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Or “I’ve Been Here Before”

I recently came across this little gem which I wrote on paper in 2008, after I had an operation. Now five years later, I find myself in the exact same situation, having just come out of an unexpected surgery which will lay me flat for a few months. I find the message here very motivating. If I was able to summon up the courage to set the goal of a 50 miler back then, surely I can do it again. Enjoy!

“You will require eight weeks off to recover from this surgery,” my doctor told me. “Eight weeks with no work, no lifting and no exertion.” It felt as if a heavy fog had rolled into the examination room while I tried to absorb this latest piece of information. It was surprising enough that I was a candidate for surgery, but unbelievable that I would be out of commission for such a long time. This was going to impact every aspect of my life.

“You understand that this means no running either,” she added emphatically, giving me a knowing smile.

On all accounts, I am a healthy person, living a healthy lifestyle. I eat my greens, recycle as much as possible and run just enough to allow me to truthfully call myself a runner. Cutting running out of my regime was not going to kill me but I knew I would miss it. Although I regularly met up with friends early on weekend morning to run in the rain and frost, my purpose was to socialize, always looking forward to warming up with the apres-run coffee.

It's the social life that keeps me truckin'.

It’s the social life that keeps me truckin’.

Luckily, my surgery was scheduled for the middle of November, just after the clocks fell back one hour. I often look at the end of daylight savings as the beginning of winter hibernation, so it was fitting to begin my recovery then. I followed doctors’ orders to the letter and did close to nothing for eight full weeks. As time went by, I was granted permission to go on short walks in the neighbourhood but, in all honesty, those walks wiped me out. I spent hours wondering if I would ever be back to normal again.

On the seventh of January, I had my last appointment with my surgeon. Officially, I was healed, fixed, recovered and was given my life back. It was thrill to simply go back to work. I even enjoyed shovelling snow day after day. There had been so many little things that had fallen to the wayside during my recovery.

But, what about running? I was so hesitant to begin training again. I know how hard it is to get past the one hour mark, after taking a break from running. I know that hill climbing is the first skill lost when not practised. I need a  concrete, attainable goal to help me get back into the groove. But I also want a challenge to work towards that will take me far beyond the level of fitness I had before.

My sights are set on the STORMY 50 mile ultramarathon in Squamish, BC. A fifty miler is a substantial goal and I will have to work hard to achieve it. I have run on those fabulous mountain bike trails many times and I know that their beauty will offer needed distraction during some of the gruelling times. I am keen on supporting a local race and racing alongside some of my training buddies. I also know that the race director puts her heart and soul into making this run a destination event.

In my preparation for the fifty miler, I plan on working up to the Scorched Sole 50 km race in Kelowna, BC. Again, this grassroots race is put on by a dedicated team of acclaimed runners who know exactly what racers need to succeed. I look forward to the help and motivation they will provide at the 25 km mark as they send you off for another loop of Okanagan Mountain Park.

I am looking forward to spending a lot of time on my feet and literally running away from my surgery.

I have run away from surgery before. I can do it again.

I have run away from surgery before. I can do it again.

Addendum: In 2009, I built myself back into fitness and achieved both goals. I completed the Scorched Sole 50 km in 5 hr 30 min. I went on to set a PR of 10 hr 4 min at STORMY 50 miler later that summer.

STORMY - 200m to go.  It ain't gonna be pretty.

It ain’t gonna be pretty

But it will feel good when it's over!

But it will feel good when it’s over!

This past weekend marked the 11th anniversary of the STORMY ultra.  I believe that the history of this run goes something like this:

11 years ago, Paul Cubbon decided to design a running route on the same course as the famous and very popular Test of Metal Mountain Bike route in Squamish.  STORMY stands for the Squamish Test Of Running Metal Yeah!

The start line of the unofficial STORMY #11

The start line of the unofficial STORMY #11

For a few years, it was a 67 km route, then it became a 64 km route and most recently it was a 50 mile loop which could be completed as a 50 miler, a 100 miler or a 6-person relay.  Wendy Montgomery was the RD for 6 years and decided to pass off those responsibilities after the 2010 10th year edition.  Sadly, the flame went out with the passing of this torch and the STORMY race was cancelled in 2011.

But the love of those awesome Squamish trails lives on in the hearts of previous years’ runners, volunteers and the ever-committed RD.  So a last-minute email was sent out just a week in advance and, if you were lucky enough to be in the loop, you were invited to the 11th annual running of STORMY.  B and I were in that exclusive loop and jumped in on the opportunity to participate, even though it meant cancelling out on other plans.  In all, 5 of us toed the line early on Saturday morning.  Imre, Jennika, Wendy, B and I posed for a starting line photo, taken by long-time volunteer and race MC Enzo – who showed up just to take photos and support us before he headed out for his GranFondo training ride.

Wendy chose to take us on the old 64 km route and Imre, who has run in the race (almost?) every year made sure that we all followed the route correctly.  We cruised along, chatting, exchanging Stormy stories and refilling our water at the public taps of Perth Road and Alice Lake.  We all celebrated as we passed both the Edith Lake turn-off and the University Loop turn-off, since those two sections were only added to the course when the 50 miler came in 2008.

The sweet powerline trail of Rob's and Cliff's Corners

The sweet powerline trail of Rob’s and Cliff’s Corners

When we arrived at the location of the Powerhouse aid station, Wendy disappeared into the woods and returned with stashed water and a cooler full of the best kind of aid station treats .  We gobbled down handfuls of salt and vinegar chips, cokes and cookies.

Stashed aid station at the Powerhouse bridge

Stashed aid station at the Powerhouse bridge

Once we were recharged, we headed out for the hike up Nine Mile Hill and eventually down the ever-thrilling Ring Creek Rip and Powerhouse Plunge trails, returning us to the same hidden aid station a few hours later.  During this section, we came across 6 runners who were running that 22 km loop over and over and over again. The “Gerbils”, as these loopers are affectionately known, must not feel comfortable exploring the hundreds of miles of exciting trails right in the same neighbourhood! There is no accounting for taste.  Our running group became smaller at this point.  Imre and Jennika decided to cut the day short at the top of Nine Mile, as her knee was bothering her on the downhills.  Now we were down to three.

The last part of the course runs through Crumpet Woods and eventually through the Smoke Bluffs of The Chief.  Although those last few climbs are not big, my legs were thoroughly tired and I was counting down the kilometres just as I had done when running the 50 miler in 2009.

Climbers at Smoke Bluffs

Climbers at Smoke Bluffs

We arrived at the Brennan Rec Center after 8.5 hours on the trails.  Both GPSs read just under 60 km for the day.  Imre came to wish us well at the finish, we quickly changed and headed to the ol’ Howe Sound Brewery for a well-deserved pint and some lunch(?).  The Baldwin and Cooper has never tasted so good!

It is so difficult to see a great race disappear off the local race schedule, especially when Wendy has sunk her heart (and her savings!) into this one for years.  We are all hopeful that Stormy will return next year, but regardless of the race’s future, we know that we will hit those fabulous Squamish trails annually to celebrate it.  What does it take to put on a race?  We decided that it takes an email address list, a bag of chips and some die-hard friends.  To me, the day was far easier than manning an all-nighter aid station at Edith Lake!

Stormy '11 - finished!

Stormy ’11 – finished!

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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