races

12 days before the Dirty Duo, I took a bad fall and smacked my right foreleg. I had a 10 km limp out in the dark. My leg went a deep purple. I held my decision to race until pretty much the day before but with Aaron Bond running his first 50 and Reid Roberts in shape after hard winter snow running I would have been there as support or a runner.

The day before the race, I asked my boys how they thought it would go. Emmet’s positive comment was ‘ Try your best dad’. Wyatt told me ‘if you are not first you are last’. Liam said ‘Don’t be second  because that’s just the first looser’. I heeded Emmet’s advice, at least!

It was great to see Matt Cecill at the start. Matt ran the Dirty Duo in 2012. He’s a great runner and I followed his tremendous progress throughout the year. I knew he’d be very tough to beat.

The start

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The race was great with good weather, dry conditions and a lot of technical North Vancouver single track. Matt and I stayed together for a full first lap and not far into the second one, I led him astray on a five minute detour off course. I doubled back to Matt where we found the course and stayed together for a while, catching up on the last year and talking about all things ultra.

Climbing back up to Ned’s Atomic Dustbin

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Matt pulled away at the end of the climb on the second loop, I barely caught sight of him coming down Ned’s. He pulled ahead by six minutes finishing in a 3:50:28. He probably would have been sub 3:45 without our detour! I came in second with a 3:56:36. About a minute faster than last year. Not too bad for running a bit injured.
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Reid Roberts came in with a smoking 4:18:57. His very hard work through the winter really paid off. Aaron Bond pulled an excellent 5:01:19 for a first 50 km on seven weeks of training. Gord Cross ran a great 25km coming off an injury.

Special thanks to Dave Parker for crewing for us on the race. I think I spilled some Gu Bru on him and he didn’t even say anything.

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Sinister 7 2012 – 148 km (92 miles), 17,454′ cumulative gain, 17,569′ cumulative loss, held in the Crowsnest Pass, Alberta

The last year has been great running. The frosty fall trails led into great winter running and snowshoeing. The challenge of physically breaking trails through the winter was matched by the mental desire just to keep them open. 5 inches of fresh snow can make rolling hills the heartfelt equivalent of steep summer climbs.

I trained hard right through the winter. Races are great to have planned in the future. They give you a target to constantly train for but the truth is that the training is what is enjoyable and important. It’s hard to explain the combination of effort, enjoyment, will and satisfaction that comes with this kind of continuous training. Running in the dark with a headlamp in the snow while everyone else is sleeping, miles from home on soft powder trails with only a cylinder of light and your own thoughts.

One of the joys of multi-hour outdoor runs every day (or night) is that you get to watch the weather and the seasons change. You have to adapt what you are doing to make it work. More than the cold or the snow, it’s really the daylight that marks big change for me. After many months of straight headlamp and handlamp running, I was able to start the runs without one and then gradually finish them without external light. Less clothing and equipment makes the running free.

Later in the winter, I eased into this years racing season with three 50 km races – The Dirty Duo, Gorge Falls and Yakima Skyline and then transitioned to longer training runs patterning for Sinister 7 and the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. Lots of long days, an 87 km solo in the Chilcotin and then an 80 km fun run for a friend.

I was ready for Sinister 7.

It’s wonderful to have friends and family attend an ultra and cheer you on. At the Sinister 7, I was lucky to have my wonderful wife and children, Reid and Laura with their kids, my brother Devin, his wife Kristy, their two kids and my newest crew member Bob Rutherford.

We started at 7:00 am on the main street of Blairemore. As always it was an interesting mix of runners.

The Start – Some random relayer obviously proud of his country

We cruised out of town rather quickly and made our way through the boulders of Frank’s Slide and around the back of a mountain. Fresh in the cool morning air, it’s easy to motor. The mind was still fresh and I made the most out of what I knew was to be a long slow decline in cognitive and physical capacity. Some technical single track led me into the first transition point where I clocked the first 16.5 km and made a quick resupply.

Leg two started with switchbacks up through an old burn. The sun was getting higher and hotter and once I went over the ridge, the lack of tall vegetation made it drier than a mormon wedding. There were a lots of downed trees making an obstacle course breaking up the continuous stride to some leaps and jumps.

Leg Three was hot and tough. It includes some good climbing and with lots of it high up. They were plenty of streams so I quickly dipped my hat and most of my clothing at each creek crossing. This helped to counteract the heat.

At about the 45 km mark, I felt dizzy and slow. Contrary to popular belief, the greatest danger in an ultra-marathon is over-hydration and/or a low sodium condition (hyponatremia). I was being vigilant to avoid this by sticking to my regular routine of water and salt intake and adding extra salt to compensate for the heat. Low sodium causes your cells to take on water and swell. Fine and dandy, except for the brain which is confined to the skull. To compensate, I cut my water intake a bit and added more salt. Things seemed to clear up but the truth is that with everything going on in an ultra you just never know.

