Sunshine, Rainbows & Candies @ Canadian Death Race

It was the first summer in years where I hadn’t over-committed to athletic adventures. After DNFing Black Canyon in February, (and a bunch of other 100k’s, let’s be honest!) I decided to back wayyy off. I wasn’t sure I liked running long ultras anymore. I’d lost the stoke, and I’d kept trying to revive it, to no avail. I’ll stick to small, local events and maybe some low-key 50k’s, I thought.

But then, Tara and I ran the 75k West Coast Trail in June, and my spirits changed. The day was absolutely amazing, the type of magical day you dream about. After that day, I started to believe in the whole thing again. I started to reconsider. Maybe something in me had changed?

Spurred on by the West Coast Trail, I signed up for the Death Race two weeks before the event. It took me those 120k of mud pits, overgrown animal trails, over 5,000m of ups and downs and thunderstorms to finally re-discover my why. I’d forgotten, it’s not about having a perfect run. It’s about working on the practice of mental discipline and positivity, and the satisfaction that comes from meeting inevitable problems head-on and embracing them.

Below is a non-traditional “race report” which I originally posted on my Facebook page.

Canadian Death Race was fun! For fun/motivation I pretended I was on a fictitious co-ed relay team even though I was doing the 125k solo. (😂) It kept me laughing all day imagining a new character as I ran…
  • Leg 1 runner was Samantha. She’s fairly new to running and the team only invited her because she’s dating Lopez, (more on him below) and didn’t want her to feel left out. The team put her on the first leg, not expecting much. Samantha did her job well, started out smoothly and not too fast.
  • Leg 2 runner was Lopez. He’s a machine at climbs and descents, and he was amazing charging up Flood and Grande Mountains, possibly getting the team into 2nd place. However, he’s a bit of a low IQ type and got lost only one mile from leg 3, running 23 minutes back onto Leg 1. Talented, just not so smart…
  • Leg 3 runner was Jennifer, a road runner. The team chose her because that leg is essentially an old logging road. She did fairly well, nothing to write home about but she plugged away, and got the spirits back up after Lopez’ getting lost situation.
  • Leg 4 runner was Jordan, inspired by the real-life Jordan Maki-Richards. The team needed a strong-as-hell & smart ringer on this tough leg (over 2,000m climbing and 40k!) and Jordan fit the bill. She was super strong and just kept charging. She also really had her head screwed on. When a sudden thunder storm started that looked pretty menacing, she found tree cover, opened her emergency blanket and wrapped it around her base layer from her pack so it wouldn’t soak through.
  • Leg 5 runner was Jeniqua, a partier, who the team didn’t know that well and unfortunately was a bit of a lemon. She came for the night party & fun boat ride across the Smoky River, but she couldn’t really run worth shit. A bit like Lopez, she made a fatal error — the bright headlamp she’d brought wasn’t charged, (🤦‍♀️)so she had to use the less bright backup. She was also a super pretentious eater, all she wanted was things she didn’t have. In the end she got it done, but slower than the team would have liked.
Relay team alter-ego aside, all in all it was a super fun race & community! I appreciated the assorted beef products in the race swag (very Alberta!), the amazing community who treated me like family, and leg 4— Mt Hamel, where you could see amazing views of the Northeast Rockies & Smoky River Valley. I ended up in 5th Female / 21st overall after the events described above, which I’m pretty happy with, I think there were over 350 solo runners that started! (Wow, 134 DNFs this year! Likely due to the crazy wet, muddy bog conditions!) We can always improve and that’s fun to dream about as usual, but I’m happy with my headspace, how I stayed positive and single-minded all day.





Black Canyon 100k DNF: Lessons About Joy

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

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

Tara on our shakeout run in Prescott before the race.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was the beginning of my self-imposed destruction. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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!

Learning Patience From The Trails

Since I was little, I’ve been an impatient sort of person. In many ways, I benefited from it. I never wasted a moment, and I got to do lots of things at a young age, guided by this crazy internal clock.

As I started working, I was often rewarded for my impatience, as it transformed into a get shit done quickly attitude. I expect progress to happen, right away. In the short term, I feel like our society really rewards an impatient attitude.

