How to not die running an Ultra

Endurance running is really just a day of adventure. You hear the horn and off you go for 5, 6 or 7 hours of touring around and seeing the scenery. It is enjoyable, difficult, frustrating and exhilarating all at the same time. Some parts you’re hiking but others you’re hard-core racing, sometimes your legs want to fall off but mostly it’s you pushing yourself past where you’ve been before. Ultra-running is expanding your comfort zone and competing against yourself. It’s a challenge but it doesn’t have to be death if you can get everything you need prepared for race-day.

No one ever drowned in sweat

Ultra-running needs serious hydration. My fluid intake starts days before the race and consists of water and electrolyte enhanced liquids. I usually stick to Nuun tabs and just insert them in my water a few bottles a day, 2 days before the race. I’ve also used Vega and there’s lots of other brands to try until you find one you love. As a standard, I would say I double to triple my usual water intake on these days. The morning of the race I drink a coffee because I need it. I’m sure it’s not ideal but for me it’s necessary. I also drink a litre of water on the way to the race. You’re probably cringing right now at the thought of having to stop to pee on route but don’t worry you’ll need this. My first 50K I didn’t use the washroom at all in 7 hours and then in others I’ve gone 2-3 times. You just never know and it’s always better to be starting hydrated and release then be de-hydrated. During the race, I wear a 2L hydration pack from Nathan Sports. There’s lots of packs on the market and there’s some great designs by Ultimate Direction and Salomon too. Finding a pack that fits well and holds what you need is what’s most important. I chose one with a bladder and a hose but there are combo bladder/bottle and also bottle-only packs. It’s personal preference. Throughout the race I sip as I go and drink the electrolytes at the aid stations. I keep a close eye on my liquids and as long as I’m still sweating it’s all good. My second 50k race was extremely hot (30 C/90F) and to handle this I also chewed Nuun tabs in between aid stops. They are a little fizzy but I break them up small and chase them with water from my pack. This is not necessary if the weather is moderate but I always have some of the tabs on me just in case.

image
I ran the Sulphur Springs 50k in super hot conditions. I chewed Nuun tabs and drank 4 L of water from my pack alone. This race is where I realized that eating salt really helped me to stay on course. 

Finally, after the race you will likely want to have a few brews to celebrate your amazingness. Do it and enjoy them (I do!) but just follow up with water or electrolytes for a few days.

Super-size me, or not

Fuel is a key part to running ultras. It’s also a very personal choice and one that can change based on what’s available at aid stations and what you prefer to use as a runner. I like to stick with a mix of gels and real food. Prior to the race I don’t “carb-load” but the days leading up to the race I will choose pasta one night and eat rice another. I don’t eat red meat the week of the race but if you are someone who easily digests it then that’s up to you, I don’t, so I stay away from it. The morning of, I eat a protein shake with a banana and/or a bowl of cereal with Greek yogurt and field berries at least an hour before the race. In training runs I can run on an empty stomach but when I’m racing for 6+ hours I like to have a solid breakfast. In my pack I bring a mix of fuels including Clif blocks, Honeystinger chews and Gu or Vega gels. I also pack small packets of salt just in case there isn’t any at the aid stations. At the start line, I’ll have my first gel with water. I then wait until I’ve got at least 8k in before I eat more but again it’s all personal. As I go through the race I usually eat a gel about every hour to hour and a half. I don’t like to fill up on them exclusively but you may have a different experience. I like to stop or slow down enough to grab a quick bite at the aid stations. They will have way more food than your regular race and expect junkier food too. I usually skip the chips, pop, candy and donuts. There will be other choices like peanut butter and jam sandwiches, pretzels, fruit or potatoes and salt. Depending on how far apart they are I will take a ¼ sandwich, a potato to dip in salt and a few pretzels or some banana each time. Small portions work best for me and I have no troubles eating while running slowly. The best way to test your fuel is to take some time experimenting on your long runs but you will need more on race day. After the race I am never hungry and usually have to force myself to eat. What I’d really like is a recovery shake but I’ve yet to bring one! I usually grab a bite from whatever is being offered and it’s typically BBQ and salads. After an ultra you are at least 3000 calories down so you definitely need something but choose foods you are used to.

