Author Archives: Living Free

About Living Free

I'm a mom of 5, living life outside the box. I love my family, running trails, eating, red wine, chocolate, and steak.

It’s just a mountain bike…

It’s just a mountain bike, you say.

Just a frame of some type of metal, some rubber tires, a chain, some gears, a bunch of moving parts.

Wrong.

A mountain bike is magic. It takes you from a bad day to wherever you need to be. Maybe that’s the top of a mountain, racing down fast trails with adrenaline coursing through your veins.  Or maybe, you need the depths of a rainforest, with winding singletrack and nothing but the songs of ravens and crickets to keep you company, while the sun beats down on you. Or maybe, a pump track…or a jump park.

There’s a rhythm to riding on a trail that doesn’t exist on a road. The pumping of the legs to move the bike up and over obstacles, to flow…the body becomes a shock absorber for the terrain as you ride over rollers, logs, and jumps, and whatever else you find in your path.  Ironically, the more relaxed you are, the better you can adjust.  This doesn’t meant you are passive… it means you need to be alert, but constantly adjusting.  And as you ride, the tension and stress melt away as you are forced to relax to adjust to whatever the ride throws in front of you.  It’s an incredible thing to experience.  The bike is what makes this all happen.

A bike is confidence.  It’s a reminder that no matter what is going on, you ARE in fact a badass motherf@cker that can ride up that rock face, or down that steep double black diamond trail.  And therefore, hell YASSSSS you CAN in fact deal with whatever mess you are facing in life.  A bike takes you to where you can yell/scream/cry/rage at whatever is going on. You can find a place where no one else is.  And there is peace.  Guaranteed, a raven or a squirrel or maybe an eagle will show up at some point and make it perfect for you.  Or if you’re really lucky, maybe a bear or some other wildlife.

A bike is crushing fear.  It forces you to be better than the time you dumped your bike over the side of the rock face and broke yourself.  That really sucked…and it hurt.  But the bike is also determination.  Cuz if you gave up, you’d still be lying there in the dirt.  So you swore loudly at your stupid bike for throwing you off.  Picked it up through your tears as you hobbled and limped back up the side of the hill, hauling the bike up with you.  A check of your map showed there was no easy bailout point. You had no choice but to get yourself out, unless you wanted to wait an hour for help.  So you sat on a rock, took a deep breath, and made a conscious choice to trust your bike.  Yep.  A bike is trust.  It’s a partner.  He will let you down…will drop you sometimes when you wish he wouldn’t…but in hindsight, it will likely be a result of a communication problem.  The way out is usually to trust. It’s not easy. Sometimes it requires getting back on when you’d rather toss him off the cliff….but then you’re really stuck. So… you take a deep breath. Refocus. And try again.

A bike is adventure.  Explore.  It will take you to places you have never been before. The experiences are incredible.  Will you find a new trail?  Perhaps an amazing viewpoint…or a killer new singletrack with rolling hills along the way.  Maybe you’ll find mushrooms… or cross a creek…or fly down a wicked hill with berms and jumps.  Or maybe you’ll discover an abandoned cabin in the forest. Delicate flowers and ferns as tall as you are.  Towering sentinels. Or see the perfect sunset.

The soul of a bike runs deep.  It infects you with its strength, its power, and its adventure.  It gets inside of you, and tantalizes you.  It makes you stronger, more resilient.  You crushed it. You didn’t die. Maybe you landed in a tree, or down the side of a hill…or possibly in a puddle- but you survived.  Get up.  Let’s go.  You should tackle this next big thing.  If you could crush that trail, clean that obstacle, there’s NO good reason you can’t do This Next Thing….so what are you really waiting for?

Bikes are fun. Everyone needs fun in their life….it keeps us young, and keeps us alive. There’s a reason everyone has days off. It’s called playtime and research shows it’s SO GOOD for us.

Fitness…bikes are fitness. And nature. And mental health. And ALIVE. Adrenaline. Peace, and health. Joy, and strength.  Bikes are happiness and YAY. They are mud and dirt and high fives and blood and sweat and tears, and everything good about a hot, sweaty, muggy, summer day…or even in the rain.

While we’re at it, bikes are transportation…good for the environment, and good for you, and cheaper than cars….well, maybe not cheaper than cars lol. But seriously, do we always need to rely on cars?  At least with a bike, you don’t need to keep refilling with costly fuel that pollutes. Consider it.

You can take away my car. Take away my computer. Take away just about anything else….but don’t take away my mountain bike. Bikes are life. If you haven’t tried it, what are you waiting for? The trails are calling…

 

Journey Through North Face Endurance Challenge 50 mile

E9BFD305-997C-43B7-86C2-63DF9D78524E“We need a race!  Here’s a 50 miler.  Timing is perfect.  And it’s in California, so it’s warm.  Who’s in?” This was the jist of a couple days of conversation.  It fell together quickly and  I found myself registered.  And thus, The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 miler became my next race. Given that there were only 9 weeks to train, it would take a lot of hard work to prepare for this race.  I would need to rely on my base training. 5 of us friends were training in total. Kent, David, Andrew, and I were all registered for the 50 mile, while Charlene was registered for the marathon.  We flew to San Francisco Thursday, so we would have Friday to get our race packages and get to bed early for a crazy early start Saturday morning.

Saturday, November 18, 2017:

2:00 am.

The alarms started going off at 2 am. Random car horns…screeching cats… the absurdity of it all made us laugh, which woke us up.  We ate breakfast and gathered our race gear.  I was expecting temperatures of 8 degrees, with highs of 18, so I dressed accordingly.  Shorts, arm warmers, short sleeved t-shirt.  I wore a buff on my head for heat, and carried a light windbreaker, gloves, and a merino wool hat in my pack if i needed it.  I planned on using Tailwind as my fuel/nutrition, and had enough in little baggies for 13.5 hours.  I also had some gluten free pretzels, and also crystallized ginger to help with nausea and cramping if it were to happen. I had roughly a litre of water in my pack. I knew there were aid stations very frequently, and i would be using my bottles for tailwind.  The extra weight of a full reservoir was unnecessary on this course.

3:00 am

3am found us walking down the street to catch a bus. The bus took us to a school, where shuttles were waiting to take us to the start line.  It was chillier than anticipated so I put on my windbreaker.  It was amusing seeing people in the street, heading home from the bars, when we were awake and ready to start our day.  We arrived at the school and boarded a bus. I was grateful to have someone else responsible for getting me there.  However, when our driver pulled off the road and asked if anyone knew the way, we had a few moments of trepidation…whoops!  We arrived without further incident, and were safely dropped at the start line.

Sausalito, Start Line

It was 4am ish. Dark, and bloody cold!  We dropped our gear bags and then made our way to one of the heat lamps strategically spread out around the start line. The chatter with other runners was fun, and gave us something to do while we waited.  I saw a meteor streak across the sky, but thought i might be hallucinating. We all took turns rotating from the hotter parts to the cooler parts around the heat lamp, so we could be warm and still let others be warm. Also kept the conversations moving, as your place would change as you moved. I just wanted to start.  We had a very long way to go, and I wanted to get moving. Besides, I was hungry, but didn’t want to start using my race food yet!  Only 3 of our 4 would start the race.  Andrew wisely decided to let an injury heal, so he volunteered instead. We would see him later at Tennessee Valley Aid station.

In my head, I went over my race plan.  This race was unlike any other ultra I had done.  The elevation gain was roughly 3200m, which I had done before.  However, it was very spread out, over 9 roughly equal hills except for #5 which was a beast.  I knew I basically would be running either uphill or downhill for most of the race.  My plan was to run the uphill that was runnable, and power hike what I needed to, and run as much of the downhill as possible.  I wanted to start conservatively, as I had been warned about going out too fast by friends who had run those trails. I expected Kent to take off early.  I knew that to try and keep up with him would be too fast for me.  However, I figured I could likely hang close to David for at least part of the race, and then knew we would get separated and that was ok. I also knew the reality was that this race did not cater to my strengths.  As a relatively new runner, I don’t have an extensive base. My strength is outlasting others…and running tricky singletrack- especially downhill.  This race lacked technical singletrack, and its downhills were very smooth.  My weakness was running up hills.  In other words, this race catered to my weaknesses. I was there to run the strongest race I could, and to pull whatever I could from the runners around me. And, I was there to learn. It was time to address this weakness. Bring it on.

Before long, 5am brought the gun.  The first wave started off, and wave 4 was only a couple minutes later.  Game ON.


Start to Tennessee Valley Aid Station ( 0 to 22 km)

The climb up to “Alta Aid Station” (which was not meant as an aid station this early in the race) was 4 kms.  The hill was very runnable, and I felt strong.  The darkness felt comfortable, and despite the crazy cold temps, it was a cheery time in the race.  I felt nimble as a navigated the edges of this stretch of the trail, in order to get ahead of the hordes of people.  A few branches and sticks, some long grass….that was a rough as it got on those edges.  Easy!  I knew I needed to watch my pace, but this was fun.  As we climbed, I became aware of a beautiful scent in the air.  Eucalyptus!  I inhaled deeply…..the smell was amazing.  Several times we would pass through forests of eucalyptus.  It was calming, and different, and unique to this race.  I loved it.  Invigorated, I kept running.  Once we passed Alta (which wasn’t even set up yet) we were running downhill.  Sweet.  Hammer down.  As we approached Bobcat (Aid Station #1), I called out my number and kept running.  Too early to stop.  The climb up started nearly immediately.  I ran what I could, would powerhike a few steps, and then run a bit more.

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Bombing down hill in the dark

Thick frost coated the plants on the ground, and it looked sparkly in the light of my headlamp. The earliest hints of lightness were beginning to creep into the sky.  All of a sudden, a meteor streaked dramatically across the sky, from top right to bottom left….a wide, massive streak of glowing white light. Incredible. Between the amazing smell of the Eucalyptus and this gorgeous meteor, I was beyond excited at what i had already experienced.  Collecting “moments” is one of the things I love about trail running- and in races, I’ve learned to note them in my mind, to draw on later on in the race when tougher times hit.

Passing back via Alta, we got to run “the loop” a second time.  The sun was now rising…and as we climbed up to the ridge we were greeting with stunning views over the bay.  17A44D33-1C5A-4DCD-B652-B9413DE290E1It’s one of the only photos I took during the race.  The sunrise was magnificent, and the white lights of the Oakland Bay Bridge added a pretty sweet accent to it.  After getting our bibs marked at Alta (to prove we’d made it through a second time), we headed back down the descent to Bobcat.  It was easier to see now, and it made sense why it had been a bit dicey on the first pass down.  The trail, despite being quite wide, smooth and non technical, had some places where it was rather washed out.  Deep ruts and cracks made it entertaining.  I loved the views, now that it was lighter.  However, the pace still felt too fast.  I wasn’t used to clocking 5:30 kms early on in a trail race, and I was concerned that I would not be able to maintain this pace.  We turned left at Bobcat this time (Aid station #2), carried on without stopping, and began a long ascent to Tennessee Valley Aid Station.  In my mind, I wondered at the irony of “climbing” up to an aid station called “valley.” The views on this trail (Miwok trail) were pretty amazing, as there were no trees, and I could see the ocean. We crested the hill known as #3, and were joined by a large pack of annoyingly fresh and fast runners- the 50k leaders.  While it was fun to see them, their energy and lack of exhaustion was mildly annoying. I did laugh at myself, and decided to draw from their energy as I picked a quick line down this hill towards the next Aid station (AS).  As we approached, I did my self assessment. Felt pretty good!   Didn’t need much other than to refill my tailwind, and lose the jacket and gloves.  And a bathroom.  Rounding the corner, there at the bottom of the trail was a figure with a familiar grey beard, bundled up in about a dozen layers of jackets and hats.  Andrew! It was great to hear cheery banter, and I grabbed a quick hug as we dashed past into the aid station.
Tennessee Valley Aid Station to Cardiac Aid Station (22 km to 37 km)

This was Tennessee Aid Station, AS#3. I was 2 hours and 40 minutes in (well ahead of my anticipated 3:26) , and had already covered just over 21 kms.  It was time to stop.  I quickly grabbed my gear bag, and pulled my list from the top.  As I looked over it, I realized that my assessment had been thorough.  I decided to leave my windbreaker in the bag (a risky thing to do because it meant I wouldn’t see it again until 67 kms into the race). Still had my arm warmers and t-shirt on, and I carried an additional layer and hat if I needed.  I put the gloves into my pack, read my little motivational message at the bottom of my list, and glanced up to see what David was up to. He was messing with tape on his feet, dealing with an issue.  I made a quick stop at the bathroom, then decided it was far too cold to stand around waiting.  I knew that if David was running strong (which I assumed he was), he would catch me within a few minutes.  The temperature in the valley, however, was ridiculously colder than it had been up on the hills. As I ran along the frosty trail, I looked longingly up at the sunshine higher up on the hill….and I wondered at my decision to leave my jacket behind.

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Yup…that’s thick frost on the edge of the trail. Cold AF!

I suspected that once I climbed into the sunlight, it would be warm again.  I looked at my watch, and decided that if my fingers were still numb in 10 minutes, I would stop and fish the gloves out of my pack. By the time it had elapsed, David had caught up (and I don’t think he was very happy that I had left without him!), and the hill had brought me back to the warm and happy place I had been craving.  Settling into a hiking pace up this steep climb, I wondered how much fun it would be in a few hours, as our course returned back in the opposite direction.  Running on trashed legs down the steep uphill I was climbing…yeah….I decided to just file that thought for now, and deal with the moment I was in.  Besides….I was cresting a hill….and what was this GORGEOUSNESS I was seeing?!  Muir Beach. The views down this section of trail were beyond incredible.  Watching the surf wash up on the shores below, I “danced” my way down this fantastic stretch of trail.  It wasn’t a need to pass other runners…but everything felt strong and it was easier to let loose and fly down than it would have been to pick my way down slowly. Everything felt amazing.  As the trail flattened, Muir Beach aid station #4 was right there.  Calling out my number, I carried on.  As was my habit, I did my mental self assessment as I entered the aid station.  Was I tired? no…well, actually, a bit. Ya, I went out too fast at the start, and now 29k in, i was feeling it a bit. No worries, I’m just ready to start another climb so I can rest as I hike. How were the feet? fine. Nutrition? fine.  Did I need anything? no. Rest of the body? good. Mental state?  probably fine. I glossed over it, and stepped up onto the first real singletrack of the day (Heather trail). As I looked at it, I saw the hill above.  I realized that this singletrack was not what I had hoped for. A super skinny trail through long grass. Almost not wide enough to put my foot down lol. Trying to reframe, I remembered that I hadn’t properly answered the last question…mental state. Doesn’t matter….this is runnable.  And now we were in a bit of a conga line, as we were beginning the longest and most difficult climb of the day.  Doesn’t matter…doesn’t matter…I hate this trail, it’s too skinny, the grass is ugly, and the view is boring. But I should keep running….and I hate this trail…I’m tired….maybe I should think about family.  That usually cheers me up. As my thoughts drifted to home, instead of the happy thoughts, my unfinished “mom lists” came rushing in.  Crash time.  Major crash. Mentally, I fell apart.  As the tears started to fall, I decided to just try and keep it to myself.  No need to ruin anyone else’s race.  David happened to catch up at this point, and noticed that I was, er, less than cheery. Once he realized what was happening, his words snapped me back to reality.  “FOCUS.  Focus on your race.  All that stuff will be there when you get home.  For now, you’ve got a race to finish.  You can do this.  All you have to do is get up this climb.  Let’s go.” I knew he was right. He’s not usually quite so stern. I plodded up the hill, and pulled inwards for a bit.  Boxing it all up, I  mentally ‘watched’ myself put duct tape on the box, and put it on a shelf, and then mentally walked out of the room and turned the light off.  Deep breaths.  I looked ahead, and focused on the pattern of my feet and the rhythm of my breathing.  The trail switched back like in a cartoon, and I could see dozens of runners, both ahead of me and behind me.  We wound our way back and forth, slowly ascending. As we climbed Cardiac View trail, I lost myself in the monotony of it, and I felt myself settling, and focusing.  Relaxing. The views up here were actually quite nice now.  6kms of pure climbing. I remember I saw a raven, flying smoothly.  I watched him land, and heard him start calling.  It was a happy sound, and was familiar.  Reminded me of training runs back home. What a great place to run.  This, this amazing run at the top of this f’ing big climb, this sunshine beating down, sweat beads running down my face and my back, and the arm warmers pushed down.  This beautiful view, wide open spaces, and low scrub bushes, dry trails.  Endorphins coursing through my body, as this sense of accomplishment carried me forwards and upwards faster and faster, effortlessly as I kept climbing. Blue skies, warm breezes, this amazingness, comraderie of runners I didn’t know, all joined together in our shared relentless pursuit of summiting this mountain…checking in on those we passed making sure all was well…this community of individuals who understood the power of a smile, a kind word…who understood the significance of this climb in this race.  Who understood the feeling of raw, glorious accomplishment, the feeling of being so small against this vast climb, the feeling of this moment, the pain, the struggle, the victory, the agony and the ecstasy…this swirling of beautiful raw emotions and this connecting of everything to everything and everyone else. THIS.  THIS was that moment…the rise from the ashes….THIS was triumph. This sharing in the strength of others.  THIS was a moment to collect….and This, this at long last, was Cardiac Aid station.
Cardiac Aid Station to Old Inn Aid Station (37 km to 59 km)

I arrived roughly 4 hours and 51 minutes into the race (well ahead of my anticipated arrival time of 6:06). 5 hills down, 4 to go. I had a drop bag here, but didn’t even open it.  I knew I wasn’t ready to change shoes…and beyond that, i had everything I needed in my pack. Quickly mixing more tailwind, I grabbed a couple orange slices, and then hit the trail again.  We still had more than half the race to go, and I didn’t want to waste any time.  The volunteers were upbeat and cheery. The views from up here were magical. Inspiring. Gorgeous. Enlivened, I stepped onto the trail.

I remember the vivid blue sky as our trail rambled through a little forest.  It then alternated for a while between wide open bluff areas, and shaded forests.  Somewhere along this downhill to Stinson Beach, I first encountered Yellow Shirt Girl.  She ran an annoyingly consistent pace, which didn’t accelerate on the downhills, nor did it slow on the uphills.  I decided that it was time to play a game.  The game was, “get as close as we can to Yellow Shirt Girl, without passing her. Make her work, and tire her out. But don’t pass.” Repeatedly, I made a point of catching up to her on the downhill, then “falling behind” as the climb would start.  I lost track of how many times I caught up, and let her go again.  She was well within my grasp but it was far too early for me to make a sustainable move. The trail was technical,  with lots of slippery wet wooden stairs.  I hated the stairs…but knew they were there for a reason.  I managed to pull ahead here. and was feeling strong. The forest bits reminded me of home, and kept me calm. The exposed bluffs fueled my need for adventure. I found myself on a road (?!) and was secretly annoyed.  Road.  Fine….just get me where i needed to be.  Pretty soon, we hit the trail again….and there was Yellow Shirt Girl.  The Game Played On 🙂 I found Dipsea Trail to be quite runnable (other than the occasional stretch of uphill), and I tackled it steadily.  Some wetter portions of trail made keeping my feet dry entertaining!  In no time at all, I dropped down at Stinson Beach. I wasn’t stopping so I called out my number, and carried on. Dipsea Trail climbed a lot, and the scenery was spectacular. So many times I wanted to stop and take photos, but I had made a deal with myself that I was there to race, not photograph.

