Be Brave!

What’s that thing they say about bravery? It’s being afraid and doing it anyway. I’ve had quite a few adventures of late….I went to Peru and ran the Jungle Ultra for the fifth time. I climbed a mountain on a via ferrata and then slept in a glass pod hanging off the side of the mountain. I spent a few weeks in Cusco by myself and explored the countryside around the city on foot. I did a 5 day hike with my husband David where we independently circumnavigated Mount Ausangate, with me being in charge of the navigation. I did a couple of solo backcountry camping trips. And with all these things, the words I heard the most from people were “you’re so brave”. 

Really though, I don’t think of myself as brave. I’m not sure what I am. Yes, a lot of these things pushed me outside my comfort zone. Is that being brave? I’m not sure. I guess in some people’s books that’s what bravery is. I also have to wonder sometimes if being female and doing things by myself is what makes people think I am brave. If a man went on a backpacking trip by himself for a night would people call him brave? I wonder. Maybe some men can weigh in on this in the comments. 

I’ve touched before on how we must go outside of our comfort zones to attain personal growth. I’ve also talked about how doing things that make me anxious allows me to have some control over my anxiety, rather than the other way around. In fact, that is the reason I started doing semi-extreme things to begin with. But a funny thing has happened along the way, as things do, and this is the braver I am, the braver I get. The more things I do, the less things that scare me. 

As I mentioned, recently, I decided to take myself backcountry camping. This is something I have been wanting to do for a long time. Like years. But I always had an excuse….I didn’t have the right gear, I didn’t have anyone to go with, I didn’t want to take time away from my training, I didn’t know where to go, the weather is bad, etc etc etc. Basically, I was just scared, scared of the unknown, scared to try something new, something outside my comfort zone. But I made up my mind, this was going to be the summer I went backcountry camping. No more excuses. So, with some trepidation, off I went. Well, first I had a warm-up in May with my friend Jo and my daughter Clare in Oregon. We only got a little lost, and the snow we ran into was only thigh deep, but we had fun. Then I did the Ausangate trek. I was pretty nervous going into it about the navigation part because, as anyone who has ever been with me when navigating has been a thing knows, it is not my strong suit. I’m getting better, but I’m still pretty weak at it. Turns out it was all good….yes, there were a few places where we took a bit of an alternate route, but we were never actually lost, and we made our way around it with no problems. So, in light of these things, I decided that it was time to take myself into the backcountry of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. 

I was a little nervous as I set off, but actually, I got along just fine. I found my trail, I navigated a little bit when it got confusing, I found my campsite, I set up my tent and filtered some water, it poured rain but I found a nice dry spot under a sprawling tree to sit, I cooked my food, I explored a bit during a break in the rain, I slept, then did it all in reverse. And I loved it. I loved it so much I did it again a couple of weeks later.  As I was going out the door David told me he loved how brave I am. There’s that word again.

This time I went a bit further afield to a more remote campsite. As I was going, I passed a man and his son who were fishing in one of the lakes along the way. I had a little chat with him, telling him where I was going etc, and he looked at me and said “Solo? Wow, that’s very brave.” And then to his son “Look at this lady…she’s awesome!” I don’t know about either one of those, I mean, if I was a man would he have said either of those things, and why does that matter? But I digress. When I got to the campsite, I found it to be completely deserted. I was the only one camping there. I thought I might be nervous staying there all alone, but turns out I was not. I loved the peace and tranquility of the place, with the beautiful lake and the towering mountains. Being brave led me to this exquisite experience. The only thing I was nervous of was the porcupine guarding the outhouse!

So, what makes someone brave? I don’t feel brave, I just like to push myself outside my comfort zone. Maybe that’s bravery, I don’t know. It’s easy to see bravery in other people….I see people doing brave things all the time…having adventures, taking up new activities, standing up for themselves or for someone else, making difficult decisions, sometimes just getting out of bed in the morning and facing the day is a brave thing to do.  But it all comes around to this…in order to grow, we must get outside our comfort zones, we must do things that make us a little bit or a lot afraid, we must be brave. Don’t languish in the comfort zone, be brave!

Just keep moving forward.

Bouncing back from failure.

As you may or may not know. I recently decided to tackle the Montane Spine Race. This is a race in the UK, 430-something kilometers along the trail known as the Pennine Way over the course of 7 days in January. I trained, I obsessively researched and bought gear, then returned it and bought better gear. I bought a GPS unit, maps, and a compass and learned to navigate. I counted out trail snacks into 500 calorie portions, agonized over footwear and clothing, packed, and repacked my bags, and finally set off to England for the start of the race. Where I failed spectacularly and DNF’d on the very first day, just 42 short kilometers into the race.

