So this was a big one and am really delayed in putting my thoughts down. So much to say, plus post race travelling and getting a major race/travel cold. Then one gets home & things get forgotten, but I really wanted to document this one.
In short it was FANTASTIC! The views. The people. The place. The support. from near & far, new & old folks. The training. The pain & thoughts of quitting made my shockingly strong finish so satisfying.
Now for the long. 🙂
After deciding to the marathon rather than the 50miler at the Blue Mountain North Face I thought I didn’t have a qualifier for LUT, but then I saw that my Slovakia 50k was a qualifier. So in the lottery I went. Victory! Along with surprisingly many other local Ontarian’s. Those that I knew and those I would run into in Italy by chance. My amazing travel luck intact.
Soon after my mother was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. This was a tough one and took it’s toll on both of us for the next 4-5 months (Dec-Apr).
However, I needed an outlet from taking care of her and so we choose to continue with the plan to race. I knew it would be very hard for me to stay focused so I decided to enlist a coach for the first time.
I was skeptical as I am more of do what I want kind of trainer. However know enough about Jen Segger (ChallengeByChoice) to be confident in the plan she would build for me and was happy that she agreed to coach me. Plus, she understood that Zumba had to stay on the schedule. 😀
Lavaredo came soon enough and I knew I wouldn’t dnf. I am way too stubborn for that. The question was just how long would it really take?
I had strained my right hamstring pretty bad 2 weeks before the race. Well according to my physio it was likely from my SI. This was a little concerning and meant my last 8hour long run was changed to a 5hour ride.
Also, I had really done poorly at my last two local 50ks, Seaton & PYP. (It actually wasn’t that poorly. I just had this expectation of this huge transformation once I got a coach. Too much pressure.)
GDR back in March also wasn’t fast. But I never claim to be or try to be fast. Fortunately, I did do it under 21hours, good enough to secure a ticket to the WS lottery. Plus I felt great afterwards & that really was the key.
Regardless I was off to Italy with the knowledge that mom had a good bill of health and I did too (as long I did my exercises and was smart).
I won’t bore you with the details of my enchanting weekend in Venice, filled with apertivo time talks, full moon tidal flooded San Marco square and opera.
Nor will I gush for long at the beauty of Cortina d’Ampezzo where the start of the race is and the majestic views of the Dolomites. A place where even if I spent the rest of my days I would never be able to “climb every mountain” and “ford every stream”, but boy would it be a dream to do so.
I will go in to some race details and my continued travel luck/coincidences, particularly as it relates to people.
First coincidence was when I arrived at Hotel de la Poste in Cortina and greeted by the smiling concierge, Lorenzo, who happen to be the same man that was seated in front of me on the bus. He recognized me and was my consummate cheerleader throughout the week.
The hotel was perfectly located meters from the start line and a few days later I would find was the hotel that would house all the NorthFace crew and elite runners. I was in good company talking to the crew at breakfast and bumping into Rory Bosio and Fernanda Maciel in the halls.
It was Monday when I arrive in Cortina and the race started Friday at 11pm, so I had the whole week to explore and relax. I knew it would be tough to take the multitude of pictures I usually like to take while travelling especially while holding on to my poles. Thus I headed to Misurina and Tre Cime two beautiful spots along the first part of the race.
I went to the bus depot the night before to cconfirm when the bus to Tre Cime was leaving and there were 2 guys and 2 girls trying to figure out the bus schedule talking to each other in Polish. I guess I looked like I understood the schedule because one of the ladies told one of the guys to ask me when the bus leaves to Tre Cime tomorrow.
He turned to me and tried to ask in broken Italian. I smiled and said in Slovak (which is understandable to Polish), “You are better off asking me in Polish. We’ll communicate better.” He looked shocked. Paused. Smiled. Then started talking to Polish. I told them what bus to take and then we talked about the race. He and his brother were racing the ultra as well.