However, it’s also a big pitfall. Being impatient all the time rewards short-term thinking over long-term thinking. But when we set long-term goals, we need to be prepared to wait months, or sometimes even years to see our results come to life. Any long term endeavour requires patience– by definition, it’s something that happens with sustained effort over a long period of time, and an impatient attitude can’t change that. So as I get rewarded in the short-term for my impatient attitude, I know that those big long-term goals require a balance.

Long distance trail running has really been an interesting mental exercise for me, because it’s all about patience. Often, the people who are the strongest in long trail runs are the ones who were patient– in their training, and in their race. In the many long ultra running races I’ve seen, or been a part of, it’s often the smart, patient runners who have the best day. And that’s not to mention the cases of injuries and other setbacks, which further test our patience, and our ability to wait for a better day toward our goal.

One of my favourite places to trail run, Island Lake Lodge in Fernie, BC

When I started trail / ultra running, I was incredibly patient. Coming from a road running background, I didn’t hike or climb at all, so I couldn’t really run uphill, or downhill. I decided it didn’t matter: I really enjoyed running long distances on trails, so I was willing to wait. I gave myself an arbitrary long time– ten years– by when I expected myself to overcome these weaknesses, and I was surprised to really improve in about two years.

Adventures with friends is the best way to spend a day on Earth! Kerry and Tara on the route to Hanes Valley.

As I became less of a disaster and liability, my patience began to slip away. I started to do better and better, and as I did, I expected more from myself, more quickly.

In the past two years, I’ve had to really remember the patience I had when I started. I’ve had an incredible two years of running, getting faster and stronger than ever, and getting opportunities to race internationally. But when it came to the races I entered eagerly, everything usually fell apart, because of my inability to figure out the nutrition side. I found it incredibly frustrating to feel fit, but unable to have a good day at a race. Over and over, I got severely nauseous during races, and performed way worse than I had in similar training runs. It got so frustrating, I thought about maybe trying a new sport… something that did not require eating during the event. Yoga, sprinting, and others became attractive.

But then I remembered that I could simply choose to be patient. If I really like the beautiful places I get to see, the people I get to meet, and the fun I have doing this, why not just chill out a little bit, and give myself time to work through these issues, just like when I started?

Photo by Tara at this year’s epic Broken Arrow Skyrace, which I barely survived. Had a terrible day in terms of results / hoped-for run, but I’ll be using those lessons for the next decade!

With that mindset, I’ve gained back my original patience, bit by bit. I’m more focused on my long-term quest than before. And funny enough, as my short-term expectations lower, my performance rebounds… finally had a race where I didn’t DNF, try to bushwhack off the course at halfway, eat only a single granola bar, eat only goldfish crackers, etc. last week at the Elk Valley Ultra!

Galloping around just outside town in Fernie, BC before a super fun day at the Elk Valley Ultra



2015 World Trail Running Championships: my first DNF

Hey there! If reading isn’t your thing, cut to the chase and check out my photo journal from Worlds. Otherwise, only read this if you’re interested in making a national team, interested in what it’s like to have a bad day running for that national team, or, in the case that I paid you to be my friend in miles, of course. Here’s my tale.

Saturday, around 7am in Annecy, France.

I’m running at the World Trail Championships, and instead of flying like a pterodactyl up and down mountains as I envisioned, I’m sliding backwards in gooey mud up a steep climb, going down, instead of up. An easy target for yet another Euro runner with poles. 

Getting to Worlds

You can qualify for the Canadian women’s national ultra team by running a sub-7 hour 50 miler, which can lead to selection for both the national 100k team, and the national ultra trail team. In my case, I ran the Elk / Beaver Ultras in 2014, which is 8 laps around the lake for the 50 miler. During my race, I was fuelled by a whole crew of friends who helped me reach my goal, including friends from Seattle who ran reverse laps in huge party frocks, and Ironman-inflicted friends who had biked all the way from Vancouver just to holler at me as I circled around each lap. With their help, I ran 6:58-something in my jean vest and qualified. Six months later, I got selected for the trail team, which was bound to run a beautiful course around Lake Annecy, in the French Alps. I couldn’t resist. The course was 85k in the mountains around the lake, with 5300 meters of gain and descent. It looked amazing. To help me get there, I was lucky to get supported by Bremner Foods, who have provided amazing support for my travel costs. And the best juice on earth! 

