Two Crazy Ladies on a Mountain

rainy trail

What makes people run in the woods?  In the rain and wind.  Up and down the side of two mountains?  A screw loose perhaps.  Maybe.  But for my running partner and I it was what we chose to do last Saturday.  I documented the first half of the run in A Rainy Day Run on Monday.  I’ve also looked at what makes ultra trail runners tick in Run Lisa Run.

I guess the other question is, why am I writing about it?  Partly because it was fun and partly because I wanted to remember the experience.  Because I won’t be doing it again.  Ever.

When I signed off on Monday we had reached the ski lodge at Cypress Bowl after climbing to the top of Eagle Bluffs.  We stopped just long enough under the ski lift base to scarf down a Lara bar and chug some water.  We assumed we would need to find a port-a-potty or just pop a squat in the forest but as we started out again we realized that the lodge was just around the corner and open.  Hallelujah!  I have to admit the warm fire, grilled burgers and cold beer sign were tempting but it was time to use the facilities then get back on the trail.

The course description I had printed out said that from here on it was pretty much 7.5 miles of downhill.  Ya.  Not so much.  We got back into the forest and spent the next hour dodging mud holes and slippery roots all while going uphill.  Okay, so it was a gradual incline, but at this point up was still up.

At one point we heard the thumping of a wild grouse.  It’s an eerie sound that, if you didn’t know what it was, would be kind of scary.  Wildlife is everywhere.  We would find out later in the day that a cougar had been sighted on the same trail a few hours before we passed by.

Just when we thought we may have taken a wrong turn, we heard what we thought was singing.  Or maybe somebody camping?  We came to a trail junction and came upon a group of about twenty Asian hikers.  Covered head to toe in gortex rain gear, carrying hiking poles and at least half of them had……umbrellas?  Keep in mind that we were half way up Hollyburn Mountain by this point.  As we said excuse me, on your right, on your left and thank you over and over while passing them, we giggled a bit to ourselves.  We then realized that they were probably giggling at us too.  Two crazy women in runners, tight and t-shirts running in the rain and wind on the side of a mountain.

The trail opened up now and the rain and wind was relentless and cold.  We stopped briefly to pull on toques.  If my hands hadn’t been so cold I would have taken my camera out and taken a picture of us but that was not going to happen.

From that point it really was all down hill.  For the next hour we headed down.  And down.  And down.  While it was a nice change from the uphill it didn’t come without its torture.  After a while my quad muscles starts to cramp up pretty good.  Even though it was easier and faster to run this section we had to be careful.  We had been warned about “the chute”.  A steep rough section with intermittent drop offs.  Turned out to be a bit anti-climactic.  We kept waiting for it only to realize we had already done it.

trail in the trees

Back into the woods briefly and we ran into a guy coming up the trail.  We had a quick conversation with him about his Hoka runners and asked if we were on track to come out on Craigmohr Road.  He had no idea what we were talking about.  I’m sure he would eventually run into the Asian hiking group and would have a good laugh about the crazy ladies running on the mountain.

We eventually reached out destination.  A bit off course but close enough.

The Best Thing in Life is that as we stood there in the rain we both said “that was so fun”. Yup.  Two crazy ladies on the Mountain.

A Rainy Day Run

“So we’re really going to do this?”

“Yup.  Pick you Saturday at 8:00am.,

“Okay.”

And that’s how it started.

It was kind of drizzling a bit when we got dropped off just beside the highway at the Whyte Lake trail head.  (Elevation 390 ft) There were a couple of cars in the gravel lot but apart from that it was pretty much deserted.  We buckled up our Camelbacks and started off around the corner only to face the first hill.  For the next two and a half hours we would make our way up the front of Black Mountain to Eagle Bluff.  (Elevation 3550).  Ya, that’s right.  Just over 3000 feet.  Up.

eagle-bluffs
This is what we hopes to see……

We ran though the forest for about an hour or so catching up on the last few weeks.  Kids, school, work, stuff.  Okay, so maybe we didn’t run the whole time but we kept up a pretty good pace despite talking non-stop.  The Baden Powell trail is well marked with happy orange squares stapled to trees so finding our way was pretty easy.  Eventually though, through the trees, we could see a rock face and we both knew what was coming next.  If we had thought that we had been going up before we had a whole new kind of “up” ahead of us.

“Shit, don’t look down” was mentioned more than once.  The notes on this portion of the trail mentioned to be sure and “lean in” to the side of the mountain.  Believe it or not we were still having fun.

