don't let the lack of a "dear penthouse forum" salutation fool you--this is indeed that kind of story. this is a story about how i started out all excited but without a clue about what i was doing. this is a story about it was over way too fast, despite hours of boring rhythmic aerobic activity. this is a story about how i just ended up insanely tired and hungry when i was done. this is a story about my first 100 miler.
'story' might be a bit of a misnomer, actually. i still have trouble recollecting everything that happened this weekend, so instead of boring you with a prolonged play-by-play plot summary, i'll boil this down into a few life lessons put into a mildly chronological order, along with a few odd words and such.
- own your mistakes. jetting off to madrid for a couple days two weeks before the race was a challenge--the pollution, cigarettes, lack of accessible mountains and hilarious dry heat threw a wrench in what little training regime I had already. this was not a valid excuse to DNS though, or to not give this race my best. neither was subsequent bronchitis related to temperature shock.
- it's not a real road trip until you pick up McDonald's coffee.
- spontaneous hikes conceived over a beer are the best. they're also good for shaking the taper off.
- beer with friends is generally a good source of carbs.
- when you sign up for many races as i do, sometimes you lose sight of why you're doing it. remembering why you signed up for this galvanizes your resolve. we all reflected Friday night in the cabin about why we do this and why we picked this race. for me, it was to earn my remaining UTMB points for this year's lottery, and to pocket a 100-miler prior to 120 miles at Fat Dog....all in the pursuit of being free from the complacency, expectations and inhibitions of my other life.
- chillout music? HA. if you need to calm your nerves before race day, put on some Led Zep, put the kettle on and make some peppermint tea, and then down a light lager while you wait for the water to boil. try it.
- free your mind before you go to sleep; otherwise don't bother going to sleep. like a dog chasing rabbits in their dreams, I was apparently twitching my leg during my sleep and woke myself up at ~0100h by hyperextending my right calf muscle. probably should have drank more tea. this was still not a valid DNS excuse, or to not try my best. i popped it back in with my hand but still felt it when my alarm went off at 0435h.
- wake up early if there's five of you and just one toilet. everyone pretty much takes a panic shit within the same hour and you don't want to be the one sitting on the warmest toilet seat.
leg 1: 16.5k x 502m: "The first leg of the Sinister 7 crosses the massive debris field of the Frank Slide. Spread over several kilometers, the slide consists of rocks and boulders as large as houses. Experts say the mountain will fall again one day; maybe tomorrow, next week, or next year... After the Slide, the route passes through the town of Hillcrest and onto cross country trails to the base of Hastings Ridge."
- beware of trolls. i opened with unsustainable 5-6min kms because of a narrow ditch providing for an epic traffic jam. not wanting recreational relay runners to chip precious seconds off my time, I settled on running in knee-high grass in between the tracks of a double-track trail. just like Lysefjorden Inn--I am sure I would have psyched a few soloists out with this stupid opening speed. Brayden, Bert and Gary all passed me back before the end of the leg once I kicked my breathing back down a notch.
leg 2: 16k x 937m: "Beginning at the base of Hastings Ridge, runners begin a grueling climb to a rewarding view. Once atop the ridge, you get a view of the entire valley, including Crowsnest Mountain and the Seven Sisters; certainly worth the punishing climb to the top! There is no time for rest as runners drop down the other side and head towards Blairmore to the finish of leg two."
- random epiphany I had on this leg: this race could use a waterslide somewhere. in fact, just waterslide all the things. everything in life would be made so much better if there was a waterslide involved. I note that it was above 30°C at this point, and I was popping two saltsticks every hour and prioritizing Heed over water.
- as you can see from my previous bullet, it is important to hydrate properly. otherwise you end up wishing for dumb shit that comes to bite you in the ass much later.
- mind your head. the team 807 runner tore her head open right after the climb up from the checkpoint because she stood up too quickly while ducking under that stupid-ass tree taking a nap across the trail. we all told her to head back down the hill because it looked like a few stitches were to be in order. i'm glad to see they didn't DNF but it's still painful to watch this happen so early in the race.
- "it's not sweat; my body's just crying."
leg 3: 35k x 1327m: "Also known as "Satan's Sack", Leg 3 is dry, hot, and exposed. This leg of the Sinister 7 has the most elevation gain and the second longest distance. In return, you are rewarded with stunning views of the mountains atop the Continental Divide! This leg crosses through the haunting remains of the 2003 Lost Creek fire where one feels as though they are on another planet. After passing the burn scar, runners once again climb back into Blairmore for the start of leg 4."
