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Jimmy Keen Survival Club – The 2018 Ute 100

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I puked.

I puked again.

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

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

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

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

 

What did I learn?

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

 

Thank you:

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

 

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! 

Spray Valley 10 – Part 1

“What about Sunday?”

I look up at Oleg.  Oleg is a bit of a mountain guru.  If he’s asking this question it means that he’s fairly certain that we won’t finish in two days.

“I hope we aren’t still going on Sunday … but if that’s what it takes … I guess we keep going.”   Famous last words …


It’s Wednesday and we have gathered at my place for dinner and a planning session.  We hash out the logistics, and by the time the evening draws to a close Arielle and I are feeling much better about our weekend adventure.  We have drawn up a tentative schedule, and it looks like we will have support throughout the entire journey.  We could not have asked for a better scenario, and I find myself feeling overwhelmed with gratitude towards this fantastic trail running community.


Thursday evening comes quickly.  I work until 6pm, and it’s well after 7pm by the time we’ve finished dinner and are ready to head out to our campsite for the night.  The air smells of smoke from the nearby forest fires and the sunset is hazy.  Arielle and I are concerned about our lungs – I’m not always the best at managing my asthma and smoke could cause it to flare up badly.  We see some massive storm clouds gathering on the south end of the lake and hope that the rain will wash away the smoke.


That night it stormed violently.  It was so loud that neither Arielle or I were able to sleep. When we woke up at 2:55am on Friday morning the air was smoke-free.  All the pieces were falling into place.

We guzzled down some coffee and drove down to the Buller Pass trailhead for a 4am start.  Patrick and Ryan were already there waiting for us, they had left home at 2:30am to meet us there.  Thanks guys!

At 4:12am we said goodbye to Matt (who would be crewing us all weekend from the van) and then headed up the trail.


That morning was dark and chilly.  I could see my breath in the light of my headlamp and my pack felt heavy. In addition to our extra clothing, we were each carrying 2L of water, a helmet, trekking poles and enough food to last us the next 7 hours.  I started to drink water early – the more I drank the lighter my pack would get. We soon turned off the trail and began the steep bushwhack up to the ridge of Mount Engadine. Patrick picked a good route up through an old forest fire burn scar, and we soon found ourselves picking our way along the base of a cliff, looking for a weakness so that we could gain the ridge.  The slope was very steep – at one point my foot slipped and I caught myself on the rocky slope with my face.  Mmmm, dirt for breakfast.

We gained the ridge and discovered that the temperature was so cold that the rubber on our shoes was frozen.  We had to be careful with every step to not slip; Mount Engadine is considered a difficult scramble, and a fall could be deadly. Some of the rocks were coated in ice and a thin layer of snow frosted the top of the mountain.  We were not expecting winter in July, but here it was!  The sun crested the horizon as we reached the summit and suddenly the early morning was worth it.

1 summit down, 9 to go.


We made a hasty exit off the peak.  We were freezing!  The snow highlighted a bit of a trail down through the scree, and we were able to descend quickly.  We decided to take a different (hopefully quicker) route down via a drainage.  I was feeling good and found myself leading the group with Ryan close behind me. Patrick and Arielle were a little ways back but I tried to make sure to keep them in sight.  Ryan and I scrambled down a little waterfall and then descended a little further so we could empty rocks out of our shoes while we waited for Patrick and Arielle to catch up.

We had turned a corner after descending the waterfall so we didn’t have line of sight to see up the mountain.  We waited for a few more minutes but still Patrick and Arielle did not appear; I realized I had made a mistake.  Arielle has amazing endurance, but she takes awhile to warm up, and she had been struggling to keep pace on the way up the mountain.  Now I had gotten too far ahead and she probably felt totally abandoned.  I felt like a total jerk, and I’m certain she was thinking that as well.

Soon Patrick and Arielle reappeared and we were able to make our way down the rest of the mountain.  They both let me know that I was an asshat … and then they forgave me. Friends again, we ran back down the trail to Buller Pass where Matt was waiting for us at the trail junction with water and snacks.

