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Coming off a great race at Sinister 7, I signed back up for my annual Iron Legs race in Bragg Creek. I love this race because its close, well organized and covers some great terrain. This year I signed up for the 100km, but was a bit bummed that Moose Mountain was cut due to the fire lookout construction.

Regardless, I packed up my gear the night before and tried to get some rest. I arrived with about 10 minutes before the race started and rushed to get out to the starting line.

Sunrise at the start line.

My intentions were to go a bit quicker this race than usual. I wanted to get ahead of the long row of people that get jammed up during the first 8km of single track. I ended up going harder than I probably should have, but I was feeling good.

As soon as we started climbing up Powderface Ridge we encountered snow, lots of it.

Starting the climb to Powerface Ridge
Starting the decent

The snow added some challenges on the decent, but the weather was perfect and the cool damp weather was most welcome. After descending down the backside of Powderface and reaching Ford Knoll Loop, the warmth of the day arrived and it was starting to feel like August again.

This year took a detour bypassing Moose Mountain due to the fire lookout construction. Its too bad because its one of my favorite sections, however, this year took us up Prairie Mountain, which I have never done before.

getting above the tree line

Prairie Mountain turned out to be a steep scramble, instead of a run, and I took a wrong turn on the way down. Eventually the trail ended, luckily I had downloaded the route on my phone and using the GPS realized I needed to traverse a scree field back to the path.

Top of Prairie Mountain

By the time I got back down Prairie Mountain I was starting to feel fatigued. I met up with Craig and started the climb up Pnuma with some company. His wife and kids were waiting for him at the top which was cool to see. We dropped into the Moose Mountain aid station and had some warm soup. The volunteers there were amazing: super helpful and full of positivity.

The drop from Moose Mountain is nice smooth single track, but its long. By the time I arrived at the last aid station the sun was going down and it became a good time to toss on my headlamp. On the way back it became unbelievably dark, I missed a turn at Fullerton Loop, but it didnt add much extra distance and droped me back on the correct trail after a few kilometers.

At one point I started to think I made another wrong turn and doubled back for a bit just to verify. I figured I was on the right path and turned around again to continue forward. At this I ran into another headlamp, and it was great to see it was Craig. He was running towards me, the wrong way down the trail as he had doubled back thinking he was going the wrong way. Glad to see me, I reassured him we were going the right way (at least to get to the finish) and we continued to follow the flagging. Being dark as it was, and as tired as I was, it was nice to have some company for the remaining 10km to the finish.

We ran in together, yet I wanted Craig to run in first as he would have been long ahead if he had not doubled back to much. I came in with a 16:45:43.

Running it in together.

I felt great at the end, definitely tired, but all around good. I had some stew, but didn’t stick around long as it was a really cool evening, and once you stop it gets pretty chilly. I also had to drive myself home and I wanted to get back before I was too exhausted to drive, or risked falling asleep en-route.

Race end adrenaline

I’ve now completed the 60km, 50Miles & 100km segments of this race. Its still one of my favorites and I’m looking forward to next year whatever distance I decide on.

This was the beast of my 2019 running schedule, the 100 Mile (160km), 6000 meter elevation gain, 7 stage race in Crowsnest Pass, Alberta. Originally I planned on signing up for the relay race, then coercing 6 other friends to come spend the day running through the mountains. However, I quickly realized that the relay portion quickly sells out and only solo spots remain. A bit disappointed, I thought why not just sign up for the solo and see how far it takes me. Even if I don’t make the entire way, at least I get a day out of it.

That being said, from the moment I hit submit on the registration page I became determined to finish the race. My longest distance prior was 90km, which hurt. Adding almost 2 additional back to back marathons on top of that was going to be an intersting challenge.

With a busy work schedule and family life, getting the time for long training runs was difficult. However, by the time the race came around I actually felt physically and mentally prepared.

The area around Crowsnest Pass is stunning, yet this happened to be a cool wet year. The area was socked in with fog with a continual drizzle and by the time the race was scheduled to start the trails were covered in mud.

