Alicia in Portugal

2016 World Trail Championships in Portugal: Still Smiling, Still Foolish

On my first step, I fell in love with Porto. Jet-lagged, disoriented, it didn’t matter. Porto totally seduced me at any time of day. This was totally unexpected, as I had just come initially as a stopping point to run the race.

When we were introduced to Peneda Geres National Park on Wednesday before the race, it did not disappoint. On the northern Portuguese border with Spain, this park is full of ancient forts and ruins, tiny little villages, and lush green valleys capped with rocky granite formations. The running was a delight and full of surprises at each corner.

For the few days leading up to the race, we stayed in this area called Bom Jesus do Monte that was literally a sanctuary. Local Portuguese and tourist pilgrims hike up to Bom Jesus to visit the churches and the beautiful Baroque steps (which Julien uses to Strava-race) above Braga. I was lucky to hang out in this sanctuary with the 2016 Canadian team: Cassie Smith, Mallory Richard, Beverley Anderson-Abbs, David Jeker, Darren Seaman, Sebastien Roulier, & Roy Kok.

Last year I ran at the World Trail Championships in Annecy, and I became so nervous that it crippled me. This year, my plan going into this race was to just be confident, and pretend I was running an adventure run with Tara. I removed all stress, expectation and doubt and in their void came fun. Actually, pure joy! The first 55km of the race were pure joy, running through this beautiful park with inspiring runners from all over the world.

Of course, ultras are full of challenges. My big challenge came at kilometer 55, when the heat finally got to me and just roasted me alive. The race was 10 degrees hotter than expected, and a white girl without heat training does not thrive in an oven. (Always heat train!) It sounds strange that 55km could seem breezy and then suddenly, every step forward can take all of your might. But that’s what happened. Fortunately, quitting was not an option for me on this day, so I made tiny little goals. My goal was to get to the next water station 5km away. And when that seemed too far, my goal was to get to the next stream where I could cool off for 5 minutes. When the stream wasn’t appearing like an oasis, the goal became: get to the next trickle of water where I can dunk my hat. Eventually, I came out the other end of this suffering and finished the last 75-85km with a sense of happiness, gratitude and pure joy. Yes, 190th place and in the dark, but still, full of joy.

Beautiful Northern Portugal

Another amazing photo by Nadine Marie.

Thank you to everyone who made this experience possible for me. The wonderful people in Portugal, my team, our crew, and my sponsor RunGo. Until next time, Portugal! Keep it unbelievable…

Link to race results

Link to event Facebook page

Tara on Western States Trail

Blonde Moments in the Endurance Capital of the World

On Friday, Tara and I jumped on a plane to Sacramento with a goal of making it to Auburn, California… a town which introduces itself as Endurance Capital of The World. We were going to run Ann Trason’s Overlook Endurance Runs, which is now in its third year, on the Western States Trail.

Although I managed to run Ann’s 15km race without any big screw-ups, (this time I used RunGo during the race to stay on course!) most of the trip, I felt like a walking liability. Here are a few (painful) lessons from this trip!

1: Please, please never forget your driver’s license! 
This one was the most painful. We had an Expedia car rental that was pre-paid, and unfortunately the booking was under my name– then I forgot my driver’s license. You would think, that you could go to the front desk of the car rental place and just ask them to put the car in your friend’s name, who is right here next to you, with all the proper licenses you forgot. Unfortunately what ensues is you get caught in a dark, dark, black gulf of service, an uncertain area where both Expedia and car rental company seem to have no control and no “access” to change your itinerary. 60-90 minutes on hold and various conversations with Expedia may occur. You will eat all of your trip chocolate right out of the gate and maybe cry aloud in pain/frustration before you just opt to pay again. Fuck it.

Just. Bring. The driver’s license!!

Flying Over Seattle

2: Nexus does not = passport!
I’m not sure why, but the night before my trip I put my passport down on my bag, and then consciously removed it and put it away in the cabinet on the morning of the flight. All I need is Nexus for ID! I thought. Although not as painful a mistake as #1 above, airline and customs people don’t love to deal with creative formats of ID and it just amounts to adding 10-15 minutes at each airport you visit. Vancouver, Seattle, Sacramento, and then the return flights… not to mention your poor friend standing next to you! Packing ultra-light was misguided.

