Tag Archives: Ultramarathon

DNF at the Sinister 7 2017

8 Aug

Upon finishing my first 50km trail race a few years ago I knew I would eventually try a 100 miler.  I didn’t think it would be the Sinister 7.  I had run in the relay a couple of times, and although it is a well organized race in a location that I love with beautiful rocky mountain views,  a lot of the race isn’t on the type of trails I enjoy running on (logging roads, quad trails, etc). Despite this, after seeing a friend had signed up to attempt it solo I decided why not give it a try.  And convinced my friend Adria to sign up as well.  The race director, Brian Gallant, has made some changes incorporate more single track trail so thats a plus.  The Crowsnest Pass is pretty close to home, and it was taking place on the last weekend of our honeymoon so I wasn’t working.  Fortunately I have a great husband who agreed to crew me and was fine with spending a portion of our honeymoon to do it.

When I signed up in December my goal was to try to get up to 100 miles a week, or at least as close to that as I could get.  But in March I injured my achilles somehow (too many treadmill miles in winter, or just too many miles in my new Altras… I’m not sure).  I tried physio, acupuncture, chiropractor….. I spent hours burning this special herb around my achilles which was supposed to have anti-inflammatory powers.  I cut out sugar and all other things which promoted inflammation in the body and started drinking tumeric tea and taking omega-3s.  None of these things fixed the problem and for about 3 or 4 months my achilles would ache and get creaky after every run.  I could still run and it didn’t hurt a lot, but it didn’t feel normal.  After both the Sun Mountain 100k and the Wildhorse 50k it got swollen and it hurt to walk for a day or two.  Anyways, all of this is to say my training wasn’t where I would have liked it to be.  In addition to this we got married a few weeks before race day and then went on our honeymoon so there wasn’t a lot of time to train then either.  Maybe I should have backed out of the race, but I really believed I could finish it.  Especially after I discovered Prolotherapy.  A few days after the wedding the sports doctor at my physio clinic finally agreed to give me a prolo injection.  Basically she injected 5ml of a combination of dextrose, saline, and lidocaine around my injured tendon.  I had done some reading about this and knew there was a large chance it wouldn’t work.  Two days later I went for a short run.  Much to my surprise I felt no aching and afterwards there was no creaking!  I did a longer run of about 32km the weekend after (while in Portland, Oregon) the injection and still no pain/creaking.  This seemed promising for getting through 100 miles.

We arrived in the Pass on the Friday afternoon before the race.  Brett and I, plus my friend Adria who was also running, were staying in a cabin out in Beaver Mines, about 20 minutes from the race start.  It was warm in the cabin and none of us got the best sleep.  We woke an hour before we needed to leave to make time for coffee and oatmeal.

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The race started at 7am on Saturday morning (July 8th). The Sinister 7 is broken up into 7 legs and can also be run as a relay.  The relay sells out in seconds each December as soon as registration opens.  You gain 6400m of elevation over the 161km course, and get 30 hours to finish it.

Leg 1- Frank Slide.  According to the website this leg is 18.3km and has 535m of elevation gain.  There are a lot of people starting this race, and in our attempt to start slow, I feel that Adria and I wasted a bit of time.  I wish we had gone a bit faster while it was still cool outside instead of getting stuck in the back.  Although I’m sure it made no difference to the outcome, if I try again I will try to start closer to the front.  Adria and I decided we would try to run together until we naturally separated. During this leg we also met up with my friend from Edmonton, Virginia, who was attempting the 100 miles as well.  The three of us ran together for a few kilometres, discussing our training (or lack thereof).  This leg is pretty easy, has some pavement, and takes you through the site of the frank slide at the base of turtle mountain.   I think this portion took us just over 2 hours.  As you can see from the photo below, we had some nice scenery but the trail itself wasn’t my favourite to run on.

