1, 2, 3, Go! …or how to stay motivated in the off season

So all your summer and fall races are done. Maybe you’re signed up for some races next year, but it’s too soon to start a training plan for them yet. It’s the off season. That in between time when you’re not really training for anything. Sometimes during this period it can be hard to stay motivated to get out on your daily run. Here are some things I came up with to help get you out the door during your off season.

  1. First of all, be kind to yourself. If you’ve trained hard since spring to get ready for your summer and fall races, your body likely needs a bit of a break. So, take it easy. Don’t feel like you need to get out there and go full bore every single run. Go shorter distances than you have been. Run easier. Leave your watch at home. Skip the speed work and the hill training for awhile. Take the time to remember what you love about running, and just do that.
  1. Mix it up. The off season is the perfect opportunity to get back to all of those activities that you love, but have put on the back burner during racing season. Get out your bike and go for a ride. Go hiking and see the fall colours. Take that class at your local gym that you’ve been wanting to try out. Go for a long walk and rediscover your neighbourhood. Once the snow flies, get out your snowshoes or cross-country skies. It doesn’t matter what you do, just do something that you enjoy.

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  1. If you’re one of those people that just can’t do without a plan, now is the time to reflect on your past season and think about the highs and lows, where your strengths and weaknesses were, and where you would like to see yourself in the coming season. Make a plan to improve those weaknesses and write it down. Formulate some workouts that can help you develop in those areas where you’d like to see improvement, and work them into your plan. Sometimes just having a to-do list is all it takes to get out the door.
  1. Sometimes lack of motivation has to do with the weather. Once it turns cold and wintry outside, it can be easier to stay inside snuggled underneath the covers rather than brave a morning run. Get a little retail therapy and invest in some cold-weather running gear that you really love. Not only will it keep you warm and comfortable out there, but who doesn’t like putting on a piece of clothing that looks and feels great? A good pair of winter running shoes or one of the many available traction devices can help you keep your grip on ice and snow covered pathways.

So, as the previous running season fades away, use these tips to keep up your motivation and keep your fitness going until it is time to start training for your next race. 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

Another adventure on the way…

So, I did the thing again. Closed my eyes, hit send, and promptly went into panic mode. Then I went running downstairs to where my daughter Clare was watching television, and with my heart pounding and panic in my voice I said “Clare, I just did something”. Without skipping a beat her reply was “What did you sign up for?” Yes, my family knows me so well.

This time, I accidently signed up for Beyond the Ultimate’s Desert Ultra in November 2017. A mere 250 km over 5 stages in the Namib Desert in southern Africa. Self-supported of course. Only this time, I guess it wasn’t quite as accidental as it often is. This time I thought about it first. Actually, I thought about it for quite some time. I read the stage information, looked at the map to find out where Namibia even is, even checked flights to find out how long it would take me to travel there. I actually thought about it for a few weeks. I wanted to do it, but something was holding me back. What exactly was holding me back, I am not sure. Well, it is going to be hard. I mean, the long stage is 100km! 100 km is long even when it is all by itself, let alone on the 4th day, after already having gone 135 km in the previous 3 days. But then again, they are all hard and that hasn’t held me back before. Maybe it was because Namibia is really far away from home. I have never been that far away before, but then again, Peru is pretty far away too and that never stopped me. Maybe I was having doubts about my ability to complete such a task? I don’t know, not consciously, but maybe. I have had doubts before, but that never stopped me. So, I thought about it, and visited and revisited the BTU website, read and re-read the stage information that I had asked for to help me make my decision, and I just kind of let the idea fester in my brain, still unsure.

