Failures

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

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

BMO Vancouver Marathon… 2013BMO Marathon disaster

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

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

Zion Traverse… 2014

TP1

This one is too funny…

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

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

Mount Rainier Communication Disaster… 2014

IMG_2383

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Trans-Zion Traverse Winter Adventure

I had this urge to do something crazy, so here I am driving to Springdale, Utah, home of Zion National Park, as a massive storm passes through the Western States. My rental car’s windshield wipers can barely keep up with the downpour, and I’m about ready to hit the hazards and pull over.

diredct

Until now, the plan had been to arrive into Springdale, put some sunglasses on, go for a relaxed lunch, and then to start the adventure at 4pm, where I would attempt a double crossing of the Trans Zion traverse into the night sky. My plan had been to travel along the west-east traverse alone through the [beautiful, starry] night, and then pick up my friend Meghan for the return ~49 mile traverse. It was about 3:00 right now and it didn’t look like weather wanted me outside in Zion. We heard reports of huge amounts of rain, thunder, and possibly snow up high, and we didn’t know how that would affect the ridgelines and plateaus. But what else would we do? We were here as pilgrims to Zion!

So we head to an outdoors store to fish for ideas on how to salvage our trip. We find one called The Desert Rat in St. George, it just so happens we can see it off the highway. With pure luck, we get to meet Zion trail hero, the man who pioneered the Trans-Zion route– Bo Beck! It just so happens he owns this store, and we walked in at the right moment. Bo is an incredible help, calling up park ranger friends to check conditions, showing us maps and recent photographs, and giving us facts about which parts will be slower-going and swampy. He gives us the encouragement that parts will be slower, but that we will love it regardless, and it’s exactly the information and ammunition we need to give the traverse a go. Meghan and I decide to wait until the next morning after the evening thunderstorms, and just take it step by step. We take off to Springdale and arrive in the dark, wondering what mysterious beauty surrounds us.

At 4am, the Zion Scenic Drive is still a mystery in the dark. After what seems like 3 hours of shuttling cars to the west and east trailheads, (sadly, it is) we arrive at the park’s western frontier, the Lee Pass trailhead, as hail nails the windshield. Due to self-love, we decide to wait five minutes to see if the hail will give us a break. I enter Bo’s number into my inReach, and try to get comfortable with all the tech gizmos I’m trying out… Craig’s app called RunGo, (which is supposed to give offline GPS-based turn by turn directions) Craig’s Garmin watch, a GoPro… Woah. Not used to this much stuff!

Meghan's green gear jumps out against the rich mud!

Meghan’s green gear jumps out against the rich mud!

The hail takes a pause at 7:30 and we’re finally taking our first steps on the La Verkin Creek trail. Rugged red spires welcome us to the park as we run through and it’s muddy, twisty singletrack underfoot, but that makes it extra exhilarating, taking every bit of balance and coordination. Streams devour our ankles, and we start embracing them, running right through to our calves. Being from BC, this is right up our alley, and we’re pleasantly surprised by the conditions. Intermittent hail comes and goes and Meghan proclaims, “at least hail doesn’t get you wet!”

a nice fast stretch, where are we again? Hop Valley?

a nice fast stretch, where are we again? Hop Valley?

I’m finding myself feeling very optimistic– conditions are similar to our home turf, and Craig’s RunGo app is actually working, announcing all the key turnoffs along the way, (all without data!) and even corrects us as we make a wrong turn. I am so shocked, and pretty excited for how cool his app is!

snow

The morning is filled with rain, hail, clouds, and some sun, and we even get to meet one other human out there, a Colorado runner who is out running to Kolob Arch. I’m having a blast zigzagging through the muddy, open riverbed in Hop Valley, and then encountering runnable snow along the Connector Trail and into Wildcat Canyon, running through pine forests, golden ferns, never-ending terrain that’s constantly morphing before us. Everything is great, and I start to revive the idea of coming back on my own at night. I start to make note of turnoffs and remember “landmarks”, and I get excited that the full plan seems back on track!

holy smokes...

It’s turning out to be a great day!

winter wonderland in Zion

winter wonderland in Zion

We’re making pretty good time until we hit Telephone Canyon, and decide to take that instead of staying on West Rim, which was recommended by a friend. It’s our first ugly postholing of the day, with deep, hard snow up to our calves, on an angled slope, with the trail now invisible except to Meghan’s fine trail eye. She and I take turns leading through the mess, but Meghan takes major leadership, following an invisible trail and emerging looking like a cat attacked her bare shins.

telephone canyon! :@

telephone canyon! :@

I decide I will not take that way back!

Back to running, the West Rim Trail welcomes us into snow-free heaven, opening up to reveal a beautiful red, white, rocky canyon unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Being here on this beautiful ridge, running with such a supportive partner in crime, and given all the storms and the uncertainty about the conditions that tested our dream, all I can feel is a huge sense of gratitude to be here.

... trail porn ...

… trail porn …

As we descend to the canyon floor at the Grotto, I’m feeling more and more excited about my return trip through the Canyons on the way back, wondering what it must feel like to run alone through here at night. Would it be eerie? Beautiful? Exhilerating? Peaceful? I couldn’t wait to find out. It takes us a while to find our next water, but there’s a great campsite spot that offers us forgiveness in the form of tap water.

TP1

Finally we get to do the big climb back out of the canyon, which we’ve been anticipating for quite a while. And it’s on this stretch of the East Rim, just after sunset, where my gut feeling takes a turn. Here the trail becomes rock slabs with guidance from small cairns, and I see that this section could be very tricky at night. Suddenly I get a really bad vibe from my gut, and I start to question my plan. It’s so open, and we’re finding it difficult even with the two of us. Suddenly, the feelings of wonder and excitement about the solo return switch to worry, seriousness, even fear. My gut tells me that the situation– the increased risks I’m sensing, the more complex navigation– crosses the line. I start to feel irresponsible, thinking of my mom worrying about me, of Meghan staying up all night, and that I can’t guarantee every part of the journey anymore. I can’t authentically tell my mom not to worry anymore, because I’m not so sure she shouldn’t. And as soon as I admit this to myself, it’s easy for me to detach and to leave part two behind. I tell Meghan, and we have a hug to celebrate smart decisions.

... trail porn ...

looked like this a bit, but at night.

We complete the west-east traverse, running, postholing and hiking over 50 miles that day, and learning an incredible amount about ourselves, each other, and finding that balance between pushing the envelope and trusting our instincts. On the plane ride home, I’m able to interpret what my gut feeling was telling me: without a crew and in the winter, I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I was for the increasing risks around me. The risk of getting lost was getting more real, and my original plan of “being visible / chilling in the beautiful canyon / waiting for help” was not viable with the supplies I had. A sweater and gloves is better than nothing, but it wouldn’t have kept me warm enough. A bivvy sack/sleeping bag is my new advice to really enable a great safety plan in a winter night traverse, especially an unsupported one, in a new area, during storms, with more mileage than you’ve ever done before. Oh, retrospect!

I’m so excited to continue to seek this balance in future adventures! And definitely, looking forward to another Zion trip soon…

can't wait to go back here...

until next time Zion!…

Some useful links!