After the first steep climb through the trees we came out onto a boulder field.  Seriously.  A field of boulders.  Only not a flat field.  A field of boulders on a 75 degree angle.  There were no more friendly orange markers on the trees.  We were on our own.  Crawling over boulders.  We headed straight up but then realized that we didn’t know where the trail picked up again.  I spotted a tiny inukshuk at the top right and headed for that.  A few feet above it the trail started up again.  We looked back down at what we had just covered and considered  ourselves lucky to have made it.

Boulders

Once that was done it didn’t seem that much farther up to Eagle Bluff.  The final push was just trying to find a path up the bluff that had something to hold onto.  By the time we got to the bluff it was raining and the clouds had closed in.  Apparently there is a phenomenal view for the bluff but we will never saw it.  Grey.  Nothing but grey.  Awesome, we climbed 3000 feet for this?

Eagle Bluff
Grey and cloudy but we’re still smiling

Back into the trees we went but if we thought we were done with going up, we were wrong.  Maybe it wasn’t as steep, but it was definitely up.  I may have muttered a few swear words at this point.  The trail was muddy but we were back in the trees and a bit more sheltered.  At some point a guy whizzed (and I do mean whizzed) past us.  Wide wooden planks became the trail over marshy sections that ended our climb.  For now.  Our last half an hour was down a wide gravel path and ended at the Cypress Park Ski Lodge.  The cozy fire, smell of grilled burgers and cold beer sign almost had us calling it a day.  But no.

You see, The Best Thing in Life as that we were only half way done.  Seriously.  Stayed tuned for part two.

33 Hours In A Van – Re-posted from a year ago

ragnar start

It’s 7:30 am and twelve moms are arriving in two vans at Peace Arch State Park in Blaine, Washington. The plan is to race with 500 other teams on a 200 mile course from Blaine to Whidbey Island, Washington. Each team member will run three legs over the course of about 33 hours. Some legs are easy and some are hard. Some will be run in the heat of the day and others in the dead of night. We are all excited and nervous at the same time. Am I ready? Can I do this? Too late now. The announcer is calling our team. We line up to see our first runner go. Five, four, three, two, one…..race!

Lisa starts us off with a 10 km leg while van two heads back to the hotel. They won’t start running until 1:45 this afternoon. They may get a bit more sleep but I don’t imagine waiting around for five hours does anything for the nerves. At least we, van one, are off and running; literally. The temperature isn’t bad for the first two or three legs but by the time I run at 11:40am the sun is full on and it’s hot in Ferndale. As I start my 10 km run through the small town, I can’t see any other runners and no vans have passed me for a while. I start to panic and my heart rate goes up. What if I missed my turn. I don’t see any signs. Crap. Finally a van passes me with writing all over the windows. Okay, I’m going the right way. Head down keep running. Where the hell is that “one mile to go” sign? Once I’m done there’s one more runner and we are done our first legs. Time to eat and rest.

ragnar 1

After a much needed meal at the Train Wreck pub in Burlington (how appropriate) we get out our sleeping bags and find some shade at the high school designated for our exchange with the other van. All over the schools lawn teams are sleeping, fueling or just chilling. Team spirit is alive and well in these events. Some go all out with costumes and themes. We see two team members dressed as sumo wrestlers preparing to meet their runner. The “butt girls” as we have named them, are all running with plastics bare butts around their waists. These runs are hard enough as it is, why make it harder? Another team is dressed as the cast of Star Wars. Storm Trooper and all. We are Team Reruns Eh. We proudly represent Canada in our red and white maple leaf t-shirts with some embellishments provided by Sharon. We can easily identifiy Emily by her sparkly tutu. We wonder how van 2 is doing? It’s hot and they have some serious elevation to run.

At about 6:30pm our second legs start. It will be dark soon so we all make sure we have our night gear. Reflective vest, butt flasher and head lamp. My second leg starts at about 9:30pm. It’s pitch black as I ran up the hill and around the corner in a light rain. I hear bull frogs croaking in the ditches and imagine some backwoods crazy jumping out and pulling me into the woods. It weird what goes through your head when you’re running alone in the dark. All the runners I had seen during the previous leg have suddenly disappeared. Did I smell that bad? Slowly they start coming up behind me. One at a time they pass me. Good job. Good job. They each say as they motor past me. I was probably at about 13km and I needed to walk for a bit and stretch my calves. A guy comes up behind me and says “Don’t stop.” Under my breath I say “Asshole.” Two seconds later another guy passes me and says “You’re doing great. Keep it up”. As he catches up to the asshole who has just passed me he chastises him for being negative. My faith in runners is re-established.