This is an amazingly well run event. The day prior to the race, the organizers host a dinner for all participants. Some prizes are given away and some insight on what to expect on the trail is shared. Bears seem to be a common these, and although the area is filled with large grizzly bears, dangerous encounters are rare. I ended up booking a motel in nearby Sparwood so at least I could expect a decent night sleep. I walked over to a nearby grocery store and loaded up some some snacks from the bulk bins. It was exhausted and easily drifted off into a deep sleep once my head hit the pillow.

Leg 1 – Frank Slide – 18.3km – 535m

Not wanting to feel rushed, I arrived early to the start line. It was a cool wet morning, but the mood was energetic. The lineup to the porta potties were 100 people deep so I ducked across a grassy field to a nearby bush to take a pre-race leak. My feet immediately became soaked from the tall wet grass – off to a good start.

At the gun we take off, a good chunk of the runners are in a relay race, where a new runner tags in at the start of each of the 7 legs. Because i knew it was going to be a long day for me I hung back to middle pack, not wanting to feel rushed out of the gate. The first 1-2km were a single track conga line of runners going at a slow crawling pace. I was fine to start slow, but many racers were impatiently trying to pass along the rail line. Buying a few seconds of time wasn’t worth rolling my ankle so I stayed in the line and slugged through with the group.

The remaining 10km of the leg was essentially a mud trail. After 5km both feet were drenched and coated in thick grease like mud. At this point I realized it was going to be a long day, but everyone was in the same position so all good.

Leg 1 goes by fast. It’s pretty easy and most runners are still jacked up on pre race adrenaline, so its a satisfying leg. You run through the notorious frank slide, where the side of the mountain had given way and burried an entire town. Although macaw, it for some interesting scenery, just a field of car size boulders. Dropping into the first transition station I watched runners getting pampered by their support crew: filling their water, bringing them dry socks and giving the standard pep talks. Although the volunteer teams were amazing and super helpful, I started to wonder if not having at least some familiar face to greet me was a mistake.

Leg 2 – Hastings Ridge – 16.7km – 772m

Leg 2 is one of the best segments of the race. Its a pretty grueling climb out of the gate, but snakes along the ridge of a mountain with some pretty epic views. Runners were starting to loosen up and conversation among the group I was with start started to flow.

By the end of Leg 2 I was feeling great, and ready to just continue on. I forced myself to take a rest at the transition area and try to get some food in. My main meal for the day was going to be Hammer Perpetuem which I have found works well with my stomach while still giving me the calories I need. Its a powder you mix with water into a gelatinous paste – yum.

Leg 3 – Willoughby Ridge – 31.4km – 1357m

In preparation for this race I read a number of blogs, race reports and previous runners race reviews. One theme that kept coming up was that Leg 3 and 4 had the massive attrition rates. It was long, steep and right at the peak heat of the day. Although this year was muddy, we had the luxury if it being cool and overcast which made it much easier, or so I thought.

Leg 3 is often referred to as “Satan’s Sack”, and it did live up to its reputation. The heat was non existent, but running through mud puddle after mud puddle was starting to wear on me. In a stroke of luck, or experience, I had packed extra shoes and socks for transition area 4, so only about 25km before I can finally dry my feet, if only temporarily.

Again, dropping into transition area 3 I was greeted by the most helpful volunteer support team. By this time my brain was starting to run slower so I often just needed a few seconds to stop, rest and collect my thoughts. Rushing through a transition and forgetting something could be a disaster on a day like today.

Leg 4 – Saddle Mountain – 23.4km – 974m

I left transition area (TA) 4 with some momentum knowing I had one of the toughest legs under my belt and feeling pretty good. Its tough to know what will recharge you at the transitions. What you think would taste great is often repulsive when you are physically drained. One item I read about was packaged cups of mandrin oranges packed in juice. For some reason these are the most amazing things when you are exhausted. If you haven’t tried these I cant recommend them enough. I was lucky to have packed 2 for every transition station. Keeping food down and calories in is the most critical factor to completing an endurance race. Stop drinking and you get dehydrated. Having your body reject food and you completely bonk with lack of calories. Either way your race is done, so getting food and liquids in is paramount.

