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Running a 100 miler in March in California – what a delightful idea!

Back in October, as B and I talked ourselves into signing up for the Coyote Backbone Trail 100 Mile event, these are some snippets of conversation that we exchanged:

What a great way to enter into spring! An early season ultra!

It will be a way to escape those last throes of winter!

We’ll miss some of March’s 140+ mm rainfall at home.

March in California brings to mind daytime heat and perfect nighttime running temperatures.

H’ard puts on a great race. I’d love to be part of any event that he organizes.

I fantasize about having to wear shoe gaiters and having foot issues like dust between my toes.

It is a stretch to picture myself wearing shorts and a t-shirt after months of tights, wool and rain jackets.

I can almost taste those freshly-picked, straight-off-the-plant, local strawberries that will be available at every aid station.

And don’t forget about the avocados that ripen right along the trail!

The views will be awesome. There will be incredible views earned with every climb!

Do I even need to mention the Ray Miller trail? That amazing trail will lead us right to the finish line.

Buoyed by these visions, we each entered the race and ramped up our training.

Me and B all bundled up for our New Year's Day fat ass run. I can't wait to show off my True North Strong and Free white legs in March!

Me and B all bundled up for our New Year’s Day fat ass run. I can’t wait to show off my True North Strong and Free white legs in March!

But soon, the reality of training for an early season ultra hit us hard. Two factors quickly reared their ugly heads.

First – the dark. We live a dozen miles south of the 50th parallel. We are treated to long, long days in the summer where it is light enough to be busy outside without a light until after 10:00 pm. At that time of year, we also get used to the early light of the morning where our rooster begins crowing around 4:30 am and blackout curtains are required for sleep (and earplugs too!).

But, in the depths of winter, it is dark on the way to work at 8:00 am and dark on the drive home at 4:30 pm.

This picture was taken on the Winter Solstice 2015 at 07:50 am. We have some pretty fearless hens!

This picture was taken on the Winter Solstice 2015 at 07:50 am. Our hens ain’t afraid of the dark!

We have never really gotten used to the fact that weekends are the only time we get to enjoy seeing more than those next 10 ft of trail. Although running in the dark is possible, thanks to many lumens of flashlights and headlamps, it does sort of suck the joy out of it. I am constantly telling myself that I will rock the night section of this race since my entire training has been done in the dark.

A typical post-work run

A typical post-work run – at least it is only raining!

Second – the wet. Here, on the Wet Coast of BC, we are awash in rain. It is wet all the time and sometimes it is very wet. But, on the upside for us running folks, you can train in the rain. If you can get yourself into the right head space, you can run probably 360 days of the year on dirt and take just 5 or 6 days off due to our two annual snowfalls.

To some, the idea of a snowfall might sound like fun but here, in our coastal paradise, it is no fun at all. To us, snow is what we call the stuff as it falls from the sky but, as soon as it hits the ground, its name changes to #%@! (I wish I knew the Inuit word for this #%@! kind of snow) It gets wet and heavy – sort of like wet concrete – and then, due to our typical near 0°C temperatures, it melts, freezes, re-melts and re-freezes, making it either slippery slurpee or blocks of solid, immovable ice.

Winter trail running wavers between fancy footwork and having your life flash before your eyes

Winter trail running wavers between fancy footwork and having your life flash before your eyes. It would be easy to go head first into this guy’s maw!

This pattern continues until the next torrential rain storm finally washes the #%@ away. Usually this happens all within a 48 hour time frame. But not this year.

Just last weekend, early January’s dump of snow/ice/concrete finally disappeared and we were able to actually run 30 km on dirt. It was a low elevation run with only minor climbs but it was still a trail run! But today, as we dig ourselves out for the fourth time in two months and prepare for yet another ‘snow day’, I really wonder if it will be possible to run 100 miles after having trained in 10 km snippets with almost no hill work. Almost all our plans for long runs have been thwarted by weather.

Yes, yes - we have opportunities to train in the snow but it is a stretch to go for more than 20 km in this terrain.

