has given me massive knots in my calves and rather tender Achilles tendons. 

I’m an idiot because this entire cascade of events is preventable; I’m a stubborn idiot because I kept pushing through it.  The stiffness in my calves/ankles caught up with me on Saturday when I attempted to run 100km on trail in Bragg Creek.  My sore ankles were affecting my biomechanics, and 10km into the run I twisted my knee slightly and something pinched.  It was a painful, unnatural feeling, instantly filling me with dread. I ran on for another 10km hoping the pain would subside, but it only increased.  I decided to stop being a stubborn idiot and packed it in.   

The next day I iced the knee a bit to try to get the swelling out, walked around the neighbourhood for about an hour, and played some casual frisbee.  I also spent some time with the lacrosse ball, massaging out my giant knots. The knee felt tight, but there was no pain.  

After another rest day and some quality time with the lacrosse ball, I tried a 1 hour run on the trails with my friend Kim.  The knee felt fine.  It seems I have dodged a bullet, but my body was giving me a warning shot. My daily routine now includes regular dates with the lacrosse ball and proper foot care to prevent further damage to my poor heels. 

 

Some training highlights since my last post include: 

  • A 49km run from Bowness to Fish Creek.  Including my first ever ice cream from Village! 
  • A 30km lack-lustre MEC race where I was reminded that there is a reason why I never race with a watch 
  • A 46km trail run with some speedy guys 
  • Fun scrambles up Limestone, Yamnuska and Burke. 

Upcoming challenges include: 

  • Pacing the 3:45 group at the Calgary marathon 
  • More mountain days (because they make me happy) 
  • Some longer road runs in the 6-7hr range.  I might try this with a 20 minute lunch break in the middle to test out my stomach. 

5 weeks of training left! 

What’s up with all the road running???

Pushing my limits. Stepping out of my comfort zone.  Getting comfortable with failure … or maybe just reframing how I view failure. These are things I’ve been working on for a few years now.  Last year was characterized by some of my biggest successes and most spectacular failures (or learning experiences as I prefer to call them).  It was exciting, and it made me want to test my boundaries in new ways.  Maybe I could fail even more spectacularly!  Or maybe I would discover that I am stronger than I ever dreamed possible. 

 

This summer Dave Proctor will be exploring the limits of human endurance by running across Canada on foot, setting a world record in the process.  His goal is to complete the crossing in 66 days, averaging 108km/day, and raising a million dollars for rare disease.  I’ve always been enamoured by the idea of running across Canada (Terry Fox was my childhood hero), so I immediately wanted to be involved in some way with his record attempt.  I mentioned to Dave that I would love to join him for a portion of the run and he suggested that I run across Alberta with him.  That way I could run with him AND get a record for the fastest (female) crossing of Alberta.  At first, I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of running across the flat Prairie from Calgary to the Saskatchewan border, I wanted to join him for a more mountainous leg, but gradually the idea took hold.  What better way to challenge myself? This was an opportunity to redefine myself as a runner and learn about myself as a human being.  Sure, I can hike up hills all day long, but did I have the mental fortitude to keep my feet moving, one step in front of the other on the endlessly flat prairie?  I decided that I wanted to find out.   

 

Running across Alberta with Dave means I will be running 550km in 5 days. This is far beyond anything I have ever attempted.  I’m not sure that it is even within my physical capabilities, but there is only one way to find out.  I have been training and testing myself to see where my breaking point is.  I started out this fall by joining my friend Leo for a circumnavigation of the city bike paths (see Strava).  I reasoned that if I finished the run and I wasn’t completely destroyed, then the trans-Alberta attempt may be possible. The run was not entirely smooth, but it wasn’t terrible. Some cold weather moved in during the afternoon, my asthma acted up a bit, and I started to feel sorry for myself.  Luckily, I was saved by a couple of angels named Rich and Kristy who fed me hot soup, cheeseburgers and Timbits.  The soup soothed my lungs and the calories fueled my legs.  I finished that run feeling strong! 