3: Not all dish soaps are equal! 
I felt very useless as a guest in Ann’s home, with cooking skills that were inferior to the lovely Italian guests, and general unawareness of my surroundings. At some point I realized that I could help out by jumping in and doing the dishes. (Which isn’t actually that helpful, considering it involves a dishwasher!) Anyway, I found some sort of organic soap under the sink, and pre-loaded it into the dishwasher for Tara and I to complete our task. Inevitably I went for a run with Ann’s dogs and came back later, walking upon a scene of Ann and Tara, cupping large handfuls of frothed soap from the dishwasher and transferring them into the sink. I had used the hand-washing soap instead of the dishwasher soap!! Thankfully by the time I came back from my run, both were laughing at my stupidity. We dumped some balsamic vinegar in the dishwasher and I vowed to not touch anything in the house, or on this trip, again. So much for being helpful!

Ann's Dogs

Outside of the general life skills, I think the running went well. Tara came 2nd in the 50km off of very little training, and I had a really nice run in the 15km, where I got to run with a new friend, Paolo. My favourite part was watching so many people finish the 50km all afternoon long, some people hand in hand with a friend or loved one, some laughing, some crying for joy, and all the while, drinking some delicious beer from my reusable collapsible cup.

Thanks to Auburn– for the never-ending trails, and to Ann for the endless inspiration. I feel so lucky to take part and meet the kindest people in California at Overlook every year.

Full results ~ on ultrasignup.

The American River!

The American River!

Photo credit: Mike Rose.

My Arm Flew Into a Rock: hitchhiking from the Spearhead Traverse

The day was young, and there had not been nearly enough coffee.

At 7am Mike, Nate and I were galloping shuffling through Whistler Village, with our eye to completing the Spearhead Traverse, a hugely popular ski route.

Except, we didn’t have skis, and we weren’t planning on getting any. On this September day, we were planning to generally follow the idea of the popular ski traverse, but as a run & hike alternative. Skirting below the glaciers and above the trees, we thought we could do it in about 40-50K, one adventure day.

The goal is to get over to that ridge across the valley, through the path of least resistance. Photo credit: Mike Rose.

The goal is to get over to that ridge across the valley, through the path of least resistance. Photo credit: Mike Rose.

It was all Mike’s idea. With a summer off completing any big 100 mile run and months spent cooped-up in injury, he was jumping at the bit to run as many big Sea to Sky routes as he could before snowfall. He had just pioneered this other great run, Elfin Lake to Garibaldi Lake, and he was on a mission to complete as many grand Sea to Sky traverses as he could. Part of what made it exciting is that you just don’t find trip reports of people doing these traverses as a run. Mike’s adventures were entirely new, exciting, and full of unknowns.

Just the start of the adventure.

Just the start of the adventure, reaching the hut at Russet Lake.

I had just suffered from a cold from running one too many laps around Buntzen Lake, but I seemed fine enough to join the party. So at 4am when the alarm sounded, I jumped out of bed immediately, ready for the fun.

Loaded down with tons of gear, we slowly ran the first part of the route, the standard trail up to Russet Lake near the top of Whistler Mountain. From there we could roughly see where we wanted to go, the ridges of the Spearhead Traverse, which lead all the way to Blackcomb Mountain, across the valley. It seemed so close yet so far, all at once.

And now... how to get there? Photo credit: Mike Rose

And now… how to get way up over there, just under the glacier?
Photo credit: Mike Rose.

Passing Russet Lake, our first task was to find a nice line across to the Blackcomb side, skirting under Overlord Glacier. As actual legit skiers, Mike and Nate are naturals at picking out lines in the alpine, and they looked ahead at the slope, determining which ways we could ascend. I stared ahead and sort of followed, thankful that these guys have much more of a knack for the alpine.

Our first obstacle was a little steep rocky slope. Maybe 45 degrees, for about 100 feet. Falling here wouldn’t be life-threatening, but you could get a few good scrapes or maybe hit your head if you descended awkwardly. I immediately entered Gramma mode, which led me to crab-walk down a small gully formation in the rock, only after spending a good two minutes frozen, holding up the whole group with my ass facing down the slope. (!!) Finally I got into a good crab-walk down the gully, and things were looking up. I got 50 feet down, and yelled up to Nate that he could start descending.

