You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘ultramarathon’ tag.

In 1998, I ran my first marathon and since then I have been consistently running longer and longer distances, taking very few breaks from running over those 20 years.

Where will this lead me?

This year has been no different. My running schedule includes all six races in the Vancouver Island Trail Series, the Marathon Shuffle, The Cumby, Kusam Klimb, Cedar 24 hour and The Mighty Quail. But it suddenly looks like none of those plans will be realized.

About two months ago, a series of unfortunate incidents began and have hobbled me. It started with an off-leash dog attack from behind, which tore up my hand, rattled my confidence in running alone and made me suspicious of all other trail users.

Next (and most significantly) I strained my Achilles tendon during a trail run. While crossing a bike bridge, my heel strike was in-between two boards which were fairly far apart. Although my toes landed on the bridge and took some of the weight, my heel dropped into the empty space and hyper-extended the tendon.

And then, while working around the yard, attempting to attach the flat-bed trailer onto the car, I missed the hitch and dropped the trailer onto my foot – the same foot, of course. My middle toe took the brunt of the impact, swelled up and turned blue. For a few days, I could not fit my foot into my running shoes. I don’t think I broke it but it is still swollen many weeks later.

WTF indeed! Why is this happening to me?!

I started seeking therapies. Chinese acupuncture helped me with a tight Achilles about 15 years ago so I sought out a local acupuncturist. I also found a physiotherapist who treated me with ultrasound and IMS and gave me a series of stretches and strengthening exercises to do. Between treatments, I still ran but I throttled back both in time and in distance and I stuck to less technical trails.

The final blow was during a warm-up run for The Cumby race. I stubbed the toe of my good leg against a root and landed with my full weight on my tender leg. Instantly, my calf exploded in pain, in the exact place where an IMS needle had been inserted the day before. Numbness took over my foot and my calf became immobile, rigid in full spasm. I was in tears from shock, pain and a deep understanding that I was now officially injured. It took over 45 minutes to drag myself back to town.

After more ice, more stretching, more therapies and even another gentle plod or two, I have finally come to the conclusion that I have to allow myself time to heal. Continual pursuit of my running goals is hampering the healing process.

But, as I sit here typing on a gorgeous Victoria Day long weekend, my mind subconsciously flits to the trails I might like to hit this afternoon. I have to keep reminding myself that I won’t be running today or for the foreseeable future.

Running takes me to some beautiful places.

Running lets me see some amazing things.

Running is a habit that I don’t want to break. Twenty solid years of training for long distances has had a positive impact my work schedule, my leisure time, our marriage, our diet, our holidays and every other aspect of daily life. It will be a big adjustment that I am so reluctant to make.

Surely there is a silver lining somewhere out there.

So …. anyone wants to go riding?

This will heal me (as soon as I learn how!)

And so will they.

White River 50 Miler 2014

For many years, I have approached races with caution. My mantra has been ‘conserve for later’ and, with about 30 ultra distance races in my wake, I dare say that it has served me well. I have completed all races that I have started, save for one, and I have usually finished feeling like I could carry on beyond the finish line. But I have found myself wondering if I have been holding back too much and if I am capable of more than my mantra allows. Having just completed the Knee Knacker 30 Miler with slight disappointment in my result, I decided that a change in mantra was in order.

Right Now.

How do you feel right now? What can you do right now? What do you need right now? Is this the best you can do right now? Can you push harder right now?

If I push too hard and end up crumpled on the trail side then I will take it as a learning experience and perhaps go back to my conservative ways. When the start of White River 50 came, the limit of my expectations was to improve on my previous finish time but that was it. Oh – and I wanted to enjoy the final 10 km section on Skookum Flats this time (which are not flat BTW).

As the mass of racers headed out along the airstrip and then along the beautifully rolling downhill single-track section to Camp Sheppard, I ran a comfortably swift pace, wanting to get ahead of the mid-packers before the switchbacks began. I found myself among a number of triathletes and road bike riders who were giving subtle hand signals every time we approached roots or rocky sections. I commented that their hands and arms would be pretty tired by the end of the day if they were going to point out all the obstacles along the way.

