Mighty Quail 100 km race report – Take 2

I re-read my last post and was struck by the vanilla of it all. Was that really how my day unfolded? Although all of that race report is true, I think I failed to capture my moods, my tenacity or my stubbornness. I made it seem as if my injury and my lack of training were immaterial in the end and that a hundred kilometers is an easily attainable goal. If this blog is supposed to be a personal journal of my experience running, then I missed the mark and cheated myself in the end. So here is a more truthful rendition of the race:

I arrived at the start line with a lofty finish time goal of 14hr 30min. This was arbitrary but somewhat based on the winning time of last year’s first female. I didn’t have any grandiose ideas of winning, since I knew that the bar would be lifted ever higher during the first years of a race, but I thought the time could be attainable. I had pored over the inaugural year results and lurked through strangers’ Strava race profiles, even going so far as to make a cheat sheet of times to meet along the way, which I carried with me on race day.

In a way, this mental game doesn’t amount to much since I am able to abandon lofty time goals mid-race and re-focus on simply finishing alive and upright (as in TdG). I also had a look through some other racers’ UltraSignup results which is where the depth of experience among this cohort came to light but I knew none of the women entrants. I had a good laugh at my UltraSignup ‘Target Finish Time’ since I was targeted to finish in 18hr 54min, almost an hour over the race time limit. Thanks for the confidence boost, UltraSignup!

The first 30 km played out just as I wrote before. I was alone for hours, I focussed on climbing strong, I worried about Bruce’s ankle roll, I ate and I drank like clockwork and I wondered if walking 500 km through Sweden would hinder or help me on this course. I also felt disappointed that the course had taken us up and over the eastern foothills and into a valley hidden from the Okanagan lake views. Beautiful views are a hugely motivating factor in my running and it looked like we would not get the wide-open views pictured on the website.

After making the high point of the day (33 km), I was finally near other runners again. “Stealthy Black” was standing at the side of the trail at one point, looking surprised to see a bunch of us pass her. In no time, we were all filling up at the 38 km water drop and we proceeded down a trail which I’ll remember as Bear Sh1t Alley. Between the very fresh, steamy (!) piles of bear poop were very fresh, mucky cow pies. It was sort of like an obstacle course for a few kilometers. Perhaps “Bear Bell” guy had the right idea after all.

Once we hit the logging road, we had 6 km of road running before aid station #2. This is where my race began. I could see runners far ahead and I worked hard to reel each of them in. I set my sights on the “Circus Gals”, two brightly-dressed women who looked to be close to my age, and pushed hard to pass them. They did not relent easily and they quickly shifted gears into chase mode after I passed. I could hear breathing nearby after and turned to see “Stealthy Black” making a strong push to pass me. All of this chick-jostling told me that I was probably among the female contenders (within our tiny field of 11!)

Upon arriving at 47 km (AS#2), I was told that I was the 4th woman with “Stealthy Black” in 3rd and the “Circus Gals” in 5th/6th. We had essentially arrived together so it was a race to see who could resupply herself fastest and get out ahead of the others. “Stealthy Black” won that race and I followed, after ensuring that I had everything required for the remaining 54 km and the upcoming night. The “Circus Gals” left soon after me and I could hear their chatter from the switchback below.

Along the dreaded Beaverdell Rd (remember – the gravel, the pick-up trucks, the relentless climb?), I tried to run everything. I tried to look stronger and faster than them by running when they were walking. In the process, I nearly rejected my recently swallowed PB&J, pushing too hard after consuming so much food at the aid station. I could see “Stealthy Black” way up ahead but sadly never again. When we finally reached the Ellis Canyon trails, I flew, knowing that my endless training on mountain bike trails would be a hard act to follow. But what is gained is so easily lost.

I needed nothing at the 58 km water stop – except the pit toilet (I blame that friggin’ PB&J!) so the “Circus Gals” retook their lead. They were out of sight when I emerged and I put myself back into chase mode. Losing a place is disappointing but losing two places really bothered me. “Cowboy Hat” and I descended through the deep sand together and both of us opted for wet feet as we forded the reservoir river which allowed us to easily gain six or seven places. During the steep ascent on the climb out of the reservoir valley, I could hear, then see, the “Circus Gals” but I was unable to overtake them until one of them stopped to remove her pack near the summit.

When we finally began to descend down Campbell Mtn DH trail, I hooked my invisible bungy onto the back of one of the “Twins” as they yahooed down the mountain bike trails towards aid station #3. I knew that one of the “Circus Gals” was just behind me so I tried to lengthen my stride with each step. It was one of those descents where I was huffing from the strong downhill effort. Of course, we all arrived at AS#3 (71 km) within seconds of each other. I chatted with old friends and tried to nourish myself well before heading out. This is where Lisa’s wise words about getting the same burger and same award at the finish helped me put things in perspective. It didn’t matter how we all placed. We were strangers who love doing the same thing and are well-matched to run together. In any other scenario, we would have laughed at our commonalities.

While I caught up with Lisa and Heather, “Cowboy Hat” and the “Circus Gals” quickly left the aid station and the “Twins” picked up their enthusiastic pacers all before I found the motivation to get going. I was dreading the next part. Greyback Mtn Road is the soul-sucking climb that would go on for 6+ km and would take me at least 1hr 20min to attain.

