What the? Did I Just Do an Ultra?

Note: This story contains real events and real names The facts are as I remember them and how I felt at the time. If those mentioned feel differently. Tough! Make a comment on the blog or write your own story. Love you.


It all started in DeerHurst at the Frontier Adventure Challenge  on May 3rd. I thought I was doing another 8 hour adventure race in a great location and with a great bunch of girls. But what do girls do when they get together? They get talking. And what do sporty girls do when they get together? That’s right. They get talking about their next race. So it began, the chat about Ultimate XC Mont-Tremblant. They were all in for the 50+ kilometer trail run. Seemed crazy to me. Someone who really doesn’t train. Had done her first ½ marathon last year in Ottawa a week after very badly straining her groin. Yup, girls hav’em too. I mean I have done a couple of sprint adventure races and orienteering and trail runs. Plus I was in Mexico for two weeks of adventure race training with Camp Frontier.  Maybe it wasn’t so far fetched?

Once back home from the DeerHurst race which was great, but another story all together I looked at the Ultimate XC website. You would think red flags would be flapping in front my face with things like “Don’t hold us to the length. It can be longer.”, and, “Tougher than Jay.” Whatever that meant. Plus, a “Sense of humor mandatory.” But no. I focused on the fact that these fabulous girls were going to do it and I’d miss out on all the fun. If you call running through streams, getting bitten by black flies, sweating and cramping legs, fun. I do. Plus they had a 25+ kilometer options. That’s doable.

A couple of weeks later while after running the Ottawa 1/2 marathon. I decided to sign-up for the 25k Ultimate XC race. No better time to sign-up for another race then right when you finish one. G said he’d do it to. Unfortunately, once on the website we found that the 25k was full. I suppose noticing the disappointment in my eyes and possibly hear the wheels in my head turning, G turned to me and said, with great authority, “We are not doing the 50K.”

“Oh yeah! No way.” I agreed.

Back in Toronto, I just could not get the Ultimate XC out of my head. I emailed the race director to see if he would increase the number of the half if the full didn’t fill up. He sent a very stern email back, “No. The registration has been open for months.” Dan is a stickler for rules.

I couldn’t let it go, though. Call me obsessive. The next day while at work I started emailing girlfriends for advice, encouragement, persuasion, as to whether I should do it or not. It was a unanimous, encouraging, cheer leading, “Yeah. You’ll be great!”

I came home that day after work, opened the door to my apartment and announced proudly, “I’m registering for the 50K!”. Looking up from behind his laptop and seeing my sheepish grin, G shook his head and laughed saying, “Darn. Now I have to, too.”

With that we were off on our first ultra marathon.

Well, in four weeks we would be off, but we were registered for what now was a 53 kilometer trail run. Or was it?

The four weeks leading up to race day G and I took very different approaches. He ran, a lot. I, did not. I stressed myself out about not running and trying desperately to get a 40 page novel excerpt that was due the Monday after the race for my creative writing course. Of which I had only 6 pages in total, consisting of 3 different stories. Procrastination runs in the family. I think it’s the P-gene. You should get your kids tested for it, if you suffer from it too. Just a little advice.

I usually justify my procrastination saying that I work better under pressure. However, as many things there is an optimal amount of pressure, giving the optimal amount of results. Then, there is the point when you pass the ultimate part of the curve and chaos is evoked. The day before the race chaos had definitely been evoked…in my head anyway. I had not come even close to finishing the assignment. As S drove us closer to the race start of Mont Tremblant Village I came to terms with that and sent an email (via Blackberry) to my professor explaining that fact. In fact, I didn’t even want an extension. It was just over for me. I would need an extension of a year off to write what I wanted and that would just have to wait.

So I arrived in Mont Tremblant Village already thinking I had failed. Not training for the last 4 weeks in order to finish an assignment I didn’t even finish. I believed that now I’d be a failure two-fold this weekend. I mean, I never expected to come anywhere other then very near last place in this race, but now I was fearing strongly that I would miss a time cut-off and get disqualified. Which at that moment felt like the ultimate humiliation. I have learned since that the best racers have bad days and can’t finish. It happens, and you just can’t let that define you. Boy! Seems simple enough, but as I sat at in the restaurant with the rest of the happy racers I was freaking out.

Saturday morning we (10-12 racers in one hotel room, doing either the 32k or the 56k), got up, dressed, ate whatever energy enhancing foods we favoured, took our transitions bags and headed for the starting line at the bottom of the village.

At the bottom of the hill, sharing a chocolate boost with G and worming our way to a good spot, if there is such thing, in the starting line with the other excited racers just made all my stress and sense of failure float away. I was going to run, for the next, in my case 11.5hours, and that was all that counted. I had my time cut-off card and motivation sayings in my pocket and a smile on my face.

The gun shot and we were off. Well we all straightened up and began to walk forward up the hill. It was really narrow but the crowd was great and eventually we got out of the village and onto a big open path. Super runners passed us and once we turned the corner to the open field you could see a half dozen men taking a leak. Really bad planning boys. Just before we got to the first narrow up hill rocky trail G gave me a kiss and was off. He had his race. I had mine. As I made my way up the trail a couple of familiar faces passed and yelled words of encouragement. This is the thing I love most about Trail and Adventure Races is the camaraderie among racers. Road racers just seem so much more competitive. I believe it’s because being in nature can only make one happy, where as surrounded by concrete makes you hard and angry. It does me anyway. I race in the woods not to win but to go places I wouldn’t otherwise go. And it is amazing!