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Leg 1.  Photo by Raven Eye Photography

Leg 2. Hastings Ridge.  17.2km and 852m of elevation gain.  Adria and I set off for this leg together as well.  I already could tell it was going to be a tough day.  I was hot and my stomach wasn’t feeling 100%.  I could also feel a stitch coming under both ribs.
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Not too far into Leg 2 I told Adria to leave me.  I had to slow down and try to get rid of my stomach and stitch issues.  I took a combo of pills (ibuprofen, some pills to prevent stomach cramps, and electrolyte pills).  I practiced breathing slowly and did some stretches.  This seemed to help.  Leg 2 was actually pretty fun and had some good trail and views.  I enjoyed the steep downhills and even the uphill.  I noticed my legs felt more tired/crampy than they should after only having run about 35km and this worried me a little.  It was pretty shaded and it wasn’t hellishly hot outside yet so I didn’t think I should be too dehydrated already.  Despite my issues I wasn’t too far off my predicted time for this leg, and I saw Adria leaving for leg 3 as I was coming into the transition.  She offered to wait for me but I didn’t want to slow her down.  I sat for 15 minutes eating freezies and drinking ginger ale.  Adria’s crew (3 great folks from Lethbridge) and Brett had a nice station set up under a tent so we could sit in the shade.  I stuffed my hat and bra with ice, put ice in my water, and started off for leg 3.

Leg 3. Satan’s EFFING Sack (aka Willoughby Ridge).  31.4km and 1357m of elevation gain/loss.  This leg started with a long climb up a logging road.  And I’m pretty sure that continued for the majority of this leg.  There was no shade.  It felt like I was in an oven and my legs were moving so so slowly.  My stitch came back soon into this leg and proceeded to get worse through the 6ish hours it took me to finish this section.  I couldn’t run any of the downhills without it feeling like I was being stabbed in both ribs.  Eventually it got so bad I couldn’t run any flats either.  And I was getting so hot I could barely move to walk the uphills.  So many people started passing me, and even though they were walking as well they moved so quickly out of sight.  For the first time in a race I made many stops to just sit on the side of the trail, feeling like I wanted to just lay down and go to sleep.  I had heard this leg is the killer for many soloists, but I had naively assumed since I had run a couple 100km races there was no way I would quit before I at least made it past that distance.  I had underestimated Satan’s Sack, however.  I stopped at every stream and splashed water over myself, but every time I did this I had to stand back up and feel like I was going to black out.
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I don’t remember smiling on this leg and I also don’t remember photographers.
Eventually I reached the last aid station on this leg and sat to cool off in the creek that was next to it.  I had stopped eating by this point because my mind wasn’t functioning and I kind of forgot about it.  I ate several orange slices and a packet of maple syrup, hoping maybe if I ate and sat for a few minutes my stitch would go away.  Leaving this last aid station we started a climb into the woods.  FINALLY some single track!   I saw a relay runner sitting on the side of the trail looking worse than how I imagined I looked.  Somehow this made me feel better about my situation.  While I was happy to finally have some runnable forest trail, I was sad that every time I tried running the stabbing pain came back.  I needed the endorphins from running but I couldn’t run!  Just when I thought it was all downhill back to the transition there was another very very steep climb.  I had to keep stopping for breaks and the mosquitos and black flies were buzzing all around me.  No part of this race seemed fun.  I kept thinking I just needed to get to the transition and then I could quit.   But then I knew I still had time before the cut off so I was trying to force my brain to stop being so negative.

Finally, I made it back to the logging road I had come up in the beginning of this leg and I knew the transition was close.  I tried to run at this point as it was all downhill but it hurt too much, and now I kept feeling like I was going to puke and I couldn’t breath.  I got to the transition and immediately sat on the grass as volunteers put ice on the back of my neck and offered me freezies.  Virginia came over eating a slice of pizza and told me she had dropped during leg 3.  Her training had gone well, but she was also having a terrible time out there and didn’t feel it was worth it to keep going.  This made me want to quit as well, but I decided to take a 30 minutes rest and hope that by this time my stitch would go away and I could finish leg 4 at least.  I ate some french fries and had more ginger ale while Brett got my pack ready.  I kept alternating between wanting to quit and wanting to keep going.  Eventually I had to make a decision as there were only 15 minutes left before the cut off to start leg 4.  I grabbed my poles and my pack and started slowly up the trail for leg 4.