Opening ceremonies!

Opening ceremonies!

Failing At Worlds

My first time representing Canada was for the World 100k Championships in Qatar, which was a mediocre performance I was really hungry to improve this time. At the start line, while jammed against all the trail runners from all over the world, I told my teammate Alissa… let’s make up for Qatar! And while I meant well, I didn’t know what was ahead. In retrospect, my mistakes are so clear and easily avoided… 

Race start.

Race start.

Early Signs of Self Doubt

I was in and out of the first aid station at Montagnue Du Semnoz in seconds flat, excited for the first descent. Downhills are always my strength, and I was excited to gain on people here. But I wasn’t flying away from people. I found myself traveling down the hill, at average pace, and with a lot of effort. I actually couldn’t wait for it to end, but I still had a thousand meters to descend— on this descent alone. I still had more than 4,000 meters to descend ahead of me! I was scared, and my composure started to crumble. I started to beat myself up for not being faster. One girl even had time to make out with a guy on the sidelines, then hop back on the course in front of me, which didn’t help.

The second climb to Col de la Cochette was steep, and muddy. At times I would slide down backwards, as girls with poles would dig in and fly by me up the hill. The negative talk continued as these Euros climbed the hills way faster, leaning into their poles and flying up the hill. Power hiking isn’t my strength, but I can usually swing it when I have a positive attitude. And here I was, clinging to the grass on the side of the trail, trying to power hike thousands of meters with a doubting attitude. I started to wonder what I was doing here, why Tara wasn’t here instead of me, and I couldn’t find any good reasons. 


The course.

The Downward Spiral

And while I battled myself, I forgot to take care of myself. I guess I’m used to races with shorter distances between aid stations, where my boyfriend will bar me from leaving until he sees me devour a sandwich. 

But at Worlds, I had large swaths of time alone, eating a bit of dried mango here and there, but nowhere near the rate my body needed to propel me. Instead of focusing on eating every thirty minutes, like I normally do, I was focused on doubting my abilities, questioning my reason for ultra-running in general, and entertaining questions about life purpose. In this weird, cynical dialogue, I got way behind on calories. The bars I homemade for this race? Didn’t want a bite of them! I ate a few pieces of mango and delved into my deeper, self-doubting conversation. 

And as the thoughts got worse, the thought of remembering to eat seemed less important, I was sucking anyway. Sadly, I was on a downward spiral. Not eating enough led to more negative dialogue, which led to less eating, and more mental sabotage. 

I finally arrived at the aid station two, at 44K, and I already wanted to drop. Since a brief fun moment with Alissa and Mel around 12k, I hadn’t had another positive, even neutral moment since. But when I saw our team crew, I couldn’t admit to them that I already wanted to drop. They were still encouraging me in race mode, so I grabbed a piece of bread and cheese and left, uncertain whether I felt good enough to make it to the next station.

Alicia France

Down, Down, Down

The next parts of the race are a blur. There were some huge climbs, some steep descents, and a lot of general wanting it to end. It was bizarre: I was seeing the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen, alpine valleys with goats and huge jagged peaks and wonderful cheering French women, but I couldn’t shake my downward spiral. At some point, Alissa passed me moving really well, and I told her that I was thinking of dropping. I was now the 5th and last Canadian woman, I wasn’t adding any points to the team, (only top three times count toward the overall team time) and I wasn’t having fun. I couldn’t find any reason to continue. 

Around 55K, after more and more negative thoughts about ultra-running, I decided I needed to bow out. But there were still 15 long mountain kilometers to go until the aid station. I didn’t know how to drop otherwise, so I walked the 15K to the aid station. I spent the next two and a half hours death marching downhill, looking for other ways to drop, and finding none. 