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Yes, that’s right, just 11 hours in my race was over. I was racing with my friend, and somehow our pace was so slow that the safety team strongly advised us to stop, saying that we would be a danger not only to ourselves, but to anyone who may need to come to our rescue if it came to that. The weather conditions were horrific…winds gusting up to 115 kph, driving rain, cold temperatures. However, it was the same for everyone. Just like navigating was the same for everyone, though not knowing the course we were having to stop and check more often than a lot of people, plus the shoes I was wearing did not have the right kind of traction for the wet, slippery limestone slabs that make up much of this section of the trail. None of these are excuses because, as I said, it was the same for everyone, but all of this together meant our pace was glacial slow. Some members of the safety team met us at a road crossing, and as soon as they told us to get into their car so we could have a chat, I knew it was not looking good for us. Although they did tell us we could continue if we really wanted to, they strongly discouraged it, also pointing out that even if we carried on we were likely to time out at the next checkpoint. 

And so, just like that, the dream of completing the Spine Race came to a thudding halt. My body and mind were still in it….I wasn’t even tired yet, but I was being told I should not continue. I have DNF’d in races before, but never one of this magnitude. Never one with this amount of investment, in time, money, and emotion. Never one where I had put myself out there quite this much, and while everyone around me has been supportive, reassuring me that I made the right choice, and giving me their compassion, I can’t help but feel embarrassed, like I’ve let people down. Like I’ve let myself down! All in all, it was a massive failure. We all have failures in our lives from time to time, and sometimes it is easier to define ourselves more by our failures than our successes, to dwell on them and even let them take over our lives. I know I’ve been guilty of this myself on more than one occasion.

This time, however, I’ve decided to not let myself be defined by this failure, not to dwell on it, to move on immediately. And maybe it is just because it hasn’t hit me yet and I’ve not had time to process this whole thing, but I actually think I’m ok! Before the sweat had even dried I was thinking of a plan B, a way to make the best of a bad situation. I feel like I have moved on, but I know I will still have moments going forward where I have bad feelings….disappointment of course, anger, regret, all of the negative things associated with failing at something.  And I think it is ok to feel all of these things, not only ok, but completely normal to feel them as well. Ok to feel them, but not dwell on them. To keep moving forward, keep looking forward, setting a new goal and moving towards that. 

After a set back like this, I think it is really important to remind that you are not a failure just because you have failed at this one thing,  to remind yourself that even though you haven’t been successful, at least you’ve been brave enough to put yourself out there. It is easy to never fail if you never challenge yourself. If you never even try something, there is never the opportunity to grow, to learn from your mistakes.  It’s not easy to look failure in the face and move on from it, but it is possible, and also incredibly important to do so. Your feelings are valid, but don’t let them define you. Pick yourself up, set a new goal, and move on! I’ve got it permanently written right on my arm….just keep moving forward!!

Plan B…. a 120 km canal walk

The Next Big Thing

One thing about me is I’m always searching for the next big thing. There are always races to run, adventures to have. Since my last blog post, I went to Kenya and did a big thing, running in Beyond The Ultimate’s For Rangers Ultra, covering 230km over 5 days through some of Kenya’s most beautiful and game-rich conservation areas. What an experience that was! Every day we saw scores of animals: antelope, giraffes, zebras, elephants, rhinos, water buffalo, ostriches and on and on, sometimes from really close up. I even got to pet an orphaned baby rhino named Mei Mei. An unbelievable experience…one of those things they call once in a lifetime that truly is once in a lifetime. Add a vacation onto that which included a safari and some lazy days on the beach at the Indian Ocean, and you could say August was a pretty good month!

My next big thing after that wasn’t quite as big, but it was yet another try at the elusive 100 mile distance. I really thought I could do it this time. I was so hungry for it, but alas, once again it was not to be. I’m not sure what went wrong, but my right knee started hurt fairly early on, and it just continued to get more and more painful as I went on. Finally after 115km, I decided to pack it in and live to run another day. There will be other 100 milers, and one of these times I am going to get it!!

So, now I am on to my next really big thing. This one is scaring the crap out of me. One month from today I will be toeing the starting line in Edale, UK for the start of the 2019 Montane Spine Race. So if you don’t know about this race, it is about 430km long with a time limit of 168 hours, or 7 days. Unlike the other multi-day races I have done where there is a set distance every day and the clock stops while you are in camp, during the Spine Race, the clock never stops and there are no set distances. There are 5 checkpoints where they feed you and give you a place to sleep, but other than that, you’re basically on your own, going as far as you want between sleeping, sleeping trailside or in any shelter you may come across, eating when and where you can, and just trying to get as many kilometres behind you each day as possible. And oh, did I mention that you also need to navigate? And that it’s winter? And daylight is limited to just a handful of hours each day? I’m terrified. I waffle each day between thinking I can get it done, to wondering what the heck was I thinking because I’ll never be able to do this! Whatever is going to happen though, I will give it my all, just like I always do.