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Actually, I think it was to my detriment that I actually thought this one through. Usually I just grab onto an idea and go with it before I have had a chance to think it through, and save all the doubt and worry for when its already a done deal. Not this time though. I have had all this time to think of the what-ifs before I even signed up. One of the hallmarks of anxiety is asking yourself “what if” questions a hundred times a day…what if it’s too hard, what if it’s too hot, what if I fail, what if I don’t like it there, and on and on and on. Things that sometimes seem totally ridiculous when you actually stop and consider them (what if I get eaten by a cheetah?). One day though, I sat myself down (not actually, I do all my best thinking while out running) and asked myself what was actually holding me back? It is a question I have often asked others when they have been faced with a decision. What’s holding you back? So I asked myself, “Self, what’s holding you back?” And I thought through all the things I mentioned above, all the crazy what ifs…it will be hard, it is far away, it will be hot, what if I can’t do it? And then I answered them all….yes it will be hard, but I can do hard. Yes it is far away, but I have wanted to visit Africa since I was old enough to know what Africa was, and in this day and age, let’s face it, far doesn’t matter. I can stay in touch with those at home almost as easily from Namibia as I can from down the street. Yes, it will be hot, but by now I am a pro at heat acclimation. Which brought me to the last one….what if I can’t do it? Well, my answer to that is, what if I can? I will never know the answer to that without giving it a shot, now will I? So, what was holding me back? Nothing really. Just my own insecurities and anxious mind. And as I have said before, I work really hard at not letting those things define or confine me. Yes, it is scary, but most of the time scary things are worth doing. And I have often said we need to seize the moment and not put off the things that we want to do, because you never know what life will bring you.

So, when I got home from my run that day, I sent David a quick text telling him I was going to sign up, he replied with a short, sweet “ok”, and I filled in the form, closed my eyes and hit send. Then panicked. But a funny thing happened. Once I got over my initial panic, I felt like everything was going to be ok. Then I put the Desert Ultra into a compartment in the back of my mind for awhile, because right now I’ve got other things to worry about. In just over 2 weeks I will be toeing the starting line of the Grand to Grand Ultra, and in February I will be heading off to Sweden to play in the snow at the Ice Ultra. I think I need to give my backpack a name, because it looks like it wont be leaving my back anytime soon.

So, what’s holding you back?

Just keep moving forward.

 

photo cred to Beyond the Ultimate

 

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.

 

 

Mental Toughness

Mental toughness. We hear that term a lot in endurance sports. People say “it’s as much mental as it is physical”. Maybe so, but what is mental toughness? Some call it perseverance, tenacity, or determination. My husband says I’m just plain old stubborn. Maybe so. Is this something you’re born with, or something you cultivate over time? Can you train yourself to be mentally tough? I think mental toughness is that certain something that allows us to keep on pushing through, even when everything inside you is screaming to stop. I do think some people are born with a little more grit than others, but I also think being mentally tough is something we can cultivate and grow, something we can train ourselves to have more of. Without it, I really don’t think most people would be able to finish long endurance events. At the first sign of discomfort, they’d simply quit. I also think mental toughness is situational…a person may be a force to contend with in business, but not in sports, and vice versa.

We all know how to train our bodies to meet the demands of our sport…we listen to a coach, we follow a written plan, we go to the gym, we do hill repeats and sprints, we go run and then run some more. I don’t think, however, that becoming mentally tough is something that most endurance runners consciously train. It is not written in the training program or even something that is quantifiable. It is just something that happens. Every time you set the alarm for some ungodly early morning hour and get up when it goes off, gulp down some coffee, and set off for your workout of choice, you are growing it. When it is cold and windy and raining, and you go for your run anyway, you are getting stronger. When you’ve been out running on the trails for hours and there is the option of taking a trail that is a little bit shorter to get back to your car, but you take the longer one instead, you are cultivating mental toughness. Whatever it may be…you’re tired, it is hot, it is cold, you’ve worked all day, you’ve been up all night with a baby, you just plain old don’t want to, but you lace up your running shoes and go out anyway, you are becoming more mentally tough.

