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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Sinister 7: 100 Mile Trail Race

It was Saturday morning at 7:00 when hundreds of runners began their epic journey in the mountains of the Canadian Rockies.  You could sign up and make a team of 7, or perhaps dare to be a soloist, running the 18,000+ feet of elevation gain as you run through 100 miles of the beauty that Crowsnest Pass has to offer.  The choice was obvious for me.  I'm runnin' solo.  So I trained hard for this race, and prepared myself for the various obstacles that would be in my way.  The 100 miles weren't the problem, it was the diversity of variables throughout the course that would hinder my progress.  The dry heat that Alberta offered, the cold nights that would definitely freeze me up, the mountains that would bring most people down to their knees.  I learned after I came here for the race that this was THE hardest 100 mile race that Canada offered, and it also served as the Canadian 100 Mile Championships!  There would be a lot of people, and this was going to be one intense race...

In preparation for this race, I needed the proper preparation.  The training I went through was pretty intense, but more important was the plan for the race.  The race was divided into 7 legs, and each leg had their own unique blend of distance, elevation change, temperature, and trails.  I looked through the previous year's team relay (180 teams), found the most average time for each leg, and after adding them all up to get the most average time for the whole race, gathered the mile average for each leg, including the total.  With that information, I was able to use the numbers to correlate what splits I would need to get in order to get the certain time that I wanted, if I were to run a perfectly paced race.  I had my A goal of 17:30, B goal of 20:00, and C goal of 24:00.  Though the terrain would be tough, I believed that with the training, I would be able to run smart and get through the race on top of things.  The plan was to run only a mile (unless it was uphill) and walk for 40-60 seconds after each mile to prevent myself from pushing too hard and continue in this fashion all the way to the end of the race.  Simple right?  I would be able to gauge what pace I was running at and hope that I was calculating everything correctly and taking care of myself during the race.

4 pairs of Asics Gel Lyte 33 3's
2 pairs of Injinji socks
KT tape to wrap my arches and knees
Underarmour shorts
My favorite pair of running shorts
Various performance shirts
Asics running gloves
Heavy duty gloves (for the night)
White bandana
2 Ultimate Direction AK 2.0 with a 2L bladder
Petzl NAO Headlamp

Each leg that was close to a 10 mile jaunt, I would fill the bladder with 1L of water and 2 nuun tablets, each leg that was closer to a 20 mile jaunt, I would fill the bladder with 2 L of water and 4 nuun tablets.  Every quarter of a mile, I would drink a sip, and continue on.  Every hour, I would take in 2 salt capsules (Hammer Endurolyte Extreme), and one Clif Bar Gel Shot (Chocolate).  I planned on eating solid foods at the end of each leg, and also drink coke.

But anyway, here's what happened in the 7 legs of the race!

Leg 1: 10.25 miles

A few minutes before the race began, Majo mentioned to me that it would be best to start up front so I wouldn't get stuck in the bottleneck by everyone, so I promptly began at the front of the pack, lining up as the countdown went, and ran with the elite runners of Canada for a few miles.  The beginning of the course was mainly road, and after running an easy pace for the first 2 miles, I was far out ahead so that I could start doing my mile run with a 40 second walk.  I chatted with Dave, Majo, and Eric, but after a while, I let them go ahead so I could run my race.  After the paved road turned into a gravel road and became a little steep, I walked a good bit, as I had banked enough time to afford to do that.  Then, the gravel road became trail, and part of it became rough, that I was a little bit worried that my pace would be off... but didn't worry that much, as I still had miles upon miles left til I reached the finish line, and so I kept on going.  Knowing that 100 mile trail races are out of my comfort zone, running at this pace was soothing, and so I kept it up, and before I knew it, I hit the first transition station less than a minute off my A goal! 1:27:49.6, and with that surprise, I was mentally unprepared for the transition that I forgot to drink a cup of coke!  Still, I was able to get a drink of water and switch packs and continue on to my journey.

