“It’s YOUR year” I heard from so many people the days, hours and even minutes leading up to the morning of July 9th 2022.
6:48am we arrive at the start line only a few minutes before the race begins. Mike, Victoria, Dave and I all drive in and find a place to park. Then we head to the start line where I will try to locate my other solo and relay friends who will begin the race with me. I say ‘begin the race with me’ because when the gun goes off we all start at the same time. but this year, this race was going to be different. this was my race I was not relying on anyone else but myself to get to the finish line. Okay that is a total lie when I say I was not relying on anyone else.
Of course I have my amazing husband Mike and my friend Victoria to crew me at the transition areas helping to change shoes, fill packs with water, food, to refresh my mood and help me remember to take care of myself as the sleep deprivation, mental and physical exhaustion started to set in. What I mean to say is I wasn’t running WITH anyone. I was running WITH everyone and with NO ONE, not relying on another runner to get me through the tough spots but using my own mental fortitude and determination to push through the tough times and keep going, even when it hurt and I was tired. So let’s get back to the race.
Leg 7 10.9km 321m
with the reverse direction the start line had been moved a few blocks away, changing a bit of the beginning of leg 7(which is the 1st leg in reverse order) OF COURSE we started with a hill. Marching my way up the hill with 198 other soloists and 160 relay teams. Just before the starting gun went off I had positioned myself near the back of the pack of runners. I knew that if I was going to be able to complete Sinister 7 100 miler it was going to take me every minute of the 30 hours. I also know how defeating it is to be continually passed by seemingly every single person on the race course and therefore I have learned to set myself into the pack about where I should be running for my pace. Having a few other soloist friends of similar pace I looked for some familiar faces and set myself up near them 3/4 of the way back in the mass of about 360+ runners. We head out on road so we can spread out, some runners take off right away. I start by hiking right out of the gate. Now I know what you were thinking “Jen you said this was a race. A running race! But you start out by hiking?” And my answer to you is yes I started off a race by walking! Because I have a strategy and experience with running ultras. As the saying goes it’s not a sprint it’s a marathon. Well in this case it’s 100 mile ULTRA marathon so pacing is crucial. I hike up the first hill and begin to run down the road. I see my friend Stephàne and we run together chatting excitedly about the day ahead. We hit another hill with a bottleneck of racers at the bottom, a narrow squeeze point through the fence has slowed everyone down to a dead stop. Luckily most of the relay and faster runners have already made their way through and it does not take me too long to get to the front of the line and squeeze myself and my pack through the narrow opening in the fence.
Once through the fence we run single file through the single track up the hill and into the woods. They were some beautiful scenery in the section of the course running past a small waterfall cross a little bridge. Although we started off with some bottlenecking to squeeze hundreds of humans through some singletrack all at the same time it probably worked out to my advantage to start out a little slower than I had anticipated.
Although I did not let anyone slow me down and when possible I threw out a good “passing on the left” and pushed on through at a pace that I knew was comfortable for myself. There was A LOT of climbing right away. This differs from the original course direction which is pretty flat for the first several kilometres. I powered through, knowing this was only the beginning so it’s time to settle in and get comfortable with it. As we climbed I saw Derek again and we hung out for a bit. It flattened out and I finally could run a stretch. I caught up to Natalie and hung behind her as we crept out of the woods and climbed our way to the top of leg 7 Wedge mountain. Once at the top we hooked left and down a trail that would lead us right into the path towards our first transition. Flanked by runners still, we all ran into the TA (transition area).
Only 10.9k into the race I only stopped for a quick bite of watermelon, the nectar of the ultra gods and immediately headed back out on course.
Leg 6 31.9k 1400m elevation gain
I headed onto leg 6 and immediately headed up a big hill, I reached the top of the hill and was ready to see this section in daylight as it’s usually run at night. Through quads roads, behind a campground and out towards Crowsnest mountain. As you run along the roads in this reverse order you are rewarded with views of the majestic Crowsnest mountain. I found Andrea my friend from Kelowna and we chatted and ran along together sharing our excitement for this race.
