Getting it done

There are periods when you exist beyond the context of time and fact and reality. Moments when memory carries you buoyant beyond all things, and life exists as fragments and shards of being, when you see yourself as you were and will be again — sacred, whole and shining.
(Richard Wagamese)

You learn to slay the dragon by practicing slaying the dragon.
(Gary Robbins)

I was about 15 km in this beast of a 110 km race (actually 113.4 but who is counting?), when a mass struck the back of my scalp. I knew immediately that it was a bird. Not a small wren but a sizeable bird with sharp talons. Who does that sound like? I looked up and saw a very annoyed Barred Owl 🦉 in the trees above me. I shook my poles at her. And told her how much that hurt. We held eye contact- both affronted- until I resumed running. Later Lynne inspected the back of my head to find two talon flesh wounds. 

oqwl
My territorial owl


I get why she attacked. I was among the last of 120+ 110 km runners with headlamps piling through the forest during prime mouse hunting time. I had told my crew that I would start out last and that would probably be hard for them (and me) but I trusted the strategy I had used for Black Canyon. There, Gary had told me to run as slowly as possible for 30 miles!  I did and later I passed at least 100 people. I wanted to do this again. The strategy works for me as I only have one speed, slow, but can sustain it. 

We started at 4 am with a stand up comedy routine by Gary Robbins (RD) (links in blue type).


On the course profile, the first 50 K look flat compared to the big climbs. While training on Blackcomb this summer, I met a guy from San Francisco was coming up to do the 110 km race. I saw his training run of the first 30 km or so on Strava. He ironically titled the leg “the flat part”. In the first 50 km, you climb 2100 m. That is equivalent to running up Whistler from the base to the peak and then doing an extra 500 m vert for good measure. Not flat. 

course profile
My annotated course profile


 At 49 km, my crew met me for the first time. Well actually Leah kindly met me at the Trash aid station at 25 km in with my first sandwich which I did eat. Which probably saved my race, especially when compared to my nutrition strategy  last year-when I dropped. Read all about it here. 

 Let me diverge from the storyline to sing the praises of my crew.  I honestly don’t think I could’ve done this race without my crew.  Even though I only saw the whole crew twice, looking forward to seeing them and giving them each a hug kept me going. The crew was an odds and sods combination of Leah my PhD student, Lynne my partner, Max my nephew, Lauren Max’s girlfriend, and David Max‘s childhood friend. And Rooibos the lovely rescue sled dog owned by David. 

meandcrew

Photo of me and my crew (taken by Lynne). 


 At that first crew station, I ate my second and last sandwich. Really glad, in retrospect that I got it in then. Because it wasn’t going to go down later :-). Right after the Whistler Athletes Centre, where I saw my crew, I started to ascend Whistler Mountain.  1700 m very in about 16 km. I had passed perhaps a dozen people by now but the passing accelerated as we started up the black diamond mountain bike paths. I passed one man who described the ascent as psychotic. It really was steep and I leaned on my poles to get the job done. 

Leaving WAC (click to view video)

But it felt good because this was the place that the wheels fell off last year. This year, I had practiced this climb with my friend Vicki. So it didn’t feel like a bad joke, just a fast way to gain a LOT of elevation. As we neared the peak, now above the tree line in the authentic Alpine, I saw men struggling with the cold and the wind, sitting down to wrestle on another layer. I barrelled past. 

There was an aid station right at Peak Chair. As I approached it, Brian McCurdy the race photographer snapped his last photo and took off down the mountain in his truck, the wind howling through the dust. At the aid station, there was a propane fire pit and hot soup - that was unfortunately not gluten free. I opted for oranges. Suddenly oranges felt like a nectar that could change my whole physiology. That or the coke - which I unwisely started on a little early.
 
Peak Chair
Approaching the Peak Chair. Happy to ascend.

It was getting and dark and my goal was to reach singing pass just before dark. The trek across Whistler was full of boulders and real Alpine scrambles mixed with rocky trails. But Singing Pass  is a smooth downhill trail and I knew I could manage it with the headlamp.

view Whistler
View from Musical Bumps on Whistler

Actually, I don’t just have a headlamp. I have the Kogalla RA lighting system. This is a beast of a light that goes up to 800 lumens. I had seen them at Black Canyon and knew that it would illuminate the forest. Those lights are amazing. Suddenly I was seeing small mice scatter into the trees as I ran. A bunny hopped across the trail. Most importantly, I felt confident in the utter dark for the first time. 

The darkness was made more intense by the rain which had started to fall at sunset. It was accompanied by a low fog that also found it way up high in the Blackcomb alpine. Combined with a new moon, the dark was complete. With the Kogalla, the world was falsely bright. Later in the thick fog, people were drawn to me like moths. 

As I approached Base II where I saw my crew for the second and last time, Max and Lauren were waiting for me at the top of the trails. Later they recounted how they watched runners with thin headlamp candles of light approach in the fog and rain.  They were wondering how they would know it was me when they saw a full array of resplendent light break through the night. It was Me. 

Approaching Base II (click to view video)

Base II was a circus of activity. My first mission was to drink water. I had lost my water cup and frankly forgotten to drink any water on top of Whistler. Now I was parched and drank four beakers of water before collecting my oranges and heading to Lynne’s truck. My crew had set up a camp chair and our soup canteen as well as extra Kogalla batteries and resupplies of Maurten. 

me with soup at BaseIIlaurenandmeatbaseII
In the chair at Base II; Lauren and me at Base II (Max is to Lauren's left with the light)

I sat down in the camp chair and breathed. For 17 hours, I had focused on staying present, breathing and just getting the job done. I had already climbed 4100 m of vert and covered 80 km. Suddenly I felt tired and stiff.I said that I felt like I was 500 years old. David joked that I was 4000 meters old.  I drank the soup from the cauldron that Lynne had driven back to Squamish to replenish after crew stop 1. Slowly I stood up and changed, standing on my waterproof mitts in a puddle while I pulled on my plasticy rain pants. 

