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.

 

 

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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… 

 

Attend Bellydance, Earn Mt. Albert Edward

Two weeks ago, I scored a surprise last-minute invite from my friend, Chris: do you want to come skiing up Mt. Albert Edward with me and Faron on Sunday? We’ll pick you up from the ferry! That message couldn’t have come at better timing. For all of April I had been staring up at Garibaldi Park and the Mamquam Icefield from Downtown Squamish, it looked perfect for skiing, but I felt constrained by my running training, mostly always confined to adventures in the dirt. Suddenly this message from Chris came my way, and it just knocked me out of my running trance and opened me up to my craving for adventure. Yes. Damn it. I don’t know where that is at all, but I am very intrigued! 

I accepted almost immediately without asking really where it was, with the caveat that my skiing would be horrendous, it had been months since I had skied! As though to sweeten the allure, there was talk of summit sardines, of camping at Comox Lake, Chris and Faron would even supply me all my camping stuff!!!

Camping at Comox Lake is the dream!

Eventually I discovered the destination was in Strathcona Provincial Park, a place I had really wanted to visit since, forever. I didn’t have any other idea except that it would be good conditions, and we would have to get up at like 4am, which seemed to follow my general equation of more time outside = more fun.

We rolled up to our beautiful campsite at Comox Lake at around 10pm, with plans to wake up at 4am. Bedtime was near until Faron realized, he forgot his avalanche shovel, 3 hours back in Victoria! Selfishly, I realized that this piece of gear was not for him, but for me – he would need to use it to dig me out, if I was to be buried in an avalanche. So, there was no way I would go without it. I instantly remembered the busy brewpub we drove through in nearby Cumberland… surely some of the people there would have some avalanche gear we could borrow? And so, it was decided, that we would descent upon unsuspecting Cumberland at 10:30pm, and seek out an avalanche shovel. Faron would maybe walk around the bars going from table to table asking to borrow gear, and we would support. Hey, we really wanted to go skiing tomorrow!

We spent the first twenty minutes in Cumberland searching a friend-of-a-friend’s yard for their avalanche gear, hoping that they just kept their gear outside, or used the avy shovel also as a garden shovel. (Yes, we were that desperate and tired!) No luck, as you might imagine. Next up in our quest was our idea to descend on the brewpub. Unfortunately the brewpub was closed. However, the band was just leaving, who we solicited, and they told us of a Mike and Lisa who could maybe help. Apparently, Mike was part of the local Search and Rescue, and so he likely had the gear. We were told he was wearing a Hawaiian shirt today, and he was apparently at the Waverly Pub, just a few doors down. So we booked it to the Waverly.

The Waverly had some sort of event going on with a cover charge, but they let us in for free when we explained our quest. It was a bellydancing show. Faron went to look for Mike in Hawaiian shirt, meanwhile Chris and I enjoyed the bellydances. Faron came back, he was in luck, Mike was found, and he had agreed to lend us the shovel, he even lived around the corner. However, we would need to wait until the bellydance finale, which was to happen in 30 minutes.

How badly do you want to go skiing tomorrow?! Would you go to a bellydance show?!

Chris and I watched more bellydancing, and then Faron decided to drive us back to the campsite to get some rest, he would go back to retrieve the shovel with Mike. Finally, just before midnight, Faron returned to the campsite, having earned a borrowed shovel and enjoyed a free bellydancing show in the process. Success! We gifted ourselves an extra hour of sleep, thinking that 5am would be fine, given the unanticipated visit to the Waverly.

The skiing was great, in fact just as awesome as the quest we had, the night preceding. There was snow right from the trailhead, there were amazing views to Desolation Sound, spring slush to ski, we witnessed cornisses breaking off safely in the distance, skins failed and we glued them on, and there was summit fever, which pushed us to spend an unplanned extra night together, strangely again, back at the Waverly. That place just kept drawing us back…

Remembering how to skintrack. Photo by Faron Anslow.

 

Skiing across lakes in spring will continue to freak me out. Note that I let Chris go slightly ahead to test the ice. Photo by Faron Anslow.

