Highs and extreme lows through a long day of running. This sums up my day this past Sunday at Meet your Maker 50 — my first foray into 50 miles.
I’ve never been in such dark places. Physically I was exhausted: no power in my legs as I was reduced to a pitiful walk on hills I would normally sprint.
Emotionally I was perhaps even worse off, repeatedly second guessing and trying to answer the question of why.
I awoke before my alarm to cold sweats and drenched sheets: great i thought, I’m really setting myself up for a good day here. Nonetheless, I chugged a bunch of water, ate breakfast, and made my way to Whistler Village for the 5am start.
5 am meant running under the stars — I started out at a decent clip weaving through the glimmer of a headlamp I’d never used before.
Side note: I took a stumble through the first section, running in the dark is no cake walk.
There’s something eerily simple about moonlit running, I really enjoyed it: the brisk air and feeling of running when everyone else is sleeping. The beautiful lakeside and mountain scenery didn’t suck either.
I passed through aid station #1 with a water stop — feeling good, poised.
Leg #2 weaved through an old growth forest, with some fun and technical bobbing and weaving through roots, rocks, and turns as we climbed and eventually descended into Base 2 of Whistler.
I was met with claps and cheers at aid station #2 as I ran in, filled my water bottles, grabbed a snickers and clif bar, got a quick pep talk by Chris (who did more than he realizes in crewing me) then set off for the toughest section of the day.
I really cherished the small crowds, you can see the passion on their faces. The ultrarunning community is special.
This section climbs 3800 feet over 10 km. I tried to recreate the climb as best I could at my local mountains, but it wasn’t enough. This thing was brutal.
The previous section I chatted with Nadyia, the eventual women’s winner. I got out of the aid station ahead of her and was confident I could put some time on her through the climb.
Boy was I in for a shivering dose of reality.
She came screaming past me a third of the way up. I tried to respond, but my legs couldn’t power through.
I had no pop, and we were just getting started!
Nevertheless, I refocused, ran, and power hiked my way up the endless roads and switchbacks, with some cursing along the way.
Surprisingly, I was still in good spirits at the top — probably because I knew I would get a 15 min mandatory break in the peak 2 peak, followed by a lengthy decent.
I hit the top, grabbed my drop bag and executed a swift shoe change whilst grabbing 2 bags of skittles at the aid station before huffing it for the gondola.
The descent was actually pretty fun. I cruised down making sure my quads weren’t taking too much impact.
There were a few sketchy toenail jarring sections, but aside from that, it was gravy.
I coasted into aid station #4 wondering if my climbing legs were back. More water and food, and I was back at it uphill.
Then things got nasty real quick.
This question hit me right in the gut between 55-70 km: just past my 50 km safety net. I was in purgatory – in between the thrill of starting and tasting the finish.
This was foreign territory for my mind and body — things started to derail.
Despite the excellent course marking, I took a wrong turn on a lengthy climb, and ended up wasting energy running uphill for about 10 minutes before noticing the lack of red flags.
Hard to take, I quickly retraced my steps and got back on track… feeling pretty stupid and angry in the process because the turn I missed was perfectly labelled with an arrow and about five course flags.
The climb felt never-ending as I was reduced to a hike. My usual ravenous appetite turned on me for the first time ever.
Who would’ve thought crushing two bags of skittles before running downhill on the previous section would unsettle your stomach? Lesson learned.
This is the darkest place I’ve ever been.
I kept plugging away thinking about all of you: those who continually support my crazy endeavours.
One foot in front of the other, rinse and repeat. The relentless suffering continued until I crested the never ending climb.
My stomach settled as I trotted the next 5 km downhill to the next aid station, eager to see anyone.
You’d be surprised at how lonely things get on the trail when things aren’t going your way.
Normally I welcome running alone; the headspace natural beauty of my surroundings is inspiring.
There was nothing resembling beauty or inspiration here — I looked and felt like crap.
Getting to the second last aid station tested my will. I stumbled in emotionally broken. I don’t know if I was excited to see people or if I didn’t want them to see my real state, but I put my best face on.
In reality, I was stripped down to basic human needs: breathing, food, and water — Maslow would have been proud.
So I inhaled two bananas, filled my bottles with some orange coloured liquid (room temperature water was not so appetizing) and picked up my secret weapon from Chris: M&Ms.
Knowing I had one climb to go, I threw in the headphones and trucked on — actually feeling better than before.
I was able to run this section and find a bit of rhythm again. To my excitement, I was rewarded with another downhill into the final aid.