Yes, yes – we have opportunities to train in the snow but it is a stretch to go for more than 20 km in these conditions.

During the last dump of snow, I resorted to running 27 loops of our property in an attempt to get a few miles in. This is me, teetering on the brink of madness.

During the last dump of snow, I resorted to running 27 loops of our property in an attempt to get a few miles in. This is me, teetering on the brink of madness.

This is the hard reality of being a non-professional ultra runner who works full-time (in a job that I love and for which I am very very thankful!). But right now, it feels like I have been tapering for this race for more than 3 months!

I heard a saying that goes something like ‘you can suffer through the training or you can suffer on race day‘. Although I can attest to having suffered already through my pitiful training, I know that race day will take it to a new level. You can’t fake it for 100 miles.

So, until then, over the next 4 weeks, I will be motivated by pure fear and that long list of delights that I mentioned above. I sure hope they have plenty of strawberries for me!

Most of our imported strawberries come from Ventura County, CA, minutes from the finish line.

Most of our imported strawberries come from Ventura County, CA, minutes from the finish line.

“Strawberries, you say?! Are they at the end of this snow tunnel?”

(OR My San Diego 100 Miler Race Report)

Dear Scotty,

Thank you so much for all the behind-the-scenes and in-front-of-the-crowd work that you do for the San Diego 100. My day was flawless.

Package Pick Up - already getting loaded down with schwag!

Package Pick Up – already getting loaded down with schwag!

Thanks to your pre-race runner emails and the super-informative website, I arrived at the start line feeling ready for the adventure ahead of me. I didn’t feel nervous or jittery but simply ready to place my trust in your volunteers so that I could enjoy the day.

The sun rose just before the 6:00 am start.

The sun rose just before the 6:00 am start.

I'm looking pretty wide-eyed here at the start as B looks relaxed and ready.

I’m looking pretty wide-eyed here at the start as B looks relaxed and ready.

The aid stations were so well-stocked with great nibblies, real food and experienced volunteers. Every time I arrived at one, it felt like a Pit Crew took care of my every need and got me moving on in no time flat. One volunteer let me wipe my sunscreen-burning eyes on her t-shirt. Another found me a towel and clean water so that I could rub the grit and salt off my face. And yet another one ran off to her car to fetch me her personal set of nail clippers when I had a troublesome toenail! The lengths that people went to help me through my day were countless.

Heading out of Paso Piccacho 1 and up towards Stonewall Peak. There are muscles here I never knew about!

Here I am heading out of Paso Picacho 1 and up towards Stonewall Peak. There are muscles here I never knew about!

The course was spectacular. I loved climbing along the PCT, thinking of our friends GnG who are currently thru-hiking, and gazing out across the bleak desert. We simply don’t get vistas like that up here in the North where thick tree canopy obscures most views and we don’t have many deserts to speak of. Despite being a ‘cool race day’, the heat on those exposed ridges tested me. I felt myself wilting as I climbed up towards Todd’s Cabin (40 miles), a combination of the mid-afternoon heat and the 6000 ft elevation both taking their toll on my body.

B flies along open grassland in the early stages of the course.

B flies along open grassland in the early stages of the course. These open sections were hot in the heat of the afternoon.

But, at that point, my suffering ended. Upon leaving Todd’s Cabin, I entered the most beautiful section of the course. From Todd’s Cabin to Red Tail Roost to Meadows and back to Penny Pines 2, I enjoyed every step. Somehow that sweet downhill came as a surprise and I loved flowing through the oaks and pines. I was lucky enough to run down Noble Canyon in the daylight and actually enjoyed the long hike back up in the cool evening air. I loved seeing the headlamps shining across canyons, trying to figure out if those folks were ahead or behind, close or far away. I never did figure it out.

Through the night, I cruised almost effortlessly. Having always been fearful of running through the night, I have steered away from the 100 mile distance. But, here I was, cool, refreshed and strong, picking off numerous runners and their pacers all night long. I awaited moonrise and admired the endless star-scape. And around 4:30 am, just before arriving at Paso Picacho 2 (93 miles), I witnessed the song of early-rising birds who began singing long before the sun hinted in the east. Glorious!

