When things just don’t go your way- Sinister 7 race report

This has been the hardest race report that I have had to write. Maybe that is fitting because it is the hardest race I’ve ever tried to do. This race just felt differently afterwards. It’s not my first DNF. Or even the first time that I have voluntarily pulled myself out of a race. But it still feels different. For the first time ever I have been at a loss for words. It has been over 2 weeks since the race and it is getting easier to talk about.

Was this a good race? yes.

Was it well organized? Yes.

Were the volunteers helpful? Yes

Did the trails get the better of me? Yes. Will I come back and try again next year? HELL YES!!

I am having a lot of mixed emotions about this year. Love for the community, fondness for the race, mourning for the loss of a long desired goal, anger at myself for coming up short, love for my family who is always there for me.

Before the race

I didn’t sleep well the night before the race not sure if it was nerves or the loud neighbors 😉. The alarm went off at 5:30am We left camp at about 6:35am and walked to the start line with everyone else who had camped out at the 2/3 camp grounds. As usual my bladder decided I needed a last minute pit stop. As I raced over to the ever growing line up for the port a potties I found Tania in line and we joked about missing the start of the race due to our nervous bladders and the long line up. Luckily with 2 minutes to spare we get our turn in the blue rockets and then it’s go time. I find Janelle and Paul in the start chute. we get a quick picture and exchange “good luck”. Then it’s off and the race has begun.

Leg 1 18.9km

I was fortunate to see several friends on leg 1. I ran few kms with Kevin, Marny, Tess, Derek and Carl, also a brief appearance by Marty as he zipped by. Leg 1 starts on Main Street in Blairmore, then runs out of town along the train tracks and through the old Frank’s slide. It’s pretty surreal to be surrounded by these large truck sized boulders. To add to the surrealism of it all, there is a random guy playing the fiddle on the side of the road as you run by at about the 7 km mark.

Once we hit the trails things started to sink in that I was out there by myself (not literally I was still surrounded by lots of people) but this was up to me. People would come and go but I was stuck with myself for the rest of the race. I finished the leg feeling really good. I topped up my water, grabbed a couple watermelon slices from the aid station and away I went starting leg 2 with an immediate hill climb.

Leg 2 16.7km

I’m out onto 2 unsupported for the first transition. Mike and I had discussed ahead of time that since it’s such a pain in the butt to get to the TA1 that I would pack enough fuel and gear for the first two legs right from the start. The second leg of this race offers several climbs from valley to peak by way of switchbacks back and forth across the mountain. At one point you can look across the valley and see other racers ahead of you on the other side.

climbing up above the clouds the wild flowers are so beautiful and the mountainside so lush and vibrant up there. I saw Tim up ahead in the distance and once I finally caught up to him we ran a short section together. Tim stopped to empty rocks out of his shoes and I pressed on thinking he’d catch me, but I didn’t see him again. Coming in off 2 and 3 the energy in the transition is addicting. The Crowd is cheering, people from all sides yelling my name; a truly intoxicating feeling.

Quick pit stops were the name of the game so that I’d have enough time to make the cutoffs later on. I tried downing some of my chicken noodle soup but my thermos works too well and it was still too hot to just drink it. I spooned a few mouthfuls in and took off on Leg 3.

Leg 3 31.4km

The cheers arise again as runners head out to face their next challenge. Many people hate leg 3, sometimes referred to as Satan’s sack because it’s hot, exposed and difficult. I personally enjoy this leg. since I’ve done it a couple times I know what to expect. Quad roads make up the majority of the leg, but don’t be deceived by the wide trails. there is still a ton of climbing in this leg, it is the second hardest and second longest leg of the race. I was fortunate to run almost all of this leg with my friend Kevin. We had a great time running, joking, singing and laughing together. I had gotten a bit ahead of Kevin just before the last big climb on 3.

I took this photo, put my phone away and grabbed a bite to eat. While munching my snacks I realize that the climb hasn’t started yet and the trail (which should have seen a couple hundred people before me) was quite narrow and didn’t look as well traveled as the rest of the course. Now I realized I hadn’t seen a flag in a minute or two. I remember Brian saying they were about 100 meters apart. I abruptly turned around and backtracked. Still seeing NO FLAGGING and now the cursing begins. See 100 miles is a long way to run and now is NOT the time to be going off course for bonus miles. I finally see flagging and realized that I saw and photographed the sign but didn’t see the turn 🤦‍♀️ how ironic. Now back on course I’m somewhere behind Kevin. Frantically calling after him but no word. I’m now behind a bunch of other racers that I’d already passed so I know Kevin’s ahead of them. I push on hard through the climb not even thinking about the toughness, the incline or the burning in my legs, only finding Kevin. Just before I got off course Kevin had told me to wait for him at the top so we could enjoy the view together and now if I don’t catch him by the top he’s going to think that I ditched him. I reached a beautiful spot, a false summit where many take pictures because the view is amazing there. I know because I took a picture with Ryan Berger there last year. I didn’t stop for a photo this time I pushed on a head still searching for Kevin.

I am now leading a small train of racers through the top of leg three. As I pull ahead of the runners I finally see an orange shirt and an Asian in a cowboy hat YESSSS! I have finally found Kevin Chueng. We finished the rest of three together and it was the highlight of my race. Coming in off leg 3 I could see my son, Nathan walking up the path towards me and I was so happy to see him. Nathan ran Kevin and I in to the transition.

This is where I had to say goodbye to Kevin. *Kevin and Tracey were a team of 2 and crushed their race. I was fortunate to run with Kevin twice during the race.