Misurina and especially Tre Cime were beautiful. At Tre Cime I thought I’d just do a short out and back, but the trail kept beckoning. After every turn I saw something else I had to go towards, until I ended up doing a 10k loop. Oops. So worth it. Plus I met my Polish friends again, who had taken the later bus and the shorter loop. Smart. 🙂
The next day I explored the other side of the race near Passo Giau. Saw the Austrian mountains from where the Von Trapp family crossed over (in the film at least), and took some sketchy pathways down to the WWI tunnels. Unfortunately, as I waited for the bus and chatted with a couple of American tourist their friend called them saying she had fallen on her way down and to call an ambulance. Shows how sketchy the terrain can get.
Thursday was race kit pick-up day. As I approached and said my name, the volunteer behind the counter smiled and said, “My name is Wanda too.” Not a very common Italian name, so I took that as a good omen. 🙂
My travel luck continued as the 2 guys behind me picking up their kits were also from Toronto and one was staying in my hotel, while the other was camping with a friend that would be crewing them.
It was their first mountain race and they asked if they should use poles. One had them the other didn’t. I said, “Let me put it to you this way. When I did CCC, 95% of the racers had poles. Once we started climbing, about 4km into the 101km race I took out my poles and NEVER LET GO.” The other guy bought poles the next day and at the end of the race thanked me.
The 20km SkyRace was Thursday night and I had a bird’s eye view from my hotel balcony. Allowing me to video the start and finish, catching a race acquaintance smile up at me as I taped her crushing the race.
At the start of the SkyRace the announcer emphasized two words. “Fair Play.”
He elaborated by saying, “I know you are all racing, but be kind to one another. Pass with caution. Take care of each other. Race well. Fair Play.”
I thought that was really heartwarming.
I had expected it to be repeated at the ultra I was running the next day but it wasn’t. In most cases it doesn’t need to be. Ultra people are very courteous and supportive as the rest of my story will attest. However, I couldn’t help but recall this line, “Fair Play” when about 30k into the race a Canadian racer (who arrived after the skyrace) ditched her running buddy briefly so she could pass me. It was a very narrow, muddy single track section section with about 7 people bottle necked in front me. Behind whom I was patiently waiting for an opening to pass. “Fair Play” afterall. 🙂 However, she clearly really wanted to pass me and as she did so, she fell flat in the mud with arms/poles and legs spalled. Ouch! I felt bad, but not responsible. As she tried to get up she fell again. Yikes. Soon we are on our way and again bottlenecked behind the other 7 people. I thought too bad she didn’t hear the “Fair Play” and that even with all her experience ego go the best of her.
After all less than 200m later the single track opened up to double track and I was able to comfortably run past her and the 7 people ahead and had a wonderful run around the beautiful Misurina lake. Until of course when we started climbing again and we were altogether, with the Canadian ladies eventually passing me, never to be seen again…
But I am getting ahead of myself. I’ve missed the start and the PastaParty PastaParty. Yes, you must say it as one word, emphasizing the Ps and repeating it twice.
There really was nothing to this pasta party taking place Friday before the race at the same time and place as drop bag drop off. However, it was repeatedly emphasized by all as a must not miss event. Very cute somehow. A bonding moment for the racers and volunteers.
It was just a simple penne bowl of pasta. Which I took go after chatting with my Polish who I bumped into in line and spotting my new Torontonian friends on my way back. Although it is a small town it still surprises me with 2000+ racers I was bumping into the same people the time.
The race start was 11pm and this was probably my biggest concern. So I had planned to just eat and sleep all day. Luckily my hotel was super sound proof, with blackout curtains making it easy to stick to the plan. Up for breakfast. Back to bed. Up for lunch and pack drop bag. Nap time. Up for drop bag drop off & PastaParty PastaParty. Back to sleep.