The rocks of wrath. As usual, they picture always looks so benign, how could anything bad happen here? Photo credit: Mike Rose.

The rocks of wrath. As usual, they picture always looks so benign, how could anything bad happen here?
Photo credit: Mike Rose.

Then, a rock came flying down the gully where I was perched, about the size of two grapefruits. It was my worst nightmare. Of all the places the rock could travel on this huge slope, it was coming– right for my head. I had no time to think, react, or change my position. The next second, the rock rocketed forward and hit me good in the upper arm, and immediately I was in shock. Perched on the slope, suddenly lightheaded and my right arm totally numb, I felt helpless and useless. I wanted to get off the slope, but I couldn’t move. I think I let out some kind of audible surrender.

Somehow I slid my ass down the mountain and started mowing my chocolate croissant to regain the upper-hand over my body’s physiological upset. By now, Nate was talking good sense into me, suggesting that him and I could turn around right about now. I knew Mike was going to continue one way or another, and I wanted nothing more than for him to complete the adventure. Still feeling lightheaded, I started to weigh the options. Don’t be a wimp, I thought to myself. Some curious thoughts floated around my head. Maybe, finishing this adventure is a kind of dividing line between being tough or not… maybe this moment will define me… But thankfully, Nate’s voice countered those stupid thoughts.

Mike ran and got me some glacier ice for my arm, which gave me a good ten minutes to decide whether to carry on, or turn back. I couldn’t lift my right arm, but that didn’t matter to me. (Runners don’t need arms! I thought.) More concerning was that I still felt a bit lightheaded from the shock, and I was already in sub-optimal condition to begin with, recovering from being sick. Now I was a bit of a liability. And there was so much uncertainty about what lay ahead. Looking forward, we didn’t know what was on the other side of the ridge in front of us.

Suddenly it felt dumb to continue, with so much uncertainty about the challenges ahead, coupled with a whole list of known ailments. And suddenly, I realized this could become a hitchhiking adventure!

Choose Your Own Adventure: find your favourite line around the glacier! Photo credit: Mike Rose.

Choose Your Own Adventure: find your favourite line around the glacier! This is a shot looking back at the base of MacBeth from where Mike carried on solo. Photo credit: Mike Rose.

I absolutely love hitchhiking, I’d say, equally to the amount I love running. And so, with a fresh opportunity to hitchhike and with Nate as a poor sucker of a friend to come along, I decided the remained of the day would best be spent as an urban, gas-fuelled, stranger-filled adventure.

The second our thumbs flipped up, we were scooped up on the side of the Sea to Sky Highway. Our hero was Ramon, a Mexican entrepreneur/father from Mexico City, who had moved to Canada to help his family escape sketchiness in Mexico City. For the entire drive to Vancouver, we were treated to the inspiring story of how Ramon moved his family to Canada, how he had suffered from fraud with his first venture here; a restaurant he purchased which he had to bankrupt, and how he was not even acknowledging any setbacks, now a Locksmith to support his family and planning a second Mexican market and deli. We told him about running and biking on trails, and we were the first people he had met who do long distances. At the end of the car-ride, he said we somehow had inspired him, that he was going to start running in North Vancouver. In that moment, I didn’t care about the Spearhead Traverse. Connecting with Ramon, and hearing about what constitutes a great tamale, was so much cooler.

And what about Mike? Of course, Mike completed the route. Going most of the way solo, it took him about 10.5 hours including the first aid picnic, and he didn’t have to cross any glaciers, or anything sketchy.

Mountain or urban, it doesn’t matter. The Sea to Sky brings nothing but great adventures and inspiration, even on a day when things go south.

Up high. Photo credit: Mike Rose.

Up high.
Photo credit: Mike Rose.

Wednesday Night Social at the Fernie Arts Station!

Adventures in Fernie: how I fell in love with a remote mountain town

My mom first moved to the BC Kootenays to teach about five years ago, when I was only interested in running on roads, and the mountains just meant pretty views. I recall a visit where I ran the shoulder along the highway between Sparwood and Fernie as my fun long run. Or, a day where we roadtripped to Banff, and I ran along the Banff highway as my long run!!!! Fernie is famous for skiing, and of course I wasn’t into that, either. On my first visit in winter, I completed a 3-hour pool run at the Sparwood pool. Yes. The mountains were staring me in the face, but I had nothing to say to them.

