Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Finding Inspiration in Your Own Backyard - Ironlegs 50 Mile Race Report

It's not hard to find inspiration in my own backyard:  everywhere I look the mountains, lakes and valleys inspire.  This past week, the Trans Rockies bike race rolled through my backyard and I wanted to go get a taste of some Trans Rockies bike action.  I love this organization, this race and these people. I've said it before and I'll say it again:  Trans Rockies Rocks.  With Keith participating, I thought I would head out on course and cheer like a crazed woman.

So, the day before my "big race" I went and climbed up a mountain.  After my mountain bender, I was feeling pretty trashed all week and had zero expectations for race day - so I thought, Why Not?  My legs are already tired.  Maybe it will loosen them up.

 One Sweet Day on Cox Hill
I threw caution to the wind and hiked up Cox Hill with an elevation gain of around 700 meters. Plus, I really wanted to see the Trans Rockies riders in action and surprise Keith.  At the summit of Cox Hill, the view is absolutely stunning.  I could also see the cyclists winding their way up this ribbon of single track, way off in the distance.  It was the prime viewing spot to see all of the action and just a beautiful place to take it all in.  The trail connects up with Jumpingpound Ridge, a wonderful flowing ridge line trail which beckons off in the distance.  Jumpingpound Ridge and Cox Hill is prime Alberta mountain biking.  It's a rollicking, rolling, challenging trail that flows sweet and smooth over ridge and mountain.  It also happened to be the very same trail that I would be traveling during my race the very next day.

Arriving at the summit, it was a picture perfect blue sky day in Kananaskis Country.  I love this place on the front range, the rolling views looking East and the stunning grey peaks looming to the West.  The meadows of wild flowers, expansive views and mountains in all directions make it a very special place.

 And so, I sat and waited.  It wasn't long before the lead riders appeared in the distance, legs churning, climbing, spinning their way up to my perfect perch on the top of Cox Hill.  They crested the top, high-fived, sat up for a moment to take a breath and disappeared into the woods.  Last year, I was also here - on a day that was entirely different.  I had seen these this same team in action, powering up the mountain while being buffeted from all directions by wind and snow.  It was dramatic, compelling stuff.    When I threw my hands up in the air and shouted, "Yay!  No blizzard!" they dropped their game faces for a moment and grinned.

Slowly, the rest of the pack started appearing and they all shared one thing in common:  they were pushing their bikes and had steely-glazed-over-eyeballs.  Afterall, it was Day 6 of a 7 day race and it was the 3rd major climb of the day.  This race is incredibly challenging - you've got to have mad skills and you've got to be tough.  My loud cheering and jumping up and down usually snapped them back into reality and I was rewarded with lots of smiles, cheers and positive vibes.

It was pretty darn cool to see everyone come up that mountain - and I saw it all.  A lead guy with a snapped chain, happy smiling couples, riders in need of food, water, chain lube, tubes.  People enjoying the day, people suffering, people desperately in need of a few calories.  People on single speeds, people on tandems and people sharing the love of the bike.  I also met a couple who asked me to take there photo - because it was their wedding day.  How cool is that?

  Whoa.  Trans Rockies on a Tandem

I even got to see lots of familiar faces - riders and volunteers of years gone by.  It was awesome to see my friend Alana flying up the hill, leading the charge for the women.  For her, and only her, I bust out the Leslie Ass and gave it a little slap as I ran up the trail ahead of her.  Nothing like a little Ass to inspire.

 Gary, putting on his best Tough Guy face.

Eventually, I heard the chatter of a familiar voice off in the distance.  It was Keith talking up storm, like it was just another Saturday ride.  You know, Just Riding Along.  My husband is amazing. He was on volunteer duty, riding at the back-of-the-pack as a Trans Rockies ambassador, riding, socializing and clearly enjoying himself.  He was also totally surprised and happy to see me, as he thought I'd be saving my legs for my big day.

Lucky for me, Keith was in no hurry - so we sat down and had a little quality time while waiting for the rest of the back-of-the-packers.  Still, they came by:   people of all shapes, sizes, nationalities and ages - all with the goal of getting to the finish line.  It was all so impressive. I was feeling awfully inspired watching all these people endure.

