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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?”

Before anything else, the moss comes alive.

Luminescent!

Luminescent!

From an over-saturated mush at the side of the trail, it suddenly begins to illuminate.

Creeping along the trail edge and over anything stationary

Creeping along the trail edge and over anything stationary

The olive shades begin to turn the colour of lime peel.

Lime Peel

Lime Peel

Just when you begin to doubt that the snow will ever recede and that spring will come, the moss shows you the truth.

Huckleberry branches blanketed in moss

Huckleberry branches blanketed in moss

With the patches of snow quickly disappearing, it warms my heart to see the subtle message that moss sends out to those who are paying attention.

A blanket of moss

A blanket of moss

A corduroy sweater for a fir

A corduroy sweater for a fir

I can't get enough of it!

I can’t get enough of it!

All of these pics were taken on my run in Seal Bay this afternoon – and somehow I managed to PR my loop time too! Either moss is inspiring to me or I’m afraid that it will start growing on me if I don’t get moving.

Up here, near the 50° parallel, during these dark winter months we meet at the trailhead parking lot at  4:15 pm, having just been released from work. With a quick ‘hello’, we each fiddle with our tracking devices, gloves and hats before heading off on our after-work date.

Our unchanging Winter loop is 11 km of forested trail in Seal Bay Park a few times each week. If we start on time and if there is minimal cloud cover, we can be done before the darkness settles in for the night. But at this time of year, if any factor slows us down – like snowy trail conditions or delays at work – we find ourselves racing through the washed-out, grey light, trying to find solid footing on the rocky trails. This is more fun than it sounds. A challenge that never tires.

Although one of us usually has a flashlight, we both resist the urge to pull it out. It is more of a rush to go without and a disappointment to cave in to needing it. Since our weekday route rarely changes through these cold months, we could probably run it on auto-pilot with our eyes closed, but the rocks and roots never seem to be in the same places and are always eager to reach out and grab a toe. There are places where the forest canopy is thick, where darkness brings a chill even on a bright sunshiny day, but we know that we will quickly pass back out into the fading daylight. If we have been treated with a recent snowfall, our footing may be less sure but lamps won’t be necessary with all that snow glow.

But each day, we notice that our daylight challenge eases and soon the headlamps will be left at home. Today, the sun sets at 5:35 and the sky is clear and blue so the challenge will be non-existent. We will have to wait until next November when the race for daylight will continue.

The Happy Wanderer

My Paths on Strava

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