Leaving TA4, you jump right into single track with a constant climb. Really wanting to complete the race I ease into a manageable pace. As much discomfort as I was starting to be in, I really just tried to enjoy the experience. Leg 4 probably has the highest drop off rate for runners. You’ve just come off the grueling leg 3, have willed yourself to continue “at least one more leg”, but just drop at the end. The weather was great, but my feet had been wet all day and the general feeling of discomfort was the prevailing theme. I’m lucky that I rarely get blisters and my feet never seem to bother me, but after soaking all afternoon the skin was getting soft and my confidence in them was starting to wane.

Leg 4 was tough. It wasn’t so much the terrain, which started as some nice scenic single track, but the last 5-10km which consisted of a muddy dirt logging road. Runners who have done this leg in the past said it was pretty easy and the last section is a nice cruise back on this dirt road. This year however introduced a new twist, the dirt road had turned into a complete quagmire from all the rain. It was comical how exhausting it is running through sticky mud and around puddle after puddle. One runner who I met at TA4 had his shoe sucked right off his foot when he planted in a soft ankle deep gumbo only to spend another 10 minutes trying to pry his shoe back out with a stick.

I cant say I enjoyed this stretch. Cows had trampled up and down this road leaving ankle breaking hoof holes and wretched smelling crap all over the road. I put myself into cruise control and just focused on getting through. It would have been nice to take some pictures to show just how bad the trail was, but I was too fatigued and couldn’t muster stopping to pull out my phone. Getting passed by fresh legged relay runners was also not the most motivating experience.

Dropping into TA4 gave me the confidence for the first time that I can complete this race. The transition area was full of some pretty haggard runners and although fatigued, I was in a great spot mentally.

I sat down beside a pale looking runner who looked weak and was being attended to by a medic and volunteer. He had come in way before me, but was really struggling to hold down food and looked terrible. I tried to convince him not to pull the plug, but take some time hydrate and recover before going back out. He just kept saying that he was done, but he said it in a way that sounded like he was just trying to convince himself more than actually being ready to quit.

I hit the porta-potty for a much needed delivery, ate as much food as my stomach would hold down, and for the first time changed my wet socks and shoes for a dry pair I had stashed in my drop bag. This felt like heaven and a wave of comfort hit my feet with whole new level of energy that went through my body. I had no idea dry socks could bring such satisfaction. After nearly 15 hours of wet muddy feet, it was a welcome change and in hindsight I would have packed at least a dry pair of socks in every drop bag.

Dusk was on the horizon and the temperature had dropped significantly so I put on some warmer clothes in preparation for the long night on the trail. I threw my Silva trail running headlamp and spare batteries into my bag.

Leg 5 – Mount Tecumseh – 27.4km – 962m

I left TA4 with a fellow runner Alan from California. This leg is the transition across the highway to Seven Sisters area and starts with some flat dry gravel road running – great way to stretch out the legs.

Sunset approached quickly and we settled in for what would be a complete gong-show of a leg. After a few clicks of gravel road we approached the trail as the sunlight disappeared enough that our headlamps came out. The next 20-25km were going to be brutal. The trail was narrow with thick impenetrable brush on either side. Every 50 meters would present a large knee deep puddle, which became increasingly difficult to pass. At some point I started grabbing branches to hold me up why I precariously walked around the cambered edges of the puddles.

This approach seemed to work until I inevitably slipped and dropped into knee deep muddy water. At this point I stopped wasting time trying to delicately creep around the puddles and started going straight through them. There is only so wet you can actually get.

The night was dark, very dark, yet it provided some level of motivation and a sense of adventure. Pulling something off like this, outside the context of a race, would be seen as strange or unusual. Yet I found the experience immensely enjoyable. With only 10-20 meters visibility beyond my headlamp you just had to take each obstacle as it came.

At some point I could see some distant lights and hear a rhythmic thumping base of music. This wasn’t the transition area, but an aid station, which had turned into an impromptu party for the volunteer helping there. It provided a much needed boost to what had already felt like a long time out in the dark. I passed on the shots of fireball booze and decided to blast out without stopping for long. At this point the runner who I met at TA4 came running up and said ‘hi’. I could barely recognize him as he had his color and energy back and was was flying after a few hours break at TA4. Good for him, I was really happy he bounced back and was now killing it.