The course markings were perfect. During the day, I never searched for a ribbon and the route felt very straight-forward. Through the night, with far fewer reflective ribbons, there were a few instances where I questioned the way and one place where I pulled out my copy of the turn-by-turn descriptions to double check. But I personally prefer a less-marked course. Route-finding is part of the challenge and it sure kept me both occupied and focused!

I loved how you greeted each runner as they crossed the finish line, handed out their awards and then catered to their needs. Never before has an RD offered me a chair, taken my photo and then brought me recovery drinks! This personal touch was wonderful to receive and even better to watch from the sidelines. It felt like you knew each and every runner – as if you had put on a race for your 270 closest friends. It shows a true dedication on your part to share in the success of each finisher and I am touched to have been counted among them.

Finished! B and I were near each other all day but purposefully ran our own races. Here, we are catching up on trail tales at the finish line.

Finished! B and I were near each other all day but purposefully ran our own races. Here, we are catching up on trail tales at the finish line.

Bruce and I managed to travel to the race with only carry-on baggage, but not so on the return! We had so much schwag between us that we were able to fill a third bag which had to be checked. I have never seen so many goodies handed out at a race! And these goodies are supreme! You truly spoiled us. I love the green theme (tech t-shirt, finisher hoodie, shoe bag and shoulder bag) and we have both affixed our SD and 100.2 stickers to various cars, tool boxes, computers, etc. My third place Open Women award (which is truly gorgeous!) and our two San Diego Solo Division buckles have been proudly added to our ever-growing collection, on display for all to see.

A finisher gets all of this schwag and more. We also got Injinji socks, a show bag, recovery powder, a buff, etc, etc.

A finisher earns one of the buckles, all of this schwag and more. We also got a technical t-shirt, Injinji socks, a shoe bag, some recovery powder, a buff, etc, etc.  We each earned the Solo buckle at the bottom of the picture.

I have already begun singing the praises of your event and will continue to do so. Having never tried the distance before, I came in with humble hopes of finishing. My results on race day astounded me. Although I trained hard (and scared), I think I can credit you and the incredible race organization for my end result.

Thank you for all that you, Jean, the race committee and all the volunteers do for the race. I am so proud to have tried and succeeded.

With gratitude from the depth of my heart and the soles of my feet!

Martha

This was my first 100 miler attempt. I finished in 24 hours 42 minutes and placed second in the female Solo Division (no crew; no pacer). I was 4th woman overall and 3rd in the Open Women category.

At this same race, Bruce completed his 22nd 100 mile race, his second SD100 and also earned a Solo Division buckle despite his severe knee injury.

SD100

Here are my race stats. Talk about coming from behind!

For each of us, our perceived limit of what is possible is different.  I have many friends who do not run long distances and some who do not run at all.  I have watched eyes glaze over when I talk about my upcoming 50km run or even the 3 hour run I did on the weekend.  Yet I completely understand the glazed-eye look, because I often get it when others talk about something beyond the limits of my  mind.  (For example, who can imagine playing test cricket for more than 5 days?)

Recently, I was getting some updates about a friend who was running an unbelievably long race (The Iditarod Trail Invitational 350 miles).  Upon reading about her daily progress, I caught myself wondering if running such a distance in such conditions were even possible.  What nerve I have!  While she was plodding along, day after day, in the darkness of an Alaskan winter, I was simultaneously questioning if what she was doing was real.

It struck me then that I had come across something that my brain could not process.  The limits of my imagination in running had been reached and my eyes were being opened to a bigger picture.

I had the glazed-eye look that I have seen countless times on the faces of non-running friends.  But this time it was my turn to abandon my facial composure while I stretched my thinking beyond its regular boundaries.  Mental gymnastics ain’t pretty!

