I hope you like Ultra’s, Ultramarathons, and Ultra-Race Reports. I have a feeling that this one is going to be lengthy. I had registered for this race many months ago, back in January. It seemed at the time to be an eternity away. I was focused on training for the Calgary Marathon, and it was easy to mostly ignore the looming goal that I had set for the fall.
I did, in fact, mostly attempt to ignore this huge goal right through until race week. I mean, I knew it was coming, I ran a lot, and trained hard for it, but I consciously tried not to think about the actual race. I was scared. I’m usually a pretty confident person, or at least I can fake confidence in nearly every situation, but I was having a hard time even faking confidence here, so I just ignored it. Seems logical right?
I wrote a blog post with some goals in it the week before the race. The goals were totally legit goals, and I was hoping that focusing on those non-time-based goals would ease my mind and help me enjoy the day. They definitely did. In my mind I still wanted to set a lose time goal. At the very least we needed something to give to our crew to tell them when to be at which aid station, and how long we expected things to take. I looked at previous results, I looked at training runs, and read race reports, and I thought that somewhere in the 15-16 hr range might be doable, but it all felt like a total swing in the dark. I had never run farther than 60 kms, so what the heck was going to happen after 60k?? This was a giant mystery. Remember how scary it was when you ran your first marathon, and had to run 10 k farther than you ever had before? This was 40 k FARTHER. Yeah I had no clue what would happen.
On to the story on how things unfolded.
We drove down to Lethbridge on Thursday after work. By the time we arrived and got checked in, we ran out to grab a quick bite to eat. We picked our dinner location by looking for somewhere that would have good beer on tap, because we still have to have our priorities, right? And not take this thing TOO seriously. The beer was good, and I had perogies and sausage for dinner, mmm.
I was in bed by 10 pm, and the race didn’t start until 8am, so had lots of time to sleep. I slept pretty well until 4am when I woke up and my mind remembered what I was doing that day, that was all the sleep I’d get. Still not bad for the night before a race.
I got all my gear organized, I had a couple of bins with food and other supplies, and I filled my bladder with Skratch, and had enough food for the first few hours of racing. I met Lori and Rob for breakfast at 6:30. I ate a good breakfast with the reasoning that every bite I ate at breakfast would be one less gel to eat on the trail. I don’t know if that reasoning stands, but it seemed logical at the time. We dropped our gear into Lori’s car (our crew vehicle) and got to the pre-race meeting. It was pretty basic, follow the flags, if you don’t see a flag in sight, you’re probably off course. This was totally true, the flagging was amazing.
We headed out towards the start line, snapped a bunch of pics. Said “HI” to my friend and ultra rockstar Michelle Barton (she was crewing for the soon to be 100k winner). I was still trying not to think too hard about what was about to unfold.
Legs 1-3 (7 km, 8.4 km, 9.6 km)
Lori, Rob and I got into the Start line together, and before we knew it we were off. The course starts out with a short 7 km loop on the South end of Lethbridge. We ran down a paved bike path, under a bridge and were soon in a conga line climbing up a single track climb. We had purposefully lined up at the back of the mid pack so things weren’t moving super-fast. It was all good though, it would be a long day, so we just settled in to follow along the line until things spread out a bit. The return portion of this loop spills you out onto the city bike path, so we set it in easy cruise mode and ran back towards the Lodge and the start line. We passed through the start right on schedule, and didn’t really even pause, we just carried on through onto Leg 2.
I was feeling sluggish and not so rested and peppy at this point. I was wearing my HRM and my heart rate was much higher than it should have been. I ignored it and kept moving. Things were fairly uneventful up to the end of Leg 2 and the first time we’d see our awesome crew. We hiked the hills, ran the flats and downs, and tried to keep Rob reigned in. Every time he would pester me about running a hill, or would go speeding off in front, I’d yell to him “What’s the goal today Rob”, and he’d dejectedly reply “Survival”.
We arrived at the Aid Station, checked in, and used the bathrooms. All the Aid Stations at the race are in really nice facilities with flush toilets and a shelter. We refilled our food, grabbed some aid station food, and made our way onto leg 3.
Leg 3 starts by going up and around the gun range. This is where the super mean hills begin. I’d been up and around it a few times in training runs, so knew exactly what I was in for. It was a nice treat that there wasn’t much activity at the gun range, it’s super “fun” to run and hear gun fire all around you… hoping that whoever decided where the fences were really knew where and how far the bullets would be travelling. It was somewhere during this leg that I started to feel a weird cramping in the back of my left leg, sort of behind the knee. I was thinking it’s pretty early for things to be hurting… and hoping like hell that it didn’t get bad.