The running part is simple

You usually can’t full-on run an entire ultra. Most courses have steep uphills and technical sections that require walking or scrambling. That said, the way I run is to start out at trail pace which is about 20% slower than pavement pace. I run that way until the first major uphill and hold that pace until my breathing significantly changes, then I walk to save my legs and lungs. I run again until the next uphill or technical area. If you’ve trained the distance (my first I trained to 37k) you’ll be fine the entire time.

IMG_0370
My first 50k was at Pick Your Poison. I really tried to keep moving during this race, running the flats and walking the steep climbs. 

My basic motto is to just keep moving. Don’t stop and socialize, don’t sit between loops and don’t stall at the aid stations. Keep on truckin’ even if it’s at a snail pace. All stops are dead time.

If you can’t run naked…

Being comfortable is so important for running ultras. I’m always glued to the weather forecast for days before but I usually end up in the same outfit –shorts and a tank. I’m a bit of a lulu addict so I don’t stray far from them for clothing. I love that their clothes are made from moisture wicking fabrics and that they have useful features in their shorts. I wear ones that have gel pockets, vents, cinch-cord and inner shorts and they fit so well that I don’t feel them. I also love that their tanks don’t chafe me. I prefer to wear a basic tank and a great bra underneath. They sell tanks that have built-in bras but I like the flexibility to take a layer off if it’s too hot. I also love that they have so many fun colours and prints. I’ve been wearing their clothes for years and it always amazes me how their stuff washes up after a race. I’m not saying to wear all white or anything but I’ve definitely put their stuff to the test and been happy to see it come out clean. I’m sure that you have your favourite brand but the point is to make sure that you wear what is comfortable and that you’ve taken it on a test run.

Socks are another really important piece. I’ve run ultras in both no-show socks and tall compression socks. If the weather is hot I find less is more but I’ve got to be really sure that I’m going to be mostly on groomed trails before I ditch the compression socks. Compression socks are full of positive features. Right now you’re probably saying “but they are so freaking hot”. Well, yes they can be but most aren’t bad and the protection they offer far outweighs the heat. I wear tall compression socks up to 26C with full comfort since most brands use fibres that wick moisture away. Additionally, they keep my calves feeling fresh and tight and they shield me from undergrowth and ticks. Lately, I’ve been wearing Tiux socks and they’ve been great. They perform as well as my others from Nike, Saucony and Bauerfeind and are a way better price point. I’m really looking forward to seeing more designs and colours because who doesn’t love fun and functional socks right?!?

 

636045486487768941
I was super comfy wearing this at the NF #ecson 50k

I’d love to say that there is an amazing must have trail shoe out there but just like road running, each person fits a different brand or style best. I love running in Saucony Peregrine trail shoes but I’ve also seen some great designs by Salomon and The North Face. The key here is to find something that fits well, has good tread and stability plus when it gets wet, dries fast. One race I ran was in 12k loops and each time I passed a wet section I got a soaker but by the time I got back again I was fully dry thanks to my shoe and sock combination. A fully waterproof shoe would be too sweaty and cause blisters so it’s really important to know that your shoe will withstand variable conditions and breathe.

The sun can be harsh so I’m usually wearing a hat. Some people prefer to run with a visor or sunglasses but I love hats. I’ve heard runners say that they get too hot but I choose mesh backs that have lots of air flow. Also, I like that I don’t need to wear sunglasses when I wear a hat. Running trails means that you are constantly experiencing different lighting and seeing roots and stones on the trail is really important to me. I don’t like having to shift between sunglasses on and off so a hat solves this problem.

The little things

There are also a few other items you’ll need along the way. Some races allow 50k runners to have a drop bag half-way or if you’re running a looped course you can stash one at the start/finish line. I’ve dropped a bag but in all honesty I don’t feel it’s imperative for a 50k unless you have some very variable weather. I have always been able to stash what I need for this distance in my pack. I cart along the regular medical items like Band-aids and Advil. I’ve only needed a Band-aid once but they are always good to have especially if the aid stations are spread out. I take Advil before and during every race due to a previous knee injury. Carrying it keeps me pain-free and also scares wildlife away. You can hear me from a mile away and I love that. I also carry a spare pair of socks in case there is a river crossing or a lot of wet sections but so far I’ve yet to need them. I also bring Body Glide which prevents chafing and blisters. They make small ones that are perfect for putting in my pack and I apply it to my thighs before I start and then if needed as I run. I’ll also throw in some small packets of salt. You will sweat a lot and I can tell if I’m low on sodium by how I feel (dizziness) and if my fingers are swelling. I carry the little packets because if I’m in between aid stations I can pop one of those nasty salt packs in my mouth and feel normal again. Now, there’s a lot of contradicting information on salt intake while running so I’ll let you decide if you think you need this but it works for me. Finally, a good GPS watch allows me to watch my pace and break down the race into smaller sections. I don’t think I’ve run a race yet where I’ve started it on time or remembered to stop it but at least it keeps me somewhat updated on my km splits.

image.jpg
I bring a variety of stuff in my pack to make life on the trail easier. You never really know what you’ll need but guaranteed if you don’t bring it, you’ll need it.