I have run a variety of distances, with 50 miles being the farthest that I have pushed myself in one day.  But, although that is the limit that I have imposed on my body, it isn’t the limit of my mind.  I have attended many 100km and 100 miles races.  I have crewed for Bruce in countless events that I considered too long/tough/gruelling/crazy/etc for me but I understand that these are all in the realm of possible.  Even multi-day events, totalling a couple hundred kilometres of running, are plausible to me.  But for some reason, running the Iditarod race was hard to fathom.

But that is all in the past now.  Thanks to Shawn and her amazing run, I have added running 350 miles in the arctic to my list of possible, although highly unlikely, running endeavours.

Where is your mind’s limit for running endurance?  How far can you imagine going?

Stormy 100 mile trail race

Aid Station #3 – Edith Lake

10 am start – Such a luxurious way to begin an ultra.  As Bruce and I pulled into the start/finish area, the runners were milling around, talking about the weather, checking out the unknown faces, catching up with old friends.  It is a scene that I love.  Collectively, the runners represent such determination, preparation and mental fortitude – and  that is simply what they bring to the start line.

With a few short words about flagging and drop bags, RD Wendy Montgomery sent the 23 runners on their way.  As soon as they had gone, the area began to buzz with activity.  There was much to do to get those 8 aid stations equipped.  We packed up the car with cookies, fruit, chips, pretzels and other goodies.  We jotted down the names of runners and their numbers.  We made arrangements for Brian to drop off a tent and water jugs at our remote station.  We picked up the radio and batteries.  And we headed down the highway.

Edith Lake is a little bit west of Alice Lake, off hwy 99.  Our destination was simply a junction of trails near a lake.  As the course is a 50 mile loop, our aid station is at 16 mi and at 66 mi into the run.   The BC Parks operators had unlocked a gate so that we could drive up the 5 km dirt road.  From the end of the road, we would have to pack our supplies in about 300 m.  We expected the first runners to arrive around 12:30 and there was a fair amount of work to do before then.

With Brian’s help, we were able to unload the car, set up the tent and get water ready.  Over the radio, we heard that the first runner has already gone through the aid station#4, the one which comes after ours.  How did we miss him?  We were here the whole time!  Did he fly by while we were making trips to the car?  Did he manage to get any fluids?  We eventually got answers to all of these questions.  Jason Loutitt had indeed flown by our station as it was in the process of being set up.  We must have been shuttling gear from the car when he made his brief appearance.  Luckily, he is a minimalist runner and didn’t need anything from us.  He was ahead of record-setting pace!

After that initial confusion, the rest of the runners came in steadily.  Most didn’t require much food or support at this point.  Many were excited to see treats like green olives and pickles on our table.  Within an hour, all runners were accounted for and we were done.  Because of the popularity of the trails, we had to dismantle our whole aid station when we left the area.  We didn’t want riders, hikers, off-leash dogs or bears to help themselves so we put everything back into the car, except for the water jugs and event tent.

Edith Lake Vollies

Edith Lake Aid StationVollies

We headed into Squamish and met up with Ken and Janet at Howe Sound Brewpub.  They were working the Alice Lake aid station which came immediately before ours.  We enjoyed some lunch/dinner and a tasty brew.  On our way back, we stopped in at Perth Road station where George and Gail Forshaw had set up The Bistro.  Runners would pass this station twice on each loop.  There, they would be treated to espresso, ravioli finger-food and home-made bread-pudding.  We dropped off a bottle of beer for them and said good night.

We approached the BC Parks gate, we discovered that it had been locked.  We headed down to the campsite entrance and had about an hour of stressful negotiations with a handful of park operators.  Bruce handled the situation so well and eventually managed to persuade Ben to unlock the gate until noon the next day.  The issue had to do with poor communication between different offices and bureaucratic paperwork.  It was really the only wrinkle in our whole day.

The set-up went much faster this time, since we had a clear plan for the site.  I even had time to head down to check on the reflective course-markings leading to our station.  We made up our turkey-avocado wraps and PBJ wraps and set them out with pickles, olives, tomatoes, grapes, bananas, oranges, chips, pretzels, chocolates, gatorade, pop, nuun and water.  We had hot soup ready in a thermos and hot water simmering for warm drinks.