At 70k, I told the team that I was dropping, and this time it was easy because I hadn’t eaten enough to continue, anyway. The team was absolutely supportive. They offered me the idea of finishing the last 15K as a “nice walk in the mountains”, with no pressure for any time whatsoever. At this point, I knew it wouldn’t be a “fun walk”, because I hadn’t eaten anything during the prolonged 15K death march. I dropped, and was welcomed off the course by our crew, Kevin, Ryne, and Hamish, making things end before they got way worse.

I was lucky to eventually complete that last climb, but on a different day, with my sister Melissa and with Alissa. We had a beautiful day on the last section, and I was so lucky to make it up there finally!

Awesome day out after the race on the last climb, Mt Veyrier. Photo courtesy Alissa St. Laurent.

The ridgeline after the last climb on the course. Photo courtesy Alissa St Laurent.

Oh, the Lessons… 

What separated the winners in Annecy, was their attitude. The eventual winner, Nathalie Mauclair doesn’t even live near mountains, and to help she used mental training to prepare for the race. Meanwhile third place finisher Maite Maiora ran with a broken bone on Saturday.

I learned the hard way, the importance of being kind and patient during big goals, that bring tough challenges. With more self-compassion earlier in the race, I would have helped myself stay focused on the simple necessities, things like eating, and putting one foot in front of another, smiling and taking myself a little more lightly. I think this applies beyond running, and to life as well. If we really put ourselves out there for something big, we will be in deep, well above our heads, and it’s so easy to get frustrated and overwhelmed when we don’t see the results right away. But results take time, especially when we set an audacious goal that challenges us to the (current) limit. The only way to make it up to that huge goal, is to progressively work through it with small steps, and respect the process. One day, we’ll surely achieve that goal, but if it’s an audacious goal, it may take 10 years. This, I forgot in Annecy, when I expected top performance at Worlds at my first rodeo. 

I also learned the value of my normal approach, of running for fun, first and foremost. As soon as I made this race super competitive, I lost my usual guts, drive, and determination. I love to run for the adventure, and for me, the results come from there. I briefly forgot that in Annecy, and I lost my special power that day.

Also, I’m convinced that a mid-race French ice cream sundae intervention may have been a game changer.

ice cream french style

Merci, mon Amis!

I want to thank all of my teammates who raced hard, to our team manager Ryne, who kept us laughing for the whole week in France, and to our awesome crew— Stacey, Tiffany, Hamish, Kevin, Bob who flew all the way from Canada on their own dime to support their loved ones. I’d also like to thank Bremner’s Foods for supporting my journey, and for making damn-good berries, juices and wines without compromising on your values. I’d also like to thank french wine, fondue and sunshine and the beautiful Lake Annecy for an amazing trip. 

Overall, I had an amazing experience and I’ll for sure be back to run the same course and complete the beautiful traverse!

lake annecy


My First 100: Cascade Crest

I wake up in the middle of the night to the intense roaring of a train. Mid-dream, I feel like I’m the protagonist of an action-adventure movie, until I realize, oh, ya… the race director had warned me about this!

I’m in Easton, Washington, sleeping about 100 feet from the active railroad that goes through town, and about 50 feet from where I’ll start the Cascade Crest Endurance run tomorrow. With friends and family as my crew, an amazing circle of friends supporting, and a unicorn dress all set to wear during the race, I’m calm and ready, and the train can’t change that.

I’m lucky to be here…

Two weeks ago, that was not the case. I was exhausted by iron deficiency and accidental heat stroke, and I could barely walk up the stairs to the office without feeling horrible. Each time I went to work, I laughed, gauging how difficult it was for me to climb the one flight of stairs, and comparing that to the 21,000 feet of climbing I’d have to do at Cascade. But it was a nervous laughter. I didn’t want to admit that 100 miles on that course was looking like a dumb idea, but… that would be an understatement. I was too far into denial to tell a single other person, but if my health persisted like that, I was indeed planning to can it. Starting out the race on an empty fuel tank didn’t seem like a good idea!

My roommate's dog Benji is impersonating me here.

My roommate’s dog Benji is impersonating me here.

