Tales of triathlon, travel, and trails

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My first time as a pacer at the Lost Souls Ultra 100 miler

The day before Victoria 70.3 I got a Facebook message from my friend Chelsey asking me if I would pace her for the last 53km of her 100 mile attempt. I know Chelsey from the UofA although I couldn’t remember if it was from med school or the triathlon club (she later confirmed during our run it was from the tri club) and aside from randomly running into her at a brick workout in Calgary in 2013 I haven’t seen her or, really talked to her, since I left Edmonton in 2007. But through the powers of social media and Facebook, she had read my blog about my R2R2R run and since it seemed like I could run a little bit, she asked if I would run with her in the Lost Souls Ultra 100 miler. Well let me tell you, she came to the right girl! I am pretty much always down for an epic adventure and this one sounded awesome! In fact the last time I had seen Chelsey at that 4 hour brick she had told me she ran the Lost Souls 100k. That totally blew me away and I have thought often since then about how freaking cool it is that Chelsey ran 100k.


Lethbridge river valley

I told her I couldn’t commit right away because I had IMMT on Aug 16 and the Lost Souls was pretty quick after, on Sept 11, and my recovery from IM has never been that great. Since I would be pacing her, and “responsible” for her, I wanted to make sure I would be ok to run 53km! It’s not really cool to be the pacer that gets dropped! But I was so excited and intrigued at the possibility of being involved in a 100 mile attempt that I confirmed I would run with her before IMMT and then pretty much just hoped for the best from my body.

I didn’t do a single trail run after the Grand Canyon. No reason, I was just cycling and running on the road training for IM. After IMMT I recovered better than I ever have. My legs were pretty much normal the second day after the race and I didn’t have the overwhelming fatigue like I’ve had in the past. It was really cool to see how my body has adapted through 5 IMs to recovery better each time. Normally I get sick like the day after IM with a cold and flu but not this time. Still, I took it real easy, no swim/bike/run except for a bit of cyclocross and weights and just a lot of eating and sleeping. Then, the weekend before Lost Souls it was practically snowing in Calgary, cold and rainy, and I was signed up for a cross race. I decided at the last minute not to race because I didn’t want to risk a crash and an injury, and I didn’t want to get sick from the cold. As luck would have it, I got sick anyway. So the week leading up to my big job, I was fighting a massive cold and just generally feeling terrible.


I worked on Friday but I was tracking Chelsey all day. She was doing awesome! Her first loop was about 8h40min. I was thinking how awesome it was that *all* Chelsey had to do was run for the next 30-ish hours. No work, no stressful commute, no one hassling for this or that, she *just* had to run, and I was jealous! I had a few texts from her dad who was crewing her, that she was doing really well and everything was going according to plan so far.


The dream team of Chelsey and her dad in transition

Rob and I arrived in Lethbridge just after 8pm shortly after that I got a text from her dad that Chelsey would be arriving at Pavan aid station in about 20min. So we jumped back in the car and google mapped our way to the aid station in the dark. Just as we had parked Chelsey and her dad came running (yes, running!) along the path! We ran with them into the aid station and what followed was a badass tutorial in efficient aid station transitions. Chelsey had to check in and out of each aid station with her wrist tracker. She had 2 Salomon running packs and rubber maid bins at each aid station filled with zip loc bags labelled for each stop. Her dad would fill the extra vest with the contents of each zip loc and when Chelsey arrived he would take the vest she had been wearing, give her the new one, and she’d be on her way. No lingering over the food, no slushies (this aid station had a slushy machine!), not even any sitting down. It turns out she sat down only twice (!!) over 100 miles, once after each loop, in order to change her socks and shoes, and that was it. Her average aid station time was under 90 seconds, and those 2 longer stops were still both less that 4.5 minutes. Incredible! But she was so smart figuring that out; it’s free speed you don’t have to train for. Because as soon as you sit down, you can count on 10 minutes minimum being gone immediately and with 5 aid stations/lap and 10 minutes at each one, over 3 laps and 100 miles, that’s easily 2-3 hours gone, just sitting. So anyway, Chelsey whisked through the aid station and hauled ass up the road and up and over a coulee into the night saying she would see me in about 5 hours.


Meeting Chelsey as we arrived in Lethbridge

Of course I didn’t go to sleep then (it was like 9:30pm), instead, we went to Earls for dinner (pasta! of course!) and then I had to pack my vest for the run because I wanted to be self sufficient especially since Chelsey was moving so quickly through transitions. The plan was that her dad would text me when she was leaving the last aid station so I would have about an hour until I met her. We thought I would meet her somewhere around 2am. I set my alarm just in case, for 1:45am, which was too too too too early since I didn’t lay down in bed until midnight.


Pain and suffering tolerant. Love it.

At 1:45am my alarm woke me with a jolt and I was immediately confused why my alarm was going off! Adding to the confusion, I didn’t have a text from her dad so maybe she had slowed down and I could get more sleep. I went to the race tracking page and in my sleep-induced, middle of the night haze, I tried to make sense of the tracking times but my brain was not working! I had no idea what was happening! Just as I was asking Rob if I should go back to sleep because it seemed like she hadn’t left the last aid station yet, I got a text from her dad saying she would be arriving in about 20 minutes! So I sprung out of bed, got dressed and headed out to meet Chelsey.


