Tales of triathlon, travel, and trails

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Mantrackers Sinister 7 Relay 2017

After a four year hiatus, some girlfriends asked if I would run a leg of the Sinister 7 100 mile trail race as a women’s relay on the Mantrackers team. The answer was a no-brainer, of course I would! I last ran with pretty much the same group of girls in 2013 when the race was about 94 miles and I ran the last leg. It was a super fun event so I was excited to return to the Crowsnest Pass in southwest Alberta for another fun time.

Crowsnest mountain

The Crowsnest Pass consists of 5 small towns just over 2 hours south of Calgary. It starts at 7am on Saturday in Blairmore and with a 30 hour time limit, finishes in Coleman at 1pm on Sunday. Runners can run the whole race solo (crazy, crazy people) or as part of a team consisting of anywhere from 2 to 7 people to run the 7 legs. The relays can be all men, all women, or mixed. I think the relay aspect is pretty unique for trail ultras but I love it because it gets a lot more people involved in the trail running scene without the scary ultra distances. The legs range from ~11km to ~32km and the overall running time for a team can be from 14 or 15 hours all the way to 30 hours.

I ended up with leg 5, ~27km with rolling terrain. I’ve been getting more fit through triathlon (mostly cycling) training but trail running hasn’t really been on the schedule this year – something that will have to change I think because I really enjoy it!

Rob was running on the associated men’s team and also drew leg 5. We drove down to Crowsnest Friday after work, just made it to the end of the pasta dinner, and arrived in the campground just in time to set up the tent and have a Friday evening beer with our teammates. I did not sleep Friday night. For some reason I couldn’t get comfortable in the tent, I was too hot, then too cold, but just generally uncomfortable. I read more to try to fall asleep, it didn’t help. Finally I ended up moving to the car and managed to close my eyes for about 2 hours until Rob woke me up at 5:45am. I do not, and never have functioned well in a sleep-deprived state. My mom will attest to that fact. More on this later.

We hit up Tim Horton’s and found our way to the start line where I really wanted to say good luck to my friend Chelsey who was running her second 100 miler. I found her just before the start and wished her a strong race.

Morgan was our first runner, about 18km through Frank Slide. The Frank Slide is a massive debris field of huge boulders caused by the collapse of Turtle Mountain that partially wiped out the town of Frank at it’s base. It’s a pretty weird place to drive by because the highway and the railway line had to be carved through the landslide, so running through it would really be interesting! Morgan had a great run and put our team right near the top of the leaderboard.

Next up was our pinch hitter Suzanne, filling in for an injured runner last minute. She ended up being, not surprisingly, a total badass runner and put our team right into first place in the ¬†women’s team standings!

By this time, around 11am, it was getting really, really, uncomfortably hot. The forecast was for somewhere around 35c and that ended up holding true. Debbie ran the brutal leg 3 that apparently in some exposed areas was reaching 40c. I honestly would have melted but Debbie totally rocked that leg.

Trying to keep cool at the river

Dianna set out for leg 4, also in the scorching heat. We sort of found of after that this leg was changed quite a bit from last year and made to be a lot harder with a big exposed climb but just like everyone else on our team, she kicked ass.

Finally after waiting all day I started about 7pm, taking over from Dianna. Rob’s runner had come in about 30 minutes prior so he had a good head start out on the trail. The first part of the run was not very scenic, just running in the ditch beside the highway and then a road, straight into the sun. It was a little demoralizing but thankfully the sun would be getting lower in the sky soon. Almost straight away I was catching my feet on rocks and tripping quite a bit. I ¬†yelled at myself in my head to “watch your step!” and “pick up your feet!” and carried on.

Rob and I before the start of leg 5

I made decent time to the first aid station and mentioned to them I was thankful the sun was starting to go behind the mountains. Most of this leg was run on quad tracks. I don’t like quads and turns out I find the tracks they make quite annoying. I prefer single track mostly because it’s more beautiful, and believe me, quad tracks are not beautiful. It was basically a highway of quads tracks up there. This was a dry year so where there are normally mud-filled pits, it was just pits. It was about this time that I really noticed I was having trouble sort of seeing and placing my feet. I wasn’t feeling comfortable on the trail and every step I took I felt like I was going to fall.

And then I did fall. I took a big spill on a non-technical part of the trail. I landed pretty hard on my right side and immediately started crying. The girl behind me stopped to ask if I was ok and tried to help me but I was sort of beyond help. I told her she should just continue on. I needed to cry a bit more. I fall a lot when I trail run, almost every time I bail so this was nothing new, and normally I just get up and continue on. But for some reason I just couldn’t keep going. When I stood up I was really shaky and my legs were wobbling. I started to walk (and cry) and berate myself for being so stupid after I told myself not to fall. After that, every time I tried to run I would catch a toe and trip, like hundreds of times. It sucked. Every runner that passed me (there were a lot) asked me if I was ok. I didn’t think I looked too bad but maybe I was weaving around the trail or something because they ALL asked if I was ok.

The blazing sun finally setting providing some relief

At the second aid station I was revived by lemonade which I think was the only reason I finished this damn run. I drank so much lemonade there. As I was drinking my lemonade, about 10 quads came whizzing by on their quad highway. And that’s the way it was for the rest of the run. I was constantly looking behind me for fear of getting hit by a quad and then breathing in their dust once they sped past me. It was pretty miserable, especially combined with my apparently inability to run. It was basically a 27km pity party and crying-fest until finally the misery ended. Right at the end I actually caught up to the girl who tried to help me when I fell and I apologized for not being nicer to her at the time. I passed the timing chip on to Megan who ran off into the night.

Somehow I’m smiling right at the finish

I was, and am, really upset with my performance. This leg is really runnable and I know I could have been pretty easily 30 minutes faster. And I feel like I let my team down which is the hardest part of this whole thing. If I sucked and I just affected me, that’s one thing, but letting down my team was the worst part. I think all of this was caused by lack of sleep and too much stress because I just didn’t have my normal grit and resilience to be able to pick myself up and carry on.

Not feeling like I could run left me with some time to take photos! Dusk.

Megan ran super strong through the night under a full moon and tagged off to Agatha who brought it home for our team at 4:30am! We ended up finishing as the 4th place women’s team because Agatha made a pass in the last kilometre!

I really did have a lot of fun, I just wish I could have run better. Rob had an awesome run, he thinks it is one of his best runs ever, and he even made a video of it! My friend Chelsey finished solo in an incredible effort that saw only 46 soloists finish out of about 250 that started, including only 9 women! I would like to come back to leg 5 at Sinister 7 for some redemption because I *know* I can do much better!

Team Mantrackers at the finish! 430am!