Come race day is when we can see just how mentally tough we have become. In any ultra marathon I have done, there always seems to come a low point, a point where I am tired and I just don’t want to be out there anymore. Once, about 80k into a particularly difficult 100k, I was done, really done. I was all by myself, it was the middle of the night, I was exhausted, and I found myself at the bottom of yet another hill after a string of endless hills. I just sat down on a rock and cried. It had not been an easy day and I didn’t think I could do it. After awhile I realized though, that I had no choice but to do it. I could do it. I had trained for it, and I could do it. I just had to wipe my tears, stand up, and get going. So I picked myself up, climbed that hill, and finished the race. I think our mental toughness is what allows us to keep pushing through situations like that, to push through fatigue and discomfort, to silence the “I can’t” and replace it with “I can”. Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly times when the couch wins, when I hit the snooze button, when I talk myself out of that last hill repeat, but I think that’s ok too, as long as we get out there more times than not. But it happens when our legs or lungs are yelling at us, when that voice inside our head is telling us to stop, to turn around, to take the shortcut, to go back to sleep, that we can’t do it and we silence the voice with I can, I will, I need to, I am going to. This is how we grow that mental fortitude that allows us to be successful at whatever we are trying to do, to become “tough as nails”. So, next time you persevere all the way through a tough workout, go out there when you’d rather be on the couch, or silence the excuses inside your head, know that come next time, come the next tough training session, come the next long endurance race, know that you are doing yourself a favour and making your likelihood of success much larger. You don’t have to want to do it, you just have to do it. Just keep moving forward.

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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

Jungle Ultra Race Report, part 2

A few weeks ago I completed Beyond the Ultimate’s  Jungle Ultra in Peru for the second time. Check out part 1 of my report here.

Stage 3

The first time I did the Jungle, stage 3 was the “hard one” for me, the only one that reduced me to tears and made me have doubts, so as the day began for stage 3 I was nervous. I had built it up in my mind, but because I knew what to expect, I also came into it with a plan. Stage 3 begins with a little jaunt down the road, and then straight onto a zip-line. In order to shorten the wait time for the zip-line, the start was staggered, with the faster runners beginning 15 minutes before the rest of us. As it was, that still meant a 15 or so minute wait at the zip-line, which nobody really seemed to mind. It was fun watching others go across while chatting with friends and anxiously waiting my turn. Finally it came my time, and I was kitted up with a harness and a helmet. Three of us piled onto the zip-line platform and were pulled across the river by some very hard-working members of the Peruvian team. It was fun and exciting, but over all too quickly, and away we went running into the jungle

.BtU Jungle - Stage 3 - Mikkel Beisner (140 of 253)

This stage is called “Logging” for the logging roads that we spent most of the day running on. The first roads were maybe what would come to mind when you think of a logging road. A rough road, in this case carved out of the bright red shale of the area. After that though, “road” is a term that is used very loosely. Kilometer after kilometer of track, thick, slippery mud down the middle with deep mud filled trenches on either side. One wrong step would find you knee deep or more in the grooves on either side of the narrow track. It was exhausting and seemed to go on forever. After finally finishing up this grueling section, the course moves back out onto the regular rough track that passes for a road in this part of the world. It is a relief to finish with the mud, but once on the road, there is scarce cover from the beating sun and it gets really, really hot. However, once again thanks to my heat training, I registered that it was really hot, but it didn’t really bother me. I enjoyed the first flat stretch of road, seeing first a troop on spider monkeys crashing through the canopy, then later one of tiny squirrel monkeys. One more check point, then came the part I had been dreading. The hill.

This hill, first time ‘round, was where I fell apart. I had worked so hard in the muddy section, then came to this long, hot hill, several kilometers in length. This time though, I was ready for it. I had held back a bit all day getting ready to climb this hill. And guess what? It wasn’t nearly as bad as I had been anticipating! I did a ton of hill work in my training, plus the heat training, and this time I was ready for it. Up, up, up I went, no problem. I was at the top before I knew it, and from the top I could see the village of Santa Rosa, our camp for the night. Last year, I cried all the way down that hill. I was so tired, and it just felt like I would never get there. That’s why when another runner passed me on the way down and asked me if it was far, I said yes. In my memory, it was so far. In reality, it was not really that far at all and I was able to run the whole way down and into the village. I came to the finish line for the stage with my arms raised, whooping in triumph because I slayed my personal dragon that day. Kris, who knew my struggles with this leg the first time, shouted something about me making stage 3 my bitch. It just felt really good.

As I was sitting, drinking my recovery drink, some of the village ladies were hefting my pack and giggling about how heavy it was. I just sat and took it in, enjoying them and enjoying seeing a couple of kids playing with soccer balls I had collected, and just trying to relish where I was and what I had done that day. It felt pretty great.

