Whistler, I love you!

Solo Camping for the Momma’s Girl

This week I was randomly gifted with a week off, which meant that I needed to quickly come up with a fun, adventure-packed vacation plan, something I could do solo because everyone I know had work commitments. I thought about heading to the Chilcotins, to Stein Valley or down to Mount Rainier, but I hesitated. I pictured myself being alone in a bivvy sack, and attempting long-ish solo remote runs near Grizzlies, and it just seemed really dumb. Suddenly, Whistler was the obvious choice. It’s beautiful, so much fun, and it’s busy enough everywhere that you can visit these amazing backcountry places, but still feel the security of seeing other people from time to time, even on a weekday. (Plus there’s cell phone reception all over!)

I decided to pull out all the stops with safety while I was at it. Here’s how I made my mom super happy with my adventure choice, and you can, too!

  1. I bought a SPOT device from MEC
    The SPOT seems great for tracking whereabouts, so far! Because of the awesome battery life, I kept it on and with me at all times when I was camping or running. Ask me for the link if you want to track me!

    Alicia's SPOT

  2. I brought multiple maps
    I love maps, and having a paper map of the area is a must. Even in summer and our mild climate, my phone got too cold and died (with battery 3/4 full!) at 7am in the campsite. I typically use a map AND RunGo, it’s nice having both.
  3. I camped in the easiest backcountry spot– Cheakamus Lake!
    My camp spot was only a 4km hike in, so it was super close, if I did need help for some reason (or a beer). That lake is one of the most beautiful, quiet places and in my opinion, you can’t get a better place in terms of reward-to-effort ratio. (Good to know, there was even a bit of cell reception in there!)

    Camping at Cheakamus Lake!

  4. On my solo runs I stuck to classic backcountry trails, all routes that are well-defined and that I’ve done before at least once. It’s hard to go wrong with running 1,300m up to the alpine on the Singing Pass, or running shoulder to shoulder with Black Tusk from the Helm Creek trailhead. I also brought every piece of emergency gear I own– spare jacket, light, maps, SPOT device, cell phone, emergency kit, and lots of food. It’s peace of mind, and if I don’t need it, I may be able to help someone else.

    Running Along Panorama Ridge

  5. Obviously, I told people where I was going, and whenever I changed my mind I phoned to let my emergency contact know of my change in plans.

So that’s my little summary of how to do a fun solo camping trip, and maximizing all the peace, quiet and adventure, while minimizing complaints & general anxieties from mom.

Fat Dog 122 Miles – Long Race Report for a long race!

Every ultra is a new experience and many lessons are often learned running any ultra distance. I expected to learn a lot from this race, as it was the longest race I had ever signed up for and would be the longest run I had ever completed (by almost double). I’m still trying to figure out what those lessons were! But I think being challenged to your max, you learn a lot about yourself and what you are capable of (more than you think). I knew it would be a challenging course, but that is also why I was drawn to it. I had run parts of the course in 2014 pacing Josh Barringer, as well as did a relay leg that same year. When I paced the last section back in 2014, I was blown away by the views and inspired by Josh. I thought he was crazy (in a good way). I never thought I would sign up for this race, but it did stay in the back of my mind for the past two years. Reading about all the climbing, as well as some of the big descents excited me. The race being 2.5 hours away from Vancouver (in Manning park), also made it certain that there would many familiar faces around at most of the aid stations, which was also appealing to me. The aid stations were all pretty spread out so the logistics of this race called for some organization and planning, so typically Alex Lea (Named Team Manager when she couldn’t pace) organized a meeting before the race.

IMG_2934

The race was supposed to be 120 miles, but the week before the race it was announced that they were adding 2 miles due to moving an aid station, which added a bit more climbing to make it higher than Everest. The elevation gain was (8912.7 M/just under 30,000 feet). What was a bit more climbing and two more miles vs. the original 120 miles and just short of Everest? I really had no idea, but the 120mile distance was daunting enough! Alicia excitedly told me- It’s more time in the mountains!

Up until the start of the race I was still nervous about the distance, but I knew I was going give it my best. In the weeks leading up to the race I found myself mentally preparing by breaking down the race into three different adventure days. One day on my own, a night adventure with Spencer (one of my pacers), and hopefully just one more day adventure; split with Kristina and Alicia (pacers). Throughout the race I tried to not think about what km I was at and only what adventure day I was on. I did ask the distance to the next aid station at times to prepare what I needed to take with me for food. I knew getting to Bonnivier aid station (at 66km) would be a normal long run for me, and I had done some adventure runs around that distance comfortably in the past few months. Once I got to there, I would have pacers to run with. Easy right?!  My pacers were taking their whole weekend to come run with me. I wasn’t about to let down my pacers who seemed pretty keen about joining the running party!

IMG_2932

Pre-Race Dinner and Wine to Ease the Nerves.

At the briefing the day before we were warned to take it easy on the descents to have something left for the run-able section after Cascade. I was cautious of this, as I usually take down hills pretty hard. I tried to keep this in mind throughout the entire race in order to not “blow out my quads”. Even though I’ve never blown out my quads. I was in unknown territory and I trusted Heather Macdonald (Race Director) and Peter Watson (Course Director) knew what they were talking about.

IMG_2933

The race started at 10 am, which was also really appealing, as I love these later starts. I am not a morning person. This meant we got to sleep in until at least 7 (as we still had to bus to the start from Princeton).

Tory Sholtz, Hilary Matheson and I were all together before the start. Tory’s pacer made bandanas that were printed with “I am a fuckin Unicorn” and Tory found us before the race start to give us each one for good luck. I saw Randy Duncan and Lori Herron, who had just ran Hardrock and Western States, which was inspiring to hear about right before the start of our race. I had run parts of the Hardrock course in July and I told myself this course was nothing compared to those Hardrock climbs and descents. Lori very kindly offered me an avocado and I accepted, as why wouldn’t I eat more before the start of a 120 mile race?! I had eaten about half a bagel and a tiny bit of oatmeal, so the avocado was a good addition.

