Squamish 50/50 – A tale of 2 races

By enduring, we conquer – Earnest Shackleton

The race: Two days. 50 miles day 1 and 50km day 2 for a total of  130km.  19,500 feet of ascent and descent.  And a shiny trucker hat to show for it if you were lucky enough to cross the finish on day 2.

I couldn’t sleep very well the first night post race because it hurt.  I couldn’t tell where the pain was coming from, because it was coming from everywhere. My legs ached, my foot was throbbing.    Getting up to use the washroom was not pretty.  Jason offered me a cane when he saw me trying to walk. Go ahead, laugh. Cause I did.

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But let’s back up.

Like all horrible   bright  ideas, my journey to the 50/50 was born out of a desire for the coveted blue trucker hat.  I had been part of the Squamish 50 in some shape or form 4 out of the last 5 years.  I had run each of the distances previously, 23km, 50km and 50 miles, but I swore the 50/50 runners were  insane.   I was also adamant you wouldn’t catch me ever doing 50/50.   I remember chatting with a good friend’s husband about 50/50 a couple of years back.   He snorted: “what, you get airlifted out after day 2?”  But that hat…

Back in November, as I was contemplating races for the year  I decided I needed a goal that would challenge me and put a little fear in me.  I thought about returning to Squamish  for a do -over on the 50 mile course (a debacle of a day that previously left me having a melt down at Quest) and at the finish line much slower than I wanted.  On the day registration opened, I was on ultra signup at 7:30am; I stared at ultra signup for 20 minutes, and then texted a girl friend, who told me she believed in me.  So I signed up for the 50/50. The race sold out in 10 hours.  Apparently there are a lot of crazies.

In January, I realized a proper training plan was in order.  Few races have truly inspired fear in me. This one did. My friends all seemed to believe I had it in me but I knew it would take a lot of work.  I knew a number of people were using Gary Robbin’s/Eric Carter’s training plans- so I purchased a training plan.  I stared at the 33 week plan and didn’t know whether  to laugh or cry.  I didn’t know if my body could handle all this.

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Year 1, Blue hat, Year 2 Green Hat, Year 3 Yellow hat.

There was only one way to find out.  I definitely made modifications to the plan, and then  I ran.  Long run after long run. Some solo runs, some with friends who were also running crazy distances.  Because I also unexpectedly got into Knee Knacker, I joined all the weekly runs and climbed, and climbed some more.  Days turned into weeks, and weeks became months.  I had my moments of doubt.   Run, rinse and repeat.  Jason  was incredibly patient, as I often disappeared for hours at a time.  I was always tired.  I was always hungry.  And I was often a non – functioning human being when I was home. Five  (5) tune up races including two 50km trail races later, my training was pretty much done.  When I started this journey I thought running the race would be the hard part, but the journey to the start line was half the battle.

Before I knew it, race weekend had arrived. Friday morning Jason and I drove up to Squamish and played in the creeks and chilled out. I tried not to think of what lay ahead of me.  I just wanted to get started. After checking into our hotel, we headed to package pickup,  (which was a zoo), picked up groceries and called it a night.  We made dinner at the hotel,  and I went through the usual pre – race routine, laying out clothes and double checking drop bags – and then I passed out…

 

 

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Requisite pre – race photo.

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Race prep

Day 1 – 50 Miles

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The alarm went off at 4 am and I managed to haul myself out of bed, dressed, ate and applied body glide liberally.  I wondered how I was going to get up the next day but pushed that thought out of my head quickly. I plastered bandaids to my pre – existing blisters, and Jason helped me pin my bib.  Your shorts are too short he informed me.  So he folded the bib smaller.

After cramming down breakfast  (salted avocado with toast, half a banana and leftover ravioli),  we joined the conga line of cars to the start at Oceanfront.   It should have taken 4 minutes to drive, but took 15.  In the darkness all we could see were a sea of red (headlights)  A blurry outline of the smoke bluffs was visible.  The sun started to rise, orange pink and purple bleeding together in a smoky haze.  Luckily the day turned out to be cool, and the air quality was reasonably good.

I managed to down two cups of coffee  (shared with Jason who was impressed with the quality of the race coffee), saw some familiar faces, and fan – girled over seeing Courtney Dewaulter. (She won the womens’ race at Western States 100 miler and Moab 240 outright and would go on to set a new course record in the 50 mile race).  We were herded over to the start line. And then without fanfare, the race started.

Of course I went out too fast (I hit Canadian tire in 55 minutes…whoops)  and soon after Alice Lake, I saw people I had no business seeing in a race.  I knew if I didn’t slow down I would pay.  So I forced myself to slow down.  Eat, drink, down salt pills and salt tablets.

Alice Lake to Corners 

As I ran past Alice Lake, I caught up to Michael and Mert.  And then Tom passed me.  In case you were wondering, they are light years faster.  Oh damn, I really went out too fast.

I hit the Corners Aid station, and realized I had a blister (thanks to a hole in my sock (actually my favourite pair of stance socks)-. so volunteers helped me wash out my foot and bandaid and change one sock.  I started the 10kmish loop and realized I probably should have changed my other sock too. Oh well.  That would have to wait until I hit the Corners station again.  The loop wasn’t as horrible as I remembered.  I ate my way through the loop, dealt with my other blister on my second trip through the Corners Aid Station and shuffled along the forest service road.