I finished the loop and as I headed down the hill into the aid station I had massive cramping in my quads but on the inside, then the calves and then a bit in the hamstrings. What an odd configuration for cramping, I thought. The heat must be taking its toll.

My thoughtful five year old son Liam performing his own version of a meditation. He did this at the third aid station to send me his energy.

The cramping continued at the aid station and I power hiked the first hill into leg four. I crested the top and ran for a few kilometers degrading into an abysmal mess of cramping. I couldn’t run so I power hiked and then I couldn’t swing my hips. I stopped. I couldn’t even move.

What the hell? I’m only 65 km in. This is way off. What’s going on?

I searched my brain and mentally checked everything. Water, electrolyte and food were all on like clockwork. I’d even compensated for the heat with extra salt, perfectly I thought.

Wait a second. It’s hot but I’ve been wet most of the last 4 hours from creek water. I’m also heat acclimated from sauna running in preparation and I’m better trained than I’ve every been. I tasted my sweat. It wasn’t salty.

This is what we are built for. Humans are almost unique in our ability to sweat. We are designed to run during the hot day.

I’ve been so worried about low sodium, I’ve over done it and I’m sodium heavy – hypernatremia. The cramping is from dehydration. This is bad! It’s the quintessential race ending condition. Now what?

I’ve got to think on the fly here. I need water and lots of it. The solution is dilution. But what about this cramping? I can’t move.

Yes – you will. Roll if you have to.

Torture. I moved like a wounded animal down the trail and mercifully there was a creek close and a big one. Just as I neared it, I had severe cramping in my feet. Have you ever had muscle cramps in your feet? It’s a real party.

I laid down in the creek and the cool water helped. I guzzled water like an African animal at a waterhole. I was holding second place but two soloists passed. They offered to help but I waved them on. I took amusement in all the folks losing shoes in the mud on the far side of the creek. I drank more water. And then some more. It felt like a gallon and it looked clean enough. Time to go.

I power hiked out of the creek and up the hill and then for about thirty minutes. I ate a gel and barfed it back up all over the trail with some now transformed creek water. I passed a checkpoint and ate a granola bar slowly. It tasted like plaster but I held it down.

My mojo started to come back and I broke from a death march into a run. I started moving faster and soon I hit another big deep creek. I drank deep as I crossed and hit another checkpoint. I barfed another gel but I kept running. I knew the lack of calories would catch up with me but maybe I could outrun it for a bit. And I nearly did. At the end of leg four I started to crater again. This time at least I knew the cause – no jamb. You have to take in about a third of what you need in calories as some pretty simple sugars or you can’t make the rest from fat. I downed a chocolate gel and it came back up. Ok – just power it forward.

I stopped running about a kilometer from the end of four. Bob was waiting for me at the top of hill and we ran down to the aid station. I dipped my timing stick and sat down. My crew was well organized and they remixed my drinks to be almost salt free but calorie heavy. I ate almost two bowls of noodely soup and I headed out in four wheel drive, hiking poles working, slowly up the big climb for leg five.

Bob escorting me into the end of leg 4 – Kilometer 99.5

My feet had been wet all day and I had changed my shoes. Dry feet and some food in the belly was heavenly. A few kilometers in there was a major creek crossing. And then another. And then another. About 15 crossings later, the climbing got steeper. I went into the saddle before the Seven Sisters and then hit a checkpoint. Over the top of the ridge and down the snow on the far side. I hit the the end of leg five running decently. I could feel the weakness in my legs both from not fully recovering from the cramping and the previous 120 km.

I hit leg six in the dark and ran as fast as I could – it was slow but it was all I could manage. Steady then at least.

A dampness fell and it was dusty. My headlamp reflected the particles and it felt like I was on Jupiter in a space suit. More vomiting, dry heaving, blah, blah blah.

I hit the end of leg six and I couldn’t find my crew. Everyone was very helpful, especially the teams from Prince George. They frantically searched for my people while I ate watermelon and oranges as fast as I could. A few minutes passed. Rhonda and Bob came in with a fresh shirt and Tim Horton’s coffee. Yea-haw! Sheer pleasure for a dollar fifty.

I venture out onto the last leg climbing. At the top, the trail veered onto steep downhill single track. Late in a race, downhill is so much harder than uphill. My quads were liquid and I had no solid muscle to break the descent. More single track, another mountain side and then some side hilling.

It was late. I was tired. It felt like the skin on the bottom of my feet had come off but I enjoyed the foot pain as it distracted my mind from my cramping muscles. Then suddenly it hit me.

