You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘The Racing Path’ category.

Mighty Quail 100 km race report – Take 2

I re-read my last post and was struck by the vanilla of it all. Was that really how my day unfolded? Although all of that race report is true, I think I failed to capture my moods, my tenacity or my stubbornness. I made it seem as if my injury and my lack of training were immaterial in the end and that a hundred kilometers is an easily attainable goal. If this blog is supposed to be a personal journal of my experience running, then I missed the mark and cheated myself in the end. So here is a more truthful rendition of the race:

I arrived at the start line with a lofty finish time goal of 14hr 30min. This was arbitrary but somewhat based on the winning time of last year’s first female. I didn’t have any grandiose ideas of winning, since I knew that the bar would be lifted ever higher during the first years of a race, but I thought the time could be attainable. I had pored over the inaugural year results and lurked through strangers’ Strava race profiles, even going so far as to make a cheat sheet of times to meet along the way, which I carried with me on race day.

In a way, this mental game doesn’t amount to much since I am able to abandon lofty time goals mid-race and re-focus on simply finishing alive and upright (as in TdG). I also had a look through some other racers’ UltraSignup results which is where the depth of experience among this cohort came to light but I knew none of the women entrants. I had a good laugh at my UltraSignup ‘Target Finish Time’ since I was targeted to finish in 18hr 54min, almost an hour over the race time limit. Thanks for the confidence boost, UltraSignup!

The first 30 km played out just as I wrote before. I was alone for hours, I focussed on climbing strong, I worried about Bruce’s ankle roll, I ate and I drank like clockwork and I wondered if our recent 500 km walk through Sweden would hinder or help me on this course. I also felt disappointed that the course had taken us up and over the eastern foothills and into a valley hidden from the Okanagan lake views. Beautiful views are a hugely motivating factor in my running and it looked like we would not get the wide-open views pictured on the website.

After making the high point of the day (33 km), I was finally near other runners again. “Stealthy Black” was standing at the side of the trail at one point, looking surprised to see a bunch of us pass her. In no time, we were all filling up at the 38 km water drop and we proceeded down a trail which I’ll remember as Bear Sh1t Alley. Between the very fresh, steamy (!) piles of bear poop were very fresh, mucky cow pies. It was sort of like an obstacle course for a few kilometers. Perhaps “Bear Bell” guy had the right idea after all.

Once we hit the logging road, we had 6 km of road running before aid station #2. This is where my race began. I could see runners far ahead and I worked hard to reel each of them in. I set my sights on the “Circus Gals”, two brightly-dressed women who looked to be close to my age, and pushed hard to pass them. They did not relent easily and they quickly shifted gears into chase mode after I passed. I could hear breathing nearby after and turned to see “Stealthy Black” making a strong push to pass me. All of this chick-jostling told me that I was probably among the female contenders (within our tiny field of 11!)

Upon arriving at 47 km (AS#2), I was told that I was the 4th woman with “Stealthy Black” in 3rd and the “Circus Gals” in 5th/6th. We had essentially arrived together so it was a race to see who could resupply herself fastest and get out ahead of the others. “Stealthy Black” won that race and I followed, after ensuring that I had everything required for the remaining 54 km and the upcoming night. The “Circus Gals” left soon after me and I could hear their chatter from the switchback below.

Along the dreaded Beaverdell Rd (remember – the gravel, the pick-up trucks, the relentless climb?), I tried to run everything. I tried to look stronger and faster than them by running when they were walking. In the process, I nearly rejected my recently swallowed PB&J, pushing too hard after consuming so much food at the aid station. I could see “Stealthy Black” way up ahead but sadly never again. When we finally reached the Ellis Canyon trails, I flew, knowing that my endless training on mountain bike trails would be a hard act to follow. But what is gained is so easily lost.

I needed nothing at the 58 km water stop – except the pit toilet (I blame that friggin’ PB&J!) so the “Circus Gals” retook their lead. They were out of sight when I emerged and I put myself back into chase mode. Losing a place is disappointing but losing two places really bothered me. “Cowboy Hat” and I descended through the deep sand together and both of us opted for wet feet as we forded the reservoir river which allowed us to easily gain six or seven places. During the steep ascent on the climb out of the reservoir valley, I could hear, then see, the “Circus Gals” but I was unable to overtake them until one of them stopped to remove her pack near the summit.

When we finally began to descend down Campbell Mtn DH trail, I hooked my invisible bungy onto the back of one of the “Twins” as they yahooed down the mountain bike trails towards aid station #3. I knew that one of the “Circus Gals” was just behind me so I tried to lengthen my stride with each step. It was one of those descents where I was huffing from the strong downhill effort. Of course, we all arrived at AS#3 (71 km) within seconds of each other. I chatted with old friends and tried to nourish myself well before heading out. This is where Lisa’s wise words about getting the same burger and same award at the finish helped me put things in perspective. It didn’t matter how we all placed. We were strangers who love doing the same thing and are well-matched to run together. In any other scenario, we would have laughed at our commonalities.

While I caught up with Lisa and Heather, “Cowboy Hat” and the “Circus Gals” quickly left the aid station and the “Twins” picked up their enthusiastic pacers all before I found the motivation to get going. I was dreading the next part. Greyback Mtn Road is the soul-sucking climb that would go on for 6+ km and would take me at least 1hr 20min to attain.

