Almost 200 wicked people that you’d want to get to know running through the streets of Vancouver, and then finishing up with delicious food, cold beers, rad hats, and statement socks. Conversations were flowing and friendships were strengthened and formed. Geographical barriers were non-existent. Laughter filled the air into the late hours of the night.
Two days later, one of the biggest running parties took over Vancouver. The SeaWheeze Half Marathon brought together 10,016 runners from around the globe to crush a goal, experience Vancouver for its raw beauty, and celebrate over yoga and music in beautiful Stanley Park. The two biggest highlights for me:
I was part of a special group of 40 people who were Pace Beavers and were privileged enough to lead groups to their goal time. But beyond that, I was connected to not only the Pace Beavers who were all lululemon ambassadors, but to all ambassadors who came to SeaWheeze. Through multiple events, ending with a picnic style dinner at the SSC (lululemon head office), we shared, mingled, and connected, creating friendships and bonds that go beyond the weekend.
As a Pace Beaver, there is a responsibility I have to have integrity in the promise that I will carry my runners across the finish line in a certain time. It may not seem like much but it is a true honour to lead and hold tight to the trust that runners from near and far have given to me. This was my 4th year as a Pace Beaver and I cannot begin to express how excited and overjoyed I get when I help someone achieve and crush their goal. This is what drives me to continue giving to the community in any capacity I can.
Luck doesn’t begin to describe it. I feel as though I’ve won the jackpot when it comes to life and I keep getting the winning ticket. I’m an ambassador for both Vancouver Running Co and lululemon, each providing me avenues to connect to my community and space to create more. My passion is so deeply rooted in authentically connecting with people through our shared unbridled love of run and celebrating every success along the way. In all capacities. On all terrain.
Completing a 50miler is definitely a big accomplishment. What they don’t tell you about are the raw unbridled tears at 3:30am on the bathroom floor, sobbing into a towel to keep from waking others, as you start to absorb the magnitude of the day you just had and what it took to cross the finish line.
As much as I’d love to curse Gary Robbins for designing a soul-crushing course at the Squamish 50 miler – in actual fact, I cursed him all day – the day unfolded the way it did.
The months leading up to race day were focused more on adventures with friends than regimented training plans. I crested peaks, found and strengthened friendships, laughed immensely and rejuvenated my soul in the trails. I filled a void that was missing and it healed something I didn’t realize was broken.
I toed the line a little less prepared, throwing a bit of caution to the wind, but in the company of good friends. I ran a bit of the first 6mi with Jamie, who was running his first 50miler, but he soon peeled off and I was on my own. I went through the first aid station at 6mi on target and handed my headlamp to Tav and Teppo (our house guest from Finland). Onward to do the steady climb into the Alice Lake for Aid Station 2 at 12 miles, where I saw lots of familiar faces. A little bit of chatting, a little bit of doddling, and then I got shooed out by Elaine – I prewarned her that I like hanging out at aid stations a bit too much.
I saw Tav quickly on the trail just leaving Aid Station 2 – we exchanged a quick peck and off I went to go through some rolling trails to meet up with my #RunRobson crew at Aid Station 3. I rolled into the aid station and there was my crew running it like a well-oiled machine .. and playing Cheerleader, as I requested! Kat filled me up and then I was off to do a 6mi loop til I hit their aid station again. Just before I hit the aid station, things started to feel off. My sciatic was starting to act up and things started to hurt from my lower back through my hips and down my legs. This isn’t necessarily new but it wasn’t encouraging only 3ish hours in. As I continued through the 6mi loop, it started to get worse and my stomach didn’t feel quite right – well, not quite my stomach, but the connection between my stomach and my throat. I’ve never had nausea on a run so I just continued to fuel the way I normally did and pressed on.
About 400m from the aid station, I caught my toe on a rock and superman’d myself into the service road and my left calf cramped immediately. It subsided and I looked down to assess the damage. My knee, which took the brunt of the fall, was covered in dust and dirt covered flaps resembling overly ignored dust bunnies, but those weren’t dust bunnies. Those were the remnants of my skin. Ew. I wiped myself off a bit and headed into the aid station. Kat met me again and made sure i was filled up and even wiped the dirt off my chin – something else I didn’t realize I hit.
I left Aid Station 3 for a 7mi jaunt up Galactic trail and down to Word of Mouth (Aid Station 4). I quickly messaged Tav and Elaine letting them know of my fall and sent them a nice little selfie of my bloody knee. I needed a bit of comic relief plus I wanted to give them an update. The Galactic climb goes on for several miles and things started to get worse for me. At points, I had to pull off to the side to collect myself. The nausea in my throat was getting worse and I needed to just pause. I remember Linda telling me to always eat if you felt nauseas so I kept trying to eat. I chased every bite with a ginger candy. After another 20 minutes and not feeling any better, I messaged Tav and Elaine again asking them for Advil and some Glory lemon ginger juice. I thought the source of my issue was the pain from my sciatic. It was a long and slow climb with many pauses but I finally made it to the top of Galactic and I made my descent to the Word of Mouth Aid Station and saw Kelly (btw, she makes the BEST gear bags). It was the first time I verbalized how awful I was feeling. Kelly was awesome – she’s had similar issues before so she gave me a bit of advice, a lot of sympathy, and encouragement to get to the next aid station. It wasn’t far away – 3 miles. I just wanted to get to Quest to see my crew and try to sort out what was wrong.