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Photo credit: Brian McCurdy Photography – can’t remember where on course but it was Day 1

It was hot and humid, but I followed a conga line up Plastic Scheisse and then got dropped as soon as the downhill hit.

The one saving grace was the hazy cloud cover and slightly cooler than anticipated temperatures.  I stopped at Word of Mouth Aid station to fill up briefly and double fisting chocolate cookies and watermelon – and borrowed a volunteers phone to call Jason to let him know I wasn’t far  from Quest.  I was happily double -fisting cookies, watermelon and clutching my flask as I left the aid station.  And then it happened.  Maybe because I was busy cramming food into my face, I failed to see the tip of a rock and the next thing I knew, I was face first in the dirt, cookies, watermelon and flask went flying.  I rolled myself onto my back side.  Both my legs had cramped so badly, I could’t get up.  Luckily there was a runner not far behind me, who came to my rescue hauled me to my feet and and made sure I was ok before he took off.  I had dirt all over me, but other than that, I was fine.

My pride was wounded more than anything, and then I was mad, because I had wasted two perfectly good pieces of watermelon.  Only a few more km to Quest and I made sure not to sustain any more injuries.

At Quest,  Jason was waiting with my drop bag. There would be no lolly gagging.  Kim was there – she filled my flasks and I changed while I told Jason what I wanted to eat.  Jason tended to my feet while  I downed an entire bottle of frappucino.  I was in and out in less than 10 minutes.  And then began the march.  I made it to the switch backs and another  runner went past me, wearing the shortest spandex shorts I have ever seen and more of her butt than I would care to see.  To each their own.  Luckily she soon took off and I was spared.

Mr. Freezie guy was at the top of the switchbacks as in previous years.  Shamelessly,  I asked for a second freezie.  For the time it took me to slurp back the freezies, I was in heaven.  I tried to get every last drop of the rapidly melting coloured ice.

Now, I just needed to make it to the next aid station.  I ran, shuffled and walked my way.  Trying to do math all the way in order to make my goal time.  My quads were starting to get a little sore, and I was well aware a long day lay ahead, so I shuffled down the trails, the loop and when I hit Garibaldi Road Aid station, I felt I could breathe a sigh of relief.   One more Aid station, before the last 10km of hell.

More food, more fuel (chocolate chip cookies), watermelon and salt pills.  Note to self, don’t stuff them into your pack – Jason found crumbled bits of cookies in my pack at the end of the day.   Off I went to Fartherside – where I grabbed food, got sponged down, more watermelon and cookies and hurried out of the aid station. I wanted to finish in day light.

I was feeling good at this point in the day and put my power hiking skills to work, passing a runner and shortly before Mountain of Phlegm catching up to a guy I had run with earlier in the day briefly.  He told me he had underestimated this course and thought he could simply subtract from his 100km time (on a course with half the elevation gain) and get his goal time.  I laughed and told him it didn’t work that way, and especially not on a Gary Robbin’s course.  We made it up Mountain of Phlegm, picked our way down, and then sideways down the 4 sets of steep stairs and on to those concrete slabs.  Somewhere in there, he told me he couldn’t believe I had to do this all over again in less than 12 hours.  Me neither.

He told me if I had legs I should go, so I went, ran most of the road section, and down the last block, straight across the finish line, to screams and cheers, and into the waiting arms of Gary Robbins for one of his famous bear hugs.  Pargol was waiting for me, as was Jason.

Pargol brought me food, untied my shoes, bossed Jason around, and then pushed us towards the direction of our motel, across the street.  She knew exactly what needed to be done having done 50/50 herself a few years back.

In our room, I put on my bossy pants. Jason drew a cold ice bath for me.  I went to grab food and a recovery drink from the fridge and forced myself into an ice bath.  I dictated from the bathtub, food,water, flasks etc.  Poor Jason.   He brought me more food, (and unasked, washed my dirty socks and smelly pack picking out the remains of my sticky gel packs and crumbled bits of heaven only knows what).  I drew a salt bath and sat in it, trying to rinse off the rivers of dirt on my legs.  He refilled my flasks and as I lay in bed, nursing sore legs and stuffing my face still – he rubbed balm onto my sore calves.   And then setting my alarm for an early but mercifully later start,  I passed out before 9 pm.

Day 2 – 50km

The alarm went off at 4:15 – 4:30 am.  Cautiously, I swung my legs over the bed.  I was a little sore, but my legs still worked.  I was pleasantly surprised.  I changed, went to eat breakfast and tried to give Jason a little more sleep, but he was up and dressed, and ready to leave at 5:20 am.   I tried to get a few more minutes sleep in the car.  The 2nd day was a lot smokier and hazier and we had been given the option to opt out – guaranteed entry for next year and a  discount.   Fortunately Unfortunately, I  had already run the 50 miler, and the thought of repeating this next year was very painful.

I took a let’s see what happens approach.  My goal was to make it to the start line and get to the first aid station.   Not much fanfare, and day 2 started.  There were a number of 50/50 runners at the back of the pack and also a couple of 50km runners who were just hoping to make the cut offs.  I was surprised to find that I could run a bit, so I ran and walked.  And I made a mental note to hurry up a bit because I didn’t really want to be fighting cut offs if I could help it.