So we are done with our second legs and it’s time to get some rest. We drive to Oak Harbour and find some space in the gym to lay out our sleeping bags. It’s 1:15am. Within minutes we were all asleep. Okay, maybe not everybody as Donna made the unfortunate choice to lay down beside somebody who snored; loudly. In what seemed like about 10 minutes it’s time to get up. it’s 4:30 am.  At this point the only thing keeping us going is the fact that we know this will be our last leg. When this one is done we were finished. It’s cool and threatening to rain. The last runner for van 2 is coming in. They have had a brutal night. Three of their head lamps died, Leanna had to give another team her flashlight as their headlamp died too and didn’t have a back up and Rosa tripped and gashed her knee. They are still smiling though.

ragnar 2

At this point you can tell that runners are tired. Stiff legs and lack of sleep is catching up with everybody. My final 8km leg is along a beautiful shady road with views of the water. I could have just stopped and headed down to the beach. No, really I could have, that’s how tired I was. Somehow, though, we all manage to cut a few minutes off our projected times and arrive in Coupeville ahead of schedule. Chris, van 2’s first runner, is fueled with a good breakfast and ready to go. They have gotten some rest and are also looking forward to their last legs. It’s an amazing feeling knowing that you have accomplished so much in really, a very short time. As Jen said on Saturday night when it was all over, it’s a leap of faith to get into a van with 5 women who you may or may not even know and push yourself to do things you probably have never done.

At about 3:45 pm as we all run across the finish line together,  I think to myself, The Best Thing in Life is spending 33 hours in a van, finishing a race with 11 other crazy women and having memories and friendships that will last forever. It is a leap of faith that I will most likely take again…..but not for a couple of years.

ragnar 3

Run Lisa Run

ultra running 3

More and more I am finding that road running is hurting my aging body. The repetitive pounding on pavement is tough on my muscles and, despite some fabulous new runners, my hips and knees are often crying by the end of a 10km run. So I’ve been turning to trail running lately and I have really been enjoying it. Why am I surprised? I think it has something to do with my dislike of running up steep hills. A couple of weeks ago a friend and I ran a 20km trail run with about 1200 ft of elevation gain. It felt great and I patted myself on the back many times. Could I run that again? Could I run that five times over? Not likely. My friend Lisa can and does. She runs ultra marathons.

An ultra marathon race is defined as anything longer than a 26.2 mile marathon. The most common distance are 50km and 100km but people do 50 and 100 mile races as well. The races that Lisa participates in are trail ultra marathons. Run on paths and trails in the mountains. Factors to consider are elevation, inclement weather and, I would imagine, wildlife. You may even start or finish in the dark (or both) depending on the time of year and your speed. Trail running is a different beast altogether from road running. Your pace is way slower (and you just need to accept that) and with roots, rock and creeks to get over you need to pay attention to where you are putting your feet. And it’s dirty. Muddy dirt usually. Or hot and dusty. Sounds like fun. Right?

Ultra Running 1

I would think it takes a certain type of person to run an ultra race. In general, ultra runners are a well-educated group of people. Focused, organized and definitely type A. And yes, in my eyes, just a little bit crazy. So much of this type of running is mental. Lisa was having a particularly hard time on a recent race and was almost ready to drop out. Her running partner asked her if she was okay. She said yes. “Then get your head out of your ass”. She did just that and finished the race. The community that supports these runners is also incredibly genuine and inclusive. One of the men that Lisa often competes with finished this particular race two hours ahead of her. Yet, there he was as she crossed the finish line cheering her on and congratulating her on a great race.

So when she runs a 100km Lisa is out on the trail for approximately 15-16 hours. I was curious to find out how she fueled for one of these adventures. She said that the races typically provide aid stations that supply, among other things, electrolyte drinks, cola and potato chips. What? These are elite athletes and they are scarfing down junk food every 15km. Yup. Think about it. What are you losing when you sweat that much? Salt and lots of it. And the cola? Well a little sugar and caffeine never hurts, but it can also provide a welcome change from water and electrolyte drinks. Lisa carries Vega gels, stinger waffles and Cliff packs but readily admits to not always eating enough during a race. Sometimes she doesn’t feel she needs it, sometimes her stomach is upset and sometimes she just forgets. I was tempted to ask the inevitable question of how do you relieve yourself, but really, does anybody need to now that?