So much nausea and so little fuel, but I dragged my body into Quest. I lacked my usual perk and it showed. I was a bit disoriented on what I needed – asking for things, then saying I didn’t need anything. I swapped watches with Tav as mine were on its last legs, and I reluctantly left the aid station. The nausea had to stop. This has never happened before. How much longer could it last? Well, I was about to find out. I left Quest about 8.5 hours into my run and I knew my goal was out the window. I was in tentative survival mode.
The road out of Quest was a long uphill that took me up Climb trail. As I continued up the relentless hill, my body started tingling, my hands started shaking, and I felt extremely light-headed. I was worried. The nausea hadn’t calmed down and I felt like I was going to pass out. At one point, I messaged Tav that I wasn’t feeling well and even gave him my location in case something happened to me, but he just messaged back words of encouragement and that he was at the Farther Side Aid Station – #7. I still needed to get to Aid Station 6 at Garibaldi Road first. I was hitting a low point. I had no way out. So I continued to climb. And pause. And climb. And pause. Until I reached the top and I started to make my way down to the Aid Station. At one point, the trail led to a platform with a steep ramp down and I had to stop. The volunteer joked around and said I had to go down it but I told him that I was feeling faint and that I had to turn around, go back down and around. I continued on not feeling any better, fighting back tears, fighting back feelings of despair and helplessness, and fighting the pangs of hunger… just fighting. I was near panicking. Somehow I calmed myself down somewhat and got into Aid Station 6. The nausea still didn’t subside. I could only take small mouthfuls of food at a time, and when I mean small, it would be about a teaspoon of food, chased with ginger candy, and a few sips of liquid. Nothing else. Nothing.
I stayed at the aid station for a while, contemplating my options – wondering if it was really safe for me to continue. Tav and the rest of them were going to be at the next aid station which was 5 miles away. I didn’t feel right so I sat down. I never sit down at a race. I always say once I sit, I won’t want to get up, but I just needed to think. There was a medical staff beside me treating someone else. I wanted to ask him to check me out. To see if it was safe. But I couldn’t find my voice. I sat for a little while longer. I fought back tears again. Eventually, I got up from the chair, took a deep breath, and forged onward. It was 5 miles. I wasn’t confident I would make it but I suppose I would try. About a mile in, a volunteer was at the entrance of a trail and directed me in. I had to take another moment to collect myself. It took 2 offers from the volunteer for his chair before I took it. A few deep breaths and a few internal struggles, and I slowly got up and started on the rolling hills to make my way to the Farther Side Aid Station.
I made it to the service road that led to the aid station and saw Greg (best RMT EVER). As soon as I saw him, I started walking. We approached a bigger downhill and I let myself go. Thankfully, despite all the nausea, I was still able to run downhill. As soon as I hit the flat, I walked. I had nothing in me. No fuel. No lift. No life.
Tav and Teppo met me at the bottom of the hill that led to the aid station and all 4 of us walked up the hill where Kat and Leica were waiting. I sat again as Greg checked out my legs. I had some ginger ale. I had some watermelon. And my pack was refilled. I didn’t want to leave. I so wanted to stop, but again, I lost my voice. As depleted as I was, I couldn’t bring myself to quit. By then, it was too close. I knew, from what Elaine had told me, what was ahead. I had another climb. I knew it was going to be awful. I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat. I knew the nausea would not go away. Slowly and reluctantly, I left the aid station. I had 7 miles left and what I did know is that I would be able to finish – even if I had to walk the whole thing.
Every climb required herculean strength. Each step required a long pause. At times, I would find bouts of energy on downhill or slightly flat runnable sections, but it would disappear as soon as I hit any sort of incline and be replaced by large waves of nausea and rapid short breaths. There were a few false summits, and eventually I reached the large rock where a volunteer announced that I was finally at the top. I just needed to make my way back down a few kms and then it was another few to the finish. Just to be clear though – it was not all downhill on the way back down. But, I did eventually reach the bottom and I was at the Bluffs. A few kms isn’t much, but it takes a long time to get there when my body isn’t fueling off anything. It was somewhat runnable so I ran what I could. I ran into John (he and I leap-frogged through the day) who was having a rough go so I offered him my ginger candies, my Tums, and some other ginger candies. Apparently, I felt as though he needed them more than I did and that I was close enough to the end to give them away. As soon as I left him, I regretted not keeping one ginger candy for myself. Every encounter with a volunteer made the finish line seem closer but yet so far away.
Finally, I made it to the final stretch down the road the finish line. Tav was waiting and I gave him a fly-by kiss, which was more like a kick in the face (sorry babe – bad aim on my part) and as I approached the grassy patch towards the finish line, I was greeted by the most amazing receiving line of my #RunRobson crew. I ran across the finish line and into Gary’s arms. I was overwhelmed with familiar faces and hugs but lacked all energy for any sort of expressive emotion.
It was over. Finally over. Official time was 14:49. I battled through 11ish hours of nausea. About 1,000 calories consumed. I felt like a shadow of my true self. But it was finally over.
That day took something out of me that I’ll never get back. It took a bit of my heart and soul and beat me into submission.