When I left the pavement and the grade steepened, I had time to start crunching the numbers. It was 5 pm, 11 hours into the race, and I still had 30 km to go. I was behind my secret time by 35 minutes which wasn’t too bad, but I was starting to feel the fatigue building in my legs. I knew that I wasn’t going to get any faster and that my longest training run (33 km) was not enough to pull it off. At my current slovenly pace, I was not going to see the “Circus Gals” again but I desperately wanted to catch them. As I was trying to re-calibrate my goals, I realized that each 25 km section had taken 4 hours. Surely I could run a downhill 25 km in less time. I waffled between optimism and defeat for this entire climb. It was the lowest point of the day.

Reaching the turn off Greyback and onto High Point Rd was awesome. I was able to run along the double track and I could see the orange colours of the sunset as the sun briefly made an appearance below the clouds. There were about 30 peaceful minutes of twilight running where I met up with “Cowboy Hat” and we stuck together until the headlamps came out. He mentioned that I seemed to have bounced back from a low point and I replied that sometimes you don’t even know you’re having a low point until it is over and you suddenly feel good again. We parted ways once our lights were on and I trucked on ahead and up the final steep grunt of the day.

I ran everything down to aid station #4, although caution has sadly become my downhill running style. I wanted to pull out my ipod and listen to some motivating tunes here but I dared not lose a minutes time in fumbling around with cords and stuff. Three long switchbacks kept looping us back and forth above the station so I could occasionally hear chatter or music down below. It was eerie and it took forever! When I arrived at the short out-and-back to the station, the “Twins” and their effervescent pacers were on their way back into the trails.

I was the only customer at AS#4 (87 km). A volunteer tried to direct me to a fireside chair and blanket which I declined but, as I started to dig into those delicious, fresh Okanagan apples, I simply had to take a seat for my second and third helping. Since I was now having a gag reflex every time I tried to swallow a gel, that crisp, pure taste of apple was exactly what I needed. I downed some Coke too. The clock showed 14 hrs 23min (remember – my secret finishing time goal) and here I was, sitting in a chair with 13 km to go. It was time to re-calibrate my finish goal again. I figured that I could run the last section in 90 minutes so I set my sights on sub 16.

Once back on course, it didn’t take long for me to find the “Circus Gals”. I could hear their chatter and see the glow of their lamps long before they saw me coming. We greeted each other again, as we had all day, and I could see that the downhill was taking its toll on one of their knees. I retook my lead and tried to look strong and confident as I scurried on ahead but, a few minutes later, I took my only tumble of the day. I caught a toe, flew a few feet and managed to right myself, jarring my wrist slightly. They both checked in on me and made sure I was okay before we re-assumed our positions and continued on.

With the frenzy of the fall and with finally being ahead, I got cocky and missed a significant turn just a minute later. I found myself on the far side of a creek with no markers in either direction. I had to retrace my steps (uphill) and find my error. Of course, this put me behind the Gals again. I berated myself for losing my concentration and vowed to really focus on the reflective markers. I figured that I would find the “Circus Gals” quite soon but it took over 4 km for that to happen.

The markers were fewer here and I kept doubting that I was on the right path. I stopped, searched and retraced my steps multiple times. I finally thought Screw It and plowed on where I thought the route was going and, sure enough, I found a marker a few minutes later. I had the same attitude when I came across a frisbee golf course full of cows but no markers. At this point, I could see Lake Okanagan and the lights on the far side and I knew that the trail section was almost done.

Just as I could hear traffic and see street lights, I came up behind the “Circus Gals”. They thought I was “Cowboy Hat” and seemed surprised that I had ended up behind them again but I reassured them that it was just me, “Skirt Lady”. We confirmed that this next section, the last section, was about 5 km on the Kettle Valley Railbed (KVR) and a final km down to the yacht club.

I made my final pass of these women and ran with full effort along this wide, gravel road. I was determined to put a big gap between us and I still had my sub 16 hr goal in mind. But all my bumbling around, searching for markers in the dark, had eliminated my time cushion. My quads were screaming from the long downhill trails we had just completed and the leg turnover was sad indeed. Somehow I managed to overtake another runner here but only because he had been reduced to a walk. The KVR was another part of the course that I had not looked at carefully since it was a gentle downhill grade. It was long and it was hard (said the actress to the bishop) and I searched endlessly for the right hand descent to the water. I only looked back once to see if I was being hotly pursued and thankfully there was only darkness behind me.

When I reached the yacht club parking lot, I was truly exhausted with the effort and I truly didn’t think I could run all the way across to the finish chute. And when I crossed the line, I had to stand with my hands on my knees and breathe for a couple of minutes before receiving my congratulatory hugs. I left it all on the course. The “Circus Gals” and I raced each other for 60+ km and traded placings over and over again. They arrived at the finish 6 minutes after me, having run every step of the day together.

They call these events ‘races’ but I have only ever entered to simply run. But today, this felt like a race all day long. Although it was a much slower pace than the winners, it felt like the three of us were playing some kind of strategic mind game. I doubt that I would have had my 16:08 finish time if they hadn’t been pushing the pace and offering the challenge all day.  Thanks, “Circus Gals”! May we meet again.

OR Mighty Quail 100 km race report

At 5:45 am, forty-seven racers milled about at the edge of Skaha Lake in the pitch dark. I was struck by the relaxed feel to this race start – a calm, almost jovial feel among the runners. We had all been here before. Not necessarily here, as in the start line of the MQ, but here as in a start line for an ultra.

The website clearly states that this is a race for experienced ultra runners only. With only four aid stations and two water drops along the entire 100 km, it favours those who know their running needs intimately and are able to be self-sufficient for many hours in remote areas. There are no marshals out on course and the tiny field of >50 means that racers could be alone for long spells. This race does not provide any coddling which is exactly why it appealed to me.