In transition I again try to eat soup and drank a mini can of coke to get in a few calories. I was feeling good coming off the high of running with a friend and I headed out quickly onto leg 4.

Leg 4 23.4km

Why did I forget the f’n bug spray. After forgetting to put on bug spray at the transition. I immediately regret this and I’m moving slowly to start as I’m trying to charge my watch, hold my poles, hold my grilled cheese and organize myself for the unknown territory ahead. A couple other runners catch and pass me early on and I ask them for bug spray but no such luck. I continue on out on my own. The faster I can get moving the less the mosquitoes can bug me. I catch up to a relay runner we exchange a few words and I find out that I met her teammate on the previous leg. She follows in behind me on the single track and we start to collect a few more runners.

By the time we reach the summit we have a trail train of a half dozen or so, climbing and descending together almost like a team. Each taking turns as the leader driving us forward, setting the pace. By the time we reached the final aid station the group had broken up and I continued on with only the 2 other women within sight.

It got dark quickly and there were puddles everywhere. We finally turned our headlamps on and tried our best to navigate around the giant puddles. Reaching the end of leg 4 there was my son again 💕 I was so tired and down on myself, I almost cried just seeing him. I remember telling him I was unsure if I could continue on and him reassuring me that I could.

Ultra running at some point becomes more of a mental sport than a physical one. You are out there in the dark and cold by yourself, everything hurts and you are tired. You want to quit, and you just need someone to believe in you. My son believes in me and that was just what I needed right then.

I came into the transition with my son and he led me over to our crew area where everyone was waiting for me. I was not doing so well. My feet hurt and I was tired but they fed me, patched me up, made me laugh and sent me out again onto leg 5.

Leg 5 27.4km

I had done most of the Sinister course before in teams the previous few years. The only legs I’d never done were 4 & 5 and spoiler alert but this is where my race fell apart.

As soon as I was out onto 5 the uplift I’d gotten from my family and the crew had quickly faded like the lights from the aid station and my spirits were sinking again.

I didn’t know that the first several kilometres of leg 5 are totally flat. I was in a low place, all by myself walking everything at this point. This is where Lisa comes running up chats for a second and is off on her way. A brief moment of relief from my own head and darkening thoughts. I plug along trying to hike as fast as I can. The pain on the bottom of my right foot has become ever more apparent. I keep pushing on and finally reach the 1st aid station. It’s dark and the volunteers are friendly. I sit by the fire with 2 other soloists who have already pulled out and are waiting for a ride. I sit there and drink my glass of Pepsi trying to decide whether to continue on or just quit like these guys. Thankfully Hans shows up and I ask him if I can run with him so I don’t have to go it alone. He agrees and I’m back out on the course. We hike along together navigating puddles the size of small ponds. Bushwhacking our way around puddles that consumed the entire trail for a few hundred feet at a time. A common technique would be to skirt the side of the puddle by digging your poles into the edge and shimmying your body along the trees or just straight up bush whack through the trees to get around the never ending water playing havoc on my feet. After a few miles together the blister that has formed under my foot finally pops and I’m now in excruciating pain and barely able to put weight on my foot. I Try to shift my weight off it but only to set off a painful heel blister that wasn’t helping things. I managed to hobble along with my poles helping me walk but Hans was slowing down to stay with me and I didn’t feel right ruining his race so I told him to push on, and that he did. Within a couple minutes his headlight had faded off into the distance.

I saw a couple other soloists that were hurting making their way to the aid station. I had already decided then that I wouldn’t be continuing on. It was a very tough decision, one I’m still coming to terms with. I was barely walking, I knew the climb on 6 was going to be wet, slippery and steep and I didn’t know if I could make it to the end on the leg in my condition let alone on time. I arrived to the ‘Rave’ aid station.

Aid station 5B is also the same as 6C as legs 5 & 6 overlap at this point. The same guys volunteer each year and these guys are notorious for their spectacular aid station. Music, party lights and shots of liqueur if you fancy. I arrived to find my friend Jeremy already out with a bummed knee. He was waiting for the transport to come get him and reluctantly I joined him by the heat lamps to await my ride off the course.

An hour later when the truck arrived there were already 6 runners waiting to get a ride out. Jeremy, myself and another racer were given a ride to the 5/6 transition where our family/crews were waiting.

And There it is folks, after 8 months of training and about 2-3 weeks of rain before the race my 2019 journey through Sinister was over. I had made it only 110km and when I arrived at the transition I was barely walking at this point. I managed to pull myself into the truck and to my surprise, my son was sleeping in the back seat. He came out in the middle of the night to wait with his dad for me. I was so happy to see them but I also felt as though I had let them down, I had let myself down. This has taken me some time to deal with.

Once we were back at camp the sun was just starting to come up so we lay down for a couple hours sleep while several soloists are still out on course.

After a couple hours rest I realize that I really wanted to be there to cheer on my friends that were going to finish this monster of a course. I arrived at the finish line moments before my training buddies Paul, Janelle and Tess would arrive finishing their races together.

As we waited for the final few minutes of the race to wind down we see a runner coming in, it was my friend Carl he made it in with 7 minutes and 3 seconds before the cut off. This was his third try and he finally did it, he crushed it. He has been training so hard but making it look so easy. So happy I could be there to watch them all get that belt buckle.

I am happy for them but sad I didn’t make it this year. I will come back and I WILL finish it!!

But For now we look towards the next adventure, which is Canadian Death Race in less than 2 weeks. Looking forward to seeing many friends out there for the 20th anniversary CDR.

📷 by Sonya, Tania, Kevin, Mike, Raven rye photography and myself.


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