Leg 2:  9.94 miles

The compared to the first leg, I knew this second leg was going to be harder, and that I needed to prepare myself for a hill, and up we went!  The elevation gain was about twice that of the first leg and most of it was at the very beginning of the trail, so I walked most of the way up to save my energy, running in places where it sloped down.  A good number of people passed me as the relay teams were fresh, but I didn't let that bother me.  I kept on running my race, and to my surprise, as I was going up, I met up with Majo, who was one of the top runners of Canada!  I chatted with him and he told me that the guys up ahead were all battling it out 5 minutes ahead of him and he would rather run his race and be smart than fight it out and burn out.  Pretty happy that he and I had the same mindset, I continued on my trek, going up, and at the top came to a spectacular view!  I wished I had taken more pictures than I did, but anyway, the experience was amazing, and as I flew down the course, I enjoyed the scenery, and just cruised.  Every once in a while, the trail would go back up, but it mainly was a downhill run, and passing a few people, I relished the journey.  After going down from the top for a good ways, the larger trail turned to a single track, and was once again hidden in the bushes and grass just growing , which made it rather difficult to push hard, and at the same time, it became extremely steep!  Afraid that I would slip and fall, I tried to slow down, but it was a tough situation.  In the final miles of the race, I met an individual that ran out of food, but unfortunately, I couldn't give him an extra gel as I had only enough to last me through the leg... hindsight, should have brought emergency food just in case.  As I got down close to the end of the leg, the course was somewhat marked but a little confusing and after I crossed the bridge, the person there said to go past the trees and turn left.  I thought he meant more than the two trees that were in front of me, but apparently, that was all he meant, so I did a little backtrack to get back to where I needed to be, following a guy that had passed me in the mixup.  He continued on the path and then the trail split and I think he may have missed a trail mark and turned right, and I followed him.  A lady from her backyard seeing that we went the wrong way, luckily yelled at us and got us to turn around after 20 seconds of running the wrong direction, and so we turned around, and came back, finally getting out of that area, back to the course, and a few minutes after that, arrived at our next transition station... and even with all that mixup, I still was able to finish under my A goal with 1:56:10.2!