I knew TA5 was only about 5-10 km further when I encountered what I can only describe as a long muddy slip-n-slide. The trail had turned into a wide mud path (the width of about a two lane road) and I found my self at the top of what appeared to be a long steep hill. In the dark I tried to find the best path down but with minimal lighting, I ended up picking a poor side of the trail and started sliding down on my feet. I quickly fell, started sliding on my but and got covered in thick mud as I continued to the bottom.

At some point I was passed by a group of 3 runners and having been solo for the past hour felt motivated enough to pick up my pace and follow the group in. Its amazing how much more motivating it is running in a pack and I was glad to have found some well paced runners in the dark.

I approached TA5 in the dark with some degree of trepidation knowing that the hardest, longest, steepest, darkest leg awaits next. I could see the entrance of the pain cave and I was running directly inside.

Leg 6 – Crowsnest & Seven Sisters – 31.9km – 1400m

With some hot food in my belly and dry socks on my feet, I depart TA5 knowing this is going to be a long night. Trails started much dryer, but consisted of constant climbing. One of the runners I was with had his only headlamp batteries die. I had a spare set and felt somewhat confident mine would last through the night so I gave him my spare set. Not having a headlamp on this leg is a race ending situation as the night was completely black.

At some point the puddles returned, my feet got wet and the climbing continued… for hours. My headlamp started to fade, but with sunrise on the horizon I was hoping it would last just long enough.

The stretch to the summit was almost straight up, and with the mud it was not easy or quick going, and some sections turned into almost crawling on all fours. But upon reaching the summit, we were just in time for sunrise and it was all worth it. With the dusk light returning I started to get a second wind and we stopped at the top for a quick break for some snacks.

From here the map looked downhill, yet the terrain was rough and big downhills were met with more inclines. At one point I felt my stomach completely knot. I had been “eating” primarily the Hammer Perpetuem paste throughout the day and although I never felt sick at some point my body needed some immediate evacuation. I dove into the bush for an experience that was not the most pleasant, yet I returned feeling great and confident I could cruise to the finish.

We looped passed last nights party aid station again, yet this time it was quiet and many of the volunteers looked exhausted (or hung over). I’m always humbled that people volunteer to work the aid stations through the night and glad they made a night of it.

About 8km from TA6 I got another burst of energy and picked up the pace to run it in. The hardest section was done, and I was hoping to be rewarded with an easy cruise to the finish.

I spent a bit of extra time at this aid station to soak it all in. Nick, who I had lent my batteries to gave them back and was most appreciative. I made some small talk with some of the other runners, grabbed some food and headed out for the final section.

Leg 7 – Wedge Mountain – 10.9km – 321m

The last section has a huge climb right at the start. It was hot out and I just threw my gameplan out the window and pushed hard to will myself to the end. I stopped and took a few pictures including a selfie which I’m not sure why, but knowing the end of the race was near I really wanted to make sure I soaked it all in.

I really enjoyed the last segment which was primarily single track with a few dicey scrambling drops, but otherwise really run-able and quite nice after a long day/night.

Eventually I hit the road and knew there was only a few kilometers left. I could see the community center in the distance and picked up my pace to run it in.

Crossing the line I felt great. I wasn’t hurting, wasn’t overly exhausted, but just had a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction to bring me in.

My wife and kids were there to greet me at the finish. Strangely I wasn’t overcome with any emotion, I was just really happy to have had such a challenging, yet enjoyable experience. It was exactly what I was hoping to get out of it, and I was just feeling good about it all.

After receiving my buckle, giant beer, and high-fiving some friends, I dropped into a chair to cheer on the remaining runners. The finishing rate varies year to year, but is typically around 15-30% of the 238 solo runners that started, only 69 finished this year, which actually a good number and likely attributed to the cooler temperatures.

The real prize with my name and time stamped

I went in with a goal to just finish and ended up an hour faster than my goal time of 29.5 hours.

Boys were excited to climb over me

Getting up was hard, after about an hour sitting I had starting to seize up. By the time I got to the car, adrenaline had faded and exhaustion kicked in. Pulling an all nighter is tiring enough, add the reality of just blasting through 13,000 calories in the past 30 hours and I was bagged. I rested my head and just crashed.