I arrived at Camp Sheppard Station (6.3 km) in 32 minutes. I hadn’t felt like I was going so fast and decided that the mileage was incorrect. As we started up the 3000 ft climb to Corral Pass, I settled into the switchbacks and the people around me. Although there were some steep sections and tight switchbacks, I was struck by how run-able the whole climb was. The trail would bring us time and again right to the edge of the rocky bluffs where you could look down on the airstrip where we started. Soon enough we could see the peak of Mount Rainier and it was an effort to pull myself away from that glorious view. As we climbed higher, more of Rainier would reveal itself and it seemed close enough to touch.

I found myself alone for most of this climb – out of view of any other runners – and I reveled in the feeling that the trail was mine alone. I was truly able to run my own pace, putting aside all chasing and hunting instincts. There was the occasional pass-and-chat with individuals along the way but then I would be alone again. A cramped belly had me visiting the little girl’s room a number of times and I made a mental note that a Buffalo Chicken Wrap is a poor pre-race meal choice. Luckily my stomach issues resolved themselves and didn’t impact my nutrition plan. I pushed myself to run most everything. I would equate the trail to Upper Queso or Mt Nikkei or Furtherburger and remind myself that I run this kind of grade all the time in training so don’t hold back now.

After I left Ranger Creek aid (18.8 km), I expected to see the returning front-runners coming down towards me but it took a long time before that happened. My memory of hurling myself into the bushes to allow them room was not accurate this time. They did come down fast and I had to step off the trail to make way but I had much better sight lines this time and there were far fewer since I was ahead of my previous pace.

Right before Corral Pass, the ‘photographer  ahead’ signs came into view and I was delighted to see Glenn Tachiyama and Ross Comer seated among the Paintbrush wildflowers, taking photos of all the racers with Mt. Rainier as an incredible backdrop.

10484261_10152977298254918_2591036258742776942_o

With Glenn in the foreground and Mt Rainier in the background, this is the shot of the day in my eyes! photo credit: Ross Comer @ http://www.comerphotos.com

Corral Pass (27.2 km) was a full-on, Cowboy-themed, hoot’n’holler experience. I filled my bottles and got out of there before the two-step dancing began. The trail took us on a lollipop loop up to the high point of the course before it began descending and meeting up with the ascending runners. The addition of the loop meant that I didn’t get to see my friends Marie and Carie all day and I wondered if they were ahead or behind  me.

The following 16.5 km, 3000 ft descent of single track is the crowning glory of this race. The trail is soft underfoot and mostly shady through the forest. It is such a well-established trail that there are very few rocky and rooty sections with almost no alder stumps reaching out to grab trailing toes. I ran hard because I felt great Right Now. I saw almost no one for that whole time except for a few downhill specialists that I had met and passed earlier on the climb. I pushed myself to accelerate and lean downhill because Right Now I wanted to go fast but all the while I was wondering if this would destroy my quads for the next huge climb and descent.

I spent a short time at Buck Creek aid (43.7 km) making sure I got all the food and electrolytes from my drop bag for the second half. As I got back on trail and headed on the flats through the campground, my legs felt heavy and I shuffled a bit. But as soon as the trail began heading up, my legs fell into the rhythm of climbing again. For the next 2800 ft climb, I took small, high cadence steps and passed other runners who were taking big, deep-knee steps. I thought of my legs as efficient pistons on some sort of robotic machine and I was able to run some of this shorter but steeper hill.

Fawn Ridge station (51 km) came up quickly and I knew that there would soon be a brief break in the climb as we reached the ridge line before continuing up to the false summit. I continued pushing my pace and I plugged in one ear bud so I could listen to my playlist of upbeat latin, big band and folk tunes. There is nothing quite like Squirrel Nut Zippers and Basement Jaxx to get me grooving!

