The week leading up to Sun Mountain started with debilitating low back pain. I spent Monday and most of Tuesday trying to find a position at work that kept the stabbing pain at bay. From time to time I throw out my low back… this one was poorly timed. On Tuesday afternoon I did some self-massage and turned things around enough to get out for a light jog, which would turn out to be my only run during the week leading up to the race.
Fast forward through the week of phantom pains and nervous anticipation, and Steph and I woke up in our tent on the edge of Twin Lake on the morning of the race. We made our way to the start line, I grabbed my bib and did a quick warmup & stretch just before stepping in a large pile of dog poop. “Great. This is going to be a shitty run…” I said a few quick hellos to Diana and Linda who were helping people sign in. Linda gave some sage advice, “don’t go out to quick. It’s a downhill start and people always blow up and pay for it later on. Try and stay cool, it’s going to get really hot today.”
I must not have listened to Linda because I quickly found myself leading the race as the gun went off. This was a freeing-but-terrifying feeling. I’ve never led in a race before, let alone one with a fast start and 150 people barreling down tight single-track behind me.
Cruising along at a 4:00/km pace, my mind quickly turned to my lack of experience. “Is this fast enough? Do people want to go faster? Should I step aside and let someone else lead?” Around 3km, to my relief, Jeff from Kelowna slipped by me. I was happy to slot in behind him and let him set the pace. Those first few KMs were oddly stressful given I had empty trail in front of me. Jeff and I moved comfortably along the trail. I was aware that someone else was behind us but wasn’t sure who until Max Ferguson made his move. Effortlessly, Max stepped around me and then just as quickly, Jeff. He took off at what looked to be for him a very comfortable pace, but seemed too unreasonable for me to chase this early in the race, “well, there goes first” I thought.
Max kept pushing his lead once we hit the first climb. I moved past Jeff but my glimpses of Max became fewer and further between until he was certainly gone. I ran on my own for a bit until Patrick Murphy came up behind me and took over. I quickly realized Patrick had run this race last year and placed second with a very respectable 3:53. I decided to keep pace with him as well as I could.
We ran the next few KMs up to the first aid station fairly close together. Patrick was stronger on the climbs. Every time we started going up he pulled away a bit further, but as soon as the trail flattened out or turned down I was right back with him. I knew if I wanted to be in the mix I had to stick with Patrick and if it came down to it, push past him on the downhills and hope to get enough of a gap to hang on to my lead on the climbs… but it was still early in the race. I’d hang onto that strategy for later.
We pulled in the first aid station and things felt good. I was sitting in 3rd just behind Patrick, who was never more than a few seconds in front of me. As we exited Thompson Ridge Aid Station, I saw Jeff Pelletier who was looking great about 30km into his 50mile race, and sitting in 6th place. We said hello, a quick fist bump and I pulled off to chase down Patrick who had moved ahead while I was chatting with Jeff. Jeff went on to hold 6th place overall in the 50mile!
The trail kicked up steep once we got off the dirt road coming out of Thompson Ridge Aid. I power hiked a few steps and found that I was just as quick as Patrick and managed to hold him in my sights. Once we crested the climb it was a fast, twisty-turny, cruzy descent dotted with yellow wildflowers and breathtaking views. Patrick and I chatted and ran together for most of this section.
Coming into Aid Station 2 Patrick stopped and was asking for electrolytes. I jumped on this opportunity and hightailed it out of there knowing I had a long descent before the steep climb up to Sun Mountain Lodge. I would need this descent to put some time on Patrick knowing full well he was a stronger climber than me. I made it ¾ of the way up the climb before Patrick caught me. I switched between power-hiking and shuffling up hill. He moved effortlessly past as I vowed to work on hill repeats when done with the race. The final stairs up to Sun Mountain Lodge were actually a bit of a relief because I could start my legs up again and into a run. I never let Patrick out of my sight and as we crested the climb we both turned it on for the descent.
Keep It Together
The descent from Sun Mountain Lodge was a ton of fun. The course looped back to just after Aid Station 2 and meant we started running into other 50mile and 50km runners on their first pass. It felt great coming back to the fork where the trail kicks up to Sun Mountain Lodge and not having to make the climb again. Instead we went left and rolled our way into the final Aid Station.
To my surprise Steph was waiting at the aid station! A dousing with water, a few sips of Coke, a kiss and I was on my way. Patrick ran into the Aid just before me and was out ahead when I left. I stopped quickly on the trail just outside the aid station to try and pee and calm my nerves. I’ve never pee’d so little and so dark yellow. It scared me enough to drink some extra water and take a few seconds to calm my heart-rate.
I had only been standing for a few seconds when my adrenaline surged like hell. I heard loud cheering from the aid station for what I could only assume was 4th place only 30 seconds behind me. Up until this point I hadn’t even considered 4th place. It was just Patrick and I on a long run with Max somewhere way in the lead, probably finished and sipping on a beer by now. I kicked it into gear and started pushing up the gnarly climb to the top of Patterson.
I passed Patrick early into the climb. He was moving slowly but gave some encouragement when I went by. He would later tell me the heat got to him. I was definitely running scared at this point but told myself to keep pushing. I managed to run 90% of the climb up through the trees. Only when we broke out of the trees and into the shrubs did I catch my first glimpse of Max in over 3 hours. He was about to crest the Patterson out and back climb and I knew he had at least 3-4 minutes on me. I put my head down and kept pushing with the faint hope that I could gain some time on him and at the very least hold off Patrick and whoever was chasing us in 4th.
I took a look back to see how much time I’d put on Patrick only to see Adam Hewey now in 3rd and closing fast on me. I hadn’t seen Adam all day and catching sight of the way he was moving lit a fire under my ass. I hammered up the rest of Patterson and was greeted by a tiny sign that said ‘turn around and go back down.’ “What a pain in the ass” I thought. I took a quick second to catch my breath and shuffled a few steps before breaking into run. I knew I was going to need everything I had to hammer this downhill and hold off Adam.
To my luck the final descent was technical. Not as technical as I like it but far more technical than anything we’d run all day. I used this to my advantage and pushed it, but knowing full well there was a final bite-you-in-the-ass climb over the the last 2km, I made sure I had some reserves. I started catching more and more glimpses of Max as I hammered and as he exited the trail down from Patterson onto the final road I knew I could catch him if I wanted it bad enough. I hit the brief pavement section and put it into tempo gear closing the gap on Max to 15 seconds. I eased off a bit to see if he would surge and held steady behind him for a few strides waiting for the right moment to make my move.
Make Your Move
As the trail kicked up again I made the decision to push and passed Max. I pushed as hard as my legs and lungs would allow, gapped him and prayed that the finish would come soon. I had no idea what the trail ahead held but it was uphill and I hoped like hell it wouldn’t get any steeper. I looked over my shoulder briefly to see if my move had stuck. I didn’t see Max. The realization that I may actually win this thing finally crept into my head. But I couldn’t entertain the thought. I wasn’t done yet and for all I know Max or Adam could be right there waiting for me to blow up.
I came around the final corner and felt immediate relief when I saw the finish line. What a sweet sight it was. I crossed the line in first place, 3:54:56. The joy I felt was quickly swallowed by sickness as my body began to shut down and display it’s disgust for what I had just put it through. I lay on the ground chugging ice water when Steph told me I had won. I knew I had but it didn’t seem real until that moment.
It was a beautiful day of suffering in the mountains.
Full Results: http://ultrasignup.com/results_event.aspx?did=30733