Run – and run hard. I’m not sure why but I started cruising. I was running as fast as I could. I started passing people. My GPS watch was dead and I had no idea where I was but I was moving! I passed a soloist and downhilled through to the edge of town. I man yelled that I was 2.5km from the finish. I passed a relayer and I could see a headlamp in the distance. I ran hard, I was breathing heavy and on the crest of hill I caught the light. It was another soloist. He tried to match me on the downhill but I was hell bent for leather. I just kept running as fast as I could go, lubricated by blister juice.

I passed another relayer on the last uphill and then I got lost in the trees. I yelled and saw some light, orientated back on course to hit the finish line in 19 hours 14 minutes and 12 seconds in 5th place.

Really, this was slower than I wanted but I felt good. By rights, I should have dropped but I didn’t. In fact, I never even considered it.

Good thing too. My next race is 20 km longer and has double the climbing. Just for fun, it’ll be at altitude on another continent.

 

Special thanks to Falcon Drilling and Queensway Auto World.

 

 

 

 

 

What did I learn on this race? Only red neck runners get a heart rate monitor sun burn.

The Yakima Skyline Rim 50 km has some climbing. In fact, have a look at the profile below, you see that one is pretty much uphilling or downhilling the whole race. 9263′ positive cumulative elevation gain.

 

One of the nice features of this race is the total lack of warm up with a transition of 200 flat  yards over the bridge across the river to a 5km, 2300′ climb that takes you to the top of the first mountain. I ran this way too fast hitting 97% maximum heart rate. This is about the worst thing you can do in an ultra as it’s impossible to hold that kind of effort. Whatever, I thought. I deal with that later.

At the top, I was rewarded with views of mountains all around and perfect blue sky. Mt Rainier stood out to the west. I traversed the ridge and  had fun dancing my way down a rocky, well overgrown piece of single track  all the way back to the river. On my way up the second mountain, I could see forever and a few guys chasing me about 300 yards back. We played, closing and opening the gap for a long time.  As I descended to the river for the turnaround, I could really feel the heat. It was 25 c and I’d been running on snow all winter. The sun pounded on my back as I returned up the mountain for my third climb.

At the top of the climb, I dunked my head quickly in a filthy stock tank and a runner passed me. Determined, I  re-passed him and gained the lead  again but he stayed behind me until I lost sight of  him on the way down the next hill. I crossed the valley bottom and on the transition up on the last climb  I looked back and Adam Hewey came out of nowhere and flew past me on a very steep up slope.  I climbed after him, redlining in the punishing sun.

Here and there between the sage and the open grass, a few flowers were blooming. The landscape was barren and beautiful but I didn’t lift my eyes to look at the top of the mountain. I needed my little zone of comfort. Serenity in the 12 feet in front of me and a buffer from thoughts of continuing the climb at pace. If I could only reach the river at the end, I’d dive in it and all this heat would instantly vanish in the cool water.

I made my way across the top of the mountain running into many people from the 25km race and some tourists. I caught the winding trail down and about half a mile in I snagged a foot and hit the brush at breakneck downhill speed. Back up as fast as I could, I kept heading down into the steeper terrain onto the rocky sections.

I sprinted the bridge and crossed the finish line in 2nd place with a 5:36:04.

The technical trail, beautiful terrain and massive climbing make this race sensational. Rainshadow running puts on a great event.

 

 

I read an article a while back about how it’s good to forget stuff. The theory was that if you let the meaningless little things slip from your mind you will always have room for the new and important things. I’m not sure about that idea but  apparently my sub-conscious mind can remember what I have missed. The night before the DirtyDuo, I had strange dreams of my last race. I’m pretty sure it was my body’s way of questioning my intent for the next day.

The Dirty Duo is held in North Vancouver. The course starts in Lynn Valley and goes up to Rice Lakes, past the Seymour River and up onto the mountains following trails like the Figure 8, Old Buck and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. Much of the race is on very technical mountain biking trails. It’s a mixed event for both mountain bikers and runners with 15, 25 and 50 km divisions.

In the days leading up the event, it poured hard in North Vancouver and the forecast for the day of was rain. About an hour before we lined up to start it stopped. Judging by the rest of the event organization, they probably even changed the weather.

When I left the gate I tried not to overpace. It’s just so easy to, especially with the mixed start. I purposely held back from most of the other runners but I was still pacing at 4:20 km’s – way too fast for a technical trail ultra.  I focused on efficient trail movement, enjoyed the dampness and the fog and made my way along the river. Within a few kilometers the loose lead group moved to a slower rate and I started making moves on the way up the incline sections. I felt lactic in my shins, a sure sign of disaster for a 50 but I lied to myself ‘oh well – just do this for a little while until you get ahead’.

We kept moving fast but drifted apart on the trail as we climbed up and up to the top of the first loop. My heart rate was very high – above 90% – but I felt good. Really good. Well – keep running then.