Then at 9pm I was up for good. Breakfast again. Called room service for coffee and hot water for my Stoked Oats. Got dressed, surprised at how warm it was and regardless of the rain already coming down I decided to not take my gortex pants, gloves or icebreaker, which here weren’t mandatory gear unlike other mountain races. I might regret this later (and did), but now I was optimistic the rain would stop.
All racers were to be at the start line by 10:30pm. As I was 30 seconds away and it was still raining I’d leave at 10:30pm. However, I startedot sweat and panic as I wrestled with my pack and poles. The pack was new and the poles were newly cut to size. I had practiced with both, why were they giving me trouble now? Ugh! Finally I got it sorted and headed out the door, but not without a big smile and good luck from Lorenzo.
I tucked myself in line with some British guys that had done the race before and really didn’t want to discuss Brexit, so they gave me details of the course instead.
The rain had essentially stopped and many people started taking their jackets off. I hadn’t bothered putting one on I knew I’d overheat as soon as we started climbing and I just had a belief the rain would stop and it did.
I couldn’t see anyone I knew expect the female who was crewing the 2 Toronto guys I head mean in the kit pick-up line.
The announcer wished us luck. Music started. We were off. Slow walk at first, to a jog, then an ultra jog along the streets of Cortina with cheers of “Bravi!”.
Climbing started quickly as did the bottleneck once we hit the trails. But it was a welcome reminder of the long haul of this race and the need to pace.
Most people were moving fine and the bottlenecks wasn’t really bothersome, until we started to descend and one lady seemed down right petrified of the rooty, muddy, rocky technical down she stepped aside and let many of us pass. I then felt a pole lightly tap my behind and a “Hi, Wanda.” as the person holding the poles passed. It was and adventure racing acquaintance 🙂 It was good to see him and his Canadian Flag fake tattoo on his calf pass me by.
I caught up to him again later and we chatted and leaped frogged a bit before he went off ahead to a great finish.
The sun came up accompanied by chirping birds, cows and more people cheering. Now yelling “Die! Die”. No they didn’t literally mean die. It’s from the verb to give, meaning “Giv’r! Giv’r!” The Canadian girl me was confused by the references at first. However, as it is the same word in Slovak I had assumed the correct translation, which was confirmed when an Italian runner explained the meaning to those confused on the trail.
This was the point to the “Fair Play” reminder, followed by the run around Lake Misurina.
Then the climb up to Auronzo and 48km which beat me up. I don’t know why. Maybe because I had been racing all night, or that at 8am the sun was already hot, or the lack of fuelling due to holding poles. I don’t know. Whatever it was the climb up to Auronzo was the worst of the race a close second was Gallina. We’ll get to that. All the folks I had passed on the Misurina section surely passed me here. However, I was content. It was still a very long way to go and I was happy with my pacing. So I just settled in and soaked in the views.
Once at Auronzo there was a 15-20min line up to get through the aid station located inside the rifugio. At first I was annoyed but then I embraced the rest and happily slurped the noodle soup and tea they offered. Everyone (except the top 50) were in the same boat. Luckily there also was a real toilet albeit squat that I could use.
Feeling refreshed I ran along the familiar trail to Tre Cime and continued on to the bag drop at 67km. Here I arrived trashed, hot, and hungry. Seeing the faces of my Polish buddies helped, especially when they said they were trashed too and had rested here for 45min and encouraged me to do the same and wished me luck as they were off already. I said I couldn’t afford that time but thanked them for the smiles and wished them luck as well.
I fueled up, reapplied sunscreen and rubbed muscle cream all over my body and began the trek along the gravel road to the next trail entrance and climb.
At the start of the trail there was a poster, “Cortina Taxi Call ######”.
I pointed it out to a Brazilian racer near by me and joked, “Should we call?”
He smiled, we chatted and soon became leap frog trail buddies for the next 30km.