Arriving at Cardiac for the second time was a bit of a milestone in my mind.  It meant we were definitely on the return trip.  48 kms in, I was still well ahead of my expected pace.  I was definitely feeling the effects of running, but my feet felt great, legs were not cramping, and I was still on top of hydration and nutrition. A few times earlier, I had experienced some mild nausea, but had been nibbling on crystallized ginger and it helped. I had a quick look at my drop bag, and decided I was not needing to change my shoes. Grabbing a few orange slices, I carried on.

This next section was one of the longest we would go between aid stations.  I found myself on a kick ass technical downhill trail.  Excitement took over, and I began to FLY down this hill. It twisted, and turned, over roots and rocks, gentle rises as it continued its plummeting track down the mountain.  Euphoria. Happy place.  The rhythm gently overtook me as I lost myself in the movement, the dance, becoming part of the trail I was traveling.  I ran alone, a girl in her forest.  Covered in sweat, dirt, grime, dust swirling in my nostrils, the sounds of the forest all around me, moving, jumping, stepping, a small controlled slide, arms up for balance, just alive under the skies amongst the trees. Beauty all around me.  Yellow shirt girl appeared below me on the trail, and I decided it was time to test the waters.  Bombing down, I pressed in hard, and when she finally stepped aside, a quick exchange of pleasantries before I opened up the throttle and put some space between us. I might have had a bit of a grin on my face, but I knew this was not a permanent move, just a challenge. A testing…was she tired? Strong? I waited a few minutes before I glanced back to check…I couldn’t see her but that meant nothing.  I suspected that David would also reappear at some point.  My breakaway was not merely a test of the others, but also a test of myself.  I could run hard still, but knew I was treading the edges of what I had left in reserve- and I still had 25+ kms to race. I reigned myself in slightly as the trail began to climb again, and prepared for company to join me.  Yellow shirt came through with a steady expression on her face, and I knew now that her strategy was steady. However, I could also see that she was running out of fight.  Perfect.  That’s all I needed to know. She was a strong runner, and I was secretly glad to have someone to pace myself against.

As the trail rose gently, I realized that I was now in a forest full of redwoods. It was just awesome.  David caught up for a few moments, and I could see that he was still strong.  Good- I could draw on that.  But these trees…..! I almost forgot I was in a race.  These towering sentinels….they were massive.  One was easily one of the largest trees I’ve ever seen.  A few feet up, its trunk split into 2. As I approached, I needed to take a moment.  I paused, and laid my hand on this majestic guardian of the forest.  It’s not something I would normally do- but I needed to acknowledge that moment.  Its grandeur was emblazoned in my memory for the rest of the race. I wanted to linger and just wander, and spend time on that section of trail. The sound of footsteps behind me jolted me back to reality.  Right.  Someone was catching up, and it was time to enjoy this forest while moving through it.

I enjoyed this section immensely.  As the kilometres ticked off, vegetation changed.  I passed a protester carrying a placard, on the trail, denying the events of 911. Oh-kaayyyy. Couldn’t find a better place to protest?! My watch showed that we must be close to this aid station, or possibly gone past it.  As I dropped onto a road, a volunteer directed runners across the road while cheerily announcing “Only another mile or so until your aid station.”  WHAT?!  NO! You’re WRONG!! I was already a few kms further than anticipated!  OK, whatever…I knew that there’s always at least one place where the distances seem to be “wrong” and at least it was out of the way now.  We were back out on open bluffs again, and there were some incredible views of the ocean and the bluffs themselves.  I amused myself by looking for birds, and trying to find a way to put my foot down that didn’t feel like there were large grains of sand grinding into the pad of my foot. Couldn’t find one. Was getting a bit annoying…would need to deal with it at Old Inn.  But hark- who was that I saw up ahead?  The familiar yellow shirt!!  Energized, I decided it was time.  Maintaining my slow steady pace, I realized I was gaining on her FAST.  I didn’t have to speed up. As I passed on the narrow trail, all I remember is how blue the sky was. I ran steadily, and FINALLY the elusive Old Inn Aid Station appeared.  FINALLY!

Old Inn Aid Station to Tennessee Valley Aid Station (59 km to 69 km)

I arrived at the elusive aid station at 8 hours, 30 mins in. (had hoped to be there by 9 hrs 30, so was still ahead).  I found a chair and perched on the edge, and pulled off my shoes.  Dragging my fingernails across the insole of the shoe, I discovered dozens of tiny rocks that had embedded themselves in the sole of my shoe, right under the ball of my foot.  A couple of minutes of solid scraping, I had the shoes back to functional, and put them back on.  Tailwind mixed, I also decided to switch my t-shirt for the tank top I was carrying.  Feeling refreshed, I headed back out.

Leaving Old Inn was a steep climb. Blah blah blah….another climb…lol.  It was all starting to blur together by now.  Forest bits….more amazing views… uphill… downhill… uphill.  Then a mostly flat or downhill section to Muir Beach again. The details here were not important.  What I remember is trying desperately to not get dropped, and losing myself in the scenery and the beauty that was all around me.  I was getting tired.  I wasn’t done.  And  I knew I still needed to get to that finish line.  Muir Beach came and went, and as I expected, I was back to climbing again.  I knew that this would be a steep tough climb, so I settled in.  My glutes were getting sore (yes, those are the ass muscles).  I knew it meant I had been running properly, but I also knew I still had a ways to go.  Still another 15 or so kms.  As the legs protested, I looked to the beach below and saw some amazing surf.  The climbing went on and on and on FOREVER.  I finally decided I was done trying to run at a pace I didn’t like.  I looked ahead at David’s heels, and decided I was ready to do it my way.  It was time. Deliberately, I stepped aside, and took a moment to reset.  I breathed in the fresh air, and looked longingly at the surf below.  I took a couple pics.  4B1BE2D9-0DE4-48F9-BBD0-A21390B8CBA2As I enjoyed the view for those 30 seconds, I felt my strength returning. I looked ahead, and decided it was time to make up some lost distance.  I climbed, with a smile on my face and a wobbly spring in my step.  The sun beating down felt warm, and good, but I could see the shadows changing.  Top of the hill FINALLY happened- but I suddenly discovered a problem!  Downhill was HARD!  Every step on that hard packed trail caused shooting pains through my ankles and shins and feet.  Everything else felt fantastic- but every running step hurt.  OK, time for strategy…walk the steepest bits, and run the slightly less steep bits gently.  It was likely pretty funny to watch me picking my way down a trail I could have bombed down, under different circumstances…but when a person is 67 kms into a race, anything can happen! I knew that my hammering early on in the race was contributing to this….but it was too late.  Salvage and carry on!!  And there, around the next bend, was Tennessee Aid Station- WOOOHOOOO!!!

Tennessee Valley to the Finish Line (69 km to 83 km)

We arrived at Tennessee Valley Aid station at roughly 3:00 pm, 10 hours into the race (and roughly an hour and 15 mins ahead of schedule). I wished desperately that I had put my shoes here at this drop bag, only because my feet and ankles now felt achy and sore (something I’ve never experienced quite like this).  Alas, they were back at Cardiac.  Moving on! I pulled out my dropbag, and realized that the only thing I needed was some gluten free pretzels. I re-read my list. Didn’t need my headlamp- I would finish long before dark. Rejuvenated by my motivational message at the bottom of the page, I was excited to head out.  Only one more aid station until the finish line!!!  Made good time, put my bag into the “please take to the finish line” pile, and left quicker than anticipated.

I ran with David now. We took turns surging ahead, and trying to keep our focus off the fact that we were still running.  There were very few people here- but we passed several mountain bikes. Details are foggy here…mostly, I tried to not look at my watch, and tried to anticipate how much further it was to the finish.  I remember there was a tower at the top of the hill.  Pretty soon we hit Alta Aid station.  The first thing I saw was a stretcher.  Really?!  Nope, don’t need that.  When they asked what I wanted, I joked, BEER!  And then, I asked, is there any chance you might have some ice?  After exchanging a “look” between them, the volunteers admitted they had some ice hidden away, that they weren’t supposed to give out.  Those beautiful humans then brought me a large cup of ice.  I’m pretty sure I heard angels singing as I left the aid station 🙂 The water and ice I didn’t finish got dumped on my head, and the rest went into my water bottle.  No more tailwind.  I was craving cold water. That was all.  As we left Alta Aid station, I could see the Golden Gate Bridge across the red trails.  Sun was beginning to drop in the sky.  I knew that once I hit the bridge deck, I was only about 5 kms from the finish line. The trail snaked its way across a hill, down some sweet singletrack and onto the bridge deck.  The views were amazing.  I ran that section fueled by adrenaline, and awesome views. My ankles were done. It was all heart at this point. I loved this trail down to the bridge! Technical, winding around, and fun! I ran hard. The faster I run, the sooner I get there. My feet hit the bridge. 5 KMS!! It was too loud to talk…so I ran.  David was hot on my heels. Unfortunately, I realized that my body was pretty done. And the first half of the bridge was a slight uphill. I needed to take walk breaks.  LAME! I was embarrassed. However, it was time to get this done.  Run a few mins, walk a minute, run a few more, walk break…I decided to focus on the sky. I could see the sky preparing for sunset, and it was gonna be glorious. I tried to chat with David, but it was too loud. We just ran, knowing that we were almost there.  The views from the bridge were spectacular.  As we left the bridge, spectators were cheering.  We had a brief conversation, during which we agreed to finish the race together.  I recognized that I didn’t have enough fight left in me to break away. (In fact, I hadn’t for several hours). img_0107Having raced with David before, I knew that those last 2 kms we would likely take turns hauling each other forwards.  We were done. The last km was long. I had one moment (about 1 km from the end) where I teared up, and realized the enormity of what had been accomplished.  I looked up, and there were friends!  Charlene and Andrew, cheering! Shit! Time to run strong!  If they were there, the finish must be close.  I looked ahead, and then I saw it!  Yay!  I’m told that my pace accelerated, but I’m sure that wasn’t the case. As the arch came into view, I saw the finishing chute as well.  It was a MESS.  Soggy wet grass, chewed up with massive holes and ruts, mud, uneven.  Hard as shit to try and run, on legs that were shot and had no stability muscles left. Too bad…it’s GO TIME. img_6148I churned forwards, lunging for the finish line. Crossing it in 11:48, I remember a triumphant holler as I finally came to a stop.  DONE!

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The setting sun with the Golden Gate bridge in the background made for an epic backdrop as we celebrated our accomplishments.  Gear bags were gathered, we changed into dry and warm clothes, and found food and hydration.

A huge thanks to my coach Hicham for his help in preparing for this race. Also, huge thanks to all the local running peeps along the way who encouraged or ran with me as I prepared for this race.  It was amazing to push past limits I thought I had, and still complete strong.  To the race staff and volunteers, thank you for giving of your time, for staying upbeat, and for keeping us safe out there.  To my family…you inspire me every day.  Thank you for all the support and encouragement throughout all the training.  7ADBB8D6-E69C-445D-AB72-1379CAF1E867And to Kent, David, Andrew, and Charlene, thank you for another epic adventure.  The race was pretty great…and the rest of the trip was equally incredible. I enjoyed exploring the city the next day, and look forward to returning.

Onwards and upwards…onwards and upwards. Here’s to whatever comes next 🙂

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Fat Dog: 70 miler edition

70 miles.

After running Fat Dog 50 miler last year, I very bluntly announced that I would not be racing that 50 mile run again.  And so, after much careful thought and deliberation, I decided that I would race the 70 miler so i could explore 20 more miles of the course.  (It made sense in my head!)  Several of my running buddies IMG_8831(Yvonne K, David M, Kent A) were also running the 70 mile event.  2 other friends were racing 120 miles (Lisa Large, Dave Scott), and Andrew B was pacing Dave S.

We took the ferry over Friday morning and drove up to Manning Park, where we had booked a cabin.  Our room was not ready so we went down to Lightning Lake to hang out for a bit.  Spent a nice chill hour or so, looking at the smokey summit of Skyline  (which we would be summiting tomorrow) and feeding whiskey jacks.  IMG_8811Our mandatory pre-race briefing included getting mug shots taken with our bib numbers (for search and rescue purposes). It seemed more real this year, as one of the relay racers was 14 kms off course and at the time or our meeting, SAR had been called in and he had been alone in the backcountry for hours already.  After the briefing we had supper with a few other friends who we’d met up with, then got ready for the next day.  Last minute snacks were eaten while we filled water bladders, mixed Tailwind (racing fuel), and taped our feet.

Saturday morning dawned early. IMG_8892My stomach felt off, so i nibbled on crystallized ginger as we rode the bus up to the start line.  A spectacular view awaited, with the sun glowing pinkish red over the mountains.  As I checked in, Heather (the race director) sarcastically asked me if I could possibly fold my race bib any smaller. Grinning right back, I quipped back, “Maybe!” She grinned, and told me I should work on it. It was perfect. After checking our mandatory gear, she sent us on our way. I had decided before the race start that I was going to think of this race as a series of short runs, rather than 114 kms long.  And so, this is the series of runs I stacked together, as they happened.

Start- Blackwell Peak to Nicomen Lake (20 kms)

This was my favourite section of the race. A gorgeous, flowing singletrack trail offered incredible views. IMG_8901The first few kms were unique to the 70 mile race until the Heather Trail intersected with Bonnevier (where the 120’s were coming from). Mountain vistas, while running through alpine meadows filled with colourful wildflowers set against a backdrop of statuesque mountains.  Yup, it was THAT incredible.  IMG_8845In my careless enthusiasm I toe-picked a rock about 2 kms in and superman-flew down the trail, landing face down on a rocky trail.  The conga line behind me paused as I picked myself up and dusted off my elbow, knees, and my pride.  The arm warmers i was wearing spared me from bloodshed on my arms, and the knee that drilled into the ground was barely scratched.  I watched Kent start to drift away, and decided to let him go. The race was young and it would have been easy to run the downhill too fast. More mountains and wildflowers kept me entertained.  Yvonne was behind me, and David was nearby.  IMG_8839Searing needle sharp pains in my left ankle jolted me back to reality. I looked down to see wasps stinging my ankle. NO! Last year, I had been stung early on, and it had throbbed for 8 hours. After uttering a few choice words, I decided I was NOT going to be taken out by a double wasp sting.  I mentally boxed it up and moved on. The trail wound along, through meadows and over Big Buck Mountain and 2nd Brother mountain.  The whole thing was just incredible.  It was like running through the pages of a scenery calendar.  Roughly 11 kms in, I felt stabbing pain in two places on the skin of my right shin. NOT. AGAIN!  I didn’t see what caused it so cannot confirm whether it was wasps or horseflies.  Regardless, it HURT.  No time to deal with it. IMG_8858 Shelved the frustration and kept running.  A short while later, I looked down just in time to see a cloud of angry ground wasps buzzing around.  They had no doubt been disturbed by another runner up ahead, and now were seeking their revenge.  I hollered out to David (who was right behind). There was no way around them as the trail there was quite narrow and cut into the side of a steep hill…so we pulled out our bug spray, and ‘fogged’ them so we could get through safely.  Pretty soon, I found myself running along Nicomen Ridge, a spectacular place that looks so surreal it brought tears to my eyes.  IMG_8899Yup, I sobbed as I ran that section, raw emotion leaking down my cheeks.  Beauty. Majesty. To see mountains so big, as far as I would see, and to recognize the incredibleness of planet we live on….it was a moment. I paused just barely long enough to take a couple photos. Off the other side of the ridge I could see Nicomen Lake.  It looked like a postcard. IMG_8894The descent down to Nicomen Lake was equally gorgeous, switching back down shaley banks around alpine scrub on technical-ish trail. IMG_8861Dropping down below the tree line, the trail had a few wet spots.  I lost a shoe in the muck but managed to rescue it without getting my socks mucky.

Nicomen Lake to Cayuse Flats (18 kms)

I nearly ran past the aid station (roughly 3 hours into the race)- it was hidden (and poorly marked to my addled brain!) and started refilling water so I could mix more Tailwind (my fuel of choice). David was right on my heels, only he was much faster getting his stuff done.  I decided to skip the bathroom stop as I would have had to veer slightly off course to find the outhouse and it wasn’t urgent.Just after we checked out of the aid station, I found myself looking up at an incredibly steep hill, looking up at loose shale.  IMG_8863I remember thinking that it wouldn’t take much to get it sliding down towards me. The trail took a turn, and I recognized Grainger Creek trail.  I welcomed the chance to run under the shelter of the trees, and I let the trail carry me down its steep switchbacks.  I had not seen Yvonne since the start line, and I knew that I would likely end up ahead of David on this section. We had spoken about this and it was all good.  On race day, everyone runs their own race.  The trail was technical and single track, and in places, very narrow. As I put my foot down, the dusty trail collapsed and I found myself doing a trail slide down the hill on my side about 6-8 feet. Ooops. The runner I had recently passed caught up, and reached down to help me climb back up.  Thank you sir!! A quick self assessment revealed a bruised forearm, a battered bleeding elbow, a rather tweaked back, and my right knee appeared scraped (and mildly bruised) but nothing earth shattering. I let the dust stick to the elbow so it wouldn’t bleed much more (it made sense in my head!) and carried on. Adrenaline was high, and I felt jittery.  I heard someone call out my name- and as I looked up, I saw Dave Scott (a 120 mile racer)! I caught up to him and chatted for a few minutes before wishing him well and leaving him.  It was great to see him midway through his epic journey.  About 5 minutes later I came across Lisa Large with her pacer Faron A, and was able to exchange hugs before carrying on. Not long after, the trail sliding scenario repeated as I tried to step around hikers (with huge backpacks on!) on the narrow trail. This time I grabbed onto a log bridge to stop my slide. Reassessing, I slowed my speed to allow the adrenaline to settle, and to keep myself from further injury.  The trail flattened out, and I turned left onto Hope Pass Wagon Trail. A stark contrast to the previous 10 kms, this was a flat, wide, multi track trail. It was getting warm out, and I took advantage of a couple small creeks by soaking my buff and using it to wring out over my head and arms. I was very aware of overheating as last year this was a huge problem. I became aware that I was having mild blister issues, and decided I should address them soon. Approaching Cayuse Flats, I had to wait for a “gatekeeper” to move before I could cross the long log bridge. IMG_8897Although it was sturdy, it was a test of balance at that point in the race. Rounding the corner, I saw the aid station.

Cayuse Flats to Cascade (8 kms)

Cayuse Aid station was busy, and smallish, tucked into a grove of trees. Sitting on a log, I chatted with a volunteer who helped me fill my bottles so I could mix tailwind. I decided it was time to address the blisters. I hadn’t planned on a stop here but knew that left untreated, they could destroy my race. I pulled out my supplies from my pack, changed socks and applied tape, and then carried on. I still felt strong. This was where the 50 mile race had started, so I was now running on trails I had seen before. As I ran Skagit Bluffs trail, I reminisced about last year’s race. It was much more enjoyable to run this trail without the large pack of people breathing down my neck.  However, it also felt longer without the trail banter that happens amidst a group. I passed some 120’s but other than that, it was a trail that climbed and descended rapidly, so I had to pay attention. It was not spectacular but not awful. I was happy to arrive at Cascade Aid station.