 

Summit selfie! Chris, me, Faron. Photo by Faron Anslow’s long arm.

 

The ski down was so chill and fun! Photo by Faron Anslow.

 

Strathcona Park Views! Photo by Faron Anslow.

 

Words and photos can’t really do it justice, you’ll have to go there.

I want all the goals, right now (goals for impatient people)

If you have lots of goals, how do you space them out?

I get it, I’m supposed to set goals for various timeframes. Some for this year, some for next year, some for ten years from now. But what about for impatient / goal-greedy people? I see those 3-year goals, and I want them all at once, along with my goals for this year. It’s sort of like a buffet, where I try to stuff as much on my plate as possible, so that there’s no space on the plate. It’s towering, and when I walk by other people, they just sort of stare at my plate in horror!

I feel like my goals are similar. I have lots and I understand they should be spaced out, but I can’t resist wanting them all, now!

2 different paths. Both please, now!

Some of my goals this year are running-related, things like seeing if I can better my best time at Chuckanut 50k this March, running the West Coast Trail solo in late June, and having a great run at UTMB’s TDS in August. In coming years, I also really want to further my skiing skills, and get into ski mountaineering. The trouble is, I’m super impatient, and I really desperately want everything at once. It means I’m never fully focused on one thing, I’m always thinking about how I can fit the other things in, too. And when you factor in the variability of planning for skiing, having to time the weather, avalanche safety, and the snow conditions, it just doesn’t work that well with also trying to improve in running. Doing multiple things at once is totally fine, but often the best people are the ones who really focus their efforts and energies, day after day. (One gal I really admire who exemplifies this is Krissy Moehl! 18 years of dedication and she wins every damn race there is!)

Lots of goals, I want them all now! Like skiing up to Sproatt in Whistler backcountry.

The only reason I even noticed my tendency to get impatient & greedy with my goals is thanks to my running coach, David. Occasionally I would go out and ski instead of running what I had in my schedule. It was oblivious to me that this might be less than ideal, until I learned from him, that this might be a bad idea the week before a running race. Before having a coach for trail running, I would just go out and do whatever I felt like, so at first it felt weird that there could be an ideal timing to consider, and to plan adventures neatly around the timing. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I could conform to a timing or restrict my adventures in any way. But how can you expect to improve, if you just keep doing the same thing, never fully committing?

After thinking more about it, I realized that I have a commitment phobia. By doing lots of goals at once I allow myself to dabble, and I stay away from having to fully commit to any one goal. When the time comes to put myself to the test, I never have to know that I gave everything, because I didn’t. I was out frolicking, and I never did fully apply myself to the single purpose, so I can avoid the same level of expectation as though I had. Instead of doing X really well, I did X and Y and Z to a pretty good level. And it’s comfortable, by goal-dabbling, I stay exactly the same each year, maintaining my comfy spot while minimizing chance of failure, by doing other things too. (Case in point, I ran Deception Pass 50k in 2017 & 2013, both times were only 5 minutes off!)

Photo by Ashley Agellon – on Bowen Island in 2017

I hear that some people stagger their goals, and they actually space them out, taking one goal at a time and giving it their all. Going for one goal with everything is a big risk, it’s more clear when you fail, the ego can be crushed, and so it takes courage to commit.

To push past the comfy mediocrity I know and love, I’m going to finally give it a try, dedicate myself fully to one goal without those side goals, and see what happens. For me this year, it means I’ll give the running goals my attention, actually following my training plan and trusting the process. Then next year, I’ll give skiing its own time and space in my goals.

The monthly winter sun came out in North Vancouver, BC!

The Ethics of Flying in the Mountains

In September, a gang of us hiked up to Lake Lovelywater, one of the most beautiful spots I’ve ever visited near my house in the Tantalus Mountains of BC. Getting there was a satisfying effort, it entailed crossing the Squamish River to access the trailhead, and then hauling huge packs up 1,170m, as the trail climbs alongside a giant waterfall. The old-school, nostalgic person in me loved the simplicity of travelling up there on foot, just as the first explorers might have (although we definitely had more cheesecake, and champagne).