We started to climb together. Then I would speed up. He would say, “You are strong, go ahead.” I did. Then minutes or hours later, he’d catch up and say, “You are slowing down. You aren’t eating. Eat! You need fuel.” This literally went on until Gallina aid station at 95km when I got to the top first. It was like a parent watching over me. I wish I could thank him.
I am surprised we kept catching each other for so long, because there was a point after AS8 where I just really wanted a nap. I saw a wooden bench. Took off my pack and lay down. I was going to set my phone alarm for 20 minutes but then decided just to count slowly to 10 and pretend I had a long nap. It actually worked. I got up, realized they was cow poop all around me. Decided to run behind tree and add to the poop. Said a little pray to the cross that are located all along the trails and dunked my buff in the spring water. Thank goodness for all those springs, they were so necessary in the heat.
The next section was fun. Full of many water falls and technical, shale like trails. I met some guys from Portugal that I had done the Serra de Frieta race with me and we ran together for a bit. Also, had a fun downhill race with a Greek racer who loves downhills as much as I do so challenge me to race him.
As the last big climb up to Gallina started things got tough again. I was moving slow, energy was low and the rain started. Racers all around me were putting on their jackets, but I held out. It won’t last, I hoped. But it got worse, I struggled to pull the jacket out without taking off my pack. A gentleman behind who had been following me most of the way up took it out for me. Chivalry on the mountain. I propped it on my head, still in denial. It really began to come down hard and get really cold as the sun began to set. I had no choice but to stop and put the jacket on as well as a beanie and gloves. As I climbed and got wetter and colder I cursed myself for leaving the gortex pants, gloves and warm shirt behind.
The small aid station as the Rifugio col Gallina that I thought would never come was finally here and as many racers said afterwards the tea here was the hottest and sweetest. I had two cups full, rung out my gloves, put my headlamp on, (I didn’t need it yet, but would just before reaching the next aid station) and braced myself as I stepped out from under the tarp.
As I ran along the ridge towards Passo Giau the rain continued. I kept chatting through chattering teeth “the rain won’t last, the rain won’t last, I will not dnf due to weather.”
About halfway to the next aid station the rain subsided. I decided to look back from where I had come and it took my breath away. A captivating ray of pink created a beautiful background for the many peaks that popped up all around, with fluffs of clouds weaving through them and mixing with the mist coming up from the valley.
All my angry thoughts of why am I doing this, it’s taking so long, this is stupid lifted faster than the mist. I realized that I got here at the exact moment I needed to be to see this view. It was only for me. Regardless of the 15-20 people that had climbed up with me I looked along the semi-circle ridge trail I was on and saw that I was the only one on it. For those few seconds this view was just for me and me alone. Then I spotted a few runners round the corner and I began to move fast down to Passo Giau.
This was now 97km into the race and 22 hours 35 minutes. Headlamp was on. No more stunning views to see, just silhouettes and headlamps. I quickly downed a cup of tea. I still couldn’t believe there was no coffee at the aid stations. Raring to go I started the last big climb. Unfortunately, almost instantly I started to fall asleep.
Honestly, I was going so slow up hill that I was boring myself to sleep.
Unfortunately, as I dozed off I would stumble into the cliff side rather than the mountain side. Finally I turned around to see who was behind me and noticed the bib said USA and I recognized the man as someone I had ran near in the first 5-10km.
I said, “USA, I’m falling asleep. I know it’s hard to talk while climbing, but can you indulge me for 90 seconds as I’m pretty sure I’ll fall over the cliff soon?”
He laughed, “I see that. Yes, let’s chat.” Consequently, I did not fall over the side of a mountain.
Once the descent started I was revived and thanked my chat partner as my pace quickened. He stayed with me for a bit. Then I heard, “Wow. You go!” I was gone.
I passed a few more people until I got down to the valley and heard a huge crash of rocks. I guy yelled, “Stop!” We all stopped. There was a landslide, but in the dark we couldn’t tell from where. I thought of Fernanda Maciel who had on Thursday night talked about her epic FKT of Aconcagua, when she was finishing a rockslide happened and she started running faster then she ever had. Channeling Fernanda I started running again. Another crash. I pointed my headlamp towards the noise and noticed there was a stream between us and the rocks. We were safe. Keep running.