Soon though, it was time to head over to the hammock stations and set up my camp, rinse off the mud in the showers, get my food, and prepare for the night. As I was doing all of this, the rain started, and boy did it rain. And rain. I kept my fingers crossed that I had done a good enough job with my hammock and rain fly to keep me dry through the night…something else I had practiced for, but not really been able to try out properly. Thankfully, my set-up worked and I was able to stay dry, a good thing because the rain did not let up all night.

Stage 4

The morning of stage 4 started where the night left off…we awoke early, in the darkness, to the still pouring rain. We were to have a 5:30 start that day, but because it was raining so hard that was delayed so the trails could be checked to ensure they were still safe and passable. We got the word that the trails were good to go, and we would be setting off at 7:00. After packing up wet hammocks and gear and huddling inside a building waiting for word, we were all anxious to get going.

7:00 finally came, and off we went, into the wet jungle. The first part of the stage was not too bad, kind of fun even, the trails were in decent shape, and even though it was still pouring, nobody seemed to mind too much. Then we hit the mud. Endless steep ups and downs in the slickest mud you can imagine. It was impossible to keep on my feet at times. I would take a tiny little step and think I was ok, and next thing I knew I would be on my butt, sliding unstoppably down a hill. Or I would be ok, but then the person behind me would go down into a slide and take me out with them. At times, I just sat down and slid on purpose because it was the only way I could see to get down. It was treacherous, to say the least, and because I was near the back of the pack, the trail was totally churned up by the time I got there. It poured rain for probably half the day…at one point there was a reprieve in the mud as a boat took us across the river, and looking out from the boat, the rain was just a sheet of water over the jungle. After running up a beautiful black sand beach, it was back into the mud.

BtU Jungle - Stage 4 - Mikkel Beisner (151 of 191)

The rain finally let up, though the slick mud was there to stay. Beautiful waterfalls and little river crossings marked the way, and when I wasn’t trying to stay alive and on my feet, I remembered to stop and take in the beauty of where I was. Leg 4 has a short course and a long course. After one of the check points, I was told it was 5 km until the next check point, and to do the long course I needed to be there by 3:00. I really wanted to do the long course, so at this point I kicked it into a higher gear to try and make the cut off. I slip-slided through the mud, up hills and down, until I finally reached the river and yet another zip-line crossing. I had made the cut-off with 15 minutes to spare. I was given the option of taking the short course from there, which would take me almost immediately to camp, or the long course, a further 8 or 10 km, up a steep, grueling, muddy hill before descending down into the camp at Villa Carmen. I, of course, opted for the long course and began my trek up the long, long hill. After what seemed a lifetime, I made it to the top of the hill and the final check point before running down through the jungle to the camp. The descending trail was not nearly as treacherous as those we had been travelling on all day, and I was able to actually run my way down. It began getting dark under the canopy of trees, so I pulled out my headlamp to light my way. Finally, I arrived at Villa Carmen.

BtU Jungle - Stage 4 - Mikkel Beisner (146 of 191)

I arrived with a smile on my face and I was happy to be in camp, however, when it came time to put up my hammock, my mental and physical exhaustion finally set in and all I could do was stand there with my hammock in my hands, tears streaming down my face, as it began to rain again. One of my fellow racers saw me standing there, took the hammock out of my hands and told me to go and get myself sorted while he put my hammock up for me. I have never appreciated something so much in my life. It was an awesome gesture and meant so much. So, I handed over the hammock and went to the building that housed the showers. All I could do at that point was to sit down on some steps and drink my Recoverite, tears still streaming. I’m not even sure why I was crying, because it’s not like I hadn’t enjoyed the day. I had enjoyed it, enjoyed the challenge of it, had some fun slipping and sliding around in the mud, loved seeing the changing faces of the jungle. I guess the day had just taken a mental toll on me. I needed to have laser sharp focus the entire day in order to maneuver through the mud while trying to stay on my feet and not go over the edge of the trail, and once it was over the crying was just kind of a release. Kris and other racers stopped by and gave me hugs and pats on the back, everyone completely understanding what a difficult day it had been. Scott, a member of the support crew, even came and took my shoes and socks off for me, and took them to clean the accumulated mud off of them. Everyone was so kind.