Chelsey finishing lap 2

Chelsey was in great spirits and she wasted no time in the aid station, just enough to change her shoes, and just like that we were off into the night at about 2:30am. Honestly, I don’t remember much from that night. It was clear that my body was still trying to be asleep because my stomach hadn’t started working yet. In all, it took about 2 hours of running for my stomach to wake up. I was most nervous about running in the night because this run would more than double my total time ever running at night, and both of those times it did not go well. In 2013 I ran leg 7 of the Sinister 7 which took about 1h20min. I fell, I got lost, and I was so scared of running into a bear, like actually running into him because it was night and dark and I wouldn’t be able to see him until I ran square into him. My second night running experience was in the Grand Canyon for about 45min which included an epic meltdown and uncontrollable crying for most of those 45min. Needless to say, my night running resume was less than ideal and now I was responsible for someone else in the dark, when I wasn’t even sure I was going to be ok! I just started talking and we ran and ran and ran, talking about anything and everything. We came across a porcupine, he was cute. Once in a while we would see headlights of other runners in the distance but it was generally pretty quiet on the trails (except for our chatter).


You can see the trails in the distance. Chelsey is working hard here.


I experienced a new problem, one that started almost right away, which is that my hands and fingers got really swollen. Initially I thought it might be due to the cold and that once the sun came up, my hands would warm up and the swelling would subside. I also started taking my BASE salt, even though salt will cause fluid retention clearly there was some electrolyte imbalance. The sun did rise, around 6:15am, and I couldn’t believe it was been almost 4 hours of running the dark. And we ran almost every step that night! The swelling in my hands never went away during the run. I couldn’t make a fist because my fingers were so chubby and sore, and all the veins in my hands I can normally see had disappeared. The swelling eventually went down a couple hours after the run. I don’t know what caused this, it’s never happened before. I blame it on my body still being asleep and not used to running after less than 2 hours of sleep, at 2 in the morning!


Chubby hand and sausage fingers!

The other big problem for me, also new, was pretty severe foot pain/hot spots. I had worn this combination of shoes and socks before without problem but I think I didn’t have my shoes tied tight enough to start. And then going up and down and up and down the hundreds of steep coulees allowed my feet to slide around in my shoes causing hot spots and blisters on the bottom of my feet. It made every step super painful, especially for the last 25km but what kept me going and stopped me from complaining was the fact that Chelsey had 115km more in her legs and feet and she did not complain once. I think once she said “I’m sort of tired but I think it’s how I’m supposed to feel now” (at about 140km). So there was no room for me to complain so I just sucked it up and kept moving for Chelsey.


Foot aftermath 😦


Were we hallucinating or did we see a unicorn?

We left the Pavan aid station and it was starting to get really warm. Lethbridge had a 2 day heat wave, the exact 2 days of the race, and the temperatures got to 30C. The coulees were absolutely endless and relentless. Some were so steep we had to use our hands to pull ourselves up on all fours. Chelsey had poles that I think really helped her on the descents. If it weren’t for Chelsey I would have been lost off the trail 3 or 4 times and the girl who was running 3 times as much as me kept me on track! I tend to wander off in my mind and ignore trail markers. One of them was a line of rocks on the trail to prevent us from going straight so we would make a right hand turn on to another trail. I clearly remember my thought being “wow, that’s cool! A line of white rocks!” and I stepped over the rocks to continue along until Chelsey yelled at me to get back on the trail!


I had been running with Skratch in my pack and made it 8 hours until I was completely over the taste. I really just wanted plain water. But that was a big success for me to go 8 hours! Around that same time that I was tiring of Skratch, Chelsey was getting more tired (finally! haha) and we weren’t able to run much. But we had ran so much in the night and made up a lot of ground, I told her that was fine and really all we needed to do was to keep moving ahead, one step at a time.


You can see the trail coming over the crest


Best popsicles ever!

We got popsicles coming out of one aid station and let me tell you, that was one of the best popsicles I’ve ever had! Our conversations, or more accurately my commentary, had turned mainly to supportive cheering. “You can do it. You’re doing it. You’re doing awesome. Let’s just keep moving.”


Finally, finally, we were on the last stretch, going under the big bridge and then heading up the last big climb to the finish line. I think I talked to and encouraged Chelsey every step of that climb. I can’t even imagine the pain she was in at that point.


Underneath the big bridge


She did it! 100 miles!!

In the end, Chelsey finished in 29hr 18min. Well under her A goal of sub-30 hours, made even more impressive by the huge attrition rate: only 25/52 100 milers finished. She sat down only twice, once after each loop to change her shoes and socks. I think she had the fastest overall transition times. She never broke down or lost her shit. It was the most impressive display of athleticism (and mental strength) I’ve ever seen! She made my job really easy and I loved every step of that run with her. For me, I was really impressed with how my body handled the sleep deprivation, I did much better than I thought I would, but it was also really cool to see the problems I had. I’m happy I had a great night run so maybe now I can put those not-so-great experiences behind me. Even though this race is in the prairies, not a mountain ultra, it is brutal. The coulees really are soul sucking and I couldn’t imagine having to do that course 2 more times! A top American ultra runner, who’s actually a native Calgarian, Beverly Anderson-Abbs (she’s the woman who’s gone the furthest in the Barkley) ran and set the women’s course record this year confirmed the course is brutal. I think I could do the 100km event, but I’m not quite ready for 100 miles!


Up up up and over a coulee