Not long after Alice Lake and right before the Corners Aid station,  I fell into step with another 50/50 runner.  We ended up being the same pace and ended up running the entire 50km day together.  Having someone to share a painful day 2 together was amazing.  He was a strong power hiker and could run when he felt like it.  We ended up at aid stations within a minute of each other, and left within minutes.  And as we wound our way through the course, sometimes chatting, sometimes in silence.

We power hiked up Galactic which was a hot smoky mess and smelled like burning rubber.  The air quality was lousy but I was mostly ok save for a sore throat. And my legs were working surprisingly well.  Some poor girl was hacking away behind me, but she assured me her friend was with her and she had her asthma inhaler.  Ok, then.

We made it through Galactic which for me was the worst part of the day. Breezed through Word of Mouth and off to Quest for day 2.  I definitely was less happy on day 2.

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The only actual photo I took during race weekend of the course.

At Quest, Jason had everything waiting; he fed me, refilled my flasks and then sent me on my way.  10 minutes (v. the 40 minutes I spent here last time) I left in a hurry, and my new running friend was only minutes behind.  We power hiked our way up the switch backs.  He was taller and sometimes I would have to run a little in order to catch up before I could walk again.  This time, there were no freezies.

We wound our way up the switchbacks, through the forest, over nasty bike bridges, forest services road and then made it to Garibaldi FSR with an hour to spare before the cutoff.  I am used to having several hours to spare and so I was not pleased.  But, it is what it is, and off we went.

We hit Fartherside with half an hour to spare – what the heck, and I hurried  out of there with my running partner seconds behind.  I was about to call Jason when my phone rang; it was Jason. Poor soul had decided to wait at Fartherside for me and had been since 12:40pm – he just missed me while standing for 2 hours and then went to get a chair.  Oops.  He didn’t tell me he was going to be there, and I had other things to worry about.

In the end we made up 15 minutes on the last 10kmish. I am pretty sure that is the fastest I have ever done that section.  We passed several runners, and cleared Mountain of Phlegm; my calves were screaming but I forced myself to move just a wee bit faster and then we hit the infamous sets of stairs.  When we hit the concrete slabs, I could feel every step reverberating through my shins.

My running partner turned around.  “Do you think you will cry?”  I paused.  Maybe I said, but in the end, there were too many competing emotions and no tears.

We decided to save the running for the road, taking turns leading. It would have been nice to walk (I was tired) but I knew I had it in me to run.  We passed a guy in a green shirt plodding along and another runner we saw earlier (who was doing the trashed quads shuffle).  I saw the set of traffic lights and knew we were only a few hundred meters away.  We ran across railroad tracks, I could see the finish.  Just before entering the park we saw a guy, obviously hurting.

“If you can pass him, pass him,” my running partner whispered to me.  Of course I could pass him.  So I did, and he followed suit. We ran into the finish areas, to the cheers of spectators,  crossing the line side by side. We had shared the entire day two and so it only seemed fitting that we crossed together.  While I love my solo runs, having a partner to face day 2 of a special kind of hell was priceless.

We remembered to take off our running packs before getting our second finish line hugs of the weekend.  Apparently 1200 runners worth of finish line packs and finish line hugs  had  taken its toll.  Gary had to remind me to take off my cap so he could put on my Finisher hat.  And just like that, 2 of the longest, toughest days of trail running I have faced to date were over.

They say that a journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step. This journey for me involved over 8 months of hard work, over 1200 miles,  and almost 200, 000 feet of climbing.  It culminated in 2 days of mountain running and as the proud new owner of a blue trucker hat.  Hardest earned hat in my life.

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Two days of sweat and some cursing…and a tattered race bib:).

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Me and a new friend I made on course – we shared the entire day 2.

 

To all my friends who shared miles with me, encouraged me, cheered for me and believed in me, thank you. Wouldn’t have made it to the start without you.  And to Jason, the best partner and support ever, who spent the weekend crewing and chasing me around, and taking care of me,  I love you and I couldn’t do this without you.  Congrats to all the racers and a huge thank you to all the volunteers and race directors Gary Robbins and Geoff Langford – thank you for a tough but incredible weekend.

 

P.S.  I went to get my post race burger on day 2.  I started to eat it and Jason pointed out that I was eating a bun with relish and cheese, and no patty. Whoops.  Back to line it was:).

 

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Ultra tales

Sometimes I wonder what drives ultra runners both elite and mortal.  Even as a runner, I struggle to answer that question.

“Its not..normal, ” my sister told me once.  She had a point.

The first time I heard of an ultra marathon was through my marathon clinic instructor and mentor Dave who regaled us with his tales of Western States 100 miler. I was in awe but 100 miles seemed so far outside the realm of my possibility.  I filed it away in my memory banks and left it at that.

Two years later I was volunteering for a 50 mile ultra marathon in Squamish. I thought those running that far was insane. You wouldn’t catch me doing that.

The next year l signed up for a trail half marathon. At the finish line, a friend and I watched with envy as the 50km runners stumbled and ran across the finish line, their faces etched with the miles they had run. A mini lifetime lived in a day. Next year, we decided, we would run a 50km. And so we did. And in order to prepare for that 50km, we decided to sign up for a 50km in advance of  our goal race.  Those 2 50kms might have been it.

