Scorched Sole 50 miler

In June 2009, the RDs of Scorched Sole extended their race repertoire to include a 50 mile distance.  At the time, I considered signing up for it but ultimately decided to run the 50 km.  I wanted to save my 50 miler comeback for Stormy 2009.  As I watched the 50 mile runners cross the finish line, I decided to sign up for the 50 mile course the following year.

A year later, I toed that same start line.  We headed up through Okanagan Mountain Park and west towards Lost Lake.  No sooner had the run begun when Wendy and I, in a moment of inattention, saw some sweet single-track and unintentionally headed off course.  It took us some time to recognize our mistake and retrace our steps.  When we were finally back on track, we discovered that we were last.  Even though the field was only 37 starters, it was a little disheartening and we both seemed to change our focus from Race to Run.  We eventually caught up to a few runners, including George Forshaw, as we hiked up Little White.  The 50 km runners began to overtake the three of us, having made up the hour difference in start times.  We counted them off and told our tale of woe to Bruce as he flew up the trail.

As our threesome continued our climb to the summit of Little White, we were still in good spirits and moved at a fairly strong pace.  We passed the aid station volunteers who were still packing in supplies for aid #4.  When we arrived at their destination, we found a number of water jugs but no snacks.  We continued up, up, up to the summit and began to see the first 50 km runners running back to us, having reached their halfway point.  The last kilometre of the climb was patchily covered with spring snow but it wasn’t too difficult to navigate.

We reached the summit and found that there were water jugs, but no aid station.  In 2006, we climbed a similar route and there had been a few hardy volunteers with some food for us at this point.   I had expected the same this time since the map had been marked ‘minor aid’, not ‘water only’.  We topped up our water bottles continued on the 50 mile route, which carried on along the summit ridge before we would descend to the halfway point.  The summit ridge was deep in spring snow.  We trudged along from ribbon to ribbon in calf-deep slush.  This section went on for a long time.  Once again, I had misinterpreted the course description.  I was under the impression that the snow had mostly receded, but the truth was that the route included about 6 km of snow, which we would cross twice.  We came across two rope sections as we headed down.  These would have been quite treacherous without the ropes and we all slid at roller-coaster speeds before running into the tree securing the rope.  This is where our group mindset began to falter.  My shoes were water-logged, my feet were frozen, my hands were rope-burned and I was famished.  I was carrying plenty of gel but I always count on some real food at aid stations.  Those 6 km took a lot out of all three of us.

We eventually descended enough to find dirt and we were able to get some downhill running in.  The trail descended steeply and, although I love a downhill trail more than anything, my negative mindset was stuck on the return trip.  This was a huge descent and the climb back up would be really challenging, especially with all that snow.  Ugh – the snow.  It was George who spoke first, but he spoke for all three of us.

“There better be a pretty big bus at the next aid station to take us all home.”

We all chuckled for a second but then we were silent.  It had been said out loud.  It wasn’t just me who was hating this.  There was an out.  I wasn’t the only one considering it.  The end could be in sight. I was in control, after all.

I have never been down the DNF path before.  I have always wanted to complete what I started.  I wasn’t injured.  I wasn’t cramping.  I wasn’t really even hungry – although a grilled cheese would have hit the spot.  I just didn’t want to do THIS any more.  I was placing blame in all sorts of places.  I felt that I had been misled by the course description, even though I knew that there would be snow, ropes and a big mountain to climb twice.

Ellie Greenwood came into sight.  She was on her return trip up the switchbacks, leading the race.  She stopped to chat, echoing our feelings about the toughness of the course.  She didn’t stop for long though because Steve Russell was hot on her heels, not wanting to be chicked.

We finally hit the forest service road and Wendy and I took off.  I was surprised how well we were cruising along.  I began to analyze the idea of dropping out.  I knew that it was the wrong choice since I was still feeling strong.  I knew that I could complete this run if I could get my brain back in gear.  I knew that I simply needed some real food and I’d be ready to climb out of there.  We rounded a corner and the aid station tent was visible.  I immediately filled my water bottles and emptied the contents of my drop bag into my pack.  I surveyed the table for food but found that potato chips were about the only thing available.  I ate the crumbs in the bottom of the bag and tried to save a few morsels for George.  We told the volunteers how tough the course was and joked about stopping.  The women instantly said,

“There’s plenty of room in the pick-up truck if you want a ride back.  You’re one of the last runners, so we’ll be packing up quite soon.”

And that was it.  It was too easy.  I made one effort to say that I would continue on, but I couldn’t follow through.  I helped put the food away and load the drop bags into the car.  I found a comfy place to sit in the bed of the pick-up truck and we drove about 30 minutes back to the start/finish area.

At the time, I didn’t regret the decision.  I couldn’t imagine climbing back through the slushy snow, using the ropes to climb up to the ridge line.  I knew that my finish time would have been around 13 hours, if all had gone well.  I didn’t sign up for that.  That was the dialogue in my head.  No regrets.  I’ll do a 50 miler another day.

But, I cried on the drive home.  I completely regret not finishing that race.  It wasn’t impossible.  It was tough, but so am I.  The DNF feeling is something I hope never to have again.  It is the reason I started this blog – to remind myself that I don’t want to go there again.

Upon much analysis, I would say that I was overly concerned with ‘the group’.  I was part of a group and that group was struggling.  The group wanted to stop.  If I had been on my own, I would have had the same experiences, but I don’t think I would have quit.  Time will tell.