The week leading up to Blackspur ultra I was so excited. not only for the race but a road trip with just my husband and staying in a fantastic condo with our friends Tess, Matthew and Tim. This trip was meant to be just as much a vacation as it was to be a race also known as a ‘racation’.
We left Edmonton Thursday afternoon and headed down to Calgary to spend the night at our friends Vince and Christina’s place to visit and to break up the drive. After a wrong turn that took us across Calgary and back we finally arrived at Christina’s had a quick visit, bite to eat and then we hit the bed.
We awoke around 6am Friday excited to get to Kimberly, BC. I mapped the rest of the drive and realized it was another 5.5hrs not 2.5 like I’d thought. Well good thing we were already up early.
We headed out on hwy 1 looking for a Safeway to get groceries and a Tim’s for breakfast. After a roundabout trip to the Safeway and the slowest grocery line up e.v.e.r we were finally on the road. We drove up through Canmore were so happy to be in the mountains. It just fills my soul to be in the mountains.
I’m awake early as someone in our building showers at 5am I can hear the water running through the pipes that must surely be in the ceiling above my head. At 6 am I hear someone else’s alarm go off knowing there is still 30 minutes left before mine goes off. I decided just to get up anyway and get ready. After my standard tea and oatmeal breakfast I was ready to head down to the start line. We had already set up our transition tent the night before so I knew where it would be all day.
We took some pictures before the race of fellow racers, crew and friends.
Leg 1 16.3k 886m
We lined up behind the arch way, were counted down and off we went running but only for about 150m then hike as we have to immediately climb up the ski hill to start the race and every leg of the race. Once at the top of the hill you head right, running all the flats and downs you can. Leg 1 has the biggest climbs. We ran along double wide quad roads until finally turning into our first piece of single track. Running along the single track was fun. It felt like we were flying until we hit a sharp left turn and then I know we are headed up ‘ the grind’. The grind starts with a tree covered section I call the ‘tunnel’, where you can’t see anything but brush so just put your head down and put 1 foot in front of the other. Once you finally get out of the tunnel you are ready to rejoice, but put that elation on hold because you are not done climbing yet. Now we are in an open forest and we keep climbing and climbing until we reach the second ‘tree tunnel’ which also takes a sharp left onto a jagged, rocky single track path.
Once in the rocky tunnel you know that you are getting close to the top. Once reaching the top you can finally rejoice and enjoy a bit of technical downhill running. But what goes down must come up again or at least that’s the case in most ultras. After speeding down the top of the mountain we turn and start climbing AGAIN all the way up to the top of the chair lift. We pop out of the woods at the top and then take a double wide green trail up to the aid station. I love that the aid station is about 2/3 of the way through the leg because once you have checked in, it is downhill for the last 6K into the transition. Be careful on the steep technical downhill as it is dry, dusty and the rocks are sharp and unforgiving. I remember thinking on multiple occasions this is not where you want to trip and fall or you would split your knee open. This was definitely the case for at least one as I passed an injured runner who had wrapped up her knee and clearly had won the first blood award although that award would cost her finishing the race. I hope she is OK now after getting four stitches and a few days rest.
At the transition I knew it would be quick as I had only run 16 km and was feeling great. I had come in ahead of schedule but Mike was waiting and had watermelon and oranges ready for me to eat. I had a quick drink of Coke and set off for leg two.
Leg 2 18.1k 670m
This was unknown territory for me as this section of the course was taken out last year due to forest fires. so although I had already completed this race I had never seen this 18 km section before. I knew from studying the elevation profiles that there were a couple of good climbs early on but it overall had less elevation gain than the previous leg. What I did NOT realize is that most of the climbing happens right at the beginning and is all on exposed terrain in the hot sun.
Already the temperature was warming up and I knew we were in for a hot one, we found summer you guys!! What I didn’t know is how my body would react to the heat that it was not acclimatized for. having had such a rainy, cold summer in Alberta. Most of my races this year have been between 12 – 18°C and rainy. I was not ready for the +25 that we were to get during race day.
I followed behind Marc and Laura as they powered up the hills seemingly not affected by the heat at all.