Looking back physical preparation was important, but what i felt more was that I was mentally prepared. I knew it would be hard. I knew I would hit the pain cave and feel the lows. I knew the climbs would be killer and I prepared for my body to breakdown during the process. Leading up to the race I would lay in bed and visualize each of the legs. Trying to ensure nothing came as a surprise, but that when it came time to perform I just had to show up and execute. Not sure of the validity of that, but it helped to know what was coming when I hit those lows on the trail.

When exerting yourself for long periods of time the brain turns to mush. Thinking and remembering can become difficult and I like to have some expectations of what lay ahead. I made these cards to enable me to keep track of expected pace, duration, aid station locations, difficulty, elevation gains, and watch charge segments (I charged my watch on the go). Each card represents a leg and I would leave one behind at each of the transition areas after completing a leg. I took the time and pace values from a few racers who last just just came in under cutoff, as long as I ran under those times I knew I was tracking for completion. Front and back of cards:

Font side
Back side

Of course the obligatory Strava screen shot and route:

And the Sinister 7 buckle awarded to all racers who came in under cutoff. To early to decide if I’ll come back next year, but it was a highly enjoyable, well run, rewarding and tough as hell race.

I’ve been training since Christmas to Boston Qualify (BQ), and was pretty confident of hitting the previous years 3:15:00 requirement especially after having slid into an older age bracket. However, due to the growing demand to run in Boston, the qualifying times dropped by 5 minutes this year, so much for the 5 minute savings in the new bracket. This year would be a 3:10:00 qualify cutoff.

The Calgary Marathon is nicely positioned early in the season before the summer BBQ and patio beers have a chance to drop their anchors on performance. This years course skipped some hilly sections and was intended to be a fast BQ capable race – woot!

The day was perfect, cool and sunny. I felt ok at the start – I’ve learned that you NEVER feel great at the start of a race, there is always nerves, or a sore that feels different and threatens to scuttle the race. I now realize that I never feel ready and these symptoms go away soon after the race starts.

The first 30km felt great, I felt I was holding back running just under my 4:30min/km pace required to qualify. At the 30km marker my pace was 4:27 and although I was starting to feel the early stages of a bonk, I picked it up to finish hard. Breaking away from the pace group, I was anticipating how sweet it would feel to finally qualify.

The last 2km were hard and I was hurting, but adrenaline was willing me through at a comfortable 4:27 which would bring me well under my qualify time and land closer to a 3:08:00 time. As I rounded the last bend I could see the last 100 meters to the finish and realized the clock had just turned over 3:10:00. I sprinted (or what felt like a sprint) through the last 100m and came through with a 3:10:18 gun time. I couldn’t believe it, I had been so focused on pace, I failed to realize the race may actually be longer than what my watch read (which is actually quite common on races). When your body gets really fatigued, it limits cognitive function and you just aren’t thinking straight, even basic math becomes difficult in your head.

Just getting over the finish line

My only hope was that I had started quite a bit back from the front pack, so my chip time, which is used for BQ may still actually be under 3:10:00. Upon getting through the gate and checking online I realized I was in fact just over 3:10:00 with a 3:10:12 final time. Doh!

Regardless, my GPS said I had run a 3:08 and I felt confident I could shave more time off next time. Good vibes only. I had taken my marathon time from the start of last year of 3:40 down to 3:10, so overall I was pretty stoked.

So Close!

Pacing had been the key to avoid my 30km bonk, and I finally had a strategy that would work next time around. Until then I have a long season of Ultra Trail Races ahead.

I planned to kick off this years running season with an easy going half marathon. I felt this one captured the spirit of a season opener, just getting sh*t done. I started by trying to convince friends to join and thought of making it a social occasion more than an athletic experience. Ashley and my buddy Mike agreed to register, but alas Mike never found the time to train.

Come race day the weather turned into a windy cold snow filled morning. Yet having committed, I related to getting out and running with with Mike. It was unseasonably cold, but how much can you complain about the weather.

Part of this race is a timed segment about halfway through. Its a race within a race and I thought it was a great idea to motivate some mid run push. As the race started we moved at a steady slow pace. With the slower pace I had an abundance of energy at the segment race which consisted of a 1km gradual climb. I decided to give it a go and ended up running a good pace, enough to win the segment outright.

