Last year at the Lost Soul Ultra in Lethbridge, Alberta I paced my friend Chelsey for the last 53km of her 100 mile run. Rob ran the 53km standalone race. This was our first introduction to this race and the coulees of southern Alberta.
Why did I think this was a good idea?
In January of this year when registration opened, Rob signed up right away for the 100km. I wasn’t doing Ironman and I wanted to keep my races short in 2016 to try to get some speed back so I was going to do the 53k. (yes, I know that’s not short!) But somewhere along the way in the 4 days before the race filled I found myself registered for the 100k. That was all fine and well, we would have lots of time to train and we could run the race together, and then I got the spot for Roth. That really made things difficult because there was only about 7 weeks between Roth and Lost Souls and for me, I knew that wouldn’t be enough time for recovery, proper training, and taper. But, what the hell, I thought I’d give it a shot and at the very least it would make for a good story.
Lost Souls is a loop course with a sort of figure eight design around the aid stations. It works awesome for crew because they don’t have to drive very far to get access to their runners and for the most part, runners are always about 2 hours or less from “help” at an aid station. The stations and volunteers at this race in particular are some of the best anywhere and the local running community in Lethbridge takes a lot of pride in making this race awesome. The 100km race is 2 loops (53km + 47km).
We stayed at the Days Inn, about 50ft from the start/finish which was perfect for both pre- and post-race. The 100km runners can have drop bags at 2 of the 3 aid stations so Rob and I shared a clothes/sock/shoe bag and a cooler with cold lemonade and coke.
And we’re off
The 100km and 100mile races start together at 8am on Friday and both races have a 35 hour cut off. Rob and I were aiming for the 21 hour cut off to obtain a lottery ticket into Western States (more on that later). We loosely figured a 9 hour first loop and a 10 hour second loop, which would leave us a 2 hour buffer for any incidents.
Friday morning started off clear with big Alberta blue skies. Lethbridge gets warmer weather than Calgary and the coulees have an extra oven effect so managing the heat was going to be important. The first part of the race is basically a big conga line with very few areas to pass on single track trail although there are some sections on paved road and bike trails. For people running 100km and 100miles I was really surprised at how fast everyone was running off the start line! Didn’t we have like 20 hours of this to go?!
For those that have done trail races/ultras, they’re typically on mountain trails with big elevation gain and loss, and you would be forgiven thinking that running 100km in the Alberta prairies would be “easy”. But you would also be grossly mistaken. The coulees are steep, evil, unrelenting hills that make you wish all you had to do was a 8km climb up a mountain pass. All the climbs were graded like on a ski hill with green circle, blue square, black (and double black) diamond. I didn’t see too much else other than black diamonds! To make matters worse, they’re all named with names like The Insult, Dog Shit Hill, Gun Range Hill, Dragon’s Back, Choke Cherry Hill. Apparently there was one coulee labeled as a green circle only to be followed up with a sign saying “We Lied” shortly after. And we got to do all that twice!
Lucky for me, the course runs by a dog park twice each lap so I had a good fill of dog hugs including the most scaredy cat golden retriever I’ve ever met!
We had a really great volunteer helping us at the second aid station of the lap, Pavan. I usually like to be self sufficient and self helping but this guy was upset even when I was trying to load more CarboPro into my pack by myself!
The day got too hot for Rob and I, who are not used to any kind of heat and living in Calgary, have very little chance to acclimate to heat. I resisted dumping ice water on my head because I didn’t want wet feet and blisters. I can deal with blisters for a marathon/IM but not for 100km. We made ourselves ice bandanas for most of the afternoon and that provided a lot of relief from the sun.
After about 30km, my legs were heavy and sore but they hadn’t got any worse, it was manageable, so it was just a new normal.
We arrived back at the start/finish at 5:04pm which was 9 hours after beginning this adventure. Right on target for our first lap! We didn’t stay together in the aid stations because we each had specific things we needed to do. I changed my socks just because I wanted to but kept my shoes the same and Rob changed his shoes. I had another lemonade and a rice ball and we both had a nice sit down in the camping chairs. We spent about 15 minutes there before setting off for loop 2.
It was still warm and we couldn’t wait for the sun to set. Except we could wait. We made the mistake of putting our headlights in the other aid station, not at headquarters at the start/finish. We had decided together that yes, we would be able to make it to Pavan before the sun set to get our lights. Except that once we were actually faced with the task of doing that, it appeared that wasn’t going to happen.
In the afternoon dusk we saw about 8 deer bounding through the coulee. That was really cool. Actually, other than those guys and the dogs, we didn’t see any other animals. There are stories and photos of snakes though, and I’m so happy we didn’t run into them.
As dusk started to settle in we started making plans to use our iPhone flashlights to get us to our headlights left in the next aid station. A couple came up behind us and Rob asked if we could try to run with them to follow their light. Instead, they let us borrow one of their lights. So nice! I hope they finished well. We only needed the light for about 10 minutes and we were into the aid station where we returned the light with many thanks.
See when it starts to fall apart
Man, it really falls apart
Like boots or heart, oh when they start
They really fall apart – The Tragically Hip
This is where things get interesting. After about 70 or 75km I really started to fall apart. And like the Hip say, once you start to fall apart, you really fall apart.