We arrived at the Aid station and our crew was there waiting. I filled my bladder in my pack, and
made sure I had a good supply of food totally forgot to make sure I had a good supply of food. The next leg was the longest at over 16k, and I didn’t want to run out of anything I was lucky I had one emergency gel in my pack.
Legs 4-6 (16.4 km, 6.6 km, 6.2 km)
We headed out onto the only leg that none of us had run before. It started with more coulees to climb. My leg was sore, and hurt especially when climbing. I tried to ignore it and carried on, climbing hills, and jogging the flats. The crowd had really thinned out by this point, so it was mostly Lori and I, with Rob with us some of the time, but he also (like during the first time around leg 4) sped up and ended up ahead of us. Before the race there was a lot of joking about whether Rob would stick with us, and there were a few moments during legs 2,3, and 4 where Lori and I were thinking “Oh there he goes… “ Lori and I carried on through Leg 4, and came to a long downhill section that was a nice runnable dirt trail, I bombed down ahead of her (as I often do), and she made her way down behind me. She told me later that this was where she started to be genuinely concerned about her IT band. Just like in the Grizzly Ultra last fall, it for some unknown reason, despite feeling good all year, picked race day to flare up. I let Lori pick the pace for the rest of this loop. I wasn’t feeling awesome, my leg hurt and she was really worried about her IT band. We took the second half of the loop really slowly even though a lot of it was flat and runnable. When we got back into the aid station we were shocked to hear that we had run it faster than I had planned on my spreadsheet. We were still on schedule for a 15 hr finish (this was my *if all the stars align* schedule). When we arrived at the aid station Rob was also there waiting for us. We took a bit of extra time so that Lori could roll out her IT band, hoping that it would fall into line.
The next two legs, 5 and 6, are quite runnable. There are 3 hills to start leg 5 (that some people might, quite appropriately, call The Three Bitches, but we wouldn’t use that kind of language…;) ) The hills weren’t that big of a deal in the daylight, I mean they were steep, and the downhills made us feel like we might trip and plummet into the river, but it was daylight, so we survived. We all were wondering how much scarier they’d be in the pitch dark on round 2.
We saw our crew again between 5 and 6, and Lori did more rolling, and took some Tylenol. Thankfully the next leg was mostly flat, so we headed out and ran, walked it at an easy pace. The leg ended with a long steep climb up a hill to HQ or the Start/Finish area. We had made it through lap 1! We didn’t stop for long at the end of this leg, we got some food (salt and vinegar chip sandwiches with bacon in the middle, YUM) and tried to keep moving.
Play it again Sam… Leg 2-3 (8.4 km, 9.6 km)
The BEST thing about the 100k is getting to skip leg 1 on the second time around… somehow it feels a little like cheating to jump right into leg 2. And that’s what we did. Legs 2-3 were fairly uneventful. My leg was still really sore, especially on climbs up, and Lori’s IT band was sore on the descents. We made a fine pair.
We saw our crew between 2/3 and did the normal, bathroom, eat, roll IT band, and keep moving. It was somewhere in the middle of Leg 3 that Lori screamed and stopped suddenly in the middle of the path. A blister on her heel had burst and it felt like her heel was on fire. She stopped and put a blister pad from her pack onto it and we carried on to the 3/4 transition where we had crew. Unbeknownst to us, Rob had texted ahead to Lori’s husband and medical was waiting and ready to look at her foot when we arrived.
Our Aid Station stop between 3 and 4 on the second lap was a long stop. As soon as we arrived, the first thing we saw was our friend Dave, Dave was not supposed to be hanging at an aid station, he was supposed to be well on his way to winning the 100 mile race. Unfortunately he had had some leg/nerve issues (coincidentally, similar to mine, but I wasn’t trying to win anything), and had dropped. Dave is an amazing ultra-runner, and also a massage therapist, and an awesome human being. He volunteered to look at my leg, and gave me a quick treatment on the spot in the aid station. I slathered some Voltaren on my leg, and took some Advil. Lori had her feet looked at and Medical bandaged them up. We grabbed our headlamps, knowing that it would get dark at some point during this leg, and we headed out onto leg 4.
Legs 4-6 (16.4 km, 6.6 km, 6.2 km)
I felt about the same as I had for the first 15 minutes or so of Leg 4, which starts with a big climb up a coulee. I had put on tall compression socks, hoping that they would also help my leg, and they felt awkward and uncomfortable for the first while. I was thinking that they were definitely going to be coming off at the end of this leg. After I got moving though, I started to feel good. My leg started to feel normal, some combination of Dave’s treatment, the drugs, and a magical second wind came over me, and I wanted to run. Lori was also feeling better, and we started to move a bit faster than we had been. There was way more climbing than Lori and I remembered from the first time around this leg. We joked about trail amnesia, and continued to climb. The sun was starting to set behind us, and it was gorgeous looking out over the river valley. We were around 80k into the race at this point, and I was feeling the best I had all day. This is what I had come out here for, it was in those km’s deep into the race, that I really found my joy. I decided during that leg that I wanted to come back and experience THAT feeling again. It’s such a crazy thing to get that light flow state when you’ve been moving for more than 12 hours.
