Monday before Blackspur a terrible accident occurred. my friend Matthew sustained an injury that resulted in 7 broken ribs and a partially collapsed lung. I chatted with his girlfriend Tess, (my best friend) as the Diagnosis unfolded at the hospital. we chatted back-and-forth throughout the day and it became pretty evident that Matthew would not only not be running the race but would most likely not even be able to attend due to his injuries. As my genuine concern for my friend and his injury is grew somewhere in the back of my mind an idea formed that I could maybe go and run the race instead. No I did not take his bib as many first thought. On Tuesday I used a race credit I had with Sinister Sports to sign up for the 108km race.
It was decided that Matthew would not travel with us, which would just be too painful with all those broken ribs. He would stay with Tess’s family for the weekend so we knew he was in good hands and being cared for if needed.
Friday morning we pack up my car with all the ultra runner goodies and start a course for Kimberly, BC.
Once arriving at the Kimberley Alpine resort we checked in to racer package pickup. As we walked up to the venue we saw the race director Brian, we could immediately tell that something was up as he looked stressed, more stressed than normal. This guy puts on amazing, well organized races all the time and is usually cool as a cucumber. My friend Dan checks his phone and receives a message stating that new Covid restrictions are being announced in British Columbia, so what does that mean for us?? Essentially it meant wearing masks again indoors and the biggest change to the race was staggered start times. This change gave me a bit of anxiety as I know how spread out the race gets on the back half and I really didn’t want to run alone at night. I usually try to buddy up with someone before dark so I don’t have to run alone in the never ending darkness. I know how especially dark this course can get having done it twice before.
Leg 1 Goat 16.1km 886m elevation gain
A staggered start meant 1/2 the racers in the 108km started 10 minutes before me. The other half past me within the first 8km of the race. My stomach was quite off right from the start of the race and subsequently I was passed by many folks on the big climb. Just like that within 41 minutes of the race I was all alone. I thought to myself well this was how the race would go, just me by myself. Now I exaggerate a bit as there are still the 54km runners and teams out there. I was smart enough to put a chewable Pepto-Bismol in with my bag of pills. After taking that my stomach was able to settle and by the time I reached the 1st aid station I was feeling better. I am fortunate to run a bit of leg 1 with a girl named Anna who was running the 54km her 1st ultra, her 1st marathon, heck it was even her 1st race!! We met just after the aid station on leg 1 and ran much of the rest of that first leg together. I tried to impart a bit of ultra wisdom on her, giving her a few quick tips about feet and fuel.
I reached the transition tent and found it empty. It’s not as though I expected anyone to be there as everyone was running their own race but this was my first time not having a designated crew. It felt a little weird to arrive to an empty tent but I felt good about being self-sufficient at this race. I quickly filled up my bottles with electrolytes grabbed a few more gels and headed out onto leg 2.
Leg 2 Toad 18.6km 674m elevation gain
This leg starts out by climbing the ski hill as do all 3 legs of the race. This time at the top I veer left instead of the right I took on leg 1. After a small stretch of road in front of the ski in/ski out condos, I climb onto a series of mountain bike switchbacks. Another runner catches up to me, her name is Liz and she’s from Grande Prairie. I’m happy to have someone to chat with for awhile. We begin running together as we finishing climbing the switchbacks and then drop down onto a wider service road that takes you to some flat single track. Regaining my running legs Liz and I are flying through the trails. We pass a small cabin with a private shooting range set up. I’m Relieved that nobody is out there now, Hello moving targets.
About half way through the 2nd leg now running with a buddy and feeling good we check our elevation only to realize that we still have a ton of climbing to do but where is this elevation??? We are soon joined by another 54km soloist Christine, she’s also from Grande Prairie. Now running on a wide dirt road we turn a corner and there is a large hill in front of us. Oh there is that missing elevation we laugh out loud. We continue to chat getting to know one another and the time passes quickly. I’m so grateful for the those ladies helping pull me along. I jokingly asked if they would want to upgrade to the hundred K and continue to run with me all night. Of course I know this is never going to happen but it was a futile effort at finding a buddy to run with for the night. As we came in off leg 2 Liz was in quite a bit of pain from her IT band flaring up. She had slow down coming down the hill just as I was picking up steam. We all hit the transition area within a moment of each other. I went straight to my tent to refill my bottles and get ready to head out again.
