That. Was. The. Hardest. Race. I've. Ever. Run.
I'm half-tempted to leave my race report to just that. What else is there to say? I could go on and on about the verticality of the first half. How this hill was steep and that hill was steep and the hill after that was also steep. I could describe the punishment I felt on each and every downhill in excruciating detail. But in all honesty, it wouldn't be worth repeating the word steep in every single sentence.
You know how the inuit people have so many different words for snow? I feel the word steep needs more synonyms to describe the ups and downs of this course. Sure we have up and vertical but they lack that pow factor. Up, up and beyond? Bingo. This race was up, up and beyond steep. And being the reckless climber I am, I chose to push the initial ascents as hard as I could.
I guess I should back up here for a sec and set the scene.
4:00 AM. My alarm goes off and pre race jitters immediately dart through my body. I try calming myself down, rationalizing to myself that I can do this. It's only 12 miles further than Kaniksu. It's downhill from the last aid station to the finish. It's going to be ok. Luckily, the encouraging words of my great friend Adam were able to calm my nerves and allow me to focus on the race. And what a race it was.
6:00 AM. Go! I tucked myself into the lead pack of runners as we climbed via asphalt into suburbia. I'd like to point out here that Penticton, British Columbia is a drop dead gorgeous city. The scenery in the early morning light was quite stunning as Skaha Lake came into view. While the sights were amazing, the course needed my full attention.
Asphalt soon gave way to the familiar feel of rock and earth as the course travelled up and down several ravines. In this early section, ropes were placed on some of the steeper ravines which I neglected to use since I was trying to maintain contact with the leaders. At times the trail was faint but flagging was prolific so anytime the course seemed to disappear off a ledge, there was always a lovely pink flag there, reassuring me that yes, indeed the course goes down that cliff, proceed.
Quickly, I found my downhill legs to be non-complacent. While this wasn't much of a problem now, since the first half has so much more climbing than descending. I knew eventually I would have to go down, and it wasn't going to be pretty.
8:00AM. I checked into the first aid station with wobbly quads controlled by a determined mind, obnoxiously pushing them way too early. I let Adam(my crew) know of my downhill problem, filled up the "required" two liters of fluid, and began the biggest climbs of the day.
Up, up and beyond steep. Each climb seemingly worse than the one before. Words simply, don't do this section justice.
Initially, I felt great. For a very brief period of time, I was able to take the lead on one of the climbs, but as soon as the course flattened a bit, I was overtaken by two runners who would go on to finish 1st and 2nd. Slowly, my body began to tire and my body temperature began to drop. I quickly pulled my "required" jacket from my vest and began plodding down the forest road to the next aid.
During this long downhill I was contemplating taking a DNF and returning home with plenty of energy and regret. I did not listen. Sure, my legs hurt and sure, I was cold. But that's what I signed up for. That's why I'm here. To get cold, to get sore, to want to quit and through all of it, keep going.
Soon, I was able to put these dark thoughts in the back of my mind and then I saw them. The leaders. They were leaving just as I was pulling into the second aid station, I knew if I could blast through and grab only what I needed, I could catch them. In my panic, I almost left a bottle here but luckily I didn't get far until I noticed my mistake. The race was on!
You can do this! No pain, no gain! Keep running! I quickly churned my legs along the hard packed dirt road that would lead me to the Ellis Canyon trail. Come on!!! Unfortunately, my legs simply didn't have the speed needed to close on the leaders. As soon as I made it to the canyon, my mind was made up. It's about finishing, not winning.
I realized that I had barely eaten anything on the road and diligently pulled out a pack of fruit snacks. Yum! I began picking my head up more often to soak in the views. The canyon, although very exposed at times, was amazing. Fall colors speckled the surrounding hills as deer darted in and out of the trees. My legs may have been full of pain, but my heart was full of joy.