Leg 3:  21.75 miles

This time, I remembered to drink coke and ate a little bit of food, as the next leg of the race would be a long one, so I prepped myself and changed shoes, ready to bang out another twenty miler, hoping to finish in a good clip.  Dennene had told me that leg 3 was one of the harder legs because of how it was exposed and the sun would beat down on the runners mercilessly, and so I prepared myself for this, bringing with me 2L (70oz) of nuun water.  The plan was to run at a faster pace than the previous leg because there was a lot more straight aways, so mentally I was prepared to work a little bit harder during this portion, so I could start working to maintain that A goal, and so I didn't let the climb at the beginning bother me.  I went up as I always did, walking most of the way, not caring that people would pass me, drinking out of my pack every quarter of a mile so I wouldn't get dehydrated, but as the pace was a lot slower, I didn't realize that I was actually starting to dehydrate myself, but kept on believing that I was doing the right thing, and kept on walking up the mountain, hoping to hurry and get to the other side.... and once I did, there were a few little (extreme) rolling hills, but it gradually went to a long stretch.  At the rolling hills, I passed a guy that was just laying down, and he was not looking too good, so asking if he was okay, he told me he was going to drop after this leg... it didn't look too good for him, and he ushered me to continue on, and so I did, and went by a creek crossing, where I cooled my legs a bit, and continued on.  After the road went to a longer downhill stretch, he just passed me, and just charged on ahead with renewed energy, and letting him go with that, I took a couple pics of the beautiful mountains and continued on, to meet up with him at another creek crossing, where he had submerged himself and cooled his body down.  Seeing that great idea, I squatted down also, as my calves and quads had started to ache a little, and cooled them off.  I also got my bandana and swabbed myself with the cool mountain water for a bit, and then kept on truckin'.  Turning left into some trails that were climbing up the hill/mountain, I continued on and
made sure to just keep doing what I was doing.  I passed by the first check point of this leg, feeling pretty good, ate a handful of nuts, and went off without filling my bladder, because hey, I knew I was going to make the second checkpoint easily with this much hydration on me, but that was almost a bad decision.  I continued on but with the sun beating down on me, I started to notice that because this was a dry heat, I wasn't able to see the sweat coming out of me, and I was actually starting to heat up.  Fortunately, I caught myself being thirstier and drinking more than usual, making me realize that my internal temperature was going up, so immediately, I started drinking more often, taking in as much fluid as I could in order to prevent myself from getting a heat stroke.  At the first creek crossing I came to, I took off my shirt, dunked it in the water, and put it back on, immediately helping me feel so much cooler.  I also dunked my bandana in the water and cooled the back of my head, my armpits, and squeezed the water all over my body to ensure that I had not gone too far.  Although I caught it before it got bad, it did not stop me from feeling slightly nauseated, as I was in fact running out of water as my body was overheating.  I continued on in this fashion every time I crossed a creek, and slowly made my way up to the second check point, where I immediately refilled my bladder and ate a few pieces of watermelon, drinking a little more water.  Fortunately, I caught it before it became any worse, but the problem was that I was still slightly dehydrated, so I needed to move slower.  There was still a little more climbing I had to do, so after the checkpoint, I continued on, and as we went through the long descent and straightaways, I ran a little conservatively, as I knew it wouldn't help me the least bit if I continued at the pace I wanted to go.  I was still dehydrated and hot and the liquid I was putting in me was also not helping me as much as it could, so I attempted to play it safe.
Continuing on my path, I was able to move at a decent pace, but definitely slower than planned.  It was okay, I still had a lot of miles to cover til the end.  As I came across the next check point, I was met with children with water guns, and so I went up there to get shot in the face, to let the kids have some fun with target practice.  At that station, I got myself a good bit of ice cold water, which definitely saved me, and I walked out feeling refreshed.  I continued at that slower pace, still wanting to go fast, but pulling on the reins to make sure I could last the full race, even though I really wanted to push harder.  As I went back to the rolling hills to go back down to the transition area, I started to pick up a little speed and caught up to a couple relay runners, but unfortunately, it was short lived, as I was still recovering.  My toes cramped up as I was headed downhill and I needed to do my super-Sho-style steep downhill tactic, which was basically sliding down backwards on all fours, and managed to save my quads from further damage.  I slowly made it down to the TA, where I arrived in 4:14:31.5, right under my B goal.  Still good considering the dehydration... but trouble was right around the corner.

Leg 4:  10.56 miles

Thinking that I had finished rehydrating myself, I continued on my journey after snacking on a few sandwiches and bananas, and started the climb up the ski slope... but oh my goodness, my calves started cramping and I was not doing well.  I hobbled up and attempted to run the easy parts, but my body wouldn't listen to what my head wanted, and so I took salt pills, ate a gel and decided that this leg was also going to be a sacrificial leg, so that I would be able to get back... but greed took over and patience lost the battle and I took every opportunity to push ahead, not helping myself, and in return, consumed too much water because I was still dehydrated, and at that point, not doing well at all.  I managed to meet up with a female relay runner and walked and talked with her for a bit as she needed a break going up some of the climbs and we managed to get to the checkpoint.  At the CP, I thought I filled my bladder with water, but to my horror, within 30 minutes of walking, I discovered that I had run out of water, and could not go back to running!  Keeping myself calm, I decided once again that I would walk and just give myself a much needed break, letting this leg go so that I could make a comeback and run the rest of the race well.  It didn't look good for me as I started to get thirsty.  At one point, a runner gave me a swig of their water and another, Jay, who I met a few nights earlier, allowed me a good gulp to help me stay alive, and so I kept on walking, growing impatient and slightly dehydrated... and then the rains came.  I figured I was a few miles out, I could just get through this by running the rest of the way, and then rehydrating and replenishing my foods at the TA and take a break the first 3 miles on leg 5, so away I went, jogging for a bit, and then that jogging turned into a run, and then I found I was going at a decent clip all the way to the TA, finishing that leg in 3:01:52.3, which was 9 minutes slower than my C goal.