The trail was wild- big rocks, little rocks, puddles, running water, roots, logs and little streams. Up and down and around I went. By the time I hit the top of the first loop and a little bit of snow, I was in second place. Then transitioning onto Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, I kept my heart rate high but this meant I started really going as it was all downhill.  I was barely holding on going as fast as I could, using the granite boulders for grip under running water. Barely controlling an uncontrollable descent, I passed the leader. He held on behind me for a few minutes but I lost him when things starting getting really crazy.

Humans are amazing creatures, capable of more than what we experience in what we do day in and day out. Moving faster than you can think, eyes fixed on the trail 20 feet ahead so your mind can autonomously direct your foot to precision placement on the last ¾ of an inch of a boulder in a split second and then repeat that 180 times a minute you can glimpse our full potential. We have gained much in modern civilization but trail running reminds you the old, internal skills are not lost – just simply below the surface. It takes letting go and trusting yourself to make this happen.

I hit the bottom of the gnarl and headed up past the Seymour bridge, up along the river and then into some nice slopes back to the gazebo at the Rice Lakes parking lot. I grabbed some salt and gels and bolted up towards the Figure 8 trail. I traveled the mountain bike trail fast – back and forth, up and down ramps and over obstacles and soon I was back beside the Seymour River and then transitioning to climbing again.

On the second loop, I learned a new trick – just uphill as hard as you can until you get tunnel vision. As long as you can still see the trail in front of you then you should be fine. My lack of peripheral vision did cause me to go off course once but I quickly corrected. I hit the second downhill as fast as the first loop with the only difference being fatigue. I didn’t see anyone except volunteers at the two aid stations and back at the gazebo.

When you are advancing on someone you are the predator but while  leading you are the prey. You flee forward without knowledge of those behind, so you run like your hunted. I followed Lynn River and then onto the mud holes of the Diamond Trail. Knowledge that I was close to the end made my movement liberal enough to lose a shoe in the bottom of  a bog. I considered running with one foot shod but thought better of it so I dug elbow deep and squished it back on.

I hit the road for the last 900 meters. It was downhill  and I ran for all I was worth, counting the seconds to try and break the four hour mark. I made the turn and into the finish line at 3:57:09 with a first overall.  Someone later pointed out that this was the third fastest historical time on that race course since the Dirty Duo started.

People were eyeing me a bit strangely. At first I thought it was because I was the only one from Prince George but a few minutes later a lower heart rate and an improved mental state made me realize it was my muddy form and the blood streaming down my leg from a tumble I had taken on some rocks.

I turned quickly to look back as I was intent to see who was in second. I waited and to my astonishment, he passed the line 24 minutes later. It was Matt Cecill from Victoria with a 4:21:35. Colin Miller followed with third at 4:24:40.  Jude Ultra took first female overall with 4:58:27

Sometimes things come together and this was just one of those lucky days!

A great big thank you to  Falcon Drilling and Queensway Autoworld for supporting me with the  Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc and the 2012 racing season.

The P2P 100 mile is held on Oregon and starts in the pine forests near the small town of Williams. The course goes over the Siskiyou mountains and ends in the palm tree terrain of Ashland, hence the name. The main feature that makes the course so difficult is the elevation gain and loss. There are three mountains around 7000′. There are several other mountains that take you around 5000′.  One really gets to know the terrain as you watch the flora and fauna change from the tangles of thick blackberries in the valley bottoms up the sandy sidehills to the granite ridges or dry alpine meadows.

The race is put on by Hal Koerner of the Rogue Valley Runners. Hal is a world renowned ultra runner with more than 100 ultras completed and he is sponsored by North Face. He has won his fair share of races including some big named ones like the Western States 100 mile. There was a mandatory race briefing the night before the race where Hal would go over all the details. Important stuff like trail marking types, aid station details, crew requirements and the like. Funny – be cause he never showed up and nobody knew where he was. The medical director and an aid station captain (his wife) covered for him in front of the 75 odd racers. We did see Hal in the morning at the start and found out that he decided to run some of the course at night in the dark to re-mark some sections and make sure everything was flagged correctly. What a guy.

The P2P is solo only and the thing you immediately notice is the caliber of the runners. In  many of the shorter races you’ll find runners of different body types – all shapes and sizes. Not so here. This was all 130-170 pound lean serious runner bodies. On the morning of the race, the details of running equipment, pre–race routines and setup showed a very high level of collective experience.

The race started at 6 am in the dark. Lights on, we immediately and relentlessly climbed for 24 km’s, running switchbacks up to over 7000 feet. I stayed about 20 yards back from first and second (Yassine Doboun and Tim Olson) letting them route find. The sun rose about half way up the climb and I was able to tuck my headlamp into my running pack. As I went over the summit, I took in the view and running through the alpine I thought I got a cactus stuck in my leg. I looked down in horror to find a wasp stinging my calve.