After waiting for the final cyclists and the sweep to come through, I headed down off my perch and back to the car.  I spent a great evening at Trans Rockies camp, visited lots of friends, enjoyed a Trans Rockies wedding, some great food and some great fun.  After that, I hopped in my mini-van and drove off into the sunset, giddy and smiling at such a wonderful day.  I rolled into the Station Flats parking lot where my race would be starting at 6:00AM in the morning, stretched out in my sleeping bag and slept like a baby.  Oh, sweet exhaustion.

I awoke to a parking lot full of runners, slammed down a mini-thermos full of coffee, a Pro Bar and hit the start line.  I was half awake and someone was kind enough to point out that my shirt was inside out.

Well, the coffee eventually kicked in and I blinked wide-eyed at my early morning surroundings. It was another beautiful day. I was wide awake by the time I crossed the Moose Mountain Road - and thrilled to see friends Julie and Mario on volunteer duty.  There was a lot of hugging and socializing to be done on this day!  I was warming up slowly and running comfortably, but I couldn't help but turn on the jets on the first big descent.  Weeeeee!  Such fun. I flew by a few people.  My quads are built for descending.

At Powderface Aid Station, Mairead and Sandy were on volunteer duty  and there was already a huge crowd gathering at 7:30 in the morning.  The biggest surprise of all was running into my buddy Evan, who was heading out on the same trail for an early morning mountain bike ride.  He's a dad of 4, so the mans got to get his ride time in early.  Was that ever a great treat! We hooted and hollered all through the woods as we climbed up to the saddle of Powderface Mountain.  Brenda caught up with me for a bit and we tag teamed for awhile on the trail.  Surprisingly, my legs were feeling great as I powered up this climb and I flew down the descent on the other side.  I zoomed through the Ford Creek section and passed a few guys who were already looking done.  Ironlegs can also be run as a relay - so it was hard to know who was a soloist and who was running the relay. 

At Aid station #2, Brenda and I headed out within seconds of each other and it was great to have company through this short boggy section.  Once we hit the climb up Jumpingpound, I settled back in to my power hike.  I was feeling strong, ridiculously happy and the climb was feeling easy.  I had hoped to be on Jumping Pound summit by 11:30 and I was ahead of schedule.  At the summit,  I was thrilled to see 2 of my favorite Silver Foxes Wayne Gaudet  and Adrien Feddema.  These boys have leg speed and are always kicking butt when they race.  We took some awesome photos and they made every runner tag the "official" summit.

Helloooo, Boys!

Are my quads really bigger than Waynes?

Jumpingpound Summit

Runners nearing the summit

Well, at this point I'm so stoked I can't control myself.  I go sprinting down the singletrack like a crazed woman and pass a bunch of people.  The descent off Jumpingpound is fun and I'm making my bear noises and whooping uncontrollably out loud.  I'm even passing bikers and hikers, when I hear someone shout "Is that Leslie?"  It's my friend Kamren Farr, who's running on a relay team.  I get to enjoy some quality time with Kamren and we climb Cox Hill together, chatting and visiting and happy to be in this place.

We stop on the top of Cox Hill for photos and I'm thinking of all those cyclists that I had watched in this same place, only one day earlier.  It's almost weird, but there I am running my own race only one day later.  Fortunately for me, I'm not suffering rather I'm having a helluva' great day in this beautiful place.

Along the way we pick up Naomi Humenny, who saves the day by giving me a gel.  Phew.  Thanks Naomi.  And so good to finally meet you!
 Gel! Gel! Gel!

And then comes the fun part!  The incredible descent down to the bottom of the valley and the Dawson Aid Station.  The Leslie Quads are loving this and I fly down, fast, relaxed and easy.  I love the downhills, but I was having so much fun and going so fast that I almost feared I may have over done it.  Somewhere on the descent, I come across Mr. Trail Trash Hugh Magill who is out for a short run with his dogs.  It's always great to see Hugh!

There's a huge crowd at Dawson Aid Station and my friends Julie and Chris are there to take care of me.  They refill my bladder and send me off on my way for a pretty quick turn around.  I stop to soak my head in the creek and wrap a wet bandana around my neck - the day is heating up.  It's only 7km to the next aid station of largely flat, cruisey soft double track.  Along the way I pick up the lovely Terri Gale from Tumbler Ridge, B.C.  We run the 7km together and the kilometers click by quickly while we visit.  I quickly determine that Terry is a beautiful and amazing woman with a kind soul.  She's a few years younger than me and a mother of 3 boys.  She tells me that her oldest son is 16 years old, 6'7" tall and autistic.  Wow.