I know it’ll take some time before I can truly feel as though I gained strength from this experience – or I may never feel that. As I’m writing this, I’m already fighting back tears at how this 50miler broke me.
Again, I will say this over and over again – there is no one to blame. I had a really really bad day. It wasn’t Gary’s fault. It wasn’t the course. My body decided to punish me and make me suffer beyond anything else I’d ever experienced and at some point, I will have to make peace with that.
What I do have is an immense amount of gratitude to my community, my crew, and everyone who cheered me on from near and afar – those who had more confidence and faith in me than I had in myself. I am truly and deeply humbled.
Did it really happen? Some days I forget that I even did the 100k. But if I think about the events of the day, I question how I could forget the way everything came together so perfectly. Maybe it’s because it felt like it was too perfect…
The alarm offensively rang at 2:30am and, one by one, we got up to get ready for a long day – myself, Tav, and Greg. By 4:15am, we were ready to roll out the door with everything in check. After an extremely windy drive, which eventually gave Greg motion sickness, we arrived at the Stinson Beach Community Centre – the hub for this year’s Miwok 100k. Race bib acquired and pinned. Now, to find my partner in crime / training partner, Linda, to make up the Power of Linda^2. With 15 minutes to race start, I spotted her and I was calmed. For over a week, I was a huge bag of nerves..
Am i ready? Did I train enough? What if my sciatic rears its ugly head? What if I can’t do it? Am I in over my head?
The pep talks I got all week helped: Hoz offered good advice about the course, Tav was amazing in keeping me focused on the execution of the day, and Linda, who was there for so many of my long runs, gave me the confidence in my fitness that the finish line was more than attainable. But even still, it was difficult not to let my mind race about all the negative potential possibilities.
So there we were, at the start, headlamps lit and ready to take on the next 100km. I don’t remember if there was a gun, but a quick send off from the boys, and Linda and I were on our way. The race started at 5am so the sun hadn’t risen yet, which meant it would just be a hike/trot until the single track line of over 400 runners started to spread out. It was, in fact, a blessing in disguise. There was no ‘going out too hard’. The opposite, actually, and it gave Linda and I a chance to spend about an hour chatting, almost forgetting that there were runners around us. I’m sure they were all entertained by our banter – at least that’s what we told ourselves. I don’t know how to describe that first hour or so, but it really was something else. Tav had described the scenery to me before that it was very ‘Sound of Music’esque’ — The Hills Are Alive!
There was a calming melodical tone to everyone’s footsteps and relaxed demeanour. The time went by quick and the gap between Linda and I started growing. I could feel my old road runner instincts wanting to kick in and dart forward to pass, but I had many voices in my head to hold back. I did pull ahead, but bit by bit. I was crossing a small road section as one trail ended to another trailhead, when I caught sight of the sunrise. I took my camera out and snapped a quick photo. The photo doesn’t do it justice, but it was beautiful and so worth it.
Unfortunately, the ‘Sound of Music’ hills didn’t last forever, and I went right through Aid Station 1 (Bolinas Ridge – 6.3miles). I knew I wouldn’t see my crew until Aid Station 2 (Randall Trail – 12.9miles) so I set my sights on that. The trails between AS1 and AS2 were rolling and I found myself able to run more than I needed to walk. My strategy for the day was to be conservative on the hills. They weren’t my strength so I was better off hiking the uphills and using the downhills to my advantage, as that was where I excelled. What I didn’t account for was the long downhill into AS2, but it was glorious. I flew right into AS2 to meet Tav and Greg at almost a 14 hour finish time pace. They grabbed my pack to fill it up as I went into the portapotty line up for a quick tinkle. Little did I know that the line up would be longer than anticipated – almost 10 minutes. As I was waiting in line, I hear.. “Honey…”. I look over and Tav has pulled a near full bladder out of my pack. Ooops… I guess I wasn’t that thirsty.
As I got ready to leave AS2, the boys told me that it would be close to 4 hours before I would see them – this was key information for me. We did a quick check for fuel and I was on my way back to AS1 (doubled as AS3). What goes down must go up, so that glorious downhill into AS2 became a grunt of hike. About 5 minutes of climbing, I see Linda flying down and we hollered our hello’s. For those that don’t know Linda, well, you should. She has a smile and an energy about her that perks anyone up.
Again, I go right through AS3 (19.5miles) and on to AS4 (Cardiac – 26.5miles). I tried to stay on top of my fluids and my fueling to avoid getting the evil eye again when I was renewed with my crew at AS5 (Muir Beach – 31.5miles). During this time, my crew would grow by 1 as the boys met up with Soroush, a good friend who lived in the Bay area. From Cardiac to Muir Beach, it was mostly downhill and it was fabulous. There was also a small road section so I was able to maintain a fairly good pace. In fact, with the downhill and road section, I surprised the boys by meeting them en route – them in the car, and me on foot. They sped ahead to the aid station to get there before I reached it. Apparently, it was close. Mentally, I was still feeling good.
Physically, my legs were a little fatigued but my back and hamstrings were starting to act up – a symptom of my sciatic issue. I kept this in the back of my mind to ensure I didn’t do anything to aggravate it anymore. You might, however, say that running ANOTHER 50km would be aggravating it.. you might.