I headed to the washroom one last time before the race was about to start and didn’t see Hilary or Tory when I came back. I got super nervous right before, but also had a huge rush of excitement as I hadn’t ran AT ALL for the past week. My hamstrings were a bit sore the week prior to that, and I wanted to have a real taper before the race. To get me through the no running at all, I went in the sauna at the gym a few times to sweat as I saw it could be hot this weekend. Not sure if 4 times at the sauna made a difference, but I didn’t notice the heat or wasn’t bothered by it. I think I was supper excited the weather was so good and was hopeful that it wouldn’t be raining.

I knew that the first climb was a big one and I wanted to start slow, which I did. I was chatting with different people and met a few new friends on the way up. When it flattened out a bit I did some running, but I was mainly power hiking.  I passed a few people that were being cautious in the mud. I tried to avoid the mud for about 2 seconds and that was pointless. It was inevitable my feet were going to get wet! I got to the first aid station at Cathedral and as I got there I saw Angela Shartel up ahead just leaving the aid station. I had met her briefly in Colorado on part of the Hard Rock Course about a month prior when Tory Sholtz and I were down there playing in the mountains.

I consciously reminded myself that I didn’t want to be concerned about how I did in this race, my main goal was to finish and my second goal was to not run for two whole nights! I chatted with a few people about this on the way up who also had the same goal (about not wanting to be out there for two whole nights). I didn’t have any expectations on competing against others for top spots and I was in unknown territory with knowing how my body would respond to the longer distance.

IMG_2907

Top of the First Climb.

We continued climbing after the first aid station and I could still see Angela up ahead. She looked like she was going easy too, and it looked like she was stretching or grabbing her hamstring. I wondered if she was sore. It was super early on. She stopped for a moment and I slowly caught up to her and stayed behind. She asked me if I wanted to pass and I didn’t. I knew that she was very experienced with 100 milers and probably knew what she was doing! When I caught up to her I told myself; I was not to pass her! We were running along with Michael Plummer as well, who I had met last year doing some trail work in the states. We got to a downhill section and Angela asked if we wanted to pass her, again we both said no we were good. We chatted for a bit about where we were from, what races we had done, a few past races, and Michael filled me in on some of Daniel Probst plans at Baker.

IMG_2880IMG_2882

Angela Shartel & Michael Plummer

When we were running downhill Angela mentioned she was trying to go easy on the down hills to save her quads, which was fine with me. I didn’t want to destroy mine either!  She stepped in some mud along the way and fell gradually against the side of the hill and said her calf/foot was cramping and asked Michael or I if we could push on her foot/stretch it. Michael and I stopped, and Michael stretched it briefly for her. She was taking a moment and told us to go on we didn’t need to wait, so we continued on. I again made sure I wasn’t being too eager on the downhill. This other women name Jean who I met at the start, passed me going down- hill, but I didn’t follow her pace and kept my own. Ashnola aid station was not much further ahead. When I arrived, I was feeling good and eating well (I think I ate all of the bacon I had made a few days before for that section). I saw some familiar faces, Solana Klassen in the River and Nicola Gildersleeve at the aid station, amongst many others. Nicola reminded me I could dunk my hat in the bucket of water there while she filled my pack with water so I went and soaked my hat. I wasn’t feeling overheated, but I’m sure it helped me stay cool!

There was another climb up to towards Trapper, which I think I was going steady and again power hiked. Angela, Jean and I had all come into the Ashnola aid close together and I thought they may have both already left and were ahead of me, but later I realized I was in front of them. I didn’t spend a lot of time at most of the aid stations, but I did take the time to do what I needed to do; fill up water, grab more food, eat a bit there, and I changed my socks at all the aid stations where I had a drop bag (4 times throughout).

I slowly passed a few men going up the climb on this section, and continued passing people gradually along the way. I was going easy, having fun and taking photos. When I got to Trapper I saw a good friend Terry Bremner and he gave me a big hug. He whispered to me “your first woman”. I told him it was really early and I’m not thinking about that. I grabbed more food, ate some grill cheese, gels and watermelon and started to leave the aid station and saw Angela arrive as I was leaving. I was able to eat fairly well all this first day and my diet mainly consisted of tailwind, gels, gummies, lots of bacon (that I had pre-cooked and brought with me), and then real food at the aid stations.

There were stunning views after trapper and I was running along with a guy named Peter. I was enjoying the views and continued taking photos along the way. The sun was getting lower and the lighting on the mountain was beautiful. Peter stuck with me for awhile and we started running downhill together towards calcite. He said I may be going too fast for him downhill, but that he wanted to stay with me and my bear bell (I had attached to my pack). I had asked a few people as I was running with them (Angela and Michael if they were annoyed by the bear bell I could put it away). They said it was fine and they didn’t mind it.

IMG_2890

I later asked Peter if he thought that we were going too fast on the downhill? (I think I was being overly paranoid about running too fast on the down hills). He had ran 100 mile races before and he said it was good pace and if I was feeling good then run at my own pace. I agreed and took his advice.  We were back and fourth with a woman on a relay team throughout this section. As we were going downhill Peter said he was getting low on water and he had been low for quite awhile and was saving his last sip. I was pretty low as well and then a few minutes later I took my last sip.

I was drinking more than I usually do and sweating a bit more than usual due to the heat, but I thought I was drinking a good amount. Thinking back, I never had to pee at all throughout that first day until later in the day, which is pretty weird for me; but it didn’t seem to affect how I was feeling.

About 5 minutes later we got to a stream where water was left (hiked in). It came just in time! Peter lifted up the water for me to fill my bladder and then I held his bottles while he continued to hold the large container of water. I don’t think I would have been able to lift up those water containers to fill up my own water!