See, you aren’t going to die running an ultra-marathon. It’s just a race that needs a little more thought and planning than some others you may have run. Your training and mindset prepare you to run the race but what happens out there on the trail is up to you. Running long distances is an adventure and if you have everything you need it’s not torture at all. You may even grow to love it.

Mind tricks for an ultra runner

Distance running is a mind game and it’s usually my strongest tool. I’m good at hushing my inner voice, keeping my eye on the prize and getting it done. Yes, there’s always a lot to be said for hydration, fuel and kit but I had all of those things in check. It was my mind that broke down at the North Face 50k and it was hard. I finished this race but it beat me mentally. Thankfully, I have a few lessons that I’ve learned from it.

Focus and goals

I’m all about goals. I like to push myself and I wholeheartedly put everything I have into running. When I started this race on Saturday it was a crap shoot. I was coming into it with a barely recovered knee injury and a whole lot of physical doubt. I didn’t have a real goal in my mind and I kept thinking we’ll see how it goes. Well, I’ll tell you how it went. Messy. I kept changing my goal and I wasn’t focussed. I didn’t use my Garmin like I usually do. I didn’t keep track of my pace and I didn’t push myself. I didn’t keep my eye on the line. I didn’t do all the goal related rituals that make my runs successful. I now know that I can’t run to just “finish”. That’s something I could have done the first time I did this distance but not now. When I race I need to set a goal and use each km split to work towards it.

636043971618333525
Starting out at 7am I was feeling great and was just hoping my knee would hold on. I didn’t have a time goal.

My inner voice

My inner voice is usually pretty inspiring but apparently she took a day off. I spent the first part of this race taking it easy. Not running too hard or fast but playing it smart. At one point I thought we’d beat our first ultra time and I got excited. I started pushing and it felt good. Then, I got soft and she wasn’t there. I let people pass, I slowed down, I walked, a lot. I checked our time around 40 k and I realized it wasn’t going to happen. I then succumbed to that inner voice of complacency. That’s all I can think of to describe it. I’ve never had this before. I always amp up before it’s too late but not in this race. For this race my inner voice was fine with just ok. Who was this person? Where was I? When I’m running ultras I need my inner voice to be strong, motivating and determined.

636045486487768941
This was taken around 15 k when I was feeling strong and still running a decent pace.

My Mantra

At the start of each race I have my mantra and when it gets tough, I repeat it. In my first ultra it was “Don’t look back, you’re not going there.” In my second it was “Just keep running.” My mantra works and it can be anything, simple or a little cryptic – whatever works! On Saturday I didn’t have an inspiring phrase, I wasn’t prepared. When I race I need guaranteed inspiration to fall back on, a mantra to repeat in tough times.

Fatigue Crushed Happy Runner Girl

I’m a happy runner but somewhere around the 7 hour mark I turned sour. Fatigue does crazy things and sometimes only a finish line can stop that train wreck. I was struggling with the extra time I was out on the trail and I was making mechanical mistakes. I was tired and couldn’t control my footsteps. I wasn’t agile, I was sloppy and it was frustrating. I wasn’t enjoying it. I didn’t stop and change my mood, I didn’t try to turn it around. I embraced the negativity. I forgot to be happy. I kept going on sad, drained and feeling defeated. I fell and then I fell again. I was tired and frustrated and just wanted to get it done but I couldn’t go faster. When I’m running I need to be consistent and efficient because if I’m out there too long I get worn out and crabby.

 

image
I can see it was a slow day but I finished. It’s funny because usually I’d be done somewhere in the 6 hour range or right when I started to slow down from the data on this graph.