Cascade to Sumallo Grove (3 kms)

I arrived at Cascade roughly 6.5 hours into the race, and was greeted by running buddy Andrew B. His help was invaluable, as this was the first place I had access to my drop bags.  He directed me to sit down, fetched my box, and helped mix fuel while running down my checklist I’d written to make sure I didn’t forget anything. I did not refill my hydration bladder as it was a short trip to the next stop, where i would fill. I put some tiger balm on my shoulders as my back was stiffening up- and discovered: 1. tiger balm melts when it’s in the heat and 2. tiger balm + sunburn= ouch. LOL. After making sure I ate, he sent me on my way with a hug and a “see you at the finish line”. He was waiting for his runner to arrive, whom he would pace to the end.  Kent was about 30 mins ahead of me. As I departed, I was handed a neon safety vest. The trail ended shortly, and I was directed to the highway section of the race by a volunteer.  We crossed under a bridge, then ran along the side of the highway facing traffic.  I didn’t mind the road- it actually felt really good to be able to spin the legs consistently, and to be able to run without thinking about every step.  The sun beat down, and the 3 kms were done very quickly. I turned off the highway and headed down the road to the parking lot.

Sumallo Grove to Shawatum (21 kms)

Arriving at Sumallo Grove felt comfortable.  I knew where I was, I felt strong, and I needed almost nothing.  I refilled my water, joked with some runners, attempted to eat a piece of boiled potato and quickly discarded it. I should have recognized this as a sign but instead I grabbed a few chips and carried on. This next section was long, relatively flat ish running alongside the Skagit River.  I still ran alone. I thought about the race, and what lay ahead, and checked on the battery level of my watch.  Battery was significantly depleted.  I calculated that it would last just past Skyline…but i realized that charging it at Skyline meant contending with a long charging cable as well as my poles (which i was picking up there due to the climb), as well as darkness, and potentially loads of mosquitoes. I decided that it would be much easier to deal with the charger cable right here and now.  Also, something in my pack had shifted and was slamming into my back, causing bruising with every step.  I made a quick stop, readjusted the contents of the pack, and pulled out the charger. Less than 2 minutes and I was on my way again, charging as I ran.  It was perfect.  I found this section relatively boring after a while.  The trees and old growth forests and the river were beautiful, but other than that there were no real views. Midway along, I started feeling blister issues again and decided to stop and fix them.  Sitting on a log, I pulled out the tape and quickly mended the tape that was coming off, adding some anchor strips around the (dirt and sweat covered) ankle to hold it in place.  Unfortunately, the girl in the khaki shirt with white sleeves who i was SURE was in my AG (I would learn later that she was) passed me just as i was finishing up. I had passed her about an hour ago, and had opened up some space. Oh well, still lots of time.  I also realized in here that my mind had finally stopped jumping from topic to topic, and was finally silent. (that never happens…ever) After enjoying the silence for a bit, I took the time to think about each of my kids and also my husband, and just thought about what I loved about them, and what they might say if they could see me right then and there.  It passed the time nicely, and with a combination of running and powerhiking the small rolling hills I soon landed at Shawatum Aid station.

Shawatum to Skyline (11 kms)

Shawatum Aid station was again familiar.  I don’t love the “out and back” to get to it but i recognized it. I looked at the food options available at the aid stations, and decided I didn’t want to waste time thinking about it. My tailwind was working fine.  I made a quick pitstop at the “Shawaty Potty” (an outhouse which also had inspirational sayings plastered all over the interior) and watched Khaki Shirt White Sleeves go flying past.  Shoot! Oh well. I had made up 5 minutes on Kent and was still running. I did not love this next section of trail.  Centennial trail was overgrown for the first bit, and undulated lots over rocks, roots, and bushes.  It was taking forever to get to Skyline.  I knew what lay ahead and I just wanted to tackle the climb so it was done. I settled into a steady pace (albeit slow) and let the kilometres tick off. The mosquitoes started swarming, and I had to pull out my bug spray. It helped for a few moments but not really. I started to think about the niggling bits in my feet, and recognized that my options were basically twofold:  I could ignore everything and run, with the very real risk that blisters would take over my feet and I might no longer be able to run on them, or I could admit that I needed help at the aid station and accept that I would lose time having them patched up but it could save my race. As I entered Skyline Aid, I knew what I had to do.

Skyline to Camp Mowich (13 kms)

I entered Skyline likely more humble than I have ever been during a race.  I was tired, covered in sweat and dirt, and aware that this was the time and place to put myself back together.  I was roughly 13 hours in. Lori Heron greeted me, and asked how I was.  Swallowing my pride, I asked her if someone could help me with my feet. She suggested I ask Randy or the other guy. I went over and asked for help, and was (wisely!) told to get some food in me first and get organized, and then they would help. I refilled my water and made tailwind, and then remembered the list in my drop box. Mechanically, I started going down the list. I changed my clothes.  I decided to put on a shirt with short sleeves despite the heat.  I did not want the sleeves (or the arm warmers I would also put on) but the sun was setting and the bugs were atrocious. Shorts were replaced by leggings.  Again, I did not want to wear that much clothing, but i wanted protection from the bugs. Also, I knew that as I climbed it could get colder, and wind/rain was a possibility after midnight….and since the long pants were mandatory gear, if I wore them i would not have to carry them which would lighten my pack. After this complete clothing change, a male runner nearby asked me if there was a changeroom where he could change his shirt and shorts.  I laughed…reminded him this was an ultrarun not a gym class, and told him i had just done a complete change as I nodded over towards the trees. “But what if someone sees me?” he asked.  I believe my response was, “Trust me, I have better things to do right now than watch you change your shorts behind a tree.  I have a race to run.”  As I sat down to remove my socks, a volunteer came by and I asked if he would help with my feet. He agreed to help.  While I appreciated his help, I would have framed my request differently next time.  I know that he meant well, but by the end of the conversation (which took a solid 20-30 mins which I did NOT want to spend there) he had told me that my shoes were wrong, my taping had been wrong (which I knew), my nutrition was wrong, my race plan was wrong, and my strategy was wrong. I thanked him for his help, and as things spun around in my head I knew I had a LOT of work to do to recover.  I was now way behind the time I had anticipated leaving Skyline, and felt like my mental game had been pelted with large rocks, smashing the very pillars that held it up. As I headed out to leave, I saw David arriving with a big smile on his face. CRAP. Now I knew I was really behind.  I pasted on a smile, wished him well, and left. Only a few minutes past the aid station, I saw Andrew running in- solo.  His runner (Dave S) had pulled out, unable to continue.  Blisters. Brutal. I knew that pacers needed to have a runner with them in order to continue, so I offered him to run with me.  He said he needed the AS but would catch up. I thought through this and recognized I might not see him despite his best intentions, so I mentally prepared to gut this out alone- which had been the plan all along anyways.

And so started the most difficult section of the climb. As the volunteer’s words rang through my head, I recognized that i needed to pull myself out of this hole or I would lose everything.  I visualized. I pulled inspirational phrases into my head. “Warrior.” “You’ve worked too hard to get here.” “You have all the pieces of the puzzle that you need.  Put the puzzle together. Pick the right piece.” “For such a time as this.” “You got this.” “Walk and talk, let’s go.” It was time. I imagined every one of the comments that threatened to destroy me…and imagined putting them in a box. I watched myself close the box with doubts about my shoes, my training, my nutrition, my strategy- and I duct taped that f’n box shut and put it on the shelf, and walked away. I had NO time to deal with this, and I said this out loud to myself and the trees.  I had a race to complete. Onwards and upwards. At least my feet felt good.

The bugs were AWFUL. They bit me through my shorts and my arm warmers.  I used up so much bug spray. I was glad for having 2 buffs- one I wore on my head but covered my ears, and the other I wore around my neck to cover as much exposed skin as possible. The poles helped with the climbing but made it impossible to swat bugs.  It got dark much quicker than I expected so I stopped to quickly grab my headlight and put it on.  This leg was 13 kms of climbing. I hiked the ups, and anything remotely flat or downhill was run. I knew this was a tough section but I also knew that Camp Mowich was ahead and it was gonna be great. It was difficult to get Tailwind in along this section, as poles made it tough.  However, I arrived at the top in much better shape than I had last year.  Last year this section had nearly destroyed me and I could not get any fluids or food in at all. My stomach was definitely starting to go, though, and I needed to address it.  I had some ginger near the top and it helped.  I passed a number of 120’ers on this climb.  Every time, I was cheered on, and most were surprised that I did not have a pacer running with me. I was comfortable running alone despite the darkness and the remote nature of the trails.  All of a sudden I saw Christmas lights hanging in a tree, and i knew I had arrived at Camp Mowich, ahead of the pace I had taken last year.  Pure awesomeness 🙂 I was pleased with my accomplishment. But now, to address my stomach…

Camp Mowich to Sky Junction (8 kms)

A small shelter was at Mowich, and there was a table with stuff on it.  I remember sitting on a log bench, and trying to understand all of the things on the table, but in the darkness with my brain starting to go, it was too hard to think. I knew it was late but all semblance of rational time had ceased to exist. A volunteer asked if he could refill water and I said yes. I asked for broth. Oh. My. Word. Magical elixir of all things everywhere.  Incredible.  I let it sink in, and the salty goodness made me feel all happy. I ate a few potato chips, mixed tailwind in one bottle and had broth in the other.  AC/DC’s Thunderstruck played next to me, and I sat in darkness under the Christmas lights and let the song finish and revive my soul while I rested.  Then I made a quick stop at the outhouse and headed off in the darkness.  13 or so false summits awaited me, and I was ready to tick them off so I could be DONE with climbing. Lol. I knew I would miscount but it was OK.

A bunch of hills were checked off. Last year, this section was incredibly scenic and gorgeous.  This year, it was now well after midnight, dark, and lit only by headlamp. Trudging through a gorgeous alpine meadow of wildflowers is just not the same in the darkness.  However, I saw my watch turn over the 100km mark, and stopped to acknowledge it with a short video diary. First time I’ve ever run that far. 🙂 I was kind of excited to hit it solo.  I had spent the majority of the day running alone, and it felt cool to cross that milestone alone, at the top of a ridge. I was alone (but not lonely), and I felt so alive. Only a couple kms to go until Sky Junction, the aid station that I hated last year.  I was aware that I was starting to fade, and my legs were starting to fatigue.

And then I heard a familiar voice in the darkness, calling out and bantering.  Andrew? Is that really you? It was! He had caught up. As elated as I was, I also knew that he was about to figure out that I was fading. I told him I didn’t want to stop at Sky Junction, but when I ran out of water I was informed that I really didn’t have a choice. It’s important to note here: I have known and run with Andrew for about 5 years. We’ve run thru some pretty difficult stuff….so despite this being a huge departure from my race plan, there was no doubt in my mind that he would be an asset.  I knew he would know what to say, when to say it, and I knew he could handle it if I got cranky. As we hauled our asses up over steep climbs, he filled me in on how others were doing. It was nice to have company but was getting hard to answer and chat and I told him that.  It was fine. Caught a glimpse of the moon trying to poke through the clouds, and then we hit Sky Junction.

Sky Junction to Lightning Lake Finish Line (11 kms)

Again, humility won here.  I accepted a seat when I arrived.  Sky Junction is a teeny spot, almost nowhere to get off the trail.  Seats are cut into the side of the cliff, and there is no place to go.  Andrew filled my water bottles, but had to dump one as the one with broth was greasy and gross. In a big mistake, I let laziness win and I did not put tailwind into my bottle.  “It’s only 11kms to go” I rationalized. I ate a few chips, had a sip of crown royal from a cup fashioned from a beer can with folded edges (epically cool)and felt my gut finally settle down. The salt from the chips was awesome. Alright, let’s get this done. They had pie, but I was not interested.

We headed out.  Very quickly, it became evident that my legs were done.  I would try and take steps and the legs just wouldn’t move.  I felt like I had forgotten how to run/climb.  The steep sections were brutally difficult and my legs would not move.  I leaned on my poles at Andrew’s instruction, and wobbled sideways.  I’ve never been more grateful to have someone run with me as I did at that moment.  I recognized that I needed to listen to him, and so I did.  My headlamp gave the warning flicker so we quickly stopped to change the battery.  Less than 2 mins and we were back on our way. It started raining, and then the wind picked up.  I was grateful for the cold, as I felt overheated but he warned me that I would get cold quickly and i should stop and put on a jacket.  As I tried to talk him out of it, I saw a girl ahead (Brown Curly Hair) that I suspected was in my age group.  I had played cat and mouse with her early on and had passed, but she had gotten ahead when I stopped to address my feet. Andrew reminded me I needed a jacket so we passed her and her pacer, then stopped.  Knowing me, Andrew said- “If you get that jacket out quickly we can stay  ahead of her.” Yup…it worked.  Fastest I’ve ever put on a jacket.  However, when she approached from behind, I knew it was too early yet for me to push hard and stay ahead.  I let her pass.  If I pushed now, I knew I would crumble. My right knee was starting to cause real issues, and stepping on it the right/wrong way caused stabbing pain.  We climbed onward…and soon, found the burnt out forest that I somehow failed to notice last year.  We were close!  The downhill, however, brought different challenges.  My legs were wobbly. And my lack of nutrition was catching up to me.  Andrew kept handing me his Tailwind and insisting that I drink it. Although I didn’t want it, I drank it. It helped. The technical downhill soon gave way to more runnable downhill.  I could see people ahead as their headlights would illuminate the darkness, and it motivated me.  I would catch up, gather a bit of energy, and surge past.  There were a lot of female runners, and in my delirium I imagined they were all 70 mile racers. Some were, but many would turn out to be 120’ers.  I recognized that Andrew was using this to motivate me to run, but since it was working I decided I didn’t care anymore. The faster I ran, the sooner I would get to my burger at the finish line.  I looked up and then I saw her…Curly Brown Hair.  She had slowed down, and I easily caught up to her.  I hung back for a moment.  She looked back, spotted me- and took off running fast! I waited to see whether she could maintain it or not, all the while maintaining my steady pace.  All of a sudden she called ahead to her pacer- “Hey wait- I have to let her pass.” I was sure I was imagining this. We were roughly 4 kms from the end. I had let her pass so many times. For real? No time to think. “Keep going,” was Andrew’s instruction.  Right.  Not done yet.  I asked him to let me know if she caught up from behind, and I focused on looking forwards and running as steadily as I could with a gimpy knee.  Passed a couple more people, who were clearly struggling. And then I saw it- the Rainbow Bridge! 1.5 kms to go. I cheered. I asked Andrew to count off in 500m increments for me, and kept asking about people behind me.  Every time he assured me they were not gaining, and he couldn’t see them. “It’s yours. Go get it.” I turned my head to look at the finish line arch across the lake (about 700m from the end) and rolled my left ankle. “Don’t look at it.  Watch where you’re going.  RUN. Forwards.” Right. Good advice. Nothing mattered anymore other than running and finishing. And then we were out of the trees, and on the paved path, lit by glowsticks.  “There it is. Your landing strip. Go get it,” he said, as he peeled off and disappeared. I heard him start to cheer. Adrenaline kicked in, and as people cheered I sprinted my way right across the finish line. SO. HAPPY. 🙂 20 hours and 12 minutes. Stopped my watch, accepted my medal, and then got lost in the hug fest of finish line volunteers, and fellow runners. Kent appeared at my side, and led me (and Andrew) to lawn chairs where we could sit and get changed.  A burger appeared, along with a beer, and that was the best breakfast I’ve had in a long time. As I sat in the dark next to a heater (campfire ban this year) under the stars, the immensity of what I had accomplished washed over me and I sobbed for several minutes.  It was incredible and refreshing. To be surrounded by such positivity and encouragement, in times of absolute rawness, while tackling such a crazy and ridiculously awesome endeavour…it was hard to put into words but it was amazing. Roughly half an hour later, we spotted David’s spotlight/headlamp coming around the lake, and watched him cross the finish line.  We had planned to all hang out at the lake for a while, but Andrew’s dry clothes had not made it to the finish line (due to the change in plans with his runner) and we all decided we wanted showers so we went back to our cabin. The next few hours we sat around (wired on caffeine I’m sure) and took turns cleaning up, uncovering trail wounds, and telling tales of our adventures while we munched on food and rehydrated.  We went back to the finish line to take in the awards ceremony, won a draw prize (race entry for Brigade 80 k Trail Race 2018), and then packed up and headed for home.

A huge round of thank yous. To Rod, my husband, for your love and support as I trained. Thank you for enduring endless conversations about trail running…I love you. To my kids, who put up with mommy’s long runs when they would like to have hung out. To my running buddies for the hours of running, route planning, and endless discussions about nutrition, motivation, and racing strategy. To the volunteers who gave up their free time to hang out at remote aid stations in the mountains to refill my water bottles and help me tape my filthy feet. To Heather, incredible race director, who puts on a wild and amazing race…you are a force to be reckoned with and have my utmost respect. And a special shout out to Andrew for unexpectedly appearing at the exact right point in the race to pace me. While it was not planned, your decision making and persistence (and the experiences from running together so much) resulted in my being able to finish stronger than if I had had to finish alone. It still works.

Fat Dog 70 miler, I did it. You tried to crush me but you couldn’t. I finished 2nd in my age group, 5th woman overall, and 14th person across the line overall. I learned so much about myself and for that I will be forever grateful. Those lessons will serve me well as I prepare for my next race. I will not race you next year, but will return as a pacer for Kent as he chases his dream of crushing the 120 miler. Fat dog, I’m not afraid of you anymore. I found what I needed. It’s time for Trail Chica to find another goal race. I might return another year to race you, but in the meantime, there are new mountains to climb, and other trails to explore. Happy trails…walk and talk…let’s go. I got this. 🙂

Runner 713, out.

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Orcas Island 50K 2017: No Limits

In true trail runner style, the reason to sign up for this race was born on a trail run.  Once again, it was my buddy Richard who spent large amounts of time convincing us that this was the BEST race, and that we absolutely HAD to race it as a group….and we all had to stay in the  , so we could stay up all night drinking beer by the campfire with the race director (James Varner) after the race.  And so, with the promise of gorgeous singletrack trails, a suitably miserable and significant climb (necessary for proper bragging rights after), and a great finish line party, I happily signed up with a group of friends.

However, the real struggle for me this race would begin long before race day.  2 days after my last race (in mid August), I was involved in a motor vehicle accident.  Although I began physio and treatment immediately, it took several months before I realized the fullness of my injuries.  In addition to the regular slew of soft tissue injuries that often result from accidents, I also ended up with a concussion.  This was missed in the early days of diagnoses, and therefore, I did not realize that it needed treatment.  My training for the race had already been greatly impacted, and this news pretty much sealed my fate: I would not be able to train with any intensity for this race.  No speedwork, and no focused hill training (which had originally been the basis of this training cycle).  With constant consultation from my physios and registered massage therapists, they insisted I continue running.  Workouts were modified, and as I’m incapable of quitting, I carried on.