I took three weeks to rest, and took my mom’s advice to pop multivitamins, start eating meat, and dial down the rest even further– apparently biking home up 900 feet was not rest!  And just in time, my dream came true. On Monday, five days before the race, I started to feel like myself again, with full energy. I wasn’t sure where my fitness was at because I hadn’t well run in over a month, but I let that go. I had my baseline health back, I had the energy to do good work and hang out with my friends again, and alas, I felt energized in the mountains. I was so excited to have a chance to simply start the race.

Down in Easton…

tara and alicia storm easton

The night before the race, I eat most of a 12″ Issaquah pizza to myself, (yayyy!) down a few beers with Tara to polish off the pre-race calorie party, and then fall asleep beside the start line, the rest of the crew joining us around midnight.

yup, I ate this singlehandedly!

I’m the image of health! No I did not eat the little plastic white thing in the middle. (Why do pizzas really need that anyway?)

On race morning, I wake up after the interesting train sleep to the most enjoyable pre-race experience I’ve ever had. People are milling around in a low-key manner, hugs are going around like they’re free, and friends and family are eating delicious pancake breakfast in the morning sun, fresh from the volunteer firefighters. 10am start time… brilliant. Even though we all know the race is all about tough trails, the atmosphere is like a family barbecue, with a no-worries kind of vibe.

The source of my inspiration for this run was the people you must meet, Angel and Tim Mathis. In the 2013 Cascade Crest, Angel showed the ultra community how to kick ass in 100 miles, and have a party while doing it. She ate fancy chocolate croissants, wore a pink unitard, had a theme party following her around, and told me the funniest stories of my life, all while finishing in the top ten or eleven women or something ridiculous. I was lucky to crew and pace Angel for the last 32 miles, which were fun and magical, and ended in us becoming international best friends, and inspiring me to run my first 100 at Cascade Crest this year. You may remember this picture, it’s gotten around quite a bit and onto people’s WTA calendars from our run last year:

From 2013 by the talented Glenn Tachiyama!

From 2013 by the talented Glenn Tachiyama!

Before the race starts I’ve already calculated that I’m the luckiest runner around. I’ve somehow lured to this race three of my best friends, my mom and her boyfriend, and my boyfriend, and they’re planning to wear costumes and feed me at various places along the way. My Angel, my American best friend running the race, has even assembled some kind of band for the last few miles. I’m feeling selfish, but I remind myself that the hilarious people I assembled will have so much fun together. They’ve got some beer and some unicorn costumes, and I’ve gifted them my shit car for the day to rip around on the dirt roads. Yesss!

the unicorn crew

Given my recent health b/s, I planned to go out and have fun, with no expectations. It was pretty funny because people expected greatness of me, but I did not… Hah! But before long on the first big climbs, I end up getting told that I’m first female. Ahh! Not what I was planning. Oh well, I think, it’s more about how I’m feeling, not what rank I’m in. Everyone else is irrelevant, except myself. To help me focus within, I develop a system. I figure, I’ll be super chill on the ups and flats, and let myself run faster on the downhills. Yes! For the first ~50 miles, I run with that plan, and I feel great. Yipee!

James Varner always there with his beautiful coconut breasts

James Varner always there with his beautiful coconut breasts

I wasn’t at all aware, but sources tell me that maybe I was running a little fast. Maybe at course record pace? Woops! Funny thing is that I was running oblivious to any of that kind of stuff. Just runnin’ free!

Enough about that, let’s talk about my crew.

My crew is like the best traveling circus you’ve ever seen, minus the tropical animals. I run into Stampede Pass, and see my mom, she has an iridescent cape tied around her neck! Tara, Jo and Nancy are wearing homemade unicorn horns and tutus. Julien never wears costumes, and here he is, wearing a beret coupled with colourful tie-die blouse. They’re like Burning Man meets trail running, and I love it.

Yup... this is my life.

Yup… this is my life.

And here they are all together! This is before they found the costume trunk, I gather.

They almost look normal here.

Don’t you just want to hug all of them?

I’m pretty quick through the aid stations, but they splash some cold water on me, and try to offer me the food I’m already not really loving.

Royal treatment

Running = ropes & tunnels & metallics.