 

I bet you’re probably thinking that this whole day just sounds awful. It wasn’t. It was challenging and beautiful. I completed my third 50 km race in 11 weeks. I had a super great time when I look back on it. I learned some really interesting things about myself and I came away with solid strategies to work on. I surprised myself and I now realize how important the mental game is. You can train for months, have everything you need plus the perfect weather but if your mind isn’t in it you are in for a battle.

636043764073559551
As soon as I had my medal it was all good and now I’m back to looking for my next 50K!

 

 

Why I Miss Streaking

imageRunning every day is no easy task. It’s a huge commitment that requires constant motivation and persistent dedication. It’s the type of challenge that you hear others talk about and are intrigued, thinking there is no way you can do it yourself. You think about it for a while, contemplate how you could do it and then bam, it’s part of your day, every day. You find yourself making a week, then a month then 100 days and you realize “Hey, I can do this!” and you are. I stopped my 365-day runstreak exactly 3 months ago. It was a love-hate relationship near the end but man, do I ever miss it now. There were many days I found myself pulling a late night mile just to get it in plus there were injuries and then flu. It was hard but that’s not what I remember about streaking. What I remember is all the amazing things that surprisingly don’t continue after you stop.

Your body becomes a machine

Running everyday conditions your body. It keeps it a well-oiled machine capable of getting up and going at any time. I know this because now that I’m not streaking I have to stretch or I’m like a stiff board when I start to run. Now, even the littlest of injuries feels like a life sentence but when you run every day you somehow seem to be able to shake off that nagging hamstring, re-align that knee or ease that sciatica. Your body is strong, resilient and elastic. I could wake up and be out the door in five minutes, say screw-it to a warm-up and be instantly ready to do hill repeats. Today, I’m no slug but I’m not ready to run on the drop of a dime like I used be. When I was streaking I was tuned.

image
Day 328 was on ice in the middle of winter while I was recovering from the flu. Looking back, I don’t know how this was possible. I was super sick but I got it done.

Decisions made easy

Streaking releases you from the chains of deciding if it’s a “runday”. I never thought about whether or not I had to run, I just ran. It was routine and my bag was packed each morning before my lunch. I usually had a few outfits in case plans changed, weather erupted or I just needed a choice. You see, there’s no excuses allowed or it doesn’t work, you won’t survive past day one. Before I started my streak I was just like many runners. I’d look outside, see the rain, snow or wind and then check the weather on my phone. I’d scroll through some motivating memes, or check my favourite IG accounts for inspiration. I might have even put together a new cute outfit in hopes that it might get me out the door or down to the dungeon on the ‘mill. If it wasn’t absolutely perfect out, I needed to find motivation. When I was streaking, I didn’t need this. I couldn’t risk wasting time, I just went. Every day was runday.

image
This was one of my favourite streak days. Not only was it super-crappy wet weather but I got busted by the cops taking this picture. No handcuffs or anything but I was pretty embarrassed 😉

Buh-bye guilt

Have you ever gone for 5 or 6 days without running? How about a few weeks? There were times in my past where I’d slack for a while, even during training and “oh the guilt”. I’d look at my running shoes and say I’d see them soon, in just a few days, after I wrote report cards or when life was less busy. I would have times when I would board the lazy train and getting back to running seemed so hard. This obviously doesn’t happen on a runstreak. Sure, you may find that for a few busy weeks you’re only doing “mile days” but you easily get back on track. Without the guilt, without stalling.

image
There were definitely periods of lower activity like this time around Christmas where I ran a lot of “mile” days. The difference was that it was waaay easier to get back on track and motivated again!

I’ll have a double burger with cheese please or not

Ya, so you can just about eat anything when you’re streaking. You can, but most likely you won’t because you know how that works right? Food is fuel and when you’re streaking you’re active every day and who wants a 20-pack of timbits floating around? I used to run to eat-eat to run and it worked for me but something changed on my runstreak. I became this person who wanted to eat better to perform better. I wanted to see if this nutrition thing made a difference. It does and I figured out pretty quick that the less you weigh, the faster you go and the stronger you are the more you can maintain. I started downing protein like a gym-rat and I felt awesome. Of course, some days around the holidays I’d cheat and eat all the desserts but it really didn’t matter. When you’re streaking you can afford to eat a few treats or all of them.

image
By day 357 I had figured out what fuel my body needed to run everyday and for long distances. 19.5k day

 

Sleep like a baby or more like a log, a heavy one

I’m not going to say too much here except that if you tried to wake me when I was streaking, you’d be there awhile. I’d fall asleep in only a few minutes and wake up with the alarm. 8-9 hours every night. Just don’t get my husband started on this, he had issues with it for some reason?!?

