My major goal race of the fall is the Lost Soul Ultra 100k in Lethbridge. I’ve heard so many good things about this race, and back in the winter when I registered for the race I really had no clue what I was getting myself into. Over the last few months I’ve had a ton of advice, and descriptions of the course, everything from “It’s crazy hilly, train on steep hills and be ready to climb and descend”, to “It’s almost too runnable, be used to running trail”. It was very obvious that I needed to see this course for myself and get some time on it.
Looking at my calendar, with races, and family commitments, I picked out this past weekend as a good weekend to go down to Lethbridge, and as luck would have it Rob, one of my best training partners, was also available, and later Alex, was also free to join us. So the plan was born, drive down Friday morning early, run long, sleep overnight, get up Saturday, run again, and drive home. Awesome.
Friday morning we left Calgary just after 7am, and arrived in Lethbridge shortly after 9, it’s really only 2 hrs south – I think I thought it was further, and now I think I may try to go down again.
We parked near Peenaquim Aid Station (the ball diamonds), so that we could run a loop, refill water and food, and then go on. “Luckily?” The forecast was pretty warm, a high of 30 degrees Celsius, much warmer than any of us were used to in Calgary. We were planning on running as much of the course as we could, which should be around 38 km’s. The whole loop is around 54 km’s, but the North Loop, past Pavan Park, is on private land, and is not normally open to the public. This loop is around 16 km’s long. We wanted to see as much of the course as was possible. The second day we parked just North of the ball diamonds at the dog park and did 32 km’s, just skipping the South Loop. I’ll recap the course in the order it is run on race day, because I think that’ll be more useful.
I had the course loaded into my Garmin (which worked amazingly well to guide us around the course). Rob and Alex both had Suunto’s and we all agreed for the navigation around the course, the garmin won out.
The race starts at the Lethbridge Lodge (which conveniently is where we stayed, and will be staying for the race). They were also awesome and on day 2 when we needed some extra fluids, they gave us a ton of ice to top off our hydration packs. The 50k loop is actually around 54k, and has a 7 km loop south of the lodge. We actually ran this loop backwards, but still got a good idea of what it was like. It starts with some single track up through the coulee, the slopes here are not crazy steep, it then returns to the Lodge via the paved bike path. This is probably the longest stretch of pavement in the course. This South loop is only run the first time around for the 100k racers.
After you pass by the Lodge (an aid station), you head out through more coulees, these are also more gentle slopes. Some are definitely runnable depending on the effort level you want to put out. You run under the iconic train bridge, and keep running in and out of coulees until you reach the ball diamonds. There are a few steep sections here, but most are more ‘gentle’ slopes.
After the ball diamonds you head up and around the shooting range. Yes there is a shooting range that you barely skirt around. This was a non-issue on day 1 as it was either not open, or not being used, but on day 2, it was being used, and it was disconcerting to hear gun fire as you run. This section is where I really noticed some crazy steep climbs. We were left huffing and puffing at the top, and took a minute of walking the flats before we caught our breath enough to resume jogging. The downs were as steep, and it was really hard to actually run them. For anyone who’s run Prairie Mountain, it’s a similar grade (over 20% at times).
After these coulees you reach Pavan Park, where the North Loop would start. We had to skip this and head back south along the river. There’s approximately 12 km’s of fairly flat, runnable trail here as you head back towards the Lodge. It’s a mix of single track trails and crushed gravel trail, with a few small sections of paved bike path. and a short section on road along a construction site. This is the ‘too runnable’ part of the course that I was warned about. I do think that neglecting running flat trails might come back to bite you in this section. After the 12k of runnable trails, you head back up towards the Lodge, which sits perched on the top of the coulee overlooking the river. Depending on which lap and how far you’re running, you head out for another loop, and more fun from here!
My overall impression was that it’s a beautiful course. Completely different than what we’re used in the mountains, but really pretty. If the weather is hot, this will be our biggest adversary. It was pretty warm on Friday (30 degress Celsius at the car when we finished), and the heat was unrelenting by the end, with very little shade on the course. There are a number of climbs that are very steep, they will be especially tough during the second loop, and at night. The trail is very nontechnical though. It is nothing like the rooty, rocky mountain trails that we often run in the mountains. The runnable sections really let you open up and run them as there are few obstacles.
The weekend of running (38 km’s on Friday, and 32 km’s Saturday) left me feeling very positive. We took it easy, and didn’t push the pace, but I felt really good during both runs, and we actually ran faster on Saturday than Friday. I have no idea how these distances will translate to 100 k at one time, but it’s encouraging to survive training runs and not feel destroyed. That’s got to be a good sign, right??
We did not get a chance to run the 16 km’s North loop on the private land, but there might be a training day out on them in August some time. I’m going to do my best to make it to that day. I’d love to have run the whole course before race day.
I hope this summary helps anyone running the race, and if you’ve run it in the past and have anything to add, please comment!!
And a shaky video showing the downhill running on one of the more gentle declines.