 

 

Except that it wasn’t.  Despite not being able to walk properly for a week after my first ultra  (due to a whole bunch of rookie mistakes),  I was hooked.  Never mind road running.  The mountains were my love.  I discovered that I might not be the fastest or slowest, but I could go forever, under my steam power. That and a cast iron stomach (being able to eat during an ultra is critical)= a good fit.

So the first ultra, which was a bucket list goal, led to a love affair of sorts.  I joined a new road running group and discovered that a group went out on Sundays for trail runs. They took me under their wing – and I discovered the wonders of back country. I met some incredible people and made new friends. Deep bonds are formed when you spend hours on the trails, suffering together and pushing each other towards common goals.

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Climbing mountains with my favourite:).

And indeed crazy breeds crazy.  That is part of it.  As I became immersed in the ultra running community,  running 50km, 50 miles and 100km + was accepted and encouraged.   There is a redefinition of what is normal.  As I write this, I think of friends who have raced distances of 100 + miles, and instead of telling them they are crazy, I am in awe.  And that distance is on my bucket list – I am building towards it.  I threw my name into the hat for Western States this past year.  Not surprisingly I didn’t get in (the chances of getting into a race like Western States as a non – elite is about as good as winning the lottery) but at least I tried.

At the end of the day, if I were try to answer the question of what drives me as an ultra runner, other than the fact that I just love to run, it is about chasing my own potential.  I want to find my own limits and push the boundaries of those perceived limits.  For me, it is about about daring to try, and daring to set a goal big enough that it scares me, and big enough that failure is a possibility.  And knowing that it is ok to fail.  Just get up and try again.  The biggest lessons in running and in life come through failure.

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The race I wanted to quit ..but didn’t.  I almost did though.

I have a t- shirt from a trail race I ran this year.  Emblazoned on the front of the t- shirt are the words: “Be Fearless.” The back of the t- shirt reads: “Redefine your impossible.”   That about sums it up for me.  The relentless pursuit of more.

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Lost in Lethbridge – Lost Soul 100km

How did I end up running in the prairies on one of the hottest and smokiest days of the year?  Well,  I wanted to tick 100km off my list for the year.  I looked for races online  and stumbled onto Lost Soul. Perfect I thought.

I had signed up for this sold out race in December (it sold out in a couple of hours). I figured September in Alberta, on the flat prairies would be reasonably easy.  Hah. To say I underestimated this race would be an understatement.  This BC mountain girl got her ass handed to her.  But let me back up…

We had planned a road trip through the Canadian Rockies (BC and Alberta) and I figured I might as well have fun; well, “type 2 fun” for me.   We arrived in Lethbridge the day before the race (fresh off a week of touristing hard)  to suffocating temperatures and smoke filled skies.  I went to work on race prep.  Most of the stuff in the truck belonged to me (Jason had packed very efficiently with one small back pack

Race gear!

Having prepared drop bags before we left home (another endeavour in and of itself),  my task was relatively simple.  Race nerves were kicking in and the weather was a huge factor.  The week leading up to the race I was not at all stressed, thoroughly enjoying our road trip and incredible scenery.  In fact I told Jason confidently, while the heat would be a factor, running Lost Soul 100km would be like running on hay bales.  Hah.

Faking a smile

We made use of the hotel pool and hot tub. I slept very well the night before and woke up just before 7 am on race morning, to eat breakfast, sort myself out and drop my bags before the race started.  We were staying at race headquarters which made life easy.  We had a two minute race briefing which I dragged Jason to and then we were off.

The course consisted of two 53km loops (as a 100km racer I would skip a 6.5-7 km loop on the second round).  It was hot and smoky and temperatures would start to climb. The air quality index was above 10 and temps were in the high 30s.  The 3 aid stations were located at the intersections of those loops : figure 8s.  HQ (start and first aid station), Softball Valley and then Pavan.  There was also a loop  (North Loop) that would take us onto private land with  unmannned water stations but no crew access.

I had coaxed Jason into crewing for me, though the volunteers and race crew were amazing and it would be quite possible to be self – sufficient on this race.    Jason snapped  a quick photo of me faking a smile and I was off.

  

Nervous nellie…no idea what was really in store for me 😂

Leg 1 was a seven km loop around a shale path and back to headquarters  but the up and down even on that loop made me realize that this course wouldn’t be quite as flat as I hoped ha.  I just missed Jason on leg one…
But he was able to catch me on the next 6-8km ish loop to  Softball valley and give me some coconut water, and spray me down with sunscreen and I was off. He was waiting for me at Pavan and I took care of my feet while he fed me, reapplied sunscreen and filled my flasks.  It was getting hot and the volunteers poured ice down my bra and my cap.  We set off on a roughly 16km loop through private land (there would be no crew access here, merely unmanned water stations – which was amazing).  It would be 2. 5 hours before I returned.

orange 😂

People had already dropped at Pavan aid station on the first round (just under 30km in) as the heat and smoke were starting to take its toll.   Temps were forecast at 38 degrees celsisus (I later found out that by Friday afternoon temperatures had risen to 40 degrees Celsius) I wasn’t too bothered by the smoke, but I could most definitely feel the heat.  I heeded the advice of a runner at the beginning of the race who told me to stick ice down my shirt, hat, etc at every opportunity.  So I did.  I shamelessly had Jason and volunteers dump ice down my sports bra, my back and in my hat.  The ice saved me.