- water your legs too. I was told by a few veterans that this was where most people drop out, so I took it easy on this leg. very easy. i was sitting my ass and legs down in creeks where possible and soaking my trucker hat as well. it looked like it paid off as I finished ahead of some runners who did not partake in this silly activity.
- and that's why you don't wear your sexy crochet shorts all the time.
- SIESTAS. not sure what was happening to me, but in the 30°C+ 95% humidity I found my eyelids got heavy on slow uphill grinds. I was barely trying at this point, promising myself to go balls to the wall when that thunderstorm appearing out to the west rolled closer. I may be reusing this strategy at Fat Dog, depending on the temperature--go all out at night when it's cooler and then slow down until a 2pm-3pm nap on the Saturday.
- it's nice to have a shoe problem. by the time I finished this a nice summer downpour had kicked in and my speedcrosses were thoroughly soaked. i'm glad I put a spare set of shoes at TA2/3.....except as you'll read later, they were the wrong pair.
leg 4: 17k x 675m: "Although shorter than years past, this leg is not be underestimated. Leg 4 throws it all at you; tough climbs, water crossings, rugged ground and some fast trail! Straight out of the gate we welcome you with a climb half way up the ski hill. While gasping for air don’t forget we also include some beautiful views with some great photo opportunities."
- as I headed up the ski hill a rainforest magically appeared in front of me. my only thought was, "ok, that's enough. you can stop with the rain now." the Rapa Nui 2's were still holding traction before the first checkpoint, but by after the second checkpoint the mud was causing me to hydroplane because I had insufficient lug depth. the chickens will always come home to roost. BAWK BAWK.
- this was where my popelitus muscles started to give me shit. I had this issue back at GDR with trying to run over wet rocks and roots, and with mud as slippery as baby shit my legs started locking from trying to stay upright. the obvious solution to this is to trust your legs, which I found to be true on the downhill right before TA4 as I didn't slip at all while skating on a heel-strike--but the human condition of a fear of falling makes this very difficult.
- meatballs. it was not covered in cheese or spaghetti, but nobody sneezed. OMNOMNOM.
leg 5: 29.6k x 763m: "Leg 5 presents some good old classic cross-country running. Connecting runners from the south end of the course to the north end, this leg presents you with a great cross-country style run alongside Mt. Tecumseh. You can guarantee to be hit with big gnarly roots, water crossings, mud holes and just enough climbs and descents to leave you begging for it to finish!"
- leg 5 opens with a ton of ditch running to grind whatever resolve you have left into dust. I rationalized to myself that I did not want to blow up before the fker of mothers that is leg 6, so I hiked most of this. of course, it didn't make a difference because I was basically done with my Rapa Nui 2's at this point--the <2mm lugs were not working with the eleventy bajillion mm of rain that fell. all the relay runners passed me on this leg as I hiked most of it, but I remembered that someone told me there was ramen at the end. mix that with my half-size-bigger dry Mafate Speeds and that gave me a goal to methodically work towards. i actually wanted the ramen more though. ramen makes for happiness.
- after a while you stop caring. everyone sort of breaks at some point. I think I put up with around 13k of bushwhacking around puddles before I just said "THIS IS BULLSHIT" and I started wading through them instead.
- practice constant vigilance, pt. I. there was a ninja cougar here in the woods spectating the race, apparently. i never saw him/her, not that i was really motivated to care at that point. there was also a bear but I had bear spray on me. ATTGATT.
- as I pulled into the last 9k shared with leg 6. Alissa blew by me. "only 40+ k ahead of you, NBD. you're only human."
- you can sleep when you're dead. i still had a healthy gap on the cutoffs but I didn't feel tired at all....yet. dancing around rocks and shit kept me awake.
leg 6: 36.2k x 1093m: "This Leg will try the toughest of racers. We have combined the old legs 5 + 6 into one making Leg 6 the hardest section of the Sinister 7 Ultra. Running north on what could be the wettest and dirtiest trail in Canada, runners make their way to the evil climb north of Seven Sisters Mountain. While catching your breath at the highest point on the course, don't forget to check out some of the larger mountains in the area: Crowsnest to the south as well as Tornado and Gould Dome to the north. There is no time for rest as runners drop to the west and make their way around the base of Crowsnest Mountain along trails and numerous drainages. Sure footing is key on this section as you round the southern edge of the mountain and arrive back at the McGillivray staging area to begin the final leg of the race."