 

My goal for the last several months has been to slowly increase my road miles and decrease my trail time.  Unfortunately, Mother Nature has had other plans.  This has been one of the snowiest, coldest winters on record.  It seems like every time I try to go out for a road run, the paths are snow and ice covered.   It makes me wonder why I don’t just go trail running.  On top of that, my asthma has been very bad in the cold weather.  I can handle low intensity hiking or xc skiing, but running in the cold just destroys me.  A couple of months ago I gave up the fight against Mother Nature and decided to just go with the flow. If the weather and conditions weren’t conducive to long road runs, I would simply ski, hike or snowshoe instead.  When I made this shift in attitude it was like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders.  I went back to spending lots of time on my feet (not necessarily running) and I felt like my endurance began to build back up. 

 

Over the last few weeks Spring has made a few appearances.  The trails are still very snowy, but the city paths are mostly cleared of snow and ice, and the temperature is warm enough to breathe.  I have started to introduce some longer adventures and I’ve really enjoyed them.  A month ago, we xc skied 50km and followed that up with a couple of laps of Moose Mountain Road.  Three weekends ago I did a 10hr snowshoe followed by a 31 km road run.  Then, when we were hit by yet another snow storm, I joined Dave and Tristan for a treadmill marathon.  Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would run a marathon on a treadmill, and yet there I was, running on a treadmill AND enjoying myself!  Last weekend I endured 4.5 hours of snowy trails on Saturday, followed by 50km on the road on Sunday, accompanied by my friend Philippe. I was feeling pretty stiff by the end of the road run, but we maintained our pace and my recovery seems to be okay. Having never trained for anything like this in the past, I’m not sure where I will want to cap my volume at, but I plan to listen to my body and back off when I need to.  I also plan to continue to incorporate trails/mountains into my training; at least one mountain and one trail run per week will keep me a happy camper 🙂 

 

Hydration and fueling with lots of calories will be key for the trans-Alberta attempt.  My focus for the long runs is to drink regularly and eat as much food as possible without getting nauseous.  I’m also trying to increase the variety of what I eat.  Things that work really well include: Timbits, Reese’s peanut butter cups, Mars bars, peanut butter and banana wraps, peanut butter and jam sandwiches, Honey Stinger waffles, rice noodle wraps with soy sauce, Sour Dinos, Oreos, pudding, and every flavour Jelly Beans. I also think potato pancakes may be a good item to add the mix.  What food do you like to eat while you run?  I’m interested in easily digested carbs that won’t melt. 

 

That’s it for now. Expect a few posts about some very long runs in the next couple of months. 

 

Happy Trails! 

2017 Adventures Part II – Backpacking!

*I killed the phone which I brought along to take photos during this adventure.  Hence, no photos 😦


I hadn’t done a ton of backpacking in my life, and all of the backpacking that I had done was with family, where someone else is doing all of the planning.  But, the more I adventured and explored with my trail running, the more I wanted to try backpacking on my own.  Still, I kept putting it off … I think I was scared.

Via Facebook I have watched as my friend Leslie adventures around the world on solo backpack trips. Following along with those excursions gave me courage to try a (mini) adventure myself. I bought a tent and a Jetboil stove, mapped out a route, and set out on an adventure. I didn’t have a lot of time, so here was my itinerary.

Friday – finish work at 6pm.  Get out hiking from the Elbow Day Use Area by 7:30pm.  Camp at the North Fork of the Elbow. (Distance and elevation were not calculated beforehand.)

Saturday – hike over Paradise Pass, through the valley and up over Piper Pass.  Continue down to Little Elbow Trail.  Follow Little Elbow down to Romulus Campground.  Hike up to Talus Lakes to spend the night. 45km, 2400m+

Sunday – Scramble up Mount Cornwall.  Hike back to the car via the Glasgow drainage and the Big Elbow Trail. 20km, 1000m+


Friday

I wasn’t really thinking when I came up with this plan. 7:30pm is very late to be setting out on a backpacking trip.  Also, I was headed into terrain which had been heavily affected by the 2013 flood and I didn’t have any recent beta.  I ran (shuffled) most of the first 11km, knowing that I would soon run out of daylight.  It felt a little weird to run with such a large backpack, and there was definitely some chafing going on, but it wasn’t too bad.