Fast forward to race day.

I had a great sleep the night before, since my cabin mates turned out the lights and went to bed at 8 pm. (note: HOW do people live like this?!!) There was nowhere else to go, so sleep it was.  I woke up and pulled on my race clothes, then stumbled across the muddy snowy field to the lodge, where I picked up my race bib and a cup of coffee.  Tragically, the person responsible for coffee stuff neglected to understand the crucial-ness of SUGAR…lol…so I toughed it out and had my coffee black.  No sugar (usually I load it with sugar). I was focused. I knew that I was at a disadvantage due to lack of proper training, so I was relying on my base fitness, and my mental fortitude to get through this one.  I strolled back to our cabin to find quiet for a few moments, as I re-thought my clothing choices.  It was cold, and raining quite a steady drizzle.  It wasn’t dangerously cold. My concern was that if I got wet and cold too early, my body would not heat itself very effectively (a side effect I have noticed since the concussion) so I was trying to figure out the best combination of layers and jackets.  Soon it was time to head over.  I loved the convenience of staying right at the finish line.  No stress.  No driving.  No parking issues.  No getting lost.  Back to the lodge.  As sweat began to pour down my back, I immediately realized I had too many layers on.  I found a corner, and took off my singlet and my windbreaker, and put them in my pack along with a bonus long-sleeved shirt I had tossed in at the last minute.  Moving to the start line, we braved the rain and listened to James warn us about snowy trails, ice, and aid stations that were moved due to bad trail conditions.  I was not concerned.  Before we knew it, the race had started, and we were off !

The race started on a road.  Uphill.  For about 6 kms.  Dirty slush mixed with the rain falling.  The pack of runners started to break apart, and I watched most of my friends take off into the distance.  Let them go, I reminded myself.  This is a rehab race, not a podium race.  Today, it’s about completing the distance, and enjoying the ride along some gorgeous trails. My legs were slow to warm up, so i powerhiked the hill.  I found myself running with David.  Eventually we crested the hill, and hit the singletrack downhill.  Sweet!!  Snow and ice on top of mud made it slippery, but it was so awesome to finally hit trails!  Pretty soon, we hit the first aid station at Mountain Lakes.  I did not have a drop bag there, and decided it wasn’t worth stopping at so I ran straight through after quickly ditching my jacket, and replacing my hat with a buff.

The run was more fun now.,  I was warmed up, and the rain had turned to snow.  The trails were undulating and the scenery, stunning.  We picked up the pace a bit.  I decided that I needed to see what I was working with, so I surged ahead, and tried to maintain a faster pace.  I held it for about 10 mins, but realized i couldn’t hold it. I told David he was going to have to drop me as he was running stronger, and I knew I needed to pull back the pace a bit.  He insisted on running together for another couple of kms, but soon realized I wasn’t able to speed up.  Once he left, the pressure was off and I was able to run without worrying about keeping up.  With the stress gone, I ran happier, and felt stronger.

Mount Pickett aid station:

As I approached, I knew that I needed to make some more tailwind (my running fuel of choice). I had planned a short stop but as I took stock, I realized I needed to do a few more things.  I was soaked to the core, and now that the rain had turned to snow it was important that I get dry clothes on.   I had more options if I waited til the next aid station since I had put a drop bag there- but I was beginning to chill and decided to make this my big stop despite the lack of drop bag and supplies.  Arriving, I found a spot out-of-the-way and started unpacking my stuff.   I pulled the dry clothes out of my pack (including the ones I had ditched at the start line), changed quickly, and mixed up more tailwind.  Shoving all my wet gear in my pack I headed back out onto the trail.

I felt like a new person- almost felt invincible.  With legs that were now warmed up properly to run, and a body that was warm and dry, it was time to tackle the race.  Snow was falling, and now the trails were completely covered in snow.  As I ran through the winter wonderland, I was struck by the beauty of the course.  I had spoken with a few people at the aid station, but other than that, I reveled in the alone-ness of this run.  As much as I enjoy running with people, I have struggled to be social while running since the concussion.  Today was no exception.  It was hard work to make my body climb and descend rocky icy slippery trails, and I was mentally tired even a couple of hours in .  Physically, my body was beginning to wake up to the challenge I was putting it through.  Although it took all the energy I had to focus, I was enjoying this race.  The details were unimportant- I climbed, I went downhill, I sipped tailwind, and I enjoyed the gorgeous snow-covered scenery.

Before I knew it, I was at the next aid station.

North Arch Aid Station:

This was where I had planned my long stop.  However, as I had stopped earlier at Mount Pickett, I no longer needed the long pause.  I had a drop bag there, but as I mentally went through what I might need, I could not think of a good reason to stop, so I didn’t.  And that was my mistake.  I relied on thinking despite knowing my brain didn’t make good decisions when it was tired (post concussion).  I forgot that I had put a list into the drop bag, that would have reminded me certain things.  In my mind, I had enough water, I had all the nutrition I needed, and I had dry clothes.  I forgot 2 crucial things.  Firstly, I had intended to pick up my yak trax (strap on spikes, which help with traction in ice and snow) from the drop bag.  And secondly, I should have dropped all the wet clothes I was carrying. Not realizing these mistakes yet, I grabbed a couple of orange slices from the aid station, and I ran right through.

POWERLINE!!

Well, I had arrived.  This was The Big Climb.  The. Massive. Climb. The entire route consisted of either uphill or downhill, but this was, hands down, the most epic of challenging climbs today. Facing it head on, I was as ready as I would ever be.  Turning the corner, I suddenly saw the beginning of it.

Straight. Bloody. Uphill.

I kicked into problem solving mode…I should put on my spikes. Right….those would be the spikes back at the aid station, behind me. Was it worth going back? I agonized over this for a minute or 2 before deciding to keep moving forwards. Next: I assessed the climb ahead of me. Yup, it looked rather intense.  If only I had poles. I didn’t.  However, as I climbed past sticks and trees, I started looking for a walking stick. It took trying 3 different ones before I found one that worked well enough. Others behind me complimented me on my good idea and started looking for their own- perfect!  Gave me more time to climb.,  I chatted with a couple of others at this point, to try to distract myself from the endless uphill slog. The biggest challenge of climbing at this point was that it was slippery.  When I planted my foot and attempted to drive from the heel (which utilizes the glutes and hamstrings, large strong muscles), the foot slid backwards.  Every time.  The only way to make any headway without spikes was to put the foot down, and lift the leg from the hip flexors.  Much harder work. Oh well, at least the snowfall made it gorgeous! I knew I had climbed worse.

Eventually, I crested the top.  As per the order of the day, I suddenly found myself heading down a deliciously technical hill.  My legs were starting to feel weary, but this incredible ride on this gorgeous singletrack made me grin. I passed several people over the next few kilometres.  I wasn’t overly fast, but I was running steady.  And this was my strength.

And to my great surprise, I suddenly discovered I was climbing again. Evidently, I did not study the course well enough (or did not remember it accurately)…because this climb started long before the aid station.  I was annoyed.  Seriously.  Can we go back to the downhill?  I’ve climbed enough.  It’s snowy and gorgeous.  I get it.  Can we go back to gorgeous flowy downhill?  My hip flexors were done.  And somewhere in the last half an hour, I had realized that I should have ditched my wet clothes at the last drop bag. My pack felt heavy, and I was frustrated with myself that I had forgotten this simple thing.  No worries.  There was still one more place to drop them.

But what was this? All of a sudden, I saw The Tower.  I was at the summit of Mount Constitution.  I was really here!  This was the end of the big climbs!  Couldn’t be.  Cynical, I asked a volunteer.  They confirmed….this was The Top.  I felt energized, and soaked up all the amazingness of the little ridge I got to run.  The view was spectacular!  Glen Tachiyama was there to capture it all on film.  Lisa Orcas Island 2017 Mount ConstitutionRe-energized, I managed to pass a couple more females.  Were they in my age group?  I decided to assume YES.  Felt more badass that way 🙂 I was INVINCIBLE! Now where’s that aid station?

Mount Constitution Aid Station:

Due to “inclement weather”  (LOL- it snowed nearly the entire race, when it wasn’t raining), the aid station had been moved 1.4 miles down the trail to Cold Springs. As I approached, I knew my plan.  I had enough Tailwind.  I had plenty of water.  I was dry and warm.  All I needed was to lighten my pack. I arrived, but couldn’t see the drop bags anywhere.  “Drop bags. Drop bags.  Where are the drop bags?!” Turns out, they were hidden, on a stone platform in the middle of a labyrinth of stones and complex paths (might be slightly exaggerated, purely for the sake of accuracy). After what felt like an eternity, I located mine.  I tore through my hydration pack, and dumped as much as I could into the pack.  Wet clothes.  First aid supplies, I knew I would no longer need.  Extra food I wouldn’t need.  I even offloaded a bit of water.  I seriously considered ditching the pack entirely, just running with a handheld.  However, I was concerned that if my body decided to bonk, it would be foolish to not have anything else with me.  It was still snowing hard, and cold.  To ditch the pack was to ditch the survival gear.  Although I didn’t really think it was a danger, I also recognized that I was still running at well below 100%.  To ditch the pack was a risk NOT worth taking given the conditions that day.

With a lighter pack, I happily burst out of the last aid station.  To the finish line!! A flowy downhill lured me onwards.  I ran steadily, and decided it was time to reel in as many as I could with the energy I had remaining in the tank.  I passed several men, and a few gals also.  However, at this point, I was tired. My strength was flagging, and I was running on adrenaline and pure heart.  My legs were done.  The lack of training was beginning to show up, and these last few kms were rough. I loved the beauty of snowflakes, snowy trails, and I drew energy from the stunning scenery. But I was ready to sit down.  Mentally, I knew I could no longer make good race decisions.  My head was foggy and slow and on autopilot.  The downhill soon gave way to flattish/uphill undulations, and I knew I must be close.  And then a road?  What is this? ROAD?!  Get me off this abomination!  I’m a trail girl!  I undulated along, making useless small talk with whomever I encountered (as I tried to pass them lol). I didn’t enjoy the close proximity of the road, so I turned it into motivation to finish.  And then I saw people walking towards me. There was a parking lot.  And I heard voices.  Buildings.  What? They told me I was almost there.  Cynical to the end, I said, what, like how close… 100 metres?  Or 3 kms? “About 100 yards.” Must. Not. Believe, I told myself.  All fans are LIARS at this point.  And then I saw flags- and a finish line!  Legs suddenly churning while simultaneously spasming, I found a gear i didn’t know I had, and hauled my sorry ass across the finish line.  A high-five for James, and I was DONE! I turned off my Garmin, and was quickly swarmed by friends.  I found myself dissolving into tears.  I had done it. 7:36:31. Mind had triumphed over body…and despite the odds, I had completed the 50K. Elation intersected with emotion. And as I revelled in my accomplishment, body weary with exhaustion, my mind was spinning somewhere between knowing just how hard it had worked to get me through this race, and already dreaming of new possibilities.  Orcas, you battled hard with your never-ending hills, epic ice and snow mixed with mud, but I battled harder.  Let’s meet again, soon.

 

 

 

 

Boston Marathon 2016- Race Day

Running the Boston Marathon….

So marathon morning dawned early.  Really early. 4:30 am early.  To make matters more entertaining, I had been up late the night before packing my race gear and getting organized.

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Packed and ready

I had also had difficulty falling asleep.  However, I had had a very good sleep the previous night so despite only a few hours the night before the race, I knew I’d be ok.  I was staying with Lisa C and Kristy and we were all up at the same time. I had my standard running breakfast of coffee, a baked potato, and a banana.  My fear was that it would not be enough food, since it would still be 5 hours before we started our race (I usually eat 2 hours prior to a long run).  However, there was no way around it.  I had extra food packed, and would have to take a chance.  My stomach was still “off.” I have a form of colitis (ischemic colitis) that rarely bothers me, but the handful of times it has ever flared it has always been during a run. Ironically, the days leading up to the race were definitely colitis-y. I was not nervous at all; however, after a day and a half of dealing with issues, I had picked up immodium. I had not wanted to take it until closer to the race start, though, so I packed it with me. While this was terrible timing, I have dealt with it before so I was not panicking. I sipped on water to stay hydrated, while trying to not drink too much as I did not want to start the race by having to find a bathroom. We left the house at 6 am, on foot, with Rod as our navigator. We took the train downtown, then walked to the gear check to check our bags for post-race.  I said goodbye to Rod, and the 3 of us boarded the buses, which would take us to the start line. We had been driving for nearly half an hour at highway speeds when it occurred to me…..we had to run ALL the way back.  It started to hit me.  Boston is a point-to-point course. It was going to be a long day. Excitement was coupled with reality now.

We arrived at Athlete’s Village, and were greeted by excited cheery volunteers!  We walked through the arch, and came to a large open grassy field lined along the edges with porta-potties.  There were several tents with food.  I pulled out my garbage bag and sat on it.  We had been concerned about staying warm enough while being out at athlete’s village for so long…but once we got there it was clear that it was more than warm enough and instead we should be concerned about sunscreen.  I ate 2 granola bars and a banana between the time we left home, and the time we headed for the start line. I was hungry, and thirsty (neither of those were good signs).  And my gut was still very unhappy with me.  It was clear that I needed to take action, so I calmly took 2 Immodium, and double checked to make sure i had more in my fuel belt.  As things settled, we sat on the ground and chatted with other runners.

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Security on the roof

We saw military guys up on the roof of the nearby building.  Choppers flew overhead.  Uniformed armed security guys were everywhere.  And I felt safe.  I was glad I had my Canada flag tattoos on, as they were great conversation starters.  Finally we heard the announcement for our wave to start the walk to the start line, so Kristy and I headed off (Lisa was the next wave).  When we got to the place where we split into corrals, I wished her well and we went our separate ways.  Eventually, they announced it was time to begin “the Walk” to the line (about half a mile) so off we went.  I chatted with the gal beside me.  To my surprise, she was also a trail runner, and had run a couple of races I was keen to run so we had lots to talk about!  We lost each other at the bathroom stop a few metres before the start, but I was calm, and happy.  I was ready to give Boston all I had, and was ready to take in all it had to offer.

The start gun went off, and the shuffle began.  I had been warned to not go out too fast, as “the first 6 miles are all downhill.” (in actual fact, almost the entire course is downhill, save a couple of small bumps).  I was glad that the group around me all felt the same way as I was like a guppy in a large school of fish.  There was no way I could have gone at a different pace.  Shoulder to shoulder with other runners, there was no room to zig or to zag.  The one time I tried to move to the edge, another runner angrily snapped at me and raced off ahead.  (I was happy to let her go!).  And so I looked around me, and let it all sink in.  I was running the Boston Marathon.  The sides of the road were lined with spectators cheering.  As I would discover, this was true of the ENTIRE 42.2 kms.  People came out with family, with kids, with friends, with large groups…..to cheer, and to be a part of this race.

As I  ran, I was aware that I was really thirsty already.  Troubleshooting, I realized that being sick the past 2 days had probably left me more dehydrated than I had realized.  The heat was also a factor now, as it was likely 25+and there was no shade.  I was OK, but realized that I needed to tackle this fast.  I drained my bottle of nuun in one long gulp, and started on water.  I was happy to remember that there were aid stations every mile along the course…that meant there would be tons of water along the way.  I knew I was headed for hydration issues but took comfort in knowing there was ample help along the way.  What I had not realized was that the low humidity since we had arrived in Boston (5 days earlier) had also contributed to my dehydration.  I had been drinking more fluids than usual but had not realized all the factors, having never been in humidity that low (10-15%) for so long.  In my head, I changed strategies and decided to focus on drinking.

45 mins in, I realized I needed to get some fuel on board too.  I started taking some gel, in small sips.  My stomach didn’t like it but I forced it down.  I knew I needed it.  With a smile still on my face, I couldn’t believe the amazing energy from spectators.  They called my name and held signs.  The Canada flag tattoos  were perfect. I high fived a few people, but didn’t want to use up extra energy.  By this point, I realized that my quads had tightened to the point where I was at risk for serious muscle cramps, and there was no sign of that going away….but they weren’t cramping yet- so I kept running.

I was still hot, and decided I needed to make more changes. I took off my hat and that helped, but it was still not enough.  I was overheating fast.  At the next aid station, I grabbed a cup of water and doused my head.  Relief was immediate, and incredible. I dumped a couple more on my head, took a few sips of gatorade, and headed back out. NOW, I was back in business. New plan: dump water over head at every aid station. Grab fluids at every water station. And keep taking sips of gel (although, the reality of all my pre-race food was now hitting, so I did not need nearly as much as I normally would. Changing fueling strategies on the go was risky but I had very few options).

I cannot remember all of the sequence of when I saw different things along the way.  I do remember hitting 10K, and recognizing that I was not running my fastest, but it was still respectable. I remember knowing that my body hurt, but I knew I was going to be OK.

I remember a large group of people off to the left, less than a km in.  They were cheering so loudly…calling out names, holding signs, and drinking beer. I smiled, and turned off my tunes to listen to the mayhem, the music they had blaring, and to appreciate their efforts.  As soon as the sound faded, I put the tunes back on.  Surprisingly, there was another group just around the corner.  And thus began a pattern of having my music on low, or turning it completely off.  I was able to grab energy from what was around me.  Somewhere around here I began to acknowledge the folks cheering for me by raising my fist up high and smiling.  (to turn my head or to speak took too much energy- but this they could also see even if I had already passed).  “Go, Lisa,” “Go Canada,” and “go, Harriet,” was what I heard the whole way.  (my running singlet had “Harriers” on it, my running club back home).

As I came through Natick, I had a moment of emotion.  As people lined the streets and music blared through loud speakers, I saw it.  A whole bunch of small round trampolines, all lined up on the side of the road (probably 20+ of them). And people jumping on them, cheering.  CRAZY!!  I choked up.  Tears ran down my sweaty face, as I laughed and smiled.  THIS was what I had trained for.  All of those hard training runs, gutted out in wind/rain/snow when I didn’t feel like it….they had all been to prepare me for THIS race, this moment of pure, crazy, awesome FUN PARTY.  It’s genius, actually.  The city of Boston throws a huge party every Patriot’s Day, and everyone is invited.  You can attend and line the streets somewhere and party with your tribe….or you can run the Boston Marathon through the middle of it.  Natick is/was about 10 miles in (or 16 kms).  The race is 26.2 miles (or 42.2 kms).

I continued to run.  There were small children standing along the sides of the road, holding orange slices. (they were tasty!).  Others just stood begging for high fives.  Older kids held pieces of licorice up for runners to take.  Other things I saw offered along the race course (at unofficial stops) included oranges, bananas, freezies, popsicles, cups of ice, beer, fig newtons, bagels, and more.  I accepted a bottle of water at one place….until the reality of carrying it became too much.  I drank some, dumped a bunch more on my head, and then tossed it to a helpful bystander.  I was close to the halfway point now.  A group of Harley bikes were lined up and parked by the side of the race course, while their riders joined in the throng of cheering spectators.  Next to them were the Alzheimer’s fundraiser group.  The whole city stood shoulder to shoulder, in solidarity.  Boston Strong.  No discrimination.  No judgement.  Just people, gathered together.  It was incredible.