My face matches my orange sports bra 😂

Leaving Pavan was where I started to feel a little rough probably because I had eaten too much too fast  and had to deal with some stomach aches as we climbed some nasty little hills.  Luckily within 20 to 30 minutes my stomach had started to settle down, and I found myself a rhythm climbing and then descending and met some people to run with including a lovely woman named Sherri.  We soon came upon a casualty in the form of a 100km runner (who looked to be fast) in a heap by the side of the road.  He assured us he was okay and that a vehicle was coming for him.   There was a table with bottled water nearby (not the water station) but Sherri told me the private land owners left packages of bottled water for the racers.  I was incredibly grateful and took a bottle of water.

I am definitely a climber and not a down hill runner.  Thankfully the trails weren’t particularly technical, and using poles was a huge bonus.  Thank you to all the people who suggested I use poles for this race because my poles saved me. After some hills and steep downhills we were able to run a nice river section.  Coming back to Pavan for the second time,  Jason was waiting, bless his heart and had my stuff ready to go.  I double- fisted gummies, pickles, some salted potatoes and inhaled a spiked frappucino while Jason sprayed me down again with sunscreen.  Even though the smoke was giving cloud cover, the course was extremely exposed and I would have burnt to a crisp.   I left Pavan for the second time in the first loop.

And this was where thing started to go south (at least mentally for me).  It was very hot and the 6km to the next aid station took me much longer than anticipated. There was series of hills called the 3 bitches and trust me they were.    I was so defeated.  I told a woman who was cheering me in when I finally reached Softball Valley I was quitting when I reached HQ; her response “nonsense.  If this was easy everyone would be doing it.”  I contemplated her words. Jason would be waiting at HQ.

I was feeling terribly sorry for myself as I parked myself at a picnic table filled with food: watermelon, chips, gummies, chocolate milk, cheezies, oranges, bananas and pepperoni sticks.  I told some poor volunteer that I wasn’t having fun that I was thinking of quitting when I got to HQ and what was the point.  I ate my weight in watermelon while she listened to me bitch.  I apologized for ranting at her, thanked her and then left.

I then caught up with Bob, a trail runner I had met earlier in the race and it turned out it was 6.2 kmish back to HQ  (not 16km). Apparently math in an ultra is a bad idea. I told Bob I was thinking of dropping.   Bob was quite familiar with the course and told me temperatures would drop significantly at night.  He told me that if I could make it through the first loop without bonking, running at night was a huge bonus.    Bob took off then and I was alone.  Somewhere in the next few km, wallowing in my own misery (which is not like me usually but the  day was turning into a pity party), I kept climbing a ridgeline, and I had missed a left turn (the course is very well marked…I was so in my own head at this point).  Luckily there was a trail runner not far behind me, and I hear shouts of “You’re going the wrong way” (luckily that was the only wrong turn I made all day).  I was so in my own head at that point I had missed the copious pink flags marking the left turn.

Jason snapped this one as I was leaving HQ and heading out on loop 2

I thanked the runner and then hauled my butt down the right path.  I wound my way down the coulees and up towards HQ.   I texted Jason who was waiting at HQ and told him I was done.   I approached the bridge which was less than a km from the finish and I couldn’t remember for a second which direction I had come from.  Climbing up the last short climb, I was with a 100 miler who was dropping and I told her I wanted to quit (see the theme).   I said I thought I could make it but I didn’t want to.  She encouraged me to keep going.

Looking slightly stunned on race morning 😂

 

I cried because I thought I was done (and I didn’t care).  As I ran into HQ marking the end of the first loop, I was Miss Debbie Downer.  That is not my personality at all but I had never felt so sorry for myself in my life.  As my friend David would say, I was having a paddy.   And of course, the race announcer was announcing every runner’s accomplishments as they came in to HQ and all I wanted to do was slink off.

Jason was waiting for me, and I told him I was done, that my legs ached.  He looked at me in bewilderment –  are you sure?  I parked myself on the pavement, guzzled the spiked frappucino he handed me and sulked.  I hadn’t had the heart to turn in my bib just yet.  “Will you still love me if don’t finish this race?” I demanded.  Jason just looked at me and laughed.   I later found out that 33 percent of the 100 miler racers finished and 44 percent of the 100km racers crossed the finish. It was a scorcher out there and huge respect to every single runner who toed the line.

I looked at the finish line arch (right beside the aid station) and thought it would have to wait another year.  Jason looked at me and goes, “Well, it’s cooler at night”.  I told him I thought I could make it to Softball Valley one more time (which was 6.6 km give or take) so I could at least run a little.  I told Jason to call it a night as I would likely be dropping.  The problem was, I wasn’t sick or injured, I just didn’t to walk 54km, I wanted a cold shower and cold beer.  But I signed myself up.   I left HQ at around 7 pm, with strangers cheering me on and still not happy.  But I would feel better about myself if I dropped at 60kms instead of 54 km. At least that was my twisted reasoning.  As I left HQ for my second loop, I could hear the race announcer go, “and she’s halfway done, this is in the bag.”  Haha.  As if.