So lately I’ve been spending all my free time (and money!!) researching and buying up gear, studying maps, reading everything I can lay my eyes on about the Pennine Way, making lists of places to potentially sleep or buy food, stressing over which shoes to wear, and of course training, training, training, all with an 8kg pack on my back. I think I’ve done all I can. I think I’m as ready as I can be. But I’m still scared.

There’s something to be said about doing things that scare you, things that push you outside your comfort zone. We’ve all probably seen the meme that says outside your comfort zone is where growth happens. I happen to believe that is true. When I’m preparing for an event like this that’s super scary, my anxiety levels invariably rise to sometimes intolerable levels. I cry a lot, I feel anxious, I feel scared, I feel like running away, I feel unprepared, but in the end, I always fight through it and show up at that starting line. And even though it’s made me feel very uncomfortable sometimes for weeks, I’m never sorry I did it, even when it doesn’t turn out the way I wanted it to. There’s always something to be learned from it, not only something to be learned from the race itself, but also something to be learned about myself, about how I handle stress and anxiety, how I handle success and failure, how I handle adversity. This is the growth. If I never went there in the first place, the growth would never happen. Plus I just like doing really cool things.

So go ahead. Find your next big thing. Do something that scares you. Push yourself outside your comfort zone. Grow a little, or maybe a lot, and have some fun adventures along the way.

Just keep moving forward.

The One About Mental Illness

Hi friends! So, I realize its been awhile since I wrote anything new on here, and it’s been hanging over my head for quite some time. Races have come and gone with no reports written, seasons have changed, and life has just marched on, as it tends to do.

I’m going to share the secret reason with you regarding why I have not written a blog in so long. It’s something I have sort of touched on before, but never really gone into in any kind of detail. You see I have this thing called anxiety that is with me on pretty much a daily basis, and this other thing that visits me periodically called depression. Just putting these words out on my screen has cause an exponential jump in my anxious feelings because these are things I tend to keep pretty much hidden from most people who are not part of my inner circle. As much as mental illness gets sort of talked about these days, there is still a stigma attached to it because, quite frankly, unless you live with it or are very close to someone who has it, it is very difficult to understand. And on top of that, it also means something very different to each individual who has it…my anxiety might not feel the same as someone else’s. My depression might hit me in a different way than yours. These things are so complex, and how we feel and how we deal with these feelings are so different for everyone.

I used to deal with my anxious feelings by eating. I’d eat my feelings, and then I would feel worse than ever. The more I ate my feelings, the worse I felt, and that would often signal the onset of depression, during which I would eat more. After many years of that, I realized that was not the way, and I switched over to exercise, and more specifically, running. Running is my meditation…the rhythm is soothing, and it gives me time alone with my thoughts to work things through. And while it does help, it is not the be all to end all in my battle with anxiety and depression. Counselling has also helped…acquiring tools to call upon when things feel bad. I have come to an uneasy acceptance with my anxiety. I realize it is never going to go away, but most of the time I can manage it.

The black dog that is depression is another story. He sneaks up on me when I am least expecting it, stealing all my ambition and motivation, and I sometimes spend days doing little more than lying on the couch watching Netflix, and eating, and sometimes drinking wine when I am in the throes of a depressive episode. This past winter was a particularly  bad one for me. There were a lot of stressful things going on around me which I was also a part of, but were out of my control, and despite my best effort, I just shut down. I didn’t go out, I didn’t see friends, pretty much the only thing that got me out the door most days was a run. It was a struggle on many days, but I did manage to keep up my training for the most part.

So, why am I deciding to share all of this now? I am actually feeling quite panicky about posting my struggles out there for the world to see, but I feel like it is important to not keep silent. According to the World Health Organization, 264 million people across the globe suffer from an anxiety disorder. In addition, over 300 million people worldwide will suffer from a major depressive episode sometime in their lives. As much as we might like to think we talk about mental illness, given these staggering numbers, I don’t think we talk about it enough. We still hide it, at least I know I do. And while it is really hard to help someone who keeps their condition hidden, we must still all make the effort to reach out to someone we know is struggling. If an acquaintance, or a friend, or a loved one starts acting differently, seems sad, is isolating themselves, or just doesn’t seem like themselves, talk to them. Even when they say they are fine, if they don’t seem fine, they probably aren’t. The important thing is being there for that person. Don’t abandon them because they are refusing your invitations or stop answering texts, and don’t take it personally when they keep saying no. Don’t pressure them to do things. Just keep in touch with them, let them know you’re there for them, be an nonjudgemental ear for listening or a shoulder to cry on. You probably can’t solve their problems, but you can let them know they are not alone.