I am extremely allergic to wasps and bees. Several years ago, I went into anaphylactic shock and  ended up in the  emergency department. Since then, I completed immunotherapy. I have been stung since and I am now very familiar with the beginnings of anaphylaxis. I get goose bumps, itchy hands, hives and then an itchy throat. Sometimes this happens immediately but on more than one occasion even 24 hours later – that happens most often when I go for a run later.  I downed some Benadryl and I held my epipen ready. Ok – now what? If I go into anaphylaxis, I’ll just run out of Epi. I decided to try to make it to the next aid station which I did, about 20 minutes later. I told them the situation and Hal, who apparently is quite unfamiliar with anaphylaxis, told me to go to the Seattle Bar aid station where there was a chiropractor. Seattle bar was another 25 kms away but the route is closer to some roads. I felt ok so I continued. About 2 km out of the aid station I got stung again finding a wasp in my sock in the front of my right ankle. Ok – this was bad. I took two more Benadryl and continued.

Although my body is allergic to vespid venom, my mind is allergic to Benadryl. It makes me feel slow and drunk. I moved quickly down the road trying to outrun it’s effects. A sign welcomed me to California and then a little later another one back into Oregon. I came into the Seattle Bar aid station still in third place and met up with Rhonda. She could tell something was up by my crazy eyes but I talked it over with her and decided to keep going. What a wife!  The aid stations where only about 10 km apart from here on in, I had two shots of epi and lots of Benadryl.

Stein butte

I headed up Stein Butte thinking that the pro to this whole thing was that I was focusing on wasps and bees and not on the pain and strain of the run. I did really struggle to keep focused. I lost fine motor control stumbling over rocks  and I developed a strange lack of ability to see in part of my right eye but the climb kept me going. Everything else was good though. It was hot but I had trained to be acclimated. I was burning lots of energy but my nutrition and hydration felt perfect. Near the top of the Butte, I helped Yassine into an aid station as he popped a tendon in his foot and had to drop out.

I kept going, running through aid stations until I met up with Rhonda again at Squaw Lakes. Then over 7000 again to Dutchmen Peak through some more aid stations and up to 7500 on Squaw Peak. I met Rhonda again in the setting sun at the Squaw Peak aid station. This was about 104 km’s in. My right ankle was swollen bad and I couldn’t tie up my shoe properly because the sting hurt.

Squaw Peak

 

I left the aid station, ran the ridge line and then into the full darkness down to Glade Creek. Running down, I could feel my big toenail coming off on my right foot as my inability to tie my shoe let my swollen feet continuously hit the front of the toe box. I thought about this  for about every step down the 14 km’s until I I had a brainwave. I pulled out my knife and cut the front of my shoe off. Toes never hit in sandals. Looking like the one footed Hamburglar, I continued. Oh yeah!

I got the goosebumps again. Not sure if this was from the cold or what. My right hip started giving me serious grief. The swollen and tight right ankle had changed my running form for the previous 100 km’s and started to take a real toll. I had to slow to about 3 km/hr and I was barely holding that but I kept going. I also hadn’t seen anyone in a couple hours and I was still worried about the possibility of handling, both mentally and physically, anaphylaxis.  In a moment of clarity near the 133 mark, I decided to drop. The risks outweighed the benefits, I had had my fun and there is always next time.

The Pine to Palm 100 mile race is  tough! The climbing, terrain and miles are a real challenge. As always, I had tremendous help from my aid crew who in this case was Rhonda. She experienced the amazing camaraderie of the ultra community by making friends (it’s impossible not to!) with some of the experienced aid crews from other teams. These folks rally around each other, their own and other runners like you can’t even imagine.  They talk you up and give you energy to continue. Many of these guys and gals have run many, many  races themselves. One fellow she met usually runs 10 ultras per year but he says he runs them a bit slower now that he is 73. I looked him up and found that he has run four 100 milers since he turned 70.  This is my sixth ultra this year. You have got to be very tough to be running 10/year  in your seventies.

The positive energy at these events is amazing.

My running plans for this season originally did not include the Death Race. The Scorched Sole and vacation planning gave me an excuse to to change things around and include it in the schedule.

I did have a good year of training between the last Death Race. I ran some other ultra’s, got lucky  and I learned much. As much as a know-it-all can learn in a year anyway.

The weather in Grande Cache was very wet leading up to the race. I knew that the trail conditions would be very poor. Lots of mud, grime and slick sections to play on. The night before the race, the weather called for a 2 degree temperature at the start with a bit of rain and a high of 18. It’s good to have some nominal thing like weather to think about at the last minute because it keeps your mind off the real issue – running 125 km of trail over three mountains with 17,000′ of elevation gain. Keep that information as far away from your frontal lobes as possible.