Once at the top you crossed the road to start a short descent to the stream. There seemed to be a huge backlog of folks, trying to pick there way safely down the steep, muddy trail dotted with trees and sharp branches sticking out of the ground. Knowing I wasn’t going to pass anyone on the uphills I had to pass whenever I had a chance. So seeing a clearing on one side of the trail I slid down on my hands in seconds. Landing in the brook below I heard someone from behind shout, “So that’s how it’s done.”.

In the brook though there was no way I was going to keep my lead on the few back of the packers. This brook was tough. I was constantly tripping, having to use both hands to steady myself. I saw LosDobos pass by like some kind of Jesus walking on water. How the heck does he do that? At that moment my foot got caught between two rocks. Thank goodness for the little loop on the back of the shoe I yanked my foot out. Shear design genius. Thank you, Vasque!

Brook running, stumbling was over and at 14.5km I saw my transition bag and checked my time card. I was right where I expected to be and well within the time cutoffs. I was ecstatic, but new I had a long way to go and this would not last.

No need for anything specific I didn’t get my transition bag. Instead I just emptied my shoes of sand, reapplied sunscreen and insect repellent (the black flies were brutal) and moved onto the next section. The first up hill. Not so bad.

At the next section my lack of experience began to show. After the transition this section started with a water crossing. Not understanding what to do with the three ropes hanging over the water from one end to the other. I thought I was suppose to hang from one and get across using my arms and swinging my legs. Trying that the rope dipped and I was completely submerged in the water, scrambling to the other side I was glad I had not changed my shoes. I started running on the trail. I realized as I run what I should have done was hold the two top ropes and walk along the bottom one. Silly girl. Stop to think is important sometimes. Anyway, in this section flags were missing causing some chaos and after running about 500m uphill I was convinced against my better judgement to run back down only to return up. Dan told us later that someone had taken down the flags in this section. So now I was doing an over 56K trail run. Yeah!

This section began with a beautiful forested area, covered in fallen trees and sharp branches. Climbing and jumping blinding over the logs getting stabbed by branches. I love war wounds. Needless to say this was unrunnable and I often questioned if this could even be considered a trail. I was hoping I could run soon when I got to the bottom of the first climb. Guess the answer was, no. It was steep. I began the slow ascent. It seemed to go on for ever. I was in the lead of a long line of back of the packers when about two thirds up I started to slow down considerably. I started to chat my motivational sayings:

“I have great socks!”

“Ed Mcmahon is at my door.”

‘If Farrah Fawcett can go through horrible cancer. I can do this.”

It wasn’t helping. I was just getting slower and hurting. I turned to the lady behind me and told he she could pass. She was a lovely American women in her forties with two friends. She looked me in the eyes and firmly said, “You have been leading us up this hill. You are getting us all to the top. I’m not passing you.” Placing her hand on my shoulder she squeezed briefly and dropped her hand. My hunched shoulders straightened up, I smiled at her, turned and began climbing. It was tough, but I am incredibly thankful to that women.

Once at the top all the pain I felt completely disappeared. I scarfed down a bowl of cold pasta and grabbed 3 swedish berries. I was never so happy to swedish berries in my life. Then I ran down the section of very technical downhill like I had springs in my legs. It was the most exhilarating feeling.

The last climb brought me back up to the summit house along gravel road. I heard someone say that the race was taking way longer than the race director (Dan) expected and he was going to cut people. With that information, me and the last few people bypassed the summit house and just started the long descent to the finish line. There was no way after 11 hours of racing I was going to be disqualified. The descent was long and not at all straight. Rolling, up and down through the forested ski area forever I kept seeing the village below waiting for the race route to turn down straight to the village. Finally it did. I began to sprint down through the village. Who knew I had that much energy left. I kept having this horrible feeling that the race route would turn upwards again. But it didn’t. No crowds were around anymore. But as I turned the corner to the final 20m I saw Denise and Audrey (4th and 5th place winners teamrunningfree race report) showered and clean and yelling “Way to go!” It was great!

At the finish line, almost everyone was gone. It was a little sad not to see a friendly face right there to take a picture of me finishing my first ultra marathon. But, heck I was running for the last 11.5hours and everyone I knew had been running too. Although, most of my friends ran faster than me by 1 or 2 hours they had to be just as tired so I couldn’t blame them for take a shower and changing.

Anyway, I was beat, but happy that I finished. I dipped my feet into the water, ate a burger, took my transition bag and trudged slowly up to the hotel room. Bumping into G on the way. Who when seeing my asked “Where have you been?”.

What the heck. I was having a picnic, I thought. “I was doing a race, what do you think?”

“It’s been forever. I thought you decided to short course.” G said.

I couldn’t believe he said that. But after gathering with the others later that night they all were surprised I finished the full race course. I hadn’t realize how much I had put myself down the day before and caused so much doubt of my finishing. When really, I never intended on short coursing. I was just freaked and worried I’d be disqualified. I may slow down and my even crawl, but I will only stop if someone else stops me.

So in the end I finished my first ultra marathon totally 56k in the end, including 3000 m (10,000 feet) of climbing, in a very lengthy 11.5 hours. I couldn’t be happier. It was really, really long. As my brother put it “He got up had breakfast and thought Wanda is running. He had lunch, and thought Wanda is running. He had dinner and thought Wanda is still running.”

I had a rough sleep that night. Suffering from restless leg syndrome. Flipping over every two minutes trying to find a comfortable position. In the morning it was hard to bend. I knew I’d be suffering for a couple of days.

On the drive home I thought about the race. I thought it was great fun, great scenery and a wonderful experience of camaraderie and resilience. However, I also thought, I hurt, it was long, and don’t think I’d do another ultra marathon…..

….By Wednesday I was thinking about the next one.

I am hooked.  Now, if I would only start training. 🙂


One response to “What the? Did I Just Do an Ultra?

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