*One thing I remember thinking all day was how hard the climbs felt and how hot I got while climbing. Usually I power up the climbs catching and even passing people but by leg 3 I was being passed and then left behind by the rest of my pace group. *
Once we reached the top and began to run down I started to get my second wind. Feeling great here but I do remember thinking “where did Brian say that outhouse was?” for MOST of leg 2, I finally deciding to hold it until the transition. Running down the road to the top of the ski hill I thought SWEET I’m ahead of schedule again. As I reached the gravel I looked down at my watch to confirm the time and my pace and just before turning to head down the hill to transition I tripped (on presumably nothing) and fell forward catching myself with my hands but taking out my left knee. I got up dusted myself off, looked around to see if anyone saw my epic fall and then down at my knee to see blood trickling down my leg. Well at least I’m almost at transition I thought to myself as I limped my way down the hill.
Back at transition
I used the luxurious flush toilet amenities and running water to clean myself up. While walking to the washroom I downed a mini can of gingerale. At the tent Mike changed my shoes and I drank some chicken noodle soup and ate a couple pieces of watermelon that he had ready for me. And I went back out only a few short minutes after I came in.
Marc and Laura were leaving transition right behind me as we headed out onto leg 3 to finish the first half of the race.
Leg 3 19.1k 674m
I didn’t quite remember as much climbing on the first half of leg three but it seems to be a trend where I mentally block out elevation gain on runs. I felt great running on three as we started getting some flats and down hills.
I caught up to Tim at the aid station and then as I walked away drinking an electrolyte water he took off like a man on a mission. I finally caught up to Tim again just after Wayne had caught me. I was quite shocked to see Wayne as he is usually always ahead of me in these races. Turns out he had missed a trail marker and gotten off course and therefore added some extra miles to his race. I gave Wayne and Tim a Trail family ass slap also known as ‘trail tag’ and ran off. Shortly after our little game of tag I ran into Laura and Marc again. Marc was up to his fifth wind and his back seem to be feeling better so he was leading the charge. Laura and I ran together telling some of our favourite race stories and sharing our favourite race treats. We finally hit the downhill section leading into the aid station and Laura flew off into the distance I was having a great time actually running but held back a bit knowing that as soon as we hit that aid station we were going to climb up out of the valley from a GE lowest point of the race. Within a couple minutes we reached the aid station and we’re happy to see the volunteers who let us know that a bear has been spotted about 7 km out, to be aware and pair up if possible. I was hoping to hang out with Laura and Mark as we had been a similar pace for much of the race at this point. I took a pickle from the aid station and We hiked our way up sunflower Hill. By the time we reached the top my stomach was getting queasy. Mark and Laura feeling great ran ahead and I knew I would not be able to keep that pace any longer. I slow down to take some electrolytes, drink some water and have a snack. I decided to double up on the electrolytes as it was hot and I was definitely feeling the effects for a few hours now.
Within five minutes of ingesting my electrolytes I started to vomit.
*Now I’m entering new territory in a race.
I have never had serious stomach issues or dry heaved or vomited during a race until August 23, 2019 Blackspur ultra on The back half of leg 3. The good news was I had completed the biggest climb of the leg. The bad news was I was not able to hold down food any longer. I walked it out while everyone was starting to run again I was able to eat a clementine orange (approx 50 calories) but then it came up too. I walked my way the last 8km or so to the transition with a cycle of jog, feel ill, get sick, feel slightly better, drink some water, get sick and it kept going until I got to the transition all while thinking about the bear that had been sighted and how I was now all alone on the course. Finally I made it into the transition (still ahead of my original time goal).
We spend the next 30 minutes trying to get me to be able to drink or eat anything. I’m able to drink 1 glass of effervescence(magic fizzy stuff from Keri) and 2 or 3 glasses of chocolate milk.
The medic comes over to check me out. I’m okay to continue I’m offered an IV but I’m starting to feel a bit better so I decline for now. Carl and Robyn have come into transition looking great and invited me to go out with them. I’m hopeful and agree to head out on Leg 4, A repeat of leg one.