If you’re reading this and you are suffering from anxiety or depression or anything else, you don’t need to suffer alone. Find that friend with the willing ear and strong shoulders. See your doctor. Muster up all your courage and go to counselling and actually do the work. Practice self care…run, go to yoga, take walks, eat healthy, meditate, do something that is just for you and makes you feel good. Maybe some days the best you can do is to bathe and get dressed. If you’re having a really rough day and that’s all you can manage, count that as a victory.

As far as how things are currently going for me, well, the back dog has disappeared for now for the most part, but the feral cat of anxiety is always around, waiting to pounce on me when I least expect it. I’m much more open about it to my inner circle these days, but I still like to try and manage it on my own. Mostly I can use the tools I have acquired to keep it under control, but at other times I am a big sobbing mess dealing with it in unhealthier ways like drinking, over eating, or online shopping. And for the really bad times there is medication. Sometimes just knowing I have the meds if I need them is all it takes. Finally, probably my strangest way of self soothing is something my family calls my “running away from home bag”. In my purse I keep a ziplock bag with my keys, my drivers license, and a credit card, while hidden away somewhere in my house is a big envelope full of cash, which I take out and count on stressful days. I don’t think I’m ever going to run away for real, but just having these things at the ready is very calming for me because in unpleasant situations, when my fight or flight reflex kicks in, my gut reaction is always flight. In fact, I have long since felt like running away to do races on the other side of the world is kind of like controlled flight. I can run away for a week or two and leave everything behind, and then when I come home I’m ready to face it all again.

So there, now you know my secrets. I know this blog post is not really about ultra-running, but in a way it kind of is because running really far is a great coping mechanism for me in dealing with my mental issues. I’d love to hear from you about your struggles and how you cope. Let’s talk about it!

Just keep moving forward!

The DNF

Those dreaded letters….DNF. Did not finish. In the world of ultrarunning, or any endurance sport for that matter, it is usually only a matter of time before sooner or later, you see those letters beside your name on the race results page. Sometimes, you feel devastated by it. You’ve trained hard and long for an event, but then, for whatever reason, you are unable to complete it. The first time I experienced a DNF, I was devastated. My first DNF was hot on the heels of my dead last place finish at my first ever ultra…I did not get off to a good start in this sport.

It was at the Canadian Death Race, and I missed a time cut-off. Anyone who knows about the Death Race knows about this time cut-off after the third leg. It is a tough, arbitrary cut off time, in my opinion presumably made to make the race appear harder. A lower finisher rate = a race that seems much more difficult. Now don’t get me wrong, the Canadian Death Race is no walk in the park. It is a very hard race, but in many cases, mine included, people who could otherwise have no problem going on to finish this race often miss that cut-off, sometimes only by minutes. The CDR was my first really big ultra, and yes, I was totally devastated when I didn’t make the cut-off. I cried hard, ugly tears because I knew I could’ve gone on to finish the race. But, that’s how it goes, cut-offs are there and either you make them or you don’t.

The next time I DNF’d was still very hard, but not quite as devastating to me. It was at the Sinister 7  ultra, another really big race for me. It was a little bit easier for me because I made the decision myself to drop out, rather than someone telling me I had to drop out. I went into it with a hip injury, and then my stomach decided it was not going to cooperate with me that day. I went for as long as I physically could, but ultimately knew I wasn’t going to make it to the end, so I made the hard decision and dropped. I only cried a little bit that time.

Since then, there have been two other DNF’s at long, tough races. Once because I got injured during the race, and once because my mind gave up. Incidentally these were both at the same 100-miler, the Lost Soul in Lethbridge. The injury….well, what are you going to do? But the other, well, I keep looking back and regretting that decision. At the time though, it was the only decision I could make. People say ultra marathons are 90% mental, so when the mind gives up, it can be very difficult to get it back.

So, fast forward to last weekend. Last weekend I ran in the Grizzly Ultra  50k race. This is fresh off my finish at the 273km long Grand to Grand ultra, which wrapped up just a week prior to toeing the starting line at the Grizzly. So, to be fair, when I registered for the Grizzly, I had a calendar mistake and thought I had 2 weeks in between that and G2G. In reality, it was just a week, so I knew going into the Grizzly that it could go either way. It was for sure less than ideal conditions…my lingering fatigue from not only G2G, but from an entire season of long, hard races, blizzard conditions that almost caused us to turn back on the drive out there, cold, slushy, muddy trails etc. I know the trail conditions were the same for everyone, but in my fatigued state it seemed much more of a slog than it should have. At one point, I came across a downed runner and stayed there with her for awhile, long enough to become very cold, which I never really recovered from either. So, after 25k, I made the decision to drop out. This time, the decision was actually a pretty easy one. As I had been running a long downhill into the check-point area, my legs had simply been saying “nope”. My knees hurt, my hips hurt, and I just wasn’t having fun. Now I know that ultra running is not always fun, but to some degree it has to be, or we would never stay out there. This was no degree of fun. Cold, wet, tired, legs not cooperating? Totally time to pack it in. So, I made the decision and I actually felt fine about it. People were telling me they were sorry, but I was just glad to be somewhere warm. I didn’t even cry.