So many friends on course going for it this year. As we start into one of the first big climbs we find Jim and then Hiro has been spotted by the time we hit the 1st checkpoint. We keep climbing ‘up, up, up’ as my friend Paul would say. We started to hit bits of snow still left in the higher elevations, I celebrate by throwing some snow into my hat to cool off my head.
A fast, clear stream is spotted by my friend Stéphane. I trust his judgement as he has a military background and a lot of mountain experience. If he trusts it so do I. I take out my collapsible cup and fill it from the clear stream flowing rapidly over the rocks and off the ledge like a fountain, made as a refuge in the middle of this long and aggressive climb. 2 cups full and I’m off climbing again. As we finally reach the ridge we climb out of the tree line and the wind begins to howl. We march along at the top of the mountain trying not to be blown off.
I climb along meeting three runners from Calgary on their first hundred miler. We all agree how beautiful the view is from the top and how crazy strong the wind is. We keep marching through a winding single track that takes you up over the false summit of the ridge and continues to wind around the side of the mountain continually going up and up until you reach the top. as I climb my way through the single track my left thigh began to cramp. I worried that this was so early in the race started having muscle cramps I continue to drink water and electrolytes trying to bring back the balance in my body. After climbing a little further then my right thigh began to cramp up now with both legs cramping the right ever so much more than the left now I finally had to stop take another salt pill and quickly ingest my secret trick the mustard pack. Those of you that have followed along with my race blog in the past or have heard many of my other racing stories will know that I always carry little packages of yellow mustard in a baggie in my pocket. If you get a muscle cramp quickly ingest the yellow mustard and wash it down with water your muscle cramps will almost instantly go away you’ll be able to continue whatever activity it was that had you cramping up in the first place. I eat the mustard realize it wasn’t a fresh one but it still works.
After slamming the expired mustard I continue to try to get off the top of leg six. As I head down off the backside of six I am in awe of the beautiful views. We start travelling down real quick and steep into beautiful Alpine Meadows. Leg six is a beast itself and although beautiful in the daytime it is still quite the challenge for anyone. The last few kilometres of this leg are quad roads littered with ATVs enjoying the beautiful weather, unfortunately I didn’t really enjoy breathing in the exhaust fumes produced as they zoomed by me. I was also a little concerned that not all of them slowed down as they passed on sometimes narrow trails. I guess this is what happens when you run that section in daylight and good weather. As soon as I reached The campground I knew I was in the homestretch to finish the leg. As you near the transition area you start to pick up energy of those around you camping, crewing and cheering on the sidelines. I heard my name being yelled loudly by a few of my friends from November project, absorbing their energy to fuel my landing as I cruised into the transition. “Just keep swimming” someone yelled from the sidelines.
Now 43km into the race I’ve earned a quick pitstop in TA 5 and my 1st glimpse of my crew since the start line. They are ready for me. Mike takes my pack as I head to the bathroom on Victoria’s suggestion. I strip my shirt off on the way back to my crew. An outfit change, shoe change, a reloaded pack, some watermelon, a freezie and a quick kiss to hubby and I’m out of there. For the brief moment I’d sat down to change shoes several friends pop their heads into the tent to see how I’m doing. Legs are tired already but otherwise I’m a great mood.
Leg 5 27.4K 962m
Leaving the transition with a handful of watermelon and freezie in tow. I see a couple other solo friends being helped by their crew and I wish them good luck as I head out towards the big hill once again. Both leg 6 and 5 overlap in the beginning and start by climbing the same steep hill right out of the transition. As I reach the top of the hill I see Victoria running towards me from transition. She yells “you forgot Sunscreen!” As much as I should have it on, I know I can’t get help from my crew once back on course. I shout back “can’t get help now, I’ll be fine” although it’s starting to get to the hottest part of the day and I’ve forgotten my ice buff. Too late to dwell on it now, The only thing I can do is keep moving forward and get myself to the next transition area to sort things out. Unfortunately I’m expected to take about five more hours. On this first section of five I notice how much quieter it is than a few hours prior when it was part of 6. Runners are much more spread out and most of the relay runners have passed by. I spot another runner ahead and make her my target. It’s my strategy, see a runner, catch up, chat and then pass unless they keep pace. This lady took me awhile to actually reach her but then we chatted and ran together for a bit. I needed a walk break and she got away from me. For awhile I could see her around the next corner but she was boogying.