I run some beautiful PCT miles mostly alone, and just before sunset I reach my favourite part of the course, a super fun cliff down-climb with ropes. I’m really lucky, I get to do this in the light! After that I run toward the 2.5 mile pitch black Snoqualmie Tunnel, and after a few minutes of running without light, I decide to turn on my iphone light to avoid stomping on one of the rats running around. It’s fun at first, but soon enough I get tired of weird liquid dripping on my head from above, and of running alone. Mile 53 is soon, and I get my first pacer there!

After the dark tunnel I’m pretty stoked to see my crew at Hyak, mile 53, and be surrounded by a flash hoola-hoop party. Julien, who typically shies away from costumes, is wearing tight silver pants and a colourful blouse to come pace me for 15 miles, up and over another long and gradual climb.

This costume to celebrate my farthest ever miles!

This costume to celebrate my farthest ever miles!

For the first time in the run, I’m starting to feel a low coming on. I’m running one of the few ugly sections of the course, a road beside the I90 highway, and the calorie deficit goes straight to my head. Even though I know the solve, (eating!) it’s so hard to do, and my motivation takes a huge dip.  Why am I doing this? I ask, and in that moment, I can’t find an answer. Julien tricks me into eating, but I trick him back by eating my food reaalllly slowly. The joke’s really on me though, as the dwindling thoughts persist for a good couple of hours up the long dirt road climb up to Keechelus Ridge, and my speed deteriorates into a power hike from hell. I get to the top and I’m still the first woman, but I know it’s going to be short-lived. During that low up the hill, I resigned from my best self, and without a specific goal today, I can’t find a reason or any motivation to recover that other gear. I have no desire to push toward any goal, I just want to enjoy the run from here on out.

Funny how powerful the mind is, because almost immediately after my mental and physical resignation, three girls pass me descending the other side the dirt road during a bathroom break. And so begins my chill running in for the last 40 miles!

It’s true, I learn stuff the hard way.

After my section with Julien, I get to run with Tara for the last 32 miles. Funny enough, we enjoy the parts everyone else hates: the famous Trail from Hell is the Trail from Heaven for us, and the dreaded steep Cardiac Pumps are fun mini challenges with great views. My sense of urgency gone, I go from blasting through aid stations, to spending tons of time in them, hanging out, requesting mimosas, and getting full-on foot work done. I make lots of rookie mistakes which we laugh at, even though they’re painful. Like, not testing my headlamp before the race, it dying, and having to use one I hate on technical trails at night… Equally brilliant is my decision to never change my socks or shoes, pre-tape my feet, or use any anti-blister product on them, and getting swallowed by blisters from mile 70 on. But on the plus side, I learn about true friendship, as Tara offers to wear my dirty, sweaty, wet-dog-smelling socks at mile 80, and is only saved by the kindness of a volunteer I don’t yet know, the amazing Jennifer McCormack, who gives me her nice, dry injinji socks right off her own feet! And meanwhile, friends Deby and Pablo take the leap to touch my sorry feet in order to patch them up wherever possible, while feeding me tater tots. I aspire to be as kind and selfless as the amazing people who helped me at No Name Ridge aid station!

looks like a war scene. But wait, this is a fun hobby!

looks like a war scene. But wait, this is a fun hobby!

To be honest, running with that many blisters for 20 miles is mostly lots of pain, and Tara can attest to the amount of profanity I wielded to get through the rest of the run. What a good friend. She even took these shots of my backside climbing up Thorpe Mountain for me to share online!

Thorpe Mountain

Despite my rookie mistakes, there was definitely joy and beauty in sharing the early morning miles up high in the Cascades…

At this point, I start dreaming about mimosas at French Cabin aid station.

Early Morning Miles to French Cabin

 Shut up and get er’ done!

For months leading up to this race, I was dreading the final miles, which are on the highway. I come into the final aid station and tell the crew that we can all walk the last 4 miles together, that would be fun, right?! But Angel looks at me with a stern and disapproving look, and says, You’re running! Under 24 hours! I’m not messing with that look, so off I go to execute on Angel’s orders! And I finally earn my dream finish, after so long of waiting for my turn to run a 100, and thinking I would have to sit out only two weeks earlier… surrounded by the unicorn crew, and Angel and Tim there for my last turn, a part of my journey from being the original source of my inspiration last year, right to the very end of my own journey.