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Leg 4.  Saddle Mountain.  Once out of the transition area, this leg actually started off nice enough on a trail through the trees.  I got a call from Adria- she had gotten lost and did an extra climb up the ski hill on this leg.  I encouraged her to keep going and let her know I was probably a couple hours behind her.  I power hiked as fast as I could (which was still a sloth pace) and then we came to some runnable section.  I started running and the stabbing pain came back.  I had been out for over 12 hours and had felt terrible for 99% of that.  I wasn’t having fun.  Normally during a trail race even when it’s hard I still have moments of “I’M HAVING SO MUCH FUN.  I LOVE RUNNING!” moments that make the pain worth it.  But that didn’t even happen once during my 72km of Sinister.  I was in pain, I had no idea what was wrong with me, and I wasn’t having any fun.  I decided I was done.  I called Brett and told him I was turning around and I wanted him to pick me up.  I then called my sister and then my mom as I walked the 2km (I hadn’t made it very far into this leg) back to the transition to hand in my timing chip.  I was happy with my decision.

While laying in the grass out side the 4Runner I met up with a couple I had been running with on leg 2.  They had planned to run it together as kind of a training run for Fat Dog 120.  The heat got to them as well, and they had decided to quit.  Seemed to be the theme of the day.  I heard someone measured the temperature at 46 degrees on leg 3.  I wouldn’t be surprised if that was true.  Approximately 15 minutes after arriving back to our cabin I felt terrible.  My head hurt, I couldn’t stand up straight, and I felt like I was going to puke.  Brett had to hold me up in the shower and wash the dirt off my legs/arms/face.  I had told a couple friends I would meet them at their house for a beer before meeting Adria at the next transition and it took all my energy to just get to the car after I showered.  For some reason I felt if I could just get there and drink a beer or two I would feel better.  I didn’t, but it was nice to visit with friends, and they didn’t mind that I needed to lay on the couch and eat all of their olives (salty delicious olives- good post race snack).

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About an hour later as I was sitting outside the convenience store (the only place open in the pass to buy food late at night) waiting for Brett, I got a call from Adria.  She had dropped out at the first aid station of leg 5 and was being driven back to race headquarters.  I felt sad that neither of us would be finishing, but obviously completely understood her decision.  We picked her up and went back to our cabin in Beaver Mines. Brett went to sleep immediately, while Adria and I discussed the race horrors and ate buttery perogies before trying to sleep.

Now that I’ve had some time to think about it, I wish I had kept going.  At least until I got dragged off the course for not making a time cut off.  Then, at least, I would’ve have no control over stopping.  100 milers are supposed to be tough.  Maybe I would have felt better once it got dark out.  Although maybe things would have gotten worse, given how terrible and nauseous I felt for days after.  It was a tough year, with only 18% of soloists finishing the race.  I think usually its closer to 40%?  I know when I eventually run 100 miles it’s going to be tough and I’m probably going to want to quit many times. But I have to hope that at least a portion of it will be on beautiful trails and I will feel SOME moments of happiness.   I have been working on my breathing and drinking electrolyte drinks on longer runs instead of plain water, and it seems to be helping.   I can still feel the starts of the stitch pain on most runs, but I’m hoping in time that will go away.

Next year my plan is to perhaps run Sinister as a team of two with my sister… assuming we can get a team signed up.  If not, who knows.  Maybe I’ll sign up to try to run the whole thing again.  I definitely want to finish it one of these years.

A few years later…plus a race report!

17 Jan

It’s been awhile.  I’ve finished a Medical Lab Tech program, ran a few ultra marathons, moved to Kimberley, BC, qualified for the Boston Marathon (to run in 2018), and got engaged.  Now that I am running more exciting (in my opinion) races, I thought it would be a good idea to start writing in this blog again as a way to remember these experiences.

Brett (the man), Sam (the dog), and I moved to Kimberley from Edmonton just over a year ago.  Going back to school for 2.5 years was challenging, but it allowed me to get a job in a smaller town and live close to mountains.  Leaving Edmonton was an unexpectedly sad experience for me.  I have some pretty great friends and running groups in that city, and in my excitement to move to the mountains I forgot how difficult it would be to not have those people near me.  Still, moving to Kimberley was the best decision.  We have access to many so running/hiking trails, outdoor and indoor rock climbing, lakes, skiing, etc.