Calcite aid station seemed like it came shortly after. I grabbed more watermelon and put it in a cup to take with me but then dropped all the watermelon in the dirt, apologized to the volunteers and got some more watermelon, some gels, cliff cubes and I guess was pretty quick out of there. Peter was still grabbing some things when I started leaving the aid station. He called out after I had left something like, your already done? And I felt bad for leaving/not waiting! I called back and said that he will catch up and looked behind as he started off as well and he was close behind me. I can’t remember if I saw him again or not, or if he passed me or I stayed ahead of him? It is a blur! There was some gradual uphill I think, which I took some breaks and walked.

Before I got to the downhill near Pasayton River and the river crossing, I took a quick stop to finally pee for the first time that day! There was a steep decent with some ropes and then a switchback down to the river. I saw Sasha Brown and Brian McCurdy taking photos near the river and another guy ahead of me soaking himself in the river looking overheated.  I knew I was only a couple of Km’s away from Bonnivier once I got here, and I was pleased that I was almost done by “solo adventure”, which hadn’t really felt solo at all. I remember running pretty happy along the hwy really excited to see my crew for the first time and have Spencer join me. I was also getting excited about running at night, the cooler temperature, and I am just more of a night owl in general.

67357166-_73A8638

Photo: Brian MCcurdy

At Bonnivier I changed my socks and shoes (although just a new pair of the same brand- Brooks Cascadia), and I grabbed all my night gear (one more light – I carried two hand helds and a headlamp), plus I grabbed my down jacket. I tend to get really cold and was prepared for the coldest of weather!

IMG_2937 (1)

I heard the reports from last year how it was raining, there was lightening and hail. Many people dropped due to hypothermia. Being cold is definitely my weakness! Last year at Cascade crest I dropped at 70 miles as I was so cold and shaking for hours, and when I finally got to an aid station, I couldn’t manage the thought of getting back out there. This time, I had warm clothes, heat warmers, a rain poncho, along with all the other mandatory gear (emergency blankets, pants etc) ! Even though the weather forecast looked perfect and sunny, that could change quickly in the mountains and I didn’t want to be caught unprepared again!

Luckily I didn’t need any of my warmer clothing or emergency supplies. I even wore shorts all night long and just one long sleeve merino wool (although I was sweating a bit in it and probably could have been wearing a t-shirt for some of the night). It was a beautiful warm and clear night!  When Spencer joined me he suggested we put away my bear bell. Haha I had a feeling he would want to put it away! Spencer had joined Tory and I on a night run prior to this and also asked if I could ditch it. I personally find it soothing, but I agreed we could put it away.

IMG_2929

Photo: Spencer Sheinin

IMG_2930

Photo: Spencer Sheinin

Spencer and I gradually climbed up towards Heather. On our way up just before it was about to get dark, we saw a guy lying off the side of the trail in the bush with his eyes closed. We asked if he was ok?! He responded and said he was just resting, as he was feeling nauseous. Spencer told me to continue on and he stopped and talked to him for a bit to make sure he was ok. He seemed to be fine and Spencer quickly caught up to me. It started getting dark as we were ascending and getting close to Heather Meadows. Somewhere before the top, in the middle of the trail I almost stepped on part of a deer leg. The blood on it looked somewhat fresh and this freaked me out a bit, but I wasn’t too nervous as at least I wasn’t alone! Spencer yelled out “hello Bear Bear” a few times along the way up. I bet he wish I still had my bear bell out then! We were told at the briefing that there was a grizzly in this area but it’s rarely seen. I asked spencer if he had kicked the dear leg off the trail as it would probably freak people out? He said there was no way he was touching that!

IMG_2931

Photo: Spencer Sheinin

I could feel my hamstrings starting to get a bit tight after all the climbing which was a bit concerning as it was still pretty early. I think I was just looking forward to the big downhill! Before we got to Buckhorn aid station I found myself walking some of the flat sections. I think I needed more food. When we got to buckhorn I was offered soup, which was the perfect fix. As we were climbing back up the hill out of the aid station we saw Angela and her pacer. She was close behind me and I figured she would probably pass me soon, but then I didn’t see her again until the last section of the race.  I kept a steady pace and really started feeling great on the downhill sections. It was a clear night and the moon and stars were bright. We enjoyed the shooting stars (there was a meteor shower that night!) and Spencer would often yell out when he saw one. He startled me a few times! We were running a pretty good pace all the way to Nicomen Lake. I arrive there to see familiar faces and get a hug from Erin, Alexa and Matt. They offered me some perogies, which I took in a bag with me. I had been talking about soup for the last few km’s telling Spencer I really hoped they had some as it seemed to be going down so well. Luckily Matt had one thermos of soup and he said as I was there early enough I could have some! The soup was making my night! They told me I was in 3rd overall. I was pretty surprised and also thinking, oh crap what the heck this wasn’t my plan, am I going way to fast? I shouldn’t be in third should I?  But I told myself I was feeling good and didn’t feel like I was pushing myself. I tried to block out where I was in the race.  The descent down to Cayuse felt long regardless. I was going steady but I did need to walk a few times when there were some small climbs, and I found myself stopping to pee several times! I tried eating the perogies and dropped one by accident. As I was still trying to be cautious about not blowing my quads I think I was breaking quite a bit, not how I usually run on down hills. I’m not sure if it was the cause of my feet pain later, if the pain would have happened regardless, or if I needed more cushiony shoes. I was having trouble eating food at this point and finding myself coughing and choking when trying to get it down. I was trying to swallow big pieces using my water. Spencer was the voice of reason and coached me on taking small little bites if I was having trouble eating. I tried eating some bacon as well. I ran out of water here as well but I knew there was a stream coming up along the way and filled up there 10-15 minutes after I ran out. I was probably drinking too much now as I had to pee quite often.. I was craving soup again and hoped that Cayuse had more soup. When I got there sure enough they did and again I filled up my bottle with soup to take with me and also ate a bunch of watermelon. Soup and watermelon seemed to be going down well at this point.