On our way across the Squamish River with lots of colour. Photo by Alex Lea.

Getting to the lake for the first time made us realize how many people fly in to the lake, either by helicopter or float plane. On that trip, there was one party of two guys who had also hiked up, but all other groups at the lake had taken a helicopter, or a float plane. One group had even packed such that they could not move their own belongings 500 meters without the helicopter. (They had packed giant coolers, and didn’t realize the camp spot was a bit of a walk. They made multiple trips to eventually haul the cooler around the lake.) My first reaction was that I really didn’t like the concept of using helicopters to get to the lake. It felt unfortunate to skip the beautiful trail, and to neglect our abilities to simply walk forever. Given the availability of a nice trail to get there, it seemed wasteful. For some reason, I took personal offence to it, it bothered me. The fly-in people were the enemy.

Later that evening, we went to the hut to borrow canoes. These hut people had all flown in, so I wasn’t sure what to make of them. The second I arrive outside the hut, someone waves. The hut people are our friends from Vancouver! That moment turned everything on its head for me, suddenly my enemies were my friends, and my friends, enemies. Seeing the helicopter use in the context of my friends sort of changed everything. Even though I still personally disagreed with it, I felt more open to understanding, because I liked these people.

Since that trip, I’ve thought more about the ethics of travelling in the mountains with support from fossil fuels. In the past I thought about it mostly in terms of helicopters and flights into the mountains, and I wanted to avoid those. So far I had avoided any helicopter use, so I felt innocent. But when I dug a bit deeper, I realized that I do have my own versions, they’re just different.

I don’t fly into mountains, but I fly to big international airports. I fly to Portugal, or Italy, or Mongolia, jumping off points for exotic mountains. Then I started realizing, really, what’s the difference? For some reason I had categorized my international flights as relatively benign, and these mountain helicopter trips as evil, but it doesn’t add up. In fact, those international trips are far more wasteful than the local helicopter trips. When I dug into it, I realized that I was perceiving the two types of trips as benign or wasteful based on whether I could get there by foot, or not. If I could get to the destination by foot in a reasonable time, taking a heli to get there was wasteful. International travel, meanwhile, was rarely ever wasteful in this mindset, because it’s very rare that I could get to an international destination by foot in reasonable time. Maybe that makes sense as one outlook, but it was self-serving, allowing me to become negligent about the impact of my international trips. Who cares about one 20-minute helicopter / float plane trip if I take five long-haul international flights? And what about the person who takes only one single trip per year, and it’s a short helicopter trip, instead of travelling internationally? Then there are the volunteer trail builders who take helicopters to load tons of heavy gear, so that we can enjoy the trails.

 

 

The helicopters at Lake Lovelywater do have an impact, and perhaps when there’s one of the most beautiful trails instead, we should walk. But the situation is less straightforward than my primal urge to think, heli = bad. Our impact on the environment is more about looking at the big picture of what we do in a year.

Paddling on that beauty lake with Alex, Tara, Tory, Nancy and Tara, somehow all snug inside one row boat. Photo by either Tara or Nancy?!

 

Race: Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc, Sept 1st, 2017. 6:30 pm.

Distance: In 2017- Approximately 167 km, with 10,000 M of elevation gain.

Course: Around the Tour Du Mont Blanc in the Alps through France, Switzerland and                        Italy.

In 2017 the Course was shortened a few km’s the day of the race due to the volatile weather forecast. There was rain, snow, wind, and cold temperatures down to -9.

Results:        There were 1685 finishers and 852 DNF’s.

Full Results here: http://utmbmontblanc.com/en/page/107/107.html

UTMB FINISH LINE!

Photo: UTMB

The start line of UTMB is incredible! Runners started lining up at the start really early (almost 2 hours before)! I saw this happening and I got anxious that I should get to the start line, but I waited until about 30 minutes before to join.