But really what I did need to know from Lisa was this. You have a full-time job, a husband and young daughter and you spend roughly twelve hours a week running plus cross training sessions. Where do you find the time? I feel that perhaps this is the downside of what she does. She admits that the lifestyle is not always conducive to a balanced relationship with her husband and daughter. They support her and are incredibly proud of her accomplishments, but something has to give when you are spending that amount of time dedicated to a hobby. If you are going to do this you need to do it 100% or it just isn’t worth doing. Also, her social life revolves around running. “If you’re not into running and craft beer there’s a pretty good chance that we won’t be friends.” She does have a dog. Spencer. But apparently he is the worst trail dog ever. Why? “He’s so slow”.

Lisa has run twenty three 50km races.  Last Spring she ran the Miwok 100 and next month she will run the Zion 100. She tries to pick races that are held in places that would be cool to visit and that have activities for the whole family. For her, trail running is about adventure and exploration by foot.  While I am super proud of my 20km trail running achievement, The Best Thing in Life is having something to work toward. Oh who am I kidding. Never. Going. To. Happen.

ultra skeleton

The Yin and the Yang of Aimee Cakes

paris cake

The weekend before we met for coffee, my friend Aimee had done a MOMAR race. For the uninformed, MOMAR stands for mind over mountain adventure race. Kayaking, running, x-country biking, more running and more biking over 50 kilometers and a ridiculous amount of elevation. Despite not feeling great the week prior to the race, Aimee was the first solo female to cross the finish line in just over 6 1/2 hours. “I got lucky”. (Somehow, I find that hard to believe.) The week before that she had created the MOST beautiful, delicate, pink Paris themed cake for my seven year old’s birthday party. (see above) I was curious to find out how a life with two boys under the age of five, adventure racing and cake decorating all came together.

I first met Aimee about three years ago when I did a 200 mile relay race in Oregon. We were in the same van and I couldn’t have asked for a better team mate. Happy, easy going and willing to sleep in a field in the middle of nowhere. Now, I’m not stereotyping cake makers (okay, maybe I am) but if you had a vision in your head of a cake decorator, it may involve an apron, flowers and tea. None of that is Aimee. She is more likely to have just come back from a trail run or bike and may even have some mud in her hair. Yet, there she is making her own fondant and creating unique and delicious cakes. “I’m a Gemini so I’ve always felt a sense of yin and yang in my life”. Over the years she has realized that she needs to balance her love of physical activity with something creative. So she started Aimee Cakes.

Her cake decorating days began at about fourteen when she would bake cakes (from boxes she admits) and decorate them with butter icing and flowers. Her cakes have certainly evolved. Looking back at the cake she decorated for her sister’s wedding she thinks it looked “pretty” but lacked a certain something. Today she whips up cakes and cupcake for birthdays, weddings and special events on a regular basis. The cakes she loves the most are the ones that tell a story. The cake pictured below was for a birthday party and includes the birthday girls love of dogs, the ocean, crab, beer and stand up paddleboarding.

deep cove cake

After competing in triathlons for a few years Aimee was looking for a change in her physical challenges. An opportunity came up for her to compete in a MOMAR race in central BC. It didn’t go that well and she finished a six hour race in ten hours. Somehow she didn’t really care and was hooked on the sport. In her early years of adventure racing she did a nine day 800 kilometer endurance race. It was during that race that she first experienced the need to push through when times got tough. Yes, I would say that sleeping for two hours in a bug infested field and then having to portage a canoe up a mountain requires a bit of mental and physical push. Maybe that’s just me.

aimee on her bike

So, similarities between adventure racing and cake decorating? You wouldn’t really think so, but surprisingly there are quite a few. For both activities there’s the challenge of not always knowing what is around the corner. The fun of having something thrown at you and having to figure out how to best tackle it. Creating a replica of the Eiffel Tower can be just as difficult as a sabotage trail half way through a race. In adventure racing, things don’t always go the way you plan. Conditions can change and throw you off course. The same is true for cakes. Something you think will look awesome suddenly doesn’t work and you have to start over again. Additionally, getting too excited can cause mistakes and time. In a race it can be the difference between winning and not finishing. In cake making it can mean a cake that stays upright or a cake that falls over. In both cases it’s not over until it’s over and Aimee knows how to push through and get to the finish line every time.

Aimee’s approach to life (which she credits her husband with) is pretty simple. Have a vision, work hard, be intense, relax when you need to and enjoy your accomplishments. Right now, her yin and her yang appear to be in perfect balance and she is enjoying life to the fullest. Down the road she would like to take Aimee Cakes to another level and there is no doubt in my mind that she will do just that. The Best Things in Life for Aimee? Playing with her amazingly cute little boys, getting out for a trail run or bike with her dog and creating stories with her cakes.

birthday cake