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I think part of being a seasoned runner is being smart enough to know when to say “it’s not my day” and pack it in, and when you can push through and keep going. Yes, I probably could have gutted it out and finished the 50k, but that would not have been the right decision on that day. No point getting injured, I need to live to run another day. Other times, well, maybe I could have done something different and saved the day. It’s hard to say. It’s really easy to look back second guess yourself, but at the time, you are making the only decision that seems right.

I look at each race as a learning experience and try to take something away each time. Yesterday’s lesson was one I already knew going in…it’s too soon. Not enough recovery. I can’t do all the races, as much as I might want to. But, I’m still glad I went out and tried, because if we don’t try, we don’t learn the lessons. And there’s always next year.

Just keep moving forward.

 

photo credit to Julia Mitton

Iron Legs race report

So, last weekend I ran in the Iron Legs 50 trail race. This race has a 50-mile distance, which is actually 54 miles, and a 60 km distance. Both have significant elevation gain…14 000 feet for the 50 mile, and I am guessing probably around 9 or 10 000 for the 60 km. Last year I ran the 60 km, so I thought I would give the 50-miler a go this year. Sadly though, things don’t always turn out as you had planned.

The morning started out great. The weather was perfect, I chatted with some friends before the start, and I was excited for the day ahead of me. At 6:00 am, off we went. The course is divided up into 5 legs for the 60 km, and 7 legs for the 50 mile. Leg 1 is probably the easiest, not too technical and with the least amount of elevation gain. I cruised through it and felt really good. I have been doing a ton of training with my 25 lb pack, getting ready for Grand to Grand next month, so running on the trails without that weight on my back felt great. I breezed through checkpoint 1, and off I went onto leg 2.

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Leg 2 gets a lot more technical and difficult, with a big climb up to the top of Powderface Ridge. Up, up I went, still feeling really good. When I got to the top I stopped and took some photos because the view from up there is stunning. This is where I ran into some problems. I was going along, enjoying the view, and apparently not paying enough attention to where I was going. Now, somewhat in my defense, the only other time I have ever been up on that ridge was during last year’s Iron Legs, and it was snowing, so I was not at all familiar with the trail and it looked entirely different this year. So, I was making my way along the ridge, following the pink flagging tape that was being used as trail markers. The ground was quite rocky so the trail was not all that distinct, but I could see two other runners up ahead of me on the ridge, so I thought nothing of it when I hadn’t seen a flag for a few minutes. I kept forging ahead, when I saw the two runners turning around and looking for markers. I immediately turned around to see if I could spot any markers behind me, and though I couldn’t, there were 3 more runners coming up behind me, so I believed I was still on course. We all caught up together and began discussing whether or not we were on course, and looking around for flags. One of the runners set out to scope around for a flag, and we never saw him again. The ground was quite rocky and rough, and though I didn’t remember it being like that from last year, I still wasn’t too concerned. As the ground became rougher and we were scrambling over big boulders, I was sure it was wrong, and just as I was about to turn back, one of the guys in our little group spotted a piece of pink flagging tape hanging from a branch further up the ridge, so we decided we were still sort of on course, and off we went towards it.

When we reached the flag, the trail was very indistinct, but since there was a flag, we all thought it must be right. The ground got rougher and the rocks bigger, and I knew it just couldn’t be right. I kept saying “this can’t be right, I’d remember this from last year”, but every once in awhile, we’d spot another piece of flagging tape and tell ourselves we were still on the right track. We went on like this for quite some time, but after an hour or so, it because all too evident that there was no trail and we were way, way off course. So, at that time we needed to make a decision. Someone in the group had a map, and we could see that the actual trail followed the ridgeline all the way down to the road. I pulled out my phone to see if there was cell service, and lo and behold, there was. I had my sister and my mother crewing for me, so I called each of them only to have them both go directly to voice mail. I had service, but they did not. Collectively we decided that it would be just as far to go back as to keep going down the ridge, so forward down the ridge it was, first scrambling dangerously over large rocks, then through thick underbrush and fallen trees. At one point we could hear voices coming from down below, and though we called to them, we heard nothing back. As it turns out, the voices were coming from the second checkpoint. When I am out doing a race, I have a call that I use to notify my crew that I am close, so when we heard the voices, I gave “the call”…a loud “ooo-hoo”, because I know this call can be heard from a distance, but again, we heard nothing back. As it turns out, my crew did hear me and called back, but I did not hear it.