From the lakeside, there is nowhere to go but up – since we had 4200 m (13500+ ft) of climbing ahead of us. We began on pavement through a neighbourhood before turning onto a large chunk of private property bordering Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park. During those first six km, we traveled up along gravel roads, double track trail and some game trails. We descended down rocky cliffs with fixed ropes and, by the time we arrived at the Skaha Bluffs parking lot, we were spread out comfortably along the single track.

During this first section, I tried to distance myself from the endless chatter of “What Races Have You Done” guy and I happily let “Bear Bell” guy sprint off in front of me. I stepped aside to let Bruce and a train of speedy downhillers get past but was soon stopped short when I found Bruce limping on the trailside, having just rolled his ankle once again. Despite his pained grimace and his obvious distress, he insisted that I carry on and that he would walk it out to see how it fared.

During my brief pause with Bruce, much of the field passed us by and now I found myself completely alone. In fact, I saw only one other runner for the next 24 km. I focussed on following the trail markers, which were minimal but absolutely adequate, and sticking with my nutrition/hydration plans. It was a relief to be away from the crowd and the ‘racing’. I admired the incredible variety of fall colours from the brilliant yellow Aspens to the magenta Sumac with varigated Maple leaves underfoot. I could relax into my own pace and my own thoughts and enjoy these trails unknown to me. It felt just like any of my training runs – perfect solitude.

The day was cloudy and cool. Most of the day, I was just barely comfortable in my short sleeve t-shirt. I often thought of pulling out my arm-warmers but was too preoccupied to do so. I prefer being too cool as it means I have to run harder to keep warm. The first aid station came at 15 km and here I saw the only other runner since leaving Bruce. There were some unfamiliar gels which I skipped and some homemade chocolaty “Quail Eggs” which were fantastic – I wished I had taken 10 of them! After refilling my water bottles, I headed up the gravel road knowing that the upcoming 17 km was a broken climb to the high point of the day which would take me over two hours to achieve.

43027189_2244582752445081_5765557342166843392_n

Arriving at the first aid station. photo credit: @mightyquail100

43171579_2244582692445087_8052820297088237568_n

Despite a significant ankle roll at 4 km, Bruce went on to run to AS#3, 71 km into the race. photo credit: @mightyquail100

There are five trail systems on the east side of Penticton – Skaha Bluffs, Wiltse, Carmi, Campbell Mtn and Three Blind Mice. There are a few old roads in the hills in-between these parks and even fewer trails. The Mighty Quail route is an attempt to link all five parks together using whatever connections available. This means using a whole lot of overgrown road and non-existent trail through thigh-high grasses. As well, the route includes a wide variety of single and double track trail, logging road, decommissioned road and game trails. If you don’t like the kind of trail you were on, simply wait five minutes and it will surely change. The Fall colours and the occasional glimpses of the lakes were like little rewards along the way.

Around 29 km, the route turns left and ascends steeply for 3 km. This is where I finally found some fellow runners. I enjoy a gritty climb and was able to power past a  number of folks who were plodding along. Eventually the straight-up grade changed to switchbacks and became the kind of climb where you could crane your neck up and see who was six switchbacks ahead of you. I continued to reel people in and felt like I was back in the game again. As we reached the top, all focus went to the upcoming water drop. I still had plenty of fluids but this 37 km milestone would mean that the most remote section and the steepest climb were behind me.

The trail popped me out onto an old clearcut and here I could suddenly see eight other runners. The curvy forest trail had hidden them from view but now it was apparent that we were all very close together. There was even a line-up for water as six of us politely took turns to refill, with more runners arriving through the cut block and along the logging road. Our small group headed back into the trails and soon hit the logging road which would take us all the way to aid station #2, 47 km into the race.

A whole bunch of us arrived at the 47 km aid station within seconds of each other. We all simultaneously delved into our only drop bag for the race and began tucking our reserve supplies into every pocket available. I perused the food table and enjoyed a few cups of broth, a PB&J and the last perogy. About 15 minutes later (where does the time go??), I headed out and began the climb up to Beaverdell Road.

Despite my pre-run scouring of the TrailForks race map and last year’s runners’ Strava maps, I somehow overlooked this section of road, which is 5 km of wide gravel road where pick-up trucks speed past, churning up gravel in their wake as they prove how pathetic you are on foot. I ran every step of the gentle ascent and tried to lengthen my stride when the road finally curved downhill. Soon enough, I had passed the halfway point and re-entered single track trail. The Ellis Canyon trail was a beautiful part of the course. The trail hangs on the side slope of the canyon, below the road. It would be a heart-throbbing ride on a mountain bike and was equally thrilling on foot. I tried to take glimpses of the canyon below but mostly I kept my eyes on the trail.

The second water cache at 57 km seemed quite unnecessary so soon after AS#2 but I was relieved to find a pit toilet in the parking lot all the same. After crossing over Beaverdell Rd, the trail eventually began a steep descent through deep, loose sand down towards the Campbell Mtn reservoir and the river crossing. I was thankful for my dirty girl gaiters as they prevented most of the sand making its way into my shoes. When I reached the river, about six runners were stopped, some removing shoes, others re-lacing on the far side and some barefoot, mid-creek. Having no fear of wet shoes, socks or feet, I attempted to cross through the calf-deep water without hesitating but soon was crab-walking on all four over the treacherously slippery rocks. I made it across without further incident and began the steep ascent out of the river valley.

