Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Sun Mountain 100k Race Report

I saw a funny card lately that said: 99% of getting older is wondering how the hell you hurt your back. That’s certainly been true for me lately.


About a month ago, I woke up with an inexplicably tight lower back. Instead of resting it, I foolishly decided to run a 50k race thinking that might loosen it up. (Being new to back pain, I didn't really know what the protocol was and lacked the foresight and common sense to figure it out.) The race did not go well and my back pain got worse, putting me out of commission for most of the next 2 weeks.

Fortunately, after visiting my coach/RMT, “we” (mostly Andrew – I just chilled on the massage table) were able to work through some issues upsetting my back/hips/pelvis and many of the things connected to them. With a few treatments, the pain started to subside and I felt like we were making progress.

Obviously, that was the goal and I was happy about it, but it was happening only a week out from the Sun Mountain 100k, which was intended to be a trial run for the Bryce 100 – one of my “A” races this year. Having lost a significant chunk of training time in May to deal with this back thing, my confidence to immediately jump into another race wasn't high.

In the week leading up to Sun Mountain, I was really struggling with whether or not to race. I love the Sun Mountain event having done the 50k and 50mi distances there in the past, but knew it might not be the best thing for my body at this point. It took me right up until the day before to decide that I would start the race and drop out if my back started to seize up.

My first ultra - the Sun Mtn 50k (2010)

Back for the Sun Mtn 50mi (2013)

Race Day
My alarm went off at 4am. It was still dark and I could hear rain falling outside. I downed my oats and coffee, made a few last minute gear and clothing decisions based on the weather, and then Dave and I drove to the race start, about 25 minutes away.

With fewer than 80 participants in the 100k distance, the check-in process was quick and there were no line-ups at the porta potties (hey, you gotta appreciate the small victories in life). The first people I saw when we arrived were Suzanne and Geoff from Vancouver whom I had spent time with in Wales at the World Trail Running Championships in 2013. Suzanne was also racing the 100k and Geoff was there as her crew. It was great to see them again, especially during the race when a familiar face and a few words of encouragement can do wonders to lift your spirits. 

By the time the race started at 5:30am, the rain had nearly stopped and it was actually a very nice temperature for running. I fell into an easy pace to test my body and see if there were any unhappy bits. Surprisingly, everything felt pretty good and I was moving well so I picked it up a bit. Starting the first big climb, I was running alongside a lovely woman from Seattle named Kaytlyn (who would go on to win the women’s race in a phenomenal sub-10 time) and enjoyed having someone to chat with as we plugged along the steady uphill grade.

Knowing that I had to take care of my body and not push too hard early in the race, I encouraged her to go ahead. I would've loved to have tried to stay with her, but when my back started acting up later in the day, I was sure glad that I hadn't!

There were several other runners that I was back and forth with over the next few hours and it was nice to get out of my head and enjoy some bits of conversation here and there. Overall, things were going quite well pace, body and nutrition wise up until about 40k when my lower back started tightening up. 

By 50k (the halfway point and end of lap 1 of this 2 lap course), I had convinced myself that my back was only going to get worse if I continued and that it would be better to drop out now. I was totally at peace with this decision and the knowledge that I was doing the right thing.

Then I got to the aid station and there were lots of people there cheering, telling me that I was doing well and that I was second woman. Before I could tell someone that I was dropping out, a helpful volunteer was refilling my bladder and Dave was handing me my snack bag. Geoff asked me how I was feeling and I whispered back, “not great, I'm thinking of dropping out”. Without missing a beat, both he and Dave basically told me that I was not dropping out. So I didn't, and that’s how I ended up back on the course for my 2nd 50k lap.

I left the aid station a bit bewildered by what had just happened. I’d already made plans for the rest of the day…that did not include reliving the past 5 hours of my life. I quickly came up with a new game plan – drugs! Nothing illicit, just ibuprofen. I try to avoid ibuprofen while racing, but I needed something to settle my back if I was going to continue.

The second part of my plan included walking. Not that I didn't walk parts of the first lap ‘cause I did, but I knew I’d have to back off the pace and walk more if I was going to get through this thing without triggering another injury setback. Being conservative seems to have helped because my back pain did ease up some during the second half of the race. Or maybe that’s just the drugs working. Either way, I was glad that I hadn't dropped out earlier. (Thanks Dave and Geoff!)

At around 6 hours into the race, my stomach went off. Again. Same old story with me. Up until that point, I had managed to take in about 150 calories/hour. Not great, but not terrible either. For the final 5 hours, the best I could do was about 50 calories/hour mostly in the form of Sprite or Ginger Ale at aid stations. It was frustrating because I could feel my energy levels dropping and I actually felt hungry, yet when I tried to eat, my throat closed up and I couldn't swallow. Grrr, what a ridiculous problem! I love food so to be unable to eat when I need to is very upsetting.

It may not have been my strongest finish, but I finished and even managed to hang onto 2nd place (full results here). Mainly I'm just happy that I got to run with some cool people on trails that I love and that I didn't further upset my unpredictable body. Strangely, my back actually feels now than it has in weeks. And no, I don’t know how that’s possible!?

Now I've got a month to focus on getting fit, healthy and strong for Bryce  – the race, not the person.

Thanks James and Rainshadow Running for designing a race that is challenging and beautiful, and for bringing together the kind of people who appreciate that sorta thing! Feeling generally crappy at the finish kept me from enjoying more of the post race fun – pizza, beer and live music – but now that I'm the proud new owner of my very own growler, I'm sure I'll make up for it. ;)

Post-race (second) breakfast!

I’d also like to thank The North Face Canada for the sweet new race kit. I used some of it at Sun Mtn and was very happy with both the fit and comfort of what I wore including: the Better Than Naked rain jacket, shorts and tee, and especially the Ultra Endurance shoes, which kept my feet happy for 100k!