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We carried on down the ridgeline through the fallen trees and bushes, finally, after 2 hours, popping out on the road not 200 meters from checkpoint 2. I saw my mother walking up the road to me, then my sister coming down the trail where I should have been. Understandably so, they were very relieved to see me. They had been expecting me more than 90 minutes past, and thought that I must be injured because I was so late getting to the checkpoint. I was very frustrated an angry, mostly at myself, and I knew that the chance of making the time cut off for the chance to run the long course was well out of my reach by this point. I decided that I would still carry on and do the shorter 60 km course. One of our group of 5 opted not to continue at this point, but the rest of us got a snack and filled our bottles, and set off for the next leg, the dreaded Ford Creek trail. The trail soon began to climb, and I was still angry so I rage-climbed and before too long had left the others behind. After awhile I stopped being angry and just began enjoying my day again. Ford Creek trail is steep and technical, and the day was growing quite warm. At one point I came across another runner who had run out of water and was drinking from the creek. I offered him some of my water, but he declined. I was secretly glad he declined because I was running a bit low myself. He told me that he also had missed the trail up on Powderface Ridge, only unlike me, he was smart enough to turn back when he realized something wasn’t right. I passed another runner along the way, and we chatted for a minute, but I soon left her behind as well. When I was about 30 minutes out of the checkpoint, I ran out of water. I didn’t actually know how far out I still was, but I kept telling myself it couldn’t be too much further. When I thought I was never going to get there, I decided to give the call, just too see if I could tell how far away I was. Well, lo and behold, my call was answered from right around the corner and I had reached the next checkpoint.

I fueled up and filled my bottles and set off again, ready to climb back up Powderface and come back down the other side. My crew had told me they were calling it a day, which was fine. They had had a long day out there waiting around for me, so I didn’t mind that they wanted to go. Up, up I climbed, then down the steep technical return to the parking lot where the next checkpoint was set up. Something happened along the way though. As often happens to me in a long race, I hit a low patch. I wasn’t even too far out from the checkpoint, but the negative part of my brain started taking over. I was tired, I wasn’t having fun, I was frustrated and mad at myself for making a mistake and now not being able to run the long course, I wanted to be done, I never wanted to do anything like this again, all of the negative self talk was happening and I decided I was going to drop out at the next checkpoint. Just as I had made this decision, I came around a corner, and there was my crew standing on the trail waiting for me, cheering me on. I started holding back the tears and told them I was thinking about dropping, but now that they were there I wasn’t sure any more. They encouraged me, and the wonderful volunteers at the checkpoint got me some food and some water. I was still waffling a little bit when one of the volunteers said “Well, you’ve gone this far, you might as well finish it off”. That was what finally did it for me, so off I went for the last leg. I am quite sure that had my crew not been there, my day would have been over, and I am also quite sure that had that happened, I would have regretted it.

I felt a renewed sense of energy setting off on the last leg. I had one giant climb left, and then after that it was clear sailing. I had been dreading that climb, and it was part of the reason I had been thinking about dropping. Once I got to it though, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had been anticipating. I got to the top and then ran pretty much the rest of the way in. I suddenly felt great again, and had no problem finishing off the leg. My mother was waiting for me at the finish line, always my biggest cheerleader, and I was done.

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I always think I learn something from each race I run. This time there were a couple of things. The first lesson I already knew, but it was good to be reminded of, and as I often find, running is a good metaphor for life in general. This lesson is that whenever you hit a really low spot, if you can make it through to the other side , things always look better. When you’re in the middle of it, it can be hard to see the other side, but it is always there, you just have to fight through. The second lesson I learned was to trust my instincts. Up there on that ridge, I knew it wasn’t right, but since we kept seeing the pink flagging tape (and I still don’t know what that tape was supposed to be marking), I kept going. My instincts were right and I should have turned back. But I didn’t. And that’s ok, because I learned a good lesson. Oh, and that guy that disappeared on us at the top of the ridge when we were looking for the trail, well we found out later that he found the trail but rather than spend 2 minutes coming back to tell us, he just kept going. So, thank you unknown runner for that bit of sportsmanship.

As my friend Majo said to me later, any day in the mountains is a good day. And, it was a good day, just not the day I had planned. And I’ll be back to tackle the 50 miles another time. Just keep moving forward.

 

 

Oops, I did it again…

So, as I sit here on this very rainy afternoon, I just accidentally signed up for a 50-miler next month, Iron Legs 50. Someone recently asked me how is it that I could “accidentally” sign up for something, and the answer is, well, because I just do it without thinking it through all the way. You see, if I sat and thought things through all the way, I probably would never do anything. I’d be glued to my chair filled with fear and anxiety. Instead I do the signing up first, and let the fear and anxiety take over after the fact. Because, the fear and anxiety work for me. If I wasn’t scared, I probably wouldn’t do the kind of training I need to do. A little bit of fear goes a long way towards motivating me to get out the door.