There are many logistical issues to deal with on long races, especially remote, trail or mountain races. You need to know where the creeks are for water. How long in distance and time between them. Where the river crossings are for shoe changes. What clothes will you need where. How to deal with rain and snow. You develop a plan for sodium, potassium, calories, water and everything else you need to keep you alive.  So the choice between shorts and pants for race morning was enormous.The start of an ultra is always interesting. Generally you have to check in early and do ‘hurry up and wait’. Everyone was checking out the other 499 soloists, trying to guess which 7 in 10 would drop. Can you tell by their gear? Their physique? Perhaps its the gleam in their eye. You also have a thousand relayers to deal with so jockeying for the front of the line is an ordeal. We listened to the mayor babble, Oh Canada was sung and then we were out running.My plan differed from previous years. There is about 3 km of pavement and open trail at the start to get the huge crowd of racers spread out before you hit the single track on the first leg. The single track is very windy, root ridden and there are lots of mud pits to move around. It makes it really hard to move at any other pace than that of the pack. Instead of getting jambed up with the pack, I decided to break the most important rule of the ultra, most especially when co-mingled with relayers, and front run fast to hit the narrow trail near first.This rule is a good rule. Fast front running starts you burning energy at a rate that is unsustainable and puts you in a fast rather than far mindset. One cannot underestimate the importance of this. I have in the past and spent hours literally crawling the muddy trail while experiencing strange hallucinations. If I had enemies, I would not wish that hell on them.

Technical trail training helped a lot once I hit the single track. I was able to pick lines through the trees, around muddy sections and through bogs efficiently and while maintaining dry feet. Important, as I did not want wet feet this early nor the lost time of a shoe change at the first aid station. Big deal – place in the race doesn’t matter for the first 80 km anyway.

I hit the first aid station running, spent less than a minute trying to find my crew, swapped water bottles, threw on my pack and started up the trail to Flood mountain. The trail up Flood is muddy and steep but you side-hill along. At one point a couple four-wheelers  carrying a film crew wanted to pass me. As I moved into the brush for the second four-wheeler, the driver miscalculated the grade and it started to rollover kind of side-ways but almost over backward. I grabbed the front right tire and held on for dear life to keep them from going over but there was too much leverage and all I was able to do was slow their rollover. They rolled off the trail into thick and steep terrain. I immediately thought the guy in the back was dead and the driver at least injured. I tried to go around to get them out but I had to hang onto the machine to keep it from crushing them.

I was thinking about how I was going to call a helicopter or something when another runner came and helped.  We got them clear, checked them out and they both seemed ok. Thank god. I resumed on trail as I knew there was a checkpoint a couple kilometers up where I could inform race support.

I made my way over Flood Mountain them back down into the swamps between and then up over Grande mountain. Going up Grande, there was a hidden medic check in. I used my usual line ‘drinking lots, peeing lots, feel great and no ibuprofen’ as I ran in and they just waived me through.

Up on Grande Mt with Hamel in the background

Over Grande and back down the pole line to town. Along some city streets and into the second aid station. I have a rigorous fueling and hydration plan that I stick to on 15 minute intervals but for some reason a can of Red Bull called to me. Subliminal messages from ads? What kind of an aid station has Red Bull anyway? The Death Race. I downed two in about 60 seconds.

Rhonda looked at me and said “Well?”
“Well what?”
“Get running.”As predictably as children leave the lights on in the basement, I hit a low. It generally comes hard for the first time at about 50-60 km’s. This was accompanied by some dizziness. Possibly from the uncalled for heat. Lows make you go slow and the key to an ultra is managing them. I powered through it until the wicked fast Tracy Garneau caught me. We played leap frog for a bit, chatted and she left me lying in a creek trying to cool off.I didn’t stop long, ran about 6 km’s keeping her in sight and then stood in a waterfall on the side of the highway about one km out from the aid station. Brain freeze. Now run!I entered the aid station at three soaked. My crew informed me that a friend had dropped. I changed shoes and headed up the biggest mountain in the race – Hamel. There is an emergency aid station that supplies water at the summit but for some reason, on the way up something told me not to count on it. I kept my water bottle with Hunter blend full and filled a zip lock bag full from a creek just before I went over the first ridge. I filled my stomach as well. I drank out of the ziplock for a while until I hit  the creeks source – a tailings/holding pond from the coal mine. I reasoned that heavy metal poisoning wouldn’t kill me at least until the race was done so I continued to sip from the ziplock bag every 15 minutes until I hit the top and checked in at the aid station.

“Where’s your water?”
“We don’t have any.”

Ok then. Down the mountain, along the side of Ambler mountain, through some clear cuts around a swamp and into Ambler emergency aid station. I dropped my pack, ran the 5 km loop, back to the aid station and then the 8 km to the 4th aid station. Running along the highway for the last click I followed the trail markers to the edge of a river where the bridge was out. Assuming the marker on the other side meant to cross it, I did. Damn – another shoe change. That’s like 3 minutes.

Aid station 4 was a blast. At least I think it was but I actually don’t remember it. I think I drank another Red Bull.