You can do anything

Most runners are addicted to goal setting. We sign up for longer distances, assign ourselves faster start corrals and run more races. We do this because we love the feeling of accomplishment. We crave the feeling of killin’it. Running everyday makes you feel unstoppable. It makes you believe you are capable and that you can do anything your mind can think of. Each day you cross off, you feel another step closer, a little bit stronger and a whole lot more confident. You begin to dream big and accomplish amazing things. Don’t get me wrong, I still set some goals that push me hard but there’s nothing like a runstreak to accomplish a goal every single day.

image
Day 365 was 5k in the morning with my uncle and another 5k in the afternoon with these amazing ladies!

See you soon my friend

My runstreak was one of the best decisions of my life. It was difficult and I often had to pull some strings to get out on the trails but it was worth every step. I didn’t know it at the time but it did a ton for me physically, mentally and it boosted my self-confidence. It made me feel connected to me at my best and taught me I’m capable. You may be thinking that by my age I should have known all these things, I should have already been there. Maybe I did, maybe I was but not like I am now. It changed my life. I’m not sure when I’ll start this running every day thing again but I know it’s going to happen. It’s too good not to.

 

Thoughts from a Mother Runner

IMG_8126[1]

 

You’re not selfish or neglecting them. You have enough time and you need this. I know it’s hard to believe but it’s true. No matter how busy you are, you can totally make this work. Even if you swear you don’t have a single spare minute. You do and it’s a choice. Here’s a few things I’ve learned along the way that helped me make it out running every day with a full time job and a family. You can totally do this.

You are worth it

It’s true – you are! I know that a lot of us are not great at taking time out for ourselves but we need to. It’s hard not to think about the laundry that’s exploding out of the basket, the dishes sitting in the sink and the kids that need their noses wiped. But we have to. Things can wait but our health and wellness can’t. I’m not an expert but I do know that running helps with stress, anxiety, depression and so much more. Plus for me, on a really busy day a run helps me put things into perspective and gain a clear focus. I need it to function! Even my kids will notice when I’m crabby or impatient and say “Mom, maybe you should go run.” It’s not selfish. It’s not neglecting our duties. Taking care of ourselves and investing the time to feel good is so important.

You have the time

Seize yourself some me-time. You know that saying “no matter how slow you’re going, you’re still lapping everyone on the couch”? Well, it’s true. It doesn’t matter if you go for an hour or 15 minutes. If you have some time, use it! I am really good at bringing my gym bag everywhere and that way it limits excuses. I have changed in some pretty desperate places but it’s been worth it. Sometimes using that time while waiting for your car to be fixed or between appointments will show you some amazing new routes. My most favourite run-escape is while my daughters are at gymnastics. I watch for a few minutes but then I run for the door and straight to the local conservation area and the beautiful trails that are only a km away. I can get a good run in and it’s now a habit. I just put my stuff on and go. Other good times to use are before work, lunchbreaks, after work/before daycare pick-up and before bed (it’s not as awful as it sounds). The important thing to remember is not to think for too long and just go. You’ll feel better, even if it’s only for a short time.

IMG_0499[1].JPG
This escape is only a 5 minute run from where my girls do gymnastics. I have learned to not feel guilty for not saying to watch them every night. I need this time for me.

You have admirers

I didn’t realize it at first but they are always watching. They peek at me in the shower, watch me pee and catch me using bad words (for the record “shut-up” when used in place of “that’s so cool” is not swearing). So, knowing this I like to think that spending time running is setting myself up as a good role model. It shows perseverance, dedication and a healthy life-style. They look up to us and we need to do this to show them that being healthy is a life-long choice. Actions speak louder than words. If we tell them to value fitness but don’t do anything ourselves then what are we really saying? I want my kids to be the best versions of themselves and being active is a big part of that. Did you know that physical activity increases brain function? It’s not just looking good, it’s feeling good, being healthy and smart! We can create kids who live an active lifestyle by showing them how to live that way.

IMG_9421[1]
I’d always dreamed of the day when I could share my love of running with my girls. My oldest now asks to join me on short runs.