I hopped over puddles and around mud holes. running when I could and hiking with a purpose when I needed to eat or take a break from running but NO stopping! I flew through the on course aid stations only stopping if I needed to top up my water. I was pleasantly surprised multiple times by seeing familiar faces volunteering at checkpoints. I continued to catch other soloists and make friends with many folks throughout the day. As I ran down the powerline after the last checkpoint I looked back and saw some dark clouds rolling. It wasn’t supposed to rain but it’s ALBERTA in the MOUNTAINS so you never really know. Myself and a couple other solos pick up the pace a bit. I tell everyone around that once we turn into the ditch it’s downhill the last several kilometres into the next transition. There is a bit of celebration among runners.
I’m cruising along and I notice these sweet socks on the guy I’m coming up on. Turns out it’s my buddy Matt from Calgary!! He’s not doing too well at this moment his stomach is hurting. I let him know we are getting closer to transition aka help and I try to offer anything I have that might help, he’s still moving but I’ve got move faster. I say goodbye, good luck and keep cruising. I find my new friend again from the beginning of the leg and we are running together again. We pace and push each other quite well until we get into the ditch trail and I stop to walk for a moment and have a snack. I’ve learned even if you are ‘close’ to transition if it’s time to eat do it NOW don’t wait. Sometimes that ‘almost there’ takes another 20-30 minutes that will throw off the nutrition plan. Unless you can SEE the aid station already, EAT when the timer goes off.
I run along the ditch to a volunteer who tells us when it’s safe to cross the highway. Once across the road we are lead down a gravel side road with almost no traffic, other than a stream of runners making their way to transition. I catch a runner wearing shorts with pictures of donuts on them. I say to him “Do or DONUT there is no try” I thought I was being clever and this ensued a nickname DONUTS, remember that for later.
As I hit the transition area I know that the first thing I need to do is cool myself off. That leg was hot and I needed a reset before heading out onto leg 4, a big climber.
Mike had salty soup for me to eat and Victoria worked on making an ice buff for me. I drank some chocolate milk and had another freezie, they reloaded my pack and after a pit stop and reapplication of my SNB I was good to continue on.
Leg 4 23.8km 988m
This leg would end in darkness so I had a minor panic moment 200m out when I thought I had forgotten my headlamp but remembered my crew had stashed it inside a pocket for me. Now relieved I wouldn’t die in the dark I settled in for another few hours alone. I knew this one was a climber because you summit Mount Tecumseh what I didn’t know is how much running I had to do to get there. I caught up to a couple other runners and as we got up to a gate I noticed someone sitting down, “taking in the view” I said and then I noticed it was my buddy Mark. He had hurt his ankle and couldn’t walk on it. He had help coming and was going to be okay he just had to wait it out. I apologized about the circumstances and wished him luck. Seeing Mark injured brought me down. We had talked a few weeks back about how well training was going. I know how bad you can want this, it’s heartbreaking to see something so unpredictable take away his shot. I forged ahead feeling even more determined to stay on it.
