On the weekend I had the pleasure of running the Blackfoot Ultra 100k. I joined over 300 runners, I was late to the party so I am not sure of the exact numbers. I knew it was going to be a great race the moment I kept asking the locals for an estimated travel time to the race site and nobody knew what trail I was talking about, that told me it must be relatively undiscovered trail. The directions I printed from the website said that the estimated travel time from Sherwood Park, East of Edmonton was about 30 minutes. I decided to leave my hotel about an hour ahead. I was driving slower than usual on the quiet highway at 4:10am just to make sure I didn't miss the turn, about 40 minutes I saw the Blackfoot Park turn sign and I was relieve I still had 10 minutes to go, when I got to the gate of the park I was surprise to find out that the park was dark and empty except for a single vehicle parked, the windows where all steamed, not a great sign, but I was lost,it was so early in the morning and I hadn't seen other cars on the road nearby so I had to bite the bullet and got out of my car to ask for help with directions.
when I approached the vehicle, the passengers where already dressed to my relieve, when I got closer I could see that there where to guys in their early thirties, I tried not to make to much eye contact while I explained that I was lost and I needed their help, who am I to judge, there where two consenting adults,the only bit surprise is when I saw the wedding band on the guy on the driver side, but I quickly remembered that in Canada, two man can legally married,once more to stop myself from making quick judgements. what they told me was that I was at the right park but the wrong entrance " this is the north entrance you need to be on the south, go back to the highway and keep going for about 15 more minutes". Not good, I was now sure I was going to be late, I was worried, but since the race also had 50 mile race, 50k and 25k, all starting at a later time depending on the distance, I told myself I was going to run something for sure.
I got the the race and it was already underway, the worst part is not explaining that you are a participant, and yes, I am late and BTW I also need my race package. Well, is not what a race director wants to hear, I think what ticked her the most was to hear that I had never done it before " Well, you better run hard, you can't be alone and risk you getting lost" I tried lightening the mood," well, is a 100k, how fast can they be running anyway?" well, apparently, fast enough. It took me about 10 minutes to catch up to them, I quickly found a group that was running a pace that I fund was the right one for me, I had a great time meeting new people and the loop seemed to go fast because the conversation and the scenery where great. That work for about the first 25K then I hit the proverbial wall.
The course was design on a 25k loop, the 100k runners did 4 loops, the 50 milers 3 loops, and so forth,The next 25k where not good, I started to fall behind for no apparent reason, I just simply couldn't keep up. I slowed down because I knew it was the only way I was going to survive and everybody started to pass me, a lady caught up to me and slowed down to my pace to chat. She was a nice lady from Edmonton, 52 years old and looked very fit, the sun was now peaking and it was getting warmer, " I am getting to hot now" she said " it seem to be the story of my life recently" " I know" I replied, " it can't be, you are to young dear" she added looking straight at me. " Well, I am not that young, I am 40 but because I have been over training I am hot all the time, sometimes I wake up and I feel like I am feverish" I replied, trying to share my connections. " That could be early menopause" she added with out a hint of sarcasm " I was in my 40's when it started, 46 to be exact" at that moment I had the strong urge to retie my shoes, since I knew I didn't have it in me to speed up, plus did I mention I am JUST 40!. I ended up running alone for most of the loop after that, 25k at a slow pace can be a long time, which it can be good or bad depending on your spirit. There I figure that ultras are a lot like a marriage, you need a strong foundation and an even stronger commitment to be successful at it. Luckily for me I had both so quitting was really not what I thought but it was more on the lines of does it really matter that I am here giving it all when I am so far back from the real race? It was on this lap that I hear that Jack Cook the leader was clocking 1:20min/lap, I coudn't shake that though, all I could hope for was a 2:45/loop, even on a perfect day!.
If ultras are like a marriage the honeymoon phase was oven and I was knee deep taking care of my inner voice, who now resembled more a child in its terrible twos, " I am hungry",' I am thirsty", "I need to go to the bathroom" " Are we there yet?" still, I just kept placing one foot in front of the other. Then something wonderful happen, I just simply felt better, the whole reason for being here was because I wanted to, after all it hasn't been easy to find the time or energy to train but I want to do it so badly that I had always managed, as for not being fast enough, who really cares? even at a 5k I will never have a change of winning anyways so why was I making such a big deal out of it here? and that is not what I teach my kids, why was I treating my inner child like that. the only reason why this even crossed my mind is because it was a loop course, eventually I was going to be lapped by the winners.
I took this time to really take in my surrounding and take some pictures, and to make my day even brighter, I remember that I had never run 100k before, that alone was a celebration. I finish my second lap and I was feeling fantastic, I rushed to to my car to refuel, since I missed the bag drop the the aid station I had to go to to my car for extra food and gels and to change shoes since my La sportiva Fireblades were not working that day, I put on my Montrail Vitesse and it was like magic, is amazing what the right shoes and a bit of caffeine will do after 50k. The next two loops where the easiest, I decide to drink less fluid and eat only at the aid stations, since I was alone on the race, the volunteers became my family, every time I came around they all cheer me on, they knew my name because I was the infamous late runner, but by now they wheren`t mad at me anymore.
I was having so much fun, I decided to run my own race and enjoy it.That was all I needed to remind myself, just like you should never compare your marriage to anybody elses you should never compare your race to other runners. I used me to gauge how fast or slow I should go and instead of relaying on salt tablets or electrolyte replacements, I used the aid station snacks to provide the salt and calories I needed and It worked like a charm. Sometimes what we need to make things work is something simple like a warm cup of coffee, some chicken noodle soup or the right words spoken at the right moment.
I just finish reading Pam Reed`s autobiography the extra mile, and I can tell you one thing, if I where to write a memoir it will never be like hers, there will be no glory, no podium not TV interviews no article on a running magazine, but that doesn`t matter, all I ever aspire to be in this sport is to be a finisher of many other races I plan on being part of it. I can`t tell you my finish time or what place I took at Blackfoot Ultra, but it didn`t matter to me, I enjoyed myself I talked to a lot o great people, I had a chance of meeting Leslie, one of the coolest girls on the planet and hot too, I fail to tell her that how amazing she really is when she introduced herself, I was just savouring the moment, I had accomplish what a had set to do that day and that was to finish my first 100k. I felt great and that matter too, I don`t know how many times I hear- the that can`t be good for you - comment and as long I am healthy I get to enjoy what I am doing guilt free. Leslie race account is always inspiring, and her pictures are just fantastic, plus there is one of me at the finish line, so check it out here.
I Norma take thee...
Driving back home that evening, I realize that sometimes the best thing we can do is to not quit, to have realistic expectations and to enjoy life for what it truly is a journey not a destination.