I made it 11km to the Romulus campground before the sun had fully set.  I briefly contemplated just camping at Romulus, but I was determined to random camp.  In my eyes, tent pads and bear lockers were cheating.  I couldn’t find a way to ford the Elbow River without getting my feet wet, so after wasting a few minutes I just walked across in my shoes.  I knew that this meant I would likely spend 3 straight days in wet shoes, and I wondered how was that going to feel.

After a little bushwhacking I found a trail heading in generally the right direction higher up above the valley.  I didn’t want to follow the official Evan Thomas Trail down in the valley because I was certain it would be covered in flood debris with multiple river crossings.  The alternate trail I found was too steep/narrow/technical for running so I just hiked as quickly as I could. The sun set and I found myself tripping over roots.  Time to take out my headlamp.

It soon became apparent that there was no way I could possibly make it to the North Fork of the Elbow tonight.  It was time to find a place to camp in the woods.  This proved to be tougher than I had anticipated as I was traversing across a densely forested steep slope.  Finding a flat clearing big enough for a tent took me nearly 30 minutes!  Now it was time to hang my food.

I had never set up a bear hang before, but before heading out on this trip I had practiced on our backyard tree.  I put a rock in a sock and tied the sock to one end of the rope.  I found the perfect overhanging branch over a dry drainage and succeeded on my first throw.  Wow!  I am a pro at this! My forest camping spot was surprisingly cozy and I slept like a log. Day 1 totals = 16km, 600m+

The next morning I woke with the sun and headed straight out on the trail, sights set on getting up Paradise Pass.  I have only been to Paradise Pass once before, and it left a lasting impression as one of the most beautiful alpine meadows in Kananaskis.  My trail continued to traverse across the steep slope towards Evan Thomas Pass, occasionally it would be interrupted by old avalanche paths.  I would have to climb up and over the steep edges of these paths and across very loose rubble.  I discovered that scrambling with a tent on your back is not as easy as scrambling with a running pack.

After what seemed to be an eternity I made it to the Evan Thomas Pass junction.  Here I took a left and began my hike up towards Paradise Pass.  The meadow was beautiful and I was in good spirits – it was time to reach my first obstacle.  The area below the pass is a marsh filled with shrubs, and I soon lost the trail as the shrubs obscured the path.  I could see the pass up ahead, so the lack of a trail didn’t bother me at first.  Unfortunately the marsh proved to be very challenging terrain, with small, knee deep streams meandering their way around islands of of soft, muddy, shoe-sucking moss.  I don’t possess the vocabulary to describe it accurately.  By the time I made it to the other side I was very wet, very dirty, and maybe even a little grouchy.  It was time for a break.

I took out the Jetboil and brewed up some instant coffee.  It was amazing!  This is when I learned a crucial backpacking lesson – do not attempt to navigate before drinking at least one cup of coffee.  The coffee was accompanied by a few Oreos and some trail mix.  Breakfast of champions!

The rest of my hike up to Paradise Pass was seamless.  The views were as spectacular as I remembered and I took a few moments just to soak it all in.  I ran down the steep slope with pure joy, filled with gratitude to be able to go on this grand adventure!  Part way down the slope I found a very good horse trail which led me through the forest to the valley.  In the valley there was more flood debris, so I spent some time bushwhacking, but I soon found a reasonable enough looking trail. The trail led me through alpine meadows, with mountains towering on either side.  The bushes were loaded with bear berries so I sang as I hiked.  Thankfully no bears were to be found anywhere.

The further I hiked, the more faint the trail became.  Soon the trail was indistinguishable and I found myself bushwhacking up very steep terrain.  I checked my map – it showed the trail heading straight up the drainage, so I angled right and soon found myself hiking along a gurgling stream.  The valley narrowed, with cliff walls on either side. An avalanche had come through here earlier in the spring and the drainage was choked with the remnant, very icy snow.  It was August and I hadn’t thought to bring my spikes.  I scrambled over the steep snow very carefully.  I could hear water rushing through underneath me and I envisioned myself falling through the snow into the icy water at any moment.  When I reached the top of the slope I breathed a huge sign of relief.