My trusty quads never let me down all day as I was able to bomb all the downhills.
I ditched my pack at the final aid station, ate more bananas, shoved a handful of ice into my hat, and high stepped in on out of there.
Despite looking I had a growth protruding out of my head, ice in the hat is a game-saver.
The last 10km was relatively flat: a few up and downs while weaving through the popular valley trail in Whistler.
This trail was busy: I dodged families on their Sunday hike, and confused bikers asking me what race I was running. One family of about 20 in particular gave me a hero’s cheer as I painfully ran by.
I couldn’t help but smile. They have no idea what I’d been through, but that doesn’t matter.
I thought to myself how nice it would be to simply go for a walk with no more pain and lifeless jello legs.
Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw another runner with a race bib about 200m behind me on the trail. Shit.
Not knowing whether he was another solo running or a relay team runner, I picked up the pace.
I wanted to make this guy suffer if he thought he had a chance at passing me with 5km to go.
Somehow I had some pizzazz left, and cruised into the finish doing a modified airplane and looking to the sky, being so thankful that I finally completed this thing.
It made for a pretty epic photo thanks to Chris.
My will has never been tested like that. I was so destroyed at the finish, I could barely process what I’d done.
A seat on the grass looked pretty comfy, so there I laid with my conscious split in two.
Part me asking why I couldn’t be content running 10k’s like everyone else, the other part relishing at my accomplishment.
I finished in 9th place with a time of 9 hours 34 minutes.
Reflecting a few days after, I’m happy with my accomplishment, I pushed my body and mind further than ever through 50 miles and 13,000 feet of vert.
New perspective comes from conquering your struggles.
I was close to being completely broken, but working through this dark place was the most rewarding part of all.
How you respond when things go awry is what defines you. When I keep pushing my body, I’m realizing how we can conquer (just about) anything but it is a choice, not an easy one.
Huge thanks to my bud Chris Jones. Crewing doesn’t do justice — he kept me moving all day, and for that I am grateful (he also snapped all the amazing photos in here). Also thanks to Meet Your Maker for an amazing race – well marked and the volunteers were amazing.
Also — checkout the Garmin GPS stats.
On September 1 I run 50 miles of unforgiving mountainous terrain in Whistler. There’s a paradox for me in doing crazy things like this lately – I’m terrified, but I can’t keep myself away.
This race is called Meet Your Maker. It cruises around Whistler before going literally straight up Blackcomb mountain, then across the peak 2 peak in a gondola, and straight down Whistler, couple more loops and bam, you’ve done 50 miles. Upwards of 12,500 feet of elevation gain and loss through what should be a long day of, among other things… self-discovery.
To put this elevation in perspective, my first ultramarathon entailed around 6000 feet of climbing, and it was a tad uncomfortable at times. I also just found out that this run had about a 50% completion rate among solo runners in 2012.
Regardless, there’s an itch to keep pushing. I’m drawn by the purity of running through the mountains, there’s no rules, no constraints.
You can run on your terms, and simply enjoy the moment — for however long that is.
There’s no pressure to perform. For that hour (or several), you are truly free. Free from the stresses of bills, rent, life.
Running entails a different context but brings about a similar state as to when I meditate.
My breathing becomes methodical and controlled, I focus on the present, and notice every bodily sensation.
There’s more sensory information to think about, but largely your mind is on cruise control, and you are free to entertain the randomness of your thoughts.
People tend to see running as boring, but this is because we generalize what we don’t know. I assume opera to be boring, but I’ve never actually been to the opera… it could be riveting for all I know.
What I’ve found about running is that it is the only time I can turn my mind off and just… be.
What differs is how we express these desires.
I’m searching for the answer as to how far can I push my body. With this next ultramarathon, the question of ‘can I do this?’ drifts in and out of my thoughts
I like trying difficult things because of the unknown it brings. I fear the unknown but am drawn to it because I’m confident that I can conquer it.
That is not to say I’m confident that I’ll enjoy every one of those 50 hilly miles on Sept 1, for some, conquering is about completion and absolution.
I’m ready for the pain, the emotions, and the discovery, because I’m fortunate to be able to try such extreme physical feats.
I love the ability to travel great distances on my own power and appreciate every aspect of the journey from preparation to execution on race day.
That day, nothing else matters but testing my spirit. It’ll be a day of conflicting emotions, from joy to suffrage and pain.
I’ll take each state as they come, and remember that there are people who face struggles that pale in comparison to mine.