Intro to Ultra – Part 1

Well well well, it’s been a minute. The last I wrote was about abandoning my roadie ways to bump and bounce over some rocks and roots with squishy tires. I got sucked into mountain biking and the blog fell by the wayside. And here I am now, 8 months later, to solemnly report to you that the worst thing as a cyclist has happened to me – I’ve become a full-fledged runner. I’ve had a history of dabbling with road running but that was mostly as a way to keep up with my more foot propulsion inclined family members. Now… now I actually enjoy it!

But this post isn’t to tell you about my slow decline into two-footed madness. No. This post is to tell you about how I jumped – or was kindly pushed – right into the deep-end of trail running mania.

The worst of influences…

Rewind to September 19, 2020, a mere 1 week after I told you about how I was head-over-heels for mountain biking. I find myself standing around at the Frank Slide Interpretive Center in Crowsnest, AB after having “run” (read: scrambled) 5km out and back on a rock slide boulder field. This was Run the Rocks, the only “race” I had signed up for that had come to fruition all year long. The friends I was with (who I now blame for all future shenanigans) casually mentioned another trail race happening in a month’s time – an abbreviated version of the infamous Sinister 7, a 100mi trail race in Crowsnest. This version would “only” be 66km. My brain went through some rapid fire thoughts from “that’s still a stupid far distance to run” to “I wonder if I could run that far” to “I could probably run that far” to “well shit, I guess I’m doing this”. Up until that point I had run precisely two half marathons in the two years prior and never anything longer. I had maybe 30hrs of running on the whole year. But hey, you just need to be good at hiking to run an ultra, right?

Whoever sees that boulder field and decides they need to run across it is my kind of human

Fast-forward a month. I’d run a 30k trail day and it only took me four days to be able to walk again. I had “run” up a grand total of six mountains over the month. For some reason though, despite the forecast showing -10C and snow for the whole day, I was feeling surprisingly confident. But in keeping with the theme of unpredictability for the year, a big storm rolled in three days before the race and buried the course under 60cm of snow, forcing the organizers to cancel the event. I stuck to my plan though of pushing myself on a long run and logged another 30+ km day in Fernie. This time it only took me two days to be able to walk again. Small wins.

You’re not half-bad, Fernie

Into the darkness

The mid-October snowfall signaled it was high-time for winter in Alberta. The ski hills were opening before Halloween and we were rapidly losing daylight. But that didn’t put a damper on the running madness. Oh no, it just got worse. As new restrictions rolled in, a few of us from Garmin decided to keep our sanity by making a weekly trip to “run” up a mountain after work (abiding by said restrictions, of course). The weeks rolled by and the peaks got racked up. Soon we were leaving the cars in full darkness to trudge up Prairie Mountain by headlamp then bomb down it like a bunch of lunatics. By the end of the year I had tallied an impressive-to-me 30 total summits (13 of which were on Prairie).

Behind the scenes for Patrick’s Instagram fame on Orient Point. We had to work for every meter of ground on that 7h epic

The pace didn’t relent. We continued this tradition into the new year with whoever from the gang was around. In the dry and windy section of mid-winter we fit in some longer weekend days. All the extra time on feet was only bolstering my confidence that I wasn’t so bad at this mountain running thing. 15k runs on pavement? Hell no, everything hurts. 25k runs in the mountains? Just dandy. By the time mid-March rolled around I was feeling unreasonably confident and hungry for a long day out. It had been a quiet several weeks as I nursed a minor knee injury (I learned early on that an essential part of being a runner is perpetually having some minor ailment to complain about). Then the perfect challenge presented itself…

4x4x48

Enter the 4x4x48, pioneered by none other than the Master of Masochism himself, David Goggins. The goal of this event is to break out of your routine and push yourself to new limits that seem unfathomable when considered at once, but is achievable when broken down and taken step by step. One executes the challenge by running 4 miles (6.4km) every 4 hours (starting on the hour), for 48 hours. Over those two days one would rack up an impressive 48mi (76.8km) over 12 stages, with no more than 2 or 3 hours to sleep continuously. Sounds fun, right?

The 4x4x48 event I took part in was out in Fernie and was organized as a fundraiser for the East Kootenay Foundry – an organization building facilities for youth mental health in eastern BC. Once again, the first time I heard of a 4x4x48 a couple months earlier I dismissed it as being ridiculous. But then when I got a message from my friend Lauren in Fernie about this one, something flipped and I knew I could – and was going to – do it.

Mountain sunsets can be something else. At least we got a bit of a show before heading into Night 1

To extract the most from the runner, the challenge starts at 8pm on Friday, meaning that right from the get-go you have a full day of wakefulness as you run into the night. That is followed up by a midnight run, then 4am, and then 8am. This cycle repeats itself ad nauseam.

Our spirits were high going into Leg 1 as we watched the sunset over the mountains while cruising down some slushy trails. We felt unstoppable. Leg 2 brought the first night run and with it the quiet pavement of a nighttime Fernie. There’s nothing quite like running down the main street of a sleepy mountain town, seeing a couple of headlamps in the distance of other crazy runners. The 4am wake-up that followed was the hardest part as I blatantly missed my alarm and woke-up by sheer luck 10min before we were scheduled to take-off. 20min later we were groggily pounding pavement. The sunrise on the first day brought with it the highest of spirits in spite of the mild sleep deprivation. We switched back over to trail for the next three Legs, even going so far as to push on for a 9km run on Leg 6 to reach the best viewpoint in town.

Alongside the appreciation for the nice warm weather, the food became a highlight. Dinner on Day 1 had us eating the most delightful noodle wraps from a food truck in town, basically heaven wrapped in a tortilla. Post-Leg 7 – being one leg over the halfway mark – brought dessert in the form of a homemade apple pie from one of the Garmin running crew peeps. Superbly scrumptious! The second night and day became a grind. We were still feeling alright but increasingly tired and small pains started creeping up. The weather was also slowly turning with rain threatening to drown the second day. A la the ‘Cross Canada trip, I broke out the phone to entertain us with a mid-run interview:

The final two legs were run fully in the rain, but at a certain point of fatigue you just don’t care anymore. I had missed my opportunity on Day 1 to break out the short sleeves, so for the final rainy run out came the short sleeves and shorts to embrace the rain in all it’s childish glory. It also helped that by that point we figured out where most of the other people in Fernie running this event were, so at least we had friends to wave to. After 48 hours of mostly wakefulness, 9h 20min of running, 81km, and 1000m of elevation, we declared victory over this silly challenge and celebrated in the only way reasonable:

What you don’t see is that half this beer ended up on me and the ground…

Successfully completing the 4x4x48 brought on even more running confidence. Sure, some muscles were hurting by the end and I was tired, but the pains were more acute hotspots, the legs weren’t exhausted, and a few good days of sleep had me back on my feet. As it seems to be the case with me, with the confidence comes the bad ideas. That’s how I found myself a mere 3 weeks after the 4x4x48, standing at the trailhead for Prairie Mountain at 5:30am.

But that’s a story for another time! Thank you for reading this far and I’ll see you in Part 2 🙂

Cheers,

Evan

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