I entered leg 5 in the light. It was pouring rain and I loved it. The first 10 km is very narrow single track and overgrown. This was perfect as I kept cool with the water soaking me from the foliage. I love single track, especially root ridden. It makes such beautiful running. Stepping, leaping, dodging. Primal, I suppose. Not quite as primal as handing your DeathRace coin to the Grim Reaper and jumping into the jet boat for the ride across but I made up for it by dunking my upper half in the Sulpher River and sucking back half a liter of dirty river water.

I’m convinced that a lifetime of drinking creek water has built near immunity to the beasties that live in it. However Nietzsche once said that “A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.”

The 1000′ ascent out of the river valley was wonderful. Wet, muddy and slippery. As I crested the top, it got full dark. Knowing I was only an hour or so from the finish let me pick up the pace (yes – it’s a mental game).  I ran as fast as I could given some very sore quads, hamstrings and calves until the trail took a hard left. I ran for another km then the trail took another hard left. Then another 2 km and another hard left. Another km and another hard left. I’m good at route finding and knowing the trail and I had not run the same section of trail twice.

I was positive space-time had curved in on itself and I had found either a worm-hole or some other undiscovered phenomenon of our universe.  But this was an ultra, not a physics lab so I kept running.

The finish was strange. I popped out of the bush in the pitch dark, fog and steady rain and ran through the crowd and the Death Fest stage. I felt like an animal coming in from the wilderness. Something about those frontal lobes again or at least the lack of their proper function.

Anyway – 15:01:04 –  6th place

15:03:59 with a few minutes removed for the Jet Boat ride

Garnet Fraser from PG put down a spectacular first go with a 17:28 finish. Amazing.
Adrian Smith from PG also had a very successful first attempt with a 22:50 finish. I am so proud of these guys!
A huge thanks to my aid team. Completing this race was not possible without their help.

On every race I learn something. Usually a bunch of things.Some time ago, I learned that at 80 km plus distance if I don’t swear up and down at least once during the race that if I finish this thing I will never run another again – that I’ll give up running for good, then I haven’t pushed hard enough.
On every hard race, you will get lows. To run an ultra you must go into a deficit for water, fuel and salt. This means depleting glycogen reserves and burning fat and protein. The byproducts of fat and  protein breakdown float around in your blood and create a situation similar to starvation. It’s like fasting or being on some kind of strange vision quest. You have to manage the rollercoaster of lows  and highs. You have to learn to deal with strange mental issues. Clarity of thought is radically altered.
On the upside, each time you run ultra- distance, you get better at it. You learn what it all feels like and how to work it. You recognize that you are being stupid and figure out tricks to stupid proof yourself. You learn the fine line between maximum and just beyond that.This years Scorched Sole course was diverted to a completely new route due to high mountain snow pack. It’s listed as an 80 km course with about 4.2 kms of vertical gain.

With a bit more experience under my belt, this was my first race I went into without thinking that my only goal was to finish. This was my first race where I felt like I knew enough to say “ok I know I can finish, I’m going to push a bit.”

I followed the two leaders out from the 6 am start. 2 km of road running, then turning up the mountain and climbing. The leaders were moving very fast. Something in the back if my mind said too fast. I held within 15 yards for the first 5 kms or so and then I let them slide ahead. I cruised along the side of Okanagan mountain into trail conditions that steadily degraded. The brush got thicker. I kept moving fast determined not to lose the leaders.

The first major aid station is only accessible by boat. Its a beach aid station called Comando bay which I thought had some reference to the clothing selection, or lack of it. Apparently it has something to do with WWII. To get to the aid station, you have to give up all your gained altitude and downhill steep technical, rocky single track to the beach. Then you get to climb right back up the same trail you just went down. On the turnaround I was about 500 meters behind the leaders.

Once I was back up, the climbing really started. The trail got really thick. It turned into a straight out bushwhack like an episode of Mantracker gone bad. The brush was well over my head and I was fighting to make my way through it not being able to see more than a yard or two ahead. Luckily there were several creeks to dunk the head  and cool down in the growing heat.

I had enough water for an hour and a half to cover the 16.5 kms to the next station. With the conditions, I ran out in under 10. I filled my bottle from a slime filled creek-like flow of water and continued.

I hit the aid station eventually and started towards the top of the mountain. It’s listed as 4 km to the top. It is steep, technical single track trail and nontrail. Ok – there is the top. Must be, my gps watch says 39.5 km. Determined to catch the leaders, I moved like hell over the rise but the trail kept going. I looked at the next rise and said the same thing. I got to the next rise and the trail kept going. Finally I hit the top. Surprise! I got to run another 2 kms along the top to the turnaround point, at which my watch said 44.5 kms. Nice twist. Ok, turn around and head down.

Wait a sec, where are the leaders?