Leaving Base II (click to view video)

As I set off, i felt resolve leaching from my body. The climb up Blackcomb is probably my favourite ascent in the world. It is wicked steep cutting straight up Blackcomb in a clean line. Usually I lean into this section but on this rainy night, I could only forbear. Tiredness hit me in waves. When it smacked me, I rested  on my poles securing them under my collar bones and giving myself permission to take 8 breaths before pushing off again. I repeated this micro rest strategy several times on the way up. 

Just below Rendezvous Lodge, there was a final aid station that we would pass twice. By now I had lost my coke flask as well as my water cup, but the aid station volunteers poured some coke into a random cup for me. I swallowed two beakers and set off leaving Leah’s friend Brendan behind as he enjoyed a longer rest. 

Gary had warned me that the 12 km at the top of Blackcomb would be very challenging. It was, but I held onto that, when it was, I would be home free (or so I thought).  My overwhelming challenge was fatigue. I now combined the micro rests with a full sit down in the lap of a sub alpine tree. I nuzzled into it and closed my eyes for maybe three minutes. If I were not nervous about falling down the gully below my tree nest, I could have slept until the cold woke me. 

I had by now put on 4 layers including 2 shells. In combination with my rain pants, I was fairly warm excepting my hands. After standing on my waterproof mitts at Base II, I had found another two fresh layers of mitts but the outer shell was permeable and my hands were soaked. Weirdly I did not feel desperate or destroyed like some of my compatriots. For one thing, I could clearly see the flag markings with the Kogalla lights. Later runners told me that they wandered over the rocks looking for pin flags- not being able to see 3 feet in front of them. 

The alpine was enchanting. Spectacularly beautiful covered in droplets of precipitation. The cold was different there with its distinctive alpine smell of musk that always makes me think of bears but might just be the flora. I was under the spell of night in the alpine. 

Blackcomb_marmot
Marmot in the alpine on Blackcomb, during a daytime training run in August

A note on starting last: by the time I reached Whistler Athletes Centre at 49 km in, I didn’t meet a runner I didn’t pass. On Blackcomb, I would see  flickering of headlamps far above me and say to myself “I am coming for you”. Focusing on the headlamps helped me stay present. The alternative was imagining the horrors that may lay ahead. Not a good idea. 

At 100 km, I looped back to the aid station near the top of Blackcomb. I wanted to have coke but now believed that it would make me more tired. I couldn’t risk that. Besides I thought I was home free with only 13 km and 300 m more to climb. Apparently not. 

As soon as we left the forest service road on the ski hill, we slithered into a mud caked slime soup of a black diamond mountain biking trail called Micro Climate.  Suddenly 1 km was taking 20+ minutes and I worried that my crew would get to the finish too early based on the message that I had sent that I was 12 km away.

My worry was legitimate, as the final 10 km were relentless, rocky, slick, mud covered twirly, technical mountain bike trails. A run that on paper should have taken about two hours took me over three hours. At one point my legs slipped out from under me on a granite face, and I fell onto both elbows, losing my supplementary headlamp and splitting my pants wide open. Let’s just say that some shit went down on Comfortably Numb. 

During the whole race, my sister Hedda, had stayed up in Hong Kong and had sent me loving gifs (think Kermit holding a heart) and messages. Now our WAM crew Telegram group lit up with encouragement. Max messaged that I was crushing it. Leah and Lynne reminded me that I was almost there. It really does take a village. 

Finally I passed under the electrical  power cables that mark the end of the despised Comfortably Numb trail and the path flattened. On my final stretch, I didn’t feel joy - just profound relief. Which reminds me of a cartoon by Brendan Leonard (director of the hilarious YouTube film  How to Run 100 Miles) :

semi-rad
Cartoon by Brendan Leonard of Semi-Rad (stolen from the inter webs)

It was getting light as I rounded the corner back into Riverside resort and the finish line after 26 hours and 45 minutes. Gary had left the premises to start the 55 km race, so John Crosby the MC  hugged me, and I greeted my amazing, patient, and very tired crew. And Rooibos. 


In a perfect world, I would have celebrated but I just wanted to lie down in the back of Lynne’s truck. So my crew rallied one more time to hug me and then, in an anticlimactic moment, dispersed into the pouring rain at dawn. 

me at end smiling
Me in the bathroom at Riverside Resort right after the finish.

Gary told me on the phone before the race that completing this race would be an opportunity for growth. Oh yah baby, you are speaking my language. It really was. I dug deep and found the reserves I needed to get the job done. Afterwards Gary phoned me to congratulate me - as he had missed my finish. That phone call felt like high praise. 

We got home and I took a shower and had a four hour nap. By the time I woke up, my friend and former PhD student, Michael Martin had Whatsapped me that I won my age group and was 16/27 females who finished (there were many who did not finish). I started to let it in that WAM was done and dusted. It took two years, hundreds of hours of training, sacrifices from Lynne and my crew but we got it done. 


THANKS to my crew:

Lynne Bell
Leah Rosenkrantz 
Max Baehr (also my videographer)
Lauren Jackson 
David Cho
Rooibos Cho

THANKS to my sister and Mom for keeping tabs on me and helping me wing my flight across mountains. 

THANKS to my support team in Squamish: 
Amber, Sherri and Natasha. 

Special THANKS to my coaches Eric and Gary for getting me to so many start lines and finish lines. I am living the dream.