You have partners

Running is beautiful alone but it’s better with friends. I don’t get a ton of chances to run with others just because I live in the middle of nowhere but when I do, it’s so fun. I swear the miles are shorter, time flies by and it’s more like meeting for coffee than running. Although, I know we’ve run because I feel it the next day. If you can, finding a group or a partner will help you get out the door more often. But not everyone has this option. It was probably out of necessity that I discovered that my kids were great runpals. At first they were cheering me on from the stroller. I’d hear “go faster” and “weee” from under the canopy. Then, it was “I’m coming on my bike” and along we’d go, sharing the road. I’d be running while they would ride beside me. The conversation wasn’t stimulating or motivating but it was fun all the same. However, now on Friday nights I’ve been running with my oldest. It’s one of my favourite things. We run, talk, laugh and just spend time together.

FullSizeRender
You may not get a long run in with a stroller but if it gets you out there then that’s all that matters. This wasn’t my running stroller but that’s what was in the trunk that day.

You can do it

I know I don’t know you but I bet you’re just like me. Being a Mom is hard and there will be times when making it out the door is difficult. There will be times when you just don’t feel like going. Try to think about the positive feelings that happen from running. Try to remember that you are busy but you need to do this for you. You have the time. Not every run needs to be a marathon and you can multi-task by visiting with friends or spending time with your kids. You can do it, you’ve totally got this.