Getting close to Suntop with Mt Rainier behind. photo credit: Glenn Tachiyama @ http://www.tachifoto.net

Suntop station (59.5 km) was filled with enthusiastic volunteers who knew exactly what to ask a runner. My pockets were emptied of trash, my cap was soaked in cold water, my water bottle was filled with ice and they watered down cola exactly to my preference. I took a section of PayDay bar from the food table – my only aid station food indulgence of the day – and headed down the road. The gravel road descent is a mentally tough 10 km section. It is hot, exposed, dusty and covered in – gravel! It curves this way and that way and is graded consistently until the final kilometer. I passed 3 or 4 runners who were all walking and feeling too demoralized to exchange pleasantries. I found a comfortable rhythm that wasn’t fast but it didn’t ache either. The time went by quickly.

I had been dreading Skookum Flats since I signed up for this race. When you look at the race profile, your eyes are drawn to the two huge climbs and you forget to pay attention to the final 10 km of gentle up-river single track.

Yowza! Look at those 2500+ ft climbs! But don’t forget to save something for those last “flat” 10 kilometers!

From the Skookum Flats aid station (69.8 km), the trail winds up and alongside the White River and there are many little rocky ascents that are tempting to walk. In fact, the whole trail cries out for you to walk, enjoy and meander. But by this time, I had studied my watch and knew that I was headed for a big PR. The aid station volunteer warned me that this final section would take 1 hr 30 min but it fell on my deaf ears. I pushed myself hard here and passed a number of runners who were caught off guard by this tricky section. I even passed two women – the only women I had seen since leaving Corral Pass – and one of those women had a non-racer friend who was both pacing her and muling for her (arg!). I tried not to let this minor rule infraction bother me and focused on trying to run my own race.

Luckily this difficult section offers miles and miles of beautiful distraction. photo credit: Ross Comer

There are three new wooden bridges along these ‘flats’ and the final bridge is the marker of about one mile of trail to go. No sooner had I gone over that bridge when I caught my trailing toe on a root and did a full Superman flight into the bushes. Not only did I re-open a knee scrape from Knee Knacker two weeks ago, but I landed right on my recently injured and stitched up knuckles. It took me a minute or two to stand up, deal with the ensuing calf cramps and inspect my former injuries before I was able to find my pace again and push on.

Madonna was singing Die Another Day in my ear buds as I exited the trail, which seemed fitting. The long gravel parking area seemed to lengthen as I ran towards the finish line. I turned the final corner and was shocked to see my time – 10:15:01. This was a full 60 minutes faster than my time here in 2010! This finish time placed me 84th overall (out of 248) and 13th woman (out of 64) and I was first in the women’s 40-49 age group. My friends Carie and Marie took 2nd and 3rd in our age group, making it a clean Canadian sweep! Pretty decent results for a course that offers 17 400 ft of elevation change!

So I think my new mantra is here to stay. I felt like I pushed myself hard and my body responded. I had no muscle issues or fatigue during the race and my recovery has been better than I ever remember. Perhaps all that ‘conserving’ on the downhills was causing more quad damage than leaning in and flowing through. Right Now is the mantra I will take with me to Italy next month for the Tor des Geants.

As for the White River 50 Miler, it is a phenomenal race that I hope to return to many more times. Not only is the terrain unbelievably spectacular and challenging, the organisation is flawless. There was never a moment where I questioned where to go, even though the trail markers were minimal. The volunteers were helpful, enthusiastic and obviously runners themselves. It was the perfect place to throw caution to the wind.

Knee Knacker 2014

How is it that I grew up with the Knee Knackering North Shore Trail Run practically in my backyard yet I have never entered the race? I can only surmise that the lure of exotic landscapes and unfamiliar trails has been more of a driving force than the desire to run through the easements where I hung out, tried smoking cigarettes and giggled about ‘going around’ with boys.

But upon moving to a new town and trying to find my place in the local running community, I have been asked over and over,

But have you done the Knee Knacker?

No matter that I have run numerous 50 km races, a handful of 50 mile races and even some multi-day stage runs. No matter that I have traveled to run in the heights of Colorado, New Mexico and Macchu Picchu. No matter that I co-race direct the Diez Vista 50 km trail run. It simply seems that my race resume is incomplete without this local favourite.

So I signed up, was selected in the lottery and ran it this year.