I longest I’ve run/travelled on my feet is about 75km in the Grand Canyon. And I’ve never run into and through the night so this was new territory for me. I did a lot better with the night than I expected but I think having Rob with me was the biggest reason it went ok! I’m not sure I would be ok running on my own in the night. The constant ups and downs of the coulees were really starting to hurt and this translated to constant ups and downs in my mind.
Along the way I had lost the ability, or desire, to run. It was dark and windy. And my mind went into a dark place too. I hated walking. I hated that I couldn’t run anymore. This is a 100km run, not a walk, and I was sad, frustrated, annoyed that I wasn’t strong enough to make it a run. I thought many times, and said out loud to Rob “what’s the point of this?! This is not fun, this is supposed to be a run not a death march. I’m not having fun! I don’t want to do this! I hate this!”. Oh man, it was a bad time. I had (again) sworn off all endurance sports.
My stubborn self was upset that I had to admit weakness. I don’t like being weak, mentally or physically, and I just get myself going in a bad direction when I start feeling that way. I willed myself back into Pavan aid station and although Rob thinks/thought I was mad at him, I wasn’t. I sort of just needed to cry. I was cold and they had those portable heaters set up so I went straight over and sat on the ground under the heater with tears down my face. There were 4 people sitting at a table beside me and one guy asked if I was ok, could he get me anything. I said I’m fine, thanks, and no I don’t need anything. I thought they were the medical crew and that if I talked too much to them or said the wrong thing, that they would pull me off the course. So as bad as I was feeling, I still didn’t want to quit or be forced to quit.
I laid down on my back and cried for a few minutes. No one bothered me. Finally I sat up and the guy who was trying to talk me to before came to sit down beside me. I told him I was upset because I thought I should be doing better than I was and I thought I should be stronger. He said basically, that’s a silly way to think, that even signing up for 100km takes a strong person and if I’m not strong enough so far, once I finish, this experience will make me stronger. After a few more word of encouragement, Rob and I left once again into the night.
Everyone is falling apart
Almost immediately Rob’s knee really started to hurt him. I am pretty sure it’s his IT band. I suffered previously from ITBS for many years so I know exactly how painful it is, and it is worst on the downhills. From Pavan to Softball Valley there are 3 coulees to cross, affectionately named the Three Bitches. Every step downhill was excruciatingly painful for Rob, and one misstep even landed him in a prickly tree on the side of a hill. For me, once Rob was having problems it forced me to get over myself and try to be strong for him. I didn’t have any physical ailments, other than sore legs and being tired, but Rob was now having a hard time even walking.
Somehow we made it to the last aid station at Softball Valley and the guy that had helped me before was there. I was a different person, and although I really needed to sit down, I was doing much better than the last time he saw me. I had some soup broth and tried to convince Rob to get some kinesio tape put on his knee but he wasn’t hearing any of it. I was getting really tired and when I closed my eyes just for a few seconds, I was fast asleep. It was time to get out of there!
Along the way to the finish, Rob hallucinated a big furry spider but immediately realized what was going on when I didn’t see it! Finally at 3:45am, 19 hours 45 minutes after starting we finished Lost Souls 100km. There was (surprisingly) very little emotion, we both managed a smile, but no finish line tears!
In the end, I may not have been as strong as I wanted that day, but I’m stronger now because of that day, and one day (but I don’t think next year) I’ll try again. I learned a lot and seriously, I met all my goals, so I need to just stop being so hard on myself! Interestingly, but maybe not entirely surprising, since a couple weeks have passed, I have come around and will likely run 100km again (just not in 2017) so I can try to do better, although I think 100miles might be off my table forever now!
In case you’re interested, my gear for this expedition:
Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 2 (+ Lululemon speed sock). I didn’t get one blister. NOT ONE!! Remarkable for 100km, in my opinion! I was careful to not get water in my shoes and I changed my socks at half way, just because, but I didn’t even get a start of a blister or a hot spot. The Nike’s are so comfortable, they feel like slippers, and I will be getting the 3rd version asap!
Dirty Girl gaiters. I must for trail running, in my opinion. When I don’t wear the gaiters for whatever reason, I am constantly getting little pebbles and sticks in my socks and shoes and the gaiters stop all of that. And they’re not just for girls – Rob wears them too!
Betty Designs run tank. It arrived the week of the race so I wore it right out of the package and it was perfect. The material is light and flowy which helps in the heat and I didn’t get any chafing under my arms. And, it’s bright and cheerful!
Arcteryx running skirt. Trails should be run in a skirt, obviously! I love this running skirt, the skirt material is really light and the shorts underneath are really comfortable, again, no chafing. Of course it’s awesome, it’s Arcteryx!
Salomon S-Lab Adv Skin 5Set running vest. I love this vest. I’ve tried many vests/running packs over the years, and this one is the best, in my opinion. It fits a 1.5L bladder and/or two handheld bottles. I couldn’t get the plastic smell out of the handheld bottles and that smell is totally intolerable to me, but the bladder is great. I will probably try getting new bottles, maybe I just got two bad ones. The other Salomon pack that’s perfect for a races with consistent aid stations is the S-Lab Sense Ultra Set. (Salomon has the MOST confusing names for their packs!)
Black Diamond Distance FLZ women’s poles. These are not carbon poles but they’re more adjustable than the carbon poles because when I bought them a couple years ago, I didn’t know what size I wanted. They are light enough, they don’t make my arms tired, and they’re purple! I think poles are a big advantage for this course because the hills are so steep, they help to save the quads a little bit!