I scrambled up into the bowl below Piper Pass, my mind set on relaxing for a few minutes and enjoying some lunch.  I looked across the mountain tarn and was surprised to see people?!  I hadn’t seen or heard anyone all weekend.  I think we were all equally shocked to see each other.  The group continued their hike up to the pass while I enjoyed some coffee and Oreos dipped in pistachio pudding.  It was heaven.

I still had a long way to go before reaching Talus Lakes so I couldn’t take too long for lunch.  I scrambled up to the top of the pass, passing the group of backpackers and ran down the other side.  At one point my path was blocked my a family of bighorn sheep.  They did not seem at all interested in moving out of the way so I walked straight through the middle of them.  It was my only wildlife encounter of the weekend.

I knew this part of the route well and it passed quickly as I combined a mix of running and walking, depending on what my legs felt like doing.  Soon I was down on the Little Elbow Trail and headed up to my 4th pass of the day.  I stopped and chatted with a couple of mountain bikers before jogging the 5km down from the pass to Romulus Campground.  This trail is quite boring, but if you run it is not so bad.  From Romulus I only had 4 or 5km up to Talus Lakes.  By this point I was tired so I stopped for a dinner of Triscuits with mozzarella cheese and pepperoni sticks.  Some cyclocrossers stopped by and we compared notes.  I had hiked 40km, with 2000m of climbing – they had cycled from Canmore all they way over here and around the 42km Elbow Loop!  An epic journey which combined pavement, gravel and trail.  Honestly, I didn’t even know covering that kind of terrain in a single day on a bike was possible.  I was (still am) very impressed.

I reached the Talus Lakes at sunset and set up my tent on the edge of the upper lake.  I had it in my head that I would wake up to an amazing sunrise on the lake, like I’d seen on Instagram.  I soon learned that there is a reason why campsites are normally set back in the trees.  The trees provide shelter from the wind.  I was exhausted from one of the longest days of hiking in my life, but I hardly got any sleep because my tent was blown sideways in the high winds.  The Talus Lakes are a beautiful backcountry camping destination, but I highly recommend that you camp at the lower lake, back in the shelter of the trees.

Sunday morning came, cold and smoky.  The wind had blown in the forest fire smoke overnight, and I could taste it with every breath.  Having learned my lesson from Saturday, I took the time to drink a couple of cups of coffee before breaking camp.

I wasn’t sure how today’s route was going to go.  Would scrambling with a large pack prove to be too much?  I decided to ration my food in case going over the mountain proved to be too difficult, and I would have to turn around and detour around the mountain.  Going around the mountain would add many kilometres to my route.

Scrambling up Cornwall ended up being one of the highlights of my trip.  The rocky bowl was beautiful with interesting rock formations, a gurgling stream and breathtaking views of the surrounding peaks.  Even the scree was not particularly challenging, and I reached the col between Cornwall and Outlaw without issue.

The hike up to the summit of Cornwall was cold and smokey.  The air was thick and I could barely see the sun.  My spirits began to lag a bit, but then the smoke eased off just as I reached the summit. I was able to enjoy my final Triscuit sandwich in the sun before my last descent.

The scree run down was fun, and I crossed paths with some scramblers who were headed up to do the Glasgow-Banded Peak Traverse.  They seemed to be starting quite late in the day (and a little off-route) but I’m sure they figured it out.

The hike down the drainage was terrible.  It just dragged on … and on…. and on…  Down-climbing the waterfalls with my backpack also didn’t seem like a very intelligent option, so I spent significant time route-finding in the brush.  Note to future self: there is no reason to ever hike this drainage again.  Just stick to the Glasgow ridge and everything will be better.

Eventually I reached end of the drainage.  Now it was just a few kilometres back to the car via the Big Elbow Trail.  I was out of food and eager to get back so I jogged the rest of the way.