Leg 5:  18.39 miles

By this time, the once sunny and hot day turned into a nasty cold and wet weather, and it was really gloomy.  Majo had caught up to me at the TA and I saw that he wasn't doing too well at that point too, and so we exchanged encouragements, and I went about on my way, walking with my headlamp on, listening to music to get my mind off of the race and instead on recovery.  At the start, Taylor Spike passed me and as I encouraged him, he stopped for a moment and told me that apparently, we were still top ten, which surprised me!  That automatically tempted me to get to running right away, but I urged him onward and told him after a few miles I would catch up, and so he went off.  Jay came by soon after with his smile and encouraging words went on his way.  For a little bit, I decided that I wanted to run to catch up to them, but after a minute of running, decided that the walk would be definitely worthwhile, so I continued down the road and onto a rocky/gravel trail til a relay person came and I decided to just tag along and use him to encourage me to continue on a run.  By then, we had ventured off and came to a few muddy areas, and the course had become a lot harder, and so I let him go ahead, and at the CP ate a bit and continued on, walking up the dreaded incline.  No sooner had I entered the forest when I came across mud pits, mud slides, mud baths, mud mud mud, and I just slowed down immensely because I just could not handle mud (a big psychological blow), and I ventured through, and at one point, I slipped and landed in a mud pit, which came up to my knee!  I was worried that my shoe would get stuck, but fortunately, I came out alright (muddy), and continued on.  As the trail started it's downward trend, I ran a little quick and managed to find out that I had recovered enough during the uphill climb to begin my attack again.  I stopped worrying about running around puddles and ran right through them, not caring about where I was stepping as long as I was running towards my goal the fastest way possible, and away I went.  I soon passed a few runners that had gotten ahead of me, and met up with Taylor again, and he and I 'battled' each other as we pushed on through leg 5, and saw his crazy downhill run that I would never try to attempt, as it was a little too reckless for me.  We continued onward, passing through the checkpoint, and then that random zombie figurine (that later people thought was a bear) and continued our progression towards the end of the leg.  Towards the end, Taylor seemed to be done as I continued to the TA, where I arrived and to my horror, my support crew wasn't there!!  I had a little mini-panic attack, but after talking with Jay and Majo (who passed me after the last CP) who was still there with their crew, I just got back to my laid back self and just enjoyed the break, getting myself ready to make the attack on leg 6... where I would either make or break, and I was ready to make it.