Someone stood offering tissues.  Great idea, but didn’t need one.  Wet paper towels….great idea, but the thought of having to deal with it after was too much.  And then I saw her….my sponge angel. She held thin kitchen sponges, torn in half and soaked in cold water.  I’m sure I saw a halo over her.  I took one eagerly, and wrung it out over my head.  Pure bliss!  I used it to sponge off my face, my arms, my shoulders.  Refreshed, I saw others pitching theirs onto the ground.  Instead, I held onto mine.  I decided that I would keep it, and re-wet it at every water station.  It was comforting to carry in my race-induced delirium, and seemed like The Thing that was going to keep me going.

Wellesley College….the scream tunnel.  I heard it long before i saw it. Honestly, after all I’d been told, I found it very underwhelming.  Just a whole bunch of screaming girls, with signs begging to be kissed.  (it’s entirely possible I was tired, and just did not appreciate it all…entirely possible).  I rolled my eyes, laughed at the lame signs, and carried on.

I had started looking for Rod in the crowds at this point.  He had said he would try to be there around 16-17 miles.  I looked, but didn’t end up seeing him.  It was fine.  I was still smiling.  My quads were still trashed, but I was pushing them as far as I dared.  Any more speed would have set them off cramping.  However, i didn’t care.  I was just taking it all in, problem solving my way through, and running.  I found out later that Rod was there, and he did see me there- said i was “smiling but working hard.”  Yup…that about describes it!

I remember breaking out in song with the rest of the race course, who were all singing “sweet Caroline” at one point.  Ironically, the entire baseball stadium had been singing the same song only days earlier when I’d been there.  At one point, I passed a tree covered in dead leaves.  Seemed strange that it was the only tree with leaves on it.  As I tried to figure it out, a sudden gust of wind caught the leaves, and swirled them through the air like nature’s confetti.  No one could have planned that.  I added it to the list of “cool things to remember” and carried on.

Somewhere in there, I became aware that I was no longer pounding downhill.  I was passing people, and couldn’t figure out why.  And then I realized we had reached the “hill” portion of the course.  I welcomed the chance to shift my stride and footstrike, and bounded up the hills. All too quickly, the hills would disappear.  There were a few of them, all of them short, and not very steep compared to what I had trained on.  Only one hill remained: Heartbreak Hill. I carried on through the next water station, with my now familiar routine of walk, dump a cup on my head, drink a cup, dump another cup on the sponge and the rest on my head, drink a few more sips, walk a few more steps, then back to running.  I noticed more people gathered on the course, and wondered why.  A few mins later, I again became aware that I was on an incline.  Runners around me were stopping to walk, and clearly  struggling.  Midway up, I figured it out and asked someone next to me, “is this heartbreak hill?” “yes!” they gasped.  With all due respect to everyone who ran….I sent out a silent thanks to my running peeps who had dragged me over so many huge hills in training runs, and cruised up the hill.  I knew I could run up hills.

We passed Fenway Park, and soon the famous Citgo sign came into view.  I knew I was only a few kms from the end at this point, as Rod and I had walked the last 3 kms only a couple days earlier.  There was a headwind now.  Ironically, it made me hotter as it kept drying the water off my face and head, and then I felt hot again.  I kept re-wetting the sponge.  I was now at about 39 kms, and recognized that although I was tired and my legs were heavy and my body hurt, I knew that I was going to make it.  Energized by the thought of the finish line, I powered ahead.  The crowd got louder.  The song “Thunderstruck” came onto my playlist, and I hit repeat multiple times. A little dip down under an overpass….a small rise…and suddenly, I saw Hereford Street! I tossed my sponge onto the ground- no longer needed it.  As I turned right, I remember letting out a guttural cheer as I raced up the short incline.  100m later, it was a left turn onto Boylston…and now it was a straight shot to the finish line.  The roar of the crowds was deafening. I was aware of the sun beating down, crowds calling my name, the ache in my concrete quads, the pain of the chafing, and the incredible feeling of elation that swelled up.  This was my moment.  My eyes teared up.  The blue lines on the road were leading me in…..and then the guy right in front of me dropped, 50m from the line.  Leg cramp.  Bent over, he stopped, clutching his calf in agony.  We cheered him forwards but didn’t stop as he waved us onwards. (he did finish). And suddenly, there it was: the finish line.  Crossing it with my arms raised high, I waited a few extra seconds to stop my watch as I wanted a good photo.  3:55:17.  Not as fast as I had hoped, but still under 4 hours, and I was completely satisfied with being able to hold onto that given the circumstances with the heat and my lack of hydration.  And then the rush of emotion hit me.  Tears streamed down my face.  My legs shuddered to hold me up.  I bent over to try and catch my breath but the act of bending over caused my legs to seize…and I realized how close I had come to seizing during my race.  I had ridden the line, the whole way….but I had ridden it successfully.  Volunteers congratulated me on all sides, and encouraged me to keep moving.  Someone handed me water.  The guy ahead of me collapsed on the ground, unable to support himself.  2 runners grabbed him, and I hailed a volunteer who brought a wheelchair.  They whisked him away for assessment at the medical tent.  And then, someone hung that medal around my neck. Somewhere in there I also got my heat blanket…and someone took some photos.  It felt like I was in a herd of cattle, just being moved through a line, but it meant I didn’t have to think so it was strangely comforting. “Get your hot banana,” I heard….and I realized that I needed to eat.  Still grinning and crying….like everyone else in the line….I kept stumbling along. Someone handed me a food bag.

I pulled out my phone and started trying to connect with Rod but I knew his phone might be dead.  A fabulous volunteer offered to take a photo on my phone for me. IMG_7465Eventually, I ended up at the gear tent, and then someone directed me to the family meeting area.  We had decided to meet at X (way less busy than F, and way closer). I managed to lower myself painfully to the ground, and began to try and eat.  I chatted with the other 2 runners there as we compared war wounds and race experiences, but mostly we just grinned and tried to figure out what food was going to sit in our messed up stomachs.  Rod found me a few mins later, and helped me move into the sunshine since I was becoming quite cold and hypothermic, now that I had stopped moving. Standing up caused a wicked stabbing pain in my abdomen…but I managed. As we waited for the others, I got changed into dry clothes and ate some dill pickle chips….they were amazing. We found the others, and took the train most of the way home.  On the short walk back to our place, we came across some wet concrete in the sidewalk, and an inscription “might” have been made. Everyone we encountered congratulated us.  By the time we got home, we were tired, sore, starving, limping….but so happy that we had conquered the Boston Marathon.

I’ll be back, Boston, I’ll be back…..but first, it’s time to run some trails.

#bostonstrong

P.S. I have the best kids in the universe 🙂

PPS- evidently, said children also know how to take advantage of situations…lol…I will not leave my blog open anymore!

PPS- a huge thanks to my hubby Rod for encouraging me to participate in this epic milestone event, and for all his support along the way.

 

 

 

 

Fat Dog 50 Miler

Fat Dog 50 miles: my first 50 Miler.  It was all Richard’s fault.  “BEST race in Canada!   You’ve just gotta do it. SO scenic!  You’ll love it.” So instead of registering for what I had planned as a 40 mile race, I signed up to run 50 frickin’ miles. Fat Dog actually has several races, all running point-to-point, and all finishing at the same finish line.  There’s a 40 miler, a 50 miler, 70 miles, a relay (120 miles) and the flagship race, Fat Dog 120 Miler.

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Ferry Buffet- breakfast with Champions!

 

We had several friends racing the full 120, but they had to arrive earlier than we did since their race was a whole extra day long.

 

Our group of 4 from Victoria headed up on Friday (left to right Kent, Andrew, myself, and David). We were staying in Hope, so we checked into our hotels, and then headed up to Lightning Lake to check out the finish line.  We also stopped at several of the aid stations along the way, just so we could see what it would be like.

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Enjoying the river view

While on this reconaissance trip, we came to Bonnevier Aid Station, where the first relay team members were expected to be coming through within the hour. We waited for a bit but they were nowhere in sight.  We decided that we wanted to surprise our friend Richard, our 120 mile Fat Dogger.  So, in true trail runner style, we begged to borrow a sharpie from a volunteer, and then scrawled graffitti/messages of encouragement all over the lid of his drop bag/box there.

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Cheering- ultramarathon style

We had hoped to see him but due to a mandatory briefing we had to attend, the timing would not have worked.  Our hope was that it would cheer him up knowing that we were cheering him on. (he told us later that it did. Mission accomplished.)

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Pre-race briefing

 

I was glad to have seen a couple of the aid stations in advance, so I had teeny understanding of what they would look like. It was also nice to explore some of the trails in a calm, peaceful manner. We then headed to a mandatory briefing with Heather the race director.

At the package pickup, they took a photo of us holding our bib number for identification purposes should anything go wrong.

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Our buddy Sean, taking Andrew’s ID photo

Between this, and the stern reminders that we needed to carry all of our mandatory gear at ALL times, Heather’s message was clear: Be Safe.  And don’t let your guard down…this race is hardcore.  After the long (50minute) drive to Hope, we turned in early as we knew the next day would require everything we could give it.

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Finish line, the day before, Skyline in the background

I awoke on Race morning with the words “GO TIME!!” racing through my head.  I quickly dressed from the “flat Lisa” I had carefully laid out the night before.  Checking my gear lists one final time as I baked my potato in the microwave, I added the last couple of items, grabbed my Garmin (watch) and my hydration pack, and headed out to the car to join the guys. As I got into the car I tried to put my hair in a ponytail…and the elastic snapped. Crap.  Reaching for my spare, I made a second attempt…and that elastic broke too.  Not a great start for a gal with super long hair.  Andrew had a spare that he used for holding something together, so he lent it to me.  It didn’t feel secure at all (it was a different style than usual) but it worked for now, and I wasn’t going to complain.  A quick stop at Tim Hortons and we were on our way.

We arrived at Manning Park overflow parking lot with little time to spare. We boarded the bus, which drove us back several kms to the Lodge where we then waited for 20 mins. While we waited, we chatted with other racers and bemoaned the heaviness of our packs due to mandatory gear requirements.  We reboarded the bus, and we were off.

Cayuse Flats:

A while later, the bus pulled over alongside the highway.  Quite unceremoniously, our driver announced “we’re here.” We all piled off the bus, alongside the highway. No parking lot…barely room to pull off the highway. We were met by Heather, who informed us that it was 5 minutes until mandatory gear check time.  Right at this time, discovered another potentially major problem.  I found a spot off to the side, and tried to determine the cause of my already soaking wet pack.  Had the reservoir spring a leak?  Was a bottle leaking?  Or had the valve been pinched, releasing water?  I couldn’t find a leak, so I packed it all back up and hoped for the best.

Heather started calling out items, and we had to pull them out (of a jammed pack!) and show them to her. Despite all her warnings, someone showed up with no headlamp. (she made the runner carry her massive one- safety first).  All of my gear was in order, and I was cleared to race.  We shuffled across the highway, frogger style, and climbed a short trail to get to the “start line”….which was more like a stick in the ground, since the trail there was singletrack and we were all single file.

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Single track near the start

We were told to seed ourselves roughly according to pace…if you wanted to smell the flowers, back of the line…if you wanted to lead, up front. As we waited, we heard the words “runner back” called forward from the folks at the back.  It was actually 2 runners- one of the 120 milers, along with his pacer.  And suddenly, it all became real.  This runner looked more like a stoned trail zombie than an elite athlete.  He was moving forwards, hunched over with a glazed look in his eyes, poles clenched in his gnarled fists.  And in that moment, I realized that I could not begin to comprehend what he was going through, let alone say something helpful…but I instantly had a huge respect for this runner who had already been running for 23 HOURS.  We squeezed as far off the trail as we could to make room for the weaving zombie, and then he was gone. I would carry that image with me all day.

I heard “1 minute till the start”…we shuffled our feet uselessly since we couldn’t go anywhere…and suddenly, without warning, the line started moving.  We were off!  It was a bit of a conga line but our group of Kent, Andrew, David, and myself were together.  Within about 10 minutes, the group had separated into several small packs.  David was leading our pack of about 10 runners. We kept offering for people to pass, but almost no one did.  Our group’s strategy was to run the first 48 kms slowly, so we could leave Skyline Aid Station (at 48 kms) with “fresh legs,” as per the advice of our friend Richard.  It was undulating but not overly difficult terrain, and we chatted to pass the time.  I enjoyed the scenery.  All of a sudden, I felt a searing hot needle jab into my left ankle.  Reaching down in pain, i swatted at it and knocked a large wasp off of it.  I limped off to the side, in agony.  I could hardly weight bear on that foot.  I had a sting stop in my pack, but did not want to stop yet.  I knew the aid station was very close.  Kent ran past, assuming i had just kicked a rock at my ankle.  It was fine…we had all agreed that we would start together, and then break away as we felt ready to do so.  We were 5.3 kms in.  I knew I could not afford to stop yet, so I sucked up my pain, and hobbled back into the race along with Andrew and David.  Every step I could feel a searing pain going into the ankle again.  It was a stupid, little wasp sting but was excruciating, and I realized I would need to dig deep to finish as I still had 75 kms to go.

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Race course was extremely well marked

Cascade Aid Station:

Rounding a corner, we entered a clearing and found ourselves at the aid station, despite being less than 8 kms in.  Given where we had started, I had decided I would not need to place a drop bag here.  I did not need anything yet.  Food was available but I was OK.  I kept moving through a section where there were people cheering- and there was my friend Sean!!  He was pacing for Richard, but was not starting to pace until 40 kms further into the race.  We also saw our 120 miler friend Dave S there….and were saddened to hear that his race would not be completed due to some health issues.  Fat Dog is a beast of a race, and we were seeing all kinds of evidence of that already even this few short kms in.  We also learned that Richard was behind his predicted pace, likely due to furnace-like temperatures the day before. That meant we would not see him out there.  The race must go on…so off we went.  We were handed a reflective safety vest, and instructed to put it on. Wasn’t worth wasting the energy trying to figure out the complicated buckling system, so I just slung it over the pack.

Leaving Cascade, we 50 milers had a small “out and back” that we needed to complete. We passed a volunteer at the turnoff- who happened to be one of our local Trail Heros- Randy Duncan! We had to go out to the turnaround on the trail, and fetch a page from a smutty romance novel, and carry it back to Randy.  As we ran, we speculated on how frustrating it would be for Randy, who would receive a stack of sweaty, out of sequence book pages…would be hard to figure out the story we decided! It  was probably funnier inside our heads than it was for real.  We were not quite at the book yet, when we came across a very long “barrier” of toilet paper, strung across the trail.  Why this random trail decoration?  I looked up and discovered a basketball-sized paper wasp nest.  The TP was a warning.  As my freshly-stung ankle still throbbed with every step, I moved along quickly.  Grabbing my book page, I headed back.  We took a few minutes to chat with Randy and exchanged hugs and asked for last minute advice before heading off. A short little jaunt down the trail, and we popped out on a road.  Standing there was our friend Lori Herron…another friendly face!!  She cheered and hugged, us, and directed us to run alongside and then under the highway…no more frogger crossings.  We then turned and ran alongside the highway for several kms.  It was a beautiful downhill…but we needed to save our legs for the last half of the race so we continued our comfortable slow pace.  Traffic was loud, but the scenery was nice. Somehow, David spotted a hair elastic on the ground, and Andrew picked it up.  It was the same style as the ones I usually use.  Unfortunately, it was pink (the WORST!) and it was dirty…and I didn’t care.  Grateful and giddy, I put it in my hair and put the other on my wrist as a spare. (sorry mom- I know you told me how gross and dirty it could be…too bad, so sad!).  I could finally stop stressing about the hair that was sticking to the back of my neck as the elastic got looser and looser. A short left turn to follow the long dangling pink flags/ribbons, and we had arrived at our next checkpoint.

Sumallo Grove:

We entered the aid station (which was not a “drop bag” station) and knew that this was the place to refill water.  I handed off the sexy highway vest, dropped my pack, and a volunteer refilled it while I dashed to check out the amazing outhouse (any outhouse looks amazing under those circumstances). The smell of bacon filled the air as they made breakfast quesadillas.  I opted for a piece of bacon and a boiled potato…tasted SO good!   Picked up a few chips, and pocketed a few GU gels (they were better than the ones I had packed).  I also dug out my sting stop here, and applied it frequently to the sting (which still hurt).  I decided that I was finishing regardless of the pain so I made a choice to ignore it from here on.  (I did stop several times to smear mud on it, but that was it). The race motto “Suck it up, whiny baby” seemed perfect, and I repeated it ad nauseum.

And we were off.  The 3 of us ran together, pretty much on our own.  We now faced a 21 km stretch of the race course with undulating terrain.  Our plan was to run it easily, keep a steady pace, and conserve energy.

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Running beside the river

We found ourselves running along side a river, and discovered that the shade and the water itself kept the temperature bearable.  As we ran, we fell into our typical long run banter.  The excitement of new trails and new scenery distracted us from the fact that we had been running for several hours already. I loved being able to run with my friends, and drew energy from the jokes and comraderie.  I would remember this later and it would lift my spirits.

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Just a little warmup run with da Boyz

After a bit of a climb, it flattened out again and we were running through a muggy and “open” part of a forest.  We were all starting to mention individual little “things” that we were starting to notice, now that we were well into this race. We came upon a gal who was quite ill, and having GI issues.  I offered her some pretzels, and she accepted them eagerly. Carrying on, we noted that the bugs were starting to be bothersome.  Without warning,  I managed to toepick a rock and did a stunt roll, landing on my back.  The guys were quick to try and help me up, when I was suddenly hit with a rogue leg cramp.  Surprised, I muttered a few choice words, rolled over to my hands and knees, and then accepted help up.  I decided to walk for a bit and David took the opportunity to stop and bandage a blister.  Andrew mentioned he was thinking about slowing down, and that we might need to leave him at the next aid station.  As I pulled out my bug spray (and accidently fogged Andrew who was directly behind- ooops, sorry), I realized that our group might be beginning to splinter.  We all made it into the next aid station within minutes of each other, but we had things to do when we arrived at Shawatum.

Shawatum Aid Station:

Enter Shawatum.  A solid, well stocked, much needed stopping point. I announced my bib number to the volunteer upon arrival, and went directly to find my drop box.  A volunteer brought it to me and I set it on a chair.  Opening the lid, I breathed a sigh of relief.  I had written a checklist, and it was sitting on the very top of the pile.  Yay- I no longer had to think- just needed to read the list and do what it told me.  Refill water- right!  water!  Great idea! I took my gel flask out of my pack and exchanged it for the one in my drop box (containing gels mixed with water). Next item: pickle juice.  I refilled my pickle juice flask (used for cramping) from the one in my drop box and put it back in the pack. I then re-applied glide to my feet.  I grabbed the dill pickle chips from my box and decided I didn’t need any more than a few of my pretzels…although I did share a bunch with the runner who had been puking and having extreme GI issues.  I made another bottle of nuun (electrolyte drink) and replaced the bottle into my pack.  As I went through this process, I recognized my friend Avery  (who was running 120).  I attempted conversation with him, but he was pretty fried- and regardless of what I said, he would just giggle.  3 or 4 questions in, I realized he was needing some food and some attention, and I steered him in the direction of a volunteer.  It was so good to see him, but to see him tired and clearly struggling was another stark reminder about the gravity of running 120 miles.  Mad, mad respect, Avery.  After grabbing a couple bites of food from the smorgasbord, I exchanged a few words with David and Andrew, lent them my pocket knife to cut moleskin, then handed my drop box back to the volunteer. Shouldering my pack, I found the guys and we chatted about a game plan as we left the aid station.  They were wanting to walk, and I was afraid that walking would cause my legs to seize up.  I decided to run very slowly and was sure they would catch me. They assured me they would so off I went. We had 15 kms until the next station, so there was no hurry.