Overall, a very successful weekend out. I’m really looking forward to building on this adventure!

 


This was a very enlightening trip for me.

  • My Saturday hike was a BIG day, and I am certain that I could not string many days like that together.  I don’t know how Leslie does it.  I definitely need more practice.
  • Scrambling/bushwhacking with a bigger pack is not terrible.  I wouldn’t want to be on difficult scrambles like that, but moderate terrain is okay.
  • All food tastes amazing when you’re backpacking.
  • Surprisingly, I didn’t miss not having a fire.  There was fire-ban during this trip, but I don’t think I would have taken the time to build one anyway.
  • I’m looking forward to getting out for more trips like this, but going longer.  The longer you go, the more opportunities to problem solve.

Before I Forget – Colorado!

I don’t feel the need to do a 2017 year in review, but I do have a lot of awesome 2017 memories that are slowly fading away.  I want to take the time to record these experiences before they are completely lost.

ColoRADo

It’s hard to believe I haven’t written anything about our Colorado trip on my blog.  It’s time to rectify that situation. I lost my photos from Colorado when I destroyed my phone, so this blog post is all I have left other than the photos I uploaded to Strava.  Thank God for Strava 🙂

Matt, Moxie and I drove down in our Toyota Sienna minivan (aka Lucy), which we have converted into a camper van.  Out of our 2.5wk road trip, we only spent one night in a hotel.  The rest of the trip was spent exploring the National Forest.

Our first majour stop in Colorado was in the Crested Butte area.  The landscape in this area is stunning and Matt and I had lots of “wow” moments.  Unfortunately there was still a lot of snow hanging around so we weren’t able to find a spot to camp higher up in the mountains.  There were a few areas where our poor van almost got stuck in the snow as we explored up and down random gravel roads, trying to find a good spot to spend the night.  Eventually we settled on a camping spot along Cement Creek.  It was very hot out, so it was nice to camp next to a cold, raging stream. The next day we bushwhacked up to the top of the mountain we were camped on.  The offline map I had downloaded told me the mountain’s name was Double-Top.

Our first Colorado summit, and first time over 12 000ft!

Strava


I noticed a high mountain lake on the map which appeared to have a road going to it.  Naturally, I suggested that we head there for our next camping spot.  After 20km of gravel road we finally reached the lake.  It was hot and I was looking forward to a swim, but when we walked over to investigate the lake we found it was filled with thousands of giant, mutant tadpole looking things.  Needless to say, I decided to forgo the swim.

The next day I woke up early and ventured out to the closest mountain, labelled Baldy Mountain on my map.  There was a LOT of snow and the trail was completely obscured. Thankfully the snow had a thick crust, if I walked carefully I did not break through.  Eventually I found my way out of the forest to a mountain pass.   Here, the snow had melted and I was walking through a river of melt-water.  I could see Mount Baldy high up to my right so I power-hiked up a steep, mostly snow-covered slope.  The summit of Baldy is connected via a ridge to several other summits.  I had hoped to traverse the ridge but I was worried about the sun softening the snow.  My hike had begun at 6am so there was still tons of daylight left, but if the snow softened my trip back to the campsite would be nearly impossible.  I reluctantly turned around.

Strava


Matt and I spent the rest of the day driving towards Telluride.  As we approached the San Juan mountains one peak rose above the rest.  It seemed to be calling to me. I looked on my map – it was called Mount Sneffels.  I told Matt I was going to climb it and he replied, “of course you are!”

We never actually made it to Telluride.  Instead, we found an interesting gravel road and followed it up to the Blue Lakes trailhead.  Matt maneuvered the Lucy off-road to an awesome campsite next to a creek.  This was our first time camping with neighbours, but our neighbours were awesome!  The dad was a mountain enthusiast himself and he told me what to expect for my hike up Mount Sneffels.  I was concerned about possible avalanche risk but he didn’t seem to think that would be an issue.