The feeling of 50k

IMG_0370

Pick Your Poison 50k Race Recap 

Don’t worry, you weren’t alone in thinking I may have taken on too much with this race. You see, even I didn’t know if I could handle the training for an ultra, in winter, with 2 children and a full time job. I also totally understand that when I got the flu and was off work for a week and didn’t train for 2 more, you thought I might not make it. I didn’t think I had enough training either. However, good thing for me that I’m too busy to worry about what’s getting me down. It wasn’t until taper that all of my doubts would surface and I’d question if I could run that far. Thankfully, I have some amazing supporters and you all encouraging me here.
It was due to some last minute worries about gear that I woke up pretty tired but super excited. The jitters were gone but the weather forecast had changed so I had some new concerns. It was now going to be hot (spring standards) with +15 and full sun so I had to make some last minute changes to my kit. I made two major gambles by choosing a skirt I’d never worn on a longrun and a hydration pack that was brand new. No worries, I had body glide just in case!
The race began at 9 am and I met my uncle Carl at the startline. He would be running the first 2 loops and leaving me to do the last 2 solo. It was a mass start of 350 runners of which 91 were tackling the 50k and the others were doing either 12.5k or 25k. There were no timing chips so the start was a little hectic. The horn sounded and we were off on a  logging road which allowed the pack to disperse but not nearly enough. It was tight and at about 1.5k the single track began and it slowed to a walking pace. There was another 1.5k of flats and all was fine until I caught my foot and took a rolling tumble in the dirt. Thankfully, no injuries and I was happy that I now looked the part of a dirty trail runner. The next few kms were mainly uphill with mud traverses and an aid station at the top of the ski hill. We skipped this one as both of us had water and fuel on us. Our first downhill started and it was beautiful. Around km 7 we hit our first technical uphill. It was super steep, long and washed out. Watching our footing was key. This was ok the first loop but it would be my most challenging part of the course as the day went on. Surprisingly, I had to walk the flats for a minute to regulate my breathing, which was a hard pill to swallow. I was now loosing my goal pace and it was only the first lap. This course was way more difficult than I thought and from the comments of those returning from previous years, the new single track sections were lengthening their times too (It turned out that the top female would be almost 40 mins behind last years’). The loop continued on to be even more hilly and technical. It was painfully beautiful and totally amazing. It ended with a long, steep downhill and I felt super strong. I ditched my long sleeve and my uncle had a quick break. 3 laps to go.
Losing the 12.5k crew was helpful. We were able to run the second lap without slowing on the single track. I felt good but had a hard time on that same hill. I reminded myself of a quote @gosskristy sent me earlier. “Don’t look back, you’re not going there.” Despite the desire look behind me I just kept pushing up. I didn’t need to see what was behind me. I didn’t need to congratulate myself on how far I’d come. What if it wasn’t enough. What if looking back made me see how far I had to go? I just kept moving up. At the top I realized that after this lap there would be even less runners. I turned to my uncle and said it was going to be lonely without him! We talked about how different the two laps were and carried on. At the next aid station we stopped and in conversation with the volunteers he said he wasn’t stopping this lap. He was going to stay with me! I was totally blown away. I mean, who in their right mind would want to run another 25k when the finish line was in sight?!? He would, because that’s how amazing he is! At 21k we had a laugh about how this was the distance that started our running journey together. How fun it was that it just seems like hardly anything today but was huge back then. That’s how it is with running. Crush one goal and on to the next.
As we finished lap 2 he went to check in at base and I reapplied body glide and grabbed some chips. 25 kms and half way done. It was at this point that I noticed some swelling and realized I needed salt.
Lap 3 was hard. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. We spent too long at base before starting again (maybe 5-8 mins) and I was dehydrated. My head hurt, my vision blurred and I didn’t feel good. The sun was hot and I slowed way down. I felt bad because I needed breaks. I pushed the thoughts aside that told me to keep running, keep pushing. I gave into to my softer side and walked a little bit. You see, this distance is serious. You have to run smart. I couldn’t keep stressing and expect to just get over it. I had to wait. Wait for my hydration tab to work. Wait for the salt to absorb. Wait for the sign that I could start pushing it again. The second wind that is always there when you’ve taken your body to that place that’s so close to too far. We carried on running slower. In one of the downhills I jabbed my foot on a stick and it lifted my toenail. I had some pain but I didn’t realize I’d torn my sock and it was bleeding until after the race. The technical uphills were turning into impossible mountains. I did more walking this loop than in the entire race. My uncle started having muscle contractions in his leg. As we descended the final hill the tears hit. All I wanted was my husband. I needed his encouragement. He’d had a super busy day and hoped to meet me to send me out on my final lap. I was really hoping he made it. I didn’t see him until I rounded the corner and it was the best feeling. Our youngest daughter was with him and I can’t say how much this changed my race. All of a sudden there were these little eyes looking up at me telling me she’d come to see me run. That was all I needed. I was so pumped to run then. So excited to make them proud. Unfortunately, my uncle was feeling the race and was having a hard time. His legs were twitching and he was fearing a charley horse. We stopped for a while at the aid station. The soup that my uncle ate didn’t stay down. It was time to go but he wasn’t ready. We stood and rested. I didn’t want to ask but I was mentally preparing to run the last loop alone. It was what I’d planned right? But I didn’t have to worry, he wanted to keep going. 37.5kms down and 12.5 to go. I was at the farthest distance I’d ever run. It was all uncharted territory now for me.
Lap 4 started slow but got faster. I was feeling better and knew we needed to make up the time we’d stayed at the base. We easily ran past a section that we had to walk the last lap and from then on I knew I was back. My uncle was fading but I thought if I set the pace he’d follow. He’s strong like that and we needed to get this done. Plus, his stride is long and his fast walk is my slow run 😂 We hit 42k and I realized I was at marathon distance. We were just under 6 hours at this point and I cringed a little. My finish time was not what I hoped but I reminded myself that this wasn’t a road race. It’s a tough course. 1613 metres of elevation (5292 feet) on mostly single track. It wasn’t supposed to be easy. We made our way through the forest to my epic hill. This time, even it didn’t seem so bad. Somehow not as gruelling, not breaking. I turned to my uncle at the top and said “That’s it! Last time for this hill.” From that point I knew it was just a fast stroll in the park. We spent the last 6km flying through the trails only walking what was necessary for safety. I ran sections I walked for the last 2 laps. I was feeling good. However, there were others that were feeling the hills and heat of the day. By this point we had been out for almost 7 hours. I came to the last section of single track switchbacks. The runner in front of me was fading. At the top the forest leads out to a treeless ski trail and our final uphill. I had resolved to run this last section to make up some time. I looked over as I passed him and he asked me for help. “Could you take my arm?” and that is how we walked to the top. My new friend Hans was 78 and running his 2nd 50k race in 2 weeks. He told me he’d taken on too much today. I told him I hoped I’d still be running at 78. My uncle caught up to us near the top and we all carried on together. I didn’t want to leave Hans on the downhill to the finish but he insisted he was fine. We picked up the pace and my uncle and I crossed the finish at 7:14. I took 12th place of 30 women. The race officials moved my uncle to the 50k roster and his time was good for 42nd of 61 men. Hans was 43rd.
What an amazing race day. I am so impressed with my uncle’s determination and in awe with the spirit of this trail race. I am so proud to be an ultra runner. I can’t wait for what comes next because right now I feel like I can do anything .