Leg 6:  22.49 miles

Fortunately, I only waited for 3-5 minutes for the crew to show up, and promptly switched my shoes, ate, and got ready for the last big leg, but before that, I needed to take a bathroom break, so Kris and I got to the port-o-potties and after I did my business, we looked to see where the runners were going and saw headlamps going a certain direction, and so I went off on leg 6.  At a certain point, I wasn't sure what direction to go, and after asking someone whether I was going the right way or not, they assured me that I was to go up a mountain, which was good, because I knew I was suppose to be climbing a mountain and away I went!  The mountain was steep so because I needed to save my energy, I walked up slowly, not passing anybody for a mile and a half, and then there was an arrow that pointed to turn right and I looked carefully because I couldn't believe what I saw... it said that I was on leg 7.  I messed up.  At that instant, I was frustrated, exhausted, helpless, and hopeless.  I didn't know what to do, so I turned around and started trudging down the mountain I had just climbed.  I turned on my phone to text the crew to let them know of the mess up, but as I turned it on, two messages from Maddie and Kim arrived, asking me how the race was.  At that point, a small flicker of hope came back on, and very carefully, I nurtured that flame all the way down to the TA.  The crew looked up at me in horror as I arrived from the wrong side, and they were instantly very encouraging and motivating, getting me the things I needed, and doing their best to bring me back to a good place... but the damage was done.  I was going for a comeback, but with an hour and a bit lost, I wasn't going to do as well as I hoped... but I had enough in me to say that no matter what, I was going to finish the race.  Catherine gave me a hug as she led me to the correct path, and I trudged along, consumed with the burden, trying to rekindle that little bit of hope I had within me.  It was a long trip up.  I met Jacques who was a relay runner that was doing two legs and he needed the walk too, and so he and I both went up, slowly but surely all the way to the CP.  It took us hours to get there, but after getting there, my mental stamina was depleted and I was taken to the tent, where I battled with the demons within and fought my urge to vomit... but to of no avail.  I became weaker with that, but when the volunteers up there started talking about me dropping out, one last cry came from me.  I said no.  I said that I would not give up, that despite how I felt, that no matter what, I did not come here to start a race, I came to finish, and so with renewed vigor, I continued.  I stayed at the CP for 1.5 hours, but I was ready to go.  I pushed myself as I kept up with a few relay individuals who were very encouraging, and got me to the summit, but as they were going down, I grew weak and allowed them to go ahead of me, and I trudged along alone in the darkness, battling the negativity and doubts that were etched into my head.  People continued to pass me, and I kept encouraging them, but the mental damage to myself weighed heavy on my mind and I could not bring myself to continue.  I was weak from not being able to eat anything since the CP, but I started to drink, and little by little got myself back to physically being better.  I made it to the next CP where I was encouraged yet again by the volunteers, and I continued on my path, just a little faster, just a little stronger.  Troy, who wasn't doing too well himself, had caught up and passed me and both he and the lady he was with encouraged me and so after my little pity party, I decided that I would see what I could do, and I started running.  I only ran for 2 minutes til I ran out of juice, but that was enough.  That gave me a little hope.  As I went to the last CP, I ate a fruit cup, and hibernated for 5 minutes.  During that time, a few people passed me, and I felt bad again, but after making myself rise back up, I decided that I would start racing, that I promised I would do my best, and I would DO my best.  Instead of coming in just under 30 hours, I would finish as fast as I was capable of going.  I slowly built up my speed and ran every downhill and straightaways muttering, "I'm a beast, I'm a monster" over and over, and gradually picked people off... I was coming back.  Daylight had come and my body was starting to feel awake.  This was the feeling I wanted, and I kept up the pace, going faster and faster all the way to the TA.  I finished the leg in 10:33:47.4, the slowest time recorded on that leg out of all the finishers, 5 hours behind my C goal, but I was back and ready to rock the next and final leg.

Leg 7:  6.65 miles

Dwight was there waiting for me, and I quickly changed shoes, and got myself ready for the last assault.  I had two goals.  To get under 27 hours, and to pass as many people as I could and not get passed.  There were a few people I knew that were ahead of me, and I was hungry to catch them and see how far I could go.  As soon as I got changed and ready to go, I ran down to the bottom of the mountain that I climbed before, and caught one runner.  I climbed the mountain, seeing a group of about 3 ahead of me, and at the summit, I started running like a madman, ready to catch as many as I could, and I did just that.  I caught those three soon after, and continued on my crazed run, seeing more ahead of me, and I passed 4 more, pushing on and going down.  I arrived at the CP and asked if there was anyone ahead of me that I could catch, and they told me that there was one but he was 9 minutes ahead of me and I thought, "I don't know if I can catch him... but there's only one way to find out." and away I went.  Running hard, my right hamstring had bugged me (old soccer injury), and so I changed my running form slightly, using my right calf more, and continued the assault on the mystery runner.  I didn't know how fast he was going, but I knew that I would be going faster, and so continued all the way out of the trails to the road, and from there, I continued without stopping, because the road is my home, and I told myself I would not stop until the finish line, and away I went.  I came close to the finish line, and sprinted hard all the way to the finish, finishing the run at 1:35:50.3, the 4th fastest time for that leg, with my final finish time at 26:52:45.

Overall, I enjoyed the race.  Sure, I was frustrated with the unfortunate circumstances and me allowing myself to be burdened by that, but the victory that came in overcoming the pain was sweet.  Without my friends from home, Catherine, Kris, and Dwight (the support crew), the other runners in the race, Brian Gallant (who was one of the best RDs ever!  Amazing race, really!), Dennene, and many other people, I would have not been able to have this experience.  Though there were dark times, this last picture pretty much sums up the whole race.  Out of 183 who signed up, only 52 made it to the finish line (28% finish) and I was 19th place overall, 15th male.  It was a fun race, and I am very happy with every event that occurred, and all the friends I've made during that journey.

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