It was a hot day – tipping the thermometer out at 29° C – and the skies were bluebird blue. The course was both challenging and incredibly beautiful. There were thousands of trail marker ribbons, hundreds of volunteers and dozens of photographers. There were eleven aid stations, equipped with everything from food-stylized race snacks to pre-snipped freezies to water served in wine glasses and even a cellist. Super-soaker water guns and two-person sponge baths were welcome treats in the second half. The trails were mostly double-track, often groomed, but with plenty of rocky river bed and rooty toe-grabbers. There were countless non-racer, trail enthusiasts along the way. Mountain bikers, bus loads of tourists and dog walkers all shared the trails with us.

I was intimidated with all the talk of huge, relentless climbs and the course offered all of that, and more. I held back as much as possible on the first climb, chatting with others and staying well-below my threshold. In fact, I spent the entire day conserving energy and shying away from any fatiguing effort. I didn’t push hard, I didn’t chase and I didn’t suffer.

I was caught off guard by two sections of the course:

1)  After the Cleveland Dam, we climb up Nancy Green Parkway on the pavement. But the climb becomes pretty nasty once you re-enter the trail beyond where the Grouse Grind begins. It is a steep traverse where the footing is sketchy and where big, sapping steps are required to get around tree trunks and rocky outcrops. This section goes on and up for much farther than I had realized from the course description.

2) After Indian River Road, there are only 2 or 3 km left until the finish but it is a very challenging section. The course goes steeply down slopes and stairs to cross a creek and then it steeply climbs up out of it – approximately 9 times (hence the 9 Bridges name). That itself would be challenge enough at the end of a 30 mile run but now add in hundreds and hundreds of people out for post-picnic walks. There were small children and off-leash dogs everywhere with very few people aware that there is a race going on. I found I had to holler “Runner Up” most of the way down this section. Don’t underestimate the difficulty here!

I had hopes of finishing in 7 hours, mostly due to UltraSignUp’s finish time prediction, and I was fairly close, with a time of 7:21. The heat was a factor for everyone, causing the median finishing time (7:50) to rise to the highest point in 25 years. I finished 61/192 overall; 20/77 in the women’s race; 7/26 in the women’s 40-49 age group. But most importantly, I finished. And now, when someone asks me if I have done the Knee Knacker, I can reply:

Yes. Yes, I have. Isn’t that some superb race? Can you believe those mountains? Isn’t it incredibly well-organized? I loved every step!

But enough with the chatter. Here is my day as recorded by the many course photographers:

Start  line contemplation photo credit: Ken Blowey

Start line contemplation
photo credit: Ken Blowey

Climbing Black Mountain photo credit: Karen Chow

Climbing Black Mountain
photo credit: Karen Chow

A spectacular view of the freighters in English Bay, Point Grey, Richmond and Puget Sound beyond. photo credit: Herman Kwong

A spectacular view of the freighters in English Bay, Point Grey, Richmond, Southern Gulf Islands and Puget Sound beyond.
photo credit: Herman Kwong

Summitting and taking it all in. photo credit: Herman Kwong

Summitting and taking it all in.
photo credit: Herman Kwong

The sounds of the oboe and cello carried a fair ways down the climb. photo credit: ?

The sounds of the oboe and cello carried a fair ways down the climb.
photo credit: Karen Chow

You thought I was joking about the wine glasses, didn't you?! It was full black tie service on the top of Black Mtn. photo credit: ?

You thought I was joking about the wine glasses, didn’t you?! It was full black tie service on the top of Black Mtn.
photo credit: Ivan

The congo line of runners heading down Black Mtn towards Cypress aid station. photo credit: Ivan

The conga line of runners heading down Black Mtn towards Cypress aid station.
photo credit: Ivan

Arriving into Cleveland Dam aid station (half way) photo credit: VFK

Arriving into Cleveland Dam aid station (half way)
photo credit: VFK

Enjoying a freezie on my way out of the craziness of Cleveland aid station. I regretted having that freezie for many miles. photo credit: Bettie Neels

Enjoying a freezie on my way out of the craziness of Cleveland aid station. I regretted having that freezie for many miles.
photo credit: Bettie Neels

Zipping along the wide groomed trails around Lynn Creek and Seymour River. photo credit: Karen Chow

Zipping along the wide groomed trails around Lynn Creek and Seymour River.
photo credit: Karen Chow