Leg 4 16.3k 886m
No longer running any of the course it seems to forever to reach the single track. The whole way up the first set of hills Carl and Robyn try to boost my mood by getting me to swear. Anyone that knows me well knows I have a potty mouth that is increased when hanging with other salty characters 😉 I was so defeated and low still that I was barely even talking, I know ME SILENT 😮
with each climb I felt hot and now was no longer sweating like I had been earlier. we talked about music and I agreed to put on my new favourite jam and began to belt out my favourite lyric. As soon as I’d sung out those words my spirit lifted and I laughed. I really have to thank Carl and Robyn for all their help on Leg 4. They wouldn’t leave me behind, waited for me while I got sick and then when it got dark and my headlamp wouldn’t work properly Robyn took off her waist light and gave it to me so I could see. We traveled through the never ending rock gardens together, shared personal stories and saw cool little dancing salamanders?? ( not a hallucination, right Carl?) Robyn kept proclaiming that we’d reached the tall grass aka end of rock gardens but Carl and I called fake news. We finally reached the tall grass for real and broke through to the road. Were headed into the transition as we hit he top of the ski hill for the 4th time they discussed transition and agreed for a 7 minute pit stop. I was very doubtful that I would be able to head back out in 7 minutes. They helped me prep for what I’d need to ask for.
Back in my transition tent
I tried the effervescence and chocolate milk again but in 7 minutes I’d only ingested a small sip of each and was still very dehydrated. Carl and Robyn were ready to go so I told them to go on without me. After hours of no water or food my body was beginning to protest big time. Looking back now this is where I wish I’d remembered the IV that I was previously offered. I sat in transition for an hour and then Kevin came in looking strong. I asked if I could go out with him when he was ready. I changed into my long sleeve, put my buff on and tried to stand up, weak and lightheaded I returned to my seat quickly. I had Holly(?) tell Kevin he’d have to head out alone as I wasn’t ready yet. Shortly after Kevin went out on five, we got word Tess would be in from finishing 5 shortly. I put my pity/ disappointment aside for her and cheered her in.
As Tess ran in she knew that seeing me there meant things weren’t going as planned for me. I assured her it was okay and we focused back on her race. She had to finish BSU to secure the triple and finish it she did! Tess went out to run the last leg with 2 brothers that were running with her.
At that point it had been almost 90 minutes since I’d arrived and my stomach was still a mess. As much as I didn’t want to give up, I walked over to Brian (Race director) and handed in my timing chip. I broke down. I was done, my stomach was done. 70ish km into the race and I pulled the plug. My legs felt okay but my stomach and serious dehydration made it very risky to continue. Being out in the woods in the dark is not where I’d like to be if things got worse.
Jeremy came in just after I handed in my chip so I wiped my eyes and put on a happy face as not to rattle his race but he was done too. Jeremy’s knee was bugging him all season and it took him out again at this race.
We checked on Jeremy, and then Mike and Tim helped load me into the car and took me back to the condo. I sat around visiting with the boys as they made food. It was past midnight but they’d been so busy crewing and hanging at transition all night that they hadn’t eaten dinner yet. I still couldn’t even think of food but water was slowly getting in and staying in.
After a couple hours I was feeling better and I said to Mike “maybe if I went back down Brian would give me my timing chip back. I wouldn’t have enough time to finish the race but I could do another leg.” I was delusional and Mike assured me that I was NUTS and should just go to sleep. What was I going to do go out in the dark by myself? just to run out of time before I could finish. I still hadn’t eaten or had any electrolytes yet so I probably would have had the same issue. I finally went to sleep for about 4 hours and then was wide awake thinking of my friends still out on course. I messaged Holly to see if Carl and Robyn were in yet. She said 1 hour!! I jumped in the shower and headed down to the finish line. As soon as I arrived Hiro was just crossing the finish line. I saw Jim who’d been volunteering all day and night and he needed an MC for the rest of the race.
I gladly jumped on the mic and got to cheer/call in the last few racers. I had the absolute pleasure of calling in Robyn and Carl as he finished the Sinister triple. Also witnessing Kevin Chueng finishing in his high heel boots was awesome. But the best finish was the very last racer who after almost 24 hrs of running and with less than 5 minutes to cutoff ran down the ski hill and sprinted into the finish as all that were watching shouted loudly cheering him in to a victorious finale. A truly spectacular way to end my race experience at Blackspur this year. One thing I’ve learned over the last few years in the Ultra world is that even the best runners have bad races. Even if you’ve put in all the training and made it to the start line healthy. There are still so many things that can go wrong before the finish line. I came out hopeful with the Sinister triple I trained hard. I ran my best each and every day. I had a lot of fun running over 2500km with friends training for these races. Cheering many friends on each time, watching them achieve big things.
Photos taken by myself, various friends & Raven eye photography