Heading out after 54km.. just over half way

As I was climbing, I saw two deer.  They stopped and big eyes peered at me.  It was surreal and stopped me in my tracks.  As I made my way down, mostly by myself, I met a 100 mile racer named Heidi who was moving quickly.   She was very happy to have found me as she had been feeling a bit down as well.  I told her I was thinking of dropping at Softball Valley’ she told me I wasn’t dropping that I was moving so well, and asked me if I needed everything.  She asked me if I wanted to hike it in to Softball Valley with her and so we did.   Heidi gave me a pep talk all the way down to Softball Valley and was definitely my trail angel. Jason surprised me by showing up at Softball Valley for the night loop and I almost cried.    I told him to go to bed and I would text him later.  I left Softball Valley and as I made it to Pavan the weather was cooling down, and slowly I stopped feeling sorry for myself.

This was early.. 30km ish but already 😂

I drank two glasses of chocolate milk, ate more pepperoni sticks and then headed out for a night loop (there would be no dropping for 16km as we were headed out to do a loop on the private lands again).  Luckily, I had company at night.  I climbed the ridge by myself, looked at the glowing orange orb that was hanging in the sky.  It was eerie but beautiful.  I didn’t want to be alone, so I waited until some headlights I saw a little behind me caught up to me on the ridge.  Not long after, Bob and his son who was pacing him, caught up with me, and I ended up running with them for the rest of the night.

Somewhere on this 16kmish loop, I realized I had blisters, etc (I had changed shoes and socks and applied foot glide earlier but hadn’t really dealt with my feet because they hadn’t been bothering me).  I made a note to deal with my feet at the next aid station.   This night loop on private turned out to be a beautiful loop though, as I found a second wind power hiking/running with new trail runners I met. As we made our way into Pavan for the final time – I realized there was only 12km left.  The finish line I was almost certain I wouldn’t reach seemed within my grasp.  It was almost 3:00 am.

Laughing at the start line…before rhe carnage..

Bob who was a veteran of the Lost Soul Races was gunning for another Western States lottery ticket; he had a schedule and so we were allotted a specific amount of time at each aid station. Worked for me. The longer I sat, the less likely I was to get moving again.  I parked myself in a chair and had my blistered feet tended to by a really good looking volunteer ha.  He told me that it didn’t matter what time I crossed the finish line – I would get a finish.    I was cheered by that thought.  Another volunteer offered me fresh cooked salmon but I couldn’t handle it.  There were cheeseburgers too – but sadly I couldn’t handle that.  I had chocolate milk, gummy worms, pickles and pickles (yes I ate gummy worms and pickles together, and also chocolate milk and pickles together too) and more pepperoni sticks.  The fact I was able to eat solid foods at all at this point was a miracle to me.

We definitely made up time at night; the hot temperatures of the day had slowed many racers including me, to a power hike and shuffle.  As a result my legs weren’t destroyed and I was actually able to run parts of the second loop when it was flat.

Bob’s son Lucas (who was pacing him) had decided to run with us to the finish.  We climbed two nasty hills (the First 2 bitches – yes that was what the hills were named – short and steep).  Bob would lead the downhills while he let me take the lead on the climbs.  Part mountain goat he called me.  Alas, I felt more like a sloth but would take all the encouragement I could get.

As we entered Softball Valley  I had two glasses of chocolate milk, and ate more pickles and gummy worms (Jason found gummies and pickles crammed into my hydration pack).  I pretty much lived on that and watermelon all day. We were on the home stretch and I couldn’t believe it.  I was trying to do math and Bob laughed.  He reassured me we had plenty of time.  This last stretch was flat save for a last short climb to the finish.   We ran and walked through the cool dark of the night, keeping our eyes peeled for pink flagging.

Shortly before reaching the bridge, we heard a runner going, “excuse me, excuse me” as he flew by.  I was surprised anyone was moving this fast so late in the race.  That turned out to be Dave Proctor (I believe it was him and not the second place finisher) a local runner and elite athlete who was en route to winning and setting a new course record for 100 miles (yep we got beaten by a guy who was out on his third loop while we were finishing our second). To add insult to injury Dave had apparently run 170km from his home in Okotooks to Lethbridge over two days just prior to the race.  I couldn’t believe it.  He was gone, and we were left to finish our race.

As we wove our way around the river and approached the last short climb to the finish, Bob stepped aside and told me to take the lead on the climb, and so I did.  As I power hiked up the climb I started to cry again.  But this time I was crying because I knew was going to finish a race that just hours earlier I thought was out of my reach.   As I ran the last pavement section, clutching my poles and through the finish chute to cheers, all I felt was relief.   A photographer was waiting and her camera flashed (as she reminded me to take off the headlamp). And yep, I earned one coveted ticket into the Western States Lottery.

Some runners let me into our hotel as I hadn’t taken the room card key.  I got up to our floor and banged on the door until Jason let me in (sorry neighbors).  It was 4:45am in the morning.

As a BC girl, I thought it would be nothing to run in the prairies of Lethbridge. But boy did I get my ass handed to me.  I don’t think I have ever had so much doubt going into a race and the day was such a roller coaster of emotions and a mental battle. I learned a lot about myself and just putting one foot in front of the other even when I didn’t necessarily feel like it.