As I ran I carried my bag of dill pickle chips, munching as I went. The saltiness of the chips settled my stomach, which was not overly thrilled with all of the gels.  I could hear the guys behind me, and waited for the inevitable “catchup.” I got sick of my chips, but my pack was so full for this next long segment that I had nowhere to put them.  After stressing about this for over half an hour, I carefully dumped the remaining chips behind a log, and shoved the baggie into my pack.  I knew I might regret this later but there was nowhere else to put them. Around this time, I realized I could no longer hear David and Andrew, and had a feeling I might not see them for the remainder of the race.  I looked at my Garmin and saw that it was 30 kms….and I laughed out loud.  This was not the first time I had raced with them- but every race except one, I had dropped David at the 30km mark.  The laughter lifted my spirits, and I carried on.  The terrain was quite undulating, and had a bit of climbing in it.  I maintained a steady pace, hiking swiftly on the bigger hills, and running everything else.  It was getting hot, but I was mostly in shade so I was still OK.  I did pause at the 42.2 km mark to take a selfie.

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Trail Marathon selfie! I got this…

This officially marked the marathon distance- and I was barely halfway through my race.  I carried on, and before long, I reached the Skyline aid station. I don’t remember much of this stretch, as I was running alone, and much of the terrain looked the same (lots of salal, fallen trees, and awesome looking single track).  I missed the banter of my friends but knew that this was what I had trained for, and I knew I had what I needed to get it done on my own. Before long I saw the awesome arrow/sign, and knew I was close to the next (and highly anticipated) phase of the race: SKYLINE.

Skyline Aid Station:

As I entered, I was greeting by my friend Sylvia who was volunteering.  I cannot stress enough how awesome it is to see a friend at an aid station.  She reminded me there was BACON at the aid station, and steered me in the direction of my drop box.  I was instantly overwhelmed by the busy-ness of this aid station.  It felt a little bit like a base camp.  In one area, runners sat on lawn chairs and chatted- but I was too focussed and too concerned about the next part of the race to join them.  I had a job to do, and now I was on my own. I spread out my drop bag contents on the ground (wishing there was a table) and consulted the list I had written.  As last time, I refilled my water, pickle juice, and exchanged my empty gel flask for a full one.  This would be my biggest flask of the day, and in addition to that, I also grabbed additional gels.  I still had 6-8 hours of running left to do.  I chatted with a runner who had left the aid station and had drained his 2 litre water bladder within a 1 km and had come back…and then decided to pull out (DNF/ did not finish). He was disappointed, but recognized his body was shutting down and he needed to quit for safety reasons. It was another reminder that we were riding the line of what our bodies were capable of.  I looked at the pack, and recognized that space was becoming an issue (due to mandatory gear requirements).  I decided to offload some of my first aid equipment, but still maintained the basics.  This gave me space for my new bag of dill pickle chips, and a small flask of “juice” I had in my box (more on that later).  I also did a thorough assessment of the clothes I was wearing, in relation to the weather. This next portion of the race would take me into nighttime running, and it could get cold up in the mountains.  I kept my gloves and long sleeves with me, but did not change.  I saw Andrew come in but did not go right away to greet him as I was trying to get things done.  Ditching my drop bag, I headed out of the aid station and said a quick goodbye to Andrew- and nearly ran into David as I crossed the bridge to leave. It was good to see both of them, but was another reminder that we were likely all finishing on our own.

The F’n Climb that Never F’n Ends

The trail from Skyline Aid Station to Mowach Aid Station was pure climbing.  14 kms of trail covered, which gained nearly 2000m of elevation.  The switchbacks snaked back and forth across the mountain.  I left at the same time as a guy named John, and we chatted for 5 minutes or so as we hiked.  It became pretty clear pretty quickly that he was a stronger/faster climber than I at that point, and I suggested that he pass me and go ahead.  Begrudgingly, he did.  I plodded on in the stifling heat, up, up, and still up.  The sun beat down and I found myself getting nauseous.  Trying to take in some gels, my stomach rebelled and I started dry heaving.  Nope.  No gels were going in.  Suck it up, whiny baby. I managed a few chips, but that was it.  Pretty soon, water didn’t work very well either.  I decided to focus on getting in water.  The bugs were now out in full force, and despite applying more spray, they continued to torment me.  Desperate, I grabbed a handful of weeds from the side of the trail, and started swatting at the bugs.  (I would later learn that those persistent buggers gave up on my arms and face, and decided to feast on my backside, biting me through my long spandex shorts).  The trail climbed onwards and upwards. Switchback upon switchback, it snaked up the side of the mountain, the view rarely changing.

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View climbing Skyline

I passed several people who were tired, sick, or “resting.” Every time, I would check to make sure they were ok, then carried on.  I kept waiting for the views I had been promised, but wasn’t seeing them.  As I began to get discouraged, all of a sudden this guy appeared behind me, just cranking up the trail at a crazy speed. When I asked how his race was going, he said, “I had a TERRIBLE start yesterday. So I had a nap for an hour…and now, I’m making up for it and it’s going FANTASTIC! How’s yours?” I told him I was ok but feeling nauseous, and just trying to stay positive.  He reminded me in no uncertain terms that I could totally do this, and was doing great.  I teared up…thanked him for his honest and blunt kick in the backside (which I had needed), and I straightened up and quickened my pace.  All of a sudden he was gone (and I never saw him again). My mood lifted, I was now able to reframe my situation and think rationally.  I knew I’d be OK and it was time to take charge of my situation.  The climb dragged, and the heat was killing me. Water upset my stomach.  Food upset my stomach.  I did mental math and confirmed that I was hundreds of calories in the deficit….and unable to get calories in.  I knew that could result in a bad end to my race but there was nothing else to do.  My shoulders seized up from the weight of the pack, and the advil didn’t help.  The pain was awful.  Somewhere in there, I decided that this climbing was boring, and completely unnecessary….and there were no views.  Richard must have been TOTALLY hallucinating when he ran this last year. LOL.  I had no desire to do this again.  Ever.  Furthermore, those 120 miler guys were INSANE. 🙂 I was not angry, and I never fell apart mentally- I just knew that this was a very long and gratuitous climb. Finally, after nearly 3.5 hours of climbing (with a few short stints of running the flat sections in between the beginnings of leg cramps), I found myself at the base of Camp Mowach. Time for a short reprieve…

Camp Mowach

As I arrived at Camp Mowach, I was struck by how cozy it felt despite it being on a mountain.  It felt like a campsite.  A man was sawing firewood to start a fire.  2 other volunteers greeted me, as they stood next to their tent, in this open space on the top of the side of a hill. I felt my emotions well to the surface…it was a safe place.  “Welcome to Camp Mowach….how can we help?  What can we get for you?” The emotion spilled out in tears as I took off my pack… “Is there any chance that someone could work the knot out of my shoulder blades?  It hurts SO much.” One of the gals offered to help, and I graciously accepted.  As she worked on it, they asked about my race and found out I wasn’t eating or drinking much.  They wanted me to eat, so I pulled out my chips and ate one.  The other food options at the aid station all had gluten, so I opted not to eat them.  After chatting for 10 mins or so, I headed off despite the overwhelming urge to curl up on a log by the fire and stay there. The prospect of a campfire and company to chat with sounded heavenly…but this was a race. I had a job to do.  I made a quick stop at the outhouse on the way out, just to prove that everything was still “working” as it should be. There wasn’t much, but I was able to pee a few drops so it gave me confidence that I was still hydrated enough to keep running despite my lack of fluid intake.  And then, I was off.

Heading up to Sky Junction

I was struck by how hot it still was and how overheated I felt, and decided it was time to seriously try and get it under control.  I soaked my buff, and use it to sponge off my face and neck.  Every time I crossed a creek (there were several of them) I would re-soak the buff. In between moppings of my head, I would swing the buff through the air to cool it down.  I discovered that the air must be slightly cooler, because the water in my hydration hose would cool by a couple degrees. So I would take a few sips of cold until I tasted warm water, and then wait for more to cool.  The terrain here was very hilly.  There would be a 200-400 m climb, then a downhill…then another climb.  This went on…and on….and on.  I remember the moment I decided the climbs would never end, and I had to accept that I might be climbing for the rest of the race.  The positive note in all of this was that it wasn’t all switchbacks!  At least the view kept changing.  Rocky outcroppings…stunning mountain trails….singletrack carved into the side of the mountain that cut a line through alpine meadows of wildflowers.  I passed several people whose strength was flagging.  It was nice to chat with them, and I always attempted to run with them for a few minutes just to break up the time with conversation- but the reality was, the sun was setting, and I was still not at the finish line.

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Now that’s more like it….

One particular such meadow, I consciously forgave Richard.  I had earlier decided he had been lying about the beautiful views- but I now realized that I had misunderstood where they were located.  I breathed deeply, and noticed how fresh the air was (even if it was thin, and messing with my sense of sanity lol).  So in between sips of water, and aggressively cooling myself with that soaked buff, I started to once again enjoy the view.  I was aware of the sounds of crickets and birds.  And then suddenly up ahead, I saw a strange movement.  It was a person, perched on the side of a cliff like a mountain goat, who appeared to be slinging a large container through the air, near a tent?  What the what?!

Sky Junction

An Aid station! Perched right into the side of the insanely rocky singletrack, a tent perilously overhung the trail. A man hunched over a large pot rung a cowbell and said “hey! Welcome to Sky Junction!”  I was incredulous. “really? THIS is Sky Junction?” I struggled to understand where I was supposed to rest or relax at this aid station.  Mostly, I was doing math and trying to guess at how close the finish line was, and whether or not I was going to make my time goal.

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The words I heard spilling out of my mouth were “Do I have to stop here?  Or can I just keep running?” The guy looked at me like I was nuts, but said I was free to keep going.  He noted my bib number, steered me towards the correct trail, and I carried on.

The Last of the Climbing

I knew there were still a couple false summits to climb.  I was becoming tired, but I loved the way the view looked as the sun was going down.  I was climbing ridges now, and could see an orange glow starting to flood the sky.  The tiredness of the body was overcome by the sheer incredibleness of the view around me.

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Meadow with a View….spectacular

Hike a climb, run down…hike a climb, run the downhill…I lost track of whether I was going up or down as I was overwhelmed by the sheer majesty and vastness of what was around me.  Darkness was falling, and as I would head up into the trees I struggled to see the trail, but in the open, there was an abundance of light.  I started to think about stopping to pull out my light, but didn’t really want to stop.  When I stopped, I wanted it to be in a spot that I could appreciate a great view.  It seemed important that I savour the moments. I climbed another ridge, grateful that the long pieces of flagging tape had reflectors hanging off them for night running.  As I came out of the trees, I was greeted by the most incredible view of the day.  It was That Moment. That one I would stop for.

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That Moment…

As I took my pack off to retrieve my headlamp, I was overcome with emotion.  I stood on a ridge.  Mountain ranges to the right, and to the left.  Behind me, the mountains I had run through.  Ahead of me, more majestic mountains.  A snowfield glistened in the remaining light, to the right, and the light of the full moon above it was the exact same colour as the snow.  Behind and all around, the sky glowed orange.  I paused, trying to drink it all in.  Tears fell, and I was aware of how awesome that moment was.  I was alone, at the top of that huge mountain- but not lonely. Words fail to describe all that I felt in that moment, but I will remember it for the rest of my life.  I took a couple of photos, which were a sad representation of what I experienced.  As I put on my lamp, I reached for my pretzels and realized they had fallen out of my pack.  Shoot.  My only food source that was staying down in my knotted stomach was now gone.  I would have to finish without it.  Another quick moment of taking in the beauty, and I was off.  I started down the ridge.

But what was this….another climb?  For real?  $hit.  *sigh* Fine.  Let’s climb.  Up again I went, laughing at the pain and gruellingness of this race.  Over in the clouds, I thought I saw an orange flash, but figured I must be hallucinating.  This was a brutal climb. I was digging as deep as I could, and knew that this was now sheer willpower.  At least it was not stifling hot. I found a pace and locked it in, one plodding step at a time, choosing to focus on the beauty around me rather than the pain I felt.  The rawness of the emotion defies explanation…but it was awesome.  Shadows were falling, and I put my lamp on for the dark bits, but shut it off in the open.  As I crested a little ridge, I saw a figure sitting on a rock staring out at the valley.  I slowed my pace, and called ahead so as not to startle.  “Hey there….how’s it going?” The figure turned, and I saw the fatigued face of a male runner. “Hello” he answered.  As I approached, I recognized him. “Hey, John….how’s it going?!  How’s your race been?” This was the runner that I had let pass me as I left Skyline Aid Station- he had been climbing super fast!  And here he sat on a rock, motionless.  He was taking a break and watching the lightening storm in the clouds over the valley.  (phew- I was not hallucinating!). He admitted his knee was bothering him, and he had been stopping for rest breaks ever 10 or so minutes.  I stopped for a few minutes to chat with him, and then suggested we head off together.  He was glad for the company.  Headlights on, we tackled the last of the rocky climb.  It was so great to have someone to chat with.  We replayed our respective races, covering the highs and the lows, and kept each other moving.  As we got to the top, we saw a tent at the top, and a man and a woman standing there!  CRAZY!!  They cheered for us!  I couldn’t believe it.  “Are you really standing here on top of a ridge, JUST to cheer for people?” I asked.  “Yes.  We do it every year and we love it.” They told us that other than about 25 metres, this was The Top Of The Climb.  This was IT.  DONE (except for a little downhill).  Overcome by emotion, we all teared up. And I suddenly knew what I wanted to do.  I pulled the small flask marked “juice” out of my pack (which I had picked up from my drop box at Skyline) and said to the gang “My run group back home has a tradition of celebrating epic climbs with a little swig of Fireball.  I have some here.  Would you guys join me in a little toast?” And so there, at the top of the mountain, with shooting stars falling, lightning storm in the distant valley, and a glowing orange sky, we shared a wee sip of fireball.  It was a crazy moment filled with the emotion that can only be understood by having been through the entire experience.  We exchanged hugs, and then John and I were off.  The last of the climb was insignificant, and quickly the trail changed to loose, shaley, DOWNHILL.  Pure. Downhill. Bliss.

The Last 10 KMS

Downhill.  That’s the best way to describe it.  Some was loose, some was rooty, some was technical so we had to go slowly.  We were now running in full darkness.  It didn’t matter.  The long, grinding, arduous climb was OVER- and it was time to start to fatigue the last remaining muscle group.  John’s knee started to bother him, and I had a bit of a cramp threatening in one leg, so we took the occasional walk break.  But overall, we ran.  Pitch black now, we relied on our headlamps, and the reflectors hanging from the trees.  I realized that running was easier and less painful than walking.  We were passed by a couple of people…no one really wanted to stop now, it was just a “horse to the barn” mentality. John stopped to walk again, and I realized that it was time for me to head off.  I just needed to run.  I said goodbye, wished him well, and stepped up the pace.

I ran alone through the darkness now.  It was strangely comforting.  I had spend much of the day alone, and it seemed fitting to finish it off on my own.  Despite the screaming leg muscles, I felt strong, powerful, and energized.  I was only a few kms away.  I was aware that the trail was levelling off, and I knew that meant we must be nearly off the mountain and nearing the lake.  The trail widened….and then I saw it.  A glowing green object on the trail….what was it?  A GLOWSTICK!  And just up ahead, another one. And another! And then I remembered Richard saying that the last part of the course was lit with glowsticks.  I was afraid to get excited…so I just continued to follow the glowsticks.  As I rounded a corner, I saw what looked like a bridge and I knew this was the beginning of the end- This was the famous Rainbow Bridge I had heard about!!  A quick trip around the lake was all that lay ahead.  My footsteps sounded loud as I raced across the bridge, and back onto the trail.  As I circled the lake, there were places I could see the finish line arch across the lake- and I realized they could probably see my headlamp as well. My pace quickened, and I Just Had To Get There. I could hear the party, and it was awesome.  Coming out of the trees, I passed a lady screaming and cheering.  She had NO idea who I was and I think she must have been strung out on WAY too much  coffee- and I didn’t care 🙂 The last few hundred metres, I’m sure I was sprinting.  I barrelled across the finish line straight into the waiting arms of race director Heather. Stopping my Garmin, i hugged her, and we had a fantastic chat.  And out of nowhere, Kent appeared. A medal was hung around my neck, and i let the emotions flow.  Tears mingled with laughter, cheering, elation, and pain.  13 hours, 33 minutes of running.  Kent took over, and made sure I had everything I needed.  He found my drop bag, got me food, and a chair.  BEST. INVENTION. EVER!  A CHAIR!! We had a great chat there, in the dark, along with dozens of other runners, as we waited for the others.  I changed into dry clothes and ate the best burger I have ever had.  David was the next one through an hour later, followed by Andrew roughly an hour past that.  Once we were all there, we hung out there at the finish line.  We were hoping to see Richard come through, but also knew that it might be several more hours before he came.  Eventually, the cold was too much and we decided to head back to the hotel.  I drove back to Hope (about an hour), and after a shower, sleep came quickly.

The next morning we woke early and staggered around, packing up all our stuff.  We piled back into the car, and drove an hour back again to the finish line.  We were happy to see Richard there!

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The Amazing Fat Dog 120 miler, Richard!

He had made it through his 120 miler. We also saw other friends Avery there, as well as our friend Sean who had paced Richard. Hanging out in the sun at the finish line, it was incredible to bask in our accomplishments.  The volunteers cooked breakfast on campstoves…and we just kept eating, and eating, and eating. After the awards ceremony, we climbed back into the car, and headed for the ferries.

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Fat Dog 50 Miler Fireballers

Fat Dog 50 miler, you were a beast.  A ridiculous, crazy, gruelling beast.  I decided while climbing Skyline that I never want to run you again.

But I cannot get That Moment, and That View out of my mind.  It’s forever etched on my mind, and seared into my memory. So maybe, just maybe….I’ll see you one more time…for 70 miles. I left part of my heart up on your Skyline, and I need to retrieve it.

Trail Chica.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boston Marathon 2016- the prequel

IMG_7372Boston.

I don’t even remember the first time I heard about the Boston Marathon.  I did not grow up as a runner.  All I knew growing up was that marathons were hard, and the people who ran them were crazy. When I started running 4 years ago, Boston was the pinnacle.  To qualify was unheard of.  To even come close would have been a dream come true.  But I was not a fast runner…and I had no desire to run a marathon.  Eventually, I did run a marathon, but I was still not fast enough for Boston and I was OK with that.