The route continued to ascend up less-used trails and then became smoothed-out switchbacks leading up to the microwave towers at the summit of Campbell Mtn. From this summit, we began the sweet, single track descent on flowy mountain bike trails all the way down to aid station #3 at 71 km. I was delighted to see old friends Lisa and Heather in charge of this station and I was uber-spoiled with hot broth, tales of mutual friends and adventures we had all had since leaving the Lower Mainland. When I bemoaned my slower-than-anticipated time, Lisa wisely reminded me that no matter when you finished, everyone got the same race t-shirt and the same burger at the finish line. It was exactly what I needed to hear and I mulled it over during the long, steep climb up Greyback Mtn Road.

I heard this climb described as ‘soul-sucking’ and it lived up to its reputation. The paved road twisted its way up past cattle farms and acreages before it became a gravel road and then a loose, baby-head quad track. Over 5 km, it steepened with each switchback and I concentrated on finding the shortest path around corners and watching the rocky footing. I had briefly considered leaving my poles in my drop bag way back at 47 km but I was really glad that I still had them with me for this. I knew that the route would eventually veer left off this road and I felt disappointment each time the road swerved right again with no left exit. I finally came to the High Point Road just as some very encouraging and friendly quad drivers arrived going downhill. I headed along High Point, able to shuffle along the gentle grade. At some point, I met up with ‘Cowboy Hat’ and we decided that it was time to pull out the headlamps. Once I was set-up, I started to fly again.

There is something about night running that thrills me. It is like a six-ticket ride at the fair. I feel fearless in my 8 ft wide beam of light and I ignore everything except the immediate underfoot. I anticipated the final climb at 83 km so I didn’t mind it too much especially since it was a mountain bike track rather than a nasty road. After that, I holstered my poles and enjoyed the wild, smooth switchbacks of the Three Blind Mice trail system. I could hear voices off in the distance which I guessed was the final aid station but it took a long while before I descended far enough to reach it.

I was met at the short out-and-back approach by a volunteer who kindly pointed me in the correct direction and I arrived to much excitement at the 87 km mark. As I indulged in some Coke and a big pile of apples, a volunteer explained that the final descent could be run in ’45 minutes on fresh legs’. Seeing as I had the opposite of fresh legs, I figured that I had at least 90 minutes of race to do. It felt daunting but I knew that I still had some life in my legs and I was keen to be finished before 10:00 pm.

The descent was fun and those trails were in awesome condition but I missed a critical right turn and suddenly was bumbling along with no markers in sight. I backtracked and found my error and then continued to whistle on downhill. Unfortunately, there were three or four spots where I stopped and had to retrace my steps to the last marker. At one point, I plowed on ahead despite the lack of markers and eventually found one which was a great relief. When I finally reached the trailhead parking lot and hit the KVR trail, I was determined to hit that 10 pm goal but that KVR is a doozy and it kept rolling along, albeit mostly downhill, but it seemed to go on forever. At one point I was distracted by the gorgeous smell of fallen apples through the orchard section. I was so relieved when I finally turned off right off the KVR and steeply down the “Vancouver Trail” since I could finally see the yacht club and hear the finish line.

42920451_2242214719348551_3799083815251476480_n

I love a race with a hand-written finisher board! Old School Rules! photo credit: @mightyquail100

I was welcomed into the finish chute by my husband Bruce, who had amazingly run to the 71 km mark on his bad ankle, and our good friends George and Gail. Once I had gathered my wits, I asked for my burger ‘to go’ and we hit the road. Indeed, I had the same finish line burger and received the same finisher MQ beer glass as everyone else. It isn’t really a race as much as it is a personal challenge and today I met that challenge.

I was too wiped at the finish line to indulge in the Barley Mill beer kegs onsite but I have put this glass to work since then.

I don’t think that the Mighty Quail is any more difficult than other 100 km races but it is very remote and minimalist which makes it a stand-out in my opinion. I loved being way off the beaten track and I loved being alone. I loved having to keep my wits about me and I loved gauging my needs in the long distances between aid. I loved the feeling of a self-supported training run and I loved knowing that I was surrounded by experience the whole day. The resumes of  these entrants are astounding and, if anything had gone awry out there, an army of experience would have been close at hand. The small field of runners and the grassroots approach made this a day to simply do what we love to do most!

But wait … This whole report sounds like some sort of paid advertisement for the race. Although everything above is true, here is a ‘Take 2’ report called And Now … The Truth. which gives a more honest account of my competitive spirit that day.

18199084_1943757359194290_5629891071392684602_n

If you know me, then you know that any race with a chicken as its mascot is a race for me! photo credit: @mightyquail100

Fun Fact: I ran this like a metronome. It took me four hours to complete each 25 km section. 25 km = 4:00 hrs; 50 km = 8:03 hrs; 75 km = 12:16 hrs; 100 km = 16:08

Be Aware: You are allowed 11 hrs to arrive at AS#2 (47 km), leaving 7 hrs to complete the final 54 km. I truly wonder if this scenario is possible and if any mid-packers have run the second half in seven hours or less. Although the first half is more difficult, the second half is not easy, especially in the dark. Instead I would advise that you plan for a 9 hr/9 hr split, if you think you’ll need the whole 18 hrs.

finish time – 16:08.43

16/32 finishers (unofficial included); 4/11 women; 1/6  W40-49 age group

 

Or Finlayson Arm 100 km race report

When Myke Labelle revealed his plans to add a 100 km event to his Finlayson Arm 28 km/50 km event, I immediately thought, “Why? Who?”. The 50 km is already the most difficult one that I know and I couldn’t imagine who would sign up to run out and back and then out and back again. But, without a moment’s hesitation, Bruce nodded, voiced his support for the idea and committed on-the-spot to be there. For me, I had to mull the idea over for a few months and, even then, I had my doubts. Beyond registration day and right up to race day, I truly wondered if this would turn out to be a regrettable idea.