Some people say you shouldn’t let yourself be ruled by fear, and while I don’t think we should ever let fear rule our lives, I think that in many cases fear is what allows us to do our best at something. People, in general I think, are afraid of failure. We want to do well, we don’t want to fail. This makes us train harder, work harder, study harder, whatever the case may be. I have this little affliction called anxiety disorder, which, at the crux of it, is fear. I know there’s a lot more to it than that, but really most of anxiety is worry and being afraid of the “what if’s”, often it is an unfounded fear, sometimes it is based in real things going on in my life, and sometimes I have no idea what is causing it. It is ever present, and if I let it, it could easily take over my life. At times it has. With the help of a good counselor, I have learned, for the most part, how to manage it on a day to day basis. Part of managing it though, is doing the things that scare me. I feel like if I do things that scare me, I can control my anxiety rather than letting it control me. Don’t get me wrong, I still have days when it’s hard to leave the house, or when I have to walk out of the grocery store before I am done shopping, but in this one little corner of my life, I feel like I am in control of my anxiety, of my fear. Doing something, accidentally on purpose, that I know is scary, that I know will cause anxiety, but being prepared for it as well as I can be, helps me manage the burden of anxiety. I am normally a very private person, so just putting this out there right now is causing that knot of anxiety to form. It’s scary, but I’m doing it anyway.

Thus, I accidentally-on purpose do things that I know will cause me the gut-wrenching feeling of anxiety. If it’s a race, I train, and prepare, and often over-prepare as a way of controlling this demon. My family can attest that, leading up to a big event, I sometimes get a little bit nutso. I go through the “what-ifs”, sometimes even the most absurd things that run through my mind. “What if I’m last?” “What if it’s too hard?” “What if I can’t do it?” “What if I fall down the mountain?” “What if I get stuck in the mud and a tribe of cannibals finds me and rescues me only to put me in their cooking pot and have me for dinner?” (Seriously, I asked this!). I have such a great family though, that they patiently sit and let me rant and answer my questions…somebody has to be last, it won’t be too hard, you can do it, you’ve trained as best as you can, try not to fall down the mountain, but if you do someone will rescue you, if the cannibals eat you, we’ll miss you. Before I ran my leg of Sinister 7 last weekend, my daughter Clare cheerfully told me “Don’t fall down the mountain in the dark mom, love you!”

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And so, on this rainy day in a long string of rainy days, I accidently pushed the button and signed up for a 50 miler next month. Do I feel a little knot of fear when I think about it? You bet I do. I did the short course 60 km version of this race last year, and it is hard, with a heck ton of steep and technical terrain. The long course 50 miles even more so. It’ll be super hard. But I pushed the button and registered anyway, because that’s what I do. There is a line from a song by the band Awol Nation that says “never let your fear decide your fate”. And I really try not to. I do things that scare me. Get out there and do something that scares you…it’s always worth it. Just keep moving forward.

photo by Raven Eye Photography

Maybe…

So, one may ask, how does one “accidentally” become an ultra runner? It certainly was the last thing on my mind that day when I took my first running steps. I never thought to myself “I’m going to become a runner so I can go on epic adventures and run crazily long distances in exotic places”. I just didn’t want to be fat anymore. That’s it. That’s all I wanted. It was a means to an end. But, as they say, a funny thing happened along the way. First of all, running didn’t magically make me not fat anymore. That was, and still is, a journey in its own right. Certainly it helped me along that journey, but really it was just a small part of it. That’s a story for a different day. The funny thing that happened was this little thing called “maybe I could”. Like, maybe I could run all the way from home to the top of the hill. Then much, much later, maybe I could run a marathon. Just maybe. So, I tried, and I did. Was it easy? No. Did I love every minute of the training? Really no.. I think one thing people think about runners is that we love running all the time. We don’t. Sometimes its really hard. Sometimes we feel lazy, we feel tired, its too hot out, its too cold out, I’d rather sleep, whatever it may be. Running is not fun all the time. It is fun and good just enough of the time to keep us coming back for more. I have a real love/hate relationship with running.

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Anyway, back to the marathon. I persevered. I delayed it for a whole year because I got injured, but in the end, I did it. It was awful and wonderful all at the same time. The minute I was done, I was like, “what’s next?” So, I had heard about this thing called triathlon. A little seed was growing in the back of my mind. “Maybe I could do one of those” I thought. I knew nothing about it, but I was intrigued. So, I dusted off my 20 year old mountain bike, went to the pool a few times, and signed up for not one, but two sprint triathlons on back to back weekends. Well, those were also awful/wonderful. I felt horribly intimidated by all the fast people in their fast wetsuits and by all the slick, fast bikes in the transition area, but whatever, I did it. And when I finished, the first thing I thought was “What’s next?”