I pushed hard the last 10km and ended on a good note:

As part of winning the segment I got a cool hat and shot out:

Unbeknownst to me, Mike had hurt himself at halfway point and ended up walking in the second half. Kudos to Mike for pushing through and finishing the race:

In hindsight I’d have to say this was one of the best run smaller events. The course was in my backyard and the organizers were full of energy. As a bonus there was amazing cookies at the end.

Regardless of the weather this was turning out to be a great start to the 2019 summer race season.

The golden ultra was my first multi-day staged race.  Its late in the season so weather can be warm and sunny, or cold and snowy.  This year, it happened to be the latter.  I wasn’t concerned about the weather, I was just thrilled to be out in the mountains for 3 days.

The key when its cold and wet is layers, you can always add and remove them to regulate your temperature.  I’m tend to bonk when over heated, but can run in cold weather all day, so for me this was perfect.  

I checked in prior to the day 1 race and received all 3 days bibs.  Lucky number 13.  My favorite soccer player Michael Ballack was number 13 (so was the world cup winning Thomas Muller), my favorite hockey player at the moment, Johnny Gaudreau is number 13 (he was also born on the 13th day).  So, in light of this, I was actually quite thrilled to get bib #13.

3 Bibs for Blood, Sweat and Tears, all lucky number 13

Day 1 – Blood

Day 1 was a wet cool day.  The course goes straight up Kicking Horse ski hill.  Its only just under 5km, but extremely steep to where a few sections were scrambling on all 4s.  

I totally over estimated the amount of water I would need.  Being the first day on a new course, I brought over 3 liters of water, but drank closer to 300ml during the race.  Extra water is extra weight and the water strapped around my body was beginning to feel like a weight vest as I climbed.  In hindsight I would have brought a hand held 400ml bottle at most.

Overall my legs were strong, no issues fading and I actually struggled to keep a reasonable pace, even though I understood this is a 3 day event.  At the steep parts of the climb you are locked into a stream and have to accept some much needed break time as people in front slow down.  I didn’t panic as my mantra for the entire weekend as “just finish”.

As we reached the summit the fog set in and it was snowing heavily.  I love it.

Looking back down the hill from the summit:

 

Day 2 – Sweat

Day 2 was the longest day of the weekend.  It was cool and drizzly, but it is fall in the rockies, so what would you expect.  I showed up early at the race, I prefer to show up early and mentally prepare for the race.

It starts early and flat for the first few kilometers.  There is always the few who blast out of the gates.  The elites you never see again, the rookies you reel in and see again after 20, 30, 40 kilometers.

After half way we climbed up into the snowline and the trail became ankle deep snow.  It got cold and a bit treacherous to run along the ridges, but enjoyable nonetheless.

As we dropped back down the hill it turned into long stretches of single track in the woods.  It started to get a bit tedious, but the aid stations were amazing.  At one I stopped for a while and loaded up on empanadas.

The trail from the bottom of the ski hill down to Golden is a series of switch backs.  At one point I started to hear a group gaining on me, every switchback they seemed to get closer and closer.  So… I decided to run hard for what I thought was 3-5km remaining.  In reality is was closer to 8km and as I got into Golden I was physically spent and mentally depleted.  At the last 100 meters I just needed to get through the gates.  My kids were waiting about 50meters out and wanted to stop for hugs.  Afraid I would stop and be unable to continue I opted for high fives and blasted with by with them running at tow.

They were champs though, while I was out racing, they participated in the kids race and did amazing.

I crashed into the finish line feeling spent, but great.

Day 3 – Tears

I had assumed by day three my legs would have been spent, but I woke up feeling pretty good, a bit rubbery, but good.  I showed up at the last segment early again, ready and eager to get going.

I was looking forward to another day on the trails, and spent an hour prior to start walking around the town of Golden.

The race started and the pace was fast.  I went out harder than I normally would have, considering it was a much shorter race than the previous day.  The initial pace was much faster than I anticipated.  I has going hard, and starting to hurt by the 6km.  It was then I saw the sign that split the 10km racers from the 22km racers.  I had not realized that most of the people I was racing with were only going 10km – doh!