How can you not have fun while being surrounded with this?!

How can you not have fun while being surrounded with this?!

And this is my favourite memory. Drinking champagne before 10am!

running through the night, champagne for breakfast with the best company, then napping with a beer in my hand, what could be better?

running through the night, champagne for breakfast with the best company, then napping with a beer in my hand, what could be better?

I’m happy to report that my crew captain, Jo, has since signed up for her first 50k! And Tara will now sign up for her first 100! (Nancy? …)

Until next time.

I’ve already forgotten all the pain and looking forward to the next one. (Hopefully learn from all my dumb mistakes.) Here’s to my amazing support team, the race organizers, amazing & generous volunteers, countless friends and family who cheered me on, and the fun little town of Easton with awesome mountains. Cascade Crest is an amazing event, and I’ll definitely be back.

Inaugural Gorge Falls 100k

My second year heading down to the Rainshadow Running Gorge Falls races, I was looking forward to absolutely everything. How can it get any better than combining waterfalls, technical single track, awesome familiar and new faces, Portland, Hood River, some silliness, and road trip?! No. it doesn’t! And this year, there was more to love with a 100k option. The choice between the 50k and the 100k was an easy one. More trail = better!

amazing green moss kingdom!

amazing green moss kingdom captured by Paul Nelson!

Back in winter I misguided Tara into signing up with me, and a week before the race, the two of us then misguided an entourage to road-trip down with us– Ryan, April, Nate, and Julien formed the groupies. Groupies are very important to a successful race, they help you get in the zone. We shared an AirBnB flat, and the owners definitely thought we were nuts. (You know there’s only one room for all six of you, right?)

It didn’t really matter, because we were going to be running and volunteering so long that we wouldn’t be home much, anyway. I approached this race with a lot of respect, thinking that I had only done one 100k before, a much easier flat one. I knew there would be a lot more climbing, so I just pretended I had never done anything like this before, I was a total freshie. I was excited, except for the 4am start! Tara was extra-excited, because she didn’t have any appropriate running shoes for the sharp rocky course. Naturally, we buy her new shoes that she can wear for the first time ever in the race. 100k is a good test for new shoes, right?!

After a heck-load of mac & cheese, Tara and I go to bed at 9:30, to the sounds of a movie playing on the other side of the room, which our groupies are watching intently. I so want to watch, but I decide that 2:55am will come way too soon for fooling around, that kind of alarm takes no prisoners. And if I’m not careful, I will still taste any beer I consume at 4am! Scary.

2:55 arrives and I’m actually super energized, I don’t even need coffee! We jump in the car and take off, circling around looking for exits at that early hour. Not west! That goes to the ocean! East! Where is east?! 

amazing shot by Paul Nelson! Doesn't it make 4am look appealing? What an awesome time of day to hang out.

Doesn’t it make 4am look appealing? What an awesome time of day to hang out. (Another amazing shot by Paul Nelson!)

It turns out that with the right bedtime, (9am?) a 4am start is awesome! I absolutely love night running, especially the comfort of night running with other people, and so I’m totally in my element getting going in the pitch black at the start of the run. I don’t come with brakes, so I run like a crazy person down the technical cliff-sides, darkness doesn’t need to slow me down.

I’ve bonked tons of times in the past year so I planned to eat lots of dried fruit, it was going to be glorious! But a few bites into my dried mango, I realize that I’m not a fast enough eater to be worthy of real food today. Yup, I’m going to have to eat gels. Suddenly I switch plans and I decide to eat 3-4 gels every 10 miles. (I end up eating like 25! So many that I develop cuts on my mouth from the repeated plastic abrasion!) Thank the trail god, Heather Pola from PocketFuel had given Tara and I a pretty good stash of real-food-gels before the race, so between every fake-food gel I demolish, I treat myself to Pocketfuel’s gels, which make me feel like a human being again. Blueberries and almond butter?! Yummy cold brew coffee?! Ironically, I’m wearing my old McDonald’s staff jersey as I down these organic, locally made whole foods products. (They should have called them crack candy, I feel like I would sell my dignity to get more once they’re gone.)

girls gone wild is my favourite hat, apparently they also make a TV show? Sounds cool!

girls gone wild is my favourite hat, apparently they also make a TV show? Sounds cool! Glenn Tachiyama spots the hat.