Leg 3 19.4km 670m elevation gain
As I’m getting ready to head out again I don’t know what has happened to Liz but Christine appears. She doesn’t know what has happened to Liz either and we think maybe she is headed out already. We decide to go out the two of us together and get the next leg of the race done. It is now pouring rain and I’ve had to get the rain coat out and it will stay on for the rest of the race. I hate being cold and wet but I was determined and wanted to finish this race. Christine and I ran the entirety of leg three together. Especially happy that I had company through the rain.
Three starts with a bit of climbing but essentially you’re heading down down to the bottom of the valley the lowest point on the course and then of course what goes down must come up and as soon as you hit the aid station you begin to climb sunflower hill. It’s a quad road that winds its way up the front of the hill and then makes a sharp turn and climbs up the spine. At the top of this hill is where my race fell apart in 2019. I felt as though this hill with a beautiful name had an ominous undertone due to its heavy exposure to the sun and arduous trek up to the top. This year although it was wet it was also cool so heavy exposure to the sun was not an issue. After climbing your way in and out of the valley over the next several miles. You find yourself back where you started on the wide road that took you to the pretty single track. And you realize you have finally reached ‘out and back’ section and are headed to the final mile into the transition. As we ran down the hill I turned into the transition area and Chrissy ran for her finish. As I made my turn expecting to hear the cheers of Chrissy’s finish I heard my name being cheered and straight ahead of me was my friend Anna, an unexpected and very wonderful surprise. Anna helped me clean my feet so I could put clean socks and shoes on. She also filled my water and retrieved hot water for my soup. After a quick change and a quick visit I was off, on my own again to start the second half of the race.
Leg 4 16.1k 886m
For this race we repeat the first 3 loops again to complete 108km. At this point I know what to expect from the course because I had already done it earlier in the day. Leg 1/4 has the biggest, steepest climbs in it and I knew once I had reached the top that the hardest section of the race was over.
Blackspur is a newer race and as such is a smaller race, especially in a Covid year. There were less than 100 soloists on course from the winner who finished while I was still running this leg to those who dropped out along the way. This race gets very spread out and you can go hours without seeing another person. Almost every race I’ve done I pair up with someone at night but it seemed as though I may not even find anyone for the rest of the race, thank goodness there were volunteers manning aid stations waiting for those lost lonely souls wandering through the woods all night. I tried to mentally set into the fact that I was running this one alone. I came up with a plan to use music to distract and encourage me through the hard climbs and I focused on one aid station at a time. I reached the ‘summit’ of leg 4 and I FaceTimed my buddy Derek who was celebrating his 40th birthday to share a moment with him. After A couple moments of good cell reception our call was lost and I began to run again. Run towards the aid station and those celestial volunteers waiting patiently in the night.
As I broke out of the bush I saw another runner ahead, The first one I had seen in over an hour. As we closed in on the aid station I passed her and realized she was a soloist as well. I thought to myself as I ran past, I’m not going to be last. On the first leg I was sure that everyone had passed me and I’d finish last. I was okay with finishing last as long as I’d finish but it felt good to know there was someone behind me out there and that I wasn’t totally alone in the dark. After the aid station I took advantage of the cell service and waning evening light to call my husband Mike, who was usually taking care of me during my race but had to stay home this time. I assured him I was doing well, in good spirits and would finish between 5-6am and text him once I finished so he knew I was safe and finished my race. After our phone call I was feeling good and boogied my way down the mountain towards the resort.
Now in the dark, wearing my headlamp and bombing down the gravel road toward the transition my eyes locked with a large male deer munching some greenery on the side of the trail. After we both admitted to being a bit spooked by one another I continued on and he resumed his late night snack. I reach the transition area and my bestie is there, she’s finished her 54km race and come to help me out. She refills my bottles, gets me soup and slaps my ass out of the transition area so I can get this race finished.