106 km treats

106 km treats

Jason arrived at 8:40pm, having maintained his lead in the race.  This time, he grazed at our table and seemed pretty wiped.  It was just becoming dark and I asked him if he had a flashlight in a drop bag at the next aid station.  He simply showed me that he was wearing an e-lite around his waist.   Now, I have a similar one-bulb led attached to my keys.  That light will help you find your front door keyhole, but it won’t be much good in the heavily forested trails of Squamish all night long.  Within a few minutes, he had reloaded and scooted off with a sigh.  What an amazing runner!  He went on to win the 100 miler in 19:11 – lap 1 in 7:32; lap 2 in 11:39.  I heard that he wasn’t able to move as quickly in the second lap, partially due to lighting issues.

More than two hours later, the second place runner, Matt Daniels, came through our station.  For the next few hours, our station was quite busy with eight of the 100 mile runners and their pacers.  Although it was a warm night for running, there were many requests for soup.  The turkey/avocado wraps were not as popular this year and cookies were the food choice of many.  It wasn’t until 1:40 when the rush died down.

Around that time, we received a phone call from Ken.  Two of the runners had not shown up at the Alice Lake aid station yet the final runner and the sweepers had arrived.  He wasn’t sure if the missing runners were off-course or if they had snuck by his station when he briefly dozed off.   Sure enough, around 3:55, the two missing runners and one pacer came to us.  They regaled us with tales of being lost for over 3 hours and missing the previous aid station.  They had somehow skipped all of Alice Lake and had come up the Mashiter trail instead.  They were so relieved to finally be back on course and to have some refreshment.  Knowing that they had lost their way, they were very concerned about being disqualified for not doing the whole distance.  The option of sending them back to the Alice Lake station seemed unfair, since it would put them way behind cut-off schedules.  Instead, Bruce suggested that they add an extra loop near the finish to make up for lost miles.  After they were refueled, we sent them on towards Perth Rd and promised that we would get advice from the RD on making up the distance.

CREW = Cranky Runners; Endless Waiting.

CREW = Cranky Runners; Endless Waiting.

An hour later, the final runner and the two sweeps arrived.  Everyone was accounted for.  With no hesitation, Bruce and I crawled into our tent at 5 am and dropped off to sleep.  We managed to get one full hour of zzzs before the cell phone rang.  Wendy wanted to know what supplies needed to be restocked before the 50 milers and relay runners came through.  Minutes after that, three volunteers arrived to spell us off.  We jumped right back into the mode of preparing food and drink.  Since most of the aid station equipment was ours, Bruce and I couldn’t really leave and expect the new volunteers to clean up after us.  So we stayed and helped.

At 8 am on the nose, the first relay runner blazed in, tagged off and sent his teammate on his way.  The station became quite a hub of excitement for two hours as relay runners and 50 mile soloists came through.  Finally the turkey wraps were getting eaten!  We helped runners tape their feet, fill their hydration packs and get nourishment.  After a long slow night, this action was constant.  The “Stormy Vollies” relay team arrived and, with a few quick introductions, Bruce headed off to run two legs of the relay.

The craziness lasted until about 9:15 and then the waiting game for the final runners took over.  After the last runner at 10:00, we dismantled the aid station and loaded up the cars.  We were just about to head back to the start/finish area when the sweeps, Jackie Muir and Mike Palichuk, arrived.  They dropped off flagging ribbon and signs and picked up the last of the wraps and water.

After checking in with the Perth Rd station and dropping equipment off at the start/finish area, we were done.  Bruce and I headed for home.  It would have been a treat to stay and watch the final 100 milers come in, but we were exhausted and had a family celebration to attend that night.

This is such an awesome course.  The wide variety of trail types offers something for every kind of trai runner.  Congrats to all the runners and especially to RD Wendy for such a well-organized race.  See you at the same time and same place next year!  Come and try those famous turkey wraps!

The Happy Wanderer

My Paths on Strava

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