1:00 PM. I checked in at the 3rd aid station with nothing left in the tank. I'll take some mashed potatoes please! An amazing soul handed me a caffeinated goo from her car. I let Adam know that my hopeful times were going to be way off but to expect me at the next aid in a couple hours. With a full bag of taters in hand, I was off!
As I descended further into the canyon, the ground began to change in consistency. Thick dust that had been severally eroded by cattle, choked the trail leading down to the stream crossing. Sometimes sinking halfway up my calf, this stuff sucked to run down! Finally I made it to the water, crossed, and within 10 minutes I heared a low pitched buzzing sound in front of me.
Snake! A small rattlesnake was sun bathing several feet in front of me and was proudly letting me know, don't touch this. Heeding its warning, I shyly skirted to the other side of the trail and immediately put the insuing adrenaline rush to use. Power hiking up the other side of the canyon, I felt confident about finishing and maintaining my 3rd place position. The descent down to the 4th aid station however, made me question if I was even going to finish. Stiff, stutter steps sent shots of pain into my lower back. Finally, I heard the cheers of the aid station and made my way over to Adam's car.
3:30 PM. I slowly took my time as I changed my shoes and socks while aid station volunteers ferryed over cups of cola and broth. My stomach was beginning to show signs of trouble. Liquid calories were my bread and butter from here on out. I knew the next climb would be the last grand undertaking of the day. Climb up then run back down to Penticton, that's it. I collected all my "required" items and started to plod up good ol' Greyback Mountain Rd.
Clangy-clang-clang-diddy-clang! Cowbells erupted before I was even out of the parking lot. One, two, three runners were all working together and looking much better than me. I'm sure each of them could smell blood as they looked at my beleagured face. Uh-oh. Gonna have to work now. I ferociously pushed down on my quads, popped a few salt-sticks, and greedly chugged my zipfizz/maltodextrin concoction as I worked my way up Greyback. Luckily, only one of the trailing runners was able to pass me on this climb. We exchanged courtesys and I painfully watched while he effortessly gapped me further up the hill. Nothing could be done. No gear to shift down to. I was spent.
The climb relented and I now knew that only a few short climbs were left. My abysmal form was barely keeping my toes from catching each and every root and rock that appeared on the trail. I plodded on. Fortunately for me, you don't get points for style in running. Upon reaching the very top of the very last climb, I noticed course flagging veering off into the woods. Being the stupid idiot I am, I followed these flags into oblivion. Hahaha, very funny.
Since they had reflective stripes and were placed in an obvious line, I honestly thought I was on course so I descended further into oblivion. Well this is fun. Down, down I went until I popped out onto a trail lined with more course flags and signs. Except these were no ordinary signs. They were all backwards! That's odd, somebody must have marked the course incorrectly. I continued in this fashion, seeing atleast three backwards signs until I pulled out my "required" cell phone, opened TrailForks and saw my blunder. I had travelled about a half-mile backwards, albeit on course, but now I had to climb that last climb, one last time.
5:30 PM. I checked in to the last aid station in 4th place with a sick feeling in my stomach knowing it would be all downhill from here. Not good. I grabbed another pair of bottles and got on my merry way. 5th place was hot on my heels and 6th and 7th were not much further back. How was I possibly going to stagger my way down to the finish!?
Soon I was constantly hearing the bear bells adorning 5th place's pack. And then he passed me. Dejected, hollow, but most importantly pissed off, I was able to maintain a half-decent pace while the course zigged and zagged it's way down to Penticton. With every long straight away, I was looking back for headlights to get a gage on the gap to 6th and 7th. Nothing, good, keep going.
The trail switched to crushed gravel as the course weaved through the beautiful vineyards of northern Penticton. I pulled out my phone to see I was only one mile from the finish. Joy rushed through my body. I was beginning to hear the waves of the lake lap up against the shore. And just like that, it was over. 13 hours later, 5th place, and finished doesn't even begin to describe how I felt.