The boys filled up my pack, loaded me up on my fuel and I was on my way. I was still in good spirits and I was still having fun. From here, it would be about an hour before I would see them again at the next Aid Station (Tennessee Valley – 36.5miles). I can’t recall much about the trail, but I did spend some time hiking a big hill and chatting with someone from DC – an investment banker actually. Unfortunately, he misread the instructions and thought his drop bag was being moved forward from each drop area and he didn’t have any of his gear until he reached the next AS, where he was planning on pulling out. As soon as the trail started to go downhill, “we” decided to try running. “We”, however, soon turned into just me. I was feeling strong on the downhills and seemed to fly by a handful of runners, with some commenting that I seem to always pass them on the downhill.
I came into Tennessee Valley (AS6) a little more fatigued, a little more sore, but in ok spirits. I had a little niggling pain in my soleus area and Greg checked it out. There was really nothing to do except a little bit of extra compression with his magic hands. I asked the boys how long til I saw them again as I knew they weren’t allowed at the next aid station (Bridge View/Rodeo Valley – 41.5 miles), but I was coming right back to Tennessee Valley (doubling as AS8 – 48.9miles). Now, doing simple math, you would be able to deduce that the difference would be 12.3miles, but the day was long and charts can be confusing. I heard 7.8miles and I would be back. There was a sign at the aid station saying that it was 5 miles to AS7 so in my head, it would be a short 2.8miles back to my boys. Then I would have a pacer to the end.
The trail from AS6 to AS7 was tough. It was a climb. A big climb. And it was DAMN windy. So windy that I was blown sideways into the railing. But the view. Amazing. Clear view of the Golden Gate Bridge. I came into AS7 feeling a bit battered, tired, and was looking forward to a mere 2.8 miles til I saw my boys again. And then I saw the sign. 7.3 miles to the next aid station. My heart dropped. This can’t be right. But it was. I took a minute to absorb what I was reading and struggled to think of what I needed to do, as it would be closer to 1.5 hours until I saw them again. I took my pack off and refilled it. I wasn’t thinking clearly, but I remember telling the volunteer that I should eat. She agreed, but nothing on the table was appealing. I may have grabbed something but I can’t remember. I just wanted to go.. but I also wanted to stop. I left the aid station and it was a good downhill to the bottom of the mountain, but that only meant one thing. We had to climb back up to the top and then over to get back to the boys. I started hiking and I was joined by a few of the guys that I had apparently been passing on the downhills. We chatted a bit – they were all so nice. Slowly, they pulled away from me, except for a guy (whose name I later found out to be Sascha) from Florida. We climbed to the top together and then it was downhill to the boys at Tennessee Valley.
Greg met me along the downhill and tried to gauge how I felt. “Garbage” was my response and I started to choke back tears. I came into the aid station, gave them my pack, and went to the loo. I came out and as soon as I saw Tav, the tears starting rolling. All I could say was, “I don’t feel good.” And I couldn’t stop crying. Tav pulled me back together, somewhat, and tried to send me on my way. Before I would leave, I swapped watches as mine died and I went to the aid station to grab something to eat. The volunteer was so lovely and told me that my outfit was her favourite of the day. I thanked her as more tears rolled down my face.
Tav wiped my face and looked me in the eyes. All I had to do was do 5 miles with Soroush and then he would take me to the finish. Just 5 miles. I can do 5 miles. So the 3 of them started to walk me out of the aid station. After about half a km, Greg and Tav left and it was Soroush and I. We started to climb and it was like someone flipped a switch. Everything was fine. I felt really bad for Soroush – he was so great to come out and he was excited to pace me, and here I was, a tearful mess. But, everything was fine now. I had my crew.
So Soroush and I went through the rolling 5 miles which had more downhill than uphill. At one point, we bumped into Glenn Tachiyama – my favourite photographer with the most uplifting smile. He had situated himself at Pirate’s Cove (~51miles?) and we continued on our way. We flew down the hill into Muir Beach (AS9 – 53.7miles) and I was greeted by Tav and Greg. I swapped pacers – Soroush for Tav, or as Soroush was saying, Stud Muffin 2 for Stud Muffin 1 – and we were on our way. And everything was good – it felt like home.
Of course, I whined a little more and Tav had to invoke the “tough love” strategy to get me to the next aid station – a 1300 ft climb to Cardiac (58.7miles). As I said, uphill is not my strength so the poor guy had to listen to me hyperventilate and stroll uphill as best I could. He knew, though, that all he needed to do was get me to the top and I would be golden for the 3mile downhill to the finish. We got into Cardiac, I did a quick pit stop to the portapotty, and we were on our way.
I was tired and sore and had been on my feet longer than I had ever been before, but I’m pretty sure I was flying on those downhills. We passed a number of people and all I could hear was Tav telling me that I was doing SO good, that he was SO proud of me, and to NOT look at my watch. He pushed me to keep going and as we came down the last set of stairs, we were joined by Greg and Soroush. We turned right onto the road and there was the fire hall – the community centre where the finish was next to it.
As I started to make the last turn, Tav was yelling at me to get under 14:05 as I could see the clock reading 14:04 and 30 something seconds. I dug deep and managed to actually pick it up until I crossed the finish line.