Charlie Breakey is waiting for us at the Spruce Grove Aid Station and I catch a glimpse of my friend Jen Silverthorn on a short out and back section.  She's ahead of me by at least 10 -15 minutes and I cheer her on.  It's her longest ultra Post baby, and it's been a long road back for her.  I'm stoked to see her rockin' it.

The next section is Slog-arrific.  It's rolling, runnable, hot and covered in cow shit.  I come across a couple of guys that are suffering.  I'm feeling the heat, but my body and my legs are still feeling great. I stay moving and am doing a lot of self-talk at this point.  Go! Go! Go!  I tell myself.  Pick 'em Up!  Pick 'em Up! Pick 'em Up!  I'm talking to my feet.  It seems to work.  All of a sudden, the scenery becomes familiar.  It's been years since I've been to this place and on these trails!  The trails of West Bragg are a place that I've spent a ton of time, back when I was a mountain biker 15 years ago.  I think of my old friend Ann Dahlberg who gave me a painting of this exact place for my wedding.  Cool.

It's good to be back in this place.

Moose Loop my old favorite mountain bike trail!

As I arrive in to the West Bragg Aid Station, friends Katherine Labonte and Alan Lam are there to take care of us.  Jen is also there and while she's not bonking, she's not feeling so good.  We head out together, walking and she asks if I want to walk together for a bit - but I can't.  I've got that horse-to-the-barn disease, when I realize that I've only got 10km left and I'm feeling good.  

Jen and I

So, I put my head down, put on the jets and went.  With only a couple of kilometers to go, I'm flying down the one last descent when I pass a gal like she's standing still.  I don't know if she's a soloist, but I'm running hard straight through to the finish line because of it.  I don't know where this energy is coming from, but I'm going with it and finishing fast and strong.  Where did that come from?  I was thrilled with my time of 11:09 on this challenging course with such a ridiculous amount of elevation.  My pie-in-the-sky goal had been 12 hours, so to say I was pleased is an under-statement!  Overall, I think this was one of the best races I've run, where everything just came together and I felt great all day. Who would have thought?  I wish it could always feel this easy!  So, there it is.  A truly inspired weekend.  And fun. Lots of fun.

It was very cool to know every one at the aid stations and be at the receiving end of lots of hugs and encouragement.  This is why local races rock!   Thanks to Jamie and Tasha Nott, all of the Trail Trash who were out there volunteering and to all of the racers out there.  Historically, I haven't been able to compete in this one due to it's proximity to the Trans Rockies Run but this year, I finally got to run it!  Thanks y'all for a great day. 

Results here. 

Brenda, happy to be done!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Salute to the Trans-Rockies Run - a 3 Day Running Bender

As y'all know, I love my backyard.  I love the mountains.  I love the trails.  And, I love to share them.  So, when some of the Trans Rockies Run friends finally decided to come for a visit, I was thrilled.  It's always great to share my special places, with good peoples!!!  Keith and I had 3 days-of-fun with our very entertaining friends Deb Daehler Davies and Stephen Price of Colorado.  Also in the house, the lovely and divine, Ms. Erin Fields-Delude of North Idaho. 

The theme of the weekend seemed to be Poo and Farts.  Stephen being the token male on the trails was bewildered with all of this Poo Talk coming out of the mouths of babes.  So, here's to having good bowel movements and to having good friends!

But more to the point:  the running world is a small world of like minded folks. We've shared some good times on the trails with a LOT of good people over the years, especially at the Trans Rockies Run.  So, I salute you - people who like to run far and wide, people with a spirit of adventure, people who know how to have fun and people who just like to go out there and enjoy some quality time in pretty places.

Oh yeah, and I salute you Trans Rockies Runners and Cyclists alike!
Currently, Keith is pedaling his little heart out at the Trans Rockies Bike as we speak.  There's a whole bunch of sweaty cyclists out there - some of them with ear-to-ear grins and some of them in tears - but at the end of the day, it's all the same.  You finish and I finish.  We're all members.  Of the same family.