I set out at sunrise the next day on the Blue Lakes trail.  The trail was very well-maintained and it wasn’t long before I found myself at Blue Lakes – a popular camping and hiking destination.  From the lakes I continued up to a high mountain pass. The trail was obscured by snow at times, but the route seemed pretty straightforward. I caught up to a Colorado native who was also headed up to the summit and asked him if he minded if I tagged along.

We climbed the rest of the way up together – across an awkward boulder-field, up a snow-choked couloir, and along some exposed slab to the summit.  I had planned for this trip to take me all-day, but it was actually super-straightforward with no majour issues.  The view at the top was spectacular and we spent some time taking photos before heading down.

I ran down ahead of my new found friend.  The snow in the couloir was super fun and I couldn’t resist a little glissading.  Unknown to me, Matt and Moxie had hiked up to Blue Lakes while I was up on the mountain.  I missed them on the way down and spent quite a bit of time back at the camp napping in the hammock before they got back.  I had expected the trip to take 12 hours, but I had been gone for less than 8.

This was my first time climbing over 14 000ft and it was one of the highlights of our trip.

Strava


The summit view on Sneffels had awakened my imagination.  From up there I could see several other 14ers and I wanted to see if we could get to them without an off-road vehicle.  We left our Blue Lakes campsite and headed towards Ouray. We were both really tired and filthy so we decided to find a cheap hotel.  Eventually we found a hotel in our price range ($50/night) and we enjoyed a nice evening in town.  Ouray is one of the most beautiful towns I have ever visited.  Set in a deep valley, the sunset lit up the surrounding mountain cliffs in brilliant shades of pink.  This is definitely a town we will come back to.

The next day we drove out to Silverton. What a tiny town!  I loved it! It was cool to see all of the old rocks from past Hardrocks and imagine myself possibly running that race one day.  We spent the day exploring roads not meant for a minivan. We pushed Lucy to her limits, scaring ourselves sh*tless at times.  Eventually we settled on an awesome campsite next to the creek and not far from town. We were camped across from a mountain ridge and after reviewing my topo map I made plans to run the ridge and tag as many peaks as I could the next day.

My ridge running day was much easier than I had anticipated.  I discovered a trail up the nearest mountain and so I was able to summit without any bushwhacking.  The only problem was that I had apparently left my brain back at the campsite.  I had bags of Oreos, Sour Dinos and Starburst with me.  I left my bag of Oreos on the first peak, Sour Dinos on the second and Starburst on the 3rd.  I am embarrassed to admit to so much littering. I tried to make up for it on the rest of the trip by picking up every bit of litter I saw.

My ridge running route was excellent, but due to my excessive littering I decided to head back to the van after my 4th peak. I was out of food and I still had a long way back.  My original plan had been to follow the jeep road back to the campsite, however the jeep traffic looked to be out of control, so I opted to bushwhack down an alternate route. Not for the last time, I discovered that Colorado bushwhacking is not that fun.  There are thorns on the bushes!  Oh well, I survived and eventually made it back down to where Matt and Moxie were waiting for me.

Strava


From Silverton we went for a long drive to Lake City.  I really wanted to check out Handies Peak and run on part of the Hardrock course.  We scouted around, Matt did some fly fishing, and we found another great camping spot.  After freaking ourselves out with the Jeep roads in the Silverton area, we decided that I would run the road to Handies Peak instead of attempting to drive there.  It turns out the road to Handies peak is fine for a minivan, but I didn’t mind the extra running.  It was early and the Jeeps weren’t out yet.  I kept the pace really easy as I was planning to summit 3 14ers in a day, and I wasn’t sure how my legs were going to hold up – turns out my legs were fine.  The trail up to Handies Peak was beautiful and I especially enjoyed the meadow, which was filled with marmots and wildflowers.  After reaching the summit I ran back down the trail and across the valley to the Sunrise and Redcloud trail.  This trail was not as lush as the Handies Peak trail, but I loved the arid landscape and red rocks. When I reached the col which lead to the summit I looked over to the other side for a possible alternate descent route.  There weren’t any obvious hazards, and the drainage led almost directly back to our campsite.  I wasn’t looking forward to running back along the busy Jeep road, maybe this would be a better option.  I still hadn’t learned …