Climbing up the Seymour Grind, knowing that the worst climbs of the day are behind me. photo credit: Karen Chow

Climbing up the Seymour Grind, knowing that the worst climbs of the day are behind me.
photo credit: Richard So

Just when you think the race is in the bag, they throw a section called "9 Bridges" at you and then fill it with day hikers and off-leash dogs! This was a very mentally challenging piece of the day. photo credit: Salvador Miranda

Just when you think the race is in the bag (28+ miles done), they throw a tough little section called “9 Bridges” at you and then fill it with day hikers and off-leash dogs! This was a very mentally challenging piece of the day.
photo credit: Salvador Miranda

And done. Now I can answer "yes" next time someone asks me if I have done KKNSTR.  :o) photo credit: Mike Jones

And done. Now I can answer “yes” next time someone asks me if I have done KKNSTR. :o)
photo credit: Mike Jones

Ultra-distance running races fill so quickly these days. It wasn’t so long ago that you could show up for an event on race morning, after a last-minute analysis of both your fitness and the forecast, and still be permitted to toe the start line. These days, a highly anticipated registration day arrives and within hours, sometimes within minutes, the race is filled to capacity. Some races over-book their entrant list, banking on a 10% withdrawal rate before the event begins. Other race directors create a waitlist of eager participants who wait (and train?) in hopes of a registered runner having second thoughts before race day arrives. In either scenario, race organizations can correctly anticipate the amount of money they have to spend on permits, food, prizing, finisher garments, aid station supplies, insurance and other costs, as well as planning their volunteer crew according to real numbers.

There are many negatives to being a waitlisted runner. I find it truly difficult to be motivated to train for an event that I might be in. When it is raining, snowing, too hot or simply too beautiful out, I am able to convince myself that I don’t really have to train since I don’t have a concrete goal to work towards. It also feels unkind to lie in wait, hoping that a registered runner gets injured or sick or overwhelmed by family or work commitments. It can be really stressful when you finally get official entry into the race with only a few weeks or even days to wrap your brain around race preparation and travel plans, not to mention those last-minute cramming sessions of speed or hill work.

But the dreaded waitlist is where I find myself today. To celebrate our upcoming 20th wedding anniversary, we decided to do something wild –  the Tor Des Geants 336km race in Italy.

Bruce during the TDG 2012. Can you believe the beauty?!

Bruce during the TDG 2012.
Can you believe the beauty?!

No doubt where the trail is! Be prepared for all kinds of weather and unforgiving terrain!

No doubt where the trail is! Be prepared for all kinds of weather and unforgiving terrain!

Six weeks ago, B and I set the alarm clock for 2:45am in order to register. When the registration officially opened at 3:00am we were sitting side-by-side with two computers, trying to acquire two places in this September event, hitting the refresh button over and over. Six minutes later, B cried out “Yes!” as he had successfully attained the pre-registration form. Next he completed the secure banking page and, once that information was loaded, he was IN! Beside him, I continued to reload the page and had success with getting to the pre-registration form but, after filling it out, the next page simply would not load. I could not get to the secure banking page. For 10 minutes, the loading wheel spun and spun, indicating heavy traffic on the banking site I guess. I opened new browser pages and tried to restart my registration but had no luck. Beside me, B completed his application and began trying to get mine. Switching to Firefox, rather than Chrome, seemed to do the trick. Soon enough, all of my information and bank transaction was complete.

We sat back and looked at the list of pre-registrants. The race would accept 660 racers. B was #36. I was #1318. His transaction went through at 3:06am; mine at 3:24am. It took only 9 minutes for this epic race to reach 660 racers and it looked like I was SOL.

But hope springs eternal for the waitlisted runner. This race has all sorts of crazy and unique rules on accepting entrants – which you can read about on the website – but the short version is that they accepted the first 8 Canadian pre-registrants, and I am the ninth Canadian. If a Canadian entrant withdraws or fails to get payment, medical info or waivers in on time, their entry will roll down to the next Canadian – ME!

So here I sit, not training, but instead visiting the race website a little too often, watching to see if the accepted runners make the payment deadline today.

Stay Tuned!

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