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.

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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