Tia, the Race Director, congratulated me and put the medal around my neck. I turned and saw Greg and Tav. Greg gave me a hug. Soroush was behind him filming (see the video at the bottom of this post). And then I turned to Tav and fell into him. I was so overwhelmed .. physically and emotionally. I did it. I really did it. I don’t know how it happened, but somehow, I managed to cross that finish line.
And then I couldn’t move. After sitting for a bit, I slowly made my way to the washrooms to change. I must have been in there for 30 minutes as I was moving at the rate of snail snot. I was also choking back tears. Finally, I came out and was looking for Linda. I soon found her and we had our big teary hug.
It’s been almost 2 weeks and I’m still absorbing the whole experience. I get glimpses and flashes of pieces of the day, but I’m having a hard time stringing it together into one full day – into the fact that I did a full 100km ultra. What keeps going through my head is that I had a pretty damn perfect day, with the absolute best crew, best training partner, best support from back home and my community. I am truly a lucky girl – I don’t know how I got to be this way but I am ever so thankful. It’s probably why thinking of the full experience still makes me cry. damnit.
And, if all the support wasn’t enough, here’s a fantastic video that Soroush made of my day.
Do you ever feel so overwhelmed that you become speechless? Does your heart ever swell so much that the only way to express it is through tears? Do you ever sit back and wonder how you got to be so lucky?
Those thoughts and feelings have been coursing through my blood for the last while. August was an extremely emotional month for me – so much so that I needed to give myself some time and space to find the right words. But, the right words will never come so these will have to do.
Like I said, August was an emotional month. I couldn’t have packed more into it:
There were only 5 weekends in August and 3 were full. Somewhere in there, I had to fit in training for my next ultra (Cle Elum 50k), lead the lululemon Robson Street Run Club, see friends and family, and relax.
In and amongst all of that, two very unplanned things happened.
On the Wednesday before SeaWheeze, it was a day like any other. Work during the day and then Run Club. Run Club gives me so much. I had a vision at the beginning of the year for Run Club and it was to build a run club that was a strong tight-knit supportive family, and it was very much becoming a reality. These amazing people inspire one another, support one another, motivate one another, and they make Wednesdays the highlight of my week. The fact that they are continually present for one another and for me is a pretty special thing. On that day, we were planning a route that goes down Bute to the seawall and then running along the seawall. Andrea, an educator from the store, asked if we could do our weekly icebreaker at the park a few blocks away and I agreed. The weather was gorgeous and it’s a nice short walk. So, that day, like any other, we left the store and walked up Bute towards Nelson Park. Two blocks in, a group jumped out cheering and with signs – it startled me! My first thought was, “Who are we surprising?” and then, “Why don’t I know about it?”
Lo and behold, that person was me. Earlier in the year, I set out to start an initiative called #GoalForward. It was an initiative to bring together the things I was passionate about – community, running, goals, and philanthropy. People would apply for #GoalForward, a program where they would get rewarded in charitable dollars for attaining a SMART goal. I would offer to coach and guide them along if they wanted. If not, it was just a matter of connecting with them and if they crushed their SMART goal, then I would send them $100 in charitable dollars. The money from which I was drawing was part of another campaign – One Year, One Percent. This campaign challenged you to put aside 1% of your annual earnings towards charity. I took this campaign and topped it up to an even $1,000 to be given out to 10 people.
lululemon Robson Street was surprising me that day with the gift of paying it forward. They were supporting my #GoalForward initiative by gifting me $500 for the program. So, now, I am able to pay it forward and reward 15 people instead of 10. I was humbled, floored, and overwhelmed with gratitude.
The second occurrence was around SeaWheeze. I was a Pace Beaver last year and it was so much fun. This year, I was asked to be a Pace Beaver again and I was definitely excited. I was going to be pacing 2:10 and was so happy about it because that was the goal time of some of the people in my run club. Not only do I get to watch them train up to the half marathon distance, I now get to bring them across the finish line.
Kat, Alex and Winnie from Run Club were toeing the line with me and my fellow 2:10 beavers, Susan and Marisa. The gun went off and we set out to find our pace. Susan, one of the other 2:10 beavers, and I were keeping each other in check to make sure we weren’t going too fast or too slow. Our strategy was to give ourselves a couple of minutes cushion and to finish just under 2:10 so that anyone who finished with us would not only reach their goal of 2:10, but they would in actual fact crush their goal. Not too long after we started, I realized Kat was the only one with us so I kept my eye on her, encouraging her, reminding her to fuel, pointing things out on the course and throwing in a few comments and jokes along the way. We were also running with another girl who ran SeaWheeze last year and she said that I got her across the finish line in her goal time – awesome.