As the fast elite athletes joined the start there were big cheers and announcements throughout. The music, pump up announcements, and energy created an electric atmosphere throughout Chamonix and it felt like everyone in town was there waiting for the race to start. At one point we all joined in making an oath that we would get to the finish line in this grand adventure. It was all amazing, but in hindsight also pretty overwhelming! I have never been that nervous at the start of a race, but at the same time never been to a start line with so much energy and excitement!

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Photo: Tara Berry     Tara Berry & Melanie Bos

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Photo: Alissa St. Laurent      Tara Berry & Alissa St. Laurent (6th Women)!

Fellow Canadian runners found at the start line!

I knew that this race starts off quickly and the first 8 km were fairly runnable. I made sure to go out easy and not get carried away at the very start. The first 8 km’s were lined with so many people and children wanting high fives throughout Chamonix. I tried to high five every single kid I ran by that had their hand out. The crowds were mind-blowing and the kids put a smile on my face. Everyone was yelling “Allez, Allez, Allez” along the route, and the aid stations and surrounding villages were packed with supporters with cowbells and cheers. It looked like some locals were even out having dinner parties outside to cheer on the runners. This went on for hours and hours and was one my favorite things about this race!

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Photo: Tara Berry

Even though I thought I started easy as soon as we hit the first climb I felt it; my legs didn’t feel good, they felt heavy, way to heavy for so early on. I felt like I was getting passed by 100’s of people (and I was literally being passed by 100’s of runners)! Looking at the stats, at the first aid station 1 hr:39 min in, I was in 338 overall, and I continued to drop back to 357 overall.

More than anything, mentally things weren’t going well. I don’t think I’ve ever got in that much of a negative headspace so early in a race! We were in fog and even with fresh lights it was hard to see, I had stomach cramps, and I felt like the down hills were not coming easy. Usually downs hills are my strength but I was breaking a lot as it was hard to see, and my legs didn’t feel good. I could feel my nagging hamstring a bit and I was getting worried. I had a lot of self-doubt and started making up excuses of why I was going to drop. This was during the majority of the first 40 km’s into the race. Courmayeur was around 78 km; for some reason that seemed like a good place to stop and I planned to drop there. I thought I could make it there even if I was in rough shape and I didn’t really know of any other spot that would be easy to drop and be able to somehow get a ride back to Chamonix. I didn’t plan to have Ryan (my crew and fiancé) meet me until 125 km into the race. There was one-drop bag allowed on course and it was at Courmayeur, so I also knew I wouldn’t freeze as I had a change of clothes!

Things started turning around after about 40 kms’ and I was feeling much better (stomach cramps were gone), my legs were warmed up, and I was moving well on the ups and the downs. I felt like I was gaining back some of the time I was slogging along in the beginning. Looking at the placing you can tell where this happened…(I went from 357 place overall down to 227 by Courmayeur). There were some big climbs and big descents (My fav), and even though it was foggy the area seemed majestic and beautiful. There looked like there were some big drops below and I was loving the rocky terrain. I bailed hard on some slippery rocks, but I was back in a good headspace and I brushed it off and was back up quickly with some minor bruises and scrapes on my knees.

I started gaining some confidence back that I could finish this race! Even though things got harder later on, I became even more determined that I was going to get to the finish line! By the time I got to Courmayeur I had no plans to quit, and the thought of quitting never came back. I took my time to fully change at Courmayeur into new socks, shirt, sports bra, eat pasta, use the washroom etc. I left there feeling refreshed, and the sun had just come up. It was early Sat morning and Mont Blanc was stunning!

IMG_0609Photo: Tara Berry

The climb out of Courmayeur felt tough after a really long descent into town, but the views were incredible and we were rewarded after the ascent up. I was really enjoying myself and I guess you could say I was on a high! This section was my favorite part of the entire race and the only part of the race I took photos. The sun didn’t last very long, and the rest of the time it was raining, or snowing.