I am so grateful to the amazing volunteers, trail runners, and crews who cheered me on and all the people who wouldn’t let me quit even when I wanted to.   Special thanks to Jason, for being crewing and whose presence cheered me up immeasurably at each aid station.

P.S.  I picked up my last drop bag later that morning and told a volunteer I thought I was going to be running on hay bales not short steep coulees; he started to laugh and said he had heard that repeatedly from BC runners.

Note: As I was hobbling up to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier the day after, I asked Jason how me felt about me entering the Western States Lottery (I reassured him I had a slim shot of getting in on one ticket :p).

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Brunswick for Breakfast

With summer flying by and us determined to cram as much adventure as possible into each weekend, this past Sunday morning found us tackling Brunswick for the first time.

Having passed on a Saturday opportunity to run Panorama Ridge with friends (we spent the day floating on a unicorn floatie in Golden Ears) I was determined to get in some trail time and the more vertical the better.

Initially, we had considered tackling a hike/trail run in the Squamish area, but being Ironman Canada weekend, we opted to stay off the Sea to Sky as much as possible and save Squamish for another weekend.

After several back and forth exchanges about what to do and where, we found ourselves en route to Lions Bay and Brunswick Mountain Trail head. Brunswick has been on my bucket list for some time; we had  a short window of opportunity to tackle the hike and neither Jason nor I had previously done Brunswick. He also loves to scramble. Win win for both of us.

We got to the trail head shortly before 10 am and as expected cars lined the road a km plus down from the trail head  (many of those being people who planned to hike the Lions – which shares the same trail head as Brunswick).  We wedged the truck into the first spot we could find.   I texted my sis our plans including what time we would be back.   (Just in case, I told her).

The first few km were innocuous enough being gravelly/switch back type roads.  Just past 2km, the road forks; to the right is the start of the Lions trail  and to the left the trail to Brunswick peak  The trail head starts to narrow and there is plenty ofunderbrush.  There were several creeks and a log bridge to cross.   All the uphill. If you haven’t tackled Brunswick before, you are in for a treat.

The last couple of km were steep & straight up through dirt trail and then the real fun begins.

On the first part of exposed sheer rock,  I met a 70 plus year old gentleman (?!) coming down who told me that this was just the warm up and to have fun.  That we had another hour or so to go. My heart sank.

Right around this time Jason announced he didn’t want to keep going because of the flies or mosquitos that are swarming us.  Given that I am literally on the side of a rather exposed rock face one foot wedged in a crevice and two hands on the side of the mountain  and we have climbed straight up for almost 2 hours, I ignored him and kept climbing.  I  told him we could decide when we got to a ledge.  But I kept climbing.   And so did he.  (because he couldn’t find a lunch spot or a ledge to sit on he later tells me).

I am not afraid of heights, but I am not a mountaineer either and as the climb grew more exposed I could feel a knot in my stomach.  I focused my eyes on the people ahead of us, and just kept climbing.

And then the vistas opened up and I could  see the turquoise waters of Brunswick lake below us.   I turned around and J. has scrambled up the side of an adjacent rock face and was peering over a cliff, waving.

My heart stops.  Other hikers/runners who seem him gasped.

“Come join me” he says.  Nope, I say, and keep climbing to the opposite peaks of Brunswick.   There is nothing  like scrambling up exposed ridges and sheer rock faces (some of it loose rock) to bring you to your knees. And yes, I was afraid.

I pride myself on being adventurous but I was particularly aware (as I scrambled on my hands and knees and butt slid) that the mountains are always in charge, and why carrying the 10 essentials is critical. Though our day went well,  I could easily see how things could go sideways in a hurry. I wouldn’t want to spend an unexpected night on Brunswick mountain and definitely not unprepared.

We enjoyed a well earned lunch at the top of Brunswick  which has spectacular vistas.  On a clear day there is a 360 degree view of the Howe Sound, the peaks of the Lions, but even with some cloud cover it was beautiful. We loitered for a while but mindful of the fact that coming down would take just as long as going up had, we stayed less than an hour at the top.  Jason was like a mountain goat on the way down.  I was butt sliding (and maybe whimpering a bit).

“Stand up” he says as I am crossing the ridge. Nope.   2.5 hours after starting our decent (not including a half hour pit stop at the creek to soak our dirty feet and tired legs) we are back at the trail head.  Tired but very happy campers.

Overall it took us about 4.5 hours give ot take of hiking time plus a couple of hours of loitering.

Brunswick is an incredible trail hike/run but if you are afraid of heights this might not be for you. More info on this hike can be found here: http://www.trailpeak.com/trail-Brunswick-Mountain-near-Vancouver-BC-1153

P.S. We carried extra food, water, fully charged phones, first aid kit, bivy, whistle, blanket, extra jacket, hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, 4-5 liters of water between the two of us, extra shirt, salt pills  (I confess, we forgot the headlamp – but I would highly recommend it even if you  think you will be back in daylight). For a list of the 10 essentials click here: http://runningmagazine.ca/video-the-10-essentials-for-trail-running-and-backcountry-adventure/

Happy adventuring!

 

 

 

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Summer dreaming…adventures await

Crossing the peaks...

