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.