We entered Stanley Park and I knew things were starting to get tough for our group. But I knew we could do it. For Kat, I knew she had it in her to do it. After all the physical rigours of training, it all comes down to a mental battle. When your body starts to get tired and sore, self doubt starts to seep its ugliness into your brain. Distraction is the best remedy. So we kept the chatter going – or maybe it was self-chatter for me. We got to Lumberman’s Arch and saw Maya, another Run Clubber, cheering and it definitely lifted spirits. There’s a big hill at Lumberman’s Arch and Susan and I were shouting encouragements to power up the hill. When we got to the top, we realized we had almost lost our group so big brakes came out until they caught up. Oops, a bit too excited. I still hadn’t seen Kat and I knew that it would be bad news if I continued without her so I didn’t. We were well under our goal time so I basically hung back until I saw her. Then I continued forward in baby steps until she caught me. My Run Club knows that I’m a bit of a mother hen – I call them my babies, in fact. So, to leave one of my babies to fend for herself – not going to happen. All the while, I knew I had a responsibility of being a Pace Beaver. But I had time. I had minutes to spare. So I was safe. Kat and I resumed our positions – me slightly ahead and her just slightly behind. I kept telling her that she was going to get her goal (and she was!), that we was doing SO great (and she was!), and that we would do it together (and we were!). I told her not to rush it. We were going to do it in HER pace, not mine. When, and ONLY when she saw the finish line, and if she had it in her, she could pick it up, but we were going to cross that line together.
And damnit, we did. And it was fan-freakin-tastic. I can’t even express the emotions I was feeling – words don’t do it justice. I was so proud of her. That day changed both of us and we will forever be bonded by that experience.
And, if you check the results, she actually finished 2 seconds ahead of me. 🙂
…or something like that. With the recent uprise of participants in trail races and ultramarathons, it’s easy to get swept up in the chatter and commit to a 50k without actually knowing what you’re in for. Yes, it’s ONLY 8km longer than a marathon, but it’s leaps and bounds more than that. You’ll know once you’ve done one.
My goals had changed about 2 months ago from doing a 100km or a 50miler this Fall, to landing at running another 50km trail run. Due to circumstances beyond my control (such as getting pneumonia in June) and scheduled commitments (Wanderlust and SeaWheeze), I had to step back and think about what was the smarter choice. And sometimes smarter means doing less.
This 50k (or, actually just over 53k) would be different though. I’ll be solo for this one. Of course, with any race, your race is yours alone to run – there’s no tag team like a relay, no one’s going to piggy back you, and no one’s going to pretend to be you and run it for you. Usually. Originally, I picked this race because a friend was doing it and long races are always better with company, for training and for racing. It was also in the right time frame. Unfortunately, like many unplanned things in life, what was planned was not what happened. Life happens and you have to learn to adapt. So, I set out to make the 4 hour drive down to Cle Elum, WA solo on Friday, run the race on Saturday, and then make the trek back right after the race – with multiple stops to stretch my legs.
Luckily, my friend Hozumi and his four-legged furry companion, Miles, were able to join me last minute. Whew!
So, late afternoon on Friday, we packed up our gear and headed across the border. Based on the emails that I was receiving from the race, we were told to be prepared for all types of weather. And, even on the drive down, we experienced everything from sun to torrential downpour. This was going to make for an interesting race day. But another day, another 50k, right? Not so much.
We arrived that morning and it was chilly, but not raining. About 20 minutes before the race, I decided to do a quick shirt change – from a single t-shirt, to a double-t-shirt. They had said that the ridge at the top could be quite windy and cold so better safe than sorry, and I was already cold at the start.
The clock was ticking and it was time to go line up at the start. In the true fashion of ultramarathons, the race director told us to imagine a line where the start was and line up there. 🙂 10 second countdown, quick bye to Hozumi and Miles, and off I went. The course profile showed 17 miles of climbing to START, followed by 12 miles of downhill, then half mile uphill, and half mile downhill to the finish. I was definitely looking forward to the downhill, but most certainly not the uphill.
So, a few days before the race, I checked online and did the regular pre-race analysis – check the course profile and map out how long it would take me to get to each aid station. Ultrasignup, the registration system, targeted my finish time to be 7:29. I’m not crazy fast but I didn’t think it was going to take me that long. So I started to make predictions, with a finish time of 6:30 hours thinking that it was a fairly conservative time. My predictions were:
Aid Station 1 (9.5mi) – 2:05
Aid Station 2 (14.5mi) – 3:10
Aid Station 3 (21mi) – 4:20
Aid Station 4 (25mi) – 5:10
Finish (33mi) – 6:30
The climbing was relentless. Not just ‘relentless’, but ‘RELENTLESS’. By the time I arrived at the first aid station, slightly ahead of schedule (1:58 vs 2:05), I was in a lot of pain. I had to shake my head when the volunteer told me I was the 5th woman overall so far. You gotta be kidding me. Do you have any idea how many illnesses or injuries I thought I could fake to stop the madness of this uphill climb??
My right hamstring has been an issue for the last 2 years, and for the last week, my left one was starting to feel not quite right. The climbing in the race started at mile 1, but it really started at mile 2. The running quickly turned to hiking, and because of the early onset of increasing pain in my hamstrings, it quickly turned into an uphill shuffle walk. To be honest, I was in so much pain, I wasn’t sure if I would make it to the finish line. But, it was a bit too soon to call it a day. I grabbed a quarter of a peanut butter & jelly sandwich and continued the hike uphill. And then I saw a friendly face – Hozumi & Miles – just a little outside of the first aid station. I called out to him as I passed saying that it would take me 7 hours, and he responded with 5.5 hours. A little comic relief is always nice.
The climbing continued, varying from slightly runnable to steep steep steep – so steep, in fact, that I felt like gravity was going to roll me backwards. It was definitely wearing on me mentally and physically. Looking at my watch, I knew I was close to Aid Station 2, but not close enough. I looked up at one point and saw a ridge and saw the aid station, but then I realized where I was, and it was still a good amount of climbing to go. And the pain in my lower back and hamstrings were only getting worse.