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In August I ran my first 100km race- the Black Spur Ultra.
It is a 54/108km race that’s held here in Kimberley.  The 54km race consists of 3 loops, each coming back to the base of the Kimberley Alpine Resort.  The 108km race completes the 54km route twice.  I had a group of friends running the 108k as a relay, so they, along with my fiancé, were there to support me throughout the day.  Each leg starts with a hike up part of the main run of the ski hill.  Leg 1 (16.1km, 886m) starts on the round-the-mountain trail (which is it’s own race in June), but branches left at a cutline, so you can hike straight to the top.  This climb probably lasts for a few km, but once at the top you’re treated to some nice rolling single track and fun downhill for the rest of the leg.  This is the most technical leg in my opinion, and it was also the only part of the course I hadn’t trained on.  This leg wasn’t so bad the first time around. I remember trying to hike fast and run when I could, because I didn’t want to have to run in the dark for too long.  I met a runner who had placed 1st in the 54km race the previous year and ran with her for a few km before taking off on the downhill.  I’m a terrible climber but pretty good on technical downhill.  Since it’s the only place in a race I can ever pass people, I take advantage of any downhill and go as fast as my legs will carry me to make up time. Brett had been out for breakfast with his dad and brother, and I finished this first leg ahead of schedule…. I told my friend who was running the relay to let him know I had been through and took off without spending any time at the first transition.
Leg 2 (18.3km, 674m) heads off in the opposite direction from leg one after the short hike up the ski hill.  It climbs up magic line, which seems like never ending switch backs of a mountain bike trail even though it probably isn’t very long at all.  It was starting to get hot already, and I hate running in the heat. This leg went by relatively quickly.  After reaching the top of the magic line climb,  the trail is mostly runnable and is quite pretty.  Once reaching the aid station there is a fun mostly downhill section on mr. toad.  The challenging part of this leg is when you cut left onto a not so well traveled trail and have to run mostly flat or slightly uphill for a few km.  Luckily I met a runner along this stretch and chatting with him helped these boring km go by a little faster.  He was from the Crowsnest Pass and was running the 54k.  Eventually on this leg you reach creek trail, a short but sweet shaded section that actually has some water (most of the trail is pretty dry).   This leads you back to the nordic trails where there’s just one noticeably long uphill, followed by mostly flat back to the transition.
Leg 3 (19.4km, 670km) is probably my favourite leg.   Once through the nordic trails, it heads up myrtle mountain (runnable when not in the middle of an ultra), but then there’s a nice long downhill stretch for a few km- first on single track, and then a wider dirt trail/road. At the end of the downhill there’s another aid station to chill at before heading up sunflower hill.  The rest of this leg feels heavy on the uphill.  I actually  have no memory of running this leg, but it probably sucked because I know I felt very terrible starting leg 4.

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I think this was the end of leg 3

Before heading back out on leg 4/1 I attempted to eat some of a grilled cheese sandwich (which worked for me at the Iron Legs 50 miler), and chugged a lot of coke.  This was a mistake, and I felt very nauseous for a long time.  I couldn’t run any of leg 4 until I reached the top of the climb.  At this point my friend had texted me to let me know I was somehow first female, which was both exciting and stressful.  The thing I like most about ultras is that you can take your time and not worry about your pace as much as in a road race.  Now I felt pressure to keep moving as fast as I could…. which was not fast at all.   I didn’t see many people during the second half of the race, and my brain kept trying to come up with reasons to drop out.  It was way too hot, my shirt was crusted with salt from sweating so much, and I couldn’t eat anything.  I was drinking about 1.5L of water every 10km.  I don’t remember much from leg 5, aside from some mountain biker volunteers and high fiving the first place male as he was on his way back to the transition.  Leg 6 was when I finally needed a headlamp.  At first the darkness was a little creepy, but eventually I stopped thinking about bears and cougars and ghosts, and enjoyed running at a comfortable temperature.  At the last aid station in the race a couple of girls from run club were volunteering, and so I had my first sit down of the day.   After a couple of ginger chews, and learning that I was still in first place, I took off to finish the race.  I heard someone entering the aid station as I was hiking up sunflower hill for the last time, and was scared it was the second place female (it hadn’t been).   For the last 9k I managed a rotation of running for 20 seconds, walking for 10 seconds, while listening to Trail Runner Nation podcast on mental toughness.
And then, after running/hiking/walking for 16 hours, 41 minutes and 10 seconds,  it was over.  I finished just before 1am, and unlike my arrival at the transition for every other leg, it was dark and quiet, with just a few people waiting at finish line.  Somehow I finished 4th overall, and 1st female.  Also, thanks to this being only the second year of the race, I get to hold a course record.  I’m sure it’ll get crushed this summer, but until then I will enjoy seeing my name on the website as holding the course record for the 108km race.