As the climbing began I knew it would get steep and rocky. I climbed and climbed then climbed some more as I got close to the top I was awarded a beautiful sunset just getting the last glimpses of it from the top and then it was time to get the headlamp out and prepare for the night. Racing to get as far down the other side of the mountain until it was too dark to see without lighting the torch. Now you become a beacon in the night calling out to other racers “I’m here, you are not alone” and they call back in turn. running down the backside in the dark my foot got in a fight with a rock and the rock won. It threw me into a sharp bush. That violent shrub shoved me back onto the trail, my headlamp came flying off and I flung my pole into the air. After regaining my composure and retrieving my pole from the woods, I steadied my headlamp, and was off. I came running up behind a runner only to realize we’d met before “DONUTS!!” I yelled out with excitement. We had started climbing up again and donuts powered ahead of me. I passed another solo who was hating his life right then and desperately wanted that climb to end. I tried offering words of encouragement as I moved on ahead of him and out of sight. As I climbed up I heard a rumbling behind me. At first I thought I was hallucinating but soon the wind began to whip and I realized there was a storm coming up behind me. I continued on with more urgency trying to get to the transition before the storm, maybe I can out run it I thought??? The answer was NO I could not!! The rain drops start slowly at first. I catch two other runners stopped on the trail. I ask, “time for jackets?” And look up to see my friend Robyn. I’m so excited to see her! She’s such an amazing runner and I must be crushing it if I’ve caught up to her. Unfortunately it was not Robyn’s day on the trails and she was pulling the plug. I wished her well and told her I loved her before heading off into the darkness once more. Coat on, still warm but the rain was really coming down now, in big heavy droplets. I pulled my hood up over my hat/headlamp and starting cruising to that next check in with my crew.
Coming off 4 just before midnight and right on my timeline I was extremely happy even in the rain. I sat down in my chair Victoria changed out my shoes while I ate some more soup.
Leg 3 30.8km 1385m
Time to spend my night out on Willoughby Ridge. There are some large climbs on this section and I was excited to run down them what I didn’t realize was the whole 9km from 3C to 3B in basically uphill, slowly, painfully slowly uphill. Donuts and I hung out from the transition to the 1st checkpoint and then another runner named Scott caught up to us and I took off with him. Turns out Scott and I would spend the next several hours power hiking along Satan’s Sack and it’s never ending uphill battle. Finally reaching the 3rd check point and this years RAVE STATION! I had lost Scott but picked up Evan. After a quick cup of Luke warm hot cocoa (much easier to drink that way) Evan and I thanked the volunteers and off we went for the final section of night running. As we ran along rocky ATV roads we could see the sky lightening, with every climb we were one closer to the end of the loop. As we reached the top of one of the final ascents the sky was lit on fire. We grazed up to view one of the most vibrant sunrises I’ve had the pleasure to witness in the mountains. I’m a sucker for a good sunrise and this one did not disappoint. Evan and I ran side by side in the wee hours of the morning, pushing each other. Calculating how much time was left and would we have enough to finish the last two legs. My watch cried low battery and I was in shock. It should have 10 hours left, easily. I panicked and Evan said he’d loan me his charging cord (we thought the Garmin & Coros matched I was wrong) On the downhill Evan took off as he demonstrated time and again. I chased after him but couldn’t keep up. I entered transition just a couple minutes later.
Leg 2 16.7km 772m
Now daylight and 6am I was ready to finish the race, 36k left and 6 hours to reach the finish. I knew I needed all the time I could on the final leg so I needed to push it now and gain some time back. I knew the whole race would lead up to the heartbreak hill climb, all the other climbs would pale in comparison. This climb took me 97 min. As I dug my poles in over and over 4000 times I looked ahead and saw the familiar sight, Evan’s backside. His bright green coat tied around his waist was a welcome sign of familiarity. I kept gazing up to see if he’d reached the top yet. He caught another runner and as I reached the top I joined their pack of weary soloists. I said “that was a helluva climb” and the runner in front of Evan, shoots his head back and yells “JEN!!” It’s Scott!! We found Scott!! Now at the top we can spot the checkpoint below and begin the steep descent towards the oasis in the woods. As we approach volunteers cheer for us and we are happy to see them. We grab water and head out, less than 10km to the final transition area. The whole time we’ve talked about Reverso everyone says yeah but leg 2 will be terrible backwards and you know what? They are right! They are all right! But before I go on agreeing with you on that point I had told myself leg 2 is 1 hard climb and 3 medium climbs. Once I’d finished the hard climb the medium ones weren’t so bad. After climaxing the last climb we head down some rocky but open trail and I know at the end of this section is the final push. Evan flying in the downhills took off as soon as his legs allowed. I tried to keep up but in the process pulled away and lost Scott.