I remember the day that the dream was birthed.  I had finished a long trail run, and was sitting having coffee with a group of trail runners.  One of them was sharing about his hundred miler, which happened just after Boston.  I asked him about Boston, and for the next 30 mins, he wove a tale that was so enticing and so magical, I could not get it out of my head.  A week later, I still could think of nothing else.  My mom had just passed away.  I needed to do something epic, for her.  That day, I decided I would try to qualify.  3 months later, I knocked 18 minutes off my PB marathon time set only 5 months earlier, and  qualified to run  the Boston marathon.  My husband Rod insisted that we go and finish the dream by running it.  And so, the Marathon preparations began. However, due to timing of the race, it was almost a year and a half later before race day.  Fast forward…..

We left for Boston on Wednesday, so we had a few days to enjoy before the race on Monday.  We had 4 days on our own, and then met up with friends Lisa and Kristy and one more gal, and shared a condo with them for the last 3 nights.  Our first 4 days were filled with sightseeing. We packed so much into that time, I could write a whole separate blog post about it.

There were a few things that stood out for me, that relate to the race.  One of the most powerful moments was walking down Boylston street and seeing the finish line for the first time.  IMG_7198.JPGThe history that it represented just hit me. I didn’t realize how big that would be.  I’m glad I went to see it before the race. I also enjoyed going to Marathon Sports, and finding out more about the race from the local experts.  I took the chance to try on the jackets there, and ended up buying my marathon jacket from there to avoid the crowds in the expo.  Further down Boylston street, I found Adidas Run Base, where they had a working 3D model of the race course. Standing there looking at the model was a “wow” moment.  To see how much downhill was involved, it struck me that I might not be as prepared as I had thought.  Humbled, I took more time to study the course.  I wanted to understand it as best I could before I tackled it. All of these key “moments” shaped my mental game for the race, and i knew they were important.

Attending the race expo on Saturday was really a highlight for me.  I had already been in Boston a few days, so the “newness” of the city had worn off.   As I walked down Boylston on Saturday morning with Rod, we were in a hurry to meet Lisa and Kristy.  I was tired, and knew they were already there.  I was completely done with the city crowds- and had not even gotten to the expo yet- so was trying hard to get inside my head to find some quiet.  I looked up, and suddenly got goosebumps.  IMG_7354The person in front of me was unmistakeably a Tarahumara, from Born to Run.  I recognized the sandals made from tires and lashed around the foot, the traditional colourful running garb, the dust on his legs, and the simple pack he carried.  This man- a trail running legend- was reaching distance from me.  I was in the presence of greatness.  I tried to explain discreetly to Rod but failed, so I took a quick photo from behind (I did not want to disturb him on the street). And as I followed him into the Expo, it dawned on me: The man I was following was Arnulfo, from the movie.  Arnulfo, one of the greatest trail runners alive, was racing the Boston Marathon.  I would be sharing the race course with Arnulfo.  Sadly, I lost sight of him as we got held up at security.

Heading in, I went to the bib pickup, and got my race bib.  The marathon got very real at this point. IMG_7361We took a quick photo, I said goodbye to Rod, and quickly met up with Lisa and Kristy. Within a few minutes, the crowds in the shopping section overwhelmed me, and I excused myself to go and wander the expo. I once again caught a glimpse of Arnulfo, and I followed him so I could get a better photo. I spoke with race volunteers after and they confirmed that he was in fact racing.  I met up with Lisa a few minutes later, and we carried on through the expo.  Seeing a long lineup, we decided to investigate why so many people were waiting for a sample….and discovered that Scott Jurek (American ultrarunner and trail legend) was there to sign autographs!  IMG_7378We stood in line, got his autograph, and also got a photo with him.  Once again, in my mind, it was a powerful connection.  The trail world- which normally is a very separate sport from road marathoning- was recognizing this road marathon.  It’s hard to put it into words, but seeing those 2 men there was pretty cool. It fused my two worlds together, somehow. The rest of the expo was fairly typical, just on a larger scale than I had ever been to.  I learned some cool info, and saw some awesome new gear. Somehow, by the time I walked out, I now knew that I was ready to run.

 

 

Finlayson Arm 50K Race Report

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This was (kind of) the inaugural year of the official Finlayson Arm 25 K and 50K race.  Last year, it was offered as a “fat ass” race (translation: no fee, no frills, minimal trail markings, and minimal support).  I raced the 25K last year, and was overwhelmed by the thought of doing the 50K.  The trails were very technical, and there was a ridiculous amount of elevation gain. However, upon completion of the race I saw that no women had attempted the 50K, and decided that someone needed to represent.

And so it began.

September 12 dawned early….so early, it was dark.  I awoke with my usual pre-race excitement, but felt more nerves than ever before.  I recognized it, and tried to pull my head back into a positive space.  My ride arrived at 5:40 AM, and 3 of us chatted in the car about watches and race strategies.  Pulling up at the startline (Goldstream group campground), the sight of a campfire burning seemed calming in the pitch black of the morning.  Race director Myke Labelle dashed past with his headlamp on, muttering something about equipment malfunctions.  We stood around for a bit, warming by the fire, and then pinned on our race bibs as the daylight increased.  Friends and strangers mingled, all joined by a common purpose: to run that beast of a course.

Myke called us all together for a quick pre-race briefing, and then we were off.  In true trail racing fashion, almost no one crowded the line and people hung back, knowing there was no hurry at this point.  We had 50 very long and very hilly kilometres to get through.  3 of us had trained together- Andrew Barclay, David Marlor, and myself- and we started out together.  The plan was to run our own races, but to at least start out together, and see how it went.  There was no promise to stay together, and no guilt if we ran ahead.  We chatted as we ran.  Before we knew it, it was time to “cross the highway” to the other side of the park.  Our illustrious race director was so incredibly concerned for our safety that rather than have us run across the highway, frogger style, he routed us beneath the highway instead……thru the Goldstream river for about 50 metres.  A half-inch rope was thoughtfully strung along, to grab onto as we waded downstream, kneedeep in water and slipping on the volleyball sized rocks while we cracked jokes.  Now soaking wet less than 1 km into our journey, we clambered up the riverbank and back up to the trail.  2 of the runners got stung by bees as we headed back into the trees, but thankfully I (narrowly) avoided this.  Strangely, I found myself having a hard time warming up.  My legs did not have their usual spring, and I struggled to keep up with the guys that I regularly kept pace with.  I also struggled mentally, but tried to step outside of that, as I knew that my mental game would be key for this very long and taxing race.  Andrew began to pull ahead, and called for us to join him, but I knew that if I ran any faster, it would hurt me later on so I kept my pace and carried on with David and a few others.  We reached the base of Mt. Finlayson, and began to climb. I rationalized that I was fine, since I had trained by doing repeats on this evil mountain every week.     Today, though, my body did not want to do what I was asking of it, not even for a single ascent up to the summit.  By now Andrew was out of sight, and there was a small group of us climbing.  About 2/3 of the way up, I admitted to David that I was struggling, badly, and also that my mental game was off.  His calm reply surprised me: “OK, so what do you need to do to get it back?”  And at that point, I realized that I needed to re-frame the race, and instead, I began to look at it as a series of shorter runs, broken up by aid stations.  We hit the top of the mountain, and ran right over it and started our descent.  I ran steadily, but did not overdo it.  It was so familiar, and that made it easier.  We made our way to the road, and very quickly found our way to the first aid station. Taking off my pack to refill water, I was stunned to realize that it was still almost completely full. Oooops.  That might have explained part of why I was struggling with pace.  I grabbed a couple of orange slices, some amazing ice cold water, a few chips, and off we went.

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Now, we headed up towards Holmes peak and Jocelyn Hill.  The next aid station was about 12 kms away.  I made a point of pounding back the GU brew I was carrying, and within the next half an hour, I suddenly felt fantastic.  I was back- physically, and mentally.  I found myself smiling more, and cracking jokes.  We switched to powerhiking for the uphills here, and were rewarded with some breathtaking views as we ran along the ridge overlooking Saanich Inlet.  It was getting warm, but we still had plenty of water, and gels.  A quick checkpoint with a handwritten sign at Jocelyn Hill marked the spot where the 25k runners turned around, and where us 50 k runners would keep going.  It was about 10 minutes before reaching this that we were passed by the leader of the 25k race.  It was inspiring and demoralizing all at the same time.  He had started a full hour later than us, and was passing us as he leapt over rocks like a gazelle.  About 5 minutes later, he glided effortlessly past us again, on his return back to his finish line.  We carried on.  The trail went on much longer than I remembered it being.  One of my favourite pieces to run has always been the backside of Jocelyn Hill, as it heads down towards the Cascade trail.  The trail just banks back and forth…and today was no exception.  It was fun, letting the trail move me down the mountain over rocks and between the trees.  Finally, we reached the aid station at Ross Durrance Road:  the Jade Station.  Our friend Jade (who had done several training runs with us) was manning this station, and it was truly the epitomy of the “oasis” aid station.  Cheery music and a Canadian flag hung for shade, smiling volunteers offered to take my pack and replenish the water, while Chris took my bib number Returning with my drop bag, she handed it to me and started asking questions and cracking jokes.  It was perfect. I was excited to also see Andrew’s wife Cindy there! We chatted briefly, and she mentioned that Andrew had been thru about 10 minutes ahead of us, and was running a strong race. After a quick pep talk from Jade and a quip about meatless brownies, we were off again.  As we headed up Mount Work, we had our work cut out for us.  The terrain was rocky, and hard to get a proper stride anywhere.  Our legs began to cramp, and I was thankful for the pickle juice in my pack.  It was awful but it worked.  We made it to the summit of Mt Work, and began our descent down the back.  There were a couple spots where it was difficult to spot the trail markings, but in all fairness, the sun made it difficult to see- and this was part of the trail I was not overly familiar with.  As we ran, I was hoping we could catch up to Andrew.  We had trained together, the 3 of us, and would be fun to get at least a few kms to run together.  Down the back, we came into another aid station at Munns Road.  We didn’t stop for very long at this one.  I remember seeing gluten free cookies and wishing I could eat one, but I knew that it wouldn’t sit well in my stomach so I passed, choosing orange slices and potato chips instead.  We headed off, back over the same mountain we had just gone up and over. The climb up the back was difficult, but we had done it before.  I somehow missed seeing the official summit, but realized that we had gone past it, and I was so glad we were descending.  It felt like we had been on that mountain forever.  The weather was beautiful, but it was hot, and I couldn’t wait to get off Mount Work.  As we came close to the aid station, we passed a group of men, who were smoking cigarettes, and driving remote control trucks over the rocks — in the middle of the trail– while their sons watched.  The stench of the smoke made me angry, but the look on the boys faces was pure sadness.  I wanted to kick the stupid trucks off the trail- they were in my way, and I was out of patience.  However, I didn’t.  As we closed in on the aid station, we came across Andrew, and so we ran in together.

This was now our 4th aid station (of 5).  The “Jade Station” was even more amazing the second time through.  We handed off our packs for water refill, grabbed a quick snack, took time for a group selfie with Jade himself, and generally took a minute or 2 to laugh and joke.  We said another quick hello to Cindy, and I joked with Chris as she handed me my drop bag.  I took my other pickle juice flask, a couple more gels, and headed off- but not before dousing my head with water.  The 3 of us headed off together now, down to Mackenzie Bight.  Straight downhill.  We were happy.  We  shared stories, but we quickly reached the bottom, and then the climb back up to Jocelyn Hill began.  We were all tired, and legs were trashed.  Andrew told us to go on ahead…and so the gap began to widen.  I hated knowing our group of 3 was splitting, but the race plan was to run our own races.

David and I climbed. And climbed.  And climbed.  The trip back up to Jocelyn Hill seemed much longer than the outbound trip, and we were beginning to struggle.  David and I took turns making conversation.  Someone sang “This is the trail that never ends, it just goes on and on my friends, somebody STARTED singing….” Thankfully, one of us was usually in decent humour, so there was one to struggle, and one to cheer up. As we hit the ridge at the top of Jocelyn Hill, the view was incredible, and I insisted on slowing down to take a photo.  With the sun beating down on us, the sparkling water taunted from below.  I looked down at my arms at one point, and noticed they were white from salt.  I lost track of how many litres of water I drank, and how many salt tabs.  We carried on to Holmes Peak, and descended towards the aid station at Rowntree.  I’m fairly certain that it moved about 10kms further away from where it had been on the outbound trip.  Truly, those kilometres seemed to take forever to tick away.  There was a fun piece of trail with a little hill just before that aid station that was entertaining….and then, we saw it.  Angels heralded our arrival…..lol.  Kidding.   But we were SO excited to arrive!

The volunteers were tired.  We were so grateful to see them, and decided they needed cheering up.  I started cracking jokes, because I needed the break.  I started dumping ice water on my head- and only then did I realize just how overheated I was.  That water felt almost orgasmically good.  Incredible.   It ran down the back of my neck, and down my back….and it was awesome.  We cracked a joke about how bad our language had become….and when one of the volunteers tried to mimic us, we had to correct her swearing.  It was funny.  As we left, we carried on laughing.  We were now on the home stretch.  According to the watch, we had about 4.5 or 5 kms to go.

Reality:  we had 7 kms to go.  We had run the trail around the side of Mt Finlayson by Bear Mountain many many many times.  It had never seemed so difficult as it did now.  I amused myself by remembering former training runs, and by cracking stupid jokes, trying to make David laugh.  It was here that we had a conversation.  I admitted I was getting tired, and needed to drop the pace a bit.  I suggested that David go ahead….and he said no he was not leaving.  We agreed to finish the race together.  It would have felt almost rude to split at that point- and I don’t really think either one of us could have taken off.  We were pulling each other along, and it was working.  The trail turned, and I knew we were now on the trail that headed back to the campground- which was also the finish line.  And I also knew that I was completely unfamiliar with this trail.  I was aware that we had been running now for more than 9.5 hours, and I was getting hungry.  We rounded a corner, and suddenly there was a photographer….and also a guy with a drone.  The drone made me mad.  It didn’t belong in the forest, and it was following me.  I wanted to yell at it, but was worried that someone might find it funny, and use that footage in a video.  Grrr.  In that moment, I just wanted to be left alone, and gut out the rest of the race.  When we heard the cheering of the finish line, we perked up.  I remember smiling.  We ran together, stride for stride, and crossed the finish line where Myke was standing there ready to high-five us.  I remember a blur of hugs in the chute….friends….runners…..and I remember needing to walk, and then the relief of sitting down.  I had done it.  We had done it.  We had conquered Finlayson Arm 50K.  9 hours, 49 minutes of running.

As I stood in the chute, I have never felt more exhausted by a race course.  It was amazing, and hard, and overwhelming, and exhilarating.  And I was so proud to have completed it.  I soaked in the awesome post-race atmosphere, and sat there surrounded by friends.  I didn’t think I would ever need to run it again.  A few days later, I cannot shake the sense of needing redemption on that course.  I’ve caught myself revising my training plan for “next time”…and I have a feeling that I am not yet done with you, Finlayson Arm 50K.

Sun Mountain 50K: an UltraRunner is Born

David, Sean, and Lisa, waiting at Anacortes Ferry terminal

David, Sean, and Lisa, waiting at Anacortes Ferry terminal

Sun Mountain 50K, my first ultra marathon : it had been a dream for about a year.  While on a training run for a road marathon with a buddy, we dared to dream about “the next step.”  A few months later, we found ourselves running in different company, and had somehow landed on Sun Mountain as our goal race for our first ultra.  Sun Mountain became the mantra.  As life would have it, my running partner was unable to race it- but was there to support my training, and so I embarked upon this adventure, not knowing what I was getting into.

I traveled to Sun Mountain with a new running friend, David, whom I’d been lucky enough to do several training runs with. Another running buddy Sean was also on the ferry with us, headed to the 50 mile race. The trip down was fun- we chatted, joked, and talked about the upcoming race. The scenery as we drove thru the Cascades and into the Methow valley was stunning.

Beautiful Cascades

Beautiful Cascades

Rumour has it that a snow angel happened.

Snow Angel

Snow Angel

We left Victoria on Thursday. Friday was spent napping, picking up last minute bug spray (as per the pre-race email) and packing our drop bags (which we had never done before).  We went for a short “shake out” run as well, to get a general feel for the trails, and to scope out the evil Mt. Patterson, which we had heard about.

David, shake out run near the Chickadee  with Mt. Patterson in the background

David, on our shake out run near the Chickadee trail head with Mt. Patterson in the background

It rose ominously, and seemed to taunt me, but I refused to be intimidated. How bad could it be?  Just another mountain (at the END of our 50K race).

I had run several marathons already, and a number of long training runs.  Ultramarathons differ from road races in that there are very few aid stations (rather than one every 2ish kms), and so being self sufficient was key.  Sun Mountain 50K would have 3 aid stations.  Everything I needed I would have to either carry, or pack in my drop bags.  Knowing that heat was a huge factor (which I could not train for) also caused some trepidation.  However, I was as trained as I could be, and I was confident in my ability to problem solve on the go.

Saturday morning was filled with anticipation.  David picked me up, and we drove to the start line at Chickadee Trail head.  To my surprise, one of my trail buddies- Amanda- was there, directing traffic!  It was great to see her, and to get a high five from someone I knew.  The start line of this, my first ultra, was awesome.

Our crew from Victoria, BC!

Our crew from Victoria, BC!

Runners milled about, taking photos, adjusting shoe laces, and figuring out where to attach their race bibs.  Instead of pace bands and split times, the conversations revolved around “what might happen” and a general respect for the sport that anything could happen, given any number of factors.  There was a casualness and a community that I instantly connected with.

Start Line and Registration desk

Start Line and Registration desk….amazingly casual

The pre-race briefing began with an apology- we’re sorry that James (the race director) couldn’t be here to do this but he had to go out on the course to deal with some errant cows.   Follow the pink ribbons, pay attention to junction signs,  scare off cows as necessary, close gates behind us, and be nice.  And no throwing trash on the ground- this is not a road race.  There was a 30 second warning, a 10 second, and then someone yelled “go” and we were off.  A short piece of double track trail quickly funneled us onto a beautiful single track trail.  We merged in, and settled into what felt like an incredibly slow pace.

up we go!

up we go!

David and I had decided to start the race together and see how it went, but there were no expectations to finish together.  We chatted as we ran alongside Patterson lake on a well groomed trail, marveling in how easy this trail way to run given what we had trained on.  It was warm, but I was comfortable in my singlet.  I also knew that a hat would be key.  As we emerged from the trees, we found ourselves on a beautiful meadow of flowers, blue and yellow.  The sight and the smell were pure awesome.  The runners started to spread out, and the race began to feel comfortable.  I loved the casualness of it all. Here we were, running in the woods with some friends, some strangers who all love running, and beautiful scenery.  You could feel the warmth emanating from the ground, bringing to life the smell of pine needles and dirt, as the sun beat down from above.  Birds sang, and bugs buzzed around.