- but like, only if you can actually see all those mountains.
- practice constant vigilance, pt. II. it was surreal to hear checkpoint staff greeting you with "good morning" all of a sudden and then realize you have been running for nearly a day.
- practice constant vigilance, pt III. there was a 15k-ish steady uphill climb to open this leg. it was runnable, but not when you packed more than 100k in before hitting this stretch. as such--i recall certain parts of it where, after establishing a steady march, i closed my eyes for near minutes at a time, opening them only when nearly tripping on a rock or finding myself in knee-deep water. I also passed Bert somewhere in the second 15k of this leg but do not recall it happening. he said i acknowledged him. I am also told there was a kangaroo on this leg, but didn't see him/her.
- ultramarathons: because the combination of endorphins and sleep deprivation is much better than taking acid.
- remember to fuel. with all the hiking i started to do, i noticed my water, electrolyte and saltstick intake had completely fallen. I wasn't refilling at every checkpoint and my urine turned into a nice shade of "are you sure you're not a spectator" clear. I am pretty sure this affected the way the rest of the race went--but I did manage to start forcing myself to eat and drink more as soon as we crested.
- "Sunday Funday! Better than a Monday! Can only do it one way and that is the drunk way!" the second checkpoint had alcohol on hand. given the temperature (i.e. I could see my breath) on this leg this was most welcome.......but I did not need it (I was still just wearing a singlet and arm warmers). yet.
- the Petzl Tikka RXP is a very good headlamp. amazingly I only used one battery through the night.
- "you're the 18th soloist to come through." WHAT?! how is this possible given the hike-a-thon this has turned into? what have I gotten myself into?
- try not to provoke a moose mama and her two calves. i hiked within 20m of these three, moving in parallel and opposite directions at a steady pace. neither of us appeared to have any shits left to give about each other.
- by about 3k out from the last checkpoint my running was reduced to short 10-15s jogs. the tension in my leg while hydroplaning with my Rapa Nui 2's combined with all the sand inside my shoes made for some extreme pain when attempting to go at speed. amazingly I spotted Brayden off in the distance, hobbling the same way I was and not seemingly running. I was both excited and saddened--excited because I finally made my way back to such a badass runner, and saddened because he's trained so hard to not deserve this painful kind of finish. remembering that running with company is always better, I fartlek'ed (HA!) my way up to him and caught up at the last checkpoint where we ascertained that we were going through pretty much the same shit with our legs. Bert showed up behind me on cue while I was emptying my shoes, and I proposed to them that we all finish this together for giggles and shits, qualifying with "because it would be hilarious". we were sufficiently mid-pack anyways and if we hiked the rest of the way we would still make Bert's goal of sub-28h. as we were all 100mi virgins this would also make it super special. they agreed.
leg 7: 10.7k x 390m: "The final leg begins with a steep, ugly climb up the base of Wedge Mountain, followed by an incredible single track descent into the Nez Pierce Creek valley. Following another single track trail along the western slopes of Saskatoon Mountain, runners emerge in north Coleman. Be sure to save some energy for the last push to the finish line!"
- we bled a lot of speed at this leg. no one's judging though. not with this race.
- Bert did save some energy for the last push to the finish line while we hiked up the last climb on 23ave. as promised he waited for us while we caught up and then arranged ourselves to cross simultaneously.
- you know it's kind of a big deal when all the eleventy bajillion facebook notifications you receive over the following 72h are related to this event. i've never had that happen to me--but i certainly didn't feel all that pomp and ceremony was warranted when i crossed the finish line. this race was most definitely type II fun, but what ultra is type I?
- Garmins are still pieces of shit. Josette lent me her Fenix 3 while she's recovering so I used it for this race. I was pleasantly surprised with the battery life--almost 22 hours in GPS mode before the low battery warning (15%) kicked in. of course, since it stopped recording my tracks at the end of leg 2 (but somehow still logging pace, elevation and time data) none of it counted for shit. i am not sure if this was my fault or not--I do recall failing to start recording once I started running up leg 3 and only pressing the button while I was moving up the road--but, seriously Garmin?