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Photo: Tara Berry

I was eating OK. I was getting some food down from the aid stations (meat, cheese and soup)! I was using tailwind in my water, which I carried with me along with some other gummies and blocks. Out of everything, soup was going down the best at most of the aid stations (A few times I had 2-3 bowls of the noodle soup just in one aid station)!

We got to a really cold section between Arnouvaz and La Fouly and it started snowing. I had everything on (even a bandana covering my entire face with just enough space to see). Dressed like a ninja, I was still moving steady here, but it was FREEZING cold, and windy as well. The ground and plants were frozen and covered in fresh frost and snow. I thought about adding another layer, but stopping for even a moment to try and put on more underneath was not an option in those winds, so I kept moving as quickly as I could to get to the top of the climb as it meant there was another long descent…the longest of the entire race.

Coming down into La Fouly it started to warm up a bit. On the downhill on the way into La Fouly, I rolled my ankle at some point, however, I could still run on it and it wasn’t too sore.

I got to La Fouly (110 km), and my friends and unicorns from home (Tory Scholz & Tara Holland) had made a video for me that was played on the screen, which surprised me and made me laugh! At the end of the short clip they were yelling “Get out of the Aid Station”. I heard the video come on a 2nd or 3rd time (after other runners had played), and realized I really need to get out of there! I was trying to eat more soup, as it was the only thing going down well at this point. I left the aid station and the downhill continued, some on road through a village. It was pretty quiet and not many people were around during this section.

I knew I would see Ryan soon. I was moving a bit slower on the downhill’s and there was a big downhill section on some roads and then up to Champex-lac. Looking back at the stats, I was in 163 overall at this point.

UTMB GOOD SHOT

Photo: UTMB

When I saw Ryan he had my bag of food and clothing all spread out and ready to go! I don’t think I took anything, even though he kept asking me what I needed! I didn’t want to sit down at first and I pranced around a bit, grabbed some pasta, soup, and tried to get some food down but I wasn’t able to eat too much. Ryan asked me if I wanted to change my clothes. I was a bit wet underneath from sweating, but I didn’t feel like changing. I asked him how long I had been there and he said about 15 minutes, it felt like 5. I realized again, I needed to get out of there! I was about 100 feet out of the aid station when I realized it was absolutely POURING and I was getting soaked quickly. I wasn’t wearing my rain pants and I went off to the side of the road under an under-hang to fully put on all my gear. It was already too late, I was soaked underneath and my gloves were soaked through. I opened up some hand warmers I had to try and warm up my hands and they worked well.

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Photo: Tara Berry

I was slow out of here to the next aid station even though there was some runnable sections, I was walking a bit. My ankle started really hurting on the downs and I couldn’t really run well downhill anymore especially on any technical parts, I kept rolling it. I was getting cranky- just in time to see all my friends!

From here to the next aid station, it felt like one of the longest sections. At some point there was a long uphill and I was stomping through tons of mud. There was a lone hiker hiking up and he looked like he was going camping up there for the night. I heard a sound behind me and he was yelling at me from down below. I saw him holding something up and realized it was my credit card. Of course it’s something I would lose during a race, but I got it back!

I came into Trient to see my crew again (Ryan, Alicia & Vincent were there this time). Alicia & Vincent had just ran CCC the day before finishing in the middle of the night, and they had made it out to support! Alicia was being really encouraging and telling me I was doing well and I was going to get to the end. I really wasn’t in the mood for chatting. I told them they should go home and sleep as I was going to be awhile and planned to walk the rest due to my ankle (about 40km to the end)! Alicia thought I could run and she mentioned taping or wrapping it, for some reason I refused and said that I planned to hike the rest!

I left there pretty quickly and started hiking up the next climb and my ankle was now hurting on the ups AND downs. I saw another women coming down in the opposite direction. I asked if she was ok as she was slightly limping. She had rolled her ankle in the mud and said she was done, I told her I also had a bad ankle and tried to encourage her to come with me and that we could hike together! She was worse off than me and said she didn’t think she could make it and warned me to be careful in the mud on the downhills up ahead. I stubbornly stopped and sat on a trunk and wrapped my ankle up the best I could myself with the required bandage we had to carry! This was a gear requirement and ALL of the required gear came in handy!

