I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, when it comes to running ultras, Canada has a special way of chewing me up and spitting me out. And day 2 of the Golden Ultra – the SWEAT – one hell of a brutal (in the best way) mountain climbing adventure of a 55K – was no exception to this rule.
I mean, if the 5K the day before had taught me anything, I knew the course was going to be challenging…but I didn’t yet know just how challenging. I was prepared for some big climbs. I was prepared for some altitude. I was even prepared for some unpredictable weather. But I wasn’t prepared for just how challenging the course was really going to be. I wasn’t prepared for just how long of a day it was really going to be. Or how I would ache all over and have to muster up the energy to get up and run again the next day.
The best part about the 55K was that Casey was also going to be running it. It would be his first ever ultra; in fact, it was his first ever race distance over 14 miles (he technically “ran” 20 miles pacing me during one of my hundos). And I was brimming with excitement and anticipation over his race. I had a feeling that it could go either way: have him jones’in for his next ultra adventure or make him swear off running all together. I had hoped it would be the former. I have been trying to convince him to go for it for years because I have always known he has it in him…and I also know it’s only a matter of races before he surpasses me as an ultra runner. I give him 1-2 more, actually.
Back to the race…
The SWEAT portion of the race, a 55K that ran all over the mountains in Golden (and by over, I mean up). It was over 8,000 ft of gain. And no, the gain didn’t feel gradual. And no, it wasn’t forgiving. But it was pretty epic.
After a solid (and much needed) sleep, Casey and I woke up around 6:30 am, took care of our puppy dog and then started on some morning rituals. I won’t go into detail on all of those rituals (you’re welcome) but since y’all always ask what I eat, do, etc before a race, here you go.
We both enjoyed bagels with Wild Friends Cinnamon Raisin Peanut Butter (a seriously delicious and perfect pre-race food), I chugged some SOS Rehydrate (citrus, of course), and then I made my way on to some iced coffee (just to kick start my energy for the day).
We loaded up our hydration packs: Honey Stingers, gummy candies and mints (to help with any nausea or altitude sickness), SOS Rehydrate packets, salt tabs, my Petzl Tikka RSP headlamp (best headlamp ever), ShowerPill wipes, and gloves for me and Honey Stingers, GU gels, salt tabs, gloves and a rain jacket for him.
We also packed our respective drop bags, mainly filling them with extra layers (and a rain jacket for me since it wouldn’t quite fit in my pack..).
And we felt sort of ready, sort of nervous, and mostly, whatever, what the hell, let’s just do this. Tiffany, Jackie and Abbie accompanied us to the start line…and race day was officially in motion.
We had talked round and round about our race day plan. Would we run together? Should we run together? Or would we be better off just seeing what happened out there. On the way, we decided that we’d run together. Plain and simple.
We’d go out and tackle this course together, finish together and then celebrate together. We lined up at the start line with every intention of running this race side by side. We told friends, other racers at the start that it was our plan. And then the gun went off…
The road that shattered all plans…
The start of the race was on a gravel road through the town of Golden. It was flat, easy running. My legs were feeling good and I wanted to get into a comfortable groove (and out of the crowds) before hitting the trails. As the road went on and I kept inching forward, I had a sudden realization that our plan to stay together wasn’t going to work.
I wanted to push the road, find my place in the pack and then make good time while my legs and body still felt good. Casey wanted to take a more cautious approach (understandable) and stay a bit more consistent (also understandable). I made a few efforts to get him to pick up the pace with me but he was happy and comfortable with his strategy as I was with mine.
As we approached the trail, I knew that we weren’t going to be running together any more and wished him well (in my head, mostly).
I bounded up the first mini hill and it was trail until the road to the finish from there on out.
Despite the fact that I had been told countless times that bear bells did absolutely nothing to deter bears, I happily wore mine on my pack. I was jingling along, keeping a pretty steady pace for the first several miles and feeling really good. I joked with a few guys behind and in front of me that I felt like a Christmas ornament and carried on this way for awhile until finally, we hit a climb and spread farther out. I was running alone, jingling along, still in a good place and holding a good pace. Totally unaware of the big climb that I was only miles away from…
Somewhere along the way to the big climb, I ran into a couple of women on the trail…some truly boss ass lady runners. Like the bossest.
First, I met Jenn from Calgary (who I swear sweats out happiness and joy). Right away, I noticed that she is not only bubbly and sweet but also a total badass. And I couldn’t have been more grateful for her company. We chatted and chatted and the miles kept passing by. Rolling hill after rolling hill. Story after story. While I huffed and puffed behind her, I could tell she was a stronger climber and wondered just how long it would take her to lose me on the first serious climb.
Eventually, probably about a mile from the first super serious climb, another woman, Carolyn, from Victoria came up from behind (a tall, blonde with the best and longest legs ever!) and we continued up the hill as a pack, chatting away, enjoying each other’s company.
It got quiet for a moment and then Jenn said, well, it’s about 13K to the top. Let’s do this. Turns out she had run this part of the course the weekend prior.…badass.
We had already been climbing so I figured the climb would stay steady and manageable and side wind its way to the top. But boy was I wrong. I was so, so, so wrong.
The climb of climbs.
Carolyn, as predicted, eventually passed me on the climb and continued on with Jenn up, up, up…They were just stronger on the climb. Plain and simple.