I thought maybe somehow I missed them so I really picked the pace up  on the way back down to the aid station meeting uphilling runners,  jumping deadfall and trying to keep my quads from collapsing but still having a nice second wind. Things started to seem really slow in my mind  (like slow motion) even though I was moving very fast. A very strange sensation that is hard to explain. For a short while I was conviced I was having a stroke but I told myself runners don’t have strokes on course so ignore it.

I came into the aid station and asked how far behind I was. “Oh, those two dropped to the 50 km course on the way up. Your first.” OK then.

I headed out, did some uphilling and on the transition to downhill, I severly cramped on the inside of both quads. I took my last three salt pills all at once and it cleared up. I was wondering what I was going to when cramps hit again without salt. My only answer was to cross that bridge when I got to it.

A couple hours later I headed down to the lake again at Commando bay  I rolled some orange slices in table salt.  Oh well better than nothing.

Back up the hill. I kept moving as fast as I could. I’m mentally blocking this part of the race due to serious muscle cramping, thirst, pain, sunburn, cuts and bruises but eventually I hit the pavement and ran into the finish.

As soon as I lied down, I downed a bunch of liquid and started cramping severely in the quads and feet. A nice lady offered some electrolytes. I guzzled that and some water and proceeded to vomit everything up in the bushes. Then I started to feel human again.

Wow – what a great run. I can’t wait until the next one!

The plan: a nice 80 km course, maybe 7-8 hours, hoping for a top 10 finish

Actual: 89 km (by my Garmin) bushwhack. I managed first place in 11:23:42.
Second place was 13:00:30 by fellow pg runner Reid Roberts.
First place female was Jude Ultra in 13:19:00

I am very proud of Reid’s second place at his first go on 80 km.

With all  snow in Prince George, I thought I’d get away to a clear route ultra. The Coyote Springs 50 mile in Las Vegas seemed like a good option. So I signed up and made arrangements. Because of my love for Las Vegas and a saturday race, I booked the last flight in on friday and the first one out on sunday morning.Well – Surprise. Last minute change. The 50 mile got cancelled but they downgraded us into the 50 km category. Damn. I’ve never run a race under 80 km.

Anyway, I got up early and as I was leaving the hotel I noticed a new bride (I assumed so from the wedding gown) pulling the slot machine all by herself in the hotel lobby.

I made my way to Coyote Springs in the dark. It’s a failed ‘new las vegas’ about an hour north. The only thing there is a newly built golf course and a whole bunch of really cool desert trails.

We toed the starting line and we were off. We did a short out and back to get the runners spread out for the single track desert trail and I managed to run with the lead group of 7 or 8 runners.  The Coyote Springs 50 is a double figure eight loop where you run out across the desert bottom, climb up onto a mesa, retreat down, climb back up and then come back down to the start and then do the whole thing over again. The trail is a mix of open desert running, side hilling the mesa, technical downhill and some good climbing. The trail is non-existent in most places but it is marked with green chalk. Most interestingly is that the desert rock is red. This is highly unfortunate for colored blind people as red/green combos are invisible. Since I am colored blind this would pose an interesting challenge.

The lead group started to split a bit and I ended up following the leader. As we climbed the mesa, I pulled passed the leader and hit an aid station. I came out of the aid station first and started making my way down the mesa. Hmmm. No tracks and I can’t see the trail markers for the life of me. I ran around for a while. Stopped. Waited. Eventually, I saw another runner and I asked for directions. She was in dead last and I was back on the up trail. Way off course.

OK. So I ran back to the aid station. First place to last place.  Quick decision – solution – Go for broke. I upped the pace significantly. I downhilled very fast, climbed up fast and I then started picking people off one at a time. Since it is open country, I could spot the next runner in front of me, make sure my foot turnover was faster and pass. On the second downhill, I ran like I was in a maniacal rage passing runners two and three at a time, jumping over rocks on the side of the trail and just asking to break a leg, arm or neck. By the time I ended the first loop I was in seventh place. It was getting hot out and I was certainly not acclimated to the heat but there was no way I was slowing. I’d rather blow up.

I made my way down to fifth place going out across the desert and by the time I climbed the first part of the hill on the mesa I was in third. The leaders knew I was moving up so it started to go all out. I maintained third until we were back down the mesa and then passed into second along the bottom. My strength is climbing so I went all out on the last climb back up. I got with an car’s length of first by the top and as we descended down I just couldn’t hold it. The pace and the heat were hitting me hard. I fell back into third and tried to hang on for dear life. Going from below zero running to hot desert running can be challenging. We were hitting near 30 Celcius and I was sweating heavily.

We rounded the corner into the hot desert bottom. I passed the finish line in third place about four minutes behind the leader. My GPS watch read 53.5 km’s. An extra 3.5 km’s getting lost and probably at least five minutes sitting around. Routefinding is all part of the deal.

3rd Place – 4:45:07
What a great time!