The race is going super well, although it feels weird that there’s not too many people in front of me. There must be something weird going on. Ah, well. I’ll just keep on trucking! Running through mind-blowing waterfalls, on rocky wonderful flowing trail, I’m totally in flow state, to the point that it’s difficult to remember the details. It’s all a beautiful blur. At some point we get to run on the PCT for a while, at several points Dave comes and goes with his Project Talaria video camera, and I feel pleasantly in an alpha, maybe even theta, state of brainwaves.

At halfway, I’m greeted again by Heather, and I greedily get to take another massive boatload of candy crack (Pocketfuel). I ask for a cheeseburger and fries at the aid station, and they don’t seem to get that I’m joking just yet, until they notice my McD’s jersey, and my good ol’ nametag.

Heather Pola is my hero.

Heather Pola is my hero.

A conversation mid-race goes something like this.

runner to me: XYZ girl back behind us, she’s sponsored by ABC [sports brand].
me: That’s cool. I’m sponsored by McDonald’s. I get all the pies and fries I could want, that’s all I need.
runner: [no comments. Awkward silence.]

Somewhere in the second half, I get to run with some of my groupies, Julien and Nate. Julien ends up running the farthest he’s ever run in his life, and Nate runs, perhaps the farthest he’s run in jean shorts? Actually, I don’t want to make that bet…

What a wonderful site, especially after you've run 60 or 70k!

What a wonderful site, especially after you’ve run 60 or 70k! Epic photo from Paul Nelson!

The two of them are the best pacer groupie friends you could ask for, like running whisperers, they just understand the pace and the level of excitement or anger (road stretch!) that’s needed, without me even needing to communicate… They get me through the two mile road stretch by telling me near-death stories, which is ironic because I feel like death on that seemingly never-ending road! Maybe it’s because it’s right next to the highway, after we’ve run miles and miles of beauty?

A few K left! I'm smiling, because I was just pretending to be a Pterodactyl.

A few K left! I’m smiling, because I was just pretending to be a Pterodactyl. Photo from the legendary Glenn Tachiyama!

After the road stretch, everything is glorious again, and the rest of the race is kind of history. I get to run with another runner, Justin from Ashland, and the three boys and I run and power hike a huge amount of miles together, until the final switchbacks, where I escape ahead while pretending to be a pterodactyl. (Thanks, spellcheck!)

We run back into civilization, and looping the final lake, it’s hard to believe it’s been almost 12 hours, and that it’s all coming to an end. From about a kilometer away I can already hear people cheering from across the lake, and it spurs me on big time. (Later, I discover Heather also cheers like crazy!) What a day! We finish just over 12 hours, and Tara kills her debut 100k not far behind us, with brand new shoes to boot! The fresh pizza-eating, friend-making, band-listening and microbrew-sipping commence, and it never ends really. Shout out to April, our other groupie turned pacer, who ran one of her first trail races as Tara’s pacer!

goal smashing is so much richer when shared with friends.

goal smashing is so much richer when shared with friends. Tara and I @ the finish!

The Gorge Falls races are my favourite races, ever.

If you’re considering running the 50k or 100k, definitely make it happen! The trails are addictive, the race is so well-run by Rainshadow, and combine that with Portland and Hood River… winning formula! And bring the groupies too, Portland is such a fun town for all, and they can check out the waterfalls as well!

Fun Facts about Pterodactyls
Results from the weekend
Fun place with pub, resto, brewery, and heated soaking pools for apres race…
PDX Thrift store tour on Hawthorne
Make your own PDX brewery crawl!

Trail Porn shot by Ryan, as Julien and I run around my favourite waterfall

Trail Porn shot by Ryan, as Julien and I run around my favourite waterfall