I made a few wrong turns later in the race, but each time had someone behind yell out, I’m not sure what would have happened had there not been someone to redirect me.  I ended up running to almost the end with the guy who got me back on the right trail.  He pushed a hard pace adn I went much faster than I would have otherwise. 

I wrapped the last day up with a strong kick through the last 2km.  I felt great and was happy with both the day and the weekend.

Thoughts on Race:

Overall the event is amazing, very well organized, great volunteers and stunning scenery.  I met lots of great people (Dave, Andre, Sebastian), which is always part of the experience.  The course was very ‘runable’, and even though the weather was bad this year, this was one of my favorite races for sure.

See you next year Golden Ultra.

“I hate running”, its something I hear whenever running comes up in conversation.  I get it, there are no goals to score, its not team based, its repetitive, its something gym teachers make you do if you misbehave.  I love running, but I get that others don’t necessarily share that enjoyment.  So when a conversation with my buddy Erik (whom I’ve known for since grade 7) turns to trail running, he mentions he’d be in for going for a run.  Erik is a super fit guy, so no issue with ability, but I figure a shorter, quick morning trail run would be perfect to get him more interested in the sport.  Boy did I screw up.  

We (I take responsibility for choosing the route) decide on a relatively short 22km run on the Mount Allen loop just outside Canmore.  I looked on the map and looked like a great ‘welcome to trail running’ circuit up Mount Allen, over the ridge to Mount Colembola and back to the starting location.  What I didn’t properly asses was the 1800 meters in elevation that was required to climb.  What we (I) calculated as a 5 hour run, would end up taking much longer…

The day started in the Wind Valley parking lot just outside Dead Mans Flats.  When we arrived it was pouring rain and cold (8C).  It didn’t deter us, but did make me consider just how enjoyable this is going to be.  We agree to just go and see what happens.  Erik brought his dog Toothless who would turn out to be a perfect running companion.  

As we hit the trail the rain started to subside.  The first 8km are a steady climb up a side, yet rugged trail.  At about the 8km mark you clear the treeline you reach the base of Mount Allen and start to get a stunning view of the mountains and valley to the northwest.

The sun came out and it started to warm up, the climbing gets steeper and you can start to see the peak of Mount Allen.

Looking back you can see Canmore in the distance.

   

Toothless was doing awesome, just powering up the hill.

There were a few sections of scrambling here and we had to start getting creative about how we get Toothless up steeper climbs.  

We stopped for a break just before the summit climb to give Toothless some water and food.  As I was taking a photo I noticed my phone had full LTE coverage.  Remembering it was our buddy Matt’s birthday, we called him on Facetime for some birthday wishes.  Matt turned out to be in Amsterdam, and we chatted for a bit, gotta love technology.

As we pushed for the Mount Allan summit, the wind picked up, the temperature dropped and it started to lightly snow.  Like my underestimation of the time this run would take, I also underestimated just how unpredictable the weather can be on a ridge.

View of the ridge we will take between Mount Allan and Mount Colembola:

 

Looking back along the ridge line we came up on:

Looking back:

Mount Allen summit ahead:

On the summit of Mount Allen looking east into Kananaskis:

We wrapped around the right side of the summit and approached the ridge that connects Mount Allen and Colembola:

On the ridge looking into the alpine bowl we loop around:

The end of the ridge looking up to Mount Colembola:

Just before the summit of Mount Colembola there is a section that requires some scrambling around a rock tower.  We poked around for quite some time looking for an ideal place to drop in knowing that Toothless will have to climb the same decent:

Reaching the back side of the rock tower:

Looking east down at Nakiska ski hill:

Approaching the summit:

Looking back at Mount Allen, and the ridge we initially came up:

Summit looking back:

We took another break at the summit of Mount Colembola.  Looking down with Canmore in the distance.  I assumed it was all downhill from here and would be a cruise back, but I was very wrong.

We encountered some technical scrambling sections that were not too difficult, but required some though around how we get Toothless down.  Toothless did an amazing job, although pretty scared in some sections, he was willing to let us help him down. As we left the summit of Mount Colembola we ran into a sheer cliff.  With no clear route down we started to explore for a safe/easy route down.  I was glad I brought a GPS what gave us some indication we were on the right path, but there was nothing that looked obvious.  What I didnt want to do is climb half way down only to get stuck.  In hindsight the route was on the right (east) side of the the decent.  Although not trivial, we found a route and managed to scramble down with Toothless:

Pointing to a climb down we did with Toothless.  We were all happy to reach a flat spot.