The next section from Cayuse to Cascade was what I would describe as a fun rolling section (some gradual climbs and then some fun descents). I Felt like I had a good rhythm going here going up then down, up then down. I found this section really fun at the time and was enjoying the change of terrain from just straight downhill.  The sun was just starting to rise and it was getting a bit lighter out as we got close to Cascade aid station. I was getting excited to see the rest of my crew. Kristina told me that they were told that I would get there around 5:30 am? based on when I had left Cayuse, but apparently I arrived a lot earlier than they were expecting (15-30 minutes ahead of what they thought).

As Spencer and I ran into the parking lot I thought I saw my car in the lot and realized that my boyfriend Ryan and Alicia may be there! I didn’t expect to see them until later in the day and thought they were sleeping at Shawatum. This made me really excited. Sure enough, everyone was there! Alex, Alicia, Ryan and Kristina.  I changed my shorts and top in the outhouse here for a “new day” and to help with feeling fresh. I know Spencer told Kristina I hadn’t been eating much and reminded me there are not many calories in soup. They had me eat half a breakfast burrito there and I took half with me in a bag (which I didn’t end up eating)! I had an “emergency pair” of old shoes in my drop bag at cascade in case I wanted to change. My feet felt fine at the time and I just changed my socks.

There was about a 5 km section on the highway when we left Cascade, which I embraced as the km’s seemed to go by quickly. We arrived at the next aid station and again I took soup with me. As we continued on along the river it was mostly flat with some undulating sections. I felt like we were going at ok pace, but then somewhere with maybe 10 km to go before shawatum aid, the bottom of my feet started to get really sore. They were almost cramping? Or just super sore? I took my shoes off to stretch a few times when it started to get worse. I started longing for the pair of shoes I had all the way at skyline (Hokas). Why didn’t I have those shoes available earlier at Shawatum? Why didn’t I change my shoes at Cascade?! We continued on, but my pace was quite a bit slower and I was often asking Kristina how far we were from the aid station. Every step started to hurt.  I decided when I got to Shawatum I would spend some time there eating (as I was so focused on my feet I probably also wasn’t eating much). I also planned to put my feet up in the air to give them a break. I hadn’t sat at any of the aid stations so far (except to change my socks/shoes). I planned to spend as much time as I needed at this next one. When I got there I was happy to see more familiar faces (Mary Ann and crew). I took my socks off and had quite a few blisters forming. I did have some at Cascade, but they had gotten a bit worse by this point as I just left them alone at Cascade. The first aid at Shawatum taped up all my blisters while I drank around 2-3 cokes to get down some calories. Kristina kept re-filling my bottle for me. The volunteers also kindly made me some scrambled eggs (and one piece of bacon), which I thought I may be able to eat; but unfortunately when I tried to eat them they didn’t seem appealing anymore.

When I left Shawatum, my feet felt a bit better and I was able to run more steadily than the few km’s before Shawatum, but the pain on the bottom of my feet continued and I had to stop and take off my shoes and stretch several times. I contemplated running in just socks to see if that would be better (ultra-brain), but when I took off my shoes to try I realized there were too many rocks/ the ground wasn’t soft enough.  I made it through this section and we finally arrived to Skyline Aid station. When I got to Skyline and saw Ryan and Alicia, I bursted into tears.  I told them that my feet had been on “fire” and I was waiting for this change of shoes for a while now. The volunteer there started asking me my “mental questions” that we had sent in answers to prior to the race. I answered what my first trail race was with tears in my eyes. The volunteer ignored my tears and exclaimed that I was good to go! I changed into hokas and Alicia helped me pack my pack with food. She was asking me what food I wanted out of my drop bag. I couldn’t really answer her as none of it looked good. Alicia told Ryan to start rubbing my feet. I had taken off my socks already and he obliged to massaging the bottom of my dirty discussing feet, which relieved the pain temporarily. I think I started laughing, as I know how much Ryan hates feet! The volunteer said that I was the only person that had been laughing at this aid station, which made me feel a bit better. Alicia said I looked good and apparently didn’t look like I hadn’t slept like some others did.

IMG_9115

Photo: Alicia Woodside

Alicia got to pace me starting at around 100 miles into the race and got the toughest job, as she definitely got me at my worst! We left the aid station and I was initially super relieved to have new/different shoes. As soon as we left the aid station a blister on the back of my heel popped and I had to adjust my shoe/socks. It was one that was already taped and it quickly didn’t bother me, but the bottom of my feet continued to be an issue. Alicia was suggesting maybe I should fold my socks down under my feet to help with cushioning. I thought it would probably just cause blisters. We continued on and I was walking/hiking (even some of the flatter sections just after Skyline). The shoes didn’t seem to help, the change of shoes seemed to have come too late? And my feet were not getting better. I had taken two advils when I was with Kristina, and then took two more about half an hour after that when my feet were not getting better. The advil didn’t seem to be helping at all and it would be too much to take any more. We climbed slowly up towards the next aid station. Every step was quite painful and it was hard to try and not think about the pain. Alicia did a great job at entertaining me and trying to get me to focus on music. She said that we could hike the whole last section, and even hiking she decided that the most it would take us was around 8 hours?  I didn’t want to think about how long this last section was, but I knew once I had left Skyline there was no turning around and not outs. I knew I would finish this if I meant I would be walking the rest of the way (which I was fine with). I had poles for this last section.  When we finished the switchbacks of that first climb and got to what felt like the top of the climb, Alicia started playing “German Sparkle Party”.  I looked behind and Angela and her pacer were quickly approaching us, so I stepped to the side of the trail to let them pass. Alicia tried to talk to them about the music she was playing but they didn’t respond. Angela looked great and on a mission.

I was walking at this point and had no intention of trying to keep up with Angela when she passed.  I did try and run a very brief period on a downhill towards the next aid station, but it was painfully slow.  I don’t think Angela and her pacer stopped at that aid station, as I heard later that she thought I may try and catch her on the downhill.  My main goal was to finish and I knew I was going to – eventually. I told myself I didn’t want to let it bother me that she was ahead as I never thought I be close to winning this to begin with! Angela finished so strong (almost an hour ahead of me)! She must have blasted through the last 20 km, or it could have just been that I was moving that much slower. It was amazing and inspiring to see how strong she was at that point. We continued on at what felt like a snail pace and Alicia tried to get me to eat. She said I wasn’t eating enough, even if I wasn’t running I needed to eat to move faster. She offered me a choice of three different things and I refused them all and told her I had eaten TONS yesterday. Food wasn’t the issue! It was my feet!  I’m sure I still needed food too…

As I wasn’t eating she declared that she was also going on a “hunger strike”. We would both suffer! She kept this up for a bit and then later finally ate her sandwich she had brought. I kept having to take my shoes off and put my feet up and stretch the bottom of my feet in order to get moving again. I was often asking how far we were. When I realized we still had quite a ways to go (I think it was over 10 km or more), I finally agreed to eat small amounts. I got down a gel, and a couple of gummies. When I wanted to stop and take my shoes off she negotiated with me. She said that I could only stop if I used the stop to eat at the same time. It seemed to work, as I really wanted to stop to take my shoes off, so I had to get down food in order for her to agree to let me take these breaks!  I’m still not sure the food was an issue or really helped my feet problems. We got to the last aid station at Sky Junction, and for some reason I thought that we had done the “6 false summits”, but apparently they were ahead. I sat down to take a break at this aid station and holy crap were we getting swarmed with mosquitoes! Shawatum had nothing on these ones. I can’t imagine being a volunteer at this aid station. They must have gotten eaten alive. It helped me get out of there pretty quickly after filling up on some more coke.

On the descent down towards lightening lake I did start running, but it was short lived. I think I got excited that we were closer and this was almost done, but then I asked Alicia how much farther she thought we were. When she told me 5 km, I’m pretty sure I started tearing up. That sounded so far. Alicia encouragingly told me something like “you’ve already ran so far this is nothing”. It didn’t sound like nothing to me. I walked a bunch going downhill mixed with some running (or swinging off my poles). When we got close to the bridge to cross the lake I was walking and made Alicia walk with me along the lake as I told her I wouldn’t be able to run into the finish line when we did finally did get around the lake, (if I also ran this section). Alicia danced around me and did figure skating turns and moves, which did help a bit to distract me but I don’t think I gave her any smiles. Instead I’m pretty sure I was glaring at her. When we got the end of the lake and the trail ended, we started running. When we got close to the finish line I somehow managed to smile as I crossed. I finished in 32:30:52.

IMG_2895

I couldn’t believe I was finally done and happy to get my feet into the lake! I managed to stay in 2nd women, (3rd fastest time on the course), and 8th overall. It was amazing having all of my crew and so many familiar faces at the finish line. This was definitely my favourite race to date (despite all the pain the last 40-50 km). I can say that now a week and a half later, even while still dealing with an infected toe..

IMG_2928My Crew, (missing is Alex). My whole body was swollen…must have been all that salty soup..

I can’t say enough about how wonderful my entire crew was. I couldn’t have run this race without them! I felt so supported before, throughout, and after the race. Huge thanks to everyone on my crew: Alicia, Kristina, Spencer, Alex and Ryan- you were all amazing!! And I couldn’t of finished without my wonderful pacers who dealt with me being a “whiny baby” (the slogan of the race), for several hours. This really felt like a team achievement and I felt so lucky to have such supportive friends willing to run far distances with me.

I also can’t say enough about how organized this event was. The whole course was so well marked (I never once questioned being off trail). I was worried about that pre-race and brought my phone with me, (with the downloaded RunGO FatDog route) just in case. Fat Dog also has the best volunteers! Some of who had to hike in supplies to very remote aid stations!

I’m not sure if I’ll be back to run it next year.. It may take me a few months to decide something crazy like that! I’m still recovering and will be on the search for a better or different shoe. Taking suggestions!

IMG_2927The next day- All coloured buckles (under 37 hours)!

I am so proud of all of all of us! Hilary Matheson 3rd  women and and Tory Sholtz 6th women! Congrats my friends!

I know Tara Holland really wanted to be there and was also there in spirit (as part of our unicorn crew).

Full Results: https://ultrasignup.com/results_event.aspx?did=35969

 

Tara Berry at Fat Dog 120 2016

Inspired (Thanks, Fat Dog!)

She came to me after running 100 miles, with a sparkly headband adorning her oversized trucker hat. At this point, Tara was in the lead for women of the Fat Dog 120, an epic long ultra race in Manning Park, BC, a land of dramatic mountains and amazing trails that go on forever.

Tara after 110 miles.

Tara after 110 miles.

Tara had been leading the race for about 80 miles, and she had barely stopped at aid stations. It was double her longest distance run to date and one of the hottest days of the year, but that didn’t show through. She was getting this thing done, in a big way.

As seen from Skyline.

As seen from Skyline trail.

Tara’s race (she eventually finished 2nd after an awesome comeback by Angela Shartel) was a major part of my sense of awe this weekend. And the more I looked around, the more inspiration there was to be had. Driving around as crew, I felt so much love from all the people who had gathered to support the runners. It was inspiring to think that these people came from all over to support this dream; of running as far and as fast as our imagination through the forest. During my pacing duty, I got to meet volunteers who hiked gallons of water miles straight up to the aid stations in the Skyline section. When I met them, they were sitting merrily in a swarm of flies, so thick that I had to dance to Usher (Yeah!) keep the flies off. (Okay fine, I wanted to dance, anyway.)

Hello, Hozomeen Mountain!

Hello, Hozomeen Mountain!

Aid station volunteers manned their stations for the entire weekend, and many of them sacrificed sleep to run their little forest oasis, making amazing burritos, broth, and other delicacies for runners. (And even pacers! Thank you Lori!) Then there was Linda Barton-Robbins and her being an awesome mom for her toddler while also running the race! And at the finish line, I met runners who had completed the course and other runs like it, who were more than double my age. One of these men was planning to run Cascade Crest in two weeks’ time! Aside from these moments, there was this energy and intensity from staring up at the menacing peaks of Hozomeen Mountain, or down at Ross Lake– which is so huge & great that it cannot be contained by international borders, or over the entire Cascade mountain range through meadows of wildflowers.

Tara on a high stretch of Skyline.

Tara on a high stretch of Skyline.

Thank you, Fat Dog– everyone who took part, for giving us an adventure to inspire, and to be inspired. Congrats to all you runners who achieved something incredible out there. (Tory, Hilary, Linda!) At the end of the day, I think these races are an amazing way to demonstrate the best qualities of humans: compassion, work ethic & determination, appreciation of the natural world, and sacrifice for a greater good.

Ross Lake from above.

I see Ross Lake from the Canadian side, and I can’t help but think of adventures I’ve had with Jordan, Tara, Julien, Ryan, Nancy, Jeff, Nate and Meredith down on the US side, running to the Stehekin bakery, hiking up Easy Pass, and all the possibilities that await. Ross Lake alone is a huge source of inspiration for me! My mind wanders…

JulesAndI

Play With the Challenge – Hanes Valley Women’s FKT Attempt

We’ve all been in a situation where the going got TOUGH. What did you think in that moment?

For me, tough moments sneak up from behind. They often show up as being annoyed, or angry, maybe swearing at the terrain or myself, or tripping and falling on the ground. If I don’t catch that this is happening, it can often quickly progress to a situation where things are actually bad– I stop eating, or stop thinking about my goal, or the worst of all, I stop believing that I can achieve my goal. Often, I’m thinking I’m doing way worse than I actually am– and I beat myself up for no reason! This happens in running, and in learning Computer Science, too. It’s weird, because before these big challenges present themselves, I say I’m ready. In fact, I actively seek them out by signing up for experiences that will challenge me– ultras, computer science, start-ups. But the willingness to experience the tough doesn’t always translate to a capability to deal with it. It’s hard to be ready, because it can show up in so many forms, and I often find I’ve only prepared specifically for a few of the possible forms…

This past weekend, I had a run that showed me a glimpse of how to handle this.

Julien and I wanted to see how fast we could run the Hanes Valley Loop, a classic local run in North Vancouver. Gary Robbins had set a blistering fast time as the FKT, but there was no women’s FKT published. This was all Julien’s idea. I was hesitant, however. I had run Hanes Valley three other times and I knew it would be a huge endeavour to try and run it fast. When the route isn’t HURT-like, it’s going up a scree field or down a mountain biking trail. (Well, there is an easy beginning…!) But Julien knows how to stroke my competitive desires, so obviously this was happening. He loves uphill, and I love downhill, so it meant that we would be constantly uncomfortable.

I’m usually feeling strong when the trail gets technical, so I was looking forward to flying over some roots and rocks. But as soon as we passed Norvan Falls over the bridge, I felt like an awkward giraffe on the trail. I couldn’t predict where the trail would twist and turn, I couldn’t get into a rhythym, I even fell flat on my stomach at one point. I became very frustrated, expecting this trail to be my sweet spot.

I should have known that things were still going just great when we made it to the helicopter pad in Hanes Valley after 1 hour fifteen minutes. But instead, it was still this strange asshole part of my brain commanding me, telling me I wasn’t doing great. I scampered up the scree field trying to make up time, and of course, went way up the wrong side of the valley. Julien kept calling at me to come left, but I waited way too long, and now I was separated by a huge 20-foot bush from the correct side, with no flagging in sight. In this moment, I let myself get a bit more frustrated, as my efforts to hustle thus far seemed effectively pointless. In the past, I might have gotten angry and canned the effort. But as we walked down the scree back to where we left the flagging, I realized I could embrace this new, greater challenge. The getting lost was done, and all we could do now was make the best of it, and try to make up for it on the rest of the route. I apologized to Julien for being crazy, which was step one.

hanesScree

It was perfect timing to remain positive, as just when we found the flagging again, we saw a huge chunk of the bushes move and shake, about 10 meters away– where we just were! We both knew right away, this had to be a bear! Immediately we rushed as far left on the scree as we could, and climbed straight up. When we topped out from the scree field, a couple of hikers were watching our supposed “hiking fast right at the bear” from above.

In the end, the run did turn out great, as we made up for the detours with a smooth run through Crown Pass to the top of Grouse, down Mountain Highway, and down the winding Fromme trails. If I had let myself get too angry at my mistakes, it would have killed a great run! For now in this fleeting moment, it’s a current women’s fastest time–3h 45m 21s.

For those of you who want to run it for yourself, I found this Hanes Loop RunGo route really helpful on the last trails through Fromme. (I made this route from Gary Robbin’s GPS file from his run.) However, you need to keep your head up through the scree field… a) because of bears, and b) because since it’s more of a route without taking “turns”, RunGo didn’t give me directions up there. Hence the hiking straight up the wrong way, with my head down. Also, make sure you’ve got all the backcountry essentials. Since this is a major North Shore Search and Rescue spot, I always carry multiple navigation aids, (I carried RunGo, plus photos of my paper map on two fully-charged phones) a great jacket, food, water, and an emergency kit which has a mini turtle light, and basic first aid supplies.

If you want to run this fast, (and you should! You can do it!) my advice is to win with wisdom… essentially, to not get off track in the scree. You could also consider skipping the Grouse chalet. We stopped to refill water there, but if you wanted to skip that then you could cut about 2km off through the resort, plus the time to refill water. Here’s the link on Strava with all the stats from my run.

This was a day when I was able to play with the challenge. Definitely one to remember and re-produce!

Failures

A couple of years ago, I had this realization that I wasn’t failing often enough. Yes, that may sound weird to you, that I wanted to fail more? For me, failure means trying something challenging, pushing your limits, and falling short, and I feel that it is in these moments that we develop new strength, skills, and capacity.

These days, I feel that times have changed and I have successfully carried out lots of failures! After the recent Rainshadow Running Gorge Waterfalls 100k in Oregon, where I trained really hard to run with the best women in the US and ultimately dropped from the race, I thought it would be fun to reflect on some of my favourite personal failures to date in running & adventures. (Speaking of which, even finishing this blog was hard.)

BMO Vancouver Marathon… 2013BMO Marathon disaster

This was the most hilarious disaster I’ve ever experienced, and my first big case of hyponatremia (severe case of too much water, not enough salt!). I was hoping to run a PB, and because I’m a local runner I was able to get into the elite field, with a 3:01 time, which is very soft for women’s elite marathon standards. This meant I had fancy priviledges, like having my own bottles all along the course. (This makes the epic failure even funnier.) I heard the race was going to be hot, so I loaded up on tons of water all week. Unfortunately, I never drink water, and I didn’t realize that I was effectively washing all of the electrolytes out of my body before the race. At 10km in I realized it wasn’t going to be my day so I waited for Tara, who was doing it as her second long run of the weekend. And suddenly, I felt drunk. Very, very drunk. That kind of drunk that you never, ever want, the really, really painful kind. My brain wasn’t there. All I remember, is feeling as though I had consumed 10 large glasses of vodka.

Suddenly I was lying on the seawall, literally on the side. Then I would walk/job for about 200 meters, until I could lie down flat again. The funny thing is, I would pass my “elite bottles” station every now and then, which was hilarious given my state. Tara loyally stayed with me for the entire time, sacrificing her own race for my bullshit. I was determined to finish, no matter what the time. Thankfully Tara called my dad, and he came and found us, and helped me get into a little golf cart headed off the course. At the finish line, someone asked me if I had run a long distance like that before. I just smiled, and laughed a lot inside. I’m pretty sure that was my last marathon.

Zion Traverse… 2014

TP1

This one is too funny…

In January 2014, I needed a big, epic adventure. I had never been to Utah before, and I had never run more than 100 kilometers, so apparently what I needed to do, was run 100 miles, unsupported, in Utah: the Zion Traverse, out and back. I was captivated by the idea of running 100 miles and I couldn’t wait for an official race, so I just thought I’d make it happen. I immediately booked a ticket, and started planning for my run. I was planning to do all of this solo. Thank the lord, my friend Meghan noticed my Facebook post about heading there, and asked if she could join. She wanted to join “just” the first 50 miles, and she would meet me at the end of my 100. Fast forward to mile 30 on the first direction of the traverse. Up until this point, I noted interesting trees along the way, and felt confident that I could navigate myself back to the start on my own, in the night. Then we hit the canyons. It was open, endless, and only the rock cairns pointed in the direction. The night was freezing and suddenly, I felt really stupid to attempt the return all on my own at night, without really knowing the trail. Thinking of my mom, I did the responsible thing. I decided I would finish with Meghan after 50. And then, stupidly, I stopped eating, thinking that we were almost done.

Without any fuel, I had nothing left, and poor Meghan had to suffer through my walking the last 10km, which was extremely flat and actually, quite a few nice downhill sections. It was freezing, with frost on the ground, and we had to share my set of gloves. Meghan kept telling me to eat but, after my Vancouver Marathon experience, I kept telling her it was just electrolytes. By the time we finally made it to the trailhead, I shrivelled into fetal position in the ditch, while Meghan ran the final mile down the road to get the car. I don’t want to know what would have happened if Meg hadn’t joined on that trip!(Side note: It wasn’t clear to me that Meghan was right until we got back to the hotel, and I had a huge pile of un-eaten foods, which was supposed to have been gone. Hah!)

Mount Rainier Communication Disaster… 2014

IMG_2383

A third failure, is the misplacing of my boyfriend in Mount Rainier National Park. Similar to my ambitions to run 100 miles alone in Zion, the next summer, I wanted to do the same thing in Mount Rainier National Park. Even though everyone told me not to, saying “just wait, your 100 miler at Cascade Crest is just one month away!” there was no talking sense to me. I had to do it, it didn’t matter that I was slightly anemic at that time, or that I would be completely alone, or that my best friend, mom and boyfriend all thought it was a dumb idea. I was enamoured with the idea of running solo around Mt Rainier at that very moment and I had to do it. Cascade Crest, which was one month later, could be sacrificed for this dream.

The plan was that Julien would meet me every 50km around the mountain with more food, and I would just keep going, running as far as I really wanted. The first meeting point was Reflection Lakes. After running alone for 7 hours, I was so excited to see him. I ran into the first meeting point in the middle of the expected timeframe, and expected to see him all comfortable, lounging and reading beside the lake. But he wasn’t there, so I waited ten minutes. He was never late for anything, so I started to panic. I ran to the next lake. Still no sign… after thirty minutes of running around and searching, I realized… he must have been in a serious car accident somewhere on the mountain! I immediately started looking to hitchhike the ~3 hours to the other side of the mountain, to the hospital.

Thankfully, a couple of hikers convinced me that would be a dumb idea, and convinced me to hike out with them and they would drive me to the nearest ranger station, to gather information. Two hours later, we arrived at Paradise, one of the most beautiful mountain lodges, but they hadn’t heard anything that would be helpful. I was convinced my boyfriend was dead or at minimum, severely injured; it wasn’t like him to be late.

By now it was 9pm, I found some beer in Paradise and decided to hunker down for the night in their lobby area.In the beer line-up, a girl asked me “are you Alicia?” and I said yes, wondering how I knew her. The hiker told me that a man was looking for me, the “runner in a blue Hawaiian skirt”. Lucky for me, I chose to wear something ridiculous for the run that day, and we eventually reconnected, around 11pm, simply thanks to that. Now close to midnight, and after the emotional rollercoaster of thinking my boyfriend had died, I was not in the spirits to complete the remaining ~100k around the mountain. I was only 1/3 of the way around…

And those are just a few of my failures. You can read about the canoe / bible camp rescue here, or failing at the World Trail Championships here

Although quite painful, I think these failures serve a great purpose. For me, an appropriate amount of failure can mean that I’m in the process of challenging myself to jump for a new bar. And when I do eventually succeed somewhere, there is this hard-earned kind of satisfaction I get, which makes it that much sweeter. More importantly, I find that failures are often the events that bring me closest to my friends and family, because in that vulnerable state I rely on them so much just to get through. If nothing else, these challenging days can go so badly that they make for hilarious memories.  Sometimes when I’m running around Stanley Park I think, Really?! I was lying down on the side of the seawall right here?! During a road marathon?!

I expect to keep failing at things as long as I keep challenging myself. And hopefully, some loyal, sucker of a friend will be around to help me through!

Mount SAINT helens

Favourite Fall & Winter PNW Adventures

As I have now become a full-time hermit, I haven’t shared any of the awesome adventures from this fall and winter. Here’s a brief little snapshot of a few favourites… hopefully you go check out these beautiful places!

Mount Hood in September:
(Birthday party with Tara!)

Every person who came together to make the Timberline Trail, is my hero… this amazing trail takes the most beautiful path all the way around Mount Hood! Every step was bliss, ever-changing, I never wanted it to end. And that says a lot, because it was about 40 miles! Another nice thing, is that Timberline Lodge is waiting for you with the most delicious Coke / beer you’ve ever tasted, pretty much in your life… Definitely one of my favourite runs of all time.

 

 

mount hood

 

mount hood

 

mount hood

 

mount hood

 

 

Mount Saint Helens in October:
(Fun with Tara, Tara and Tory!)

You can run right through the amazing volcanic wonderland! It’s like being on Mars! Probably up there with one of the coolest experiences I can think of doing with a group of awesome people.

Mount SAINT helens
mount saint helens

 

mount saint helens

 

 

Baker Lake Trail in March:
(Julien actually agreed to run the entire 50k with me!)

Every step takes you through beautiful old growth forest, & this amazing rolling grade. If Mount Baker isn’t hiding away, you get glimpses of giant enormous views of the mountain!

 

 

baker lake

 

baker lake

 

baker lake

 

… more to come!

Where do you love adventuring?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grand Canyon Silhouette

A Winter Grand Canyon Pilgrimage

Standing at the top of the Canyon and peering down, it’s easy to realize that what you’re about to do is actually pretty stupid– descending a vertical mile into an unknown world, a hostile environment full of cliffs, soaring temperatures, and unknowns. It’ll be freezing at night, potentially snowing. And you’ll have to get yourself back out and up that vertical mile, whatever happens. This is not “just another ultra”.
So on Friday night as Tara and I stared into the massive canyon on the eve of our run, yeah, we were a little bit anxious.

The Canyon

Despite all of this, The “Rim to Rim to Rim” run is a fairly popular 50 mile-ish ultra adventure, which almost lets us forget how insane it is. Each year, lots of people head out, down the Bright Angel or South Kaibab Trail, over to Phantom Ranch, up to the top of the North Rim and then all the way back in a day. And we were one of those groups, in 2013, when we completed it for the first time, not really realizing the full extent of what we were doing.
This time, the extra excitement that came with attempting the run in winter helped us face the reality of the slight level of insanity of this mission. We tried to get detailed beta on the North Rim conditions through the park, but no one could say what it would bring. All we knew, was that the road to the North Rim was closed, and there were no rangers there, so we had no options to exit. To fend off the mild anxiety, we pulled out all the safety stops. We rented a satellite phone and tested it the night before, we had an emergency contact and an expected “you should hear from us” time, we packed a full hiking-style setup of winter clothing, first aid kit, and the most intense lightweight running crampons. And, we had done the run before… But even still, staring into that canyon, and speaking with tourists who raved about how hard it is to make it to Phantom Ranch, kept our perspective of the risk in check.

Not at all anxious here

At 6:17 am we stepped foot over the caution tape, and onto the icy Bright Angel trail, with a sky full of bright stars and the most beautiful moon illuminating the South Rim walls around us. And within minutes, we were just running, and our steps overcame any of those existing fears.

12754868_10101623885038371_980317602_o (1)

12773239_10101623885602241_1570845125_o (1)

The sun came up within what seemed like 15 minutes, and with it, the ice faded from below our feet. The South Rim welcomed us with its beautiful deep greens and oranges, something everyone has to see in their lifetime. We made it all the way to Phantom Ranch before 8am, and were treated to the most amazing, quiet Bright Angel trail given the time of year. We met a few hikers, and stopped to fully change. The canyon was hot already!
12765532_10101623885981481_1763447345_o (1)
By the time we entered The Box, the Canyon had already heated up to what felt like Vancouver peak summer temperatures. We were 10 miles from the North Rim, and for the next 20 miles, we saw only two other souls. We kept on running, toward a side of the Canyon with zero idea of what to expect…
12773135_10101623885921601_2068496315_o (1)
We had heard that water may be an issue, with all of the taps turned off on both South and North Rims, but we were treated to several icy-cold waterfalls on our way up the North Rim. This side of the Canyon was a whole new world. Canyon walls became a lush dark green, pine trees appeared, and we were suddenly immersed in snow, post-holing our way up. The sun was beating down as we climbed our way up in a pristine silence, about 5800 feet. Upon finally reaching the top, we saw no one to help us celebrate, just a sign, and an abandoned cabin.

Snowy North Rim

Heading back down the snowy switchbacks was a mixture of fun and painful post-holing, and we were out of the North Rim’s desolate, snowy slopes within an hour. Back in The Box, the challenge of the North Rim in the past, we felt like we had dodged a major obstacle in the day. Soon, the relative ease of running down the final snow-free switchbacks was quickly replaced with an unexpected factor– a most menacing heat as we dropped back into the Canyon, on our start back to the South Rim.

Crazy spires

The rest of the adventure was fairly routine– Tara puked at the usual spot, Phantom Ranch, she carried on like a champion, we met a few hikers who thought we were nuts, and then we enjoyed the most beautiful of sunsets and starry nights as we climbed the final switchbacks out of the Canyon, back under the caution tape, and into a final hug. Another successful voyage permitted.

Beautiful South Rim sunset

Grand Canyon, we’ll be back some time again. There is simply nothing quite like you.