Both Lori and I have been training for and anticipating this race all summer. Since the unpleasant horribly hot Windermere marathon, we’ve been running a lot of trails, really enjoying every minute of it, finding the joy in running. That’s been my goal and my mantra all summer – running is supposed to be fun, so if I’m not having fun, I need to change something. Going into this race I had already succeeded, the race was just the icing on the cake, I had run so many amazing runs, and had really enjoyed the training.
For my last trail race (Moose Mountain Marathon), I had spent the week before the race away camping with my family. It had been a fun week, but had been heavily focused on eating junk food, drinking, and relaxing. These are all excellent things, and I don’t intend on cutting any of them out from my life, but I think that they contributed to my feeling a bit blah on race day. I think I went into that race dehydrated (ummm hello beer…) and not fueled well. Once August and the fun of summer drew to a close, I decided to tighten things up a bit. I didn’t go crazy but decided to try to eat more healthily (I even ate some kale…)
…and to limit myself to one drink on weeknights. I got back to using magnesium gel topically before bed. My sleep improved dramatically, and I have been feeling better and better.
I took a fairly easy week of running before the race, and tried to eat well. I didn’t do any specific carb loading or planned meals, but made sure to have pasta on Friday night. The Grizzly Ultra takes place at the Nordic Center out in Canmore. There is a solo 50k option, and also 2-5 member team options. We ran it 2 years ago as a team, and had a blast! It’s about an hour west of Calgary, and close to 90 minutes from my house including getting out of the city. I was up early, had a bagel and an egg, made coffee, and gathered my things. I had so much stuff, it felt like I was going away for a week, but I wanted to have everything I might need, it was easier to have too much than be missing something. I met Lori at her house at 6:15 and we car pooled together from there. It was CRAZY windy and rainy on the drive out to Canmore, which didn’t seem like ideal racing weather, but we got out there, got parked and went to check in. Just as we were parking the car the rain tapered off, yay!!
After we checked in and got our bibs/swag we assembled our gear and found a place to store it during the race. They had a feed area that was dedicated to the solo runners, and people had bins and bags there with anything they might need mid race. We left our bags and extra fluid/nutrition there. We chatted with some local running friends and the time before race start passed quickly. Before we knew it, it was time to get rolling!
Leg 1 – Grey Wolf – 14 km’s, 309 m’s elevation gain.
The first leg is the easiest of the 5 legs in terms of runablity (there’s a couple km’s of paved trail), it is also the longest. Lori and I planned to run this leg easy, knowing that it would be tempting to go out fast and trash our legs. Our splits were: 5:53, 6:17, 5:50, 5:27, 5:21, 5:47, 5:54, 6:46, 5:57, 6:53, 6:15, 5:22, 5:24, 6:30 (includes transition and the first few hundred meters of the next leg) – if you discount the last km that’s an average of 5:55/km, in my head I was thinking, no faster than 6:00/km’s during this leg, so that’s pretty close. My HR was pretty close to MAF for this leg also, so I feel good about our pacing. According to the results we were in 125th place after this leg. (Thanks Sue for the pic….)
Leg 2 – Cougar – 12 km’s, 385 m’s elevation gain.
Leg 2 is definitely more difficult, it’s all trail, but still non-technical wide gravel or doubletrack trail. There are a number of very steep sections, in both the up’s and the downs. Again we paced it easy, hiking the ups, and running the downs. When we ran though we had a good pace. We leapfrogged with a lot of people who were running more than we were but slower on the downs. My legs didn’t feel super peppy but also didn’t feel bad. I think it was sometime during this leg that Lori’s IT band started to bug her. We don’t know why, but theorized that it was the faster road running type pace of the first leg. Our splits for leg 2 were 8:19, 8:06, 5:54, 5:34, 6:06, 8:42, 7:30, 6:54, 7:32, 6:35, 6:51, 8:17 (includes transition and the first few hundred meters of the next leg). Average pace for this section was 7:11. We ended this leg in 120th place, so were holding our own. We took longer in the transition this time, for Lori so stretch her IT bands, use the bathroom, and I texted my hubby to give him a guestimation on our finish time.
Leg 3 – Lynx – 12 km’s, 510 m’s elevation gain.
When talking about the course, I always tell people that Leg 3 is the best, and the hardest, and maybe those two things are synonymous? Leg 3 is where the single track starts, it’s a super fun trail with lots of ups and downs. It’s technical, but not crazy technical, the path is very runnable, save a few really steep portions (including the coal shoots which we didn’t run this year for some unknown reason). Running this section after having already run 25 km’s is a whole different ball game. We hiked way more than I normally would. The first 25-26 km’s had really flown by, but this is where things got real. Around 30 k in my legs started to really talk to me and feel tired and sore. I told them to shut up, that they had 20k left to run and that they’d better fall in line with that plan. Our splits were 6:11, 7:02, 8:33, 9:33, 10:19, 8:08, 11:58, 11:19, 8:12, 9:32, 6:16, 10:53 (including transition), for a pace of 8:59/km. We ended this leg in 106rd place, so even though it felt slow, we fared well compared to others. We took longer in this transition, Lori put on compression socks and took some Vitamin I (ibuprofen) to try to battle her IT bands and get them to behave.
Leg 4 – Killer Bees – 7 km’s, 272 m elevation gain.