When I left the pavement and the grade steepened, I had time to start crunching the numbers. It was 5 pm, 11 hours into the race, and I still had 30 km to go. I was behind my secret time by 35 minutes which wasn’t too bad, but I was starting to feel the fatigue building in my legs. I knew that I wasn’t going to get any faster and that my longest training run (33 km) was not enough to pull it off. At my current slovenly pace, I was not going to see the “Circus Gals” again but I desperately wanted to catch them. As I was trying to re-calibrate my goals, I realized that each 25 km section had taken 4 hours. Surely I could run a downhill 25 km in less time. I waffled between optimism and defeat for this entire climb. It was the lowest point of the day.

Reaching the turn off Greyback and onto High Point Rd was awesome. I was able to run along the double track and I could see the orange colours of the sunset as the sun briefly made an appearance below the clouds. There were about 30 peaceful minutes of twilight running where I met up with “Cowboy Hat” and we stuck together until the headlamps came out. He mentioned that I seemed to have bounced back from a low point and I replied that sometimes you don’t even know you’re having a low point until it is over and you suddenly feel good again. We parted ways once our lights were on and I trucked on ahead and up the final steep grunt of the day.

I ran everything down to aid station #4, although caution has sadly become my downhill running style. I wanted to pull out my ipod and listen to some motivating tunes here but I dared not lose a minutes time in fumbling around with cords and stuff. Three long switchbacks kept looping us back and forth above the station so I could occasionally hear chatter or music down below. It was eerie and it took forever! When I arrived at the short out-and-back to the station, the “Twins” and their effervescent pacers were on their way back into the trails.

I was the only customer at AS#4 (87 km). A volunteer tried to direct me to a fireside chair and blanket which I declined but, as I started to dig into those delicious, fresh Okanagan apples, I simply had to take a seat for my second and third helping. Since I was now having a gag reflex every time I tried to swallow a gel, that crisp, pure taste of apple was exactly what I needed. I downed some Coke too. The clock showed 14 hrs 23min and here I was, sitting in a chair with 13 km to go. It was time to re-calibrate my finish goal again. I figured that I could run the last section in 90 minutes so I set my sights on sub 16.

Once back on course, it didn’t take long for me to find the “Circus Gals”. I could hear their chatter and see the glow of their lamps long before they saw me coming. We greeted each other again, as we had all day, and I could see that the downhill was taking its toll on one of their knees. I retook my lead and tried to look strong and confident as I scurried on ahead but, a few minutes later, I took my only tumble of the day. I caught a toe, flew a few feet and managed to right myself, jarring my wrist slightly. They both checked in on me and made sure I was okay before we re-assumed our positions and continued on.

With the frenzy of the fall and with finally being ahead, I got cocky and missed a significant turn just a minute later. I found myself on the far side of a creek with no markers in either direction. I had to retrace my steps (uphill) and find my error. Of course, this put me behind the Gals again. I berated myself for losing my concentration and vowed to really focus on the reflective markers. I figured that I would find the “Circus Gals” quite soon but it took over 4 km for that to happen.

The markers were fewer here and I kept doubting that I was on the right path. I stopped, searched and retraced my steps multiple times. I finally thought Screw It and plowed on where I thought the route was going and, sure enough, I found a marker a few minutes later. I had the same attitude when I came across a frisbee golf course full of cows but no markers. At this point, I could see Lake Okanagan and the lights on the far side and I knew that the trail section was almost done.

Just as I could hear traffic and see street lights, I came up behind the “Circus Gals”. They thought I was “Cowboy Hat” and seemed surprised that I had ended up behind them again but I reassured them that it was just me, “Skirt Lady”. We confirmed that this next section, the last section, was about 5 km on the Kettle Valley Railbed (KVR) and a final km down to the yacht club.

I made my final pass of these women and ran with full effort along this wide, gravel road. I was determined to put a big gap between us and I still had my sub 16 hr goal in mind. But all my bumbling around, searching for markers in the dark, had eliminated my time cushion. My quads were screaming from the long downhill trails we had just completed and the leg turnover was sad indeed. Somehow I managed to overtake another runner here but he had been reduced to a walk. The KVR was another part of the course that I had not looked at carefully since it was a gentle downhill grade. It was long and it was hard (said the actress to the bishop) and I searched endlessly for the right hand descent to the water. I only looked back once to see if I was being hotly pursued and thankfully there was only darkness behind me.

When I reached the yacht club parking lot, I was truly exhausted with the effort and I truly didn’t think I could run all the way across to the finish chute. And when I crossed the line, I had to stand with my hands on my knees and breathe for a couple of minutes before receiving my congratulatory hugs. I left it all on the course. The “Circus Gals” and I raced each other for 60+ km and traded placings over and over again. They arrived at the finish 6 minutes after me, having run every step of the day together.

They call these events ‘races’ but I have only ever entered to simply run. This felt like a race all day long. Although it was a much slower pace than the winners, it felt like the three of us were playing some kind of strategic mind game. I doubt that I would have had my 16:08 finish time if they hadn’t been pushing the pace and offering the challenge all day.  Thanks, “Circus Gals”! May we meet again.