Finny map

The race route runs north along the edge of Finlayson Arm. The 50 km event is an out-and-back and the 100 km event does the whole out-and-back route twice.

FinlaysonArm50k-Elevation-Profile

This is the course profile for the 50 km event (which is actually 54 km btw). One loop equals 10 075 ft of gain; two loops=20 150 ft.  As a comparison, the much-touted Squamish 50 miler has 11 000 ft of gain.

Having run the 50 km for the past two years, it was a no-brainer to sign up again but this time I opted for the unknown and untested – the 100 km. This is a beauty of a route, with steep climbs and descents, inspiring views, fantastic organization and an old-school race party feel. My doubts had nothing to do with what the race would offer – only with my ability to hold it together mentally and physically for the duration. With only 46 registered in the 100 km event and, at 5:00 pm on Friday afternoon, only 40 of us toeing the start line, I knew that solitude would be the word of the day, and the night, and the following day.

Me and my best buddy at the 100 km start line. The best part of an out-and-back course is being able to have multiple visits with each other.

No sooner had Myke sent us on our way when I had my first equipment issue of the race. Within fifteen steps, one of my holstered trekking poles came loose and began to dangle down my back. If I had known the problems that lay ahead with these damn poles, I would have chucked them into our tent right then. But instead, I pretzeled my arms around and sort of managed to re-holster them while running along with the crowd.

We headed down the switchback to Goldstream River at a casual pace and somehow ended up self-seeding. At the river crossing (1 km), I opted to avoid the rope which was loosely-strung across the river and simply waded into the calf-deep water. A few folks were trying to keep their feet dry by hugging the bank but soon discovered that wet shoes were unavoidable. As I headed up into the hills on the far side, I quickly found myself alone. And that is the way it was for the remaining 106 km.

I suppose I can’t say that I was really alone since the out-and-back route allowed for multiple, brief visits with on-coming racers but I didn’t have anyone to run with, to chase down or even to run away from for almost the entire race. As we climbed up the bare rock of Mt Finlayson an hour later, I could see that I was close to a few other runners and even caught up to Bruce in time for a summit kiss but, as we re-entered the forest and dusk set in, I withdrew and embraced the time I had set aside to be with my running thoughts. Isn’t that exactly what a race is?

21462636_10155431474841355_4196306246299497977_n

Margaret got this action shot of me as I approached Rowntree AS for the first time. There is very little pavement this race – less than 5 km over the 107 km. In fact, this is it in its entirety! (photo credit: Margaret Lam)

After the excitement of seeing Margaret, Lisa and Lisa (and others!) at Rowntree aid station, I focused on the upcoming climbs – Holmes and Jocelyn – and tried to figure out when to pull out those trekking poles. Despite the climbs ahead, much of this Ridgetop Trail is quite runnable and undulating. I spent a long time debating if this was the point where I should use poles. Eventually I unholstered them but soon found that I didn’t want them for the next part. Reholstering them on-the-fly was possible but awkward so instead I carried them for most of this section, thinking that they would be useful soon. Indeed they were helpful on the final pitches of both climbs but they were not necessary and didn’t warrant the energy they were sucking from me.

In the months before the race, I spent a lot of time visualizing certain parts of the course – junctions, vistas, landmarks – and I set some race-day goals that I was determined to meet, no matter how arbitrary. One goal was to be at Jocelyn Hill summit (17 km) before sundown. The sun would set at 7:38 pm and, in my two previous races, I had taken 2hr36min to get to this point. Why not aim to be at the most beautiful point of the course exactly when the sun sinks below the horizon? As I left Holmes Peak, the sun was giving off that telling amber glow and I knew that I would have to push it. Time-wise, I was on target but the sun seemed to set each time I entered the trees or rounded a corner. Also Jocelyn Hill has a couple of false summits but, when I finally reached to top, Matt Cecill cheered me on and clicked my sunset photo with mere seconds to spare. Phew! Goal #1 met!

_S2A7952

Beauty Captured! Five minutes ahead of me, Bruce arrived at Jocelyn Hill’s summit where Matt Cecill composed this stunning photo. (photo credit: Matt Cecill)

Just after the summit, I stopped, removed my pack and put those poles away. I knew I wouldn’t need them until Mt Work. I pulled out my headlamp and hand-held flashlight at the same time. The next goal was to make it to McKenzie Bight (22.5 km) before turning on my headlamp. As with the sunset calculation, I had about 45 minutes of dusky light left and I knew that it had previously taken me 45 minutes to descend to the beach. This goal had more risk and the time frame was more uncertain. How do you gauge the need for your lamp? Variations in forest cover and running speed play into it. I cruised along for as long as I could, without taking too much risk, and I turned on my lamp while descending the gnarly stairway before the beach, about 5 minutes earlier than my goal. Better safe that sorry. Goal #2 missed.

Goal #3 was to arrive at the Ross-Durrance aid station (24 km) before 8:38 pm, which would mean I was running the same pace as I had for the 50 km last year. Would you believe it? I was on fire! Goal #3 met! I tried my best to stay focused on my needs at the aid station despite Lisa regaling me with tales of her Fat Dog experience and someone calling out that I was the second woman. “Shhh!” I called out. “I don’t want to hear that kind of information until at least 75 km!”