I'm giving you a photo tour of my 3 Days o' Fun- because I'm too shattered to do anything else.  Here's what the 3 Day Running Bender looked like:

Day 1 - Healy Pass, the Monarch Ramparts, Simpson Pass and Sunshine Meadows - around 33km

Day 2 - Yoho in a Day:  Yoho Valley, the Whaleback, Twin Falls, Stanley Mitchell, the Iceline Trail, Yoho Lake - around 42km

Day 3 - the Rockwall:  55km

Now THAT'S a good weekend.

Did I mention I have a race this upcoming weekend? 

It's a 50 Miler with 20,000+ feet of elevation.  While I certainly won't be running on "fresh" legs, I'm stoked to be participating in this event!  It's local, it's beautiful, it's ridiculously challenging - and I'll know everyone out there.  It's been a long time since I've been in a local race and I'm stoked to see everyone!  I'll know the race directors, the volunteers and lots of the runners.  Me, I'm planning on enjoying each and every moment of what is going to be a very long and wonderful day. 

Now, enjoy the photos and send some of those Trans Rockies cyclists out there you good vibes and good thoughts!

DAY 3:  The Rockwall Trail with Stephen and Liza Pye

DAY 2:  Yoho in a Day with Erin, Deb and Stephen

DAY 1:  Healy/Sunshine in a Day with Ed, Jen, Doone, Erin, Deb and Stephen

Fun in Banff - cruising Banff and Vermillion Lakes on the bikes...

Monday, August 8, 2011

Long Weekend Adventures: Jonas Pass, Nigel Pass and the Skyline Trail

 ***I hope you are all out there enjoying summer time wherever you may be.  It's my favorite time of year to be out enjoying some good times on the trails in the Canadian Rockies.  I hope you are all out there having your own adventures big or small, even if that is enjoying a beer on an outdoor patio or having a BBQ in your backyard.*** 

I escaped Banff this past long weekend and headed out for an overnighter in the backcountry.  Mike had a few extra days off and decided that he wanted to run an amazing and remote section of the Continental Divide Trail.  A stretch of 200km trail that travels through some rugged, wild and beautiful backcountry from Saskatchewan River Crossing all the way to Jasper!  For him, it was a cool mix of remote high mountain passes and also a section of more well used trail through Nigel Pass and Jonas Pass.  His journey would continue through Maligne Pass to Maligne Lake and finally - along the famous Skyline trail into Jasper.

I recruited Angela to fastpack the 33+ kilometres and meet up with Mike in the middle of his journey around Jonas Cut-off.   There, we would camp for the night and he would continue on his "big run".  After that, we would hike back out to civilisation and shuttle his car to the finish line.  For the last day, we would join up to run the Skyline trail together - 44 kilometres of high alpine trail bliss. It would be my 4th time running this trail - it's one of those trails that you don't mind doing over and over again.

Over the 3 days, we had what could only be described as weird weather.  We had heavy frost and cold temperatures when we were camping, followed by a day of brilliant sunshine, followed by a day of crazy weather on the Skyline Trail.  We weathered a full-on cold,windy,torrential frightening storm on the middle of the Skyline Trail, high up in the mountains.  It started as a nice day, but then it changed alarmingly quick.  It rained sideways, with a deafening wind that threatened to freeze us solid.  It was wet, cold and miserable. At one point, I had on every single piece of equipment that I carry:  a waterproof coat, a puffy down coat, a wool long sleeved top and long underwear, toque, gloves and a Buff.  Yes, this is what I carry in my hydration pack on all of my long runs in summer in the Canadian Rockies.  A map, first-aid kit, food, water, headlamp and bear spray fill up the rest of the remaining space.  It was a reassuring reminder that it's important to carry all of this stuff when you are out in the backcountry.  Sorry, there are no photos of me with blue lips, running in my down coat with my toque on in summer.  You'll have to enjoy the photos of the other day - where I was blissfully running across sweeping passes under a perfect bluebird sky.

Mike in his Happy Place.

Sometimes, you need to just sit down.

Footprints in the snow

Morning Sunshine

Wild Places

Smiling Faces

Run. Fun. 


Jonas Pass

Sunwapta Peak

 Angela Rocks!

 Upper Brazeau Valley

Nigel Pass

It's Steep.

 Fun on the Skyline

Calm after the Storm

Dave 4 and Mike is still cruising.

Angela and Mike, all dressed up and no place to go!!

It was a fun weekend spent in wild and amazing places in the company of good friends.  Thanks Angela and Mike!  That sure was a lot of fun.