One by one, people were passing me and I had nothing in me to retaliate. Each time I tried to lift my leg to take a bigger step, it would cause so much pain that I would nearly be winded. So baby steps it was. I didn’t stay long at Aid Station 2 as it was on a ridge and, as the race director said, those areas were quite windy and cold. Aid Station 2 was at 14.5 miles and I knew the high point was at 17 miles. I only needed to climb 2.5 more miles before I could get some reprieve and make the downhill trek.
Finally, I was at half way (according to my watch) and it was 3:54 into the race. Was it going to be an 8 hour day? Should I just pull out? I just didn’t know if I had it in me to be out for that long.
But then things changed. The downhill started and I could just let go and enjoy it. I was passing a lot of the people that passed me on the way up. Some even commented on how much time I had made up on the downhill and stepped aside for me to pass. There were a few motorbikes on the trail that we had to move aside for, which made for not so pleasant fumes, but there were few interruptions. My spirits were starting to lift.. until I stumbled on a rock. As I stumbled, my calf decided to cramp and I had to stand on the trail for a few moments to let it subside. Whew. That was odd – I had never cramped in a race before. Well, shake it off and continue. I passed through Aid Station 3 barely stopping as it was a water only station at about 4:35. I still had 10-12 miles to go. I knew that would take me over 2 hours. It was definitely going to be a long day.
Glenn Tachiyama, an awesome photographer who’s often at ultras and has a talent for capturing the best moments, was coming up. There was a creek crossing at about 22 miles and everyone knew he would be there. When I arrived at the creek, I saw Glenn on the other side. I stopped at the entrance to the creek and thought, “What the hell. Just go for it.” And THAT was pretty damn fun. Amongst all the suffering, it was nice to just get back to being a kid and to play in water.
Things started to go sideways for me after that point. Hozumi told me that the back half would be a bit undulating, but it was a net downhill. This meant that overall it was going downhill, but there would be small sections of uphill. I had good momentum for a while, but then suddenly every time I hit an uphill and tried to run, my calves would cramp. When my left calf cramped, my left shin would cramp. When my right calf cramped, it would cause my right foot/arch to cramp. Ugh. So, time to adapt. For the next 2ish hours, every time I hit an uphill, I would have to walk. I would then rely on the downhills to make up more time.
I knew I had one more aid station, where Hozumi and Miles would be, and I was really looking forward to seeing them. They walked up the trail from the aid station and waited for me. As soon as I saw them, I felt better. I stopped and chatted with Hoz and told him I was cramping like a bastard, pardon my French. He asked me about my nutrition and if I was taking enough salt. I could tell that based on my answers, it wasn’t sufficient. He told me that the aid station station was a minute ahead and to take some salt tabs. So I trudged on to the aid station and did as I was told. Salt tabs, a couple of potato chips, 2 small cups of Coke, and a water refill for my pack. I hadn’t run out of water but knew that it was dangerously low. I left the aid station stocked up, with 6-8 miles to go til the finish. It was just over 5.5 hours into the race and I knew it would take more than an hour to get to the finish. Maybe it really was going to be a 7 hour day. Dear God.
By now, even the downhills were getting tough. I had leapfrogged with a bunch of people for the last hour or so. I even chatted with a runner who recognized me from the Gorge Waterfalls race. “You’re the girl that fell, right?” Yup, that’s me.
We were back and forth for a little bit and then I pulled ahead. I then caught up to a young guy wearing a BMO Vancouver Marathon shirt, who I had also leapfrogged with earlier. When I got to the next uphill, I had to walk again as the cramping episodes were still happening. He came up behind me and I offered to let him pass. Instead, he asked if he could walk with me. Of course! But I did let him know that I didn’t care where I placed and if he was gunning for a particular time, I was more than happy to let him go ahead. He said it was his first one and he was happy to just run with me and I was definitely happy for the company. We bantered back and forth and it was really nice to finally chat with someone and take my mind off of how I was really feeling. I knew there was a big’ish hill about 2 miles from the finish, but it ended with a nice downhill. So we joked at every little uphill section as to whether this was the hill or not. Finally, it really was the hill and we were on the last downhill section. This section was on a service road with my least favourite terrain – large sharp rocks that didn’t offer very good footing. I was bouncing left and right trying to find some flow, when my shoe suddenly caught on a large stick on the ground and threw me forward down the trail. In mid flight, my right calf decided to cramp badly again while the other end of the stick impaled me in the chest. Awesome. I was lying on the trail face down on a downhill slope and trying to un-cramp my very tired calf. My poor running companion stood there unsure of what to do. It took every ounce of my strength to roll over, stretch my foot, and then spin myself around so that I could get myself into an upright position. Damnit, James Varner! Why do I fall at every one of your races I run?
The best was when my running buddy said, “Wow, you were like completely horizontal.” Oh, so comical and tragic. I pulled myself together and we continued down the trail. Not too long after, I saw Hozumi and Miles again. As I passed him, I yelled to him that I fell. I can’t remember what he said as I was just focused on getting to the finish line. And then I could hear it. I could taste it. Down a little steep hill and over a bridge, and there it was. Amazing. 6:51:07. 35th overall and 7th woman in.