These last 17km were very technical. A couple small ups along the way that had very jagged rocks and the long down was rooty and at this point extremely muddy and slippery. I had been warned not to let my guard down. So I was mentally prepared for this to take longer than I would like and sadly thought I’d be in 28hours but I’d be done so onwards I went.
Thankfully due to my great training (Jen Segger, ChallengebyChoice) my legs felt fresh and I could take advantage of my l love of downhill. I danced along those technical sections. Passing people like crazy. Some were a little taken aback as I let them know I was passing with “Fair Play”. Once I started moving further away from them I could hear most say “Wow!” or “Die, Die'” “You go”.
I felt so invigorated and surprised that the darkness wasn’t slowing me down as it usually does. I didn’t question it though and just kept the momentum going.
I needed to pee badly but I didn’t want to stop. I looked at my watch and thought I could break 26hours.
I kept passing people and felt like I was getting faster and faster, especially as the trail continued downward and began to open up to gravel and less technical terrain.
I passed 3 more people, turned a corner on to more gravel road and saw two figures a head of me. I knew I would pass them. But I had to pee. I pushed the thought out of my mind. My battery was dying too. I had no time to rummage though my bag for the spare. I’d just have to run. I was on a mission to break 26 hours.
As I got closer to the 2 figures ahead of me I gasped. Shocked. I only know one person that wields her poles so wildly. Can’t be. They should have been done hours ago. I mean they passed me on the climb to Auronzo. Yet, it was the 2 Canadian ladies. I said Hello as I passed them on the wide gravel trail.
My light was dimming fast now I really needed to hit the road so I’d have light. I wasn’t sure how far that would be. Then I remembered Rory Bosio talking Thursday night about using her cellphone flashlight app in UTMB. My phone was in my left front breast pocket, easily accessible. I took it out put on the flashlight and put it back in the pocket. It was lopsided, but it did the trick.
It was about another kilometer to the road. When I exited the trail I saw the Canadian crew lady waiting for one for the two guys to come through. The other had finished hours earlier. Good to get a smile and cheer from her.
I still kept my pace up along the road passing people as I went. I spotted two more familiar figures. The Polish brother’s. Their cheers as I passed felt so genuine I got giddy, cheering them back.
I crossed the finish and felt so happy.
All those thoughts of doubt I had climbing up to Gallina flew out of my head. After all, the few hours of suffering I willingly endure is nothing to those unwillingly suffering. I reprimanded myself for being so whining, as I thought about my mother suffering for months through daily radiation treatments that allowed her no rest. At least my suffering provides me with stunning mountain views and interactions with encouraging and amazing volunteers, crew and racers. Giving up is not option.
I got my lovely vest. Now that I’m used to not getting medals and getting a vest instead I don’t get as angry as I did at CCC.
The Polish brothers came in right after me and we call took a picture together.
Last week, after their vacation was over they facebook friended along with the pictures they took and lovely note saying I was now their trail sister. 🙂
I was touched. They are my trail brothers for sure.
As I walked back to my hotel my mother called, who had been tracking every move and yelled, “First Canadian Female!” She was pretty proud.
After that I collapsed on the bed not even able to shower.
I woke early and was so happy that the hotel provided epsom salts. BEST BATH EVER! Shockingly I felt great. I walked and up and down the 3 flights of stairs in my hotel like it was nothing. I can’t say I have every done that after any race in the past.
Thank you Jen Segger & ChallengebyChoice for making me stronger and my post race recovery so pain free.
Over 2000 runners started, only 974 finished.
I finished 694, after being in 777 placed at 102km. So assuming nobody dropped in the last 17km I passed 84 people!
72nd female and 1st Canadian female.