2014 Adventures on the HSCT – group crossing of David’s Peak:)

One of my favourite parts of summer is all the adventures we get up to.  This year, summer is late in coming and pretty sure some of the places we were able to hike/trail run this time late year are currently covered in snow.   So as of now,  I am  dreaming and planning.

In addition to a planned two week BC road trip this summer, here are some places on our list (okay my list and maybe I can cajole him into some of them).

At the top of our list, Wedgemount lake glacier.  It would be a first for both of us and may be an over night trip. Apparently there are tenting platforms and thinking of a summer night spent on snow capped mountains ad glacial waters, not to mention stargazing makes my heart soar.

Brunswick Mountain: I missed out last year because our trail running group did it when I was racing sky pilot (ok race is a strong word).  The scrambling required for Brunswick would be right up his alley, but  I may be a little chicken.  Brunswick  is definitely on both of our lists.

And some of my perennial favourites, the Howe Sound Crest Trail, Coliseum Mountain, Garibaldi Lake/ Panorama Ridge and Crown mountain. Crown was cloudy last year so hoping for a sunnier day for spectacular views.

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Climbing along the HSCT (2016)  (Photo credits: David)

 

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Crown Mountain (September 2016)  J. loved the scrambling but I was a scaredy cat

And this photo is not technically a summer adventure but it is one of my favourites.

 

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Oregon Coast 50km (October 2016 ) Not technically summer but just because:)

We will see if I can talk J. into some of the hikes.  Looking forward to another summer of adventures.  Hopefully the snow melts and summer arrives soon!

Looking to add to this list – so suggestions welcome:).

 

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This too Shall pass

“This too shall pass.”

I ended up in my PT’s office this am for the second time in almost as any months, having tweaked my ankle again.  I was not happy. 

The latest injury is courtesy of orientation run this past Sunday in Squamish as I marched through the beautiful trails, decidedly not happy after blisters and a jammed/bruised ankle.  Somewhere before 10km I tweaked my ankle, but apparently not enough to quit (or I was just too stubborn to bail). I had just about recovered from an ankle injury and was starting to log significant mileage.  I couldn’t believe this.

The good news despite a swollen ankle 48 hours afterwards, there are  no torn ligaments and I should be on the bike by the end of the week.  However this definitely means a few weeks of lay off from running and a different perspective.   I know in the grand scheme of things, this truly is small potatoes . There are much worse things in life.

But I’m still mad, and still pissed that all the work I have put in is set aside albeit temporarily, and training is stalled.  I do remember a life before running where I was very happy and yet it is crazy to think how big a part of my life running has become.

The danger lies in letting running completely define who I am and to draw my worth from being able to run.   The onslaught of social media does not help; admittedly  I am as guilty as the next person of playing the comparison game.

Jason reminds me that life (and running) is not a competition with someone else. And he’s right. I think back to why I started to run, my own reasons and not for anyone else. I run for the joy, and the fun;  I run to challenge myself and find the edges of what’s possible.   And I need to have a healthy enough perspective that when I am sidelined temporarily from running, that it doesn’t completely derail me.  But it’s hard.

Running has shaped so much of who I am in the past few years, given (and taken) in equal measures.  I used to be able to be completely selfish with my running but in the past few years, my priorities have shifted;  running is a part of my life, but not all of it.      And at the end of the day it  doesn’t matter how many races I have or have not run or how many miles I logged.  My family and closest friends me don’t care how far or how fast I can run and to be honest, if I run at all.  It’s only me who cares so deeply.  I suppose that is  worth bearing in mind as I work my way back.

 

 

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Long weekend adventures

While it seemed much of the running community was off in Winthrop, racing, cheering and crewing at Sun Mountain,  J. and I disappeared off to Squamish for some long weekend camping (sans reservations…gulp).  !  I have to admit I did have a bit of FOMO about not being in Washington this weekend, but our weekend away was just what was needed.

We decided on Paradise Valley  (Thanks to Alley for the great suggestion)  and at the end of the road (passing lots of cars on the way, we found a secluded spot to ourselves) – we later saw cars double parked, and a tarp literally by the side of the road.   J loves to “explore” while I will happily make reservations.  I am the worrier while J. knew we would find somewhere to camp.   He is often right.

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Hut Lake

Rushing creeks, towering snow capped mountains in the distance and best of all, amazing weather.  We spent the days exploring and hiking to two different lakes  (Starvation lake and Hut Lake), laying in hammocks and playing in creeks in glorious weather and drinking lots of beer.  We even had the lake to ourselves on one day (well except for a few mosquitos).   One of the lakes involved a 6km round trip hike (which I was delighted about….J. not so much).

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Starvation Lake

 

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Afternoons playing in creeks and lying in hammocks

 

It was so nice to disappear off the grid – where we cooked by the campfire, and slept in the kitted out truck (no more tents for us).  He even used foil to make egg cups where we could fry eggs over the fire.  I managed not to set myself on fire haha.

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At night we could hear the creek rushing beside us, and the stillness was amazing.  I didn’t really want to come home.  We managed to get a routine going – camp fire coffee tastes the best – and even found a discarded grill which over which we cooked our meals.

 

It was a bit of work to get everything packed and going – but so well worth it to disappear for the long weekend.  We even played in some waterfalls on our way home.

 

 

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