Leg 5 a repeat of toad 18.6km 674m
Now well into the night I’ve switched to my new Fenix headlamp and can see everything including the numerous sets of glowing eyes at night. As I climb up the switchbacks again I know see the wildlife emerge. I’m really hoping not to see a bear like another female runner I passed had mentioned. Luckily I only see a few deer, some with large sets of antlers. I make myself a deal with myself that I can use music on the climbs and make noise frequently throughout the night. I didn’t want my phone to die so I had to use the music sparingly. Every few minutes or when I turned on to a particularly dark and spooky trail I would hoot and holler, let out yip or whoop to let everything know I was out there and THEY should NOT be.
Running along in the dark I started to see a light in the far off distance. I chased the light like my life depended on it. My plan to find humanity and stay with them but after a couple minutes the married couple I’d caught stopped for a break. I pushed on yelling out to ‘catch me’ but they didn’t. This became a game I played, could I catch someone else before the aid station? As it turns out I passed several runners on leg 5, 7 runners in fact and with each one I caught I felt energized by their company, their chatter and then drove forward on my own. As I ran down the ski hill for the 5th time I knew I would finish the race. I stopped one for the last time under the tent and Tess helped me eat and gear up for 1 final loop.
Leg 6 last lap of bear 19.4km 670m
Just as I was leaving the transition on my final loop I see a racer coming into the finish. It’s my buddy Dan!! He’s finished his 108km and completed the Sinister triple. I was able to cheer him into the finish as I walked out onto the last leg. So happy for him and proud of his achievements. Then it dawned on me that he was an entire leg of the race ahead of me. Oh well when I am out there racing I’m not worried about what other people are doing I am just worried about doing my best. Besides this means he’ll have time to nap before we drive home. I know who’s driving the first shift.
Once I’ve finished climbing the ski hill for the 6th and final time I have a small celebration before continuing on. Legs 2/5 & 3/6 begin with a ski hill climb and then a short stretch of road before heading into the trails. Running down the road I remember feeling excited to finish, sore and a bit scared of well……. Bears.
As I started out climbing up the trail I swear I saw a headlamp. I started climbing faster to catch the headlamp but it was gone. I continued chasing the night, trying to find the light for what felt like a very long time, it was actually about 7km. I crossed the road into some trail and saw I light in the near distance. No it’s 2 lights, I follow behind them closing the gap over the next five or so minutes. Catch up from behind and realize it is my friend Hiro with another runner named Steven.
The leg is known as the easiest with the least amount of elevation over the longest distance but don’t be fooled by its deceiving downhills. Hiro, Steven and myself all shuffle run down the never ending downhill. My quads screaming with each stride. We stick together for a couple miles to the aid station and then as Steven and Hiro enjoyed a snack at the aid station I pushed forward up sunflower hill, thinking they would caught me soon after. I climbed and climbed and no sight of them. What I did see was not the boys and it stopped me in my tracks. 2 pairs of eyes 10 ft apart and just off the trail in the bushes. Why must my new headlamp be so good, arghh. I quickly try to assess what is looking back at me. Is it cougars, bears hopefully it’s just a couple deer. I can instantly tell they are annoyed by my bright AF Felix headlamp shining right in their faces. I assure myself it’s just deer and I push on up the hill. At the top of the hill I look back for the light from Hiro & Steven but all I can see is darkness. I realize now just how alone I am. I make it my mission to keep fartleking my way back to the ski resort, civilization and the finish line. Run, walk, eat, repeat! As I reached the main road leading back to the resort I was filled with a sense of pride, assurance and vomit, wait WHAT?!?!? That’s right less than one kilometre from the finish line I had an actual argument with my body where I yelled at myself in my outside voice. Control your stomach woman, you are almost there!! My nutrition had been good the whole race and I was feeling good up to that point but despite my best efforts my last bowl of noodle soup made a reappearance. After releasing my stomach I finished the race feeling grateful that I was able to participate and that my body was capable of traversing a difficult course like Blackspur. I knew it was the perfect way to challenge myself after Golden Ultra had to be canceled. Thanks to my family who let me zip after for the weekend and to my amazing adventure buddies Tess and Dan. It was such a great weekend full of memories.
*** update this is the event that set off my sciatica. Only 4 hours after my race was over and with only 38 minutes sleep we embarked on our 9 hr drive home. We did take turns driving and napping with multiple caffeine stops along the way but the intense run plus immediate long drive was enough to cause several very uncomfortable days ahead. ****