by the numbers:
- placement: 21/150 starters
- time: 27h40m12s
- DNF%: 65%
- distance: 156.6km
- gain: 4950m
- shoes: Salomon Speedcross 3 (67.5k), Hoka One One Rapa Nui 2 (46.6k), Hoka One One Mafate Speed (46.9k)
- poles: Black Diamond Ultra Distance
- pack: Salomon S-lab ADV Skin2 12Set
- Fat Dog 120mi, my first goal race. I've learned a lot from this weekend and know that I cannot have the last 30k of this race happen to me at Fat Dog as it will be infinitely more punishing; I'm thus scared shitless but know that I have a laundry list of items to deal with. Buy all the toe socks. Find a crew because on-demand shoes and socks are important for dealing with dynamic potentially-adverse conditions. Buy pickles. Eat pickles and run. Eat pickles while running. Practice wet downhill running. Consider snorting CarboPro (it's a blood brain barrier thing). Practice night running and fueling. Learn to fall and get back up again.
- complete the Triple Crown at LSU.
- sub-24h at Javelina Jundred. should be doable given how this race went, but I'll have to do more compression training on road and ensure LSU doesn't wreck me.
- enter UTMB lottery and cross fingers.
- joanna and matt: thank you for being my oprah this weekend. you two make an awesome team and i can't wait to see you take on Fat Dog, among other adventures.
- brandy: thank you for putting us up in that cabin and introducing us to Elena. I am not sure I can stay anywhere else in the Crownest Pass area anymore.
- mike: thank you for putting Correr o Morir on my wall when i needed it most. i am pretty sure you are more mentally disciplined than i am at this game and i can't wait to see you take on 50mi. you're going to do awesome.
- dave, alissa, eric, majo, travis, and jay: thank you for consistently putting my ego and self esteem in check. your awesomeness and tenacity is a pleasure to watch and gives me strength.
- lindsay: glad you still enjoyed yourself during a shitty day. i know you told me you'd never do 100mi again but i'll be more than happy to come pace or crew if you change your mind.
- karen, my running-mom: i had originally signed up to pace just your night section but thank you for letting me go from that promise, because it let me get to the finish line before you and subsequently watch you singlehandedly slay this beast of a race. and that gave me ALL THE FEELS. i'm sure my oakleys covered it up but when you crossed the finish line, you brought a whole cloud of onion dust with you as well. RIGHT IN THE FEELS, ARGH! you will always be an inspiration for my shenanigans, so don't ever change.
- bert and brayden: thank you for letting me share those last 19.8k. bert--i know you could have gone faster but you elected to stick around like it was yet another CTR run. and brayden--thank you for agreeing to take part in my timing chip experiment, and for letting me borrow harold for a few minutes here and there. and don't worry about me waiting for you to plod along on leg 7--witnessing your stiff upper lip and hearing you say "another fking uphill?!?!?!?!" a few times gave me plenty of joy. among the many CTR memories I have already, finishing the race with you gents simultaneously will likely be the strongest one for years to come.
- phillipe: thank you for coming down here despite not running, and immortalizing those final moments in all its 480p glory. get well soon--it's still weird not seeing you run these hills.
- harold/alan: thanks for sacrificing your weekend and your sleep to contend with us sweaty divas instead. alan--thank you for telling me to fk the fk off on TA6, and for being there when i needed a familiar face to tell me to get my shit together. gary was lucky to have you as crew. and thank you for pushing me to write this. harold--you have no idea what you've gotten yourself into, but i hope this was fun for you and opens up your running to a whole world of opportunities. i'll be more than happy to return the favor for both of you at any time.
- gary: thank you for introducing me to the finish line pole toss--I am going to make that a thing now. also, nicely done on leg 7--way to find that second wind, especially after such a rough day! the fact you closed bighorn and now this inspires me to sign up for all the races (because I apparently haven't been doing that). remember--ANGELES CREST. HERITAGE DAY. also please give my thanks to Danielle for borrowing her chair a few times. also thanks for lending alan out to me.
- erik: good to see you again! like i said--we have to stop meeting like this. well done on the shoes, by the way--says a lot about what you put up with.
- noel: good to see you at TA2/3 and blowing by me on 3. you're going to do just fine at CDR--can't wait to see you kick some ass.
- tony, joedine, philesta, allyson, ben, kyle, misti, ashley, lourdes, everyone else on the course in some fashion or spirit: seeing your faces is much better than putting on a pair of dry socks. thank you for sticking around.
- brian and the gang: I'm so glad I picked this race to pop my 100miler cherry at, and not something as silly as Rocky Raccoon. thank you for validating my decision with the quality of race organization and talent I encountered.
Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.
He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed - love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.