I hung back at a pace I could sustain and focused on my breath. The air had started to get thicker, colder and wetter. Gloves were on. Focus was on. One foot in front of the other. One foot in front of the other. One foot in front of the other.
I was alone and climbing for 8+ miles (though it felt like 20). Every time I would look up and think I had reached a high point, I’d realize there were so many more “high points.” And my watch seemed to be counting the miles agonizingly slow. Even if I had wanted to, I just couldn’t quicken my pace. The gravel was loose, it was back-breakingly steep and the wind was whipping through my clothes.
Eventually, I thought I had reached the summit. It sure looked like it was the summit. And I started to celebrate a little in my head, a big smile on my face and a little more pep in my step as I made my way up and over a few boulders only to realize a few seconds later that it was a false summit and according to my watch, I still had a long way to the top. I yelled “fucker!!!!” as loud as I could. Just because I could. And more because the hill was kind of a giant fucker of a hill.
And all of a sudden, I turned around and caught glimpse of a guy silently climbing behind me, literally appearing out of the fog looking at me with slight concern. It was like he came out of nowhere, just to witness (and laugh at) my belligerence towards the hill. I laughed, apologized and explained that my words were meant for the hill and the hill alone.
By the look on his face, I could tell he was feeling the same. But also started to realize that I hadn’t hit a low point. Not yet. Not even on that bitch fucker of a climb (oops, sorry). I was still happy. Still chugging up the hill. Just a little more “animated” – for which I’ll blame the altitude. 😉
We pressed on up, up and up until we could see the top. Like right in front of us. Taunting us. One more steep gravel road to the gondola and then the promise of downhill. We powered up that last part giddily. And I basically threw myself at the aid station. Apparently, when Casey arrived at this aid station, Abbie girl was there waiting for him in a jacket (borrowed from Moxie). So jealous…
Flying down the ski slope.
Once we left the aid station at the “top,” I was feeling major relief. I had survived the big climb. And now it was downhill. Some steep, switch backs to the bottom (Kicking Horse Lodge) and then a stretch of trail before hitting the road to the finish…the final road through downtown Golden.
I felt surprisingly good on the downhill portion. It was tough but I just let my legs go and came flying down. I kept imagining I was on my snowboard and kept picking up the pace (mostly ignoring my burning quads and lungs).
Once I made it to the bottom (Kicking Horse Lodge), I saw Jackie, Abbie, Tiffany and Amy cheering me in. And I couldn’t have been more happy to see them. I knew that it meant the end was near. Or near enough, anyway.
The mud sucked.
Seeing my crew (and of course my pup) brightened my mood even more. And I was moving and feeling good as I made my way on the final stretches of trail. And I thought I’d be able to make up some significant time on this portion given how well I was moving until I hit the mud. It was deep, sticky and relentless. Every step felt heavy and labored. My legs suddenly felt more tired and I knew I was going to have to walk a good portion of the saturated mess of a trail.
It was the only time I ever got a little low that day (surprisingly) and I had to pull myself out of the funk by repeating one foot in front of the other to myself and playing counting games in my head. 200 steps running, 75 steps walking, 300 steps running, 100 steps walking and so on and so forth. Until finally I was out of the mud.
And just when I thought it was getting better….
I was out of the mud and celebrating the next few miles of runnable trail thinking that the finish line had to be near. With every turn, I would imagine seeing a road. But there was no road. Just more trail. And to make matters worse, I was out of water and felt like I was running out of steam. And to make matters even worse, my watch died. I had no idea what mileage I was at or how long I still had left to go. I was getting in my head. I was feeling cranky. I was cursing again.
And after what felt like hours, I finally saw it: the road!
I wanted to sprint it or at least run it the way I had that morning some 8+ hours ago but my body wasn’t having it. Cars drove by, honking in celebration, and I did my best to “jog” for them. I played the numbers game, picking up the pace and then slowing down and then picking up and slowing down. Again, the finish seemed so close but in reality, felt so far away.
I plodded along like this, feeling spent, until I saw it. The finish line. My friends. My dog.
And thought I could not have been happier.
- Official time: 8:50:52
- Place: 9th overall woman
- Shoes worn: Salomon Sense Pros
- Hydration: SOS Rehydrate
The happiest moment.
After doing a thorough ShowerPill wipe down in a bathroom in the bar adjacent to the finish line and changing into my finish line clothes (aka dry clothes), I joined the girls at their prime outdoor table at the bar where we could watch the finish line together. And after checking in on Casey’s estimated ETA and figuring I still had enough time, they helped me pick out the perfect finisher’s beer. A Jerkface for a total jerkface runner.
And while the above might sound like the happiest of happy moments, we’re still not there yet.
About halfway through my beer, I saw a runner coming into the finish area who looked a lot like Casey. A lot like Casey in his favorite Ted shirt.
And it was Casey, in under 10 hours, finishing with a giant smile on his face. And in his favorite Ted shirt, of course.
He didn’t even looked phased. Just super pumped. And I could not be more proud. He not only finished his first ultra but finished strong on a super hard course with a smile on his freaking face. He’s the shit, if you haven’t already heard.
So freaking proud of him.
After hugs, kisses, beer and laughs, we headed back for dinner, rest and recovery before day 3 (more on that to come!).
Stay sweaty friends,