Running on borrowed time I pushed to transition and didn’t even sit down. bottles, gels and a quick kiss to Mike. I was gone in the blink of an eye.
Leg 1 18.3km 535m
This leg was a fight for my life. It started just as the last with Evan coming up from behind me, hanging out for the climb and then taking off as soon as he could run. At this point I was waiting for the downhill to begin but it really wasn’t much, the uphill in original direction was so gradual at 145k into my race nothing felt downhill. Around now is when I realize my watch has died and I turn on Strava on my phone. I now DO NOT know how far I have left to go only that I must reach the finish line before 1pm.
I’m running everything I can and hiking as fast as possible when not. I keep looking at the clock trying to guess how far I am and do the math in my sleep deprived brain. I keep running, my determination is taking over. I’m getting mad at myself, move faster! You didn’t come all this way to fail close to the end! I run, shuffle, hike until I reach the edge of town. I run in excited but still nervous, I’m not there just yet. I hit the section through the old Frank slide and a car on the road pulls over. It’s filled with my friends and they are cheering for me. I get a boost of energy and keep pushing forward.
Exhausted I let the guys I was running with get ahead of me. We finally get to the train tracks and I know I’m getting close, final section into town and the finish. I can see the runners ahead of me and wish I was already there. Only way to get there is put your head down and get moving I told myself, and that’s exactly what I did. Running as fast as my body could manage by the train tracks. I’m moving forward and all of a sudden I hear the loud horn coming from a train engine. I wonder how far away is that train and can I get to the next portion of the trail that pulls me further away from a giant metal beast heading towards me. I’m running I see the sign, around the corner comes the engine of the train loudly blaring its horn I jump onto the rock pile off the side and narrowly missed the screeching train coming towards me. My heart is now pumping and I am fully awake, adrenaline overload it is time to kick it in high gear and get the heck off the train tracks. Everything hurts so bad now and I just want to be finished. I finally see the end of the train tracks and someone running towards me. It’s my friend Jill I’ve been running it up a pair of shorts she made me for the whole 100 miles. Now running side-by-side into the last couple hundred metres getting emotional we both tear up knowing the appreciation we have for one another.
Finally now at the end of the street I can see the finish Archway looming before me. My friends are all waiting there at the finish line and my name is being screamed so loud. All I can do is pick it up into high gear and take that energy from those surrounding me pulling me through the finish line with every step I accelerate faster and faster reaching for the arch. As a cross the finish line the emotions begin to flow. Immediately surrounded by so many of my Close and dear friends & family. Hugs upon hugs all of those amazing people, my husband who have been there through everything to support me and cheer me on that day and all of the days, weeks and months leading up this that finish line. 29:51:27 DFL!
I say again I did not, could not, do this alone. Thank you to my family who put up with my running, my friends who convince me I can do crazy things and take me on crazy adventures to help me train for the crazy things. To my Son who knew this goal meant so much to me that he supported me while achieving his own incredible goal of riding 175km over 2 days and fundraising $1200 for the MS Society. He finished about an hour after I did. To my mom who took care of my son so we could both achieve big goals at the same time. To my crew; my husband Mike and friend Victoria for taking care of me for 30 hours and making sure I had everything I needed. To my clients, class participants and general passers by who’ve had to listen to me talk about my race before and after. I thank you all. I felt completely surrounded by love at the finish line. 4 years of hard work training through early mornings, cold winter days, through heat and rain. On bad days and good days, days when I didn’t even want to get out of bed. Days when my whole body hurt but I needed to push through. It all paid off when I finally saw the finish line. This isn’t the end of me, Sinister. I still have more to learn, to celebrate and every July it just feels like coming home. Here’s to you Sinister, another year another great story to tell.