As I was feeling better, Rob was starting to feel worse. There is nothing worse than feeling lousy when those around you feel good. Also I suck at running slow when I’m feeling good, and feeling like I want to finish a race, so Lori took over lead runner duties. We were through the hills, and across the water crossing, the sun was nearly completely gone, and it was getting dark. We got our headlamps on and ran the rest of the leg in easy. We arrived back at the Aid Station we had left, and we’d finished this leg much faster than my predicted time, faster than our first time around it. We were almost on schedule with my 15 hour spreadsheet. I was amazed!
We went through the aid station fairly quickly. Lori and I knew that Rob was starting to tire, and we just wanted to finish this thing. Lori’s feet were not good, but she was toughing it out and moving forward. Leg 5 had the three hills (bitches), and we had been anxiously awaiting running them in the dark. When we started the climbs, the magic that had fixed my leg disappeared, and I felt the same tightness and pain that I had earlier. I knew that we only had 3 climbs (plus the climb to the finish), and the rest of it was fairly runnable, so I could gut it out and survive. Lori and I had done a workout 10 days before the race where we climbed a hill called “Big Bastard” on Strava 10 times. It was a long hard workout, and I think it really helped prepare me for these last climbs. I put my head down and got it done. On the first climb, the moleskin that Lori had on her one heel ripped off, and totally exposed her blister. The rest of the race would be very painful for her heel. For me, the downhills were almost less scary in the dark, I couldn’t see the dropoff into the river, so was happy to live in my little circle of light that my headlamp was putting off. After the hills there was a bit of runnable trail before the next aid station. Robs legs were cramping really badly at this point, so we mostly speed walked the flat sections and got ourselves to the aid station as fast as we could. We made quick work of this aid station, knowing that it was the last, and we only had a little over 6k to go to the finish.
The last leg was a pure speed walk to the base of the last hill. Robs legs were cramping, and we had decided early on that we were going to stick together for this one. My feet were really sore, but other than that, I didn’t feel horrible. I never had a bonk or a nutrition issue and was really happy with that. We kept moving as quick as we could and given that my 15 hr finish spreadsheet seemed very ambitious going in, I was really happy with the times that we were making despite our setbacks.
We got to the last hill, and climbed up it, our legs were all tired, but we were grateful to be finishing, and before midnight! Once we got to the top, we jogged in the final few meters slowly on our tired legs and passed under the finish line in 15:39:xx, it was pretty awesome. We had our amazing crew, Tim and Ben at the finish, plus a host of trail running friends there.
I was suddenly starving, and they had fresh burgers on the grill, the guys had cold beers for us waiting, and lawn chairs. We sat and enjoyed our beers, and I had a burger. It was a surreal accomplishment, something that beforehand, I had a hard time imagining the completion of. Now that it’s over, I really can’t wait to do it again. Which also seems a little mind bogglingly crazy.
Thanks go out to our amazing crew, Tim Harder and Ben Vickerman. Without you guys we could not have done this. You were there for us at every stop and had everything waiting just as we needed it. The Volunteers and everyone who worked so hard to make Lost Souls one of the very best ultras out there. The race was flawless, from aid station fare, to course marking, to communication, etc. Thanks to all the friends we saw on course. It seems so strange to me that Lori and I are so new to this ultra-world, but the people we’ve met seem like old friends to us. Everyone has welcomed us with open arms and has treated us like family. From the hugs to the high fives to the cheers, I appreciate every one of them, and love this community. You know who you are, and we love you guys!
The Final Numbers:
Place: 33rd OA (Out of 107 finishers)
14th Woman (Out of 48 finishers)
5th AG (Out of 20 finishers)
What I ate: (I don’t have hard totals):
- 2 batches of homemade gels
- Coke (lots)
- Chips (lots)
- Bacon (mostly sandwiched between salt and vinegar chips)
- Skratch (lots of scoops in my bladder – mostly pineapple, some green tea)
- Skratch chews, two packages
- 1 gel (next time I think my goal should be zero gels)
- Pickles (a handful)
- A finishline burger and beer, plus another bath beer
I want to come back and do a training summary post… but clearly this post is getting long, so I’ll save that for another day. Thanks for reading, and for all the cheers, encouragement, and congrats!!