I loved the tarmac.

I loved the tarmac.

How time changes!

Thankfully, my love for mountains has grown and evolved dramatically during this time that my mom has lived in this wonderful place. Somehow, I was reacquainted with skiing, and I fell for Fernie’s snow, just like so many others. I loved the fact that a “busy day” in Fernie was like a slow day in Whistler. I fell for the look of the antique streets lined with snow, and at some point the combination of old-fashioned brick buildings filled with high-tech ski touring setups made my mouth water. One year my mom bought me a lesson to learn skate skiing, and this became a big, self-respecting step forward from my good ol’ long pool run routine.

Snow!!

Snow!!

At some point I started trail running. I found the most amazing mountain biking trails, which provided endless fun. I discovered the amazing flowy trails of Fernie Provincial Park, and fell in love with the cushy singletrack, lined by tall meadows. I stared up at the interesting granite mountains surrounding the valley, Hosmer and Ghostrider and others, and envisioned future scrambles with friends. I couldn’t wait to come back and spend more time exploring.

Late in the day during the Trail to Ale challenge. This is just above town on the way down from Hyperventilation!

Late in the day, this is just above town.

Then this past visit, I was overwhelmed with the possibilities. First there was the Fernie Brewing Trail to Ale Challenge, a fun adventure that challenged me to run an unplanned 50k, linking together three trail systems in order to earn a free beer (and handmade medal!). Then I discovered that you can run up a beautiful rolling trail to grab a snack or beer at Island Lake Lodge, before heading out on some amazing, well-marked alpine trails from the lodge, then running back down. (!!) Between those two runs, I found a nice and easy riverside run right from town, and saw the sun set on the Lizard Range. I was in heaven.

A shot from the Mount Baldy loop at Island Lake lodge. I saw not a single person on this beautiful 10km loop in the alpine.

A shot from the Mount Baldy loop at Island Lake lodge. I saw not a single person on this beautiful 10km loop in the alpine.

 

A shot from the FBC Trail to Ale Challenge. These awesome little trail signs were made for each of the goals along the way, and we had to snap a pic with our time for evidence!

A shot from the FBC Trail to Ale Challenge. These awesome little trail signs were made for each of the goals along the way, and we had to snap a pic with our time for evidence!

 

A part of the Old Stumpy/Elk River run, just a few kilometers from town.

A part of the Old Stumpy/Elk River run, just a few kilometers from town.

Just as I thought, Fernie, screw off. You’re a remote small town, and I can’t fall in love with you… I need to go back home to Vancouver. — a lively band started playing in the town center, in a beautifully repurposed train station that now serves as the Fernie Arts Station. Local beer and wine flowing, a cafe owner tells us it’s Wednesday Night Social. I look around at all the happy people dancing, all ages intermixed together, old men and women with hardcore mountain bikes, and I felt so at home.

Wednesday Night Social at the Fernie Arts Station!

Wednesday Night Social at the Fernie Arts Station!

I tried my best to avoid falling in love with this town, but it’s like Fernie was beckoning me. A quaint book shop displayed a selection of entrepreneurship and creativity books, exactly the kind I like… Cute little restaurants sat with gardened patios, with the perfect ratio of sunlight to shade… Everyone was biking, everywhere, so happily. Cafes, yoga and breweries seemed to outnumber any other kinds of stores… And when I sat down for coffee, articles in Fernie Fix magazine seemed to be written just for me. Even the garbage cans were beautiful, with local artwork decorating them!

Fernie is one of those places that has something special going on. But beware… if you go, you may just find that you have to keep coming back…😉

Another from the Mount Baldy Loop

Another from the Mount Baldy Loop… remote mountains forever!

If you’re heading there, grab a trail map from the helpful folks at GearHub, ($10) and check out the awesome local trail running group by Abi & friends, called Stag Leap. In the summer, be sure to grab some bear spray and a bear bell for further fun times. For a nice, easy 10k trail & river route from town, you can follow this route I made on RunGo.

Till’ next time!

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Photo: Spencer Sheinin

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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…