Upon leaving the aid station, I pulled out my trekking poles again, thinking that they would really help during this sustained, steep climb. But, lo and behold, this climb also has multiple false starts and I ended up regretting that choice. No sooner would I decide to get the straps on when my food beeper would sound or the climb would end or something. It was an endless distraction that really started to irk me. I just wanted to run unencumbered! This section went by quickly as I eagerly waited to see the race leaders on their first homeward trip. I came across them much farther along than I expected, at the crest the Mt Work. As I began the descent in full darkness, I wondered when I would see Bruce on his return trip. Would it be at the same switchback where we have met for the past two years? It was! Goal #4 met! We met at the same place as we have met during the 50 km twice before. We briefly exchanged encouraging words and headed off into the night.

Although it was 9:30pm and the race was 4.5 hours along, I felt fresh like I was just starting out. Upon reaching the superbly-stocked Munn Road aid station (30 km), I turned down a delicious-looking grilled cheese sandwich and stuck to my plan of eating gels and bars although I did take a rasher of bacon for the first trip home. I enjoyed the night climb back up Mt Work but I was a bit stunned at the huge gaps between 100 km racers. The almost-full moon rose in this early night section and, in the rocky clearing at the top of Mt Work, I was able to internally howl into the clear, starry night.

As the night progressed, time seemed to compress. The oncoming racers became fewer and farther apart. I fell deep into my running trance – thinking about that root, that rock, the upcoming section, my food alarm, my cumbersome trekking poles. Mostly I was comfortable, smooth, efficient and so happy to finally be in the midst of this long-anticipated goal. As I ran along the xmas light fairytale trail leading to Rowntree AS (47 km), I could see a runner was just leaving. It was the first time I had seen someone near me. Like a pit crew, I was refilled, refueled and on my way toward the halfway point in no time. As I climbed up the Prospector’s Trail below Mt Finlayson, I came across that same runner. He wasn’t really in the mood to chat but I did learn that he had rolled his ankle at the Squamish 50/50 three weeks earlier and was suffering as a result. I had run hard at the Squamish 50/50 last year and had found running the Finlayson 50 km three weeks later to be a stretch. I know only too well the fatigue he was feeling but he was only halfway through! As I have written before, this 100 km race has all the challenge of a 100 miler, compacted into 62 miles. I believe it is not something you can simply add on to the end of a busy race calendar.

As I descended down the loose rocks of Finlayson, I saw two parallel lights approaching. These were the two frontrunners of the 100 km and they were together step for step. In fact, when I first saw their lights, I briefly thought that it was an approaching car, rounding the steep corner until they called out good wishes and encouragement to me.

Before I knew it, I was back at Goldstream group site (53 km) with Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On A Prayer” playing on repeat and heavy metal rock stars as AS crew. I could see another runner leaving the aid station and running past the tents as I ran through the chute. I took my time here, told stories of my day to Lori and anyone else who would listen, and ate a bunch of hot perogies. I had trouble deciding what food to take and whether or not I would need warmer clothes for the night. I simply was beyond pleased to have made it to this point just 20 minutes off my best time, especially considering that most of it had been run in the dark. As the clock struck 2:00 am, I bolted into action and headed out for my second loop, exactly on schedule. Goal #5 – met!

The weather began to shift over the next hour. The wind picked up and the clear sky clouded over. As I neared the summit of Mt Finlayson (62 km), I was blown around like a leaf and almost ended up on my butt due to strong wind gusts. With determination, I pushed up and over the top and back into the forest. The same scenario happened on the summit of Jocelyn Hill. Luckily, the wind was refreshing on an otherwise warm and slightly humid night. Around this time, I began to look forward to the first signs of day. At San Diego 100, I heard bird song at least an hour before twilight but not today. The first 100 km runner was climbing the long stairway up from McKenzie Bight as I was descending. He was about 15 km ahead of me and looked both strong and fresh!

I turned off my headlamp just before arriving at the Durrance AS (77 km) which meant that Goal #6 had been met. I was famished and ate a stack of piping hot quesadillas as well as soup and coffee while resupplying from my drop bag.

Exactly as forecast, rain started to fall at 7:00 am. I was climbing up Mt Work outbound when those first drops fell. It wasn’t too bad and it wasn’t too cold. In fact, it made the sandy soil more tacky and my footfall confidence increased, knowing that I wouldn’t slip and slide. But I felt for those 50 km racers who were just beginning their day as the rain came.

I came across Bruce high up on Mt Work. He was sitting in 9th or 10th place and had had a great night. There was a cluster of runners fairly close together with him and he was motivated to reel in a few more on his homeward journey. After parting ways, I hustled down to Munn Rd AS (83 km), ate a blackened grilled cheese sandwich (just like I usually make!) and made my final ascent of Mt Work.

Doing an out-and-back course twice was never dull or even repetitive. Each section of the course was done in completely different parts of the day or night so it never felt the same. I liked being able to anticipate obstacles or landmarks, making me feel lucid each time that I guessed correctly. It was a mental challenge but one that I enjoyed completely.

My homeward journey continued to be smooth and enjoyable, despite being tough and grueling. I looked forward to seeing the first 50 km racers coming towards me and, from then onwards, my spirit was buoyed by the endless compliments and encouraging words I received from the 50 km racers. I had only two goals left to meet. My first goal was to finish under 20 hours which by all accounts was going to happen. My second goal was far more obscure – to cross the finish line before the first 50 km racer. Who knew how fast those fellows would run? If there was a competitive group, the pace could be far faster than previous years. Course records could be broken.