Looking back at Mount Colembola and elated that we made it down and past the last sketchy sections. 

The ridgeline down Mount Colembola.  Ready for the knee slamming decent:

The decent was a steep grind down Mount Colembola ridge and into a thick forest where we bushwacked down a few more kilometers before landing on the trail we originally came up.  We cruised down the last 6km before hitting the parking lot.  The day was hot and sunny by now and I had stashed a couple beers in a cooler with ice before we left.  

It ended up being an 8 hour day, covering 26km, but it was awesome.  I felt horrible for turning what I thought would be a 4-5 hour morning run into a full day excursion.  Toothless proved to be a perfect companion and Bakke knocked out his first trail run with ease.

 

After this escapade we’ll see if Erik agrees to come out trail running again.

The Iron Legs Trail Race in Bragg Creek has become one of my favorite events of the year.  The course is challenging, the weather is usually great and its very well organized.  Two months prior to the start of the race I hit a benign looking pothole on the cycle path and rolled my ankle.  I’ve never broken a bone before, but as soon as I rolled over on it this time I knew the *snap* and *pop* indicated something was more wrong than a simple sprain.  Within 5 minutes my ankle was the size of a grapefruit.

Of course I wasn’t running with my cell phone as it was a quick loop close to my house, which meant when my ankle rolled I was stuck laying on the path waiting for someone to walk by so I could make a phone call.  After a few hours of waiting, my wife picked me up and I took myself to the hospital for a xray.  People complain about the health services we have here in Canada, but my time in the hospital was less than an hour to check in, wait for triage, get an xray, talk to doctor about xray and get fitted for a cast.  Amazing!

Below you can see the tiny bone that broke on the inside of my ankle.  The bone break was minor, it was all the tendons that tore on the outside of my ankle.

Innocuous pothole that put my running on hold for 2.5 months. 

I got my gear together the night before, which meant I only got about 3 hours of sleep prior to the race.

At 7:00am the sun was just coming up at the start.

The air was thick and smoky which kept the temperature down, but destroyed all the views.

     

I felt great at the 55km turnoff.  But soon after hit a complete wall with a knot in my stomach.  Eating gels and sugar intensive foods during the day caught up to me.  I struggled up moose packers switchback, but was given a ginger candy at about km 65 which completely fixed my stomach and gave me a second wind.  The trek up moose mountain was smoky, yet enjoyable.  Its just the right grade that you can bomb down after the turn around point.

  x

Top of Moose Mountain:     

At the turn around point.  I had to take it easy on way down as my ankle still didn’t feel 100% stable:

 

 

I didnt take many pictures during the day as the air was smoky from all the forest fires.  It also didn’t help that I finished just as the sun went down.  I felt great at the end, actually much better than I did after running the 60 last year with the intense heat.  My ankle was fine, no pain, yet I did take it easy on it, especially on the downhills.

From crutches a few months ago, to finishing the race, I’m happy with the results.

The great thing about the Grizzly ultra is that its a 5 loop circuit, each loop unique, yet finishing at the same central hub.  This makes it really easy to have a single drop bag and drop gear as the day warms up.  The course follows the Olympic cross country ski circuit at the Canmore Nordic Center. 

Its late in the year so the weather isn’t ideal, but it was quite pleasant once you get moving and the blood flowing.  

  

I had arrived early to the race so I waited around while the sun came up and people started to arrive:

   

Although leg 3 is the longest leg and rated as the most difficult, I found leg 4 the most challenging as it had quite a bit of elevation and I was already spent by that time.  I loved being able to dump gear and use a single drop bag during the race.  The course is primarily double track with a bunch of single track in leg 3.  I ran with some minimalist shoes which worked fine as there is minimal technical sections.

The best part was the finish where my wife brought out our kids to greet me at the finish line.  Hopefully one day they pickup the sport and we can all run together.  Until then they are the best support crew I could ask for.