This was the first leg that neither Lori nor I had run before. It was mostly single track. The first few km’s of it were uphill, and all hiking. It was good for us, as it wasn’t really runnable (even if we hadn’t been 38 ish km’s into a race), so we hiked, and made good hiking time. One of our super-powers is that we are fast walkers and can cover good ground in steep terrain. At some point during leg 3 my hands had started to swell, so during some of the hiking I was trying to get the blood to flow again by holding them over my head. This worked temporarily. When we reached the top of the climb we jogged when we could, stopping a couple times for Lori to stretch those damn IT bands, I felt really bad, I could tell that they were getting painful, but there was nothing to be done but keep moving forward. I was enjoying running the technical downs, even though my legs were really tired, I think it helped to keep my mind engaged, and wake me up as I ran. I do love technical trails, especially running down them, and found that my legs still knew what to do at this point in the race. It was a welcome surprise. When we headed back into transition, I sort of expected to see my family waiting as we had taken longer than I thought to get to this point, but I didn’t see them, perfect, they weren’t going to have to wait crazy long for us. Just one more loop and we were done! The splits for this leg were 9:27, 12:22, 10:00, 8:34, 8:36, 9:22, 8:51 (including transition and almost half a k into the next leg), for a pace of 9:36. Going into the race, this leg in particular, I would have guessed a faster pace, but I hadn’t really looked at the elevation profile in detail, and it had a lot of climbing. Again we bettered our place a bit by ending in 103rd place.
We also got to wave and say hi to friends at the transition, I saw my friend (and fellow INKnBURN ambassador) Sue at the first transition, and this time around I saw Tina, who snapped this awesome pic! I wasn’t feeling great, but put a smile on and kept moving!
Leg 5 – Coyote – 5.7 km’s, 215 m elevation gain.
On its own, this little leg would have seemed like a piece of cake, but 45 km’s in, it was work. Serious work. Both Lori’s IT bands at this point were angry, my legs were tired, I had a hot spot on my left foot, etc. BUT this was a 50k race, it wasn’t supposed to be a cake walk, so we carried on, we ran when we could, and worked our way towards the finish. It wasn’t far into this leg when Lori started chatting with another runner who was going along at a similar pace to us. We chit chatted about races, how many we’d done and told him this was our first 50k. We asked him about his race history, and he started by asking if we’d heard of the 100 marathon club? Well he’s working his way towards 100 marathon or longer races, and this was 47 I think. We also learned that he’d also run Moose Mountain and had finished within a couple minutes of our time. It was fun having someone to chat with and help pass the time in this last leg. Lori kept setting goals for us, run to that puddle, or to the base of that hill, or whatever and we’d pick up the pace, make it to the goal, and hike a hill, or sometimes keep running. The first half of this leg was wide double track with super steep ups and downs, but then we jumped onto a single track trail that would have been a blast under normal conditions, still it was a welcome change. My hands were still swollen, and were also getting numb, a bit like Raynaud’s syndrome. I had never experienced this before, but my hands were FREEZING, it was mostly an annoyance as we were so close to the end, but it’s something to be aware of for future (longer) races. It wasn’t long until we were back on the main drag heading back towards the stadium, and the FINISH!! Splits 9:19, 9:18, 8:29, 9:03, 7:21, average pace of 9:36. This was the only leg that we back tracked on placing a bit, ending in 107th.
Overall: 107/248 (43%)
Gender: 26/88 (30%)
Category: 8/34 (24%)
Post race thoughts:
First of all, this was a great race, at a great venue. The Nordic Center makes for a great home base, there are bathrooms, indoor spaces, etc. The race organizers do a great job of organizing everything. The course was well marked, and it was virtually impossible to go off course (despite there being hundreds of interconnecting trails that we were running past). There were aid stations mid leg on the first three legs. Neither Lori or I used these aid stations. Carrying bear spray was mandatory, so we had our packs to carry the bear spray, and decided we might as well run self supported. There was a feed zone at the transition area that was limited to solo runners and 2 person teams. I think they had experienced issues in past years with teams eating the food intended for solo runners. This was great, but I think they could do better. The food at this transition area was very limited, and by the time we had returned for our 3/4/5th times there wasn’t anything fresh (fruit, chips, etc) and just a few bags of snack food. I had higher expectations based on other trail races I’ve done this summer, and if I do this race again in the future, I’ll pack some fruit myself (helllooo watermelon!).
On training. I didn’t follow any specific training plan for this race. I think I was ‘trained’ out from the two back to back marathon cycles for Okanagan and Windermere. I had the Moose Mountain marathon in August, so I knew I’d have a 40k+ length long run, plus did two other long training runs of 35km’s or so. I ran a lot of weeks in the 70 km+ range, and just ran easy, adding in as many hills and trails as I could. If I was to train specifically for this race again, I think I’d pick some more runnable trails, or do a 10-15 km road warmup before hitting the trails. Or, I’d alternate in some road long runs on a few weekends. That said, I wouldn’t change a thing about our training this summer, we had a blast, and really that’s all that matters in the long run. No one is paying me to run, so my specific placement only really matters to me.
Nutrition during the race. The nutrition plan was to use gels and Skratch. I had 5 small flasks of Skratch pre-mixed to swap out during the transitions, and 6 gels in my pack. I also had water in the bladder in my pack. We took gels at approx 45 mins, 1:30, 2:30, 3:30, 4:30 and Lori took one more, but I was done with f@#$ing gels by that point… I finished 4 of my flasks of Skratch. I felt well fueled the entire race, and was happy with how it went. Just as I was heading over the last hill before heading to the finish chute my stomach gave a growl and I wanted food, so I’d call that good timing.
All in all, I’ve had the best summer EVAH, I have zero complaints, and this weekend’s race was really just the icing on top of all the fun that we’ve had.