This was the least prepared I’ve ever been for an ultra – not enough volume training, not enough hill training, and poor nutrition.
Each ultramarathon offers something different. And each ultramarathon can teach you valuable lessons. It was my slowest and toughest 50k, but at the end of the day, I had a few good takeaways on what I needed to do for the next one. Yes, there will be a next one.
The ultramarathon community, as I’ve described it to many friends, is like walking into somebody’s home. Not house, but home. Each aid station is like an invitation to someone’s kitchen to sample some of the goodies they’ve personally prepared for you. Each volunteer’s face is like a warm hug. Each cheer helps to propel you one step further. For this, I am so fortunate and ever so grateful.
I went through a natural progression from being a beginner road runner to a not-so-beginner road runner. I started with a 10km, did another 10km, thought it was too hard, so went to a 5km and worked my way up. I was never a fast runner, and the thing I loved about running was that it was an accomplishment that was measurable and was completely my own. How well I did or how poorly I did was 100% completely dependent on me. Some may like that and some may not. Sure, we can argue on the advantage your fellow runners in a race give you, as well as the lift you get from cheering spectators, but at the end of the day, I’m the only one powering my legs to push forward.
My motivation for many, many years was speed. I wanted to get better, run faster, be stronger. I’m not out to win races, as I’m a realist and that will never be me. I’m completely ok with that. But I knew I could do better than I was – it just took time, effort, and determination.
Then came injury. Recover, rebuild, and try again. And then another injury. This time recovery wasn’t so easy so I was introduced to the world of trail running, but not JUST trail running – it was ultramarathon trail running. All of a sudden, I was running longer and farther, and staying injury-free. And the pressure was off. There was no pressure of speed, pace, metrics, or race results. It was all about setting a goal, and crushing it. Get to the finish and high five.
Over a year ago, I was feeling torn between these two different spectrums of the running scale. As friends who run road continue to get faster, I feel my inner roadie pulling me towards them. Taunting me. I’ve spent the last couple of years just getting miles under my belt, and I’ve become very comfortable in one speed. And even that one speed can become difficult the longer you run, so it’s not come without its own set of challenges. But I want that speed back – at least for now I do. There has to be a happy balance I can find between high miles and speed. They say there is, whoever they are, but they are always the experts, right?
I lead the lululemon Robson Run Club, and last week, in light of the recent tragedy in Boston, I went back to my old roots to when I was training for Boston and led the group in a track workout. Although I didn’t actually participate (a sacrifice I’m happy to make when leading), it stirred up some old feelings in me. Track was always tough, but it was always good. Even when it was bad, it was good, because I knew it was helping. Plus, track, and the people with whom I trained, propelled me into the vast world of road racing and where I saw the most gains, physically and mentally. It was all good, so now it’s time to reintroduce that good back to my world.
So, here’s the plan. The track. It’s not that exciting or elaborate, but I’m going to try it out and see how my body reacts, as I’ve got a nagging hamstring. Once a week for the next couple of months. Wish me luck and let’s hope my legs remember how to turn over quickly!
“I’m not a dreamer, and I’m not saying this will initiate any kind of definitive answer or cure to cancer, but I believe in miracles. I have to.”
An image of Terry running flashes in my mind. Then a series of emotions and words. Hero. Cancer. Runner. Inspiration. Compassion. Warmth. Tragedy. And then that smile – one that melts your heart. The first inkling of tears start to well up in my eyes. One young man, 33 years ago – his story still affects me. A story of a young man, who had a vision. A vision to make a difference. And then it was born – The Marathon of Hope. On April 12, 1980, Terry Fox dipped his prosthetic foot into the Atlantic Ocean and started his journey to run across our nation. A marathon a day, roughly, to raise awareness and funds for cancer.
And then a year ago, I met Eddy. Another man, who had a vision, but it was a vision that was inspired by Terry Fox. Eddy was training for his first marathon in Montreal when Terry made his journey through Quebec. Quebec, unfortunately, did not receive Terry with open arms. Terry’s journey, however, did not go unnoticed by Eddy. For over 30 years, Eddy has been raising funds and awareness for the Terry Fox Foundation in his role as a Day Caretaker at a grade school in Montreal.
In 2010, the 30th anniversary of the Marathon of Hope, Eddy, sought to have April 12th be recognized as Terry Fox Day. He went to great lengths and eventually, unable to have it pass through the government channels, he chose to take his efforts to the streets and run a marathon in Montreal carrying the Terry Fox Flag. The following year, Eddy was diagnosed with cancer and was unable to run again. Last year, with his cancer in remission, Eddy decided to do more than just run. Terry Fox is a national hero and deserved a national movement. His vision was realized in 2012, with a runner in every province and territory running a marathon on April 12th, bearing his flag.
“Even if I don’t finish, we need others to continue. It’s got to keep going without me.”
This Friday, April 12th, I will set out on a journey to pay tribute to Terry Fox, alongside my fellow runners across the country who share Eddy’s vision to recognize this special day. Join us on this journey, and, run or not, take a moment to remember Terry Fox and educate others on the significance of one man’s vision to make a difference.
Want to join me on April 12th? Find more information here. For those that are not on Facebook, here are the quick details: