Brave Girls: Inspiring Female Adventurers

I just watched an inspiring TED talk by Caroline Paul: To Raise Brave Girls, Encourage Adventure. For starters, Caroline is an amazing role model: eloquent and intelligent, she’s also a paraglide captain, a firefighter, and she once attempted the world record for crawling. (She crawled for 12 hours!)

Caroline tells us how there is a gender bias in promoting bravery at a young age: while young boys are encouraged to engage in “risky play”, young girls are often told to avoid risks, to be careful. I’m not going to lie, when I asked to play hockey at age 9, I was registered for figure skating. (Although, I ended up finding a way to make that risky, attempting triple salchow over and over and over.)

This is part of the reason why Jo, Nancy and I made Girls Gone Wilderness, to do a small part in shaping opportunities for young women to be tempted by adventures that promote excitement, fun, and a bit of courage. It’s not always natural when we’ve been raised to see mostly guys doing adventure sports, especially in biking, skiing, and the extreme adventures. (Ps! Our next event is almost sold out!)


After watching Caroline’s TED talk, I wanted to go back in time and meet some of the most courageous women throughout history. I went down a (wonderful) rabbit hole learning more about Katherine Switzer, (she broke the rules to become the first woman to run Boston Marathon) and Lynn Hill, (she was the first person, male or female, to free-climb The Nose in Yosemite) and Ann Trason (she broke, like, 20 world records in ultra-marathons). It was overwhelming, in a great way, and so I had to focus closer to home.  Today’s blog is about an inspiring BC mountaineer, whose first ascent was Grouse Mountain!

Introducing Phyllis Munday

Local BC lady Phyllis Munday, born in 1894, had a lifelong mission in the mountains. The first woman to reach the summit of Mount Robson, she was unique not only for her first ascents, but for her style of achieving them: she and her husband Don achieved many first ascents together, even after having a family.

Phyllis and Don pioneered routes in some of BC’s most sacred places, like Mount Waddington, where they spent over a decade of failed attempts. There is now a Mount Munday in the Waddington range (which, of course they summited, in 1930).

All this during a time when women weren’t really meant to even wear athletic attire:

Her male team members barely blinked when she’d stash her respectable city skirts somewhere on the trails and carry on in her bloomers. This was somehow less risqué than wearing trousers or knickerbockers.
Account from Experience Mountain Parks

To put this in perspective, when Phyllis was in her 4th or 5th attempts at Mount Waddington, US women had just gotten the right to vote, and women in Toronto still weren’t showing leg in public.

Time to do more, worry less. Like this time I had to crab-walk down a descent in the Rockies that scared me:


Photo by Julien.

“Women, like men, should try to do the impossible, and when they fail, their failure should be a challenge to others” – Amelia Earhart

Featured image, by Tory Scholtz.


Black Canyon 100k DNF: Lessons About Joy

Nearly a month ago now, I toed the start line of Aravaipa Running’s Black Canyon 100k near Phoenix, Arizona. A “golden ticket” race, the event attracts a super competitive field, as the top-two men and women get to run Western States. (Non ultra runners may be wondering: woah – wait a second – is it really a reward to win a 100 miler?!)

Thank goodness for Tara (B), I’d trained with her every week, escaping Squamish deeper winter and doing marathon long runs on the North Shore. Tara was extremely fit, so they were tough! I have flashbacks of watching Tara pound out a 3:45 min/km downhill during a short tempo at the end of a long run… (Downhill, but still!) By the time I was standing at the dark, muddy Black Canyon start line, I felt fit and ready.

Tara on our shakeout run in Prescott before the race.

The race appealed to me for so many reasons back in the fall. It presented the idea of a fun girls hangout, with Tara B, Mallory R, and Cassie S all coming from across Canada (Vancouver, Winnipeg, and Waterloo!) to hang out together. The route itself also looked awesome– it was a point to point route on this beautiful Black Canyon trail, and it was net downhill. I was excited by the idea of a point to point course, and I also thought that the competitive field would be a fun challenge.

Cassie, Mallory and I watching sunset at our Prescott Valley zen house. I was pretty happy to skip the race expo and festivities to stay holed up in this place!

I’m a data-driven person, and when I looked at the stats before the event, I knew I wasn’t in the running for a golden ticket. I mean, the top-two women going into the race had marathon times of 2:44 and 2:39– I’d have to have a lot of heart to out-run them! Instead, my goal was to see how fast I could run 100k on trail, and hopefully, to minimize the gap between those women and myself.

Unfortunately, in the final hours before the event, the race organizers had to change the course for safety, due to concerns about rising stream levels. This meant that we only had 60km of unique trail, and then we had to do some doubling back and forth. I was disappointed, as the original course was the main appeal to me, but I understood the reasoning.

At the start line, I didn’t feel the excitement you’d expect. I felt motivated to see if I could run a fast time, but when I think about it, I wasn’t actually pumped for the running itself. Looking back, this should have been cause for concern.

The race began, and Tara, Mallory and I ran the first kilometers close together, navigating the muddy, hilly Jeep road. As it was so early in the race, everyone was friendly and upbeat. I met a couple women from all over North America, including a woman from Vermont, and another from Montana. I believe we all ran the first 10km a bit too fast, but we were excited to get the hell off the muddy Jeep road and onto a trail.

I remember Tara and Mallory drifting ahead at some point, and I was quite positive, locking into a forever pace that I felt I could maintain all day. I thought of my friend Jordan in Australia, and how she was so strong in running forever. I felt good, totally at peace with where I was at.

Around 30k, I started to feel quite bored. The desert hills continued forever, without much change in scenery. I glanced at my watch, and realized that I had about 7-8 hours left. “Just 8 more hours of running this same pace“, I thought to myself. That was a long time to maintain! I started to negotiate with myself. “If you finish this, then you can drop from Chuckanut [next month].

This was the beginning of my self-imposed destruction. 

Shortly after I started to really feel the sun exposure. It wasn’t too hot, maybe 20 degrees, but there was zero shade. I eased my pace even more, just chilling, knowing that an easier pace really helps when it comes to heat. Our new friend Nic was volunteering at an aid station, and he told me to dial it back. It became my mantra.

Photo by Nic. I think it’s only around 9 or 10am in this photo, and it’s already warm!

Unfortunately, I quickly became super nauseous around the 40k mark. My stomach was sloshing, and my nutrition quickly deteriorated. My plan was to drink CarboPro as a way of getting calories quickly, but with my stomach so volatile, I didn’t want to put any additional liquid in there! The nausea made me dizzy, and I tripped, falling superman-style onto sharp rocks on the trail. With my stomach in so much pain, I decided to walk for a bit. At first, walking was welcome and joyful. I imagined I was on vacation, staying at some kind of spa and doing a short 5k walk.

After a few minutes of walking, (likely actually half an hour!) I hated that too. At this point, I was barely crawling forward, I can’t even call it a walk. Tens of runners were coming up behind and looking to pass on the tight singletrack, forcing me to step off into the cacti every minute. The nausea persisted, and I started realizing that it would take me almost two hours to slither along to the next aid station at this pace.

Earlier I’d bartered with myself that if I finished today, I could drop from Chuckanut. Suddenly, I had a realization: I could actually just drop from both!

Around the same time, Denise B ran by, and I was amazed by how far back she’d started. She was so positive, telling me to eat some calories. I didn’t listen, with the knowledge that I was just going to drop, anyway! I watched Denise bound ahead along the trail, so composed and purposeful.

I considered whether I should drop at the aid station behind me, which was only 4k back, as opposed to 8k forward to the next one. Dropping backward would be awkward, I concluded. It was a narrow singletrack trail, and I knew that every runner would ask me if I was okay. I ripped my race number off, thinking that I could turn around and look like a volunteer, so it would be less awkward. Still, for some strange reason, I couldn’t get myself to walk backwards on the course. Even though I knew I was going to drop, I had to do it forwards. I put my race number into my pack, and continued crawling forwards. I could get there in two hours at this 15 minute per kilometer pace, I calculated. The next 8k is a blur, I just remember a duathlon of walking and puking.

I managed to puke and rally around 45k, and I enjoyed a couple kilometers of running, with nothing in my stomach. A runner in front of me found some garbage on the ground, it was my race number! I thought that I may be past the nausea, so I grabbed the race bib and continued past that aid station I’d been dreaming about, testing myself to continue to the next aid station. The high was short-lived. My stomach was a wreck, and after a couple kilometers, I was back to my uninspired crawl. When I thought about it, I hadn’t felt any joy, all day, and it was very unlikely that I would start to feel it at 60k. I walked through downtown Black Canyon City with a slight smirk, knowing that I was about to call it a day, conveniently cutting out all the new convoluted, re-routed parts of the course. A man made fun of me for walking as he drove his car into a Black Canyon gas station. “Shouldn’t you be running?” He asked. I continued my walk along the road, defiantly.

As I walked, my mind wandered into fascinating places. When I saw the second place female on the out and back, I glanced at my watch. I was certain that Tara was in third place close behind, and I was going to tell her how far ahead the second place female was. Perhaps to pull me out of my own misery, I started imagining that she was going to come second, and that we were going to Western States together. I’m done with ultras, but I can be a great pacer, I thought to myself. I even started thinking about how we could fund the trip !!!!

At 55k, I was so excited to stop running. Cassie would be done the 60k soon, and I knew that either Tara or Mallory would be crushing the 100k. I’d rather cheer for a friend who was killing it, then run without joy.

With a smile on my face, I handed the crumpled race number to the RD matter of factly, then heckled the other runners who were still in the warzone. Pizza ensued. Hanging out with Scarlett and Nikki, and later, the entire Canadian crew at the finish line, I started to finally feel joyful, for the first time that day.

In the end, Tara also caved to the boredom of the re-route plus the stomach sloshing, joining me to heckle at 70km. Niki and Cassie both ran super strong 60k races, both in top-10. Most admirable, after training in -40 Winnipeg winter, Mallory was a stoic powerhouse, running a smoking fast 9:33 and coming in third!

Our little crew post race! Oddly I look the most banged-up, those bandages on my knees are hilarious– and just covering little cuts from my fall. Photo by Nic!

I’m so at peace with this DNF. I never felt joyful once that day, which is my #1 reason for running. Too many non-joyful miles would suffocate my enjoyment in the sport, and I feel like I’m already getting precariously close to that edge, after so many years of running ultras.

I believe the problem was in focusing on results, rather than the process, the running itself. I was doing it to get a fast time, but not necessarily because I was excited to run an ultra. I can’t help but see the similarity to how I burnt out from track and field by age 11. I used to run the 1500m, and by age 10, I was already putting an incredible amount of pressure on myself. I expected myself to make the Youth BC Games, the Provincials, to get a varsity scholarship to some Ivy League school. There was always some standard, and some result I was seeking. I was 10, damnit!!!! Before long, I resented it. Each race I toed the bunched standing start line, I would tell myself: only one more race, then you can quit.

I think I’ve gotten myself into a similar predicament with ultras. I expect so much from myself, and no matter how much I say I don’t care, I can’t help but expect the best. I line up to a start line and expect myself to run fast, to the point that it’s not fun.

Exploring Seodna. (Worth all the hype!) Photo by Cassie.

Walking away from this race, (hah– literally!) I’ve finally seen the light. I need a break from the expectations I set on myself. I need to re-discover what brought me to trail and ultra running originally: exploration, grassroots community, inspiring adventures. Getting back to running for the joy of the feeling of it, without any watch or time or standard, without any expectations of distance or pre-set categories imposed by other people. The irony is that what originally made me fall in love with ultra running — defying norms and limits — is now holding me back, as I expect to run in neat categories like “100km” or “100 miles”. I need to get back to the carefreeness that connected me to the sport, running through amazing places for as little or as much as I want without definitions or expectations.

From the outside, not much will appear to change– I’m still going to be running a lot. But in my perspective, everything will change.

Team Thirsty Beavers in Sedona post-race. All my friends are so tiny!


This is what joy looks like – @taraberryadventures, somewhere in Prescott!


The Dog That Bit Me

Two weeks ago, a Rottweiler bit me.

I was running, of course. I was down a flat dirt road near the ocean, listening to How I Built This podcast, featuring Soul Cycle. It was a Friday afternoon. I happened to have the day off, and I was getting excited about the weekend. I was going to sneak 15k before the weekend even began, hoping to start discretely building lots of mileage before an upcoming 100km race.

Just as I started feeling good, this mini chihuahua came running, directly at me. It was so tiny, about the size of my left foot. How cute, I remember thinking. I stepped to the left so that I wouldn’t crush the little thing. Just then, everything else changed. There was a Rottweiler on a leash about six feet further to the left, and the second I stepped a foot left, it overtook its owner, jumped and bit my arm.

All I can remember is seeing the dog’s large jaw around my elbow and then acting like a four-year-old. I went into a weird state of shock, and frankly, I’m ashamed with how I reacted. I started crying, and I was irritated about the dumbest things– how the dog had interrupted my awesome podcast, how I’d gotten blood on my new iPhone, how I had to stop the rhythym of my run. There were angry tears, some swearing, some blood, and for some weird reason, I refused to tell the owner my name. She was really sweet, was trying to give me her name and phone number, but for some reason, I didn’t want it. I just wanted to run away.

So naturally, I did.

I’m stubborn, so I insisted on finishing my run, just wrapping a buff around my bloody elbow and then heading further. I was simply grasping for the only thing I had control over.

Tonight, I had a meeting outside the grocery store with the woman who owned the dog.

She’d brought me flowers, and a shirt, to replace the one the dog chewed.

Looking her in the face for the first time, I noticed she was pretty. She was stylish, her skin was really nice, and her eyes had sparkly eyeshadow. I suddenly felt a warmth between us, like I wanted to hug her.

We talked about what happened, and then her eyes started to well up. She told me that they’d decided to put the dog down. They’d adopted it as a rescue dog, and unfortunately, it came with trust issues. They’d taken the dog to a behavioural specialist in the past, but it was hard to train an old dog. Seeing her tear up, I could tell this whole thing was harder on her than it was on me.

I didn’t know what to say. I told her that she’d given the dog a great life and that she did the right thing. Hell, it was on a leash, jumped from far away and bit me. With my words, I tried to strike a balance between supporting her decision by agreeing how dangerously the dog had behaved, while not bashing the late dog she clearly loved.

As a fireplace-dwelling cat owner, I couldn’t fully understand how someone could unconditionally love a dog that’s capable of harm.

But I didn’t need to understand. The fact was, the Rottweiler was gone, and at this moment, we had closure to move on. We hugged, and then I told her I hoped to see her around town soon, before turning toward the grocery store.

“Good luck with your running”, she said, as we parted. For some reason, I said, “You too”, even though I didn’t know if she ran or not.

I left feeling inspired by the small encounter. We’d taken something negative, and transformed it into something that made us feel warm inside. I wondered if perhaps, navigating my way through these small daily challenges with other humans, and making the situations feel warm and fuzzy– maybe that’s a worthy goal in life.

Imposter Syndrome

I love it when a name for something is coined, and it makes you feel understood, like you’re not the only one. That other people experience it, too.

For me, the name imposter syndrome does just that. I’ve felt this lurking feeling of unworthiness in various situations in my life, but without consciously being aware of it. Once I heard the term imposter syndrome, the thought pattern finally reared its ugly head, making its way into my conscious awareness. Now that I’m aware of it, I can trap those thoughts, and choose whether to believe them, or more often, simply kill them. Not only that, the name told me that it’s a common occurrence, and that it often doesn’t reflect reality.

Photo by my talented friend, Mark Locki. Trail running along BC’s majestic Howe Sound Crest Trail.

In my running adventures, I’ve been lucky to rarely feel imposter syndrome, as I’ve been a runner for my entire life. But even then, I’ve felt it. Standing at the start line of UTMB’s CCC (2017) and TDS (2018) races in the elite section at the front, I felt a deep sense of “what the hell am I doing here?!”. Even though it’s based on a system of points driven by the past results I achieved, I still couldn’t help but feel like I was an imposter. Even though the race has decided that I belong in that section, and I’ve competed at the World Championships in my sport, I haven’t given myself permission to belong there. I’m waiting for some breakthrough, some crazy performance that will come, to convince myself that I belong. I’m starting to think that I’m giving myself an ever-raising bar to jump past being an imposter.

Photo of Tory, Tara and Niki along a run to Watersprite Lake, BC.

Aside from running, I more often feel like an imposter when I’m skiing. Even though I ski regularly in the resort and in the backcountry, I can’t help but always feel like “I’m not really a real skier”. I’ve heard lots of people talk about themselves in this way when they describe running. “I’m not really a runner”, they say, when they haven’t yet convinced themselves they deserve the term yet, even though they run a couple times a week. I find this crazy, and deeply fascinating. What do you really need to do, to achieve the status of a runner?! In my mind, I think you’re very much “a runner” if you jog once a week. My situation with skiing is the same– I’ve resigned myself to this subordinated category of “not a real skier”. I’m not sure what’s blocking us in these situations, perhaps it’s a way of protecting our ego, to always just tell ourselves “that’s okay, I’m not really an X”. Whatever the case, I do feel that we will never really improve, until we start defining ourselves as a full-fledged, “real” skier or runner or writer, or whatever. If we spend the time doing something on a regular basis, we deserve to consider ourselves a full member of that community, not a second-class citizen.

Photo of my friend Chris skinning up on a fun day out in Garibaldi Provincial Park, BC.

My fascination with these topics is that they extend to everything we do, from outdoor to work, and other life adventures. I strongly believe that if we’re denying ourselves permission to identify with a sport or profession, then we’re holding ourselves back. For myself, I only just started calling myself “a writer”. I’m not sure how many thousands of words I had to write to get there — but it involved a lifetime of writing, a recent 80,000-page manuscript, various jobs as a ghostwriter and technical writer, and all the posts in this blog. Some people have to take an undergrad or Master’s degree to feel like they’re really qualified to be a certain thing they want to be. Of course, learning and studying is a wonderful thing, but I do feel like sometimes, the extra education is just a highly-structured way of getting to a place where we can deserve to be part of a certain group. Once we finally give ourselves permission to identify as something, we’re more likely to feel invited to take part in that community, and fully learn and grow.

Thriving Through Our Dark, Wet, Rainy, Pacific Northwest Winter

Sorry to point this out, but working business hours during Pacific Northwest winter means that most of our free time is spent in the dark. The sun hasn’t even fully risen before we go to work, and then by the time we come home, it’s pitch black. Combine that with our classic heavy rainy, windy climate, and it can become a bit of a challenge to make weekday outdoor time enjoyable.

Because I live in Squamish, I consider myself a sort of expert in this topic. People say Seattle or Vancouver are rainy, but while Seattle gets about 5.4 inches of rain in December (and Vancouver gets about 6.35), Squamish gets a whopping 8.5 inches! In addition to our mega rainfall, in Coast Salish, Squamish actually means “mother of the wind”. So you can imagine the wet, windy climate that’s brewing outside my window as I write this.

Squamish rainfall! Courtesy of Climate Data website.

I decided that it would be fun to share a few tips I’ve learned to cope with the constraints of PNW winter, and to make the season fun, something I crave and look forward to each year.

Sauna / hot tub incentives

Where I live, there’s a place with a sauna and hot tub where I was able to get a monthly pass for $30 a month. I finally just did this last night, and thought, why haven’t I done this sooner?! Now, I’m planning to start all my runs from the sauna location, as a sort of carrot strategy. I don’t care how dark and monsoon-like it is, the idea of driving to a fun sauna night after work is enough to get me out the door!

Obviously I don’t have access to this oceanfront hot tub on a daily basis. My usual is just a local rec centre, sheltered from the normal monsoons.

Lunch runs 

Lunch is pretty much the only free time of day that’s light out, so it’s important to use that time to absorb a bit of sunlight! I try to get out for a 45-minute run at lunch, and then I have a quick shower to get warm and dry, because I likely just got completely drenched in monsoon-like weather. After that, I go to meetings with my wet hair in a bun, but I never mind at all. It’s always so worth it to get some daylight! To save time, I try to bring my own lunch, something easy that I can eat at my desk while working after.

Super-powerful headlamps

If mother nature isn’t going to help, might as well try to engineer our own brightness! I have a headlamp (Fenix HM50R) that goes to 500 lumens, and on the days when I do have to run at night, it makes it wayyy more fun. The headlamp is so bright that it lights up the entire trail, so I feel less freaked about cougars in the Squamish woods.

Friends make you invincible

For me, inviting along a friend tends to transform the experience and I forget about how it’s dark, wet, and dreary. It suddenly becomes light and fun, and I feel invincible. I’ll go on trails that I would normally avoid on my own, forget about hallucinating cougars, and generally be able to last about doubly as long in the same conditions.

Tara, trail running near Black Mountain

Shorter, more intense workouts

Jogging becomes way less fun when it’s dark and stormy, but shorter, more intense workouts seem to work great in cold, wet weather. I love doing 10k tempo runs once a week in the winter. They’re short enough that they feel easy to fit in, and because I’m working harder, I’m able to stay warmer while doing it, so the weather doesn’t crush my soul.

Find snow 

My ultimate way of appreciating the weather at this time of year is getting up above the rain and into the snow! I absolutely love snow, and pretty much any winter sport. Spending a few hours a week doing something different, whether that’s nordic skiing, snowshoeing, or backcountry skiing, keeps things fun and helps me to appreciate all the rain.

These are just a few ideas I’ve used to keep winter fun. What are your favourite ways to thrive in winter?

Happy winter!

Mount Atwell and Garibaldi illuminated on a clear night

Tara and Alicia’s Howe Sound Crest Trail Women’s F^2KT (Fastest and Funnest Known Time)

As a competitive outdoorsy person, I’ve always been drawn to the idea of going for FKT’s (fastest known times). There’s something special and unique about it– something exciting, pure, and maybe more natural than traditional races. The experience is stripped down, with no markings, no support, no visible competition to push you. It’s just you and the trail, plus everything you brought with you, and your knowledge. Just a watch to time you against everyone else who preceded you, and some way to verify you did it.

I set the Hanes Valley Women’s FKT in 2016, (someone challenge it!) and at one point around the same time, I was secretly obsessed with the idea of going for the Wonderland Trail FKT. (It was dumb, I was super iron deficient at the time.) The style that interested me the most was doing it as a team with another runner. To me, this added an element of complexity, especially in longer routes. Most people will hit a low point at some stage during a hard effort, and the odds are that I would most likely have my low point at a different time than my friend’s– so double the low points! On the flipside, I thought that if I teamed up with the right person– and if we knew each other well, that we could communicate to get past those compromises, and ultimately have the awesome satisfaction of sharing the experience together, as well as the memories later. And if the day turned out to be terrible, at least you could laugh about it with someone for years to come. The idea of approaching a challenge as a team really appealed to me.

First Attempt

Enter Tara. For years, we’ve been running buds, and very similar in our strengths (downhill and technical!). It was obvious for years that we would eventually take on challenges together, but with traditional races often getting in the way, it hadn’t happened. Finally in September right after UTMB, Tara had the idea to see how fast we could run the Howe Sound Crest Trail.

It was a rhetorical question, obviously I would want to go for it together. It’s my favourite local trail, its net downhill profile and technical terrain played to our strengths, and the idea of getting the record would mean something. The HSCT was my first real trail run in 2013, and I was so over my head. I was dropped by the group several times, completely exhausted, barely able to hike up the final climbs. I was so horrendously bad at it, holding the group up all day, that I nearly decided that trail running was not the sport for me. This isn’t for me, I thought, back then. Thankfully I realized that I really enjoyed being in the mountains, regardless of my skill, and that it’s fun to have big challenges. Fast forward to today, and the idea of getting the FKT would signify something– progress, a reward for ‘believing’. Honestly, in 2013 I would have never believed it was possible, when I was alone at the back of the group, struggling. Next thing you know we had set a date, we would go for it on Thanksgiving weekend, whenever the weather looked best.

Right after Tara and I made plans, Sam Drove ran it super fast — when I saw her time– 4:37.56, I thought it was out of reach. But that made it even more fun, to have a real fast time as a target.

So, on October 6, Tara and I went out for our first attempt. Being cautious and not super confident, we went out at our own efficient pace, thinking we would focus on doing our best, but that Sam’s time would be hard to beat. We started slow, getting over five minutes off pace by St. Mark’s, but we figured we’d make up time on the technical sections, near the West Lion. Not so. Before long on the descent from Mt. Unnecessary, I slipped on black ice and super-manned into a rock, head-first. Thankfully my hip and thumb took 100% of the beating, and my head gently hit the rock… it was unbelievable. Needless to say, after that, I had adrenaline pumping, my confidence was wiped, and I couldn’t get into a regular flow on the technical sections. The black ice continued all the way until Harvey Pass, so that didn’t help my fearful state either. (Although, Tara didn’t seem as affected — she had to wait for me as I crab-walked and stalled on any steep parts!)

One of many countless insanely beautiful sections along the trail. Photo by Tara.

By the time we hit Hat Pass (just past the Brunswick Mountain turnoff), I knew we were way off pace, like 10-15 minutes. I didn’t mention anything to Tara, it’s not like that would be motivating at this point– with only about an hour to go, there wasn’t enough time left to make up that big of a gap. We weren’t expecting to beat Sam’s time when we started, and we were still super motivated to set our personal fastest time on the trail. The last sections from Deeks Lake to the bottom (one of our strengths) went well, and we finished in 4:51, happy with a sub-5 time, as we had both only ever run the trail at party paces of around 6-9 hours with friends.

War wounds from attempt #1. I was a liability, constantly falling or nearly falling. Photo by Julien.

Second Attempt

Our run boosted our confidence, and we realized that if we got the right conditions, we could maybe beat the record. We would need to have a great day, on an ice-free trail. But we live in Canada, and given it was already mid-October, we would have to wait until next August, we figured. I continued on with other plans, running Valley Vertikiller, and generally overdoing it.

By the end of Valley Vertikiller, I was ready for an off-season. I was craving snow sports, social activities that don’t revolve around running 24/7, writing, and drinking copious amounts of all my favourite hot drinks, in between cat cuddles. I started a two week “active rest” itinerary, which Julien doubted I could achieve. Man does he know me well. I was so dedicated to my “two week running break”, until day two, when Tara invited me to give the Howe Sound Crest Trail another shot on the coming Saturday. There was a sunny day in the forecast, and apparently the ice might have melted up high, she said. I stared at the text for less than a few seconds before impulsively caving. I was tired, but I wanted to push past it and get it done.

With “rest week” shot and killed, I started running a little bit to come out of hibernation, while Tara hammered out a crazy work week. My runs made me wonder if I was up for it. I was tired running what would usually be a slow pace, on a flat trail. How was I going to rebound for such a demanding challenge, by the next day? I didn’t want to tell Tara, but I confided to Julien how doubtful I felt, and he was so positive. He told me that it’s all in my head, that whatever I’m thinking is my reality. (Best husband ever.)

You can see the look of fear on my face. When you know it’s going to be a hard 4+ hours…

This being our second attempt, and very clearly going for it, I was way more nervous the second time around. Unlike the first time, I had told a couple friends about it, so it felt more legit. And also, knowing our time from last time, we knew it was within reach — but that it would be painfully close, most likely. Julien kindly shepherded us to the start, and we did a warmup in the parking lot of Cypress Mountain, just like it was a race. We squandered as much time as we could until we just had to get going. Julien walked us over to the start, took one of our only photos of the day (I look terrified), then we started our watches and away we went, into the forest, no turning back.

We knew that we had gone out too slow at the start last time, so we had to up the pace right from the get go, which sucked. That beginning section to St. Mark’s is tough, especially when you have a long way to go afterwards, and when you’re following Sam Drove’s bleeding pace. I was breathing hard from the start, both from the effort, and from the crazy race-like excitement.

As we neared St. Mark’s, I started to see that Tara looked much more fresh than me, and the negative self talk started in hard.

Look how much more fresh and fast she is, I told myself.

She didn’t race last weekend, you did. The voice added.

Plus she’s tiny.

You’re slowing Tara down, you should just let her go for the record, and just run slowly behind. Feel how tired you are. Feel how easy it would be to slip into an 8-hour HSCT pace… 

And on the thoughts went. Finally I caved and near the St. Mark’s summit, I told Tara to go on without me, that I was too tired to make it happen today, after a crazy fall.

Thankfully for me, Tara wouldn’t have any of this bullshit, and she tricked me into continuing. She insisted we go on together, and that if we needed to, we could bail out later, near the turnoff to Lions Bay. What she didn’t tell me then was that she knew that we were doing great, faster than last time, and that we would be happy on a downhill soon enough. I agreed to follow Tara as though she was setting her own pace for the record, and I just told her I’d try to hang.

She was right, I’m not sure what happened but we were getting to the West Lion much faster than last time, and I started to feel amazing. Luckily, there was barely any ice, and I found my normal rhythm. This time, Tara and I were totally in step, loving every minute and yelling out in joy more than a few times. As we passed through that section, I thought of my friend Mark and how he had come up there to take pictures last time. I air high-fived his spirit.

From a previous trip to this beautiful place, around the same time of year.

Right before the West Lion, we passed a guy on the trail and didn’t think too much of it, until he came riding our ass for a solid five minutes. We hadn’t seen anyone in a long time, and so it felt weird to have company, at exactly the same pace, right behind us. I wanted desperately to drop him, to free myself of the feeling of being chased, but I didn’t want to go any faster. So, I befriended him! Turns out his name is Clayton, and it was his first time running the trail. (He was fast!) As Tara led the pace in a militant fashion, Clayton and I talked about the beauty of the Grand Canyon in winter, and the Kneeknacker. We joked that he should join us for our “sub 4:40 goal”, but that if he fell and hurt himself, that he’d be on his own to call a chopper for help. (We were kidding, obviously we would help our new friend — or anyone — if they were hurt out there.) But still, any time I hit a slick patch and slipped, I would yell out to warn him behind me. I also joked that we would have no photo breaks or water stops — and he seemed totally into it. The three of us powered up and over the often-forgotten James Peak, and all the little bumps (that feel big) on the way from the West Lion to Harvey Pass– one of the longest sections on the trail. Tara set the pace, I put my hands on my knees and followed, and Clayton powered along behind me, even cheering us along as we went. I really enjoyed his company, and the way he mellowed things out a little bit. (Although Tara was concerned I was talking too much, I believe.)

From a previous HSCT adventure with Mike, Ryan and Julien in 2015, party pace.

Near Hat Pass, I started to realize we were ahead of the record pace, and that, if nothing went wrong, we could likely get it. From there, we had our favourite sections ahead, with a bunch of technical trail to Deeks Lake, and a huge net downhill to the parking lot. Still, it’s not over until it’s over, and even then, I wanted to run it as well as we could, to set the bar as high as we could for the next person. Tara let her militant hammer pace lapse for a moment at Deeks Lake, so it was finally my time to lead. The descent flew by in what felt like no time at all, and somewhere in there we lost Clayton behind us. That old logging road, the last 4k, is a deeply comforting site to me. It means you’re almost done, especially if you can remember your turnover and churn out some 4-5 minute K’s.

Julien turned up with about 2k to go, and he told us we were ahead of the record, which was nice to hear– I still wasn’t certain. He tried to make us go faster by creeping behind us, but by that point, we were in a flow state, in our own little world. And there it was, the yellow gate, it felt like it came sooner than I expected it to. Oh shit, it did, our time was 4:28.15! Two months ago, I would have never believed that I could run the trail in that time– I have Tara and Sam to thank for that! We took some obligatory ugly parking lot photos, and then headed straight back to Copper Coil in Squamish, puffy hands and all. Time for a beer! (And lunch!)

Post-adventure Whistler Chestnut celebratory beers … the best.

I love this trail, and if you live in (or are visiting) Coastal BC, you must go! (During summer!) I love doing this trail in every style. As a party pace, it’s fun to jump in the sparkling lakes, eat lunch at one of the many panoramic views, reconnect with old friends and make new friends. And as a tempo, it’s almost a playful feeling, to run the technical trail as fast as you can.

Random nerd / gear notes

  • Here’s a link to our strava file, for everyone to go out and chase! It’s awesome, there are mini segments within the whole trail.
  • Here’s a link to the Howe Sound Crest leaderboard on Strava
  • Here’s a link to a good description of the trail
  • For nutrition, I carried 2L of water with 800 calories of Carbopro, tons of Chime’s Ginger Chews (pre-opened! I find them so hard to open while running, especially when my hands are cold!), actual salt packages like the kinds you get at cafés, plus two Luna Bars as extra food in case.
  • For safety/mountain gear, in my bag I carried an arc’teryx norvan SL jacket, a merino wool longsleeve, a buff, fancy dollar store gloves, an emergency blanket, minimalist first aid kit, and we had 1 fully charged cell phone between us. We had told Julien our route, and the time we were expected to finish. If one of us got hurt, we certainly wouldn’t be comfortable, but we would have enough on us to make shelter and wait for help.



Motivational Words To Myself – Before a Long Race in 2 Days

It’s 1am near Mt. Esja in Iceland, and I’ve given up on sleeping tonight. I spent the last hour lying in bed, pretending to sleep while feeling every minute pass by. Maybe I would be sleeping if this week I planned to sit in Icelandic hot springs eery day. But I was lying there and nervous sweating, thinking about how I plan to run 120km through the French/Italian Alps in about 48 hours…

Rather than watch the clock tick or worse, trying to remember how to drive manual with the rental car, I decided it would be a good idea to brainstorm and consider some inspiring / motivational quotes for my future self. (Hopefully, the less nervous, less jet-lagged me…)

1. This is fun! 

This is my usual go-to. It succeeds in taking the pressure off before the race, and perhaps I would sleep better if this becomes my mantra.However, I can count on two hands, the number of times I’ve tried to reach to this “motivation” while running, and it simply did not work. Times when, it wasn’t fun, say I was puking, or nauseous, or perhaps feeling like a soldier in the military. In those times, the thought failed to motivate me, as I simply denied it. “This is not fun!” I would easily reply.

This is probably not what it looks and feels like when you’re trying to tell yourself “this is fun” in the middle of something long and hard. (Unless the Squamish/Vancouver girl gang, depicted, has surrounded you on one of their birthday, halloween, or other random celebration runs!)

2. People you care about are rooting for you to finish! 

I’ve used this one before, once or twice, in long running races. For example, Diez Vista 100k in 2018. I’m from the town where this race is held, so going into it, I felt some hometown pride, and that it was important to have a good race. It was honourable or something. I was excited to have my dad and stepmom come to the finish line in the afternoon, and at the start of the day, the thought of having a good race, and sharing in the joy/excitement and whatnot really made me stoked. Fast forward to 50km, halfway. I wasn’t having fun, felt so sick to my stomach, and I was about to have to repeat everything on the course again, in a series of small loops and lollipops. The thought re-surfaced about how “I’m from here” and “it’s time to make the family proud”. But at 50km, I was suddenly wiser. I knew that my dad wouldn’t care whether I finished, won, lost, puked and quit, or puked and finished. As long as I was healthy, non-injured and happy, whatever the result, he would be happy. My dad’s pride wasn’t contingent on some crazy challenge. With that, I got to halfway without any remaining joy, and handed my race number in. (Update– the 100km is no longer offered, so you do not need to subject yourself to this.)

The last 4 miles of Gorge Waterfalls 100km in 2015.

3. You travelled alllll the way here.

This motivation comes in handy when you’ve travelled a long way for an endurance challenge. Maybe you drove for hours, or you even flew somewhere internationally. I used this one during CCC in 2018, as I had flown all the way from Canada to France to run in the race. Honestly, this one does sometimes work for me. It quite effectively taps into the right pang of guilt for me, having dedicated so many resources to get there– the money, the annual vacation time, your partner’s annual vacation time, etc. I caution about using this one, however, because the same thinking can lead to the related thought, “but if I stop, maybe I will enjoy my vacation more, and be able to do more“– quite a wise thought, especially given how tired your brain is during these endurance events.

Tory, Mike and I on our first run all together, around 2014, a fun journey from Squamish to Whistler.

4. You’ve trained for months!

I could rarely use this one, it’s too ballsy for me. It’s implying that the work is done, you’re so ready. With trail running, I never feel ready. I always feel like I’m up against a mountain, which I am, most often. A ton of them. Usually I’ve either overtrained, or I’ve gone skiing instead of running too much, or I’ve been anemic, or most recently, I didn’t learn how to use crampons for the Mt. Baker Ultra! Anyway, rarely does it go ideally. Thinking about the preparation would just draw my attention to the gaps. I think people can use this one when they’ve pushed hard in training and then they can remember that feeling in a race. Unfortunately it doesn’t work for me: my memory for pain is like a squirrel monkey’s, I undergo the pain and then never remember it again.

Who am I kidding, I’ve actually been training my whole life for these things… (my poor parents!)

5. You’re “5” km to the next checkpoint!

After thinking about all the idealistic self talk, I think this is the only thing that makes me move forward, toward the end of whatever crazy thing I signed up for, more quickly than otherwise. In a long event when I need this type of self-talk, it’s probably not feeling fun, I probably don’t care what other people, or my future self think anymore, or how long it took to train or to get there. My brain is basically cutting through all that bullshit in a primitive way, there is no cognitive thinking involved. To deal with this exhausted, primitive side of myself, I can only hope to motivate myself in a super basic, simple way: get to the next care station! When I think of that, everything else erodes away. It helps me just move forward toward the goal, without thinking about it, idealizing, getting in the way of myself. Come to think of it, all my “motivational thoughts” are ineffective anyway, and so it’s best to shut those thoughts down and just run.

Running the East Coast Trail with Katie in 2015. Obviously it’s so much easier with a good friend and a killer support crew (Katie’s dad would give us a briefing of the next 10km, at every section!!)

What are your motivational thoughts that help you get to the finish of whatever crazy thing you dreamed up and committed to?





2018 Mt Baker Ultra: Seeking A New Runner’s High

It all starts with a beer…

Mid-winter, sitting at Backcountry Brewing in Squamish, I had one beer too many, then signed up for the Mt. Baker Ultra. A bunch of BC friends (Shauna, Tara, Kerry) all said they would too, and of course, only Kerry, bored after having completed all the 200 milers, followed through. The race involved running from Concrete, Washington to the top of Mt. Baker’s glaciated Sherman Peak at over 10,100ft., ascending the glacier with fixed ropes, ice axes and crampons. I had never actually used those before, but this race seemed like the perfect push I needed to finally learn those things. I went home, signed up immediately, then started madly messaging Scarlett, last year’s female winner, on everything about the race.

Excited. Photo by Ben Groenhout

For me, this wasn’t really just a race, it was an adventure, and also a way to join and celebrate the amazing efforts that local hero Dan Probst has been putting into developing this event. Inspired by the original Mt. Baker Marathons in 1911-1913, Dan wanted to bring a new (safer) version of the crazy mountain race back to life, and not just that, he’s working on creating a world-class trail system all the way from Bellingham all the way to Baker! His energy is infectious, whether you’re a runner in the event, a volunteer, or a spectator, it’s just amazing to get behind his vision.

Before I begin to talk about the race, I’ll just start by saying that I’m pretty anxious around heights and exposure. It’s very bizarre, and it must be super annoying for my belayers when rock climbing, but I figure I should approach that fear to the right extent, rather than run the other way. This race seemed like the perfect amount of comfortable fear… it would involve a logging road run to snowline, an easy hike on snow for maybe 5,000 feet, and then just a tiny bit of summit ridge, which would really test me. I figured, if it really seemed sketch, I could simply turn around early when I got there. Either way, I wanted to try.

DIY intro mountaineering training

Thank goodness, I was able to get in one good morning of ice axe training before the race, with the help of my friend Raz. We gathered a bunch of friends and created our own self arrest course on the slopes of North Vancouver’s Mount Seymour, about a month before the race. (So much fun!)

Practicing self arrest with Tory and Tara. So fun!

Training with the new crampons didn’t go as well. I forgot about it until the week before the race, then hiked up Evac Trail in Squamish, only to find no snow, only patches about 6 feet long on Al Habrich’s Trail. Feeling foolish, I actually walked back and forth along the 6 feet as “training”. (Thankfully no one saw me!) I got one quick practice hike up Hollyburn Mountain in West Vancouver, and come race day, I was so lucky that I had at least worn the crampons properly once.

I had also never worn hiking boots (I usually just wear runners), but I decided to wear them because they were suggested to would work well with the crampons. I found the cheapest pair at an outlet store, then I took them out for a few hikes on the Chief before the race, realizing, these are a great invention, why have I never had them?!

The race would have a long fixed line, and I even practiced clipping and unclipping the carabiners while walking, so that I would be more efficient come race day. (I’m not sure if that helped!)

Meanwhile, Kerry didn’t bother with any of this practice, being fearless and drawn to exposure and heights. Instead, Kerry focused his efforts pre-race on choosing the best baker outfit to wear for his summit on Baker… (for those of you who haven’t, check out his adventures on youtube, here.)

Party time! Run through the night, up a glacier

Another reason this race appealed to me, was that it started at midnight. Strange, but I love that little push to get out in the mountains at night with the stars. There’s a certain peace, solitude, and feeling of being alive when you’re alone in the night.

The race has about 20 miles of logging road running followed by about 5 miles of snow travel, then glacier to the peak, before returning back down the same way.

As predicted, I loved the midnight logging road experience, running across the Baker Dam, and feeling the air get colder as we approached snowline. I got to the snowline feeling awesome, and to my surprise, there were the most amazing waffles, with bacon, upon our arrival at the snowline aid station. From here, we would be donning all the mountaineering things, and then essentially approaching to the summit on snow. I proceeded to faff around after the waffle, fiddling with the harness, ice axe, crampons, even a set of snowshoes came out. After listening to Dan and the volunteers, I decided to wear the snowshoes for a bit, with the option to drop them at the next aid station. Feeling great, I ran out of the aid station, just in front of another woman, and a nice new friend, Nick. It was about 3:30am once we faffed with all the gear and waffles, and we were still making great time, as I planned.

Faffing around. Photo by Ben Groenhout.

At this point in the race, I think I was leading the females and maybe quite good in the overall standings, but I started to feel a big low. Suddenly, I was super fatigued, and I needed to drop my pace and just focus on any forward motion. I let Nick and the other woman pass, and started mowing cheese croissant, as though the cheese croissant would be the saviour to take me out of my sorry state. This part of the trail started to really piss me off, it was a snow-track made by sleds, lopsided rather than flat, with post-holes, and just steep enough to necessitate walking, but low enough to make me feel badly about it. I wish I had hiking poles here, in this sorry state. Finally around 5am, light started to reveal how beautiful the area was around us. There were sharp, black volcanic rocks contrasting the snowfields, and you could start to see a pink glow in the Cascades, to the east. We were getting close to the glacier, where the fixed line, and a beautiful sunrise would greet us.

Around 5am.

Arriving at the fixed line felt like progress, the fun part was about to begin! I left my snowshoes behind and opted to start without crampons, as a volunteer thought I could maybe kick steps, although he seemed to regret saying that when he saw my lightweight boots. The climb would steepen to 30 degrees, then level off, then repeat. I couldn’t really kick steps in my hiking boots, and I was ascending super inefficiently, stepping all over the place from one side of the fixed line to the other, looking for existing footsteps. After a while, it seemed like a storm was coming, and I started to feel afraid. To give myself a bit more confidence, I decided to switch to crampons, and suddenly the hiking became way easier. I wasn’t looking around for footsteps anymore, I was simply walking straight up. (It was inevitable that I wouldn’t be efficient with the gear.)

At this point, the weather was cooperating, and I was excited for a beautiful summit view. I could not have been more wrong… Photo by Ben Groenhout

The glacier section had three wonderful aid stations, each one with amazing, encouraging volunteers, water and surprise candy they had muled up, and radio updates from the other stations. I arrived at the midway aid, and was told that I should wear some waterproof pants, the storm was getting heinous above us. Adding a layer proved challenging with the harness and crampons, and thankfully a volunteer helped me take the harness and crampons off so that I could slither into my waterproof pants, then put it all back on top. I also struggled with long transitions to remove all the gear again to pee. I was never destined to be a triathlete, being slow at changing clothes and awkward with my hands, and I’m also horrible at mountaineering transitions.

As the storm picked up around me, the dream of a sunrise on Baker eroded. It was against my normal instincts to keep climbing to a ridge during a storm, and my pace slowed as every cell in my body resisted. I thought about turning around, and on my own I certainly would have, but I had to keep reminding myself that we were roped in to a fixed line, so this was strangely fine! Snow started to pelt me in the face, and I kept climbing, past crevasses beside my right foot, past and above the amazing Sherman Crater to my left. As I climbed, I was navigating a cognitive disconnect: my primitive instincts were to retreat away from the storm immediately, but my conscious thoughts corrected, recognizing that we were roped in, with experienced volunteers around! I was determined to carry on in, but I switched into slow and safe mode, resigned from any race ambitions, and just wanting to focus on surviving the current moment.

Finally I arrived at the final glacier aid station near the summit, which meant just a few more sections of rope to go! The pitch ahead looked very steep, but the volunteers encouraged me, telling me I had crampons on, I would be good! I let the man near me go ahead, turns out it was Yassine, I wanted to watch him to build my own confidence. Yassine also looked slightly afraid, which actually helped my confidence, so I followed behind. (Turns out later, he had issues with his carabiners freezing on the summit!!) There was a little rocky scramble after that with a hand rope, and I let another man go ahead, again so I could watch him. We were entering the eye of the storm, right along the ridge to Sherman Peak, with drop-offs just a few feet on each side. I was pretty terrified, barely being able to see with the storm on this ridgeline, and sharing it with multiple other climbers at the same time. Finally there was one last section, which I reluctantly crossed, and I summited in the storm. I have so much respect for the volunteer who was sitting in the storm all day at the summit, giving us amazing smiles and high-fives, and taking photos. (Hopefully there is a good one of Kerry with his baker hat on the summit!)

Posing beside the Baker on Baker. Photo by Kerry.

The rest of the event was “all downhill”, although way, way slower than I expected. I didn’t even attempt to run down on the technical sections with the crampons on, and then when the terrain was runnable, the snow was incredibly heavy and soft, running felt similar to walking. I was lucky that Kerry reared his baker’s head midway down the glacier, and we chased one another down to the snowline aid station, an oasis in the rainstorm. That aid station was one of the most fun parts of the race for me, with a bunch of tired and hyper runners huddled around together, regaining strength before the ~20 mile run back to town in the downpour. We took our time there, enjoying the company of the other runners and the amazing volunteers, who helped us celebrate the end of the snow with burgers, bacon, and amazing ramen soup. We were all on a bit of a high, coming from the summit and storm. Finally, Kerry and I decided to accompany each other to the end, taking our time to walk/run our way back to Concrete together.

Snowline aid station party. Photo by Ben groenhout.

Over 17 hours from when we started, we finally rolled across the finish line in Concrete, and to my excitement, I saw a tiny person in the distance, it was Tara there cheering. She had been waiting in the rain for five hours, as it took me that much longer than expected!! Immediately while crossing the finish line, I was able to muster some half-serious remarks to RD Dan about how sick and twisted he is, this race definitely felt more like a 100 miler. Such a fun adventure, with amazing people, I would definitely recommend doing it once!

Full results, here.

Race info, here.

Time to reflect, recover, and get curious about other interests again, besides just running and mountains…