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So, with a little bit of “maybe I could” and a lot of “what’s next?”, my journey began meandering its way through road races and triathlons, I did ½ marathons, half-irons, full irons, and a lot of
stuff in between. The “maybe” part always starts with a little seed. Hmm, I heard about this race. No, I couldn’t possibly do that, its too hard. Who would even want
to do that? I’m too slow, I’m too fat, I’m too old, there’s no
way. But wait, maybe I could. Maybe, I might be able to do something like that someday. I actually think that might be possible. Ok, well I guess I will sign up, but I’m still not sure I can. Actually, I think I can. And, for the most part, I did.

Then, one day I said, I wonder if I can do a trail race? I think I can, maybe. So, I signed up for one, “just” a little 30k one, and I did it. And so it went, until, quite by accident, I became an ultra marathoner. And it has taken me on epic adventures running crazily long distances in exotic places. And I love it. And sometimes I hate it. But mostly I love it. Just last week I got home from an epic adventure in the amazon rainforest called the Jungle Ultra. I’m working on a race report, I hope to have it done sometime soon.

When that little seed of a “maybe” gets planted in my brain and starts to grow, I usually listen to it. Even when it scares me. Even when it pushes me far, far out of my comfort zone. Because how do you know unless you try? Maybe you can’t do it, but just maybe you can. When people say “accidents happen”, it is not always a bad thing. Sometimes its aweome. Just keep moving forward.

How I Accidentally Became an Ultra Runner

So, you’ve found your way to my blog. Thank you! I have long since said I don’t think anyone would ever be interested in what I have to say, but others have told me that maybe people would like to hear my story, hear about my adventures, so here I am. For my very first blog entry, I thought I would tell you a little bit about myself, and a little bit about my journey. My name is Carolin, I am a 50 year old mother of 3 gorgeous, independent daughters, and wife to David, my biggest fan and unflagging supporter. We live in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, gateway to my backyard playground of the Canadian Rocky mountains.

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My running journey began 16 or so years ago. I had 3 kids under 6, I was obese and out of shape, and I had decided that I needed to make some changes in order to become the person I wanted to be. So, in my typical fashion, I ruminated on this for some time. “What if I started running”, I thought? “Could I ever be a runner?” “Doubtful”, my mind said. “You don’t have a runner’s body”, I told myself. But, as with most things, this little seed took root, and one day I decided today is the day. Today, I will go for a run. So, I got up in the morning, got dressed in my “running” attire, laced up my shoes, and stepped out the door. After a warm up walk around the corner (out of sight of everyone I knew on my block), I began to run. “This is great!” I thought to myself. I ran and I ran until I started feeling tired and my breathing grew ragged. “I’d better not overdo it on the first day, and really, this is pretty hard” I thought as I ground down to a walk. “Phew, that was awesome!.” I looked at my watch to see how long I’d been running, sweat pouring down my face. Two minutes, said my watch. “Two minutes? That can’t be right, it’s been at least 20” I said, tapping the face of my digital watch to make sure it hadn’t stopped. “Well, two minutes is better than nothing, I’ll do better tomorrow.”

 

Fast forward to tomorrow. I wake up in the morning and leap out of bed (not), OMG, what happened to my legs??? I can’t sit on the toilet, I can’t walk down the stairs, I think I am dying!!! However, that, like everything else in life, passed. I kept on going for the 2-minute, then 5-minute, then 10-minute, and longer runs. On a banner day, some months later, I ran all the way from my house to the top of a hill 2.5 km away WITHOUT STOPPING!!! It was a breakthrough day for me, and I still remember doing a little victory dance at the top of that hill.

 

Now, 16 years later I have made it to the top of that hill countless times. I am no longer obese, though my weight is still something I struggle with each and every day. My journey has taken me through marathons and Ironman triathlons, and has settled, for the current moment at least, on trail races and Ultra-marathons. It has not always been easy, I have not loved it every day. Some days are a struggle to get off the couch and lace up my shoes, but most days, I make the effort and manage to get out the door. I never expected to be an ultra-runner. Had you asked me 16 years ago if I would ever run a race of 50k, I would have said, “no, I am a fat, lazy, housewife. You must be insane if you think I could ever do such a thing.” Yet, here I am having done that and more. I never expected this to happen, it just did. I still don’t have that “runner’s body”, yet I have discovered that this body I do have is capable of so much more than I ever thought it could be. It has led me on some amazing adventures, and yes, it runs. Not quickly, not with agility or grace, but it runs. It gets me there. I keep pushing it to see where its limits lie, but so far I have not found those limits. They are out there somewhere, and I will keep looking for them, one race at a time, one adventure at a time, one step at a time. The journey continues. Just keep moving forward.