This did help quite a bit to stabilize it and I found that I could run again on the downs in not too much pain, it was manageable. I wasn’t moving quickly, but I was still moving.

This section had so much mud on the downs! Some of the time I was just trying to stay upright after sliding around corners, and used my poles to stop myself from falling.

I noticed, as it was getting dark I was starting to see things. Some of which I knew was not real once I got closer; (a deer which was a branch), faces and people in large rocks, the trees were forming structures and people, and scary faces were jumping out at me.

I got to the second last aid station Col Des Montets and re-fuelled again on soup. I think I stopped eating anything after the 2nd last aid station and I don’t know how much I was drinking. As a result, things were starting to get weird. I was with another guy named Oscar, and a couple of other men. We didn’t chat at all, but we were running near each other and sticking together. At one point we stopped for a moment and I looked up and screamed! I thought there was a black panther sitting under a tree up ahead of us. This really felt real to me at the time and swore I saw eyes staring back at me. I told Oscar what was there and possibly hid slightly behind him! He assured me things were ok and he didn’t think he could see anything. He probably thought I was crazy. We continued up and it was gone… I was wanting to get out of the forest by this point, it was creeping me out and I felt a bit trapped and claustrophobic.

Around this time we thought we were back on the same climb a second time, and we were delusional trying to look at the maps we had. We couldn’t figure out where we were, plus there were course changes on this section, which made it even more difficult to figure out. We thought we had somehow gone off course and done a loop going back on the course in the wrong direction. It was dark and hard to tell. We thought we were on the same bridge we had already been on and climbing up the same climb again… We contemplated calling the emergency # for help with where we were, when shortly after a medic came by and happened to be hiking up to the last aid station. He explained where the last aid station was up on the ski hill and continued on. We got to the top of the tree-line and all had trouble seeing where the aid station was, we kept going up through the fog trying to follow one light we could see of a runner or possible the medic ahead of us in the distance, and we finally stumbled our way through the fog and into the last aid station.

Mentally thinking we were lost, whether we actually got lost or not was draining every bit of energy left in me. The fatigue had set in big time and I couldn’t think straight.

Once we knew we were for sure on track and had made it to the last aid station at La Flagere, it was 8 km downhill to the finish! I stayed with Oscar for some of this, but was mainly alone as I got closer to the bottom of the descent. My lights were dying and I couldn’t see very well, but at this point it felt too difficult to figure out where my batteries were and I made do with the 3 faint lights I had.

I knew I was close when I could see streetlights and recognized one of the streets running into Chomonix. I came around one of the street corners and up ahead I thought I saw two massive grand stands, with two big groups of people singing. A choir all dressed in white I thought! How lovely! As I got closer it turned out this choir was actually a bunch of big trees with light colored leaves (yup things continued to get weird)!

I continued on and ran through the finish and into my friends arms! I was happy to have made it to the finish line at UTMB when it felt like a crazy second night! It’s an experience I’ll never forget! Chamonix and UTMB is such a special event, I’m excited to go back again (hopefully in 2018)!

In total it was 31 hours, 56 minutes. 22nd women, 204 overall.

IMG_0520Alicia Woodside, Tara Berry & Ryan Ledd.

Gear that got me through ALL the weather:

Merino long sleeve shirt, Merino pants, Merino T-shirt & Merino Sports Bra, Salomon skort, Salomon Gloves, North Face waterproof coverings for my gloves, Arcteryx Gortex Norvan SL (AMAZING)!!! Inov waterproof pants (very light and compact)!, merino wool socks (2 pairs), a buff, Merino wool toque, Salomon Hat, black diamond poles, Patagonia down vest., hand warmers, Petzl headlamp, two Nebo bike lights clipped onto my pack, Salomon Sense Ultra (Same pair the whole race- these are my favourite shoes to date)!! Salomon 12 L pack.

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Alicia Woodside & Tara Berry