On my fourth time through, the crew at Rowntree AS (100 km) knew exactly what I wanted and needed, even when I didn’t. I shrugged off the blanket they offered. When I told them that gels were making me gag, they had quick solutions. They did time calculations for me and assured me that I would meet my time goal. They figured that I would be done within the hour as long as I kept moving the way I was. I absorbed their energy and took their words as truth. With another stack of quesadillas (so good!), I was out of there quickly but that feeling of sleepy-tired weighed heavily.

Knowing that my time goal was in the bag (Goal #7 soon to be met!), I focused on staying ahead of those 50 km runners. This was the motivation I needed to run hard. I kept thinking to myself “You have to earn this finish. You have to earn second place. You cannot sit back and cruise or walk. Run it hard and earn your placing.” Because of the out-and-back course, I knew that I could never have caught Becky, the first place woman, as she was hours ahead of me. But I also knew that the third place woman, Mirjam, was not closing in on me. So I had to motivate myself to run hard. This eighth goal was my motivation through this final difficult section. Every straight stretch, I glanced back. I kept my ears open for chatter and footsteps. I pushed the pace whenever I could. I counted off the familiar landmarks and looked towards the next.

When I reached the edge of the campsite, I felt relief wash over me. Tears welled up and emotion tingled through my body. I still had 500 m and I had to hold it together. I came through the chute with blurry eyes and crossed the line with an out-of-character holler. Goal #8 met!

_S2A9751-2

Caught up in the glory of my moment, I ran down the finish chute, woop-wooping the whole way. I had 8 motivating goals in mind at the race start and I met 7 of them. Mental strength was my key. (photo credit: Matt Cecill)

21457421_10214218315518759_4627755018148002962_o

Forty minutes after my finish, the first 50 km racers arrived. Little did I know that I was being chased down by my own local running buddy, Graham Forsyth who came 2nd in the 50 km and broke the course record! (photo credit: Aislinn Deenihan)

This race had been my focus for the season and finishing 9th overall and 2nd woman was an amazing way to round out an otherwise disappointing race year. Finlayson Arm has earned a permanent spot in my race calendar. Having run and loved the 50 km event for its first two years and now with the inaugural 100 km under my belt, I know that I will forever be busy on the first Saturday after Labour Day.

21457533_1692620284112319_1722827777973438228_o

Teary-eyed and brimming with emotion – I worked hard to earn this custom-etched beer growler (100 km finisher gift) and this awesome framed print of the view from Jocelyn Hill (2nd place award) (photo credit: coastline endurance running)

Finish time – 19:13:22

9/27 finishers (40 starters); 2/5 women (8 starters) 

OR Coyote Backbone Trail 100

With the months of difficult winter training behind us, Bruce and I headed south to sunny California in March to run the first edition of the Backbone Trail 100. There have already been two previous 68 mile races along this route but this was the first year that the longer distance was offered. All together, there were only 35 folks taking on the 100 mile challenge, toeing the start line beside 168 runners in the 68 mile race.

The Backbone Trail (BBT) has just recently (2016) been awarded status as an established park trail. The trail begins at the northern edge of Los Angeles, at Will Rogers State Park, and runs north along the backbone of the Santa Monica mountain range on the edge of the Pacific coast. It ends 68 miles later, back on the coast in Point Mugu state park, just south of Oxnard. The 68 mile race follows the Backbone Trail from end to end while the 100 mile course adds in the extra 32 miles at the end in three unique loops of Point Mugu park before heading over the ridge and down to the seashore. In true Coyote fashion, race weekend was selected according to the lunar calendar so that we would be able to run through the night under a full moon.

While up in BC, we had been dealing with more than usual snow [in fact we had to dig ourselves out of our driveway again on our way to the airport], southern California had been having record amounts of rainfall. As we began our descent into Los Angeles, we were struck by the Irish emerald-green forests below. We were prepared for torrential downpours, wet feet and plenty of poison oak – but at least it wasn’t snow. We pulled into the Point Mugu group campsite, set up our tent, arranged our race gear and enjoyed our dinner while listening to the ocean waves crash.

‘Early’ on this race day meant 3:45 am. We stumbled out of our tent and over to the sign-in table, gave weary hugs to good ol’ friends and acquired our race bibs before hauling ourselves onto one of the big yellow school buses. The drive to the race start was – you got it – 68 miles long. We arrived at the start line with just enough time to visit the washroom and dump our drop bags before the race briefing began. The race started about 30 minutes late, after some fun Coyote shenanigans, like handing out the prized (or dreaded?) propeller hats to the predicted front-runners and back-of-the-packers. Soon enough we were heading up onto that dusty single track trail.

The pre-race start line photo. 168 runners are running the 68 mile Backbone Trail and 35 runners are rounding up to the nearest 100.

There was much chit-chat and a feeling of comradery between the runners as we headed out for our day of fun. The trails were in great shape, edged with green grasses, a few cookie-dough mud sections and even trickles of creek water under some of the trail bridges. But rain was all a memory by mid-morning. With the sun higher in the sky, the heat turned up and even the local Californians were commenting on the heat. It turned out to be a hot day, even by their standards, but for Bruce and me, it was glorious. This was the hot holiday that had pulled us through the winter months.

The race unfolded as races do. There were climbs and descents, views and valleys, great aid stations and great conversations. I was struck by how remote the trail seemed, considering how close we were to Los Angeles. At one point, I thought I could hear a race car track, with engines revving up and screeching, but soon we popped out on a winding, two-lane back road with cars ripping it up on an otherwise quiet Saturday morning. I think this was Topanga Canyon Blvd which the RD note had warned us about crossing with care and attention. While mostly very secluded and remote, occasionally the trail would give us peeks of elaborate mansions perched on hillsides with ocean views and shock us back into the reality of how others choose to live.