Soon though, I collected myself enough to brave the cold shower. I had so much mud on me you couldn’t tell where my shorts ended off and my legs began. I rinsed and scrubbed and got as much off as I could, then made my way to the area where the hot water was available to make and eat my soup. I had no energy left for any kind of chatting, so after eating my dinner I went and found my hammock, put up better than I ever could have done it. I was told that some of the hammock posts were rotten, but not to worry because the ones mine were hung on were sound. I could hear others getting into their hammocks then crashing to the ground as the rotten posts collapsed under the weight. I was so thankful to have finished this day and be warm and snug in my hammock, and fell asleep listening to the rain falling once again.

BtU Jungle - Stage 4 - Mikkel Beisner (177 of 191)

Stage 5

We had already been told the previous day that due to unsafe trail conditions, stage 5 would be shortened to 70k, and everyone would complete it in one day. There was also to be a short-course option, the actual distance heavily debated after the event was over. My feeling is it was around 50k, but really it didn’t matter.

We started early, in the dark, running down the road and through the town where we would eventually finish. People were out in the dark cheering for us as we ran past, which was really amazing. Soon we came to our final zip-line crossing, after which we took a turn into the jungle. This was all new territory for me because in the previous year there had been a bit of vandalism, and trail markers had been removed. I, along with 9 or so others had taken the wrong route and ended up lost for a time, after which the course we rerouted due to unsafe river conditions. Because of this, I had no idea what to expect for the rest of the stage. I did know that in the description it said there were 50 river crossings on this stage so when I got to the river and saw the marker on the other side, I was not too surprised. What did surprise me though, was how deep the river was! That first crossing was nearly neck deep for me. Since I didn’t realize how deep it would be, I did not take off my backpack or remove any of my day’s food from the pockets. I did have my snacks in zip-lock bags, but I guess the week’s worth of jostling around had made little holes in the bags, so my snacks ended up full of river water. Nothing I could do about this, I would deal with it later.

After I got across the river and to a trail marker a little further down, the bank suddenly got very steep and unpassable, so the route crossed back over the river to the other side again. And again. And again. All 50 river crossings took place zig-zagging over the same stretch of river. Back and forth, back and forth. The depth of the river varied from knee deep rapids to places where swimming was necessary. Afterwards, my friend Dale told me his favourite line from the day was me saying “When they said 50 river crossings, they didn’t say we’d just going back and forth over the same f***ing river!” Finally the river crossings came to an end. I was cold, soaked, and my shoes and socks were filled with sand. At the next check-point I stopped and emptied my shoes and changed my socks so as not to get a blister from having all that grit in my shoes. When the medics at the check-point saw what had become of my nutrition for the day, they gathered up some of their own snacks and gave them to me so that I would be able to finish the stage. I was so appreciative.

After leaving the river, the course wound its way through jungle single track, creek crossings, and roads wandering through beautiful farmland. There was a cut-off of 3:00 for the long course, and while part of me really wanted to make the cut-off, another part of me was saying it was ok if I didn’t make it. As it turns out, I did not make it, missing it by less than 30 minutes, and of course in hind sight I think I could have pushed it and made it and done the long course. However, I did not. By all accounts, the long course was extremely hilly and difficult and people at the end were telling me I should be glad I didn’t do it, but I can’t help but feel disappointed that I didn’t get the chance. Oh well…next time?

When I finally got to the cut-off checkpoint and heard there were only 5 km to go, I suddenly got a big burst of energy and ran most of the way in. Crossing the bridge and coming into the town of Pilcopata, there were people cheering and showing me the way. Finally I could see the banners and Kris was waiting at the line, giving me a big hug before someone handed me the biggest bottle of beer I had ever seen. I had done it, finished the Jungle Ultra for the second time. So far, I am the only person who has completed it twice, which makes me immensely proud. This race is hard…really hard, but also wonderful and beautiful and the whole experience was so much fun.

BtU Jungle - Stage 5 - Mikkel Beisner (29 of 67)

This has turned epic length, so if you have read all the way to the end, congratulations, and thank you! Also thank you to all my friends and family for your unflagging support, because without that I could never have made it to the finish line. Just keep moving forward.

Beautiful photos all by Mikkel Beisner