Sunrise and Redcloud are two 14 000ft peaks connected by a 1 mile ridge.  I had the trail to myself, and I enjoyed dancing along the red shale while soaking in the views.  Unfortunately my trip off the col and into the drainage was not so smooth.  Before dropping down I studied the terrain carefully and examined my topo map.  It looked like I could get cliffed out at the confluence of two drainages, and I needed to do a lot of side traversing to get over to a rib and avoid getting sucked into steep terrain.  It’s amazing how even when you know better, you still make the same mistakes.  I did not enjoy the side traversing and so I allowed myself to get sucked into the confluence. I didn’t get cliffed out, but I did have a very awkward descent and I spent a lot of time battling some very aggressive, thorny bushes.

Eventually I made it back to the campsite, dusty and a little bloody, but otherwise in good shape. I was on schedule but Matt wasn’t there.  I looked around, he had thoughtfully left out a chair and Gatorade, so I made myself comfortable.  My adventure had covered over 45km and had taken 12 hours, so I was happy to relax 🙂  Matt showed up 30 minutes later, after getting some supplies in town.  Wanting to explore other areas in Colorado, we had a brief discussion about where to go next.  We decided on Colorado Springs, so I jumped in the van and off we went.

Strava


The next day we spent some time exploring the Garden of the Gods, which is very neat, and attempted to visit Pikes Peak so that Matt could summit a 14er.  Unfortunately we don’t have much patience for tourist attractions, and when we discovered a long line up of cars coupled with a $50USD toll rate we bailed on that idea.

The Colorado Springs traffic was a nightmare and we spent the next few hours lamenting our decision to leave the San Juans.  Eventually we made it up to Boulder where we breathed a sigh of relief to escape the big city.  The drive up through the mountains out of Boulder was nice, but there weren’t any places to camp so we just kept driving.  We drove through lots of defunct mining operations and Central City, the craziest town I’ve ever seen!  Central City is entirely composed of casinos and marijuana dispensaries.  There doesn’t appear to be anyone that actually lives there, and we wondered if there were any patrons in the casinos.  I feel like the town must be some kind of massive money laundering scheme.

We kept driving and found a beautiful campsite near Jones Pass. The next morning we went for a family hike up to the pass.  There were tons of marmots and Moxie had a blast.  There was too much snow to reach the summit of the pass, but we made it pretty close.  It was a good farewell to Colorado.

Strava


Matt was eager to get back home so we packed up the van after our hike and drove north to Wyoming.  That evening we found a beautiful campsite just outside of the National Parks and I went for a sunset run up to the nearest pass.  On my way back I discovered very large, very fresh grizzly tracks headed in the same direction as me. I slowed to a walk, not wanting to catch up to the bear.  Wyoming is so wild!  I think it’s my favourite state.

Strava


The next day we braved the tourists and visited Yellowstone National Park.  I had always wanted to visit Yellowstone and now we were finally here!  The hot springs were cool, and I am sure we would have been totally awed by them had we not been to Iceland last year.  As it was, we were suitably impressed but I couldn’t help comparing them to last year’s adventures.  In Yellowstone there are hordes of people everywhere and boardwalks to prevent you from getting too close to the hot pools.  In Iceland there are also hordes of people, but it’s very easy to get off the beaten track and you can easily find hot springs with no people around.  There are no boardwalks to keep you safe, you could jump right into the boiling water/mud pits if you were so inclined.

As we exited the park there were really cool rock formations formed by mineral deposits from the hot springs.  I would have loved to explore this area but the parking was full, so we continued to drive north to Montana.


After some creative navigation, we found a camping spot near Boulder, Montana.  This was one of our favourite campsites of the whole trip!  The forest was filled with piles of massive boulders that seemed to materialize out of nowhere.  We spent the evening doing forest parkour, scrambling up, down and around the giant, granite rocks.   I think we could spend a week there and not get bored.  Alas, it was time to go home and the next day we drove back to Canada.


See you again in 2018 Colorado, and this time I will back up my photos!

Happy Trails!

 

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