In the heat of the day, I felt strong as the trail took us up a steep, sun-exposed gravel road after Piuma AS (25 miles). Although I was very hot and sweaty, I was managing my food and hydration well. Around this point, I realized that I had made a big error about which drop bag to put my headlamp in. Our choices were the 25 mile or the 52 mile stations and the former had seemed too early so I had placed it in the Mishe Mowka drop bag at 52 miles. Although I was moving well and feeling strong, I could calculate that it would be dark before I reached there. (Luckily I had a back-up handheld light which got me through the dusky hour). When I rolled into the Kanan Dume Rd AS (38 miles – which was listed as a water only but was a full-on, full-service oasis!), the captain there told me that I was the first place woman for the 100 miler. This was news that I didn’t want, especially this early on in the day, and I told her so. I tried to file that information deep in the back of my brain and carried on as if I still had 72+ miles to go.

When I arrived at Mishe Mowka AS (52 miles), I had a made-to-order burrito from an amazing chef and I took off my shoes to deal with the beginnings of a blister. Bruce arrived soon after and, together again, we headed off over Sandstone Peak and into Point Mugu park. We chatted and compared stories of our day so far and were thankful to be in the cooler dark of early evening. Once past Butt-Crack rock, we enjoyed the long descent towards Danielson Ranch, getting briefly disoriented in a creek wash-out area and then back on track. The Danielson Ranch AS (60 miles) is in a cold river valley and it did not take us long to get chilled to the bone. All the staff were dressed in down jackets and toques but cheerily served us spicy Italian Wedding soup and cold grilled cheese sandwiches.

Martha arriving at Danielson Ranch (mile 60) around 10:30 pm, ready to take on the three loops of Point Mugu park.

Bruce looking strong and happy at Danielson Ranch – mile 60

This aid station is where the 68 and 100 mile races diverge. While most runners had only 8 miles to go, the 100 mile racers had three clover-leaf loops to do, always returning to this aid station between loops. We were told that we were 8th and 9th place in the 100 mile race . As we resupplied, the first place 100 miler came through the aid station, having already completed two of the three loops. We headed out onto the Coyote Loop (7 miles long), finding a few other runners along the way. The ridge of the Three Foxes trail offered warm breezes which finally took the chill out of our bones. But soon, we dropped back down to the cold valley to return to the Ranch AS. As we approached the station, we planned to simply check in and out to avoid getting cold again.

At 12:40 am when we entered the aid station for the second time, Mauricio welcomed us but then gave us the terrible news that we had missed the cut-off for that loop by 10 minutes. We were astonished and, with all the pent-up emotion of the day, I was instantly in tears. How could this be? Weren’t we still in the top 10? Wasn’t I first place woman? The explanation took a long time to sink in and it still doesn’t make a lot of sense to me but, in a race, rules are rules.

With the creation of park status for the Backbone Trail, the state park put more demands on the race organization. They insisted that a state park officer be in place, in uniform and paid an hourly wage at every single aid station along the race route, being paid with our race entry fees and probably RD personal funds. As a result, the cost of putting on this race sky-rocketed and the race committee had no choice but to shorten the opening hours of each station in order to reduce the cost of state park personnel. Although we still had 11 hours to complete the final 50 km, the aid stations between us and the finish line had to close and those cut-off times were put in place in order to keep the race afloat. The cut-off times were well-publicized and it is my own error to have not studied them more carefully. I know full well that I could not have moved faster and, in fact, I had been proud of myself for reigning in my excitement of perhaps placing in a race this long.

But being told that our race was over did not mean that we were done. We were still deep in the hills of Point Mugu park and we still had to climb up and over the ridge and then run the Ray Miller trail to the finish line, 8 miles away. With the energy sapped out of us and confusion still ripe in our heads, we walked and talked, debated and lamented our situation. But, the moon was full and Ray Miller was as gorgeous as ever. We crossed the finish line around 3:00 am but, by then, who was counting. We are very grateful for being credited for finishing the 68 mile event and those bonus 7 miles will simply be a story we will keep to ourselves.

We were up the next morning in time to witness our friend Derrick Carr (far R) and his pacer Scottie Mills crossing the 100 mile finish line in 27:18 and placing 5th (out of 6 finishers).

There are many lessons to be learned from this race experience:

  • Firstly – and most obviously – I need to study the cut-off times, even if they aren’t usually relevant.
  • I can train through a Canadian winter, in short 14 kilometer segments, and still feel great after 75 miles on race day. I’m pretty sure that those last 25 miles would have hurt but I know I could have done them.
  • As any chicken-keeper should know, never think about my placing in a race until three quarters through (at the earliest) since some plans will not hatch. In hindsight, I think I managed the first place excitement pretty well – and I did end up winning first place woman in the little-know 75 mile race.
  • Keep your buddy close. Once again, Bruce was at my side for much of the race, my guide through his old stomping grounds in Pt Mugu and my rock when our race went sideways.

    Sadly, I didn’t earn the coveted Coyote Backbone 100 buckle but all of this swag was part of completing the BBT 68 miler.

The Backbone Trail is a gem and I am thankful to all the trail users who have worked so hard to piece together this trail system from end-to-end. The co-RDs, Mike Epler and Howard Cohen, put in thousands of hours of work to make the race all come together and we will never know about all the hurdles that they had to overcome. Thank you for the opportunity to enjoy your trails!

The Happy Wanderer

My Paths on Strava

Receive instant email notifications of new posts by entering your email address below:

Oldies But Goodies

Currently Reading