20150911: 77k of Black Spur and 100 miles of Lost Soul

I got back from a month of sitting on my bum in southern Africa in late June and found the email in my inbox, saying there was a spot open for the Lost Soul 100 mile and asking did I want it.

“It’s a 35 hour cutoff, right? I can train for a 100 miler in 8 weeks, eh…”

“35 hours,” the Race Director (RD) wrote back, “and you’ve got 74 days. The mountain stuff will help.”

Delusional with wild optimism, I signed up. Then I signed up for Black Spur 100k intending to use it as a training run. If I can get through 100k it’s a good start to being able to get through 160k, my thinking goes.

———————————————————————————————–

Black Spur 100k

Kimberley Alpine Resort B.C.

August 29, 2015

I’m going to skip over the details of my 4 weeks of ‘training’ to get to Black Spur. In short, I wasn’t sure I’d make cutoffs. As this was the inaugural year, nobody really knew what to expect, but we all knew that the directing team has a great reputation for organizing events. What was kind of scary was the elevation gain, an eyebrow-raising 6000m or so, and a trail description that promised lots of rocky fun windy single track and rockslide. “Just the kind of stuff you love to run”, said the race brief. Also from the brief:

  • Leg 1: Partly on an old cutline that is seldom used… The big climb will be rocky, rooty, green, soft, and slippery. 16k, 1061m gain.
  • Leg 2: A wide variety of terrain with wide fast sections and lots of windy single track. Rock slides, and more. This stage takes you to Horsebarn Valley, which is a bit of a natural wonder. Get your goatitude on. 17k, 935m gain.
  • Leg 3: Myrtle Mountain, features some more of that classic trail running terrain. 19k, 842m gain.

Repeat all three legs for 100k.

Race day was good and relaxed, perfect weather, cutoffs not too lean, the trails flowy and interesting and the running incredible. You could bash yourself seriously on this course, I thought, as I fell and rolled headfirst towards a tree.

Nightfall and I hit a section of grass with overgrown ruts just before 10pm. That’s where I sprained my ankle, badly, and where six other racers gamely stayed with me until medic arrived. That night, there were cougar sightings and bloodcurdling screams, bear bangers accidentally setting alight the forest, and the story of a little band of runners on a mission to communicate with race headquarters and arrange to get me out.

It was all very Survivor-ish, dramatically heightened by the black forest and mindsets shaped by 14 continuous hours of exercise. We all seemed pretty coherent though and largely able to agree on a course of action. In our everyday lives maybe the idea of heroism isn’t as apparent as it is in a contained situation. I was grateful for the assistance of those six runners and their care for my wellbeing – let’s just say it was a heck of a coordination effort. By 1:30am I was in the medic tent, the ankle was tested for fracture, the leg was splinted and bandaged (I’d also strained some stuff down the outside of the lower leg). A few of the ‘original six’ would continue the last bit to the finish.

At racer’s breakfast Sunday morning they got a standing ovation, as they well deserved, and I’d made some new friends. Special kudos to them, medic, the volunteers at checkpoint 5, and the race organizing team.

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Lost Soul 100 miler

Lethbridge, A.B.

September 11, 2015

During my last physio session in Calgary before the race, as I bid my Doctor goodbye and thank you for the session, she started to say something. “Just be aware…”, then she stopped herself. “Ah,” she said with a waving gesture, “You know your limits. Be smart, have fun, enjoy.” We’ve been through this before, during Lost Soul 2012. It was deja vu. But I felt much less prepared than in 2012.

Since Black Spur I hadn’t done much/any running. I was in a pretty grey mood that matched grey skies (forest fire ash from Washington) and for some reason was drawn to listening to DJ Shadow’s Six Days (Tokyo Drift) on repeat. And The Walkabouts’ The Light Will Stay On.

After two weeks of physio I did a 5k walk around the neighborhood sidewalks on Saturday, a 10k test Sunday on pavement and grass that left me a bit sore, and 20k walk-run home from work on Monday that took so long Scott drove out to try to find me at dusk. My quads seemed super clenched even though I consciously tried to relax them, and after the 20k the ankle ballooned up pretty badly. So I kept off my feet until Friday race day. Lost Soul’s grass, I told myself. It’ll be less impact. I’ll go slow and walk all the downs and side slopes. I’ve got 35 hrs. If the ankle holds up it’ll be fine…. I tried to convince myself thus.

—–

I was in west-central Alberta for work and hadn’t gotten much sleep before the race. One rainy foggy night around midnight as my colleague was driving and I was gazing out the passenger window at the stars, I remarked that if someone took a photo of the sky right now, it would look like an aurora. As we continued to drive and observe in silence, the ‘fog’ started to change shape. That IS the aurora, my colleague said excitedly. Distinct streaks formed in bright green and the clouds parted… Wow.  I love this country.

It felt like a long drive to Lethbridge for the race, 7+ hours after a full work day. I was anxious about getting sufficient time to top up sleep reserves, and was already anxious about the injury on top of lack of fitness…

—–

Race day. It was wonderful to see friends I hadn’t seen during my absence from the trail running scene. I did the first two 52k laps conservatively, obviously, and was kind of surprised to be ahead of tentative projections to meet my pacer Donny at 2AM for the last lap. He’d gotten 1 hr of sleep.

The stars were out and it was a beautiful, cool night. Normally at this hour and stage of a race I’d be less than energetic or talkative. But things were going better than expected and I was buoyed by that, and I was looking forward to seeing Donny, whom I’d gotten to know a bit at Black Spur while he waited with me for medic (he was one of the ‘original six’). He’d not run the Lost Soul route before, and pacing’s a good way to preview a course. We’d not run together before, but I thought we’d be alright. Which we were.

The last lap was really enjoyable. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that, to such a degree, in a race situation. Where suddenly the thought comes to mind that hey, this is awesome. It was more like a regular social trail run and though my legs were tired and I was running slowly with extended walk breaks to rest and to preserve the ankle, it wasn’t a big demand mentally. It was a bit difficult to let go of some competitive instincts but my objective right from the start was simply to finish in good shape within 35 hrs. I still want to be able to run when I’m older, and while this race is worth a setback in healing time, it’s not worth incurring permanent damage.

Donny is a patient perceptive pacer. His relaxed and flexible demeanor motivated me to what ended up being a 3rd place female finish in well under 29 hrs, which I’m pretty happy about. (This year the finish rate for the 100 miler was around 44%, and ranges from around 40 to 60% with heat-related difficulties being a major factor.) Thank you Donny for everything you’ve done. Check out his video of being stalked by 2 cougars during his recent run; he’s doing quite the interview circuit because of it!

Some other people deserve big genuine thank yous too: my Dr., the guys who willingly came out to keep me company on some long trails this summer, my “running” partner J for the kickstart at the beginning of the year. Also the entire race organizing team and volunteers. And Scott who acted as covert paparazzi and shot some nice pics of the course and who always knows exactly what to say to elevate me when I’m down.

I went to physio a couple days after the event, and my Dr. admitted she didn’t think I would finish (we have a good relationship). Ha!!

Some of these photos are Scott’s and some are Donny’s. The one of the flagging stakes is the race photographer’s.

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