Right…..the mosquitoes. As we began our ascent to Thompson Ridge (highest point on the course at 3600 ft), we found ourselves on some shadier trail.  As we hiked upwards, I swatted mosquitoes constantly.  After a few frustrating minutes, it became clear that they were not going away, so I asked David to get my pen-sized bug repellant from my pack.  I sprayed what I could, and then handed it to him to spray my back/shoulders.  Before putting it back, he used it and then sprayed another gal who was wishing she had brought her own.  This was a new thing for me, as I’d never encountered bugs this bad.  It was a good lesson for me in trusting the pre-race email, and I will make sure I do it again.  We continued on our quest, walking most of the uphills as per our plan, and running everything else.  Rewarded with amazing views at every turn, we were in good spirits, and chatted to pass the time.

Raw Beauty

Raw Beauty

We loved the flowers.  We indulged in the beauty and stopped for a few seconds to take pics of the amazing sunflower meadows, smiling, and just taking it all in.  Mountains rose in the distance, as we chatted with other runners we had never met.  Heck, we loved everything about it.

Sun Mountain.  Photo by Glen Tachiyama

Sun Mountain. Photo by Glen Tachiyama

Thompson Aid station: we arrived here after an hour and 40 mins of running.  As we approached, small children ran out to greet us, asking if they could help.  “Can I fill your bottle for you?  Do you need anything?  What can I get for you?” I was surprised, but even more surprised when I realized how capable these kids were.  They knew what they were doing, clearly having been trained by family members.  And they had my back.

Thompson Aid Station, our first oasis

Thompson Aid Station, our first oasis

I had been warned by friends who were veteran ultra runners to not spend too much time at the aid stations…. and I’m so glad they had told me.  It was like walking into an oasis!  Food, candy of every kind, drinks of all kinds, and a general awesomeness.  I cannot say enough about how fantastic the volunteers were.  I felt so taken care of, in every way. Despite all of this, we managed to limit our time at this aid station to 3 minutes, partly due to the fact that I decided I did not need to go to my drop bag.

David and I left feeling refreshed, and started up the gravel road on the next segment of the race. Leaving Thomson Aid station, we crossed this cattle guard

Leaving Thomson Aid station, we crossed a cattle guard. I smiled, knowing that a road race would never include things like this.

It was quite a climb, and we quickly resumed hiking.  After a bit on the road, the route turned and we found ourselves back on the trail.  A climbing section eventually gave way to a fantastic downhill.  IMG_0474Stuck behind slower runners on the singletrack, we waited for opportunities to cut past runners on the inside…. the more courteous runners moved over to let us pass.  We finally found ourselves in the open and I decided I was ready to open it up.  Bombing down the mountain full tilt, I felt as if I danced effortlessly down that section of the trail.  I knew David was close behind, but for those minutes, it didn’t matter and there was no chatting, just running.  It was me, alone on the trails, celebrating the raw freedom and joy of running.  I even took some video footage of it while I ran.

Homestead Aid station appeared, just on time.  Roughly halfway into the race, I was pleasantly surprised by how great I was feeling.  It was hot, and hydration was becoming a concern, but I felt strong, and happy, and there were no aches and pains.  This aid station had the only toilet on the course, and I had planned in advance to take the time to use it.  (although, it wasn’t necessary!).  I handed my pack to a volunteer, made sure my bib number was recorded, and grabbed a few glasses of ice cold water.  It tasted so good in contrast to the water in my pack (which heats up quickly due to body heat and the sun).  I also recognized a need for extra electrolytes and had some GU brew.  Orange slices were great…. but the grapes tasted terrible to my taste buds. Strange.  David and I quickly went to get our dropbags, and grabbed what we needed.  Some dates, glide, and that was it.  Hydration packs refilled, we shouldered them and started off again, congratulating ourselves on departing only 6 minutes after arrival.  We were pros!  Unfortunately, less than 300 m down the trail I realized that I had not re-attached the drinking hose to my pack, so I had to stop to re-attach it.

Leaving Homestead, I felt strong.  My legs felt fantastic, and my heart rate felt like it had barely risen despite the ever-increasing heat.  My only issue was that I probably drank too much water at the aid station, and it was sloshing a bit- but it settled quickly.  The trail became a nice rolling singletrack, winding through  tall trees with bits of shade and low foliage.  IMG_0479There is a push/pull that happens during a long run, and running partners often switch places without even giving it much thought.  When one feels weak they step aside for the stronger one to lead.  Occasionally, the one feeling energized will pick a spot to dart past on the trail.  It’s not a competition, but rather, a sharing of the job of leading.  Along this section, I darted past David up a small incline, saying he’d catch me at the bottom of the little hill that followed.  He smiled, and said no worries. As I continued on, I kept looking back for him but didn’t see him…. and I would not see him again until the finish line.  We had parted ways just after 26 kms.  As the reality of this sunk in, I was sad that I would be finishing on my own, but I knew I was strong enough to get it done so I carried on.  The views along here were some of my favourites on the course.  The mountains in the distance looked like postcards, they were so awesome.  I popped a salt tab, had more gels, and carried on.

Incredible views

Incredible views

All of a sudden there were a few folks sitting under a brightly coloured beach umbrella, randomly situated on the side of the mountain.  The trail turned to meet them, and as I approached they asked, “1st time?  Or 2nd?”  Perplexed, I said “first time.”  They pointed me up the mountain, and said “see you soon- have fun!”  It was then that I realized I was headed up Sun Mountain itself, towards the lodge.  I vividly remember this part.  It was hot hot hot, and sweat poured down my entire body, dripping off my elbows as I switched to mostly power hiking.  Although the hat felt stifling, I kept it on to keep the sweat from running into my eyes.  Midway through the climb, we popped out above the treeline, and started zig zagging our way up the hot dry dusty switchbacks to the top.  As I glanced both below and above me, I could see a line of runners, all hiking.  It felt odd that no one tried to pass, we all just kept putting one foot in front of the other.  A small set of stairs at the very top was a welcome surprise, and I scampered up them, pleased to be at the top.  And then, there was no trail!  I  meandered across a manicured lawn (at the lodge, where people were sipping cool drinks and watching me with bemused looks) and continued on towards the trail head again.  Returning to the cover of trees was a welcome treat, and I soon realized I was back on the same section of trail as before.

One of many gates we went thru, to keep the cows where they belonged

One of many gates we went thru, to keep the cows where they belonged

As I settled back into a comfortable rhythm, I felt strong.  I was beginning to think more about electrolytes and hydration, but I still felt decent.  Rounding a corner, I saw a runner stretching out his legs.  As I approached, I recognized the cheery face of another training buddy, Richard, who was doing the 50 miler.  I made sure he was OK, then offered to run him up to the junction.  It was refreshing to have a friendly face to chat with, and it was wonderful to hear about his adventure so far that day.  We joked and ran for about half an hour, until we got back to that blasted beach umbrella.  This time, I gleefully announced I was on my second trip through so I headed of the to the left with a great sense of relief.  I remember telling Richard that the views he was about to encounter were fantastic!

And then as I rounded a corner, there was the Patterson Aid Station!  The sharp downhill to get to it surprised me, but I felt fine.  As I got there, my Trail Angel Man came over and asked how he could help me.  I needed a water refill.  Trying to remove the bladder from my pack, I was surprised to see my hands were shaking and I struggled to get it out.  Frustration washed over me and to my surprise, I realized that this little thing was overwhelming to me and I got angry that I couldn’t make it work.  The amazing Trail Angel Man instantly recognized my plight, and reassured me that he would take care of it for me, and he suggested I get some food.  I went over to the table and saw the most amazing thing…. a bowl of pickles.  Yes, pickles.  I ate several pieces, downed some more water, some fruit, and then returned to my Trail Angel.  He apologized- he had filled the bladder but could not figure out how to get it into my pack.  Bursting into tears, I was aware that this was not a big deal, and I recognized that this was a reaction to having been running this long.  Between us, we managed to get the 2L of water back in the pack.  As I calmed myself, he asked if I needed anything else, and my joking self said, “Yes.  Do you have any beer? I could really use a beer.”  He looked at me with a smile and said the words that would ring in my head for the last chunk of the race.  “I have an idea.  Why don’t you go for a nice little 5.6 mile cooldown run, and then grab yourself a beer at the finish line?”  His words were perfect.  They gave me an exact distance (which was totally runnable), reframed this as a cool down run, and reminded me that a great party with beer was awaiting me.  I smiled, thanked him profusely with a hug, and started off.

I wondered now how David was doing, and tried valiantly to mentally send good wishes his way.  I hoped he was feeling strong and still running well.  A group of several guys and I chatted as we left the aid station, all pumped up and excited for the last stretch.  There seemed to be a lot of uphill, which seemed a bit early for The Big Evil Mt. Patterson, but I switched to powerhike mode on the inclines, and carried on with running whatever I could.  A couple kms in, I  asked someone who confirmed what I was suspecting:  I was partway up Mt. Patterson.  There was no tree cover now, just scrub bushes and tumbleweed.

Scrub and tumbleweed, heading up Patterson

Scrub and tumbleweed, heading up Patterson

A jolting pain in my adductor (inside of the quad) was the first indication of trouble.  And suddenly I recognized that I was in big trouble.  Muscle cramp.  First the right leg, and then about 15 minutes later, the left leg started.  It was so bad that I could not lift the leg to walk.  I calmly started thinking thru what the problem might be, and came to the conclusion that it was likely an electrolyte issue.  I’ve only experienced this once before, also in extreme heat, and based on that I knew I needed to act quickly.  I chatted with the Guy From Spokane who was just ahead of me to keep morale boosted as I popped my last salt tab.  Nothing. Randomly, I heard this voice in my head, another training buddy Sean, who had told me only 2 days before that he “ate dates for potassium.” And I remembered I had DATES in my pack!  Chewing them was like chewing sawdust.  My body was hardly producing saliva, and I needed to drink water in order to choke them down.

The momentary relief from the cramp meant I could carry on hiking, and we came to the stile.  Basically, it was an evil 6 foot ladder that went up and over a barbed wire fence.  The prospect of climbing up and over anything on tired and cramping legs was daunting, but it was the only way through. I made it over, and carried on.  Patterson kept looming, and it felt like I was not making progress.  The legs were cramping again, and now I could not lift my legs to take a step.  “Relentless forward progress,” I reminded myself.  “you got this. Stay strong.”  The words of my marathon partner (who was not racing) ran through my mind.  But it was not enough, and I recognized I was in serious trouble.

I began to logically think about DNF’ing (Do Not Finish…. aka bailing out).  I could not walk.  I could not run.  My only other option was to try going backwards, so I did.  I walked backwards up the enormous hill, relentless forward progress.  I remembered the hard training runs.  I imagined my other buddies running up this hill.  And I reached for more dates, only to realize there were none left.  And no more salt tabs.  I had made a serious error at the last aid station- I had not grabbed those items from my drop bag.  Too late now, I decided to do the best I could with what I had- which was pure mental toughness, and legs that were failing me.  I tried changing my stride, and my footstrike, but nothing made it go away.  Ironically, I discovered that stopping didn’t make it go away either- so decided that despite the pain of moving forwards, it hurt worse to stop.  Gritting my teeth I decided to carry on, one effing step at a time.  This was the moment of truth, the moment I had trained for and I decided that if I had to DNF, it was going to be as late in the course as I could be. I was not going down without a fight.  Game ON.

Atop the false summit....looking at the real summit in the distance.

Atop the false summit….looking at the real summit in the distance.

Every step brought me one step closer  to the finish line.  As I saw the summit of Patterson, I got excited.  I might have smiled.  And then, horror of horrors, I saw the most awful sight…. the true summit of Patterson, still in the distance.

Shit.  I was standing on a false summit.  I fought back the tears, pulled out more strength than I knew I had, ignored the stabbing searing pain in my adductors, and carried on, determined to beat this brutal mountain.

And then, by some miracle, I arrived!  I snapped a quick pic, and began to run down.

View from the top of Mt. Patterson, heading down

View from the top of Mt. Patterson, heading down

Unfortunately, running downhill requires being able to bend the knees and land softly- and my cramping muscles made it nearly impossible.  Again I played with footstrike and stride, and discovered that running hurt less than walking.  My shuffling gait caused me to stumble, and must have looked funny as the trail weaved between tumbleweed and hidden rocks.

Forcing a smile, just before I toepicked the rock

Forcing a smile, just before I toepicked the rock.  Photo by Glen Tachiyama.

Sun Mountain 3 IMG_3244-L

I toepicked a rock and careened wildly down the mountain for about 20 seconds, completely out of control as I tried to decide the best side of the ridge to slide down on my face (I knew I could not land this one.)  Miraculously, I was able to stay on my feet and  regained control.  I somehow made it down Mt. Patterson and found myself on flat ground.  And SHADE.

The last couple kms of the race were a blur.  I lost track of the distance, and could not seem to process how long it would take me to finish.  My brain was no longer thinking clearly, despite my repeated attempts to estimate how much further I had left. My leg cramps settled a bit, only protesting when I climbed a hill.  And then we came to a gentle uphill.  I still had no idea how much longer there was to go, when a male runner passed me.  He said, “hey- well done, runner!  I’m not racing so don’t worry about me passing you.”  I smiled and asked if he knew how much further to the finish line.  “About 2 minutes, I think,” is what he said.  I perked up and said “Hey- I can do that!!” Breaking into a run, the amazing runner guy said he’d run me up as far as he could before turning to his own trail.  My speed increased as I heard cheering.  He left me and wished me well, and as I rounded the corner, I saw PEOPLE! The Finish Line!  I broke into what felt like a full sprint, smiling, and feeling victorious.  Race director James Varner stood smiling in the chute, and high-fived me as expletives of joy burst out of my mouth.  I was so happy.  My friend Amanda appeared out of nowhere, and then took care of me, walking with me to cool down, and then making sure I had enough ice, and food and beverages after.  6 :01:38 was my official time, good enough for 3rd in my age group, and right about what I had expected for a finish time.

David and I, post race. Ultramarathoners at last

David and I, post race. Ultramarathoners at last!

Time stopped for the remainder of the day.  We pulled out blankets and lawn chairs, and listened to live bluegrass while waiting for our other friends to arrive. David arrived 27 minutes after I crossed the line, and I have to say, Rainshadow Running has figured out how to throw a great finish line party. We cheered, took pics, drank free beer and cider and ate free fresh pizza in the sun.  I remember feeling amazing, and cared for, and happy.  An epic day that will never be forgotten.  I fell deeply in love with trail racing that day, and I cannot wait to do this all again.  I’m proud to call myself an Ultra Marathoner.  I’ve signed up for the Finalyson Arm 50K  race in September, and look forward to racing again.

Happy Girl!  Ready for the next challenge.

Happy Girl! Ready for the next challenge.

Crushing Fear

Tonight, January 24 2014, I attended the first run clinic for my very first marathon training. It’s a significant milestone. To even entertain the idea of undertaking a marathon is a crazy and massive thought. It’s physically challenging, mentally challenging….and most people think you are absolutely nuts. However, for me this challenge took on a new and even more ridiculous angle only a few short weeks ago. In a random accident, I fell down some stairs, breaking 5 ribs and tearing other tissues in my ribcage. To even take a breath was agonizing; to lift a glass of water or to shift positions on the couch sent stabbing pain searing thru my core.  After 2 days in hospital I was sent home, and began the daunting task of figuring out how to take care of myself while in excruciating pain. My first walk was about 200 metres, with a pillow clutched to my abdomen to help manage pain. It took me 20 minutes.  I started rehabbing the injury and decided I would work on this a little bit every day.  The clinic officially started January 2, but (for obvious reasons) I could not start with them, so I had to build up strength on my own, and do only what I was able to, gradually increasing.

4 1/2 weeks later and lots of workouts later, I decided to take a chance and join up with my running peeps tonight . I’ve slowly built up since that first walk….little bit at a time, slightly further and slightly faster every day. Last week I started run/walking on the treadmill, and yesterday I attempted a short run on real ground, running 5 and 1’s. (I should mention at this point that I have been working closely with my physiotherapist, and he has been stunned at my progress and yet very encouraging.)

I did my “strength workout” this morning, knowing (or so I thought) that I was done when I put my weights down. I’m not sure what possessed me to mention to my hubby that I was considering popping by the clinic tonight. I think I expected him to say no….and was stunned when he agreed. I knew that tonight’s scheduled workout included a short warmup run, and then some hill repeats, before heading back to the store. I also knew that we were never more than a km or 2 away from the store, and if I had problems it was easy to get back. As I changed into my running gear, fear began to overtake me. I could hear the voices arguing inside my head. What are you doing? You’re crazy. This is one of the stupidest things you’ve done yet. What if you get hurt? You’re not ready. What if you can’t keep up? The voices got louder as I approached the Running Room. I entered the room, hovering near the back hoping to not be noticed. However, one of my friends at the front saw me, and flashed a smile. It should have calmed me….but instead, I now knew that I was committed, and had no way to back out. What had I gotten myself into? We headed out, and the tape in my head carried on: “you have no business being out here. Marathons are for people who are in fabulous shape. Only 0.5% of North Americans have completed a marathon. You are clearly NOT in good enough shape to do that….” and on and on it played. As I dropped behind to take a walk break, I made a conscious choice to ignore it. I decided to stomp out fear, and just put one foot in front of the other and complete the warmup. One by one my peeps rounded the corner and disappeared from sight. I sighed, and resigned myself to the thought that I might have tried to come back too soon. However, I could still take my walk breaks, so I knew I could at least catch up to them at the Hill. And then, I noticed that one of my friends had waited at the corner. As I approached, I could hardly look him in the eye, afraid that he might notice I how much pain I was in and send me back to the store. Instead, I got cheery words of encouragement, a high five, and a smile. Runners really are some of the best people in the world. It meant everything to know that someone saw that I was struggling, made sure I was OK and yet didn’t try and persuade me to stop.  They understood my need to try, even though I knew the chance of failure was high….because they also knew the other side of the story:  there was still a chance of success.  And it was that chance of success that I was chasing.

Somehow, I managed to get thru the workout. I was not fast, it was not smooth, it certainly was not pretty.  The stopping and starting allowed me time to rest in between (which was actually the saving grace of it). I walked portions of it while the others ran. Some of the time, I stood and rested while they charged up the hill yet again.  Most of the time, I was at the back of the pack…often, well behind it. Mentally and physically, it was incredibly difficult for me.  BUT, I got thru it. And with every step, I knew I was crushing fear beneath my feet.

As we headed back to the store, I twisted my ribcage the wrong way and nearly dropped to my knees in excruciating pain.  Tears filled my eyes but I knew that I needed to get back, so I slowed my pace, took a few deep breaths, and tried to listen to the cheery chatter around me. Even listening was too hard.  No one seemed bothered that I was not participating in the conversation. The last downhill has never felt so long (it’s only a couple hundred metres)….I nearly could not finish it. However, the track in my head suddenly changed, and I recalled a conversation at a half marathon with a training buddy who refused to let me quit and I realized that I needed to just gut out these last few steps tonight.

Standing in the dark with the group after as we stretched, I knew that I had possibly just completed one of the most difficult workouts of my life. Surrounded by strong fit athletes who had previously seen me at my best, I had dragged my now-injured body thru the same workout that they had. It was pretty clear I was no longer at my best.  I was hurting (a lot, I might add) and perhaps I would be sore tomorrow…..but there was a glow of accomplishment inside that nothing could steal. I’m not ready to marathon yet. But I am ready to start training….and there is no room for fear.