Total time: 4:20 (10 minutes ahead of schedule)

Total Distance: 9.7km

Total Elevation Gain: 1200m



The route up Buller was uneventful.  There is nothing much to this mountain, except that it’s really steep.  Arielle had finished her warm up and was moving really well; nothing like a 5 hour warm up to get you moving 🙂

Once again the summit was really cold and we hurried off the peak in search of warmer temperatures.  I slipped and fell on some loose rubble, jarring my shoulder and hearing something snap.  After a few deep breaths to manage the pain, the shoulder seemed okay.

The rest of the trip down went smoothly.  We got back to the van so quickly that we found Matt having a nap.  He hadn’t been expecting us for another half hour!

Total time on Buller: 2:45 (30 minutes ahead of schedule)

Total time on the trail: 7:09

Total Distance: 19.1km

Total Elevation Gain: 2250m



Back at the van, we decided to take some extra time to get in some calories and prepare for the long, route ahead.  We each ate a sandwich, drank a Gatorade and changed our shoes.  We had been wearing very lightweight shoes, but now we were headed out on a more remote and rugged, 3 peak loop so we needed something more robust on our feet.  Unfortunately, when Arielle went to change her shoes she discovered that she had put two right shoes in the van (which meant that there were two left shoes back at the campsite).  Rather than lose an hour driving back to the campsite we decided to just continue on with her wearing the light shoes.  This was a mistake.


The 7km run from Buller to Red Ridge was actually more like 10km, I am famous for underestimating distance. We were both a little grouchy at the seemingly endless trail, but grouchiness at this point was expected.

Eventually we got to Red Ridge, and the infamous boulder field.  Red Ridge has amazing views, and I think it would be a popular hike if it wasn’t for the boulder field slog.   The rocks are very loose, and you have to take care with each step or a boulder may suddenly start falling down the mountain, crushing you underneath. We had been up Red Ridge twice before, but now it felt like the mountain was MUCH taller.  We joked that it must be on steroids.

At some point we reached the ridge and were moving along towards the summit when suddenly Arielle yelled that her shoe had busted.  We had gambled on bringing the wrong gear, and now we were paying for it.  I had brought some duct tape along for emergency repairs, but it soon became shredded on the sharp rocks.  Now we really had to put our creativity to the test.  We had several extra buffs on us, so we used two of them to wrap her shoe like a slipper.  It worked like a charm! Buffs have got to be one of the most useful items to bring up a mountain.  I never go up a mountain without one.

Our friend Andrew had climbed up Red Ridge ahead of us so that he could get photos. Now he met us at the top, where he shared his peanut M&Ms and summit bacon.   Mmmm, bacon.  With Arielle’s new shoe/slipper contraption we were able to run/shuffle back down the mountain to Andrew’s car.  Thank goodness Andrew was there for us, or we would have had to find a way to hitchhike back to the campsite!

When we finally got back to the campsite we found Matt hanging out in the van and Arielle was able to reunite her right and left shoes.  We didn’t have enough daylight left to go back out and finish our 3 peak loop, however he did have enough time to go out and scramble Big Sister of the Orphan.  Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.  Once Arielle had her shoe troubles, I shifted all my focus to her and I stopped eating and drinking.  By the time we got back to the campsite I was in the middle of a big fat bonk.  I started shivering uncontrollably and my stomach turned sour.  I changed into warm clothes, ate some food and tried to recuperate, but I felt like hell.  I worried that I would start puking  my guts out before we got half way up the mountain. Oleg’s voice echoed in the back of my mind.  “Be safe girls.”  “The mountain always wins.”  The decision was made to spend the rest of the day recovering.  We could push hard again on Saturday.

Total time on Red Ridge and the approach trail: 5:50

Total time on the trail: 13:00

Total Distance: 45km

Total Elevation Gain: 3250m



 

Bighorn 2017

Where do I begin?

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Cry

Napping and crying


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

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


Finish


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


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


Thank you:

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

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

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

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


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

Bighorn 100M – Preview

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

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

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


I’m trying to keep a healthy perspective.

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

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

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

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

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

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